Summary: Mulder and Scully go to a southern plantation to investigate some hauntings while discovering a lot about themselves.
Author's Note: This idea just came to me one night watching Gone With The Wind so I hope you like it.
The cold emptiness of winter had a firm and icy grasp on Mississippi that December morning of 1864.
Pockets of old snow lingered in the shadows of gently rolling hills, back wood hallows and bottomland swamps, as did the occasional body of a dead soldier or horse who had been overlooked rather then buried with those who had fallen along side him. The snow covered with spots and puddles of dried blood giving testimony of the war that had raged just a few short months ago. The footprints of a thousand marching soldiers lay in the ice-packed earth off to fight the war they thought would end within a few weeks.
Colonel Edward Braxton sat on his coal black roan atop a wooded ridge. He pulled the great folds of his cloak closer around him and attempted to ignore the bitter wind blowing through the desecrated countryside. The man could scarcely believe that this was his beloved Magnolia. The plantation no longer resembled the idyllic memories he had taken with him when he enlisted to 4 years of hell. Trading the fine threads of a plantation farmer for the coarse gray of the Confederacy uniform. Magnolia had once been paradise: lush and green and plentiful with cotton, tobacco, fruit orchards, and the leather leaved trees that provided it's name. But now was desolate, a lifeless landscape of raw earth and jagged stumps of the magnificence of what had once been. The main house-which used to stand two stories high and the whitewashed brick and chiseled limestone no longer resembled the tall proud structure he had known all his life but now was a scorched ruin of the immaculate walls and columns.
He found that he could remain on the ridge no longer, he had to find out, he had to know. A neighboring planter had written to him with news of home. The last letter had sent Edward racing home almost abandoning his troop.
The last paragraph of the letter had read; "When I thought it was safe enough to go out, I rode out to Magnolia and found the place in blackened ruins. I searched the entire spanse of the plantation, but could find so sign of Miss Shannon there. The few slaves that remained could tell me little about her whereabouts or what had become of her."
For the past fourteen days Edward Braxton had ridden hard with the maddening mystery of Shannon's death foremost in his mind. He had just reached the end of the winding dirt road, which led to the main house when he was caught by a fit of coughing that almost rocked him from the saddle. The wet rattle of consumption sounded deep within his lungs and an ache that felt as if a cannon ball were pressing on his chest. Edward pulled out the Colt Navy.36 from its holster on his hips and made his way in to the house.
The house was burnt to the ground the ceiling was no longer over his head and the beautiful carpeted floors were now stained with black under his feet.
Edward cautiously made his way up the back stairs as the main staircase was no more, he was entering Shannon's sitting room when a rustle came from behind him.
"Who's there?" he demanded, standing just inside the doorway and hearing no reply he shouted again to the invisible intruder. "Who's there? Tell me or as God as my witness I shall run you through with my blade!"
"My boy, Edward please it's only me." came the voice of the elderly man who lived a few miles away from Magnolia.
"What happened here?" Edward asked
Through a long tale Ashton had come to reside at Magnolia a few months before the Yankees took over the plantation. His plantation had been burned the year before and Shannon had been kind enough to let him live there until the war was over. A Yankee captain had come one night and took the place over and had taken Ashton to one of the slaves' quarters and lamed him so to prevent him from going in search of help. He had last seen Shannon arguing with the Yankee captain. He had heard screaming and had tried to get out of the shack he was in but failed to do so because of the injury caused by the Yankees. He heard the Yankee captain laughing like "Lucifer himself" and the soldiers laughing and cheering. Through the doorway he saw Shannon pull a gun from underneath her skirts. Edward had recognized the gun as a present he had given her for protection before he left for the war.
After he had seen the gun Ashton had passed out from the pain of his wound.
"But what about Shannon? What happened to Shannon?" Edward asked him eagerly.
"They killed her and buried her somewhere on the plantation."
"But *where*?!" he almost shouted losing patience with the man across the table.
"I'm sorry, son, I just don't know."
Edward had found a place for the neighbor at a shelter house for the poor then returned home. He knew what he had to do. The thought of his beloved Shannon lying beneath the frozen ground maddened him to the very brink. He would not rest until he found her and she was properly laid to rest in the Braxton family crypt. He found a rusted shovel and a pickaxe in the corner of the looted shed. Picked a spot, and started digging. Again and Again he struck the earth out of frustration and anger at himself, Yankees, the President, the war and the rest of the world. He was determined to find Shannon. He *had* to.
The third day after Edward Braxton had returned home Peter Osborne decided to take a ride to the plantation. to check on the man who had been his best friend since childhood. He had refrained from visiting Edward simply out of respect for the grieving. In his heart he knew Shannon was dead, that those devilish Yankees had murdered her and performed God knows what atrocities before that. For two days he had watched the Braxton plantation from his window, in his home on the top of the ridge, he watched as a single lantern went to and fro across the plantation grounds.
He had no idea what the man was doing out there but he was worried for his friend and considered it his Christian duty to help anyway he could. He walked his horse up the long path of the drive and saw a number of holes along the route and figured what Edward had been doing for the past three days he had been home.
It did not take long to find the one he was searching for. An explosion of feeble coughing drew Osborne's attention, he picked his way through blackened debris to what used to be the rear parlor of the house. He found Edward lying on a couch that was black with smoke and fire. Edward was deathly pale and was flushed with the color of fever. The sweat of the sickness was frozen on the man's brow from the low temperature of winter. Osborne saw the man that was his friend and knew death was close at hand. He removed his jacket and draped it over Edward's shivering form. Another violent cough escaped his friend again. Osborne could hear the wet rattling in his lungs and knew that he was in the final throes of pneumonia. Osborne knelt next to the couch and took his friends hand. Weakly he felt the return squeeze of the bloody dirt-caked fingers. Edward eyes opened.
"Thank you, Pete. Thank you for waking me," he said as he attempted to rise from his makeshift deathbed and tried to take the shovel from beside the sofa.
It took little effort to restrain him. "Stay, you've done the work of twenty men. Now it is time for you to rest. You deserve that much."
"But I am *not* deserving! I have failed, failed miserably to locate the remains of my beloved Shannon. I must rise and continue the search! I simply must!"
Despite this outburst he pushed Edward back onto the sofa and held him there. "To search for her this way is pure insanity. Rest, and soon you will see her on the other side of this world, in heaven."
He felt Edward give in, "Of course." muttered Edward "You are right I will see her again, someday."
"Surrender, my friend, surrender and claim your reward, your wife." Then abruptly Edwards's eyes cleared and his expression changed to what he could only describe as celestial. For a brief moment his eyes were full of rapture and pure joy. Then that joy faded and in it's stead horror showed on Edward's features "Oh, dear God in heaven....no!" he yelled
"What is it? What is wrong?"
"She is not there! My beloved Shannon...she is lost!"
I looked at the case file Mulder handed me and peered at the contents within. A couple in Vicksburg, Mississippi had reported strange happening in their renovated plantation. And Mulder being Mulder wanted to talk to the couple Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin. The couple had bought a burnt-down plantation house and had turned it into a dream home and it was a dream home from the pictures in the file showed a picturesque, beautiful, perfect southern home.
Mrs. Laughlin had reported strange things moving in the kitchen and she had claimed to have seen the ghost of one Shannon Braxton, which she presumed, haunted the house and a fires had started with no apparent cause of combustion.
I stole a sideways look at Mulder who had a sunflower seed in his mouth and his eyes on the road. He seemed a little more driven with this case then with our recent cases his eyes positively sparkled when he related to me the happenings of this house. His hair had grown longer then usual and that gave him a rough appearance that he hid under the daytime suits that I almost always saw him wear.
"So what about the history of the house?" I asked him
"Well, It's quite interesting in fact," he began and I just pushed the recline button on my chair and listed to his rich baritone.
"The house survived the battle of Vicksburg only because it was used as a camp for a Yankee troop headed by Captain James Bates, quite a hero in his time, the master of the house was away fighting the war and had left his wife, Shannon Braxton, behind. It's not too clear what happened from there, Shannon was killed while being raped by the captain and Bates died of a gunshot wound, neither of their graves have ever been found." He looked for acknowledgement and I nodded.
"What about the husband?" I asked curious now.
"He came home in December of 1864 and a friend said he died of pneumonia a couple days after he returned, he is buried in the family's vault." he added as an afterthought.
We talked very little after that, and we finally arrived at the plantation house, the Laughlin's had been kind enough to let us stay at the house to see for ourselves the ghosts of Magnolia. I thought as we knocked on the front door of the house. The house was a perfect storybook house the whitewash columns, and the high windows, like Gone With The Wind. A woman in her mid thirties answered the door with wide rimmed glasses on and a look of interest.
"Mrs. Laughlin? I'm Agent Scully and this," I said indicating to Mulder "is Agent Mulder. I believe you are expecting us?" I said holding my badge out for her to see.
"Oh yes, I'm sorry I was just into my novel, I'm a writer and I wasn't expecting you till later tonight."
I wasn't really listening to what Mrs. Laughlin was saying but I was fascinated by the grandeur of the antebellum home, a huge chandelier was at the head of the winding staircase which was immaculately white and the brass fixtures over the hearth and the door were polished and beautiful it was the perfect dream home.
Country music was blaring from the west wing of the second floor of the house and a male voice resounding through the ceiling, at my puzzled look upwards Mrs. Laughlin explained that her husband--Jerome was an artist and she a writer, he designed her book covers and was working on one now and the music helped him with the creative process.
A house keeper then appeared from the back door of the parlor we were sitting in and took Mulder and I up to our rooms up to our rooms, I was given the blue room and Mulder the gold, there was an adjoining door to our rooms and as we both situated into our own rooms I found myself relaxing and almost forgetting I was on assignment.
Later that night the housekeeper came and took us to the dining room for supper. I, not having many fancy clothes settled for a dark blue pant set I had bought the week before.
I walked down to the dining room to where we were to eat Mrs. Laughlin was sitting next to a man in his late thirties and talking happily with him, this man I presumed was her husband, Jerome. The man approached me with a smile.
"Hello, Agent Scully, I'm Jerome Laughlin," he said hand extended
"Nice to meet you Mr. Laughlin." I said sitting in a chair a little way off from the couple, Mulder had not yet arrived, and the cook waiting for everyone hadn't served the dinner yet.
I engaged in polite conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin and was commenting on the size of Magnolia when Mulder entered the room and sat next to me. Mulder being Mulder wanted to get right down to the heart of the matter and asked. "What was the first incident that happened here at Magnolia?"
"Actually," said Mrs. Laughlin who had assumed responsibility for the conversation, "I was about eight years old when I first saw something here at Magnolia. I saw the ghost of Shannon Braxton," she said simply.
Mulder glanced over at me as I took a bite of the lamb we were being served.
"I was trick-or-treating with a couple of friends when on a mutual dare we came up to the house and walked up the drive-way, the house was reputed haunted, we were all quite scared and when we heard a howl my friends ran back to the other end of the street, The howl turned out to be an owl, I stayed staring at the house. I saw--at least I think I saw," she added giving me a sheepish glance. "a woman standing on the second floor balcony of which the floor boards had been burned out long ago in the fire. The lady was dressed in a silken nightgown of light blue, which appeared to be soiled and torn. She was quite lovely. Her skin was white as the columns of the house and a long fall of rich auburn hair trailed over her shoulders. But her face is what disturbed me the most. It was one of pain and distress, and complete loss. The woman's eyes were full of panic and despair. she stared across the grounds of the plantation as if desperately searching, searching-- for someone."
I hated to interrupt on such a memory but Mulder was almost literally jumping out of his seat shouting 'I told you so' "Mrs. Laughlin? Are you sure this apparition you saw wasn't some prank played on you by the other children?"
"No, I don't think so Agent Scully, It was something more then that. I really think that it was some sort of spirit." she said truthfully to me. "That and me wanting to be closer to my family is why I wanted to buy Magnolia I wanted it after that night it had some sort of hold on me, it was as if I needed to own this place to make it real to convince people and myself that what I saw that night was real and that it really did happen."
After that conversation at the dinner table nothing more was said about Magnolia or the hauntings that had occurred there. Mrs. Laughlin gave us a tour of the house and then left us to retire to our own rooms.
I sat in my room going over the case history again to make sure nothing was missed, a knock at my door drew my attention.
"Come in." I said and turned to greet the unseen guest.
Mulder smiled and looked at me and said, "Welcome to Magnolia." before turning and walking back to his own room.
I took a bath and prepared for bed 'Welcome to Magnolia' I thought to myself before I settled into a deep dreamless sleep.
That night Mulder found himself caught in the midst of a dream. Or, more precisely, the clutches of a terrifying nightmare.
I am standing in the center of a dark thicket surrounded by bush and bramble. Overhead a full moon hangs high in the sky in the autumn sky, casting an eerie glow to the trees and bushes around me. At first, I couldn't identify my surroundings, but then as I left the shelter of the grove of trees I saw the old mansion, and realized where I was. I was standing on the grounds of Magnolia years before it's apparent revitalization.
Something else puzzled me I was no longer an adult but a child of maybe eleven or twelve. I was also in a Halloween costume, Batman. I was alone and I could not keep my gaze from the mansion. I could not understand why I was there I had grown up mostly on the east coast not in the heart of the south.
I walked toward the old mansion, and was nearly to the front steps of the house when something drew my attention. It was the sound of forlorn weeping, and it came from the balcony directly overhead. Curious to know the source of the crying, I looked upward and saw a ghostly figure standing above me where no person could possibly stand. At first, the woman seemed unfamiliar. She was beautiful, small and petite. Her hair was dark auburn in color and her nightgown was made of the sheerest light blue silk. The only thing unlovely about the woman was her face. She seemed to be in the painful throes of some horrid emotion, torn between grief and absolute terror.
Then without warning, my dream changed and I was a full-grown man, still standing looking upwards at the woman, who was no longer a stranger. Instead of the ghostly woman was Scully on top of the balcony clutching the railing with a frantic grasp. Her face held an expression I had never seen, and agonizing mixture of intense fear and suffering. The familiar negligee of delicate lace and light blue silk was filthy and nearly torn from her delicate frame. Even from where I was I could distinctly see the inflamed finger marks and bruises along the slim column of her neck as well as ugly dark bruises and welts on her breasts.
"Scully!" I called and rushed foreword to make my way up to my frightened partner to comfort her to wipe away the agony on her face as I had done so many other times before. But my body did not respond to my commands of movement. I was rooted helpless to the spot where I stood. I could only watch in horror as the french doors of the balcony swung open. Laughter emerged from those doors as evil as the devil himself. The laughter and darkness reached out and took hold of Scully and pulled her into the dark recesses of the plantation house.
