Title: La Llorona
Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate a series of deaths in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Ben Montoya's eyes snapped open. He held his breath, listening to the quiet around him. Something...
A heavy cloud was moving across the sky, its towering bulk beginning to cover the sun. He blinked up at it from the dappled shade of a slim tree. For the past several days, big clouds had made their way from south to north, trailing ragged curtains of ineffectual moisture, taunting the city with rain that evaporated before it touched the ground.
But today was different. The freshening breeze was cool and moist with the promise of real precipitation, the scent of the air shifting from dust and sweat to the blessed rare perfume of rain.
Ben shifted on the sun-warmed quilt and nudged his dozing wife.
"Honey, get up. I think we should round up the kids and start packing up."
"Hmm..." she snuffled from the crook of her folded arms. She didn't want to open her eyes.
"It's gonna rain." Ben sat up and stretched, allowing the breeze to cool his sweaty back.
"KatieStevenKristy!" he called, turning his head from one side to the other to cover the length of the park. "Come on, kids. It's time to go!"
Steven and Kristy looked up from the edge of the pond where they had been feeding the resident ducks and geese. Dropping the last of the breadcrumbs, they raced each other up the bank.
Marla Montoya had finally raised her head from the pillow of her arms and watched her two younger children hurrying to obey their father.
"Where's Katie?" she asked as the children plopped down on the blanket.
"She said she wanted to see the beavers," Steven said, pointing north toward the bridge that crossed the nearby Rio Grande. "She said you can sometimes see them from the bike trail over there."
Marla's eyes went wide. Ben scrambled to his feet.
"Stay with your mother," he ordered as he clambered up to the road that circled the park. He trotted down the road toward the bridge and went through the entrance to the bike path. It turned from the road and went down below the bridge. His eyes searched the banks frantically.
"Katie! Katie, where are you? It's time to go!" he called, trying to keep the edge of panic out of his voice. The children had been told not to go near the river alone, but Katie was getting older, more independent. "KATIE!" he barked. "Get up here right now!"
He stopped, now beyond the bridge, listening for her, hoping he would hear her rustling through the reeds near the water. Thunder rumbled overhead and fat drops of rain began to fall, pelting the surface of the river below.
Her socks and shoes were placed neatly on a rock.
"Katie?" he breathed, suddenly deeply afraid.
The Albuquerque Search and Rescue squad found her body about a mile south, caught among the branches of a fallen tree.
Wednesday, July 28, 1999
Manny Garcia had no good reason to be out on a night like this. Lightening tore through the prematurely blackened sky, illuminating the storm clouds. Thunder exploded over his head making him cringe as he hunched his way through the heavy rain.
He had no reason to be out, but he was compelled. His heart ached and tears ran down his rain-washed face. He had thought this pain had lost its knife-edge after twenty years, but tonight it had returned as fresh and sharp as it had been on that terrible day.
He stumbled along toward the riverbank, his mind knowing that she could not be there, but his heart hoping against all logic that he would indeed find her. If she was anywhere, she must be at the river. That was where he had to go.
At last he came to the sandy edge of the water where he paused to look up and down the river. She had to be there. Something made him turn to face south along the way he had just come. Was it a voice? A whisper...a cry?
"Híja?" Could he have walked past her in the dark? She was such a small thing. Something was there. Something black against the darkness. Was that her?
"Híja?" He moved forward a step or two. There it was again—that voice. It was not a whisper this time. It was singing, or weeping, or...
As the black thing began to take shape and come nearer he could see the beauty, the sorrow. He felt a squeezing in his heart and an icy burning touch on his shoulder.
No, no, it wasn't her.
Manny Garcia began to scream.
The airplane bucked and bounced as it made its final approach toward the airport. The updrafts and other wind currents formed by the uneven terrain of the Monzano Mountains made it feel as though they were driving down a bumpy dirt road rather than slicing through the clear, dry air of New Mexico.
Scully gripped the armrests and looked out the little window to her left. It was mid-summer and the earth below was baking in the hot Southwestern sun. Off to the south, huge clouds billowed up.
The plane banked to the right, to complete its wide turn skirting the higher, rougher Sandia Mountains just to the north of the Manzanos, before approaching the runway.
Mulder was snoozing in the aisle seat, his suit jacket and a half-empty pack of sunflower seeds tossed on the middle seat between them. The plane was blessedly empty and quiet—the middle-of-the-week, middle-of-the-day, St Louis-to-Albuquerque leg of their flight obviously off-peak.
Mulder awoke as the plane touched down, blinking at the light streaming in the windows as he scrubbed at his face.
"Nice nap?" Scully asked with a grin.
He nodded with a sheepish grin of his own as he unbuckled his seatbelt—well before the captain had turned off the 'Fasten Your Seatbelt' sign.
The bright heat assaulted them as they stepped from the plane to the Jetway, but they were soon inside the air-conditioned terminal.
"They were saying the temperature is 102 degrees, Mulder," Scully commented as they strode through the terminal toward the baggage claim area. She eyed the planes and service vehicles sparkling in the sun out on the tarmac.
"Yeah, but it's a dry heat," Mulder responded.
They picked up their luggage and the keys to their rental car and took the parking deck elevator to the top tier.
Though a smudge of smog hung low over the city, the sky beyond the mountains to the east and out over the mesa to the west was a clear, deep turquoise blue.
Mulder peeled off his suit jacket and donned his sunglasses as he looked out at the terrain. He had been to New Mexico often enough, Roswell being one of his personal Meccas, but it was such a change from the East Coast that it always impressed him.
As Mulder eased the rental car down the ramp toward the terminal exit they had an unobstructed view of the mesa on the western horizon. Three long-extinct volcanoes, The Three Sisters, as they were sometimes called, sat on the horizon, but off by itself, further in the distance, a craggy mountain stood alone.
"See that mountain, Scully?" Mulder began. "That's Mount Taylor. It's about 75 miles away."
When he didn't elaborate on this bit of geographical trivia, Scully prompted, "Yeah...?"
"Do you realize that being able to see that mountain from here is kind of like being able to see the Washington Monument from Baltimore?"
Scully considered a moment. "Well, that mountain is a lot bigger than the Monument, Mulder."
"Yeah, but the distance is the same," he insisted. "It's the air, Scully. There's no humidity to speak of so you get this amazing clarity."
Scully smiled, added, "And the amazing heat." She nudged the air conditioner up a notch.
"But 102 degrees here is more comfortable, relatively speaking, than 102 in DC," Mulder persisted. "Without the humidity your perspiration can evaporate more quickly. Cools you down faster."
"But it's still 102 degrees!" Scully laughed.
Mulder shrugged with a smile, squinting up at the late afternoon sun bearing down unhindered on the city that spread before them. He pulled onto I-25 and headed north toward the center of town.
Scully had donned her own sunglasses. "What's the name of the detective we're meeting?" she asked. She reached for the briefcase beside her feet, pulling the case file onto her lap.
"Robert Sanchez," Mulder replied. He squirmed his right hand into his pants pocket and retrieved a pack of gum, using his teeth to pull out a stick. He offered the pack to Scully, but she shook her head absently, absorbed in reviewing the case details. He dropped the pack into his shirt pocket and popped the gum into his mouth, relishing the sharp mint flavor and the bursting "flavor crystals." He really wanted his sunflower seeds, but his jacket, with its pocket stash, was flung out of reach on the back seat.
Detective Robert Sanchez leaned against the hood of his car, sipping a soda, relishing the breezy cool of the shady street. Ordinarily he might resent out-of-state "Fibbies" inviting themselves into one of his investigations, but this time he actually welcomed the intrusion. He really needed a break on this case and if his friend Mike Turner in the FBI's Albuquerque Field Office was right, this particular pair of agents might really be able to help.
"Hey, Mike, it's Bobby."
"Hey, Bobby, how's it going?"
"Eh. You know. Listen, I've got a question for you."
"I don't know if you've heard, but I've got a couple of your people coming out here from DC to work on our River Killer."
"I'd heard a rumor. I was wondering why you didn't call me if you wanted the FBI to help with your case. You trying to hurt my feelings?"
"Actually, this guy called me and offered his help. A guy named...Mulder...Fox Mulder. You know him?"
Mike didn't answer right away, then said, "Fox Mulder is a good agent. When he was with the Investigative Support Unit he was considered one of the best profilers the Bureau had ever seen."
When Turner hesitated again, Sanchez spoke. "So if he's not a profiler now, what does he do?"
"Well, he and his partner...they work on something called the X-Files—cases that are kind of...unconventional, I guess."
"Well, they call him 'Spooky' because he's always been a little...um...he has kind of far-out ideas. But they say he knows his stuff. And he can still catch killers."
Unconventional. Far-out. Maybe this "Spooky" guy was just what he needed for this case. There were rumors going around in the valley that were starting to bother Sanchez, despite his best judgment as a cop.
Up in the Heights or out on the West Mesa the people might whisper in a half-embarrassed way about the possibilities, but down here in the valley, especially among the old viejos, the stories were spoken aloud and with confidence. They were sure they knew what was happening.
Sanchez wasn't sure where he stood. He was an experienced homicide detective who had seen his share of ugly death. He knew what people were capable of doing to each other and nothing really shocked him anymore.
But he also knew the old traditional stories—his grandfather had told him the tales often enough when he was growing up—the stories that could still send a chill up his spine.
But he was a modern man, college-educated. The stories couldn't be true.
But when the rains came...
He shook his head. You're a cop, Bobby.
Title: La Llorona (2/12)
Archive: Not to Gossamer. I'll submit directly there. Yes to anywhere else. Just let me know, please.
"So, Mulder," Scully began, shaking her head. "I don't understand why the Albuquerque field office called you in on these cases. They look like routine homicides or accidental deaths to me."
"Routine?" Mulder looked over at her.
"Unsolved, but not exactly unexplainable," she remarked. "The victims were found in or near the Rio Grande River..."
"Don't say 'Rio Grande River,' Scully," Mulder commented. "It's redundant." He moved into the left lane and climbed the curving ramp taking them onto westbound I-40.
Scully looked at him. "My point being that I'm wondering why they feel they need you to come in to develop a profile of the assailant. There doesn't seem to be an unexplainable cause of death. Drowning, some other mayhem..."
"Neither of the victims found in the water had any water in their lungs, Scully," he pointed out quietly. "The difficulty in establishing cause of death has made it hard to come up with a profile. There were no serious injuries on the bodies. No stab wounds, no ligature or strangulation marks, no blunt object trauma."
"But..." Scully prompted as he fell silent.
Mulder was concentrating on crossing the lanes of traffic as their exit approached.
"But all three bodies had two remarkable things in common; a bruise—a very distinct hand print—on the left shoulder, and a sort of scorch mark right over the breast bone..." He took the Rio Grande Boulevard exit and turned north, and finished casually, "...and each victim seems to have died of fright."
"Fright, Mulder?" She smiled and chuckled quietly. "I don't remember being taught that cause of death in med school. If they died of cardiac arrest there may have been similar heart disease risk factors combined with some sort of assault, or some drug may have been used—potassium chloride, for instance—that might not be found unless you think to look for it. That could explain the bruising—the assailant gripping them by the shoulder as an injection is administered. The scorch mark on the chest could be evidence of electrocution or some other assault that traumatized the heart."
Mulder remained silent so Scully turned to regard him. She waited for a moment, enjoying how the sun and shade on this street played across his handsome face, the intermittent sunlight highlighting his eyes, his profile, his mouth, the lock of hair that teased his eyebrow.
"No argument, Mulder?" she asked at last.
He shrugged one shoulder and offered a slight smile. "I'll let you look at the evidence."
"So where are we going?" she asked as they continued north. "Are we meeting Detective Sanchez at a police substation?"
"No," Mulder replied, signaling a left turn. The street they turned onto was narrow and tree-lined, completely residential. "We're meeting him at one of the crime scenes."
He said nothing further as he continued down the street. He loved this part of town with its towering cottonwoods and higgledy- piggledy neighborhoods, each house a different size and style, the lots varying in shape and aspect. No cookie-cutter suburbia look-alike Stepford homes here.
The street dead-ended just in front of the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. Mulder rolled up slowly and parked on the street behind an unmarked sedan with a local government plate. As he and Scully got out, a man in a dark suit came around the front of the car.
He was shorter than Mulder, built like a bulldog, with short, salt-and-pepper hair and a neat black mustache. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored sunglasses, but he shifted these up onto his head as he extended his right hand.
"Hi, there," the detective began, shaking Mulder's hand. "You must be FBI."
"Agents Mulder and Scully," Mulder replied.
"Agent Scully," Sanchez acknowledged, shaking her offered hand.
"You're Detective Sanchez?" Scully asked.
"Yep," he replied with a smile. Que bonita! This was a pleasant surprise. He turned reluctantly back to her tall partner. "So you want to see the scene?"
Mulder nodded. His own sunglasses hid his eyes as he looked from Sanchez to Scully knowingly. Many men reacted to his partner this way. Though he knew she resented it, he was also proud of her beauty and wanted everyone to notice it. Then there was the lurking caveman in his mind that urged him to place his possessive hand on the small of her back as they turned to follow Sanchez.
Scully considered breaking Mulder's wrist. She knew what had just happened. She sighed and lengthened her stride a bit, moving ahead of Mulder as they slipped single-file through the narrow gate of the bike path that led them down toward and then alongside the river.
There was still some shade under the larger trees, though the sun's brutal afternoon rays were eating away at most of it. But the air was generally cooler here, as long as they stayed out of the sun. Sanchez led them several yards down the trail and stopped under a tree.
"We found the body of Laura Mesker down there, below the trail." He pointed to an area immediately below the spot where they stood. "She was half in the water, but didn't seem to have been in the river itself, fully clothed, except for her shoes. She had apparently run along the bank for some distance, so we don't where or how she lost them. Her clothes were wet, but it had rained heavily that night. No indication of sexual assault, no gunshot wounds, no stab wounds or other serious injuries."
"She was the second victim," Scully stated, recalling from the file she had been studying. "So there was no connection between her and the first and third victims?"
Sanchez shook his head, lips pursed as he stared down at the tangled patch of grass and weeds below. "Not that we could find. They were from different parts of town, different racial background, different social circles. No connection."
"Fear." Mulder stepped off the trail without further explanation and picked his way down the steep bank. His trained investigator's eyes searched the ground for anything the Crime Scene Unit might have missed, but after nearly a week he doubted there would be any evidence to find.
Sanchez watched Mulder, his brow furrowing. He turned to Scully, who was watching her partner with much the same expression.
"What did he mean by that?"
Scully shook her head. She followed Mulder down the bank, trying desperately to keep the sand out of her shoes. It was a losing battle. If she had known they were going to be viewing a crime scene she might have worn something different. Her standard "FBI suit"—dark skirt and jacket, pantyhose and pumps—wasn’t the best outfit for a field trip.
"Mulder, what are you looking for?" she asked as she neared the water's edge. She looked up and down the bank herself. The current looked smooth and lazy from the trail, but up close she could see that the muddy water moved rather swiftly. Still, it was barely a river. More like a large stream, less than half a mile across at this point. She turned her scrutiny to the ground around her, trying to figure out what evidence there might be. She could make out footprints, but the area had been pretty well trampled by the CSU. She felt she was more likely to find useful evidence in going over the autopsy reports. She was sure there was a medical explanation that had been overlooked.
She was suddenly aware that the sun was burning her face.
"Mulder, let's get out of here. It's hot." She wiped sweat from her face and readjusted her sunglasses. Her black jacket seemed to be absorbing every molecule of heat from the sun. "I don't think there's anything left to find here." He squinted up at her from where he had been crouching by the water's edge. He licked salty sweat from his lips and straightened up, brushing dirt from his hands.
"Yeah. I just want to check out a couple of things. Why don't you go on up and find some shade."
She happily complied and made her way back up to the trail. Sanchez had seated himself in a patch of shade on one of the short posts that marked the edge of the trail and he stood to offer the makeshift seat to her. She decided to take him up on it.
"So, Detective Sanchez," she began, "what's your theory on these crimes?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. There's a connection between them in terms of the injuries on the bodies, so I would have to guess some kind of serial killer, though we've never had one here. We have some freak going around killing people down by the river. But exactly how they're being killed is a little vague."
"Do you have many drownings in the river?" Scully asked.
Sanchez nodded. "Yeah. Every year we have people drown in that river right here in the city limits."
"Is it deep?"
