Title: Over the River and Through the Woods
Summary: October 31st finds Mulder and Scully investigating torn apart bodies.
Although the sun had set quite a while ago, there were still children out trick or treating, and they could be heard yelling in the distance. There were no children in sight at the abandoned park Scully stood before. The evening was already chilly, but that's not what made Dana shiver. Nor was it the guttering pumpkin near the wrought iron that had been carved too soon and was already spotted with a mold that gave it a sinister appearance. Instead, it was an eerie wail of a baby nearby that made the hair stand up on the back of the FBI agent's neck.
The plane set down at the small airport with only a three bounces before yielding to gravity. Mulder grimaced. The turbulence on the flight and the size of the tiny aircraft lent itself to airsickness that larger planes didn't, and while he hadn't made use of the "courtesy" bag, his stomach had warned him in no uncertain terms that it did not appreciate their current assignment. Fortunately, the three hour plane trip to the Middle of No Where Montana was finally over.
Mulder looked over at Scully and noticed that she seemed fine with the flight – a far cry from how she white-knuckled their first together. She bent to remove all the straps holding her to the plane's seat and began to gather her things after the resounding click of the belt giving way. He, on the other hand, was still trying to make peace with his internal organs. Scully ducked in the low cabin, and smiled wryly at him. "Need help?" she offered.
Mulder shook his head. "I need to find out what decided to use the plane as a yo-yo."
The big man who had piloted the plane laughed. "The Rocky Mountains generate a lot of up and down drafts through the elevations. They like to play tennis with little planes like this."
"I knew we should have driven," Mulder replied sourly.
Scully gave him an amused smirk. "I'm not being trapped in a car with you for 6 hours, Mulder."
"Yet you can stand being in a plane with me for two?" he asked.
The smirk widened into a full-fledged grin. "In just two I didn't have to hear you complain about how Thompson disagreed with your theory on how aliens tried to enslave humanity using the internet."
"Wait and see, Scully. The internet won't be the great equalizer we believe it to be. We'll probably waste its potential on cat videos or something." Mulder scowled, not quite sure if he was upset at his new partner or not yet.
"Then I, for one, will welcome our feline overlords." With that Scully gracefully exited down the collapsible stairs, and left Mulder hanging. He wasn't sure if he liked this woman or not, but she certainly was his match in verbal sparring.
The livery car dropped them off in front of the police station. It was a quaint, red brick building that would have looked at home in the early part of the industrial revolution. Most of the buildings on Main Street would have, actually. On the way from the airport, the driver, a young woman in her early 20s, raved about how a big movie studio had paid the town handsomely to update all the facing on the buildings for a movie that had been shot there the year before. Scully had to admit, who ever had been in charge of the renovations had done an amazing job. The small town of Whatchacallit, Montana looked homey and safe; not a place that needed two FBI agents dispatched from Washington to investigate a serial killer.
The town hall, across the street from the police station, had pumpkin scarecrows lined up along the sidewalk, and nearly every business on both sides of the street had a bright collection of chrysanthemums. Above the wide two lane road cutting the town in half there were bright banners advertising the Harvest Fair Dance which would take place in two weeks. Garlands of sunflowers, mums, and leaves turned the tiny town into a fall paradise from an earlier time. No doubt everyone knew everyone else, and no one would ever consider their neighbor a killer. She hated cases like these, the ones that shattered the innocence of a place and the peace of its residents.
Mulder waited, holding the door for her as she looked around the brightly decorated street. He was something of a walking enigma. Boyishly charming, perhaps the smartest man she'd ever met in her life, and crazy as a loon. And yet, she couldn't deny he had some valid points. Still, to believe in all the supernatural and alien phenomena... it ate at the core of her training in the sciences. He was, at times infuriating, and then could turn on a dime and be the kind of man her parents always wanted her to settle down with. Certainly nothing was ever boring when Mulder was around.
She walked through the door, noticing that while the facade of the building was new, the interior was not updated to match. Cracks wove black spider webs through the floor and the ceiling was missing a few tiles. The officer at the front desk looked up, suspiciously. "Can I help you?" he asked, clear that he didn't want to proffer any assistance except maybe a map back out of town.
"My name is Dana Scully, and this is Fox Mulder. We're from the FBI and are looking to meet with Sheriff Downey." She walked forward and showed her badge, and Mulder echoed her moves.
