Title: Deus ex Machina
Summary: A dark entity threatens an unconditional love triangle.
Please note: This story involves religious themes and an implied animal death.
Additional notes at end.
Golden yellow rays filtered down through the waving leaves of a sugar maple tree, and dappled circles of light danced on smears of obsidian tar and asphalt. The narrow, deserted intersection was silent except for the rustle of the breeze through tall, green blades. Coral trumpet lilies arose from the base of a gray, weathered fencepost and spiraled toward the sky, the vine's thick foliage soaking up the sun. In the side ditch, next to the leaning, bent post of a 'SLOW' sign, the seeding grass shook. After a moment of silence, the shock of grass trembled again. This time, the quaking motion followed a track toward the edge of the road. The green blades parted, revealing a wiggling pink nose on the end of a rounded, sable brown muzzle. The nose twitched rhythmically, testing the gentle eddies of air. There was an amalgamation of scents to be sampled...the strong perfume of the lilies, the mild grass, the slight spiciness of old wood, and the overwhelming stench of bubbling pitch. The nose began to disappear back into its botanical shelter when the wind stirred a patch of clover on the other side of the road. The nares' twitching increased, small muscles working frantically to sample the sweet new aroma.
As the nose inched forward, following the scent, a very small and curious bunny emerged behind it. He followed the invisible path of chemical markers, hopping cautiously onto the hot pavement. Closer. Closer. The nectarous clover beckoned, and his fuzzy nose quivered in response. The bunny sniffed the ground as a rumbling pressure wave reverberated beneath his feet. He stood on his back legs, sensing approaching danger. His young reflexes and instincts told him to head for cover, but his stomach told him otherwise. Both feet kicked hard against the pavement in an attempt at warning any other nearby rabbits of the perceived hazard. The ground began to shake beneath the bunny, and he became terribly frightened. A primordial, ingrained voice said that now was the time to move. He dashed toward the clover patch, automatically creating a zig-zag pattern to outmaneuver his pursuer.
The oscillations reached an ominous peak, and the bunny paused, looking back to see the shiny maw of a behemoth bearing down on him. He made one last leap for the side ditch, and the beast shrieked behind him, pelting the clover with a spray of loose gravel before sliding to a halt. He hugged the ground, believing himself hidden. As the surge of energy slowly subsided, the tender, round leaves surrounding his trembling nose reminded him of the reason for his daring adventure, and he munched happily on his prize while the stalker resumed its former course.
"I can't believe it," Scully proclaimed.
She enjoyed debating with her partner about lofty philosophical issues, but that pleasant feeling stopped when he let his attention wander from the road. Scully crossed her arms, lowered her chin, and shot a devastating glare at her partner. He, in turn, tried to look at her from the corner of his eye, rather than acknowledge that he had noticed by simply pivoting his head. She had no doubt that he could feel the heat of her gaze. The tips of his ears were flushed red, and his laryngeal prominence bobbed up and down as he gulped for fortitude. Scully waited in tense silence, mentally daring him to open his mouth.
That was when she discovered that she apparently had telekinetic powers.
"That is exactly the point I was trying to make," Mulder said, slipping a professional facade over his "I'm toast" expression.
He paused, unclamping one hand from the steering wheel to readjust the shoulder strap of his seatbelt and smooth his tie. Mulder kept his eyes focused on the road and deftly attempted to qualify his statement.
"You, like many people, tend to force the world around you into the frame of science and dismiss anything that doesn't conform as the result of unusual circumstances or something that will eventually be explained by future studies. All I'm saying is that there may be phenomena that our minds will never fully comprehend. That the universe cannot be forced into the limits we inherently put on science."
"Mulder..." Scully pressed her fingertips to her temples, hoping that the action would somehow suppress the growing pressure in her skull. She wondered in passing if her confounding partner would ever by explained by science. "What I can't believe is that you almost made rabbit road pizza out of Little Bunny Foo-Foo just because you were too busy arguing with me to watch where you're going."
His shoulders slumped. She had deflated his intellectual controversion balloon, and now he had the look of a child who was ready to take his toys and go home.
"And I suppose you think you're the Good Fairy," he muttered. "I didn't hit the rabbit, and the point is that you can't take the same kind of analytical scrutiny, inquiry, and blatant second-guessing that I've endured throughout my entire career. If someone disagrees with you, they're just completely wrong."
Scully was surprised by his response. It was not typical of him to play the "I've gone through more tribulations than you" card. When she studied her partner's face, she found a weary, vacant expression that set her aback. The closing of the X-Files division was weighing heavily upon him, and it showed.
"Nnn...I'm sorry. That was unfair of me." He flicked his gaze in her direction, looking through her more than at her. "I just thought that a discussion about our respective methods of trying to understand the world around us would be a good way to pass the time. I, uh, didn't mean to discount your analytical skills."
His soft-spoken, apostatic confession worked its way into Scully's conscience. Mulder's frustration with the current circumstances had not been allowed to come to the fore, and she knew that it was best to wait until he was ready to talk about it. She only hoped that she would be able to tolerate the manifestations of her partner's introspective vexation without strangling him.
"No, you're right. I've been through my share of trials, too. You know that. Besides, someone has to keep you on your toes," she playfully jabbed him with her words and her index finger. "I'll admit that we both may have lost some...objectivity along the way."
It was a white flag of sorts, a willingness to meet somewhere in the middle. Anything further would cause him to suspect her of patronizing him. And he would be right.
"I really hate this assignment."
She smiled just a bit. The change of topic was his oblique way of agreeing with her.
"Me, too," she replied, sighing as she stared out the window.
The endless sea of corn had been depressing at first, punctuated only sparingly by very nervous-looking huddles of trees and the occasional house. The second day, Scully had grown to appreciate the vibrant colors and intricate shadows emanating from the otherwise drab landscape. Now, it simply made her want to scream at the mindless repetitiveness of it all.
"We should send Kersh a little ammonia nitrate souvenir."
"Mulder..." Scully reproached, "We can't do that. Then he'll just send us someplace even worse."
"What could possibly be more disagreeable than fertilizer detail in this backwater, Godforsaken place?"
Scully considered her answer for a second.
"Okay. You have a point there," he agreed, grinning in her direction. "Maybe if we could have it delivered to his doorstep, instead. En flambe."
