Title: Schreck Mansion Blues
Author: P.C.Rasmussen
Feedback: Yes, please. I need it. I live of it. I thrive on it. Please?
Rating: R (I guess)

Disclaimer: Don't own'em. Wish I did. Don't sue me. I don't have any money and
I'm not making any on this either.
Spoilers: None, really. A mild reference to another beloved haunted house-story,
but nothing substantial.

Summary: On Halloween, Mulder goes exploring on his own and Scully ends up having to face some pretty strange things to save him from certain doom.

Author's Note: This story has a sort of open ending and it's got a lot of MulderAngst going on. Hope you guys like it. :o)

October 29 Dana Scully's residence

Darkness had fallen hours ago, shrouding the world with a blanket of impenetrable blackness. No stars were visible and no moon brightened the overcast sky. Another day had passed with stressful activity and seemingly unending piles of paperwork for Dana Scully. But the case was over and she was back home, ready for bed and looking forward to a good night's sleep. Trailing through her living room, switching off lights as she went, she felt relaxed and dreamy, well aware that those feelings would provide her with a long, healthy sleep. One she dearly needed after this last case, which had ended successfully, leaving both her and her partner drained and in desperate need of a weekend with nothing to do.

With a content sigh, she reached for the last lamp, which was sitting right beside the phone, ready to switch it off, too, when the phone rang. She froze and stared at the sometimes obnoxious contraption, then she grabbed the receiver, already knowing who it was before she introduced herself. "Scully," she said, not quite managing to suppress the slight hint of annoyance in her voice.

"Hey! What are you up to?"

It was so typical Mulder to start a telephone conversation without introducing himself. "I'm on my way to bed, Mulder," she said in a slightly exasperated tone of voice, hoping against hope that he would take the hint and leave her to it.

"So soon? It's not even 10 p.m. yet," he replied, sounding surprised. "Scully, it's Friday night. Don't you have a date or something?"

For a moment she considered a suitable comeback to that one, but didn't feel like getting into a major banter with him. Instead she repeated her sigh. "Mulder, I'm tired, okay? I really, really, really want to go to bed and just fall into a 100-year sleep," she said, hoping that if she cut it out in cardboard for him, he would apologize and leave her alone. No such luck.

"Do I get to wake you with a kiss, then?" he asked and she could virtually see the smirk on his lips.

She closed her eyes and briefly considered just hanging up on him. But she knew what the result of that would be. He would call her back immediately, certain they'd been cut off. "Sure. If you let me sleep for 100 years," she finally said, her tone sarcastic.

"Ooh, Scully. That sounds really romantic. Should I come charging into your bedroom on a white horse, then?" he asked on, a smile in his voice.

"Mulder, if you come charging into my bedroom on a white horse, I'm going to shoot you and marry the horse, okay?" she told him, unable to keep the smile from her voice.

Mulder chuckled under his breath and she heard the characteristic crack of a sunflower seed losing its husk. "Wow! Easy now, my lady. Horses aren't cheap, you know," he told her, enjoying the joke.

"You mean, it would bring me flowers and chocolate?" Scully retorted, trying to sound cross but not quite managing.

Unable to keep up the charade any more, he started laughing. "You crack me up, Scully," he told her after regaining marginal control over his need to laugh at her jokes. "Listen, I actually called because I wanted something."

"Really?" she asked. "And here I was thinking that you just called to hear my voice," she mocked him. "Whatever it is, it's not going to happen tonight, Mulder. As I said before, I'm tried. I want to go to bed and sleep."

"Yeah, I know. But, it's not tonight. It's on October 31. The Schreck Mansion is having an open house night. I just have to check that out. You wanna come?" he asked, sounding all excited.

"The... Schreck Mansion?" she asked and rolled her eyes with vexation, wondering who came up with those names. "You mean that old German mansion near
Charlottesville?" she asked on.

"The same," he agreed, cracking another husk with his teeth. "Come on, Scully. It could be fun. They're having a Halloween-special. With cobwebs and ghosts booing. The whole casaba."

For a long moment, she remained silent, thinking up a million ways to get out of that one. Then she sighed again. With Mulder, there was only one way. "No," she finally said.

"What do you mean, no? You haven't even thought about it," he replied almost at once, sounding slightly miffed.

"Mulder, what part of no don't you understand? I am not going to spend Halloween in an old German mansion with fake cobwebs getting stuck in my hair and rubber ghosts jumping at me from all corners. That is not my idea of fun, okay? So, no, I don't want to go," she tried to explain, knowing full well that he would keep pestering her about it until she caved in and said yes just to get him off her back.

"Sculleee," he whined. "It's not going to be any fun without you. Come on. Please? For me?"

"No, Mulder. Now, get off the phone. I want to go to bed and sleep. Besides, you get a bigger kick out of telling me about it afterward," she told him sternly.

For a moment, there was morose silence at the other end, then she heard him sigh and crack another sunflower seed. "Fine. I'll just go and have fun on my own," he pouted.

"Be my guest," Scully told him with a smile. "Now would you please let me get to sleep?" she added.

"Okay, Scully. Have a nice nap," he finally said, sounding all cheeky again. "I'll tell you all about this trip on Monday, okay?"

"Yeah, you do that. And don't get into any kind of trouble, okay? I do not want to have to bail you out of a haunted mansion, Halloween or no Halloween," she said. "Good night, Mulder."

"Night, Scully. Sleep tight," he replied and hung up.

Scully returned the receiver to its cradle and gave it a thoughtful look. "Heaven help me," she mumbled. "I am not going to give in to this one. If he calls again, I will stay firm and tell him no," she promised herself, switched the light off and went to bed.

October 31
Schreck Mansion
Charlottesville, Virginia

The house turned out to be no house at all. It looked more like an ancient castle with towers and spires rising toward a brooding sky. Darkness had come a while ago and the torches placed along the long, winding path leading up to the mansion added to the mystic and somewhat scary feel the building gave off.

Mulder stood at the beginning of the path, admiring the sight unfolding in front of him. His car was parked in the lot to his right and he could fully understand why the visitors weren't allowed to park their cars up by the mansion. It would deduct from the spooky atmosphere surrounding the large structure. The pale, off-white stones the mansion had been built of and the black tiles of the roof made him gape in amazement.

Schreck Mansion had been built sometime in the 18th century by some bigshot German business man, who apparently had thought he was still in Germany. The feel of the building was definitely European. At each corner of the house, there was a high, slim tower and above the entrance, which was in the center of the front of the house, a large, wide clock tower rose high into the air.

Slowly, he made his way up the winding path, his eyes never leaving the building growing to sinister proportions the closer he got. It was breathtaking, a dream come true for any believer of the supernatural. He knew from research that investigators into the paranormal loved Schreck Mansion. It was said to be haunted and every Halloween, there was an open house night, where people could visit the otherwise uninhabited mansion and get scared out of their senses by the mere atmosphere of the house. The caretakers had arranged it as a ways to help them financially in the huge task it was to keep the mansion in reasonable shape.

It took him a little more than ten minutes to reach the square in front of the mansion. For a brief moment, he felt as if he had been transferred back in time and for a minute he actually expected to be met by the original owner when the huge entrance doors opened.

A woman in her mid-forties stood there, smiling at him. "Good evening. Have you come for our open house?" she asked.

Mulder nodded. "Yeah. This is quite a place," he said, craning his neck to look up at the clock tower rising above him. He felt dwarfed by its sheer height.

"Oh yes, it is," the woman said. "And it's even more impressive on the inside," she added and stepped aside to let him in.

Mulder stepped through the doors and found himself dumbstruck by the sheer sensory overload he received from the entrance hall of the mansion. Extricate carvings on the wall panels, all kept in earth tones, gave him a sense of having entered a darker, more evil dimension. The ceiling of the hall loomed above him, brooding with its religiously inspired paintings and dark background. "Wow," was all he could say.

The woman smiled knowingly, having seen that kind of reaction countless times before. "When you take your walk through this mansion, please stick to the marked route. This is a very big house and it is quite possible to get lost here," she said, making a sweeping gesture toward the broad flight of stairs leading up to the upper parts of the house. "The red cords mark the route," she added. "I'm Mrs. Crane."

Mulder pulled himself together long enough to give her a smile. "Thank you, Mrs. Crane. I'll be sure to stick to the route," he said, thinking that he would certainly go exploring if he saw the chance. "How long are you open?" he wanted to know.

Mrs. Crane folded her hands almost primly in front of her. "We close at 1 a.m. Please try to be back here by then. My husband and I do make a round before we leave, but the house will be locked off after 1.30 a.m. and we don't come here more than once a week."

Nodding, Mulder barely heard her. His eyes were once again trailing over the impressive interior of the hall. "Sure," he said, slowly turning, fully captivated by the atmosphere. "I'll be back by then," he added, giving Mrs. Crane a fleeting smile before he headed toward the first open door which was marked by the red cord leading through it.

Mrs. Crane gazed after him for a moment, then sighed. She had seen that fascination before and it always scared her a little. Glancing at her watch, she noted the time. It was 8.05 p.m. It would be a long evening. She didn't feel like being in the house after dark, but on this one night of the year, she could handle it for a few hours as long as she knew that her husband was near by, too.