"Nooooooo!" I screamed as I woke with a violent start. the memory of the dream still with me I tried to reassure myself that I was truly awake. I sat upright and took long slow breaths trying to calm myself. My room, gold on every surface, was lit with a faint glow. At first, I thought I had forgot to turn the lamp next to the bed off before I went to sleep, in the next second I knew it wasn't the case. The yellowish light reflecting on the bedroom wall and despite the color of the room I knew it wasn't my light for the glow danced and leapt as if alive. I sprang from the bed and crossed the bedroom to the window, I could only think of one reason for the commotion outside. the Magnolia grove from the main highway to the house was on fire. Beyond the glass panes leapt tongues of bright flame, and I could feel the heat of the blaze radiating from the other side of the window. I opened the window and my emotion changed from fear into total bewilderment.
The October night was cool dark and silent I stared down at the Magnolia grove beneath the window. There was no fire there just dewy leaves and dense shadow. I took a deep breath and relaxed know there were no cause for alarm but as I did so a peculiar odor came to my nostrils. The smell of burnt magnolia, it was both sweet and sour at the same time, like nothing I'd ever smelled before. I took a sharp look a the window and saw again that nothing was amiss. I shrugged took a deep breath and went back to my bed with a troubling feeling hanging over my head. And as I drifted into a dreamless sleep the scent of burnt magnolia lingered in the room and in my mind.
After the final members of the wedding party had extended their heartfelt congratulations and the last of the horse-drawn buggies had made it's way down the path that was littered with the magnolia trees that led straight up to the main house, Edward Braxton and his new bride, Shannon, turned to one another.
"Now that our guests are gone," Edward said, a sly spark glinting in his dark green eyes, "the remainder of the evening belongs to us and us alone."
Shyly the young bride smiled at her new husband. "Let us go upstairs." she suggested. Edward detected that beneath that air of demure femininity lie a hint of something wild and untamed. "Now."
Edward wasted no time he extended his arm to his new wife and led them up the long staircase lit only by a single candle in his hand.
In the next moment they were in the master bedroom. tension filled the chamber. Mostly due to their first night together as man and wife, as well as the anticipation of the passion which had been honorably suppressed during their courtship.
Edward turned to the door and turned the latch. He turned toward his bride. Shannon had already taken the pins from her hair and let it's long auburn locks spill forth in disarray. Edward pulled at the constricting necktie at his throat and watched helplessly. Shannon's petite arms reached around to undo the lacings of the wedding gown. The white dress fell from her shoulders and pooled on the ground at her feet. Without further hesitation, Edward stripped off his coat and shirt, the advanced to her. He heard her moan as he pressed his lips on hers gently at first then with urgency and need that fuelled them both. Soon both husband and wife were completely naked. Flesh pressing against flesh as Braxton took Shannon in his arms and carried her to the big canopied bed they were to share from this day onward.
"Gently," whispered Shannon, as the man's weight bore down upon her. His deep fathomless eyes showed compassion and tenderness as he slowed his pace. The young woman gasped at his entrance to her body, a moment later though all pain tuned to pleasure. Gradually their coupling became more urgent and frantic. They reached the pinnacle of ecstasy together, then collapsed into the engulfing folds of the deep feather mattress.
"I love you Edward." whispered Shannon as she lay her head on the arms of her new husband.
"And I love you as well, my dear," reciprocated Edward pulling her closer "with all my heart and soul."
After they had rested the two rose from their marriage bed and stood at the french doors, staring past the panes to the southern night that stretched beyond. "All this is yours now, my dear" vowed Edward. ":The plantation grounds, the magnolia grove and this wonderful house built by my father is all yours now."
Shannon stared up into her husband's face, her eyes glistening with unshed tears of joy. "All I really need is you, Edward, that is all I could really hope for."
The two newly weds embraced and stared out over the richness of the land know that they would share this and their lives and a soon-to-be-family within the boundaries of the plantation they had called Magnolia.
Mulder had no intention of telling Scully of his dream last night, they had always told each other everything but the dream held a quality of reality, a kind of premonition and he was determined to keep his eye on her until this case was over.
Watching her now he relived the moment of his dream when she was standing on the balcony before that unseen phantom dragged her into the house. And the look on her face that made him angry with thoughts of how it could have gotten there. She was talking to Mr. Laughlin now, he had to keep an eye on this guy for some reason he didn't trust him, especially not with Scully.
He had told her he was going to survey the outside of the plantation. He was still watching her when a glow came from a the grove of magnolias. It was not the rampant light of the fire he had seen last night but the single glow of a lantern. he asked himself as he wandered toward the light. Mulder came to an instant conclusion: someone was there.
The light waxed and waned but stayed in a single spot, the light seemed to be coming from a clearing in the magnolias. He made his way through the magnolia grove careful to make no sound in his passing, he pulled out his gun from the hip holster at his side and approached the unseen intruder and the flickering light. As Mulder drew nearer to the spot where the light shone he heard noises echo from the lantern-lit clearing ahead-- the distinct sound of a shovel hitting dirt. He thought it might be an artifact hunter, he had heard about prowlers who search Civil War cemeteries and battlegrounds looking for valuable material buried on some poor soldier's person, gold teeth, buttons, and jewelry, but her had never witnessed anything like this before.
Only a few more yards between him and the clearing and he could now see that it was indeed a lantern, and then the profile of a man came to his vision. The fellow was tall and thin, very thin, he wore a wide-brimmed hat on his head, this was all Mulder could make out for the dense growth obscured his vision of the intruder.
He was one tree from the clearing and the man still had not noticed him yet. He listened intently and heard the man groan with the exertion of his labor, his breath was shallow and wheezing from his lungs with a harsh wet rattling. Mulder noticed there was urgency in the digger's frantic excavation of the clearing, as if possessed by some inner frenzy and was racing against time and the world to find the thing he was searching for.
He watched the man intently for a minute and was tempted to call Scully for the man sounded in dire need of medical help, even his inexperienced ears knew the sounds of pneumonia when he heard them.
He readied himself to face the intruder, raised his gun and stepped into the clearing, "FBI!" he shouted pointing the gun in the direction he had seen the lantern light.
Abruptly the light was gone. Mulder found himself in a clearing...an empty clearing with nothing but the rustling of magnolia leaves around him. He was completely alone. The figure of the digging man had completely disappeared. The sound of the shovel against the earth, as well as the ragged breathing , had also vanished.
"No," muttered Mulder as he took a couple more steps into the clearing. "No, damnit, I saw it this time for sure."
He loosened his grip on his weapon but did put it back in it's holster and stooped to inspect the ground. A thick scattering of leaves covered the ground where man had been seen, it appeared to be undisturbed. There was no sign whatsoever that anyone had been there recently, or that a shovel had penetrated the ground. He was positive he had seen the yellow glow of the lantern as well as the gaunt figure of a man digging frantically in the grove.
The puzzling light that had danced on his wall the night before could have been after effects of the dream, but there was no apparent explanation for this latest occurrence.
He stood back up and took a few more steps the center of the clearing. When he reached the spot where the man had labored, he felt like he had steeped into meat locker. An intense cold like he had never experienced in his life engulfed him, his mind went rampant with thought of paranormal happenings that involve cold feelings after an apparition of a ghost has been seen. The cold sank past the barrier of his clothing into his skin and muscle, causing his very bones to ache. A fit of coughing gripped him, wracking his entire body, and great gusts of frosty breath rolled from his mouth and nostrils. It was almost as if the 60 degree temperature of the November afternoon had suddenly dropped 30 or 40 degrees.
That was not all that affected Mulder, either. He began to feel physically ill, both feverishly hot and deathly cold at the same time. His lungs were full and heavy, he found it difficult to breathe. He was also aware that he was suffering mentally. He felt a great sense of sadness and grief possess him, as if everything dear in his life had been torn from him and was irretrievably lost.
"What is happening to me?" he said aloud. Another fit of coughing took him, he stared at the ground beneath his feet and strangely enough it was no longer covered with the fallen leaves of autumn. Rather, it was covered with patches of dirty snow, the grass and dirt lay charred and black beneath these ugly patches of white. Again the scent of burnt magnolia reached his nostrils.
Stunned by the flood of sensations and emotions that gripped him, Mulder staggered back a few steps. Almost immediately the phenomenon disappeared. Both the physical and mental illness vanished, leaving him dazed and disoriented, He breathed freely, his lungs unburdened of the wet phlegm as they had been a moment ago, gooseflesh disappeared from his skin as he felt the temperature return to normal.
Mulder took a couple more steps backward until he was on the edge of the clearing, he stood there trying to recompose himself. "Damn," he said. "What *was* that?!"
Staring into the dense greenness of the trees, he could find no answer to the question. It was simply a small patch of land with magnolia trees encompassing it. He considered walking back to the center of the clearing again, but thought better of the idea. He recalled the feeling of creeping death that had gripped is body as well as the dark emotions of grief and lunacy that infected his mind like an expanding cancer. He didn't want to experience anything like that...not ever again.
He walked back to the house where he found Scully still talking to the Laughlin's. She saw him and a concerned look spread across her face, she said something to Mrs. Laughlin and started toward him.
"Mulder, are you okay? You look pale and a little shaken," she said as she laid a hand on his forehead not waiting for his answer.
"I'm fine, Scully," he said as he shrugged her hand away. "Did you find anything out from them." he indicated to the Laughlin's.
"Yes," she said glancing at her notebook "A local antique dealer has a the journal of a union officer that occupied the plantation during the time of the murder of Shannon Braxton." She put her arm down impatiently. "Mulder, why are we here?"
Not really hearing her he shook his head still dazed from his encounter in the woods. "What?"
"Why are we investigating a 140 year old murder? There is no evidence of any foul play in the present and we just have the word of a farm couple to verify that anything has actually happened here. And if anything has what can we do about it?"
Still not hearing what she had said and not really caring he didn't answer her questions. "Did you get the address of this antique dealer?"
Seeing that her questions were not going be answered she nodded and followed him as he headed toward the car.
We parked across the street from the antique dealer's shop. It was in the center of Vicksburg's oldest commercial streets. A little ornamental bay window was filled with hardcover and paperback books. The dignified sign hung over the window--polished brass letters against the forest green--proclaimed GANT'S BOOKSHOP.
We steeped into the bookstore with a resounding ding of the bell overhead. Then one of my favorite smells greeted me, the smell of old books. I slowly went to the center of the tiny bookshop as Mulder went to the desk to ring the bell, which had a sign in front of it saying--ring for service.
Almost all of the books specialized in the American Civil War. As well as artifacts from that time period, sabers, cannon balls, bayonets, tarnished buttons and buckles from uniforms those proud men of the blue and gray had worn over 140 years ago.
"May I help you folks with something?" asked a gravelly but polite from the direction of the sales counter. I walked to the counter with Mulder and we showed him our badges.
"I am Agent Scully and this is Agent Mulder we're from the FBI."
The man looked slightly puzzled by this revelation.
"We are investigating the happenings of a plantation called Magnolia. Do you have an knowledge regarding this plantation or it's history?" I explained.
"Well, all I know is that it's reputed haunted, little is known about the place except for it's tragic burning and the death of the Mistress of the house, plenty of speculation, tall tales and folk stories are told but nothing is really known about what truly happened the night of November, 30 1864." The elderly gentleman said in his historian's knowledge of hard facts, not unlike my science.
Mulder then interrupted the man, "We were told by the couple that now own Magnolia, that you, sir, are in possession of a diary of one of the union officers that occupied Magnolia during the time of Shannon Braxton's death."
"Yes, I own the diary of Lt. John William Allen second in command of the union garrison."
"May we see it, sir?" Mulder asked the man
"Did anyone ever find out exactly where Shannon Braxton is buried." I asked thinking if I could examine the body we could resume our duty assignment back in Washington and not be chasing 140 year old ghosts.
"No, I'm sorry they never found her body. Edward--Shannon's husband is buried in the family plot on the southern border of the plantation grounds, but no one has any clue where poor Shannon was laid to rest," he said while rummaging through a stack of old volumes of miscellaneous journals and records.
"Here it is but before I let you have it I must say I cannot let you out of the shop with it. It is a valuable book and very fragile but you are welcome here anytime to look at it."
"Thank you, sir." I said hurriedly. I had never experienced anything like that. I looked at the book and it felt as if all the evils of all the world were compressed in that little volume of a person's life I had to get out there, fast.
June 12th, 1859
Tonight I visited the neighboring plantation of Magnolia. for the first time since Augustus Braxton's death nearly seven years ago. I know that it is unforgivable and rude that I have not paid my resects to the Braxton household in such a lengthy period of time, but I have been busy with my own affairs, and so has the current master of Magnolia, young Edward. Directly after his father's death, Edward attended Northern university and the on to West point in hopes of building a future in the military. However, Edward left the school and returned home with the as abolition swept the country.
The purpose of my visit this even is the wedding of you Edward Braxton to one Shannon Porter, of Virginia. The ceremony and reception afterward were joyous and extravagant. Only a few months after their initial meeting, Edward asked Shannon parents for their daughter's hand in marriage and they gladly consented. All in all, the decorations, the music, and the food and drink made the entire even on the most lavish of the season.
Man and wife are an impressive pair, to be surely. Edward is tall and handsome, having inherited the rich brown hair and the hazel-green eyes of his father. He is a brash outspoken young man, but one deserving of any man's trust and respect. Though Edward was quite the dapper tonight the real show was his new bride Shannon. young Shannon, herself only eighteen years of age, was the picture of pure loveliness. She was a small woman, as petite and delicate as one of my daughter's china dolls. the lady's hair is long and the shade of coppery auburn that I truly believe I have never seen before. Her eyes are blue and her skin is as fine and white as porcelain. She was dressed in a fine white wedding gown of the most lavish silk and lace, which included the train a good eight feet in length, carried by children of the Braxton slaves. Shannon the complete opposite of her husband. She is shy and demure, and exhibits the most engaging personality and manners. As my family and I witnessed the exchanging of vows, I could not help but hope that Shannon would have a positive influence on young Edward. Perhaps she will be able to polish away some of the rough edges of her new husband that he has possessed since his childhood.
We walked out of the bookshop together, I don't know why Scully did not let us look at the book it would help our case. She wasn't exactly what I would call enthused about this case and the moment she picked up the book I had a sudden flashback to the dream I had had two nights ago. The expression mirrored the one on her face before she was swallowed by that shadow of laughter, horror and grief and tortured soul that lay behind those blue depths.
I steal a glance at my partner out of the corner of my eye, her back is straight against the seat and her gaze is set on the road. No longer is the expression I had seen before just a dark blue steely gaze staring at he road, and I worried, I worried for her.
The night of November 8th Wade Laughlin was subjected to the most grisly nightmare of his life.
He found himself on horseback, riding cautiously through a stretch of dense woods.. The animal beneath him was a sturdy chestnut gelding, the bridle and saddle were common federal cavalry in the mid 1800's. HE surveyed his surroundings. It was spring. the forest was lush and green with new leaves, and the white blossoms of the dogwood were in bloom. He stared through the foliage to the sky above. the sun hung high in the sky; it was mid-afternoon.
