Title: Headin' Back South
Author: David Hearne
Classification: X-File
Rating: R (yes, very much so)
Archive: Ayup.
Send feedback to ottercrk@sover.net

Author's Note: This story is a sequel to "Goin' Down South." You don't have to read that one to understand this story, I believe. Any relevant questions you might have about the previous story get answered.

You should also know that the tone of the story is pretty much set by the first line of dialogue. When "Goin' Down South" came out, I didn't get much in the way of complaints about the descriptions of perverse sex and bloody violence. (In fact, a lot of people seemed to be tickled by the former.) Furthermore, this sequel is not as graphic. (There's no House of Solomon in here.) And the fans of "The X-Files" have seen things like deformed incestuous families and a man pushing his way out of his own mouth so maybe nothing bothers them.

Still, this story is R-rated for a reason, so watch it.

Before we start, I would thank Caroline and Exley_61 who first read "Headin' Back South" as well as Laurie for editing it.

In any case, off we go, returning to a backwater town called Final, Mississippi...



PART ONE
IT'S JUST A JOB

The town of Final, Mississippi is much like any other small town -- quiet, low-key, removed from the cares and troubles of the outside world. Its citizens are a simple folk. Their lives revolve around their families and churches. They desire nothing more than to take care of their loved ones and raise them in the traditions which have kept the community together for so many generations. Just a simple, peaceful town.

"You goddamned cocksucking son-of-a-bitch!"

George Kane turned to the window and frowned. In the street outside Sarah's Bed and Breakfast, a debate was being earnestly conducted.

"You shitlicking two-faced whore!"

"You worthless, tiny-dicked, no-good-in-bed faggot!"

"You lazy, back-stabbing, every-man-in-town-come-to-my- pussy whore!"

The debate was between a man and a woman. The topic seemed to be about the woman's faithfulness or the man's sexuality or some such thing. In any case, it was loud enough to interrupt his work.

Kane tried to focus on the portable computer in his room. Taking a sip of bourbon, he continued to type --

However, the leisurely idyll of Final has been given a horrible shock. The community now faces a crime so disturbing...

The word 'disturbing' didn't really satisfy Kane. He checked up his thesaurus. Next to 'disturb' was 'worry, agitate, trouble, disarranged...' None of those words suited him, either. 'Disarranged?' Sounds like you're describing furniture.

"I oughta to kill you, you lying little bitch!"

"Go ahead and try it, you ugly bastard! Maybe you ought to go home and eat some of your boyfriend's shit to build up your strength!"

Kane sighed and rubbed his forehead. Why didn't he stay at The Old-Time Motel, just twenty miles away from Final? Because, you dummy, he thought, the motel was a favorite stopping ground for drug addicts, illegal gun dealers and Scientologists. A corpse had been found in the ice machine only a week ago. That had been the third time in the past two months. "I don't know why the hell they keep putting them in there," the motel manager had complained. "It's not like it's the best hiding spot around."

That's why he was here in town at this bed and breakfast. Of course, the building got the designation of "bed and breakfast" only in a loose sense. It was a house was owned by Sarah Collins, a heavy, puffy-faced woman whose eyes managed to look sleepy and hostile at the same time. Up for rent in her house was a room on the second floor. When Kane first stepped into the room, he had found an unmade bed, long water stains on the walls and curtains which had been victimized by a member of Sarah's cat brood.

"Got a problem?" Sarah muttered when she saw his lips purse.

"Oh, no, no, it's good," he said, keeping in mind that there was nowhere else in Final to stay. To tell the truth, Kane was probably staying in the house's best room. As he had been led here by Sarah, he had noted the piles of clothes on the furniture, the cigarette burns in the carpet and great dusty piles of Reader's Digest. At least in his room, the scent of cat pee was less forceful.

"Breakfast is at eight-thirty," Sarah informed him after he had paid her in cash. "Lunch is at..."

"Oh, don't put yourself to any bother," Kane replied, trying not to imagine a meal with this woman. Surely, Sarah Collins limited herself to only two food groups -- beer and pancake mix. "I'll eat out," he told her.

"Suit yourself," Sarah said, then left him to unpack, trailing behind her a herd of cats pathetically meowing.

Kane could have put up with the smells and discomfort of Sarah's Bed and Breakfast, but not the havoc outside. He pressed his fingers against his nose and closed his eyes, wishing for the two idiots below his window to shut up.

"I'll bust your face on the sidwalk, you dirty slut!"

"Try it and I'll kick your ass, you queer!"

"Don't mess with me, you..."

The gun blast almost made Kane fall out of his chair. For a moment, he had thought one of the debators had changed the course of the argument. Then he heard his landlady call out --

"Shut up, you noisy little fuckers! I'm trying to get some sleep!"

The shout was followed by quick footsteps racing off to a distant point. Kane wondered whether the debators would continue their argument elsewhere or if they would end up tearfully forgiving each other. Getting threatened by a gun tended to take the air out of a person's anger.

The air had certainly gone out of Kane's muse. Sarah's inspired form of moderation had shocked him stupid. He could only stare at the computer on his desk as it waited for more prose.

He needed to get relaxed again. Luckily, he had done his research and knew whose services to call for. He had also paid Sarah Collins a little extra to ignore any visitors he might have at night.

That night's visitor was Jennifer Wright, also known as "The Tongue." Forty minutes later after Kane had called up The All-Night Escort Company, she poked her blase face into his room. He was pleased to see that she was black. He liked having black women do things for him.

"You George Kane?" she asked as she grinded the gum in her mouth.

"That's right," he said. He scooted back from the old wooden desk in his room and patted his crotch. "Over here."

Jennifer walked over to him on her long heels, knelt down before him, stuck her gum on the desk and reached for his zipper. Without looking at her, Kane slid his chair forward until he could reach his keyboard.

"Hey, hey!" Jennifer cried out as she was pushed back into the cramped space under the desk.

"Just continue," he said.

Jennifer looked around at her boxed position, then shrugged. She unzipped Kane's fly and pulled out his penis like a ticket being offered by a fortune telling machine. When she opened her mouth, she heard typing above.

"What are you doing up there?"

"You do your work and I'll do mine."

"What, while I suck you off?"

"Yep."

"Isn't that distracting?"

"Half the screenwriters in Hollywood do it like this, honey. Now go on."

After awhile, the words and phrases were just spilling out of Kane. "...the temptations of evil..." "...youth seduced by the darkness..." "...Satanic forces at work..." "...an unspeakable, abominable crime...."

"A...bom...i...na..able..." he let out in a warm breath.

"Mmmmm?"

"Not you, sweetie. You're doing...just fine."


Agent Sally Ash wondered how not to make herself sound insane. The difficulty there was that she *was* insane in her own opinion.

She waited in Assistant Director Walter Skinner's office. Skinner was seated behind his desk, waiting with her. Neither of them were talking which was okay with Ash. She was glad that the assistant director didn't feel the need to fill the time with bullshit small talk.

Then the door opened. The poster boy and girl for the FBI walked in. Or, rather, the two people who should have been the poster boy and girl walked in. Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were two intelligent, attractive and highly presentable people. They had the right credentials to go high in the FBI. Instead, they were hunkered down in the basement. Instead of being respected, Mulder was considered a joke and Scully a sucker who had gotten pulled into his pile of crap.

Sally Ash had mixed feelings about the two of them. On one hand, she didn't give an alligator's ass for what cases Mulder and Scully chose to invesitgate. If they didn't want to go the route expected of them, that was their business. On the other hand, she had to wonder about people who had tossed away the very thing she had to struggle to get -- respect. Wide-bodied and pug-nosed, Sally Ash was a poster girl for not one fucking thing. Furthermore, she was a refugee from a rusty toilet of a Southern town. Everytime she talked, she could just see the words flashing in the minds of certain people -- Hick, Cracker, Squeeeeallll Like a Pig.

Yeah, well, pigs can bite.

When she left Final, Mississipi, Sally asserted herself. She asserted herself to long hours of studying law enforcement procedure. She asserted herself in the simulations of hostage situations, nailing every 'terrorist' in sight. She asserted herself in self-defense classes as she slammed smug Yankee men to the ground. She asserted herself right through the FBI academy with honors. Why?

Because she wanted to get out of Final.

Because of pride.

Because of a promise she had made.

She had her FBI identification card now. She didn't have many friends, though. Most people were intimidated by her single-mindedness and her defensive attitude. She was respected, but not much liked.

Now, she was standing up to greet two people who were neither much respected or liked.

"This is Agent Sally Ash," Skinner said.

Both Mulder and Scully shook her hand with enough cordiality, but they were giving her strange looks.

"Is there something the matter?" Sally asked.

Mulder and Scully looked at each other. They had a brief, unspoken conference. Apparently, they decided to dismiss whatever was bothering them.

"No, nothing's the matter," Scully said. "How may we help you?"

"Well...it's like this. I come from this little town in Mississippi..."

"Final?" Mulder said.

Sally blinked. "How did you..."

"I...never mind. Go ahead."

Spooky Mulder, Sally thought. One of the reasons that Mulder had been originally expected to go far was his intuition. Sally was a good agent, but she knew that she lacked a certain...imagination. Mulder, on the other hand, had loads of it. ("Too fucking much," was the assessment around the water cooler.) He was like a hound dog, able to pull out scents in the air no one else could find. Somehow, he was able to figure out her hometown through means she couldn't understand.

She already knew one firm explanation for his knowledge, but she shoved that to the back of her mind.

"Well," she said. "it's a tiny town but it's got more than its share of strangeness. Recently, there's been something happening even stranger than usual."

She could see this odd little light in Mulder's eyes. He motioned for her to take a seat before continuing. Sally noticed that Agent Scully's expression was cooler, more cautious. Sally was closer to her personality than Mulder. Scully was a straight arrow instead of a zig-zagging one like Mulder. Of course, her trajectory had landed her in Mulder's ground so you had to wonder.

"It started when the minister's son got arrested for murder," Sally said. "Albert Burnside was found a week ago in a barn with the corpse of one Charlotte Taft. Charlotte had been killed and then mutilated. Parts of her still haven't been found yet. Albert was unconscious when they found him. He claims to have no recollection of what happened in that barn. Or, at least, he doesn't know what happened to Charlotte."

"What can he tell us?"

"That he and Charlotte had come to the barn because they heard of a party there. There were five other teenagers in that barn and they were doing pretty much what you expect -- drinking, smoking, heavy petting. The others say that they left Albert and Charlotte by themselves in that barn. Albert hasn't denied or confirmed that."

Sally reached into his jacket and pulled out a piece of paper. "Now, here's something that's made the whole affair even more of a pain."

She handed it to Mulder. He unfolded it, allowing himself and Scully to look at it.

A square was written on it -- a square with four diagonal lines inside it. Two were drawn from the right-upper corner to the left-lower. The remaining two connected the other corners. The diamond formed at the center was filled in with black.

"It was found drawn on the floor of the barn. In pig's blood."

Mulder nodded, not quite getting it.

"So what do you think, Agent Mulder?"

"I think that I want Mexican for lunch, but that doesn't have much to do with this case."

Sally had been warned about this -- Fox Mulder, Smart-Ass Extraordinaire. Both Scully and Skinner were giving him the kind of warning look he was undoubtedly used to getting.

"I'm sorry, Agent Ash," Mulder said, not very sorry. "But this drawing isn't striking any bells with me. Should it?"

"You don't think it might be...um..."

"What?"

"Satanic?"

Mulder looked again at the drawing, then back at Sally. "Is that what the town thinks?" he asked.

"As a matter of fact, yes."

"Ah. Well..." He handed the drawing back to Sally. "That's not a Satanic symbol."

"What is it then?"

"It's not anything. Not only does it lack a relation to any Satanic ritual, but there's not one form of mysticism or any paranormal cult that employs such a symbol."

"You know them all?"

Mulder smiled. "Quiz me."

For a moment, Sally was wondering if Mulder was being condescending to her because she was Southern. Then she realized that when it came to explaining the paranormal, Fox Mulder was the same asshole to everybody.

Scully decided to step in here after giving another look at Mulder. "Is Albert Burnside suspected of performing a kind of ritualistic sacrifice?"

"Yeah and using Charlotte as the lamb. Of course, even if Albert hadn't been found at the scene, he would have been a suspect anyway."

"How so?"

"He and Charlotte were having a thing going. And what's the one issue that can make any relationship in the South look suspicious? If you say 'tractors versus plows,' Agent Mulder, we'll have to step outside."

Mulder lifted his hands up in a gesture of innocence. Sally looked over at Skinner, realizing she might have gone too far. The assistant director just nodded his head slightly in approval.

"Black-versus-white," Scully said, bringing the discussion back to its proper place.

"Right. Albert may be the minister's son, but he's still a black guy dating a white gal. It doesn't take much of a leap for people to think of him as a Satan-worshipper, too."

Scully nodded. "You said, this murder was the start. The start of what?"

"Ever since the murder, there have been lots of...things. Strange things. Just stories. People are seeing weird shadows passing by in the night. A calf has been born without legs. There have been rumblings in the walls of the library. And on and on." Sally grimaced. "Just a little hick town gone nuts, right?"

"This kind of hysteria is not confined to small towns," Scully assured her. "The fear of Satanists has become a common phobia through a wide cross-section of society. It's become one of the favorite boogeyman of our times."

"Like government conspiracies, right?"

Mulder coughed. Scully gave him a brief smile, then turned back to the other female agent. "What is your opinion, Agent Ash?"

"I have trouble believing that Albert Burnside would kill anybody. Not that he hasn't been acting up a bit lately. Nadine has told me..."

"Nadine?"

"Uh, Reverend Burnside. She's an old friend. Both she and her husband. What I know about them makes me a doubter."

"And that is?"

"That they're the kind of parents I wish I had when I was a kid. Like I said, Albert had been acting up. You know, the whole snotty adolescent thing. But I don't care if they found him at the scene. I just can't accept that he would kill Charlotte. He really cared for her."

"I can understand all that. But why come to us?"

"Well...I hate to say it, but I don't know where else to go."

Mulder spoke up. "We're your last resort."

"If you want to put it that way..."

Mulder leaned forward and gave Sally the kind of smile that reminded her why female agents would sometimes giggle like schoolgirls when Mulder passed by. "Agent Ash," he said. "the X-Files is by nature the 'last resort' for investigations. When conventional thinking and established analytical technique is no longer sufficient for the enigmas confronting us, the X-Files represent the step into the unknown, the mythical, the uncharted areas of human knowledge. While I suspect that there is nothing supernatural about the crime involving Albert Burnside, Agent Scully and I are more than willing to provide any assistance we can in areas where questions might only be resolved by examining the possibility of paranormal phenomena."

Shit, Sally thought, does he always talk like that?

"If you're wondering, yes, I do often talk like this."



PART TWO
THREE FOR FINAL, ONE STAYS BEHIND

As she rode in the passenger seat of an eighteen-wheeler, Audbjorg was talking.

"You know, I've met a lot of people like me. My travels have taken me across the paths of other travellers. You wouldn't believe how many hitchhikers are in this country. Or if they're not hitchhiking, they're driving some rusty old Volkwagen ready to die on them.

"All of them are wandering. They pick out any random direction and just go. Like me, their only nation is the state of motion. They float up and down the borders of the U.S.A., claiming their birthright to constantly reinvent themselves by changing their location. They make the roads their home -- the roads and the motels and the rest stops and the forests and everywhere else they can rest their head. They are fovever being led by their dreams and the promise of another journey."

She rolled down a window so she could light up a cigarette and let the smoke flow out into the rushing air.

"I am one of these people. I, too, am following a trail whose beginnings and endings have reshaped themselves a thousand times. My wanderings have taken me from one coast to another, through sprawling cities to small towns with no names, over mountains, lakes and deserts. I have seen many wonders. I have done many strange things. Whenever I meet someone like me, I always tell them the same thing. I impart the same bit of wisdom that my journeys have taught me. I look them straight in the eye and say --

"'Get the fuck off the road.'"

She took a puff off her cigarette.

"I tell them to settle down. Buy a house. Find yourself a piece of land and set your ass down on it. Because for every beauty you'll find on the road, you'll find five banalities and at least one piece of sheer ugliness. For every exhilirating moment of freedom, there's a moment of loneliness. For every wise man, there's a psycho. Not to mention there are the problems of an empty wallet and a hungry stomach."

She looked at the truck driver next to her. She gave him a little smile.

"I know, I know. 'So, why are you on the road then?' I always have the same answer -- I don't have a choice. Don't ask me why. I just don't. But if you have a choice..."

She sighed.

"I sound like I have a few bad stories to tell. Well, not just a few. More than once, I've been hurt by people who acted like they wanted to help me. I've taken rides with drivers who turned out to be nothing less than evil.

"Of course, you and I got along, didn't we, Tom? I mean, we had a little trouble in the beginning, but we worked that out. Right?"

The truck driver nodded. On his right cheek was a long bandage.

"Speaking of the beginning, we're near the ending. You can let me out at the next stop."

The truck driver nodded again. He had been doing a lot of that for Audbjorg. Not speaking, just nodding.

Just like she asked, the truck driver let her out at the next truck stop. Audbjorg picked up her backpack, opened the door and hopped out of the cab. She turned to the truck driver and said --

"Well, goodbye to you, Tom. Oh, by the way, word travels fast, even among hitchhikers. If I hear about you trying to hurt anybody else, I'll track you down, cut off your penis and stuff it up your truck's exhaust pipe."

She closed the door.


While eating yogurt, Scully read about severed arteries, torn skin, cracked bones, flesh invaded and pillaged. She was seated behind Mulder's desk in the basement office which held the X-Files.

Mulder entered. "Who's that sitting in my chair?" he called out.

"Goldilocks and she's packing heat," Scully replied without looking.

Mulder took a chair and pushed it up until his knees were pressing against the desk. Then he lowered his head down to the top of the desk. Resting on his arms, he looked up at Scully with a look of a child waiting for his mother's attention.

Finally, Scully stopped reading the report. "Well, Mulder?"

"Know where I've been?"

"You said that you were going to research that symbol at both the library and the local occult bookshop."

"Yep. And I did. Remember how I said that symbol didn't match anything in any cult or supernatural belief?"

"Yes."

"I was right. Chances are this is something Albert and his friends made up."

"Albert *and* his friends?"

"If some kind of occult game was going on in that barn, I doubt that Albert and Charlotte were the sole practicioners. That is, if Albert and Charlotte participated at all." He pointed his chin at the report Scully was reading. "What have you got there?"

"An autopsy report on Charlotte's body. Agent Ash got it faxed up to me. The work was done by Dr. Nick Woolcott, the sole practicioner of medicine in Final, Mississippi."

"My keen FBI instinct detects a slight dissatisfaction with Dr. Woolcott's work."

"Without getting into too much medical terminology..."

"Which always makes my head hurt."

"...I'm not convinced that Dr. Woolcott did a thorough job of examining the body. Or if he was even qualified to do an autopsy."

Mulder nodded.

"Of course, other than expressing my disapproval of sloppy work, I'm not sure how much more we should involve ourselves in this. Especially if there doesn't seem to be any occult-related elements to this case."

Mulder sat up straight. He placed one foot on the desk's edge and tilted himself back.

"What are you thinking, Mulder?"

"I'm thinking about what I heard on the radio before I came to work yesterday."

"What did you hear?"

"An interview with Meyer and A.C. Burnside."

"Burnside?"

"They're blues musicians. Their debut album is selling lots of lots of copies. It's called 'Straight Out of Final.'"

"I take it these two are related to Rev. Burnside?"

"Meyer is her oldest son. A.C. is her brother-in-law."

"Ah."

"Pretty interesting, huh?"

"Interesting, but not exactly meaningful."

Mulder dropped both of his feet to the floor and leaned towards Scully. "Oh, come on. Don't you remember how we both felt when we woke up that morning?"

"I do."

"And didn't we both have the feeling that we had seen Agent Ash before?"

"We did. I also thought we decided that we didn't give a shit."

"Well...maybe we should."


Sally Ash was behind her desk and trying to do some work when her phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Agent Ash, it's me, Mulder."

"Oh, yes. Have you and Scully found out anything interesting?"

"Not on my end. But Scully has some questions about the autopsy done on Charlotte Taft. We're going down to Final to straighten things out. Of course, if you want to come with us..."

Sally felt a presence next to her. She kept her eyes focused on a computer screen.

"No," she said. "I've got my own work to do and my A.D. won't look kindly on me going down South on what's just a personal matter for me."

"I understand. We'll keep you updated."

"Thanks. Good-bye."

She hung up.

"So, you're just going to stay here and do fuck-all?"

Sally had learned not to look when this voice spoke to her, especially when she was in crowded places like her office area. She continued typing up a report on the computer.

"For jumping Jesus Christ's sake, Sally, this is important! Even more important than just what the Burnsides are going through! Of course, that should be enough for you to get your ass back to Final!"

Sally felt the speaker lean in close to her ear. "I know you think you're going crazy. But you're not. This is real. This warning is real."

Sally stopped typing. When she resumed doing so, she wrote out --

IF YOU'RE REAL, THEN TELL ME MORE. WHAT IS SO IMPORTANT?

The speaker sighed. "I already told you. I've given you enough as I can."

THEN FUCK OFF.

"Sally..."

FUCK

OFF

"Okay, Sally. But nothing has changed. There's a darkness rising in Final. If you don't do something about it, then we will all be fucked up the ass with a telephone pole."

Sally finally turned to look.

No one was there.



PART THREE SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

After being dropped off by the truck driver, Audbjorg bought dinner out of vending machines at the rest stop -- some crackers and a can of apple juice. Then she kept on walking down the highway.

A pickup truck sporting a confederate flag on its front bumper passed her by. The white male occupants yelled out, "Suck my dick, you nigger cunt!" and laughed.

Mississippi, she thought. What the fuck am I doing back in Mississippi?

She kept on walking until nightfall. By then, she had left the highway for the tight and dusty back roads. Her path had taken her into a forest. She decided to sleep for the night among the dark trees. When she woke up early the next morning, she found herself surrounded by two deer, a family of rabbits, three possums and a fat bear. All of them were looking at her with devotion and love.

"Get lost," she told them. They scattered. Every damn time, she thought. Everywhere I go, some big smelly animal wants to cuddle up to me.

Except for the snakes.

Snakes were the one animal that didn't like her.

She looked inside her backpack for food. She had some crackers and water, but she wanted to save those for later. She considered getting breakfast at a diner. What the hell, she decided. I still have some money left over from the house painting job back in Louisiana. Let's splurge.

She found a creek to wash her hair in. She looked down at her face in the water. She supposed that she looked pretty, but she remembered a day when she was much better-looking. Spending over a year on the road had hardened her features immensely. "La vie goddamned boheme," she commented.

Then she got back on the roads. She walked on for a half- hour until she reached a road sign with enough bullet holes to nearly obscure the name written on it. She managed to make out the word "FINAL."

She crossed into town just at the time Mulder and Scully were meeting up with Chief of Police Shawn McDonald.


Chief McDonald prayed to God for strength to deal with these heathen interlopers. After he was done praying, he let a smile form under his enormous, burly mustache and then walked out of his office.

Mulder and Scully were waiting next to the dividing line between the main office area and the front foyer. McDonald walked past his team of deputies and office workers, all of whom were pretending to concentrate on their typing and phone conversations and not on the agents.

McDonald walked up to the two agents with his hand extended. Looking at the stretched grin on his face, Mulder and Scully got the impression that the Chief was going to sell them a used car. Nevertheless, they both shook his hand.

"Welcome to Final, Agent Mulder..."

Jew, McDonald thought.

"...and Agent Scully."

She's wearing a crucifix, but this woman is undoubtedly a feminist. Can lesbianism and atheism be far behind?

"Please come inside my office."

Sitting in front of McDonald's desk, Mulder and Scully faced two sets of eyes. The first was McDonald's. The other belonged to the painting of Jesus on the wall behind him. Jesus looked friendlier than the Chief of Police, despite the smile on the latter's face. McDonald's suspicious eyes contradicted that smile.

"That's quite a large operation you've got out there, Chief," Mulder said. "I'm surprised that a town this small should have so many people working in the police department."

"Oh, we're planning on getting much bigger, Agent Mulder." McDonald crossed his hands together and placed them on the desk. Together, they looked like a very large mallet. "Now, what brings the federal government down here?"

"We're looking into the death of Charlotte Taft," Scully said politely.

"Ah, what a tragedy that was. The devil is surely walking among us. But how does that concern you?"

"Sally Ash asked us to look into it."

"Oh, yes. I should have known. The small-town girl who made good. Well...does she have a problem with our investigation?"

"She doesn't believe that Albert Burnside is guilty."

"Then I guess we have a difference of opinion here. Of course, even though I am the one down here and Sally is way up there in Washington and even though we found Albert at the scene covered in that poor girl's blood...I am more than willing to listen to any insights she can offer."

Hoo-boy, Mulder thought.

"She is not a member of our investigation," Scully said, still polite. "However, *we* are willing to offer any insights we can."

"Such as?"

"I would like to confer with Dr. Woolcott about his autopsy. There are a few points that I need to review with him. And, if necessary, I would like to perform a second autopsy."

McDonald stopped smiling. "Miss Scully..."

"Agent Scully." Now, she was the one smiling.

"Agent Scully...Charlotte Taft has received a good Christian burial. Neither her family or myself would appreciate her being dug up again."

"If there was evidence missed in the first autopsy, then I'm sure the family would appreciate it."

"Where is the need for the new evidence? We have the killer in jail."

Mulder reached into his pocket. "And you believe..." He pulled out the drawing of the square and placed it on the chief's desk. "...this is the motive?"

McDonald looked down at the drawing, then back up at Mulder with a deadly serious expression. "Isn't this the reason behind all evil? Isn't the devil behind all crimes and travesties of justice?"

"Maybe, but we're not prosecuting the devil. We don't even know that this was an occult-related crime."

"There can be no other explanation for what I saw in that barn. I believe...I know that Albert was doing the devil's work that night."

"What about the other teenagers who had been there? Do you think they were involved?"

"No. I've questioned them thoroughly and I'm convinced that they had nothing to do with this. Despite the sins they were indulging on that night, they are good Christians at heart."

"And the son of the town minister isn't?"

The smile returned to McDonald's face. It wasn't as big as before, but it was amused and condescending. Mulder felt a strong desire to rip the chief's mustache off.

"Reverend Burnside is...a good person." He said the phrase 'good person' as if it was a mild thing like a bowl of soup. "And her husband is...a good person. However, you need to be more than good to be a true Christian in the eyes of the Lord. Frankly, the Burnsides have a strong tinge of secular humanism in their..."

"Chief," Scully said. "we did not fly all the way down here to hear you speak ill of the town minister."

The smile popped off McDonald's face. Scully wasn't smiling, either. Mulder had suddenly taken interest in a corner of the room.

Scully continued. "We came here because I have doubts about this autopsy and my partner has doubts about the occult elements in your theory. Our doubts do not mean that Albert Burnside is innocent. However, these are elements that a lawyer can use to mess up the prosecution. It's in everybody's interest that they get cleared up."

McDonald said absolutely nothing in reply. Scully stood up.

"I'm going to go talk with Dr. Woolcott. Agent Mulder is going to talk with Albert Burnside. This will hopefully be the beginning of a brief, efficient investigation for us. Good day, Chief."

With that, she left the office. Mulder got up and tagged along behind her.

"Nails for breakfast, Scully?" he whispered into her ear.

"Shut up, Mulder."


No one took notice of Audbjorg as she walked into Joe's Diner, including George Kane. Kane was busy interviewing Mrs. Abigail Maynard. When Abigail had heard that George Kane was in town writing a book about the Charlotte Taft killing, she had contacted him as soon as possible. She told him that she had all kinds of information about the Satanic activities of Albert Burnside. Well, actually, it wasn't stuff she had found out herself. She had picked it all out of second-hand and third-hand sources. For instance, Susan Graham...she was in Abigail's sewing class, she could knit the most wonderful sweaters, everybody told her that she should market the pattern to Macy's, not that any of those big-city dealers paid any attention to people from small towns...anyway, Susan Graham had heard from Eleanor Pratt...Eleanor Pratt was a cousin on Susan's mother's side, the Pratts had come to Final after the War of Northern Aggression, such a fine, proud family...anyway, Eleanor told Susan (and Susan then told Abigail) that Albert Burnside once sacrificed a chicken in some ungodly voodoo rite...

As you can see, Kane was having his brain numbed by Abigail's story. That's why he failed to notice Audbjorg at first.

Audbjorg was glad no one was looking at her. As she had walked through the old, old streets of Final, she was regretting ever coming to the town. It wasn't just the strong sense that the whites here weren't exactly...progressive on the subject of race. There was something else.

A feeling which made her spine tense.

An uncertain quality in the air.

And too many dark corners for this time of day.

Still, she had come to get pancakes and bacon and, dammit, she was going to get pancakes and bacon. However, as she looked at the cracked and moldy floor of Joe's Diner and heard the cursing from the kitchen, she decided to just stick with the pancakes. No telling what they used for meat around here.

Again, no one had noticed her yet. She decided to sit in a booth right next to the door, be nice and wait for service.

A minute later, three men entered. They did not seem so nice. They were smiling and laughing, but their laughter was a little too abrasive and their smiles a little too malicious. A display sign had kept them from seeing Audbjorg through the window. She watched them from behind as they sauntered up to the counter. She took note of the paint and grease stains on their jeans, their steel-tipped boots and their leathery skin.

Behind the counter was a blonde-haired waitress in her late twenties. She was pretty and shy-looking. One of the three men zeroed in on her. He leaned against the counter as his buddies stood to the side. Their grins indicated a show was about to begin.

The waitress cleared her throat and took out her pad. "May I take your order?"

"Yeah," the first man said. "I would like your pussy smothered in syrup."

The other two men cackled. The waitress squirmed. "Um..." she said.

"Oh, come on, baby. How about it? You look like you could use a little fun." The first man's long arm shot forward and made a grab for the waitress's skirt. She jumped back against a table, rattling the pots and pans lying on it.

Audbjorg took a quick survey of the bar. There were eight other people in Joe's Diner and none of them wanted to play the rescuer here. In fact, they were doing their best to give their attention to other matters.

George Kane had his eyes fixed on the drama. In his mind, he was writing sentences like "Like a deer with her foot in the iron claws of a trap, the waitress stood behind the counter and faced her harassers with wounded, frightened eyes..." Abigail was murmuring, "Oh, this is terrible, terrible..."

"Tell you what," the first man cooed. "Why don't you take the day off and have a little fun with us?"

"No, I can't, I can't, I have to stay..."

The first man frowned. When he spoke again, he sounded very offended. "Listen up, girl. My friends and I are working on The Temple. That fucking building is going to bring a lot of money to this shit hole of a town. The least you damn crackers can do is show some appreciation. Now you come with us right now or I'm..."

A hand reached over the first man's head and hooked its fingers in his nostrils. The first man squawked as they jammed themselves in tight. The arm over his head pressed down hard. He dropped to his knees like a man doing the limbo.

At first, the other two men were too shocked to move. The black woman with her fingers in their pal's nose had jumped out of her booth faster than they could react. The shock wore off as they heard their pal groan. They started to advance.

Then out it came.

It didn't seem to reflect the light so much as eat it up and burn it inside. The tip of its seven-inch blade was followed by a line of teeth on the blade's underside. Those teeth looked hungry.

Just the sight of it made the two men halt in their tracks. Their lack of motion was assured when she cut the man at her feet.

"OWWWWW!" the man cried out, now bleeding down the side of his neck as well as leaking blood around the fingers in his nose. "Ze cub off muh ear!"

"No, just your earlobe, jackass," Audbjorg said. "I want you to be able to hear me clearly."

He could hear her, all right. Everybody in Joe's Diner could hear her. Kane was watching with his mouth wide open, staring at this beautiful black woman in her faded blue denim jacket and white jeans.

"I don't know why you scum think you have the prerogative to terrify people just because you're horny. I suggest that you leave and go fuck each other because that's the only way you're getting laid and it's what you want to do, anyway. Leave or they'll have to add a new special to the menu. 'Pissant's balls a le creme -- 50 cents.'"

She released the man's nose and kicked him in the butt. He scrambled to his allies, moaning and not knowing which part of his head hurt worse. Audbjorg took a couple of steps back, just enough to give the three men room to exit through the door.

The other two men picked the bleeding man to his feet. Their eyes were poisonous with anger. One of them summed up their mood by saying, "Don't let the sun go down on you in Final, you nigger bitch."

"Don't let the sun go down on me? Well, Benny, you and the Jets better skedaddle because every night is all right for fighting with me."

The three men left the diner and drive off in their truck.

Audbjorg cleaned off the knife with a napkin, then it went back into the black leather sheath under her jacket. Then she turned to the waitress, smiling in anticipation of the gratitude she would receive.

"Why did you do that?" the waitress complained.

"Huh?"

"That only makes things worse! Why didn't you leave alone?"

Audbjorg's shoulders dipped. "Hey, it's okay," she muttered. "You don't have to name your first-born child after me."

She shook her head, then slung the backpack over her shoulder and left Joe's Diner.

"Tch, tch, tch," Abigail said. "That's only going to make trouble. Oh, well, that nigger should have known better. You just don't....Mister Kane?"

"Wha...?"

"Are you all right? You look all flushed."

Kane drank all of his water down. "No, I'm...I'm fine. Now, you were saying about Susan?"

Abigail picked up her story, thoroughly forgetting everything which had just happened.

Kane hadn't forgotten, though. Abigail's story made no impression on her ears as he ran the image of that knife-welding black woman over and over in his head. He would have chased after her if it wasn't for one thing.

He had an erection the size of a German sausage.



PART FOUR
TAKE A LITTLE PIECE OF MY...

"You don't look like a man who has much faith in other people, Agent Mulder."

"Should I have faith in you, Albert?"

The sixteen-year-old sat on the cot of his cell. He looked back at the tall white man in with him between those ugly stone walls.

The look between the two men was broken when Mulder heard a squeak. He turned to see a rat scurry around the cell's toilet.

"That's just Muddy," Albert said. "He's all right. Mind telling me why you're here, Mr. FBI?"

Mulder turned back to Albert. The younger man was keeping up a cool front right now, but Albert would have been a fool not to be worried.

"Sally Ash asked me to come down here."

Albert smiled a little. "Good old Sally. You know, her boyfriend saved my mom and dad's life."

"Really?"

"Well...to the truth...I'm not sure if Meyer was her boyfriend." Albert shrugged. "Old history. Don't worry about it."

"Okay. Let's worry about recent history. Did you kill Charlotte Taft?"

For a few moments, the only sound heard was the pattering of Muddy's feet.

Then, Albert said, "What do you think?"

"So far, the case seems to be based on a lot of innuendo. And I detect a trace of racism in the air."

Albert just nodded.

"On the other hand, you were found at the crime scene. And you can give no explanation for being there."

"I told you. There was a party going on and Charlotte and I went to it."

"Were you invited to this party?"

Albert hesitated, then said, "No. Not really. Charlotte took me to it. She said that it would be fun."

"I take it you were the only black person there."

"As a matter of fact, yes. The others weren't too comfortable with me being there at first, but...there was a lot of drinking. I guess you can forget about most anything that way."

"Who else was there?"

Albert looked up at the ceiling and let out a breath as he tried to remember. "Alex Marsh...Eric Gray...Cynthia Rogers...and another guy and his girlfriend...I forget their names. I was doing a little drinking myself."

"I understand that you do a lot of little things which aren't exactly kosher for a minister's son."

For the first time, Albert gave the FBI agent a look of hostility. "We can't all be the good son in the family, Agent Mulder."

Mulder decided he'd better back off from this subject quickly. "Was there anything else done at this party except drinking?"

The hostile look changed to a smile. "What, are you looking for the graphic details? You want exact descriptions of our sweaty young bodies?"

