Category Archives: Season 14

Zany Costume

TITLE: Zany Costume

AUTHOR: Erin M. Blair

E-MAIL: eblair@sonic.net / erinmblair@gmail.com

FEEDBACK: Yes, please.

DISTRIBUTION: VS14 for a couple of weeks, then to

Gossamer, Ephemeral, and the mailing lists!

RATING: R.

CATEGORIES: SRA — Story, Romance, Angst.

KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully Romance.

SPOILERS: Up to Je Souhaite; VS12 Displacement; various

VS spoilers. Nothing too major…

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully, and Margaret Scully belong to

Chris Carter.

SUMMARY: Scully confides to her mother about Mulder’s desire

to wear a strip club dress outfit for Halloween. Mulder and

Scully get steamy…

NOTES: Special thanks to Dev for beta reading this one. I know

it took me long enough… 🙂 I was inspired by reading one of

FatCat’s steamy stories with Donnilee and I thought just the

*idea* of Mulder wearing a strip club dancer outfit for

Halloween would be like…

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + +

clip_image001

Zany Costume

Written by: Erin Blair

“Mom, Mulder’s crazy.”

“Dana, you don’t mean to say that your partner -”

“I told him about the Halloween party that one of our co-

workers is holding in the cafeteria. And he picks out this crazy

outfit – ”

“It’s for Halloween,” Maggie said, frowning. “What’s so crazy

about that?”

“We have a case that we’re dealing with for the past few weeks.

I can’t go into details, but we have to go to court about the

evidence in a different case on that day. He said he’s going to

wear that to court!”

Maggie sighed. Now she understood why her daughter was

upset about Mulder’s idea of wearing the costume her daughter

was holding up her partner’s black tear away pants, cuffs, and

red bow tie. There was no shirt in the ensemble. “He is going to

pretend that he’s a strip club dancer?”

“Oh, yes.”

“A strip club dancer? Dana, I think this might be great for you.”

“Mom!”

“He obviously loves you enough to show you a very good time.”

“Mom, we have court that day! He can’t wear that there!” Her

face reddened while she continued to picture it in her mind. “No

matter how much I think he would be the hottest man there – it

just won’t look good to the outside world.”

“How so?”

“Mom, don’t tease me.”

“I’m not, honey. People would be dressing up in costumes,

probably even zanier than what Fox would be wearing. It’s

Halloween, for goodness sakes!” She paused. “Think of all the

possibilities of this costume, Dana. It would be great for um,

some interesting positions.”

“Mom!”

“Dana, I’m just trying to help.” Maggie turned around and saw

Mulder standing there in the doorway, smirking at both of

them.

“How long have you been standing there, Mulder?”

“For fifteen minutes, Scully.”

“Oh, my God! You heard practically everything,” Scully said,

blushing. This conversation has been a sort of embarrassment

over details about her sex life with Mulder. Scully didn’t want to

discuss the big “it” with her mother and then finding out that

Mulder had heard the whole thing. Her face simply flushed

again like a red tomato and her eyes gazed at Mulder.

“Well, it’s certainly a revelation that Maggie thinks that this,” he

pointed to the costume, “would be helpful to our sex life,

Scully.”

Scully sighed. She never was fond of revealing private details

about herself with anyone, but she has been opening herself up

like a book to Mulder and by extension, her mother. “I can

imagine what sexual positions that I want to do to you,

Mulder.”

Mulder smiled. He loved it when he caught Scully in an

embarrassing proposition, which usually led to a blissful night

with just the two of them. “Oh, really?”

Scully nodded seductively. She smiled at him and thought of

that negligee that she bought. “I need to get you alone, G-Man.

I love it when we’re together. Like last week.” Oh yes, last

week was a fun-filled lustful night of relaxation and making love

until the early morning sunrise. Her memory of the skin-to-skin

contact between the sheets came back, giving her a wonderful

release.

Mulder laughed nervously. He had an idea what Scully was up

to, but decided not to let on that he knows anything about it.

“Um, Scully, your mother’s still here. I don’t think…we should

do that now.”

“I’ll leave you two alone now,” Maggie said with a knowing

smile.

Scully hug her mother. “I’ll talk to you later, Mom.”

“Take care of yourself, Dana. I want details of your adventures

with Fox.”

Scully whispered in her mother’s ear and nodded. “I will.” With

that, she watched her leave the apartment and turned towards

to Mulder.

“Are you planning something, Scully?”

“Um, no.”

“You’re a bad liar.”

“Mulder… Mom wanted us to be alone together. She thinks

we’re too busy with cases.”

“Oh.”

“And we should do something about that, don’t you think?”

Scully asked, purring like a tigress wanting to get together with

her mate.

“I think we should,” Mulder agreed.

~*~*~

The End

Ghosts, Ghoulies, and Gunmen

Title: GHOSTS, GHOULIES & GUNMEN

Authors: Foxglove and AnubisKV5

Summary: Frightening things happen on All Hallow’s Eve

Rating: for everyone

Category: V

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.

Written for the Virtual Season 14 Halloween Special Event

Archive: Exclusive VS 14 two weeks, then with permission

comments: pstanford@vtown.com.au and AnubisKV5@cs.com

clip_image001

**********

Halloween wraps fear in innocence,

As though it were a slightly sour sweet.

Let terror, then, be turned into a treat,

Lest it undermine our commonsense.

Our nightmares are the founts of fancy whence

We wander through the fields of our conceit,

Eluding the true horror we must meet

Embodied in the play of our pretence,

Now ranged across the night in our defence.

~ Nicholas Gordon

**********

October 31st

7:30 p.m.

“It’s a conspiracy.”

“Perpetrated by whom?” Dana Scully’s answer to Fox Mulder’s declaration held a

slightly amused tone.

His nose almost pressed against the front window and his face colored an odd shade

of orange by the flashing pumpkin-shaped fairy lights that he had hung up earlier in

the day, Mulder turned and glared at his partner. “I don’t know, but it has to be.”

“Because it’s raining?”

Mulder turned back to his vigil. The heavy rain had been coming down in sheets for

some time now, pelting against the large front window.

With the tip of his finger, he traced one of the numerous drops on its path down the

glass, ending by drawing an alien head in the condensation. “It’s not just raining,

Scully.” Mulder hesitated, and then said. “It’s Noah weather.”

“Noah weather?”

“Yeah, you know, lots and lots of rain, cubits and cubits of ark, animals, two by two,

flood, etc.”

“I know what you’re referring to Mulder, but it’s not that bad.” Scully tucked her feet

under herself and snuggled into the corner of the couch. “Besides, we could really do

with the rain.”

“Yeah, I know, but did it have to be tonight? Of all nights? All Hallows Eve, the only

time of the year when people are encouraged to dress up and challenge, mock,

tease, torture and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul, and of the

otherworld that becomes our world on this night of reversible possibilities?”

Mulder heaved a frustrated sigh and took a final glance out at the deserted street;

seeing no masses of little costumed ghoulies and ghosties, he twitched the curtains

back into place.

Scully cast a fond glance at her partner. “You know, I think that you’re more

disappointed than the kids.”

His hands pressed against his hips, Mulder threw a wistful glance at the table by the

front door that held a huge bowl of assorted candies and the pumpkin that had taken

him several painstaking hours and an assortment of Scully’s scalpels to carve into an

evil, maliciously grinning Jack O’Lantern.

“I still think we could have managed, Tara didn’t have to cancel you know.” He

sighed. “We could have used umbrellas and I know the kids have raincoats.”

“Sloshing through ankle-deep water is not everybody’s idea of fun, Mulder.” Scully

broke in. “And, it wouldn’t have been half as much fun because Matthew and Claire

couldn’t show off their costumes.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.” Mulder strode across the room and dropped

lethargically onto the couch next to his partner, crossing one leg over the other. He

reached out and flicked his fingers at one of the furry spiders that bounced back and

forth atop the deely-bopper headband that Scully was wearing, her only concession

to a costume for the evening.

“So, now that trick or treating is out, what do you wanna do?” He asked.

“There’s probably a really bad horror movie on TV that you haven’t watched since

last Halloween.” Scully smiled.

Mulder shrugged his shoulders and reached for the remote control. The TV flared into

life and he began rapidly flipping channels, looking for something to take his interest.

Unable to follow the ever-changing picture on the screen, Scully reached for the

magazine she’d abandoned earlier that evening. She picked up where she had left off

on a rather interesting article and left Mulder to his own devices.

**********

9:00 p.m.

Mulder was thoroughly entranced by the old black and white version of Hitchcock’s

classic movie ‘The Birds’ that he had finally settled on.

He’d never admit it to Scully, but he found the bleached blonde, Tippi Hedren,

extremely annoying, reminding him of Marita Covarrubias. Mulder secretly enjoyed

watching her get pecked nearly to death when she was stupid enough to go into the

attic of that house.

Any student of horror movies knew that was a really, really moronic and ultimately

deadly thing to do.

Hell, he learned that himself VERY early on when he first got into the X-Files.

However, it never stopped him from walking right into the next horroresque X-File

situation.

Mulder slouched on the sofa, one hand following a steady path between his mouth

and the large bowl of heavily-buttered popcorn propped by his leg; the other hand

was preoccupied stroking Scully’s sock encased feet, which were comfortably

ensconced upon his lap.

The sudden, loud and insistent thumping on the front door took both agents by

surprise.

Mulder jumped up, just managing to save the bowl of popcorn from hitting the floor

as he gained his feet.

Hurrying to the door, he pulled it open and stared in bemusement at the trio of

unlikely ghostly visitors on their doorstep.

“Trick or treat!” Ringo Langly and Melvin Frohike raucously chorused while John

Byers stood at the rear of the small group, his usual placid expression firmly in place.

Langly pushed past Mulder and stood just inside the doorway dripping on the floor.

Shaking his rain-drenched hair, he removed his glasses and attempted to wipe them

on his thoroughly soaked t-shirt.

Frohike shouldered his way out of a dilapidated orange and brown raincoat and

wiped a hand across his face. “Man alive, it’s coming down out there!”

Joining them at the door, Scully grabbed at the raincoat before Frohike could drape it

across the nearest piece of furniture.

“What are the three of you doing out on a night like this?” She asked in total

amazement as Byers carefully shook his umbrella free of raindrops and propped it in

the entryway.

“We were doing the tour of the Halloween light displays.” Langly answered.

“Were doing the tour?” Mulder grinned. “What happened, did you get thrown off the

bus for inappropriate comments?”

Byers did an uncanny impression of Scully raising her eyebrows. “We didn’t do the

official tour.”

“Huh?” Mulder questioned.

Langly glowered at the shortest Gunman. “Scrooge here, decided that we could save

the fifteen bucks each and instead follow the tour bus ourselves.”

“Hey jerkwad, it saved us forty-five dollars.” Frohike griped.

“Unfortunately,” Byers broke in before the squabble escalated. “Some of the roads

were flooded and impassable, so we had to turn back.”

“A bust huh?” Mulder returned from a quick trip to the linen closet, where he had

grabbed a handful of towels; he passed one to each man and used another to mop

up the puddles on the floor.

Frohike stood in the middle of the room, towel dangling from one hand and looked

around him at all the Halloween touches; wispy cobwebs adorned the banisters on

the stairs, on the mantle above the fireplace a pumpkin vine garland was looped

around an assortment of candles.

However, the ornament that really attracted his attention was situated on a low table

near the large front window.

A small tree, bare black branches all gnarled and bent was decorated with little white

balls.

Frohike stepped closer to the little tree. “Aren’t you guys a bit early for Christmas?”

He asked glancing back at the two agents.

Scully hid a smile behind her hand. “It’s not a Christmas tree, Melvin.”

“It’s not?” He said in surprise. “Sure looks like one, bit bare of course.” He bent

down and his eyes widened.

“Eww, gross, they’re eyeballs!” He exclaimed.

Mulder looked up from his chore and grinned, “Yeah, aren’t they great?”

“Not especially, no,” Frohike backed away from the tree and handed Mulder his

towel.

Langly and Byers moved to look at the tree as well.

“Well, for once I can truly say it’s gnarly,” Langly commented.

Byers only bent closer. “What’s the thick … goo … that’s dripping off them? It looks

real.”

“Oh, it’s just a little something left over that Scully brought home from the autopsy

bay,” Mulder commented, his mind still on mopping up water.

Byers stepped quickly away, “WHAT?!!”

Scully grinned. “He was joking, John. It’s just a nice little conglomeration Mulder

made up of Caro Syrup, mayonnaise and a touch of food coloring,” she turned to

look at her partner, “which Mulder WILL clean up.”

“Yes, Mother,” Mulder, stated, grinning and looking up at her from under his lashes.

Scully grinned back and watched happily as Mulder continued to clean up after the

Gunmen. It had taken her a long time, but she had finally trained Mulder to clean up

after himself–mostly. The recriminations if he didn’t just weren’t worth it.

Those recriminations usually carried over into the bedroom, so Mulder was always

very eager to make sure water, mud, green ooze, ectoplasm and any other “stuff” he

usually tracked in didn’t stay long.

Langly had his towel over his head and was vigorously rubbing his hair. “Well, it was

a bust to a degree; actually, the van broke down just a couple blocks away from

here. I think something got wet.”

“A bit like you?” Scully questioned. “Do you want to borrow one of Mulder’s shirts? I

can put yours in the dryer.”

Frohike snorted. “Put any of his clothes within spitting distance of a clothes dryer and

they’ll disintegrate.”

Langly peered myopically out from under the towel. “Uh no, it’s okay.” He pulled the

saturated piece of clothing away from his body. “Can’t put this in a dryer, it’s got

that printing stuff on it.”

Scully narrowed her eyes and stared at the words written across the thin man’s

chest.

Langly stretched the wrinkles out of his shirt and watched as Scully read the words.

“Langly!” She exclaimed and put a hand to her mouth, hiding the smile that curved

her lips.

Mulder looked across from where he was diligently rubbing the towel back and forth

across the floor with his foot. “Scully? What’s up?” His eyes travelled over to where

the blond Gunman was holding his shirt out away from his body.

Mulder read the words out loud. “All grown up and still fascinated by nipples.” A

devilish look crossed his face and he smirked at his partner. “Hey Scully, I want a

shirt like Langly’s.”

“Forget it Mulder.” Scully lifted one eyebrow. “It’s not going to happen.”

“What are you complaining about, man?” Frohike asked without thinking, still drying

himself off. “You’ve got the best nipples around!”

Everyone stopped dead and Scully turned to glare at Frohike, who, noticing the

sudden silence, looked up and around at everyone. Then he looked at Scully, realized

his major faux paus.

“I m-meant your OWN nip-nipples, Mulder.” Frohike corrected himself, stuttering

helplessly, never taking his eyes off Scully’s deadly raised eyebrow.

Scully gave him a death stare. “I’m SO relieved you find Mulder’s nipples

fascinating.”

Langly, Byers and Mulder laughed out loud as Frohike’s face turned scarlet.

With one final glare, Scully turned back to the blond Gunman.

“Give me your shirt and I’ll hang it up, it won’t dry completely but it’ll be better than

sitting around in wet clothes.” Scully made to leave the room but turned back.

“Um…your jeans? Are they wet too? You can use a pair of Mulder’s if you like.”

Mulder’s head snapped up, a dismayed expression on his face. “Scully!”

Throwing a glance in Mulder’s direction, Langly blushed and stammered. “N…no! Uh,

no really, I’m fine, just the shirt, thanks Scully.”

Scully nodded and walked into the bedroom, returning a moment later with a plain

gray t-shirt.

Langly peeled off the saturated item and handed it across before pulling the dry shirt

over his head. “Thanks.” Replacing his now dry glasses, his eyes widened at the

sight of Scully’s Halloween adornment. “Hey, cool deely-bopper, where’d you get it?”

“At the costume shop downtown.” Mulder answered, joining the group. “I couldn’t

find one with alien heads on it.” He stated in a disappointed tone. “So, instead I

settled for this shirt.” He pulled his shoulders back as three pairs of eyes scrutinized

the design on his button-down shirt.

The material was patterned with miniature grinning skulls, empty eye-sockets

dripping blood. The hem of the pale gray-tinted shirt was colored a deep red,

suggesting that the blood dripping from the skulls had pooled around the edges.

“I gotta admit Mulder,” Frohike shook his head. “It’s not something I woulda

chosen.” He turned away and his eyes lit up when he discovered the contents of the

bowl nearby.

“Dude, it’s righteous!” Langly exclaimed with satisfaction.

“Yeah, aliens aren’t quite in keeping with the theme of Halloween are they?” Frohike

asked as he dug through the candy.

“I don’t know, lots of kids used to dress up as ET.” Mulder said.

“ET was cute though.” Scully admitted as she attempted to herd Frohike away from

the candy and into the kitchen. “Anyone for coffee?”

“Some cocoa would be nice.” Byers handed Mulder his barely damp towel and

insinuated his body between the rapidly emptying bowl and his shorter cohort.

Frohike snorted judgmentally under his breath at Byers’ choice.

“Actually, that sounds really good.” Scully agreed. “Anyone else?”

Langly and Mulder both requested coffee.

“I’ll join you in a cup, Agent Scully.” Frohike ran his tongue over his lips and moved

to stand next to her. “Can I give you some assistance?”

Scully agreed, studiously ignoring his trademark leer, and suggested they all adjourn

to the kitchen.

As Scully bustled around filling cups, Mulder filled a plate with some cookies and

placed it on the table.

“Here you go guys, try one of these.”

Each man took one of the delicious-looking treats and bit into it, their first taste was

followed by a chorus of appreciation. Scully turned from the counter and looked

pleased with the reaction.

“Okay, Mulder, dude, where did you buy these? I gotta get some.” Langly asked.

“We didn’t buy them.” Mulder grinned as he set two cups down on the table.

“Scully’s Mom made them.”

Langly lifted another cookie from the plate and eyed the petite agent. “You reckon

your Mom would consider making us some?”

“I’m sure I could ask her for you.” She said as she placed steaming cups of cocoa in

front of Byers and Frohike. She returned to the counter for her cup just as the lights

suddenly dimmed and then brightened.

Everyone in the room looked up at the ceiling and then at each other. “Close.”

Mulder stated.

“With the current government’s attitude towards maintenance on the power grid as

well as the pittance that is spent on any infrastructure, it’s a wonder that the power

hasn’t gone out before now.” Frohike grumbled around a mouthful of cookie.

Scully reached up to an overhead cupboard and pulled out a box of candles. “Mulder,

will you go and get the candle holders? I think we’d better be prepared.”

Almost as if Scully’s words had been a signal, the lights flickered off again and then

on.

“Cool, a blackout on Halloween!” Langly grinned. “Can’t get much spookier than

that.”

“Scully, where are they?” Mulder’s voice carried in from the other room.

“On top of the bookcase, Mulder.”

“Where? Oh, never mind I see them.” Just as he called out, the lights flickered again,

but this time they stayed out.

The darkness was complete, unable to see her hand in front of her face, Scully

blindly felt through the kitchen drawer designated for bits and pieces until she felt

the shape of the box of matches under her fingers.

Never one to miss a beat, Langly broke out into an off-key but recognizable whistling

rendition of the “Twilight Zone” theme song.

“Weirdness!” Frohike muttered and grabbed for another cookie as Byers quite

accurately slapped his hand away in the total darkness. Frohike just glared in his

direction and reached for the cookie again. “Who do you think you are, my mother?”

“Agent Mulder offered us each ONE cookie,” Byers reminded him. “Don’t be greedy.”

“Oh, shut up you narc!” Langly snapped at him.

“Boys,” Scully started, “Don’t fight or the Halloween cookie fairy will…”

A thumping noise sounded suddenly from the living room followed by a crash and a

loud voice. “Damnit, I can’t see a thing!”

“Mulder, are you all right?” A match flared into life followed by the weak flickering of

candlelight.

“Yeah, I’m fine, just tripped over something.” He limped into the kitchen rubbing one

hand over his left knee, his glow-in-the-dark skeletons on his shirt gleaming a

weirdish green color.

“Next time, put your shoes away.” He was admonished.

“How’d you know it was my shoes?” He asked.

“Because you dumped them right by the bookcase earlier after Tara called.”

“Oh.”

The Gunmen snickered at the exchange.

The kitchen brightened slightly as Scully lit more candles. Placing one of the holders

in the center of the table, she sat back down and picked up her mug of cocoa.

“Where’s your Official FBI Issued Halogen Flashlight, Agent Mulder?” Frohike asked

sarcastically.

Mulder opened his mouth, but Scully answered instead. “Mulder has lost so many,

along with his weapon, that A.D. Skinner makes him check them out and back in

every day. He gets fined twenty-five dollars a day for every day he forgets to turn

them in.”

The Gunmen laughed, including Byers, at Mulder’s expense.

Mulder glared at the love of his life with a huge frown. “What is this? ‘Pick on Mulder

Night?'” He was still rubbing his knee.

‘Trust Mulder,’ Scully thought, ‘to get hurt IN the house on Halloween night.’

Scully smirked at him. “Just ignore him, boys. He’s just pissed off that he couldn’t go

out trick-or-treating.” She sipped her cocoa, watching Mulder in the candlelight.

She was certain she saw a bit of revenge brewing in his dark hazel glint, and hoped

it would wait until the Gunmen were gone.

Mulder had busied himself lighting kindling to start a fire he had laid in the fireplace

earlier in the evening. It would provide both heat and light, dismal, as that would be.

“That’s … an interesting pumpkin carving,” Byers observed from the table, staring

over at the Jack O’Lantern by the door.

“Did you carve it, Scully?” Langly asked.

“No,” Scully sipped her cocoa, “That’s all Mulder’s doing.”

“Yep,” Mulder smiled, jumped up from the hearth, hobbled over to the door and

brought the Jack O’Lantern back to the table.

The candle inside was still burning brightly, nicely illuminating the carving in a

weirdly flickering way.

Frohike leaned closer to get a better look at it. “Well, it’s really, really butt-ugly,

Mulder.” He looked up at his friend, “What is it?”

Mulder glanced at Scully who couldn’t contain her smile. “Well, it’s THE most hideous

and heinously evil thing Scully and I have ever experienced in all our years on the X-

Files.”

All three Gunmen leaned forward to peer at it inquisitively.

“Well, hell yeah, it’s ugly,” Langly agreed, “but what IS it, man?”

Scully really was trying hard not to laugh, but failing miserably, causing her deely-

boppered spiders to swing madly above her head, and receiving grins from her

partner.

“I figured if you really wanted to scare anyone, you needed to use, as a model,

something that you knew really well and that scared the piss out of you,” Mulder told

them. “It’s dear ol’ ex-FBI Assistant Director Alvin Kersh.”

Frohike nearly spit out his drink, Langly almost dropped his cup and Byers just

blinked, then all of them broke into peals of laughter.

“Looks just like the old tight-assed fart!” Frohike grinned.

“Yeah, that’d scare the crap out of anyone.” Langly observed.

“It IS a remarkable likeness,” Byers agreed, leaning forward again to get a better

look.

“Whatever the hell happened to old fart-face anyway?” Frohike asked.

“We don’t really know,” Scully told him. “He was booted out of the FBI…”

“Something he’d been trying to do to ME,” Mulder reminded them all, with a smile at

the irony.

“But, we really haven’t heard anything one way or the other; he just seems to have

dropped off the radar.” Scully said with a shrug, not really liking to talk about him,

and returned to her cocoa.

Langly was still staring at the Jack O’Lantern and asked, “How’d you do this,

Mulder?”

“Well, I…” but Mulder was cut off when all the candles in the place went out at the

same time, with the exception of the flickering candle in the Jack O’Lantern, Kersh’s

ugly mug staring at them all.

Everyone froze and looked around. “Just a breeze.” Scully commented serenely,

taking a sip of her cocoa again.

“Scully,” Mulder looked at her, “the power’s out; no air is moving in here, no

windows are open. How could they all go out at the same time?”

Scully looked at him, the shadows from the orangish glow on his face casting weird

shadows across his visage and making him look positively evil. “Oh no, Mulder!” she

told him. “Uh uh! No. No X-Files on All Hallow’s Eve!”

“Why not?” he grinned evilly, grabbing the box of matches and lighting the candles

on the table again. “It’s the perfect night for ghost stories, you know.”

Mulder had just finished lighting the candles when they all flickered out again, except

for the hideously carved Kersh Jack O’Lantern.

