Category Archives: Season 8

Devil’s Advocate

Cover

Title: Devil’s Advocate

Authors: Vickie Moseley (vmoseley@fgi.net) & Susan Proto

(STPteach@aol.com)

Completed: January 2001

Category: X-file, MSR, MT

Spoilers: None

Summary: Mulder willingly joins an investigation that may

be his undoing.

Archive: IMTP for the first two weeks, then MTA, the

Garden, the Pyramid, Ephemeral, Gossamer, and any other

site that has received prior written permission. All

others, please contact the authors.

Disclaimer: Mulder & Scully as well as all other

recognizable character references belong to Chris Carter,

Ten Thirteen Productions, and Twentieth Century Fox

Television. They are used here without permission. No

copyright infringement is intended. Unrecognized characters

belong to the authors.

Author’s Notes: This was written for I Made This!

Productions as one of the episodes of Virtual Season 8.

IMTP can be found at http://www.i- made-this.com. Thanks to

our Beta-Reader, Brandon Ray, for his infinite patience

and

wonderful cyberEye for detail.

Feedback: YES!

Devil’s Advocate

By Vickie Moseley (vmoseley@fgi.net)

& Susan Proto (STPteach@aol.com)

Prologue

Friday, April 6th, 2001

Monsey, New York

11 a.m.

The heavy wood door opened and a small, slightly built man

entered the sanctuary of the old temple. He moved about

the pews and quickly checked for dust and smiled with

satisfaction to find none.

Next, he walked through a small archway and entered the

old, but functional kitchen. He removed his formal, black

hat and placed it on the counter. The man’s long black

coat brushed against the old stove as he opened the door.

He peered in and wondered if that was a piece of bread, of

chomaytz, that still lurked in the dark recesses of the

oven. He reached in to pick it up, but his fingers swiped

at only air and the hard, cold metal of the appliance.

“It’s clean, Rebbe,” called out the young man who stood

quietly during the older man’s inspection. “You told me to

make it spotless. I’ve been working here since 6 o’clock

and I did as you said. Really, there is not one piece of

non-kosher for Passover food crumb in this entire

synagogue.”

“It doesn’t hurt to check, Reuven,” he responded in a

surprisingly strong, deep voice. Though he rose to his

full height, the younger man continued to tower over him.

The rebbe unconsciously stroked his long untrimmed beard.

His plain, black skullcap perched precariously on top of

his head while his long curly earlocks threatened to thread

their way in front of his lobes.

His physical appearance belied his vigorous energy; an

energy that was not normally expected of a man in his late

eighties. Reb Shmuel Zimmerman, however, was no ordinary

octogenarian. His small, orthodox congregation counted on

him to make sure their shul was free of any chomaytz, so

they would be able to celebrate the first Seder night of

Pesach tomorrow night without worry.

“Reuven, it looks as though you have done a fine job in

cleansing and preparing our shul for Pesach. Now we’ll be

able to enjoy the Sabbath tonight without worrying about

preparing for tomorrow. You may go and help do the same at

home,” informed the rebbe.

“You’re going home now too, aren’t you Rebbe Shmuel?”

asked the young man. “You should get some rest for

tonight’s service. You work hard, too.”

“Yes, yes, of course I will. I’ll be leaving shortly. I

just need to do a couple of more things here in preparation

for tonight’s service.”

“The shul is fine, Rebbe. You can go home too,” assured

the young congregant. At seeing the wizened old man nod

his head, Reuven smiled and bid him good morning. “I’ll

see you tonight at services, Reb Shmuel.”

The old man nodded and heard the heavy door of the temple

close behind the young member. Reuven Steiger was a good

person, he thought to himself, and someday he will be a

leader in our community. But for now, he worries too much!

Reb Zimmerman thought with a smile.

He moved about the old shul in a slow deliberate manner.

This was his sanctuary, his home. He found his peace here

and did whatever was necessary to make sure that his

congregation could find their peace here as well.

He finally ended up in the small room at the end of the

hallway, his office. He sat down at his desk and opened

the small book that would help him with the finishing

touches on tonight’s sermon. It had to be a particularly

good one tonight, as it would be one to not only welcome in

the Sabbath Queen, but it would be to inspire the coming of

the eight-day observance of Passover.

He turned the dog-eared pages of the old text. He’d used

it as his inspiration for many sermons past and prayed it

would continue to give him guidance for future sermons as

well.

As his gnarled fingers pointed to the words with great

care, the rebbe felt a sudden draft. He supposed it was

young Reuven returning to retrieve a forgotten hat or book.

The old spiritual leader continued to read and make sense

of the Hebrew text, while a second presence entered the

room.

“Reuven? What did you forget?” he asked without looking

up from his book. Seconds passed when Shmuel Zimmerman

realized he’d yet to receive an answer from his young

charge. It wasn’t like Reuven to be rude, thought the

rebbe. Finally, out of curiosity, Reb Zimmerman raised his

eyes.

And when he did, the beam of light aimed straight and

true, and bore a hole directly through the book that the

old man had clutched to his heart.

St. Gertrude’s Church

Chicago, Illinois

Saturday, April 14, 2001

9 a.m.

The church was dappled with colored light from the sun

streaming in through the stained glass windows. Dust motes

danced freely in the beams of red, blue and gold and gilded

the pews with a heavenly fire.

Father Mick Nelson grasped the aging wooden folding ladder

in both hands and carried it over to the far alcove of the

church. Only one statue remained to be uncovered and the

long season of Lent would be over, at least as far as the

outward appearances went. Tonight, a hundred candles would

light the altar as the holy water for the next year would

be blessed and the newly converted would receive the

sacraments after a year of study and prayer.

Mick remembered a time when he was new to the priesthood,

back when at least a dozen or so women would be cleaning

the floors, dusting the pews and uncovering the statues.

Back when Holy Saturday was the official ‘work day’ of any

parish. But times change, and most young women were now

working mothers, with Easter eggs left to dye and the

perfect gloves and hat to match the perfect Easter dress

left to find at the mall.

The Rosary Society now consisted of women not much younger

than Mick himself, a spry 70 years old. He chuckled

slightly, secure in the knowledge that he was still capable

of preparing the church, even if the ladies of the parish

were elsewhere occupied, or too frail to take up the task.

If he had time, he’d run Mrs. Mulligan’s feather duster

over the tops of the statues, but it usually seemed that

not much dust accumulated in the wake of the just three

year old heat pump/air conditioner that the parish council

had installed in the church. Still, it was the principle

of the thing — everything should be new and sparkling clean

for Easter.

He heaved the ladder more firmly in his hands. Dratted

thing was getting heavier. The old wood must be turning to

stone. He was certain the ladder had been there even

before the church was erected. It had probably somehow

escaped the great fire that burnt the city almost to the

ground in the late 19th century. Mick would never admit

it was his own body growing weaker, and not the ladder

growing heavier. Finally, both ancient artifacts made it

to their destination and he set the ladder at the foot of

the last statue.

The rickety old ladder groaned under his weight as he

reached over the edge to grasp the purple velvet covering

the statue. Michael the Archangel. Of course, as an image

of his patron saint, Mick had immediately taken a liking to

the marble edifice the first time he’d stepped foot in St.

Gertrude’s, almost 20 years ago. It was a fiery Michael,

one to strike terror in the hearts of anyone thinking they

might have an equal footing with God. The sword in his

right hand was held high, too high to cover completely with

the purple cloth. Only the rest of the body was covered,

leaving the penitent the impression that even during the

long 40 days of Lent, Michael was still ready to defend the

gates of heaven against all would-be invaders.

Mick smiled as he thought of how he’d missed those intense

eyes, carved into the marble in such a way that they

followed him as he made his way up the aisle of the church

on Sunday mornings. He always felt Michael to be something

of a protector to himself, personally. He’d always been

proud of the fact that he was named after the guardian of

the Kingdom of Heaven.

The velvet was slippery, and from his precarious perch on

the old ladder, Mick shifted his weight, so as not to

topple either the ladder or the statue. One hundred-year-

old marble statues imported from quarries just miles from

the Vatican were not that easy to come by, especially when

the roof of the church needed new shingles. He was

concentrating so hard at his task that he didn’t see the

cloud that apparently covered the sun, for the just

recently brightly lit church was suddenly plunged into

darkness. Rain on Easter weekend? His mother’s voice

echoed in his ears, foretelling of rain for seven Sundays

after if a drop fell on Easter morning.

It was his mother’s voice in his head that was the last

sound the old priest heard. Behind him was a flash of

light so intense that it blazed a shadow on the plaster

wall behind the statue, melted the lead glaze that held the

stained glass of the window and singed the wooden sill. A

flash of light so bright that it burned right through the

body of a 70-year-old priest, cauterizing the wound even

as it vaporized his still-beating heart.

A look of surprise on his face, the corpse fell to the

ground, still clutching the purple velvet that had been

draped over his marble protector. The velvet caught for a

moment on the statue’s shield, causing it to drift down and

gently cover the deceased in a purple shroud.

A form stepped out of the shadow, a man about 6 feet tall

with coal black hair and eyes that seemed to glow red. He

calmly walked over to the body hidden under the purple

velvet. With a smile of triumph on his face, he leaned

over and tenderly tucked the cloth around the body, then

turned and left by the front door of the church.

The statue of Michael stared on, frozen in horror at the

murder he’d just witnessed.

ACT I

Office of the Assistant Director Walter Skinner

Friday, September 21, 2001

10:45 a.m.

Walter Skinner looked up from the folder on his desk and

waved the two agents toward the waiting chairs. “This

won’t take long, Agents.”

Mulder stepped aside to let his partner take her ‘favorite

chair’ just to the right of his. He’d often wondered if

he’d been a Freudian what he might make of her almost

obsessive need to be to his right. As it was, he’d gotten

too used to their normal positions in this office to care.

“It’s good to see you back in the office, sir,” Scully

said, “How are you feeling?”

Skinner looked up and said, “I’m beginning to feel more

like myself,” and gave just a hint of a smile.

Mulder chuckled outright, however, and said, “Welcome

back, sir.”

Skinner smiled more broadly in acknowledgment of Mulder’s

recognition of his small joke about their last X-file.

Just as quickly, however, he returned to his AD persona.

“I just received this from Violent Crimes,” Skinner said,

extending a file folder across his desk toward Scully.

“It’s a potential serial murder case. Different cities,

same mode of death. The most recent murder occurred just

two days ago, a Lutheran minister was found dead at the

site of a prayer service that was to open the beginning of

classes at the parochial high school he headed up.

“The medical examiner in Chicago states that the priest

was killed by use of a laser,” Scully said, reading

directly from the file. “Sir, the first two victims died

of the same cause, within a week of each other.” She handed

the file over to Mulder. “Nobody thought to connect them

until just recently?”

Skinner shrugged. “The first murder in New York State

wasn’t reported immediately. It occurred in an Orthodox

Jewish Temple and wasn’t reported until the most recent

murder of the student made the press.”

“One priest, one Hassidic rabbi, and one Lutheran

minister,” Scully noted. “All members of the clergy,” she

mused more to herself than to the two men sitting with her.

“Are they filing charges for obstruction of justice? They

didn’t report the first murder for five months, why not?”

Mulder asked, flipping through the pages.

“No charges that I’m aware of, Agent Mulder. The death

was immediately reported to the Rockland County Sheriff’s

Department, and the medical examiner was called in as well.

He apparently signed off on a visual examination, but no

investigation was made because the M.E. concluded at the

site

that the death was not a result of foul play.” Skinner

paused momentarily before continuing. Hesitantly, he

continued, “It appears that there was some feeling that the

death was not… of an earthly cause.” Skinner craned

his neck, obviously uncomfortable with the reasons for the

lack of a report.

“The statement of the person who found the first murder

victim says he believed it was supernatural causes,” Mulder

corrected, reading from the statement. “Evil causes,” he

added with a lifted eyebrow.

“In any event, there have been three murders in just over

five months and the VCS has asked for the case to be

referred to the X-Files Division,” Skinner said, looking

directly at Mulder.

“They’ve had it less than a week. Seems like they might

at least ‘try’ to find a reasonable explanation,” Scully

said with a deep sigh.

“Nah, Scully. Not when they’ve got ‘The Spooky Patrol’ to

take all the really difficult cases off their hands,”

Mulder answered with a smirk. “I know those jokers in

Violent Crimes. Work to them is a four letter word.”

“I think you know what to do on this case, Agents,”

Skinner interjected impatiently. “If you don’t mind, I

have my own work to do. I’ll be expecting a report when

you’ve got something to go on.”

The two agents stood in tandem and Scully followed Mulder

out of the assistant director’s office. He was reading the

file folder all the way to the elevator, and Scully had a

hard time keeping the grin off her face as he deftly

sidestepped oncoming traffic. She knew a great deal of his

talent at this game was his peripheral vision, honed to a

razor’s edge after years spent on many basketball courts,

but to the layman, or other agents, it just gave more fuel

to her partner’s now titanic reputation.

“What’s so funny, Scully?” he asked, jolting her from her

thoughts. She must not have been too successful keeping

that smile off her face. She made a note to start

practicing that art again in front of the mirror at home.

“Nothing, Mulder. So, what else does the file say?” she

asked, changing the subject in the direction she knew he

would want it to go.

“The third victim was a Lutheran minister who teaches at a

small private high school in Missouri, about forty miles

southeast of St. Louis,” Mulder resumed reading. “He was

setting up for an outdoor prayer service before the

beginning of classes and was found with the same burn hole

through his chest. Well, at least this guy doesn’t seem to

hold too many prejudices. Next, he’ll probably go after a

Buddhist Monk.”

They had arrived back at the basement office and Mulder

took a few seconds to shed his jacket, drape it over the

back of his chair, and sit back with his feet on the desk.

He tossed the file back to his partner.

“All members of the clergy, as I was saying upstairs,”

Scully mused thoughtfully as she flipped through the pages

again. “Gee, Mulder. Maybe the devil’s doing it,” she

teased. But something about one of the crime scene photos,

the picture of the last victim, the Lutheran minister,

caught her eye. The man’s face was clearly shown in the

glossy black and white photograph and the look in his eyes

caused Scully to blink and look closer.

A chill ran down her spine. This person had seen

something. Something that could only be described as pure

evil. She’d seen pure evil before, and she didn’t know if

she was ready to go after it again.

” …surgical laser. So basically, the guys over at

VCS just didn’t look very far. I think this one’s pretty

easy, Scully.”

She looked up, startled, when she realized she’d just

missed half a conversation. “I don’t know, Mulder. Three

different cities, three victims, and how many people can

just stick a surgical laser under their overcoat and then

use it to kill a person. Those things are pretty bulky!”

Mulder’s feet hit the floor as he stood to come over next

to where she was standing. She was feeling unnerved by the

photo and her partner’s nearness unnerved her even more.

She held back a flinch when he took the file back and

started pacing.

“Scully, medical technology is moving forward at the speed

of light. Why, just the other day I was reading an article

where surgical lasers are becoming smaller and smaller. I

think it’s not impossible to find one that could be used.

And remember, all these men were killed in seclusion.

There was no one else in the temple, the church, the school

grounds. And before you say it, we both know there is

always a back door that can be jimmied open.”

“But Mulder, there is no mention of a jimmied door. Most

churches these days have security systems unless there are

several people around,” Scully countered, moving over to

perch on the edge of the desk, just to stay out of the path

of his pacing. “And where did you read this article about

surgical lasers?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

He smiled sheepishly. “Ah, did I tell you your Journal of

the American College of Surgeons came in the other day? I

think it’s somewhere on my desk.” He moved over to a pile

of papers nearly a foot and a half high and started digging

through it.

She shook her head and stilled his hand. “Forget it,

Mulder, I’ll buy a new one. It’s simpler. But that still

doesn’t explain . . .”

“Scully. If we take all the grunt cases from VCS, we

won’t have time for our cases,” Mulder said firmly, taking

the file folder and tossing it on the only open space on

his desk. “I think it’s time we stopped being the

‘whipping boys’. I’m going to give this one back to them.”

Scully chewed her lip for a minute. In the pit of her

stomach, that was exactly what she wanted. The photo of

the minister’s eyes was still haunting her. But another

part of her, the curious part that was only happy when they

were on a chase, didn’t want to let this one go that

easily. Besides, she couldn’t believe her partner was

willing to toss it aside, either, even though that’s

exactly what he was proposing.

“You don’t want it because they’re religious,” she accused

suddenly, realization brightening her eyes.

Mulder gave her a blank stare and then shook his head in

disgust. “Scully, do you really want to start this?

Because I’m beginning to hate this game.”

“What game?” she shot back.

“The ‘you’re a good Catholic and I’m a dirty atheist’

game. I really hate it. Look, just because I don’t go to

church every Sunday and you do doesn’t mean I hate

religion.”

“Mulder, you have told me, flat out, that you don’t like

organized religion,” she replied evenly. “And I’ve never

called you a ‘dirty atheist,'” she added, her voice

betraying the pain of that accusation.

He stood there for a full minute, looking like he was

going to try and prove her wrong. Then he dropped his head

to his chest. “Look, I admit there is some drawing power

to this case. The whole concept that someone might be

delusional to the point of feeling they are acting as

‘God’s Avenging Angel.’ The Good vs. Evil, and I would be

willing to bet that in each and every case, the killer

feels that the victim is somehow the evil one. I love that

kind of shit, Scully, I eat it up with a spoon and you know

it. But is it really an X-File?”

He had her stymied. She couldn’t pinpoint exactly when he

had taken control of the argument and brought it back to

the only point that mattered, but he’d done it. Damn him,

she always liked to do that. But grudgingly, she had to

agree. As interesting as the case might be, if the answer

could be found in the most recent JACS, there probably

wasn’t much there for the X-Files Division. Fighting it

every step of the way, a small smile grew on her face.

“You’re right, Mulder. This very likely is not an X-File.

And for the record, you owe me this month’s issue of the

Journal.”

“So, I give this back to the bad boys at VCS?” he asked,

not hiding his own grin in the least. “We have real

mutants to catch, Scully.”

“Speaking of which, I have a date at Quantico. They’re

backed up and called for reinforcements. I’ll be gone the

rest of the afternoon.”

“We still on for tonight?” he asked hopefully. She

couldn’t decide whether she wanted to kiss the little boy

look on his face, or scrub it off with a scrub brush. She

did neither.

“We are, but remember, my turn for the movie. I fully

intend to get something I want to see,” she warned, picking

up her coat and briefcase as she headed for the door.

“I’ll make sure the pizza gets there on time this time,

Scully. See you later.”

Mulder’s Apartment

6:55 p.m.

The doorbell rang and Mulder rose off the couch to

retrieve his wallet to pay for the pizza that awaited them

on the other side of the door. He went into his bedroom and

returned with a ten, a five, and a few singles.

That was Scully’s influence no doubt. There was a time

when he would have handed over $15 to cover the cost and

tip for a $13.99 large, extra cheese pizza. The first time

Scully saw him do that, however, she’d gasped and

immediately ran to pick up her purse to add a few singles

to the payment. The delivery boy looked at her with an

expression something akin to love at first sight, and then

muttered, “Wow, I hope he keeps you around,” and then in a

clearer voice, he expressed his thanks.

So now, Mulder had learned his lesson and automatically

produced the appropriate number of singles to cover a tip

that Scully was no longer embarrassed by. The amazing

thing was, it had become second nature to Mulder.

Guess you could teach an old dog new tricks.

“Grab some beers, will ya Scully?” called out Mulder as he

carried over the hot pie to the coffee table.

“Sure,” she replied and made her way into the kitchen.

She grabbed a couple of bottles that were chilling in the

refrigerator and returned to the couch where Mulder had put

down a couple of paper plates.

“You know, that case from this morning has some

interesting aspects to it, Scully.”

“No.”

“No?” he echoed.

“No talk of cases tonight, Mulder. I want this to be a

nice, relaxing time together. Please.”

“Relaxing, eh?” he said with his patented leer.

“Yeah, big boy,” she retorted, “relaxing.”

“Oh, Scully, if it weren’t for the fact that I was

starving at the moment, I’d be happy to help you relax,” he

said as he picked up a slice of the steaming, gooey pizza.

“Gee, Mulder, it’s not often I can say you’re thinking

with your stomach instead of your–” she began.

“–Damn! It’s hot!” he exclaimed as he tried to pick up

the first slice.

“Well, we’d just complain if it arrived cold, right?” she

asked with a wry smile. “Be patient, it’ll cool off soon

enough, Mulder.”

“Yeah, but I’m hungry now,” he replied. The fact that his

stomach chose that very moment to growl loudly threw both

partners into a fit of laughter. “See? The stomach don’t

lie, Scully.”

“No, I suppose not. Let me try,” she said as she deftly

removed the first slice with the help of a butter knife.

“Here you go, Mulder. Feast!”

Scully took one for herself and then the two of them

settled back to enjoy a video Scully had rented.

“Now, ya wanna tell me again why I want to see this film,

Scully?”

“It’s called “House of Mirth,” Mulder, and it’s a very

poignant story that is universal in its attempt to tell of

how greed can be the downfall of all who crave money

without earning it,” she explained.

“Um, right, but Scully, Caddyshack does the same thing and

we would have had some laughs while watching it, too.”

“Mulder, c’mon! You chose the movie last week. You didn’t

hear me crabbing when we watched Road Trip for the

seventeenth time, did you?”

“Okay, okay, I’ll be good, but Scully, they’re wearing

hats and gloves and stuff,” he pouted.

“Mulder…” she uttered with a warning tone.

Mulder closed his mouth around a bite of pizza.

“HOT!” he cried out immediately, although the utterance

wasn’t quite that clear. He dropped the pizza back into

the plate as he reached for his beer to take a cooling swig.

“You okay?” Scully asked with some concern.

“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered. His tongue felt like it had

swelled to twice its size in a matter of moments. “Damn,

‘dat was hot!”

“Poor baby,” Scully cooed. “Want me to kiss and make all

better?”

“Oh, ‘Cully, ‘dat’s the ni’tet t’ing you could ever ‘tay

to me.”

Scully, of course, burst out laughing.

Scully managed to scarf down two of the large slices and

two beers, while Mulder polished off three beers, three

slices, and was eyeing a fourth.

“You do realize you’re going to explode if you do,” Scully

said as she watched her partner wage an internal war with

himself.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Besides, if I eat it now,

what’ll I have for breakfast?”

“Oh, you’re such a gourmet, Mulder!” replied Scully with a

giggle.

“Yeah, that’s me. Hey, c’mere,” he said softly.

“What?”

“You’ve got some cheese on your sweater,” he said as he

pointed to her collar.

Just as it appeared that Mulder was going to reach over

with his fingers to pluck the piece of cheese up, Mulder

leaned in quickly and devoured his partner’s neck while

also managing to scoop up the cheese with his tongue.

She squealed in utter surprise and in utter delight.

“You taste good, Scully. A whole lot better than pizza,”

he said through alternating kisses and licks of the skin

exposed just above her collar.

“How good is that?” she asked in a breathy tone and

wondered if she’d be able to maintain any kind of composure.

Wondered why she would want to.

“Oh, good, Scully. Really, really good.” And with that

he stood up and scooped her up in his arms. “But I think

there are other parts of your anatomy that I want to taste

even more.”

“Only if I can join in this little dessert, too, Mulder.”

“Sure, Scully, I learned to play nice in the sandbox with

my playmates,” he responded.

And so did she.

He nibbled at her neck, just under her chin and then

slowly worked his way down to the hollow area of her neck

just where her cross lay. Scully lifted her chin up a bit

to allow Mulder better access and sighed in delight when he

continued his explorations.

And groaned when he stopped.

Why did he stop?

“Mulder?”

“Shh, listen,” he said in a whisper.

“Listen to what? I don’t hear anything,” she pouted as

she reached around his head in an effort to prod him back

to her chin, and her neck, and her chest, and her…

“That’s just it, Scully. I don’t hear anything,” he

agreed with a tone of wonder. “No phone ringing, no

doorbell buzzing, no gunshots through the window…”

“Mulder!” she cried out slapping his arm in quick

reaction while he laughed aloud.

“Think about it, Scully. This has got to be a sign. It’s

got to be some kind of omen.”

“Mulder, shut up and get back here, now!” she growled with

a hint of a smile.

“Simmer down Agent Scully,” he said with a chuckle, “no

need to pull out the weapon yet.”

“Oh, no?” she said with a lecherous grin, as she snaked

her hand down the front of her partner’s pants. “It seems

to me the weapon is very much in need of being pulled out.”

Mulder managed a low, very needy, groan before he was able

to replace his lips on just the parts Scully desired.

And then some.

Mulder’s Apartment

Saturday, September 22, 2001

5:45 a.m.

It was barely dawn when he reached over and lightly

touched her bare leg. He reveled in how good it felt to be

able to reach over and touch her at will. Her skin was so

soft, so smooth… Well, usually.

Mulder smiled when he realized how mortified Scully would

feel if she knew that he was playing with the light hair on

her legs. Maybe he’d offer to help her shave them, or wax

them, or whatever women did to make their legs feel silky

smooth. All he knew was right now Scully felt wonderful to

him, and he was perfectly content to have her in his arms,

hairy legs and all.

Slowly his fingers wandered towards her navel, and he made

small, loving circles around it before he found himself

moving up toward his favorite part of his partner’s

anatomy. He listened to Scully sigh contentedly.

She always knew Mulder was a breast man.

Slowly, Scully placed feathery touches on his knees and

thighs, which remained wrapped comfortably around her legs

like a Christmas present’s ribbon.

As his fingers reached more urgently for her, she answered

with her own fingers in kind. Mulder felt his urgency

build slowly at first, but the anticipation grew and the

excitement caused both of their bodies to respond

without inhibitions. Their mutual desire to satisfy one

another was their first priority, and as a result, their

breathing soon came in pants and quiet cries of blessed

release.

Scully reached around to draw him into a soft, but very

passionate kiss. He loved her back as he knew she loved him.

“Go back to sleep,” he quietly urged. “It’s still so early.”

“Mmmm,” she murmured and prepared to snuggle into him more

comfortably.

“Just a minute, Dana,” he whispered, as he unraveled from

her.

“Mulder?” she asked with her eyes still closed.

“Go back to sleep.” He slowly got out of bed and went

into the bathroom. By the time he’d finished with his

shower and dressed, she’d fallen back into a fairly deep

sleep.

He bent down and placed a light kiss on her lips.

“Sleep now?” she asked.

“I have to go out for a little bit. We’ll talk later. You

sleep.” He reached over and kissed her again. He walked

out of the bedroom into the kitchen to set up the coffeepot

for her. After he set the timer, he jotted a quick note

and leaned it against her mug.

He lightly danced his fingers over the note one last time

and then he left, locking the door behind him.

Mulder’s Apartment

8:45 am

“Mulder?” she called out as she stretched catlike amid the

rumpled sheets. She crawled out of bed and wondered how

long he’d been up. She realized it was quite possible he

was out jogging, though after this morning’s extension of

last night’s wondrous activities, she wasn’t certain how he

had the strength.

She knew she sure didn’t.

She went into the bathroom and took care of her morning

business, and made sure to run her toothbrush across her

teeth. She didn’t even remember which of the dozen times

she’d been over when he’d been injured that she’d left it

there. The only thing worse than kissing Mulder with

morning breath was trying to drink coffee with unbrushed

teeth.

She went into the kitchen, led by the aroma of the coffee

that had brewed only a short time before.

“Mulder, if ever there was a reason I loved you, this has

to be it,” she murmured aloud as she picked the pot up.

She noticed the note by her mug and picked it up as she

poured. Next, Scully carried both the steaming cup of

coffee and the note into the living room and sat down on

the couch. She pushed aside the box of leftover pizza over

to place her mug down.

Scully unfolded the note and managed to decipher Mulder’s

small, scrawling handwriting.

“SHIT!”

She read the short note again.

“SHIT, SHIT, SHIT!” she cried out. “Damn it, Mulder, what

the hell do you think you’re doing? And why the hell

didn’t you tell me?”

She threw the note down onto the coffee table, while at

the same time opened up the pizza box and picked up a cold

slice to munch on. A little comfort food was called for,

as Scully needed to fortify herself before she called

Quantico to ask Mulder why the hell he got himself assigned

to that damned case.

Mulder’s Apartment

4:35 p.m.

Scully was still fuming as she unlocked the door to

Mulder’s apartment. She didn’t bother to knock. She only

hoped he would be standing close enough that the door would

slam into him when she burst in. That would serve him

right, the bastard!

She hadn’t spent the entire day looking for him. No, she

vowed as she munched cold pizza, deliberately leaving

greasy fingerprints all over his leather couch, only to

wipe them clean after taking her shower, that she was not

going to run after him like some crazed fish wife. But as

she went to the cleaners and picked up her clothes, went to

the market and stocked her rapidly depleting supply of

feminine products and nonperishable grocery items, went to

the computer store to see if her new power cord had

arrived, she couldn’t shake the feelings that were invading

her thoughts.

Sure, this was not technically a ditch. Even she had to

admit that. He had told her exactly where he was going.

He had even stayed in the same time zone. She knew his

approximate location all through the day, and for once, she

was relatively certain that he was safe from physical harm.

But that was the rub. He might have been safe from

physical harm, but that wasn’t the only harm Fox William

Mulder was known to encounter and Scully knew that

painfully well. He wasn’t taking this case as an X-File.

Which meant he wasn’t expecting a nice, paranormal reason

behind these murders. In turn, that meant he knew, as only

he could know, there was a person behind these deaths.

Someone truly vile and depraved, someone hard to catch,

making the journey to follow him that much more difficult.

This was a John Mostow, a John Roche, a Luther Boggs, a

Lucas Henry, dare she even think it to herself, this was a

Bill Patterson.

Sometime around 3, she was sitting at a stoplight when

a memory hit her so hard and so real she had to pull off

the road. It was an image of her partner, her lover,

finally, and he was lying in a hospital bed in the

psychiatric ward, hands and feet bound to the bed rails.

“Scully, you can’t tell me that after all these years, you

didn’t see this coming.” Sure, at the time it was a jest,

but more so an accusation.

Yes, she had stood by and said very little each time he

plunged himself into the ‘abyss of darkness’ as he waxed

poetic in their field report. But each time, she noticed

with horror that it was getting harder and harder for

Mulder to find his way back out of the darkness. His

greatest fear, besides losing her, was losing himself to

that darkness, becoming another Patterson, the negative of

the man he aspired to be. And here he was, running headlong

into a situation that could very possibly fulfill that self-

made prophesy.

The door squealed open and hit the wall with the force of

her entrance. The bang resounded loudly, but it was met by

silence. Only the fish tank created any white noise. Then

she heard a dresser drawer open and she headed resolutely

for the bedroom.

He looked up expectantly when she entered. “Scully, where

ya been? I tried your apartment but the machine picked up.”

“What are you doing?” she demanded, hands on her hips.

For a moment it occurred to her he might mistake her

question. She meant both in general, with this case, and

specifically, as he was taking clothes out of his dresser

and putting them in his suitcase.

“There was another murder, just today in Biloxi,

Mississippi. The task force is meeting first thing

tomorrow morning. Tom booked me on a flight tonight, I’ve

got to be out at Dulles in half an hour.” He glanced at

his watch. “Shit, make that 25 minutes. Hey, this

morning, did you see my razor in the bathroom?”

She blinked at him. He had no idea how angry she was at

that moment and apparently it wouldn’t really matter if he

did. She willed herself to calm down. “Did you check on

the floor next to the sink?”

He grinned at her and gave her the thumbs up as he hurried

across the hall. “Bingo!” he cried triumphantly. “I

really need to get one with those shower holders, like you

have,” he grinned again and stuffed the razor in his travel

bag. “Good thing you’re here. I don’t know if I need long

term or short-term parking. Give me a ride to the airport?”

Realizing it was her only chance to talk to him, she took

it. “Sure. But Mulder, I really want to talk for a minute.”

“Twenty minutes on the Beltway, Scully. That enough

time?” He grabbed the suitcase and his briefcase and

headed into the hallway.

She was following behind him, a position she always hated.

Not so much because of its submissive role, but because she

was never sure if he was listening to her when she couldn’t

see his face. “Mulder, why didn’t you tell me you’d gone

to VCS and offered your services?”

“I tried to tell you, Scully. Last night,” he tossed over

his shoulder as he locked the door. “Remember, you

declared no shop talk.”

She bit her lip to keep from screaming. She had meant

general, run of the mill debate on the merits of a case,

not announcements of transfers, no matter how temporary.

But, of course, Mulder wouldn’t see the significant

difference there.

“Besides, I didn’t call them. After you left yesterday,

Tom Alexander called me.” Scully thought hard and finally

remembered, Tom Alexander, the new head of VCS. At her

furrowed brow, he supplied more information. “Tom and I

shared a room at the academy.”

“He asked for your help,” she said flatly.

“He reminded me that I owed him one. And I did. He

pulled my ass off a roof in Hogan’s Alley that was about to

collapse. I could have been laid up for weeks with

whatever broken bones I would have acquired. He never

collected, so I agreed to give him a hand here.”

“Mulder, you know how these cases affect you!” Scully

cried out in frustration as the elevator doors opened and

they entered the car.

“Scully. Relax. I’m one of the profilers. I’m not even

the main one! Tom has a new kid, a little wet behind the

ears, but all the makings of a really good behavioral

scientist. I’m just there to, well, as Tom put it, potty

train the kid.”

“Like you were just there to help out Bill Patterson?” she

asked, her voice sounding like an accusation even to her

own ears.

Mulder took a long look at her. She could see him trying

to figure out what the problem was, and failing miserably.

“Is this about this morning, Scully? Because I made

coffee. I even left a note,” he pointed out as the

elevator doors opened and he took off down the hall toward

the outer door of his building.

“No, Mulder, this has nothing to do with leaving me in bed

this morning,” Scully said with a heartfelt sigh. The man

was so dense at times, his brilliance was like finding

diamonds in a dark cave. “This is about why you left VCS

to take over the X-Files. This is about how wrapped up you

get in profiling. This is about your sanity — or, in this

case, your lack thereof!”

Mulder stopped so abruptly she had to sidestep him to keep

from plowing into his back. He turned toward her and the

look on his face chilled her to the bone. It was a look of

utter betrayal and she tried to remember every syllable

she’d just uttered that would have invoked such a response

from him.

“You think I’m crazy, Scully?” he asked in that deadly

calm voice she’d learned to both love and despise. She

loved it when he directed it at anyone he was

interrogating. She despised it when he directed it at her.

“You know better than that,” she shot back, when she

recovered sufficiently from his glare.

“You think helping out on this case is going to drive me

over the brink?” By this time they were standing outside

her car and she dug through her pocket for her keys.

“Mulder, I think every time you take a profiling case,

it’s playing with fire. Each time it’s harder and harder

for you to find your way back. And don’t stand there so

sanctimonious and try and tell me that’s not true. That is

what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid for you!”

She watched him as he visibly tried to get his anger in

check. He took several deep breaths. Then he swallowed

and looked down at her, his eyes clear and just like the

sun coming out from behind the clouds, a small smile broke

out on his face. “Eight years and I’m still getting used

to having you cover my back,” he said tenderly. He pulled

her over into his arms for just a moment, placing a kiss on

the top of her head. “I’ll be good. I’ll be careful. And

most of all, I won’t get in too deep. I promise.”

“But I won’t be with you,” she countered and tried very

hard not to sound like the whiny fishwife image she’d been

fighting all day. She unlocked his door to avoid looking

at him.

“Scully,” Mulder sighed. “Somebody has to stay behind and

keep the home fires burning. I really don’t think this is

going to take that long. I’ll watch the kid, give him some

pointers, and tell Tom our slate is clean. With luck,

we’ll catch this bastard quickly. But either way, once the

kid is up to speed, I’m history.” He got into the car and

reached over to unlock her door. She got behind the wheel

and buckled her belt before speaking again.

“You honestly believe that you will leave an open

investigation, with the perpetrator at large?” she asked,

keeping her eyes on the road as she pulled away from the

curb.

“You think I can’t?” he shot back.

“I’ve never seen you do it, Mulder. Not once. Not once

in eight years. That’s a pretty long track record.”

“Yeah, but look at us. Who would have thought last night

or anything like it would happen after eight long years,”

he countered with a devilish smile. She wasn’t buying and

he shook his head in exasperation. “Scully, things can

change. I want them to change. I don’t want to be known

as ‘Spooky’ for the rest of my life.”

She stared at him, almost making him reach out to take the

wheel before she turned back to the road.

“OK, I probably will. But I don’t want to go crazy. That

is not something I put on the list of things I want to do

before I retire.”

“I don’t like this, Mulder. I want that on the record.”

“Duly noted, Agent Scully.” He reached over and squeezed

her leg just above the knee. “I’ll call, really. And if

you think I’m losing it, you have my permission to use my

credit card, buy a plane ticket, come to wherever I am and

kick my ass, now, how’s that?”

“If that comes to pass, Mulder, you better be prepared.

Because I’m flying first class,” she muttered, but let the

subject drop for the rest of the drive to the airport.

Biloxi, Mississippi

Sunday, September 23, 2001

8 a.m.

Mulder should have felt more rested, having gone straight

to the motel room the previous night, but he didn’t sleep.

His mind was already on the case, and he was anxious to

finally meet with the team and see what they’d come up

with. The kid managed to get a flight out that morning and

was already at the Biloxi Bureau Office when Mulder

arrived. “Gotta stop thinking of him as that,” muttered

Mulder to himself as he entered the hastily set up meeting

place. Surprisingly, Tom Alexander was the first to greet

him.

“What the hell are you doing here, and who’s running the

shop back at Quantico?” asked Mulder with a smile.

“I decided someone had to watch and make sure you

remembered how to profile, Mulder,” Tom replied with a

hearty handshake. “Good to see you again. Sorry it

couldn’t be under more pleasant circumstances.”

“Yeah, but you know I’m happy to try and help you guys

out,” replied the agent.

“I know, Mulder, and I do want you to know I appreciate

it. I got a call from your AD; he was none too pleased

with me and made no bones about it,” informed the VCS head.

“Yeah, well, Skinner is a bit of a mother hen when it

comes to his people,” Mulder replied with a laugh. “You

gotta forgive him, he’s not used to people overruling his

directives.”

“I wouldn’t overrule your AD’s directive,” responded Tom

immediately, and then as sudden realization hit, he

practically moaned, “Damn it, Mulder, you didn’t–” reacted

Tom.

“Yeah, ‘fraid I did, but don’t worry about it. Skinner’s

gotten used to it.”

“Remind me to send the man a nice bottle of wine, Okay?”

“Tom, there is a definite reason you were promoted to head

of VCS,” Mulder retorted, smiling.

“But, it’s cost me half my salary to pay for the Grecian

Formula to cover all the gray hair guys like you give me,”

Tom replied in kind. “C’mon, let’s go meet the team. I

also want you to meet Kenny.”

“Kenny?”

“Kenny Andrews, our up and coming profiler

extraordinaire,” Tom reminded.

“Oh, the kid,” Mulder muttered more to himself than aloud.

Tom heard him anyway and simply laughed. “Feeling your

age a bit, eh, Mulder?”

“Don’t remind me, Alexander, okay? C’mon, let’s go put

‘the kid’ through his paces.”

When Tom pointed out Kenny Andrews, Mulder wasn’t sure if

he should be working with the guy or taking him to the

playground and push him on the swings. He looked around

twelve years old. Mulder couldn’t help but wonder if he

_ever_ looked that young.

“Remind you of anyone, Mulder?” Tom asked interrupting his

thoughts.

“Should he?”

“Mulder, everyone had the same reaction to you when you

hit VCS.”

“Reaction?” echoed Mulder.

“Oh c’mon, Mulder, is your memory that short? Patterson

had been touting you as the VCS savior. Now of course, I

knew you were just a mere mortal, having seen you in your

underwear and all, but these guys figured you were their

new superman and in you walk, looking about as old as their

teenage sons. I thought the guys in the bull pen were

going to lose their lunch!” he said laughing at the memory.

“You mean, much like I feel about now,” Mulder retorted.

“Jeeze, Tom, how old is the kid?”

“Old enough, Mulder, but for your information he’s turning

25 in a few months.”

“Twenty-four? The kid is 24 fucking years old?” Mulder

repeated in amazement.

Tom paused momentarily and then said, softly but with a

seriousness he held in reserve, “Look, Fox, the kid’s good.

Real good. But there’s one little problem.”

“Problem?”

“Yeah,” Tom answered, “a problem. He reminds me of you.”

Mulder knew Tom wasn’t joking at this point. “He gets in

deep?”

“Yeah. He can get himself in real deep. I need you to

show him the way out, Fox.”

Mulder drew in a deep breath and then let it out in one

loud blow. “Sure, Tom. Let’s go teach the kid a thing or

two about how to be spooky and still keep your marbles.”

“That’s why I knew you were the man to call, Mulder,” Tom

replied as he clapped his hand on Mulder’s shoulder.

Tom turned his face away from Mulder’s and as he continued

to walk him over to where Kenny Andrews was sitting, Tom

could only wonder who was going to help Mulder keep his?

As they drove to the site, Mulder tried to keep calm. He

knew the kid was nervous; he was meeting his idol or so

he’d said about a dozen times, so it wasn’t surprising that

Andrews kept sputtering and tripping over his words. Each

and every time he tried to offer a piece of data regarding

the latest information, he stuttered and found it

impossible to get it said without stopping and starting

countless times.

Mulder could only wonder how the hell this ‘child’ could

ever remind Tom Alexander of him. If there was one thing

Spooky Mulder was, he was smooth in his delivery of the

facts to the point of being glib, which was one of the

reasons he’d developed a goodly number of enemies in the

VCS bullpen. No one liked a wise ass, particularly a wise

ass who was almost always right and made everyone around

him look like an idiot.

The only thing that saved Mulder was that as he got deeper

and deeper into a case, he’d become less and less talkative

as he got deeper and deeper into the profile. Once that

happened, everyone knew there was no talking to ol’ Spooky,

since he was no longer just himself. He was more the UNSUB

than he was Spooky Mulder, and very few people had the

stomach to deal with him when he got to that point.

It was one of the reasons he knew he had to get out of

VCS. He knew, since there was no one person who was

willing to cover his back a hundred per cent of the time

when he was profiling, he had to save himself. Patterson

didn’t like it, but Patterson didn’t like anything that

went against his way of thinking.

Mulder was glad Tom Alexander was the new head of VCS. He

was a good man. He was the type of man who would look out

for his people in a way that Bill Patterson could never

look out for Mulder. Kenny Andrews would be okay if he got

himself in too deep. Though at the moment, Mulder couldn’t

for the life of him figure out how Kenny Andrews ever

became a profiler. He hadn’t shut up the entire time they

were driving to the site, which was approximately a twenty-

minute ride. Mulder was never so grateful to feel the car

stop so he could get out and escape the kid’s incessant

talking.

As he stood up, Mulder took a look all around him to see

what the area looked like. It was pretty much an open

field that had a large tent set up with several cars and

trucks parked to the rear right side of it. There were a

couple of local police cars parked in the location they’d

just parked. Mulder assumed it was to keep curiosity

seekers beyond the taped off section of the murder site.

The driver of the car, Agent James Sandborne was a native

of the area. He said hello to the two local law enforcement

officers and introduced Mulder and Andrews.

“So, Jimmy, you think you really need all the big guns in

here to solve this one?” asked Officer Jeremiah Thompson.

“Well, Jerry,” Agent Sandborne began, “I tell ya. It was a

bit of a surprise when the reverend passed on, dontcha

think?”

“Could be it was just his time,” offered Thompson’s

partner, Officer Avery Millstone.

“That’s true, Avery, that’s true. But we just want to

make sure that was the only reason he died and moved on to

his place in heaven, ya hear?” Agent Sandborne explained.

“Well, we hear ya, Jimmy. Y’all let us know if there’s

anything we can do for ya,” Officer Thompson offered.

“Well, that’s right kind of you, Jerry. We sure do

appreciate that,” Agent Sandborne said. And with that the

three agents began moving toward the taped off site.

“Agent Andrews, I want you to know you just witnessed the

work of a master,” stated Mulder emphatically.

“Excuse me?” asked Andrews.

“Andrews, Agent Sandborne is a master of diplomacy.”

Mulder took a quick glance at the older Sandborne and

observed him turn a couple shades of red.

“Thank you, Agent Mulder. Thanks for noticing,”

acknowledged Sandborne.

“Right,” muttered Andrews who was obviously still unsure

of what the hell Mulder was talking about.

“Agent Andrews, Agent Sandborne here just let the local PD

know that we are on their side, and we’re not trying to

steal anyone’s thunder or glory. He’s also let it be known

that we don’t consider ourselves supermen and that we don’t

necessarily have all of the answers and that we would be

happy to turn to them as the experts of the area for help

if we need it,” Mulder pointed out.

“Oh.” Andrews stood silently for a moment, and then said,

“I guess it’s important to establish some kind of rapport

with the local police, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Agent Andrews, it is. And if you don’t know how to

do it, or you know you don’t do it very well, then you

don’t ever hesitate to allow a master to do the deed. I

know of only one other person who’s as good as Agent

Sandborne,” Mulder said with a hint of a smile, “and I’ve

learned over the last several years to stick with what I

know best.

“This time, whether you know it or not, Agent Andrews, we

were both smart enough to keep our mouths shut and let

Agent Sandborne do what I have never been able to do, and

that’s make nice with the locals.” Mulder offered his hand

to Sandborne and said, “Thank you, Agent.”

Sandborne took Mulder’s hand and shook it firmly. “You’re

welcome, Agent Mulder,” he said and felt a kind of pride he

hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

As soon as they entered the tent Mulder sensed it. It

wasn’t anything he saw, but rather, it was a chill that

went right through him. He felt himself involuntarily

shiver as he placed his hand to his cheek, as a way of

measuring the temperature. His fingertips felt like ice.

It was a balmy 74 degrees outside.

Suddenly, Mulder felt slightly dizzy and somewhat overcome

with the wave of stench that permeated the air. He looked

at Agent Sandborne for an explanation, but to Mulder’s

surprise, Sandborne appeared as if nothing was unusual.

“Oh, goddamn!” rasped out Kenny Andrews. “Do you smell

that?”

“Smell what?” asked Sandborne, “I don’t smell a thing? I

mean it’s warm and everything, but it’s not hot enough for

the body to decompose in less than three hours. So, what

exactly is it you smell, Agent Andrews?”

“But, it’s vile,” he began, and then added, “Why is it so

damn cold in here?”

“What the hell are you talking about, Greenhorn?”

Sandborne asked and then he turned to Mulder and

practically chuckled in amusement, “Kids, right?”

Sandborne shook his head and informed Mulder that he was

going to check in with the other pair of local law

enforcement to see if there was any new information that he

could wheedle out of them.

“Good idea, Agent,” Mulder agreed quickly. The men nodded

and Sandborne was off.

“Agent Mulder, I’m not crazy,” Andrews implored.

“I know.”

Andrews looked surprised momentarily, and then he sighed

with relief. “You smell it, too?” Mulder nodded and

Andrews asked with a bit of hesitation, “What the hell is

it?”

“I don’t know, Agent Andrews, but it appears it’s going to

be up to us to find out, doesn’t it?”

Mulder began his survey of the area. As was his usual

procedure he began at its perimeter and moved slowly inward

toward its core. As he observed his surroundings he noted

as many details as possible, and relegated those details to

his memory for future reference.

The experienced agent caught a glance of his young protŽgŽ

as he carefully examined the body of the victim. Mulder

was very curious to hear his findings and more importantly,

to hear his impressions. Mulder suspected that Tom

Alexander was right; Agent Andrews had the intuitiveness to

be a damn fine profiler. Only problem with that was, it

could also be his downfall.

As Mulder walked the circumference he noted how the grassy

path in the aisle on the right side of the tent was worn

away, almost as if the grass died in that particular area.

Mulder found it curious that the rest of the grounds

appeared to be rather healthy; it was only in that

particular area, the right aisle on the edge of the tent,

that it was eroded away. There were many brown patches as

well and several, albeit small, totally bare sections.

Mulder knelt down and with a gloved hand pulled up some of

the deadened grass. Surprisingly, the grass felt warm, and

when Mulder raised it to his nose to sniff it, there was a

faint burnt smell.

He suddenly flashed on a darkened shadow hovering above

him. Mulder had no idea as to what it was, but it startled

him and he quickly jumped up from his kneeling position.

He looked to see if anyone else saw what was standing right

before him, but the others walked around, business as

usual. The agent took a deep breath and quickly placed the

sample into a plastic evidence bag and moved on in his

circular investigation.

At one point Andrews and Mulder crossed paths and the men

found themselves taking opposite routes. They stopped and

stared at one another briefly. Mulder’s eyes had grown

dark and focused; he was not surprised to see the younger

man’s do the same. There was no need to talk at this

point. Discussion and comparison of observations would

come later. Both men needed a chance to absorb and

assimilate the crime scene. Andrews traveled toward the

outer circle of the murder site, while Mulder moved within

a couple of yards of the victim.

Again, something flashed before Mulder. He couldn’t

decide if it was in his mind’s eye, or if it was something

actually present at the scene. He looked around quickly to

see if anyone else was reacting to the black cloud of a

shadow that blocked his path to the victim. He wondered if

the kid could feel it and wanted to call out to him to look.

But he couldn’t. His voice remained suppressed in his

throat and all Mulder could do was shudder with a feeling

of both fear and disgust. As suddenly as it appeared, it

disappeared and Mulder found himself walking quickly toward

the victim.

He knelt down again and this time touched the black

minister with his gloved hand. Flashes of images quickly

took a foothold in Mulder’s mind and he couldn’t shut them

off.

“Amen, Brothers and Sistas,” cried the Reverend Abraham

Stewart, otherwise known as Reverend Abe. “Let me hear an

AMEN!”

“AMEN!” cried out the congregation.

“This is to tell our God, our Lord, Jesus Christ, our

Savior that we trust in him and that we KNOW that if we

have faith in Him, He will save us!”

“AMEN!” responded the crowd, their cries even louder than

before.

Mulder felt something on his shoulder and then someone was

shaking him.

“Agent Mulder? Agent Mulder, are you okay?” asked

Sandborne anxiously.

“What?” Mulder shook his head as if to get rid of some

cobwebs that had suddenly taken up residence.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” he said even though he didn’t

believe a word of it.

“Are you sure? You looked kind of out it,” probed

Sandborne.

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Mulder stood up, and felt his bones

crackle a bit. Damn, he thought to himself, I am getting

too old for this shit.

“Well, then if you’re okay, would you mind going over and

seeing if the greenhorn’s all right? He’s acting a little

funny over there too.”

Mulder looked over to where Kenny Andrews stood. It was

the right aisle of the tent and Mulder could see the

younger man was almost swaying with his eyes shut tight.

“Shit,” he muttered aloud. Mulder moved as quickly as he

could to Andrews’ side.

“Agent Andrews!” Mulder called out and then grasped his

shoulder and shook him. In a low, but firm voice, he

ordered, “Andrews, come on back. Now, damn it.”

Andrews opened his eyes and uttered very softly, “Amen.”

The drive back to the bureau office was a quiet one.

Sandborne had tried to make a little small talk at first

but soon realized that neither Agent Mulder nor Agent

Andrews were up for any chitchat.

He pulled into the Bureau parking lot and watched as they

both got of the car in tandem; Mulder exited from the front

passenger side and Andrews from the rear. Their movements

mirrored one another’s and Sandborne felt himself shudder

just a bit at the sight. They left without looking back or

saying a word.

“Do you drink coffee?” asked Mulder. The younger man

shook his head and Mulder smiled for the first time in

hours. “Well, if you’re going to become a first class

profiler, Andrews, you’re going to have to find a caffeine

source.”

“No problem, Agent Mulder,” he said as he hoisted a small

duffel bag up from the corner of the office. He pulled out

two twenty-four-can cases of Coca-Cola. “And there’s

plenty more where these came from.” Kenny exhibited his

first smile in a few hours as well.

Both men breathed a small sigh of relief, though neither

had been aware of any real tension between them. It was

more of the situation; it was the crime. It was the fact

that they were able to see things no one else had been able

to see.

The kid was scared to death about it.

Mulder was resigned.

“So? Tell me what you’re thinking, kid,” Mulder said.

The younger man blushed a bit; he wasn’t sure if his hero

was making fun of him or not. He wanted to be taken

seriously, but if Mulder was going to treat him as if he

were a schoolboy, then there was no sense in even bothering

to share his thoughts.

“Listen,” Mulder hesitated. Some might think Mulder was

able to read Andrews’s mind, but the older agent would have

been quick to point out there was nothing magical about

being able to read someone who wore his heart on his

sleeve. Hell, Scully had been able to do that with him

often enough. He was able to keep everyone else at an

emotional distance, but not her.

Never Scully.

“Listen, Andrews,” he began again, “when I call you kid,

it’s not an insult, okay? Shit, I’m the ‘old man’ in this

little alliance we got going, so let’s not walk on

eggshells with one another, okay?”

Andrews nodded, and said, “Well, old man–“

“–Let’s not get carried away, Kid, okay?”

Andrews noted the small smile on Mulder’s face and

continued, “It was damned near one of the oddest

experiences I’ve ever had.”

“How so?” Mulder probed gently.

“I felt like I was seeing flashes of the scene. I mean,

before the guy was murdered.”

“Yeah,” Mulder acknowledged. The kid looked at Mulder

with his head cocked and wore a puzzled expression.

“What?” asked Mulder.

“You’re not going to even question it? I mean, you’re

just going to accept it at face value?” he asked

incredulously.

“No one’s ever accepted what you have to say without

giving you an argument?” asked Mulder.

“Screw that! I’d love an argument; it’s the out and out

dismissals of my ideas that piss me off.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said with obvious affection in his voice,

“arguments can be a very good thing. Keeps you honest.”

Andrews nodded at that and then asked, “You believe me.

You saw them, too, didn’t you?”

“Now I know why Alexander picked you out of the lot as

someone to watch,” Mulder said with a smile. “Yeah, I had

some flashes, too. You tell me about yours and I’ll tell

you about mine,” he said lightly.

The kid laughed and nodded his head in agreement. “I kept

seeing this black thing hanging around me, and it was cold.

Damn, Agent Mulder, it felt so damned cold every time it

appeared.”

“I saw that too. Oh, and it’s just Mulder, please.” Kenny

nodded and then Mulder asked, “What happened just before we

left. What were you seeing then?”

“Everything, I think.”

“Such as?” Mulder probed.

“The people were sitting in the seats. The reverend was

standing up on the stage and whipping those guys into a

frenzy. And that’s all. The next thing I remember you

were standing next to me and telling me it was time to come

back here.”

“That sounds like something similar to what I

experienced,” Mulder acknowledged.

“You’re kidding,” Andrews reacted incredulously. Mulder

assured him that he was not kidding, so the kid said, “This

is incredible, Mulder. I mean, what the hell does it mean?

Why were we the only ones to feel this… this… damn!

I don’t even know how to describe it! How the hell am I

supposed to put this into a report?” Andrews expressed with

pure frustration.

“Don’t worry about that. The facts will present

themselves, Andrews and we’ll have a report, with or

without our so-called icing on the cake details,” assured

Mulder. “Now, tell me your impressions of the crime scene.”

And he did. Kenny Andrews spoke for a solid thirty

minutes before Mulder was able to even ask a question.

Mulder shook his head in admiration. The kid was good.

Really, really good.

And it scared the hell out of Mulder because he knew just

where that ability was going to lead the poor guy.

“So, based upon the scene and the attributes you’ve

described, tell me your first impressions of our UNSUB,”

Mulder encouraged.

It was the first time all day that Kenny Andrews appeared

speechless.

“Talk to me, Kenny,” Mulder encouraged quietly. “It’s

just you and me in here.”

“I don’t know,” he began hesitantly. “I don’t know if I

want to know.”

“I know, but if we’re going to prevent this from happening

again, we’re going to have to start profiling this…”

“Thing,” interjected Andrews. “This entity,” he

practically

spat. “Mulder, the preacher was described by witnesses as

a good man. They said he had some inflexible religious

views as is often the case with a fundamentalist sect, but,

basically, they said he was a good man.

“He was seared through his heart, Mulder. Straight

through his heart. This looks like something out of God

Damned Star Wars, but it’s not that, Mulder. I know it’s

not that.”

“How do you know?” Mulder quickly asked.

“I… I don’t know, I just do, damn it! C’mon, this is no

technological genius we’re dealing with, and you know it!

This is evil, Mulder, this pure evil.”

The younger man stood off in a corner with his arms

wrapped around his own body to prevent the involuntary

shudders from traveling through his body. Mulder looked

away for a moment; he needed to regain control of his own

body’s reaction.

The kid was good, Mulder had to admit it. He agreed with

everything he’d stated. Now, what to do about it.

Mulder looked at his watch and realized he was going to

have to check in with Scully soon. He knew she was going

to ask about the progress of the investigation and how the

kid was getting along. He knew he was going to have to

tell her something.

He also knew he was going to have to lie through his teeth

in order to buy himself some time.

Act II

Office of the Assistant Director

Monday, September 24, 2001

8:15 a.m.

Scully rapped on the glass so as not to startle Kim as she

sat listening to the voice mail on her phone. Kim smiled

and waved her to the couch against the wall opposite her

desk. Scully thought about standing but thought better of

it and sat on the edge of the cushion.

She hadn’t been totally surprised when a message on her

own voice mail told her that the assistant director wanted

to see her the minute she got into the office. She even

expected the fact that her superior’s voice would hold that

strained quality it usually had when he was considering the

options of a life sentence for killing her partner, or just

10-20 for attempted murder.

But that didn’t make it any easier to wait for the chewing

out she was expecting. One of these times, she vowed

silently as she waited, she was going to tape one of these

sessions and force Mulder to listen to it, all day long, if

necessary.

Kim finished getting her messages and looked up at Scully.

“Boy, I don’t know what your partner did this time, but I

lost a coffee mug this morning because of him,” she said

with an exasperated huff.

“I’ll make sure he replaces it, Kim,” Scully assured the

woman, just as the inner office door opened and Assistant

Director Skinner loomed in the doorway.

“Scully. Now.” Without waiting for her to join him, he

returned into his office and took his place behind his

desk. Scully couldn’t resist a quick peek in his

wastebasket, situated next to his desk as she passed it on

the way to her seat. Sure enough, the colored remains of a

light brown coffee mug littered the bottom of the can.

“Don’t bother sitting, Agent. This won’t take long,”

Skinner growled and Scully resisted the urge to cringe at

the sound of his voice. Instead, she straightened her back,

squared her shoulders and waited for the coming storm.

“I assume you were informed of your partner’s recent

defection to Violent Crimes Section?” Skinner asked, low

and menacing. It was a double-edged sword. A yes meant

she knew before the AD and that was bad for her. A no

meant that Mulder hadn’t even bothered to tell his partner,

and that would be even worse for Mulder.

“I found out on Saturday, sir,” Scully answered honestly.

“I heard from him briefly last night. He and the other

profiler were putting together a preliminary profile.

Everything seemed fine.”

“It would have been nice of him to at least give me a

heads up, after I called SAC Alexander following our

meeting Friday and explained that the X-Files Division was

much too busy with its own cases to offer assistance on

this one,” Skinner intoned evenly. Scully could see the

little vein throbbing at his neck and wondered how close he

was to red-lining on a blood pressure scale.

“Sir, as Agent Mulder explained it to me, this is a

personal favor to SAC Alexander. They have a new profiler,

and Agent Mulder agreed to come in strictly on a consulting

basis. Once the new agent has his feet under him, Agent

Mulder will be leaving the task force and returning his

attention to his own division. In the meantime, I am

pursuing the other cases that the division is currently

investigating.”

Skinner was unearthly still for a good minute. Then his

expression softened somewhat and he drew in a deep breath.

“Off the record, Scully. This is a profiling case. I

really hate to think he’s working this without…”

Scully didn’t need a road map to know that the AD was

disturbed that she wouldn’t be providing her partner with

back up, professional or otherwise.

“I have expressed my own concerns to Agent Mulder, sir,”

she assured him. “He seems intent on helping VCS out, but

only in as far as the new agent needs assistance getting

started. He is aware of the potential hazards this case

poses.” To her great relief, Skinner’s expression told her

he was able to read between the lines. She was going to be

on top of this, all the way.

“You will be keeping in contact with him?” It was more of

a statement, worded as a question. In other circumstances,

it probably would have been issued as an order.

“Absolutely, sir,” Scully responded, nodding for emphasis.

Skinner still wasn’t happy, but he seemed to relax a

little. “Next time, Scully, remind him that I can be

reached off hours and if something like this comes up,

that’s exactly how I would prefer it be handled.”

“I will do that, sir,” Scully said, rising to leave while

the conversation was on relatively neutral ground.

Before she got to the door, Skinner called her name.

“Scully, that goes for you, too.”

Scully didn’t say anything, just nodded. Message

received, if she had any problems with Mulder or detected

any problems, she was to bring them to Skinner first.

She just hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Dana Scully’s apartment

8:15 p.m.

The bag of groceries held out until she got the door

unlocked. As she stepped into her apartment, the bottom

ripped out and the contents, including a dozen eggs and a

sixteen-ounce tub of yogurt, spilled out onto her hardwood

floor. Anger would have been her first emotion, but she

was just too tired. Instead, she kicked at the mess with

her foot and trudged off toward her bedroom, shedding her

suit jacket and pants as she went.

In jeans and a sweater, she returned to clean up the mess.

Six of the eggs were history, but that still left enough

for an omelet on Saturday. She sighed to herself. If

Mulder was finished playing ‘big brother’ to the new guy in

VCS, maybe she could make that a nice six egg omelet and

share it with her partner next Saturday morning. That

thought made her smile. The rest of the contents of the

bag were relatively unscathed, so she scrubbed up the egg

yolk and yogurt and put the groceries away.

Dinner consisted of the contents still clinging to the

inside of the tub of yogurt, which she would never admit to

anyone. “Five-second rule, Scully,” Mulder had once

enlightened her. “It takes germs at least five seconds to

infect something when it lands on the floor.” At the time,

she’d been appalled that her partner could eat food that

had fallen on the motel shag carpet, but as the case they

were on grew longer and the runs to get food grew fewer and

farther in between, she found the economic sense in his

actions. Besides, she was just too tired to cook.

She glanced at the phone at least four times before

deciding she needed a soak. She hadn’t had a good bubble

bath in… She couldn’t remember how long it had been

since she’d had a good soak in the tub. It was once a

Friday night ritual, when the two agents weren’t on a case.

But since she’d been spending Friday evenings with Mulder,

she’d traded her bubble bath for something more engaging.

She smiled as slipped into the tub and let the bubbles

tickle her chin. She and Mulder had finally crossed the

line, that invisible line they’d drawn in the sand over

eight years ago. She drew in a deep breath, thinking how

nice it would be for him to surprise her, sneak in her

apartment and join her in the tub. There was enough room,

more than enough. She lay there until the water grew cold,

waiting for him. It was with a touch of disappointment

that she climbed out of the tepid water and toweled herself

off. It was only 10 p.m., but she was dead tired, and

now deliciously warm, so she crawled into bed and drifted

off to sleep with the image of Mulder’s arms around her,

holding her close.

She was running through an empty airport. It looked

almost like Dulles, but it could have been any of a hundred

airports she’d been in all across the country. She

couldn’t help wondering where all the people were. But

more than anything else, she knew she had to find her

partner.

The gates flashed past her as she ran, and the end of the

hall seemed to be getting further and further away. She

was certain that Mulder was just in front of her, at some

gate she was running toward. Outside, dark clouds engulfed

the runways and lightning flashed, illuminating the

concourse in eerie shadows.

She saw him, finally, probably no more than fifty yards

away. She called out to him and he turned toward her,

started to come forward to greet her. A dark shadow formed

between them, and Mulder was obscured from her view. She

called his name and heard him call back to her, but his

voice sounded farther away than she knew him to be. His

voice sounded muffled, and then she heard him yelling,

telling her to run, to get away.

She was about to turn, figuring that he would follow.

When she didn’t hear his footsteps behind her she looked

over her shoulder and saw him struggling. He was fighting

with the shadow, which had taken the form of a human, much

taller than her 6-foot partner. The shadow was at least 10

feet tall and Mulder was quickly losing his battle. Scully

watched in horror as the shadow took hold of Mulder’s neck

with long arms and with one quick twist and a loud snap,

Mulder’s eyes went wide, his body went limp and he dropped

to the floor. She couldn’t tear her eyes from his lifeless

expression as she started to scream.

Sirens were blaring and she couldn’t move, nor could she

break her gaze from the man lying now mere yards from her.

The shadow seemed to grow even larger and was bearing down

on her when the sirens grew so great that she had to clasp

her hands over her ears…

It was the phone! Catching her breath, she frantically

glanced around her darkened bedroom, finally realized she’d

just had one hell of a nightmare. The phone went silent

for a moment, then started ringing again. She fumbled with

the receiver and finally picked it up with a shaking hand.

“Yes, Scully,” she panted, her voice cracking almost as

badly as her hands were shaking. Cradling the phone

against her shoulder, she wiped at the tears still wet on

her cheeks.

“Scully, you OK?”

She almost cried out in relief. Mulder. Just the person

she needed to hear from most. She took a moment to draw in

a lungful of air and calm down. She didn’t want him to

know she’d been crying in her sleep. Or what she’d been

crying about.

“I’m fine, Mulder. I was asleep.”

“Asleep? Scully, it’s 11:25 at home. Since when do you

go to bed before the late news is off?” Mulder asked,

trying to keep his tone light but failing to hide his

concern completely. “You sure you’re OK?”

“Hey, you know how paperwork wears me out. I was

exhausted when I got home. I took a bubble bath. . .”

“Stop right there, Scully. I know all about your dirty

little secret. You get in a bath and you’re out for the

night. And I’d rather not talk about you soaking in a tub

of bubbles unless I’m there to partake in the festivities.”

“Awfully presumptuous, aren’t you G-Man?” she teased. It

was so good just to hear his voice. Her dream was fading

with each breath she heard him take over the phone line.

“I mean, who said my tub’s big enough for the both of us.”

“I can squeeze in there somewhere, Scully,” he shot back

and she didn’t try to hold in her laugh.

“So, did you get the new kid straightened out?” she asked.

Hearing his voice, she wanted him home more than anything.

The dream was fading, but the anxiety it produced was still

ripping through her veins. She didn’t like Mulder being

hundreds of miles away with no one but a wet behind the

ears newbie watching his back. It was too easy for her to

remember her own experience with a raw recruit. Her side

still ached from time to time to remind her.

“Kenny? He’s a good kid, but I might have to hang on a

couple more days. Hey, I need a favor,” he said, deftly

switching the subject.

“Ah, Mulder,” she groaned. “I hate your favors!”

“Scully! You haven’t even heard this one! Give me a

chance, please,” he whined.

“Yeah, Mulder. One chance. Like the one chance I gave

you in Chaney, Texas, and the one chance I gave you in

Arcadia Falls, California, and let’s not forget the one

chance I gave you in Pentwater, Michigan…”

“Hey, hold up there! This one is nothing like those other

times, Scully, I swear.”

“Spill it, Mulder. What’s the big favor?” she asked dryly.

“Run up to Monsey, New York and get an exhumation order

for the rabbi who was killed in April.”

“Mulder! That rabbi was Hassidic!”

“Yeah, so? They didn’t do an autopsy, Scully. We need

that information for the profile. Besides, Hassidic Jews

abide by the same laws and authorities we all do.”

“Oh, well, then why don’t you ‘run up to Monsey, New York’

and get the exhumation order, Mulder?” she taunted.

“Because you’re much harder to turn down, Scully,” he

replied quickly and she could almost see the leering smile

on his all too handsome face. A smile she would have dearly

loved to scrub right off his kisser at that moment.

“Oh, all right. I’ll go. But they have every reason to

deny this request, Mulder. You have very little to go on

and the other autopsies haven’t given you any additional

leads,” she reminded him.

“I know, Scully. But those other autopsies weren’t done

by you,” he pointed out. Damn him, he was always using

praise to get his way. She’d have to get him for that,

someday.

“So, it’s late. Are you calling me before you turn in?”

she asked, no longer wishing to spend their precious time

arguing over exhumation orders.

“Nah, actually, we just cracked open Kenny’s second case

of Coke and we’re going to get started on the preliminary

profile.”

“Mulder, did you say…”

“Coca-Cola, Scully. That Coke. Kenny doesn’t imbibe

caffeine the same way you and I do. I have a pot of motel

bathroom coffee and he’s shootin’ Cokes.”

“Well, remember to get some sleep, all right? You made me

a promise.”

“One I fully plan on keeping, Scully. I’m fine. Really.”

Even as he spoke the reassurances, a cold chill ran the

length of her spine and suddenly all she could see was the

shadow snapping his neck and Mulder falling dead to the

ground at her feet. She had to take several deep breaths

to keep from crying out again.

“Mulder…” she started. She wanted to warn him, force

him back home. Short of that, she wanted to get on the

first plane to Biloxi and stick to him like glue, making

certain neither of them ended up in any deserted airports.

“I know, Scully. I really miss you, too,” he answered

back tenderly, totally misunderstanding what she was trying

to put into words. “But I’ll see you soon. Hey, this week

it’s my turn to pick the movie. I’ll make sure I’m home by

Friday night.”

“Mulder, please, I just…”

“Just a minute, Kenny. Look, Scully, I gotta go. The kid

can’t figure out how to hook up the modem on the phone in

his room. I’ll try to call you tomorrow. And let me know

about the exhumation, we really need that autopsy.”

“Mulder…”

“You, too. Talk to you soon.” The line was disconnected

before she could slip in another word. She laid the phone

down its cradle and let the tears fall hot down her cheeks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

10 a.m.

As Scully punched in the touch-tones to place the call to

Monsey, New York, she realized her fingers still trembled

slightly. No matter how hard she tried to talk herself

into thinking her dream last night was nothing more than a

manifestation of her missing Mulder, she knew that it was

more than that. She couldn’t even call it a nightmare. It

was more than that, too.