The front desk cop, Jacob Helvig, according to the nameplate, examined the emblems and nodded. "Janet's office is down the hall and to the right." Seemingly he felt he was done dealing with the foreign interlopers, and returned to staring intently at the paperwork in front of him. Scully could see in the reflection of his glasses it was a newspaper crossword puzzle.
Mulder looked at her silently and shrugged, then led the way down the hallway. They were met at the Sheriff Downey's office by a short woman that looked more like someone that served drinks behind a bar than put criminals there. The expression on her face made it clear that she wasn't happy. "Agents," she greeted them calmly. "You here about the Putnam murderer?"
"I'm sorry?" Mulder said, a flash of confusion on his face. "We're here because three people have been found dead in the foothills north east of town."
Sheriff Downs nodded. "The old Putnam homestead land. No one's lived up there for years, and the only real trail to get to the place is through Danbury Park on the north end of town." She ducked into her office and pulled out a topographical map. She stabbed her finger at a location mid-way up a hill that reached a modest elevation. "The homestead is here. This creek" – she moved her hand slightly to the west -"marks the boundary of the land. So far all the bodies have been found between the old house and Danbury Park." Her finger slid a few miles south to a flat plane on the map, presumably where the town park was located. The woman fished out another map from her desk, and overlaid it on the topo map. The scales were slightly different, but it gave a general idea of the layout of the town in relation to where the murders had occurred. There were roughly three miles between the homestead and the northern most boundary of the park. "Each time the body is found closer to the park." The sheriff's face twisted in anger and resentment of this threat to her people, to her home.
The small woman then heaved a sigh, gathered her tattered emotions, and strove for calm professionalism. She at least hit professionalism. "There have been three so far, one teenage girl, Katie Howser, Caucasian, had been up at the homestead with her boyfriend, Sean Ruthgar, who reported she'd gone outside the cabin after some heavy petting and disappeared. Had search crews out at dawn the next morning and they found her about a 1/4 mile away from the cabin, following a dear track. She'd been crush to death, according to the ME, and then ripped apart." Downey paused. "Last bear we had in these parts was shot three years ago, and anyway the ME says she was literally ripped apart. No claw wounds, no teeth marks. Just pulled to pieces."
"The boyfriend was called in for questioning?" Mulder asked, deliberately mild.
Sheriff Downey glared at him anyway. "He was on the search party that found her. Kid's been on search and rescue runs since he was 14. Passed out on the spot when he realized that Katie was torn up into golf ball sized chunks. He's now over in Gainsville at the state hospital over there being treated for psychological shock and PTSD."
The sheriff stared at the two FBI agents. "Three days later, Terrance Gifford, African American, 54 years old and who worked with cattle all his life and was strong as an ox, was found dead about 1.5 miles south of Katie. Same thing – crushed to death and then ripped apart. A jogger found him. His bones were halfway buried in the ground. The partial burial is the only thing different from the other two vics.
"Two days ago Deputy Helvig found the remains of Olivia Gorman, a sweet elderly woman that lived across the street from the park. She was nearly 73, Asian, and made cookies for all the kids. I can't imagine a soul on earth would want to hurt her. But somebody did. Same as the others. She was a quarter mile closer to the park." Thwarted anger was plain on the woman's face.
"So, two women and a man, all different ages, but all increasing in age, and the man was partially buried." Mulder stared at the maps on the desk in front of him, leaning into the maps as if they, themselves were a hidden clue.
Sheriff Downey nodded. "That about sums it up. When we had the third one, and no DNA evidence that it was an animal of some sort, that's when we called in you folks."
Scully had remained quiet through the debriefing, but in the silence that followed the last statement, asked, "How did the ME know that crushing force was used to kill the people if they were reduced to such small pieces?"
"Dan, the ME, said that it was likely crushing injury to the ribcage, probably from the back, like someone hurled a huge rock at them. The ribs were all splintered and broken, as were the vertebrae in the upper back, but the rest of the skeletal structure seems to have been intact on all three victims. The flesh was ripped off the bones. It's part of the reason we don't think it is a wild animal attack – had it been an animal of some sort we'd expect to see the bones gnawed on." Janet Downey's frown deepened. "Dan thinks that all the folks were found pretty much within 4-6 hours of death. The bastard's just slipped through our fingers every time."
Mulder had requested copies of the files for himself and Scully to review, but it had been a long day for both of them. Two planes and an hour long car trip would have exhausted most people over the age of 7, and both agents were far older, and far less enthusiastic about traveling at this point in their lives. Mulder remembered to act the gentleman and offered to take Scully's bag, but she had refused him as they took the 10 minute walk to the hotel from the police station.