"I'm looking for an explanation for this." Mulder pulled out the drawing.

Albert looked away. Muddy ran out through a hole in the wall, squealing.

"The townsfolk are saying that it's Satanic. Is it?"

Albert closed his eyes, wishing the FBI agent away.

"I came to help, Albert. In my own clumsy, ham-fisted, white federal agent manner, but I came to help anyway. So answer my question. What is this drawing?"

"I don't know what it is."

"Albert..."

"I mean it." Albert opened his eyes and looked at Mulder. Now, Mulder could see the fear that had been kept hidden away. "It was just something Alex found in a book."

"Ah. Okay. What book?"

"Just some...old book. I don't know where he found it. But, when it got really late, Alex pulled out this book and a pitcher of pig blood. Said he was going to perform some ceremony. Just for laughs, you know."

"Describe the ceremony."

"Oh, I don't know. A lot of chanting, a lot of dancing around the square."

"A Satanic square dance?"

Albert smiled. Just a little bit. "Maybe. The whole thing just sounded like some crap out of Dungeons and Dragons. Of course around here, people think D
D *is* Satanic."

"Did you participate?"

"No."

"Really?"

"Hell, I am the minister's son, after all. I have a few scruples."

"So, what happened then?"

Albert took the longest pause of all.

"Albert?"

"I don't remember," he muttered. "I just remember being woken up by the sheriff and..." Albert laid down on the cot, pressing his fists against his chest.

Mulder looked the young man over, then he said, "That'll be all for now, Albert. Thank you."

Mulder went up to the bars and called out for the guard. As he waited for the jail to be opened, he said, "I do believe you're innocent."

He turned back to Albert. "But I also believe you're hiding something."

After Mulder had left, Muddy stuck his nose out and squeaked.

"Don't get cute on me, Muddy," Albert sighed and closed his eyes.


The old woman was seated in a very proper-looking room. Just about everything in the room was either pink or white -- the lace curtains, the soft rug, the chintz table covers. The color brown was reserved for the rocking chair being used by the old woman. She was sipping from a china cup full of tea as her chair creaked on its runners. At first glance, you would wonder why there was no cat curled up in her lap and no grandchild listening to stories at her feet.

Until you saw her eyes.

They were cold.

Cold as a dark mineshaft.

Cold as the bottom of the ocean.

Cold as Pluto.

No child would have gotten close to her. No cat would have dared to touch her body. (She did have something curled up against her, though.)

She rocked in her chair and drank her tea and looked straight ahead with her cold, cold eyes. She was waiting for someone. As she waited, she thought and planned.

Then a woman stepped into the room. There's wasn't a stitch of clothing on the woman's long, muscular body she hadn't made herself. Deer skin had been used for her sleeveless shirt and the pants had the thick fur of a bear. Racoons had been transformed into shoes and a skunk made into a hat decorated with hawk feathers.

The woman always looked like she was aiming at something with the crossbow hanging from her shoulder. Even the way her mouth was slowly chewing suggested contemplation of a possible kill.

"Sara Lee," the old woman said in a voice as chilly as her eyes. "Not only are you tracking mud on my carpets, but you seemed to have picked up the disgusting habit of tobacco chewing."

"It ain't chaw," Sara Lee said through her stuffed mouth. "Ah found a bird outside." She spat out a beak onto the soft rug.

The old woman looked at the beak, then up at Sara Lee. Normally, the look in her eyes would have soaked anybody's underwear with piss. Yet Sara Lee looked back with no concern.

The old woman decided to overlook Sara Lee's manners. Overlook, but not forget. "What have you to report?" she asked.

"Ah talked with one of dem kids who wuz at the barn. He don't know where the book be."

"Are you sure?"

"'Course ah'm sure. Ah had a nice, long talk with him." Sara Lee spat out a claw.

"Does he have any idea where the book is now?"

"He say dat one of the uther kids got it. He don't know who."

The old woman nodded. Creak, the chair said. Creak.

"You want me to go talk with dem uther kids?"

"No. I'm sure the young man in question will relay your intentions to them. If one of them has the book, then that person might have enough brains to turn it over. If not, then you will have to continue your efforts. Is there anything else to report?"

"Yup. Two FBI agents just come into town. Guess ol' Sally Ash got a couple of her Fed buddies involved in this."

"Are they going to be any trouble?"

Sara Lee rolled a shoulder, making her crossbow rise and fall. "Nothin' ah can't handle."

"Careful, my lamb. We don't need the dead bodies of FBI agents stirring up trouble."

"Maybe. But if you got the book, then you don't have to worry about nothin' from nobody."

The old woman said nothing. She sipped her tea.

"So, how long we wait?"

The old woman looked at a tall clock in the corner. The clock's face -- painted to resemble a benevolent old man -- gave time as being one in the afternoon.

"We'll give those young people until midnight. Then you may proceed in any manner you see fit."

"You know, ah wunder -- what was it they did in dat dere barn?"

"We won't know anything until we get the book." The woman looked at Sara Lee. "Tell me, are you...frightened?"

Sara Lee stopped chewing on the bird guts for a moment. Then she said, "No, Miss Grant. Ah was jus' wonderin'." She tipped her hat and left the room.

The old woman rang a tiny bell. A servant immediately rushed in and began to clean up the mud left behind by Sara Lee's shoes as well as the bird parts. The servant make sure not to look at the old woman in the eye. He especially made sure not to watch as something moved under her dress.

The pink-and-white dress was a couple of sizes too large for the old woman's thin and emaciated frame. However, the dress was bought for two occupants, not one. That other occupant was pressing itself against the fabric -- a long, tube shape sliding around the old woman. "Not now, Bunyan," she said. "Mama's thinking."


As he faced the three young men and two young women in the school courtyard, Mulder told himself to be "tolerant." These were disenfranchised teenagers living in a forgotten town. In all respectable circles, they would be simply dismissed as hicks and disposable meat for the low-wage industries. Yes, a lot of ugliness had come out of their culture ranging from the KKK to violent militias. However, they had to put up with a lot of ugliness themselves and you had to respect that.

Of course, he still wanted to close a car door on the head of Alex Marsh.

The seventeen-year-old lad seemed to be the unofficial leader of the group. He was also the tallest and most surly- looking. He did not seem grateful that Mulder had gotten him out of class.

"He said what?"

"Albert Burnside said that you..."

"I heard you the first time."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I interpreted your comment as a question and not as a statement of your bewilderment."

Alex narrowed his eyes. A light wind blew off a cloud of dust from a ground which had long since given up the idea of producing grass.

"Just because you're some government faggot don't give you the right to talk down to me," Alex informed Mulder.

Mulder smiled. "Maybe. But it does give you the obligation to answer my question. So, tell me...did you perform some kind of occult ceremony that night?"

Alex folded his arms across his chest. His sleeveless shirt gave you a full view of his tough biceps. "If Albert Burnside says I did, then he's a dirty lying nigger."

"Well. Does anybody here substantiate Alex's side on this issue?"

No one answered. "Sub-stan-ti-ate," Mulder said. "Verb. To provide evidence for. To give substance or..."

"It's true."

That was Eric Gray who was a little shorter and a little less mean-looking than Alex. Next to him, Cynthia Rogers nodded a head loaded with a turban of blonde hair. "We didn't have nothin' to do with no occult ceremony," she confirmed.

Mulder turned to the remaining two. Both at fifteen, Sammy Coburn and Jane Lexington were the babies of the group and they looked it. Mulder noticed that they were touching the other's hand. He also noticed the black-and-purple welt around Sammy's eye.

"You two agree with this? That Albert Burnside is 'a dirty lying' not-a-nice-word?'"

"Um..." Jane said.

Sammy squeezed her hand.

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess so."

"Uh-huh. How did you get the bruise, Sammy?"

"Fell down," Sammy murmured.

"Was it either Messrs. Marsh or Gray who did it?"

Sammy looked Mulder immediately in the eye. "Oh, no, sir! It wasn't!"

"No, who did?"

Sammy's eyes shifted away.

"What the fuck are you doing here anyway, Agent Mul-DER?" Marsh inquired. "Since how did this get to be the Feds' concern?"

Mulder kept looking at Sammy as he answered. "It's a concern of Agent Sally Ash."

Alex snorted. "Oh, yeah. I know about her. Local-heifer- makes-good."

Eric and Cynthia guffawed. Mulder turned to Alex.

"Well, Alex...you have referred to me as a homosexual and another federal agent as a cow. Sodomy and farm animals. Are those closely related in your mind?"

Eric and Cynthia stopped laughing.

Alex took two steps towards Mulder. "Listen, you son-of-a- bitch," he snarled. "Just because you're older than me and carry a badge doesn't mean I can't kick your queer ass back to Washington. If you throw away that gun of yours, I'll show you..."

Mulder took a step towards Alex. He looked him straight in the eye.

"You listen to me," he said quietly. "I have faced all kinds of evil from serial killers to the simply inhuman. I have known men who could fix it so that you never existed. I have run into every monster that has crawled across God's green earth. So, if you think some zit-faced redneck is going to make me flinch, you are deep in the country of wrong. Now...take...three...steps...back."

And Alex did just that.

Mulder looked over everybody. "I'm going to let you in on something. I actually believe in the occult. And even though I'm not a fundamentalist Christian, I do believe it is not something to be messing with just to liven up a Saturday night. Now, everybody seems to be covering up something, including Albert. I suggest you better come clean or you'll have bigger problems than my questions."

Mulder left the five of them to ponder that. He went to his car and drove off. As he did, he shook his head.

"Frightening teenagers," he said to himself. "You would make a great hall monitor."

He hoped that Scully was having easier relations with the locals.


Dr. Nick Woolcott burst out of the morgue, his skin the color red going on purple. Mulder had to jump to the side or else a trembling fifty-year-old man in glasses was going to knock him down. He looked at the swinging doors leading to the morgue. Scully stepped through them, pulling off bloody latex gloves from her hands. She looked much more calm than Woolcott, but still tense.

It was 4:45 p.m. already and Mulder had been spending the time in the local library, trying to get a fix on that mysterious symbol. Nothing on the shelves or in the local folklore could explain it. In the meantime, Scully was performing a second autopsy on the remains of Charlotte Taft with the reluctant assistance of Dr. Woolcott. After conducting his unsuccessful research, Mulder had gone to the town hospital whose basement also contained the morgue.

As Woolcott sped around the corner, Mulder said, "A disagreement among professionals?"

"Something like that," Scully said. "Dr. Woolcott called me something that starts with 'c' and ends with 't.'"

"A cat?"

"It also had a 'u' and a 'n.'"

"Coconut?"

Scully gave him a look.

"Right, right. I'm telling you, Scully, if we actually meet someone in this town who likes us, I'll have a brain aneurysm."

"This case makes for a tense environment," Scully said as she tossed the gloves into a trash can. "You can understand why people are on edge."

"Still, I'm surprised that Dr. Woolcott doesn't have a scalpel sticking out of his thorax."

"With his skills, I'm surprised that he hasn't done it to himself by now."

"So, the doctor did not perform a proper autopsy?"

Scully sighed and leaned against a wall. "That was an unfair comment from me. The amount of damage done to the victim made it to difficult to learn anything."

"What did you find out?"

"Charlotte Taft was not murdered. The evisceration occurred after death. Most of it, anyway."

"What do you mean?"

"Charlotte committed suicide."

"How?"

"By ripping her heart out with her bare hands."

**
PART FIVE
HAVE MERCY


As she walked away from Joe's Diner and felt her stomach rumble, Audbjorg was thinking she should have let the three men have their way with that silly little cracker bitch. All she had accomplished was to spread the word that an uppity nigger had come to town. Soon, every pig-fucking redneck in Final would be breathing their moonshine-stinky breath down her ass. What the hell was she...

No. She did the right thing. What was wrong was expecting the world to bless you for it. Like her old boss used to say, "The people who walk alone are often the most righteous." Audbjorg used to tease her boss for saying such things. "You sound like that B.S. 'Touched By An Angel' show!" she would laugh.

Looking back on it, she wondered if she had hurt her boss's feelings. He never let on, but you had to wonder.

She was walking alone in any case. It was also probably best to walk straight out of town. However, she realized that a change had occurred to Final as she crossed over the train tracks. It turned out the town wasn't completely dominated by whites. It had its own black section. As she walked down the streets, she saw children riding their bikes, old men talking on street corners, men doing construction work on houses, women sorting out clothes in a laundromat -- all of them African-Americans. She found herself smiling in relief. Maybe she didn't have to leave Final after all.

A rusty, old low-riding car passed her by. From inside, three young black men drinking from a bagged bottle yelled out, "Suck my dick, bee-itch!"

Audbjorg sighed. Some things never changed.

Still, she kept on walking until she reached a place called Hornet Street. This seemed to be the place where the black-owned businesses congregated. She walked past a barbershop, a hardware store, a... What the hell?

The bar did not look like it belonged in daylight. It was as black as coal with a bright red door. The wood used for construction had not been sanded smooth. Audbjorg touched it and felt the rough bark of a tree. A stone gargoyle was perched atop of an unlit neon sign. The gargoyle had the standard winged-and-forked-tongue look, but it also held a guitar in its stone claws. The neon sigh stretched all the way across the bar's front, spelling out "The Unspeakable Blues Bar."

She was so fascinated by the place that she didn't notice the other woman until she heard --

"Ahem."

Audbjorg turned to see a pretty black woman carrying two paper bags. The woman looked at Audbjorg as if she was learning her every secret.

"Hey," Audbjorg replied automatically.

"That's my business," the woman said in a matter-of-fact voice.

"Oh. Well, it's...it's something."

"Want to see inside?"

"Uh...okay."

"Help me with this, will you?" The woman held out one of the bags. Audbjorg took it. She could feel the bottles grouped inside the bag.

The walls were as rough and black as outside. A bar ran alongside one wall while a stage took up another. Facing the stage was a long empty space followed by an area full of tables and chairs. The lights had a golden tinge like late-afternoon sunlight. The decor was attractive, but Audbjorg didn't quite understand all the handguns and rifles hanging from wires on the ceiling.

After they put the two bags on the counter, the woman said, "There's a room in the back you can stay in."

"What?"

"You don't have anywhere to go, don't you?"

"Well...now that you mention it..."

"So you can stay here."

Audbjorg took a good, long look at the woman. "Are you doing this out of fellow kindness to a sister?"

"I'm doing it because we need someone to wash dishes, sweep the floor, carry the band equipment..."

"I get it, I get it."

"You have a problem with that?"

"No. Not at all."

The woman nodded, then held out a hand. "I'm Zola Burnside."

As she shook it, Audbjorg replied with her name. Zola blinked and said, "Funny. You don't look Icelandic."

"Gee, I never heard that one before."


Meanwhile, in the office of Chief Shawn McDonald...

"Let me be...perfectly clear on this," he said, tapping his fingers in front of his mustache. "Are you saying that this young girl killed herself?"

Mulder had to resist giving Scully a grin. How many times had he heard sentences from her beginning with "Are you saying..."?

"That was what my autopsy has revealed," Scully said quietly yet firmly.

"By pulling her own heart out?"

"Yes. The rest of the evisceration occurred afterwards, but she died at her own...hands."

MacDonald tapped his fingers a few more times, then he dropped them to his lap. "Let's say I believe this..."

Let's see you disprove it, you Bible-beating prick, Scully thought.

"...then who mutilated the body?"

"I can't say."

"Possibly Albert Burnside?"

"Possibly. I would like to see some forensic evidence that proves it."

"So, you don't think his presence at the crime scene counts for anything."

"I can tell you that he's not the murderer."

McDonald lifted his fingers back up to his mustache. "Maybe not directly."

"When you're on the witness stand, Chief, you better give a better answer than that," Mulder warned.

MacDonald gave the agents an oily smile. "Unlike the Godless court system you know, Agent Mulder and...Agent Scully...the juries and the judges around here are more aware of Satan's evil ways."

"You want to unpack that last sentence for me?"

"I am convinced that Albert was performing a Satanic ritual that night. Charlotte..."

"Chief..."

"Let me finish. Charlotte Taft may have seen horrible things that night...things that could driven her to insanity. Who knows how a young mind might react when confronted with the Prince of Darkness? Albert Burnside may not killed that poor girl, but he certainly set the scene for her horrible demise."

Mulder dropped back his head until he was looking at the ceiling. He now felt very tired. "Chief...for one thing, we don't know what kind of ceremony was being performed in that barn. Second, we don't know who was doing what. Third...what's my third point, Scully?"

"You're an idiot, Chief," Scully said.

Mulder lifted up his head. His expression indicated that he wouldn't have said that exactly, but he didn't disagree with it.

The police chief kept on smiling. "That's not a very civil tone, little lady."

The little lady stood up. She leaned onto McDonald's desk, hands standing on their fingertips like swords in the ground. "I can put up with your backwoods, rock-stupid, 'suffer-not-a-woman-to-speak' bullshit," she said. "I will NOT tolerate your efforts to railroad anybody to jail simply because...well, I don't know what kind of motivation gets you up in the morning, Chief, but it makes me want to vomit all over your mustache."

"Well!" McDonald declared. "I must admit that if I were alone in this, I would be scared right now. However..."

McDonald stood up. He pressed his own fingertips on his desk -- the fingertips of his long, hard hands. "I am not alone. I have three others to back me up and no man...or woman...can stop them. They are God, Jesus and..."

McDonald stopped himself. "The Holy Ghost?" Mulder suggested.

When McDonald spoke again, his voice was even deeper and stronger than before. His eyes looked hot enough to cook barbeque.

"A savior has come to Final. He has brought with him the message of God's grace. If you pay attention, you can watch him accomplish what you can't do with your science or your detective work. He will chase the devil from our town. Once you see him at work, you will know how very unnecessary you are. And you can tell that to Sally Ash."

Scully gave the chief one last look. Then she marched out of the office.

Mulder casually got to his feet. He went to the door. He stopped there, looked back at Chief McDonald and said --

"Oooooooh, you're in troubllllle."


"Scully, I thought we agreed that pissing off local law enforcement was my job."

Standing outside the Final Police Department, Scully gave Mulder a look showing how pissed off *she* was.

"Come on, Scully. We've encountered people like McDonald before."

Scully bit into her cheek.

"I think that the chief's 'backwoods bullshit' may be affecting you more than you let on."

"I think that the chief would prefer me to stay in a kitchen."

Mulder lifted his hands, palms towards Scully and thumbs touching. He looked at Scully past his hands.

"Yeah, I can see it. You wearing an apron, holding the baby, making breakfast for your man..."

"Hitting you with a frying pan..."

Mulder dropped his hands. "In any case...before we proceed any further, I suggest we find out why the chief has it in for Albert Burnside. We should talk to his parents."

Scully nodded. "Agreed." Then she sighed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gotten worked up like that."

"Ah, Scully, you know how aroused I get when you're angry."

She rolled her eyes.

"By the way, I wonder what the chief meant by that 'savior' crap?"

Any answer Scully would have given was superseded by a noise bursting through the air.

"HAVE MERCY!!!"

They almost jumped out of their shoes. They spun around to see what looked like an ice cream truck. Standing on top of the truck was a short, thin man with a long smooth beard and equally smooth hair. He was shouting through a microphone into a massive pair of speakers hanging over the front window. As a driver with an equally smooth hairdo moved the truck slowly down the street, the man on top yelled and danced and shook his fist. If it weren't for the guardrail on the truck's top, he would have slipped off in his frenzy. People on the sidewalks were stopping to listen, cheer and wave their hands.

"OH, I FEEL THE LORD'S POWER COMING THROUGH ME! IT'S COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH AND MY NOSE AND MY EARS AND EVERY ORIFICE ON MY BODY! IT MAKES ME WANT TO DANCE! IT MAKES ME WANT TO SCREAM! IT MAKES ME WANT TO SSSSIIIIINNNNNG..."

While he did all of these things, the man would reach into a bag and toss out shiny little objects. The pedestrians would catch them, jumping up and down in glee.

"I WANT TO SEE ALL OF YOU TONIGHT! YOU COME ON DOWN TO THE REVIVAL! WE'RE GOING TO HAVE A SCORCHER OF A SERVICE WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN!"

The truck passed in front of Mulder and Scully. On the truck was a poster with the man's pink, happy face enlarged to the size of a satellite dish. The poster's caption read --

"BROTHER DANIEL WANTS YOU!"

Before it went on its way, Mulder and Scully each caught whatever was being tossed. They looked at their hands. They both had a cross-shaped candy in a gold wrapping. It was chocolate and quite tasty.



PART SIX
WHY IT CAN STINK TO BE GOOD

Brother Daniel Hawthorne did not have enough fingers to stick in all of his pies. At the center of his little multimedia empire was the Traveling Show of Mercy. Hawthorne had strutted up one end of the USA to the other, criss-crossed the oceans and made his way across every country you could imagine. In all four corners of the world, he had preached so hard that it was a wonder (yea, a miracle) his voice wasn't shot by now. The Traveling Show of Mercy had left starry-eyed converts in every place visited.

Then there were his best selling books from Mercy Publishing ("Get in Touch With God!", "Save Your Life Today!" and "The Brother Daniel Cookbook"), his widely distributed video sermons and his spoken word albums which had cracked the Billboard 200. Mercy, Inc. also owned the rights to the Power Preacher video game (one hundred points for each conversion and two hundred for every smiting), the Christian Wrestling Federation and the world's only Passion Play on Ice.

However, all this was not enough for the president and spiritual leader of Mercy, Inc. Brother Daniel looked over his private industry and found something missing. It lacked a real center. The Traveling Show of Mercy was too unfixed to provide a real stable point. He needed an element that would fix people's attention -- a place where the people would come to him and not the other way around.

As usual, he prayed to the Lord for guidance. He got down on his knees and wished for an answer. And just like when he got the first calling to his blessed occupation many years ago (and which also prompted another major change in his life, but that's for later), he was shown the way.

Brother Daniel got his sign when Julius Grant got killed. Grant was a sinister old bastard who lived a few miles out of Final. His death had left behind a vast network of illegal businesses, all of which were quickly divided up and fought over by Grant's former lackeys. Brother Daniel stepped in and bought up his own piece of Grant's criminal organization -- The House of Solomon.

The House of Solomon was a whorehouse, debauched and weird even by the usual standards of whorehouses. Like Grant's house, it was located near Final. After buying it up, Brother Daniel's first act was to chase away all the prostitutes. His second act was to blow it up.

Standing in the charred ruins of the House of Solomon, Brother Daniel declared, "God has granted me a wondrous vision! On the remains of this evil place, I will build something new and beautiful! I will construct a Mecca for Christians everywhere! They will come to Mississippi to worship and praise the Lord!"

Thus the Temple of the Mississippi was started. Unlike the House of Solomon whose customers came in discreetly at night and left quickly at daytime, the Temple promised to be an economic blessing to Final. Surely, the faithful would make stops in that little town and tithe at the businesses before they prayed at Brother Daniel's creation.

Of course, as incidents like the one at Joe's Diner showed, Final would have to accommodate a few unpleasant elements in the meantime. Some of the construction workers putting together the temple felt it was their right to act badly in town. The people of Final decided to look away from the vandalism of their property, the harassing of women and the drunken fights.

A few complaints managed to reach the ears the chief of police. He would nod in understanding, then go see Brother Daniel. With the most obsequious manners, Chief McDonald asked if maybe...you know...maybe the people working on the temple would stop peeing on fences and throwing empty beer bottles at the good folk of Final. "Wellllll," Brother Daniel had said. "that is a problem. And I'll see what I can do. But you have to understand...the road to salvation is often a bumpy one. You tell the good folk of Final to hang in there. When this temple is finished, it will be as if God Himself is your mayor."

Chief McDonald would leave, fully satisfied. If the people he served weren't happy with Brother Daniel's assurances, they kept it to themselves.

Most of the people did, anyway. One person was decidedly unhappy with the behavior of the construction workers and made no bones about it as Mulder and Scully found out.


"Pete Starr," Malcolm Burnside as he lit up his pipe. "That's the name of the bastard whose ass has my footprint on it."

Malcolm was standing on the porch of his house with Mulder and Scully. The house was cheap, but it had been kept in good condition. You could tell that Malcolm Burnside was chiefly responsible for its state. He was still dressed in his soiled blue jumpsuit with the words "BURNSIDE HOUSE REPAIRS" on it. His strong, nimble hands could make even lighting a pipe seem graceful. He regarded Mulder and Scully with a respectful, cooperative look yet he was still leaving room for mistrust. He seemed to be a man who had gotten duped once and that was enough for him.

"Starr is one of the foremen on that monstrosity they're building. One night, I was walking down the street when I heard this racket. Investigating, I found this sorry excuse for a man knocking over trash cans and smashing mail boxes with a baseball bat. He wasn't even drunk. He was just being stupid and mean.

"I asked him to cease and desist. He called me all the usual stuff. You know, the golden oldies of racist epithets."

Smoke whooshed past Malcolm's lips. "Long story short...I sent him on his way. The next thing I know, the chief of police comes over to complain about me overstepping my bounds. I said that I would be more than happy to keep within my bounds if our local law enforcement would just remove its collective noggin from its collective rectum. I told him that he had a busload of people working for him and all they did was paperwork and favors for Brother Daniel. Why not have a few of them do actual police work?

"So, that brings us to this point."

"Well," Mulder said. "that clears up a few things."

"Keep in mind that he's not just out to get me," Malcolm noted. "He's after Nadine, too."

"What did she do?"

"Do her job too goddamn well, that's what. Brother Daniel may have control over this town's politics, but he has to share its spiritual center with her. Nadine has done too much for this community. They can't just toss her aside for the first loudmouth who comes to town." Malcolm blew out another cloud of smoke. "Not right away, in any case."

"It looks like Brother Daniel is making inroads on that."

Malcolm looked out at the final hours of daylight creeping through the trees. He said, "She can come to their houses and hold the hands of their dying relatives...she can make sure everybody gets a hot meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas...she can tell them about the boundless love of God...but she's still a woman. And a lot of people in this town would prefer a man as the head of the church and that's a fact."

"Is that what the chief wants?" Scully asked.

Malcolm turned back to the agents. "The chief wants his own son to be the next minister," he said, rolling his eyes. "Some twerp named Johnny who's not out of high school yet."

Then he scowled, but not at Chief McDonald and his twerp. "Hell, would you listen to me? It's Albert who has the real problems and I'm complaining about what's it doing to me." He took another good look at the two FBI agents. "I appreciate that Sally got you into this and I hope you can get to the truth."

"Well, the truth is proving to be rather elusive," Mulder told him.

"How so?"

Before Mulder could explain, three people on bikes pulled into the driveway. Two of the bicyclists were children. Both were girls. One was black. The other was white. However, there was a deep resemblance in their features. They also had the same quiet expression -- so calm and so removed from the usual frenzy of childhood.

The third cyclist was a grown white woman. She looked weary and sad. Her eyes spoke of too much work and too little sleep. Her hair was a mess and her clothes were wrinkled.

She was the most beautiful woman Mulder and Scully had ever seen.

She pulled the bike up to the porch and looked at the agents as she nudged the kickstand to the ground. Mulder and Scully just looked back at her in astonishment.

"This is Agent Mulder and Agent Scully," Malcolm explained. "They're from the FBI."

"Oh, yes," the woman said, then she smiled. It wasn't the best smile she could give, but it made Mulder want to dance. "Sally told me you were coming. I'm Rev. Burnside, but you can call me 'Nadine.'"

"Uh...sure," Mulder said.

Nadine turned to the two girls. "You two go in and wash up. Then you can play in your room until it's dinner time."

"Yes, Mama," the girls said at the same time, then walked into the house after giving the agents one last solemn look.

"Why don't you two come inside, too?" Nadine asked. "Would you like some lemonade?"

"That would be...very nice of you," Scully said.

Nadine nodded, then entered the house. Before they followed her inside, Mulder and Scully looked at her husband.

Malcolm Burnside smiled. He wasn't being smug. He was telling them that he couldn't believe his good luck, either.


Audbjorg watched Brother Daniel's truck go by as she helped Zola toss the garbage into the dumpster. "What the hell was that?" she asked.

"That's the reason why we're not open tonight," Zola sighed. "We can't compete when Brother Daniel has one of his revivals."

The last bag was tossed in. Zola offered Audbjorg a cigarette which the latter woman accepted. Zola lit one up herself.

"So," Zola said. "where are you from?"

Audbjorg laughed. "Everywhere, I guess."

"You're saying you've been on the road your whole life?"

Audbjorg considered her answer. "No. Not exactly."

"So, what were you doing before then?"

"Everybody has a private life, Miss Burnside."

"Call me Zola. And I guess they do, Audbjorg. But I would like to know if you're running from the law."

Audbjorg shook her head. Zola examined the other woman -- her long body, her balanced poise.

"Were you a cop?" Zola asked.

Audbjorg blinked. "What makes you say that?"

"You look like someone who used to be in a position of authority. Were you?"

"Um...it's really hard to explain." Actually, it was very easy to explain. The hard part was getting the other person to adjust.

Zola stuck out her lower lip and blew a plume of smoke straight upwards. Then she shrugged. "Well, you don't have to explain. Just do your work, make no trouble and you'll be fine as I'm concerned."

"Thank you."

"Of course, you're getting this night off. Tomorrow will be a long one, though. A.C. and Meyer are playing."

"Sorry?"

"They're my brother and nephew and they've got one of the biggest blues act in the country now. They're coming back to Final for a hometown gig. The place is going to be wild that night, let me tell you. I'm surprised you haven't heard of them."

"Well, I'm not a fan of the blues."

Zola couldn't help but frown. "Do you like jazz?" she asked.

"No, not that, either."

"What music do you like then?"

"Country."

Zola stared at Audbjorg, then her laughter came out loud and hard.

"What?" Audbjorg said. "What?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing. It's just that..." Zola giggled. "...when I think of country, I think of drunken rednecks trying to line dance and..."

"Hey!"

"...yodelers who sound like they got their dicks chopped off."

"I'll have you know that there's a lot more to it than that. There's a lot more soul. Furthermore, country musicians know something blues and jazz musicians don't."

"And what's that?"

"They know when to end a goddamned solo."

"Hmm. Point taken."

The two women looked at each other, then they both smiled. "I think we're going to get along fine, Audbjorg," Zola said.

"Yeah, I think..."

Suddenly, Audbjorg's cigarette exploded like a firecracker. Audbjorg leapt back two feet as she hurled the burning paper away from her. It sizzled for a second more on the ground and then was merely ash.

"You okay?" Zola asked.

Audbjorg checked her hand and found no burns. "Yeah, I'm..." Then she looked up at Zola. The expression on the other woman's face was calm and relaxed. Zola held her own cigarette with no concern.

"What the fuck was that?" Audbjorg demanded.

"That's just...Final. Strange things happen. More so than lately, but..." Zola shrugged, then took another drag off her cigarette.

Audbjorg felt her stomach spin. She rushed back into the bar and ran all the way to the bathroom. Zola followed behind her. In the bathroom, she heard Audbjorg retching in one of the stalls. After Audbjorg seemed to be finished with that, she asked --

"Are you sure you're going to be okay?"

"Yeah...yeah, I'll be fine..."

"Having second doubts about working here?"

"No, I...I've seen some strange things myself. I was just...a little caught off guard, that's all."

Zola nodded. "Tell you what...I can finish up the rest of the work myself. You just take it easy, okay?"

"Thanks."

Zola left the bathroom. In her stall, Audbjorg took a breath and looked up. She saw an arrow pointing back down to the toilet where yellow-and-green chunks now drifted. Above the arrow was a sign that read "YOU WRITE ON THE WALLS, YOUR HEAD GOES IN THERE. -- THE MANAGEMENT." The walls were clean and unmarked.

Audbjorg closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. She had been right. There was something very wrong in this town. The exploding cigarette hadn't just been a little bit of voodoo weirdness. Like she said, she had seen plenty of that before.

What made her queasy was what she saw at that moment. It had been just a brief glimpse and she could have given no exact details. However, she was certain of this -- there was a force at work in Final, Mississippi. It wasn't fully embodied yet, but it was steadily taking shape. Soon, it would be walking the streets like a killer looking for its prey.

She should get out of town right now.

But that wouldn't be right, would it?

Damn, she thought. Why do I have to be so fucking noble?



PART SEVEN
NO RESPECT FOR LITERATURE

"We gotta stop this! It's getting all fucked up!"

"Shut up."

"Please, Alex, we can't..."

Thump. "I said, shut up."

Sammy Coburn stepped back from Alex, nursing his cheek. Jane rushed to his side, opening her mouth to protest.

"I don't want to hear no shit from you, either," Alex warned her.

She closed her mouth. Alex looked over everybody, making sure no one else would talk while he was talking. They were gathered in his bedroom. The walls of the bedroom were covered with pictures of auto wrecks and plane crashes. ("I just like looking at them" was his only explanation for the decor.) A rifle was propped up against an unmade bed and a couple of empty whiskey bottles laid on the dresser.

Alex and his four acquaintances usually gathered in his house for powwows on important issues. His parents did not interfere with these meetings. At this time of day, the mother was usually too drunk to care and Alex's father was working the second shift at the chicken-processing plant. That left Alex to conduct his business unchallenged.

"Before we all start acting like a bunch of pussies," Alex said, throwing a meaningful glance at Sammy. "keep in mind that the chief don't suspect us of nothing. As far as he's concerned, he's got the right person. And *before* you start saying that Albert is innocent, also keep in mind that we don't know what the hell happened in that barn. And we never asked that nigger to come anyway."

Jane flinched as Alex gave her another look. It had been her idea to invite Charlotte to their party. She had been as surprised as anyone when Charlotte arrived with Albert. Personally, Jane didn't have anything against the colored, but that sort of thing...well, it just wasn't done. Luckily, by then, people were too drunk or high to care. Even Alex had placed his arm around Albert's shoulder and said, "You ain't such a bad little spearchunker." Albert just smiled in reply.

Of course, later on, there would be a visitor no one could handle.

"Shit, I don't know even why he and Charlotte stayed in that barn," Alex said. "I mean, we had the sense to run, right?"

"Well, you were sure running fast, that I know," Eric commented with a grin. Cynthia laughed, but her laughter stopped and Eric's grin disappeared when Alex glared at them.

"My point is..." Alex said in a low voice. "...we got nothing to worry about."

"But the woman..." Sammy started to say.

"Oh, would you quit it about that woman! If she's got a problem, then she can talk to me! Is beating you up supposed to scare me? Shit, one of those fucking Teletubbies could beat you up, Sammy. She wants to mess with me and I'll shove my boot right up her twat."

Sammy said nothing. He was a man caught between too many fears. He was afraid of the cold-faced woman who had threatened him. He was afraid of Alex Marsh. He was afraid of that FBI agent.

And he was afraid of what he had seen in that barn.

"Yeah, you'll stand up to her just like you did to that FBI agent," Cynthia sneered.

"Eric," Alex said. "tell your ugly bitch of a girlfriend to shut up or I'll shove her straight up into her hair."

Cynthia's mouth dropped open. She looked to Eric to defend her honor.

"Shut up, Cynthia," Eric muttered, shifting on his feet and knowing it would be a long, long time before he got to second base with her again, if ever.

"I didn't back down," Alex insisted. "I'm just biding my time before I can give that pretty boy the ass-whuppin' of his life."

No one contradicted him.

"We don't have to worry about him. We don't have to worry about no strange woman. We don't have to worry about the chief or anybody. We're safe."

Jane whispered something.

"What? What did you say?"

"What about...the book?"

"That's been taken care of. Don't worry about that, either."

"But where is..."

"What did I just get through saying?"

Jane said nothing more.