Corridors twisting and turning, rooms as big as a ballroom, all equipped with 18th century furniture in mint condition, led Mulder through a at the same time creepy and marvelous world. He walked slowly, eyeing carvings of odd scenes which made little sense with interest. This house was a tribute to the dark arts. There was no doubt in his mind. Most of the carvings were referring to witchcraft, voodoo and the likes. One had to know that when looking at the carvings, but for him there was no doubt. Although he couldn't decipher most of the carvings, he knew what they were without thinking too much about it.

He met a few people along the way, most of them looking really spooked, and that made him grin. These people got what they came here for. He could sense the darkness in the atmosphere and knew that the other visitors could, too. The atmosphere was greatly influenced by the decor, he knew, but he also felt as if the house itself had a kind of presence. It mostly felt as if he was walking around inside a living, breathing thing.

At that thought, a shudder ran through him and he smiled at the goose pimples rushing up his arms. There was nothing quite like that feeling. And all he could think was that Scully was missing out on this. He felt like calling her and letting her know. Stopping, he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed her number. But there was interference, probably from the structure of the house, and he couldn't get through. Somewhat disappointed, he switched the phone off and stuffed it back into his pocket, then glanced around him.

The corridor he was in was lined with doors on either side, all closed and bared by the red cords. That would usually not hold him back from diverting from the set course, but he was too engrossed in his surroundings to give it any serious thought. Slowly, he walked on, inspecting the paneling along the wall with ever growing interest, until he reached a door which was ajar. Stopping again, he stared at it in utter fascination for a moment, then glanced either way to make sure he was alone in the corridor. Finding that he was, he then returned his attention to the door and reached out to give it a light push. It swung open into a room, which had doors going off in all directions. Too curious to leave it be, Mulder ducked under the cord, stepped into the room and carefully pushed the door shut behind him.

Reaching out for the light switch, he then looked around the room, wondering where either of the doors would lead him. Time to go exploring, he figured. Glancing at his watch, he promised himself he would not lose track of time and be back by the entrance at 1 a.m.

The house turned out to be a much bigger challenge than he had thought it would be. There were staircases leading up to levels halfway to the ceiling of any given floor. The library, which for some reason wasn't on the tour, was huge in every sense. It felt to him as if it reached from the ground floor to the upper regions of the house, but he figured that was probably just an optical illusion because of the almost offensive amount of books stored there.

Slowly walking through the immense library, craning his neck to see the top of the bookshelves, which he felt should be shrouded in clouds, he felt the rush of adrenaline rippling through him at the speed of light. Why this house had that kind of effect on him he didn't know. But there was more here than met the eye. That much he was certain of. He could almost sense it in the air.

A bump behind him made him jerk and he turned to see a book lying on the floor where he had just walked past. Frowning, he glanced upward again, trying to estimate where it had come from, and saw a pile of discarded books on a shelve further up. The stack was neither tidy nor straight and it was no wonder that the book had fallen off the top of the pile, probably prompted by the vibrations of his footsteps. Grinning, he silently scolded himself for letting himself get spooked by a book, and continued on his unsupervised trek through the haunted mansion.

Glancing at his watch, he stopped dead in his tracks. He had arrived at 8 p.m. and it was now 12.30 a.m. Surprised that four and a half hours had passed him by without a trace made him frown. Glancing around the large ballroom he had just entered, he tried to employ his usually good sense of direction and decided that if he continued onward to the other end of the hall and walked through the doors there, he should come out either on the same level or right on top of the entrance hall.

He reached the double doors and grabbed the handles, twisting them down, only to realize that the doors were locked. With a somewhat annoyed sigh, he glanced around and saw a single door to his right. He still knew where he would end up if he went through that door and it also turned out to be open. Unfortunately, the door didn't open up into a room, but to a tight corridor, which twisted away from the ballroom at an odd angle.

Giving the corridor an uncertain glance, he then briefly looked behind him, searching for another way out of the ballroom, but there was none other than the way he had come in and he wasn't so sure he could find his way back to the entrance hall in time if he went back that way. Undetermined, he again sent a glance down the twisting corridor, thinking his options through. Okay, so he could go down that corridor and try to keep his orientation until he reached the end, wherever that might be. It would probably be easier than going back the way he'd come.

Half an hour later, he started feeling a little frustrated. He had left the tight corridor behind and had stepped out into one of the bigger, certain he had been there before. He had gone it in the direction he figured the entrance hall would be and had suddenly found himself at the North end of the house. Cursing under his breath, he had turned around and run back the way he'd come. On the way, he had passed the still open door to the smaller corridor and was sure he was on the right track then, only to find himself at the South end of the house, facing a dead end.

Suddenly, this wasn't so much fun any more. Come to think of it, he hadn't met anybody for quite a long while and it was starting to worry him a little. Mrs. Crane had told him that she and her husband would make a round through the house before locking up, so he didn't really feel too worried yet, but it was ten minutes past the time where the front door had been locked and he had yet to find a corridor that was marked with the red cords. Deciding that it might be best to return to the ballroom and go back from there, he turned and ran back the way he'd come, keeping an eye out for the open door. The further he ran, the more convinced he became that he had lost his mind. He knew for certain that he had not taken a wrong turn, but there was no open door anywhere along the route he was taking and when he ended up back at the North end of the house where he had been previously, he started getting just a tad nervous.

Stopping for a moment to catch his breath, he tried to think clearly, trying to visualize the route he had taken and knew for a fact that he had gone the right way. So the door had closed. Was that so abnormal in an old house? No, of course not, but then it should have been closed the first time he passed it and he knew for a fact that it had been open.

Taking another glance at his watch, he noted that it had turned 1.30 a.m. and the thought that he was now all alone in this house made his flesh crawl. Shaking his head in denial, he took a look around the room he was in. It was similar to the ballroom he had been in earlier, but definitely not the same room. His eyes trailed over the windows and the heavy, ornamental bars in front of each one. There was no getting out of the windows. That much he knew. Not here on the first floor and not downstairs, either.

Closing his eyes for a moment, he inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, then opened his eyes again and looked around once more. Right then, he spotted a door he had missed earlier. Hoping that he was now heading in the right direction, he ran over to it and pulled it open. A flight of narrow stairs lead downward and he nearly sighed with relief. Not thinking twice about it, he hurried down the steps until he came to another door, which opened just as easily. Grinning now, he stepped out into a corridor lined with the red cord and hurriedly followed it back to the entrance hall. It was 1.45 a.m. at that point.

The front doors were locked, but he had expected that. Since there was still light in the majority of the building, he figured that the caretaker and his wife were still there, checking the house for lost visitors before leaving for the night. Instead of getting himself all worked up about having to spend the night in the old house, he settled down on a bench to wait for them. The bench was rather comfortable, covered in red velvet, soft and with a high back. Leaning back against it, he sighed and slowly realized how tired he really was. With a yawn, he allowed himself to close his eyes for a moment to just take the peak of his fatigue, fully aware that he would have to drive all the way back to Alexandria.

With a jerk, he woke up, at first unaware of where he was and why he was sitting up. Then it came back to him in a rush. It was pitch dark around him, not a sound to be heard anywhere. Frowning into the darkness, he sat up. There was no way in hell that the caretaker and his wife could have missed him when they had left the house and that in general made him quite aware of that they had already left by the time he arrived back in the entrance hall. Which again meant that the lights could obviously be switched off from outside the house unless they were on a timer. Hoping for the latter, since it would mean that he could switch them back on from the inside, he slowly rose from the comfortable bench and tried to find his bearings in the darkness.

Pressing the light-button on his watch, his frown deepened when he realized he had been asleep for almost two hours. It was 3.15 a.m. "Great, Mulder. You've done it again," he mumbled under his breath. His car was sitting in the parking lot outside the grounds of Schreck Mansion and if the caretaker and his wife had not noticed in there, he was in deep shit. He didn't particularly want to spend the entire night locked up in this house. With a sigh, he searched for and found the wall and made his way up to the entrance doors to find a light switch.

The lights came on easily enough and he sent a look around the entrance hall, feeling very much alone all of a sudden. The house was huge, enormous, and he was locked in, all alone. With a shudder, he hugged himself, sending suspicious glances to the carvings on the walls and the paintings on the ceiling. Then he sighed deeply. "Get a grip," he mumbled. He knew very well what Scully was going to say to this.

Suddenly remembering his cell phone, he snapped his fingers and pulled it out of his pocket. Of course. That was the trick. He had memorized the number of the caretaker, a reflex when he dialed a number the first time. All he had to do was call them and tell them they'd locked him in, could they please come and let him out. Grinning, he switched it on and dialed the number, then brought the phone to his ear. Nothing. There was no sound at all. Not even static. Frowning, he took a closer look at the illuminated display of the phone, shook it, then listened to it again with the same result. "What the hell?" he mumbled, then sighed.

Okay, fine, so maybe he would be forced to spend the night in this house. He could sleep on the bench. It was comfortable enough and he would be close enough to the front doors to hear them open. Stopping short in his mental tracks, his eyes trailed over to the locked front doors and he paled considerably. "Oh shit," he said. The caretakers weren't coming back for a week. That was what Mrs. Crane had told him. "Aw, no." In sheer frustration, he kicked the solid looking bench.

"Okay, okay," he told himself quietly. "Don't lose it. There has to be a phone in this place somewhere," he added and looked around. Talking to himself was usually not something he did, but he felt better hearing his own voice than nothing at all.

