Category Archives: Season 15

The Hook

The Hook

By Martin Ross

Category: Casefile, humor

Rating: PG-13 for language

Summary: When an old urban legend seemingly comes to life in the Virginia wilderness,

Mulder, Manville, and the Gunmen go on a potentially lethal fishing expedition.

Disclaimer: Everybody in this little fishing party except Wallace Manville belongs to

Chris Carter.

E-mail: rossprag@fgi.net

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“I feel like I’m gonna hurl,” Langly murmured as he huddled by the fire with his

comrades. The Gunman’s chiseled facial features were even more jagged and haggard

than usual in the dancing reflection of the spitting flame. His eyes, ringed in evening

shadows, were haunted, troubled.

“It’s all right, Langly,” Byers assured him gently. “You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Right, Melvin?”

Frohike glanced up from his enameled aluminum plate. “Naw. Nothing at all,” the Lone

Gunman’s ringleader grunted distractedly.

Langly straightened, eyes flashing. “Easy for you, asshole. You’re not a killer. You didn’t

have to look into those eyes, those cold, dead eyes, knowing you’d destroyed a life.

Gutting him, dismembering him like that. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same, man.”

“If it helps,” Mulder offered quietly, “he was really delicious. Right, Doc?”

Dr. Wallace Manville, former colleague of the notorious Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter,

nodded silently, his mineral eyes contemplating the full, pocked Virginia moon.

“God, and to think I joined in your gory little ritual,” Langly moaned.

“It was a trout,” Frohike breathed, sucking a sliver of piscine flesh from a molar. “Get

over it, Nancy. And your anguish would be a little more compelling if you hadn’t eaten

two of the damned things.”

“I am definitely going vegan,” the skinny hacker groaned. “I feel lousy, nauseous. The

guilt is eating my insides.”

Mulder tipped his canvas camp chair precariously as he retrieved a jar and a bag of

Doritos from between Langly’s Skechers. He held the jar to the firelight, scanning the

cheaply printed label. “I don’t think it’s guilt, Roland Martin. ‘Whisker-Lickin’ Cheese

Bait — Cheese, Brains, and the Whisker-Lickin’ Secret Ingredient the Big ‘Uns can’t

Resist.’ It actually says ‘’Uns.’ Langly, you finished off a half-jar of this crap.”

“It said cheese,” Langly squeaked. “It was right next to the freakin’ jerky!” He looked

down, eyes widening, and Frisbee-ed a dipped chip into the woods. “I ate bait! Jesus, I

ate fish food! Could that kill me, Doc?”

Manville continued to study the luminescent orb. “Depends largely on what kind of

brains they use. If it’s locally produced, it very likely contains swine brains. So bovine

spongiform encephalopathy shouldn’t be an issue, although I’m sure FDA guidelines of

specified risk materials would prevent–”

“Bovine what?”

“BSE, mad cow disease,” Frohike chortled. He turned toward Byers, who was vaguely

ludicrous in the fresh plaid flannel shirt and stiff jeans he’d reluctantly substituted for his

customary suit. “John, you take the first shift and make sure Langly doesn’t take a header

into the lake or start mooing at the moon.”

“Go milk yourself, asshole,” Langly snapped, sinking back sulkily into his chair.

“I was wondering why you bought that stuff,” Byers said, by way of an olive branch.

“Cheese bait’s generally for catfish, carp, other scavenging fish. I actually read yellow

corn is the ideal trout bait.”

“That’s a popular Native American option,” concurred Manville, the only experienced

angler in the group. His voice seemed to float serenely on the night breeze. “A ball of

white bread or cheese also is suitable. And, of course, there’s Eisena fetida — the Red

Wriggler.”

“The Cadillac of Worms,” Mulder quoted WKRP in Cincinnati. “So, Langly, if you were

scarfing cat bait all day, what were you using as bait?”

Langly scowled and dug into the pocket of his dingy windbreaker. He displayed a bag

full of colorful, translucent annelids. “The old dude at the bait shop said these were the

perfect lure.”

“Gummi Worms,” Frohike cackled. “Jesus, Ringo, you really are Roland Martin. Wilford

Brimley was yanking your ball sack. Shit, fish probably croaked from diabetes.” The

trollish conspiracy buff frowned. “Just who the hell is Roland Martin, anyway?”

Mulder sighed, washing down the last of his trout with a shot of Dew. “Maybe this

wasn’t the hottest idea for a road trip, after all. Just thought it would be a good

opportunity for some male bonding is all.”

“Dude, there’s hardly enough testosterone here to make a small Girl Scout,” Langly

scoffed, forgetting mad cows and Eisena fetida. “No offense, Doc.”

Manville smiled and shook his neatly shorn head.

“Just why did you invite us out here, Mulder?” Byers inquired somberly. “We’re hardly

the outdoor types — Frohike gets antsy around neon tetra. And, once again, no offense,

but the three of us and Dr. Manville, well, we’re an eclectic group, to say the least. Why

trout fishing on the Cranesnest River?”

“Yeah,” Frohike muttered, glancing anxiously into the darkness. “I can practically hear

banjo music and Ned Beatty squealing like a sodomized pig.”

Fox Mulder placed his leftovers on the grass beside him and folded his hands over his

now full stomach. Manville closed his eyes, still smiling. The agent shrugged.

“OK,” Mulder surrendered. “I wanted to borrow your expertise on a case.”

“Expertise?” Langly demanded. “I don’t think I’m gonna find a Wifi connection out here

in Deliveranceland. Why drag us all the way out here for a consultation?”

“I don’t want your technical expertise,” Mulder grinned. “I need your knowledge of

popular folklore, of American apocrypha. You guys are questionably the East Coast’s

leading experts on urban legends. Or, in this case, I guess, rural legends.”

Frohike’s eyes narrowed behind his thick lenses, but his brows beetled in interest. He

jerked his outsized skull toward Manville. “And him? I assume he’s along for some other

reason than teaching the Bassturbator here how to cast a line.”

“Eat me,” Langly growled.

“Dr. Manville here,” Mulder overrode, “is along to help us land a really big fish. Of the

human variety.”

“What’s the hook?” Frohike asked.

“How very appropriate,” Manville mused.

**

“A teen boy drove his date to a dark and deserted Lovers’ Lane for a bit of heavy petting

and labored breathing,” the psychiatrist and former CIA profiler began as the Gunmen

moved closer to the now-smoldering fire. “After turning on the radio for mood music, he

began kissing his girlfriend.

“Shortly, the music suddenly stopped, and an announcer’s voice broke in. It seems a

convicted murderer had just escaped from the state insane asylum, which happened to be

located not far from Lovers’ Lane. Anyone who noticed a strange man lurking about with

a hook in place of his right hand should immediately report his whereabouts to the police.

“The girl became frightened and asked to be taken home. The boy, feeling bold, locked

all the doors instead and, assuring his date they would be safe, attempted to kiss her

again. She became frantic and pushed him away, insisting they leave. Relenting, the boy

peevishly jerked the car into gear and spun its wheels as he pulled out.

“When they arrived at the girl’s house, she got out of the car, and, reaching to close the

door, began to scream uncontrollably. The boy ran to her side to see what was wrong and

there, dangling from the door handle, was a bloody hook.”

“Shit,” Langly murmured. “That happen around here?”

To his surprise, Frohike wheezed in merriment. “The Hook, Dweeb. You never heard that

one? Byers, you were a Boy Scout, right?”

“Junior Achievement,” the bearded former bureaucrat amended with a note of modesty.

“No one really knows the source of the folk tale,” Manville continued. “But it

proliferated in the ‘50s, most likely as a sexual cautionary tale for hormonal adolescents.

Naughty children meet unspeakable fates. The hook, of course, is an obvious Freudian

symbol – if you subscribe to Freud. One of the first public records of the story was in a

1960 Dear Abby column, where the escaped amputee was actually identified as a rapist.”

“Wait a minute,” Byers said. “Are you saying…?”

“Gus Shiveley, 63, truck driver with Parti-Tyme Snacks for the western part of the state,”

Mulder related, shifting into Bureau mode. “Disappeared from his regular route about a

month ago. Found him in a cornfield two weeks later, slashed to death — the truck was

hidden behind an abandoned barn nearby. According to the Dickenson County coroner,

the fatal wound virtually pulled the carotid artery from Shiveley’s throat. The weapon left

a distinct curved signature. See where I’m going?”

“The Hook,” Byers whispered, looking for all the world like the Scout he’d never been.

“Was this the first one?”

Mulder shook his head. “Something about the murder rang a bell with the coroner, and he

checked into the death of another trucker about five years earlier. Luckily, he wasn’t just

one of these political hacks with a scalpel, and he knew how to do a thorough p.m. The

first death was designed to look like a tire-changing accident, but the fatal wound to the

victim’s chest was consistent with Shiveley’s.

“The first vic, Alan Yost, was a cross-country driver for a sporting goods supplier. Also in

his sixties — coroner theorized the killer picked older, potentially weaker prey — but no

apparent connection to Shiveley. The coroner was about to let it go when they found

Dena Jo Hillock.

“Dena Jo, 74, and her husband, Fred, ran a limo service out of Baltimore — proms, visiting

dignitaries, weddings, et cetera — until their divorce 10 years ago. Dena Jo had a summer

cabin right around here — she loved to trout-fish. That’s where they found her a week ago

— on her front porch, her skull virtually split with what the coroner identified as a hook-

like weapon. That’s when he called the Bureau.”

“So your first thought for a destination weekend was to bring a computer geek, an

overweight hippie, a pasty Eagle Scout — excuse me, Byers, Junior Achiever, and a doctor

of psychology out to the middle of the woods for a game of serial killer roulette,” Frohike

suggested, incredulously.

“You guys said you were tired of shooting the fall foliage,” Mulder said. “Look, I am an

experienced profiler, Wallace here’s an ex-spook, and I’ve seen you three attack an extra-

large Domino’s like you were conducting a Mossad raid on a Hamas bomb factory.

Seriously, I have a theory, but it’s out there. And out there basically is where you guys

live.”

Langly scanned the nearby pines. “If one-handed serial killers are moving in, then I’m

ready to get a place in the ‘burbs.”

“You appear to be a little bit young for this guy — or gal,” Mulder reassured him. “Though

Frohike, you might want to stay close to the group.”

“Great,” the paranoid gnome rasped. “So what do you think this moron’s up to?”

“Serial killers fall into several basic categories,” Mulder began. “The first is the missionary

killer.”

“Wouldn’t want to go doggie-style,” Langly giggled.

“Missionary killers believe their acts are justified on the basis that they are getting rid of a

certain type of person,” Manville amplified patiently. “Aileen Wuornos, the infamous

female serial killer, murdered men who used prostitutes. Often, the missionary is

motivated by racism, religious zealotry, or just some past abuse or slight at the hands of

an individual who becomes representative of a whole class or category.

“In this case, we could speculate that the killer lost a loved one in an on-road encounter

with a semi or came out the loser in a fight with an enraged trucker. Or given the solitary

nature of trucking, maybe we have a homegrown Wuornos — a prostitute with a heart of

steel rather than gold.”

“Hooker with a hook,” Langly breathed. “Kinky.”

“Step off, perv,” Frohike muttered. “Or maybe this freak is some enviro-kook out after

eighteen-wheeled gas hogs.”

“Diesel hogs,” Mulder corrected. “And calm down, Langly.”

“Just sayin’.”

“My second theory was that we were dealing with a Visionary — a serial killer who

somehow felt his deeds would achieve some ultimate societal goal. That’s actually where

your diesel hog theory would fit in. He or she’s killing old truckers for a single reason.

Maybe the killer believes they pose a greater safety threat on the highway. Maybe it’s like

the divide between the WWII vets and the Vietnam vets — the killer feels the old school

drivers are ruining it for the new kids. Except where does Dena Jo fit in?”

“She seems to be the wild card all around,” Byers suggested. “She’s a woman and has

nothing to do with trucking. Or wait. Was she ever in trucking?”

“Fred and Dena’s A-I Livery — unfortunate Flintstonian choice of names — was

incorporated in 1964. Prior to that, Dena was a hostess at a Baltimore nightspot and Fred

was the bartender. This wasn’t the kind of place where the out-of-town long-haulers

tended to hang out.” Mulder stared into the fire. “But there is at least one important link

between Dena Jo, Shiveley, and Yost — I confirmed it with the Dickenson County

coroner. Hey, time to break out the Smores. I bought dark chocolate — saw it on Iron

Chef…”

“Screw the Smores, Canteen Boy,” Frohike snapped. “What’s the connection?”

“Dena Jo Hillock, Alan Yost, and Gus Shiveley were all loyal, card-carrying, lifelong

members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Teamsters is the nation’s

largest organized union — it includes truckers, rail and port workers, airline haulers,

garbagemen, and professional chauffeurs like Dena Jo Hillock.”

Byers planted his palms on the thighs of his too-blue jeans. “Mulder, are you saying this is

some kind of Mob thing, a union power grab?”

Mulder snagged Manville’s SIGG Anthracite thermos and poured another cup of Redbird

Estate-Grown Kona. “Dena, Al, and Gus were strictly rank-and-file, and the closest they

came to La Famiglia was the Sopranos DVD set they found in Yost’s sleeper cab. But

their age raised a flag for me, and I found an interesting tidbit in Dena’s history. I started

digging and came up with the possible link.

“Alan Yost was from Detroit, where the Teamster movement largely got its start. When

he was younger, it’s reported he wasn’t above swinging a bat or a plank on a scab or a

union-breaker. He ate, drank, and pissed Teamster.

“Gus Shiveley was a guest at a New Jersey union rally in 1962 — voice of the rank-and-

file — sharing the podium with several of the major Teamster honchos including Jimmy

Hoffa himself. He even had a photo shaking mitts with the Great Man himself on his

trailer wall.

“And by the early ‘60s, Dena Jo and her mate had virtually locked the limo trade in

Charm City — supposedly through Fred’s early mob friendships. They were the go-to

couple when some mid-level celebrity or high-level hood was in town.”

Byers gasped. Manville smiled at the moon. Frohike’s eyes narrowed.

“You going where I think you are with this?” the chief Gunman challenged. “Hook

Man’s not the urban legend you brought us out here to catch.”

“Different legend,” Mulder admitted. “Want to hear my profile of the killer?

“He was born in the early part of the 20th Century in a small rural town. When he and his

folks moved to the city, he was tagged as a hillbilly, and he quickly learned to talk with

his fists. By the Crash of ’29, he’d gained a rep as a tough character. He dropped out of

9th grade to unload boxcars for a major grocery chain. Thirty-two cents an hour was

terrific pay at the time, but he and his coworkers got paid only when they were actually

unloading produce and meat, and the foreman was a guy they not-so-fondly called ‘Little

Bastard.’ After a group of workers were fired for going to a food cart at midnight of their

shift, our friend staged a work stoppage — just as a shipment of fresh strawberries arrived.

Faced with a carload of rotting fruit, management buckled, and a legend was born.

“About a year later, our friend got into a fight with his foreman and quit his job. Before

long, he’d landed a job as union organizer for the International Brotherhood of

Teamsters. He used Detroit mob connections to shake down a group of small grocers, and

landed his first conviction and some heavy street creds. By 1957, he was Teamsters

president; by 1964, he’d organized nearly every over-the-road trucker in the United

States. But the Kennedys — John and Bobby — were out to nab him, and soon after, he

was convicted of bribery and sent away until 1971, when Nixon offered to free him if he

promised to stay out of union activities for 10 years.

“Our man was planning to sue to invalidate that restriction in order to reassert his power

over the Teamsters when he disappeared on July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of the

Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Oakland County, Michigan, outside Detroit. He’d been

due to meet two Mafia leaders, Anthony ‘Tony Jack’ Giacalone from Detroit and

Anthony ‘Tony Pro’ Provenzano from Jersey.”

“This is incredible,” Byers breathed.

“Ever since then, hoods and hitmen looking for a name or a book deal have been claiming

to have disappeared our guy, and the feds have been pulling up planks, concrete, sod, and

even a barn to find his remains.”

Mulder stopped then, and consulted his watch. “OK. Gentlemen, I propose we call it a

night.”

“What?” the Gunmen sang as one.

“It’s 8:32. He ought to be closed up by now.”

“Who?” Frohike demanded.

Manville drained his remaining Kona and rose. “The killer. The Crane’s Haven Bait and

Sandwich Shop closes at 8 p.m. during the spring. I overheard him complaining about his

counter guy being out with the flu.”

“Wait a minute, wait,” Langly protested. “You lost me. Somewhere around ‘Want to hear

my profile?’ You trying to tell us the old asshole at the bait shop is a serial killer?”

“Not a serial killer,” the psychiatrist stressed. “We — Agent Mulder and I — suspect he

went into hiding in the ‘70s. Some of my intelligence sources suggest he’d angered some

major mob chiefs, but he didn’t dare go to the Department of Justice. Probably had

nothing sufficient to trade for Witness Protection. So he disappeared, faking his own

abduction and/or death, and bought the bait shop and a new identity away from

organized civilization. County records showed the store changed hands in 1977.”

Mulder took over. “But as luck would have it, even with his advanced age, that cheesy

thick beard of his, and the seed cap he wears to conceal his famous hairline, Al Yost must

have recognized him when he dropped off a shipment of rods or lures. Maybe it was a

facial feature, maybe it was a turn of phrase or a gesture, but Yost recognized him. Our

guy probably tried to deny it, and maybe Yost winked and promised to keep his secret,

but he got worried and, that night, tracked him down.

“God knows how many old Teamsters he’s slaughtered over the years. Maybe just Yost

and Shively, the potato chip guy who usually dealt with the sick counter man. From

rumors I’ve heard, Dena Jo Hillock may have had even more intimate insight into our

man’s behavior and quirks.”

“But, but he’s at least 90, unless the smell of death was that huge cigar he was smoking,”

Byers said.

“Actually, more like 95. But a burly, well-kept 95. He’d have to be, in case some old

wiseguys stopped in for a Red Wriggler.”

“So what now?” Frohike asked. “We call in the cavalry? Confront him at the store?”

“Not necessary,” Mulder smiled. “See, Skinner wasn’t too wild about my theory, and

Scully suggested ‘a little snipe hunt with the guys’ might help me unwind. And what’s

old Fish Breath going to say if we show up with a pair of cuffs and a wild story?

“No. We’re going to put out the fire and turn in. C’mon, boys, bedtime, or no smores

tomorrow.”

**

Melvin Frohike cracked his spine, yawning, as he loosed a steady stream of urine on a

Virginia pine. He’d been unable to sleep after Mulder’s strange campfire tale, and fish

seemed to work on his bladder.

The Gunman shook some dew from the lilly, and zipped up. Then a beefy arm ringed his

neck, and he felt cold metal on his bristled cheek.

“Hey, pal, you ever hear of a comfort zone?” Frohike croaked.

“Shut up!” The voice was gravelly, cold, ancient but steady. “You guys shoulda stayed in

the city. All kinda danger out here in the sticks. Arggh!”

The source of the bait merchant’s argghing was a sudden inundation of light — the

halogen lights Manville had rigged at the edge of the clearing. The old man staggered

back, releasing Frohike, and Mulder stepped forward, gently tugging an object from his

rough, liver-spotted fingers.

The agent examined the tool. “A souvenir from your old Kroger days, unloading crates of

apples and sides of beef? Came in handy when Al Yost and Gus Shiveley threatened to

blow your secret. Did you feel any regret at all when you split Dena Jo’s melon?”

“I don’t know none of them people!” the old man grunted as he shielded his eyes. His

cap had fallen off, revealing a familiar Sgt. Carter crewcut. “You punks don’t know what

you done. I know some guys — some rough characters.”

“Me, too,” Mulder grinned, flashing his ID. “Assume the position, if you can do it

without breaking a hip.”

The old man began to curse, using language Langly later vowed to add to his everyday

lexicon. When the state police arrived, he gained his second wind, and sulfur remained in

the air after he departed.

Mulder displayed the meat hook he’d confiscated from the killer. As he turned it in the

halogen glare, the Gunmen stared at a pair of carved initials: J.H.

“How’d you know he’d come for us?” Langly asked.

“I dropped my line in the water this morning,” Mulder said. “See, when we stopped for

bait and snacks — or in Langly’s case, snack bait — I pulled a little switch.” Mulder

reached into his Eddie Bauer jacket and withdrew a plastic Ziploc. Inside was a short,

turd-like object with one rough-cut, burned end and one end chewed nearly to a pulp.

“Shit,” Frohike laughed. “You lifted his stogie.”

“No doubt saturated with his DNA which I intend to run through Quantico. But don’t be

shocked — I left him something in return. It took me a few days to locate an Internet

dealer and have it overnighted. I left it in his ashtray, where he’d put his butt.” Mulder

pulled out a quartered piece of paper. Frohike unfolded it and stared down at the

computer printout.

“You bastard!” the Gunman howled, handing the paper to Byers. Langly craned over his

shoulder, studying the picture of a weathered, yellowed restaurant matchbook. On its

face, in elegant Old English script, was a single word.

Machus.

**

Scully blinked as the front door opened. She’d stayed up late to watch Deliverance on

AMC, but had fallen asleep before Burt and the gang could meet up with their rural

Welcome Wagon.

“You’re back early,” she murmured, switching off the TV and rearranging the couch

pillows as Mulder deposited his recently purchased tackle box on the kitchen counter.

“How’d it go?”

Her partner held up two hands roughly a foot apart. “I caught a trout this big. Langly ate

a jar of bait. Frohike is convinced he has West Niles. Oh, yeah. And we found Jimmy

Hoffa.”

Scully nodded. “Wonderful. You know those boots are going in the dumpster, right?”

*end

Dominion

15x12_title

Dominion

By Martin Ross

Summary: Mulder must face a threat from the deep and his own demons as he investigates a case of unnatural selection.

Rating: R for language

Spoilers: Season 15

Disclaimer: To Chris Carter, who set the course for the wondrous of all fictional odysseys, and to Herman Melville, who knew how to tell a whale of a tale…

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Nelson Point, Wisconsin

1978

8:32 p.m.

“. . . these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.”

Herman Melville

Moby Dick

This was how Larry Johanssen envisioned his perfect world: A wondrously clear July night’s sky studded with the vibrant lights of a million distant galaxies, casting a preternatural glow over the seemingly infinite expanse of Lake Michigan.

To 12-year-old Larry, who the week before had wheedled Roy and Margaret Johanssen into taking him into town for the new Star Wars movie, the summer sky represented every possibility the universe had to offer. The Great Lake was Larry’s gateway to a world of imagination, to strange and noisy places he might one day visit, to a future ripe for conquest.

“Larry…”

His reverie broken, Larry turned in annoyance toward the silhouette of eight-year-old Keith. “What?” he hissed peevishly.

“What time is it?” Keith whined. “Dad said we have to be back at nine, or he’s gonna tan our hides.”

Larry sighed. “Relax, Ex-Lax. We got an hour, at least. Just don’t go out too far, you hear me?”

Keith’s anxiety had dissolved instantly, and his response was to wade gleefully back into the tranquil water. Larry’s little brother was drawn to the medium like an otter; Larry preferred his post at water’s edge, his Zebco Omega (a birthday gift from Roy) in hand.

Larry cast expertly, his wrist flicking perpendicular to his skinny torso just as his father had taught him summers earlier. He’d snared a feisty and aptly-named bullhead earlier, and now had his sights set on lake sturgeon or northern pike. As Roy had told him one crisp September morning, no fish was as tasty as the one you hauled in yourself.

Keith had insisted on accompanying his brother to the lake, and Larry had grudgingly accepted the responsibility his mother had impressed on him. The kid was immature, but basically OK, eager to carry his big brother’s gear and euphoric to bear the day’s catch home.

For a second, Larry thought he’d hooked a live one. But his line remained slack, and he realized Keith was the source of the turbulence. “Hey, man, you’re scaring ‘em away!” he shouted.

“Larrrrreeeee!!”

The sound of terror pierced the night, and Larry hurled his rod aside. Desperately homing in on his brother’s screams, he splashed into the water, rocketing with short, choppy strokes to the rescue.

The abrupt silence served merely to power Larry through the inky surf. He swallowed a gout of lake water as he came nearly face-to-face with his little brother. Keith’s eyes were wide open, frozen in fear for eternity. Heart pounding, Larry reached for his brother. If he could get him to shore, breathe life back into his deflated lungs… Then he spotted it. Something was wound around Keith’s neck, something thick and rope-like. Had he been entangled in some sunken fishing boat or truck? Larry tugged frantically at his brother’s arm, but he was immobile. He attacked the thick restraint around Keith’s throat, and his fingers recoiled almost immediately. It was leathery and pulsing, and it tightened about Keith’s neck. Sediment swirled up from the bottom, and Larry’s heart swelled into his throat as the water cleared.

The single, inhuman eye blinked up, as if appraising an enemy. A stalk-like thing arose from the mud, reaching for Larry, and the courage drained from his body as his young arms and legs carried him away from his waking nightmare…and his brother.

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Chicago

2008

10:56 p.m.

This was how Jared Stackhouse envisioned his perfect world: An inky sky spattered with the cold, dead light of distant galaxies, reflected on an undulating expanse of equivalent nothingness.

An Earth depopulated of authority, of disapproval, of everything that stood in the way of his meager solace or joy. A planet for Jared Stackhouse alone. On one of the rare occasions when he’d strayed from MTV or Skinemax, Jared had watched an old Twilight Zone that had featured The Penguin. He didn’t know who Burgess Meredith was, only knew he was The Penguin on Batman , one of the few old-school shows (aside from the occasional Twilight Zone ) that passed Jared’s strenuous test of cool. It was kind of like Austin Powers without the sex (which was unfortunate, Jared thought any time Julie Newmar donned that skintight catsuit on TVLand, wishing he could get himself some of that). Anyway. The story was about this geek who worked in a bank. All he wanted was to get a few minutes to read, but his boss and his old lady – a couple of control freak assholes who reminded him of the Congressman and Mom — were always climbing his ass. Jared thought the old guy was a re-tard for wanting to read books all the time, but he could being fucked with all the time. Penguin just wanted to par-tay, even if it was in a lame way.

Anyway. Poindexter hid down in the library basement one day to sneak a peek at one of his precious books (not even a Hustler or other suitable whacking material), and somebody nuked the place – microwaved New York until all the cheese and sauce turned into a nasty crust. Jared almost got hard thinking about that, though he didn’t see how The Penguin would have survived (he tried to surf stuff about bombs on Google, but he mistyped and wound up spending the afternoon perusing boobs of all sizes and shapes). The rest of the show had something to do with The Penguin piling up all the books he could find in humongous stacks and getting ready to read ‘em all (whatever, dude) when his glasses fell off and busted and he cried like a pussy about how unfair life was. Jared thought that was pretty cool and laughed his ass off, all empathy for The Penguin lost. But the thought of that Earth, burnt and scorched — all the assholes nuked like organ-filled chimichangas, nobody bitching and nothing to do for the rest of all time – – that had stuck with Jared, a wet dream for the young and alienated. Tonight was the closest he’d come to envisioning this perfect world, as he lay on his back between the inky sky and the undulating water of Lake Michigan . The only thing that spoiled this illusion tonight were the blinking lights of the Sears Tower and the Hancock and the rest of the Windy City skyline taunting him from nearly a mile away off the Lake Shore. And Shawn, who’d had like a six-pack of Coronas and a half-bottle of Quervo and who wouldn’t shut his fucking mouth for one second.

“Dude, your dad’s gonna fuckin’ ground your fuckin’ ass ‘til you’re fuckin’ 40 he finds out you jacked his boat,” Shawn, the son of one of Chicago’s preeminent investment bankers, sang, sounding like some boy band queer on a scratched CD.

“Shut up,” Jared muttered.

“Yep, the Congressman’s gonna reinstate the death penalty just for you, dude,” Shawn began the second chorus.

“Shut. The fuck. Up,” Jared growled. “Swear to God, man.”

The banker’s son and the congressman’s boy, both on the advancing edge of 16, were floating on U.S. Rep. Daniel Stackhouse’s (R-Chicago’s) Jeanneau Cap Camarat 925 WA, which they’d snuck past the port authorities and Coast Guard and taken roughly a mile out. Indeed, although he had no jurisdiction or authority to reverse ex-Gov. Ryan’s death penalty moratorium, Rep. Stackhouse would find some draconian parental penalty for his errant son, when he showed up. This time around, Jared had slipped the leash – i.e., the private high school in which Stackhouse, staunch defender of public education, had secured his son – two days ago, and he and Shawn had clubbed and drugged their way through the Lower Loop before remembering where the Congressman had left his extra keys. The yacht lurched, rolling Shawn into Jared. Jared shoved him away, and the Clear Majority shifted again.

“Jesus, dude,” Shawn yelled, clamoring to his feet. The endless lake was black and smooth and the night sky crisp and transparent, but the vessel listed and rocked as if the boys were battling a storm at seas.

“Fucking chill,” Jared directed. “I’m gonna check the cabin.”

Before Jared and Daniel Stackhouse had reached Stage Four Cold War status a year or so ago, the legislator had taught his son all the ins and outs of navigating the expensive watercraft, and Jared instinctively checked all the instruments and equipment. Nothing out of line, but the boat was still flailing.

Throwing open the door to the cabin used largely for drinking and sun poisoning/motion sickness recovery, he quickly ascertained the cause of the tumult. Water was gushing into the compartment at an alarming rate – too rapid a rate for the pumps to handle. Jared felt a cold rush of fear that sliced clean through all the booze and grass he’d done that evening. But underneath an almost impenetrable layer of adolescent alienation and indulgence, Jared possessed a 135 IQ and a keen sense of survival that until lately had shepherded him through several academic crises and a sexual misadventure with one of his father’s colleagues. He scrambled for the radio as the proper frequency flooded back into his brain. The cruiser continued to list, and that dumbass Shawn was yelling his head off, as if anyone could hear them in the middle of a fucking Great Lake.

The Coast Guard crewman responded crisply, trained militarily to notch down emotion and provide reassurance to civvies who’d screwed themselves into a watery corner.

“We’re goin’ down, man!” Jared yelled. “We’re fuckin’ taking on water. It’s like something punched a hole in the hull! You gotta get here NOW!”

“Calm down, son,” the officer said smoothly. “You know your approximate location?” Jared’s eyes swept the instruments, and he rattled off the Clear Majority ’s bearings.

“You got a flare gun on board?”

“Shit – I don’t know! Wait, I’ll check it out.” The boy quickly located it under the instrument panel, leaned outside, fired a screaming flare into the black sky, and watched it blossom. Jared grabbed the handset.

“Good man. You think you can make it a few more minutes, ‘til we get there?” The transmission began to break up, and Jared was hit with a wall of static.

“I don’t know – it’s filling up pretty fucking fast!”

“You got enough jackets for everybody?” The officer’s voice came weakly through the interference.

“Yeah, I-I think.”

“Get ‘em on and keep this line open. Roger?”

“Yeah.” Jared no sooner had answered than a shrill shriek broke the silent night.

“What was that, son?” the voice on the other end crackled.

“Somebody hurt?”

Jared didn’t hear him – he’d rushed outside to see his friend flailing toward him, eyes wide, mouth working. Shawn looked like some mime asshole they’d pranked in Lincoln Park , some geek in white makeup pushing against an imaginary wind. “Shawn! What the fuck?” Jared yelled. Then his feet froze to the deck. Shawn had some sort of weird belt or girdle or something on. It was mottled, like a palomino, and it looked like wet leather. Had the moron tethered himself to the rail? With what?

“Huh-huh-huh-huh…” Shawn whispered hoarsely. He couldn’t get the word out, but Jared knew. Especially after the belt around his middle shifted and tightened itself. Shawn released a heart-wrenching sob and reached for his friend. Suddenly, he was yanked backward, his back smacking violently into the railing. Shawn’s legs buckled, and as Jared’s breath caught, the teen’s body was squeezed through the rails and he disappeared into the darkness.

“SON! SON! WHAT THE HELL’S GOING DOWN THERE?!?” Jared heard the radio blaring through a new crackle of heavy static, but he was locked in place despite the groaning and rocking of his father’s boat.

A dark shape emerged from the water, grasping the rail. A second followed, and a third. They were long, snakelike appendages, mottled like the belt around Shawn’s waist. The arms, legs, whatever tightened, and Jared knew whatever was attached was ready to board. It was larger than he had expected, and its vague familiarity did nothing to ease the flow of adrenalin through his organs and joints. Perched at the edge of the rail, it stopped, and an eye blinked open – a huge, inhuman eye with a rectangular pupil, but all the more chilling because there was something vaguely human within it. It took Jared a few seconds to identify that something.

Intelligence.

The captain of the Coast Guard cutter felt Jared’s screams in his bones.

Shedd Aquarium

Chicago

11 p.m.

The Rhinoptera bonasus reflected in Seth Kristakos’ round lenses as it circled its tank in the Caribbean Reef. The cownose ray was deceptively placid – its streamlined tail could deliver a deadly dose of venom to the foolhardy predator. While he was a malacologist by training, Kristakos was fascinated as well by the lower vertebrates and cartilaginous fish – bridges between two major domains of earthly existence, transitional species in the movement toward applicable intelligence and, therefore, dominance over the planet. Of course, a central nervous system and the beginnings of a mechanically advanced skeletal system does not necessarily gain a species admittance to the zoological Mensa Club. Kristakos had been present when the Shedd’s giant Pacific octopus had extracted a live clam from a closed pickle jar in something under three minutes.

Scientists now realized the cephalopods – the squids and octopi – had developed along lines of intelligence that could well parallel Man’s. Humankind in its sublime egotism equated opposable thumbs and spoken language, Starbucks and Survivor with supreme intelligence, but that yardstick was created by Man’s own mind. While he was a reasonably observant Greek Orthodox as well as a renowned oceanographer, Kristakos was open to the concept of a divine agenda with humanity as but one cosmic player. This line of speculation had caused more than one lively debate both at St. Sophia’s and with colleagues prone toward more politically correct atheism.

“Dr. Krista-, Kristakos!”

The hefty scientist turned sharply. The night crew was used to his nocturnal meanderings through the Shedd’s darkened wings and rattlings and murmurings in the labs beyond the public’s view. But the custodial and security staffs, largely African-American and Latino, still frequently stumbling over his name.

“Guillermo,” Kristakos nodded genially. The tall, mustachioed maintenance man halted, panting, before him.

“Doc, I think maybe there’s somethin’ wrong with one of your fish,” Guillermo Ortiz blurted. “You better come.”

Kristakos knew there’d been an infection problem with a couple of the Hippocampos – seahorses – downstairs, but that wasn’t his particular area of expertise. “Maybe we should call Dr. Whitten.”

“No, no,” Guillermo insisted. “Not a fish, your, you, know, the octopus. The big one.”

Kristakos’ bearded head shot up. “The giant Pacific?”

“Yeah, yeah,” the custodian said, excited. “He’s, he’s all—Oh, shit, you gotta come with me, Doc.”

The scientist was unusually fleet of feet for his age and girth, and the pair quickly reached the cephalopod’s tank. A few of the night crew, as well as Mike, one of the uniformed security guards, stood transfixed before the tank. The creature was stationary, its large eye staring incomprehensively toward the human throng. Kristakos was brought up short, and his heart began pounding. Blood red, cobalt blue, steel gray, mustard yellow, mauve… Octopi were known to rapidly shift colors – this was a communicational device of sorts – but Kristakos had never witnessed such a range of colors or in such lightning-fast succession.

“Christ,” he murmured.

U.S. Coast Guard Salvage Storage Facility

Chicago

Two days later

“I know this is beyond your purview,” Lt. Mark Prendergast began reluctantly. “But we’ve got some contradictory findings here that could use another set of eyes. Pardon me, another couple of sets.”

Fox Mulder turned from the rail of the metal platform that provided a perspective of the Clear Majority’s hull. The cruiser had been upended so the Cook County Police Department and the FBI forensics crews could examine the gaping hole.”Someone obviously sank this boat,” the FBI agent stated. “But whoever it was was roughly a mile offshore, and your people found no evidence of another craft in the area.”

“Once Capt. Fagerland’s men determined this vessel had been sabotaged – there would have been nothing in the area that could’ve torn the hull open — we tried our best to preserve the evidence,” the lieutenant explained, his baritone echoing off the corrugated walls of the steel storage building. “But you can understand, with the boat taking on water so rapidly, there was significant contamination of the crime scene, I guess you’d call it. The hull definitely was breached from outside – no chance either of those boys had anything to do with it. Though neither one of them is in any shape to tell us much of anything.”

Shawn Carstairs’ body had not yet been found by any of the Coast Guard cutters continuously scouring the area, and Jared Stackhouse remained in a non-responsive, catatonic state at a Gold Coast hospital. Whatever he’d seen had scared the living shit out of him, and Mulder knew that was why Skinner had asked him and his partner to stay in Chicago after Rep. Stackhouse’s son had been located. After 9-11, the congressman, who had voiced strong support for military action in Iraq, had not been ready to chalk up Jared’s latest disappearance to juvenile rebellion, and Mulder and Scully, along with a dozen other local agents, had been dispatched to find the boy.

“Looks almost like it was hacked out,” Mulder observed. “I wanted to sink a boat, I’d probably blow it up, or at least bring along a torch or some kind of heavy-duty tool. Especially if I were underwater.”

Prendergast peered again at the breach. “Pretty primitive job, all right. And what’s even more worrisome? That hull’s not exactly made of cotton candy. Even if a group of men did this with hand tools, it would have taken hours. You can see that a lot of these cuts are clean – straight through the hull. Whoever did this had a lot of power behind them.”

“Or whatever,” Mulder murmured.

“Pardon? You didn’t say whatever?”

Scully smiled slightly. “I think Agent Mulder simply wants to explore all possibilities. Right?”

He nodded earnestly. “Absolutely.”

St. Michael’s Hospital

Chicago

11:36 a.m.

“So, did you say ‘whatever’?” Scully asked mischievously as he strode alongside her through the tubular concourse that led to Jared Stackhouse’s private room.

“Actually, I’d think it would seem obvious,” Mulder responded. “A diver or even a crew of divers would have to have come from somewhere, and I assume you’re willing to concede that a Russian nuclear sub or Jacques Cousteau’s bathyscaphe didn’t do this.”

“Now who’s being narrow-minded? Never mind, don’t answer. But why is ‘what’ still a better answer than ‘who’?”

“The sheer animalistic nature of the damage to the boat, for one,” he ticked off, subconsciously uncurling a finger. “A human being would had to have some motivation for sinking it, no matter how psychotic. Even if the motivation had been psychotic, this could hardly have been an impulsive act, a mile out into Lake Michigan. If it had been premeditated, as you suggested earlier, the saboteur would have brought along more sophisticated equipment, since being that far offshore, working on the hull that long, would have required some pretty sophisticated gear.”

“OK…” Scully conceded.

“So our suspect must be able to survive for an extended period underwater, have the brute strength to tear through a boat’s hull with fairly primitive tools, and, given the victims and the impulsive nature of their actions, been motivated by a random impulse, such as defense of its domain.”

“Whoa,” his partner exclaimed, halting and then sprinting to catch up.

“You’re suggesting some kind of undersea Rottweiler, defending its turf? Flipper with FOX attitude? If this thing you’re talking about lives underwater, what threat does a boat with two drunk teenagers aboard pose?”

