Title: Genius Loci
Summary: While investigating an unusual haunting in Louisville, Kentucky, Mulder and Scully find themselves in the middle of a battle between heaven and hell. Meanwhile, as the smoke clears from the fifth season openers, the Corsortium enlists a bizarre man to remove some loose ends.
Note: This is a debut work, so be gentle. This is an old- style investigative X- File with a side story of mythology. With the discoveries of the fifth season openers, I wanted to put in my two- cents in regards to Mulder's loosened grip on his mighty quest in proving the existence of extraterrestrials. This story was my way of re- affirming the quest- - for both agents- - in searching for what's "Out there" by bringing them face- to- face with "what's in here," the supernatural. A myriad of the past is presented, but the biggest spoiler being a major motif from the "Calusari." Thanks for giving me a chance, RedMuseum
The door to their office was slightly ajar.
She halted to a near- jolt, eyebrows rising instinctively, and cautiously bent to peer inside. Mulder was off. Forced vacation before his period was up. He had bellyached about it; he had incessantly rambled needlessly in justification of it; and he had given her the bright- eyed "thumbs up" as he left the office yesterday in anticipation of having a full day to himself to relive the thrill of Super Bowl XXXII on video in the privacy of his apartment.
"'Might even watch Superbowl '97 again, and maybe if I play it in reverse, Scully, the Packers will appear to be losing that one, too," he had said with a snicker as he nonchalantly pulled the door shut. No, Mulder was not in the office today...but somebody definitely was.
Agent Dana Scully took a deep breath, lowered her eyebrows, gaining her composure, and pushed the door open to find Assistant Director Skinner hands- and- face deep in the file cabinet. He shot upright in a military stance, turning his spectacled face to find his finder. With his eyes on her, his hands lowered and carefully drove the drawer closed with a slow, metal- on- metal screech.
"Uhhh, sir?" Scully asked, shaken and caught off- guard despite the familiar face, an old, venomous suspicion still rising in her blood on instinct. She attempted to control her expression, to hide the look of surprise and suspicion, but could only elicit a severe stare of question.
"Agent Scully," Skinner said, in rigid greeting.
"Sorry, sir. I was just surprised to see anyone in the office. With Mulder off."
"Agent Scully, I was collecting data on some file conclusions for my monthly reports- - "
"Sir, I- - " Scully began, shifting her reply with a turn of the head. "I was caught off guard. I know that I displayed an indignant level of suspicion before, and I mean no disrespect now." Her eyes burned with memory and shaded, but essentially blameless guilt "You have every right in the world to enter this office. It's just that, when Mulder is off, everything just- - "
"Doesn't look or react in normal terms?" he asked, with a mild, crooked smile.
"Occupational hazard when you engage in such an exclusive partnership, Scully."
"Yes," she said, returning a smile, her eyes deep within his fatherly, caring gaze. "I was going to catch up on some busy work while Mulder was off, and maybe line up some files for investigation."
"There are five files approved by my office there on the desk That's why I'm here," Skinner said in his taut, tight- eyed majesty, filling his pockets with his hands, and following Agent Scully with his eyes. "Look, um, Agent Scully.
I'm sorry, very sorry for your loss."
"Sir," Scully began, turning from him, her hair hiding her face. Her reaction tender and as squirmy as an embarrassed child, her naturally adamant self- reliance initiating a resistance to coddling sympathy. "This is not necessary."
"You've been through a great ordeal. You've been hit on all sides one after the other. Once the right begins to heal, the left takes a hit." Skinner crossed the office and laid a mighty but gentle hand on her shoulder. "I know about Emily. This kind of trauma on the heels of your cancer ordeal- - these things can knock you out of focus. If you need more time off- - "
"No!" Scully nearly shouted, drawing away quickly. "Please, sir." Scully took a deep breath and shrugged her shoulders. "I need to work. This is the only way I can cope. If 'cope' is even the appropriate term. I- - this is what I need to be doing."
"Agent Scully," Skinner said, his voice lower, coarse. He closed his lips tight in a thin line and squinted his eyes, his head swiveling despite the snug base of his collar. "I empathize with that more than you know." With that, the Assistant Director left the office, closing the door softly behind him.
Scully plopped down in Mulder's chair and buried her face in her hands.
Minutes passed and soon a calm came over her. She reached out and pulled the stack of file folders in front of her, the activity causing a small yellow notepad to topple off onto the floor. Scully walked around and picked it up.
She pulled out her glasses and read the words on the pad. The sleek, long handwriting was Skinner's- - she'd seen his writing enough to notice it immediately.
Roush - - Blevins
Corsair Labs 555- 8912
Lucian Family Planning - 676- 9099
Files IB7777290, X455578, X9097834
"Agent Scully!" Skinner said as he thrust back in, the furor shocking Scully into dropping the notepad. "Excuse me," he said as he bent down to retrieve the pad.
"Sir? What- - "
"You said you had work to do. Do your work, Agent Scully." He left her alone again without another word. At the sound of the door latching, Scully hurriedly yanked open the top drawer of the file cabinet and noticed several files askew. Despite his otherwise scatterbrained management of the rest of the office, Mulder kept the files in immaculate order. Skinner was responsible for this disarray. Her eyes widened with concern as she took mental note of the particular files that had been shifted out of order:
1. The EMT's report on pulling the body of the woman that claimed to be Samantha Mulder from the river.
2. Scully's report on finding the Gregors in File Name: Colony 3. The affidavits of Jeremiah Smith, and Mulder's report on the man.
4. Scully's own file from the time of her abduction.
"Monthly reports?" Scully asked the air. "What are you looking for, Skinner?" Scully patted and shifted the files back in marching order and quickly returned to the desk, Mulder's clutter comforting her. Restoring order always gave her a rush, as she scrambled together the mass of papers on the desk into several fine stacks. She scouted through the incoming files, reviewing them with scientific discretion, making tip- of- the- brain comments and notations on a separate notepad. Scully swiveled around in the soft chair and stared at the "I Want To Believe" poster and smiled in chagrin. She missed him. Without his doe- eyed belief and spontaneous leaps in disorder, her science was just her science, a comfortable yet straight- lined safety. She returned her attention back to her files, made a little fist and pounced it against the thick manila skin of the folders. With her other hand, she dug into her purse and pulled out the cell phone. With a puff of hesitation, she dialed his number.
He spidered the fingers of both hands over his unshaven cheeks, swiped at the sweaty devil's horn bangs hanging over his eyes, then, in the throes of a bloodhound- like yawn, shifted his body in the couch. The black leather skin of the cushion caught his white tee- shirt and he fumbled the shirt back over his washboard abs and slithered his arms back behind his head as the tape began.
Mulder glared at the television in earnest anticipation, his eyes wide like ogling marbles. Never letting his eyes leave the screen, Mulder unhooked an arm and dropped it down to find the box of Kleenex, pulling it over right below him.
Daylight crept in through the blinds as the carnal pleasure- fest began. The Super Bowl tapes were low- men- on- the- totem- pole below a stack of XXX classics.
"Flip over, baby," said the burly man on the screen.
"Oooohhh..." a tiny, bubbly blonde replied.
"Come on, come on, babe," the man continued. "Can you get me excited, baby?
Till my love is long?"
"Hmm," Fox Mulder chuckled. He squinted his eyes and pressed pause, running that last line over and over in his head. There was something minutely monumental about that line. A saucy pearl embedded in a fleshy lack of art.
"I like that. Good line, pal." He pressed play and grimaced when he realized that the sound of the phone ringing was not coming from the television. Mulder rolled off the couch and crushed the box of tissues with his elbows. He jumped up and banged a bare leg against the coffee table. "Ugh! Damn." Mulder threw himself against his desk and swiped the phone.
"Mulder," he said with a sigh.
"Mulder, it's me," came the curt feminine voice on the other line. Mulder smiled at the familiar sound.
"Scully, can you get me excited till my love is long?"
"Excuse me?" Scully asked, drawing silent.
"Hah. Uh, yeah, Scully. What's up?" Mulder yawned again and cupped a hand over his eyes to block the sunlight.
"How's the game going?" Scully asked.
"I- - I think we're winning," he said, trying not to chuckle as the moaning sounds resonating from the television grew louder. "Tight- ends and full- backs all over the place."
"I'm sorry to intrude on your day off- - but I had some incoming X- Files I wanted to run past you for a second."
"Do you miss me, Scully?"
"Mulder, there are three separate incidents of lights being seen over different states in New England on the same night at approximately the same time."
"Mulder? I thought maybe- - "
"Next. I don't think I'm in the investigative mood for that right now."
Mulder paused with an audible swallow. "I- - just don't have a grip on- - I need to gain some perspective- - "
"They are all approved, Mulder."
"Well, there's a report of missing people- - a group of eleven actually- - during a Prince- - or whatever they are officially calling this man now- - concert. They reappeared, each in different parts of the world, each with a case of amnesia, repeatedly reciting lyrics to one of his songs." Mulder didn't respond, so the paper started flipping again. "There's a file here on a supposed haunting in Louisville, Kentucky. It's a direct plea of the family to you, actually. The phenomena sound unbelievable, and they say that parapsychologists and priests have visited but the problem persists. They are desperate for help..."
