God! Stop Following Me Around!
E-mail address: email@example.com
Spoilers/time frame: Takes place sometime before "requiem" so spoilers up through that episode are possible.
Catogory: Casefile Snark (written for the 'Write YOU into a casefile' challenge http://forums.prospero.com/foxxfiles/messages?msg=117814.1)
Summary: Mulder and Scully are convinced that something, anything, is paranormal in my life. They pester me about it. Frequently.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership to the characters Mulder and Scully, who are the property of Chris Carter and 1013 productions. However, I do claim ownership to myself, and my imaginary child and imaginary dog. I'd be willing to negotiate if CC wished to purchase us, though. My brother, however, isn't for sale. Sorry, ladies.
It all started on what, looking back, had been a pretty normal day up until that point. Markie had just woken up from his afternoon nap, so I was getting him out of his crib before he began to fuss. I remember thinking about how heavy he was getting, and reminding myself to put sunscreen on him before we went on our walk, because he'd inherited my coloring. We never did end up going on that walk. Just as I finished putting Markie into his (ok, my) favorite blue sleeper, the doorbell rang.
And rang, and rang... besides pausing to put the baby in his playpen, I had to scoot our little wiener dog, Chase, out of the way, since Chase tried to bolt every time the door opened.
When I finally did open the door, a grim looking man and woman stood on the steps. I quickly sized them up, noticing that they were both dressed completely in black. "I've found Jesus, but thank you anyway," I said, hoping to cut them off at the past. Unfortunately, they didn't budge.
"Are you Shannon Phile?" The man asked in an authoritative way that immediately got my back up. I was going to shut the door, but he and the woman whipped out official looking badges in a way that made me suspect they practiced. A lot. Probably in front of mirrors. "I'm special agent Mulder, and this is my partner, special agent Scully. We need to speak to you."
I let them in without a word, mostly because I was wondering what was special about them. They didn't look so special to me. Oh, the man was handsome enough, in that tall, dark and lanky way, but his hazel eyes seemed devoid of anything like a personality or sense of humor. And the woman? She was about my height- short- if somewhat thinner, but that dye-job, who did she think she was kidding? No way anyone would believe that was real. However, I'm among 28% of polled natural redheads who detests red hair dye, so I might be prejudiced. A little. But those cold blue eyes...I'm sure mine look warmer when I give someone the finger after they've cut me off in traffic. I'm trying to break myself of that, though, before Markie is old enough to notice.
The man, "special" agent Mulder, made himself at home on the couch before I even offered him a seat. That was rather rude of him. I didn't say anything to him, because his partner was freaking my son out. She'd made a beeline for the playpen and loomed over him until I'd gotten the chance to pick him up. His little arms clung to my neck, half strangling me.
"He's precious," she said, almost displaying an emotion. "How old is he?"
"Could I...hold him?"
I glanced down at the way he refused to look at her. "I don't think so."
"Oh..." Unbelievably, she began to tear up. "I can't have children, you know."
Of course I didn't know, I'd never seen her before in my life. Why would I know about the infertility woes of a complete stranger? "Uh...sorry about that."
She gave me a misty smile, and her partner patted her hand.
I gave up hopping that they'd get around to sharing the reason for their visit. FBI agents don't usually just drop by, so I was pretty sure they hadn't come just to test out my couch and to traumatize my baby. "You said you needed to speak to me?" I prompted.
They exchanged a meaningful look. I hate when people do that.
Agent Mulder gave Markie and me a look I couldn't read. "We," he indicated his partner and himself, as if I were too stupid to figure out otherwise who he meant. "Work for a special division of the FBI."
"Oh?" I asked, as if to indicate interest.
"Yes... We work for a unit called the X-Files." I wondered if they investigated porn or x-rays. Neither guess helped me to delve out the reason for their visit. Turns out I was off the mark. "We investigate cases involving the paranormal." He explained.
"Seem to involve the paranormal," his partner immediately corrected.
I looked around for a camera crew, but didn't see one. They didn't look like they were in on a joke, either. "Could I see your badges again?" I asked in as even a tone as I could manage under the circumstances.
Their reaction- blank faced acquiescence- made me believe it wasn't an uncommon request. I looked the badges over, wishing I'd watch more cop shows than soapy dramas. They looked pretty real, but I had no way of being sure. Too bad they didn't have water marks on them or something. I handed them back, suppressing a sigh of frustration.
"Would you excuse me?" I smiled apologetically at them. "I think the baby needs to be changed."
"Oh, sure." They said. God forbid they had to smell a poopy diaper, eh?
I swear Markie gave me and indignant look. He didn't, of course, need to be changed. What can I say? Sometimes a baby provides a convenient spur of the moment excuse for leaving the room. As I stood up, I noticed that Chase was glowering at the agents from under a chair. "Come on, boy," I called. "He's not used to strangers," I said as he galloped to me on short little legs. Actually, I was worried the woman might try to make friends with him, and get bitten for her trouble. The last thing I needed was a lawsuit.
Once up in the hallway, away from prying eyes, I grabbed the hall phone and shut the nursery door. But before I made my call, I turned off the baby monitor. I'd seen far too many movies in which an important conversation is overheard because someone stood next to one that was on while spilling their guts. Stupid people.
Markie whimpered when I set him in his crib, probably thinking it was time for bed. I used a toy to distract him while I dialed my parents' number.
Of course, I got the answering machine. They'd been using the machine to screen calls for practically ever, so I was expecting that. All I had to do was leave a nice calm message so they didn't get alarmed. "Vynce, if you're there-"
"Hey, what's up?" he said, answering the phone.
I'd seldom been so glad to hear my baby brother's voice as I was just then.
"I need you to come over, right now."
"What's wrong?" I don't know if all little brothers are protective, but mine has been ever since he got bigger than me. It's nice. Sometimes.
"There are these two weird people from the FBI down in the living room."
"Why?" he said, sounding surprised by that. Why wouldn't he be? I know I was.
"I don't know, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to be alone with them when I find out."
"I'll be right over."
"Thanks, kid, I owe you."
"Yeah, remember that the next time Mom gives me a hard time about selling my old car," he said with a snort before hanging up.
Fortunately, he and my folks lived across town. And I figured I could wait at least another five minutes before going back downstairs. I was pretty sure karma would get me for claiming a very messy diaper, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
To kill time waiting for my brother to get there, I decided to put forth my best impersonation of being domestic. There wasn't any time to bake anything, but there was a pound cake in the fridge that I'd planned to bring over to my folks to make strawberry shortcake for Dad and I, but I figured that I could pick up another one. It'd be worth it if it kept the agents mouths too busy to talk for a few minutes.
Chase decided that they weren't so bad, and begged for crumbs from them. Mulder wasn't the sharing type, but Scully fed him bits of her piece after asking if it was ok. At least she asked. Some people are really dumb about dogs.
"What a cute little dog," she gushed. "He reminds me of a dog I had once."
Agent Mulder snorted, and she glared at him. That couldn't be good.
"When you were a girl?" I guessed.
"Oh no, just a few years back. I got him after his owner died. Unfortunately, he was eaten," she said, looking sad.
"By what?" I asked her, wide-eyed.
Before she could elaborate, there was a knock on the door. I opened it with relief. My brother stood on the steps, trying not too look too alarmed. "Oh, Vynce, I didn't know you were stopping by," I said with a wink to him.
Fortunately my brother is very bright. "Sorry not to call first, Sis." He scooped up Markie and the baby squealed in delight. Vynce has always had a way with kids.
"Vynce, this is Agent Mulder, and Agent Scully. I think they were just about to tell us why they came to see me." I hoped so. They'd been at the house a half hour already. My brother sat down and gave them expectant looks. Markie immediately whined to be put down, so he obliged him.
Mulder made a furtive dab at his mouth, probably looking for crumbs. "That's right. As I was explaining to your sister, we work for a division of the FBI that deals with incidents," He caught his partner's pointed look, "alleged incidents of the paranormal."
"I see," Vynce said evenly. He leaned forward so the gold paint he highlighted his hair with caught the light. I have to admit, it did look pretty nice on a redhead, as long as you have hair short like his- the one time we'd attempted it on my hair had been a disaster because of the length. I bet even agent Scully's hair would be too long. They stared at him, and I wondered if either of the agents would be stupid enough to remark on how much alike we look. I don't mind it too much, but he'd hated the comparison since he was old enough to talk. "What does that have to do with my sister?"
"Actually," Agent Scully spoke up. "It has to do with your nephew."
I looked down at Markie, who was happily chewing on a set of plastic keys, then up at agent Scully. "I think I misheard you. It sounded like you said you were here because of the baby."
"You heard correctly," she acknowledged.
"Are you familiar with the concept of a changeling?" Agent Mulder asked.
"What are you ta-"
"A changeling i-"
"I know what a changeling is," I interrupted him this time. "Fairy tale creatures steal human babies out of their cribs, and leave behind one of their own sickly, whiny children to be raised in its place. They look enough like the human child to fool the parents into caring for it." I liked fairy tales and had been reading since shortly before my fourth birthday- and started on fairy tales not long after graduating from Harold and The Purple Crayon and Richard Scary's Busytown books. Of course I was familiar with the concept. "What I want to know is what the hell gave you this strange idea in the first place."
I guess I sounded as angry as I felt, because Markie looked up at me with a worried expression on his little face.
"There have been several accounts in the area of people who have had babies, who turned out not to be their children at all," Agent Mulder explained in a droning monotone. "We were contacted by three families in the area who had this concern."
"But I didn't contact you," I pointed out reasonably.
The coldness returned to the female agent's eyes. "That is true, however, the babies were all born the same week as your son, and live within this town. We thought it wise to investigate all their agemates, as the fairies are said to only want children six weeks old or less, and there haven't been any cases involving of children younger than these babies, so we think they only visited the town once," she said, affecting a professional tone. Finally. She sounded more credible than when she was admiring Chase and Markie.
There was an intent look on Vynce's face. "Ok, so suppose these parents did contact you. What did they say to make you think that their babies had been swapped for supernatural infants?" See? I told you he was smart.
"The mothers reported that the babies were completely different once they got them home from the hospital. They screamed all the time. They were insatiably hungry. Some of them even changed in appearance. Those are all textbook signs of a changeling," Mulder answered oh so smugly.
I gave him a look of disbelief. "Those things are normal in newborns. Once the parents are alone with them for the first time, the babies seem much more demanding than they did while hospital staff was assisting with their care. And changes in appearance? Of course they look different from when they were born. Some babies have dark hair that falls out after a few days. Most babies lose that squashed wrinkled look after a week or two. Eye color changes in all white babies who aren't destined to have blue eyes."
"There's no way to know if their hair falling out isn't an indicator of a child being a changeling. How do we know it's normal? Maybe it only happens with changelings," Mulder said in a tone I found laughably serious. I withheld my mirth though, he was beginning to seem less than sane.
"Well, ok. But look at Markie. He looks a lot like his newborn photos, just bigger and more mature. His hair, skin and eye colors are the same as when he was born," I tried to reason with them, for all the good it did me.
"What Agent Mulder has failed to mention is that there are many legends in which the babies are just like you said when you claimed to know what a changeling was - so alike the real child in appearance that their parents can't tell them apart," Agent Scully said. I was really beginning to dislike her.
I picked up Markie, suddenly sure that one or the other of them was going to try to grab him and run off with him. I looked at him for a moment, then something occurred to me. "Look under his right eye," I commanded them. They obliged, and even my brother took a look. "Now, look at mine," I said, pointing. Again they all looked. "Do you see it?"
"I'm not sure what you want us to look at," Agent Scully said haughtily.