The Clarion Inn, like the rest of Main Street, had a turn of the century charm about it, but unlike the rest the interior of the building matched the exterior. Light stained hardwood floors looked to have been in use since the building was created, and had been well cared for through their years of service. The occasional throw rug looked like it might have been hand knotted. The parlor check in area was tastefully decorated to match the season. The checked in, left their travel bags in their rooms, and went out to the restaurant across the street to grab dinner.
Grayson's Tavern was obviously a local watering hole serving the working class. While the upstairs was set up for family dining, there was a stairwell near the hostess stand that lead to a sealed door that occasionally blasted techno and electronica music when someone decided to cross over. The food was standard American, and was surprisingly good for what seemed to rank one level above a Greasy Spoon.
"What do you think?" Mulder asked Scully as they lingered over decimated plates. Scully's french fries were under assault by Mulder, who, after consuming his own was on the lookout for more.
Scully snorted. "I think if you touch another one of my fries, I'm arresting you for grand theft potato." She dragged one through a ketchup puddle leaving a gory mess on her plate.
Mulder laughed. "I meant about the case." The bright light of humor in his eyes didn't dim, and he continued carefully plotting how to steal more of Scully's shoestrings without her noticing.
"I don't know. I'd like to meet the ME tomorrow and find out why he is so dead certain that it's not an animal." Scully eyed the hand that was stealthily creeping closer and closer to her golden treasure.
"You think he's lying? Covering up for someone?" Mulder asked, not pressing his luck.
Scully shook her head. "More like he hasn't done a thorough genetic screening, or maybe discounted some evidence." Scully ate another french fry, pausing to either savor the taste or collect her thoughts. "People for the most part are very..." she searched for a word, "cohesive." The amount of strength to pull muscle tone apart is tremendous. Even when people were drawn and quartered in medieval ages, it took tying the person’s limbs to horses to pull the body apart. It's not something most people would have the physical strength to do."
Mulder cocked his head to one side. "So you think it's some sort of animal."
"I think that is a more logical explanation." Scully lowered her fork threateningly over Mulder's hand, which had once again tried to breech her plate of french fries. Mulder returned his hand to his side of the table. Once the balance of power had been restored and no one was in danger of being stabbed by a fork, Scully asked, "What do you think?"
Mulder shrugged. "On the surface, I would think it was a rabid animal. But if the ME doesn't, then it must be something else. Maybe someone's got a serious case of 'roid rage'?"
Scully huffed a laugh. "I'll review the report tonight and see what we can find out." There were now three lonely french fries on her plate. She slid it to the center of the table, which Mulder took as a peace offering, or a limited time offer. The three french fries were summarily disposed of, and Mulder fished out his wallet and paid for the meals as he stood up.
The agents parted at the door to Scully's room, and wished each other good night. Scully had all of the medical records to examine and Mulder intended to piece together what had happened from the rest of the evidence gathered where the bodies were found. Both were awake long into the night.
Scully hoped that Mulder had had more luck than she had with the report. Even though she'd secretly hoped the ME or the investigators had mucked up the samples, it was looking increasingly like the ME was right. It was too early to get the DNA test results back on the second or third victims, but the first one had been rushed. It had initially been thought to be an animal attack and the Sheriff had wanted to know what had mauled the girl. No animal DNA could be found on any of the tissue samples submitted to the lab. And to make matters worse, it would only a matter of time until either Mulder deemed the mystery due to aliens or some other supernatural occurrence, and she had no scientific defense to head him off at the pass. They'd be going down a rabbit hole.
She took a shower, then put on her pant suit uniform to face the day. Even if she had no answers to offer the people of the town, she had a duty to look like she did. People reacted better to those that looked like they were reasonable authority figures. If she couldn't corral Mulder's wild theories, she could at least look the part of the distinguished FBI agent.
With a last check in the mirror to ensure that she was properly attired and groomed to perform her job, she left the small room, and within steps found herself at Mulder's door. She knocked briskly on it, and paused only a moment when she heard a mumbled "come in" in reply.
Mulder was just tying his shoes on as she entered his room. He glanced up at her, seemingly as energetic as he was the night before. "Good morning," he greeted her, friendlily and then presented her with a cup of steaming something in a white mug. From the aroma drifting upwards, it was some blend of coffee. Scully was more than willing to put up with any harebrained theory at that point for the taste of nirvana Mulder had just offered her. "I know it's not your usual blend, but I hope you like it. It's hazelnut mocha."