"Louisville?" Mulder asked, his preternatural wheels turning.
"Yes, an area called the Highlands- - "
"Really? A haunting?" Mulder backed away from the desk and reached around to the television and hit the off button as happy couple reached climax and the moaning got too loud to hide. "Interesting. There was a file that originated there years ago."
"No, no, Scully. In 1971, something fell from heaven into Louisville, Kentucky."
"Yes, I'm Assistant Director Walter Skinner of the FBI, and I have a few questions for you if you can spare the time," Skinner said, reclining back in his chair, a straight beam of light jutting through the window and radiating a warm orange glow on his glasses.
"One second, sir. Please hold," the receptionist answered, cold, unapproachable. He waited, mindlessly circling the words on his notepad in swooping, elliptical orbs.
"Sir, can I help you?" a slightly different feminine voice spoke.
"Yes," Skinner continued. "I would like to know if your facility has had any dealings with a lobbying firm called Roush."
"That doesn't ring a bell, sir. Sorry- - "
"Wait!" Skinner said, not about to be pushed aside, his voice growing acerbic, bitterly determined. "Listen carefully. I am calling in an official capacity as Assistant Director of the FBI and I command full cooperation. I would prefer to speak to one of the resident doctors directly."
"Excuse me, sir," the woman replied, annoyed. "I'm afraid the doctors are unavailable today. They are attending conferences. Only the office is open today."
"When do you expect them back?"
"That depends," she said, audibly jotting on a notepad. "Are you interested in speaking with Doctor Scanlon or Doctor Calderon?"
After another now- classic ten minute 'discussion,' on the subject of the rental car during their wait in Louisville International Airport, Scully briskly took the driver's seat. Silence and a few instances of eye- rolling sighs followed.
"What's this?" Scully asked as her lane suddenly began to merge with several others on both sides. She arched up to get a better view, keeping a straight, if- not puzzled face as Mulder chuckled beside her.
"Keep in this lane, shorty," he said, ducking down to the map. "This is Spaghetti Junction- - apt moniker, by the way- - and we need to take the next ramp down into the city."
Louisville was alive with soft light, a busy nighttime hive. Mulder stared out his window at the Ohio River where a fountain lay several yards out, spewing an electric gush of blue water, then red, then green. The jazz music on the car radio melted with the waves as they trekked down the ramp like a pea rolling down a long tongue. He had to fight the urge to hit the channel button, to find a station with a little Clapton, maybe some Steely Dan- - hell, even Chicago. But, the driver got radio privileges, that was the deal.
"Red Roof Inn? Holiday Inn? What do they have here?"
"No, actually, we're going to one of the nicer hotels- - the brochure is in the folder there." She motioned to the floor and rolled her eyes. 'The folder you have your wet shoe on."
"Seelbach Hotel," Scully said, "It was all arranged by the family, Skinner said. They even offered to pay for the rental. They must be desperate."
Scully taxied the car down a side alley that swung against the back entrance to the hotel. A youthful chap in a tuxedo and top hat met them in boisterous servility, offering to take Scully's trench coat. She politely waved him away.
"I...like...it," Mulder said, a sarcastic flavor in his smiling eyes, lifting his head to scout the skyscrapers reaching for the night sky above them.
"Kinda' Dickens meets Dynasty."
"Mulder, you never told me about why you gave up the night of your one day off to come here," Scully said, interrupting his boyish delight. "This older file you spoke off?"
"Scully, do you believe in angels?"
"Well, I believe that God exists. I believe just as strongly that we are- - or can be- - angels ourselves in the straight meaning of angels, beings that appear when needed, helping out unexpectedly, then disappearing without fanfare into the crowd. If it were a kinder world, then I think the mystique surrounding angels would not be as strong. It's as if performing generous, unselfish acts is a miracle now, a rarely seen event. The hideous level of inhuman predation we see everyday, limited only by the surprise on the next day's headlines, has corrupted our moral base, making decent behavior an abnormality. You've been my angel before, Mulder. As I have been yours."
Mulder tried to smile and tucked in his upper lip, memories of her abduction and her cancer haunting and darkening his eyes. He sped up past her and graciously held the glass door open for her. "We're moving on up, Scully!" he said finally, breaking the grave feeling that had arisen in their conversation.
"Just like George and Weezie."
Scully followed the bellhop as Mulder checked them in. The hotel really was gorgeous, its grand stairs covered in a thick scarlet carpet, Greek columns every ten steps, and an automatic Baby Grande piano hauntingly eking out Berlioz from the balcony on the second floor. Both Scully and the bellhop jumped in surprise when the elevator opened. It was as if, for an instant, that the elevator was unoccupied, but then a man in his mid- thirties with an almost too- blonde crew cut dashed out, nearly knocking them over. Scully clasped a hand on the black hold bar, following the man with her eyes.
Something about him bothered her. His smile was a bit too wide. She shook her head and joined the bellhop as they soared up to the concierge floor.
Mulder disappeared shortly after they settled in. To her enjoyment, the room had an antique oak desk, and she quickly delved into reviewing the file text.
By midnight, Scully slid off her glasses, pulled her hair up and held it back with a plastic clip. Where the hell was he? She checked her cell phone. The lights glowed in working order. No messages. Slightly disgruntled, she padded into the bathroom and began to run a bath. Her fingers quickly went to releasing the buttons of her beige blouse. When she'd reached her collar, there was a furious knock on the door.
"Hey! Scully? It's me!"
"That man," she said, shaking her head. "He always waits until I take off the top." She quickly re- buttoned the first six, running her fingers down her chest like an accomplished pianist soaring down the keys.
"Hey! Puff, puff!" Mulder popped in, out- of- breath, still jogging in place, his gray jogging suit pelted with deep pools of sweat. On his head he wore...Scully cocked her head like a dog that'd heard a strident sound...she'd never seen anything like it before. "Scully, hike!" he said, tossing a tiny paperback into her hands as he jogged over to her laptop. "Do you mind? I wanna look something up."
"Yes, of course, Mulder," Scully said, her face squinched up in question, her eyes still on his head. She ran into the bathroom to turn off the faucet, all the while maintaining their conversation. "Mulder, I checked in with the Louisville Field Office. It's at 600 Martin Luther King Place, not too far from the hotel. I spoke with an old friend, Melanie Austin. Another strong woman successfully taking on the boy's club. I knew her from med. school; Susan Lewis, Melanie, and I used to have some great times. Sometimes I wonder where all the time goes." She entered the room again and paused, waiting for a response, but getting none. She crawled up on the bed and sat Indian- style, beginning to flip through the book he'd tossed at her. Her green cat eyes beamed out of the swath of scarlet hair hanging in her face. "Louisvillian Fantasia, Poets from the Bluegrass State?"
"Yeah, Scully," Mulder said finally, looking up for a moment from the laptop.
"Um, turn to page 511. You ever heard of Eriq Sanderson Nolley?"
"A poet, I assume?" she said, thumping the book with a pointer finger. "Seems like we read some of his work in school..."
"Well, he's not particularly one of the masters. From what I've read, he's more of a cross between an Emily Dickinson wannabe and Fabio. Frightening, I know. He immortalized the old file I was telling you about this morning. In a poem called 'Wear Your Wings.'" The laptop toned twice and Mulder lowered his head. "Here it is, file X997806. In 1971, a maid in one of the plush homes back behind Bardstown Road in the Highlands heard a strange sound one afternoon while she was preparing dinner. She ran outside and saw what she described as an unusual white male- - though later she wondered that it might have been sexless or unisex- - laying half- naked with a set of glorious white wings sprouting from his back and shoulders. She bluntly described the sound of him falling from heaven as...'thwunk.' She explained that she administered to his injuries and helped him fly away."
"Thwunk?" Scully asked, smiling incredulously. "Mulder, this makes for a beautiful poem, granted, but this is pure hearsay from an old woman. No witnesses besides her, am I right? Mulder, I've never heard anything less conclusive. What does this have to do with a haunting in 1998 in the Highlands?"
"Something, maybe. Maybe nothing."
"Sometimes your knack for arriving at elongated, pre- investigative leaps in theory with a handful of coincidental background information can run the gamut.
It's downright- - "
"Spooky?" Mulder asked, walking to the door. "Like old times, eh?"
"Speaking of spooky...Mulder?" Scully asked, hunching over her crossed legs and hanging her hands at her knees.
"I was wondering when you were planning to enlighten me as to what that psycho- sloth- like- deedly- bobber- jester- jingle thing is on your head?"
"Mom knitted it for me. Keeps my noggin warm on late night winter jogs."
"OK," Scully mouthed soundlessly. She took a deep breath and smiled subtly at her partner, reluctantly warmed by his boyish zaniness. "I'll see you at 7am."
As Mulder turned to jog away from Scully's room, he ran right into a strange man, his elbow digging sharply into Mulder's gut.
"Hey, buddy," Mulder said, backing up.
"Sorry, my good man. Sorry- sorry- sorry," the man with the too- blonde crew cut said. He stood still for a moment, taking Mulder in, then ending their brief engagement by sporting a huge, Colgate smile. 'Tomorrow's gonna be a great, fantastic day!" he said, directly darting down the hall, his strides a bit too wiry, his steps too far apart.