“Um…” Frohike looked around nervously. “I, um, I think we need to be going…”

“Oh, don’t be silly, Melvin,” Scully told him. “It’s just a coincidence. Besides,” she

looked at the windows and no light was leaking in from outside the curtains, “It looks

as if all the streetlights are out, too. It would be dangerous for you guys to get back

out in that van, even if you can get it started.”

This time, Scully grabbed the matches and relit the candles … only to have them go

out again almost immediately.

No one commented when she nervously scooted her chair closer to Mulder’s.

“Well, this is not how I’d planned to spend Halloween.” Mulder stated glumly, despite

the weird problems with keeping the candles lit.

“We can’t let a perfectly good October 31st go to waste.” Langly declared. “So, back

to what Mulder suggested; does anyone know any good ghost stories?”

Two of the occupants at the table expressed their doubts, Mulder on the other hand

brightened considerably.

“Yeah, I’m in. Scully?”

“I don’t believe in ghosts, Mulder.” She announced primly.

“You’ve had a ghostly encounter Scully; remember Maurice and Lyda?”

“Mulder, we agreed that never happened.”

“Uh, we agreed?” He replied disbelievingly. “I thought you decided that it was all in

our heads and I just went along with you.”

“Be that as it may, it still doesn’t negate the fact that I don’t believe in ghosts.”

Scully crossed her arms over her chest in defiance.

“Besides, Scully,” Mulder grinned at her, “Remember? Maurice and Lyda showed you

their ‘holes.’ And they didn’t show their ‘holes’ to just anyone.”

At the comment “Maurice and Lyda showed you their ‘holes,'” all three Gunmen

looked at each other — Frohike with a leer — and then back at Mulder and Scully,

expecting an explanation, which they didn’t receive.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mulder.” Scully’s expression was grim and

her face was typical ‘Scully-angry.’

Mulder propped his chin in his hand and sighed. “I have never figured out why you

find it so difficult to believe in things that break the rules of science as you know it,

even when you see those things with your own eyes.”

Frohike and Langly had grins plastered on their faces as they listened to the Agents’

differences of opinion.

“What’s your point Mulder?”

“My point is, that you don’t have to believe in ghosts, to tell ghost stories, Scully.”

Mulder put forth.

“What’s the purpose then?”

“Entertainment, amusement, distraction, every person’s God-given right to have the

beejesus scared out of them.” Mulder motioned to the ornament that Scully still

wore.

Scully rolled her eyes and sighed, making her deely-bopper spiders wiggle. “We get

enough of the real beejesus scared out of us at work, Mulder. Why would we want to

do it to ourselves at home?”

“You don’t necessarily believe in witches and goblins either, but you get involved in

Halloween.” Mulder pointed out to her.

“That’s different.”

“How?”

Scully opened her mouth, fully prepared to launch into a detailed explanation as to

how she had come to that decision, however the words just wouldn’t come. Instead

she crossed her arms again and glared at her partner. “It just is.” She declared.

Mulder stared at her in anticipation, waiting for clarification, when nothing more was

forthcoming, his eyes crinkled at the corners.

“‘It just is’?” He teased with a wide smile. “Dr. Dana Scully, M.D., Board Certified

Pathologist, purveyor of dead bodies and hard science everywhere and constant

proclaimer of ‘Mulder, that’s insane!’ And that’s the thrust of your argument, ‘It just

is’?”

Scully shot her partner a look that would have lesser men immediately running for

the hills. “Mulder, don’t make me hurt you.”

The others around the table burst into laughter causing a smile to creep across

Scully’s face.

Mulder grabbed one of Scully’s hands and pressed it to his lips. “All right, how about

us guys tell really bad ghost stories and you can tell us how illogical, irrational,

unscientific, unreasonable, how scary…”

“I get it Mulder.” She pursed her lips and tried to pull her hand away.

Mulder tightened his grip and grinned at his partner. “All right, who wants to go

first?”

Silence reigned around the table, until Frohike nervously cleared his throat. “Okay,

I’m game.”

He leaned his elbows on the table and clasped his hands, while he marshalled his

thoughts. Then with the bright flame from the Jack O’Lantern reflecting Kersh’s face

in his glasses, he began.

“They say that there once was a prospector wandering through the Yukon with his

two dogs, searching for gold. One evening as it neared dusk, he found himself mired

down in the muskeg – boggy country with water just underneath the surface of the

semi-frozen ground and just above the permafrost.

“It was a treacherous place, and would be very easy to sink beneath the surface and

be engulfed. The more the prospector and his dogs tried to free themselves from its

clutches, the more lost they became.

“Finally, the prospector found a firm spot on a small hill. There were a few scraggly

trees on the elevation, and he made a small fire and cooked up a bit of soup for

himself and his canine companions.

“As the stars came out overhead, the man tried to find a comfortable place to sleep,

knowing that in the morning, he and the dogs would once again face the quagmire.

“At last, the prospector fell into an uneasy sleep. As he slept, he dreamt that a fierce

native warrior was standing over him, threatening him with a spear.

Frohike deepened his voice. “‘Why have you invaded this sacred ground?’ the warrior

demanded. ‘Leave at once or I will kill you!’

“‘I am lost in the muskeg,’ the prospector said in his dream. ‘Show me the way out,

and I will gladly leave.’

“The warrior frowned down at him. ‘I am the protector of this place, and cannot

forsake it. But I will summon a guide for you.’

“The warrior raised his arms toward the sky and called something in a tongue the

prospector could not understand. Then he vanished.

“The sudden growling of his dogs awakened the prospector. Sitting up, he beheld the

glowing figure of a beautiful Native American woman standing at the bottom of the

hill. He blinked in amazement, and felt chills run all over his body.

“The woman beckoned to him, and to his surprise, his dogs ceased their growling

and ran up to her. They pranced around her like pups, and he felt his fear fade away.

“Packing up his gear, the prospector made his way down the darkened hillock to the

treacherous muskeg that surrounded it.

“The glowing woman smiled at him. She raised her arms in the same gesture used

by the warrior in his dream, and transformed into a beautiful snow-white hare. The

glowing hare hopped slowly ahead of the prospector, leading him eastward.

“The prospector followed it closely, deviating neither left nor right from its path. The

dogs followed him eagerly and showed no interest in chasing the hare.

“For several hours, the prospector and his dogs followed the glowing animal through

the treacherous twists and turns of the quagmire.

“Just before dawn, they reached solid ground. The prospector looked around and

knew where he was.

Ahead of him, the white hare became once more the beautiful, glowing figure of a

woman.

“The dogs danced up to her, and she patted them on the head. Then she offered the

prospector a sweet smile and vanished as the first rays of the sun pierced the

horizon.”

Frohike fell silent and looked around the table in interest.

Scully was staring deeply into the mesmerising flame inside the pumpkin. Mulder had

an intrigued expression upon his face, Byers was leaning back in his chair, his face

obscured by the darkness; Langly however was staring at him open-mouthed.

“What?” Frohike exclaimed.

“You call that a ghost story?” The blond Gunman’s voice dripped with disgust.

“It fitted the criteria, it was a story and it involved ghosts…so yeah.” Frohike shot

back.

“Man, you don’t know anything about how to tell a really scary story.”

“Like you could do better.” Frohike muttered.

“With my eyes closed. My Kung-Fu is the best!” Langly announced, leaning towards

the shortest Gunman.

“Hey guys.” Mulder butted in.

“See what you started Mulder?” Scully glared as the two Gunmen began to hurl

insults at each other.

Byers leaned forward and laid his hand gently on Scully’s. “It’s okay, Agent Scully.”

He spoke in his normal, quiet tone. “They’re always like this.”

“You’re sure, John?” Scully questioned.

“Positive.” Byers let his friends continue their verbal attacks for a few more seconds

before clearing his throat.

Almost immediately, Langly and Frohike fell silent. Byers looked from one man to the

other, his mild gaze quelling their antagonism with more success than any words.

“I believe you were next.” He nodded at Langly.

“All right!” Langly exclaimed enthusiastically. Tossing a glance of contempt in

Frohike’s direction, he continued. “This is how you tell a ghost story.”

“This is supposed to be a true story. Somewhere in Pennsylvania there’s an

abandoned property with a monstrous, decrepit Victorian house that was supposed

to be haunted.

“It should have been a good resting place for the local deer hunters, but they won’t

go near it. A few that have tried have come away before midnight with tales of

ghostly thumping noises, gasps, moans, and a terrible wet bloodstain that appeared

on the floor of the front porch and could not be wiped away.” Langly widened his

eyes and continued, his voice almost a whisper, cadenced purposefully to make the

others lean towards him.

“Aubrey Phelps was an Englishman dude who, in the early 1800’s, had purchased

land and built a huge, fancy Victorian house all covered with gingerbread trimmings

and surrounded by lovely gardens.

“When everything was arranged to this dude’s liking, he sent out party invitations to

everyone within messenger range. It was the biggest social event of the year, with

music and dancing and huge amounts of food. Sawhorse tables were set up with

refreshments, and drinks were set out on the front porch.

“People came from miles around. The only one missing was the son-in-law of an old

man named McInturf. They had had a terrible fight that afternoon, and the boy had

stalked off in a rage, threatening to get even with the old man.

“Around midnight, the musicians took a recess and old man McInturf went out on the

front porch with some friends to enjoy snifters of brandy and smoke their cigars.

“Suddenly there came the thunder of hooves rushing up the lane. A cloaked figure

rode towards the lantern-lit porch. McInturf put down his drink. “That will be my son-

in-law,” he told his friends as he went down the steps.

“The cloaked figure stopped his horse just outside the pool of lantern-light. There

was a sharp movement and two loud shots cracked from a gun.

“Old man McInturf staggered backwards, shot in the throat and the chest. The

cloaked man wheeled his horse and fled down the lane as friends ran to the

assistance of the old man.

“McInturf was laid down on the porch. He was bleeding heavily and they were afraid

to move him much. There was some talk of fetching the doctor, but everyone knew it

was too late.

“So much blood was pouring from the old man’s wounds that it formed a pool

underneath his head. McInturf coughed, once, twice; a hideous, gurgling, strangling

sound that wrenched at the hearts of all who heard it. Then he died.

“McInturf’s body was laid out on the sofa, and the once-merry guests left in stricken

silence. The servants came and wiped the red-brown bloodstain off the floorboards.

“The next day, a wagon was brought to the front of the house and McInturf’s body

was carried out onto the porch.

“As the men stepped across the place where McInturf had died, blood began to pool

around their boots, forming a wet stain in exactly the pattern that had been wiped

up by the servants the night before.

“The men gasped in fear. One of them staggered and almost dropped the body. They

hurriedly laid McInturf in the back of the wagon, and a pale Phelps ordered the

servants to clean up the fresh bloodstain.

“From that day forward, the Phelps could not keep that part of the porch clean.

Every few weeks, the damp bloodstain would reappear. They tried repainting the

porch a few times, but the bloodstain would always leak through.

“In the county jail, McInturf’s son-in-law died of a blood clot in the brain.

“A few months later, one of the Phelps’ servants went mad after seeing a ‘terrible

sight’ that made his head feel like it was going to explode.

“Folks started saying the house was being haunted by the ghost of McInturf, seeking

revenge.

“The property was resold several times but each resident was driven out by the

terrible, gasping ghost of the old dead dude McInturf reliving his last moments and

by the bloodstain that could not be removed from the porch. The house was

eventually abandoned.”

Langly sat back in his chair and nodded at the others around the table. “Now that’s

a ghost story!

There was a pregnant pause as everyone looked at each other in the orange glow of

the Jack O’Lantern.

Scully was the first to comment. “The blood stain mustn’t have been properly

removed in the first place.”

Three of the men at the table turned and cast varying levels of incredulous looks at

her.

“Is that your official scientific opinion, Doctor Scully?” Mulder asked, blinking

owlishly at her.

“Blood just doesn’t reappear after it’s been correctly cleaned up.” She stated. “And

this supposedly happened back in the early 1800’s. They would have only had soap

and water, no doubt that’s exactly what happened.”

Narrowing her eyes, Scully stared at Langly through the flickering light. “If, of

course, this was, as you said, a true story, somehow I have my reservations.”

“Scully.” Mulder straightened from his slouched position and leaned towards her.

“Don’t ever change.”

“I beg your pardon, Mulder?” She enquired.

“I don’t want you to ever change from being yourself, your skeptical, disbelieving,

unconvinced, dubious, doubting-Thomas self.” He finished off with a flourish and

wrapped his arm about her shoulders. Pressing a kiss into her hair, he murmured.

“Because it’s those qualities that make you MY Scully.”

Scully smiled, then turned and kissed him on the cheek. Mulder’s other arm went

around her and their lips were about to meet when Frohike piped up and asked,

“Um, do you two want to be alone, or can we watch?”

Scully pulled away from her partner, and even in the light of the Kersh O’Lantern,

everyone could see her blush. Mulder looked from Scully to Frohike and grinned.

It wasn’t often that Scully let her defences slip in front of anyone, but it was certainly

a sign of how much she trusted the Gunmen to actually forget herself in their

presence.

She pushed her chair back and stood up. “You okay Scully?” Mulder enquired,

turning to catch her hand.

“Yes, I…ah, how about we go sit in the living room, it’ll be more comfortable than

these kitchen chairs.”

Trailing after Scully, like ducklings, the Gunmen made their way into the living room

and arranged themselves onto various pieces of furniture, leaving the love seat

couch for the agents.

Mulder brought up the rear cradling the Kersh O’Lantern. He placed it on the low

coffee table in the middle of the room before lowering himself onto the couch next to

his partner and slinging an arm along the back of the couch.

The weak light cast from the single candle inside the lantern sent eerie shadows

around the room, the light from the fire not really helping, and Scully couldn’t help

the involuntary shiver that raced down her spine.

Mulder felt the shudder that coursed through his partner, he moved closer so that his

body was touching hers and slung his arm around her shoulders.

“So,” Langly said, flexing his shoulders and grinning at the other occupants of the

room. “Who’s next?”

Frohike eyed Mulder. “Come on G-man, betcha you’ve got a real life ghost tale

haven’t you?”

Mulder tipped his head to one side and regarded the small man with raised

eyebrows. “Maybe.” He twirled his fingers through the hair at the back of Scully’s

neck. “But I think Scully and Byers should go before me.”

“Mulder!” Scully exclaimed, pulling out of his loose embrace. “I told you I don’t

believe in this stuff.”

“I know.” He placated her. “But didn’t you ever hear a spooky story when you were

growing up, something you were told by someone else in the family, or when you

were at school.” He gave her a leering grin. “You know, a ghostly sailor haunting one

of your Dad’s ships?”

“I don’t know, Mulder…” Scully hesitated.

Mulder had a ‘harrumph’ look on his face and turned to stare at Scully. “Well, if YOU

are so positive about your negativity, why don’t YOU tell us YOUR favorite ghost

story, Scully? Put up or shut up!”

Scully stared right back at him and folded her arms over her chest. “All right, Mulder.

I will.”

Scully pursed her lips, folding and unfolding her hands several times before finally

sliding each one underneath her thighs. “Well, there was a tale my Dad used to tell

us sometimes.” She straightened up and looked Mulder in the eye. “But, it doesn’t

mean that I believe it.”

Mulder grinned. “Sure, strictly for amusement purposes only.”

“And.” She pulled one hand free and waved a warning finger in Mulder’s face. “I

don’t want to see you opening an X-File about it anywhere down the track.”

“Cross my heart.” Mulder intoned solemnly, drawing the imaginary lines across his

chest.

“You guys heard that?” Scully asked. “You’re my witnesses.”

Three heads nodded like bobble-head dolls, along with varying sounds of agreement.

“All right then.” Scully made herself comfortable and closed her eyes as she gathered

her thoughts.

“My Dad told us this story after being at sea for a six month stretch. I was only little,

I think Bill might have been about ten or twelve.” Her breath caught and Mulder

quickly took her hand in his, holding it firmly.

Scully took the support her partner offered and began her tale.

“Many, many years ago, when the Spanish commanded the oceans, there was a

Captain Don Sandovate, his ship the Fortunato voyaged from Spain to the New World

in search of treasure.

“They found gold in abundance, enough for many men, many lifetimes over. But

among his crew there were a few sailors who did not wish to share their newfound

wealth with the monarchs of Spain.

“On their journey up the Atlantic Coast, the sailors mutinied and imprisoned their

captain, tying him to the main mast and refusing to give him food or drink.

“Day after day, the captain lay exposed to the hot sun of summer, his body drying

up as the treacherous sailors worked around him. Finally, his pride broken, Don

Sandovate begged: ‘Water. Please. Give me just one sip of water.’

“The mutineers found this amusing, and started carrying water up to the main mast

and holding it just out of reach of their former captain.

In the terrible heat of a dry summer, the captain did not survive long without water.

“A few days after the mutiny, the captain succumbed to heat and thirst. The new

captain, a greedy man with no compassion at all in his heart, left Don Sandovate tied

to the mast, his body withering away, while the ship turned pirate and plundered its

way up the coast.

“But Providence was watching the ruthless men, and a terrible storm arose and

drove the ship deep into the Atlantic, where it sank with all hands; the body of Don

Sandovate still tied to the broken mast.

“Shortly after the death of the mutineers-turned-pirates, an eerie ghost ship began

appearing along the coast, usually in the calm just before a storm. It had the

appearance of a Spanish treasure ship, but its mast was broken, its sails torn, and

the corpse of a noble-looking Spaniard was tied to the mast.

“The ship was crewed by skeletons in ragged clothing. As it passed other ships or

houses near the shore, the skeletons would stretch out bony hands and cry: ‘Water!

Please! Give us just one sip of water!'” Scully curled her fingers and reached out.

“But none could help them, for they are eternally doomed to roam the Atlantic,

suffering from thirst in payment for their terrible deeds against their captain and the

good people living along the Atlantic coast.”

Scully fell silent and risked a glance at Mulder. He was staring at her in disbelief.

“What?” She asked worriedly. “Do you know that one? I probably told it wrong, it’s

been a long, long time since my Dad told it to us kids.”

Mulder hurried to reassure her. “No!” He replied fervently. “I was…I’m wordless.” He

finally admitted. “I’ve never heard that story before.”

A thoroughly delighted grin lit up his face. “That was really good.” He looked at the

Gunmen. “Wouldn’t you guys agree?”

Frohike shifted in his seat. “I’ve got this image of some Spanish guy with a neat little

goatee beard, all dried up and desiccated, stuck in my head.” He grimaced. “Jeez,”

He moaned. “I’m gonna think of that every time I have to look at Byers.”

“I can’t believe YOU would tell a ghost story, Scully! In fact, I can’t believe you

DID!” Mulder told her, then leaned over and gave her a brief kiss. “I’m so proud of

you!”

Scully smiled back at him in the glow of the Kersh O’Lantern. “Just because I don’t

believe in ghosts doesn’t mean I can’t tell a good tale, Mulder.”

An extremely loud crack of thunder and a spike of lightning made everyone jump.

Everyone squirmed in their seats — even Scully, who did try to hide it but was

unsuccessful. None of the men commented on her unease, however, preferring to

keep their reproductive organs intact.

During one of his frequent trips to the window to look out at the storm, Mulder had

left the curtains open. It was not only pouring rain harder than before the Gunmen

arrived but was also lightning as well, with huge cracks of thunder booming

overhead every few minutes.

In short, it made for a particularly creepy Halloween night.

“You guys are SO full of crap,” Mulder said, turning from the window, and all four

faces turned to glare at him. “You wouldn’t know a scary story if it walked up and bit

you in the butt.” A crack of thunder and another lightning strike from outside the

window lit him up from behind, giving him a momentary strangely eerie blue aura.

“Well, if you think ours is ‘crap,’ G-man,” Frohike told him, arms folded over his

chest, “then why don’t YOU regale us with one of your own, oh Master of the Sacred

X-Files?”

“Yeah, dude!” Langly agreed. “Toss one out there for us, if you’re that much better

at story-telling.”

Mulder glanced at Byers who nodded, backing up his friends, then at Scully.

“Don’t look at me, buddy,” Scully held up her hands, palms facing him. “You got

yourself into this; you get yourself out. And by the way, I don’t know you.”

Scully sat unusually close to Mulder and he looked over at her and smiled a

particularly evil smile.

Mulder sat back, his face both shrouded in shadows and highlighted by the menacing

orange glow of the Kersh O’Lantern. He was quiet for a moment before he began

speaking in a low voice, forcing everyone to lean closer to hear him.

“Janette was a fifteen year old, very simple, small town girl, who just happened to

be very, very superstitious,” he began.

“She had started out life as a very sickly baby since birth and had continued to be

that way all her life. Her birth had been VERY difficult and nearly deadly event for

her Mother. Out of seven children, Janette was the youngest, but the only one who

ever suffered sicknesses. Her parents had blithely commented, all her life, that

‘Janette was jinxed.’

“As a result, poor Janette grew up believing these things, believing she was jinxed

and that she unintentionally jinxed others, and was terribly, terribly superstitious,

and by her own beliefs, she became an emotional cripple.” Mulder leaned forward,

his fingers interlaced as he looked at the carved pumpkin, as if his mind was a

thousand miles away.

“Janette never stepped on a crack, for fear of breaking her Mother’s back,” he

continued. “She never stepped on a line, for fear of breaking her Mother’s spine.

“Janette carried several rabbits’ feet with her, always rubbing one for good luck.

“She was DEATHLY afraid of mirrors, of getting too close to them for fear of

accidentally shattering one and, thereby, giving herself seven long, horrible years of

overwhelming bad luck.

“Janette knew that bad luck came in 3s, so if she had even the smallest bouts of bad

luck two times in a row, such as dropping her peas on the kitchen floor, or scuffing

her shoes, she’d pretend to be ill and stay in bed to avoid the third and, she thought,

the deadly third bout of bad luck.

“Janette, like her brothers and sisters, walked to school each morning. Her siblings,

however, also thought she was strange and didn’t want to be seen with her, so they

walked faster than she, leaving her behind.

“On the way to school — a lonely journey; she, fearful of seeing ravens, the

harbingers of death — and counted the magpies she saw on her way for luck.

“If she saw a penny, she picked it up, because, as everyone knew, if you didn’t you’d

have bad luck.

“Whenever anyone spoke around her of someone’s death, Janette would, at all costs,

knock on wood to keep the bad spirits of death away from herself.

“Janette was very withdrawn and quiet; she never liked calling attention to herself

for fear of drawing others’ ire and spite. If that happened, she knew, without a

doubt, that serious accidents and illnesses would befall her.” Mulder glanced around.

“And accidents DID befall her now and then.

“When she was forced to go to into town with her family, there was a walk she hated

because an overhead sign covered it and there was no way around it. Of course, it

was a given that walking under a large sign was VERY bad luck and she hated

walking under that sign. So, no matter what she had in her hands, she managed,

somehow, to arrange it so that she could cross the fingers of both hands as she

walked under the sign.

“Whenever a Friday the 13th rolled around, Janette always became mysteriously ill

and always managed to be far too sick to go to school that day. All she wanted was

to stay in bed, where she lay, shivering all day, scared nearly out of her mind, never

wanting to give the evil spirits reasons to come after her, as she knew they wanted –

– and were waiting — to do.”

Mulder shifted slightly and reached up to rub his chin for a moment, and everyone in

the room again squirmed in their seats. Then he continued with his story, his voice

still very low, intentionally causing chills to run up the spines of everyone in the

room.

“At one point, Janette’s neighbor’s oldest son, knowing her fears — as did all her

schoolmates — intentionally cursed her, and, in the traditions of old, late one night,

she sneaked out of the house, drew the boy’s pet dog to her with a piece of meat,

then pierced the dog’s skin with a pin to draw a small amount of blood to reverse the

curse. The dog howled in pain and ran away from her with its tail tucked between his

legs and would never come close to her again.”

Frohike glanced at Langly who looked at Byers who looked at Scully who hadn’t

taken her wide eyes off her partner.

“She knew that to cure a cough,” Mulder continued, “you should take a piece of hair

from the hacking person’s head, put it between two slices of bread and feed it to a

dog saying ‘eat well, you hound, may you be sick and I be sound’. However, because

of her last incidence with the next-door neighbor boy’s dog, the dog wouldn’t come

near her and her father’s cough became so bad he was hospitalized and nearly died

of pneumonia.

“Janette knew this was ALL her fault and she went to school crying the next day,

rubbing her rabbits’ feet and praying hard that her father would survive.