Looking around again, he tried to come up with a location for a phone, but found that despite the two-hour nap he'd had, he was tired to the bone. It could wait till morning, he decided. Dropping down on the bench again, he stretched out on it, draped an arm over his face and sighed. Scully was going to have a field day with this one. She was never going to let him live it down. The thought of her making fun of him about that had its charm. With that on his mind, he fell asleep again.

When he woke up again, it was broad daylight. That was, inside the house, it was brighter than it had been during the night. He could see his surroundings easily, but it was still gloomy, still dark enough to be oppressive. Sitting up on the bench, he arched his back and groaned. Okay, so the bench wasn't as comfortable as he had originally thought. Rolling his head from side to side, he almost winced when his neck cracked. "Great," he grumbled and got up.

His stomach rumbled with hunger and he decided that he needed to check out the house for something edible first. Then he could focus on finding a phone and getting out of this place. With one hand pressed against his somewhat sore back, he started toward the North wing of the house in search of the kitchen. He found it fairly quickly and was slightly surprised to find a fully functional, highly modern refrigerator, which even contained food. Not much, but enough to get him by until he had managed to get in touch with someone over the phone, which he kept telling himself was bound to be in the house.

After making himself a mug of coffee, he decided to move on to find that phone. Taking the mug with him, he trailed on through the North wing, opening doors along the way, searching for a study or something similar. At the far end of that wing, he entered a winter garden, which was in severe need of a helping hand, but he didn't really care about the state the plants were in. He looked around for a moment, glanced upward at the high glass ceiling above him, then looked around once more and spotted a door at the other end of the winter garden. It lead out of the elaborate greenhouse and back into the mansion. With a heavy sigh, he figured that there was no phone in this end of the house. At least he didn't expect to find one in the winter garden.

Turning around, he left again and took the second corridor back toward the entrance hall. He continued to open doors along the way, inspecting rooms which seemingly had no other function than a living room. It made him wonder a little why there would be that many rooms with only that purpose. But, in general, it didn't matter. All that mattered was finding a phone. The last door he opened before he would have reentered the entrance hall admitted him into the study he had been looking for. And there, on a large, mahogany desk, stood a completely new, high-tech telephone.

With a sigh of relief, he stepped inside, closed the door behind him and walked briskly over to the phone. Grabbing it, he almost fearfully brought it up to his ear and grinned brightly when he heard the dial tone. He quickly dialed the number of the caretaker, which he had memorized when calling for directions, and listened to the clicks and whirrs in the wiring. And then the line went dead. Frowning, he stabbed a finger down on the cradle, got the dial tone again and re-dialed the number. A second later, the line went dead again.

With an annoyed snort, he had to acknowledge that there was something wrong with the caretaker's phone. Thinking it over for a moment, he then decided to call the office and get a hold of Scully, who was probably wondering where he was by now. It would make the wait a little longer, but he knew she would be able to get him out.

After dialing the number, he waited a second and cursed silently when the line died again. "Damn it," he hissed, stabbed the cradle of the phone again and managed to punch in the first number before realizing that there had been no dial tone this time around. Okay, so the fault was with the phone at this end. That again meant he wouldn't be able to get out of this place for a while yet. Maybe he was lucky and the caretaker would come back earlier.

Standing there with his back to the door and one hand still resting on the receiver of the phone, Mulder suddenly had the feeling that he was being watched. Frowning, he raised his head, trying to determine where it came from. Whoever was watching him was somewhere behind him. But the distinct feeling that the watcher wasn't friendly made him hesitate before turning around. The fact that the skin on the back of his neck tingled and the small hairs there stood on end made him feel very uncomfortable. An uncommon fear swept him and he found that he was holding his breath without being aware of it. Exhaling slowly, he turned his head a little and glanced over his shoulder, then turned around abruptly to face the dark corner on the right side of the door, where he was certain the watcher was standing.

It was with some surprise and no small amount of discomfort that he realized that the corner was empty. It was almost worse than if he had spotted a heinous looking creature lurking in the dark corner. The fact was that he felt watched, but also knew that he was alone in the house.

A sensation of a cold draft hit him all of a sudden and he shuddered and hugged himself. There was definitely something wrong with this room and he decided that he would have to find a place where the atmosphere was brighter. Slowly walking back over to the door, he kept glancing about, wishing that feeling of being watched would just go away. It made him feel unwelcome and at the same time there was the sensation of need. Whatever had its eyes on him wanted something from him. But he wasn't going to stick around to find out what that something was.

Leaving the room behind in a hurry, he virtually ran back to the kitchen, where the feeling of being under observation ceased the second he closed the door behind him. Breathing a little more heavily than necessary after that short sprint, he leaned back against the door. It didn't take him much to realize that he really didn't want to be in this house any more. The fact that he couldn't get out and that he would probably be stuck in this place for the majority of the week frayed his nerves.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he exhaled, closed his eyes and focused on what had really scared him. The psychologist in him immediately began to analyze his state of mind and eventually, he grinned. The house had him spooked because he didn't like being locked up. Simple as that. The fact that he was unable to leave this house, no matter how big it was, had him on the edge of his seat, figuratively speaking, and that was why he started feeling pursued.

"Jeez," he mumbled, pushed away from the door, grabbed a new mug, and walked over to the coffee pot sitting on the long table, which stood in the middle of the kitchen. Dropping down on the bench, he rubbed both hands over his face for a moment, then poured himself another mug of coffee, wrapped his hands around it and sipped the hot liquid slowly while considering his current situation. There wasn't much he could do about it. He would have to try the phone again a little later.

The next feeling washing over him made him reconsider his findings about his own mental state. The thought of having to go back to that room made him shudder and no amount of analyzing could remove the feeling of dread rising in him. Deciding that he needed to find a room with a similar atmosphere as the kitchen had, it also had to be one where he could lock the door. There was something in this house with him and the more he thought about it, the less he was interested in finding out what it was.

Glancing toward the window, he stared at the brightness out there and found himself wishing desperately that he was out there. Hell, the Arctic would be a preferable place at that point in time.

"Okay, stop it," he told himself quietly. "Enough's enough. Scully would tan my hide for working myself up like this," he went on, somewhat soothed by the sound of his own voice. And the thought of Scully made him feel a little more secure. She would raise heaven and hell to find out what had happened to him. If he was lucky, he'd be out of this place before it got dark.

Continuously staring out at the bright daylight, he found that for the first time since he had been a child did he dread the night ahead. But he was sure Scully would get him out of here before then. She knew where he had gone, after all, and she would come to his rescue. The thought made him smile wryly, but the smile was wiped off his lips by a hollow thud somewhere in the house. Holding his breath, he glanced toward the ceiling, feeling cold all over. "Please hurry," he mouthed.

X-Files Office
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Washington, D.C.

Scully glanced at her watch for the umpteenth time and swore a rain of brimstone on Mulder's head if he didn't call her soon. Skinner had been on her case about his absence all morning, demanding she find out where he was, and so far, she'd had no luck in tracking him down.

"Damn it, Mulder. Where the hell are you?" she mumbled. 'Out following a hunch again, I bet,' she added in thoughts and sighed deeply. "Why do I always have to explain his absence?" she wondered aloud while staring up at the ceiling.

"You don't have to. I just assumed you'd know where he was," came Skinner's voice from the door.

Scully jerked around to face him, a little flustered that he'd overheard her talking to herself. Not a good sign, that. "Uh... well, I've had no luck in tracking him down. I have no idea where he is," she explained.

Skinner didn't look happy about the situation. Actually, he looked downright annoyed. "Well," he grumbled. "If you hear from him, let me know. It's important that I see him. Today, preferably," he added, turned around and walked away again.

Scully stared at the open door for a moment, then closed her eyes. 'I'm going to skin you alive if you don't have a good explanation, Mulder,' she promised silently and returned to the paperwork she had been going over.

Schreck Mansion
Charlottesville, Virginia

Having spent the better part of the morning in the kitchen with no sign of a rescue in sight, Mulder was starting to wonder. Nothing had happened since he had returned to the kitchen apart from the bump he had heard and that could have been anything. At this point, he was beginning to doubt his senses. Actually, he was doubting them severely and scolding himself for being so paranoid and downright childish about it. Okay, so maybe the house was haunted. So what? He had been in haunted houses before and they hadn't scared him so blatantly as this one did. So, what made Schreck Mansion different, then? He knew that the name meant Fear in German. Fear Mansion. That wasn't a bad name for this place. But on the other hand, the name of the house should not induce this kind of irrational behavior in him.

Rising from the bench, he walked over to the windows and looked out through the heavy bars covering it. The park surrounding the mansion looked serene even in the sunlight. Almost brooding. With a somewhat bemused frown, he wondered how a park could seem brooding. But it did. That was the only way he could describe the sense he got from this place. It wasn't only the house, then. It was probably also the ground it was built on which caused the obvious disturbances in the house itself, hence giving it the reputation of being haunted.

Finally deciding that he needed to take a look around in order to make sure there was no other way out of the building, he put the mug in the sink, poured the rest of the coffee down the drain and left the kitchen. The sensation of being watched wasn't present while he trailed through the ground floor of the huge structure, but his joy over being able to see this spook mansion from the inside was long gone. And it brought to mind a Christmas eve he and Scully had spent in a haunted house, being subjected to tricks of two vengeful ghosts.