The smoke was thick in a conference room in a New York hotel, a chiaroscuro, surreal portrait of dark business. This was the room where they created the future. This was the room where business suits and talk of murder went hand- in- hand with tea and cigarettes.
"He is dead," said a thin man with white hair, nervously pacing back and forth from wall to window. He pulled his cigarette out of his mouth and severely watched the trail of smoke curling in the air in remembrance of his former colleague.
"But," began an old gentleman in a black leather recliner, "He leaves two pieces of the puzzle far too rampant for my tastes. His blonde girl Friday, and that FBI problem. Who is that man gathering information for? He contacted the facility today."
"Correction, my friend," the pacer said, paralyzed into standing still, a gray butterfly caught in a smoky net of his own tense apprehension. "Three pieces."
Two other dark suits leaned forward in silent concern.
The first elder turned his neckless head to his brethren with virile effort.
His eyes stung red with discord. "The Russian mistake will destroy himself.
But I think it is time we removed said two pieces. Are we in agreement?" They were. He picked up the phone and dialed. Waited.
"Seelbach Hotel, may I help you?" said a spirited young voice.
He wore a corduroy camel- colored leisure suit as eye- catching as his golden smile, sprawled on a guest chair as the maid quickly zipped through his room.
She seemed disturbed and sped up her cleaning in an attempt to exit that room as soon as possible. The Warm Man pressed play on his walkman and slipped the headphones over his ears. He bobbed his head as Paul Simon began to entertain him. "I can call you Betty, and Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al,"
he sang, following the poor cleaning woman around the room with his too- bright eyes. The Warm Man pressed pause and eased the headphones off. "Ma'am, may I call you Betty?"
The woman didn't utter a word, but smiled politely and wheeled her cleaning cart out into the hall like a raging tiger was on her heels.
The Warm Man jumped up in delight when his phone rang. "Hello!" he said, "It's a great day!"
"Washington, DC," said the thick- layered voice on the other end. "You will receive the details upon your arrival."
"Don't worry, be happy," said the Warm Man as the other end clicked off. He pulled his gun case off the dresser and hugged it warmly in his arms like a mother comforting a crying a child. "Some days are much more beautiful than others. Radiant beams of light in the seasons of the sun. I am a fortunate fellow, I am."
From: deirdre@x- philes.com (Deirdre)
Date: Fri, 06 Feb 1998 00:39:22 GMT
Subject: Genius Loci2.atxc
Title- Genius Loci (2/4)
E- mail address- RedMuseum@aol.com
Rating- PG, violence, some sexual suggestion
Disclaimer: Excluding the "Warm Man," the Taverners, and Shannon Belleigh, all other characters herein are the property of 1013 Productions, Fox Television, and Chris Carter.
Spoiler ALERT: Since this story is set several episodes into Season 5, there is specific mention of events occurring from 02/05 "Duane Barry" thru 05/07 "Emily."
Catergory- X, Part- Mythology
Summary- While investigating an unusual haunting in Louisville, Kentucky, Mulder and Scully find themselves in the middle of a battle between heaven and hell. Meanwhile, as the smoke clears from the fifth season openers, the Corsortium enlists a bizarre man to remove some loose ends.
"Scully, there's a distinct Bohemian tang to this street," Mulder said as they crawled to another stop light on Bardstown Road. Mulder was getting frustrated with being in the constant state of slowing down "If I had a banjo, if I had a hammer...."
"It's like a college town," Scully said with a smile, watching mnemonically out the passenger window at the scattered coffee houses littered with teenagers and the beard- growing young at heart, hippie and hip alike, the busy sidewalks functioning as an all- directions promenades of the unusual. At each stretch, an art gallery or used record store, a malt shop, or a Grateful Dead clothing store, even a few new age shops. A lightness eased Scully's heart, a heart that had been shadowboxing nonstop for the last four years. Mulder would make fun of or scoff at this free- bird environment; but to Scully, it was a refreshing break, a breath of fresh air. "Mulder, turn left here, get over."
"But, it's- - "
"The box is marked yellow- - it's a turning lane this time of day, get over!"
They pulled along the street, Mulder maneuvering a sharp parallel park with the meticulous care of a tight- rope walker. "Sorry, hippie chick, but I have a strong predilection to driveways," he said as he slammed the door.
A pair of spectacled eyes peered out from the shades of the front door. The modest two- story building sat on the corner of Bardstown Road. Next to the front door was a wrought- iron staircase leading up to a door on the second story, a sign saying "39 Steps Gallery" painted on a rectangle of rain- faded hard wood displayed proudly on the roof.
The front door opened and a gentle- faced older man with salt- and- pepper hair motioned them to the threshold, smiling as the tall, lanky agent and the tiny red- head approached him, arms outstretched with their badges in serious display.
"Sir, I'm Agent Dana Scully; this is Agent Mulder. You must be Gabe Taverner?"
The man held out his hands, palms up. He nodded and motioned them into his home without saying a word. Gabe Taverner held up an index finger with his right hand, then held his left hand vertically flat with his palm facing the agents with the index finger of his right hand touching the left palm, pointing up. He ended this quick- fire exchange with his right hand circling counterclockwise over his heart, then stared at them expectantly.
Scully stepped forward and held out her left hand flat with her palm facing up. She moved the little finger edge of her right hand across the face of the left hand from heel to fingertips. Gabe Taverner nodded, then trodded off through swinging shutter- like doors leading to another room.
"I have this unnerving feeling that I was just cussed out.," Mulder said facetiously.
"He's hearing impaired, Mulder. He said, 'One minute, please.' I responded with 'OK.' "I didn't know you knew sign."
"I studied sign language a bit after our adventure at the Fairfield Zoo with Sophie. You never know when you will encounter a life or death situation when the only person able to give you critical information uses sign. Better informed than sorry." She nudged him and balled her fists in secret pride.
"You go, girl," Mulder said, lowering his head and giving her the 'peace' sign.
Just then, both agents jumped, hands instinctively going for their belts as a high- pitched wail spun into the living room, the commotion ending in a frenetic white- and- gray ball of fur perched happily on Mulder's shoulders.
"Oh! A cat," said Scully, taking a deep breath and shaking her head. Mulder turned around and got a lick on the nose.
"Pooky! Get down off of that man!" Scully looked up as Mr. Taverner returned with a tiny woman in a fawny beige- and- white fall sweater. Her head was covered in Medusa- like, bleached white- blonde tendrils. With each walk the woman jingled like Santa's sleigh; her thin fingers and wrists were heavy with rings and gaudy bracelets; her ears were weighted down with twin anchors of pewter and turquoise; barbaric, garish jewelry probably designed by no- talent friends. "She's a nut, heavens to Betsy, a real nut," the woman said, her strident voice- - maybe a pitch higher than the cat's- - causing Mulder to wince.
"I think Miss Pooky wants to go home with you, sir," she said, taking the grabby cat down with both hands.
"Then she'd be Pooky Mulder," Scully whispered with a smirk and a jab to Mulder's rib.
"Hi. My name is Dina Taverner. I see you've met Gabe." Mrs. Taverner lead them over to two heavily- fluffed floral- print couches, her jewelry clanging all the way. The Taverners cuddled on one couch facing the other where Mulder and Scully sat stiff like two kids on a bench in the principal's office.
"It's been happening for- - oh, I guess a little over two years..." Dina faced her husband so he could read her lips. He grimaced, pointed upstairs and nodded. "Yes," she continued. "A few months after my younger sister, Shannon, came to live with us."
"How long have you lived here, ma'am?" Mulder asked, his eyes circling the living room, a raisin and cinnamon scented treasure trove of frilly country knickknacks and hand- crafted tchotckes.
"Twenty- five years." She squeezed an arm around her smiling husband's waist.
"Very, very happily...until the faces started happening. This building was willed to Gabe after his mother died. She was well- to- do- - owned a home in the neighborhood behind us- - his aunt still keeps the 'mansion' up and running. We both loved the hustle and bustle of the Highlands, the fun lifestyle of living on Bardstown Road. We decided to stay here even though we can afford much better."
"May I?" Mulder asked, rising and trotting over to the hearth. Cradled on a homespun little wooden stand sat a yellowed book of poems by Eriq Sanderson Nolley. He held the book out to the Taverners, though making a tiny swoop in Scully's furrow- browed face. "I've read a little about this author."
"The wing thing?" Dina asked with a wheezy laugh. She fluttered a hand in the air. "The angel supposedly fell in my husband's mother's backyard. Fun little bit of folklore. Part of what makes this area so magical."
"Folklore aside, Mrs. Taverner," Scully said, leaning forward, her notebook "Can you describe the phenomena you've experienced? You say local scientists, parapsychologists, and the like have studied the happenings here?"
"Heavens to Betsy, yes." Mrs. Taverner jumped up and pulled an envelope off the coffee table and handed it to Mulder. "This is a letter from Mr. Charles Dobbs, the leading parapyschologist in Louisville. He stayed with us for a few days and saw what we see." Dina glared at Scully with a horrified look not yet displayed on the usually- bubbly woman. "He saw what we see! Until Shannon scared him off, that is. He's the one who said I should contact the Bureau.