“However, at her school, the popular girls had always picked on Janette mercilessly,

and had made public jokes at her expense.

“Normally,” Mulder told them, “Janette was very quiet in school and had no friends at

all. For the most part, she outwardly ignored the taunts, but inwardly she was torn

up and seething.

“Most students and teachers thought she was weird, others thought she was strange,

and, for some, her superstitious habits were just downright scary.

“Janette was always upset if she found an apple in her school lunch with the stem

still in, because she knew she’d have to twist it out, counting from A-Z and knowing

that whatever letter the stem broke on, that was the letter of the first name of the

boy she’d marry. And she didn’t like ANY of the boys at her school.”

The smile that appeared on Mulder’s face was almost malicious at this point.

“One day at lunch, Janette was sitting alone in the far corner of the lunch room, as

usual, opening her lunch sack, and she was sitting staring at the apple with the stem

inside the sack.

“Just then the ‘popular girls,’ all thirteen of them — an obviously unlucky number —

with large amounts of make-up, tight, short clothes, and bad attitudes came

strutting over to taunt her.

“‘Hey, look it’s Miss Stupid Superstition!’ their leader shouted, causing all eyes in the

lunch room to turn to her. Janette couldn’t help but notice the laughter that followed

and turned scarlet in embarrassment.

“The girl pulled out a mirror, held it up in front of Janette and intentionally cracked it

right in front of Janette’s face, sharp splinters going everywhere.

“Janette held in a scream and ran out, leaving everything behind.

“The lunch room erupted in laughter.”

Mulder looked around at everyone again then continued. “Mortally embarrassed and

truly angry for the first time in her life, Janette held a grudge for everyone after that

day.

“The next day, Janette was absent from school. In fact, she didn’t return for over

two weeks.

“Teachers, students and even the girls who taunted her were worried — well, only a

little.” Mulder smiled.

“Then one night, on the very next Friday the 13th, the girl who broke the mirror

received an unexpected phone call.

“‘Come to my house tonight,’ Janette’s voice rang out. ‘You MUST be there at 8:00

o’clock sharp!’

“The girl was uncomfortable but eventually said she’d be there, hung up and

immediately called her friends, deciding to pull a huge joke on Janette.

“When they arrived at her house, the front door was open slightly, blown back and

forth by the small breeze, its hinges creaking unnaturally.

“The girls, who were a little creeped out now, slowly opened the door and walked in

to the candle lit room, only to see the horrible sight of … Janette, hanging by her

neck from a rope, her body slowly swinging back and forth.”

Mulder glanced at Scully, whose breath had hitched at his words, but only he had

heard it. He turned back to look at the Gunmen and kept talking.

“All the girls screamed at the sight. Her wrists were cut and clothes were bloody and

dripping.

“The blood was dripping down onto a VERY large mirror supported by four cinder

blocks at each corner, over which Janette was hanging.

“Before the girls could turn and run, the rope suspending Janette snapped with a

sound like a loud shot, and Janette’s dead body crashed down into the mirror!”

Mulder clapped his hands quickly together, the sound making everyone jump.

“The mirror shattered into a million pieces — larger pieces flying everywhere, hitting

other mirrors the girls hadn’t noticed and shattering them, too.

“Glass flew everywhere, embedding into the eyes, mouths, faces and bodies of the

girls who could do nothing but scream and fall onto even more large glass shards!”

Mulder’s voice rose.

“The girls, writhing and dying on the floor had never noticed the message written on

the wall in blood:

“‘NOW DO YOU BELIEVE IN SUPERSTITION?'”

The room was deathly quiet, except for a boom of thunder, the crackle of the fire

and rain on the windows.

“Well?” Mulder asked.

“It…” Scully cleared her throat, “It was an interesting story, Mulder.”

“Yeah, it was,” Frohike agreed, his voice a little high, and the other two Gunmen

nodded in agreement.

“It WASN’T a story, boys,” Mulder grinned at them evilly.

“What do you mean, Mulder?” Scully asked suspiciously.

Mulder grinned evilly again. “It was an X-File; one of the first I ever read. It

happened; and it was never solved.”

“Oh, come ON, Mulder! You expect me to believe that?” Scully demanded.

“No, I don’t expect YOU to believe anything Scully, because you never do!” He

leaned over and kissed her. “But that’s what I like about you, you know.”

Scully reached up and kissed him, their arms surrounding each other, their kiss

becoming deeper.

“Guys,” Frohike interrupted. “This is touching that you’re ‘growing’ together and all,

but I’m getting really creeped out here. We still don’t have lights, it’s raining harder

than anything out there and somehow we have to get home.”

“Oh nonsense,” Scully told him as she moved slightly away from her partner. “You

guys will stay here for the night. We have an extra room, the couch and even

bedrolls for camping trips. Besides, it will be nice and warm in here in front of the

fireplace.” Scully indicated the roaring fire that Mulder had kept stoking all night.

“However,” Scully smiled and looked at the quiet Gunman. “John hasn’t told a story

yet.”

Byers’ eyes went wide and he looked around as all eyes turned to stare at him.

“He wouldn’t know any ghost stories or how to even tell one,” Langly laughed.

“No kidding,” Frohike agreed. “Unless you consider stories of computer downtime at

the FCC as ghostly.”

Mulder tried not to laugh at Byers’ expense and Scully patently refused to do so.

“Actually,” Byers said quietly, “I DO know of … something, but it’s not a ghost story.

Well, not exactly, that is.”

“Oh, come on,” Frohike rolled his eyes, “I really do not want to hear about it,

whatever it is. If it’s coming from YOU, Byers, we all know it’ll be lame.”

“No kidding, dude…” Langly started, but Scully stopped them both.

“We listened to YOUR stories, boys,” she said. “If John has a story, I want to hear

it.”

Byers looked around, and then looked down at his hands twisting in his lap. “Well,

you see … what I’m going to tell you … it’s real and it happened to me, when I was

younger.”

He looked up and at each one of them. The expressions on their faces were ones of

intrigue. “And, the truth is — I’ve never told anyone about this. Well, okay, I did

when I was in college, but everyone laughed at me, so I learned to never tell anyone

… ever again.”

Scully leaned forward. “John, don’t worry; none of us will laugh at you. Will we,

boys?” She turned her ‘Raised Eyebrow Death Stare,’ as Mulder privately called it, at

each man and all of them muttered ‘no’ or variations thereof.

“Go on, John,” Scully told him, then sat back and linked her arm through Mulder’s.

Byers looked around at everyone one more time and once again, everyone jumped

when another booming crack of thunder and bolt of lightning peeled through the

house.

“Well,” Byers started, “when I was in college, a lady friend from some of my classes

invited me over for dinner one evening.

“You see, we had been taking an English course concerning ‘Literature of the Occult,’

and she claimed her husband could contact the dead.

“Of course, I didn’t believe her, so she offered me the chance to experience her

husband’s ‘talents’ in person, and invited me over to dinner one Saturday night.”

Byers shifted uneasily and worried with his hands some more.

“Her name was Liz and her husband’s name was Keith. After dinner, we all went into

their den, and then Keith explained to me what it was all about.

“Apparently, he had taken a number of courses in ‘The Silva Method’ of mind control,

you might say.”

Frohike snorted derisively but one look from Scully stopped it.

“I’ve heard of this,” Mulder said. “Isn’t it based on Jose Silva’s belief that most

people function using their left brain more than their right? And that by using the

‘alpha waves’ in your right brain, you can raise your I.Q. Silva got off into

parapsychology … and … didn’t Silva come to believe that one of his daughters, who

he taught using his method, was clairvoyant?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Byers, replied. “Keith took the course under Jose Silva himself,

some years before Silva passed away, and Keith continued with his studies on his

own.

“Some people — doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and religious leaders —

believed Silva’s work to be very dangerous, anti-Christian and, in fact, satanic. But

Keith and Liz claimed it wasn’t,” Byers said.

“However…” Byers hesitated for a moment and looked up at them. “Keith claimed he

could, at the alpha level, talk to the dead.”

Langly laughed outright. “Oh come on! A lot of people claim they can talk to the

dead! This isn’t scary at all! MY story was better than this!”

“Langly,” Scully told him, “we listened to YOUR story, and now I want to hear

John’s. So be quiet!”

Langly sank back against the overstuffed chair, looking chastised. Frohike only

smirked at him.

Byers cleared his throat, twisting the ring on his left hand and continued. “I don’t

blame anyone for not believing; I didn’t believe it myself, and that’s why Liz invited

me over … so Keith could demonstrate his abilities to me.

“As I said, after dinner, we went into their den and Keith got comfortable in his

recliner. Liz explained that Keith had to do this in the dark, so he wouldn’t be

distracted by anyone, so except for a candle burning in the dining room, which

connected to the den, we were in the dark. I couldn’t see Keith’s face at all.

“I really didn’t know WHAT to think. I sat there and waited and waited and I didn’t

know what I was waiting for. Until…

“Keith suddenly spoke in a voice that was somehow different from the voice I’d

heard all night. He said, ‘Keith is ready.'”

Mulder leaned forward, “He wasn’t speaking as himself?”

“I don’t really know,” Byers told him. “I didn’t ask; I was told to not speak until Liz

told me it was okay to do so. And then she did tell me it was okay.

“Liz said, ‘ask Keith about someone you know who has passed away and Keith will

interpret for him or her.'” Byers swallowed nervously.

“The first person I thought of was my Grandfather, who passed away when I was

fourteen. So, that’s whom I asked to ‘speak to.'”

Byers looked around at everyone. “You have to understand, I really didn’t know

these people very well, and I’ve always been a very private person, not to mention

that I was, at that point, twenty-one years old, off to college and I hadn’t thought of

my Grandfather in a long time. He was not a kind man and so we weren’t close.

“In any event, there was no way either of them could have known anything about

my Grandfather, so I felt confident that this would prove Keith to be a charlatan.”

Byers stopped for a moment and interlaced his fingers, then began twisting his

hands nervously again.

“John? Are you okay?” Scully asked leaning forward.

Byers looked up, startled, “Oh yes, I’m fine Agent Scully. I was just remembering…”

Scully sat back and glanced over at Mulder who shrugged slightly, then turned back

to look at Byers. Both Langly and Frohike were watching him closely, too, appearing

concerned.

“Anyway,” Byers continued, talking quietly, “Things got really … bizarre at that

point.

“It was dark in there, to be certain, but once my eyes had adjusted to the dark, I

could see some things, including Keith’s figure, outlined in the slight light of the

candle.

“Suddenly, he sat up, thrust his hands out as if pushing someone away and said,

‘NO! GO BACK!’ several times loudly.

“I started to say something to Liz, who was sitting next to me, but she physically put

her hand over my mouth and kept her eyes on her husband.”

Byers looked down at his hands again. “And then … and then … well, Keith said,

‘How’s my little JFK?’ When I heard that, in my Grandfather’s voice, I nearly

jumped out of my skin because that was the name my Grandfather had called me.

“I’d literally forgotten about that until Keith said it.” Byers swallowed convulsively.

“But it quickly became even more … intense…”

Byers glanced up again, noting that he had everyone’s complete attention and

squirmed slightly where he sat. “Um, then Liz indicated I could talk to ‘my

Grandfather,’ so I asked, ‘who are you? What is your name?’

“Keith — or my Grandfather — replied, ‘don’t you know me, little JFK? I’m your

Grandpa, Aiden Southworth Byers.'”

Byers’ breath hitched and he looked up at everyone, his eyes wide. “You see, my

Grandfather’s name WAS Aiden Southworth Byers — and there was simply NO way

that either Liz or Keith could’ve known that. To say I was … upset is an

understatement. I wanted to leave … THEN. But, Liz held onto my arm and I

couldn’t move. She encouraged me to talk to him.

“Against my better judgment, among other things, he mentioned how hot it was

where he was, and out of the blue, that he had, in fact, killed my Father’s next oldest

brother, who had died mysteriously at age four, two years before my Father was

born…”

“John,” Scully said, “You don’t have to finish this. It’s obviously painful for you to talk

about.”

“No, it’s okay, Agent Scully,” Byers smiled faintly at her, and then looked down at his

hands again. “My Grandfather — or Keith — just kept talking and he talked about SO

many things that no one, except family members would know, such as my Mother’s

propensity for chocolate mint ice cream, with caramel sauce, my Father’s desire for

me to become a lawyer … just so many things that it was truly … spooky.”

Byers looked up at Mulder and, even in the light of the Kersh O’Lantern and the

subtle light from the flames of the fireplace, it was clear Byers was blushing. “Sorry,

Mulder.”

“Hey, no problem,” Mulder smiled.

“Well, I’m officially creeped out,” Frohike admitted. “I didn’t think you had it in you,

Byers.”

“Me either,” Langly added.

After a beat, Byers said, “But I’m not finished.”

At that moment the candle in the pumpkin flickered so wildly they thought it would

go out, but it flared back into life, causing everyone in the room to shudder.

Byers took their attention away from the pumpkin again by clearing his throat once

again. “Um … after it was over, it took Keith a few minutes for Keith to bring himself

out of the ‘alpha wave level’ he’d been in while talking with or for my Grandfather.

“Then Liz turned some lamps in the room to a low setting, saying it took a lot out of

Keith to do this thing.

“Once Keith finally opened his eyes, he DID look worn out and haggard, and then I

asked him how he knew all that he knew.

“Keith claimed that going to the alpha level made him open to talking to the dead.

“Then I remembered what he’d done at the beginning of the session — throwing his

hands out and saying ‘No! Go back!’ I asked him what THAT was about.”

Byers hesitated; his voice lowered even more, and said, “Keith said that my

Grandfather was trying to come into the room with most of his head missing.

“And he asked me what that meant. I couldn’t say a word. I just got up and RAN out

of there, got in my car and sped all the way back to my dorm room, locked myself in

and didn’t sleep for days. It was the first time I’d ever missed a class in my college

career.”

Frohike was feeling definite goose-bumps and Langly, Mulder and even Scully

weren’t far behind. Scully was leaning so close to Mulder she was almost in his lap.

“You see,” Byers looked up at each one of them, then back down to his fingers,

which were almost raw by now with his twisting them constantly. “My Grandfather

committed suicide when I was fourteen.

“And he did it by using his hunting rifle in the bathroom of the master bedroom. He

actually missed the first time and it just went through his jaw.

“He was determined, though; the second shot took off a good portion of his head. My

Grandmother had heard the first shot, came running and walked into the bathroom

when he pulled the trigger the second time.

“She was never the same afterwards and had to be put in a psychiatric hospital for a

long, long time.”

There was dead silence in the room, and all that could be heard was the crackle of

the fire and the rain beating continuously on the window.

“I’d never told anyone about that since it happened, and hadn’t again until tonight,”

Byers said quietly. “He truly was not a nice man, he hated his grandchildren and

great-grandchildren. It’s a given he hated his own children, and it had been rumored

that he HAD killed my Father’s brother, but there had never been any proof.”

Scully started to say something, but when she opened her mouth, instead, there was

a high, moaning shriek and everyone in the room jumped to their feet, turning

toward the sound which was coming from the hall.

Melvin Frohike might have denied it later, but he screamed a “girly scream” at what

he thought he saw.

Byers paled and muttered, “Oh my God!”

Langly just fell back into his chair and Mulder’s arms tightened around Scully, whose

eyes were huge.

For a few seconds, a hazy, watery apparition appeared to float towards them, and it

was a very thin, tall man with part of his head missing.

The apparition seemed to fixate on Byers, shrieked again and then literally popped

out of existence, causing everyone’s eardrums to ache momentarily.

“What the HELL was that?” Frohike asked.

“I want OUT of here!” Langly insisted.

“It was a ghost!” Mulder added in a stage voice.

“It was my Grandfather,” Byers pronounced.

All eyes turned to him, everyone staring, until Scully finally spoke. “No offence to

you, Byers, but there are no such things as ghosts.”

“Then what the hell was THAT thing?” Frohike asked again.

Scully nudged Mulder towards the hall. “Go look.”

“Me?” Mulder asked, refusing to be moved. “Why me?”

“Since when did a little ghost ever bother the great Fox Mulder?” Scully asked with

only a hint of a smile.

“Since NOW,” he answered.

Scully sighed and grabbed his arm, dragging him behind her. “All right. We’ll go

together. As always.”

The Gunmen all looked at each other, not knowing what to say or do, and simply

waited until Mulder and Scully returned.

“It was nothing, boys,” Scully said.

“Nothing?” Mulder demanded.

“The window just blew open, that’s all,” Scully said giving Mulder the eye.

“Scully,” Mulder asked, “how the hell can a window that slides up and down blow

open?”

“I don’t know; it just did,” Scully replied haughtily, “and that ‘apparition’ was nothing

but fog from the cold and rain blowing in through the window and down the hall.”

“Yeah. Right.” Mulder folded his arms and sat down.

Scully tapped her foot nervously and looked towards the window. “Boys, it’s still

raining, the streets are probably flooded and you don’t know whether or not your

van will start. I suggest that you bunk down here for the night.”

“After seeing that THING?” Langly nearly shrieked, his voice up almost a full scale.

“Shut up, Langly,” Byers told him. “You know she’s right.” He turned to Scully.

“Thank you, Agent Scully. We’ll take you up on that, however, I insist on helping you

clean up.” He stood and began collecting cups and saucers.

“Thank you, John,” Scully grabbed the plate of cookies, gave Mulder one last burning

glance, and headed to the kitchen, followed by Byers. “You guys help Mulder get the

bedding and bedrolls.”

“Geez, she’s bossy,” Frohike muttered.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Mulder retorted.

“I HEARD THAT!” Scully shot back over her shoulder.

The three men in the living room went about their Scully-appointed duties quietly

after that.

In the kitchen, Scully and Byers went about cleaning up, until Byers turned to look at

Scully, who was openly laughing, as quietly as possible.

“It was BRILLIANT, John!” Scully turned to him. “That last bit about your grandfather

— and the ghost — it was absolutely brilliant!”

“Agent Scully…” Byers tried to interrupt her, but she continued.

“I haven’t seen Mulder that scared since … well, I can’t remember when. And I

thought Melvin and Langly were going to pee themselves!”

Byers put a hand on her forearm to stop her. “Agent Scully, I KNOW what you and I

had planned — to scare them all, but the truth is, earlier today, when I was

supposed to come over while you and Mulder were gone, and set up the projector,

sound equipment and everything else … well, I wasn’t able to make it.”

Scully looked at him and laughed. “Good one, John! You almost had me believing

you there for a moment.”

“Scully,” Byers’ grip on her forearm tightened. “I’m not making this up. I did NOT

come over here this morning — there is no hidden equipment of ANY kind … and the

story about my Grandfather and Liz and Keith is true!”

Dana Scully blinked. “John, you can cut the crap now,” she said, becoming

somewhat nervous by his intense expression.

“Scully, I am NOT making this up.” Byers insisted stringently. “It really happened to

me, at age fourteen — my Grandfather committed suicide and everything I told

about what happened with Liz and Keith that night is absolutely TRUE. Whatever

that was in the hallway, it didn’t come from a projector and I didn’t rig the window to

open, either.”

Byers’ expression was intense and almost overwhelming. Scully shivered but covered

it quickly.

“You can stop trying to scare me, John,” Scully told him nervously. “It’s not working.

Oh, and the power failure was a great touch.” Scully had finished rinsing the dishes

and stacking them in the drainer to dry. Then she turned and walked out of the

kitchen to find the rest of the men.

John Byers stood in the kitchen tightly holding onto the counter’s edge and closed his

eyes.

It was only the second time he’d ever told anyone about that horrific event in his life,

and no one believed him anymore now than they had the first time.

It was a time and event he would never forget and he still had nightmares over the

events at Liz and Keith’s that night, no matter how much he tried to forget it AND

his truly horrible Grandfather.

A scream pulled him instantly out of his introspection and he rushed to the living

room to find Scully tightly hugging herself, turned away, in front of the window.

Frohike and Langly were standing near her, looking concerned.

“What happened?” Byers asked, concerned.

“Good goin’, Byers,” Frohike nudged him. “You scared the crap out of Scully.”

“No he didn’t,” Langly said. “She saw something outside the window.”

Scully’s breath was hitching and her eyes were tightly closed.

**********

On the steps outside their place, Mulder stood with his service weapon ready and

looked closely around in the moonlight subdued by heavy clouds.

All he saw was rain, rain and more rain. The only movement was the branches in the

trees as the wind and rain hit them.

Looking at the window, he also saw nothing but rain and a dim orange glow.

Mulder backed away and into the house, flipping the safety on his weapon and

tucking it in the back of his pants.

Inside, he carefully closed and locked the door and went to find Scully.

She jumped when he put his arms around her, then she threw her arms around him

and buried her face in his neck. “Did you see him, Mulder?”

Mulder patted her back with one hand and smoothed her hair lovingly with the other.

“There was nothing out there, Scully. Nothing but rain and more rain. Not a soul

around.”

“What did she see?” Byers asked quietly.

“It was Kersh,” Scully turned and told him. “It was Kersh’s face in the window. He

was right there,” she turned and pointed at the window. “I swear, it was him!”

“Scully,” Mulder began, “I can’t believe I’m the one telling you this, but what you

probably saw was the reflection of the pumpkin in the window. And with all these

stories we’ve been telling tonight, they got to you.” Scully looked up at him

skeptically. “Just a little.” He added.

“Look, Scully,” Mulder turned her to the window and pointed at it, “All those little

alien heads I drew just sorta combined — and it looks like a face.”

Scully tilted her head and looked but she wasn’t convinced, even though she wanted

to be.

“I guess,” Scully agreed, pulling slightly away from him. “I don’t know about

everyone else, but I’m ready for some sleep.”

A chorus of agreements came from all four men.

Mulder had given them all sets of his sweats to wear as pajamas and they began to

take turns changing in the second bathroom.

Finally, seeing that the Gunmen were all settled in for the night, all in the living room

to benefit from the heat of the fireplace, which was fuelled with more wood and

stoked, Mulder took Scully’s arm and started for the stairs to their bedroom.

“Goodnight everyone,” Scully shakily told them all, trying to hide her disquiet,

following her partner’s lead.

“Good night, boys!” Mulder told them.

“Yeah, right. YOU’LL be having a ‘good night,’ Mulder; WE’LL be sleeping out here!”

Frohike mumbled.

The Gunmen were settling in, as much as they could be under the circumstances,

when they heard an intentionally over-loud comment from Mulder at the top of the

stairs.

“Hey, Scully! Wanna see my Halloweenie?”

“Shut up, Mulder!” The bedroom door slammed behind them as the Gunmen

laughed.

**********

Outside in the chilled darkness, sometime later, an indistinguishable form

underneath the window uncurled itself and slowly stood.

The figure leaned forward to look into the window again.

It had been close; he hadn’t expected the woman to be looking out at the moment

he had looked in.

Then again, he hadn’t expected them to have company, which changed his plans

dramatically.

He’d also been lucky when the door opened and the man came out brandishing a

gun.

Fortunately, however, the “power failure” which he had caused had hidden him quite

nicely in the bushes in front of the window. All he had to do was wait until the man

went back inside.

And he had, after a few minutes.

Now all he could see was the orange sparks of the fireplace and the vague forms of

people lying on furniture and bedrolls.

His eyes stopped on the Jack O’Lantern and he laughed maniacally to himself as he

turned and made his way out of the bushes.

The exact same expression on the pumpkin was clear on former FBI Assistant

Director Alvin Kersh’s shadowy face when the lightning bolt pierced the skies.

Condensation on the window where Kersh had pressed his face imitated the Jack

O’Lantern’s expression.

Unfortunately, no one saw it.

Alvin Kersh, now completely, irreversibly, criminally insane, ran down the street,

disappearing into the rainy, black Halloween night.

**********

Many, many thanks, Violet Crumbles and Crikeys! to Foxglove for asking me to

write this “short story” <heh> with her! It was an international blast! Those last few

hours before the deadline we were flat out like a lizard drinkin’! (I miss Steve Irwin.)

~ Anubis

~ ~ ~

I’m not sure what it is with deadlines, but we always manage to scrape in by the skin

of our teeth.

Once again, I desperately appreciated Nubie’s invaluable assistance.

Halloween and fireplaces are not commonplace in my neck of the woods, and quite

frankly I would have been lost without her.

Late night chats and madly sending emails back and forth kept this fic growing.

~ Foxglove

A Night at Waverly Hills

Title: A Night at Waverly Hills

Author: Vickie Moseley

Summary: Waverly Hills is considered one of the most haunted places in North America. No

wonder Scully would pick it to spend a night near Halloween — after all, it was a hospital.