"Thank you, Mulder," Scully replied, unexpectedly touched that he remembered what kind of coffee she had drunk on their last assignment. Of course, he didn't need to know it was because you needed all the flavor to cover the taste of how bad it truly was. It was a kind and thoughtful gesture, and it had surprised her pleasantly.
The two agents took a moment to savor the peace of the morning, enjoying the simple moment bereft of aliens, murder, and chaos. Mulder had prepared another cup for himself and they sat at the small table in the room. Silence reigned as each concerned themselves only with the hot caffeine source in front of them. All too quickly the hot beverages were gone and they were dragged back into their duty.
Mulder pulled out one of the plain manila folders and set it down in front of Scully, when he saw she was done. "These contain the search and rescue statements as well as the statements from everyone that found a body. I could find nothing in here that provided any answers as to what was going on. You have any luck?"
Scully grimaced. "No. I thought that the ME hadn't done the genetic testing, but he had ordered it, and even had them re-run the tests. No animal DNA was found, not even the normal scavenger animals you'd expect to enjoy the free meal." She looked at the folder but didn't open it, having faith in the thoroughness of the other agent's review. Psychology was more his bailiwick, and if he said that there was nothing unusual, he'd be the better judge of that. "They are still waiting on results for the other two victims, but it doesn't look like they'll be able to blame it on a rouge bear or big cat."
"Guess we'll have to take a look around ourselves and find out what we can." The expression on Mulder's face showed he highly doubted that they would be able to turn over any more evidence. Small town residents were notoriously protective of each other even if they hated one another.
Nodding, Scully got up and followed the other agent out the door. It locked with a quiet click.
The better part of the day was spent interviewing members of the search and rescue group and people that were known to frequent the park according to the Sheriff’s report. Most of the residents questioned were polite enough, but all of them were hesitant. As the day slid from morning into early afternoon, all they had turned up so far was that everyone felt the mayor was embezzling funds from the trust dedicated to preserving the historical society.
While potentially interesting, the Mayor was an 85-year-old man that used a walker to get around. Unless he was some form of shape-shifter, it wasn't likely him. Not that Mulder was entirely willing to rule him out, but Scully had gotten a particularly mulish look on her face when he was about to ask if she had any silver jewelry they could use to test him.
Fox Mulder genuinely liked his new partner the more he got to know her, but he didn't understand her cleaving to science with dogmatic intensity. Asimov had once said something to the effect of "Magic is science we don't understand yet." For someone so trained to question the world around her, it surprised him that she didn't wonder more about the true nature of things. Then again, she never had her sister abducted by aliens.
These were the thoughts that occupied him, along with the amazement of the fact that Halloween hadn't yet been canceled. Indeed, all around them as the light dimmed, children danced around excitedly in costumes and made elaborate plans on where to go and how best to achieve the maximum candy allocation from adults. The Sheriff had closed the park, barring the gates with a padlock to keep people out, and she figured there would be enough supervision with all of the parents that nothing untoward would happen to any of the kids.
Even so, both agents were on alert. They passed by the park gates and ensured the sturdy chain was still in place. Since there were only two houses facing the park, and both had a significant parcel of land around them, few children ventured near the area. The quiet house where one of the victims lived looked strangely empty, like it knew the woman who owned it was never coming back home.
Mulder and Scully stopped in front of the house, wondering if they should go in, if there was some kind of clue hidden inside when the girl appeared crying inconsolably. She was on the wrong side of the park gate. "My baby! My Baby! I cannot find her!"
The pair of FBI agents ran across the street to the gates. "Miss. Miss, please calm down. We can't help you if we don't know what the problem is." Scully remained eminently calm in the face of the wailing girl.
The girl couldn't have been more than 17. She had thick glossy hair, wide brown eyes, and soft Spanish accent to go with her Latina looks. She was dressed in a dirty and ragged white champion sweatshirt with white pants torn at the knees. On her feet were muddy white Converse sneakers. She gasped a time or two and tried to collect her breath. "My baby, please. My baby is missing. I don't know where she is. She is only an infant. Please help me find her."
Mulder looked at Scully and then vaulted over the gate. "Go and get the sheriff and the deputy. I'll go with her to the last place she saw the child." He waited, watching Scully from the other side of the gate. He knew that it was chilly enough that an unprotected child could die of hypothermia, never mind a serial killer happening on the infant.