He recommended Agent Mulder."
"Do you know this man, Mulder?" Scully asked.
"Uh- - no, I don't. I guess he knows me though. I just hope it's not another Jerry Springer aficionado," he said, laughingly tearing the envelope open and reading the note carefully:
28, Nov. 1997
Mr. Mulder, My name is Charles Dobbs from the Parapsychology Dept. at the University of Louisville. Some close colleagues of mine said this might be one for "Spooky Mulder." I've included some photos of the entity. I was intrigued when I first began studying this phenomena. Nothing like it has ever happened here.
We get standard hauntings and purported satanic mish- mash, but nothing like this. I would have stayed longer, but the girl made it difficult- - if not impossible- - to continue the work.
Take a look at the photos, and I ask you if that doesn't remotely remind you of Belmez? The manifestations are incredibly similar. But, keep an eye on the girl. I might even gesture the thought of a classic poltergeist activity if it weren't for the striking resemblance to Belmez. Keep me posted. My card is enclosed.
Mulder held the photos up in the light coming from the window and frowned. As Mulder studied his correspondence, Mrs. Taverner pulled Scully aside.
"Oh, my, Miss Scully," she said with a twinkle in her eye. "You get to run all over the country with that tall hunk of a man? Staying at hotels overnight, and all? Heavens to Betsy!"
"Mrs. Taverner, really- - "
"He's a huggybear, all right. He'd make a great lap dog." Her Venus- like appearance was betraying her actual age, the soft sag under her chin, the poorly make- up- concealed crow's feet. Scully secretly believed a few face lifts may have been performed.
"His drooling gets to be a little hard to bear sometimes," Scully said, smiling tersely.
"Well, word from the wise," Mrs. Taverner said with a slant of a mascara- thick eye. "I'd jump on that one, if I was you. You'd already be in nirvana if you weren't so tight as a dot."
"Hey, Scully," Mulder called, walking toward her. "Check these out." As Scully studied the black- and- white photo with slit- eyed skepticism, The Taverners led the agents into the kitchen.
"It started here. Scared the daylights out of me. Still does." Dina Taverner pointed at the hard- wood floor where a set of three plates were nailed tight: one glass, one plastic, on aluminum. A thick square of dry wall was nailed to the purple- paisley wallpaper above the range. "I was cooking a late dinner one night and the first face appeared." Mrs. Taverner's eyes grew dark, her voice lowering several octaves. She pointed at the photograph in Scully's hand. "It just came out of the wall, like it was grown into it. The eye sockets were bare, it's mouth open, almost trying to tell me something, but it couldn't speak. It looked like a woman's face, but then others began to appear, some were male. On the floor in the hall, in our room, in the living room."
Gabe Taverner made the sign for 'face' to Scully and bent down to the three plates on the floor.
"Mr. Dobbs put them there to test the ghosts. The faces even appear through the plates. Nothing stops them. And they get very active at night."
The agents made their notes, Scully eyeing Mulder in anticipation for a hair- brained theory.
"Well, I think we have what we need to make our reports," Scully said. "Thank you so much for your cooperation."
"What?" Mrs. Taverner said incredulously. "That's it? That's all? I want this stuff to stop! This is my home- - our home! I've been on my last nerve with this."
"Ma'am, we are federal investigators. We are not ghostbusters," Scully said flatly. "I don't know what you expected or what Mr. Dobbs led you to believe about us, but- - we haven't seen anything out of the ordinary manifest while we've been here. I don't see any reason to continue this investigation."
'You were our last hope,' Gabe Taverner signed to Scully.
'I'm sorry,' Scully signed back, taking a large gulp and looking downward.
"These things?" Mulder asked, pointing at the pictures he'd grabbed out of Scully's tiny hands. "They happen mainly at night? And they started shortly after your sister came to live with you?"
"Yes. I already said that," Mrs. Taverner replied, hangdog and withering.
"Well, I was wondering if maybe your family- - including that charming cat- - could stay somewhere else tonight, so we could attempt to witness these phenomena."
"Mulder!" Scully said, angered at his sudden jump to charge.
"I think there might be something here, Scully," he said, looking down at her.
"We need the right circumstances. Even Casper doesn't appear on command."
"We have a tight schedule, Mulder," Scully said, pulling Mulder through the swinging doors with the strength of a woman three- times her size. "There is nothing here, Mulder. Nothing. Group hallucinations, group psychosis, that's all I see displayed here. Your interest, equal parts nerve and hunch, is as misplaced as these wooden cows." Scully pointed to a painted wooden set of cows in the window with the word 'Moo' painted in white beneath them.
"You ever hear of a haunting that took place in Belmez, Spain?"
"I- - no, I can't recall anything in particular. You still think this has something to do with that damned angel poem, don't you?"
"Maybe indirectly, but I want a chance to see this thing for myself. If this is at all connected to the Belmez faces, I want to see it." Mulder put a hand on Scully's shoulder. "Come on, it's like old times, you know. Just give me one night." He held up a finger in her face. "One night to prove my theory."
"Mulder, do you still think that I get some perverse pleasure out of proving you wrong? I think we know each other a little too well to dwell on or elongate an old animosity. I just went through a situation like this with Skinner. But, I know a waste of time when I see one."
"I know, Scully," he said, his full lips hanging low like a berated child. "I just wanna give this a chance. If you can abstain from raining on my parade for one night..."
"Mulder, I don't see what- - "
"Who in the hell are you?" came a banshee from the hall. The young woman grabbed an arm of each of the agents and forcefully yanked them around to her attention.
"Take your hands off of us immediately and stand back," Scully said, unamused, pulling her trench coat open wide so the girl could see her gun. Mulder whipped out his badge and flaunted it before the mad girl.
"Feds?" the girl asked, disgusted as the Taverners entered the living room.
"You idiots! It ain't enough that you have nutso bible- thumpers and ghostbusters disrupting our house, now you have to pull in the feds?"
"Shannon, please!" Mrs. Taverner called, grabbing the young woman's arms, restraining her in a method that to Scully seemed well- worn. "Stop harassing these people. You've seen these things, too. You know damn well, you have."
She pulled the young lady close to her, her golden- locks covering the girl's face. "Honey, this is our house. We don't want these things here, just let them do their work. Please."
"I...am...not...leaving," Shannon said with a bare of the teeth. "This is my home too, my work is here, my gallery is here."
"Just stay up there and keep out of their way, babe," Mrs. Taverner said, kissing the young lady on the cheek.
Shannon drew back from her older sister and glared at the agents, her eyes wide and threatening. "What's in this house should be left alone. Destiny cannot be run out. I will be staying." With that, she curtly returned to the door in the hall that led to her gallery.
"You'll have to pardon us," Mrs. Taverner said, "That's my sister, Shannon Belleigh. Shannon gets a little haywire over this. She has some problems, some issues to deal with. That's why my parents asked me to take her in.
She'd been sucked in by a strange group of young people, the kind that drink too much, talk loud and laugh louder, if you know what I mean. She's a natural artist, very intuitive. She has a substantial clientele in the 39 Steps Gallery that Gabe set up for her on the second floor. Mother and I felt that she'd thrive in this environment. But, we have had...problems."
"When the ghost faces began to appear?" Scully asked.
'Yes,' Gabe Taverner replied.
"She'll stay out of your way," Mrs. Taverner said. "And, I promise you," she directed her words to the frowning agent Scully. "You will see it tonight, and you will believe me."
The Warm Man left the bus with a hop, skip, and a jump. His excitement was contagious, causing the other passengers leaving the bus to wrap their arms tightly around themselves and dart off in uncontrollable horror. He smiled and waved after them, then promptly tore across the street, smiling wider with each screeching honk. A man in a dark gray Sedan rolled down the window and nodded to him. Without a word the man handed a large manila envelope to the Warm Man.
"You should get a different colored vehicle, good man," said the Warm Man.
"Gray is so depressing. You need a light caramel or a cerulean blue, warm and fuzzy like muskrat love."
The Warm Man sat on an enclosed bus bench and carefully unloaded the envelope.
He slipped on his headphones and began to sing along as he let the information enter his happy mind, his singing causing two white- haired women sitting on either side to shuffle away, preferring to wait on the sidewalk for the next bus.
He held up a profile picture of Assistant Director Walter Skinner. "His name was Rico, he wore a diamond," he sang, flipping the picture over to find an address typed for his benefit. "He was escorted to his chair. He saw Lola dancing there." He gently pulled out a bus ticket to New York and a picture of United Nations employee Marita Covarrubius, finding her platinum blonde hair and severe looks so uncannily delightful. "But Rico went a bit too far, and Tony sailed across the bar." He held the pictures up side- by- side and smiled that all- American smile. "Then punches flew and chairs were smashed in two.
There was blood and a single gunshot, but just who shot who?"
The Warm Man dropped the pictures back into the envelope and rose, to the old ladies' pleasure, and promptly began his light- footed travels anew, singing all the way.
"At the Copa, Copacabana, the hottest spot north of Havana..."