A vision. It was more like that, and it scared the hell

out of her.

She heard the phone ringing on the other end and drew a

breath in anticipation of the voice on the other side. She

grasped the receiver more tightly in an effort to calm her

skittish fingers.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Mr. Steiger?” asked Scully tentatively. She

hesitated momentarily as she realized she wasn’t quite

certain how to pronounce the witness’s first name.

“Yes, this is Reuven Steiger,” he responded.

Oh. That’s how, she thought to herself with a small

smile. “Mr. Steiger, my name is Dana Scully and I’m a

special agent with the FBI, in Washington. I need to speak

with you to clarify some details regarding Rabbi

Zimmerman’s death last April.” She’d realized she wasn’t

sure of the pronunciation of the rabbi’s first name as

well, ‘Shmuel.’

“I’ve already spoken with the police, Miss Scully. I

don’t know what else I could possibly add,” he said in a

soft, but firm voice.

“There’s always a possibility that some detail has been

left out, Mr. Steiger. Please, it would be of great help if

I may speak with you in person.”

There was silence for several moments, and Scully feared

her request would be refused. “Mr. Steiger?” she asked

hopefully.

“Miss Scully, please understand, it’s not that I wish to

be difficult,” he began in his soft toned voice. “Tomorrow

evening is Erev Yom Kippur, the holiest of holy days for

the Jewish people. I must be free to help my family

prepare for it; I don’t want to seem rude, but I have

little time to rehash a statement that I’d already given to

the sheriff.

“That was a very difficult time for me; for my entire

family and the congregation of our shul. Please understand

if I’m reluctant to relive it.”

“Mr. Steiger, I do understand, and it is not my intent to

intrude upon your family during your holiday. I can catch

a shuttle to New York this afternoon. We could meet, and

then I’ll be out of your hair shortly after that. I

promise.”

Scully wondered momentarily to herself if she weren’t

going to be damned to hell for lying to the young man. She

was going to ask permission to exhume the body of the man’s

Rabbi, for heaven’s sake. If that wasn’t getting into

one’s hair, she wasn’t sure what was.

“Very well, Miss Scully, I’ll meet you in our synagogue’s

office this afternoon. Do you have a time in mind?”

Scully knew there was a hourly business shuttle that left

Dulles on weekday mornings, so she was fairly certain that

if she moved quickly she could catch a flight, grab a

rental car at the airport and be in Monsey by one o’clock.

Monsey, New York

1:15 p.m.

As Scully entered the aging building, she couldn’t help

but feel the conflicting sense of peace and unrest that was

pervasive throughout. She was overwhelmed with feelings of

discord within herself, but couldn’t account for any of it.

The building resembled the one she’d been in New York City,

when she and Mulder battled an unexplainable phenomena, a

golem.

She noticed that there were pews on the ground level,

where she stood, as well as above in a balcony. She also

noted lightweight, sheer curtains, which hung from the

balcony pews, and wondered what their purpose was. The

wooden pews were well maintained and cared for. The temple

was old, but it was well cared for.

“Hello?” she called out tentatively. “Mr. Steiger?”

“Yes, yes, coming,” responded a voice.

Scully wasn’t sure what she was expecting Reuven Steiger

to look like, but based upon his soft-spoken tone and

demeanor over the phone, she knew she’d never imagined the

form that stood before her.

Reuven Steiger stood at least six foot three inches,

perhaps four. All she knew was that this young man

certainly would tower over Mulder. He stood straight, so

his posture accounted for every millimeter of his height.

He was dressed formally, much more so than Scully would

have anticipated, but the suit was slightly wrinkled which

told her he didn’t own many of them. This one was badly in

need of pressing and she suspected he was getting one more

wearing out of it before he traded it in for a suit

reserved for the Jewish High Holy Days.

She held out her hand in a gesture of introduction, but he

shook his head slightly and said softly, “Forgive me, Miss

Scully, but it’s not considered proper. May I ask you to

join me in the office. Please?”

Scully nodded her head as she withdrew her hand. Though

the situation could have easily made her feel foolish or

humiliated, Reuven Steiger’s quiet manner did neither, and

if anything actually put her more at ease.

When they entered the office, Scully was somewhat

surprised to see a woman in the room as well. “Miss

Scully, this is my wife, Rifka. We felt it would be more

proper if my wife was present when I met with you.”

Scully felt like smacking her head; of all the utmost

stupidity on her part! Of course Reuven would be

uncomfortable meeting with her alone. As a Hassidic Jew he

would not normally meet alone with a female officer.

Scully hoped her faux pas did not hamper her interview too

much.

“Rifka, this is the police officer I told you about,” said

Reuven as he interrupted Scully’s thoughts.

“Mrs. Steiger, it’s nice to meet you.” This was received

by a nod of acknowledgment by the younger woman. Scully

kept her hand at her side. “I would like to clarify that

I’m not with the police here in New York. I am a federal

agent out of Washington DC.”

“Yes, I’m sorry. We do know that.”

“Very well, I promised to be as brief as possible, so why

don’t we begin?” offered Scully. At the nod of the couple,

Scully began asking general questions regarding the events

that led up to Rabbi Zimmerman’s death and what Reuven, the

first person on the scene to find the rebbe, did.

“Then, as I told the sheriff’s deputy, I walked into the

office to see if the rebbe was still there, which I’d

strongly suspected.”

“This was before Friday night services?” interrupted Scully.

“Oh yes, well before. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon.

Rivka had made some soup for Shabbat dinner, and she asked

me to bring a bowl of it to Reb Shmuel since she was sure,

as was I, that he hadn’t left for home to eat before

services.”

“Why is that?” asked Scully.

“Why is what?”

“Why didn’t the rabbi leave? What do you believe he was

doing that prevented him from going home for a noon meal?”

asked Scully.

Steiger looked pensive for a moment. Scully watched his

reaction closely, this question had not been asked in the

earlier report on file. “He was always studying, Miss

Scully. He was always trying to learn more the ways of our

God.”

“Such as?”

“I don’t understand,” replied a confused Steiger.

“Rabbi Steiger–” Scully began.

“No, Miss Scully. I am not a rabbi. I have not achieved

that honor. Reb Eisenberg is our religious leader now. I

am merely his assistant as I was Reb Shmuel’s assistant.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, it’s just that it seemed as if you were so

aware of the inner workings of the Temple and you seem to

be here as much as the Rabbi.”

“He was,” murmured Rifka.

“He was?” echoed Scully.

“Rifka, please, you are here as an observer,” said Reuven

with firmness that Scully hadn’t heard up till now. “Now,

Miss Scully, if there are no other questions, my wife and I

need to get ready for our holiday.”

Scully hesitated; she wanted desperately to follow up on

Rifka’s involuntary comment, but she knew the younger woman

would not willingly respond if her husband did not want her

to answer. Scully was also not sure if she had the nerve

to make the request that Mulder had made of her. She took

a deep breath and moved forward.

“Mr. Steiger, there is one more question, request

actually. There was never a full autopsy performed on Rabbi

Zimmerman. Can you explain why not?”

Reuven eyes widened slightly; it wasn’t a question that he

should have been surprised to hear, but nonetheless he

wasn’t quite sure how to answer it either.

“I found him at 2:30 in the afternoon. We had a

very narrow window, Miss Scully.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” interrupted Scully.

“Narrow window for what?”

“To bury our religious leader according to Jewish Law.

You see, you can’t have a funeral on the Sabbath, nor can

you have one on the first day of Passover, which happened

to follow the Sabbath this year. Judaic law dictates that

we bury our dead within twenty-four hours.

“This was our rabbi, Miss Scully,” Steiger implored. “If

we didn’t have a service for him that afternoon, we would

have had to wait till three days later, which would have

also been the second day of Passover. We didn’t want to do

an injustice to our rebbe. We wanted to give him a proper

burial, immediately.”

“I can’t imagine that you were able to organize the

service that quickly, Mr. Steiger,” responded Scully

somewhat skeptically.

“Miss Scully, this is a very small community. It doesn’t

take a great deal of effort for us to all come together in

a time of need. Our rebbe needed us. There was no

question as to whether we would be able to accomplish our

task,” responded Reuven.

“But Mr. Steiger, how could the police allow you to bury

the rabbi without a formal inquiry. His death was

untimely; it was unexplained,” queried Scully.

“It was anything but untimely, Miss Scully. The rebbe was

a man well into his eighties. He had a long, full life in

which he garnered a community of followers that would do

anything for him. The timeliness of his death was not in

question.”

“But the manner? Mr. Steiger, you reported to the police

that he had a hole in his chest!” declared Scully with a

hint of ire. The pathologist in her couldn’t understand

how the rebbe’s congregation wouldn’t want to know the

cause of their religious leader’s death.

“I explained exactly what I saw, Miss Scully. I withheld

no information and the county medical examiner took a

number of pictures. It was quickly determined that there

must have been a terrible accident that caused the burns to

appear. I don’t know why, but the medical examiner

decided, after much discussion with the deputies involved

that it would not be in the best interest of the community

to conduct an autopsy. They claimed they wouldn’t be able

to derive any new information from it anyway. The medical

examiner did evaluate the body’s condition and determined

the death was of unknown origin,” explained Steiger.

“I don’t understand how the Rockland County Sheriff’s

Department could just allow the M.E. to conduct a

superficial

exam and claim an autopsy was not needed. This was highly

unorthodox!” declared Scully, unaware of the pun she’d

unintentionally made.

Even Rifka chuckled, to which Scully opened her mouth and

muttered a quick apology. “Miss Scully, if I may speak?”

Rifka actually looked over at her husband for permission

rather than Scully, and when he nodded slightly, she

continued. “You have to understand something else about

this community. It has had a difficult history in the

area. We have been subject to some strife in recent

history, and the people of this community are not always,

shall we say, willing to cooperate with the authorities.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t; there is nothing in

Jewish Law that says we should not cooperate with the

authorities.

“But understand, that many of our community members are

rather sheltered; they rarely if ever leave the area.

Their whole life revolves around the small area that is

Monsey. The sheriff’s department is not always a body that

our community puts its trust in. The death of our rebbe

was a shock; it also occurred right before the Sabbath and

a major Jewish holiday.

“That in and of itself would have been enough to set off

demonstrations by anti-Jewish groups; the rebbe’s death,

unfortunately was welcomed by all too many hate groups. We

wanted our rebbe to be buried in peace. We didn’t want

there to be any questions regarding the virtue and piety of

this great man,” concluded Rifka.

“Why would anyone question that?” asked Scully curiously.

Reuven stood up. “There was no reason to question it,” he

stated quickly in a tone that indicated the conversation

was over.

However Scully still needed to make her request. She

remained seated and with a gentle firmness stated, “Mr.

Steiger, the FBI wants to exhume the rebbe’s body in order

to perform an autopsy.”

“What?” gasped Reuven. “No!”

“But, Mr. Steiger, you must understand, we need to see if

there’s any forensic evidence to support similarities in

the deaths of three clergy members. The Catholic priest

was also killed in Chicago around the same time as the

Rabbi. There was a Lutheran minister killed over the

summer and just recently there was a Baptist minister who

was apparently killed in a similar manner in Mississippi.

We have to find out what killed these men.”

“It would be impossible to even consider exhuming the

rebbe’s body before the end of the High Holy Days. Please,

Miss Scully. You must understand what such a request would

do to this community so shortly before Yom Kippur. Please,

Miss Scully. Please do not ask us to do this now,” Steiger

pleaded.

“I understand, Mr. Steiger. We’ll wait, but understand

that I can get a court order, and will do so if necessary.

I’ll return on Friday morning, Sir.”

Reuven sat down heavily in the chair and simply nodded.

He stared vacantly into space and remained mute.

“Are you all right?” Scully asked with concern. He nodded

in response but didn’t speak. “I’ll speak to you on Friday

morning, Mr. Steiger.”

Scully was about to step out the door when she turned to

Reuven and said quietly, “Have a good day, Mr. Steiger,

Mrs. Steiger.”

Reuven raised his eyes and said softly, “Thank you, Miss

Scully.”

Rifka gave her thanks as well, and then said quietly,

“I’ll walk you out, Miss Scully.” She turned to her

husband and said, “Reuven, finish up; we need to go home

soon.”

He nodded and numbly watched her accompany Scully out the

door.

“I have but a moment to speak, and then my husband will

become worried that I have ill spoke,” whispered Rifka

hurriedly as she and Scully arrived at the door to the shul.

“What is it? What did you mean before when you said

Reuven didn’t spend all his time here anymore?” asked

Scully.

“The rebbe was a wise and wonderful man, Miss Scully. He

wanted to learn all that God had to offer him. That

included the words of Kabbalah; that’s Jewish Mysticism.”

Scully nodded her understanding and Rifka continued.

“There was a section in the Kabbalah that Reb Shmuel began

studying with great interest.”

When Rifka hesitated, Scully urged her to continue, if for

no other reason that both women feared Reuven would

discover them deep in discussion. “I see you wear the sign

of the cross. Are you Catholic, Miss Scully? When Scully

nodded ‘yes,’ Rifka said, “Then you are well aware of the

history of exorcism in the Church?” Once again, Scully

nodded.

“Miss Scully, were you also aware that there are exorcists

on the payroll of the Catholic Church even today as we

speak?”

“You’re kidding?” Scully retorted, and then seeing the

expression on her companions face realized she was doing

anything but. “Rifka, how is it that you are so aware of

all of this? You’re obviously an educated woman; you’ve

been out in the world, haven’t you?”

“Miss Scully, my full name is Dr. Rifka Steiger. I am a

pediatrician with a full time practice in Rockland County.

I also helped the medical examiner determine there was no

need for an autopsy.”

“What? But how could you?”

“I had to, Miss Scully. I had to protect Reuven.”

“Reuven? Protect him from what?”

“From whatever evil did that to Reb Shmuel. The rebbe was

teaching Reuven about the Kabbalah, about exorcism. The

two of them would sit and study and argue all through the

night, and would never stop if I didn’t come to drag both

of them home.”

“Both of them home? You say that as if–” Scully said

bewildered.

“I say it as if Reb Shmuel was my father. My father,

for a Chassid was a very worldly man, Miss Scully. He

didn’t have to, but he allowed me to go into the world to

learn the ways of modern medicine so I could be of service

to our community.

“Reuven and I loved my father very much, Miss Scully. Our

community revered him, but he was traveling down a

dangerous, religious path. If the elders in our religious

community got wind that my father was studying about

exorcism, there would have been problems. Big problems.

“I did not want to see my father’s name tarnished, so I

convinced the M.E. that it wasn’t necessary nor good

community PR to order an autopsy on the beloved, elderly

community rebbe,” she said, and then softly added, “May God

forgive me.”

“Forgive you for what, Rifka?” Scully asked gently.

“Forgive me for letting the devil get away with murder.”

Biloxi Fairgrounds

9:45 p.m.

The storm had been brewing over the Gulf for about two

days, so when it finally hit land, it brought with it gale

force winds and driving rain. Mulder stood just outside the

big tent, watching the wind whip the top and billow it up

into a grotesque imitation of a mushroom cloud.

He jerked at his suit jacket collar in a feeble attempt to

stop the rain coursing down his neck. When he’d left

Washington, he’d forgotten his raincoat at the office. Not

that he would have bothered to remember it this time. He

was just running out to get another look at the scene.

That’s what he’d told Kenny and that’s what he’d written

in the note he left for Tom. Kenny had started to come

along, but one look from Mulder and the kid had cringed and

went back to the computer, searching for any possible

connections between the victims, schools, military service,

any thing they could go on.

From the outside, and to the other task force members, the

trail was beginning to grow cold. No new murders in three

days and no evidence from the most recent murders to point

the task force in a direction to follow. Only Mulder and

Kenny felt any progress was being made. But the progress

was in knowing the killer’s motivations, and not

necessarily in figuring out exactly who it was doing the

murders.

They’d stayed up all night hammering out a profile.

Several sheets of yellow legal pad and about a dozen number

2lead pencils fell victim to Mulder’s temper during the

long hours. He cautioned Kenny on placing too much

reliance

on the ‘feelings’ they’d both had at the crime scene at the

fairgrounds. But at the same time, he knew in his gut that

the dark shadow and the chill he’d felt was as much

tangible evidence that would lead them to the murderer as a

fingerprint or a DNA sample.

The burned ground had haunted his dreams, when Mulder had

finally fallen asleep for half an hour just before dawn.

He could see the dark shadow passing over the green grass,

burning everything in its path. That dark shadow was

filled with hatred and cold, an evil so all-encompassing

that it took Mulder’s breath away.

Kenny had experienced a nightmare, too, though he wouldn’t

confide in Mulder. He’d been sprawled across the bed, not

even having removed his shoes, when Mulder had gotten up to

take a shower. When Mulder came back out, the young man

was sitting up stiffly on the edge of the bed, breathing

heavily. Mulder was certain he saw the tracks of dried

tears on the kid’s face. That just served to strengthen

Mulder’s resolve on what he had to do.

There was no way he could let the kid face this evil. He

was still too young, too inexperienced, too much of a

tenderfoot to face anything so heinous and destructive.

Mulder knew he’d have to face this thing himself, alone.

The wind howled around him, giving the big tent the

ominous feel of a giant yawning mouth, waiting to devour

anyone who neared it. Mulder wiped more rain from his face

and walked under the edge of the tent. The wind was blowing

so hard that the tent only marginally protected him from

the torrential downpour. Cautiously, he pulled out his

Maglight and moved further into the tent.

The images played in his head again. The Reverend Abraham

Stewart was standing tall and proud on the raised platform.

He didn’t use the podium that had been placed there for his

convenience. He preferred to be close to his congregation.

He held a worn Bible in his hands, opened it with a tender

caress of the gold leaf pages and began to recite.

“Then the devil took Him to the Holy City;” Abraham said,

his voice slow and low with emotion.

“Amen, brother!” shouted many in the crowd.

“And he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and

said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, then row yourself

down; for it is written He will give His angels charge

concerning You; and on their hands they will bear You up

least you strike your foot against a stone.'” Sweat poured

from his face as Abraham held the book high above his head

and raised his face to the Lord.

“Amen! Hallelujah!” shouted the crowd.

“And Je-sus said to him, ‘On the other hand, it is

written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test!'”

The Reverend Stewart closed the book and closed his eyes.

Reaching forward, he touched the head of a woman kneeling

down in front of him.

“BE GONE! I say, Satan! Be gone from this woman of the

Lord!”

And the woman began to writhe and fell backward, eyes

rolling back in her head, shaking uncontrollably. The

reverend kept shouting, “Be gone, Satan! Be gone, you

fallen angel! You have no place in God’s world. Be gone!

Be gone!”

Mulder stumbled under the wave of anger and hatred that

rushed into him. Humiliation, despair, betrayal all warred

against each other for his attention. But most of all,

overriding everything else, he was filled with revenge.

“Agent Mulder?”

It was like coming up for a breath when he’d been under

water too long. Air was sucked into his lungs not by the

act of breathing, but as a vacuum is filled with the seal

is broken. He swallowed hard, tried to quiet his heart

where it pounded in his chest.

“Agent Mulder, I’m sorry. I tried to call you on your

cell phone. I think we might be out of range of a cell.”

“Andrews, what the fuck are you doing out here?” Mulder

growled, not even sure why he was suddenly so angry.

“I’m sorry. I know you wanted to come out here alone, but

I needed to find you. It’s important.” The kid was

trembling, but as far as Mulder could tell, it was probably

from the wind and the storm.

“Well, you found me. Now, what the hell do you want?”

Kenny swallowed and licked rain off his lip. “There’s

been an accident.”

Act III

Biloxi Mercy Hospital

10:30 p.m.

“They said the accident happened sometime around 9. The

car was struck head-on by a drunk driver,” Kenny explained

as they got off the elevator.

“The other driver?”

“Dead at the scene. Mulder, we haven’t been able to get

hold of the next of kin.” Kenny chewed on his lip and

looked all the more like a kid of 24.

Mulder stopped and shut his eyes, rocking back on his

heels. It hurt. He didn’t think it was possible to hurt

this much when it wasn’t even…

“I’ll make that call. But first, I want something to go

on.”

Kenny nodded and pointed in the direction of the nurses

station.

Mulder pulled out his badge and showed it to the nurse

behind the desk. “I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder with the

FBI. I understand another agent was brought in tonight.

Thomas Alexander.”

The nurse took a minute to consult her computer screen.

“Yes, Mr. Alexander was brought by ambulance. I’m afraid I

can’t give you much information, except to tell you he’s

been taken to surgery.”

Mulder nodded his thanks. “Is there a pay phone nearby?”

The nurse smiled and pointed to a bank of phones just

across the hall. Mulder headed over, picking up the first

receiver and closing his eyes again before dialing a number

by heart.

“Sally? It’s Mulder, Fox Mulder. Yeah, long time for

sure. Sally, you need to get down here to Biloxi. Tom’s

been hurt.”

Biloxi Mercy Hospital

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

6:15 a.m.

Mulder paced the small waiting room. Other agents had

arrived shortly after him and Kenny, but he pointedly

ignored all of them. Sally Alexander was booked on a 5:30

flight from Falls Church, Virginia. She was due at the

Biloxi airport at 6:45. Mulder hoped she’d get there in

time.

More than once he’d started to call Scully, but had

stopped himself. What could she do but offer her sympathy?

He missed her voice, wanted to hold her in his arms, but

that felt like it would be comfort for himself and he

wasn’t the one needing comfort. Sally needed comfort. He

needed to be strong for Tom and his wife.

He hadn’t seen Sally since the wedding. Tom’s brother had

been the best man, but Tom had asked Mulder to stand up

with him as a groomsman. Sally had tried several times

during the reception to hook Mulder up with her cousin, but

he’d managed to escape that fate. Now, he couldn’t even

picture the girl in his mind.

“Mulder, want some coffee?” Kenny was standing there, a

Styrofoam cup in one hand and a familiar red can in the

other, looking way too much like a hopeful puppy begging to

be patted on the head. Mulder stamped down the urge to

smack the kid across the room and shook his head.

“No, thanks.”

“Do you think…”

“We don’t know anything, Andrews,” Mulder spat out, but

when he saw the wounded look on the young man’s face, he

struggled to get hold of his temper. “Look, Kenny, the

doctors don’t know anything right now. He made it through

surgery. That’s the good part. But with the kind of head

trauma he sustained, well, let’s just say a coma might be

the lesser of two evils.”

“It all happened so fast. One minute he’d called from the

police station telling me he wanted to look at our profile

and then next minute the hospital was calling. The phone

number to my motel room was the last number he’d dialed on

his cell phone,” Kenny said miserably.

“Don’t blame yourself, kid. You had nothing to do with

this. It was an accident.”

“Still, he was thinking about the case. Maybe his mind

wasn’t on the road…”

“Stop it, Kenny! I mean it. Just get off that track

right now. You had absolutely nothing to do with this.”

Kenny was silent for a minute, then he squared his jaw.

“Yeah, but if I’d given him a good profile, we’d have

closed this case already and he never would have been on

that road.” Without giving Mulder a chance to reply, he

turned on his heel and left the waiting room.

Mulder closed his eyes again and trembled with the effort

it took him to keep from putting his fist through the wall.

A hand on his shoulder brought him around to reality.

“Fox, it’s been a long time.”

Sally stood beside him, looking a little older than when

he’d last seen her. She was still blonde, what most people

would call ‘perky,’ but there was a fear in her eyes that

he would have given anything to replace.

“Yeah, too long. Sally, I don’t know what to say,” he

muttered as he drew the petite woman into a loose hug. She

drew away quickly and wiped at her eyes. “I just talked to

the doctor.”

He didn’t want to know. But he had to ask. “And?”

Slowly, she shook her head. The tears left little tracks

on her cheeks. It was everything Mulder could do to keep

from wiping them away. But that wasn’t his place. He bit

the inside of his lip to keep from crying.

She started to say something else, but someone called her

name — one of the doctors Mulder vaguely remembered from

seeing earlier in the night. He was coming toward them with

a very serious look on his face.

Suddenly, Sally froze. The doctor hadn’t gotten within

10 feet of them and she was shaking her head back and

forth.

“No. No, it can’t be. No.” She started walking backward

and ran right into Mulder.

“Mrs. Alexander, I’m very sorry,” the doctor started to

take her shoulder, but Mulder waved him off. He turned

Sally in his arms and held her while she cried.

Kenny watched helplessly from his seat near the wall. A

noise startled him and he realized Mulder’s jacket was

ringing. He reached over and dug out the older agent’s

cell phone.

“Hello?” he said, hesitantly. “Um, Agent Mulder’s phone.”

“Who is this?” asked a terse voice on the other end of the

phone line.

“This is Agent Kenneth Andrews. Now, who is this?” Kenny

shot back.

“Agent Scully, Agent Mulder’s partner. Where is he?”

Kenny looked across the room. Mulder had managed to get

Sally over to a bank of chairs on the opposite wall and was

holding her while she sobbed uncontrollably.

“He’s indisposed at the moment. Can I take a message?”

He had to hold his hand over his ear as the P.A. system went

off paging a doctor.

“Where are you? Are you at the hospital? What’s

happened? Where’s Mulder? Is he hurt?”

She was asking the questions so fast and furious, Kenny

almost couldn’t get a word in edgewise. “Hey! Agent

…Sculder? Calm down! No, he’s not hurt. Yes, we are at

the hospital. There was a car accident. SAC Alexander…

he was in a car wreck. He, uh, he… he didn’t make it.”

Kenny felt his throat close up and croaked out the last

words. He didn’t want to cry, but he wished he were

anywhere else so he could break down.

“Tom? Tom Alexander’s dead?” came the voice on the phone.

“Oh God, Mulder must be devastated,” she said with a sad

sigh.

“Well, right now he’s pretty busy trying to calm down

Tom’s wife,” Kenny told her.

“I better get down there,” Scully announced. “I don’t

know when I’ll be able to get a flight, but I’ll be there

as soon as I can.”

Biloxi Blues Motel

8:12 a.m.

Mulder exited the rental and slammed the car door. Hard.

Kenny jerked in reaction and immediately clambered out of

the driver’s seat to follow him. Mulder didn’t want to

deal with the kid at that moment. He couldn’t. He’d just

finished holding Tom Alexander’s widow in his arms in a

vain attempt to console her, but all the while berating

himself for selfishly wondering if he would be able to

solve this case without his friend’s steady hand.

Tom knew when he’d agreed to have Mulder join the team

what they were both getting into. Mulder was going to do

his damnedest to find the killer, and Tom was going to do

his damnedest to keep Mulder from going insane.

Tom had seen it happen all too often while both were

working under Patterson in the early days. Bill would pass

out serial cases for his people to profile; only Mulder

always seemed to get twice as many. Maybe because Mulder

could solve ’em twice as fast. The problem with that was

that Mulder would never have any down time. More than once

Tom had found his former roommate holed up in a tiny office

in the VCS dungeon at Quantico staring into space. More

than once Tom had been tempted to call for an ambulance,

and only when Tom had screamed threats of just such an

action, did Mulder snap out of his trance-like state.

But now Tom was dead, and Mulder’s immediate tether to

sanity was dead too. His true lifeline was miles away and

on the trail of more information for the case, so he

couldn’t count on Scully at that point for comfort. All he

had was a profiling newbie who was probably going to get

himself killed because he had no idea what the hell they

were dealing with. And the last thing Mulder wanted to do

at that moment was try and explain it to the kid.

Tom’s death hurt. It wasn’t only because Tom was a

steadying force for him on this case. Nor was it just

because Mulder had lost a friend; Tom was someone Mulder

was able to associate with a pleasant memory from his VCS

past, a rarity in and of itself. But Tom’s passing,

coupled with Mulder’s seemingly inability to console Sally

Alexander over her husband’s untimely death reminded Mulder

of something. No matter how good of a profiler he still was

it didn’t negate the fact that he was still a mere mortal

and subject to the same rules of life, and death, as all

men were.

And the combination of Tom’s death and the gut feeling he

was getting about this case made that epiphany all the more

frightening to Mulder. Mulder was scared to death, and that

did not bode well for either him or the kid in this case.

Fear could work for you in that it could make you cautious

and wary of taking foolish steps. However it could also

work against you; it could freeze you from taking the

necessary steps to prevent another killing. Mulder was at

a crossroads. He was ready to stand frozen in place, but

then the kid spoke.

“Mulder, wait! You’re right! There was nothing I could

do to have prevented this. It was a damned drunk driver,

and Tom was in the wrong place at the right time. But

Mulder! Damn it Mulder, look at me!” he screamed as the

older agent had continued to walk away from him. Mulder

halted and turned to look at the Kenny.

“Mulder, you couldn’t have done anything either. There

was nothing you could have pieced together to prevent that

drunk from slamming into Tom.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Andrews?” Mulder

asked tensely.

“You KNOW what I’m talking about. You KNOW!” he

practically screamed.

And the truth of the matter was, Mulder did know, but what

disturbed him most was that the kid knew too. He’d already

sensed that Kenny had the makings of a good profiler; he

hadn’t realized that Kenny had the makings of another

‘Spooky’ Mulder. But for the kid’s sake, Mulder knew he

couldn’t let on that Kenny was on the right track. That

would be too dangerous.

“Andrews, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

I’m going to go into my room and get some shuteye. I

suggest you go into your room and do the same.” And with

that he turned and left Kenny Andrews staring at him with

his mouth slightly agape.

As the door to Mulder’s room slammed shut, the younger

agent remembered he hadn’t told him that his partner had

called and was on the way. The way Mulder was acting, it

could wait.

Mulder entered the small motel room and prayed Kenny

wouldn’t decide to play nursemaid and knock at his door.

He practically held his breath as he listened for the slam

of the door to the room next door. When he did hear it,

Mulder sighed with relief and sat down on the bed that was

covered with files and papers with scrawls of notes.

Though he was practically dead on his feet, Mulder had no

intention of sleeping. There was a killer to be caught,

and Mulder knew that he was the only one who had a chance

of doing it. He didn’t understand how he would accomplish

this as yet, nor did he understand why, of all people, it

should be him to do so, but neither of those mattered.

What did matter was that there was a killer, an entity that

was capable of picking off people at will and leaving them

dead with a hole in their heart.

As Mulder felt himself become emotional at the thoughts of

his victims, he knew he had to keep himself in check. He

needed to pull himself back from the case and begin to

think more objectively.

He stood up and stretched. He looked for something to use

as leverage to crack the vertebrae in his back. What he

wouldn’t give for his stickball bat. When he couldn’t find

anything he placed his hands firmly on the small of his

back and bent backwards. He experienced some relief and

then bent forward touching his toes. He did some stretches

to both sides and then tried to relax his neck and

shoulders.

His head felt somewhat clearer and he allowed himself to

get his mind back on the case. There were still so many

questions that he had no answers for. What was the UNSUB’s

motivation? The victims were all clergymen, but why those

particular men. There seemed to be no commonalties among

them other than they were leaders in their respective

religious communities.

What were the common traits among the victims that would

lead the UNSUB to pick those particular men. The reverend

was in his 40s, the priest was in his early 70s, and the

rabbi was in his 80s. There seemed to be nothing these

men’s backgrounds that indicated a common ground. The

rabbi was a widower, the reverend was married, and the

priest was celibate. He knew he was beginning to clutch

at straws.

Mulder began to pace around the room as thoughts began to

form. He held a pen in his hand and a yellow legal pad in

the other. He began scratching the words down as his mind

brainstormed leaps of seemingly incongruent thoughts.

Beliefs.

Common.

Teachings.

Religious.

Renegade.

Religious renegades. Mulder looked at the pairing of

those two words and wondered why that made sense to him.

What would make a man be considered a religious renegade?

How could men in their 70s and 80s be renegades? What were

their beliefs? Beliefs. It came back to that again.

“Damn it! Damn it! What the hell was I thinking!” he

cried out as he flung the notepad to the floor. Mulder

began to furiously pull at the papers on his bed. He

picked up file after file, paper after paper, index card

after index card of copious notes until finally, he found

the part of the report that held a seemingly innocuous

piece of data.

The paper was from the Zimmerman file. It was an

accounting of the body as it was found in the synagogue.

Though Mulder had reviewed and reviewed the details, few as

there were due to the lack of an autopsy, the one item

Mulder did not concern himself with was what Mulder now

believed was the key that would unlock the door to the

reasons behind the murders.

The elderly rebbe had been clutching a copy of the Sefer

ha-Razim, a book of ancient writings otherwise known as the

Book of Secrets. It was a book of magic, written by a

Palestinian Jew of the Talmudic period, dealt with the

forgotten field of Jewish magic. Apparently Reb Zimmerman

had been looking to rediscover it.

Mulder then searched frenetically for the next piece of

information that he hoped would tie these men together.

Father Michael Nelson, 70 years old was the parish priest

at

St. Gertrude’s for almost twenty years. There was nothing

out of the ordinary about that, but Mulder knew there had

to

be more. There had to be… “Holy shit!” he exclaimed

aloud.

There it was. The details were finally starting to fit

together. Mulder read the long list of Father Michael

Nelson’s cleric duties. They included the normal activities

associated with a parish priest. He said Mass, visited the

sick, taught at the Parish School of Religion, helped out

at the local soup kitchen run by Catholic Charities. All

normal priestly activities, but in addition to all of that,

Father Nelson’s included one other job description. It was

the small, tiny notation in the last line of the section of

official duties that held Mulder rapt. It was a position

that few probably would have taken the time to take note

of, given all of the mundane job descriptions that preceded

it.

Exorcist.

Father Michael Nelson was on the Church payroll as an

exorcist and had been apparently for the last thirty years.

Mulder suspected business must have been at an all time

high when the Linda Blair movie came out in the 70s,

settled down as soon as the furor of the movie died. He

couldn’t believe there was actually an official position

within the Church. He almost laughed. Almost.

The final puzzle piece was the reverend. Once again the

profiler did a furious search of the multitude of papers

that lay strewn across the bed. He picked up the papers he

sought and began to read the notes of the Reverend

Stewart’s last sermon. Though Mulder realized that as an

evangelical preacher, Stewart probably rarely followed his

sermons to the letter, the notes were still a good

indicator of what the man’s ideology was.

He read through paragraph after paragraph, wondering if

perhaps he was wrong in his thinking, until he got to the

third paragraph on the fourth page.

“And I say onto you, Brothers and Sisters, that we have

the power to rid ourselves of sickness, to rid ourselves of

accidents, to rid ourselves of those which we seem to have

little control! How can we do that, you ask, if we do not

have the control?

“We can, because I know what is in control and I know that

we must be rid of it and I say to you, Brothers and

Sisters, I know HOW to rid ourselves of the evil. I know

how to give you back the control you so desperately need,

so desperately want. I know, Brothers and Sisters, who the

evil culprit is that wants to control our lives, and that

evil is none other than Satan himself!

“How do we obliterate our lives of the malfeasance that

threatens our lives and our children’s lives? And how do

we do this? We must work together, my brothers and

sisters, to excise the depraved entity that wants to work

its way into our souls. We must be willing to open our

hearts and our minds to the knowledge that we can exorcise

this demon from our lives and I ask you all for an Amen!

“Amen!

“Amen!

“Amen!”

There was a sudden pounding on the door that shocked

Mulder back into an awareness of his surroundings that was

missing only moments before.

“Mulder! Open the damn door! Now!” screamed Kenny,

“Mulder! Please, open the damn door before I shoot it

open.”

It took Mulder several seconds to get his bearings and

then he looked around. He wasn’t in a revival tent; he was

in a motel room. He wasn’t standing amidst hundreds of

people swaying together in an emotional show of support for

their spiritual leader, but rather he was standing beside a

bed strewn with files and reports and notes. The lamp had

unaccountably fallen from the night stand and now lay in

several pieces at his feet. For some reason, his throat

felt raw.

He walked haltingly toward the door. He opened it and

Kenny pushed his way into the room.

“What the hell is going on in here, Mulder?” the young

agent asked angrily. Mulder almost smiled to himself;

suddenly the kid didn’t sound like a kid any longer. When

Mulder didn’t answer, Kenny began a tirade of his own.

“I don’t know what the hell you think you’re doing by

keeping me out of the loop, Mulder, but it’s not going to

work. It’s not going to work, do you hear me?” Kenny

observed the disheveled appearance of the man whose

reputation he so admired and envied. Now, Kenny Andrews

wondered how this man, given his current condition, was

going to solve this case, and was he going to allow Kenny

to help him solve it?

“You doing some redecorating, because I don’t think the

Bureau will pick up the tab,” he added, pointing to the

broken lamp.

Mulder stood absolutely silent and still. Andrews had no

idea if the man had heard anything he’d just said.

“Mulder, what were you doing in here?” he finally asked as

evenly as possible. Andrews realized he had to remain calm

and rational in order to counterbalance Mulder’s erratic

behavior if they were to get any further on the case. He

waited patiently for Mulder to respond. He’d wait all day

and all night if he had to, when finally Mulder spoke.

“I was looking for links between the victims. I was

looking for possible connections,” he said in an almost

toneless voice.

“It sounded like you were trying to raise the dead in

here, Mulder,” Kenny said with a hint of humor. Mulder

recognized the younger man’s efforts to lighten the mood

and smiled slightly. It appeared to Kenny that Mulder was

finally beginning to relax; of course, the inexperienced

agent knew nothing of Mulder’s ability to deflect and

camouflage.

“I was reading the reverend’s last sermon. Guess I got a

little carried away,” he responded, though in reality

Mulder had no memory of reading the sermon aloud.

“Jeeze, Mulder, you are the master of the understatement,

ya know?”

The agent responded with a wry smile and nodded. He then

said, “Look, I really am kind of tired. I think I need to

lay down and sleep a bit, okay? We’ll meet for a late

lunch, early dinner and talk more of my findings.”

“But, Mulder–” Andrews tried to contradict, but Mulder

would hear none of it.

“I’m dead on my feet, kid. A good friend of mine is dead,

and I’ve got a really strong feeling that we’re going to

have a fourth victim real soon if we don’t get our acts

together. I need to sleep. We’ll get something to eat in

a little while.”

Of course, if the younger, less experienced agent had the

knowledge and insight that Dana Scully had, or even the

late Tom Alexander had, Kenny Andrews would have known

immediately that something was definitely wrong with that

picture. Scully would have told Kenny that Mulder never

eats when on a profiling case. Alexander would have told

the kid that Mulder never sleeps while on one either.

Mulder was bluffing the kid big time, and the kid fell for

it hook, line, and sinker. Kenny told him to knock on his

door when he awoke from his nap, to which Mulder replied,

“Will do.”

clip_image002

Mulder picked up his pen and began scribbling notes on the

first piece of paper that he could find. When he ran out

of paper he moved on to the next convenient writing

surface, the wall. He stood in front of the wall, writing

and writing some more. His theory was starting to come

together, and his profile took the shape he knew that it

could.

Mulder identified his one aspect of his theory and listed

every fact he could that supported it. After each and

every point was bulleted, he then moved on to the profile

itself. Mulder knew this was the trickier of the two; he

was able to explain with inextricable, but at the same time

indisputable facts, how the three victims were tied

together.

Mulder also came to the realization it wouldn’t matter one

way or the other whether Scully was able to gain permission

to exhume the rabbi’s body; it wouldn’t give them any more

information than they already had. He wrote as such on the

wall as a reminder to call Scully and tell her as such, so

the rabbi’s family wouldn’t needlessly be put through that

particular trauma.

The notes consumed him and he wrote continuously on the

wall for the next hour and a half. Much of what he wrote

was jumbled and chaotic, but given the right interpreter,

the words fit together like the pieces of an intricate

jigsaw puzzle. The words came out of him as if going

through a sieve; in no particular order but none of the

waste, much like the salted water would cascade through a

colander leaving only the ingredients for a meal offering

sustenance.

As the weary agent came to his final words of his profile,

Mulder’s sense of time and place began to wane. As he lost

track of his surroundings, his mind suddenly focused solely

on one fact. He inexplicably knew there would be a fourth

victim very soon. And just as suddenly, he knew, without a

doubt, the identity of the killer.

Without a doubt, Mulder knew where the killing would take

place.

Without a doubt, Mulder knew who was to be killed.

“I have found my new vessel,” intoned the agent in a

trance-like voice. “I have found my new bridge to the upper

world who will do the acts that will save my soul. You have

done battle with me in the past, Agent Mulder… but

fighting silly school board members and preachers with a

fetish for snakes were mere skirmishes. Now, you must deal

directly with me. And this is a war that I will win.”

And with that, as if in some kind of hypnotic state, Fox

Mulder picked up his jacket and keys to take off for the

next site of his latest victim. He would need to arrive as

soon as possible, as he needed to achieve his goal before

the descent of the sun or he might not find the strength to

succeed.

It was time to deal with a new enemy of Hell.

“MY enemy,” murmured Mulder.

Kenny heard the door slam. He never hesitated; he simply

picked up his coat, keys, and opened the door. He saw

Mulder walk to his car and though the younger man called

out to him repeatedly, Mulder never responded. Kenny ran

to try and get in front of the car and block him, but at

the last second Kenny had to jerk out of the way as Mulder

would have certainly run him over.

Kenny noticed an older couple drive up to the office

entrance of the motel. He ran to the car, waving his FBI

identification and commandeered their 1993 Ford Taurus. As

the shocked couple looked on, the agent drove off with a

screech. He had no idea if what he did was legal or if he

were going to be written up from now till kingdom come. All

he did know was he had to keep his eye on Mulder.

The man was not acting like himself; it was as if he’d

taken on an entirely new persona, and Kenny was scared

shitless that his mentor was going to kill himself because

of it. He tailed the rental and wondered if Mulder

realized he was being followed. It seemed impossible to

Kenny that Mulder wouldn’t sense it, as Kenny made no

pretensions of trying to conceal himself. But if he were

aware, Mulder gave no indication. He drove straight and

true with no attempts made to lose Kenny on the highway.

The younger agent soon realized their destination was the

airport. “Where the hell do you think you’re going,

Mulder?” he asked himself.

Mulder pulled up to the United Airlines terminal and

simply left the car. When a security officer approached

him, Mulder pulled out his ID badge and wordlessly moved

on. Kenny hoped that approach would work for him as well.

He stepped out of the car and immediately pulled out his

ID badge, though his fingers weren’t nearly as dexterous

as he fumbled with the cover. “Official business,” he said

just loudly enough to be heard, and he continued on his

way.

The security guard appeared somewhat incredulous and

muttered something about, “Damn bureaucrats,” and then made

the decision to move the damn cars himself.

Meanwhile, Mulder walked the path that led him directly to

the ticket agents for departing flights. Kenny called

after him, but once again, Mulder refused to acknowledge

him. The younger agent couldn’t understand what was going

on.

When he finally came to Mulder’s side, Kenny asked, “What

in the hell is wrong with you?”

Mulder looked at Kenny but said nothing directly to him.

He simply turned back to the ticket agent and said, “New

York.”

“We have a flight that’s scheduled to depart shortly and

land in LaGuardia at 4:27 p.m.,” the pert young agent

replied.

“Nothing that lands sooner?” Mulder asked. At the shake

of the young woman’s head, Mulder said, “Fine, book it

please.”

“And what about me, Agent Mulder, or have you forgotten

that I’m working on this case too?” asked a disgruntled and

confused Agent Andrews.

“Not this time. You stay here and mop up,” was Mulder’s

terse reply.

“Like hell!” declared Andrews, and he turned to the agent.

“Book a seat for me too, and put it on his card.” The

ticket agent looked reluctant until Andrews whipped out his

FBI ID again, this time smoothly presenting it, and the

ticket agent seemed convinced. She issued the ticket and

Kenny quickly walked in pursuit of his obviously ailing

mentor.

The two men displayed their weapons and badges to the

flight attendant at the door and boarded the plane almost

immediately but were not seated together, which didn’t seem

to phase Mulder in the least. He totally ignored Kenny no

matter how many times Kenny tried to get his attention.

Finally, the man seated next to Mulder asked the younger

man politely, but firmly, to kindly let his seatmate alone,

as it was obvious he wasn’t in the mood to chat. “Perhaps

once the plane lands, your partner will be more open to

making up with you,” he offered.

Kenny returned to his seat red-faced, as it was obvious

the stranger mistook Kenny’s pleas as those of Mulder’s gay

lover apologizing over some kind of lover’s spat. He was

too embarrassed to try and talk with Mulder again at that

point, and he also realized the likelihood of Mulder

willingly opening up to him once they landed was

practically nil. Andrews needed backup.

He picked up the telephone that was nestled into the seat

in front of him. The wonders of modern technology were a

given to this young man, but nevertheless he did appreciate

them. Andrews placed a phoned call to the only person in a

position of authority that he could think of at that point.

“Hello, I’d like to be connected with Assistant Director

Skinner please. This is Agent Kenneth Andrews calling with

regards to the Biloxi murder case.”

When Skinner finally got on the line, Andrews explained as

clearly but as calmly as possible the situation as he now

saw it. He expected Skinner to be at the very least

surprise, and the very most incredulous over his agent’s

behavior, but Walter Skinner seemed neither surprised nor

incredulous. If anything, he seemed resigned.

Skinner asked what time his plane was scheduled to land

and Kenny told him. He then informed Kenny that he was

going to catch the next shuttle to New York and that Kenny

was to do whatever was in his power to detain Agent Mulder

at the airport until his arrival. With a bit of luck,

Skinner shouldn’t be too far behind them. Andrews quickly

agreed and felt grateful to the man who was ready to take

ownership of this new problem.

Mulder had no overhead luggage, nor did Kenny, so

disembarking was relatively painless. Kenny continued to

follow the older agent until he saw Mulder approach the

escalator that led upstairs.

“Mulder, please! Wait for me!” Kenny pleaded. Now Andrews

knew there was no doubt he felt terrified for his fellow

agent. Mulder was not acting anything like himself, and he

didn’t understand why. All he did know was that he had to

find a way of keeping Mulder at the airport until AD

Skinner arrived.

“Agent Mulder, I need you to explain what your next step

is,” Andrews stated in an attempt to get his companion’s

attention. Mulder, however, simply ignored him and was

about to take a step onto the moving staircase.

“Mulder, you can’t leave! We have to wait here; we need

backup, Mulder! Don’t you understand? We can’t do this

alone,” Kenny pleaded as he grabbed onto Mulder’s arm with

as much strength as he could muster.

Mulder, however, was not to be deterred. Now having the

strength of twenty men, he easily threw the younger, weaker

man off of him. He took a quick look around and set his

eyes on a new destination. He knew the younger man,

determined now, would follow him.

As Mulder turned down a corridor that led to little-used

offices in the terminal, Kenny once again tried to grab him

and hold him still.

“We’ve got to wait here, Agent Mulder. We’re getting

reinforcements, but we have to wait here until he comes.”

“Until WHO comes?” asked Mulder through clenched teeth.

“The AD I called the AD from the plane,” Kenny

confessed. The expression Mulder wore upon hearing this

information frightened Kenny. It was almost as if the real

Mulder had reemerged momentarily, and the older agent’s

expression showed a fear that Kenny knew exceeded even his

own.

“Walter Skinner?” Mulder rasped. Kenny nodded his

confirmation.

“No!” came the dissonant voice so quickly that it startled

Kenny that it caused him to flinch. Which gave Agent

Mulder just enough time to remove his service revolver from

his holster and promptly fire toward the now shocked Agent

Andrews.

As Kenny Andrews slumped, bleeding to the floor, Fox

Mulder replaced his weapon and headed toward his original

destination.

He had his next victim to attend to.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To Be Continued in the Season Opener of I Made This!  Devil’s Advocate Part 2

Productions, Virtual Season 9, coming July 2001

My Name Is Paul

Cover

Category: M/Sc/Sk friendship

Spoilers: none

Archive: IMTP for the first two weeks, then go for it!

Summary: Skinner is dead — or is he? Mulder and Scully’s

investigation into his death brings them up against still

unseen enemies, who conspire to control them all.

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully and Skinner are owned by Chris

Carter, 1013 Productions, Fox Television Network, etc.

They are wonderfully brought to life by David Duchovny,

Gillian Anderson, and Mitch Pileggi. I will make no profit

from this, and neither will Fox if they sue me, for I am

poor and have nothing material they can profit from.

Author’s Notes: This was written for I Made This!

Productions as one of the episodes of Virtual Season 8.

IMTP can be found at http://www.i-made-this.com.

My Name is Paul

Prologue

Arlington Cemetery

August 26, 2001

11 a.m.

“And so, it is with great sadness and regret, we have

gathered here today to lay to rest the earthly remains of

Walter Skinner.”

Mulder stared at the young man. He was an anachronism at

this gathering of somber men and women who all wore the

prescribed dark suits despite the sweltering heat of

Washington August. The man looked like a refugee from the

sixties; ragged jeans, a threadbare knit shirt, and

unbelievably old, worn sandals on his feet. Mulder

shrugged within his own dark suit coat. At least the young

preacher had put shoes on; when Mulder had met with him,

the man had been barefoot.

He forced himself to listen again, and heard the preacher

say, “And so, those of us who knew and respected Walter,

are glad to have this opportunity to say goodbye to our

colleague, our co-worker, our helper and,” here the young

man stumbled over his words, “our friend.”

It was no surprise to Mulder that the man found it

difficult to call Skinner a friend. He and Scully couldn’t

use the term about Skinner either, though there had been

several times when he thought they’d broken through. When

Scully was missing. When that prostitute and then Skinner’s

wife had been killed. When Scully’s cancer had gotten so

bad. And most recently, when Skinner himself had been so

close to death, infected with some still unnamed, unknown

technological virus. But always, always, Skinner had

pulled back, put up the walls, refused to take a stand,

choose a side, make a friend. It was frustrating to no

end, but Mulder was convinced that beneath all the

deceptions and seeming betrayals, Skinner was fighting with

them. It was why he was here today.

Well, that and the fact that he and Scully had arranged

the funeral.

When the call had come in to the Hoover, that Skinner was

dead, the body identified, asking who was handling the

arrangements, it had landed in Kim’s lap. She’d pulled her

boss’s personnel folder, determined that his parents were

deceased, his wife was dead, he had no children, and the

only relative was a brother who lived in California. A

brother who had been less than interested in the fact that

Skinner was dead, and had refused to take responsibility

for the funeral, giving Kim a lawyer’s name and the old

“have his lawyer contact my lawyer if there’s anything left

to me.”

Scully had come into the office at that point, found Kim

near tears, heard the whole story and volunteered them to

take care of the arrangements. Which was how Mulder now

found himself knowing a whole lot more about his boss’s

private life than he was entirely comfortable with. It was

also why there was a storefront preacher, one who ran a

soup kitchen, presiding over the grave. It was one of two

things Skinner did outside work. He boxed at a hole in the

wall gym in the wrong part of DC, but had no close

acquaintances there. Mulder scanned the assemblage again.

No, there was no one here from the gym. And Skinner’s

second activity — surprise, surprise — was working at a

soup kitchen that was mainly frequented by down on their

luck vets. He was a regular, every Tuesday night for four

years. And even there he had been aloof, stand-offish. He

did his part, spoke pleasantly to everyone, but never

allowed any degree of intimacy to develop. Mulder shook

his head sadly. Skinner had been a very lonely man.

Mulder jerked alert again as the first volley of gunfire

echoed through the cemetery quiet. It was followed in

rapid succession by nine more and Mulder flinched with each

one. It made his skin crawl, as if each shot were a

hammer, pounding nails into a coffin that would remain

sealed for all eternity. Or perhaps each shot was a door

closing, another avenue toward the truth closing with no

hope of being opened again.

The planes were coming in, now, low and fast, and as Mulder

looked up, one peeled away, the sun glinting off the silver

underbelly, almost blinding him with its brightness. It

was hot, so hot, and the sweat on his brow had trickled

down and caused his eyes to water. The blinding sun, the

August heat, they were the only possible reason that his

cheeks were wet and his eyes stung from salty tears.

He chanced a glance at Scully, and saw that she was

looking up at him in concern. A barely noticeable nod

redirected his attention to the young Marine who stood by

the casket, a neatly folded flag held in his hands and no

one to whom he could present it.

Mulder swallowed hard, then stepped forward, arms extended

and the visibly relieved Marine placed into his hands the

United States’ last recognition of the strength, the

courage, the man who had been Walter Sergei Skinner.

***************************************

Act I

Mulder’s Office

August 26, 2001

2:15 p.m.

“I can’t believe he’s gone.” Scully handed Mulder a cup

of coffee as she sat down and sipped her own steaming cup.

“I can’t believe you can drink coffee after being out in

the heat this afternoon.” Mulder took a swallow, grimaced,

and put the cup down on a desk overflowing with papers,

files, and loose photos.

“How can you find anything in that mess?” Scully asked,

sighing out loud as she took another sip of her favored

beverage. “And don’t avoid – it’s not like you.” She

narrowed her eyes as she studied him over the rim of the

still steaming cup.

Mulder gave a sigh of his own, and shook his head. “I’m

not avoiding. I’m just not sure I can accept this yet.”

“What’s not to accept, Mulder? The man is dead. We just

came from his funeral, for God’s sake. What more do you

need?”

“A cause of death, a reason he was out there on that road.

Hell, a body would be nice,” Mulder muttered.

“We have a body. We have a cause of death.”

“We have a severely-charred bunch of bones that Kersh —

Kersh, for Christ’s sake — identified!” Mulder stood and

began to pace, one hand pushing back the lock of hair over

his brow as the other worried his lower lip.

“Severely-charred would seem to give us cause of death,”

Scully said quietly. “And as to why he was that far out of

the city, at that time of night — well, he was a big boy.

Even Skinner had a life.” She shrugged. “We didn’t know

him that well, Mulder. There’s no way to know what he did,

or why he did it.” She sipped her cooling coffee as she

studied her partner’s pacing form.

“That’s just it. I do know him now. I know him a hell of

a lot better than I ever thought I would. He didn’t have a

life. He worked, he slept, he worked some more. He boxed

when he couldn’t stand the office politics anymore…”

“Or maybe when he couldn’t stand you anymore,” Scully

interrupted with a smile.

“Maybe,” Mulder conceded. Scully’s deflection had worked,

and he stilled, the need to move defused. Mulder shook his

head, amazed again at how well she knew him. He threw the

slightest of grins her way, saying, “If I may continue?”

“You’re profiling him, now? Now that he’s dead?”

“I need to understand.” Mulder dropped into his desk

chair, leaning back and throwing his legs up onto the

papers and files. He tilted his head back, stared at the

ceiling, then closed his eyes. “He fought his survivor

guilt by feeding homeless vets. He worked, he slept. He

boxed to relieve tension. He ran occasionally. And he

lived with guilt. Guilt and regret.” Mulder’s chin

dropped, his eyes popped open. The long legs slid to the

floor and he sat erect, pinning her with eyes of swirling

green and gray. “That’s *all* the man did. He *didn’t*

have a life.”

“Well, for someone who didn’t have a life, he’s still

extremely dead, Mulder, and all the profiling in the world

isn’t going to change that.” Scully rose and walked to

stand beside him, one hand placed gently on his shoulder.

“He’s dead and we have to accept it.”

Mulder gave a soft sigh, looking up into her eyes. “Do we

have to accept it, Scully?” He lifted one hand, carefully

removed hers from his shoulder, then rose. “Is he really

dead?”

***************************************

Undisclosed Location

September 12, 2001

6:30 a.m.

“Paul! Breakfast’s ready!”

The man in the shower shook himself, enjoying the sensual

feel of the water rolling over his shoulders, sliding down

his back and legs. He ducked his head under the shower

head and shook again. You had to enjoy your pleasures

where you got them. Somehow, getting older had made him

more and more aware of that fact.

“Paul! Did you hear me?”

He grinned beneath the cascade, grabbed a loofah and began

to scrub. God, he loved showers! The moist heat, the feel

of the water as it caressed his skin, even the scent of

soaps and shampoos — it was a sensory feast.

“PAUL!” The door flew open and she was standing there,

small and trim, her curly hair still in disarray about a

round face, legs bare beneath his faded old T-shirt that

she often wore to sleep in. “Breakfast is ready and we’re

gong to be late if you don’t get moving. Didn’t you hear

me?”

She shook her head at him and he laughed, amazed at how

many things there were in life to be thankful for.

Showers and hot water, breakfast and work he enjoyed. And

a wife that still captivated him, even after all these

years. “What time is it?” he asked as he ran the soap over

an abdomen that, despite being almost 50 years old, was

still rock hard. He had a life he loved, he wasn’t going

to blow it by letting himself go to pot and then being

sickly and unable to enjoy it. And thinking of enjoyment…

He eyed Karen, standing there with a smile on her lips,

head tilted to the side, one hand on her hip. It was a pose

he knew all too well. She wanted him to get his butt

moving, and NOW. “It’s late,” she answered. “But if you,

dear sir, will move that very fetching ass, we can still

sit down to a civilized meal and not have to race into the

school like a couple of teenagers.”

“Maybe I feel like a teenager,” he teased as he reached

out and pulled her into the water with him. The shirt

soaked quickly and he liked what he saw. “A lovesick

teenager at that,” he amended.

She struggled at first, raining tiny fists against his

chest in mock resistance, then laughed and wriggled against

him. In one of the sexiest moves he’d ever seen, she swept

the T-shirt up and over her head and he felt himself unable

to breathe as he looked at her. “Maybe we should skip

breakfast after all,” she murmured, her voice gone soft and

low.

Paul nodded, pushing back dark strands of wavy hair, then

bending to whisper into her ear. “Do you know how much I

love you?”

She laughed as his breath tickled her, and glanced down at

him. “Oh, yeah,” she purred. “I’ve got a pretty good

idea.”

****************************************

September 12, 2001

7:50 a.m.

They were almost late again, running from the teacher’s

parking lot into the building. They got to his classroom

first, and stopped as he pulled the door open and handed

her her satchel. He leaned down and kissed her, quickly at

first, then a bit longer, a bit deeper, and he could feel

himself being pulled into her very soul. The sound of

laughter, then applause, caused him to pull away in

embarrassment. He looked down into her flushed face and

they both laughed as the kids surrounding them continued to

clap.

“Time to get to class,” she murmured.

He laughed and let her go. “See you tonight,” he called

to her retreating form before he turned and said, “All

right, you monsters, nothing else to see here.”

“Already got an eyeful, Mr. J,” someone cried, and the

group erupted in laughter again.

“Get to class, all of you,” he ordered, but his own

laughter made it hard to sound stern. It was hard to be

stern when he felt so full of joy. He turned and entered

his classroom and began to pull books and papers out of his

briefcase as the teens filed in and took their seats.

“How long you and Ms. J been married?” one of the kids

asked, and Paul looked up, grinning.

“Almost twenty-five years, and let that be a lesson to you

all. It’s worth waiting for the right person. You’ll be

glad you did.” He smiled at the class, his face softening

and his eyes warm behind his glasses. “Now, can we all

open our books to page 95?”

******************************************

Office of the Lone Gunmen

September 12, 2001

7 p.m.

“Mulder, this is crazy!” Scully said for the tenth time.

“You’re going to get us both fired!”

“I need to see the reports, Scully.” Mulder leaned over

Byers’ shoulder, staring at the monitor as the other man’s

fingers danced across the keyboard.

“You saw the reports, Mulder.”

“We saw what they wanted us to see.”

“I’m in,” Byers said, looking up quickly to see Scully

move across the room and stand over his other shoulder,

next to her partner.

“They, they, they, Mulder. It’s always ‘they.’ Why can’t

you accept that Skinner died in that car wreck? If you

keep this up, we’ll both be out of work, and you,” she

tapped Byers on the head, “you may be in jail.”

“Not Byers,” Langly said. “He’s too fast to get caught.”

“What do you think you’re going to find?” Scully stared

over at Mulder, then down at the monitor. It briefly

flashed the emblem of the Fauquier County Sheriff’s

Department, then a directory tree. Byers moved the mouse,

made a selection, and the screen changed again.

“I just want to see the original reports, not the ones

that Kersh gave us.”

Scully sighed. They’d been over this a hundred times in

the last few weeks. “Mulder, he was FBI. Fauquier called

the Bureau right away. There *are* no original reports!”

“What local office ever willingly calls the feds to take

over their case?” Mulder reached out a long finger and

tapped something on the screen, then nodded as Byers

clicked again.

“There was no case. There is no case. There was nothing

to take over.”

“Never mind why Skinner was out there at that time of

night, Scully. Never mind that there’s no record of

anything he was working on that could have had him in

Fauquier County. But it was a clear night, a straight

road, and Skinner’s not known for drinking and driving. So

what made him veer off the road, at over 90 miles an hour,

at the only point in three miles in either direction where

there was something to crash into?”

“You don’t know he hadn’t been drinking. He does, you

know.”

Mulder raised an eyebrow.

“Drink,” she went on stubbornly. “He does drink. He

could have been drinking. The accelerator could have

stuck. There could have been a bee in the car.”

“A bee in the car? Is that the best you can come up

with?” Mulder tapped the screen again, then turned to face

Scully. “If he’s dead, I want to know what happened. We

owe him that.”

“I agree, but I don’t see that there’s any reason to doubt

that he’s dead.” Scully folded her arms across her chest

and stared levelly up into Mulder’s eyes. “If nothing comes

of this, I want you to agree to drop it, Mulder. Accept it

and move on. We’ve got other things that need our

attention.”

Mulder took a deep breath and stared at the floor. “I

want to see Fauquier’s report, and I want you to check the

autopsy report. If there’s nothing in either of those,

I’ll let it go.” He looked up. “But that’s depending on

nothing else coming up that looks fishy.”

She smiled at him, her face softening. One hand came out,

took his arm and pulled gently, drawing him away from his

hacker friends and over to a wall where they could speak

quietly. “I’m worried about you, Mulder. Obsessions are

one of your favorite things. And we need to focus on other

things now. You’re wearing yourself out over this.”

“I know, I know.” He ran a hand through his hair, then

scrubbed at his face in exhaustion. “I just need to see

the reports for myself. The originals, not something

Kersh has doctored.”

“Fine. Then hack away and don’t get caught. And once

we’ve seen them, we move on, OK?” She smiled slightly to

soften her words.

“Agreed.” He rubbed his face again and turned to head

back to Byers and the monitor. “Unless something else

turns up.”

***************************************

September 12, 2001

3:45 a.m.

It was dark and he was carrying something. Something

heavy. He grunted as he shifted the weight on his shoulder

and tried to find a comfortable grip. But it wasn’t

comfortable. It was big, whatever it was, long and thin

and it bounced against his back with every step he took.

He shifted again and took a deep breath. The air smelled

funny, a sort of strange scent that he couldn’t place.

Saltwater and decay. He looked around and realized he was

on a pier, a pier with no ships tied up, but littered with

crates. From truck-sized to boxes small enough to carry,

the pier was stacked with crates. He didn’t know where he

was, or where he was going, carrying this long, thin

thing.

Everything was silent, like a movie with the sound off.

He should be able to hear something. Water lapping against

the pier, traffic from the streets nearby, at least the

sound of his own breathing.

He was confused, unsure of what was happening, and he

stopped, longing to put the thing he carried down, but

somehow knowing he shouldn’t. His gut was tight with fear

and his nerves jangled from the adrenaline that surged in

his veins with every move he made. Sweat rolled down his

brow, and he shifted his burden again, then raised a hand

to wipe his forehead. But his hand was wet already, wet

and sticky, and he squinted in the darkness as he stared at

the hand and tried to figure out why it was wet.

He wiped his mouth and tasted something metallic. Oddly

familiar, with a coppery tang. The adrenaline flowed again

as he first realized it was blood, and then, in shock,

wondered how he would know the taste of blood. He shook

his head in confusion, then bent again to readjust the load

he carried, and a bullet sliced the air where his head had

been a split second before. He dropped to his knees,

rolling to one side, ducking behind a shipping crate. He

realized he could hear again, even as he reached out and

grabbed the man he had been carrying (he’d been carrying

a man!) and pulled him into the temporary safety of the

crate.

It was like he was two people. There was the person

moving, ducking, rolling, pulling, the man who seemed to

know what was happening. And then there was him — the

high school teacher who didn’t even know where the hell he

was or how he’d gotten there.

Another shot rang out and the wooden crate splintered over

his head. He looked down and found a gun in his hand. How

the hell had that gotten there? He didn’t know anything

about guns. Or maybe he did. As he watched in disbelief,

his hands thumbed the safety off, pulled back on the barrel

and he began to fire. He looked down at the man beside him

— tall and lanky, his face pale from the blood he was

losing — and fired again at the unseen threat.

He could hear something else now, something besides

bullets. There was shouting. Someone was crying out,

“Kill them! Kill them!” And a barrage of gunfire

assailed the crate. He grabbed the injured man by the

collar and slithered further back, behind more crates. He

felt a sharp pain in his arm and looked down, saw that he’d

been hit and was bleeding now. He had to stop the

bleeding. He looked at the unconscious man beside him,

somehow knowing that he knew him and yet having no name for

this tall person with dark hair and the oh, so pale face.

Another shot whizzed by, pulling him back to the present.

He reached into a pocket, reloaded the gun, and began

firing again. His arm was bleeding freely, and he was out

of ammunition when a figure stepped around the crate, a gun

leveled at his head. He strained to see the face of the

man who was going to kill him, but it was shrouded in

darkness.

He thought again about the absurdity of it all. That he,

a high school math teacher would end up dying on a nameless

pier, killed by a nameless man, for no reason he could

comprehend. He didn’t know how he’d gotten here, or why he

was here, or how he knew how to handle this gun.

He looked down at his hands, watched as the gun dropped

from numb fingers and wished with all his heart he was back

safe in his bed with his wife. “Karen! “Karen!” The first

cry was hoarse and almost unintelligible. But the second

one rang out clear.

He stared at the man before him, his finger on the trigger

pulling back almost imperceptibly. He was going to die. He

closed his eyes, and screamed again, “Karen! Karen!”

waiting for the bullet to sound, for the pain he knew was

coming. Waiting…

“PAUL!”

His head rocked back from the force of her palm and his

eyes snapped open. His wife was straddling him, her

fingers digging into his shoulders.

“Paul! Are you awake?”

He stared at her for a long moment, then nodded, and let

himself fall forward into her embrace. She wrapped her

arms around him, holding him tightly and stroking his back

until his breathing slowed and he could manage to make his

tongue work.

“It’s getting worse,” he whispered thickly, feeling her

answering nod.

She tightened her grip on him, holding him as if she would

fight the world to keep him safe, then reluctantly let go

and slid off his legs, leaving him to hold himself upright.

“You go and shower,” she said softly. “You’re drenched and

the sheets are soaked. I’ll strip the bed and make

coffee.”

He nodded obediently, not able to think yet, and struggled

to his feet, padding softly toward the bathroom.

She cocked her head as she studied him. “We’ll talk when

you get done.”

*****************************************

Mulder’s Office

September 13, 2001

10 a.m.

“Are you satisfied now?” Scully dropped the folder on

Mulder’s desk. I’ve gone over the autopsy and I don’t see

anything other than what went into the report.”

“Nothing?” Mulder opened the file, staring down at a

Skinner-sized black lump on a stainless steel table.

“The body was badly burned, Mulder. Not just beyond

recognition, but to the point where the bones began to

break and fuse. Not even the teeth could be used for

identification.”

Mulder jerked alert, staring up at his partner. “No

dental I.D.? What did they use?” He shook his head and

added, “And don’t tell me his wallet.” A quick glance down

at the picture in the folder and then, “No way the wallet

survived.”

“No, Mulder. It wasn’t his wallet.” She tilted her head

as she looked at him. “I thought you knew.”

“I don’t *know* anything!” Mulder said in disgust. “That’s

why I’m trying to find something out.” He rose and began

to pace the small office. “I just think it’s too

convenient that once Skinner begins to be a little more

dependable when it comes to backing us up, he suddenly

turns up dead. Dead, in a weird, single car crash, on a

deserted road, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of

the night.” He heeled around, facing her. “Nothing new, I

know, but he had no reason to be there, nothing anyone can

find that would explain why he was out there, or what

caused the crash.” He started pacing again, three strides

to the door, then a quick turn and back toward the desk.

“And now you tell me not only was he burned beyond

recognition, his teeth were destroyed too?” He halted at

her side, staring earnestly into her face. “How do we know

it’s him?”

“Oh, Mulder,” Scully sighed, one hand reaching up almost

hesitantly to push gently against his chest, forcing him to

sit. “I thought you knew.” When he was seated, she

propped herself on the desk in front of him. “It was him,

Mulder. He broke his leg when he was a child, a bad break.

I saw the X-rays. Right leg.”

Mulder’s head dropped as she spoke and she could see the

beginnings of acceptance slide across his features.

“The body was badly burned, the bones included. But you

could still see the healed fracture on the right leg.” She

stopped and took a deep breath. “It was him, Mulder. It

had to be him.”

Mulder shook his head as she spoke, still staring at his

lap. She could see as he closed his eyes tightly, fighting

unnamed emotions, and when he opened them and lifted his

head, she could see the exhaustion in the drooping, red-

rimmed lids. His whole face was etched in exhaustion and

she chided herself for not watching more closely, not

having confronted him sooner. Staring down at him, she

wondered just how much sleep he’d gotten in the week since

Skinner died.

He stared up at her and she was struck by the sudden

bereft look on Mulder’s features and she realized he had

truly not believed that Skinner was dead until this

moment.

“Mulder,” she said softly, “I miss him, too. But the fact

is, we didn’t know him that well, and we couldn’t really

depend on him. He never really took a stand.”

Mulder just shook his head. “I know he was on our side.

There were other things going on, things that made him seem

to sit on the fence, but he was on our side.”

“Mulder…” She reached out and touched his head,

surprised to find he was warm to her touch. “Mulder? Are

you all right?”

He shook his head, pushing her hand away. “No, I’m not

all right.” He looked up at her impatiently. “Don’t you

get it, Scully?” He shook his head again.

“We’re really on our own now. We’re alone,” he said, in

an almost stricken voice.

