Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate the strange deaths of a few people in a small town, while exploring new lengths in their own relationship. When the case turns into a spooky tale, Scully is forced to face the facts that she might forever lose her partner if she's not willing to look into the paranormal.
Situation: This story takes place after "Triangle, " and concludes that Mulder and Scully are pursuing their new relationship, even though there is no sex or whatever involved. No special spoilers or references to any episodes, perhaps a few minor references to the movie, and a reference to the "I love you" from Mulder.
Edited by Laurie D. Haynes with my utmost thanks and gratitude!!
Prelude to a kill
Darren Jefferson had no idea what was coming to him when he entered the small cottage where he had spent the last ten years of his life. Even after all these years he was still an outcast in town, but lately he'd had the feeling he was more or less accepted. He had to be, since he had found out their secret.
They were kind to him now, welcoming him into their community, but he knew he would never be safe until he was out of this town. He had to get out of here to survive. Right now, that was the only thing important to him.
So it was with regret that he entered his cottage, and looked around at the dozens of paintings neatly stashed against the two windowless walls. He didn't care much for comfort. He had a bed, a table and two chairs, an easel, paint and brushes. That's all he needed.
He went into town once a week, buying the groceries at Nancy's. The food was okay, he could take care of himself. He didn't need much. He was a skinny man, someone who could eat whatever he wanted and never gain an extra pound. However, being an artist and only an artist, he was forced to live a rather modest existence, depending on the paintings he occasionally sold in town once.
He thought about going into town and calling his daughter when he opened the cottage door, thinking of her, living in New York. They hadn't seen each other in over a year, but he felt like warning her something was wrong, and that he would be coming to New York to talk to her about it. Somehow he knew time was running out, but at least she would know what was going on. Or perhaps he would call his old buddy Walter and tell him all about it. Get the FBI here and let them take care of things. Maybe they could find out the truth.
He didn't get the chance to act on his thoughts. As soon as he entered his dark cottage, strong hands grabbed him and shoved him to the wooden floor, basically knocking his head against a fallen chair. Something stung the back of his neck. His head hurt, as if something had hit him rather hard. Then he simply let it happen, and resisted the urge to struggle. He knew that everything was over now. He had waited too long.
They dragged him into town, a lamb to the slaughter. He didn't kick and scream, realizing they had done something to calm him down. The sting in his neck could have been the sting of a syringe. He was beyond caring.
He saw the building and knew it, his end had come. They lifted him up, taking him inside, and lay him in front of the altar. He watched as the building caught fire, as the wood around him went up in flames, and as their bodies turned into torches. They didn't scream. He could hear their voices but they didn't scream. They seemed to be laughing.
As the fire finally found him, he didn't scream either. He just lay there, taking it all. And he knew that he had become what he had feared. A new lamb to be sacrificed for the needs of these evil ones to survive. And the truth was, he was happy when the abyss swallowed him up and took him beyond death.
- 1 -
Special Agent Fox Mulder rarely got spooked in his life, but he was a cautious man. He had seen and heard too many things not to believe in the paranormal, and alien life that was out there. At the same time, however, he also knew for a fact that he was the one somehow entangled in all of it. Something that had begun over fifty years ago by men, his father among them. Something that perhaps would end soon, or was at least quickly approaching its end.
And here they were, wasting their time on useless cases and senseless facts. It was damned frustrating. Every night for the past two months now, he had come home feeling more and more uptight, taking it out on Scully or on anyone that approached him. He felt just as useless as the cases Kersh had assigned him to, and just as meaningless as the so-called-facts that they were investigating.
His enemies would be pleased with the turn of events. They would be discussing him, considering the fact he was out of their way for now, away from the X-Files. They would probably have been angry at him for taking off to the Bermuda Triangle, just like that, and might have been trying to stop him. They couldn't, they wouldn't. But the fighter in him had gone down for the count, and he could not remember feeling so low in a very long time.
He had left the hospital less than a week ago, taking it easy, despite Kersh's warnings that his next evaluation would be bad. He didn't care. None of it didn't really matter now. Not until he found out the best way to deal with himself and his own feelings. Then he would deal with his happy enemies.
But if his enemies were happy with the events, then why was the door to his apartment forced open? Why was there a man sitting in the dark, waiting for him to come home?
Mulder didn't really want to take out his gun and defend himself. If this man had evil intentions and was sent to kill him, it would be an honorable death somehow. A death inflicted on him by those that didn't like the way he was living and working. His will to survive, however, was greater than his defeatism, and he found himself grabbing the gun with a firm grip.
"Put the gun down before you shoot me, Agent Mulder, " the man in his living room said.
He knew that voice almost as well as he knew his own. He lowered his gun slowly, turning on the lights. Assistant Director Walter Skinner sat there, clad in jeans, sweater and Nikes. Mulder had rarely seen him like this.
"What are you doing here?"
The AD got on his feet and looked around the apartment, until his eyes rested on the face of his former agent. "You look like shit. What's going on?"
"Did you come here to inform on my health?" Mulder took off his overcoat and threw it on a chair, basically ignoring his former boss.
"No, I came here because I need your help."
"Why do you need help? And why me?"
The AD frowned and debated whether or not to take a seat again. Mulder was obviously not in the mood for small talk, let alone to listen to anything the man had to say. He threw a file on the table. Mulder stared at it in shock, recognizing the number starting with an X.
"An X-File?" he asked curiously, "why?"
"I opened this file yesterday. It concerns the death of an artist called Darren Jefferson. He's an old friend of mine. We fought in 'Nam together. One of the best men I've ever worked with."
"What happened to him?"
"No one knows. He vanished without a trace. His daughter contacted me, asking me to investigate this matter. She has no idea how long he's been gone. They hadn't spoken in three months. She got worried when he didn't call her."
"So why is this an X-File? Looks to me like a simple disappearance. Why come to me?"
Skinner sighed, finally sitting down again on Mulder's couch. Mulder remained standing, not in the mood to be courteous to the man.
"I can't trust anyone with this, " Skinner said, rubbing his forehead. "Look, Mulder. It's been hard, okay? Spender isn't doing the job worth a shit. But he has connections. Anyway, this case became an X-File when I found out that Jefferson was living in a small town called Allensbergh, near the Cape. I did some digging and found something odd. Most of the people living in that town don't exist. No records have been found on the list of inhabitants of that town. There are 126 people living there that seem to go unnoticed to society. Jefferson died because he knew something about them. I knew the man. He would not abandon contact with his daughter just like that. Not unless he's dead. I want you and Agent Scully to go out there and find out what happened."
Mulder sighed, frowning his forehead. "You know I can't do that, sir. Kersh would never..."
"I'll deal with Kersh. I want you to take a flight out to Boston tonight, and drive up to the Cape. I want to know what happened to Darren and I want you to find out for me."
"And what if you don't like what we find out?"
"Jefferson is dead. What else is there to fear?"
Mulder sat quietly for several minutes, staring at his own hands. Not so long ago he would have jumped at the opportunity to track down an X-File and to find the truth hidden in it. But now? He didn't know. Skinner was wrong. There was a lot to fear, even if it was hidden behind blankets of trust and confidence. But there was Skinner's trust and confidence in their abilities to find out the truth.
Skinner watched him as he slowly nodded his head, saying, "All right. I'll do it. But just this once. And only because it's you."
Skinner understood and got up without saying a word, leaving two plane tickets on the table, along with all the information they needed. He left the apartment quietly, leaving the agent just as quiet. A few hours later Mulder and Scully were on a red-eye to Boston, and to a destination and case neither of them had chosen to take.
- 2 -
The faint odor of musk and meat made him hungry. Someone had prepared a home-cooked meal. "I don't know about you, Mulder, " his partner said, walking in front of him up the stairs, carrying her bag, "but I'm starving."
He felt guilty immediately, remembering how he had talked her out of a dinner with her mother. She had dropped just about everything on the spot as he explained to her why Skinner had visited him. She was just as surprised about it as he was, but she had not complained when he picked her up, forcing her to forget about dinner.
Now, after the flight and the long drive up to the small town of Allensbergh, he remembered again how they had not stopped for food or anything else. Both of them were eager to get to their motel and get some sleep.
But the town of Allensbergh was not exactly prepared for their visit. Not one motel could be found, not one hotel was available. And at the end, all they could find was a small hostel with burning lights, despite the late hour.
Scully was the one knocking the door, which was opened almost immediately by an elderly man, greeting them with all the hospitality one could hope for.
"Yes?" he had asked politely, looking at them as they stood wearily in their rumpled suits.
Scully introduced them and asked if they had room available for the night. In the morning they could always find another solution to the problem. They were in luck. Albert Marsh, as the man introduced himself, invited them in, telling them he had just the perfect spot for them for the night. They walked in, past the kitchen and up the stairs, smelling the odor of meat and musk, as if it was dinner time.
"I'm starving too, " Mulder responded, pushing away his feelings of guilt towards her.
"I'm glad, " Albert responded, "we don't get a lot of guests here, but my wife loves to spoil the ones we have. She's been cooking all night."
"How did you know we were coming?" Mulder asked surprised, "we didn't even know for ourselves until a few hours ago."
"We figured someone would be out here soon, checking into poor Darren's vanishing. We were preparing. Besides, we're happy to see you here. Allensbergh is not exactly a big town. We have nothing here but 126 people that count on each other for everyday life. We depend on each other and take care of one another. That's our goal in life, you could say. Darren's disappearance is unfortunate and sad, but perhaps there was a good reason for it. He probably left and forgot to mention it to anyone. But still, I can imagine he had to go."
"Why?" Scully asked.
"Darren did not fit into our town. He was an outsider, even if he lived here for almost ten years. He kept to himself, painting his pictures. Sold them on the Cape. Provencetown, in particular I believe. There was a gallery there that bought and sold his work."
"What about tourists?" Mulder asked, "did they buy his work?"
"No. Tourists rarely come here. They don't care about our town and we don't care about them all that much. We do have the best lobsters on the East Coast though. But we keep a low profile."
"I see, " Mulder said, remembering Skinner's remarks about the inhabitants of this town. He hated coming here unprepared, not knowing what to ask or who to ask it. He had browsed through the file on the flight out, until sleep took over. In the morning he would take the opportunity to scan the town and make a profile on the inhabitants.
Albert opened the door to a large room with one bed in it. A couch and a few chairs, two dressers and a large closet made the room complete. Scully stood shocked for a moment, then turned towards Albert and said, "I'm sorry but we need two rooms."
"Sorry, Missie, " Marsh responded, "I only have one for you."
Mulder watched his partner as she stood there quietly for a moment, then turned towards him and frowned, not really sure what to do. He took charge then, turning towards Marsh, saying, "It's okay, sir. We'll manage."
"Well, why don't you two change then and join us downstairs? I know it's after 2 but if you're still hungry, we can fix you up."
"That would be great, thanks."
Marsh nodded and closed the door behind them. With a grin Mulder put down his bag and said, "Don't worry, Scully. I'm used to sleeping on a couch, remember? And it's not like we haven't shared a room before."
"Mulder, the only times we did one of us was either out of it or we were drugged. I'm not sure if the two of us can handle the same room at night."
"And just what exactly are you implying?"
She laughed freely, dropping her bag on the bed. "Don't worry, partner. I'm not going to take advantage of you."
*Too bad, * he thought, walking towards the window. As he looked outside, he saw a small church nearby. The street was empty. A few cars here and there, one or two houses with the lights still on. The town of Allensbergh.
He turned towards her. "What do you make of these people, Scully?"
"Nothing much so far. They're nice. Why?"
"I don't know. Don't you find it odd that Skinner couldn't find anything on them? That they don't exist?"
"I'm sure that part of this investigation can be explained. I'm not so sure though that we're dealing with an X-File here."
"Then why did Skinner create one?"
"To get you interested. To get you down here and investigate his friend's disappearance."
"He didn't have to go through all this trouble then. Anyone could have come down here and solved this."
Scully sat down on the bed and examined her partner's face more clearly. "Perhaps you were the only one he trusted."
Mulder couldn't help but grin, wondering why he had even bothered to come here. But he knew why. Even if it wasn't an X-File, and Jefferson's vanishing could be solved quickly, it was better than sucking up to Kersh, doing his dirty work.
He sat down next to his partner on the bed, and watched her as she removed her coat. She then looked back at him, saying, "I know you're frustrated, Mulder. But things will work out for the best, you'll see." "The only thing pulling me up again is you believing in me."
She froze, leaving him on the bed by himself. "That's not fair, Mulder."
"Life's not fair."
"Then why do you live it?"
"Because of you."
He bit his lip, wondering why he even told her this. She hadn't believed him when he told her he loved her. He wasn't too sure back then whether he even meant it. He had just awoken from the weirdest of realities, a bit out of it. How could he ever tell her now? How would she ever believe him? He couldn't wait for her answer.
Quickly he grabbed his overcoat, saying, "I'm going for a walk. I'll be back."
"What about dinner?"
"Keep some food warm for me." He smiled and left her in the room before she could respond. She stayed behind, feeling uneasy.
Mulder returned several hours later to find his partner sound asleep in the room. He wasn't ready to go to bed. He had spent his time walking alone through the empty streets of Allensbergh. At the end, he had stopped at the church, debating whether to go in. He didn't. He wasn't religious whatsoever, especially after the events over the past few years. His mother had always wanted him to go to church. He had always refused, not believing.
He needed time to think things through. This case gave him that. He wanted to keep a straight head, to know what was going to happen with his life. He couldn't possibly know. Not just now. Was it hard to live like this? Right now it was. He didn't know if he could handle it. But he had no choice. Not while his partner was with him, still putting her trust and faith in him.
So he returned early in the morning, finding it after 4:30 already when he entered the room. The lights in the house had been out, but the front door had been left open for him. Silently he made his way up the stairs. She didn't move an inch when he grabbed his bag, and used the bathroom to change into old sweatpants and a T-shirt. There was no way he would sleep in his boxers now. Not with her in the room. He found a few blankets and sheets on the couch, and a soft pillow. He slid underneath the covers and stretched his legs, finding the couch just a bit too small for his long legs. He didn't care though. He turned to his side and slept as soon as he found a comfortable position to sleep in.
- 3 -
Dana Scully woke when the first sunlight entered the room, blinding her instantly. She blinked, opening her eyelids with regret. She hated waking up this early, especially after a night like the last one. Her thoughts immediately went out to Mulder, hoping that she would find him sleeping on the couch. He was. She sighed with relief, gathering her thoughts immediately. It was hard to explain, but something had happened during the night. She felt it as soon she sat down in the living room with the Marshes, listening to their conversations.
Jane Marsh turned out to be a kind, gentle woman in her late sixties. A woman that you could have easily seen in a commercial promoting family life. Everything about her expressed warmth and generosity, even her voice. She had prepared a light, yet hot meal for the two agents, expressing regret that Mulder had left the house to take a walk. So Scully spent an hour in the living room by herself, listening to the stories of the Marshes about the good old days, when the town was still booming.