"As long as we keep our mouths shut, everything will just pass over us. And..." For the first time, Alex smiled. "...we still have the book. I'm telling you right now...I'm keeping it. Yeah, things got a little crazy, but think about it, folks. Think about what we can do with it. That book is the best thing to ever happen to us in this craphole of a town. Ain't nobody gonna take it away from me."

That concluded the discussion on the subject. No one dared to raise a doubt in the face of Alex Marsh's authority. No one even mentioned what they had seen in that barn...what had risen out of the square Alex had drawn in blood on the ground. In a tight situation like this, the control of someone like Alex over a group either shatters or becomes even tighter than before. Eric, Cynthia, Sammy and Jane acquiesced to Alex simply because they needed a leader.

Of course, Alex was wrong on just about everything. He didn't even know that someone else had taken an interest in them. That person was sitting in his car with binoculars and watching Alex through a bedroom window. Like Mulder, this man strongly suspected Alex's crew of being more involved in Charlotte's death than that dipshit chief of police believed. When George Kane had first tried to interview Alex, the young man had refused to speak and expressed a lack of respect for Kane's profession. "All writers are faggots, pussies and geeks," he had sneered.

Never insult a writer, Kane thought. They can hold a grudge until the end of time.


When Nadine Burnside offers you a glass of lemonade, you find yourself opening up on a lot of things. Mulder and Scully ended up telling her and her husband everything their investigation had revealed.

After they got done, Malcolm reached from the chair he was sitting in and slowly tapped his pipe three times into an ash tray. Then he laid his pipe next to the ashtray, folded his hands together and looked at the FBI agents from his hunched position. Mulder and Scully were seated on a couch. Nadine was leaning against a wall, arms over her chest.

"So you can prove my son is innocent."

"We can prove that he didn't kill Charlotte in a direct way," Scully explained. "But Chief McDonald seems to believe that the jury's imagination will accept his devil- worship theory."

Malcolm's hands pressed together until the veins bulged. Then he said, "God damn this town." He stood up and strode back outside. A few moments later, the sound of a hammer striking metal rang out from the back yard.

"This is how my husband likes to work out his tension," Nadine explained. "It's best that we leave him alone for awhile."

"That's exactly what I was thinking," Mulder replied.

Scully said, "Reverend Burn...Nadine...maybe I don't know enough about the ways of Final, but I'm convinced that we can clear your son's name."

"Bless you," Nadine told her. The way she said it made Scully think she ought to be glowing right now.

"However...one of our main obstacles is your son's own reluctance to talk. He's hiding something and he'll continue to be in trouble until he speaks openly about it."

"Yes. I know."

"Nadine," Mulder said, liking the way that name came off his tongue. "was your son..." He stopped himself.

"Was he involved in any kind of Satanic cult?"

"Well...was he?"

"My son has gotten...burnt-out, I guess you can say. By all rights, he shouldn't have been with Alex Marsh and his bunch on that night."

"Are you saying that Charlotte Taft was a bad influence?"

"Oh, no. Actually, Charlotte was a very sweet young woman. A bit wild, perhaps, but...well, it takes a certain amount of character for a white woman to date a black man in this town."

"Or to marry one?"

"Um...well, I guess I'm kind of tooting my own horn here, but...I was glad that she and Albert were dating. I thought that perhaps with her help, I could..."

Nadine closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened her eyes, there was a haunted look in their rich blueness. She said, "The chief is right."

"About what?"

"There was an evil presence in that barn. Something horrible did drive Charlotte to...to do the thing she did. And Albert knows what it is."

It was silent in the living room, a strong contrast to the ringing metal outside.

Then Mulder said, "Nadine...this is going to sound strange, but when I saw you...and I think I speak for Agent Scully, too...but I had the feeling..."

"That we had met before?" She nodded. "I had the same feeling."

Then Nadine walked over to the FBI agents and got down on her knees before them. Mulder and Scully almost jerked back in astonishment.

"You know what I think?" she asked quietly.

They both shook their heads.

"I think you were sent here by God."

A particularly loud clang was heard as if Malcolm had just busted a hole in a bank vault.

"You have been sent not just to save my son, but to save all of us from the evil walking among us."

"Uh..." Mulder replied.

"Um..." Scully added.

Nadine held up her perfectly-shaped hands to them. "Will you pray with me?"

What else could they say? They got down on her knees with her and they all held hands as Malcolm continued to bang metal outside.

"Dear Lord, guide us through these troubled times..."

Bang. Crash.

"...and grant upon your servants Agent Mulder and Agent Scully the wisdom to find the truth."

Shriek. Clunk. Boom.

"Please protect the town of Final from the evil that has beset us. Please show mercy on all who dwell here."

Crash.

"However..."

Bang.

"...I can tell you right now...that I will do whatever I can to protect my son..."

Clunk.

"...and if anyone of these assholes in town try to hurt him..."

Mulder and Scully opened their eyes to look at Nadine.

"...I will send them back to the shit they grew from."

Crash. Boom.

"Amen."


"Glory Hallejuah! Oh, my goodness gracious, this will be a night to remember!"

Chief McDonald nodded in happy agreement as he followed Brother Daniel up the aisles of the makeshift church. In an open field at the edge of Final, a wide tent had been stretched out over rows and rows of folding chairs. Around the tent, a crew was setting up the big television screens and speakers. A stage had planted in front of the chairs complete with a drum kit, an organ, a microphone and a tall iron cross.

Brother Daniel hopped onto the stage and danced all over it like a kid who has just eaten ten candy bars. Once again, McDonald was amazed by how much energy was in Brother Daniel's little body.

"I can feel it coming!" the preacher declared. "Lord have MERCY! I can feel it coming! Can't you feel it coming, Shawn?"

"Yes, I can, Brother Daniel."

"Oh, say it like you mean it, Chief!"

"YES, I CAN, BROTHER DANIEL!"

Brother Daniel laughed in delight. It was a sound that always made the police chief's heart glad, but...there was always this odd little doubt in his mind. For the hundredth time, he couldn't help but hear something odd in the preacher's voice. Or see something strange in his features. However, as usual, he pushed these doubts aside.

"Oh, my, my, my!" Brother Daniel continued. "This will be the best revival we ever had in Final!"

"I'm sure it will be."

"I just hope nothing happens to mess it up." Brother Daniel was still smiling, but now there was an undercurrent of sternness in his voice. McDonald got worried.

"By the way, while I've got you here, Chief...there's a little matter I would like to bring to your attention. Just a little trifling problem that needs a solution."

"Wh-what is it, Brother Daniel?"

"A few of the good men who are working to construct the glorious Temple of the Mississippi, God bless them...they had some trouble today. They were attacked. By a woman of the Negroid persuasion."

The back of McDonald's neck got warm. "Zola Burnside," he muttered.

"Oh, no, not her. No, this was a strange woman. Looked like some hiker or something. Had a very nasty-looking knife in her possession. If you ever come across her..."

"Of course, Brother Daniel. Of course."

"Fine. Fine and dandy. Well, lookee who's here!"

McDonald turned to see a man walking towards the stage. He was the kind of man you only looked at once, if at all. He was a ghost of a person -- quiet and unremarkable.

"Mr. Rogers has returned to us!"

"Good evening, Brother Daniel. Chief." Mr. Rogers was as quiet and formal as his appearance.

"I take it that the business up North has been taken care of," Brother Daniel said.

"Of course, sir."

"Outstanding! I'm telling you, Chief, this man has been a blessing to Mercy, Inc.! There's nothing he can't handle! And to think that his talents were once in the service of that sinner Julius Grant! He was actually in charge of that ghastly House of Solomon! But not anymore, right, Mr. Rogers?"

"No, sir."

"You've been saved, haven't you, son?"

"Yes, sir."

"Have mercy!"

Mr. Rogers looked around him. "I see that I came back in time for your weekly in-town revival."

"M-hm. And, my goodness gracious, does this town need the Holy Spirit more than ever!"

"How so, sir?"

"You must have been real busy with your work up North, Mister Rogers," McDonald said. "We were just visited by the devil himself when you were away."

The brief spark of alertness in Mister Rogers's eyes happened so quickly that Brother Daniel and the police chief missed it. "What do you mean exactly?" he asked, his voice unchanged.

He was told about the murder of Charlotte Taft and the mysterious symbol found at the crime scene. He nodded, then asked if he could have the police files about the case.

"I've already given everything I have to Brother Daniel," McDonald asked. "But why are you interested?"

"Oh, I'm sure ol' Mr. Rogers has gotten something good up his sleeve," Brother Daniel assured the chief. "He's probably thinking up some way to knock the devil right back into his smelly, black pit! Ain't that right, Mr. Rogers?"

"Yes, sir. Where are the files now?"

"Back at my office."

"If you may excuse me, sir..."

"Of course, son, of course. God bless you."

Mr. Rogers left the preacher and the police chief. His grip on his briefcase was tight. He tried not to walk too quickly.

I'm stupid, he thought. Stupid, stupid. I should have been keeping closer tabs on Final while I was gone. This might be the very thing I had been looking for.

He went off to serve his true master.


The barn had not been touched since the murder. Yellow police ribbons still cut off the entrance. Charlotte Taft's blood still streaked the wooden floor.

The square was still there.

The barn had received no visitors. There had been a few who had braved a look at it, but they couldn't get within fifty feet before running off. Even the police didn't want to return. It stood alone in an abandoned farm whose last owner had killed himself by throwing himself into a wheat shredder.

If there had been regular visitors to the barn, they might have noticed an odd thing. There was less blood on the floor than before. You might have assumed that it had just evaporated or faded away, but the square written in blood was still as red and thick as when it was first drawn. Only Charlotte's blood was disappearing.

Had you been there at the right moment, you could have seen another streak of blood vanish from the floor.

You could have heard a growl underneath the floor.

Something below was hungry.

Very hungry.



PART EIGHT
A HOLY COMMOTION

"I'm not sure this is one of your better ideas, Mulder."

"And I'm not sure when you ever liked my ideas."

"You know what I mean."

Mulder looked out at the darkness beyond the lighted porch of the Burnside house. "You mean, is it a good idea for Nadine Burnside to go right into the lion's den?"

"Something like that. So why did you suggest it?"

"Because nobody in this town is going to listen to agents from the 'fural goobment.' They'll listen to her."

"You think so?"

"People would listen to that woman read a electrician's manual."

Scully smiled. "I think somebody has a crush."

"For heaven's sake, Scully, Harvey Fierstein would have a crush on that woman."

"Point taken. But this plan could go sour..."

"That's why we're coming with here. Just in case the townfolk..."

They realized that there was someone else on the porch. They turned and saw the two Burnside girls looking back up at them with solemn faces.

"Uh, hi," Mulder said. "Good evening."

The two girls examined the grown-ups very carefully. Then they stepped forward. Mulder and Scully got out of their way. The girls halted at the very edge of the porch.

They watched the darkness.

"It's out there," the black girl said.

"It's hiding," the white girl added.

"It's waiting..."

"...for the right moment..."

"...to show itself."

"What's waiting?" Mulder asked.

The two girls turned to Mulder and said in unison, "We don't know."

"How do you know...it's out there?" Scully asked.

The heads of the two girls shifted to her. "We just do."

Mulder and Scully looked at each other. Then Scully said, "I'm sorry, but we didn't catch your names."

"She's Etta," the white girl said.

"She's Sue," the black girl said.

"We're sisters," they concluded together.

"Does this...thing out there have anything to do with your brother?" Mulder asked.

"It was in the barn," Sue explained.

"It wants to do more," Etta added.

"People are saying that it's the devil," Mulder told them.

The girls looked at each other. They seemed to be in disbelief at this man's ignorance. They turned back to Mulder. Etta said, "There are more bad things than just the devil."

"Lots of things," Sue assured him.

Nadine and Malcolm stepped outside. Nadine had just taken some time with her clothes and her makeup, the final results being stunning, of course. "I'm ready to go," she said, then knelt down to her two daughters. "Daddy will look after you while I'm gone. Be good."

"We will," Sue and Etta chimed, then hugged their mother.

"Agent Mulder?" Malcolm said.

"Yes?"

"You do know that if Nadine gets harmed because of this, I'll introduce your face to your ass. Right?"

"Right."


Audbjorg wasn't so sure if she was having such a good idea, either. Earlier, she had told Zola about the three men she had scared off. Zola explained about The Temple and the hold Brother Daniel had on the town.

"You might want to lay low in the bar," Zola warned.

"Probably."

"Definitely, girl. You really scared off those sons-of- bitches?"

Audbjorg showed her the knife.

"I guess you did."

Audbjorg decided to lie a mite less low than her employer had recommended. Zola had left her alone in the bar to go home. She had also given Audbjorg a spare key. Audbjorg used the key to lock up as she left the Unspeakable Blues Bar for the revival. She kept a careful eye out as she walked through the darkened streets of Final.

When she arrived on the scene of the revival, a large crowd had already formed. Actually, it was two crowds. One was white and gathered under the tent. The other was black and were sitting about twenty feet back from the tent. Surprise, surprise.

Audbjorg sat herself at the edge of the black crowd, close enough to hear them but far away enough not to be noticed. She listened carefully to their conversations. The main reason she came to the revival was to pick up more information about current events in Final.

One of the first things she learned was why Zola kept the bar closed on such nights. The black crowd was laughing and talking loudly as they passed around the booze. They had blankets spread out on the ground. Ice cream and hamburgers were being eaten in great quantities. It puzzled Audbjorg at first, but then she noticed how quiet the white people were. They were just sitting in their chairs and waiting.

Waiting to go nuts.

No wonder Zola closed down the bar, Audbjorg thought. What blues band could compete with the sight of one hundred honkies in an evangelical fervor?

As she listened, Audbjorg learned about other things. She learned about the crime committed up in the barn. She found out that it was the minister's own son who was being charged with the murder. And she kept hearing something about a mysterious square symbol. She could only get a vague sense of what the symbol looked like from their descriptions. Her memory couldn't come up with anything that resembled it.

Her thoughts were cut in two by the sound of a cracking drum and a thunderous organ. The instruments were joined by bass, guitar, a full horn section. They may have called it gospel, but it was rock 'n roll anyway you cut it.

Then Brother Daniel took the stage, his big grin exploding on the t.v. screen as the cameras zoomed in on him. From the speakers came the mighty sound of --

"HAVE MERCY!"

What followed next was borderline chaos. As the band played funky little grooves, Brother Daniel shouted out scripture, stomped his feet and ripped off his jacket. In return, his congregation writhed, spoke in tongues and sent a million "Amen"'s up to the stars.

The black people got into it as much as the white people. Why shouldn't they? Hell, they helped invent this shit. They completely lost their amusement and clapped and sang as hard as the white people. Even Audbjorg was swept into the feeling.

However, she was not so swept up that she didn't hear a voice say --

"It's not exactly a Presbyterian service, is it?"

She turned to see three people. Two were attractive. One was spellbindingly beautiful. The first two were dressed in dark clothes and had a 'cop feel' to them. They were close to the beautiful woman as she walked towards the tent.

For some reason, Audbjorg thought "Uh-oh."


Brother Daniel could sense a little trouble coming. He saw heads turning towards the back. He heard a lessening in volume of the clapping and singing.

The cause of the disturbance came up the aisle. The Rev. Nadine Burnside was heading towards the stage with a man and woman trailing behind. Nadine kept her eyes fixed on Brother Daniel, giving no attention to the man who was writhing on the ground in a religious fervor. She just stepped over him.

With one wave of his hand, Brother Daniel ordered the music silenced. Then he said, "Well, well, well...I do spy a fellow minister in the audience. Welcome, Sister Burnside."

The last remnants of dancing and testifying vanished. Now, everybody was focused on Brother Daniel and the mother of the most hated teenager in Final.

"You have something you want to tell us?" Brother Daniel asked. He bent down on the stage and pointed his microphone at Nadine. It went without saying that she wouldn't be allowed onto the stage.

Nadine walked up to the microphone and said, "Yes. I do."

She turned to the audience, her mouth close to the mike. When she spoke, there was no anger. At least, there was no anger she showed. Her voice was calm, measured, even understanding. "Over a week ago, a horrible crime was committed. Most of you believe that my son was the one responsible for this."

She took a breath. "I am willing to accept this possibility. However, all the facts must be presented..."

The microphone jumped up to the mouth of Brother Daniel. "Well, we know what the facts are, don't we, ladies and gentlemen? The devil is out to get us all and the only way to protect ourselves is know Jesus, ain't that right?"

"Hallejuah!" the crowd shouted back. "That's right!" That is to say, the white crowd shouted. The black crowd was silent. Obviously, the Rev. Burnside was a lot more popular among the blacks than the whites. Unfortunately, very few of them went to the Final Baptist Church. That was located on the wrong side of town for them. The reverend had been doing her best to make the church more integrated, but to no avail. Race was still a high dividing wall. The Church remained a white institution.

However, they were all on the same spot right now, weren't they?

Audbjorg felt the growing anger in the black crowd. "Look at him treat the reverend like that..." they whispered. It was an infectious anger. It hadn't taken long for her to develop a liking for Nadine Burnside and it had taken even less time to figure out the cards were stacked against her. And this asshole preacher was doing the dealing.

The anger was so intense that she didn't really think about what she was doing. Her urge to protect Nadine Burnside was too strong. She just sneaked quietly towards the tent, one hand under her jacket.

After getting enough praise out of the white crowd, Brother Daniel lowered the microphone back down to Nadine, an innocent look on his face.

Nadine took another breath.

"One fact has been brought to my attention...as well as to the attention of Chief McDonald..."

Near a corner of the tent, Chief McDonald stood. The hair on the back of his neck was literally bristling. He looked over at Mulder and Scully. By all rights, his eyes should have turned them to stone.

"This is Agents Mulder and Scully. They're with the FBI." Nadine indicated the two people standing in the aisle. Mulder gave the audience a nervous wave. No one waved back.

"They have looked into this case and it is their conclusion..." Nadine took one more breath. "...that Charlotte Taft killed herself."

The roar out of the whites was loud and quick. As loud as it was, though, one out of the many voices cut through it all. It was to that voice that the others deferred.

It belonged to a man in the front row. He had jumped to his feet and was staring at Nadine with a fury that made his body tremble. Mulder and Scully didn't need to be told who he was or who was the woman sitting next to him. They had the look of grief which the agents had seen in a hundred other parents -- the grief of loss to a horrible crime.

"How dare you?" Mr. Taft cried out. "How dare you lay your son's crime on my daughter?"

"Mr. Taft, please..."

"Your boy killed her! And I hope that filthy nigger rots in hell!"

It wasn't like the black crowd hadn't heard that word before. And, sure, Mr. Taft was a grieving father and the things he said in grief shouldn't be taken literally.

That didn't keep them from getting to their feet and shouting their dismay at Mr. Taft. Mr. Taft then turned to them and starting using *that* word in reference to them. The white audience joined him in the usage. Meanwhile, Nadine Burnside had grabbed the microphone from Brother Daniel. "Please, everyone!" she begged. "Settle down!"

Brother Daniel glared at McDonald. His eyes said, "That bitch took my microphone from me!" McDonald stomped towards her for the purpose of dragging her out of the tent.

He was within a few feet of her when Agent Scully stepped in his way. Mulder was a few steps behind her. He kept away from this confrontation, not sure if he should play peacekeeper or just watch.

"Get out of my way!" McDonald ordered.

"She's not the problem, Chief! They are!" Scully pointed at the two crowds standing with just a few feet between them and getting louder in their abuse of each other.

McDonald grabbed the little red-haired woman, ready to toss her over the stage. Mulder took a step forward.

Then he stopped.

He stopped because Scully had just kicked McDonald in the knee. As the police chief squawked, Scully took him by the shirt and yanked him downward. At the same time, she bounced and drove the top of her head into his chin. Neat, Mulder thought as McDonald fell back on his ass and looked up at the tent with a dazed expression.

Mulder's admiration was cut short when he saw three of McDonald's deputies running towards Scully. Mulder was more in a pickle than ever. What could he do? Grab Scully and run away? She didn't want to do that. Get in a fight with the local law enforcement? That would be lovely. Try to be diplomatic and calm everyone down? Not likely to work.

He realized that the situation was rapidly transforming into a big pile of shit.

He was still trying to decide when a woman jumped right between Scully and the deputies. It wasn't clear what she direction she had come from. What was clear was that she was holding the scariest-looking knife Mulder had ever witnessed -- scary enough to stop the deputies in their tracks.

For a brief moment, Mulder had a sense of security.

Then one of the stage crew -- a man with a bandage on one ear -- yelled out, "That's the nigger slut who cut me!"

Many of the whites turned from the black crowd and saw a black woman carrying a knife. This is not a sight many white people like to see. It was also the same moment that a person in the black crowd chose to throw a picnic basket into the white crowd.

And that was that.

The line was crossed.

Chairs were being picked up.

More knives were being drawn.

People were moving on anyone else who was pissing them off.

Nadine called out, "Please, stop!"

Brother Daniel was being whisked away by security guards.

The first punch was thrown.

McDonald pulled himself back up.

One of the deputies was reaching for his gun.

Mulder was wondering if this had been such a good idea after all.

Then, just at the very moment when the whole crowd should have clenched together into one violent mass and the blood should have flown...

A shot rang out, big and thunderous. A hole ripped open in the tent roof.

And then as everybody froze --

"SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP, YOU STUPID MAMMY- FUCKERS!"

Two hundred people turned to see a squat-bodied, bald- headed black man with a shotgun in his hands. He had just arrived at the scene and was not pleased with what he had found. Then, again, he didn't look like the type who was ever pleased.

He stomped past the silenced crowd and onto the stage. He glared at everybody.

"WELL?"

Everybody sat down.

'Cause A.C. Burnside was back in town.



PART NINE
MIDNIGHT

Not everybody important to this story was at Brother Daniel's revival. Here was what a few others were doing.


George Kane was not exactly a respected writer. A reviewer from The New York Times described his books as "turgid and sensationalist." The Washington Post judged him to be "lurid and reckless." A critic from The Baffler had this to say -- "Reading George Kane is the literary equivalent of sucking the puss out of a pimple located on the backside of an ox."

This criticisms were all fair estimations of George Kane's prose. However, the personal deficiency Kane had as a writer was made up in other areas. For instance, while he may have been a fourth-rate writer, he was a first-class sneak.

This talent served him well when it came to following Alex Marsh. Granted that Alex wasn't the brightest stone in the pile, but you have to be impressed by the fact that Alex had no idea he was being watched. Of course, Alex had a higher estimate of his own cleverness. After all, he was smart enough to take the book out of his house, right? He was clever enough to find a new hiding spot, correct? And no one would think to look for it in that oak tree located near the school, wouldn't they?

Well...


Not everything important to the story was happening in Final. For instance, back in D.C., Assistant Director Walter Skinner was kicked out of sleep by a ringing phone.

Skinner did not like getting calls while he was sleep.

He liked hearing the kind of information the phone call gave him even less.

Agent Sally Ash wasn't too fond of getting calls in the middle of the night, either. "What the fuck do you want?" was the first thing out of her mouth.

"Agent Ash, this is Skinner."

"Oh...uh..."

"Agent Ash, you and I are going down to Final."

"We are?"

"Yes. Mulder and Scully have gotten into trouble with the local law enforcement."

"You mean, Sheriff McDonald? Well, he's an asshole."

"Whatever he is, he has filed a complaint against Mulder and Scully. I need to go down there and straighten this mess out. And I need you because I need an agent who knows this town's ways."

"Sir, I would like to help you, but my A.D. won't..."

"I've already straightened it out with your A.D. Now, are you coming or not?"

After saying the only answer she could give, Sally hung up the phone. Then she heard, "Well, ain't that a kick in the pants?"

Sally gave a hostile look to the man at the foot of her bed.

"Don't give me that look, Sally. Skinner is just making you do what you should be doing."

"For Christ's sake! You don't think I want to help?"

"What else am I supposed to think?"

"I've got no idea what you're thinking, you son-of-a- bitch. You keep telling me there's something important down there, but then you won't tell me what it is!"

The man sighed. "I can't just tell you. There are certain rules on my side of the fence. I'm stretching them far enough just being here."

"Well, can't you give me anything else?"

The man said nothing for a long time.

Then he said, "Exodus 4, verses 24 through 26."

"What?"

"Exodus 4, 24 through 26. Read it, woman."

"But what is that supposed to..."

The man vanished.

"You lousy cocksucker! Get back here!"

He didn't.


"Why, you puke-eating, tight-assed, shit-licking mule- fucker you! How you doin'?"

"Fine, sir," Mr. Rogers answered. He was talking with someone in the basement of his house. The basement had a cast-iron lock on the door and all the windows were covered with bricks. Nobody -- *nobody* -- got into his basement without his key.

"I haven't seen you in the longest time. That Brother Son- of-a-Bitch must be working you hard, huh?"

'Yes, sir. I..."

"Well, you know what to do if he gets too out of line, right?" The cackling laughter echoed through the basement. "I do declare, when you told me his secret, I would have shit in my pants if I had any. Course, I can't even take a shit, either."

"Sir..."

"Don't leave me alone too long down here, Mr. Rogers. It's a sad state of affairs when a man can't even play with himself to pass the time..."

"Um, sir?"

"Yep?"

"I may have discovered who took the Swamp Bible."

There was a brief pause, then Mr. Rogers was ordered to tell all. He did.

"Hmmmm. Well, Mr. Rogers, I think you're on the right track there. Yes, I would definitely look into these brats."

"One more thing, sir." Mr. Rogers reached into his pocket and pulled out a drawing he had made. "This was the symbol they found in the barn. Does this mean anything?"

A long period of silence, this time.

"Sir? Do you recognize it?"

"Oh, Jesus Christ with a hard-on..."

"Sir?"

"Oh, the angels are pissing on us! Of all the fucking ceremonies they could have...oh, God, God, God!..."

"Sir, if you would just tell me..."

"Why did they do it? Why did those pimply little hayseeds...oh, fuck, why didn't I just rip that page out? Well, I never thought anybody would be stupid enough to try it! Sweet mother of shit!"

"Sir!"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Rogers...but...oh, Lordy..."

"Am I take it, sir, that these young people really are the ones who stole your book?"

"You're holding the goddamned proof in your hands. There's only one place they could have gotten that symbol and that was in the mother-loving Swamp Bible."

"Am I to also take it, sir, that performing this ceremony has undesirable consequences?"

"You may take it, Mr. Rogers, that we are in enough shit to fuel the Space Shuttle."


The clock read eleven-fifty-six P.M.

Sammy Coburn was wide awake in his bedroom. He kept rubbing his hands together over and over.

When he heard the tap on his window, his heart almost stopped. Then he saw Jane on the other side of the glass.

After he let Jane in through the window, he said, "Jane, what are you doing here? If my parents find us together..."

"We've got bigger problems than your parents."

He sighed as he closed the window. "Yeah, I know."

"Sammy, we gotta tell the police about what happened."

"Oh, and just how are we going to do that? 'Hey, Chief, guess what? We all performed some kind of weird ceremony and then this big..."

"This isn't right, Sammy! Albert shouldn't be in jail!"

The clock now read 11:57 p.m.

Sammy looked down at his feet. "What do we tell Alex?" he muttered.

"Oh, fuck Alex! He don't care about anybody!"

"Yeah, but...he's still got the book. If we talk, maybe he could use it to...you know, do things to us."

"Alex has no idea how to use that book and you know it. If he did, Charlotte would still be..."

Jane closed her eyes. Then the sobs broke out of her. Sammy held her in his arms.

11:58.

"Okay, Jane. We'll go to the police. We'll tell them everything. Of course, I don't know if they'll believe us..."

"We have to do this," Jane sniffed.

"I know."

They continued to hold each other in silence. Jane's back was to the window.

11:59.

"I am so sorry," Sammy told her. "I am so sorry that I got you involved in this."

"It's not your fault."

"No, I should have..."

"It's not...your fault."

Sammy and Jane looked at each other. For the first time in more than a week, they smiled at each other.

"I love you," she said.

"I..."

Midnight.

"...love..."

Sammy heard the window shatter. He saw something emerge from Jane's throat as her eyes bulged. Then he felt his own throat being pierced.

Sammy felt backwards with Jane on top of him. They both trembled for a few seconds, then stopped moving. The iron head of the arrow connecting their throats had embedded itself into the floor beneath them.

Outside, Sara Lee shouldered her crossbow, muttered, "When ah say midnight, ah mean midnight," and slipped into the shadows.



PART TEN
JUST ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE JAILHOUSE ENCOUNTERS

"Well, Sally, I see you're still causing trouble in Final."

"That's Agent Ash to you, you sack of..."

Skinner raised a hand. "Both of you, settle down now."

McDonald and Sally fell silent. The police chief stared at the hefty woman and bald man in his office. His hands were gripping the edge of his desk. The bruise on his chin was thick and purple. "I am perfectly calm," he told Skinner. "I am also perfectly serious in pursuing my complaint against Agents Mulder and Scully. Especially Scully for her assault on me."

"Agent Scully has informed me that you were the one who first laid hands on her."

"She was getting in the way of police business."

"She also said that you were going to detain the town minister for no reason."

"Nadine Burnside was causing a disturbance!" McDonald's voice was rising in pitch.

Skinner's voice was as firmly even as before. "From what Agent Scully tells me, Nadine Burnside was the only one there trying to keep things calm."

McDonald clenched his teeth together. Before he loosened up his mouth to speak, Skinner said, "Before you say so, Chief, yes, we FBI types do tend to stick together. Especially when it's the word of a trusted agent versus a police chief who is a..."

"NO-GOOD MAMMY-FUCKER!"

The voice roared from outside McDonald's office. The voice's owner kicked his way into the room. "You and I are gonna talk, you lying mammy-fucker of a police chief!"

The rest of McDonald's face was turning as purple as his bruise. "Get out of my office, A.C.!"

"Not before you let my nephew out of your mammy-fucking jail!" A.C. turned to Sally and said in quieter tones, "Hey, Sally."

Before Sally could answer, A.C. turned back to McDonald and bellowed, "I've been told all about the mammy-fucking game you're playing here! It ends right now! You know why? Because I'm back in town and I've got some damn money! That's right! And not only do I have money, I know lawyers who are so vicious that they're almost cannibals! They'll make you so poor that you'll have to suck dicks in San Francisco to make a living! What do you have to say to that, you mustached mammy-fucker?"

McDonald blinked.

"If I may say something here..." Skinner said.

"Who the fuck are you?" A.C. inquired.

"I'm Assistant Director Walter Skinner."

A.C. looked at Skinner and asked, "Have we met before?"

"You know...now that you mention it, I..."

"Aw, who the fuck cares? What are you doing here?"

Skinner cleared his throat. "I am here to oversee an FBI investigation into the murder of Charlotte Taft." Skinner looked at McDonald. "From what I've learned so far, I would advise you to do as this man says."

"What?" McDonald gasped.

"You heard him, you dumb mammy..."

Skinner lifted up his hand again. To Sally and McDonald's shock, A.C. actually became quiet. Skinner continued to speak --

"While there are many unanswered questions on this case, the appearance being given is that Albert Burnside has been arrested more for political reasons than anything else. This is not a position any law enforcement official should be in, especially when faced with a potential lawsuit. I would strongly recommend that you release Albert Burnside until you can significantly strengthen your case against him."

"In other words," A.C. said. "let him go before my lawyers fuck you up ten ways from Sunday, boy."

McDonald looked at the three people staring back at him. Damn, he thought. How am I gonna explain this to Brother Daniel?

"All right," he said. "He can go. For now."

"And Mulder and Scully?" Skinner asked.

The chief's mustache quivered as he breathed in and out. "I guess it was a big ol' misunderstanding, wasn't it? Yeah, I'll drop my complaint."

"One more thing," A.C. said. "Let Audbjorg go."

Before Skinner could ask who Audbjorg was, McDonald struck his desk with his fist. "No! Absolutely not!"

"Wait a minute," Skinner said. "Who's Audbjorg?"

"She pulled a knife on my deputies! There is no way that woman is taking one step out of my jail!"

"Well...I don't know what this is about, but speaking for the bureau, my main interest is in our agents. Whatever you do with..."

"Sir, may I speak with you outside?" Sally asked.

Skinner looked at Sally, then nodded.

"You too, A.C." Sally said.

"Why the fuck do you..."

"Come *on*, A.C."

So, all three of them stepped outside of McDonald's office, leaving the chief to boil in his rage.

"All right," Sally said to A.C. "Who's this Audbjorg woman and why do you want her out?"

Skinner said, "Agent Ash, I've already clarified the Bureau's position..."

"Sir, do you trust anything Chief McDonald tells you?"

Skinner hesitated, then said, "Okay. Who is Audbjorg?"


As she sat in her dirty little cell, Audbjorg wondered what her former boss would think of her now. For that matter, what did she think of herself? Is this the life she wanted? Was this worth the choice she made over a year ago?

Fuck, no.

Did she want to go back to the life she once had?

She was puzzling over that question when someone came walking down the hallway running alongside the cells in the Final jailhouse. A man stopped in front of her own cell.

Her first impression of the man was that he was big. It wasn't just his height or his thick, muscular body. He would look at you as if he was sizing you up from a high, distant point. He also moved like a big man -- not sluggish, but with an inherent power ready for everything.

She quickly sat up as he looked at her. "What do you want?" she demanded.

The man studied her for a few moments, then said, "I'm Assistant Director Walter Skinner. I'm with the FBI."

Audbjorg lifted her eyebrows.

"Last night, you pulled a knife on members of the Final Police Department." He indicated the cell. "You surely knew that would lead you here."

"Maybe not. I'm kind of stupid."

"Is that your final word on the subject?"

Not a bullshitter, Audbjorg thought. "I did it because three members of this town's personal Freikorps were advancing on a woman. I decided that I didn't like the odds."

"So you pulled a knife."

"That sums it up very nicely."

"That woman was Dana Scully, one of my agents."

"Oh. You know, I did think she was some kind of cop." Then she laughed. "Maybe I should have let her handle the deputies. She laid out the distinguished chief of police pretty good."

Skinned smiled. Just a little bit, but it was a smile. "People do tend to underestimate her," he commented.

"Yeah, well...it doesn't quite explain why you're here."

"It's possible that I can get you out of jail."

"Really?"

"The chief of police is in a lot of trouble right now. His handling of a certain murder investigation is coming under scrutiny. Luckily for you, he's pissed off the family of the woman who currently employs you. If I were to lend my support for your release, then you should be out before nightfall."

Audbjorg slowly stood up off the cot. She walked up to Skinner. "So, are you going to?" she asked.

"I'm not sure. It's stretching my authority a little further than I want."

"I would say so."

"Then, again, you did protect one of my agents. And I admit that...I am a little more protective towards Agent Scully than others under my command."

"Ooooh."

Now, it was Skinner's turn to raise his eyebrows. "Implying something?"

"Should I be?"

Skinner shifted on his feet. To Audbjorg's surprise, he actually looked a tad embarrassed. "I have a lot of history with Scully and her partner," he explained. "A lot of very strange, very dangerous history."

"I see. Well, I'm sorry to imply anything."

"Don't be." Skinner took another appraising look at Audbjorg. "Speaking of history, you've done a lot of hitchhiking, haven't you?"

"How did you know?"

"You just have the look. When I got out of Vietnam, I did a lot of hitchhiking myself through the U.S."

"Must have sucked."

"It did. Still, the road did lead me here."

"To me?"

"Uh, no. To the FBI."

"Oh. Right. Of course."

They both took a breath.

"Well..." Skinner said.

"Well..." Audbjorg replied.

"You know, I think I will get you out of here, Miss..."

"Just call me Audbjorg."

That tiny smile came back to Skinner's face. "A goddamned woman of mystery, hm?"

"You can bet your ass."


The murder of Jane Lexington and Sammy Coburn was the big subject at Final High School. Naturally, a lot of students were wondering what Alex Marsh knew about it, but no one amongst them dared to ask him.

