Title: Abominable
Author: Eric Teall
Rating: PG-13 (violence; no sex)
Category: X Spoilers: Bad Blood
Disclaimer: Everything X-Files is used here without permission. Fox and Chris Carter own it all and they deserve all the credit and money.

Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate a mutilation killing linked to "Bigfoot." What they find is even more puzzling: the killer has left absolutely no trace of a weapon, despite multiple lacerations.

Author's notes: Hello, all...

This is my first X-Files story. I'm not asking that you be gentle. What I am asking is this: don't be rude. If you don't like my story, please tell me so and tell me WHY. I need to know what I'm doing wrong in order to improve. If you like my story, tell me that, too. :-)

Anyway, I'll get to it here...


Prologue

12:45 PM
FENNVILLE, MI

"You know, I heard one time that Eskimos have, like, thirty-somethin' different words for 'snow.'"

"Yeah? No kidding."

"Yup. Somethin' about where you live and what you experience, like that. Kinda like how I bet you could think of at least ten different words for rain, right off the top of your head."

The taller man thought about it for a second, gave a disinterested "hmmf!", and looked up to the top of the hill. He had to squint against the morning sun's glare, which shone off the hardened snow that had crusted over the treeless path that they walked. The walk was endless and, to tell the truth, the conversation sucked; this much was certain. But the thing that had really started to get to him was the way his goddamn foot kept pausing for just a second before breaking the top layer of snow.

As if in response to this thought, his stocky companion suddenly fell forward, face first, into the unforgiving snow. He uttered a brief expulsion of air ("Whoulllff!") as he tripped, but the wet snap of his leg was the sound that caught the tall man's attention.

The stocky man fell flat onto the snow, the light ice which shielded the more delicate snow underneath breaking neatly into a hulkish outline of his body with a muffled version of the crunch that followed every one of those maddening pauses that preceded every single step the tall man took. Only after this did the stocky man scream.

"My leg!! Ahhh, gaaad, my stupid-ass leg!" The tall man looked down at his companion with oddly dispassionate surprise.

"My leg!" the stocky man repeated. "Oh, God!!"

"I heard you the first time," the tall main said evenly. The stocky (and crippled) man stopped screaming to consider this. The tall man smiled dryly at his wailing.

"What the HELL, man! I'm dyin' here, and all you can do—DAMN! Oh, my leg!" He paused for breath. "DAMN!!" he wailed again.

The tall man considered the man's situation.

"How the hell did you manage to break your leg in the snow?" he asked finally.

"I don't know!" the cripple sputtered. "What the hell do you think this is? Do you think I planned this? Huh? Do you? DO YOU!"

"I don't know," the tall man replied, noticing the grey-white scrap of bone that jutted out of the man's upper calf, "I mean, you have done some really dumb-ass things before, you kno—"

"DAMN YOU!!!" the cripple replied. "Oh, goddamn it, DAMN YOU, okay?!! OKAY???"

"Okay," the tall man said as evenly as ever.

"I—" the cripple said between sobs, "I'm bleedin' to my DEATH here, and you're asking me these dumb-ass questions! Help me! Pluh—pluh—please! Oh, God, please help me!"

"Okay," the tall man said again. "I'll help you. No problem. But first, how far are we from the house?" The cripple stared at him in goggle-eyed wonder; paused, and then began to cry again.

"The house?!? The stupid HOUSE?!? Damn the house, man! I need to get to a hospital! I need morphine! I need a doctor! I need—"

"What you need," the tall man said, making himself heard over these caterwauling protestations like a substitute teacher over a herd of caffeine-wired students, "is a doctor. You're right." This admission quieted the cripple's screams, but his sobs continued.

"You need a doctor. No doubt. But what you also need is a phone, with which you may call said doctor, right? Now, where are you going to find a phone around here, hmm?" He spread his arms and turned in one circle. "Funny. I don't see any. How about you?" he leaned toward the cripple's face, "Do you see any phones, my crippled friend?"

"Nhuh—nuh—no," the cripple replied finally.

"No," the tall man went on, after a preacher's beat, "En-Oh! What you need, my friend, is a phone, and the nearest phone is at the house, which YOU were supposed to take me to—"

"Don't blame this on me!" the cripple wailed defensively.

"Which YOU were supposed to take me to," the tall man continued, "and which you must now tell me how to GET to, so that I can call a doctor and save your sorry ass. Do you understand?"

The cripple snuffled something that must have been a yes.

"Okay, then." The tall man stood up. "Now, how do I get there?"

After about five minutes of rummaging through the fallen man's backpack, through his half-eaten sandwiches and unashamedly-wrinkled porn mags—and I thought he was shivering in the motel last night. Silly me! the tall man thought—he found the old ski-lodge map that the cripple was using to guide them to the house. He leaned back against the jagged ice-cover and reached his own pack. He took the map and a rather sordid selection from the cripple's reading material and stuffed them in with his gear.

"Okay," he announced, "I'm off. With luck we'll have a doctor to you before midnight." He turned and began to walk off.

"MIDNIGHT!! I'll be dead by then!" The tall man turned back. The cripple seemed suddenly small and pathetic from a couple yards away.

"So what do you want me to do, eh? Stay with you? Then maybe neither of us would survive the night and we could die together, comrades-in-arms! No, I think it would be best if I made my way to the house alone." He turned and began to walk up the hill. He was another five yards away when he heard a small click behind him.

"Don't you go anywhere, you heartless bastard," the cripple said, trying desperately not to stutter as he began the slow process of freezing to death. "You're staying here and dying here with me or you're going to take me with you, but you ain't going anywhere alone."

Later, the tall man wondered if the cripple had actually felt some flicker of hope when he turned around and said, "Okay." He figured that he probably had, because any idiot foolish enough to trust in a gun to save his life when he had nothing else to rely on was as foolish as they come.

The tall man had walked (with his hands in the air, to complete the "oh, golly, a gun!" effect) slowly back to the cripple. "You're right, you know," he said, "Now that I think about it, I shouldn't be going anywhere the way I am right now," he crouched down in front of the cripple. "What was I thinking?" The man's sobs paused in puppy dog hope.

He grabbed the gun. It fell from the cripple's hand, but didn't fall through the snow; it wasn't heavy enough to break the sheet of ice. He reached for it with his other hand and grabbed the barrel.

With a vicious snarl of rage, the cripple grabbed the man's arm (which still held the gun) and pulled him off-balance. The tall man's look of naked surprise was equaled only by the same expression on the cripple's face when his desperate ploy worked. He mashed the tall man's coat away from his wrist, exposing naked, salty flesh.