“We’re not alone,” she whispered. “We have each other.”

*****************************************

ACT II

September 13, 2001

10 p.m.

He was humming softly, something from the early seventies

that he knew but couldn’t remember the name of. He scanned

the shelves in front of him, searching for the brand she

liked, found it, and threw two packs of paper towels into

the cart without missing a beat. It amazed him how much he

enjoyed the every day things in life. Before they’d moved

here, he’d had friends who talked of feeling trapped in

their marriages, trapped in their lives. The every day

joys seemed to elude those men, but not him. He couldn’t

imagine anything more wonderful than this life he led. A

wife who loved him, a job he was happy at, one that gave

him pleasure. A chance to shape young lives, to contribute

to the future. A chance to make a difference in the world

through the children he taught.

He laughed as he picked up toilet paper, then tissues, and

stacked them on the almost full cart. Some people weren’t

content with the every day life, thinking life had to be

exciting and an adventure in order to be worthwhile. Or

they needed to do something on a grand scale to feel they

were making a contribution. But he knew better. It was the

little things, the every day things, that made life worth

living. He could think of nothing sadder than a life with

no family, no friends, no hobbies. A man who only worked

and slept and worked some more. He shuddered as he opened

the dairy case and pulled out a carton of eggs. He

carefully opened the lid, first checking to be sure none

were broken, then moving each egg in its cradle, as Karen

had taught him all those years ago, to make sure none were

cracked on the bottom.

This was what life was all about. Not — he shuddered

again — not the macho heroics of those horrid nightmares

he’d been having. It was about love and friendship. About

grocery shopping and grading tests at night with someone

you loved. Someone who loved you. It was about mowing the

grass and backyard barbecues with friends. It was about

baseball in a minor league park on a hot summer night and

fireworks under the stars. It was about helping a bright

young girl find a scholarship so she could go to college

and watching a kid add A + B for the first time and really

get an answer.

He moved on to the checkout, and idly noticed the long

coat the man in front of him was wearing. A glance at the

big thermometer that hung over the customer service counter

reminded him of what he already knew. It was September in

Georgia; that guy had to be dying in that thing. He

shrugged and went back to wondering how he got to be so

lucky. How he was the one who knew what made life

worthwhile, when millions of others wandered blindly along,

never satisfied, never content. As far as he was

concerned, the life of this high school math teacher was

all he needed, and he was going to thank God every day that

he had it.

A shrill cry jerked him from his reverie and he came

alert, looking around. The man in the long coat had pulled

a gun and had it aimed at the young cashier. She was the

one who had cried out. He looked at her more closely. It

was Cheryl Pierce. She was in his algebra class. He

seemed to remember she’d once told him she was junior class

VP. Made sense — she was active in school. He knew that.

Even had a school T-shirt on at work. A lot of the

teenagers wouldn’t show that kind of school pride. She was

a bright girl, cute and funny, but she hadn’t been

satisfied with the D she’d gotten in algebra and was

repeating it again this year. She said she just couldn’t

seem to get the hang of using letters for numbers last

year, but he was inclined to think it was more the

teacher’s fault than the girl’s, since she seemed to be

doing fine in his class.

He studied her closely. She wasn’t doing fine right now.

Her face was pale, almost transparent, and she was crying.

Not loud, sobbing cries, but crying nonetheless. Tears

streamed down her cheeks and she breathed in little gulping

sighs. Her nose was running and as he watched, she lifted

a shaking hand and swiped it, a little child’s action. The

man in the coat said something, but it was strange, almost

like his dream. He couldn’t seem to hear, he just suddenly

knew how to act. Part of him was appalled that anyone

would threaten a child this way, that anyone would dare to

infringe on her innocence and stain her with violence.

But another part of him was moving, shoving his full

shopping cart forward, watching as the man in the long coat

fell forward, the gun going off at the ceiling. Paul

shoved again, then leapt over the moving belt on the

counter, tackling Cheryl and pulling her to the ground with

him.

Sound was suddenly back and he could hear screaming all

around and he saw people scurrying away. The man with the

gun was up, because when Paul rolled again, he saw the

barrel of the gun come down over the counter and he felt

the bullet as it exploded into his arm. He somehow kept

rolling, Cheryl beneath him, then above, and soon they were

behind a refrigerated display case full of ice cold sodas.

He heard the glass on the front of the case shatter as

another bullet found its way home. He pushed away from

Cheryl, shoving her toward the door, screaming, “Run! Run!

Run!” even as he leapt to his feet and raced toward the

shooter.

This was insane. This was madness. He’d lost his mind.

He was Paul Johnson, math teacher, and he did not *ever*

charge down men who were holding a gun.

He stared at the barrel of the gun, watched as it rose and

pointed directly at his chest. He was still moving

forward, a final dance with death, the barrel of the gun

wavering only slightly. He could hear screaming, taste the

fear in his mouth, feel the blood on his sleeve. The man

holding the gun grinned, his lips pulled back to reveal

teeth locked in a death’s mask parody. He could see the

finger on the trigger, pulling, pulling, pulling, and he

could almost feel the jolt as the gun fired, the bullet

leaping from the barrel and as he went down, he thought,

“Karen is never going to forgive me for this.”

****************************************

September 14,

2001 5:15 a.m.

The hammer came down again. BANG! He pulled back and

looked down at his work. For someone as unhandy as he was,

it was turning out all right. He raised the hammer once

more — BANG — and then nodded in satisfaction. He was

done. He set the hammer on the bench, then turned for

sandpaper.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

He looked down in surprise, then glanced at the workbench

to make sure the hammer wasn’t acting on its own.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Mulder jerked awake, the old blanket slipping to the floor

as he sat up on the battered couch. The TV was still

running, sound muted, the picture causing weird shadows to

dance across the walls.

Weird shadows, weird dreams. Something about building

something. And a hammer.

Mulder rolled his shoulders, then stretched, standing as

he lifted his arms over his head and arched his back. It

was September, in the nineties, but the A/C was blowing full

force and he shivered in his boxers.

Very weird dream. Wood and nails and hammers.

Hammers.

Pounding.

He froze in midstretch and shot a glance at the door.

“Nah,” he muttered, padding into the kitchen and turning

on the water. He pulled the basket from the coffeemaker,

dumped the old filter with a grimace. It was a solid lump,

gray and fuzzy, and he swore for the hundredth time to wash

the damn thing every time he used it. He stuck the basket

in the sink, letting the now hot water bathe it as he

rummaged in the cabinet for a new filter and the coffee.

Pounding. He been dreaming of pounding.

Or had he?

He shook his head again, forcing his thoughts back to the

coffee. The coffeemaker had been a gift from Scully’s

mother — and he actually used it. Not as often as he’d

thought he would. He always seemed to be running from one

emergency to another, and when it wasn’t an emergency, he

was just plain running late. But on nights like this, or

the occasional weekend, it was nice to be able to make a

cup of decent coffee — something drinkable that still

served its purpose to keep him awake and keep him going.

Pounding.

He glanced at the door again. Why couldn’t he shake the

dream? Oh, the dream itself was fading. He’d been making

something, something that involved pounding. It was the

pounding that kept coming back to him.

He filled the filter with coffee, then put it in the

basket, filled the pot with water and dumped it into the

reservoir. Put the pot on the burner, flick the switch, and

voila! In mere minutes he’d have coffee even Scully

couldn’t fuss about.

He scrounged for a cup, but couldn’t find a clean one, so

the hot water came back on and he put the least filthy one

right in the stream, letting the hot water soak his latest

science experiment.

Pounding.

That was it. He looked at the half-filled coffeepot, then

stared at the water overflowing the coffee cup. It was his

favorite. It had a picture of the space shuttle and the

words, “Space — the final frontier.” He liked it because

it was so normal. It was the kind of cup anyone could

have. It wasn’t really about aliens or UFOs or anything

else weird or strange. Just a typical cup that any old guy

might have sitting on his desk at work. It made him feel

almost normal.

Pounding.

He shook his head and gave up at last, walking quickly to

the door to the apartment. He yanked it open, looking

right and then left.

Nothing.

He looked down, not really surprised to see the bulky

manila envelope that lay there. He bent and picked it up,

checked the hall again, and shut and locked the door. Even

as he walked back to the kitchen, he could tell it was a

videotape.

“Scully would be proud of me,” he muttered as he finished

rinsing the cup and then filled it with coffee. Cup in one

hand, tape in the other, he moved back to the living room

and turned on the VCR.

The image was in black and white, shot from a distance,

and from a stationary position. It was the inside of a

supermarket. It took him only a moment to realize this was

a surveillance tape from the store’s security system.

As he watched, a man in a trench coat got into a young

girl’s line and moved forward. When he got in front of the

girl, he pulled a sawed-off shotgun from beneath the coat

and pointed it at her. He watched as the girl began to

cry, as one hand rose and wiped uselessly at her nose, the

shotgun never moving from in front of her. He was staring

at the girl’s hands, certain he could see them shake, even

on this grainy film, when the cart behind the gunman shot

forward, knocking the man to his knees, then down again as

the cart was shoved a second time. A big man appeared in

the camera’s view, leaping over the counter in a single

smooth movement, then the man and the girl disappeared and

the gunman rose, shoving the cart back and then leaning

over the counter and firing.

Mulder watched as the big man and the girl appeared again,

blood blossoming on the big guy’s arm. He ignored the

wound and rolled the girl away. Just before the man and

the girl disappeared from the camera’s view again, the man

lifted his head, searching for the shooter and unknowingly

stared into the camera’s eye.

Mulder choked, hot coffee spraying from his mouth as he

hit pause and struggled to regain his breath.

“Holy shit!” he muttered as he stared at the all too

familiar face on his TV screen. “I don’t believe this.”

His eyes never left the screen as he scrambled for the

cordless phone, hit the speed dial button and waited for

the familiar answer.

“Scully,” she said.

“Scully, it’s me.”

“Of course it’s you, Mulder,” she answered in a grumpy

tone. “No one else would call me now. Do you even know

what time it is?” He could hear the sleep in her voice,

knew her lips were pursed as she studied the clock on her

bedside table. Knew she was annoyed, but knew as well

she’d forgive him, and in about five seconds she’d be as

awake as he was.

“Scully — you aren’t going to believe what I just found.”

******************************************

Hospital Room

September 14, 2001

7:30 a.m.

He woke up, surprised to find that he could. The room was

bright and cheerful, and there were flowers covering every

surface he could see. There was a small hand in his own

larger one, and he tightened his grip slightly.

Karen gasped, then sat up, coming immediately awake.

“You’re awake,” she said, squeezing him back.

“Yep.” He nodded, not sure what else to say. He stared

into her worried eyes and finally asked, “What happened?”

“You decided to be an idiot and got yourself shot.”

Paul blinked. The store, the gunman, Cheryl. Cheryl. He

felt his heart rate pick up and a frown crept across his

face. “Cheryl? The girl from the store? Is she all

right?”

Karen smiled. “She’s fine. Telling the whole town how

her favorite teacher saved her life.”

“I didn’t, really. I just tried to get her out of the

way.” He glanced up at his wife. “What happened to the

man? I thought he was going to shoot me.”

“He did.” Karen nodded at his arm and he looked down at

the bandage then shook his head.

“No. Here.” He pointed at his chest. “I thought he was

going to shoot me here.”

Karen’s face sobered. “So did the cops. They got there

just in time to see the end.” She wrinkled her nose at him

as she asked, “You really don’t remember what happened?”

He shook his head again.

“According to the cops, as the guy started to pull the

trigger, you lunged at him, then did some sort of drop and

kicked his feet out from under him. Then you rolled on top

of him and took the gun away.” She narrowed her eyes at

him. “You hit him with the butt of the gun, almost knocked

him out. The cops said it looked professional, like

something you’d practiced a hundred times to get that

smooth.”

“They get him?”

She shook her head. “In the confusion, he managed to get

to his feet and get out the back.”

He blinked again, then looked around for his glasses. She

saw him searching, opened the drawer to the bedside table,

and pulled them out. “Looking for these, hero?”

He nodded, slipping them on his face, even as he said,

“I’m no hero. I was scared shitless.” He pushed the

wirerims up against the bridge of his nose, then settled

back into the pillows. “Then what happened?”

“Then, Mr. Hero-Man, you fainted.” She couldn’t suppress

the grin that stretched across her face.

“I fainted?” He laughed, then laughed even harder when

she joined him, nodding. “I really fainted?”

“Apparently. The cops said it was probably the adrenaline

coupled with the blood loss from the shot to your arm.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever fainted before,” he murmured when

they had both stopped laughing.

“I don’t think you’ve ever tackled a man with a gun

before, either,” she said, laughter still in her voice.

He chuckled as he looked at her, but somehow, this time,

he couldn’t agree.

****************************************

Scully’s Apartment

September 14, 2001 6:30 a.m.

The image frozen on the TV screen was the same one he had

stared at in disbelief for so many long minutes. Only now,

it was frozen on Scully’s TV and she was the one who stared

in disbelief.

“Oh, my God …” she whispered for the fourth time. Her

eyes finally slid off the screen and traveled up to meet

his. One small but strong hand half-covered her mouth.

“What have they done?”

Mulder shook his head grimly. “I still don’t know that,

but I know what they haven’t done.”

“What?” Her eyes had moved back to the image of Skinner,

arm bloody, face dirty, and eyes that seemed to stare

directly at them from the TV.

“They haven’t killed him.” Mulder stood and stepped to

the VCR. He pushed a button and the image disappeared.

Seconds later, the tape slipped halfway out of the machine

and he pulled it free, then pocketed it. “We need to find

him.”

“Can we get Bureau help, do you think? Is it safe?”

Mulder shook his head in frustration. “I don’t know. Not

everyone can be involved, but I don’t know who is and I

don’t know how far their reach extends.”

“Pretty damn far if they managed to ‘kill’ Skinner and

almost get away with it.” She rose from the sofa and moved

into the kitchen, turning to study him as he followed her.

“I’m making tea. My bet is you’ve already had at least a

pot of coffee.”

“We need to find him, Scully! If they want him gone this

badly, I sure as hell want him back!”

The kettle was filled and on the stovetop now, and she had

moved to the kitchen. Sandwich makings were appearing on

the small table as she pulled one thing out after another.

“I’m not hungry, Scully! We need to get started!”

“Hush,” she ordered, turning to look at him. “You’ve

gotten started. You’ve got the tape.”

“I didn’t *get* the tape. It came to me. I haven’t done

anything, yet.” He slumped into a chair in frustration.

“You didn’t let it go, Mulder. That’s your biggest

strength.” She patted him absently and began to make

sandwiches. “You also didn’t sleep or eat much since we

got the word.” She placed a paper plate with a ham and

cheese sandwich on it before him as the kettle began to

whistle. “Now… I know you. You’re not going to eat or

sleep much until we find him.” She was pouring hot water

into mugs as she spoke, then adding sugar. The milk was

already in a small pitcher on the table. “And God only

knows how long it’s going to take, considering all we have

to go on is the tape.” She turned and placed the hot mug

in front of him, pleased to see half the sandwich had

already been wolfed down. “You can’t let yourself get worn

down. He needs you.”

Mulder shook his head, mouth full. He chewed hard, then

swallowed and said, “He needs us both. I’ve looked at the

tape and I haven’t got a clue as to where it is. It could

be any grocery store in any town in America.” He took one

more huge bite and the sandwich was gone. “I don’t know

where to start.”

“Let’s go look again. This time, instead of watching the

action, we need to watch what doesn’t move.” She had

almost finished cleaning up her impromptu sandwich makings.

The mayonnaise went back into the fridge and she grabbed a

dishcloth and wiped the table.

“What do you mean?” Mulder was stirring milk into the

tea, staring up at her.

“The background.” She walked to the trash can, shook

bread crumbs from the cloth, then went to the sink. “There

must be something there to give us a clue as to where he

is.”

******************************************

Office of the Lone Gunmen

September 14, 2001

8:30 a.m.

“There!” Mulder pointed to a fuzzy image on the screen.

“We think that’s a newspaper. Can you enhance it?”

“C’n try.” Langly scratched his head. “None of the

images are real clear.” He rolled the tape back, stopping

at another frame, then squinting at the screen. “I still

think that’s just a clock.” He turned and looked at

Scully. “Why do you think it’s a thermometer?”

“A grocery store we went to when I was a child had one of

those. I always thought it was neat — a thermometer that

looked like a clock. It was when we were stationed at

Mayport and it would get so hot in the summer. I remember

wondering what would happen when it got over a hundred,

since 100 was as far as the thermometer went — the 12

o’clock spot.”

“We’ll see what we can do with the girl’s shirt, too.”

Frohike spoke from a seat in front of another monitor. “I

swear that looks like a school mascot.”

“She’s just a kid, Frohike. Make sure the mascot is all

you check out.” Mulder tossed out the warning without

thinking and Scully had to laugh.

Mulder glanced at her, smiled in acknowledgment, then

turned back to his friends. “We’re taking copies to the

FBI, get them working on it too.”

“Is that wise, Mulder?” Byers rose and tugged at his

vest. “Surely someone there was involved in this.”

“Probably,” Mulder nodded grimly. “But at high levels,

not down in the labs.”

“At least that’s what we’re hoping,” Scully added. “You

guys are good, and we appreciate what you’re doing, but we

need all the help we can get.”

*******************************************

September 14, 2001

5 p.m.

“How’s the arm?” Karen asked as she set a plate before

him.

He sniffed appreciatively. Barbecued chicken, mashed

potatoes, corn on the cob. So much for their resolution to

eat salads for dinner during the summer months. He grinned

up at his wife. “It hurts, but not too bad. And if

anything can make it feel better, a meal like this can!

Thanks, babe.”

She leaned down and kissed him. “You’re welcome. Just

promise me you’re done with heroic stunts like that,

please.” Her voice softened and she looked deep into his

eyes. “I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

He pushed the plate aside, scooted his chair back from the

table, and pulled her into his lap with his still good arm.

He kissed her hungrily, then buried his head against her

breasts. “I couldn’t go on without you either.”

They sat that way for a long moment, until she rose, ever

the practical one, and said, “Well, enough of that sap.

Just you mind your p’s and q’s, Mr. Johnson, and don’t make

me have to track you down in a hospital again.” She took a

deep breath, steadying herself, and put his plate back in

front of him. “Eat, before it gets cold. That detective

is coming over after dinner to talk to you again.”

They ate together, talking about the kids at school, the

new house, what a good decision it had been to leave the

city and move to this small town. And how sad it was, that

even in small town America, crime had to rear its ugly

head. They finished and she wouldn’t let him help with the

clean-up, so he sat and kept her company while she washed

and then dried their dishes. There was chicken left over —

it would make a wonderful lunch tomorrow. She had just

wiped the table down, making him lift his arms so she could

do the whole thing, when the doorbell rang.

A look of concern slid across her face, but she covered it

quickly and said, “I’ll let him in. You two can talk out

here. I’m going to go in the living room and read.”

“I *can* move, you know,” he said, reaching out to stop

her and pull her to himself. “It’s just my arm and it’s

going to be fine. I’ll only have a little scar.”

She took a deep, shuddery breath. “I know, I know. And I

know I’m fussing.” Her head came up and she met his eyes.

“Let me fuss. I was scared. I felt so damn helpless. I

couldn’t *do* anything when they told me you’d been shot.”

He stroked her hair as the doorbell rang again, murmuring,

“I’m sorry. It’s all right now.”

She kissed him then, a quick brush on the lips and pulled

away. “Of course it’s all right. You saved Cheryl’s

life.” She turned and walked to the doorway, then looked

back. “Just let me fuss a bit more.” Her eyes dropped and

she studied the floor. “It helps chase away the scared

feeling.”

******************************************

FBI Lab

September 14, 2001

5 p.m.

“I can’t believe it’s really him!” Danny looked up at

Mulder in astonishment. “And you just found this tape

outside your door?”

“Yeah, and nobody knows I’ve brought it to you and I want

to keep it that way.” Mulder brushed his hair back and

stared down at the younger man.

Danny lifted both hands in a surrender gesture. “No

sweat, Mulder. Your secret’s safe with me.” He dropped

his hands and fiddled with the controls on the monitor.

The image of Skinner doubled and then doubled again until

they could stare into the man’s eyes. “But why, man? I’d

think you’d want all the resources of the Bureau working on

this.”

“I’m not sure I can trust the Bureau. Someone went to a

lot of trouble to convince us all that Skinner is dead.

Until I know who that someone is, and why, I don’t want

anyone to know about this who doesn’t absolutely have to.”

“I hear ya.” Danny shifted the image on the screen and

the thermometer over the customer service desk leapt into

view. It was still fuzzy, but it was clear that it wasn’t

a clock. Scully had been right. “They won’t hear it from

me.” He played with the dials again, and the number

cleared. “Ninety-four degrees.”

“Ninety-four.” Mulder nodded, pleased. “That’ll help

narrow it down if we can get a date.”

“I’m working on it. I’m gonna try for the newspaper —

that’ll give us a date and a name, hopefully. If I can’t

get that, there may be a receipt showing in one of the

frames and I can pull a date off that.”

“Good man.” Mulder patted the other man’s shoulder. “Let

me know as soon as you get anything I can use.”

******************************************

September 14, 2001

6 p.m.

“White male, five-eleven, 18 to 25. Brown eyes and brown

hair past his earlobes. Blue jeans and a white T-shirt,

and of course, that damn coat.” Paul stopped and looked

over at the other man. “I’m amazed you didn’t get him.”

Detective Franco snorted. “So am I. And I still don’t

know how he slipped out.” He narrowed his eyes as he

studied Paul. “And you, you give a description like a cop

would. What’s up with that?”

Paul laughed uncomfortably and lifted one hand in a little

‘forget it’ gesture. “Didn’t know I’d done it.” He rose

and got the iced tea from the refrigerator, refilling both

glasses. “Must have watched too much NYPD Blue.”

“Yeah — uh, thanks.” The detective took another swallow

of the tea. “That must be it.” He lifted one hand and

tugged absently at a lock of hair.

Paul stared at him. The movement looked almost familiar,

but he couldn’t place it. He shook his head and put the

pitcher back in the refrigerator. Probably something one

of the kids did in class.

“So there’s nothing else you can tell me, Mr. Johnson?”

The detective set the tall glass of iced tea back down on

the table. “Nothing at all?”

Paul shrugged in frustration. “I don’t know what you want

from me. It all happened so fast.”

“Yeah, and you reacted like a pro. That roll over the

counter was one of the slickest moves I’ve ever seen.” He

shook his head. “And the way you avoided the man’s shots —

I was amazed. We all were.”

Paul pointed to his bandaged arm. “Didn’t avoid them all,

as you should recall. Just lucky on the rest.”

The detective was still shaking his head. “No, you don’t

understand. We’ve checked the trajectories of all the

shots. What you did went beyond luck. It was something

any one of us would have been proud to have pulled off. It

was like you knew where he would aim next, like you’d

studied criminal behavior and knew where and how to move to

stay ahead of the guy.”

Paul laughed now and took a deep drink from his tea.

“‘Fraid you’ve got the wrong guy. Me? I’m just a high

school math teacher. Always have been. No cops and

robbers stuff for me.”

“I guess.” The cop looked disappointed. “We checked your

background — you came up clean.”

Paul choked on the tea, coughing long and hard enough that

Karen came to the door to see what had happened. He caught

his breath at last and waved her away. “I’m fine — just

swallowed wrong.” He smiled up at her, sorry to have

worried her further. “Go read — we’ll be done shortly and

I’ll join you.”

When she had retreated to the living room, he turned and

looked at the cop. “You checked my background? What the

hell for?”

“You’re new in town. You interrupt a robbery despite your

mild-mannered high school teacher persona. You move like a

cop — or a professional bad guy — someone with a lot of

experience at staying out of a bullet’s way. I wanted to

know who you are.”

Paul stared at him. “And who am I?”

The cop shook his head. “I don’t know. Everything I

found says Paul Johnson, math teacher. Grew up in a small

town in Ohio, OSU for college. Met Karen Riley there,

married her upon graduation, and you’ve both been teachers

ever since. She grew up in foster care, your parents are

dead — it’s just the two of you.”

“What the hell does my life have to do with what happened

at the Shop-n-Save?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Johnson. And if I’ve invaded your

privacy for no reason, I can assure you I’ll apologize. But

from my point of view, it just looks pretty weird.”

Paul stared at the man in amazement. “Don’t you have

anything better to do than dig around in my past? Can’t

you see I’m one of the most boring people you’ll ever meet?

Don’t you have a life?”

The cop rose, still shaking his head. “You’ve got the

life a lot of us cops wish we had. The wife, the house,

the job you love.” Franco lifted his glass, walked to the

sink, and dumped the ice. He set the empty tumbler on the

stainless steel carefully, then turned to face the man in

the chair. “Some cops can balance it all, but most of us

can’t. Failed marriages, too much liquor. We eat and

sleep and shit our jobs. It becomes the sum total of all

we are, and it’s pretty damn lonely, Mr. Johnson.” Franco

dug in his pocket, pulling out car keys. “I’ll give you

that apology now, sir. Maybe it was just envy that made me

want to dig around in your past.”

He walked over and extended a hand, shaking when Paul

extended his own. “Thanks for the help with our bad guy.

Sorry we let him get away after you worked so hard to save

the girl. We’ll let you know when we find him.”

*******************************************

ACT III

Mulder’s Apartment

September 14, 2001

11 p.m.

“I picked it all up from our friends, Scully. They’ve got

the name off the paper, and the date. We already had the

temperature. All that’s left is the symbol on the girl’s

shirt.” Mulder could barely contain his enthusiasm. “When

can you get here?”

She sighed sleepily. “On my way. Give me about an hour.

I’m clear across town from you and I’m half asleep. I don’t

want to have a wreck.” Mulder nodded as he heard her hang

up the phone, disconnecting them.

He glanced at the clock, then headed for the kitchen.

Scully always fed him when they worked at her place. After

an initially skeptical start, she’d thrown herself

wholeheartedly into the search for Skinner. She deserved

at least a sandwich or a cup of soup. He opened the

refrigerator. Mustard, mayonnaise, a carton of sour milk

and an onion were the only occupants. Damn! He’d

forgotten to shop again.

No sweat. There was always soup. He went to the cabinet

and opened the door. Bare shelves. Well, not completely

bare. There was an opened bag of noodles that he couldn’t

remember buying and a can of cranberry jelly, left from

Thanksgiving. That was it. He briefly pondered cranberry

jelly soup, then wrinkled his nose in disgust. He grabbed

the phone and hit speed dial 2 and the familiar voice of

the woman at the Chinese restaurant answered.

The food taken care of, he looked down at himself and

sniffed. Phew! Now he was really disgusted. When was the

last time he had showered? He’d been so obsessed with the

search for Skinner, he couldn’t remember the last time he

climbed into a shower. He glanced longingly at the

envelope with the papers and the disk from the Lone Gunmen,

then sniffed again.

No contest. He pulled the T-shirt over his head and

started unbuttoning his jeans as he headed for the shower.

He was just getting out, towel wrapped around his waist,

when the doorbell rang. “Coming,” he called as he scooped

up his wallet and headed for the door. He had the money in

one hand and the other hand on the door knob, when the door

frame shattered, and he was thrown backward into the wall.

His vision blurred and he shook his head, even as he tried

to get to his feet. The head shaking had been a mistake

and a wave of nausea held him pinned to the floor as he

struggled for breath. One man stood over him, a gun

sighted at his head. The other one was coming back from

the living room, the packet of material about Skinner in

his hands.

He surged upward, ignoring the gun and lunged at the man

with the envelope. The other man grabbed him and threw him

into the wall again, this time the gun was pressed against

his chest. Mulder stood still, panting heavily, still

eyeing the envelope.

“Don’t try it,” the man with the gun said. “I’m not

supposed to kill you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t shoot

you.” He slid the gun up Mulder’s chest and settled it

against the scar Scully’s bullet had left. “This seems to

be a popular spot.”

“What the hell’s going on?” Mulder grated out between

clenched teeth. “What do you want?”

“We want you to leave the A.D. alone. He’s happy, content.”

The gun moved pack and forth over the scar, almost as if

the man were scratching it. “Leave it alone, Mulder.”

Mulder stared at the two men. He’d lost his towel at some

point and standing here naked did not add to his

confidence, but he’d be damned if they were going to walk

out with all his hard-won information without a fight.

Mulder dropped his head, nodding slightly.

“Good boy,” the man said. The gun pulled back from his

shoulder fractionally, and Mulder moved. He dropped and

rolled, sweeping the gunman’s feet out from under him. The

man fell with a crash. Mulder was up in a split second and

lunging for the second man. The second man danced back

barely avoiding Mulder’s grasp. Mulder struggled with

balance for a second, then got ready to leap again.

The muscles in his legs were taut, his body was coiled

like a spring and he was going to get this guy. The

adrenaline was flowing and he was ready and the man was

just standing there, not running, not trying to get away.

Just waiting. Mulder was poised, ready to plunge, when

something heavy came crashing down on the back of his head

and everything went dark.

******************************************

September 14, 2001

11:45 p.m.

His gun was missing. He was searching for it but he

couldn’t find it. It was just gone. Someone was pounding

on the door, someone that didn’t wish him well, and he

couldn’t find the damn gun. He could hear the door as

whoever was out there threw himself against it. He raced

through the house, pulling open drawers, digging through

closets, his hand sliding between the mattress and box

springs in the bedroom.

Where the hell was the damn gun?

He heard the door crack again — knew it was just moments

before the man on the outside became the man on the inside.

He raced down the stairs and into the kitchen, settling for

a large butcher knife. If he couldn’t find his gun, he’d

be damned if he was going to face them unarmed.

He went to the fuse box and hit the circuit breaker,

turning off all the lights. It was hard to aim a gun when

you couldn’t see. A knife, on the other hand, had only to

make contact. Contact in some places was better than

others, but any kind of contact constituted a score.

“Paul!”

He looked around, startled, trying to see who was in the

room and who they were calling. Was Paul the one trying to

break his door down?

The door frame finally gave and he could hear feet tread

on the carpet as the man moved into the condo. The man was

moving slowly, carefully, and he could imagine the gun held

out in front as the head turned from side to side.

“Paul!”

He ignored it this time, focused on the man moving

silently toward him. The knife was clenched in his right

hand; he crouched behind an overstuffed chair and struggled

to control his breathing. He was almost there. It was

almost time. He waited, holding his breath now, not daring

to make a sound, because he might only get one chance at

this.

The man stepped around the chair and he sprung, leaping to

his feet and plunging the knife in as hard as he could. He

pulled it out and stabbed again. And again, and again and

again.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

The scream shocked him. It wasn’t the man in his arms.

That man was unmoving.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

He lifted his hand to stab again, but something happened,

something moved, and…

“Karen!” He sat up, drenched in sweat. She lay on the

floor where he’d thrown her? pushed her? and his heart

broke. He scrambled out of the bed and moved toward her

but she scuttled away and he froze.

“Karen?” he said softly. “Are you all right?”

“Paul?” She was crying and he strained to see if he’d

hurt her.

“I’m going to turn the light on, OK hon?” He stayed on

the floor, crawling to the table and flipping the switch.

As the room lit up and he could see, he stared at her,

still huddled by the foot of the bed. “Are you all right?”

“Paul?”

“Yeah, babe, it’s me.” He moved forward slightly, and

when she didn’t move back, he went to her. “Are you OK?”

“Yeah,” she nodded, the tears starting to stop at last.

He leaned back and grabbed the tissues from beside the

lamp, handing them to her. She wiped her eyes then blew

her nose noisily. When she was done, she tossed the tissue

aside, then smacked him on his good arm. “You threw me out

of the bed, you big oaf!”

“Aw, shit, Karen, I’m sorry.” He reached out and pulled

her into his arms, ignoring the pain in the injured one.

“I’m so damn sorry.” He kissed her hair, then shifted to

lean up against the bed and pull her into his lap. “I

don’t know what’s going on with me. God! I’m so sorry.”

“Shhhh. I know. You didn’t mean to. But Paul, this is

getting serious. You’re a big guy and you could’ve hurt

me.”

“I would never hurt you!”

“Not deliberately, I know that. But these dreams, Paul…

You have to do something.”

“I’ll find a shrink, see a hypnotist. I will, Karen. I

couldn’t stand it if I hurt you.”

“I know.” She laughed. “Somehow, sweets, I don’t think

I’d stand it too well either.” She stood and pulled him to

his feet, then let him engulf her in his arms again. “But

it’s getting out of control, Paul. You’ve got to get some

help.”

*************************************

Mulder’s Apartment

September 15, 2001

12:01 a.m.

“How many fingers, Mulder?” Scully asked again.

“Stop that,” he groused, “and at least get me my pants

before anyone else gets here.”

“What the hell were you doing answering the door in the

buff anyway?” she called from the bedroom.

“I’d just gotten out of the shower and I had a towel on.”

“You know better than to open the door like that.” She

threw a pair a dark boxers at him and waited while he

struggled into them before handing him the jeans.

“I ordered Chinese,” he admitted sheepishly. “I figured

it was the least I could do since you were driving over and

I knew we’d be working all night.”

“Delivery!” a voice called from the hall. “Mr. Mulder?”

Mulder groaned and started to get up, but Scully held him

down with one hand. “Just a sec,” she called. “Where’s

your wallet?”

He pointed to the wall by the door where he’d first fallen

and she strode over and picked it up.

“What happened this time?” the delivery boy asked as he

accepted the money and passed over the brown paper bag.

Scully shrugged. “Don’t know yet. I just got here.” She

narrowed her eyes at the boy. “You know someone who can

fix his door at this time of night?”

“My uncle. He’s fixed it before.”

Scully dug another twenty out of Mulder’s wallet and

handed it over. “Get him, please.”

The boy nodded and ducked out.

“His uncle’s gonna come do your door, Mulder.” She

dropped his wallet in his lap. “I gave him twenty.”

“Twenty? Scully, you’re breaking me here! I usually only

give him ten to get the uncle.”

“So sue me.” She studied him again, noting the slightly

dilated pupils and the knot on the back of his head. “How

bad does it hurt?”

He winced. “Bad enough. Aspirin?”

She nodded and went into the kitchen. “You want to eat?”

“Still too nauseated. Just water. And the damn aspirins,

please.” He was gently touching the knot when she came

back, two white pills in one hand, a cup of water in the

other.

He took both.

“What did they want?”

“They took the stuff from the guys, which makes no sense

whatsoever. They’ve gotta have known I’d have already

looked at it.” He tapped the side of his head, then moaned.

“Smart, Mulder.” She reached out and touched his head

gently and her touch took the sting from her words. He

could see she was really worried.

“I’m OK, Scully, really.” He reached up and caught her

hand, holding it for a moment as his eyes met hers.

She stared at him for a minute, then sighed. “Of course

you are. A little bump on the head isn’t going to stop you

when you’re on the hunt.” She headed back to the kitchen.

“Will the smell bother you if I eat?”

He started to shake his head but stopped in time and said,

“No, go ahead.” When she came back in with a plate and

curled up in the chair, he said, “I’d already looked at the

stuff.”

“And?” The word was more of a grunt as her mouth was full.

“And the paper was dated three days ago.”

“Name?” She was still eating.

“You were hungry,” he observed.

She swallowed. “Yep. Good thinking, ordering the food.”

She cocked her head as she looked at him. “Sorry it got you

knocked out.” She rose and walked over to him again,

putting her plate on the coffee table. One hand came out

and gently touched the back of his head again, then came

around to cradle his cheek for a moment as she met his

eyes. “You do seem to have a knack for attracting

trouble.” The words were spoken softly and her eyes

sparkled as she said them.

He lifted a hand to meet hers. “Not deliberately.”

“I know.”

They stayed that way for a moment, frozen in time and then

she pulled her hand away and grabbed her plate. This time

she sat on the other end of the sofa from him. “So, what do

you know?”

“The paper is the Bayville Herald. There are 26 Bayvilles

in the country and four of them have a paper called the

Herald. Washington state, Maine, Virginia, and Georgia.”

“So where do we go?” She opened her mouth and took a bite

of an egg roll.

“Washington’s having rain — cold front passing through.”

Mulder sipped his water.

“Maine doesn’t get into the nineties too often either,”

she mused.

“Right.”

“So it was 94 degrees where?”

“Georgia and Virginia.”

“Anything else to narrow it down?” She took a last bite

and wiped her mouth as she plopped the plate on the coffee

table again.

“Better?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“You bet.” She sighed contentedly. “Anything from the

girl’s shirt?”

“We decided it was something big — bear or bull or wolf

or something like that. Some kind of animal.”

She rose and headed for the kitchen. “Spill it, Mulder. I

know you know where to go. What is it?”

“Bayville, Virginia’s mascot is a scorpion.” He leaned

his head back and closed his eyes. It didn’t help the

pounding at all so he sat back up and looked at her.

“Georgia?”

“Bayville Bruins — big ugly grizzly looking thing.”

“So we’re off to Georgia.”

“Yep. It’s a small town. Three grocery stores. Two are

chains and the employees wear uniforms of sorts. One

insists on white shirts and black pants, the other white

shirts and khakis.”

She eyed him. He did so love to drag things out at times.

“And the third one?”

“The third one is an independent. Cashiers wear what they

want — including school T-shirts.”

She nodded. “When do we leave?”

***************************************

Bayville, Georgia

September 16, 2001

3 pm

The yard was full of teenagers. There were five or six

adults as well, parents who’d come along to help chaperone

and to meet the “hero,” but it was mostly a day for the

kids. Cheryl Pierce was helping Karen shuck corn, and he

could see them talking quietly. As he watched, the girl

dropped the ear of corn she was holding and hugged Karen,

who hugged back, corn and all.

Somehow, he didn’t want to know what they were saying. He

looked around the yard, the kids sitting by the speakers,

talking. Though how they could talk over the volume he had

no idea. Another group had brought a volleyball and there

was a full court game going on, minus net and court, but

the kids were squealing with enjoyment. A group of boys

stood by the grill, turning hot dogs and hamburgers, and

huddled together, almost in self-defense, the adults were

off in a corner, watching it all in content bemusement.

One of the fathers came over to him. “I don’t know how

you’ve done it, Mr. Johnson…”

“Paul,” he interrupted. “My name is Paul.”

“Well, Paul. This is a small town, good kids. But they

don’t usually want to party at the teacher’s house with

their parents present. This is no small accomplishment.”

“Glad to have them.” He looked at the man and smiled.

“Karen and I never had kids of our own — it just never

happened. We feel blessed that folks like you will share

yours with us.”

“Share? Hell, you can *have* that rascal of mine. Did he

tell you what he’s done now? He was moving my car out of

the driveway so he and his buddies could play basketball

and he hits the mailbox on his way down. Then he tries to

correct his course and he manages to wing my wife’s car as

well. Got a nice little crinkle in her bumper now, and two

matching dents in my car!”

Paul laughed. “Did he confess on his own?”

The man laughed as well, shaking his head. “Yeah. Yeah,

he did. Can’t complain on that count. Even offered to pay

for the damages.”

“What’d you say?”

“I told him he’d be better off spending his money on

driving lessons!”

Both men roared with laughter and then Paul said, “He’s a

good kid, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.” The man looked up and met Paul’s eyes.

“He was in the store that day, waiting for Cheryl to get

off.” The man’s face fell and he reached out, gripping

Paul’s good arm. “He could have been shot, killed even.

We’ll never forget what you did.”

Paul nodded, uncomfortable now. He tried to laugh but it

didn’t quite come out right. “I’m glad everything turned

out all right.”

The man nodded again and squeezed Paul’s arm once more, an

awkward thank you. “Well, I better get over there and

check on the dogs. God only knows what the kids are doing

to them.”

Paul nodded and watched the grateful father walk away. He

watched his wife shuck corn with a gaggle of giggling

girls, watched the boys cook burgers and dogs, watched the

parents as they watched their kids play volleyball. One of

the moms lifted a beer in a sort of salute to him, and he

raised his own back at her.

God! He loved his life! He was the happiest, luckiest

SOB on the planet! He had it all!

So why did he feel like everything was slipping away?

******************************************

Bayville, Georgia

September 16, 2001

3 p.m.

“Well, that’s either him or he’s got a twin we know

nothing about.” Mulder sighed and dropped the binoculars.

“So what the hell is he doing out here in the middle of

small town America?” He reached up and rubbed his

temples.

“Head still hurt?” Scully asked as she lifted the glasses

and took a turn watching their boss as he supervised a

backyard barbecue.

“A little. Now I can’t decide if it’s the bump on the

noggin or the tension from finding him and not knowing what

to do.”

“I know what to do.” She lowered the glasses and looked

at him. “We go over there and ask him what the hell is

going on!”

“Scully, we can’t just storm in and demand answers. We

don’t know enough yet. The cop we talked to, the one that

gave us the address. She said that the detective on the

grocery robbery had done some investigating into Mr.

Johnson’s background.” Mulder looked at his partner and

turned the ignition key. “Let’s go talk to him.”

*******************************************

Bayville Police Department

September 16, 2001

4 p.m.

“The man’s clean as a whistle.” Franco nodded at the file

that lay on his desk. They’d paged the man and not been

surprised when he’d agreed to come meet them at the station

to discuss Paul Johnson.

“Of course, he’s clean. He’s just not Paul Johnson.”

Mulder lifted the folder, scanning quickly. He read the

whole file, then whistled softly. “Damn, Scully, they

really did a good job on this.” He looked up and met her

eyes. “Everything’s covered.”

“But why, Mulder? Why not just kill him?”

“I don’t know. Why is he such a threat at this time?

Enough that they would go to such elaborate lengths to get

him out of the picture, but still not kill him?” He turned

and looked at the detective. “This man is not Paul

Johnson.”

“What? You’re kidding me, right?” Franco’s cigarette

swung at half mast from parted lips.

“No. He’s an assistant director with the FBI. He’s our

supervisor. And he was killed in a car wreck a few weeks

ago.”

“You’re shittin’ me!” Franco rose and began to pace. “I

knew something wasn’t right with this guy. He moved too

smooth.” The detective stopped and faced Mulder and

Scully. “Even the move to town was a little too smooth. I

mean, we suddenly have two teachers die, there’s openings

just when school is ready to open, and these two show up.

It was just weird.”

“Two people died?” Scully looked at Mulder in concern.

“We hadn’t figured that they’d killed people this time.”

Mulder shrugged. “I’m sorry, but I can’t say that I’m

surprised.”

“Whoa! Hold your horses there. I may be suspicious of

our Mr. Johnson, but nobody killed anybody. Mark and

Jeannette were rock climbing. They both liked to climb and

had been doing it for years. It was just an accident.”

Mulder looked at the man. “And Mr. and Mrs. Johnson had

just happened to have moved to town, shiny bright teaching

certificates at the ready.”

“They’d signed up as subs for the year. We were lucky

they’d already moved and were willing to step in at the

last minute like that.” The detective scratched his head,

then snuffed out the cigarette in an overflowing ashtray.

“I gotta stop smoking. It’s gonna kill me.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged an amused glance.

Franco took a deep breath then spoke. “I’m willing to

believe Mr. J isn’t who he says he is. But what are you

trying to say? That someone kidnapped him and killed Mark

and Jeannette so that he and Karen could have full-time

jobs? That’s insane.”

Scully smiled wryly as she looked at Mulder. “Told you so.”

“Our boss, A.D. Skinner, disappeared almost a month ago. It

was made to look like a car wreck, but the body was burned

beyond recognition. I think he was taken somewhere, given

new memories, and then planted here with a new identity, a

wife, a job, a cozy little life.”

“New memories? New identity? A wife? What the hell are

you talking about?”

Now it was Mulder’s turn to pace. “I just don’t know why

they didn’t go ahead and kill him.”

“The nanoprobes,” Scully murmured. “Maybe it’s the

nanoprobes.”

Mulder stopped and looked down at her. “What? What did

you say?”

“I said maybe it’s the nanoprobes. Maybe they don’t want

to risk killing their prime subject while they can still

study the nanoprobes.”

“What the hell is a nanoprobe?” Franco thundered.

Mulder shrugged him away, shaking his head. “Not now,

Franco.” He looked at Scully. “Maybe. It’s thin, but I

can’t think of anything better at the moment.” He took a

deep breath. “Anyway, we have a bigger problem.”

“What’s that?”

“How do we convince Paul Johnson he’s Walter Skinner?”

*********************************************

Paul and Karen Johnson’s House

September 16, 2001 6 p.m.

“Federal Bureau of Investigation?” Karen sat on the

couch, tight up against Paul and she clutched his hand.

“Why would the FBI be interested in us?”

“Well, not you really, Mrs. Johnson, but your husband.”

“Agent… Mulder, is it?” Paul stroked the back of

Karen’s hand as he spoke. “I don’t understand any of this.

Why would my foolhardy action in a grocery store have the

local police investigating my background and the FBI down

here in Georgia checking me out? How the hell did the FBI

even find out about that little stunt?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss that, sir. But I can tell

you that it’s not your actions that concern us. It’s your

identity.”

“My identity? What the hell are you talking about?” Paul

stood and strode to the window, staring out across the

street. Two boys played basketball in the driveway across

the way, and a little girl rode her bike up and down the

sidewalk. His neighbor, the retired Tom Davis, was out

mowing the grass and he knew if he opened the door he’d

smell that intoxicating scent of fresh cut grass on a hot

summer day.

It was perfect, damn it! Perfect! So why did he feel

like it wasn’t his?

“Sir, we need to confirm your identities. I’m sure this

is uncomfortable, and I assure you it is as awkward for us

as it is for you. But a man is missing…” Scully

trailed off as the man named Johnson stared at her.

“Are you accusing me of something?”

“No, sir.” The answer was automatic, and for a moment it

was like it really was Skinner before them, questioning,

probing, demanding. She shook off the sense of deja vu and

went on. “Actually, we think you are the missing man.”

“Ridiculous!” Paul dismissed the thought with a snort.

Karen joined him at the window and he put his arm around

her.

“Sir, where did you live before you moved here?” Mulder

asked.

“Atlanta, but I’m sure you’ve got that in your

investigative

reports.” He could feel Karen trembling and he pulled her

closer to his side. “And we both taught at Eastside High.”

“Yes, sir. We do have that in the reports. Would it

surprise you to know that no one at the school has any

recollection of you, no one knows who you are?”

“What are you talking about? We were there for thirteen

years. We taught, I coached the track team, worked at a

local gym teaching disadvantaged youths to box. Karen

chaired the yearbook committee. She volunteered at a

battered women’s shelter. We were both active in our

church, St. Thomas the Apostle. How can you say no one

knows us?”

“Because no one does, sir. We’ve had agents out for two

days knocking on doors. They’ve talked to other teachers,

students, people at the church.” Mulder rose and looked

the other man in the eye. “No one has heard of you.”

“This is insane.” He turned to look at Scully. She was

pulling a fingerprint kit from a small case.

“If you will, sir? This could let us begin to straighten

this whole mess out.”

Paul walked over to the table, not speaking, and let her

take his fingerprints. When she was done, she motioned to

Karen. “You, too, Mrs. Johnson.”

“Paul?” Karen pulled close to him. “Paul, are we going

to let them do this to us?”

“Why Karen? Why do you need Karen’s prints if I’m the one

you think is someone else?” he asked Scully.

“Well, sir, if we can prove that you are the A.D., then we

need to find out who she is as well. Her memories seem as

real as yours.”

“Paul, I don’t want to do this.” There was panic in her

voice and he held her close for a moment. “Karen,” he said

softly, whispering in her ear. “Remember the dreams? What

if something *is* wrong?”

“Not this, Paul. Not what they’re saying. I know who I

am. I know who you are. We’ve been married twenty-five

years and I’m not going to lose you to something as absurd

as this.”

“Please, Karen. Just do it. It’ll get them out of the

house.” He grinned down at her. “After all, what do we

have to be afraid of?”

She hesitated a moment longer, then sat on the couch and

let Scully print her. He moved to the window again,

watching the children play, the old man next door push his

lawnmower, a little spoiled terrier following in his wake.

It was too perfect, wasn’t it?

Paul turned and walked back to the couch, pulling Karen up

to stand beside him.

“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, or who you

think we are. But you’ve gotten your fingerprints and

we’ve answered your questions. Please go.”

The two agents nodded and rose. When they got to the

door, Mulder looked back and said, “I’m sorry, sir,” and

then they were gone.

“Paul, when will we know?” Karen’s face was buried in his

chest.

“We know right now. You’re Karen Johnson and I’m Paul

Johnson. My name is Paul.” He said it stubbornly, as if

voicing it would make it true.

“Catch them, Paul. Find out how long we have to wait.”

He nodded and moved to the door. The two agents were

climbing into a rental car in the driveway. He had gotten

halfway down the sidewalk toward the car. The man,

Mulder, had gotten out and was coming to meet him. There

was a curious expression on his face and then there was a

look of panic.

It was like one of his dreams, the bad ones. The sound

seemed to have disappeared. He was flying through the air,

slamming into the man and they both went down. He felt a

rush of wind, a tongue of heat, and he rolled over, looking

back as his house, his wife, his life exploded and went up

in flames.

“Sir, sir, are you all right?” It was Scully, hovering

over him and touching a gash on his forehead. His glasses

were broken and everything was blurry but he wasn’t sure if

that was from the lack of glasses or the tears that ran

down his face.

Scully was pulling Mulder to his knees, checking the back

of his head and then they were both pulling him down, away

from the burning house.

“No, no, no,” he sobbed. “This can’t be happening.”

“Sir, are you all right? Can you answer me?” Scully

looked at Mulder who nodded. “Paul, can you talk to me?”

Skinner looked at her, tears in his eyes. It was all

there, his whole life. The life of a lonely man. A

soldier, a cop. A man with a failed marriage, a wife who

was dead because of him. A man whose whole existence was

work, work, and more work. A man without friends, without

activities, without much of anything. Oh, yes, he had his

life back, but now he knew, he had no life.

“No, Scully,” he whispered. “Not Paul. My name is Walter.”

****************************************

Hospital

September 18, 2001

10 a.m.

“Who was she?” Skinner asked. He had a small bag open on

the bed and was packing the few bits of personal items he’d

accumulated in his brief hospital stay. Toiletries,

underwear and T-shirts, socks, a plain gray sweatsuit. He

was amazed it didn’t bother him more to know Scully had

been shopping for underwear and deodorant for him.

“Theresa Wimbley, a schoolteacher from Ohio. She didn’t

have any family and her coworkers all thought she’d been

killed in a car wreck.” Scully paused and looked at him.

“Familiar, eh?”

Skinner shrugged. “I don’t remember that part. I just

remember waking up with Karen and a whole lifetime to look

back at and a future to look forward to.”

“Do you remember it?”

He dropped his head. “Yeah, I do. I remember all of it.”

He tapped his head. “I remember Walter Skinner very

clearly. Everything from my time in Vietnam to my life

with Sharon to all those years with the Bureau.” He paused,

staring down at the bed, then walked to stand by the

window.

“But I remember Paul Johnson, too. He was an ordinary

man, living the life I never had.” He turned and looked at

her. “I envy him that.”

“It wasn’t real, sir. You know that.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I know that. But I miss it just the

same.”

*****************************************

EPILOGUE

Mulder’s Office

September 21, 2001

8 a.m.

“Morning, Mulder.” Scully set the drink carrier on the

desk, two paper cups still steaming. She looked up and saw

Skinner. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t know you would be here.

“It’s all right, Scully. I came in to work today, but

they won’t let me.” He sighed in disgust. “Apparently,

I’m still officially dead and I can’t do anything until

that is sorted out.” He looked around the small basement.

“So I came down here.” He shrugged, embarrassed. “It’s

the only place I feel halfway comfortable.”

“You’re always welcome, sir,” Mulder murmured.

“Thanks.” Skinner shook his head at Scully’s offer of one

of the coffee cups. “Don’t have too many places I feel

welcome.” He turned and looked at them. “One of the

things I intend to do now.”

“Do, sir? What’s that?”

“I intend to find some places I feel welcome. I didn’t

ask for what happened, didn’t want to be pulled out of the

game at this point in time.” He slammed a fist down on the

table. “But, damn it! I can learn from my experiences. I

don’t want to die a lonely man.”

“None of us want to die lonely.” Mulder was speaking, but

his eyes were on the floor.

“Well,” Skinner said softly, “I just wanted to tell you

both thanks. Let you know I appreciate that you didn’t

just let them kill me off.”

“Do you really, sir?” Mulder looked at him. “Were you

happier there?”

Skinner shrugged. “It wasn’t real, Mulder. It felt real,

but it wasn’t.” He walked to the door then turned. “For

now, this is where I belong.”

End

———————–

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Closed Colony, Special Stock

Cover

Title: Closed Colony, Special Stock

Author: Branwell

Email: combs-bachmann@worldnet.att.net

Rating: PG-13 for mild language, innuendo, disturbing

images and ideas.

Category: X, A, M/S Friendship

Casefile with Mytharc connection

Archiving permission:

This is reserved to IMTP for two weeks after the initial

posting. After that, anyone may archive this. Please keep

my name with it.

Summary: A body is found in a top secret area on an Air

Force Base. No one knows the cause of death, or why the

dead woman was in a secured area. The Air Force officer in

charge makes a last ditch effort to prevent the project

from being closed down. He uses his clout to get the FBI to

send Mulder and Scully to investigate. Scully finds she

knows the right questions to ask–but how?

Author’s notes follow the story.

—————————————————

Prologue:

An Air Force base in Missouri

Monday, Aug. 20, 2001

7:15 a.m.

Around the base this place is getting a bad reputation.

Security finds secret documents scattered on the floor. The

vault door stands open in the morning, after being locked

shut the night before. Badges disappear and reappear

without an explanation.

People talk about it, but no one uses the word “haunted.”

When I pass Jay, Steve, Drew and the colonel at the

coffeepot, they’re debating last night’s game as though

earth’s fate depended on the outcome of the World Series.

Angie fidgets in the cubicle around the corner, looking

like Death with a make-over. She checks her e-mail,

rearranges piles of paper and then sits staring into the

corner of her cube. Spots of blush stand out as bright as

pink bandages on her cheeks.

Pam’s cubicle is empty. The woman hasn’t taken sick leave

in seven years, but she’s been home with a stomach flu for

the last ten days. She’s got five months of sick leave

saved up: I don’t expect we’ll see her for a while.

In the next cubicle, Marge buttons up her cardigan and rubs

her palms together. She gives me a nod, as usual. It’s

placatory, not affectionate. I accept it graciously,

anyway. She turns her back and pretends to be busy

reviewing the papers presented at the Conference on

Technology-Inherent Risks in Genetic Engineering.

I return to the men, who are laughing too loud at old

baseball jokes. When Colonel Robbins breaks away, I follow

him into his office. He looks up and runs a nervous finger

between his collar and Adam’s apple, but he doesn’t speak.

Before now, he always looked like he had a slight sunburn,

even in the winter. In the last two weeks his face has

collapsed into pale furrows. Every day of his 60-plus

years shows.

Helen, the two-letter admin support, leans in through the

open doorway. After a moment’s hesitation, she takes two

steps inside and beckons to someone behind her.

“Colonel Robbins, the special investigative team you

requested is here. Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

Agents, this is Colonel Ed Robbins.”

ACT I

7:30 a.m.

The man and woman who follow her in should pose for an FBI

recruiting poster. He’s tall and graceful, with golden skin

that looks almost tan. Even though she’s small, she has a

perfect figure. Daddy calls that type a “pocket Venus.” I’m

not sure if her red hair is natural, but she has the faint

freckles that go with that coloring. Both of them radiate

health and energy.

Hands are shaken all around. Helen can hardly wait to get

back to the safety of her own office. She rocks on those

spike heels like a fir tree in a high wind, always swaying

back toward the door. Robbins releases her with a nod and

muttered “Thanks, Helen.”

I leave when Helen does. I’ve heard Robbin’s story already.

I was there when he made the call to his old buddy Kersh at

FBI headquarters. The colonel always has a buddy who can

fix things.

No matter how hard they try to pretend, nothing’s been the

same since they found the body. There were no signs of

violence, forced entry, or tampering with secret documents.

Just a peaceful corpse that had no right to be inside a Top

Secret vaulted area where a Black Program has been going on

for almost fifty years.

Jay has always been good at acting normal. Maybe it isn’t

an act. Maybe this feels normal to him. I know he put his

daily dollar into the coffee fund at 7 a.m.. He poured his

first cup at 7:30. In another fifteen minutes he’ll pour

his second. Fifteen minutes after that he’ll head for the

men’s room with the sports section.

You’d never guess that two weeks ago he found his dead wife

lying on the floor, not fifteen feet from his desk.

The carpet in these offices is thirty years old. In the

corners I can still see the fleur-de-lis pattern, red on

blue. The rest is a dirty purple blur.

The desks are battered–painted a sloppy, gun-metal gray.

Half the drawers are coming apart, so they can’t be fully

closed or opened. The mismatched chairs are too worn to

have their heights adjusted. Their spring mechanisms

screech like squealing brakes when the sitter moves.

I amuse myself by tipping my chair once in a while. Nobody

knows when the next little squeal will break the quiet.

Marge shakes her head at me.

EOS has been losing budget funds for years now. It’s never

produced anything usable. Normally, Congress would have cut

off its money a long time ago. Colonel Robbins is too good

at working the system. According to the rules, he should

have relocated eleven times in the last thirty-five years.

The brass waived the requirement every time because he

convinced everyone he was indispensable to the project, and

that the project was indispensable to the DOD.

He may not be able to get carpets or furniture, but he’s

kept vault space and his lab animals. Everybody in the

office gets the latest software on their PCs. In the midst

of an institutional melt-down, the colonel still gets

funding.

The Air Force is living on its capital, like the lazy heir

of a rich, old family. The fat budgets of the Cold War

fostered today’s glamorous technology–Stealth, smart

missiles, the Shuttle. There’s nothing like that warming up

over the Bunsen burners in today’s labs.

More than half the civilian employees will reach retirement

age in five years. There aren’t enough lower level people

to replace them. It’s all very well to contract everything

out, but someone has to manage the contracts. Rules for

contracts make political intrigues look like playground

strategies. When the next “incident” breaks out, most of

the people who know how to make things happen will be gone.

Operations, intelligence, logistics, research–it’s the

same everywhere. People are going to be surprised during

the next conflict. It won’t be a happy surprise.

Daddy can go on about this for hours. And he does.

Colonel Robbins doesn’t talk as much, but he knows how to

make things happen. And how to stop things from happening.

He steps out of his office to make an inspirational speech,

and introduce everyone to the FBI agents. I hum the rude

song Jay made up about him.

“There are chickens on his shoulders,

Yeah, chickens on his shoulders.

Chickens make him bolder,

Than he’s any right to be.”

No one calls his eagles “chickens” to his face. People have

been known to slip and use his nickname “The Birdman” in

his presence. He doesn’t react.

Agent Scully cuts in so fast at the end of his compliments

to his “saddened but loyal team,” that it almost sounds

like an interruption.

“We need an office to conduct our interviews.” Her voice is

low, but it carries.

Colonel Robbins pauses before he gives one of his ominously

patient replies. “Of course. We’re going to use Lieutenant

Jackson’s office.”

The lieutenant’s been on TDY to Wiekamp AFB for the last

month. Everyone is green with envy at his perfect alibi.

They seem to forget that there’s no evidence of a crime.

“Thank you. We’ll speak with each of you individually,”

Agent Mulder says. I’ll bet he’s already formulated and

poked holes in a dozen theories behind that blank face.

With his most steely-eyed gaze fixed on Jay, the colonel

speaks up.”Please be frank. It’s the only way to clear our

group’s good name. Will you be starting with Mr. Barnes?”

the colonel asks.

The agents look at each other and then both nod. Are they

telepathic or something?

“No. We’ll speak to him last. We’ll start with Mr.

Kestler,” Agent Mulder answers.

“Fine. Drew, you go first. Do you want to go next, Marge?”

I head for the lieutenant’s office while the colonel is

still trying to take charge of the interviews. Maybe this

time the Birdman’s met his match. These agents act like

their final report hasn’t already been written. We’ll see.

The colonel is terrified that the new base commander will

use the compromised security issue to shut EOS down. He

wants the FBI to find a minor lapse in judgment on

somebody’s part. After a formal reprimand–maybe even a

dismissal–the project can go on as usual. If there’s been

foul play… who knows?

A couple months ago Jay said the Birdman was brooding over

a new proposal. This fuss could keep it from hatching.

Drew has round, wet, black eyes, like those lemurs that

stare worriedly out of “National Geographic.” It’s hard for

him to look dignified.

“Please have a seat, Mr. Kestler.” Agent Mulder takes the

lead, sitting behind the desk while his partner takes the

chair beside Drew. She perches on it at strict attention.

Mulder lounges back in his seat and grins when it screeches

a loud protest.

“What does ‘EOS’ stand for, Mr. Kestler?” Mulder asks.

“Nothing. It’s a random set of letters used to indicate the

group’s hierarchical position and departmental

relationships within the Air Force.” Drew must have seen

that one coming.

“You’ve been on this project for twenty-five years. Can you

give me a brief explanation of its purpose?”

“That information is classified and irrelevant to this

investigation.” Drew’s lips purse up with smugness.

Mulder has almost perfect control. I hardly see any change

in his expression. But his partner intervenes as though

he’d objected.

“He’s right about the classified status, Mulder. Kim gave

us forms to fill out for special clearances. You remember

the paper I had you sign yesterday? They haven’t been

processed yet.”

When he answers, Drew keeps his head down. “They’re about

six months behind on background checks marked ‘urgent.’ The

standard wait is twelve months now.” The big knuckles of

his spatulate fingers seem to fascinate him.

Mulder draws in a big breath and lets it out slowly. “All

right, Mr. Kestler, I think we understand each other. I

need to know your movements during the 24 hours before the

body was found.”

Drew throws back his bony shoulders and puffs out his

narrow chest. “I began that Sunday with a small breakfast

of toast and antioxidant green tea. No coffee. Did you know

that coffee can aggravate inflammation of the gall bladder?

Some times I get this twinge after eating.”

They’d better not let him get started on his twinges.

Agent Mulder gives him a pleasant smile and interrupts.

“Actually my partner here is a…”

At that point, Agent Scully interrupts his interruption.

“Perhaps we can skip to the question of your activities

after five o’clock that afternoon. Surveillance cameras

show Ms. Barnes being waved through the gate at that time.”

Drew opens and closes his mouth a few times, and shakes his

head. Then he plods on.

“I had a meeting of the International Trolley Enthusiasts

Club. We’re planning an excursion to the Baltimore

Streetcar Museum this summer.”

“Are there enough streetcar enthusiasts to form a club in

… let’s see, you live in Warrensburg?” Agent Mulder

asks, flipping through the file in front of him.

“I’m the only member from Warrensburg. I had to drive to

Kansas City. I allowed plenty of time. I got there early–

at six o’clock. I didn’t leave until almost eleven. You can

check with the other members. I know you’re thinking that’s

not healthy, staying so late, with work the next day. I had

to help Stan break down his cutaway of an interurban.”

“We’ll be getting in touch with your club members. What did

you do when you got home?” Agent Scully slips her question

in while Drew takes a breath.

“Brushed my teeth and went straight to bed, of course. I’d

had a shower before I went,” he explains.

Scully’s slightly wrinkled nose makes me think she’s

getting more information than she wants. Drew continues

without prompting.

“I slept until my alarm went off at six. There was a huge

traffic jam at the gate when I got to the base. The guards

were checking everybody’s ID. Usually they wave cars with

stickers on through. So I ended up being late for work! The

first time in twenty-two years. They wouldn’t let me into

the vault anyway. I waited and waited, and finally went

home. Our office was off limits, with guards posted, until

Wednesday.”

“May I see your access card?” Agent Mulder asks.

Drew lifts the cord holding his ID over his head.

“Have you ever loaned it to anybody? You know, maybe they

left theirs at home one day?” Mulder slips the photo card

out of its clear plastic pocket and examines the magnetic

strip on the back.

“Never. That’s against every security regulation. That’s

why we have ‘Turkey’ badges like yours. I mean ‘Temporary’

badges.”

The badges, blazing with big, wattle-red ‘T’s, are clipped

to the agents’ collars. In the vault, an escort is required

for the person with a “Temporary” badge. There’s a young

officer sitting outside the door right now. All he has to

do today is watch Agents Mulder and Scully.

“Have you ever told anyone your PIN?” Agent Scully asks.

“Certainly not! Has someone accused me of a security

breach? Because I’ve never… ” Drew gets hives when he

gets excited or nervous. I see the welts start to rise at

his jawline.

“No, no. We have to ask everyone these questions,” Mulder

soothes him. “How well did you know Rebecca Barnes?”

Drew leans back a little in his chair and I see the marks

fade from his face. “Oh. We always met at the Christmas

party and annual picnic. Chatted about the federal budget

and trollies. She seemed really interested in the history

of electrified rail service.”

“So you liked her?” Agent Mulder asks.

“Sure. Why not? Don’t get me wrong. I only liked her as a

friend. She wasn’t very pretty–kind of pasty and puffy, if

you know what I mean. Not very talkative. Jay or Pete

always monopolized her anyway.”

Not very pretty, huh? As though Drew were next in line to

play James Bond. The agents keep straight faces.

I tune out the rest of the conversation. It’s not going

anywhere.

I take a turn down the narrow passage between cubicles. Jay

is graphing something about percentages of diploid,

triploid and tetraploid cells in the special stock. I’m

watching when he finds the bite-marked pencil in his lap

drawer. He always hated the way I chewed on pens and

pencils. It took me two days get it done, but it was worth

it. Finally I see Jay react to something. He turns

abnormally pale.

When Drew emerges from his interview, I go with Agent

Scully to fetch Steve Sanderson.

As she shows him in, Steve scans the little office as

though he expects to sight a thumbscrew or rack. Steve’s

nose juts out like the beak of an American eagle. Maybe

that’s why his eyes look so keen. It’s an illusion. He sees

what he expects to see, like everybody else.

His meaty hands open and shut rhythmically while he

explains that all Sunday evening he worked on finishing his

basement. If you didn’t know him, you’d picture paneling

going up, maybe a wet bar in the corner, and an exercise

room with carpets and a Nordic track.

Steve is building a bunker to defend when the New World

Order finally moves into the Heartland. Once we went to his

house for dinner, and got the grand tour. He showed us his

gun racks, his grain storage bins, and his still.

“Better than gold,” he grinned, running his hand over the

glass tubing. “When society breaks down, people will trade

anything for alcohol. And I’m ready to defend my property.”

Steve is pushing fifty, but his wife is only twenty. She

must be close to her due date by now. When he talks, she

watches his face as though it’s the last light burning

after Armageddon. I guess she buys into the whole Jewish-

Liberal-Feminazi-Welfare-Queen-Homosexualist-Hollywood-

Peacenik Conspiracy to reduce American men to sniveling

servants of the U.N.

Of course, Steve has unusual access to top secret documents.

That’s what makes him scary. He knows more about the

government than the rest of us, and he wants to live miles

away from everybody else, on a pile of weapons.

“I understand you live quite a distance from the base,”

Agent Scully remarks. She startles her partner by pulling a

folder out from under his nose and over to her place.

“Yes. I have a few acres about sixty miles east. It’s real

quiet.”

“I’m sure it is,” she smiles. “But aren’t you worried about

your wife? She’s alone and unprotected out there. There’s

been a suspicious death right here on base. Or what if she

had a medical emergency?”

“Why should she need… Did the colonel tell you she’s

expecting? We’ve got a local midwife lined up. Not that

it’s any of your business. And Terri knows how to shoot.”

Agent Scully looks across the table at her partner. He

gives a tiny shrug. She asks the next question.

“What happened on Monday?”

“They were putting on a show of heavy security at the

gates. Never mind the miles of unpatrolled fencing around

the base.” Steve snorts with laughter. “Oh well. By the

time I got here, the excitement was over. There was yellow

tape all over the office. Security was giving Jay a hard

time–wouldn’t let him go home until I started threatening

to call the Kansas City TV stations. Wasn’t it bad enough

that he had to be one to find his wife’s body? She was

lying right outside Marge’s cubicle.”

Steve turns halfway around, as though he needs to recheck

that spot for corpses.

If I could remember how Jay reacted, I might know

everything.

Agent Mulder jumps in again. “That puzzles me, Mr.

Sanderson. Why was he at work when his wife hadn’t been

home all night? In his place, I’d have been out looking for

her. Or I’d have reported her missing.”

When he poses the question, Agent Mulder is looking at his

partner instead of at Steve. I notice that neither of them

wears a wedding band.

Steve’s jaw muscles stand out as he thinks about his

answer. “Well, you see… They’d separated. Sort of.

Sometimes she stayed with her dad. So Jay didn’t know she

was missing all night.”

Agent Mulder doesn’t show a reaction, but he speeds up the

pace of the questions. He asks about Steve’s membership in

MUFON. It’s some wacky organization for people who think

they’ve been abducted by aliens.

Mulder and Scully exchange whispers before he leaves the

room with Steve. I’m surprised to see him return with Jay.

I thought they were leaving him until last.

Jay is almost forty. Except for the lieutenants that get

cycled in and out every three years, he’s the baby boy of

the project. He spends an hour and a half at the gym every

other day, to keep his college athlete body. The luck of the

gene pool won him that handsome, durable face, and thick

hair that’s too blonde to show any gray. The charm–I’ve

never known how much of it comes from the heart.

He still looks paler than usual. It doesn’t stop the agents

from putting him through the usual questioning. I have to

sit through another recitation of the story Jay’s been

telling everyone.

“I went to bed early on Sunday. Rebecca was over at her

dad’s. When I got up, and she wasn’t home, I just assumed

her visit lasted so late that she decided to spend the

night. Pete gets lonely since he retired.

“I’m on an early schedule at work. I opened the vault at

7 a.m., like always.”

This is the part where he covers his eyes with one hand.