Mulder and Scully, however, had a few questions just begging to be answered. Once again, Alex, Cynthia and Eric were pulled from their classes to be interrogated. This time, Scully had the honor of questioning Alex while Mulder had another shot at Cynthia and Eric.

Scully confronted Alex as they sat in the school library. His first comment to her was "You don't look like much."

"Excuse me?"

"They're saying that you knocked out Chief McDonald last night." He smirked. "I don't think you could do that."

Scully closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, there was nothing but professional courtesy in them. "I may not look like much, but I am a federal investigator. Right now, I'm looking into the various deaths that have occurred in your little town. I've noticed that all three people who died were acquaintances of yours."

"Albert Burnside weren't no fucking acquaintance of mine. Is it true they're going to let that nigger out?"

Scully closed her eyes briefly again. "What about Jane and Sammy?"

He shrugged. "I didn't know them too well."

"When Agent Mulder questioned you last..."

"Must be a shame having a pretty guy like that around and knowing he's a faggot." Alex leered at Scully with his brown, crooked teeth. "Good thing you met me."

Scully closed and opened her eyes one more time. It was no good. Alex was still there. She carried on. "He thought that Sammy and Jane were afraid of something. That they may have been threatened by another party. Do you have any idea who that might be?"

Alex shrugged again.

"I have a hard time believing you know nothing, Mister Marsh."

"I have a hard time believing you ain't getting any dick, you pretty thing. Unless dick ain't to your taste. In that case, I know this gal..."

Scully stood up. Alex was startled by how this little woman could look so tall.

"Mister Marsh, you are quite possibly the stupidest person I have ever met. It's the only explanation for why you're not cooperating. Three of the seven people who were in that barn are now dead. Doesn't that make you worried that you might be next?"

"I ain't scared."

Scully looked down at Alex's right leg. It was bouncing up and down like a frog getting zapped with electricity. She stilled it by placing one of her hands firmly on Alex's knee.

"I'll remember you said that. I'll remember it when they find your vivisected body or when an arrow is shot through your throat. I'll remember it as I stand over your body and laugh my lesbian ass off."

With that, she left Alex and his bouncing leg. She hoped that Mulder was getting more information out of Cynthia and Eric.

Nope. Splitting them up from their leader hadn't lessened Alex's hold on their tiny little minds. As Mulder told Scully in a hallway of the school, "They're scared, but they still trust Alex to do what's best."

"Idiots."

"Well, I suggest that one of us keeps an eye on the head idiot at all times."

"Right. I'll take tonight's..."

"Excuse me?"

Both Mulder and Scully turned to see a man in his late thirties. Hair was quickly receding on a head decorated with plump cheeks and a very pink nose. For some reason, he was wearing a fisherman's vest over his dress shirt.

"Are you the two FBI agents investigating the Charlotte Taft case?"

"That would be us," Mulder said. His suspicions were being tweaked. He had seen this guy before. Was this another one of these damn weird deja vus?

"I thought that I might find you here," the man said with a grin. "My name is George Kane."

Oh, shit, Mulder thought. Now I remember...

"What can we do for you, Mister Kane?" Scully asked.

"Well, actually, it's what I can do for you. You see, I'm a writer..."

"'Lucifer's Nanny.'"

Scully gave Mulder a puzzled look. Kane looked delighted.

"You know my work?"

"I had to be vaccinated against it."

Kane stopped smiling. "Huh?"

"Ah, what a witty riposte. Just the kind of response you would expect from such a grand prose-master. Yeah, I know your books, you scum-sucking exploiter. All that 'true-crime' fecal matter. You find these graphic crimes with 'occult' overtones, do a bit of half-assed research and then puke out a novel which mixes lurid voyeurism with smug faux-moralism. It's assholes like you who make parents think day-care centers are run by Satanists."

"Now, wait..."

"You moved fast, didn't you? The moment you heard about this crime, you just flew on down to Final like a buzzard with entrails dripping from your beak. Well, I'm telling you right now, sucker, that the FBI will have nothing to do with your alleged novel. Keep a half-mile away from me and my partner at all times or I'll send you back to your publisher with your typewriter stuffed up your nose."

With that, Mulder walked away. Scully took a moment before following after him.

Later on, Mulder would have more than a little regret over that incident. Not for what he felt, but he would remember all too well the words of Scully.

"Mulder, I think he wanted to tell us something."

"Trust me. All he wanted to do was take our words and rip them screaming and bleeding out of context. He had nothing we hadn't learned already."

Scully looked back at Kane. She was still a little doubtful. On the other hand, she didn't have much respect for these true-crime writers, either. It was also good to trust Mulder's instincts on such matters.

Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those times. Kane definitely had something to share with the FBI agents. Granted that he wanted a lot of favors for his help, but now he was determined to keep his discovery to himself. He watched Mulder's back, imagining a thousand knives lacerating flesh and bone.

The anger left his body feeling tense all over. He needed a blow job but quick.



PART ELEVEN
CHIEF MCDONALD KISSES ASS, MR. ROGERS HAS A TALK AND SARA LEE EATS

Brother Daniel felt the chemicals spreading through his body. They were racing in his veins, invading his cells, grabbing ahold of his very essence. At the core of his being, he felt a great shift as biology was made to bow before the substance that had taken control of the preacher.

Yeah, he thought. That's the stuff.

He put the small bottle and hypodermic needle back into a desk drawer which he locked it tight. He rolled up his sleeves, nodding in satisfaction. Now, he could get on with the rest of the day. The hour in which nobody could disturb him had passed. No one knew what Brother Daniel did when he went to his private trailer on the Temple's construction site. No one had an inkling of what truly went on inside after the preacher had locked the door.

No one except Mr. Rogers, that is. As far as everybody else was concerned, Brother Daniel could be praying, sleeping or whacking off to porno magazines. In fact, the third theory was the preferred one of the snickering construction crew. Brother Daniel let them laugh. As long as that bunch kept on making his dream a reality, they were all right with him. And with God, too, of course.

He heard a knocking on the trailer door. Brother Daniel strutted over there and unlocked it. The rattle of construction work was allowed to seep past the trailer's padded walls. "Enter, please!" he declared.

Chief McDonald wiped his boots on the mat and entered, bobbing his head. "Thank you, sir. Thank you."

"Always a pleasure to see you, Chief." Brother Daniel closed the door and the volume of the racket outside was turned down. The chief of police looked around at the trailer. As always, he was awestruck by the fact that Brother Daniel's private trailer was more lavish than most houses.

"Get you something to drink?" Brother Daniel indicated the shiny kitchen part of the trailer.

"Uh, no, sir. That won't be necessary. Thank you very..."

Brother Daniel looked at McDonald.

The chief swallowed. "...much though."

"You seem a little tense there, Chief. What's the scoop?"

McDonald took a breath, then said, "Albert Burnside has been freed."

"Oh. Really?"

In an almost-incoherent babble, McDonald explained about A.C.'s lawsuit and the pressure from the FBI and how he couldn't take all this pressure and he had to do something to...

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Easy there, Chief!" Brother Daniel patted McDonald's back with one of his smooth, well- manicured hands. "It's nothing to worry about."

"Uh, it's not?"

"Have mercy, no. The damage has already been done to the Burnsides. The town is convinced that the town minister's son is guilty. Well, the part of town that counts, anyway. And they're not going to blame you for Albert getting out. Shoot-a-mile, they'll understand. You were facing a lawsuit from an uppity man of the Negroid persuasion and the interference of those meddling federal agents. The town will know who to blame."

"Well...I guess you're right."

"'Course I'm right!" Brother Daniel plopped himself back into the chair behind his beautiful oak desk.

"On the other hand..." McDonald said.

"Yes?"

"It's just that...what if...you know..."

"Hm?"

"What if Albert Burnside is innocent?"

Brother Daniel didn't stop smiling, but he did tilt his chin up in a meaningful way. "Oh, come on, Chief. You really believe that?"

"Um...well, no, I guess not."

"Then, don't worry. I'm sure the good folk of Final will straighten this out one way or another."

"Yes, sir. I guess they will."

"By the way, what's gonna happen to that pretty little FBI agent who flattened you?"

"She didn't *flatten* me."

"Whatever. So, what's the deal there?"

McDonald rubbed his chin. "The same story there, I'm afraid. The FBI can use the Burnside arrest against me. Make *me* look like the reckless one."

"Tch-tch-tch. Well, at least, you still have that woman of the Negroid persuasion who attacked my men."

McDonald looked down at his feet.

"Uh, Chief?"

"There was some...pressure there, too," the chief of police mumbled. "The woman works for Zola Burnside and so A.C....he, um...well..."

Brother Daniel just sat quiet and still for ten seconds. Then he propped his feet onto his desk and said, "You know, I'm starting to think that we still have some issues to resolve with the Burnsides."

McDonald nodded quickly. "Oh, yes, sir. Absolutely."

"Where is Mr. Rogers? We could use his advice on this."


Mr. Rogers was back in his house's basement. He had delivered information about the murder of Sammy and Jane to his master and was now waiting for a response.

"Mr. Rogers?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Let's pretend I just cursed up enough pollution to poke holes in the ozone layer and move on, okay?"

"Of course, sir."

"You know, what this means, don't you? Sara Lee is looking for the Swamp Bible. And if she's looking for it..."

"I know, sir."

"Don't you just love family?"

"I don't have any, sir."

"Smart man. Do you think it's possible these two little idiots had the book and Sara Lee took it from them?"

"I don't think so, sir. From the descriptions of the crime scene, there were no indications of a theft. Just a quick hit."

"Then it was intended as a threat to the others. It's a very persuasive threat, too, unless these young 'uns are completely stupid..."

"It's possible they are, sir. This Alex Marsh was voted in his class 'Most Likely to Confuse Shit with Shinola.'"

"That, so? Well, why don't you set up a little meeting with the boy? See if he's greedy as well as stupid."

"Yes, sir."

"Of course, if worse comes to worse, we may have to end up cooperating with my treacherous sibling."

"But, sir...she was the one..."

"I know what she did, boy. I'm reminded everytime I want to scratch my balls. But we've got to keep an eye on the big picture. That thing won't be trapped in the barn forever. Once it breaks loose, even *my* nonexistent ass will be grass."


"Must you eat that now?"

Sara Lee looked up. Keeping her eyes on Helda Grant, she reached inside the cat with the long slit down its underbelly and broke off a piece of its heart. Helda shook her head in disapproval as Sara Lee chewed away.

"You're making the most frightful mess," Helda complained, indicating the blood on the rug.

"Ah make a lotta messes," Sara Lee replied.

"Hmmm. Yes, I know. Your work has yet to have the desired effect, however. I've received no notice from the three other young ragamuffins."

Sara Lee shrugged. "Then ah'll work some more."

"My lamb, you have already made yourself known on this matter. What if somebody tracks you down to my doorstep?"

Before Sara Lee could answer, there was a very tentative knock on the door.

"What is it?" Helda asked.

A very nervous servant informed the mistress that she had a visitor and told her the nature of the visitor's business.

Helda and Sara Lee looked at each other. Then, with a few swift movements, Sara Lee had covered the mud and bloodstains with a rearrangement of the rugs and then climbed out the window.

Then, Helda Grant allowed her visitor to enter her parlor.

"Good afternoon, Mister Mulder. My goodness, are you really from the FBI?"



PART TWELVE
SUCH A NICE YOUNG MAN, SUCH A SWEET OLD LADY

"Yes, I am with the FBI, Miss Grant. If you don't mind, I would like to ask a few questions."

"Why, certainly. Please take a seat. Would you like some tea?"

"No, thank you," Mulder said as he sat down. He noted the strange arrangement of rugs on the floor.

"So...what is it you wish to talk about?"

"It's in regards to Julius Grant, your deceased brother."

"Oh, yes, God rest his soul."

"Well, Miss Grant...his soul may be resting, but from what I've been told, it's not in heaven."

Helda smiled sweetly. "Oh, I've heard the stories, Mister Mulder. But my brother's wealth was merely the result of wise investment."

"Hm. You seemed to be a good investor, too, Miss Grant." Mulder indicated the room and the entire mansion connected to it. "This whole estate used to belong to your brother, didn't it?"

"Yes. I bought it after his untimely demise."

"It was also a strange demise, too, wasn't it? I mean, when a man gets ran over by his own elephant..."

Helda dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. "I always warned him that creature would be the death of him."

"What was the death of him, Miss Grant, was that someone planted a tape recorder in his bedroom to call out a female elephant's mating call. I have to admit that has to be one of the more original ways of killing a person."

Helda's eyes frowned ever so slightly. "Agent Mulder, why exactly are you here?"

"Well, Miss Grant...among the other rumors I've heard is that your late brother had in his possession a certain book."

Standing on the ledge next to the window, Sara Lee narrowed her own eyes. Of course, her eyes were always narrowed.

"A book which was first created around the beginning of the mid nineteenth-century," Mulder continued. "No one knows who originally started it, but the story goes that this book has been passed from one hand to another over the years and every new owner has added his own special knowledge to it."

"Knowledge about what?" Helda asked innocently.

"Ghosts. Magic. Myths that only a few remember. They say that even secrets of heaven and hell can be found in its old pages." Mulder leaned forward. "Do you recall a book like that in your brother's possession?"

"I think...I would remember."

Mulder nodded, then smiled. "Of course, it could be just another myth. And they didn't find such a book among Julius Grant's possessions. Then, again, from what I understand, a few local teenagers were found rummaging in the late Mr. Grant's house after the elephant charged into the bedroom. Who knows? Maybe one of them stole the book."

Helda nodded in reply.

"Speaking of teenagers, I assume you've heard about these murders in the town of Final."

"Oh, yes. They're quite horrible."

"Another one of the rumors being passed around is that the last two murders were committed by a legendary mountain woman. A real vicious beast of a human being. What was her name? Oh, yes. Sara Lee."

Helda kept herself from glancing at the window. "You certainly have gotten knowledgable about the local folklore, Agent Mulder."

"I've done my research. You know what else I heard? I heard that you captured her and kept her in a basement without food or water until she pledged to be your servant."

Helda picked up her cup of tea, sipped from it, laid it back down on its saucer, folded her hands in her lap and said, "You're a nice young man, Agent Mulder, but you do ramble on. Why are you telling all these things to me?"

"I'm just looking for a connection, Miss Grant. I was hoping you could provide me with one."

"I don't think so."

"Well, then..." Mulder stood up. "Thank you for listening to my ramblings. If I ever need..."

Mulder clamped his mouth shut. "If you ever need what?" Helda asked.

Did I just see that? Mulder thought. Did I just see a smooth, green curve poke out from the bottom hem of Helda Grant's oversized dress and then pull back in?

"If I ever...need...your assistance on any other matters, I'll let you know."

"I'll be most pleased to help you." Helda gave Mulder a sweet-old-lady smile.

When Mulder had left, the smile disappeared and Sara Lee swung back into the parlor. The two women looked at each other for a few moments. Then Sara Lee said, "Aw right. Ah'll kill the sumbitch."

"Please do, my lamb."


When Mulder stepped into the Unspeakable Blues Bar, A.C. Burnside was running a sound-check along with a man in his late teens. They strummed notes from their electric guitars. The young man had a calm expression. He seemed incapable of being disturbed by anything.

A.C., on the other hand ... "Ah, fuck the mammy-fucking acoustics in this mammy-fucking building! The high notes sound like those squeals white girls make when they're getting fucked!"

"The high notes sound fine, A.C.," Meyer Burnside quietly replied. "Everything sounds good."

"Fuck it does! I'm telling you, when this bar was mine, it sounded a lot better to play in!"

"When the bar was yours, it made a better outhouse than a blues joint. Isn't that right, Aunt Zola?"

"M-hm," Zola replied, not really listening. She was going down a "things-to-do" list for tonight.

A.C. scowled at Meyer and Zola, then noticed Mulder. He pointed a finger at him and yelled, "You!"

"Me?"

"No, the mammy-fucking invisible elf behind you! Yes, I'm talking to you! Haven't I seen your ass somewhere before?"

Mulder smiled and said, "In another time and in another place and in another life."

A.C. looked at Mulder for one moment, then turned away, muttering, "Goddamned white-boys always have to be smart- ass mammy-fuckers..."

Meyer said, "Come to think of it, Agent...what is your name again?"

"Mulder."

"Yes. I get this feeling of deja vu as well when I look at you. Don't you feel it, Aunt Zola?"

"M-hm," Zola repeated, still not looking up.

"I must admit to the same feelings when I heard your band on the radio," Mulder said. "I like your music, by the way."

"Thank you," Meyer replied.

A.C. grunted.

"I also want to thank you for getting my brother out of jail," Meyer added.

"Well, he's out of jail, but he's not out of trouble. A lot of locals think that a guilty man is being allowed to walk. It's possible that one of them will try to..."

A.C. spun around and snarled, "If any one of those turkey- necked, Confederate-flag-waving, possum-eating mammy-AND- sister-fuckers try to touch my nephew..."

"Mister Burnside, please. Let the FBI handle the 'mammy- fuckers,' okay? One of us will be with Albert at all times."

"Boy, it's going to take a lot more than you, your partner, Sally and that bald-headed son-of-a-bitch to..."

At that point, Skinner entered. "That bald-headed son-of-a- bitch what?" he asked in a mild voice.

Without missing a beat, A.C. said, "I was saying that it would take more than your hairless ass to protect Albert."

"We will take whatever steps necessary to protect your nephew, Mr. Burnside."

"I don't go in for that kind of bureaucratic bullshit, son."

"Okay. I will personally tear the legs off anybody who tries to hurt Albert Burnside."

"That's better," A.C. commented and went back to checking the sound.

"Will leg-tearing be standard procedure, sir?" Mulder asked.

Skinner looked at Mulder, then said, "How was your visit with Miss Helda Grant?"

"I think I may have rattled her cage a little."

"You still believe that she had something to do with the murder of those two kids?"

"Well, apparently, steel-tipped arrows are Sara Lee's trademark and she's supposed to work for Helda Grant."

"You're basing your theory on local gossip?"

Mulder indicated Zola. "I got all this from her. I'm inclined to believe her. Besides, nothing seems too crazy in this town."

"Still, your theory is based on conjecture."

"Ah, one of my famous leaps. Yeah, those are rarely correct."

Skinner gave Mulder another look as he wondered how Scully kept from slapping Mulder silly. "Okay," he said. "You've leapt to the conclusion that this bunch of kids stole some book from Julius Grant's mansion after he was killed. And Helda Grant is trying to get the book for herself."

"Right. I also think that Alex Marsh was playing with that book at that barn party. That's the reason behind Charlotte Taft's death."

"How exactly?"

"Albert Burnside knows. But, for some reason, he's not telling."

"So, what do you plan to do next?"

"Wait. Wait to see if Alex Marsh leads Scully to the book. Or wait to see what Miss Grant does next. Or just wait for..."

Mulder looked away from Skinner and studied one of the walls absent-mindedly.

"Mulder, you're getting that look again."

"Hm? What look?"

"That 'oh-boy-I-hope-something-weird-happens-soon' look."

"You don't think that we are heading for something weird?"

"I'm not inclined to attribute the recent crimes in this town to a book of magic."

"Well, frankly, sir, it's the only explanation that makes sense so far."

"So, what if this book does exist then? What do we do about it?"

"Hope that whoever has it now has a shred of decency in him."


Sarah Collins stood up, spat a gargantuan white loogie onto the floor and wiped off her mouth. "That okay?" she asked in the tones of a bored cashier working in a fast- food restaurant.

"Um, yeah," George Kane said. "Fine."

Sarah nodded and walked out of the rented room, her cats in tow as always. Kane zipped up his fly. He sighed. Going to his landlady had been an act of desperation. The All- Night Escort Service wasn't open yet. Not knowing where else to go and almost trembling with sexual anxiety, he had approached Sarah Collins. She had been watching 'The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and sucking from a bottle of whiskey when he had stepped into the musty living room.

"Uh, Miss Collins?"

"Yeah?"

"Your ad said 'Any services required will be fulfilled.' I was wondering..."

She turned her head to Kane and said, "You want me to suck you off?"

"Well..."

"Cost you fifty."

It hadn't been worth that much. His penis could literally feel the clouds of smoke and alcohol fumes on Sarah's breath. The sound of her mewling cats around the bed didn't contribute a lot in sensuality department, either. He was only able to get his dick up and out by imagining another mouth. He thought of that lovely black woman with the gleaming sharp knife. He smiled as his mind pictured her in tiger skins and war paint with drums thundering in the background.

After Sarah had gone on her merry way, Kane removed the big leather-bound book from its hiding place. Reading it made no more sense than it did the first time. What is all this shit? he wondered. What were all these stories about the secret resting spots of angels, these descriptions of curing blindness with the hair of a sheep, these secrets of hidden organizations that only met under a full moon and these plans for building a jar which could hold your own soul?

Judging from the ink and style of writing used in the early pages, the book was obviously very old. (Not all of the book was written in ink, though. Some words were in blood or in the secretions of a spider or made with shadows extracted from the night.) Yet the book was incredibly well- preserved. The pages were smooth under your fingers and the leather cover was still a healthy brown. It was as if the elements of weather and time didn't want to touch the book.

Kane flipped through the pages until a square drawing leapt out at him. Well, well, he thought. He read what the book had to say about the symbol. A date in the corner gave this entry as to be around the late twenties. The man who wrote it had apparently worked in a mental hospital. From descriptions of the patients' hallucinations and their crazed mutterings, he had taken bits and pieces to fuse them into a ceremony of his own invention.

Or a ceremony long forgotten.

Kane read what the ceremony was supposed to do.

Jesus, this was pure fucking H.P. Lovecraft. Did those dumb kids really intend this to happen?

He continued to read the book.

The sky darkened and the moon crept across the sky. Then dawn wiped away the stars.

Kane was still reading the book. He was now very, very glad that Mulder had snubbed him. Originally, Kane's plan had been to use his discovery as a way of publicizing himself. Now, he was thinking of doing so much more. He giggled as he thought of how Mulder would kick himself for losing his opportunity.

Actually, Mulder wouldn't kick himself. Mulder couldn't do anything.

Mulder was dead.



PART THIRTEEN
A BLOODY HUSBAND

"If I do say so, Albert, you don't look like a man who just got out of jail."

Albert Burnside sighed and avoided looking at Sally Ash. She was driving him from the Burnside House to the Unspeakable Blues Bar. She glanced repeatedly towards the young man sunk into the passenger seat.

Albert wasn't the only gloomy Burnside. Nadine had been as nice as ever to Sally, but even she couldn't escape the bad mood around the family. As the two women talked, Malcolm had been out back hammering on the iron junk he reserved for moments of bad temper.

"I'm so glad to see you again, Sally. It's been so long."

"Yeah, well, I..." Sally winced as a piece of metal crashed. "I guess I could have picked a better time to come."

"No, no, this is the right time. I'm deeply grateful for all the help you've given."

Sally looked down the hallway connecting the living room with the closed door of Albert's bedroom. "A little 'thank you' from Albert would be much appreciated, too."

Nadine sighed. "I know, I know."

"Agent Mulder thinks Albert's got a secret. I agree."

Nadine looked at the door, then leaned forward to Sally. The FBI agent had to listen closely as Nadine spoke in a near-whisper and Malcolm continued to whack metal.

"Do you have any idea what could have driven Charlotte to kill herself in that...in that way?"

Nadine thought about it, then said, "I ain't never have had that kind of imagination. What do you think?"

"I used to think that it was the devil who was in that barn. But now, I'm not sure..."

"Hello, Miss Ash," two voices said.

Sally jumped. Nadine who was more used to this sort of thing turned to Sue and Etta with a smile. "Why, look who's here," she said.

"Uh, hello," Sally said. This was the first time she had ever actually met the two Burnside sisters. Nadine had sent a photo once. Their duplicate solemn faces were spooky in a photo and even spookier up close.

"Did you two have a good nap?" Nadine asked.

"We were told something," Sue said.

"We're supposed to say it to you," Etta told Sally.

Sally looked between the two faces. They stared straight back at her. "Okay," she said. "What's the message?"

"'Goddammit, girl, if you don't tell somebody...'"

"'I swear I'll kick your ass into the deep blue ocean.'"

"Sue, Etta!" Nadine gasped. "Where did you hear that?"

"In our dreams," they both replied.

"Well, I can't believe you would say something like that, especially to a..."

"It's okay, Nadine," Sally said. "I'm glad I heard it." She was quiet for a few seconds, then she stood up and said, "Albert and I better go now."

It had been eight o'clock when Sally left the Burnside house with Albert. It was five minutes later when she tried to start a conversation with him. When he said nothing...

"Albert, I know there is something you need to tell. Whatever it is, I'm guessing it's pretty ugly."

"You think I killed Charlotte?"

"No. But...when I look at you and see that expression in your eyes..."

She stopped for a red light.

"...I can feel your guilt like heat off an oven. And I don't see anything good..."

A group of white men were crossing the road. They saw Albert and stopped. "Hey, it's that dirty murdering nigger!" "Son-of-a-bitch!" "Get out of that car, boy!"

"...in you keeping it bottled inside," Sally concluded as she rolled down the window. She whipped out her gun and fired a shot over the heads of the white men. They scattered.

Sally now had Albert's attention. The light turned green and she drove on through. "You understand what I'm saying?" she asked.

"Yeah, uh...yeah."

"Besides, I have an idea of how you feel."

"You do?"

"I've got my own little unburdening to do."

Albert looked Sally over. "Local girl makes good," he said.

"Hm? Talking about me?"

"Oh, yeah. You should hear my mom and dad talk about you. They were so proud that you made it to the FBI. It's like you're part of the family."

Sally nearly blushed. "Well...that's real nice of them."

"Yeah, you and Meyer are the two big success stories of this town."

"Yep. I guess so."

"Of course, the prodigal son returns tonight. Only in this case, it's the one who stayed home that's the fuck-up."

"Now, wait a minute..."

"It's the truth, right?"

"Look, Albert, your mom told me about the trouble you were having before all this shit went splat on the fan. And it's started ever since Meyer had this hit album."

"Yeah, just about then."

"She told me about your grades falling and how you were staying out late. But you're not going to tell me that it's because you're jealous of Meyer?"

"I won't." Albert looked at Sally. "Because that's not the reason."

Sally was about to ask what the fuck was it when she realized the answer.

The problem wasn't Meyer.

The problem was Final.

Meyer had reminded Albert that there was a world outside of Final. He also reminded Albert that this little dung heap of a Southern town could pull you down if you weren't careful. Hell, even if you were careful.

Meyer got out of Final because of his talent. Sally got out because she made a promise. Because they worked hard.

But it was also luck. There had been other people who had tried to yank themselves free from Final's deadening pull, yet here they still were, slipping in further into its ugliness.

When you get down to it, that was the real reason why Sally hadn't told anyone about her secret. She wasn't afraid of people thinking her nuts. She was afraid of going back to Final. When Skinner had told her that she would be heading back there, her heart sank like a duck into oil. She didn't want to get involved in any of this town's affairs, even if it meant abandoning the people she cared about.

"Fuck," she said.

"What?"

She shook her head. "Nothing to do with you, Albert." She glanced at him. "Or maybe it does. Listen to me...don't let this town get to you. One way or another, you have to rise above it. It doesn't matter how, but you have to prove you're better than it."

Albert thought about what she said, then said, "You mean, like Meyer Spiegelman did?"

Sally slowly nodded. "Yeah. Exactly like that."


"YOU READY TO BOOGIE, YOU SMELLY MAMMY-FUCKERS?!"

The audience roared back.

"LET THE WORLD KNOW...MEYER AND A.C. BURNSIDE ARE BACK IN TOWN!"

The audience roared again. Behind A.C., a drummer gave the blues player a foul look for not mentioning him.

"LET THE WORLD ALSO KNOW THAT MY OTHER NEPHEW ALBERT IS A FREE MAN!"

A cheer was raised for the young man seated at the bar. He gave the crowd a mild smile.

"AND, FINALLY, LET THE WHOLE SHIT-EATING, WHORE-LOVING, MAMMY-FUCKING WORLD KNOW THAT NOBODY MESSES WITH THE BURNSIDES!"

With that, A.C., Meyer and the drummer burst into music. Over in a corner of The Unspeakable Blues Bar, Mulder kept watch over everything. In the din of the speakers, it took his cellular phone had to ring three times before it got his attention.

"Hello!" he yelled into the phone, keeping one hand over his other ear.

"Uh, Mulder, it's me. Where are you?"

"What?!"

"I said, where are you?!"

"I'm at a joint with Albert Burnside and it's currently jumping! Where are you?!"

"Right now, I'm following the truck of Alex Marsh! He left his house a few minutes ago!"

"What?"

"A FEW MINUTES AGO!"

"Oh."

"I'll let you know what I find out!"

"Thanks! I'll keep you posted on...uh, me?"

"What?!"

"Sorry, no! Thanks, anyway!"

"Mulder, who are you talking to?!"

"No, it's just that I'm on...yes, those are very nice breasts!"

"Mulder?!"

"Sorry, Scully, I'm being propositioned by a very attractive woman here!"

"Ah. Well, you..."

"Please, ma'am, I would really prefer not to!"

"Mulder?"

"Um, ma'am?! Ma'am?! Would you stop playing with that!"

"Mulder, quit fooling around with her!"

"I'm not the one doing the fooling, Scully! I think she's drunk! Ow, quit it!"

"Okay, okay. Let me talk to her!"

"Uh, ma'am?! Ow! Ma'am?! There's somewhere here who wants to talk to you! Yes, right here! Just listen to her right here..."

"YOU DIRTY FUCKING WHORE, YOU KEEP AWAY FROM MY MAN OR I'LL SHOVE YOUR HEAD STRAIGHT UP YOUR OWN TWAT!"

"Well, there she goes! Thanks! What did you say to her, anyway, Scully?"

"I just appealed to her reason! See you, Mulder!"

"See you!"

Mulder put away his cellular phone. He saw Sally Ash approaching him.

"Hey, Agent Ash!"

"Mulder, could I have a talk with you?!"

"Um...a little difficult in here, don't you think?!"

"Let's step outside then!"

They did. Outside, Skinner was sitting in a car. He nodded to the two agents and returned to his careful watch of the road.

"So, what's up?" Mulder asked, the ringing in his ears fading away.

"What do you know about Zipporah and Moses?"

Mulder blinked. "Huh?"

"In Exodus 4, 24 through 26, there's a story where God has come to kill Moses. His wife Zipporah stops the murder by circumcising their son and tossing the foreskin at...well, God's feet, I guess."

"Well...um...that particular story has been studied and pondered for many years. For instance, the reference to a man's feet...a lot of people aren't sure whose feet they are. Moses' feet or God's feet or whoever's feet." Mulder's voice became more earnest as he went along. "In fact, the word 'feet' may have been a mistranslation into English. The original Hebrew might have been referring to somebody's genitalia."

"You mean...God's genitalia?"

Mulder smiled. "This is one of the many troubles Biblical scholars have had with this text. Zipporah refers to someone as 'a bloody husband.' Is she actually talking to God? For that matter, is the diety out to get Moses even supposed to be God?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why would God seek to kill Moses? This is right after God tells him to go back to Egypt in order to free the Hebrews. There's no concrete explanation for why God would whack his chosen servant."

"I guess...God wanted Moses to have his son circumcised and He got mad when Moses didn't do the job."

"Maybe. But would God kill His appointed prophet just over that? That's what I mean by maybe it wasn't God out to kill Moses that night. Maybe it was something else...something that could only satisfied with blood."

Mulder looked away from Sally and towards the thick wall of night. "We forget that Judaism and Christianity were not the only religions back then. There were other belief systems. Other gods. These gods may have been forgotten, but they still linger at the far reaches of our consciousness. They leave faint traces on our stories and our myths. Who knows? Maybe they're waiting out there...waiting for a new congregation of worshipers...waiting to be set free into the world again."

One brief pause.

"You know," Sally said. "there's a reason why they call you 'Spooky.'"

Mulder turned his distant eyes back to Sally. "You should know better than to bring up ancient stories with me, Agent Ash. You get an earful of shit. Why are you asking me this anyway?"

Sally took in a breath.

Then she told Mulder everything.

After she was done, Mulder just looked at her.

"Okay, okay," she muttered. "I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm crazier than a mule on cocaine. Well, I swear that's the God's honest..."

"I believe you," Mulder said.

With that, Mulder marched over to Skinner's car. He knocked on the window. Skinner rolled it down and the two men had a brief conversation. Then Mulder marched on back to Sally and asked to borrow her car. She said yes, then Mulder was out of sight.

Sally went up to Skinner who was staring in the direction Mulder had driven. "Sir, where is Mulder going?"

"He's going to the barn where Charlotte Taft was killed."

"Why?"

"He said that he was going to talk with some old gods." Skinner turned to Sally and said, "When Mulder starts talking crazy, you better get out of his way."



PART FOURTEEN
MULDER'S FOOT

Dana Scully wasn't too bad at sneaking around herself. Not only did she managed to keep out of sight from Alex Marsh as she followed him, but she was able to remain unspotted by the bland-looking man in glasses that Alex met in a dark alley.

Watching the two through compact binoculars, she saw the bland-looking man open a suitcase before Alex's face. Even from the distance, she could see how wide the young man's eyes got.

The bland-looking man shut the briefcase. Alex stood there, apparently thinking (or doing a reasonable approximation of it.) Then he nodded.

That's how Scully ended up following two people -- Alex and the bland-looking man -- to another spot. They took her to the grounds of the Final High School. She watched as Alex reached inside the hollow of a tree.

Alex stuck his hand in further, trying to get something. Then he poked his head inside. When he pulled it out, his curses could be heard all across the schoolyard. The bland-looking man decided to leave, but Alex caught him by the shoulder. The man reached under his coat.

Scully decided that this was a good time to move in.

"Freeze!"

Both Alex and the bland-looking man did just that as they saw a red-haired woman step out of the shadows with a gun.

"Aw, fuck!" Alex cried out.

"That hand better come out real slow," Scully told the bland-looking man.

It did.

"Now, turn around and place your hands on the tree."

Again, they complied. Scully searched the bland-looking man and found a gun as was expected. Then she searched Alex. "Don't try to cop a feel, bitch," Alex growled.

"Alex," she said. "I wouldn't cop a feel on you if you had a ten-inch penis. Which I sincerely doubt you have." She took out her handcuffs and clicked one cuff around a wrist of each man.

"Now, that's been done with," the bland-looking man said, his face calm and measured. "Might I ask why we're being arrested?"

"For hiding evidence in a murder investigation."

"I'm sorry, but what evidence?"

"Yeah, you fucking cunt," Alex interjected. "There ain't nothing inside that..."

"Mr. Marsh," the bland-looking man said. "kindly shut your goddamned mouth."

Alex squeezed his lips together.

"I already gathered that whatever you were keeping in that tree has vanished," Scully told them. "However, this..."

She placed the briefcase on the ground and opened it. Stacks of one-hundred bills were arranged neatly inside.

"...needs a little explanation."

She closed up the briefcase and picked it up. "I'm guessing it's not a college loan. Come along now."

As she led her captives to her car, she was feeling a little pleased with herself. She wondered what Mulder would make of her discovery.

Unfortunately, when she tried to contact Mulder, he was busy with other matters. Like being in a hell of a lot of trouble.


Audbjorg stepped out of the Unspeakable Blues Bar and let out a whoosh of air. She had just gotten a ten-minute break and, Lord, did she need it. She had never seen so many people get so drunk in such a short period of time. Two piles of vomit had to be cleaned up already and the night was still young.

She was reaching into her jacket for a cigarette when she noticed Walter Skinner in his car. Once again, she marveled at how *solid* he appeared. You could easily see him as a FBI agent, strutting through a crime scene and busting heads.

Speaking of heads, he had a pretty good-looking one atop of his body.

