SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully head north following a series of disappearances in the Maine woods. What they find there is an unusual woman named Smilla and quite possibly an ancient monster carved out of ice.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: An X-Files/Smilla's Sense of Snow crossover
I have never been to the north Maine woods, much less the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Nor have I been winter camping before. So I apologize in advance for any weaknesses in my research. The word "quanik" is nabbed from "Smilla's Sense of Snow" and I believe is Greenlandic for a certain type of snowfall.
THANKS TO: Maria Nicole, my tireless, cheerful and unbelievably thorough beta editor!
Conventional wisdom tells us that no two snowflakes are the same, that there are infinite variations based on common themes. And yet the flakes fall quickly, so quickly that I sometimes wonder. It is snowing right now. The snow seems to drift perpetually, like dust. Under the street lamp outside my building I see it best; lit up it becomes strange halogen confetti.
I watch it for longer than I'd intended. Snow is a small miracle requiring very specific atmospheric conditions--rain falling through the right temperature at high altitudes. I press my index finger against the glass and remove it, tilting my head just so I can see the smooth arches of my fingerprint. No two fingerprints are the same either. I scrub the mark away with the cuff of my shirt.
It's quiet inside my apartment but not peaceful. I'm just waiting; hoping the snow doesn't get too deep before I have to go outside into it. Or maybe it'll get so deep that I'll be trapped for days. *That* would be a small miracle, DC snow usually gets just deep enough to be a nuisance. Improbable as it is, the idea of being snowed in is not without its attractions.
The phone rings and I try very hard not to look at it. These moments to myself are like so many ice crystals, beautiful and fragile. It rings again and I feel my hand curl around it.
"Did you get tickets?" I ask. I can't remember when we dispensed with formal greetings, or even if we ever used them.
"I got us on a 7 PM flight."
"I'm packed already."
"Don't forget your long johns."
"I don't have any long johns, Mulder."
"Oh, well then you can borrow some of mine. They've got that little window in the back. *Very* sexy."
I bite my lip, holding back a chuckle. After five years, I'm not quite sure why I hold it back. "Which airport?"
"I'll meet you there at six thirty."
And then we just hang up. I don't remember if we ever said 'goodbye' either.
"Nine people disappear in a little over a month and a half. I'd say that warrants an investigation."
"I'm not arguing that point with you. But Allagash is a pretty remote area. Winter camping is dangerous."
He folds his lips together. "Just bear with me a minute here, Scully." With some difficulty he manages to open a map punctuated with red dots, spreading it across our tray tables. "This shows the last known locations of all the campers. See how they're all clustered around this area here?" He taps the map lightly.
"So what are you saying, that these missing people were victims of some sort of animal attack? The Abominable Snowman maybe?"
"I wouldn't classify it as Yeti, per se."
"What *would* you classify it as?"
"More like Bigfoot's northern cousin."
I bite back a sigh but I think he sees it in my face anyhow. "Let's just stop for a moment here. If an animal attacked these people, and that's a big 'if', isn't it more likely that it was something less exotic-- cougar, bear, maybe even a stray wolf. They're all native to Maine, especially the north."
"That's what we're going to find out."
"And Skinner approved this?"
"Douglas Klein: one of the missing campers. Skinner knew him from the Marines, a big gun at the DoJ too: federal employee, federal case. Skinner has approved our involvement, conditionally."
"And those conditions are?"
"Only one actually, that we bring in some help. He doesn't want us trekking around the north woods by ourselves."
"A guide?" Relief fills me like a sigh. The prospect of winter camping in northern Maine had me a little nervous. I know how different a landscape can be under snow cover, how that difference can be dangerous.
"Not exactly, but along those lines. Her name is Smilla Jasperson and she's something of an expert."
"On snow. She's meeting us at the Augusta airport."
The man at the customs desk looks at her like she's going to start trouble right there. "It is with great trepidation that we let you into this country, Ms. Jasperson."
"Is it?" She is as tired as he is, perhaps more. The flight was long and crowded. Her seatmate wanted to chat. She feels hollow and all she wants to do is shut the door behind her in a large, empty room. She needs her moment of grace for the day.
"There was, I believe, some trouble with the Canadian government?"
"I was tagging polar bears. They don't have much respect for political boundaries. It was a long time ago." Her voice is clear and sharp.
"Well, I trust you won't be tagging any bears during your time in the US, ma'am." He stamps her passport.
"There are no polar bears in Maine."
Smilla retrieves her small bag from the carousel and finds a seat near the entrance to the airport. She rubs her hands together. Her fingers have become cold in the thin leather gloves she wears, even sitting inside. She knows that she'll have to buy the right equipment before too long--four-season tent, mummy bag, ThermaRest--the list seems insurmountable.