As the glass tube opened into the hospital’s east wing, Mulder studied the directional signs and again set off. “If this thing is big enough to do the damage it did, it very well might dominate its environment. Unlike the oceans, Lake Michigan is not densely populated with large predatory creatures. It probably lives relatively unmolested, and the sudden presence of an intelligent creature capable of building and controlling a vessel might bring out its survival instincts. And remember – small, lone pleasure craft probably aren’t that common at night, when the thing can come to the surface without attracting attention.”

“But you’re neglecting one thing. This so-called thing appears to have his own Sears Craftsman card. What animal you know can work a jigsaw or a Phillips screwdriver?”

This time, Mulder stopped, allowing a flock of nurses to swarm past the agents. “Actually, Jane Goodall, the primate researcher, discovered chimps fashion primitive implements to perform certain tasks. A few years ago, some scientists at Oxford reported a crow fashioned a straight length of wire into a hook of to retrieve a small bucket of food.”

Scully grinned grimly, taking her partner by the elbow. “There it is, Mr. Mutual of Omaha.”

An attractive woman, suburban chic in her mid-40s by Scully’s guess, glanced up from a wing chair next to Jared Stackhouse’s bed, placing a novel on a nearby table. Congressman Stackhouse had rented St. Michael’s President’s Suite, but the comfortable setting appeared to offer little relief to Gwen Stackhouse, whose eyes were puffy and vein-streaked, or to her son, whose eyes were open but vacant.

“Ma’am, I’m Special Agent Dana Scully, and this is my partner, Fox Mulder,” Scully greeted, glancing at the handsome, athletic boy hooked to an IV and monitors beside Mrs. Stackhouse. Jared’s mother didn’t rise, but she smiled wanly. “I’m sorry to bother you at a time like this, but we’re trying to fill in the gaps in what happened to your son.”

“He hasn’t said a word or scarcely moved since they rescued him,” his mother sighed. “All they can guess is he experienced some type of terrible shock. I’ve tried talking to him, reading to him, but nothing appears to work.”

“Had he given you any indication of his plans Saturday night?” Mulder inquired.

Mrs. Stackhouse pushed a lock of grayish blonde hair from her temple. “Like his father, Jared’s willful. Unlike his father, he’s seldom cognizant of the consequences of his actions. He’d periodically disappear from the private school Dan had put…the school Jared attended, usually to drink and do drugs with classmates or horrible people he’d meet in the city. I had no idea how he hooked up with such people. Sorry, no time for class snobbery, I guess. No, he gave us no indication. Dan’s already launched a major investigation into security at the marina.”

Mulder nodded thoughtfully, and then perked. “Would you excuse me for a moment?”

Scully turned, but Mulder already was out in the corridor.

“Ah…” she began, not knowing what she could gain here in Mulder’ absence. “Let me ask you, Mrs. Stackhouse: Who do you think might’ve sabotaged your boat? Does your husband have any enemies, political or otherwise?”

“He is a congressman,” she offered wryly. “Seriously, this is a mystery to me. I can’t imagine some dark conspiracy shadowing my husband’s boat and coming seemingly out of nowhere to sink it. Two boys on a cruiser hardly sounds like a prime terrorist target. If this had been out on the ocean…”

Mrs. Stackhouse paused, and Scully knelt beside her chair. “Yes, ma’am? If the accident had occurred on the ocean…?”

“No,” she shook her head vigorously. “It’s too absurd.”

Scully stood, and the two floated in silence until Mulder returned. The agent’s arms were full of books and stuffed animals. Her partner’s jaw dropped, and Gwen Stackhouse peered at her as if she were some interesting documentary on PBS.

Mulder deposited the paraphernalia on a rolling hospital table and wheeled the table to Jared’s bedside. She picked up the first toy, a plush pink shark, and held it before the boy’s unblinking eyes. He might have been a side of beef, Scully thought.

“Agent Mulder,” Mrs. Stackhouse murmured, not quite alarmed.

Mulder held up a hand, and picked up a succession of toys, from purple starfish and cerulean blue whales to silvery dolphins and a green sea serpent. Jared’s reaction to each was the same – blind, staring incomprehension.

Mulder selected the final plush animal and displayed it for the teenager. His eyes blinked almost immediately, and he began to swallow. Jared’s fingers twitched, and his legs nudged at the sheets.

Scully glanced at the boy’s monitors, which suddenly were alive with activity.

“What are you doing?” Mrs. Stackhouse gasped as she came out of her chair. “Stop it. Immediately. WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”

“Mulder…” Scully warned.

Jared’s jaw began to work, and animal sounds struggled in his throat. His mother lunged at Mulder, seizing the toy animal. She yanked, and part of the plush beast came off in her hand.

Mulder removed what was left from Jared’s view and brushed the agitated boy’s hair back from his forehead until he again became still. Mrs. Stackhouse rushed to him and grasped his motionless fingers. Mulder held the toy out to Scully, who took it silently, staring at it incredulously.

“Nononono…” he breathed, shaking his head at the partially amputated orange octopus.

Shedd Aquarium

1:20 p.m.

Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all. Seth Kristakos licked the last traces of brown German mustard from his plump fingers as he sucked a shred of ham from his teeth. He was returning to the new Scaphopodia studies from Oxford as Sarah, the Shedd’s intern, rapped on his doorway.

“Dr. Kristakos,” the small blonde called timidly. “There are a couple of people here to see you. From…From the FBI.”

The scientist dropped the journal onto his cluttered desk. “FBI? Ah, yes, please – send them in. And if you could, let Dr. Rao know I’ll be a few minutes late for our meeting.”

Sarah disappeared, and a few seconds later, a pleasant-looking young man and a pretty redhead appeared.

“Wondering when you might show up,” Kristakos smiled, crossing his fingers over his expansive stomach.

**

Shedd Aquarium was a gift to the City of Chicago from John G. Shedd, a protégé of venerable department store magnate and Field Museum benefactor. The first exhibits were opened in 1930, and as one of the world’s first inland aquariums, it became an immediate showcase both for the scientific community and a public desperately in need of a little hope and wonder. Until 1959, the Shedd relied on its own custom- made railroad car, the Nautillus, for the transport of fish and seawater. A Queensland lungfish known as Granddad, added to the Shedd during Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress fair, survives to this day, and generally is considered the oldest fish in a public aquarium. Year 1933 (MCMXXXIII) was a common year starting on Sunday (link will display full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. … Binomial name Neoceratodus forsteri Krefft, 1870 The Queensland Lungfish, also known as Burnett Salmon and Barramunda, is the sole member of the family Ceratodontidae, and one of the only six lungfish species that remain. … In 1971, Shedd Aquarium added a massive 90,000-gallon exhibit replicating a Caribbean coral reef. In 1991, Shedd opened its Oceanarium, a major addition that featured marine mammals including Pacific white-sided dolphins and belugas. In 2006, the Beluga whale Puiji gave birth to a female calf, later named Bella. In August 2007, Mauyak — another Beluga — gave birth to a male calf.

Seth Kristakos recognized that the Oceanarium was the Shedd’s money attraction – cetaceans sparked affection and natural curiosity in children and adults alike. But Kristakos’ first love would always be invertebratology – a world of alien wonders at the root of all animal life. And Cephalopoda – the molluscan order to which the Giant Pacific and its tentacled kin belonged – was the Grail of invertebratology and, perhaps, the key to understanding Kristakos preferred the darkened tank-lined alcoves and the labs beyond the public’s inspection to the clamor of the Oceanarium or John Graves Shedd (July 20, 1850 – October 22, 1926) was the second president and chairman of the board of Marshall Field and Company. … Marshall Field (1834 – 1906) was founder of Marshall Field and Company, the Chicago based chain of department stores. … Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago The Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago, Illinois, USA, sits on Lake Shore Drive next to Lake Michigan, part of a scenic complex called known as the Museum Campus which includes Soldier Field, the football stadium that is the home of the Chicago… is the 353rd day of the year (354th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. … Year 1929 (MCMXXIX) was a common year starting on Tuesday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. … Year 1930 (MCMXXX) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display 1930 calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. …

Today, the main hall of the Shedd was crowded with students, retirees, and tourists both rural and foreign as the agents and Kristakos emerged from the aquarium’s staff quarters. “The freshwater octopus has been the stuff of urban legends for decades,” he said, ducking a galloping kindergartner. “A few ‘specimens’ have even turned up here in the Midwest – most likely, marine octopuses released as a hoax, abandoned pets. There’s even a chance some saltwater cephalopods may have wandered into freshwater bodies – all octopuses go through a sort of crazy stage called senescence. They wouldn’t last long – cephalopods can’t breathe in fresh water.”

“A number of cryptozoologists believe it may be possible some species simply have evaded detection,” Mulder countered. “Octopuses are bottom dwellers, generally, aren’t they?”

“Well, I don’t want to sound like an academic elitist, Agent, but every bit of documentation I’ve seen is highly suspect at best,” Kristakos said. “There’s one overriding problem with the entire premise. If a freshwater octopus had evolved, there should be some evidence of intermediate species in estuaries – species that would have bridged marine and freshwater cephalopods.”

“OK, then,” Scully said, extending her hand.

Kristakos held up his hand. “However.”

“Oh, boy,” Scully sighed.

“This way.”

A large crowd was gathered before the giant Pacific’s tank, and Scully and Mulder had to badge a gawky, bearded grad student and his video camera away from the glass.

“My God,” Mulder gasped. Scully’s eyes were wide, and she glanced at Kristakos.

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“I’m going to assume that isn’t normal,” Scully murmured.

“It’s been doing that for three days now, steady,” the malacologist said. “By our count, it’s cycled through 14 separate colors, in no particular sequence, including at least three shades I’ve never seen in any species. The color shifts themselves are normal: Unlike humans with their central nervous system, cephalopods appear to have ganglia – nerve clusters – distributed throughout their bodies, as well as muscle-controlled chromatophores, cells that cause the color shifts. Changes in color are believed to be a form of communication, though God knows what they mean.”

Scully nodded as the giant Pacific blushed, then darkened to an inky blue. “So if you don’t know what they mean when they’re just chatting, what the hell does this mean?”

Kristakos studied the tentacled creature. “Well, it’s not precisely a scientific theory, but my guess is it senses something out there, and it either confuses him or scares the living shit out of him.”

“Doctor Kristakos,” Scully laughed uncertainly, “Our suspects usually have two legs.”

Mulder stared at the octopus, his brow furrowing. “One question, Doctor.”

The scientist and Scully turned toward him.

“This is the first time this has happened, correct?” he inquired.

“Absolutely,” Kristakos said.

“Well, then, I have to wonder. If this is a reaction to whatever’s out there, where’s it been all this time?”

Residence of Lawrence Johanssen

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

4:14 p.m.

The man who answered Mulder’s knock was small, balding, bespectacled, and as unkempt and neglected as the apartment building in which he dwelt. Over his shoulder, Mulder and Scully could see a bank of computer and TV monitors, stacks of thick gray and green volumes, and water-pocked walls papered along a unified theme.

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“Yes?” Larry Johanssen inquired without emotion, rancor, or, for that matter, interest.

“Mr. Johanssen, it’s Agent Mulder. I called you a few hours ago.”

The non-descript man blinked, then nodded. “Of course.” He turned and retreated into the gloom. Mulder looked to Scully, shrugged, and followed him.

Scully scanned the vast and erratic array of photos, maps, sketches, and clippings taped and pinned to the drywall of Johanssen’s laboratory/studio. A thousand dark cat-like eyes stared back at her; tens of thousands of mottled, spotted, pebbled tentacles undulated. Here and there were elaborate plates, no doubt excised from out-sized texts, depicting huge, squid-like things attacking and enveloping clippers and galleons.

Octopus expert. Mulder once again had demonstrated his inestimable talent for understatement. “Saw your interview on Discovery last week,” Mulder informed Johanssen.

The man nodded again. “I didn’t care for the melodramatic production values. It cheapened, uh, the science. Please. Sit down.”

“You’re used to that, though, aren’t you?” Mulder asked, settling onto a Goodwill couch.

“Of course, Agent Mulder. As I’m sure you must be.” Johanssen pulled a wheeled chair over and sat, Scully thought, rather primly. “You see, I researched you after you called. I’m honored.”

“No, no, my honor. I’ve read most of your work. Some of the most credible cryptozoological analysis I’ve seen.”

“Thank you,” Johanssen said tonelessly.

“I was particularly impressed by your theories on the existence of freshwater cephalopods,” Mulder said, studying his host’s face. The cryptozoologist paused, then nodded.

“Once you sort out the obvious frauds and mistaken identifications by laymen, there’s still ample documentation of live sightings by credible witnesses. The fact that most of those reports are centered around one riparian system – the Ohio River – would seem to provide additional credence.”

“And you maintain it’s a naturally adapted species.”

“The popular theory is it’s a variant of O. burryi. Look, there are freshwater gastropods and pelecypods—” He turned to Scully shyly. “Pardon me, snails and bivalves – you know, clams, mussels. The sowbug is a terrestrial arthropod – cousin to the lobster or crab. Why does the public find it so incredible that a riparian cephalopod might have evolved in a trapped inland environment?”

“Like Lake Michigan?” Scully posed.

Johanssen stared blankly at her. “Yes, the Great Lakes would be an ideal ecosystem for a species that’s managed to avoid man’s detection. Sure.”

Mulder was silent for a moment. Then he leaned forward. “Mr. Johanssen, I’ll just be honest with you. I’ve read a lot about you on the Web – your whole life history. About your brother. Keith, right?”

Johanssen was motionless, regarding the agent warily. “And how is that relevant to this discussion. If I may ask?”

“Your brother disappeared while you were fishing on the Michigan shore. The sheriff’s department said you returned home in what the police report called a state of shock. There was some early suspicion that foul play was involved, or that something had happened to your brother you felt responsible for. But given your age and your relationship with Keith, the disappearance eventually was ruled a tragic accident.”

“It was.” Johanssen’s voice was nearly inaudible. “If I can ask again, why is any of this relevant?”

Mulder glanced at the carpet, then looked sympathetically into Johanssen’s pale eyes. “I don’t want to dredge up painful memories, but c’mon. Your brother disappears in Lake Michigan in an event that clearly traumatized you, and 10 years later, you’re one of the world’s leading authorities on freshwater octopi. It’s a single- minded pursuit – you were a reportedly brilliant student who chooses to live in poverty in a field that, as you and I know, is hardly revered by the public. You live and breathe ‘monsters.’ You ever read any Herman Melville, Mr. Johanssen.”

“I don’t care for fiction,” Johanssen murmured. “I don’t understand the purpose of this conversation…”

“Mr. Johanssen, Larry. This hasn’t been released to the public or the press yet, but we may have some serious validation of your theories. Deadly serious. A boy was attacked on Lake Michigan a few nights ago, near Chicago. By what appears to be a cephalopod. A big one. So as much as I regret this, I need to ask you. Was this what killed your brother?”

Johanssen’s chair screeched back as he lurched to his feet. “Did he describe it?”

“He’s semi-comatose,” Mulder replied. “We need your help.”

“I could consult my notes, maybe work up some sketches from the reports I’ve received.”

“Look. I understand what you’ve been through,” Mulder said calmly. “You have no idea how I understand. I’ve lived through it – I understand the obsession.”

“You need to leave,” Johanssen announced abruptly, breaking eye contact. “I can’t help you. You just – you need to leave. Please.”

Mulder opened his mouth, but Scully touched his arm. The agent studied the soft- spoken, solitary cryptozoologist.  “Of course,” Mulder nodded.

Marco’s Olympia

Chicago

7:05 p.m.

Dr. Peter Hefting studied the rich color of his ouzo before savoring a sip of the potent Greek liquor. His liver-spotted forehead wrinkled in rediscovery. “Dear me,” the old man sighed. “My forays into Greektown are all too infrequent, Seth. When I first came to the States in 1954, this was one of my favorite districts of this marvelous city. Kalamata olives, spanakopita, dolmada, the true miracles of your people, the alphabet noneth.”

Kristakos smiled as he popped a cube of feta cheese into his bearded jaw. “I knew it would draw you out of your cave, Pete.” He turned to Scully and Mulder, ensconced on the other side of the blue-checkered tablecloth. “You’re fortunate that one of the world’s experts in all things Cephalopoda happens to live in the Windy City. Pete was part of some of the original pioneering research into cephalopod intelligence. Are you familiar with the Marshall Plan, agents?”

“The U.S. program to rebuild Europe after World War II,” Mulder supplied.

Kristakos snagged a large purple kalamata. “Among other things, funds from the Marshall Plan were used to finance research at the Naples Zoological Station into the brain of the octopus, in the late 1940s.”

“Nice to know where my pop’s taxes went,” Scully commented dryly.

“This was no frivolous research, Agent,” Hefting chided, waggling a stick-thin index finger. “The world was merely beginning to plumb the potential of computer science. Your U.S. Air Force engineers hoped the complex nervous system and reputed intelligence of the octopus. A group of us — Italians, Americans, and Brits like myself – spent years attempting to unlock the secrets of these amazing creatures.”

“How intelligent are they, Dr. Hefting?” Mulder asked. “I’m familiar with some of the research on primates and dolphins.”

“I daresay cephalopods tower well above the rest of the invertebrate world,” the old scientist declared proudly as a darkly beautiful waitress deposited his spinach pie before him. “Much of our work in Naples is, of course, classified, but the documentation of cephalopod intelligence is quite extensive. In 1992, two of my colleagues, Graziano Fiorito and Pietro Scotto, used food and mild electric shocks to train a group of octopuses to differentiate between a red ball and a white one. A second group of octopuses, in another tank, watched the first group repeatedly grab the red ball. The second group learned even more quickly than the first to seize the red ball. That was the first demonstrated example of invertebrates learning by watching behaviors.”

“How are they with tools?” Scully interjected, sipping his thick black coffee.

Hefting’s head snapped up. “Pardon? Tools?”

“What Dr. Kristakos hasn’t mentioned yet is that this alleged freshwater octopus is suspected of sawing a hole in the bottom of a boat.”

Hefting’s thick brows rose. “The lads in the accident on the lake the other night? Seth, you believe a cephalopod was responsible for that?”

Kristakos shrugged. “I know, I know – the whole notion is absurd.”

“Well, certainly the notion of a freshwater species. But the concept of cephalopod dexterity and strength? Remember the Seattle Aquarium incident, Seth? A 40-pound octopus smashed the quarter-inch Plexiglass lid of its tank. And as far as the ability to manipulate objects, you yourself witnessed your giant Pacific unscrew that jar.”

“But I’d think it would be quite a leap from reasoning out how to open a jar to retrieve a bivalve morsel to sawing methodically through the hull of a boat,” Kristakos protested.

“Convergent evolution,” the white-haired Englishman piped, as if closing a case. “Well, there you go,” Scully murmured through a mouthful of ground lamb and grape leaves.

“Convergent evolution explains how species as diverse as insects, birds, and bats developed the ability to fly,” Mulder explained, absorbed. “It’s the way organisms have adapted along parallel lines to meet the demands of their environment. Or, in the case of the octopus, developed a retinal structure remarkably similar to that of the human eye.”

“My God, Seth, I may be in love for the first time since that Japanese oceanographer, what was his name?” Hefting murmured delightedly. Scully suppressed a smirk. “My friend is correct. Who’s to say we aren’t at some new stage of convergence? Scientists are documenting new examples of subhuman tool use every year, and the octopus would appear to be a prime candidate for that next great evolutionary leap. Apes will never win any Darwinian competition with man in the running, and cetaceans – dolphins – may be mental giants within their own ecosystem, but they hardly exhibit the physical attributes necessary to world domination. Cephalopods are masters of adaptive camouflage, can squeeze into confined spaces that would confound the world’s greatest contortionist, and possess a level of mental prowess no other invertebrate can even dream of.”

“So why now?” Mulder posed. “If this super-cephalopod exists, why is it only now attacking boats and sending the native octopus population into a Spectracolor frenzy?”

Kristakos sat back, his face lined with reluctance. “Do you remember I mentioned something called senescence?”

“Squid schizophrenia,” Scully stated.

“In a manner of speaking. What if our cephalopod is in some kind of advanced state of senescence, Pete? We don’t know how senescence might manifest itself in unknown cephalopod species. What if, for lack of a better term, this creature is crazy? The violence is a result of its senescence?”

“What if it’s a biochemical response?” Mulder suggested. “Lake Michigan’s essentially a closed ecosystem – the Chicago River flows into it, and its surrounded by factories, power plants, and suburban yuppies pumping out tons of lawn chemicals. I’ve seen studies indicating children of mothers who ate Lake Michigan fish contaminated with PCBs may be born with smaller head circumferences, lower IQs, and memory and behavioral problems. What if, somehow, the rising pollution in the lake somehow sparked its senescence?”

Hefting nodded sagely, then turned to Scully. “Officer, I wonder if I could bother you to issue an APB for an emotionally deranged, superintelligent, tool-using freshwater giant octopus?”

“Well, when you put it like that….” Kristakos conceded.

Office of Dr. Wallace Manville

Avenue W

Washington, D.C.

9:05 p.m.

“Uh, yeah, this is Mulder. I forgot to call earlier, but we’re going to have to delve into my maternal conflicts and teen cross-dressing period next week.”

The psychologist smiled, closing the file he had compiled on an ATF agent who, unfortunately and unbeknownst to the young man, would not be returning to duty. “I take it you haven’t located the congressman’s son yet.”

“Yeah, we did, but it looks now like we’re dealing with a homicidal, senescent giant octopus.”

“Classic avoidance. We’ll have to address that in our next session. This business with the octopus – is that on the level?”

“Cephalapolooza. That’s the other reason I called. You still share the occasional latte with Evan Pym and your other old spook buddies?”

Wallace propped his gleaming Culinas on his blotter. Mulder was one of Wallace’s most intriguing patients and psychiatric challenges – no mean claim for a former associate of the infamous Hannibal Lecter. “Not since we consulted on your case. I believe I am finally, thankfully, beneath Evan’s notice.”

“Well, happy day – I believe I can get you back in his Five.”

“I’m tingling. By the way, I will have to bill you for tomorrow. Precisely what are we looking for?”

Residence of Peter Hefting

11:12 p.m.

“Ignorance is the parent of fear . . .”

Hefting hadn’t got out much since his 81st birthday, and he had enjoyed the evening despite . Seth was a convivial colleague, one of the few who could keep up with him in malacological discussions. Agent Mulder was a bright young man, and Hefting had even relished Scully’s refreshing honesty and cynical pragmatism. Mulder was the potential problem, he realized as he threw the locks on his huge oak front door and hung his overcoat in the foyer closet. Scully was too grounded in proletariat reality to take this notion seriously, much less pursue it to any logical conclusion. Mulder was open to all possibilities, and eager to explore the darker recesses. Hefting wondered how such a creature ever was drawn to government work.

The library was warm and comforting, a gas fire blazing in the hearth under the oil painting of the mythological kraken – the likely rationale for most maritime mishaps of a previously “unenlightened” age. Hefting lowered himself into a luxuriant leather wing chair and plucked the portable phone from its cradle next to the chair. The number was a complex one, but Hefting’s memory had not faded with his physical prowess and libido. The scientist did not bother to mentally calculate the time in the European zone he  as calling.

“Yes?” the iron voice at the other end of the line crackled after a single ring.

“Hefting here. Our Pandora’s box appears to have been opened. The kraken has been sighted.”  Hefting patiently waited out the silence.

“You are sure of this? It’s been so many years, and the environment out there…How could it possibly have survived?”

“Obviously, your cryogenic energy source exceeded our wildest imaginings. Our dirty little secret is out, and it appears to be hungry for blood.”

“It’s killed?” the man asked.

“Once, and we have a witness. He’ll keep his tongue for the moment, but I fear he may recover soon.”

“And what will he tell anyone? A fantastic tale of sea monsters? One more cryptozoological puzzle for the public to devour and ‘legitimate’ scientists to dismiss.”

“His father is a U.S. congressman, and there are two federal agents on the case.”

More silence. “Nonetheless. I assume they’ve sought your expertise.”

“We theorized a bit, threshed out the possibilities, and, I believe, successfully disposed of the notion.”

“And ‘we’ would include…?”

Hefting gripped the handset anxiously. “And why would you be interested in that? I can assure you they couldn’t possibly conceive of the enormity of what we did.”

“Do I hear a note of guilt?”

“Of course,” Hefting snapped. “We dreamed of improving mankind’s lot back then, of rebuilding the world. Instead, we spawned a nightmare. We don’t need to compound our sins with any more murders.”

“Your sins, my friend,” the Teutonic voice murmured. “But do not despair. As usual, I will attempt to contain the problem. We will seal your little pet back into Pandora’s box, eh?”

The line went dead. Hefting began to cradle the phone, then retrieved it and punched in the first five digits of Kristakos’ number. Then he envisioned the headlines, the destruction of his reputation, particularly within the scientific community. He hung up the phone.

Strughold would clean it up. Hefting only hoped he would do a more thorough job than had his predecessors.

Lake Michigan

6:02 a.m.

“Jesus, they’re like freakin’ monsters out here,” Keith Rankin assured the men as he cut the engine. “See, what you got out here is a lack of predation. They got no natural predators, no sharks or nothing, so they got nothin’ to do but feed on smelt and such and just get bigger and bigger.” Rankin’s left shoulder popped as he stretched his arms to their maximum span. “Like that.” It was all bullshit, at least as far as the 54-year-old “fishing guide” knew. But he knew by the glint in the pair’s piglike eyes that he’d hooked another prime catch.

The weekly $20 he’d laid on Donny at the Navy Pier information shack in exchange for referrals had been a wise investment, and the two Downer’s Grove attorneys had cheerfully handed over a stack of bank-crisp Benjamins in advance.

Keith had never cared much for the folks on the south side of town, but he liked the hip-hop imagery of that term. Benjamin Franklin looking up at the two suckerfish as they paid Keith his fee, that wiseass look people thought was just wisdom on his face. Old Ben and Keith probably would’ve been great buddies, tossing down Wild Turkey and trashing the broads they’d laid despite Ben’s hopelessly receding hairline and Keith’s expanding Bud gut. “We were hoping to get down to the Keys this summer, the wives and us, but after 9-11, you know, the market took a nosedive, and my tech stocks tanked,” the tall one babbled. Rankin nodded sympathetically at the man costumed ludicrously in Eddie Bauer and Land’s End. Rankin’s only major investment had been rub-off tickets from his favorite liquor retailer, and they always tanked, one buck at a time. But these yuppies didn’t just want to bag Moby Dick; they wanted to be Guys and to be pals with Guys.

“That’s a freaking shame,” Rankin agreed. “But everybody’s got one of those freakin’ marlins hangin’ on their wall – it’s like catchin’ goldfish at the Walmart, they practically peddle ‘em like those shot glasses you get at the tourist shops. You get yourself one of these freakin’ Lake Michigan whales, now, that’s a trophy.”

“Whales?” the short, four-eyed one rasped, his face graying from a badly concealed case of seasickness.

Rankin forced a grin. Assholes get a bunch of college letters behind their names, they start shedding brain cells by the millions. “I’m talkin’ figurably, pal. Just take my word for it – you don’t gotta spend a fortune on sunblock to bag a prizewinning fish.”

An hour later, the lawyers were beginning to grouse. The expensive marlin gear they’d hauled along for the expedition (Rankin was a fishing guide, not a freaking outfitter) hadn’t once twitched, and the little guy, who’d been deceived by the overcast morning, was starting to blossom sunburn red amid the blotches of queasy gray.

“Where’s the whales?” the big guy demanded resentfully, turning from his pole.

“Greenpeace must be hiding them.” Rankin knew this was coming, always did, though the Greenpeace part threw him.

“Jesus, you think this is Bassmasters or somethin’, they flop right onto the deck like on cable? You gotta finesse these bastards, wait ‘em out a little. You say you done this before? You wanna head back in or somethin’?”

It worked like magic. Rankin had never taken a psych course or read a book much more profound than Swank or Gallery, but he’d learned one fundamental truth about yuppies: No matter how much they pulled in from deskwork and hyped-up fees, no matter how much they laid down for their duds at Marshall Field’s or Carson-Pirie- Scott, no matter what kind of castle they lived in in one of those gated compounds west of town, they couldn’t stand not to be Guys. They grooved to Motown like those tight-ass ex-“hippies” did in that drippy movie he’d seen once on WGN, but their trigger fingers twitched toward the automatic doorlocks if some black dude crossed the street in front of them. They played polite games of touch football on the weekends, charred free-range chicken on monstrous grills that were probably designed by the freaking Pentagon, and got buzzed during Sunday football on high- priced vanilla-butterscotch-raspberry ale. And a few times a year, they packed up their state-of-the-art rifles and lures and designer tents and set out to make wilderness history. They could verbally beat a teenaged rape victim to a pulp in court, defend a six-figure surgery fee to a patient without batting an eye, but you question their manhood, their Guyhood, and they turned into freaking little sulking girls.

“Hey, just yanking your chain, man,” the tall man laughed. “Great day out, huh?”

The little man urped, his cheeks puffing, but Guys don’t chuck all over the rail, and he bit down on it.

“Yeah, the motor musta put ‘em on guard, but you just wait…” Rankin added, knowing immediately it was overkill. But then, as if on cue, and totally surprising Rankin, the tall man’s line lurched and tightened.

“Holy mother-fucking—” the big man shouted, scrambling forward and seizing the pole.

“Don’t fight him – ease him in, finesse him,” Rankin advised. It was something he’d heard on a cable fishing show. The “guide’s heart was pounding, and he wondered absurdly what was on the other end of the heavy-gauge line.

The line went slack, and all three men sighed in unison. Then it suddenly tightened and pulled. The tall man’s Nikes squeaked on the filthy deck as he tugged at the arcing pole. He “oofed” as his stomach pressed into the rail.

“Reel it in, Neal!” the little man yelped.

“Yeah,” Rankin encouraged with less enthusiasm than wariness. The tall man began to bend over the rail as he worked the taut line. Suddenly, the line slackened again, and he flew back onto the deck, his head thumping hard.

“Neal?” the little man inquired. His inquiry was cut short as a large, grey mottled arm whipped over the rail and seized the suburban fisherman. He screamed, the sound cutting into Rankin’s brain and bringing him back to reality. The guide, functioning on adrenalin, stumbled to the cabin and grabbed the “Genuine Philipine” machete he’d had a cousin buy off the Internet. Slipping past the fallen yuppie, he raised the blade. Whatever the tall man had had on his line now had wrapped tentacles wrapped around the little man’s neck and chest. Afraid he’d slice into the amateur sportsman, Rankin aimed carefully near the railing and used the rusting metal as a cutting surface to drive the machete through thick but surrendering flesh. As the tentacle came free, it flopped onto the deck, twitching with still-active ganglia. The other tentacle slid free of the little man’s throat, and he thudded to the painted wood beside his friend. The boat rocked with a hard impact, and Rankin braced against a second hit. But instead, he saw a huge, streamlined object surge away from his vessel, just under the surface, trailing plumes of dark liquid. Fearful the creature might return and that his passengers might die, leaving him holding the legal and possibly criminal bag, Rankin scrambled to the radio and issued a mayday. The Coast Guard responded, got a location, and instructed him to stay put until they could arrive. He numbly rogered and went back out on deck, uncharacteristically praying the thing wouldn’t come back.

Rankin nearly stepped on the rubbery tentacle he’d severed from the beast, and now, as his panic began to recede, he examined it closely. It still twitched slightly, and his chest tightened as he stared at the wiggling appendages that split off from the tentacle.

“Merciful unholy Mary,” he whispered…

**

“The fuck was that thing?” Rankin asked Scully and Mulder, as if he expected them to supply an answer. “It had fingers, fucking fingers.”

They were huddled in the Coast Guard’s substation, Rankin slopping coffee on his pants as his hands trembled uncontrollably, the agents and Lt. Prendergast ringed before him.

The tall man, an attorney named Neal Maiers, was being treated for a concussion, while his partner, Bill Unverferth, had been declared dead at the scene, the victim of a cardiac arrest. The man’s throat and chest were scarred and bore circular cuts from the cups that lined the underside of the creature’s tentacles. Mulder summoned Seth Kristakos as soon as the agents received the call, and the scientist was now examining the dismembered tentacle. “I mean,” Rankin continued, brown droplets spreading on his brown ducked thighs, “It was almost like the thing knew what it was doing. Like it distracted me and the big guy by yanking on his line, then grabbed the little one.”

“The likely weaker specimen,” Mulder noted, looking to Scully. His partner’s face remained impassive. Prendergast again looked perplexed. “It devised a strategy to misdirect them and then selected the easiest prey. It has the ability to reason, John. And again, it picked a small craft, with three relatively defenseless, weak humans on board.”

Rankin sucked in his gut despite his shock.

“No offense,” Mulder smiled sheepishly. Scully tugged him gently away from the fishing guide.

“Not in front of the straights,” she growled benignly. “You actually think this thing set up a diversion before it came in for the kill?”

“Convergent evolution, Scully, remember?” he prompted. “You saw the fingers on that tentacle.”

“I don’t know that I’d call them fingers, Mulder,” Scully drawled, glancing nervously aside at Prendergast.

“What else would you call them? Like man, like other vertebrates, this creature has adapted to its environment by developing the ability to grasp and manipulate. And with it the cunning to compete with the only animal in its ecosystem that poses a threat. Look at the victims so far: Two teenagers and three middle-aged men, none exactly Steven Seagal. All attacked under isolated conditions. It doesn’t outmatch itself.”

“Whoa,” Prendergast finally inserted. “What the hell do you think this thing is?”

“Definitely an octopus,” Kristakos boomed from across the room, turning from the tentacle spread out on a now-soiled towel. The malacologist was flushed with excitement as he strode toward the trio. “The shape of the tentacle, the structure and markings of the integument – the, ah, skin. The ‘suckers’ on the anterior side of the tentacle. It’s clearly an octopus species. “But it’s unlike no other species I’ve ever seen – certainly not an American octopus, or say a giant Pacific. Its markings seem suited to a freshwater environment – the muddy grays and browns of a lake or river system rather than the more vibrant, brighter colors of a marine system. Likely camouflage in a freshwater ecosystem.

Extrapolating from the portion of tentacle we have, I’d say this specimen could be as large as 40 to even 60 feet. The largest giant Pacific ever captured measured 31 feet from arm tip to arm tip.”

“Jesus,” Scully breathed. “What about those, uh, those things at the end of the tentacle?”

“The fingers?” Kristakos asked. Mulder looked at the floor as his partner turned abruptly toward him. “I’m afraid these are what we’d call fingers. Each of the four appear to have their own independent musculature and sets of nervous ganglia. My guess is that they would be fully functional.”

“My God,” Scully shook his head. “Where in the hell did this thing come from? Where’s it been hiding out all this time?”

Lt. Prendergast rustled. “There is one thing. Probably has nothing to do with anything.”

“I’m open to any suggestions,” Scully said.

“Well, the night the Stackhouse and Carstairs boys were attacked, there was an inordinate amount of electronic interference in Stackhouse’s transmission. Things started out pretty clean, but – and I know this will sound ridiculous – the static started out about the time we figure his friend was attacked. Then today, our guys reported heavy electronic interference with their communications equipment as they were responding to Mr. Rankin’s distress call.”

Mulder’ brow wrinkled. “What could that mean?”

“Tracking?” Kristakos suddenly whispered. He looked up. “Sometimes, when wildlife agencies want to trace the movement of migratory or reintroduced species, they fit them with electronic tags, leg bands, so they can track them more easily through radio signals. Is that what you’re thinking, Lieutenant?”

“I don’t know what I’m thinking,” the military man shrugged. “But a signal like that could account for the kind of interference my guys experienced.

“Where do you hang a tag on an octopus?” Scully grunted.

“More likely an implant, maybe even a computer chip,” Kristakos mused, darkly. “Of course, that would explain how this species adapted to fresh water without an intermediate habitat. It was bred in a controlled, manmade environment.”

“Or created,” Mulder suggested.

The Dubliner

Washington, D.C.

12:34 p.m.

Evan Pym explored the strata of his Shepherd’s Pie, emerging with a forkful of ground sirloin, whipped potatoes, and peas. “I was pleased to hear from you, Wallace. You considering a move back into public service?”

Manville smiled enigmatically, sipping his Glenlivet. “I appreciate the offer, Evan, but private practice is quite rewarding enough. However, you might be able to provide some enlightenment on a Company issue.”

The National Security Agency’s head of covert operations stared, amused, at his agency’s former top profiler. “I don’t know how I can help you, Wallace. You’re no longer part of the club. How is your lovely wife?”

“Belgrade. 1999. The Chinese embassy.”

Pym looked up momentarily, glancing at the surrounding tables, then returned to his casserole. “Your point?”

“My point,” Wallace murmured, “is that I am need of some valuable historical information about events that transpired when you were a child. It is information that will cost you very little relative to the disclosure of my suspicions regarding the events of Belgrade, certain conversations…”

Evan placed his fork by his plate, a lupine glint forming in his eye.

Wallace held up a finger.  “And I am sure you recognize that I wouldn’t level suspicions of this magnitude unless I had provided well for my personal security.”

Evan grinned, shaking his head as if at the absurdity of Wallace’s fears. “Fine. What do you need?”

“What do you know of the Marshall Plan? This would have been an OSS/CIA operation, probably a Cold War op, under the cover of research into cephalopod intelligence.”

Evan laughed. “What? Cephalopod intelligence? The Marshall Plan? You working on a term paper?”

Wallace tipped his glass. “I believe your brethren at the CIA may have opened a barn door that should have remained closed.”

Evan searched Wallace’s face for the punchline. “I may be able to help you. I’ll see what I can find.” He drained his Guinness Stout. “You know, what I said about Belgrade, that could be considered under doctor-patient confidentiality.”

“It would have hurt me far worse than you,” Wallace said mournfully.

St. Michael’s Hospital

8:15 p.m.

The first thing Scully and Mulder saw as he badged their way past a collection of Rep. Daniel Stackhouse’s aides into the hospital room was a weeping Gwen Stackhouse, wailing and convulsing as her husband held tightly to her. The congressman spied the agents and, with a single nod, directed them into the hallway. Scully glanced quickly at the still Jared Stackhouse, tubes and IVs now removed.

“He coded about 45 minutes ago,” the doctor, a middle-aged Asian man, informed them in the hallway. They’d been beepered as their red cabbage had hit the table. “We worked on him for almost 20 minutes, but we couldn’t get a rhythm. What’s strange is, he checked out fine, from a cardiac standpoint, when we checked him at 6 p.m.”

Scully frowned. “You plan to do an autopsy?”

The doctor’s brow arched. “An autopsy? I grant you, the circumstances of his arrest are odd, but why should his death be considered suspicious? And besides….” He trailed off, looking at the congressional staffers standing sentry at the hospital room door.

“Just see if you can get the process rolling, please, Doctor? I’ll clear it with the congressman.”

The physician looked uncertain, but nodded and hustled down the hallway.

Stackhouse emerged a few moments later, waving off a solicitous aide. His eyes were tired and old, his thick black hair slightly mussed. “So are you any closer to finding out what killed my son? I’ll put any resources I can behind you on this. I want answers.”

“We may have an idea, sir, but we may need your help in confirming it,” Mulder said cautiously. “What kind of connections do you have in intelligence, in the military?”