"Aries. Or, at least that's how I've thought of it since learning constellations. Three freckles, the only ones on our faces, perfectly aligned in a triangle," I said triumphantly. That faded quickly, because everyone, even Vynce, was looking at me with a puzzled expression. "Don't you get it?" I asked, disappointed.
"I'm not sure what freckles prove. We've already agreed that the changeling might appear like the family's biological child," Mulder said.
"True, but you said the babies were thought to be switched as newborns, right?" They nodded. "But babies aren't born with freckles. Freckles are a sign of sun exposure, which newborns don't get any of by birth. The freckles on Markie, and probably myself, didn't show up until our first summers. How would the supernatural beings know that my baby would be likely to have the same marks as me, in the same places? I'm a light sleeper, I would have woken up if someone snuck into my room to stare at me."
"Unfortunately, that doesn't prove anything. They could have studied photos or been watching you, hidden during the day," Mulder said, sounding even more like a lunatic. Supernatural stalkers indeed.
I wasn't getting anywhere fast as the clock kept ticking. Eventually Markie was going to want to be fed, and it was closing in on dinnertime for me too. While I'd have no objections to cooking for my brother, I wasn't about to offer the agents a meal. Desperate to get rid of them, I decided to see if there was a way I could stand to cooperate. "All right. What would be proof to satisfy you that Markie is my child, the one I gave birth to?"
Agent Scully had trouble looking me in the eye suddenly. "The only way we've come up with is to do DNA testing on the babies."
I didn't know why that would make her shy. DNA tests aren't a stigma. "Ok. As long as you don't have to take blood. I don't want anyone sticking needles in either of us."
She still wouldn't look at me. "There won't be any needles. And we only need to test your son. The problem is that we need a DNA sample from birth and one from now to compare. If they're identical, we know he's not a changeling. You didn't...do a paternity test a birth, did you?"
I got the shyness then. It's hard to ask a woman that without implying that she sleeps around. "No. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Markie was my husband's son. Even if he had doubts he never shared, he died before Markie was born."
"I figured as much." She had the grace to blush. "Did you perhaps take a clipping of his hair after birth? It's harder to prove DNA from a hair sample, but-"
I snapped my fingers. "I think he had a DNA typing done at birth though."
"Oh?" Agent Mulder's intended show of interest was damped by his monotone. How did his partner stand having long conversations with him on a daily basis? Maybe she kept the radio on in the office and car.
I hated sharing personal information, but if it got them out of the house... "While I do like the idea of stem cells being used to research disease cures, I can't handle the idea of them using cells from embryos. That violates my sense of ethics, but I do still hope there will be cures found. So, not to be a hypocrite, I donated his umbilical cord blood to science so they could attempt to harvest stem cells in that manner. They're hopeful that it will prove almost as effective as cells from embryos, since the cells are very similar in structure, although not in ease of gathering. I'm sure they must have done a typing as part of the research."
"Would you be willing to sign a consent form so we can access that information if it turns out to exist?" Agent Scully asked, looking a little more relaxed.
"If it will get you to leave, sure." Vynce gave me a worried look, I guess he thought I was out of line. But what were they going to do, arrest me for being rude?
While I signed the form, Agent Scully- who assured me that she was a doctor- used a cotton swab to get some cells from the inside of Markie's cheek. He didn't even cry, so at least she was gentle. As soon as she was done she put the swab into a sterile container and handed the baby over to my brother.
Five minutes later, I closed the door behind them with a relieved sigh.
Vynce busied himself setting the table while I opened jars of baby food, but he kept looking at me when he thought I wasn't paying attention. That irritates me, but not as much as when our mother does it, since she openly stares. She's weird like that. Finally sick of being subjected to not-so-subtle glances, I finally asked "What?"
"Do you think they're for real?"
"Real strange and real deluded," I told him. I was wondering the same thing though, since it didn't seem possible that they were. "What do you think, would there be anyone at the Hoover building this time of day?"
"It depends. What's the Hoover building?"
I sighed. History, I knew, was not his strongest subject. "You know, J. Edgar Hoover? Former president, rumored to have a taste for women's clothing, founder of the FBI. They named a building after him for the last reason. In Washington, DC."
"Oh, that Hoover," he said. That Hoover? Who else is there, the vacuum guy? "Maybe, but would anyone really talk to you?"
"I guess there's only one way to find out," I said, reaching for a phone again. That was another thing that bugged me about those "agents." I've always hated making phone calls, and they were forcing me to make more than one in the same day.
Vynce took the hint that Markie didn't care to wait for my phone call to be over before being fed when he began whining for the out of reach jars. I didn't get a chance to thank him, because I was too busy writing down the number that the recording from 411 was giving me.
A pleasant-sounding receptionist answered, proving that the Hoover building was still occupied even during the dinner hour. She asked how to direct my call, and I didn't know what to say. "The X-files office?" I ventured. To my amazement, she said she'd connect me. I'd honestly expected a scolding for making a prank call. However, knowing that the office was real wasn't enough to convince me those two people had been for real.
Once I was connected to that office, I asked to speak to either Agent Scully or Agent Mulder. I didn't actually expect to talk to them, since DC and New Hampshire are far apart, but I couldn't think of a more tactful way to ask if they worked there. Besides, if they were there, that'd prove that the people we'd met had been impostors, and I could let them know that. I didn't honestly expect that there would be anyone by those names working there, though. Again, instead of laughing at me, I was spoken to politely, and asked if I'd like to leave a message.
Unfortunately, with impostors already on my mind, knowing that there really were agents named Mulder and Scully actually employed by that division didn't prove that the people were who they claimed to be. For all I knew, they'd killed the real agents for their clothes and abandoned their bodies along the highway. Altering those badges with their own photos would probably be an easy trick for murderers.
Thinking fast, I had an inspired idea. "No, if they're not in, I don't think leaving a message for them would do me much good. They asked me to meet with them before work so they could question me about my connection to one of their cases. A few hours after I talked to them it occurred to me that there will be a lot of people dressed in business suits where we're meeting, and I'm not sure I'll be able to find them before I have to leave for work. My boss threatened to fire me if I'm late again...you couldn't give me a description of them so I'm sure to find them in time, could you?"
She did! She seemed very sweet, and I was glad she was so accommodating, but she didn't seem very bright.
"Well?" Vynce asked as I hung up the phone. Markie fussed briefly when his uncle stopped spooning pureed chicken and rice into his mouth. He got his attention again by grabbing at the spoon. I took over while I explained.
"There really is an X-files division of the FBI, there really are agents from that office named Mulder and Scully, and they fit the physical descriptions of the two loonies we just spoke to."
"So they are for real."
"Seems like it."
We both looked at Markie.
"Are you..." he hesitated. "worried?"
"No, of course not," I declared, handing him back the baby spoon so I could start on our dinner. I don't think I fooled either of us.
I woke from a sound sleep, my pulse racing. I looked around the room half expecting to find some fairy tale horror, be it a witch or a monster, leering at me. Not that they'd get much of a thrill, given my favorite things to sleep in are sweatpants and a t-shirt. Of course there was nothing there. I must have been dreaming of something strange like that.
Checking the clock I saw that it was about six hours since Vynce went home, and four since the baby fell asleep. The house was quiet. Too quiet, you know what I mean? Once I shut off the white noise machine by my bed, there wasn't a single sound. I threw off the covers, deciding to see how Markie and Chase were.
Chase was curled up in his doggy bed in the upstairs hallway. I'd tried putting the bed in other parts of the house, but he cried and whined all night if he wasn't allowed to at least be near the bedrooms. One of my rules is that nothing with more than two legs is ever allowed to sleep in bedrooms. He snorted in his sleep and stretched when I reached down to pet him, so I stopped worrying about him, at least.
I'll admit it, I worried when I when I went to open Markie's door. Moonlight filled the room, filtering in through the thin curtains. He was lying on his belly, one thumb an inch from his slightly parted lips. I just stood over the crib, thinking.
What on earth could make those two fools think that he was anything but the happy healthy infant he had always been. I shook my head, pitying the people who'd gone to them for help. They must have been really insecure to glom on to some sort of fantastical explanation for their babies not being perfect. Of course they aren't, not only are they babies, they're people too, so imperfect by nature.
As I crawled back into bed I hoped I'd never hear from or see either of the agents again.
Alas, my wish didn't come true. I got a phone call Agent Mulder four days later. I was sort of relived to talk to the crazy rather than the ice queen, but really, I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing from them and shed no tears over it.
I thought I did an adequate job conveying my displeasure at hearing from him by answering the phone, "Oh. It's you," but he blathered on as if he couldn't comprehend someone not wanting to talk to him. Maybe he really couldn't.
"We got the DNA comparison back," he told me, after babbling at length about how fortunate it was that the researchers had in fact done a typing as I suggested they might have.
"And?" I put in a special effort to sound impatient, since he didn't seem to pick up subtle clues. Maybe he wasn't allowed much human contact as a child, but he was too well spoken to have been raised by wolves.
"And they're the same," he admitted.
"Of course they are! Did any of the other babies you were concerned about turn out to be changelings?"
"I'm not at liberty to discuss that," he said stiffly.
I held the phone away and snorted. The answer was obviously no. I was about to say good-bye when he started talking again. "I theorized an explanation for the DNA being the same."
"Because he's not a changeling?" I went with the obvious.
"No. Ms. Phile, have you ever considered the possibility that you yourself are not human?"
Good lord. I was beginning to wish I was speaking to his partner. She might be cold, but she seemed saner. "If not human, than what?" I asked through gritted teeth.
"Well, legend has it that there are any number of fairy folk in Ireland, elves for example-"
I was feeling ire, anyway. "But I'm from the US."
"Well, yes, but I'm thinking your ancestors. You're obviously one hundred present Irish-"
"I'm not-" I objected, but he cut me off.
"I mean look at you, elves are short, you're short-"
"So is your partner."
He ignored me. "Red hair, blue eyes, that fair skin-"
"Which also describes your partner. Do you think she's an elf?"
"No. She's childless," he said, as if that was an explanation. "How do you explain the rune you were wearing the day we saw you?" he challenged. "What does it mean?"
I shrugged. "It's just a symbol of fire and creativity, nothing sinister. I wear it often."
"Exactly! Why would you wear it often if you weren't Irish?"
"But a lot of people wear them, few of them Irish. I had an Indian friend in college who loved them."
"Native American," he said primly.
"What? Oh, no. Indian as in from India." I wondered if he was as PC about anything else. Probably was, just so he could go around correcting people. He seemed like the type.
"Even if the rune means nothing as you claim, there's still the issue of your pointy ears-"
"My ears are not pointy!" I said shrilly. "Besides, red hair is more common in the Scottish, which I am partly, anyway." This was ridiculous. It was like trying to argue with the wind. I paused for a moment, because I suddenly realized what he'd been getting at. "Wait, are you implying that, as someone not human, I kidnapped my own baby and replaced him with...my baby?" I asked, my voice rising further.
"Something like that," he admitted. "It would explain why Markie seems to be the same baby. Because he is."
"Agent Mulder, I suggest you contact your mental health professional, and discuss having your medication adjusted," I said icily. Then I hung up on him.
I thought he'd probably be committed before I had to deal with him again.
My life entered into a blissful one month agent-free period, during which the idea of deranged FBI employees and changelings took on the quality of a dream. A really bad dream, but a dream nonetheless. My perfectly human thankyouverymuch family went back to our normal life.
Which is why I naively opened the door on the first knock, incorrectly assuming that it was the Fedex guy delivering the books I'd ordered online. Imagine my dismay. "Oh God, it's you again. What now?" I asked, already admitting defeat as I opened the door wider to let them in.