Scully nodded and took off down the road, running surprisingly quickly in her flats as she fled to the police station, phone already out and dialing in the hopes she could get a hold of a search party quickly, before it was too late. Thankfully the town center was only a little over a square mile, and it was only about two miles to the police station. Even if Scully couldn't get anyone on the phone, she'd be there quickly enough to commandeer anyone she found at the station into a search.
Once she was gone, Mulder turned back to the girl who still had tears cascading down her face. Together they took off running to the back of the park, up the narrow track that would lead to the Putnam homestead.
Scully arrived at the police station before she reached anyone by phone. The small town in the west had little cell signal. When she burst through the door, Deputy Helvig nearly fell off the chair. She took a moment to get her wind back before telling him that they needed to assemble a new search party to look for an infant. His face paled, becoming even paler than his already fair Norwegian complexion already was.
"What?" he asked, seemingly dumbfounded.
"A baby," Scully replied. "A young woman said she lost her infant in the park."
Janet came out of her office, stumbling to a stop just as Dana finished telling Helvig about the missing child. "Who lost their infant?"
"A young Mexican woman, 16 or 17. She was wearing a white sweatshirt, white jeans, white sneakers. She and my partner just went into the park to look for the baby. But I don't think..."
Scully was interrupted suddenly by the Sheriff. "Eliza? Could she have …?" the Sheriff leaned back against the front desk. Helvig, behind her, looked like a corpse.
"What? What about the girl?" Scully demanded.
"Eliza Day was a young woman who slipped on the rocks while crossing the stream in the park," Helvig supplied. "She was my girlfriend. We were fooling around when she bashed her head on the rocks on the water. She died. Instantly. And she was wearing that outfit at the time."
Helvig shook his head. "She'd had our baby, a couple of weeks before."
Both of the peace officers looked frightened. "What happened to the baby?" Scully asked, watching them both, closely.
The young man shrugged. "I gave her up for adoption out of state. I couldn't deal with the memories."
Helvig, Downey, and Scully grabbed their firearms, though each wondered what good they'd do against a ghost.
Mulder followed the girl closely, keeping to the brush lined trail and only a step or two off her pace. Though the young woman was small, she was fast, and she hardly left a print on the ground she covered. In the distance a baby cried inconsolably. The sound came from everywhere in the thickening forest of the woods around the homestead.
"She must be here, she must be!" the girl cried. Suddenly she juked to the left, running through the underbrush. Mulder followed her and could hear the sound of water growing louder. The baby's cries were muted by the liquid rushing by.
The small stream they came to looked too small to be generating all the noise. It couldn't have been more than a foot deep and maybe twice that wide. More a glorified rill than a river. Yet it sounded like the cataracts at Niagara. Mulder slowed, cautious. The girl before him knelt down, plunging a hand deeply into the river. To her right, a wild rose had a single bloom clinging to life, horribly out of season. Suddenly she turned to him, rage and anguish transforming her face into a thing of horror. The tears that coursed down her face somehow became rivers themselves. "Where is she!" she shrieked.
The FBI agent stopped, but that didn't stop the girl. "I know you have her!" she cried, rushing him and clawing at his eyes, smothering him in the water dripping off her body. She knocked him over and crouched over him.
"I don't have your child," Mulder growled, trying to shove the girl off of his body. "I came here to help you find her."
"Liar! I saw you! I saw you murder my niña!" She spat. "All you men, all alike. Only want what lies between a woman's legs and then you kill what you cause to be born! You are all guilty!" She continued trying to assault the FBI agent. He grabbed her around the wrists, forcing her hands away from his neck and face. Her wailing increased, and tears fell like rain from her eyes.
"I haven't hurt your baby. I wouldn't hurt any child!" Mulder gasped. With strength he didn't know he had, he flipped them, and pinned her to the ground. She turned to water in grasp, and melted into the earth.
Quickly he got on his feet in a ready crouch. Scanning the area around him, he turned slowly. In the stream, he found her. Water cascaded over her body, and she seemed like a living embodiment of liquid. Grief was written large on her face, and every quiet wail in the distance etched new lines on her face.
"Mi niña," she sobbed. "Mi pobricita niña."
La Llorna, the wailing woman. Girl, really in this case. Mulder considered what he knew of the legend. A woman who killed her own children after her husband was unfaithful to their love, and cursed by God to roam the land until he found them. She had to be a dead woman, but what struck him is that she said she saw him kill her little girl. That was a mystery he could solve. "What happened to your baby girl?" he asked.