Before the tall man could regain his composure, the cripple did the thing that every animal in creation will do just before it dies: he bit. Hard, with no mercy or humanity. The tall man screamed and did the worst thing a person can do when he is being bitten: he jerked his arm away. There was a small tearing sound, like a wet phone book being ripped apart by terribly powerful hands, and the cripple's face was splattered with vein-darkened blood.

The tall man skittered away like a crab. The cripple had given into whatever insanity had been held together by his sorry excuse for sanity; he—it grinned like some sadistic clown, and chewed. The tall man aimed the gun at this creature before him.

"MMMMMMM!!!" it said, swallowing greedily. That was when its face exploded through the back of its skull. The echoes of the gunshot reverberated throughout the dead winter woods.

"Eat that," the tall man said. He turned away and placed his injured wrist on the ice. It stung like hell, but it was a better sting than the open air had been. He clenched the gun in a death-grip, and the ice around his wrist was melting red. After he had stopped panting, he staggered to his feet, and followed his old footsteps as they led him up the hill.


11:21 PM

The moonless night enveloped the old coast-guard house like a shroud. outside the faint sounds of Nat King Cole could be heard oozing out of the house. The old lamp by which the tall man was reading shone out of the window that faced the driveway. He looked at it and saw only his own reflection, wearing its own red flannel shirt, dirty blue jeans, and rubber-bottomed moccasin slippers. The spectre in the window had prizes, too; a small fortune in rare and semi-rare paintings. They both were to be congratulated. He raised the glass of red wine he had half-finished to the reflection. It said "cheers" back to him and drank.

And then it moved.

The tall man spat wine all over the ancient oak coffee table he had been resting his feet on and scrambled to the window. He cupped his hands around his eyes and peered out into the night. Nothing. He sighed heavily and turned his back to the window, sitting down on the brass-rimmed chest that lined the wall beneath it. He looked across the room, back where he had been sitting just a moment ago, and saw another reflection of him resting against a looking-glass wall. The reflection's pale face and heaving shoulders made him want to laugh.

There was a hulking whiteness looming over his reflection, like a shadow made of snow. A high-pitched wail, like a December blizzard screaming through the branches outside of a boy's window, came from outside the window behind him. The window behind him shattered inward and glass punched into his neck. Frigid whiteness filled his vision before it went black.

The wail of the wind drowned the tall man's death screams as the shadow dragged him out into the night.


1

FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON DC
JANUARY 14, 1998

Three quick knocks on his door. He knew it was Scully.

"Just a minute!" Mulder called. He opened a drawer in his desk and removed a small silver box covered with slits through which he could see a tangle of multicolored wires. He turned it upside-down in his hand and slid a small switch to the "on" position before setting it on top of his desk.

"Okay!" The door opened and Scully walked in slowly, turning her head from side to side.

"Is everything all right, Mulder?" she said after she'd finished looking around.

"Yeah, yeah, everything's fine. Take a look at this." He nodded toward the silver slotted box.

"What is it?" she asked after a moment.

"A static transmitter." Scully's svelte lips turned up in an amused smile. She shrugged her shoulders, waiting for the explanation.

"It's a little something I had Frohike cook up. It has a short-range but very powerful radio transmitter inside. A microchip inside that he took out of a TI-85 generates a pseudo-random number that chooses a new set of radio frequencies every clock cycle. The transmitter then sends out bursts of static on those frequencies." Scully's smile widened.

"What is it for?"

"Well, you know how somebody has been bugging my apartment since we started working together, right?" She nodded. "I got sick of sweeping my place a couple of times a week for new bugs, so I asked the boys to get me something that would make those bugs useless."

"But how can they be useless if there's only staccato bursts of static on a few of the hundreds of frequencies available to whoever it is that bugs your apartment? So they miss a microsecond here and there, so what? They'll still be able to listen to what you're saying."

"No," Mulder shook his head, "that's the beauty of it. Yeah, each frequency is only blocked for a microsecond, but remember that there's millions of cycles every second and that their little receivers have to lock back into my signal after the static transmitter blocks them off. Frohike estimates that this will block 75% of communications at any given time, and video will be totally useless." Scully cocked her head to one side, the smile still on her face.

"But won't it block out your videos too, Mulder?"

"No, not VHS—Very funny." She laughed quietly. Another three knocks at the door. "Yeah?" Mulder answered.

"Agent Mulder," Skinner said as he entered the cluttered office, "are you working with radios in here?"

"Why do you ask, sir?" Mulder leaned back in his chair and laced his hands behind his head.

"Because I was just on a direct satellite feed to the President—the President—when suddenly we were cut off by outside interference. We traced the source down here, and I figured it was probably coming from your office. Agent Scully," he said, greeting her. She nodded her reply.

"Oh," Mulder said, turning the static transmitter off, "sorry, sir. Just some counter-surveillance work of mine."

"Well," Skinner said, raising an accusing eyebrow at Mulder, "the next time you need to interrupt the President and me, let him know in advance, okay?" He turned and closed the door behind him. Mulder blew air out in apprehensive relief. He sat up and turned back to Scully.

"Well, what've we got?"

"What makes you think I have something?" she asked.

"You keep darting your eyes down at the folder you're holding."

"Ah," she said, looking at the manila folder on her lap. "Well, a murder report just came in, and the Grand Rapids bureau wants us to handle it."

"Is it an X-File, or are we just overdue for a trip to Michigan?"

"Well, the agent who contacted me said that it had all the tell-tale signs of a wild animal attack, except for this." Scully pulled on the edge of a black and white glossy photo that was hanging out of the folder. She lay it flat on Mulder's desk. It was a footprint, and a large one, too, he could see. The photographer had placed a ruler next to it, and the print stretched past the ruler by at least five inches.

"It's twenty inches long," she continued, "And if you look closely here, at the edges of the toes,"

"You see small holes in the snow, apparently from the perpetrator's toenails, which need a good clipping," he finished for her. She studied the print more carefully; yes, the nail marks were clear.

"Look familiar?" she asked him, but by the time she'd looked up he was already rummaging through one of the plethora of files he had strewn around the office. He snatched one overflowing expanding file out of a drawer in the back corner and hurried back to the desk. His fingers flipped the various compartments away with practiced ease before he found the photo he was looking for.

"This photo," he said, laying his rather crinkled picture next to the one Scully had presented, "was taken in the wilderness of north Oregon over fifty years ago. I spoke with the photographer before he died."

"What did he say?" she asked him.