"Nah, not really," Sanchez replied. "That's part of the problem. People play in that water and they get complacent about it. See, it's so shallow, especially in really dry years, that you can practically walk across it. But that current is stronger and faster than it looks, and there are deep holes that you can't see because the water's so muddy. People get careless, or they get drunk, or they just have plain old bad luck. Then, next thing you know, someone winds up dead. We lost a little girl just last month."
Mulder moved a little further down the bank, southward with the current, until he was out of earshot of Scully and Sanchez debating the case.
The river seemed so serene now, but he wanted to know what Laura Mesker had felt that night, how it was that she had been frightened enough to die. Laura Mesker had lost her shoes somehow, perhaps running along the river—running from her assailant, Scully's doggedly rational voice whispered in his mind.
Yes, she had been running from an assailant, just not the kind Scully imagined.
He sat abruptly, feeling the sun-warmed sand through the seat of his pants. He opened his mind and heart to the sights and sounds of this place—the sliding water and the breeze ruffling through the sunburned prairie grass—this place of relief in the desert landscape.
On the far bank the Bosque was a bit wild, more tangled and inaccessible than on this side, where the houses crouched closer to the water. The western bank was already in shadow as the sun made its way toward the horizon.
Staring into those shadows he could begin to feel it. Even now, after several days had passed, he could feel what Laura Mesker had felt. His heart began to pound and he could imagine her face, contorted in fear, could see her scratching her way along the bank, running right out of her shoes. She had run along the bank, not up toward the nearby houses. He could feel her terror clutching at his own heart. She had seen it, she had...
"Mulder!" Scully barked his name. "Mulder, where are you?"
He looked up toward the bike path, startled to see how far down the sun had gone. Sanchez was making his way down toward him. He stood and brushed the sand from his trousers, wiping sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.
"How ya doin', Agent Mulder?" Sanchez asked good-naturedly. "Your partner thought I should come and find you. It's getting late." He craned his neck to look up at the sky. The clouds were getting heavier. "It's probably going to rain again tonight. You don't want to get caught out in it."
"Yeah," Mulder replied quietly. "I think you're right."
Sanchez paused, not yet ready to go back up. "So what do you think about our killer? Your partner told me you had already gone through the case file."
Mulder shrugged noncommittally. "I'm not sure I want to say anything just yet. I want Scully to go over the autopsy reports and I want a closer look at the victims' backgrounds."
Sanchez chuckled. "Well, you know, the old folks around here have got this all figured out."
"What are the old folks saying?" he asked, eyeing Sanchez with curiosity. Sanchez regretted his comment as soon as he had said it. No FBI agent would take it seriously. He forced a smile and shrugged his shoulders, waving a dismissive hand as he said, "Oh, it's nothing but an old ghost story. Old people talking nonsense."
"Ghost story?" Mulder was really interested now.
"Come on," Sanchez said, giving Mulder a good-natured slap on the back, quickly changing the subject. "It's getting late and my wife's got some enchiladas waiting for me. Let's get outta here."
Mulder blinked back his surprise, wanting to press for more details, but started up, sparing just one more glance down at the quiet, secret river, before joining Scully at the top.
As they went toward their respective cars, Mulder pulled a card from his pocket.
"If you need to contact me, you can reach me on my cell phone," he told Sanchez. "The number's on the card."
"Sure thing, man," Sanchez replied. He smiled once more at Scully, giving her a nod. "Ma'am."
Mulder turned the car north on Rio Grande Boulevard and soon they were immersed in a rural area in the middle of the city. Scully sat back, enjoying the fields and juxtaposition of mansions and tiny homes neighboring each other. In the sunset light, the greens of the fields and trees were electric, the hulking mountain beyond a bold pink. The cloud-laden sky was a watercolor wash of deep blue, rose and a steely blue-gray she could swear she'd never seen before. Breathless and rapt, she devoured the colors, hoping to never forget the picture before her.
"What does 'Sandia' mean?" she asked Mulder quietly, her eyes never leaving the mountain, though the trees occasionally blocked her view. She knew that glorious color would soon fade.
"Watermelon." Mulder smiled at Scully's delight. He loved this town.
"You're kidding." She turned long enough to grin at him, then turned back to her window.
Mulder sat back in his seat, leaned his arm on the car door. That genuine smile had made his whole day and even the ridiculously slow speed limit couldn't bother him.
"Where is our hotel, anyway? Where are we going?"
"We're not going to a hotel. I have a buddy here—Paul C de Baca—whose mother owns a Bed and Breakfast and..."
"NOT one of your Roswell-Alien-Chasing buddies..." she objected.
"...AND they are letting us stay there free," Mulder said, raising his voice slightly, a small laugh escaping his nose.
"Mulder..." Scully warned, her eyebrow rising, almost involuntarily.
"I thought it would be convenient to our investigation, plus it's a little nicer than 'Motel FBI.' Relax, you'll love it."
When she turned back to the window, the color was fading to dusk and she was almost mad at him for stealing her attention. She gave up and looked forward just as the car slowed and Mulder put his blinker on.
As they turned, Scully wasn't quite sure that Mulder had found an actual street. Soon the pavement ended and they were surrounded by huge, ancient cottonwood trees. In the growing darkness, they reminded her of Tolkien's Ents and she made an effort not to look too closely.
"Are you sure...?"
"Don't worry, Scully. I've been here before."
Before he finished speaking, they came to a clearing. A large, two-story adobe house, freshly plastered and painted, sat back from the road. Warm light spilled from the large windows along the entire front of the house.
As she stepped from the car, the spicy perfume of Mexican food welcomed her. Letting Mulder get the bags, she walked up the flagstones to the house, waiting near the front door for him to catch up.
"Go ahead and ring the bell," Mulder urged as he neared.
Scully reached her hand out and the door flew open suddenly, making her jump backward, stepping on Mulder's foot.
"Hey, man, how are you? How was your flight?" The tall young man caught Mulder up in a quick embrace.
"It was fine." Mulder nodded toward Scully as Paul stepped back. "This is my partner, Dana Scully."
"Hi, Dana," Paul said warmly, shaking her hand. "Come in, come in. You guys hungry?"
"For your mom's cooking? Always! Scully, you're gonna love it."
Paul took their bags and deposited them in a corner by the door.
Scully caught Mulder's eye, a bemused expression on her face.
"Zorro?" she whispered.
Mulder's only answer was a shrug and a sheepish grin.
"Páse, páse." An older woman came and gently led Scully through the entry hall. "I'm Paul's mamá, Léna. Are you very hungry? All the food is still warm."
Scully smiled as this warm, bubbly woman with the beautiful Spanish accent turned to kiss Mulder on the cheek, drawing him into a rib-crushing embrace.
"Como está, mi Zorrito?"
"I'm fine, Mrs. C. I'm fine," he replied breathlessly as she released him.
Scully had to laugh at the embarrassed blush on Mulder's cheeks.
They were led to a big dining room where three place settings were arranged at the end of a heavy wooden table.
Mrs. C de Baca brought heaping plates to Mulder and Scully and then returned with a plate for her son and a covered plate. "Warm tortillas," she explained as she placed them in the center. A pitcher of iced tea sat on the table before them and she served each of them a large glass. She stood beside Mulder, her hand absently resting on his shoulder.
"Is there anything else you need, Fox? Dana?"
Scully smiled and shook her head. "It looks and smells wonderful, thank you."
Mulder and Paul talked around mouthfuls of food, catching up, laughing loudly, telling jokes only they understood—the conversation of old friends.
Scully indulged in gazing first at one face and then the other as she vaguely followed their conversation.
Mulder's face was so familiar to her. For the past several years she had seen it almost every day under almost every condition imaginable, physical and emotional. She knew the curves and angles of his jaw, the lines that had begun to appear on his forehead and at the corners of his eyes, the sculpted curl of his ears, the endearingly uneven nose, the shifting hazel of his eyes, and that mouth...
He laughed out loud at something Paul had just said and she smiled at the toothy grin he so rarely displayed.
As she sipped her tea she shifted her gaze to the exotic dark mocha of Paul C de Baca's face. His forehead was high and smooth, his eyes unfathomably dark, his teeth even and white in his constantly smiling mouth. She couldn't tell if he was older or younger than Mulder, but his longish raven-black hair showed no signs of the silver threads beginning to appear on Mulder's head.
He didn't seem like many of Mulder's other friends. If this guy was some sort of expert in some weird paranormal field, it didn't show. He was charming, intelligent, articulate.
Scully sat back in her chair as she nibbled on the last of her tortilla and again her eyes moved back and forth between the two men.
At some point she imagined that being with Mulder and his hazel eyes was somehow inevitable. She didn't know why, but she knew it seemed right.
So much had happened in her relationship with Mulder in the last year or two. They had become so close and yet had been tested.
Neither she nor Mulder had ever really shown more than the mildest signs of jealousy over each other. It was more a sense of territoriality or protective proprietary feelings. They were used to watching each other's backs, staving off physical danger. It was only natural to feel protective of each other's emotions as well.
We almost kissed that day in his hallway, she thought wistfully, letting her eyes linger on Mulder's full lips. Had he meant all those words he had spoken in the hallway? But that moment had been interrupted by much more than just that damn virus-carrying bee. Diana Fowley's presence had forced Scully to examine her feelings for Mulder, but also to wonder how Mulder really felt about her. She'd never felt as threatened by anyone as she had by Diana. She had felt jealous and insecure and territorial. And foolish.
They'd recently shared another moment in his hallway.
"You were my constant, my touchstone."
"And you are mine."
Not quite a declaration of love, but still a reassurance of their meaning to each other.
But now, in a place and time like this, so far from the high drama that had ruled their lives in those days, she wondered about all the other possibilities of their lives and their relationship.
If it weren't for their work together and their shared experiences of fear and grief and trust, would they have even been friends?
In any case, they were indeed bound by many things and she found that she did indeed love him, but she wasn't always sure how she loved him. Their relationship was both all-consuming and frustratingly idle. He had not tried to kiss her since that unfortunate moment in the hallway and she had not mentioned it again. And his drug-or-head-injury-induced declaration of love in Bermuda didn't count.
So, every now and then she wondered, especially in a moment like this when she found herself looking at other men, if she was simply limiting herself, if there was someone out there beyond the confines of that basement office, someone out in the world who was better for her than Fox Mulder.
She didn't know Paul at all, yet his easy manner and magazine-model good looks made her dream of another world, a normal world, where she led a normal life, had a normal husband, became a normal wife. A world where she practiced medicine and made babies and grew old in a rocking chair.
Once upon a time she had dated ordinary men. Once upon a time she had taken for granted that she would achieve that normal life, even though there had always been a tiny voice whispering in her ear that she was not destined for that. She knew that her choice of a career in the FBI would always make her life unusual.
But then she met Fox Mulder and the words "unusual" and "normal" took on new meaning.
She had finished eating and now her moody contemplation and pleasantly full stomach conspired to make her drowsy. Her eyelids were slipping downward when Mrs. C de Baca came bustling in with a coffeepot and three small desert plates on a tray.
"Café?" she offered. "Flan?"
"None for me, thanks," Scully said as she tried to hide a massive, unladylike yawn.
"Oh, Scully!" Mulder exclaimed. "You have to try the flan!" He quickly scooped up a small spoonful and held it out to her. "It's great...come on."
Scully accepted the bite of creamy caramel-flavored custard.
"Mmm..." She nodded her approval at Mrs. C de Baca, but then struggled to fight down another yawn.
"Paulo, why don't you show Fox and Miss Scully to their rooms?" Mrs. C de Baca smiled at Scully. "I'm sure they're very tired."
Mulder took a quick swallow of tea to wash down the bite he'd been chewing.
"You go ahead, Scully," he said, indicating his plate. "I'm not quite done here—and I still have to eat two plates of flan. I never let Mrs. C's cooking go to waste!" He smiled and winked at the older woman, whose flattered blush was evident on her tanned cheek.
As Scully rose from the table, Mulder grasped her wrist for a moment.
"I'd like to stop by and talk to you for a bit before you turn in, okay?"
"Okay, but I'm tired and I'd like to get a good night's sleep, so don't be long." She pulled her hand away, wishing in this moment that his words meant something more, but knowing better.
Scully met Paul at the front door and began to pick out her bags, only to have him insist on carrying them for her.
"Your rooms have an outside entrance, around the side of the house," he said as he opened the door and waited for her to go through.
As she stepped outside Scully was surprised at how the weather had changed in such a short time. The wind grabbed her as she stepped out, whipping her hair into her face.
"Smells like rain," Paul said as he crunched along the pea gravel path toward the side of the house.
Scully could only smell his cologne, carried to her on the wind—a quiet, manly scent that triggered vague yearning memories. Perhaps some old boyfriend had worn that scent, perhaps she had daydreamed of some perfect man while sniffing samples at the cologne counter. One part of her mind wondered at the physiological, psychological, and primitive attractions of particular scents. The rest of her mind told her to shut up and inhale.
They passed through a gate into a beautiful walled patio, furnished with wrought iron tables and chairs. They rounded the corner of the house where rough-hewn wooden stairs climbed up to a covered veranda that ran the length of the back of the house. As they ascended she caught the spicy wet-earth smell of the coming rain.
"Here it is!" Paul opened a thick wooden door to an inviting room. The large dark vigas that supported the roof of the veranda continued into the room, giving the low ceiling an added weight.
"How old is this house?" she asked as she entered the room behind him.
"105 years! Can you believe that?" He smiled with pride, craning his neck to look at the ceiling.
Scully looked at his Adam's apple, his chin, his mouth, so different from Mulder's, then slowly turned her eyes to follow his gaze to the ceiling. "Those beams do look rather old. Are they original?"
"Most of the vigas are original," he began. Raising his hand to indicate one side of the ceiling, he continued, "But these three over here are only about 30 years old. My father did some work on the roof and had to replace them. An old adobe house like this needs lots of maintenance, so who knows how much of it is still actually 105 years old. Maybe the only part that is that old is the ground underneath!" His warm laughter filled the room with the bright resonance of mud and wood.
"So," Paul continued as he began putting Scully's bags near the old wooden wardrobe that served as a closet, "Fox really believes this case involves La Llorona. I knew he'd be interested, but I wasn't sure he'd be able to convince the FBI to back it as a legitimate investigation."
"What?" Scully said, genuinely surprised. Suddenly everything else was pushed from her mind.
"You know," he continued, unaware of the change in her demeanor as he moved to casually glance out at the night, "my mamá agrees with him. She's told me those old ghost stories ever since I was a little boy." He turned back toward her and shrugged. "I was never quite sure if I believed them, because my father said they were just legends, but you know Fox..." He finally noticed the pinched vertical line that had appeared between her brows.
"I'm sorry, Paul," Scully began, shaking her head as if that would enable her to understand what he had just said. "I'm not sure I know what you're referring to." She stood stiffly, trying not to be angry.
"Well..." Paul feared he had breached some policy of national security and decided it was time to leave. "Fox is next door—you can get to his room through this door here, or by the door just to the left out on the veranda."
"Thanks," she said, almost too shortly, then cleared her throat and deliberately changed her tone as she changed the subject.
"Thanks, Paul. Um...do you really think it's going to rain tonight?"
Paul stepped out the door, accepting her subtle offer to end their conversation on a better note, and leaned over the edge of the veranda, searching the sky.
Scully joined him in examining the dark clouds that blotted out much of the moonlight.
"Think so...don't you smell it? Oh...look there...lightening."
Suddenly, thunder slapped the air so hard Scully thought the roof was coming down on her head and she ducked involuntarily.
"Whoa!!!" Paul said, laughing out loud again. "That was close! Are you okay?" He took her by the shoulders and righted her, giving her a little shake.
"Hey, Paul, unhand my partner!" Mulder announced with a smile as he sauntered down the veranda toward them. "Man! That thunder almost knocked me down the stairs!" His eyes locked with Scully's with a teasing question.
Scully offered Mulder a noncommittal grin and turned back to Paul.
"Well, thanks again. I think I'll turn in before it starts to rain." She quirked an eyebrow at Mulder and slipped back into her room, shutting the door behind her.
Mulder stared after her a moment not sure what to make of that eyebrow, but another loud thunderclap broke the spell, making him jump.
Paul and Mulder looked at each other for a second and then began to laugh.
"Come on, Zorro, your room is right here," Paul said, still chuckling as he unlocked Mulder's door.