Rating: for everyone, but pretty scary

Category: V, SA, MT, ST

Written for Virtual Season 14’s Halloween Special

Disclaimer: Well, this is our seventh season, Chris and we’re still not making any money off this

little tribute. Don’t intend to this year, either. No copyright infringement intended.

Archive: Two weeks exclusive for VS14 and then anywhere.

comments to: vickiemoseley1978@yahoo.com

Authors notes at the end, but mega thank yous to Debbie and Lisa, one for letting me use the

place and the other for lightning fast beta services. And now, on with the show:

clip_image001

A Night at Waverly Hills

by Vickie Moseley

Waverly Hills Sanitarium

Louisville, Kentucky

October 28, 2006

10:00 pm

“You’re absolutely sure you want to do this, Scully?” Mulder asked quietly from the driver’s seat

of the rental car that had brought them from the Louisville airport.

“Mulder, it’s what we do every day, right? Except this time there are no dead bodies to autopsy,”

his partner of many years shot back and grinned. “What? Are you turning ‘scaredy cat’ on me

now?”

Mulder swallowed thickly and looked past the hurricane fencing to the hulking structure beyond.

It had been a stately building at one time; the architectural details were still present even though

age and vandals had done their best to destroy the once magnificent edifice.

“Scully, I’ve read all the reports on this place. The Louisville Ghost Hunting Society has a whole

web page devoted to Waverly Hills. This isn’t going to be some little girl’s scratchy voice on a

digital recorder saying ‘help me I’m scared’ to a bunch of moonlighting plumbers. It’s definitely

haunted, and not by Casper and his buddies.”

“Mulder, might I remind you of a chilly Christmas Eve lo, many years ago when you dragged me

to a haunted house to spend the evening being pseudo psychoanalyzed by a pair of malcontent

specters?”

“I’m just saying that when we walk through that gate, no amount of ammo in our guns or clips is

going to save us, Scully,” Mulder said warily.

She chuckled at his dour expression. “If you’re too frightened, we can go back to the hotel and

watch ‘Creature Features’ all night on Sci-Fi,” she teased. “But I have to warn you, your ‘manly

man’ image will be slightly tarnished in my eyes.”

“You really want to do this?” he asked again.

“Yes, Mulder I do. This is my choice for a ghostly Halloween and personally, I’m somewhat

surprised by your reaction. Don’t you want to see what a ‘real haunted’ place is like? From a

strictly investigatory standpoint?”

He drew in a breath and chewed on his bottom lip. “I have no doubt at all that this place is very

evil, Scully. And just as my Grandmother Kuipers warned me many years ago, you shouldn’t

throw firecrackers in a hornets’ nest.”

“There _has_ to be a story there, Mulder. But the hour is growing late and we have only ’til early

tomorrow morning. So you grab the sleeping bags and I’ll get the lanterns and backpack. Let’s

move out.”

Sheriff Deputy Boatwright nodded as she unlocked the padlock to the hurricane fence. “Now,

cell phone reception gets real wiggy in there, so we use a different system. If you have a

problem and can’t get out or get trapped, put a lantern in one of the windows — whichever one

you’re closest to. We’ll keep an eye out. And I’ll be here at 7 am sharp to unlock the gate. If you

aren’t here in time, we’ll come in and look for you.”

“Thanks, Deputy. I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Scully said with an easy smile.

“Yeah, let’s hope so,” Boatwright replied. “Can’t imagine the paperwork involved if you two

turn up dead in the morning.”

“Yeah, that _would_ be ghastly,” Mulder muttered. “OK, Scully. This is your ghost hunt. Lead

on, MacDuff.”

“C’mon Mulder. At least we’ll have a roof over our heads,” Scully shot back, just as a large

cloud swallowed up the quarter moon, obscuring the thin light it had been casting on the

surrounding landscape.

“I’m taking that as an omen,” Mulder said glumly as he stared at the sky.

“Let’s get inside before it starts lightning,” Scully advised. With the Deputy securing the gate, to

ensure that no earthly tricksters disturbed their investigation, the two agents made their way up to

the doors.

“Mulder, watch out! There’s a huge hole in the ground over here. What on earth are they

doing?” Scully asked, shining her flashlight down into the crevice.

“Yeah, I read about that. A previous owner, in an attempt to weaken the structure, dug holes

around the foundation.”

“Weaken the structure? Why on earth — ”

“He wanted to bulldoze the place, Scully. He did manage that with most of the buildings around

it but this one is the main building of the sanitarium and was considered ‘historic’ so they stopped

his plans for demolition. His response was to let vandals tear the place apart. What we’re going

into is by all accounts a derelict building. Right now it’s in property limbo — no one wants to

restore it, no one can tear it down.”

“No wonder everyone thinks it’s haunted,” Scully replied with a huff.

The huge front door was standing ajar and with a gentle push, opened on creaking hinges.

Mulder shot Scully a raised eyebrow, which she matched by raising both of her own. He

fumbled for a minute to get his flashlight in his left hand, his gun hand free. She shook her head

and moved past him into the hallway.

The smell of decay was overpowering. In some areas, the broken windows had let in rain,

forming puddles on the tiled floor. Graffiti covered the walls in an overlapping mural design.

Scully could even pick out an occasion gang symbol among the spray painted illustrations.

There were rags and discarded mattresses in various corners, some of which had become condos

for families of rats and possum. The smell of animal urine and feces was thick.

“I think this is the Director’s office that Boatwright told us about,” Mulder said as he flashed his

light into a large office just inside the building. “She suggested we camp out there — it’s the

safest.”

“Not as many ‘ghosties’?” Scully teased.

“Not as much falling down stuff,” Mulder replied. “The place is in pretty bad condition.”

“OK, we make camp there. But Mulder, just because we’re sleeping in sleeping bags — it’s

strictly business tonight. No hanky panky until we get home.”

“I promise to only hold you when you beg me to, Scully, but you have to do the same for me.”

He winked at her.

The room appeared to be relatively clean of rodent and vermin. They set up their sleeping bags

and left on battery-powered lantern on the floor. Scully took some of the supplies out of the

canvas backpack and then handed it back to Mulder.

“Is this a first aid kit,” he sighed.

“And rope, and more batteries and some granola bars,” she said as she crossed her arms.

He started to say something then thought better of it. “As long as it’s not too heavy,” he said,

hoisting it on his back. After jumping up and down to ensure the contents had settled, he picked

up his maglight. “Shall we?” he asked, pointing out into the foyer.

“So, are you going to regale me with your knowledge from all the reports you’ve read?” she

asked as they picked their way around fallen ceiling tiles and piles of debris.

“Basically it’s your typical horror story, Scully. At the turn of the last century, Louisville —

which you might notice is rather humid,” he said, wiping perspiration from his forehead, “was a

breeding ground for tuberculosis. This was the hospital for those patients, since keeping them in

the general population only served to spread the disease.”

“The architecture is beautiful, from what we say early today,” she said, noting that most of the

beauty that had been the interior was now long destroyed.

“They started out with a smaller building for about 30 to 40 people and were quickly overcome

by the epidemic of a wet spring and summer. So the good people of this county raised taxes and

issued bonds and built this building. In its heyday, it housed hundreds of people, some of which

were eventually cured.”

“Many of which died, because it wasn’t until the invention of Streptomycin in 1943 that we had a

cure,” Scully interjected.

“Yes, that is absolutely right,” Mulder said with a pleased grin. “But the fact remains that this

was the only hope if you became infected with what was known as the white death.”

Scully looked around the walls, covered in dirt, paint and substances she would leave to the

unknown. “It’s sad that it’s been left to rot like this. The medical history alone is worth

preserving.”

“Not a lot of people like to be reminded that there was once a place where if you walked in the

door more than likely your exit would be through the ‘body chute’,” Mulder pointed out.

Scully nodded ruefully. “So, anyway, oh Mr. Peabody, where are the best hotspots.”

Mulder’s grin turned gleeful. “Oh, goody — we get to play Peabody and Sherman! Do I get to

mention that Mr. Peabody, in all likelihood, would want to do it doggie — ”

“Mulder! Focus!” she commanded, forcing herself to swallow her chuckle.

“OK, well, according to the layout I’ve seen, the room where the electroshock therapy was

performed is right up this way and it has been the site of considerable paranormal activity. Then

there is Room 502 on the top floor where a nurse hung herself — that’s a real hotspot. And of

course, the aforementioned body chute — ”

Scully looked up suddenly as she heard a loud crack and then a considerable piece of the ceiling

fell on top of them. Plaster rained down along with at least one wooden timber and her last

thought before she sunk to blackness was that they probably should have stayed at home.

Scully woke up slowly, her head hurt but otherwise she felt fine. There was sunlight pouring

into the room and it blinded her for a moment. Had she been unconscious through the whole

night? As she struggled to sit up, blinking against the harsh light, a hand gently pushed her back

down.

“Stay still, Scully. You’re going to be fine. Just lie back.”

She cleared her throat and blinked again. Finally, the source of that voice came into focus.

Skinner? What was he doing here? And where was her partner.

“Mulder!” she said, jerking upward again. This time, rather than stop her, her superior put his

hand on her back and helped her to sit on the edge of the bed.

“Same as before. Look, I understand devotion to patients, Scully, but I think you’ve become

attached to this one. That’s something I can’t allow. It’s too painful when the inevitable

happens.”

She looked up at her boss in confusion. “Sir, what are you talking about?”

“I know we pride ourselves on the our caring nursing staff, but Dana, you know as well as I do

you have a . . . well, shall we just say a soft spot for Fox Mulder. I know he’s a war hero and yes,

he’s handsome, but the truth of the matter is, he’s not getting any better. Dana, I just don’t want

you to get your heart broken, that’s all.”

“War hero? Sir, I don’t understand — ” She was disoriented and confused. She knew her

superior, the man in front of her. He was the medical director of the hospital. She sat up again,

and this time he let her. “I’d like to go back to the ward now, if you don’t mind.”

“Are you sure? Maybe you should take the rest of the day off,” Skinner suggested.

“No, really, I’m fine. I’d like to get back to work. I know what it’s like when we’re short-

staffed.”

He looked at her critically, assessing her condition. She smiled at him, hoping she looked better

than she felt. Her head was killing her but she knew she was needed back at the ward.

Finally he took off his glasses, rubbing them on his handkerchief before replacing them. “All

right, Scully. Can’t keep a good man down, or woman as it were. Go on back to the ward. But

if you start feeling faint — ”

“I know the signs, sir,” she said hastily and got off the cot as quickly as possible without making

herself dizzy. “Thank you, sir.”

“Just watch out for the ‘wet floor’ signs, Scully. We put them out for a reason,” he warned and

headed down the hall in the opposite direction.

When she arrived at the ward she was greeted by the other nurses, all of who were concerned

about her injury. After assuring them she was fit to continue, she picked up the remaining charts

on the desk and started her rounds.

His was the second room. He was sitting in the chair by the window, looking out on the grounds,

now covered with a blanket of white.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it, Scully,” he rasped. “All that beauty coming from just frozen water. It’s

like a wonderland. Like the Alps.”

She winced at the weakness she detected in his voice. When he turned to face her, his

appearance was that of a wraith — skin too pale and paper-thin, muscle tone literally melting off

his bones. But his eyes were as bright as she remembered.

“Yes, Captain Mulder, it is beautiful. But aren’t you supposed to be in bed?”

“Captain again? How many times do I have to tell you, Scully? Mulder. Just Mulder,” he

chided but his eyes were kind and gentle.

“Would you like to go up to the solarium?” she asked.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt. Can I at least bring a blanket this time? It’s so windy up there,” he

wheezed. He started to rise, but was taken by a fit of coughing. She hurried over to hand him a

towel to cover his mouth. He collapsed back in the chair when the fit had passed. When she

took the towel she could see it was covered in blood and phlegm. She dropped it in a bucket

near the door to be bleached.

“I’ll get a wheelchair,” she told him and gave his shoulder a tender squeeze.

“Can I try to walk?” he asked. “I’d like to try to walk while I can.”

She bit her lip to keep her emotions in check. This man was so strong but that didn’t foretell of

survival. She’d seen strong men fall in her short time on staff. But the one thing they all held

onto was their dignity.

“Sure. I’ll help you if you need me,” she said. This time when he rose he did so slowly and

although he did cough some, it wasn’t as bad.

Dana was happy the hospital was so new. All the modern technology was so important in

fighting this horrible disease. But one of the best parts was the new ‘elevators’ that allowed

patients to be transported to the solarium or even the sun deck on the roof with ease. They by

passed the crowded solarium for the sun deck. Scully found a free chair and helped Mulder

settle down in it, draping the blanket around his shoulders to ward off the bitter cold wind.

He leaned his face up to catch the watery rays of the sun and sighed. She started to pull up a

chair to sit and he turned to her. “Go back where it’s warm, Scully,” he chided. “You don’t have

to sit out here in the cold with me. I’m all right.”

“I just thought I’d keep you company for a minute or two,” she said casually, shivering in her thin

hospital issued sweater.

“It’s well below freezing. I don’t want you to catch your — ” He stopped and chuckled bitterly.

“Sorry, stupid advice, considering where we are.”

“The sunlight really does wonders,” she told him firmly. “Why just last week, Mrs. Jenkins went

home to her family. She spent all summer and all fall up here on the roof.”

Mulder looked at her sadly. “Is that what they told you?” he asked.

“Well, yes. That’s what Nurse Mullins said. That she was declared cured and she went home.”

He nodded, refusing to look her in the eye.

“Why? Did you hear something different?” she asked crossly. Hospital gossip was more

dangerous than the disease they were all fighting.

“Let’s just say I have it on good authority — ” He stopped again and looked to the back of the

building, the side opposite from where they sat. It was the side of the building that held the body

chute, the tunnel through which the dead were carted away to the railroad tracks at the bottom of

the hill for funeral homes or the crematorium.

“She didn’t die,” Dana said angrily. “She went home, to her family.”

“Hey, I’m just saying what I heard,” he said with a shrug. “They dropped her down the body

chute on Thursday. You were here, weren’t you? On Thursday?”

She shook her head slowly. “No,” she said in a small voice. “I, um, I wasn’t on duty on

Thursday because I worked the weekend.”

“Well, anyway, you go inside. I’ll just sit out here in the sun,” he said waving her toward the

door.

Scully stood up and looked out on the snowy grounds. A group of children were having a

snowball fight on the hillside. Children who lived at the hospital — who were also patients but

who still went to school on the grounds, still played in the playground equipment purchased by

the county. “They don’t all die,” she said through gritted teeth. Furious with herself, she wiped a

tear from her cheek before it had a chance to freeze. “We do save some of them.”

He nodded, contrite. “The younger ones. I’ve seen what you’ve done for some of the kids. You

do save some of them, Dana. I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have said — ”

“We will save you, too. You just wait and see,” she told him and turned on her heel to head back

into the warmth of the hospital.

Time passed quickly in the hospital. There were patients to bathe and feed, some to take up to

the roof or the solarium. She had her favorites, not just Captain Mulder, but others, too. Mr.

Byers was such a dapper older man. Rumor had it that he taught at the University of Kentucky.

And his roommate, Mr. Langly, who seemed awfully interested in jazz, playing his Victrola at all

hours of the night. There had been three of the men, playing Hearts in the solarium. That was

until Mr. Frohike had expired in the spring.

She was busy taking around meal trays to the bedridden patients when she saw some activity in

Captain Mulder’s room. When her cart was empty, she went to see what was going on. Dr.

Skinner was standing at the side of the bed, listening to the Captain’s chest through his

stethoscope.

“Fox, I really think it’s the best course,” Dr. Skinner was saying.

“I . . . don’t . . . know,” Mulder said, each word punctuated with a wet cough. “I’ve . . . heard . . .

the stories,” he gasped out and then couldn’t talk again for the coughing and choking.

“Believe me, it’s the only course of treatment left to us,” Skinner said, holding Mulder as he

coughed up more phlegm and blood.

Scully hurried in and grabbed a towel off the rack, doing her best to clean up the patient. “What

treatment?” she asked, helping Mulder lie back on raised pillows.

“Thoracoplasty,” Skinner said, not meeting her eyes.

“A death sentence,” Mulder rasped from the bed. “But at least it’ll be quick. I wish I’d died at

Flanders Field. Better by a bullet than under a butcher’s blade.”

Skinner’s jaw twitched at the insult, but he remained calm. “We can schedule the surgery for

Friday. If we see some improvement before then, we can always cancel the procedure.” With a

withering look at Scully, he left the room.

“They have had some success — ”

“You just keep believing in your science, don’t you, Scully?” Mulder accused. “I’ve heard about

that operation. Do you know what they do?” He waited, more because he had no more breath

than because he expected her to answer. “They rip you open, stem to stern, cut all the muscles

and take out half your ribs. And if you aren’t dead yet, they sew you back up. But from what I

heard, not that many get sewed up. It’s a one way trip straight to the chute, that’s what I hear.”

“You listen to too much gossip,” she admonished. “Dr. Skinner is a gifted doctor. He wouldn’t

suggest the procedure if he didn’t think it would help.”

“Just gets rid of us faster,” he said, turning so he could look out the window. “Move us out so

there’s room for more.”

She stood by the bedside and watched him. He looked so lonely — and frightened. “I’ll come by

later and read if you want,” she offered.

“I don’t want to take up your time, Scully. You work hard enough around this dump,” he said,

but when he turned his eyes to meet hers, she could see the affection there.

“Well, I happen to enjoy our evenings together,” she said haughtily. “I’ll be by at 7 pm. And this

time, we’re reading something other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

He chuckled softly as she exited the room.

Friday came and with it, a nervous tension that she tried hard to conceal. When she arrived at

the hospital she went first to Mulder’s room. The night shift nurse was there, shaving his chest in

preparation for the surgery. He was having so much trouble breathing and he seemed caught in

fever dreams.

“Scully,” he called out, his hand reaching but only a few inches from the bed. He was too weak

to move far.

“I’m right here, I’m here,” she soothed, stroking his chestnut hair from his forehead. “I’m right

here.”

He opened his eyes and looked at her. “I hope the angels have your face,” he told her with a tired

smile.

“I’m not an angel,” she insisted. “And you’re going to be fine. They’ll do the surgery this

morning and by afternoon you’ll be back here. A day or two to rest and then I’ll come by and I’ll

finish _The Valley of Fears_. And I’ll ask the librarian if we can get one of the books of short

stories. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Angel,” he sighed and closed his eyes. She stood by the gurney as they carried him to the

operating room. With tears in her eyes, she whispered a silent prayer and went up to attend to

her duties.

It was hours later, when she had just taken Mr. Byers out on the sun deck that Nurse Mullins

found her. “Nurse Scully, a moment of your time, dear?” she asked.

Scully went into the nurse station and looked around. “You wanted to speak to me, Nurse

Mullins?”

The older woman nodded with a sad smile. “I wanted you to hear it from one of us, not from the

gossip mill. Captain Mulder . . . expired in surgery just a few moments ago. There was nothing

they could do, his case was too far advanced. I know that you were attached — ”

Scully couldn’t hear the rest of her words for the buzzing in her ears. After a moment, Nurse

Mullins left her alone with her thoughts. Dead. He was dead. He’d been her friend and he’d

called her an angel and now he was dead.

Later, she couldn’t recall how she spent the daylight hours. She moved around the hospital,

caring for patients. In every face she saw his eyes, in every voice she heard his last word to her.

Angel. But during the day she never shed a single tear.

That night, when the patients were bedded down for rest, she went up to the nurses’ station room

502, where Nurse Mullins had given her the news. In the empty room she tied strips of sheets to

a light fixture and hung herself.

“Scully! Scully, please, you’ve got to wake up, please,” she heard from somewhere far away.

She groaned. She was dead, wasn’t she?

“Scully, please, sweetheart. Please wake up.” She felt something wet fall on her face, very near

her eye. More wetness followed. She blinked her eyes open and stared right into Mulder’s face

as tears careened down both his cheeks.

“Mulder?” she asked. Her throat was dry as dust and felt sore from lack of use.

“Doctor! Doctor, she’s awake,” Mulder yelled over his shoulder. When he pulled back a little

she could see that she was in a hospital room. On closer inspection, Mulder sported a white

bandage on his forehead and his arm was in a sling.

“Mulder, what happened?” she asked as he brought a cup of water to her lips. “How did you get

hurt?”

He laughed and shook her head. “Me? I’m barely banged up, Scully. You’re the one we’ve been

worried about! You have a moderate concussion. The ceiling fell in on us. When I came to,

you were under the most of the rubble. I had to dig you out. I put the lantern in the window and

Deputy Boatwright was there in a jiffy. We called the ambulance and we’ve been here ever

since.”

“What time is it?” she asked, looking out at the dark night beyond the window. The lights of

Louisville shone in the distance.

“About 7,” he told her. “October 29. Which means we still have to get through Halloween night

in two days. Scully, this was a really bad idea, spending the night in a haunted hospital. For

one, we both ended up in a REAL hospital, and for another, we never did see any ghosts!”

Scully thought back to the dream she’d had, the horrible disease that had ravaged so many lives.

“I don’t know Mulder. It was pretty scary there to me.”

“Well, I think our best bet this year is to go to your mother’s house and hold up in one of the

bedrooms upstairs. No tricks, no treats, just us in a big bed and we don’t come out until it’s

November.”

“Mulder! In my mother’s house? What do you think she’d say to that idea?”

“You’ll have to ask her. She suggested it to me when I called her earlier.”

the end

Author’s notes: Yes, this is a bit different from the usual Halloween tale. But I think it’s scarier

because it’s all based on actual facts. Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a county hospital for

victims of tuberculosis in the early 20th Century. There was little could be done for someone

with TB before the invention of Streptomycin in the late 1950s. Sunlight and fresh air were

thought to be the best cures. The procedure Skinner mentions was performed as a last resort and

had a mortality rate of almost 95 percent. The dead were removed through the ‘body chute’ on a

daily basis. Whole families lived at the hospital, children were schooled and activities were

arranged. There was even an on site beauty parlor. The disease was controlled by 1960s and the

hospital was no longer necessary. It was used as a nursing home for a number of years until it

fell into the hands of a man wishing to bulldoze it and construct a gigantic statue of Jesus Christ,

but the county refused to allow it because of the historic nature of the hospital. He is responsible

for the building falling into such deplorable condition because he left it open for vandals and

tried to destroy the foundation, hoping the building would collapse on its own. The current

owners are making money for restoration by given ghost tours. If you are interested in some of

the paranormal aspects of the building, visit the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society web page at

http://www.louisvilleghs.com and look under ‘Public Investigations’ for Case No. 5 — Waverly

Hills. But I warn you, don’t read it alone, and you might want to sleep with the lights on.

Author’s notes II: One of the ghost stories of the hospital is that Room 502 is haunted by the

ghost of a nurse who hung herself. It was thought she was pregnant and unmarried at the time. I

heard this and thought anyone who saw so much death might be affected by it. So I put Scully in

that young nurse’s place (minus the out of wedlock child) and that’s where this story came from.

Friday

friday

Friday

By Martin Ross

Category: Casefile

Rating: R for language, violence

Summary: One Friday night. Three cases. Three faces of evil.

Disclaimer: Chris Carter with a twist of Tarantino, shaken and stirred with loving

intent and without commercial gain.

clip_image002

Capitol Chophouse

Washington, D.C.

6 p.m.

Friday, October 13

It had been an impetuous departure from a life dedicated to solid routine, a lark at

the conclusion of a particularly challenging week.

Another Centaur victim had popped up after a three-month lull, this time in South-

east, potentially cranking up the heat in an already volatile neighborhood. The House

Speaker had launched a searing front-page salvo at the Bureau for searching a

Mississippi congressman’s office (and uncovering $100,000 in a mini-fridge, wrapped

like a pound of ground round). And the mountain of end-of-the-month paperwork

had seemed especially insurmountable.

So as the last incident report blurred before his throbbing eyes, Walter Skinner

glanced at his desk calendar and experienced a major epiphany.

“Friday, huh?” the thirtysomething blonde at Skinner’s elbow chirped.

“Friday,” the assistant director smiled, feeling as if he’d mastered the secret hand-

shake.

“Date running a little late?” the waitress inquired, looking toward the crowded

hostess stand. Then she spotted the attaché case at Skinner’s feet, and smiled

sympathetically. “Ah. Well. You ready to order, or would you like a cocktail first?”

