Title: Hannah's House
Summmary: A stormy night, a ghost story and herb tea.
Author's Notes: Written for the VS10 Halloween Special.
The wipers beat furiously at torrents of icy rain, losing ground with every swipe.
"Mulder, this is crazy. We need to stop somewhere until this lets up." Mulder dropped his speed another five miles an hour and risked a quick glance in her direction, taking in her white-knuckled grip on the armrest. He nodded. "First motel we see." Scully cranked the heater and huddled down into her coat. "Finally."
Fine time for the weather forecast to be right, Mulder silently groused. Who knew? "Up there. I see a light!" Scully pointed toward the faint glow up ahead on the right. Mulder squinted through the torrential downpour. "It looks like a gas station."
"I don't care what it is, as long as we can get out of this damn car."
As they drew closer, they could see that it was indeed a gas station. The area between the pumps and the white stucco building was under a canopy. Mulder pulled under it and stopped. "I'll see if there's a motel nearby." He got out and stretched a bit, then went inside. Scully watched him through the wide front windows as he approached an older man sitting behind a desk. The man stood up when Mulder entered. She smiled at how easily she could tell what Mulder was saying. If you tied his hands, she mused, the man wouldn't be able to talk. When he gestured toward the car, his eyes met hers and he smiled. A moment later, he came back to the car and got in.
"Back the way we came, two miles on the left. He says its a bed and breakfast."
It was no wonder they'd missed it earlier. A white mailbox marked the entrance to a gravel lane that curved for a good quarter mile through trees too uniform in shape and height to be anything but an orchard. It ended at a sprawling farmhouse the same shade of gray as the mist that surrounded it.
"It looks like no one's home." Mulder undid his seatbelt and opened his door. "Stay here. No sense both of us getting wet." Scully shook her head. "I'd rather get wet than spend one more minute in this car."
They sprinted for the wide front porch. Carriage lights on either side of the six-panel wood door snapped on as they bounded up the steps. The door swung open under Mulder's knock. An elderly woman smiled up at them. Her snow-white hair was pulled into a tight bun at the back of her head, and her eyes sparkled an amazing jade green in the porch lights. "Good gracious, come in before you drown. What on earth are you doing out in this weather?" She stepped back to let them enter.
"On our way back to D.C. We were hoping you might have a couple of rooms for the night." Mulder was trying to avoid dripping on the polished hardwood floor, with limited success.
The woman chuckled. "Six rooms, and not a one of them taken." She glanced down at the water falling in fat drops from their clothes. "Wait here. I'll get you some towels." She toddled off down the long hall that ran from the front door to a room at the back of the house.
Mulder helped Scully peel out of her drenched coat and hung it on the bentwood coat tree next to the door. He was doing the same with his own when their hostess returned with two fluffy towels.
"I've got a pot of water boiling for tea. Get dried off and come join me in the kitchen. You can just leave your keys on the hall table and I'll send Ramey out for your bags." Mulder dried his face, then rubbed at his hair until the water quit running down his neck. Scully patted wearily at her frizzing hair, looking drenched and miserable. He put his arm around her and leaned down to whisper in her ear. "Let's go get some of that tea."
A steep staircase occupied the right side of the hall, climbing into the darkness on polished wood steps. A half-circle table perched on three legs against the wall on the left beneath an ornate mirror. Mulder put the car keys there as they passed. The kitchen was filled with the aromas of cinnamon tea and spice cake. Its cream-colored walls were hung with burnished copper pots and bunches of dried herbs that seemed to dance in the flickering firelight. A huge fieldstone hearth occupied the far corner of the room, its crackling flames creating a timeless sense of home and safety. Their hostess sat before it at the head of a large plankwood table. She stood as they entered.
"Sit down." She gestured to two chairs on the hearth side of the table. "You'll be warm and dry in a jiffy. I'm Hannah Connolly. And you?"
Mulder introduced Scully and himself as they took their seats. Hannah's brows rose. "Federal agents? *Both* of you?" "Yes, is that a problem?" Scully's face was serious, but her eyes were twinkling.