The legislator looked baffled. “I sit on the Select Committee on Foreign Intelligence, and I was largely responsible for getting Connie Truman in as Secretary of State. I have some contacts. But I’m confused, Agent. I thought my son was the victim of some kind of accident, some kind of animal attack.”

Scully’s throat tightened; he could empathize with this bereaved father. “Sir, this may sound a little unorthodox, and I wish we didn’t bother you for this. But we need two things: For you to authorize an autopsy of your son…”

“What?” Stackhouse asked hollowly. “All right. I guess it can’t hurt Jared at this point. What else?”

“We need some information on a man who may be implicated in what happened to your son.”

“Who?”

“I’d rather not say right now, ‘til we have some proof,” Scully said, gently. “I’m going to have to ask you to trust us.”

Stackhouse laughed harshly, his eyes empty. “Guess I’ve heard that line before.”

**

Mulder was printing out another sheaf of notes when the knock at the door sounded. He glanced at the bedside table: The digital readout on the alarm clock flashed 6:43. He sprinted to the door in her stocking feet, grinning embarrassedly at Scully. “Sorry about supper – I got wrapped up in my surfing,” Mulder explained.

“So, how is Ms. Lohan?” Scully teased. “What did you find?”

He sat on the edge of the mattress. “Just a few odd pieces that don’t fit. I got to thinking: Where would anyone get the idea of breeding a ‘super octopus’?” Scully smiled inscrutably. “How about the Naples Zoological Station?”

Mulder’ eyes widened, and a dimple appeared. “And you don’t believe in extrasensory perception? The Naples scientists have been heavily involved in research into octopus intelligence for decades. The octopus’ brain was too complex to apply to computer engineering, as it turned out, but what if the research led somewhere else?

“I just learned a few crucial details from Manville, care of our friends at the NSA. Two of the scientists involved in the Marshall Plan project – Tessio Rappacini and Frederico Giardano – quit the project in about 1952, and I can’t find much on the web about their work from that point through about 1958. Then both died unexpectedly in 1963, Rappacini was murdered supposedly by a robber in Rome, as he was heading home from his university, and Giardano shot himself in front of a dozen witnesses at a conference. The two deaths occurred within a week of each other.” Scully plopped into an armchair. “Something happened that made Giardano kill himself and somebody kill Rappacini? But what?”

“I keyed in ‘1963,’ ‘Lake Michigan ,’ and the ‘St. Lawrence Seaway ,’ which feeds into the Great Lakes from the Atlantic ,” Mulder related. “One of the few repeat hits I got concerned freighter that sank in Lake Michigan after a fire broke out. Twenty crew members died, and the freighter never was salvaged, but there was suspiciously little news coverage.”

“What are you thinking? Whoever raised this thing had it shipped in through the Great Lakes ? Why? And what’s it been doing for 40 years? Nursing a grudge?”

“And feeding its appetites. I searched up the creel surveys – Lake Michigan fish counts based on annual sports catches – for the last 50 years. There was a serious population drop in several fish species in 1963. The kill was blamed on a major corn syrup tanker spill – excess sugar can deprive aquatic species of oxygen. But I think a new predator was introduced into the ecosystem. Populations leveled off after that, with occasional anomalies. I think it lays low, eats discreetly.”

“Discreetly?” Scully squeaked. “Mulder, you’re talking as if this thing is, well, sentient.”

“Sentient like a fox, Scully.”

Scully grabbed her temples. “Arghh!! My brain is numb from too much surfing. I need some weinerschnitzel. Kristakos said we should try Berghoff’s – it’s a German place, just six blocks away.”

“Yah, mein fraulein. Then I think we should drive down to Oak Brook.”

“Where’s that?”

“Where Peter Hefting lives. Hefting was involved in the Naples research, and he’s suspiciously close to the action here. Kristakos gave me some names of Hefting’s colleagues, and you’ll never guess when he moved to Chicago. Try 1964.”

Peter Hefting residence

Oak Brook, Illinois

7:30 a.m.

“Jared Stackhouse is dead,” Scully stated flatly as Hefting opened his front door. Scully and Mulder both wore grim expressions. Hefting grasped the door jamb, and felt the blood flow from his face. “My dear God. They…”

“They did what, Doctor? Killed Stackhouse?”

The old scientist searched for a lie, a story that would make this go away, but he felt weariness wash over him.

“Please do come in,” he sighed.

**

“Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of a sea-fight, sharks will be seen longingly gazing up to the ship’s decks, like hungry dogs round a table where red meat is being carved, ready to bolt down every killed man that is tossed to them . . .”

“I offer no excuses, no rationalizations,” Hefting began quietly as the trio settled in behind their coffee in his richly paneled dining room. “But you must remember that these were uncertain times when mankind’s future appeared to be in the balance. The world was reeling from Hitler’s madness; my own England was digging out of the rubble. And now communism loomed large in Russia, China, North Korea, and we knew that despite old alliances, we faced another threat of global proportions. “I had, as you noted, done some covert spying among the scientific community for British Intelligence, mainly rooting out colleagues with fascist ties. I was a young man then, eager to use my science to keep the world free. That was how I happened into the Naples project – it was a sort of reward for my efforts on behalf of Mother England. It began as I said: An earnest effort to tap the depths of cephalopod intelligence. Then, as we began to uncover just what those fantastic creatures were capable of, some shadowy types started to pop up. M.I.5, your CIA, others of less sterling credentials, and they exploited our dual senses of fear and patriotism in the pursuit of what today would be considered an insane, even evil scheme.

“The war, and particularly the Nazis, had opened whole new avenues of science and, by extension, warfare. We, your people and mine, were looking for any weapon that might keep the Communists at bay, that might keep the developing countries in free hands – or at least hands we could control. Nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, psychological weapons, germ warfare. If you had any idea… But I digress. It was 1951, and we were on the brink of the Cold War, when I and my colleagues, Tesso Rappacini and Frederico Giardano, were asked to enter into a new area of research: Development of a biological weapon of an entirely new type. We had identified several octopus with extraordinary cognitive abilities, and we were asked to determine whether those abilities could be genetically refined and enhanced – in short, whether we could breed a superpredator.”

“A freshwater superpredator,” Mulder amended, his voice filled with controlled emotion. “The rivers were key to commerce in Europe and Asia – fishing, movement of grain and supplies. If you could disrupt those movements, deplete local fish populations used to feed troops, halt economic activity in less developed areas…”

“As I said, it was a time of uncertainty and desperation,” Hefting repeated weakly. “A group of went to work on this biological weapon, using conventional breeding and selection, behavioral training, and some genetic techniques our Nazi ‘friends’ had developed to fine-tune this new species. Though the science of biotechnology was barely in a prenatal state in the ‘50s, we were able to arrest the process of senescence – keep our Frankenstein mollusk in a permanent state of frenzied insanity. It was among the most aggressive specimens I ever witnessed: I watched it decimate a tank of ten Octopus vulgaris – common octopus – within a six-hour period, spotting out the weaknesses and behaviors of each animal in turn. It was horrifying but exhilarating nonetheless.

“However, times were beginning to change by the late ‘50s, and we were informed the project would be terminated, along with our creation. I must say, I was a bit relieved, as I know my colleagues were. We returned to the banality of academic life and routine marine research, and we never heard from our shadowy friends again. That is, until 1963, when the successor to our original government sponsor called Drs. Rappacini and Giardano and myself with a flood of anxious questions about our ‘kraken,’ as we called it. After the folk monster of the sea. It seemed the military had not terminated the kraken after all. Now, they wanted to revive our work. By this time, I was working with Northwestern University and the Shedd Aquarium, and they wanted to transport the kraken to an unidentified lake in Southern Illinois where I could evaluate its potential use in certain regions of Southeast Asia. I was adamant that I wanted nothing further to do with their abominable scheme, but they threatened to expose my earlier work to the scientific community – increasingly, a major stronghold of liberal, humanitarian belief. I’d be the Dr. Mengele of zoology. I reluctantly agreed to cooperate. “Of course, then, in typical ‘intelligence’ fashion, they lost the beast when the cargo ship secretly carrying it through the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes went down. I warned them that this could be the makings of one of the worst ecological disasters ever to strike North America, but they assured me the kraken had been cryogenically preserved – frozen – for the journey across the ocean. Another application of advanced science the military has squelched. They assured me the creature could not survive prolonged freezing on the floor of Lake Michigan, and we all crossed our fingers and said a prayer. Until two days ago. The species must be as hardy as it is relentless.”

“So what do we do?” Scully demanded. “How do we stop this thing?”

“I have no idea,” Hefting admitted, his voice faint with genuine regret. “We never anticipated the need.”

“Damn you,” Mulder whispered harshly.

“I suspect that won’t be necessary, Agent,” the old man murmured.

Chicago Harbor

9:17 a.m.

“The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was built in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s the only surviving lighthouse in Chicago and one of only two remaining examples in Illinois.”

The Japanese couple at Owen Traeger’s elbow cooed appreciatively as they craned toward the white conical tower and the lighthouse’s quaint red-tiled roof. Normally, The Chicago Duck Architectural Tour guide’s banter snapped and crackled – he was, after all, a drama major – but Shelly’d missed her period and was growing shrill and vaguely menacing. Her dad was a cop in Joliet, and if he didn’t handle this right, he might be in for a true Rodney King smackdown.

“All right, folks, we’re heading in,” Owen called, forcing congeniality into his voice. “The Chicago Harbor Lock serves as a gateway to one of the nation’s busiest commercial and recreational waterways. Up ahead, you see the Chicago Harbor Lock, through which more than 50,000 vessels, 900,000 passengers, and 200,000 tons of cargo pass annually. The lock chamber, which essentially raises boats for entry into the Chicago River, is 600 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 22.4 feet deep. It’ll take a few minutes for the lockmaster to lock us through, so let me tell you a little bit of the history of Navy Pier…”

Owen steadied himself against the aft rail of the speedboat as it listed slightly to the right. A few of the older passengers – downstaters visiting the city for the day – gasped and held onto their caps and red hats. A group of teen girls – western ‘burbs, he ventured — giggled apprehensively. “Guess a few of you went a little heavy on lunch,” Owen quipped. Little snarky, man, better chill, his internal stage director cautioned. “Anyway, at one point, the pier even had its own streetcar, and it was a favorite spot for young lovers.”

Young lovers, shit. As the boat moved into the lock, Owen felt another jolt, and the mike dropped from his hand with a shriek of feedback. The Japanese couple grabbed the seat back for stability, and a large old woman slipped to the deck as her Jack Sprat husband fumbled for her arm. The ‘burb brats no longer were giggling.

The boat lifted slightly from the water, then listed to the right. One of the mall chicks leaned perilously over the rail. Owen’s warning shout was submerged in her screams. Her companions joined her at the rail, one throwing an arm around her waist, the other – the Alpha female, no doubt – unholstering her iPhone. Owen watched mutely, feet braced, as the girl aimed at the lock channel below. The Corps of Engineers-contracted Omni Corp. crew scrambled along the lock walls, radios plastered to their faces.

Suddenly, the lock crew froze as one, staring into the water. As the boat splashed back into the water, a dozen pairs of eyes darted toward the river, toward the towers of the Loop. Owen struggled to comprehend why the men suddenly sprinted toward the far lock gate, then staggered back against the rail as screams erupted from his passengers.

“Fucking…” he whispered as he watched something long and leathery and slick grasped the top of the gate. A second tentacle – easily the diameter of a telephone pole — joined the first, and a large, seemingly amorphous shape rose from the water. Before Owen could give it definition, the thing…well, slingshot…over the gate. “Gojiro,” he heard the Japanese husband mutter.

First District – Central

Chicago Police Department

Chicago

12:06 p.m.

“All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever present perils of life.”

“Fuck, fuck, FUCK!” First District Commander Michael Joyce exploded, slapping the conference room table for punctuation. The TV he’d had rolled in rattled on its cart, though WGN noon anchor Micah Materre appeared unruffled.

“Granted, the cinematography and the composition lack flair,” Mulder conceded.

Joyce’s Ditka-esque bulk wheeled on the agent. “You find this fucking amusing?”

“Shaddap, ladies,” the first deputy superintendent snapped, cranking the volume.

“Here it is.”

“Janine Bernel of Naperville was one of the passengers on the river tour, visiting

Navy Pier with two of her friends,” Materre continued. “She took this video seconds after the boat and, reportedly, the creature, entered the lock.”

The focus was off, and “the creature” outpaced Janine’s reflexes. But it’s tentacle- powered locomotion and the huge alien eye were unmistakable. As the shape disappeared along the boat’s hull, Janine ran to the bow. She resumed shooting just as the cephalopod disappeared over the gate.

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“Little witch e-mailed it to WGN, probably before she got back to the Pier,” the commander growled. “Everybody’s a goddamned paparazzi these days.”

“Hey,” the deputy superintendent warned, leveling the remote at his underling. “Neither the Coast Guard nor the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees harbor lock operations, could offer any comment on the occurrence. But in an interview with WGN this morning, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Eric Moorheim had this to say…”

“Oh, shit,” Joyce sighed.

“While cephalopods – the group that includes octopi, squid, cuttlefish – are known as exclusively saltwater species, it’s not necessarily outside the realm of possibility that some species of Atlantic Octopus could have entered the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence Seaway,” Moorheim suggested in what clearly was a telephone feed. “Mollusks are highly adaptable creatures, and there’s so much we don’t know…”

“Guy thinks he’s on the Discovery Channel,” the deputy superintendent muttered, silencing the set. He turned to Lt. Prendergast. “We’ve got the Marine Unit patrolling the Main Stem and the I and M Canal – I assume we want to keep this thing from getting into the Des Plaines or the Illinois.”

“The attack on the Stackhouse boy and those boaters yesterday suggest this animal is dangerous and unpredictable,” Scully interjected before her partner could. “Not to mention highly intelligent,” Mulder added. Scully pursed her lips as the cops exchanged curious glances. “Take that little Free Willy move at the lock. Octopuses can escape even from supposedly secure tanks – they have advanced problem- solving skills, mobility, and lack of rigid structure. We believe the octopus may be in an advanced stage of senescence.”

“What?” the commander exhaled.

“It’s gone all Britney Lohan on us. The very fact that it’s ventured into a closed, populated waterway for the first time in decades tells me you’ve got a public safety threat on your hands.”

“Whoa, whoa,” the deputy superintendent said. “Decades? What are you not telling us about this thing?”

“What you need to know,” Mulder responded, “is that you have to keep this ‘thing’ contained and evacuate the riverfront. Otherwise, it may be revenge of the calamari.”

The commander sputtered, appealing to his boss. “It’s the height of tourist season. You have any idea what’s involved in closing down every riverside bistro and corralling every yuppie jogger and homeless guy? ”

Mulder snapped his fingers. “I got it. Murray Hamilton.”

“I don’t have to take any smartass shit from you just because you’re federal,” Joyce snarled.

“Zip it up, girls,” the deputy superintendent ordered. “Agent – no, you, ma’am. This all on the level?”

Scully straightened. “I visited Jared Stackhouse in the hospital, and I saw what that…that creature…can do to a boat. I believe Agent Mulder’s assessment of the situation is dead-on.”

The cop nodded, cracked a knuckle, and turned to Commander Joyce. “I’ll break out Strategic Deployment. Lieutenant, can we count on you?”

“At your disposal,” Prendergast murmured.

“And you,” the deputy superintendent concluded, turning to Mulder. “You got any pull with Homeland Security? Seems like it’s kind of slow on the terrorism front, and I’m thinking we can use a few extra gung ho guys.”

“I’m not sure firepower’s the answer,” Mulder advised. “This thing’s smart and resourceful. Bring in the troops, and it may bolt. You want to talk to CNN when this thing starts plucking senior citizens off the gambling boats?”

“So what’s your answer?”

Mulder smiled. “How are you guys at staking goats?”

Wells Street Bridge

Chicago

2:54 p.m.

“And you assume that because of my Greek heritage, I’m some sort of expert at goat-staking?” Seth Kristakos asked drily, sipping his Starbucks expresso. When Mulder called, he’d tried to contain his excitement.

Mulder watched a pair of CPD officers rousting a trio of skateboarders from the landing below. The streets along the nearby Merchandise Mart were crowded with rubber-neckers and tourists, but the riverfront restaurant patios were deserted.

“How do you sneak up on an octopus?” he asked the portly invertebratologist.

“With alacrity, I’m afraid. Octopi have keen eyesight, though they can’t perceive colors. Their suction cups are equipped with chemoreceptors so they can ‘taste’ what it’s touching. They don’t possess stereognosis – they can’t form a mental image of the overall shape of an object it’s handling. It can detect local texture variations, but can’t integrate the information into a larger picture.”

“That clears things up,” Mulder nodded. “God knows how Hefting and his buddies might have tampered with its sensory impulses. Question is, are we smarter than a cephalopod? Shut up, Scully. How about turn-ons and turn-offs? What’s it eat and what eats it?”

Kristakos stared out over the river. “I have a lovely PBS video of an octopus attacking and consuming a shark.”

“Ah. So what we need are amazing colossal freshwater Beluga whales with top- mounted lasers.” Mulder scrambled as his cell phone warbled. “Yeah, Mulder…Hold up…He what? Oh, shit, describe him…Jesus, we’ll be right down. Don’t approach him. You hear me? Don’t attempt to apprehend.”

Mulder pocketed his phone. “A patrolman was just assaulted down near the Michigan Avenue Bridge. He was trying to evacuate a man who was carrying some kind of large steel case, and the man swung the case on him. The last the officer saw, the man was headed toward the bridge footing.”

Scully frowned.

“I think Larry Johannsen’s finally found his white whale.”

Michigan Ave. Bridge

Chicago

3:14 p.m.

“By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.”

He’d caught the WGN noon report only through an accident of fate.

The Pakistani clerk at the mini-mart down the block was an avid Cubs fan, and the Braves were visiting the Friendly Confines that afternoon. Larry stood mesmerized, his heart in his throat, as Janine Bernel’s raw video played out over the Camels and incense sticks. He threw a few bills on the formica, ignoring his ham-and-cheese sandwich, and sprinted back to his building.

Everything he needed was in the basement storage locker. Larry had been waiting for this moment for decades, and he kicked into automatic. He made the trip down I- 94 in a virtual trance, and navigated the Loop as if behind the wheel of Roy Johanssen’s old speedboat. The police had been a problem – the riverfront was swarming with them. But he had developed stealthy instincts through years of stalking the unknown and skirting authority and the media. Even with a full pack, he’d managed to penetrate the thin blue line.

“Larry.”

It was the FBI agent, Mulder. “Larry,” the agent repeated, calmly, approaching along the narrow riverbank walkway. “This is not the way.”

Lawrence Johanssen rose warily from the bulky case he’d smuggled to the river, his face impassive. “It’s the only way. You know that. I read about you — you understand what we’re up against. You understand what I– You understand.”

The cryptozoologist returned to his work, opening the steel case and removing a tightly packed parcel. With a single pull, the bundle exploded into a small inflatable, military-style raft.

“I can’t let you do this,” Mulder murmured, moving forward.

Larry glanced up in disbelief, then tugged his raft toward the water. “Its instincts are thousands of times sharper than yours or mine. They can send an army out there, and it’ll never show itself. If it makes its way into the Illinois, hundreds could die, thousands. This is a solo operation. You know that.”

“Larry, I’m not going to let you kill yourself.”

Larry paused, then displayed what appeared to be a toy gun with a huge bore.

“Phosphorous flares — I made them myself. I intend to take that thing to Hell with me. You’ve seen what it can do. You know what has to be done.”

Mulder nodded. “I do.”

And he shot Larry in the leg.

The compact documentarian cried out and fell to one knee. His pained eyes turned to Mulder, then back to his surprising dry pants leg.

“Rubber bullet, courtesy of the Chicago P.D.,” the agent informed him. “But it takes you out of the game.”

“Oh, fuck,” Larry choked, struggling to stand. He collapsed on the concrete embankment.

“We’ll find a way, Larry,” Mulder pledged.

“Mr. Johanssen,” Kristakos called as he and Scully materialized on the walkway. A pair of officers were on their heels. “I’ve read your research with great interest and respect.”

“Seth Kristakos?” For a second, Larry’s pain and fury vanished. “Tell him, tell Mulder. Tell him what we’re dealing with.”

Kristakos knelt, his features sympathetic. He placed a meaty palm on Larry’s shoulder. “I’m afraid I have to agree with Agent Mulder. This is suicide, and the chances of you even firing off a shot, much less hitting the mark, are remote at best.”

“Guys,” Mulder called to the cops. “Could you get Mr. Johanssen to a hospital, check out his leg? Place him under protective custody, OK?”

The larger of the two cops glanced questioningly at his younger partner, who shrugged.

“Yeah, sure,” the brawny officer muttered, pulling Larry gently to his feet.

“This is a mistake,” Larry called over his shoulder. “It’s on your head, Mulder. It’s on your head!”

Scully touched her pensive partner’s arm as he watched Johanssen limp away between the two officers. “Kristakos was right. It would’ve been suicide. We’ll come up with something.”

Mulder smiled sourly. “Like what? Metro Animal Control? He may be deluded and obsessive, Scully, but he probably knows more about what we’re up against than anybody in the world.”

“We’ve got Kristakos.” Scully frowned. “Where’d he go?” Her eyes widened. “Oh, God, Mulder. Where’s the raft?”

Mulder spun. The spot where Johanssen had inflated his boat was empty. He dashed to the river’s edge, then froze.

“Forget the raft,” he said, hollowly. “Where’s the gun?”

**

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“Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

This was madness. Kristakos recognized this, even as he paddled toward the center of the channel. The poor little man nonetheless was correct — this was a solo job. But a job for an objective expert, for a man who’d spent his life in the company of cephalopods. Kristakos cursed Peter for his callous stupidity in helping loose such an abomination on the planet. Beyond any potential human toll, this crazed, voracious, cunning creature could decimate ecosystems along the Illinois and Mississippi, all the way to the Gulf.

“Doctor Kristakos!” The malacologist navigated further upriver as Mulder called from the embankment. The agent’s voice doppled away as the Dearborn Bridge loomed. The raft slowed to a stop, wobbling slightly under Kristakos’ girth. The scientist stowed his paddle and settled in, scanning the city around him, the robust, lively city he’d come to love.

He caressed the flare gun he’d appropriated with the raft. Of course, it had to die — it was never meant to exist, and that which emerged rather than evolved had no place in the world. Kristakos nonetheless felt a profound sense of impending loss, of lost opportunity.

The raft lurched as Mulder’s disembodied voice crackled. “Seth. Come on.”

Kristakos tugged the radio from his pocket, and thumbed the key. “I’m sorry, Fox. It was impulsive, I admit.”

“Come in, Seth. There has to be a better approach than this. As you told Larry.”

“Johanssen lacked objectivity. His hatred would have blinded him. I have no personal ax to grind.” Kristakos smiled. “Besides, I notice I’m strangely alone out here. That was your doing?”

Mulder was silent for a moment. “I can’t hold them off too much longer — the district commander’s ready to call out the Green Berets.”

“Thank you, Fox.” Kristakos said before popping the battery compartment and dropping the radio into the murky water. The creature might shy away if it sensed technology on board.

As he drifted, the biologist watched the city transition above. The nine-to-fivers escaped from their cubicles and counters, fleeing to the parking garages for the harrowing crush of Lake Shore Drive. The out-of-towners and Condo People soon commandeered the streets and restaurants, only vaguely cognizant of the casually paramilitary presence along the riverfront.

Kristakos’ thick fingers were beginning to cramp about the butt of the flare gun, but he could not afford to let his guard down. Octopi – at least naturally produced octopi — had three hearts — one that pumps blue blood throughout their vascular system, and two branchial hearts which pump blood to the gills for oxygenation. Given that its cardiac system was located at the back of the skull and he likely would have only one shot, the malacologist had opted for the brain. Ideally, one shot under or into the eye would immediately take out any neurological coordination, and the phosphorous would quickly eat through remaining brain tissues. The shock might even give him the time to reload – Johanssen had optimistically brought along five flares.

The Chicago River was two to 21 feet in depth, and Kristakos was hopeful enough of the creature might be found by divers to analyze for posterity. Giant octopi or squid in a fresh state were a precious find for marine biologists, and this “enhanced” specimen surely offered an encyclopedia of new knowledge on Cephalopoda. Kristakos’ laugh echoed in the riparian valley between the skyscrapers. He sounded like one of those woefully naïve scientists in those florid Cold War-era horror films. We must study this alien/giant bug/lizard man for posterity, even if it finishes off a few dozen souls before we can coax it into the collection jar. Unlike many of his colleagues, Kristakos actually relished a good bug-eyed monster. One of his favorite pulpy confections had been the John Carpenter remake of The Thing, particularly Wilford Brimley’s boozy, unshaven scientist. What was the classic line? I dunno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off. It always elicited an uncomfortable, relieved chuckle. But wait, was that Brimley? No. It was the other one, what was his name, the burly character actor. Bonnie Franklin’s boyfriend in that old Norman Lear sitcom. Masur. That was it. Richard Mas—

The long-leathery arm erupted from the waters behind Kristakos’ head, tickling his bearded cheek as it sought purchase around his throat. He instinctively hauled himself up and around, nearly capsizing the raft, and came eye to inhuman eye with the beast. His normally dispassionate nature momentarily dissolved – he could see in this huge orb something that was merely rudimentary and raw in the Shedd’s specimens.

Intelligence. At a human level. At least a human level. We defined our intelligence in terms of fashioning elaborate gadgets and writing clever prose and surviving in far- flung locales before the TV cameras. But this intelligence, it reflected the pure, facile intellect necessary to rule its world. To gain dominion over the species. A second arm emerged, seizing Kristakos’ left forearm. Even in the dusk of early evening, he observed that it was an Octopus vulgaris – the Common Octopus. Made sense: It’s natural range extended from Southern England into the Mediterranean, and it would have been a natural choice for the Italian malacologists. Further, its intelligence was well-documented: It could unscrew a jar, and was known to raid lobster traps.

However, while O. vulgaris average not too much beyond a meter in length with its arms fully extended, this one could be a meal for a small Aegean village. The third arm that slithered onto the raft was roughly the diameter of a WWE wrestler’s bicep. All three arms terminated in small, apparently agile tendrils O. vulgaris could only have dreamed of, if it indeed dreamed. Fingers was indeed an apt description. As the third arm suddenly tightened about Kristakos’ calf, he awoke from his study of the mollusk. He remembered the gun in his now-white knuckles, and brought it around. The octopus’ catlike pupil contracted as a fourth arm whipped up.

Adrenalin coursed through Kristakos’ body, and he rammed the gunbarrel against its sac-like skull, just below the eye. Then he heard it. A low thumping, like the rhythm of some robotic heart.

A helicopter. Kristakos’ stomach sank. The morons. They had panicked and dispatched in a police or Coast Guard squad. Or maybe it was a news chopper, slavering over the prospect of a 10 o’clock ratings blitz. Whatever the source of the intrusion, it would drive the beast back into the shadows and, potentially, downriver. It was now or never. Kristakos’ calloused thumb tightened about the trigger.

And then, all hell broke loose.

**

“What the–?” Mulder breathed. He and Scully had been watching helplessly as Kristakos struggled with the great mollusk, and, initially, he figured the CPD was finally throwing a flag on the play. The helicopter’s rotors had grown louder as it came in low and fast and without lights. It was nearly silent, some sleek, black military model Mulder could not immediately identify.

Passing the Dearborn Bridge, the chopper swept back around, and the agents watched in horror as a volley of shots shattered the night and stitched through the water. The raft exploded and the octopus’ huge head exploded. Mulder pulled his weapon as he strained to spot Kristakos through the turbulence. The chopper continued to spray destruction into the spot where the cephalopod had been, then, as abruptly, stopped. Mulder took aim and fired repeatedly at the craft as it wheeled about and sailed low and stealthily toward the harbor. He heard a hail of gunfire as the CPD attempted in vain to bring the helicopter down. Mulder slumped, his gun hanging limply from his fingers, as the chopper disappeared over Lake Michigan. Scully rushed to the rail, peering into the near darkness below.

“And that’s that,” she heard Mulder mutter bitterly behind her.

The Loop Chophouse

Chicago

8:06 p.m.

There were three things Chicagoans loved: The hapless Cubs, a politic free-for-all, and a good mystery. Where Mikey Ianucci had expected an empty house with the heavy law enforcement presence outside, the air in his riverfront restaurant tonight was charged with intrigue and excitement, with murmured speculation and animated debate. CNN, FOX, MSNBC had headlined the day’s bizarre events, culminating with the commando attack on the lunatic who’d tried to take on a monster single-handed. “Make sure they go heavy with the alderman’s creamed spinach,” he instructed his nephew. “And, you know what, pick out a nice Pinot Noir for the table, our compliments. No strike that – he’s got an indictment coming down next week. Go! Go!”

Mikey scanned the packed dining room with a grin, then frowned as a hush fell over the crowd. The hush had rippled from the foyer, and he moved swiftly past tables of craning, gawking patrons. Then he spotted the man near the hostess’ station – broad, bearded, bleeding, and drenched. The stranger’s hair was spiked, and his face was gray with exhaustion.

“I beg your pardon,” Seth Kristakos murmured, rubbing his thick, pruned fingers.

“Might I use your phone? Seem to have lost mine. And, oh, yes. Would you have any ouzo in stock?”

Chicago Hope Memorial Hospital

8:10 a.m.

Two days later

“There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.”

“Larry?”

It was the FBI agent. Lawrence Johanssen’s eyes remained glued to the set bolted to the ceiling in the corner of his room. He had no idea, nor did he care, what he was watching.

“You’ll be released in the morning,” Mulder said. “I talked to the locals — there won’t be any charges. We just have a few blanks to fill in.” Larry’d heard the nurses in the hall, had heard the phrase “suicide watch.” No doubt Mulder’s orders, to discredit him, to put his sanity in question. “The leg should be fine in a few days. No fracture, though you might stay off it for a few days.”

Larry stared at the set, where an attractive woman gushed over a sandwich press. Mulder stepped tentatively into the room. “Larry, what I did, it had to be done. You understand that?”

The audience cooed as the woman extracted a fruit tart from the panini maker.

“Larry. Mr. Johanssen.” Mulder’s voice strengthened as he stepped into the room.

Larry turned slowly from the TV, his face unreadable.

“It’s gone, Larry. Sent to a watery hell. It’s over.” The agent looked down at the small man, who now seemed smaller. “Get rid of it, Larry. Trust me. I’ve lived there – I looked into that darkness so long, I almost never saw daylight again. I know the grief, the guilt, the second-guessing. I know the anger, Larry; I know the feeling of helplessness. I know that moment when the darkness engulfs you, when no light penetrates. I was lucky – I had somebody to guide me back. Get rid of it, Larry. I mean it — it’s time.”

The octopus hunter turned back to the informercial. Mulder studied him for a moment, then turned for the light of the corridor.

“You think it’s over.” Larry’s voice was dead. “You and your friends think you’ve shoved the demon back into the box, herded the sheep back into their complacent fold. Well, you’ll have to silence me, because I won’t be silent. The world will find out about your lies. You’ll have to kill me to shut me up.”

Mulder began to turn, tried to come up with some universal truth that might help him see this as a beginning rather than the end.

“You hear me?” Larry snapped.

Mulder stepped back into the white hospital light, where Scully waited.

“You hear me?!” Larry screamed.

“OK, go ahead,” Mulder sighed as they headed toward the elevator bank.

“What?”

“Tell me you told me so. That this was an utter exercise in futility.”

Scully pressed the Down button. “Futility? I don’t know. Compassion? Empathy?

Humanity? Maybe. I’ve never known you to engage in futility.”

Mulder glanced back toward the flickering light of Johanssen’s room, then stepped into the elevator with his partner. “It’s like an unpaid debt he’ll never in the world be able to pay off. He doesn’t understand. There is no debt. It just, well, IS.”

Scully punched the lobby button and turned with an appraising smile. “Well, just look who’s evolving. I don’t have to tell you this, Mulder, but you can’t save everyone. Well, maybe me, every once in a while.”

Mulder grinned as the car halted. “Is it my turn?”

“Lost count. C’mon, Mulder; I feel like a mojito.”

“You buy,” Mulder said. “I’ll catch it next time.”

Office of Dr. Wallace Manville

Washington, D.C.

5:45 p.m.

“This is auspicious,” Dr. Wallace Manville murmured, setting aside the monograph on sibling alienation and serial homicide he was preparing for the Journal of Psychiatry.

“Twice in three days.”

Evan Pym chuckled dryly. “Like to finish business, even if it’s not mine. I hear Agent Mulder’s pest problem has disappeared.”

“With curious expediency and prejudice, and without his direct involvement. In fact, our zealous Samaritans have yet to acknowledge their deed.”

“Is there a question in all that underbrush?” the NSA spymaster asked. “Not our style – little too Rambo, little too much exposure. My guess, somebody covered their tracks with a vengeance. Strange, though.”

“What I thought,” Manville agreed. “Dr. Hefting already had confessed the entire plot to Mulder. By the way, the unfortunate gentleman passed on last night, apparent heart failure.”

“Convenient. Why shoot up the Chicago River or murder a nonagenarian who’d already opened the barn door?”

“Indeed. Fantastic tale – a molluscan bioweapon bred to bring down the Red Menace. Like something out of Clive Cussler, doesn’t it?”

“They were very imaginative back in the day.”

Wallace hmmed. “Ever hear of the ‘The Superfluous Finger’? Short story by Jacques Futrelle, a mystery writer who, as it would happen, perished on the Titanic’s maiden voyage. The plot is, well, superfluous, but I have been thinking of superfluous digits.”

“Lost me, Wallace.”

“The salient post-mortem question in this case would seem to be, why put fingers on an octopus? On a living weapon designed purely for fear and mayhem?” “It’s a puzzle.” Pym feigned boredom.

“Don’t feign boredom, Evan – it’s disingenuous,” Manville chided. “Let us consider the octopus. The most intelligent of all invertebrate species, able to enter and escape small spaces and astonishingly adept at using tools. I’ve read of cases where one of these amazing beasts was able to open a sealed jar and extract an oyster. The octopus reportedly can distinguish shapes and retain memory.

“Practically human, you might say, with the exception of opposable thumbs and an appreciation of crème brulee. But someone went to the considerable trouble of correcting one of those deficiencies. Why? Our friend the octopus certainly is not lacking in dexterity. We domestic dogs, horses, other species to do that which Man is unable to do? To what use would you put our friend the modified mollusk?”

Pym was silent for a moment. “You tell me.”

“I suppose I’d employ it in an inhospitable, highly-pressurized environment, where it would be expected to use its intelligence, cognitive abilities, and newly acquired manual dexterity to explore and, I assume, recover.”

“Salvage squid,” Pym mused.

“Wrong cephalopod. Now, if my hypothesis is accurate, the object our beast was created to explore and salvage must be of considerable import, if Dr. Hefting concocted such a fantastic and incriminating fiction for Agents Mulder and Scully. Any idea what lies beneath the surface, Evan?”

The spy laughed harshly. “Gotta get to parent-teacher night at Mason’s school. Regards to your lovely bride.”

“And to yours,” Wallace Manville provided, pondering.

Shedd Aquarium

Chicago

9 p.m.

For not the first time, Guillermo Ortiz cursed the younger generation in his native Spanish, scraping at the dayglo green gum one of the school tour groups had left on the bottom riser above the marine mammal show tank.

Despite his current irritation, he liked this part of the aquarium. It was like some tranquil clearing by some bay Guillermo otherwise could only have imagined. Some times, when he returned to his crowded, two-room apartment in Cicero, it was a backdrop for his dreams – dreams of exotic creatures and even more exotic senoras.

Often, his wife, Isabelle, was the recipient of his fervent nocturnal imagination.

The illusion of this peaceful cove was completed by the tall glass wall that separated the killer whale tank from the great Lake Michigan. Had he not suffered a morbid fear of the water, Guillermo sometimes fantasized about diving down among the dolphins and whales and peering out into the murky Great Lake, see what occasionally ventured to shore to gape at the huge finned creatures within the aquarium. He glanced down toward the huge glass partition, and for a moment, Guillermo froze, locked in place. The custodian peered down again, and this time laughed, his self-directed ridicule bouncing off the “rocks” and trees.

Sometimes, Isabelle had warned, imagination can be a dangerous thing. While he normally shrugged off her jibes, drowning them out with Tecate, Guillermo knew this time there was some truth in her words. The last of the gum scraped from the risers, he creaked to his feet, ready to tackle the rain forest pavilion. He’d have to share his little fantasy with Luis the security guard, how the light and the reflections had made him imagine seeing a huge eye looking straight at him from below the lake’s surface…

“. . . however baby man may brag of his science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder him, and pulverize the stateliest, stiffest frigate he can make; nevertheless, by the continual repetition of these very impressions, man has lost that sense of the full awfulness of the sea which aboriginally belongs to it.”

*end

1

Leprechaun’s Lair

Leprechauns’ Lair

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Summary: Mulder and Scully spend St. Patrick’s Day in the woods.

Category: MT, X-File

Rating: PG

Two weeks exclusive with VS15.

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

SOMEWHERE IN THE WOODS

PITTSBURGH, PA

MONDAY, MARCH 17th, 2008

0900

“I can’t believe you dragged me out here, Mulder,” Scully complained as they

trudged through the woods, looking for the car.

“I’m sorry,” he said, clearly discouraged.

“Too little too late,” Scully told him. “And now we’ve got to get out of here and spend

St. Patrick’s Day waiting at the airport.”

“I said I’m sorry,” he told her, but she just kept walking. “The X-file was legitimate.

You even said so yourself. Skinner signed off on it.”

“I’ll agree with you that something’s been stealing valuables and most likely using an

escape route in the woods—”

“Only gold valuables,” Mulder interjected.

“Okay, someone’s been stealing only gold valuables and using an escape route in the

woods, but that doesn’t mean there are leprechauns, and it doesn’t mean that

walking through the woods will do anything to help us catch the man, Mulder,” Scully

said, exasperated. It had, after all, been an overnight stakeout, and they were both

exhausted.

“A thief using an escape route in the woods doesn’t explain the children’s sightings.”

“But the holiday does,” Scully told him firmly. She turned around. “You dragged us

out here in the woods to hunt leprechauns, Mulder, on the lead of a few children—”

“An entire fourth-grade class of children.”

“On some 9-year-olds’ testimonies, who during their St. Patrick’s Day picnic thought

they saw a leprechaun.”

“The teacher substantiated it, too, Scully. You read the reports.”

“I’m not arguing about this, Mulder. I agreed to one night, and we’re done. No

leprechauns showed up in this ‘hot spot’ you dragged us to.”

He frowned. “If this is about missing the parade—”

“It’s not about missing the parade! It’s about missing our day off, which happened

to coincide with a holiday, because you decided to get us assigned to a case! A case

that didn’t hold any merit!”

Mulder’s shoulders drooped slightly, as he repeated, “I said I was sorry.”

She exhaled, and turned around. “It’s alright. Let’s just find the car, and get out of

here.”

They started walking again, when suddenly shots were fired. Mulder dropped to the

ground with an ‘umph’ and Scully got down, drawing her weapon and aiming for the

direction of the noise. Another shot came in her direction and she actually heard the

bullet whiz past her head. She couldn’t see the perp, though, and so she couldn’t

return fire.

The fire stopped, and she slowly edged toward Mulder, but heard behind her, “Drop

the weapon, now. I’ve got a clear shot at his head. Drop the weapon or I’ll kill him.”