Scully enjoyed the meal tremendously, not having felt this hungry in a long time. Before she knew it, it was 4 a.m. and Mulder still hadn't returned. She could no longer keep her eyes open, yawning behind her hand. With regret, she returned to the room alone, and debated whether to wait for Mulder. She didn't. She fell asleep almost instantly, her last thought with her partner and his quiet behavior lately. She knew exactly what was going on with him, but she did not know how to bring him out of his depression. His words to her, however, still came as a shock. Rarely before had he told her how he felt. Now that she knew, she could not help him.
She did not wake him up when she slid out of bed and took a quick shower. Her hair was still wet when she returned to the room. He was still asleep. She watched his face, seeing the restlessness in it even as he slept. He looked so vulnerable in his sleep . She wanted to kneel down beside him and hug him, but she didn't. Despite the events of the past few months, she still found it hard to tell him how she felt, how much she wanted him to hug her sometimes, and to take care of her. Her father had always taught her to be strong and independent. And so she was. She was the most independent woman she knew. And now she regretted that.
*What would you do when I told you how much I needed you, Mulder? Would you take our relationship into a new stage, forcing us to explore it further? I'm not ready for that. Not yet. Not before we both believe in the same things.*
The question only was, what exactly did she believe in? She could not even answer that one for herself. As she walked downstairs, the strange feeling returned. Something was wrong in this house. She could sense it as soon as she touched the railing of the wooden stairs, and as her feet took her down below. She could feel it when she entered the kitchen and the living room, and her eyes caught the paintings on the walls. And the feeling was the most visible when she watched Jane Marsh as the woman sat on the porch, ignoring the cold wind.
But she could not give in to it. After all, she was the sensible one, the scientific one. She needed proof, and then she would believe. Even when there was a tube sticking in her throat, feeding black goo into her. Even when she found herself lying on col d Arctic ice, with Mulder unconscious next to her, she needed to see it for herself, and not listen to his version of the facts. He was paying the price for her denial now, and she still couldn't believe. *I'm sorry, Mulder. I'm so sorry.* "Miss Scully, are you all right?"
Surprised she turned around. Albert watched her curiously. She realized she had been standing here for quite some time, doing absolutely nothing.
"Yes, I'm fine, " she quickly said, making room for him to enter.
He carried a tray with coffee and orange juice. Two plates were ready to be filled with bacon and eggs and there was cereal and milk. She was hungry again.
"Is your partner still sleeping?"
"Yes. I didn't wake him. He could use some sleep."
"Why? Is he all right?"
"Yes. It's just that he was in a boating accident, recently. He's still recovering."
"Oh. I see. Well, there's breakfast for you on the buffet. Take your time. I'm sure our police chief, Andy Mallory, will be here soon to talk to you folks."
"Does he know we're here?"
Albert smiled. "In a town like this secrets are not an option, miss. Everybody already knows you came to find Darren Jefferson. If you want to interrogate people, I'm sure the chief will set this up for you."
"I appreciate that you warned him, Mr. Marsh, " Scully said quickly, "but I'd appreciate it if the things that are discussed between my partner and me could be kept between us."
"Are you suggesting my wife and I would spy on you?"
"No, not at all, sir. But like you said, this is a small town. Anything could happen."
Marsh nodded and left her alone in the large living room. She sat down and watched her empty plate, trying to ignore the queasy feeling something was going to happen soon. And that it was going to happen to Mulder.
In the past, she had always ignored everything paranormal or out of the ordinary. Perhaps someday soon she would be forced to face it. And she didn't want to.
- 4 -
Mulder woke with a start when the door closed behind his partner. For a moment he had trouble focusing, but as soon as he remembered, he got out of bed quickly. He relieved himself in the bathroom and took a quick shower. His head and mind felt foggy, adding to the fact he was sore after sleeping on the small, hard couch. He preferred his own.
Around 8 a.m., he walked downstairs to find his partner staring into an empty plate.
She hardly looked up when he entered the room and he wondered whether she was asleep sitting straight up. She looked ten years younger, a kid almost, sitting alone like that. Her hands were besides the plate, her fingers touching the knife and fork.
"Yeah?" She looked up now, glaring at him as if she didn't know him.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I was just dreaming. I don't know..."
He grabbed a chair next to her and turned towards her, ruffling his still wet short hair. She watched him, forcing the thoughts and images to the back of her head.
"What did you dream about?"
She hesitated, then shook her head. "It's not important. How are you? Did you get some sleep?"
She examined his clothes. His white shirt and dark tie, his dark gray suit and black, shiny shoes. He looked the perfect FBI agent, and not one that was on probation right now, being supervised by a man that disliked him. He seemed ready to face the world .
He rose from his chair and walked over to the buffet, filling two plates with eggs and bacon. After adding croissants and butter, he put one plate down in front of her. She looked at it quietly, then picked up her knife and fork and started eating. Jane Marsh entered the room and poured their coffee and orange juice.
"Chief Mallory just arrived, " she said, "he's outside talking to my husband. When you folks are finished, he would like to talk to you."
She left the room again, leaving Mulder wondering why there was such tension in the room. As he looked at Scully, he knew she had had a discussion with one of their hosts.
"Don't say it, " Mulder, " she quickly said, "I screwed up."
"What did you screw up?"
"We'll be spending our morning trying to track down a new place to stay. I put my foot in it and Albert did not appreciate it."
"We weren't planning on staying here in the first place, right?" he said, eating rapidly, hardly tasting his food, "big deal."
She smiled reluctantly. "I thought you loved home-cooked meals?"
"Only if you cook them."
"You don't know if I can cook."
"Perhaps someday you'll let me find out."
She didn't respond, quickly finishing her breakfast. Then she shoved aside her plate. "There's something wrong here, Mulder. I don't know how to explain it, but something is wrong in this place."
He was interested immediately as he searched her face for a clue. "What?"
"I don't know. I just have this feeling, you know. Can't explain it."
He smiled. "Am I rubbing off on you, Scully?"
She felt her body strain and tense up. She knew how weird she sounded. She knew how others reacted to Mulder when he said something out of the ordinary. He never cared what others thought or said, but she did. Especially when it came to him. His thoughts and feelings were the most important thing to her. He had left her hurt and alone in the darkness when he walked away from her last night. She remembered looking for him when his life was in danger, knowing that every second could count to save his life. She had never given up, looking at his sleeping form when he was in the hospital, safe and sound. How could she ever tell him how she really felt, knowing that she would never sleep with him, or next to him? She would never allow it.
*Hear my inner voice, Mulder. Know that I care, but cannot tell you that.*
"We've got to go. Mallory's waiting." Quickly she left the table, leaving him on his own, surprised at her abruptness. He followed her quickly, trying to figure out why she was behaving this way. He knew it was his fault. He shouldn't have said the things he said. He had screwed things up for them. It would never be the same.
*I'm so sorry, Scully. I'm sorry.*
He straightened himself and walked after her, ready to focus completely on the case at hand.
Chief Mallory was a man in his late forties. His broad-brimmed hat rested on a head of carefully-trimmed black hair worn in a style from at least 30 years ago. He wore a tie with his immaculate uniform and his shoes had a spit-polish shine. He was a man that did not seem to fit the usual profile of a small-town police chief, dealing with minor crimes.
"Agents Mulder and Scully, " the man said, shaking their hands, "it's good to see you. I'm Andy Mallory. Please call me Andy."
"Were you informed of our arrival, sir?" Scully asked, leaving the paranoia in her voice for others to hear.
"No, but the moment you drove into town, we knew about it."
"How exactly is that, sir?"
The chief regarded her as if she was a brainless individual daring to answer his question with a question.
"Allensbergh pretty much lives on its own, Miss Scully. We don't need outsiders telling us what to do."
"What do you mean by that, Chief?" Mulder asked curiously. "Every town, great or small, somehow needs others to help. Supplies, groceries, clothes..."
"Everything we need is right here. If a stranger enters this town, we know about it."
"We know what goes on in the outside world, sir. We have television and radio, newspapers and magazines. We're no cult that keeps his people prisoners. But we are a concerned community with people to look out for. We take care of our own."
"If you say that, you really do sound like a cult, sir."
Chief Mallory turned away from them, focusing his attention on his old buddy Albert.
"I'll be showing these folks around town. I'm sure our friend Jefferson will turn up soon enough once he finds out the FBI is looking for him. Why don't you make sure these people can stay here for another night or so? In the morning it will all be over."
Scully instinctively disliked the police chief, just like she disliked anyone that talked past her as if she didn't exist. But he was the only one that might be willing to show them around, and to help them find out what exactly happened to the missing artist.
But as she watched Mulder, she knew immediately he was experiencing the same uneasy feeling she had since they arrived here the night before. His body was all tense, his face expressed the worry she saw in it so often. And there was something else. Something he wasn't telling her.
"You okay, Mulder?" she asked as he glanced at the chief and their host.
"Yeah. I was just wondering..."
"I took a look at the file last night on our flight out. We don't have any files on any of these people, but the chief's a law enforcement officer. There should be something on him. How else would he have become the police chief?"
"Do you want me to do a little digging on that?"
"Later. Right now I think we would want to take a look at Jefferson's house, don't you think?" Mulder strolled outside, taking in account that the chief and Albert were still talking quietly, probably about them. He didn't like it. And he didn't like the fact that they seemed to know everything about him and Scully, but they knew nothing about the chief and the innkeeper. Mulder felt trapped.
The town of Allensbergh consisted of four streets and a number of houses, mostly occupied by married couples. At least, that's what the chief told them as they rode through town in his car. "This town has one butcher, a bakery, a small grocery store and one post office. Clothes and shoes are bought in Provencetown or in Boston. Most of the folks here go to Boston once or twice a year to get what they need. We have no use for our own shoe store here."
The town was buzzing with activity now. People walking in and out of their houses and the few stores. None of them looked young. All of them looked at the strangers in the police chief's car.
"Where do they work?" Scully asked curiously. "The nearest town is almost an hour from here. I cannot imagine Allensbergh having enough work for all of them."
"Most of the folks are retired, living on a small pension. They don't need much."
"What about the youngsters?"
"We have no young people here."
"I don't understand, " Scully said surprised, "every town has young people."
"Not this one. They all left some time ago."
"What do you mean?" Mulder asked, looking around him, feeling fairly uncomfortable.
"There's nothing here for them, Mr. Mulder. We don't have a movie theater or shops, no pubs or clubs for entertainment. They die of boredom here, so they leave -- to Boston, New York, Washington, wherever. No one comes to live here voluntarily. We keep this town straight. We love it here, they don't. So they leave and we stay. And we'll never go away."
"And what about Darren Jefferson?"
"Darren was a hermit. He lived on his own, kept to himself. He didn't belong here anyhow. This wasn't the place for him to be."
"Do you think he was murdered, Chief?" Scully asked rudely, knowing her question would disturb the man.
"Why would anyone murder him?"
The chief had left the center of town and taken a road which lead to a small sandy area. He stopped abruptly and turned off the engine. Only then did he turn towards the agents, saying, "Jefferson had no reason to be murdered. Like I said, he was a hermit ." "Obviously something happened to him, though."
"Yes, you're right." Mallory got out, closing his door. "Loneliness happened to him. He couldn't stand it anymore and took off. If his daughter had ever been here to visit him, she would have seen that. But no, she decided to stir up trouble by contacting the FBI, disturbing the peace and quiet in our town. She shouldn't have done that."
"Have you ever met his daughter, Chief?" Mulder asked, walking past the man.
"Yes, once. She left within the year. Didn't care for this town much either."
"Would you consider her an unstable woman that worries too soon?"
"I don't know. Didn't know her that well."
"But she lived her for almost a year."
"This is a small town, Chief, just like you've stated yourself over and over. You must have known her."
Mallory got angry, shoving the door that lead to the small cottage Darren Jefferson had spent the last years of his life in. "She was a hermit, just like her old man. He didn't like her going into town. Like I said, I met her once. We bumped into each other. She left. That's final."
Mallory crossed his arms and watched them as they entered the room, taking in the few possessions Jefferson had. Everything looked just like he had left it, only turned upside down. The table and chairs broken and battered, the easel on the floor. Paintings were scattered all over the place. Everything Jefferson had owned and loved was destroyed.
"Did you see this, Chief?" Mulder said, turning towards the man.
"Did you report it?"
Mulder grew frustrated and furious with the police chief's obvious disinterest in finding out the truth. "Never mind, " the agent snapped. He pulled on latex gloves, knowing that the place needed to be checked for fingerprints. He opened the kit he had brought in from the car. Scully read his mind, saying, "I'll contact Skinner and have him send more people down here." She turned, taking her cell phone from her coat pocket, opening it and dialing the number. She looked up, surprised.
"What is it?" her partner asked.
"Nothing's happening. It doesn't work."
"Why am I not surprised?"
Scully felt a chill run down her spine. There was no way to contact anyone if something happened to them. What if there was an emergency? If one of them got hurt? They would not be able to use their phones, perhaps not even being able to warn anyone they were in danger. The worst scenarios possible crossed her mind, leaving her scared and vulnerable. Mulder, however, didn't even seem to notice it, and she turned around, determined not to show him how upset she was. *Get a grip, Dana.*
"I'll call Skinner from the Marshes' tonight, " Mulder said, making her turn around again. She forced away the tears in her eyes and blinked furiously for a few times. "Yeah, that's a good idea."
Mallory had left them alone in the house. Mulder saw him through the window and walked over to it. The man was standing near his car, just watching the cottage.
"I'm not sure what is going on here, Scully, " he said, "but whatever it is, the police chief's involved in it."
"Do you think he murdered Jefferson?"
"I don't know. But he knows who did it. It's some sort of conspiracy."
Reluctantly she laughed at the expression 'conspiracy, ' letting the word roll over her lips a few times.
"Why are you laughing?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe because we run into conspiracies everywhere, even in a small town like Allensbergh."
"But you believe in this one, don't you?"
"Yeah." She ignored the hurt in his voice, knowing he referred to her testimony before the committee, proving once again she needed to believe science instead of him. "Jefferson has obviously been murdered. Now we have to find his body and gather evidence in here. If Mallory was right and he was a hermit, there shouldn't be too many prints in this room. We'll have to find them ourselves and ship them out to the lab ASAP. At least they have a post office here."
"One of the few luxuries of Allensbergh."
When he walked to the door, she stopped him by placing a hand on his arm. He stopped in his tracks and turned around towards her, noticing the distress on her face. "I know you're upset with me still, Mulder, after what happened before the committee. I'm sorry. I wish I could make things easier for you, but I can't. I can't give up on what I believe."
"I know that, " he responded, "it's just that you seem more willing to believe in the unbelievable than in me."
She laughed. "What a strange expression coming from you. Science isn't unbelievable."
"The fact that you would go to any lengths to explain the paranormal in a rational way is unbelievable to me. But then again, you never saw that ship, did you? Or didn't you want to see?"
"I was sick and hurt, Mulder. You dragged me along, you should know."
"Yeah, I know. I put you in that situation, remember? It was my fault."
"Stop it!" Her voice sounded furious as she grabbed his wrist so tightly it made him wince. "Stop blaming yourself for what happened. Is that why you went off to the Bermuda Triangle? To prove to yourself that you could do it all without my help?"
"I had to prove something, yes. But it had nothing to do with you."
"Then what was it?"
He bit his lip. "I can't tell you."
"So personal you're willing to destroy yourself over it?"