Scully shook her head in amusement. She turned on the radio and scanned through the stations, hoping for some music to help shorten the trip. All she found was static and a local public-access agricultural talk show. She hit the "Off" button and leaned back in her seat, surreptitiously studying her partner. His face still looked drawn, and he was obviously mulling over something. They had both let their irritation with Kersh's insulting treatment build silently. Now that a little bit of that pressure was released, Scully was curious to hear more of whatever her partner was toying with in his mind.
"You really think that I dismiss everything that does not conform to science?"
Mulder wisely paused to choose his next words. It was always a balancing act, and they were both daring enough to walk the line, flirting with danger...and each other. Scully loved every minute of it.
"I...think that you are not one to part with convention," Mulder explained, weaving his words with legislative caution. "You lean on science, which is an established and widely-accepted framework for arguing a point. You don't know what it's like to break that mold, to let your ideas fly on their own based solely on what's in front of you rather than what has been previously explained by others. You just don't...let go."
Scully started to put her hands on her hips, but her elbow hit the power window button. The resulting rush of wind tugged at her hair and stole all of the authority from her rebuttal. After rolling up the window, she gave her partner a couple of indignant blinks for effect. She brushed a strand of hair from her face and tried in vain to look erudite and dignified.
"Are you saying that all of my arguments are essentially someone else's property? That I rely on previously- accepted theories rather than think for myself?"
Mulder squirmed in the driver's seat, leaning away from her almost imperceptibly, but his face remained stoic. Scully raised one eyebrow before continuing. Each of them had a set role to play, familiar territory to prowl as they tackled subjects outside of their comfort zone. Scully's heart suddenly ached with the realization that they were both so quick to compensate for treading in the intimate waters of innermost thoughts.
"Mulder," she said softly, staring at his right hand as it rested on the gear shift, "I know that it may appear that way to you...that everything I embrace is wrapped neatly in scientific theory with a golden bow on top, but it's far from the truth. Science does not contain the entirety of my convictions."
She allowed her voice to trail off, and she felt a great urge to lay her hand upon his, as if the simple act would make him understand. Her gaze drifted and came to rest upon the tiny golden crucifix hanging from her necklace. She enclosed the pendant in one hand and closed her eyes, and they stung with gathering tears.
"I've been ridiculed for my beliefs, too," she admitted quietly.
Scully knew the pain of rejection, and her throat began to burn when she considered its contribution to the mountain of adversity that Mulder had been forced to endure. She opened her eyes to find him staring at her. He looked genuinely puzzled, and she was not surprised.
"It's not exactly widely-accepted to believe in God and study science," she explained. "The two camps are common adversaries, and it was patently obvious in med school. Even at the academy. Since then, I've learned to be more..."
"Yes. Thank you."
Scully found herself reflecting on a conversation with an anonymous priest, her own words echoing in her head. "There's a man that I work with - a friend - and usually I'm able to discuss these things with him ... but not this." There had been so many times when she had felt the need tell him her suspicions, her theories, but when they were based on her faith, she never fully trusted him. Her words haunted her, making her wonder if she had really matured since then, if she was sacrificing either her faith or her friendship for the other. She still had a firm grasp on both. That was something. A place to start.
Mulder smiled at her, instantly dissipating the melancholy memories that had invaded her conscience.
"Well, I can't have anyone too popular working with me, you know. It'd ruin my reputation."
Scully snickered and rolled her eyes.
"Thanks. A lot."
"Seriously, my views regarding the paranormal are far from standard, at least in this culture," Mulder said, tilting his head slightly. "What exactly is so...unusually challenging about Catholicism? It's the largest organized religion in the world, after all."
"Some people are satisfied with tangible existence, immortality through procreation. Some are assuaged only with a higher purpose. I want both, even though the two often clash with each other in popular culture. I don't think they are necessarily contradictory positions, but that theory goes over about as well as your governmental alien sympathizer accusations."
Scully paused, repositioning herself and trying to stomp some blood back into her numbed right foot. It was a futile effort, because the rest of her body was falling asleep, as well. She leaned her seat back a notch and slumped toward Mulder, resting her cheek lightly on his shoulder.
"How do you reconcile the creationist versus evolutionist sides of your particular brand of dogma?" Mulder inquired, keeping his right arm as still as possible.
"Well, I still believe in evolution. I just think that God set it all in motion," she explained, snuggling reflexively against Mulder's deltoid muscle as she yawned. She closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose, reveling in the crisp scent of his shirt, the spicy cool fragrance of his aftershave, and the opportunity to simply be close to her partner. "And that He can and does occasionally make minor alterations, also known as miracles."
"It is pretty amusing, how you and I have such disparate beliefs, but generally get the same ugly reception," he observed, carefully moving his right hand to envelop hers.
Scully had wanted desperately to confide in him, to fully disclose her innermost insecurities and doubts, but she was reminded of his fierce loyalty in the gentle strength supporting her. Suddenly, it did not matter so much that she should force the issue, that her philosophical misgivings be aired inside a rental car careening through the middle of nowhere. She knew she could wait until the right time, because she could always be assured of Mulder's audience. That promise was enough to dispel the niggling guilt that was telling her how foolish she was to doubt his confidence.
"We do make a pretty good team, don't we?" Scully slurred a bit as sleep overcame her.
Mulder's voice rumbled pleasantly from deep inside him.
"I'll build a tower of furniture with you anytime, partner."
"Wake up, Scully."
She frowned and grumbled, irritated to be bothered inside her cocoon of sleep.
"Scully." Mulder shook his shoulder to awaken her. "We're almost there."
Scully blinked rapidly as she tried to clear her mind of slumber. She was embarrassed to find that her mouth was hanging wide open, and a steady stream of drool was running down her chin and coagulating on Mulder's sleeve. She sat up, wiping the stickiness away with her hand.
"Mph. Sorry about that."
Her hands groped for the release handle on the glove compartment and grabbed some napkins from the recess. She dabbed at his sleeve, trying to make the wet spot as inconspicuous as possible.
"That's okay. I'll just cover it with the jacket," he replied calmly. "Have a nice nap? Obviously, you were dreaming about me. Again."
He shot her a slightly evil grin before returning his gaze to the road. Scully sighed.