It hadn't been that bad back then, had it? Of course not. He hadn't been alone back then. Scully had been there to take his mind off things. Dragging his feet, he tried to think happy thoughts and kept trying to imagine what Scully would do in this situation. She would try to rationalize the sounds he'd heard. She would try to make them of this world with words. And that was exactly what he both loved and hated about her. She was so frustratingly rational at times, it drove him up the walls. But he always reminded himself that she dealt with the unexplained that way. After all these years as his partner, she was still afraid of the things that fascinated him. And they still had their odd arguments about that subject.

Turning a corner, he came to an abrupt stop. The corridor ended with the doors leading into the winter garden. Frosted glass panes set in wooden frames blocked off the entrance. From behind those panes, he heard a nearly sizzling sound. Frowning, he stared more intensely at the milky white glass and the faint movement he could detect behind them. Thin, elongated shadows moved up and down behind the doors, followed by hollow thuds as if something wooden hit the wooden floor.

All of a sudden, he forgot to breathe and just stood there, staring with dread and fascination at what he believed was going on behind those doors. But there was no way in hell that he would go up there to find out if he was right. Nervously licking his lips, he took a hesitant step back. Almost as if his movement prompted it, the right door flew open, revealing a vine with withered leaves hanging limply from it. It was unlike any vine he had ever seen in his life, though. The stem was as thick as his arm. It came racing out of the winter garden and slammed its pointy tip into the ceiling, breaking the plaster and the wooden planks above easily.

Staring at it, he couldn't make himself move at first. The mere impossibility of the act he was witnessing made his mind incapable of processing the information his eyes were passing on. But when several other vines followed the first, slamming into the walls and the floor and he saw the carpet buckling as one of them made its way toward him, he suddenly regained his mobility. Not thinking straight, he swirled around and ran, hearing the sizzling sound of the following vines right behind him.

He made it all the way to the other end of the house before realizing that there was nothing behind him any more. Stopping dead in his tracks, he turned around, breathing hard. There was no sound and no movement anywhere down the long corridor he had run through. Dropping down into a crouch, not even for one second taking his eyes off the carpet, he listened hard and could hear nothing. There was no bulge in the carpet racing toward him and no vines ripping through the walls and ceiling to get to him.

It took him a long moment to regain his composure and his breath and while he crouched on the carpeted floor, his eyes scanning the corridor, a somewhat frustrated chuckle escaped him. Had he been running from a shadow? Or maybe he was finally snapping, losing his mind? No, he was sure of what he had seen. As sure as he had ever been of anything. He didn't hear things. He didn't see things, either. At least not things that weren't there. This place had its own life, its own agenda, and he didn't fit into its plan.

Rising, he continued to listen, but still heard nothing. "You want me to leave?" he suddenly called out, eyeing the walls and the ceiling for signs that he was being heard. But there was nothing. Not even a sigh of a chilly breeze. "I would love to, you know. I just can't. The front door is locked."

Waiting for a moment longer, he finally snorted with annoyance and decided that he was letting this place spook him. Whether the vines had been there or not didn't really matter. The fact was that he had let this place get to him because he was locked in. Drawing a deep breath, he started back toward the entrance hall. He had to admit that his gait wasn't as confident as he would have liked it to be, but who was there to see it? He was all alone in this house. So, who cared if his footsteps were a little wavering? Who gave a damn if he felt a little nervous about this whole thing? The answer was very simple. Nobody.

Glancing at his watch, he noted that it was late in the afternoon. Time had passed by with all this running around. The thought made him smile. It was a vague smile, but a smile nonetheless. "Scully would really have a field day with this," he told himself and chuckled a little nervously.

He decided to try and find a room to sleep in this night, providing he wasn't 'rescued' first. But he was beginning to doubt it. He was beginning to worry that Scully might not put two and two together and realize he was still in
Charlottesville. And if she didn't, he was in for a really long week.

X-Files Office J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington, D.C.

Scully glanced at her watch, noted that it was 4 p.m. and realized she hadn't heard from Mulder all day. Frowning, she grabbed the receiver of the phone, dialed his home number and once again got his machine. Starting to feel a little more than frustrated, she slammed the receiver down and glanced aimlessly around the office. What she couldn't figure out was where he could be. Usually, he would always call her and tell her what he was up to. Usually. So, why hadn't he called her yet?

She couldn't work it out. Considering their conversation last Friday, she would have thought he would have called her several times during Sunday evening to tell her what she was missing. But he hadn't. And he hadn't called early this morning to tell her, either. Her frown deepened while the possibilities started forming in her mind. What if he was still down there? If he had gotten himself into trouble, he would call her. - Wouldn't he? Well, he would if it wasn't too embarrassing.

Sometimes she was appalled by how much like a little kid he was. And how much he sometimes resembled other men. Mulder had to be unique in everything. When he wasn't, when he started reacting like other people would, then she couldn't help thinking that he wasn't being true to himself. It had long since dawned on her that the reason for that she liked him as much as she did was because he was weird. Mulder was not like everybody else. He was refreshingly new in everything he did and she wanted him to continue down that path.

With a smirk, she realized that Mulder's way of thinking had rubbed off on her. She was trying to imagine what kind of situation would be too embarrassing for him and she just couldn't lose the mental picture which had formed in her mind. It involved him and a certain scene from the movie Ghostbusters.

Pushing such foolish thoughts aside, she once again tried to come up with a plausible scenario for where he could be and why he hadn't called her. The only option she could think of was that he was still down there, doing whatever he had been caught up in. She decided that she would give him until the following morning before she started looking more seriously into the situation. If he wasn't home by then or hadn't called her, she would try to find out who was in charge of that mansion and call them. Maybe they remembered him.

Schreck Mansion
Charlottesville, Virginia

It was getting dark. Slowly but surely, the shadows in the entrance hall became longer, darker, and he started feeling very much on edge. He had spent a lot of time in the entrance hall, waiting and hoping that somebody would come and let him out. But there had been no sign of anyone.

Glancing a little apprehensively up the broad flight of stairs to the first floor, he tried to imagine what the worst thing that could happen would be. One thing he was certain of in all this. Whatever happened, it wouldn't be able to scare him to death. He had seen too many strange things in his life to be that susceptible. But what he had seen so far had scared him a little.

"A little?" he asked himself. "Ha! Right." Deciding that it was about time to find a room where he could spend the night, he took a walk through the South wing of the house since he felt more secure there, and found a room near the very end, which would do nicely. It had a big leather couch and only one heavy-looking oak door with a pretty hefty lock on it. He closed the door and locked it, then pulled at it to estimate how strong the wood was. The door didn't even rattle in its frame when he put some strength into the act and that reassured him.

"Right. And now for something edible. I'm starving," he told himself and headed back to the kitchen with the large key in his pocket. There he collected what he could without taking all of it, made himself some coffee as well, and headed back for the room with the whole thing. On the way there, he started having that feeling of being watched again. It really freaked him out. Especially since he knew that there was nothing there. Nothing of his world, anyway.

Once inside the room, he quickly got rid of what he had brought and closed and locked the door. First then did he start feeling a little better. "This is freaky," he mumbled, pulled the key out of the lock and went over to the leather couch.

Dropping down on it with a heartfelt sigh, he wished himself away and swore that he would never do anything like this again. Not without Scully, anyway. He should have worked harder at convincing her. With her by his side, he wouldn't have missed the locking of the doors. He wouldn't be stuck is this damned mansion.

Leaning back, he grunted when something in his right pocket nipped him. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled his cellphone out. With experience, he flipped the lid open, gazed hopefully at the glowing display for a moment, then cautiously brought it to one ear. There was a dial tone. Almost holding his breath in sheer anticipation, he pushed the speed dial button for Scully's number and listened as it began ringing. This was too good to be true. There was a click at the other end and he heard her voice. He almost starting crying with relief, but the second he opened his mouth to answer her, the line went dead. "Shit," he snapped, cut the connection and dialed again. The same thing happened again. It rang and Scully picked up. But he couldn't even think of speaking to her before the line went dead.

"God damn it," he snapped and tried a third time. The same thing happened again and he was beginning to become very frustrated. The house didn't want him here, but it didn't want to let him go, either. "I'm trying to get out of here," he yelled. "If you don't want me here, let me do this, okay?"

He felt silly for speaking to an empty house, but he had the distinct impression that there was something in the house which fully understood what he was saying. Something was listening to him. But it wasn't giving him any breaks.

After trying three more times with the same result, he finally gave up and dropped the phone on the low coffee table sitting in front of the couch. Somehow, he felt a whole lot worse than he had before. Slumping back on the couch, he just sat there, unhappy about where he was and scared about where he was heading. Somehow, he had the distinct feeling that whatever was happening in this house was escalating because he was still there. And he feared that the longer he stayed in this house, the worse it would get.

Pushing those thoughts away, he stretched out on the couch and covered his face with one arm, intent on getting some sleep before all hell broke lose. His appetite had evaporated along with his dwindling chance of being heard by any outsiders. Moments later, he had slipped into a deep sleep and would probably have slept through the night, too.

Dana Scully's residence
Arlington, Virginia

Scully hung up the phone after the sixth call, starting to get both annoyed and worried. She just knew that it was Mulder trying to reach her. He seemingly had a problem with his phone, though, and that made her somewhat nervous. Where was he? Why was he having trouble with the lines? Frowning, she stared at the phone, willing it to ring again, but this time, it stayed silent.