He freed himself from her grip, backing away from her. "No, because it's so personal it could destroy us."
He opened the door and left her alone, forcing her to come to terms with reality. One that she could not face. Not yet. *Oh, God, Mulder. Why are you doing this to yourself?* But she knew the answer, even if she didn't want to face it.
- 5 -
"This is odd."
Dana Scully turned towards her partner. He was kneeling, and his hands were still gloved. He looked up at his partner with an expression of surprise.
"What is?" She stretched out, bringing herself up from the corner with the paintings.
"There aren't any fingerprints. Not a single one in the entire room."
"Perhaps the burglars wore gloves."
"Did Darren Jefferson wear gloves to paint his work?"
"You mean his prints aren't here either?"
"Nope." "That *is* odd."
Mulder walked over to her, watching her as her fingers rummaged through the paintings. "He was quite good, " she said, "but his subjects were... odd too."
"How do you mean?"
"Look here." She removed a stack of older paintings, dating from '95 til '96. "His work here was the usual. Seascapes and landscapes, portraits of the villagers... but here he started changing." She showed her partner four paintings with the same subject dating from early '98. All the paintings showed burning houses and people in sixties' outfits running through the streets like living torches. Every was disturbing and realistic. "What do you make of it?" she asked.
"I'm not sure." He picked one of the paintings out, remembering how afraid he used to be of fire -- how he still was afraid of it, but had managed to push that feeling to the back of his mind. What would a person feel when he was burning alive? Would he see his life pass before his eyes, reliving the bad and good times? Would he be regretting his near death?
"Mulder?" She had been trying to get his attention for quite a bit, now putting a hand on his shoulder. He looked at her. "What if this was painted from real life, Scully?"
"I'm not sure I understand."
"Me neither, but I would like to find out why none of the people in this town seem to exist. And the only way to do so, is by gathering fingerprints. The ones that are not in this room."
"Let's go, then." They got up at the same time and left the cottage, closing the door behind them, only to find out the chief was gone. He had left them on their own. "Great, " Scully muttered. "We're in for a long walk back into town."
He smiled. "Don't worry about it. At least it's not raining." A few moments later, dark clouds gathered, and rain started pouring heavily, leaving them soaking wet within a few minutes. By the time they reached the village center, they were drenched.
As they entered the large bedroom, Mulder was already stripping off his wet clothes, leaving his boxers and T-shirt on. Scully was shivering. "Go take a hot shower, Scully, " he ordered her, "you're freezing."
"No, you go first."
"Don't argue with me, Scully."
"Mulder." She grabbed his arm. "You've only been out of the hospital a week. You go first."
He was already grabbing a towel, rubbing his wet face and hair. She knew he wouldn't take no for an answer and rushed inside the bathroom with dry clothes, showering quickly. By the time she returned he was sitting on the couch shivering in his wet underclothes. She pushed him in the bathroom quickly, and helped him strip off his T-shirt. As her hands went for his boxers, he stopped her, saying, "Thanks for the help, Scully." She left the room and sighed with relief as soon as she heard the shower work. She picked up the phone in the room, but no dial tone came. Thunder and lightning outside scared her. There was no way they could reach anyone, especially Skinner.
It was only 2 in the afternoon but the world was dark and cloudy, and it didn't seem like the storm would pass easily. She turned when her partner left the bathroom dressed in clean, dry black boxers and a T-shirt. Quickly and efficiently she gave him dry clothes, and turned so he could change. She felt uncomfortable. What would they say to each other if this silence remained?
He sat down on the couch with a sigh, rubbing his wet hair. "You okay?" she asked, noticing his pale face.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just tired."
"I'll bet, after last night's walk. Where did you go anyway?"
"Just out. Needed some time to think."
She sat down besides him, slightly touching his wrist. She felt his rapid pulse underneath her fingertips, and wondered why he didn't object to her actions. Perhaps he knew she wouldn't take no for an answer. "Why don't you lie down on the bed and take a nap, Mulder? I'm going to the post office and see if I can contact Skinner by fax. I'm sure they have one there."
"What about the phone?"
He sighed. "So we're basically lost in the woods?"
"Yeah, at least until the storm passes. Now come lie down."
He didn't object when she helped him on the bed, feeling the fatigue in his strained body. He was obviously tired after sleeping less than three hours last night. A nap would do wonders. She watched him as he fell asleep immediately, and then she closed the door.
Downstairs, she met with Jane Marsh. The woman was in the kitchen, working on a pie.
"I thought I heard you folks upstairs, " she said, "is everything all right?"
"Yeah. We just had to find our way back here through the storm. Chief Mallory left us at the Jefferson cottage."
"Your partner is quite the silent type, isn't he? He seems to be avoiding us."
"Not really, he's just very independent. We're not used to hostels, Mrs. Marsh. You have to forgive him if he upset you."
"Not at all, I was just wondering."
Scully said goodbye and left the house by herself. The raining had stopped but the wind was still there, tearing at her hair and clothes. She felt small and insignificant when she walked up to the post office, on the same street as the hostel they were staying at.
The woman at the counter checked her out from head to toe, apparently not liking what she saw.
"I would like to send a fax, " Scully said, pointing to the machine behind her.
"The lines are all dead."
"Every phone and fax line?"
"Then can you let me know when they're fixed again? It's urgent." Scully went for the pocket of her coat, getting the badge out.
"I know who you are, " the woman hurriedly said, "but I still can't help you. Come back in the morning and perhaps then I'll be able to help you."
"Then is there any other way to contact Washington?"
"If the lines are dead and there's an emergency, how do you cope?"
"We never have emergencies."
"I see. Is there a hospital in the area?"
"Near Provencetown. About an hour from here. Why?"
Scully thanked the woman and left, feeling the eyes of several of the villagers following her as she walked back to the hostel. Then her eyes found the church in Main Street, and walked up to it, feeling an urge to pray. At the door she hesitated, wondering whether to go in. She tried the heavy, wooden doors. They didn't budge. With regret she turned and walked over to the hostel.
She didn't know that Chief Andy Mallory was watching her from his car. As were several others.
- 6 -
Mulder had the distinct feeling someone was watching him. Even in his slumber he felt the urge to open his eyes and look around, to find out who it was. But his eyelids seemed to be glued tight, and his body felt powerless to move. It was the Bermuda Triangle all over again. The numbness he had felt when he dropped in the water, the knowledge he was drowning banging against the inside of his skull. With great effort he opened his eyes, only to see Jane Marsh staring at him. She was standing at the side of the large bed, watching him as he watched her. "Mrs. Marsh, what's wrong? Where's Scully?"
"Outside. I came to see if you needed anything."
He sat up, leaning against the many soft pillows on the bed. "That's nice of you but I'm fine, really."
"You look pale."
He scraped his throat, trying to find the full strength to respond. "I was in an accident recently. I guess I'm still recovering."
"But you're fine enough to investigate?"
"When will you be returning to Washington?"
"As soon as we have found Darren Jefferson's remains."
"So you're convinced he's dead?"
"Yes. We're fairly sure."
"What happened to him?"
"As soon as we find out, I'm sure the whole of Allensbergh will know, Mrs. Marsh." Mulder rose from the bed, feeling too vulnerable lying down. She took the hint and left the room. He was freezing. Quickly he grabbed a warm sweater and pulled it over his head. He opened the door and listened in the corridor. The place was dead quiet. Not a whisper was coming from the insides of the house. He hated the silence. It was an omen.
"Scully?" He knew Mrs. Marsh had told him she was outside, but he still hoped she was around. He didn't like for her to be outside by herself. Anything could happen here, at any time. He didn't like it. Of course no answer came. He was all alone.
He walked down the stairs, taking the opportunity to stroll through the house. He wanted to see what lived and breathed inside of this place, without either of his hosts around. Somehow he knew the answer might lie in here, right between these walls.
He examined the kitchen closely, seeing the neatly stacked pots and pans on and above the counter. Everything was perfectly in place, just like a clean kitchen should be. But it was a bit too clean. He rubbed his finger along the kitchen counter. Not a spot, and probably not one fingerprint either. He went into the living room. The table had been cleaned, the chairs were gathered around it decently. A vase with flowers sat in the middle of the table.
He quickly looked past the paintings and went to the salon where he spotted photos on the wall. He examined them closely. They were old and yellow, showing a group of young people. They smiled into the camera, revealing their lack of concern. They looked vaguely familiar to him, and he knew he was staring at a number of villagers. But the photos dated from the early twenties.
Mulder forgot about them for now, counting on his photographic memory to recall them later on. Right now there were more pressing things to do, like find out where Jefferson was. As long as they hadn't found the body, there wouldn't be any evidence or proof of murder. Right now, that was the only reason for them to stick around. If not, Kersh would probably dismiss this case as a missing person. But first he had to convince Scully things weren't right here. And how better to do that than to simply tell he r the truth and watch for her reaction?
The door slammed. He turned and saw Scully in the corridor, strapping off her overcoat. She saw him and entered the salon, examining his face slowly. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yeah. Did you find out anything?"
"Only that all the phone lines are dead and that we can't warn anyone what's going on here."
"But we don't know what's going on here."
She laughed nervously. "I do. They're all in on it and they want to hide what happened."
"But what exactly happened?"
"I don't know. All I know is that we have to get out of here."
He looked at her, surprised, watching her as her eyes found the photos on the walls, scanning them just like he had done not so long ago. She turned around, staring at him. "I can't explain it, Mulder, but I've been having this feeling ever since we got here. We're getting into something which we need to avoid. I want to get out of here."
"Without knowing what happened to Jefferson?"
"Let someone else take care of that. Skinner had no right to put you in jeopardy."
"I'm not in jeopardy."
"Yes, you are." Her voice sounded strangely nervous and eager to make him believe her. "I can't explain how I know, but you're in grave danger and we need to get out of here."
"This is not the Dana Scully speaking I know, " Mulder said, turning away from her, "the one I knew would never abandon a case like this."
"Then I've changed."
"We both have. But you are still only willing to believe what you want to believe. Why now?"
"I don't know." She sighed.
"Do you want me to believe you?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do. Your life depends on it."
She knew he didn't believe her. This time the skepticism was in his eyes and face, just like it had been in hers for the better of five years. She knew how he felt, because she had been the one feeling it for so long. And she also knew how important it was for her to have him believe in her right now. But he didn't.
"I'm not leaving until we find Jefferson's body. I promised Skinner."
"Is a promise to your former boss more important to you than me?"
He turned to her, hurt. She knew her question was unfair and irresponsible, but she couldn't help herself. Things had come this far, she might as well get it over with.
"This has nothing to do with you."
"It has everything to do with me!" she shouted, forgetting her promise to keep quiet. "You're my friend goddamn it! I love you!"
Suddenly the room went totally quiet. He froze in his footsteps, staring at her just as she had stared at him. He turned and left. She felt tears sting her eyes. She knew why he left. She had done the same thing. Neither of them were able to face the truth that had lingered between them for so long. But she knew he would be back, and they would talk. It just wouldn't happen right now.
- 7 -
He found himself running through the streets of Allensbergh like a mad man. The rain had returned but he hardly noticed it. It didn't matter right now. He was too frustrated and angry to see. Why had she said it? To hurt him? To show him she felt the same way about him as he felt about her? To make sure he would take his mind off this case and onto her? Why? So many thoughts ran through his mind and he could not focus on a single one. *Oh, God, Scully. Don't do this to me.*
But he had done it to her as well. They were both guilty for letting this happen. The kiss in the hallway, the hug on the ice, his words at the hospital, trying to explain to her what he saw in 1939. She had not believed him. But then why did she tell him she loved him, now?
He knew. It wasn't the love that lovers shared. It was the love between friends who cared more for each other than anything else. The love he felt for her as well. She was the one he would die for, and some day that might actually happen, when he was out on a limb, trying to make her see he was right. He had to go back and talk to her, but not now. He needed some time. And a quiet place to think. He found himself walking over to the church, and trying the doors. It was open. He was not Christian, but a church was the most quiet place he could think of. The perfect place to consider his relationship with Scully.
He entered the serene atmosphere and chose a bench, three rows down. People were supposed to kneel down here and pray, but he didn't. He just sat there, staring at the wooden and stone statues near the altar. There was something about this place. A weird feeling he had. He wasn't alone.
Quickly he turned to see nothing but an empty building. But someone was watching him.
No answer came as he stood and walked towards the altar. Then, as he turned around, he was suddenly surrounded by people. But they weren't real. He could see straight through them. They were dressed in clothes from the 60s. Their faces were lifeless, void of expression. They just stood there, ignoring him as if he didn't exist. Perhaps, in their reality, he didn't.
He heard voices whisper. Hundreds of them, all at the same time. They seemed to be everywhere. In his mind and behind his skull, besides him and around him. All whispering senseless words and using meaningless expressions. Then he could hear their prayers and whispers, and their words started to become clear. And their faces started to become familiar.
He saw people he recognized. Jane and Albert Marsh. Chief Mallory. The people in the streets. The inhabitants of Allensbergh. They were there, just like he was, but they had been dead for years. He completely understood now. The truth they had been hiding from him and Scully. There wasn't any proof of their existence because they hadn't existed for a long time. They had been dead for years, hiding their secret. He suddenly laughed, near hysterics. How would he ever explain this to Scully? How would she ever believe him?
Then the scent of flames, burning wood and smoke seemed to take over. Instinctively he coughed and tried to protect his face and body from the invasion of the flames. But it was so hard. It was everywhere! He couldn't move, just froze in place as the fire touched his clothes and body, sending him into a whirlwind of terrible pain and terror.
"Help me!" he heard himself scream, his hands seeking help from the ghosts that surrounded him. He was the only one reacting to the flames. The others just stood there, watching him as he screamed for help. His body reacted to the heat of the flames, his mind gathering the thoughts he had wanted to share with Scully for so long. *I'm sorry, Scully, * he thought, *I'm going to die and there's no way of telling you how sorry I am I didn't listen to you.*
Suddenly it was all over. The flames were gone, the smoke disappeared. He opened his eyes on the cold tiles of the church floor and stared at the stone steps in front of him. He moved and shifted his stiff body. His entire system ached, as if he had been under tremendous stress. He touched his face and arms, realizing he wasn't burned at all. He sucked air into his lungs and climbed to his feet. He was alone again in the church. Quickly he left the church, and found the world dark again. The storm had returned in full vengeance, pouring rain and wind ripping at his clothes. He had already been wet when he entered the church. Now, he was soaking. By the time he reached the hostel, he was ready to collapse.
Scully's concern was worse than her anger. "Where have you been?" she asked insistently. Before he was even able to sit down on the couch in their room, she was already pulling off his clothes.
*This is the second time in one day, * she thought as she took off his sweater. *In other circumstances, both of us would be terribly aroused.* Now she could only feel guilty. Their discussion had made him leave the house in the rain, knowing the storm would return with a vengeance. He had already felt lousy before he had taken off, now he was ready to fall into her arms and just let things pass.
He grabbed her wrist painfully as she stripped him from his shirt. "I saw them, Scully. They were dead. Every one of them. They're all dead."
"The people from Allensbergh. That's why we couldn't find any prints. They're already dead. They wanted Jefferson to die too, so they killed him."