"How could you tell? Was I babbling about unfinished expense reports in my sleep?"
Mulder slapped his chest with his right hand in dramatic fashion, digging his fingertips into his shirt.
"You wound me, Scully."
He returned his hand to grip the wheel as their car turned onto a rough gravel road with a rusty, battered mailbox at its end. The car vibrated beneath them, hurling rocks against the undercarriage with loud "chink" sounds. Scully turned her head to see a large gray cloud of dust arise around and behind them.
"I hope this doesn't take too long. I'm dying for a shower and a stationary hotel bed," she said longingly.
"Yeah," Mulder agreed, foregoing the customary perversion of her baited statement. "It's been a long day. Hopefully, this guy will have his papers ready."
Their car rumbled down the narrow path, threading through a virtually endless palisade of tall livestock feed corn. The permeating stench of swine waste infiltrated the air conditioner and wended its way to Scully's nostrils.
"God," Scully exclaimed as she coughed. "That shower is sounding better and better."
She glanced over at her partner, who was covering his nose and mouth with his shirt cuff. He rolled his eyes toward her and nodded. Their car ground forward slowly, proceeding past the corn fields and toward a dilapidated fence surrounding a hog lot. A couple of massive, white American Yorkshire boars rooted at the ground with their tusks in separate pens. A drift of sows lay in the mud of the next enclosure, their litters surrounding them, happily suckling on warm milk.
Scully gasped as the car emerged from between two weeping willows to reveal the abode of their investigation subject. Encroaching woods threw graphite shadows over the sloping roof of a two-story Folk Victorian farmhouse. Green clumps of moss clung to warped black tar shingles, and wispy fingers of poison ivy crept up the Southern wall of the worn building. A slightly askew red brick chimney seemed to hold the whole sagging structure in place, defying gravity like a weary man leaning against the bend of a sapling. A wooden washtub and a swing occupied most of the front porch. A bowed line was strung from the lightning rod on the side of the house to a nearby maple, bearing a heavy load of denim overalls and cotton t-shirts. Yellow ears of corn lay piled inside a rusted dryer bin, and a squat, white shed harbored an antiquated Farmall tractor. The yard was bare dirt, with only a few shoots of yellow grass and dandelion leaves protruding from the ground. Mulder made a low whistle, and Scully felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand erect at the sight of it all. The place seemed forsaken by man and forgotten by time itself.
Mulder pulled the car into the yard and made a backwards "U". It was pointed toward the road, set to leave on a moment's notice. As he turned off the engine, Scully brushed back a stray strand of copper hair from her face and straightened her suit jacket. She checked that her sidearm was loaded and ready. A knot was forming in the pit of her stomach, and the solid weight of the Smith & Wesson at her side provided little reassurance. The partners gave each other a knowing glance before exiting the car. They were on full alert, wary of danger even on this mundane case.
They were immediately assaulted by the cacophony of hog grunts and squeals and the malodorous stench of manure. Scully walked close by Mulder so they could converse at a relatively low volume. They approached the front door of the house slowly, in no rush to meet its inhabitant.
"Kersh is going to pay for this one. Bigtime," she muttered.
"Hey, look at the bright side," he offered, his warm breath tickling her ear. "You now have a suit that is sure to repel Frohike's advances."
"If the holster wasn't enough to ward him off, I doubt that this will, either."
Scully saw a grin pull at the corners of her partner's mouth. He was obviously already forming a devious observation of her statement.
"Hm?" he inquired innocently, his eyes twinkling.
They reached the edge of the porch and halted simultaneously. Scully smiled at Mulder, tilting her head and waiting for him to go first.
"Age before beauty."
Mulder turned aside and made a sweeping forward gesture with his arms.
"Okay," she said with a sigh. "Pearls before swine, then."
Mulder's mouth fell open in mock indignation. He started to say something, but Scully silenced him with a sideways glare and stepped onto the wooden slats of the porch. The boards dipped slightly and creaked under the pressure. She walked up to the windowless door, hearing Mulder's progress behind her, and rapped politely on the doorframe. She paused for a few seconds, but there was no sound. She knocked again, much louder this time.
"Mister Legere?" she called.
"'M 'round back," a distant voice answered, followed by a sharp, steady rhythm of loud whacking sounds.
Scully turned to Mulder, one eyebrow raised. They nodded at each other and proceeded off of the porch and around the corner of the house. The agents cautiously drew nearer the source of the punctuated noises. Scully looked around the corner of the house to find a bulky figure with his back to her. Mulder placed his hand on her back as she turned, his warmth a statement of security.
The man before them hefted a large, pitted axe high over his head and brought it down before him, resulting in the loud snap of wood busting. Legere stood lightly, well balanced on strong legs. He wore a long-sleeved plaid shirt and faded denim jeans with worn work boots. Scully watched the shiny edge of the axe flash over his head two and three times before announcing herself.
"Sir? I'm Special Agent Scully of the FBI," she began, reaching for her ID.
The axe froze in mid-air before slowly lowering to the ground. Legere drew an arm across his forehead as he turned toward them, obscuring his face.
"Whew. Hotter'n Hades out here. Great weather, though," a baritone voice rumbled.
His arm dropped to his side, revealing a leathery visage. His dark, deep-set eyes seemed to engulf Scully. Sweat streamed down the man's forehead, soaking the front of his shirt. Black stubble covered his cheeks, and his thin lips were set in a crooked line. Crinkles arose at the corners of his eyelids as he smiled.
"Glad ta see y'all made it 'kay," Legere drawled through yellowed teeth.
His lower lip twitched slightly, and Scully felt uncomfortably vulnerable as his eyes swept over her.
"Ag'nt Sculleh," he greeted with fetid breath, offering his dusty hand after brushing it several times against the thigh of his jeans.
She shook it reluctantly and almost yelped at the crushing pressure of his grip. She was released quickly, though, so she moved aside as Legere directed his attention to her partner.
"'N' you are..."
"Special Agent Mulder," he replied, visibly hesitating to shake the man's hand. Scully noticed that his eyes widened as his fingers were trapped in Legere's iron grasp.
"Nice ta make your 'quaint'nce. I'm Don Legere," he introduced himself unnecessarily.
Legere studied them both silently for a few seconds before turning back to his work. He tossed the split kindling wood into a large pile resting against the rear of the house.