"Well, this guy claimed—swore, in fact—that it was the footprint of a sasquatch. I had it checked at three different zoos, and it is definitely not human and not animal. The Oregon guy said that there was a whole trail of 'em where he found this one, but that he'd decided it would be wise not to follow them."

"Convenient," Scully said dryly.

"Yeah, I kind of thought so, too," he conceded. "You said this one came from Grand Rapids, though?"

"Actually from a little town on the Lake Michigan coast about an hour from GR. Place called Fennville," she said. Mulder smiled with boyish amusement.

"Home of the World Famous Goose Festival?"

"What?" she asked in confusion.

"The Goose Festival!" he said again. "Fennville's claim to fame."

"I'm surprised I've never heard of it," Scully said without conviction.

"Well, you're in luck," Mulder replied. He stood up and took his overcoat off the hook, starting to put it on. "I'll tell you all about it on the way."

"Oh, no," Scully said. "Please tell me that we're not really going after Bigfoot, Mulder. My brother thinks you're crazy enough already."

"So don't tell him about this one," Mulder said, and held the door for her as she stepped out of the office. "Besides, you brought this one to me."


I-196 WESTBOUND
NEAR FENNVILLE, MI
JANUARY 15, 1998
2:45 PM

"Mulder, Bigfoot is a myth!" Scully said.

"If I gave up on every X-File you claimed to be a myth I'd never leave the office. Besides, we're not up here just for a sasquatch, you know. There was a murder committed by someone, or something. If it is a hoax of some kind, who better to debunk it than us?" Scully considered this for a moment and looked out the passenger window of the blue '97 Taurus the Grand Rapids bureau had issued them. She reached a finger up to the glass and drew a smiley-face in the fog.

"So you think it's a myth, too?" she asked cautiously as she added a nose to her window-picture.

"Bigfoot? No. Not a chance." Scully rolled her eyes.

"Mulder, come on! How can you—"

"This case, however," he interrupted, "is the real question, isn't it? I have no firm opinion of the validity of this claim. I know that the photo looks similar to the one the old guy gave me and I know that the preliminary autopsy on what was left of the victim's body yielded ambiguous results at best."

"Ambiguous?" his partner asked, turning away from the window. "How?"

"Well, the last report we got before leaving DC could not conclusively state whether or not the man's wounds were inflicted by animal or human. Oh," Mulder continued, "you might want to take a look at the file I pulled up on the victim, too. He had quite a few priors."

Scully reached underneath the seat and retrieved the large envelope that held the faxed reports they'd received in Washington. She worked to undo the clasp, opened the flap, and removed the entire contents of the package. Leafing through it quickly, she sighed as multiple papers covered with phrases like "it is possible" and "unknown at this time" flipped by. Finally she came to a poorly-printed set of mug shots and a corresponding rap sheet.

The man pictured was about 6' 6" according to the height chart in the background and quite slim. On the night he'd been photographed he had sported a fair amount of graying stubble on his face even as the hair on his head had begun to recede. She flipped the rap sheet over to find the man's name.

"Ichabod Neifer?" she asked.

"Remember that string of small-time art thefts back in about '92 or so? Took the Philadelphia bureau months to catch up with this guy."

"What's the connection?" she asked.

"I was the reason that he was finally caught," Mulder said. "Well, me and Reggie Pardue. It was one of my last jobs for the Violent Crimes section."

"Art thefts?"

"He started getting mean toward the end, there. His first robberies were very minor. After a couple of jobs like that he wanted more, started thinking he was big time. The first time he hit a place with some actually valuable artwork he ended up killing every guard in the place on his way out, and three out of five on his next job. Reggie and I were called in before he went from being an art theft with a gun to being a serial killer with an interest in oils."

"How'd he get out so soon after that many murders?"

"Good behavior got him into a medium security place where he befriended another prisoner, small time auto thief. Two of them broke out by stowing away in the garbage truck in November."

"Anyway, the house where he was killed is an old Coast Guard place out by Lake Michigan. Cops on the scene found a number of paintings and small sculptures in the bag he was carrying. They think that he cleaned the place out and was planning on leaving the next day. Place was a summer home for an old couple who live in Florida for the winter."

"Seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a few minor pieces to sell," Scully observed. Mulder shrugged at this.

"One of them was an original Monet. The old lady of the house is quite an art buff, and after selling her collection he would have been able to head down to Mexico and live comfortably for quite a while. Whoops!" he said, "There's our exit!"

The car pulled off the highway onto a thin, bumpy county road. Mulder turned on the windshield-wipers and the defroster to combat the snowfall that had been growing steadily worse as they got closer to the lake.


FENNVILLE TOWNSHIP
POLICE HEADQUARTERS
JANUARY 14, 1998
3:02 PM

Mulder and Scully hurried into the small, single-story brick building. The wind had picked up and was driving the snow into their faces. As she entered, Scully brushed a handful of snow off her head. Mulder rubbed the arms of his black trenchcoat and looked around the small office. A large, fifty-something township cop looked up from his desk curiously.

"Help you folks?" he asked. A golden sheriff's star rested comfortably on the man's not-inconsiderable breast. His hair was too in-place to be natural, although it matched the color of his mustache well.

"I'm Agent Fox Mulder. This is Agent Dana Scully. We're with the FBI."

"Oh, right!" the large officer exclaimed. "I'm Deputy Robert B. Finkleton, but you can call me Bison Bob; everybody else does." Scully couldn't help an amused smirk.

"Well, Bison Bob," she said emphatically, "we'd like to get a look at the crime scene ASAP, and we were hoping you could direct us."

"Do better than that," he offered, "c'n take yuh there myself. It's out a-ways, but it ain't too hard to find." He rumbled over to a metal wardrobe in the corner and pulled a brown county jacket out, along with a pseudo-cowboy hat of the same color. "Gotta say, sure am glad to have you folks up here."

"Why's that?" Mulder asked. His deadpan expression was so firm that Scully hit him in the ribs: knock it off, Mulder!

"Well, me and my boys," Bob said, "we do good by this part of Allegan County. We're here to keep the peace and protect and serve, etc., etc. But I gotta tell you that what we ain't all that used to is weird cases like this one here."

"Thank you," Scully said politely, "too often the local guys complain that we're sticking our noses where they don't belong."

Finkleton chuckled, "Yeah, I've known my share of those, you can be sure of that. Lotsa these guys 'round here and up at the State Bears' office in Holland, they want to do their job, and they're good at what they do. But I'm just a deputy in a little shit town that I've lived in all my life, and I'm too old to go gettin' my panties in an uproar over a bruised ego. Let's go."