He rode onward for a while, finally reaching a small stream. He found no beauty in this sight. He shucked a Spencer repeating rifle from a saddle boot and dismounted. he tethered the horse and knelt to the stream to fill his canteen, as he did so he leaned over and stared at his reflection in the water. The reflection that stared back at him was not his own, yet not entirely. There were configuring differences, like the battle worn uniform of a union captain that clothed his powerful form and the bushy mutton chop side-burns that graced both cheeks.
He gave no further thought to his appearance as a sound at the far end of the creek bed drew his attention. He corked the canteen and slung it over his shoulder. He stood and strained to hear the sound again. it came a moment later: someone fifty yards away was singing happily. he recognized the hymn they sang as being an old Negro spiritual.
Wade could not understand the emotion that filled him when he heard the chorus of the hymn. Such a feeling of hatred and contempt that the very strength of it threatened to consume him suddenly blinded him. A cruel smile came across his face and he worked the lever of the Spencer, jacking a fresh cartridge in his breech's pocket. He then made his way toward the source of the singing.
He found her a moment later. It was a young Negro girl, perhaps sixteen or seventeen years of age. She was dressed in the ragged clothes of a slave, but did not exhibit the air of oppressed like many he had come cross since the beginning of the war. No, the girl seemed content in the chore of washing clothes. Again, Wade felt himself bristle at the word of the hymn. they seemed to awaken something ugly inside him, something sadistic and ungodly. And, as he stared at the black girl herself, something else surfaced within him, lust, pure and unbridled. But it was a lust born not of love, but of cruel power and control.
He took another step forward, the sole of his cavalry boot bearing down upon a twig. The length of the wood snapped and drew the attention of the young slave girl. Her singing ended and her eyes widened with alarm at the sight of the tall Union captain with the mutton chop whiskers. the girl cried out in alarm and fled, leaving her master's clothes behind. He waited until she got a few yards down the creek bed and then continued in pursuit, he waited until there was a clear shot and slung the Spencer on his shoulder, took aim and let off a single shot. The bullet hit the young woman squarely in the center of her lower back. Her spine shattered by the 52-caliber slug, she collapsed, falling facedown into the mossy texture of the creek bank.
As he advanced toward the wounded girl, Wade Laughlin tried to feel outrage and revulsion at what he had just done, but there was no place for such emotions within him. He walked toward the whimpering woman slowly, his gait almost predatory in nature. When he reached the spot where she lay, he stared at the bloody hole in her back with satisfaction relishing the skill of his aim. He could conjure no degree of pity for his fallen victim, only contempt and that awful sensation o mounting desire.
As if she were no more then a sack of flour, he slipped the toe of his boot beneath her body and flipped her over onto her back. The look of horror and searing agony that contorted her dark face only seemed to feed his carnal hunger. He hooked the muzzle of the rifle on the hem of the girl's skirt and pulled until it was around her waist. She wore no undergarments.
"No, suh," she pleaded, tears coursing down her dark cheeks. "Please, suh, don't..."
He ignored her feeble protests. He laughed loudly, savagely, then tossed the Spencer aside and began to unbuckle the brass buckle of his belt and continued with the inevitable.
For well over a century he had lain dormant beneath the cold earth, condemned to remain there, inactive, while others of his kind roamed freely in the realm of the living. But now he had been remembered. His name had been spoken aloud and he had been roused from the dark sleep of death. After nearly a hundred and forty years, the chains of limbo had been cast away and he was once again free to do as he pleased.
His essence wasted no time in leaving it's resting place. The night air was crisp and cool, and he could detect the faint smell wood smoke in the air. He sensed a changing of seasons autumn was swiftly changing to winter. The weather brought back memories when he walked the earth as a flesh and blood man, and not an entity of a soul. He had memories of carnage and fury; the thunderous roar of cannon fire, the flash of saber blades in sunlight, and the countless torments he himself had afflicted before the final act of death was administered.
The plantation house stood where it had during the violent instant of his own demise, but it was not the same. It appeared different the it had before. He could smell the new chemicals and materials not known to him, during his time. He rose upward, past the boughs of the trees, spiraling toward the dark sky. He rested on the peak of the mansion for a while, exhausted by his flight. The period of confinement had weakened his spirit, but he knew that eventually he would grow stronger, much stronger. But for the time being, he would have to content himself with watching rather then acting.
He stared down at the circular drive puzzled at the three vehicles that were there. One seemed to be a horseless buckboard, while the others seemed to be some sort of strange buggy. What havoc he could wreak if he had blessed with an armored wagon such as those.
He had to find a host to inhabit. Then he would be able to live as a man again. He would be able to perform the atrocities he had once completed with relish and abandon.
He contemplated the place known to him as Magnolia. He sensed the approach of an anniversary: the anniversary of the fiery destruction, an incident he had missed out on due to his unexpected death. He could sense the coming of the snow as well as a confrontation. A confrontation of destructive consequence between himself and the master of Magnolia.
But even he knew that is could not take place on the spectral plane he now occupied. Rather, it would have to take place in the land of the living between men who could bleed and fight... and even die, if it came to such extreme.
And if it was up to the spirit of James Bates, it most certainly would.
For Shannon Braxton, life at Magnolia, was pure paradise. To say her time there at the plantation had been idyllic would be putting it mildly. Since marrying Edward a year before, Shannon had been treated with an honor reserved for royalty. The Braxton slaves had taken to her directly from the start.
If anything cast a shadow over her happiness, it was the trouble brewing among the slave holders and the federal government. Plantation owners were bristling with indignation over the North's support of the abolitionists. Personally, Shannon believed it was wrong to hold a deed to another person's body and soul, but that was not the entire gist of the conflict. Rather, it was the power of the Northern states over the Southern states, what they could and could not do. Shannon knew that debate over slavery was putting a strain on her husband. Lately, Edward did not seem like the bold, brash, spirited man she had met and fallen in love with in Richmond. These days he seemed pensive and troubled. She knew that he was frightened, even though he would never admit to her that any such emotion existed within him. He was secretly afraid of losing all his late father had spent his entire life working to achieve. There had even been talk of succeeding from the Union to form the Southern states into a government all unto itself.
Shannon attempted to ignore such talk. As her lady-friends on the neighboring plantations told her, such matters were the concern of men-folk. She knew that she should do as the other belles in Vicksburg did cast the troubles of running the plantation aside and concentrate on the genteel pleasures of being a well-to-do-lady of the South. But still, she could not help but share Edward's concerns and hopes that the storm that was brewing dissipated before it grew into something that either North or South could control.
We have been on the Magnolia plantation for four days now, and no closer to solving our "case" then we had been when we started. Neither Mulder nor I have experienced anything paranormal since our arrival, nothing that I know of. There was the feeling of fear when I looked at the diary of the union officer but other then that nothing. I did, however, have the feeling of uneasiness in the house. Little things put me on edge, more then usual.
One thing that was different was Mulder. He seemed to be undergoing a transformation. Not just a physical transformation but also something deeper. He was bolder and more self-assured. His hair is longer and he has taken to growing a mustache.
Such behavior was not my concern, for all these things seemed to be an improvement. Rather, it was an underlying attitude that lurked just beneath his personality that frightened me a little. I had always considered him a safe person to be around I know he will never hurt me. He is brasher and more impulsive, acting more on instincts then on his intellect. I detect a hint of danger in the man, something that would never be connected with the old Mulder. This disturbed me most of all.
It was not Mulder alone that troubled me. I had begun to notice more and more that something was taking place a Magnolia, something more subtle then obvious.
It started the other day when Mulder and I were surveying one of the second floor drawing rooms when I had the feeling we were not the only ones present. Many times over the past couple of days I had the feeling that I was being watched.
When I had told Mulder about these things he had of course gone for the ghost of Shannon Braxton. For the sake of argument if it is a ghost this one is not the good-mannered southern belle but something more sinister, more evil. I had gone into the bathroom this morning and discovered my hairspray was missing. It had reappeared that afternoon... on top of the main staircase. Anyone could have stepped on that and have broken a bone or worse.
This is what disturbed me most of all. I came more and more convinced there was someone here at Magnolia that was no good and in time, could prove to be more dangerous then playful. The husband.
They were walking the grounds together. Talking of this and that, mostly theories about the case, when they paused a third of the way around the plantation grounds. Oddly enough, the place they stopped was the Braxton family burial plot. The ornate fence of wrought iron was chocked with weeds and honeysuckle vines, the latch was fused with rust, so they had to climb their way over the waist high barrier. The area was relatively small for a cemetery. From the dozen or so stones that stood shoulder-to-shoulder covered three generation of Braxton's. They found the one they were looking for. It had been worn away by weather, and moss had long since made it it's home, but it was still legible. It read: Edward Braxton, 1832-1854. Respectful son, Loving husband, & Gallant soldier.
There were several vacant plots next to Edward's grave; obviously reserved for Edward's wife and family he'd never been given a chance to sire. Scully stared at the earth next to Edward's stone and knew that Shannon should be there next to her husband in death, as she had been in life. She turned to gaze at the vast expanse of Magnolia and wondered exactly where the woman's remains were buried. It saddened her a bit just thinking of it.
They were exiting the gravesite and entering the rear garden when a noise echoed from the opposite side of the garden. It was peculiar noise, a brittle crunch.
"What was that?" asked Scully. There had been something sinister about the sound.
Mulder seemed to think along the same lines. "Stay here," he told her.
"The hell I will." replied Scully "I want to see what it was."
"I said...stay here," repeated Mulder this time with more vehemence.
Scully opened her mouth to argue the point, but something stopped her. She could not identify his expression at first, then decided it was just plain old male overprotectiveness. She was a little taken aback, she was a confident capable woman who could take care of herself, and Mulder most of all understood this fact. But his eyes clearly said "Stand back and let man handle this." This new trait in him drew a mixed reaction from Scully. In a way she was turned on by such a macho display from her partner, while in another she was irritated that he was telling her what and what not to do.
In any case she decided to let him play the protective stud muffin, if only this one time. She watched as he let his gun go from the holster on his hip to "ready for battle' position in one swift movement. She waited until he was around the corner of the house before following him herself.
She was almost to where he was standing when she heard him exclaim more shocked then angry.
"Well I'll be damned!"
She dropped the timid female act and came to join him "What is it, Mulder?"
"That's what," said Mulder pointing toward their rental car.
Someone had thrown a rock threw the windshield of the car.
The dream he found himself in held similarities to the moment before sleep claimed him. It was a chilly autumn night and that was where the similarities ended.
Wade Laughlin found himself sitting on a fallen log in front of a crackling campfire. He wore the same blue uniform he had worn in his previous dream and possessed the same bushy muttonchops along his strong jaw line. He drank from a silver flask of liquor--whiskey, from the taste of it--and stared past the immediate circle of the campsite. He saw a light in the distance, the solitary light of a farmhouse window.
Something about that solitary light beckoned him, awakening the emotions that lay, dark and temporary dormant, deep down within him. He took another swig of his flask the capped it, letting the whiskey burn it's way down his throat into the pit of his belly. As he rose, he unbuckled the brass buckle at his abdomen and left the heavy leather belt, with it's holstered Colt Army .44 and cavalry saber in a coil on the top of the log. He did, however, unsheathe a long-bladed Bowie knife and slid it into the waistband of his military trousers.
He looked over at the young man with a dark brown beard with the stripes of a corporal on his sleeve, his second in command. "I'm going for a walk," he told him. The man simply nodded, and expression of understanding in his hard eyes.
Wade stepped out of the hash firelight and into the darkness. the night swallowed him like the jaws of a monster, but he had nothing of fear. After all, was he, himself not a monster? He found humor in this thought, as he picked his way through the undergrowth of a dense forest. Soon, he reached the edge of the thicket.
A few minutes later he was at the farmhouse. He made his way unnoticed to the southern wall of the house and peered through the window. The lantern he had spotted from his campfire was at the end of a long eating table.
As he crept stealthily along the side of the house toward of the back porch, he was jolted into immobility by the striking of a match not fifteen feet away. He pressed his back against the structure of the house and watched as the lanky form of a man raised the fire to the end of a hand rolled cigarette pursed between his lips. The man was a farmer.
Wade knew that tomorrow he would engage in the skirmish, the same as his fellow Union men. But tonight, whatever blood he let, whatever havoc he wreaked, would be for his own selfish benefit, and not for the country he supposedly fought for.
Quietly, he grasped the wooden handle of the Bowie and withdrew the knife from the waistband of his trousers. He moved with the speed of a hawk, taking the farmer by surprise before he could react. Wade swung upward with all the might he could muster. The heavy blade of the Bowie cleaved the farmer's throat open from the collarbone to jaw. With a wet gurgle, the man stumbled forward as Wade withdrew the knife. Then the knife went underneath the man's ribs, burrowing upward and slicing cleanly into his heart. Then the farmer fell flat on his face into the autumn grass, his body lurching only once before growing still.
Wade should have felt disgust at the stabbing, but instead an incredible rush of adrenaline shot through his veins. Silently he stepped over the dead farmer and entered the farmhouse through the rear door.
He crossed to a hallway that led to several bedrooms beyond. Pausing in front of an open door, he examined those sleeping within.
Two small children slept in a huge feather bed, unaware of the danger that lurked only steps away. He passed by them, if only for the time being. He could deal with them later.
Wade turned to the opposite side of the hallway and entered another bedroom, a single form slept in the bed there, the distinctive form of a woman. Again, as in his previous dream he experienced the strong lust for the woman. He felt the crotch of the trousers tighten as he crossed the floor of the bedroom.
His weight creaked against the sagging floorboard and he stopped in his tracks, his heart pounding, and the knife poised and ready if he should need it. The woman stirred slightly, but did not awaken. He proceeded with caution. A moment later he was standing next to the bed, staring down at his next victim. She was a lovely woman, perhaps in her mid-twenties, and possessed the flaxen hair and the peaceful face of an angel. Wade found himself smiling at such a comparison, for it would not be very long before until she truly became one.
He reached out with his free hand and very softly began to stroke the woman's long, blond hair. His fingers traveled through her locks like a sinister comb. She stirred a little a slight smile came across her lips. "Charels?" she muttered drowsily, apparently under the impression that he was her husband.
"No," whispered Wade in reply. he laughed softy as he grabbed a fist full of hair and brutally pulled her to him...
A yell jolted Wade Laughlin from his nightmare. But strangely enough it was not his own, but that of his wife. Startled he sat up in bed, feeling the soft strands of her hair slip through his fingers. As he shook the last remnants of sleep from his mind, Wade was surprised to find himself trying rape his wife.
"Wade?!" came the concerned voice of his wife.
"I...uh..." Wade stuttered, unable to answer.
"Wade what were you doing?"
"Nothing, my dear, it was only a dream go back to sleep."
His wife took the excuse and turned over to go back to sleep. He could not return to sleep, his mind went back to the dream he had experienced. The images had been more lasting this time, and more difficult to forget. He replayed the murder of the farmer and the invasion of his wife's bedroom, and he knew that he had, partially acted out of his disturbing dreamscape. He also wondered what he would have done if his wife's yells would not have awakened him.