"So, what kin I do for y'all?" he asked over his shoulder.
Scully concentrated on breathing only through her mouth, closing the valves at the back of her nasal sinuses. She had become quite good at it through years of forensic autopsies. A pig tied to a nearby tree began to snort, startling her. It was a gilt, about half the size of one of the sows. It rooted contentedly in a small muddy puddle as Scully's heart thudded, still rushed by adrenaline. She felt edgy, a primitive voice inside her whispering cryptic warnings. She looked at her partner for a cue. He was unusually pale, nearly ill with the stench, so she took the initiative.
"We just need to see your fertilizer purchasing records."
"Oh, sure. Just gotta tank uv 'monium nitrate fer mah winter wheat. I'll go'wan inside 'n' get those. Y'all sit tight."
Legere straightened and walked by the agents on his way into the house. Scully felt an unnatural heat emanating from his body as he passed, as if a torch had been waved by her. She shook her head, eager to dismiss the sensation as a psychosomatic anomaly, and Mulder's earlier words resurfaced in her mind. She was too professional to let this get under her skin. It was simply a result of her overactive imagination and too much time spent trapped in the car with Mister Unsolicited Psychoanalysis.
Scully moved under the shadow of the trees' canopy, but the shade was just as scorching as the full sunlight. The pig noticed her proximity and sniffed at her, wiggling its striated nose in her direction. It gave a satisfied grunt and continued to root at the ground. Scully felt an urge to pet the animal. It was surprisingly cute, with short, knobby legs and expressive eyes that looked almost human.
"Scully," Mulder's voice interrupted.
Her partner was staring at the low tree stump upon which Legere had been splitting wood. She walked toward him, stopping when she saw the subject of his inspection. The face of the stump was sawed off with a smooth surface. The gray weathered grains were stained black and brown in a starburst pattern. Scully leaned closer and squinted. The stain was more recent and thinned around the edges, revealing its true pigment. It was red.
"It's blood," she stated, mostly to herself.
"So much for 'That'll do, pig,'" Mulder quipped.
Scully looked at the hog tied to the tree with newfound realization. A glance at the axe revealed speckles of dark stains and rusting. A cold feeling of terror swept over her, the universal discernment of prey. She started to convey the gruesome observation to Mulder, but she was interrupted by the muffled chirping of her cell phone. Scully retrieved the phone quickly, expecting an unwanted assignment check from Kersh. The caller ID displayed "Unknown". Scully raised an eyebrow and lifted the phone to her ear, pressing the "Talk" button. The line was dead. The display now flashed the word "Lost Signal".
"Hm. That's odd," she said dismissively before turning the phone off and tucking it back into its clip-on case.
"Here ya go."
Legere's voice boomed after his silent approach, making Mulder jump. Scully reflexively turned on her heel, feeling the man's hot breath on her neck. He was on the other side of her partner, though, not nearly close enough to cause the sensation. Scully's skin crawled, and a wave of apprehension passed through her. She drew in stifling air through her mouth with long, deep inhalations. She tried to calm herself, hoping that the menacing farmer had not perceived her discomfort. Legere smiled at her, a lecherous gleam lighting his eyes, before shoving a haphazard stack of papers into Mulder's hands. Then, while her partner was busy studying the forms, Legere winked and gave a slight nod. Scully felt his dirty gaze burrowing into her, his will impinging on hers, his mind feeding on her fear. She shivered beneath the broiling summer sun.
Mulder continued to shuffle through the papers, apparently oblivious of Legere's disturbing encroachments. Scully stared at him, trying to get his attention without actually voicing her discomfort, but he was too distracted. It seemed that their nexus of silent communication was suddenly inaccessible. She decided to resort to more desperate measures.
"Ahem," she coughed deliberately.
Her partner gave no reaction. Scully felt exasperated, terrified, and torn between her instincts and her reason. She wanted Mulder to understand. She needed him.
"Ahem!" she coughed again, louder this time.
Mulder looked up at her. Finally. She gestured aside with her head, indicating that she wanted to talk to him. He glanced in the direction that she indicated and smiled. The tethered pig happened to be there, grunting and wagging its tail. When Scully looked back, Mulder was once again engrossed in the forms. She bit her lip to avoid saying something untoward in front of the farmer. Her urge to smack Mulder was precariously strong.
She could not accept that he was totally blind to Legere's almost predatory treatment of her. Scully felt a familiar need to impress her partner, though, to win his approval. She couldn't let the man intimidate her. She had to stand on her own two high-heeled feet.
"Mulder, mind if I take a look at those?"
"Of course not," he replied.
He handed her the stack of records and receipts while Legere went back to arranging his pile of split kindling. Scully poured through the forms, searching for any anomaly. His name was entered on most of them as Abaddon Legere. Scully's eyebrow climbed up her forehead upon reading the formal version of his first name. It was very odd and vaguely familiar. However, there was nothing else of note in the fertilizer records. Scully noticed in her peripheral vision that Legere was walking by her again. Closely. Too closely.
Suddenly, she felt a jolt on her hip. Scully jumped, barely suppressing a yelp. The papers fell from her grasp, scattering all over the ground. Her hands flew to the spot where she felt the contact, and her ears burned as she discovered the cause of the sensation. Her cell phone had been bumped into vibrate mode.
Legere snorted audibly behind her. She held up the phone to reset it as Mulder earned his Indian Guide points by silently collecting the soiled records. The phone display told her that she had a new message in call waiting. Scully frowned, getting irritated with the situation. When she tried to access the message, the menu screen blanked out and was replaced with "out of range". She shook her head and began to turn off the display. Her thumb froze on the button, however, when the display flickered "interference". She blinked at the digital aberrance. Scully shrugged, happy that it was not trying to tell her to "kill them all", and vowed to get a new cell phone when the assignment was over.
When she looked up, she found that Legere was staring at her. New beads of sweat stood on his forehead, and his right eyelid twitched. He took a step back from her and shook his head.
"Scully?" Mulder diverted Scully's attention as he handed the papers back to her.
He gazed at her, his head cocked to one side. He leaned close, whispering into her ear.
"Is something wrong?"