"Damn it," she whispered under her breath and picked up the receiver. She quickly dialed Mulder's number and got the message that the cellular customer was out of reach.

Hanging up again, she stared at the phone for a moment. What should she do? Should she wait until morning and then alert Skinner? She wasn't quite sure that it made any difference if she called Skinner, though. The man had enough on his agenda to have the time to look into this, too. And if Mulder had gotten himself into trouble in his spare time, Skinner wasn't likely to find the time to help. With a heavy sigh, she sat down on her couch to wait. Maybe Mulder would try to call again. "Where are you?" she whispered.

After spending an hour staring at her phone, she finally decided to get some sleep. If he didn't try calling her again - and here she had to remind herself that it might not have been him - she would talk to Skinner in the morning and find out what she should do.

Schreck Mansion
Charlottesville, Virginia

Mulder woke with a start and sat bolt upright, not paying heed to the fact that he was situated pretty much on the edge of the couch. When he sat up, he fell off. But he had no time to reflect on the rather painful fall.

Staring in terror at the door, he listened to an eerie pounding coming from the corridor beyond. The walls were vibrating with the impact of the onslaught and the thing that really got him going, sending him scurrying on his hands and knees into the corner furthest from the door, was the fact that it was coming closer and that the heavy door was shivering in its frame.

Holding his breath with trepidation, he stared wide-eyed at the door, pushing as far into the corner as he could. This reminded him of every damned horror movie he had ever seen. One of them, The Haunting, had really gotten under his skin. Mainly because of the same effect. Back then, he had admired the film-maker's ability to scare the pants of people with that kind of effect, but he had never considered it to be something he would ever experience in real life.

Just when the pounding was about to hit the door, it stopped. It happen so abruptly, that Mulder completely forgot to breathe for a moment. Holding his breath, feeling tense as a bow, he kept staring at the door, knowing he would scream his head off if it opened. And then the sounds began. At first he couldn't identify it, couldn't even imagine what would make that kind of sound. But then it hit him like a ton of bricks and it forced him further back into the corner he was huddling in. His imagination was running wild, trying to come up with a picture which fit the sounds he heard outside. The pounding had been replaced by a sniffing sound. It sounded like an overly large dog.

Then the doorknob turned, shattering the image of Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the Underworld, which had risen in his mind provoked by the sound of sniffing. Slowly, the ornamented knob twisted first one way, then the other. But the door didn't open. Instead whatever was out there started hammering on the door, making the wood creak dangerously. With a sharp intake of breath, he tried to merge with the wall behind him, his eyes wide with fear, cold sweat breaking out all over his body.

He had no idea for how long the relentless pounding on the door continued, but when it eventually stopped again, it took a long time before he even dared to draw in a deep breath. Continuously staring at the door, he expected the pounding to pick up again. But nothing happened.

After what seemed like forever, he slowly started breathing more deeply and eventually closed his eyes and let his head drop back against the wall. "Jesus," he whispered shakily, then slowly climbed to his feet, his legs wobbly beneath him. Taking a couple of deep breaths, he pushed away from the wall and cautiously approached the door, ready to run for cover if there was the slightest hint that this thing was still out there, but he reached the door without hearing the slightest scratching or bumping or sniffing or any other such thing.

Pressing both palms against the door, he somehow thought he would be able to feel it if it was still out there and he felt nothing. Leaning forward, he carefully placed on ear against the carved door to listen. He wasn't about to open it. That much was for sure. He would wait for daybreak and he wasn't so sure he would open it then, either.

There was not a sound to be heard outside and he relaxed a little more. Standing there with his ear against the door, his hands pressed against the wood, he closed his eyes and released the breath he hadn't been aware of holding back. "Damn it," he whispered hoarsely. If this was going to be a nightly occurrence for the time he had to spend in this house, he would lose his mind.

That thought barely finished, he jerked back when something rammed the outside of the door heavily enough to make it give him a push. Staring at the door, he felt himself grow cold at the prospect that the pounding would pick up again and even more so at the thought of whatever was out there breaking down the door. And the pounding did pick up again. Louder, faster and definitely heavier than before.

Slapping his hands over his ears, he backed up until he hit the edge of the couch, lost his balance and sat down hard on it. The sound of that hammering was so nerve-racking, he groaned in fear. "Jesus," he whispered, unable to even hear his own voice over the racket. The door shuddered in its frame with every impact, the walls shivered and plaster rained down from the ceiling in a fine dust. What scared him the most about this situation was what it was doing to him. He couldn't control his fear.

Once again, the racket stopped so suddenly that the silence it left behind was almost worse than the noise. Breathing hard, his hands still covering his ears, he stared at the door, trying to make sense of this. But the thing was, there was no sense in this. He had battled all sorts of monsters. More than one of them had scared him. More than one of them had nearly killed him. But none had made him feel so utterly alone and vulnerable as this one did. And he was becoming more and more convinced that it would do anything to get to him, whatever it was.

After a moment, he slowly lowered his hands and blinked almost sluggishly at the door. Then he glanced over his shoulder and noted the faint daylight seeping through the curtains. He let out a burst of air, nearly gasping in relief. The sun was coming up. And the sunlight usually expelled such things as ghosts. Why that was so he didn't know. He wasn't even sure it was a fact when it came down to it. But ghostly appearances were usually connected with darkness.

Slumping back on the couch, his hair plastered to his head with sweat of fear, he slapped both hands over his face and groaned. "I'm losing it," he whispered. "Oh man, am I losing it."

Dana Scully's residence
Arlington, Virginia

Scully woke up with a start and sat bolt upright in bed, the sensation of something being utterly wrong almost overwhelming her. She blinked at her surroundings for a moment, then let out a heartfelt sigh. Her dreams had been disturbing and had given her a restless night. Glancing at the alarmclock sitting on her night stand, she noted that it was 5.45 a.m. She would have to get up in half an hour anyway, so going back to sleep wasn't a good idea.

Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she set her feet down on the carpet and looked down at them for a moment. There wasn't much going through her head right then. The only thing was that she needed to find out if Mulder had come home. Grabbing the phone, she pushed the speed dial button and got his machine again. With a sigh, she cut the connection, then dialed his mobile number and was told that the cellular number she was trying to reach was out of reach.

"Figures," she mumbled and hung up again. Her mind made up about her next course of action, she got up to get ready to go to work. She would have to involve Skinner in this, like it or not. And once she had included him in her contemplations, she would consider herself lucky if he didn't have her committed immediately for what was going through her mind.

The X-Files office J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington, D.C.

One and a half hours later, Scully was at work and cursing herself for not taking her time. Skinner wouldn't be in until 8 a.m. and here she was, having to pass half an hour of non-active searching time. To pass the time more easily, she searched for information on Schreck Mansion on the Internet and came up with an advertisement page for it.

Staring at the picture of the house, she frowned a little. It did look like an old, German castle and she wasn't at all surprised about Mulder wanting to go there for the Halloween special. But she sure didn't understand why he hadn't come back.

Grabbing the receiver, she dialed the number and waited until a sour-sounding woman answered the line. "Schreck Mansion, how may I help you?"

Scully frowned. She sure didn't feel like asking for help from that woman, but she had no choice. "Uh... I'm sorry for calling you this early, ma'am. My name is Dana Scully. I'm a Federal Agent with the F.B.I.," she introduced herself. "I was wondering. Sunday night, you had that Halloween open house night, right?" she asked on, just wanting to make sure she hadn't gotten it wrong.

"Yes, that's right. But that's over now, Miss. You're gonna have to try again next year," the woman at the other end said sourly.

Scully decided that the woman didn't mean to sound like that. It was just her voice. "Yes, I realize that. That's not why I'm calling. A friend of mine came down there on Sunday. You may have met him. He may have asked you questions about the house," she replied.

A sigh answered her at first. "Miss, a lot of people come through here on a night like that. I can't be expected to remember them all, now can I?" the woman at the other end asked back, still sounding as if Scully was offending her personally by asking such silly questions.

"No, of course not. I was just wondering if he might have introduced himself to you. His name is Fox Mulder," Scully tried, doing her best to sound nice.

"Doesn't ring a bell," the woman replied.

Scully considered what he would be wearing on that occasion and actually felt a little shocked that she would know such a thing. Shaking that feeling off, she refocused on the conversation. "He's a tall man, dark hair, dark eyes. He would probably have been wearing a leather jacket and a white t-shirt. He's very into the supernatural, so visiting the mansion would not be for an easy scare," she explained.

A patch of silence followed that one. "Oh, yes, him I remember. He was very taken with the house. Very fascinated by it. Most people come down for a quick scare and take off again. He stayed until we closed."

"So, he was there? And he left again?" Scully asked.

"Yes, he was here. And I saw him leave again. I didn't speak to him when he left though, just saw him walking out the door," the woman said, sounding satisfied all of a sudden.

Scully raised an eyebrow at the change in the woman's tone. But this answered her question. Mulder had been there and he had left again. "Well, thank you very much for your help, Mrs..." she said, suddenly realizing the woman had never introduced herself.

"Crane. Emma Crane," Mrs. Crane replied. "And it's my pleasure. I take it he hasn't come home, then?" she asked on, sounding a little cautious.