Scully had no choice but to comply. And when she did, she heard a bag dropped and

objects jingle inside. She was approached from behind and handcuffed, the gun

kicked away. Mulder wasn’t moving.

The perpetrator showed himself when he walked around Scully and turned Mulder

over. There was very clearly an entrance wound in his back, but no exit wound. He

was out, and Scully said calmly, “I’m a medical doctor. If you’ll let me—”

“Shut up,” the man said. He had dark brown hair, slicked back sloppily, and wore a

gold chain around his neck. “You two are cops?”

“FBI. If you keep me from helping my partner, it’s a federal offense. You’ve already

assaulted a federal officer—don’t make it worse—”

“I said shut up!” He yelled, and raised his weapon to her head. “You don’t have a

clue what you stumbled into, bitch. You and your partner are witnesses, and it don’t

matter what condition he’s in when I put a bullet through his brain.” He cocked the

weapon. “Maybe I’ll start with him and make you watch…”

But before he could get a shot off, there was a deafening bang to Scully’s left and a

neat hole right between the perp’s eyes. He dropped, instantly dead.

Scully looked to her left to assess whether Mulder was in further danger from their

savior, and saw a man with achondroplastic dwarfism, about four feet tall, lower his

shotgun. “Are you alright?” He asked in a slight Irish accent, clearly concerned.

“My partner’s been shot. Come over here, I need your help,” Scully ordered.

“Aye, one moment. Seamus, Kelly, Eileen, over here, now.”

Three small children, all achondroplastic dwarfs, ran out of the woods and toward

who Scully presumed was their father.

“Got a bit more help for ya,” the man said, and squatted near Mulder, next to Scully.

“You’re a doctor—how bad is it?”

Scully raised an eyebrow, but surmised he had heard the conversation between her

and the gold thief. “Keep the kids back. I don’t want them touching him until I say

so.”

“Back two feet,” he ordered his children.

Scully turned Mulder gently, and examined the wound. She had already checked his

breathing, and his pulse. “He’s breathing, his pulse is weak but there…bullet entered

near his kidney.” She looked at the man, and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Patrick Finnegan, me friends call me Fin.”

“Alright, Fin, I need you to take your shirt off. We need to stop this bleeding. Then

you need to send your kids to the roadside with my cell phone and have them dial

911. Can you do that?”

“Aye, I can, but I’ve got a better solution.”

Scully sighed impatiently as she held Mulder’s back. She had turned him on his side,

and was now applying pressure on the wound with her hand. “What?”

“We’ve got a place with real medical supplies not far from here. We’ve also got a

fold-out stretcher in that bag Seamus is carrying.” He nodded to his eldest son.

“He needs hospitalization. He might have organ damage,” Scully argued, trying to

control her voice. Didn’t this man know how serious this was? Mulder could die.

She didn’t have time to argue with him.

He took off his shirt and handed it to her, revealing thick red hair on his chest. “Ya

need to listen to me, Agent. He won’t make it till the ambulance can get this far.

It’s further to the road than it is to my place. Me wife, she’s a doctor. D’ya

understand? The two of ya, you can save him.”

“He needs surgery.”

“We have a sanitary station. It’s an outpost.”

Scully couldn’t help but wonder why they had a ‘sanitary’ surgical station in their

‘outpost’ for a house. But she didn’t have time to argue. “Fine, do you have a

phone?”

“Aye, but ya won’t need it. Come on, Agent, we need to hurry. Seamus,” he barked.

“Take that stretcher out.”

The boy complied, and unfolded it to its full length. Then he stretched it out on the

ground behind Mulder. Scully wrapped Fin’s shirt around Mulder’s wound and then

eased him gently onto the stretcher. She took the back, and Fin took the front.

They lifted him with some difficulty, the stretcher tilted because of the size

difference. The kids automatically helped support the bars from the middle. The

youngest one, Eileen, couldn’t stop staring at Mulder. Scully tried to smile. “It’ll be

alright,” she said, more for herself than for the small child.

Eileen looked at Scully and said in an adorable Irish brogue, “Me mama can fix him

up, Agent, don’t worry.”

“Shannon’s a surgeon,” Fin said. “You and she can extract the bullet, then we’ll call

an ambulance when he’s outta the woods.”

Scully nodded absently. It was only a fifteen minute trek, before they reached the

small clearing with a cottage that looked like it had been built by a professional

craftsman. They carried Mulder up the front steps and a woman, about four feet tall,

opened the front door. “Oh, goodness,” she said, in an Irish accent that matched

her husband’s.

“You’re a surgeon?” Scully asked her.

She nodded. “I specialize in nerve damage, and I’ve got a certification in

anesthesiology. Move him over to that table inside, in the sterile section. I’ve got

running water, and soap, we can sterilize our hands in. You, what’s your name?”

“Scully, Agent Dana Scully.”

“FBI, interesting,” the woman said, but Scully’s perplexed look was instantly replaced

with a concerned one when Mulder moaned, and opened his eyes.

They set him down on the sterile table in the living room and Scully instantly went to

him. The children crowded around, but Fin pushed them back to give Scully space.

“Hey,” she said softly. “Mulder, can you hear me?”

“Mmm,” he said, face contorted in pain. “Where…where are we?”

“A cottage in the woods. You were shot, Mulder. I think the bullet’s in your kidney.

We’re going to do emergency surgery—these people, this woman is a surgeon. We’ll

have to give you anesthetic. Do you understand?”

“Mmm hmm,” he said, and then looked at the people around him. He smiled. “We

found ‘em.”

Scully couldn’t give him a disapproving look for his inappropriate comment, not with

him in this condition. But she was thankful they had no idea what he was talking

about.

“Mr. Mulder, my name is Shannon Finnegan, and I’m here to help you. I’ve got to

give you an IV with some anesthetic in it, and then we’ll turn you on your side to

remove the bullet and close any damage. Do you understand?”

“Yeah,” he said, and then coughed, and grimaced in pain. Scully held his hand.

“You’re going to be fine,” Scully said.

“Me mum’s the best,” Seamus said. “Ya don’t have much ta worry about, Sir.”

He smiled. “We found ‘em,” he stated again before Shannon started the IV, and

showed the liquid to Scully.

“Anesthetic. Satisfied, Agent Scully?”

“Yes, do it,” Scully ordered her, hoping to speed up this process.”

Shannon injected the anesthetic, and then pointed to her sink. “Sanitize yourself,

and grab two aprons. I’ll get my medical kit. We need to move fast. He’s got

internal bleeding and we need to close the wound.”

Fifteen minutes later they were well on their way. Scully couldn’t help but think

repeatedly, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe I agreed to this.

But Shannon seemed to know what she was doing. They got the internal bleeding

under control, and for some odd reason, they had a bag of Mulder’s blood type in

their medical supply cabinet.

It took them three hours to close the wound and another two for Mulder to wake up.

And by then, Fin had dialed 911 and had explained to Scully that they would need to

move Mulder by stretcher again. There was no way a car could make it through the

woods, let alone an ambulance.

Scully was exhausted with worry and lack of sleep by the time they got to the

roadside. She thanked Fin profusely when she heard the ambulance siren, and it

was a daze from there. She thought she fell asleep in the ambulance, and when she

woke up, she was in a hospital room with Mulder. He was still asleep. Disoriented,

she glanced for her watch to check the time, got up and stretched. She shook her

head, and rubbed her eyes as she sat back down again. Apparently still tired, she

fell back asleep.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

SEWICKLEY GENERAL HOSPITAL

SEWICKLEY, PA (NEAR PITTSBURGH)

MONDAY, MARCH 17th, 2008

1900

Scully awoke to Mulder clearing his throat. She opened her eyes, disoriented again.

“Hey,” she said, smiling at him. “What’s going on?”

He couldn’t help but give her a puzzled look. “You’re asking me?” He asked, shaking

his head. “All I know is I was shot, you and…the leprechauns!” He suddenly beamed.

“We found them, Scully! What are they doing with the perp?”

Scully looked terribly confused. “What are you talking about?”

“The gold thief. The one who shot me. The leprechauns, Shannon—the woman who

worked with you during the emergency surgery?”

Scully just stared at him. “Do you have a concussion?”

He laughed. “Memory wipes! Oh, this is classic!”

“I’m gonna go get the doctor.”

“No, wait, Scully,” he caught her arm as she stood up. “Wait, I’m not making this up.

Shannon Finnegan, remember? I was barely conscious, but I can remember all their

names—there was Patrick, who likes to be called Fin. There’s the boy, Seamus, and

then their two little ones, Eileen and Kelly. You don’t remember any of this, do

you?”

She just stared at him, blankly. “I don’t know what’s going on, Mulder, but you’re

starting to scare me.”

“They must have put a memory imprint on me, and a memory wipe on you…they

looked like normal people though. Achondroplastic dwarfs, but normal. Normal

clothes, normally furnished cottage in the woods…the kids, they were all clean-cut

and Fin looked like he had a neatly trimmed beard. Don’t you find it odd that they

had a surgical bay in their house? And my blood type?”

“I’m going to go get the doctor, Mulder,” Scully said slowly. “I need to figure out

what’s going on.”

“Read my chart,” he insisted. “At the end of the bed, read it. Tell me what it says.”

She hesitated, but complied. She flipped through his chart, and shook her head.

“Are you sure I wasn’t knocked out, or something?”

“Why? What does it say?”

“It says exploratory surgery discovered a successful, recent, and emergency

procedure that removed a bullet from your kidney and completely sealed the internal

organs, repairing all damage. You received a unit of blood and a standard

anesthetic…Mulder, I don’t remember any of this! But my name’s on the exploratory

surgery consent form, and my statement as to the fact you were shot, it’s right

here.”

“See?” He said with a smile. “Leprechauns.”

“That’s ridiculous. I’m Irish, Mulder, and even I don’t even believe that.”

“Most Irish people view leprechauns as a degrading symbol of Irish culture.”

“That’s beside the point. I have no recollection of any of this!”

“It was a memory wipe. And I couldn’t possibly remember all of that from the state

I was in—I must have had a memory imprint. Call Skinner—you probably already

told him what was going on. And the perp is probably already in the morgue.”

She slowly reached for her cell phone, and walked away from his bed, toward the

window. She completed the call, and Mulder heard a series of ‘yes, Sir’, ‘no, Sir,’ ‘of

course, Sir,’ and ‘I’m not sure, Sir,’ before she hung up the phone, and turned to

him. “That’s incredible. Anthony Giorgio’s body was autopsied and the cause of

death was a single bullet to the head. Not my bullet. But Skinner just said it was in

accordance with my report.”

“Told you,” Mulder said with a grin.

She shook her head. “I refuse to believe that. I’m going to have them run a blood

test on me, make sure I haven’t been exposed to some kind of hallucinogen. Don’t

go anywhere, Mulder.”

He just smiled. “Fine by me,” he said.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

SEWICKLEY GENERAL HOSPITAL

SEWICKLEY, PA (NEAR PITTSBURGH)

MONDAY, MARCH 17th, 2008

2100

Scully returned three hours later, utterly confused. The blood tests had shown

nothing wrong…

She walked over to Mulder’s bed, where he slept, and smiled when she saw a card

there. She didn’t know who it was from, though. She picked it up, and noted the

shamrock on the front.

Opening it, she was shocked to find a picture of a family. All achondroplastic dwarfs,

with a caption on the bottom that said, ‘From left: Patrick ‘Fin’, Shannon, Seamus,

Kelly, and Eileen Finnegan.’ On the card was written, “Ya owe us some Guinness,

Mulder. You’re welcome anytime. Just walk into the woods. We’ll find ya. The

Finnegans.”

At the bottom was written in smaller print, ‘Shannon thanks you for your help in

surgery, Agent Scully. You’re always welcome, too. Just remember to believe.’

Perplexed, Scully placed the card back on the nightstand and sat down in the chair

next to Mulder. She took his hand, thankful that he was going to be alright. Even

though she couldn’t explain what had happened, she wouldn’t stop Mulder from

dragging them into those woods again. She, for one, wanted some answers. And a

funny feeling told her that if she was willing to look, the Finnegans wouldn’t mind

providing some.

1

Leprechauns’ Lair by Starfleetofficer1

Echoes

Echoes by truthwebothknow1

Rating PG , adult viewers , few bad words.

Keywords MT SA MA X file MSR

Spoiler. Amor Fati trilogy,

Written for the IMTP virtual season 15 and alludes to some aspects of canon in

those fics.

Summary. The Northern Irish coast has some secrets, some say echoes.

Not for profit and The X files belongs to cc and Fox. Auntie Katherine belongs to

me and is probably me in about 40 years LOL.

Dedicated To Joi who has been waiting way too long for me to finish her birthday

fic so you can have this one. It in time for this years birthday. 🙂

Echoes

Belfast airport

15th March 2008

“I got hold of my aunt. She’s picking us up in about an hour.” Scully popped her

cell phone back in her jacket pocket as Mulder retrieved their bags from the

carousel.

“That’s great, Scully. This is your Mom’s aunt right ..so your great Aunt?”

“Katherine Tooley, yes,” Scully smiled widely, “ My namesake. Mom named me

for her but she in turn, was also named for another Katherine from way back,

many years in fact. My great, great great-grandmother Tooley. ”

Mulder grinned at his lover’s enthusiasm for this whole trip. She’d been in a state

of awe and childlike excitement for days and he found it so endearing. “Have you

ever met her before?” They were heading towards customs now, both of them

taking in the St. Patrick’s Day bunting and paraphernalia hanging everywhere.

They really took this holiday seriously here.

“No but I have spoken to her on the phone a few times. She was coming over to

visit Mom in Baltimore a few years ago but her husband Ned, died suddenly. She

has been alone since. Runs her small sheep farm out on the Antrim coast by

herself, does a bit of painting and stuff. Independent feisty lady.”

“Umm like someone else I could name…. who’s not more than a few yards away

from me”. Mulder’s hand gently cupped Scully’s cheek, rubbing a thumb back

and forth. She leaned into his touch as they waited in line to go through the gate

into the main concourse.

“I wonder who you could mean”, she giggled, slipping her arm into his free one

that wasn’t carrying his bags.

Once through arrivals they noticed more trappings of St. Patrick’s Day

celebrations. People bustling by wearing Irish tri- color scarves and sometime

the odd silly green hat. Mulder explained that this usually meant a Rugby Derby

was imminent and people of Irish descent were filing in from all over Europe and

further afield to watch the match. Scully seemed to lap it all up taking in the

sights and foreign smells. They found a luggage cart and dumped their bags into

it.

It was good take a vacation now and then, to get away from the trauma and loss

of the last few months and just chill in a completely different place, somewhere

much quieter, with a relatively slower pace of life. Her aunt’s cliff top home

seemed an ideal place for her and Mulder to recharge their batteries before taking

on the slew of new cases Skinner had mentioned at their last meeting, before he

insisted they took some much needed leave.

Her aunt had been bugging her for months about coming over to spend a few

days and finally meet her. She knew Katharine and Maggie were close, and had

started talking a lot more via phone and email after Billy’s death, Now with her

other brother gone and Dana was the last one, it seemed her aunt was anxious

to meet the only surviving child of Maggie Scully before a cruel twist of fate took

her as well. Surviving family was important to Scully a lot more recently, so who

could refuse Katherine’s kind offer. Her mother had mentioned that she was a bit

eccentric and unusual. Right up Mulder’s street then from the sound of it.

She was so looking forward to this trip and she knew Mulder was as well. A week

enjoying her aunt’s hospitality then a quick jaunt down to Dublin to hook up with

one of Mulder’s old Oxford pals, a professor at one of the museums there seemed

just what the doctor ordered. She hoped he would be okay though as he’d started

sneezing on the plane no sooner than he’d clipped his safety belt in place. Just his

luck to get sick now but he assured her that it was nothing a slug of real Irish

whiskey wouldn’t cure. There was a plan for an excursion to the famous

Bushmills foundry on their schedule among other things, although Mulder

admitted that was partly coerced by Skinner who promised them an extra week

off if he could bring him back a bottle of the world class liquor all the way from

its Irish roots.

“You’ve been to Ireland before haven’t you Mulder?”

“Sure… er only the once. When I was at Oxford.”

“So how come I’ve never heard about this?”“ She teased as he led them both to a

place to eat and drink. All the travel and excitement of exploring a new country

had given them both a raging appetite.”

“Er, I don’t remember much of it,” Mulder admitted as he reached inside his

leather jacket pocket for his tissues.

“A group of us came over for a Thin Lizzy concert at the Point in Dublin. But……”

Scully grinned; she guessed what was coming by the look that passed over his

face. “But…? ”

“A couple of us had a few pre concert whiskies and we er…never made it out of

the bar. Couldn’t find the guy with the tickets either.”

“So what happened?” He smiled as the usual eyebrow manoeuvre came into play;

he wasn’t going to get out of this easily. Was that her usually inuendous partner

blushing. This was going to be good.

“Ended up waking in a part of Dublin called Ferrytown. Some joker thought it

would be a blast to dump us ‘mainlanders’ all down by the dockside. We were all

over from Oxford. I guess the old English -Irish rivalry thing, and I got lumped in

with them seeing as I couldn’t utter two intelligent words being shitfaced at the

time so they pegged me as English too. Guilt by association. Anyway next day,

massive hangovers all round, freezing rain and …..no pants.” Scully tried to keep

a straight face as he pantomimed getting a chill up his spine.

“No pants? You were mugged and they took your pants? Mulder …”

“….And well er… we were duct taped to a lamp post. Hey it was no fun and

fucking freezing…It was like a Stephen King horror version of the ‘Commitments’

only with crappier weather and no music…what?”

Mulder gave her a baleful, ‘ I’ll get you for this’ expression as his partner started

to laugh that silly, open laugh she indulged herself in on the rare occasions that

she felt really happy. Something suddenly dissolved inside him… almost a

flashback, a sense of gestalt and he looked at her stupidly, thoughts going in a

million different directions.

It startled him to realize that that hadn’t happened in a very long time. His eyes

started to well up and he thought with alarm if he didn’t get a hold of his

emotions he might start crying right here in the middle of a bustling airport. He

felt a small warm hand slip into his. “ Mulder?”

He sniffed loudly and feigned a cough before he looked her in the eye again.

Feeling stupid and overwhelmed and not quite grasping all the reasons why, his

hand squeezed hers back and he forced a smile. This vacation would be a good

one for them both, he would make damn sure of it. Whatever she wanted to do,

or go and visit they would do it. This was her time more than his, after all they’d

been through and all she had suffered on a personal level lately, his heart still

bled like an open wound for all that. He felt this need to make it up to her, to be

with her and enjoy just being like any other loving couple for once. The thought

of Aunt Katherine’s remote cottage with a real peat fire and warm nights

snuggled up with his partner under an old eiderdown listening to the sea crashing

wildly on the shore was very appealing. It sounded very old fashioned and

romantic… Something he desperately wanted to give the woman he loved with all

his heart. A chance maybe to redefine and enhance their relationship.

“C’mon, I’m starving, lets try out the local food seeing as we have a bit of time

before your aunt arrives.”

O’Malley’s bar was a cheery place and predictably regaled with St Patrick’s Day

shamrocks, cut out leprechauns and Irish flags. A large plasma screen TV showed

some kind of news show frequently interrupted by rugby scores accompanied by

bouts of cheering enthusiasm, and adverts for Guinness. Scully was mesmerised

by the quaint charm of it all and even more amused when Mulder came back from

the bar with two Irish coffees to go with their shepherd’s pies. Scully tucked in

with gusto, secretly glad he didn’t get her a green Guinness. Mulder had made

several teasing speculative remarks about what odious ingredients or chemicals

went into it to get it that color and it was starting to make her go green, never

mind the brew.

Mulder was enjoying watching her eat. She just seemed to worry less about what

she ate abroad and it was good to see her enjoy real food as opposed to the limp

lettuce bunny diets and fads she usually indulged in back home. He got the

impression from what his partner and Maggie had told him about Katherine that

the old girl liked to cook and look after her guests. It would be just great to watch

Scully getting some more wholesome food inside her and he wasn’t exactly

immune to the joys of home cooked food either. Make a nice change from take

out Chinese or pizza. Blowing his nose he looked around the bar. It was fun and

comforting in atmosphere but he didn’t have the heart to tell Scully that

O’Malley’s was a big international franchise, like an upmarket McDonalds or

Starbucks and there was one of these in almost every airport in Europe.

The real Ireland lay just beyond the airport confines and he made a silent wish

for Katherine to appear very soon so they could go start their vacation and

exploration of this alluring country with all its history and mystical Gaelic charm.

He couldn’t wait to meet Scully’s aunt and see how much of his Scully was in the

older woman. From all accounts they were all made from the same feisty, strong

and wonderful stock he knew and loved; the apples never fell far from the tree no

matter where in the world the woman in his lover’s family hailed from. It was an

x file in itself… okay a small one, he mused.

No sign of her yet, though he knew in his bones he would recognize Katherine the

instant he laid eyes on her. Scully’s sapphire gaze caught him pondering and

damn; she had eaten all her lunch and still looked hungry. He gave her his best

feral grin as he got up from the table.

“They do a great Death by Chocolate in here Scully,”

“I could really do a good Death by Chocolate right now. Bring it on Mulder.”

******

Aunt Katherine didn’t disappoint. She greeted them both warmly and enveloped

them with a gentle hug. Mulder grinned like a fool much to Scully’s chagrin, over

his casual profiling of the kindly white haired woman in glasses, the quintessential

wax jacket and wellingtons. She may have been knocking on 70 but she was a

tough well built woman, with a sharp mind and she had Scully’s eyes. She’d have

been a looker back in the day. Still was.

“Fox, Dana…. So glad you could come visit an old woman. At long last we get to

meet. I’ve heard so much about you from Maggie.”

“Oh Dear…” Mulder chewed on his bottom lip.

“No, no dear, to be sure young man, it’s all good. She always enthuses on how

much you love and look after my niece. Welcome to Northern Ireland. Come…”

“Well Mulder I guess I don’t have to introduce you. “ Scully laughed taking his

hand as they followed her out towards her car.

“ Of Course not, MF. Luder right ?” The old woman threw over her shoulder with

a wicked twinkle in her eye.

“Close your mouth Mulder. “ Scully teased her partner as he stared after her.

They stowed their cases and bags in the back of the rustic old Austin, which

looked like it had one wheel in the scrap heap but Katherine shared none of their

scepticism about its ability to fire up. Which it did. It sounded like a dull roar and

for an awful moment Mulder thought it might take off vertically, but Scully’s aunt

smiled sagely, inviting them to climb in.

Co Antrim coast road near Ballycastle.

Two hours later.

Feeling the effects of jetlag they remained snuggled up together holding hands,

mostly quiet in the back of the car just drinking in the March sun and enjoying

the rich scenery as Katherine drove through winding verdant hills and black

basalt rocky terrain, capped in the distance by the mountains of Mourne which

gave way to a patchwork of fields, steep outcrops and sloping valleys down to the

wild rolling waves of the Atlantic ocean. The sea almost came up to meet them as

they dipped down one hill and then the next until finally, a solitary white

stonewashed farmhouse with a dark slate roof came into view overlooking the

white rollers of the ocean. Mulder felt Scully’s infectious excitement and heard

himself gasp at the natural beauty of the place and wound the windows down a

bit more so they could breathe in the fresh salty air. In the fields behind and

adjacent to the sprawling house, a variety of sheep dotted the green pastures

and slopes painting a tranquil landscape. The wind was mild and the sun

streaked across the wide bay like jewels on white horses. There didn’t seem to be

anything else around for miles.

“There she is, Black Rock Cottage. It’s not really a farm, more of a small holding,

but we get by. I like it here, it’s quiet…. Mostly,” Katherine gave them a lopsided

grin and wink which Mulder tucked away for future reference.

“It’s lovely. Have you lived here long? ”

“ Oh a few years to be sure…thanks, just about home now. There we are,” she

took a particularly fast flip over the animal grid at the gate which almost made

Scully loose her lunch and Mulder started to sneeze, then they pulled up outside

the pretty farmhouse with a sort of afterthought lurching splutter from the

engine, It shuddered to a stop making gravel fly in all directions, just missing a

couple of geese and chickens which clucked in panic and dove for cover.

“Here we are then,” Scully’s aunt grinned, seemingly unphazed. “..welcome to

my home, it was our dream home actually…mine and your uncle Ned’s…..”

Katherine looked out across to sea a moment, suddenly somewhere else. Then

she turned and smiled remembering her visitors. Mulder was heading for the back

of the car. “Leave the bags there in the boot dear, we can get them later. Lets

get inside, you must be tired the both you. Need to get the dinner on and some

tea in yous.”

“Boot?” Scully looked to Mulder for guidance.

“She means the trunk.” He whispered back, giving her ass a playful slap as she

walked alongside him.

“Ah okay. Stop that already.” But he just gave her one his best fake puppy dog

wounded looks.

*****

Once inside the house a large fat black Labrador ambled over and tried to taste

them all, pleased to see his mistress but also equally ecstatic about the two

visitors. Mulder crouched down and happily found himself surrounded in slobbery

doggy kisses. What a big kid, Scully thought. She knew Mulder would love getting

a dog of their own and they had toyed with idea a few times but with their

schedule and frequent trips out of town…..

“That’s Merlin. Fat, overfed little bugger isn’t he? Down boy, let’s not lick our

visitors to death. I’ll put the kettle on. Dana your poor man sounds like he needs

something hot inside him. Please make yourselves at home. My house is yours.

Loo is that way to the left,” She gestured wildly out into passageway that led to

what looked like a large conservatory. “Can’t miss it, it’s the one with ‘Oirish

Embassy’ on the door.” Mulder bit his lip to keep from coughing and snickering

at the same time. This was going to interesting.

“I already got something hot,” he leaned over and whispered to Scully who

retaliated by poking him in the ribs and mouthing ‘behave’ at him.

“What’s that?” Katherine asked, giving them a playful look over the rim of her

glasses.

Mulder tried his best to look innocent and suddenly found himself admiring the

old lady’s teapot collection on the dresser which was eclectic to say the least. A

Dragon candle and a little china alien sat next to each other on one shelf. The

alien wore a green trilby and appeared to be smoking a spliff. He almost gave

himself whiplash as he did a double take.

Scully blinked and grinned at her partner, after following where his eyes were

looking, her hand snaked around his back in delight and she gave him a squeeze,

watching as Katherine set three mugs aside and then put the kettle on the

already heated Aga.

“Everyone okay. Dana, Fox… ? Tea or Coffee……? Think I got some camomile or

peppermint somewhere…”

As if on cue Mulder started to cough and splutter and Katherine shooed them

both along the passageway into the bright spacious living room.

“Thank you so much. You have a lovely home. Really cosy,” They both

murmured, looking around at the surprisingly luxurious surroundings. This was a

lot bigger than what Scully imagined. She’d always thought her aunt had a

modest lifestyle but this house was gorgeous and yet kept its country cosiness.

Perhaps she was better off than she’d thought.

Mulder and Scully tired and jetlagged from their flight took full advantage of the

stuffed cottage couch in the oak beamed living room with the massive stone fire

place. The soft cushions seemed to swallow them up like big marshmallows as

they sank back into them with a grateful sigh. Mulder sneezed again and his eyes

started to water. He gave Scully an apologetic look for being ill on their vacation.

She smiled back and kissed his forehead.

She was starting to get worried about her partner as he was growing increasingly

grey looking and exhausted. His eyes were closed as she sat next to him but she

knew he wasn’t asleep.

“Sorry Scully.”

“For what?”

“Getting…” sneeze …. “sick.” Mulder sighed as his lover smoothed the fever damp

hair from his eyes, he knew she was using it as an excuse to feel his forehead

and leaned into her touch. If she kept stroking his head like that he’d drift off to

sleep in no time.

“It’s not your fault Mulder. Although I think from the heat you are giving off right

now this might be flu, not a cold. I could fry an egg on your forehead.”

“Yeah, just my luck. Hey keep stroking won’t you G woman? Feels good.” He

sighed heavily, more relaxed now.

Aunt Katherine breezed in with a tinkering tray of tea and cakes, clearly delighted

to have someone to dote on no matter how many germs they were giving off.

Mulder cocked one eye open and spotted the chocolate cake. Homemade if he

wasn’t mistaken. Rousing himself, he sat up to inspect it further. Every part of

him screamed in protest, especially his back. He felt wiped but didn’t want to

seem rude as to fall asleep just after they arrived.

As he took his mug, he watched curiously as his host poured a clear liquid into

his tea. He looked up into Katherine’s mischievous gaze.

“This will help kill the germs and make all those nasty aches and pains go away.

Bloody airplanes tsk… tin cans full of nasty germs. “

“Umm, maybe but I think I caught this nasty at work. Our boss was lurking

behind a manly sized box of tissues and bottle of Cherry Nyquil all week… What’s

that?”

“Something strong… Irish.”

“ Unless I’m mistaken that’s the wrong color for whisky.”

“No this is better. Poitin. I make it myself. For all that ails ya.”

“You have a still? “ Mulder chuckled with delight as he lifted the mug to his lips,

blowing on it while Scully just looked bemused. The old woman grinned

knowingly but then looked slightly worried as her brain slipped into gear. “ Ahh I

forgot … you work for that FBI. Ooopse..” She pondered, muttering something

that sounded rude and Gaelic. “ Aw you wouldn’t be slapping the cuffs on an old

woman now would ya?”

To Mulder’s chagrin she offered him her wrists in supplication, eyes full of

apprehension. He laughed, and sipped gingerly at his tea, touching her hand

with his own to reassure.

The stuff had a real kick to it and he sipped more of it and felt better as it went

down. It was instant relief on his throat and down into his chest and he felt his

eyes water and nose clear for the first time that day.

“No no.. its okay… , we left our guns and cuffs back at home. Your er secret is

safe with us.” He indicated to the bottle for her to add a touch more and

Katherine tipped a little in. “Though we may have to arrest you if you say there’s

no more of that cake.”

“Would that not be a bribe now agent Mulder?”

Scully’s eyebrows rose but she grinned, thinking how wonderful and endearing

her aunt was in the flesh despite her predilection for illegal hobbies. She looked

forward to discovering more about her in the next few days and she knew; by the

entranced gaze on Mulder’s sleepy face that he adored her already. He even let

her call him ‘Fox’.

“No Tylenol for you Mulder, I don’t want to have to scrape you off the ceiling

later. “ She picked up the bottle of Poitin and sniffed it, recoiling when the potent

liquor stung her nasal passages. “ Well , I think from the strength of this stuff it

will have any bugs running for the hills in short order. Wooh.”

“Try some Scully…when in Ireland..” Mulder urged. For all of two seconds Scully’s

features creased as if see-sawing with some inner conflict.

“Umm, I guess we are far enough from the long fingers of the law. Maybe …” To

Mulder’s surprise and her aunt’s obvious delight she took a swig, then another

just to make sure. Her eyes went a curious shade of blue and widened until her

mouth formed a surprised ‘oh’ as the warmth spread through her. Mulder

watched in awe, shoving a large hunk of cake in his mouth. “..That was great…”

Came the squeak from her throat.

“ Good craic eh, winters are hard up here on the coast,” Katherine explained as

she put the cap back on the bottle. “ It’s a great place, paradise in the summer…

but aye, the winters are something else. You need a pioneer spirit to manage up

here and well…. my bones are not what they used to be. This helps a lot, thaws

out the marrow a treat. More tea? ”

Katherine, cleared away the last of the plates and mugs and vanished into the

kitchen. A moment or two later she returned and went through the ritual that

brought the fire to life, putting on plenty of wood and peat blocks to last the

night. The room upstairs hadn’t been used in a while. Not since…

She lingered a moment to watch the flames flicker over the room, off the many

crystals adorning her mantelpiece and more especially the faces of her sleepy

visitors making her lips turn up in a smile. It was late afternoon but bless, the trip

must have exhausted them, and Dana’s young man not being well either. Only

sound in the room was the grandfather clock’s dull ticking and Fox’s wheezing,

which seemed to be worse now then when they’d first arrived. She vowed to look

through her pantry and see what she could find to ease him.

Dana had mentioned to her in passing when they were in the kitchen that when

poor Fox got a cold now it almost always went to his chest. It bothered her a lot,

although her niece wouldn’t admit it but you could read it in her eyes as clear as

day. Maggie had mentioned the dark haired handsome man frequently in their

chats and in that same caring simpatico that one might their own child. Talked

about how much he loved her daughter and how his job always seemed to render

him injured and hospitalised a lot. Probably kept her niece’s doctoring skills sharp

and true. In just a few hours Katherine could see why he had captured the hearts

of both mother and daughter and was well on his way to snagging hers. Those

dark eyelashes like smudged crescents on his cheeks were to die for…

She sighed and picked up the tray with Merlin at her heels on the way to the

kitchen.

She’d leave them be for now and go make dinner. Something warming and

delicious. No takeout up here in the wilds, she thought with amusement. These

young professional couples today, too busy to eat properly and all that. She’d

soon sort them out with some decent home cooked food.

Scully wasn’t sure what woke her up, whether it was the worsening noises from

Mulder’s chest or that odd dream she had about a crack in the earth opening up

and swallowing her whole. A scream or loud boom seemed to punctuate things at

one point and she jerked forward with a start, her shoeless feet making contact

with soft carpet bringing her back to the present. Where was she? …oh yes.

Ireland, her aunt’s cottage with its many eccentricities and candles. Dream

catchers and crystals catching the sun, making dancing prisms on the stucco

walls. If it had just been a dream why were her ears still ringing? Jetlag her mind

supplied, just jetlag and excitement of the last day, weeks even. Probably the

prolonged flight that she wasn’t used to and that little pocket of worry about her

partner that was never far from the surface, but there he was, safe right beside

her on the sofa.

Oh she knew it was silly to fuss and fret over the fact he had a cold but each

year, now he was getting older and the accumulative effects of more and more

injuries meant that before when he would shrug it all off with just a sniffle and a

funny throat for a day or so, now she had to keep a close eye on him when it

went to his chest, since he’d had that last bout of pneumonia the doctor in her,

and the lover felt on constant tender hooks. She rubbed her stiffened arms and

touched where he’d drooled on her, then peered carefully at his flushed cheeks.

She couldn’t help it when her hand reached out to touch his brow anymore than

she could stop herself breathing. He was burning up, heat radiating out of him

like a pyre into the air. It was when she bent over him to undo his shirt a little

more that she saw it. A little black furry face peered out from under his right arm.

Scully couldn’t help but smile. She’d often told him he had animal magnetism and

this just proved it.

“You’re okay with cats aren’t you Dana? Forgot to ask your Ma. Not allergic or

anything?” Scully turned on hearing her aunt’s voice and smiled, shaking her

head. The old lady put down another tray of steaming tea and best china. Tea

seemed a panacea for everything, just like her Mom used to say but there the

similarity between her and her aunt ended, except for perhaps the eyes.

“I’m fine with cats; I love all animals, so does Mulder. No allergies… we’re fine

thanks.” She got up to help her with the tray and cutting the cake.

“That’s good then. Seamus was always a man’s cat.” She gestured to Mulder’s

sleeping form with fondness as she set the small table with the tray. “Ned found

him in a quarry as a small kitten and brought him home. They were inseparable

….” Scully watched her aunt’s eyes cloud slightly until they resembled the grey

sky outside, but only for a few beats. “I think he misses him. The scent of a man

and the way he would pet him…. Looks like he’s found a new friend there.” Her

aunt’s eyes lingered out at the sea landscape through the windows, momentarily

lost in thought. Eyes fixed on an imaginary spot in her memory only her aunt

could see. Scully turned away and let her have her privacy. Seamus opened one

languid green eye and blinked at her watching her intently, when Mulder started

coughing.

The cat in question, sensing his warm sleeping spot might move at any minute

stretched his claws across his human cushion’s chest, jumped down and

shimmied around Scully’s legs before mewling and bolting off in the direction of

the kitchen where gorgeous smells were emanating.

Mulder stirred and didn’t wake but Scully, the doctor never far from the surface

went to check on him, placing her fingers gently on his wrist, observing how his

pulse jumped about in his throat. Oh Mulder.

“He should be in bed for sure. Looks done in. You look after that man… love like

that is a precious thing. Redwood among sprouts, think I heard the expression

once.”

“Yes, yes he is …” Scully agreed, smiling at the old woman’s expression, but her

touch never leaving Mulder wrist, wondering where she had heard that before

too.

“Aye, I put you in the big room. There’s an open hearth up there too so you will

be nice and warm. Mild for March I know but nights can be glacial.”

“I hope we’re not putting you out of your bed.”

“Eh, No, it’s a big house but since I have to be up at the crack of dawn to tend to

the animals and birds I don’t want to disturb you. I sleep down here mostly. I

also snore enough to wake the dead. I wouldn’t wish that on me worst enemy.

Like sucking porridge through a straw, it is. ” Katharine gave her a knowing wink

on her way back to the kitchen. Scully brushed Mulder’s hand with her own

before standing to follow her.

“Thanks. Oh my manners, can I help, do you need me to do anything in the

kitchen?”

“Eh, no dear. Got it covered.”

Once in the kitchen Scully reached into her pants pocket and took out her cell

phone. “I just looked at the time; I better call my mom and let her know we got

here in once piece. I never meant to sleep that long. All that heat pouring off

Mulder made me doze off. ” She frowned when it came up ‘no signal’. She put it

away again.

“Oh I’m sorry Dana,” Katharine turned to her while she stirred something on the

stove. “ I forgot to mention, you can’t get a cell phone to work for love nor

money up here. The house phone too is a hit or miss if it has a tantrum and won’t

work. One of the joys of living in the sticks. But..” she grinned as she waved her

cooking spoon in the air suddenly, “ We have the internet as you know. A

godsend here and keeps an old woman company when the nights are dark and

lonely. Why not email your Ma and let her know you’ve arrived. I’ll just go fire up

the lappy for ya. I’ll be in the study, you stir? “ She handed her niece the spoon

and wiped her hands down her apron.

“Thanks I will.” Scully took over the cooking duty and startled a little when she

heard someone behind her.

Mulder came yawning into the kitchen as Katherine vanished into another room

somewhere. Arms stretched above his head, he let his back and sore muscles

reach some semblance or normality, his spine noisily clicking into place before

yawning again. Scully thought he looked like hell, all bleary eyed and red nosed.

He grinned goofily at her. She loved him all the more then because he looked so

cute with a tuft of hair sticking up like a Peruvian guinea pig and rucked up socks

working their way off his feet. She pushed aside the urge to wet her fingers and

tamp his hair back down. Instead he slipped two warm arms around her waist as

she continued stirring the soup, rocking against her and nuzzling her neck with

almost day old stubble. She allowed her body to lean back into him, the furnace

like heat he was giving off felt good as it seeped through her skin and felt a pang

of guilt about that. She was worried still but at least he was up and about. The

proverbial walking wounded.

“Hey.”

“Hey, yourself, good sleep? You okay?”

“Aha. Sorta. Whatcha cooking me woman?”

“Mulder….. if you value your testicles…..speaking of which, is that your cell phone

or are you happy to see me?”

“Umm, guess.” Hot fingers sought the edge of her shirt and he found skin,

tickling her midriff just barely. She almost dropped the spoon.

He loved it when she squirmed.