"You have a fever. You're not well." She didn't listen to him. He felt frustrated. Why did she never listen to him?
"Listen to me, Scully!" he shouted, "this thing is real! I know what I saw!" His hand squeezed her wrist so tightly, she let out a cry of pain. Shocked he let go of her, staring at the red marks already forming on her wrist. "Oh, God, " he heard himself say, "I'm so sorry, Scully. I'm sorry!"
Tears streamed down his cheeks, and his throat choked up as he tried to get off the couch. She stopped him, and pushed him back. He couldn't think anymore. He just needed something or someone to hold onto. Her arms were the first thing he saw and felt as she hugged him. He clung to her and felt his warm body against hers. She soothed him, cradled him as if he was a child. "It's okay, " she said softly, "let it all out. It's okay."
"You have to believe me, " he whispered, "we're the only sane people in an insane town. They're all dead and we're the only ones left. You were right. I should have listened to you. We need to get out of here."
"We will, " she said calmly, "but I want you to take some rest first. I'll pack our bags and get the car ready. We'll leave in an hour. Just relax, Mulder, all right?"
He nodded his head and didn't complain when she forced him to move to the bed. He liked the bed better. He wouldn't mind sleeping here. But his mind was restless and tired. He didn't really want to sleep. He just wanted to get some rest and then move on.
He heard her strolling through the room, gathering their wet clothes from the bathroom. She packed up the few things they had. She knew he was still awake before she left the room. "I'll be right back, Mulder."
He nodded his head and listened to the sound of her footsteps as she walked downstairs. Unable to force his body to stay awake, he slid away in a dark dream.
- 8 -
Dana Scully knew her partner had to be sick when he told her about the dead townsfolk. Yet at the same time, she had known it all along. They were all dead, and they were sent here to arrest ghosts. How could you bring a man to justice when that man was already dead? How could one judge a ghost?
Her thoughts were of her partner as she made her way to the kitchen. Their hosts weren't there. She glanced at her watch. It was after 9. Where had time gone? She knew anything could go wrong if they attempted to make their way out of Allensbergh tonight. They could be planning to kill them too, to make sure they would die, just like Jefferson. Their car could crash. Their bodies could be found in the morning.
She didn't know this area. If they were to drive through the darkness with a storm like this raging, they would never make it. She was afraid. But there was no other option than to run. As much as she hated this, they had to leave this town and come back later, with reinforcements. Had Skinner known when he sent them here? Would he be looking for them if they didn't report back? She sighed and walked into the salon. Then she froze in her tracks. She wasn't alone in the room.
Mulder could feel his flesh burning and opened his eyes screaming. His voice froze in the darkness of the room. It was dark. He was alone. Where was Scully? Quickly, he got out of the bed and opened the door.
"Scully?" His voice was the only thing he heard. The bags were in the hallway, ready to be moved to the car. He knew something was wrong. He found his gun on the dresser and picked it up.
"Scully?" He walked down the stairs cautiously, ready to defend himself and his partner if necessary. Suddenly, he heard a muffled noise coming from the living room. He saw her sitting on a chair, staring at nothing. She looked straight through him. Her hands lay on the table. Her eyes were like huge marbles, unable to focus on the world around her.
"Dana?" This time she looked at him. He pulled her up. Her feet and legs worked and held her up. Her torso needed help. Her hands grasped his upper arms. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Her voice sounded strained and confused.
"Something touched me. There was someone in the room. I... Suddenly there was nothing. I just..." Her voice stopped as she focused on him. "We have to get out of here, now."
Carefully, he helped her walk through the room. Before they reached the door, it slammed shut. Startled, they stared at it, then Mulder tried it. It was locked.
"Damn it!" Mulder fought against the dizziness in his head as he pulled the knob, using all the strength in his body to do so. Suddenly it gave way. He slid backwards, unable to stay on his feet. Scully supported him as he landed on one arm and knee. He quickly restored himself, and brought his partner to the hallway.
"Where are the car keys?"
"Upstairs, I think, " she said confused. "I left everything upstairs. Our coats, my gun..."
He pushed her into a chair and handed her his gun. "Stay right here. I'm going to get our stuff. I'll be right back, okay? If you see anything out of the ordinary, shoot. Can you do that?"
She nodded confused, blinking her eyelids furiously. He was worried about her. She seemed totally out of it. Quickly he walked up the stairs, taking two steps at the same time. In the room he found their coats. Her gun was tucked in it, as were the car keys. He lifted up the coats and the bags. He carried as much as he could in one hand, using his right hand to keep the gun straight in front of him.
Down the stairs he ran, but the wood cracked and gave way under his weight, sending his body straight through it. He heard himself scream at the same time Scully did before he fell hard on the marble floor underneath the stairs. Something cracked. He could actually hear the snap of a bone in his arm as he landed badly, hitting his head hard. The pain shot through his entire body and carried him into unconsciousness. He didn't hear his partner call out his name when she ran over to him.
Scully had trouble throwing aside the broken wood covering her partner's body. When she finally reached him, she found him lying on his side. One arm was twisted underneath him. From the angle, it was obviously broken. Since Mulder was unconscious, she checked for any further damage. His head was bleeding slightly. As she touched the head wound he moved and winced, trying to shove her away from him. She grabbed his good hand, forcing him to calm down.
"Mulder, it's me. Listen to me. Do you know what happened?"
He moved again as she laid her hand in his neck. He opened his eyes, trying to remember where he was. His face contorted with pain as he moved his arm.
"Lie still, " she said, stopping him from moving.
She could see he had trouble focusing on reality. His face was extremely pale. She knew he was in shock. He hadn't spoken a word. His silence frightened her.
He tried to get up again. She supported him as he moved, forcing him to take it easy. He remained silent. He could hardly stand on his feet. "Come on, Mulder, " she said as she shoved an arm under his right armpit. He leaned heavily on her as she helped hi m inside the living room. Slowly, he sank down on the couch and watched her as she left the room.
"Don't go, " he croaked.
"I need my medical bag. I'll be right back."
He heard her go through the things still lying under the cracked wood. He knew she was looking for the car keys. A moment later he heard her leave the house. Panic surged through his body.
"Scully." Mulder didn't have the strength to shout her name. He could barely hear himself speak. But she returned within a few minutes, sitting down next to the couch. He relaxed and let her go about her business as her hands touched his face.
"You're lucky, " she said, "it might have been a lot worse. Do you feel pain or nausea?"
"Just a minor headache. I'm fine."
"Like hell you are."
"We have to get out of here, " he said weakly, already dreading the trip in the car to the nearest hospital.
"You're not going anywhere, " she responded firmly, "not like this. It's an hour to the hospital. I want to set that arm, first."
Suddenly he seemed to remember the bone snapping. It reminded him of when the terrorists broke his finger.
He dreaded the sound of the snap. The moment the bone cracked, the pain was unmerciful, until it sent him into oblivion.
"No hospital, " he said, "we need to get out of here. We've got to get away from here as fast as we can."
"Mulder, you're too weak to object to anything I say, " she said with a grin, "and frankly, I don't mind right now. I need to set your arm before we can move you. If I don't, you'll be in serious trouble soon."
"Time to play doctor, Scully?" he said with the hint of a smile, "you can start by undressing me. I know how much you love that."
She put a hand on his forehead, feeling the heat. "You're delirious."
"Of course I am. That's the way you like it."
She laughed despite everything. "The moment you'll stop cracking jokes, is the moment I'll be really worried about you, Mulder."
"You're always worried about me, " he croaked, "just like I worry about you until the day I die." Her face froze as he winced in pain.
"Mulder, I know you're in pain. I can sedate you and set your arm, but then you'll be asleep for quite some time, and I can't even guarantee you won't feel the pain. But you need to get to a hospital as soon as possible. I'm driving you myself, so don't a argue with me."
"I wasn't planning to."
She took a syringe from her bag, preparing it with fluids. He stopped her. "No sedative."
"We both know I need to be lucid here. I'll be fine."
"This is going to hurt like hell."
"I know, " he said, sweat covering his face, which was contorted in pain. She debated whether to slip him the sedative, despite his protests. She couldn't stand seeing him like this. She had to find something to set his arm with. A piece of wood would do just fine. She could use the bandages from her bag to support his arm with.
"I'll be right back, " she said, noticing he wasn't even listening to her anymore. He had already moved himself into that dark world no one else had access to. She could only be grateful for it. She returned to the hallway and searched for a perfect piece of wood to use as a splint. She ignored his blood on the marble floor and the luggage scattered everywhere. She also ignored her own fatigue and ongoing dizziness. He was more important now. She had no time to think about what happened. That would come later. Right now it wasn't important. She just needed to get Mulder out of here, first.
Mulder awoke as she sat down on the couch and pushed the damp hair from his face. He looked at her.
"Are you ready, Mulder?" Her hand touched his swollen arm carefully, examining the break. It wasn't too bad, provided he got proper medical treatment. He would be okay once he got to a hospital. They could check out the arm there and make a cast to protect it for the following few weeks. He'd be uncomfortable for a while, but at least he'd be okay.
"Yeah, I'm ready." She could hardly hear his voice.
With both hands she grabbed his arm and pulled it into the approximately correct position. At the same time her body protected the rest of him, as if to prevent him from getting up and fighting her. It took one long pull. Mulder bit his lip until it bled and turned his face away from here. He groaned. His face was white as a sheet. He tried to control his shivering body but couldn't. Then she heard him sigh. His eyes closed as he passed out. She was thankful for it. Quickly she set the arm, and used the splint to keep it in the right position. Then she prepared a syringe with antibiotics and injected it into his butt, pulling down his jeans and boxer shorts. She turned him on his back, finding a blanket to cover him with. He spoke in his unconsciousness but she couldn't make out the words.
She got on her feet and grabbed the phone, praying it would work. It didn't. They were still on their own. There was no one to help them. Her partner was sick and unconscious and both of them were fatigued. They were defenseless and outnumbered, alone, fighting against God knows what. Ghosts? Murderers?
She left her partner alone, walked over to the bathroom and returned with a warm cloth to wash his face. As she touched him, he opened his eyes again and looked straight into hers.
"I missed all the fun, " he croaked.
"Don't worry, " she responded. "There's plenty more to come."
She helped him sit up straight. He looked at his arm as she strapped a piece of cloth around his neck and put his arm in it. "There, " she said. "How does that feel?"
"Here." She gave him two pills and a glass of water. "I gave you a shot of antibiotics that should start to work soon. These will help you handle the pain but you'll still be hurting until I can get you to the hospital, Mulder."
"I'm dreaming of a nice IV with goodies already, " he groaned with a faint smile.
"Do you think you can walk?"
"Let's get you to the car then."
He was still a little shaky in his knees, but he didn't give in an inch as she brought him to the car and got him inside. He moaned and slid backwards, resting his head against the window. She glanced at him worriedly and returned to the house to pick up their luggage. Quickly she shoved everything on the back seat and got in behind the wheel.
"Let's go, Mulder, " she said, starting the car, "I'm tired of this place." He could only agree. And then the car suddenly jerked and the engine died.
- 9 -
"I don't believe this!" Scully said furiously, slamming the hood of the car. Mulder stood beside her, watching her actions.
"I don't think there's a mechanic in town that is willing to help us, " he responded dryly. She groaned in anger.
"Try your cell phone again, Scully."
She took it from her pocket and tried it. "It's dead, Mulder, just like the rest of this town."
He was standing in the middle of the road looking around. There were a few parked cars. Other than that there was nothing in town. Not a single living soul came to them and asked whether they needed help. The town was an empty shell with nothing but empty houses.
"It's after 10, " he said, "we need to find somewhere else to stay for the night. We can't go back into that house."
"No. We need to go back to the Marshes' place. With or without ghosts, it's the only house we know and have access to. You need to rest in a warm bed."
They both turned and looked at the house they had just abandoned. Neither of them felt any great desire to return to that place, but with a broken-down car it seemed the only option.
"We could just steal a car, " he suggested. "We'll be faced with the same problem in the morning."
"Then we'll face that in the morning. Right now I don't feel the urge to break into someone else's car, " she said with a sigh. "Come on, Mulder."
They walked back to the house. Suddenly, all the lights went on inside. They heard music. Albert Marsh opened the front door and said, "Agents Mulder and Scully. We thought you had left. Welcome back."
They stared at each other before entering the house. Everything was as they had remembered it. The fireplace was heated, the chairs at the table ready to be seated in. The stairs were whole. "I've made my famous blueberry pie, " Jane Marsh said kindly, "I just need a few guests to be seated at my table."
They both sat down dazed as Jane Marsh filled their glasses with water. "Would you like some hot food first? You haven't eaten all day, have you?"
Mulder looked up at her and watched her through a shade of pain. Jane Marsh smiled at him, ignoring his bandaged arm and the cut on his head. She didn't wait for an answer coming from either of her guests as she poured soup into their dishes.
"There you go, " she said as she sat down and ate herself. Her husband, Albert, touched her hand slightly and kissed her on the cheek. "Your dinner is delicious as always, dear."
"Thank you, darling." She smiled and looked up at Mulder and Scully who actually managed to sit there speechless, neither of them just quite sure what to do. "Do you not like my dinner?"
"I'm sure it's great, Mrs. Marsh, " Scully said dryly, "but my partner has fallen down your stairs and needs immediate medical care. Unfortunately our rental car has broken down and we need to find another vehicle. Can you help us?"
"Not tonight dear, " Mrs. Marsh said. "Finish your food."
"He doesn't feel well. Can you see his broken arm?"
"Not tonight, I said, " she repeated and ate as if she had no care in the world. Then she put down her spoon and looked at Mulder.
"Oh my, " she said, and got up, putting her ice-cold hand on his forehead. "I do believe your partner is running a fever. Bring him upstairs, Albert. I'll get some tea and extra blankets to keep him warm."
"He needs a hospital, " Scully said determined. "A couple of blankets won't heal his arm."
"It will have to do for tonight. You're not going to the hospital. Look outside, it's dark already and the storm is at its peak. How would you ever reach it?"
"I'd take my chances, " Scully said, and got up to touch her partner's arm. Only then did she realize he was bent over, as if he was in serious pain. "Mulder?" She knelt beside him, touching his cheek. He was burning up with fever. He was already ill, then the injury had just complicated matters. The antibiotics hadn't helped a bit. He looked up at her, saying softly, "I don't think we'll make it out of town tonight, Scully." He slid off his chair as his body gave in to the darkness that had been waiting for quite some time.
Albert Marsh somehow managed to get Mulder on his feet, grabbing him and supporting him, with Scully on the other side. Scully thought about it and felt it was rather soon for Mulder's arm to be infected and for him to be running such a high fever. Something else was wrong. Her partner was mumbling, even in his sleep, as if trying to warn her off. He was non-responsive and delirious, opening his eyes occasionally as if to look at her. At the same time however he was still completely unconscious. She had never seen him like this before. He worried her.
It worried her even more she might not be able to tell him how she felt if she had misjudged his condition and took the chance of leaving him here to die. He could have internal bleeding she did not know about. He could be dying right now and she might not be able to stop it from happening. She couldn't face that. But there was no choice, no option.
She couldn't help but wince either when the stairs creaked underneath their weight. For a moment there she thought they would fall through the wood again, but they didn't. What the hell had happened here? Had they both dreamed it all? Did it never happen?