Right now she is tired, the weight of fatigue pressing outward. She checks her watch, studying it for a moment before realizing that it's still set to Copenhagen time, even after six months away from home. The hours are marked across the broad, white face by tiny, silver slivers, like splinters of ice. The second hand jerks around the dial.
"Are you Smilla Jasperson?" She looks up. A man and a woman. Her eyes flick from one to the other. "Or is it Dr. Jasperson?" the man asks after a long silence.
"It's just Smilla. Or Ms. Jasperson if you prefer."
"Ms. Jasperson, I'm Special Agent Dana Scully and this is my partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder." The woman extends her hand and Smilla takes it briefly.
"We'll have time for pleasantries later. It's a very long way to Allagash," Smilla observes. She rises and runs her hands over her long sealskin coat.
I'm not sure how many hours I drove before anyone said anything. Mulder begins talking to Smilla, talking *at* Smilla.
"I don't know how familiar you are with the place we're headed. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a series of lakes and rivers surrounded by privately owned timberland. The town of Allagash is only about 300 people. It's the place where most of our missing campers started out." He directs his last comment at me.
Smilla nods. This movement, like many of her gestures, is tight and efficient. "I was able to get copies of some USGS maps." She reaches into her purse and locates one, opening it and showing it to Mulder. "Most of the people disappeared here. We're coming in here. That's about 60 miles, a lot of ground. I'd recommend snowmobiles. It is possible to snowshoe the distance but it will take far longer."
"Makes sense. Scully?"
I nod and then refocus my eyes on the road. It's not snowing now, but the terrain is difficult. So many shades of white. I bump the heater up a little.
"When we get to Allagash we'll need supplies and equipment," Smilla says, "about 25 kilos worth. That's . . . about 50 pounds each, so be prepared."
I feel a pang in my back, imagining a 50-pound pack there.
There's a pause then and out of the corner of my eye I can see Smilla gathering herself up to ask a question. "There's one thing I'm still not clear on, Agent Mulder."
"Mulder. Go ahead."
"What do you expect us to find out there?"
I glance in the rearview mirror, only to find Mulder's eyes waiting for mine. I catch his gaze and hold it, letting him know that I'll support whatever it is he's about to say. I have to admit that I'm curious too.
"I believe that the people who've disappeared were attacked by something." Smilla waits. I can see why she became an expert on snow. She seems carved out of it at times. "Wendigo."
Mulder's eyes widen slightly. "You mean you . . . "
"Cannibalistic monster with a frozen heart. It can spot the ice in your own heart and make you like itself."
A crawly feeling hits my stomach. I try to concentrate on driving. It's still relatively early, but the sun has set and it has begun to snow a bit. Big flakes spatter the windshield, pressing their intricate patterns against the glass. I turn the wipers on low, clumsily clearing them away.
Somewhere in the night, Mulder and I switch places. I pull the car to the side of the road and jump out. The cold air is a screaming shock to my lungs. Once we're outside the car, Mulder touches my elbow. We're quiet for a moment and I watch how the white flakes accumulate in his dark hair; they look like stars.
We are adrift at that dead hour of night. Without looking at my watch, I guess that it's about 2:30. My ears are oversensitive; they pick up sounds behind us, below the soft rustle of the wind. Noises like twigs breaking. Noises like footfalls through the snow. I resist the urge to turn around.
"What do you think of Smilla?"
"I can see why she's an expert on snow," I reply. It's not really what I meant to say.
Mulder smiles. "Sure knows her stuff though. She reminds me a little of you." I am flattered and offended in the same instant. Mulder puffs out a cloudy gust of breath. "'S cold."
I rub his arms a little. "We'd better get moving."
We climb back into the car and Mulder starts the engine. Smilla is asleep and I wish I could be too, but that comment of his keeps me awake. I tumble it over in my head, trying to figure out where it fits into our relationship.
Eventually, we reach Allagash. I am too bone tired to get any but the most fleeting impressions of Moosetown Lodging. I throw myself diagonally onto the bed. The bright wool blanket tickles against my nose. It smells wonderful. I don't know how long I lie there, but after a while I crawl toward the pillow and wiggle the blanket up around me.
She wakes up much later than she intended to and without completely remembering how she got into her bed. The sunlight is pale where it spills under the curtain. The room feels stuffy so she unfolds herself from the bed and opens the window. Cold air is like a blessing but the chill isn't as dry as in Greenland. Sometimes she feels as if she's spending her entire life looking for that perfect iciness.