“New York Strip,” Skinner sighed. “Medium. Caesar salad. Baked, butter and sour

cream. Just coffee. Black. Thanks.”

Gregariousness was not Skinner’s strong suit, but this evening, he felt even more

isolated than usual. With Mulder on temporary disability leave, the office was

unusually quiet. Scully had flown out Thursday on a possible serial case in Oklahoma,

but the last few weeks, she might as well have been a continent away. The two of

them had been through a staggering ordeal, had done dark and dangerous things to

come out alive, and had emerged with some severe psychological bruising. Mulder

was handling the trauma with cheerful denial – he reportedly was planning to spend

his birthday doing his laundry — Scully with profound reticence.

“S’you, isn’t it?”

Skinner looked up from the file. On the other side of the rope was a cadaverous man

in a navy parka and a pair of gray suit pants that most likely had lost their mate

some time in the mid-‘70s. His hair was stiffly combed and peppered with gray, and

even in the bright Friday night streetlights of Congress Avenue, his eyes were

sunken into shadow.

Skinner smiled tightly and returned to his papers. The assistant director wasn’t hard-

hearted — it was established D.C. custom. Nobody went too hungry — the tourists

were pretty easy touches the first eight times or so.

“Walt?”

This time, the man’s voice was crisp and fairly coherent, and Skinner felt the cold

whisper of the past in his brain – a chilled murmur that had traveled a half-world and

nearly 35 years. When he’d first come home, he’d tried to shout it down, drown it or

smother it. The Job eventually provided the shelter Skinner had needed, and today,

the murmur was little more than white noise hissing in the far reaches of his

subconscious.

Now, the murmur was insistent, mocking. Skinner studied the ruined man.

“God. Ted Harrell.”

A row of yellowed teeth emerged. “No wonder you’re such a big shot at the Bureau.”

There was no bitterness, no defensiveness in the former Marine’s comment – he

seemed pleased, almost proud. “It’s real nice, you remembering me.”

clip_image004

Skinner felt a flash of guilt. “Who could forget?”

Ted nodded thoughtfully. “That’s for fucking sure. Hey, sorry, Walt.”

Skinner waved it off. Ted nodded. He scanned the Friday night revelers and

romantics on the other side of the rope. “Hey, I oughtta let you eat in peace. Just

saw you sitting there and thought I’d say hey—”

“Excuse me.” Skinner and Harrell looked up at the terse greeting. The man was in

shirtsleeves and tie, possessed a bureaucratic demeanor with which Skinner was all

too familiar. “I guess our little talk last week didn’t take, did it?”

Harrell looked at the sidewalk. “I just spotted my old buddy here. No trouble – I’ve

said my piece–.”

“Good,” the restaurant manager said curtly. “Now you can run along. Sir, I’m truly

sorry about this.”

Skinner felt every eye on the patio on them – he spotted the blonde waitress by the

register, disdain lining her face. He reexamined the thrice-decorated Vietnam vet

roped off from the crowd, and reached into his jacket and placed his Bureau ID on

the white linen.

“Actually,” the assistant director informed the manager, “we used to work together.

Ted, why don’t you join me? I don’t like eating alone. Could we have another menu,

please?”

The moment was frozen in crystal, the manager and Ted staring uncertainly at each

other.

“Sir,” the manager lowered his tone. “You don’t understand…”

“Here, honey.” A stout woman in an expensive suit at the next table extended her

menu toward Harrell. “I already know what I want. You can have mine.”

The manager, stunned, blinked at the woman, who stared unblinkingly and

expectantly back. The gray-bearded African-American across the table smiled

proudly at his dinner companion and raised a brow at the man in the tie.

“I’ll have someone get your drink order,” the manager said smoothly through his

teeth. The mood of the crowd seemed to shift instantly, and he clearly was

outgunned in the nation’s second or third most PC city. Harrell began to crouch, and

the manager beat him to the rope, waving him in. “Enjoy your dinner…gentlemen.”

Harrell eyed the crowd warily, and turned to the couple at the next table. “Ah, hey,

thanks.”

The man rose with a solemn smile and extended a leathery hand. Skinner didn’t

know the man, but he recognized something in his eyes from across half a world and

35 years.

Harrell grasped the hand, and the man squeezed his palm in a firm shake. “Semper

fi, brother,” the elegantly dressed man murmured.

Underwood, Oklahoma

Scully felt the young cop’s gaze for perhaps the twelfth time that day. It wasn’t the

wary glare of local law enforcement, waiting to pounce on that first imagined slight.

It wasn’t the frank, hungry, anatomically encompassing appraisal Scully had stoically

endured from a hundred macho cops.

It was worse. It was hero worship. As she lifted a forkful of cole slaw, Scully almost

wished she was being mentally disrobed by some testosterone-addled, mouth

breathing deputy.

“You’re gonna just love the ribs,” Officer Lindsay Uhler assured her as she tucked

into her own slaw. Uniform and sidearm aside, the lanky blonde cop looked no older

than 18. It was her earnest, eager-to-please, initially refreshing attitude of

hospitality that had induced Scully to order the no-doubt cholesterol-laden specialty

of The Outdoorsman.

“So, you been with the FBI for a long time?” Officer Uhler inquired “casually.”

“Shixteen years,” Scully murmured, gnawing on a nugget of cabbage core.

“Wow. That’s just incredible.” Uhler glanced shyly at her spoon. “You know, I’ve

thought about applying. For the Bureau, you know. Or the state police.”

“Mmm,” Scully nodded approvingly.

“Took some crim courses at the community college, but Dad took sick before I could

start my bachelor’s. Gotta have a degree to get in the Bureau, huh?”

“Mm.” The cabbage shrapnel had lodged between two molars.

“And you’re a doctor, too,” Uhler breathed.

“Pathologisht,” Scully corrected, struggling not to suck.

“Wow. That is just incredible.”

Supper at The Outdoorsman had sounded like a good idea after a long and

frustrating afternoon at the Wykotah County Memorial Hospital morgue. The

refrigerated facility had been designated as the overflow meat locker for the annual

Wykotah Days, and Scully had completed her triple post-mortem amid the constant

comings and goings of cheerfully obtrusive Kiwanians and the aroma of frying onions

and cotton candy seeping through the casement windows. The second victim had

nearly a half-pound of marbling around her heart, and when Uhler suggested fried

Indian bread and buffalo sausage on Main, Scully had opted for the quaint café two

doors down from the cop shop.

Now, she was roused by the clatter of heavy china on formica. “One order of ribs,” a

rotund, white-haired woman announced. “And one double bacon cheeseburger, right,

sweetie?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lindsay murmured, almost lustfully, as Scully stared at the

gargantuan porcine thorax laid out before her.

The waitress lingered, planting a meaty palm next to Scully’s Diet Coke (which

tasted suspiciously of corn fructose despite their waitress’s assurances. “You find out

anything about Cal or Lenore yet?”

“Shtabbing,” Uhler supplied around a mouthful of cow and smoked hog. Scully’s jaw

dropped, whether at the officer’s indiscretion or her voracious attack on her burger,

she wasn’t sure. The waitress tsked, then trundled off toward a tableful of rowdy

teens.

Scully frowned. “Wait a minute. There’ve been three victims. Cal Morehouse, Lenore

Timms, and Boyd Friedenbaur.”

“Mm hmm?”

“And Friedenbaur was the mayor. That one was on the wire services.”

Uhler nodded quizzically.

“So why did your friend only ask about the first two victims?”

The patrolman swallowed loudly. “Boyd was a crappy tipper. Grace is real serious

about gratuities. You wanna pass me that ketchup, please, Agent? Thanks.”

Presidential Wash-a-Teria

Washington, D.C.

Mulder dug reluctantly into his jeans. In the months subsequent to his relative

domestication, the $2 wash had become a $3 wash. Otherwise, it was old home

week – Friday night, PS (pre-Scully).

In his life partner’s absence on some rural wild goose chase, Frohike and the gang

had invited him for an evening of empty calories and Star Wars (pre-Jar Jar Binks),

but Mulder was still a bit wobbly for socialization after the events of the summer.

Besides, he’d always sort of relished his evenings at the laundromat: The rhythmic

rumbling of the machines soothed him, and Mulder the Profiler enjoyed cataloguing

the nocturnal procession of loners, losers, hotties, and hopefuls.

Mulder plugged his quarters into the shiny new coin receptacle – the only ac-

coutrement added to the establishment since Y2K – set the controls for regular

press, and sprinkled a pre-measured box of detergent over his rapidly drowning

shirts. As the maelstrom of water and suds commenced, Mulder dropped onto a

nearby bench and pulled the newly arrived International Journal of Cryptozoology

from his back pocket.

He was deep into a treatise on the theoretical physiognomy of the tatzelwurm when

the whites went off. Sighing, Mulder hauled two weeks worth of soggy dress shirts

across the grimy linoleum and stuffed them into the former $1.25 jumbo dryer.

Muttering, he surfaced eight more quarters, set his shirts in motion, and checked the

next porthole for Victoria’s Secret. Cohabitating but not dead, Mulder reminded

himself.

A tangle of Joe Boxers swirled by, and Mulder straightened. Then he spotted it.

“Shit,” he murmured.

clip_image006

Capitol Chophouse

Skinner met Ted Harrell during a stint with CAP more than three decades and three

major conflicts ago. If Harrell had attended any company reunions prior to his

economic and personal downturn, Skinner wouldn’t have known. Like many

Vietnamese vets, the agent wasn’t given to public reminiscence — even in quiet

rooms with folding chairs and bad coffee.

The Combined Action Program wasn’t common knowledge among the dinner crowd

watching Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley back home – while the Army had

wholeheartedly supported John Wayne’s clean-shaven sonnet to the Green Berets,

the Marines preferred to keep their counterpart operation in a cooler, darker place.

Most CAP units consisted of a Marine rifle squad with a U.S. Navy Medical Corpsman,

and a Vietnamese Popular Forces platoon (the rough equivalent of the National

Guard, but with fairly shitty advanced training and shittier equipment). Each unit

generally was attached to a village, but while the Berets were based in the sparcely

populated central highlands, the CAPs worked the populous coastal lowlands. The

CAPs also employed somewhat more unconventional techniques in its efforts to

quash local insurgents. While the Combined Action Program was known stateside as

“a Peace Corps with rifles” – digging wells, mending fences, doctoring the local

children — those in country viewed it as a kamikaze detail. Eleven Marines and a

Corpsman in a village of a few thousand was poor math, no matter how it was

calculated.

Pvt.Walter Skinner was assigned to Harrell’s unit soon after arriving in country. In a

place where the manual and indeed most military decorum had been jettisoned amid

the blood and the booze and the cannabis, Ted Harrell somehow took his duties as a

Marine and a gentleman seriously while developing a solid, if quiet, camaraderie with

the rest of the unit and even many of the villagers, who were warily grateful toward

their heavily armed benefactors.

But despite that growing rapport, a steady barrage of intelligence warning of a

forthcoming communist bloodbath worked on the villagers’ nerves and loyalties.

When hell finally broke lose one night, the PFs panicked, giving away the unit’s

ambush site. The element of surprise blown, Skinner and Harrell were ordered to

send up an illumination round. Five hours later, the terrorist squad had retreated;

three PFs, two Marines, and seven communists were dead; and two more Americans

had been gravely wounded. The corpsman kept Skinner alive until the private could

be choppered to a medical unit about 120 miles north.

With the exception of the roughly two minutes when the Navy medic temporarily lost

his patient. Over the next three decades, Skinner had discussed the “events” of

those two minutes with very few people. He had told Mulder while Scully lay near

death in a hospital bed. And he had told Ted Harrell, the other surviving casualty of

the assault on Duc Pong, as the two of them recuperated at the D.C. VA Medical

Center.

Skinner never knew precisely why he’d confided in Harrell – he hadn’t even shared

his revelation with the VA-assigned shrink – but whether the former rifleman

believed him or simply chalked the whole thing up to brain biochemistry or spiritual

rationalization, Skinner also had never known. Harrell was discharged the next day,

and hadn’t seen him since.

Until tonight.

“Hey, thanks again, Walt,” Harrell sighed, draining his fifth cup of black coffee and

leaning back in his seat. It was Friday in D.C. — the street side tables were full of

bodies and laughter, and the traffic beyond was sluggish and raucous. Skinner’s

petite blonde waitress had been replaced by a slim and courteously somber waiter,

no doubt at the manager’s orders. The manager himself was nowhere to be seen,

and when the bill had been delivered almost as the plates left their table, Skinner

had requested more coffee and pointedly ignored it.

“You know, I’m trying to remember the last time I had a steak,” Harrell continued.

“No, shit, I remember. My girl took me out to some joint in Georgetown, wanted to

mend fences, I guess. Didn’t go so hot – we just sat there with nothing to say, she

paid the tab, and I never heard from her again. Can’t say I blame her, really. Steak

was probably great, but, hell, I couldn’t even taste it, I was so scared.”

Skinner nodded. Where he’d pulled it together, locked it all safely away after his

recovery and discharge, built a career with the Bureau, Harrell’s life had spiraled.

Ted had severed ties with family and friends back home, drifted from part-time job

to part-time job until he succumbed to alcohol and apathy, wound up in another

hospital, then another, discovered AA, and anchored onto a modest but sustaining

job with a D.C. custodial crew.

But the intense bond between the two men – indeed, between the thousands of men

who’d fought in the jungles and villages – was one that too often strangled other

relationships. Truth be told, Skinner knew it probably was at the heart of his own

failed marriage.

“So where you living?” Skinner asked, shifting gears not so much for himself as for

his former rifleman.

Harrell laughed. “Cheap little hole this side of Southeast. Congress ever gets its shit

together and raises the minimum wage, maybe I’ll look to relocate. Was off tonight,

thought I’d take a little walk. Friday night, gotta live large, as the homies say, right?”

Skinner smiled with a slight flush of guilt at his upscale surroundings. “Decided to

enjoy the evening, myself. My car’s back at the Bureau garage, or I’d offer you—”

“Jesus, Walt, you done enough tonight. I really liked shooting the shit, and the meal

was topnotch.” Harrell pushed his chair back, gingerly, so as not to attract attention.

“Think I’ll just call it a night, you know?”

“Sure.” Skinner knew better than to push. A cheap room, a nowhere job, and a

trickle of pride were all Harrell had left. “I need to finish a few things back at the

office.”

“May I take your bill now?” The dark, rail-thin waiter had materialized, seemingly

from nowhere. As Skinner reached for his wallet, the server gravely placed a bulky

plastic bag on the tablecloth before Harrell. “You don’t want to forget this, sir. I

heard you say how much you enjoyed the rolls earlier, so I included a few extra.”

Harrell and Skinner had cleaned their plates, down to the last scraps of beef and

traces of creamed spinach. Skinner’s eyes darted toward the maitre’d station, where

the night manager was surreptitiously awaiting their departure, then up at the

waiter, whose face was neutrally challenging.

Skinner nodded silently and retrieved his Visa.

Underwood, Oklahoma

“So what do you make of it?” Scully ventured as she and Off. Uhler stepped onto

Main and the neon-lit Friday night chaos of Wykotah Days. While initially she’d found

the young cop’s bottomless enthusiasm somewhat unnerving, somewhere around the

middle of the meringue-topped dessert course, Scully had begun to feel, well,

mentor-ish. It was tough enough to break through the brass ceiling of the Bureau,

and she could imagine what it was like in a rural department like Uhler’s.

Uhler unconsciously mussed the hair of a redheaded boy as he brushed past them

armed with a pair of mustard-streaked corndogs. “Coyote.”

Scully dodged a balloon-sculpting Kiwanian garbed in western wear and greasepaint.

“Excuse me?”

clip_image008

“Well, you know. Coyote goes after the weakest sheep, the oldest cow. Cal lost his

leg in a chipper some years back – not the smartest way to clear a jam, you ask me.

Made it worse by trying to, well, you might say self-medicate. Gangrene spread to

the other leg by the time they got him to Wykotah Memorial. Got him in his armchair

– loved ‘Wheel,’ had a real thing for Vanna, musta fell asleep.

Uhler beamed as she waved at a pair of seniors playing a bank of Bingo cards in the

center of Main. “Then there was dear old Lenore. Poor old thing. Worked at the water

company for, oh, gosh, at least 40 years. Eyes started goin’, and they retired her off

two years ago. The work was all she’d ever had, and when they cashed her out, she

went nuts with the gardening.”

Scully nodded. Timms’ small lot at the edge of town harbored enough vegetative

matter to capture the collective carbon dioxide of a small city. Her postage stamp

Craftsman home was a botanical marvel, and the coroner’d practically had to

machete his way to the frail body by the kitchen sink.

“And Mayor Friedenbaur?” Scully prompted professorially.

“Well, shoot, you cut him open, you saw all that insulation he was toting around. I

mean, I will confess I got a healthy appetite – Mom says it’s genetic – but Boyd,

now, he’s closed down more than one Legion fish fry.”

“There did appear to be massive cardiac trauma. He may well have died before the

killer struck.”

“What I mean. He was an easy target – all of ‘em were. Like lame sheep.”

Scully squinted into the glare of the Tilt-a-Wheel as they approached the carnival. A

group of young men whooped as they spotted Uhler. She shook her head and patted

her holster, sending her friends into fits of hilarity.

“Of course, there’s another possibility,” Scully said. “As you may know, Jack

Kevorkian started out helping terminal patients commit suicide, then moved onto

depressive and even merely obese subjects.”

“You think this guy’s a, what do you call it? A mercy killer?”

“Too early to guess. Officer – er, Lindsay, do you know what the sinoatrial node is?”

“It’s off Cape Cod, right?” Scully started to speak, and the cop held up a hand. “I’m

yankin’ your chain, Agent. Got something to do with the heart, that it?”

“The sinoatrial node is pacemaker tissue, a sort of neural cluster – the power plant of

the heart, so to speak.” Scully raised her voice as they approached the bandstand,

where a quartet of young cowboys were whooping and jamming. “Our killer managed

to stab each victim precisely in the sinoatrial node. He or she effectively short-

circuited all three of them.”

Uhler halted. “Holy crap.”

“To say the least. Pinpointing such a small target deep inside the chest cavity

requires extreme precision and a surgical knowledge of anatomy. And given Mayor

Friedenbaur’s not inconsiderable girth, I’d say the killer put a lot of strength behind

each thrust. The upshot is, death would have been practically instantaneous. None of

the three would have suffered. It at least supports a theory of euthanasia.

“And it gets stranger. The weapon left an odd serrated signature – symmetrical…”

“All the teeth were even,” Uhler translated, as if to pre-empt Scully’s imminent

elaboration.

“Ah, yes. Which suggests this was a professionally-made tool. But I found what

appeared to be fragments of cellulosic tissue in the wounds. Woody tissue. And it

appears to be relatively fresh material, as if the killer had cut a new piece of wood as

a handle or hilt. The killings occurred days apart, but fresh tissue was found in each

wound track. So if that’s the case, either the murderer used three separate weapons

or at least a new handle in each killing. Either one might indicate some sort of

ritualistic aspect.”

“Wow,” Uhler breathed. “That’s just incredible.”

Scully blushed. “Well, I’ve seen a number of ritualistic–”

“Oh, shit.” Uhler grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, Agent. Just saw somebody I’d just as

soon steer clear of. Oh, shit. Sorry. She saw me.”

Scully spotted her – a thin, ginger-haired, leathery woman in thick sandals who

pushed through the reveling crowd, clearly on a mission.

“Lindsay,” the woman greeted sternly, planting herself in their path. “You made any

progress on those poachers?”

“Maddy, this is, uh, Dana Scully. She’s visiting from, uh, out east. This is Maddy

Ryland.”

Maddy nodded curtly. “I saw two more specimens – Shirley Tisdale’s got ‘em right in

her front window, bold as brass.”

“Maddy,” Uhler sighed. “Thought I told you. Conservation warden says those plants

aren’t threatened or endangered or anything else, so there isn’t anything I could do

even if I had jurisdiction. Fact, he had no idea what they were.”

“What are–?” Scully began to inquire, and the young cop shot her a look.

“That’s precisely why the poaching has to stop,” Maddy shrilled, drawing amused

looks from a quartet of passing locals. “I’m waiting to hear back from the university.”

“Don’t know what to tell you,” Uhler shrugged. “You let me know if you hear

anything from the EPA, OK? And say hey to your sister.”

“Fascists,” the woman muttered, turning abruptly. “Later, Lindsay.”

Scully stared as Maddy vanished between the Lions Club tenderloin booth and the

ring toss. “I don’t even want to ask.”

“Oh, Maddy’s harmless enough – just gets riled up a lot. She almost shut down the

town barbecue last summer – she’s a vegan – and every Christmas, she tries to get

the town board to change the Living Nativity to a ‘multicultural diversity pavilion.’

So, you were saying the murders might be like a ritual thing?” Officer Uhler’s face,

washed in Tilt-a-Whirl green, frowned. “But you said the killer knows about that,

what, sino-arterial thingie?”

“The sino-atrial node.”

“Right. That’s kinda sophisticated for somebody who’s going around harpooning folks

with a wood spear, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Scully nodded, pleased with what she was coming to see as her protégé. “It

seems contradictory. Of course, it could be some sort of smokescreen – our killer is

attempting to mask his or her medical expertise and perhaps even his or her true

motivation behind a ritualistic front. It makes sense if the murderer is someone with

a high degree of medical expertise, especially in a small town like this.”

Lindsay grinned. “Wow.”

“That might be a starting point. How many physicians do you have around here?”

“Well, something serious happens, most folks go to Boulder, ‘bout an hour away. We

got a family practice guy, Jack Ninness – runs the mobile unit from the regional

health center, gets around to all the towns in a three-county area. Then there’s

Brianne Reynolds – she’s a nurse practitioner who does home health care around

here. She and her husband, Ron, they also run the video store down the block

there.”

Scully considered. “How well do you know the Reynolds woman? Serial

euthanasianists frequently are nurses.”

“Well, my mom was in high school with her, said she was a real caring person.

Wasn’t surprised she went into nursing. I don’t know, though – one time, I saw

Brianne give CPR to Mr. Hervey after he’d got grazed by a car, ‘bout two months

ago. He was 86, and on oxygen. She worked on him for nearly 15 minutes, ‘til he

came around. That sure doesn’t sound like a eutha-, euthan–, you know.”

“Maybe the episode was an epiphany – a moment of realization – for her. Saving the

life of a man who very likely will be dead in a matter of months. Oh, I’m sorry, that

must have sounded extremely insensitive…”

“Oh, no,” Lindsay assured her. “Down at the mini-mart, they got a pool on when Mr.

Hervey’s gonna slip on the banana peel.”

“Well.” Scully was attempting to recapture her next thought when Officer Uhler’s

radio crackled.

“Lindsay?”

“Yup,” the cop snapped, keying the mike.

“How close are you and that FBI gal to Trey Resnick’s place?”

“Bout a block. Oh, shit.”

“Got it in one, Linz. Chief wants you over there, pronto.”

**

“I was only gone an hour or so,” Shari Ketner sniffed, staring at the blanketed corpse

on the sofa and hugging her ample breasts until one threatened to escape from its

ribbed magenta halter top. The chief, a portly middle-aged man, paid scrupulous

attention to her account, eyes locked on her forehead. “Trey loved funnel cakes, so

when I heard they had ‘em down to the festival, he got all excited. They put cherries

on ‘em, you know? Trey loved cherries. But he was tired, poor baby – he works the

fryer down at the Mickey D’s by the exit ramp and, ‘sides, he’d already got the three

drunk and disorderlies, so I told him to watch his NCIS – he loved his NCIS – and I’d

go fetch him a couple. Then I ran into Ginny Hollowell – you know, Lindsay, the little

slut did half our football team, ‘cludin’ my Billy? – and we just lost track of the time.

By the time I got back, the funnel cakes were ice cold and, well…”

Ketner fell silent, allowing the analogy to float on the dust of her “living room.”

The garage apartment Trey Resnick shared with his paramour was littered with an

eclectic collection of beer, wine, and liquor bottles and pizza boxes. Shari

contribution comprised a scattering of discarded lingerie and a more nuanced

scattering of flowers and foliage – over the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, next to the

couch where Trey’s remains now lay. The cumulative impact was FTD meets

Victoria’s Secret meets Liquor SuprStore, as designed by the Blue Collar Comedy

Team.

“And the door was locked,” the chief drawled.