About time he noticed, Scully thought. She suddenly felt embarrassed by his attention, though. Legere had done nothing overtly threatening, and now she was reluctant to admit that she was afraid. It was not something she could really explain to her partner. Both of them were aware of the common psychological stance that adult humans possess no true instincts, but what Scully felt was contradicting that belief. What she detected was something dark and powerful beyond normal perception.
Mulder looked at Scully, at Legere, and back. His expression was of obvious concern and caution.
"Mr. Legere," he intoned carefully, placing himself slightly in front of his partner, "we also need to see your livestock purchase records for the past year."
"Ah. The Dev'l's in the details, I guess. Weeell, I'm not sure where those're. Prob'ly left 'em in the den," Legere drawled, scratching his head.
He spat into the dirt only a few inches away from Scully's shoes.
"Why don't y'all come on in while I dig 'round for 'em? Maht take a while, and it's gettin' purty hot out here."
He peered at Mulder expectantly, his body already turned to leave. Mulder nodded slowly.
"We'll be right there."
"Fine...fine," he responded, looking pleased as he disappeared around the corner.
Mulder turned to Scully, glancing down at the stack of forms. It rattled as it shook in her grip. He gently took the pile from her, stilling the tremor with his hands.
"Is there something you want to tell me?"
Scully stared into the inviting haven of his hazel eyes and tried to gulp down her insecurity.
"I...I think there may be something powerful at work, here. A presence. Something powerful. Unnatural," she offered tentatively. A sharp glint of surprise lit Mulder's eyes. His intent expression urged her to continue. "Do you feel it, too?"
His reply was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. She sighed in frustration and raised it to her ear. The connection sizzled with static. Scully glanced toward the house, wondering if Legere was somehow behind the calls. Inside, a light flooded one of the rear windows with yellow. Legere's silhouette appeared, contrasted beneath the shadow cast by the trees in the back yard. Suddenly, the static resolved into voices, and Scully's ear was flooded with a blaring chorus of modulatory song. Concurrent with the blasting wall of sound, the scene before her eyes morphed into a horrifying image.
Legere's silhouette contorted and collapsed on itself. The black, writhing shade shot out fingers of darkness, exploding into thousands of swirling entities. The light from the window was doused by the mass of evil in the room. Scully gasped, nearly dropping the phone from her hand. She stood transfixed, paralyzed by shock and fear. The volume of the chorus in her ear grew louder, and the obscure shapes grew more frantic, circling with tremendous speed. The window rattled as they glanced off of it, and a faint bass rumbling accompanied their bizarre dance.
The pane of glass jarred visibly, the pressure inside the room increasing by the second. Beneath the flooding mass of heavenly song, Scully thought she could discern a pleasant, almost familiar-sounding voice saying her name. She blinked, but she could not tear her eyes away from the macabre spectacle before her.
"In faith you see."
The voice whispered it only once and disappeared from the throng. Scully turned to Mulder, terror and realization draining the blood from her face, but he was only gazing toward the horizon with a look of boredom. He was totally unaware of the demonic force only a few yards away.
"Mulder!" she said under her breath, afraid that the evil presence might somehow hear her.
He turned to her with a sheepish look, slightly embarrassed that she had caught him zoning out. He waited expectantly. Scully was just about to ask him if he had noticed anything the least bit unusual when a loud bang jolted her attention back to the window.
"Oh, my God..."
Two flickering eyes peered at her from the glass, set deep in a face of flame and coal, of destruction and void. The demon's visage resembled a burning oil slick, only its surface was animated with the writhes and clutches of intolerable suffering. Scully felt a chill that began at the base of her skull and spread to her fingertips and toes. Every nerve in her body screamed "run", but she forced her feet to stay planted. She was not going to let irrational fear turn her into a coward. The creature opened its maw, revealing a cardinal-red chasm and the obscured faces of dozens of people. All of them looked like shrunken heads, lifeless and hollow. Don Legere was among them.
Scully felt a hand touch her shoulder, and she jerked, dropping the phone and nearly jumping out of her skin. Mulder gently rotated her chin toward him. He spoke to her in a soft, low voice.
"Are you okay, Scully? I've never seen you this...spooked."
He winced at his choice of words, but he left open their connection of eye contact. His worry was obvious to Scully. Professional conduct be damned, she thought, and clamped her arms around him in a fierce bear hug. Scully was incredibly frightened, as terrified as a six-year-old girl lost in the dark of the woods, and it was only against the solid steadiness of Mulder's body that hers stopped quaking.
She buried her face in the soft fabric of his suit jacket. The woven material helped slow her frantic breathing, but her heart was still trying to bolt from her ribs. Scully dug her cheek into his chest, trying to bury herself, to hide from the world for a moment. The calm thumping of Mulder's heartbeat brought her back into focus. He held her without a word, stroking the back of her shoulder with his thumb in a soothing pattern. She grew bolder and slowly turned her eyes toward the window. It had returned to normal, however, with only Legere's shadow rippling against the dirty glass.
Scully knew that she would have to explain her behavior, but some subjects were not ripe for discussion yet. Of course, Mulder would be surprised if she acknowledged the presence of evil, but not incredibly so. He would be willing to believe it. Scully was not as sure that he would lend credence to her observations if the other factor was included. Mulder would act on information based upon the capers of devils, but would he think her crazy if she had also heard the voice of God? Scully sighed, reluctant to have reached her decision. In spite of the ensuing guilt, she could not tell him everything. Too much was at stake. He was at stake.
"Mulder," she said while pulling away, "I saw something that does not fall within the realm of known science." She took a deep breath. "I saw Legere turn into a mass of demons."
To his credit, Mulder stammered only slightly in response. His eyebrows furrowed together as he spoke.
"For a few seconds, he appeared as an aggregation of evil beings. Mulder, I don't know how to explain this, but I believe that we are in great danger as long as we stay here."
His mixed emotions were plain on his face, and Scully could almost see the smoke rising from his ears as he processed this new bit of counsel. He looked somewhat dubious, but she knew that he was struggling against the urge to pry further.
"I've seen no outward aggression on his part. Hm... Are you sensing a definite threat? Are you completely certain?"
Scully nodded. Her partner narrowed his eyes, trying to gauge the situation. Telling Mulder about a physical manifestation of evil was like dangling a carrot in front of him. She knew that he could read her fear, though. It was undeniable. She was emanating terror, her hairs standing on end, her every nerve tingling with wariness, her muscles tensed and ready to spring.