The memory of her job surfaces and she showers and dresses quickly. Mulder and Scully are waiting for her in the motel coffee shop. Smilla orders coffee and slides into a seat opposite them.
"I'd like to get started as soon as possible," Smilla says. The waitress brings her coffee and Smilla gulps at it, barely noticing the heat or the bitterness. "If we manage to gather all the equipment we need today then we can set out tomorrow at sunrise."
Scully looks surprised. "I'd have thought you'd want to start today."
She smiles at the other woman, not a cruel expression but a distant one. "If I thought it were possible we would, but I think you're underestimating the amount of equipment necessary for winter camping."
Scully looks searchingly at her and Smilla can tell that she's trying to imagine her with all of her expensive clothing--the sealskin coat--sleeping on the ground in below-freezing temperatures.
"Here." Smilla hands them two lists. "Some of the clothing items you should already have."
"Guess you don't get to wear my long johns after all, Scully." Mulder winks at her.
"I'll meet you back here later." Smilla carefully counts out some money for the coffee and leaves. When the door closes behind her and she feels her boots sink into the snow, then she knows she has arrived in that large, white room. Happiness grows from her stomach outwards.
Mulder and I get directions to the largest outfitter in town, which is really more well stocked than large.
"You guys must've been around a pretty long time," he says while the cashier totals up our purchases.
"'Bout forty years," she says. "My dad owned the place first, passed it to me."
"Do you know anything about the missing campers?" I ask.
"Town this size, Miss, there's not much I *don't* know."
"What do you think happened to them?" Mulder asks.
She is quiet for a moment. "Some I'd say just got off the trail, it's not hard. Others . . . there were some regulars, experienced." She shrugs. "Now I couldn't put a name to what happened to them, but Edith Kelly could. She works up at the Historical Society."
"Thank you for your help."
"Happy to give it. That'll be $486.64 all together."
Mulder grimaces, but hands her his credit card. "How much of this stuff you think I can write off, Scully?"
"Not enough," I reply. Mulder shakes his head.
We get directions to the Historical Society from the cashier. It's not far so we decide to leave our supplies in the car and walk. Our route takes us alongside a partially frozen river. We are close enough so I can see the bubbles trapped in the ice, perpetually rising.
"This must be the St. John River," Mulder comments.
"I always wanted to live somewhere where the rivers would freeze over."
He shrugs. "I guess I felt like it would really be winter that way."
I think about that for a moment. "Once, my family spent a week visiting friends in Canada and the rivers froze. All the kids went out skating. It was really beautiful out there, when the sun shone off the ice. But it didn't seem real to me, it was so unusual."
The Historical Society is housed in a low wooden building on the riverbank. Inside is that familiar silence, almost like the stillness after a snowstorm.
"Hello?" I venture. "Is anybody here?"
There's a scuffling noise from somewhere in the back and seconds later an old woman appears through a door on our right. She looks delicate--pale skin, white hair, small frame. "What can I do for you?"
"Ms. Kelly?" The woman nods. "I'm Special Agent Dana Scully, this is Special Agent Fox Mulder." Our badges are out and then away. "The woman at the outfitters said you might be able to help us. We're here to investigate the missing campers."
Confusion flashes on her face. "Any number of people disappear in the woods every year, Agent Scully."
"But we think this year is different," Mulder says.
He looks a little nervous. Anyone but me wouldn't have noticed. I touch his back lightly. "What do you know about Wendigo?"
Edith Kelly visibly sags, placing her hand flat on the doorframe behind her. "I never even thought to . . . Perhaps we'd better sit down in the back."
We follow her into her office. There are large stacks of folders lying everywhere.
"Just like home." Mulder's voice rattles in my ear. Edith clears the piles off of two chairs and motions us to sit. "You never thought to what, Ms. Kelly?"
"Call me Edith, please. I never thought to associate the missing people with Wendigo."
"So you believe in Wendigo, Edith?" I keep my words level.
"I've seen it," her voice is low and shaky, "on a hunting trip, with my father. I was only about eleven years old. We were out near Chase Rapids. The water was so loud, at first I couldn't hear anything. Then, when we moved further away from the water I could hear it. My father heard it too, but we looked and there was nothing.
"Let me explain something to you about Wendigo. It is your constant companion. It is the Spirit of the Lonely Places. Wendigo knows how to keep out of sight. As you travel, it is always at your back. No matter how quickly you turn, it moves faster. There is nothing to see behind you because Wendigo is always behind you. As quickly as you move, all you'll ever see is maybe the smallest movement of a bush.