Scully slipped out of her jacket and sat on the edge of the bed, easing out of her shoes. They were cute, with their shapely heels and narrow toes, but, boy, did they hurt her feet after a day like this. She fell back, resting on the large bed, and absently counted the vigas overhead. She was on six when Mulder knocked on her connecting door. She was going to tell him to come in when she realized she had to unlock it for him.
She groaned for good measure as she rolled off the bed and shuffled her sore feet to the door, unconsciously straightening her shirt and hair just before opening it.
"Hey," he said as he walked through, looking unnaturally tall in the low old doorway. "You okay?" His lips were just so slightly pouty. She knew that he knew the effect that particular look had on her. She didn't know whether to be annoyed or to let it melt the little hard spot of anger she was holding in reserve.
"Just tired. Come in." She moved back to the bed, but took a more dignified sitting position.
Mulder walked to the window and opened the drapes a bit to see out. "It's raining." As if on cue, the rain intensified and began pounding on the roof. Scully looked doubtfully at the ceiling. The rain sounded as if it would beat the roof down.
"Mmm. What was it you wanted to talk about?"
"So..." Mulder sat in the large soft armchair near the window, stretching his legs out like a cat. "That Paul is a looker, isn't he?" Scully leveled her eyes at him and forced her face to be still, impassive. "Is that what you wanted to talk about...Zorro?" "All the girls like him." Mulder smiled at her stoic face. He knew she wouldn't stay silent for long.
"How many girls have you brought here?" she asked. Before he could stop it, Mulder's brow furrowed in worry. That wasn't what he meant. And in the same instant he realized he had just lost the match.
Scully allowed just the corner of her mouth to smile in victory as she shifted her weight on the bed and gracefully curled her legs around to one side.
"So, your friend Paul tells me we're here to investigate an old ghost story. I was under the impression we were here to profile a possible serial killer. Why didn't you tell me?"
"Would you have come?"
The question hung there in the room, the sound of rain deafening them. When she didn't answer, Mulder cocked his head and raised an eyebrow.
"...Yes, Mulder. I would have come to investigate the true cause of these people's deaths, whether or not you went chasing ghosts." "Well, this time, I think we just might catch one." Mulder smiled slowly.
"Oh yeah?" Scully felt suddenly combative. Even though she had been down this path with him too many times to count, she hated it when it seemed as if he had deliberately kept things from her. But the thought that he brought her here to waste her time with implausible theories when her desire was to help the victims' families further angered her. "Which ghost would that be?"
"La Llorona." He dropped the words in the air to tease her but felt a sudden chill on his skin.
"What...?" Scully rubbed her arm absently, feeling gooseflesh and blaming the rain. She managed to continue to glare at him, yet wondered where he learned to roll his 'R's.
"Once upon a time..." Mulder pulled a small worn book from his pocket and began to read.
"You can't be serious."
"Once upon a time, not so long ago, there lived a girl. Some say she was the most beautiful girl who ever lived around these parts. Because of her beauty, people didn't treat her like others. Girls her own age got together and talked about her behind her back.
'She thinks she's so special, look at her, her dress isn't any nicer than the one I have.'
'Look at her hair! What's so special about it? I have hair combs more beautiful than hers.'
"And so it was. The more beautiful she became, the more people shunned her. Boys who thought her the most wonderful thing to look upon were afraid to talk to her. Surely she would reject them, they thought. Even her own family felt guilty for not being able to provide more for such a beauty.
"One day a stranger came to the pueblo. He had fine clothes and fine horses and he spent lots of money gambling and drinking in the saloon. The men were impressed. He played poker till dawn and provided free drinks throughout the night. They really liked this fine- dressed stranger. But the stranger grew bored and decided to leave the small pueblo in search of something a bit more interesting.
"One fellow, who was truly enjoying himself, spoke up. 'No need to leave our small pueblo. We have what no other has, the most beautiful girl that eyes have ever seen.'
"The stranger was curious. A beauty here amongst the dust and the cacti? He found out where she lived and dressed in his Sunday best. He could not believe his good fortune. A beauty like no other he had ever seen with a family and pueblo practically giving her away. She was humble, kind, soft spoken and gentle.
"Her family said, 'Marry him if he asks. No other will be able to give you the fine things that you should have.'
"The Beauty, obedient and sincere, accepted his proposal and the whole pueblo turned out for the wedding ceremony.
"It seemed like a perfect match. The stranger was given the respect due a mayor. Being married to such a beautiful girl, he became the envy of every man. The Beauty kept their home clean and orderly. Her shy smile came easily and a kiss was given with each new dress or surprise. No matter that the women of the pueblo found her conceited and haughty. She had never been part of their circle and they seemed no different to her now. She was happy and it showed.
"Before long, she had a child and the happiness she felt would surely cause her to burst.
But the stranger felt different. He was tired of the sleepy, dusty pueblo and his money was running low. He longed for the excitement of the big city. Even the Beauty was beginning to annoy him. She was lovely in the morning and even lovelier after working all day. She said nothing when he came in late after gambling and looked the other way when he had too much to drink. The child was only interested in its mother, which was not what the stranger had expected. No, he was tired of this place and secretly planned to leave. Her family would take care of her. He was sure of this. "Just as he had come to this pueblo, he left it, without telling a soul. The Beauty waited. She was sure that he had to make a short trip somewhere. Each night she kissed her child goodnight then lit a candle by the door. And each morning she greeted her child with a smile and blew out the candle.
No one came to see her, not even her own family. They were sure that she had somehow chased the stranger away with her beauty. Alas, she began to go crazy not knowing what she had done to turn everyone against her.
"The monsoons began building and the heavy air was making her imagine all sorts of things. The wind picked up and mesquite thorns rubbed against the windows. The sky became dark and the heavens opened up. The torrential rains exploded, soaking their adobe home.
The wet smell of mud came through the walls and she covered her nose and eyes. But she could stand it no longer. She grabbed her sleeping baby and raced out the door.
"She ran to the river, which was already overflowing its banks. There was nothing else left. With all her angry might, she threw her baby into the rushing waters.
At that instant she realized that what she was doing was mad. She threw her arms to the heavens, let out the most agonizing cry, and fell to the ground, dead.
"Her soul appeared at the gates of Heaven and she begged the Lord for admission.
"'My daughter,' He asked, 'where is your child?'
"She began to weep in shame.
"'When you find your child,' He said, 'then you can come in and be at peace.'
"It was the worst storm that the tiny pueblo had ever seen. People said that they couldn't sleep that night. Cries too horrible to describe were heard all over the valley.
"And to this day, when the rivers fill and flow swiftly, people see the beautiful ghostly figure walking the river banks.
If you get too close to the river you can hear an eerie cry and some say a beautiful hand may even touch you on your shoulder."
Scully forgot to be cynical and sat still, immersed in the story. She barely noticed that Mulder had finished reading and was watching her. Rain pelted the ceiling. She felt a chill roll down her back and she instinctively hugged herself.
"What book is that?"
"Paul lent it to me," Mulder said as he rose from the chair and carefully closed the book and handed it to Scully. "It's his mother's. It's a book of legends and oral history from this area. The front half is in Spanish and the back half in English."
Scully rubbed her arms and shivered just a bit.
"Are you cold? Can I get you a blanket?"
"Mmm?" Scully looked up from the small book.
"Are you cold? Do you need anything?"
"No, no, I'm fine. Listen, Mulder, you don't really believe this do you?" The words were the same as always, but Scully had lost her fierce belief in science for the evening. She was now just fishing for some comfort.
"I'm not sure, Scully, but I think there is something more going on here. Something unusual."
"What are you talking about?"
"I think Laura Mesker was frightened—blinded by fright, if you will. Something frightened her enough to cause her to run along the river instead of east, away from it and toward the houses nearby."
"Don't you think being chased by a murderer would be frightening enough?"
"Yes, Scully, but wouldn't you run to the nearest place of possible safety? She was panicked in a way that prevented her from reasoning. I think we're dealing with something more unusual than just some mugger or killer. I can't prove it to you yet, but, like I said this afternoon, I think these people died of fright. Fright caused by encountering La Llorona."
Scully stared at him a moment, amazed that after all these years he could still surprise her with yet another outlandish theory. "You're right about that," she said at last. "You can't prove it. Here." She handed him the book. "Here's your ghost story. I need to go to bed."
The last thing Scully wanted was to be alone, but her brain had split at some point in the middle of Mulder's reading. Half of her mind was laughing and mocking and scolding the other half, which was truly frightened.
"Mulder, you think that bringing me to this old house in the creepy woods is going to trick me into jumping on your bandwagon." She was pushing him toward the door.
Mulder opened the connecting door, ducking down as he stepped through. Just before he shut the door, he poked his head back in and smiled.
"So, you think it's creepy, huh?"
"Goodnight, Zorro." Scully pushed him back into his room and shut the door without another word, but smiled as she turned the lock. She moved to get ready for bed, but two steps from the door, another huge clap of thunder made her jump. Without missing a step, she turned back to the connecting door and as quietly as she could, unlocked it.
Casa Cabeza de Baca
Mulder lay on top of the covers on his bed, his bare feet at the headboard, one pillow squashed under his chest. There were no televisions in the rooms at Casa Cabeza de Baca and he was suffering for it. He had had too much tea and coffee at dinner and with no TV to lull him, he knew he would be wide awake for a while. Maybe the sound of the rain would help, but for now he decided to make the most of it by getting some work done. Paul's little book was open below his chin at the foot of the bed, the casefile spread out to his right. He absently worked his way through a pile of sunflower seeds as he read and reread the report notes on the victims, pored over the crime scene photos. He knew there was a connection of some kind, some reason that these particular victims had all met the same fate, but it was not coming to him. He knew he needed more to go on if he hoped to prove his theory. He certainly hadn't thought that Scully would take his theory seriously, but he had hoped that maybe he could keep her from dismissing it altogether.
Outside, the wind began to hum around the corner of the house, just beyond Mulder's window. He shivered a bit and tucked his bare feet between the mattress and the headboard, trying to warm his chilled toes.
But the humming of the wind became a moan, the moan a howl. Mulder looked up at the window as his scalp crawled. He put a hand to the hair on the back of his neck as he rolled to sit up on the edge of the bed.
She walked among giant cottonwood trees, in the dark, in the rain. She heard voices and followed the sound.
A woman ran through the forest, carrying a bundle. Her hair blew wildly around her head, her gown flying in ragged shreds around her bare legs. She ran toward the river.
Scully heard a baby's cry and realized what was in the woman's bundle. She hurried ahead to catch up to her.
The woman reached the bank of the river, and stood looking out over the dark water. She raised the squirming bundle above her head.
"No!" Scully cried, but the woman ignored her, hurling the baby into the wild current.
The woman paused for a moment, then began to moan and wail, tearing at her tangled hair.
Her cry rang out over the water and through the trees, making Scully's skin crawl. The woman turned to face Scully and wailed again, her beautiful face contorted in anguish.
The howl came again, rising into a scream. Mulder's heart began to pound. He bit his lip and walked to the door. He took a deep breath, then opened the door just a bit.
Scully woke in darkness, her breath caught in her throat, the rain still thrumming on the roof. She shivered at the memory of her dream, despite the warmth of her tangled covers. She found herself looking up at the heavy vigas in the ceiling, and started counting them, trying to clear the dream images from her mind.
The cold wind blew directly into his face, carrying the sharp scent of the rain. The howling was louder and Mulder slipped out onto the veranda, padding down its length in his bare feet. He wrapped his arms around his chest, and glanced back toward his room. He had left his gun on the nightstand.
Suddenly Scully heard a sound that cut through the steady noise of the rain. It was a moan, a scream, a ...something... outside, both far away and just outside her door. That must have been what disturbed her sleep. She sat up, threw the covers off, and was halfway to her feet when she checked herself.
It was the wind. She became sure. She willed herself to be sure. Mulder's ghost story was playing games with her mind. She heard the scream again. Was it closer? She strained to listen for any sounds coming from Mulder's room. If he was stirring, then it was real and not just the wind or her overworked imagination.
She heard nothing from his room.
It was the wind. It was the wind.
She lay back, straightening the covers, counting vigas again. One...two...three...
The moaning scream came again, rising, rising. Scully turned on her side, away from the window, refusing to acknowledge that it could be anything but the storm, refusing to consider Mulder's ghost story or her own dream. She was not going out in the middle of the night looking for an apparition on the riverbank.
The rain suddenly slackened, the wind dying down. The moaning scream faded into the night as the storm began to abate. Mulder stood at the far end of the veranda, every hair on his body standing on end, staring out into the darkness until the rain had subsided. Only then did he realize he was soaked to the skin.
Casa Cabeza de Baca
Scully fussed with her hair, frowning at the dark circles under her eyes. Mulder and his ghost stories. She figured she had gotten maybe 5 hours of sleep altogether. She made a face at her reflection and left the bathroom.
Mulder met her downstairs in the dining room, looking cheerful, if not exactly well rested.
"Mornin', Scully!" he said with a smile, pulling a chair out for her. "Did you sleep well?"
"Coffee," she replied, dropping into the chair and resting her head in her hands, elbows on either side of her place setting.
"Coming right up," he said. He poured a cup from the carafe on the table and set it before her. "Perk up, Scully. We've got a lot of work ahead of us today." He took a seat opposite her.
She looked at him skeptically.
"Chasing river spirits?"
He looked around at the other guests making their way toward the table. He leaned forward and spoke quietly.
"Examining crime scenes, going over autopsy reports."
"Buenas días, ladies and gentlemen!" Mrs. C de Baca said, carrying a platter of eggs and bacon.
Two young ladies followed close behind, bringing a warming basket overflowing with fresh, hot tortillas, a small bowl of green chile, and a large bowl of chorizo sausage cooked with scrambled eggs and diced potatoes.
The serving dishes were arranged in the middle of the table and a murmur of content made its way among the diners.
Mulder helped himself to a generous serving of the chorizo, added a dollop of green chile on top, and grabbed a couple of tortillas.
Scully watched in amazement. She snagged a tortilla and took a nibble. Its warmth and comforting texture awakened her appetite and she served herself a plain egg and some bacon. She turned down the bowl of chile as it passed her, evoking a gasp of disbelief from Mulder.
"Ah, come on, Scully," he chided. "It'll put hair on your chest."
She smiled sarcastically and nodded her head. "That's exactly what I want—hair on my chest."
He chuckled at her and spread a blob of butter on one of his tortillas. "At least have some butter. Nothing tastes better than a hot tortilla with butter on it. And it's real butter, not that cholesterol-free, flavor-free artificial goo you usually use." He pushed the little plate of homemade butter at her.
"No, thank you," she mouthed at him. He was showing off, but she didn't really mind.
Paul came in from the living room and kissed his mother on the cheek.
"Buenas días, Mamá," he said cheerfully. He smiled at Scully and waggled his fingers at her as he passed behind the other guests. He came around to Mulder's shoulder and clapped him soundly. "Señor Mulder! Como estás, Zorro?"
"Muy bien, gracias." Mulder smiled at Paul, waiting for praise for his Spanish.
Scully rolled her eyes and took another bite of egg.
"Listen, buddy, you need to work on that East Coast accent!" Paul walked around the table and took a seat next to Scully.
She turned to him and smiled pleasantly. "Good morning, Paul."
"Good morning, Dana. How did you sleep?"
Thinking first of her dream and second of the nightmarish sounds outside, then the storm, then her fitful sleep, she could only reply, "Just fine, thanks. And you?"
"Well, the storm kept me up a bit," he said as he served himself.
Scully found herself touching a hand to the hairs at the back of her neck. She looked up in time to see that Mulder seemed about to say something.
"Tell me something, Paul," she began, determined to steer the conversation away from any hint of ghost stories and eerie sounds in the night. "What is this 'Zorro' thing?"
"Hasn't he explained it to you?" Paul asked, grinning at Mulder.
"It's because I'm a masked avenger," Mulder said seriously.
Scully chuckled in spite of herself.
Paul laughed and touched her arm. "Actually, it's just his name. 'Zorro' is Spanish for 'fox'."
"Aw, man, you're blowing my image," Mulder said, laughing around his cup of coffee.
Scully shook her head and smiled. "How did you two meet?" she asked.
"I found him wandering in the woods," Paul said cryptically.
"Like a masked avenger?" Scully teased.
"It was back when I was working with Reggie Purdue," Mulder offered. "We were out here tracking a guy."
"So you were out here lurking by this house?"
"No," Paul said. "It was out by my house, up in the canyon."
"You don't live here?"