Scully instantly picked up on that underlying tone to Mrs. Crane's voice. "No, he hasn't," she agreed. "And I'm starting to feel a little worried about him," she added.

"Well, he's not down here any more. As I said, I saw him leave," Mrs. Crane said. "Have you called the police?"

"No, I haven't. They won't be able to do anything for another 24 hours. Thank you for your concern, Mrs. Crane. And for your help. I have to go." With that, Scully hung up and settled back on her chair, a frown furrowing her brow once again. She needed to talk to Skinner about this. Immediately.

A.D. Skinner's office

Skinner considered himself to be a fairly rational man. Even though he'd had his share of odd occurrences in his life, he generally tried to view things with the eyes of a rationalist. What Scully was telling him right then and her deductions put this beyond the rational. "So, you're saying Mulder went to Charlottesville to visit a haunted house for Halloween and hasn't come back yet?" he asked her, wanting to put it in simpler terms than Scully was using.

"That's what I'm saying. I called the place to ask if they had seen him and the woman I spoke to, a Mrs. Crane, said she had. She also said she had seen him leave. But something about her tone suggested that she hadn't. She asked me if he hadn't come home. How would she know that?" Scully asked back.

Skinner regarded her darkly, his expression revealing very little of what he was thinking. "Scully, you suggested it to her by calling and asking if she had seen him," he finally said. "Apparently, Mulder has gotten off track somewhere between Charlottesville and D.C. I suggest you start calling hospitals. I don't want to go with the worst-case scenario at once, but check them out anyway. Just in case he's had an accident."

"But wouldn't they have called? I mean, I'm listed as his next of kin. If he's had an accident, they would have called me," she insisted.

For a moment, the sensation that swept Skinner made him narrow his eyes a little. This wasn't Scully he was facing. This was Mulder. The zeal, the dead-on stubbornness. "Look, Scully, if you think he's still down there, why don't you go to Charlottesville and take a look around?"

For a moment, all she did was stare back at him. Then she nodded once. Why hadn't she thought of that? It was probably because she was too tired after a restless night. "I'll do that," she said. "Just to make sure. If I find no sign of him down there, I'll check out the hospitals." Hesitating, she glanced down at her folded hands, then looked up to meet his eyes again. "What if he isn't there, either?" she wanted to know.

Skinner regarded her solemnly. "Let's take one step at a time, okay? You have to crawl before you can walk, Scully. Go to Charlottesville, check it out. If that doesn't pay off, check the hospitals. If that doesn't pan out, either, then we decide where to go from there. And in the meantime, I'm sure Mulder has turned up again with some lame excuse about a new case."

Nodding, Scully rose from the chair. "I hope so. That way I get to yell his head off for making me worry about him," she said, turned around and left.

Skinner waited until she had closed the door, then smiled. "Yell a little at him for me, too," he mumbled and returned his attention to his paperwork. He couldn't deny that he was marginally worried already. Mulder did have a habit of disappearing, but he usually called Scully within the first day he was gone and he hadn't done that yet.

Schreck Mansion
Charlottesville, Virginia

Somehow, he had managed to fall asleep. When he woke up again, it was bright daylight, probably around noon if he judged the angle of the light right. Exhausted as he had been after a night of terror, he wasn't actually that surprised that he had fallen asleep again.

Sitting up slowly, he blinked heavily at his surroundings, the previous night clouding his mind like the shadow of a dream. But he knew it had happened. He was tired enough to drop and he still felt the lingering dread that this thing would come back. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he stopped short at the feel of stubble on his cheek. He needed a shave. That thought made him chuckle almost helplessly. A shave? If he wasn't careful, he might end up without his head. Whether or not he was growing a beard right now wasn't relevant. He could always shave it off once he got out of here. "If," he mumbled. "If I get out of here."

Slowly, he pushed himself to his feet, felling oddly numb. Then he glanced around the room. There was no residue left of the terror he had felt the previous night. This was just another ordinary day in a not so ordinary house. But he knew that whatever had tried to get to him in the night would try again.

Apprehensive, he approached the door, but wasn't about to open it. He just wanted to listen more closely to the house around him. Once again pressing an ear against the wood, he heard the faint rushing of his own blood in his ear. Apart from that, there were the general creaking sounds heard in an old house. The wood was giving to the change in temperatures, the amount of moisture or the shift of the soil the house was build on. And that was it. No strange scraping sounds, no bumps, no sniffing. Nothing.

Mildly relieved, he turned his head a little and pressed his brow against the wood, once again wishing himself away, praying to any given deity he could think of that he would make it out of this place with his sanity and body intact. The longer he stayed in this place, the more likely it was that he would lose his mind or be subjected to some kind of bodily harm. The latter he could deal with. The first scared him out of his mind.

The old house settled around him, creaking and groaning like old houses did, but there was something more to this house, something more to the way it creaked and groaned. There were shadows in this house where there should be no shadows, sounds where there should be no sounds. All in all, the house seemed to be alive in a manner of speaking. The idea itself was ridiculous, of course. Those sound of mind would never indulge the idea that a building could be alive. Yet when abandoned and empty, the house almost seemed to breathe. When there was nobody around to hear or see, the creaking and groaning of the house seemed more like a murmured complaint by an old man than it sounded like a house settling.

Listening to the sounds, Mulder knew how close he would come to losing his grasp on reality if he didn't get out of this place soon. He had spent two nights here and the ghostly activity seemed to be escalating. Scared of what that meant for the coming night, he suddenly found himself unable to draw a proper breath. Clenching his teeth so hard, his jaw started to hurt, he pressed his brow harder against the carved wood of the door and tried hard not to let go of what little control he had left. Without consciously thinking about it, the previous night had scared him a whole lot more than he was willing to admit even to himself. The thought that the door between him and the corridor beyond actually wasn't an obstacle and that whatever had been out there would come into this room when the sun went down made him clench his teeth so hard together to keep his jaw from trembling. Without a doubt he was scared like a little kid fearing monsters under his bed. And that even in broad daylight.

And then he heard it. The slamming of a door somewhere. Pushing away, he backed up a step and stared apprehensively at the door. His fears ebbed away the second he hard a voice calling out for him.

"Mr. Mulder?"

It sounded far away, but he thought he recognized the voice.

"Mr. Mulder, are you still here? This is Mrs. Crane."

Struggling with the key, he finally managed to turn it in the lock, eager to get back to the entrance hall to meet the woman who would release him from this nightmare. Ripping the door open, he didn't give his appearance another thought as he raced down the corridor toward salvation.

"Mrs. Crane?" he called back and skittered to a stop on the slick marble floor in the big entrance hall. Looking around, he saw no trace of her. "Mrs. Crane?" he tried again.

A door slammed upstairs and he heard her muffled voice calling for him again. "Mr. Mulder? Can you hear me?"

"Here," he called back and hurried toward the broad flight of stairs. "I'm downstairs, Mrs. Crane," he called, already climbing the stairs. He was halfway up before it struck him as odd that she would go upstairs to look for him.

Stopping short, he listened intently to what was going on upstairs. There were no further sounds. Suddenly feeling very much exposed, his eyes started skipping nervously over the stairs and the upstairs landing while he cautiously took a step down. "Mrs. Crane?" he called in an unsteady tone of voice, already knowing that the caretaker's wife had not come to let him out of here. The house had tricked him out into the open. "Oh shit," he gasped under his breath and cautiously took another step down, holding onto the bannister with one hand. He felt unsteady, uneasy, ready to run at the smallest hint of danger.

When it came down to it, there was no hint. Something slammed into him so suddenly, it caught him utterly by surprise. Hurtling him backward, it slammed him into the wall above the entrance door, a good ten feet up, and held him there for a second. The impact alone had deprived him of what breath he had in his lungs. But the cold force holding him against the wall made it impossible for him to draw breath out of the pure and simple fact that he was unable to process the fact that he was suspended ten feet above a marble floor, which would break both his legs if he were to fall down on it.

And then it let go of him. Whatever it was, it simply disappeared. Thus deprived of his support, he fell to the floor with a yelp. It didn't go as wrong as he had feared it would. He didn't break his legs. But he sure did get bruised when he landed on the polished marble floor on his hands and knees. The jolt this gave his shoulders and wrists made him yelp in pain. Unable to hold himself upright, he dropped down on his stomach and just barely avoided bruising his chin by jerking his head back. The strain that put on his neck made him groan.

Rolling over on his back, he tried to regain his breath. Getting back to his feet was essential. He doubted severely that the entity of this house was done with him. It took him a few attempts, but he finally managed to laboriously climb back to his feet. With hands and arms that tingled from the strain put on them and legs that felt downright wobbly beneath him, he staggered a few steps toward the corridor leading back to his refuge when the second attack struck him yet again unprepared.

He hit the opposite wall before he even knew what was going on, and the impact once again deprived him of his valuable air supply. Grunting in pain when the newly establish bruise on his back was once again fully subjected to the protruding edge of a carving, he sank to the floor, dazed and unable to focus.

But then a sound reached his ears, which instantly restored his mobility, though. Despite the searing pain from a possibly sprained muscle in his back and the fact that his legs would not really cooperate, he struggled back to his feet and lumbered back toward the corridor, hunched over like an old man. The growl of an animal somewhere in the vicinity spurred his need to get up and get moving. Although he severely doubted there actually was an animal in the house, he wasn't about to try and find out. Not in his present condition.