That night, I was awakened by the sound of weeping.
I opened my eyes and listened a moment. Yes, there was no mistaking the noise. It was the heart-wrenching sobs of a grieving woman.
Gently, I lifted the cover over myself and slid out of bed. I put on the white terry cloth robe I always wear. It had been in the low sixties that day, but the night had grown colder.
I went to the window of my room and pulled back the frilly curtains. At first glance, I saw nothing in the garden that might be making the mournful sound that had awakened me. Then abruptly I spotted *her*, almost concealed in shadow, a pale skinned woman clad only in a silky nightgown. The woman knelt at the base of the tree, her face buried in the palms of her hands, her slender shoulders shuddering with the force of her weeping.
I closed my eyes and then opened them to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. The woman was still there, beneath the oak tree.
I went to the hallway, I knew that I had to go downstairs, to the garden, and see the weeping woman up close.
As I reached the lower floor the sound grew louder. My heart sank at the agony that were expressed in those sobs. I wondered if there could ever be at I, myself, would ever cry as forcefully and without restraint. She knew one thing that would make her loose control, and that would be if she ever lost Mulder for some unforeseen reason. It was clear that this poor woman's heart was broken to the very core.
I stepped outside into the cool night air and I saw the woman clearly for the first time. The woman knelt at the bottom of the oak tree facing away from the plantation. I could see that the woman's gown was dirty and torn. The front had been ripped down the middle and one of her small breasts was revealed. There were also angry red welts and shallow cuts, her nightgown was soiled and there were dark splotches on the delicate fabric of her dress. I studied them from what little lighting the moon gave me and discovered that they were the results of freshly let blood warned a sensible voice hidden somewhere in the back of my mind. But did I listen to that voice? Of course not.
I walked closer the pathetic form of the woman who knelt under the tree. I wanted to help the woman, I wanted to ease her terrible pain.
A moment later I was there, standing six feet from the woman. I saw up close that her skin was almost transparent, I had no fear of the woman, only awe. That, and sympathy much too strong to express in words.
I took another step closer, then spoke "Shannon?" I said not knowing why I knew who she was, but I did know.
The weeping woman stopped sobbing. She lifted her face from the small cradle of her hands and stared straight at me. Everything about her was perfect, but the face was flawed by an expression that never should have been there, an expression of torment that would have been difficult for the average person to even comprehend.
I looked into the woman's tearful eyes. They seemed to plead silently, begging for assistance. I felt the overpowering urge to help again. I moved closer to the woman and extended my hand outward. Slowly the space between our hands grew smaller and smaller, until our fingertips were on the verge of meeting.
When they did, I was unprepared for the flood of emotions that rushed through me. Terror, agony, grief, humiliation...they assaulted me, engulfing my mind in a dark, smothering blanket.
Finally I could endure it no more. I felt myself fall to the ground, a shrill scream tearing up from my throat like something alive desperately eager for escape...
He was jolted awake, his partner's tremulous cry pushing away the sluggish after affects of sleep.
His eyes became accustomed to the darkness and he got out of bed when he heard it again, Scully's scream came as full terror and agony as it had been upon his awakening. He took his weapon from the top of his dresser and ran into the hallway proceeding toward the source of the screams.
He found her in the garden at the rear of the house. she was kneeling at the foot of the big oak tree her face buried in her hands. Her soul-rending screams had stopped. She now wept violently, her entire body shaking with the impact of each sob.
"Scully?" He called out as he made his way toward her. He searched the moonlit yard for any sign of an attacker and when finding non turned back to Scully.
"Scully? What is wrong?" he said reaching out hand to her.
She let out a startled cry at his touch and recoiled. She looked at him and stared at Mulder as if she did not know him.
"She was raped!" she moaned the words forced from her throat more like broken glass the mere words. "Murdered!"
He could only stand there and say "Who?"
The confusion cleared a bit and she reached out to him, puling him closer. "It was Shannon Braxton...right here...beneath this tree. I saw her! I touched her!"
He got Scully back to her bed with out further incident, just the look of her was enough for him. Something strange if going on here, something very strange.
The day that Shannon Braxton had feared was finally at hand.
She stood on the front porch of the plantation house, her delicate hands clutching the oriental fan her husband had brought her from one of his purchasing trips. Shannon stood on the limestone steps, her heart heavy with sadness. She looked down the steps where all the Braxton slaves stood awaiting the appearance of their master. One of the younger boys held Edward's black roan stallion, the best in the Braxton stables.
From within the house, she heard the sounds of his boots on the risers of the staircase. She turned just as her husband strolled through the open doorway. Edward was dashing in his iron-grey uniform with the gold braid of Captain on his shoulder. On his head he wore a high peaked hat with a feathered plume stuck in it's tasseled band. he removed his hat as he approached his wife and stood there her with an expression of sorrowful regret.
"So," she said, hiding her dread beneath a lovely smile. "I see that you are ready to go."
Edward stepped forward and gathered her into his arms. "To fight for the sake of the South, yes." he told her. "But believe me, I take no pleasure whatsoever in leaving you. If there were no other way, I would remain here at Magnolia, but you know as well as I do that is not possible. Not if we are to survive the oppression the North intends for us."
Shannon burrowed into his warm embrace, her tearful face against his chest. "Yes, I understand," she assured him. "It is your duty to do whatever you can to see that the South wins the struggle, no matter what the cost might be."
Edward stared at his wife proudly. "I am glad you support my decision to ride for the Confederacy, my dear. There are some women in Mississippi that don't understand the seriousness of the situation the way that you do."
Shannon did not say so, but there was a part of her that wanted to retreat into her genteel world and deny that the mounting conflict between the North and South was actually taking place. Her worst fears had come when news reached Vicksburg of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry with the help of twenty-one freed slaves. Brown's violent assault had taken place two years ago, and since that time the argument over the support of abolition had become particularly nasty. The South's resistance to change the North's insistence for conformity had split the country in half. After the first few major battles Edward had decided to join the Confederacy and lend what military knowledge he had gained at West Point to the Confederacy.
Shannon had done her best to support Edward's decision, to be brave and unselfish. From all outward appearances, she appeared just that. But secretly she wished that Edward could remain safe at Magnolia with her, until the conflict could be resolved. She knew that was too much to ask from a man like Edward. His conscience would never allow him the luxury of cowardice.
Reluctantly, Edward pulled away from his wife and checked his pocket watch. "I'm afraid I must go," her told her. "I am to meet the brigade of volunteers at the Vicksburg courthouse at noon. After that, we have a long hard ride ahead of us."
"Yes, you do," she replied softly. "May God's mercy and my love go with you." Despite the presence of the slaves, she flung herself into his arms once again. "Promise me one thing, Edward--promise you will come back to me."
Edward took her face in his hands and delicately kissed her. When his face pulled away, his eyes were bold. "Don't worry about me, my dear. Hell, this conflict will likely be settled within a few weeks' time, if even that long. We'll teach those meddling Yankees to keep their opinions to themselves, and then I'll be back. You'll see. It won't be long."
"I hope that you are right," was all that she could say.
Edward turned away and descended the stone steps of the porch. He nodded to the slaves that had come to wish him well. Then, swinging on to of his horse, he took the reins from one of the Negro boys and said "I want you to take care of her in my absence I trust you will do a good job."
The big Negro nodded, his broad shoulders squared proudly with the responsibility that had been bestowed upon him. "Yo' can shorely depend on me, Massa," he assured him.
Edward reached out and shook the slave's callused hand in appreciation of his loyalty. "I know I can and I thank you for that."
Shannon stood on the porch watching this exchange between master and slave. She stood tall and tried her hardest not to cry she wanted possibly Edward's last sight of her to be one of happiness not sorrow. Still, She had a premonition that she and Edward would never see each other again. She knew her life with Edward had come to an end the moment he spurred his horse and rode down the magnolia grove to join the Great War between the states.
Something was going on here, ever since my sleepwalking in the rear garden a few nights ago, I've felt as if the events at Magnolia had been wrested from anyone's control. There is a foreboding to the place where once I only saw beauty and historical nostalgia I now see a hidden evil something dark that is lurking just beneath the surface of everything. If it were the mystery of the weeping woman beneath the oak tree I could have handled that. I had felt no threat whatsoever from what seemed the wayward spirit of a long dead southern belle. Something else was here something, which was a potential threat. A threat that stalks the grounds and hallways of Magnolia, an unholy presence that for the time being was playing with them, much as a sadistic cat plays with a mouse before delivering the final and fatal blow.
The next day, the entire company of the house gathered in the drawing room to discuss the case and each one's personal visitations. Mr. Laughlin was the last to contribute to the discussion he was describing his disturbing dream as the sadistic captain when he was interrupted. Not by anyone who sat in the room...but by someone whose presence they had been completely unaware of.
It began subtly at first. Wade was halted in mid-sentence by the tiniest rattling of glassware. All eyes centered on the china serving set on the coffee table in front of the couch. At first glance, they could detect nothing out of the ordinary. Then they noticed that Mulder's cup and saucer were visibly vibrating due to some unseen force. Its motion grew more and more noticeable, until the iced tea contained within the cup began to spill over the sides. Then all the other glassware stated rattling more violently.
No one said word as the phenomenon gradually increased in intensity. Soon the contents of all and every container were spilling onto the floor. "Everyone...away from the couch quickly!" Mulder yelled to everyone catching his partner's eye. Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin followed his orders just in time to see their china set explode and shards of glass fly all over the room like pieces of shrapnel, ripping into the he cushions where the two had sat a moment ago..
From that moment the phenomenon got more frenetic and out of control. The next casualties were the pictures hanging over the mantel, the glass was cracked and the frames then fell to the floor. Mulder hit the floor as a glass picture frame spun over his head.
A thunderous pounding began to move around the perimeter of the room, as if fists from an angry giant hammered at the walls from the other side. The force of the pounding shook the very foundation of the parlor room. Alabaster fell from the ceiling, paintings and books dropped from the walls.
"What is happening, Mulder?!" Scully yelled to her partner who seemed to bear the brunt of the assault he just managed to dodge a flying piece of glass.
No one had the frame of mind answer her. the doors of the curio cabinet swung open with a violent crash. A brass candelabra left its place on the table and spun and then flew at Mulder who just managed to get out of its path before it could crash his skull. Frantically, the objects dive-bombed Mulder and the others like a flack of crazed birds.
Most of the time they missed their marks, but other times they did not. Mulder cried out as a music box crashed across his right knee causing a steady low of blood from his pants' leg. He clutched his leg and yelled his partner's name. "Scully!"
She heard him and dodged some more flying debris and went over to examine him. As he fought against the pain, he swore he heard as echo of cruel laughter just beneath the thunderous pounding in the walls.
Scully looked over at her wounded partner and recognized and emotion in his eyes something that burned there. It was defiance, pure and simple.
Despite his wounded leg Mulder rose to his feet, his face a mask of mounting rage. He raised his fists over his head, clutching them until his knuckles grew white with strain. Then a voice that Scully had never heard from him came from his lips, he yelled out "Stop it, you bastard!" he roared. "Damn you, stop it this very instant!"
For a moment, the force that loosed chaos within the walls of the sitting room did not seem to listen. But then, abruptly it all ended. the pounding on the walls, the airborne pelting of the room's decorations--it all ceased in the span of one swift and unexpected second.
They all climbed unsteadily to their feet and looked around the room dazed the a surprised look at Mulder who was still clutching his knee.
"What the hell was that?" asked Mrs. Laughlin.
"A poltergeist." explained Mulder, seeming out of breath. he sat down on the sofa as a concerned Scully "A playful spirit...although I wouldn't hesitate to say this one is more destructive then mischievous."
"Did anyone notice the brunt of the attack was centered on Mulder? But why?" asked Scully.
"I don't know," he replied "Maybe I remind the entity of something in it's past. Something painful of infuriating. Or maybe because it feels threatened by my presence."
"Threatened?" Scully asked puzzled
"Didn't you notice how it stopped when Agent Mulder stood up and demand it stop," Mrs. Laughlin said. "Something undoubtedly is here something that is evil and angry and something that wants Agent Mulder."
Scully glanced from Mrs. Laughlin to her husband who noticed that he hadn't said a word since the phenomenon started.
"I don't understand it," Mulder said in frustration. "This is a text-book example and we have no evidence besides my bruised knee." I sat on the couch and watched as my partner walked up and down the length of his room in frustration. No form of activity had been detected at any of the sites of which an apparition had been seen, it seemed to me a waste of time.
"Perhaps we are not the ones at fault here," I said trying to distract him.
"What are you driving at?" he asked me with a look of puzzlement flitting across his features.
"Maybe these people are trying to pull some sort of elaborate prank on us and we've been ignoring the obvious, the fact that there are no entities her at Magnolia."
"Why try an elaborate hoax such as that."
"Maybe they want to discredit you? Maybe they have something to gain by concocting this major haunting and then making you out to be a colossal failure when we can't properly investigate it? I don't know."
"What about the destruction downstairs in the parlor? you were there explain that," he said defending himself and putting me on the spot at the same time. I always hated it when he did this to me.
"I saw the aftereffects, yes, maybe there was a substantial shifting in the house's foundation. Or a minor earthquake there is a minor fault under Mississippi geologists have theorized that it is only a matter of time before a substantial tremor occurs in this area."
"Come on, Scully. Do you really believe anything you just said." He said with impatience.
"I don't know," I said a little louder then necessary. "I don't know what I believe."
As if on cue, the big bay window of the right side of the room imploded, showering fragments of glass across the room. The projectile that had shattered the window--a stone as large as a baseball--accompanied the glittering shards. It struck Mulder behind his left ear, causing him to stagger foreword, his eyes rolling back into his head. The force of the blow had propelled him onto the settle, where he lay limply, facedown on the cushions.
"Mulder!" I yelled. I crouched next to him mentally taking inventory of his injuries. The assault continued but I ignored it all my attention centered on my fallen partner. I quickly made a move to check his pulse. He was still alive and the pulse was strong, but he was still unconscious. The rock had split his scalp, the entire back of his head was bleeding freely. I looked for something to staunch the flow and just held his head on my lap with a firm hand on his injury.
I reached to where my cell phone sat on the bedside table, and dialed 911. I pressed the receiver to my ear expecting to hear the emergency service of Vicksburg pick up. But instead, there was a crackling static that shot through my ear like a thunder blot, robbing me of my senses for a few moments. I had dropped the phone, now in picking it up to try dialing again I heard this time a soft snickering which came from the receiver of the telephone. It was an evil laughter brimming with depravity and sadistic pleasure-- the laughter of something straight from the depths of hell, or some satanic realm close to it.
I got to my feet, settling Mulder head on a pillow, and crossed the room to the door. I laid my hand on the doorknob, but hesitated in turning it. I held my breath and heard footsteps echo in the hallway. They stalked the length of the hall twice before coming to a halt outside the door. From that side, came the same laughter I had heard in the telephone receiver a few moments ago and I knew it was also the same laughter I had heard in the downstairs parlor three days ago.