FRAN T. SCHRADER RESIDENCE
3:37 PM

"I don't think I've ever seen more dead deer in my whole life," Mulder said as the car pulled past a small cottage on their left. "Dead goats, yes. Deer, no."

"Can't explain it myself," Bob said. He shared Mulder's bewilderment.

"I'll call the DNR guys as soon as I get back to the office. In the mean time, here we are." The car pulled to a halt in front of a large frosty-blue house.

Scully stepped quickly out of the Ford's back seat. The snow plow had only cleared up to the large gravel turn-around that lay 100 yards uphill from the thin township road they had taken to get here, and that left a good 50 yards from the turn-around to the house itself. Yellow "POLICE LINE-DO NOT CROSS" tape had been placed haphazardly along the driveway side of the house.

"Come on," Mulder said, and he plunged his flimsy boots into the two feet of snow that they would have to wade through to get to the crime scene itself. Scully looked down at the mess of footprints the investigating officers had left running in twisting trails over the yard and sighed dejectedly. Mulder was on the trail like the single-minded bloodhound he was and probably didn't notice the freezing-cold snow that was packing itself in his boots, but she had to consider the fact that she had not dressed for this weather. She had dressed warmly, yes—god, yes, it's Michigan, for Pete's sake—but not prepared to go hiking to the Yukon territory. Scully held her arms out cautiously and tried to step in the footsteps of one of the trails that seemed to follow Mulder.

Bison Bob had dressed for this, and so he followed Mulder ably. Mulder had already stood up again and was wiping snow off of his gloves. Scully was a little surprised to see that the outline of the body another thirty yards from the house was drawn in black spray-paint; chalk was a joke in this situation. The snow itself gave a rough profile of where what was left of Neifer had been abandoned, and much of it was a splotchy pink. The precipitation was continuing, and soon the feeble cover of the tall trees around the house would not be able to protect the integrity of the crime-scene. Already the snow had faded the blood's color.

"It's a fake," Mulder proclaimed.

"What's a fake?" Scully panted. Leaping from footstep to footstep was tiring work.

"The footprint," he answered. "If you look closely you'll see small indentations down the middle of the print. Whoever cooked it up was sloppy enough to leave screws on the sole. They're really faint now because of the snow, and if we'd gotten here a half-hour later I wouldn't have been able to tell."

"What now?" Bison Bob asked. "If the Bigfoot thing is a hoax, then what killed this man?"

"That," Mulder said, pointing his thumb back at Scully, "is what she's here for."


FENNVILLE COMMUNITY HOSPITAL
5:45 PM

Bison Bob hung up the white phone at the nurse's desk and turned back to Mulder.

"DNR says they're swamped right now, but they'll check into those deer as soon as possible."

"Good enough," Mulder said. "Let's go check on Scully." The two men walked down a sterile hallway and entered through blue double doors.

The rubber glove snapped loudly as Scully removed it from her right hand. Mulder could see that she was tired, but the emotion coming through the strongest was frustration. She threw the gloves in the receptacle hard, almost slam-dunking them. After a brief rinsing of her hands she dried them off, sat down, and placed them over her face.

"So?" Mulder asked cautiously.

"Well, you were right about one thing, Mulder," she said, "this looks like an X-File to me."

"Why?"

"The teeth marks on the neck and on some of the inner organs are definitely human," she rubbed her eyes before going on, "but most of the injuries and mutilations are like nothing I've ever seen before."

"How so?"

"If I knew that, I would be telling you right now. I don't know!" Mulder opened his mouth but she continued, "It would be much easier if just a sliver of something—anything had been left in the body. Any kind of metal weapon would have left tiny shavings that would identify it, and animal teeth and claws have distinctive patterns and often a nail or a tooth gets chipped or pulled or something. What's the weirdest part, though, is what I did find in there."

"What's that?" Mulder asked. She was still upset, but letting some of this out to him seemed to be helping her calm down.

"Water," she said. "I can't get over how much water there is in this guy's body, just sitting around."

"Well, now, Agent Scully," Bison Bob said, "ain't the human body made up of mostly water?"

"Yes," Scully explained, "but you don't have much of you that's purely water. I don't mean that I tested the body chemically and found amazing amounts of water in the make-up. There was water everywhere inside the body, pure water."

"But," Bob said, more cautiously this time, "remember, Agent Scully, that this guy was out in the winter night for quite a few hours—in a blizzard, no less—before we found the corpse. Couldn't he have, you know, filled up?"

"Wasn't he found face down, though, Bison Bob?" Mulder asked. Bob frowned and nodded. Mulder understood and turned back to Scully. "Was there anything else, Scully?"

"The only other thing that was at all weird were the wounds, like I said. Some of them were jagged like a stock market graph—in outline, anyway. Some others, though, were full of tiny little scratches and lacerations, like you would expect to find in someone stabbed with a rusty knife, where slivers of rust had cut and become lodged in the tissue."

"But you said there were no splinters."

"No," she said again. She shook her head slowly to emphasize the point. "No slivers of anything. As far as I can tell, this man was attacked and ripped to shreds by nothing."


2

FENNVILLE TOWNSHIP
POLICE HEADQUARTERS
6:13 PM

Scully leaned over and whispered conspiratorially to Mulder, "I'm surprised they even know what pizza is out here. I can't believe they have their own pizza parlor."

"Yeah," Mulder said in a wide-eyed mocking tone, "and them new-fangled delivery boys, too. Come on, Scully. Bison Bob may not be as alluring as your vampire-sheriff lover-boy, but the town he protects and serves is a lot bigger than that little burg down in Texas. They had pizza." She frowned disapprovingly at his vein attempt at humor.

The deputy finished his small-talk conversation with Danny, the Flour Power delivery boy, and let the door swing shut behind him. When it closed it puffed a curling draft of white powder into the woodsy office. The blast of cold that accompanied the draft was quickly overpowered by the steamy aroma of fresh, hot pizza. Bob set two cardboard boxes on his desk and opened them.

"Well, here you go!" he said. "Pepperoni, sausage, and mushroom for me and Agent Scully, and Cajun pineapple for Agent Mulder over here."

"Cajun pineapple?" Scully asked.

"Oh, yeah, it's the best!" Mulder replied. "Pizza covered with that ultimate in toppings and then sprinkled with a heavy Cajun seasoning. Mmmm."

"No wonder you're still single," she said.

"Hey, if that's the price I pay for pizza like this," he said, taking a greasy bite, "then so be—AHH!" Mulder breathed in deeply, his wide-open mouth providing his two colleagues with an ample view of his half-chewed dinner. He found a napkin (Bison Bob had apparently forgotten about plates) and spit out the steaming lump of cheese.