Chase seemed to remember them, because he growled softly from under the safety of a kitchen chair. I knew exactly how he felt.
Though not wearing all black this time, they didn't go any better with my furniture. "Did you find new evidence of Markie being a changeling, or of my being an elf?"
Agent Scully shot agent Mulder a scathing look. Interesting. I wondered if he'd discussed his elf theory with her before telling me about it.
"No," Agent Mulder said meekly. He'd definitely been chewed out.
"What is it then? Are you concerned that Poland Springs water is not, in fact, what it means to be from Maine? Worried that America's Stonehenge has no connection to the one in the UK?" I'll admit it, I was enjoying being bitchy. You can't tell me they didn't deserve it.
They didn't even seem phased by the abuse. Made me wonder how many other people they annoyed into similar outbursts. It wouldn't surprise me if it had been many.
To my surprise, it was not agent Mulder who spouted a new wacky theory. "Ms. Phile, the last time we were hear, I couldn't help but notice the scar on your right hand. Do you mind me asking how long you've had it?" Agent Scully asked carefully.
The fact was that I did mind, but since she was being polite... I turned over my right hand, and looked at it. Right below the thumb, on that fleshy part of the hand, there is a somewhat impressive scar. Slightly over an inch long, a lightning bolt shape is surrounded by seven circles- four on the left side, three on the other. I have no idea why there's not a fourth scar on the right side as well, since the needle putting in the stitch had gone through there too. "Since a couple of weeks before my thirteen birthday." I told her.
Instead of asking the next logical question, 'how did you get it' - which was a bit of clumsiness on my part while not being careful enough with a box cutter- Mulder asked, "Have you ever experienced any missing time?"
I blinked in confusion. "Missing how?"
"Time you can't account for. When you should have memories but don't," Agent Mulder clarified. Or at least attempted to, since I still didn't know what they were getting at.
"No, I've never had any memory loss." I'd never been a heavy drinker- or even a light one- and only had the one personality, such as it was, so why would I?
"Do you get headaches?" Scully asked, looking oddly concerned.
"Sometimes." Especially when talking to them. But I was nice and didn't say that.
"Chronic sinus problems?"
"I have hayfever, but it's not too bad. When I was younger I got sinus infections every year, but I haven't had one since I got out of college."
"Do you have any vague memories of a medical nature you can't account for?" Mulder asked.
"Well, no. The only time I ever was operated on was to remove my front teeth when I was two. They came in with no enamel, and the doctors worried that they would become septic if they weren't removed. I have a vague memory of an operating table and a bright shinning light. I mean, it has to be a memory of that, or else I was kidnapped by aliens." I joked.
The expressions on their faces suggested that they didn't find my joke funny. In fact they were looking at me like there was a distinct impression that the idea had already occurred to them. "You don't honestly think I've been adducted by aliens, do you?"
"Have you ever woken up at night and not been able to move?" Mulder droned on, apparently not intent on answering my question.
"No. Beyond an arm that's gone to sleep from sleeping on it, I've never woken up unable move every part of my body."
"Do you ever have flashes of an object you don't think you're really seen? Faces with almond eyes, needles, an examine table, malformed babies, things like that."
"No, but occasionally I imagine someone trying to kill themselves with a bagel slicer or a paper cutter," I told them, wondering what they'd make of it. I really don't like those unbidden images. Scully raised her eyebrow, but Mulder's expression didn't change. But, as I'd seen it, he didn't have many.
"Have you ever woken up and found there were strangers in your room that were not quite...human?" Mulder asked.
"No. Well, yes, there was that one time, but it wasn't real. I found out I'm allergic to the sleeping pill Ambien, and it makes me hallucinate as well as throw up a lot. There was a 5 foot wide spider and a giant hand too, so I'm sure it wasn't aliens."
"Do you ever hear a strange sourceless humming?"
"I can hear the whine that all computers and TVs make, but I've got good high pitch hearing. I hear dog whistles too."
"Mulder, enough with the questions," Agent Scully said abruptly. I could have hugged her. But then she grabbed her hair in one fist and pointed to the back of her neck. "Do you see that scar? That's where someone-"
"Aliens," Mulder corrected.
She ignored him. "Where someone put an implant in my neck. I believe the implant is what caused my cancer."
"You have cancer?" I blurted out. There's a long history of cancer in my family, so it made me more than normally sympathetic towards those with the disease.
"No, not any more. However, everyone else I know with those implants died of it because it was discovered too late. I'd hate to see that happen to someone else."
"But I don't have a scar on my neck," I lied.
Before I could blink, agent Mulder had tugged down the collar of my shirt an inch or so. I was furious. "You don't, do you?"
I'd had the scar around the base of my neck since I was a baby, and it was the first time anyone had notice it, at least to my knowledge, when I was wearing anything less revealing than a bathing suit. I'd spent a couple of days with a baby-sitter and one of the older kids had put a rubber band around my chubby little neck. It hadn't be discovered until my mom was brushing my hair the night they'd picked me up, and by then whatever cut there had been began to heal over the rubber band. There'd been an e.r. visit I'm fortunate enough not to remember since it involved cutting the skin. It'd barely noticeable, so I thought my fib was believable enough. Apparently not.
I hastily explained the story to them, but they both shook their heads. "How do you know that's what happened?" Agent Mulder asked me.
"Because my parents told me that's what happened, and they wouldn't lie to me about it."
"Your parents never lied to you?" He looked like he found that hard to believe. I fleetingly thought of my parents' promise that we'd never move again which had been broken twice more after they made it.
Agent Scully, however, was a little more tactful. "I think it would be best to have it checked out, just to be on the safe side."
I'm not thrilled by the idea of doctor's visits that don't involve life or death illnesses. "What would 'checked out' entail?" I asked nervously.
"Just some x-rays. That's all that was needed to discover the thing that was put in my neck."
"By aliens," Mulder chimed. What was with him and aliens? I wondered if he was a star trek fan. He probably went to conventions dressed as Spock, the unfeeling alien was probably an easy act for him to emulate.
"Well...If it's just X-rays..." I could handle x-rays, I'd had a series done before. Besides there would be no getting rid of them until I agreed, so it would be best to get it over with as soon as possible.
The most annoying thing was the waiting around for the x-rays to be developed. Apparently there's no such thing as a rush job, even it's requested by an FBI agent who happens to be a doctor as well. The x-rays themselves were no big deal, but I did want to ask to be shown the ones of my knees. I've always wondered if they're shaped wrong or what. I didn't get the chance to ask though, since agent Scully wandered off with the x-rays as soon as they were handed to her. I thought that was a bit rude, so I trailed along after her.
She pursed her lips and started at the x-ray she first put up on the light. Model skulls are all smooth surfaces and regularity, but our real skulls are shaped funny. At least mine is. There didn't however, seem to be anything in my neck, which suited me fine.
Frowning, she slapped the x-ray of my right hand up next to it. Looking at it, it's sort of surprising that all the bones in it are prefect. Being the right hand for very little, it's been far more frequently injured (usually while holding something for use by the other hand) than it's more useful mate. I've yet to break any bone though. Knock on wood. Vynce managed to break both arms and a wrist all at once, so I'm not sure why I haven't since it looks like mom passed along her breakable bones to at least one of us.
Scully went through the rest of the x-rays while I watched. I may not be a doctor, but even I could tell that there weren't any random implants in any of them. "Nothing there, right?" I asked.
"Right," she said, not sounding like the answer pleased her. I hoped it was more because she didn't like being wrong than out of disappointment that I didn't have a cancer-causing implant.
"Is agent Mulder likely to believe you when you tell him?" I pressed.
"He'll believe me. Even he doesn't doubt my medical opinion."
"Ok, then. I'm going home now, and I'm going to believe this is the last I'll ever hear about alien abductions. If little green men show up at my house, I've got your card and I'll give you a call."
Whatever. I shrugged and got my stuff while she went to talk to Mulder. I didn't hang around long, but he almost looked disappointed. It must be upsetting to be wrong so often. After I left I realized I never did get a look at my knees. It wasn't worth talking to them again, so I told myself it didn't matter.
I was on the phone with my best friend negotiating the usual movie terms- what movie, when could I get a sitter, and near whose house- when they next darkened my doorstep. I thought I'd made it clear that I wasn't expecting to have anything further to do with them after the x-ray fieldtrip, yet there they were, hanging around the yard.
I guess I swore, because Colleen asked me what was wrong. "There are FBI agents in my yard."
"Really. I told you about them. They keep bugging me about stupid stuff."
"If you wanted to get off the phone, you could just tell me," she said, sounding hurt. "And you sound schizophrenic when you claim there are imaginary people bothering you. I understand, but a lot of people might not realize you're kidding. " She added in a concerned tone.
"For God's sake, I'm not making it up! There really are FBI agents here."
"Right," she said sarcastically.
I rolled my eyes and opened the door, thrusting the phone in agent Mulder's face. "Tell my friend who you are," I demanded.
He shrugged slightly. "This is special agent Fox Mulder."
Fox?! No wonder he'd never mentioned his first name before. I yanked the phone back. "Satisfied that I'm not just blowing you off?" I asked Colleen.
"That's... really an FBI agent!"
"I know. I'll talk to you later, ok?" I said, hanging up 30 seconds later.
"Now that you've made me cut my phone call short, what the hell do you want?" I asked.
"We wanted to talk to you about your late husband," Agent Mulder said with no preamble.
I bet I turned pale. Even people with a peaches and cream complexion get whiter sometimes. "What do you want to talk about Jason for?" I asked, my voice cracking a little.
"There's something we need to talk to you about concerning his death." Mulder told me.
It took a lot to keep me from running out of the room. It had only been a year since Jason died. My way of dealing with mourning is pretending that everything is ok. As long as people go along with me and help me pretend, I'm fine. When people bring it up, all the nice defenses I built up start to fall down, and I don't like those people much. Good thing it was agent Mulder, I already didn't like him.
"It was an accident, what's there to talk about?" I asked, all along thinking, if he says anything about aliens I swear to God I'll kill him.
"Yes...but there's something strange that surrounds the circumstance of the accident," he said slowly.
Well, he had me there. Some girls swoon over musicians, but not me. Over the years I had known several really nice, really self-absorbed men who sang. They made nice friends, but they didn't "do it for me" if you know what I mean. It almost seemed like fate that I, independent film buff, Ms. I've-never-seen-Pretty-Woman-but-can-give-you-synopsises-to-two-dozen-movies-you've-never-heard-of-without-pausing-for-breath, would end up with an indie-film maker.
Jason was a great guy, and I felt lucky to have him. Alas, it's like they say, all good things must come to and end; we were only married for a year and a half before the accident took his life. It was a stupid senseless accident.
He got the idea from watching several knock-offs of the crocodile hunter. His idea was to make a film about the dangerous lengths wannabe nature show hosts went to in order to draw an audience, any audience. It was supposed to be a mocking sort of expose' on "Nature with Norm," a cheesy public access show.
Norm, a balding 30-something who wore a pit helmet and other garb more suited to the African savanna than the "wilds" of southern Maine, spent most of his show's allotted minutes making up ridiculous claims about the ferocity of mundane animals. It made for entertainment, as long as you enjoyed watching TV MST-3000 style.
Since none of the animals were particularly dangerous, it was just supposed to be an entertaining lark of a project, that might make real money once it was printed. No one on the project could have foreseen the tragic turn of events. And I certainly hadn't.
Norm, thrilled to death to be the focus of an authentic movie-maker, played it up for all he was worth. Jason was interviewing the manic host about his vast collection of harmless reptiles - which were kept in thick glass tanks on a series of heavy but none to stable wooden bookcases- when Norm rushed over to get a particularly dangerous specimen of common tree-toad to show the audience when it happened.