I felt my adrenaline kick in, Causing my heart to pound in my ears. I felt as if some other force caused me to turn the knob in my hand. I glanced over my shoulder at Mulder, laying in the settle unconscious and bleeding. I knew the only way to help him would be to go search for assistance.
Bracing myself, I opened the door and stood still. Nothing, no sound, no movement, just the ornamental hallway of the plantation house.
Then, a door on the opposite side of the hall opened and out stepped Wade Laughlin.
"Agent Scully?" he asked. "What is going on in there?"
I grabbed him by the arm, much to his surprise, and took him into the room to show him Mulder who still lay unmoving and yet still alive I knew that unless he would get to a hospital he could easily bleed to death. I could see Laughlin getting angrier by the second, as I told of what had happened just a few moments before. I wrapped Mulder head in a bandage that should hold until we can get him to a hospital and Laughlin helped me get Mulder into his bed.
I then heard the footsteps again this time they were coming from the direction of the back staircase. I was prepared. I had been trained by the FBI academy to be ready for any situation and I was trained not to react to things the way most people do. I felt myself are in my capacity and I felt prepared...for anything but this. I walked down the hall, gun drawn and aware of my every surrounding. I had forgotten the presence of Wade Laughlin behind me. We stood against the wall and I was about to turn the corner and face whatever intruder I encountered. Laughlin, impatient to see what was going on, stalked out from behind the wall and turned the corner on a sharp heel.
"Shit!" I said under my breath. I was about to turn the corner myself when Laughlin turned the corner again, pale and speechless. I sat him down where he stood and turned the corner myself.
Not more then fifteen feet away from me stood a man surrounded by a brilliant aura of electric green. He was tall and powerfully built, and clad in the uniform of an American Civil War Union Captain.
Half of the officer's face was strikingly handsome--wreathed in the platinum blond hair and bushy muttonchops--while the other half was horribly mutilated, the injury had a black and darkened center, the apparent cause of death was a bullet to the man's skull. His eyes flashed with fiery emotion and for some reason they struck fear into my very soul.
"Who are you?!" I demanded in a voice that didn't sound like my own. I already knew who he was but I felt it necessary to ask. Instead of replying the spirit laughed softly laying his hand on the cavalry saber, and with drew it from its scabbard. Totally ignoring that I had a gun pointed to his head. It was then that realized he wasn't looking at me but Wade Laughlin who was now standing behind me with a dazed expression on his face. I didn't have time to think let alone react before the entity had raised its saber over its head and charged on Laughlin with a hoarse yell of triumph. Laughlin seemed not able to move but raised his hands reflexively over his head, knowing it to be futile he flinched waiting for the searing pain of the blade. The saber slashed downward through his arms and past his hands, entering his left shoulder and upper body.
He dropped to his knees on the carpet, urgently gasping for breath. I tried going over to help him but the spirit gave me a look that curdled my blood and rooted my feet to the floor. My gun was pried from my grasp by some unseen force and something I, myself could not control. It hit the floor at my feet with a loud thump and rested there. The spirit then turned back to his previous assault of Laughlin.
Wade Laughlin seemed to be freezing to death he shivered violently and his skin was a translucent shade of blue. The emotions that flitted across his face frightened me, hatred, contempt, and something else that lay beneath the surface--perverted desire. He yelled out and almost immediately the emotions that were on his face and that had burned in his eyes, seemed to have disappeared. The entity with saber in hand was nowhere to be seen.
After the incident last night I, myself was sure of who our main suspect was--Wade Laughlin. his strange behavior, dark looks and glassy eyes just augmented my suspicions. I had to keep watch out for this guy. Yes, I was going to watch him very closely.
"Let us in!" boomed the baritone voice from outside. "By the authority of the federal government, I demand you, open the door immediately!"
Shannon Braxton stood at the head of the winding staircase, listening to the pounding fists against the bolted doors of the sturdy oak and the stern voice roared just beyond them. She had expected something disastrous to happen when she heard the movement of the troops, marching en masse, along the main road earlier that day. Shannon knew that if the Yankee seized Vicksburg that it would be then end of the chance for a Southern victory of this bloody war.
"What shall we do Miss Shannon?" the slave girl who had asked the question stood at the bottom of the staircase along with her companions at a loss of what to do.
"Let those Yankee bastards stand in the snow and freeze for all I care!" she said loud enough so that it could be heard outside.
"Very well!" came the thunderous voice of authority once again. "Then we shall have to enter by force!" Shannon could imagine the commander turning to his men. "Knock the doors down."
The sound of the battering ram slamming against the oaken doors echoed through the house. It was a sinister sound, one that quickened the heart and sent a shudder of dread through one body, in dire anticipation of what was certain to follow next.
Shannon stood on the upper landing, her frail hands tightly clutching the banister. She wished her beloved was there with her at that moment, she knew it was futile even to think of such things. She had not seen Edward since he'd ridden off to join the Confederacy, though she still had the antique pistol that he had given her before the had left. She clutched it now in reassurance in the folds of her skirts. She knew that Edward was still alive; he wrote to her whenever he found the opportunity. But over the past year, his letter had grown fewer and fewer as the North's tightening hold on the South grew tighter and tighter.
Her train of thought was interrupted by the battering rams successful efforts in breaking down the door. Men in blue uniforms littered the plantation grounds bustling in and swarming in the house.
Several of the soldiers--cavalry men, from their dress and demeanor-- pushed the gathering of slaves away. In their wake strolled a tall, powerfully built man clad in the uniform of a Union Captain. the man was handsome, sporting a mane of blond hair and thick sideburns, but there was a cold cruelty in his eyes that revealed the ugliness that dwelled within. He was carrying a long-barreled revolver and in the other a cavalry saber. He looked around the hall as if searching for the one who denied the unwelcome entrance of him and his men.
Shannon was afraid but spoke out nevertheless. "What do you want here?" she demanded boldly.
The officer's attention was quickly drawn to the head of the staircase from which the voice had come. He took a step foreword. "I am Captain James Bates," he told her with an air of pompous seniority. "By the order of General Thomas of the Union army I have been given instructions to seize this dwelling for use as a command post during the skirmish to come." The way he said it clearly showed he was not too excited about the role in which he was to play in the upcoming battle.
"You have no right!" She yelled from above.
"Oh, we have very right in the world to do whatever we damn well please, besides what do you rebels expect after the disloyalty and treason you have shown to your country? We intend to use this dwelling for the purpose I've stated and when the battle is over, confiscate any supplies we shall need on our way to Pennsylvania."
"Mrs. Braxton? Mrs. Braxton?" came the calls of Phillip Ashton, a neighbor whose plantation house was burned the year before. "What is going on here?" he asked seeing the Yankees rummaging through the house and the knocked in door.
"Nothing, Mr. Ashton," came Shannon's calm voice from on top of the stairs. "These men were just leaving," she said glowering at James Bates, who she noticed at that time was lingering his gaze over her petite body, and coming to rest on the bodice of her dress. Shannon knew the expression that blazed in the man's eyes; it was the burning of sexual desire. With growing alarm she realized the captain's intentions toward her.
"I don't think we will be going quite yet... Mrs. Braxton. I still have some business to attend to," he said making movements to go up the stairs when the small body of Phillip Ashton stepped in his way.
"Sir, I will not allow you do dishonor the lady in that fashion you and your men may leave now." came the reassuring voice of the neighbor, apparently Ashton had seen the gleam in the captain's eyes as well. "Please sir, just let us live in peace."
A contempt like nothing Shannon had ever seen before leapt into the captain's eyes. " Not likely! I'll teach you to mess with an officer of the Union Army!" And before Ashton could move, Bates acted. Brutally, he brought the saber down with all the force he could muster. The blade sliced cleanly through the flesh, cutting the leg in half but not managing to hit bone.
"Phillip!" Shannon cried horror and concern for the friend making her forget social standards.
"Take him away!" Bates shouted to one of the officers. "Somewhere where he can't be a nuisance."
Bates' attention the strayed back to her and he now looked at her with not quite so much of the lust she had seen before. "I'll deal with you later," he said and waved hi hand in dismissal, he then strolled into the parlor and picked up and decanter of Edward's finniest whisky.
Frightened, Shannon fled along the upstairs corridor to her bedroom. Slamming the door behind her, she securely engaged the lock on her door and sat on the canopy bed. As the tears streamed down her face, she wondered what could she do to stop the captain when he tried mounting the staircase with the same intentions he had today. She knew she could do nothing. She could do absolutely nothing except sit here and wait for the inevitable.
Scully's anxiety seemed to be on the highest levels since entrance in the plantation house known as Magnolia. Mulder had been taken to the hospital earlier that night and was still unconscious due to the blow to the head and loss of blood but she was sure he was going to pull through, he'll be back to help her in a few days.
Mulder was not the only thing that worried her though. Wade Laughlin's interest n her had increased and blatantly so. He tended to roam the plantation grounds though never leaving the house. Several times she had been working in one room or another and had caught him staring at her through the window from the lawn outside. She had found herself trying to avoid the man but still he seemed uncomfortably near, whether she liked it or not.
He was now standing outside in the front drive with a butane lighter in front of his face waving the flame back and forth across his face. There was an expression of grim determination on his face, as if desperately trying to figure out the answer to some perplexing question somewhere within the bluish flame. At first, she did not know what he was doing, then she realized that he was trying to imagine what the manor would look like engulfed in flames. she asked herself returning to her case file.
Had Mulder known of Laughlin's strange behavior he would never have gone to the hospital voluntarily, she could simply not let him do that. his health was more important and she could take care of herself though she did feel more reassured of herself when Mulder was here. He was and continues to be a source of comfort in her life and she definitely felt she needed comfort at this moment.
It was at this moment, when she spared a thought for what Shannon Braxton must have felt when the Union army barged into her own peaceful life and wreak havoc upon it. She, with no man to protect her from rape or death and just a handful of slaves. She pushed the thought away and continued with her work though the Infamous Southern Belle must have felt the same as she did now, Helpless and afraid.
Scully spent the night tossing and turning only to be woken from her fitful sleep to noise from the hall. Intuitively she grabbed her weapon lying on the table beside the bed.
She carefully opened the door to her room and stepped outside into the hallway. She heard footsteps along the corridor downstairs and immediately thought of the mysterious footsteps she heard the night that Mulder was hit by the rock, it had been two days since then and Mulder had suffered damage to the brain. He still had not woken up from the coma the doctors had said he was in, they say he will wake up from it though, and that he should have minimal brain damage.
She looked out a window that leads to the vast magnolia grove that surrounded the house. She saw a glow within the branches and leaves of the magnolia trees. Alarmed, she picked up her trench coat and went downstairs to the door.
It did not take long to find him. Wade Laughlin sat on the ground Indian style, not more then three feet away from a crackling fire fuelled by dead leaves and broken branches. The man's face was expressionless as stone, but his grey eyes were livid as he sat staring into the flames.
"Mr. Laughlin," She said cautiously pointing the gun at his head. "I'm going to have to ask you to stop what you are doing and put your hands on your head."
Ignoring her he built up the fire more and just as she was about to repeat what she had said again he spoke. "I've found it, Miss
"What do you mean? What have you found?"
"The solution to the problem."
"The poltergeist," he said calmly still not looking at her.
"It hungers, Miss Scully."
"It hungers for what?"
"It hungers for that which it missed, due to the sudden circumstances of it's own earthly demise. it hungers for death and destruction. It hungers for fire."
"Do you mean to tell me--" She began disbelieving.
"Yes," He said "It desires to witness that which was denied to it a hundred and forty years ago--the burning of Magnolia."
His words registered in her brain and she knew what his intentions were. At that moment he looked at her and his tone changed. "Miss Scully, don't worry this is my property and it IS legal for me to have a small campfire in my own backyard."
He was right and there was nothing she could do about it. "Be careful," she said as an after thought as she let her arm drop and walked back into the house for her desperately needed sleep. God how she wished Mulder was here!
A moment later all thoughts of Agent Dana Scully had passed. As a dark and malignant force took control of Wade Laughlin. he turned his gaze back to the campfire, eyes centered of the heart of the cracking flames.
I was on the interstate highway after visiting Mulder in the hospital. He had still not come out of his light coma but there was still hope and the almost certainty that he would wake up. A sudden sense of sadness and dread engulfed me and hit without warning. I could not figure out why not having Mulder with me on my way back to Magnolia affected me so strongly. We had been apart before and sometime he would even ditch me, I felt a little flush of anger at that thought. But this time it felt different then it had before. Perhaps I was afraid of facing Magnolia alone, Magnolia and it's "inhabitants".
I looked in the rearview mirror and noticed a change in myself. My usually short-cropped auburn locks had grown longer almost reaching my mid-back and it had turned a darker shade too. And it wasn't just my physical appearance either it was my character and my outlook I became shy around Laughlin and that I haven't done since I was a teenager. Mulder, also seemed to be undergoing a transformation, the mustache he had taken to growing since we have been here has grown longer and bushier.
Then an idea came to my mind, or more like a suspicion that the aura of the plantation and the historical nostalgia had caused Mulder and I to unconsciously act and resemble the long dead Confederate officer and his beloved wife. That some form of possession, even if it was subliminal, had taken place within us both.
Mulder found himself traveling along Highway 31, not in the car Scully and he had rented but on the back of a powerful black horse.
The animal moved along the two-lane stretch of rural road at an even trot. The road was covered with an icy blanket of snow and ice.
He spurred the horse onward as the town of Vicksburg grew further behind him. The number of residents decreased, giving way to desolate landscape of barren pastureland and dense patches of forest. As he rode toward one these patches he realized that he was not more then a mile and a half from Magnolia.
Then fear crept over him in small waves increasing in intensity as he rode. By the time he reached the turn off leading to the plantation, his anxiety had reached a fevered pitch. In his heart, Mulder knew a tragedy had struck Magnolia...and struck hard.
As he rode down the lane that led to the house, Mulder was assaulted by all the sights and smells of wholesale destruction. The Magnolia grove was no longer the rows of stately trees that had once grown there. Instead, only charred trunks bearing a few smoldering branches stood along the front drive. The bittersweet scent of burnt
Magnolia hung heavily in the air, causing the horse beneath him to grow skittish. The scent of burning reached him, as well. the feeling of dread increased tenfold and his heart began to pound wildly in his chest. Despite his fears, he steeled his horse nerve and bore his heels into the flanks of the stallion, sending him into a full gallop.
"My God!" was all that he could manage to say as he approached the circular drive and the structure that stood just beyond.
The first thing that came into his line of sight were the three vehicles parked into the driveway: Mrs. Laughlin's Saturn, Laughlin's pickup, and their own rented Ford. All three were no more then smoking hulls of blackened metal now. The next thing that drew his attention was, of course, the plantation house itself. that is, of course still be referred to as such.