Groaning at the pain from his injuries, he hauled himself along the wall, using one tingling arm for support against the soft velvety wallpaper. He didn't try to turn and look behind him. He didn't want to know if anything was following him, but he felt it nonetheless. It was close behind, goading him on. Limping heavily by the time the open door came into view, he shifted over to the other side of the corridor and chanced a glance behind. There was nothing to be seen, but he could feel it. It was like an invisible wall slowly advancing on him, ready to crush him.

Grabbing the edge of the doorframe, he hauled himself through the opening and slammed the door shut, fumbling with the key until it finally turned. And all the while he could feel the wood growing colder. And then the pounding started again. Wincing, he backed up, the shock of the impact starting to wear off and making him extremely aware of his bruised muscles. But he could not focus on the pain. All he could focus on right there and then was that he was being hunted by this entity. And during the day, too. That gave him little hope of retaining his sanity for the five extra days it would obviously take before the caretaker returned to the house.

The pounding stopped again almost instantly, leaving him with nothing but the rushing sound of silence. For a long moment he stood still, listening, still hunched over, then he sank down on the couch with an audible groan. Gingerly, he arched his back and winced at the soreness of it. Nothing seemed to be broken, though. Then he rubbed his knees pensively, knowing that he would be sporting big bruises on both in a few hours. This was getting worse by the hour and he was really starting to fear for his immediate future.

After the attack, the remains of that day passed uneventfully, leaving Mulder in two minds about whether he had really experienced it. If it hadn't been for his sore back and bruised knees and the generally weak feeling he had in his arms from the impact with the marble floor, he would have been able to expel the idea and laugh at it. As it were, this was no laughing matter.

To take the strain off his aching back, he stretched out on the couch and watched the door attentively. Although the attack had drained him of energy, he felt wide awake, aware that fear was playing a big part in that. Breathing shallowly to be able to hear any noise, he never took his eyes off the door, never once allowed himself to truly relax. That was when he became the most vulnerable, he knew. When he was relaxed, he became a target.

When twilight set in, he switched on every single light he could find in the room and pulled the heavy drapes in front of the two large windows. Still hurting, he then settled back down on the couch and considered himself lucky that he'd had the presence of mind to get something to eat from the kitchen before this started. Having to live through another night like this on an empty stomach wasn't something he was prepared to do.

Still keeping a nervous eye on the door, he emptied the bottle of water and devoured two thirds of what he had brought to eat before he realized that he was setting himself up for trouble. What if he couldn't get out of the room in the morning? And that brought another, more embarrassing thought to mind. What if he had to go to the bathroom? That was the last thing he had actually considered while looking for a room to sleep in. He had never imagined that it would become this bad or, for that matter, that he would have to stay in the house this long.

The thought triggered a mental response, which instantly told him that if he needed to find a bathroom, he had to do so now. "Shit," he grumbled under his breath. The thought of running into that thing again made him very reluctant to leave the room. But, on the other hand, his bodily needs would not be ignored.

Gingerly, he rose from the couch again and limped over to the door. Listening for a moment, he just stood still, but there were no sounds to be heard outside. Holding his breath to be able to hear every sound, he then carefully turned the key in the lock, heard the bolts slide out of the wall and eased the door open. Carefully, he stuck his head out and glanced in either direction. There was no sign or sense of the entity. He had already made up his mind that this thing was an entity. Whether it was the house as such or a poltergeist or something entirely different he didn't know and he didn't much care, either. All he knew was that it was dangerous and that he would have to be extremely careful.

Content that at least for the time being he had the corridor to himself, he pulled the key out of the lock, pushed the door wider and stepped out into the corridor. He had to admit to himself that he was scared. He was more than scared when it came down to it. He was freaking out and that was as mildly as he could put it. With hands that were clammy cold and feet that almost refused to move, he edged his way sideways along the wall, keeping his back covered at all times, while he constantly sent suspicious looks in either direction.

It didn't feel as if the entity was anywhere near and he didn't have that odd feeling of being watched, either. But that didn't make him feel any braver. He hadn't felt it before when it had lured him out into the open and still it had turned up. Realizing that he was barely breathing, he stopped for a moment to try and talk some sense into himself. He needed to stay focused and he needed to breathe. Those two details were rather important for his continued survival in this monster house.

The only bathroom he was conscious of was located in the center of the house near the entrance hall and all he had to do was just get there, take care of business, and get himself back to the room without running into trouble. Somewhere inside, he didn't believe he could make it, though. And that left him feeling very cold.

Breathing shallowly, he continued to edge his way along the wall, eyes darting to and fro, searching for and not finding the unseen enemy, which was making life precarious for him. After a moment, though, he became conscious of a scraping sound, which seemed to follow him and which stopped when he stopped. His mouth went dry in a second and he pressed his lips together in an attempt to keep any articulations to himself. Glancing first to his right and then to his left, he searched for what it was that made the sound, but could see nothing.

When he started moving again and the sound picked up again, he almost jumped. Closing his eyes, he listened closely for the sound, which had stopped again when he had stopped. Pushing his icy hands behind his back, he stood there for a moment, trying to breathe normally, when he slowly became aware of that his belt was scraping against the wall. He had unbuckled it when he had returned to the room because it was pressing against the sore small of his back and now it was obviously sticking out in the back.

He almost laughed out loud at that realization. "Jesus," he whispered hoarsely. Somehow, realizing that he was making the sound himself didn't calm him down, though. He was driving himself crazy and it slowly started to dawn on him that maybe that wasn't all he had imagined. But still the soreness of his back and knees spoke their own, clear language.

After straightening the belt out, he continued down the corridor, a little more confident than before, but still apprehensive about being out in the open. He made it to the bathroom without incident and after relieving himself, he washed his hands and then finally took a look in the mirror. His countenance shocked him to a certain degree. His complexion was pale, he had dark patches under his eyes and a five o'clock shadow on his cheeks and chin. What shocked him the most where his eyes. He had never thought that he could look so haunted.

Staring at his own reflection, he discovered with renewed force that it was deadly necessary for him to get out of this hell hole soon. And he had somehow given up on a rescue. "Guess I'd better find a way out of here on my own," he told his reflection, then splashed some water on his face and dried it off with some paper towels. This bathroom was for the public when the house was on display.

Still as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, he made his way slowly back toward the room, on guard every step of the way, his back against the wall. He couldn't remember ever being more scared. Well, maybe he had been as scared in Dallas when he had been locked up with that bomb. That had been a scary scenario. But he had known then that Scully would get him out of there. This time he wasn't so sure. Mainly because Scully didn't seem to know where he was and even if she did find him, this wasn't like defusing a bomb. 'That didn't happen in Dallas, either', he thought to himself and actually managed to find a spark of humor in that thought. A spark which made him grin wryly. 'Let's see you trying to defuse a ghost, Scully. That should pose as something of a challenge to your skills,' he thought on.

Oddly enough, he made it back to the room without the slightest incident and that alone made him even more nervous than he was already. To him it felt suspiciously as if the entity was plotting on something. That thought made him snort uneasily. Who the hell said that this thing was aware of him as anything other than a disturbance in its home?

Closing and locking the door, he let out a heartfelt sigh. Wanting nothing other than to get the hell out, he decided that he would make himself as comfortable as he could. And that meant turning the couch around so it had its back to the door. Glancing at his watch, he noted that time had once again flown by without a trace. It was 10.15 p.m. And he was tired from being on guard all day. The room, however, seemed to be something of a safe haven and he would stay here until he was released from this house.

Content in the knowledge that he would probably get at least a few hours sleep before the shit hit the fan, he eased down on the couch, pulled the big woolen blanket over him which had been hanging over one arm of the couch, and settled in to get some sleep. Somehow he felt a whole lot safer with the couch's back between him and the door. All the lights were still on, but they didn't bother him. He fell asleep almost at once.

On the road to Charlottesville, Virginia

It was getting dark by the time Scully reached Charlottesville. Sending a glance up at the overcast sky, she sighed deeply and decided to find a motel first. Once she had a base of operations, she would then try to figure out where the Cranes lived. Calling them might not do her any good at this point, she figured, so instead she decided to get a map, find the fastest way to their house, and pay them a visit.

Finding a motel wasn't a problem. The Tiki Motel at the edge of town had a lot of vacancies and she was given the best room. Getting settled in wasn't a problem either. But she kept having that nagging feeling that she'd forgotten about something. Something important.

With a sigh, she settled down on the bed, spread out the map and studied it based on the information she had obtained. Schreck Mansion was marked on the map. So was the Tiki Motel. Frowning, she regarded the spot for a moment, then decided that she should check in on the Cranes first. Glancing at her watch, she noted that it was already 10.30 p.m. and wondered where the time had gone. It wasn't polite to call on people at half past ten at night, so she decided to postpone until the following morning.

With that decision, she got up to get ready for bed, still feeling as if something was wrong. And it felt as if it was becoming more wrong all the time, if such a thing were possible. She walked into the bathroom and inspected her own reflection in the mirror for a moment, then focused on her eyes. "Where are you, Mulder?" she whispered. She almost found herself hoping that he'd had an accident. That at least she could deal with. That was manageable. Any other thought was uncommonly frightening. And those other thoughts had invoked that feeling of urgency. She was certain of that. They were thoughts she would never have entertained seven years ago. She had never considered whether ghosts were real seven years ago.