He tripped in his eagerness to get the animal, and stumbled into one of the bookcases. That case knocked into another, which crashed down on poor Jason who hadn't had time to get out of the way. He was dead by the time they unearthed him from under the bookcase, shattered tank, and lacerated reptiles. Norm was removed from the scene under sedation, and never took up with the nature show even after being released from the hospital.
" What about his death are you planning to investigate?" I asked through clenched teeth.
"I have a video- " Agent Mulder said, making a move to reach into his coat. Agent Scully kicked him in the shin. Hard. Which made me pretty sure of what was on the tape, the thought of which made my stomach churn. His hand dropped back to his side, still empty. "Anyway, I wonder if you're familiar with a phenomena referred to as a rain of toads?"
Scully quickly jumped in "While they're observed often enough to validate their occurrence, scientists think it's caused by-"
"I know what a rain of toads is, and am familiar with both the scientific theory and the biblical connection," I said shortly. "And given that neither explanation can account for such a thing happening inside a building, I'm going to ask you to leave now while I'm still master of my emotions and actions."
At that I opened the door and glared at them until they walked out. Fortunately for them they didn't say another word.
Once they were gone, I sat down at the computer and tried to figure out if it was possible to get a restraining order against insane law enforcement agents.
My mother tells me stories about my grandmother sometimes. I only knew her for a little while since she died when I was seven, but she sounded like a character. Some of the stories are funny, and some are sad because she was very neurotic. (it explains my mother somewhat, although she won't talk to you if you imply she's anything like her mother.) One of the latter stories is about how she couldn't deal with money. My mom remembers her hiding from the paper-boy because my grandfather forgot to leave the paper money before work one morning.
When I hear a car in the driveway, and looked out the window, my grandmother's tactic seemed very inviting. Sadly, since I'm more stable than my late grandmother, I behaved like a big girl and let the agents in, as much as I didn't want to; nothing I'd looked up the week before suggested that a restraining order was a realistic option.
I was past the point of politeness, however. "Come on, spit it out. What is it that you're concerned with now? Are their spacemen living in my well? Is the neighbor a werewolf? Are we all in danger of being attacked by ALF? What?!" I ranted.
Amazingly, agent Mulder smiled. At least his lips moved slightly, so I thought it might be a smile. "We're not here because of an investigation."
I gawked at him. "So what, this is a social call, then?"
"No," Agent Scully said smoothly. "It's a business call."
I sat at the kitchen table. I didn't offer them seats since I didn't care if they stood or not. "I'm not sure I understand." Then I corrected myself. "No, I'm SURE I don't understand."
"You've passed the test," Agent Mulder said with something like a grin. I think I liked him better expressionless.
"What agent Mulder means is that we find it difficult to recruit to our division," Scully told me.
"So?" I still didn't know what they were getting at. The last test I'd taken was a practicum on how to safely and humanely restrain a person who is out of control. Even if it became necessary to restrain either agent, it wasn't practical, since you're not supposed to attempt to restrain an adult on your own. I had a feeling that that wasn't the test he meant, though.
Agent Scully gave agent Mulder a pointed look. "Since this was Mulder's idea, I think that I'll let him explain things."
Oh great, this ought to be good.
Agent Mulder looked at me and said, "As Scully mentioned, it's difficult to recruit people to work with our division. The problem with the paranormal is there are only three responses to it: unwavering acceptance, skepticism, or most desirably, a willingness to weigh the evidence of each thing before coming to a conclusion."
Scully muttered something under her breath about Mulder that I couldn't quite hear.
I gave them a blank look. "I'm sorry you can't just find someone at a temp agency, but I don't see what it has to do with pestering me."
"For such a small area of the country, New England is rift with strange occurrences, many of which can only be chalked up to the paranormal," Agent Scully said in a strangely reluctant tone.
"And we've been looking for someone to help us out. A regional person on retainer to assist with cases in the area," Mulder said.
Finally, it clicked. "Wait. Do you mean me?"
"Yes, if you're willing," Agent Scully said.
"All of this....this...stuff was to test me?!" My voice rose along with my temper.
"We had to figure out if you were able to suitably deal with extreme possibilities, and you are. Most people would have either worshipped us or done something violent long before now," Agent Mulder said. "You're exactly the type of person we want to work with us."
It was mind-blowing. None of it had been real, they were just testing me. Un-fricking-real. "Why me? Did you throw a dart a the phone book or what?"
"No. We picked you because of something you wrote," Agent Scully said.
Something I wrote? I wrote all the time, so it didn't narrow it down much. "Which thing I wrote?" I asked slowly.
"A research paper entitled ' Ghosts Among The Living.' It was very well thought out and presented a balance view on the subject," Mulder said.
I stared at him. "You picked me because of something I wrote eight years ago in my Freshman English class? How did you even get that? That's not something I put on the Internet."
Agent Mulder shrugged. "People send us things they think will be of interest. Probably your professor."
I wondered if it was too late to take action against her. Probably, she'd left at the end of that year. "I...I...I..." I gave up and stared at my hands.
Neither of them said anything for a moment, then agent Scully broke the silence. "So, will you take the position? It's not very time-intensive, but it does come with a generous stipend."
Before my brain had time to catch up, my mouth opened and said, "Sure. I'd love to." Now why did I say that?? Both agents were thrilled and said they hoped we'd be working together soon. They were alone in that sentiment.
Three Months Later...
"No! Nononono!" Markie yelled, running very quickly. I'd been thrilled when he started walking, but now that I was trying to chase him down for a bath, I missed the pre-mobile baby he'd been so recently.
As inevitably happens when you're trying to catch a young toddler, the doorbell rang. "Come in!" I yelled, catching Markie as he howled in protest.
"Sorry to catch you at a bad time," Agent Scully apologized.
"It's ok. I was just trying to catch him for a bath."
"No bath," Markie protested loudly.
"I'm afraid that his bath is going to have to wait," Mulder said. "We need you to come with us right now."
"Now? I don't think there's anyone at my folks house at the moment would could watch Markie, and I don't have a regular baby-sitter." I fretted. While I had agreed to offer them help whenever they were in the area, I hadn't expected it to be a drop of the hat sort of situation. So far I hadn't done anything for them, so the fact that it'd be my first "case" made me nervous too. Not that I thought they'd expect too much from me, I was supposed to be a consultant, not an FBI agent, after all.
"It won't be dangerous, so you can bring him along," Agent Scully replied.
I didn't like the idea of carting around a one-year-old while looking for little green men. "You're sure it's not dangerous?"
"Positive. Have you ever heard about the hauntings of the shoal islands?" Mulder asked me.
"Sure. Captain Kidd was supposed to have buried his treasure on one of the islands, and there's a ghost who looks for constantly."
"Not constantly," Mulder corrected. "Only during a full moon while there's a thunderstorm."
I'd lived in New Hampshire most of my life, but I'd never heard those conditionals. I shrugged, it was possible, the shoals ghost wasn't a very widespread story so maybe I hadn't heard all the details. The sky was turning cloudy, so maybe it was going to storm. "It's the full moon tonight?"
"So what's the game plan, are you planning to arrest the ghost or something?" I smiled wryly.
"We're going to see if there's a way to catch the image on tape. You are willing to help us, aren't you?" Mulder asked with puppy dog eyes.
I've always been fascinated with ghosts...not to mention the promised stipend was attractive. "Sure, why not, but first let me get Markie dressed for going out in the rain."
I would probably regret helping them, but it was a nice switch: being around them without being the focus of the investigation. Besides, we can all use a little adventure in our lives.
The sky darkened rapidly from bright sunshine to gloominess as agent Mulder's car brought us closer to where we'd be launching off from. I glanced over at Markie in his car seat, and thought about Chase being back at the house. I wished again that there had been time to get someone to look after them, but there hadn't been time. Chase was probably safe enough, but would Markie be? I hoped that Scully was right about it not being dangerous. Still, the thought made me shiver.
The weather didn't hint at improvement, because the sky was completely leaden by the time we got to the boat launch. Scully dashed up to the man who'd been waiting for us, to get the keys. He frowned, and I think he was lecturing her about going out in this weather. He sort of had a point. It wasn't raining yet, but I covered Markie's head with a blanket anyway, just in case. Surprisingly considerate of him, Mulder carried the car seat to the boat. I honestly appreciated that since I had my hands full between carrying Markie and his diaper-bag plus lugging the sturdy metal-framed baby carrier I'd need to use later. I don't think he heard my thank you over the wind, though. Scully let us into the cabin not a second too soon, because the clouds burst just as Mulder shut the hatch behind us.
It wasn't as small a boat as I'd been picturing. I thought there would be a tiny cabin for the controls, and the rest open, but the cabin took up most of the boat's surface, and there were only narrow walkways above the hull. I wondered if the boat's owner had a small child as well, since one of the two benches in the roomy cabin had catches for a car seat like Markie's. I gave Mulder a hand setting it up, before putting Markie back in it.
Of the four of us, Markie seemed the most at ease. His eyes sparkled as he craned his neck to gawk at the cabin's interior, obviously fascinated. The sight of Mulder putting on a life vest made him grin toothily. At least one of us was having a good time.
"You've used a boat like this before?" I asked, giving the controls a nervous glance. I'm not fond of water, so I'd only been on boats a handful of times before, and I'd certainly never piloted one.
"Yes," Scully said, handing me a life-vest while tossing a small one to Mulder, presumably for the baby. "We've had to use boats on a couple of cases before." She didn't look me in the eye as she put her own vest on, and there was something in the careful way she did it that made me wonder if they'd been a necessity on either of the other cases. I made sure mine was tight too.
"What sort of cases?" I tried to sound casual.
Mulder frown at me. "That's classified."
"I see. You can drag me and my child out here to help you, but you can't tell me anything about your other cases. Great." I knew I was being childish, but I didn't care at that point. It was better to be fed up than scared.
"We were looking for a missing ship in one case, and investigating the deaths of some people that had been caused by an aquatic animal." Scully told me.
"That's all I wanted to know," I said grumpily.
The rain picked up then, and the light turned strange. Instead of gray gloom, the many windows of the cabin let in an eerie blue light. That sort of thing looks nice in the movies, but it's sort of frightening in real life. When the flashes of lightning started, I'd been sure that they'd upset Markie since he never took storms very well at home, but it seemed that the gentle rocking of the boat as Scully drove it through the water had caused him to drift off to sleep. I myself was none so relaxed, and it made me feel a little better to see that Mulder didn't seem to be bearing up much better than me, at least gauging from the way his hands gripped onto the edge of the bench he sat upon. Every lightning strike lit up only a few of the windows because the boat moved so fast- the lighting in the cabin kaleidoscoped blue and brilliant white.
The further we got from shore, the worse the storm got. It explained why there had been no other boats out when we left. I was beginning to worry that we'd signed out own death warrants by embarking on a foolish trip in this weather, much like those who died in that horrible book, the Perfect Storm, but it was only another couple of minutes before land was visible through the window Scully was standing in front of.
Looking at it, I wasn't entirely sure if I should be relieved or not. Yes, there the island was, even a dock, but the rest of it...Boulders were scattered along the beach, poking up jaggedly. A few pitiful trees, obviously twisted and stunted from the constant abuse of the tide and storms were the only sign of life. It was obvious at a glance that the island wasn't capable of supporting anything more complex. At the very center of the island there was a wrought iron fence marking off a lawn-less yard.
Smack dab in middle of the "yard" there stood one of the biggest mansions I'd ever seen, not counting the ones down in Rode Island. It was a weathered black, in obvious need of a good paint job and a few new shutters. Other than that, it looked fairly sound. I really didn't want to go in there.