"A little hot there, Mulder?" Scully asked sweetly as he scrambled for one of the bottles of Coke the deputy had ordered with their food. He almost ripped the cap off instead of twisting, and was drinking before the hissing-sound that accompanies all openings of bottled sodas had finished. After gulping down several swallows, he set the glass down and shot Scully an unamused stare.

"You really know how to keep food warm up here in Michigan," he said to Bison Bob. The deputy shrugged nonchalantly, holding his laughter in. After a moment of silence, Mulder tenderly picked up another piece of pizza, blew on it gingerly, and took a tiny bite that seemed to please him.

"I was wondering, Agent Scully," Bison Bob said slowly, satisfied that Mulder's crisis was over, "what if the killer didn't use a metal weapon, or even a wooded one. What about plastic, or a ceramic? I know they have ceramic guns to get through metal detectors…" Scully considered this possibility for a moment. "I mean," he continued, "it is possible, isn't it?" She nodded promptly.

"It's certainly possible," she said, "but I don't think it's likely. Granted, I didn't see any splinters in those micro-lacerations, but any foreign, inorganic substance would have shown up. I had the tissue tested especially to cover that situation."

Bison Bob retreated into his thoughts to consider this. Scully sighed and looked at Mulder hopefully. He didn't see her, though; he was still working on his Cajun pineapple pizza, which had cooled enough to allow him to wolf it down. As he chewed voraciously he glanced up at his partner.

"What?" he asked through a mouthful of pizza.

"Why are we still here, Mulder? Your Bigfoot angle has disintegrated, and the biggest mystery we have is the unknown weapon. That hardly qualifies as an X-File."

"It's not just an unknown weapon, Scully. The body is in a condition you have never seen before and cannot explain. Aside from fake footprints, we have no idea who murdered a small-time art thief. You and I are specially equipped to deal with bizarre situations like this, and we're already here."

"I have no intention of spending a week in Michigan, Mulder," she said. "We should be out of here on the next flight back to Washington. Granted this is a weird situation, but if we responded to every little mystery across the country…" Mulder nodded his head in assent.

"Okay. Tell you what: let's take the afternoon flight out tomorrow. I want to do some more checking around here, and I don't feel like giving Skinner a report that says 'Didn't get it; gave up.' You know?"

"All right," she sighed. "Where do you want to start?"

"I want to know who faked those footprints. It's a place to start." He stood up. "Bob?" The deputy looked up from his thoughts.

"Yeah?"

"I saw a house on the dirt road that led up to the murder scene. Do you know which one I'm talking about?"

"Sure I do. That's old Mr. Copeland; he's lived there for ten years, at least."

"I'd like to talk to him, see if he knows anything about the murder or the fake footprints. It's not much, but right now it's about the only idea I have."

They decided to use the deputy's patrol car instead of the agents' unmarked Ford. Bison Bob opened the back door for Scully, who smiled wanly and stepped inside. Mulder took shotgun. Bob peeled out of the driveway much faster than either agent had anticipated, and Scully slid across the pleather back seat.

"You okay back there?" Bison Bob asked.

"Yeah," she replied. She brushed a thin lock of rust-colored hair out of her face and pushed herself up. "There aren't any handles or armrests to hold onto back here."

"At least we know you're not going anywhere," Mulder told her.

The patrol car bounced and banged down the pock-marked country road. Scully's hands searched fruitlessly for a seat belt. Mulder and Bison Bob both jiggled in their seats, but both were held in place. Finally she sat in the middle of the back seat, spread her feet apart to give her some leverage, and placed one hand tenuously on the grille separating the driver from his prisoners.

"The roads in this state are the worst I've ever seen," Scully complained.

"Yeah," Bob agreed, "they're pretty bad, all right. Damn Governor doesn't want to pay for 'em, either. They increased the sales tax a few years back, but I ain't seen much improvement. Must not care much for us little towns."

"How did they get this way?" Mulder asked.

"Somethin' to do with all the snow we get," the deputy said. "Took a seminar on road safety after gettin' my job here, and they talked a lot about the infamous Michigan roads. You know there's all them little cracks in concrete and asphalt, right? Real little ones, like where a stone gets run over and chips the surface?" Both agents nodded. "Well, when the snow melts—which happens more often than you'd think (Michigan weather is crazy, you know)—all the water on the road runs into them little cracks. Then it freezes…"

"And when water freezes," Mulder continued, "it expands, making the cracks wider. Then everything thaws again and the water flows into the wider cracks, freezes, etc., etc." He looked out the passenger window for a moment, then turned back to look at Scully, who battled valiantly to maintain her upright posture.

"What, Mulder?" she said.

"I think I know how all that water got inside Mr. Neifer."


BENJAMIN COPELAND RESIDENCE
7:30 PM

The old police cruiser pulled into the gravel driveway of a single-story brown house, so small it reminded Mulder of a hut. The curtains hanging in the front window swung back and forth in small, suspicious movements, but he could see no one behind them. He and Bob approached the house casually, but he jumped a little and whirled around when he heard the tapping behind them.

Scully was pressed against the car window, banging on it with her palms and yelling. Mulder trotted over to her door and pulled the handle.

"Did you forget we were in a police car?" she asked, still raising her voice.

"Just didn't know if you wanted to come along," Mulder replied. They walked up to the small stone porch where Bison Bob waited. When they were almost there, the deputy knocked on the door. After three minutes Scully turned to Mulder.

"Nobody's answering. Let's go, Mulder. This has wild-goose chase written all over it." Mulder looked back at the house. The curtains dropped down and swung in place again.

"Somebody's in there, Scully," he said. "I've seen the curtains move a couple times. Whoever's in there doesn't want to talk to us." Bison Bob knocked again, banging on the door this time.

"Hey, Ben!" Bob called. "You're gonna want to open this door right now, my friend! I've got the FBI with me, and you know those government types: when they want somethin', they don't care who they hurt—they're gonna get it! Now open the goddamn door before they break it down! I can't hold 'em back much longer!" He looked back at Mulder and Scully apologetically. "Sorry. Feds are like boogeymen to some folks up here."

"Don't worry about it," Mulder said. "A couple more minutes and Scully would have broken the door down herself; she's an animal." Scully mouthed an unamused "Ha-ha" to Mulder. He laughed.

"Boy, I don't know, you guys," Bob said. " I thought that line about the Feds would get Benjy for sure, but it don't look like—" The heavy oaken door opened a crack. A thick brass chain pulled taut in front of the suspicious eye that peered out of the little house.