"At night, it stays just outside the circle of the campfire. Sometimes, Wendigo will talk to you in little whispers: words that are not quite distinguishable. Sometimes they sound like the voice of a friend. Anyone may glimpse Wendigo if they are out in the wilderness long enough: a shadow moving between the trees or grass bending beneath invisible feet. But people who see Wendigo clearly never come back. Some are killed, others become Wendigo as it grows stronger."
"How did you see it?"
Edith's eyes are filled with tears, one escapes and runs down the line of her cheekbone, settling just above the corner of her mouth. I dig in my purse and offer her a kleenex.
"Thank you. My father knew the stories, everyone here does, and he knew that there was no way to escape Wendigo. Its nature changes with wind, rain and season, unpredictable. It doesn't kill everyone it follows. His idea was to confront it, walking back to back. So we did, and I saw it in front of me." She takes a deep breath, clasping her hands tightly together until the knuckles whiten. "It was sort of beautiful, really, a silver color, with long legs like a deer. It walked like a human but with an animal's face. It had a thin fur coat and long claws that were shiny black. For a while I just looked at it and it looked at me. Then it jumped and I screamed. My father pulled me back and shot at it. I'm not sure what happened after that, but it gave me this." She pulls at her shirt collar, revealing five scars starting on her shoulder, running diagonally down her chest. I hear Mulder's sharp intake of breath. "I was luckier than most, although it didn't feel that way at the time," Edith finishes quietly.
"Do you think your father killed Wendigo?" I ask.
Edith shakes her head. "You can't *kill* Wendigo. It's like trying to shoot the ground or a tree or a river. All you can do is try to stay out of its way."
Smilla is carefully measuring out the tea when there's a knock at the door.
"Come in," she calls. It's unlike her to leave the door unlocked, but the snow has spread a calm through her.
A puff of wind from the open door blows a little of the loose tea from her spoon and it falls lazily toward the floor. She looks up. "Agent Scully."
"Please, it's just 'Scully,' or 'Dana' if you prefer."
Smilla looks at her carefully. "Agent Mulder calls you 'Scully,' why?"
A flicker of a smile appears. "Agent Mulder hates his own first name. It's a kind of courtesy with him."
"Do you like it?" Smilla asks, her voice unflinching.
Scully puts a hand to her hair briefly. "I do. It's something between us." She stands quietly for a moment while Smilla puts the dry tea into her hotpot. "Mulder and I are going to dinner soon, do you want to come?"
Smilla nods. "In a bit. Would you like some?" She indicates the hotpot.
A full smile appears. "I'd love some, thank you."
Smilla can feel Scully's eyes watching her as she measures out another spoonful of tea from the paper packet. "This is from home, from Copenhagen." She shakes a little dried ginger into the hotpot. "This should be fresh," she explains. Finally, she adds milk. She has to watch it closely since milk burns so easily. She keeps the lid off the hotpot and stirs it. The milk boils and Smilla strains it into two mugs. She hands one to Scully. "It's always nice when someone makes me something good; it's always nice to *make* something good," she says.
Scully sips at the milk, careful not to burn her tongue. "This is delicious. Did you come up with the recipe yourself?"
Smilla swallows. Everything always seems to lead to questions, probing. "I . . . had a friend." She closes her eyes. "A long time ago. He made me this once." She sees understanding in Scully's face and regrets that she has said anything. Smilla knows that understanding is never complete and often misleading. "He wasn't an old lover," Smilla says abruptly. "Not exactly."
Scully examines her hands where they are curled around her mug. They finish their drinks quickly.
"I'd better go check on Mulder," Scully says, her tone faintly apologetic. "We'll come and get you when we go for dinner."
She rises and leaves the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
We meet at sunup. Smilla delivers brief instructions on how to operate the snowmobiles. Our packs make it harder. I have to throw my weight so far forward I feel as if I'm doubled over the handlebars.
"We can't afford to go too fast with these things," she says. "We can cover more ground at a moderate pace since we won't tire as quickly. There are no marked trails, so follow my lead."
I shift in my seat and my snowshoes bang against my thigh. I try to reach, but my fingers fumble in their layers of gloves and mittens. "Mulder," I call, feeling foolish.
"What is it, Scully?"
"It's my snowshoes." I point in their general direction. "Is there some way you could . . . "
He swings himself off his snowmobile with more grace than he ought to have under several layers of clothing. Even in mittens his hands seem more capable than mine. A wisp of anxiety passes over me. I'm unused to feeling helpless. "There," he says, securing the snowshoes against my pack. He pats his handiwork and returns to his snowmobile. Looking away, I see that Smilla has been watching the exchange with interest.