The tall structure had suffered the same fate and the cars and truck. Sometime in the past twenty-four hours it had been totally and completely engulfed by fire. Its towering limestone columns and brick walls were sooty and black and the windows stood empty of wood or glass. They gaped what him, almost accusing of arriving on the scene too late to prevent it's apparent destruction. He shifted his shocked gaze to the front entrance. The double door hung askew revealing ash and smoke beyond it.
Mulder swung down from the horse and approached the building. When he reached the open door, he paused as he eyes stung with the tears from the smoke. "Scully?" he called weakly. his voice echoed through the ravaged structure, bounding off charred timbers and crumbling walls, sounding very hallow and small.
He checked the rooms of the lower floor. The parlor, living room, and kitchen were empty, their furnishings were either missing or reduced to mounds of ashes and cinder. His worry built as he returned to the entrance hall. Without consideration of his own safety he bounded up the window staircase. Halfway up, a few steps gave way, fortunately he caught hold of the railing before falling 20 feet tot he ground. He found the second floor to be in worse shape then the lower floor had been. The ceiling had collapsed and the rafters were exposed to the daylight.
Mulder entered Scully's bedroom the canopy bed looked like the bones of a sacrificed animal. Tatters of burnt cloth hanging from where they had once hung from the wood of the bed frame.
"Scully!" he cried again more frantically this time. He entered the hall and made his way cautiously toward the west side of the house. Feeling that Scully was in the house and yet that something was drastically wrong shred whatever composure he had left. Running down the rickety staircase not caring if it gave way under his feet.
"Scully!" he screamed trying to hold down his panic. "Where are you?"
His mad search for his missing partner led him through the kitchen and out the back door. Abruptly he stopped finding himself facing the rear garden. The big oak no longer stood as it had centuries past. Now it was only a jagged black stump. Around him the garden looked different then when he had last seen it, as well and even beyond, were dozens of earthen mounds. It did not take him long to realize what they were and how they had come to be there. They were newly dug graves, hastily filled and left unmarked.
For a moment, Fox Mulder stood there and stared at the intimidating number of graves, then something drew his attention: it was a single shovel standing by the side of the house. It seemed to beckon him, taunting to take it and try his luck no matter how futile the cause might seem.
In a daze of mounting grief, he walked to the shovel and yanked it to the ground, and faced the task before him. Then, picking up the shovel and driving it into the earth. He did it again and again as he began to dig for...what?
"Sir?" came the voice of a woman "Sir?" came the voice again.
"Doctor I think he's coming out of it."
Mulder awoke in an environment that he did not recognize, but then he became aware of the fact that he was in a hospital.
Once again, Wade Laughlin found himself in the middle of another dream. As usual, he wore the uniform of the Yankee captain and possessed the grisly appetites of desire and bloodlust that he had experienced during his previous dreams. But there was a distinct difference in this current excursion into the realm of unconsciousness: This time he found himself in a place that was familiar to him.
Wade stood in the living room of Magnolia's plantation house. The chamber was decorated differently. He made a quick survey of the room and noticed that the owners tastes matched his own. He made a mental note to take the ones he especially liked when his assignment had ended and it was time to move on.
The distant thunder of cannon fire drew his attention and he walked to one of the front windows. Although he could see nothing beyond the magnolia trees, he knew that the battle was taking place, out of view, several miles away, in the township of Vicksburg. Wade suddenly felt a burst of anger surge through him, causing him to down a bottle of Mississippi sipping whisky and pour himself another just as quickly. He was puzzled as to why the emotion seemed to possess him so strongly, until the reason finally came to him: he was enraged by a command given by his superior, the order to stay put at Magnolia, while the rest of the Union Army participated in a skirmish northward. The very thought of being denied the chance to test his mettle in battle nearly drove him to the point of madness. It was not fair, when the chance of acquiring a promotion was so close at hand.
He stood next to the roaring flame in the fireplace and felt his rage burn and crackle as the fire before him with the boom of each distant cannon. He thought of the house he and his brigade had seized, and contemplated how they would leave it when that battle had ended. Past images of similar mansions came to mind. He recalled the sight of flaming pyres: the crackle of fire and the rich scent of burning flash drifting on the wings of cinder and ash. And with that final act of retribution he would always savor the afterglow of what atrocities he had committed before the first drop of oil had been spilled and the first torch lit. Atrocities such as rape, torture, and murder, as well as others that were much more deviate and heinous in nature. Taboo appetites that could only be justified in the depraved mind of a true madman.
One such appetite resurfaced in Wade as he entered the entrance hall, he felt the familiar heat of desire possess him. He thought of the woman who stood at the head of those long stairs, and he felt his loins stir at the memory of her creamy skin, auburn hair, and the modest swell of her bosom. Lust then took over him, like a wild animal hungering for sustenance. He knew that he must act on it, right then and there, just as he had countless times before.
Wade looked at the foyer, it was decorated differently then he remembered, the light was provided by candles and not electricity. The floor was constructed of marble slabs and not the carpeted wood that he knew. He spotted a splash of crimson next to the staircase. A grin split his face as he remembered the man he had cut down with his saber just a few hours before and the man's primal screams as the blade ripped his flesh and most of his bone, the man would be lamed for quite sometime if not dead soon.
His attention turned from the blood at his feet to the noise outside and to the rear of the house. He heard laughter and the raw and could smell of the pungent odor of cooked beef. He smiled at the recreational activities of his men and he felt pride in them for their accomplishments. He felt no envy toward his men, for they to had been denied the chance to fight that day and they deserved to have a little freedom to their desires.
Which was what he intended to do at that moment. He had grown tired of drinking for the evening. Now his hunger for carnal conquest had returned. He thought of the belle at the top of the stairway--the lovely rich auburn-haired woman with the face of Agent Dana Scully--he felt his need build until it was almost unbearable.
He wasted no more time. A predatory grin crossed his handsome face, and one by one, he climbed the steps to the second floor, eager to meet the challenge of his next conquest...
I awoke with the same burning need for brutality and desire that I had experienced in my nightmare. But this time, my emergence from the dreamscape was different. I did not rebel against the emotions that accompanied me from sleep, but welcomed them instead. I recalled the lust for blood and burning destruction, as well as the ache for carnal revelry, and saw them as a natural part of myself, instead of feelings that should be denied.
I rose from where I had fallen asleep on the couch and stretched. I went to the back bedroom, a place I go as to not disturb my wife when I come home late, which was quite often nowadays, I mused. I withdrew the objects I had hidden under the bed--a long cavalry sword with scabbard and an old Colt Army revolver-- and laid them on the unmade bed.
As I loaded the gun--expertly, although I had never handled such a firearm in my life--I thought of the other items I had procured that morning. The five-gallon cans of gasoline that were currently stashed in one of the houses unused servant quarters. I placed the loaded gun in the waistband of my pants. I took the sword and got into my old Toyota and went to the grocery store.
I buckled himself into the truck and turned the engine over. I started southward. I checked the small weekly calendar I always kept in my back pocket. The significance of today's date was not lost on me. For it was November thirteenth--the anniversary of the siege of Magnolia--and it was time to celebrate.
Shannon Braxton sat on her feather mattress, dressed in one of her finest silk gowns. But sleep was the furthest thing from her mind at that moment. For the past hour she had sat and listened to the roar of the bonfire that had been set in the rear garden, as well as the shouts and dirty laughter of the drunken soldiers. She recalled Magnolia as it had been in the first couple years of her marriage to Edward and wondered how, in such a short span of time, how it had become a sight of tragedy and wantonness that it had become that night.
She recalled how Bates' saber had cut into Philip Ashton's leg an wondered if that man was still alive, and if so what had happened to him.
Her fear for the safety of her neighbor was quickly replaced by that of her own, when she heard the distant sound of footsteps on the stairway. Shannon moved away from the French doors of her bedroom and clutched the wooden bedposts in a death grip. She listened as the footfalls grew closer and louder, making their way steadily along the outer hallway. Her breath caught in her lungs as the drumming of heavy soled boots paused outside the door to her bedroom.
Shannon expected to hear the baritone voice of the Union captain but apparently he was in no mood for negotiation. He banged on the door with his fist and then Shannon heard the resounding bang as a heavy boot crashed against the doors' paneling. The door held firm under it's assault. But with the second bang in fell inwards accompanied by the startled yelp from Shannon.
The door fell away to reveal the powerful form of James Bates, his face a ruddy color from drinking, his eyes burning with an insatiable desire.
"No!" yelled Shannon, recoiling from the man. "Leave. Leave me be!"
The only response to her cries was the sound of cruel sadistic laughter.
She turned; perhaps intending to retreat to the French doors and to the balcony beyond, but she never got that far. Before she knew it, the officer was upon her, grabbing her wrist and spinning her around to face him.
Shannon expected for him to fling her across the room and onto her bed where he would have his way with her, but the cruelty in his eyes told her otherwise. He intended to humiliate her before she was forced to submit to his lewd desires.
"My men were unable to admire their commander in battle this day," he said bitterly, his eyes flashing with rage. "But they shall witness this conquest. They shall watch every minute of it!"
"No!" she screamed again, but there was no reasoning with him. Bates grabbed her wrist tighter and dragged her struggling from into the hallway and down the winding staircase.
She had nearly escapes his grasp when they reached the kitchen. She felt his hold loosen and began to fight to free herself. She succeeded in wresting her wrist from his steely grasp, but that guaranteed nothing. Bates laughed cruelly, and raising his arm, struck her across the face with the back of his hand. Before she could regain her footing, she stumbled backward and crashed through the multi-paned doorway that led from the kitchen to the walkway of the rear garden.
Stinging pain engulfed her as shards of glass sliced skin and clothing, bringing blood. Stunned, she landed with her back on the snow. A moment later Bates boldly stepped into view. The lust in his eyes only increased with the act of violence he had just committed.
"Gather around, boys!" he called to those standing near the bonfire. "Gather around and watch your commander in action!"
Soon, Shannon found herself surrounded by a mob a filthy soldiers; eager to wittiness the act of brutality their captain was about to commit. Fear and shock drove away the discomfort of pain and cold as Shannon turned her eyes back to James Bates. The officer with the serpentine muttonchops laughed harshly as he bent down and began to unbutton the front of his trousers.
Shannon began to scream as the man fell upon her, pressing her into the snowdrift with the weight of his body. But there was no one within earshot who would come to her rescue. Desperately she craned her neck and stared at the soldiers who gathered around them. Most watched the crime with delight, laughing and cheering their commander on, while those who seemed sickened by the act remained silent, afraid to speak out.
Then with a single brutal thrust, the violation began. Shannon's screams became louder and shriller and her struggles more frantic, but they were no help to her. The powerful hands of James Bates encircled her slender throat and began to slowly squeeze the life from her as the driving degradation of rape continued with no sign of letting up...
Dana Scully had a hard time concentrating on the words in front of her. She turned her head to better see the text in small print in the horror book she was reading when the power went out. The standing lamp next to the chair she was sitting in was cut off and she was thrown into darkness. For no reason that could occur to her she softly spoke the name "Shannon?" But if the spirit of the long dead southern belle heard her she gave no notion.
Scully left the chair and went down the hallway to go back to her room. She tried the switch in the hall, though the fixtures remained dark. She continued to her bedroom. The power was off in the hall as well she thought as an afterthought.
She walked to her bedroom and the neon red lights of her alarm clock were not on. Apparently the entire house was devoid of electricity. But for what reason?
A sensation of unease possessed her as she walked to her nightstand where she had place her standard issue .9 mm. She stuck the gun into the holster at her hip and then continued into the hallway.
She descended the stairway to the back of the house; top what would have been the servant's quarters. As sudden burst of cold air told her that something was amiss. She found the back door standing open. The wood around the deadbolt was splintered, as if someone had forcefully pried it open. She went over to it and closed it. She went to the utility room and found that her suspicions were justified. When she checked the fuse box, she found that a few fuses had been taken. The emergency fuses had also been taken.
She walked over to the phone to call the local police. But unfortunately she was denied that act of precaution. For no matter how many times she tried, she could not get a dial tone. The phone was completely dead.
She ascended the stairs again to retrieve her cell phone and when she got there she found that her cell phone was crushed as if it had been stepped on by a human foot.
"Can you please just try again?!" came the exasperated voice of Agent Mulder.
He had been trying to reach Magnolia all day but there was no answer. When he couldn't get an answer he tried Scully's cell phone but it wasn't working or she didn't have it on and he wasn't one for taking unnecessary chances. A sensation of cold dread hit Mulder when the voice of the operator came back on. "I'm sorry, sir. That number is out of order."
Scully donned her coat and went outside to her rented Saturn, but she never got that far for the tires had been slashed to ribbons. "Laughlin." she said with much certainty. He had to have been the one to do this, she walked back up the steps of the house when she heard the rattling of metal.
She glanced to the western edge of the house. Standing there, next to the evergreen bush, was Wade Laughlin. the man was dressed in a trench coat, sweat shirt and blue jeans, but he wore two additional objects around his waist that sent a thrill of terror through her: one was a cavalry sword in a brass scabbard that swung from the loops of his belt; the other was a pistol, which had been haphazardly stuck in the from of the waistband of his pants.
Wade smiled. It was not a nice smile. "I'm back, Dana," he said. She reached in the holster on her hip, but discovered it was not there she looked up at him almost instantly to find him swinging her gun with the tip of his finger. "Looking for this." he said with a malicious grin.
She walked steadily back up to the house and slammed the door and bolted the lock, but he was coming after her, she knew that.
She jumped as the boom of a gunshot echoed from the opposite side of the hallway. The bullet punched a hole through the panel of the heavy oak, sending splinters scattering across the foyer. The second shot struck the steel of the dead bolt, buckling the metal.
For some reason, not of her own volition, she retreated up the winding staircase. She knew it was a stupid move to make but there was no time to come up with a better escape route. she was almost the head of the staircase when the third shot rang out. This time the bullet was more effective. She turned her head in time to see the deadbolt bounce across the floor. A moment later Wade Laughlin was through the door. Driving the aim from long barreled pistol in hand.
Wade smiled at her from the foyer below, a heavy cloud of smoke drifting over his head making him appear to be the devil incarnate. he thumbed back the hammer getting ready to take another shot. "I'd advise you to give it up right now, Dana," he said. "If you don't I may have to be forced to hurt you."
"Fuck you!" Scully yelled. She rose to her feet and made it to the landing that joined to the upstairs hallway. The second before she reached the concealment of the upstairs hallway another shot was unleashed. This time the bullet was more accurate. the bullet smashed through the wall hitting to her left foot. She looked down at the injury fighting the pain she thought limping along the upstairs hallway. Driving the pain out of her thoughts she tried to make to the door of Mulder's bedroom, his cell phone and weapon were still on his bedside table, at the same time she reached the door Laughlin was at the head of the stairway. He simply stared at her, his hands busy with the cap of the revolver "Aw," he said with an expression of mock concern. "You're bleeding, Dana. What a shame." Slowly, a devilish grin replaced the frown of regret. "Stop running from me and I promise I won't make you bleed anymore."