"Oh, no. I have a house up in Cedar Crest, in the mountains just east of town. Right now I'm down here to help out for a bit and to make sure the building is in shape for the fall—you know, the Balloon Fiesta, the State Fair. It all brings in a lot of travelers and my mother needs help."
"A house in the mountains sounds nice."
"It's great. You and Fox will have to come visit sometime."
"You'll have to lend it to us for our honeymoon, Paul," Mulder broke in with a smile, leaning as far forward as he could without getting food on his shirt.
Scully almost choked on her coffee. She turned to stare incredulously at Mulder.
Paul gaped at Mulder. "You're kidding, right?"
Mulder's smile widened, but he said nothing, taking a bite of food and waggling his eyebrows at Scully.
She turned back to Paul. "Yes, he's kidding. Believe me."
Paul looked from partner to partner, amused and puzzled, but continued. "Well, when are you guys going to be out here again? It gets cold, but the winter up there is spectacular. Skiing nearby, plenty of snow to play in and quiet, quiet, quiet."
"Sign me up for that." Scully said as she grinned at Paul and his smooth skin. If Mulder wanted to play, she would play, too.
What she didn't see was the look on Mulder's face. He had a moment of insecurity as he watched her watching Paul. Surely she wasn't flirting with Paul; surely she was just teasing him. But he carried a little nugget of self-doubt that every now and then insisted on asserting itself where Scully was concerned, and often left him hanging by an adolescent thread.
He loved her. He'd tried to tell her at times, but he wasn't sure she had ever taken him seriously. He'd tried to show her and hoped she understood his intent, but somehow they'd never taken that crucial step forward.
He was always afraid that someone would come along who was more charming, more normal, with less emotional baggage than he—someone whom Scully would find easier to love than him. Maybe someone like his friend Paul.
In that moment, Mulder's phone began to ring. He winced, not wanting to leave the table just now, and pulled his phone from his pocket. He rose and walked down the steps into the living room to take the call and returned a few minutes later.
"Scully," he whispered, tilting his head toward the kitchen.
"Excuse us for a minute, Paul," Scully said, smiling apologetically as she rose from the table.
"There was another death last night," Mulder began abruptly as soon as they were beyond earshot of everyone.
One of the serving girls came back into the kitchen, so he took Scully by the elbow and moved her further back.
"Where did they find the body?" Scully asked, afraid of what he would say.
"Less than a mile from here." He looked at her solemnly. "I heard it last night."
"Heard what?" she asked sharply. "What could you have heard?"
"Didn't you hear it? You must have. The wailing and screaming?" He knew what he had heard, indeed felt, during the storm. He was starting to get angry.
"You heard the storm, Mulder," she said firmly. "All that talk last night about ghosts roaming the riverbank had your imagination working overtime. You heard the wind in the trees, just like I did."
"You did hear it." Mulder nodded smugly. "You won't admit it, but you heard it."
"I heard the wind. I heard the rain." Scully pressed her lips together. In the bright light of day she would not entertain the childishly frightening feelings of the night before. "The rest of the time I was asleep."
Mulder glared at her for a moment. There was always this grinding friction, this doubt and opposition. Maybe she thought she was helping him to not look foolish, but he knew that she was often trying to keep him from making her look foolish.
"Well," he said at last, "We have a body and a crime scene. Let's go."
He walked away without a backward glance, striding out the front door and rounding the corner of the house toward their rooms as she hurried to catch up. He knew she hated it when he did this, but he did it anyway.
She quickly collected the things she would need for the day, and made her way out to the car. She had heard his door close before she was quite ready and she had the real sensation that he just might leave without her.
Mulder was standing by the open driver's side of the car, pretending to study his hastily scribbled directions to the new crime scene, waiting for her. The bright morning sun was bouncing off the roof of the car, making him squint even through his sunglasses. It was still early but the temperature was already climbing into the 80's. He closed the file as Scully approached.
As she came around to the passenger side, Mulder popped the automatic lock for her door and got behind the wheel.
"Here," he said, trying to keep his voice gentle as he handed her the folder, regretting his behavior of a moment ago. He looked at her face from behind the protection of his sunglasses, but she had donned her own and he couldn't quite read her expression. He chewed his lower lip, wondering why he couldn't just come out and apologize.
"Umm," he began, "could you get the map from the glove box? I'm not quite sure how to get to where we're going."
Scully handed him the map, taking note of the change in his demeanor. She decided to dwell on the more pleasant breakfast conversation rather than their little spat in the kitchen.
He took the map from her and fussed with it, folding it and refolding it until he had the river valley more or less centered. Then he turned it and turned it again until he had his bearings.
"We...are...um...um...here," he said, finally poking his finger at a place on the map. He trailed his finger along, lips moving soundlessly as he thought his way through the streets. "And we need to go to the Paseo Del Norte Bridge, which is..." He took a pen from his pocket and made some markings.
"Scully..." His voice disappeared as his mouth suddenly went dry. He turned to look at her.
"What?" she asked, furrowing her brow at his expression. Was he frightened?
"Get out of the car," he said quietly, not breaking his gaze.
"Why?" she asked. Her voice was almost a whisper as she unbuckled her seatbelt. If he wasn't afraid himself, he was certainly frightening her.
"It's right over there," he said, turning to point toward the trees beyond the house.
"What are you talking about, Mulder?" she pressed. He had gotten out of the car and was walking across the gravel parking lot. When she caught up with him she stepped around in front of him, stopping him with a palm pressed against his chest. His expression was neutral, but his eyes were dark and distracted. "What is it?"
"The body." His eyes flickered up toward the trees again. "The crime scene, the body it's just down the street from here."
At Scully's astonished expression, he bent closer to her face.
"I told you you heard it," he whispered. He stepped around her and continued out toward the street, turning to the right to walk around the adobe wall surrounding the C de Baca property.
Scully followed him, replaying her memories of the sounds she had heard during the night. With a mental shrug, she found her way through it.
"You must have heard the victim screaming, Mulder," she said evenly. "If the victim was attacked so nearby, it's conceivable that the sound might have carried up the street."
"I don't think we heard a person, Scully." His voice was quiet but firm. He entered the bosque behind the house.
They made their way through the thickets of fragrant Russian olive trees and rough, fat cottonwoods.
"Are you sure we can get there from here, Mulder?" Scully asked as she held a thorny branch away from her face.
Mulder said nothing but reached back to take her by the elbow and help her over the gnarled roots of a large tree.
They finally came to the open riverbank and found a team of officers working the area about a hundred feet away. A bridge spanned the river further to the south and a few officers were searching for evidence in its shadow.
Mulder looked at Scully, challenging her to doubt him now. But she returned his gaze steadily, feeling the proximity of the body to the C de Baca property strengthening her theory rather than Mulder's.
Yellow crime scene tape was being strung between the trees just to the south, where the Albuquerque Police Department cars were parked.
Mulder and Scully picked their way down the bank. Crime Scene Unit officers were carefully going over the scene, collecting and cataloging debris that might relate to the victim's last moments.
The body lay a few feet from the water, curled in a fetal position. It was a young man, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, his hair and clothes still damp from last night's rainstorm. CSU had already photographed the ground near the body and had found only the victim's footprints along the muddy bank.
Mulder crouched down near the man's head, looking back along the trail of footprints. He had been running, judging from the prints, up and down the bank.
Mulder turned to look along the bank, but there was no place of particular safety in sight. Why wouldn't he have run up toward the road? If someone were chasing him, he might have found help from a passing motorist, or at one of the houses along Rio Grande Boulevard just above the embankment. Just as Laura Mesker had ignored the possible safety of nearby houses, this young man had run blindly.
A member of the CSU team reached a gloved hand into the back pocket of the young man's jeans and removed his wallet, opening it to check the identification.
Mulder touched Scully's arm and waggled his fingers at her. She produced a pair of latex gloves from her pocket, handed them to Mulder, then found another pair for herself.
"Thanks," he whispered absently as he pulled the gloves on and reached for the wallet. "May I?" he asked the officer.
Mulder looked at the young face smiling confidently in the driver's license photo. "Nathaniel Kinsey," he read aloud. "Twenty-five years old." He closed the wallet and shifted his body to get a more direct look at the man's face.
Scully felt the cold skin of the victim's hands, gently turning them now that the photographer had finished documenting the scene. She examined his fingers and nails to see if there were signs of a struggle, to see if perhaps he had been able to scratch his attacker, or grab a piece of fabric or hair. His hands were clasped in fists, folded tight against his chest. She didn't want to force his hands open out here in case there was some trace evidence, but she could see no obvious indications. But by moving his hands a little, she could make out the scorched center of his shirt.
To her mind it looked a little like the burn marks left on victims of lightning strikes. An idea began to form in her mind.
Mulder rose and looked around at the other officers. "Who found the body?"
Mulder recognized Detective Sanchez as he stepped forward from the cluster of cops.
"Good morning, Agent Mulder," he said as he came nearer. His voice was a bit subdued and a frown creased his brow above his shiny sunglasses.
"Detective Sanchez," Mulder nodded his greeting. "When did you get the call?"
Sanchez glanced back toward the houses above the bank.
"A couple that lives up there just off of Rio Grande Boulevard called it in to 911 early this morning. They thought they heard someone screaming last night, but they weren't sure if it was really screaming or just the storm. The wife finally decided to make the call just in case." Sanchez looked at the young man on the ground at his feet. He shrugged helplessly and shook his head.
Mulder looked down at Scully. She locked eyes with him as they silently argued the significance of the detective's report.
Mulder returned to her side. "Scully, I'll drop you off at the morgue so you can get started on Kinsey's autopsy. I'm gonna go check out the other crime scenes and then meet you downtown."
Scully nodded. She was actually anxious to get a look at this young man's injuries and determine how he died, which might help further focus the investigation. She was sure he hadn't been killed by Mulder's ghost, which meant that there was a real killer at work.p>
Mulder left his car in the parking lot at San Gabriel Park, where the first victim's car had been found. He followed the bike path north from the park the way Manny Garcia must have done. He passed beneath the Interstate 40 Bridge, with its constant thunder of traffic, and then he left the trail, picking his way down to the water's edge. Garcia had been found face down in the shallow water among the reeds.
Mulder stopped at the spot where Garcia's body had lain. Even after several days, the reeds were still flattened down. This place wasn't nearly as quiet as the area where Laura Mesker had been found, though it was only a couple of miles south. Here the river channel was deeper and the current more turbulent as it approached the pilings of the I-40 Bridge.
He squatted down among the cattails and looked at the area closely. There wasn't much to see. The photos he had examined earlier showed Garcia's prone position, his footprints along the bank, and not much else.
Mulder looked up and down the bank, unable to imagine what had drawn this man here in the middle of a stormy night. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing remarkable about this stretch of the river-except that a man had died here.
With a sigh, Mulder stood and made his way back to the trail, walking through the broken glass and other trash beneath the bridge as he headed back toward the park. The Central Avenue Bridge stretched over the river a little further south of the park and something made him pause at the sight of it.
A bicyclist in a neon green jersey emerged from beneath the bridge and sped along the trail, nodding a greeting at Mulder as he passed by.
When Mulder turned back toward the south, the feeling was gone. Whatever had caught his attention had slipped away.
Probably just the sound of the bike, he thought, shrugging to himself as he went up to the parking lot.
Nathaniel Kinsey lay naked on the steel autopsy table, his head propped on a block, his youthful college-boy clothes stripped away to be examined for trace evidence.
Scully stood still beside the table. Whatever Mulder thought was going on here, in the end it hardly mattered.
What mattered was that someone was dead. This boy was dead.
This boy—who had no gray hair, whose face was as yet unlined, who had lived scarcely a third of his natural life span—this boy was dead.
Scully ran one gloved finger across his smooth cold brow. She wondered when she had begun to feel so old. She would allow Mulder his theories without protest for the time being. Soon she would confront him with the cold hard facts of this young man's death. It wasn't that she wanted to be adversarial, but she couldn't willingly embrace "explanations" that defied scientific fact. Of course, since she had begun her association with Mulder she had seen many things that she would have never dreamed possible. Still, she maintained that flukemen, liver-eating mutants, and some of the other strange things they had encountered, as bizarre and supernatural as they might appear, were in the end just examples of nature, or human nature, somehow gone wrong.
But a ghost-woman running along the river killing people was ridiculous. She and Mulder had confronted the "killer ghost" theory before. She hadn't believed it then, despite Mulder's earnest insistence, and she didn't believe it now.
At last she felt the familiar wall of detachment slide down over her heart and she stepped away to get the camera.
She photographed the angry red wound over his breastbone. As she had read in the autopsy report of the previous victims, it seemed to be some sort of burn or scorch mark. The skin was slightly blistered, the hair on his chest singed.
Given the weather conditions last night and the lack of evidence of another person on the riverbank, Scully's first impression was that Nathaniel Kinsey had been struck by lightning. There were other physiological signs she would look for in his tissues to confirm her initial diagnosis, but it seemed the obvious conclusion.
Mulder looked out over the water as he sped along with the westbound traffic over the Monta¤o Road Bridge. The third victim, Vera Tafoya, was the only one found on the western bank of the river and she had been found just north of this bridge.
As he reached the western side he turned to the right as soon as he could. There was a small shopping center nearby and he pulled into its parking lot. He found his way down toward the water but had to stop when he came to a ditch. According to the report it was a drainage and flood control canal.
Vera Tafoya would have to have somehow crossed this ditch in order to get down to the river's edge where her body had been found. She would have either picked her way over the slim maintenance crossing several yards from the bridge or simply waded through the deep, weed-tangled water. Either option seemed incredible for an older woman to have done in the dark, during a heavy downpour.
Mulder crossed the narrow planks of the maintenance bridge and pushed through the bosque of tangled bushes, cottonwood and Russian olive trees. There were no houses in this area, and the shopping center was rather far above the bank. There was nothing of civilization here but its trash.
She had been found in the water, her gown caught in a low-hanging tree branch, but like Manny Garcia and Laura Mesker she had had no water in her lungs. So why had Vera Tafoya come down through this wilderness of trees and underbrush in her nightgown and slippers?
Whatever had driven her, whatever had drawn her, had been strong enough to make her force her way to this difficult place, with no foresight or preparation, in inappropriate clothing, on an inhospitable night.
His stomach rumbled suddenly, breaking his concentration and reminding him that he hadn't finished his breakfast this morning. He sighed at the sun-burnished water, eyed the clouds that were already bulking upward into the too-blue sky. He glanced at his watch then started back the way he had come. He was having trouble putting the pieces together to his satisfaction and he wondered if Scully had found anything helpful in the autopsy.
He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and pressed her speed-dial number.
"Scully." There was a hint of a sigh in her voice as she answered.
"Buenas tardes, Señorita Scully," he began. "You up for some lunch?"
"You buying?" she answered, trying not to giggle at his fledgling Spanish.
"Yup." He started the car and headed back over the river. "Did you find anything?"
"Um, yes and no," Scully replied. She didn't want to admit that her theory wasn't exactly panning out.
"We can talk about it after lunch, Zorro."
Mulder pulled into the small parking lot beside a low white building accented in turquoise and pink neon. Inside, the 1950's d‚cor extended to the waitress's uniforms, red leatherette booths, and chrome-trimmed stools at a long counter. The hostess led them across the black-and-white checkerboard floor to a booth by a window looking out over the city's downtown district to the west.
Mulder took advantage of the coat hook mounted on the side of the booth to hang up his jacket, rolling up his shirtsleeves as they sat down to order lunch.
They made small talk about the diner and the view as they waited for their food and then began to eat. At last they were finishing up, Mulder decided to take the plunge.
"So what did you find, Scully?" Mulder asked as he wiped the last residue of his green-chile cheeseburger from his lips. "What killed Nathaniel Kinsey?"
She looked out the window at the heavy clouds and the curtain of rain moving closer to the diner. At last she turned back to him.
"Well, he died of heart failure..." she hedged.
"Caused by..." he pressed. The rain began to pound down on the cars and the parking lot, its damp perfume coming in through the air-conditioning.
"The, um, mechanism of death is not clear," she finally continued.
Mulder studied her face. Her pretty blue eyes were boldly holding his gaze, but he could tell she was not as sure of her conclusions as she wanted to be.
"That burn," he began, "could it have been some kind of electrocution?"
"I considered that," she said, looking down at the table for a moment. "The wound was superficial and there was no tissue damage indicating electrocution." She fiddled with her napkin.
"Were there any other findings?" he prompted, sensing that she was holding something back.