"Let's just finish collecting his forms and go, then. We have no reason to take him into custody at this point."
"Okay," Scully agreed. "Let's finish it."
She gripped his arm, wanting desperately to tell him the entire truth. Words burned on the tip of her tongue, but she bit them back. The acceptance in his eyes would have to be enough. Scully released his arm and stooped to retrieve her cell phone.
"What're y'all standin'round out here for? It's a lot cooler inside. C'mon. I think've narra'd it down ta one box."
Scully straightened up, seeing Legere standing there expectantly. She and Mulder glanced at each other, mirrored suspicion passing wordlessly between them. Mulder guided her with one hand on her back and carried the papers in the other. They followed Legere at a distance, watching his every move. Their subject ambled to the front of the house and opened the door, flashing the edges of his decayed teeth before disappearing inside.
The pressure against the small of Scully's back halted at the porch. Mulder stepped forward and opened the screen door, intending to enter first. Scully reached out to stop him. She could not let him confront Legere. He might discern the monster's true form, but he would be blind to its weakness, its one vulnerability. Scully passed by Mulder and stood before the door, hesitant to venture any further. The fact that she could not see inside made her all the more careful. She kept her right hand down, poised to draw her gun, while she raised the other to knock on the door. Her knuckles hit only air. The door had swung open a crack, and Legere's bulging, porcine eye peered around its edge.
"Ag'nt Sculleh. Thought you got lost out there."
He opened the door just shoulder width. Scully tried to see into the room, but his hulking form blocked her view. That fact made her very edgy.
"C'mon in. I 'pol'gize for the mess. It's been a while since muh house's seen a lady."
Scully felt Mulder's chest press against her back. His territorial behavior would be kicking in about now, and she welcomed it. Scully took a step toward the entrance, but her cell phone interrupted her once again. She raised the phone to push the "Talk" button, but the display message made her pause. In big, block letters, the word "WARNING" flashed repeatedly.
The power was not on. It had shut off automatically. Scully raised her eyes slowly, feeling that Legere must now be aware of her messages. He had an arm extended, as if offering to usher her into his house. He glanced at the phone and back at her, a dangerous gleam in his eye. His hand shot out to grasp hers, covering the faceplate of the cell phone.
Scully's only urge was to flee, but she was paralyzed. A draining sensation grew from his skin. It was a familiar cold, the chill touch of death. Scully stared at his hand, shocked by the feeling.
In a split second, Legere's flesh on her hand started to turn gray and blister. She watched transfixed as his skin degraded before her eyes. The top layer wrinkled and sloughed off, his fingers turning red with patches of angry welts. Scully felt nauseated upon seeing his spontaneous decay. She looked up, and his features sagged and erupted in ulcerated and necrotic nodules and copper-colored lesions. Suddenly, she recognized the symptoms, dredging up an obscure, long-forgotten disease from the recesses of her memory. It was Hansen's disease...lepromatous leprosy. That she knew from science. Her Catholic dogma, however, told her that it was an omen, the disease of the unclean soul.
This was not a natural case. It was a highly accelerated progression, decades of affliction compressed into the span of a few seconds. Scully felt her heart race, and her breathing rushed audibly through her nose. She looked over her shoulder. Mulder had his hand on the grip of his semi- automatic pistol, but he did not convey the horror of Legere's physical manifestation of evil. Scully knew from his posture, from his eyes that he saw only a crude, possibly dangerous man, not a spawn of Hell.
Scully turned back to her foe. She felt the life being drained from her as Legere stared at her, licking his peeling lips with a swollen, purple tongue. She closed her eyes, knowing that her partner did not have the means to help her now, and plead for intercession from above. Scully became dizzy, visions of dark, malicious spirits circling in her mind. Just as her knees began to buckle, she reached over with her left hand and grasped the cross hanging from her neck.
A jolt of electricity shot through her body, obliterating the visions in her head. The surge reached her other hand, and the demon's grip disappeared. She opened her eyes to see Legere staggering backwards, his appearance returned to its more innocuous state. He was panting, the wan veil of intense fear upon his face. Scully's strength gave out, and she wavered, finally wilting against her partner's chest.
He caught her by the arms and held her, turning to place himself between her and the door. Scully whispered words of comfort to herself, the rhythm ingrained in her long ago.
"Hail Mary, full of grace..."
Meanwhile, Legere caught the doorknob and straightened, trying to regain his balance. His eyes were like saucers, and his leering was replaced with abject terror. Scully watched, peering over Mulder's arm. In spite of her rattled composure, she thoroughly enjoyed Legere's obvious discomfort. Scully sighed with relief, happy to see the tables finally turned.
"Mr. Legere," Mulder said through clenched teeth, his tone deliberate and threatening, "my partner and I have other appointments to keep, so I suggest that you bring me those purchase forms immediately, and we'll be on our way."
Legere took two deep, audible breaths and nodded, all the while staring at Scully.
"I...I ain't gonna hode you'p."
A flash of flame licked at the terror his eyes, and Scully was reminded that the ordeal was not yet over. Mulder tried to support her flagging strength in the least conspicuous way. His own posture was one of intimidation and dominance.
Scully could feel the pumping of Mulder's chest quicken. She was completely drained, and she allowed herself to rely on his strength. Legere shivered, blinking once at her partner before disappearing into the house. Mulder took the opportunity to shift his hold on her so he could have access to his gun if necessary.
"Are you okay?" he asked with a tinge of confusion.
His face paled upon looking at her.
"I think s..."
The loud crash of metal banging against wood shook the house. Legere was having an obvious tantrum, his fury being spent on his few possessions.
"Mulder," Scully intoned, her plea deadly serious, "get us out of here."
He nodded, setting his lips into a firm line. Meanwhile, Scully crossed herself for good measure. She felt her strength slowly returning, so she leaned against the dubious columns supporting the porch roof. Mulder would be free to move when Legere returned. Scully placed her right palm against the checkered rubber grip of her service weapon and began to recite the Lord's Prayer, making sure to cover all of the bases. The constant contact of Mulder's back against her side completed the fortification.
"...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
She had made it through three recitations when Legere reappeared, his timing impeccable. The door creaked open, and his hand shoved out bearing the requested forms.