She went up to the window and knocked on it. Skinner turned to her. For just a brief moment, a smile seemed to pass over his face.

Audbjorg opened the door and said, "Mind if I sit in here for a spell?"

"Go ahead."

Audbjorg nodded, then got inside the car. She pulled out her cigarette pack, but then noticed the frown on Skinner's face.

"Oops," she said. "You're a walking 'no-smoking area,' aren't you?"

"Uh, not really. It's just that I know somebody who smokes and I don't have many pleasant thoughts about him."

Audbjorg shrugged and put away the cigarettes. She noticed a tape sticking out of the deck. She pulled it out to read the descriptions written on it.

"Hey, Wayne Hancock!"

"You know him?" Skinner asked.

"Know him, heard him, love him. Mind if I put him on? Or is that going to distract you?"

"Go ahead. I've been on a lot of watches before and I've learned how to stay focused."

Audbjorg pushed the tape in. A voice with the tenderness of a desert breeze and the strength of a coyote howl sang, "I sure love thunderstorms and neon signs..."

"Man," Audbjorg said. "this is the sort of thing that makes you believe all that B.S. about the open road."

"You know, you sure hate the road for someone who has spent a good deal of her life on it."

"Yeah...well..."

"Of course, I can understand your hatred. I didn't have a whole lot of fun in my vagrant days myself."

"You said that you got into it after Vietnam."

Skinner sighed. "Yeah. I guess it sounds a little too typical, but after my tour of duty...I didn't want to commit myself to anything. As far as I was concerned, I had swallowed enough shit for my country's sake. So I decided to keep moving up one highway after another, just to keep myself from getting attached to anything."

"But here you are now. A genuine G-Man. How did that happen?"

"No big story there. I just got to the point where I had enough of the road's shit, too. I decided that I need to commit myself to something. I picked the FBI." Skinner lifted his hands up. "And, like you said, here I am."

"Well, looks like you're right where you should be."

"I think so, too. So, what about you?"

Audbjorg reached for her cigarettes, then pulled her hand back. She cleared her throat.

"Are you running from some kind of trouble?" Skinner asked.

Audbjorg smiled and shook her head.

"So, what keeps you on the road?"

Audbjorg closed her eyes.

She kept them closed for a long time.

When she opened them, she turned to Skinner and said, "Where's that other guy? Agent Mul-something?"

Skinner sighed, then said, "Mulder. And that's a real bad way of changing the subject."

"I know. Where is he?"

"He's doing a little investigating, I guess."

"You guess?"

"I assume you've heard about the murder of Charlotte Taft."

"M-hm."

"Mulder has gone down to the crime scene to check on something."

And then...

...a chill went up Audbjorg's back. Her fingers trembled and her toes curled up.

"Audbjorg? Are you all..."

"What...what did Mulder say he was going to do exactly?"

Skinner just looked back at Audbjorg until she grabbed him on the arm.

"Tell me," she hissed.

"He said...he was going to talk with some old gods."

That's when Audbjorg realized what that square symbol in the barn was.

"Call him back," Audbjorg ordered. "Now."

Skinner was not inclined to take orders from just anybody. However, his instincts were telling him to heed her advice. He punched up a number on his cellular phone and waited for an answer.

Instead of a ring, static screamed into his ear. He winced and pulled his ear away from the phone. "Some kind of interference..." he said.

Audbjorg snatched the phone away from Skinner and listened.

Skinner could hear only static.

She heard other things.

A howl from the abyss.

A curse from the other end of the universe.

A desire for oceans and oceans of blood.

The cellular phone slipped from her fingers.

"What the hell is going on?" Skinner demanded.

"We've got to get out there. We've got to stop Mulder."

"Why?"

"We just have to, okay?!"

"I can't just leave Agent Ash alone. I need..."

"I'll go, then. All right? But one of us needs to get in that motherfucker's way."

Skinner took another look at Audbjorg.

Then he reached for his keys.


Mulder could feel the evil even before he entered the barn.

There had been other times when he had felt this kind of darkness before --in a room where a bloodthirsty mutant had lived, in a boxcar full of deformed bodies, in a prison as he faced a serial killer across a table. It was like breathing in smoke. A physical contaminant seemed to be loose on the air.

He had never felt it this strong, though.

The barn stood before him, two stories of rotting wood. The yellow tape over the entrance was unnecessary. The barn was intimidating all by itself.

Mulder reached for the door twice, both times pulling back his hand before touching the rusty handle. Then he took a breath and grabbed the handle.

It was cold under his fingers.

He pulled back the tall door. The yellow tape snapped and the hinges...well, they creaked mighty loud.

Mulder shined a flashlight into the insides. The light seemed to get sucked inside the darkness instead of pushing it away.

He made his way into the barn on slow steps. He spotted various things popping out of the darkness -- green bales of hay, a broken kerosene lamp, empty stalls, liquor bottles resting on their sides.

Blood.

He ran his flashlight across the lines and blotches, trailing them up to the square symbol. The symbol was as big as the top of a desk. It shined red and bright.

Wait a minute...

Mulder stepped closer to the square.

The damn thing looked like it had been painted on the floor just a minute ago instead of over a week. It even had the sharp scent of fresh blood. Mulder didn't dare touch to see if it was actually...

He spun around and the light shivered over the barn's doorway.

I heard something, he thought. I know I fucking heard...

He shook his head. No, this place was just getting to him. He looked back down at the blood. The square symbol was the only red pattern untouched by the passage of time. Taft's blood was turning into fine threads on the ground.

There was no way around it. Something horrible had been unleashed in this place. Mulder was going to find Alex Marsh and beat some answers out of him, if necessary.

He took a step towards the door.

Twang.

Shriek.

Thunk.

Mulder's scream could have been heard by anyone within a mile's radius. There was one only person around, though.

The shock of pain had given him an iron hold around his flashlight. That's how he could see the arrow sticking at an angle through his shoe. He stared at it as if he couldn't believe in its existence, even though he felt the short tunnel burrowed through his foot. The arrow's metal tip was stuck into the floor, keeping Mulder's foot there.

He heard footsteps rushing towards him. He scrambled for his holster. Then he felt the tip of a knife against his nose. The knife was made of cold stone.

"You don't make a move, boy," a woman told him.

The knife's point dug in and left a tiny cut. The pain was negligible compared to the fire inside Mulder's right shoe. He remained motionless as a hand stole his gun and the blood dripped from his nose. The droplets of blood joined the dark puddle spreading out from under Mulder's lanced foot.

The gun was tossed away. The knife's side was pressed against Mulder's ear. His hand holding the flashlight was grabbed and jerked up. A woman's face was within an inch of Mulder's wide eyes. It was a lean, scarred face that had been turned to a deep brown by a thousand days in the sun. Her teeth looked like black rocks and her eyes were a grey so light as to be almost colorless.

"You know who ah am," the woman said.

Mulder nodded.

"Ah coulda killed you jus' like that. Jus' like a sick dawg. You know why ah didn't?"

Mulder shook his head, biting into his lip.

"'Cause ah'm gonna play with yore pretty self first. Ah'm gonna slice yore legs down to the bone, peel off yore face and fuck you in the ass with my knife. Then ah'm gonna eat you and shit yore remains all over God's green Earth."

The black teeth grinned. "That's what ah call a fun night, boy. Now, you just go ahead and pee in yore pants."

Mulder did.


From: "David Hearne"

Title: HEADIN' BACK SOUTH (15 of 29)

Author: DAVID HEARNE


CHAPTER FIFTEEN TONIGHT'S ENTREE


The honk of the car that Audbjorg just missed colliding with became a faint echo as she kept her foot on the gas pedal. Shit, shit, shit, she thought. I should have gotten Skinner to drive me out there. I've spent...what?...a week of my life behind the wheel of a car. Of course, I've watched a fucking lot of other people drive, so how hard can it...is that a cow?

Yes, it was a cow, ambling off its farmland and onto the road. Audbjorg swerved all the way to the other side of the road, dirt and gravel spewing behind her tires before she jerked back into the right lane. "Get yourself some fucking barbed wire, you piss-drinking hayseed!" she screamed at the cow's owner.

She tore her way down the dark road, cursing Mulder. If he's not dead when I get there, she thought, I'll kill him myself.


Skinner stood in front of the Unspeakable Blues Bar, fearing for both Mulder and his car. When Audbjorg had took off in his vehicle, it had jerked and swerved in a most distressing manner for him. He wondered if Audbjorg was going to get to the barn before...before...whatever was going to happen would happen...if anything would happen...

Anyway, he made a call to Scully.

"Scully," the voice answered over his cellular phone.

"Scully, it's me. Where are you right now?"

"I'm heading for the Unspeakable..."

"Get me out of this goddamned trunk, you dyke bitch!"

"...Blues Bar."

"Who was that?" Skinner asked.

"Just a little something I picked up. Is there a problem, sir?"

"Maybe."

A minute later, Alex and Mr. Rogers tumbled against each other as Scully spun her car in the direction of the barn. Not having an extra handcuff and not wanting them to sit behind her with one free hand, Scully had stuffed them both in the trunk.

"Get off me, you faggot!"

"Believe me, Mr. Marsh, I'm trying to do just that..."

"I mean it, right now! Get your queer hands off my ass..."

One of Mr. Rogers' 'queer hands' grabbed Alex by the throat. There was a surprising amount of strength in the bland-looking man's fingers, much to Alex's bug-eyed surprise.

"Listen, you little hoodlum," Mr. Rogers whispered. "I will not tolerate any more of your attitude. You have caused enough trouble as it is. Do you have any idea what you and your dimwitted friends have done? Do you know just what you have unleashed on the world?"

Alex wheezed.

"No. Of course, you don't."

The hand released Alex who let out a gasp. Mr. Rogers sighed.

"And the worst part is that it's not over. All it will take is for someone's blood to be spilled in the barn..."


Mulder was down on one knee. He could feel the blood from his wounded foot touching that knee. Sara Lee walked around him, brushing the flat side of her blade against his head. "Yeah," she whispered. "So pretty..."

The knife pulled away from his head. It ripped downwards through his pants and soiled underwear. Cold air rubbed against his ass. Then he felt a hand squeeze one of his buttocks.

"Yep, dem's good eatin', right dere."

Mulder closed his eyes and prayed to lose consciousness.

Then he heard a car. He opened his eyes. The hand stiffened on his buttocks.

The car was rushing across the abandoned farm land, heading straight for the barn. It wobbled and bounced over the weed-choked furrows like a drunken bull.

The hand left his buttocks. When Mulder turned away, there was no one to be seen.

He looked back at the car. Its headlights were creating a bigger and bigger glow inside the barn. It was now close enough for him to read the license plates. The front door was just wide enough to let it go through the entrance.

Mulder held up his hands.

Just as the car reached the entrance, it jerked to the right and smacked into the wall around the door. The wood snapped inward and a loud creak went all the way up to the rafters. It seemed possible that the whole moldy barn would fall down.

It held, though. The driver stumbled out of the car. She kicked it, yelling, "Goddamned ve-hi-cle!"

"Hey!" Mulder called out.

The woman turned her angry eyes to Mulder. It was what's- her-name, the black woman with the Icelandic moniker. She could see Mulder in the glare of the one headlight poking around the entrance.

Mulder began to say, "Watch out, there's a..."

Audbjorg interrupted him. "Mulder, you asshole, you better get out of..."

Then she saw the arrow in his foot and the warning look in his eyes.

In a flash, her knife was out. It had the shine of an icicle in the sunlight.

"Get out of here!" Mulder yelled. "There's someone with us!"

"I figured that," she replied as she stepped into the barn, her eyes shifting left and right.

"She's armed! Get..."

"No." Audbjorg looked at the blood in dismay. "I got to get you out of here now."

"But..."

"Shut up, Mulder. There's more at stake here than you think."

As Audbjorg walked on light toes towards Mulder, he looked down at the blood gushing from his shoe.

The blood...

In a sacrificial area...

"Oh, fuck," he muttered.

"Mulder, you catch on fast. But not fast enough, I'm afraid,"

Then Audbjorg called out in a loud voice. "Whoever is here, listen to me! We've got to get this bleeding son-of-a- bitch out of here! There's something very dangerous..."

It was almost pure instinct that made Audbjorg spin around. Perhaps, she had heard a little noise. Perhaps, she had heard nothing and it was the silence which had warned her.

She held up her knife.

Twang.

Shriek.

Rinnnnnnngg....

The iron-tipped arrow struck the knife and somersaulted backwards into a post. The knife let out a chime so strange and beautiful that Mulder forgot about his pain for a moment.

The chime lasted for a few seconds, then melted into the silence.

A voice said, "Doggone."

Sara Lee stepped out of her hiding spot. She stared at Audbjorg's knife in amazement, her crossbow pointed down at the floor.

Then she grinned. She dropped her crossbow, yanked out her stone knife and advanced towards Audbjorg.

"Listen, you stupid bitch, we don't have time for this," Audbjorg complained as she backed off. "There's a..."

Something growled.

The sound came from under the floorboards. It made everyone turn still as statues.

Another light appeared in the barn. The square symbol was now glowing like fluorescent liquid. It was as bright as the red glow of an open furnace.

"You see what I mean?" Audbjorg said as she turned back to Sara Lee. The mountain woman, however, had already bolted out the door.

"What the hell is that?" Mulder yelled as the growling got louder.

"Later," Audbjorg told him as she slid the knife back into its sheath. She grabbed the arrow in Mulder's foot. "Grab and pull!" she ordered.

Grinding his teeth, Mulder held onto the arrow with Audbjorg. He heard the scrape of wood as the arrow was pulled back through the wound it made. He felt the flesh getting clawed and the bones get scratched inside his foot. He vomited onto Audbjorg's shirt.

"S-s-sorry," he whispered.

"I'll send you a cleaning bill," Audbjorg muttered.

Finally, the arrow was yanked free. Mulder fell forward onto Audbjorg's shoulder, nearly shoving her down. She slapped him on the face.

"Come on, you motherfucker, we've got to get out of here!"

With Audbjorg's help, Mulder picked himself up to his one good foot. He got ready to skip like hell.

But, then...

...it rose up through the symbol, passing through the dirt and wood as if they were only air.

It was taller than trees.

Older than mountains.

Hungrier than a pack of wolves.

And it had eyes as dark as the deepest pit and a smell like a human slaughterhouse.

"I HAVE COME FOR THE ONE WHO SHED HIS BLOOD ON MY CONSECRATED GROUND," it rumbled. "BRING HIM TO ME SO THAT I MAY FEAST UPON HIM."

Ah, hell, Mulder thought. I think he means me.

"BRING HIM TO ME OR I'LL BRING A MIGHTY VENGEANCE UPON THE LAND!"

Mulder stared at the being, struck dumb. He didn't notice the hand in front of his face until he heard, "Eat it!"

He blinked.

"Eat it!" Audbjorg commanded again.

Mulder narrowed his eyes until he could see the woman's hand. A small black mushroom was resting there.

"But what is..." he started to say.

"BRING HIM NOW! I COMMAND IT!"

"Eat it or I'll shove it up your ass, you dumb honky!!!" Audbjorg shrieked.

Mulder grabbed the mushroom and swallowed it after just one bite.

Hey, he thought. That's tasty.

Then everything went black.


"Ow! Ow! Ow!" went Mr. Rogers and Alex as Scully's car bounced over the farm land. She had no idea what to expect, but Skinner's information had left her feeling cold in the stomach.

It turned even colder when she saw the great red light coming from the barn.

And it became pure ice when she saw a man lying on the ground.

The man's body had been placed fifty feet away from the barn. Scully halted the car right next to the man ("Ow!") and jumped out.

Mulder made no response as she yelled out his name. His eyes were closed and his face was white as chalk except for the red cut on his nose.

She felt his neck and his wrist. She listened to his chest.

Then she slowly turned her head to the barn.

A woman was kneeling next to a car smashed into the barn. In front of her was a long cloth jutting from the gas cap. She was holding a cigarette lighter.

"Hold it right there!" Scully screamed as she whipped out her gun.

Audbjorg's head spun towards Scully. "Get back!" she hollered back.

"What happened to Mulder?!"

"I said, get back!"

"Don't move! Don't you move until..."

"I MUST FEED!"

Both Scully's gun hand and her jaw dropped when she heard that voice thunder inside the barn. Audbjorg flicked her lighter and ignited the cloth.

She rushed towards Scully, waving her hands in the air. "Get back! Get back!"

Scully shoved her gun back into its holster and began to drag Mulder by the arm. Audbjorg caught up with her and helped with Mulder. The flames scurried up the cloth.

"I MUST FEED! I MUST FEED!"

With one final grunt, Scully and Audbjorg yanked Mulder behind Scully's car. Then they dropped to the dirt.

"I...MUST..."

"Hey, what the fuck is going out there?" Alex demanded.

Skinner's federally requisitioned car exploded into a geyser of metal, glass and hot rubber. The rickety front wall of the barn collapsed and took a big chunk of the roof with it. Splinters of wood and shards of glass ricocheted off Scully's car. Alex and Mr. Marsh almost lost consciousness as the heat flash kicked up the temperature inside the trunk.

The fire took only seconds to spread all over the barn. Whatever was still standing cracked and snapped towards the ground. Scully and Audbjorg hazarded a look around the car.

For one moment, the sound of the fire was overcome by a maddened roar.

Then it was just the sound of burning wood.

Audbjorg stood up straight, looked at the blaze and commented --

"That ought to hold it for awhile."

Scully's fear and confusion was taken over by concern for Mulder. She checked him again, even though she knew that she would learn the same thing as before.

She looked up at Audbjorg. The fire added a red glow to her tears.

"He's dead..." she whispered.

"Yeah," Audbjorg said. "For now."


Drifting, drifting, drifting...

The body and its needs had been forgotten. How strange and pitiful the flesh seemed now. When compared with the enormous possibilities of the soul, the sensations of touch and sight and smell were puny and trite. As he let himself go into the white clouds, he sensed that he was on the cusp of a grand adventure. This was a journey into realms unbound by matter and physics. He would now understand the sacred bond between the universe and his spirit.

Drifting...

He was approaching a man. This man was standing on a land as solid as you would allow it to be. He settled his feet on this holy firmament. He held out his arms and smiled his greeting. This man was surely a fellow traveler and a brother would accompany him through the cosmos. They would share in the great mystery. They would understand the deepest meaning of love.

Come to me, my friend.

The man held up a hand and said --

"Want a beer?"

"Huh?"

"I said, do you want a beer?"

Mulder looked at the hand. Indeed, there was a can of beer in the man's hand, fresh from cold storage and dripping shiny beads of moisture.

"Uh...thanks." He accepted the beer.

The other man opened up his own can with a snap and a fizz. Mulder flipped the top on his own can.

It tasted just like beer, nothing more and nothing less. Of course, he really needed a beer right now.

"That hit the spot," Mulder told the man.

"Yep. Glad to see you got your head back on again. Every guy and gal who come here start out all goddamned flaky at first."

"Hmmm." Mulder rubbed a drop of water off the can. "By the way, am I..."

"Yeah, you're dead. Well, sort of."

"What do you mean 'sort of?'"

"Meaning, it's possible you'll be going back soon."

"Possible?"

"It's a tricky and uncertain time, Agent Mulder." The man held out a hand. "By the way, I'm Meyer Spiegelman."

Mulder shook the hand. "Nice to meet...hey, you're the one Sally..."

"That's me."

Mulder stared at Spiegelman and said, "You know, I bet you know the reason behind all the shit that's been happening."

"Reckon I do. Unfortunately, that doesn't count for much right now."

Mulder suddenly threw his can away and spun around. "I have to go back. I have to.."

"Whoa, there!"

"...help them, I have to help Scully..."

A hand gripped Mulder with enough strength to tell him he wasn't going anywhere.

"I said...whoa," Spiegelman said. "You're out of the game, son. At least for now."

Mulder turned back to Spiegelman. "Then, what can I do?"

"Nothing. Just watch and hope." Spiegelman eyed the dropped can. "You better put that in the trash can. They're real tight-assed about littering around here."



PART SIXTEEN
A FEW BELATED EXPLANATIONS

With the dawn came a whole lot of shit.

The first unpleasant surprise came to Zola Burnside when she was in the bed of Ben Hedge, her lover and co-owner of the Unspeakable Blues Bar. Last night's business didn't stop until 3 a.m. It had been particularly taxing after Audbjorg had left to do fuck-knows-what. She and Ben were planning to sleep until noon when the phone made a rude entrance into their slumber.

"What? What?" she barked into the phone.

"Ah, Miss Burnside, I'm glad you're awake," Chief McDonald told her, sounding more like a shit-eater than ever. "You should probably come on down to the bar right now."

She and Ben did. There, they found --

"Health inspectors?"

"Yessiree," McDonald said, standing in front of the bar's entrance. "Gotta keep up with the code."

Zola peeked around McDonald at the men inside who were checking several marks on their clipboards. "Those aren't the health inspectors we usually get," Zola noted.

"That so?"

"These motherfuckers probably carry roach droppings in their pockets," Ben growled. "Brother Daniel knows how to spread the wealth, doesn't he?"

"His charity is far and reaching, yes," McDonald answered.

Ben took a step towards the chief. Zola held him back. "Easy, Ben. Calm down."

"That's right, Mr. Hedge," McDonald said as he grinned under his mustache. "It's not a good idea to make more trouble, especially with the other investigation looking into Zola here."

Zola quickly turned to McDonald. "What?"

"There is now a suspected conspiracy to cover up evidence."

"What in the name of sweet Jesus are you talking about?"

"That woman in your employment...you know, the one I released despite her tendency towards violent behavior...she burned down the barn where Charlotte Taft was killed."

Zola stared at the chief.

"Are you saying you didn't know about that?" the chief asked.

"Of course, I didn't!"

"Wellllll, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but it looks mighty suspicious. Some people might say that your employee was ordered by you to destroy evidence that could prove your nephew's guilt."

"What fucking evidence? What could you have missed in that barn after all this time?"

"That's the thing. We just don't know. We'll never know, thanks to..."

Now, it was Ben's turn to hold back Zola.

"Easy, easy there, Miss Burnside," the chief of police said, wagging his finger. "No need to get too wound up. Nobody has been arrested. Not yet, anyway."

Zola closed her eyes and shuddered.

"In fact, that Audburger or whatever you call her...she's down at your brother's house right now if you want to talk to her."

They did want to. They hauled ass to the house of Malcolm and Nadine Burnside. Bursting into the house, they found Malcolm sitting in a chair as he smoked a pipe and Meyer Burnside laid back on the sofa while plucking his guitar. From the backyard came the sound of ringing metal and cries of "Goddamned mammy-fucker!"

"They closed down our fucking bar!" Ben shouted.

"Yeah," Malcolm said in a quiet voice. "They took away my repairman license, too. And Nadine has been barred from the church."

Malcolm's calm response disarmed his sister and her lover for a moment, but then Zola yelled --

"Did you know that I'm being accused of destroying evidence?'"

"Yep. I've been implicated, too."

"Do you know why?!"

Malcolm jabbed a thumb towards the backyard. "Audbjorg already told me about the barn burning. She's outside right now..."

"I'm gonna have a fucking talk with her..." Zola growled as she stepped in the direction of the back door.

"I would leave her alone for now," Malcolm advised.

Zola turned to Malcolm and leaned against his chair. "Listen, *bro*, this situation just about tops everything in terms of pure shittiness."

"I guess so."

"Don't forget the FBI agent, Dad," Meyer said.

"Oh, yeah. There's a dead FBI agent in our bedroom. That's pretty shitty, too."

Zola and Ben looked down a hallway passing the bedroom.

Crash. Bang. "Fuck your mammy! Fuck her in the ear with a corncob!"

"Malcolm," Ben said. "why is there a dead FBI agent in your bedroom?"

"Best place to put him for now."

"And why is dead?"

"Audbjorg poisoned him or something."

Zola and Ben looked back at Malcolm. "I think it was for his own good," Malcolm explained, then puffed out smoke.

"Oh, sweet Jesus on a plastic cross!" Ben cried out, throwing his hands into the air. "What is it with this fucking family?"

"Now, wait a minute, Ben..." Zola said.

"Oh, don't you start, Zola! I love you dearly, but your whole family is a great goddamned pile of nuts! They get themselves into a whole fuckload of trouble and they act like it's business as usual! Doesn't anybody understand the motherfucking situation here?"

Meyer and Malcolm just sat and listened to Ben's rant. Nadine, however, came out of the bedroom Mulder was laid out in and said, "Ben, would you please calm down?"

"I will not fucking calm down, Nadine! I will scream my big black head off! I will scream until you people get an idea of how..."

Then, Ben saw a short, red-haired white woman storm out of the bedroom. This same red-haired woman grabbed him by the shirt and pushed his much larger body against a wall with alarming ease.

"The reverend said...be calm," she hissed.

Ben looked back with startled eyes, then asked --

"Uh...have we met before?"

The red-haired woman sighed. She let go of Ben and went back to the bedroom. She slammed the door.

"Would you like something to drink, Ben?" Malcolm asked.

"Um...yeah, thanks."


He laid in the bed, a dead man.

Scully sat besides his body, hands wrapped together in her lap.

She sat there for a long time.

Then she stood up, walked past the Burnsides (Ben gave her a nervous look) and walked out into the backyard. The backyard of the Burnside house bordered on a wider landscape of grass and trees. It was actually quite pretty.

Audbjorg and Sally were standing over a hundred feet away from the house, keeping their distance from A.C. Burnside's maniacal hammering of scarp iron. They were each smoking a cigarette. Scully walked up right next to them. She didn't look at them. They didn't look at her.

Audbjorg held up a pack of cigarettes. "Smoke?"

"No, thanks," Scully said.

Audbjorg nodded and put away the cigarettes.

A minute passed with breezes dancing through the grass, the leaves fluttering to the ground and A.C. screaming "Mammy-fucker!"

"You said that Mulder isn't dead," Scully said to Audbjorg.

"No. He is dead. What I said was that his condition was reversible."

"How so?"

"I gave Mulder a voodoo vegetable. It's something I picked up in my travels."

"Got it in Louisiana?" Sally asked.

"No. Pittsburgh. I've been carrying it in a Ziplock bag ever since. Never thought that I would actually have to use it, but it seemed too handy to throw away."

"And you can reverse this...spell?" Scully said.

"Yes, I can. But not yet."

"And why not?"

"Agent Scully...do you remember that voice from last night?"

"Of course, I do."

"Well, that voice belonged to Vatticas."

Scully cleared her throat and said, "And who is he?"

Audbjorg took a drag off her cigarette, then said, "Back in the old days...the old, old days when the Jews were still slaves in Egypt...there was more than one god afoot. The one you refer to as the Lord...Jehovah, Yahweh, whatever...He was the most powerful, but there were others who still retained a following back then."

She took another drag, puffing out smoke into the breeze.

"A lot of these other gods were real mean bastards. Among the meanest was Vatticas. Vatticas would have let Abraham stick a knife into his son."

"I'm aware of the existence of other religions in these times," Scully said evenly. "I haven't heard of Vatticas, though."

"No reason why you should. There is no mention of its name in any record. Its religion has been completely forgotten. Of course, there is a hidden reference to it in the book of Exodus."

"Zipporah and Moses," Sally said.

Audbjorg and Scully looked at the heavy-set woman. "Right," Audbjorg said. "Before Zipporah met Moses, she came from a tribe that had to pay homage to Vatticas. In fact, Zipporah had been pledged to be the earthly wife of Vatticas."

"So, it was Vatticas who came to kill Moses that night."

"Right."

"I believe you're referring to the 'husband of blood' story in Exodus," Scully said.

"M-hm," Audbjorg said. "Unfortunately, that story got garbled up in the telling and in the translation. What also got left out was that God dealt with Vatticas afterward. The Lord locked its butt away in some limbo. It's been there ever since."

"But now...it's gotten out?"

Audbjorg dropped her cigarette to the ground and stomped on it. "Every jail has a key. And those fucking kids must have found the key. But Vatticas isn't quite free yet. Not totally."

"How so?"

"Right now, it can't go any further than the barn."

"That's why you burnt it down."

"That's it. Unfortunately, it's gotten a taste for blood. First, the blood of Charlotte Taft and then the blood of Mulder. Once it gets a taste, then it won't be satisfied until it feeds on the whole person. The whole *living* person."

Audbjorg turned to Scully. "I had two choices that night. I could have let Vatticas eat Mulder or I could have turned Mulder into a zombie, thus denying Vatticas its meal. Since I'm such a kind-hearted bitch, I went with the latter."

"I see," Scully said. "Then why won't you bring Mulder back?"

"Our problems are still not solved. Burning down the barn only put a temporary closure on the portal between our world and the prison of Vatticas. If Mulder was still alive, he would give that damn god a stronger connection to our world. Vatticas is still eager for his blood -- so eager that it could give him the strength to free itself if it knew a meal was waiting here."

"It sounded like it would have taken anybody that night and not just Mulder."

"It's getting to that point. Vatticas was crazy to begin with. Now after those centuries in prison and then getting its first taste of blood -- it's gone full bull-goose loony. So far, the rules say that it can only kill those who have shed blood on its consecrated ground. But, sooner or later, it'll say 'fuck the rules' and start slaughtering people left and right."

"Provided it can get free."

"Which we have to make sure doesn't happen. We have to find a way of rebuilding the walls around it. We've got to lock the door and throw away the fucking key."

"So, that's what Meyer was trying to tell me," Sally said.

"Who?" Audbjorg said.

Audbjorg looked at the two other woman, blew out a long plume of smoke and said, "Okay. It's time for *my* goddamned story."


While the three women were chewing the fat, Walter Skinner was chewing the ass of Chief McDonald. The police chief, however, took the A.D.'s abuse with ease. He just sat behind his chair as Skinner yelled at him in McDonald's office.

"You had no goddamned right to let those two go!"

"Please, Mr. Skinner, this is a Christian office. Do not use blasphemy here."

How about if I nail your hands to a wall? Skinner thought. "This was Agent Scully's arrest. We only put them in your jail so we would have a place to keep their asses!"

"Well, I did my own little review of their arrest and decided that they were being held without cause."

"Let me restate my initial point -- you had no goddamned right to do that."

"You mean, I actually interfered with someone else's investigation? Good gracious me, I never heard of such of a thing happening."

Nothing is more annoying than when an asshole actually has a point. Skinner held back a sigh and said, "All right. You tell me this, then -- what was Mr. Rogers doing with a briefcase full of money?"

"That money is an intended donation for a local orphanage."

"It was taking an awfully circular route."

McDonald gave Skinner another one of his mustache-bending, shit-eating smiles. "Mr. Rogers had been placed in charge of that money. He was about to take it to its proper account when he received a call from Alex Marsh. The young man was in serious need of Christian counseling."

"Counseling? I thought Mr. Rogers was an accountant."

"All employees of Brother Daniel have been trained to counsel troubled youth. Brother Daniel has a twenty-four- hour hotline on which these poor lost souls can call up his ministry and get scriptual guidance. At the moment in question, the usual operators were busy so the call was patched to Mr. Rogers in his office. After talking with Alex, Mr. Rogers realized that he needed to talk with him personally. A meeting was arranged..."

"In a dark alley."

"The Lord can go anywhere He pleases. However, Mr. Rogers was so concerned for this young man that he accidentally brought that briefcase of money with him. It was a pure accident."

"Uh-huh. And just what was Alex Marsh so troubled about?"

"Why, about the release of the person who killed his good friend Charlotte Taft. What else?"

Skinner slowly nodded. He said, "You know...you are just dumb enough to believe that story."

"Well, I'm just a small town police chief, Mister Skinner. I don't have the shrewd, powerful brains you FBI folks have. I'm willing to believe just about anything. For instance, this Audbag woman..."

"Audbjorg."

"Whatever. She really hasn't given me an explanation of why she burnt down that barn. Now, you gotta admit that destroying a crime scene is mighty suspicious behavior, don't you, Mister Skinner?"

Skinner said nothing.

"However, I'm sure any explanation she can give will be perfectly believable. She can come down here anytime and just clear the air."

"Maybe she will."

"You bet."

Skinner took a breath, then said, "If you'll excuse me, Chief..."

"Of course. We're both busy men, aren't we?"

Skinner went to the door. Just as his hand touched the knob, McDonald said, "By the way...just how is Mulder doing? I hear he's a little...out of it."

Without looking back, Skinner said, "Agent Mulder was attacked last night. He's currently recuperating."

"Well, sent that boy my best wishes. Maybe I'll stop by with flowers."

Or maybe a wreath, Skinner thought as he left the Final Police Department. Then he got into his car. Or, rather, the car he borrowed from Scully. (He had to adjust the seat *way* back.)

He smacked his fist repeatedly on the steering wheel. After he got that out of his system, he sat and considered the situation.

The chief had been right. Audbjorg's actions had been suspicious.

Of course, Mulder's dead body was even more suspicious.

But Skinner knew he was on weird territory -- the kind of territory Mulder and Scully yanked him into all the time. These kinds of cases were always fantastic pains-in-his- ass. They didn't conform to any kind of reality he was comfortable with. When faced with these situations, Skinner had to rely on his instincts.

His instincts were telling him that Audbjorg was doing the right thing.

He hoped the fact that he had a hard-on for her wasn't clouding his judgment.


"It wasn't easy getting out of this pisshole of a town. It wasn't easy getting into Quantico and the FBI, either. However, one thing kept me going through all the doubt and loneliness and exhaustion. That was the words of a dying man. His name was Meyer Spiegelman. He died on the steps of a church after taking a bullet meant for Malcolm Burnside. As he was bleeding his life away, he called me over and said, 'You make something of yourself or my ghost will come back and kick your ass.'

"I kept those words in mind. And that's how I became a FBI agent.

"His ghost came to me, anyway.

"It started on the night Charlotte Taft got killed. He appeared to me and told me that a great danger was loose in Final. Naturally, I thought I had gone nuts. But he kept coming back and calling me all kinds of names when I didn't listen.

"Then he told me to go see you, Agent Scully. You and your partner. He said that we had met before. I told him that I never met the two of you in all my natural-born life.

"'Not in this life,' he said. 'It was a life you had before.'

"'What the fuck are you talking about?' I asked. 'Reincarnation?'

"'No, you dumb bunny, another time line.'

"He then explained to me that the two of you had come to Final once before. There had been a situation very much like this one. He didn't give me all the details, but, apparently, Malcolm Burnside was supposed to have died in front of that church. Somehow, it caused a whole lot of trouble. And, somehow, Meyer went back in time and died in Malcolm's place.

"Don't ask me how. Meyer has been pretty vague on a lot of things.

"Anyway, that changed time and space and all that shit. Your first trip to Final never happened. Of course, we still have this vague sense of...you know...meeting before, but Meyer is the only one who remembers everything.

"That's the reason I got mixed up with the Charlotte Taft case. That's why I asked you to get involved. Only now, however, I realize what the hell Meyer was worried about.

"I wish he was here right now. I would kick *his* ass. He kept telling me that the rules forbade him from telling me too much. Shit, me and that son-of-a-bitch have been making our own rules since grade school. It was the only way a fat girl and a Jew boy could survive in Final.

"Still, I guess being dead complicated things for him.

"So, in any case, that's my story. Now what the fuck do we do now?"


Scully, Sally and Audbjorg entered the house. A.C. had stepped inside as well. He was muttering "mammy-fucker" between sips of beer. Before Zola and Ben could lay in on Audbjorg, Scully held up a hand and said, "We need to talk to Albert."

Sitting in his bedroom, Albert heard the call of his mother. He didn't move from his bed.

Then he heard his father call for him in a loud voice. On legs heavy as steel, Albert left his bedroom.

He passed by his parents' bedroom. Through the open door, he could see Sue and Etta kneeling by the side of Agent Mulder. They were praying. Or something.

He entered the living room and nine pairs of eyes were looking at him. He realized that the time for silence was over.