“You’re happy to see me or that’s not your cell phone? ….Which doesn’t work

here by the way. Katherine’s just setting up her laptop so I can email mom and

let her know we got here intact. You know how she worries… especially at the

moment.” Mulder squeezed her shoulder softly and they decided it was time to

check in.

“ Ack….féin truailleathóir ,” Katherine muttered none too quietly while

viewing a website on the current US elections. Shaking her head, she clicked

on a window and Bush’s grinning countenance vanished from the screen to be

replaced by a desktop image that made Mulder’s jaw drop and Scully start to

snicker.

“ What the… Scully, please tell me that’s a figment of my fevered imagination?”

“What?”

“Um…” Mulder pointed at the screen.

“ Ahh …” Scully’s aunt’s turned to them and her face broke out in a grin that

made Mulder think of that song, ‘When Irish eyes are smiling’ . “you mean

Melvin, my E-pal? Such a lovely man, I subscribed to his Lone Gunmen

publication a while back. We got chatting, a few emails back and forth don’t ya

know and then… one things lead to another and….well we… er have a guilty

pleasure.” She intoned like she was divulging a never to be heard secret.

“Oooh,” Mulder’s hand flew to his stomach, making a noise as if in pain while his

partner’s eyes blew up like saucers.

“We play Battleships on msn messenger on Wednesday nights. Keeps a lonely

old gal company he does a treat. Very intelligent, man, so charming and

knowledgeable too. A real gentleman. He also told me about a T2 connection for

faster surfing. Got one installed last winter. Just so when the phones go out in the

gales out we get up here we still have the World Wide Web.” The old woman

enthused.

Did she really sigh at the end of that speech?

Scully stifled a giggle against her partner’s shoulder. It was surely the most goofy

and somewhat sleazy snap she had ever seen of Mulder’s height challenged

buddy, and the notion that he knew her aunt was just too funny on so many

levels. She was willing to bet they even swapped cheese steak recipes or Fro’s

asbestos chilli. She wasn’t sure at this stage whether Mulder would faint with

shock or break out into hysterics. He stood there open mouthed, chest heaving

slightly, eyes watering with the urge not to cough and his expression a curious

mix of stupefaction and mirth.

“Battleships? …..Wednesdays nights?”

Katherine gave him a coy shrug. “Aye.”

“Katherine… I think that as a serving FBI officer, it would be a grave dereliction of

my sworn duties for me not to warn you about the dangers of befriending strange

men on the internet.”

“And they don’t come much stranger than that one”, Scully quipped under her

breath as she stared at the grinning image of Frohike, giving his teeth some fresh

air, and that all too familiar leer. It was just too much. But it was when Mulder

whispered in her ear that his geeky friend was the original poster boy for

‘Leprechaun Life’ and beat Tom Cruise to the punch, that her hand flew to her

face as she suddenly lost all composure.

Katherine gave a curious glance first to Scully who was quite red in the cheeks

and beside herself, then to Mulder’s dead pan expression which threatened to

buckle any moment.

“Oh ya know him then?”

****

After dinner…

“You okay Mulder? “ Scully asked after her partner’s prolonged bout of coughing

after their meal, a big hearty stew with lamb and potatoes.

“Yeah… just tired but if I go to bed now I’ll keep you awake with my snuffling and

tossing and turning and I won’t sleep. Might get some fresh air before I turn in.

Katherine made some more tea and Scully watched her tip some more poitin into

Mulder’s mug leaving the bottle on the table. Anywhere else this would have

seemed so odd, the thought of illegal alcohol so openly displayed but here in this

wild corner of Northern Ireland amidst the warm charm and the company of her

eccentric, very, she corrected herself, relative, it all seemed so relaxed and

natural. She guessed Melissa had to get her new agey-ness from somewhere. She

wondered if her sister had ever met her aunt. She had been a free spirit and

she’d certainly travelled enough. Perhaps she could bring herself to ask…. In

later years when Melissa had been out of touch with family, little snatches of her

were very precious and Scully thought wistfully that it would be wonderful to find

a few tucked away here on the Irish coast she hadn’t yet discovered. Later.

Right now she was too concerned about Mulder; his cough seemed to worsen as

the hours ticked by. He was wheezing most of the time now. Good job she’d

packed her Mulder kit, she figured any hospital was probably some way from here

should the need arise. She’d grabbed some extra supplies at the airport drugstore

when they’d landed…just in case. Looked like it was a good call.

Her sick partner was almost dead on his feet but was currently deep in a study of

Katherine’s huge bookshelf. Literally a whole wall devoted to reading matter;

hardbacks, leather-bound rarities, everything and anything.

Scully could imagine him mentally cataloguing each book as he muttered the

titles to himself in his steel trap profiler mind. She loved watching him like this,

he was mesmerising at times. Like when they made love, every thought, every

facial expression conveyed so much about his soul. A million different nuances

crossed his features, she normally only got to see this intensity when he was

working a crime scene but tonight this was pure joy instead of the deep sorrow

she often saw sifting across his eyes. She sighed, long ago she realised that he

entranced her like no other person on earth. For the first time in a long time he

seemed happy too.

Tolkien, Von Daniken, Hawking, John Mack, Pratchett, MF LUDER, that last one

made his smile reach his eyes. Each new title he fingered or discovery, made

him evaluate and re-evaluate his wonderful host until this enigma that was

Katherine left an indelible mark on his heart. Mulder was always surprised and a

little startled when this happened as it was rare and unexpected, it gave him

hope.

It also made him curious.

What was Katherine doing up here out of the way in such a desolate spot? Scully

had mentioned that her aunt had originally come from Dublin but her uncle was

from the north. Sure it was beautiful but also lonely for an old woman all on her

own. She seemed tied to the place but something he couldn’t quite put his finger

on, like an invisible thread was holding her to this mystic land. If her literary

collection was a clue he felt a kindred spirit. So far, only he’d spotted the Bajoran

earring that dangled from the older lady’s left ear. The Vulcan salute he’d given

her by way of acknowledgement made Katherine beam from ear to ear and hug

him. He could just imagine the eye roll Scully would have made had she not been

in the bathroom at the time.

But what about Ned? His partner hadn’t been able to remember how Ned had

died, no one in her family had ever mentioned any details. It was like some

unspoken mystery, as if he’d vanished off the face of the earth…. like ….like Sam.

No he wasn’t going down that road. …… For once and it shocked even him, which

he was trying to avoid the paranormal….

He was bursting to ask questions but he had to remember this wasn’t one of his X

files investigations, this was Scully’s aunt and he had detected the tell tale signs

of some underlying heartbreak or melancholy about her that went deeper and

further back than the loss of her husband. Something he ultimately identified with

because of his own past. Empathic strands that streaked out into the ether and

latched on to other damaged souls like his as if magnetised. Like a quickening, a

wire in the blood…..

This lady was so motherly, like she lived to care for people…. Like his Scully,

came the little voice in his head.

Did they have kids? There was no mention save for the few mementos dotted

here and there around this house. A couple of things on the mantle in pride of

place that had the look of being crafted by a child’s hand. His mother had done

the same when his sister…at least until she could no longer bear to look at them,

or the things he’d made her.

He came back to the dining table and took a sip of his tea, forcing himself to try

and relax. Letting the warm potent brew ease down his throat and spread warm

fingers into his chest. Closing his eyes for a few seconds he took a deep breath

and looked up to find the object of his ruminations, and his lover gazing at him

with twin looks of concern.

“I’m okay really… the pair of you..,” he let out a small laugh and saluted them

both with his tea mug. Then he doubled over with a sudden attack of coughing

dropping the mug to the floor. Scully was at his side in an instant and guiding him

over to the couch where he slumped back against the cushions. “Okay. Perhaps

…perhaps I’ve overdone things with this cold.” His voice was a painful squeak

over his lips when it tumbled out.

“ Oh you think Mulder? That’s no cold. I want you in bed very soon.”

“Ooh Agent Scully, eager much. Going to undress me as well eh? Wanna kiss my

Blarney stone?” He whispered the last part all hot and breathy against the shell

of her ear.

“Mulder….” Exasperated, Scully flashed a look in her aunt’s direction only to meet

the older woman’s amused wink and dammit if she didn’t raise her eyebrow in

just the same way as his partner. Out gunned and outnumbered, Mulder thought

on the edge of another rib shattering cough.

Katherine chuckled and walked over to the mantle where she lit several long

white candles, an incense stick, and then carefully took a moment to select and

pick something up.

“Here Fox,” Mulder gave her a curious look as she opened her hand and pressed

the crystalline object into his palm. “Amber; good for the breathing. Just hold it

and let its energy warm you.”

He held it to his chest and unfurled his hand looking at the gold facet, turning it

over and rubbing his thumb down the hard edge. It felt tingly. His mind recalled

the dangling crystal held over Scully’s lifeless body by her older sister Melissa

almost a lifetime ago and felt a frisson of pain in the area of his heart. Still raw

after all these years.

The dog came whimpering into the living room about the same time the house

lights flickered, they settled and then stayed on. Merlin plonked himself down at

Mulder’s feet, a doleful look in his eyes.

“Wind’s picking up again. Going to be a foul night.” Katherine muttered, picking

up the broken mug and patting the Labrador on the head.

After a moment or two, whether it was the effects of the amber nugget spreading

tendrils of earth energy into his lungs or not, he was slowly starting to regain his

breath now and it evened out. Scully looked on, damp around the eyes with

unspoken apology, fingers on the pulse in his wrist with her usual trademark ‘ten

seconds and I call the paramedics’ stalker stance at his side.

Mulder wanted to kiss her stupid because he was ruining their trip but thought his

lungs might rebel again. Seamus suddenly made a surprise appearance and leapt

up on the sofa with a noisy greeting that sounded like a finger dragged down a

balloon, making them all jump. Green eyes blinked giving the human the once

over before camping down in his new male friend’s comfortable lap, purring away

like a motorbike. Mulder moved one empty hand over to stroke him, kneading his

fingers in the soft fur. Unbidden, he thought about stroking Scully…’oopse better

not go down that road either’…..the cats claws were digging in somewhere

delicate…..’um later’ he pondered. “Feeling better now.”

“You sure you’re not allergic to cats Fox?”

“No not at all. I just don’t understand it. Maybe I’m not used to the damp.”

“But it’s damp in DC Mulder.” Scully countered.

“Well maybe Irish damp is different…I dunno… I’ll be okay but we are going to do

all we said we’d do on this trip, Giant’s causeway, Bush mills, Dunluce castle and

our 7th President’s ancestral home…all of that. I’m ok. Really. Scully, life isn’t

about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

“Dancing in the rain will definitely put you in the hospital.” Sometimes he was

infuriating enough to chip her teeth … but then he gave her that puppy dog, doe

eyed look and she just melted. Reaching over she pushed a lock of damp hair out

of his eyes and he pressed a kiss to her fingers as they lay against his cheek.

He wished he had a hand to free to touch her with right then but he was addicted

to the cat’s purring vibration and it was soothing against his chest, as was the

now blood hot crystal. He was so exhausted and sitting very still and chilling

seemed like a good idea.

Scully leaned forward as if she had heard his thoughts and kissed his cheek. “This

could turn into pneumonia if we’re not careful …I don’t like this. The last time…”

“The last time it was different circumstances.. I got better….you’re a doctor, and

I’ll happily let you play doctor on me, you know you really get off on that,” He

quipped with a wicked glint in his eye. “ but I am not going be cooped up indoors

the whole time over the next few weeks either. We came all this way to Ireland

and I want to see it all with you, together. I’ll even wear an extra pair of

bootlaces if it will make you happy.. or borrow one of your aunt’s Arran sweaters

but I am not going be an invalid hanging about like a spare wiener at a bar

mitzvah.”

Katherine cleared her throat, hands on her hips, doing a pretty decent impression

of Maggie Scully. “Men! You silly bugger. Your uncle Ned used to be that mulish

too. Remember that for future reference Dana, a kick up the arse does wonders.”

Scully gave her a kilowatt smile at that notion. “Trouble is he’d like that too

much, especially if I wore my six inch heels.”

“ Oohh, You know me so well G –woman.” He flashed his teeth at her. Just as

Mulder finished talking the lights flickered and went out completely leaving their

faces shimmering in candlelight. Mulder’s eyes shot skyward. Merlin whimpered

by his feet as an odd low rumbling noise from outside could almost be felt

through the floorboards and clattered against the roof tiles which scared the cat.

It suddenly shot off of the warm nest that was Mulder’s lap. “Woah what was

that?” He yelped, nursing his chest where the cat had stabbed him with her

claws as she fled.

“ Ufasach….darn it,” Katherine, swore loudly as they all listened open mouthed to

what sounded like a sonic boom exploding over the house. The old lady got up

and shrugged into her heavy coat. “I’ll have to go get the generator started.”

“Something tells me that may be a few years too late to be Concorde cruising

over.” Mulder hauled himself to his feet, his partner with her arm around his

back as extra support. “I’ll come out with you.”

“No, no, you’ll catch your death, I’ll manage, been doing it for years. You sit

relax, keep warm.”

“Katherine, if you think I’m letting you go by yourself out there after that…..”

Mulder was adamant and he saw the old lady mulling it over for all of ten seconds

before she finally caved.

“Ah, macho pride. I’ll play. This time. Okay, but wrap up well… its freezing and

you’re already sick.”

“Mulder, I’m coming too,” Scully insisted, her eyes flashed him a look he knew

too well. One that brooked no argument. What worried her most then was that

not only was her lover’s spooky radar going off, but her’s had kicked in too.

Mulder was right. No way were they letting her aunt go out there alone.

“Do you have any idea what that was Katherine?” Mulder ventured, donning the

thick blue parka, the older lady handed him in the hall. “..because I don’t know

about you but with some of the stuff I’ve seen.., what Scully’s seen, that scores a

ten on my weird-shitometer.”

“Let’s just say that up here… you have to expect the unexpected. Here…” She

picked up two torches and handed him one. Scully did her coat up and snagged

the other one.

“I thought the house was going to crack in two. Are we on an earthquake fault

here?…. I mean the land formations and stuff by the causeway must have been

forged from tectonic disturbance at some point in history. I know there was an

earthquake in England recently … but wasn’t sure about this area.”

“No seismic activity in Antrim that I know of and I’ve been here a good few years

now, and lived in Derry and Belfast during the troubles long enough to know that

this isn’t a bomb, too well acquainted with those….but this coast,… there have

always been …well,” Katherine’s mind searched for an appropriate phrase as she

opened the back door to the wind swept courtyard. “folklore, odd lights in the

sky, strange cries from the beaches. You know the legend of Fionn mac

Cumhail?” He nodded as her words were almost snatched away as a gust wind

whirled around their heads. The air was electric, it smelled of ozone and

something Mulder couldn’t quite put his finger on. Whatever it was, the almost

fetid damp was seeping down into his chest and he could feel the air being

squeezed tight against his ribs. Was that a scream in his mind or the wind? It

was like it was mocking him, laughing at his expense. It felt…odd, making the

hair stand up on his neck.

They staggered in the buffeting wind as they all hurried across the courtyard to

one of the barns that housed the generator. Mulder sandwiched in between Scully

on one side and her aunt on the other, holding them both for dear life lest they

blow away. There was some light from the full moon but their torchlight raked

the cobbled pathway and when he flicked it up a touch he just made out a faint

green haze above the far cliff top about three miles away up the gully and what

looked like an electrical storm dying out to sea. Weird Lightning? It looked so

eerie and after all that noise he half expected to see aliens or a UFO hovering

over the bay.

“Mulder…you okay,” came his partner’s voice through the gloom.

“Yeah..” Mulder found his breath and shone the torch trying to locate the door

handle. After finding it stuck fast he managed to shoulder it open for them and

they all blustered inside. Momentarily rendered breathless by the blasts of wind

all round them, they stood still for a moment to catch their breath listening to the

wind making an unearthly evil sound like a dying creature circling all around the

barn. Almost like it had stalked them from the house over here. “The legend

about the Giant’s causeway and how it was forged is well documented. I had to

do a paper on it in college. Took a fill in class for mythology.”

“Really? Is that the giant that supposedly created the causeway by hurling rocks

at another giant in Scotland?” Scully asked, somewhat shivering in the cold as

she watched her partner get all manly with the generator.

“Yeah Scully, that’s him.” Mulder worked on the generator as he reached into his

eidetic memory for the story. “As the legend goes an Irish Giant (read alien

bounty hunter) lived on an Antrim headland and one day when going about his

daily business a Scottish Giant named Fingal began to shout insults, hurl abuse

and flip him the bird from across the channel. Quite close to here actually. Angry

Dude Finn lifted a clod of earth and threw it at the giant as a challenge, the earth

landed in the sea.

Fingal pitched a rock thrown back at Finn and shouted that Finn was lucky that he

wasn’t a strong swimmer or he would have made sure he could never fight again

or father future generations.

Well, Finn was kinda pissed off and began lifting huge clumps of earth from the

shore, throwing them so as to make a pathway for the Scottish giant to mosey on

over in person and open up a can of whup ass. However, ….however, by the time

he finished doing an extreme make over coastal edition on the crossing he hadn’t

slept for a week and so instead devised a cunning plan to fool the Scot, and

remembered not to bend down anywhere near Michael Moloney. ”

“What? ……More Mulder more!” Scully waggled the torch at him unable to hide

her laughter. Mulder grabbed it from her and stuck it under his chin making a

creepy caricature of himself. He pulled a silly face and went cross-eyed then took

a deep breath as he turned his attention back to his work and the story.

“I’m getting to that…” he grunted and he tried to force the spanner under the bolt

to free it on the generator side panel but it just wouldn’t budge. He feared it was

rusted up, probably from the perpetually damp air.

“Sooo, Finn disguised himself as Fro… I mean a baby in a cot and when his

adversary came to face him, Finn’s wife told the Giant that Finn was away at the

Consortium karaoke marathon with CGB but showed him his son sleeping in the

cradle with a big green pacifier in its mouth. The Scottish giant became

apprehensive, for if the son was so huge,…. cast that dirty thought from your

mind Scully, ..what size would the father be?

In his haste to escape, Fingal sped back along the causeway Finn had built,

tearing it up and farting as he went. He is said to have fled to a cave on Staffa

which is to this day named ‘Fingal’s Cave’ where he stayed forever , discovered

Ratboy hiding out there…and had great baby back rat rib barbecues and later

moved into a disused warehouse with two ditzy guy pals in Anacostia. Ughhhhh

ow….!”

“ You can be so cruel Mulder… but funny all the same, especially the ‘Michael

Moloney’ part. I swear though, the next time I see the guys … I’m going to get

them to spike your cheese steaks with jalapeños.”

“ Ughh, okay then… think Kersh and Skinman duking out their Mojo either side of

the Potomac with big manly bollards.” He smirked into her flashlight beam,

waggling his eyebrows, despite how tired he was.

“ Somehow that’s worse…..”

“How you doing Fox?” Katherine coughed lightly, enjoying the banter, chuckling

to herself… but feeling awkward that Fox was doing himself in while out here in

the cold when it should be her job. Why it wasn’t working she had no idea. It

normally fired up right away.

“Err it seems to be stuck,” he grunted, trying hard not to cough up a lung. “either

that or the bee pollen Scully made me try the other day robbed me of my Mojo.”

Turning to grin at her while he kicked viciously at the start handle of stubborn

prehistoric contraption.

“Mulder I have better, more inventive ways to make you lose your Mojo. Keep

that up and no Cherry Nyquil max strength night nurse for you.”

“ Oooh, hey ‘Pervy is sexy’ Scully.” This time Katherine laughed loudly and rolled

her eyes.

Another loud crack overhead and the generator shook to life in a hail of sparks

and Mulder who had still been tinkering with it, went flying, and landed in a heap

a few feet away.

“Mulder!”

“Aw Fox…Fox,”

Shocked, Scully and Katherine flew to his side. He wasn’t moving and his eyes

were shut. Scully felt his neck for a pulse. Sure enough it was there fluttering

erratically beneath her fingers and she breathed a sigh of relief, echoed by her

aunt who was rubbing Mulder’s wrist the other side of him.

Scully’s hands were a flurry of activity as she checked him all over. Feeling the

back of his head her fingers touched a knot there. It was then that he groaned

and opened one eye, peering at her. The generator purred away in the

background punctuated by creaking wood as the wind blew against the barn. He

gave her a pained lopsided grin. “Shaken but not stirred agent Scully,” he

quipped groggily.

“Mulder, thank God, you gave me such a fright.”

Coughing he tried to sit up, gingerly reaching behind his head.

“It worked, hey, I surprise myself sometimes. Woah.. that was some rush.”

“You hit your head, steady now. Take it slowly love.” Scully helped him to sit

upright, shaking a little with shock or he was just cold, she wasn’t sure which but

she knew either wasn’t good. He needed to rest and that was long overdue. “I

think this is enough fun for one night Mulder. Let’s get you back to the house.”

“So you can have your way with me?”

“You wish.”

Katherine who was looking sadly at the state of her niece’s poor partner tried to

shake off her deepening guilt and gave Fox a hand to get him up on his feet.

Every muscle in Mulder’s body shrieked in protest so much he thought he might

throw up any second. It was a slow cold journey back to the house, poor Mulder

could hardly move.

******

The Aga in the kitchen gave a welcome blast of hot air as they trouped in, Scully

and her aunt flanked the still shaken Mulder.

“Off to bed with ya young man, you earned your rest. Mind how you go now. I’ll

make you some special cocoa,” she winked. He managed a small smile but was

floundering and half asleep. His head and chest felt like hell.

“Believe me Katherine, the way I’m feeling right now you’ll get no argument from

me. Good night.”

“Goodnight Fox. I hope you sleep well.”

Mulder walked slowly up the stairs to their bedroom, wet cold and coughing up a

storm. He was a bit wobbly from his tribulations and being blasted across the

barn but he made it to the top with a grunt, Scully behind him, her hand

supporting his back as he went.

“You okay Mulder? That was a nasty crack on the head. Maybe you need to go to

the hospital.” Scully eased her partner down onto the bed and fluffed up the

pillows for him. He sank back into them carefully with a sigh.

“Scully we are a little too far out here for that to be practical. I’ll be fine as long

as I get some sleep and some of that Cherry flu crap you’re hiding in your case.

You checked my eyes and they’re okay. You can check them again later if you

like. I’m just gonna lay on this obscenely comfortable bed and crash.” With that

he sighed and closed his eyes. Little coughs making his chest rise as he

attempted to get into a more comfortable position.

“You’re not going to get out of those damp clothes first?” Scully had fished the

Cherry Nyquil out of her luggage and placed it on the bedside table.

Mulder opened one eye and peered at her. “You wanna undress me, Agent

Scully?” He leered ,which she returned with a seductive look of her own.

Back in the kitchen

“He’s asleep finally.” Scully sipped at her mug of steaming cocoa as she stood

warming herself by the Aga. Her aunt sat at the big oak kitchen table, glasses

atop her nose, leafing through a few paranormal magazines. “I’m really worried

about his cough though, his chest sounds awful. I’m scared the chilling and the

shock he got in the barn tonight will make it worse. At least he doesn’t have a

concussion.” Katherine put down her reading glasses and peered up at her niece.

“We’ll keep a close eye on him. Anything serious they might have to airlift him

from here. Couple of small Casualty…sorry ER depts to you, in Ballycastle, but

between the pair of us and that mini drug store you brought with you we should

manage. Nice shower?” Scully nodded and sat opposite her aunt at the table

wrapped in a fluffy dressing gown and hair damp from the shower.

“He fell on his feet when you came into his life, Dana…that’s for sure. You really

look after that lovely man. I sense some dark unhappy vibes about him though,

it’s in his eyes. Such sadness behind all the laughter, a visionary, a seeker of

truth, never gives up on miracles. And you love him with everything you have

too… am I right?”

“Oh Yes, with all my heart, he’s my soul mate, everything I ever wanted in

life…and he’s such a caring passionate man. A guy that literally gone to the ends

of the earth for me. Mulder is everything I could ever want. I couldn’t live without

him. He’s been through some rough times…. unhappy childhood and the loss of

his sister, Samantha…” She stopped there, unsure how much to tell her

Katherine about Mulder’s unhappy past and all the hell they had gone through

these last few years especially. But when she looked into her aunt’s eyes she saw

only deep understanding as if she had read through her thoughts. ‘She’s a wise

old duck’… her mother’s own words came back to her.

“And I bet he couldn’t last a day without you either, Dana. I see that in his eyes

and heart, which he wears on his sleeve when he gazes at you, if you hadn’t

noticed it. He’s a catch that’s for certain. My Ned was like that, everything to me.

He’s been gone a while now….” The old woman looked off sadly into space again

for a few seconds before turning back her younger companion, a small smile

nestling at the edge of her lips. “We won the Irish lotto one year ya know. Back in

the nineties.”

“You did? Wow. That’s great. A lot?…. Oh sorry I shouldn’t ask.” Scully

admonished herself.

Katharine laughed and popped her glasses back on. “No its okay, you can ask, I

don’t mind saying. Six hundred thousand pounds. Five numbers and a bonus

ball.” Scully whistled.

“You moved here about then, did you buy this place?”

“Aye, it was about twelve years ago now, Ned was working in Derry… or

Londonderry to you. I was a nurse in Belfast but I would travel back to Derry at

night. The height of the troubles at the time and we were sick of it, sick of the

religiousness of the city that caused all the troubles…bombs, checkpoints, afraid

of being shot at in a crossfire…and tired of patching up young people maimed and

desecrated by a pointless civil war…for that’s what it boiled down to. Whole

generations wasted because of this stupid feud and kids orphaned or growing up

without their fathers. Divided streets, families….just went on and on.” She

pulled a face and looked away, when she turned back to Scully she had the

beginnings of tears in her eyes…”Aye well…we had this windfall and got away

from it all, a golden opportunity to move up here, so we jumped at the chance

and brought this place for a new start. We’d always liked it here. The area calls to

us…..” Scully placed her hand over her aunt’s listening intently but at the same

time keeping an ear out for Mulder upstairs if he needed her.

“Ned and I are.. how shall I say? A tad unconventional. Most people think we

were married but we never got around to it. Surprised you too eh?” She laughed

at Scully’s raised eyebrow.

“I didn’t know.”

“Aye well. Folks on both side for the family were disapproving, we were from

different sides of fighting tracks if ya get ma drift. A wedding would have meant a

punch up somewhere down the line.. Soo, instead of trying to deal with all that

we came up here to Antrim. It’s always been a dream come true and here,” she

gestured towards the dark landscape outside the big kitchen window. “We were

free to be ourselves. Live off the land, indulge in a few pastimes that would have

raised eyebrows back home. Oh nothing mucky Dana,” she laughed at her niece’s

inscrutable expression. “If you have noticed the kind of literature collection I

have and the fact that I subscribe to the LGM’s Silver Bullet. Well that should give

you some idea of the kind of interests we have. Paranormal vigils around this

headland and anything unusual. A bit like your young man upstairs. Quite a

revelation meeting the famous and handsome Fox, Spooky Mulder and realising

he was the young man you were seeing. The one Maggie was always raving

about.” She winked.

“I think it’s safe to say Mulder noticed.“ Scully laughed getting up to grab some

more cake. “This place doesn’t disappoint either, what was that going on

tonight? If it’s not an earthquake what was it? I have never seen anything like

that. Fionn Macuill?” she ventured.

Katherine shook her head and stood up, looking out the window towards the sea.

“I don’t know and that’s the truth of it. Ned and I looked into it a great deal,

some people from Dublin University Paranormal dept came up here to investigate

with us but it turned up nothing. People have their pet theories. Old Fionn and

his Scottish giant foe, tectonic disruption and a new fault forming…even Guia’s

rebellion against global warming but its an all year round phenomena, They say

some days after the lights and the noises, that the shore looks different some

how….not just because the tide is out but its a markedly different landscape… like

a crack in the earth has somehow moved the geography around as if two giants

have been throwing rocks…yes I know. It’s not just confined to St. Patrick’s day

as some of the tourists think though. Its bums on seats in pubs round here and

sells tickets for the local attractions and general tourism, but on the other hand

its scared people off too. During the troubles there was gun running up in the hills

around here and the IRA would hide their munitions in the caves. Don’t know

what happened but something scared them away and that’s saying something.

Tough angry men and boys.”

“Go on.”

“Ned listened into a Ham radio channel one night and picked up some

transmissions. The signal was fractured at times but all he heard about was the

bodies on the beach. Grown men crying and talking about bodies, parts of bodies

and the rocks. They asked for help which was unusual because they were hiding

there, not supposed to be there, most were wanted men…but then things got

weird, there were lights in the sky, like the northern lights ya know, vibrations

and what felt like aftershocks. Winds that howled like a banshee. Yet when the

police and British military went down there a few hours later here was nothing.

No bodies, the caves had vanished and there was something else…” Katherine

eyes relived alone what she had seen all those years ago and then suddenly she

was back.

“That’s incredible.”

“The sea was red….just red…..and then sea had gone. It was gone two days and

then it returned. The sands were glowing but when we got close….there were just

millions of fish, sea creatures, just gasping for air. Strange….makes the blood

chill just thinking about it.”

Scully sat and gaped as her aunt went on with her story, watching the old

woman shiver in remembrance.

“The rocks…the Causeway… all looked….I dunno…different somehow. Like a giant

hand came down and scooped up a big part of the coast and then kicked it all

over the place like it had a tantrum or something. What happened next was even

stranger….”

“What?…what was it?”

“About a week after all that an’ the storms that followed, odd clouds and so

on…well it all came back, like it had somehow snapped back how it was.”

Scully felt the shiver right down to her marrow as she recalled another time when

something similar had occurred. The Ivory coast of Africa..while poor Mulder lay

dying back on a DC hospital as she thought of a way to try and find a cure for his

brain affliction caused by an alien artefact. … the ship. She did the math in her

head….could it have been around the same time? She didn’t say anything else but

planned to talk to Mulder about it later.

“Well Dana, perhaps if Mulder feels up to it the two of you could take a walk with

me to the beach tomorrow. Take a look at the Causeway, natural wonder of the

world ya know.”

Scully nodded…” We’d like that…as long as he’s ok. Speaking of Mulder, I better

go check on him. I’ll take him up some cocoa.”

“Eh, dear you do that and oh, I have something here that might help him feel

better. My own concoction. Another thing I like to do is wild crafting.” She

grinned going to her refrigerator. “Here,” She handed Scully a dish of something

that looked creamy, pale and thick, it gave off a neutral odour. “That should see

him right.” Scully looked at curiously.

“Oh thanks, um, do you have any bread I could put this in? I’ll take him a

sandwich up with his cocoa.” Katherine gave her sideways look and peered at

her over the rim of her glasses with an amused expression.

“What?”

The old lady shook her head and chuckled a bit before regaining her composure,

patting her niece on the shoulder at the expression on the confused young

woman’s face.

“Oh Dana… It’s not for going in bread… his chest dear, its goose grease; you

spread it on his chest.”

***

Not surprisingly Mulder was awake when she shouldered her way into the room

with tray with cocoa and dish of goose grease, which looked like sickly congealed

lard. ‘Ewe’, she thought. Scully didn’t think she had the heart to hurt her aunt’s

feelings but she just couldn’t see Mulder agreeing to submit to such a bizarre old

fashioned remedy. Then again..

“Mulder,” She called quietly, putting the tray down. She heard the dog bounding

up the stairs and into the room behind her, he jumped on the bed and looked

profoundly comfortable, if not pleased with himself.

Her lover had his back to her, dressed just in boxers, staring out of the window.

Every so often he would cough, a deep rattle shaking his whole back as he

hunched over slightly with pain hugging his arms around his ribs. It was obvious

he hadn’t heard her come in as he didn’t turn around. Mulder’s skin was like ice

when she touched him and he let out a strangled cry of shock and wobbled

slightly as he became less disorientated. She noticed his pupils were huge. What

had he been staring at? After the gale it was relatively calm outside.

“Sorry Mulder. Didn’t mean to make you jump. What are you looking at out

there? You’re freezing, get back into bed.”

“Hi,” he turned and kissed her, then pulled her to him, slipping his arms around

her. She felt the chill of his skin through her sweater even, he was so cold. “its

okay Scully… sorry, miles away. I saw some lights down by the beach, some

noises and I had a weird dream. Then I noticed you weren’t here.”

“Sorry, I was taking a shower, then went to grab a hot drink. What did you

dream about?” She asked as she pressed her cheek to his, relishing his embrace.

“I’m not sure… something about the rocks…the causeway.. a crack in the earth

and screaming… something in the sea…what?”

She couldn’t quite disguise the shudder she felt then.

“You had a fair amount of Katherine’s Irish moonshine. I’m not surprised you are

having odd dreams. With the jetlag and all your body clock is thrown out.”

He studied her face for a long time, then he smiled and his eyes shone in the

firelight of the room. If she wasn’t mistaken he looked even more disorientated

like his attention was elsewhere and he was being pulled in another direction.

Somewhere beyond that headland a few miles away. She couldn’t suppress the

shudder, that inexplicable fear that passed through her. “I brought you a hot

drink, help you sleep.”

“Ahh this is why I love you Scully,” he started to cough again, making his chest

hitch. “What’s that you got there?” he asked as he proceeded to poke a finger in

the whitish goo in the bowl on the tray and stick it in his mouth. “Ughhh…what

the…”

“Katherine’s secret recipe for a cold and flu compress.”

“What the hell is it? Mashed Flukie? ” Her partner asked, pulling a face.

“Its goose grease…you’re meant to spread it on your chest.”

“Please tell me your joking Scully.”

“Apparently it’s meant to be very effective as a poultice. I knew you’d balk but I

didn’t want to upset her, she meant well. Hey….”

Mulder pulled a face and hopped back over onto the bed, propping himself up

against the pillows. “It smells ..like… rancid feathers. Tastes even worse. Kinda

like Langly’s cooking. C’mere Scully, I can think of something much better I want

spread on all over me right now.” Before Scully could say a word he’d grabbed

hold of both her hands and pulled her over on top of him, nose to nose, which he

then kissed, then looked up at her, smoothing her hair from her face as it

dangled on his chest, grinning at her like a fool.

“Feeling better?”

“Now I am.”

“What you grinning like that for G-man? Something’s tickled you. Spill.”

“Just imagining Frohike’s face when he realises he’s having an internet romance

with your aunt of all people.” Scully tickled his chest with her fingers, and then

raised a finger to his lips. Predictably he sucked the digit into his mouth, his face

quite playful. His fever was breaking it seemed. Maybe they could enjoy some

sightseeing after all.

“Oh I dunno if I’d call it that. I think Katherine is still pining for Ned. Think Melvin

is just her gaming buddy. Though…come to think of it… I did notice the autograph

on the desktop photo. ‘Here’s looking at you sweet lady, Love Melvin’… umm you

may be onto something there Mulder. Now if you don’t stop doing that to my

finger…..”

“No intention of stopping agent Scully. Its St. Patrick’s day and I’m making a

wish.”

“You’re not even Irish,”

“No,” his fingers came up to stroke her face and let them trail over the shell of

her ear, “But you are.”

Early hours of the morning.

Mulder startled awake coughing and found sometime in the night he’d been

unceremoniously dumped on the floor. Wow the earth really had moved; pity it

wasn’t because of their lovemaking. A coy grin spread over his face as he

remembered that well enough along with sore muscles.

It took a moment to figure out where he was in the almost dark. As he got his

bearings, he happened to glance at the glow from the window and watched in

awe as a volley of multicoloured lights flew like geese across the glass. What the

hell is that? It went on for a few moments. Mulder picked himself up and checked

on Scully. She was sound asleep, face beautiful and serene in the glow from the

open fire in the room. Merlin lifted his head for all of a second from where he’d

obviously been relegated to the floor, to look at his new friend, whimpering a bit

as the lights shifted patterns across the room. The dog seemed nervous.

Mulder needed to take a leak and get a drink or something. His chest felt tight

after all that late night exercise and he was beginning to feel like crap again. Just

a quick trek downstairs and he could come back and resume snuggling up with

his nice warm lover. Just holding her made him feel better. Hopefully the Aga was

still warm and there was hot water in the ever preset kettle there, maybe get

some coffee. He might take a look outside, just a breather, he told himself.

Wasn’t going to ditch her or anything… Scully would kill him, but maybe he would

just go out the back and get some fresh air, blow some of his fuzzy headedness

away and check out those lights, whatever they were, and come back in. The

wind looked like it had dropped now and it was dry outside. Just some cloud

cover over the moon and a little mist down near the bay. It looked and felt

magical. Exhilarating even.

Dressed again in warmer clothing, he slipped quietly out of the bedroom door,

avoiding the creaky floorboard he’d discovered earlier. The dog’s head went up

when Mulder crept out of the room, he whimpered a little and crept out after his

new friend.

Mulder swallowed the last dregs of his coffee and washed up the mug in the sink,

placing it on the draining board. It was so peaceful, no one around, just the odd

slither of wind whipping across the courtyard outside. Funny, where was

Katherine? No one in the living room on the sofa, he’d checked, just a pile of

blankets still in a pile like she hadn’t slept there at all. Perhaps she’d gone to

check on the generator… but the power was on ok, he’d just used the kitchen

light.

The black lab was by the door sitting expectantly panting with his tongue out.

“Here Merlin…” he bent to stroke the dog, scratching his neck and whispering to

him about what a good boy he was, or what he thought the dog wanted to hear.

It seemed to have the desired effect as the dog went all goofy on him, licking his

hands and jumping up his legs. “Shhh.. now… wanna come for a walk with me, go

find your mom?”

Mulder threw his thick green parka on and went outside, careful to quietly close

the heavy back door. Immediately, the dog bounded off over the courtyard and

the darkness swallowed him up, although he could hear the occasional distant

bark. What a difference a few hours made. There was barely any wind at all now,

but still it was a biting cold with the fog making Mulder pull his parka hood up

over his head to keep warm. Despite the warm clothing he still felt the freezing

chill right down to the bone.

Where could his host have gone? This wasn’t a good time for an old lady to be

wandering about in this weather…it must have been the early hours of the

morning now, but then he had to backtrack; she lived here and looked after this

farm, this was probably a regular necessity to come out if the need arose, come

rain or shine. Checking on and feeding animals, or maybe the light show had

startled her and she’d got curious about it like he had. Mulder smiled as he gazed

upwards to the stars twinkling like frozen eyes in the deep indigo vista of dawn.

She was a little like him in that respect, both recognised that questing need to

investigate the curious and unexpected.

Merlin suddenly came back to his side, wagging his tail, startling him a little.

“Hey boy…you can’t find her either huh?”

He checked the shed and other outhouses, the barn…where he discovered the

still; chuckling to himself over that. Moving out towards the edge of the farm,

shivering and one hand on the dog beside him, his eyes scanned the fields ahead

and up the hill. Where there weren’t ribbons of mist he could make out some of

it in the full moon. Worried now because he couldn’t see any sign of Katherine,

he tried to get the dog to go off and find her again but it got a little more than a

yard ahead before it turned tail and ran back to him. Tell tale signs of a cough

bubbled up into Mulder’s chest, hurting his ribs and his hand flew to his mouth,

while his arms braced his ribs. For a few seconds he rode out the wave of

breathlessness which bent him almost double. It was then that he heard it. At

first he thought it was just the wind. Like a faraway song, a small childlike voice

calling even, gaining in strength and then snatched away by the wind that was

picking up now. Every sense was alive inside him as he stood up again, gasping,

feeling the ethereal song go around in his head, trickling the inside of his skull so

badly that he wanted to scratch at it. It was coming from the beach and he had

to get there. Some obsessive need took over and kept him running despite the

frantic protest of his lungs, the dog still faithfully at his heels.