"Yes," she replied. She sat up straight and looked him in the eye again. "There were heightened levels of adrenaline in his system, very high levels, indicating a violent encounter or attack."
Mulder nodded with confidence. "Couldn't that mean that he died of fright?"
"Mulder, if you believe he died of fright," Scully answered, leaning forward to make her point, "wouldn't that mean that he was frightened by someone?"
Scully took a moment to change her tone.
"Mulder, I'm just afraid that in your eagerness to blame this on this ghost woman you might be overlooking the real killer. Maybe you should try working on a legitimate profile, assume we're dealing with a real person."
"Scully," Mulder protested, trying to keep the anger out of his voice, "I've already thought this through. I've already eliminated any real person."
"But did you really try working up a profile, or did you begin with the assumption that it was your ghost-woman? Did you let that assumption color your perception?"
He had to hold his tongue because he knew that at least part of what she said was true.
"Mulder, tell me something," she said, pinning him with her eyes. "Did the APD go through the Albuquerque Field Office to call you in on this case, or did you call them?"
Mulder set his mouth in a tight line and stared back at her, finally turning to stare out the window toward the downtown skyline.
"I thought so." There was little he could hide from her.
"Paul faxed me a newspaper article that appeared after the first death," he began at last, his voice quiet, though he was able to look her in the eye again. "The reporter had interviewed some people who lived near where the body was found and they mentioned the legend of La Llorona." He had indeed been eager to investigate the possibility of her existence. So, had he really tried to come up with a "legitimate" profile, as Scully put it? Maybe, maybe not.
"Please, Mulder," she said. "Would you try again? You want to be sure, don't you? If you're going to stand by your claims in our report, if you're going to present this theory to the APD, but most importantly, for the sake of the victims and their families, you have to be absolutely sure you haven't overlooked their killer."
Scully saw the faint flush that colored Mulder's cheeks as he turned again to look out the window. She hadn't meant to hurt his feelings or make him feel foolish. She finally laid her hand gently over his.
"Hey," she began softly. "Why don't we go back and go over the case file together?"
He turned his hand beneath hers and caught hold of her hand. He squeezed her fingers then released them to signal the waitress for their check.
Mulder pushed a thumbtack into the bulletin board, pinning Nathaniel Kinsey's crime scene photo alongside those of the other victims, completing the set of four. He stepped back and leaned his butt against the small table, unaware that he was blocking Scully's view of the display.
Scully enjoyed the view of his backside for a minute before clearing her throat and sliding her chair to the right a bit.
Mulder turned to see her nod toward the board and he shifted to his left, crossing his arms as he focused on the photos.
Scully spread the crime reports on the table so she could compare them.
"Let's start with what we know about the victims," she said, taking up her notepad and pen. "We have two men, two women; one white and one Hispanic of each gender."
"Actually," Mulder corrected, "Vera Tafoya was originally from the Isleta reservation. She was Native American. Her husband is Hispanic."
"Oh." Scully shrugged. "Well, maybe the killer thought she was Hispanic. If there's some racial or ethnic connection..."
"That's assuming these people were chosen in a conventional sense, that the killer sought them out and followed them or kidnapped them. There's no evidence of that."
"So are you saying that the victims were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time?"
"Not necessarily. According to the reports, each victim left his or her home under their own power the night of their death, and there are no signs of struggle or of any other person near the victim. They may have gone to the river deliberately, as if something drew them there."
"So, getting back to the victims themselves, what do they have in common?"
"Not much, if anything," Mulder began. He stood and pointed at each victim in turn as he rattled off the details of their lives from memory.
"Manny Garcia, age 54. Married, no children, lived in the South Valley area, drove a city bus.
"Laura Mesker, age 42. Widowed, two kids, ages 10 and 8, lived in the Northeast Heights, taught seventh grade math.
"Vera Tafoya, age 70. Married, three grown children, lived on the west side of town in Paradise Hills, homemaker.
"Nathaniel Kinsey, age 25. Single, no children, lived in the University area, graduate student."
"So, as Detective Sanchez said, different ages, different ethnic backgrounds, from different parts of town, different social circles..."
"And there's nothing to indicate that any of them had ever met or come in contact with the others."
"A random victim type might indicate a thrill killer..." Scully suggested. "What does the crime scene say about the killer?"
"Well, the way the body is left usually indicates something about the killer's reason for killing, or something about what his needs are, what compulsion he's feeding. In this case, if I believed this to be a conventional serial murderer, I would say that we have a perpetrator who may be arrogant, leaving the bodies out in the open. This person is not concerned with hiding the bodies, doesn't seem to care that the crimes are discovered right away, or maybe wants the victims to be found. I would say it's more likely the former, since the bodies are left where they fell. Yet there doesn't seem to be any apparent motive behind these deaths.
"The victims are not mutilated or posed after death in any way, nor are they covered up to preserve their dignity or hide their faces. There does not appear to be any kind of religious or occult ritualistic element. Also, there is no indication of overkill or great anger, no indication of sexual assault or any injuries other than the two we've already noted. The method of death is consistent and might be considered this killer's signature.
"The killer got up close and personal—these were hands-on deaths, whatever the exact method was. There was some element of great fear and panic on the part of the victim, so the killer was probably unknown to them. But the killer didn't attack them from behind, didn't ambush them, and there's no evidence of much of a struggle, so it must be a powerful person, someone who can exert force on the victim without the use of restraints."
Scully nodded. "There were no defense wounds on any of the victims. There's no indication of handcuffs, tape, or ligatures on the bodies and there were no drugs found in their systems."
"So that leaves us with a powerful stranger, someone who can exercise deadly force over these victims, frightening them into a panic before getting right up to them and killing them. But there's no evidence of another person near any of the victims."
"Mulder, each victim was killed on a rainy night. Isn't it possible that the rain might have washed away such evidence? Especially if the killer made an effort to conceal his tracks."
"But then, again, how is it that these particular people were killed when and where they were?" Mulder persisted. "Why would the killer be lurking in isolated areas along the river, hoping that by chance someone might come along? What are the odds that anyone would just happen to come to the river in the middle of a stormy night? Why not go hunting for victims where they would be more abundant—in town, where there are more people to choose from?"
"Maybe he wanted them to look like drowning victims," she insisted. "Maybe he wanted them to be found by the river."
"Scully, if his only purpose is to kill, to find a victim, I think his victims would have been high-risk people, like prostitutes and homeless people. He could have easily enticed or forced such people to whatever location he chose.
"All of these victims," he indicated the pictures once again, "were low-risk people who had no purpose in that place and yet who went there seemingly of their own free will."
Scully took a deep breath and let it out slowly, steeling herself.
"So then, how do you fit La Llorona into this profile? How do you explain the choosing of these people?"
Mulder stared at the photos and pursed his lips. He shook his head.
"I don't know yet. I know there is some connection, but it's not anything obvious."
Now it was Scully's turn to shake her head.
"Mulder, you have no evidence to support the idea that a ghost is killing these people. No evidence beyond some old folk tale and some creepy sounds during a rainstorm. There must be evidence of a real killer because that is the only explanation that makes sense."
"Well, if you think you can find that evidence, go ahead and look!" He cleared his throat to try to take the sharp edge out of his voice. "But I think the key to this case lies in whatever connection there is between the victims. If we can find that, we'll find the killer, whoever—or whatever—it may be."
Scully bit her lips for a moment, trying not to let Mulder's sharp tone anger her.
"Well, why don't we look at how they got to the river?" She looked up at him and he nodded, the softening in his eyes offered as an apology. She turned to the files again.
"You said that each victim left his or her home under their own power, in their own vehicle."
"Yes. The police found no evidence of any sort of struggle or coercion."
"So, what did they say to their families when they left? Did they offer any explanation as to where they were going or why?"
Mulder's brow furrowed as he considered her question. He shook his head. "I don't know. I think the cops asked, but I don't recall any clear answers."
Scully flipped through the pages, shaking her head. "There are a few notes, but nothing specific." She looked up at him. "I think that's a place to start."
He nodded. "Why don't you try giving them a call, see what you can find out. I'd like to focus on the victims a bit longer."
Scully nodded her agreement, and made a few notes for herself. She could have stayed in the room and used her cell phone, but she knew that Mulder wanted to be alone.
"I'm going to find a phone, maybe talk to Sanchez," she said as she rose and gathered her things.
"I'll see you in a little while," he said as he opened the door for her. He moved back into the room and stood again before the photos on the bulletin board. They showed the bodies as they had been found—in undignified sprawls, eyes dulled in vacant contemplation of some secret scene, faces frozen in terror.
He went to the table and rifled through the files, retrieving another set of photos, which he spread out before him. These were pictures from the victims' lives, once kept to remember moments of happiness, now turned over to the police in a moment of grief.
Mulder sat hunched over, elbows on knees, his chest pressed against the side of the table, nose inches from the images. His eyes moved from photo to photo and to the notes he had jotted on a legal pad.
At last he lowered his forehead to the surface of the table, closed his eyes, and let all the facts and images flow through his mind—the details from the police reports, the points he and Scully had discussed, the feelings he had experienced at the crime scenes.
Back in his profiling days he had earned the nickname "Spooky Mulder" for his ability to make uncanny leaps of logic or deduction as well as for his unconventional ideas. Some people thought he was reading the criminal's mind through ESP or some other strange ability, but he knew that profiling had nothing to do with magic or ESP or any paranormal phenomena. It was all about examining the evidence and making note of whatever clues the criminal had left behind. Those very clues were what brought the suspect to life in his mind.
And yet he knew that if there was a "normal" killer at work in this case, he would indeed have "felt" his presence by now.
For him, despite what Scully had said about doing a "legitimate" profile, the only question that remained was the connection between the victims, how they had been summoned to the river to meet La Llorona and their deaths, for he was sure that was what had happened.
What was it that connected them? He was missing something. He could feel it tickling at the back of his neck like a spider in his shirt collar.
Death. Rain. The river. These were the things they had in common.
And fear. A shiver ran down his back, making him shudder in his suit jacket, despite the stuffy atmosphere of the little room. This was the same feeling he had had at the river, the same feeling he'd had when he first received the case files and crime scene photos from Detective Sanchez. He had proposed to Scully that the victims had died of fright, and he believed that even if it was not the actual cause of death, it was at least a major factor, but what exactly had been so frightening? Was it the sight of La Llorona herself, or something else, something more?
He sighed and ground the heels of his hands into his burning eyes, then turned back to the police reports.
Each of the victims had been found before their families had reported them missing, the police alerted by whoever had had the misfortune of stumbling upon the bodies. But there were 911 calls reported on each night that a victim had died, made hours before the victims had been found. As Mulder continued to read he saw that the police reports indicated that the calls had been only vague reports of someone crying or screaming down by the river.
One officer had noted, "Caller says La Llorona is running up and down the river."
The hairs on the back of Mulder's neck stood up. He could hear the officer's derisive tone dripping from the written words, but the sounds he had heard during last night's storm seemed to echo off the walls of the tiny room.
He made a note of the caller's name and went back to check the other reports.
In each instance, the caller was the same: Elfido Hurtado of 8 Tom s Court NW.
Mulder scribbled down the man's address and phone number and shoved the files back together, snatching the pictures down from the bulletin board. He gathered everything up and went in search of Scully and Sanchez.
"Well, old Elfido Hurtado...he's called us every time we've found a body," Sanchez said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "He says he's seen La Llorona walking up and down the river and that she's the one who's been killing these people." He studied Mulder's face, waiting for the young agent to scoff at the old man's beliefs.
Mulder returned Sanchez' gaze steadily. "Can I speak to him?"
Sanchez chuffed out a sharp breath. "He's a nut, Agent Mulder! A superstitious old viejo."
Mulder nodded. "I'd still like to speak to him."
Sanchez shook his head. "Yeah, okay. I can't go along with you just now, so you might have to wait until tomorrow...unless you or your partner speak Spanish."
"He doesn't speak English?" Scully asked.
"No, he does," Sanchez replied. "He just doesn't always remember that he does."
"I think I know someone who can help us," Mulder replied. "Come on, Scully."
Scully refolded their city street map to the section they needed, comparing the tiny lines and microscopic print to the written directions Sanchez had given them.
"Well, it's a little hard to see on the map," she said, "but Sanchez said we need to look for El Portal Street...it should be the first left after Chavez Road."
Mulder nodded, then added, "Paul said he knew the way. I guess this old guy is well known in the neighborhood. He's going to meet us there."
Scully pretended to be looking closely at street signs while she wondered if Mulder would say more. At last she went ahead and asked him.
"Mulder, what do you expect to learn from this man?"
He shrugged, keeping his eyes on the traffic. "I'm not sure yet." He looked over at her briefly and changed the subject.
"Were you able to get in touch with the families?"
"Yes," she began, finding the appropriate page in her notebook. "I asked them to tell me anything the victim might have said, or if he or she was acting at all strange."
"Well, everyone mentioned the local news coverage of the deaths down by the river—that the victim was upset by or talked about the deaths. And no, Mulder, no one mentioned La Llorona." Scully gave him a pointed glance, softened by an easy grin.
Mulder chuckled and said, "You gotta roll that R, Scully."
She smiled more broadly as she turned again to her notes. "Manny Garcia's wife said that he had been upset about the loss of their daughter. She said that he had mentioned her death earlier that evening, during dinner."
"When did this daughter die?"
"Well, that's why his wife found it a bit unusual—it was twenty years ago. Their daughter died of SIDS."
When they finally turned from El Portal onto Tomás Court, Paul's pickup truck was idling at the entrance to a private drive. As Mulder approached, Paul pulled into the narrow tree-lined way.
Mulder followed him slowly, the car waddling its way down the uneven, washboard-surfaced lane. They pulled into the shady yard, parking on the semicircular driveway just behind a big new sedan.
The yard was neatly kept and full of tall irises in peaceful shades of lavender and yellow. A walkway of flat stones led from the driveway to the entryway of an ancient adobe house, its front door set back in a sheltered patio.
Paul rapped the aged iron knocker several times on the heavy wooden door, rocking idly on his feet as they waited for someone to answer.
"I hope the old guy's awake," Paul said, looking casually around the patio.
"Does he live alone?" Scully asked.
Paul shook his head. "No. His niece lives with him—of course, she's as old as the hills herself."
Mulder tried not to fidget as they waited.
At last a slight, bent old woman opened the door. She wore a simple floral print housedress, a plain cotton apron tied around her waist.
"Buenas tardes, Senora Vigíl," Paul began.
"Buenas tardes," she replied politely. She eyed him expectantly, her eyes sharp and clear behind her thick glasses.
"Yo soy Pablo C de Baca. This is Fox Mulder with the FBI. We were wondering if we could speak with your uncle this morning."
She nodded and stepped back from the door, waving them in. "Páse," she said, and then in deference to her Anglo visitors she added, "Please, come in."
She led them through the dimly lit living room to a small, bright kitchen in the back of the house and invited them to sit at the table.
"Quieres café? Would you like some coffee?" she asked.
"Si, gracias," Paul answered for all of them.
After serving them, she excused herself and went to find her uncle. A few minutes later she reappeared with Mr. Hurtado, who lowered himself carefully into the remaining kitchen chair. His niece served him a cup of coffee, placed the pot in the center of the table and slipped away.
Paul introduced himself along with Mulder and Scully. Mulder looked from Paul to Hurtado and began.
"Sir, I'd like to ask you about some phone calls you made recently to the Albuquerque Police. My partner and I are investigating the deaths that have been occurring down here along the river."
Hurtado looked at Mulder for a moment, his dark eyes taking the measure of Mulder's earnest gaze. He spared a look at Scully, then turned back.
Mulder waited for him to speak, wondering if the old man had understood him.
"I told them it's her," Hurtado said at last. "La Lloróna, the Weeping Woman." He paused to catch Scully's eye. "She's killing these people."
Mulder felt a wash of goosebumps rise on his body and he looked at Scully.
She pressed her lips together before lifting her coffee cup to take a sip, her eyes returning to their study of the Formica tabletop.
Mulder turned back to Hurtado. "Tell me about La Llorona."
Hurtado took a deep breath and began. "I saw La Llorona when I was a young man, many, many years ago. One night, my cousin Ernesto and I went down to the river. It was a full moon and the rains were heavy that year.