“Oh, yeah. I keep forgettin’, and I nearly yanked my arm off. TV was on – I didn’t

touch it, or the bottle.”

The Mad Dog had been bagged and removed, the 51-inch rent-to-own set

deactivated after Scully and the locals determined Mark Harmon would yield no

crucial clues.

“Shari,” the chief rumbled, “why don’t you go stay with your folks next couple days,

OK?”

The girl shivered. “No shit. I go now?”

The chief nodded.

“You give me a call, you want to talk,” Lindsay called after the fleeing girl.

The chief turned to Scully. “Door locked from the inside. Less old Trey shishkabobbed

himself with a bottle opener or you’re Jessica Fletcher, I’m gonna assume somebody

had a key or a set of picks. Lindsay, see if that lock’s been tampered. The Smelzers

– the homeowners – have a key, of course, but they’ve been gone the last week to

the Badlands. Other possibility is Shari there had her full of him, but Shari ‘pears to

have a high threshold for full, and I question that depth of her commitment to the

deceased.”

“Agent Scully has a theory,” Lindsay piped forth.

The chief nodded, adjusting his focus to Scully’s hairline. “Does she?”

Scully opened her mouth. “She thinks its Jack Ninness or Brianne down to the video

store,” Lindsay volunteered. “They’d know where to find the sino-avian thingie, and

Agent Scully thinks the ritualistic spear thing is a smokescreen for the real motive,

which is probably they’re on a euthanizing spree.”

Scully thought it had sounded perfectly insightful when she’d spun it. Now, even

accounting for Lindsay’s over-exuberant, somewhat simplistic rendition, it sounded

like one of Mulder’s Tales of the Uncanny and Improbable.

“That right?” the chief murmured.

“Well,” Scully began.

“O-kay.” He puffed out his cheeks. “I’ll leave you and Office Uhler to follow up on

that, and I’ll just check a few little ideas of my own.”

The chief trundled out. Lindsay grinned at Scully, who remained dumbfounded.

“I really think he liked your theory,” Office Uhler breathed.

Washington, D.C.

Skinner had no idea why he didn’t simply get back to his paperwork or even go home

to his own bed, why he didn’t just let the unusual and, if he had to admit it, pleasant

evening just fade into the night with the unfortunate Ted Harrell. Maybe it was the

couple’s act of kindness, the waiter’s gesture of generosity. Maybe it was survivor

guilt, the sociological flu of the post-9/11.

Or maybe it was that Latin phrase the guy back at the chophouse had uttered to

Ted, like a fraternal code. Semper fidelis. Always faithful. Skinner had lost most of

his faith bleeding in the jungle at the edge of a Vietnamese village. Perhaps he

wanted to test whatever scrap of it that remained.

Ted was about a block ahead when it happened. Skinner had stayed back out of

respect for Harrell’s pride — he was sure his ex-CAP buddy wouldn’t want him to see

where he’d settled out. But when the old man stepped out of the darkened doorway

of a closed market. Skinner stepped up his pace.

He didn’t look like a mugger — most likely a homeless man unaware he was

panhandling a man only about one meal ahead of him. But the stranger seemed

familiar in a dusty, jarring way, like memories that pop abruptly to the surface when

least expected.

And he was talking quick and low. In Vietnamese.

“The time has come,” Skinner made out as he flattened himself against a brick wall a

storefront away. Harrell’s eyes were wide, and he was cowering against the shop

window.

“Go away,” Ted rasped. “I don’t have anything — it’s all gone. There’s nothing. That’s

enough, isn’t it?”

“Không, tôi không ngh? nh? v?y,” the old man murmured. No, I don’t think so. He

stepped closer to Harrell, who staggered to one knee.

“Hey!” Skinner shouted. Despite the stranger’s size and advanced age, the director

instinctively drew his sidearm.

The old man turned and regarded Skinner. Skinner stopped. The look in the man’s

eyes was expectant, challenging. And the wizened face was even more maddeningly

familiar.

“Chao anh,” the old man smiled, “Skinner.”

The agent’s weapon dropped to his side as his heart raced at the chilling greeting.

The old man looked back to Harrell, kneeling against the shop wall, and turned.

“Stop!” Skinner called in Vietnamese as he returned to his senses. The man

disappeared around the corner. By the time Skinner reached the intersection, the

menacing old man was nowhere in sight.

Harrell was now sitting against the shop wall, face white even in the faint wash of

the streetlight 10 yards away.

“You OK?” Skinner asked, standing over him. His old platoon-mate glanced up and

nodded shakily. “What was that about, Ted?”

The vet’s lips moved under his shaggy mustache.

“Ted.”

His voice was ragged. “Ma quy.”

Skinner’s eyes narrowed. “So you know him.”

“No, no,” Harrell shook his head. “He is ma quy. A demon.”

Underwood, Oklahoma

Brianne Reynolds inspected the plastic case proffered by the unnaturally calm

teenager. ” ‘Million-Dollar Babies.’ Where’d you get this, Lucas?”

Lucas’ acne’ed expression was inscrutable. “Right over there, in the— ” He glanced

sideways at the racks of videos. “In the drama part. You know, it’s that Clint

Eastwood thing with the chick fighter. One of my teachers said it was real good. You

know.”

His voice cracked on the last phrase, and the health/video provider nodded. “I

thought it was ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ singular.”

The boy swallowed, and looked behind him for support. Seeing the cop and her

diminutive, kinda butch-but-hot-looking little friend, he swallowed again and turned

back to Reynolds with a green smile.

“Tell you what, Lucas,” Reynolds smiled back. “Let’s just check, make sure there

aren’t any scratches on the disk.”

Lucas turned a paler shade of gray, then broke. “You know what? I think I left my

money in my other jeans. I’ll come back later. You want me to put it back?”

“I know where it goes,” Reynolds said calmly. “Thanks, though, Lucas.”

The teen nearly collided with Lindsay, and the door swung open and slammed,

allowing a nanosecond of the street festivities into the shop.

Reynolds smirked at her visitors. “Folks are out partying in the streets, and he and

his buds break out the porn. Do for you, Lindsay?”

“Brianne, Agent Scully and I are looking into Mrs. Timms’ murder. Heard you used to

take care of her.”

The nurse frowned. “Wow, about a year ago, after she broke her ulna. Worst couple

of weeks of my life.”

“Ms. Timms was difficult?” Scully asked, leaning on the counter.

Reynolds shook her head as she pulled a stack of DVDs from the shelf behind her,

under the eye of a maniacally grinning Tom Cruise. “Allergies. Was like a rainforest

in that house of hers’. Folks thought I had pinkeye for about a month afterward. No,

Lenore was a joy – very cooperative, a little forgetful.”

“Alzheimer’s?” Scully’s brow arched. “I had an aunt with Alzheimer’s. Horrible. Some

might say death would be preferable.”

Reynolds turned with a faintly distasteful expression. “She was a little forgetful. She

was 85 – a very lively 85.”

Scully whistled exaggeratedly. “One foot on the banana peel,”

“Excuse me?” Reynolds sputtered. “Lenore Timms was a lovely and vital lady,

probably as healthy as you, Agent.” She exhaled, then extended a DVD toward

Officer Uhler. “Lindsay, your Jackie Chan came in.”

“Ooo, excellent,” Lindsay cooed.

**

“Well, she didn’t seem like a Kevorkian,” Scully admitted, licking a stray dribble of

cinnamon pecan ice cream from the cone Lindsay had foisted on her.

“I don’t see it,” Officer Uhler agreed distractedly, balancing her triple dip. “You still

want to check on Jack Ninness? Heard he’s working the Jaycees ring toss.”

Encourage initiative, Scully had learned at a recent Bureau team-building workshop.

“Lead on.”

Dr. Ninness was a trim thirtysomething with thinning red hair. As the agent and the

cop approached, the physician was shoving a plastic bottle toward a large woman.

“I’m fine, really,” the woman protested.

“Do you know how many people have handled these rings?” Ninness persisted,

waggling the Purel dispenser. “Jaycees have been running this booth for 20 years.

At, say, 200 customers a night, three nights a year, that’s 12,000 of your fellow

townfolk and tourists who’ve shared bacterial pathogens with you. C’mon, take a

squirt.”

The woman backed away. “I said NO!”

“Scoliosis, too,” the doctor sighed as he watched his contaminated customer retreat.

“Officer, you and your friend want to try your luck? Free blood pressure check with

10 tosses.”

“No thank–” Scully began.

“Hell, yes,” Officer Uhler breathed, grabbing the compromised rings. “Doc, you know

about these murders in town, right?”

Ninness nodded. “Who’s doing the post-mortem on the Resnick boy?”

Scully blinked. “How did you know about that?”

“Chief’s son worked the last shift, said it was the same guy responsible for the mayor

and those others. Biggest stir in the tri-county area since last May’s meteor shower.

You must be the FBI agent.”

“Yes,” she replied weakly as Lindsay took aim. The red plastic ring hula’ed solidly

around the neck of a wood block wearing a digital watch.

“I assume you’ll find damage to the sino-atrial node,” Ninness suggested.

That was supposed to be sealed information, but Scully had learned Underwood

valued open communications above all us.

“Yeah, buddy,” Lindsay whooped as a second ring snagged a plastic frog.

“That’d seem to indicate someone with not only a detailed knowledge of human

anatomy – which I assume is why you’re talking to me — but also an almost

supernatural sense of aim,” the doctor continued. “That’s an awfully small target,

buried under skin, bone, and connective tissue.”

The word “supernatural” sent a sense of frisson through Scully. “You don’t honestly

believe that, do you?”

“I said, ‘almost supernatural.’ But it is strange, isn’t it. You’re quite a shot, too,

Officer Uhler. You’ve got four more rings.”

This was careening wildly out of control. Scully decided on a blunt approach. “Since

we’re being so candid, Doctor, can I ask your feelings on euthanasia?”

“Saves public health care dollars, but it wreaks havoc on physician billables. Wow,

good shot, Officer.” Ninness deposited Lindsay’s winnings and the Purel on the

scabbed counter before her.

Officer Uhler scrubbed and rolled up her sleeve. “OK, Doc, bring on the cuff.”

Presidential Wash-a-Teria

“Bigfoot.”

“Alive. The militias drove him into British Columbia.”

“Nessie.”

“Dead. Everything since 1970 has been the Chamber of Commerce.”

“El Chupacabra.”

“Please,” Roy snorted, scoring another hit from the Thai coffee he’d scored from The

King of Siam next door. The same family owned the Presidential Wash-a-Teria, but

seemed to be perpetually absent from its premises.

“No,” Mulder protested, raising his right hand in a Scout’s pledge. “I met him once.

Them. They’re probably in Southern Mexico, unless the lettuce crop came in and the

Minutemen got sloppy.”

“Uh huh,” Mulder’s cryptozoological soulmate grinned lopsidedly.

Roy hadn’t known who belonged to the Joe Boxers and tees now spinning in the

washer beside his. The hulking young man resembled Penn Gillette gone to seed, if

that were possible. He’d spotted Mulder’s reading matter, and the two had struck up

a lively round of “Alive/Dead/Bullshit?”

“So what do you do, Fox?” Roy said. “Cool name, by the way.”

Mulder glanced at his own wash – a white cotton maelstrom ready for the rinse, then

turned to his new friend. “I’m a profiler with the FBI.”

Roy averted a Thai spit-take as he scanned Mulder’s Cartman T-shirt and safari

shorts. “Yeah, right, dude.”

“Hey, I almost caught Buffalo Bill,” Mulder sputtered. Actually, Agent Starling had

pegged him immediately as a flake on the make and nodded tolerantly and looking

for the Quantico cafeteria exit as he offered a profile that turned out to be astonishly

on the mark. Mulder had never questioned the young agent’s ethics – he was almost

positive she hadn’t heard a word he was saying after he’d suggested they catch a

Tobe Hooper film festival.

“’Spose you bagged Hannibal the Cannibal, too,” Roy murmured, going along with

the non-existent game.

“He’s probably back in Rio.”

“You’re good. Bet your lady loves rapping about coelacanths and John Wayne Gacy.”

“She tolerates it,” Mulder sighed. “What do you do?”

Roy shrugged. “Waiting for my Lotto ticket to hit, man. Just mainly horsing around.

Used to work at some posh joint in Virginia, but I didn’t like the way they operated.”

He slam-dunked his empty cup into the trash. “Shit. Let me get this shit in the dryer,

and I’ll be back.”

As faux-Penn transferred his sopping khakis, Mulder eyed the door. As he turned to

his returning friend, it banged open and a lanky, buxom brunette entered, wrestling

a pair of plastic baskets. Her jersey running shorts advertised Georgetown University

in rolling text.

clip_image010

“You need some help?” Mulder and Roy volunteered simultaneously. Arching an

eyebrow, she moved briskly past to the far bank of machines. Roy settled in next to

the agent, and they watched as their new associate unloaded.

“I see Paris, I see France…” Mulder sang under his breath.

“I see pajamas with footies, about 10 sizes too small,” Roy said glumly.

“Shit,” they sighed in unison as Mulder’s cell phone sounded.

Underwood, Oklahoma

“I feel like Eddie Albert, Mulder,” Scully murmured into her cell phone as she gazed

at her newly delivered white wine. It was fizzing, which seemed unusual.

“A pop culture reference,” Mulder gasped. “I have taught you well, my undersized

grasshopper. What’s up in Hooterville, Scully?”

“Four homicides, one fresh. Four medically improbable murders, one in a locked

apartment. Crazed environmentalists, germophobic doctors, a police force with some

real confidentiality issues.” She lifted her glass to her nose. The bouquet was strong,

too strong. “On the brighter side, I’ve struck up quite a rapport with the young

policewoman they assigned to me. She seems eager to learn.”

“Youch. They gave you a rookie on a serial murder case? Wow, FBI clout in action.”

“There’s a festival going on,” Scully protested, turning from a pair of young tank-

topped men who were toasting her with their Coors. “The chief is short-handed.”

“Yeah, that’s it. Any suspects?”

“That’s why I interrupted you while you were getting your spin on. I need to tap your

profiling expertise. You free to talk?”

“Just me and Roy and a ton of wet permanent press, right, Roy?”

“Yo, Scully!” a disembodied voice called out. Scully sighed.

“All right. Four victims – three men, two women. The only common factor seems to

be that all four victims were impaired at the time of their death – by age, by physical

disability, by weight, by alcohol.”

“Like a lion culling the weak gazelles from the herd. Maybe a Darwinian motivation –

survival of the fittest. Or a thrill killer who knows his or her limitations. Maybe a

beginner, testing the waters before moving on to more challenging prey.”

“The latest victim was drunk but otherwise young and able-bodied.”

Mulder was silent for a second. “You said the murders were medically impossible.”

“Improbable. The killer somehow stabbed each victim precisely in the sino-atrial

node.”

“Literally turning off their light switch. It would have killed them instantly. The bodies

were unmolested?”

“No sign of mutilation or post-mortem abuse.”

“That doesn’t sound like a thrill killer. Efficient, instant, dispassionate. More like

some kind of bizarre series of mob executions or revenge killings. Sounds almost like

an X-File. Maybe the killer can ‘read’ cardiac electrical activity, sense where the sino-

atrial node is. Any other anomalies in the case?”

Scully sipped her “wine,” wincing. “They had a meteor shower last spring. Should I

look for little gray tourists?”

“Rowr. So why don’t Roy and I toss it around for a while, fluff out some Hanes, and

get back to you?”

“Happy birthday, Mulder. Hopefully, I can deliver your gift tomorrow night.”

“’Night, Oli-vah.”

“Hey there, Red.” Scully looked up to see a mullet with a grinning man attached. He

nodded toward the phone in her hand. “Asshole stand you up?”

The agent looked up blandly. “Asshole’s tae kwan do class ran late.”

The yellow grin didn’t fade. “Hey, I know a little a’ that shit. Broke some asshole’s

collarbone one time.” His skinny chest puffed under his stained wife beater.

“That’s sweet. Look, I just came in here to enjoy a nice glass of wine with my friend,

OK?” Scully demonstrated with a casual sip, her face puckering in response to the

wine’s delicate kerosene finish.

“Well, hey, my buddy Rick over there’s between chicks…”

“Last one’s still up at the state women’s correctional facility, isn’t she, Randy?”

Randy winced, then turned slowly to Lindsay Uhler. The cop had metamorphasized

into a sort of Viking cowgirl in painted jeans, a torso-molding tee, and lizard boots.

“Well, hey there, Linz,” Scully’s erstwhile suitor stammered. “Just keepin’ the

assholes away from your friend here.”

Lindsay beamed prettily. “Well, I appreciate that, Randy. You give your mom my

best, now, hear?”

“Er, yeah, you bet.” He turned to Scully with a weak grimace. “Ma’am.”

“Randy.”

Lindsay dropped into the chair opposite Scully. “Jeez, I hope that was all right. I just

figured maybe you didn’t want Randy hitting on you. I hope that wasn’t out of line.”

Scully laughed. “Ah, no. If you hadn’t come along, I’d have bought him a glass of

this. If that didn’t kill him, my .38’s in the purse.”

Lindsay nodded sympathetically. “Larry doesn’t serve up too much wine. Here,

lemme get you a Stagecoach.” She craned around. “Hey, Larry – rustle Agent Scully

up a Stagecoach. And a Virgin Long Island Iced Tea.” Officer Uhler settled back in

her chair, crossing her boots. “Saw you were on the phone when I came in. Your

partner?”

“He’s the profiler. I thought maybe he could shed a little light on the case.”

“Why didn’t he come out here with you?” Lindsay inquired.

Scully paused. “Mulder’s on a sort of leave of absence. He had a run-in with some,

uh, rough characters recently, and he needs a little time to, I don’t know, recharge, I

guess.”

“You two are pretty close, aren’t you?” Lindsay asked softly as the bartender placed

two tall red beverages before them. “You really care about him, don’t you?” She

studied Scully’s face. “Oh, shit. Sorry. I got a tendency to pry.”

Scully struggled for a smile. “It’s all right. It’s a good trait in an investigator. I guess

it must seem inappropriate–.”

“Oh, no,” Lindsay hastened. “I mean, when I was a dispatcher, I had a little thing

with Darrell, you know, that deputy was checking out your butt back at the station?

That was probably where our relationship went wrong, when I think about it. So, you

guys getting married any time soon?”

“Ah,” Scully responded, reaching for her drink. “Whoo. That is…potent. Look, is there

any word on Shari Ketner’s alibi?”

“Ran down Ginny Hollowell – you know, the slut that did half the football team? She

says Shari was with her, and Ginny’s boyfriend backs them up. So you think maybe

Trey had something going on the side, and gave Girlfriend Two a key, and maybe

Girlfriend Two found out about Ginny, and stabbed Trey. Except everybody knows

about Ginny, unless Girlfriend Two’s been ready to blow for a while. Well, and why

would Girlfriend Two kill the mayor and Lenore and Mr. Morehouse?”

Scully took another sip. Suddenly, she was growing immune to Lindsay. “Plus,

Resnick would hardly seem to be a candidate for euthanasia, unless the killer has

broadened his or her scope to a Darwinian level.”

Officer Uhler smiled tolerantly as she pulled at her ice tea.

“So, what did they have in common?” Scully pondered. “It’s hard to picture the

mayor – or certainly Timms — and Resnick traveling in the same circles.”

“It’s a small town, but yeah, can’t say I ever remember Boyd hanging out with the

gang at Mickey D’s,” Lindsay acknowledged.

Scully leaned back and was instantly engulfed in fleshy leaves and petals. She freed

herself and studied the plant ensconced in the corner of the bar. “What is this thing.

I’ve never seen anything like it. Is it local?”

Lindsay shrugged. “You remember Maddy? The lady was going to call the federal

government on all of us? That’s that plant she’s all worked up over. Nobody in town

knows what it is – just popped up this summer. My guess is, somebody was moving

cross-country and their plant dropped out the window and took root. There’s a whole

field of ‘em on the west side of town, nowhere else. Well, not nowhere else – Lenore

had a bunch of ‘em, and you saw the one at Trey’s place.”

Scully bolted upright before Lindsay could complete her sentence. The effort dizzied

her, but she forged on. “Do you remember if the mayor or Morehouse had any of

these plants?”

“Hold on.” Officer Uhler burrowed in the Wykotah Library tote bag that substituted

for her purse. She emerged with a stack of photos, and spread the crime scene shots

on the graffiti-ed table. “Oh my God – you’re right. See, right by Mr. Morehouse’s

recliner. And in the pot by the mayor’s hot tub, where he got stabbed. Holy crap.”

“Holy crap,” Scully concurred.

Washington, D.C.

“It started happening after I dried out, got my shit back together.” Ted laughed as

he surveyed his thread-bare apartment. A mismatched Goodwill living room set and

a 13-inch TV collected dust beneath a network of water stains and cracks. “Well, as

much as I could get it together.

“The first time, I saw him out the window, down on the street. My first thought was,

jeez, old guy, you don’t wanna be roaming around Southeast this time of night. Then

I realized who it was – Quan. You remember Quan, right?”

Skinner sat up, unkinking a spring in the once-maroon couch. “The old man. The

Shaman.”

Quan hadn’t been a spiritual healer in the Native American sense, but he had been

something of the village doctor, applying herbal remedies and odd ministrations with

a more than a respectable recovery rate. The old man had seemed amused by the

corpsman’s comparatively cutting edge medical technology, and the corpsman came

to marvel at the old man’s skill and rapport with his patients.

Quan was among the civilian casualties in the Cong attack that had set Ted Harrell

on the path to self-destruction and offered Skinner a glimpse into the unknown.

“What did he want?” Skinner asked. Ten years ago, he’d have immediately written

Ted off as a psych case.

Harrell leaned back in his puke-green armchair, calloused hands clasped on his

thighs. “Well, at first, he just kinda hung around – I’d see him on the street, at work,

at the VA, when I’d get my free check, you know. I knew it couldn’t be him – shit,

Walt, even if he had survived, he’d of had to have been about 90 back in ’72. But the

way he looked at me – he knew me, had to. But every time I’d try to catch him, ask

what the hell he wanted, he’d just like disappear into the crowd, around a corner like

tonight. Then one night, I wake up – I sleep there, on the couch — and shit, he’s

sitting right here, in this chair.” Ted wrung his hands, grinning anxiously. “I just

about crapped myself. Then I knew, he just wasn’t real. I asked him who he was,

and he told me ‘Ma quy.’ Then he was gone. But he kept showing up – sometimes

he’d asked me if I’d ever thought about the villagers, about my time there, in

country. Tonight, he told me what he wanted. Everything I had.”

Harrell barked and thumped his temple with a knuckle. “Fucking crazy, right, Walt?

Except you saw him, right?”

“I saw him,” Skinner reassured the ex-Marine. He considered Ted’s lined, worried

expression. “Ted, I never told you about when I nearly died there in the jungle. Hell,

when I died.”

Then it all came out. How he’d felt the bullets spiral inside him, ripping into muscles

and tissues, then nothing. How the next thing he’d seen was his own lifeless,

bleeding body twisted in the dirt below, the North Vietnamese soldiers stripping him

of his uniform and personal belongings, of the corpsman franticly trying to summon

life back into the shell of meat and bone that had been Walter Skinner. And

succeeding…

clip_image012

“Jesus,” Ted breathed as Skinner fell back, drained, silent.

“I never looked beyond that experience, never tried to find any meaning or hope in

it,” the director finally murmured. Skinner looked up. “But I’ve come to realize there

are things in this universe we can’t account for through science or logic. So, no, Ted,

I don’t think you’re ‘fucking crazy.’ I’m going to call a man I know – he has a grasp

for the kind of things you’ve been experiencing.”

Ted nodded eagerly, as if Skinner were holding out a lifeline. “Hey, you want

something to drink? You suddenly don’t look so hot.”

“Just water.”

“You betcha. I’m gonna fix some coffee, just the same. Just sit back, Walt, relax.”

The recounting of his afterlife experience had both exhausted and somehow

exhilarated Skinner. Over the last 10 years, he’d crossed the line with increasing

frequency – hell, he’d crossed the lines off the map. That he could justify each step

further into the murky no man’s land made little difference – Skinner’s life had been

one of order and reason. Vietnam had been nightmarishly simple: Life-and-death

dependence on a small group of men, yes-or-no survival decisions, a black-and-

white mission to stay alive – to keep breathing.