The look on Scully's face seemed to suggest an unhappy familiarity with the place. I was pretty sure she didn't want to go in there either. Mulder, on the other hand seemed to be boyishly excited about the prospect, his calm returning the second that we pulled up to the dock. He seemed eager when he went out to drop the anchor.
"Have you been here before?" I asked her once he'd gone out to play. " You looked like you'd seen this place before."
"What? Oh...no, it just reminded me of some place we investigated a while back." I didn't have to be a mind-reader to know that whatever had happened then was not a happy memory for her. She gave me a weak smile. "The weather's pretty rough, so don't be tempted to take the life vest off, ok?"
I looked out at the pounding rain making the dock slippery, and the roiling water splashing up onto it from below. "No problem." The last thing we'd need was for someone to get washed off the dock without their vest on.
Mulder waved at us, urging us to come out. "I guess we better get going," she said, sounding as reluctant as I felt.
I nodded, and put Markie's rain hat on. I hoped I could get him into the baby carrier without waking him since he was already wearing his raincoat like I was, but I didn't count on it. He barely stirred when I picked the carrier up and strapped it to my back, the life vest made it uncomfortable. I was thankful for that small miracle as I followed Scully out of the boat. She and Mulder divvied up the bags of equipment they were hoping would prove to be useful.
Once we were on the dock, it proved to be as slippery as I'd feared, and I was surprised no one fell off. We made a point to get off of it as soon as we could. Unfortunately, the beach path was little better. The rain made it soggy and small rivulets carved through it at random, making the path treacherous. The gate gave an angry squeak as Mulder push it open for us, but it didn't otherwise impede out efforts to reach the building. I think Scully and I were both more relieved to be standing on the house's front porch a few minutes later than either of us could have anticipated from the boat.
"Which one of you has the keys?" I asked, shivering. The porch's roof keep the worst of the rain off of us, but the wind still made the air quite raw. I was glad I'd thought to dress the baby warmer than I usually would for that part of the fall.
"There aren't any keys. No one has lived here for seventy years," Mulder said, with no apparent dismay.
"Then how are we supposed to get in?"
"Like this," he said, turning the doorknob and opening the door easily. I stepped in after him and Scully. For some reason, they both turned and gave the door a look like they expected it to slam close behind us. When it didn't, I shrugged and closed it. Their apprehensive looks disappeared.
The inside wasn't nearly as dirty or smelly as I'd expected a building abandoned during the great depression to be. Oh sure, it was a little dusty and a little musty, but it could almost be ignored, especially in the dimness of twilight. Mulder's eyes lit up, and I saw him reach down for something I couldn't see near the door. When he moved back into the light I saw that he was holding a heavy old cane. "This should come in handy to test the stairs," he told us. "You can't be too careful in a building this age."
I saw what he meant when he carefully lined it up on the stairs, took the railing in his other hand, and leaned all his weight on the cane. He confidently ascended that stair and repeated the process. "I think they're good," he called down to us. We hadn't moved.
"Where were you planning on going?" Scully asked him. I was wondering that too.
"Up to the widow's watch. That'll offer the best view," he said, referring to the glass-enclosed rooms many sea captains had built on their houses so their wives could watch for their returns. Often they didn't so hence the "widow" part of the name.
She frowned at him. "Are you sure that's a good idea? We are in the middle of a severe thunder storm, and it is the highest part of the house."
"It's ok. There are lightning rods on the house too. I saw them from the boat." He then began to test more stairs.
She shook her head. "I think it's going to get dark soon, and we only thought to bring a couple of flashlights with us. I was thinking of looking for some candles or hurricane lanterns."
"Do you think they'd work?" I asked, wondering about things that would have been sitting around seventy or more years.
"It's worth a try. I've got matches on me, and candles don't usually stop working with age. And if we do find any lanterns, we can give them a shot too even if they're less likely to function."
"Ok," I said, "Do you want to look together, or split up?"
"It would probably be more efficient to split up," she said. I'd been hoping she wouldn't say that.
"Ok, sure. We'll, uh, look over this way." I felt in my pocket, and found that I was in luck. The small purple flashlight I'd used to walk Chase the last time if rained was still there. Unfortunately, it was the sort that you had to hold the button down to use. I guess beggars can't be choosers.
Scully left the room about a minute before I did. To cover my delay, I mentally made the pretense that I was looking for candles in that room first, but there really wasn't much to see. It was a typical entry room for a big house like that vast, probably 10x12 or more, and virtually empty. Besides the staircase in the center, there was nothing else. Sighing softly, I headed to the hall opposite of the one Scully had already gone down.
She must have picked the hall that lead to the kitchen, because I didn't find it. The first room I entered was a library. There were several floor-to-ceiling bookcases with glass fronts. Unfortunately, the glass was decorated with an elaborate latticework that served to obscure most of the books' titles. Of the titles I could read, though, they were classics, and it was clear to see every book was leather bound. I would have liked to have spent more time with the books, perhaps even tried to see if there were locks on the bookcases, but it was obvious that there were no portable sources of light. The fireplace did look promising, but it would have to stay put.
The next three doors were locked, but the forth and final one swung open easily. I went in cautiously, peering around at objects lit by the same strange blue light as the boat's cabin had been. The room was better lit than the rest of the house, at least what I'd seen of it, and a glance at the windows revealed this was because there were no curtains. The room seemed to be a shrine; one to a forgotten family. The walls were covered with framed photos.
Unfortunately, the ones nearest the windows were bleached by seventy years of full sunlight. It was impossible to tell what most of them had been pictures of. The others, however, were still clear.
I was fascinated. A family's entire history hung on the walls, and I didn't even know most of my great-grandparents' names. One family grouping - Mom, Dad, and five young kids- stood smiling at the camera. Or rather, all smiled except for one of the middle kids, a curly, fair-haired girl about three years old. I wondered why she was scowling when everyone else looked so happy.
My thoughts returned to the present when I heard Scully shout "Oh, God no!"
I heard the sounds of running footsteps above, so it was obvious that Mulder had heard her shout as well despite being floors above us. Since the shout hadn't woken Markie, who was still breathing on my neck, I personally didn't run. I knew the jostling would definitely wake him, and I didn't want him awake if he didn't need to be.
Given my relative sloth, Mulder was bolting down the stairway in the entry when I got there. If he's frequently given to running around like that, he's lucky not to have broken his neck by then. As it was, he nearly tripped three stairs from the bottom. He stumbled a bit, but was able to grab the railing to keep from falling.
It was his fumbling that finally woke Markie, because his cry of "mama!" made Mulder and I both jump. Apparently Markie just was asking us what was going on since he didn't need anything. Mulder and I exchanged sheepish looks before racing down the other hallway to look for Scully.
We found Scully in the kitchen, surrounded by a scattering of unlit candles. I guessed then that we wouldn't need to rely on our flashlights alone after all. She was standing with her face pressed against the glass. Mulder tapped her on the shoulder, startling her. "Sorry. What's wrong? We both heard you shout."
Instead of answering, she pointed out the window. We leaned over and squinted. It was pretty dark out, but the source of her dismay was immediately apparent. "I thought you dropped the anchor!" she accused Mulder.
He threw his hands up defensively. "I did! The violent waves must have broken the chain."
I watched as our little boat drifted further and further from shore. It was already hopeless, since it was a good half a mile out already. I hoped no one would get the foolish idea that someone out to swim for it. I didn't know about them, but swimming was never a strong suit of mine. I wouldn't drown if you shoved me off a dock or knocked me out of a canoe, but swimming as a form of transporting one's self from one place to another was not a viable option for me.
"It's no problem," Mulder said soothingly. "We can just call the coast guard and tell them what happened..." He drifted to a halt because Scully was shaking her head violently. "No? It's their job to help us, storm or no."
"Try to call them," she said flatly. We both watched as he pulled out his phone to call. 'No service' flashed brightly on the phone's screen. Why are cell phones touted as being good for emergencies if they never work when you really need them to? I swear I'll never buy one.
Mulder sighed in frustration. "Ok, ok. It's not hopeless. Either someone is going to find the boat and get worried enough to contact the owner, or the owner himself is going to realize we never returned the boat late tonight like we were supposed to do. He said he'd check on it in the morning, right? So we'll probably be found early tomorrow."
"I didn't agree to spend the night in a haunted house!" I protested.
"The house isn't haunted. The beach is haunted," Mulder corrected.
"Oh, big difference," I grumbled.
"If we don't get the boat back, the bureau will replace your car seat." He added.
I shook my head. As if my biggest worry was the potential loss of a car seat.
"Did you find any bedrooms?" Scully asked me. "There aren't any down this way."
I shook my head. "No, but three of the five rooms down the hallway I was in were locked. I hope those aren't them."
"There might well be some upstairs. I didn't look around on my way up to the widow's watch," Mulder volunteered.
We made our way up to the second floor, single file. The entire hallway was done in a deep, dark wooden paneling. I didn't like it. Mulder didn't seem to mind it, and made a joke about seeing what was behind "door number one."
The door swung open, revealing a typical bedroom. Nothing too gothic or scary. Ditto for the next four rooms as well. The only difference between them is that two of the rooms had pairs of twin beds, and the rest had queen-sized ones.
"Lots of rooms," I said, to break the silence that was beginning to make me uncomfortable.
"So," Scully began, suddenly business-like. I wondered if it was to mask her own nervousness. "Should we girls take one room or should everyone have their own?"
I glanced at Mulder, suddenly getting the feeling that he might have preferred a third option. I had no idea what gave me that impression, since neither agent had done anything to suggest anything but a profession relationship between them. "I think we should all take a room to ourselves," I said.
"Why?" Scully asked, clearly less than thrilled by the prospect of spending the night in a creepy house in a room to herself.
I didn't really want to explain that a scene in the Haunting of Hill House had made a lasting impression on me. Even if it would keep me from thinking that my roommate touched my hand and then find out it was evil instead. "I just think it would be harder to get Markie to sleep if there was someone else in the room," I invented.
"Then we'll each take a room with a big bed," Mulder said brightly. "I'm starting to like sleeping in a bed." I thought it was a strange thing to say, but Scully didn't even blink, so maybe she knew something I didn't. What did he used to do, sleep on the floor?
To our surprise, the bed linens in the wardrobes were intact and very clean. The wardrobes must have shut very tightly, since there was no sign of must or moths. We made the beds, and when we were making up the one in my room, Scully asked if I wanted to look around for something to use as a makeshift crib. I shivered and decided that I'd rather push the bed against the wall, and use extra quilts from the rooms we weren't using to create a barrier so he wouldn't roll off the bed. "Beds are only supposed to be dangerous for babies too little to roll over," I said to reassure myself as much as her. I just couldn't bear the thought of him not being within arm's reach in this strange place.
Mulder stepped into the room just then. "I hate to break up the party, but we need to decide how we're going to keep watch for the ghost."
"We could do shifts, and if anyone saw anything-"
"When," Mulder corrected.
"Ok, when anyone saw anything, they would wake the others up and meet in the entry way where the windows offer the best view," Scully finished.
Mulder and I agreed that it sounded like a good plan.
The growl of agent Mulder's stomach reminded us that we hadn't even taken the time to stop for fast food on the way to pick up the boat. It was the first in several hours that I'd given to food for anyone but Markie. That tends to happen when you're informed of plans a bare ten minutes in advance.
"Sorry," I said to his stomach, "Unless you like strained carrots, I don't have anything to offer you." At least nothing that Markie wouldn't object to giving up.
Agent Scully seemed more amused than he did, since she smirked and he just turned slightly red. "One of the bags we brought is a cooler," she said. Agent Mulder seemed as surprised to hear that as I did. "I hope everyone likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and apples."