"We had heard the legend of La Llorona since we were niñítos, and some people claimed to have seen her, but we thought they were foolish—old ladies, little children, boráchos. So we decided we would go and look for her ourselves. We didn't believe in ghosts or stories meant to frighten children. Ernesto even thought we should play a trick on his younger brother, Francisco, because Francisco was afraid of La Llorona. We didn't know that that night we would come to believe."
Hurtado's eyes looked into the middle distance of his memories for a moment, his lips moving very slightly as he murmured to himself. At last he sought Mulder's gaze again and continued.
"So we went down to the river and sat under the cottonwoods, and we waited. After a while it started to rain and we thought maybe we should go home.
"But then I heard something...something in the distance. Someone was screaming...or crying...I...I wasn't sure.
"Ernesto wanted to leave, but then I realized it was my mother's voice, calling to me. I told Ernesto I had to go find her, help her, but he said it couldn't be her voice. She had been dead for ten years. Part of me knew he was telling the truth, but I could hear her voice...
"I ran down toward the water and then I saw her a dark shape, like a woman, but hard to see—crying and screaming and calling to me in my mother's voice." His eyes rose to look beyond the kitchen table, his hand reaching up as if to touch his memories.
"She came closer and closer and I ran toward her. Then I saw it was La Llorona. She was beautiful, but she was...she was...lóca...mad. She was weeping for her child, crying for me to help her—'Ayúda mé! Ayúda mé!'
"I tried to run away, but she reached out and put her hand on my shoulder. I could feel her fingers burning into my flesh like ice, and then my heart began to burn...
"Just when I knew I would die there on the riverbank, I felt strong hands grab my arms and I was pulled from her grasp. Ernesto had pulled me free and he dragged me away from the river."
He paused to sip his coffee, his eyes focused somewhere in the past.
"Last night I heard her again."
Mulder nodded in recognition, his hand tightening around the solidity of his coffee cup.
The old man caught Mulder's eye. "You know the story, verdád?"
"Yes," Mulder said in a choked whisper. He took a gulp of coffee to relieve his tight, dry mouth.
"She walks along the river when it rains," Hurtado finished in his dreamy dark voice. "She's looking for her child."
They emerged into the early evening, perfumed by the subtle scent of the irises and lilacs in Hurtado's yard and the smell of the rain-dampened earth. The sun hung low in the sky over the distant western horizon but the moon had risen, fat and white, over the solid bulk of Sandia Peak. There were clouds lofting into the sky, but the rain had stopped for now.
"I think we might have missed dinner," Paul commented, glancing at his watch. "But I'm sure Mamá would be willing to warm something up for us..."
"You go on, Paul," Mulder said. "Thanks for helping us out here."
"So did you learn anything useful from that old man's story?" Paul nodded back toward Hurtado's house. "Is there any connection to the case?"
Mulder shrugged, his lips pressed into non-committal half-smile. "I'm not sure yet. I have to think about it."
Paul nodded. "So, you're not coming back for dinner?"
"I thought I'd take Scully to El Pínto for dinner tonight." Mulder let one hand rest lightly on her shoulder.
"I see..." Paul answered, smiling at Scully's surprised look. He winked at her and turned to leave.
Scully made sure she had closed her mouth before she turned to face Mulder. "What did he mean by that?"
"I don't know," Mulder replied with a wide-eyed bat of his eyelashes. "Maybe he thinks we're going out on a date."
"A date?" Scully's skeptical tone was mirrored in the arch of her left eyebrow. "You mean a 'date' date?"
Mulder tilted his head toward her. "Miss Scully, would you care to join me for dinner?"
Scully's expression dissolved into a wide smile. "Sure. Why not?"
They drove north and east, then north again until Scully thought they would actually drive out of the city, but Mulder at last turned and entered a graveled parking lot set back from the street. A low adobe building with large white-trimmed windows nestled under tall cottonwoods trees.
As they crunched over the gravel toward the building, Scully could hear gentle music drifting through the night. A breeze cooled the air in the shadows of the big trees and as Mulder took her hand and placed it in the crook of his arm, she felt like she really was out on a date—a regular date with a regular guy. She smiled as they stepped through the door.
"Mulder, I don't understand why you're so insistent on eating Mexican food for every meal. You don't eat it very often back in DC." Scully dipped a tortilla chip into the little bowl of salsa that Mulder had pulled a little closer to his side of the table.
"But this is different, Scully. It's New Mexican—it's really pretty different from what most Mexican restaurants serve, especially in our neck of the woods. Mrs. C makes just about the best authentic New Mexican food you can get, but this place is the next best thing."
He went on to explain the difference between green chile and jalapenos, how cumín was the secret ingredient of real Spanish rice, that shredded meat was a measure of authenticity, and the absolute sacrilege of cheese dip.
As the evening progressed, their conversation avoided any talk of the case, leaving Scully wondering exactly what Mulder had learned from Hurtado. But she was determined to enjoy the evening and his company and to take a break from death and ghost stories.
Casa Cabeza de Baca
"Mulder, you can't be serious."
"Of course I'm serious. This is my serious face." Mulder paused in the warmly lit parlor and turned to face Scully. The house was quiet, the only other visible occupants a quiet young couple, sitting close together in a love seat, engaged in the secret language of newlyweds.
"Mulder, are you telling me that you are going to sit out there on the riverbank all night in the hopes that this ghost-woman will make an appearance?"
"I know she will."
"Mulder, it's supposed to rain tonight. Really rain."
"I know," he nodded eagerly. "That's why I know she'll come. Are you going to come with me?"
She looked steadily at him, trying to keep from rolling her eyes.
"No," she said at last.
"Scully..." he began.
"No, Mulder," she repeated. "Maybe you get a kick out of sitting out there like Linus, waiting for the Great Pumpkin, but you can count me out."
"I will see her, Scully," he replied with a petulant confidence. He bit his lower lip to keep it from rolling out into a pout.
"And that will prove what?" she demanded, crossing her arms.
"That she exists!" he exclaimed in frustration. "That this is how these people are dying!" He lowered his voice and continued. "The legend of La Llorona, that she appears when the rains come, fits this series of deaths. People have reported encounters with her spirit for more than 300 years. There may have been similar deaths over the years, but maybe there was no obvious connection."
"So if it's true, how could you possibly stop it? You can't arrest a ghost."
"I don't know, but if we could see it, maybe we can find a way. Maybe there's a way to exorcise her."
She let her head cock over to one side and continued to press him.
"Even if you were to see something that you believed to be this...this weeping woman, how would that be proof of the cause of death of these victims? Do you think you'll catch her in the act?"
Mulder said nothing, but held her gaze unflinchingly, his lips now pressed into a firm line.
Comprehension widened her eyes.
"You think you'll be the bait."
Mulder pulled a sweatshirt down over his t-shirt and clipped his gun to his waist. He was a little miffed that Scully had refused to come along, but he knew it was a long shot. Although she was as interested in the truth as he was, he knew he hadn't convinced her of the ghost's reality. But he was ready to see it, to see her. He believed Hurtado's story and he knew La Llorona would come tonight.
He stepped out onto the veranda, hesitated by her door, then turned to go down the stairs. He walked through the breezy courtyard and out around the wall to the edge of the bosque where he and Scully had walked that morning.
Scully heard Mulder's door close and could practically feel his presence outside her door. She held her breath, unsure if she wanted Mulder to knock and speak to her. Part of her wanted him to invite her one last time, but though she didn't want to spend the night getting soaked down by the river, part of her would find it hard to turn him down.
She sighed in relief and disappointment when she heard his footsteps receding.
Once he had cleared the trees, he turned north and started walking. The full moon was high in the sky, only occasionally obscured by the clouds that were thickening above him, providing enough pale light to walk by.
He had a hunch that he would be most likely to see her north of the next river bridge. Apart from the death of Laura Mesker, all the bodies had been found just north of one of the river's crossings. Kinsey had been found near the Paseo del Norte bridge, so that left the Alameda bridge, a few miles to the north. It was a long way to go, trudging through the sandy riverbank, but the effort kept him warm in the cool night air.
Scully paced her room in her stocking feet, arms wrapped tightly around her body. He had really gone out there. And he had gone on foot. How far would he go?
The wind had picked up and even through her closed door she could smell the perfumed scent of impending rain. He was going to get soaked. He'd end up cold and wet, maybe even hurt. If there was a killer roaming the riverbank looking for a victim on a cold, rainy night, would Mulder be safe? She knew he would not encounter a killer ghost, but he might very well encounter a killer.
Mulder sat on a large flat rock, leaning back against the rough bark of a fat old cottonwood. He wrapped his arms around his chest and huddled into his sweatshirt, pulling his legs up tight against his body, wishing he had worn a jacket. Scully was going to laugh at him. She was snuggled comfortably in bed by now. Well, maybe she wouldn't laugh out loud, but she would have no sympathy for him tomorrow morning when he showed up tired and sore from sitting up all night waiting to see La Llorona.
One look at the dark circles under his eyes and she would quirk an eyebrow, purse her lips and shake her head. If he were lucky, she'd refrain from asking him how it went. But her eyes would say, 'I told you so.' Maybe she was right. Maybe he was Linus, after all. He blew out a sigh and shifted his position, trying to keep his butt from going numb. He looked out over the river, sliding by just a few yards away. The full moon lit the landscape in soft grays. He could almost forget he was in the middle of a city—the bright lights and traffic noise filtered out by the lay of the terrain and the trees of the bosque. Frogs and crickets made their night songs all around him and he could hear other furtive sounds in the undergrowth along the river. It was peaceful and beautiful.
Above him the clouds began to build, threatening to cover the shining moon with their blue-black thickness. Lightning skittered deep within the storm clouds, but the accompanying thunder was only a faint rumble far above the earth.
He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He didn't think he was going to see anything tonight.
Scully slipped in through the large front door of the main house, wondering how she could discreetly ask someone where Paul might be. Her question was answered by Paul's sudden appearance at the inn's business office door.
"Dana!" he said, his easy smile fading slightly as he noticed her wet and wind-blown hair. "Is something wrong?"
She nodded and looked at the other guests relaxing in the parlor. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"
"Sure," he replied, opening the office door. "Come on in here." He closed the door behind them and offered her a chair. "What's wrong? Is it Fox?"
She began to nod then stopped to look at him. "How did you know?"
He shrugged. "The look on your face. Is he okay? Or is it something else?"
She was a little embarrassed that her care for Mulder might be so obvious on her face, but she set that aside and got to the point. "He's gone out on the riverbank somewhere and I'm worried that he'll...well, that he could get hurt. It's already raining and it's going to get worse, and..."
"And he's out there looking for La Llorona?" Paul suggested. "Do you think he'll find her?"
"No," Scully said quickly. "But that doesn't mean it's not dangerous out there. Whoever or whatever may be causing these deaths may still be at work. And...and I just have a bad feeling about it."
"Okay." Paul touched her arm. "We'll go look for him. Do you know where he might have gone?"
Scully released an anxious breath, already beginning to stand.
"I have an idea."
His eyes flew open. He wasn't sure if he had actually been asleep or how much time had passed, but something had happened. His ears strained to hear in the deafening silence.
The silence. The frogs and crickets were still. The night held its breath. Like a distant whisper, the rain began to pepper the canopy of leaves above him. But there was something else.
He stared wide-eyed into the shadows of the trees and all along the sandy riverbank. What was out there? He climbed slowly to his feet, silently cursing his cold-stiffened joints. He walked forward out of the protective shadows of the trees toward the water's edge. He thought he could just make out something moving in the darkness, fuzzy and out of focus, far down the bank. He opened his eyes as wide as he could, trying to see it more clearly in the distance, but it remained indistinct. Whatever it was, it moved with a dreamy side-to-side motion, graceful and fascinating. And there was a sound—a low, humming, wailing, shrieking sound—that he couldn't quite hear. A nightmare sound that crawled through his skin.
He moved down the bank toward it, wishing the nightmare sound would stop. It was sending shivers up his spine. It whispered and hummed and shrieked at the very edge of his hearing. The harder he tried to listen, the fainter it became, but if he focused on the dark object, the sound grew inside his head. He thought there were words within the sound, but they seemed jumbled together, different voices all speaking at once, and yet, no words at all. A cold realization seeped into his bones. This was what he had heard from the veranda the other night. It wasn't the wind in the trees. It wasn't the screaming of a victim.
It was La Llorona. It was the weeping woman, searching the river for her child.
He felt every hair on his body prickle up to stand on end.
His breath caught in his throat.
"Look! Look at me!"
He shook his head. Sam?
"Can't you see me? Come on! Come and look!"
Her voice hadn't changed at all—eager and young, insistent and beckoning. A warm smile spread across his face at the familiarity, the fear of a moment ago replaced with understanding. She had been calling to him.
"Sam! Where are you?" he called in reply. He stumbled through the muddy sand of the bank, feeling that she was down there, near the water's edge.
"Fox, come and get me!" An edge of urgency now colored her tone. "Fox!"
A tight ache began in his chest.
"Fox! Help me! Fox!"
Those words, the cadence and inflection, slammed into his heart and made his limbs go numb. He had heard those words like an endless tape loop in his nightmares and memories.
"Sam! I'm coming!" he cried, trying to force his leaden limbs to obey. This time he would save her.
He surveyed the dark silken water. Was that her down there? The dark shape was now near the bridge...was that her? It had to be her.
"Samantha!" His voice broke and he began to run along the bank, brushing tears and rain from his face with his sleeve. "I'll help you! I'm coming! Samantha, don't move! I'm coming!"
He stumbled to his knees, clambered up to continue, then froze. Her voice had dissolved into that humming shriek, no longer familiar.
"SAMANTHA!!" he howled. "WHERE ARE YOU?" he screamed in frustration, turning full circle to try to find her.
It was a woman, moving toward him in the moonlight, her dark dress an inky blackness in the shadows of the riverbank. She was beautiful, her eyes glowing darkly in her pale face. But her face was both strange and familiar, like Samantha, but not Samantha.
Her arms were reaching out toward him, her mouth moving in time with the sound in his head, but the words were indecipherable. She beckoned to him, sorrow and love in her face, in her meaningless voice, and he longed to go to her, to help her, to help Samantha. "Sam?" he whimpered, tears choking his voice away. He had been so sure...
Thunder rumbled over his head and the rain intensified and grew colder.
A knot of fear hardened in his belly and his heart stepped up its tempo. No, no, it wasn't Sam. Sam had disappeared long ago, a thousand miles from here.
La Llorona? Was this how she did it? His calculating mind unlocked the puzzle even as hot fear began to course through his veins. She had drawn him to her, using his loss, his need, to lure him. He understood now, but understanding did little to help him. He knew the pain that Manny Garcia, Laura Mesker and the others had felt, the naked hope that had drawn them against their better judgment, forced them to come to her.
Had the weeping woman felt the same need—the need to search in futile hope for the one that was lost?
He felt the tears burning their way down his face and again the wailing shriek called to him, trying to assure him that Samantha could be found, if he would just look down by the water.
No! He clutched at his hair, pulling it hard, trying to use the physical pain to keep himself from being drawn in again. He had to get away from her, but his heart was melting with that old familiar ache. His sister...his little sister...
His right hand dropped to his waist, feeling for the solid reality of his weapon, though he knew it was useless against this enemy.
He must stay grounded. He must fight against her. He knew what she was—he knew the truth.
He had to move!
His feet were planted in the sand, his legs trembling as he fought to make himself run. He wanted so desperately to run, but he was afraid—afraid to move, afraid to stay, afraid that Sam really was down there, afraid he was losing his mind.
He began to feel lightheaded and realized he'd been holding his breath. He released the stale air in a whoosh and began to breathe again, but couldn't keep his breathing calm.
And the sound! The sound was growing, clawing at his heart with icy fingers. He put sweaty palms up to his ears, even though he knew he couldn't block it out.
Her eyes...her eyes were beautiful, but full of madness...her face, the sweetest thing he had ever seen, yet stricken with sorrow and anger...her voice was sweet singing and shrieking fury...love and loss, beauty and horror, silence and screaming, her supplicant hands became the claws of a witch, trying to touch him, the thrumming energy around him making his hair stand on edge, making it impossible to breathe or think, his heart pounding and burning in his chest.
Her voice, her voice, in his mind, in his ears, the singing weeping screaming...screaming...her mouth, her hands, her eyes, her face...her beautiful, horrible hands reached for him!
Screaming. He was screaming in white, blind, animal panic. His body was shuddering and vibrating as adrenaline flooded his system.
Fight or flight, a tiny rational particle of his brain whispered. He answered it with a full-throated animal scream.