Albert Marsh disturbed her thoughts by pushing against the door of their room, helping Mulder onto the bed. Her partner moaned in his sleep.
"There you are, " Marsh gently said, almost stroking Mulder's hair, as if he didn't want all of this to happen. He then turned to Scully, saying, "Your partner will be fine. The fever will pass in the morning. Just give him some tea and make sure he's warm . I'll get you some sedatives to keep him resting all night."
She wanted to object again but was too surprised by all of this to respond. Instead she sat down at her partner's side and stroked his face. Mulder opened his eyes and looked at her. "We're not gonna make it, Scully, " he croaked. "They'll never let us out of here."
"It's okay, Mulder, " she responded, "don't you worry about it. Just rest now."
She got up from the bed and rummaged through her medical bag, somehow not even surprised to find it in the room. She had to keep her partner out for the night, to make sure he had some sleep. He was in pain, and his face contorted whenever he moved the slightest bit.
She prepared a syringe with the Demerol she had not wanted to use on him and watched him as he tried to force himself to refuse it. But he was so tired she knew he wouldn't. He would gladly accept the darkness for now, and deal with the pain in the morning. He didn't even object when she injected him in his butt again, then turning him back over to face her.
She started undressing him, pulling his jeans down his legs, leaving the boxers on. His upper torso was barely clad. He wore a simple T-shirt under the bandaged arm. She left it on. He shivered. She pulled the blankets over him, and he closed his eyes, already fighting the darkness.
"Don't go, " he said weakly when he felt her weight being lifted off the covers.
"I'm staying right here, " she responded, touching his hand, "I'll be here all night."
- 10 -
Dana Scully spent most of the night worrying about her partner, but things really began to deteriorate just after 1 a.m. She woke up with a start from the couch, listening to his muffled sounds. He'd got himself entangled in the sheets and blankets somehow, and was now fighting them.
"Mulder, it's okay, " she said, sliding next to him on the bed, holding him.
He didn't listen to her, his body fighting off the darkness. She knew he hated being drugged. Tonight was no exception. She had trouble keeping him calm. His fever had gone up. A knock on the door woke her up shortly after. Tired she unlocked it, only to see Albert standing there with a glass of water and two pills. "Have him take these, " the man said, "his fever will subside instantly. He'll be fine in the morning."
"Why are you helping us?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
He turned his back on her, suddenly changing his mind. "Don't ever doubt what your partner saw, Dana Scully, " he said towards her, "don't ever question his words. It will kill the both of you. You have to believe this time in order to save his life."
He left her alone again, closing the door behind him. She sat down on the side of the bed, looking at her restless partner. She woke him up, making him sit up before forcing him to take the pills. Somehow she did not doubt their legitimacy. If they had wanted to kill them, they would have done so already. Mulder hardly knew what happened when she put the glass on his lips. He just did as she told him, immediately slipping back to sleep.
Her mind was overwhelmed with questions. What had really taken place tonight? Had Mulder really fallen when the stairs collapsed? How had the Marshes returned to the house so quickly without them knowing it? Why did they help them like this? Why wouldn't they let them leave? And was Mulder right? Were they ghosts, just like the rest of this godforsaken town?
So many questions, she sighed, and so little time to answer them. Why was this happening in the first place? She was unreasonably and utterly mad at Skinner for getting them in this kind of trouble. She couldn't even reach the man to tell him how she felt about all of this. There nothing she good do to help her relieve the anger and frustration she felt.
She looked at her partner and calmed down immediately. She watched him fall asleep again. His hand was still in hers, as if he wouldn't let go of her, even in his dreams. She lay down next to him again, resisting the urge to touch his body and make love to him. She would never do so, as was her promise. But she would give in to the love she felt for him one day. Not as lovers but as the best of friends. Their relationship was perfect as it was, it didn't need sex to ruin it all. She loved him. She knew that now. She had loved him since the moment she first laid eyes on him. One day she would confirm it, for herself and for him. She knew they both needed it.
But not now. Now they had to get out of here first, so she could tell him how much she cared about him. She fell asleep with his fingers still entangled in hers, and her body next to him, resting comfortable against his. She knew he would wake up to find them like this, but it didn't matter. He needed to know that she was here.
The first thing she thought about when she woke up in the morning was him. But her hand was empty, and he was gone. She reached out for him, expecting him to be on the bed still but he wasn't.
"Mulder?" She got up quickly, shoving aside the blanket he had laid over her.
"In here." He came out of the bathroom, still only dressed in his boxers and T-shirt. He looked much better. His eyes were clear and bright. The pallor was almost gone from his face, as was the what had begun to seem a permanent expression of fatigue and pain. She touched his face, forcing him to look into her eyes. "The fever's gone. You look better."
"I feel better."
She sighed with relief. He touched her chin, forcing her to look at him. "How are you?"
"I'm okay, " she said, avoiding the issue with a vengeance, "let's get out of here." She watched him as he sat down on the bed, grabbing the clothes she had taken off him only a couple of hours before.
Scully couldn't help but smile when her partner had trouble getting into his jeans. He looked at her helplessly, almost begging her silently to help him. She did, trying not to look at him while she buttoned his fly. *God, Mulder. Are we every going to succumb this embarrassment?*
"Thanks, " he said, wincing only once when she slid a sweater over his sore arm. She had checked the splint and bandages before, making sure he hadn't injured his arm any further. Everything looked fine. Even the cut on his head was barely visible.
"No problem." She picked up her medical bag and the remainder of their things, watching him carefully as he made his way down the stairs.
The house seemed abandoned. No one inside. Scully put down the bags and walked over to the living room. The table had been set for two, food ready for them to be eaten. She was hungry.
"Don't, " Mulder said, grabbing her wrist before she could eat anything, "it might be poisoned."
"I don't think so, " she calmly responded, but stayed away from the food nonetheless. Now that the morning had come, Scully could feel her old, calm self return again. She felt more like herself, rational and sane, and a non-believer in the paranormal. How could they have ever let this place get to them like this? She sat down at the table , pouring herself some coffee, figuring that would do no harm. They would leave shortly and things would turn back to normal. Maybe the phone lines would be working again soon as well. She relaxed and enjoyed her cup of coffee. Mulder watched her in amazement.
"Whenever you're ready, I would like to get out of here, " he said sharply, ignoring the hurt look in her eyes as she put down the cup.
"There's no rush now. Besides, we still have to find a car."
"That's why we're running out of time."
"Just relax, Mulder. I'll try to reach Skinner in a minute."
Mulder felt himself grow angry as he made his way to the phone. This time there was a dial tone. Nervously he punched in the numbers to the FBI, dialing his former boss' direct number.
"Sir, it's Mulder."
The tension in Skinner's voice appeared immediately as he was informed of the course of events. "Do you need me to pick you up there?" the man asked quietly.
"That wouldn't be such a bad idea, sir, " Mulder responded, realizing they would never be able to leave town by themselves, "when can you be here?"
"Tonight. I need to arrange a few things. Do you think you can wait until then? I'm worried about you alone out there."
Mulder glanced at his partner, saying, "Yeah, we'll manage. But hurry up anyway. I don't like this place."
"I'll be there as soon as I can." Skinner hung up, leaving his former agent wondering why the man would fly and drive out himself. What was it about this case that made him act so secretly? Why could he not just tell the outside world he was the one assigning them to it?
"Is Skinner coming?" Mulder turned and saw his partner finishing her cup of coffee, ignoring the rest of the breakfast on the buffet.
"Yeah, we're going to have to stay put until he gets here."
"Well, at least he's going to help us out here. He should. It's his fault we got ourselves into this mess in the first place."
"And at least now we still have a chance of finding Jefferson's body, " Mulder said quietly.
She looked at him shocked. "You're not going to try and risk your neck again to find him, are you?"
"Why not? Obviously it's the only way to get you to believe me."
"Mulder, I do believe you. It's just that..."
"No." He raised his right hand in the air, ignoring the pain in his strained body. "You don't believe me. When have you ever? You're too busy with your own scientific explanations to see the truth even if it bounced right back at you. Why can't you believe me for once?"
"Mulder, calm down. I do believe you. But the truth is we are still stuck here for a day, and we'll have to find a way to spend that day in the least harmful way possible. I don't want to see you get hurt anymore. I don't think I can face that. I..." She suddenly stopped as tears began to drip down her cheeks. He felt like a bastard suddenly, wondering why she was crying. She didn't believe him, so why did she cry? Was she even crying for real? Her hand eagerly wiped her cheeks, and she turned away from him. "It's no use, " she said quietly, "I can't tell you how I feel."
He stepped up to her, with one move forcing her to turn towards him. He held his hand under her chin, wondering when she would ever open up to him. But how could he blame her for not wanting to, when all he ever did was hurt her? How could he ever blame her for being the closed person she was?
"I'm sorry." He let go of her, resisting the urge to kiss her. He couldn't see the disappointment on her face when he turned away from her, leaving her standing in the living room. He was out of there quickly, knowing for a fact he could not face all of this right now. There would be a time and place sometime in their future for this, but not now. Right now, survival was the most important thing.
Neither of them felt like staying in the house with their hosts. It seemed quite futile, seeing they were suspicious towards the couple, as towards anyone in Allensbergh. Despite her obvious denial for the facts, Mulder still wanted Scully near him. Right now he wasn't ready to let her out of his sight, knowing either of them might be the next victim of this bizarre town.
But he also wasn't ready to spend the day with her, knowing she had changed somehow overnight. He didn't know why or how, but her rational side had taken over again, telling her that everything had a reasonable explanation. Even after a night where a staircase collapsed and mysteriously repaired itself, and after a vision in which a church burnt down and people got burnt to a crisp. What would it take to show her this thing was real? How long before she would be able to tell him he was right? It was so damned frustrating!
Scully was just as sure as Mulder that the people of the town were responsible. She just didn't believe they were ghosts, hunting down and killing people. And she was going to prove it.
After Mulder left her alone and she watched him leave the house to sit on the bench in front of it, she chose the kitchen to find what she needed. She donned latex gloves, then picked up one of the glasses in the dishwasher, ready to be cleaned, one that definitely did not have either of their fingerprints on it. She put it down on the table. She went about it in the same way they had done in Jefferson's cottage. Using charcoal and tape to find prints. She found one clear print. Relieved, she pulled the tape off the glass, placing it very carefully on a piece of b lank paper. Since the phone lines worked again, the fax machine would have to as well. The clear print could be faxed to the FBI to run a match. Before the evening they would know more about Albert or Jane Marsh.
She picked up her coat, put it on and carefully handled the piece of paper, ready to be faxed. Outside, she looked at Mulder, saying, "I found a fingerprint. Someone was in that cottage and they erased all the prints. We're not dealing with ghosts here, Mulder, but whoever they are, we'll find out."
He looked up at her as if he had hardly heard a word she said. Slowly he nodded his head. "I see. You found your scientific proof. I hope you're happy."
"Would you have preferred it if I hadn't found anything?"
"No. That print will hopefully finally convince you not everything is as black and white as it seems."
"What do you mean?"
"If you found a fingerprint from either one of our hosts, you will find a file on ghosts."
"Why are you so stubborn, Mulder?"
"Because it's true! I know what I saw, Scully. Why can't you?"
"Because I can't believe it."
"No, you can't admit it. You just can't face that I'm right, can you?"
"That's bull, Mulder."
"Then you sit down here and face me, and tell me that what you saw was perfectly natural. That all of this is not real, and that I'll wake up in the morning with a healed arm. Tell me everything we saw was not real!"
"I can't. But we both got carried away by the strange atmosphere of this place. Don't you see, Mulder? They're toying with us! They make you believe these things to get your attention off the real issue. We'll never find Jefferson's body because they slowed you down. You fell down the stairs, somehow it got fixed. I don't know anything anymore. But there is an explanation for this, and we're going to find out. Shouting at each other only helps them."
"You need proof, Scully? I'll get it for you." Mulder slowly got on his feet, facing her angry. "I'll find Jefferson's body, and you'll get your proof."
"Mulder, ' she said calmly, "I don't doubt what you saw for a second. The church you were in, the people, the fire... I believe you. But our imagination can run wild sometimes. Yours, mine, everybody's. You said so yourself, the feel of this place is strange and disturbing. Perhaps we just got carried away."
"I'm not crazy, Scully. I don't see things that aren't there." He grabbed her by the arm and forced her to look at him. "You accused me before of seeing things that weren't there. You have done so several times. But this time you were there, you saw it, you experienced it. By denying it now, you're denying our friendship."
She stared at him in disbelief. "I know you've been upset with me lately, Mulder, but this cannot tear us apart. Not as partners and not as friends. I won't let it. I've always tried to explain the events happening to us. Only lately, you have been struggling with this, because I could not help you when you needed my help. Even though I have experienced things I cannot explain doesn't mean I have to tell you now they have no rational explanation. That's not the way it works, Mulder."
"Fine." He turned his back to her, pulling his coat over his hurt arm. He passed her without giving her another look.
She couldn't stand it when he did that. "Where are you going?"
"Fax your fingerprint, Scully. I'll be back."
She watched him as he walked through Main Street, taking the road to the Jefferson Cottage. She sighed and stared at the print in her hand. Life could be so frustrating with Mulder. But also so rewarding. She could only feel upset over their discussion.
Quickly, she left the house and walked over to the post office. The woman at the counter looked at her strangely, as if she had expected her to be gone by now. Scully ignored her and handed her the piece of paper with the fax number of the bureau written on it. She quickly added another message and got on the phone in the post office while watching her fax go through.
"Yeah Danny, " she said, getting Mulder's friendly contact on the line immediately, "I'm faxing you a fingerprint right now. Are you getting it? Yeah, I'll hold on."
She glanced at the woman behind the counter, ignoring her fierce eyes. "Yeah, you got it? Okay, I need you to run this print through the system immediately. No, my cell phone doesn't work here. Can I wait? Ten minutes? No problem, I'll hang on."
Scully leaned against the counter, checking her watch regularly as she waited. People walked in and out of the office, glancing just as strangely at her as the woman behind the counter. She heard voices on the phone. Danny was back on the line.
"You got something? Great. Yeah, I'm standing at the fax right now. The number? Hang on."
The woman already pointed at the number written in pen on a small piece of tape on top of the machine. Scully quickly dictated it to Danny and waited as the fax started to work.
"Danny, I'm getting it. Thanks, you're a doll." She hung up and took the three pages off the fax machine, staring at them in disbelief. "Oh, my God, " she whispered out loud, "Mulder was right."
She left the office quickly, feeling contempt for herself.
- 12 -
Albert Marsh opened the door before she could. His fierce blue eyes pierced through her like knifes. "Is everything all right?" he asked her.
"Yeah, yeah .."
"I heard an argument before. Are you leaving this morning?"
"Not yet. We're still .. we're still checking some things. We'll be leaving tonight."
Albert sighed and frowned. She couldn't help but stare at him, remembering the file she had read just a few moments ago. He knew she knew. She could see it in his eyes. "Excuse me, " she said quickly, rushing up the stairs.
She turned around, looking at him. "Tonight is too late, " he continued, "you need to leave now."