"I want you to sit down, Albert," Scully said. "Then I want you to tell us everything."

Albert walked to the sofa. Meyer moved to the side with his guitar so Albert could sink into one of the cushions.

He looked down at the floor.

Then he looked up...

...and told them how he killed Charlotte Taft.



PART SEVENTEEN
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CHARLOTTE TAFT

She was the kind of woman who could leave doo-doo in your car and make it seem like good fun. When you were the victim of one of her pranks -- having your mail tossed onto the roof, crank phone calls, jelly in your shoes --you were livid at first. Then you heard her giggle or saw her smile and you would be laughing, too. Cops would grin at her speeding. Teachers would tolerate her spitballs. Parents of young men would talk about what a nice young lady she was even as she was out with their sons God-knows-where and doing God-knows-what.

That's because there wasn't a mean bone in her body and she was living in a town which had enough mean bones to fill up a graveyard. Nothing she did was done with malice. She expected you to enjoy the fun of her actions. Usually, you did.

Her streak of daring was certainly wide -- wide enough to get herself a black boyfriend in a place where Martin Luther King was suspected to have been a communist spy. It was a choice that made her parents more than a little anxious, but she would just laugh and say, "Oh, come on! He's a preacher's son!"

He was the minister's son, all right, but lately he had been acting more than a little punkish. He was acting out the usual ritual of teenage surliness -- rudeness to elders, drinking, staying out late. Albert's mother was concerned about all this and wasn't sure if Charlotte was helping or not.

"Don't worry, Mrs. Burnside," Charlotte would assure her. "I'm looking out for Albert. We're just having fun."

Maybe. Maybe Charlotte Taft was just what Albert needed to get the meanness out of his own system.

But then there was the barn party.

At first, the others had thought Charlotte was nuts for bringing a nigger to their private soiree. However, she just laughed at their concern and they laughed back in their alcoholic haze. An hour later, when Charlotte and Albert had swallowed their own share of liquor, Alex Marsh got out the book.

"Whazzat?" Albert asked.

"I stole this outta that fucker Julius Grant's house after he got run over by his elephant," Alex said, swaying on his feet. "Got some weird-ass spells or something in it."

"Cool. Try one."

"I was going to. Wanna help?"

"Sure. What do you need?"

Albert grinned. "Just a little bit of blood."

"No problem."

So, as Rob Zombie howled on a portable tape player, Charlotte, Eric, Cynthia and Jane danced around a square symbol Alex had written on the floor in pig's blood. He chanted out the words from the old book. "Amon! Amon! Deghurab ka Qanado!"

Then Albert stepped forward, giggling. He pricked his finger with a pin.

A drop of blood fell to the wooden planks.

And that's when all hell broke loose.


"Wait a minute," Audbjorg said. "It was your blood that fell on the floor?"

Albert nodded.

"But then Vatticas should have gone after..." Audbjorg shuddered. "Aw, damn."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Malcolm demanded. "Who's Vatticas?"

Albert said, "I guess...that's the name of the thing that we summoned. Right?"

"Yeah," Audbjorg replied. "Right."

"Summoned?" Malcolm said. "What do you mean? Was this some kind of demon?"

"Not exactly," Audbjorg told him. "Let's just say that Vatticas came for your son's life." Audbjorg gave Albert a look so hard that he turned away. "But it took Charlotte instead. And there's only one way that could have happened."

Albert closed his eyes.

"Charlotte chose to take your place."


The others ran off. Alex had enough presence of mind to take the book with him.

Albert, on the other hand, couldn't think. His body felt incapable of movement. He could only stare at the being looking back at him with cold, ancient eyes.

"YOUR BLOOD HAS BEEN SPILLED ON MY CONSECRATED GROUND! COME TO ME SO I CAN FEED!"

What could he do? There was nowhere to run from this monstrosity before him. He could only step forward and...

Charlotte stood in front of him.

"STEP AWAY FROM HIM, CHILD!"

"No!"

"MY WILL CANNOT BE DENIED! I MUST FEED!"

"I don't know who you are, but you can't have him, you miserable piece of shit!"

Albert listened to this exchange with deadened ears. He watched his girlfriend stand between him and an evil from beyond the stars and he felt nothing.

"STAND ASIDE OR I SHALL KILL YOU BOTH!"

Charlotte hesitated for three full seconds.

Then she said, "Take me instead."

The being considered this offer, then said, "VERY WELL. STEP FORWARD."

Charlotte turned around. She looked at Albert. She gave him a smile and a kiss. His lips gave no response to the mouth pressing against him.

Then she turned back to Vatticas. She stepped forward.

"GIVE YOURSELF TO ME, CHILD."

Standing behind her, Albert watched her hand reach up to her chest. There was a wet sound.

She bent over and screamed like a woman giving birth. Her hand continued to work inside her chest.

Then she held up her hand and it was resting there in her palm -- red and pulsing. She remained standing for one second.

She collapsed.

Vatticas began to feed.

That was the last thing Albert remembered before he blacked out.


"Don't you see why I couldn't tell you what happened? Don't you understand my shame?

"I may not have been the one to actually kill her, but I am as guilty as that...as that thing was. I should have been the one to die that night. But I let her...I just let her...I was..."

Albert placed his head in his hands.

No one said anything for some time.

Then Meyer put down his guitar. He placed an arm over Albert's shoulder. Albert tensed as if he wanted to push the arm away. Meyer said --

"No one knows what they will do if they are faced with a choice like that. We would like to think that we would have courage to make a sacrifice, but...I don't think courage has anything to do with it. We just...react.

"No, you weren't brave that night, my brother. But you can choose to be brave now. You can face up to what you've done. I have a feeling..." Meyer looked at Audbjorg. "...that this isn't over yet. So, you have to stand up now and do what's right.

"Keep this in mind. You're my brother and I haven't stopped loving you. Because I know the kind of man..."

The sobs broke out of Albert and grasped himself to Meyer's chest. Meyer put his arms around his brother's back.

Then Nadine rushed over and placed her crying head on Albert's shoulders.

Malcolm stood up, walked over and held one of Albert's hands.

A.C. walked over and touched Albert's arm.

Zola and Ben also laid their hands on him.

Scully, Sally and Audbjorg took a quiet leave.

"So, what do we do now?" Sally asked.

"We," Scully said. "stop fucking around."



PART EIGHTEEN
FATE OF A STUPID TEENAGER

"Have mercy, Mr. Rogers, it's good to see you a free man."

"Yes, sir. And thank you for helping me out."

"Of course, of course. Now..." Brother Daniel leaned onto his desk. "...can you tell me what in God's name were you doing in the middle of a night with a briefcase full of money?"

Mr. Rogers had been readying himself for this day. He knew that eventually he would be called into Brother Daniel's office and interrogated about some suspicious behavior. He had an prepared answer.

"That's a private affair, sir."

"Uh, Mr. Rogers...my good friend...when somebody is playing around with church funds..."

"It didn't come from your own treasury, sir."

"Then where did it come from?"

"Again, sir, that's a private affair."

Brother Daniel shook his head, his usual friendly expression no longer in place. "It's not good to have secrets, sir."

"No, it isn't."

"Now, are you going to tell me your secret or do I have to call in a couple of those big ol' construction fellas?"

"You could do that, sir. Of course, then I would have to be obliged to tell them your secret."

Brother Daniel felt his stomach twist. "What...what do you..."

"A secret concerning an operation you had."

The jaw of the preacher vibrated like a plucked string. His palms began to sweat.

"Now, I assure you that the revelation of this secret will only occur if you continue to pressure me or if I should have a suspicious demise. I also assure you that my private affairs have no relation to your business. Is that satisfactory for you?"

"Uh-huh," Brother Daniel answered with a hoarse voice.

"Now, if you will excuse me, sir, I have more private affairs to attend to." With that, Mr. Rogers left Brother Daniel in his office.

The preacher locked the door and began to pace around his office. Oh, Lord, oh, Lord, he thought, He knows. That little cocksucker knows, excuse my language, Lord, but this situation is like a vise clamp on my nuts, what should I do, what should I do...

Brother Daniel ran to the desk, yanked open a drawer and got out the needle and the tiny bottle. He filled up the needle with liquid from the bottle and then shot it into his body.

Ahhhh. Yes.

It was then that Brother Daniel had an inspiration -- a plan to get his mind off his worries. He thought of a new addition he could make to the Temple of the Mississippi. "Oh, thank you, Lord," he said. "Thank you for touching me with Your grace once again."

All he had to do was make a little arrangement with Chief McDonald. And he wouldn't tell Mr. Rogers about it. Naw, that boy was now out-of-the-loop as far as Brother Daniel was concerned.

That was a shame. Had Mr. Rogers known about what Brother Daniel was planning, he would have known what a bad idea it was and put a stop to it. As it was, things were going to get even more fucked up.


The first order of business for the FBI agents was to interrogate Alex Marsh and to do it hard. It was obvious that someone had taken the Swamp Bible from him. Skinner and Scully planned to scour his memory for any likely suspects and they would, by God, use excessive force if necessary.

Of course, they had a strong suspicion about who had it. Helda Grant seemed like the most likely of likely suspects. That's why Sally Ash was sent to spy on the estate of Miss Grant.

Unfortunately, attempts to find Alex Marsh proved to be fruitless. After being released from jail, Alex had driven off in his pick-up truck. He didn't go in the direction of home. He may have decided to run out of town, suspecting that trouble was catching up with him.

Trouble did. After not finding Alex at his house ("I don't know where the little fucker is and I don't care," Alex's mother had informed Skinner and Scully) or at his school, they searched the town. They found Alex's pickup truck in a ditch. A iron-tipped arrow had punctured a tire.

"I'm going to beat Chief McDonald until his brains pop out of his ears," Skinner snarled. "If he had just kept Alex in jail..."

"We're to blame for this, too," Scully told him. "We stepped on the chief's toes more than we should have."

"Don't remind me. So, what now?"

"Well, now, we can be sure of two things. One -- Miss Grant doesn't have the book or Sara Lee wouldn't have taken Alex."

"And the second thing?"

"Alex Marsh is probably in a lot of pain right now."


"YEOOOOWWW!"

To Alex Marsh, the trees looked like brooms resting on a blue floor. The woman would have looked like a nightmare from any viewpoint, upside down or right side up.

She flicked Alex's sheared nipple into his face. "You stupid sumbitch," she said. "When yore friends got an arrow through their damn throats, didn't you figger out that you were messin' with the wrong folk?"

As if to emphasize her point, Sara Lee sliced off Alex's remaining nipple with her stone knife. Alex howled again as the blood ran down his chest, past his shoulder and dripped to the grass below him. He strained against the rope tied around his wrists, but it was as tight as the rope hanging him by the ankles from a tree branch.

In fact, Alex was feeling pretty stupid. Ever after Sammy and Jane had gotten killed, he still had confidence in his ability to protect himself. Fuck, Sammy and Jane were just a couple of kids. He wasn't gonna let anybody sneak up on *him* with a crossbow. And don't give him any shit about this being the work of Sara Lee. That damn woman was just a hick legend.

Of course, he was also considering that it *might* be a good idea to dump the book. And if he could dump it on somebody who would pay him for it, who was he to throw away that opportunity? He didn't care what this four-eyed geek wanted with the book. For the kind of money Mr. Rogers was offering, Alex would have let him fuck him in the butt. (Well... maybe not.)

Now, he didn't have the money.

He didn't have the book.

And he was hanging from a tree in the middle of a forest with a psycho mountain woman who was most assuredly *not* a legend.

"Now, ah'm gonna keep choppin' bits off you 'til you..."

"I don't have the book!"

"Wut?"

"I don't have the fucking book! Someone stole it from me!"

Sara Lee stepped right up to Alex and the upside-down face filled up Alex's vision. "Who?"

"I don't know! It's just gone!"

Those colorless eyes looked straight into Alex's brown ones.

She asked, "Has there been anybody strange pokin' around you, boy?"

"Um...uhh...."

Sara Lee yanked on a big chunk of Alex's hair and sliced it off. "Think fast, boy..."

"The writer! The writer!"

"Wut writer?"

"He was s-s-some guy who said he was writing a book about Charlotte Taft's murder."

"Wut was his name?"

"It was...it was...um...ARRRRGGHH..."

Alex's last comment was his reaction to Sara Lee cutting off his left ear.

"George Kane!" he screamed. "His name was George Kane!"

"Is there anybody else?"

"No! No! I swear!"

Sara Lee took a step back and examined the young man with blood and tears raining off him. Then she picked up the sliced ear and turned his back to him, absent-mindedly playing with the ear like a coin.

"Aw right," she said after a few moments of silence. "Ah guess you don't know nothing' else."

"What...what are you going to do to me?"

"Well, ah ain't gonna kill you. No need for that."

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you..."

"Ah will have to keep y'all here for a spell. Ah don't want you tellin' nobody else what you know until ah find that book."

"Yes, ma'am. I understand."

"But ah ain't gonna kill you..."

Then she turned back to Alex and bit into the ear. It stretched under her teeth like chewing gum before a piece snapped off into her mouth.

"'Course, ah am feelin' hongry."


"We have to tell them, goddammit!"

Meyer said nothing. He just took another sip of beer.

"Aren't you listening to me?"

"I can hear every fucking word you say to me, son."

"Then tell me why are we just sitting here and not helping them?"

"All right, Mulder...I'll say this one more time...you and I...are stone-cold, in-the-ground, pushing-up-the-daisies DEAD."

"Well, that didn't stop you from helping before, right?"

Meyer looked away.

"So, why aren't you helping now?"

"Let's just say I've been...reprimanded for my assistance."

"Meaning...?"

"Meaning I've done all I can do."

"Yeah, a helluva good that did. If I had known what was going to happen in that barn..."

"Shit, Mulder, that was just bad luck. Besides, you're always rushing off into trouble."

Mulder was silent for a moment, then said, "So, all we can do is watch?"

"That's right. Have another beer."

Sighing, Mulder accepted the can. "Okay," he said. "We can't do anything. But can't somebody else intervene here?"

"Like who?"

"Well...you know...the one who imprisoned Vatticas in the first place..."

"God?"

"Yeah, *that* guy."

"I thought you were an atheist, Mulder."

"I've come to accept a few new possibilities since I died. So, why doesn't He just get Himself down there and stick Vatticas back in his hole?"

Meyer drained the rest of his can, tossed it away and opened a new one. "Mulder...do you know what it was like in the old days? When God used to walk the earth and appear to people as burning bushes and clouds and all that crap?"

"Not really."

"It was a lot worse than it is right now."

Mulder looked at Meyer, then said, "So, you're saying that it's better when all us mere mortals handle our problems ourselves?"

"Right. And it's still possible that Scully and Sally and Skinner and all the rest will find the book and sweep this mess away."

"And if they can't?"

Meyer thought about it, then said, "I don't know."

Mulder looked down at his can. He snapped open the top and took a long swallow. Then he said, "Any place around here I can take a leak?"

"Yeah, over by that cloud."


Well, lookee here...

Sally Ash had been keeping a close eye on the estate of Helda Grant. From her carefully hidden outpost, she spied upon a couple of interesting visitors.

The first was Mr. Rogers. He drove up to Helda's mansion in his nondescript car. Then he got out of the car, holding a box. He knocked on the front door and was answered by a servant. A few minutes later, Mr. Rogers was allowed into the mansion.

That was interesting. Mr. Rogers used to work for Helda's dead wicked brother. Was he now working for her sister in secret?

What was even more interesting was the second visitor. Sally nearly missed her arrival. At first, she only saw her as a flash in the corner of her eye. Then she quickly shifted her binoculars in the right direction. She caught just a quick glimpse before the visitor climbed in through a window.

It was the first time that she had ever seen Sara Lee. Even at this distance, Sally could feel her blood chill just from looking at the mountain woman.

She called up Skinner. God, she loved these fucking cellular phones.


After getting Sally's message, Skinner relayed to Scully. "What do you think?" he asked.

"I think...it's time we find out just what the hell these people know."



PART NINETEEN
THE GRINNING BOTTLE

When Sara Lee climbed into Miss Grant's parlor, she certainly didn't expect to see Mr. Rogers. She went for her knife.

"Be still, my lamb," Helda said. "Mr. Rogers is here as a guest."

Sara Lee's hand moved away from her knife and she asked Mr. Rogers, "Wut the hell do you want?"

"I have to come to deliver a warning. Undoubtedly, you are aware that the death of Charlotte Taft was due to usage of The Swamp Bible."

"Of course," Helda said, regarding Mr. Rogers politely.

"However, I doubt you are fully aware of the seriousness of what was done in that barn."

"Since you are here, I gather that it is extremely serious."

"It is. I know someone who has special information about The Swamp Bible."

"And that is...?"

Mr. Rogers hesitated, then he lowered the box to the ground. He started to open it. Sara Lee reached for her knife again and said, "Boy, if you got any surprises in that box..."

"I do have a surprise, Miss Lee. However, it's not a weapon. In fact, I seriously doubt you were expecting this..."

Mr. Rogers lifted a glass bottle out of the box's packing. It had a wide, round body and a narrow neck. A face was molded into the bottle -- a very familiar face to Helda. Inside the bottle, a black mist swirled.

Then, much to the surprise of Helda and Sara Lee, the face began to move and talk.

"Hey, there, sis. Looks like you haven't got fucked in ages."


For their plan, Skinner and Scully decided to include Chief McDonald in on it, just so he wouldn't bitch about being left out. They were going to need help, anyway. Unfortunately, the chief's ability to screw reality to fit his perceptions was beyond what they had conceived.

"You want to do what?"

"We're going to raid the house of Helda Grant," Scully told him over the phone line. "We would like your assistance in this."

"But...but why?" The fear in the chief's voice was considerable. He may have considered himself protected by the Lord, but the thought of going against Helda Grant was too much.

Scully calmly explained what Sally had witnessed.

"Oh, come on, Agent Scully. Sara Lee is just some bit of hookum tossed around town. She doesn't exist."

"Well, somebody killed Susan Lexington and Sammy Coburn. And somebody kidnapped Alex Marsh."

"What do you think we're doing here?" the Chief snapped. "We've got people out looking for Alex Marsh right now. We're not sitting around twiddling our thumbs."

No, you're not, Scully thought. That's hard to do when one thumb is in your mouth and the other is up your ass. "So, you're doubting Agent Ash's report?"

"I'm very doubtful of Ash's ability to see clearly now. After all, there's another possibility behind what's happening to these kids."

This ought to be good, Scully thought.

"Have you considered the possibility, Agent Scully, that somebody is using the legend of Sara Lee as a way of covering up their tracks? You know, killing these kids as a way of hiding the truth?"

Scully took a breath, then said, "I'll take that under consideration. Thank you for listening, Chief. Oh, and..."

"Yes?"

"Is your jaw feeling okay?"

A brief, murderous pause. "It's...fine, Agent Scully."

Scully hung up. "No luck, I take it," Skinner said.

"Not one drop."

"I'm not going to charge into place with just you, me and Ash, Agent Scully. Not if this Sara Lee is anywhere near as dangerous as she sounds."

Scully thought about it and said, "Then let's get the locals involved." She made another call.


"So, you see, we need to get The Swamp Bible in order to hose this great big pile of shit back into the sewer. Understand me?"

"Yes," Helda said. "I do. But there are a few things you need to explain, brother."

The bottle grinned. "You mean, what's the goddamned deal with me?"

"Yes."

"Oh, come on, Sis. You didn't think I wouldn't have a back- up plan just in case some little scumfuck actually succeeded in making me worm food, didn't you?"

"And just what is this...thing exactly?"

"It's called a Soul Bottle," Mr. Rogers explained. "The instructions for building one are in The Swamp Bible. It can contain the soul of a person once that said person is dead."

"Yep, nobody is going to get rid of me that easy," Julius declared. "Of course, I'm not too optimistic about my chances for judgment on the other side, if you get my drift." The bottle winked.

"It must not be the most comfortable life, dear brother," Helda observed.

"Sweet ever-loving shit, no. I was hoping that Mr. Rogers here would use The Swamp Bible to fix me up with a new body. But we know what happened there, don't we?"

Sara Lee walked right up to the bottle. She stared into that glass face. "Ah could just smash yore stupid bottle to the ground and yore soul would go straight to goddamned hell, wouldn't it?"

"I would do my best to prevent that from happening," Mr. Rogers said.

She looked up. Her vicious, animal eyes locked with those cold, calm ones of Mr. Rogers.

Julius laughed. "That would be an interesting little tussle, wouldn't it? How would you like wrestling around with that tough gal, Mr. Rogers?"

"I suspect that I would lose, Mr. Grant. But I would make sure it never got to that point."

Sara Lee tilted her head to the side. She seemed to look at Mr. Rogers with almost...admiration.

Helda said, "And you wouldn't have exposed this little secret of my brother's if you didn't think it was in our interest *not* to harm him."

"Now, there you go, Sis," Julius said. "Once I start thinking you're some kind of bitch who's dumber than a bag of hammers, you say something intelligent. You're damn right it's in your interest to keep my bottle secure. It's in everybody's interest, in fact. 'Cause I'm the only one who really knows how to use The Swamp Bible. I'm the only one around with any kind of fucking experience with it. And I'm the only one who can figure out a way to send that son- of-a-bitch Vatticas back to his prison."

"But you need our help."

"Hell, I need you to find the damn thing. You having any luck in that area?"

Helda and Sara Lee looked at each other, then the older woman said, "We might. But tell us...do you think yourself capable of dealing with this...this god?"

"Vatticas? Well...to tell the truth...I'm not entirely..."

Suddenly, Sara Lee's body tensed up. She stretched her neck out as if she was trying to figure out a new scent.

"What's with you, girl? Got a wood tick in your pussy or something?"

Then they heard a door crash in.


Everything had gone fine until they reached the parlor. The servants Helda Grant had in her employment were a nervous lot to begin with. The sight of three armed FBI agents set them to a crying fit. When Skinner demanded to know where Helda Grant was, they just pointed in the direction of the upstairs parlor from their kneeling position on the floor.

Skinner, Scully and Sally scrambled up the stairs. Skinner's foot snapped the parlor door off its hinges.

There they found Helda and Mr. Rogers sitting at a little table, both sipping tea. "Is there a problem we can help you with?" Helda asked.

Before Skinner could respond with a question or any one of the obscenities sizzling in his head, a gun went off.


"Freeze right there, you little mammy..."

For just a moment, Sara Lee hung against the wall, a big, black-powdered hole next to her. However, even before A.C. could complete his favorite word, Sara Lee flung something at them.

A.C., Ben, Zola and Audbjorg all took a step back, thinking it might have been a knife or a bomb or some such thing. However, it just landed on the ground with a thump. Then they realized what it was...

"Son-of-a-whore!" Ben cried out.

"Where the fuck did she get that?" A.C. asked.

...and they were so shocked that they forgot about Sara Lee. When they looked back up, she was gone.

"Where did she go?" Zola called out.

Skinner stuck his head out and yelled, "I heard her go up to the roof! She's headed for the other side!"

"Shit, that girl is fast," A.C. muttered.

"Ben, you and Zola go cut her off! I'll take the front and Ash will take the back! The rest of you stay here!"

Skinner ducked back inside the house.

Then he looked outside again.

"Is that what I think it is?"

"Yep," A.C. said.

"Jesus."


Sara Lee was fast all right. However, the roof of Helda Grant's mansion was tilted on both sides. She had to run at less than her normal speed just to keep balanced. That gave Zola and Ben time to cut her off before she reached the other wall. She realized this when she reached the roof's end and heard --

"All right, mountain lady, just hold it..."

She jumped back out of sight. Ben fired off his gun, knocking off a tile from the roof.

"Easy, Ben!" Zola warned. "We need her alive!"

"Yeah, but she doesn't need us alive. That's the problem."


Skinner kept watch on the front, his lungs heaving in his chest. He didn't know exactly what to do at this point. They had this woman cornered, but not captured. Sara Lee was capable of just about anything to get out of this trap. He thought about what he had seen on the lawn and shuddered.

Still, the woman should have just enough intelligence to see there was a good chance of her getting killed, even if they did need her to find Alex Marsh. Maybe they could talk some sense into the...

"Stupid mammy-fucking woman, what are you doing?" A.C.'s voice was loud enough to hear from a distance. Of course, he always sounded like that.

"What's going on, A.C.?" Skinner shouted to him.

"That crazy Audbjorg is climbing onto the roof!"



PART TWENTY
WOMANO A WOMANO

As her fingers strained and her tendons stretched, Audbjorg wondered how in the name of a sugar-coated Hell did Sara Lee get up the wall so fast. The answer was obvious -- Sara Lee was fast and strong. Faster and stronger than Audbjorg was.

That was a pretty good reason not to face her directly.

On the other hand, she had an advantage. Anybody else would likely get an arrow up their nose once they reached the rooftop. However, Audbjorg had seen the look in Sara Lee's eyes last night. She had been impressed by how quick Audbjorg had moved and even more impressed by Audbjorg's knife.

Sara Lee wanted that beautiful knife.

And she was willing to fight Audbjorg one-on-one for it.

It was some kind of macho bullshit Zen thing or something. It could also be an advantage.

Of course, Audbjorg wondered if she had enough strength to climb this wall, much less take on a crazed mountain woman. It took a lot of straining, but she finally managed to dig her nails into the roof and haul herself up.

The moment her head cleared the roof, Sara Lee spun in her direction. Audbjorg saw an arrow centered at her forehead.

Then Sara Lee saw who was climbing onto the roof. She grinned her black teeth and shouldered her crossbow. She pulled out her stone knife.

Grunting, Audbjorg pulled herself onto the roof. She had to stand herself up very carefully. Her trembling legs fought to keep her feet steady on the slanted roof.

Sara Lee wagged a finger, beckoning Audbjorg forward.

Why am I doing this? Audbjorg asked herself.

Because it might be the only way of subduing this bitch without putting a bullet in her head.

Audbjorg pulled out her knife. Sara Lee's eyes gleamed as the metal flashed in the sunlight. Then she walked towards the other woman.

Audbjorg stepped up the roof's slant, praying that a higher vantage point would help. Her steps were much slower and cautious. She could feel her knees shake.

Sara Lee kept moving towards Audbjorg, turning her body to the left as Audbjorg climbed backwards up the roof. Sara Lee's back crouched as she moved, her face still grinning.

Then she stopped.

Audbjorg stopped. A breeze of wind pushed against her like a hand.

Sara Lee tapped a finger on her knife's hilt. She looked up at the woman before her.

Then she ran towards Audbjorg with a scream pulled from the darkest part of the forest, a scream to be heard over a bloody carcass, a scream that should only be heard under a full moon. She ran up the roof as easily as if they were stairs. Audbjorg realized that she only had one chance to defend herself or that stone knife would pierce her belly.

She lifted her knife.

It went bang.

No, it couldn't have gone bang. It was a knife, not a gun.

Sara Lee's scream vanished from her mouth, but it remained open. She spun around, clutching her keister. Audbjorg could see blood leaking through Sara Lee's animal-skin pants.

Sara Lee was staring at Walter Skinner who had his feet on a windowsill, one hand on a rain gutter and the other holding a gun.

Okay, Audbjorg thought. Here's my chance.

She slid down the roof, reversing her grip on her knife. Sara Lee turned just in time to get the hilt of Audbjorg's knife right between the eyes. Sara Lee fell backwards, her knife spilling from her hand. Audbjorg also fell down backwards with one arm around Sara Lee. They tumbled towards the edge, only one of them conscious.

Audbjorg switched her grip on the knife again and stabbed the roof as she dug in her heels. A long gash opened in the wake of the screeching knife. It slowed the two women down, but not enough.

That left it up to Skinner. He tossed his gun into the rain gutter, braced himself against the wall and stretched out his free arm. Over two hundred fifty-pounds of female flesh collided with him. The rain gutter creaked. The stone knife fell off the roof and buried itself head first in the ground.

They would learn if everything would hold in one second.

Everything held.

Both Audbjorg and Skinner let out a sigh. Skinner asked, "Was this the plan you had in mind?"

"Not really." Audbjorg gave Skinner an askance look. "Did you think I couldn't handle it on my own? You thought you had to come rescue the helpless woman?"

"Yes."

"Bless you."


A little while later, Skinner walked into the parlor with his bleeding hands and dirty clothes. Scully was still waiting for him, still holding a gun on Mr. Rogers and Helda Grant who were still drinking tea.

"We've got her," Skinner told Scully, then turned to Rogers and Helda. "You two come with us."

"If we must," Mr. Rogers said. He stood up and held out an elbow for Miss Grant. She attached herself to it with a smile. "Lead the way," Mr. Rogers informed the agents.

Skinner and Scully looked at each other, then directed their prisoners out of the parlor. They left, not knowing two things about the room.

One was that there was a hole near the base of the wall. A friend of Helda Grant's had used this hole to escape. It slipped through hidden passages to the outside. Hidden in the grass, it watched as Helda and Mr. Rogers were lead into a car while a gagged-and-bound Sara Lee was loaded into a pickup truck.

It had no idea where Miss Grant was being taken, but it knew how to follow her. It could always sense where she was and what was needed to help her. It slid in the grass and make its way carefully into town, hiding in ditches and garbage cans. It was coming for her and no one should get in its way.

The other secret of Helda's parlor was a secret compartment in the floor. Helda kept money and jewels in this place. There was just enough room for Mr. Rogers to hide something else inside.

"Crap," the bottle muttered in the darkness. "That cocksucker better not leave me in here."


With Skinner and Scully almost pushing him from behind, Chief McDonald walked in the Final jailhouse. In one of the two cells, Sara Lee was sitting on a cot, handcuffs around her wrists and a thick bandage over her right buttock. When she saw McDonald, she growled. McDonald backed up as far as he could.

"There's your legend," Skinner said.

Sara Lee turned to Skinner. "You cheated me," she said in a low voice. "You and that nigra whore."

"That's right. We did."

Sara Lee jumped off the cot and wedged her face between the bars. "Ah'm gonna do all kinds of things to you," she hissed.

Scully walked up to Sara Lee, her face inches away from the mountain woman's. "Where's Alex Marsh?" she asked.

"Why do you want to know?"

"We need to talk to him."

Sara Lee grinned. "You can try, but ah doubt he gonna say much."

Scully hesitated before asking, "Is he dead?"

"Nah. But he ain't making much sense right now."

Scully looked at Skinner. They were both thinking the same thing -- that the object Sara Lee had tossed away and was now being kept in a freezer belonged to Alex Marsh.

Scully turned back to the prisoner. "Then, it won't do you any harm to tell you where he is."

Sara Lee thought about it, then shrugged. "Reckon it won't." She gave the location of Alex in the forest. As the FBI agents and McDonald left, she howled like a wolf at Skinner's back .

"Sweet Lord in heaven," McDonald moaned. "That woman is barely human."

"Feel like cooperating now, Chief?" Scully asked.

McDonald looked down at the floor and shuffled on his feet.

"Good. Because you only have two cells and we have three prisoners. We plan to deliver Mr. Rogers to the other cell."

"And...uh...what about M-M-Miss..."

"Helda Grant? We were hoping that she could stay at your house."

McDonald's head bounced up. "What?" he shrieked. "My house?"

"The woman is over seventy," Skinner said. "I doubt she'll be much trouble to hold."

McDonald's hands fidgeted.

"It would be in your best interest to assist us," Skinner said. "I would also advise that you send officers to the location described by Sara Lee. While you're at it, it would be wise to drop this pointless investigation into the Burnside family."

Skinner leaned his face towards McDonald's until their noses were almost touching. "In other words, get your shit- covered head out of your ass right now."


The Final police did find Alex Marsh. However, Sara Lee was correct in their assessment. He was alive, but he wasn't much on conversation. The policemen didn't feel much like talking to him, either. They could only stare in fright and revulsion at the bright red wound on Alex's crotch.

"Sh-sh-she ate th-them," Alex babbled. "She ate my balls, she ate my balls, she ate, she ate..."

They wondered about telling him that they recovered his penis. Apparently, Sara Lee had devoured the testicles, but had kept the rest of Alex's sexual organs for a late-night snack.

"She ate, she ate..."


"So, we're back on square one," Skinner told Scully after hearing about the discovery of Alex.

Scully slowly nodded, then said, "Whatever information he had, I'm sure Sara Lee got it out of him before she...well.."

"Yeah."

"We either have to find some way of dealing with her..."

"Which is unlikely."

"...or find a new route to go."

Skinner looked at Scully. Even since Mulder's "death," she had been as focused and determined as ever, but he wondered...

"How long did Audbjorg say Mulder could...remain in this state?"

"Three days. After that, Mulder will, in her words, 'start to smell funny.'"

"You know, I'm having a hard time accepting all of Audbjorg's story."

"She risked her life to capture Sara Lee, sir."

"I know. But how does she know all this information?"

Scully shook her head. "She's not saying how. But I believe her."

"You do?"

Scully looked straight at Skinner and said, "If she's lying, then Mulder is just dead, isn't he, sir?"



PART TWENTY-ONE
AUDBJORG'S SECRET

Sue and Etta hadn't moved an inch since they had taken up positions by Mulder's bed. When Nadine had asked what they were doing, they had replied, "We're listening."

From his own unique position, Mulder watched the two girls and asked Meyer, "Can they hear us?"

"Possibly," Meyer said, then belched and popped open another can. "They can pick up...I don't know...certain things in the air."

"Maybe we can try to..."

"Mulder, Mulder, Mulder...we've been through this. You can't relay any information to Scully or anybody else."

Mulder threw away a can. "This is fucking ridiculous! What kind of stupid rule book are you working from?"

"Hey, don't take it up with me, son. Talk to the people who wrote the rules."

Mulder ran a hand through his hair and looked around at the white clouds encircling him. "Well, maybe I ought to do just..."

Suddenly, Sue and Etta let out a gasp. Mulder said, "What? What happened?"

Meyer pointed and Mulder looked.

One of the fingers on Mulder's body was twitching. Sue and Etta backed away from the body, hugging each other as they pressed against a wall.

The finger continued to twitch for some time, then stopped.

"What the hell was that?" Mulder yelled.

Meyer chugged a big dose of beer and said, "I don't know. But I have a feeling some cocksucker is trying to make things more difficult."


As it turned out, Scully didn't need Sara Lee's help. She figured out who took the Swamp Bible by herself.

After Alex Marsh had been carted away to the nearest mental ward, Scully dug hard into any possibility for information. Skinner had gone off to question Audbjorg to find out where she was getting *her* information. Scully hoped that Skinner would not get...distracted. She had picked up the vibes going between the A.D. and the mysterious hitch-hiker. She hoped that she wouldn't have tell Skinner not to let his personal feelings cloud his judgment. Damn, that would be a switch.

In any case, Scully first went to Cynthia Rogers and Eric Gray. All she found were two very frightened teenagers with no leads to give. She then went to the tree where Alex had hidden the Swamp Bible. A search around there also turned up bumpkus.

It had been in the late afternoon that Scully had gone looking for any clues. The sun was melting into a red sky as she paced around the tree.

Oh, Mulder, where are you when I need you? she thought. In situations like these, you could make some crazy leap of logic and we will find a new trail to follow. I can't think like that. Christ, I can barely think at all. I keep seeing you on that bed and I keep remembering the coldness of your skin and I want to believe that Audbjorg can bring you back, but I...

Scully closed her eyes and leaned against the tree.

Focus, focus, she told herself. Is there anything that I've missed? Who would want the book? Who would have an opportunity to get it?

She remained leaning on the tree for a long time. The sun went down another mile in the sky.

Then she remembered something. Or, rather, somebody.

It took her awhile to track George Kane down to Sarah Collins's Bed and Breakfast. However, Kane was not to be found, even though all of his clothes were still in his rented room.

"I don't know where that son-of-a-bitch is," Sarah told Scully. "If he's not back by tomorrow night, I'm selling his crap to the Salvation army."