"This's it," his voice called out gruffly. "Now, I'd be much obliged ta have yer leave. I've got some pork to fillet."
Mulder took the papers, retracting his hand as if from a mousetrap. The door snapped shut before he could say anything. He did an about-face and found Scully crossing herself. She looked at him and gulped, her countenance ghostly. They proceeded together off of the porch, Mulder supporting his still-quaking partner. The door opened and shut behind them as they made their way to the car. They did not look back.
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee," Scully chanted, her voice low and sober with weight of eternal implications.
Heavy footsteps thudded away from them. The pig grunted and snorted behind Legere's house. The rest of the animals had fallen quiet.
"B-blessed art thou amongst women," she stuttered as Mulder guided her to the passenger's seat of their rental, "and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus."
Mulder reached across and fastened her seatbelt for her. Scully's concentration was elsewhere. She left the door open while he went to the driver's side.
The pig squealed again, this time in a piercing call of panic. And then a "thunk". And silence. Scully shut her door immediately and leaned her brow against clinched fists.
" Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
She crossed herself again and drew in a deep breath before looking at Mulder. His gaze was intense, conveying strong but mixed emotions. He slid the car into drive without a word and hit the accelerator. The back tires spun, kicking up loose gravel and dust as the duo made their escape. Scully glanced out her window and noticed that the pigs were all facing the house, their ears cocked toward the disturbance in the back yard. Scully looked away and slumped down in her seat, suddenly nauseous.
"Are you going to be okay?"
She felt a hand on her shoulder, squeezing lightly with concern.
"Yeah," she sighed. "I think we're both okay now."
Mulder accepted her response, driving several miles without saying a word. Scully could tell by the set of his jaw and visible tension in the muscles of his neck that he was angry. His ears turned red as he silently mulled. He seemed to be oblivious to her presence. Scully was naturally worried, given her partner's penchant for self- flagellation.
"Mulder..." she said, touching his arm.
He jerked away from Scully's hand, startled out of his deep contemplation. He blinked hard a few times and glanced at her.
"Sorry. What was that?"
His gaze was distant, searching...lost. He sometimes looked this way after struggling to consciousness from a nightmare, and Scully was a little distraught, knowing that he was so emotionally strained. She folded her hands in her lap.
"Tell me," she urged with concern. "Tell me what's bothering you."
Mulder squeezed the steering wheel once, the muscles in his hands bunching, then smoothing.
"I can't believe I didn't see it sooner. I should have intervened. It seems so obvious now..."
He shook his head, his hair ruffled by the air conditioner's tepid offerings.
"I've never seen you so agitated, Scully. I guess that's why I didn't recognize the problem at first. I was too busy pissing and moaning over this assignment and the new Assistant Dictator."
"But you could..."
She stopped herself. The last thing he needed to hear now was that he could not have made a difference, even if that was her certainty. How could she possibly explain that his was not the only protection she had?
"I should have been willing to see what you sensed immediately, that there were supernatural forces at work. For some reason I couldn't accept the possibility," he stated in a hard tone, "even though you were obviously feeling threatened."
Beads of sweat stood out on Mulder's forehead. Scully noted that the air conditioner vents were aimed directly at him. She laid a hand on top of his thigh, and the sinews instantly tightened. The car decelerated as his foot jerked.
"You had my back, Mulder. We got the job done without the need to file an incident report. That's what matters."
He could not accept her teasing praise so easily, though.
"Why did you block the doorway...put yourself in danger? Scully, I wanted to protect you. Or at least do my damnedest to try."
Scully blushed pink, humbled by the depth of her partner's admission. She gazed out the window, hoping to find a ready answer in the forest of leafy stalks. Mulder's fingertips began to rap nervously on the steering wheel. Scully turned, placed her hand over his, stilling the rhythmic patter. She kept the contact, touching only lightly so that he could steer unheeded. She leaned over and kissed his cheek.
"What?" he inquired, distracted by her affectionate attention.
"I was a little overwhelmed. That situation was so...bizarre. You got us out of there, but I had to do my part, too. You can't take all of the risks and the glory, you know."
She lifted her hand and punched him playfully in the shoulder.
"Hey! I'm on your side, remember?" he said while clutching his shoulder, hamming an injury.
"Thank God," she whispered quite sincerely.
Mulder chucked his travel bag on the motel bed. It landed with an ominous "thunk", devoid of the rebound one would expect from a padded mattress. He groaned. His back muscles cramped at the mere thought of spending a night on that unyielding slab.
"Scully," he asked, voice raised, "do you have any more stuff to bring in?"
"Just one more. In the trunk," came the muffled reply from the other side of the door dividing their rooms.
Mulder stretched his arms and headed back to the car. He popped the latch and opened the trunk lid. There, lying in wait for its unsuspecting victim, was Gargantua, Mother of all Suitcases. Mulder sighed, put his hands on his hips, and contemplated the necessity of moving the ridiculous piece of luggage. On the plus side, Scully would have fewer items of clothing. Mulder grinned, visions of "Do not disturb" signs and late checkout fees dancing in his head. On the minus side, he knew he simply could not deny her anything she asked, even if it meant a trip to the chiropractor. He decided to suck it up. He bent over, grabbing the handle and the free end of the puffy suitcase.
"Bend the knees," he reminded himself.
When he tried to straighten his legs, though, nothing happened.
"What the heck does she keep in this thing?" he pondered aloud to the vacant parking lot.
Mulder inhaled deeply and willed his straining legs to straighten, finally hefting the unwieldy load into the air. He huffed and staggered sideways, attempting to close the trunk lid with his elbow. He succeeded after a couple of tries and began stumbling forward, trying to aim himself in the general direction of Scully's door.
The suitcase and its struggling form of transportation landed against the door with a "poof". It was locked. Mulder frowned, realizing that he had no free appendages with which to knock.
"Scully," he called through clenched teeth, "you might want to open this door. Um...now."
The bag was slipping from his grip. He wrestled with the shapeless load as its weight gradually crushed his lumbar vertebrae.