They sounded wonderful, and they were. I bet Scully was the one who kept them from starving to death on stakeouts.
Mulder wolfed down his food, eager to be back up to the creepy widow's watch. Since most people actually like to taste their food as they eat it, Scully and I took a little longer. Once she was done eating, she asked if she could feed Markie, who was finally fully awake. Since he no longer seemed scared of her, I told her to go ahead. "He'll probably want to help, though." I warned, thinking about his growing independent streak.
To my surprise he docilely allowed himself to be fed without any grabbing. She seemed to be enjoying herself as well, and it was easy to see that she had a way with kids- when she wasn't scaring them by being too attentive. I remembered what she said the first time I met her, and it made me sad. I don't usually like to pry, but given the number of personal she and Mulder asked me... "Have you ever given any thought about adoption? You do seem to love kids."
Something in the look she gave me suggested that I hit a nerve. "I tried to adopt a special needs child once," she said softly. "It didn't work out."
"I'm sorry." There was something so somber about the way she said it didn't work out that made me sure that I would regret further questions about what had happened to the child in question.
Before either of us said anything else, Mulder came rushing back down the stairs. "Did you see anything?" Scully asked, turning to give him a surprised look.
"No, it's too early, but I did find something. Look!" He held out both hands into the candlelight, but carefully so whatever it was didn't catch on fire. In one hand he held something sheer and white, and in the other something with thin blue stripes. Apparently there were two things that were sheer since he quickly passed Scully and I each one.
"Isn't this great? They're like brand new, and we won't have to sleep in our clothes!" He exclaimed as he admired the old-fashioned pajamas he was still holding.
Scully nodded, but I wasn't so sure. I don't like nightgowns. I toss and turn so much that they inevitably ride up and knot themselves around my waist or strangle my thighs like a noose. However, it would probably be marginally more comfortable than sleeping in jeans and a sweater, so I eventually nodded too. I was most thankful that I'd shaved my legs earlier that day.
Even though it was relatively early, only a bit before nine, I was happy to take Mulder's suggestion that Scully and I try to sleep while he kept watch for the first few hours. We found the day's events tiring, but he was so excited you'd have thought he was attached to a caffeine IV. He practically skipped up the stairs as he rushed back up to light the candles he found.
Scully yawned as she reached for the doorknob of her room. "If you were wondering, he's always this...enthusiastic when it comes to investigating this sort of thing."
She shrugged. "It makes for few sleepless nights."
A few minutes later, I'd changed the sleepy baby into the blanket sleeper I was glad I'd thought to throw into his diaper bag at the last minute, and struggled into the silly nightgown. Even at the best of times I look several years younger than I am, but in that long nightgown, sheer or not, I looked about 12.
I usually take a long time to fall asleep in a strange bed, but I was in a deep and dreamless sleep almost the instant I put my head on the pillow.
Unfortunately, I woke up a few minutes later to a knock on the door. At least it seemed like a few minutes later. When I saw that it was Scully, I realized that it must actually be hours later. "My turn to watch?" I asked, wishing I owned a functioning watch so I'd know what time it was.
She shook her head. "No. Mulder is right, there's something out there. You can leave Markie here," she added as I reached for him.
I shook my head. Something told me that it would be a very bad idea to follow that advice. Since I know you should follow your intuition, I was holding him, sound asleep, with one of the quilts tucked under my arm, when Scully knocked on Mulder's door.
He yawned as he stumbled into the hallway, looking foolish in the stripped PJs, and all the color drained from his face as he looked at us for some reason.
Laughing shakily, he said "Maybe the nightgowns weren't such a good idea. For a few seconds there you looked like a pair of young, ghostly sisters."
Scully rolled her eyes. I wondered if she was thinking the same thing I was - He had to be one of the only men on earth, who, when faced with two women in practically see-through nightgowns, thinks of ghosts before anything else. No wonder the agents didn't seem to be romantically involved. I found myself curious to know if he'd spent any time in seminary school before joining the FBI.
We went downstairs to the big picture window in the entryway, and I put Markie on the folded up quilt below it before looking out. Scully was right, there was something outside. At first I thought that it was our boat, drifting back to us. Shrouded by fog somehow. But...
It was too big. And not half as solid as a boat ought to be, since it seemed to be made of moonlight and shadows.
"A ghost ship," Mulder breathed, bring one of the video cameras up to his eye. Scully didn't say anything, she just reached for the other video camera while passing me the digital.
I told myself to believe. This was the type of ghost I professed to believe in after all, a memory imprint, played over like film for all eternity. It wasn't a stretch of my beliefs, since there was no reason to believe they were sentient spirits like Casper was reputed to be. Nothing would happen that hadn't many times before, and "they" would never know we were there. I calmed down a little and took pictures. Markie stretched in his sleep as I rhythmically snapped the shutter.
The ship got closer and closer, and the agents muttered excitedly about being in range for unprecedently clear shots. They went silent when it stopped right at the dock.
I suddenly thought of something. "I thought there was supposed to be a ghost haunting the shoals. A. Singular. Not an entire ship."
Mulder shrugged, not tearing his view from the window. "It's a little known story with scant detail. Perhaps people for got this particular detail."
It seemed like a big thing to leave out, but I wasn't the trained FBI agent with a background in the supernatural with scores of cases under my belt, so I didn't say anything. I should have.
A flag unfurled, unbelievably revealing a skull and crossbones. As misty shapes spilled out of the ship and onto the dock, my mind reeled. I'd never given the pirate stories for this area much credence. Nice stories, but a reality of sleepy New England's past? Real pirates were Barbary Coast stuff, abounding in warm lagoons rather than off the frigid and rocky-shored Atlantic.
Yet there they were on the dock, shading their eyes from the moon as they looked for something along the beach.
"They should begin digging soon," Mulder said with an excited lilt to his voice. I was still getting used to him speaking in anything but an aggravating monotone.
"Suppose they'll find the treasure?" I asked.
Scully shook her head. "If there was a treasure buried here in the first place, which is a big if, it was probably found by a living person a long time ago. You don't go around advertising a find like that if you want to keep it."
"How disappointing for the ghosts." I was lining up another picture when we all realized it.
The ghostly pirates had been industriously looking around the beach while we talked, but they weren't now. They were all statue-still, looking at the house. It felt like they were looking at us.
Mulder and Scully abruptly stopped taping, so I knew that they found the ghosts' sudden stillness to be as eerie as I did. We would have gladly welcomed hours' worth of stillness when they began to walk towards the house.
There were no discussions about whether or not the ghosts could get in, or if they were aware of us. Mulder bent down and grabbed Markie, and whispered harshly "Go," before running for the stairs. We didn't need to be told twice.
As we raced up the stairs, our bare feet slapped on the wood, but it wasn't noise enough to mask the creek of the door or the stamp of booted feet as they paced in the entry-way. This was madness. Pirate ghosts broke into houses in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Garfield's Halloween special, not in real life. Mad or not, oh God it was real.
There were three floors to the house, not counting the widow's watch and we ran up all those stairs expecting to be attacked at any moment. They didn't follow us, though, the first floor had all their attention. At least for a while. Even as we reached the third floor we could still hear them.
Things fell in terrific smashes and crashes. It sounded like a tornado might if trapped on one floor of a building. The crashes were punctuated by a repetitive thudding sound, followed by a tortured shrieking I finally realized was the splintering of the locked door as they were battered open; I'd forgotten that wood can make such a shrill sound when you force it. It was clear that they were looking for something, but what? Could it be...us?
I prayed not as Mulder dragged the door to the widow's watch open, allowing us to spill in after him. It looked like a poor refuge, but at least the door was entirely solid with no glass. Which was more than could be said for any of the five other angled walls. Set up in a hexagon, each wall was taken up by a large window. Which was the point, I supposed, but all that glass was hardly reassuring in a lightning storm.
Since Scully was also looking askance at the windows, through which flashes of sheet lightning could be seen with alarming regularity, I was unsurprised that she was worried about the adequacy of the refuge. "Mulder," she sounded nervous. "You know what lightning can do to the human body."
The way she said it made me sure they'd had a case involving people stuck by lightning. I didn't ask questions because I found that I'd lost my appetite for knowing the details of their other cases.
"If you like, we could go back downstairs and look for another hiding place," Mulder suggested dryly.
I shook my head, there was nothing I wanted less. Scully did some backpedaling herself. "If we sit where two of the walls meet, we'll be sheltered more from any strikes at the windows." It made me think of snakes.
"Don't be such a worrywart." Mulder admonished her. "There are lightning rods on the roof, remember?"
She didn't look convinced that they were all that valuable. We picked the corner to the right of the door, since its opposite would have the least glass near them. Unfortunately, there were piles of junk in every corner, so we'd have to move stuff. I glanced nervously at the floor. We would have to be very quiet.
I don't think until that moment any of us realized that Mulder was still holding Markie. Markie, however, made a squeal of protest, and struggled to get to me, apparently tired of being held by a relative stranger. I took him immediately, worried that the ghosts or whatever they were would hear him. The noise below continued unabated, so it didn't seem as though his one small noise had attracted any unwanted noise.
Mulder and Scully worked quickly and quietly, moving cartons junk out from the corner and into the middle of the room. We whispered briefly about whether or not it would be effective to block the door, but decided that in the end it'd probably hinder our escape from the room rather than dissuade the ghosts.
As if there was anything to be gained by escaping the room. True, we were in the room by our own volition, but it was as effective a trap as it would have been if the ghosts were holding us captive. There was no where to go. Even if they confronted us, and we managed to get past them unharmed, there was no where we could go to be safe. We were miles from the mainland. Not too many miles, certainly, but far too many to make an attempt to swim for it.
The thoughts racing through my head made room for another as I felt a familiar tightness in my chest. I gritted my teeth and willed the pain away, knowing it was all in my head, literally. I'd only had a handful of anxiety attacks, but they made a lasting impression, so I recognized instantly that I was probably going to have another one. Always inconveniently time, it was the first time one had made an appearance when I wasn't driving in bad weather. There's a first for everything, I thought grimly.
Something must have shown on my face, because Scully looked up from placing the last of the boxes on the floor and gave me a frown. "You don't look so good," she told me, taking Markie from me.
"I..I just need to sit down," I muttered. I knew if I concentrated on remaining calm, I might be able to stop the anxiety attack in its tracks. I'd been successful once before.
"Panic attack?" she guessed as she took a seat on the floor as well. I nodded miserably, then stopped paying attention to things while I tried to demand my body behave itself. After a couple of minutes the dizziness went away, and my heart no longer thumped painfully in my chest. It still hurt to breathe, but I knew that once it got that far, it'd hurt for a while.
"I'm ok," I told her, giving her a grateful smile and reaching for the baby.
She smiled back. "You look better," she noted the next time the lightning flashed. "Not so pale that you look like you'd..." she trailed off.
"Just seen a ghost?" I supplied, to which she gave a sheepish look. It was funny, we just were feeling a little humor impaired at the time.
Agent Mulder didn't seem to be paying attention to either of us, since he was kneeling by one of the boxes they'd put on the floor. Once he stood up, he was holding a leather bound book in one hand. "I think it's a journal," he said. "It fell out of the last box I moved."
If I'd been feeling better I probably would have made a flip remark about it being the perfect time to find out who the diary owner had a crush on, but I wasn't up to it, so I just rolled my eyes. He noticed. "This could be very valuable," he insisted, taking out his flashlight.
"Do you plan to sell it on E-bay?" Scully asked archly.
"No..," he said, flipping through the pages. "I have a feeling that if we read the last entry, it will help us. Call it a gut feeling."