Scully folded the letter from the parapsychologist and laid it down on Mulder's side of the table. "Belmez Faces?"
"That's right," Mulder said with chipmunk cheeks full of baked fish. "Hey, you gonna eat that hushpuppy?" Mulder asked, poking a plastic fork in the direction of her barely touched plate.
"Be my guest," she answered, hands up in a "don't shoot" pose. "Mulder, if this turns out to be another Moth Men or Fiji Mermaid theory- - "
"Scully," he said, giving her that puppy dog look. "Let's just wait and see what we can see."
"Well, you keep giving looks like that and Dina Taverner is likely to fit you for a collar."
"Just what do you think is going on at that house?"
"I'll have to see it with my own blinkers first. But, the Belmez Faces were originally reported in Spain in 1971- - the same year of the angel sighting, by the way- - " Scully shook her head as he carried on, other patrons of Captain D's starting to stare at them. "A housewife in a small village discovered that a female face had formed on the hearthstone of her kitchen fireplace. She tried to scrub the face off the stone but it seemed to emerge directly from the concrete. She had the face covered by a second layer of cement, but it showed through that, too. Then faces began appearing on the kitchen floor, sometimes disappearing later in the day or changing expression."
"Changing expression?" Scully asked, squinching up her nose in disbelief.
"Yeah, kinda like that," Mulder said. "But not nearly as cute." He paused when Scully's cell phone came to life.
"Scully," she answered, listening intently, her eyes targeting Mulder in quiet alarm. "Thanks, Danny."
"You called Danny?"
"I wanted him to run a background check on something for me."
"I would like to get a blue print of the Taverner house, and maybe some history of the area," Mulder said.
"Personally, I would like to get my hands on the family's mental history,"
Scully said, sitting on the information she'd just received.
"Well, back to the faces. Germany and Spain's leading parapsychologists investigated. They saw the faces too, but were unable to prove it as a fraud.
The sightings tapered off then stopped entirely in 1974. The cause was never firmly established. The townsfolk dug up the kitchen and found old bones buried there. Rumor has it that the house was built over an ancient cemetery, a resting site for Christian martyrs killed by eleventh- century Moors."
"More romantic legends, Mulder."
"Scully, haven't I changed my perspective? I'm the one that said ix- nay on the right- bay ights- lay. When are you going to open up to the possibility of another side, a dimension beyond death? I know you've experienced things."
"The day you stop interchanging fable and folklore with fact. After all you've seen- - "
"That's my line," Mulder said.
"Mulder you have changed. I know you have. But this roadblock in your belief about aliens, about your sister, has diluted your base, whittled away your drive toward the arduous quest for the truth and the ultimate goal of proving the existence of extraterrestrial life. I know Kritchgau literally decimated your long- held beliefs with his conspiracy disclosures, and I didn't have much choice but to believe, but I think you believed too. You are no longer tethered to the conviction that drove you to search untiringly for what was 'up there.' This new uncertainty now causes your feet to turn to stone when we encounter a suspected UFO sighting, but you jump to the righteous fore when somebody says they've seen Big Foot or the Boogeyman. Instantly you abandon everything you believed about your sister's abduction and fully commit to the supernatural ghost stories of a mundane, terrestrial world. You will never find yourself again if you trade in little green men for ghouls and goblins."
"It's all I have now."
"I know. I know that's how you feel." She cupped her hand over his.
I'm not the Boy's Club, Scully. I thought you followed me because you believed in me."
"You're the Mulder Club. Sometimes you even blind yourself with your subjectivist mentality. When you say the truth is out there; what you actually mean is 'Someday, what I believe will be shown as the truth, and everyone who balked will know I was right all along.' But I need more than that. After all we've been through, I am in maybe a greater need now more than ever to have the proof in my hands- - physical, undeniable proof. I do believe in you, but lately I feel like we're running in place." Scully closed her eyes for a second. The hurt on his face was difficult to bear. Maybe his emotional wounds were still too raw, maybe she was being overbearing, but she refused to just let him chase shadows after all they had learned together. "Now, didn't Mrs. Taverner say this phenomena began shortly after her sister moved in?"
"Yeah. Sounded like a couple of months or so." Mulder stood up and grabbed his overcoat, growing suddenly quiet after the sting of Scully's words, numbly accepting- - or, at the very least, entertaining- - the reality of those words.
"Well, what she failed to tell us is that the phenomena actually began shortly after Shannon Belleigh's first suicide attempt."
The snoopy agents' rental car slid to a stop alongside the street below.
Shannon Belleigh ran a finger across the cool edge of the blinds, enjoying the sensation against her skin. She turned the ceiling fan on high and locked the door to her room/gallery, jerking the knob to secure her privacy. She then hopped up on a swivel stool and began mixing her paints: red into black, black and gray into blue, gray into white, the colors of doom, the colors of despair impenetrable. Within minutes her eyes glazed over and her fingers began to shake. She whispered coarsely under her breath, reciting words in a language she didn't know. running a hand through the pallet, she blindly began to mark indescribable characters across the face of the hardly- begun painting, thick gashes similar to Chinese writing, but much more exotic.
Shannon Belleigh swiveled her stool around and stared at the far wall in disgust as the first faces of the night began their wordless cries. They emerged from the wood boards, some moving through her paintings. Dark sockets glaring at her, silent mouths beckoning to her.
"Out," she said, her voice still deep and gravely. "The girl IS. She IS. We ARE. There is nothing you can do...." Shannon reached for the razor that was taped underneath the easel. She held it to her wrist and began to toy with the skin. "Ilutha Talan Kil Kattaua..." Her ears pricked at the sound of a man's voice below and her eyes glowed with recognition- - not the recognition of Shannon Belleigh- - but the remembrance of a thing that moved within her.
Eyeing a laid back group of teenagers walking down the sidewalk, Mulder rested his arms on the side of the car and did some leg stretches. "Jerry Garcia lives forever! I need a miracle!" he cried out, giving the group the 'peace' sign. They responded with raised hands and shaking heads. The young men in goat- herder sweaters, long hair, and goatees reminding him fondly of Max Fenig, another man who believed.
"You're getting better and better at sign language, Mulder. Natch you only know one sign."
"I've used the universal middle digit a few times. Does that count?"
Mulder fumbled for the key and let them in. He stepped back from the porch and noticed the light radiating from the window above. He'd felt nothing before, but now he began to feel something, something thick like a heavy summer night smog, though it was mid- January and beginning to rain.
He joined her inside. Scully clicked on a tiffany lamp and recoiled in distaste as the broad colors of Dina Taverner's god- awful home decorating blew up in her face. She sat down on the couch as Mulder darted around, scanning the surface of the walls, the floor, the ceiling.
"Mulder, honestly. The only thing spooky in this house is Dina Taverner's blatant aesthetic transgressions in her wrongful assumption that combining checkerboard gingham, purple- and- green paisley, and neon peacock feathers makes a house a home."
"Heaven's to Betsy!" Mulder said, jokingly spouting off Mrs. Taverner's overused exclamation.
"Let's suggest counseling for the girl, document their experiences, and end this elephant's pregnancy of a night."
"Scully, catch!" Mulder shouted, reaching into his suit pocket and slamming a yellow tennis ball at his frowning partner.
"Mulder!" Scully growled, clasping the ball in her right hand. "Where did you get this?" She tossed it high, spinning, and he caught it with a grin.
Swirling it around in his hand for another throw, he said "I found it in the trunk of the rental. That Dobbs guy said he suspected a possible poltergeist manifestation, a classic." He threw.
"Shannon Belleigh does not subscribe to the Carol Ann paradigm, Mulder." She caught it.
"I agree, on the scale of good little goils, I'd say she owned a fine placement betwixt Doris Day and Molly Hatchet. Poltergeist experiences- - or RSPK- - are related to the subconscious mind of a person in the situation where disturbances are happening. That person- - " He threw. "- - commonly adolescent- - like Shannon- - is generally in a stress- related, tense, and frustrating situation- - hence her fondness of adorning her wrists with straight- razors. Where most people respond to stress from punching walls or throwing things to having nervous breakdowns or experiencing physical illness, the poltergeist agent displays an alternative way of blowing off steam." She threw it high; he caught it with a tiny jump.
"Are you suggesting a subconscious telekinetic temper tantrum?" She caught it. She threw it.
"Apt appraisal." He caught it. "That's exactly what I'm suggesting." He sent it spinning and dipping.
"So- - " She bent over and snapped it in both hands before the ball knocked a brass duck off the glass face of the coffee table. "She's unhappy with her home life, straining against unhealthy growing pains- - the pain of a gloomy, blooming young artist- - and starts telekinetically creating a ghostly manifestation for her sister and her husband to witness? She was so- to- speak 'making faces' at them?" She threw a fast ball in retaliation of the low dip.
"Mulder, the girl has attempted suicide five times since moving in here."
"Prime example. Whoa!" He caught it, barely loosing his grip and nearly teetering over and crushing the painted wooden cows in the window. He stopped their little ball game to glance outside at the nightlife of Bardstown Road.