"They ain't gonna do nothing, Bob, and you know it! Now get off my property!"

"Sir," Mulder interjected, "I'm Special Agent Mulder with the FBI and this is my partner, Special Agent Scully." He walked up to the door and leaned forward a bit to get a look inside. The old man's body blocked his view efficiently. "We'd like to talk to you about a murder up at the Schrader house that happened a couple nights ago."

"Night of that big storm, eh?" the man said. Scully could see that he wanted them to think that he was surprised, but he answered to quickly to convince her.

"That's right, sir. If we could just have a minute of your time…" Scully knew Mulder would keep this up for a couple of minutes. She stepped to the side of the house. The woods were drowned with impenetrable blackness at this time of night, but light from inside the house leaked out onto the snow, and she could see her way around to the back.

It had started to snow again. The wind blew fiercely around her, screaming through the naked branches above her, and Scully was glad that she had chosen the eastern side of the house to go around; she was well-protected from the biting gales. As she turned the corner to the back, an automatic motion-detector light flickered on, flooding the small clearing behind the house with glaring yellow-white light. A dirty blue tarp lay spread over something near the back door. Several small lumps rose under its surface. Mulder, she could hear, was still asking his pointless intro questions of the old man out front.

Scully knelt beside the plastic blue covering and removed it. Fresh snow whispered softly, falling off the top of the tarp. Several wooden dowels stood revealed in the electric glow. At the end of each sat a flat, foot-shaped hunk of wood. She took one and turned it over in her hands. The bottom was carved into the shape and contours of a large foot, complete with oaken nails hanging off the front, and she could see four dark black spots on the "foot's" sole where its creator (Benjamin Copeland, probably) had screwed it onto the wooden base which was attached to the dowel.

"Mulder!" she called loudly. "Come back here!" Seconds later Mulder rounded the corner of the house, sidearm drawn.

"What is it?" he asked. "What'd you find?" Scully did not have time to offer him the "Bigfoot" before Mr. Copeland staggered out the back door wearing just a T-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms.

"I toldja already! Get off my property! Git!" The old man reached feebly for the evidence Scully held, but she moved it out of his reach. Mulder took the footprint-maker and turned it in his hands the same way Scully had, nodding softly as he noticed the four screwheads bulging from the bottom.

"Mr. Copeland," Mulder said, looking up at the man without lifting his head, "This evidence seems to place you at the murder scene that night. I'm afraid we're going to have to insist that we be allowed to search your house on grounds of reasonable suspicion." With that, Mulder and Scully moved toward the still-open back door. Mulder took the handle and held the door open for Scully, but she was not yet inside when the wind screamed again. This time, though, the sound had a palpable quality to it. Both agents and their prime suspect looked up and scanned the trees in surprise.

"Oh my God," Copeland said mutely, "not again." He took two defensive steps back toward Mulder and Scully.

"What was that?" Scully asked tersely. "I've never heard wind scream like that."

"Me, either," Mulder said. That's when the cry, hoarse and terrified, came from out front of the house. "Bison Bob!" Mulder exclaimed. Both agents dashed around the house, stiff crunches of snow pounding beneath their feet.

Scully arrived first, and Mulder had to slide sideways on the ice-covered gravel like a skier to stop before hitting her. From behind the back tire of the police cruiser they could see Bison Bob, half of his face gone in a bloody smear, lying on the ground. Scully rushed forward, intending to offer whatever medical assistance she could. Mulder, knowing that he could do little to help her, scanned the surrounding woods. His eyes, pelted by huge, wind-driven snowflakes, blinked furiously to clear his vision. At one point he thought he glimpsed a huge, white hulk lumbering into the woods, but it was gone after he blinked again. He saw nothing else, and turned back to Scully.

"How is he, Scully?" he asked.

"Dead," she said gravely. "Whatever it was ripped him in half—literally." Mulder stepped forward and saw a gaping cavity where Bison Bob's pelvis and legs had been just moments before.

"Oh my God," Mulder said. He reached out and closed Bob's empty eye, which stared up into the undefined winter sky above.

"Mulder, look at this." She pointed to the enormous wound which did not bleed.

"It's…" he reached out to feel the broken flesh, "It's frozen solid. What could have done that, Scully?"

"Short of a vat of liquid nitrogen and a half an hour to soak, nothing I've ever seen. This is incredible. Whatever did this froze him instantaneously, and then shattered his midsection. Look at how clean the break is." She trailed a finger along the red, jagged waist of the corpse. "But where are his legs?" Mulder whirled away from the deputy's body and marched in the direction he'd seen that white shape leave.

"I don't know, Scully, but I think whatever killed this man took them with it. Check out these tracks." Leading off into the woods where the shape had gone were two thin grooves in the snow, each about the width of a man's winter boot.

"Mulder, I think you'd better look at this first," Scully said behind him.

She knelt down beside the police cruiser's right front tire. Even from fifteen yards away Mulder could see the gaping tear in the tire's side. A couple of steps to his left confirmed the same for the driver's side. Scully stood up and wiped the snow off her hands, which were turning red in the cold air.

"Do you know if Bison Bob had Triple A?" Mulder asked.


3

BENJAMIN COPELAND RESIDENCE
8:15 PM

"This clinches it," Mulder said. Scully suppressed a groan.

"Let me guess, you have a theory."

"Have you ever heard of the wendigo?"

"It's some Native American legend, right?" she said as Mr. Copeland handed her a cup of steaming hot chocolate. She sipped and recoiled a bit; they made it hot up here in Michigan.

"That's right. Different variations of it show up among several cultures across the country."

"But isn't it usually something intangible, like a ghost?"

"And it makes its victim run until his legs set fire and burn off," Mulder agreed. "That's one version. But when you take the different kind of places the Wendigo shows up in mythologies into account, you see one common pattern."

"Which is?" she prompted impatiently.

"All of the locales are remote, lonely places."

"That includes ninety-five percent of North America in those times, Mulder," Scully challenged.

"True, but the victims are almost always alone in the stories, at least. Think about it; being alone in the forest at night, especially during the winter, was something anyone would have been afraid of in those days."

"And so it's only logical that they'd come up with stories to make their fears seem more manageable. Mulder, every culture does that; it proves nothing."

"By itself, no. But we've got our second victim killed by ice and cold alone in a forty-eight hour time period."

"Second victim? You think whatever killed Neifer killed Bison Bob?"

"Yes, I do. Come look at something." They walked out the back door. The half-body sat on the porch like a forgotten beach toy.