"Thanks," I say, but the sound of Mulder and Smilla starting their engines swallows up my words. I start mine as well and we begin.
The forest seems to rise around us all at once, as sudden and mysterious as fate. The nighttime snowfall has erased any marks that might have been left by other travelers. Our snowmobiles are an obscenity in this place--all noise and gas fumes and enormous tracks.
Birds take flight before us, beating the air with frantic wings. Their motions loosen showers of snow; the snowfalls from tree branches look like fireworks. Most of the fir trees are so laden with snow that they look like belled skirts.
Every so often, Mulder glances back at me and I flash him a thumbs up. I'm surprised at how warm I am. We round a slight curve and I catch a glimpse of Smilla. She reminds me of my father. When we'd go down to the docks to wave him goodbye. My eyes would follow him up the gangplank. Partway up, something would happen to him. His shoulders would fall slightly, as if he'd just let out an enormous breath that he'd been holding. Not that he didn't love his family, because I know he loved us fiercely. It was just that he had loved the sea for so many years. Going back must've been like a kind of homecoming for him. It's that deep sigh that I see in Smilla as she rounds the corner.
Suddenly, we break out from the tree cover to ride alongside a river. It's frozen, but the ice in the middle is thin, like a windowpane. Idly, I wonder what I might see if I looked through the window in the ice. My own reflected face or something else . . .
I'm reminded of a story I thought I'd forgotten. An Inuit story about a newly wed young woman whose dishonest husband killed her for her possessions and dumped her body into the water. She floated under the ice, her flesh nibbled away by fishes. Finally, all that remained was a skeleton. It's there my memory fails me. I can't remember the rest of the story.
Maybe I'd see that woman's skeleton in the ice window.
By the time we stop for lunch near Allagash Falls my hands have begun to cramp up. I gratefully release the handlebars and practically fall off the snowmobile. Mulder is quick to my side with a steadying grasp on my upper arm.
"Haven't got your sea legs yet." He grins. "I'm about ready to drop myself."
I don't answer him, but briefly cover his mittened hand with my own. Meanwhile, Smilla has shrugged off her pack and located some of the food. She bites enthusiastically into the beef jerky then passes the packet to us.
"Here," she says, chewing vigorously.
I take a piece and shove it into my mouth. I didn't think it was possible to be as hungry as I am right now. Mulder takes two pieces. Still chewing, I get some dried fruit out of my pack and pass it around.
Mulder takes out a collapsible travel cup and scoops some snow into it. He licks it then gives it to me. "Think of it as a low-calorie sno cone." I hold the snow in my mouth until it melts before swallowing it. Mulder takes more snow, then passes the cup to Smilla.
Once our makeshift lunch is over, Smilla squints critically at the sun. "We'll have to stop and make camp soon. It takes longer and we don't want to have to work in the dark."
She hefts her pack onto her back and gets on her snowmobile. Mulder and I follow suit with considerably less agility.
Once a long time ago, before Isaiah and the mechanic, Smilla had taken a vacation to the German mountains. She had no gift for skiing, but she loved picking her way up the mountainsides, she loved watching the skiers trace graceful ribbons into the snow.
One day, when she was making her way along the edge of a cliff, a man had gone past her. He was only there in her field of vision for a moment before he disappeared over the cliff. She didn't remember shock, but she had looked down after him. He was falling, his legs spread eagle, skis tipped upwards. He fell so long that he hardly seemed to be moving at all. She had walked on before he hit the bottom.
Sometimes she dreams about that man, dreams that he's still falling. Sometimes she dreams that she's in his place as the snow comes rushing up to meet her.
This place seems small. The trees loom around her until she starts to feel claustrophobic. When she can't stand it anymore, she stops and begins to make camp. There is a lot that needs to be done and she's silently glad for Mulder and Scully's help.
They roll out a tent pad and pitch the tent on top of it. Then they spread their ThermaRests inside, put their sleeping bags on top of them. Mulder and Scully go off looking for wood while Smilla clears a spot for the fire pit.
She sweeps as much snow away as she can and borders the area with rocks. She's just putting the last rock into place when she hears a noise and turns around. There's nothing behind her. A clump of snow falls from a low hanging branch to the ground. It makes a muffled thump.
Dinner is a subdued affair. We sit on pads on the ground, careful not to let our clothing touch the snow.
"Damp is our greatest enemy," Smilla explains.
"Our greatest *known* enemy," Mulder corrects. He sometimes gets pedantic when he's tired.
Smilla ignores him. "Make sure your clothes are dry at all times."