Hannah blushed. "Oh, my no! Of course not! I'm just a little surprised. You seem so... young." She smiled then quickly busied herself with the tea preparations. She was using old-fashioned tea balls, filling each with a mixture of crushed leaves spooned from a tin box. When she poured the boiling water into the cups, the aroma that wafted out was amazing.
Scully leaned over her cup and sniffed the steam with her eyes closed in bliss. "What *is* this?"
Hannah finished pouring water in Mulder's cup. "Smells wonderful, doesn't it?" She set the battered copper teapot on a cast iron trivet in front of her, then sat down in her chair with a little sigh. "It's an herbal concoction my grandmother taught me a very long time ago. Good for digestion, calms the nerves." She gave Scully a wink. "Makes you dream of your one true love, even if you haven't met him yet."
It was Scully's turn to blush. She covered it quickly with a question. "What kinds of herbs? It sounds as if you're using some that might be dangerous, if they produce visions." She sniffed at the steam again, this time with narrowed eyes.
Hannah smiled. "Not visions, dear. Dreams. The herbs are harmless: apple bark, chamomile, peppermint, hawthorn, and bee balm. The magic is all in the way they're grown and harvested."
Mulder perked up noticeably. "Magic?"
The woman turned to him. "I've always thought of it that way." Her eyes softened. "When I met my Joshua, I knew he was the man I was supposed to spend my life with. I'd been seeing his face in my dreams for years." She turned her head, staring into the flames for so long that Scully reached out to touch her hand.
"Mrs. Connolly? Are you all right?" She shared a worried look with Mulder.
Hannah turned back to Scully, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "It's *Miss* Connolly. Joshua died six months before we were to be married." She shook herself slightly, smiling at both of them. "But you don't want to hear this. It's ancient history." She picked up her cup and sipped, then nodded toward Scully's cup. "Your tea should be ready. Try it."
The woman clearly wanted to change the subject, and Mulder obliged her. "Is that an apple orchard out front?" "Yes, it is. My grandfather planted those trees himself the year he built this house. They've been bearing ever since." She pointed to a basket on the counter, filled to overflowing with perfect red globes. "They're the best apples you'll ever taste. You should take some with you when you leave." Her gaze drifted back to the flickering flames. "There is a legend about apples and Halloween. My grandmother told me the story on a night very much like this one, right here at this table."
Mulder leaned forward and rested his arms on the table, his interest piqued. "I've heard of it."
Hannah looked back at him with surprise. "You have?"
"It's a hobby of his," Scully supplied with a tiny smirk.
"But I'd like to hear *your* version, if you don't mind telling us." He dropped his voice to a soft rumble, aimed directly at Scully. "Sounds like a perfect bedtime story." A blue-white flash led a window-rattling thunderclap by microseconds. As the sound rumbled past them into the distance, the lights flickered briefly and went out. Hannah sighed. "This happens every time there's a storm. I've got some kerosene lamps." She started to get up from her chair.
"Don't worry about it right now." Mulder waved a hand toward the fireplace. "It makes a nice backdrop for your ghost story."
Hannah settled back into her chair and smiled at them both. "I guess it *is* a ghost story of sorts." She looked back at the flames. "The legend comes from a pagan harvest celebration that took place every October 31st. It held that the spirits of the dead walked the earth on that night, looking for their loved ones. It was tradition to leave offerings of food for the spirits, to help sustain them on their journey. Apples were especially favored. My grandfather always placed a basket of his best out at the end of the drive for anyone who might pass by, looking for home." She was quiet for a moment, then she turned to Mulder. "Is that the legend you heard?"
"Yes, but you tell it much better." He was touched by her story, and it showed in his voice. Hannah's smile took years off her face. "You're very kind, Mr. Mulder." She looked at Scully. "I'm so glad you happened by tonight. I was hoping my son and his family would be here, but..." She shook her head. "Maybe next year." She sat up straighter and glanced around the room. "It looks like the lights will be off for awhile. I've got some kerosene lamps in the cupboard. Let's get you settled in for the night."