“She was lying there curled up like she was asleep.” Here

he always looks straightforwardly into someone’s eyes. He

chooses Agent Mulder. “Of course I knew something was very

wrong.”

“What did you do?” Scully prompts.

“I touched her hand. She was… cold. I’d never seen a

dead person before but I knew… I called the base

hospital to get an ambulance. I knew it was too late.”

Mulder takes his turn. “I’ve read the statement you made to

the military police. You said sometimes your wife spent the

night at her father’s. We have a statement from another

source that indicates you and your wife were separated. Is

that true?”

“No. Well, not exactly. We’d been going through a hard

time. Becky could be very… difficult. Her health

problems had… twisted her some way, I think. It was

never clear what was wrong with her, and no one could give

us a prognosis. If she was a little unbalanced, I blame it

on her illness.”

Agent Scully steps up to the plate.

“I’ve read her medical history, Mr. Barnes. Unexplained

inflammation of various joints and organs. Variously

diagnosed as diabetes, vitamin B deficiencies, rheumatoid

arthritis, lupus, IBD, asthma, allergies, appendicitis,

candidiasis syndrome. It looks like she got a new diagnosis

every time she received treatment.”

“It came and went. I could never see a pattern. I couldn’t

blame her for being irritable. For trying to control what

she could.” Jay sounds so understanding.

Mulder’s turn again: “So what happened lately to make

things worse between you?”

“She’d gotten this idea that… God, I don’t want you to

think she was crazy, but she thought that her doctors at

the base were in a conspiracy against her. She thought they

were doing experiments on her connected with MY work!”

Agent Mulder surprises me with his next question. “What do

you think?”

“Of course there’s no connection! We’re studying… Oh,

I know it’s supposed to be secret, but I can tell you the

general gist of it. It’s genetic engineering. Specifically,

how to target genes in selected cells and change the

protein production codes. Theoretically you could change

the cell itself to a different kind of cell by controlling

the kinds of proteins it makes. We’ve gone through a

hundred generations of rats, and made a little progress.

Imagine if you could change a transplanted organ to avoid

the immune rejection response! Or even turn fatty tissue to

liver tissue! But we’re nowhere near ready for human

experimentation.”

Jay puts on his martyr’s look.

“Becky sometimes didn’t have enough to occupy her mind. She

always ended up getting sick and losing jobs. Of course it

would have been foolish to try to have children.

“It seemed like she had nothing to do but get involved in

bizarre theories and grill me and spy on me. It got pretty

hard to live with. Every once in a while she’d have a

tantrum and drive off. She always ended up at her father’s.

She didn’t have anyplace else to go.”

Sad, but true. Jay could always go to Angie’s place. I guess

he’s not going to mention how he’s been carrying on with

that slut for the past three months.

“Is it possible your wife could have been here looking for

evidence of a conspiracy?” Mulder asks.

“I don’t know what to think. Even if she were crazy enough

–I mean, disturbed enough–to try that, she didn’t take my

access card. She didn’t know my password. I can’t explain

how she got here! All I know is it just about killed me to

find poor little Becky like that. After all the times I’d

seen her so sick in the hospital, to find her suddenly dead

when I least expected it!”

This is where Jay will let one manly tear trickle down his

face. I know he can’t feel too bad. When this blows over,

he can have Angie over any time he wants for a quickie.

Mulder looks as though he might leak a tear or two in

sympathy with Jay. His partner narrows her eyes.

“Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Barnes,” Mulder

manages. “I know this has been very difficult for you.”

They shake hands and Jay shuffles out with his head down.

I’m sure his mid-morning granola and yogurt will perk him

up.

“Shall we talk to… ” Mulder begins.

“Let’s get Angie Phillips in here!” Scully snaps.

“Angie Phillips? That doesn’t sound like a random call. Did

I miss something in that interview?”

“I’ll go get her.” Agent Scully answers without answering.

Angie probably lost ten pounds in the last two weeks. Some

people have all the luck. Jay likes them slim and girlish.

Scully shoots a warning glance at her partner and asks the

first question.

“How long have you been intimate with Mr. Barnes?”

Mulder has a good poker face, but his eyes get rounder and

his mouth opens a little.

Angie looks less surprised than Mulder does. Maybe she’s

relieved that everything is out in the open. “We started

seeing each other about three months ago.”

“So it began right after you came onto the project?” Scully

says, without looking up from Angie’s folder.

“Not RIGHT after,” Angie replies. “We worked together a

lot. It was… natural. Jay didn’t hate Rebecca, if

that’s what you’re thinking. He felt sorry for her.”

It’s so pleasant to be pitied. The opportunity to be

pathetic is a great incentive to get up in the morning.

Angie had better be careful. Jay isn’t the only one with a

possible motive here.

Agent Scully pounces. “Did you want Mr. Barnes to divorce

his wife and marry you?”

“Marry me? I… No! We didn’t have any plans… .”

I’m thinking–Come on, Angie. He brought you to our house

for nooners. What was that all about?

Agent Scully’s voice takes on a hard edge. “Come now, Ms.

Phillips. Be honest. You were doing it right in their

marriage bed, weren’t you? ADMIT IT!”

Mulder’s jaw drops like a cartoon of surprise. Angie saves

him from having to speak by answering the question.

“No! We used the bed in the guestroom. We don’t want to get

married. It was just… propinquity. You know?”

“Thank you for your honesty, Ms. Phillips.” Scully smiles

at her, but it isn’t a nice smile. If Scully knows about

propinquity, it doesn’t please her.

They ask her questions about her activities on that Sunday.

Usually her son spends the weekend with his dad. Two weeks

ago the ex had plans, so she had to drive her son to a rock

concert in Kansas City. She’s got her alibi. I half listen

to the details.

I have to admit, I’m convinced. My death had nothing to do

with a crime of passion. It’s just as I thought. From the

beginning it’s been a plot, and everyone is in on it. And

the truth will never be known.

************************

ACT II

Angie leaves and Mulder gives Scully a pained look.

“Scully, what’s going on? If you knew something, you should

have told me. There was no evidence of a relationship

between Jay Barnes and Angie Phillips.”

I’m wondering about that myself. It was great to see Angie

shaken up, but how did Agent Scully know about the affair?

They were pretty careful. They didn’t want Daddy to find

out.

Scully has all the folders pulled over to her side of the

desk. She looks up into her partner’s face with confidence.

“But they are involved, aren’t they?” she responds. “I must

be having a hunch. You have hunches all the time.”

“That’s me, Scully. Not you. Sometimes my unconscious

solves a problem before I’m aware of the process.”

“It’s not always about you, Mulder,” Scully says, directing

a severe look his way.

For a second he gets this sick expression. Then he

registers the little smile she can’t quite suppress. He

gives a grimace that might be taken as a smile.

“Talk to me, Scully,” he bursts out. “What does it feel

like? Can you trace a reasoning process or is it like a

voice in your head? Or just a feeling?”

Her smile disappears and she seems to be looking right at

me. But her eyes aren’t focused. “It’s like a voice from

another room. A door opens or closes and it’s louder or

softer. Or maybe a radio station that fades in the hills

and gets strong again on flat land. It’s coming from

outside of me. Mulder, is that how it was for you?”

Mulder’s nods his head and then shakes it. “It was more

than one voice. There were thousands, as though everyone in

a football stadium was trying to get my attention. There

was no room left for MY thoughts. Are you sure you’re all

right?”

“I’m fine,” she says quickly. “No, really–I’m fine.”

Mulder raises his eyebrows and looks pointedly at the

folder in front of her. “So, who are we interviewing next?”

Scully lifts her arms with bent elbows, and places the tips

of her fingers on her forehead like a stage mindreader.

“Please, I must have silence to concentrate,” she intones.

She’s having a hard time keeping a straight face.

Daddy! I think. Daddy!

Scully’s eyes go wide and she gasps.

“Why ‘Daddy’?” she almost pleads out loud.

For a second Mulder looks scared too. Then he grabs for a

folder. “Her daddy, Scully. Rebecca’s father. Look. He

lives in Knob Noster. In her folder it says he’s a

consultant for HWI.”

“I wonder what ‘HWI’ stands for?” Scully asks, her voice a

little shaky.

“Nothing. It’s just the contractor that Mr. Eberhardt works

through now.”

Marge had sneaked up on us and answered Mulder’s question

from the doorway.

With her jacket on over her sweater she looks as round as

the Buddha. Come to think of it, she’s got the half-witted,

serene look of some mystic.

“I’m Marge Elders,” she explains. “I’m taking the afternoon

off. Do you need to talk to me before I leave?”

“We don’t have to talk now, if you’ll be in tomorrow. But

what were you saying about Mr. Eberhardt?”

Daddy still works on the project. The government offered

big retirement incentives to reduce the payroll. So he

retired. Then the government hired him as a consultant,

through a contractor, for half again what he earned as a

civil service employee. It’s how the government saves

money.

Marge’s face shines with benevolent superiority. “Mr.

Eberhardt still works on EOS, like he has for the last

forty-five years. Now he’s a contractor.”

“Where’s Eberhardt’s folder, Scully?” Mulder interjects.

As Scully fans the folders out, I let myself feel the

misery for a moment. It’s not easy to find out for sure

that everything in your life was false. All the time I

thought I was a person, with the whole world to live in, I

was a lab rat in a maze. Even my own father was just one of

the scientists, running an experiment in our home.

“No, it couldn’t be her father,” Scully protests. Marge and

Mulder look at her and she blinks. “We didn’t get a folder

for him,” she asserts.

Marge folds her lips and her expression loses some

serenity. “Somebody has to solve this. We can’t stand it

much longer.”

“Are you worried about your own safety?” Mulder asks. “Ms.

Barnes’ death may have been due to natural causes. Do you

have any reason to believe that you’re in danger?”

When Marge shakes her head, her cascade of brassy curls

moves with it in a solid mass. “Don’t tell me you don’t

feel it. She’s here. All the time. There must be a secret

that binds her here. You have to expose it and release

her.”

Mulder and Scully look at each other. They’re comical in

their uncertainty. Normal agents would give her a non-

committal answer and assume she’s a nut. But there were the

two of them discussing their experience with mental

telepathy not ten minutes ago.

“Didn’t anyone tell you about the vault door unlocking

itself, and small objects disappearing and then

reappearing?” Marge is definitely showing some temper.

“You mean there’s been poltergeist activity?” Mulder

brightens.

“Nothing spectacular.” Marge laughs a little. “Nothing

flies through the air, or breaks, or catches fire. It’s

impossible to prove, but we all know it’s happening. I know

she’s here. And the cold spots. Haven’t you felt them?”

I move over close to Marge and think about touching the

back of her neck. That’s how it works. I think about it,

and sometimes it happens. Sometimes I’m not strong enough.

Marge gasps and shivers. “I’ve got four more years before I

can retire. They owe me retirement. But I can’t work under

these conditions.”

Who ya’ gonna’ call? I think. Ghostbusters?

Marge recovers and asks, “Why would Pete Eberhardt have

anything to do with it? I mean besides being her father. He

mostly works at home and only puts in a time card for ten

hours a week.”

Scully looks uncertain.

I move away from Marge toward Scully, and consider the

facts. Daddy would have an access card.

Security should be able to tell whose card was used on

Sunday, but the log is kept on tape. The tape is blank, as

though somebody set a magnet on it. Who uses reel-to-reel

tapes anymore? No one but under-funded government systems.

“If he’s on the project, Eberhardt has an access card,”

Scully responds. “We should go talk to him.” She starts

stacking the folders and looks around for her coat before

she remembers that she never took it off.

Marge shrugs and rolls her eyes. When she walks away, that

unfocused, mystical look is back again.

The agents step out of the office. Their escort’s crewcut

head snaps up from “Security Policies and Procedures, pub.

AFSD-3251.” Mulder leads the way with long, effortless

strides. His partner’s short legs have to move more

quickly. The lieutenant hustles after them, juggling books

and briefcase.

It’s only as they’re leaving that I realize this decision

is my doing. I’ve helped them crack the case. Before I can

stop myself, I think–I should go with them.

I can’t believe it when I find myself outside in the gray

October daylight. Doing things by thinking about them is

tricky business. I have to stop and decide. Should I go

with them, away from the base?

I’m scared. What if I blink out of existence when I leave

the place where I died? What if I find out for sure that I

can’t leave this place? Maybe I don’t want to know that I

have to spend eternity in a shabby office with cranky

government workers.

My undisciplined thoughts land me in the back seat of their

car. As we drive off the base, I see that more leaves have

turned in the last two weeks.

This isn’t much different from coming out of the hospital

after a long stay. The rest of the world always moved on,

while I struggled with the basics, like digesting and

excreting. Every time it happened, I felt like I fell

farther behind in some kind of lifetime game.

It’s kind of a relief to know it can’t happen again. But of

course neither can any of the good stuff.

Daddy’s house is only ten minutes away. It’s coming back to

me, how I drove there that Sunday.

***********************************

Knob Noster, Missouri

Noon

“Turn right at that Reddi-mart past the light,” Scully

tells her partner.

“That’s not what the map says,” Mulder objects.

“It’s a shortcut,” she assures him.

His pouty lower lip juts out more, but he takes the right.

Without saying another word, he follows her instructions,

cutting through the parking lot to the alley that runs

behind Daddy’s house. We park on the street that parallels

the alley.

My parents bought this house five years before I was born.

A brick ranch was the most modern thing you could get.

Daddy’s kept it up beautifully. The basketball hoop over

the garage has its annual coat of anti-rust sealant. He

still scrapes and paints the garage every three years, no

matter what.

When I was a little girl, each time he painted, Daddy would

buy me a new bike to hang on the garage wall. We’d give

away the old one, always as good as new. Most of the time I

was getting sick or getting well, so my bikes didn’t get

much wear and tear. The basketball hoop didn’t get much use

either, until I married Jay.

I would have inherited this house, I think, as we troop up

the front walk. I’ll never need a house again. How odd.

While Mulder is knocking, it occurs to me that I might not

need to wait for Daddy to open the door. But really I’m not

in a hurry to see him.

Daddy looks a lot smaller and older than I expected. He’s

got less graying hair combed over his head, and his

shoulders are so stooped.

“Come on in,” he tells Mulder and Scully. “Helen called and

told me you were on your way. I don’t know how I can help.”

He shows them into the living room. It’s so neat and new

looking–the opposite of the vault on base. It could be a

furniture showroom, except for the post-it notes on the

tables and lamps. The agents perch side by side on the pale

blue couch. Mulder looks around, and I see his feet move

restlessly.

Daddy’s got even more notes taped up today than he did on

that Sunday when I last visited. I wonder if there’s one

hidden away somewhere that says ‘Do something about Becky.

She’s getting to be a pain.’ Or maybe ‘Time to sacrifice

the subject and end the experiment.’ Probably not. He’d

throw the note away when the job was done.

“Mr. Eberhardt… ” Mulder begins.

“Can we see your vault access card, sir?” Scully

interrupts.

Daddy frowns in concentration. “Of course,” he says slowly.

“Give me a minute. I don’t use it most days… You asked

me too fast,” he stalls.

He keeps it on the mantle under the jade green vase with

the artificial ferns. Scully looks above the fireplace

and focuses on the vase.

Daddy follows her gaze, and his face brightens. He gets up

deliberately and walks to the fireplace. He’s confident

when he lifts the vase. His shoulders rise when he finds

only a yellow post-it note. He crumples it and drops it

into his pocket.

“I must have lost it,” he informs the agents.

For the past year he’s left his card under that vase, along

with his password written on a post-it note. Now I remember

taking it on that last visit, when he left the room. Why

should I care if he got blamed for the security breach? He

was in it with the others.

Mulder opens his mouth, but Scully jumps in ahead of him.

“I’d like to talk to you about your daughter’s theory that

there was a scientific conspiracy against her.”

Mulder’s face twists as though he’s swallowing a spoonful

of nasty medicine. He stays quiet.

“I know what caused that,” Daddy says calmly.

He’s not happy. He hardly ever is, but he gets so much

satisfaction out of being right, that it’s almost as good.

“It was her brain this time. She was getting sick again,

and her brain was affected,” he goes on. Even if he

believes that, it doesn’t make him innocent.

“Mr. Eberhardt,” Mulder finally gets a word in. “Is there

any other place else you could have left your card?”

Daddy looks as anxious as if he had to remember events from

forty years ago, instead of two weeks. “Maybe the bedroom,”

he offers, with a helpless, palms-up gesture. He starts

down the hall to the bedrooms.

Mulder wanders over to the table where Mom set up a display

of family photographs. There’s nothing more recent than

seven years ago, when she died. Now I wonder if she stayed

here in the house, and watched us afterwards. And if she

did, where is she now? The questions make me nervous. I

decide to pay strict attention to Mulder instead of asking

myself pointless questions.

clip_image002

“She was no Laura, was she, Scully?” Mulder remarks. He

leans over for a closer look at my graduation picture.

Back in the seventies, we only got to pick two out of three

poses. Then our choices were airbrushed until our faces

looked like molded plastic. They could take away flaws.

With my flaws gone, there wasn’t much personality left.

Scully’s silence doesn’t discourage Mulder. He keeps on

talking.

“You know–there was a movie called ‘Laura.’ With Dana

Andrews. He falls in love with the woman whose death he’s

investigating. Everyone he interviews says she was special.

Then he sees her portrait, and on top of everything else,

she was beautiful. There’s a hint of the succubus legend in

the way he… . ”

“Hmmm. Ah. I see,” Scully remains unenthusiastic.

“But she’s not really dead, it turns out… ”

“Rebecca Barnes is really dead, Mulder. I did a second

post-mortem on her body last night.”

I don’t like to think about that. That body was me for

forty years. I still can’t figure out who I am without it.

“Rebecca might have taken the card,” Daddy says from the

hallway. “That Sunday she was here, arguing again.” He

looks sad and tired.

I think he’s sorry he killed me.

“Did you argue often, Mr. Eberhardt?” Scully asks.

“She’d argue. I’d listen.” Daddy sits down in the olive

wing chair with a deep sigh. “Then I’d write her a check.

Usually.”

“You got tired of it, didn’t you?” Scully pushed. “Did you

ever feel like you couldn’t take it anymore? That you had

to make it stop? Temporary insanity…”

Mulder is still standing by the round table. He keeps his

eyes fixed on the picture, as though he doesn’t want to

know what’s happening.

“You don’t have any children, do you, Agent Scully?” Daddy

says.

Mulder’s shoulders twitch at this question. Daddy fills the

silence.

“Do you have any idea of the guilt that goes along with

having a chronically sick child? You’re always asking

yourself questions. Was it in the family? Was it in the

environment? A vitamin deficiency? Power lines? It all

boils down to one question. Was it my fault?”

Scully doesn’t answer, even though I’m thinking as hard as

I can: pity and guilt can turn to resentment and hate! She

stares out the window at dry brown leaves blowing around in

the empty street.

Mulder speaks first. “I’m sorry if my partner seems overly

aggressive. Her first priority is always justice for the

victim.”

“I already have your daughter’s medical records from the

base. There’s nothing about brain involvement.” Scully’s

voice is a little rough, but it smooths out. “Did she

consult any other doctors?”

“Yes. A month ago. She said she was going to find the

truth. She went to a genetics counselor. If she ever found

anything out, she didn’t tell me.”

“Do you have the doctor’s name and address?”

“Of course. She brought the bill to me.” My daddy’s smile

is small, and makes me want to cry.

A sharp crack sounds from the corner of the room where

Mulder stands. He sticks his hands reflexively into his

pockets. We all see the big crack in the glass across

my picture.

“I wasn’t touching it,” Mulder protests hurriedly.

No one is listening.

“Those inspirational books about sick children–Ryan White,

Karen Killilea–they don’t tell the half of it,” Daddy

says. “Nietzsche didn’t raise any children. A lot of times

what doesn’t kill you leaves you useless. You don’t hear

stories like that, because they wouldn’t sell. I’ll get

that address for you.”

It’s a dark day outside. The light in the room is blue-

green, like an aquarium. There’s not a word from the agents

to interfere with the sound of Daddy opening the file

cabinet in his den.

“Here,” he says, returning with a yellow post-it note. “The

doctor’s name is Gina Miller. Her office is in Kansas

City.”

“Thank you for your help, Mr. Eberhardt,” Mulder says as

they exit.

“It was a relief to know her suffering was over. Sometimes

I think the worst part was wondering when the good periods

would end. But I’d give anything to have her back, under

any conditions. It’s not right to outlive your child.”

Daddy, I’m sorry. I wish I could have been different. And

you too. But I love you. Nothing stops that, I guess.

Scully turns back toward Daddy from the front walk. “I

believe someday we’ll be reunited with the people we love,

Mr. Eberhardt. We’ll understand each other then,” she tells

him.

He gives her a tolerant smile. Daddy’s always been a

rationalist. He has to see it to believe it. Won’t he be

surprised someday?

*******************************************

It’s an hour’s drive to Kansas City, and all they do is

argue over expense reports and play Twenty Questions. No

normal person could ever win against them. I’ve never heard

of a flukeman, or ice worm, or Jersey devil, or EBE.

When the land is flat, it seems to roll under a stationary

car. I wonder how it’s working, travelling in a car, when I

don’t really have a body. I intend to stay with Mulder and

Scully, so I do. Very existential.

***********************************

Mid-America Medical Consultants Building

Kansas City, Missouri

6 p.m.

I remember the huge parking garage on Wornall Ave., near

St. Luke’s Hospital. Medical buildings cluster around

hospitals, like animals around a watering hole.

Dr. Miller was the first non-military doctor I ever saw. I

was as scared as though I was doing something criminal. The

doctors at the base told me they were the only ones who

could treat me. They said they had treatments civilian

doctors couldn’t use. That was why they agreed to treat me,

when I wasn’t a military dependent anymore. It was an act

of mercy. There was no telling what would happen if I went

to a doctor who wasn’t familiar with my case.

I shouldn’t have been so scared. Dr. Miller wasn’t going to

treat me. She was going to do a genetics consultation. I

think I was most scared of finding out that the conspiracy

was true. Because then, what would I do?

Office hours ended an hour ago, but the door is unlocked,

the way Dr. Miller promised Scully on the phone. The

generic, orange-cushioned waiting room is empty. There’s no

receptionist at the little window.

“Dr. Miller,” Scully calls out.

I’m amazed when both agents check inside their jackets for

their guns. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the

conspiracy might spread this far.

Then Dr. Miller pops up in the window. Her hair droops

flatly to her shoulders, and her eyes have dark circles.

“You made good time. I thought the traffic would hold you

up longer.”

“Compared to D.C., it isn’t so bad,” Mulder answers with a

smile.

Dr. Miller looks like she tries for a professional finish,

but can’t keep up with all the details. Today one of her

shoes is scuffed, and the hem of her suit hangs down on one

side. The blue earrings don’t quite match the blue flowers

on her blouse.

I liked her a lot when I met her, and I still do.

She scrutinizes the badges Mulder and Scully hold out, as

though she knows what to look for.

“I called the field office about you,” she explains. “There

are legal issues… you know. Then I got out Ms. Barnes’

file. Now I don’t know what to say.”

“Was the file empty?” Mulder asks. He sighs and his

shoulders slump a little.

“No. No, my staff is efficient,” Dr. Miller says. She gives

him a puzzled look. “It’s just that I think there was a

mistake, and I can’t explain it.”

“Maybe we can help. What did you find?” Mulder perks up a

lot at her words.

“Ms. Barnes was going to come in for her follow-up visit

next week. I should have been ready to explain the results

of the work-up. Instead I was going to have to ask her for

more blood samples. The lab messed up the tests, somehow. I

don’t know if their equipment was contaminated, or what,

but her results were impossible to interpret.”

“May I see?” Scully asks.

“Come back here and look,” the doctor invites.

She hits a buzzer below the window, and Mulder opens the

door leading back to the receptionist’s area. Scully and

Mulder stand on each side of Dr. Miller, where she sits at

a desk.

Dr. Miller holds out a paper with markings on it. It looks

like a picture of little bundles, each one tied in the

middle. They’re arranged by size, in groups of three. I

know it’s a picture of chromosomes, but it looks odd.

Scully seems to think so too. It’s her turn to put on the

cartoon surprise look.

“That’s impossible!” she exclaims.

“I know. At first I thought I’d ask for a FISH analysis to

follow up. Then I decided not to waste time and money. It’s

obviously a lab error. They sent me the karotype on tissue

from a fetus with triploidy.”

“There’s never been a documented case of survival past the

first days after birth.”

“Exactly. And there would be gross abnormalities in the

phenotype. Ms. Barnes appeared to be normal.”

“Unless she were a mosaic?” Scully suggests.

“There were multiple samples,” Dr. Miller answers, with a

shake of her head. She holds out another set of pictures.

“Her medical history wasn’t normal,” Mulder remarks.

Dr. Miller holds up a thick bunch of typewritten papers.

“No, it certainly wasn’t. But it didn’t exhibit the effects

associated with triploidy–multiple, lethal abnormalities.

There was no indication of any permanent damage resulting

from her illnesses.”

“What about the surgery she had? Her records from the base

hospital documented an appendectomy, but there was no

mention of the removal of her ovaries,” Scully inquires.

“What? She’d had an oophorectomy?”

The doctor looks as surprised as I feel.

“Yes. I established that when I redid the post-mortem. I

asked her doctor and he just shrugged. Said she must have

had an operation for female troubles somewhere else.”

That miserable liar. He knows I never went to any other

hospital. He told me I’d die if someone else treated me.

Dr. Miller closes her eyes and folds her hands. There isn’t

any noise except for the hum of the office computer.

“Let’s see. She told me she wanted to get pregnant, but was

afraid of passing on abnormalities to her children,” she

says slowly.

A planned pregnancy was just my excuse for having the

genetics consultation. Two years ago my belly hurt so bad.

I’d have agreed to a brain transplant to stop the pain.

When they told me I should have an appendectomy, I didn’t

even read the consent form. They could have told me the

truth. I wasn’t fit to have children anyway. But they lied

to me!

Everyone jumps at the loud crack from the corner of the

room when the water cooler splits in half. Water cascades

to the floor in one huge wave.

“I got glass because of the environment,” Dr. Miller says

with a stunned look.

Scully and Mulder are looking around with wild eyes, as

though they expect something else to happen. Dr. Miller

jumps up and disappears into a back room. She comes back

with a roll of paper towels. She and Scully tear off towels

and stomp them down into the soggy carpet. When they’ve

used up all the towels they stare hopelessly at the dark,

spreading circle of wetness.

Dr. Miller snorts out one loud “Ha!”

“I’ll call facilities,” she says with a weak wave of her

hand. “What a day.”

While she makes the call, Scully joins Mulder. He’s sitting

at the desk, flipping through my medical history. He can’t

possibly be reading that fast, but he stops suddenly and

points at a paragraph.

“Dr. Miller,” he says. “What about this incident in 1984?”

“What incident? Let me look. I don’t remember.” Her shoes

make squishy sounds as she returns to the receptionist’s

desk. After a moment’s reading, she replies, “Yes. That was

unfortunate. But there were no lasting physical sequelae.

Dr. Miller is right. It didn’t amount to much. I’m

surprised it caught Mulder’s attention. He tells Scully the

story.

“Ms. Barnes–she was still Miss Eberhardt at the time–

moved to St. Louis in 1984. She worked at an insurance

agency. One night in November she closed up the office

after dark. Her car quit on her in a bad neighborhood, as

she was driving home. She was mugged for her purse, hit,

and shoved to the ground. The muggers got away. There were

no injuries, except for minor bruises and abrasions.”

I shouldn’t have told Dr. Miller about that. It’s trivial

and pathetic. When I told her my history it sounded so

childish, so stunted. I wanted to explain why I gave up and

went back home. It just makes me look like a quitter. Which

I guess I was.

So why is Mulder so excited about the story?

“Scully, let’s assume, just for a minute, that Ms. Barnes

was right. That she was the victim of an experiment run by

the government. Doesn’t it make sense that they’d do

something to drive her back into a controlled environment

when she tried to leave? And that they killed her when she

started to ask hard questions?”

Dr. Miller tips her head back and looks at Mulder through

the bottom of her glasses. “You’re saying that Ms. Barnes

was an unwilling subject of covert, government-sanctioned

medical experiments. And that she was eliminated by

criminal means when she threatened to blow the whistle?”

Mulder puts on his expressionless expression. “We form many

theories in the course of an investigation,” he soothes.

“I’m sure a scientist like you understands that.”

Scully has a fierce look that contrasts with Mulder’s

abrupt calm. “What about the story her doctor gave me about

‘female problems?’ I need to talk to him.”

Dr. Miller takes off her glasses and closes her eyes again.

She pinches the bridge of her nose. There’s a bustle at the

outside office door, and a paunchy man in a navy coverall

lets himself in.

“I didn’t understand the message. Something about a flood.

Is it a plumbing leak?” he inquires.

They answer “No” in unison, and then everyone goes quiet.

Mulder starts to engineer a quick departure.

“We’ll be on our way, Dr. Miller. Thanks so much for your

help,” Mulder pulls the inner door open for the new

arrival.

“Yes, thanks. We’ll be in touch if we have more questions.”

Scully dashes through the open door, neatly sidestepping

the workman. Her tall partner has to hurry to catch up with

her in the hall.

“We’ve got to get back to the hospital, Mulder,” Scully

tosses over her shoulder as they hustle through the parking

garage.

“Wait a minute. We’re all over the map with these hunches

of yours. Let’s talk about this for a minute.”

“Hunches? Hunches! Look how far we’ve gotten with these

‘hunches’.” Scully takes an indignant stance beside the car

while she waits for him.

“Look, I’m not questioning the value of your…

insights. But let’s stop and think about which lead to

pursue. Why would her doctor tell you anything more now? I

think we should go back to her father and ask about this

mugging.”

Scully has the passenger door open, but she stops before

she climbs in, as though she’s listening for something.

My thoughts refuse to take form.

The agents get in the car at the same time. There’s an

apology in Scully’s voice when she speaks.

“You’re right, Mulder. I need to go back to basics and get

some hard evidence. I’ll take tissue samples from her body

and send them to the FBI lab. Let’s see what another DNA

analysis shows. You can drop me at the hospital and go back

to talk to Mr. Eberhardt.”

Here’s where Scully and I part company. I don’t need it

anymore, but I don’t want to see my body cut up like a

deer. Maybe I can’t get through to Mulder’s mind, but right

now, I’m sticking with him.

“Do you think we can rule out the philandering husband as a

suspect?” Mulder ventures.

If I could laugh, I would. Jay’s never been passionate

about anyone but himself. I’m sure I was an excellent

excuse for him to avoid making commitments to other women.

With me gone, he’s got more freedom, but less cover. Not

enough motive, I’d say.

“I think that’s a dead end,” she answers with a grim smile.

Mulder navigates his way back to the highway without any

directions from Scully. She takes out a tape player and

plugs in headphones. I notice the tape she puts in is

labeled “#X-2546 – PM on Rebecca Barnes.” Probably not

anything I’d want to hear.

I amuse myself by thinking my way to the roof of the car.

When I was alive, I had dreams of flying. Speeding through

the twilight with only the violet sky around me is almost

like that. There’s no wind, or fear of falling. I’m

beginning to understand that I don’t need things like cars,

and I don’t have to pay attention to solid barriers, like

closed doors.

It’s hard to get over the habit of being limited.

It’s frightening to imagine an existence without limits. I

could expand to fill the sky–the universe. And nothing of

me would remain.

************************

ACT III

The Base Hospital

9 p.m.

When we pull up outside the hospital, I don’t know if time

has drifted or whipped by. I didn’t even notice a pause at

the gate.

The sky is already navy blue behind the gray, floodlit

hospital. Scully zips through the automatic doors without a

backwards look. Luckily she doesn’t need my help to slice

up specimens.

Even in the dark, Mulder finds the shortcut to Daddy’s

house. It’s not my doing; he remembers it. There’s a

constant seething in Mulder’s brain. It pushes me back,

like the wind holding a sailboat offshore.

***********************************

Knob Noster

9:30 p.m.

Once upon a time, Daddy would have turned away a late-night

visitor. He needed his evening solitude to get

anesthetized. Instead, he invites Mulder in, and offers him

a whiskey. It’s early yet for Daddy to be that far gone.

The two of them sit in the kitchen in the white glare of

the overhead light.

“No thanks, Mr. Eberhardt,” Mulder says.

Daddy drinks the second shot himself and squints at Mulder

through red-lined eyes.

“My partner and I visited Dr. Miller,” Mulder begins.

“There was no conclusive evidence from DNA tests. But the

doctor realized that there was an unexplained discrepancy

between the medical records and your daughter’s physical

condition. Ms. Barnes had had her ovaries removed, but her

medical history showed only an appendectomy. Can you

explain that?”

Daddy shrugs and makes a sound in his throat, as though

he’s trying to choke something back down. “I haven’t been

able to explain anything in forty years. I just kept on

going because I couldn’t stop. You can’t stop, can you? You

make decisions and you take the consequences. Whose fault

is it if you don’t foresee the problems? It doesn’t matter.

You do the best you can.”

That was always his way. Do your duty and don’t whine. He

focuses suddenly on Mulder’s face.

“I met a Bill Mulder once. He didn’t look much like you. No

relation, I suppose. I was still in the service. We were

both on TDY down at Eglin AFB, for different meetings on

Black Projects.”

Mulder sits still as a rabbit caught on the open lawn. His

thoughts are whirling in a vortex. Daddy doesn’t wait for a

response.

“We had the same chief scientist on our projects. ‘Herr

Doktor Klemper’ we called him, behind his back. Bill and I

met at the hotel bar and decided to check out Dean’s Place

on the island. I wanted to celebrate. Dot had just gotten

pregnant. I was so happy I was buying drinks for everybody.

Bill told me his wife had just given him a son. I don’t

know if he was celebrating, but he sure liked to drink. I

told him–this will make you laugh–‘I don’t care what it

is, just as long as it’s healthy.'”

Mulder doesn’t laugh.

Daddy doesn’t notice. “No matter how drunk I got, I didn’t

tell him how Dot got pregnant. That I’d made a deal with

the devil. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone that we were

having a test tube baby.”

“Sir, the first test tube baby wasn’t born until 1978.”

Mulder shapes each word carefully, as though it might break

with rough handling.

“That’s what the history books will always say. Just like

they’ll always say JFK was shot by a lone gunman.”

“Do you know something about the assassination?” Mulder

asks, still in that cautious way.

“I know nothing, but given the nature of the ‘truth’

published about other things, I’ve got my suspicions.”

“What ever happened to Bill Mulder, I wonder?” There’s a

new sadness in Mulder’s tone when he speaks.

“I don’t know. We shared a cab back to the hotel. I barely

remember getting to my room. Didn’t get to breakfast the

next day. Bill didn’t turn up at the hotel bar that night.

I assumed his meetings were over.”

“Did Dr. Klemper arrange for your wife to have an embryo

implanted?” Mulder is regaining some of his usual cool.

Daddy must have heard the change in Mulder’s voice. “You

think I’m too drunk to be discreet, don’t you? I just don’t

care anymore. Dot died after more than thirty years of

worry and trouble. Now Becky’s gone. What more can anyone

do to me?”

“If that’s right, why don’t you tell me what happened?”

It’s funny how good Mulder is with the people he can see.

He watches them, notices all the little tics and blinks. He

takes things in at so many levels, there’s no room for me

to slip in a word or thought.

“It was Colonel Robbins. He was the wonder-boy assistant to

Victor Klemper. ‘Why don’t you take advantage of the

technology we’re developing, Pete?’ he kept saying. I don’t

even remember telling him about our problem. Afterwards he

made the excuse that the technology hadn’t been perfected.

He was always reminding me that we should thank our lucky

stars that he could arrange for Becky to get medical care

at the base.”

I’m rooting for Mulder to tell him about the triploidy, but

he’s not getting it. He goes off on a tangent.

“Mr. Eberhardt, your daughter was attacked in St. Louis in

1984. Did you ever think there was anything unusual about

the incident?”

“It happens to a lot of unwary people,” Daddy snaps at him.

“In fact, I warned her not to move to a big city alone. It

didn’t surprise me when I got the call the day after it

happened. I was just thankful it hadn’t been worse. She

called me at work. Colonel Robbins suggested I take Jay

along with me to pick her up. He’d just started on the

project. I hadn’t even thought about needing someone to

drive Becky’s car back. Her nerves were shot.”

“Sir, did her car start when you got there?”

I don’t listen anymore, because I already know the answer.

I’m preoccupied with thinking up the right punishment for

Colonel Robbins. A cage with cedar shavings, a water dish

and pellets would be too good for him. I picture him

pickling in a formaldehyde bath, like a frog ready for

dissection.

***********************************

The Base Hospital

The morgue

10:30 p.m.

Then the kitchen is gone, and I’m watching Colonel Robbins

watch Scully as she slides a steel drawer shut.

“I just got word that you were here, Agent Scully,” he’s

saying to her. “What authorization do you have for doing a

third post-mortem on Rebecca Barnes?”

“I have the authority you gave us to investigate this case,

sir. I was collecting tissue samples to send to the FBI

lab. We think there may be some abnormality in Ms. Barnes’

karotype.”

“What would it prove if that were true, Agent? It had

nothing to do with the circumstances and cause of her

death?”

“How can we know that, until we find out the nature of the

mutation? Maybe her parents were exposed to radiation, or

some toxin, before her birth. We might learn something new

about prenatal hazards. I believe we should take every

opportunity to advance medical knowledge.”

The Birdman did it, Scully! I think hard. He’s the guilty

person! I concentrate on shaking him, and the colonel

wavers a little in place. I wonder if I could kill someone.

Scully is wrapped in green scrubs that are too big. Even

the goggles look too big, as though she’s a child playing

doctor. She strips off the outer gear and looks over at

Robbins while she washes her hands. “You’re not afraid of

the truth, are you?” she asks him. She folds her arms to

wait for his answer.

Colonel Robbins is chewing on his lower lip. He folds his

own arms and edges around the table toward Scully. She

moves slightly, so the table is still between them.

“You’re a scientist, Agent Scully. Not just a glorified

policewoman.”

“We need trustworthy policewomen. And military personnel,”

she says. I seem to shiver with the chill in her voice,

even though I don’t have a body anymore.

“Of course. But you’re in a position to appreciate things a

layman can’t understand. You can imagine what it would be

like to be on the verge of creating a new species!”

“Please explain what that means,Colonel,” she invites him.

“You know that cells are just factories for making amino

acids,” he charges ahead, ignoring her severe expression.

“It’s our genes that determine what proteins are produced.

Every cell we have has a full set of genes, but most of

them are turned off. Turned off! That was the key. We had

to find the switch for turning genes on and off. And then

we planned to test it by providing a completely different

set of genes. It should have worked like switching a

production line back and forth between producing parts for

jets and parts for trucks.”

“Should have worked,” she echoes, as though the ideas made

sense. “The sequence would have to be perfect, or the

organism would die. The body’s systems would be out of

sync.”

“Yes! You understand. I knew you would.” The Birdman gives

her a complicit smile.

“I’m interested in the switching,” she responds. She

doesn’t return his smile.

“You must have followed the work on weak photon emission

from cellular DNA. It shouldn’t surprise you that the DNA

in cells is also receptive to ultraweak photon influence.

It was just going to be a matter of experimenting until the

right sequence was found.”

“Where did you get the technology? I saw a third set of

chromosomes in Rebecca Barnes’ karotype.”

“That was a serendipitous contribution by Dr. Klemper. A

seminal thinker, Victor Klemper…”

Scully’s face changes suddenly from a non-committal mask to

the picture of disgust and contempt. Her words are dragged

down to a low, rough pitch.

“So. You’re telling me that you’ve experimented on a human.

Without her consent. You made her sick over and over again

with failed attempts to activate a set of non-human genes.

You haven’t published. You haven’t shared your discoveries.

That’s not how true scientists work! You know that what

you’re doing is wrong.”

“Don’t let the personal prevent you from being objective.

We’re on the verge of success. We didn’t get it right

with Barnes, but we learned a lot. And we’ve got a whole

new set of potential test subjects in the freezer here. Her

descendants…”

“Her ova. You took her ova…” Scully starts walking

toward the colonel.

He should be frightened by the look on her face. Instead he

talks on and on, as though she were hanging on his words.

“When the subject got too difficult to manage, we halted

the experiment and euthanized her. It was just a matter of

toggling all the switches off at once…” The Birdman

even turns his back on Scully, as he leads the way to the

locked, stainless steel cabinet in the corner.

My last moment comes back to me then. I have a sudden

vision of the colonel at the end of the narrow corridor

between the cubicles. I’d been searching the file cabinet

in his office. There was a dog-eared file with my name on

it. Seeing the file felt like being backed into that alley

by two men with guns. It was something I’d imagined with a

queasy stomach and pounding heart. When it actually

happened, it didn’t seem real.

I heard a noise outside the room, and looked up. My eyes

skimmed the length of dingy purple carpet, and fixed on

Colonel Robbins. I was too surprised at how perfectly my

nightmare was coming true to feel terror. When I stepped

out of the office, he didn’t look surprised to see me. I

waved the folder at him and spoke the words I’d planned.

“I’m going to expose you all!” Of course I’d visualized a

more public setting, like a press conference.

He pointed something like a flashlight at me, but there was

no beam of light. Then there was nothing at all, until I

woke up somewhere just below the ceiling. Beneath me

security police strode around with grim, self-important

expressions.

In the time it takes me to remember, the Birdman whips

around and catches Scully on the point of her chin with his

fist. Her head snaps back, her eyes roll up, and she

tumbles to the floor, like a block tower with the bottom

block kicked out from under.

“I could tell she didn’t really understand,” Robbins

murmurs to himself.

If I’d stayed alert I could have warned her. I got Scully

into this, and I now I can’t get her out–not alone. But

I’m not giving up. I’ll find some way to get to Mulder.

***********************************

Knob Noster

11:30 p.m.

And I’m suddenly in Daddy’s kitchen, where Mulder is

pouring boiling water over instant coffee.

Scully’s in trouble! Surely my thought must be loud enough

to hear. At the same second the fluorescent light tube

overhead pops and goes out.

“What the hell?” Daddy says.

I can tell he’s not that drunk by the way he jumps out of

his chair. He’s been putting on an act for Mulder.

“What?” Mulder shouts. “What is it? Why aren’t you with

Scully? I can’t hear you.”

She’s in danger! SHE NEEDS YOU. I think and think. The

glass shelf over the sink breaks in two. The potted plants

rush down into the sink and shatter. Little clods of wet,

black dirt go everywhere.

“What are you doing?” Daddy yells at Mulder.

“It’s not me, Mr. Eberhardt.” Mulder lowers his voice, but

he’s panting as though he’s been running. “It’s an entity.”

Mulder hits three buttons on his cell phone, pacing the

floor while it rings and rings.

Then he walks to the corner of the kitchen. Mulder faces

the wall, bows his head and covers his ears. He pays no

attention to Daddy’s exclamations.

Scully! Go to your partner at the hospital! My mind is

screaming the words with all the force of my will.

The blue china cups on hooks under the cupboard fly apart

with loud cracks.

“Get out of my house. Right now.” Daddy grabs at Mulder’s

arm. The agent shakes him off, his back rigid. He moves his

hands to cover his eyes.

I can feel his mind straining, like an engine in overdrive.

I don’t know if he can’t, or won’t, let me in. Then he

whirls around and asks a lunatic question.

“Do you have a basketball?” he asks my furious father. “Any

kind of ball?”

“I want you out of here!” Daddy shouts.

“I’m going. I promise I’m on my way out, but I need a

ball.”

“Jay keeps one in the garage,” Daddy growls. He makes a

wide circle around the pitcher on the counter, as he

crosses the kitchen to the garage door. “Here. Go out this

way,” he calls out a minute later.

In the doorway Mulder catches the basketball he throws.

“Perfect,” Mulder mutters, tossing the big orange ball from

one hand to the other.

Daddy activates the garage door opener. Mulder ducks under

the door before it’s all the way open, and makes a basket

in the hoop over it on his first try.

He looks ridiculous, dribbling the ball and feinting with

it in the dark. His tie and jacket flap in all different

directions.

“Stand under the basket,” he calls out to Daddy.

“What? I don’t feel like playing. That was a long time

ago.”

“Please. Just stand there,” Mulder gasps.

He dribbles up and down the driveway as though the state

championship was riding on it. Pivoting to keep the ball

away from imaginary opponents, he sinks another shot. He

dodges around Daddy to catch the rebound.

Smack. Smack. Smack. The ball hits his hands as hard as it

hits the driveway. Daddy looks preoccupied, instead of

worried about this loony contest. A few dry leaves roll

across the concrete. I see the living room curtains twitch

apart at the Newman’s house. Someone I don’t know opens the

front door across the street.

Mulder is slow compared to the boys I remember from high

school, but he seems to have plenty of stamina. In the

meantime Colonel Robbins could be sliding Scully into a

cold metal drawer right beside me.

Mulder’s shot misses the basket entirely. He ignores the

ball and dashes for his car. “Thanks Mr. Eberhardt,” he

babbles out, as he yanks the door open.

Mulder is crazy, but he’s Scully’s only hope. I keep trying

to get through. There’s a small “pop” from the dome light

as he turns the key in the ignition.

He flinches at the sound, but the plastic cover keeps the

glass inside.

“I heard you,” he says loudly. “Scully is in the hospital

morgue with Robbins. But I can’t hear you now. It’s hard

for me to let you in.”

***********************************

The Base Hospital

11:50 p.m.

He makes the drive in four minutes, running four red lights

on the almost empty streets. He does remember to slow down

before coming in sight of the gates to the base. A bored

young guard waves him through on the strength of his

cardboard visitor’s pass.

At the hospital, his badge is in his hands before he gets

to the emergency room doors.

“Fox Mulder, FBI,” he snaps at the nurse behind the

admitting desk. He doesn’t wait to answer the questions she

shouts after him. I know she can’t leave the desk.

“Do we have an emergency?” she calls. She picks up the

phone with exasperated emphasis.

Mulder is taking the stairs to the basement two at a time.

He picks the right door even though it’s unlabeled. I don’t

know if he’s getting my directions or if he was there with

Scully the night before.

The white glow from the morgue contrasts with the dim

halls. I see Scully crumpled on the floor by the table. The

door to the steel cabinet in the corner is open, and it’s

empty inside. Colonel Robbins is pouring chemicals into

opened waste containers at the other end of the room.

Mulder’s left hand goes to his nose and mouth. He’s got a

gun pointed at the colonel with his right hand.

“Put the bottle down and place your hands against the

wall.” Mulder is almost gagging on the words.

His eyes, and the colonel’s, are streaming with tears.

“You don’t really expect me to watch forty years of work go

for nothing, do you?” the colonel asks. He up-ends a brown

glass bottle over a dirty linen container and then drops it

in. His voice is as reasonable as though he were asking to

someone to wait while he put the finishing touches on a

paint job. “There’ll be time to rescue your partner, if you

don’t worry about me or the evidence,” he goes on. “What

are you waiting for? After the risks I’ve taken, don’t you

believe I’m ready to risk my own death? All I have to do

now, is flip this switch.”

There’s another exit behind Robbins. He might be able to

make it out. I notice he’s got a thermos-like steel

cylinder tucked under one arm. Copper shines out of a long

gash in the cord that runs between the autoclave and the

electrical outlet beside it. The colonel dumps another

bottle of chemicals on the cord. An oxygen tank beside the

outlet has a big red slash through the picture of a flame

on its side. There’s a sinister hiss of gas escaping.

I don’t know what to do. Mulder is struggling to keep his

eyes open. I wish he’d shoot, but even if he hit Robbins,

there’d be time to flip the switch. A shot might even

trigger an explosion. All the evidence would be burned up.

Then there’s a step in the doorway behind Mulder. He moves

sideways and backward, but doesn’t turn his back on

Robbins. A manila folder sails across the room, scattering

papers and pictures as it goes.

“You lying bastard,” Daddy says. He’s got the gun he always

kept in the drawer beside his bed. “Maybe I always knew and

wouldn’t admit it to myself. You shouldn’t have kept the

records in your office.”

For the first time the colonel looks shocked. He clutches

at the steel cylinder with his right hand.

Mulder says, “Cover me,” to Daddy. He doesn’t notice that

Daddy isn’t listening to him. He dashes to the center of

the room. His gun is gone, probably into his pocket,

because he needs both arms to lift Scully.

The colonel should stay quiet, but he can’t. He speaks,

saying all the wrong things. “You don’t understand. It was

an honor to be part of it, Pete. Like the doctor who

infected himself to identify the vector for yellow fever.

She’d suffered enough at the end. It was painless…”

He reaches the switch even after Daddy puts two shots into

his chest.

Daddy careens into Mulder, who’s already in the hall when

flames come roaring across the room. The intense light

sparkles through me, bursting blossoms of orange. For a

moment there’s no separating myself from the golden energy.

Then the door slams shut, and I decide to be on the other

side to find out what’s happening.

The hall is empty except for the smoke. There are bells and

a voice announcing that this is not a drill. Then firemen

come tearing around the corner like invaders from another

planet, inhuman in their breathing equipment and protective

clothing.

Outside, fire trucks are still arriving in a blast of noise

and flashing lights. Dozens of people are running from

place to place. Airmen are transporting patients bundled

onto stretchers to the gymnasium.

There’s a huddle around Daddy, where security police are

putting handcuffs on him. His face barely moves while he

answers questions with “yes,” or “no,” or silence. A medic

is examining Scully’s eyes with a light where she sits on

the back steps of an ambulance. Mulder is talking to her

very fast, while she blinks and frowns. She winces when she

turns her head to see where a blue truck with floodlights

has pulled up. A man, so tall and long-legged he reminds me

of a stick figure, jumps down from the passenger side of

the cab.

It’s General Brandon, the base commander. He prides himself

on his quick grasp of the essentials and refusal to waste

time. Everyone he speaks to points at Mulder and Scully in

answer to his questions. They don’t want to irritate him

with second or third-hand information. But I’ve already

seen how these things go. I ride along with Daddy, instead

of staying to see how the cover-up will be done this time.

************************

EPILOGUE

Outside the Base Commander’s Office

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

10 a.m.

The next day I wait with Mulder while the security police

finish questioning Scully. When she leaves the base

commander’s office, her lips are pressed together so tight

they must be holding back strong words. Mulder pats the

seat of the chair next to him in the waiting room.

Scully sits down with a “hmmph” of disapproval. “They want

us to go now, Mulder,” she says. “They’ve figured

everything out and the services of the FBI are no longer

needed.” A smile as thin as paper stretches her mouth.

“Peter Eberhardt shot his boss and old friend due to the

stress of his daughter’s death, combined with the first

stage of senile dementia. Then he panicked and tried to

cover up his crime by setting a fire. His misinterpretation

of questions put to him by Special Agent Fox Mulder

probably led to his crazed behavior. Mulder’s partner had

her brains scrambled by a blow to the head, making her

testimony unreliable.”

“I know,” he answers. “Can you get in as a doctor to see

Eberhardt at the psychiatric facility? See if he has any

ideas about where we could find evidence?”

“Mr. Eberhardt can’t be seen by anybody but staff with

special clearances. Since he isn’t in his right mind, he

might communicate sensitive information to those with no

need to know.” Scully must be quoting the official Air

Force memo.

“It’s a perfect cover-up. The experiment can go on under

somebody else.” Mulder looks so tragic, I wish I could

cheer him up.

He wouldn’t feel so bad if he understood how the military

works. General Brandon may not want to own up to the

unethical experimentation that went on here, but that

doesn’t mean he wants it to continue. Without Colonel

Robbins to lobby for funds in Washington, there won’t be

any money for EOS. With no budget, EOS will be dissolved,

and the staff will disperse to other projects until they

retire. Some of the findings will go into archives. The

inconvenient ones will disappear.

“Maybe it won’t be that easy, Mulder,” Scully consoles him.

“Barnes’ ova were lost with Colonel Robbins in the fire.

They won’t have ready test subjects. My report will be

strongly worded in condemnation of Robbins’ experiments.”

“A strongly worded report.” As if that would have an

influence. No one will admit it, but there’s a better

deterrent. A haunted project won’t attract or keep workers.

Marge was right about the feeling in the office. I’ll make

it impossible to work anyplace where they try to follow up

these experiments. I’m getting smarter and stronger every

day.

“Mulder. It’s over. There won’t be any more experiments,”

Scully tells him.

“What? How do you know? Did a little birdie tell you?”

Mulder starts teasing.

I disrupt the electrical current through the lamp next to

him and the light flickers. He rises quickly to his feet

and grabs Scully’s hand. She gives him a startled look, but

immediately stands up beside him. Their hands cling

together while Scully makes a quick survey of the room. She

squeezes Mulder’s hand, and then drops it to reach for her

coat.

As they leave the room, Scully looks back over her

shoulder. I feel the goodbye in her thoughts. Her eyes

almost seem to focus on me in the corner of the room next

to the window. Mulder lets her exit, before he pauses at

the door. He says goodbye to the lamp in a soft voice,

while I watch from the opposite end of the room. Mulder

isn’t sensitive, but he means well.

It’s important to mean well. My father is a good example of

why meaning well isn’t enough. A person has to be strong,

and face the truth about herself and other people. And do

something about it.

I’ll be in this place for a while. But I know there’s

something else waiting. I can’t see it yet. There’s a

corner somewhere that I’ll decide to turn one day, and

there will be something new. Or old. And a chance to use

what I’ve learned this time.

Patterns continue, but they change, too. There’s no seeing

the whole thing at once. We only know that everything is

part of the same infinite weave.

——————————————————–

End of “Closed Colony, Special Stock”

Date Posted: 01/19/01

Written especially for: I Made This Productions, Virtual

Season 8 http://www.i-made-this.com

Disclaimer: Chris Carter, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson,

and Ten Thirteen productions created and own the characters

you recognized. My writing is for fun, not profit.

Thanks: I thank IMTP for honoring me by asking for a story,

and for the tremendous amount of hard work put into Virtual

Season 8 by Laurie and her fellow producers, writers, and

artists. I especially thank Deej for the banner and

dustjacket she created for my story. She’s done a wonderful

job of capturing the mood of “Closed Colony,” and created

a beautiful image of our heroes in the process.

I thank bugs for her friendship, and for her beta work on

this story. I also thank her for the beautiful website she

created for my stories. See the URL below.

http://urw.simplenet.com/branwell

Moonlight Becomes You

Cover

Title: Moonlight Becomes You

Rating: PG-13

Category: X, A

Author: Jamie Greco

Email: JGreco217@aol.com

Info: Specially written for I Made This Productions

Virtual Season 8

Archiving: VS8 gets it exclusively for the first two

weeks, then it can be archived anywhere, but ask, first.

Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate a house along the

coast of Michigan where a number of men have disappeared

over the last fifty years without a trace of foul play.

Moonlight Becomes You

by Jamie Greco

PROLOGUE

Pentwater,Michigan

October 15, 2000

“I found the mugs, Honey!”

Her voice echoed throughout the large, still mostly empty

house. She raised her head as she crouched over the moving

crate, unwrapping what seemed like yards of paper from the

collection of cups. Cocking her head slightly, she

listened for an answer. When there was none, she continued

to rummage through the excess of wrapped kitchen supplies,

finally uncovering a rose china teapot.

“Hey!” she shouted happily. “I found your mother’s

teapot. You can call and let her know we can now enjoy a

proper cup of tea.” She turned her full attention back to

the bottom of the box. “Now all I need is the tea,” she

mumbled to herself. “Aha!” she cried out triumphantly,

holding the canister of tea high over her head. “All is

right with the world!”

She stood up and dusted her hands on her worn jeans,

leaning back a little to see through the hallway and into

the bedroom where her husband had gone to lay down moments

before. “Would you like a cup of tea; do you think it

might warm you up?”

Still, there was no reply.

Margaret placed her fingers over her mouth as if she were

physically shushing herself. “He must be asleep,” she

murmured as she crept down the hall to the bedroom they had

begun to share three days before.

“Honey?” she ventured in a whisper as she stood in the

threshold, looking into the darkened room.

Frowning, she took a tentative step inside.

The covers were bunched in the form of his body, and she

could just make out the color of his hair as it poked out

slightly at the site of his pillow.

Nodding slightly to herself, she turned to go; but

something caught her eye. Squinting, she peered fiercely

into the semi-darkness as it seemed the blankets were

slowly deflating and the color of his hair beginning to

fade into shadow.

“Charlie?” she called out, her voice trembling slightly.

As she ran to his bedside, the blankets seemed to flatten

to the bed with a sudden rush of air.

Panic closed her throat, and the acidic taste of terror

filled her mouth. Yanking the blankets from the bed, she

stared wide-eyed at the completely desolate mattress. With

no reasonable purpose, she stripped the sheets and mattress

pad. “Charlie!” she screamed over and over again as if he

were simply out of the range of hearing.

When the mattress was bare, she dragged it from the box

spring, weeping and finally gagging as she pulled the box

spring from the frame and, of course, found nothing but

dust.

“Charlie!” she screamed louder than she would ever have

thought possible, spinning in a tight, slow circle. But

there was no one to hear.

ACT I

Pentwater, Michigan

July 17, 2001

Mulder glanced at his sleeping partner as he maneuvered

his car through the winding road along the Lake Michigan

shoreline. She hadn’t stirred or expressed the smallest

amount of cynicism in the last thirty minutes, so he was

assured that she was sound asleep. The problem was that he

missed her, and he felt foolish even voicing that feeling

in his head. He opened his window slightly and let a rush

of air flow through the car, rustling her hair slightly but

still not awakening her. Sighing, he turned his attention

to the scenery.

He felt a certain at-homeness when he was near any large

body of water, and he liked the way small towns looked when

they had one foot on the land and another dug into the

sand. He found the little towns on his way up the coast of

Michigan to be similar to those he grew up near in the

summers of his youth, although this coastline was a little

less harsh. Sighing, he hunched his shoulders and relaxed

them again. The small nod of his mind toward his childhood

memories made him feel melancholy, and his eyes fell once

again on Scully as a source of salvation from that feeling.

Pushing the button at his elbow, his window lowered,

bringing forth a breeze that was just short of hurricane

force. His partner shifted once and then took in a deep

breath. Mulder felt slightly guilty but more satisfied

that she would soon shy his memory away from the painful

observations his mind had begun to undertake.

“Mulder?” she murmured in a voice still sweet with dreams.

“Hmm?” he answered almost under his breath as he attempted

to hide the affection with which suddenly overwhelmed him.

“Could you close your window a little?”

“Oh, is that bothering you? I’m sorry,” he replied in

what he hoped was a sincere tone of voice and raised the

window.

She raised her head a little more and looked at Mulder, a

little confused. “We’re under five minutes from where

we’re going,” he offered.

“That’s a little vague,” she observed, taking in another

deep breath.

“The lake smells good, doesn’t it?” Mulder said, skirting

what he felt would be the next few questions.

Opening her eyes and glancing in the direction of the

lake, she smiled lightly. “I can’t even see it yet.”

“It has to be just beyond the pine trees.”

“I know it’s naïve, especially given all I’ve seen with

the X-Files, but I find it hard to conceive of a cluster of

crimes being committed in this setting.”

“M-hm,” Mulder agreed quietly, glancing over at her.

“Are the files in the back seat?”

“Sorry, Scully, I put them in the trunk.”

She leaned forward slightly, frowning suspiciously at

Mulder. “First you put them through baggage check and now

they’re in the trunk? Mulder, is there something you don’t

want me to know about this case.”

“No!” he responded a little too quickly for Scully’s

taste. “I just…I told you what was in the files.”

“Yes, Mulder,” she replied, leaning back once more. “You

told me about multiple unexplained disappearances in a

small lake-side town. That’s all you’ve told me, and that

usually means one thing.”

Mulder chuckled dryly. “What’s that?”

“That you think if you tell me the details I won’t come

with you.”

“What can I say, Scully? I crave your company.”

“Uh-huh. What aren’t you telling me, Mulder?”

“Nothing,” he protested adamantly. “Look, I’ll fill you

in when we get there.”

“How about you fill me in now?”

Mulder sighed heavily. “Because we’re almost…there.

We’re here,” he announced, pulling into the small half-

circle drive that led to the front of an almost impossibly

charming building that might have best been described as a

cottage if it weren’t so large.

“We’re where?” Scully asked, squinting at the white stucco

walls and cheery red shingles that sat placidly behind a

row of tangled roses.

“Here. Where the disappearances have occurred.”

Slowly she pulled herself from the rented sedan, watching

the house suspiciously all the while. “All of the

disappearances happened here?” she asked ducking slightly

to direct her question into the car.

“Yeah,” Mulder said casually as he turned off the engine

and quickly sprung from the car.

“What? Did a whole family disappear?” she asked, turning

once again to look at the house.

“No,” Mulder answered as he stretched out his back next to

the car. The air smelled sweet with roses and pine

mingling with the smell of the breeze from the lake. He

headed off to the trunk.

“Mulder, either stop answering all my questions with one

syllable grunts or I’m getting back into the car and

heading back.”

“How could you even think about doing that, Scully? Have

you no sense of the aesthetic?” he asked with a grunt as

he pulled their suitcases from the trunk.

“Maybe not, but I have a sense of when I’m getting my

chain pulled.” She stepped in front of him as he began to

make the trek up the flagstone walk. “Tell me now,

Mulder,” she said crossing her arms in front of her.

“Scully, I love it when you’re forceful, but these

suitcases are heavy.”

“Then put them down,” she answered, unbudged.

“Can’t I put them down inside, get a drink and then tell

you what I know?”

She watched his face for a moment. So many people would

describe him as inscrutable, but Scully felt he wore his

every emotion on his sleeve. It didn’t take a genius to

know he was concealing something. In fact, Scully even

knew the general reason why. Mulder believed something

that he knew Scully wouldn’t buy and he wanted the entire

weight of the evidence to exist in the surrounding where

the crimes occurred in order to persuade her. She took a

step back and let him pass. “This better be good,” she

warned.

“Wow,” Mulder breathed as he set down the luggage just at

the top of the steps that led into the large sunken living

room.

Scully stepped up behind him. “Wow, indeed,” she concurred.

Mulder turned in a slow circle taking in the abundance of

luxurious appointments: leather furniture, crystal light

fixtures, elegant oriental rugs and the latest of every

high tech appliance. He finally stopped at the glassed-in

wall at the far side of the rooms. Slowly he stepped down

into the living room and toward the panoramic view of the

lake offered by the complete wall of windows. “He told me

it was beautiful, but-”

“Who did?”

Mulder glanced at her. “The guy who alerted me to this X-

File.”

“And this guy is…?”

Mulder lifted his shoulders slightly with a small tremble.

“Somebody must have left a window open,” he observed.

“Mulder, if anything, this house is extremely stuffy. It

could use airing out.” She started toward the doors.

“Well, I feel a definite chill,” he persisted.

Scully turned toward him. “Oh no you don’t, Mulder.”

“What?” he asked, his face set in exaggerated innocence.

“I’ve seen The Sixth Sense.”

“Really? Was it good?”

“Like you don’t own a copy on DVD,” she replied.

“You’re not making any viable point, Scully.”

“Actually, I’m making two. You are obviously trying to

manipulate me into believing there is some sort of

otherworldly being at work in this house,” she said dryly

as she opened one door and then the other and stood facing

the breeze that filled the dappled room with sweetness.

“Manipulating you? I have never tried to manipulate you!”

“Just because you haven’t been successful doesn’t mean you

haven’t made the effort.”

“Well, even if I have in the past, and I’m not saying I

have, I am not trying to manipulate–” He shook his head

slightly in irritation. “Why would I be trying to

manipulate you?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you know that the

evidence here is so paper thin that without a little

manipulation you would have never gotten me to pack my

bags, let alone get on a plane to the Midwest.”

“Come on, Scully. Everyone knows you keep a packed bag in

your closet. There was no packing involved.” He paused,

frowning slightly, as he felt a stirring of air at the back

of his neck.

“What?” Scully asked, her voice now slightly tinged with

concern although her cynicism still pushed through.

“Nothing,” he answered as he rubbed the palm of his hand

under his collar. “I’m probably just trying to manipulate

you,” he replied with a smile, as he closed the doors she

had opened.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised,” she murmured, watching

him closely.

“You had a second point,” he told her as he landed heavily

in an overstuffed, leather chair and threw his feet on the

matching ottoman.

“A second point?”

“You said you had two.”

“Oh,” she replied as she circled him slightly. Something

about his expression, his posture, was setting off her

alarm systems. “You don’t have a DVD player.”

“So?”

“So you’re a sci-fi geek, Mulder, and a great deal of the

drivel you spout comes from lame horror movies.”

“That is not true,” he exclaimed with wounded indignation.

“I have studied the paranormal from every conceivable

source and drawn my own conclusions. The drivel I spout

comes from my own observations.”

“You, lame horror movies — what’s the difference?”

“People have sex in horror movies and then other people

try to kill them. People just try to kill me.”

“A subtle yet very significant difference,” Scully

observed with a small smile as she sat opposite him on the

coffee table and observed him.

“And The Sixth Sense was not lame.”

“Point taken,” Scully said, nodding slightly as Mulder

rolled his head back on the back of the chair. “So are you

going to tell me?” she asked him, although her attention

was overwhelmed by her concern for Mulder and the desire to

feel his forehead.

Mulder nodded, slowly opening his eyes. “Keep an open

mind.”

“Famous last words,” Scully replied.

“Five people have disappeared from this house and were

never found again.”

Scully leaned forward slightly, her hopes rising that an

actual crime had taken place here. “You told me that,” she

observed, betraying none of her inner feelings.

He bit his lip and cocked his head to one side as if

stretching out the muscles. “Five separate people since

1948. The locals think that some sort of…siren?” he

squinted and lowered his head. “Some sort of siren is

responsible.”

“A siren,” she echoed flatly

“That’s right.”

“Like in Greek mythology? The ones that called sailors to

their death with some sort of-”

“Song. Yeah, Scully, exactly like that.”

“Is that what you think, Mulder?”

“I haven’t made up my mind yet, Scully. I wish you could

try to do the same.”

“I haven’t made up my mind, Mulder. I don’t have enough

information to make up my mind. But I know men aren’t

being called to their death by mythical beings that live in

the lake.”

“How? How do you know?”

“Because what you’re talking about is a myth, Mulder; it’s

local folklore.”

“Fine, Scully. Then we need to find another explanation

because, to me, five people gone is a highly significant

number of lives lost.”

“I agree, Mulder. But we can’t discount these

disappearances have happened over the course of fifty

years–”

“So what are you saying? That these disappearances are

coincidental?”

“It’s unlikely but not completely out of the question.”

“Scully,” Mulder murmured in exasperation.

“What? What, Mulder? Are you saying coincidence is less

likely than sirens calling occupants to take a fatal dip in

Lake Michigan, one after another?”

“It doesn’t sound like the worst idea right about now.”

Scully sighed loudly and rose to her feet. “I’m going to

check out the other rooms,” she announced wearily and

wandered off.

Mulder took a deep breath and rose slowly from his chair

to take in the view at the windows, aware of the shivering

presence at his back but not wanting to admit it to himself

and especially not to Scully. After a minute, he felt the

need to seek her out. “The guy who called me said we could

stay here,” he called out as he sought Scully out. “He

said he’d even stock the fridge.”

“I could have told you it was a guy who stocked the

fridge,” Scully returned from the kitchen.

“How’s that?” Mulder replied as he rounded the corner to

join her.

“Beer,” she observed as she closed the refrigerator door.

“And Cheetos,” she finished as she went through the mostly

bare cupboards.

“Good thing I brought my own sunflower seeds,” Mulder

observed.

Scully spared him a quick glance and then did a double

take. “Are you okay, Mulder?”

“Okay? I’d like to think of myself as a little better

than okay.”

“You’re kind of pale and you look…”

“I look…?”

“I don’t know…odd.” She covered the ground between them

and placed her hand on his forehead. “You’re burning up!”

“Actually I’m really cold.”

She stepped back and studied him. “Were you feeling okay

in the car?”

“Yeah. I’m okay, Scully.”

“You’re okay except for a pretty serious fever.”

“I feel fine except I’d like to see if that fireplace

works.”

“It must be chills from the fever. You better go lay down.”

“Lay down!” he protested a little half-heartedly. “I’m all

right, Scully.”

“Mulder, there is no way you feel okay. Not with that

fever. I think we better get back in the car and see if…”

“See if what? Scully, the worst thing that could possibly

be happening here is that I’m coming down with the flu. So

what are you going to do? Check me into the hospital?”

“Mulder…”

“Look, I’ll make a deal with you,” he told her, bending a

little to look into her eyes and touching her shoulders.

“There’s a small store just a couple of miles up the road.

If you’ll go up there and get something for dinner, I’ll

lie down and try to take a nap. If I feel worse when you

get back, you can have me put to sleep. I’ll do whatever

you say. Okay?”

“Stop breathing on me, Mulder,” she said with mock

sternness.

“Deal?” he insisted.

“Whatever I say?” Scully clarified.

“Scout’s honor,” he said.

“I think we’ve already established that you were an Indian

Guide,” Scully replied. “So don’t try that with me.”

“Damn,” Mulder mumbled with a small smile.

“Okay, let’s go.”

“Are you going to tuck me in?” Mulder asked as he followed

her down the hall.

“Yup,” Scully replied, rounding the corner into the bedroom.

“And make soup for me?”

“I’ll make soup out of you if you don’t knock it off.”

Scully approached the bed and pulled the covers down. “At

least the sheets appear to be clean,” she observed as she

turned back to Mulder. “Come on,” she directed as she

gestured to the bed.

“How many fraternization codes do you suppose we’re

violating right now, Scully?” he asked as he undressed.

“I don’t think we’re breaking any new ground,” she

answered with a small smile.

“You don’t suppose we’re in a rut, do you, Scully?”

He climbed in the bed.

“I’ll let you know when I think that’s happened.”

“Mm-mm. Good,” he replied, but just barely. He glanced

up at her as she leaned over him, pulling up the covers.