The ghost in the water shook her head, causing water droplets to catch the moonlight and scatter it. "She was murdered. Killed. My niña is dead!"
"Who killed her?" he asked, quickly before rage caused her to attack again.
The ghost seemed to struggle for a moment, caught between rage that defined her kind and love for her child. "She was left alone, so alone in the cold. She was always so very cold," the girl murmured, more to herself. "I tried to go back for her, I did, but I couldn't. It is so very cold..." Suddenly the liquid fell back into the water, leaving only the ripples over the rocks behind.
"Great." Mulder sighed. He wondered how many people were drowned every year in this town since La Llorna showed up. But she killed men, and children. It wouldn't explain the death of the elderly Asian woman. The hair on the nape of his neck stood up when the unearthly wail sounded again. Somewhere there was a baby and it needed help. What form of help remained to be seen.
Scully looked at the gate, watching closely as Downey fumbled with the lock on the chain. Eventually she popped the heavy lock on the chain holding the gates closed. Every moment felt like an eternity. Her partner was out there with the local ghost. It must have been a coincidence, the girl must have been a new resident of the city. There was no way a dead woman had run off with her partner. And yet, when Scully played back her memories, there had been something not right about the young woman. Her clothing had seemed wet, but then the dew lay heavy on the lawns of the park. And her baby's unearthly cry lifted to the heavens, sounding more unreal each time it was uttered.
Officer Helvig would get paler and paler each time the cry came from the woods. No doubt the sound reminded him of the baby he'd given up for adoption after his girlfriend died. This whole case must have seemed like a nightmare to the officer. He'd been sullen at the front desk, but Scully wasn't so heartless as to think that he deserved these reminders of his losses. The cry ripped out of the woods again, and was carried through the air. The baby sounded miserable. But the strength of the crying gave hope to the small search party. A baby that could yell that loudly wasn't giving into the cold yet.
The three officers traveled a jagged line tracking by sound. The problem was that the cry seemed to come from everywhere, making it hard to determine the best direction to walk in. The three picked up the pace, jogging as they zigzagged across the park, up into the tree line. Helvig growled when the baby cried again. He put on a burst of speed and Downey and Scully stretched their legs to catch up. Each time the baby cried he changed direction, and Scully worried that they were going to be lost in the woods where a killer had stuck three times. Or a bear... one capable of leaving no genetic material behind.
Downey began slowing down, as they ran past the forest in the moon shadow of a pair of crossed trees. "I don't like this, Agent Scully." The sheriff dodged around a low hanging branch. "We are getting closer and closer to where the last body was found."
Scully gritted her teeth, and wondered how the Sheriff could determine that with so little to go on. All the trees were looming shadows in the dark, and the only light that didn't come from their flashlights fell limply through the tree canopy. The wail was coming more frequently, and louder. However Helvig was getting red-faced, and the stress that had been written so plainly on his face was slowly being replaced by anger and desperation. The transformation made Scully uneasy.
They broke through a thicket and found crime scene tape hanging limply from the thin twigs and branches that supported it. In the center was a small pile of overturned loam from the forest floor. Already leaves had started to fall and cover the disturbed mound. All the officers of the law paused, looking over the forlorn patch of earth.
A wail caused the small hair on her arms to stand on end. It was clear that it was coming from the mound at the middle of the crime scene. The baby sounded as though it was filled with rage. This wasn't a child crying to be held, or uncomfortable, or even hungry. There was an edge to the emotion that had no place in the voice of a child that young. Scully had heard criminals with a lifetime of violence behind them that approached the rage and hatred in the cry, but even their fierce war cries fell short of the concentrated feeling in that noise.
Crashing and the noise of branches breaking broke the moment. Helvig ran to the mound and violently threw dirt and leaves to the side to reveal a naked child. He held up upon seeing it, and threw his hands up and backed away. Scully edged closer and saw that the baby had the beautiful blue eyes of a newborn. She was perfectly proportioned, had a short thatch of dark hair, and the tanned skin of a mixed race child.
The little girl was a joy to look on, except for the hare-lip and the cleft palette that marred the symmetry of her face. Beside the agent, Sheriff Downey gasped.
The baby looked at them all, shifting her gaze around the three adults standing over her. When her eyes rested on the only male in the group, she let out another piercing wail. When that cry went unanswered, she sobbed again. Helvig refused to move, muttering "no" under his breath.