We heat up some water and divide it into our water bottles. These will heat our sleeping bags. Since I'm sleeping nearest to the tent door, I go in last. Looking over my shoulder, my eyes sweep through the campsite. There's a bright patch of moonlight just behind the last sullen remains of our fire. Its edges quiver when the trees shift in the wind.
I take a deep breath and crawl into the tent. Smilla has already turned off the flashlight so it's dark except for the milky slash of light coming in through the still-unzipped door.
"Here," Mulder says quietly, taking my water bottle from me and tucking it into my sleeping bag. I carefully brush the snow off my boots and put them into the sleeping bag too to keep them from freezing in the night.
I wiggle into my sleeping bag. It fits me more tightly than some of the clothes I own. "All settled?" Mulder's voice seems to float in the dark. The tent door flaps a little and I realize I've forgotten to close it. "I'll do it." Mulder reaches over me, his forearm resting heavily across my ribcage, just under my breasts. It's almost painful pressure, but comforting too. He makes a small triumphant noise. "Got it."
I fit my head into the top of the mummy bag. "G'night, Mulder."
It gets very quiet after that. My ears are filled with gentle night noises. Beyond that I hear something else, maybe the sound of light feet in the snow. I close my eyes and will myself asleep.
I don't know what time it is when I snap awake. My eyes dart around, but all I can see on either side is the mummy bag. I allow myself one low curse and struggle to raise my head. My face is cold, but the rest of me is stiflingly hot. I wrestle my way out of the sleeping bag and lay there, panting in the cold air.
I strain my ears, searching for sounds. It's so quiet I feel as if I've had cotton packed to my eardrums. Looking over, I'm startled to see Mulder's eyes open. He is regarding me carefully, his expression hidden in the dark.
"What is it, Scully?"
Feeling foolish, I shake my head. "Nothing." This case has set me on edge.
"Everything sounds like something in the forest."
"Even silence. I'm not used to it yet." While we've been talking, Mulder has wiggled out of his mummy bag. Now he is busy stripping off his sweater. "Do you really think we'll find anything out here?"
"I don't know." His voice is muffled so I can't read the emotion behind this admission. Reaching over, I help him tug the sweater off of his head. His hair stands up in manic tufts. "I'd like to think so. Get these people's families some kind of closure."
I know that this is a need that Mulder feels himself, but it would be cruel to call attention to it. "Snow can cover things up pretty fast. If we don't find anything now it might be spring before anyone does."
"That's where Smilla comes in, I think." He rubs his hand on his head, trying to flatten his hair.
I shoot a glance over in Smilla's direction. She is very still in her sleep. Some of her black hair has spilled messily across her cheeks. "Where did you find her, Mulder?"
"She's done some freelancing for the government before, up in Alaska."
"I think *she's* unusual. She's half Greenlandic, grew up there. She knows how to survive things other people couldn't." He lifts his hands.
I remember how he said she reminded him of me and feel a lazy warmth in my stomach.
The second day passes much as the first one had for Smilla. She feels a little gnawing tiredness that wasn't there the day before. Her sleep had been deep, but filled with dreams that she can't quite remember. Not of Wendigo, she doesn't believe in such a thing. Sometimes she feels a slow anger rise inside her at this. Mulder's belief seems like a denial to her. In embracing the supernatural explanation he is denying the natural. How easy to think that everything horrible is beyond human capabilities, beyond what's natural.
A girl in Greenland, she saw her mother and the other hunters face down ordinary, explainable things that were no less terrible because they were recognizable. The sea was the worst. She can still see her mother's tattered canoe, where they laid it after it was found. How it looked strange out of the water, casually leaning against a low snowdrift. Her mother had been proud of that canoe. She had never allowed Smilla to ride in it though. Smilla imagined that her mother might have folded all her disappointment into the tight seams, sealing it in. She had never spoken to Smilla about Smilla's reluctance to hunt, but Smilla knew that her mother must have been deeply hurt by her failure.
They make better time the second day. They are all used to the snowmobiles by now. There is a silent rhythm to the forest, a hidden pattern of trees and curves and flashes of the silvery white river. It is nearly mathematical in its precision. She can feel the regularity in the sway of her body. By the time they stop, the sun is hovering dangerously close to the horizon, but she is confident--they will make camp more quickly tonight as well.
It's more than increasing comfort with equipment and landscape. A strange urgency that Smilla's never felt. They push themselves onward steadily enough, but it's as if something else is pushing from behind.
She shakes her head. It's a ridiculous thought and there's work to be done.
"So this must bring back some memories for you, Mulder," I say. We are sitting on our pads, warming our faces against the firelight. He looks at me quizzically. "I thought you were a Scout."