“Maybe you ought to leave your gun here if you’re going to

Ma and Pa’s Friendly Emporium.”

“Is that what it’s called?” she asked, slightly appalled

“Nope,” he answered, his eyes drooping. “See if they have

marshmallows, okay? I’m just going to sleep a little

while,” he replied, his last words muffled in the blankets

as he settled in.

“Okay,” she answered, watching him all the while, her

fingers against her lips. “Mulder?” she said quietly to no

reply. She frowned slightly and touched his head again.

“Mulder…” she mused, her voice trailing off.

“You’re not from around here,” observed the checker as she

ran Scully’s groceries up the conveyor belt.

“No, I’m not,” Scully replied.

“How long are you in for?” the elderly man asked as he

bagged her groceries.

“Umm, not long,” she replied distractedly, glancing at her

watch.

“Where are you from?”

“Well–”

“Wait! Don’t tell me. This is my specialty,” he offered

with a touch of bravado.

“Your specialty,” Scully echoed flatly, not sure of what

he meant but wary of encouraging more conversation, which

seemed to slow his bagging efforts to a near standstill.

“Yup, you bet. I can tell where a person’s from just by

looking at ’em and, you know, hearin’ ’em talk.”

“Is that so?” she replied a little anxiously as she

watched the extremely slow journey of her groceries from

the conveyor belt to the bag completely halt.

“It’s true,” added the woman who had matched his speed at

the checkout, leaning the side of her bottom against the

conveyor belt as she rang the last items. “Nobody’s ever

come through here Andy couldn’t tell where they were from.”

Scully nodded. “That’s very interesting but–”

“One guy had come all the way up from Lawrenceville,

Georgia,” the bagger, who was apparently named Andy despite

the nametag on his shirt that identified him as Burt,

replied. “Now I don’t know about all those little podunk

towns, but I sure recognized his accent to be like that of

Jimmy Carter. You know? The ex-president?” He peered at

Scully expectantly.

“Yes, I know. Could I just ask–”

His hand stalled over the bag. “Now that was a fine

gentleman, wasn’t it? Jimmy Carter, I mean. Just fine.

Despite having the lust in his heart and all.”

“It’s better there than some places it could be,” the

checker observed.

Andy gazed at the checker, apparently confused for the

moment just before he dissolved into explosive laughter.

“Ain’t that the truth?” he gasped, reaching out and

grasping Scully’s arm. “Ain’t that just the truth?”

Suddenly his laughter turned into spasms of coughing and

gagging.

Scully took hold of his arm. “Are you all right, sir?”

“He’s okay,” the checker answered laconically. “That’s

$21.53.”

“Sir?” Scully insisted as she leaned over his bent form.

He nodded briskly, and slowly his coughing subsided.

Finally, he took a deep breath and straightened, wiping his

mouth with the back of his hand. “‘Course, it’s none of my

business.”

“I’m sorry; what is nones of your business?” Scully

asked, silently assessing his condition.

“Where someone’s lust is, you know…located. New York?”

Scully took in a sharp, agitated breath. “I’m sorry; I’m

not following.” She reached out for the closest can she

could reach. “I wonder if I could help here.”

The elderly man grasped her hand as she reached for a tin

of coffee. “No, ma’am. Now what would happen if you got

home and your groceries were all a mess because they

weren’t packed properly?” He shook his head wearily. “No,

ma’am. It’s best to leave these things to professionals.”

Slowly he stretched out his hand and then hovered over the

remaining groceries. “Scranton?”

“Sir?” Scully inquired.

“Are you from Scranton?”

“No, sir.”

“Nearabouts?”

“No, sir.”

“Damn! I thought I had you. Columbus?”

“No, sir.”

She glanced at the idle checker, who gazed at her with an

unveiled hostility. “That’s $21.53,” she pronounced again,

holding out the palm of her hand.

Scully took the money from her purse and handed it over,

all the while eyeing the non-existent process of filling

her bags. Looking back at Andy, she felt a sense of

anticipation as his hand hovered over the last item–

Mulder’s bottle of aspirin. “Chicago?” he wavered

hopefully.

“You know what?” Scully replied. “That’s absolutely

right,” she lied with a thin smile.

“I knew it!” he crowed. “Didn’t I tell you?”

“It’s absolutely amazing,” she replied as she gathered her

bags.

“What are you doing here then? Vacation?” the checker

asked as she used her pinkie to scrape at the edge of what

was left of her lipstick.

Scully stalled, feeling quite certain that an honest answer

might keep her here indefinitely. But having just openly

lied about her origins, she found herself incapable of

lying again. “I’m an FBI agent and–”

“Oh, my God!” the checker called out so loudly that someone

stuck their head from the edge of an aisle to gauge the

emergency. “You’re not staying out at the Elliot house,

are you?”

“The Elliot house?”

“Yeah. White stucco job out to the lake?”

She dipped her head in acknowledgement.

“You must be the FBI agent!”

“That’s right,” Scully agreed and worked against rolling

her eyes with all she was worth.

“You’re a braver gal than I,” the checker observed.

“Me too,” the old man offered, nodding gravely. “‘Cept

for the gal part. Nobody accused me of that so far

anyway,” he laughed heartily, and Scully watched him for a

moment to be sure he wasn’t going to laugh his way to a

heart attack. Luckily, this time he had not been so

dangerously amused.

“I hope you’re not out there alone,” the checker observed

as she picked at whatever she had found earlier on the edge

of her mouth that she now held within her extraordinarily

fake nails.

Scully’s instincts drew her closer to the odd couple. “Is

there something you can tell me about the house?” she

asked, shifting her groceries against her hip.

“Just that anybody who’s ever lived here for any amount of

time would never go anywhere near that house.”

“Poor girl,” Andy added, shaking his head sorrowfully.

“What girl?” Scully asked, barely covering her frustration.

“Her name was Amelia,” the checker supplied.

“No…uh, her name was old fashioned like that though.

Like that child star…”

“Shirley?”

“Nope.”

“Judy?”

“Nope.”

“Mickey?”

“Oh, for Cry Pete, it was a woman!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Scully interrupted, pulling on the

bags. “Can you just tell me–”

“Margaret!”

“That’s it!”

“Oh, wasn’t she darling?”

“Specially in Meet Me in St. Louis–”

“Okay, that’s about it,” Scully said sharply as she placed

her bags back on the conveyor belt. “What happened to this

woman, whatever her name?”

“Oh well, nobody here would have ever bought that house.

Has a history you know.”

“Sirens,” Andy whispered.

“Sirens,” the checker confirmed, nodding gravely, her

deeply shadowed eyes wide with sincerity.

“But she came in from some big city,” Andy added.

“Maybe from Chicago, like you.”

“And she bought the cursed thing. Next thing you know her

husband–”

“Well, he just, disappeared.”

“Phht…”

“Phht,” Scully repeated flatly.

“Just like that,” Andy confirmed, attempting to snap his

fingers but apparently not possessing the strength.

“She nearly went crazy. Came into town screaming about

her husband being sucked into the house.”

“Sucked. Into the house,” Scully replied, wearing her

incredulity as plainly as the arch in her eyebrow.

“I know it sounds crazy,” the checker admitted.

“Sure is. Everyone knows there’s a siren in the lake,”

Andy said with a roll of his eyes and slow shake of his

head.

“For Lord’s sake. Whoever heard of a siren in the house?”

They both nodded at her, apparently serious in their

assertions.

“She left all of her things there — every stick of

furniture. Said she never wanted to see anything connected

to that house again,” the checker informed her, nodding

with every word.

“Well,” said Scully, “that’s a very interesting story.”

“Are you going to write it down?” Andy asked. “They

always right it down on TV.”

“You know, I think I can remember this,” she told them,

attempted the smallest of smiles. She nodded as if she had

actually accepted the story and started out before she

thought of one last question. She turned, half way to the

door and asked, “Do you know who called my partner?”

“Your partner?”

“Yeah. Fox Mulder.”

“Is that his real name?”

Scully sighed. “Yes. Do you know who called him in on

this?”

“Is he out there at the lake with you?”

“Yes, he is.”

The cashier raised her eyebrows pointedly. “He’s not your

boyfriend, is he?”

Scully puffed out a sharp exhale of irritation. “I’m

sorry to be blunt, but I can’t see where…he’s my

partner,” she finally amended to shorten the conversation.

“Well, I know it’s none of my business,” the cashier said

in an injured tone. “I just thought you should know that

the siren-”

“In the lake,” Andy clarified.

“She’s jealous.”

“Yup, everyone who’s went missing over the years has been

someone’s husband–”

“Or fiance–”

“Or…lover.”

“I have never gotten used to that term,” Andy said with a

shudder. “Lover.”

Scully dropped her head to her chest, closed her eyes and

willed herself to be patient. “You were going to tell me

who called us in.”

“Oh! Bobby Bartlett.”

“He’s the real estate agent here in town.”

“Not much to do, though.”

“Folks here just about always stay put.”

“Unless they’re called into the lake,” Scully observed

wryly.

“That’s right,” the checker replied, wearing her offense

as heavily as her makeup.

“Why would the real estate call the FBI?” Scully asked.

“Well, he heard about your partner on at TV show,” Andy

replied.

“Jerry Springer,” the checker added curtly.

“And he thought that if he could prove the place was

haunted, why he might be able to sell the house to someone

who goes in for that stuff…”

“You know, supernatural.”

“We don’t go in for that kind of stuff around here.”

“What kind of stuff?” Scully asked before thinking.

“Haunting, for Cry Pete!” Andy exclaimed, peering at her

as if she might be attempting to disguise a mental

disability.

“So, basically, this Bobby–” Scully prompted.

“Bartlett.”

“Called us in to help sell a house he can’t get off his

hands.”

“Not a bad idea if you ask me,” confirmed the checker.

She drew her lips into a tight line. “Thank you for your

help,” she said briskly as she headed out the door, her

frustration with Mulder building with every step.

“You know, if she’s one of those FBI agents, she’s

probably from Washington DC,” the checker observed.

“Probably just grew up in Chicago.”

“Probably.”

Mulder was awakened by his own shivering. Gathering the

blankets tighter did no good, so he finally opened one eye

and then the other. He thought of the large stone

fireplace in the main room of the house and wondered if

there were any logs available and whether it had a gas

start. One more shudder and he gathered the blanket about

him and headed from the room.

The sun sprinkled the room with lacy shadows as it made

its way through the branches of the trees that surrounded

the home. He felt warmer with every step he took into the

center of the house. Finally he shrugged the blanket off,

leaving it on the floor behind him and stood momentarily

fixed by the scene outside the glass walls. The lake was a

stunning background as it lapped against the shore just

beyond the grouping of straight and narrow pine trees and a

small sandy expanse.

After a moment, he glanced around the room, puzzled.

“Scully!” he called out, his voice cracking with unshed

sleep. When there was no answer, he cleared his throat

against his hand and called out again. The door to the

back deck was slightly ajar so he walked toward it, drawing

his hand over his face as he went. Sleep still held him

in a velvet grasp, and he attempted to physically shake it

off —

to no avail. When he reached the open door, he stuck his

head just outside. “Scully,” he called once more.

“Pardon?” came an unexpected voice.

His head snapped around to behold a woman he hadn’t

encountered before. Her skin was pale as fine porcelain

and her hair was wave upon wave of tightly ringleted red

hair, reaching all the way down to her tiny waist. She was

petite and eye catching; her wide eyes holding him firmly

in her grasp. She appeared surprised but not frightened or

even startled.

“And who might you be?” Mulder asked, stepping out onto

the decking and glancing around for further surprise guests.

“Who am I?” she echoed, laughing slightly. “I suppose I

should be asking that of you.”

“Why’s that?” Mulder challenged.

She swept her eyes from his stocking feet to his tousled

hair with something akin to affection. “It’s my house,

isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“Last time I looked. And yet here you stand dressed for

bed…or something of the sort, questioning me about my

identity.”

She turned her head in what might have been a show of

petulance if it had not been done with a hint of a smile.

Mulder studied her in profile as she leaned on the railing

and gazed out at the lake. Her face contained the old-

fashioned sweetness of a Gibson Girl and a few roses were

scattered in her hair.

clip_image002

“Are those roses from the garden here?” Mulder asked,

frowning slightly at his level of distraction. He felt as

if he were in the distance watching himself behave in a

highly uncharacteristic manner. Then he smiled and nodded

as the realization came to him that he was still asleep.

His surroundings held all of the earmarks of a dream: too

beautiful a day, too beautiful a woman, along with an

emotional reaction that didn’t track with him. Where he

should have been suspicious or at least curious, he felt at

home and relaxed, as if he had been waking up to this woman

for years or decades. He felt a greater extent of comfort

as he accepted his conclusion and merely went along with

the heart-thumping attraction that possessed the quality

which only appeared in dreams and musicals, the dream

theory being the better of the two. When you hear hooves,

think horses, not zebras, Scully always said.

“Do you hear that?” the woman asked, with a slight gesture

toward the lake.

He raised his eyebrows questioningly. At first he heard

nothing but the breeze and the rustle of the trees, and he

smiled up at it. It really was a nice dream, a nice change

of pace from his usual dark and unsettling nighttime fare.

But then he heard the music, just barely as it wafted over

the lake, like the scent of pine at Christmas.

He nodded at her, and she took a step closer. No, he

decided, it was she that smelled like pine…and roses and

the freshness of the water. Oh, now he understood. He was

combining her with the house in his subconscious. Funny,

he thought. It was strange to be so aware in the course

of a dream. It must mean something, he decided, and then

tried to study the details more carefully in order to

decipher it when awake.

“I love this song,” the woman said plaintively. “Will you

dance with me?”

He held out his arms with no hesitation. After all, a

stunning woman wants to hold you in her arms while you are

asleep and not responsible, you go with it, right?

As she started to sway, he felt an overwhelming sense of

being drawn tightly within her, as if he melded into her

body, and it was intoxicating. He nestled his face into

the arousing scent of her hair and breathed in deeply. He

felt his limbs grow heavy and warm; but she seemed to keep

him upright, so he relaxed more deeply.

“This is our song now,” she whispered. “Every time we

hear it, we’ll think of this afternoon when you loved me.”

She was past charming, past beguiling. The sight of her

holding out her arms to him had made him want to weep, with

what emotion, he couldn’t say. Relief? Joy? Delight?

Okay, he thought. Fine, we’ll be together and grow old and

she will love me every day of my life and I will be so

grateful. “Our song,” he finally managed to mumble into

her shoulder where he seemed to reach effortlessly despite

the difference in heights. Dreams, he thought, dreams. He

continued to dance as he smiled.

ACT II

“Mulder!” Scully called as she marched into the house,

embroiled in the information she now had. She threw the

groceries down on the kitchen counter and went to rouse him

from the bed, to tell him they were leaving. She had yet

to lend her talents to real estate sales and wasn’t about

to start now.

She pushed his bedroom door open with her fingertips and

saw his outline under the covers and was slightly derailed.

She wondered if he had become sicker since she was gone.

Quietly, she entered and headed toward his bedside.

Looking down at him, she found she couldn’t see well enough

to feel for fever; so she went to the window and pushed the

curtains back. She blinked hard in the light that poured

into the room and turned toward Mulder. Irritated that she

found herself almost completely blinded by the spotting

from her brief glimpse into the sun, she reached down with

her hand to touch him but drew it back quickly. Something

about him was incomplete, she thought, or…or…she

couldn’t decide in the end what had disturbed her, so she

touched his head once more. “Mulder?” she said quietly.

He didn’t respond at all. Carefully, she held out her hand

and took hold of his shoulder and shook him. “Mulder?”

There was a sudden rush of something akin to panic that

rose up in her belly and seized her roughly, shaking her

core. But Scully never let panic lead her, so she brushed

it aside and took hold of Mulder, shaking him roughly,

calling his name as if he were away at some distant place.

To her relief, he stirred but certainly not to the degree

she expected, so she continued to shake him and prod and

repeat his name until he looked into her face, puzzled and

confused. “Wh-what’s the matter?’ he finally managed to

ask.

“Mulder, you weren’t responding,” she told him as she

looked into one eye and then the other.

“I was sleeping,” he said off-handedly.

“No, you were more than sleeping. I think you might have

been unconscious.”

Mulder felt as if he were wrapped in felt. He couldn’t

reach through the fog that surrounded his mind to reply, so

he nodded briefly and tried to go back to sleep.

“No, you don’t,” Scully admonished. “I’m taking you to a

doctor.”

“You are a doctor,” he pointed out.

“And as your doctor, I’m recommending you see someone

else. Something’s wrong with you, Mulder. Something I

can’t diagnose by taking your temperature and your pulse.

Now sit up, so I know you won’t fall asleep.”

“Come on, Scully,” he struggled to reply. “I’m having an

amazing dream, and I think it might be a clue to why we’re

here.”

“I’ll give you a clue to why we’re here. Somebody named

Bobby Bartlett is trying to make Employee of the Month.”

“Bobby Bartlett?” Mulder echoed, genuinely confused.

“Come on, Mulder,” Scully said, frowning at him, gauging

his condition with more than a little anxiety. “Bobby

Bartlett, the real estate agent.”

“Oh! Oh yeah. He can’t sell the house because of the

siren,” he said with a small smile and a twist of his head

into the pillow.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Scully said pulling on his arm,

attempting to make him upright. “Please, Mulder. Please

try to sit up and stay awake while I get our things.”

Mulder sighed loudly and dramatically. “You are such a

nag.” But he struggled to do as she asked, grasping the

headboard and pulling hard to make himself upright.

Finally, Scully took hold of his free arm and attempted to

help. “There,” she said as she propped him up. “All

right?”

He nodded. “If I still feel sick when I get to school,

can I call you to come get me?”

“You’re going to stay upright, right?”

“Right, right,” he responded with a grave salute.

“I’m going to get our things together and we’re going to

go, okay?”

“I wish you’d change your mind. I’m sure I’ll feel better

in the morning.”

“Sorry,” she said with no hint of apology.

“Scully,” he attempted to call out, but his voice almost

escaped him. He cleared his throat hard. “Scully, you’re

making way too much of this. I was just tired from the

drive.”

“That might work with someone else, Mulder, but I’ve seen

you drive much longer with much less sleep and you’ve

always been perfectly fine.”

“Don’t you want to hear about my dream, Scully?” he asked

as she poked her head in to check on him.

“I have a dream, Mulder. I dream that someday I’ll be

able to file a case report that won’t end up being passed

around as the latest joke from down in the basement.”

Her voice seemed so far away. He thought she had been

just there in the hall. He yawned with gusto and pulled

himself a little painfully to his feet. “I dreamt there

was a woman and I had her mixed up with the house, you

know? Scully?” He felt a little stronger; and he went out

in search of his partner, through the hall out into the

main living area. Standing with his hands on his hips, he

surveyed the room: no sign of her whatever. “Scully?” he

bellowed.

“What?” he heard from far off in the house, and turned in

that direction.

“Scully?” he called out again. “I was telling you about

my dream. I felt so weird. It was like I was having

someone else’s memories and life. And, Scully? The

woman? She had red hair, like the roof of the house, and

white skin and even had roses in her hair like the house.

She was beautiful and–”

“Thank you.”

Mulder startled hard and gazed open-mouthed at the woman

of his dream. “What the hell?” he said under his breath.

She stood at the glass doors, smiling warmly at him.

“Where have you been? I missed you.”

He glanced behind him, expecting his dream life and his

reality to bump into each other in the hall.

“Suddenly you don’t have anything to say to me?” she

teased. “We used to talk for hours.”

Mulder cocked his head. “Did I fall asleep? I-I was

trying not to fall asleep.”

“Why?” she asked, as if his answer could hold her

attention for all eternity.

“She — my partner — said I’m sick, and she wants me to go

to a doctor.”

Irritation passed over her features. “Sometimes it’s hard

for a man like you to recognize negative emotions in

another person, especially one who’s close to you.”

“I don’t understand,” Mulder admitted.

“No…no…I wouldn’t think you should. Remember before

we moved in here and that neighbor woman–she was a widow,

I think. Remember? She kept coming over and asking you

to…I don’t know what. Remember?”

Mulder nodded; he did remember something. It was hard to

wrap his mind around it. There was a woman though. Yes,

he remembered. She was beautiful and hard to understand,

just as she said. Yes…he remembered more now. Guilt

washed over him and washed away once again. There seemed to

be no long-lasting negativity here. He liked that.

“I couldn’t blame you, really. My mother said if a man

strays, you have no one to blame but yourself.”

“I’m sorry,” Mulder murmured.

“No…no…it’s over now. Don’t ever think about it

again. Just promise me you won’t think of her ever again.”

Mulder studied her as she stood a few feet away, her face

so vulnerable, so hopeful. He had a flash of her…so long

ago as they walked down the hill to the lake. Now, it was

coming back. It was before the house was built. She had

looked so hopeful that day too.

He felt a lurching in his mind. Like film in a projector,

slowing down and starting up again and somewhere the sound

echoed, also off kilter and strange.

“Mulder? Are you awake?”

Suddenly he couldn’t seem to sort out what belonged to him

and what he was borrowing or being given. He scrambled at

consciousness and knew everything for a moment.

Recognizing some fuzzy, far-off danger that was growing

closer, he attempted to wake himself but found it

impossible. And then he no longer wanted to do so as his

eyes rested on the woman.

“Mulder, wake up!”

Another minute or two, then he’d wake up and join

her…Scully…She was there…still, hoping as well.

Scully hit him — hard. Mulder’s head lolled back with the

blow, his eyes remaining closed, his expression oblivious.

Scully let him fall back onto the pillow and gazed

anxiously at his peaceful figure. Then something happened:

at first, she thought it was her panic finally raising to

the surface; but then it happened again. He seemed to fade

slightly and then return after a moment. He wasn’t

transparent, just…less. She swallowed hard, but there

was no saliva left in her mouth.

The woman — he didn’t even know her name, he realized as he

watched her intently. She seemed to drift more than walk.

Her gracefulness was fascinating, and Mulder found himself

settling into the world he had occupied briefly that

afternoon and missed without knowing it. As she got

closer, her features seemed to blur slightly before

snapping into vivid focus. Mulder felt as if the wind had

been knocked out of him, but with no pain, not even the

slightest discomfort; he just seemed to be giving up that

which he no longer needed to survive. Breathing was not

essential, after all, not here. Beating hearts were a way

to keep busy so that you never recognized the losses, the

disappointments. He could feel his heart slowing down and

it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. He had released

everything: his inner demons, his regrets and agony. He

felt an assurance drape around him like an infant inside of

a blanket. Here, he knew he was able to escape every

burden, was encouraged to do so.

As he considered these things, she drew so close he could

feel her warm breath against his face. He inhaled the

scent of roses and warm summer days and reached out a hand

as she placed her lips on his and sucked the life from his

mouth. He was completely lost and hoped there was no way

to find him.

There was only the slightest form left of Mulder’s body;

and Scully grasped at it, her flesh turning cold and hard.

Her hand seemed to slip through and around what she could

see, but there was still the echo of his shape under the

cover. Frantically, she patted at where his legs should

be; but they seemed to deflate as she hit them. She could

still feel the heat from his body, as if some part of him

remained, unseen, unreachable.

She took a step back and then another. “No,” she told her

own inner voice that screamed inside her skull. “Mulder!”

she called out. And then cried his name with a voice akin

to a scream, but not yet… She had taught herself not to

give in to panic, learned a steely response, even when it

meant ignoring the taste of blood in her mouth as she bit

against her own flesh in frustration.

There was no sense to it, but she could only run from room

to room, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be there. She

knew somewhere within her mind or her soul that Mulder was

gone, and she knew just as well that she was not going to

sit back and just accept it as the others before her had

done. The others…

She ran at full speed to her keys and threw herself out

the front door and down the walk where she had parked the

car. Fumbling slightly with the keys, she finally opened

the trunk and grasped the files Mulder had attempted to

keep from her. Here was the information, the knowledge she

needed to fight whatever had preyed on her partner. She

hurried inside and dumped the folders on the kitchen table,

randomly seizing one and ripping past the preliminary

pages, seeking out the women’s own words. File after file

carried the same cryptic message, abbreviated by law

enforcement officials who obviously wanted to hear

something more substantial than “He simply melted away,

into the house,” and variations on that theme. Scully ran

her hand through her hair. It wasn’t enough. She needed

something to fight with, and it wasn’t here.

“Excuse me.”

Scully whipped around to the sound of the voice and then

shifted her eyes to her gun that she had left on the

kitchen counter when the world seemed relatively safe.

“Who are you?” she demanded as she crept slowly toward her

gun and then with a single motion pointed it at the man’s

head.

“Oh, my God,” he murmured, raising his hands in front of

his face. “Don’t shoot me,” he cried out. “I have

children!”

“Who are you!” she repeated, her voice raising a register.

“My name is Bobby Bartlett.”

“The real estate agent?”

His fear fell from his face and was exchanged for a cheery

delight that she had heard of him. “Yes!” he answered,

lowering his hands and holding one out to greet Scully,

despite the lack of adjustment in her posture and

expression.

“Where is my partner?” she asked ominously, and he pulled

his hand back against his massive chest and quivered

slightly.

“Don’t you know?” he asked, wrinkling his forehead like a

child.

“If I knew, would I be asking you?” she asked.

He shrugged a little, perspiration beginning to show at

his upper lip and the underarm of his shirt. “Good point.

Where’d you last see him?”

“Look, he’s not a set of keys!” Scully pointed out, her

gun still aimed at his head. “He was in that bed in there

and then…and then…he wasn’t.”

“Uh-oh,” the large man under-reacted.

“Uh-oh?” Scully echoed, outraged. “If you know something,

you better let me have it.”

The man ran a hand through his wet, greasy curls. “I

don’t know much; nothing that could help you, anyway.

And…and my wife made lasagna tonight and–”

“Your wife better be keeping it warm.”

The man flinched and then laughed a little.

“You find this funny?”

“No…It’s just that, you know, that sounded kinda dirty.

“Keeping it warm,” he snickered, raising his shoulder

around his ears.

Scully advanced toward him, and his laughter died away.

Grabbing him by the front of his practically see-through,

by virtue of his perspiration, dress shirt, she pushed him

hard against the wall. “See, I’m not in the mood for your

prepubescent jokes. My partner is missing, and I think

you might know something about where he is and how I can

get him back.”

“Well,” he croaked. “I might know where he is, but I sure

as hell don’t know how to get him back.

“If you say he was seduced by a siren, I swear you’ll be

eating my gun-not lasagna-tonight.”

“But that’s all I know,” he whimpered. “That’s all anyone

knows. I told your partner everything before he came out

here.”

“Then why the hell would my– he choose to stay here?”

“Well, I asked him if you two were — you know,” he

snickered

again, “doing it — and he said that’s not the kind of

question a person who wants to continue to wear all of his

teeth should ask, and I told him I only asked because the

siren, you know, the siren? Well, she only mates with

people

in love; that’s the legend…”

He was rambling now. Scully sensed that he was quickly

losing his usefulness; but she was loath to dismiss him, as

he was her only human link to a solution. Suddenly she

heard a far-off scratching in the house.

“And he kind of laughed and said–”

“Shut up!” she commanded as she slowly released his shirt.

“What was that?” she whispered under her breath.

Bobby slid along the wall as stealthily as his size would

let him. As he neared the door, he tried to break and run;

but Scully held her gun on his back and cried out, “I’ll

shoot!”

He tried to step up his speed, his panic pushing him from

behind.

Scully aimed past his head and fired a round into the wall.

She jumped back as she heard a distant but seemingly all-

surrounding wail.

“Don’t kill me!” he screamed, his voice bouncing off of

the surrounding homes.

“Shut up!” Scully demanded as she mulled over what she

thought she had heard.

“Please,” he squealed. “I’ll talk!”

“Goddamn it,” Scully spat out. “Go home! Eat your

lasagna!”

Bobby Bartlett only hesitated briefly before scampering

into the yard and out into the darkness.

“Are you all right?” Mulder asked, urgently peering into

her face as he held her to prevent her from slipping to the

ground.

“What are you doing to me?” she asked sadly, with no

apparent sign of fear or struggle.

“I-I’m not doing anything. I was holding you, and you

screamed.”

“Because you hurt me. Don’t do this again. Please.” Her

eyes grew wide and filled with tears. “I love you,” she

added pleadingly as she clutched at his shirt. “Don’t you

remember? I love you, and you love me.”

Mulder gently smoothed a strand of her hair from her face.

He did remember, and it was dumbfounding. How could he

know what it was to meet her and grow to love her and marry

her and make love to her? But he knew. In the time it

took to strike a match, he knew all about their life

together; and he didn’t like the way it made him feel.

“Please tell me you won’t hurt me again,” she begged,

pulling herself deeply into his arms.

The words, her face, started the show in his mind once

again. Every fiber of his body wanted to avoid what he

felt he’d see, but he considered the possibility that

having put it behind him, he might be able to forget it

as quickly as every other bad feeling he had encountered

here.

Finally he decided to let the woman or the house or

whatever

it was that held him in its grasp, show him what it wanted

him

to know. He closed his eyes and waited.

Her skin had felt so pliable, so fragile. How many times

had he stroked it, licked it, kissed it? Her skin was what

had attracted him in the first place. So pale, translucent

even. You could almost see the blood traveling below the

surface. Something about that idea excited him.

Now he held her, still in cover of night, under the stars

at the site they had chosen together to build their home.

He could feel the blood throbbing past his fingers,

fiercely attempting its journey despite his hands wrapped

so tightly around her neck. Her eyes were glassy now, but

still the blood traveled; vaguely now and erratically.

Still she looked at him, so open, so trusting. He dropped

her to the ground in a fit of panic and disgust. She

didn’t move, her body lay awkwardly twisted at his feet.

Bile raised his mouth, and he shoved his fist against his

teeth in order to force it back down.

Straightening up, he cast his eyes furtively up the hill

and toward the lake. There weren’t many houses those days;

and she hadn’t screamed, hadn’t even struggled. Perhaps

she thought it was a joke at first, or a mistake. She

wouldn’t want to embarrass him by jumping to the wrong

conclusion. She had always been so polite, so careful of

his feelings. As a result, by the time she realized he

meant to kill her, she was beyond fighting, beyond hope. So

there was silence, complete and absolute as if the very

wind stopped and held its breath. There was no chance of

being overheard, only happened upon; and he didn’t see a

passerby or a neighbor. It helped that she had been so

innocent. She had clung to his arm, chatting about the

stars and the beauty of the night and how bright the moon

was and their future, as they made their way down the

sloping lot. “Look,” he had told her. “Tomorrow they will

pour the foundation for all our dreams. We will live here

together forever.”

She had actually danced a little on the earth that would

hold their home, twirling her arms open to the exceptional

brightness of the moon. “Look at the lake!” she had told

him, clutching her hands together in delight. “It looks

like the lake swallowed the moon whole and is spitting it

out in pieces.”

“Yech,” he had responded.

She had smiled at him, glowed really, and then pranced

over to him. Her love shone in a way that he had never

seen directed at him before she had come into his life.

But he no longer felt the pride he used to feel, the flush

of heat that accompanied his love for his wife. There was

someone else now and she was waiting; he had to get to it

or he’d hit rush hour.

He was relieved when it was over. The freedom was making

him dizzy. He wanted to dance around her body, but there

was still work to do. He scrambled up the hill to his car

and removed the shovel, quickly returned to her body and

began digging. It had to be deep enough that no one would

unearth her before the foundation was poured the following

morning. It took so long, but he had always been thorough.

“A job worth doing was worth doing well;” that was what his

father had told him. Somewhere across the lake, an

orchestra was playing — probably the country club. He’d

have to look into joining when all of this was over. He

hummed along as he continued to dig.

When she lay at the bottom of the hole, he felt his first

sense of real regret. She was beautiful; no getting around

that. Even now, paler than ever before, her hair cascading

on her face and shoulders and dirt spattered on her fragile

features, she was pretty. He shrugged it off, though, and

threw the first shovel of dirt directly on her face. But

before he could continue, the sparkle of her wedding ring

distracted him; and he gazed down upon it for a moment.

“Waste not, want not,” his father had said.

Carefully he lowered himself into the grave and took her

tiny hand into his palm. He had always liked the way it

felt in his hand. It made him feel oversized, powerful.

Grasping the ring, he pulled hard; but she seemed to pull

back. He frowned and attempted again with more resolve,

and finally it slipped from her finger. Peering down at it

for a moment, he felt regret well up inside him once more.

But what else could he have done? If he had divorced her,

he would never had been able to buy the house; and the

contracts were signed. No, it was better this way. He

pocketed the ring and prepared to ascend.

He climbed up toward the surface and felt his foot catch

for a moment. Just briefly, the smallest grain of panic

gripped his stomach. It gave him the strength to hoist

himself up in a single attempt. He wiped at his face; the

few beads of sweat that had popped out there felt cold and

clammy. Looking down into the grave, he could still see

her by virtue of the full moon. Deliberately, he gathered

another shovelful of dirt and dumped it in on her.

When he was done, he stood for a moment, gathering his

strength, breathing a little heavily. He stamped over the

grave, scuffing it over and over with his shoes. When he

was done, he looked back on his work with pride. The

cement would be poured in the morning and there she would

stay, never to trouble him again.

Glancing down at his hands, he noticed dirt and blood dug

deep under his nails and up into his arms. “Cleanliness is

next to godliness,” his father had said. He knew he

couldn’t go to see his girl in such disrespectful

dishevelment. Biting his lips, he looked out at the lake.

What a perfect view he would have from his new house with

his new wife. But right this minute, he had to clean up.

Slowly he nodded; the lake was there for him. The world

was there for him. He stripped down and headed for the

shore; and with a few quick steps and a dive, he immersed

himself.

He almost laughed aloud with pride and relief. No one

would ever know. He would start his new life immediately

with the woman he had been born to be with. It was a pity

they hadn’t met before he married his wife, but that was in

the past. He upturned himself and dove under the water

again, swimming for a moment, where he saw a flash of

moonlight all the way down under the water. It was a

bright night, he thought before he popped up among the

waves and took a single stroke toward shore. But once

again, as in the grave, something seemed to hold him

tightly about the foot. He gulped at the air and tried to

see under the waves, but he could only see the sparkle of

the water in the moonlight. A stronger, more insistent

pull dragged him beneath the waves where he struggled hard

before raising up one more time. “Help!” he sputtered,

forgetting in his panic that he had purposely made sure of

the absence of Samaritans. “Help me!” he cried before

being tugged below the waves one more time.

He saw her then: her smiling face, so glad to see him.

Gasping drew more water into his lungs, but he couldn’t

help himself. Her skin was as pale as the water now, her

hair dark as it swirled around her features. Her

expression was one he had seen many times, when he had to

go out of town on business or wanted a night out with the

boys. She always hated to be left alone. “I get so lonely

for you,” she would say. He tried to pull away, but his

strength was waning. He looked into her face, pleading.

But she was insistent. He would not be leaving her this

evening. His wife demanded he stay, and he could not deny

her.

Mulder snapped from the memory and found himself

surrounded in gray sightlessness and pulling at a dwindling

supply of oxygen. He could still taste the lake water in

his mouth although he wasn’t wet or within another person’s

memory any longer. He knew he was dying. There was no

doubt; but having no idea of how it was happening, he

didn’t know how to fight. At least he knew who he was, if

not where, and he hoped he wouldn’t die with someone else’s

life passing before his eyes.

Somewhere close by, he heard the agonized screams of

someone who was dying so much more painfully than he was.

He wondered if he might find a way to save them both.

ACT III

Scully paced through the house, mulling over what she had

heard when the bullet hit the wall. Her blood pounded in

her head as she decided to test her theory. “Give him

back,” she said aloud, before aiming her gun at the pure

white walls and squeezing the trigger.

There it was again; a soft, low moan from somewhere and

everywhere at the same time.

“Give him back!” she demanded more loudly and pulled off

two more rounds into the ceiling, causing the crystal

chandelier to shiver, seemingly in terror. There were

cries and the unmistakable sounds of pain, but it wasn’t

enough.

She put down the gun and paced more agitatedly. “What…”

she murmured, her hands first balling in fists and then

stretched wide and running through her hair. “How do you

kill a house?”

Her eyes landed on the fireplace, and she nodded in

satisfaction. “Give him back!” she warned as she stalked

into the kitchen and flipped on the four burners. She spun

on her heel until her eyes landed on the paper bag

containing the groceries she had abandoned earlier.

Carelessly dumping the items she had fought so hard to

bring home, she balled up the bag in the form of a torch

and then she paused. Would she be killing Mulder? Was he

contained in the house or spirited away? “Dammit!” she

exclaimed. “Mulder!” she cried out as loudly as her voice

could manage. “Mulder!”

She paced in a close, tight circle, her mind going over

every fact she had learned thus far, turning them over and

over again, and then she broke free of it. Having made her

decision, she lit the bag and marched into the great room

and began touching every flammable surface she encountered:

the pillows, the chairs, the curtains, all fiercely aglow

with leaping flames. She stood in the middle of the

flaming room, knowing she would soon have to run for her

life, leaving behind all hope of ever finding Mulder.

Throwing the torch as far as it would go into the room,

she bent over at the waist and screamed his name one more

time before she headed from the house.

She appeared before his eyes, nothing else, no sunlight or

moonlight. No pine trees or lake. No memories. It was

simply the woman, holding out her hands, her face a mute

expression of horror and agony. She bled from the stomach

and the head, and now he could see the light of fire

surround her as if she were being burned at the stake.

Crying out, she held her arms over her face and he could

see her flesh alight as she withered to the floor.

“No,” Mulder said under his breath, not noticing that the

air around him now filled his lungs and that his alertness

built with every passing moment. “God…” he said, truly in

prayer. “No,” he cried louder.

He reached for her, but she was mostly smoke and burning

embers. Her face though…He covered his eyes in the

attempt to avoid her face. He grasped at the vision, but

it seemed to be just that. Still, he ached to save her;

and he struggled against bonds that were unseen and

insurmountable.

He hair was the last to catch fire, and it began slowly

and then shot up toward her face. He filled his lungs to

their greatest capacity and screamed.

Scully heard the sound just on the other side of the

threshold: a heart-rending scream somewhere inside the

house. There was no hesitation on her part; she recognized

her partner’s voice and she went in after him.

The flames popped and crackled but did not entirely

envelope the doorway. She dropped to her hands and knees

and made her way in the direction of the sound of Mulder’s

screaming. Pausing, she heard him scream again. “No!” he

cried out, and she moved more quickly. When she arrived in

the hallway just outside the bedroom, she realized that

this end of the house was not yet afire. Carefully, she

rose to her feet; but before she could completely

straighten, Mulder rushed by in a streak of frantic

movement.

For a moment her shock would only let her track him as he

ran into the flames she knew terrified him, armed with a

throw rug and a blanket. Frantically he began beating at

the flames, coughing and stumbling all the while. She ran

after him and caught him around the waist. Quickly,

without turning around, he shook her off. “Leave me

alone,” he growled and continued his fruitless effort.

“Mulder! We have to get out! You can’t do anything.

Look around you!”

“Then get out!” he cried as he attempted to smother the

flames.

“I’m not going without you!” Scully screamed over the roar

of the fire.

“I can’t go! I have to–” He coughed harshly, bent over at

the waist and leaning precariously toward the floor. “I

can’t let her die again!”

“Mulder!” Scully screamed, although her voice was

beginning to fail her. “There’s no one here but you and

me! If we don’t go now–” She held onto Mulder to remain

upright as a small explosion rocked the kitchen,

effectively cutting off access to the front door.

Taking hold of Mulder, she turned him around and looked

into his eyes. At first he would not meet her eyes; and

then only because he could not avoid them, he met her gaze

simply to be done with whatever she wanted. There was some

kind of madness there that almost sent her plummeting into

despair. But there was no time for that now. “Mulder, you

are not yourself. Believe me! You know me. I wouldn’t

lie to you. You have to put aside whatever it is you

believe to be true and completely trust me. If we don’t

leave now, we will die. You and I, we will die. Please,

Mulder. Don’t do this to me. Don’t do this to us, Mulder.

Come with me now and let this be over.”

He paused, swaying over Scully like a tree ready to fall;

but when he looked into her eyes, Scully could see the

madness dissipate.

He nodded, looking around him, his eyes watering from the

intense heat. And then, with a quick, determined motion,

Mulder picked up the ottoman just behind him and lifted it

over his head and hoisted it through the glass windows. A

high, sad shriek echoed in the wind that swirled around

their heads, drawing the fire closer to them. Mulder only

listened for a moment before catching Scully’s arm and

pulling her from the building and through and beyond the

deck. Stopping once more, he glanced behind him, but

Scully took hold, running toward the water as the flames

shattered what was left of the windows and began to consume

the trees.

“Keep going, Mulder, run!” she cried, pulling him into the

water and finally wading out into the depths.

When she felt they had escaped the impending danger, she

stood watching the fire and catching her breath. After a

while, she splashed water over her face and breathed as

deeply as she was able. Her body pushed the smoke out of

her lungs, and she was racked with a fit of coughing.

Mulder coughed as well, but his eyes remained trained on

the inferno at the top of the hill.

Scully watched him, his devastation written all over his

ash-smeared face. His loss seemed to overwhelm him; but at

this time, she couldn’t imagine what that loss might be.

“I’m sorry, Mulder,” she felt compelled to say, although

she wasn’t certain why. She glanced around at the sounds

of sirens heading up the road, but she knew they were too

late to save it and maybe it was for the best.

Mulder dropped his head and finally lowered himself and

dunked into the water to cool the remnants of fire and

clear the filth from his face and neck. As he began to

rise from the water, he saw it and his mouth turned up at

the corners.

“Did you see that, Scully?”

“What?”

He pointed at the face, shining bright as a coin in the

sunshine, just under the surface of the water.

“There,” he answered, putting his arm around her and

pointing to the spot where she smiled up at them.

“Oh,” said Scully, now shivering a little. “The moon is

really beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Mulder as he watched her fade away. “She is.”

Pentwater, Michigan

July 23, 2001

“I thought I’d find you here,” Scully called over the wind.

Mulder turned his head toward her where he squatted at the

base of the hole forensics had left behind. He stood up

slowly and went to meet her.

“They finished up this morning,” he told her.

Scully nodded and placed her hand on his arm, and he

managed a weak smile.

“I thought we agreed you were going to rest,” she

admonished him gently.

“Scully, I’ve been resting for a week. I’m all rested out.”

“You went through a serious physical trauma and–”

“Scully, I can’t get any more rested than this. If I were

any more rested, I’d be dead!”

Scully couldn’t manage a smile.

“I’m sorry,” he told her.

She nodded her acceptance. “How long have you been out

here?”

“Not long. They took the remains away about thirty

minutes ago.”

“Why are you still here?”

“I don’t know. I was just thinking about her. I don’t

even know her name.”

“I might be able to help you with that,” Scully told him

and nodded toward the car, heading back in that direction.

Mulder looked over the barren site as if he were searching

but soon turned and followed her up.

Bending into the car through the window, Scully pulled out

a stack of papers.

“What’s this?” Mulder asked.

“While you were resting,” Scully said, poking Mulder in

the ribs, “I decided to do some research at the local

library.

“There’s a local library?” Mulder asked incredulously.

“Actually there’s a local librarian. The library consists

of a few books and a surprisingly complete archive of

newspapers in what used to be the neighborhood whore house.”

“There’s a neighborhood whore house?” Mulder repeated more

astonished than before.

“Mm-hmm. Her mother owned it. It’s a long story, Mulder.

Every story in this town is a long story.”

“Are you going to share them with me?”

“Maybe someday when we’re locked up together on insanity

charges. Until then, I just want to share this.” She

handed him a yellowed paper and leaned back against the car

to wait.

“What’s this?”

“Our files didn’t go back far enough. These are from

before the house was built.”

“Couple feared dead in…swimming accident?” Mulder read,

glancing up at Scully surprise.

“Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Swanson are missing. Foul play is

feared.” Mulder looked up again, puzzled.

“Okay, now read this,” she said, handing him the next

paper, dated days later.

“Local man Kenneth Swanson found washed ashore. Wife

presumed dead.”

Mulder sighed.

“There’s one more, Mulder,” Scully told him. “And I

really dug for this.”

She handed a folded back paper to Mulder, dated three

years later.

Mulder read, “Local boy finds wedding ring of long-missing

woman.” He glanced at Scully and then out toward the lake.

“Her husband took it from her,” he said quietly.

“How can you be sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“You don’t think this could be another body. Maybe his

wife-”

“This is where he put her, Scully.”

She silently accepted that. “He must have been caught in

the undertow.”

Mulder didn’t respond. “Wait…” he said after a minute.

He scanned the paper intently and then raised his head,

apparently satisfied. “Bernadette.”

“Pardon?”

“Her name was Bernadette.”

“What about all the other men? Any ideas where we would

look for their bodies?”

Mulder shook his head slowly. “I don’t know, Scully.

I’ll never know where I was. Wherever that place is,

that’s probably where you would find them.”

“Doesn’t help with the report,” Scully observed wryly.

Mulder smiled. “Sorry.”

They stood silently for some time, each in their own

thoughts. “Ready to go?” Scully finally asked. “Mrs.

Kolzak, the librarian, says if I don’t have these papers

back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail she’ll come looking for

me and she ain’t just whistling Dixie.”

“I’m not sure what that means, but is sounds pretty

scary,” Mulder observed, slightly preoccupied.

“That’s what I thought,” Scully said and touched his arm.

He looked out once more over the lot and the lake and the

charred remains of all of Bernadette’s dreams and then

nodded.

As they drove back toward town, Scully looked at her

partner who was deep in thought. “Are you ever going to

tell me how you knew where the body was?”

“When we’re locked up in that asylum with time on our

hands.”

EPILOGUE

FBI Headquarters

July 28, 2001

“Agent Scully, I called you in to talk about this report.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Is this the report you want to turn in?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are you sure?”

“Sir?”

“Because I don’t think you want a report on record in

which you admit to torching a private citizen’s home.”

“I’m not sure what you are asking of me, sir.”

“Off the record, Agent Scully?”

“Yes?”

“Agent Scully, I would recommend that you amend your

report. There is no reason for you to take the blame for

this one.”

“But, sir, I lit the fire.”

“You lit the fire in an attempt to save you partner. Am I

wrong?”

“No.”

“Is it your opinion that your reasons for doing so will be

deemed appropriate?”

“No.”

“Cause of Fire: Unknown.”

“But, sir–”

“Unknown, Agent Scully.”

“What if they decide to investigate the cause?”

“They won’t.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Agent Scully, can I ask you one more thing, off the

record?”

“Yes.”

“I have a note here that Agent Mulder has asked to be

given custody of the remains once the investigation is

over.”

“I don’t believe any relatives have been discovered, sir.”

“That’s not my point. I wanted to know off the record

what he intends to do with the remains.”

“I believe, sir, that he intends to bury them.”

“He intends to pay for the burial of the victim’s remains?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Any idea why?”

“I believe he believes she deserves that much.”

“I see. Thank you, Agent Scully.”

Roller Rink

Cover

TITLE: Roller Rink

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual

Season 8

AUTHOR: Cecily Sasserbaum

RATING: PG

CLASSIFICATION: X, H

DISCLAIMERS: “The X-Files” belong to Chris Carter, not

me.

I also don’t own “Wild Thing” by Ton Loc, or “Break My

Stride” by Matthew Wilder, or “Hold Me Now” by the

Thompson Twins.

ARCHIVING: IMTP only for the first two weeks.

SUMMARY: Vanishing competitive roller skaters.

Ambitious reporters. Civil War reenactments gone bad.

And agents on wheels. Where will it all end?

TEASER

Wednesday evening

Kiddsboro, Georgia

June 12

There aren’t even that many hills in Kiddsboro,

Georgia. It is actually a remarkably flat town.

Which is at least part of what makes this so ironic,

thought Mulder. And he was certainly one to appreciate

irony. Even when it wasn’t especially on his side.

“Scully here,” came Scully’s voice, over the phone.

Mulder considered how to best phrase this.

“I’m stuck,” he said.

“Stuck?”

“I lost the reporter,” Mulder answered, glumly. No end

to his humiliations today, apparently. “But I’m sure

he’ll be okay.”

There was a pause. “Stuck where, exactly?”

“You know the big hill? On that road that leads right

into the downtown square?”

“I can picture it,” she said.

“I’m stuck about halfway up. I’m holding on to a

doorknob, but I don’t think I’m going to last much

longer. My palms are sweating.”

There was a pause.

An elderly woman came out of the front door of the

barber shop across the street and began carefully

wiping its windows. Mulder tried to duck a little.

Maybe it was best not to be conspicuous, given the

situation.

“Now when you say ‘stuck,’ Mulder, what exactly do you

mean?”

“Well, Scully,” he said, trying to keep his voice

cheery without getting too loud, “I think I’m being

chased by an armed suspect. He’s got a Confederate

rifle.”

“A Confederate rifle?”

“I think so.”

“Should I call for back-up?”

“I’d prefer you didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Well, it might not be real, Scully. It might be a

prop. Like for those civil war reenactments, you

know?”

“Okay,” Scully was starting to sound peeved. “Someone

is chasing you with a civil war rifle that might

actually be a prop. You don’t want back-up. Mulder,

why aren’t you running?”

“I can’t,” Mulder said, lowering his voice, “because

of the skates.”

The woman across the street had finished wiping the

windows. She brushed off her hands, considered her

work. It glinted a little in the peach-colored

streetlights.

“Oh no,” Scully said. “You’re wearing skates?”

Mulder stared at the skates in question, which had

very untidy red wheels at this point, after all the

places he’d been in them in the past thirty minutes.

He hated these skates. Really he did. It had been a

terrible idea to put them on.

“It’s really more complicated than I care to get into

right now, Scully. Let’s just say there are wild

things afoot in Kiddsboro, Georgia.”

“You can say that again,” Scully said. “And you can’t

take them off?”

“Not without some kind of major crash happening. A guy

has to keep some remnant of dignity, you know,

g-woman?”

“Right,” Scully said. “Dignity.”

“And if I let go of the doorknob, I think it could all

be over, Scully.”

“And what were you suggesting I do, exactly?”

“Pull up the car next to me? Let me hop in, and take

off the skates?”

“That would be a very solid plan, Mulder,” Scully

agreed, “if I was anywhere near the car. But I am

actually a little busy myself right now …

investigating.”

At the top of the hill, the soldier, Captain Plummer,

had appeared again, wearing the navy blue wool

uniform, looking back and forth furtively in the

street.

Captain Plummer had huge feet, Mulder noticed! They

probably didn’t even make roller skates in his size.

Mulder pressed himself hard against the door frame,

trying to disappear.

“I see the guy again, Scully,” whispered Mulder into

the phone.

He stared longingly downhill, where the road ended

into a public square right in front of the courthouse.

If he took off rolling down the hill, how far he would

make it? Sure, he’d be rolling pretty fast, but Scully

had mentioned before that the fastest you could go on

roller skates was what, ten miles an hour? He could

aim for something soft, like a bush, or a tree, or the

fountain.

Or maybe, once he started gathering speed, he would

vanish into thin air. That’d be one way to resolve

this case, he thought to himself. Gotta love *that*

irony.

Mulder bent his knees slightly. “I don’t think he’s

seen me yet.”

“The Confederate? He’s near you right now?” she was

saying.

“Well, he’s actually a Yankee,” Mulder said. “But for

various reasons, he uses a Confederate rifle. Can I

call you back? I need to make sure I’ve got my gun

handy, in case he tries to take me prisoner again.”

“Please, take your time,” she said.

But he never heard her answer, unfortunately.

Because he dropped his cell phone when the doorknob he

had been clutching slipped out of his sweaty hands.

Scully, on the other hand, could hear on the other end

of the phone the sound of rattling plastic skate

wheels, beginning rolling slowly, but cataclysmically

gaining speed.

“Oh no,” she said softly. For the second time in the

conversation.

There was one characteristically girly scream,

shouting the rawest, least defined syllables of her

name somewhere in the distance.

And was that a cavalry bugle playing reveille? Maybe

the Yankee soldier?

This was turning into a kind of theater of the absurd,

she thought in frustration.

The only thing clear in her mind were the eighties

lyrics she had heard playing just minutes before at

the Kiddsboro Roll-Away Roller Rink. She grimaced, and

the handsome young reporter, who sat across from her

at the table, leaned forward in concern.

“Nobody’s gonna break my stride. Nobody’s gonna slow

me down,” she sang into the phone, to no one, making

eye contact with the reporter.

Forward momentum is the entire problem, she decided.

She and Mulder had been rolling downhill, without

brakes or kneepads, from the beginning.

If only she could retrace their steps.

ACT ONE:

10 hours earlier

Roll Away Roller-Skating Rink

Kiddsboro, Georgia

Scully decided this immediately: the Roll Away

Roller-Skating Rink may indeed be a center for

competitive artistic roller skating in the southeast,

but it hadn’t updated its interior design since 1987.

Nor its security system, since she and Mulder had just

walked in the open front door. Nor its music

selection, if the nasty-minded Ton Loc tune playing

loudly over the speakers was any indication.

“What do you think, Scully?”

“I think,” Scully said, looking around, “that someone

has seriously abused the color neon green, and the

concept of hot pink spirals.”

“I mean about the case,” Mulder said. They hadn’t seen

anyone inside of the rink yet, but he had somehow

found a vending machine, and was opening a fresh

packet of sunflower seeds. “What’s your theory?”

Scully swallowed her annoyance. This particular game

of Mulder’s was wearing thin. He knew damn well he had

only told her half the story. Woke her up Sunday night

and told her to be on a plane to Atlanta the next

morning. She rolled her head around on her neck,

trying to work out a little stiffness from the plane,

and tried to think of what her appropriate line would

be. Did it matter, really? Something skeptical was all

it took. She was just supposed to set him up to be

brilliant, right?

“Two adolescent girls disappear in one fortnight from

one southern suburban roller-skating rink. I would

disappear, too, if I was sixteen and living in this

town.”

“They don’t just disappear, Scully,” Mulder said,

cracking into a sunflower seed and leaning against the

rink’s wall. “They vanish. Literally. Without a trace.

In front of witnesses.”

Scully grimaced. “Let me guess. In the middle of a

roller-skating tournament. When the fog machine’s

rolling, and the disco ball is lowered?”

“Woo-hoo, Scully likes to do the wild thang,” sang

Mulder. A Ton Loc fan, apparently.

“Of course, my amateur magician uncle could make my

cousin Mattie disappear, too, Mulder. All he needed

was enough smoke and mirrored balls and a clever

diversion.”

“Three weeks ago Veronica Milton, aged 16, was skating

through a rehearsal of her highly ranked competitive

roller skating routine — she’s the defending junior

southeast division champion — when she vanished right

in front of witnesses, including her mother, Wanda

Milton. She hasn’t been seen since,” Mulder said. “She

was right in the center of the rink, according to Mrs.

Milton. See any room for a trap door there, Scully?”

Scully scanned the rink. Well-scuffed wooden floors,

ghostly residues of gum gone by, probably dating back

to the first flush of roller skating popularity in the

1960s.

“I don’t, Mulder,” she said. “But we should have it

checked out. Were there other witnesses?”

“Five of them,” Mulder said. “Including a rink

employee, Kyle Wyatt, aged 15, who according to the

front-page story on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,

confirms Mrs. Milton’ story. One minute Veronica was

there, the next minute she was gone.”

Obviously he was relishing this dramatic telling of

the story, Scully thought wearily to herself.

Obviously she was being asked to play the role of

incredulous audience member. She plopped down on a

nearby pink bench and looked dutifully up at him,

feeling like a child.

*Let me know when I’m supposed to say something,

Mulder.*

“The local police don’t know their elbow from their

ass, they file a missing person’s, and that’s

supposedly the end of it,” Mulder smiled. “But Scully,

guess what happened then?”

“Another girl disappears,” Scully answered, right on

cue.

“Fiona Emery, age 14, last week during a dress

rehearsal of the afore-mentioned southeast semifinals.

She was going through her routine in front of no less

than three hundred witnesses when she, too,

disappeared. Leaving behind … guess what, Scully?”

“A single phantom roller skate,” guessed Scully, “that

continues to roll on without her.”

“Scully,” smiled Mulder, fluttering his eyelashes.

“You just gave me chills.”

“How were Fiona Emery’s chances at the semifinals,

Mulder? Was she in the running to win?”

“She sure as hell was,” called a voice nearby, causing

Scully to jump off her seat.

There was a gawky adolescent boy with a surprisingly

long and narrow face standing leaning on a mop just

feet behind them.

“Fiona was one of the favorites,” the boy said,

“although she never won before. Fiona is an amazing

roller skater. One of a kind.”

He wore a black tee-shirt with “Roll-Away Skating

Rink” emblazoned across it, and stood with a shy

slouch, but Scully was most distracted by the longness

and narrowness of the boy’s face.

What was it, two feet long? And only five inches

across? What kind of skeletal structure must produce

such an unusual face? *My god, he looks just like a

horse,* she thought, somewhat unkindly.

“Fiona was a real star at the compulsory dance

skates,” he added, taking a step forward. “She had

this sweet routine set up to ‘Flashdance/What A

Feeling.’ Y’all know that song?”

“Sure do,” Mulder said. “Jennifer Beals, right?”

“Well, Fiona really made it her own,” the boy cocked

his head. “Triple hook twists. Superior floor

patterns. Always in time. No falls.”

“You’re Kyle Wyatt?”

“Yes, sir,” Kyle answered. “I’m a rink attendant and

assistant manager here. Y’all with the police?”

“I’m Agent Mulder, and this is my partner Agent

Scully. We’re working on this case for the FBI.”

“Oh, sweet,” Kyle breathed. “Then do you know what

happened to her, sir? Do you know if she’s still

alive?”

“You were here when Veronica Milton disappeared?”

“I saw them both … go,” answered Kyle. “Veronica and

then Fiona. I never saw anything like it before, sir.

One second they was rolling, doing turns, extensions,

everything was perfect. Then they was gone. Same thing

both times. We searched the whole rink for hours —

the bathrooms, the basement, the parking lot.”

“Did you know both girls, Kyle?” Scully asked.

“Did I know them?” Kyle’s strangely narrow mouth

opened a little. “Well hello, of course I did. They

trained here, both of them. Were here just about every

day right before big competitions. We used to go on

drives together, me and all the roller girls.” His

hand clasped his slender bicep for a moment,

wistfully. “Hell, I was maybe going to go in for the

pair skating with Fiona one of these days, soon as I

get my upper body strength up to par. I’m not such a

bad skater myself, see.”

“You and all the roller girls?” repeated Mulder.

“Yeah, Fiona and Veronica and all the others. You

know, the girls who compete in the competitions?”

All those girls hang out with you, Scully wondered?

Why?

“Did Veronica get along with everyone?” Mulder said.

Kyle pursed his lips. “No,” he said. “Of course she

didn’t. It was too important, winning the semifinals,

you know? And Veronica pissed a lot of girls off when

she won last year. Lots of people said her routine was

just a knock-off of the national champion’s in 1997.”

“Anyone in particular get mad?” Scully said.

“Well, everybody did, from time to time,” Kyle

shrugged. “Those girls all hate each other like

poison, but they are also like best friends. You know

how you can hate somebody and love them at the same

time, right?”

“Right,” Mulder said. A little too quickly, Scully

thought, irritably.

“Yes, sir, Veronica had a tendency to get stuck-up,”

Kyle said. “But Fiona was a sweetheart. Real pretty,

and real smart, too, you know? Good at school. Pretty

singing voice. Christian. I guess sometimes people

thought she was a little too good, if you know what I

mean.”

His strangely narrow face seemed to crumple a little.

“But I was really pulling for her to win, actually. I

think lots of people were,” he said.

“I’m sorry, Kyle,” said Scully.

“I just hope they’re still alive,” Kyle said. “I read

somewhere where some little kid disappeared one day,

and then turned up years later the same age, and it

turned out he had been abducted by a UFO. Do you think

that could have happened here? You think Fiona will

turn up again, when I’m like fifty? But she’ll still

be fourteen?”

Scully, slowly, shifted her glance to Mulder, who

simply raised his eyebrow.

“I think this is where I’m supposed to say no,” Scully

said. “That’s not very likely, Kyle.”

Kyle stared back at her, blinking his

too-close-together eyes. “Ma’am,” he said. “Don’t take

the wrong way, but you’ve got just about the prettiest

hair I ever saw.”

“Thank you,” Scully said, surprised.

“Is it natural? Do you mind my asking?”

“Well,” Scully said, clearing her throat, “it’s very

close to natural.”

“But it’s not a wig, that right?”

“No,” Scully said, horrified. She was not unaware of

Mulder’s smirking. “It is definitely not.”

“It would be a damn pretty wig, you know? Excusing my

language,” he said.

Over Kyle’s shoulder, Mulder raised his eyebrows at

Scully.

“Uh … thank you,” Scully said again.

“Well, listen, y’all want some coffee or something?”

asked Kyle. “I’m just about to brew up a whole bunch.

We got the McKenzie birthday party coming in here in

an hour, and I need to be on my toes. Them little kids

don’t know how to skate, you know, and they’ll be

crashing into poles left and right.”

“Coffee would be excellent,” Scully answered. “We’ll

probably look around the rink for a few minutes.”

Kyle gave an awkward nod, and turned to leave. But he

paused for a minute.

“Y’all know something? Fiona wasn’t like Veronica,” he

said. “She wasn’t like any of the other roller girls,

either. She could have done anything in the world, you

know? Not just roller skate. She was real smart, and

special, and beautiful. That’s all I wanted to say.”

He walked away. The back of his head, it seemed, was

just as long and narrow as his face.

“I used to have crushes like that, too,” Mulder said.

“Poor kid.”

“Yeah, poor hair fetishist kid,” Scully said,

unsettled.

“I bet you still think it’s just an amateur magic

trick, don’t you, Scully?” Mulder said softly.

Scully swallowed her annoyance again. “And I bet you

think it’s a haunted roller rink, Mulder.”

“Maybe,” nodded Mulder.

“It’s almost like we don’t have to have a

conversation at all. We could move on to the next

scene, if you want.”

Mulder laughed a little, and Scully felt herself

looking wistfully towards the rack of rental skates,

and wondered if at any time during this case she would

get an excuse to put a pair on.

She didn’t see Gordon A. Schime walking in the open

front door.

***

“You two are from the FBI,” Gordon A. Schime announced

triumphantly, from across the rink.

He was very young, well-built, good-looking. Dressed

decidedly too elegantly for his surroundings, Mulder

thought, in some ribbed beige turtleneck sweater and

dapper slacks. He was barreling across the rink like a

wind storm, wielding a spiral notebook.

“Sure are,” Mulder answered, wondering how he . “And

you are…?”

“The press,” Gordon answered. “Mind if I ask you a few

questions?”

“We’re busy,” answered Scully.

“You’re the reporter who wrote the story in the

Atlanta Journal-Constitution?” Mulder said. “Gordon

something?”

“Gordon Schime,” answered Gordon A. Schime. “But I

write with my middle initial. A. For Andrew.”

“You interviewed Fiona just minutes before she

disappeared, Mr. Scheme?” Mulder said.

“Schime,” repeated Gordon. “I have to make sure you

get it right for professional reasons, see. Mind

repeating it back to me? Gordon A. Schime?”

“Gordon A. Schime,” Mulder said, a little bewildered.

“She had this white-toothed smile that was almost

perfect. One of those pageant smiles you see around

here. Lacquered with lipstick,” said Gordon. “But I’m

no adolescent psychologist, and even I could see the

cracks. I had a hard time getting her to relax enough

to interview her.”

“You work for the newspaper?” Scully said.

Mulder didn’t blame her for being suspicious. They had

not had good luck with journalists in the past. But

there was an edge in her voice that seemed harder than

usual. Scully wasn’t in a very good mood today, he

noticed. There was something missing in their banter.

Gordon nodded, looking back at her with what seemed to

be equal suspicion.

“It’s a first-class national paper,” he said. “But

I’ve been there one year. I usually work for the city

desk, but for some reason, my editor thought I would

be a good choice to cover an artistic roller skating

competition in the far-out burbs.”

He adjusted his turtleshell frame glasses, began

flipping through his notebook furiously.

“Here it is,” he said. “My notes. Should I share them

with you?”

“If you don’t mind,” Scully answered. “We don’t have a

lot to go on here.”

Mulder gave her a muted glare. He didn’t like to

engender the impression they weren’t on top of their

game. Call it male pride, maybe. She missed his look,

trying to peek over the side of Gordon’s shoulder to

see his notes.

Gordon scowled, thoughtfully. “I don’t think it’s an

ethical problem to show you my notes. I already wrote

the story on the disappearance. It was front page.”

“Congratulations,” Mulder said.

“Well, it’s my first front page story since I

graduated from journalism school,” Gordon said,

shrugging. “And I sure as hell didn’t expect to get

one when I got sent on the competitive roller skating

beat. You have to love the irony.”

He flipped the notebook page open.

“All right, here we are. She said, ‘Life consists of

more than sparkly leotards. It’s about style, and

sass, and well executed jumps.'”

“She said that to you?” Mulder said. “What kind of

fourteen-year old was this?”

“Her leotard was some kind of purple and silver,”

Gordon said. “Really too sparkly, frankly, for my

tastes.”

Mulder, eyeing a brightly-hued “Say No To Drugs”

poster on the wall of the roller rink, nodded in

understanding.

“Maybe you should explain your entire conversation

with her,” Scully said. “I’d be curious to hear about

how these competitions work to begin with.”

Gordon’s eyes lit up. “You mean, a flashback?”

“Well,” Scully answered, giving Mulder an uncertain

look. “I mean, just explain it to us.”

“Excuse my cinematic language, but that would require

a flashback,” Gordon answered, “which I don’t mind at

all. But if we sit, have coffee, and indulge in a

flashback, will you all answer some questions for me

when we’re done? I have a deadline, see.”

“Sure,” Mulder shrugged to Scully. “Let’s have a

flashback. And then you’ll get your interview with the

feds afterwards.”

Scully gave him a questioning look, and Mulder smiled

back.

It’s easy to promise answers, Mulder thought to

himself amusedly, when you don’t have any yourself.

***

Roll Away Skating Rink

Kiddsboro, Georgia

A week earlier.

Fiona Emery was worried about her purple-and-silver

leotard. That much Gordon could tell.

“I know a lot of competitive roller skaters have worn

this particular style of leotard, Mr. Scheme, and that

some might even call it, oh, cliched, at this point,

but I think I can make it my own. I can give it my

special personal sparkle, so to speak.”

Other competitive roller skaters! Obviously she

assumed this was a regular beat for him, covering

regional roller skating competitions for suburban

Atlanta bureaus. Gordon imagined such a horror for a

moment, and shuddered.

He considered explaining to this surreal fourteen

year-old, for a moment, about how he was actually a

serious reporter, and a good one, meant to have been

covering at least the Georgia state races if not the

presidential race, but that for some reason his

ignorant editor Lou, under some unfortunate delusion

about what Gordon, as a gay man, would be interested

in, had assigned him this horrible roller skating

championship story.

But instead he dutifully wrote her comment down on his

pad: special personal sparkle. It might make a good

lead for this godforsaken, hopelessly doomed story.

The Roll Away Roller-Skating Rink was decked out in

what Gordon, as a somewhat aesthetically-challenged

gay man, supposed was its finest decor, a mauve and

green tissue-paper extravaganza, with the slightest

hues of silver accent. It was filled to the brim with

noisy, squeaking, adolescence, choked with anxiety,

stiff with sequin and hairspray. There were girls in

costumes representing an array of excess, from genteel

pale yellow satin suits with slits cut for skating

ease, to black leather skin-tight body suits that

showed off awkward twelve-year old figures.

Some girls, jerking gracefully about on wheels in

front of them, seemed to be warming up, on the rink.

Gordon wondered who the favorites were.

“So Fiona, what are your chances today, do you think?”

Gordon smiled, hopefully, turning to her. “If you had

to guess. Do you think you’re going on to regional?”

“Oh, I hope so,” Fiona chimed back, showing those

pearly teeth and cocking her head slightly. “I try not

to be negative, anyway.”

The purple shiny thing on top of her head that seemed

to be gathering together spectacularly long blonde

curls, was bouncing in time with her words.

“My mother always says, to show zest. Confidence.

Peppiness. The face you show the judges is the face of

a positive girl!”

“But aren’t you at all nervous? Gosh, Fiona, I think I

would be,” Gordon smiled warmly, taking a step closer.

He hoped that his tone was giving the right message:

trust me, come on, open up a little.

“A little,” Fiona’s smile didn’t flicker, though. “But

when I’m nervous, I just think about other things.”

“Like what?”

But she just smiled, staring straight forward, her

expression blank and happy. Gordon wondered if her

batteries had run out.

“You think about being at home, maybe? At school?” he

tried. “Somebody you have a crush on?”

“Do you really want to know?” she whispered, through

her smile. “Because actually, it’s weird, Mr. Scheme.”

Gordon resisted correcting the pronunciation of his

name. “Sure, tell me.”

She leaned forward a little, her smile small now, and

whispered carefully: “I always think about building

things.”

“Building … things?”

“Like for this competition, I’ve been thinking about

building a house of playing cards, ” she whispered,

her eyes unnaturally bright, “with three stories full

of playing cards, each placed precariously on top of

another, in odd and unexpected formations, spades upon

hearts, queens upon jacks.”

Her smile never faltered.

“Sometimes it gets as big as a real house, you know?

It keeps piling upwards, like a skyscraper, can you

picture it?”

Gordon stared back at her.

“Sure, Fiona,” he answered, carefully.

But he must have sounded too patronizing, he realized.

She seemed to freeze.

“Oh,” she said, laughing forcedly a little, “maybe you

should forget I said that, okay?”

“Uh, okay,” he said, staring back at her.

“I’m just being stupid, because I’m so nervous,” she

whispered. The smile was wilting.

Now she was becoming downright depressing, Gordon

thought miserably. He started thinking wistfully of

his little house in Candler Park in Atlanta, where he

could go home and have a big glass of Chardonnay.