The baby let out a screech and then flipped herself over and crawled with lightning speed towards Helvig, who turned and ran from the clearing.
The baby caught him and then climbed up his body, scaling him as easily as Scully could climb stairs.
Scully knew it was physically impossible. Newborns had a very strong grasp, a holdover from the evolutionary ancestors, but that reflex was lost quickly after birth. Certainly no newborn Dana has ever encountered could climb an adult man as this one had done. The baby was now clinging to the male officer's neck, and he was crying.
Downey shook her head. "You told us you gave her up, Erik."
Helvig ignored her. "Please, oh lord, please! We couldn't afford her surgery and I thought it would be kinder. Please spare me!"
The baby clung tighter to his neck and Downey screamed in his ear. "Run, Helvig. There's consecrated ground on the other side of the stream. The Nurse family plot is near the park. You might be able to make it."
He nodded, and then set off at a run, stumbling over the roots and rocks that seemed to rise up maliciously in his path. Downey turned to Scully. "My grandmother Bronwyn would say that the baby is an utburd, a spirit of rage. His only chance is to carry the baby to a graveyard so she can be laid to rest."
"What happens if he doesn't make it to the graveyard?" the FBI agent asked, chasing after the fleeing officer and his infant passenger.
Downey looked at the fleeing form with a mixture of pity and scorn. "She'll kill him. Every step he takes, she'll grow heavier and heavier until she crushes him." The sheriff huffed out a laugh. "And when he's dead, she'll rip up his body into bloody chunks." She paused as she jumped over a fallen tree trunk. "I think we just found our serial killer, and she's really pissed at her daddy."
Mulder had been trying to find his way towards the sound of the baby who had been crying, leaving behind the stream of la Llorna. As far as he could tell, the cries had come from everywhere and nowhere. However suddenly they'd fallen silent, leaving the woods abnormally still. It was the type of stillness that indicated a predator was hunting, and prey was wise to stay and hid or run before it caught sight of them. It made no sense to him. La Llorna killed men and children when she could, and sometimes she could cry like a child to attract attention, but she'd been with him when the baby was crying. It obviously hadn't been her. Indeed, she'd been searching for the child with all that was left of her sanity.
The situation made no sense. He could only hope that Scully had found the baby and that was the reason that it had stopped crying.
The federal agent moved carefully though the undergrowth. The quiet shrouded the wood, almost muffling the few sounds that could be heard. For 15 minutes Mulder continued to try to back track in the confusing maze of trees. He'd almost decided to return to the stream and continue down it to find the park border, risking the wrath of the wailing woman, when he heard crashing and gasping, sobbing breaths. Mulder hurried to the sound.
It wasn't long before he stumbled, literally, onto Officer Helvig, who was carrying a small child. His back was bent over, and his feet were just starting to sink ingot the forest floor. The infant was riding high on the officer's neck, and for the life of him, Mulder couldn't figure out why the other man was carrying the infant that way.
Mulder moved to pull the infant of the struggling man's neck when it turned its head and hissed at him. The infant's eyes were a startling blue of a newborn, but it had fangs in its mouth that were sharper than some saws he'd seen. He could see them clearly through the infant's marred face.
Helvig fell to his knees under his burden. He put down a hand to brace himself, and tried to struggle upright, but couldn't make it back to his feet. The creature on the officer's back screamed, and started hitting him. Mulder again attempted to remove it but was halted by a woman's shout of "Don't!"
Sheriff Downey and Scully slid to a halt beside the fallen man. Downey looked like an avenging angel. Scully looked resigned. Obviously something had happened that involved the man and the two female officers, but what would have to wait until the crisis had passed. Scully moved to stand beside Mulder. "I can't carry her anymore," the downed man gasped.
"You aren't dead yet. You created her. You need to get her to the graveyard so she can rest. If you don't more people will die." Sheriff Downey looked pitiless as she delivered the sentence. Mulder realized then that this baby thing must have been responsible the deaths that he and Scully had been sent to investigate.
Officer Helvig shot his superior a resigned look and tried once more to rise, and failed. The baby screeched again. This time it started to draw blood when it assaulted the man. The wailing grew in intensity as the beating continued. It took Mulder a moment to realize that it wasn't just the baby's cries he was hearing.
"Eliza," Sheriff Downey greeted, calmly. "Somehow I thought you would come."