After he read it, Scully gave him an expectant look. "Well, what does it say?"
He looked chagrined. "It just says 'We're leaving tomorrow.'"
"So much for gut feelings," she scoffed.
"There's got to be something in here." He insisted, finally coming to sit between us. " I just have to look earlier in the book." Mulder insisted stubbornly, as he continued to hold the flashlight in one hand and flip the pages of the book on his lap with the other.
I leaned back against the nearest of the two adjoining walls and didn't fuss when Markie decided to wrap one small fist around a lock of my hair. I usually kept it back when he was awake, but I hadn't thought to do anything with it when Scully woke me up. I realized that it couldn't have even been an hour since then. Which was remarkable for two reasons: it felt like it had been hours and I was able to breathe again without any vise-like feeling when I inhaled. It was a small miracle in hell. Feeling momentarily better, I gently pried the small fingers out of my hair and kissed the little hand they were attached to.
"I've got it!" Mulder exclaimed loudly enough to make Scully and I start. He gave us a sheepish look. Sorry. But I think I found something that will help us."
"In the journal?" Scully gave him a skeptical look. I didn't blame her. That we just happened to find a book with the answers, after it fell out of a box of junk... it was more than a little far-fetched.
"Listen to this," he commanded. "I haven't finished reading the entry, but I've read enough to convince me, anyway. This diary belonged to a child who lived in the house. She was thirteen when she wrote this."
"Read it already," Scully said wearily.
Mulder began to read. "October 14th, 1930 9am. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow, because it's the full moon. Terrible things happen in this house during the full moon, but only once every ten years. The last time it happened I was three, but I remember it still. Momma says I was too young to really remember, but I swear I do.
"It's all my great-grandfather Davis' fault. If you grow up out here, on the islands, you hear the stories. Black beard's wife haunts one, still lonely and lost. And there's the ghost that goes from isle to isle looking for the treasure captain Kid buried here. Little does the ghost know that the treasure no longer exists for him to find.
Grandpa Davis was only a little older than me when he found the treasure. He told my grandfather that he'd been on a camping trip all by himself on this island when he tripped over the treasure. Really. There'd been a bad storm a few days before and it must have washed a lot of sand away, because he was walking on the island when his foot caught on something, and he fell face first on top of it. A little digging revealed a chest, just like in all the pirate songs.
Knowing that it'd be big news if he brought his treasure home, he did the most logical thing and disappeared without telling anyone. He didn't even tell his parents, so they were crazy with grief. He went up to Canada and found someone to give him real money in return for the pirate's gold. The gold was good to find, he said, but a hard thing to spend. He stayed away for six months, then returned wealthy, telling everyone that he'd been coerst into helping a trapper, who'd finally felt badly about taking him away from home so he let him go after paying him his wages. No one ever did find any sign of this man who'd supposedly stolen my 15-year-old grandfather away from home. Of course.
Once he grew up, my great-grandfather returned to the island where he found his treasure, and built a house. This house. He was twenty-five when it was finally finished and he could move in. He figured that since the majority of the legends cited Smutynose island as the place captain Kid visited, there wouldn't be any treasure hunters bothering his family on a tiny no-name island. He was wrong."
" That's spooky," Scully remarked.
" No, I am." Mulder grinned at her, and she smiled back. I have no idea what that was all about.
" That does sound ominous," I agreed.
" Good call," Mulder said, turning the page and beginning to read again. " Everything was fine for the first ten years they lived in the house. He'd married my great-grandmother shortly before moving in, and by the end of the first ten years they'd had the first three of their six children, the youngest of whom was my grandfather. Life was good on their private island, even though they had to go to the mainland for all of their needs.
" Then one night, while my great-grandfather was away on business, everything changed. My grandfather was only five that night, but he still remembers everything and told me everything too. It was a stormy night, but the moon was full-"
" Does it really say that?" I demanded to know. I trusted him more than when I met him, but I was still suspicious.
" Yeah. Right there.' He pointed a finger at the words "stormy" and "moon." "Satisfied?"
When Scully and I both nodded, he went on. " - but the moon was so he could see the beach clearly despite the rain. While looking out the window he thought that he saw a ship, but it was too misty to be real, so he ran to tell his mama about it, sure she'd tell him it was a bad dream- "
"A nightmare," I corrected.
"But to his surprise she saw it too. She ruffled his hair and told him that it was probably the wreck of the Isadore, a ship that had sank off of the shoals in 1845. People had been seeing it ever since. My grandfather thought it was nifty, so he and his older brothers crowded the window to see it."
" That's not the Isadore out there," Scully objected.
Mulder ignored her. "Once the ship got closer, my great-grandmother became alarmed. For one thing, it didn't look like the drawings of the Isadore. For another it was stopping. Once the first of the ghosts got out onto the beach, she gathered up the boys and hid on the third floor."
"Well, at least we know her grandfather survived it, or she wouldn't be writing the journal." I sighed.
"And while they were up there, the ghosts tore up the island, leaving not even a square foot of the sand undisturbed."
" But they didn't bother the house?" Scully asked anxiously.
" Shhh. There's more," Mulder admonished. "My great-grandmother was understandably upset, and demanded that the family leave the island. Predictably, he refused, insisting that the ghosts wouldn't be back. For ten years he was almost right. The ghost who dug up the islands during the full moons put in a few visit, but the ghostly pirate ship didn't return. At least not for ten years.
"When it came back, the ghosts came into the house and tore things up in one room. And they kept coming back, every ten years during the October full moon, each time adding another room to those they would ransack.
"I've only seen the ghosts once, when I was three. It was scary. They killed the gardener-"
"I thought that ghosts weren't able to kill anyone!" I exclaimed, frightened by the idea. Markie jumped.
"They can sure make it look like it, though," Scully muttered. I shot her a look, but she didn't explain.
"My father said that it was an accident, his falling down the stairs like that, but... Old Henry never would have fallen if not for them. He shouted about how the ghosts shouldn't be able to control our lives with fear...and then he fell, breaking his neck. If that's not the ghosts' fault, then, I don't know whose it is. And the next day when they took our pictures they scolded me for not smiling. As if I should be happy the ghosts hadn't killed us all. Even at three I knew it wasn't something to be happy about, even if my father didn't.
"We stayed hidden when the ghosts came that night, but I'm afraid of what happens when they run out of rooms and find us. What if they really did hurt Henry because he confronted them? Will we have any choice but to when they find us? They're almost to the third floor now, just one more room on the second floor, so there are fewer places to hide. Mama is trying to convince Daddy to leave the island but he's as stubborn as his grandfather. They're supposed to be here the next full moon. Tomorrow. I'm afraid."
"And?" Scully asked when he didn't say anything else.
"October 14th, 1930 5pm - We're leaving tomorrow."
"That's it?" she said, sounding annoyed. "How helpful."
"How many rooms on the third floor?" I asked.
"Apropos of nothing," Mulder said sardonically.
"How many rooms?" I persisted.
"Five bedrooms and a bathroom," Scully replied.
"Yes," she said, giving me a puzzled look when I groaned. "Why?"
"They attack the house every ten years, adding a room each time...there was only one room left on the second floor and six on the third...she wrote that 70 years ago..."
"Oh my God," Scully breathed.
"Looks like we get to find out what happens when the ghosts run out of rooms," Mulder said grimly.
The noise was endless. The ghosts themselves made no sounds, no shrieking or gibbering like they do in the movies. No, they were too intend on destruction to bother vocalizing with their fellows. Or perhaps they didn't require voices any longer to communicate. When the sounds of their assault reached the second floor, we flinched. The third, we prayed.
We huddled together, as if nearness could provide comfort, or crowding together, making ourselves smaller, could make us invisible to our foes. If we could have melted into a safe nothingness just then, I think we would have. Although Scully and Mulder were far from what I considered friends, their solid presence next to me was vaguely reassuring. Solidarity in the face of impending death, perhaps.
One large crash made Scully and I both jump, so Mulder, still sitting between us, threw his arms around our waists and drew us closer to him. Neither of us objected as we cuddled against his sides. Despite his terror, he gave us a tense smile. " I'd be enjoying this if I wasn't certain that we're going to die." He sighed. I decided he probably hadn't gone to seminary school after all, but the thought didn't hold the amusement it would under other circumstances.
Markie whined quietly, almost as if he understood Mulder's remark. Probably he just sensed that all three of his adults were scared out of their minds. I'm sure we weren't behaving in a reassuring manner.
I spent a lot of time looking out those windows that were all around us. The storm let up a little, but the moon stubbornly stayed in the sky, refusing to gibe up its rule over the heavens. I stared at it, feeling betrayed. One of those fools who idealized the moon, doodling it, writing poems about it...the moon, then, it simply affirmed that it was still night, and still dangerous. I feared deeply that I'd seen my last sun in ignorance, not knowing that it should be appreciated. I'd wed my allegiance to the wrong celestial body.
As we sat there I was keenly aware of the molding on the door digging into the small of my back. That didn't seem right. You shouldn't be sore while waiting to be ripped limb from limb by vengeful ghosts. I wished I had gold to give them; maybe that would appease them so they'd go away. I wondered if it would hurt. Not liking the sight of blood, I hoped it'd be quick if it was going to be messy.
Mostly, I thought about everything I'd be leaving behind if we didn't survive. And not even important things like friends and family. I couldn't get my mind off the trivial. I'd never see how my favorite shows turned out, I'd never get the computer game I was looking forward to... and so many stories left unfinished. Some of them had readers who'd be unhappy for a while, assuming I simply abandoned them. Then there were the ones no one yet knew about to mourn. Those were even sadder orphans. None of the people I knew online would ever know what happened to me, since there was no one who knew any of my message board haunts that knew me in person. I should have left instructions in my will for informing those people. I should have a will.
Even after Jason's untimely death I thought 26 was too young for a real will. Being that fatalistic just seemed to be courting disaster. Not that it seemed like a valid fear now...all I'd done was to draw up a document leaving Markie to my parents if I died first.
Poor Markie. Would the ghosts spare him? No one should die at a year old-
Almost as if realizing my thoughts were getting very maudlin, Scully spoke up suddenly. "I'm sorry," she said, raising her voice slightly to be heard over a particularly jarring crash from below. Probably one of the wardrobes or bedstands from the sound. I realized she'd been looking at me while making her apology.
"What for?" I asked.
"For saying this wasn't going to be dangerous," she answered miserably. "I hate it when people who work with us get killed."
"When?" I repeated, wide-eyed. "Does this happen often?"
The expression on her face during the next lightning flash suggested that she was making a mental tally. It didn't take long, which was slightly reassuring. "Very rarely."
I nodded wearily. One of the rare few, lucky me.
Right," Mulder spoke up. "The body count is much higher amongst our friends and family than colleagues."
If that was an attempt to make me feel better, it was failing miserably.
I began to wonder if they were going to get all weepy, then, since the apology seemed an admission that they honestly didn't think we were going to get out of this. Perhaps they'd get all melodramatic like people in the movies do when on the brink of death. More apologies, thank yous for being in their lives, confessions of love even, and all that touchy-feely crap. If they were, they might even kiss. Since I couldn't leave the room, I'd have to make do with adverting my eyes. I wrinkled my nose at the thought, desperately hoping they were married to other people and just hadn't gotten around to mentioning it.
Maybe that was the case, or maybe not, either way they didn't say or do anything untoward to each other, not even exchange meaningful looks. Unfortunately, the lack of speaking made our room deadly quiet. All the better to hear the ghosts as they continued their rampage.
When the ghosts got to the last room, Markie wasn't the only one who felt like whimpering in fear. If I had been alone, I would have. Having Mulder and Scully there helped me hang on to my dignity, if barely. All of the sudden the ghosts were not silent.