Skinner had always wondered if after the stark simplicity of war, guys like Ted were

simply unable to return to the complexity of an existence where breathing was only

the beginning. Understanding that breathing might only be one step in a far more

mysterious plan – perhaps that had helped Skinner survive.

Ted’s home was a Kafkaesque study in minimalism: A chair, a couch, a tin TV tray

that doubled as an end table, a half-dozen channels, and Mr. Coffee for company in

the absence of Jack Daniels. The TV tray held a half-tray of generic Oreos and a

cheap wood frame no doubt purchased with the couch and armchair. Skinner tilted

the frame toward him. A photo of a young blonde in a high-school mortarboard and

gown and a taller, older woman, beaming and hugging the girl to her. Ted’s wife and

daughter Stacy. A gift from the ex, during a moment of sentimentality? A harsh

reminder to Ted of what he’d abandoned, what he’d missed?

Skinner’s fingers froze. The girl was familiar, and not because she shared Ted’s eyes

and jawline. Then he remembered where he’d seen her.

He rose, abruptly. “Ted?”

Harrell appeared in the kitchen doorway, a jar of instant crystals in his hand.

“Gonna take a rain check on the water,” Skinner announced, heading for the door.

“Hang in, OK – I’ll call my, ah, my friend.”

Presidential Wash-a-Teria

“Ed Gein.”

“Visionary. Boy loved his mother.”

“Aileen Wuornos.”

“Missionary.”

“Son of Sam.”

“Hedonistic.”

They’d run through Fake/Natural, Guilty/Not Guilty, and Good Cruise/Crazy Cruise,

and had arrived at Serial Killer Typology.

“Really?” Roy queried. “Not Visionary? You don’t think the dog made him do it?”

Mulder tipped his plastic chair back against the folding table. “Berkowitz later

claimed Rich Girl — you know, the Hall and Oates tune? – motivated him, even

though the first four shootings occurred before the song was even released. I think

Harvey the German shepherd was a convenient scapedog – Berkowitz just got a

blast out of blasting those couples. C’mon.”

“The Centaur.”

Mulder smiled. “That’s an interesting one. He or she’s kind of tough to get a handle

on. Eleven victims, both sexes, eight WASPs, one Asian-American, two African-

Americans. No attempt at robbery. I think we can dismiss Gain as the motivation

right off the bat. Could be Hedonistic, but I don’t think so. The murders were quick –

no torture, no sexual element, just a quick slash to the jugular. That narrows it down

to Visionary or Missionary.

“Now, the odds are against Visionary. In most cases, the voice in the killer’s head

belongs to a good defense attorney. Gein and Herbert Mullin – the guy who thought

he could stop earthquakes with a baseball bat — were exceptions. And Mullin

experimented with hallucinogens. I’m going to go with Missionary.”

“So what’s the mission?” Roy asked. “You said it – he’s an equal-opportunity killer.

No regard to race, creed, or sex, dude. What’s the mission?”

“Well, up until a day ago, I had a guess. Income-wise, the first 10 victims were in

the high five figures to the low sixes. Mostly professional people, college-educated,

most either fashionably liberal or prosperously conservative. Which eliminated a

political motive. But the victims were all relatively affluent. Maybe class hatred was

the motive? Some minimum wage earner sick of taking crap from yuppies? A

socialistic statement about the decadent upperclass.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Roy nodded eagerly as an obese woman filled the doorway, a pair of

toddlers in tow.

The first 10 victims were scattered throughout D.C., Virginia, and Maryland and a

variety of professions and social milieus. They’d checked for any common delivery

services, dry cleaners, favorite restaurants – any potential source of disgruntlement

– and come up empty. That didn’t eliminate the possibility that the killer was

randomly selecting targets for his or her social vendetta, but the Centaur appeared

to know their routines, appeared to have identified them for a specific reason.

“But then there was Anton Lee Anderson,” Mulder added, aloud.

“Yeah,” Roy acknowledged, nodding soberly.

Anton Lee Anderson was a former runner with the Simple City Crew’s Avenue faction

in Southeast in the early ‘90s. After a series of juvie busts, Anderson ran afoul of one

of the Circle faction’s chief lieutenants and took a drive-by bullet in the femur. His

family sought sanctuary for him with Project Outreach, a youth counseling and

training center in the ‘hood, and Anton wound up at city college, working toward an

associates’ in computer programming. Old gang associations short-circuited those

plans, and Anderson had been working night crew with a downtown custodial service

for the previous 10 years.

Until he didn’t report nearly a week ago. Despite his youthful transgressions,

Anderson had a spotless work attendance record, and his absence sparked

immediate concerns. The worst was confirmed when the former banger’s body was

discovered in a thicket about 30 miles north of Georgetown. The slashed throat, the

rural setting were unsettlingly familiar to the Maryland State Police and the FBI.

“He mighta been a good Centaur, your theory’s correct,” Roy suggested. “Cleaning

up after executives every night, then going home to Southeast. Living in a shithole of

gangs and drugs. And you know he would’ve loved fucking around with the cops.”

“Except he wasn’t the Centaur – he was the victim, and a problematic victim.

Suddenly, the Centaur’s Missionary motive seems to fly out the window. And the first

victim from inside the city proper. The others were pretty much scattered outside

metro D.C., which suggests the Centaur might be based inside metro D.C. and is

trying to throw us. If that’s true, then the implication’s disturbing. The Centaur’s

hunting on his home turf, which, with the fact that the killings have been coming

more frequently, indicates he’s stepping things up, losing control.”

“Maybe he was, you know, a witness, an innocent bystander,” Roy conjectured.

“I doubt it – why the execution-style murder, like the others? No, I think somehow,

Anderson was part of the pattern. If the Centaur’s based in town, maybe he went

hunting for his other victims. But what if Anton Lee stumbled into the Centaur’s

orbit. What if he fit the Centaur’s mission, but he was merely a victim of

convenience?”

Roy leaned back, eyes searching the yellowed acoustical tile for answers. A shrill

warble and an insistent buzz simultaneously broke the silence, and both men

jumped.

“Mine,” Mulder breathed, going for his cell phone.

“Dryer,” Roy announced.

“Mulder,” the agent grunted as his friend began to empty the dryer beside the

mysterious unclaimed load.

**

“The ethnic Vietnamese claim Lac Long Quan as the father of the Vietnamese

people,” Mulder began. “Lac Long Quan means King Dragon of the Land of Lac, and

he was the son of King Duong, the first king of the country then called Xich Quy, or

Red Devil.

“Lac Long Quan’s wife, Au Co, a fairy princess, gave birth to a sac containing 100

eggs from which 100 males were born. One day, Lac Long Quan told Au Co: ‘I am

descended from dragons, you from fairies. We are as incompatible as water is with

fire. So we cannot continue in harmony.’ So they parted. The man went to the coast

with 50 of their children, while his wife went to the mountains with the other half.

The eldest son, who followed his mother, later installed himself as Vietnam’s first

monarch, King Hung.”

“Agent Mulder, that’s fascinating,” Skinner replied as a horn sounded in the

background. Someone — a cabbie, Mulder presumed — cursed in some Middle

Eastern language. “But I’d prefer a little less theory and a little more applied

knowledge. What do you know about Southeast Asian demons?”

“I’m just setting up a context. The Vietnamese people are steeped in myth and folk

legend, and like any over-colonized culture, they became insular, protective of their

secrets. As the French, the Communists, the Americans came through, they held

tight to their culture as a shield, and, they hoped, their ultimate salvation. Excuse

me. Hey, Roy, you need some help there? OK, lemme know. Sorry.”

Skinner took no offense to Mulder’s characterization of the U.S. forces. Skinner had

believed in what he’d done, tried to do, for his villagers and those like them, but

even he shared some serious reservations about the U.S. mission in Vietnam. “So

you think what Ted’s been experiencing is real? I mean unreal?”

“Is this old man Quan a supernatural manifestation? I think probably so. Is he an

avenging demon, seeking reparations for his people from a man who from what

you’ve said was a benefactor rather than an invader. No, I don’t think so.”

Mulder heard brakes squeal on the other end. “What do you mean, Agent?” the

director asked.

“Look, you said your buddy at the VA pulled up Harrell’s file for you. What’d it say?”

“That after his return, Ted couldn’t hold a job, experienced some severe substance

abuse problems. The VA psychologist called him passive-aggressive — he had low

self-esteem, masking resentment for the military, the VA, friends who avoided him

once he came back, his wife.”

“He erases both himself and others,” Mulder considered. “Thing is, it doesn’t make a

whole lot of sense. Why does this ma quy, this demon, suddenly appear to Harrell,

nearly 35 years after the fact? Long time for revenge to get cold. I have a thought,

but let me mull on it a while.”

“Fine — I’m going to talk to the daughter, anyway.” Skinner paused. “Agent Mulder?”

“Yeah?”

“How are you doing? Everything going all right? Maybe you’ve thought a little more

about the Bureau counseling…”

“Hey, no more speaking in tongues, and the hearing’s 100 percent. I’m even doing

my own delicates, and I couldn’t even do that before.”

“Good night, Agent Mulder. Thanks.”

Underwood, Okla.

Madeleine Ryland’s ranch home was located on the fringe of town, beyond the last

convenient mart and drive-through. On the roof of the home showed – the rest was

obscured by a jungle of prairie plants, flowers, and particularly noxious-looking

weeds. They parked in a scrubby clearing, and Scully could see lights on in the

ramshackle detached garage. The house itself was silent and dark.

The windows in the garage bay door had been painted black. Despite her lingering

buzz, Scully felt an instinctive tension, and she drew her sidearm. She glanced at

Lindsay, whose weapon was already out.

“Smell that?” Officer Uhler whispered. Scully’s nostril’s flared, and she flashed on a

raid on a militia compound roughly a year before. “Been a lot of anhydrous ammonia

thefts in the area last few months.”

“That door’s probably deadbolted,” Scully suggested. “You think you can take it down

at the hinges?”

Lindsay grinned. “Unlike Randy, I paid attention during tae kwon do class.” She lifted

a lizardskin boot and kicked it sharply between the rusty hinges of the garage door.

The panel splintered as the bolt tore from the other side of the frame. Lindsay

knocked it aside, and Scully followed, weapon extended.

Ryland had reached the shotgun on the workbench groaning with household

cleaners, empty cold medicine bottles, and glass jugs filled, Scully was certain, with

liquid nitrogen fertilizer.

“Drop it, Maddy, or I drop you!” Lindsay bellowed. Scully almost jumped, and Ryland

tossed the gun to the cracked concrete floor.

“You scared the living shit out of me,” Maddy whimpered apologetically. “You just

scared me is all.”

Lindsay pulled out her cuffs. “Meth, Maddy? That shit will kill you.”

“Oh, God, I don’t use. I mean, it’s all chemicals. Every cent I make goes to Friends

of the Earth and Greenpeace.”

“Well, that’s real generous and all, but I’m going to have to take you in, anyway. We

also want to talk to you about the mayor and Lenore and the rest.”

“Poachers,” Maddy muttered. “They shoulda respected nature. It wouldn’t have

happened if they’d just respected nature.”

Scully glanced sharply at Lindsay, who shook her head slowly and nudged the

environmentalist toward what had been the door.

clip_image014

Capitol Chophouse

The manager’s eyes grew wary as Skinner stepped into the restaurant’s foyer. He

looked behind the director, then relaxed and stepped forward.

“Yes, sir, what can we do for you?” the harried manager smiled with forced

congeniality. His jaw dropped as Skinner flashed his ID.

“The gentleman I was with tonight–”

The manager sighed. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I don’t know what he told you, but

it wasn’t what it looked like. We give a ton of leftover crap to the local missions

every week.”

“That’s commendable,” Skinner responded. “He’s been bothering one of your

employees, hasn’t he?”

The manager hesitated, unsure where this was leading, and to whom. “Yeah, yeah.

He’s Stacy’s dad. You know, the girl that brought your drink. That’s why she asked

Ryan to take your table — Ted, I think his name is, has been coming around a lot,

too much. Last week, I told him he didn’t stop showing up, I’d have to can his girl. I

wouldn’t, of course — she’s one of my best with these congressional assholes and

tourists.”

“What’s he want?”

“No money, if that’s what you mean. Naw, my guess is absolution. I’m Catholic, so I

can get it like going through a drive-up window. Little harder for Stacy’s dad — he

dumped her when she was like two or three, her and her mom. And Stacy had, what

do you call it, a congenital heart problem. Bad ticker. That made it worse, even if

Vietnam had fucked the guy up.” The manager stopped abruptly, seeing something

in Skinner’s eyes, his demeanor. “Sorry — that’s how you knew him, right?”

Skinner smiled reassurance.

“Well, look, I feel for the guy if he wants to make things right with his kid. But he’s

got to stop bugging her on the job and otherwise. Him and his little friend.”

“Little friend.” Something buzzed in Skinner’s brain.

“Yeah, the old guy. The Asian. I don’t mean anything racist or anything, but he’s real

spooky.”

**

Stacy Harrell backed against the break room table as if she were cornered. Her eyes

darted toward the corridor between the dining room and the bar. “So what, now he

sends the FBI?”

“I’m here as an old friend. That means I want to protect Ted, even from himself, if

necessary. I understand he’s been bothering you.”

She laughed. “Yeah, it’s a bit of a bother. Whining about blood ties, family,

repentance. He said it was time for me to let go. Me. After he ditched me and mom

when I was just a baby. Look, I know about all this post-traumatic stress shit, but I

was a baby, a baby with a bad heart. He’s asking too much. Too much. And he’s

going to get me fired. You try to get that through his head.”

“Hey, Stace.” Skinner turned to see the tall young Samaritan who’d slipped Ted the

high-priced Care package. “Well, hey. You leave something?”

“No, everything’s fine,” Skinner said.

The boy knocked on the doorjamb. “Great. Stace, tell Gary I still feel like shit. Dinner

crowd’s thinning out anyway.”

“Sure,” Stacy nodded. “Take care, Ryan.”

“I will,” he said seriously, and Skinner caught a relationship vibe.

“What about the other man?” Skinner asked, and Stacy blinked. “The old man, the

Vietnamese man. Your manager, Gary, I assume, said some old man’s been

bothering you, as well? Is he a friend of your dad’s?”

She stared at him for a second, and her face drained of blood. Then she composed

herself. “Gary’s mixed up. That’s just some homeless guy from the neighborhood.”

Stacy Harrell smiled nervously. “Coincidence’s a bitch, huh?”

Presidential Wash-a-Teria

“That’s it for me, dude,” Roy proclaimed, hefting his Hefty bag. “Hope you get your

guy. You wanna let me know, I’m here every Friday night. Party central. Hey, you

got a blog?”

“Naw,” Mulder shook his head, pulling his own wet slacks from the washer.

“You need a blog, man. Seriously. Later.”

“Later.”

The door jingled loudly back into place, and Mulder was left with Hot Mama and 15

pounds of soggy cotton and polyester. He lugged his wardrobe to one of the dryers

Roy had vacated, plugged in a fistful of quarters, and cranked the knob. Plastic

buttons clicked against the metal drum as Mulder checked out the selection in the

long-neglected vending machine. Half the chip coils were empty, and the packs that

remained had been bleached by the sub. Mulder’d seen human remains that looked

juicier than the Slims Jims.

He selected two and launched into an essay on giant African rodents.

“Hey.”

Mulder looked up, forcing a chunk of meat stick down his esophagus as Hot Mama

leaned on the folding table. “Ah, hey.”

“Look, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” she continued. “But you gotta admit, it was

some pretty weird shit.”

She was probably late twenty-something, wearing a bargain name brand of jeans, a

worn tee Mulder recognized as Army issue. He’d guessed single mom at first – no

men’s clothes, the infant wear. But then he spotted both the stylish office wear,

slightly larger than the monogrammed coffeehouse polos and aprons.

“What’s your major?”

Hot Mama smile was tight and dry. “Very good. Commercial art.”

“When’d you get home?”

“Geez, who are you, the Stupendous Yappi? Oh, the shirt. Pulled a tour in Baghdad

right after the shit began – Sam shipped me back in one piece about five months

ago. So now I’m living with my sister and her kid and schlepping coffee near the

Smithsonian so I can afford canvas and horsehair brushes. I actually got some stuff

into a gallery on Pennsylvania — heart of darkness-type shit. Small talk over? Cause

I’m serious. Look, how do you know all this serial killer shit?”

Mulder hooked an arm over the back of his chair. “Chicks dig the behavioral

sciences, am I right?”

“Yeah, I’m about to wet myself. Actually, it makes you sound a little spooky — you

might think about dropping it from your bar banter. Look, I’m serious. What are you,

a cop?”

Mulder flashed his ID. “Why you want to know?”

Mama planted her firm rump on the folding table. Mulder silently cleared his throat.

“Because,” she said. “Cause I think I saw your Centaur victim the night he got killed.

Here.”

Underwood, Oklahoma

Scully flipped her phone shut and settled back into the booth. The bar crowd was

building as Lemon Shake-Ups gave way to Wild Turkey. “Told Mulder I’d grab the

first flight out of Oklahoma City tomorrow morning. I’m sure your prosecutor will be

able to connect Ryland to the murders. You handled yourself pretty well back there,

Officer.”

“Shoot,” Lindsay murmured. “Dad was Air Force for 20 years. Taught me how to

shoot a gun when I was seven.”

“I was a Navy brat,” Scully said.

“Wow, that is just…”

“Incredible?” Scully lifted her Stagecoach.

“He must be real proud of you.”

“Dad passed on years ago.” Eyes thoughtful, Scully took a deep pull on her drink.

“As for being proud, well, that’s a jury that’ll never come in.”

“Oh, he just must’ve been,” Lindsay persisted. “Just look at you. An FBI agent and

everything. Protecting your country, putting the bad guys away, you and your

partner.”

Scully chuckled. “Sometimes lately, Officer Lindsay, er, Officer Uhler, uh, Lindsay,

sometimes lately I don’t know if I know who we’re protecting. And the bad guys just

seem to keep coming. Coming and coming and coming and… Crap, what were we

talking about?”

“I’m not real sure. You just might want to go a little easy on that Stagecoach, Agent,

OK?”

Scully grinned and toasted the cop. “That’s OK. You’re my desi-, desinated driver.”

Lindsay nodded. “Know what? I think maybe I oughtta drive you over to my house,

let you grab a little shut-eye. Been a pretty stressful night for both of us, and I still

got a little paperwork to clear up at the office.”

“Oh, shit. It’s the shank of the, you know. Hey, let’s find Rick ‘n Randy – I wanna

show ‘em my gun. Maybe they’ll show us theirs’.”

“Yup,” Lindsay confirmed. “I think maybe a little shut-eye’d be just what Dr. Ninness

ordered.”

Washington, D.C.

Something was wrong. Skinner knew it as soon as his knuckles hit the door. Chaos

set up a vibration – Skinner had learned to sense it. The air in the hallway

reverberated with dust and residual nicotine and violence.

He knocked twice more. No response. Skinner knew better than to break or slip the

lock, but if he was right, and he hoped he wasn’t, it wouldn’t be necessary.

Skinner was right. The door swung open as he grasped the knob, and Ted appeared.

The ex-Marine was sprawled across the couch, on his back, his eyes wide and

unseeing. His chest was a bloody mess. A quick scan of the food-stained carpet

yielded the weapon – a generic kitchen knife, probably from a dollar store. The

handle was still smooth, new.

Ted’s wallet was on the floor, stripped of what at most could have been a few bucks.

The vibe here was theatrical, and cheaply so. Premeditated murder by an amateur –

bought the murder weapon for the occasion, set up a clumsily fake robbery.

Skinner stepped into the hall and broke out his cell phone. He punched a pre-

programmed number, fed the dispatcher the pertinent data, and sat down on the

stairs to wait for the DCPD.

Ted had been a trusting man – despite the inherent dangers of D.C., he’d probably

welcomed his killer into his home. At least his demons had been put to rest – the

guilt, the self-loathing, the alienation. Skinner was gratified he’d been able to give

Ted one last good Friday night, happy Ted had been able to see the humane side of

the world he’d long forsaken. The old Marine and his wife at the chophouse, the

kindness of the young waiter.

Skinner’s eyes narrowed, and he crossed back to Ted’s door. Despite his training, he

pushed it open and moved past the body on the couch to the kitchen.

The Presidential Wash-a-Teria

“Anton, right? Yeah, I had to go shopping with my sister last Friday, so I got here

maybe 11 or so. He was doing a couple of loads, doing some business on his cell

phone, jammin’ with Jay-zee on the I-Pod. He was wearing his uniform, I guess –

polo shirt, Anton stitched over the pocket. Guy was a janitor, right?”

“Mm. We found powdered detergent in his shoes. No washer in his apartment

building, so we figured he went to the laundromat right off shift at the Monument

Insurance Building. This is the closest laundry, ergo…”

“Ergo,” Mama mused. “And it just happens to be your laundromat, too. Happy

coincidence.”

Mulder shrugged. “For shizzle. So Anton’s got his washing on, and…”

“He sees something he likes. He starts pouring on the charm, offering to help me

fluff and fold – and, no, that’s not code language. He wasn’t too bad, despite the

aging gangsta act, kinda sweet in a burnt-out way, but I’d heard him yelling about

having to watch the kid, I assume with his old lady. So I kissed him off nicely and

put everything on a short cycle.”

“Anybody else hanging around?”

“Just me and Anton. A night to remember.”

“Mm. You know any regulars here named Jim?”

She shook her head. “Why?”

Mulder held up a finger and retrieved his laundry bag. He pulled out a soggy sports

shirt. The name Jim was embroidered on the left breast.

“What? You steal the guy’s laundry?”

“After Anton Lee’s murder, I started re-evaluating everything. The first victim in a

series of serial killings usually offers the murderer’s motive, but the anomalous

murder – the one that doesn’t fit – is the one that usually solves the case. All we’d

had up to this point was a group of seemingly unrelated victims and some equine

trace evidence.”

“Equine? Like horses?”

“Why we call him – or her – The Centaur. The mythological half-man, half-horse. We

found some equine hairs at a few of the early scenes – the killer got more careful as

the murders continued. Well, as I looked at Anton Lee’s routine over the week prior

to his death for any nexus between himself and the killer, I came across something a

little unusual. Anton tended to keep pretty much to work and his neighborhood, but

the Wednesday before he died, he took his five-year-old son, Tyrees, to the

Smithsonian’s National Zoo. See, the zoo’s had its troubles in recent years – several

animal deaths linked to negligence and mismanagement — so as a public relations

gesture, it’s been giving special memberships to underprivileged local kids and their

parents. Admissions free, but membership lets the kids go places and do things the

general public can’t.

“Anton’s been on a redemption kick, his ex says, and he’d been trying to step up as

a dad. It was a longshot, but it was something. Several of the victims had kids, and

a statistically high number were divorced. Zoo’s a great place for divorced dads –

lots of distractions, the excitement wears the rugrats down pretty quickly, and it’s a

lot more fun than listening to a hundred brats screaming around Chuck E. Cheese.

As it turned out, several of the Centaur’s victims had zoo memberships, and some of

the others had visited the National shortly before they were killed.

“Then it occurred to me to re-test the hairs we found at those first murder scenes. I

came up cherries. You ever heard of Przewalski’s horse?”

“Not if it hasn’t come up at the OTB.”

“Przewalski’s horse once roamed the steppes of Mongolia and Northern China,”

Mulder elaborated. “Now, it’s extinct in the wild. But there are nine mares and seven

stallions at the National Zoo. And here’s a fun zoo fact: Przewalski’s horses have 66

chromosomes, two more than domestic horses.”

“Wow,” Mama murmured, not without a trace of interest. “Lemme guess.”

Mulder smiled self-deprecatingly. “Hey, you have any idea how many stables, polo

clubs, and breeding farms there are in Maryland and Virginia? We checked every

one. But once the zoo connection popped up, we ran a more sensitive DNA screen.

Sixty-six chromosomes.”

“That shirt. It’s from the zoo, isn’t it?”

Mulder turned the garment around with a flourish. Four red-brown streaks striped

the shirt’s tail. “Official staff uniform. That’s why the Centaur couldn’t simply dispose

of the shirt. He didn’t want to have to answer any questions from his bosses that

potentially could come back to us.”

Hot Mama crossed her arms. “Should you really be telling me all this shit?”

“Aa, I’m off duty,” Mulder dismissed. “Besides, I think we’re close to a break in the

case.”

“Mm. So I guess the question is, why are you telling me all this shit? I assume you

didn’t think it would get me all hot, as intriguing as it is.”