"I like you two. You shouldn't be involved in this. He was lucky last night. He won't be lucky if he keeps on digging for his truth. You need to go."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do. You have the truth in your hands. You read it. Now take it and leave, before it's too late."
"I can't. We're FBI agents. Our job is to investigate and find out the truth."
"At what cost? That what's your partner has asked you once before. He asked you at what cost the government could conceal the truth from you, when you asked him if they didn't have the right to hide things from the public. Now I'm asking you. Is your partner's life worth sacrificing to find the truth?"
"He's not in danger. We're leaving tonight."
"He's already in danger. They don't want him here. Why do you think he fell down the stairs and not you? They knew you could be manipulated. They saw it in you. You wouldn't see us for what we are. But he knew and found out. He'll go the way Darren Jeffer son did." She shook her head. "No, I don't believe it."
"If you don't, he's dead already."
"Where is he?"
"He's finding out the truth for his own. Follow him to the cottage. He'll be there."
Scully slowly walked down the stairs again, looking at the man closely. "Who are you? What I found in this file cannot be the truth."
"You don't know what's in it."
He smiled. "I know everything about you. Do I need to show it to you?" He sat down on a chair, smiling. "You were on a ship once with your partner. You were aging rapidly and there was nothing you could do about it. Your partner was worse off than you. He was dying but he refused to sacrifice your life for his. You watched him deteriorate and eventually slip away while you sat next to him, writing down a Norwegian story about a wolf named Skull that opened his mouth and ate the sun. That story touched you so much you remembered it for months. Every time you were in trouble or watched your partner suffer, you wondered when Skull would come and eat your partner."
She stared at him in despair, hundreds of thoughts running through her. "Oh, God, " she whispered, "what have I done?"
He smiled vaguely, touching her arm. "We were wrong to protect our secret. I'm tired, Agent Scully. I'm so terribly tired. Do you know what it's like to be so tired?" She didn't respond.
"Go to your partner and get him out of here. He's determined now to find the truth. Stop him and take him out of here. His life depends on you now."
She felt tears sting in her eyes. "I understand."
She put on her coat and left the house, knowing somehow she would never see it again. She knew at the same time that it was not over. For as long as she would spend her life working with Mulder, the sense of danger would never be over.
Assistant-Director Walter Skinner somehow knew things were taking a wrong turn when he hung up on Mulder. Why had he sent his former agents in the first place? To test Mulder? To find out why Jefferson had died? Or simply because he felt like getting back at Kersh for taking over charge? He did not know. Somehow he felt angry at the world and himself for not being able to supervise Mulder anymore. He felt respect for Mulder, even if he had never told the man himself. He missed working with Mulder. Just like he missed working with Dana Scully, one of the finest agents he had ever seen.
But now he knew things had taken a wrong turn. He could sense it as he grabbed his coat, canceling all his appointments for the day. He had Kim book a ticket on a flight out to Boston immediately, taking the first available. She had returned with a confirmation for a flight around noon, leaving from Baltimore.
He hadn't told Kersh about the case he had sent Mulder and Scully on. He had simply requested the agent's help in the matter, telling Kersh that he would be joining them soon. Kersh had not even bothered to check up on them. He was probably too happy to get them out of his hair for a day or two.
Spender however was a totally different matter. He had confronted his immediate supervisor with the X-File, demanding to know why Skinner hadn't talked to him about it first. Skinner had expressed clearly who was in charge, and why there was no need to explain his actions towards his agent. He didn't care much for Spender, remembering how the man had tried to get rid of Mulder with the Gibson Praise case.
On his way to the airport Skinner felt a sudden urge to try Scully's cell phone, though he suspected it wouldn't work. Mulder had mentioned something along those lines when he contacted him. As soon as he heard the operator's voice saying the party was unavailable he hung up. There was no way to get in touch with Scully or Mulder and tell them to get the hell out of there. Skinner didn't even know why he wanted to tell them. He'd always been the most rational of them all, believing only in the facts and the reports handed to him. Except for once.
Once he had been lying in the jungle in Vietnam, watching his own dead body. He knew back then that he was in grave danger, not even realizing he had a near-death experience, only feeling the anger and frustration of not being able to tell anyone he was still alive.
He had that same sense now. He was frustrated and angry, and unable to get in touch with his agents. He wouldn't be able to tell them to get the hell out of there, and how sorry he was for getting them into this mess.
When he arrived at the airport, all hell broke loose. His flight was delayed with two hours -- technical problems they said. He tried to get on another flight, but nothing was available. Once on the plane it took another half-hour before take off. Then, in Boston, the rental car he drove got a flat tire before he could leave the rental agency. The second car he received sputtered somewhat and gave up the ghost. Angry, Skinner took the keys of a third car and drove off around 5 p.m., watching the sky already turning dark. It was a cold, vicious night -- not a night to spend in the presence of death.
- 13 -
Fox Mulder was still furious when he entered the cottage, staring at the scattered remains of the place. He didn't even know why he had returned here, or did he? He wanted to take another look at the paintings against the wall, to convince himself it hadn't been a dream but a reality.
He slowly picked them up one by one, staring at the terrible images of the darkness and fright these people were in. What if Scully's fingerprint test didn't show them anything? How would he ever find out who these folks were, and how long they had been dead? From one thing he was very sure, they would go to any lengths to cover their gruesome secret. Darren Jefferson had become their first victim, and no telling who else.
He didn't need to read the file again to make a profile on this case. He had all of the information in his head. He would go to the bitter end to get the information to take back to Washington, to let Skinner know how his friend had been murdered and by who. He would withstand Scully's fierce looks and grimaces, and he would state his report with the evidence he would gather somehow.
This was no longer just a case of finding the killers and bringing them to justice. Lord knows that might just be an impossible task. This was really more about his relationship with Scully and how far he could still go, knowing she didn't stand behind hi m. That stung the most. Why did she always feel the need to bring him down, to show him she had another opinion of the facts? When had she ever stopped listening and caring for his thoughts? Did she ever care at all?
He was being unreasonable, he knew, but this had gone on long enough. If he ever got the X-Files back, he might be able to talk to her about it. Right now, in his confused mind however, he could not. The truth would still be out there, but he wasn't so sure whether she was willing to see it. Maybe she would never be.
He heard a noise behind him and turned around quickly. A man looked him straight in the eyes. Even though he had never spoken to him before, he knew who it was. Darren Jefferson. But just like the faces and bodies in the church this man wasn't real. It was a vision of someone who had been murdered.
"Tell me where you are, " Mulder said out loud, wondering whether Scully was right. Perhaps he had lost it and this was all just a bad dream. But the man turned and seemed to vanish in the woodwork, leaving nothing but a trail of dust. Mulder heard several noises in the room now, and blinked his eyelids as he watched several spirits work together to kill Jefferson. He watched them grab the man and drag him through the room. He saw them as they tore the cottage apart, but covering up the signs of the violent death there. He watched them take the man outside, and then they were suddenly gone, leaving him alone again.
Mulder ran outside and breathed in the fresh air. He felt suffocated in there, between the four walls of the place a dead man had once lived. He knew now where to find the body of the man. It was where it got burned all along, inside an abandoned church.
Scully found her partner walking back to the village and took a deep breath as she walked over to him. He watched her in a peculiar way she didn't really like, waiting attentively until she made the first move. She knew she had some making up to do, and this was the best time to start it. She handed him the pieces of paper containing the file on Albert Marsh and watched his eyes change as he quickly read through them. Neither of them had spoken a word.
"You were right, Mulder, " she said softly, realizing how much this confession took from her. She trembled as she continued, watching the change in his expression. "I faxed the print to DC. Danny found a file on Albert Marsh. Turns out our host is a man who died in 1969 in a fire in the church in Allensbergh, leaving no children or relatives behind. He was born in New York in 1900, moved to Washington in 1927, at the age of 27. He was a public figure at the time, or so it seems. He went into politics at a fairly young age, and made a respectable name for himself."
"Then why did the FBI have a file on him?" Mulder asked hoarsely.
"Marsh was accused of murdering his first wife, a woman named Denise Larson. She disappeared mysteriously in 1952, her body was never found. He was interrogated at full length but nothing could be found to indict him. His record went public though, leaving the man no choice but to retreat to Allensbergh. He could kiss his political career goodbye after the scandal involving his wife's disappearance. He moved to the Cape, finding Allensbergh the perfect spot to start anew."
"On December 14, 1969 a church service was disturbed by a sudden outbreak of fire following a storm and lightning striking the tower. All 126 townsfolk of Allensbergh died in that fire. Not a single one of them managed to survive." Scully dug in her pockets, finding a list of names which she handed to her partner. "Chief Mallory was among them, as were Albert and Jane Marsh. Mulder, I don't know how to explain this but this town consists of people who died almost 30 years ago. That explains why we didn't find any records on them in the first place, and perhaps even what happened to us last night. But to me it's convincing evidence suggesting paranormal activity."
He looked at her in surprise, wondering how tough it was for her to admit all of this. Instinctively. he put a hand on her shoulder when she sighed in despair, continuing, "I don't know how to handle this, Mulder. If Jefferson died because of what he saw and knew, we have no way of pursuing this case. I was warned by Albert Marsh to leave town immediately. He says you're in terrible danger and I believe him. I want us to leave now, Mulder. We cannot wait for Skinner any longer."
Mulder only smiled, thanking his partner silently for telling him things he had longed to hear for so long, now. He felt almost happy, despite the obvious fact things were not exactly to be considered normal. "Why are you smiling?" she asked in surprise.
He leaned forward, kissing her quickly on the lips. "Thank you."
"For finally believing me." She could only feel more guilty now, touching his wrist. "We have to go."
He laughed, letting go of her. "It's too late, Scully, don't you see? There's no way for us to leave this town, now. I know where Jefferson's body is, and they want us to find it. But we won't be leaving town."
"We can steal a car, just like you suggested. We might still make it."
He shook his head. "Why don't we go back to the hostel and wait for Skinner?"
"We can't go back there."
"I don't know, " she said slowly, "I just have this feeling it's gone."
He checked his watch. It was after 3 p.m. and the skies were already turning dark. Another storm was breaking. Rain would start pouring down pretty soon. He didn't want them to spend it out in the open. "Come with me then." He grabbed her hand and forced her to walk beside him, back to the cottage. It was the only other option left. Before they reached it, rain started falling. They ran the last bit to the wooden shack, slamming the door as they entered. She didn't like it here, but it was dry and rather comfortable, despite its simplicity.
He walked over to the bed in the corner, opening a closet next to it. He handed her some dry clothes and didn't wait for her to start changing. Quickly he left for the bathroom and dried his hair, pulling off the wet sweater and jacket. He pulled on a turtleneck sweater, wincing at the pain in his arm. He waited long enough, making sure she had changed before returning to the room. She was seated in a large chair near the fireplace. She had put some logs on it, and started a fire with the matches and tools she had found. She stared into the flames, as if surprised by her own admission. He knelt down next to her, waiting for her to talk to him. She didn't. When he looked up again, she was fast asleep.
- 14 -
Mulder knew it was inevitable. He knew his answer lay inside the church walls. He opened the door, hardly remembering how he ever got here at this time of night. The world was dark and empty, as were the streets of Allensbergh. He knew he would find them all inside the safe haven, seeking refuge against the darkness that kept them together.
He also knew he would not take Scully with him. He had left her at the cottage, still sleeping in her too-large clothes. This one he had to do by himself, to find out why. They were all seated on the wooden benches, looking in front of them. The priest stood behind his altar. Mulder recognized his face from the photos in the living room.
"Welcome, Agent Mulder, " the priest said, inviting him to sit down. They all turned towards him now, staring at him in anticipation.
"Who are you?"
"Relics from a forgotten, burned past."
"You're all dead. But you're here, talking to me. I touched you, you were flesh and blood, " Mulder said in surprise.
"What is death, Agent Mulder? What is life?" the priest asked. "We are here, you are talking to us. Are we therefore not alive? Do we not have the right to live?"
"At what cost?"
Albert Marsh got on his feet, turning towards his guest. "A cost we did not ask to pay."
"You killed Jefferson. Why did you allow him to live in your midst for so long?"
"We kept our secret closely to our hearts. He found out at the end. We knew it was inevitable."
"How many people have you murdered to serve your secret?" Mulder asked the priest. "How many found out?"
"Why are you still here?"
"You mean, why are our spirits not gone?"
The priest shook his head in disbelief at the question, obviously not able or ready to respond. "Does it matter? We've been given a chance to make right what went wrong."
"What went wrong?" Mulder asked carefully, wanting an answer before it all went to hell.
"I don't know. We died. We weren't supposed to die just then. We did, and we found ourselves back here, doing what we've been doing all our lives. Living, you know. Spending our time doing what we were supposed to do in this life."
"I see, " Mulder said slowly, "Where's Jefferson?"
The priest slowly pointed at the altar. Mulder glanced at it, seeing a vague, burnt spot on the ground before it. If he died in this church, he must have been burned until there was nothing left of him but ashes. Not a shred of evidence would be found to tell the tale.
Mulder turned around silently, walking to the heavy doors that were keeping him from the outside world. The church was deadly quiet. He grabbed the handle and pulled, wanting it to open, but it didn't. He used all his strength to try and force it open, but it wouldn't give way. He stared at it in despair, knowing what would happen next.
He turned around and forced himself to look at the priest. "I want to get out of here now. Open the doors."
The priest said nothing.
"Open the doors!"
Mulder pulled the handle again, but it didn't budge. Sweat poured down his face as the room seemed to heat up. He knew he would be a witness to the facts soon. Every night, he now realized, they replayed the entire event that destroyed them. Not because they wanted to, but because they had no choice. That was the price they had to pay for their existence. And that was the secret they had held for so long, until Darren Jefferson moved in and found out.
The wood around him seemed to catch fire. He could feel it as it licked out and burned his arms and hands. He yelled as the iron handle burned into the palm of his hand. He turned to watch them watching him.
"Let me go!" he yelled as hard as he could, running forward to grab the priest's arm, "I'm not part of this. Let me get out of here."
"You became a part as soon as you set foot inside this church, " the man slowly said, pushing him away from him. Mulder went for the man in despair, knowing there was nothing left to save himself from. The priest just shoved him aside.
Mulder held his hand in front of his eyes, trying to ignore the heat and pain that already stung his body. He needed to get out of here fast. He turned around, trying desperately to search for a way out. The bodies caught fire. He could smell their scent as they burnt like torches. Why had he not died the night before? He was here, perhaps in a dream, and he had seen this before. But now it all seemed too real and he knew he would never see the light of day again if he didn't get out.
He coughed as the smoke entered his airway, rushing down the path to his lungs. He could feel his body weakening but he refused to give in. Not yet! Scully would be here soon and she would help him. He would put his life in her hands as he had done many times before. She would not let him down. Around him, the bodies turned into a crisp, and the screams he could now hear changed into silent whimpers of death. He would be next.
Scully arrived breathlessly at the church, angry with herself, but most of all with her partner for ditching her. She knew why he had done it, though. He was out here to confront the ones that were already dead, and he didn't want her to be a part of it. He knew she wasn't ready to face it yet, even after her confessions and agreement with him they were dealing with ghosts.