Mulder headed across the fields, dodging big basalt rocks in the grass and moss

terrain so black that he could barely see them. He’d almost tripped a few times so

he slowed down, breathing heavily looking around him. The higher he climbed up

the gully that led down to the sea. Soon he wanted to tear at the sound, to snub

out that burning irritation in his mind, his ears, the dull throbbing behind his eyes

starting to affect his sight now and he was almost crawling over the rocks one

excruciating step at a time, cutting hands and knees, possessed by the high

pitched wailing banshee cry like every fibre of his being was being propelled

against his will.

Slipping against the rocks, the gully seemed to even out, flanked on either side

by huge cliffs and pendulous clumps of mist clinging to his body like icy fingers

but Mulder was now wading through a stream of near frozen water fed from the

hills behind him. Going down a few times, his left knee hit an unforgiving boulder

that made white hot explosions of pain shoot through his leg and almost made his

throw up. Saturated with sea spray, numb with cold and half mad from the

noise, he staggered dizzy and unseeing until he could go no further….

The voices wrapped around him, mocking him, twisting him in their grasp,

thundering in his head until he stumbled with a hoarse yell, plummeting over the

edge of the outcrop that plunged onto the dark causeway into nothingness, just

an unimaginable vibrating and cracking noise broke over his head as he fell,

enveloped in light, barely breathing as Scully’s face punched through the chaos

fighting for supremacy in his mind. ‘So sorry …Scully’.

A lone silhouette of a dog sat on top of the outcrop, whimpering at the crashing

sea on the rocks beyond, his distress carried away on the wind and sheeting rain.

Paws over his ears and occasionally barking at the lights that whizzed past his

line of sight.

Black rock cottage 7.13am.

Scully sat bolt upright, paralysing dread gripping her heart. Something was very

wrong she just knew it. No sleepy awakening wrapped in the warm cocoon of her

partner’s arms and his gentle languid kisses that always greeted her. She could

still smell him, his aftershave, the way his skin felt but he was physically gone

from the bed. Jolted from a dream back into cold reality, she shuffled off the bed

and threw on her clothes without bothering to change them.

Taking the stairs two at a time she was shaken when she almost knocked her

aunt flying coming in the back door as she was trying to out, an equally shocked

look plastered on her face…not just shock, Scully’s mind supplied.

Horror.

Working on the X files over the years she felt her stomach flip, she knew that

look all too well.

“Dana…” Katherine had been crying, but was now out of breath, shaking a little,

a sight that almost paralysed her.

Mulder.

Causeway cliffs

It took them a while to reach the shore but both of them had a determined

mission and pressed on through treacherous rocks and driving rain dragging a

huge medical kit, tools and Ned’s old climbing equipment along with them. The

first morning light was just a few streaks of orangey pink edging up over the

horizon. It was freezing cold. When they spotted the dog sitting dutifully in place

on the cliff top they knew they had reached the right place. He turned and

roused a little when he saw his mistress and her companion, whimpered and then

barked, as to mark where his friend had gone over the cliff so they could help

him.

“Good boy Merlin, that’s a good laddy eh.” The old Labrador looked at her

mournfully.

Katharine didn’t say much, she seemed unable somehow as if something had

pierced her heart and her soul had bled out through it. She looked utterly bereft,

this had to be bad. She had been on the shore watching the waves as she said

she often did. Scully thought she must have had a reason but didn’t press her.

Then she mentioned all her sheep were dead where they had been perfectly fine

the night before. She mentioned a disturbance, another loud sonic boom and

what looked like arching over the causeway. She’d made her way down over the

honeycombed shaped basalt structures to see if she could find the cause. Wind

and rain had driven her for shelter in a cave and thats where she had heard his

cry.

About twelve foot up an open crevice, Mulder was somehow trapped in the rocks,

moaning quietly and calling for help.

She hadn’t known it was him at first but she was in shock when she saw him

hanging upside-down, blooding dripping from somewhere on him turning the sand

and the rocks red in a slippery pool by her feet. His legs seemed to be trapped

but his arms hung free, his eyes closed.

Horrified, she ran back the house, that’s when she had noticed the sheep for the

first time, all lying on their backs, like white unmoving rocks in the grass. No time

to waste, she needed to find Dana. There was a storm coming and where Mulder

was trapped the tide was coming in. He would surely drown if they couldn’t free

him soon and his injuries looked severe. The thought that he’d been looking out

for her when this happened didn’t even bear thinking about. She was beyond

bereft, if he died…

“He was alive when I left here to fetch you Dana, alive but trapped and I think

maybe unconcious. I couldn’t reach him, there was no way. He was too far up. I

called to tell him I was coming to get you and to hang on but I don’t know if he

heard me, the tide is coming in and the surf breaking up over the rocks. I dunno

if he heard me.” She repeated, her words all spilling out in panic.

“How bad was he?” Scully had forced herself into doctor mode to offset the shock

and despair she felt right then, the immovable fist of pain in her chest. Keeping

herself together was the only way she could get him out of this.

“I don’t know dear. I swear it’s my fault, I think he must have been looking for

me. …I …should have said I go on these dawn walks… makes me feel closer to

Ned… but now look what I’ve done..” And she dissolved into tears but Scully

pulled her into a tight hug.

“Oh Katherine…it’s not your fault …it’s just what Mulder sometimes does…more

times than I care to count. Believe me, that man is so inquisitive. Something

must have drawn him outside. Something weird was going on all last night.

Cracks and bangs, lightning I think. I could only half hear it because I was so

tired and worried about him being sick on this trip. I fell asleep and Mulder must

have got up for something. We’ll get him out eh? You and me. C’mon …its okay.”

“Thank you dear.” She seemed far away for a moment before speaking again.

“Check the ropes bag; I think there are some long ones in there. Some

crampons. They were Ned’s. Don’t forget the tool belt either. You might need

that.”

Scully peered gingerly over the edge of the cliff but couldn’t see anything.

Couldn’t see her partner or any sign of him, just angry waves crashing and dark

foreboding rock that went straight down in hexagonal pillars, some hollow that

led right through to the sea like a funnel. Where was he?

“Mulder…” No answer. Only the waves and wind answered back like a mournful

cry. Like a voice… death song…. No she mustn’t think that way.

The drenched agent dumped the bag of medical equipment on the grass and went

for the other bag of ropes and stuff her aunt had brought along. Pulling out a long

one she began to loop it and doubled tie it round her waist, pulling the knots

tight. Then she clipped on the tool pouch, not caring about the sheeting rain

hitting her face or the cold, just focused on a one track mission getting to Mulder

and getting him safely out of danger.

“You’re going to be okay going down there…if you want me to…” Katherine

looked terrified, she was trying to get the dog away from the edge but Merlin

steadfastly refused to budge. His miserable whimper bit right through Scully’s

soul.

Scully looked pointedly at her. “I have to go Katherine, I’m not ageist but I think

abseiling down there in this weather, well it could be a problem for you with

arthritis. Its okay, I’ve done this before. I’ll be fine. Going to have to be, there’s

no choice. Mulder needs us. Just loop the rope and crampons over there around

that big rock and then the second rope I’m going to tie around him. I’ll tug on the

ropes and yell when I’m ready okay?” She pointed up the bank about three

meters behind them. “That looks a good a place as any and gives us leverage.”

Katherine complied; securing the rope Scully was attached to and the second one

for Mulder. She watched her niece from afar by the rock as she checked the

tautness of them both and then with increasing fear her eyes were glued to her

rain soaked, niece’s head as she vanished below the edge of the cliff. This was

no weather to be even up here in, let alone climbing down steep stacks. She

clung onto the dog for company and warmth, imploring the goddess earth to keep

her sweet niece, Dana and her lovely man alive and safe.

A few meters down Scully reached her partner at last. It was a long laborious

decent and she was out of breath and frozen to the bone but she didn’t care. She

thought she would never make it but looking at his limp hanging body now she

realized why she couldn’t see him before. Mulder was half wedged firmly, almost

impossibility between a cleft in the precipice by both legs, while the rest of his

body was hanging in mid air. It was weird, almost like his legs had been fused

into the narrow rock cleft itself, like the rocks were trying to devour him. There

was no rational way he could’ve have slipped down and ended up that way. It

defied all reasoning. Had the rocks moved? No, that was impossible. She

cantilevered the rope which lowered her down a bit more past the rest of his body

so she could reach his head. Feeling for and finding a pulse in his neck she

almost cheered, but then felt her heart sink wondering how the hell she could

release his legs. If he couldn’t be freed he would die. No doubt about that.

Alive he was but his pulse was thready, his breathing very shallow. Clothing torn

to shreds and a big gash on the back of his head was steadily dripping blood feet

below to merge with the raging sea swirl. With each crash of the waves against

the rocks it deepened her chill and her resolve, tying a second rope around his

middle as a raft of white water shot up the gap and soaked them with spray. It

was as though they were reaching up to claim them, drag them into the swirling

angry sea to their death. Looking up she noticed the storm clouds blustering

fiercely across the sky far above, heavy pendulous omens of doom from her

perspective.

“Hi Scully. ..When did …you drop in,” Mulder’s voice was weak, barely a whisper

and she felt the effort it cost him as his chest heaved against her as she held

onto him for dear life. Bless him though, she felt like crying, his sense of humor

was still intact even if his bones weren’t. There appeared no way to get his legs

loose. She swallowed, both tibia were probably broken or crushed and he must be

in incredible pain.

“Mulder…. Take it easy love, going to get you of here.”

“Good luck Scully,” he coughed a little before continuing and she worried to hear

the worsening congestion in his lungs. “ It’s a nice idea…. but I seem to be stuck

in …rocks like the meat in a …sandwich.”

“How the hell did you end up like this?”

“I don’t know,” he tried to laugh, “ But I …now know what fish bait feels like…and

its killing my back. Ahhh.”

“And your legs I bet.” She grimaced at the sight of his squashed limbs trapped in

the dark rock.

“I ..er..can’t feel my legs….. May just be because I’m fucking cold and just

hanging around. Scully, what you doing?”

His partner was pulling something out of the big pouch she had clipped to her belt

with one hand, while she hung onto him with other.

“Hammer. Going to try and break the rock and ease your legs out.” Mulder looked

sceptical for once but Scully was undeterred and started attacking the rock

around his legs. One leg was trapped up to his thigh. She had to get him out soon

before he went into shock. He was already shivering and his teeth were

constantly chattering.

Mulder stared miserably down at the ocean swirling around the bottom of the

stack, hoping like hell if by some divine intervention she did get him free he was

securely tied, trying to ignore the pain, the cold and the feeling like he had finally

used up all his nine lives. Very slowly, he tried to move his arm to latch onto

Scully’s but it was too numb with cold. Gritting his teeth he tried to tune

everything out, he was fading fast and each time Scully diligently chipped away

at the rock he felt excruciating pain lance through his lower body. There was

nothing he wanted more than to let go let everything fade to black, his breathing

was becoming more difficult with every breath but he owed to his partner to stay

awake, there was no way she could haul him up to the top if she did manage to

free him.

After several fruitless minutes Scully stopped hammering. It was no good, the

little she’d chipped away wasn’t enough to allow her to loosen his legs or even

get her fingers around and she was exhausted. She felt the first sting of tears in

her eyes as she realised it was impossible to move him.

“Scully.”

“What..?” She turned her face to the rock; she didn’t want him to see her tears or

the defeat on her face.

“Soo, no rational… theory how I did the impossible and got stuck in the rocks

Agent Scully?”

“No … It can’t happen but it has,” she sniffed. “Right now I don’t care, I just want

to get you out. My aunt is up top, she’s fine, going to help us get out and then

she’ll go for the paramedics. The power is out again at the farmhouse so we

couldn’t get through. Internet is down too this time. Whatever that was …it fritzed

everything. But right now I need to get you out of here…by any means

necessary. ”

“I know, its okay. You tried.” Mulder’s words chattered through his teeth, every

part of him trying not to look at the hacksaw she was holding in one hand. Where

had that come from? He bit his lip, afraid and proud of his strong partner that

never ceased to amaze him, when the chips were down that courage just roared,

just where she pulled it from such a small beautiful frame he could only wonder.

Right then she was a giant in his eyes.

Her eyes were full of apology as she looked at him, tears slipping down her face.

“I’m not giving up.. dammit!” Not able to nod he blinked his eyes at her, hardly

able to see for the driving rain now cascading down the funnel stack.

Mulder wished he could touch her then but he was almost spent. The wind

buffeted them both as they hung there in the ropes facing each other sadly. What

else could she do? It was impossible. Something beyond comprehension had put

him here; he still remembered that sound like a siren song scrapping against his

skull. Whatever it was had been his death knell. He didn’t want it to be Scully’s as

well. He wanted her to go back up to the top, to be safe. They were both going to

get killed if the rocks shifted again. Dangling there he had tried to work out what

happened and as weird and inexplicable as it seemed, that was the only answer

he’d come up with. This coast was steeped in lore and legend and maybe there

was something in the wrath of the two giants that shaped the Causeway on this

coast, maybe a sense memory that re-enacted every now and then and he’d been

unfortunate enough to get caught it its deadly thrall. Maybe he could open an X

file on it, if by some slim chance he could get out alive.

He turned his head slowly towards his partner only meet the despair and fear in

her eyes as she contemplated perhaps the only way she could free him alive.

Okay so be it, he thought, knowing she wouldn’t leave him down here. The

thunderclouds above were grumbling angrily across the coast, not to mention the

almost subsonic buzz he was feeling in his legs where they were jammed into the

rocks. Something was building up to happen again and he wanted like crazy to

grab at his skull as the eerie cacophony started up again. He needed her to do

whatever and get up the top again to safety.

His heart started to race and she started to cry again.

“I…I can’t do this Mulder..”

“Yes…yes you can… go for it.”

“I…. don’t know if I can..”

“Yes you must we don’t have a choice…It’s okay…I’ll be alive…I can deal with the

rest…” he gulped down his own tears and the sickening dread that gripped his

heart. “..later… Scully please.”

His partner leaned down and kissed him, awkward and strange because he was

upside down facing her. He felt her warm lips against the wet chilled skin of his

throat and he was buoyed by her courage when she whispered “Okay,” in his

ear, no more than a quiet breath.

“I love you Mulder,” her fingers smoothed the clumps of drenched hair out of his

eyes, then travelled down his cheek and wiped moisture and blood from his lips

where he must have bitten them. There was a roaring in his ears now, like bees

on the warpath and his head was the hive. An unrelenting noise that twisted into

an almost faraway lilting voice, transporting him into the abyss, pulling him down

further as he watched her eyes bled water all over him as she faded from view.

“I love …you too…” Scully made sure his body was secure in the ropes, anything

but look at his huge scared puppy eyes which slipped closed when he suddenly

went limp.

“Mulder.. no…” she cried in alarm. Panicked she hauled her self up a touch to feel

his pulse. It was still there but weakening and his lips were blue. Fumbling with

the saw, she picked a spot about an inch from where his legs were trapped, cut

away his pants there, pulled some twine from her pouch and tied it tight around

the area she planned to cut and took a deep breath, telling herself this was the

only way. It was better to have her lover alive even if disabled, as opposed to

letting him die here. He’d still be Mulder and she would care for him whatever it

took. The lesser of the two evils. He’d given her permission… that wonderful

brave love of her life….

As she placed the saw to his bruised and battered flesh a huge lightning bolt

struck the rock above startling her, and another…and another until it sounded like

an air raid going on overheard, making her drop the saw…

“No…!!!!” she shrieked at the top of her lungs as she watched it clatter off the

rocks into the swirling eddies of water below, greedily swallowing her only means

of freeing her partner from certain death. “Katherine…help…”, She yanked on the

rope as hard as she could muster to try and alert her aunt; she had other tools

up there… if only…

But she never finished that thought. A blinding flash enveloped her as she clung

fast to her partner suspended in the tangle of ropes like helpless marionettes as a

maelstrom of sounds, a thousand sirens and the deep rumbling roar and cracking

of age old rock, like the earth was furious at the gods, splitting them into a

million shards, exploding all around them and then darkness.

***

Undetermined time later.

Sand dunes near the Giants Causeway. NI.

Damp and cold to the bone Katherine sat dazed in a sandy dune. Ears still

deafened she remained there for a while, unable to think or feel, or see anything.

Her head hurt and for a few moments it was hard to remember who she was.

Getting up she thought she should be somewhere… The storm …yes the

storm…Dana, Mulder.. “Oh god… No!”

She ran, despite her gammy legs she ran, not really knowing where she was or

going but she had this voice in her head familiar and compelling so she followed

where it sent her. The air was electric like the storm had charged everything

around her heightening her energy and purpose to find them. The waves and the

wind still mocked her but she ignored them. It seemed like hours since she had

been running but her breath carried her on, wind at her heels and sloshing of wet

sand soaking her stocking clad legs. When she could go no further her steps

faltered and she stopped, gasping. There was something moving up ahead… but

sometime during …whatever this was she had lost her glasses and her vision was

blurred. It looked like… No it couldn’t be…?

“Merlin.” The dog saw her and came bounding over to her, he was wet and sandy

and wouldn’t keep still as he licked her all over, practically shaking with euphoria

at finding his mistress.

She bent down and ruffled the dog’s wet fur hugging him to her while tears

streamed down her face. Her poor niece and her man were probably dead, there

was no way they could have survived all that, it was happening again, it had

taken them too….just like Ned…just like… Corwen… and the tears flowed anew at

the thought of them..

Her only Son.

Lost here so many years ago… claimed by this coast’s wrath… She only sought to

understand… and now they had robbed her of her Dana and Mulder too. How

could she ever tell Maggie, that her only surviving child had lost her life trying to

save the man she loved…just as she had all those years ago?

Merlin started to bark, pulling away from her before she could stop him, leaving

her arms empty just holding fresh air. Katherine climbed unsteadily onto feet

made weak with grief and followed him, he was going like lighting up the beach

towards what looked like the area of the causeway… But the landscape was

different somehow; chunks of rock strewn out across the beach like discarded toy

blocks thrown by an angry child. Deep fissures in the sand opened up like greedy

mouths swallowing smaller rocks and drifting sand kicked up by the wind.

Hexagonal clusters of basalt indigenous to the famous causeway lay scattered

and tilted in the sand but when she rounded the edge of the long beach where

the cliffs had been there was nothing there….a large gaping maw of cliff had

vanished and the pillars of rock that once stood like organ pipes so tall and

impressive had gone… like something had tunnelled through it and blown it apart

on impact.

She bowed her head, tasting fresh tears, wishing it had blown her apart as well,

the guilt and grief threatened to overwhelm her but then she felt something soft

and wet against her hand. Merlin barked again and tried to pull her coat sleeve…

“No, not now boy… I’m sorry, can’t play with you now…please..” But the dog was

insistent and kept tugging before finally breaking away again, seeing that he had

his owner’s attention and scampered off up the beach a few feet ahead towards

an outcrop of rocks sticking up from the sand… no they weren’t rocks…

“Oh my ….”

The dog jumped around in excited abandon finally able to show his mistress his

find, circling and barking. Something was moving. Despite advancing age and

fatigue, Katherine ran the rest of the way.

“One, one thousand, two one thousand…three..” A breathless, Dana Scully had

been so intent performing heart massage on her partner’s lifeless body that she

never heard her aunt approach until she felt a warm hand on her back. Looking

up startled, she saw the unspoken question in the old lady’s eyes and nodded

acquiescence. Wordlessly they slipped into sync working on the badly injured

agent. Katherine doing chest compressions and her niece with her mouth fused to

her partner’s blue lips forcing life giving breath into his lungs. Swirling sand and

wind whipping around the trio as they worked with a single purpose to do the

seemingly impossible.

When he coughed finally, his body physically lurching off the sand in his, lovers

arms they both cried, Scully hugging her partner to her tightly and pressing her

lips against his forehead. “It’s okay Mulder, it’s alright…your going to be fine…we

can work out what happened later…but for now…..”

“ A chuisle mo chroí,” Katherine whispered, touching Mulder’s face as he

opened two sand crusted eyes to meet her beautiful smile and his Scully’s.

In the distance a helicopter circled and banked towards them, moving ever

closer.

Ballycastle Hospital

22nd March.

Mulder was lucky, after being rushed to hospital by an Irish navy rescue

helicopter and surgery to set both his broken legs and treatment for bronchitis,

concussion and exposure, he only spent three days in intensive care with

breathing problems and an erratic heartbeat. Scully was unhurt but shocked and

spent a night sleeping on a put you up bed near Mulder’s room, lovingly watched

over by Katherine who refused to leave the hospital until they were awake and

looking healthier. She divided her time between them.

No one knew how the emergency services were called. The generator had gone

down at the farm at the time and there was no way anyone could have known…

unless…

Scully had her own theories as to where the helicopter came from. She’d inquired

to thank those responsible for airlifting them from the beach only to find there

was no record of such a helicopter being sent out and the Irish navy couldn’t

even trace the registration code. It didn’t belong to them. All they could tell her is

that a man who wouldn’t identify himself had emailed them. Right then she could

have cared less, she had no idea what happened out there on that cold vicious

day but what she was thankful for was the fact that Mulder was alive in once

piece and that she had her aunt’s caring company.

One thing though was that when Mulder was examined in hospital it was found

that he had sea water in his lungs, and in his unconsciousness kept muttering

about mermaids. When awake he’d claimed they’d dragged him from the sea to

save him from drowning. Katherine had grinned indulgently at that, saying that

they may never know and that something mysteries were best kept that way.

Scully feared Mulder would want to go explore that beach again soon, maybe

open a new X file when he was better. Perhaps…

Black Rock Cottage 24th March.

A few days later, after Mulder had been released they returned to Katherine’s

farmhouse, the old lady making a bed up for Mulder in the conservatory that

looked the fields down to the sea.. Mulder wasn’t going to be able to travel yet for

a few weeks and in truth the old lady was only too happy to have their company

a bit longer. It seemed that Seamus and Merlin thought so too as they were both

curled up either side of Mulder as he tried to scratch at the tops of this plaster

casts.

“Damn it I wish I had a knitting needle or something. It itches.” Mulder

complained as Scully brought him a mug of hot milk. Heavy meds meant he

couldn’t have caffeine yet so tea was out. However, it didn’t stop Katherine

spiking his milk with odd drop of Poitin when her niece’s back was turned. She

winked conspiratorially at Mulder, a gesture that disturbingly reminded him of

Frohike, and handed him a plate with some more upside-down apple cake which

he was fast getting addicted to.

“Aye if ya had that you might stab yourself in your leg. I have something in my

pantry better for making you forget the itch.”

“I’ll make you forget all about the itch Mulder, if you promise to behave and quit

scratching.” Scully purred in his ear and she shifted the cat to sit beside him on

the floor by the sofa, her hand squeezing his.

“Ah you know Scully this is a bummer, me being laid up like this. We never got to

do much sightseeing. What about Skinman’s Bushmills. He’ll kill me.”

“Probably for the paperwork on your medical leave and desk duty when we get

back too.” Scully piped in to remind him.

Her aunt looked thoughtful. “Well you know if I have to be honest,” the old lady

shuffled off to the kitchen for a moment. She returned shortly with a big dark

brown bottle bearing a James’s label. “James’s is better by far a whisky, but

everyone and his chum head over to Bushmills when they come to here because

it’s well known. You tell that boss of yours that this is a much better brew. I’m

telling ya true.”

“Thanks we will but Katherine, you didn’t have to go out of your way to get that

for me.”

“Oh I didn’t… it’s an old bottle and I filled it up with a drop of hard stuff.”

Scully and Mulder exchanged amused glances. His partner swatting his hand as it

went to scratch at his casts again.

“You mean you filled it up with Poitin.”

Mulder started to laugh at Katherine’s knowing wink.

“And when he runs out he is welcome to come visit me to pick up a fresh supply.”

The old lady laughed.

Just then something came through the letter box in the hall and Scully went to

retrieve it. She came back in holding a newspaper.

“That’s odd Dana; I don’t normally get a delivery out here.”

“Really?”

“No, lets give that a once over.” She popped on her new specs and scanned the

print on the first few pages. She looked up a few moments later, a shocked

expression on her face. “Dana, you and your man might want to see this.”

Dana took the paper from her and stared at the news article from a few days ago,

sat down next to Mulder and shared it with him. It made no mention of their

lucky escape as she had expected, but instead reported that that causeway area

had suffered a disturbance, a small earthquake…the epicentre a few miles out to

sea. The photo of the beach area and the Giant’s Causeway though was very

intriguing. It had been taken the day before by the British geological society, but

…was strangely intact, none of the destruction that they had been embroiled in. It

was like it had never happened.

Mulder looked worriedly at Scully, she could see him mulling this over already,

forming a hypothesis…. Knowing he’d be itching to take a look for himself if he

thought he could get away with it. She gave him her patent stern eyebrow and he

chewed on his lip and scratched at his neck.

“It’s as though it’s rebuilt itself …that’s astonishing.”

“Aw it is that. And it’s taken its secrets inside it again. …but for how long?”

Suddenly the penny dropped. And Mulder gasped his eyes full of compassion he

looked at the old lady and watched her eyes cloud over.

“Katherine? Is this what happened to Ned?” The old Lady got up and came over

to the big window that overlooked the landscape down to the bay.

“Aye….it is. And someone you didn’t know. My only son, Corwen. A number of

years before we moved here, Corwen went on a camping trip with his school

friends. He was sixteen, old enough to be going on a weekend away with friends.

Sensible lad, good grades, loved us both like a son should.” Turning to look at

the rolling sea beyond the window, “Well … I think you can guess what happened.

We came up here, bought this place to be near him somehow…after he was lost.

It helped a lot until Ned. This coast took him too, swallowed him up in the rocks.

Gone. They never found his body but he’d been in that area walking when it all

kicked off. Went out one day and never returned. He used to look for him down

on the beach. He never did get over his death. Some say he went and drowned

because he missed his son so much but I think they suffered twin fates.”

Scully was almost in tears. “I’m sorry I never knew.”

Katherine smiled. “No one did really. Your mother was the only I one was in touch

with, having burned our bridges with our local family here, was only in the last

ten or so years since we got the internet that I came across your mother and our

family in the States. Did one of those families reunite things? But anyway, I don’t

know if I ever mentioned our boy to her. He’d been gone so long and it was too

painful. I didn’t want any pity.”

“Sorry, so sorry we never realised.” Scully replied, tucking a blanket around

Mulder as he lay down. The meds were making him sleepy again.

Katherine crossed the room to the mantelpiece and took two small objects from

the top and brought them over to him and Dana. Mulder recognised them as

something he’d perused when they’d first arrived. She handed them one each and

smiled sadly.

“I want you both to have these. Corwen loved this place; he always talked of

mermaids…. Singing to him when he was on the beaches here as a child.”

“Oh Katherine we couldn’t.” Mulder felt tears prickle at his eyes but his partner’s

were already spilling down her face. She’d been to hell and back in the last few

days, wondering if he would recover…the whole trauma and unanswered

questions. To think that her aunt had gone through this twice now.

“Thank you, so much we will treasure them always.” Mulder’s childlike wonder

and whispered reply reminded her so much of Ned. And he would have liked

Mulder. Katherine’s lips curled up in a smile.

“I’d like to think there are mermaids Fox. That they spared you from two warring

giants. When you were delirious you were saying they pulled you from the water

you know. They owed me this time. ” She pursed her lips.

Mulder shook his head, unable to pull that from his eidetic memory, but just a

fleeting flash of something tickled him in places he thought he’d forgotten. An

angelic face, a never ending song that swept over him like a feather touch and

too soon it was gone. When he came back to himself Scully was rubbing his hand.

She leaned over and kissed his and she turned his mermaid over in his hand with

such reverence, like it was speaking to him and only he could hear it. Katherine

handed them a small glass of Poitin each and took one for herself. They toasted

to the loved ones they had all lost and stared at the flames leaping up the back of

the fire and just for a moment, Mulder thought he heard that ethereal melody

again.

“I’d like to believe that this time they saved both of you.” Katherine took his

other hand, still bearing the bruising of his ordeal and held it gently.

Mulder looked at her with great affection as he started to doze off again. “I want

to believe that too.”

The end.

A Reason To Believe

15x10_title

A REASON TO BELIEVE

Author: Traveler

Summary: A tabloid headline becomes the basis for an investigation that leads the

agents to witness the most powerful forces on earth.

Rated: PG-13 for a few bad words

Written for VS 15, 2 weeks exclusive to VS 15

Disclaimer: We all know the score.

Authors Notes: I should acknowledge the lyrics used here are from REASON TO

BELIEVE by Rod Stewart. My thanks to Vickie for the beta and Martin and Lisa for

their wonderful artwork. And Chris, the Explorer is for you. May you all find your

own reason to believe.

clip_image002

“If I listened long enough to you

I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true”

FAIRBURY, NEBRASKA

Craig Fleming sped down State Route 16. His cargo had been purchased illegally,

he was only 19 but the gang was expecting him to deliver the goods, six cases of

beer, for Rachel’s party. It had been raining earlier and now with the dusting of

snow the roads had become slick. The ringing of his cell phone made him jump.

The LCD display told him it was Rachel. “I know, I know, I’m coming,” he answered.

“Where are you? Everybody’s gonna leave if you don’t get here soon, I promised

them beer,” she whined into the receiver.

Craig stepped harder on the accelerator. “I’m gonna be there in,” he started to say,

taking his eyes off the road to check the clock on the dash. “Fifteen…” He never got

a chance to finish his sentence. A deer bounded across the road in front of him. The

young man’s first instinct was to stomp the brake causing the car to swerve hard to

the right on the icy road. Craig fought to control the car, turning into the skid like

he’d been taught but the car swerved in the other direction, across the opposite side

of the road and before he knew it he was careening through the brush and down the

embankment. The vehicle flipped on its side, then onto its roof, tearing through the

brush at an alarming speed. Craig tried at first to protect himself, throwing his arms

in front of his face but when the car turned over and his head hit the roof sending

searing pain down his spine, everything went black.

At first he had no sensation at all. A moment of euphoria swept over him and then

he opened his eyes to find he was lying in the brush outside his vehicle; something

warm and wet was trickling down the side of his head. Terror like he had never

known swept over him when he realized he couldn’t reach up to wipe it off. He

couldn’t feel or do anything. He had no sensation from his neck down. Craig stared

up into the falling snow and prayed for God to let him go.

“You must go back.” It was a gentle, soothing voice that caught his attention then

and a man he had never seen before came into his line of sight. The man had long

blond hair and a clean-shaven face; he leaned over the young man and pressed his

hand against the side of his neck. Something Craig could only describe later as an

electric shock ripped through his body and then suddenly he could feel his limbs

again. He tried to sit up but the man pressed his hand against his shoulder. “I have

a need for you,” the man told him.

“Ah – ah need for what?” Craig stammered.

“You will soon see,” the man told him as he stood up and somehow disappeared in

the darkness.

Craig shivered and looked at his crumpled car. Sirens in the distance told him he

soon would be in deep trouble.

X-FILES OFFICE

9:20 AM, TWO WEEKS LATER

Scully found her partner amidst a sea of newspapers. His sleeves were already

rolled to his elbows and the tie he had neatly tied at the breakfast table that morning

was already askew. She smiled silently to herself; it reminded her of their earlier

years. He was obviously on a hunt. “It looks like you’ve got us something…”

When he didn’t reply she dropped her coat on the chair in front of the desk and

moved around it to stand beside him. On the monitor in front of him was a website

dedicated to “Miracle Cures and Miraculous Recoveries”. As he clicked through the

stories she began to sift through the papers on the desk. It didn’t take her long to

realize that they were all tabloids with headlines proclaiming ‘Miracle Cures in the

Heartland’, ‘Miracle Man’ and even the absurdity of ‘Is This The Second Coming?’

“Mulder?” she questioned as the momentary thought that he was researching this for

personal reasons crossed her mind. She knew he was still certain that Krycek had

made off with whatever it was he and the bastard had found on that remote island

off the coast of Washington. Mulder would look for her cure until the day he died she

realized. If only she could prove to him he’d already found it, deep in his own heart.

“Are you going to let me in on this or not?’ she finally asked.

“Yeah,” he looked up at her, a soft smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “I was

just trying to get my ducks in a row here in hopes I could win you over.” He reached

over and started to sift through the tabloids that littered the desk. “Read some of

these and tell me what you think,” he told her handing her several of the rags and

then turning his attention back to the computer.

“Please tell me you’re not looking for a case for us in these,” she commented,

accepting the papers from him and then resting against the counter behind him to

look through them. Visions of monkey babies and fluke men came to mind as she

scanned the articles. When she finally looked up she found her partner looking at

her, his right eyebrow slightly raised. A look she could only equate to the skeptical

look of Mr. Spock.

In a condensed version, three different articles in three different tabloids told a story

of what appeared to be a faith healer who had stirred up the local population of

eastern Nebraska with his miraculous cures. She’d been there before with Mulder,

Samuel Hartley, the young man in Tennessee who was eventually murdered. Her

partner had seen something in the young man’s claims. Certainly this wasn’t the

same thing. “What is it you think you have here, Mulder?” She finally asked.

“Did you read those?” he asked, turning his chair to face her fully and nodding at the

tabloid she still held. He reached up and tugged the STAR away from her, “Residents

in Fairbury, Nebraska and people as far away as Springfield, Illinois have been

flocking to a barn on Redmond Road where Billy Ward has been performing weekly

healing rituals,” he began to read. “Malcolm Tucker, crippled in an auto accident in

1987 is now able to walk without the help of his crutches…”

Scully watched his eyes scan the article.

“Halley Emerick, a leukemia patient now shows no signs of the disease…” he

continued.

“Mulder,” she huffed in annoyance and tossed the remaining tabloids on her

partner’s desk. “The stories of miraculous cures go all the way back to the Old

Testament.”

“Kara Micak, blind since birth, Scully, is now able to see. Helen Redmond, owner of

said barn says Billy showed up in Fairbury just after the first of the year looking for

work. Her husband passed away last year, she needed someone to help with the

farm,” Mulder went on seemingly oblivious to her attitude.

“Too bad he didn’t show up last year then, her husband might still be alive. I don’t

know what you want me to say, Mulder.” Her partner turned his chair to follow her

as she walked around the desk to stand in front of it. “This man just lays his hands

on someone and voila, they are cured.”

“Jesus did it.”

“Don’t start with me on that, this is not the work of God, Jesus or any of the

Apostles…”

“Actually the Church has very specific criteria on what is or is not a miraculous cure,”

he continued.

She watched the corner of her partner’s mouth curl again and realized at that point

that he was just egging her on. “All right, what do you think is going on in…” she

reached across the desk to snatch the tabloid back from him. “In Fairbury,

Nebraska?”

“Thought you’d never ask,” he smiled and leaned forward to type something on the

keyboard. “Billy Ward just sort of materialized overnight according to the local law.

They’ve even done some background checks on him and can’t find a thing. He hasn’t

really done anything that would warrant them bringing him in so for now they just

sort of show up at his ‘meetings’ for crowd control. Funny thing is,” he paused to flip

the Weekly World News back to its cover to a photo of Billy Ward. “The same story

was reported in early 2002 in Wheatland, Wyoming and in 1996 in Dickinson, North

Dakota. Look at this…” he finished motioning for her to step back around the desk to

see what he was looking at.

Three photos populated the laptop screen. One matched the photos of Billy Ward,

who even she had to admit, bore an eerie resemblance to Jesus Christ. The other

two were completely different people. “Skinner’s never going to sign off of this,

Mulder, not unless you come up with some viable evidence…” she never got to finish

as he waived the 302 folder at her. Her shoulders drooped, what had he told him.

“I just sort of suggested it could be Jeremiah Smith…” he admitted.

“But you don’t think…”

“I don’t know, could be a relative,” he mocked before he leaned towards the desk

and tapped the monitor. “I think what we really need to find out is who this guy

back here is because he’s in every one of these photos.”

Scully leaned in for a closer look. Behind each of the alleged healers stood a tall

man in a long coat with long light colored hair. Even in the poor quality news photos

there was an eerie look about him. “When do we leave?”

**

Mulder had flown them into Lincoln. From there it was normally an hour and a half

ride to Fairbury. Their flight had been late leaving Reagan as was the connecting

flight from Chicago. They were now trying to beat the darkness heading south on

Route 77 in the midst of wind driven snow. Scully was at least thankful Mulder had

pulled out a personal credit card and upgraded their vehicle to a Ford Explorer when

he saw the conditions at the airport.

“What are we looking for?” she asked.

“136 west, should take us right into Fairbury. The Capri Motel is supposed to be

right on 136.”

“Sounds like a swell place,” she commented pulling her coat more tightly around

herself.

“There weren’t a whole lot of choices,” Mulder confirmed.

“There never are.”

His eyes flashed at her in the darkness of car but she smiled to acknowledge she was

only ragging on him.

Mulder bit his bottom lip and grinned. “Turn the heat up if you’re cold,” he told her.

She was cold; fact was she hadn’t been warm since they got off the plane. The snow

that swirled around their vehicle probably blew all the way down from Canada.

There was nothing between Canada and Nebraska but open prairie. She reached

over and turned the heat indicator up a couple notches.

The sign for Route 136 loomed out of the snow and Mulder made the turn. Forty

minutes later they were turning into The Capri Motel, a one story brick structure

obviously popular with the truckers as evidenced by the numerous rigs parked in the

lot. Scully was not impressed. At this point however, she could only hope that the

place was clean and warm.

Mulder tried the door to the office and found it locked. A hand written notice on the

door instructed him to ring the bell. A few minutes later a middle-aged woman

wrapped in what looked like a hand-knit sweater appeared. “Can I help you?” she

asked through the door.

“Fox Mulder, I have a reservation,” he replied digging into his coat pocket to produce

his badge and then pressing it against the glass.

The woman smiled an apology, “Oh yes, I’m sorry, it’s late. I lock the door after

nine,” she told him as she opened the door for him.

“Sorry, we were a little late getting into Lincoln and the drive down’s been an

adventure,” the agent told her, stepping into the office, thankful for the warmth. His

ears were already red from standing out there for just a few minutes. Scully had

stayed in the car. He rubbed his bare hands together to get the circulation going.

“Oh yes, nasty evening. I’m glad you made it okay. My name is Andrea Wheeler,

welcome to Fairbury,” the woman acknowledged as she stepped behind the counter

to retrieve his reservation. “I have you and Ms. Scully in the end units away from

the congestion. It will be a little quieter for you there.”

Mulder handed her the bureau card, signed in and grabbed the key cards. “Is there

a place for breakfast nearby?” he asked as he stepped towards the door.

“Oh well, you’ll find most of the locals at Smitty’s, that’s on the square. Griffey’s is

on 4th, you can get a full breakfast there. And there’s always McDonald’s.”

“Yep, there’s always McDonald’s”, Mulder acknowledged.

“There’s a coffee pot in the kitchenette in 40,” she told the agent as he opened the

door. “Coffee, tea and hot chocolate packets in the cupboard over the sink.”

“Thanks.”