"Indian Guide. Different story altogether." He rubs his hands together, holding the backs to the fire. "We mostly tied knots and messed around with knives."
He grins. "All the trappings of an American boyhood. Anyway, I wasn't an Indian Guide for very long. After Samantha . . . just didn't have the heart for it." A sudden sound and my head snaps around. "It's nothing, Scully."
It sounds like fingers running slowly over the nylon of our tent. I look at Mulder with disbelief. "I thought you were the one looking for something out here."
His expression clouds with mild reproach and maybe a little hurt. "*We* were out here looking for something." I touch his forearm lightly in apology. "If we start jumping at shadows, we'll go crazy."
"As far as I've been able to tell, Wendigo *is* a shadow. Less than one. How are we supposed to find something like that out here?" I spread my arms wide, indicating the expanse of snow that glitters like crushed glass in the firelight. I've scared myself with the largeness of the woods and the smallness of ourselves.
Mulder doesn't say anything, but he scoots closer to me, folding one arm around me. There's something about his warm arm on part of my body while the rest of me faces the chilly air.
Smilla dreams briefly of her mother. It's something she hasn't done for years, not even after her mother's death.
In her dream, she walks on top of the frozen river. Impossibly long water plants stick out of the ice on either side. She walks close enough that the coarse blades brush against the backs of her hands. Sometimes the plants leave irritated pink trails, like an aimless treasure map along her skin. She is careful to stay away from the thin ice at the center of the river, but eventually she comes to a place where the river narrows. She sees her mother's body in the ice window at the center of the river and wakes with a start. She eases out of her sleeping bag.
Mulder and Scully are sleeping and the air inside the tent is drowsy with heat, but the moon shines brightly through the walls. There are shaking shadows everywhere, long graceful lines that look like deer antlers or fingers. She examines them with interest, tracing their paths with her eyes. In one Wendigo story, the creature could only be seen if it faced you head-on, because it was so thin that it could not be seen from the side. A creature thin as a shard of ice.
Her lips are cold when she presses them together. Mulder stirs in his sleep, sighing deeply. Her attention turns to the two agents. They look so uncomfortable on the tent floor, bound up in the mummy bags. They look as if they'd like to face each other. Smilla doubts that they would touch.
She climbs back into her sleeping bag and listens to the trees creak in the wind for a while before falling asleep again.
On the last day out a storm kicks up. It rushes up from the southwest, blowing snowflakes the size of nickels. It's slow going since we have to stop every few miles to clear our goggles.
"How much further?" Mulder asks during one of the stops.
Smilla pulls out the compass and map. "Not much. Maybe five miles."
We grit our teeth and move forward. I find it hard to catch my breath. My lungs feel like they're full of jagged metal. Everything narrows to a pinprick. There is nothing beyond the snow, the cold and the shout of the engines.
It's mid-afternoon before we reach Churchill Rapids. We conduct a cursory examination of the area, but find nothing. Visibility is poor. I can hardly see my hands when they're down by my sides.
Hurriedly, we begin setting up the tent. My hands fall over each other, made clumsy by my mittens and the biting chill. Even Smilla seems to be having problems and I'm faintly comforted by that fact, even as I am frightened that we may not be able to do this. Tree branches, bowed low with snow and wind, scrape against my face and the tent. A load of snow falls from one and hits my back, sliding down. I feel like crying and cursing but do neither. Instead, I bite down hard on the inside of my lip, relishing the pain; at least it is sensation.
Finally, the tent goes up and we crawl inside. It isn't much warmer, but I'm grateful for shelter from the snow. We sit very close together, leaning up against one another for support. I tuck my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around.
"How long do you think this will last?" Mulder asks Smilla. His jaw is clenched tightly to keep his teeth from chattering.
Smilla shakes her head. "I'm not sure anyone could tell you."
I watch the tent roof where tree branches push wild patterns into it, creating temporary mountains and valleys. The wind sounds like excited shouting. Clumps of snow falling onto the roof sound like erratic footsteps. I can feel Mulder shaking against me. Cold as I am, I remove my arms from my legs and wrap them around him instead. He covers my mittened hands with his own and rubs them.
I don't know how long we stay like this. After awhile I drift in and out of consciousness, impressions coming in ragged bursts: Mulder's scent in my nose--sweaty and comforting, Smilla and Mulder talking in low voices and the cold, pouring in at every breath, drowning me.
The next thing I know for sure, I'm snapping awake and Smilla has crawled out the door.
"Getting some extra food. Relax, Scully. Take deep breaths, it'll warm you up."