From the glint in his eyes the pure meanness told her he wasn't lying about his intentions. "You son of a bitch!" she yelled at him. Then turning she went through the door of the bedroom and slammed it shut. She locked it and groaned as a new wave of pain gripped her. She looked down at her wound and it was still bleeding freely, it must have been worse then she had thought.
As she began to loosen the laces on her shoes she heard the sound of Laughlin's casual footsteps along the corridor. He had gotten through the dead bolt of downstairs and this door was not half as sturdy. She looked to the table and saw Mulder's gun on the table. She went over to it and aimed at the door.
She listened as he grew nearer. From the corridor, she cold hear his stealthy approach, as well as cheerful whistling. It took her a while to figure out what the song was but she remembered that it was an old Civil War battle hymn called "Rally around the Flag," a favorite of the Union Army.
Eventually, both the whistling and the footsteps ceased...directly in front of the bedroom door. The knob rattled as he tried to gain entrance. "You might as well let me in, Dana. There is no need to delay the inevitable." The doorknob jiggled again. but the lock held firm. "Oh, well." he said with an exaggerated sigh. "I guess I'll have to shot the door open, the same as I did the downstairs."
I wouldn't try it if I were you, Laughlin" She said in a voice so calm that she had trouble believing it was hers.
Scully heard the cock of the hammer on the other side of the door and knew she could hesitate no longer, she pulled the trigger first. A hole appeared in the bedroom door the size of a dime where the bullet had hit and gone through.
Suddenly, the table were turned. It was time for Laughlin to be cautious. Scully heard him yell out, and begin to curse loudly. She listened closely and heard the footsteps recede a safe distance down the hallway. "Don't get comfortable in there, I'll be back." he warned.
She was to be held in the room. Held a prisoner.
It was four-thirty in the afternoon when Fox Mulder was finally released from St. Micheal's general hospital, by the time he got to the lobby of the hospital, he was a nervous wreck. he was convinced more over that something had happened at Magnolia. Something wrong, something that shouldn't be allowed to happen. He could not explain why he felt this way; but something in the back of his mind told him that danger prowled the plantation grounds. And there was something else as well. Mulder had the definite sensation that Scully had been hurt in some way.
From the hospital lobby he tried her cell phone again, and again no answer.
Forty-five minutes later he had rented a Ford Tempest and was on the highway heading for the mansion. It was a fifteen minute drive back to the plantation house. Then he discovered that there was bumper to bumper traffic all along the interstate leading to the house. It was not long before he was cursing beneath his breath and honking his horn in impatience. The feeling that Scully had been hurt had not diminished at all. If anything is had grown in intensity and only continued to grow stronger.
"Please, just get me there in time, that's all I ask." Then he grew silent as he gripped the steering wheel with white-knuckled hands and stared at the endless line of taillights that stretched ahead of him.
Wade Laughlin finished the last of the decanter of sherry, draining to the very last drop. Noticing this he angrily got up from his chair and chose another decanter this one filled with Scotch.
He removed the decorative top from the bottle and threw it at the mirror which hung on the wall. The single shot that Dana Scully had fired at his had almost been a fatal one. It had caught him on the lower half of his ear tearing most of it away. Tenderly, he touched the ragged edge of the torn cartilage and hissed at the burst of renewed pain that had flared under his touch. Dried blood coated the side of his neck, as well as the shoulder and right lapel of his trench coat.
Laughlin tipped the decanter and took a long swallow of Scotch, although he detested the taste of it. "The stupid bitch!" he growled. "She'll beg for forgiveness for what she's done when this is all over."
He had spent the last four hours in the parlor drinking and licking his wounds, so to speak. But now his rage began to burn again, daring him to return to the bedroom and finish what had been so rudely interrupted. He wanted to give in to the burning in his loins, but he knew better then to act on such a foolish impulse. He'd come within a hair's breadth of death several hours before. Next time her aim might be much less fortunate.
With a roar of anguish and frustration, he sent the decanter on the table to the floor and drew his sword. Furiously, he ran to the room, swinging the sabre with broad and powerful strokes. The curved blade slashed the curtains and the cushions on the couch to shreds. he mutilated everything until mats of cotton and foam were strewn about the room.
"I'll show that whore that she can't mess with me!" And with those words he picked up every piece of furniture, chairs, end tables, picture frames, and threw then through the great bay window, most of the rubble landed beneath the willow tree in the back yard.
Laughlin walked to the kitchen's hearth and, spying kerosene lamp, snatched it up. He marched to the bay window and climbed through it. The snowing had stopped but the temperature was cold. His boots crunched on the newly fallen snow. He approached the pile of miscellaneous furniture. Then wrenching the glass chimney from the lamp, he produced a lighter from his coat pocket and set the cloth wick a flame. He watched it for a second marveling the blue and orange flames, then with a roar of outrange, flung the entire lamp into the jumbled heap.
Suddenly, kerosene and fire spread in all directions. Only a few moments passed before the entire pile had ignited. Laughlin stood before the flames, gloating as the expensive hand carved furniture turned to additional fuel for the fire.
Laughlin stood before the blaze, relishing the feel of the heat upon his face. It seemed to conjure images in his mind of death and destruction, of stately mansions and fields of cotton engulfed in flame and clouds of billowing smoke. It also re-ignited the passion and the desire along with the knowledge that to act of such whims might bring a fatal shot from Agent Dana Scully's gun.
He stared into the flames for a while, then turned away, his eyes livid. Shucking the Colt Army from his waistband, he stalked back to the house.
I reclined on the canopy bed. I held Mulder's 9mm. in my hands on my lap, my eyes were constantly switching back and forth between the door and the entrance to the French doors that lead to a balcony. The pain in my foot still throbbed but it was not as intense, since I had found several Tylenol in Mulder's suitcase.
I glanced at my wristwatch in the gloom of evening. It was six o'clock. The snow had stopped falling but that held no comfort since the darkness of night was to follow close behind. And the threat of Wade Laughlin still loomed somewhere outside.
I thought of Mulder. It had only been 5 short days since he'd been hit with the rock and put into a coma. It seemed so much longer then that now. And as unmodern and non-feministic as it was she wished that he was here now, she always worked better with someone then by herself.
As I sat in the gathering darkness, stranded without electric light, heat, or phone, I caught the scent of something. A half hour ago, I heard the sound of Laughlin having a tantrum downstairs. First, there had been that shattering glass, followed by a larger crash like the smashing of a window. The destruction noises bothered me but not as much as the smell of burning that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Instantly, my conversation with Laughlin last night came back to mr, along with his cryptic statement about the "spirit" of James Bates wanting to perform some kind of reenactment of Magnolia's demise. Alarmed, I rose from the bed and went to the French doors of the balcony and looked to the magnolia grove beyond.
As I unlatched the windows the smell increased more in intensity. Also, I noticed two things that had eluded me in the sanctuary of the bedroom. One, was the dark vapor of wood smoke drifting over the plantation, while the other was the definite crackle and roar of a large fire originating somewhere in the back yard. I wondered. Whatever it was I was sure it was something sinister in nature.
I considered crossing the banister to investigate the source of the smoke further, but I didn't get the chance. Before I could take a single step, a shot rang out. A bullet glanced off the ledge of the railing. I retreated back into the room just in time to miss the second bullet coming through the balcony floor. In my haste to escape the gunfire I feel backward twisting the ankle which had been shot earlier, bringing a fresh burst of agony and renewed bleeding.
I struggled to fight the pain when a voice drifted from the driveway below. "I'm still here, Scully!" called Laughlin. "Just reminding you of that!"
"You crazy bastard!" I yelled back at him "Just leave me alone!"
That seemed to stroke his sadistic sense of humor, "I don't believe so, my dear," he said with a chuckle. I could have wrung his neck for laughing like that. "Not till I come for what I wanted to get."
I was about to ask him what that was when an image of Laughlin's sweating drunken body weighing down on her trying to undo my jeans, attempting to gain access, abruptly crossed my mind. It sickened me to think of it but that was his ultimate goal. Whatever else he did was just icing on the cake.
Suddenly disgust turned to anger, I pulled myself up and attempted to get up. "Laughlin!" I shouted down to get his attention.
"Yes, Dana, are you ready to surrender?" he asked in a voice so sweet it sickened me.
"Not a chance in hell!" I lifted Mulder's Smith and Wesson and unleashed a volley of gunfire. Before any on the slugs could hit, though, he jumped back to the concealment of the magnolia trees. "Stay away from me, Laughlin or I *will* kill you!"
I stalked back into the room and collapsed on the canopy bed just as my foot gave way beneath me. I my haste though I realized that Mulder had but one clip in his weapon. Frantically, I checked it and there was only one bullet left. I only hopped it would be enough when Laughlin chose to strike again. And I knew it would not be long before he attempted just that.
Finally! It was not until 7:00 that Mulder was able to get off the interstate to the exit ramp that lead to Magnolia.
The tedious two hour drive on the icy interstate had grated heavily on his nerves. His urgency to get to the mansion and put his worse fears to rest had grown into an obsession that over shadowed everything else. Scully's lovely face intruded on hi thoughts every few seconds, along with the horrible images of smoldering desolation that he had encountered during his recent dreams. His heart ached at the thought of such a thing taking place, not because of the house itself. No, his fear was for her safety and that alone. He loved the woman deeply, so much that he would give up his life for it, and he had come damn close a few times.
He nearly did just that when he came around a particularly sharp corner about a mile away from the plantation. The rental car hit a patch of ice and he felt the car fishtail twice and end up nose down in a ditch with five feet of snow surrounding him.
He sat there in indecision for a moment or two, then when he looked up he noticed another house not far from him. . He opened the door and snow came pouring in on him. "Damn!" he managed out of the car and out of the ditch.
Carefully, he climbed the barbed wire fence and started across the snowy pasture. He had originally intended to stop at the house, but the closer he got to a barn-like structure, the more urgent his need to reach Magnolia became. His desperation grew so great that he considered something that he would have normally thought unthinkable.
He went to the front of the barn and tried it's sliding door. He went to the first stall, one after another until he found what he was looking for. It was a magnificent horse: a coal black roan with a white star in the middle of it's forehead.
Without a second thought, he went to the wall where all the saddles and bridle were kept and saddled up the horse. He led the horse outside the barn and the horse's hooves quickly adapted to the icy texture of the road.
"Let's go boy!" Mulder urged. Then, an instant later, both man and horse were speeding along the snowy avenue hopefully to prevent a monstrous disaster from occurring.
I'd had enough. The time to act was upon me. It had been an hour since the scene where Scully had fired at me from the balcony. In that time, I had taken up shelter in the magnolia grove, afraid to reveal myself. I hate hiding and cowering especially from a woman. Well, the time for cowering was through it was time to act upon my instincts.
Boldly, I stepped out from the shadows of the trees and stood on the edges of the circular drive. I half-expected Dana Scully to show herself at the balcony doors and begin firing again, but she did not. The doors remained closed and the balcony unoccupied.
I went to the garage where I had hidden the gasoline. I took them one in each hand and walked outside.
I made my way along the drive and soon, I was at the plantation. "I'm back Dana!!" I shouted at the balcony I was determined to show her who was in charge here and who was not walking away. "I'm tired of playing cat and mouse with you! It's time to do what I came here to do. It's time for the glorious downfall of Magnolia!"
When I received no answer to my declaration, I continued with my work. I unscrewed the cap and thoroughly doused the circular driveway with raw fuel. I then did the same with the porch and through the open doorway into the entrance hall.
I made a complete tour of the downstairs. i climbed through the window that lead to where the blaze I had set earlier continued to burn.
I uncapped the second bottle and made my way around the mansion, the fumes from the gasoline filling my nostrils making me even more giddy then the alcohol had. I laughed and stopped through the snow and finally, I was back to the circular drive, where I had started.
"My work here is done, Dana! All that needs to be done is light a match. But first, I must deal with you. The scenario would not be complete without the conquest of Magnolia's mistress, don't you agree?"
I listened for a reply, but there was none. Only silence came from the room and the balcony on the second floor. I thought of Dana --of her supple, feminine body and her long spill of auburn hair--and felt the heat of my desire awaken in my loins again. With a husky laugh, I started toward the front entrance of the gasoline-soaked manor. I had only taken a couple of steps when my attention was turned by a sound. A sound that I could not identify. Then, a consciousness much older then my own recognized the drumming staccato that echoed from the far end of the driveway.
It was the sound of horse's hooves thundering against the ground...and it was coming straight toward me.
After the brutal slaying of Captain Bates and the execution of the woman of the house, I had a decision to make. The men wanted to leave the bodies where they were, but despite to all the atrocities I have been privy to over the past few years, I found that had to give the two a proper burial. Therefore, despite the protests of my men I took our captain from the woman he had so brutally violated and murdered.
Almost immediately afterward I received a dispatch from General Thomas, in need of reinforcements and requesting our presence on the battle field. Given little time to do what I had to do, what needed to be done, i was forced to act hastily. Although against my conscience to do so, I had no choice but to bury the remains of the two as quickly as possible...
I read those words aloud and over again to make sure I had them right. "Oh my God," I muttered as I finished with the last a paragraph again. I now knew the grisly truth, as well as the reason that Magnolia seemed to be a place of multiple "hauntings". The realization hit me like a slap on the face. Two people died at Magnolia that night...but only one grave was dug.
I returned the slip of paper back into the drawer where I had found it and wondered what I was going to do next.
Wade Laughlin turned and looked at the horse from the direction of the highway.
It was a fine thoroughbred roan, coal-black, with a white star on it's forehead. The animal itself was no importance to Laughlin, however, peering past the horse's windswept mane, that was what concerned him the most.
A moment later, he was able to distinguish the man's features: the shaggy brown hair and the mustache, the piercing eyes of bright green, they belonged to the last man in the world Wade Laughlin expected to see there that night.
Without a second's hesitation, Laughlin drew his Colt Army from the waistband of his trousers and extended it at arms length. He waited until the rider came within fifty feet of him, then snapped off a single shot. The .44 boomed, belching fire and black smoke. Despite the darkness and the distance the lead ball hit it's mark, burrowing deeply into the space between the horse's eyes. The animal made a noise and fell to the ground sending his rider into an awkward summersault. Laughlin watched as the man attempted to free his leg from underneath the dying horse, but his foot caught in the stirrup and held him there, trapped.
Laughing, the evil man cocked his revolver again and ran toward the dark heap thirty feet away. When he reached the fallen horse the horse had breathed it's last and was dead.
Curiously, Laughlin leveled his pistol and stepped around the dad horse. "Damn it!" he cursed when he failed to find Mulder lying where he had expected him to be. There was an impression in the snow where the horse's dead weight had fallen on the man as well as footprints leading into the woods.
Angry, Laughlin stepped to the edge of the magnolia grove and fired a couple of blind shots into the darkness. "I know you're out there Mulder!" he shouted. "Do you hear me!" there was no answer to his call. Wherever Mulder was he was not foolish enough to give up his whereabouts by speaking.