Watch the Braves game. Sit on his recliner chair.

“You ready, dear?” a faintly glamorous woman asked,

stepping in behind Fiona suddenly.

“And see, the house collapses,” whispered Fiona, still

staring at Gordon.

“You’re first up, honey,” the woman said, reaching up

to adjust the purple sparkly thing atop Fiona’s head.

“Are you ready to be a PPP?”

“A Positive, Peppy Polly,” Fiona explained to Gordon,

her eyes wide and bright. “That’s what PPP stands

for.”

Gordon was appreciative for the explanation.

Mrs. Emery, whose stiff blonde curls seemed like a

less genuine echo of Fiona’s, beamed at her daughter,

and pulled her chin towards her.

“Don’t forget your triple twist, leg straight, no knee

jiggles, okay, love?” she said, pressing her lips atop

Fiona’s head, ever so gingerly.

“Sure, Mom,” Fiona smiled back. “Let’s do it!”

“Er, good luck, Fiona,” Gordon said, unsure of whether

it was ethical for a reporter to say such a thing to

one competitor over another.

“Thank you, Mr. Schime,” she smiled, the most gracious

14-year old girl in the world.

And she began to skate out on to the rink.

Gordon wondered if she was already thinking about card

houses.

Imagining spades upon hearts upon clubs, he sat down,

absent-mindedly, on a faded bench nearby.

“May I have your attention please? We’d like to get

started,” came a booming voice over the PA system.

The lights dimmed. Even without houses of playing

cards, this would have been entirely over the top,

Gordon thought. He had an ex-boyfriend who loved this

kind of campy event. Too bad old Rich wasn’t still a

main character in his life. If he’d been here, this

would have been more fun.

“First up, from right here in Kiddsboro, fourteen-year

old Fiona Emery!”

Gordon was surprised at the applause. It seemed Fiona

was well-liked, anyway. He wondered if she’d be as

beloved if everyone knew about her little architecture

fetish. The adolescent rink employee standing behind

him gave a rebel yell of appreciation.

The disco ball lowered in the middle of the rink, and

Gordon was reminded, unpleasantly, of junior high

skating rink experiences, of sweaty palms and smelly

skates and Bon Jovi playing melodiously over the

loudspeaker as he wheeled around awkwardly.

But Fiona was not awkward at all. And she wasn’t

dancing to Bon Jovi, either.

Fiona was indeed sparkling; her leotard, as

illuminated by the lights, was truly magnificent, even

Gordon, who was damn certain no professional roller

skating expert, had to concede that. She was tossing

her lengthy blonde ponytail effectively from side to

side to the thump of the electronic music, and

crossing her skates over one another impressively.

Some observers around Gordon began to clap in time

with the music.

Now Fiona was doing some kind of splits in the air,

extending her leg farther than Gordon thought was

really necessary, and he had a glimpse of her face,

which seemed momentarily as though it were a depiction

of smiling frozen in acrylic.

This was really just a beauty pageant, Gordon

realized. A beauty pageant on wheels. They’re supposed

to look happy and poised.

But something else was happening now. Fiona was

extending her limbs, skating with very clean, forward

lines, her arms jutting out like bird’s wings.

Gordon leaned forward. She was gathering incredible

speed.

Her feet, pushing forcefully against the rink floor,

were moving farther and farther apart as she flew

forward. The beat of the music accelerated suddenly,

and more of the audience began clapping along.

“Go, Fiona,” screamed the skating rink employee behind

him, clapping madly.

Fiona’s momentum grew. At speed like that …

“My god,” Gordon said outloud.

But before he could say anything else, Fiona, with

elegant, dancer-like extension, swooped up,

lightening-fast into some kind of fancy jump. Some

stage smoke, tinted purple, swirled, like a whirlwind,

around her.

Gordon was aware of the others in the rink gasping,

suddenly, and his own mouth was open, too. Who knew

this was so impressive, he had time to think.

But then it happened. She landed too fast. Bird-like,

beautiful, but too fast. It was obvious, even to

Gordon. He clenched his fists, stood up, anxiously.

Fiona was in motion, a blur of purple and silver

sparkle, with a feathery cap of blonde curls, heading

straight for the wall of the rink.

Why didn’t she use her skate stopper? Even Gordon, in

eighth grade, in 1987, knew about skate stoppers. Why

didn’t she brake herself?

“Slow down!” Gordon felt himself try to scream. “Slow

down, you’re going to hit!”

Gordon scrunched his eyes shut, sure that Fiona would

smack against the wall, would fly to the rink floor

with a sickening thud and crack of bone, would fall

with jarring force.

But when he opened his eyes, he saw that Fiona didn’t,

in fact, hit anywhere.

And she didn’t fall either. In fact, she didn’t do

anything at all.

Gordon’s eyes anxiously scanned the rink, peering

through the suddenly eerie stage smoke, trying to see

clearly in the dappled strobed light. He heard calls

of panic around him. Somewhere, the faintly glamorous

Coach Emery was screaming.

But Fiona Emery was gone. Off the rink. Nothing but

smoke remaining.

She had vanished entirely. Or so it seemed.

The main lights went on, quickly, and Gordon felt

himself gasp again, seeing what was on the rink floor.

“Look,” he whispered breathlessly. “Look right there

..”

One skate, with a purple ribbon tied jauntily through

its laces, rolling over the rink floor with no owner

anywhere in sight.

***

ACT TWO:

Roll Away Skating Rink

Kiddsboro, Georgia

June 12

Four hours later

“I guess we should pay visits to the girls’ families,”

Mulder said, chewing. “Maybe they’ll give us some

insight. The reporter seemed to think Mrs. Emery was

some kind of nut, anyway.”

Mulder and Scully were sitting at a hot pink vinyl

table, eating some slightly anemic pale pink hot dogs

with everything. The skating rink was teeming with

kids now, shouting loudly to one another about school

that day, as they laced up their skates. Mulder

watched them wheel out onto the floor, happily

shrieking.

“As nutty as she indeed may be,” Scully said, “that

doesn’t explain how she made her kid disappear in thin

air in front of witnesses. It doesn’t explain

anything.”

“Mmm,” Mulder nodded, his mouth full.

“The trouble with this case is,” she said, that crisp

tone still in her voice, “that we only seem to be able

to investigate motive. But motive for what? We’re not

really sure what the crime is, exactly. Kidnapping?

Homicide? Bad magic tricks?”

“What’s your theory, Scully?” Mulder said.

“Some kind of … mass hypnosis,” she offered lamely.

“What about you?”

After the sudden departure of Gordon A. Schime, they

had spent hours checking out the rink itself, going

over every inch of the floor and of the basement

beneath, with nothing unusual found, except that

Scully had stuck her elbow in old watermelon-flavored

gum, which still smelled, despite several scrubbings

in the ladies’ rest room. Mulder wondered if this was

still making her cranky.

“I’m going with time warp, I think,” Mulder said.

“Time warp?” “Einstein postulated that if a human

being could move fast enough, they would experience

time more slowly than everyone around them,

effectively jumping forward in time for decades, even

centuries…”

“So Mulder, you think these girls got going fast

enough on their skates that they leaped forward in

time?”

“Sure,” Mulder shrugged.

“Maybe they were going 88 miles per hour, right?”

Scully said. “Just like Michael J. Fox in the

Delorean, is that it, Mulder?”

“No, not like Michael J. Fox,” Mulder said, sheepish.

“Roller skates can only travel 10 miles per hour,

maximum, I’d estimate,” Scully said. “Einstein was

talking about speeds past the speed of light.”

“But crazy stuff happens, Scully,” Mulder said,

equally lamely.

He took the last bite of his hot dog, and

half-heartedly licked the relish off of his fingers.

And didn’t say anything else. She looked over at him.

He suddenly wished he was home with his fish in

Washington, watching the Yankees game.

“That’s it for your theory, Mulder?”

“I thought maybe the rink would have a complicated

history that might imply ghosts, or abnormal

paranormal activity,” Mulder said, “so I had some

research done.”

“And?” “And this rink was built in 1978,” he said.

“Before that, this land was devoted to a gas station.

No unusual deaths, no prior paranormal connections.

Depressingly suburban.”

“So you’re ruling out haunting, Mulder?”

“Not ruling it out,” he said. “But it’s looking

unlikely.”

“That’s a change, at least,” Scully said, smiling. She

wiped her hands, triumphantly. “Then it seems to me

that we have no plan of action.”

Mulder was unsettled by her apparent joy.

“Scully,” Mulder said, carefully, “you seem happy that

we don’t know how to proceed.”

“Well, to be honest, I’m happy we’re not having the

same old argument any more.”

“The same old argument?”

“You know what I mean, Mulder.”

Mulder scowled. “You don’t like our arguments anymore,

Scully?”

“I do and I don’t,” she said. “Don’t you ever feel,

Mulder, like you’re arguing with me just for the sake

of arguing? That you don’t actually believe the things

you’re saying anymore?”

Mulder shifted in his seat, and looked at her.

“Actually, I tend to believe in the things I argue,

Scully.”

“I guess I sometimes wonder,” she said, “why I’m still

so skeptical, despite all we’ve seen. I sometimes

think that maybe I’m just parroting back some argument

you need to hear, and not representing my own views at

all.”

This provoked the oddest sensation in Mulder, like

being in a runaway car without the brakes on, or

losing one’s footing and falling, without warning,

down a steep hill.

“I can see,” he said, quietly, “why that would be a

problem for you.”

There was a pause, and their eyes locked. Scully

looked like something was slipping out from under her.

Like roller skates.

And then she turned. Looked out at the rink.

The kids were doing the hokey-pokey, putting their

right skates in and out and screaming along to a

deafening level.

“That’s what’s it’s all about,” Mulder sang along,

trying to change the subject.

“Do you roller skate, Mulder?” Scully said quietly.

“Well, ” Mulder said, too loudly, “I’m a great ice

skater.”

“So that’s a no?”

“Oh, I suppose you’re some former champion roller

skater, Scully?”

“I’m no champion, but I’m not half bad, either,” she

said. “I can skate backwards.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“Do you want to skate?” she said, giving him a little

sideways glance. “We could rent skates right now.”

And what an odd question that is, Dana Scully, Mulder

thought.

“While we’re investigating the rink, Scully? Don’t you

think that’s unprofessional?”

“We can say we want to check out the floor while on

skates,” she said. “It could help us think through the

case.”

“We’re going to do the hokey-pokey? I’m not even sure

I can skate forward.”

Scully sighed, and leaned forward on her knees in

defeat. “I guess I was just hoping for a plot twist

about now, Mulder. Before we get in a rut.”

Mulder was about to say something in response.

But again, neither had yet noticed the entrance of

Gordon A. Schime, who for the second time that day had

reason to enter the Roll-Away Roller Rink to speak to

two federal agents.

***

“I know who did it,” announced Gordon A. Schime,

staring down at the agents’ table. “I know who did it,

and I would like for you to come and arrest her while

I observe and take notes.”

Scully and Mulder stared up at Gordon A. Schime

mutely. Mulder noticed Scully’s mouth was slightly

open.

“Aren’t you interested?” he said. “I know you don’t

have any other leads.” He gazed down at their plates.

“My god, you ate those hot dogs?”

“Who,” Mulder began, “do you think did it, Mr.

Schime?”

“And did what, exactly?” Scully said.

“It was Wanda Milton,” Gordon A. Schime said,

triumphantly. “Veronica Milton’s mother. She made both

of them disappear.”

“And if I ask you how you know this,” Scully said

cautiously, “will it require a flashback?”

Gordon A. Schime smiled. “Very likely only some brief

expository dialogue.”

“Please tell us, Mr. Schime,” Mulder said politely.

“After I finished my interview with you all,” Gordon

began, “which wasn’t, by the way, very

illuminating…”

Mulder couldn’t contain a smile.

“I went over to the Milton household, to get a quote

from Wanda Milton, something about how she felt now

that the FBI was taking on Veronica’s case.”

“So you were at the Milton house?”

“It’s your standard suburban cookie-cutter house,

plunked down into an Old South small town,” nodded

Gordon. “And as I was walking up to the very cute

door, something caught my eye in the garbage on the

side of the house… blonde hair. A long blonde curl

hanging out of the garbage can.”

“Blonde hair?” Mulder repeated. “Attached to a head?”

“That was naturally my thought,” Gordon remarked. “So

I went to the garbage can to investigate.”

“You should have called the police,” Scully said,

sourly.

Mulder glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Is

this was one of those times where she was saying

something dutiful without really believing it?

Or maybe it was only for his benefit that she took on

the role that clearly bored her so.

“It was a blonde ponytail,” Gordon said. “The exact

curly long blonde ponytail that used to be attached to

Fiona Emery’s head. I remember it specifically. It

even had the same purple sparkly elastic thing holding

it together. But it was lopped off.”

“No body?” Mulder said.

“No body,” repeated Gordon. “But I can only think of

one way that Fiona Emery’s ponytail ended up in Wanda

Milton’ garbage can.”

“Oh yeah?” Scully said. “How?”

Gotta admit this girl can be a damn cute smartass when

she wants to, Mulder thought, hoping Gordon

appreciated it.

Gordon turned to her, smiling faintly patronizingly.

Gotta admit this kid knows how to smile, too, Mulder

added, hoping Scully appreciated it.

“Agent,” Gordon said, charmingly, “this was a very

small story to begin with. But now the paper is

getting excited about it, due to the involvement of

the FBI. This could be a major opportunity for me.

I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“We should go talk to Mrs. Milton, Scully,” Mulder

said. “Why don’t we let Mr. Schime tag along, just for

kicks? He could wait in the car.”

“Mulder,” Scully’s eyes were ice. “It’s not protocol.”

This was where she was supposed to complain that they

were breaking FBI policy, that civilians couldn’t tag

along, that they shouldn’t be talking to reporters,

that he was officially still a potential suspect.

Mulder smiled back at her, hoping he looked as

charming as Gordon A. Schime.

But maybe Scully never thought he was charming any

more. Maybe she just saw him as the guy she had to

play skeptical big sister to all the time.

“I had a feeling,” he said, softly and casually, “that

you would say that.”

She stared back at him, and her mouth flickered.

The implication seemed to work. Enough, anyway, to

fast-forward to the next scene, as Gordon A. Schime

would say.

***

1 hour later

The Milton Family Home

Windy Creek housing subdivision

Kiddsboro, Georgia

“Might I say that I do admire your hairdo, Miss

Scully,” said Mrs. Milton.

Scully pressed a self-conscious hand to her head,

which she was all-too-aware was curling unnecessarily

in the June humidity. There was an awful lot of talk

about hair around here.

Wanda Milton had led Scully and Mulder inside her

sweet-smelling suburban home, which had a soundtrack

of television game shows coming from the family room

and young voices shrieking from upstairs.

Her house was immaculately decorated. And Mrs. Milton

herself, smiling widely, was a kind of poster child

for the beauty products industry, Scully decided, with

face made up like a porcelain doll’s, and meticulously

arranged dark curls. Mrs. Milton gave the impression

of constantly moving: flickering, like an insect who

must flap its wings thousands of times just to stay in

one place.

“Thank you,” Scully said, uneasily.

“Would you mind terribly, Miss Scully, if I touched

your hair?”

Yes, there was too much Donnie Pfaster floating around

this town for Scully’s tastes.

“Actually, Mrs. Milton, we need to ask you some

questions,” Mulder began, moving protectively to

Scully’s side: one of his tendencies that managed to

both annoy and endear.

“Oh, of course,” Mrs. Milton said, more hesitantly.

She moved, slowly, to the couch to sit down next to

them. “About Veronica, of course. Can you tell me any

more?”

“We actually want to ask you about Fiona Emery,”

Scully said. “The second girl who disappeared.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Milton looked surprised. “All right.”

She got a picture of Fiona and Veronica, surrounded by

the other roller girls, off of a shelf, and handed it

to them.

“I knew Fiona pretty well, of course. She was always

in the competitions. And she’s one of Veronica’s

friends. Very good in school. Sharp as a tack,

really.”

“Do you recognize this, Mrs. Milton?” Scully said,

pulling out the plastic evidence bag, and placing it

in front of Mrs. Milton.

The blonde ponytail lay inside, having been carefully

extracted from the garbage can on the side of their

house.

“Why yes, I recognize it,” nodded Mrs. Milton,

smiling.

She looked expectantly back at them, as if she failed

to understand the implication.

Scully sought out Mulder’s eyes, momentarily, and then

shifted her stare back to Wanda Milton.

“Can you explain how it happened to be in your garbage

can, Mrs. Milton?”

“Oh, of course,” she said. “It’s extra. It’s an extra

piece leftover from one of our ‘I Dream of Jeannies.'”

“I’m sorry?” Mulder said.

“One of our ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ hair pieces?”

explained Mrs. Milton. “One of the roller girls wanted

one similar to the one Fiona Emery has … with all

those blonde curls tied up on the top of their head?

It’s a top of the line hairpiece. One of my best.”

Scully felt herself sink a little in the easy chair.

“I’m a hairpiece designer,” Mrs. Milton said, smiling

steadily. “That’s why all of the roller girls have

such spectacular hair. My services are very popular.”

Mulder cleared his throat a little. “I see,” he said.

“How does one become a hair designer?”

“Well, my family has been in hair design for years,”

smiled Mrs. Milton proudly. “We always joke that we’re

Kennedys of wigmaking.”

She waited, but neither Mulder nor Scully laughed.

“We only use natural human hair, you see. Some of

these ladies will tell you synthetic is just the same,

but they are dead wrong. Let me show you.”

Bright-eyed, she hopped up from the sofa, and returned

with a rack of what looked very much to be a wide

variety of human hair, carefully wound around pegs.

“See? We can match anyone’s hair, or else go out on a

wild tangent,” Mrs. Milton smiled, clasping her hands

together. “This is Fiona’s color. Ash blonde. My

Veronica always uses this, one of my favorites: raven

black, which we worked up into a really nice

Cleopatra, a straight bob.”

Scully managed to nod.

“I either weave the hair directly on to a hairnet cap,

or else I make little extension attachments so that it

can fit into your natural hair. I do really nice work,

if I do say so myself,” smiled Mrs. Milton. She eyed

Scully’s hair. “I could give you a really striking

long red ponytail, you know. It’d be so cute.”

“And how many of the girls use your services?” Scully

said, quickly, before the subject switched back to her

hair.

“Oh, all of them do now,” Mrs. Milton said, smiling.

“You see, agents, the point of all of this competitive

roller skating nonsense isn’t to win trophies, despite

what you hear some of these coaches and moms saying.

It’s to be beautiful. A star. If only for a moment. My

wigs make that possible.”

Mulder and Scully were both, it seemed, speechless.

“That’s what I always tell Veronica,” Mrs. Milton

said, her lovely face twitching a little. “Competitive

roller-skating is just like a beauty pageant, on

wheels. It’s these girls’ big chance to be glowing,

and special, and … happy.”

“And was Veronica happy, Mrs. Milton?” Scully asked.

Mrs. Milton looked down at her hands. “Oh, Miss

Scully,” she said, looking Scully straight in the eyes

sadly, “is any sixteen-year old girl happy?”

“Wanda,” came a bellowing male voice from the family

room. “Wanda, do we get HBO or not?”

“We do, Howard,” called Mrs. Milton back, continuing

to stare at Scully with an odd, bright intensity.

“Damn ninety-two channels and nothing’s on the tube,

for crying out loud,” Howard’s voice irritably floated

back.

“My husband,” Mrs. Milton smiled, apologetically,

fingering her hair samples nervously.

All at once, Scully felt very sad for Mrs. Wanda

Milton, who might just be an expert in unhappiness.

“Who’s that upstairs, Mrs. Milton?” asked Mulder.

“Veronica’s siblings?” There was giggling coming from

somewhere else in the house.

“Oh no, Veronica’s brother is off at college. Those

are just some of the roller girls,” Mrs. Milton said.

“I’m redoing some hairpieces for them, and they just

like to hang out in Veronica’s room. Until she

returns.”

Scully scowled. “Friends of Veronica’s?”

“Yes, just three — Mara, and Whitney, and Ashleyann.

All great skaters,” Mrs. Milton said. “And lovely

hairpieces.”

“Wanda,” called the voice from the family room, “come

here a second.”

“I’m with the FBI agents, Howard,” Mrs. Milton called

back.

“Come here a second,” repeated the voice, insistently.

“Excuse me,” Mrs. Milton said, nervously. “I’d better

go see what Howard wants.”

“We’ll just be here,” smiled Mulder, reassuringly.

Mrs. Milton flitted out of the room, leaving behind a

whiff of rose-hued perfume.

Mulder, with widened eyes, turned to look at Scully.

“Well, well, well,” he said. “Curiouser and

curiouser.”

“That doily,” Scully whispered, pointing to an

elaborate decoration sitting on a coffee table, “is

made of hair, Mulder.”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” whispered Mulder. “Over there

she has a Scottish kilt woven entirely out of hair.”

The kilt, framed in gilt gold and pressed behind

glass, was labeled with an ornate brass tag: “1891.”

“It’s all rather disturbing,” Scully whispered,

crinkling her nose.

“And it’s hard to imagine where all of it came from,”

Mulder said.

“Desperate women,” Scully said, “who need money and

opportunity more than they need their hair.”

“There are lots of desperate women in Kiddsboro,

aren’t there, Scully?” Mulder said, thoughtfully.

She looked at Mulder carefully, expecting him to

boldly venture forth a theory.

But he didn’t.

“There are,” agreed Scully.

They sat in silence for a moment, as if they didn’t

know what to say.

I suppose this is what happens when we don’t have the

script, thought Scully darkly.

“Mulder, I’d like to speak to Veronica Milton’s

friends,” she said. “Maybe they’ll have some insight

into what she and Fiona were involved with.”

Mulder nodded. “That sounds good. And I’ll take the

boy reporter and go pay a visit to Fiona’s family.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “Why the reporter, Mulder?”

“Why not? He needs the story.”

“Forgetting that it runs against FBI policy for a

moment,” Scully said, “haven’t we had enough troubles

with the press over the years?”

“Hey, what can I say,” Mulder smiled. “I like to see

my name in the paper.”

His smile could be so winning.

And Mrs. Milton, thought Scully, is right. Everyone,

even Mulder, wants to be a star.

***

“While the Milton family lives in a luxurious New

South suburban home,” Gordon A. Schime explained, as

they wound around a rounded corner in the rental car,

“the Emery family comes from much more humble

origins.”

“Oh yeah?” Mulder said, sipping a milkshake with one

hand and turning the wheel with another.

They had stopped through the drive-through of a fast

food restaurant — which Kiddsboro, Georgia seemed to

have no shortage of — and were now circling through a

tiny, run-down neighborhood looking for the Emery

home.

“Fiona Emery comes from old-time Kiddsboro stock,

former farmers,” Gordon said. “Her mother, Linda

Emery, is a single mom, who works as a teacher’s aide

at the local elementary school. Humble origins.”

Mulder nodded, smiling. He liked Gordon’s dramatic way

of speaking, although he had a sense that Scully did

not. But it didn’t hurt to have this sense of personal

flair, Mulder decided. Maybe he should try to build up

his own sense of drama.

“Remind me, Agent Mulder, to look up some details on

wigmaking when I can get online again,” Gordon said,

thoughtfully. “How did it escape my attention that

Mrs. Milton was a wigmaker, of all things? What an

amazing detail for my story.”

“Gordon, have you had any indication that Fiona Emery

did well in school?”

“Oh, very much so,” Gordon said. “I did an interview

with her math teacher just yesterday. Fiona was an

honors student, exceptionally bright, apparently,

although I certainly didn’t get that impression from

her at the competition.”

“Playing dumb is part of the act,” Mulder suggested.

“Maybe that’s why.”

“Southern belles aren’t supposed to be good at math,”

agreed Gordon.

They pulled up in front of the house, which was

definitely less spectacular than Veronica Milton’s

home. It was a small, boxy, brick affair, with car

parts scattered over the front lawn, and a car that

seemed unable to run sprawled out over most of the

driveway. A large gray canvas tent lay spread out over

the front stoop.

“What is that?” Gordon said, mystified, as they walked

up to the front door. He kicked at the canvas tent

experimentally. “You think somebody’s going camping?”

“May I help you boys?” came a southern-tinged voice

through a screen door.

Linda Emery was a fragile-looking woman, not

unattractive, with a mass of blonde curls exploding

over her head, standing blocked by the doorway.

“Mrs. Emery, I’m Fox Mulder with the FBI,” Mulder

said. “And I believe you know Gordon A. Schime with

the newspaper?”

“Hello,” Mrs. Emery said, pink lips bending up into a

smile. “Have you come to ask about my Fiona?”

“That’s right,” Mulder said. “Just a few questions.”

“Will it take long?” She opened the door further, and

Mulder couldn’t help but to notice she was wearing an

old-style, tan-colored hoopskirt. “I’m on my way over

to the Fiddle Creek battle, you see, as soon as my

boyfriend gets here.”

“The Fiddle Creek battle?” Mulder repeated, staring at

Gordon.

“It’s a local Civil War reenactment,” Gordon

explained. “Actually, it’s more of just an enactment.

It’s a completely fictional battle between the Yankees

and the Confederate boys that takes place right

outside Kiddsboro.”

“I play a Confederate lady who loves a Yankee despite

the obstacles,” Linda Emery said. “That’s my role. My

boyfriend plays the Union soldier, even though he’s

from right around Kiddsboro. See, we conquer adversity

with our own strength of heart.”

“Sure, it’s all very inspiring,” Gordon nodded to

Mulder, straight-faced. “And how often do you do it,

Mrs. Emery?”

“Every weekend, although I almost didn’t go this week,

because of Fiona’s … disappearance,” she said,

looking away. “It seemed inappropriate.”

“It must be hard,” Gordon said.

Mrs. Emery fanned herself lightly with a lace-edged

fan. “But on the other hand, being Eloise Hatcherly

for a while helps me deal with stress. So I decided to

tough it out and go.”

Mulder swallowed.

“We’ll try to be fast,” Mulder said. “So you can get

to the battle.”

And he had a sense something very strange was about to

occur.

***

Scully, like Fiona Emery, had always been good at

math and science. And she hadn’t exactly been the

coolest girl in high school. She had always found

other adolescent girls to be rather overwhelming, and

was reminded of this sensation now.

At first the roller girls had been the smiling parrots

Gordon had described: perky, with pat answers. But

after speaking with them for just ten minutes, Scully

found she had somehow, mysteriously, won them over.

Now they were themselves. Which was every bit as

overwhelming.

“I know where we’ll take you!” Ashleyann was

exclaiming. “I know exactly where we’ll take you.

We’ll go driving up and down Davis Street.”

“Oh, that’s perfect. You are going to love it, Agent

Scully,” Mara added, smiling broadly. “Hey, Agent

Scully, what’s your real name? Your first name?”

“It’s Dana,” Scully said, feeling like she had lost

control of the situation rather completely.

She was sitting — rather awkwardly in her hose and

skirt — on Veronica Milton’s bedroom floor,

surrounded by Ashleyann Rich and Whitney Kitchens and

Mara Polston, the three adolescent roller girls.

“Dana, we’ll show you all the places we always go,”

Mara continued. “Where Fiona and Veronica always go,

too, you know? Maybe we’ll see those Fort Gordon army

boys again, you guys!”

“Your hair is so pretty, Dana,” Whitney said,

breathlessly. “Is it real?”

“Yes,” Scully said, “it is definitely real.”

“Do you mind if I touch it?” Whitney asked, reaching

for Scully’s head. “I bet it’s super soft, isn’t it?”

Scully managed to avoid the hand by rising, feebly, to

her feet.

“Girls,” she said, “maybe we could go driving up and

down Davis Street? And talk a little about Fiona and

Veronica?”

“Oh sure,” Mara said. “But are you going to go like

that?”

“Like what, Mara?”

“Like, in that suit?” Mara smiled. “I mean, it’s a

really nice suit for being an FBI agent, but we’re

going to be driving on Davis Street, you know?”

“What does that mean, exactly?”

“It means you should look a certain way,” Whitney

said, seeming to try very hard to be polite. “I bet

Veronica has a shirt that would fit you.”

“You could wear this skirt!”

“Do you want me to do your hair?” Whitney asked. “I

could make you look like a star, Dana. There are men

out there your age, you know!”

“I’d prefer to keep on my suit,” Scully said, stepping

back. This was becoming a nightmare. “But I appreciate

the offer.”

“Suit yourself,” Ashleyann said, and the three of them

giggled.

“Do you mind if we dress up a little before we leave,

Dana?” Whitney said.

“No,” Scully said, cautiously.

“I want to wear all black!” smiled Mara.

“Did Fiona and Veronica have boyfriends?” asked

Scully, doggedly determined to get some answers.

“Veronica had a boy at Georgia College she used to

date,” Ashleyann said, applying powder to her nose.

“What was his name, y’all? Marvin or something

stupid?”

“Oh, she broke up with him ages ago, Ashleyann,”

Whitney said, waving her hand. “He’s history.”

“Fiona doesn’t have a boyfriend, except for Kyle

Wyatt, who is, like, so in love with her,” said Mara.

“But she isn’t the boyfriend type, you know?”

“What do you mean?” said Scully.

“Well, she is just so into skating,” Mara said. “I

mean, all of us are really into skating, but Fiona’s

mother is even more hardcore than most of ours. A

really driven coach. And when Fiona wasn’t skating,

she was studying or something.”

“She wants to be an archeologist when she grows up,”

added Ashleyann.

“No, you dumbass,” Mara said. “Not an archeologist. An

architect.”

“Right,” Ashleyann said. “An architect.”

“Like *that* was going to happen,” Whitney added.

“What do you mean?” Scully said. “Why wouldn’t that

happen?”

Whitney glanced, nervously, at the other two girls.

“Well, it’s just her mom has her booked in every

roller skating tournament for the next ten years,” she

said, shrugging. “Her mom didn’t want her going off to

college or architect school or whatever.”

“Not when she could skate like that,” Ashleyann added,

wistfully. “Fiona is such a good skater.”

The girls were quiet for a moment.

“She is coming back, don’t you think, Dana?” asked

Ashleyann.

Scully stared at her mutely for a moment.

“Because we like Fiona so much,” said Ashleyann. “And

Veronica. It wouldn’t be skating competitions without

them.”

Scully sighed.

“I hope so,” she said, fiddling with a hair bow she’d

picked up from the counter top. “I really hope so.”

She wondered how Mulder was doing with Mrs. Emery.

***

“Every once and a while,” Linda Emery said, fanning

herself gently, although the air conditioning was

blasting, “Fiona can be a difficult teenager. But for

the most part, she is as sweet as can be.”

Mulder looked around at the Emery living room, which

was plastered with photos of blonde-headed Fiona in

sparkling leotards, from her infancy onwards.

“I was a pageant girl myself,” explained Linda Emery.

“I was Miss Kiddsboro County, Georgia in 1979, and

then was a runner-up in Miss Georgia in 1980, you see.

But Fiona just took so well to roller-skating that I

figured, why not, you know? Everybody always says it’s

just a pageant on wheels anyway.”

“I’m told that Fiona does very well in school, too,”

Mulder prodded.

“Oh, of course,” cooed her mother, smiling faintly.

“She is a bright, bright girl. She just exudes that

certain sparkle, do you know what I mean? That’s what

the judges always write on their evaluations.”

Gordon was regarding a photo of Fiona at age ten that

sat next to him, in which she was wearing a flame-red

tutu.

“I make most of her costumes myself, Mr. Schime,” Mrs.

Emery said, smiling. “We pick out a style we like, and

then I stitch it all together. I hand sew all the

sequins. But it’s worth it.”

Mulder considered this. “Did you expect Fiona to do

well this year, Mrs. Emery?”

“I most certainly did,” Mrs. Emery said, her voice

suddenly tough. “I expected her to be in the running

for national champion, if you must know the truth. She

was at the top of her game before this happened.”

Her voice broke, and a very shiny tear trickled down

her nose.

“She is such a dedicated athlete,” said Mrs. Emery,

her voice like broken glass. “It doesn’t seem right to

take this from us, when both of us have worked so

hard, and kept up a positive attitude for so long.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Emery,” Mulder said, trying to have

Scully’s sense of empathy for a moment. “We’ll do our

best to find your daughter.”

“Oh, Agent Mulder,” Mrs. Emery said, clasping his

hand, abruptly, to her chest. “I can tell you will,

too!”

She was staring, radiantly, at him, and Mulder

resisted the urge to snap back his hand. He threw a

helpless glance at Gordon, who just gave him a little

half-smile as he jotted something down in his

notebook.

“I can see into your soul, Agent Mulder,” whispered

Mrs. Emery.

Mulder gulped.

“Eloise,” came a booming voice, from right outside the

door. “Eloise, it is I!”

Dropping Mulder’s hand quickly, Linda Emery stood up,

surrounded by taffeta and satin, and began wiping her

eyes furiously.

“Oh dear,” Linda Emery said, glancing at the clock on

the wall. “That’s my boyfriend, and he’s already in

character.”

“Well, we can finish up later,” Mulder said, ashamed

at how relieved he was. “Go on and enjoy yourself at

the battle.”

“Eloise, it is I, your one true love, Captain Emmanuel

Plummer!” boomed the voice again.

“This could be tricky,” Mrs. Emery said, her voice

still ragged. “It’s very hard to get Captain Plummer

out of character, once he’s in.”

Mulder had to admit he found this statement rather

intriguing. But he wasn’t sure how much more he could

handle.

Gordon scowled. “Well, we’ll just be leaving, then,

Mrs. Emery.”

“You don’t understand,” sighed Mrs. Emery,

dramatically. “It’s already too late.”

“Eloise!” Captain Plummer, a burly, impossibly large

man, burst through the door to the Emery residence

with a Confederate rifle in hand.

“Emmanuel,” cried Mrs. Emery, lifting her hands into

the air.

Captain Plummer regarded Mulder and Gordon with

something akin to horror. He staggered backwards, his

mouth falling open, slightly.

“Why, Eloise,” he said, in disbelief, “you’ve sold me

out to the Rebels. You’ve betrayed me to Rebel spies!”

“No, no, Emmanuel,” cried Linda Emery. “They are no

one, of no importance!”

“Your betrayal cuts me to the quick,” hissed Captain

Plummer.

He turned to face Mulder and Gordon.

Who were, at this point, quite speechless.

“This is the gun of a Rebel spy who tried to

double-cross me,” Captain Plummer said, indicating his

rifle. “I am a Union soldier, loyal to the Republic,

and have no qualms in executing you Rebel rats where

you stand.”

“Sir,” Gordon began, “we were just leaving.”

“I’m an FBI agent,” Mulder tried, hopefully. “I’m a

representative of the federal government.”

“Don’t insult me with your lies,” spat Captain

Plummer. “I can tell by the way you smell that your

loyalties lie with that stinking pig Jefferson Davis.”

“Is his rifle loaded, Mrs. Emery?” Mulder called,

urgently, to Linda Emery, who had fallen, weeping, to

her knees.

But she didn’t answer.

“Is it loaded, Mrs. Emery?” he repeated.

But presumably, she was now Eloise.

“You’re nothing but a loose Rebel lady!” snarled

Captain Plummer. “You make me wretch!”

“Oh, Emmanuel,” she sobbed, falling to her knees. “How

can you speak to me so!”

Gordon, standing slightly behind Mulder, began edging

his way, quietly, towards the open door.

Mulder took the opportunity to distract Captain

Plummer.

“Don’t blame her, Captain,” he said, feeling like an

idiot. Where the hell was Scully for this? “She had

nothing to do with our … plot.”

“And I’m to believe that!” roared Captain Plummer, who

was an impressively large man. He cocked the rifle,

and looked as though he were prepared to fire it.

“What lying filth!”

Oh, come now, would a rifle for a Civil War

reenactment *really* be loaded, considered Mulder? It

seemed highly unlikely.

But if he had to guess, he’d say Captain Plummer’s

sanity was going downhill fast. And maybe it hadn’t

started all that far uphill.

“Say your prayers, lying traitor,” snarled Captain

Plummer, raising the rifle towards Mulder.

Gordon, who was very well-timed, took this opportunity

to bolt out the door.

“Tarnation!” screamed Captain Plummer, running into

the door frame. “Come back, you son of a woodcock!”

Captain Plummer ran into the front yard, and there

were the sound of two shots. Whether they were real

bullets or not, Mulder could not tell.

But he did know he should begin running.

“Horatio,” whispered Mrs. Emery, handing him a pair of

men’s skates, “take this, and run, my love. These will

help you gain speed.”

“Mrs. Emery,” Mulder said, dumbfounded, taking the

skates. “I’m Agent Mulder. Not Horatio.”

“I’ll miss you, too, Horatio,” she answered, smiling.

“But you should be gone.”

That much was true.

And as Mulder made his way towards the back door, he

wondered, frustratedly, why Scully always conveniently

missed the very weirdest parts of every X-file.

“Godspeed, my love!” called Linda Emery, or Eloise, or

whomever.

***

Wednesday evening

Kiddsboro, Georgia

June 12

Scully had called an end her outing with the roller

girls rather abruptly.

They had gone cruising down Davis Street, as promised,

and indeed they had pointed out every exciting stop on

a roller girl’s evening out: the Waffle House, replete

with truckers who sipped coffee and ogled teenage

girls; the discount movie theater playing second-run

films; the run-down bowling alley.

It hadn’t illuminated anything in particular about

Fiona or Veronica except this: they had very ordinary

boring suburban kids’ lives.

All night, Scully had received much advice on how to

do her hair and makeup, which she had resisted as much

as possible. Although she did end up getting her hair

curled in strange girly little ringlets by Whitney,

and had some weird sparkly makeup put on by Mara. And

this adolescent makeover must have worked to some

extent, since several teenage boys and one 22-year old

army private had asked for her number that night.

Or maybe it’s not just the women who are desperate in

Kiddsboro, Georgia, Scully thought.

They dropped her off at the roller skating rink, where

she hoped she would find Mulder again, as he wasn’t

answering his cell phone.

But of course, all too predictably, Mulder was not

here. Instead, the place was packed with junior high

school kids looking for some evening skating thrills.

“Agent Scully,” called a voice behind her.

She turned around. It was Wanda Milton, which startled

her a little.

“I’ve been looking for you,” said Mrs. Milton,

smiling. “I had a little gift, just in case you wanted

to use it.”

She handed Scully a little plastic-wrapped soft

bundle, which Scully dazedly unwrapped.

It was a long, curly red ponytail, with a pink bow at

the end.

“It’s just your hair is so pretty,” Mrs. Milton said.

“You might look so nice with a ponytail. So young.

Just if you wanted to sometime.”

It took Scully a moment to respond.

“Thank you,” she said, faintly. “I’ll have to try it.”

“No problem,” smiled Mrs. Milton. “And if you wanted

another one, here’s my card.”

She handed Scully her business card.

“Thank you again,” responded Scully, weakly.

Mrs. Milton smiled, nervously, and slipped through the

crowd.

“Nice hair, Agent Scully,” came another voice nearby.

It was the freaking reporter. Sitting at a table,

looking dazed.

“Mr. Schime,” she said wearily. “I don’t suppose you

know where my partner is.”

“We were separated,” Gordon said. “It’s a rather

unbelievable story, actually.”

“Which unless you believe him to be in grave danger,

I’m not sure I want to hear,” Scully said. “I’ve heard

some pretty unbelievable stories where Mulder is

concerned.”

She sighed, and sat down next to him at the table,

watching the kids zoom by. She held the red ponytail

experimentally up to her head, and decided against it,

stuffing it into her pocket.

An eighties tune was blasting over the loudspeaker.

“Don’t these kids want to listen to hip-hop, or

whatever it is kids listen to now?” Scully said,

disliking how old she seemed to sound. “What’s with

all these eighties songs? It reminds me of college.”

“You went to college in the eighties?” said Gordon.

“You’re older than I thought.”

“This is ‘Nobody’s Gonna Break My Stride’ by Matthew

Wilder,” Scully continued, smiling a little. “One of

my favorites.”

“‘Last night I had the strangest dream,'” sang Gordon,

amiably. “‘I sailed away to China / In a little old

boat to find you…'” He smiled. “It reminds me of

second grade.”

“It reminds me of my partner,” Scully said, without

thinking.

There was a pause.

“There’s naturally sexual tension,” Gordon observed.

“As in every working situation,” Scully replied.

“There’s more than just a little in this one, though,”

Gordon said. “Isn’t there?”

“Do you want to get a drink, Mr. Schime?” Scully said.

“There’s a bar right next to the rink, I noticed. And

I could use a drink.”

“You’re no closer to solving the case, I take it?”

“Damn straight,” she said.

“Then I’m no closer to writing my big story,” he said.

“So I could use a drink, too. Let’s fast forward to

the bar scene.”

***

Scully was on her second gin and tonic. Gordon, who

was being more prudent, was still on his first.

It was a dive bar: of that let there be no doubt.

There was some unidentifiable country music squealing

from some jukebox in the corner. And those inside were

not the finest citizens of Kiddsboro — rather a

grizzled, muscle-shirted, tattoo-sporting bunch —

but fortunately, they seemed to pay Gordon and Scully

no attention at all.

The air inside was tinged gray-blue from cigarette

smoke.

“Do you ever feel like your life has become

pre-scripted?” Scully said, waving the smoke away from

her. “Like there’s nothing you could possibly say or

do that could break you out of some character you’ve

been preselected to play?”

Gordon scowled, swirling his drink.

“Most Americans occasionally think of their lives as

being a film,” Gordon said. “It’s part of our cultural

conditioning. We’re a media-saturated culture, so it

becomes part of our self-identity.”

“Do you really think so?” Scully said.

“Oh, definitely,” Gordon said. “Haven’t you ever heard

a song on the radio, while you’re driving along in

your car, and had the sensation that it was the

soundtrack to your life?”

Scully smiled. “Is that why you use film and

television terms to talk about things most people

think of as everyday life?”

Gordon smiled back. “I suppose it’s my way of being

cute and media-savvy,” he said. “But I also think that

there are many people who, for one reason or another,

don’t see themselves as the stars of their own lives.

Which is, in my eyes, a problem. Your life is the one

place where you’re always supposed to be top-billed.”

Scully nodded, and took a sip of her gin and tonic.

“I’m talking about saying things out of habit, because

you think you’re *supposed* to say them, rather than

you need or want to say them,” Scully said. “Falling

into weird little patterns of interactions with

people.”

“Playing out artificial roles,” Gordon nodded. “Anyone

who’s been a gay man in the south understands that

well, Agent Scully.”

“But sometimes you don’t want to be playing a role,”

Scully said. “Sometimes you just want to be you.”

“Some sociologists think there’s no such thing as

‘you,'” Gordon suggested. “Some sociologists say that

we’re all just a lump sum of a bunch of different

roles. So you, Agent Scully, are some combination of a

number of parts: daughter, sister, federal agent,

woman, partner. That combination is what makes you

you.”

“Do you believe that, Mr. Schime?”

“In part,” he said. “Although I think there might be

something more to us than the combination of roles we

play.”

“Yes,” Scully said. “I would agree with that.”

Gordon sipped the dregs of his gin and tonic.

“But what I hear you saying is,” Gordon said, “you’ve

gotten into this big sister act with Agent Mulder when

really you want to be getting it on.”

“That,” Scully said, wagging her finger, “is

definitely not what I said.”

Gordon flashed her a charming smile. “Maybe I was

fishing. Forgive me; I’m a journalist.”

“But I do think I’ve slipped into a role I no longer

feel right playing,” she said, thoughtfully.

“Oh?”

“I start responding to Mulder before he even starts

talking,” she said. “Sometimes I’m nothing more than a

reflex of his. He offers a far-out opinion on a

far-out case, and I respond automatically with some

absurdly pedestrian explanation.”

“You search out ways, even absurd ways, to fulfill

other people’s expectations of you,” Gordon nodded.

“Just like Fiona Emery. Only you’re older and more

educated and more accomplished.”

Scully was astonished.

“Well, that’s easy enough to solve,” Gordon said.

“Just stop.”

Scully didn’t know what to say.

“Or,” Gordon suggested, “alternately, you could just

realize you were playing a role, and tear into it with

relish and zeal. Because at least then it’s a

conscious choice.”

A conscious choice.

Scully suddenly was aware of the ringing of her cell

phone.

Oddly enough, it was Mulder.

And he was stuck on skates in the center of downtown

Kiddsboro.

***

ACT THREE:

Wednesday night, 7 pm

Roll-Away Roller Skating Rink

Kiddsboro, Georgia

June 12

When Mulder finally hobbled back to the rink, holding

the skates gingerly in his hands and stepping around

stones in his socks, Scully was sittting inside at a

table by herself. She had oddly poufy hair.

“What happened to your hair?” he asked.

She stared back at him, speechless.

“Did you curl it or something?” he tried again.

“Mulder,” she said slowly, “what happened to you?”

“Oh,” he said, looking down, “I guess I did crash

after all.”

His suit was torn past recognition, although his

scratches, at least, were at a minimum. He’d aimed for

a tree, which had been a good move.

“And the Yankee soldier?” Scully said.

“The rifle wasn’t loaded, fortunately,” Mulder nodded.

“So he fired, and I just played dead for a few

minutes. Which after running into the tree, wasn’t

really that hard.”

“Should I check you out?”

“No,” Mulder waved his hand. “I don’t think so. I

think I’m fine, physically.”

Scully raised her eyebrows.

“But I am worried about this case, g-woman.”

“You’re not going to ask if I solved it while you were

gone?”

“Did you?” “No,” Scully said. And smiled.

“Have you, by any chance, been drinking, Scully?”

“Not much,” Scully said. “But enough that I think we

should couple skate.”

“Couple skate?”

“Haven’t you noticed it’s Couple Skate?” Scully

pointed to the rink, which seemed to be dimming, with

a disco ball magically lowering. “This way, I can keep

you from falling too much.”

“I’ve had enough skating for tonight, Scully,” sighed

Mulder. “I don’t think I can do it.”

“I don’t care,” Scully said, standing up. Mulder

realized she had already put on skates, which boded

poorly for him. “Put on your skates, Mulder.”

“I can’t believe you’ve been sitting around drinking

while I’m being chased down in the streets,” Mulder

complained.

“Come on, I want to get to the skating scene already,

Mulder,” replied Scully.

She turned to go out on to the rink, and Mulder

noticed something. Not only was her hair poufy: it was

also unusually long.

She had a long red ponytail. Which wasn’t, he decided,

a normal Scully hairdo.

***

Mulder was a horrible skater. That much he was right

about.

But Scully felt at home on skates, like she was

fourteen years old again. And the music was Thompson

Twins’ “Hold Me Now,” which brought back some intense

college makeout memories. She felt the ponytail

flapping against her back, which added to this feeling

of youth.

They were by far the oldest couple on the rink, she

noticed. They probably raised the average age by a

decade. A pair of enamored thirteen-year olds whizzed

by them.

Scully was skating out in front of Mulder, leading him

forward with her hands while skating backwards

flawlessly.

clip_image002

“Look at you go, g-woman,” Mulder said, admiringly,

gripping her hands. “Maybe you could be national

champion, if you got Mrs. Emery to be your coach.”

He began wobbling, drastically, and Scully grabbed his

forearms, steadying him.

“You’re not even trying, Mulder,” she said, holding

tight.

“I’ve never been much of a roller skater, Scully,” he

said, straight into her face. “Although I did go to

this roller derby in New York one summer during

college.”

“I had my first kiss on roller skates,” Scully said.

“Get out,” replied Mulder.

“I was thirteen. The back of the roller rink,” Scully

said, smiling. “This was an older boy. Fifteen, I

think.”

“No wonder you’re such a good skater,” Mulder

commented, “when rinks have historically been a place

for you to get some action.”

“Just remember that,” Scully laughed.

Now what does that mean, Agent Scully, she asked

herself?

But Mulder didn’t respond.

“‘Both of us searching for some perfect world we know

we’ll never find,'” sang Scully softly along to the

Thompson Twins song, trying to turn on her skates.

It wasn’t a successful turn. She fell a little, nearly

toppling them both.

“Now you can’t fall, Scully,” Mulder said. “How will

you support me?”

Scully smiled. “Maybe we can alternate.”

She linked her arm into his, and began skating a

little faster, so he would have to keep up with her

pace.

“Too fast, g-woman,” Mulder said. “I’m going to crash

again. I’m no skater.”

Scully pressed closer against him, trying to prop him

up. And also, she admitted, because his warmth was

oddly comforting.

They were finally beginning to get a rhythm: push,

glide, push, glide. Mulder seemed to be warming up,

for which Scully was grateful. She released her grip

on him a little bit.

But he pulled her back into him for a second, and

seemed to study her face.

“How are you, Scully?” Mulder said softly. “You look a

little funny.”

“I had two drinks,” she shrugged. “I’m probably just

flushed.”

“No,” Mulder said. “It’s more than that.”

And now that he mentioned it, she felt a little funny,

too. Like there was something very light inside of

her.

Almost like helium, or a winged creature.

“Why don’t we go sit down?” suggested Mulder.

She began to skate off the rink. But before she made

it all the way off, she had the oddest sensation. Like

she was being blown away. Like she was rolling blind

down a tunnel.

Like she was disappearing into thin air.

***

Thursday, 9 am

Emory Univeristy Hospital

Atlanta, Georgia

June 13

She woke up to Mulder, of course.

The memory of the Thompson Twins was still ringing in

her ears, but she knew it was many hours later.

“Scully,” he whispered. “How are you?”

“I don’t know,” she said. Her voice was creaky, but

otherwise she felt fine.

“Look,” Mulder showed her a newspaper. “You made the

back page of the front section: ‘FBI Agent Injured

During Investigation,’ by Gordon A. Schime.”

Scully smiled. “I’m glad he got something in.”

“Yeah, he’s a good kid.”

Scully paused.

“Mulder, why am I here?”

“You passed out on the rink floor,” Mulder said. “And

you were in a deep sleep all night. But they think

you’re going to be fine by this evening. There’s

nothing really wrong with you, as far as they can

tell.”

She sat up, and looked, curiously around the room.

“I was worried,” Mulder added, softly.

“Was it…?”

“Yes,” Mulder answered. “I think it was.”

Scully lay back on her pillow, and half-closed her

eyes. “Tell me a story, Mulder.”

Mulder exhaled.

“This is a true story, based on some research I was

able to do tonight,” Mulder said.

“All right.”

“It takes place in Victorian England. A Scottish

wigmaker became very fashionable in society circles.

She was able to give women added depth to their hair,

make them look more beautiful.”

“Her name?”

“Ellen McNabb,” Mulder said.

“Go on,” responded Scully.

“In 1877, twelve young women wearing the McNabb wigs

vanished while riding,” Mulder said. “That’s horses,

not roller skates.”

“My god,” Scully said.

“Ellen McNabb was jailed, although no evidence was

ever massed against her,” Mulder said. “Later in her

life, she claimed she only had the power to let

unhappy girls start over. That she was only giving

those girls a chance to disappear and restart their

lives. Her hair rooted into their heads and sucked

away the sadness. So she said.”

“Let me guess,” Scully said. “This is the

great-great-grandmother of Wanda Milton.”

“Exactly right,” Mulder nodded. “And in 1902, Walter

McNabb was accused in an American court in New York of

kidnapping a young girl who had bought one of his

wigs. But he was released. No evidence.”

“Wanda’s grandpa?”

“Right,” Mulder said. “It was her, Scully. Something

chemically she did to the hair extension.”

“She didn’t want the roller girls to turn out as

unhappy as she is,” Scully said. “To be trapped in

these artificial roles.”

“So she took matters into her own hands,” Mulder said.

“And thought she would be doing them a service with

this long-time family remedy for sadness,” Scully

said. “Starting with her own daughter.”

“And continuing with Fiona Emery, who wanted to be an

architect but was doomed to be a competitive roller

skater.”

“But how?” Scully wondered. “It doesn’t explain what

happened to them, Mulder.”

“Maybe they were transported to a different place,”

Mulder said. “Maybe they reappeared in, like, New York

or London. Or maybe they really did start over. The

essence of them was reborn, maybe, into a new person.”

“Reincarnation,” replied Scully.

“Maybe,” shrugged Mulder.

“Maybe,” agreed Scully.

Mulder, clearly startled by this new open mindedness,

didn’t reply.

“But my ponytail,” Scully said, suddenly. “Was it

…?”

“It disappeared when you passed out,” Mulder said.

“Too bad,” Scully said. She had hoped to have it

analyzed.

“Scully…” Mulder began.

“She thought I was unhappy,” Scully realized. “She

thought I needed to vanish, too.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said, looking away. Scully was

surprised at how wounded he looked.

“And that’s the real mystery of this case, Scully. Why

didn’t you? Why did the hairpieces affect those girls

but not you?”

Scully paused, fingering the edge of the sheet, and

smiled. “You really don’t know, Mulder?”

Mulder, slowly, shook his head. Scully noticed the

lines under his eyes. No sleep for him last night.

“Because unlike those girls,” she said, “When I was

skating with Wanda Milton’s hairpiece on, I was not at

all unhappy.”

Mulder stared at her.

“She was right about them,” Scully said, “which is

very sad, really, Mulder, when you think about it. To

be young and already so unhappy.”

She reached out and pressed her hand into his.

“But she was wrong about me,” she said softly.

She reached down and kissed his knuckles, lightly.

He gave her a wide and crooked grin in return.

Too bad Gordon A. Schime isn’t here, she thought.

Because this is the perfect time for the closing

credits to roll.

***

Trolling

Cover

Title: Trolling

Authors: Vickie Moseley (vmoseley@fgi.net) & Susan Proto

(STPteach@aol.com)

Completed: Dec. 2000

Category: Xfile, MSR, MT

Spoilers: None

Summary: The partners investigate a case of a missing child

and run into a couple of obstacles along the way.

Archive: IMTP for the first two weeks, then MTA, the

Garden, the Pyramid, Ephemeral, Gossamer, and any other

site that has received prior written permission. All

others, please contact the authors.

Disclaimer: Mulder & Scully as well as all other

recognizable character references belong to Chris Carter,

Ten Thirteen Productions, and Twentieth Century Fox

Television. They are used here without permission. No

copyright infringement is intended. Unrecognized characters

belong to the authors.

Author’s Notes: This was written for I Made This!

Productions as one of the episodes of Virtual Season 8.

IMTP can be found at http://www.i-made-this.com/.

Thanks to Sally B. for the fast beta (and to Dawn for

wanting to beta! Real life is something else, isn’t it?

*GRIN* ) and to our artist and trailer maker, Xscout and

Mairead, for making the story visually appealing too!

Feedback: YES!

Trolling

By Proto and Moseley

STPteach@aol.com

vmoseley@fgi.net

Prologue

Allegheny National Forest

May 25, 2001

8:35 p.m.

The wind howled through the near leafless trees, tangling

the branches into webs to catch the skittering clouds. A

moonless night, the stars shone cold above the spider’s

lair of tree branches. A pair of small tents huddled

against a stand of pines, seeking shelter from the wind and

the sounds of the autumn night.

A long figure, moving with exaggerated quiet, moved into

one of the tents. A single flashlight was craftily hidden

under a blanket so that only a small circle of light peered

out into the near pitch-black interior. Silently, the

figure pulled a small case from backpack and reverently

fingered the clasp that held it shut.

It was forbidden, but so alluring. The figure, now

leaning over the case and finally illuminated by the spill

of light, smiled a tender smile. A young girl, no more

than twelve, chewed on her lip and again ran a bitten-

nailed index finger over the glistening plastic surface of

the case. Her hesitation taking flight, she quickly opened

the clasp and started partaking of the illicit items held

within.

The wind blew a tree branch against the trunk of a nearby

oak and the resulting squeal of wood caused the young girl

to jump, snapping the case shut and hastily shoving it back

in its resting place. She sat silently, not moving, not

breathing, until she was sure that the sound was only that

of the wind in the trees.

A shadow, silhouetted in the flaming glow of the campfire

outside the tent, appeared before her, large and ominous.

She froze in her actions, her only movement a quiet

trembling. She’d seen the shadow the night before, when

everyone was sleeping and she’d awakened by the

unfamiliarity of sleeping in a tent. Now it was back and

she was certain it meant to do her harm.

She didn’t breathe, didn’t move except for her silent

quaking. The shadow loomed larger as it grew closer to the

tent and the girl’s trembling took on renewed energy. Her

thoughts were a tumble of trying to figure out a way to

run, but there was only one way out of the tent and that

was the way the shadow was coming.

Her eyes cast about for any weapon or means of escape. A

pile of books, forgotten in the corner of a sleeping bag,

attracted her attention. The first book was too thin to be

an adequate source of protection. As her eyes focused on

it, she bit her lip in dismay. The title seemed to

reinforce her fear. The large letters in the dim light of

the flashlight looked red like blood.

She stifled a scream, fear freezing it in her lungs till

it came out only a moan. The shadow moved away and she

felt a tear slip down her cheek.

Outside the tent, the stars twinkled above the wooded

campsite. Pine trees reflected the orange light of center

of the scene, a family huddled against the chill night air

around a burning pit. The fire crackled merrily as dried

oak and maple limbs gave up their existence to the flames.

The faces surrounding the fire glistened in shades of amber

and yellow.

“One more s’more, Mom, please?” begged a tow-headed boy of

about 7 years of age. The unmistakable remnants of

chocolate encircling his lips spoke to the amount of the

sugary confection already consumed. The boy rubbed his

hands in anticipation and to get some warmth.

“Sorry, Jeffrey, we’re out of graham crackers. Scotty

must have finished them off,” replied a weary looking woman

with her gray streaked hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her

tired expression and tone of voice spoke to the

difficulties of even just one night camping out with small

children. Almost as an afterthought, she looked around the

campfire. “Speaking of Scotty, where is he?”

When no answer was forthcoming from either the boy or the

man currently intent upon placing one more log on the fire,

threatening to topple the base, she kicked a large work

booted foot where it stuck out next to her. “Jim. Where’s

Scotty?” she repeated, her voice growing more urgent.

Without looking up, the man shrugged one shoulder.

“Chrissy was taking him to wash up. They should be back by

now. I bet they’re in the tent.”

Sighing, the woman stood up and looked toward the two-room

dome tent across the campsite. A small florescent lantern

cast eerie shadows on the nylon walls inside the tent. The

woman shook her head, tucked a strand of hair behind her

ear and walked over to the tent.

“Chrissy? Are you and Scotty in there?” she asked,

unzipping the outer flap of the tent door.

Inside, Chrissy sat wide-eyed among an assortment of

makeup, lipstick smeared over previously pale lips. She

wiped hurriedly at her face, smearing make-up with tears to

further add to her garish look. “Umm, Mom! Hi!” she

squeaked and attempted to stash the make up accessories

behind her.

Too late, the woman had already seen enough. “Young lady!

What have I told you about getting into my things? And

where is your baby brother?” the woman demanded, arms

crossed in front of her chest and a scowl on her face.

The girl blinked and looked confused. “Isn’t he out there

with you, Mom? When we came back from the bathrooms, he

said he wanted you. I came in here by myself.”

The woman’s anger turned to fire. Chrissy! He’s a baby!

You can’t just let him wander around the campfire! He

could fall or pick up something and try to eat it. How

many times have I told you, you have to watch him

constantly! Now get out here and help me look!”

The woman and the girl made a quick circle of the small

campsite. They looked in both tents, under, behind and

inside the family SUV, finally drawing the attention of the

other members of the party.

“Denise? What’s the matter? What are you looking for?”

asked the man, rising from his crouch near the fire to go

to his wife. She was looking inside the tents again.

The scowl that had been firmly in place during her search

quickly morphed into frightened anguish. “Jim? Jim!” the

woman cried, backing out of the tent and scouring the area

with narrowed eyes. “Jim! Scotty’s missing!”

As Jim grabbed for the nearest flashlight, Chrissy

remembered the shadow against the tent and started to cry.

The family immediately started searching the area,

frantically and in all directions at once, organization

fleeing as panic took over. No one took note of the

rustling of bushes off to the north end of the campsite

just on the edge of the deeper woods. No one saw the

bright-eyed 2 1/2-year-old, smiling, put his hand in the

enormous furred paw of an unseen creature, and gleefully

skip away.

clip_image002

Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds

Allegheny Forest, New York

Daybreak

May 26

The sheriff’s department cruisers were still flashing their

blue and red lights. Emergency Search and Rescue teams

stood near team leaders who were handing out copies of maps

of the surrounding woods. Sitting sideways in one of the

cruisers, Denise Lempke wiped her eyes again, and shook her

head at the offer of coffee.

“I know you’re scared right now, Mrs. Lempke, but we’re

used to having kids wander off around these parts. They

always turn up, usually not far from where they were to

start with. He probably just got turned around and cried

himself to sleep under a tree.”

That was obviously the wrong thing to say when Denise let

up another anguished wail and Jim shoved the well-meaning

deputy aside to comfort his wife.

“Uh, guess I’ll go see what’s up with the search,” the

deputy muttered sheepishly. He squared his shoulders and

marched over to a cluster of men just a few feet away.

“How’s it goin’, Tom?” he asked a tall man with an orange

deer hunting hat perched at a tilt on the back of his head.

“Damned fool city folk!” came the under the breath reply.

“Well, we picked up a couple of foot prints, but they ran

all over the place last night trying to find the kid in the

dark. Messed up most of the prints. There were some

animals prints in the area, too.”

“Bears don’t come down to the campsites this time of year,

Tom,” the deputy said warningly.

“Not unless they’re provoked,” Tom sneered.

The deputy swallowed and bit his lip. “Don’t be sayin’

that too loud. The mother is a might skittish.”

“I’m not gonna go tellin’ them that,” Tom said with a

scowl. “But we need to keep it in mind.”

The deputy looked up and around, at the Allegheny

Mountains surrounding him and prodding their tips into the

pink tinged clouds. Here they were, in one of the most

civilized countries in the world, and yet there were still

plenty of wild things that couldn’t be controlled.

He startled when there was a persistent tug on his sleeve.

Looking down, he found a young girl and a younger boy

staring up at him with forlorn expressions marring their

features. The young girl glanced over at her brother

hesitantly and then slowly handed a children’s storybook to

the deputy.

Billy Goat’s Gruff.

Act I

J. Edgar Hoover Building

7:35 a.m. Monday, May 28, 2001

Mulder tossed his key ring up in the air as he stepped off

the elevator and caught it just as it passed his eye level.

He was in a good mood, it was a beautiful day full of the

promise of spring and he was, for once, well rested and

ready to face the world.

Part of the reason his week was starting on such a high

note, he was certain, was the way he’d spent his weekend.

It had started on Friday night, and by most bachelors’

standards had been inordinately tame. Thai food and

watching a rental copy of Ghostbusters. He knew the movie

by heart, had been an avid Ivan Reitman fan for years, but

it wasn’t the movie that had made the night so special. As

had become the habit of the last several months, Friday

evening was spent with his partner and that made all the

difference.

They’d had plenty of time together in their seven plus

years of partnership. Unfortunately, most of that time was

spent on work — reading case files, searching through

libraries for leads, writing reports or even just jointly

digging through garbage bins in the hope of retrieving the

one receipt they needed for the most recent expense report.

That had changed not long ago, and now they had a standing

date. He smirked at that thought as he felt a chill run

through him.

A date. A standing date with Scully. Would wonders never

cease?

Sure, their “new” relationship wasn’t going to break any

land-speed records, but they weren’t lovesick teenagers

threatened by the end of the summer. They were adults,

they had been working together for over seven years. If it

took them a little longer to reach the next level, so much

the better. They weren’t in a race, for goodness sakes!

They both seemed to have an unspoken agreement that they

were “in it for the long haul.”

Mulder was jiggling his keys as he reached the door to his

office, searching in the blinking light of the almost

deceased fluorescent bulb for the right key, when he

noticed the door was partially open. He froze in his

tracks. He remembered distinctly locking the door on

Friday as he left. Seldom did an open door to his office

on Monday morning bode well for the rest of the day.

Cautiously, he shoved the door the rest of the way open

with the toe of his foot, all the while pocketing his keys

and reaching for his weapon. As the door moved out of his

line of vision, he stopped again, this time in surprise.

Scully stood in the middle of the back room, squinting in

the light of the projector and sliding small little squares

in the projector’s wheel.

“Am I in the wrong alternate universe?” he asked, shucking

off his jacket and hanging it on his coat tree as he moved

into the room.

Scully looked up at him and smiled. “Hey! Have a good

weekend?” she asked playfully as she continued to line up

the slides in the projector.

“Who taught you to use that thing?” Mulder asked, ignoring

her question for one of his own.

“Chuck Burks,” she answered without looking up. “We’re

meeting clandestinely every Saturday afternoon. Next week

he’s going to teach me how to split sunflower seeds with my

tongue. Jealous?” she smirked.

Mulder stared at her for a full moment, then reached out

and poked her in the shoulder. “OK, who are you and what

have you done with Scully?” he demanded.

“What? Can’t I be in a good mood?” she asked, stopping

her actions to look up at him and put a fist on her hip.

“I heard you whistling as you came off the elevator,” she

accused.

“I was not whistling!” he objected. “I couldn’t find a

clean handkerchief this morning. Now, c’mon, Scully.

You’re never this chipper on a Monday. And what are you

doing with the slide show?”

“New case. Sit down, take a load off,” she offered him

the corner of the computer table and moved to the right of

the lighted rectangle on the wall that served as a

makeshift projector screen. She smiled at him and clicked

the first slide into place with the tiny remote.

“Allegheny National Park, upstate New York,” she said as

the wall was filled with a panoramic view of miles of pine

and other trees, limbs naked from the winter.

“Pretty,” he commented but she’d already clicked the

remote and a new slide rattled into place. Two brightly

colored tents stood on opposite sides of a firepit,

recently used.

“This is the campsite of Jim and Denise Lempke, of Albany.

They and their three children were camping at the park on

Friday of this weekend.”

“Kinda cold to be camping up in upstate New York, wasn’t

it?” Mulder asked, relaxing into his new role of ‘observer’

and reaching into the top desk drawer of the computer table

for one of his many stashes of sunflower seeds.

“Not really,” Scully said with a shake of her head. “As a

matter of fact, the temperatures didn’t go below 40 at

night and it was 63 on Saturday.” She clicked the next

slide, showing a cherub-faced toddler no more than two to

three years old with blond curls and a toothy grin.

“Scotty Lempke, age two years, 8 months, the Lempke’s

youngest child. He wandered off from the campsite sometime

between 7:30 and 8 on Friday evening.”

Mulder closed his eyes for a second. Not another

abduction case. But if that were the case, why was Scully

the one with the slide show? She hated abduction cases as

much as he did, more so, if that were possible. He only

did them out of his own neurotic need to keep looking for

clues to her own abduction, and his sister’s. He shook his

head and looked back at the wall.

The slide had changed again. This time it was a wooded

area, the tents and campsite far off in the distance.

Mulder stared at the image. He looked at the treetops,

searched the ground for scorch marks.

“Scully. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of alien

abduction,” he said, slowly moving closer to the wall so he

could squint at the blurry images.

“No, there isn’t,” she agreed.

“So what am I looking for? For that matter, if this is

just a missing child, why are we even bothering with this?

Doesn’t the New York State Police handle missing children?”

“They do, but Mulder, there is ample reason for us to take

this case. Look closely at the lower right hand of the

screen. That muddy area there. See any impressions?” she

prodded.

Mulder moved so he could squint in the region she

directed. He pulled back when he thought he’d found what

she was referencing. “Footprints,” he said, still not sure

of himself.

Smiling in approval, Scully clicked the next slide into

place. “Here’s a closer look,” she told him.

Now there was a close up of the footprints. One set were

obviously the prints of a small child’s shoes complete with

a fairly good imprint of Tigger tossing a ball to Piglet.

The other set were deeper but not that much larger. The

unusual aspect of the second set, however, was that the

person, or “being” as the case may be, was barefoot and had

only three toes.

Mulder stared at the footprints, chewing first on one side

of his cheek and then the other. It was several seconds

before he opened his mouth.

“Scully, those woods are pretty secluded. I mean, sure,

there can be a lot of wild animals–”

“A local zoologist from SUNY in Albany claims those

footprints could not have been made by any animal species

currently known to live in those woods,” Scully rattled off

with a tilt of her head that usually indicated she was

ready to beat off any challenges he might launch at her.

The only problem was, she still hadn’t presented a theory

for him to challenge.

“A deformed homeless person?” Mulder offered, feeling

rather meek at how lame it sounded even to his own ears.

Scully snorted and shook her head.

Mulder was getting perturbed. “OK, what’s your big

theory, Agent Scully?” he demanded, crossing his arms over

his chest defensively.

The smile Scully had been presenting all morning faded

just a touch. She drew in a deep breath and walked back to

the projector, flipping it off and plunging them both in to

relative darkness. She had walked all the way back into

the front part of the office before she turned to him to

answer.

“Mulder, what do you know about trolls?”

He tossed his head toward the ceiling and stroked his

chin. “Well, they’re a bitch to deal with on Internet

newsgroups,” he retorted.

“Not quite the kind I had in mind,” she replied. “Try

again,” she challenged.

“OK. Scandinavian legend speaks of people, woodsfolk, who

roamed the hills doing various nasty deeds. Trolls are

credited with causing mischief, wrecking outbuildings, even

with stealing children.” He looked at her as the

realization hit him. “Scully, you aren’t seriously

suggesting . . .”

He let the accusation hang in the air as he hooted with

laughter. “God, Scully! That’s a good one! You really

had me going. I mean, I’m used to some of your tricks by

now, but I never expected this one. You got me. You got

me good, G-woman!”

She wasn’t smiling.

He swallowed the last chuckle and stared at her. “You’re

serious?” he asked. Without giving her a chance to answer,

he walked over to stand next to her, invading what little

space was available in the cramped office.

“Scully, look at me and tell me you’re proposing that

trolls have stolen that little boy,” he said roughly.