Fight or flight, the tiny voice whispered again. He could see—feel—burning icy hands reaching for him, touching his shoulder and chest. He screamed again and was dimly aware of wet warmth spreading in the crotch of his pants.
A lightning bolt tore the sky directly above him and thunder exploded down with physical force, pressing against his eardrums, somehow freeing his feet.
He broke for the tree line, running with all the speed he could summon. He struggled through the sand of the bank and stumbled into the forest, never slowing as the rain now sheeted down upon him. He flung himself through the dark shelter of the trees, tripping over roots and washed up debris, never feeling the branches that slapped red welts onto his face and the Russian olive thorns that tore at his skin and clothing. The rain came pounding through the tree canopy, but he was oblivious to anything but his fear. He ran though his lungs were burning. He sucked in the cold night air, his body straining to glean oxygen from the lean atmosphere. He had lost the capacity to think. The tiny rational voice had gone silent.
He fell with a whump that forced the air from his lungs. For a terrifying second he couldn't inhale, but at last he began to draw air into his overworked lungs. As his head cleared, he realized that the horrible sound had ceased. Only the sound of the rain remained, pelting the tree branches above him. He lay still and tried to slow his ragged panting.
He got his hands beneath him and raised himself up on all fours, his arms and legs trembling with the effort. His stomach shuddered and lurched and he puked up every bit of his authentic New Mexican dinner. He crawled away from the vomit to the relative shelter of a large tree and sat back on his heels to try to gather his wits. As he did he became aware of an unpleasant sensation.
Oh, God. He bent forward, resting his head on his forearms in the dirt. He couldn't remember ever pissing himself on a case. Tears of humiliation threatened to spill from his eyes, but he ground them away with the backs of his hands.
He had to get out of here. He wanted a shower, to stand under a pelting stream of hot water and wash this night away. His breath hitched into a sob and he crammed his fist into his mouth, though there was no one to hear him.
The rain began to slacken and he got to his feet, clinging to the tree as his watery knees regained their strength. He stood there a moment, wiping snot off his face with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, getting himself under control. There was an ache in his left shoulder and in the center of his chest. He wrapped his left arm across his chest and massaged his shoulder with his right hand as he began to try to find his way back out.
As he came to the edge of the bosque he froze. The rain had slowed to a light sprinkling. He looked up and down the riverbank, hugging himself to try to quell the shivers that had started up again, hoping that...she...had gone.
The river slid by under the quiet moonlight, the clouds dissipating, the moving water whispering to the night breezes among the trees. The frogs and crickets sang.
He couldn't help but feel deception in the peaceful beauty, wanting to both remember and forget the terrifying transformation the night had undergone.
He had run a long way, but he could just make out the bridge in the dark distance to the south and he headed back down the river, hugging the tree line and staying away from the open bank and the water's edge.
As he walked south he heard something and stood still to listen more closely, his heart hammering in his chest so that he thought it would burst, icy fear burning up his spine.
"Mulder, where are you?!"
He stumbled southward along the bank toward the sound of her voice, but as soon as he could make out her form, silhouetted against the headlights of a vehicle, he collapsed to his knees, tears of relief springing to his eyes.
"Scully..." he gasped, folding down on himself. His body shivered and trembled uncontrollably.
She saw him come forward and fall to his knees and she ran to him. What had happened to him?
"Mulder, are you all right?" she asked him. She lifted his face into the light from Paul's truck. "Are you hurt?"
He said nothing, but clutched at her shoulders and buried his face in the crook of her neck.
She turned toward the pickup to find Paul coming down. "Help me get him in the truck!" she called.
Together they half-carried him back up to the parking area and Scully climbed into the cab, helping Paul maneuver Mulder in after her.
"Hang on a second," Paul said, trotting toward the back of the truck. He grabbed a woolen blanket from within the camper shell and brought it around to where Scully had cradled Mulder's head against her shoulder. Paul helped her drape the blanket over Mulder's wet clothes, then ran around to the driver's side and got in.
"Do we need to take him to a hospital?" Paul asked, putting the truck in reverse and pulling back out to the road.
"No!" Mulder rasped, lifting his head. "No hospital."
"Let's just get back to the house," Scully answered quietly, pressing Mulder's head back down to her shoulder. "We'll get him cleaned up and I'll take a look at him."
They drove back through the last intermittent sprinkles of rain. Tremors of fear still rolled through his body and he crushed himself against Scully to try to make them stop. He kept his left arm wrapped tightly across his aching chest, unsure if the pain there was physical or emotional.
At last the house appeared before them and Paul came to a stop directly in front of the door.
He came around and helped Mulder out, Scully sliding down to take her place at his side.
Paul hurried ahead and opened the door. "Mam !" he called, striding back through the kitchen. He motioned for Scully to follow.
Mrs. C de Baca came out of the family's private rooms and gasped at Mulder's wet, shivering form.
"Ay, Dios mío!" she exclaimed, taking Mulder's other side and leading him back further into the house. "Pobrecíto," she said under her breath, feeling his forehead and continuing to mutter assurances and endearments in quiet Spanish.
"I think we need to get him into a warm bath," Scully said, squeezing his arm as they followed the woman.
Mrs. C led them back to a large bathroom. The walls and floors were tiled in blues and greens and a large claw-footed tub sat in the middle of the far end. She turned the knobs on the tub and tested the water with her hands until she was satisfied with the temperature.
Mulder watched her actions with trepidation, holding the blanket tightly around himself. Paul had followed them back and there was suddenly a crowd in there with him. He stole a glance at Scully, his hazel eyes pleading with her while he tried to hold himself together.
"Paulo," Mrs. C began quietly, "why don't you help Fox while Dana and I go find him some warm clothes?" She moved toward the door and motioned for Scully to follow her.
"Um..." Mulder couldn't think of a way to say it, so he just shook his head. "Scully?" God, he hated the whine in his voice.
"I'll help him," Scully said firmly. "I need to examine him anyway." She kept her eyes on Mulder's, reassuring him.
Mrs. C looked surprised for a moment, trying not to be embarrassed in her apparently old-fashioned thinking.
"She's a doctor, Mam ," Paul responded, rescuing everyone. "I'll get you some clothes, buddy." He took his mother's arm and led her out, leaving the partners alone.
No sooner had the door closed than Mulder spoke.
"I'm gonna be sick." He tossed off the blanket and banged the toilet lid and seat up, bending forward to retch into the bowl. Nothing but a small amount of bile was left to come up, but it burned his throat for good measure. He slid to his knees, resting his forehead on his arm on the edge of the toilet bowl.
Scully found a glass on the counter, filled it with cool water and held it out to him, studying his tight, pained face as he filled his mouth, swished and spit into the toilet.
The tub was full and Scully turned off the taps. "Come on, Mulder. You should go ahead and get in. Do you need help or can you manage?" She closed the toilet and flushed it.
He didn't answer, but stood and started peeling off his sweatshirt, wincing as he tried to lift his left arm.
"Mulder!" Scully helped pull the sweatshirt over his head. "What is this?"
His sweatshirt and tee shirt were blackened and scorched where they covered his breastbone.
Mulder looked down at it and gasped, momentarily reliving the burning touch of those icy claws.
"Scully..." His voice sounded flat and far away in his own ears and spots danced before his eyes. He reached a suddenly numb hand out, trying to find her.
His face paled and he swayed on his feet. Scully grabbed him firmly by his upper arms.
"Sit down, Mulder," she said, steering him to sit on the closed toilet. "Put your head down." She bent him forward, rubbing his back as he gulped air to clear his head.
He soon straightened up, a bit of color back in his cheeks.
"Does it hurt?" Scully asked, gingerly lifting his shirt up so she could see his chest.
"Yeah," Mulder answered, trying to rub at it. Scully brushed his hands away.
The skin beneath the scorched shirt was an angry red and the hair on his chest gave off a singed odor.
Scully gently pulled the shirt all the way off to get a better look. She then ran her hands all over his upper body, checking for any other injuries. She inspected the welts and scratches on Mulder's face, was satisfied that they weren't that bad, then found herself concentrating on his left shoulder. She had noticed him rubbing it earlier and had seen the pain in his face when he moved it.
"Does your shoulder hurt?" she asked quietly as she bent to look closely at the reddish marks that were becoming more evident.
Mulder nodded, but didn't answer. He was trying to keep his teeth from chattering. The bathroom was steamy and warm, but his wet hair was dripping down his back and he was still wearing his cold, wet jeans. A shiver broke over his body and he wrapped his arms around himself.
"Oh, Mulder, I'm sorry," Scully said. "I'll let you get in the bath now, but I want to give you a quick once-over when you're finished, just to make sure you're all right." She stopped and stared at him a moment.
"Do you have any other injuries?" She lifted his chin so she could see his eyes.
"No, I don't think so," he answered. He wanted to get out of his pants, but not while Scully was there. "Go on. I'll be fine."
To prove it to both of them he got to his feet. He placed one booted foot on the toilet and bent to untie the laces. He tried to discreetly suck in air when the edges of his vision began to go gray again. His heart was pounding in his burning chest, but he was determined to ignore it until Scully left.
Suddenly everything looked wrong. The blue and green tiles were tilting to an impossible angle.
"Mulder!" Scully gasped, grabbing at his right arm to keep him upright. His weight was too much for her and he slid down to the floor.
"Let me help you," Scully said quietly. She knelt and quickly untied his bootlaces, working the boots off and peeling off his socks.
"I'll manage, Scully. I'm fine." His voice was thick and rougher than he would have liked. He cleared his throat and turned toward her. "Go on. I'm going to get in the tub before the water gets cold."
She cocked her head to one side and looked hard at him. She knew something wasn't quite right, but she didn't get the feeling he was hiding any injuries from her, so she decided to give him what he wanted. With a gentle hand she smoothed his damp hair back from his forehead.
"Call me if you need me. I'll be right outside."
He nodded and watched her leave, then used the tub and sink to steady himself as he climbed to his feet. He unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his jeans. They were soaked from the rain and difficult to peel off, but he managed to get out of them without passing out.
He climbed into the tub, his skin prickling into gooseflesh at the change in temperature. After a moment he settled back, letting his shoulders slip under the water. The heat aggravated his burned chest a little, but it wasn't unbearable, and it felt good on his sore shoulder. At last he slid down a little further, dipping his chilled scalp then his face under the surface. He held his breath and let the heat melt the ice from his body.
The mud was soft beneath her feet and squelched between her toes as she took tentative steps into the cool water. It felt good on her hot skin. If she went out just a little further she might be able to see...just a few more steps. The water wasn't deep.
She dropped suddenly as her right foot found no bottom, her dress floating up around her waist. She flailed her limbs as she tried to find solid ground beneath her feet, but the dress tangled her arms. She had learned to swim earlier this summer, but she wasn't very good at it yet.
The current was pulling her faster and she couldn't keep her head out of the water. A shadow loomed above her and she managed to look up to see the bridge getting nearer. The current pulled her closer and closer to the big concrete pilings of the bridge. She struggled desperately, but she wasn't strong enough.
"Mommy! Mommy!" she screamed, water filling her mouth.
The current slammed her into the piling and she went under.
Mulder yanked himself up, choking and sputtering as he coughed up water from his windpipe.
"Mulder!" Scully called, knocking hard on the door. "Mulder, I'm coming in!"
He couldn't stop coughing long enough to answer before she came in, a worried frown creasing her brow.
"Are you okay?" she asked, hurrying to his side to help steady him.
He nodded, trying to catch his breath.
"She drowned," he gasped at last. "She went in the river and...and..." He could still feel her fear and it was all he could do to keep from crying. He pulled his legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his knees.
"Who drowned, Mulder?" Scully asked quietly, smoothing his dripping hair away from his face.
"A little girl," he muttered at his knees. "A little girl...she...she ..." He shook his head. She wasn't one of La Llorona's victims, that much he knew. He could almost see her face, though he knew it was impossible.
Scully didn't know what to say. She drew in a breath and released it. "Did you fall asleep in the tub?"
"No. I saw her...I saw her in the water..."
"Are you ready to get out of the tub?" she prompted, choosing to ignore his attempts to explain.
He shook his head slowly, then looked up. A showerhead arced down above him, the curtain on its oval bar gathered beside it.
"I need to take a shower."
"Mulder, you've been soaking in a bath." Scully looked at him quizzically.
He shook his head more vigorously. "I need to take a shower." He didn't want to sit in the deep water of the tub any more. He looked her in the eye. "I'll be done in five minutes." She held his gaze for a moment, pursing her lips. What could it hurt?
"Okay. I'm leaving some clothes for you here." She turned and left him alone again.
He leaned forward and released the drain stopper and pulled the curtain around the tub, shivering though the water wasn't cold. He quickly got the shower going and washed himself.
When he emerged from the bathroom Scully and Paul were waiting for him in the hall. He tried to avoid looking in their eyes, but he couldn't slip past them.
"How ya doin', Fox?" Paul asked. He looked embarrassed, his hands crammed deep into his pockets.
"I'm fine," Mulder answered, bobbing his head, finally looking at Paul to keep from looking at Scully. She was staring at him with her doctor's eye and it was making him squirm. Was she mad at him for going out in the rain, for getting hurt?
"Um..." Paul began, "I was wondering if you felt up to climbing the stairs, or if you wanted to just crash out in my room."
"No, I'm fine. I'll go upstairs." Even as he said the words, he could feel the hairs on his arms prickle up at the thought of walking outside in the dark, but he swallowed hard, brushing his hands over his arms as he crossed them over his chest, suppressing the urge to shiver.
Paul nodded. "Okay. Well, good night, then." He gave Mulder's arm a squeeze and shouldered past him. "Good night, Dana."
Scully nodded at Paul, her lips pressed together in a hint of a polite smile. She took Mulder's elbow and walked him toward the front door.
The rain had stopped but the cool breeze still carried its perfume through the night air as they walked around the house and ascended the stairs. Scully opened the door to Mulder's room and followed him in.
He watched her face closely now, wondering why she hadn't said anything yet. Was she mad at him? She hadn't seemed mad before.
He did as he was told, taking the armchair by the window.
"Go ahead, Scully." He watched her set the bag on the table and slowly withdraw her stethoscope.
She quirked an eyebrow at him.
"I don't have anything to say, Mulder." She pulled his sweatshirt up and quickly ran through a very basic exam, listening to his lungs, taking his temperature, and finally listening very carefully to his heart, trying to avoid the sore spot on his chest as she checked for any irregularities.
Mulder searched her face while she worked, only turning away to try to hide the wince of pain as she touched his aching chest.
Satisfied that all was normal, she lowered his shirt and straightened, catching his eye as he stared up at her.
When she continued to keep silent, he finally spoke.
"You aren't going to scold me for being foolish and endangering my life?" He let her spread antibiotic cream on the scratches on his face and hands.
"Nope." She wiped her hands, sighed deeply and sat down on the bed. "What happened out there on the riverbank, Mulder?"
He blinked at her for a moment. Did she really want to know?
"I saw her, Scully."
She pursed her lips as she put her things away, then crossed her arms.
"Her! La Llorona!" he insisted. "Just like Hurtado said. She was there at the river. She tried to kill me, Scully!"
"Mulder, I meant, what happened to you?" She gently touched his chest. "How did you get injured?"
"She did it!" he repeated. "She touched me."
Scully said nothing but turned to pull the covers down on the bed. She didn't want to argue with him. Whatever had happened, he had been traumatized and she wanted him to get some rest.
"Lie down, Mulder. You should get some sleep. It's been a long day."
Mulder moved to the bed, stretching out and pulling the covers up.
"I saw her, Scully. I swear. I saw her." He searched her face to see if she believed him.
Scully sighed long and slow, then sat beside him on the bed. She cocked her head over and looked him in the eye. His earnest, eager face distracted her from her exasperation, and she decided to go with it.
"So, what did she look like?"
His eyes brightened a bit at the memory.
"It was a dark shape at first. I couldn't tell what it was. Then I heard Samantha calling me. She was down by the river, calling me to come and find her, help her." He paused for a moment as he remembered the heartbreaking sound of her voice, then shook his head as he continued.
"Then as she got closer, I could see her face. She was beautiful and...and...horrible. She...she..." his mouth worked as he struggled to find words to describe what he had seen. He buried his face in his hands as a shudder broke over his body. His voice came from behind his hands, small and quiet.
"I was so scared, Scully. I...it was...I couldn't move...she...touched me..."
His hand went to his chest and he curled around himself as if to hide from the memory.