When she woke up to find him gone, she found a little note on the table for her as if he was her husband telling her where he went.
Scully, By the time you read this I might have more answers for you, ones that are easier to deal with. I'm sorry for not taking you with me, but this is not just about this case. We both know I need a reconfirmation of the truth, and I believe I will find it in the church.
She had cursed him and then herself, and then set out to the village center, knowing that any second could be too late. Why had he not waited for Skinner to arrive? Because he knew they would leave town and not come back. This was an X-File and he needed to get his hands on it. *Damn it, Mulder!*
There would be no help for her as soon as she arrived in town. No one would set out to guide both of them through this ordeal. All she wanted to do was to leave town now and forget all about it. Forget they had ever come here and try to figure out things that were out of control.
It rained heavily when she arrived in town, and she saw the burning church immediately. She knew he was in there, the only living soul in this village of the dead. And he depended on her to get him out. But he was much taller and heavier than she was. How could she ever save him if he might already be dying?
She shouted his name as loud as she could. Then she screamed as her hand touched the heated iron on the heavy doors. Pain immediately stung the palm of her hand. She grabbed a handkerchief and twisted it around her hand, then banged on the door, calling out his name. With despair she tried to open the door again, but to no avail. The windows! She had to get outside through there.
She run to the side of the church and tried to glance inside through the glass-blown windows. She saw a vaguely familiar figure lying near the altar, face down. There was no one else inside the church. "Mulder!" She shouted his name as loud as she could, searching desperately for a way to get in. She needed to break the glass and get inside to pull him out. He wouldn't be able to do so on his own. She turned, slipped and fell hard against the outer wall of the church, striking her head. She felt her body slip against the stones, and as dizziness took over, she passed out.
- 15 -
A car entered the town center. The man behind the steering wheel looked for the Marsh Hostel, using directions given to him by Agent Mulder. He stopped in the middle of the road immediately when flames burst out of the roof of the church.
*Forget the Hostel, Walter, go for the church.* He slid out of the car and ran up to the doors. They were locked. He could hear voices inside, but they were silent, as if whispering. Hundreds of voices whispering through each other, as if they had been there forever. It was weird.
He ran to the side of the church, grabbing the fire extinguisher from his car. He would never be able to put out this fire, but at least he might be able to get someone out of there. His thoughts stopped abruptly when he saw the red-head on the cold ground, the back of her head slid against the wall. She was bleeding and out cold.
Skinner grabbed her by the upper left arm, shaking her carefully until she groaned and seemed lucid enough to answer him. "Scully, it's Walter Skinner. Where's your partner?"
She seemed to have trouble remembering what happened. He had already turned away from her. His instincts told him to look inside the church window for his former agent. When he did, he found a body lying on the marble floor. He knew who it was.
"Mulder!" Skinner didn't hesitate when he grabbed the fire extinguisher and threw it through the glass window. Pieces of glass scattered all over the place. Skinner quickly took off his coat, using it as a protection shield to push the large pieces of glass further inside. He crawled through it instantly, coughing from the smoke.
"Mulder!" The man lying face down seemed not to be aware that his former boss had arrived, picking him up by his good right arm and putting him over his shoulder, half carrying, half dragging him towards the window. Pieces of wood, coming down from the ceiling blocked their way.
"Damn!" Skinner yelled as he was hit on the back by a large chunk of burning wood. Quickly he shook off the burning pile, turning to see if there was another way out. They could only escape through one of the windows. Desperate Skinner turned around to find something to break the glass with. But there was no time. He could see by his unconscious agent the man was not capable of standing on his own if he was lowered to the ground. He could hear the ragged breathing of the man, and the way he held on to Skinner showed evidence of despair and fatigue. Skinner took desperate measures and held tight to his agent as he went for the window.
Scully knew Skinner had arrived, giving her the bit of extra time she needed to recover. She could hear him cursing and yelling as he was hit by burning wood. Scully knew they depended on her now. She pulled herself up to the wall, ignoring the stinging headache and blood covering the back of her head. She felt sick to her stomach, and knew Mulder wasn't the only one in need of a hospital anymore. She definitely had a concussion.
She stared through the window just in time to see large chunks of wood falling down, blocking the way. She knelt down to grab the extinguisher, ready to use it to break down the glass of the other window, when she heard a large crack. Skinner and Mulder jumped through the window, shattering glass all over the place. Their bodies seemed to fly through the air before hitting the ground hard. She could see Skinner's grip on her partner as he tried to protect his agent with his own body. the two men rolled over the cold ground to come to a quick stop. She stumbled over to them. Skinner was panting, trying to catch his breath. He lay with eyes closed, only opening them when she touched his shoulder. He was still holding on to Mulder and felt nauseous.
"Is he dead?" he suddenly rasped, looking aside. Scully had already turned her attention to her partner, lying on his side with his good arm underneath him. The splinted, bandaged arm seemed not to have been burned, thanks to Skinner, no doubt..
Concern and fear ran through Scully in waves as she touched Mulder's neck, only to breathe a sigh of gratitude when she felt a strong pulse. In response, her partner coughed and heaved, his body shaking and trembling. He was extremely pale, vulnerable, and disoriented. He was probably not even aware what had just taken place.
Skinner stumbled to his feet, letting go of his agent finally. Scully grabbed Mulder and forced him to lie still. "Lie back, " she said sternly, her hands already probing his body for injuries. He was covered with soot. His arms and hands and face seemed to be blistered but not badly burned. She didn't understand. He was still coughing, and seemed to have trouble catching his breath. He struggled to get up but she wouldn't let him.
"Mulder.., " she said, grabbing his wrist. He blinked and his hazel eyes stared up at her as if he didn't know her. Then his body started to react against the pressure of her hand against his neck.
"No!" he shouted, as if he was still experiencing the dreams that had haunted him that first night. "Leave me alone!" Scully knew she had to calm him down to get him out of here. He didn't seem to realize he was with her and Skinner.
"Mulder, it's me. Listen to me!" Her soft voice calmed him, and he looked at her more lucidly now. "We have to leave town. Now!" she continued, looking desperately at Skinner who stood there quietly watching the whole scene. "They'll come back, we have to go. You have to help us."
"I can't, " Mulder said breathlessly.
"Yeah, you can. Come on, partner."
She shoved her arm under his armpit, pulling him up from the cold ground. Only then did she realize the entire world seemed to have changed. And all they had seen before was gone.
Skinner was the first one to see it. He noticed it as soon as he turned and blinked, disbelieving his own eyes. The town of Allensbergh had turned into one big pile of rubble. Every single house was destroyed. Ruins were scattered everywhere, old cars parked in front of them. The church was gone too. All that was left of it was debris, scattered all over the place. They were surrounded by it. No more burning wood endangering their lives, but piles of charred wood and stones all around them.
"What's going on here, Agent Scully?" Skinner asked forcefully. "What happened to this place?"
She swallowed before answering, "I know it may sound strange, but the church and all in it burned down in '69. This... whatever this was that we saw before, was all their pseudo-reality, created for us to see."
Skinner listened to her, hanging on to every word she said. He believed her without a doubt. He had seen too much already not to believe. "We have to get out of here, " he said, taking Mulder from her grip. With only a little effort, he pulled the agent to his feet, supporting him like he had done before. Mulder was barely aware of his environment, let alone able to do something about it. He just let himself hang against his former boss, even too tired to be embarrassed about it.
"Let's go, " Skinner said firmly, already trying to make his way through the debris. He forced Mulder to walk with him, taking it easy and one step at a time. Mulder seemed to be aware of what was happening, now, and made a genuine effort to make things easier for his boss. He tripped a few times but they managed to get past the rubble.
"We need to take him inside so I can take a look at him, " Scully said, "I don't want to move him without knowing he's okay. He could be hurt on the inside and we wouldn't even know it."
"Where?" Skinner said, scanning the area. "There's nothing here."
"The nearest hospital is almost an hour from here. I'd rather not wait. Jefferson's cottage. It might be the only place in this town that is actually still in one piece."
Skinner opened his car door, helping Mulder onto the back seat. The agent groaned slightly and shifted his long body into a more comfortable position. Scully swayed as Skinner opened her door. He grabbed her arm. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Just dizzy."
He was worried about both his agents. Scully looked just as pale as her partner, composing herself as much as she could, but she seemed ready to drop on the spot. Dried blood stuck to her hair, she looked like hell. He knew something else had happened she wasn't ready to talk about, but he could see it in the manner she took care of her partner. She was always worried about him, but this time she couldn't keep her eyes off him. It was as if she was blaming herself for this situation, even though Skinner k new for a fact Mulder was not one to be controlled easily.
Scully expected the car to stop dead in its tracks, like theirs had done, but it took off quickly. Skinner used her directions to drive up to the old, wooden cottage his friend had once owned. Despite Scully's obvious silence regarding the facts, there was no doubt in his mind his friend was dead. Opening the cottage door, leading Mulder inside, and then glancing around at the paintings around him, it bothered him to see the mess this place was in. How could anyone live like this?
Mulder was able to sit upright on the bed, his good hand clutching the blankets underneath him. Despite Scully's objections he refused to lie down. "I'm fine, " he repeated constantly, "I'm fine."
At the end she managed to get him down, her hands working eagerly to get rid of his clothes. His shirt was scorched and torn, but the skin underneath it wasn't. His abdomen seemed bruised but nothing suggested internal injuries. He was lucky. He seemed unharmed, except for the smoke inhalation he had suffered during his ordeal in the church and the broken arm from the fall at the hostel. The cuts and bruises on his hands and arms were superficial. But his pale face showed definite signs of shock, and she could see him wince as soon as she tried to work on the broken arm. He felt ice cold. He watched her as she checked him out, ignoring the fact that once again she was seeing him almost naked. He couldn't have cared less if she had her way with him now. Hell, he wouldn't object.
"You're in worse shape than he is, " Skinner opined. She smiled faintly. "Who said I was in any shape?"
She allowed him to set her on a chair. Her medical bag was gone, probably somewhere in the remains of the Marsh-house. Skinner washed out the gash on the back of her head as well as possible, taking in her silent demeanor. She seemed to feel better once he helped her out of her bloodstained jacket. Her eyes were still having trouble focusing, but at least she could explain to him what had taken place.
"Mulder needs to get to a hospital, sir. We're not safe here. They'll find us here."
"Is it safe to move him?"
"Safe or not, we don't have much choice. They want to kill him. They'll be upset if they find out he's still alive."
"Why is he a threat to them?"
"He wants to expose them. They thought I could be manipulated into believing in the rational explanation they handed us. He couldn't."
"He's dead, " Mulder said from the bed. "They showed me where he died."
Skinner swallowed away the regret of not being able to help his friend when he needed him, and turned back to the present. Darren was dead, but these people needed his help right here and now. Without him they wouldn't stand a chance, not with the both of them in this shape.
He grabbed his cell phone and dialed 911. "It's no use, " Scully said fatigued, "you won't get through here."
"Then we'll have to drive up to that hospital ourselves. Get your things."
Scully slowly put on her coat over her blouse, ignoring the bloody jacket. She didn't want to be reminded of this day again. Skinner had already helped Mulder to dress and get on his feet, pulling his sweater over him as much as he could, not bothering trying to wrestle the broken limb through the arm of the sweater. The agent waited calmly until they were set to move.
But before Skinner could lead his agents outside, the voices and images of people long gone were already there.
- 16 -
They could feel them all around them, invading the rooms like a bunch of ants. Skinner could see right through them, but the coldness of their presence remained. It was the first time in his life he actually saw ghosts, and he hoped to God it would be the last. It was a tremendous, frightening experience, one that did not need to be repeated.
He watched Scully's frightened face, and wondered if she had ever looked like this before. All the anger and fear bottled up inside of her now came out, forcing her to deal with the paranormal as she stood before it. But it was Mulder's expression that concerned him the most. The man seemed totally preoccupied with what he saw, despite the fact they had caused his near-death and had left him inside that church to be burnt to a crisp. Yet here he was, staring at them in fascination, believing the unbelievable. He would not want to go, that was for sure. He would come back and investigate and try to figure out the meaning of it all, even if it killed him. Scully couldn't stand the thought of the spirits touching her, knowing everything about her. She put her hands to her ears, screaming, "Leave us alone! Haven't you done enough?"
The voices buzzed in her ears, but she seemed to be the only one now to hear them. She recognized Albert's voice among them, talking louder to her. "They're here to kill him. You have to go now. There's nothing more I can do. Go now!"
She grabbed Mulder's arm with a firm grip, forcing him to look at her. "We have to go."
He smiled at her, softly pulling her hand of his arm. "Don't you see them, Scully? They're beautiful, aren't they?"
Skinner glared at his agent, then at her. They both had the same thought. Skinner didn't let go of him as he started to make his way outside, toward the car. She followed quickly, trying to keep pace with her boss. He was faster than she was, even with Mulder to drag along. Mulder started to free himself, pulling himself away from the man. Skinner wouldn't budge, not even when Mulder elbowed him in the ribs and almost twisted his neck to keep looking inside the cottage.
Something hit Skinner in the back, hard. The man yelled, lost his grip on Mulder and fell to his knees, balancing himself with his hands. The second strike hit him in the ribs, on the exact same spot Mulder had hurt him only seconds before. The third one made him catch his breath. He buried his head between his hands, hoping the blows would stop. They did, only so he could realize he was being hurt by something or someone invisible.
Scully's hands went for her partner, trying to stop him. He was faster than her, despite his weakness. He was outside before she could stop him. The door slammed shut behind him, almost hitting her in the face.
"Mulder!" Her hands grabbed the doorknob, pulling it with all her might. It didn't budge. "Mulder!" Skinner was besides her in a second, trying to help her. She could hear Mulder shouting. "Mulder!!" Then everything went quiet.
Mulder couldn't help himself. He didn't fight when the unnatural forces pushed him away from Skinner, and slammed the door behind him. Suddenly he was all by himself on the outside, while the others were stuck on the inside. The colors and images and face she had seen were so brilliant! He wanted to look at them forever, to see what was going to happen next. He heard Scully scream on the inside of the cottage.
*Don't hurt her.*
*It's not her we want to hurt.*
They were all around him now, their shapes changing within the second. He could smell the burning flesh again, the terrible smell he had feared all of his life. Was this what the end would be like? To die in a dead town with Scully watching? He was frozen , powerless, and so terribly scared.
"Help me!" he heard himself shout hoarsely, "please, somebody help me. I don't want to be a part of this. Scully!" *Scully, I love you.*
He felt his body sag, and then he sat on the cold ground, and the earth seemed to move in fast, to hit him with full force.
The door suddenly flung open, almost hitting Skinner and Scully. They stared at each other in surprise, each with their own worried thoughts. Surprised, she stared into the silent, fresh darkness with Mulder in it. "Mulder .."
Hundreds of firm, solid bodies seemed to surround him. She could see them now as clearly as they had been during the first night and day they had spent in this town. Skinner waited, not really knowing what to do. Scully, however pushed and shoved herself forward until she reached her partner's side. He lay in a heap, crumpled as if broken. His eyes were blinking frantically, staring into nothingness. She feared the worst as she knelt beside him, pulling him up. His legs seemed strong enough to carry him, but she was afraid his mind wasn't. She kept on ignoring the ghosts, forcing herself to take it one step at a time. Only a few seconds later he slumped forward and against her, dragging her with him. Before she could fall, Skinner was there, taking over. Together they carefully put him on the cold, sandy road before the cottage. She knelt down and turned him, examining his injuries. He moved slightly as she touched him, but was unconscious. The silence was almost deafening, much too quiet. Something was wrong.