She looked up at him, square in the eyes. “Mulder, I’m

proposing that trolls have stolen that little boy and I

think we’re the only ones in the whole Eastern Seaboard who

are going to take the possibility seriously.”

He bit his lip. “You have more to go on than just

footprints,” he said hesitantly.

She nodded and handed him the case file. “Statements,

from both Chrissy Lempke and her brother Jeffrey. Both

children testify that they saw a ‘squat looking man, all

hairy, with big hands and big head’ lurking around the

campsite Thursday night. Chrissy even goes so far as to

say she could ‘smell’ the man and that he smelled ‘bad’.”

“Scully,” Mulder interrupted, placing a hand on her upper

arm. “That would support my suggestion of a physically

deformed homeless person,” he added gently.

“Mulder, this isn’t the first time there have been

sightings of trolls in those woods,” Scully exclaimed in a

tone that gave voice to her obvious exasperation at her

partner’s disbelief. She shoved a tidy pile of case files

into his arms. “Some go back decades. One of those

sightings has been as recent as four years ago.”

He glanced through the files, nodding. “These are from

our files?” he asked. She nodded curtly. “You were

digging for these this morning? Good grief, Scully, when

did you get up?”

“I was here by 6:30, but Mulder, you’re avoiding my point.

I know there are trolls in those woods!”

Mulder licked his lips and moved around her to sit in his

chair and lean back. “There’s a big something you aren’t

telling me,” he stated and then sat there, waiting for her

to start her story.

“When I was 7, Mom got the chance to fly to Hawaii and

spend a week R&R with Ahab. Of course, she didn’t want to

take us and she couldn’t leave us alone in Newport News —

that’s where we were living. So she packed the four of us

up and sent us by train to stay with her elderly aunt who

lived in upstate New York.”

“Anywhere near Allegheny National Park?” Mulder offered.

Scully shot him a wicked look and he determined his best

course was to remain silent during her tale.

She paced as she talked. “Charlie was 4, Bill was

11 and just as obnoxious as he is now and Missy had

just turned 9. We were stair steps and very excited to

be on ‘our own.’ Aunt Mildred lived . . .”

“Mildred?” he gasped out and quickly realized his error

when her glare cut him short. “Sorry. I just never knew

anyone who actually had an Aunt Mildred,” he apologized.

“She wasn’t my aunt, Mulder. She was my great-aunt, and a

very lovely woman. In her own way, she probably would have

liked you, and you know that’s a rare trait among most of

my family members,” she added pointedly.

“I get along great with your mom,” Mulder mumbled. “It’s

just the men . . .”

“May I finish this, please?” she asked sternly.

“Sorry,” he muttered dejectedly. “Please, continue.”

“Anyway, Aunt Mildred lived on the edge of the woods. It

was a really pretty house and a very pretty little plot of

land, with a stream that ran through the back yard, which

was about two acres big. We used to play in the yard, but

Aunt Millie always warned us not to wander into the woods.”

“I’m beginning to see where this is headed,” Mulder said,

hoping he’d spoken quietly, so as not to earn her wrath

again.

“Probably. Billy decided it was too great an opportunity

to pass up, there were these really great woods and trails

all through them. Deer trails, Aunt Millie called them.

So, on a regular basis, he would leave the three of us

behind and take off down the paths through the woods,

circling around and coming back into the yard another way.

Missy wanted to go with him.”

“But he said she couldn’t because she was a girl?” Mulder

offered. “Scully, why didn’t you just smother him in his

sleep when you had the chance?”

“I’ve asked myself that question more times than you can

count, Mulder,” Scully replied with a shake of her head.

“And yes, you guessed it. So of course, Missy went into

the woods after him one of the times he ran off. And she

didn’t come back out. We waited and waited and waited.

“Bill came back and when he realized that Missy was in the

woods and probably lost, he went back in to find her. That

left me and Charlie standing in the back yard, hoping that

both of them would come back soon.”

“But they didn’t,” Mulder continued.

“No, and it was starting to get dark.” Her lips started

to tremble at the memory, but she swallowed visibly and

took a breath before starting off again. “So I went in and

told Aunt Millie, who was just about ready to call us all

for supper.”

Mulder could see how the memory was difficult for her and

it squeezed his heart. He stood up and walked to the front

of his desk, where he could be closer as she paced.

Finally, she stopped just in front of him.

“Aunt Millie called the neighbors and they searched and

searched. They found Bill, he was cold and scared and had

gotten turned around in the woods. But they didn’t find

Missy. Finally, about midnight, Aunt Millie made the three

of us go to bed.”

She stopped a moment and Mulder was sure he saw tears

glistening in her eyes. “When I woke up, I was so sure I

would look over and see her in the bed next to me, but I

was alone in the room and I just cried and cried.”

Mulder put his arms around her for a second, but she

pulled away and stood in the middle of the room. “Scully,”

he said tenderly. “I’m really sorry. But how does this

prove the existence of trolls?”

She wiped at her eye and looked at him. “Because Missy

told me she saw them. She hid from them. That’s why the

neighbors didn’t find her. She was hiding. She came back

the next morning.”

“Scully,” Mulder said, biding his time to find the right

words. “Isn’t it possible that Missy saw the neighbors

looking for her and thought they were trolls?”

Scully nodded, pursing her lips. It was an expression

Mulder had seen a thousand times, and every time he wished

he had a flak jacket or a sturdy wooden structure to hide

behind.

“Mulder, my sister described the trolls perfectly. And

for your information, she saw these beings not after it got

dark, but in bright daylight! They were foraging or

something, not five feet from where she was crouched behind

a bush.

“She told me they were about five feet tall, the tallest,

and the shortest were about three and a half feet tall.

They walked upright on two legs, they were covered with

brown fur, and they had big noses that hung down over their

mouths.

“They had long arms that hung down by their knees. And

they had tails, Mulder. Now, do you think that describes

any neighbors of my aunt? For that matter, does it

describe any creature you’ve heard of in the woods of

upstate New York?”

Mulder nodded, realizing it was foolish to continue his

arguments. She was not to be dissuaded. “Well, Scully,

when do we leave? And are you going to requisition the

really big Billy Goat, or am I?”

Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds

Allegheny Forest, New York

Late Afternoon

“Scully!” he called after her as he climbed out of the

rental. “C’mon, Scully, you can’t give me the silent

treatment forever!”

She turned around and sent a piercing glare that

immediately shot that theory down.

As she resumed walking toward the throng of people that

had gathered at the campsite, Mulder tried his best to

prove his innocence.

“Look, you can’t blame me for this one. You just can’t.

I kept my mouth shut the entire time you presented the case

to Skinner, didn’t I?”

“And that, Agent Mulder,” began Scully in a tone that was

dripping with venom, “was the problem.”

“See?” he responded with a smile, “I knew you couldn’t

ignore me forever.”

“Mulder!” came out Scully’s exasperated reply. “You could

have backed me up!”

“Scully, I did,” he responded, but with a great deal less

confidence than he would have liked.

“How, Mulder? How did standing in Skinner’s office with

what appeared to have been a sudden case of elective

muteness ‘back me up’?”

“Look, he asked you questions about your theory, and I

allowed you to answer them.”

“But you didn’t support me, Mulder,” came a frustrated

retort.

“Of course I supported you, Scully. I agreed that

everything you proposed was within the realm of extreme

possibilities.”

“And then you promptly started laughing. Hysterically,”

Scully reminded in a monotone.

“I did not!” retorted Mulder, “Skinner started laughing

first, and _then_ I got hysterical.”

Scully stopped so suddenly Mulder practically ran right

into her back. She said in a low, hurt voice, “Mulder, in

the years I’ve worked with you, I’ve never laughed at your

theories.”

“What?” replied her incredulous partner. “Scully, you

have to know how much I respect you, don’t you? But you

are apparently beginning to suffer from what my Uncle

Benjamin called ‘senior moments.’ I’ve lost count over

the number of times you’ve practically keeled over laughing

at one of my leaps.”

“Yeah, well, maybe, but…”

“But, what?” he replied softly.

“But did you have to do it in front of Skinner?”

“I’m sorry about that, Scully. Really, I am. It was a

knee-jerk reaction, and once I started, I just couldn’t

stop. You’re right,” he soothed, “that was pretty shitty

of me. I’m sorry, partner.”

He placed his index finger under her chin and gently

lifted her face up till her eyes met his. “I really am

sorry, Scully.”

She looked at him and realized that as much as she had a

right to stay angry, she couldn’t. She managed to contain

her smile; she wasn’t about to let him off the hook

completely, at least not yet.

She nodded slightly and the two of them headed over to the

campsite.

They were immediately inundated with questions from a loud

and pushy group of television, radio, and newspaper

reporters. The barrage of questions ranged from asking the

duo to identify themselves to what new information could

they provide.

Both agents repeated over and over again ‘no comment’ and

continued walking until they arrived at the small conclave

of sheriffs’ cars that formed a barrier against the media

blitz that stood within yards of them.

“Can I help you?” asked the officer in charge.

Both agents quickly and efficiently pulled out their

identification. Mulder purposely remained quiet. This was

his partner’s case; she was going to take the lead in this

one. Scully picked up on Mulder’s intent immediately and

introduced herself and her partner.

“FBI?” remarked the sheriff. “What the hell is the FBI

doing out here in the Allegheny Mountains?”

“We received word, Sheriff, that there might me some

unexplained phenomena that led to this little boy’s

disappearance.”

“Unexplained phenomena? What kind of unexplained

phenomena are you talking about? I’m sorry, Ma’am, but the

only thing we’re looking at is the probability that little

Scotty Lempke was nabbed by a renegade bear that smelled

the food at the campsite and decided to go for the full,

five course buffet, ya know?”

“Can you explain the footprints, Sheriff…?” Scully

began.

“Brennan. Sorry about that. The name is Tom Brennan.

This is my deputy, Jerry Springer.”

At that the agents did a double take, to which the deputy

replied, “Please. Get it out of your system now so we can

get on with our work.”

“Look, I’m one to talk,” responded Mulder. “My first name

is Fox.”

“You’re kidding?” Deputy Springer commented.

Mulder shook his head, and there seemed to be an

instantaneous camaraderie between the two men. Meanwhile,

Scully cleared her throat.

“Oh, sorry, um you were saying Agent Scully? Something

about footprints? What footprints?” asked Sheriff Brennan.

“The ones in these photos,” Scully replied as she opened

her briefcase and pulled out the images she’d shown Mulder

back in the basement.

“Oh, well, they must be bear prints, Agent Scully,”

offered Deputy Springer.

Scully shook her head and offered the testimony of her

SUNY at Albany expert. “No, they’re definitely not bear

prints, Deputy.”

“Well, if they’re not bear prints, then what are they?”

asked an exasperated sheriff. “Those pain in the ass media

people aren’t going to leave until they’ve gotten some

answers, and they’re not above making it up if they have

to!”

“Well,” began Scully tentatively, “there’s quite a few

legends about these mountains.”

“Sure there are; I mean we’ve got local lore that can

compete with the best of them,” agreed Brennan.

“Has there ever been any substantiation of the lore? Any

eyewitness testimony?” asked Scully.

“You mean proof?” Scully nodded. “Agent Scully, proof of

what?”

“Of the legends, the folk tales, the local lore,” answered

Scully with as much professionalism as she could muster.

Even she knew she was in, as much as she hated to say it,

“alien territory.”

“Oh, Christ Almighty! You are not thinking this was some

kind of ‘troll kidnapping,’ are you?” guffawed the deputy.

“Sheriff, she thinks it was some kind of troll that stole

away that kid!” He then turned to the FBI agent and asked,

“Lady, where the hell do you get your theories from?”

Mulder placed his hand on the small of Scully’s back and

as he led her away from the laughter that soon erupted,

said, “If you don’t mind, we’re going to take a look around

at the physical evidence. We would also like the

opportunity to meet with the parents as soon as possible.”

“Sure, sure,” laughed the sheriff, who was now wiping

tears from his eyes. “Whatever.”

Mulder could feel the tension in Scully’s body as he led

her away, and as he leaned down he whispered gently into

her ear, “Well, Scully, welcome to my world.”

The two agents walked across the campsite area towards a

cordoned off area. Mulder pointed to the left and the pair

soon found themselves peering down on the footprints that

had engaged Scully’s attention in the first place.

“Damn, Scully, this sucker is big.” Mulder bent down to

get a closer look, while Scully held onto Mulder’s

shoulder for leverage and leaned down for a better view.

“He’s not very tall,” she observed, “he is heavy. Very

heavy.”

“What makes you say that?” asked a new voice.

Not missing a beat, Scully went on to explain, “Well, look

at the distance between the footprints. There’s very

little; the strides are rather short, but the imprint in

the ground is extremely deep. That suggests the UNSUB is a

rather short, stout figure.”

“UNSUB?” echoed the as yet to be identified voice.

“Unknown Subject,” explained Mulder, who then asked, “And

you are?”

“Oh, Carla Pulowski,” she replied extending her hand to

the two, now upright agents. “The sheriff’s department

seems to believe it’s a bear. Damnedest bear tracks I’ve

ever seen if it is.”

“You don’t work for the sheriff’s department, Ms.

Pulowski?” asked Scully with a tinge of suspiciousness.

“I work out of a county office,” was her quick reply.

“County?” echoed both agents in a murmur.

“I assume you guys aren’t locals, or I would have

recognized you,” deflected Pulowski.

“We’re out of D.C.,” confirmed Mulder. He introduced both

himself and his partner.

“The Bureau?” Upon seeing their affirming nod, Pulowski

quickly asked, “Why the hell is the Bureau involving itself

in a case of a lost child? Seems to be a little out of

your jurisdiction, doesn’t it?” she countered.

Suddenly the trio heard a loud muttering of expletives and

Carla Pulowski immediately reacted by turning her head

toward the noisemaker.

“God damn it, Pulowski! Why the hell aren’t you behind

the tape along with all of your other hyperactive pain in

the ass media assholes?”

“Media?” asked Scully with some exasperation.

“Tom,” began Carla, “I want to get the facts on this case,

so I came right to a reliable source. Who could be more

reliable than agents from the FBI?”

“Media?” repeated Scully. “We were talking with you under

false pretenses. You have no right to print anything we

told you.”

“Agent Scully, I never gave you any false information. I

told you I worked out of a county office. That is no lie.

My newspaper’s office is right smack dab in the middle of

Allegheny County. I never said I was a law enforcement

officer.”

“But that’s what you implied,” Scully argued.

“No, Ma’am, that’s what you assumed,” retorted Pulowski.

“Carla,” interrupted Tom, “the pissing contest can stop

right now. You lost, understand? You know you had no

business crossing over the rope, so anything that was said

is not open for publication at this time.”

“But the public has a right–”

“Ms. Pulowski,” Mulder cut her off quickly, “before you

even hint that the public has a right to be privy to

information about this case, I hope you’ll keep in mind

that this is a 2-year-old boy that’s gone missing.

“Now, we may not know exactly who,” and then looking at

Scully, he added, “or what, took him, but the fact of the

matter is, there’s a child’s life at stake. I strongly

urge you to reconsider printing any information that might

give the advantage to the UNSUB and lessen the chances of

us finding that small child alive.”

Pulowski appeared to think Mulder’s words over and, after

a few moments, replied that she would hold off for now.

“I’ll keep a lid on the information for forty-eight hours,

Agent Mulder. But after that, unless you can provide me

with solid proof that it would be detrimental to the boy’s

safety for us to go public, I will write and publish the

story.”

Mulder made eye contact with both Scully and Brennan, and

noted that they were all willing to agree to Pulowski’s

proposal. “Very well, Ms. Pulowski.”

“Pulowski, no Ms., just Pulowski.”

Mulder and Scully couldn’t help but smile slightly at the

little bit of familiarity they just heard.

May 29, 2001 1:44 a.m.

She was already in bed, undressed, when she heard the key

in the lock. God, she hated these late nights. But she

hated the hiding even more. She hoped no one saw him when

he was standing outside the motel room door. She glanced

at the clock on the bedside table. It changed to 1:45 a.m.

as she watched. Small chance they would be discovered at

this hour.

He didn’t even speak as he came into the room. She

blinked when he turned on the light in the bathroom. At

least he wasn’t so inconsiderate as to turn on the bedside

lamp. Obviously the last time, when she’d yelled at him,

had taught him some manners. She’d have to remember that,

for future reference. Like when she got up to go to the

bathroom after him in the middle of the night.

But right at that moment, she couldn’t be mad at him. She

watched in rapt amusement as he struggled with his holster,

placed it with the gun still encased in the top drawer of

the nightstand. Then her arousal increased exponentially

as he slowly did a strip tease in front of her. He wasn’t

looking at her directly, but she knew, she just knew it was

all for her benefit. And she was benefiting greatly.

When he was completely undressed, she pulled back the

covers as an invitation to join her. She almost laughed at

his boyishly charming blush as he crawled happily across

the sheets to wrestle her into his arms. Her giggles soon

turned to amorous moans as he started kissing her head to

toe.

Some time later, he was lying on his back as she was

snuggled in the crook of his arm. His left hand was

stroking her hair and she could tell he wouldn’t be awake

for very long. Still, as tired as she knew he had to be,

she had an equal need for information about the case.

She’d let him sleep a little later in the morning, but now,

she had him right where she wanted him.

“What took you so long?” she asked, idly drawing circles

on his bare chest.

“Hmm,” he moaned sleepily.

“You said you’d be here by midnight. It’s after 2. What

took so long?”

“The mother is an idiot,” he said and punctuated the

sentence with a huge yawn that threatened to dislodge her

from her comfortable embrace.

“She’s a mother. She’s worried.”

“The kid’s back. What’s to worry?” he asked, turning so

that they were lying face to face.

She was quiet for a moment. “Was anything wrong with

him?” she asked, fearful for the first time since she’d

heard about this case.

He shook his head and kissed her on the nose. “Not a damn

thing. We had him checked out over at the hospital. The

head of Peds says there is absolutely nothing wrong with

that kid. Nothing that a good bath wouldn’t cure, that is.”

She bit her lip. “But he was missing for three days.

Could they get anything out of him?”

He chuckled. “Yeah. He wants to watch Thomas the Tank

Engine when he gets home. Face it, he’s a baby. He

doesn’t know what happened, and it obvious it wasn’t bad.

So it’s best to close this case and go on to the next one.”

“But the mother doesn’t think so?” she asked, worrying her

lip.

He shook his head in mild disgust. “She’s spouting all

this stupid stuff about him not acting right. Hell, the

kid just spent three days in the woods. I wouldn’t act

right after that. I don’t act right after I spend one

night in the woods,” he added and kissed her on the crown

of her head. She punched him lightly on the shoulder.

“But she says there’s something strange going on?”

He flipped onto his back. “Yup.”

“What do the others think?” she asked, moving his arm to

snuggle up into her former position. It was warmer, with

her bare shoulders outside of the covers.

“Those damn fools for brains? What do you think! They

believe the mother! Think they want to go crawling in the

woods! Damn if I’m spending another night in the goddamn

woods!”

“They believe her? Why?”

“How the hell should I know? Now, if you don’t mind, I do

have to get up early. Unless you can think of something

more productive to do, I’m going to sleep!”

2:55 a.m.

She pulled her ever-present laptop onto the bed with her

while her partner slept fitfully. It amazed her how he

could go for weeks on but a few hours sleep when he was on

a case and still manage to function.

She moved as quietly as she could so as not to awaken him

as she hooked up her computer and got down to business.

She couldn’t help but wonder what was with the crackpots

they called law enforcement nowadays. A child had been

missing and everyone seemed to simply be wringing their

hands but not doing a whole helluva a lot about it.

Well, she was going to do something about it and if it

meant running over a few cops in the interim, then so be

it. She was damned if she was going to let some egos get

in the way of finding out what happened to that child.

And if she were to get a little credit for doing her part,

well so be that, too. It wasn’t very often, but sometimes

it did get to her that she appeared as nothing more than a

shadow to his work. Sure, she always signed her name to

her reports, but it seemed no one ever knew just how much

of the legwork she accomplished to help crack these cases.

Hell, she wasn’t even allowed to let anyone know they were

sharing the same bed. She thought that was perhaps the

most difficult part of their relationship to deal with; its

clandestine nature took a lot of energy.

“Mmm, you okay?” he mumbled sleepily to her.

“I’m fine. Go back to sleep,” she replied. She gently

moved an unruly lock of his hair that had a habit of

falling into his eyes, smiled momentarily, and then

refocused her energies onto her screen.

She went to her favorite search engine and typed in a

name. She had no idea if anything whatsoever would show

up, but she figured she had nothing to lose. She only had

to wait but a few seconds before several hits came up.

As she scanned the proposed sites, she was amazed at the

number of stories this guy was involved in. He didn’t seem

like the type; he was quiet and somewhat unassuming.

Granted, he wasn’t bad looking, but he was certainly no GQ

man.

The eyes were too small and the nose was too damn big.

She clicked on one of the twenty plus sites that popped up

and watched it download immediately. She thanked her lucky

stars for cable modems; in her job she needed access to

information fast, and this sucker did the deed for her

quite nicely.

As she scanned the first article, and then a second, and a

third, until she’d read almost all of the stories that were

posted on that guy, she realized this guy was no ordinary

cop.

He wasn’t any ordinary fibbie either; Spooky Mulder had a

reputation to fit his unusual nickname, and Carla Pulowski

was going to get to the reason he and his partner were

involving themselves in a simple case of a lost child in

the wild woods of the Allegheny Forest. And why were they

sticking around when the lost boy had been found more than

seven hours ago?

She reached over to her jacket pocket and pulled out her

cell phone. She then brought up her address book on her

laptop and found the name that she’d relied upon so often

in the past. She dialed the Maryland number. She then

brought the cellular into the bathroom and closed the door,

while she waited for someone to pick up on the other end.

“This better be one helluva tip, or your ass is grass,”

mumbled the sleepy voice.

“Oh, c’mon J.J., don’t even tell me you were asleep

already,” teased Carla.

“Shit, Carla, what the hell time is it?” responded a now

more awake J.J. Jackson, reporter for the Maryland Sun

Times.

“It’s nighttime,” she replied quickly, “Now listen to me!

I need to know the scoop on some DC fibbies.”

“Carla, that’s not my beat,” she whined, “I’ve got to get

some sleep.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, but listen, I gotta feeling you’ll

know the one I’m talking about,” she pleaded.

“Carla,” she warned in a pseudo-annoyed tone. She never

could stay angry with Carla Pulowski, her best friend since

the sixth grade and co-captain of the cheerleading squad at

Allegheny High. When Carla decided to stay in Allegheny

and Janie Jackson left for college at American University,

they both thought their friendship would have ended.

Instead, it thrived.

Jackson worked for a small paper in Arlington, which was

close enough to the D.C. area to get all the political

scoops

she ever needed. At least that’s the way Carla perceived

it. Whenever something big in Washington was going down,

J.J. knew to expect a phone call from her very own personal

upstate New York leach.

Of course, she didn’t really see her that way, except

perhaps at three o’clock in the morning.

“Who?” she asked succinctly.

“Mulder, Special Agent Fox Mulder, otherwise known as–.”

“–Spooky,” Jackson completed for her.

“So you do know who he is!” Carla practically squealed.

“Yeah, I know him. In fact, I got to interview him and

Mrs. Spooky after a Maryland serial murderer was caught

because of his profiling and her forensics skills.”

“You’re kidding?” Carla asked amazed.

“No, really, I interviewed them.”

“She’s known as Mrs. Spooky?” Carla countered.

“Oh. Yeah. That’s because they usually investigate this

paranormal shit. The amazing thing is that their solve

rate is supposedly one of the highest in the Bureau. Look,

I just work for a dinky little local paper, but even I know

where Mulder and Scully go, something weird is going on.

Okay,” J.J. continued, “I’ll bite. Why’d ya wanna know?”

“We’ve got a little boy, a 3-year-old, missing in the

forest, and guess who showed up this afternoon to add their

two cents?”

“You’re kidding,” she replied with a hint of awe. “Must

be one helluva weird case for Mr. and Mrs. Spooky to be on

the job.”

“That’s just it, J.J.,” she answered, “it seems to be a

run of the mill child wanders off and gets lost scenario.

Well, other than the fact there’re the mother of all mother

animal tracks next to the campsite where the kid was

staying with his family. Tom thinks they’re bear tracks,

but they’re the wrong shape.”

“Well, something’s got the fibbies’ attention, Carla. If

they’re involved, then it’s definitely not a run of the

mill little boy lost in the woods case,” informed J.J.

“That’s what I wanted to hear. I guess I’ll have my work

cut out for me then,” Carla said.

“Carla, listen to me. Think before you get yourself mixed

up in this. When these two are involved in a case, it

usually means some really weird shit is going down.”

“Jane Marie Jackson, you know damn well I can take care of

myself,” she retorted haughtily.

“Yeah, I know you can,” J.J. appeased, but then added

softly, “under normal circumstances. I’m telling you

Carla, Mulder and Scully never involve themselves in the

mundane.” When she heard her friend sigh in response, she

knew she wasn’t going to convince Carla otherwise. So,

with a heavy sigh of her own, she said, “Just be careful,

kiddo, okay?”

When the alarm rang, Tom tried his best to muffle the

noise with a pillow over his head and a plea to his lover

to ‘hit the damn snooze.’ Unfortunately, his pleas were

being ignored, and he finally had to come up for air to do

it himself.

As he reached over across the bed, he realized he was

lying in bed alone, and apparently it was for quite some

time, as the sheets were cold. He turned the alarm off and

sat up in bed. Tom scanned the room to look for signs

Carla was nearby, but any and all proof of her presence

last night had vanished.

He noted her clothes were gone as well as her own personal

security blanket, the laptop. Tom checked the time once

more and realized since it was only 6 a.m. now, Carla must

have left a whole lot earlier. The only things he couldn’t

figure out were where and why.

He got out of bed, went into the bathroom to take a leak,

and found his first clue as to what the hell was going on

with his girlfriend. There were some notes scribbled on

toilet paper. “The woman doesn’t know when the hell to

quit,” he muttered aloud.

“Spooky. Mr. and Mrs. Spooky.” He shook his head and

tried to figure out what the hell it meant, but he didn’t

have a clue. The only thing he did know was that it left

him with a bad feeling.

A real bad feeling.

Act II

Allegheny National Forest 6:15 a.m.

Scully pulled the backpack out of the trunk of the car and

tossed it to her partner.

“Hey, how come I get the one with the tent?” he asked,

with a devilish twinkle in his eye. “I thought this was

the new millennium, where men were to be cherished and put

on pedestals.”

She tried to hold back the smirk that threatened to break

out on her face. “I do put you on a pedestal, Mulder. But

I want you to feel ‘manly.'”

He grinned at that. “Oh, if this is for my ego’s benefit,

then I guess I can’t complain.” He checked his own holster

and ankle holster.

“You still think this might be a bear?” Scully asked as

she tightened the straps on her own backpack, which hung

heavy with provisions.

“I don’t know what it was, Scully, but I’m not going into

any forest without a couple of extra clips and a box of

waterproof matches,” he said then grinned at her with an

added wink.

She sighed and dug a small map out of her back pocket. He

watched her turning it around, trying to orient it to their

location of the parking lot when he finally couldn’t stand

it any longer.

He reached into one of the pockets of his jacket and

pulled out a small electronic device with a gray green

screen. He handed it to her with both hands as if it were

of great importance.

“What’s this?” she asked, looking at the device

suspiciously.

“A pocket GPS. The guys got it for me for my birthday.”

“I don’t remember you mentioning that they bought you a

GPS device, Mulder,” Scully replied with a raised eyebrow.

“They don’t know they gave it to me, yet. You know how

bad Frohike is about taking inventory,” he answered with

another grin.

“You seem to be in a good mood today, Mulder.”

“Why not? The missing child was returned to his family

yesterday, the worse thing wrong with him was a tear in his

Blue’s Clues overalls. We’re just trying to figure out

what happened. Why shouldn’t I be in a good mood?”

“The fact that the mother called us not two hours after

her son was returned and claimed that the boy was not her

son doesn’t bother you at all?” she asked sullenly as she

booted up the GPS and used it with the map to determine

their location.

“Scully, the woman has been through hell the last couple

of days. The kid is a toddler, sure he’s probably acting

out now that he’s back home. This was a traumatic

experience. I’m not discounting that. But it’s nothing a

couple of counseling sessions won’t overcome. And besides,

Scully, she was a bit of an interview hog,” he added.

His partner turned on him, outrage on her face. “Are you

implying that she’s doing this because of the publicity?

Fox Mulder, of all the inconsiderate, insensitive,

absolutely unimaginable . . .”

Mulder realized immediately that he’d said the wrong

thing. “Scully, calm down. I mean, I don’t think she’s

the type to make a guest shot on Springer, but face it.

The press was all over her when she stood outside the

hospital and announced that the baby in her husband’s arms

was not her child.”

“She was hysterical! She had to be sedated, Mulder!”

“You believe her,” he said, hands on his hips.

Scully stared off to the treetops, squaring her jaw.

Finally, when she thought she was calm enough to speak

without ripping her partner’s head off, she looked at him.

“She is the boy’s mother. A mother would know her own

child.”

Mulder closed his eyes when he figured out exactly what

she was saying, and what he had done. Of course a mother

would know her own child. Hadn’t Scully known Emily was

hers, even before she had any proof, any evidence to

support that knowledge? And he was as much as questioning

how that could happen. He knew he had major fences to mend

and fast.

“Scully,” he said gently. “I’m not really doubting her.

I’m just saying that the suggestion that her son was

‘exchanged’ with a ‘changeling’ is a little far fetched.

She could be experiencing some serious psychological

effects of the disappearance. It’s not unheard of. She

could be feeling guilty that the boy wandered off to begin

with. And the kid seems perfectly healthy. I mean, the

father suspects nothing.”

“So you’re saying we just pack up, go home, ignore the

mother’s charges and close the case?” she asked, now

putting her hands on her hips. She had that tilt to her

head. She was thinking about where she could put the

bullet so that blood didn’t splatter on her white parka

with the fake fur trim, he could tell by just looking at

her.

He was trying to mend the fence and the tear just kept

getting wider. What was he doing wrong? Oh, he

remembered. He was still talking. That had to be it!

“I’m not saying any such thing. We’re in the woods,

Scully. Let’s take a walk. Lead on, MacDuff!”

They searched the camping area for a few minutes before

heading out into the meadow where the prints were found.

Scully knelt down and poked at the footprint with one

gloved finger. Slowly, she rose and shielded her eyes with

her hand as she stared into the woods.

“The prints end here, but would indicate they headed into

that stand of oak over there.”

“That’s an oak tree?” Mulder asked, then shrugged and

grinned boyishly at her raised eyebrow. “Well, let’s head

that way.”

Scully stood still even though her partner was already

making his way toward the bare oak trees. When he finally

noticed she hadn’t moved he turned and then came back

toward her.

“Scully? What did I do now? I’m walking, I’m not

talking, what?”

Scully was shaking her head, her lips pursed.

“Scully, cut me some slack, huh? I know I can be an

insensitive slob . . .”

“All true, but not what’s the problem,” Scully said, her

forehead crinkling in concentration. “Aunt Millie said

trolls were masters of mischief. I doubt sincerely they

would leave a trail to follow.”

Mulder bit his lower lip. “Trolls again,” he muttered,

but glanced up quickly, afraid his partner would have

overheard. He was in enough trouble already. “OK, then

what do we do? Go the opposite direction?”

She took that under consideration for a moment, then shook

her head. “No, they’d think of that.”

Mulder rolled his eyes in exasperation, but kept quiet.

Suddenly, her expression brightened. “We go this way,”

she said firmly and started off in a direction

perpendicular to the trees and to the left.

Mulder sighed, shifted the pack on his back until the tent

pole no longer dug into his right kidney, and started off

after her.

5:45 p.m.

The sun had decided it had spent enough time out in the

open and was currently hiding behind very dark and heavy

clouds. The wind had picked up and now was blowing the

fake fur trim of Scully’s coat into her eyes with annoying

regularity.

“Scully, I think the temperature is dropping,” Mulder

commented, the first words he’d spoken since they’d stopped

for lunch. In complete innocence, he’d made a casual

reference to ‘goat’s milk cheese’ on his sandwich and she

had refused to speak to him for the ensuing three hours.

“I suppose you want to go back,” she growled, stopping

long enough to glare back at him where he stood near a

towering pine.

He sighed again, something he’d been doing all day long.

“I’m not saying that, Scully. And would you please try to

be less argumentative? I’m just saying, maybe we should

look for some shelter. It’s getting dark, there’s a storm

coming up and we’re too far back in the woods to get all

the way to the car. I’m just saying let’s hole up here

somewhere.”

She blinked and sighed herself. Why was she so short-

tempered? Surely not because they were on opposite sides.

That was the norm, not the exception. Was it because this

time she wanted him to believe her outlandish theory

instead of the other way around? She couldn’t be positive

of anything. Even the old stories that Aunt Millie had

spun by the dinner table during their stay with her had

seemed unbelievable at the time.

It was only months later, when Missy woke her up with a

nightmare and the two girls lay on their beds, shivering in

the cold winter night that the whole story had been

revealed. In the cold and the dark, with the branches of

the maple tree scratching a rhythm against the roof, trolls

and all they entailed had seemed more real than her cotton

sheets and wool blankets that she huddled under for

protection. Even now, standing in the middle of a forest

with an impending storm, she couldn’t help feeling like

they were being watched.

“OK, we set up camp,” she said, struggling to keep any

trace of animosity out of her voice. She wasn’t mad at

Mulder. He wasn’t doing anything that he didn’t usually

do. As a matter of fact, she’d noticed his silence during

the long afternoon. She knew he was trying to keep from

getting on her last raw nerve and she smiled inwardly.

An attentive and considerate Mulder. Would wonders never

cease? But she berated herself for such thinking. Mulder

was frequently surprising her with his tenderness and his

devotion to her. She needed to focus on those moments more

often, instead of all the times she was ready to fill him

full of lead.

“There’s a group of smaller pines over there. We could

use them as a windbreak. I’ll get the tent out if you’ll

sweep the area. I hate waking up with branches in my back.”

Scully nodded and set about her task. In a little under a

half an hour, the tent was up. Just as the first raindrops

started to fall. They quickly moved into the tent, a three-

man dome and started setting up their sleeping bags.

“Hey, Scully. It’s raining. We have sleeping bags,”

Mulder said with a suggestive leer and she couldn’t help

but laugh.

“No, Mulder. It doesn’t count,” she replied, digging into

her pack and coming up with some plastic-wrapped sandwiches

and a thermos of coffee. “Coffee’s still warm. Want some?”

“I’m freezing. Sure, hit me,” Mulder said, holding out

his collapsible cup from his own pack. “I didn’t mean that

literally,” he added.

She could tell he was still treading lightly around her.

“Mulder, I’m not mad at you,” she told him firmly.

“But I’ve said some pretty stupid things today, Scully. I

mean doubting Mrs. Lempke and . . . well, bringing up stuff

that should be left alone . . .”

“Mulder,” she said, glaring at him.

“Yeah, Scully?” he answered hesitantly.

“I’m forgiving you. Don’t blow it.”

“Sorry. Right. Forgiveness accepted.” He smiled that

smile which never failed to melt her heart and dug in his

pack a little farther. “Hey, the flashlights don’t get hot

enough to roast marshmallows, but we can still eat the

Hershey bars,” he said as he produced two large brown and

silver wrapped bars with a flourish.

“Mulder, I just remembered why I always manage to forgive

you,” Scully said with a smile as she gratefully accepted

one of the bars.

The storm raged around them, but the trees did their job

and kept the wind from taking the tent away. After a while,

the early morning and the long walk started to take their

toll on both agents. By mutual agreement, the flashlights

were extinguished and they snuggled into their respective

sleeping bags to fall almost immediately asleep.

Only to be awoken hours later by an ear-shattering scream.

Scully immediately grabbed for her light and shone it

toward her partner, who was mimicking her actions.

“That wasn’t you?” they both asked in unison when another

piercing howl tore through the night.

“Mulder, how could it be me?” she demanded, but he shut

her up with a hand in the air. “It was outside the tent,”

she whispered, but he wasn’t listening to her. He was

pulling on his boots and coat.

“Mulder, what are you doing?” she hissed in lowered tones.

“I’m going to find out who’s out there,” he replied,

clipping his holster to his hip and checking his ankle

holster.

“I’m coming with you,” she said evenly, pulling on her

boots.

“Good. I couldn’t figure out a ‘manly’ way to ask,” he

replied with a grin as he unzipped the tent and made his

way out the opening.

The rain had stopped but it was a moonless night. Their

flashlights barely made a dent in the gloom of the

overhanging trees, still dripping with water. With a nod

of his head, he directed them just outside and to the right

of the tent. She followed, shining the light to the sides

while he shone his directly in front. After a few feet,

his flashlight went out.

“Goddamnit!” he muttered. She reached over and started

to hand him her light when her pant leg got caught on a

branch and she had to stop to tug it free.

Mulder kept walking in the same direction he’d been

headed. “Mulder, wait up. Wait till I can get some light-

-”

The splash surprised both of them, Mulder more so than

Scully. One minute he’d been walking on solid ground, the

next minute he was over the side of a bank and into a

stream running rapidly with freshly melted ice and cold

rain.

“Mulder!” Scully yelled and finally got her pants leg free.

She shone the light in front of her and had no trouble

seeing that they had strayed right next to a small stream,

now flooded with the rains. Mulder had slipped off the

bank in the darkness and was now floundering to pull

himself up out of the water, using a tree root for

purchase.

She dropped the flashlight to the ground, illuminating the

air directly above where Mulder was splashing and casting

him in shadows.

“Mulder, grab my arm,” she called to him.

“No way, Scully. I’ll pull you in,” he warned.

“Mulder, just take my damned arm,” she ordered and this

time he grabbed on and she was able to leverage them both

up and Mulder onto the bank where he lay on his back,

gasping and sputtering from the cold and the wet.

“You’re soaked,” she observed.

Even in the dim light of the flashlight she could make out

his look of total derision. “Come on, we have to get you

back to the tent.”

“Sc-sc-scully, one word about hy-hy-hyp-pothermia and I’m

st-st-stuff-ing you in my sl-sl-sleeping bag!” he

stuttered. “In p-p-pieces!”

Scully ignored him and wrapped her arm around him as they

walked both to steady him because of his now constant

shivering, and to try and provide some warmth. After a few

minutes, she knew something was wrong.

“Mulder, where’s the tent?” she asked, when they made

their way back to the little stand of trees that has served

as their windbreak.

“Mayb-b-be we g-g-ot turned ar-r-round,” he suggested, his

voice shaking so badly she could barely make out what he

was saying.

“No, I remember those trees. And that big maple over

there,” she assured him, shining her light up toward the

trees. “And look, there’s the indentation on the ground.”

Sure enough, the grass, though winter weary, was flattened

in the shape of the bottom of their tent.

“So where . . .”

“Sc-sc-scully. Shine th-th-that light up-” a spasm of

shivers stopped him from speaking but he was able to wave

his hand in the general direction of above their heads.

Their tent fluttered in the light breeze, caught in the

branches of a tall oak, about fifty feet off the ground.

“Then where are our packs and sleeping bags?” Scully

demanded and let go of Mulder, who dropped to the ground

like a frozen sack of peas.

“Ohmigod,” she exclaimed as she found items of their

belongings scattered among the undergrowth and hanging from

the tree limbs. Most of Mulder’s clothing appeared to be

hanging higher than either of them could reach. One pair

of gray boxers teased her about thirty feet from the ground.

About fifteen minutes later, she managed to retrieve one

sleeping bag and her own sweat suit. She quickly spread

out the sleeping bag and pointed to it. Mulder stared at

it forlornly.

“Strip and get in there. Now!”

“Honey, I have a headache,” he whispered hoarsely.

“Mulder, so help me God, if you don’t get out of those wet

clothes and get in that sleeping bag, I will take your own

gun and shoot you where you sit!”

“They’re both wet. Probably won’t fire,” he whispered

back. Now, she was getting seriously worried. He’d

stopped shivering and appeared lethargic and sleepy. Even

in her own warm coat she could tell the temperature hovered

near the freezing mark, maybe below.

“Mulder, c’mon, I’ll help you,” she told him, changing her

tone to one of calm reassurance. If he were slipping into

shock, screaming at him would do no good. She struggled

with him, noting with concern that he was attempting to

help, but weak as a kitten and really no help at all.

Finally, she had him tucked in the sleeping bag.

“You’ve been waiting three years to get back at me,” he

whispered in her ear after she’d donned her extra clothing

and pulled him into her lap with her parka covering them

both.

It took her a minute to understand what he was saying.

She had vague recollections of mere seconds of

consciousness on the ice flow in Antarctica. One of the

nurses at McMurdo Station had confided in her that it was

quite a shock to the hospital staff when she was found nude

under the oversized ski pants and coat she was sporting

when she’d been rescued.

Equally puzzling was her partner’s condition of no coat or

protective outerwear and no socks, just boots on his feet.

Scully had refused to give an explanation that the nurse

would accept.

“Just don’t quit breathing on me, Mulder, and we’ll be

fine,” she told him as she hugged him close. Another nice

night, camping out in the forest, she told herself with

sarcastic disgust. “And don’t expect me to sing, this

time.”

“I learned my lesson on that one,” he whispered just

before his breathing evened out and he let out a soft snore.

Scully woke up with a sore butt and an armful of partner.

It might have been a pleasant experience, if the sounds

that greeted her had been the birds chirping or even the

traffic outside her bedroom window. Instead, it was the

very labored breathing of her partner, who had grown much

warmer during the night.

Tentatively, she put her hand against his forehead. No,

warm was the wrong word. Hot. His forehead was definitely

hot. Scully cursed their luck under her breath and tried

to figure out how she was going to get him back to

civilization. And that’s when she heard the other noise.

It sounded like someone snoring.

She looked down at her partner. No, his breathing was

labored, but this snore was not from him. It was farther

away and seemed to be coming from another stand of trees

not far from where they were sitting.

Scully looked around at the tattered remains of their

campsite and suddenly saw red. Someone had been following

them, that same someone had very likely trashed their

belongings and that someone was unlucky enough to still be

in the vicinity. Gently laying Mulder on the ground, she

checked her weapon and got up to do a little reconnaissance.

Act III

6:15 a.m.

“Sonofabitch! What the hell have you done?”

Carla Pulowski awoke with a violent start and found

herself looking down the barrel of a Smith and Wesson 9-mm.

“Jesus H. Christ, Agent Scully, put that damn gun down!

You wanna kill somebody?”

Scully hesitated just long enough to give Carla pause to

think that perhaps the federal agent was angry enough to do

just that.

“C’mon, Agent, put that thing away. I’m not going

anywhere,” the reporter pleaded mildly.

Scully lowered the weapon, but she did not put it away.

“Talk.”

“Talk?”

“Talk. What the hell kind of shit did you pull on us last

night? Do you realize because of your stupid antics to

*make* a story, Mulder’s probably developed pneumonia?”

informed Scully.

“Look,” Pulowski began, “I didn’t do anything to give

Agent Mulder pneumonia. I didn’t do anything more than

follow you guys around. I wanna know what happened to that

little boy, too, you know.”

“Bullshit,” Scully retorted. “That’s bullshit and you

know it! You were the cause for our belongings finding

their way up in the damn trees. Our tent was destroyed by

you, all because you wanted to break the big story! Damn

you, Pulowski, you really screwed us over!”

“For crying out loud, I didn’t do anything! I told you; I

just followed you. I followed and saw you get your pants

caught in the damn tree limbs. I heard the splash the same

time you did when Agent Mulder fell into that melting

spring. I heard him say that he didn’t want to pull you

in, and I heard you basically tell him to cut the crap and

you pulled him out.

“I followed you back to the site, and I watched you

practically carry your partner back there. ”

Scully relaxed her shooting arm totally and then put the

gun back in her holster. “Damn it, Pulowski, if you were

right behind us during the entire walk back, why the hell

didn’t you offer to help. My partner was really hurting.”

“Because I didn’t want to become part of the story. Look

I really didn’t have anything to do with it. I saw the

disarray the same time you did. I didn’t have anything to

do with it, Agent Scully. Not a damn thing, but I want to

know as much as you do who the hell did that to your site,”

Pulowski concluded.

“Not who, what,” Scully muttered under her breath.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing,” Scully replied quickly.

“Agent Scully, assuming you believe that I did not wreck

your campsite last night, just who do you think did?”

The blood curdling screams cut off any attempt on Scully’s

attempt to answer. Without hesitation, both women ran

quickly back to the agents’ campsite. Scully looked over

to where their sleeping bag was, and discovered it to be

missing. There was no sight of Mulder, anywhere.

“I have to go find my partner.”

“Okay, let me gather my gear, and we’ll get going,”

responded Pulowski.

“No.”

“No? Whadda ya mean, no?” asked the incredulous reporter.

“Agent Scully, this is a big story and I’m not about to

lose it.”

“Ms. Pulowski, please. I have no idea who,” and after a

moment’s hesitation she added, “or what, has taken my

partner. All I know is the man was on the verge of

developing full-blown pneumonia. He was in no condition to

travel, and if I hadn’t discovered you here, I would have

gone off on my own to find help. He couldn’t breathe while

at full rest, much less walk and breathe at the same time.

“I’ve got to go find him as soon as possible. But I need

backup. Ms. Pulowski, Carla, please. I need you to go

find the sheriff as quickly as possible so they can notify

the EMS. Please, Carla. My partner needs your help. I

need your help,” repeated Scully in a small, but forceful

voice.

Carla Pulowski knew she was probably walking away from the

biggest story of her career, and it was all because Mrs.

Spooky pleaded for her help. The reporter nodded her head

slightly and gathered back up her supplies. She marveled

as she started back to the original campsite where all the

media and spectators were still keeping vigil.

Pulowski wondered just when the hell had she’d become an

adult and learned how to behave maturely. It was certainly

a new feeling; and one that she prayed didn’t turn around

and bite her in the ass later on.

7:15 a.m.

Mulder woke up and immediately decided it was the wrong

thing to do. His chest hurt, his head hurt and he felt

like at any minute, he was going to start tossing his

cookies. But he hadn’t had any cookies, not since the

night before when he’d had the sandwich and coffee with

Scully. The memory of the food was enough to turn his

stomach all the way over and he rolled to his hands and

knees as the retching took control of his body.

It took a long time for it to be over, or so it seemed.

When he could finally look around, Mulder realized a very

vital piece of information. He was alone. Scully was no

where to be found.

He looked up at the trees, seeing his clothing flapping in

the light morning breeze. Then he saw the shredded remains

of their tent, also making an interesting flag imitation in

the nearest oak tree. Without a second thought, he grabbed

his still damp clothing and pulled them on, shucking the

sleeping bag that had been his only protection against the

chill morning air. A wave of dizziness washed over him as

he stood, but one thought steadied him. He had to find

Scully.

He heard a scream and headed in that direction.

The scream had faded and he had no way to know where it

had come from. He was just wandering, not really knowing

where he was going. He looked at the path ahead of him for

some sign that Scully had taken that route, but all he

could see was a blurry vision of dancing dried leaves and

dead stalks of weeds. He wiped the sweat off his forehead

as it threatened to drip into his eyes.

He hadn’t gone far when he saw the entrance to a cave. It

was in the side of a hill, hidden almost by dead bushes and

a fallen pine tree. For some reason known only to his

fevered mind, Mulder was convinced he would find his

partner somewhere in that cave. Without a second thought,

he scrambled over the dried foliage and entered its

darkness.

7:35 a.m.

The cave was dark, but not as cold as the wind outside.

Mulder’s fever had been kept at bay with the strong morning

breeze, but in the still air of the cave, it seemed to

smother him. He pulled at his damp coat, drawing it off

his arms and dropping it to the floor of the cave.

There was a light toward the back of the cave and Mulder

headed in that direction, stumbling on stalagmite and

banging his head on stalactites from the low ceiling.

Moisture from the ceiling of the cave dripped on his head

and mingled with the sweat on his face and ran down to

sting his eyes. The light wavered, but he kept moving

closer. Now he could hear noises, grunts and growls and

animal sounds from beyond a narrow opening in the room of

the cave. Suddenly, a distinctly human voice echoed off

the rock walls.

“I wanna ‘nana!”

Mulder may not have understood the significance of that

statement, but he definitely recognized the voice as that

of a small child, more than likely a small missing boy by

the name of Scotty Lempke. He crouched down on his hands

and knees to get a better look into the opening and almost

fell forward in astonishment at the sight before him.

It looked like a small, one room house. A table set

against the far wall, crude dishes and eating utensils in

place around it. A small cooking fire was in an

indentation in the stone wall, almost like a fireplace or

hearth. No smoke filled the room, it disappeared up a

crack in the wall.

Other pieces of furniture, fashioned from split logs and

rough-hewn tree stumps were arranged around the room and

mats of straw were situated along another wall. Four mats,

from what Mulder could see in the dim light of the

fireplace.

That was incredible enough, but what caught Mulder’s eye

and caused his breath to still in his lungs was the

creatures in the room. Two of them, about five feet in

height, covered in long fur. Their faces were turned away

from the opening he was looking through, but in profile,

Mulder could see noses that would give his own a run for

its money. Upon closer inspection, the paws, or hands of

the creatures were graced with three fingers and an

opposable thumb. The feet had three toes.

“Trolls!” Mulder hissed and it was just enough to disturb

the phlegm in his throat and lungs. He immediately started

to cough. The taller of the two creatures spun on its heel

and stormed toward the opening, grabbing Mulder by his

shirt collar and dragging him in the room.

“Graahhhhh!” growled the creature. Mulder couldn’t stop

coughing long enough to protect himself and the creature

took full advantage of the situation. It tossed the agent

like so much laundry on to one of the straw mats and then

towered over him. “Grahhhh!” it reiterated.

“He wants to know who you are,” came a soft voice and

Mulder searched the room for the source. A girl, probably

no more than eight or nine, stood next to the smaller of

the two creatures and held a young boy by the hand. The

little boy was wide-eyed and trembling, but the little girl

showed no fear, whatsoever.

“I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI,” came the

reply, and not quite as confident as Mulder would have

liked. “I’m seeking the whereabouts of Scotty Lempke.”

At the sound of his name, the little boy grinned. “Scott-

ie, Scott-ie,” he sang and clapped. “Me Scott-ie!” he

added gleefully. The little girl hushed him.

The smaller creature placed a protective hand on the

Scotty’s shoulder and growled something to the girl. She

nodded and turned to Mulder.

“Why do you want him? He’s safe here.”

“His parents are worried about him,” Mulder stated,

looking first at the child and then at the two creatures.

“His mother wants him home.”

There was grumbling and growling from both creatures at

once and the little girl looked anxiously from one to

another. At first, Mulder assumed she was frightened of

their anger, but then she growled in reply to some noise

they made and they almost seemed to be conferring. Finally

she smiled at them and turned to Mulder again.

“They weren’t very good parents. They left him wandering

in the woods. He could have been eaten by the bears. We

are taking good care of him. He likes it here. We’ll keep

him.”

Mulder dropped his jaw in utter astonishment. “It doesn’t

work that way! You can’t just ‘take’ a child away from his

parents!”

“Humans do it every day,” the little girl answered with

narrowed eyes. “Even when the children don’t want to go.”

Mulder wasn’t real sure what she was talking about, but

was wise enough to realize he was setting his foot on a

landmine. “He’s only 2. How can he know where he wants

to go?”

The little girl looked down at Scotty and smiled. She

grumbled a few noises and the tiny boy grinned at here.

Still smiling, he looked directly at Mulder. “Wanna stay!

Scotty stay here!”

Mulder knew when he was fighting a losing battle. He

looked at the smaller of the two creatures, the one he now

assumed to be female, if this was indeed a family unit.

“What would you do if a human came and took your child?” he

asked her/it.

The little girl frowned, but translated Mulder’s words

into growls. The creature shied back, clutching Scotty to

her. She growled loudly toward Mulder and shook her fist.

“Well, that’s exactly how his mother feels,” Mulder

assured her, not giving the little girl a chance to

translate. “And what about your child? The one you left

in this one’s place?”

The small creature looked over at the larger one and then

lifted her head and howled. The larger creature seemed to

be shaking his head and grumbling toward the floor.

“You can’t keep both of them,” the little girl explained.

“I think this is a pretty bad system, if you ask me,”

Mulder said to the smaller creature. “Do you really want

your child raised by a species who can’t be trusted to

watch their children?”

As the little girl translated, obviously with some

reluctance, the small creature’s howling grew louder and

more plaintive. The larger creature covered his ears. The

little girl just stood there and glared at Mulder.

“I think we should exchange them back. Everyone gets what

they started with,” Mulder suggested. The little girl said

nothing. Mulder looked at her and restated his comment.

“We put things back the way they are. Tell them. Tell

them what I just said.”

“I like Scotty,” she said defiantly.

Mulder felt that foot on the landmine getting heavier and

heavier. “But he doesn’t belong here,” he reasoned.

“Neither did I, at first,” she told him, crossing her arms

over her small body. “And I won’t go back!”

Now it was starting to come to Mulder, the understanding

that had been eluding him since he first set foot in the

cave. The little girl was human, he was sure of that.

She’d had a home, a family. But for some reason he didn’t

know, other humans had taken her from that home, not

trolls. And somehow, she ended up here, with these

creatures. It was obvious that she’d found a home here.

But that wasn’t the case with Scotty. Scotty had to go

back to his real family.

“Look, I really think the best thing for everyone is to

just put the boy back with his family and for you to take

your, uh, child back with you. I know they let him wander

off, but it was an accident,” Mulder assured them.

At the little girl’s translation, the larger creature let

out a loud roar that told Mulder exactly what they thought

of such “accidents.” But Mulder could sense the smaller

creature was softening up to the idea.

Grumblings and growlings went back and forth for several

minutes. The little girl made no attempt to translate, it

was not for Mulder’s ears apparently. Scotty gave up any

pretense of following the ranting of the adults, including

Mulder, and went off to forage around the cooking fire,

coming back with an apple in his chubby little fist.

Finally, the smaller creature wiped at its eye with one

furry hand and nodded to the other creature.

Mulder was hauled up by his collar and dragged through the

cave, knocked and bumped countless times before he was

thrown several feet through the air to land in a heap away

from the mouth of the cave.

7:30 a.m.

Scully stopped and worked on controlling her breathing.

If she were to be of any help to Mulder, she had to get

herself calmed down and make a plan. That’s what Scully

did best. Make a plan.

She walked back to the site where she and Mulder had

slept. She took an extra moment or two and surveyed the

area. There had to be a clue somewhere. She bent down

next to the sleeping bag she had wrapped Mulder up in last

night.

Footprints. Mulder’s? No, there were others. Strange

footprints, similar to the ones that were by the Lempke’s

campsite, but smaller. Scully imagined that just as Scotty

was led away from his campsite, somehow, so was Mulder.

“Oh, Mulder, what have you gotten yourself into now?” she

whispered to the wind.

7:55 a.m.

Carla’s legs ached as she pushed herself through the

forest brush that tried to impede her progress. She knew

she had to find Tom, though in truth she felt some

trepidation at seeing him. He was not going to be happy

that she’d ditched him, but Carla figured that if they were

going to have a future together he was going to have to get

used to it. She was a reporter and the story always came

first.

Except this time.

Why except this time?

Carla tried to figure out what it was about Agents Scully

and Mulder that caused her to throw away possibly the

biggest story of her career. She couldn’t put her finger

on it, only that Mulder was most likely in some kind of

trouble and it was up to her and his partner to help him.

As she moved on Carla thought she heard something, given

the nature of the story she’d been following, it made her

just a bit nervous. However, when she heard shouts of

“Springer, where the hell does the damn trail lead?” the

reporter let out a sigh of relief.

“Tom! Tom, over here!” Carla called out. Suddenly she

felt herself surrounded by a multitude of people, including

the entire Lempke family.

“Where the hell have you been, Pulowski?” demanded Tom.

“I’m fine, Tom,” she responded, knowing full well that was

the intent of the tirade. That was confirmed when she saw

him let out a sigh and his face relaxed somewhat. “But I

think Agent Mulder is in trouble,” she added.

“Agent Mulder? Damn fool! And what about his partner,

damn fool number two? Where the hell are they, Carla?” he

asked more annoyed than ever, having been reminded of the

reason he was stuck out in the damp, cold, raw forest at

the crack of dawn.

“They’d set up camp about two, maybe three miles from

here. Then he fell in a stream, but their campsite was

wrecked–” she started to explain.

“–Wrecked? By who?” asked Deputy Springer.

“More like, by what, Jerry,” she answered. “I can only

imagine what caused the havoc back there. Everything was

strewn about and mostly hanging from tree limb. High up in

the trees, I might add. I don’t think an ordinary ‘who’

could have done that kind of damage.”

“Yeah, right,” interjected Tom, “so why aren’t they with

you?”

“Agent Mulder is missing.”

“Oh, shit!” shouted Tom. “Damn it! I want this case to be

over, do you hear me?” Tom Brennan was a picture of

frustration. He looked quickly over at the Lempke family

who had insisted upon following the sheriff and his men

into the forest to search for the missing people, as well

hopefully find the child they claim was truly their own.

As much as Brennan tried to talk them out of it, the

entire family decided it was their right to traipse into

the woods right along the law enforcement officers.

“Carla, where have you been? And what the hell are you

running from?” he asked angrily.

“I’m sorry, Tom. I woke up this morning to find Agent

Scully’s gun pointed directly between my eyes–”

“What?” Tom practically squeaked. He may have been

ticked off with Carla for ditching him, but he certainly

didn’t want to hear she was in harm’s way at the hands of a

damn fool fibbie.

“Tom, forget it. She thought I was the reason behind

their site being messed up, and she was worried about Agent

Mulder being sick and all.”

“Sick?”

“Tom, c’mon,” Carla responded exasperated, “I’ll explain

on the way. Scully and Mulder need our help. Let’s just

go already.”

Tom tried to get more of an explanation out of his secret

love, but she would have none of it and took him by the

hand to lead him and the rest of the search party to where

Carla had last seen both agents.

It pissed Tom Brennan off to no end. But not half as much

as when Mr. Lempke poked him in the shoulder and admitted

sheepishly, that little Scotty had already gone running off

down the path in the same direction Carla had just come.

7:40 a.m.

Scully followed the footprints all the way down a beaten

path into rocky area. She found herself staring at a

cavern opening. She stooped down and walked inside all the

while listening intently for any signs of life. Backing

away from the cavern, she looked to the surrounding

hillside. All appeared silent, but she tentatively called

out her partner’s name. When she heard no answer, she

stepped outside again and tried calling to him again.

“Mulder? Mulder, answer me!” she called a little more

desperately.

“Boo-boo,” called out a young voice that seemed to be

coming from behind a battered yew bush.

“Scotty?” responded Scully hopefully.

“Me Scotty!” the child shouted back happily.

“Where are you, sweetheart?”

“Scotty here. Him gots boo-boo,” said the rather forlorn

little voice.

“Keep talking to me, Scotty, so I can find you,” Scully

encouraged.

The child complied and the anxious agent was able to find

the toddler and her partner in a matter of seconds. When

she came upon them, her heart did a flip at the picture

before her.

Little Scotty Lempke sat by her partner’s prone body, and

patted the injured man’s hand in an attempt to offer some

comfort. Scully moved in a quick, but fluid motion to her

partner, as she didn’t want to startle the child.

“Hi, Scotty,” she said with a smile. “Thank you for

watching my friend.”

“Boo-boos,” the toddler announced, pointing to various

bruises already forming on Mulder’s cheek.

“Yes, I see,” she replied, and she really did see.

Mulder’s forehead had a nice little gash that was bleeding

profusely. It didn’t cause her all that much concern, as

Scully knew head wounds tended to bleed more than others.

What did cause her to worry was his glistening skin, moist

from fever, as well as the barking cough that he emitted

every few seconds.

Not to mention the slightly odd angle his shoulder

appeared to be in.

“Mulder, talk to me partner,” she urged.

He opened his eyes briefly, saw it was his partner, and

managed something akin to a grin. “Hey Scully, you were

right,” he rasped out.

“What was I right about, Mulder?”

“The trolls. There be trolls in these here woods, Scully.

You were right,” he rasped out between the hacking coughs.

“Oh, Mulder,” she sighed as she wiped his perspiring face,

“you’ve got a case of bronchitis if ever I’ve seen one.

It’s the fever, Mulder. Scotty is here, safe and sound.”

“I’m tellin’ you, Scully, I saw trolls! I talked to ’em.

Well, not exactly talked, they growled and I listened, but

the little girl, she understood what they said. They were

just taking care of him Scully, but I convinced ’em to

bring him back.” He would have continued but wracking

coughs were making it difficult to speak.

“Mulder, we’ll deal with all this later. Right now, we

have to get you somewhere warm. Carla was going off to get

help.”

On cue, the entire posse, including the Lempke family,

surrounded the three. Denise Lempke took one look at the

small child still crouched beside the fallen agent and

immediately scooped him up into her arms.

“Scotty! Oh, Scotty, don’t ever scare Mama like that

again!” she cried as tears streamed down her face.

Tom Brennan looked around him at the scene. Silently, he

counted heads. Yup, he had the same number he started

with, plus two more. He didn’t care if the fibbie himself

was a changeling, as far as Brennan was concerned, the case

was now closed!

Epilogue

Mulder’s Apartment

Hegel Street Alexandria, VA

“I don’ wanna,” he complained.

“Mulder, you have to eat something, and the warmth will

make your chest feel better. Try some, please?”

“Scully, it hurts.”

“I know, you have a big boo-boo, Mulder,” she teased,

borrowing a phrase from little Scotty Lempke, “but you

need some nourishment to get better. Now, stop giving me

an argument about this, Fox Mulder, and open your damn

mouth!”

“Gee, Florence Nightingale, your bedside manner leaves a

lot left to be desired.”

“Oh shut up, Mulder, and open wide,” she said with a smile.

She knew how uncomfortable he was, but Scully also knew

that with a little time and TLC, this too would pass. The

shoulder separation was a mild one for a change, and though

bronchitis was a pain, it wasn’t life threatening if he

took care of himself. He was home now, and that’s exactly

what he was going to do, even if she had to kill him to

make him do it.

They’d finished their report in Allegheny in record time,

mostly because Sheriff Tom Brennan wanted all paperwork

finished as soon as possible. The lack of hard evidence of

the so-called “troll perpetrators” left the agents little

choice but to close the case with the return of the

supposedly

“real” Scotty Lempke.

Brennan hadn’t argued with the parents’ assertions that

the toddler found with Mulder was indeed the real Scotty.

The fact that Denise Lempke insisted the child was wearing

a different shirt from the one that she’d put on the

changeling that morning didn’t hold that much water for the

sheriff. The purported changeling had disappeared, so

there was no hard proof that there’d ever been more than

one Scotty Lempke.

Brennan had demanded that the agents sign off on the

report his deputy wrote up and then bid them a not so fond

adieu. He was obviously eager to get his piece of the

world back on an even keel, and Brennan felt that the

sooner he could get the fibbies on their way back to DC,

the sooner his life could get back to normal.

And that meant he could finally take the time to give a

certain wayward reporter a piece of his mind, as well as

other parts of his body. He’d made an important decision

that day.

Life was too short, and it was time to bring their

relationship out into the open. He didn’t like not knowing

where Carla was, or whether or not she was safe. Life

sometimes has a way of biting you in the ass if you’re not

careful, and sometimes it does even when you’re too

careful.

Tom Brennan had decided he was ready for the world to know

about him and Carla Pulowski. Whether the world would

survive no longer mattered; the risk was well worth it.

The agents had received a warmer farewell from Carla, who

had the most lopsided smile as she said goodbye. Scully

wasn’t sure what that was all about, but for some reason

Mulder seemed to understand, though he was hard pressed to

put that understanding into words. All he could say was

she reminded him of someone, but he wasn’t sure of whom.

Of course, she’d no sooner said goodbye than she’d taken

off again, much to the alarm of Sheriff Brennan. Both

Scully and Mulder wondered if there were other reasons that

Brennan went ballistic when he’d learned that Pulowski had

ditched them all, especially when he’d lamented, “Not

again, damn it!”

So now, as Scully fed her bedridden partner his chicken

soup and endeavored to make him all better, another partner

was traipsing about the woods looking for a clue to a

mystery unsolved.

And just as she was about to call it a day, Carla Pulowski

looked toward the small beaten path to find two small

figures holding hands and skipping along in their slightly

awkward, plodding manner. One fur-covered hand clutched

tightly to a smooth skinned hand of about the same size,

just a touch smaller.

“Oh, my,” whispered an awestruck Pulowski, “oh, my.”

The end

Beté Noir

Cover

Title: Bête Noire

Rating: PG-13

Category: X, A

Authors: Laurie D. Haynes, Laura Castellano and Katvictory

Email: shannara@xemplary.com, texxrose@flash.net,

dev1025@uswest.net

Info: Specially written for I Made This Productions

Virtual Season 8

Archiving: VS8 gets it exclusively for the first two

weeks, then it can be archived anywhere, but ask us, first.

Summary: There’s a legend of a monster in the swamps along

the Texas-Louisiana border. According to the National

Enquirer, the monster has mated with humans and

its offspring terrorize the small town bordering the

river and its swamps.

Authors’ notes: Special thanks to Dawn, Sally and Mori

for their invaluable beta-reading services.

*************************

Bête Noire

By Laurie D. Haynes, Laura Castellano and Katvictory

Prologue

A swamp near the Sabine River

along the Texas-Louisiana border

6:45 a.m. April 5, 2001

Joe Calderon whistled an old Cajun tune as his boat

puttered along the trot line. He was having a good run.

He’d already found five large catfish on the line. His

Labrador, Beau, who had been lying quietly in the bottom of

the boat until now, suddenly stood up, his ears cocked, and

sniffed the air.

A loud splash came from about 50 yards away and Beau began

barking furiously, the hair on the back of his neck

standing on end.

“Just a gator, Beau. Probably got ‘im a nice fish or a

nutria rat.”

Old Joe peered out over the water anyway, just to make

sure that the alligator wasn’t getting too close. Ripples

spread out from the center of where the splash had been and

Joe spotted a gator swimming swiftly away. He again heard a

splash from the same area, then saw two figures break the

plane of the water. One was another big alligator, but he

wasn’t sure what the other thing was. It had arms and

hands, but it certainly wasn’t human, its skin was a

mottled greenish-black — and it was getting the best of

the gator.

As Joe watched, astounded, a pair of claws slashed down at

the alligator, which went limp, and blood began to spread

out from the reptile.

Beau was still making a racket, but the dog was no fool —

he wasn’t about to jump in the water. The creature took a

bite out of the alligator, then looked up at Joe and the

dog. Its eyes were red and the pupils were tiny black dots.

The old man gasped, turned his engine up full throttle and

headed for home.

**************************

ACT I

Antoine’s Houston, TX

1:05 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, 2001

As he and his partner ate their sandwiches, Mulder looked

over the latest issue of the National Enquirer. They had

just finished a serial murder case and were grabbing lunch

before catching a 4 p.m. flight back to Washington.

Scully was tired and looking forward to going home. Eight

autopsies in two days were enough to make anyone exhausted.

So she was really rather enjoying the silence at the table

— until

Mulder spoke .

“Hey, Scully, look at this!” He held out page 8 so she

could see a blurry photo with a headline saying, “Bog

monster terrorizes East Texas residents!”

Scully sighed. “You know better than to believe anything

you read in those rags, Mulder. You know they make it all

up.”

“Sometimes they do,” Mulder admitted, “but they have

actual interviews with witnesses this time. Look, that’s

only about a two-hour drive from here. We can be over there

before dark. It says here that the reporter who wrote this

article is an actual journalist with a newspaper from that

area.”

Scully stared at him coolly as she took another bite of

her sandwich. “No way am I going out hunting monsters in

the swamp,” she informed him. “You know Skinner is going

to be expecting our report on the case we just finished. I

highly doubt he’ll give you the go ahead to chase down

another bogeyman.”

Mulder shrugged. “Oh, I’ll use some vacation time. C’mon,

Scully.” He gave her his most charming grin and covered her

hand with his own, but Scully would not be swayed.

“That’s not going to work this time, Mulder. We have

reservations to fly out this afternoon and that’s what I’m

going to do.”

He wadded his napkin into a ball and tossed it easily into

a nearby trash receptacle. “OK, have it your way, but I’m

driving over there. I’ll drop you off at the airport first.”

Pulling out his cell phone, he first called the airline

and canceled his flight reservation. Then he contacted

directory assistance and got the number for the newspaper

the reporter worked for.

“Orange County Record,” an older woman answered.

“Yes, I’d like to speak to Belinda Gaudet, please.”

“Just a moment.”

Mulder heard a click, then another woman came on the line.

“This is Belinda, can I help you?”

“Yes, my name is Fox Mulder and I’m with the FBI. I read

your story in the Enquirer and I’d like to come out and

talk to you about it. I can be there in about three hours.”

He listened a moment, then jotted down the directions she

gave him for the newspaper office. “Great, I’ll see you

then.”

Mulder ended the call and looked up to see Scully staring

at him with disapproval.

“You could change your mind, you know,” he said. “Come

on, Scully, come with me. It’ll be fun.”

Scully shook her head. “I’ve got plans for the weekend.

Mom is having a barbecue, and Bill and Charlie are supposed

to be coming in. She invited you, too.”

Mulder grimaced. “Uh, no thanks. You put me and Bill in

the same town, let alone the same house, and you’re asking

for trouble.”

He looked hungrily at the half of Scully’s sandwich still

sitting on her plate. “You going to eat that?”

Scully gave him a half-smile and pushed the plate over to

him.

He proceeded to wolf it down.

“Just promise me you won’t go into the swamps alone, OK?”

she asked suddenly. “You know how you tend to get in

trouble when I’m not there to keep you moderately sane.”

She tempered her words with a teasing smile, but it was

apparent she was truly concerned.