“Why do you think?”

Mama raised an eyebrow. She turned, retrieved her laundry bag, and reached inside.

Mulder blinked as the weapon came up. It was heavy, black, military-issue.

“It was me checking your ass when you came in, wasn’t it?” Mulder asked. “I like a

girl with some junk in the trunk, so sue me.”

Mama smirked. “Nooo, I think you’re telling me to watch my own ass, right? Maybe

do my laundry at the joint down the street?” She lowered the gun. “Just wanted you

to know my ass is in good hands. If I can handle insurgents in Iraq, I think I can

manage one homicidal zoo geek.”

Mulder shrugged.

“Sara, by the way,” she supplied as she bagged her pistol. Sara hefted her bag over

her bare shoulder. “You’re kind of geeky, too, and more than a little creepy. But

you’re also kind of sexy, in a young William Hurt kind of way. You got somebody?”

The agent sighed. “Yup. And she’s armed, too.”

Sara nodded. “Oh well. Lemme know if you need to debrief me.”

She was out the door before Mulder could muster his comeback. A large hanging fern

blocked his view as Sara retreated into the night.

Mulder nonetheless continued to stare. Finally, he fumbled for his phone.

Underwood, Oklahoma

Lindsay Uhler settled in contentedly as the Folger’s started burbling in the station

pot. Agent Scully was safely tucked in on her couch, the chief had grunted

congratulations – or indigestion – as he headed home for the evening, and she’d

helped snag both the local meth dealer and a killer – and a world-class pain-in-the-

keister, at that.

Her reverie ended abruptly as her purse began warbling. Agent Scully’s cell phone –

she’d taken it with her so her new gal friend could grab a few in peace. Lindsay

wondered if all feds had so much trouble handling their liquor.

Lindsay opened the phone and bit her inner lip as she pondered the cryptically

labeled, glowing buttons. Finally, she pressed the green one and press the phone to

her cheek.

“Hello?”

“Scully?”

“You Agent Mulder?”

“Uh, yeah…”

“Wow.”

“Ah, is Agent Scully around?”

“Oh. I’m sorry. Uh, no – she’s indisposed.”

“Indi–? Never mind. Who’s this?”

“Officer Lindsay Uhler, sir. Underwood Police Department. It’s nice to meet you –

well, talk to you anyway. Agent Scully’s said a lot of really great things about you,

well, I mean…”

“Officer?” Mulder sounded amused.

“Oh. I’m sorry. I’m just babbling. Can I help you, Agent?”

“Yeah. I was thinking about your case – your murders?”

“Yeah, Ginny’s clammed up, says she wants a public defender – well, the public

defender, really. So she isn’t saying anything. But I think we got her pretty good.”

“Great, great. Only thing is…”

“Agent Mulder?”

“Well, I was thinking about what your suspect said when you two arrested her – that

the murders resulted from the victims tampering with nature?”

“Yep. That pretty much tied it up, you know?”

“Yeaahh. Of course, that could be open to interpretation. I mean, it’s reasonable to

assume that Ms. Ryland was saying she killed those people because they tampered

with nature. But what if that wasn’t what she meant?”

“Agent Mulder, I’m afraid I’m not keeping up with you…”

“Let me put it another way. Did Ms. Ryland have a key to your last victim’s

apartment?”

“Well, we’re not done with her place yet, but so far, no.”

“OK. Well, just suppose for a second Ms. Ryland didn’t kill those people. Why would

she just ‘clam up’ and let you charge her with serial murder? Maybe to protect the

real killer?”

“The real killer? Agent Mulder—”

“Look, you had a meteor shower in your area last spring, right? I was thinking about

your killer’s profile – a passive predator, opportunistic, picks victims unable to react

or fight back – and it struck a chord. Have you ever heard any theories about how

the bays of North Carolina were formed? Officer Uhler?”

“I’m sorry. North Carolina?”

“One theory is that a meteor hit Earth 30,000 to 100,000 years ago, breaking into

pieces that skipped across the surface, creating depressions that eventually became

those bays.”

“Okaaay…”

“Well, it’s one of several competing theories, but some scientists believe it’s backed

up by the region’s anomalous flora.”

“Uh, Agent Mulder. You’re getting a little too deep for me. Maybe I could have Agent

Scully call you when she gets up.”

Mulder chuckled. “Just tell her what I told you and ask her to take a good look at all

the crime scene photos. Look, my guy’s coming back – I gotta run. I’m sure I’m way

off the mark, and even if I’m right, the killer’s not going anywhere. Ciao.”

“Bye, now,” Lindsay sang, brain still buzzing. After puzzling out how to deactivate

Scully’s phone, she poured a cup of sinisterly opaque coffee from a scaled Mr. Coffee

carafe and settled in behind the chief’s desk. Lindsay tapped in the chief’s password

– “HOTGUNZ – and Pam Anderson disappeared from his PC screen (none of the town

board had ever been on this side of his desk).

Lindsay took a tentative sip of her acrid elixir and began to Google.

**

“Hey, sleepyhead,” Mulder grinned, sipping his coffee and dropping the Post’s A

Section onto the table. “I’m starving.”

Scully padded into the kitchen. “You’re always starving. Hold your horses.” She

gathered her robe, opened the oven, and extracted a large roasting pan. “Mom

called last night.”

“Who?”

“Mom.”

“She’s dead. Duh.” Mulder murmured. Scully heard the newspaper rustle as she

carried the pan into the dining room.

“No, Mom. My mom.”

Mulder looked up. “Who? Wow, hey, those look great.”

“I hope you like them,” Scully sighed, setting the pan on the table. The top file slid,

and Mulder rescued it. He eyed the stack of Bureau-stamped folders hungrily. “You

going to grab something on the way to the office?”

“Ah,” Scully gasped, her eyes flying open, her mouth cotton padding. The light was

blinding. A shadow moved before her.

“Don’t move, Agent Scully.” Lindsay Uhler’s voice was tense, cold. As Scully’s eyes

adjusted, they widened. The agent’s lips moved silently as she stared up at the odd

weapon the policewoman was wielding above her.

“Lindsay,” Scully rasped.

“It wasn’t Ginny,” Lindsay murmured. “Your partner figured it all out. Please – don’t

try to get up. Just don’t breathe. And close your eyes.”

Her own weapon was in her purse, her purse god knows where. Scully considered

what her next move might be, and then she heard it. A whispered rustling behind

her. A new shadow crossed her face.

Scully’s eye darted up. A scream worked up from her diaphragm, lodging in her

throat. The tentacle – no, tendril – undulated above her, like a cobra. Two fleshy

“petals” parted, and the tendril reared back.

Suddenly, a wet, bitter spray hit Scully, and her eyes clamped shut. “Die, you

polinatin’ son-of-a-bitch!” Lindsay yelled over a series of inhuman, agonized shrieks.

A volley of shots rang out, and Scully tensed against the cushions.

Then, the world ended. Or it seemed to. Then Scully felt a hand on her arm. “It’s all

right, honey,” Lindsay whispered. “I mean Agent Scully. C’mon, we got to wash you

off.”

Scully opened her eyes. Officer Uhler stood, her “weapon” hanging at her side. Her

fingers were tight around an industrial spray nozzle. Scully traced the hose from her

hand to the canister at Lindsay’s feet, then glanced sharply at the floor beside the

couch, where a mass of shredded vegetation twitched. Lying among the compost

was a long, woody tendril that terminated in a leathery, razor-sharp appendage.

Scully looked again at the canister, made out the word “herbicide.”

“Never was much good at biology, so I didn’t take any chances.” Lindsay grinned

lopsidedly, toeing the herbicide label. “Broad spectrum.”

Washington, D.C.

“Hey, long time no see,” Ryan Morehaus yawned as he opened the apartment door.

The waiter was in a rumpled tee and sweat bottoms.

“You feeling better?” Skinner inquired.

“Ah, yeah, a little. Thought I’d hit it in a few. Can I do something for you?”

Skinner displayed his ID.

“Whoa, man,” Ryan breathed. “What do the feds want with me. Or Stacy, for that

matter?”

“You knew her father?”

“The bum? Hey, sorry, I guess he’s your buddy, right?”

“I understand he may have been harassing your friend. He and another man.”

Ryan stared at Skinner for a second. “Yeah. The guy thought he could just drop into

Stacy’s life, make everything right after, what, 30 years?”

“You and Stacy are good friends? She’s an attractive woman.”

Ryan was silent. Skinner moved past him into the apartment. “Once I realized you

had a thing for her, I began to wonder why you’d be so generous with a man who’d

been making your girlfriend’s life miserable. That special doggie bag you gave him? I

was with him all the way back to his place, saw him put it away. Oh, did I tell you

Ted was murdered tonight?”

Ryan’s eyes went wide. “Jesus.”

Skinner smiled grimly. “You must have freaked out when you found out an FBI agent

was at the restaurant, had had dinner with Stacy’s father. You had to get that bag

back – that’s why you cut out so quickly. Stacy has a bad heart condition. Does she

take digitalis, something like that? The food in that doggie bag was laced with it,

wasn’t it? When Ted was found dead of heart failure in that grimy dump of his, no

one would have gone to too much trouble to investigate.”

Ryan laughed incredulously. “You’re fucking crazy.”

“Yeah. By the way, Ryan, you lost something.” Skinner’s clenched fingers opened,

and he tossed a small, rectangular object at the waiter.

Ryan’s forehead creased as he caught the object and stared down at it. His eyes

popped as he read the name on the badge. His name. He glanced quickly at his

crumpled uniform on the couch, then slumped against the back of its accompanying

chair.

“She asked you to do it, didn’t she?” Skinner asked gently. “Stacy gave you that bag

for her dad, probably didn’t even tell you she’d spiked it. Then she had second

thoughts. She asked you to retrieve it. What, did you and Ted get into it?” Then the

director frowned. “Or had Ted already eaten those rolls? It seemed like a lot of

violence for you.”

“It was a stupid idea,” Ryan said suddenly. “Stacy’s been going crazy with this shit,

and I just wanted to help her. Then I realized the heart medicine could be traced to

her if somebody actually cared. But it…it was too late by the time I got there. So I

thought I could, you know, cover it up, make it looked like a stabbing.”

“They would have figured out he’d been stabbed after he was dead,” Skinner

murmured. “She played you, Ryan.”

The boy’s head came up fast. His eyes were red and wet and defiant. “No. It was my

idea. Just mine. I stole her medicine. She didn’t know. The guy was a monster — he

sent that thing, whatever it was, to get even for her not forgiving him.” Ryan shook

his head. “I just can’t believe I could fuck up…” He looked down at the badge in his

hand, then at Skinner, and moved to the dining room table. Skinner’s hand moved

toward the shoulder holster under his jacket.

Ryan untangled his white uniform shirt from the pile on the table. A black plastic

badge hung from the left breast. The badge blank was standard issue; Skinner had

only needed a label gun. “You fucker,” Ryan whispered, not looking up.

“Ryan,” Skinner cautioned.

But Ryan sank into a chair, burying his face in his fingers. Skinner got out of the

room as quickly as possible as the D.C. cops in the hallway came to claim the

sobbing boy.

The Presidential Wash-a-Teria

From his inky post across and down the street, James L. Wiest watched Mulder toss

his duffel bag over his shoulder and step from the hot white light of the laundromat

into the dim orange wash of the streetlights. He started to leave the boutique

doorway, then ducked back as Mulder stopped and turned into the King of Siam.

“Fuck,” Wiest muttered, rushing obliquely across the deserted street. He slipped into

the Wash-a-Teria, praying his new friend hadn’t forgotten anything.

The shirts were a damp, wrinkled mess, but he could put an iron to them later.

Besides, he was growing weary of the daily shit at the zoo. Maybe it was time to

pick up stakes, head out west, and resume his work in a less populous setting, where

his abilities would be appreciated.

Wiest froze. It was gone. His heart pounded. They were onto him. How? It had been

stupid to keep it, but it would have raised too many questions at the zoo if he’d

requisitioned another one. Wiest had no idea if the detergent would have

contaminated Anderson’s blood, his DNA.

DNA. Wiest tossed the shirts aside and dumped the nearby wastebasket onto the

filthy linoleum. Gone as well.

Wiest stumbled against the folding table. Then he rushed for the door.

**

“Yo, Roy,” Mulder smiled, toasting with his foam cup. He shoved the opposite chair

out with his sneaker. “Java jive got to you again?”

James Leroy Wiest’s eyes were dark and intent, his nostrils flaring. The King of Siam

was empty save a counter girl scanning People and two cooks embroiled in a heated

exchange in Thai.

“Give it up,” Wiest whispered hoarsely. “The shirt and the cup.”

“Let me buy you another Thai coffee, Roy,” Mulder invited. “We’ll talk.”

Wiest’s palm came down hard on the formica, rattling the chili and soy sauces. The

hostess/waitress looked up from Brad and Angelina, shrugged, and returned to her

magazine. “I’m not fucking around, man. You really an FBI agent, or just some Gacy

groupie? ‘Cause you don’t want to screw around with me.”

Mulder pulled his wallet from his jeans and flipped it opened. Wiest gaped at the

Bureau ID and collapsed into the proffered chair. “Oh, shit. This was a fucking setup,

wasn’t it? Your buddies waiting in the back to jump my ass?”

“No setup, Roy. I’m not even on the job right now. Had some laundry to do, and I

thought I might as well do a little research while I was at it. Once I’d narrowed the

search down to the National Zoo, you stood out. A veterinary assistant with the

Przewalski’s horse exhibit who, as it turned out, was a former horse breeder at a

stable in Virginia. And a juvenile abuse victim who was shuffled to three different

foster families before finding yourself in the company of beasts. That’s when it hit

me. The motive. Your motive.”

Wiest was now silent, his chest rising and falling.

“The victims. You studied them when they brought their kids to the zoo. Inattentive,

permissive, overindulgent, emotionally abusive, verbally bullying. You evaluated

them, like prospective thoroughbreds. And decided to thin the herd of those you

deemed unfit to be parents.

“But it didn’t stop there, did it, Roy? Victims eight and 10 were single, childless.

What were they, poor breeding stock? Typical Missionary – the boundaries of your

‘mission’ were expanding. Then came Victim 11. What was his story?”

Wiest stared at Mulder, then looked down at the placemat before him. “It was

Friday; I was doing a couple of loads. He was on his cell phone a couple of washers

away, talking to his girlfriend, wife, I have no idea. It was clear she needed him to

watch their child, but it was just a nuisance to him. He started cussing, yelling how

he didn’t even know for sure it was his kid. He had to hang with his ‘boys.’ Jesus. I

just, I don’t know…”

“Roy,” Mulder murmured, leaning forward. “Who’s next? Me? You see me as Dad of

the Year?”

The killer blinked. “You? No offense, man, but look at you. Friday night, you’re off

the clock, and where are you? Some cheesy-ass laundromat, yakking it up with a

serial killer – excuse me, an alleged serial killer. You’re obsessed with Bigfoot and

Ted Bundy and the Loch Ness Monster. Jesus, Fox, at least I’m honest about myself.

Your girlfriend – the one on the phone – she doesn’t have a chance. You’ll never

follow through. You, with a wife and kids? Why bother killing you?”

Mulder’s fingers tightened around his cup. They loosened, and he smiled uncertainly.

“How about because I could put you away for the next 700 years?”

Roy nodded sadly. “Yeah.” His hand came out of his jacket pocket with a serrated

hunting knife. “Sorry, man.”

clip_image016

“You going to do it right here? Then what, Roy? The waitress, the guys in the back?

Some night owl customer looking for some pad thai? That part of the Mission?”

“That’s why we’re leaving,” Roy said steadily. “You’re not going to let me kill a bunch

of civilians. Let’s go.”

The killer gasped as Mulder’s cell broke the tension. “That’s them, Roy. I had a

feeling you’d show up. It’s Friday night, Roy. Let’s all make it to Saturday morning,

OK?”

Roy’s eyes popped as the phone bleated persistently. Mulder reached for his jeans,

and the veterinarian lunged across the table. The agent’s left hand snagged the chili

sauce, and he shot a stream of the fiery condiment into Roy’s face. The knife flashed

as Wiest howled, and Mulder felt a searing metallic pain as it bit into his forearm.

The half-blinded killer lashed out again, and Mulder caught his wrist. The table and

its occupants crashed to the tiles, spreading a puddle of mingled chili and soy sauce,

cold coffee, and blood.

“Hey, you guys cut that shit out!” Mulder heard an outraged feminine voice shrill. He

shoved a hand into Roy’s face as the blade quivered an inch above his left eye. The

knife descended a centimeter at a time, and Mulder braced his right foot. His bent

leg pistoned up, and Roy cried out. Mulder yanked the hunting knife free and planted

his knee on Roy’s chest and the blade under the stunned killer’s chin.

“What kind of freaking cow shit is this?” The tiny hostess demanded above them, a

.38 in her delicate hands. The men goggled up at her.

“Min,” Roy croaked as he flopped under the agent’s weight. “This psycho’s trying to

kill me. He says I stole his girlfriend.”

“That’s bloody likely,” Mulder panted.

“Get the knife, Min,” Roy begged. “He’s gonna cut my throat. He’s fucking crazy.”

Min pulled back the hammer. “Agent Mulder not crazy. Good customer – come every

Saturday night, do his washing, eat lots of ginger beef and shumai. Take care of

giant mutant rat in kitchen without telling health inspector. You just buy coffee –

every Friday, nothing but coffee all the time. Sucky tipper, too. You shut up, do what

Agent Mulder tell you.”

“Call 911, Min,” Mulder ordered. He winced as he fished a pair of cuffs from his now-

bloodied windbreaker and rolled Roy onto his belly. His cell phone erupted again,

agitating a pool of coconut-laced coffee. Mulder clicked the cuffs into place and

recovered his phone.

“Mulder? I just tried to call you. You done with the laundry?”

“Yeah. Officer Uhler give you my message?”

“Yup. You were right, as usual, Mulder. We got our man – our plant, that is.”

“Hey, great. Say, Scully, I’m kind of in the middle of something. Gimme a half-hour

or so, tell me all about it.”

“Muld–?” Scully’s voice piped as her partner ended the call.

Mulder shook his head as he looked down at the serial killer. “Stole MY girlfriend, eh?

What do you think I am, some loser who hangs out in a cheesy-ass laundromat on a

Friday night?”

Underwood, Oklahoma

Scully slid into the booth across from Officer Uhler, who was halfway through a plate

of fried eggs, bacon, and biscuits and gravy. The Outdoorsman was half-full of bone-

weary Kiwanians, public employees, and carnies – the moonlit town beyond the café

was littered with half-deconstructed kiosks, corndog sticks, and balled popcorn bags.

Another Wykotah Days had passed into history.

“EPA and Fish and Wildlife are sending in crews to eradicate the rest of those plants,”

the agent reported. “I can only hope no tourists took any souvenirs out of the area.

That was quick thinking, Lindsay. Thank you seems woefully inadequate…”

“Aw,” Lindsay grinned, a scrap of egg leaking from the corner of her lip. “Your

partner worked it out. He told me all that stuff about North Carolina and meteors and

anonymous flora. And he said we ought to look at all the crime scene photos. So I

just googled up ‘North Carolina’ and ‘meteors’ and ‘plants’ together, and I found out

some folks think those insect-eating venus flytraps and sundews and the like that

grow there came from the same meteors that made those lakes in North Carolina.

Sort of like volunteer corn that gets into soybeans through deer crap, except this

came from outer space. I figure those dinky meat-eating plants were like the great-

great-great-great-grandfolks of that thing almost shishkabobbed you. Your partner

was right – there was a plant next to where we found each of the victims.”

“It preyed on old, infirmed, incapacitated victims,” Scully explained. “A single strike

to the sino-atrial node to kill its prey. Just as deep-sea predators developed

camouflage and other devices to trap their food, those plants must have developed a

heightened sense of its prey’s life functions and how to shut them down. In their

home environment, they must be able to consume and digest their prey at their

leisure. That’s why none of your victims showed signs of molestation or mutilation.

Ms. Ryland was willing to let us believe she was responsible for the murders because

she knew that if those plants were determined to present a public threat, we’d

probably eradicate them. She may be a drug dealer, but she’s also a diehard

environmentalist.”

“Wow.” Lindsay bit into a fatty strip of bacon. “After I put it all together, I

remembered I had one of those things right next to the couch where you, uh,

bunked in. I ran down to Buck’s Tru-Valu Hardware and grabbed the most powerful

herbicide they had, then high-tailed it to my place.”

“Wow,” Scully smiled. She opened the purse beside her. “Lindsay, there’s something

I want you to have. My partner, Mulder, gave this to me years ago.” Scully located a

metal trinket, which she placed next to Officer Uhler’s plate. “It’s an Apollo 11

keychain. Mulder reminded me that there are extraordinary men and women and

extraordinary moments when history leaps forward on the backs of these individuals,

and that there’s no substitute for hard work and perseverance. And teamwork. No

one gets there alone. That’s what this keychain represents. You had my back

tonight, Lindsay – you exhibited hard work and perseverance and, perhaps most

importantly, imagination. I can’t think of anyone who deserves to have this more.”

Officer Uhler set her fork down and stared at the keychain. Finally, she reached out,

stroking the fob’s engraved surface. She glanced up with a shy smile.

“You know, Agent Scully, I told you my daddy was in the Air Force?” the cop said

quietly. “He flew with a few of the guys you were talking about that went off into

space. He might even have met some of the guys who went up on this mission right

here. Guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m real honored you’d want to pass this on to

me.”

Lindsay pushed the keychain back across the table with an apologetic smile. “But I

got like five of these things already.”

“Ah,” Scully nodded.

The Capitol Chophouse

The vibe at the restaurant was unmistakable. The night owl diners on the patio

rubbernecked at the ambulance and squad cars, washed in red and blue light. Gary

was in the foyer, face white and stricken.

“One of the chefs found her in the john,” the manager informed Skinner dully. “She

was just sitting there on the toilet, eyes wide open. She looked like she’d seen the

fucking devil himself. Jesus, what’ll I tell her dad now?”

Skinner said nothing. After a beat, Gary glanced up warily.

“What?” Skinner asked quietly.

“Beth, the girl who found her, she said she saw some old guy hanging around in the

hall right before she found Stacy. An old Asian guy. Shit, you don’t think…?”

“I don’t know,” Skinner said simply. In his dying moments, had passive-aggressive

Ted projected his combined guilt and retribution on the daughter who’d refused to

forgive him, in the form of the old villager he felt he’d been unable to protect?

Skinner left the manager in contemplation. He wanted to be anywhere else — maybe

his office, maybe the Wall, to revisit the ghosts of men and women who’d never

returned to the world.

As the sole-surviving conspirator, Ryan Morehaus would go down for Ted’s murder.

Stacy Harrell would go down as a natural death, possibly as a victim of karma. This

wasn’t his jurisdiction.

None of it.

The Presidential Wash-a-Teria

Midnight

“Jesus, Mulder.”

Mulder looked up as the paramedic checked the dressing on his arm. “Geez, he hit a

major artery, didn’t he? And God’s an anal-retentive bureaucrat with really, really

nifty Italian wingtips.”

Special Agent Brad Vollmer inspected the laundromat disdainfully, searching for a

sanitary place to lean. He settled for standing stiffly in his crisp tux. “I thought you

were on disability leave. That man killed nearly a dozen people. What did you think

you were doing?”

“Catching him?”

“I was at a reception at the British Embassy. With a junior State Department analyst.

A very hot junior State Department analyst.”

“You should’ve said something. We coulda hung out.”

Vollmer sighed and turned to the EMT. “He going to be all right?”

“Just a flesh wound, Mr. Bond,” the paramedic smirked, packing his equipment. “You

just keep it clean and protected, my man, OK?”

“Always do,” Mulder responded, bumping knuckles with the tech. The paramedic

hoisted his kit and disappeared into the night. Vollmer sighed.

“We’ve been chasing this guy for the past year-and-a-half, god-knows-how-many

man-hours, and you snag him while you’re doing your fine delicates, on sick leave at

that,” Vollmer grinned sourly. “The gods really must be on your side.”

“You have no idea,” Mulder grunted, wobbling to his feet. “I’ll come in tomorrow,

clean up the paperwork.” He saluted the dapper agent.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Vollmer demanded.

“Hey,” Mulder grinned, “it’s Friday night.”

*end

14×01

1

Friday by Martin Ross