"It all fits, Scully! Look at the lines of the waist you said it yourself: jagged, like a stock market graph. How else could someone have gotten the same effect without leaving some obvious piece of evidence?" She was about to offer a possibility when he cut her off. "And these lacerations! Look!" He knelt down and examined some of the larger cuts on Bison Bob's face and hands.

"What am I looking at, Mulder?" she asked once she'd joined him on the frigid ground.

"Right here; some of it broke off."

"Some of what? What are you talking about?"

"Ice," he said pointing to a white splinter, not more than half an inch long, that protruded from one of the cuts on Bob's hand. "Whatever did this used some kind of sharp object made of ice."

"How " she touched the sliver with her bare hand. When she took her finger away there was a small droplet of water on the tip, which froze instantly. "How did you know to look for this, Mulder?" she asked as she stood up next to him. She bent over a little to brush of the dirty snow that had caked on her knees.

"The roads, Scully. Remember when we were in the car and I asked Bison Bob about the roads? how awful they are up here?"

"How could I not remember?" she remarked. "I spent the whole trip desperate to not fall over."

"Just like Ted Kennedy on a campaign trip. When I asked Bob about the roads, he told us that most of the damage comes from water freezing, and thus expanding, in cracks in the pavement. The expanding water is like a little wedge in the crack, making it wider. Then the water melts, more water comes in, fills up the crack, makes it bigger, etc., etc."

"And our first cadaver was filled with water. How do you do it, Mulder?"

"Nice and slow." Scully frowned disapprovingly but was interrupted by a crash from within the house. She and Mulder exchanged an urgent glance before bolting through the open back door.

"Mr. Copeland?" Scully called. She'd drawn her weapon without realizing it and used it to lead her into the living room. Copeland stood in the garage doorway with a slack-jawed expression of surprise on his face, staring down at the floor. Scully risked taking her eyes off him for a second. The floor was covered in dirty logs, each at least eight inches in diameter. A couple of them still rocked back and forth from their fall to the ground.

"Mr. Copeland?" Mulder asked from behind her. "Are you all right?" Copeland looked down at his right hand, which held two short canvas straps, both badly frayed at the end.

"Damn it!" he said, looking up at them.

"What is the problem, sir?" Scully demanded.

"Fire," he said with absent-minded gruffness. "Need to build a fire."

"Why?" she asked, the urgency running out of her voice as she realized there was no immediate crisis here.

"It's the only thing that keeps it away."

"Keeps what away, Mr. Copeland?" Mulder said.

"What you and her were talkin' about. The thing that did this to Bobby, and to that other fella, too."

"The Wendigo?" Mulder offered. Copeland shrugged.

"If that's what'cha want to call it. It don't have a name that I know of. All I know is that it comes at night with the snow."

"You've seen it?"

"Mulder," Scully protested in a loud whisper, "come on; this is ridiculous."

"Is it?" he asked pointedly, silently offering all of the unexplainable events she'd witnessed through the X-Files as evidence to the contrary. She opened her mouth to argue the matter further, but she closed it after a moment a long moment of consideration.

"You two can argue all you want," Copeland chided, "but I'm gettin' us some more firewood. We'll have to be able to burn it throughout the night if we want to see the morning, and with my strap broken it's gonna take a lotta trips out to the woodpile." Without any warning he turned and headed back into the dim garage.

"Come on," said Mulder.

"Where are we going?" Scully asked.

"To build a fire."


Copeland returned from the kitchen with a package about the size of a large brick. It was wrapped in a red material that seemed to be half-plastic and half-paper. "Burn Rite," the wrapping said in faded white printing.

"What's that?" Scully said. She had flopped down on the couch not more than two minutes ago after her fifth trip out to the woodpile. One unpleasant splinter jabbered painfully at her from her left hand; she ignored it. Like Mulder, she was covered in wood-dust from shoulders to shoes, and she could smell the pine sap that had ruined her blouse.

"You're going to have to ask Skinner for a clothing allowance," Mulder commented. Scully smiled thinly as she ignored him.

"It's a fake log," Copeland said, "designed to burn without lighter fluid or kindling. This'll get the fire started real quick." He lit a match and set fire to the papery covering of the "Burn Rite" log. The paper burned slowly and dimly, but after he'd set it in the fireplace the fire steadily devoured the man-made fuel, which easily lit the larger natural logs.

"Why is it so important to start a fire, Mr. Copeland?" asked Scully. Mulder punched a number into his cell phone angrily. After holding it to his ear briefly he switched it off in disgust and replaced it in his pocket.

"I ask any lady who spends the night at my house to call me Ben," he said humorlessly. "You'll see soon enough why we need to build one."

Not content to wait, Mulder leaned forward on the chair and said, "Is there a phone here I can use, sir? My cellular isn't working."

"You're welcome to try," Copeland told him. Scully took out her phone and dialed tentatively. "Last night all of the electrical stuff around here stopped working after dark. Musta been the storm." The beep of Scully's phone told Mulder all he needed to know.

"I'll try the phone, Mulder."

"Okay," he said. "Do you have a radio or a television where we can see a weather forecast? We're going to have to contact Washington as soon as possible; if the storm is causing the communications problems, we need to know when we'll be able to try again."

"TV's in the other room." Copeland jerked a thumb back toward his unkempt bedroom. "Don't get much up here, though. Just all them trashy 'Melrose Place' shows on that Fox network. Radio's in there too."

"Thanks." He stood up and went to check the TV.

"Mr. Copeland "

"Ben," he insisted to her.

"Ben, then. What can you tell us about the night of Mr. Neifer's death?"

"Can't tell you much about the night itself, really. It was all snowin' and blowin' a real hell of a blizzard. My windows were rattling and it actually tore one of the shutters off my house, right out front! Still haven't found the damn thing"

"But you were here that night," Scully countered, trying vainly to keep the man on track. "You put those fake footprints all around the murder scene." This shook Copeland from his reverie.

"Not that night! Hell, no. I like to make a buck as much as the next man, but there was no way I was goin' out there in that screamin' wind. Went out the next mornin' to do the tracks. All I needed was a few more hours for the snow to melt and blur the tracks a little. And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those blasted kids."

"The ones that discovered the body?" Scully asked.

"Yup. Got up too early that morning, they did. They used to be local kids; folks that own the place let locals cross-country ski around here all the time. Knew they'd be up here skiing, I did. They're nice kids, but kinda suckers for a mystery, though."

"We got the girl's name I don't remember it off-hand," Scully said as she paused to think.