“If you’d come with me, I wouldn’t be alone,” Mulder

mumbled around a mouthful of sandwich.

Scully just shook her head and finished off her chips and

soda.

********************

Gate 43

Houston Intercontinental Airport

3:45 p.m.

“Now boarding for Continental Flight 2026 to Washington,

D.C.” came the announcement over the loudspeaker.

Mulder and Scully rose, and she picked up her briefcase as

she prepared to board.

“Sure you won’t change your mind and come with me to check

out this monster?”

Scully smiled and replied, “Sure you won’t change your

mind and come on home?”

“Frankly, I’d rather chase a bog monster than make small

talk with Bill.”

She laughed, then looked up expectantly.

Mulder bent over and kissed her lightly on the lips.

He started to turn to go, but she grabbed him by the tie

and pulled him down for a deeper kiss.

“Just don’t forget where home is, OK?” she said as she let

him go.

“Not a chance. Listen, I’ll call you later tonight, OK?”

“You’d better! And Mulder? Be careful, all right? I mean

it.”

“Always!”

Scully snorted, then went on to board her plane.

******************************

Orange County Record

Bridge City, TX

6:10 p.m.

Mulder pulled up at the tiny building that housed the

County Record office. The only sign up outside said Dunn

Advertising, but he had followed the directions given him.

A beat-up 1985 Ford was parked outside, and there was a

light on inside the building.

The door was unlocked, so he went on in.

The desk just inside the door was unoccupied, but piled

with phone books and mail. The place reeked of stale

cigarette smoke, and the carpet had seen much better days.

A woman behind a computer monitor called to him from the

room to the right.

“Agent Mulder?”

He entered the room. “Yes, are you Ms. Gaudet?”

“Just call me Belinda.” She moved some layout dummies from

a chair and put them on another desk. “Have a seat. Want a

cup of coffee?”

“Sure, that would be fine.”

Belinda grabbed a Styrofoam cup from a package atop a

small refrigerator, then went into the adjoining bathroom

and returned with a steaming cup of coffee. She handed him

the cup and as he turned to set it down on the desk, she

looked him up and down with interest.

She sat down behind the desk and leaned forward slightly,

wishing she’d worn a nicer outfit to work that day. Maybe

something that showed a little cleavage.

“So you actually read my story?”

“Sure. It seemed pretty factual, unlike a lot of the ones

I see in that particular publication. Your article

mentioned that pets and livestock have been disappearing

around the area. Has there ever been a problem with the

thing attacking humans?”

“Well, Old Joe said he wasn’t sure the beast wasn’t about

to come after him, but it didn’t. It seems to be getting

pretty bold, though, coming up around the houses and fish

camps along the river nowadays.”

“Could we go out and talk to Joe tonight?”

“Sure. I thought you might want to,” said Belinda, “so I

called him earlier. He said he’d be home all night, but he

goes to bed early ’cause he gets up at 4 a.m.”

“Let’s go. How far away is it?”

“About 30 minutes. He lives in Deweyville, just up Highway

87 from here.”

**************

Joe Calderon’s home

Deweyville, TX

6:55 p.m.

Mulder and Belinda knocked on the door of the beat-up old

Airstream trailer overlooking the river. They heard a dog

barking and a man who appeared to be in his late 80s opened

the door.

“Y’all come on in. Hush that barkin’, Beau!”

They stepped into the small trailer, and Beau came up to

sniff Mulder. Apparently satisfied, the dog went back to

lay down beside a worn easy chair.

Joe switched off the television and invited his two guests

to sit.

“You really with the FBI, boy?” Joe asked dubiously. “What

does the FBI want in Devil’s Pocket?”

Mulder pulled out his ID and showed the man, who nodded.

“I read Belinda’s story about your encounter with that

beast in the swamp. I’d like to know more about it,” Mulder

told him.

“Well, there’s been stories about a monster out there for

about the last 50 years. They call it the Bête Noire. I

lived in Orange for a lot of years while I was workin’ for

the DuPont refinery. So I’ve only been livin’ here for the

past 25 years or so, but I’ve fished on that river and in

these swamps my whole life and I ain’t never seen nothin’

like that thing what attacked that gator.”

“You believe there’s just one monster?”

“Well, people claim the Morgan boys are descended from the

monster, and the Morgans’ll tell you the same thing. I hear

tell they’ve been known to kidnap people, ‘specially black

people, and bring them back to hunt for sport. The rumor

goes that old man Morgan and his son, who lives up in

Jasper (and Lord knows how that pug-ugly cuss ever got a

woman to bed him and sire a whelp), were involved in the

killing of that poor colored man up there a few years back.

“They chained the poor guy to the back of a pickup and

drug him down the road. They arrested three of the assholes

that did it, but not O.D. and his son. People around here

say O.D. and his boy were involved, too, but folks are too

scared of them to talk. O.D. brags now that the trials are

over

and he figures the law thinks they solved the case, that

he and

his boy, Butch, killed two other men that night the same

way. O.D. says they just weren’t so stupid as to pick up a

local man with a family, like them other fellas. And they

didn’t leave enough of the ones they tortured to be found.

“The Morgans are mean, vicious and they’re ugly enough,

but they’re human. Just a bad bunch of river rats. I think

mebbe they just take advantage of that swamp monster story

to make themselves look tougher.”

Mulder bit back his tendency to urge the elderly man to

get to his point. “I’m told that pets and livestock have

gone missing. Couldn’t it just be alligators doing the

killing?”

“You ever seen an alligator that could take down a 3,000-

pound bull, Mr. Mulder? Yeah, gators could be blamed for

taking the pets and small livestock, but no way they could

get a full-size bull. Somethin’ got Johnny Parker’s bull —

and that thing was a mean sonuvabitch.”

“Is it possible that someone stole it?” asked Belinda.

“Well, if they did, they hurt it pretty bad, because there

was a lot of blood in the pen where Johnny kept it. I SAW

that thing. It was no kind of animal I’ve ever seen before,

and there ain’t anything much fiercer than a big ol’ bull

alligator. That thing whupped that gator easy. It was

shaped like a human in a weird kinda way, but that was no

man. If anything, it looked like it was half alligator and

half man. The skin was bumpy like a gator’s hide and it had

sharp teeth. No snout to speak of but its face did stick

out some.”

“How long ago did you see it?” asked Mulder.

“It was about a month and a half ago — it was early in

the morning and the weather was kind of cool so there

wasn’t nobody else out where I was.”

“And you haven’t seen it since?”

“No, sir! You ain’t gettin’ me back out on that river with

that thing out there!”

“What about your neighbors? Have they seen it?”

“Some of ’em have, but most of those that ain’t seen it

for themselves at least believe something nasty is out

there. Most everyone knows someone who’s either seen it or

lost stock or hunting dogs to it. We were plannin’ on

gettin’ a bunch of us together with shotguns and goin’

after it. But the game warden, Chick Jackson, said he’d

arrest the whole bunch of us if he found us out there with

guns when it ain’t duck season.”

“I take it he doesn’t believe?” said Mulder.

“Nah, he insists it’s just a big gator and ain’t none of

us got alligator tags for huntin’ gators.”

Suddenly, Beau growled, and someone banged on the door.

Shushing the dog, Joe got up to answer it and found a very

wet young man outside his trailer, breathing heavily, the

water dripping from his ripped, sleeveless western shirt

and cutoff jeans.

“Lonnie? What in the hell?” Joe said and pulled the

younger man inside, sitting him down. “What’s wrong?”

“Dickie and me were just comin’ in from fishin’ when

something hit our boat and turned it over!” Lonnie

reported, still gasping for breath. “I managed to swim to

shore, but somethin’ got Dickie. I heard him yell, but

there wasn’t a thing I could do but come get help.”

“Alligator?” Joe asked, reaching for the shotgun he kept

next to the door.

“No, it wasn’t no alligator. I got a glimpse of it. It was

the Bête Noire!”

Joe grabbed a hunk of beef out of his small freezer.

“Maybe we can lure it away from Dickie with this, if it

ain’t too late,” he offerred hurriedly. “You comin’?” he

asked Mulder, “or you afraid of gettin’ that fancy suit of

yours dirty?”

Mulder quickly pulled off his coat, tie and dress shirt

and threw them aside. He still wore his tee shirt, and the

slacks would just have to be sacrificed. “Let’s go.”

“What about me?” asked Belinda.

“You stay here and call the sheriff and the game warden,”

Joe ordered. “Get an ambulance out here just in case we

find Dickie alive.”

A few minutes later, Joe, Lonnie and Mulder were shoving

off from the shore in Joe’s boat. Joe pulled the starter

cord and the outboard roared to life. Joe guided them into

the murky swamp, and Mulder grabbed the sides of the small

boat, thankful the water was smooth.

They soon found Lonnie’s overturned craft and a wounded

Dickie lying on top of it and yelling as loud as he could.

The man had blood flowing from a deep wound in his right

arm, but other than that he appeared whole. Mulder and

Lonnie helped him aboard, and Mulder got him settled while

Lonnie managed to grab the bow rope of the overturned boat.

He threw it to Joe, who tied it to a cleat on the corner of

his own boat, and they set off for shore.

Mulder steadily watched the area from which they’d come,

but it was too dark to see much. He thought he glimpsed a

movement, and something splashed, but he wasn’t sure it was

the Bête Noire; it could have been any of a dozen creatures

that inhabited the swamps.

Once they were safely on their way, Lonnie pulled off his

own shirt, which he promptly tied around the gash in

Dickie’s arm.

“You OK?” he asked sympathetically.

Dickie nodded, but his face was white in the twilight and

he didn’t speak.

When they arrived back at Joe’s dock, ambulance attendants

were waiting for them. They helped Dickie out of the boat

and sat him down on the stretcher. The man was bleeding

badly, the blood soaking through the makeshift bandage

Lonnie had applied.

While the EMTs readied Dickie for transport, Mulder leaned

close to the injured man. “Dickie, I’m Agent Mulder with

the FBI,” he said quietly. “I’ve come down here to look

into all this. Can you tell me what it was that attacked

you? Was it an animal?”

Dickie’s eyes darkened in fear. His breathing had become

labored, and one of the EMTs slipped an oxygen mask over

his face. Mulder could see Dickie’s lips moving, and he

leaned closer to make out the words.

“Bête Noire…Bête Noire.”

“OK, folks, we’ve got to move,” the ambulance driver

insisted, gently shoving Mulder aside and helping load

Dickie into the vehicle.

As the ambulance sped away with Dickie in the back, Mulder

turned to Lonnie. “You said the thing was attacking your

friend?”

“It was, I swear! I thought sure Dickie was a goner.”

“Why do you suppose it didn’t kill him? It surely had the

chance.”

Lonnie shook his head slowly. “We had a pretty big mess

of fish in the boat. Maybe it figured the fish were less

trouble.”

“Or it prefers fish to humans?” Mulder wondered.

“He didn’t seem to mind goin’ after Dickie!” Lonnie

objected. “Joe, we gotta do somethin’ about this creature.”

“Calm down, Lonnie. You heard what Warden Chick said.” Joe

had stood silently aside while his young friend was

attended and taken away, and now he spoke calmly to Lonnie,

obviously trying to avert a disaster.

Lonnie barely heard Joe’s reasoning through his adrenaline-

induced frenzy. “Forget Warden Chick! You listen to me,

old man, that thing is gonna kill someone next time!”

Joe maintained his soft-spoken tone, putting a hand gently

on Lonnie’s shoulder to calm him. “Let me and Agent Mulder

talk to the warden and see if we can’t convince him to form

a huntin’ party to go after it. Now, you go on to Dickie’s

house and tell his wife what happened, then get on home and

get some dry clothes on.”

Lonnie agreed reluctantly. “Can you give me a ride? I

don’t feel like it’s very safe walkin’ after dark with the

Bête Noire out huntin.'”

“Sure, go ahead and get in the truck and I’ll be with you

in a minute.”

Lonnie walked away as Belinda came down the stairs to

stand beside Mulder. She handed him his coat, tie and shirt.

“Look, I gotta run Lonnie home, Mr. Mulder,” Joe said as

Mulder began dressing. “Why don’t you give me a call

tomorrow and we’ll go talk to the warden?”

The last thing Mulder wanted was to see the unique

creature destroyed instead of studied, but he knew this was

neither the time nor place to voice those feelings, so he

just nodded his agreement.

“C’mon, Fox, I’ll take you to dinner,” offered Belinda.

“They got some good restaurants in Orange.”

“Mulder, not Fox.”

“Oh.” Belinda’s face fell a bit. “All right.” It seemed

to be the only appropriate reply, so she offered no more

comment as they climbed into her car and drove toward town.

*************************

Cody’s Bar and Grill

Orange, TX

9:30 p.m.

Mulder picked up another boudin ball, dipped it in

horseradish sauce and bit into it with relish. His eyes

closed in bliss.

“Hey, these are good! What are they?” he asked

enthusiastically.

“Sausage, spices and rice dipped in a batter and deep

fried.”

Belinda took a sip of her beer and leaned forward, her

elbows resting on the table. Again she thought it was a

shame she hadn’t worn her low-cut blouse today, but maybe

Mulder would like what he saw anyway.

Unfortunately, the object of her interest seemed to be

paying more attention to his food than his companion. The

waitress stopped by their table, a perky little brunette,

and Belinda felt herself grow warm as Mulder turned on the

charm. The little waitress practically oozed invitation,

and for a moment Belinda thought he might ask for her phone

number. To her relief, he ordered another basket of boudin

balls to go with his bowl of chicken gumbo.

Maybe he was just shy, she thought. After all, it wasn’t

his fault the little twit had nearly fallen at his feet.

Mulder looked like the kind of man who needed a real woman,

not one who’d be interested in silly high-school girls.

Belinda considered herself a real woman, certainly up to

the challenge. She’d try to draw him out.

“So how long have you been with the Bureau, Mulder?” she

asked, taking a “real woman” sized sip of her beer.

“Fourteen years. I’ll have 15 years in October.” He

didn’t seem inclined to talk about his job, but as she’d so

far discovered nothing else they had in common to discuss,

she tried again.

“I’ll bet you’re really good at your job. I’m sure your

family is very proud of you.”

Storm clouds passed over Mulder’s face.

“My family is all dead.”

Belinda felt her “real woman” smile slipping, and could

have kicked herself. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to touch a

nerve.”

He gave her a forgiving grin and a shrug of his broad

shoulders, and she felt her stomach do a lazy flip-flop.

“That’s all right, you didn’t know. I don’t have any blood

kin, but Scully, my partner, is like family to me.”

“I’m sure you two are as close as brothers. Has he been

with the FBI as long as you?”

Mulder chuckled. “Dr. Dana Scully is a woman. She’s a

brilliant forensic pathologist and one hell of a fine

investigator. We make a good team. And to answer your

question, no. I’ve been in the Bureau longer than Scully,

but we’ve been partners for years.”

He got a faraway look in his eyes that Belinda did not

like at all. This guy was attractive, more so than any of

the other men she knew, and it had only taken her moments

after being blinded by his good looks and obvious

intelligence to notice he wore no wedding ring. Now it

looked as if her hopes, barely-formed though they were,

might be for nothing. He hardly seemed to notice she was

there as he suddenly groped in his pockets.

“Oh! That reminds me. I was supposed to call her.”

He pulled out his cell phone and punched one digit, and

Belinda sighed inwardly as he waited, a look of expectation

on his face. Then he smiled, and she could only assume

Scully had answered. Belinda was no fool; from Mulder’s

expression and the eager tone of his voice, it was clear

there was more than a work relationship between the two

agents.

“I’ve got a real X-File, here, Scully! The monster

attacked a pair of fishermen earlier this evening. Thanks

to Belinda, who had taken me down to meet a witness, I was

there when one of the fishermen came running up to get

help.”

He seemed to listen for a few minutes.

“Belinda? Oh, she’s the reporter who wrote that article I

showed you. No, she wrote the article for her own paper

originally, then sold it to the Enquirer. She doesn’t

actually work for the Enquirer. Hmmm? No, she’s not that

old — in her 30s, I’d say. What? I don’t know, but it’s a

good question.”

He put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and

addressed Belinda. “Say, your husband isn’t going to get

upset about me keeping you out so late, is he? Wouldn’t

want any angry cowboys coming after me with their six-

shooters,” he grinned.

Belinda gave him her best smile in return, the one that

said, ‘No, I’m not easy, but if you want me I’m yours.’

“I’m divorced,” she told him. “And my mom keeps my son

when I’m working, so I’m at your service.”

Mulder spoke into the phone again. “No, she’s not married

and someone’s looking after her kid, so I’m not imposing on

her.” He waited. “You don’t have to do that, Scully, I

can handle this one. You’ve got that family barbecue…

well of course, I’d love to have you, but it’s not… yes,

there’s a victim in the hospital, but he wasn’t hurt that

badly.”

His smile grew broader and Belinda’s mood more resigned as

the conversation continued.

“Well, if you really want to help me out, you could file a

302 first thing in the morning and come on back down here.

I can always use your help, Scully, you know that. You

will? Great, I was hoping you’d say that. Thanks, Scully,

I owe you! Call me tomorrow and let me know when your

flight gets in. Try to fly into Beaumont. They have a

commercial airport. OK. I’ll see you then. Yeah?” Mulder

smiled. “Me, too, Scully.”

He hung up without saying goodbye, but Belinda had a

feeling any chance she might have thought she had with

Mulder had disappeared with his final words.

Mulder put away his cell phone and looked over at Belinda,

who was sitting with her head leaning on her hand and an

odd look on her face.

“You about ready to go?” he asked. “I need to find a

motel…”

Belinda perked up.

“…but first I need to drive you back to your office.”

She sighed in disappointment and nodded.

*******************

Best Western Inn Orange, TX

9 a.m. May 16

Belinda knocked on Mulder’s hotel room door after taking a

quick look in her compact mirror to make sure her makeup

wasn’t smeared.

“Who is it?” she heard Mulder call.

“It’s Belinda. You ready to go interview some more

witnesses?”

The door opened and Mulder stepped out, dressed somewhat

casually in khakis and a black polo shirt.

He noted Belinda looking him over.

“I decided I might relate a little better without the

suit,” Mulder told her. “People along the river don’t

exactly dress up.”

Belinda laughed. “You’re right about that. You’d be hard

pressed to find river rats wearing Armanis.”

They climbed in Mulder’s car and headed north to Deweyville.

**************

O.D. Morgan’s home

Devil’s Pocket

9:37 a.m. May 23

Mulder and Belinda climbed the somewhat rickety stairs to

Morgan’s stilt house. Mulder knocked on the door.

“Whaddya want?” a gruff voice called out.

“FBI,” Mulder replied. “I’d like to talk to you.”

“I ain’t done nothin’! Unless you got a search warrant,

get the hell out of here,” the man yelled back through the

closed door.

“I just want to ask about the Bête Noire,” Mulder told him.

The door opened and an overweight man in a dirty T-shirt,

his belly hanging over his jeans, stood in the doorway.

“Lemme see your ID.”

The agent pulled it out of his hip pocket and showed the

man. “Are you O.D. Morgan?”

The older man nodded and came outside, directing them to

go around the corner and sit on the deck. There were no

chairs, but there were some overturned crates and scattered

empty beer bottles.

Morgan plopped down on one of the crates and nodded for

Belinda and Mulder to do the same.

“Whaddya wanna know about the Bête Noire? I’m

descended from it, y’know?” O.D. reached into a cooler

and pulled out a cold beer and opened it.”

“So I’ve heard,” Mulder replied, successfully fighting to

keep a grin off his face. “How is that?”

“My great-great-granny mated with it. It come into her

bedroom one night and took her right there.”

“I see. What did it look like?”

O.D. took a swig of beer.

“It was a cross between a gorilla and a man. The baby had

a face like a monkey and a hairy body. Weren’t stupid, but

my great-granddad was one mean sonuvabitch.”

“But that doesn’t meet the description of the beast in the

swamp,” Mulder pointed out. “Joe Calderon saw it and said

it looked like a cross between an alligator and a man. It

was living in the water.”

“Ahh, he’s senile — must be almost 90. I wouldn’t put no

store in what he says.”

“It attacked two fishermen last night, and before you say

it was probably an alligator, they said it definitely

wasn’t. They said it was the Bête Noire.”

“Who were the guys?”

“Dickie Johnson and Lonnie Williams,” Belinda told Morgan.

“You’d believe those two lushes? You gotta be kiddin’!”

Mulder turned to Belinda. “I think I’m finished with Mr.

Morgan. Did you have any questions?”

“Yes. O.D., I’ve heard some folks say your great-great-

granny had a black lover. You sure that wasn’t the case?”

Morgan’s face turned red and he jumped to his feet. “The

only thing keepin’ me from sluggin’ you right now is that

you’re a woman. You get out of here and take this Yankee

with you.”

Mulder stood up, purposely brushing his hand along the gun

in the holster on his belt. “Thank you for your time, Mr.

Morgan.”

He and Belinda walked back to the car. As soon as they

pulled away, Mulder burst out laughing. “I thought he was

going to have a stroke right on the spot. Where did you get

that information on his great-great-grandmother?”

Belinda chuckled. “It’s a tale that’s made the rounds

about O.D. They say that’s why he hates blacks so much.

Folks say his great-great-grandmother made up that story

when she got pregnant — because her husband was impotent.

Oh, yeah. And the hairiness and monkey face came from HER

side of the family. She was pretty enough, but her brothers

looked like Neanderthals.”

Mulder laughed again and Belinda joined him.

When he finally was able to stop laughing, he said, “Well,

I think I’d like to spend the rest of the day in the

library, doing research.”

“Want some help? I’ve got some comp time coming to me.”

“Sure. We’ll get done twice as fast.”

They drove to Beaumont to use the library there, since it

was bigger than the one in Orange. The two spent the rest

of the day looking through microfilm of old newspapers as

well as articles in magazine archives on CD.

At the end of the day, Mulder drove back to his hotel in

Orange. Belinda dropped several hints about the two of them

going out to eat, but Mulder politely turned her down,

saying he was too tired after poring through the records

all day.

He thought he was going to have to physically put her in

her car when they arrived, but she finally got the idea and

left.

**************************

ACT II

6:27 a.m. May 17

Belinda watched as the small, red-haired woman emerged

from the crowd of people exiting the plane. The woman

looked rumpled and weary, and Belinda was suddenly glad

she’d taken extra care with her own hair and makeup that

morning. Now she stood next to Mulder, breathing in the

heady scent of his aftershave, while the redhead approached

them, her expression bordering upon shrewish.

“Great idea, flying into Beaumont, Mulder,” she said

sarcastically. “If I’d landed in Houston I could have

gotten a flight at a decent time. I could have had a meal.

I could have gotten here in three hours instead of six, and

I could have gotten a nonstop flight, instead of having to

go through Atlanta and Dallas.”

She stopped, as if out of breath, and Belinda stared in

amazement as Mulder responded to this wave of nastiness

with a brilliant smile.

“Glad to see you, too, Scully,” he grinned, ignoring her

outburst. Mulder picked up the bag that had slid off

Scully’s shoulder and swung it effortlessly across his own.

“This is Belinda, the reporter who wrote the story about

the Bête Noire. Belinda, my partner, Dana Scully.”

The two women sized each other up, Scully wearily and

Belinda with a growing sense of futility. She’d managed to

convince herself overnight that she’d been imagining things

during Mulder’s phone call to Scully, but it was becoming

increasingly clear that she was wasting her time. Agent

Scully looked tattered and worn after her all-night

airplane ride, while she herself was fresh and perky, but

Mulder had eyes only for his exhausted partner.

After giving her a brief nod of greeting, Scully turned

back to the tall man at her side. “Bête Noire?” she

questioned, one eyebrow arched delicately.

“That’s what the monster’s called in these here parts,”

Mulder drawled. “It means ‘black beast.'”

Scully ignored his phony Texas accent. “Monster?”

“How about we grab some breakfast, and I’ll fill you in on

our little adventure the other night.”

He quickened his pace, pushing open the door and holding

it for the women before letting it shut behind them, then

starting off for the car he’d parked in a nearby space.

There weren’t too many people at the Beaumont airport at

6:30 in the morning, so finding a close spot had been easy.

Scully hesitated for a moment, closing her eyes and sighing

dramatically before asking Belinda, “Adventure?”

Belinda just shrugged. She’d let Mulder handle this one,

gladly.

“I’m starving, Mulder,” Scully complained as he opened the

door and waited for her to climb in. “You’d better feed me

before you start regaling me with tales of monsters with

French names.”

Belinda slid into the back seat, privately miffed that

Scully had taken “her” seat next to Mulder, yet unable to

deny that the two of them seemed barely aware of her

existence.

“Sure, Scully,” Mulder agreed, backing the car carefully

out of the parking space. “What’s it going to be —

McDonald’s, Wendy’s or Taco Bell? Wait, scratch that. Taco

Bell doesn’t open until lunchtime.”

Scully stared at him with an expression of wounded horror.

“Do you mean to tell me, after six hours of air time and

two layovers, not to mention the fact that I spent the

final leg of the journey next to a man named Max, whose

sole reason for living is his poodle, Puffy, that you can’t

even offer me a decent meal?”

He bit his lip slightly. “Wendy’s serves burgers round

the clock,” he offered. “Quick and cheap. But if you

insist, we can go to a coffee shop. If we can find one

open.”

“McDonald’s,” she growled. “At least I can get something

resembling healthy food there. And they’d better have

decent coffee, Mulder.”

Soon they were seated at a table in a local McDonald’s

restaurant, and Belinda watched in careful silence while

Agent Scully underwent a transformation, becoming more

human with every sip of caffeine.

“So,” Scully invited them at last, when nothing was left

of her apple-bran muffin except a few crumbs and she’d

downed her second cup of java. ‘Bête Noire?'”

Mulder nodded. “After you’ve gone to the motel and

freshened up a bit, I’ll take you to meet Old Joe, one of

the locals. He claims he saw the monster himself a couple

of months ago. But the really interesting thing, Scully,

is what happened last night.”

Scully regarded Mulder over the rim of her paper cup.

“What exactly did happen the other night, Mulder?”

Belinda felt a sudden rush of warmth to her face, but

Mulder let the suggestive comment slide.

“The creature attacked a human,” he reported seriously,

stabbing at the crumbs on her napkin and licking them off

his fingers. “Sent him to the hospital.”

“Mulder, that area is swampland,” Scully pointed out

gently. “It seems to me more likely that your monster is

nothing more than a large alligator.”

“You’d think that, wouldn’t you?” he asked, grinning.

She stared up at his teasing eyes for a second. “But what?”

“The people in question have lived around there all their

lives, Scully. I think they’d recognize an alligator if

they saw one.”

“It wasn’t an alligator,” Belinda cut in positively. “It

was the Bête Noire. Everyone from around the Deweyville

area knows about it.” As she spoke, she rested her hand on

Mulder’s forearm, which lay across the table. Then, seeing

the way Scully’s eyes traveled possessively over Mulder,

Belinda quickly pulled her hand away.

“So, tell me all about it,” Scully invited, and Mulder and

Belinda proceeded to fill her in.

****************

Mulder dropped Belinda at her office, then drove Scully to

the motel and checked her into a room on the same floor as

his. He sat on her bed, going over his notes from the

previous evening and trying to puzzle it out in his head

while she showered.

It was odd, he kept thinking, that the creature didn’t

kill Dickie when it’d had the chance. Instead, it had only

injured its prey, leaving him alive and relatively mobile.

Something about that scenario niggled at the back of

Mulder’s mind, but before he could sort it out, his

cell phone chimed.

“Mulder,” he muttered into it, still immersed in the case.

“Hey, Mulder, have we got something for you!” Langly’s

voice captured his attention. The guys never called him on

the road unless it was important.

“What’s up?” he asked, glancing toward the bathroom.

Scully was still in the shower, and he shifted position,

focusing on Langly in order to banish the image of her with

droplets of water beading on her skin.

“Scully told us you were chasing monsters in the Southeast

Texas swamps, so we took the liberty of doing a little

research. Did you know there were reports of an alien

spacecraft crashing there about fifty years ago?” Langly

asked smugly.

Mulder tried to jog his memory, but it was tough when he

heard the water shut off and Scully step out of the shower.

“Uh…refresh me on that?”

Langly snickered. “Three separate reports of a UFO crash

were made on the night of July 18, 1948. Naturally, all

three were explained away by the authorities, but their

‘explanations’ were weak, as usual. Just thought it was

interesting, since you’re hunting for some type of monster

down in those parts.”

“So your theory is this is some kind of an alien that’s

been running around the swamps for fifty years?” Mulder

asked, only half-sarcastically.

“And mating with women to produce offspring, if the

reports are to be believed.”

“C’mon, Langly, even *you* would have an easier time

getting a date, if what I’ve heard of the creature’s

appearance are to be…” Mulder trailed off, his thoughts

beginning to race as he put together pieces.

“Mulder? You there?”

“Yeah,” he responded absently. “Thanks, Langly.” He

disconnected and shuffled through the papers on the bed

until he came up with Belinda’s article, then matched it

with the description Lonnie had given him the night before.

He sat back, his eyes flitting between the two papers, his

brain working at a pace that would have astounded most

people.

He barely noticed when Scully strolled into the room, clad

in her underwear, and began dressing for the day. He

stared at the papers, but his eyes saw a very different

scene, one which had replayed in his mind countless times

over the past couple of years. He remembered the aliens on

the ship, how they had looked through his fear and

determination to get himself and Scully out of there before

they became a wake-up snack to the newly-hatched monsters.

Humanoid shape, tough, hide-like skin, sharp teeth — it

wasn’t exactly as he remembered them, but he had been under

a bit of stress at the time. Also, if the reports were to

be believed, this creature had been roaming the swamps for

fifty years. Why hadn’t it sought out its own, in all that

time? Why stay here? Unless it wasn’t fully evolved, or

perhaps had…

“Mutated,” he muttered to himself.

Scully stopped brushing her hair and glanced toward him.

“What’s mutated?” she asked.

“The alien. Or it could be a different species altogether.”

Now she put down her hairbrush and turned to face him fully.

“Mulder,” she explained patiently, feeling much more human

now that she’d had food and a shower, “nobody has said a

word about aliens. I thought it was a monster we were

looking for.” She kept most of the sarcasm out of her

voice, but left enough so he’d know she was merely humoring

him, that she believed it was definitely an Earthly being

they were seeking, and most likely an alligator.

“Langly called while you were in the shower. He told me

there were reports of a UFO crash nearby about the time the

sightings began.”

She turned back to the mirror and began applying her

makeup. “There were reports of UFO crashes everywhere fifty

years ago,” she commented. “People saw strange lights in

the sky, BAM! They attributed it to a UFO. That doesn’t

mean it has anything to do with this case.”

“I think I want to check into it, all the same,” he

replied, shuffling the papers into a pile and shoving them

back into a file folder.

“We should interview the victim,” she contradicted. “Maybe

he can tell us more this morning about what attacked him.”

“You should do that,” he agreed, slipping his jacket on

quickly. “While you talk to Dickie, I’m going to go

investigate the area in daylight.”

He slipped out the door before she could argue.

****************

After 30 minutes of wrangling with Game Warden Chick

Jackson, Mulder finally talked the man into taking him out

into the swamp. Using a GPS mounted in the warden’s boat,

they soon arrived at the coordinates the Lone Gunmen had

given Mulder.

“Turn on your sonar, Warden, and let’s see if there are

any large structures on the bottom.”

Mulder looked over Jackson’s shoulder as he ran the sonar

and slowly drove the boat around the area.

Suddenly, a large mound showed up on the screen.

“There! Stop here!”

They watched the screen for a moment.

“Damn, I wish I had some SCUBA gear,” Mulder muttered.

“Wouldn’t do you any good. You would barely be able to see

your hand in front of your face because the water is so

murky. Whenever we have teams of divers searching for a

body, they pretty much have to do it by feel. And then they

usually have something to go on, like an overturned boat to

pinpoint the area.”

“Any way we can get some divers out here to take a look?”

“You’d just have to ask for volunteers. After all, it’s

not an emergency situation,” the warden told him.

Mulder considered for a moment. “Throw out your anchor,”

he said at last. “I’m gonna jump in and do a free dive and

see what I can tell. Do you at least have a face mask?”

Warden Jackson’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You’re

nuts! I wouldn’t get in this water without a full wetsuit.

It’s really not very safe.”

Mulder was already stripping down to his boxers. “I

appreciate the warning. So do you have a face mask or not?”

Jackson sighed and pulled out a diver’s safety vest as

well as a mask, snorkel and a set of fins.

“Thanks,” Mulder said, accepting the gear from the

reluctant man. “Oh, and uh, how about keeping an eye out

for alligators and snakes, huh?”

“On one condition. You tie this rope around your waist so

I can pull you up if you get into trouble,” the warden

insisted.

Mulder nodded. “Deal. I’ll tug twice if I want you to

pull me up. If you see anything bad, give one good jerk and

let me make sure I’m clear, then haul me in.”

Mulder donned the vest, mask and fins, and tied the rope

around his waist, then swung his legs over the side and

jumped in. The water was only about 20 feet deep so it

didn’t take long to reach the bottom. As the warden had

said, it was all but impossible to see anything through the

murk, but Mulder felt around with his hands and moved along

the bottom, trying to stay down. He grasped at the

vegetation that grew on the bottom, came up with a rock or

two, and hoped he wouldn’t slice his hand open on a rusty

can or broken beer bottle.

Mulder came up for air a couple of times, diving

resolutely back to the bottom, and was almost ready to give

up when he abruptly bumped into something very large and

solid. Feeling it with his hands, he could tell it was

smooth, perhaps metallic, but covered with slime. Wishing

again he had a set of SCUBA tanks, he ascended to the

surface for another breath. Greedily gulping in air, he

looked around for the warden’s boat and saw it, about forty

feet away.

He pulled the snorkel from his mouth and called out to

Jackson.

“I found something! I think it might be some sort of ship!”

The warden shook his head and called back. “You won’t find

any shipwrecks in this water, but I guess it might be an

old sunken boat.”

“Not that kind of ship!” replied Mulder. Putting the

snorkel back in his mouth, he took a deep breath and again

swam down to the bottom.

Mulder had no sooner found the object again and started

exploring its surface, than he felt a sharp jerk on the

rope. He struck the object with his fist. It definitely

seemed to be hard metal, not decaying wood. Something was

happening topside, and he didn’t have time to explore

further.

This time when the rope jerked, he felt himself being

pulled at an angle to the top. He didn’t resist, but

instead turned and swam for the surface.

Mulder had no sooner reached the surface and taken a

breath when something struck him hard from the side. He

turned to see what had happened, confused at the suddenness

of the attack, hoping like hell it wasn’t an alligator.

It was no alligator that ripped its claws down Mulder’s

side. Whatever the thing was, it was large and black and

vaguely humanoid, but with gleaming red eyes. It bared

its teeth, and Mulder cried out, banging his fist in the

attacker’s face as Jackson frantically tried to drag him to

the boat. The monster released him, but soon began

following, keeping back just a pace as the warden hauled

Mulder into the boat. Jackson already had the engine

running in idle so immediately put it in gear.

clip_image002

Once the boat began to move, the monster lunged toward

them, trying to climb aboard. Mulder grabbed a heavy paddle

and slammed it into the Bête Noire’s face. It fell back,

emitting a hissing, screeching sound of anger. Warden

Jackson fired both barrels of his shotgun at the monster

before gunning the boat swiftly away. They hadn’t gone far

when they hit a partially-submerged branch and damaged the

propeller.

“Oh, shit!” the warden cursed and looked over his

shoulder. The Bête Noire had seen their plight and was

rapidly headed their way. The shotgun didn’t seem to have

caused it any problem.

Jackson quickly began rigging up his trolling motor.

Mulder had kicked off his fins and was helping the warden

hook up the motor to the battery, his eyes never leaving

the monster, when it again tried to climb aboard. The leads

in his hands had not yet been attached to the motor, so

Mulder jammed the two ends into its hide and let it have

the full charge from the marine battery.

The beast roared in pain and fell back into the water.

Mulder

and Jackson quickly hooked up the spare motor and moved

toward the shore. Their pace was slow, but the monster did

not follow. Instead, it lay floating in the water,

although

Mulder was sure its head turned and watched them as they

limped away.

As they left the Bête Noire far behind, Mulder sat down

heavily on one of the motorboat’s cushioned seats. The

adrenaline rush was over and his side was suddenly hurting

badly. Glancing down, he saw four rows of bloody claw

marks. The warden glanced at him and threw him a first aid

kit.

“Here, grab a wad of gauze and hold it against your side.”

Mulder opened the kit, found a bottle of hydrogen peroxide

and poured it over the wounds on his side, hissing in pain

as the antiseptic burned into the open wounds. The gashes

weren’t deep enough to hit any vital organs, but looked

serious enough to require several stitches. Scully was

going to be pissed, and he wasn’t too happy about it

himself.

*****

“Scully?”

She stopped in the hospital parking lot, trying to find a

decent signal on her cell phone. The crackling connection

told her Mulder had to be out in the boondocks somewhere,

because she was smack in the middle of town, as Dickie

would have put it, she thought with grim humor.

“Yeah, Mulder, where are you?” She raised her voice,

hoping he could hear her over the sound of the traffic in

the background.

“I’m…Old Joe’s place…,” he answered. “…need you to

help…hurt…bad…”

“What? Mulder, what happened?” Scully shook the phone

fiercely, as if her anger would make the connection

clearer, then thrust it against her ear once more. “How

badly are you hurt, Mulder?”

“Not…kit…”

The connection died and she slammed her hand in anger

against the hapless phone. Then, hoping her sudden burst

of temper hadn’t damaged it, she dialed information,

obtained Belinda’s number at work, and called the newspaper

office.

“Belinda Gaudet.”

“Ms. Gaudet, this is Agent Scully. I need your help.”

Belinda arrived quickly and Scully jumped into the car.

“He said he was at Old Joe’s place,” she said by way of

greeting. “Does that mean anything to you?”

Belinda nodded and gunned the engine, racing out of town

as fast as her aging Ford would carry them, when Scully had

a sudden thought.

“Wait!” she commanded. “I need to stop off at the motel

first.”

“What for?”

“Medical kit,” she replied tersely.

“Is Agent Mulder injured?”

Scully gave Belinda a sidelong look. “From what I could

tell of the conversation, he may be. We had a lousy

connection.” Belinda increased their speed slightly, and

Scully didn’t know whether to be annoyed at this woman’s

obvious preference for Mulder. After all, who could blame

her?

The car screeched to a halt in front of her motel room

door, and Scully was out of the car in a flash. She

grabbed up her medical kit from the table and, taking a

second to wipe the sweat from her face, carelessly tossed

her suit jacket on the bed. No reason to ruin her entire

outfit if Mulder planned on dragging her out into the

swamp, she reasoned, and knowing Mulder, anything was

possible.

Feeling instantly lighter, she dashed back to the car and

hopped in. “Let’s go.”

Belinda took off, and within half an hour they were

pulling up to the dirt patch that served as Old Joe’s

driveway. The trailer door opened and a man waved them

inside. Scully wasted no time in making for the door,

Belinda following close behind.

“Mulder!” Scully called as she entered the dimly lit

Airstream. “Where are you?”

“Over here,” he answered calmly from the kitchen table.

Beau sat with his head on Mulder’s knee as the agent

scratched him behind the ears.

She stared at him, sitting there cool as a cucumber while

she feared the worst.

“I thought you were injured.”

He pulled up his shirt to show her the gauze, reddened

from the bleeding which hadn’t quite stopped. “Just a

scratch,” he grinned.

She gaped. “But… when I asked how badly you were hurt,

you said it was bad.”

“I said *not* bad,” he corrected. “Must have been the

connection.”

“Great,” she muttered, slamming her kit down on the table.

“Well, you’d better let me see it.”

“I’m sorry, Scully,” he said apologetically as he stripped

off his T-shirt. “I didn’t try to get hurt, you know.”

She gave him a look of apology and forgiveness combined,

and her face softened a tiny bit. “What happened?”

He winced as her probing fingers examined his wound. “I

was in the water–”

“The water?”

“Yeah, I found a ship–”

“A ship?”

“–and the Bête Noire sliced me.”

“He gave it a monstrous jolt of electricity, though,”

Warden Jackson cut in, and Scully raised an eyebrow.

“Did you kill it?”

Old Joe laughed. “It’d take more than that to kill the

Bête Noire, Miss,” he told her.

Scully looked dubious and turned her attention to her

partner. “Mulder, this is no scratch. And it’s already

showing signs of infection,” Scully said. “How long has it

been since you were injured?”

“Only a couple of hours.”

“That’s unusually fast for infection to set in.” She

sighed. “I can stitch it up, but it would be better to get

you to a hospital. There’s only so much I can do with this

kit.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but her face, coupled with

the fact that the pain in his side was growing by the

minute, stopped him and he just nodded agreement.

“Uh…getting to a hospital…that may be a problem,”

Belinda said from the window, her voice noticeably

trembling.

All eyes turned toward her, while she kept her own glued

to what was slowly making its way toward the cabin.

It was the Bête Noire.

“Holy…” said the warden in astonishment, peering out the

window beside Belinda.

“Joe,” Mulder announced, reaching for his weapon, “we need

to get out of here. That thing’s stronger than the five of

us. Any suggestions?”

“What about calling for help?” Belinda asked, her voice

dripping sarcasm.

“No phone,” Joe replied apologetically. “Didn’t pay the

bill a few months back and the phone company finally shut

me off. I’ve been arguing with them to get the thing

turned back on, but…” He shrugged. “It beats all, I

tell you — a man shells out cash month after month for his

whole life, then he misses one miserable payment and–”

“Scully, where’s your cell phone?” Mulder interrupted.

She reached for it automatically, her face whitening as

she realized she no longer had it in her possession. “Back

at the motel,” she ground out, clearly furious with herself

for this lack of foresight, “in the pocket of my jacket.

Where’s yours?”

“Battery ran down while I was talking to you. Completely

dead, now.” Mulder gave her a pathetic look, and Scully

shook her head in frustration.

“OK, so we have no phone, but some of us are armed and

it’s five against one. How tough can this thing be to

beat?”

Four pairs of eyes turned to her, clearly implying they

thought she’d taken leave of her senses.

“Fine,” Scully snapped, in answer to their silent

accusations. “But I’m not ready to give up. Has anybody

tried simply shooting this thing?”

“Oh yeah, it’s been shot at before,” Joe replied and

nodded sagely. “Bullets don’t seem to hurt it none.”

At Scully’s skeptical look, Jackson put in, “It’s true,

Agent Scully. I don’t know if its hide is too tough or

what, but I fired at it from the boat, and it only made the

thing pause a minute.”

“Are you sure you hit it?”

“Oh yes, ma’am, I hit it, all right.”

“Well then, we’ll have to think of something else.”

“Electricity,” Mulder said suddenly. “Warden Jackson and

I managed to stun it with electricity. We might not kill

it, but maybe we can put it out of commission long enough

to get away.”

“Well, you’d better think of something fast,” Belinda told

them nervously. “It’s coming closer.”

Mulder thought for a moment. “Joe, have you got some

extension cords?”

“Yeah, sure,” the old man replied and opened up a cabinet

under the sink. He pulled out two heavy-duty extension

cords.

“I use them to rig up light outside sometimes for when I

come in late from fishing. What do you want with them?”

“Let’s plug them in and wire them to the metal exterior

walls of the trailer. Hopefully, that will keep the Bête

Noire at bay until we can figure out how to get rid of it,”

Mulder replied.

He stood up gingerly and walked into Joe’s kitchenette.

“Got a sharp knife?”

Warden Jackson pulled his own buck knife from his belt and

Joe handed Mulder a butcher knife.

“Warden, cut off the female end of one of the cords and

strip off the rubber insulation.”

Jackson nodded. “I see where you’re going with this.

Belinda, what’s the monster doing?”

“It’s looking around, like it’s sniffing in the air,”

answered the reporter. “Uh, oh, it’s headed for our cars.”

They all heard a loud crash from outside. The warden and

Mulder worked frantically on stripping the extension cords,

while Joe and Scully peered out the small windows.

Scully watched as the Bête Noire bashed in the top of

Belinda’s Ford, then actually picked up the vehicle and

threw it on top of Joe’s pickup. Both vehicles exploded in

flames as the gas tank of the Ford was ruptured and the

gasoline ignited.

“I thought that only happened in the movies,” Scully

muttered.

As they watched, the flames spread through the dry grass

and began licking at the tires of Mulder’s rental. The

monster seemed surprised and fascinated by the rising

flames. It stepped back a few paces and just stood watching

the vehicles burn.

In the meantime, both the warden and Mulder had finished

exposing the wires. Mulder opened the door a crack and

peered out. His jaw dropped as he saw all three vehicles

burning and the monster staring in rapt fascination.

“Holy shit!” he muttered as he held the cords’ stripped

ends between the door and the door face. He shut the door

and locked it for good measure to help keep the wires in

place. The warden plugged both cords into the trailer’s

floor sockets.

“Nobody touch the door or windows,” Mulder warned. “That’s

a lot of juice going into the metal parts of the trailer

right now.” The interior walls had wood paneling that Joe

had installed himself, so they should be safe as long as

nobody did anything stupid.

That job completed, Mulder leaned heavily against Joe’s

kitchen table. The adrenaline rush was dying down and his

side was bleeding freely again and burned painfully.

*****

Now that they were relatively safe from the creature

outside, Scully could concentrate on her partner. She took

a long look at him, and what she saw alarmed her. His face

was ashen and he was sweating, his breathing was slightly

labored, and the tightness around his mouth told her of the

discomfort he tried to conceal.

“Sit down, Mulder,” she ordered, pointing at a nearby sofa

covered with a ragged, hand-crocheted afghan. The fact that

he obeyed without argument did nothing to reassure her; it

was obvious the pain from his wound had grown much worse.

Mulder’s hand was clamped over the makeshift bandage, and

he was bleeding badly from the deep gashes which had been

aggravated during his earlier exertion.

Scully dug into her medical bag, ignoring the way his eyes

flicked over the suture kit she pulled out, then fixed

themselves on the wall ahead. She’d only stitched him up

once before while they were in the field, when he’d come

too close to an assailant’s bullet and they’d been unable

to reach a hospital quickly, but this injury was much

worse. She had a small amount of the mild anesthetic she’d

use to deaden the area, but not enough. No matter what she

did, Mulder was going to feel this.

“I’m sorry, Mulder,” she apologized, looking up at him

from her position on the floor, and he answered her with a

fleeting smile.

“Don’t worry about it, Scully. Just don’t make me watch,

and tell me when you’re done.”

She nodded, grabbing a small bottle of betadine and some

gauze and beginning to clean the area thoroughly. The

scratches were red and swollen, and Mulder winced when she

pressed on them. She wrinkled her brow in thought — the

wounds were showing advanced signs of infection, and it had

come up very quickly. Without a lab, there was no way she

could determine what had caused the rapid infection, but it

was clear Mulder couldn’t wait much longer before receiving

antibiotics.

As she prepared to begin stitching him up, Scully thought

conversation might be the best distraction. She’d given

him the local and waited for it to take effect, but there

was no way that small amount of medicine would deaden the

entire area. Starting in a spot she thought would probably

be the least painful, she began.

“So tell me about this ship you say you found,” she said

gently.

“I dove into the water at the coordinates Langly had given

me. It was there, Scully, I swear. I couldn’t see because

the water was too–” he gasped, clutching the back of the

sofa tightly as she reached a particularly sensitive area,

then continued. “–too murky, but I could feel. Round,

metal, strange markings etched into the surface…”

“Sounds like it could be anything,” she observed.

“Yeah, it could have been anything, but it *was* a ship,”

he replied flatly.

Belinda joined them, sitting carefully on the sofa beside

Mulder, and held out a strong hand.

“Need something to squeeze?” she offered, and he accepted

gratefully, grabbing at her fingers and clenching them

tightly between his own.

Scully finished with the first gouge and began on the

second, hoping the local would keep working for a little

while longer.

“What are we going to do about this thing out there?”

Belinda asked them both, her eyes darting from one agent to

the other quickly. “We can keep it out of here, but for

how long? And how long can we stay inside this trailer?

We’re not exactly fixed for a siege here.”

“I’ve been…thinking about that,” Mulder gasped. “Damn

it, Scully, hurry up!”

“Then hold still!” she snapped, putting a hand on his

abdomen to stop his involuntary writhing. “I can’t stitch

a moving target.”

“Sorry,” he whispered, leaning his head against the back

of the sofa and breathing slowly and deeply. “Didn’t I see

some kind of lot filled with old junk cars nearby?” he

asked.

Joe, who had been watching the proceedings with

interest, answered. “You sure did. Right out behind

my trailer, as a matter of fact. It’s an old wrecking yard,

although they don’t get much business these days. But how

does that help us, Agent Mulder?”

“What if we managed to rig up one of the vehicles like we

have this trailer, then lured the creature inside?”

“Lured him how?” Belinda asked, interested.

“We’d have to have some bait,” Mulder said after a few

seconds during which Scully finished his second laceration

and started on the third, the deepest of the four.

“What kind of bait?” Scully asked suspiciously, waiting

while he caught his breath before proceeding.

“The one that got away,” he replied stoically. “Me.”

“The one that got away?” The tone of her voice told him

just what she thought of his idea, so Mulder explained

further.

“It could have killed me, Scully, but it didn’t. It could

have killed Dickie, but it didn’t.”

“So, it’s not very smart,” she argued. “That’s no reason

to give it another chance.”

Mulder shook his head. “I don’t think it’s that. I think

this creature likes to hunt. It wounded me, that’s all. If

Warden Jackson hadn’t been there to pull me on board his

boat, it could have toyed with me indefinitely before it

finished me off. I think it was enjoying the thrill of the

chase. All I have to do is let it chase me into a trap.”

“How do you keep from getting electrocuted yourself?”

asked Belinda.

“Tires,” put in the warden, who had finally taken his eyes

off the creature. “Lots of them in a wrecking yard. We

could make a pile of them so Agent Mulder would have a safe

place. The electricity won’t conduct through them. But I

think I should be the bait,” he continued. “You’re in no

condition to escape from the monster, in case our plan

backfires.”

“If it backfires, whoever’s out there is dead meat

anyway,” Mulder argued. “I’m the one it’s hunting right

now. It’s drawn my blood. I think it wants to finish the

job.”

Scully looked away, tying off her final sutures, and

compressed her lips together in order to avoid further

protests. Mulder would never listen to her anyway. It was

in his nature to sacrifice himself for the good of others.

There was no stopping him.

*****

The fire had burned the grass within its reach and been

stopped by the wide expanse of dirt around the Airstream.

Now, it was beginning to die out, and the Bête Noire had

taken a renewed interest in the occupants of the trailer.

Belinda had taken up residence beside the window again,

keeping a careful eye on its movements, and suddenly she

screamed and backed away. The monster was charging the

trailer, and as they watched, it thrust its arm through the

window, scattering smashed glass around the room. It

grabbed for Belinda, but before its claws found purchase,

its body came into contact with the metal exterior.

The scream the creature emitted was deafening, and it

backed away furiously. They watched to see if it would

fall to the ground, but instead it glared at them, then

began circling the trailer purposefully.

“It’s looking for another way in,” Joe said grimly.

“You OK?” the warden asked Belinda, and she nodded shakily.

“I’m fine, I…” She stopped suddenly as they were plunged

into darkness.

“Bad news,” Mulder commented weakly, but before he’d

completed the short sentence, the lights had come up again,

dimmer this time, but still working.

“Generator,” Joe told them proudly. “We have flaky power

out in these parts.”

“Is the generator outside?” Scully asked quickly, but Joe

shook his head.

“Nope. It can’t get at it, don’t you worry.”

“How long will it last?”

Joe’s face fell. “Only a couple of hours,” he answered

Mulder’s question.

“Then maybe we should consider putting my plan into action.”

“Mulder, you’re too weak!” Scully protested. “You can

hardly stand on your own, let alone outrun that creature to

lure it into a vehicle.”

“Where are you going to find a vehicle large enough,

anyway?” Belinda put in. “It’d have to be–”

“A bus,” Joe interrupted. “There’s an old school bus in

that junkyard, ought to do nicely.”

“And even so,” Belinda continued, “where are you going to

get the electricity? I doubt Joe has that many extension

cords. And what happens if you only manage to stun it? Our

cars are destroyed, and the only way to safety from there

is a two mile hike through snake-infested woods. Besides,

Agent Mulder, we’d have to practically carry you.”

Mulder gave Scully an exasperated glance. “Dr. Scully,

I’m just wondering something.”

“Yeah, Mulder?”

“Is pessimistic second-guessing of a man’s plans a gender-

related trait?”

Scully rolled her eyes, then her worried frown slipped

back into place.

“OK, does the bus move at all? Maybe we can get it closer

to O.D.’s power lines — he’s got to at least have a

generator, doesn’t he?”

Joe grinned at Mulder. “She reminds me of my Ruby. That

red hair keeps their brains cooking. I’ve got my last two

tractors stored in a shed out there. The green John Deere

still runs fine, and that’s where we get the juice. That

dump is where everybody brings their cars when they die; we

just might find a few diehards still with a little zap, so

this is looking promising.”

“But how are we going to get out there without the Bête

Noire attacking?” Belinda asked.

“I’ll try to distract it while you and Scully fill some

coolers with water and see what we can rig up here. We need

some kind of switch we can pull once it gets on the bus. If

we soak the floor with the water, it’ll make an excellent

conductor. Maybe the monster won’t have a chance to get to

close to me before you three trigger the juice.”

Scully’s frown darkened. “So you’re determined to be the

bait? Mulder, you’re weak, if something happens, if it

doesn’t take him down quickly enough…or at all, you

aren’t moving fast enough to get away.”

“Scully, if we’ve got the current flowing through the

wreck that I hope we’ll get, I don’t think I’ll want to

move anywhere but the tires we can rig for me to be safe.

And anyway, I’m the one he’ll be coming for. At least at

first. He knows my scent. He marked me.”

“We’ve got to get it away from here long enough to get to

the junkyard and rig up our trap,” Mulder said.

“Why don’t I toss out everything in my freezer — keep him

busy eating for a while?” asked Joe.

“Good idea,” noted Warden Jackson. “But how are you going

to get it far enough away from the door?”

“Somebody will have to get out there and throw it away

from the trailer,” Mulder replied, rising slowly from the

couch.

“You’re not moving fast enough, Mulder, forget it,” Scully

insisted. “I’ll go.”

“No. I was an all-state quarterback in high school,”

Jackson told them. “And I still run a pretty quick mile.

Joe, give me the food, and I’ll sneak out the back door and

run around front and let him see me throw the food out.

What have you got?”

Joe sighed. “I have a real nice pot roast I was gonna cook

up for Sunday dinner, a five-pound pack of hamburger and a

lot of fish.”

“Lonnie said he thought the thing chose the fish in their

boat instead of coming after him — at least right away,”

Mulder noted.

“Well, he can have it all,” Joe said. “I do believe I’d

rather let that thing have my dinner than have me for

dinner.”

“I heard that!” agreed Jackson.

“But if we get out of this alive, you feds are gonna owe

me for a freezer full of meat,” Joe added with a grin.

“It’s a deal,” Mulder replied. “I’ll personally stock it

with prime rib and T-Bone steaks.”

Joe loaded up a cooler with every piece of meat and fish

he could find in the freezer.

“Hope it don’t mind they ain’t thawed.”

“No time for that,” said the warden. “Give it to me.”

Cooler in hand, the warden nodded to Mulder and Scully who

unplugged the electricity long enough to allow the warden

to get out the door.

They watched out the window as the warden ran around the

side of the trailer and yelled, “Hey you nasty son-of-a-

bitch! You hungry?” He tossed a frozen fish at the feet of

the Bête Noire.

The monster eyed the warden, then decided to take the food

which was closest. It snatched up the fish and crunched it

up quickly. Joe threw the next fish several feet past the

monster and it watched and followed the food.

Mulder, Scully and Joe slipped out the back, leaving

instructions for Belinda to plug in the electricity, then

unplug it when the warden came back.

Their walk to the junkyard was not swift by any means.

Scully helped Mulder along, but was grateful for the feel

of his strong arm holding her much more firmly than his

injuries or weakness should allow.

So they began. Joe and Scully found five serviceable

batteries, made Mulder a tire and bus seat bed and got the

magnetos set up. Scully and Mulder got the water, rigged

three switches and the able-bodied conspirators started

lugging the pieces of their trap to the site. Scully was

glad to see Mulder catching some sleep while they worked.

He felt a bit feverish to the touch when she came in to

wake him near dusk. She forced some Tylenol down him.

Night was falling as they loaded Mulder on the bus, then

dumped the barrels of water. “Do you think the beast will

catch your scent even in there?”

“Scully, it craves the odor of fear. I think right now, it

could pick up that particular bouquet from me if it was

down in Galveston.” His partner caught the glazed look of

terror in the man’s fever bright eyes and forced a

consoling smile, a game attempt to disguise her own fear.

“Hey, you be careful in there, OK? I plan on putting in

for a vacation for us when we get home. This time it’s my

show.”

“I’ll follow you anywhere you wanna go, Scully. Maybe with

you making the plans we won’t be eating hospital food for

half our stay.” He tried to grin but the gesture didn’t

quite make it to the corners of his mouth, which had become

frozen in a tight-lipped slash of pain. She reached a hand

to squeeze his arm, then suddenly pressed her lips against

the smooth, too warm skin of his forehead.

“Checking for fever?” he asked, in a weary, slightly

bitter tone. His grimace died instantly, morphing into an

almost boyish grin of sheepish surprise, when his partner

cupped his face and softly, lovingly kissed him. The oral

caress lasted but a heartbeat before she pulled away. Her

eyes were bright and somewhat damp.

“You need to get to your place, hurry!” he whispered. Her

reply was a quick nod, and she scurried out into the muggy

evening, the light fading quickly behind the dense, lush

forest. She jumped when a loud, almost human howl of pain

was carried on the warm, heavy breeze from the direction of

Old Joe’s house. Joe heard the agent in the bus stumbling

to his feet at the sound, seeing his wide eyes stare

through the dusty, mud splattered windows.

“He must have touched the trailer again,” Scully

whispered. “I hope the warden made it back in.”

The sun was just beginning to hit the horizon when Scully

heard the low, deep-throated growl of an animal,

approaching from behind her. Burying her face in a sparse,

soft patch of grass by her head, she tried to muffle the

harsh, frightened gasps of her breathing. Neither she nor

Joe could risk distracting the Bête Noire from its prey or

their plan would fail. Nor could they chance that the

monster would not have the wits to suspect a trap had been

laid, should he realize that his intended victim was not

alone. Hearing the shuffling steps move past her in a

hunched, hurried sprint, Scully cautiously raised her

head. The sight that greeted her was a horrific beast.

The creature’s thick, green-black hide glistened in the

faint illumination. It looked as though a gel or resiny

secretion covered its rough skin. The sight she caught of

the Bête Noire’s face as he paused, not more than a stone’s

throw from her place, to sniff the hot, sultry night air,

made her turn away. There was something familiar about the

monster’s appearance. She had seen one of these somewhere

before, but couldn’t place the memory.

The powerfully-built creature let out a guttural hissing

sigh, seeming to finally catch the odor he’d been searching

for –distinctly enough to pinpoint its exact location. The

teeth that filled the lipless grin were at least two inches

in length and so sharply pointed she wondered how they

didn’t rend the flesh that was stretched so tightly against

them. It moved deliberately, if not quickly, toward

Mulder’s bus.

Mulder found himself dozing, and the fear that he was

losing his fight against his ever increasing weakness

brought a sudden surge of adrenaline which allowed him to

push himself up to sit. His insulated tire perch raised him

enough that if he craned his neck he had a dark, dirty but

almost 180-degree view of the area outside the bus. He saw

the smooth, fluid movements of a dark blur rush toward him

across the field and felt a burning, watery wave of terror.

The walking nightmare had returned. Clawed feet scraped

against the wet metal floor. The agent had noticed in the

dim, rapidly fading light that his friends had somehow

scraped off what little rubber had remained of the bus’

center aisle so nothing but cool metal lay beneath the thin

layer of water.

Harsh pants of excitement echoed through the hollowed-out

wreck, growing louder and more filled with a damp, lustful

hunger, as the shadowy, fetid-smelling form drew closer.

The agent closed his eyes, forcing himself to remain still,

struggling against the instinct to bolt in the direction of

the rear exit door; praying that everything his friends had

set up worked as planned.

His eyes popped open in stunned awe as he heard the animal

sounds stop to be replaced by what could only be described

as a triumphant chuckle. The sound came deep from within

the beast’s throat, and Mulder no longer thought of

fleeing. He was frozen to the spot, his mind numbed along

with the deadly paralysis of insane fear that grew greater

each passing second as the fierce creature like those he

and Scully had barely escaped in Antarctica, drew close.

He could feel its breath against his skin, smell its

stench, and the light scratch of a needlepoint claw traced

a line across his neck, and once more, the agent closed

his eyes. This was the ending of a nightmare that had

plagued his slumber all too often. This was what would

have come had he not always awakened to his own hoarse

screams.

It happened so quickly Mulder wasn’t certain which had

come first — the acrid smell of ozone scented electricity,

the low buzz of flowing current interspersed by quick snaps

and pops as magnetos arced, or the ghostly touch of the

creature’s fingers against his neck. His lids slid open at

the sudden burst of heat, and at seeing the bright flash of

flame through a blood-filtered curtain. Bête Noire had

burst into flames, the cremation fueled by something within

the creature’s unique body chemistry.

Mulder fell back, almost toppling from his vulcanized cot,

but hastily grabbed hold of the battered, vinyl-covered

seat before he hit the deadly fluid conductor. The moving

fireball thrashed madly about and Mulder flinched as

singeing ash was thrown off by this wild dance of death,

peppering him with a searing rain that instantly formed

blisters every exposed place it landed.

“Mulder!” Scully’s voice called out a few minutes later,

and he lifted his head from the huddled ball into which he’d

curled for protection. The organic torch had fallen at

last, and it cast harsh, bright light against the walls of

the bus. He saw both his partner and old Joe standing at

the now-opened emergency exit. “Come on, it’s safe.”

Unfurling his long limbs, Mulder lurched to the doorway,

almost toppling through when he swayed from his fevered

weakness and the bone-deep weariness that was beginning to

take hold now that the crisis was over. Scully didn’t reach

his chin and Joe was several inches shorter, but both

helped him to the ground, their grasps feeling strong and

protective. Allowing himself to be supported by them, an

arm thrown across each pair of shoulders for balance, the

survivors made their way back toward the metal Airstream

trailer.

Belinda and the warden had seen them coming, so they

opened the door to let them know it wasn’t still

electrified.

Jackson helped Joe and Scully get Mulder settled on the

sofa.

“Is it dead?” asked Belinda.

Mulder nodded, and Joe replied, “We fried that sucker

good! Burned him up and there was nothing left but green

goo.”

The warden sighed in relief and said, “Thank God! Looks

like you need a hospital. I’ll take Joe’s boat over to my

office and call an ambulance. Joe, I’m sorry I didn’t

believe you guys.”

“That’s OK, Chick. It was pretty unbelievable, I know.

Just goes to show there’s a lot about these swamps man

hasn’t learned yet.”

“The Bête Noire may be a longstanding legend,” Mulder told

them, “but that thing was not native to this area.”

“How do you reckon it got here?” asked the warden.

“Somebody brought in another species from South America or

somethin’? But I gotta say, I have never heard of anything

quite like this.”

“Let’s just say it seemed unearthly and leave it at that,”

Scully said, and gave Mulder a meaningful glance.

The warden shrugged and left. After a few minutes, they

heard

Joe’s boat engine start up.

An hour or so later, an ambulance had pulled up at Joe’s

trailer. Mulder was lying on the couch quietly, the pain

and fever dissuading him from any more talking.

The paramedics took a look at the wounds and one of them

whistled at the sight of the infection present.

“Nice stitching job, but you should have got treatment

several days ago when this happened.”

“He was wounded this morning,” Scully told them. “The

infection set in that quickly. And a wild creature had us

trapped here and we couldn’t get away until we killed it.”

The paramedic looked up in surprise. “Sounds like quite a

story.” His partner finished putting a clean bandage on

Mulder’s wounds, then they loaded him on the stretcher for

transport.

“I’m coming with you,” Scully insisted. “I’m his doctor.”

The paramedics exchanged a glance and the one who had

spoken earlier, shrugged and replied, “OK, as long as you

know we gotta take our orders from the emergency room doc

at the hospital.”

Scully nodded agreement and accompanied them out to the

ambulance.

Belinda followed them out as well, then reached down and

squeezed Mulder’s hand.

“Sorry you got hurt, Mulder. I’ll come check on you at the

hospital later and then maybe when you get out we can have

dinner.”

Mulder sighed and answered, after first looking at Scully,

“Thanks, Belinda. I appreciate the offer, but that won’t

be necessary. Scully will take good care of me.”

Belinda nodded in disappointment and waved at Mulder as

they loaded him in the ambulance.

As the ambulance drove away, the warden, who had driven

his Jeep and led the ambulance to the trailer, walked up to

Belinda.

“You know, I’d love to grab some dinner in town,” he told

her. “Gets kinda lonely out here sometimes.”

Belinda brightened up and seemed to notice the well-built

warden for the first time. She also noted he wasn’t wearing

a wedding ring.

“Why, Chick, that sounds wonderful! And I’ll interview you

all about our adventure.”

Old Joe smiled as Jackson and Belinda walked to the

warden’s Jeep.

***************************

Epilogue

Two days later

Baptist Hospital-Orange

Scully stuck her head in Mulder’s hospital room to see him

channel-surfing. He was still receiving antibiotics

intravenously, but he was doing well and set to be

discharged tomorrow evening.

“What’s the matter, can’t find a ball game?”

Mulder turned to see his partner standing in the doorway.

“No,” he sighed. “Just can’t find a decent game in the

middle of a weekday. What’s up?”

“Just checking in on you, making sure you’re behaving.”

“Did you bring me anything to eat? Hospital food leaves a

lot to be desired.”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” Scully replied, holding up

two Styrofoam containers. “Belinda said you loved the gumbo

and boudin balls from Cody’s, so I picked up an order of

each.”

“Ahh, Scully, marry me!”

Scully chuckled. “You can’t afford me. Besides, you know

very well that for you, the pursuit is 90 percent of the

fun.”

Mulder patted the side of his bed and invited her to sit.

Scully set the food down on the bedside table and sat down

beside him.

“You’re saying the monster and I had something in common?

You wound me, Scully.”

Scully seized on the opportunity to change the subject. “I

made Belinda promise not to write this story up in the

paper.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Do you really want people swarming down here to these

swamps, looking for monsters?”

“I imagine the area would like the tourism money.”

“Yes, but the swamps aren’t safe. How many people would

get hurt looking for such a monster? And are we sure that

is the only one?”

“Good point. You know that was an alien, don’t you? That

thing is not native to these swamps. I saw them before —

hatching out of humans in the pods on that ship in

Antarctica, and I saw one with Gibson in the nuclear power

plant.”

Scully looked dubious.

“Oh, c’mon Scully, surely you remember something?”

She shook her head.

“I think it was on that ship that crashed here years ago.

Something happened to keep it from maturing into the gray

aliens. I guess we’ll never completely understand why.”

Scully picked up the Styrofoam cup, opened the gumbo and

handed it to Mulder, hoping his hunger would take his mind

off aliens.

“Mmmmm,” he said around a spoonful of chicken and sausage

gumbo. “Scully, you should try some of this.” He offered

her a bite and she bent down and sipped some from the spoon

he held. Some of it started to drip down her chin, but

Mulder wiped it away, then caressed her cheek. He set the

cup down with one hand, and with the other, drew her into a

deep kiss.

*******************

Journal of Belinda Gaudet

I know this record will never be published, but it was

written for other than my own eyes. A copy of these pages

will find a home in a neatly labeled, filing cabinet drawer

which is located in what I’ve been told is a too small,

somewhat cluttered, basement office of the Hoover Building,

home of the world renowned FBI. I’m rather proud of

myself. My literary genius has been featured in Texas

Monthly, Reader’s Digest, The Orange Leader, both the

National Enquirer and the Midnight Globe, and now my

work is officially part of The X-Files. Mother would be so

proud.

I do feel I should add a note here, Agents. I’m hoping

your little R & R was refreshing because there might just

have to be a bit of follow-up on this case. At least I

don’t believe WE should deem this file officially closed.

The French are the ones who started up the more commonly

told legends, and, of course, we know now that gruesome,

vicious, ogre-like monster from these fairy tales wasn’t

our monster. Did Bête Noire really venture out to raid the

villages and snatch up the naughty children who ventured

out after dark for mischief? Why else would a kid go out

after sunset back then except to find mischief? There

wasn’t much else out there. I know this area didn’t get a

drive-in until the mid-1960s, and the first arcade didn’t

come until the disco era. Mischief was all I ever found

after dark while I was growing up around here. I could show

you a few of the spots to find it, Mulder — that is, if

the lady ever gets bored with this humdrum lifestyle you

two share, and leaves.

Still, as I said, this child-snatching ghoulie really

doesn’t seem to share the behavioral patterns that we saw

and more modern tales attribute to the black beast. Perhaps

it did feed on an unattended child or two that wandered

down and got lost in whichever bayou he’d claimed as his

lair at the time, but the lust for the hunt must have been

more muted then, for a lost baby would hardly be the prey

that would satisfy this mismatched animal/human-like

instinct.

I’m now convinced that what we dealt with was not of this

world. I’ve done my research and found the records of the

meteorite that crashed in the swamp. Did it carry some sort

of eggs that later hatched? I guess we’ll never know.

****************

Deep in the cypress swamps along the Texas-Louisiana border

A green-black head broke the surface of the water, red

eyes looking around for a meal. The other had been the

better hunter, but the other never returned from its foray

into the soft ones’ territory. Instinct told the creature

not to make the same mistake — but to stay far away and

hidden.