Mulder hefted his bag onto the luggage rack in his room, tossed his wet coat over

the desk chair and opened the connecting door and tapped on its mate. Scully

opened it almost immediately. “You know, Mulder, I think by now the Bureau knows

you and I don’t use two rooms.”

“Yeah, well, wouldn’t want the American taxpayer to know we’re fraternizing on their

dollar,” he told her as he slipped out of his equally wet shoes. “Besides, gives us two

bathrooms, we can sleep a little longer and we don’t have to fight over the mirror.”

He wandered into her room heading towards the kitchenette. “Andrea said there

was coffee and hot chocolate in the kitchen, you want some?”

“Hot chocolate would be nice,” she replied. The room was clean, warm and appeared

to have been recently redecorated. Not bad by Mulder’s standards. Her room had a

king, the other room, two doubles. There was no doubt which room they’d be

sleeping in. Her partner appeared a few minutes later with a couple of steaming

mugs. “It’s only water and coca mix but at least it’s hot,” he told her handing her

one of the mugs.

“So, what do we tell the locals about why we’re here?”

**

The snow had stopped by morning but the frigid temperatures had coated the SUV

with a layer of crystals that took Mulder a good five minutes to scrap off the windows

with the miniature scraper the rental car company had provided. It was a good thing

he was tall or he’d never have been able to reach the center of the windshield with

it. He left the car running and went back inside to thaw out his fingers.

“So, breakfast?” he questioned his partner who was still in the bathroom.

“Anywhere but McDonald’s,” came her reply.

Okay, he thought to himself, I guess that left Smitty’s or Griffey’s.

Griffey’s was located in one of the oldest buildings on the square. In fact the entire

downtown area was filled with historic buildings the agents discovered during their

drive from the small motel to the square. It was like passing through a time warp

and finding yourself in the 1920’s. However, as evidenced by the well-preserved

condition of the buildings, the town took great pride in their historic nature.

The sign inside the door said ‘Seat Yourself’ so the agents found a booth on the far

wall away from the door and sat down. A young woman with a ponytail and the

name ‘Katie’ emblazoned on her nametag approached with a pot of steaming coffee.

“You folks look like coffee people,” she acknowledged as she turned over Scully’s

cup.

“Yes, please,” Scully confirmed.

“Where you folks all from?” Katie asked as she then filled the cup.

Mulder reached for a copy of the breakfast menu that was tucked behind the

condiments. He figured they were screaming ‘out-of-towners’ by their attire.

“Obviously not locals, huh,” he joked.

“Nope, everybody knows everybody around here,” the waitress smiled.

Several minutes later Scully was staring across the table at the enormous omelet

that had been set down in front of her partner. She had even noticed his eyes grown

large when it had arrived. There must have been a dozen eggs involved in its

creation. She watched as he chopped it up with his fork and then reached for the

ketchup bottle. The first bite was inches from his lips when they were interrupted.

“Excuse me.” A man in a plaid shirt, barn jacket and worn baseball cap had

suddenly appeared at their table. “Sorry to interrupt your breakfast, there. But your

name wouldn’t happen to be Mulder would it?” he asked.

Mulder consumed the bite of omelet anyway, swallowed, glanced at Scully and then

up at the man standing at their table. “It is.”

“Travis Stark, I talked to you over the phone…” Travis extended his hand which

Mulder accepted. It was the call that had sent him on the hunt in the first place.

The agent glanced at his partner again. She had that ‘what else haven’t you told me’

look.

“Sit down,” the agent said; starting to slide over in the booth so that Travis could sit

next to him. Instead Travis grabbed an empty chair from a nearby table, slid it over

and straddled it.

“I’m sorry to approach you here like this, it’s probably not a good place to talk,” he

began, his eyes scanning the other patrons in the restaurant. “Lot of believers here

who wouldn’t want me talking unkindly about Mr. Ward.”

“Believers?” Scully asked.

“Oh yeah,” Travis addressed the agent. “Ward’s got a regular following around here,

holds a revival in Helen’s barn every Friday evening. Half the town will be there

tonight hoping to be the next one cured.”

“You don’t sound like you’re one of these ‘believers’ Mr. Stark,” Scully commented.

“No offense m’am,” he told her, nodding in recognition of the cross she wore around

her neck. “I don’t put much stock in faith myself anymore. I’ve had everything I’ve

ever loved taken from me in the past year or so to believe that anything — or

anyone, for that matter can make miracles. They just don’t happen.”

Scully caught her partner’s eye across the table, he looked away immediately and

they both turned their attention on Mr. Stark.

“So how do you explain Billy Ward then?” Mulder questioned.

“I can’t, not so you would believe me either, but I can point you to someone who

thinks he does know what’s going on.”

ST. JOSEPH’S CATHOLIC CHURCH

FAIRBURY

11:00 AM

Mulder held the door open for his partner. As they had left the restaurant Travis has

explained how Charlie Berne, custodian at the church had been cleaning up last

Saturday evening before Sunday services when he had experienced his ‘miracle’.

Charlie, in his late 60’s, had been on a ladder dusting the statue of Jesus that

adorned the alter when to his amazement the statue had begun to weep. Charlie

had a form of palsy; he shouldn’t have even been on a ladder. When he reached up

to touch the tears he lost his balance and tumbled off the ladder onto his back. He

told everyone afterwards that something like an electric shock had passed through

his body moments after he impacted the floor. As it turned out, Charlie not only

suffered no ill effects from his fall, all the symptoms of his palsy had disappeared.

He felt like a new man.

“You must understand. You are being deceived by evil…” Father Dohnal was

addressing a small group of residents seated in the first several rows of the church.

The agents approached them and then slid into one of the pews to wait until the

priest had finished.

“How can you call the work of God, evil”! A woman shouted from the second row.

“This is NOT the work of God! Billy Ward does not promise you a miracle without a

price! These people who have been cured – they are not who they used to be… ” the

priest went on. “These healings are an illusion. I implore you to walk away…”

“Look!” the same woman who had spoken up before shouted as she pointed to the

statue. “He weeps at your bitter words!”

Gasps erupted from the group and they rose almost in unison, stumbling over each

other to reach the alter. “This is a deception!” The priest bellowed.

Ignoring him, the group crowded around the statue, straining to reach up and touch

the liquid that now trickled down its face and arms and had begun to drip off the

fingertips.

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Mulder turned to his partner, she sat momentarily mesmerized by what they were

witnessing as the towns people dabbed themselves with the liquid, some even

touching it to their lips. Whispers of “Praise Jesus” spread between them. Two

women fainted.

“I’ve seen enough,” Mulder said under his breath. Something was going on here, but

it didn’t involve Jeremiah and it certainly wasn’t anything divine. He picked up his

partner’s hand and pulled her with him, heading towards Father Dohnal who had

been pushed aside by his parishioners.

Mulder fumbled his badge from his pocket and flipped it at the priest, “Fox Mulder,

FBI, this is my partner, Dana Scully.” The agent flashed a glance at his partner.

She was still studying the group of parishioners. “May we speak with you a

moment?” he asked, touching the priest’s shoulder to steer him towards a doorway

that led from the sanctuary.

A few moments later the three of them were standing in the rectory office. Father

Dohnal, a tall dark haired but slightly graying man a few years Mulder’s senior

seemed visibly shaken by what he had seen as did Scully. “You don’t believe what’s

happening here is in any way caused by some divine intervention, do you, Sir?”

Mulder asked.

“Mulder…” Scully cautioned her partner before she turned to the clergyman. “Why

don’t you sit down, Sir,” she suggested.

The priest didn’t say anything for a moment and then he turned to the agent. “No —

no, I’m alright,” he said and then looked at both agents as if noticing them for the

first time. “I’m sorry, you said you’re from the FBI?” he questioned.

“Father,” Scully began before Mulder could respond. “My partner and I investigate

cases of what you might call an ‘unexplained’ nature. Travis Stark contacted our

office about a man named Billy Ward whom he believes could be responsible for

some unethical practices here in Fairbury.”

Mulder had to admire his partner’s tact.

“Reverend Stark? I’m sorry, the ‘former’ Reverend Stark?” the priest asked seeming

to awaken from his former funk.

Mulder caught his partner’s eye, “Mr. Stark is also clergy? He asked.

“Travis was the minister at the Presbyterian church across town until about a year or

so ago, when his wife and daughter were found dead in the pond on Helen

Redmond’s farm,” the pastor began. “From what I remember autopsies found they

had both drown but no other explanation could be found for their deaths. Travis

stepped away from the Church, abandoning God. I must admit I find it rather odd

that he would be drawn to something like this.”

“Maybe he doesn’t believe it either,” Mulder suggested.

“I’m sorry, believe what?” Dohnal asked.

Mulder slipped his hands into his coat pockets. “From what I gathered from your

message out there when we walked in. You were advising your parishioners not to

be taken in by what they’re witnessing.”

“Mr. Mulder — is it?” the priest asked suddenly seeming uncomfortable with the

subject matter. “We all want to believe in the possibility of miracles. They’re a part

of a larger picture that is referred to as faith. Would you not agree?”

Mulder looked at his partner again. “I’m probably not the one you want to be asking

that question of, Sir” he admitted.

“You don’t believe that what’s been reported here can be classified as miracles?”

Scully asked, taking over the conversation.

“God would not ask for payment for performing a miracle,” the priest replied.

“Billy Ward is being paid? The agent asked.

“Not in the sense that he’s receiving cash, no. But everyone in this town who has

been ‘cured’ by his touch have now become his servant and those who have not

been picked by this servant of the devil are suffering from what they feel is his

rejection.”

“So, you believe they’re selling their souls to the devil,” Mulder commented.

“Not if I can help it,” Dohnal told them, glaring at Mulder.

“Father?” Scully asked, pulling the priest’s attention away from her partner.

Regardless of who or what Billy Ward was, or was involved in, there was something

she needed an answer to. Moments ago they had all witnessed the crucifix in the

sanctuary weep. History was filled with such instances across the globe but she had

never actually witnessed it herself, it was unsettling. “May I ask what you believe

caused the statue to weep?”

Mulder turned to his partner but respectfully said nothing.

“I have no idea,” the priest told her.

REDMOND FARM

7:13 PM

Mulder pulled their Explorer in next to Travis’s truck. They had followed the former

pastor out here from his home after questioning him about the death of his family.

Gail Stark and her young daughter had disappeared from their home and had been

found two days later hidden in the pond reeds that surrounded Redmond’s pond.

Case photos the agents had obtained from the local police files revealed the same

tall blond man that had been visible in Mulder’s photos had been present when their

bodies were found.

Travis was out of the truck and heading for the local sheriff who was at the moment

directing traffic in the chaos that surrounded the Redmond barn. “Frank!” Travis

barked at the sheriff who made no attempt to draw his attention away from his

present duties. “Dammit! I need to talk to you now!” Travis grabbed the man and

spun him around waving a photo of what appeared to be himself and the sheriff

speaking to each other at the scene of his wife’s death, the mysterious blond man

obviously visible in the background. “He was there! Look at this!” Stark demanded.

“Dammit, Travis, get away from me! I can’t look at that now. Don’t you see I’m

occupied here?” The sheriff argued wrestling himself from Travis’ grip.

Travis made a lunge for the sheriff. “Will you just look at the picture! This man,”

Travis shouted, pointing at the image of the blond man behind him in the photo. “He

was there when they found my wife!”

The sheriff finally grabbed the photo from Travis and studied it briefly. “I don’t see

anybody but you and me in this picture, Travis. What the hell are you talking

about?”

“You don’t see three people in this picture?”

“No I don’t. No get the hell outta my way!” The sheriff turned away to survey the

traffic.

“You’re a fuckin’ liar Hank!” Travis shouted, once again reaching out to grab the man

but someone pulled him back.

“Hold on!” Mulder’s voice boomed in his ear as the agent spun him around. “Take it

easy,” the agent tried to verbally subdue the man. Scully took the photo and turned

to the sheriff.

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“Sir? My name is Dana Scully,” she began opening her badge for his inspection. “I’m

with the FBI. Can we have a moment of your time?”

Sheriff Hank Kleinworth turned and eyed them all. “Okay, you got one moment,” he

told them.

“This is you in this photo, correct?” she asked. “The other gentleman is Mr. Stark

here. Can you identify the third man?”

Kleinworth grabbed the photo from Scully. “You’re all nuts, there’s only two people

in this photo,” he told them, shaking the photograph at them. “Me and Travis. Now

let me get back to my work.”

Scully turned to her partner who subtly shook his head indicating that there was no

point in pursuing the matter any longer. She took the photo back from the Sheriff.

“He’s lying! They’re all lying!” Travis argued. Mulder reached out and touched his

shoulder turning him around as they made their way to the barn.

“We know that. Now we have to find out why,” he said.

Inside the barn chairs had been set up in rows. Lights had been strung back and

forth from the overhead rafters. A small stage built on bails of hay was at the far

end. Despite the chill, most of the seats were already filled with those anxious for a

miracle. On their way through the parking area Scully had noticed plates from as far

away as Minnesota and Kentucky. Word spreads fast evidently. She had mixed

emotions about this whole case. While her analytical mind told her that realistically

there a more logical explanation for what was going on here, her heart yearned for

the unexplainable.

They were met at the entrance to the proceedings by an elderly woman in a worn

coat. Her hair was tucked neatly into a bun at the back of her neck. “Oh, welcome!”

she said extending her hand to Scully who took it in a warm shake. “My name is

Helen. I’m so pleased you could join us. You’re here to see Billy of course.” Her

voice trailed up into a questioning tone.

Scully glanced at her partner, “Yes, we’ve heard he’s done some amazing things…”

“Billy’s been just a wonderful help to me,” the elderly woman went on. “He’s

changed my whole life. Come, please sit down…”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Scully released the woman’s hand, motioning to her partner who

had stepped aside to stand against the wall. “We’ll just stand back here.”

A young man stepped up to the microphone on the make-shift stage and cleared his

throat. The crowd turned their attention forward. “I know your all here for a reason

so let’s not keep you waiting any longer. Ladies and gentleman, Billy Ward!”

The barn erupted in a chaos of cheers and applause. Billy Ward was a stocky young

man dressed in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt like most of the men in the audience.

His hair was dark and curly; about shoulder length that combined with the short

beard gave him an unsettling resemblance to Jesus Christ. Something about his

eyes made Mulder shudder; he turned to his partner and noticed the blond man who

had been present in all the photos was standing near the entrance to the barn

dressed in a long black coat. He gave Mulder a cold stare and the agent glanced

away. When he looked back the man had disappeared.

“I know you’re all here because of the signs and wonders you’ve seen around town,”

Billy began. “You’re here because you’re hoping for a miracle. I’m here to show you

all it takes is a willing spirit and an open heart.” Billy scanned the crowd, his gaze

stopping momentarily on the group standing in the back that included Mulder, Scully,

Travis and now Sheriff Kleinworth. “Markus Baker,” he said, stepping down from the

stage as an elderly man in glasses stood up. “You can’t see without your glasses can

you?”

“No, sir, I’ve worn them all my life,” Baker replied.

Billy stepped up to Markus and reached out, pulling his glasses from his face.

“Hey, I can’t see without those!” Markus exclaimed.

“Yes you can,” Billy told him, his voice almost hypnotic. Billy reached out and

touched Markus’ forehead with is right hand. Everyone watched as Markus’ head

snapped back as if struck. The man staggered slightly, a man sitting next to him

reached up to steady him.

Markus looked around the barn, an expression of amazement spread across his face.

“Carl,” he said pointing to a man across the aisle. “I can see you! And Bob Wherle,

I can see you too! Hank,” he said turning to the Sheriff who still stood with the

agents at the back of the barn. “I can see you”!

Travis pushed past Mulder to confront the young man. “I know what you’re trying to

do! You’re trying to make these people believe you’re Jesus Christ!” he burst out.

“You’re a fake and I’m going to prove it!”

Billy walked down the aisle until he was standing in front of Travis and the rest of the

group. He unbuttoned his sleeves and raised his arms above his head to reveal the

scars on his wrists. “Does this make me a fake?” he asked in the same methodical

voice he had used when speaking to Markus his eyes scanning the group before

finally settling on Mulder. It was then that the agent realized where he had seen

that look before, in the eyes of a young boy named Charlie. The words “It knows

you” danced through his memory. Billy then turned around to face his audience.

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The entire assembly gasped in unison. Some of them close to the young man rose to

reach out and touch him. Others joined them until almost everyone in the barn was

crowded around Billy.

A woman who had come to stand next to Travis turned to him. “I want my son out

of here, Travis,” she told him as she pushed past them and into the crowd of people.

“Craig!” the woman yelled over their heads. Pushing her way through she reached

the boy who had introduced Billy. “I want you to come home!”

“I’m needed here!” Craig yelled back.

“You’re needed at home!” The distraught woman yelled back. Suddenly someone

touched her arm; she turned to find Travis pulling her out of the crowd of people.

“Carol, let it be,” Travis told her, guiding her back to where the agents were

standing.

“I’m not leaving him here, Travis,” she insisted.

“Will you just listen to me for a minute!” Stark barked. “These are the FBI agents I

told you about,” he told her turning to the agents.

Carol Fleming had long ash blond hair, probably in her mid 40’s. She was the town

veterinarian. “Can you help me get my son out of here?” she asked them.

“How did your son get involved in this Ms. Fleming?” Scully asked. Behind them

people still crowed around Billy, gasps and screams of delight could be heard as he

touched one of them after another.

“Ever since his accident. He claims he was dead and he was saved for a purpose. I

guess he believes this is it.” Carol did not sound convinced.

“I think we should get out of here,” Mulder told the group. “I don’t think your son is

in any danger right now, Ms. Fleming.”

“Mulder?” Scully studied the scene before her, it was reminiscent of the revivals she

and her partner had seen elsewhere but something was different here. She wasn’t

sure that her partner was correct. He reached over and took her elbow, motioning

for her to follow him outside.

“We’re outnumbered in there, Scully,” he told her once they had exited the barn. He

turned to Carol. “If we try and pull him out of there against his wishes then you’ll

have the entire town against you. That’s not what we need right now. Billy seems

to be taking care of his disciples. I think it’s better if we keep it that way.”

CAPRI MOTEL

12:22 AM

According to the database Mulder was currently searching through, Billy Ward’s last

place of employment had been a garage in Western. He decided that they would

start there in the morning. Scully had been unusually quiet on their trip back to the

motel. She was currently snuggled into bed, her back to him. He shut down the

laptop and went into the other room to change.

He returned a few minutes later and lifted the covers on the other side of the bed.

“Am I welcome here or not?” he asked with a slight teasing tone.

“If for nothing else than I can use the warmth,” she chided back patting the pillow

next to her.

“Nice to know I’m good for something,” he replied easing himself in beside her.

“Something’s bother you, you want to tell me what it is?” he then asked.

“Billy Ward is not who he claims to be, Mulder,” she stated flatly moving over against

her partner and then turning her back to him so they could spoon together.

Mulder pulled her close. “I know that and I’m glad to hear you know that.”

Puzzled, Scully push away and turned to face him. “What makes think I believe any

of this?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted pushing the hair off her face. “You seemed pretty

mesmerized in the church. I know you believe in the possibility of miracles,

something I’m not honestly ready to accept. I’m not sure what you think of Billy.”

“There have been many instances of stigmata throughout the centuries Mulder.

We’ve both witnessed it.”

“Kevin Kryder?”

“Billy is not Kevin Kryder.”

“I don’t think he’s Billy Ward either,” Mulder finally confessed. He watched as the

puzzled look returned to his partner’s face. “I want to drive up to Western

tomorrow. Talk to the owner of Parker’s Garage. That’s the last place Mr. Ward held

a job.

PARKER’S GARAGE

10:14AM

Not by chance the agents had met up with Travis and Carol Fleming at Griffey’s and

followed them up to Western. Mulder pulled the photo of Billy from his breast pocket

as he exited the car. An elderly man in a greasy jacket was already talking to Travis

as the agents entered the old garage. Even with the overhead door open, the smell

of axle grease and oil was overpowering. Like everything else around here, the place

had probably been here for sixty years. “Mr. Parker?” Mulder asked.

“You folks are from the FBI? Look, this ain’t no chop-shop if that’s what you’re

thinking,” Parker told them defensively.

“I’m sure it’s not, Mr. Parker,” Mulder assured him. “You wouldn’t be here for as

long as it looks if your customers weren’t satisfied with the work. My name’s Mulder,

this is my partner, Dana Scully. We just want to ask you a few questions about a

former employee.”

Mulder handed the man the photo of Billy Ward. “Can you identify this man as Billy

Ward? I believe he used to work for you.”

Parker took the photo from Mulder and held it close to his face. “Can’t see too good

without my glasses,” he admitted. “But I can tell ya, I don’t know who that is, but it

ain’t Billy Ward.”

“Do you recognize this man?” Scully asked, accepting the photo back from Parker.

“No ma-am. I don’t know who that is,” Parker told her, pointing an equally greasy

finger at the image. “But I can tell ya, Billy used to work for me some years ago,

went home one night and never came back. Heard they found him shot in the head.

Everybody sorta felt he did it himself.”

“Travis,” Carol said, turning to Stark. “If this man is not who he claims to be I want

to go get my son now!”

“I think it’s a good idea, Mulder,” Scully suggested.

Mulder eyed his associates and then addressed Parker again. “Billy Ward, did he live

around here?”

After a few minutes of weighing their options the group headed back to Fairbury, via

the Ward residence. Travis led them to a small secluded house off road 725. The

wind had picked up again blowing the snow around the yard as the four of them

waded through the more than ankle deep cover and up to the house. Mulder cursed

under his breath. He had no boots and Scully’s ankle boots were of little help.

There was no answer when Travis knocked on the door; in fact the house was dark.

The lack of any tracks in the snow, human or otherwise indicated that the place was

probably unoccupied. Travis and Carol went around back. Mulder pulled the collar

up on his coat and turned to his partner who gave him an icy stare. “Don’t say it,”

he told her disgustedly already feeling the melting snow in his shoes.

“Agents!” Travis called from behind the structure.

Mulder jogged around the back with Scully following as best she could in his leggy

footprints.

“Back here!” Carol’s voice echoed off to his right. The agents turned and saw her

waving

at them through the trees. Tramping back through the heavy snow, the agents

found

Carol and Travis standing over the open grave of Billy Ward, the date on the simple

stone

read 2002. “Who would have done this?” the woman asked.

“Maybe the question we should ask is what were they looking for?” Mulder admitted.

He stooped down with Scully who was already squatting down to get a closer look.

With the newly falling snow it was hard to tell when or how long the grave had been

opened. “Is it a practice around here to bury the dead in your backyard?” the agent

looked up at Carol and Travis.

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Something danced in the side of his field of vision, a figure in a black coat he

thought. Carol must have seen it too because she turned with him. “What was

that?” she asked. The wind made an eerie sound as it stirred the scrubby pines

around them.

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“What was what?” Scully questioned.

Mulder felt that shudder again. “I don’t know,” he told her, taking her elbow again

and beginning to stand. “But I don’t think we should hang around and find out.”

Within minutes they were back in their vehicles and heading back towards Fairbury.

The wind blew the snow across the highway but they kept a brisk pace. Shortly after

making the turn back on to 15 Mulder caught the lights of an emergency vehicle in

his rearview mirror. As the vehicle got closer he realized it was a patrol car and

before he knew it the car was right on his bumper, the headlights flashing to indicate

he should pull over.

“What are you doing?” Scully asked as she felt the car slow down. Mulder pulled off

the road to the right and came to a stop. They both watched Travis’ taillights

disappear into the blowing snow ahead of them.

“We have company,” he told his partner his eyes fixed on the mirror. “What he

hell?”

Scully turned around and watched Kleinworth exit the vehicle that had pulled them

over.

“Stay in the car,” Mulder warned her as he unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the

door.

“What the fuck are you doing out here!” Kleinworth yelled, shoving Mulder against

the side of the car his fist wrapped around the lapels of the agent’s coat before the

agent could even close the door. Scully burst out the other door almost immediately

and circled the vehicle.

“We’re investigating a lead,” Mulder spat back, pulling Kleinworth’s hands from his

coat.

“You’re out here snooping into things that are none of your concern Agent Mulder,”

the sheriff warned pulling his gun on the agent.

Scully studied the man; he seemed even more agitated than the previous evening at

the revival. “Sir!”

“Shut up!” Hank shouted, turning his gun on the female agent. Mulder watched his

partner spread her arms in submission indicating she was of no threat.

“Billy wants to see you,” Hank finally admitted, still waving the gun around.

Headlights broke through the blowing snow and Travis’ pickup came back into view.

He pulled up on the other side of the road and both he and Carol got out. “Hank,

what the hell is going on?” Travis crossed the road without even looking.

“I was sick in the head, but now I’m better ’cause of him,” the sheriff told him.

“Billy’s not doing anything wrong and I’m not letting these people,” he waved the

gun at the agents again. “Interfere with what he’s doin’.”

“You’re not better, Hank,” Carol spoke up. “Billy just has you and everyone else

brainwashed into thinking that. You need treatment and if you don’t get it you’re

going to die! You’re being used, don’t be a fool!”

“You’re the fool because you don’t believe him!” Hank turned the gun on Carol and

Travis jumped in front of her.

“Hank, listen to me,” Travis held up his hands in a surrendering gesture. “These

people are here because I contacted them. I’m worried about you, Carol’s son and

everyone else Billy’s been in contact with. There’s some question about Billy’s

identity,” Travis tried to appease the officer. “How about we all go see what he has

to say about that.”

Hank studied his friend for several minutes; the manic look seemed to ease on his

face. He shook his head as if trying to shake the cobwebs away. “Well, fine, because

he wants to see these people anyway.” Hank finally holstered his weapon. “Trav,

you lead the way and I’ll follow these people so they don’t get any funny ideas.”

Mulder, Scully and Travis exchanged glances and then got back into their vehicles.

“You have any funny ideas?” Scully asked when she and Mulder got back into the

SUV.

Mulder turned to her, a wry grin touching the corners of his mouth. “You sure you

want to ask me that?”

“Forget it, it’s too cold out here,” Scully came back. “Seriously, you have any kind of

a theory brewing in that head of yours?”

“Not exactly,” Mulder admitted as he eased the car out of park and began to follow

Travis. “I think that we can both agree that what we’re dealing with here is most

certainly not anything divine and in my opinion, probably just the opposite.”

“Evil forces?” Scully mocked.

Mulder flicked on the wipers, when the snow blew across the road it was hard to see

Travis’ taillights ahead of them. “You jest, but we both know evil exists. I think

what we’re dealing with here is a need.”

“So, what, Billy is possessed by something evil?”

Mulder turned to his partner, his eyes going wide. “Did you just say — possession?”

he mocked back.

“Isn’t that what you were alluding to?”

“Not exactly, but I like the way you think.”

RENWOOD FARM

Mulder wasn’t surprised when they ended up at Helen’s farm. The woman had

seemed enamored with Billy. She had opened her home to him and his followers

without so much as a second thought, trusting him in much the same way as

everyone else the man touched.

A woman that Carol obviously recognized answered the door. “Where’s Craig,” Carol

immediately demanded.

The woman seemed taken aback by the abrupt exchange. “He’s here,” the woman

acknowledged.

“I want to see him now!” Carol again demanded bursting into the front hall of the

stately old home.

Travis reached out for her. “Carol, dammit, hang on. Donna, where’s Helen?”

“Helen’s upstairs resting comfortably,” Donna told them.

“I want my son, Donna, now tell me where he is.” Carol started down the hallway.

“Resting comfortably from what?” Scully asked.

“Helen, is fine, she’s under Billy’s care.”

“I want to see her,” Scully told the woman as she grabbed the banister to head

upstairs. Mulder stepped up behind her in an unnecessary show of masculinity.

Donna stepped aside.

Travis followed Carol into the drawing room of the old home as the agents went

upstairs to look for Helen. The upstairs hall was dark, the only light emitting from

under the door of a room on the right. Mulder tried the handle several times and

then glanced at his partner as if asking permission before he used a powerful kick to

force it open. The door banged back against a piece of furniture but Scully caught it

as Mulder stepped into the room.

Inside the room an unmade bed was empty. The agents stepped into the chilly room

together, Scully heading for the empty bed, Mulder making his way across the room

to close the French doors that opened onto a small porch. Something in the

shadows to his right made him turn, “Mrs. Redmond?” he asked in a soft voice, his

eyes straining to see in the dim light. The figure who stepped from the shadows was

unrecognizable as Helen Redmond. She was clothed in only a nightgown, her gray

hair was in disarray about her face and as she came into the light the agent could

see her eyes had a hauntingly familiar wild yellow look to them. “Helen?” he asked

again.

“We’re here to help you, Mrs. Redmond,” Scully tried to assure her, stepping across

the room. Something wasn’t right here.

“NO!” the woman screamed, darting across the room to latch her hands around

Mulder’s throat. “You’re not wanted here!”

Stunned, Mulder stepped back with the impact of the woman, he reached up,

attempting to pull her hands from his throat but her grip was unnaturally strong.

They staggered backwards toward the French doors. In his peripheral vision he saw

Scully moving across the room to his aide. In what seemed like a split second the

woman turned to his partner, her look sending Scully airborne against the far wall

and in the same moment propelling him backwards, out onto the porch and over the

railing.

He could feel himself falling backwards into nothing, his arms instinctively reaching

out for anything that would break his fall. The flash of gunfire lit the room above

him and then he crashed, rather ineloquently into the shrubbery.

“Mulder!” Scully was peering down at him from the porch above, gun in hand. “Are

you alright?” she asked as she watched him struggling to free himself from the mass

of broken limbs.

“Oh yeah,” he told her looking up. “Once again, my ass broke the fall, “What about

you? Where’s Helen?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“She’s dead, Mulder,” Scully replied as she watched her partner struggle to his feet.

“Get out of there,” he yelled up, looking for an entrance back into the house. When

he hit the front porch he was met by Carol, her arms wrapped around Craig, his face

damp with tears. “Where’s Travis?” he asked.

“Inside, he needs help…” Carol told him almost dragging her son away from the

home.

Scully met him at the bottom of the stairs when he entered. “Travis,” was all he said

as he headed down the hallway. A young woman was kneeling on the floor just

outside the drawing room, weeping hysterically. A quick glance from her partner

told her that she should attend to the girl. Scully stooped down and put her hands

on the girl’s shoulders. “My name is Dana, let me help you…”

Blood ran from the girl’s hairline when she looked up, “All my scars are coming back,

he doesn’t want me!” the girl cried.

“He doesn’t want you?” Scully asked confused.

“Billy! He asked me to do some terrible things and I said no. Now he doesn’t want

me!”

Inside the drawing room Travis was struggling to help a man from the floor. “Come

on Malcolm, we have to get out of here,” Travis was trying desperately to get the

man to stand. Mulder recognized the name Malcolm from the STAR article. It

appeared that his legs, which had been healed, would no longer hold him. The agent

stepped over to help. “Heal me!” the elderly man screamed. “I’ll do anything! Help

me walk again!”

“If I gave you a gun would you kill this man?” Billy rose from the table by the

window, a glass of red wine in his hand. He pointed to Travis. “Would you kill this

man?” he asked, pointing at Mulder.

“I — I…” Malcolm stuttered as Travis and Mulder pulled him to his feet.

“I thought not,” Billy concurred stepping closer. “You tell me you’d do anything but

when I ask this of you — you can not. You have no faith. That is why you can not

walk. You don’t believe!”

Mulder followed Travis to the door of the drawing room where Scully was trying

desperately to stop the blood flowing from the young girl’s head. The girl’s eyes

were growing glassy. He bent down and scooped the girl up and headed for the door

as Scully and Travis guided Malcolm from the home.

Once outside, Travis’ truck was gone, Carol evidently had taken Craig and driven off

in it. The sheriff was no where in site. He headed for the Explorer. When they

reached the car Scully popped open the back door and Travis guided Malcolm into it.

Mulder lowered the girl onto the seat next to him and then stepped out of the way

while his partner administered to her. “We have to get her to a hospital, Mulder,”

she told her partner raising from the car and turning to face him.

Mulder pulled the keys from his pocket and handed them to his partner. “Then go,”

he told her.

A look of puzzled fear spread across her face. “Mulder — you’re not staying here…”

“Get them to a hospital, Scully, I’m not alone here …” he looked away for a moment,

over at Travis who stood waiting for him.

Scully looked at Travis. “Take 15 up to 80, it will take you right to Lincoln,” he told

her starting to walk away. Mulder stepped closer, bending down to kiss her. He

didn’t need to say anything when he stepped away.

Scully stood for a moment watching her partner’s back as he and Travis jogged back

towards the house. She didn’t like the feel of this nor did she understand why they

were going back but she got into the car anyway and started the engine, glancing

into the rearview mirror at Malcolm who was trying desperately to help the girl. A

sudden thump on the driver’s window startled her, when she turned around, Sheriff

Kleinworth was glaring at her “You can’t leave here!” he yelled through the glass.

Scully didn’t answer, she stepped on the accelerator and the SUV lurched forward,

spewing dirt and snow out behind as she struggled to pull it onto the slippery road.

Once she had control of the vehicle she pulled out her cell phone to dial the state

police. Her partner was going to need more help.

Mulder found Travis in the drawing room of the house. Billy stood before him,

swaying slightly, the glass of wine still in his hand. “Blood of Christ” he offered,

wobbling back over to the table to offer them a drink.

“I hope you choke on it,” Travis answered back.

“Don’t you understand!” Billy burst out. “I was left alone by an unloving God. He

abandoned me, just like he abandoned you!” Billy staggered back across the room to

stand in front of Stark, “And you!” he stated turning to Mulder. “What has he given

either of you but grief?” Billy tossed the wine down his throat and threw the glass

across the room. He swirled the wine around in the bottle. “He doesn’t bleed for

any of us! That is why they all come to me!”

“All you offer them is fear, Billy,” Mulder told him.

“No! I show them the way when they’ve fallen off the path,” Billy corrected the

agent. “I can help you.”

“What happens when they won’t serve you?” the agent asked, ignoring Billy’s offer.

“You take back what was given to them don’t you.” It hadn’t taken the agent long to

understand what he was seeing. “We know you aren’t Billy Ward,” he confessed to

the man.

“Ha!” Billy swankered. “That name sounded much more impressive than Norb

Gookin — who the fuck names their son Norb Gookin?” Billy spat. “I’ll tell you who,

the father that beats you while the rest of the town and your church,” he continued

his eyes piercing into Travis’. “Look the other way!” Billy saw recognition pass

across Travis’ face. He smiled and evil smile. “You remember now, don’t you? You

forced me to put my faith in another… Maybe your wife died as a payback for what

you refused to see!”

Travis lunged at Billy who sent him flying across the room with a sweep of his hand.

The man slammed against the bookcase and lay motionless. Billy turned to Mulder.

“That redhead cost me a death. Helen was mine…”

“There won’t be anymore deaths, Billy,” Mulder stated, pulling he weapon.

“And who is going to stop me? You?” Billy asked his gaze directed over Mulder’s

shoulder at something behind the agent.

Mulder felt a chill pass through him and turned around. The blond man and two

other men clothed in black stood behind him.

“Not all angels serve God, Agent Mulder,” Billy sneered. “Six years, every six years,

there must be a death by my hand or they take my life — I guess you will have to be

the one now…”

1996, 2002, and now 2008, six, six, six, Mulder thought to himself. It was then he

realized that not only was this man not Billy Ward, it probably wasn’t Norb either. It

was something that had continued to find a path of existence throughout time. The

thought turned him cold. Billy’s disciples weren’t the only ones living in fear. It was

evident now that Billy was also frightened of what he suddenly realized might be out

of his control. Mulder made an attempt to step away but the three men were on

him, disarming him and wrestling him to the ground with a heavy thump that sent

everything black.

He came too a few minutes later lashed to what he morbidly realized was Helen’s

kitchen table. “Welcome back Agent Mulder,” Billy’s voice had returned to the

mesmerizing tone he had used in the barn. “This is much more fun when I can hear

you scream… You see we all have to pay for what we believe are miracles Mr.

Mulder. This is how I pay for mine.” Mulder watched Billy raise his hand above him.

In it was a ten inch kitchen knife. “Say your prayers, Agent Mulder…”

The agent found he couldn’t take his eyes off the blade that now descended on him.

Moments before it would have penetrated his chest something heavy landed on him.

The blade which continued its motion downwards in Billy’s hand ended up deep

within the object.

“NO!” Billy yelled. Lifting the knife up along with the object, a book, the inscription

on which Mulder could now read THE HOLY BIBLE. Travis was on Billy in an instant,

pulling him back away from the table until they tumbled to the floor in a heap.

Travis rolled Billy onto his back, pinning his shoulders to the floor.

“Demons can not enter where they’re not welcome and they can not stay where

they’re not allowed. Get out of our town! Release this man!” Travis yelled, shaking

Billy against the hardwood floor. Mulder struggled against the bindings as the three

men advanced on him.

With a gust of wind and a loud bang the kitchen door blew open swirling snow about

the room. The agent could feel the table shaking; in fact the whole house seemed to

be shaking around them. He watched in amazement as the three dark figures

seemed to vanish before his eyes.

On the floor Billy emitted an unearthly scream, his face distorting into an ugly image,

Travis didn’t recognize. He jumped up and backed away. In the commotion of the

shaking house he and the agent could here the sounds of others as they scrambled

out of the dwelling. Cracks appeared in the walls and ceiling, the floorboards began

to split apart. Travis staggered over to the table attempting to release Mulder. The

bindings that held the agent were tight. Travis was shaking so badly he couldn’t

make his fingers work around the lashings. Plaster dropped on them from the

ceiling above as a hole in the floor opened up threatening to pull them both in. “I

can’t untie these!” Travis finally confessed. “In here! Help me!” he yelled at anyone

who might hear him.

“Get out of here!” Mulder yelled wrestling with the bindings himself in an attempt to

get free. What he did only made them tighter. Suddenly the table lurched, dropping

several feet as the floor gave way beneath it. “Go!” Mulder yelled again at Travis.

Stark hesitated for a moment, the house rumbling about him and then in an instant

everything was crashing down around him. He leapt through the open door and out

into the snow as the entire house collapsed in on itself and into the gaping hole in

the ground.

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Stark staggered to his feet, dust and snow billowed all around him. Behind him he

heard the sound of emergency vehicles. As they pulled into the yard their headlights

lit up the scene around him. He glanced around at several groups of people that had

been inside the house, some of them now stood weeping. Eventually a deputy from

the state police approached him. “What the hell?”

“I think that explains it,” he told the man and then stepped away.

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ST. ELIZABETH MEDICAL CENTER

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA

Scully stood on the hospital’s heliport and looked off into the darkness of the

southern sky searching for a light. All she had heard from the local law was that

Mulder had been found in the rubble of Helen’s home and that he was being med-

evacted to Lincoln. The wind whipped her hair about her face; she didn’t bother to

button her coat. The hospital staff waited for the chopper’s arrival in the comfort of

the hospital’s trauma center. She needed to see him before they whisked him away

for treatment.

When a light in the distance grew steadily brighter she knew it would only be

moments before she would know his condition. In those moments she found herself

thinking about the existence of miracles. While Mulder believed her unexplained

remission from cancer years ago was due to the chip that still lay beneath the skin of

her neck. Her faith told her that her being here was nothing short of a miracle, a

miracle of which both God and her partner were an integral part.

She thought about the statue they had both seen weep in the church in Fairbury.