Scully ran a warm hand down his back and rubbed soothing circles across his shoulders before she spoke.
"Mulder, I don't know what to say," she began quietly. "I don't know what actually happened to you out there, but what you're describing is almost exactly what that man, Hurtado, described this evening."
"Yes," he said. "It was just like he said. He was right about her."
"Mulder," she countered gently, "maybe it was just like he said because you went out there with those images in your mind."
He sat up and pushed her hand away.
"Are you saying I imagined it? That I'm making it up?"
"No, Mulder," she answered, keeping her voice gentle. "I'm just saying that you had a preconceived notion about what you were going to find out there, and that it may have colored your interpretation of..."
"I am NOT making it up! I did NOT imagine it!" he insisted. "Did I make this up?!" He pulled his shirt up to reveal the still-painful red mark on his chest. "How did that happen?"
"Mulder, are you sure..."
"I know what I saw, Scully!" he repeated, pulling his knees up and wrapping his arms around them.
Scully held her tongue, unwilling to fight with him right now. At last she put one hand on his knee and gave it a squeeze.
"We can talk about it in the morning when we've both had some rest."
He looked at her hand, feeling its warmth on his knee. He knew that she hoped that he would interpret things differently in the morning and he wanted to be angry about that, but he was too tired to keep it up.
"Mulder?" she prompted when he had done nothing but chew his bottom lip.
He nodded and stretched out on the bed, rolling away from her.
She resisted the urge to touch him again and rose to move toward the connecting door.
"Goodnight, Mulder," she whispered, closing the door behind her.
Mulder heard Scully's whisper and was tempted to turn around, but the door closed before he could make up his mind. He rolled over long enough to turn off the bedside lamp, then hunkered down under the covers. He wished desperately for a television to fill his mind with its thoughtless drone, to create a buffer between his restless thoughts and the noise outside his door, where the wind still moaned and rain spattered the roof sporadically.
He pulled the covers up over his ears and fought a losing battle with sleep.
She crossed her room, pulling her blouse from her waistband and unbuttoning it as she toed off her shoes. She didn't know what to think about what had happened to Mulder tonight.
She shook her head to clear it and slipped out of her slacks, shedding her blouse on the way to the shower. She left her underwear on the floor of the bathroom, too anxious to get under a pounding stream of hot water to care about being neat. She hadn't realized until just this moment how tense and tired she had become.
Mulder and his ghost...
She stood still under the water and let it's noise fill her head.
The rushing sound of water, trees rustling their branches together, footsteps running, crashing through the woods, a howling scream rising up as something splashes into the water...
"No!" A voice crying out in vain, "No, no, no, No, NO, NO!"
Too late...it's too late...
Darkness, rain, the river, clouds obliterating the moon...
She's calling me, she needs me, I can find her there...she's down there in the water...I can bring her back...
She's dead...she's dead...she's dead...
"Fox! Help me, Fox! Help me!"
No, no, no, no, NO, NO! Where? WHERE?!?!
Water swallows her, her arms flail uselessly, tangled in her dress, the water pulling her faster and faster, the shadow over her head...
"Mommy! Mommy!" Blackness beneath the water, underneath the bridge...
"Fox! Help me, Fox!"
"Samantha! Samantha, where are you?! I can't...I can't...Samantha!"
A beautiful face in the darkness, the most beautiful face...smiling, a soft hand reaching out...but the hand becomes a claw, the smile a grimace of fear, pain, and madness.
Someone begins to scream...
Scully shot out of the bathroom, snatching up her robe and tying it quickly around her wet body.
He was screaming.
She burst into his room to find him thrashing on the bed, covers tangled around his legs and slipping off the side of the bed.
One of his arms caught her in the shoulder and she grabbed hold of it.
"Mulder!" She fended off his other arm with her back and took his face in her hand. "Mulder, wake up!"
His whole body jerked up, almost launching himself from the bed, pushing Scully to her knees on the floor beside him.
His eyes were wide and wild, trying desperately to focus on something, anything.
"Mulder, I'm here," she said more softly, turning his face toward her. "Wake up, Mulder. It's okay."
He blinked rapidly at her for a few disoriented seconds until he seemed to finally recognize her face. He gasped in a breath and began to tremble.
She came up to sit beside him on the bed, putting her fingertips just below his jaw to check his pounding pulse.
"It's okay, it's okay," she whispered as she rubbed his arms and back, pulling him into a tight hug, giving him time to pull himself together.
At last his breathing evened out and he sat back, a little embarrassed at his behavior. He scrubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands, then dropped his hands to his lap, silently distilling the images in his dream.
"There was a little girl." His voice was quietly husky, his brow beginning to furrow.
Scully took his hand. "What girl?"
He shook his head. "I saw her before, in the bathtub, under the water. She went under the water. And she...she was there...she...I don't know...she wanted to touch me, like the others. She wanted to...she wanted me to...and Samantha...I could hear her, Scully."
He finally looked up into her eyes, wondering if she could see the confusion in his heart.
"Mulder," Scully began softly, "was Samantha the little girl under the water?"
"No," he said firmly. "No. It was another girl. But she's not like the others. She drowned."
Scully took a deep breath, wondering if she should follow the thought that occurred to her. "Mulder, could she be...could you have been thinking of the legend, of how the woman threw her child into the river?"
"Scully..." He shook his head sharply, pressing his lips together in frustration. "This was a different girl, a real girl. I could almost see her face. She's not one of the victims; she didn't die in the same way. But somehow she's...involved."
"Mul..." Scully started to speak but fell silent when he held a finger up, his eyes slipping closed.
"Scully, on the way to Hurtado's house you said that you spoke to the families of all the victims except Kinsey. Tell me again what they told you."
"They all said that the victim left his or her home on the night of their deaths. They had all been upset in recent days, some of them referring to the deaths by the river."
"Manny Garcia was the first one to die. You said earlier that he had been talking about his daughter--the daughter he lost to SIDS twenty years ago. Tell me everything his wife said."
"She said that he first started acting a little strange after hearing something on the news about a little girl who drowned in the river. He was very upset that night and was restless and moody for the next few days. Then one night he left the house, saying something about their daughter. His wife couldn't quite make out what he said."
"Do we know anything about this little girl—the one who drowned? She's not part of this case, is she?"
"No," Scully replied, wondering where he was going. "There's nothing about a little girl being part of this case."
"We need to ask Sanchez about her. I think there's some connection..."
"Okay," Scully answered, patting his arm. "We'll talk to Sanchez in the morning, but right now I think you ought to try to get back to sleep. You've been through a lot tonight."
"Scully, I don't think I can go back to sleep right now." Mulder looked at her with an expression of discomfort and fear mixed with a plea for sympathy.
"I tell you what," Scully said, rising from the bed. "Let's get dressed and go downstairs. Maybe we can scrounge up a midnight snack."
He nodded his agreement and began to rise from the bed, realizing only as she left that Scully was naked and wet beneath her robe.
A few minutes later they entered the cozy living room of the old house. A fire burned in the fireplace and the newlywed couple they had seen earlier still snuggled on the loveseat. The only television on the premises was muted almost all the way down and Mulder gravitated toward it like a moth to the flame, taking up the remote to scroll through the channels as he stood in the middle of the room.
Scully slipped back toward the kitchen and was surprised to find Mrs. C de Baca still at work.
"Miss Scully," the older woman began, clapping flour from her hands and wiping them on her apron. "Is something wrong? Is Fox all right?"
"No, he's fine," Scully replied. "I didn't think you'd still be working at this hour."
"I was preparing the masa for tomorrow's tortillas," Mrs. C explained, indicating the large bowl of flour she had been working with. "Did you need something from the kitchen?"
"I was wondering if I could get a little something for Mulder to eat, just to settle him down a bit."
Mrs. C nodded and moved toward a cupboard where she took down two glasses and a plate.
"How about some apricot empanádas and milk? We use apricots grown on our own trees out back," she said with a smile. "Very fresh."
"That sounds good," Scully replied. "Can I help you?"
"Why don't you get the milk?" Mrs. C indicated the large refrigerator in the back corner and then set about arranging four plump pastries on the plate. She took two cloth napkins from a drawer and started out toward the living room, Scully following with the glasses of milk.
The newlywed couple had made their way out of the room once Mulder started messing with the TV, so he had turned the volume up and had settled himself on the larger couch where he had a good view.
After he and Scully had devoured the pastries, he settled on a late-night replay of a local channel's evening news broadcast. They were reporting on Kinsey's death and commenting on the APD's inability to even come up with a suspect, let alone put a stop to the killings.
"Mulder, why don't you find something else," Scully said, wishing he would give his brain a rest for a moment.
"Maybe you're right," he said. He began his channel surfing again, sipping the last of his milk and savoring the not-too-sweet taste of the pastry still lingering in his mouth. He had made a complete circuit of the channels and had arrived back at the news broadcast just as the weatherman was beginning.
"It looks like we'll be seeing the last of the monsoon rains tonight!" The cheerful young man with a bad haircut indicated a radar map of the state. "The seasonal pattern seems to be breaking up and we'll have clear dry skies for the next several days..."
Mulder turned to Scully with his mouth open, and she could tell that something had just clicked into place in his mind.
"Her name is Katie Montoya," Scully said, entering the little room she and Mulder had been using at the APD. She dropped a small file on the table.
Mulder slumped forward with his chin resting on his right forearm, his right hand absently massaging his left shoulder. He eyed the file but made no move to open it at first.
"She drowned in the river?" he asked.
"Yes, on Sunday, July 25th. She was playing down by the water, apparently waded in and was swept down the river."
Mulder sat up a little and pulled a newspaper over toward Scully's end of the table.
"The monsoon rains started on the 25th."
Scully looked at him, turned the paper where she could see the short weather report he was indicating, and sat down across from him.
"Are you saying that means something?"
"Scully, the legend of La Llorona says that she went mad during the rainy season and threw her child into the river. She appears during the rainy season and walks the riverbanks looking for her lost child."
"And what does that have to do with the case?"
"It's the loss, Scully, the grief and heartache. Maybe the pain and grief Katie Montoya's parents felt the day she died was part of what summoned La Llorona with the rains. They lost their daughter and La Llorona came to look for her own lost child."
"Even if I believed in this legend, this ghost, Mulder, what does that have to do with our victims?"
"While you were looking up Katie Montoya, I spoke to the families of these victims again. Each of them lost a loved one in some unnatural way and each one was thinking of that loved one in the days before they died. What if their sorrow, their loss, their grief was somehow affected by the presence of La Llorona, or maybe their feelings gave her power or something."
"I don't think I understand, Mulder."
"Scully, I felt it last night. When I saw her, I thought I heard Samantha's voice. Just like
Hurtado thought he heard his dead mother's voice. I could have sworn it was her, Scully, and I wanted to go to her. I thought I could save her, that she was down by the river and I could find her there.
"And I could feel her pain—La Llorona's pain. I could feel her sorrow, her madness, her loss. It was overpowering, heartbreaking, and her energy was all around me. I was convinced, Scully, just like the others must have been. I would have gone to her, thinking she was Samantha. If I had, maybe I would have ended up like Nathaniel Kinsey, or the others."
"So what happened? How did you get away?"
He shook his head, as his eyes blankly searched the tabletop. "The storm...somehow the storm released me...I don't know." He looked up at her, hoping she would understand what he could not explain.
She reached out and took his left hand in hers. She didn't know if she believed anything about this ghost, but she knew that Mulder had had some kind of encounter and that he believed completely in what he had experienced. He needed her support and she was more than willing to give it to him.
The photos of the victims were tacked across the top of the bulletin board side by side. Mulder faced the APD detectives and began his explanation.
"These victims were all killed by the same hand. They are unrelated in any way except for two things: the way in which they died, and...and a loss that each of them suffered before their deaths."
He indicated another row of photos, below the victims. "Each of the victims lost someone, a loved one, at some point in their lives:
"Manny Garcia lost a baby daughter twenty years ago to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
"Laura Mesker lost her husband in the Gulf War.
"Vera Tafoya's grandson died in a car accident last year.
"Nathaniel Kinsey's brother drowned in the Rio Grande three years ago.
"This loss is what drew them to the river in the middle of the night. I believe that...something...or someone...was able to play on the resonance of their emotions and draw them to the river where they died."
"What are you talking about, Agent Mulder?" Detective Sanchez asked. He tried desperately not to scowl at Mulder. "What does that have to do with our killer?"
"It has everything to do with the killer. It has to do with how she draws them to her, how they are made vulnerable. It has to do with why she kills."
He couldn't keep the sharp edge out of his voice. It was the only way he could keep from choking on the lump in his throat. His own experience was too fresh in his memory. He looked down at his feet and cleared his throat, then raised his head to continue.
"I believe these victims were killed by La Llorona."
Scully closed her eyes and prayed that the others would not laugh out loud. It amazed her that Mulder could leave himself so open to certain ridicule, and be proud of it.
After a moment of stunned silence, there was a quietly incredulous murmur in the room.
Mulder waited for the humiliation to begin.
Sanchez stood and walked slowly toward Mulder's board, the room quieting behind him. He sighed, scrubbing a hand over his mouth as he regarded Mulder with his serious dark eyes. He leaned one hand against the board and spoke.
"You believe it's La Llorona? The ghost story that old people tell their kids to scare them away from the river and the ditch banks? How am I supposed to arrest a ghost?"
Mulder took a deep breath and forged ahead.
"You told Agent Scully about a little girl named Katie Montoya who drowned just a few days before the first of these deaths. I believe her death, which occurred just as the rains began, somehow triggered the appearance of La Llorona and that her influence drew these victims to the river. Something about the energy of this spirit was enough to kill these people with a touch."
"Agent Mulder, do you really expect me to put that in my report?"
"Detective Sanchez," Mulder answered, "I can't tell you what to put in your report. All I can tell you is what I believe to be true, based on my experience and the evidence before me."
"And how do I stop this ghost from killing more people?"
"I don't think you need to stop her. I think it's over." Mulder stood still and looked Sanchez in the eye. "La Llorona comes with the monsoon rains. They said on the news last night that the monsoons have stopped. I don't believe she'll appear again."
"Until next year?" Sanchez asked, some part of his heart beginning to believe in spite of himself.
Mulder made the tiniest shrug and a minute shake of his head. "Let's hope it's longer than that."
Paul lifted the last of their luggage into the trunk of the rental car as his mother pressed a warm, foil-wrapped packet into Mulder's hands.
"Just a little something for the two of you," she said with her warm smile. She kissed Mulder on the cheek and gave Scully a quick hug. "Take care of each other," she added, her gaze resting on Mulder.
Mulder nodded and turned to shake hands with his friend.
"Don't be a stranger, Zorro," Paul said warmly. "And you, too, Dana." He shook hands with her, squeezing her shoulder with his left hand. "It was great meeting you."
"Thank you both for everything," Scully responded.
"I hope to see you again soon, Paul, Mrs. C," Mulder said, moving toward the driver's door. "Maybe next time it will just be a vacation and not work."
With one last wave, Mulder and Scully got in the car and pulled out of the driveway.
They drove down Rio Grande Boulevard toward the freeway, Scully taking a last look at the shady older neighborhood.
They passed a small billboard with a picture of a scraggly hag waving a crooked finger. Above her head the caption read, "La Llorona says, 'Ditches are deadly! Stay away!''"
Scully looked over to see if Mulder had seen it.
He glanced at her, his eyes inscrutable behind his sunglasses as he turned back to watch the road.
"They got it wrong, Scully." He shook his head slowly. "She was beautiful."
Acknowledgements: Thanks to all those who gave me feedback and information along the way as I've labored over this story for the last 3 or 4 years (you would think that much time would make it really good, but...) Thanks also to those who helped me out with some of the Spanish language stuff and to my mom for giving me a little book about La Llorona.
Thanks to my hometown of Albuquerque for the inspiration. And VERY SPECIAL THANKS to my Lil Sis for being such a brutal, brutal beta! Author's Notes: The legend of La Llorona (pronounced "yo-rrró-na") is found throughout the Southwest and in Mexico in several different forms. The version of the story I drew upon came from the few accounts I heard in my youth and from an account posted at www.utep.edu, which is the story Mulder recounts, with one small addition from another version, because I thought it made it sadder and creepier. If you're interested in other versions of the story, give it a Google. Almost all the locations used in this story really exist, except for Casa Cabeza de Baca. If you're ever in Albuquerque, eat at El Pinto. ;0) / / / /