They climbed the dark stairs behind Hannah Connolly, their shadows dancing over the walls in the lamplight. Hannah turned to the left at the top of the stairs and stopped in front of an open door. "This is your room, Miss Scully." Hannah stepped into the room and held the lamp high to chase back the darkness. The centerpiece of the room was a four-poster bed with an elaborately carved headboard. A nightstand next to the bed and a dresser opposite it were of the same dark wood. Braided rugs warmed the polished hardwood floors, and heavy velvet drapes hung on either side of a bay window. Scully's suitcase sat on the rug next to the bed. "It's lovely." Scully went in, her own lamp revealing more of the room as she walked. She stopped to finger the handmade doilies on the dresser. "Did you crochet these?"
The woman smiled and nodded. "A long time ago."
She turned to Mulder. "Your room is the twin of this one. It's right next door. The bathroom is at the end of the hall." She turned back toward the door. "I'll turn in now myself, if you don't need anything else. Have a pleasant night." She left without waiting for a response.
They watched the glow of her lamp dim as she moved down the hall. Her footsteps headed down the stairs, then faded into silence.
Scully and Mulder exchanged looks. Mulder shrugged. "Maybe she sleeps in the kitchen?"
Scully smacked his arm lightly. "Mulder, she'll hear you."
"You could be right. She's pretty sharp for her age." He looked over at the bed and made a face. "Why are antique beds so damn short?"
Scully raised an eyebrow and walked over to it, patting the comforter before she sat down. "Yours may not be this short, Mulder. Take a look."
His mouth dropped open. "What do you mean, *my* bed?"
"You can't sleep in here, Mulder. We're the only guests in the house. Don't you think she'll notice?" She crossed her arms over her chest.
Mulder recognized the body language, but he wasn't ready to give in. "Scully, she's downstairs. I promise I'll rumple my bed so she thinks I slept in it." He waggled his eyebrows. "Besides, it's too cold to sleep alone."
"It's only one night, Mulder." She stood up and wrapped her arms around his waist. "I promise I'll make it up to you," she whispered into his chest.
He pulled her against him and kissed the top of her head. "If you're trying to send me off to my room, you're using the wrong strategy."
She pulled back and smiled up at him. "Just giving you something to dream about." She reached up and kissed him lightly. "Now, go to bed. I'll see you in the morning." She gave him a gentle shove toward the door.
He stopped at the door to give her a look that would melt steel. "You know where I am if you get lonely." He ducked around the doorframe before she could grab a pillow to brain him with.
She let Mulder have the bathroom first, knowing he'd only be a few minutes. When she heard him come back to his room, she picked up her toiletry bag and her lamp and made her way down the long hall. The bathroom was large and pristine white from floor to ceiling. Against the far wall was the largest claw foot tub she had ever seen. Easily big enough for two. The images that thought conjured up kept her smiling all the way back to her room.
Ten minutes later, she was cuddled up in sheets that smelled of sunshine and a thick, soft comforter that clung weightlessly to her every curve. The storm raging outside made the room feel cozy and safe, lulling her with every window-rattling gust. She snuggled into the downy pillow and willed her exhausted body to sleep.
The sound that woke her sometime later seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, as elusive as the chirp of a cricket in the dark. She'd been dreaming of Mulder. The dream's images were fading rapidly, but the awful sense of loss that accompanied them seemed to grow with every heartbeat. She wanted to get up and go to him, to prove to herself that he was fine, but she couldn't move.
The sound came again, soft and whispery like taffeta skirts rustling as someone walked quickly down the hall outside her door. And footsteps. Very soft. Someone running on bare feet. When her doorknob rattled, she sat bolt upright in the bed. "Miss Connolly?" The knob rattled again, but there was no response to her call. Scully reached blindly for her gun. She'd left it on the bedside table, but her searching fingers found nothing but lace-doilied tabletop. The lamp she'd left there was gone as well.
She listened for what seemed like many minutes, trying to hear over the pounding of her own heart. It seemed that whatever had been in the hall was gone. There was nothing but the rasp of her own panicked breaths in the darkness. It was a dream, she told herself. You thought you were awake, but you were still dreaming. Spooky stories in the middle of a storm on Halloween. That's all it is.
A very logical explanation, except that her body refused to accept it. Her shaking hands were icy and damp from an adrenaline rush that was still growing. Every instinct was screaming at her. Something's happened to Mulder.