The teenaged ghost in white, tears flowing down her face approached the group. "My baby, my precious niña."
The baby hiccupped a sob and stopped beating on Officer Helvig.
"Tell me," Sheriff Downey said, as she crouched down beside the man on the forest floor. "Did you kill Eliza too, as well as your child?"
He shook his head. "I never touched her. She fell while looking for the baby because she thought I'd left her in the park." He gasped air for a moment, and sunk lower into the dirt. "She didn't know I'd left her up by the homestead. I thought.... I thought..." he trailed off.
"You thought only about yourself." Downey stood up. She began to hum quietly.
"No! No, not you, too." Helvig looked stricken.
Sheriff Downey laughed, breaking off her tune. "You've lived here long enough to know that there are always consequences in this town."
"I loved you, once," Eliza whispered. "You murdered our child. I saw you go in the park with her, and I saw you come out again without her. I saw you kill her."
"No!" Helvig protested. "I loved her. I figured someone would find her and take her in," he protested, now holding himself up using both arms and looking frantically between the ghost woman and the Sheriff.
Eliza moaned brokenly. "My niña." She bent down, and ran one hand along the side of the baby's face. It smiled at her. "Come to Mama."
Downey's eyes flashed, angrily, but Eliza held up her hand. "I have found my baby, my niña." She picked up the child as if it weighed nothing. "I have missed you, and have finally decided on a name. You won't be Baby Helvig anymore, mi corazon. You are my little Carmen." the baby laughed, a merry little giggle that brought a smile to her mother's face. The baby seemed less real, suddenly, much as the mother was now also seeming. They were both lit from a light within. Eliza turned and took Carmen deeper into the woods. Mulder waited for a moment, torn between following her and staying.
Downey smirked at the agent. "Go, I have it on good authority that no one will die tonight."
Mulder blinked but chased after the girl. The light from the two spirits was more than enough to see by, and he followed them both back to the stream, then saw them cross and enter a small fenced patch of land. Mulder had not recognized the graveyard when he saw it, overgrown with roses and lilacs, withered and out of season. However once the two spirits crossed the gate's threshold, they evaporated into the moonlight. All that was left behind were the faintly luminescent headstones, shining grave moss obscuring the names and dates in the night.
Mulder walked back to where the two women were watching over Helving. Downey had given him a moment to recover, but had bound him with her cuffs. He looked sullen once more. "If you'd asked for help, half the town would have turned out for you and that baby," Downey said. "Hell, consider the people that live here. We probably could have scared up a healer that would have taken care of the cleft palette and the harelip. You know this town is home to more than just humans. Hell, we've not had a murder since I moved here until you created the utburd."
He glared at the woman. "And why is that, anyway? You should have foreseen those deaths like you did the others, Banshee."
"Idiot. You know I can't see into fey matters. Only human ones. Even your death wasn't written until you entered the woods tonight. The future has many paths, and be happy it took the one that left you your miserable life, freed your girlfriend from becoming a fiend, and let your baby rest her in arms forever more because she now has a name." Downey growled at the man, her voice becoming harsh, but with strangely sonorous overtones. "And now we need to clean up your mess."
Downey looked at Mulder and Scully. Then she began singing a song that was soft and beautiful, that spoke of comings and goings, of darkness and light, of lost memories regained and found memories lost to dreams.
Scully and Mulder left the Clarion Inn scarcely 36 hours after entering it. It figured that the long trip out here had been for nothing. Mulder hoped that they'd be able to avoid the turbulence that made him so sick on the way in. "I still wish that they'd run DNA scans before calling us out here. I can't believe the cops can mistake a rabid bear for a serial killer," Scully complained.
Mulder shrugged. "Winters are long here. People have active imaginations. At least the report for this will be quick."
Had they compared the strange dreams they'd had the previous night, the report might have been a bit longer.
For Neoxphile's Nursery Files/Bump in the Night challenge. The category is C, I think, though I freely admit to bending a few things in the execution.
The Putnam Homestead was named for John Putnam, the Salem MA man that was pressed to death during the witch trial hysteria. As he was slowly being killed, local legend says he cried out "more weight!"
The Nurse graveyard was named for Rebecca Nurse, who also died in the hysteria and whose children had to exhume her and bury her in consecrated ground under the cover of night
Eliza is named for the song Where The Wild Roses Grow with the refrain "They call me the rose, but my name was Eliza Day. Why the call me this I do not know, for my name was Eliza Day," who was murdered by the man that loved her.
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