They howled angrily, and so loudly we could tell that they were all in the hallway below us. Markie sobbed, his face buried against my shoulder. I didn't bother trying to soothe him, like I would when he was normally fearful, but there was no way to do that and be honest. It was not going to be ok. I felt like crying too.
All three of us cringed when the first of the footsteps started on the stairs. They were coming. Instead of howling unearthly, their noises sounded....happy. As if they were anticipating something they'd long look forward to. There was a rush of heavy steps, and they were coming right for us.
I began to pray. I could hear Scully doing so aloud, but Mulder was silent, and his gaze out the windows too stony for a plead for divinity. In a moment of clarity, I understood perfectly that his relationship with God was far more distant than mine was, and that his disillusionment with religion must have been far greater. For a moment I pitied him because he could seek no comfort in the way Scully and I were attempting to. Even though I was pretty sure it wouldn't help, I slipped back into my childhood teachings, and begged God or whoever it was keeping watch to keep us from harm. And all of the sudden it seemed to work.
The footfalls, the excited whine, it all stopped. There was no sound at all. The three of us looked at each other in amazement. We were alive, we were safe. I almost released a breath of relief.
But before I could the doorknob rattled.
One of the ghosts must have snuck up to the top of the stairs on silent feet, cruelly allowing us to believe, however briefly, that they were gone. I imagined an evil grin on the rotted face as he reached out one bony hand to shatter the illusion with a fatal painfulness.
The knob moved slowly, as if our foe was trying to see if it was locked. It was, but it was only one of those slender turn-key locks. Far to frail to keep out evil if it was determined. There was a sudden bang against the door. He must have realized it, too.
We bolted away from the door, coming to stand dead center in the room. Not too close to the windows, not like all the movies in which a hapless victim gets too near to one, and flails backwards and through the piercing glass in their fright. Even then my mind was on movies. This sort of thing only happened in movies. Oh, I wanted desperately to believe it was a movie or a dream...
Mulder's right hand twitched towards his waist, and I realized he must have been thinking about his gun. It fell away in defeat; a gun was ineffective against someone already dead. The first experimental blow was followed by several more. A veritable rain of them. Our pirate was determined.
The lock held better than I thought it was going to, and the assault seemed to switch to kicks. Strategically placed, they landed in the middle of one of the door panels, where the door was structurally weakest. Again, and again, and again. The wood began to moan as it gave up its fight to stay together. It began to splinter. It would only be seconds before a thick boot crashed right into our haven, and only a minute more before they fell on us like jackals. I whispered my apologies to Markie as I held him tightly, and either Mulder or Scully began to cry with soft sobbing noises. I didn't turn my head to see who, I didn't need to know.
The kicks went on forever, in time with our heartbeats. Our last heartbeats...both got louder and louder, fighting for our attention.
I thought I saw the ghastly white toe of a boot showing through the break in the door, the crack that was growing. Two or three more kicks...
All of the sudden the sun rose, shining spectrally through the five windows.
Even in our terror, we had to give the sunrise its due, and it stole away all of our attention for one second. It was so still...quiet. We whipped around to look back at the door, bemused at the absence of the terrible pounding that had become so familiar. Nothing.
It was a trick. Another trick. It had to be.
We stood there staring at the door, waiting for the kicks to resume, for what seemed like hours. It probably was only 5 or 10 minutes, but it seemed far longer. As it was it was long enough for our hearts to resume their normal rates, and for Markie to calm down. When his sniffles dried up, we began to hope.
By silent consent, we opened the door. If the ghosts were laying in wait for us to do so, we no longer cared. Waiting had become the worst thing, even worse than the danger of dying. Nothing was there.
Scully rushed to one of the windows, then ran from one to another. " The ship is gone!" She sounded ecstatic. We'd glowered at the ship from those windows before, so we believed her. They were really gone.
We made out way down the stairs gingerly. Every where we looked there was the litter of wrecked furniture, strewn clothes, broken glass from dishes and vases...it looked as much like a tornado had hit as it had sounded. The mattresses from our room where in the doorways, bleeding stuffing. It made us worry about the bags and equipment that we'd left down in the entry way when we'd left in our haste. Every time we had to step over another broken or ripped item, our surety that we'd leave the island with no evidence grew.
So it was to our utter surprise that we found the bags neatly piled in one corner of the room. Mulder grabbed at the nearest bag, and began to go through it quickly. "Looks like nothing is broken." He sounded awed.
Scully had picked up the other bag by then. "This stuff looks fine too."
I gave the last two bags a puzzled look. One was the cooler, which had been left in the kitchen. The other was Markie's baby bag, which I'd used the night before to dress Markie up in the bedroom. "That's just odd..." I murmured.
" What is?" Mulder asked. He must have good hearing.
"Well, the cooler and the baby bag...they were in other rooms last night. Yet here they are with the film and photography equipment bags."
Scully raised an eyebrow. I wish I could do that. I had a friend in college who could do it perfectly. "That is odd," she agreed.
Mulder just shrugged. "Maybe they knew the stuff was ours."
"What do you mean?" I asked, confused.
"Maybe they realized that our stuff didn't belong to the house, so there was no sense in looking through it and destroying it while trying to find the gold," he explained.
Scully shot him a look. "Are you implying that they may not have bothered us, and that we hid for no reason?" Her voice rose, and she looked angry.
"I don't know," he said reasonably. "But I do know that I'm glad that we didn't take the chance. That they didn't bother our stuff because it's just a theory, anyway. Maybe they didn't bother it because it's modern."
"But we're not," I pointed out.
Unfortunately the point was lost on them. "What?" they both asked.
"We're not modern. I mean, yeah, sapiens are the latest model, but people have been people like this for thousands of years. We wouldn't be any different in design than the man who stole their treasure over one hundred years ago." They both nodded slightly, but I knew they didn't get what I meant. I shrugged internally. That's not an unusual outcome to the conversations I engage in
"Anyway... I think we should scout out our rooms and see if they left our clothes intact too," Scully said abruptly. They had, so we got dressed as soon as we were able to pull them out from under the things they ruined. Wrinkled, but not ripped, they were an improvement over the nightclothes.
Not long after that we decided that we could no longer stand to be inside, so we grabbed our things and went out. Toughly sick of being in someone's arms, Markie demanded to be put down. Since the terrain was rough, Scully and I each took one of his hands, after stowing our bags on the porch, and allowed him to toddle around the island to his heart's content. He didn't seem to mind our attempts to figure out how to get off the island while he did it. Mulder was soon acting like a little boy himself, as he bent to point out shells and other things of interest to my son. Before long Scully and I got into the spirit of it, squatting down with them to take a look at things too.
Which is why it scared the hell out of us when "Hallo!" floated across the island. My heart skipped a beat, and for a second I thought it was one of the ghosts, back to finish us off. The sheepish looks the agents wore suggested that the same thought had crossed their minds as well.
"Back here!" Mulder called to the unseen man.
An elderly man wearing galoshes and a quilted plaid jacket stomped around to where we were. "Thought it must be you. Saw your stuff up theyah on the porch."
"I didn't know anyone was looking for us," Scully said, self-consciously brushing at her slacks.
"Oh, ayuh. The boat came back last night all on its lonesome, so we figured either you drown or you was on one of the islands. Had to wait til daybreak to look for you, sorry to say." I instantly identified him as a Mainer. That wasn't too surprising, Maine was only a few miles from where we stood.
"I told you someone would come looking for us," Mulder said cheerfully.
I shot him a look. He also told us we were going to die, so he didn't have much to brag about when it came to being right. "Thank you so much for looking for us," I told the man instead.
"Oh, wasn't any trouble. I was just going to be fishing anyway." I think he only caught sight of Markie then when he stepped forward to speak to me, because he bent down suddenly. "Oh, who's this little fellow? You're a cunnin' one, aintcha," he said, gently clucking Markie's chin. "No one mentioned there was a little one with you," he added, looking dismayed.
"He did ok. Liked the adventure, didn't you?" I asked him, tickling the baby to make him giggle. "It's something that will be wicked hard for the rest of us to forget, that's for sure," I added with a smile.
" I'm George, by the way," he mentioned, studying Mulder and Scully.
"I'm Shannon, and this is my son, Markie. And they're agents Mulder and Scully."
"City folk," George said with a faintly disdainful tone. "Not you two, though."
"No. We live in New Hampshire. Just doing our part to help the FBI out," I told him.
"Someone's got to help people from away, or they get themselves killed instead of merely stranded," he muttered, which amused me, but not the agents. He gave Mulder a look that suggested he held him personally responsible for our spending the night on the island, which I didn't disagree with. "Come along, now, I'll drop you on the mainland."
A short time later we were standing at the boat launch, within sight of Mulder's rental car. We thanked George profusely, and explained the situation to the boat's owner, who wasn't angry. His manner suggested that he was glad that we were safe, and must have thought we'd all drowned, which would be on his conscience.
Once we headed back to the car, Agent Mulder paused. "I'm dying to know something..." he said to me.
"Why did George know that Scully and I are 'city folk' and you're not? It can't be clothes, since we're in casual attire today. And you don't have his accent..."
I shrugged. "I don't have a discernible accent because I moved a lot between Massachusetts and New Hampshire growing up, so neither really stuck, but I speak the same words he would, if not with the same accent."
"Ah," he said. "Vocabulary and syntax. Interesting." I rolled my eyes.
"Maybe we should stop for frappes on the way back to my house," I teased.
"Ice cream in October?" Scully asked with a shudder.
"More proof you're from away." I laughed. Up here we like our ice cream all year round, no matter how perverse that seems.
I don't think I was ever so glad to be home as I was that night. Almost as happy as Chase seemed to be that we were back. The agents left promising me that they'd call the next day to let me know if anything showed up on the cameras.
As I shut the door, I knew that they'd also be asking me if the experience had soured me on being their consultant. If I was smart, I'd tell them thanks for the opportunity, but it was just too dangerous, and I'd had enough.
But I'm not that smart. Instead I decided to draw up a better will, and demand that they give me enough time to arrange for child and pet care if they ever wanted me to work with them again. I told them as much when they called the next day, and they agreed to me conditions quite readily.
They were on speakerphone, so I could hear both agents in their office. I idly wondered if it had a nice view. "There was something on the tape..." Mulder was saying.
"And?" I asked.
"And I think that we'll have a hard time proving that it's not a clever fake. Things are pretty hard to see because of the rain."
"Oh." That was disappointing. I'd seen a History Channel special on how hard it is to verify now that computer technology has made spectacularly realistic 'ghosts' a possibility, so I should have thought of that.
"But we have some very adept experts going over it to help verify their authenticity," Mulder told me. "So it wasn't a waste of time, if that's what you were thinking," he added when I'd be quiet for a while.
" No..." I said slowly. "I was thinking about the house. There's something I just don't understand."
"What's that?" Scully asked sounding interested. I bet Mulder had no lingering questions that he hadn't been able to rationalize.
"Well...the girl's diary said that the ghosts returned every ten years to attack the house. Who cleaned it up afterwards?"
"I assume the girl's family did," Scully said, sounding faintly puzzled by the question, as if the answer was completely obvious.
I shook my head, then remembered that I was on the phone. "That only would be true while the family was living there... which we know they hadn't been for seventy years. And we know the ghosts must have visited while the house was empty, since they went through the third floor last night, and she said they'd still had a room left on the second when they left...so who cleaned up the house? And who locked those doors on the first floor?"
"I don't know," Agent Mulder admitted.
I didn't know either. I wondered suddenly if I were to return to the house in a week, a month, or a year, and find it set to right again by parties unknown. The thought made me shudder.