The bed was even shorter than Scully's, he thought darkly. And cold. He rolled over for the umpteenth time, punched viciously at his hapless pillow and ordered his mind to sleep. An hour later, he gave up. His growling stomach heard the siren call of carrot cake, and he pulled on his jeans to answer it.
He had a flashlight in his suitcase, but there was something appealing in the soft flicker of a kerosene lamp. He felt around for the matches he'd seen on the dresser. The sharp flare of the match turned to a mellow glow as he touched it to the wick. He replaced the glass chimney and headed out into the hall.
Scully's door was standing open and her bed was empty. He looked down the hall toward the bathroom. That door, too, was open. He smiled. Great minds *do* think alike. He continued on his mission, hoping Scully had saved him some cake.
By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs, he knew his guess had been wrong. He could see that the kitchen was dark, and his skin began to prickle with alarm. He glanced back up the stairs, wondering if she might have gone to another room. Maybe her bed was uncomfortable and she'd found another. Even as he entertained the thought, he knew it wasn't true. She would have come in with him. He stood at the bottom of the stairs and ran the possibilities. Scully certainly wasn't out jogging in the moonlight. Not in this weather. And she wasn't in the bathroom. So what did that leave? Their hostess could have become ill. Scully was a much lighter sleeper than he. Maybe she'd heard the woman cry out and had come down to help her. Suddenly, that made perfect sense to him Hannah's bedroom must be somewhere on the first floor. He set off to find it.
Scully found her robe at the foot of the bed and pulled it on as she picked her way through the darkness. She held both hands out in front of her, feeling for something recognizable. A few steps away from the bed, her fingers banged painfully into the dresser. She shifted her direction slightly to the left. A few steps more, and she bumped into the wall. She stopped, teeth clenched in frustration as she tried to get a mental picture of the room. The dresser was just to the left of the door, she remembered. It was probably right in front of her. She reached out. Her fingers encountered wallpaper, then a doorframe. Down a few inches, and they closed over her goal. With a sigh of relief, she turned the knob and pulled the door open.
A rush of cool air washed over her, filled with a scent she knew all too well. The sweetish, metallic tang of blood was everywhere.
"Mulder!" She screamed his name as she felt her way frantically along the wall, looking for his door as she called for him, more certain with every heartbeat that he was not going to answer.
He determined quickly that Scully was not in the kitchen eating carrot cake in the dark. Nor was she, he soon discovered, anywhere within the sound of his voice. As he made his way through the rabbit maze that was the first floor of Hannah Connolly's house, he called Scully's name at ever-increasing volume. Doors led to halls that led to more doors. Rooms opened onto other rooms. He passed through parlors, sitting rooms, a library, storage rooms. Even another kitchen. But no first floor bedroom where Hannah Connolly might be lying in need of assistance. And no sign of Scully.
Panic was beginning to overtake his ability to think. He stuffed it down by force of sheer will as he opened yet another door, and found himself back in the front hallway where he'd started.
It took him a moment to recognize the sound that seemed to echo from everywhere at once, raw and primal and ragged with pain. He located the source an instant before he recognized the sound. Upstairs. Scully. Screaming.
Shock numbed his limbs... at least, that was his first thought. It seemed that the harder he tried to move, the heavier his body became. It was like swimming through molasses, with Scully's tortured screams ringing in his ears. With one final titanic effort, he threw himself forward.
The wall disappeared under her hands and she fell forward, thinking for an instant that she'd turned the wrong way and was about to tumble down the stairs. Then her hands and knees smacked into the floor hard enough to make her teeth rattle. The impact stunned her for a moment, until the reek of spilled blood assaulted her sense and drove her to her feet.
"Mulder!" She'd never been in this room, and she had no idea where the bed was. She did the only thing she could think of: she followed the terrifying smell, knowing she'd find him at its source. It didn't take long.
Her knees hit the side of his bed, stopping her frantic forward motion and pitching her forward into a soft, wet mass. Her arms sank into it up to the elbows. As she tried to push herself up, her fingers dutifully telegraphed messages to her brain, identifying the shapes under her hands. And she began to scream.