While Father Dohnal said he didn’t know what made it weep she couldn’t help but

feel that he thought that was the work of evil also. But perhaps the Christ had wept

because those that stood before him were so willing to place their faith elsewhere.

Now as she watched the light growing brighter like a shining star of hope she found

herself putting her faith in a God she believed in and in the knowledge that he would

bring her partner home safe.

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The chopper landed in a whirl of wind and snow. The emergency staff was out the

door as soon as it landed, rushing past her to accept the cargo. She wanted

desperately to run to his side with them but she was lucky they had agreed to let her

on the heliport at all. The door to the aircraft opened and for a moment no one did

anything. One of the emergency technicians looked her way and in that moment she

was certain her heart stopped. Then they all jumped into motion. It took them only

seconds to pull the gurney off the chopper and pop it up, heading towards her and

the door the wind whipping at them. Mulder was wrapped in a warming blanket; an

IV ran down underneath the blanket, an oxygen mask covered his face. Scully

stepped towards the gurney, thankful that no one stopped her as she dug his left

hand out from under the blanket. “Mulder? Mulder, can you hear me?” she almost

pleaded.

The trauma door opened and she followed them through, still holding her partner’s

hand. “His vitals are good,” one of the nurses assured her. When she looked up to

see who had spoken to her she felt Mulder squeeze her hand, she looked down at

him immediately. “Mulder?” His eyes opened then, an easy grin spread across his

face from beneath the oxygen mask going all the way to his eyes. She breathed a

sigh of relief and squeezed his hand tightly as the doors closed behind them.

Early the next morning as she sat watching her partner sleep she thought about

what the state police officer who had been on the scene had said. If they hadn’t

found him when they did he certainly would have been crushed to death as the

rubble of the house continued to settle on him. As it was, other than some bruising

and a few cracked ribs he had escaped relatively unharmed. “Somebody was sure

lookin’ out for him,” the officer had said.

She shook her head sadly, for all Mulder’s belief in the paranormal he still would not

acknowledge that God could have a part in what could not be explained. His faith

was and would forever be in the truth. In the end she thought, what did it really

matter, as long as it gave them a reason to believe.

FAIRBURY, NEBRASKA

Three dark figures stood on a low rise just south of Fairbury. Below them lay the

rubble of what had once been Helen Redmond’s home. The wind whipped a tattered

sign that still clung to the fence proclaiming a revival of a different sort had been

held there. None of them spoke. The tall man with the mane of blond hair knew

what the others knew, that a force more powerful than their own had laid waste to

the property, putting a stop to what was transpiring within its walls.

They would regroup, find another to instill with the power that continued to grow as

long as they found those who would believe.

“If I gave you time to change my mind

I’d find a way just to leave the past behind…

Still I look to find a reason to believe.”

4

A Reason to Believe by Traveler

My Favorite Moment

My Favorite Moment

Author: Waddles 52

Category: MSR

Rating: PG 13

Summary: Mulder and Scully try to have a normal Valentine’s Day.

Disclaimer: Okay, I think we all know the drill by now. The only thing I get out of writing

these fics is a sore back and a feeling of accomplishment, neither of which will make a profit

for me.

Archives: Exclusive to VS 15 for two weeks. After that it is available to archive. Please let

me know first. Okay?

Author’s Notes: Apologies to those of you in Winston-Salem and surrounding areas. After

doing some research, I know that the hockey team plays in a different building. I needed

an ice rink under the floor for a certain scene in my fic, so I took creative license and

changed things around a bit. Your city seems very nice and who knows, maybe I’ll end up

there for a concert myself one of these days. Stranger things have happened.

February 13th—–Basement Office

“I really hope that’s a new assignment you have in your hand.” Their office had been dead

for the past few weeks and Scully was so eager to get back into fieldwork that she’d even

settle for a real field, crop circles included.

“Sorry, Scully.” Mulder immediately noticed her disappointment. “Skinner had something

else in mind for us,” he grinned, waving the paper in his right hand.

“Don’t tell me. He’s going to send us to the archives to look for misfiled reports and we’ll

never be seen or heard from again.”

“Well, he doesn’t want to see us for a few days but he isn’t punishing us. These papers are

our tickets to freedom, at least until the 18th when our bright and shining faces are

expected in Skinner’s office at 8AM sharp.”

Scully looked confused.

“Grab your coat and briefcase and I’ll explain it on the way home.”

Mulder hefted a suitcase onto their bed and opened it. Scully began to carefully pack some

of her items. When she was satisfied with their placement she turned to face her partner,

her arms crossed on her chest. “All right, Mulder. You’ve kept me in suspense long

enough. I know that Skinner gave us some comp time and that we’re going out of town,

but I need to know whether to pack your long underwear or your Speedo. Where are we

going?”

He sat at on the foot of the bed and gently pulled her down to sit beside him. “I know that

you don’t particularly care for men painted blue after the last Modell case.” Mulder paused

as he thought of an even more unpleasant memory from that time.

“Putting that aside, I thought you might enjoy seeing some men painted in a different

shade of blue who are very much alive. I managed to score two third row seats to see the

Blue Man Group,” the tall, lanky man announced, looking very pleased with himself.

“Are you kidding? I thought they were here last night.” Scully was still a bit confused

about all of Mulder’s plans. Since their job required them to be on call essentially 24/7 it

was difficult to make plans too far ahead which made it next to impossible to get good

seating to events at the last minute.

“They were. We’re going to see them tomorrow evening in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

We’ll be leaving pretty early in the morning for the drive down and after the concert I

thought I could try to make-up for all of the Valentine’s days we’ve had to work . . .”

“Or the ones you spent in the hospital,” Scully interjected.

“Especially those. I thought we could leave the Twin Cities sometime Friday morning and

head to the beach for a day or two. Even though it’s still a bit too cool to swim, I figured we

might enjoy a few walks on the beach. On Sunday morning we won’t be able to sleep in.

Instead we’ll eat a nice breakfast and drive back at a leisurely pace.”

“That sounds wonderful, Mulder. I think the Blue Man Group will be a great way to take our

minds off work, or the lack thereof, and the other things you have planned sound pretty

interesting.”

“Great. I’m glad that you like what I’ve planned so far.”

Scully gave her partner a quick peck on the cheek and hopped off the bed to make her way

back to the dresser. “So, it’ll be too cold for the Speedo?”

“Um, I don’t think I’d want to wear it to the beach but I’ll be glad to model it for you in our

room.”

“Works for me.” She threw her favorite red Speedo into the suitcase.

Mulder decided it was time to get busy too. Although, he’d rather watch his love pack or

better yet, try to distract her from the job, he remembered that he still needed to reserve

some rooms for their Valentine getaway. He’d finalized the ticket purchase online last night

and found himself holding his breath as he waited for a reply from AD Skinner about some

comp time they had coming to them. Thank goodness he hadn’t had time to get grouchy

and signed off on the forms right away. Now, he hoped to come up with something very

nice in the way of lodgings for Scully

Scully had been curious about Mulder’s Wal-Mart purchase for a great deal of time on the

trip to North Carolina. Although her handsome partner wasn’t against saving money on

every day items, it wasn’t the type of store that he normally frequented. So it had been a

niggling thought ever since he put the bag in the trunk of the car early this morning.

“Hey, Scully, is that map handy?”

“Sure thing, Mulder.” She looked up in time to notice that they were getting close to their

destination and it was rush hour. She’d have to put her earlier thoughts away and put all of

her concentration into navigating the heavy traffic.

The Winston-Salem entertainment-sports complex was a lot larger than either of the agents

expected. Instead of one large building, there were several different venues along with

quite a few large parking lots. Fortunately, several signs pointed them in the right

direction.

Mulder smiled to himself. He had a big surprise for Scully and he couldn’t wait to see her

face.

“We’re pretty early for a change, Mulder. Are we going to grab a fast-food dinner or wait

until we get to the motel and order something?”

“I’m kind of hungry right now. All that driving really gave me a huge appetite and it just so

happens that I made reservations at a really nice place.” He pointed to the Coliseum.

“I didn’t know that concession stands took reservations or had valet parking for that

matter.” Scully marveled as they pulled in front of the coliseum and stopped at the valet

parking stand.

Mulder showed one of the attendants his confirmation letter and handed over his keys.

Another attendant opened the door for Scully and before she could figure out what was

going on they were ushered into the Windsor Club.

“Happy Valentines Day, Dana,” Mulder whispered as they were seated at a table for two. “I

hope you don’t mind but I had to give your menu choices when I made the reservation. I

didn’t want to spoil the surprise.”

“Mulder, you know that I trust you with my life . . .” she trailed off and took a sip of water.

“But, not with your food. Ouch! Scully, that hurts!” He moved to wipe a fake tear from his

left eye but wound up laughing instead.

Their waiter came to take their wine order and refill their water glasses. Soon he was back

with their appetizer, a creamed soup with toasted bread.

“Mmm. It smells heavenly,” Scully observed and took a tentative spoonful. “And it tastes

just as nice. I love creamed onion soup.”

Their very attentive waiter brought the next course when they had finished their soup. A

Caesar salad was put in front of Scully. Mulder dug into his house salad as quickly as he

could. “I wasn’t kidding when I said I was hungry,” he explained when he noted the

amused look on Scully’s face.

Their waiter brought their wine then took their empty salad plates. Shortly thereafter, their

entrées and vegetables arrived.

Mulder held his breath. His entrée and vegetable choice for Scully would make or break this

meal.

“Mulder, you did good. This is delicious.”

Her partner had chosen a Pistachio Crusted Chicken Breast along with asparagus and a

Mushroom Risotto.

“Mine is great too.” Mulder had opted for a 10 oz. Prime Rib with a Twice-Baked potato and

broccoli

“Here’s to your wonderful idea for this getaway and the Valentine dinner.” She raised her

glass to him.

“You are quite welcome. For dessert, I ordered one of each so we could share.”

That was very thoughtful of you. I wonder if the motel has a fitness room? I may need to

work some of this off tonight.”

“You know, I’m not really sure what it has. I had trouble finding what I wanted and finally

had to settle on something even the F.B.I. per diem would cover. I really tried to find

something nicer but I guess a lot of people decided to eat in a hotel restaurant and just

spend the night there. I promise that the accommodations will be much better for the rest

of the trip.”

After dinner, the couple made plans to meet on the concourse. Scully visited the powder

room while Mulder said he had to get something from the car.

Scully beat her partner to the concourse and began to look over the assortment of Blue Man

Group products for sale. When she felt a tap on her shoulder she turned to greet her other

half and his Wal-Mart bag.

“I’ve been wondering off and on all day just what you have in that bag.”

“Well, wonder no more, M’Lady. Tada!” He pulled two matching blue, vinyl ponchos from

the bag and handed her one.

Scully reached for the plastic-wrapped package, a puzzled look on her face.

“Our seats are pretty close to the front and I thought it would be less expensive to get them

at Wal-Mart. I should arrest these guys for highway robbery.” He pointed to the very

expensive ponchos for sale along with the over-priced t-shirts, programs and posters.”

“But I don’t understand why we would need them in an indoor coliseum.

“You are familiar with the Blue Man Group?” Mulder questioned, trying very hard not to

laugh.

“Of course I am. I’ve seen them on Leno and other shows on TV.”

“Since I don’t want to spoil the surprise just be sure to put it on right before the show

starts.”

Scully couldn’t help chuckling as they left the coliseum. She pulled the wet, sticky poncho

gingerly over her head and deposited it in the nearest trashcan as Mulder did the same. “I

really had fun tonight. Thank you for arranging all of this.”

“It’s about time we had a semi-normal Valentines Day. Agreed?”

“Yes. I would like to make it a yearly thing, too. The dinner was very traditional and quite

delicious and while I wouldn’t normally associate the Blue Man Group with this particular

holiday, I’ll remember this night every time I see them.”

“I’m glad you had fun.” Mulder walked a step or two ahead to unlock the passenger door

for her. It was then that she noticed the extra-long piece of toilet paper stuck to the

bottom of his shoe.

When Mulder got behind the wheel, he too, noticed it and pulled it off and tossed it into the

back seat. They looked at each other and laughed out loud, remembering the rolls of toilet

paper streaming down from the ceiling during the finale.

______________________________________________________

“Eew! Mulder, why didn’t you ask for a non-smoking room?”

“I did! Hang loose. I’m going downstairs to the desk to get this straightened out.”

A few minutes later Mulder returned with a smallish box under his right arm. “All of the

non-smoking rooms are occupied. When we missed the 7 PM check-in deadline, they gave

our room to someone else. They have offered to upgrade us to a King Suite at no additional

charge. It’s still a smoking room but it hasn’t been occupied since Monday. It has a hot tub

and a high def, flat screen TV. It’s either that or go to another motel and take our

chances.”

“What’s in the box?”

“They gave me a bunch of those air fresheners that look like real candles but run on

batteries. It won’t keep the smell out of our clothes but it might make the room a little

more bearable. So, do we stay or go?”

“It’s too late and I’m too tired to look for another motel. I say we take the upgrade and

turn on the air fresheners.”

______________________________________________________

Scully was sitting on the couch when Mulder brought in their luggage and the new key card,

which he threw on the counter.

As he put the suitcase down he could tell that she was very uncomfortable. “What’s

wrong?”

“I don’t know, Mulder. Maybe I’m coming down with something. All I know is that my feet

feel as if they are encased in a block of ice.”

Mulder knew exactly what she was talking about as his feet felt the same way. They were

both more susceptible to cold since their time in the Antarctic so many years before. He

went to the back corner of the room and turned on the hot tub, then came back to sit

beside his love. “Put your feet up here.” He motioned to his lap.

Scully quickly complied. Mulder removed her shoes and began to massage her feet. “You

know, there was a hockey rink under the floor at the coliseum. My feet are pretty cold too.

I’m going to rub your feet for a while to see if I can get your blood moving a bit. It might

warm you a little.”

“Mulderrr,” she purred. “I can guarantee you that if you continue to massage my feet

things will definitely get a lot warmer.”

“What do you say we try out that hot tub? I turned it on and I can already see the steam

rising.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea.” Hopefully, the steam wasn’t the only thing that was

rising. “Why don’t you get some of those candles going while I rustle us up some towels?”

“That sounds like a great idea.” Mulder got up and pulled the first candle from the box.

By the time Scully emerged from the bathroom clad only in a towel, Mulder had turned off

the room lights and turned on several candles. He’d also managed to get rid of his clothes

and get into the hot tub.

Scully sniffed the air. “Well, the air fresheners do seem to cover up most of the smoky

smell.”

“And they add so much to the ambiance of the room,” he grinned and stood to help his

petite partner into the tub.

Scully smiled broadly as she dropped her towel. Mulder was wearing the red Speedos.

“Now, those really add to the ambiance of the room.”

The two F.B.I. agents sat down in the small hot tub and shared a passionate kiss. “I really

didn’t intend to leave the Speedo on for very long but I guess I can continue to wear them if

it pleases you so much.”

“Oh, I think they can be just as pleasing right here.” Scully helped him slip out of the swim

briefs then hung them over the side of the tub. “Much better!”

“Happy Valentines Day, Dana,” Mulder whispered as the redhead climbed into his lap and

put her arms tightly around him.

“And a Happy Valentines Day to you too. I really enjoyed myself today.”

“How are your feet?” The slender, dark-haired man brought her right foot out of the water

and kissed each toe.

“Oh, that really warmed me up. Could you work on the other one?”

“My pleasure.” Mulder repeated the process with her left foot. “What was your favorite part

of the day?”

“Well, the ride down was fun. I really enjoyed being able to chat about something other

than work and the CDs you brought were a nice mix of music we both enjoy.”

“Anything else?” Mulder traced her jaw line, sprinkling light kisses along one side and then

the other.

“Well, the surprise Valentine dinner was wonderful. You managed to pick dishes that I

really enjoy and the glass of wine was a nice touch.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. I saw the details online when I got the tickets for the concert and

just barely made the deadline for reservations.”

“The Blue Man Group was hilarious. I had seen them on TV but had no idea that they got

that involved with the audience. It was fun and I didn’t mind getting pelted with

marshmallows and other odd things. Thanks for the poncho, by the way.”

Mulder chuckled softly. “All of those things were very nice but my favorite part of the day is

right now, with your arms around me.”

“It’s my favorite moment also.”

Their mouths met in another sensuous kiss. Eventually, Scully broke the kiss to get some

air. “How are your feet?”

“They are on fire just like the rest of my body.”

“Mine feel the same.”

After sharing several more molten-hot kisses Scully caught her breath and then spoke. “I’m

so hot that I think I should get out of this tub and dry off. Then I might watch some TV

while I wait for my vital signs to return to normal.”

“Want some company?”

“More than ever because you are really the one who made this day so special for me.”

“I love you so much, Scully. I wish life could always be this nice, stale cigarette smoke and

fake candles aside.”

Scully pitched her partner a towel and they both stood beside the bed as they dried off.

“I love you, Scully,” Mulder whispered as he picked her up and laid her on the bed.

“And I love you so very much, Mulder. I wish we could stay this way forever.”

“I can’t guarantee forever or even tomorrow if Skinner gets a wild hair and calls us back,

but we do have here and now and I suggest we make the most of it.”

“My sentiments exactly. Let’s seize the day and hope for many tomorrows.”

Mulder pushed Scully down into the mushy hotel mattress and began to make love to her.

“Mmm,” Scully mumbled. “I think this is my new favorite moment.”

Mulder grunted in agreement. Soon both agents were silent in the afterglow of their

favorite time.

The End.

1

Love Hurts

Love Hurts by Vickie Moseley

Evanston, IL

February 7, 2008

Scully found him picking his way around the formerly immaculate living room. Blood had

already soaked into the cuff of his pants and she winced at yet another ‘dry-cleaning

miracle’ poor Mrs. Yancy would be forced to perform. “Mulder, are you about done here?”

she asked, her eyes darting around the room.

Unlike most of their cases, this one had a very definite perpetrator. Dr. Philip Coates,

professor of English Literature at Northwestern University was currently awaiting autopsy at

the Cook County Morgue, his body resting next to his wife of 35 years, Dr. Imogene Walsh-

Coates. It had already been ruled a murder-suicide, but Mulder still seemed to be searching

for clues. Clues only he could find.

“Mulder?” she asked again. It wasn’t unusual for him to get this focused during an

investigation. What was unusual was the fact that he’d dragged her out of bed in the

middle of the night to catch an early morning to flight to a crime scene that had already

been resolved. “Mulder!” she raised her voice to cut through his mental gymnastics.

He looked up at her, startled. “What?”

She sighed and crossed her arms. “Are you close to finished?”

“Yeah, just about,” he replied absently, picking up a framed photograph with his latex

gloved hand. “Did you get a seat at the autopsy?”

“Yes. And if you don’t come with me, you’re stranded here. I’d have the rental,” she

reminded him evenly.

He brushed his fingers across the images on the photo and gently replacing it on the table

beside the once cream-colored sofa, now spattered with brown stains of blood. He looked

up at his partner. “I guess I can go now. I can always come back.”

He walked over to her and turned her toward the door. They ducked under the yellow crime

scene tape and crunched through the six inches of snow-pack to the road.

“Mulder, you still haven’t told me why we’re here.” He’d been almost silent on the plane

and for once, had no bevy of case files to assault her with during the flight. She’d dozed

and he’d just sat watching the stars out the window.

“The Coates are the fifth couple in the Chicago metro area in the last year to fall by their

own hands, Scully. All the other couples were professional people — Ph.D.s, lawyers,

medical doctors. All the couples had been married at least 20 years, had grown children,

were considered stable, happy people.”

“Mulder, I admit that’s a high number, but do you realize the population of Chicago and the

suburbs? We’re talking a pool of 3 or 4 million people! And assuming that just because a

person has a good career means they aren’t susceptible to the pressures of modern life —

that’s elitism at it’s finest.”

“Scully, I’ve not saying insanity and education never mix, I’m saying this is a pattern. I

think there’s something more at work than meets the eye. Remember David and Amy

Cassandra?”

“The real question is, do _you_ remember David and Amy Cassandra, Mulder?” she asked,

tilting her head. “Amy was an alien abductee who underwent a dangerous treatment for her

depression. Do you suspect that another Dr. Goldstein might be at work in the Chicago

area?”

“Well, from what I’ve been able to determine, there is no alien abduction link here, Scully.

But the fact that there might be another Ketamine-pushing dentist-drilling mad psychologist

lurking in the shadows did cross my mind.”

As he adjusted his coat and put the keys in the ignition, she caught his hand. “Mulder,

look.”

He glanced down and saw that during his examination of the crime scene, he’d brushed

against some of the blood. It was already darkening to a deep purple on his shirt cuff and a

spot the size of a quarter was drying on his skin. “Oh, damn it,” he cursed casually. “Got a

tissue?”

She rolled her eyes and reached into her purse, withdrawing an individually packaged

antibiotic wipe. “Here, clean it off. We’ll have to mention that to Mrs. Yancy.”

He took the wipe, opened the packet and used the small square to clean off the blood from

his hand. “No open wound. I won’t catch anything, right?” he asked, his eyes twinkling.

“Not anything more than at any other crime scene you’ve traipsed through,” she assured

him. “C’mon, I told the ME I’d be there by noon and it’s 11:15 already.”

“Yes ma’am,” he saluted and pulled out from the curb into the quiet residential street.

Cook County Morgue

7:45 pm

“We’ll have those test results by tomorrow morning, Agent Scully,” Dr. Wanless, the medical

examiner said as he pulled off his gloves and hair cover. “Want me to call you at the FBI

office here?”

“Yes, or my cell phone. I left the number with your assistant,” Scully said. “I’ll let you

know if our labs turn up anything in the samples I sent over.”

“Seems a little redundant — both of us looking at the same blood,” Wanless said with a

cocked eyebrow. He’d been cordial and accommodating all afternoon, but Scully knew some

of her requests had caused more than a little curiosity and maybe even some concern.

“I know my methods seem . . . unusual. But I have my reasons,” she answered with a

shrug. “I’ll be sure to share anything I come across.”

“Well, it seems a little bit of overkill for a murder-suicide, but if there is something else at

work, I’m sure the family would appreciate the effort you’re taking,” Wanless said with a

warm smile. “Have a good night.” He left to go to the men’s locker room to change.

“Hey, I’m lost and wondering if you can help me find my partner. She’s a gorgeous red

head and usually seen wearing ugly blue scrubs and her hair in a pony tail,” Mulder said, his

eyes twinkling as he entered the room.

“I might know where you can find her, if you promise to feed her as soon as possible,”

Scully shot back.

“Uno’s? Best pizza in town, Scully.”

“Veggie with a side of fried mushrooms and you’re on, G-Man,” she replied. “Let me go

change.

“Fried mushrooms. Was it that grueling? What did you find?” he asked, following her to the

door of the women’s locker room.

“After I change. Over food. I promise,” she told him with a hand to his chest, pushing him

backwards as she hurried through the locker room door.

Uno’s Pizza

Chicago

8:30 pm

The dinner crowd was thinning as they were ushered to their table. Mulder put in the order

for the half veggie, half supreme pizza, deep dish, and fried mushrooms. Scully sat back,

relishing the feeling of sitting down after 7 hours in an autopsy bay. He let her ‘relish’ until

their drinks arrived, then his patience ran out.

“OK, Scully, what did you find?” he pleaded. “Please,” he asked politely, nodding his head

in her direction.

She smiled at him, but sighed. “Basically, Mulder, nothing. I did a complete survey of Dr.

Coates brain — no lesions to suggest a cause for violent behavior. His adrenal glands

showed no sign of wear, as we’ve seen in cases of LSDM exposure. I even checked the

xrays for chips in both the victims and found nothing. I sent samples of the blood over to

our labs and the Cook County labs are running tests as well. Unless something shows up in

the tox screen or a bacterium . . . Mulder, maybe they just had a simple argument that got

out of hand,” she concluded finally, twirling her soda straw between her fingers.

“I did a little checking on the past murders, Scully, as well as this one. In each case, the

victims were described as ‘the perfect couple’. Friends were appalled, neighbors were

shocked. No records of domestic disturbances, no known affairs, nothing to indicate a

troubled marriage. And in two of the couples, they had just booked cruises or vacations,

sometimes within days of the murders.”

Scully shook her head. “I don’t know what to tell you, Mulder. Sometimes it takes nothing

to make a person snap.”

“If it were one instance, I would agree, but Scully, this is five couples. That just doesn’t

make sense.”

“Well, I’m not sure what we’re going to find by staying here in Chicago. Unless you think

we should alert the CPD and have them warn all professional couples that are happily

married — ”

He grinned at her jab, but grew serious again. “I just feel something is here, Scully.” He

absently scratched his hand, just below the knuckle of his thumb. “Something happened.

This wasn’t random violence. There was a cause.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you, Mulder. I just don’t think the ’cause’ you’re looking for will

link these murders. In all likelihood, there was a different cause in each case. Violence

happens, even in the best relationships. You know that as well as I do.” She noticed he

was still scratching. “What’s wrong with your hand?”

He looked at her with a confused expression, then followed her gaze to where he was still

scratching his knuckle. “I dunno. It just started to itch a minute ago. Mosquito maybe?”

“In February. In Chicago. Hardly,” she said, taking his hand and inspecting it closely.

“There’s a rash here. Did you rub up against something?”

“That wet-nap you gave me this morning,” he said, shrugging.

“You’ve never had a reaction before,” she noted.

He pulled his hand from hers and rested his chin on it trying to get the discussion back on

the case. “Scully, I know you think this case isn’t a case, but my gut is telling me there’s

something going on. Can we please stick around, just until we get the test results back

tomorrow? Then we can go home with what we have and I can chew on it in our own little

office.”

She rolled her eyes, but in the end nodded with little enthusiasm. “OK, Mulder, but in

return, you’re the one to take the clothes to the dry cleaners and face Mrs. Yancy’s wrath.”

He was about to object strenuously when their pizza arrived and all conversation ended.

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

February 10, 2008

9:55 am

Mulder opened his eyes. The headache he’d been quietly fighting for the last 24 hours was

beginning to win the battle. Even the weak mid-winter sunlight streaming in through their

bedroom window caused him to wince. He reached behind him for his partner and came up

with empty sheets long gone cold. He sat up immediately, the pain behind his eyes

doubling and then tripling in force. “Scully?” he ground out.

Getting out of bed, he shivered against the cold of the bedroom. “Scully?” he called again.

No answer greeted him. He made his way to the bathroom. The room was humid, the

shower curtains still wet. He blinked as his vision doubled for a second and then cleared.

“Scully!” he bellowed, as loud as his headache would let him.

She was gone. She’d left him. Alone.

The word rattled around in his head, dancing with the pain that had taken up a staccato

beat against his forehead. Alone. She left him. Alone. She found someone else, someone

smarter, sexier, someone had caught her fancy and he would never see her again . . .

He closed the lid on the toilet and sat down, burying his face in his hands. That was how

she found him ten minutes later.

“Mulder?” she asked, walking past the bathroom, but coming back to stand in the doorway

when she saw him sitting there. “Are you all right?”

His head snapped up from his hands. “Where were you?” he demanded. He bit his lip when

his headache reverberated each syllable inside his skull.

“Mass. I went to 9 o’clock at St. Anne’s. Why?”

A convenient lie, a small voice whispered in his head. Mass, who would question that? Of

course, St. Anne’s was on Tinley Circle and there was a Catholic Church just across the

Georgetown University football field just a block or two away. Who was she meeting at

Tinley Circle?

He rose and shoved past her. “You should have told me you were leaving,” he snapped,

heading into the bedroom. He grabbed a pair of jeans off the chair near his side of the bed.

“I woke up and you were gone.”

“Mulder, it’s Sunday morning. I always leave you in bed. I brought back croissants and the

New York Times, like I always do,” she said casually. “Do you want to eat here or down in

the dining room?” she asked but he obviously was only half listening.

“I don’t like it when I don’t know where you are, Scully. You know that,” he said tersely as

he removed a long sleeved tee shirt from the dresser and gingerly pulled it over his head.

“I didn’t know where you were, I didn’t know if you were meeting someone — ”

She eyed him critically. He was squinting and kept turning away from any sunlight in the

room. She knew she was right when he grabbed his sunglasses from the nightstand and

put them on. “Mulder, do you have a headache?” she asked.

“I’m going out,” he growled.

“Mom’s expecting us in Baltimore at 3,” she reminded his back as he headed down the

stairs.

“I’ll try to be back in time,” he quipped and slammed the door on his way out.

The winter sunshine was only partly dimmed by the dark glasses and the cold air was a

shock after the warmth of their home. He felt for his keys, but decided he needed a walk,

fresh air. If he’d had two brain cells working in tandem, he would have thought to put on

his running shoes and gone for a nice four or five miles. Walking would just have to do.

About two blocks down the street, in the direction of Georgetown University campus, his

head started to clear and he realized what an idiot he’d been. He knew Scully went to Mass

each Sunday. He knew they had a standing date to snuggle in bed with the Times when she

got home. She’d even picked that church near Tinley Circle because the second Mass

offered was scheduled to get out just about the time he usually started to wake up on the

average Sunday when they were home. It was something he always looked forward to each

week they weren’t out on a case.

Why in the world had he thought she was meeting someone? Who would she meet? Since

they’d become intimate she had never looked at another man. His mind quietly reminded

him of Damien Willis . . .

No, she had been hypnotized at the time! And even then, she’d fought to keep from hurting

him. No, Mulder had absolutely no reason to question her love and devotion, and yet . . .

he had.

What the hell had happened? That damned headache had blotted out every rational

thought from his mind. But now, in the fresh air and sunshine, the pain had vanished and

he was left feeling like a complete and total asshole.

The little campus bookstore had just opened up for early risers. There was a display of

stuffed animals in the window, all decked out in red and pink ribbons with hearts and

flowers. Damn — Valentines Day was just around the corner. And he’d just blown up at

Scully for no good reason. Now he felt lower than an asshole.

Luckily his wallet was still in his pocket. He went into the bookstore and looked over the

selection in the window. A stuffed bulldog with a forlorn expression looked exactly as he

felt. He picked it up without bothering to look at the price and took it to the cash register.

Once in line, he saw some of her favorite chocolates and bought her a small box. He paid

for the purchases and hurried out the door. He had a lot of apologizing to do.

She was in the living room, pretending to read the Times when he got home. She looked up

apprehensively as he walked into the room. The thought that she might think he was still

mad at her stabbed him right in the heart. He’d seen a similar look on his mother’s face

before his parent’s divorce — that look never really went away. Suddenly, he couldn’t

breathe right.

“I’m so sorry,” he gasped out, hurrying to her side and burying his head on her shoulder.

Scully was a little shocked at his actions, but not at his words.

“Mulder, I’m sorry, too. I’m really sorry if I scared you. I know how frightening it is when I

wake up and you’re not there. If I did something — ”

“No, Scully, it’s not your fault. Not at all. I just forgot it was Sunday, that’s all. And that’s

a pretty stupid reason for me to storm out of the house. I’m an idiot.”

She pulled away so she could look at his face. Silent tears were streaming down his cheeks.

“Yeah. But you’re MY idiot,” she said with a tender smile, wiping his damp cheeks with her

thumbs. “Besides, you brought me something. Where’s my ‘I’m an idiot’ present?”

He untangled from her arms only long enough to retrieve the plastic sack from the floor. He

handed it to her before pulling her onto his lap.

“Oh, Mulder, he’s cute,” she cooed. Then she caught sight of the price tag. “Mulder, you

spent $29.95 on a stuffed dog?” she asked, eyebrow raised in accusation.

“Uhhh . . .” was his only defense.

“But the chocolates are nice,” she said, kissing him on the nose. “C’mon. You can feed

them to me, along with the croissants I brought you.”

So what if they were a little late getting to Maggie’s in Baltimore.

FBI Headquarters

February 11, 2008

Mulder pulled another file folder from the stack on the left side of his desk and opened it on

the pile in front of him. He was reading statements from friends and family members of the

five murder-suicides. In each case the tributes were glowing, but he still sensed that he

wasn’t getting the whole story. The frustration he was feeling was beginning to manifest

itself in a pounding headache right at his temples. He removed his glasses and tossed them

onto the open file folder.

“Still searching?” she asked, looking up from the report she was typing.

“These weren’t random events, Scully.”

“OK, let’s take a step back. Have you found any commonalities?”

“They all had higher than average IQs and they all made more money than the both of us,

combined,” he sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Aside from that, nothing. They live in

different suburbs, apparently never crossed paths — it just doesn’t make sense.”

“Well, maybe it’s something environmental,” she suggested. “They all live in the Chicago

area, right?”

He didn’t have time to answer when the phone on his desk started to ring. He grabbed it

angrily, barking his name into the handset. After a second he held the phone out to her.

“Skinner’s assistant.”

She gave him a look that spoke to her confusion and took the phone. “Scully here.” She

nodded twice and hung up the phone. “Skinner wants to see me in his office.”

He looked at her curiously. “He wants to see you? Did she say what it was about?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “No idea. Just said that I was to come up immediately.” She

glanced down at her watch. “Look, I have no idea how long this will take. Why don’t you

go on to lunch without me?”

He frowned. “I can wait till you get back,” he offered, but his stomach growling almost

drowned out his words.

She grinned at him. “Nah, go ahead. I’ll grab something from the cafeteria,” she said,

squeezing his arm. “I’ll see you later.”

He watched her leave the office, an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He heard her

heels tapping down the hall, heard the elevator bell as it announced its arrival. Suddenly he

felt very cold and shivered. He got up from the desk and walked over to pull on his coat. It

was freezing in the office.

Scully’s coat was hanging there, next to his. He touched it, feeling the wool. There was a

scent on it — her perfume. But it didn’t smell right. It wasn’t her perfume — it smelled

different. He sniffed the collar and down the shoulder to the sleeve. It was a men’s

cologne, he was sure of it.

Skinner! It smelled like Skinner’s cologne!

They were having an affair, right here in this building! That had to be it. Skinner was

always calling her, having her come up to his office. Could they be that stupid? Did they

think he wouldn’t find out?

Maybe it was Skinner she was meeting at Tinley Circle. The thought almost dropped him to

his knees. He and Scully had made love — right after she’d been with Skinner for a tete-a-

tete. How could she do this to him?

He had to confront them. He stormed out into the hallway and right past the elevator,

choosing the stairs as the quicker method.

The lancing pain hit him right as he rounded the fourth floor landing. It felt as if someone

had driven a railroad spike through his left eye. He dropped to his knees, grabbing his

head, hoping he could ride out the agony. He couldn’t keep his eyes open and the cold

seemed to seep into his very pores. He didn’t even notice when his head hit the edge of the

step, sending him into oblivion.

A clerical worker found him several minutes later. By the time Scully arrived, with Skinner

hot on her heels, Mulder was lying on a cot in the infirmary.

“He says he doesn’t want to go to the hospital,” the nurse said grimly. “You could make it

an order, sir,” she directed at Skinner.

Scully hurried to his side, gently peeling back the tape and gauze covering a small cut on

his forehead.

“I’m fine, Scully,” he said, not meeting her eyes.

“Mulder, what happened?” she asked, perching on the edge of the cot.

“I slipped,” he lied, staring at his shoes. His thoughts were all jumbled, but the anger was

still there, still licking at his mind. He couldn’t look at her, not when she was betraying him

right under his nose.

“Slipped,” she repeated, her disbelief obvious.

“Yes, I slipped. My foot slipped off the step and I fell. Now, may I please go back to the

office and everyone can stop standing around staring at me?” he asked impatiently.

“Were you unconscious, Mulder?” she asked, her arms crossed.

He looked away, not answering.

“He was just coming around when I got there. There’s no telling how long he was out,” the

nurse offered.

“We have to get an x-ray,” Scully told him firmly. “You could have a concussion.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head, which only served to make it hurt worse. “No. I’m not

going to any hospital.”

“Agent Mulder, you were injured on Bureau property, you will go to the hospital and get

checked out. That is an order,” Skinner said gruffly from his place by the door.

“Why? So you can screw my partner while I’m gone?” Mulder sneered. He was off the table

and before anyone could stop him, he pulled his gun on Skinner. “I should have seen this

coming. You’ve had your eye on her for years.”

“Mulder!” Scully yelled. “What are you talking about?”

“Mulder, I don’t know what you think is going on, but believe me, you aren’t thinking clearly

here,” Skinner said slowly, holding his hands up and away from his body. “No one wants to

hurt you.”

“No, you just want me out of the way, that’s all,” Mulder shouted back. “But you can’t have

her! I’d rather see her dead than with you!” He turned toward Scully and that gave

Skinner just enough time to tackle him to the floor, knocking the gun out of his hand.

Mulder struggled for a moment before the pain ratcheted up again and this time he simply

blacked out.

Georgetown University Medical Center

February 12, 2008

Skinner found Scully at the nurses’ station, flipping through a chart. “How is he doing?”

Scully smiled at their boss. “Much better this morning, thank you. I was just checking his

levels. His doctor thinks we’ll have the infection under control in time for Mulder to be

home for Valentine’s Day.”

Skinner smiled and shook his head. “It was an infection?”

“As near as we can tell,” Scully hedged as they made their way down the hall. “His white

count was off the scale and he was running a pretty high fever when we finally got him

here. We’re still trying to pin down the exact nature of the bacterium, but it appears it was

passed to Mulder from the infected blood of the last victim — Dr. Coates.” At Mulder’s door

she stopped. “He’s still pretty embarrassed by it all. He’s apologized to me about a 1000

times just since breakfast.”

Skinner shook his head and stopped before entering the room. “He does know that he

wasn’t to blame, doesn’t he?”

“Intellectually — yes. Emotionally — not so much. I can understand, sir. Once upon a time

I had the same problem.”

Skinner nodded. “You both spend way too much time finding your way into a striped file

folder.”

Scully opened the door to Mulder’s room, Skinner following her, but careful to leave a polite

distance. “Agent Mulder, you’re looking better.”

Mulder blushed and licked his lips. “Sir, I’d just like to — ”

“Save it, Agent,” Skinner smiled fondly. “Wasted breath. I know you weren’t yourself. You

know, one of these days you’re going to run out of that excuse — I was drugged, I was

infected.”

Mulder rolled his eyes. “Just my little way of keeping your life interesting, sir,” he said with

a shrug.

“That you do. Well, I’ll see you back at the office — as soon as your doctor releases you for

duty.”

“Thanks for stopping by,” Scully said. Mulder nodded his thanks and they both watched

their superior leave.

Scully reached down and took Mulder’s hand. “Mulder, I know I don’t say this often enough

— ”

“Scully, I know you’re not seeing anyone else. You don’t have to say anything.”

“Mulder, what I was going to say is, you have to be more careful at crime scenes,” she

huffed. “If you hadn’t gotten the blood on your wrist none of this would have happened.”

“Yeah, but it helped us solve the case,” he pouted.

It was her turn to roll her eyes. “There are much easier ways to solve a case.”

He nodded slowly. “So . . . I guess I have to stop by a jewelry store when they finally

release me. Somehow I don’t think a $29 stuffed dog is going to make up for this one.”

“No, but a nice pair of pearl earrings might do the trick. Followed by a Valentine’s dinner

along the Potomac,” she said with a smile.

“Scully, I think I’ve learned a lesson here.”

“And that would be?”

“Love hurts. Especially in the checkbook.”

1

Love Hurts by Vickie Moseley