"Josie," Mulder said from the doorway. "Josie and Fred, I think."

"Yeah, that sounds about right," Copeland said with a gleam in his eye. "Fred's girl'd be mad as hell if she knew he was sneakin' up here with that rocker girl Josie. Heh."

"What did you find?" she asked Mulder.

"Well, Amanda's cheating on her husband, but that's all. Couldn't get anything but Melrose."

" 'S funny, in a way," said Copeland. "We can barely get most of them Grand Rapids stations down here, but ever since that murder we been getting Fox like nobody's business. Crystal clear."

"Looks like we'll have to camp here for the night, Scully. All I see outside is a wall of white."

That's when the cottage went completely dark.

"What's happening?" Scully demanded calmly. Her eyes adjusted quickly to the flickering glow of the fire.

"Same thing that happened two nights ago. When that guy was killed that, that Neifer the weather was just like this. Power went out same way. Almost froze to death before I got the damn fire built."

"What about last night? There weren't any murders last night, and Bison Bob said it snowed all night down here."

"The deer, Scully! The deer!"

"You look even crazier than usual in firelight, Mulder; I'm scared to ask."

"Don't you see? Whatever killed Bison Bob is a predator! When it couldn't find any people up here, it went after the only prey it could find."

Scully held up two cautioning hands. "Wait a minute. As far as we can tell, Neifer was attacked while inside the house, right?"

"Uh-huh," Mulder said anxiously. He jiggled slightly on the couch, like a child awaiting a prized Christmas present.

"Then why didn't this thing go after Copeland?" she said, jerking her head mildly at their host. "He was here all night." She followed Mulder's eyes over to Copeland's shaking head.

"I wasn't here last night, Miss Scully," he told her. "I wasn't."

The blizzard outside screamed again, seeming to take some primal rage out on the house itself. Mulder could actually see the small crystal clock on the mantle rattling from side to side. Copeland bolted from his chair, amazingly spry for an old man. He staggered once as he reached the fireplace.

"Lighter fluid," he gasped. "No top on it if it falls!"

Luckily he grabbed it just as it rocked toward the edge of the shelf. He stepped away from the fireplace, blocking Scully's view of the foyer windows.

"Close one," he said, smiling a half-toothless smile.

One of the windows behind him imploded. Scully had to duck to protect her eyes from the glass, but Mulder saw a huge white shape like a battering ram slam Copeland in the back. If the wind hadn't intensified so much at that moment, both of them would have been able to hear the dry snap of his neck that signaled the end of Benjamin Copeland's life. His corpse flew across the room, sloshing the lighter fluid he had just saved all over the room. He crumpled against the far wall, where he had previously stacked some wood. The remainder of the lighter fluid gurgled over the dirty bark.

"Mulder!" Scully screamed. "What is it?"

He wanted to answer, but he was too busy watching the pile of snow, the remainder of that which had killed Copeland and probably Bob and Neifer and all those deer end in a massive clump in one corner of the room and begin to reshape itself. The windows behind it now also imploded, and when Mulder looked back up again he saw the blizzard wind actually change directions so it would blow into the house. A small tornado of flakes whirled to life in the middle of the whitening room, but most of it was caught by the rising clump.

He shot his gaze back at Scully, who was backing away toward the fireplace. Her forest green blazer glistened in the firelight.

"Scully, no!" he called, but the screeching blizzard wind drowned his warning.

A small spark from the fire, which danced and jumped violently in the fierce gales, wafted out and landed in the lighter-fluid soaked jacket she wore. He thought later that whatever Copeland had called "lighter fluid" was some pretty potent stuff; one sleeve of the blazer burst into flame immediately.

Mulder sprang from his seat and began tearing the blazer off his partner, whose screams he could barely hear over the wind. Scully thrashed violently, and for just a second he feared that they would be tangled up, unable to save her. But the offending sleeve, weakened by the flames, disintegrated in their struggle. He slammed the green blazer on the floor, where it continued to burn. The thump of Scully's head hitting the floor when she yanked free of the jacket was also lost in the scream of the wind, but Mulder probably wouldn't have heard it anyway.

The clump had formed itself into a vaguely man-like shape. It was entirely white, with no marks or lines or shadows; the firelight flickered evenly over its surface. Only the lump at the top of this malignant snow-man had features: there seemed to be some kind of orifice, like the mouth of a leech. A blood-red center was surrounded by inward-pointing spikes of white. The monster swung one arm, like a clean birch tree-trunk, back as it lumbered toward Mulder.

Before the flames separated them, he saw a terribly sharp "hand" come flying at him. He raised his arms in a feeble defense and braced himself for the impact. At that moment, though, the spatters of "lighter fluid" caught the flame of the charred blazer. A wall of fire shot up from the ground. Mulder felt a dull, ripping thump on one side of his face and was thrown backwards into the foyer with Scully.

With his good eye he watched as the creature backed away from the wall of flames, which arced toward it as the wind shifted yet again, drawing all of the snow out of the cottage. The pile of soaked wood exploded then, as the flames rounded the room and touched the glistening puddle of what had to be gasoline that had spilled there. The entire room was like a blast furnace from Hell, and he could no longer see the monster through the fire.

The ceiling of the foyer was burning now, and he scrambled to his feet, jerking Scully, unconscious, up with him. She awoke as he shut the passenger side of the car, and together they watched the blizzard and the inferno of the house die together.


Epilogue

FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON DC
JANUARY 17, 1998

"You said two bodies were found in the house? In addition to the torso of the deputy killed outside?" Skinner asked. The grey of the Washington sky blazed through the windows behind his desk.

"Yes, sir," Scully replied. Her left arm was a little stiff from the bandages, but her burns were minor. "The one body was easily identified by Agent Mulder and myself as Benjamin Copeland."

"And the other?"

"The other remains undetermined at this time," Mulder said. "Our labs are running what dental records we can, but the skull was almost completely worthless."

"Why is that?" Skinner asked. The mention of the word "skull" called his attention again to the long crimson-black scabs on Mulder's face, which had been somehow simultaneously burned and frost bitten, and he looked back at Scully to avoid staring.

"It appears that the other body had been shot, point blank, in the face. We have no other information at this time," Scully told him.

"What can you tell me?" Skinner said, a little surprised when both agents stood up. "This isn't a particularly complete X-File."

"The weather patterns haven't been explained," said Mulder, "although they do appear to be a statistically improbable local phenomenon. The only investigating left to do there will have to be done by the Weather Channel."

Skinner turned away from the two departing agents as they left, and he watched the freezing January rain begin to beat against his window.

THE END

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