He was fighting to free himself, struggling against an invisible force that held his limbs fast. And then he was falling, with no way to brace himself for the impact. "MULDER!" Scully's terrified shriek and his own jarring contact with the floor occurred simultaneously. There was a blinding light, and another bloodcurdling scream. And a... blanket? He slammed his eyes shut for a moment, then opened them cautiously to the sight of his own big feet tangled in a blanket that trailed off of the bed. His feet were still on the bed. The rest of him was on the floor next to it.
Daylight streamed in the window.
"MULDER!" He freed himself from the tangled bedclothes and staggered to his feet, still buzzing with the adrenaline rush from his dream.
"Scully!" He sprinted for her room.
She couldn't get up. She was buried to her elbows in his open chest and she couldn't get up. Nothing worse. There's nothing worse than this. And suddenly, it was much worse.
He was crying out for her, struggling beneath her. His hands trying to push her away, to make her stop hurting him. Grabbing her shoulders. Shaking her. Shaking her. "SCULLY! WAKE UP!"
She opened her eyes. Mulder's face hovered inches from her own, his eyes as wild as hers must be. "Scully, are you awake?" She shut her eyes tightly for a moment, then opened them. He was still there. The room was filled with light and he was still there, hanging on to her shoulders for dear life.
She sat up so quickly that they bumped heads, then grabbed him around the neck with both arms and buried her face against him. It took a moment for her to realize that he was shaking as badly as she was. When the nightmare finally began to loosen its grip on her nervous system, she pulled back to look at him.
"Oh my God, Mulder. I've never had such a horrible nightmare. I must have scared the hell out of you." She looked more closely, then reached up to touch the livid bruise on his cheekbone. "Mulder? What happened?"
He sat back on the bed and ran a shaky hand through his hair. "I think we had matching nightmares." He touched his cheek gingerly. "I fell out of bed trying to get in here."
Matching nightmares. The tea. "I *knew* it! Mulder, we were drugged! Sweet little old lady, my ass. I want to talk to her. Now!" She kicked free of the covers and swung her legs over the side. Before her feet hit the floor, a male voice bellowed up the stairs. "This is Sheriff Wilkes of the Harleyville Police. You have one minute to come out of there with your hands up!"
Mulder bowed his head and groaned. "She must have heard you screaming and thought I was up here murdering you." He walked to the door and bellowed right back. "I'm coming out." He glanced back at Scully. "Stay here. I'll tell them what happened while you get dressed."
His t-shirt and sweatpants was a good deal more presentable than her silk chemise and tap pants, she had to admit. "I'll be down in a few minutes." "Take your time. This might take a little explaining."
"Play nice with the locals, Mulder."
He rolled his eyes and went out the door.
Scully pulled on the jeans and sweater she'd worn the night before, then took her toiletry bag down to the bathroom. She emerged fifteen minutes later with clean teeth and almost-presentable hair, ready to face the music.
When she reached the lower hall, she could see Mulder standing in the kitchen. He looked up and smiled at her approach, then turned toward someone she couldn't see from her vantage point. "My partner's here." He gestured in her direction as she entered the room. She turned to her right, expecting to see Hannah Connolly. Seated at the table were a man, a woman and two small children. Sheriff Wilkes stood protectively at their backs, eyeing the two FBI agents with obvious suspicion. Hannah was nowhere to be seen.
"Agent Scully, I'd like to hear your version of the events of last night." The sheriff waved her to a seat at the table. Mulder remained standing where he was.
Halfway through her monologue, Sheriff Wilkes began to frown. When she related what Hannah had told them about her Joshua, the woman began to weep silently. Scully glanced back at Mulder, who seemed unaccountably pleased. "We went to our rooms sometime after midnight, I think." Here, she faltered a bit. The last thing she wanted to do was describe her nightmare. "Then... I had a bad dream. I must have cried out, because my partner came to my aid. He woke me up, and then we heard you calling to us."
No one spoke right away. The sheriff looked at Mulder, and his frown deepened. "If you weren't with the FBI..." He let that thought die. "I want you both to stop by my office before you leave the county. Mr. and Mrs. Bradley have agreed to let the matter drop, being that there's no harm done to the property. You'll pay them for the night's lodging, of course."