Kids crowded outside the coffeehouses in busy drones, a mass of long hair and body piercing hunkered down in that 'Hey maaan,' relaxing clamoring. The street was bumper- to- bumper both ways, obviously en mass to the clubs further down. "Repression or conscious suppression of hostility," he said, his back still to her. "Something Shannon Belleigh obviously has with both barrels, can mentally explode and cause such phenomena. We have hundreds of documented cases."
"Maybe we should talk to the girl."
"Turn off the lamp."
"Turn off the lamp. Let's create the right milieu- - " He wiggled his fingers in the air at the sound of the frue- frue French word on his lips. "I'm gonna check out the kitchen. You go take a look at the other rooms."
"Mulder." She breathed deeply, tightly sealed her mouth, then abruptly stood up and proceeded down the hall.
Mulder briskly walked into the large kitchen, the swinging doors creaking unoiled to- and- fro behind him. He saw the knife's gleam from the window moonlight before he saw the girl.
"Mulderrr." Shannon Belleigh said, her voice low and grisly, her shoulder- length hair in her face. She wore a dark tank- top and baggy sweat pants, no shoes, her bare feet smacking against the wood floor as Mulder watched her carry the knife over to a cutting board filled with oranges. She began to chop the oranges invariably, in a jarring, guillotine drop, the pungent smell permeating the shadows.
"Shannon? I- - uh- - I didn't know you were down here. How did you know my name?"
"I know you," she said, lifting her face to him. Her eyes were a wild watery white in the moonlight. He could smell her sweat. He felt a tension in the room like nothing he'd felt since entering Louisville, a tension he remembered from...something...he couldn't nail it. His eyes were on the repetitive drop of the knife.
"I know what you've done to yourself. Your wrists? Is that how you did it?
Shannon lifted her free arm and stared entranced at the little snow- white hesitation scars on her wrist. She smiled and stared back at him.
"You have to face your demons, Shannon," he said, edging closer to her, his eyes on the knife. A splatter of orange pulp shot his collar. Mulder recoiled. "My mother always told me when I was a little boy that people that commit suicide always go to hell. I've interviewed people that profess near- death experiences after suicide attempts and they tell identical tales of fire, oppression, and horrific things." As he spoke these words, bordering on uncertain hesitation, a scuttle of shadows converged on the far wall of the kitchen, a molding of grays and deep, dark blues, shifting softly into shape.
The shape began to slowly slide, parallel to Mulder, shifting closer and closer to Shannon.
"You face your demons," she replied, her words cold as ice.
"I have- - " Mulder was silenced as she pulled back her hair and he saw the manic, feverish look on her face. He was remembering. "You- - "
"I recognize you. You recognize me. There can be no mistakes." Shannon Belleigh gripped the victim orange with one hand and yanked the knife from the body with the other hand. She turned to face Mulder and charged, the knife high in the air, her mouth a bared- teeth furor.
Mulder caught one of her legs with his and grabbed her right arm, knocking her off balance, forcing her back against the counter. She dropped the knife, and with a wolf- like growl, dipped down and grabbed the knife with both hands.
Mulder came at her and was repelled by a darting bare- foot kick to the groin.
As he doubled- over, she smiled and swung the knife up, tearing it's single silver tooth toward his gut. His eyes grew wide in terror as the knife suddenly stopped in the air, Shannon's face turned in horror at the figure shifting effortlessly across the canvas of the wall toward her. The face bubbled in and out, a egg- shaped vision of a face, pulsing in black- eyed determination, mouth gaping and clapping shut in soundless declaration.
Mulder gazed at the manifestation in wide- eyed surprise, a surprise out- weighed only by the unexpected reaction of Shannon Belleigh to the face.
She wasn't causing it- - she was repulsed by- - or afraid- - of it. Shannon tore out of the kitchen, sending the knife reeling, nearly embedding itself in Mulder's shoe. He hurried after her and stopped abruptly as the door to her upstairs gallery was slammed in his face. He ran back into the kitchen, but the face was gone. He yelled for Scully as he doubled- back and began jerking the doorknob to Shannon's room.
The office was ordinary, a small room, typically designed for a sewing room back at the time this house was built. She scanned the room in cursory investigative style and briskly entered the master bedroom. A paradise of lace and ceramic angels. Plastic and lace butterflies were fastened on the frilly white curtains hanging from the two diagonally placed windows. The walls were littered with a garland string of angel paintings- - possibly done by Shannon.
It was a world of precious delicacy, a retreat for an aging couple dealing with a troubled young girl. Scully sat down at the vanity across from the bed, the sleepy, lived- in odor of the bed rushing at her head in delayed remembrance that once again she was in the secret coveys of other human beings. The de- sanitized objective air that must permeate the actions of an investigator sometimes became lost on her- - the toys of a child victim to a sexual offender, the love letters of a woman killed by a stalker, the wedding ring of a an officer killed in the line of duty. The dead lived, and when they lived they had what we have; they had their vanities, their loves, their personal secrets enclosed like a delicate tissue paper valentine, one that was never created with the objective, rubber- gloved investigator in mind to emotionlessly rip apart its gentle folds. The thought of how fleeting life really was came rushing into her.
"I have seen things, Mulder," she said, her voice a labored, wavering lisp.
She stared at herself in the vanity mirror, her rose- colored twin tulips of hair shading a thin, experience- sculpted face. In the reflection she began to see the image shift from herself into a raze of flying colors, running memories within her in a blinding series of flashes: her father sitting in the living room, his presence so unexpected and strange seconds before a phone call told her that he'd died- - then Boggs in orange, her father in orange, "Somewhere beyond the sea..." Kevin Carter, the young stigmatic, his desperate eyes pleading "Are you the one who was sent to protect me?" Nurse Owens standing over her in the intensive care unit, "Dana, honey, I'll be here when you need me." The voice of her dead sister on the phone a month ago, "Go to her, Dana."
Then, Mulder's face, appearing out of the abyss as he had appeared to her in dreams while he was presumed dead in the desert: "a truth that was never to be spoken, but which now binds us together in deadly purpose..."
Scully slumped over, filling her hands with her face. Tears streamed down her silken cheeks. She lifted her head and saw a face materialize out of the wall above her, rising from the soft peach skin of the wallpaper. "Oh, God," she gasped, mouth open wide in disbelief.
"Scully!" Mulder screamed from the hall. She jumped from the chair, turned back to find the face gone, then tore into the hall.
"She locked it!" Mulder said, pulling on the door. "She tackled me with a knife."
"Shannon!" Scully cried out, knocking on the door. "This is agent Dana Scully, open this door." Scully turned to Mulder. "You're going to have to force it."
Paint cans lay strewn throughout the gallery, their multi- colored blood pooling onto the wood floor. Shannon Belleigh threw a can at the light bulb above and stood in the darkness, the only light coming from a street lamp.
"Hara Tulatha Kuri- - Maja Tulatha," she slurred, her eyes sunken deep within the sockets. She selected a thick brush and dipped it into the red and black paint which now was melting together on the floor. She began to make gaping marks on the wall, jabbing bizarre symbols and figures, creating a portal. The faces multiplied, stretching out for her all over the room, but keeping a good distance from the evil that she was painting. Shannon cursed at the faces, but they continued their silent outcry.
"Mulder, what are you waiting for?" Scully asked, edging back and turning her shoulder to force the door herself.
"I saw it, Scully," Mulder said, his face drained of blood. He was shaking.
"You saw what?"
"A face- - but I don't believe this is a poltergeist activity. Shannon wasn't creating the face- - she was disgusted by it, running from it. I- - I think she might be possessed- - I've seen this kind of thing before- - we both have."
"Then, what is going on here, Mulder?"
"I think the faces are a Genius Loci. It's Latin for the spirit or deity of a place. Ancient Romans believed that protective spirits were assigned to watch over people and places- - I think they're trying to dissuade her from committing suicide. Almost like...guardian angels."
"Obi- Wan Kenobis of dry wall and stucco?" Scully asked incredulously. Just then, they both turned to the door. A strand of three bulging faces erupted at the bottom and slid up, bubbling in and out, their expressions twisted and pained. Mulder reached out to touch them- - Scully grabbed his arm back, but reluctantly let go when he nodded an 'okay.' He ran a finger over the surface of the door, edging closer to one of the faces when the door suddenly blasted open, throwing Mulder back into the kitchen and knocking Scully against the wall. Scully slumped unconscious to the floor. Mulder limped back into the hall and huddled down with his partner.
"Scully! Scully, are you okay?" He gently patted her cheek. She was coming to, groggy, eyes fluttering. Mulder stood and gazed up the stairs. The warning of the old elder Calusari came back to him from several years ago: "You must be careful, it knows you." Mulder began his ascension to face his demon.
Walter Skinner sat and contemplated the package for several minutes. He picked it up in both hands and read the return address again: Kurt Crawford.
It had been waiting for him when he returned home from work. He had never heard of this man. Curiosity got the better of him and he tore the package open. After expunging a neat little pile of foam popcorn, he found the occupant, a small vial. Skinner held it up to the lamp and grimaced, adjusting the sitting of his glasses with one hand. The vial contained a strange white substance. "What the hell is this, and who the hell is Kurt Crawford?"