I shake my head vigorously. "I'm sorry," I mumble. I gulp in the air, jagged as it feels.
Then, Smilla doesn't come back.
She climbs out into the snow. This new fall is soft and heavy, sticking to her mittens. She doesn't try to brush it off. Instead, she heads straight for the snowmobiles. They are parked some distance away and that space seems to double in the snowfall.
When she nears the vehicles she can make out the shadowy outlines of a figure standing by them. Graceful lines, like antlers crown the head. She blinks forcefully and the lines are gone. Her stomach churns with a mixture of fear and surprise.
"Hello?" She can see that it is a man now, dressed in white snow gear. He starts when he hears her voice. For an instant, his defensive pose reminds her of the mechanic and she feels a pang of regret.
"Hello!" he calls back, his voice torn by the wind. "I got lost in the storm, then I saw these. Mind if I share your tent till the worst of this is over?"
"I suppose," she concedes. The surprise has not yet left her system and she still feels jittery with the remnants of it. She checks each of the snowmobiles in turn and then rummages in the pack on hers for the emergency rations.
Returning her eyes to the man, she finds him close, looking at her. His gaze is probing. Her eyes dart away from his. She notices a fleck of something on his forehead, like a bindi, a silver star, glowing through the snow. Her earlier anxiety evaporates and she meets his intense eyes. They are beautiful, a pale blue, almost white: the color of the ice window in her dream.
He touches her face, lovingly, and to her amazement, she returns the gesture. The snow comes rushing up to meet her. She is surrounded by white, but unafraid.
"I can't even see her tracks!" Mulder calls.
I hold the tent flap open, flakes spattering across my face. "What about the snowmobiles!"
"I'll be right back!"
I knead the nylon in my hand while he's gone, making anxious folds. Just as I'm thinking I should go out after him, he reappears, magically almost, through the curtain of snow.
He shakes his head. "I can't find any trace of her."
The wind is almost sobbing now, beating against my exposed face. "Come back into the tent. There's nothing we can do right now."
That's when I see it. I would've mistaken it for a splash of moonlight on a clear night. It becomes an optical illusion. I'm not sure how my eyes first happened upon it, but once they have I can't stop looking at it. It moves forward toward Mulder.
Mulder must have been watching my face closely, because suddenly he's across the distance between us and through the tent door. The force of his entry knocks me back and for a few moments we lie there, his long body sprawled across my lap. I feel the cold ground burning against my back and struggle to rise. The door is flapping in the wind. Snow collects beneath it. My eyes work restlessly over the landscape.
"It's gone," I say breathlessly.
"What was it?" He sounds a little breathless himself.
"I'm not sure, but it was moving." I strip off my mittens and the gloves underneath. My gun is a reassuring weight, but the cold metal bites my palms and fingers. "I'm not staying in here." Mulder pulls out his gun and follows me outside.
The flakes tickle my knuckles at first, and then I can't feel anything on my exposed skin.
We search the surrounding area without finding anything. Finally, we are forced to strap on our snowshoes and extend our search to the more heavily wooded areas beyond the circle of our camp. The wind and snow are less harsh under the trees and I'm grateful for this small difference. My feet feel encumbered by the snowshoes at first. It's a little like walking in flippers.
No sooner have I established a rhythm than I glimpse the light again, far off to my right. I keep it in the corner of my eye, half-believing that if I face it directly it will disappear. I motion to Mulder. It takes a moment before his eyes find what I'm looking at. He huffs out a low breath, a sound that is both amazed and anxious.
We fan out on either side of the light. Sometimes I lose sight of it for a few seconds when a tree obscures my vision, but I always find it again, my eyes feel drawn toward it, just like before.
It is only when I begin to creep closer that I see Smilla. She steps out from behind a tree, blocking my way.
"You shouldn't come any closer, Agent Scully . . . Dana." Her voice falters over my name.
"Why not?" I ask. Did Smilla's eyes always look that way? They are dark-rimmed with sunbursts of pale blue at the center of each iris. I'm sure I would have noticed. My gun never wavers. I can see the light, shining faintly around the edges of Smilla's body.
Instead of answering, Smilla steps close, pushes the gun aside and firmly plants her lips on mine, but only for the briefest of moments.
She steps back, considering me. "I know you understand." I can still feel the ghost of her cold mouth on mine. Then everything gets very still. The snow stops, Smilla and the light are gone and Mulder is shouting my name. Everything is clean iciness around me. Mulder calls my name again in that frantic way that makes me feel warm again.
You seem pretty cool for a naked chick in a booth. Let's be pals someday. In other words, put some clothes on and come and see me.