Quickly Dana got up and turned, to stare into the dead faces of the townsfolk of Allensbergh, burned and dead, like the day they died. "Why?" she asked shivering, as she stared at them, ignoring Skinner's fierce glance. "We've done nothing to you! Leave us alone!"
The priest spoke, slowly shaking his head. "We don't have a choice. We made a pact to continue living here, and we are faithful to keeping it."
"Who did you make a pact with?" Skinner asked from his sitting position.
"What does it matter, Walter Skinner?" Jane Marsh spoke. She wore black gloves over her burned hands, as if she was cold and would never get warm again. Suddenly Scully saw it, each and every one of them was dressed in an old-fashioned manner. Clothes that dated from the previous century, hair that was dressed according to Victorian fashion. These people were much older than all of them thought. The report she had received on Albert was fake. How long? How old? They would never tell her.
The priest continued, answering Skinner's question, but he spoke to Scully. "You are religious, Dana Scully. What name would you give to him that can offer us life in exchange for death?"
"No, " she slowly said in denial, "I refuse to believe in the Devil."
"But you believe in God. If there is a God, can there not be a Devil?"
She took a deep breath. "All right then. If there's a Devil, what pact do I have to make to save my partner?"
Albert Marsh spoke to Scully now, stepping forward from the darkness. "We don't want anything from you. You can leave now."
"I don't understand."
"Don't ask any questions. Take our offer and leave. Now."
They seemed to be flocking around her like a pack of animals. She remembered Mulder's words when he described what had happened at the church. He was right. You *could* smell their burned skin and flesh. It was terrible. All of this was a nightmare. It had to be. Her scientific mind couldn't comprehend it.
But here they were, and they wouldn't go away. She opened her mouth to ask more questions, but Skinner's look stopped her. The people were leaving them, passing them as if they were the ones who didn't exist. They just walked away, leaving the nauseating scent behind. She tried not to gag. "Mulder." She knelt down, waiting patiently with Skinner until her partner regained his senses. He didn't understand what was going on and for once she was grateful for it. What he had seen was enough to make a grown man go crazy. He didn't deserve this.
Scully felt a hand on her shoulder, and Skinner said, "Let's get him in the car."
Both of them helped Mulder into the back seat, a gesture he refused. He wanted to sit next to her. Without arguing she slid in the back seat beside him, making him lean against her. He felt her soft skin and flesh, and wanted to cling to it, even in his dazed state. This was all he wanted, an anchor to cling to. She was his anchor.
Skinner slid in behind the wheel and started the car. Without looking back they drove off.
Mulder was semi-conscious when they left town. Even though he was exhausted and couldn't keep his eyes open for more than a few minutes at the same time, he refused to give in. He saw the burned church on Main Street, and the crumbled houses surrounding the debris.
Scully's head was pounding from the fall she had made. The pain reminded her of the reality she was in. This wasn't a dream. Everything she had seen was real. Or was it? Was all of this a dream created by their own imaginations? No, it couldn't be. Skinner had seen it too. Mulder had seen and felt it. She only had to look aside to be reminded of the reality. She knew Mulder was in bad shape. *Damn it, Mulder. Why the hell do you keep persisting in finding the truth, even when it's slapping you in the face?*
But this time she knew it was her fault. She was the one responsible for his condition. Even though she had not forced him to go inside the church, she had pushed him toward it with her denial. And when he had faced the demons, she hadn't been able to help him.
Why the hell did she have to be so stubborn? It was all so different now. Every time he was in pain, she was in pain. It had been so for a long time, but even more so since that aborted kiss in the hallway -- ever since he had told her he loved her. This was beyond sharing a bed. It went so much further than that; it so much more intense. She could almost dream of having him near her at all times, wanting to wake up and go to bed with him. It would be so easy to give into that, but it wasn't even necessary anymore. She loved him beyond anybody she had ever loved before. She knew that as he lay in her arms, unable to live inside the real world for now. She had caused this and she would have to fix it, so maybe one day he wouldn't have to prove himself to her anymore.
Suddenly she felt a hand on her lower arm. Surprised she looked aside, and saw Mulder watching her. "It wasn't your fault, " he said slowly, as if he could read her mind. After more than five years, that wasn't so hard to do.
Scully didn't respond to his words, and watched him close his eyes again, slumping against her. His fingers touched her lap. Then his attitude changed. He moved away from her until his head rested against the back of the seat. "Mulder?" She touched his arm, caressing his leg next. "Mulder, wake up." No response. "Sir!"
Skinner's eyes found hers in the rearview mirror. He stopped the car immediately and got out to open the back door. In agony, Scully touched Mulder's throat. Her partner's pulse was rapid but faint. She heard his breath, uneasy and uneven. There was nothing she could do for him here. They were still in the middle of nowhere.
She grabbed her cell phone, to discover she could finally call out. Quickly she dialed 911 and explained the woman on the other line what her partner's condition was. The woman told her she was near the hospital and offered to send an ambulance.
"No, " Skinner said, "it'll go faster if we drive him ourselves." Scully slid in beside her partner again, pulling him against her. Following the dispatcher's directions, they took off. Skinner drove fast, having no trouble whatsoever reaching the Provencetown Hospital. As they stopped at the emergency entrance, ER techs were already waiting for them. They opened Mulder's side of the car and lifted him gently onto a gurney, taking him in to the small ER. Scully had already gotten out and didn't object when Skinner took her arm to guide her inside. Her head was pounding, her body ready to collapse at any second. Then, as if she was in shock, she started to shiver, and she realized she was going to faint. The last thing she knew was Skinner's strong arms as he lifted her up and got her onto a bed somehow.
- 17 -
The next thing Scully knew she was in the ER, lying on a bed. Someone had put a blanket over her. A nurse helped her to sit up. A doctor came in, introduced himself and asked her the routine questions. "Do you have any blurred vision? Do you know what day it is? Do you remember what happened?"
She responded to all of them with a distant voice. A nurse helped her remove her clothes, leaving her in the room in a hospital gown. Her head felt like exploding. Her knees and hands were bleeding. She hadn't even noticed that before.
She saw Skinner at the door to her examining room. He entered the room when he noticed she had seen him. He looked worried.
"Are you okay, Agent Scully?"
"Yeah, just my knees and hands." She stretched them out and showed them to him. Her eyes looked at them herself, staring at them as if in confirmation that everything she had seen had truly happened. Skinner touched her wrist lightly, saying softly, "I'm sorry this has happened to the both of you, Dana. If I had known..."
"Being treated for smoke inhalation and dehydration. His arm has already been set and put in a proper cast. They were a little concerned that it wasn't quite aligned, but they took care of it and gave him painkillers. He'll be fine, Scully. Don't worry about him now. Worry about yourself for now."
"I need to see him."
"I'll take you up to see him as soon as you're able. Scully, take it easy."
She nodded her head slowly, and let it all just happen. The gash on the back of her head was taken care of, her hands were bandaged, her knees too. Someone handed her a clean set of scrubs because of her lack of clean clothes. She changed in the small bathroom outside the doctor's station. She refused to stay in bed, despite the doctor's diagnosis of a slight concussion and an admonition to get some rest. Skinner didn't argue with her when she repeated her request to see Mulder.
He took her up to the third floor Intermediate Care ward where she could see her partner through another glass window. He seemed to be asleep. She could see the machines at work around him. In the morning he would be fine. The damage was minimal, or so the doctor said. Amazing, if one considered the fact he had been trapped inside a burning building. He was exhausted and dehydrated and his lungs and throat were badly irritated from the smoke, but nothing that a few days of rest and some respiratory therapy wouldn't fix.
Then the police and FBI came. The local chief took one long look at her and asked what had happened to them. Mulder was still unconscious and unable to respond to any questions. She would have to give them a statement. Skinner had already given his.
"I can't remember what happened, " she heard herself say. "It's all vague. We were in a fire. At least, Mulder was in a fire. Assistant Director Skinner saved his life. I was unconscious at the time. My partner was unable to get out by himself."
A knock on the door stirred the people in the room. The nurse at admittance entered the room, asking for Scully. "Your partner's awake, " she said, "he's very confused. He wants to see you. He keeps on calling for a priest. Dr. Lange has already given him a sedative but he seems to be fighting it."
"A priest?" she repeated, staring at Skinner. They both vividly remembered the body of the burned man, talking to them as if he was life itself.
"Yes. We tried to tell your partner there's no threat to his life, but he kept on demanding to see the priest. Perhaps you could talk to him?"
"I will, " Scully assured the nurse, thanking her.
Skinner left them alone in the room after glancing at the agent. He knew the man was still awake, fighting off the sedatives that were supposed to put him to sleep. He opened his eyes immediately as soon as he heard Scully's voice, thanking their former boss.
"Are you okay?" Mulder asked rapidly. She could hear how hoarse his voice sounded, how very fatigued.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
She smiled. "Just a small bump along the road. I'm fine, honestly."
"Good." He closed his eyes in relief.
"Mulder, why do you want to see the priest?"
He opened his eyes again, this time immediately responding. "I wanted to know why. I still want to know."
"They're gone, Mulder. I'm pretty sure we won't find anything in that village anymore. I'm not even so sure if Allensbergh has ever existed."
"But you don't doubt what you saw, do you?"
"No." Her hand lay firm on his as she said, "Not for one second."
"And I knew you would get my ass out of there somehow, " Mulder joked. "You always do. Hey, I got a cute ass, don't I?"
She smiled through the tears she didn't even realize had been filling her eyes. He was already asleep when she replied, "Yeah, you've got a cute ass."
He was already sitting up in bed complaining about the lousy breakfast they gave him when Scully visited him again. Skinner had taken over the watch somewhere in the middle of the night, forcing her to get some sleep herself. He was right. When she woke up in the morning, she felt much better and rested. Even the headache had been forced to the back of her mind. Other things were more pressing now. "Scully, please tell Skinner I'm doing great and I would like to go home today, " her partner begged as soon as she entered.
"Sir, he's doing great, and if he's a good boy and eats his breakfast, he can go home tomorrow, the doctor said."
Mulder's "Hey!" was followed by Skinner's muttering retort "I told you so!"
Scully sat down on the side of the bed. As Skinner turned to leave, she asked him to stay. Surprised, their former boss sat down on the chair again, and watched them quietly, knowing the three of them needed to talk about what they saw. But it seemed that none of them could.
Mulder quickly turned serious as he looked her straight in the eyes. "Why did you lie to the police?"
"You told them I was caught in a fire. You didn't tell them what caused it."
"Is that what you wanted me to do?"
"How can I if we cannot even explain it ourselves?"
He sighed deeply, going through his hair with his right arm. She saw the cast on his left arm, and wondered how long it would take for the scars to heal from this ordeal, both the mental and the physical.
"Are you in denial again, Scully?" She was shocked by his blunt question, knowing he had every right to ask it.
"No, " she said quietly, fiddling with the sheets, "I'm not."
"Then why didn't you tell them what really happened?"
"What good would it have done? It would have sounded..."
"Yeah." She smiled. "Spooky."
He grinned painfully. "Perhaps, Scully, you'll find out one day what it's like to lead my life. You're right, it's no fun. You're absolutely right to deny what you saw."
"Mulder, " she answered quickly, "I'm not denying it to you. You were right, I was wrong. It nearly cost you your life and I'm sorry. I can't tell you enough how sorry I am. I..."
He quickly put his fingers on her lips. She was shocked and surprised by his gesture but didn't pull back when he did. "It's okay, Dana, " he softly said, "I understand. Honestly I do."
She blinked at the tears in her eyes. Lately she seemed more vulnerable and open than ever before. Would she be able to tell him how she really felt one day? Perhaps so, but not now. Yes, not even now.
Walter Skinner didn't exactly know what to say when he sat near the side of his agent, watching him as he tried to shift into a more comfortable position in the bed. The feelings of guilt still hadn't disappeared nor the knowledge he could have caused their deaths.
"I'm sorry about your friend, " Mulder said suddenly, "I haven't had the chance to tell you yet, but I don't think he suffered. He was their sacrifice. I don't know how or why but he died not knowing why." "Did he know they were long dead?"
"I think he did. He must have found out somehow. They tried to scare him off at first, just like me, but he refused to budge. It was his home and he loved it there. He paid for it with his life."
Skinner sighed. "I've tried to find everything I could on the town of Allensbergh. It's impossible. It's like that little town never existed. I still don't understand."
"They've kept their secret well. You won't find anything on them. If we go back there, we'll find nothing but debris. They've staged their own deaths and lives, and they're good at it."
"Will you go back there?" Skinner asked curiously, knowing his agent would love to find out the truth.
"No." Mulder slowly nodded his head. "It's not worth it."
"So what are you going to do then?"
Mulder grinned slightly. "Back to life, back to reality."
"Will you be able to forget?"
"No." The grin disappeared. "Does anyone ever forget?"
It was a question Skinner pondered for a long time since.
Scully woke up in the middle of her dream, awakened by the sound of his voice next to her. Mulder was caught up in his own demons and nightmares, his hand restless on her lap. He didn't even know he was touching her. She heard the humming of the plane they were in, and quickly woke him up, ignoring the weird looks of their neighbors.
He opened his eyes and stared at her, not recognizing her at first. She knew he had been dreaming of being trapped inside the church. She had dreamed it herself too much these past few nights. And every time she came too late to help him out.
And then she dreamed of returning to that small town and of seeing the people in there staring back at their with their fierce eyes, sunken in their burned and black skin. She could feel their touch as they stretched out their hands and grabbed her body to sacrifice to the darkness.
She did not want to go back, nor did she ever want to think about that town again. But the dreams and memories were there, and they would linger on until both of them were able to put it behind them. She turned her head and saw her partner smile at her. He understood. She knew that as long he was there for her, she would never feel the same kind of fear again. He would not let it happen. He would make sure she got past this. Somehow and someday, the memory wouldn't be so vivid. And the priest would leave her thoughts forever.
- 18 -
The young man passed the cottage by accident. Intrigued, by its simple features he stopped his Beetle to check it out. He had nothing with him but a set of clothes and some money to pay the rent. He opened the door to the shack, finding the stacks of paintings immediately. They were fascinating. He wanted to meet the artist, and to talk to him about ambition and the hope to one day become the world's best artist. That's why he had left home in the first place. To find a new place to stay, and to become his own independent person.
He heard noises on outside. Quickly, he grabbed his things and opened the door. A man in a black suit with a white collar smiled as their eyes met. "I'm sorry, " the young man stumbled, "I was just looking, I..."
"This cottage is empty and ready for use if you want to, " the priest interrupted him. "Are you interested, young man?"
"Of course I am."
"Good, gather your things then and move in. After that, I'll show you around Allensbergh. You'll love this little town of ours. We're friendly and hospitable. Let me introduce you to the people."
The young artist thought he'd found heaven on Earth. How little did he know.