His voiced pitched higher, in the initial stages of panic. His arms began to tremble just as the door swung open. With the extra support suddenly gone, the weight of the suitcase pitched him forward. Scully stood there with her eyes wide. She had no time to react. The last thing Mulder wanted to do was explain to Kersh how his partner met her demise beneath her own luggage. Mulder gave one last mighty grunt and hurled himself toward her bed. The suitcase toppled out of his grip and landed with a solid "thud" on the floor.
"Mulder? Are you okay?" she asked, failing to suppress a giggle.
He lay spread-eagle on her bed and gasped for air.
"W-what the Hell is in that thing?"
"Oh, you know, clothes, shoes...your first aid kit."
Mulder shook his head.
"That was a cheap shot."
"Yes, it was."
Mulder looked up. Scully was smiling smugly. She stepped forward, her arms folded in front of her. She stood beside him for a moment, scanning her partner for trauma. Mulder felt a very physical tingle travel with her gaze.
"Thanks for bringing in my suitcase," she said before turning around. Scully continued while she was attending to the subject. "I'm sorry you hurt your back."
Her body obscured Mulder's view of what she was doing, but he did not mind. Not at all. It was, in fact, a very nice vantage as she bent to her task. She fussed over the bag for a short while, allowing Mulder the opportunity to appreciate the perfect symmetry of her ass. Something in front of her went "snap", and she turned around, moving aside to let him see. Mulder's jaw fell open, his ego hurting even more than his spine.
The suitcase had a retractable handle, now extended, and two spring-loaded wheels. Scully easily rolled the infernal item over to the dresser and began sifting through its contents for the night's required items. Mulder sighed.
"If it's any consolation, I'll give you extra Brownie points for the effort."
"Guide, please. Indian Guide points."
Mulder gawked at her for a moment, curious about the odd turn of phrase, but he decided it was safer to let it be. She continued to rifle through her belongings and opened a drawer. She placed her change of clothes in it, removing another item in the process. Mulder paid more attention to her round shoulders and shifting hips than the items in front of her.
"I don't suppose I can cash in those extra points for a nice massage..." he ventured, allowing the deep muscle pain to inflect his voice just a little bit. Just a little bit on purpose.
"That sounds fair," she replied, placing a stack of pajamas and something silky and alluring atop the dresser.
Mulder stared like a fish at a shiny object. He was starting to feel like the whole day might have actually been worth it.
"I'm going to take a shower first, though. You should probably get one, too. Help your muscles relax."
"M'kay," he mumbled, standing up and slowly following her toward the bathroom.
Scully. Shower. Silky stuff. The idea did anything but relax him. He continued to trace her steps until he was toeing the carpet's edge.
"I'll be out in a few," she promised, pecking him on the lips.
The door closed in his face.
Guess she meant a separate shower, he lamented. Still, she managed to leave him feeling lighter. Somehow stronger. Mulder wandered over to the dresser, breathing in the scent of her sweat still lingering in the air. He closed his eyes, titillated by the sharp odor.
When he opened his eyes again, he was looking at the top of the dresser. She had left open a small book. The binding was green faux leather, and the print was tiny. Mulder picked it up and turned it over, carefully preserving the saved page. It was a Bible, left there by the Gideons.
Mulder raised his eyebrows and turned the book back over. He felt as though he were prying, but he was curious about what his partner had been studying while he was studying her ass. The Bible was opened to the Book of Mark, chapter five. That much he could see. The rest was a bit of a problem. Mulder had to hold the book at arm's length and squint, wishing he had packed his reading glasses.
The print finally came into focus. Mulder read, simultaneously intrigued and chilled by the words there.
The Healing of a Demon-possessed Man
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"
Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"
"My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man--and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
Mulder was stunned upon finishing the passage. He laid the book back where Scully had left it, the flesh of his arms and neck prickling. He immediately became worried about his partner, only now fully understanding her earlier fear.
Mulder went to her bathroom door and raised his fist, ready to knock, but something stopped him. The sound of low talking emanated from the thin door. He pressed his left ear against the wood and stood completely still. The shower's water pelted relentlessly against plastic. Scully's words began to take form as she slightly raised her voice.
"...you for our...please keep him..."
Mulder swallowed hard, wishing his thumping heart would be still for just a moment.
"I know I don't deserve either of you, but thank you for putting Mulder in my life."
More water fell, invading the silence.
"Thank you for giving me his trust...and his love. Please keep him safe..."
Mulder slid down the door, landing gently on his knees. He stared at his upturned palms, baffled, trying to find the impetus behind Scully's prayers. His inner examination was equally futile. He simply could not see through his partner's eyes. Could not find the motivation that caused her to petition the heavens on his behalf, what qualified him to be favored in this profound way. He rested his head against the door. Scully's liquid voice mixed with the droplets of the shower and poured over him.
"Please...show me how to make him as complete as he makes me, Father, and keep him in the palm of your hand."
Mulder closed his eyes, shuddered with intense veneration, and, for a moment, he believed.
Thanks to Satchie and Sheila for lending valued time and suggestions to this project. Thanks also to Vickie for providing detail information for the setting.
The Biblical excerpt in asterisks is from the NIV translation of The Book of Mark, Chapter 5, Verses 1-20.
Abbadon - Means "ruin, destruction" in Hebrew. In Revelation in the New Testament this is another name of the angel of the abyss.
legere - Latin verb "to choose" or "to gather". Basis of the English noun "legion".
deus ex machina - 1. In Greek and Roman drama, a god lowered by stage machinery to resolve a plot or extricate the protagonist from a difficult situation. 2. An unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot. 3. A person or event that provides a sudden and unexpected solution to a difficulty.
-or, more bluntly-
(from Greek theos apo mechanes): An unrealistic or unexpected intervention to rescue the protagonists or resolve the conflict. The term means "The god out of the machine," and refers to stage machinery. A classical Greek actor, portraying one of the Greek gods in a play, might be lowered out of the sky onto the stage and then use his divine powers to solve all the mortals' problem. The term is a negative one, and often implies a lack of skill on the part of the writer. In a modern example of deus ex machina, a writer might reach a climactic moment in which a band of pioneers were attacked by bandits. A cavalry brigade's unexpected arrival to drive away the marauding bandits at the conclusion, with no previous hint of the cavalry's existence, would be a deus ex machina conclusion. Such endings mean that heroes are unable to solve their own problems in a pleasing manner, and they must be "rescued" by the writer himself through improbable means.