"Did you notice that he had a book with him?"

"He's a writer, ain't he? They're always supposed to be reading or some shit."

"I mean, a book that looked...strange in some way."

Sarah squinted her eyes as she ransacked her memory. "Yeah. He came in late one night carrying a big brown book in his arms. He was holding it like a baby." Sarah shook her head. "Writers. They're all a bunch of fuck-ups, if you ask me. Now, are we done? I gotta go feed my damn cats."

Scully immediately dialed up Skinner on her cellular phone. "Sir, I got a lead..."

"Agent Scully, I need you to..."

"Wait, wait, WAIT. I got a lead on the book."

"That's good, but you need to get over to the Burnside house right now. They've got trouble. As in a lynch mob."


Before Skinner had learned about the lynch mob, he had been in the panties of Audbjorg and she had just revealed her major secret. This was what lead up to this latest development.

Audbjorg had gone back to her little room in The Unspeakable Blues Bar. She needed a rest and a clean-up after her encounter with Sara Lee. She was stretched out on a cot and listening to music from a tape player when someone knocked on the front door. She grumbled until she saw who was on the outside.

"Skinner!"

"Audbjorg," he replied with the smallest of smiles.

Audbjorg saw Malcolm Burnside's car outside. "A loan?" she asked.

"Well, I need the transportation."

"Uh, that's right. You do.."

"Mind if I come in?"

"Of course not."

Skinner stepped into the bar. He heard the music. "Hey, Billy Joe Shaver," he commented.

"And his son Eddy."

Skinner followed the music to the little room. Audbjorg followed the big man and watched him as he listened to the tape player.

"All the saints rejoice in heaven," Billy Joe sang. "when the fallen angels fly..."

Skinner turned to Audbjorg. His expression was cautious, but not hostile.

"I appreciate your help in everything," he said.

"And I appreciate the way you bailed me out. That's the second time, actually."

Skinner nodded.

Audbjorg took a few steps towards him. "I mean it," she said quietly. "I'm grateful."

"Grateful enough to tell me everything?"

Audbjorg looked down at the floor and crossed her arms over her chest. "You still don't trust me, huh?"

"I trust what I've seen. But I haven't seen the whole picture."

"The whole picture is more than you can imagine."

"Well, I've never had the best imagination."

Audbjorg opened her mouth, then closed it. She shook her head.

"Hey," Skinner said and touched her on the cheek. It was a gesture that surprised them both, but he didn't withdraw it and she didn't ask him to lower his hand.

"Just tell me," he said.

Audbjorg felt metal against her cheek. She took Skinner's hand and gently pulled it away so she could look at his fingers.

She cleared her throat and said, "You're married."

"Uh, no. I'm not."

Audbjorg looked straight at him and said, "So, why do you wear the ring?"

"I guess I have a hard time letting go."

Audbjorg smiled and said, "Or maybe you use it to keep away the ladies."

Skinner looked back at her. "Is it working?" he asked.

Audbjorg's hand drifted up Skinner's arm and touched him on the lips.

"No," she whispered.

That's when the buttons started to pop. That's when the lips pressed together and the buttocks got fondled. That's when skins heated up like furnaces, the cot creaked and Audbjorg found out that Skinner was big all over.

I'm nuts, Skinner thought. I already have to explain to the bureau how my car got blown up. How would they react if they found out I was having sex with the person who blew it up?

But he was also thinking about how right this felt. No woman had ever stirred him like this since his divorce. He wanted nothing more than just to hold Audbjorg and be inside her.

She was feeling the same way about him. This is when it's worth it, she thought. This is where the road should always you.

Her feelings of arousal and joy continued until she saw herself floating next to the ceiling.

"Audbjorg?"

She stared at the floating Audbjorg dressed in a shiny white gown with wings spread behind her. The floating Audbjorg looked back at her with a sad face.

"Audbjorg? What is it?"

Skinner stopped thrusting himself into Audbjorg and looked where she was staring. He could see nothing. He turned back to her. Her expression told of a person who has just gotten a rude shock. "Talk to me," he pleaded.

She closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, her vision was gone.

She let out a long sigh and said, "Damn."

"Audbjorg, what's going on?"

Audbjorg pulled herself out from under Skinner and sat on the edge of the cot. He sat himself up next to her, waiting for her to speak.

"Skin...Walter?"

"Yes?"

"There's something about me you should know."

"That's already been established. So, what is it?"

Audbjorg turned to him and said, "I used to be an angel."


And while Scully was investigating and Audbjorg was telling Skinner that she used to be angel, Sara Lee and Mr. Rogers were having a talk.

"Miss Lee, is it possible for you to stop pacing?"

"Shut the hell up. Ah ain't used to bein' locked up."

"Neither am I. But pacing around will only make you more agitated."

Mr. Rogers heard the pacing continue in the neighboring cell for a minute longer. Then the pacing stopped and a bar rang out as Sara Lee kicked it.

"You see?" Mr. Rogers said.

"How can you jus' sit there in yore cell and take all this shit?" Sara Lee asked.

"Well, I haven't grown up in the woods like you have. I'm more used to confined spaces. Furthermore, there's nothing we can do right now except wait."

Sara Lee threw herself onto the cot. She was quiet for several moments before she asked, "So, that bottle is yore boss, huh?"

"Yes, it is. Or, rather, the soul of Julius Grant is my boss."

"Why do you follow that piece of shit, anyway?"

"I could ask the same question about your allegiance to his sister."

"Ah made a promise to her. And whatever they say about Sara Lee, they won't say she broke her promises."

"Hmmm. Well, I have a similar arrangement with Mr. Grant. By the way, speaking of his sister, are you sure her...her friend will be able to help us get out of here?"

"Yep. Miz Grant...she got a real thing goin' on with Bunyan. We should be out of here soon. Of course, you got that sumbitch preacher to help you..."

"No. I think his influence with Chief McDonald has reached his limits. Your capture by the FBI had embarrassed the police chief greatly and he is unwilling to antagonize them anymore."

"That goddamned bald-headed shit-eater," Helda muttered. "Ah'm gonna get him and that black bitch. Ah'm gonna take her knife and..."

"Yes, yes, I know."

There was another pause, then Sara Lee said, "Mr. Rogers?"

"What?"

"You got a purty mouth."

Mr. Rogers looked at the wall separating him from the mountain woman. "I hope that's not an indication of your desire to eat me," he said.

"Nope. Just sayin' -- you got a purty mouth."

"Then...thank you, Miss Lee."


Skinner rested his head in his hands, not looking at Audbjorg.

"Walter?"

"Give me a moment, okay?"

Precisely one moment went by.

Then Skinner looked up and said, "So, you used to be an angel."

Audbjorg lifted an eyebrow.

"And, yes, I do believe you. That's life with Mulder and Scully. They can make you believe anything."

"Well...you should believe it. It's true."

"So, how does one become an 'ex-angel?' You get kicked out of heaven or something?"

"No. As a matter of fact, I quit."

"Excuse me?"

Audbjorg sighed and laid back down on the cot, her hips pressed against Skinner's back. "I quit," she repeated.

"How the hell do you quit being an angel?"

"You go up to God and say, 'I quit.' If He says 'all right,' then you get transformed into a human and tossed down onto the earth."

"But...why?"

"Why does anybody quit their job? I was dissatisfied."

"With being an angel."

Audbjorg pulled back a leg and kicked Skinner in the side. "That's what I'm telling you, you idiot!"

"Hey, hey, wait..." He pressed his hands onto Audbjorg's shoulders and leaned down to her. "I said I believe you. But have a little patience with a mere human who has trouble understanding these things."

A half-smile came to Audbjorg's lips. "Not exactly 'mere,'" she said as she reached over and tweaked Skinner's penis.

Skinner gave her a long kiss. When their lips finally parted, he murmured into her ear, "Now, tell me why you were..."

His cellular phone rang.

"Fuck!" Audbjorg declared. "Do you FBI agents carry those goddamned things everywhere?"

Reluctantly, Skinner answered the phone. That's how he found out about the lynch mob.

Which takes us now to the Burnside house...



PART TWENTY-TWO
ACE IN THE HOLE

While a mob gathered outside the Burnside house with ropes and guns, Chief McDonald dithered.

When one of his deputies called up and told him about the mob, McDonald said, "I'll be there in a minute." Then he hung up the phone and began to pace around the kitchen. His wife and son were at the church for a Bible group. He was alone in the house.

Alone in the house except for the old woman locked away in a room. (And someone else he didn't know about.)

He paced and he thought -- or he did a reasonable approximation of thought. He knew why the mob was outside the Burnside house. They thought that he had screwed the pooch. They believed that he had caved into the influences of A.C.'s money and meddling FBI agents. They were out to extract the justice McDonald should have gotten.

Maybe he ought to let them. Hell, he was still convinced that Albert Burnside was responsible for Charlotte's death. On the other hand, it wasn't exactly on the up-and-up to let vigilantes get their way.

"Chief McDonald, I'm thirsty!"

McDonald ignored the voice. He ran a hand through his air, wondering how he got into this mess. Well, he had that fat whore Sally Ash to blame in part. However, a lot of the blame had to be put on his own eagerness to arrest Albert Burnside. And why had he been eager?

Because he had wanted his son to be a preacher.

Little Johnny McDonald...by God, that boy had been born to be a preacher. His first word as a child had been "Repent!" He had refused to watch "Sesame Street" on the grounds that it was "occult-influenced." The boy was always trying to spread the gospel to his unsaved classmates. (Once, he got a little too eager. He walked right into the girl's shower room, demanding that they "deny the temptations of the flesh." McDonald had to lean on the school principal to make him understand that when one is filled with the spirit, it can take you anywhere.) Johnny deserved to be the leader of the Final Baptist Church and not Nadine Burnside. The chief didn't care how pretty she was.

"Chief McDonald!"

The appearance of Brother Daniel had felt like God's own answer to the Chief's prayers. With the help of the rich evangelist, Johnny McDonald could not only become the leader of Final's little flock, but even get his own TV show. To accomplish this, Chief McDonald had bent over, dropped his pants and let Brother Daniel do as he will.

Now, the televangelist had become an annoyance. He kept insisting that the chief of police release Mr. Rogers again. "You don't understand!" Brother Daniel shrieked. "He's very important to my ministry!" For once, Chief McDonald did not find the voice of Brother Daniel soothing. (In fact, it sounded rather...effeminate.) He sharply informed the evangelist that *he* didn't understand. Maybe you could explain away a briefcase full of money, but there was no way to explain Mr. Rogers's association with that...that...woman in the Final jailhouse. "Well, then, you forget about that perverted little son of yours ever becoming a preacher!" Brother Daniel snarled, then left.

"Chief McDonald!"

To sum up, McDonald was a man trapped between conflicting motivation and different agendas. You could have had more sympathy for him if it weren't the fact he was a cast-iron asshole.

"Chief McDonald, I'm thirsty!"

To top it all off, McDonald had one of the most evil women in the world to look after. However, at that moment, he was just infuriated with her, not scared. Had he been scared, he would have been a lot more cautious.

"Chief McDonald, please!"

He grabbed a glass, filled it up with water, marched to the bedroom where Helda Grant was being kept, unlocked the door, flung it open, saw Miss Grant just sitting in a chair where she looked just like a meek old lady and said, "Here's your damn..."

The McDonald house had a few holes in its walls. Nothing too big, but big enough for Bunyan to get through.

Bunyan had been perched on the door frame when McDonald had entered. It dropped off the frame and onto the police chief's shoulders.

It looped itself around McDonald's neck. The glass shattered on the floor as he tried to pull the cold snake off his throat. Then he saw Bunyan rear its head back, open its mouth and strike.

Helda Grant watched with a detached expression as the police chief writhed on the floor and screamed. It took about a minute before McDonald finally stopped moving. Bunyan detached its fangs from McDonald's bloody face and uncoiled itself from his neck. It slid its way back up into Helda's large dress.

"That's a good boy," she said.


Nadine Burnside looked outside at the father of Charlotte Taft and felt conflicting emotions. On one hand, she sympathized with a man who had lost his only child.

On the other hand, if Mr. Taft took one step towards her son, she would send his brains flying out the back of his skull. It was this latter sentiment that A.C. expressed to the mob standing outside the Burnside house.

"Anyone of you mammy-fuckers take a step forward and I'll blow the shit right out of you!" He asserted this point by sticking his rifle out a window. Malcolm, Zola, Meyer and Ben Hedge had guns aimed at the mob as well, but there was over fifty of them out there with weapons of all kinds. And a long length of rope.

The Burnsides had put in a call to the FBI agents as well as to their friends in town, but it would take time before they could arrive. This mob was ready to charge the house now. Sue and Etta had been hidden away in the closet, but there was no guaranteeing anybody's safety, especially the young man the mob had come for.

"We ain't going anywhere," Mr. Taft replied. "Send Albert out here."

"Mr. Taft, you're making a mistake!" Nadine called out.

"No. You're the one who is making a mistake." The mob growled their assent.

Nadine looked at her husband. He looked back at her.

Then she looked down at the gun in her own hand. She remembered all the arguments she had before with Malcolm about his more aggressive tactics towards the town bullies and racists. She had insisted that shows of love and fellowship went farther than violence.

But what do you do when violence seems to be all that's left?

She lifted the gun.

"Put it away, Mom. That way is not for you."

The family quickly turned to see Albert. He looked tired, but he also looked...resolved.

"Albert, get back under cover!" Malcolm barked.

"It's over, Dad." He said this with a finality that couldn't be denied.

Malcolm stared at his son, then he shook his head. "No. Forget it."

"We have to think of the whole family. We have to think of Mom and Zola and Sue and Etta and A.C. and...well, everybody."

"Albert, you can't be serious," Meyer whispered.

"It's the only way. I have to go outside."

"Forget it!" A.C. roared. "That's one stupid mammy..."

"A.C., be quiet."

A.C. shut his mouth.

Ben said, "Albert...we can't just let you go..."

Albert smiled a little. "I thought you were the realist, Ben."

Outside, the mob had started a chant. "BRING HIM OUT! BRING HIM OUT! BRING HIM OUT!"

Nadine touched Albert on the cheek. She looked into her son's eyes. They were sad and frightened, but there was also a kind of peace in them.

"We would all die for you," she told him.

"I know. But you shouldn't have to."

"Nobody's dying here!" Malcolm snapped. "Help is coming..."

A rock was tossed against the front door, followed immediately by another.

"No time," Albert said. He reached up and squeezed his mother's hand. Zola closed her eyes, but the tears leaked through.

"I'm going to do what I should have done before," Albert said.

A window burst into shards of glass as a rock flew through it.

"I have to go. Now. Goodbye."

Albert gave his mother's hand one last squeeze. She watched him walk up to the front door, tears coursing down her face but she was smiling. Malcolm watched with a dazed sense of helplessness. Meyer closed his eyes and pressed his hands against his head. Ben held onto Zola. A.C. trembled with rage.

Albert gripped the doorknob, took a breath and began to open the door.

Then the damnedest thing happened. Someone else walked into the living room.


Skinner and Audbjorg arrived before Scully and the friends of the Burnside family did. They found a very, very angry group of white people at the Burnside residence. There were a few members of the Final police department present, trying to calm things down with not much luck and a lot of nervousness. Their nervousness was intensified by seeing members of their own department in the mob.

Skinner and Audbjorg looked at each other, trying to figure out a way of handling this crowd without getting lynched themselves.

Then they heard the front door of the Burnside house open.

They both turned.

Agent Fox Mulder stepped out onto the porch.

He didn't look so good.

His eyes stared straight ahead with a hollow look. His movements were slow and heavy. The red light of the sinking sun washed over his pale skin.

At the door, Albert Burnside looked at Mulder in astonishment. The mob looked at the FBI agent as well, not knowing what the hell was this all about.

"Agent Mulder!" Skinner called out. Mulder kept going forward as if he hadn't heard his A.D.

"What's with him?" Skinner asked Audbjorg.

"I...I don't know."

Finally, Mulder had crossed the lawn and reached the edge of the mob. The mob had the choice to part ways or stop Mulder. One of them chose the latter.

"Where do you think you're going?" this brave soul demanded as he got in Mulder's way.

Mulder stopped and looked at this man.

He then thrust his hand into the man's belly and pulled out his intestines. Of course, the man screamed as he looked down at those red, wet vines dangling down to his knees.

And, of course, another man shot Mulder.

Mulder was jolted for a moment. There was a long red wound up his back.

Then the wound sealed itself up and Mulder turned his hollow eyes to the man who shot him.

That individual ran. Everybody did. Within a few moments, the whole mob had scurried away, carrying the man with dangling intestines with them.

Mulder looked at the wide space he cleared. The Burnsides slowly stepped onto the porch.

Then, Mulder stepped onto the road and started creeping in his own particular direction. Skinner and Audbjorg inched back as he walked past them.

"Well, that was one weird mammy-fucking way of solving our problem," A.C. observed.

"There's something controlling him," Audbjorg said.

"What do you mean?" Skinner asked as he watched Mulder make his lethargic way down the road.

"I don't know. It's some kind of force..."

Skinner narrowed his eyes. "Vatticas?"

"No. It's...I don't know."

"It's the writer," two voices chimed.

Everybody turned to see Sue and Etta who had made another one of the surprise appearances on the porch.

"Okay. I'll bite. What writer?" Skinner asked.

"The writer with the book," Sue said.

"He's gone strange," Etta explained.

Skinner sighed and said, "You mean, there's actually a strange person in this town?"



PART TWENTY-THREE
COME, ALL YE FAITHFUL

Brother Daniel could feel it all coming apart on him. If Mr. Rogers didn't get out of jail, he was going to reveal the televangelist's secret. Brother Daniel was sure of it, so he had pressured and cajoled and threatened the chief of police. However, that mustachioed son-of-a-bitch...excuse the language, Lord...wouldn't let Mr. Rogers out.

The televangelist had taken refuge in the Temple after the construction workers had gone off for beer and sex. He knelt in the main cathedral. A huge cross was hanging behind the pulpit. Unlike the smooth steel and glass around it, the cross was just two planks of burnt, rotting wood nailed together. Brother Daniel thought that it added a nice little touch of crudity to the place. And wouldn't people be pleased to know where the wood itself came from?

Brother Daniel could take no solace in the Temple, however. He couldn't shake the feeling that something was going wrong. Even injecting himself with his secret substance proved ineffective in calming him down. He couldn't stop thinking that the devil was coming up from behind him.

Slam.

Brother Daniel spun around, leaping off the floor. Only the lights near the cross were on so the visitor at the door was blanketed in shadows.

"Who are you?"

The visitor looked around him. "Nice place you got here."

"I said, who are you, sir?"

The visitor strode down the center aisle. Brother Daniel found himself backing up against the gold-plated altar.

Finally, the visitor reached the light. He was covered in mud. Brown symbols had been drawn over his pale, flabby torso and his grinning face. He only wore stained underwear and a rag tied into a head band. He was carrying a leather- bound book like a newborn baby.

"Do you not recognize me?" he asked.

"N-n-no," Brother Daniel squeaked. "What are you doing here?"

The visitor waved a arm around the cathedral. "Is this not my house?"


Dana Scully joined the caravan behind the plodding Mulder when it reached Main Street. This sluggish parade included Skinner, Audbjorg, Sally Ash, the Burnside clan and anybody else who was curious about the glassy-eyed man leading a line of pedestrians and slow-moving cars.

Scully parked her car by the side and rushed up to Mulder.

"Mulder!"

He paid no attention to her.

"Mulder, can you hear me?"

Apparently, not. Scully kept walking beside him, not daring to touch the man. Skinner had called her up and told her about the damage he had caused.

After waiting for a response but getting none, Scully dropped behind Mulder and walked alongside the car Skinner was driving.

"What the hell is going on?"

"Ask Audbjorg," Skinner told her.

Scully looked at Audbjorg in a way that made the latter woman feel very nervous. "He's under some kind of control," she explained. "I don't know what exactly. The Burnside girls said that it has to do with 'a writer with a book.'"

Scully turned to the pale figure staggering ahead of her and whispered, "George Kane..."

"Who?"

Scully quickly related all she knew about Kane.

"Then he's probably the one responsible for this," Audbjorg said. "No telling what kind of shit you could do with that damn thing."

"But why?" Skinner asked.

"It's like the girls said. He's gone strange. Something like The Swamp Bible could drive a man insane if he didn't handle it properly. And writers aren't the most stable people to begin with."

"So, what do we do now?"

"I say, follow him. Maybe Mulder can lead us to Kane and The Swamp Bible."

"What do you think, Scully?"

Scully just stared at Mulder.

"Agent Scully?"

"I don't know what to think," she said in a faint voice.

"He's not in any danger," Audbjorg assured her. "Whatever spell Kane has got him under, it's protecting him from harm."

Scully nodded.

"And don't worry. I've got the means to shake him out of this, if necessary."

Scully nodded again. She folded her arms across her chest as if she was cold.

Audbjorg leaned next to Skinner and said, "She's kind of sweet on him, isn't she?"

"Everybody loves somebody," Skinner murmured back.

They followed Mulder into the night.


Meanwhile, the Final Police Department was being knocked ass-over-tea cups. First, they learned of the prison break of Helda Grant, Sara Lee and Mr. Rogers, accompanied by the death of Chief McDonald and the guards at the Final jailhouse. All three had been found with red marks around their throats and yellow fang marks on their faces.

Four police officers were sent to Helda Grant's house. All four were later found dead. One had an arrow in his head, another had his throat slashed, the third had his skull crushed and the fourth had his spine snapped and then left in the position of having his mouth around his own penis.

"Well, now that's done," Mr. Rogers said after Sara Lee had completed her work. He and the other two women were standing around the policemen's squad car. Sara Lee had her boots on the back of one of her victims. "We better get going. Miss Grant, I take it that you have a few places we can hide away in..."

"Now, hold on a goat-fucking minute!" the bottle in Mr. Rogers's hands shouted. "We still have that Bible to find!"

"And ah gotta kill sumbody," Sara Lee hissed.

"We'll have time for that later," Mr. Rogers assured them. "Right now, we have to get under cover..."

"This is Officer Johnson with an all-points bulletin," the radio in the squad car crackled. "And I'm here to tell you that there's some weird-ass shit is going down. Over."

"This is Officer Moore," another voice said on the radio. "We've got enough shit to deal with. Chief McDonald is dead. Over."

"Fuck Chief McDonald," Johnson replied. "He was an asshole. Right now, I've got a whole parade of people going through town that includes those cocksuckers from the FBI. And they're all following some pale-skinned son-of-a-bitch who seems to be indestructible. Top that. Over."

"Uh...where are they headed? Over."

"Looks like the Temple. Over."

"Fuck me!" a third voice said, panicky and tense like everybody else. "I've got a call from that Brother Daniel bastard. Says that some crazy fuck with a big leather book is running around there with no clothes on! What in the name of sweet Jesus is going on in this town?"

"A big leather book..." the bottle said.

"And the FBI is headed there," Sara Lee added.

Mr. Rogers looked at Helda Grant. "Perhaps," she said. "it wouldn't hurt to take a quick peek."

The bespectacled man sighed and said, "All right. But let's all be careful."

"I'm not worried," Helda Grant as she patted the slithering bulge under her skirt.


Okay.

Let's see what we got here ...

One dead FBI agent under the control of a crazed writer with a book of magic.

Two other FBI agents and an assistant director in love with an ex-angel who shares the feeling.

The Burnside clan whose members are too numerous and varied to describe briefly.

An evil old lady who keeps a snake under her dress. Her equally evil brother whose soul is kept in a bottle.

A vicious mountain woman and a deceptively bland accountant who seem to be developing their own thing together.

One very nervous televangelist who likes to shoot himself with a yet-to-described substance.

And, oh, there's a bloodthirsty god waiting to get loose from its prison and terrorize the whole world. Don't worry. We haven't forgotten about it.

There's also one more little thing...it has something to do with the new cross in the Temple of the Mississippi...you might have guessed it already...

If you haven't, then you can be sure of one thing. It can only make things worse.



PART TWENTY-FOUR
BROTHER DANIEL'S SECRET

As incredible as it seemed, the Temple of the Mississippi wasn't finished yet. The construction crew was actually going to add more to it. The girders of a new floor poked through on the top. The long white walls were being expanded. One stone angel was being added after another. Every Biblical story was getting its own stained glass window.

"That is one big damn building," Malcolm observed.

Mulder was going right into it. He walked past the unused construction equipment, opened the gilded front door and stepped into the dark interior.

Scully was right behind him. She reached for the door.

A blue spark of electricity popped at her fingertips. She jumped, yelping and shaking her hand.

"Shit," Audbjorg said. "Shit, again. Your writer friend has got a protection aura around this building."

"Can you get past it?" Skinner asked.

"I don't think so. I..."

"Why are you asking her?" Malcolm said. "How does she know this stuff?"

"Because she used to be an angel," Skinner replied.

Everybody looked at Audbjorg.

"Well, you don't have to tell everybody," Audbjorg muttered towards Skinner.

"An angel?" Nadine said.

"Yes, Reverend," Audbjorg said. "An angel."

"Where are your wings?" Ben asked.

"Well, if I'm not an angel, why the fuck would I need wings?"

"Hey, I could use wings right now. I would fly myself right out of..."

Scully whistled. Now, everybody's attention was on her.

"Okay," she said. "Okay. Okay, okay, OKAY. Audbjorg used to be an angel. Under other circumstances, I would consider it so fascinating that I would have an orgasm on the spot. But, right now, I want to get Mulder out of the little fix he's in. Now, you were saying before, Audbjorg?"

Audbjorg cleared her throat. "I was saying...that the aura may not extend all over the whole building. Maybe there's some little entrance Kane has missed."

"Then let's find the blueprints for this place and start looking."

"So, why aren't you an angel..." Zola started to say.

"I said, not now!" Scully snapped.


"You're probably wondering why I brought you here. Well, I tell you, you goddamned pretty boy. To make you do anything I please. I can make you suck my cock and you can't do a termite's shit about it. Oh, yeah.

"You know, I'm not sure how I knew you were...in this state. Guess it's this book. I can sense things now.

"So many things.

"Here's the most important thing I've learned -- I'm a god.

"Yeah, that's right. I'm a god.

"I'M A GOD AND ALL IS RIGHT IN MY WORLD!!

"I mean, why not? That fucking L. Ron Hubbard, he got people to treat him as a god and all he had were those e- meters. He didn't have a goddamned book of spells. Look at what I can do with it already -- take control of your body, put an invisible shield around this big-ass building...

"Have you taken a look at this place? More Siegfried and Roy than Michaelangelo, if you ask me.

"But it's just the right place to start my new religion. My new theology. Call it Kanism.

"All right, why are you here? It's very simple, Mr. Mulder. You insulted me. You insulted me as a writer and as a human being so I'm going to make you pay, you big-nosed faggot. I'm going to make everyone who ever insulted my books eat a big old shit sandwich. I'll force them into gladiator fights for my amusement. I'll shove their own reviews up their ass. I'll nail them to the walls of libraries.

"And that's just for starters.

"From this spot, I will gather in my disciples. I will show them the strength of my power. I will give them miracles to enliven their souls. Then they will go forth and spread my word. Anyone who doesn't acknowledge my greatness will be punished. Everyone shall know the name of George Kane, know that he is the Almighty, know that he will now write his book on the paper of their lives.

"Damn, I feel good. I could really go for a blow job right now.

"And I know just who I want to give it to me.

"Not you, dummy. I was just kidding earlier.

"Maybe.

"But I know who I really want."


Scully decided the best place to start looking for blueprints was in that long, shiny trailer. Lights could be seen glowing behind the windows as Audbjorg and Scully walked over there.

"You seemed to be taking this in stride, Agent Scully," Audbjorg commented.

"What in stride?"

"Well...you know. Everything. Vatticas, your partner as a zombie, me being an ex-angel..."

"Audbjorg, once this is over, I am going to crawl into the nearest corner and suck my thumb for a week. Right now...I just want to save Mulder."

"Can't argue with that."

They reached the trailer. The door was locked. Scully called out, "Excuse me, but we're..."

"Go away!" a voice squawked back.

Audbjorg and Scully looked at each other.

Brother Daniel was just about to shove the needle into his arm when the door was kicked in. He froze before he could inject himself as he stared at the intruders with a red face and bulging eyes.

"Aw, Christ, he's a junkie..." Audbjorg said.

"No, I'm not!" Brother Daniel shrieked. "Get out before I..."

Scully placed her hands on Brother Daniel's desk and said, "Do you have any blueprints for the Temple?"

Brother Daniel looked into the very serious face of the FBI agent. He pointed a shaking finger at a filing cabinet. Audbjorg walked over there and began searching.

Scully spotted the small bottle on Brother Daniel's desk. She shook her head and sighed. "Right now, I don't care about any of your habits." She picked up the bottle before Brother Daniel could snatch it away. "But you're a self- proclaimed man of good and you shouldn't be..."

Then Scully saw what was written on the bottle's label. She was still staring at it when Audbjorg came back with a copy of the Temple's blueprints.

"Okay, here we..."

"Audbjorg, could you take those back to Skinner?"

Audbjorg looked at Scully. It was obvious that the FBI agent wanted to be alone with Brother Daniel.

After Audbjorg left, Scully said, "You know, I promised myself not to slow down for anything. I wouldn't care how weird it was. I would just keep focused on my main goal and not wait for explanations to anything strange that I saw.

"However..."

She held the bottle marked "MALE HORMONES" in Brother Daniel's face.

"...I'm just dying to hear the story behind this."


Oh, have mercy.

You have to understand.

When the Lord calls upon you, you have to follow His command right down to the fine print at the bottom of the contract. Of course, it's an honor and a privilege and a miracle to be called upon, but it's also a *responsibility.* What the Lord says, you do. Have mercy, but you better.

Before I was called upon to do the Lord's bidding, I was coming to realize how empty my life was. I was successful and respected in my field. I had money. I had friends and a good lover. Inside my soul, however, was a pit as hollow as a thimble and deep as the oceans.

One day, the Lord came unto me and gave me my new calling in life. He said, "Go forth and spread My word. Teach the Gospel to every corner of the planet. Share the message of Jesus Christ with everyone and do it with fire and flare and conviction!

"But...

"Keep this in mind...

"Who were the apostles of Christ? Men.

"Who were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Men.

"Who have been all the great prophets and leaders in the Bible? Who did I send to free the Hebrews from Egypt? Who did I make leaders of Israel? Who have I appointed to be the messenger of my word over and over again?

"Men.

"I have chosen you to be my messenger, Danielle Thorton. But you must do it as a man. If you want to be a true prophet, you must become a man. You must leave femininity behind and embrace the rough and hairy ways of men.

"Become a man, Danielle Thorton. Only then will you become a true disciple."


"So, that's what I became," Brother Daniel said. "Lost my old identity and then got the operation. Resurfaced as Brother Daniel, a true *man* of God, have mercy. And I've lived the life and the word ever since."

Scully looked at the televangelist.

Brother Daniel squirmed in his chair. "You won't...you won't tell anybody, will you?"

Scully looked some more.

Then she placed the bottle on the desk and walked out. Brother Daniel folded his trembling hands on the desk and stared at the bottle with a sad look.


"Hey, Scully," Audbjorg said. "What happened between you and..."

"I don't want to talk about it."

Audbjorg looked at Scully, then shrugged. She returned to her study of the blueprints with Skinner holding a flashlight over them and the Burnsides gathered around. "All right," she said. "I think we might have a..."

"BRING THE WARRIORESS TO ME!"

Now, that got everybody's attention. The voice boomed out from the Temple like a ten-ton cannonball. Some people were knocked off their feet.

"BRING THE AFRICAN WARRIORESS! BRING HER TO ME THAT SHE MIGHT SATISFY ME!"

"Who the fuck is that?" Ben cried out.

"That's George Kane!" Scully called out over the din.

"He must be using a voice-projection spell!" Audbjorg shouted.

"SHE MUST COME TO SATISFY HER WHITE MASTER! SHE MUST COME TO SERVICE ME WITH HER AFRICAN WAYS!"

"You know," Meyer said. "I'm detecting a bit of racism in this man's words."

"What is this mammy-fucker talking about?" A.C. demanded. "What 'African warrioress?'"

"SHE IS THE ONE WITH THE MIGHTY KNIFE!" Kane's voice thundered.

"Oh...my...God," Audbjorg said.

"What?" Skinner said.

"I think...he's talking about me."

"COME TO ME, AFRICAN WARRIORESS! SHOW ME YOUR JUNGLE WAYS!"

Audbjorg placed her face in her hands.

"Audbjorg?" Skinner said. "What is it?"

The ex-angel sighed. "I think I just figured out a way to stop this guy. But it's going to be extremely embarrassing for me."



PART TWENTY-FIVE
THE NATIVES ARE RESTLESS

"Ah wanna kill 'em now."

"Just wait, my lamb."

"No, ah wanna kill..."

"Sara Lee, please be patient," Mr. Rogers said. To the surprise of Helda and Julius Grant, Sara Lee became silent.

Mr. Rogers watched the crowd outside the Temple of Mississippi with his binoculars. His gang was located far enough away to be hidden and close enough to observe.

"What are they doing?" Julius asked.

"They seemed to be trying to get into the Temple. Something is blocking their way, but I'm not sure what it is."

"The Swamp Bible..." the bottle whispered. "My book is inside that building, I just know it."

"*Your* book?" Helda said.

"Oh, don't get into fucking semantics, Helda."

"Hm," Mr. Rogers said.

"What now?"

"They appear to be ripping a woman's clothes off."


Skinner couldn't watch this. It was bad enough just to hear the ripping of fabric.

After getting enough of Audbjorg's skin exposed, mud was spread on her cheeks and stomach in what looked like suitably exotic designs. "There," Meyer said. "You look like a cast member of 'Xena, Warrior Princess." He smiled at Skinner. "You can turn around now, sir."

Skinner turned and groaned to see the cleavage torn open on Audbjorg's shirt. "I thought you would like this look," Audbjorg said.

"I don't like it at all. And if that fucking writer lays one finger on you..."

"Why are you so upset?" Meyer asked, then he let out a mock-gasp. "Don't tell me there's some miscegenation going on."

"Shut up, Meyer," Skinner and Audbjorg said.

"As plans go, this one...is a little strange," Zola commented.

"The situation is a little strange," Audbjorg replied. "Scully, your phone?"

Scully turned over her phone. Audbjorg put in her back pocket, looked at the front door, took a breath and then cried out --

"Ooga-booga! Jaguga-haguga-maguga!"

At first, silence was the response.

Then --

"IS THAT YOU, MY AFRICAN WARRIORESS?"

"Bongo-bongo!"

"'Bongo-bongo?'" Ben said.

"Shh!"

"YOU MAY ENTER! ENTER AND GIVE ME PLEASURE!"

Audbjorg reached a careful hand to the door. No shock greeted her fingers. She opened the door, took one last look at Skinner and went inside.


"We might have an opportunity," Mr. Rogers said. He put away his binoculars and got out something from a satchel bag.


Cold air ran across Audbjorg's naked thighs. She stepped on light feet across the linoleum floor and looked around at the Temple.

She saw many stores with signs like "PURE WHOLESOME VIDEOS," "HOLY FRIED CHICKEN," "BORN-AGAIN PETS" and "BIBLES! BIBLES! BIBLES!" A cross covered with bulbs stood in the middle of an empty fountain. The tables of a food court had cushions underneath for praying on the floor. Brother Daniel's smiling face was featured on a hundred cardboard cut-outs.

This isn't a temple, Audjborg thought. It's a fucking mall. If Jesus was here, he would be kicking so much ass...

"COME AND PLEASURE ME, MY AFRICAN WARRIORESS!"

Audbjorg sighed and headed for the voice.