"Of course," Mulder agreed happily. His mood was nothing, if not inappropriate. She shot him a look, which he blissfully ignored. "Come on, Scully. We need to pack up." He bounded off without waiting for her response.
Scully turned back to the Sheriff with a question on her lips, then thought better of it. She settled for a polite nod, then went to catch up with Mulder.
When she reached her room, he was in it, packing her suitcase. His own sat next to hers on the bed. How he'd managed to dress and pack in the time it took her to climb the stairs, she had no idea. She also had no clue why he found this situation so entertaining.
"Mulder, what the hell is going on?" She nudged him out of the way and began straightening out the mess he'd been making of her carefully packed clothes.
He stepped back and grinned at her. "Scully, we've just spent Halloween night in the middle of an X file."
She whirled on him. "I hardly think a pair of tea- induced nightmares quite qualifies." That insufferable grin was getting on her already-frayed nerves. "Mulder, what aren't you telling me?"
"I'll tell you in the car." And with that, he was out the door.
She stared at the door for a moment, then picked up her suitcase and trudged after him.
She found him in the kitchen, waiting for a receipt for the night's lodging. The sheriff had apparently left.
Mr. Bradley finished writing, tore off the receipt and handed it to her partner. "I'm sorry for all the trouble," Bradley said, surprising the hell out of Scully. Mulder smiled. "Not at all. I understand completely." He looked at Scully. "We both do." He shook hands with the man, then hustled Scully out of the house before she could voice the questions he obviously read in her eyes.
She waited until they reached the main road. "Mulder--"
"--what the hell is going on? I'm about to tell you." He paused dramatically until she was ready to smack him. "Hannah Connolly died in 1934." He looked at her, waiting for a reaction for much longer than she felt was safe, considering his position behind the wheel of a moving car.
She searched for a snappy response. None was forthcoming. "What?"
"She died of pneumonia in 1934, at the age of 98. Mrs. Bradley is her great-great-granddaughter. And Ramey," another pregnant pause, "was Hannah's younger brother. He died ten years after she did, in the room I slept in last night. Mrs. Bradley nearly fell out of her chair when I mentioned his name. This isn't the first time they've come to visit, by the way. It's just the first time they've rented out rooms." He chuckled at his own wit.
"A ghost made tea for us."
"And carried our luggage."
"Mulder..." It wasn't even remotely possible. And yet...
"Scully, you saw her. You talked to her. You had tea with her. You can call Mr. Bradley when we get back and ask him." He was practically giddy with delight. "A woman who's been dead for 68 years told us a ghost story on Halloween. In the middle of a thunderstorm."
"And gave us nightmares with hallucinogenic tea." Just thinking about the dream was enough to give her chills. It obviously had the same effect on her partner. His mood darkened so quickly that she almost felt guilty for bursting such a glowing bubble. "What did you dream, Scully?"
"I don't remember much of it." She looked out the window, grounding herself. The truth was, she remembered far too much. "What did *you* dream?"
He kept his eyes on the road, his hands clenched on the steering wheel. "I couldn't find you, but I could hear you screaming for me." He took a shaky breath, then looked back at her. His smile was a little wobbly. "Pretty much the same one I always have." She smiled back, and he brightened. "Next time you think about kicking me out of your bed, remember how I could have shortened that nightmare if I'd been right next to you instead of down the hall."
He had a point, but then he often did. She directed her comments to dashboard, hiding her smile. "Next time I spend a holiday with you, I'm bringing an exorcist." She expected one of his patented smart-ass comebacks, but instead found herself thrown forward against the shoulder harness as Mulder brought the car to a screeching halt in the middle of the road.
"What the hell are you--" She whipped her head around and found him staring open-mouthed at something off to his left. She followed his gaze. And blinked. "Mulder, that can't be the same gas station." Weeds grew tall through cracks in the asphalt. The canopy over the pumps was gone. A weathered sign out front advertised the building-- what was left of it-- for sale.
He turned to look at her, lips pressed together in an attempt to smother the grin she could see in his eyes. "Do you suppose the attendant is still in there doing his crossword puzzle?"
"Drive, Mulder. Just drive." He did.