"I don't know how you got out here, Mulder, but you've wasted your time. No one, not even you, will stop me from what I came here to do. If you attempt to try and stop me, i will not hesitate to kill you. Do you understand?"
Again silence met his angry shouts. Laughlin fired another warning shot. "I'm serious, Mulder!"
He turned and stalked back to the plantation house and as he did the strong odor of gasoline filled his nostrils reminding him of his earlier intentions. Laughlin turned his thoughts from the hindering presence of Mulder and vowed that he would not stop him. No, if it took his very last breath, Wade Laughlin was determined to ravage the mistress of Magnolia and leave her beloved home in a firey ruin before the night was over.
Fox Mulder leaned against the trunk of a maple tree, not more then a stone's throw from the eastern edge of the house.
He fought the pain in his right leg. It had felt numb at first, after the horse had fallen on it, but now the feeling was returning to limb and it hurt like hell. He felt his pants leg stretch. His leg was swollen nearly twice it's normal size.
But he knew he had to ignore such a handicap. He thought of Scully and what she would suffer at the hands of Laughlin if he were to let the pain slow him down. He recalled how crazy the man had seemed, armed with sword and pistol, his dark eyes livid with lust and depravity. Before the accident which had made him unconsciousness, he had just seen Laughlin as a crude flirt with a drinking problem and really nothing more. But now he saw him in a completely different light. he no seemed more like a sadistic madman with the potential to wreak the worst kind of havoc.
Mulder knew he could wait there no longer. he had to get inside that house. He took a step away from the tree and felt pain like he's never experienced before, shot up his leg. he nearly collapsed at the pain, but he knew he could not allow himself to do that. He breathed deeply then limped through the trees toward the side of the house.
When he reached the garden, he found that Laughlin had started a fire with t he house furniture as fuel for the blaze. He cautiously edged and reached the back door and noticed that the bay window was shattered, so he decided to take that route instead.
It was difficult climbing the window with an injured leg but he finally made it. He reached down to his leg strap for his extra and pulled out the little weapon, he never went anywhere unarmed. Then he crept into the entrance hall.
Wade Laughlin stood in the center of Magnolia's living room with the decanter of scotch in his hand, the liquor helped settle his nerves. Mulder had been an unexpected diversion in this night's celebration, he cold not let the agent ruin things for him.
He thought of Scully again, cowering in the bedroom upstairs. the image of the angry woman fueled his passion, and his need to dominate her grew even stronger then before. He knew that she was armed, but that fact seemed less disturbing to him then it had before. He was prepared to take any chance he needed to finish what he had come here to do.
As he crossed the entrance hall, intending to head up the stairs and finish this once and for all, someone called out from the direction of the kitchen.
"Stop where you are, Laughlin!" warned the voice of Fox Mulder.
"You're a fool, Mulder!" the man said with a laugh. he raised his gun and cocked the hammer.
But, before he could pull the trigger, the flash of gunfire bloomed from the corridor, along with a brittle crack. Laughlin's heart leapt to his throat, and blindly he fired back. As he started for the foot of the staircase a second shot rang out. This time the bullet was closer to it's target. Laughlin cried out as searing white-hot pain burned across his left side, just below his ribcage. he reached underneath his sweatshirt and felt the warm wetness of fresh blood flowing from the open wound the gunshot had made. The wound was shallow, but it still stung like fire.
Laughlin snapped off another shot, the reached the stairway. He bounded up the carpeted steps, aware of the motion of the man below him. He dropped to his knees as another shot was fired from the other man's gun. The slung hit the spot where Laughlin had been standing a moment ago.
"It's not use, Mulder!" he yelled out. "You can't stop me!"
"I'll see you in hell before I let you harm Scully!" Mulder yelled back. Then the gunfire continued, filling the darkened house with flashes of fire and the sulfurous stench of burnt powder.
The elderly man stood at the end of the plantation with a shovel in hand, he knew that he must do this. He looked to the house where, through the windows, he could see Wade Laughlin and the FBI agent in some kind of shooting match. Strange that there was no lighting in the house. He knew what he had to do, he had to help them, he knew that this would happen. That was why he had to save them, had to save them all. The crack of gunfire and the rise and fall of angry voices drifted from the direction of the house as the man took his shovel and began to dig.
The desire turned maddening. Wade found himself tearing at his clothing and growling like a wild animal as he made his way slowly up the winding staircase. He thought of Scully waiting upstairs; of soft creamy skin waiting to be mauled and bitten, and a slender throat waiting to be crushed by powerful hands. And with the agony given, there would be ecstasy received. Violation and death, in exchange for one flashpoint moment of pleasure.
He reached the top of the stairs, and without any regard for his safety, stood up. Almost immediately, Mulder fired. The ball hit his leg just above the knee cap, but he did not curse the pain. Instead he greeted it as one might greet an old friend. Laughing maliciously, he aimed downward searching for a glimpse of his adversary.
A moment later, through the gloom, he caught a pale circle of a face approaching the foot of the stairway. Laughlin pulled the trigger. The gun at that point bucked out of his hand unleashing it's deadly projectile toward the lower floor. He grinned when a yell of pain was heard and he saw the form of Mulder retreat back down the corridor.
"I'm coming for you, Dana!" Laughlin yelled in a voice not his own, "I'm coming for you right now!"
Then pistol at his side and, drawing the Calvary saber from it's scabbard, began to walk down the hallway toward the bedroom.
The reveling clang of metal against bone sounded from the hole the man had labored in, he jumped as the sound of a single gunshot followed by the sound of pain hit his ears. He had to finish this before it was too late. He found the skeleton. "This belonged to poor Shannon." the man said sadly almost as if he were grieving for the woman, in a way he was for she was here and he knew he had to save her. Now he had to find the man who had killed her, and then he hit another solid object within the ground "James Bates."
He decided to lay the bones of the sadistic, evil man next to the spot where he had found them. He looked up at the billowing leaves of the willow tree, leaves turned yellow by the change of seasons. Though there was snow on the ground the elderly man found an almost surreal beauty to the tree.
Enough of sentimentality, he thought. He had to finish this. He took the shovel and began to bury the remains of James Bates.
Mulder stumbled through the kitchen and collapsed onto the floor. He clutched his left shoulder fighting the pain there. Blood coursed through his splayed fingers, slowing slightly at the pressure he applied. Still the wound was serious. He was concerned if he didn't stop the flow of blood he would be too late to save Scully from the threat of Wade Laughlin.
With some effort he lifted himself up against a cabinet and staggered to his feet. He took a pot holder and slung it beneath his armpit and wound it into a crude tourniquet. The bleeding slowed to a creep and then stopped completely.
Overhead, he heard the heavy drumming of footsteps. The footsteps moved along the upper hallway. He instantly knew where they were headed.
Although his left arm throbbed from his shoulder wound and his leg was still swelling, he fought against the pain and quickly made his way up the rear stairway that led to the mansion's upper floor.
Dana Scully sat on the edge of the canopy bed, gun in hand, listening to the sound if footsteps echoing along the hall.
Several confusing things had taken place in the last fifteen minutes. Gunfire roared downstairs, and from the difference in resonance, she had determined that it had originated from two separate guns. Obviously a battle of some sort was going on down there, between Laughlin and another party. Exactly who that other party was, though was a complete mystery to her.
The last gunshot was followed by a yell of pain, then the sound she now heard: the distinctive rapping of footsteps of the upper hallway.
Scully held her breath as the one outside made his way along the upper corridor and come to a halt directly outside the door. She listened intently. From the other side, she could hear rapid breathing, labored more from excitement of mounting passion the from actual physical exertion.
"Get the hell away, you know I've a weapon and you know I'll use it if I have to," she warned.
The warning seemed to amuse him. A peal of laughter roared from the hallway. It was followed by a heavy crash against the paneling of the door. In spite of the added precaution of a deadbolt, the door gave way. It swung open, revealing the man who had terrorized her for the past few hours.
Wade Laughlin entered the room, filling the chamber with his fierce presence. Looking at him, Scully could not believe that he was the nice courteous man she had met when she entered the house called Magnolia on the the nineteenth of the month. Now he resembled a rabid animal more then anything else. His clothes were torn and reeked of gasoline, he face was set with a predatory snarl. His dark eyes burned with mixed emotions: anger, lust, and triumph. Scully's gaze shifted to the bloody stump of what used to be Laughlin's ear. She had wondered if the shot she had shot through the door had actually caused him injury.
"It's time, Dana." Laughlin savagely growled. Then, sword in hand, he started toward her.
Scully squeezed the trigger of the weapon, resulting in the wounding of Laughlin's left bicep. Soon, the sleeve was drenched in fresh blood. But the expression of carnal hunger remained on his face. It was as if his consuming desire made him completely oblivious to the injury she had just inflicted upon him.
With her last bullet gone, Scully found herself at a loss of what to do next.
"There is no use fighting, Dana. I will have you, just as surely as I will burn the house and everything around it to the ground. I missed it's destruction once before, but I'll be damned if I'm denied that chance this time!"
Scully stared into Laughlin's dark gaze, and suddenly received the impression that she was looking at someone completely different the the man who actually stood there. That it was not Wade Laughlin who advanced on her but a murderous form of possession that had somehow taken control of the mild-mannered man. And from that source deep within herself, she recognized that face, that personality of the destructive demon that had terrorized her over 100 years ago, and identified him by name.
"Bates!" she said and began to crawl backwards on the mattress of the bed.
"Yes, it's me!" replied the voice that held no resemblance of Wade Laughlin. "And you know what I have returned for...don't you Shannon?"
The same feelings of terror and dread that Scully had experienced upon touching the apparition of the weeping woman came rushing back, and suddenly she knew the answer to the mysteries that had plagued her from the past few weeks. The spectral essence of the tormented southern belle resided in her and was her.
Scully was jogged from her mental revelation when Laughlin reached the end of the bed. The man tossed his sword aside and grabbed her by the ankles. She struggled to escape, but his hold was too strong. Inch by inch, she was pulled across the mattress until she found herself directly beneath him.
Scully tried hitting him and hurting him. He roared with laughter and backhanded her across the face. Scully's head rocked back with the force of the blow, she fell back, unable to summon the strength to continue her struggling.
The terror of the act that was being committed resurfaced when she felt the strong hands grapple with the fly of her jeans. Soon, the zipper had been disengaged and she felt the garment being wrestled from her body. "No!" she yelled. "Don't!"
Again only the cruel laughter answered her pleas. Scully smelled the stench of liquored breath and saw the blaze of unbridled desire flare even more brightly in his eyes. Then his right hand reached toward her bikini underwear, the fingers yearning to tear away the flimsy fabric.
But before that could happen, the sound of movement came from the bedroom door, as well as a voice. It was the last voice Scully expected to hear at that terrifying moment.
"Let go of her, you son-of-a-bitch!" Mulder demanded.
At the sound of that voice, Laughlin cast his mind away from Dana Scully, aware of the danger he confronted. His right hand moved from the woman's hips to his saber. Then he whirled, a shout bellowing from his throat.
Mulder was unprepared for Laughlin's attack. The man brought to sword down with all the fury he possessed. Luckily, the edge of the tarnished steel struck the barrel of the weapon in Mulder's hand, sending it flying from Mulder's grasp into the corner of the room.
The madman came after him again, his anger fuelling his strokes. Mulder looked beyond Laughlin to see the white outline of Scully's face and he knew that he had to survive this thing if only for her sake.
Mulder crouched and waited for the man to attack again, and when he did Mulder took his advantage and tackled the other man. Mulder grabbed the other man's wrist, it was difficult to gain the upper hand
Laughlin outweighed and was taller the he.
Laughlin seemed to sense Mulder's weakness, he roared with an arrogant laughter and increased his leverage. Through some unknown power, tapping some far off reserve Mulder began to match the man in physical prowess. He slammed Laughlin's head against the post of the cherry bed. From the force of the blow, Laughlin's sword and pistol slid to the floor. Unarmed the two men wrestled on the floor. Scully watched and waited until the two men rolled past the bed, toward the French doors.
The man reached the Braxton Family graveyard and started digging a shallow hole for the remains of Shannon Braxton next to those of her beloved husband, Edward.
He emptied the remains into the hole and quickly took his hat from his head and began to pray. "The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want..."
Five feet from the French doors, Fox Mulder and Wade Laughlin separated. Their eyes met with a mutual rage and they started swinging fists and hitting again.
Scully watched the brawl from the bed, she was aware that it was Mulder and Laughlin fighting, but she sensed that somehow they were two entirely different people. The vengeful Southern husband, Edward Braxton, and the sadistic Yankee officer, James Bates.
The battled savagely, Laughlin's laughter was coupled with his grunts of pain as well. After delivering a blow to Mulder midsection which had sent him reeling backward, the man laughed like a madman possessed by the devil himself.
"What the hell are you laughing for?" an angry Mulder asked.
"I'm rejoicing, you fool! Despite your petty attempts to stop me I have won!" Then from the pocket of his jeans Laughlin pulled a lighter.
"No!" Mulder screamed.
"Just try and stop me!" Then laughing Laughlin turned toward the edge of the balcony.
The man went back to the tree and prayed again but not for the soul of the evil man but for deliverance from his evil presence "Please Father, do whatever you intend to do before this entire place is destroyed!"
Mulder tried to run for the man but his body would not move as if afraid if he touched Laughlin the lighter would be dropped, sending a wave od consuming fire through the entire mansion.
Then when all hope seemed lost something happened, something unexpected by either man.
He watched as Laughlin's expression of triumph turned to one of horror. His body grew rigid and his mouth grew wide, but no sound emerged, instead pure energy was released from the man's body. A geyser of electric blue light rose into the darkness and slowly took shape, changing into the form of a man, a Union captain with an expression of defeat on his mutilated face. With a mournful wail the spirit of James Bates pulsed and faded from view.
Startled and frightened, Wade Laughlin fell to his knees on the balcony "Lord help me."
"Mulder," someone called from behind.
He turned in time to see Scully clutching the cherry post for support "Scully," was all he could say.
But before he could go to her, he saw something incredible take place. An aura of brilliant blue light seemed to circle her. It frightened and fascinated him at the same time. Mulder watched as the form of a woman walked toward him. She did not resemble the mauled woman the Scully had reported seeing. The marks were absent, as well as the torn nightgown. Instead she was delicately beautiful, her auburn hair hanging in ringlets.
The closer she came the more Mulder felt that something odd was taking place inside of him. He watched as a moment later the form of a man stepped away from him.
Mulder and Scully both watched as the two spirits approached one another. A hundred and forty years had separated them, but that barrier was there no longer, the two embraced in an unearthly like fashion. They seemed to merge, becoming one. Then a brilliant flash of light and they were of this earth no more.
For a moment both agents could do nothing but stand there transfixed by the scene they had just witnessed. Then the distance between them was no more. They embraced and held each other for a long time. As they kissed they realized they shared something very special with Edward and Shannon, something that could not be denied.
It was a love that would last for eternity.