She was everything that he wanted her to be. With her ripped clothes and jungle eyes, she was the deepest fantasy of his id.

She had entered the main cathedral, but stopped before walking down the aisle. She hunched down and growled at Kane, making a show of her great knife.

Kane chuckled. "Oh, you simple jungle women. So strong yet so naive." He held up The Swamp Bible. "There is nothing you can do to harm me. Put your knife away."

He watched her eyes stare at him, shining so brightly in the dark. He smiled back at her, letting her know who was master.

Then she stuck her knife into the floor. It stood upright like a flagpole.

"Good, good. Now, come here."

She crawled across the floor towards Kane, her fine muscles rolling and stretching. A red hunger was in her eyes. His penis felt like it was going to tear through his underwear. He hoped that it didn't ejaculate before this beautiful African warrioress could even touch him.

Suddenly, she stopped. She turned her heads towards the other man in the cathedral -- the one with the pale skin and the hollow eyes, standing motionless.

She went over to the zombie. Kane laughed again to see the curiosity in her eyes. "Yes, my dear. This is just a sample of what your master can do."

She stood up on her legs and sniffed the zombie. She seemed to be whispering words in his ear.

"Enough of that," Kane said. "Come to me."

She looked at Kane, then got back down on her hands and knees. She went across the remaining few feet between them. Then she knelt before him, awaiting for his command. Her expression was so obedient and so submissive.

Kane could wait no longer. His panting lungs felt like they were going to pop open. Sweat bathed his skin. His penis was like a maniac struggling in a straightjacket. He shoved down his underwear to his ankles and yelled out, "SHOW ME THE WAYS OF THE JUNGLE, MIGHTY WARRIORESS!"

He closed his eyes and readied for the touch of lips and tongue.

Instead, he heard --

"Excuse me?"

He opened his eyes. The zombie was now standing a foot away from Kane with a very cross expression.

"Why don't you suck *my* dick, you asshole?" the zombie suggested before knocking Kane out.


Skinner's cellular phone rang. He looked very relieved when he heard the caller. "Let's go," he told the others and everybody entered the Temple.

Three people and one glass bottle followed.


Before Mulder's ghost returned to his body, he could feel himself getting pulled back. "Hey, look at this!" he said to Spiegelman.

"It's okay, then," Spiegelman observed. "Looks like things are straightening themselves out."

"Anything I need to tell the others?" Mulder asked as he faded away.

"I don't think so."

"What about Sally?"

Spiegelman hesitated, then said, "Nah. Anything I want to say is between me and her."

"I got you."

Spiegelman toasted Mulder with a beer car. "Good luck to you there, Mulder. Hope things go all right."

"You know...I actually think they will. Maybe we..."

Then, Mulder was completely gone. Spiegelman sighed and was about to sip another beer. Then he looked into the world of the living and cried out, "Shit and tarnation!" He had been so busy focusing on Sally, Audbjorg and the rest that only now had he noticed the people sneaking up on them.

"Mulder, come back! There's something I've got to tell you!"

Mulder was long gone, though. He was back among the living.

But maybe he would return soon.


"Damn," Skinner said as he looked at the prone body of George Kane. "I wanted to do that."

"That was Mulder," Audbjorg explained. "He punched out Kane before I could do anything."

Mulder said, "You weren't the one who got his ass hauled across the...oh, hi, Scully." He looked down at the red- haired woman who had grabbed him in a hug. He smiled and put his arms around her.

A.C. looked down at George Kane and grimaced. "Shit, somebody pull up that mammy-fucker's drawers."

"I wouldn't touch that man's underwear with over mitts," Zola said.

Skinner took off his trenchcoat and hung it over Audbjorg. He squeezed her shoulders, his eyes begging to know if...

"I'm all right, Walter," she said with a smile.

"Walter?" Ben said. "Key-rap..."

"Shut up, Ben. And I am all right, especially now that we've got this."

She held up the Swamp Bible.

Everybody just stared at it for a moment.

Then Albert walked over to her. He placed a hand on The Swamp Bible. He didn't seem to know whether to kiss it or tear it into shreds.

Nadine placed a hand on Albert's shoulders. "Everything's going to be all right now, Ben. We have what we need. Just trust in God and we'll..."

An arrow spiked through the head of Walter Skinner. He fell backwards to the ground, the arrow's iron head snapping off as it hit the floor.

"Yore soul may belong to God, but yore ass belongs to me."



PART TWENTY-SIX
CONVERGEMENT

"Where the fuck am I?" Skinner asked.

"You're dead, Mister Skinner," Spiegelman told him. "Have a beer."

Skinner stared at Spiegelman and the offered can in his hand, then said, "I'm dead?"

"Well, when you get an arrow through your skull, it does tend to affect your health dramatically."

Skinner looked around him and found...a hole? A window? Whatever it was, it enabled him to look into the main cathedral of the Temple of Mississippi. He could observe his body lying on the floor with an arrow jutting from his forehead. He could see Mulder, Scully, Sally Ash and the Burnside family ducking for cover behind the pews. Only Audbjorg didn't move. She just stood and stared at Skinner's body. Zola had to grab her and push her down to the floor.

"Damnation," Skinner said.

"Yeah, it's a bitch," Spiegelman observed. "Sure you don't want a beer?'


Audbjorg stared at the blood bubbling up around the arrow in Skinner's head. She dimly registered the sound of her knife being pulled from out of the floor.

"Ah got yore knife now, you nigra whore," Sara Lee said from the dark part of the church. "Maybe ah will use it to slice me a hamburger out of yore boyfriend's hide."

"Sara Lee," Malcolm called out, his voice sounding more firm and strong than ever. "you seemed to have miscalculated the odds here. There's a lot of us here and we've got guns. You've only got yourself and your bow and arrow."

"Not exactly," a voice said, then chips of wood burst off the top of the pews in a long line of tiny explosions. Those behind the pews pressed themselves on the floor as flat as possible.

"That was the effect of a very powerful automatic rifle," Mr. Rogers informed them, also hiding in the shadows. "I estimate that I could kill four of you before your less powerful weaponry could take me down."

"And then there's the matter of Bunyan," Helda Grant added.

"Bunyan?" Sally said. "Who the hell is Bunyan?"

"I imagine Bunyan is a snake," Meyer suggested.

"How do you know?"

"Because I'm looking at one right now," he explained in a quiet voice.

Everyone on the floor turned to Meyer. He was keeping himself very still, his unblinking eyes locked with the eyes of a long snake who had slipped under the pews. Bunyan was just a few inches away from him, waiting for the slightest movement.

"I have only to say the word and he'll kill your son, Mr. and Mrs. Burnside," Helda said. "So, as you can see, the situation is more evenly matched than you first believed. With that being said...I don't think we need to explain what we want."

"Yeah, give us the damn Swamp Bible!" a strange voice called out.

"Mammy-fuck!" A.C. declared. "That sounded like Julius Grant! How the fuck did he..."

"Please, A.C," Mulder whispered. "Let's focus on one question at the time."

"All right. So, how do we get out of this, you FBI mammy- fucker?"

Mulder looked at Scully. She looked back at him. Both of them were in no condition to think clearly. The sight of Skinner's murder had thrown them into a shocked paralysis. They could imagine no way to guarantee the safety of the people here.

Safety, however, was apparently not on the mind of Audbjorg.

She stood up, despite the screeched warnings of others. She walked to the center aisle. "You get your sorry backwoods ass over here, Sara Lee," she told the darkness.

"Well, ain't this a touchin' sight," the mountain woman chuckled. "Gettin' all worked up over yore dead lover."

"I said, get over here, you ugly bitch. Bring my knife with you so I can take it back and cut your head off."

"Well...maybe ah will come over there, after all."

"Sara Lee..." Mr. Rogers started to say.

"You keep out of this, sweet thang. This is between me and...what is your name anyway, you whore?"

"I'll carve it into your liver. Now, come."

"Stop this!" Nadine shouted. "Stop this at once!"

However, all the reverend or anybody else could do was voice their protest. No one dared try to grab Audbjorg for fear of getting perforated by machine gun fire. And Audbjorg didn't want to be stopped. She took one last look at Skinner's body, then marched down the aisle.

Sara Lee emerged from the darkness, grinning and pointing the knife at Audbjorg's heart.


"Oh, God, this is fucked," Spiegelman said.

"You're telling me," Skinner said. "We've got to do something. We've got to stop Audbjorg from..."

"I'm not talking about that."

"What the hell else could you be talking about?"

"That," Spiegelman said and pointed. "We're about to get an even bigger problem."


No one noticed the hum at first. Everybody was so intently watching Audbjorg and Sara Lee. The hum was also very quiet.

Audbjorg stopped in the middle of the church and held up her fists. She didn't care if Sara Lee was faster and stronger. One way or another, she was going to bring this bloodthirsty bitch down.

Sara Lee crept towards her, showing no fear -- only hunger. Her body was tensed like a spring ready to be released.

Then she stopped and stared at something behind Audbjorg. Her eyes went from bloodthirsty to afraid.

At first, Audbjorg wondered if Sara Lee was trying to fool her. Lord knows that she didn't want to die because of that old "look-behind-you" trick.

Then she became aware of the hum. There was no ignoring it now. It had increased to the volume of a car engine.

She turned around.

The banged-up wooden cross was glowing.

Everyone in that church -- the good and the evil -- were mesmerized by it, even though they didn't know what the hell was going on.

Audbjorg didn't know, either. Not at first.

Then she looked at Skinner's body. She took note of the blood dripping on the floor.

She realized where the wood to make the cross had come from.

"Fuck...a...duck," she whispered.


This had been Brother Daniel's plan.

At the grand opening of the Temple of Mississippi, he had wanted to give this sermon.

"You know, folks, the great crowning glory of Christ's power is that it can turn the horror and suffering of life into beauty and grace. Oh, have mercy, it can. And that's why I had this special cross made right here.

"You might be thinking -- Brother Daniel, what's so special about this thing? Looks like something that fell out of the back of a truck. Oh, I admit that it's not much to look at. But I'll let you in on a little secret. You know what this cross is made of?

"Guess.

"All right. It's made out of wood from the barn where Charlotte Taft met her horrible death.

"M-hm. Have mercy. We'll never forget that, will we? Oh, how it reminded us of the darkness of the world. How it reminded us of how Satan will never let go, how he is always trying to worm his way into our hearts, how he likes to.."

Well, Brother Daniel would have gone on like that. To sum up, the cross was meant to be a symbol of how tragic events can be purified through the love of Jesus Christ.

Maybe so, but it was also something more.

Since it was made from wood taken from the charred remains of the barn, it carried...call it a residue, an aura or whatever...in any case, it was touched by the very magic used to bring Vatticas back into this world.

To sum up, it was a portal.

A portal opened by Skinner's blood.

Vatticas was coming.

And, this time, it wasn't going to stay put.



PART TWENTY-SEVEN
DEUS FUCKING IRAE

"I HAVE RETURNED AND I AM HUNGRY."

All eyes were upon the great figure before them. It looked back at them with no mercy or kindness. Only hunger.

"BLOOD HAS SPILLED UPON MY SANCTIFIED GROUND. I MUST FEED..."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Mulder shouted. "Wait a minute! This isn't your ground! This is..."

"Shut up, Mulder," Audbjorg said.

"But..."

"I'll explain later. For now..."

"ENOUGH!" The voice's thunder made people wince and the walls vibrate. "I HAVE RETURNED! ALL OF YOU SHALL BRING SACRIFICES TO ME!"

It took many seconds before the echo of the voice subsided. Vatticas looked upon the mortals gathered on its ground and waited for their answer.

Then, a short, bald-headed black man said, "And what if we don't, mammy-fucker?"

It took another few seconds before Vatticas could make its reply.

From its mouth, a wind blew forth. The wind had the smell of a slaughterhouse and the heat of a desert. It whooshed through the church and no one could stand upright. Bibles were scattered. Pews creaked backwards. Something shattered.

It seem to take hours before the wind died out. It left their skins feeling like sandpaper. Zola looked at her brother and said, "You had to ask, didn't you?"

Bunyan fled under the pews back to its mistress. Unfortunately, when it slid back under her skirt, it found stiff, unresponsive flesh. Helda Grant had knocked her head on a pew as she fell down. Her skull had been cracked open.

That wasn't the only thing that had gotten broken. Helda Grant had been holding the bottle containing her brother's soul. The bottle had slipped from her thin fingers when she had been blown over.

After the wind vanished, Mr. Rogers looked up from the floor. He saw the body of Helda Grant and the shattered bottle. The released black mist was hovering over the ground.

Then, he heard Julius Grant say, "Aw, shit..." right before the mist evaporated.

Mr. Rogers did not feel any particular sentimental attachment to his now-damned employer. However, Julius Grant had been the only one who knew how to use The Swamp Bible.

Which meant that nothing could stop Vatticas now.

"Sara Lee!" Mr. Rogers hissed. The mountain woman spun towards him. He motioned for her to leave. She didn't need to be told why. As they skedaddled out of the cathedral, Vatticas said,"I WILL NOT BE DENIED! I WILL FEED! I WILL FEAST ON THE ONE WHO BLEEDS ON MY GROUND! I WILL FEED ON THE TWO WHO WERE DENIED TO ME!"

"The...two...?" Sally said.

"Shit," Mulder said. "He means me."

"And me," Albert whispered.

The FBI agent and the teenager looked at each other. Then Mulder turned to Scully and Albert turned to his family. "Goodbye," they both said.

Then they stood up and faced the god.

"What the hell are you doing?" Malcolm shouted.

"Mulder!" Scully yelled.

"Don't try to stop us," Albert said. "It's the only way to save everybody."

Nadine and Scully scrambled to their feet. They rushed forward to pull the two men away from the god. Mulder and Albert stayed them with a look -- a look that apologized for so much, that wanted so much more, that could see no way out of this.

Nadine turned away and sobbed. Malcolm stood up to hold his wife. Sally placed a hand on Scully's shoulder as the red-haired agent trembled.

Albert and Mulder turned to Vatticas. "All right," Mulder said. "Here we are. If you want us..."

Two hands grabbed them both by the shoulders and pushed them away. They turned to see Audbjorg standing in their place. She was looking Vatticas right in its black eyes while holding out The Swamp Bible to Mulder.

"Read it," she hissed out of the side of her mouth. "Read it quick and find..."

"I REMEMBER YOU," Vatticas growled. "YOU DENIED ME MY SACRIFICE BEFORE."

"I'm denying you a lot more than that, fucker," Audbjorg told the god, then growled at Mulder. "Take it, you idiot!"

Mulder grabbed the offered book, but didn't open it. He didn't know what in God's name Audbjorg was planning, they didn't have time to find the means of stopping Vatticas, she was going to get herself killed...

"STEP ASIDE, WOMAN. OR I SHALL FEAST ON YOU, TOO."

A little smile pulled on Audbjorg's lips. "You don't know who I am, don't you?"

The god leaned forward. It seemed to be sniffing the woman before him.

"AH. I SEE WHO YOU ARE. BUT THAT MEANS NOTHING. YOU ARE JUST A MORTAL NOW."

"Things change," Audbjorg said.

Then she closed her eyes.

And made a little prayer.


"Hello," Audbjorg said.

Hello.

"Guess who's back."

Yes. I can see.

"I suppose that you knew this was going to happen. You knew that I was going to come crawling back."

Not necessarily.

"Well, I have come crawling back. I've come to become what I once was."

If that is your wish...

"It's my act of fucking desperation, that's what it is."

It's also the only way you can win.

"I know." She held out her arms. "Take me back. Please."

You need only had to ask. Now, go forth, my child.

Go forth and send this son-of-a-bitch back to where it belongs.


Vatticas -- the Blood-God, the Shadow-Walker, the Hungry One, the Dark Spirit of the Desert -- flinched.

If he was impressed, imagine how the others felt when a golden aura enveloped Audbjorg and two long white wings grew from her back. All the mortals watched in awe as she floated from the ground until she was face-to-face with the god.

She held up one hand.


Mr. Rogers and Sara Lee were almost out of the Temple when the mountain woman screeched. She dropped Audbjorg's knife to the floor. The knife had taken on a red luminescence. It burnt a black scorch mark into the linoleum.

"Sara, what is..." Mr. Rogers said, before the knife leapt up and sliced off his head and Sara Lee's head in one swoop. Then the knife took off like a missile to the main cathedral, leaving a line of flames in the air.


The knife crashed through the walls and landed neatly in Audbjorg's hand. There, it grew into what it had been before -- the Sword of Righteousness, 4 feet of steel cast in the forges of heaven, fire streaking down its silver blade to the golden hilt.

Audbjorg held the sword aloft for a moment. Then she pointed it at Vatticas and declared in a voice that sounded like the chiming of bells, "And it goes a little something like *this*..."

She plunged herself into the head of Vatticas, sword first. The god let out a sound like the screech of a thousand cats. It fell backwards.

Then it vanished along with Audbjorg.

"Damn," Zola said. "I'm glad I hired that girl."

Mulder looked down at the leather book in his hands. Then he began flipping through its pages. "I hope this fucking thing has an index," he muttered.


How to describe it?

How do you describe a battle between an angel and a god? How do you describe a war that takes place in the void along the edges of reality? How do you adequately convey the bravery of an angel fighting for her dead lover and the world? What details can best demonstrate the cold, ancient viciousness of a god?

You can't. Not really. Let's just say that Ali-Frazier had nothing on it.

And let's also say that while Audbjorg fought hard and well, she was just trying to buy time. She knew that she wouldn't have been able to defeat Vatticas. She was not surprised when it tossed her back through the portal leading to Earth. She landed on the floor of the cathedral, bloody and bruised, wings torn and the Sword of Righteousness broken.

However, she had bought enough time.

The humans were ready.

Ready to boogie.



PART TWENTY-EIGHT
THE EXORCISM HOEDOWN

"WHOA-ooooooo...."

Mulder did find the right spell to use.

"WHOA-ooooooo...."

It was called the Incantation of Bondage.

"Wellll, I woke up this morninnnnnn'..."

One of the things the Incantation required was music. Or in the words of the writer, "Music that is Loud and Mighty."

"And this time...I felt soooo goooodd..."

And A.C. and Meyer never went anywhere without a couple of Gibson guitars and amps in their truck. The battle between Audbjorg and Vatticas had taken ten minutes. That had been just enough time for the two musicians to run back to their truck, drive it right through the front doors of the Temple and up to the main cathedral. Then they quickly set up their instruments as the others made their own preparations.

Vatticas leapt back into the world, feeling very angry and ravenous. It stopped short when it saw A.C. and Meyer holding guitars. Vatticas -- the Blood-God, the Shadow- Walker, the Hungry One, the Dark Spirit -- was completely baffled as A.C. sang in his big, rough voice. Next to him, Meyer played quiet yet tense notes.

"You know how good I feel?" A.C. asked Vatticas.

"WHAT...?"

"I said...do you know how good I feel?"

"I...I DON'T KNOW."

"I feel so good that I'm going to slap your mammy-fucking ass to the ground!" With that, A.C. started up a rhythm that sounded like chopping blades. Meyer unleashed music which danced and soared around the rhythm.

Vatticas had enough. It had no idea what these damn mortals were up to, but it didn't care. It was time to start ripping out a few hearts.

It stepped forward.

Then it stopped.

It looked down and saw a red circle drawn under the cross. It tried again to move, but felt its body freeze up.

"WHAT IS THIS?"

This is what it was.

The Incantation of Bondage required not only music and a circle of blood (unfortunately provided by Skinner), but it needed a recitation of a poem. Each line had to be read out loud by a specific person. The first has to be spoken by "a Holy Woman Fair of Face and Good of Heart."

"When darkness rises and the land is cold..." Nadine called out, reading The Swamp Bible over Mulder's shoulder.

The second line must be spoken by "the Man Who Loves the Holy Woman."

"When the good are scared and evil is bold...." Malcolm added.

The third by "a Woman Who Runs a Tavern of Music."

"When old gods return and they long for death..." Zola said.

Number Four by "the Guardian of the Tavern."

"Speak out these words with clear voice and strong breath," Ben said. ("I don't think that's the right meter," he muttered afterwards.)

In the circle of blood, Vatticas shrieked and writhed. He tried to blow everyone over, but his hot wind would go no further than the boundaries of the circle. "NO! NO! YOU CANNOT DO THIS TO ME!"

Now, it was Sally Ash's turn, "a Woman Running From Her Past." "Go back into your darkness!"

Next up was "a Seeker of Truth..." Well, that would have to be...

"Go back and come forth no more!" Mulder yelled.

"Go back and stay in your prison!" Scully called out, being "a Woman of Mathematics and Measurement."

And Albert, a "Young Man Haunted by Deeds Undone." "Go back...and let the light return," he whispered.

This shit is not being made up. That's what the Swamp Bible actually said. It required specific people for the Incantation and all those specific people were present.

Almost everybody.

The god screamed, its body shaking in pain. Long black shadows were rising out of the circle and hooking themselves into its skin. They were trying to drag him down through the circle. A.C. and Meyer were playing their hearts out. The crackle and growl of their electric guitars almost drowned out the god's screams. The red glow was fading off the cross. Everyone held their breath, waiting for Vatticas to tumble back into his celestial prison.

It didn't.

Instead, one of the shadows snapped like a spider web. Another was broken off the god's tough hide.

"What the fuck is going on?!" Malcolm cried out. "It's not working!"

Mulder quickly looked over The Swamp Bible. "I...I don't know," he stuttered. "We did everything..."

The eyes of Vatticas were aflame with hatred. More shadows were shrugged off. It ground its fangs together and snarled, "I...WILL...FEED!" The cross was now as bright as the sun.

"There's nothing else!" Mulder insisted. "The Incantation is finished! There's..."

"Mulder," Scully said quietly. "turn the page."

Mulder did.

There was one last stanza of the poem to be read. And they didn't have the right people to read it.

"Uh-oh."

The last shadow was snapped off Vatticas. It regarded everyone with the look of a mad bull. A.C. and Meyer stopped playing their guitars. Everyone took a step back as the god declared, "VATTICAS IS FREE!"

"No," two voices said. "you're not."

It looked towards the back of the cathedral. Sue and Etta Burnside were there, holding each other's hand.

"In the name of the Holy and the Righteous, be gone!" they declared.

And...

...because the final stanza had to be read by "Two Girls With Knowledge of Things Unseen"...

...the shadows rose out of the circle like waves from the ocean. They grabbed Vatticas and pulled. Vatticas let out a choked cough as if somebody had kicked it in the balls. The dark eyes in its face crossed. With that silly look on its face, it fell out of sight.

The cross stopped glowing.

For a long time, nobody said a word. The entire church was silent, save for a slight hiss from within the circle.

Mulder closed the book and turned to the two girls. "How did you know...?"

"A friend told us," Sue and Etta said.


"Fuck the rules," Spiegelman said and popped open another beer.


Audbjorg was helped off the floor. "We should take her to the hospital," Ben suggested.

They all gave him a look.

"Well, we *should.*"

"I'll...I'll be fine," Audbjorg said, one of her torn wings flapping slightly. "Really."

Her eyes looked down at Skinner's body. She pulled away from the helping hands and limped her way to the dead man. She knelt on the floor, her knees touching the pool of blood underneath Skinner.

Mulder and Scully walked up behind her. Audbjorg turned her tear-streaked face to them. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.

Mulder looked down at The Swamp Bible, then he held it out to Audbjorg. "Here," he told her. "Take this. Take it far away from this place. It's caused enough trouble."

The angel took the leather book. She held it tightly in her hands. She said,"You know...you know why I quit being an angel?"

"No," Scully whispered.

"I was so tired...so tired of being above all of you humans. I had enough of looking down at you from my high position. Because I didn't feel any better than you. What did I do to deserve to be in the army of God? And what was so fucking great about being an angel in the first place? What was so great about being..." She reached out and touched Skinner on the cheek. "...holy."

She took a breath, then said, "I didn't choose to become human because I thought it would be a better experience. You humans have to wade through a lot of shit in your lives. I made the choice just for the sheer thrill of change."

Her voice lowered back down a whisper. "But I didn't expect to..." She closed her eyes and touched her forehead against Skinner's.


Skinner turned away from the portal and closed his eyes.


Mulder and Scully looked at each other. Then Scully saw that weird little spark in Mulder's eyes -- the one that says he's just gotten a strange, wonderful idea.

"Audbjorg?" he said.

"Yes...?"

"This shouldn't have happened. Vatticas should never have been released in the first place. That book should never have had fallen into Alex Marsh's hands."

"I know."

"I mean, it really shouldn't have happened,"

Audbjorg lifted her head and said in an angry voice, "I know it shouldn't have happened. But it did, so there's nothing we can do..."

Then she looked into Mulder's eyes and saw the weird spark. Scully also realized what Mulder had in mind and said, "Ah."

"Wait a minute," Audbjorg said. "Are you saying that I should..."

"Why not?" Scully asked. "It's been done before."



PART TWENTY-NINE
LOOSE ENDS

Alex Marsh smashed open the glass case. He knew that he didn't have long before the guards at Julius Grant's mansion would discover him. For now, they were too busy trying to pull Mr. Grant's body out of the squashed remains of his bedroom.

He wasn't going to miss this opportunity, though. He and Eric had been hunting in the woods near the mansion so they had been able to witness Mr. Grant's peculiar death. (Hell, it had been one of the funniest damn things they had ever seen...watching that elephant charge right through the walls of the mansion.) They had decided to sneak in and steal whatever could be stolen. Alex went for the book because it was the first thing that caught his eye. It was doubtful that the old book was worth two piles of cow shit, but what the hell...

He lifted the book out of the case and was about to run off when he heard a voice say, "Drop the book."

Alex spun around, ready to throw a punch or kick a groin. However, when he saw a woman with great white wings and a fiery sword, he made shit in his pants, dropped the book and jumped out a window, roughly in that order.

The woman picked up the book and then vanished.


Everything changed.


Albert Burnside and Charlotte Taft stumbled out of the barn. Behind them were the sounds of heavy metal and yelling teenagers. "Oh, man," Charlotte giggled. "We are soooo wasted..."

"Yeah..." Albert muttered, then dropped to his knees. He began to vomit great yellow piles on the ground. Charlotte stayed with him, rubbing his back.

When he was finally done, he looked up at her. He saw the kindness in her eyes. For so long, he had just considered Charlotte a party girl. Now, he was wondering if she could be more than that.

"I can't do this anymore," he told her.

"Can't do what?"

"Just...this. Getting wasted. Wasting myself. I've had enough."

Charlotte thought about that, then nodded and said, "Yeah. Me, too."


A week after Charlotte and Albert made this little self- discovery, Walter Skinner put down his pen on his desk and looked around his office.

He kept still in his chair for a long time.

Then he called up Agents Mulder, Scully and Ash. "Come to my office at once," Skinner said. When the three agents assembled there, he asked, "Didn't we have a meeting scheduled for now?"

The three agents looked at each other. "Uh...I don't think so," Scully said.

"What about you, Agent Ash? Don't you have some business that needs to be discussed?"

Sally gave Skinner a helpless look.

"Sir," Mulder said. "have you been having a strange sense that you should be somewhere else? Because Agent Scully and I..."

Skinner looked straight at Mulder and said, "Don't get me involved in your weirdness, Agent Mulder."

"But, sir..."

"I don't give a shit, Mulder. Now, all of you get back to work."

The three agents promptly left.

Skinner was left alone.

All alone.


A day later, Audbjorg was walking into the town limits of Final, Mississippi. Suddenly, she appeared in front of herself, only with wings.

"Sorry," the angel Audbjorg said.

"What the fuck...?" the human Audbjorg declared.

"There's been a change in plans." The angel Audbjorg lifted a hand. "It's time to go."

The human Audbjorg looked at the angel, very unsure. Then she sighed and said, "This better have a good explanation."

"I'm afraid so."

The human touched the angel on the hand. A glow cocooned itself around them. The two Audbjorgs merged together into one. Heaven opened up for her. A voice said, Come.

"Yeah, yeah, hold your damn horses."


In the afterlife, the angel Audbjorg was sharing a beer with Spiegelman. A lot of beers, actually.

"If it means anything," Spiegelman said. "I lost my chance for love, too. Of course, that was just my own damn fault."

"Hm."

"At least, you had the experience. And you still have the memories..."

"Skinner doesn't. All he has this strange feeling that he's lost something." She looked down at the town of Final. "Christ, that's one fucked-up town."

"Don't I know it."

"The worst part is that Helda and Julius Grant are alive again."

Spiegelman covered his smile with a beer can, but Audbjorg didn't miss it. "What?" she said.

"Nothing."

"No, what is it?" She narrowed her eyes. "What did you do?"

"Welllll...when all the time lines were resorting themselves, I took the opportunity to whisper a few things in the ear of Mr. Rogers."

"Like what?"

"Like what his employer did to him in another timeline."


The spirit of Julius Grant tried to keep the nervousness out of his voice. The bottle kept up a big shit-eating grin. Yet, he couldn't ignore the expression of Mr. Rogers' face. The most trusted employee of Julius Grant had walked into the basement with a very sour look.

"What's eating your balls there, son?" Julius asked with forced joviality.

"I just had this...this vision, sir. In it, I'm at the House of Solomon. I see you blow the House with me in it. I don't know why you do it, but you are undoubtedly the guilty party."

"Hm. Well."

Mr. Rogers picked up the Soul Bottle. He looked hard into the twitching glass face. "I have a strong feeling that this really happened, sir."

"Oh, come on there, Mr. Rogers! It sure enough didn't happen, right?"

"Maybe not in this world, but...would you do such a thing, sir? If you thought that it was in your best interest?"

"Well, of course not, son!"

"Yes. I thought so."

Mr. Rogers dropped the bottle. "Go to hell, please, sir," he told the screaming spirit.

Then he went to the woods. He didn't know how he was able to find Sara Lee, yet he did. She wasn't too pleased by this intruder on her grounds. "What do you want?" she snarled as she backed him up against a tree and held a knife against his cheek.

"I just want to know...what do you really owe Helda Grant?"

Sara Lee blinked. "Huh?"

"What do you owe her?"

Sara Lee released her grip on Mr. Rogers and took a step back. She looked thoughtful as she tapped her knife against her leg.

Then she left. Mr. Rogers sat down at the roots of the tree and waited. When she came back, Sara Lee had brought dinner.

"Like snake?" she asked.


"Cute," Audbjorg commented. "Why do I have a feeling that's not all you did?"

Spiegelman grinned.


After her strange little meeting with Skinner, Agent Sally Ash was walking through the hallways of the FBI Headquarters. She was so lost in her bewilderment over the A.D.'s behavior that she ran into another agent. She felt something warm splash all over her shirt.

Agent Charlie Williamson gulped as he looked at the coffee stain on Agent Ash. He held his now-empty Styrofoam cup tightly. As Sally looked up from her shirt to his face, he stammered, "I-I-I'm sorry, Agent Ash. I didn't, I didn't..."

It was hard to complete a sentence in the face of Sally's angry expression. He knew about her temper and was preparing himself to feel her wrath. Sally was about to yell a hot, blistering earful of curses at him when she remembered something...a voice that whispered in her dreams last night...

"Ain't no reason for you to be alone, Sally."

Agent Williamson blinked as the frown on Sally's face turned to a smile. Even though her face was plain, it was still a very nice smile. "It's all right," she said. "You can make it up by buying me a coffee."


"The way I see it," Spiegelman told Audbjorg. "if you can't get happiness for yourself, then you should try to spread some to others."

Audbjorg considered that, then nodded. She held up a can of beer and Spiegelman clinked his own against it.

"Think we should do something to get Mulder and Scully, too?" she asked.

"Fuck, lady, I can't work miracles."

"No, I guess you can't." Audbjorg leaned back, sighed and closed her eyes.

"Mind if I ask you something?"

Audbjorg shrugged.

"You got to experience life as both a human and an angel. How do the two measure up?"

The angel kept silent for a long time, rubbing her thumb up and down her can. Finally, she said, "I chose to become a human because I wanted to understand them. I didn't want to be just something hovering over their heads, distant from their needs and desires. I wanted to know what drives them on through your crazy little world."

"Did you?"

"Hell, no. I'm not sure how you people even get out of bed every morning."

Spiegelman shrugged. "Must be love."

Audbjorg opened her eyes. "Yeah," she whispered. "Must be."


ANOTHER GRATUITOUS EPILOGUE --

No one ever solved the murder of HELDA GRANT. No one particularly wanted to, least of all CHIEF MCDONALD, who had his own problems. Not only did MALCOLM BURNSIDE eventually turn the town against the Temple of the Mississippi, but he ousted McDonald as chief of police. Mr. McDonald spent the rest of his life as a bag boy at the Final Supermarket.

It made people a little uncertain to have a black chief of police, but no one could deny that Malcolm Burnside looked very convincing in the role. It also helped that he always had the REV. NADINE BURNSIDE with him, balancing out his rougher nature with her kindness and grace. It was a testimony to their respectability that Final found accepting the marriage between ALBERT BURNSIDE and CHARLOTTE TAFT, the second interracial marriage in the town's history.

In Washington, D.C., AGENT SALLY ASH and AGENT CHARLIE WILLIAMSON got married, too. Of course, Charlie had to quit his job to raise the kids.

Other marriages occurred -- SAMMY COBURN with JANE LEXINGTON, ERIC GRAY with CYNTHIA ROGERS. They all had discovered the particularly loserish aspects of ALEX MARSH who was later arrested for robbing a liquor store. He had asked for a specific amount of money from the clerk. When it was revealed that the register didn't have enough, the clerk asked if it was all right to make out a check. "Sure," Alex said. "Make it out to Alex Marsh."

ZOLA BURNSIDE never married BEN HEDGE, but they continued to live together. "A wedding ring would scare off Ben like pointing scissors at his crotch," Zola explained. A.C. and MEYER BURNSIDE still put in guest appearances at The Unspeakable Blues Bar.

SUE and ETTA BURNSIDE never found a husband, either. They spent their whole lives together. There were a bounty of rumors about them being able to heal the sick and walk on water, but you can't believe everything you hear.

No one in Final ever proved the existence of SARA LEE. However, there is a story involving MR. ROGERS who had left Final for the real estate industry in Florida. A crime boss had attempted to strong arm Mr. Rogers over certain financial matters. They later found the crime boss hanging from a palm tree. What was left of him, anyway.

Failure touched the lives of GEORGE KANE and BROTHER DANIEL. Kane's writing career was demolished after he got drunk at a party and offered money to Toni Morrison to perform fellatio on him. No publisher would touch him after that. As for Brother Daniel, his media empire became swamped in scandal and allegations of corruption. He vanished, never to be found. There are, however, tales of a Danielle Thorton running a brothel in New Orleans.

SARAH COLLINS is still accepting boarders.

FOX MULDER and DANA SCULLY got married and had three sons named Huey, Luey and Dewey. Or something like that.

As for WALTER SKINNER, he would often put Don Walser's "Angel on My Mind" on the record player and gaze up at the sky. He would look like a man who has lost something, but didn't know what it was.


Author'S NOTES --

"Mississippi goddamn..." -- Nina Simone

If you're wondering, yes, I have another sequel in mind. Instead of setting it in Final, I plan to send Mulder and Scully down to Florida. There, they'll meet Mr. Rogers and Sara Lee again. We'll see some new characters and maybe a few other residents of that "fucked-up little town" passing through Florida.

If you're also wondering about the music, the songs I used were "Thunderstorms and Neon Signs" by Wayne Hancock and "When the Fallen Angels Fly" by Billy Joe and Eddy Shaver. If you're interested in hearing some real country and not that Shania Twain crap, check out the albums "Thunderstorms and Neon Signs" and "Victory."

One last dedication -- I can't remember the author, but there's a book called "The Harlot by the Side of the Road." It's an examination of the stranger, more graphic stories in the Bible. You wouldn't believe what you can find there...

The End

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