Skinner asked himself.
Down on the street outside Skinner's apartment building, a bus came to a stop.
The Warm Man popped out into the night, his eyes bright as the stars above.
He turned his face towards the looming building and smiled.
Mulder reached the top of the stairs and halted in horror. The ceiling fan was racing above in the shadows, sending a leaf gust of paper twirling all around. Paintings lay broken on the floor, their respective easels crushed beside them. Mulder flicked the light switch, but stopped when he spotted the little dust of glass on the floor. He was sweating profusely, his stomach was doing somersaults. "Shannon?"
"Mulllldderrr..." came a voice from the shadows. Shannon Belleigh, propelled by some dark force strode out into the lamp light, her eyes were wild. She fiendishly held a razor against one wrist. She had already made one cut, for Mulder could see a fine line of blood running down her arm. "Suicides do go to hell, Mulder," she/it said. "That's the point."
"Put the razor down!" Mulder shouted. "Let it go!" He started towards her, but paused when he saw the proliferating cadre of bulging faces converging on all the walls, floating across the surface, close as they could get to Shannon.
They slid across the ceiling, warping into and across the floor towards her.
"Keep them away or I kill the girl!" the Shannon- demon called. It made another cut on her arm and slung a dash of blood at the closest faces. They slid away from the taint. Shannon backed away from Mulder as he drew closer, closer, then she smiled and charged, tossing the razor aside and lunging at Mulder. She flew into a jump kick, hitting Mulder in the stomach and forcing him against the wall. His head hit the wall and he slid down onto the floor.
He tried to get up, but was caught by a growing nausea, holding his stomach.
He turned his face to the wall and saw that he was in the confines of a strange painting, a portal- like alcove that the faces didn't dare go near. He was paralyzed. She'd lured him closer so she could lock him here. He felt his stomach churn and began to gag.
"You cost me a host before, Man," Shannon said, slinking in front of him. She peered at him, her eyes glinting like a prowling cat. Spit and sweat dangled from her nose and lips.
Mulder tried to talk, but doubled over and heaved. Something horrible was in him, something that poisoned everything it touched. He vomited a clear fluid, but the heaving only got worse. The room began to spin and he was swimming in pain. He heaved heavy, his throat now clogged, his breathing blocked. He jerked with his whole body until the blockage began to poke out. With several quick jerks, he dislodged a long, gelatinous snake- like thing, thick as a baseball bat and nearly as long. Mulder collapsed against the wall, gasping for air. The creature slithered at his feet, growing quickly, a head appearing, then limbs, becoming before his eyes. As this monstrosity grew, Shannon Belleigh collapsed, unconscious. The thing hovered over Mulder, its new mouth hissing. Mulder looked up and saw...himself.
Scully came to. She leaned against the wall to secure a queasy balance, and reached for her gun as heavy footfalls ripped down the stairs. She stood in position, brow furrowed, eyes wild and determined.
"Federal Agent! I'm armed! Stop right there!" she called. In a shadowy hurricane, the perpetrator stumbled into the hall and braced itself against the wall, then turned to face her. "Mulder? What the hell are you doing? What happened?" Scully lowered her gun, and Mulder ran madly from her. "Mulder, wait!" She ran after him in confusion. He was naked, covered in sweat, and looking paler than she'd ever seen him.
Scully hurriedly followed Mulder out the door. Her shoes hit the porch and began to slide in a little pool of gelatinous slime, threatening to take her legs right out from under her. She quickly grabbed the railing and literally threw herself against it to refrain from a fall. "No. No more steps! Not this time!" Scully carefully swing- jumped down to the grass and spotted the naked Mulder running crazily through the backyard. He hopped the fence, never looking back, and tore out of her sight. Already out of breath, legs aching, she shifted quickly out of her jacket, holstered her gun, and started after him, screaming his name, but trying not to raise a crowd.
She hopped the fence- - after the second try- - and ran through the next backyard, zigzagging through a funhouse maze of clotheslines covered in thin white sheets. She could see where he'd been: slime- covered linen lay defeated on the grass. She hopped the next fence, then the next. Stopping to gain her breath, with no sign of Mulder, and no longer any sense of direction, she noticed she was nearing the plush area of the Highlands. The homes were gorgeous in the night, sitting regally on tiny hills and round- a- bouts. She heard a male shriek ahead, and pounded after it.
Scully hopped one more fence- - with a puff and a roll of the eyes. She was panting as she walked out into the street. Then the wail sounded again, and the naked Mulder tore from the bushes and tackled her, pushing her backwards onto the blacktop. He lowered his face in hers, sweat dribbling off his face.
She recoiled and struggled, but he had her waist clamped like a vise between his muscular legs. His eyes were noticeably bloodshot in the street light's glow, his teeth were bared, and he was mumbling something indistinguishable.
"Mulder, what's happened to you?" Scully asked, tugging, pushing him away, trying not to hurt him despite her own injuries.
"Woman!" it said, digging its nails into her shoulder.
"Mulder!" Scully screamed. She yanked an arm free, formed her own claw, and jabbed her hand into his face, her fingers digging into his eyes and nose, tearing his cheeks. This wasn't Mulder. She knew.
The creature jumped up from her when a van came tearing down the street, the headlights shining in his eyes- - Scully saw now that they weren't bloodshot- - they were glowing red. Scully shielded her face with her arms and rolled forcefully out of the way into the grass as the van mowed over Mulder.
The van came to a screeching halt and a pack of frightened teenagers dashed out. "Omigod!" the driver screamed. "Lady! Lady, we didn't see y'all!"
Scully willed herself up and walked over to where the body lay. It was disintegrating before their eyes, reverting quickly to a heap of ash, 'vibuti,' Mulder had called it, holy ash, like the specimen from the Charlie Holvey case.
She directed the kids to get in the van immediately and drive away. They nervously complied. Scully turned back towards the house, determination and feverish concern in her eyes. Then, a sound caught her attention from a yard behind her. It sounded something like "Thwunk!"
"I'm comin' home, I've done my time!" the happy- go- lucky king of camel corduroy sang aloud on the elevator. He grinned, his too- tanned tawny face turned toward his fellow occupants, a strictly unnerved young yuppie couple.
He held the yellow bubble bag package between his legs and adjusted his headphones as if he could actually push them all the way into his ear canal and really be a part of the music. "Now I've got to know what is or isn't mine."
He snatched up the bag, and tightly sealed it's mouth. "If you receive my letter, telling you I'd soon be free- - then you'll know just what to do, if you still want me- - " He nodded at them and walked out onto his floor, scanning the apartment numbers, and grinningly delighted in himself as he heard the woman instinctively singing along with him as the elevator door came shut. Her boyfriend tried to hush her, but the joy of this Warm Man was hard not to catch. "Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree. It's been three long years, do ya still want me?" He affixed the return label, Corsair Laboratories, to the package, hugged it warmly with a light kiss and stopped at the door marked on the back of the photo he'd received. He knocked four times in rapid succession- - always good to do things in even numbers, he thought- - accentuate the positive- - and happily propped the package outside Assistant Director Skinner's apartment, then briskly walk- skipped down the hall to the emergency stairs, singing at the top of his lungs. ""If I don't see a ribbon 'round the old oak tree, I'll stay on the bus, forget about us, put the blame on me...."
He trotted across the street and hit the ground running. Two blocks down, he stopped and propped himself against a street lamp like the debonair golden boy he was. He pulled up his sleeve and nodded his head with each click of the watch hand.
"Boooom!" Skinner's balcony lit up like the Fourth of July.
"Pretty!" the Warm Man said, proceeding to pull a bus ticket and Marita Covarrubius's picture out of his jacket. "Even prettier," he said, kissing the picture and swooningly skipping down the street like a happy drunk.
Mulder held Shannon's head in his lap and stroked her temples. He called for Scully again, and was very worried when she failed to respond. "Shannon?" he said softly. "Shannon, wake up."
All around them, the ghostly faces pulsed and waned, keeping clear of the painted section of the wall, their mouths opening and closing like dying fish, their dark sockets appearing to plead to Mulder. Shannon opened her eyes, and with the first recognition of consciousness, jerked up. Mulder gently held her chin in his hand and leaned her to the side. She vomited in little convulsions. She smiled at him when she was done, and then reached out her hand at the faces, her eyes full of wonder. They rushed around the surface of the wall, faster, frenetic, alarmed.
Mulder frowned, uncertain it was over. He glanced down at Shannon just in time to see her fist come at his nose.
Mulder scrambled on the floor like a startled daddy- longlegs, nearing the wall where most of the faces converged in a cascade. The instant the van mowed over the Mulderized demon, it was well on it's way- - a dark prince of the air- - back to its original host. Shannon lunged up and came at Mulder. Her eyes glowed red, her hands curled into claws, her mouth frothing like a rabid dog.
"Shannon, fight him!" Mulder cried. He edged up against the wall. he could feel the bubbly faces around him, and he felt comfort, a cool, soothing rush.
Shannon jerked crazily, eyes fluttering, arms and legs jiggling wildly, then she erupted in a swirling circle, screaming as she sashayed in her dark dance.
Suddenly, Shannon slumped over and lay motionless, drool pooling at her face, her arm still bleeding despite the handkerchief Mulder had tied around her wrist. In her place stood a shadow dark beyond imagination. A barely human- looking sculpture of black with glowing red eyes. It came at him.
Mulder reached for his gun, though he knew full well in his mind that he had no defenses against such an unknown onslaught. Only white magic and the mercy of God stood between Mulder and total destruction. He turned back to the wall, throwing his hands against it. They had changed. The faces had all joined around him like a halo, hands now beginning to reach out from the walls. Their faces grew more human, eyes forming now, a grayish color to their cheeks. They grew greater form and substance, an army surrounding him in protection.
The shadow shifted backwards, it's eyes wide in terror.
Mulder writhed at the feel of the arms curling around in comfort, and he began to slide into unconsciousness. He heard a man's voice in his head. The old Indian, Hosteen whispering in his ear during the Blessing Way Chant. He knew what these faces were, the Holy People. He slumped over onto the floor, groggy, nearly losing his grip on the waking world. As if in a dream, he watched the Holy People step forward from the walls of the room, slipping strangely one- into- the- other, within seconds appearing as one gray, shifting shape that drew forward from the wall. Mulder saw the legs of a dark suit, a white shirt under a dark jacket, a red tie, hovering above him.
"Sometimes, old friend," the holy man said. "It takes the right people to figure out the wrong things." The man rested an old, warm hand against Mulder's cheek. "You've persevered, but you circumvent the truth now. You've reached a nexus, and you must not lose your edge, your ardent pursuit. You have fought and faced the demons within, but you must conquer the demons without..."
"Deep Throat..." Mulder mumbled, dreamily watching as the sturdy old man stalked the demon into a low alcove in the gallery. He gripped the demon by the throat, the creature's wails becoming unbearable to the ear.
"Keep searching, old friend. You and your partner. Dig now as you've never dug before. Thread through the lies of the past, secure the present, and fight their future." In a hurricane of shadow and bright light, the two beings did the dance of death, disappearing in a hush, as Mulder lost consciousness. As he faded away, he saw the faces on the wall once more, one appealing to him by name. The face was long and severe, feminine, with blonde hair- - Marita Covarrubius.
"But, you're not dead...," he said as he passed out.
Scully found the gate unlocked and, as quick as her charley- horsed legs would allow, she plodded into the backyard of the mansion. All the lights were out in the house, and no lights supported the yard, but she saw a strange orange- white glimmer beside a mighty oak tree.
Scully toward it, entranced.
"Sir?" she called. Lying under the tree was a naked man with tousled golden hair. His skin was so fine and smooth, a muscular body, with brilliant white wings protruding from his shoulder and back. "No. This is not happening."
"Dana," it said, turning over to face her. He was beautiful, just gorgeous.
"I need your help."
"Sir? I- - " Scully couldn't speak, she couldn't speak. She was under a strange uncontrollable desire. She lowered down beside the man on one knee and took his head in her hands. He was so warm, tingling to the touch. She touched the wings cautiously, her eyes wide in alarm and uncertainty. She ran a finger across his sweet lips and melted into his eyes.
"Dana, close your eyes."
"No. I- - I can't. I don't understand this." There was no choice about it.
Her mouth moved in refusal, but her eyes closed. She couldn't move. The being rose up and folded gently into her, hugging her, resting its head in the cradle of her shoulder. With her eyes closed, she failed to utter another repose, but simply feathered her arms around him, feeling the body against her shift, change, grow heavier and fuller. Her hand brushed a fine series of medals.
She smelled HIS cologne and began to cry. "Dad?" she asked, sightless.
It shifted again, growing thinner, hourglass, softer, a mass of curly hair invaded her face. "Melissa?" Scully asked as the body shifted one final time, shrinking lower and lower, a soft, round face cuddling against her chest. A tiny hand fell into hers. Scully smelled the lovely, powdery smell of a child, and she erupted in tears. She hugged the child tighter, not wanting to let go, but it shifted and waned into nothingness, leaving Agent Dana Scully alone on the grass, hugging herself and crying lightly.
Scully sat on the lawn for a minute, breathing heavily, trying like hell not to think, not to venture anything. She stood, again facing the Taverner house, when a voice came from behind the tree.
"Hello?" Scully called. The heavy- set woman walked into view.
"I'm here, dear," the pudgy lady said, a brown lampshade of hair squeezing against her full cheeks. "I said I would be here when you needed me."
"Nurse Owens?" Scully asked, surprised. "I thought I just imagined you. the other nurses had never heard of you. But, I- - I remember. I remember."
"Touch my face, dear."
"But- - " Scully approached her and slid a clammy hand against the woman's cheek.
"See, I'm real. I work at hospitals, but you'll never see my name on a paycheck. Believe in these strange things that you see, Dana. Believe, but never turn your back on the truth. Get your proof. Get it and protect it with all you have in you."
"What just happened?"
"Honey," Nurse Owens began. "Trust in your instincts. Now, your partner needs you, dear. Go to him. But you need to hurry home. You need to go home, Dana."
"No, I want to know more. I need- - "
"It's Skinner..." Nurse Owens said. "He needs you."
Two ambulances, four squad cars, and about 60 teenagers covered the Taverner's home. Dina and Gabe Taverner hovered over Shannon Belleigh in the ambulance at the end of the street, frustrating the EMT's with Dina's intense jabbering.
"Hey, Captain!" said a weak, but determined voice coming from the other ambulance.
He held out his hands and bowed his head. "This house is clean," he said mockingly. "She's gonna be okay. I think it's over now, really over. See, I told you there was something going on."
She ran up to him and hugged him. He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head.
"Scully? Where the hell did you go?"
"I'm not ready to talk about it." She curtly smiled and brushed his bangs out of his face, gently smoothing them down the sides of his head. "Mulder, are you able to travel? Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine. I could use a cheeseburger and a diet coke, but otherwise- - "
"We have to go- - now. To Washington. It's Skinner." Just then his cell phone went off.
"Hold on," he said, thrusting a finger at Scully. He put the phone down and looked at her, dumbfounded. "It's Skinner. There's been an explosion at his apartment," Mulder said. "Scully, how did you know?"
They hit the rental car running.
The blonde, wrapped tight in her overcoat, hurried, walking faster and faster down the steps of the memorial park outside the United Nations Building. She could feel him behind her like the rays of a hideous sun on her back. She jumped and nearly lost her work folders from her arms when he began to speak- - no- - sing at the top of his voice.
"I used to think, maybe you loved me, now baby, I'm suuure," the Warm Man sang, breaking into a run to keep up with her. The lover's moon hung low above them. Passersby retreated, turning their back on the heated pursuit. "And I just can't wait till you knock on my doooor."
"Leave me alone!" Marita Covarrubius screamed, running to save her life.
Several blocks zipped by until she reached the circular doors to her apartment building. She zoomed into the safety of a single compartment, but he grasped the edge with both powerful hands and smiled at her through the glass. He began to spin the door around sharply. "Now, every time I go for the mailbox, gotta hold myself dowwwn. Cause I just can't wait till you write me, you're coming arouuund."
"Dammit," Marita cursed as she sprang to freedom into the lobby. Onlookers turned away as she darted into the closing elevator. She let her folders fall and placed both hands flat against, the doors, willing them to shut faster. He tore into the lobby as the doors shut, taking Marita away.
They all looked at him. An alarmed building attendant came running to see what was going on. Another elevator opened and the Warm Man hopped inside.
"Now, I'm walking on sunshine! Whoa- oah! I'm walking on sunshine, and it's time to feel good!" The door nearly came to, and he punched the emergency bar for a second. "Hey! all right, now!" he sang, letting the doors close.
She pulled the chain into place and locked both locks. The phone was ringing and she hurried to answer.
"Jesus!" she said to her caller. "Yes. Yes, Mister K." Marita let her overcoat fall on the floor. She continued the conversation, out- of- breath, and her ice- blue eyes settled on a glass on the dining table. It wasn't there when she had left for work, and ice cubes were melting in it. "I have to go, loverman," she said. She wrestled a notepad from her folders. "Yes, Mulder should be returning to Washington tonight. I know. Good- bye."
Marita hung up the phone and walked toward the hall when the front door burst open, sending the security chain flying through the air. Marita stood still as a statue as the Warm Man smiled wide and walked in, Sig Sauer in hand.
A shot rang out from down her hallway, tearing first through Marita's chest, then hitting the Warm Man in the face, sending his gun reeling into the hall.
Marita fell like a golden rag doll, blonde hair matted with fresh blood. The Warm Man lay against the door across the hall. One headphone was stuck in his left nostril, his smile gone, replaced by a bloody gash of glowing white teeth.
The black man stepped carefully over Marita's corpse and picked up the notepad she had deposited. He frowned, his eyes white and troubled in his dark face.
"You were right, Miss Covarrubius. Not everything dies." He tore off the first page of the notepad, containing a phone number circled in blue ink and the current case information for Fox Mulder. X buried his gun in his overcoat and walked out of the apartment, folding the sheet neatly in his gloved hands.
"And no one- - no one- - touches this man."
February 1, 1998