Frowning a little, she shook her head lightly. Why was she thinking of ghosts? Mulder had gone missing and that was all she should focus on. It was a natural assumption that the Cranes might know something about where he was. She would have to start where he had last been seen and that was, as far as she could ascertain, in Schreck Mansion.

She needed to get moving at the crack of dawn. There was no time to waste. Through it all she couldn't help wondering if this was how Mulder felt about his missing sister all the time. This nagging, pushy feeling that he had to do something about it. Because that was how Scully felt. Like it was essential in some way that she did something right away.

For a long moment, she kept on staring at her reflection, then continued to get ready for bed. She didn't hope for much sleep, though. Somehow she knew that Mulder's possible plight would keep her awake. The not knowing was the worst thing. She didn't like not knowing where he was or what had happened to him.

Schreck Mansion
Charlottesville, Virginia

Mulder woke up again because he was cold. That in itself should not have worried him too much. It wasn't the first time in his life that he had woken up freezing. It probably wouldn't be the last time, either. But the first thing apart from being cold that hit him when he opened his eyes was the total darkness around him. All the lights had been on when he had fallen asleep and there wasn't even a faint glimmer now.

With his heart already thumping away in his throat, he sat bolt upright only to realize that he was definitely not on the couch any more. Blinking in the total darkness, he tried to get a feel of where he was and realized that the room was very big, clammy cold and obviously without windows. There was a strange whistling noise in the background. The floor beneath him was some kind of stone. It felt a little like rough concrete, but he wasn't sure.

The one thing that really got him going was that he knew he wasn't in that room any more and he had no idea how he had gotten to this place. It really freaked him out that he had been moved from one room to another and he hadn't even been aware of it. He, who was a light sleeper already, should have woken up. But he hadn't and now he didn't know where he was.

Rising, he pulled the blanket around his shoulders, completely managing to ignore his sore back and stiff joints. In an attempt to get comfortable, he had taken off his leather jacket and left it on the coffee table. Fortunately, he'd kept his shoes on. But it was still cold and clammy enough for him to long for the protection his jacket would have offered.

He needed to get out of here, where ever here was. Apprehensive about such actions, he carefully stretched out one hand and waved it in front of him. The sensation of the room around him gave him a more or less accurate direction to the nearest wall. It was something in the air pressure and the sound of his feet scraping over the floor which pinpointed the direction he was walking in. The closer he got to the wall, the less hollow his footfalls sounded.

Eventually, his finger tips bumped against the wall and he withdrew his hand with a jerk. "Ouch," he mumbled and shook his hand, then reached out to touch the wall again. The whistling sound in the background was growing stronger he suddenly realized. Frowning, he listened more intently, but couldn't identify the sound apart from that it actually sounded more like a rustling than a whistling.

The wall beneath his palm was cool, on the verge of being moist, which probably meant it was an external wall. There wasn't going to be much chance of finding a staircase on that side, so he figured he'd better try to cross the room and find the opposite wall. It was just damned difficult to make sure he was going in the right direction when he couldn't see.

Shivering, he raised his shoulders a little and pulled the blanket tighter around him, then pushed away from the wall in what he hoped was a fairly straight line across the basement floor. He knew for certain that he was in the basement. He didn't need to see that to be sure. There was something about basements, which identified them even in complete darkness. The slightly musty, clammy smell was a dead giveaway and this room had that smell in abundance. It was almost so strong that it was nauseating. Slowly, he walked forward, feeling his way across the floor with his feet while listening to the rustling sound which kept intensifying.

After having taken several steps into the center of the room, he stopped short when his mind suddenly produced a plausible explanation for the sound he was hearing. Turning his head toward the sound, he listened more intently to it and realized that the inclination he'd had was right. Despite the ludicrousness of the idea, he identified the sound as that of rushing water. A lot of it. And then the first spray of cold water hit his face.

"Oh shit," he gasped and that was all he managed to say before a tidal wave struck him full force, ripping him off his feet and tossing him backward. His backward motion was first stopped when he hit a wall, but that certainly wasn't the end of his misery. The water hammered against him, pinning him against the wall while it rose forcefully around him and deprived him of his ability to draw a decent breath. Whenever his tried, salt water rushed down his throat, making him cough and gag. The rising water and the currents it created in the enclosed space pushed him up the wall until he hit his head against the ceiling.

He raised both hands to push away from the ceiling, but before he could put up enough resistance, another forceful wave hit him, slamming him hard into the wall again. He banged the back of his head against the bricks of the wall and felt the world fading out. He was fainting and there was no air left for him to breathe.

Tiki Motel
Charlottesville, Virginia

Scully woke up with a gasp and sat bolt upright in bed. Blinking rapidly at her surroundings, she tried to figure out what had awoken her and why she was so out of breath. Pushing the sheets aside, she swung her legs over the side and put her feet down on the floor, an unexplainable feeling of dread making her shudder. It wasn't a physical feeling. It was in her mind. Glancing at the bright red display of the alarm clock, she was somewhat surprised to find that it was 6 a.m.

Frowning, she switched on the light and checked her watch, finding that the alarm clock was right. At that, she brushed both hands through her hair and she sighed deeply. It was too early to do anything, but also too late for her to fall asleep again. She decided to go out and find a place where she could get some breakfast and then around 8 a.m. she would drive over to the Cranes' residence and talk to them about being allowed to see the mansion. She just wanted to make sure that Mulder wasn't still there. Then she could start a more rational search for her partner.

With that decided, she got up to get ready and left the motel room half an hour later. The chilly morning air made her shudder despite her heavy overcoat. Hugging herself, she walked briskly over to her car, where she stopped short when she spotted a coffee shop across the road that was open. No sense in going all over town looking for what was right there.

Crossing the street, she glanced either way, noting that traffic was virtually non-existent at this time of day. Not that it worried or surprised her. It was merely something she noticed absentmindedly. Finding a seat in the coffee shop was no problem. She was the only one there. She ordered coffee and a croissant after seating herself by the window, then settled back to stare out at the street.

Her mind wandered back to the reason why she had woken up this early. The sensation had been overwhelming, compelling her to shake off the dream and return to the land of the living. She had dreamed she was drowning, that she couldn't breathe. But why? That was the big question.

"Can I get you anything else?"

Turning her head to face the tired-looking waitress, Scully smiled. "No, thank you," she said. "Oh, I'd like to ask you a question, if you don't mind," she added.

The girl, she couldn't be a day over sixteen, smiled back at her. "Sure. Ask away," she said.

"Schreck Mansion. Do you know anything about it? About it's history?" Scully asked, instantly aware of the somewhat concerned look in the girl's eyes.

"Well..." she began and sent a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure nobody was listening. "That mansion is haunted, you know. Big time. Badly, too."

That made Scully frown. "Badly? What do you mean, badly?" she asked.

"Badly as in really evil, you know? Have you ever been up there?" the girl asked back and Scully shook her head. "You'll know what I mean when you see that wretched house, ma'am. It's evil. You can just feel it."

Nodding in understanding although she did not agree with the girl's theory that a house could be evil, Scully took a sip of her coffee. "Has anything bad happened up there lately?" she asked, aware that the mansion did have a history of violence, but not in recent times.

The girl sat down, a look of conspiracy on her face. "Two years ago on Halloween night, a kid vanished in that house. My mom said the house ate him. I don't believe that, though. I just think he got scared so bad, he ran away and never came back."

Scully could not help the vague smile on her lips. The term that the house supposedly ate somebody made the whole thing a whole lot more unbelievable. At the same time she couldn't help thinking that Mulder would have gotten a kick out of this explanation. "Well, Halloween night isn't exactly the best time to visit a supposedly haunted house," she said with that smile still on her lips. "Anyway, thanks for your time," she added, thereby dismissing the girl.

"Sure. Anytime," the girl replied and returned to her duties.

Scully finished her breakfast, paid the girl a handsome tip for the information, and left the coffee shop again to hurry across the street to her car. Early or not, she was going to pay the Cranes a visit and find out what had happened to her partner. Somehow she couldn't shake the feeling that Mulder was still in that house. And the sooner she got to him, the better. With a slightly ironic smile, she acknowledged that she was going on instinct here, without any rational explanation in sight.

Schreck Mansion
Charlottesville, Virginia

Mulder came to with a gasp which instantly sent him into a coughing fit. His lungs felt as if they were full of water and it took him a moment to realize that he was imagining it. Nothing came up when he coughed and his breathing was fairly free despite the sensation of his lungs being heavy with fluid. As a matter of fact, the floor he was lying on was bone dry. Sitting up while trying to still his need to cough up the imaginary water, he let a hand slide over the rough surface beneath him and felt nothing but dry stone. But he himself was soaked. Brushing a hand through his wet hair, he gingerly climbed to his feet, feeling very much as if someone had beaten him up with a baseball bat. Not an entirely nice feeling, he thought to himself.

The house had tried to drown him. There was no other explanation for what he had experienced. For how else could there be a tidal wave in the basement of a house, which was miles from the ocean? Staggering a little, he stumbled forward, one hand reached out in front of him. He was utterly disoriented and had no idea which way he was going. When he bumped into a wall, he pressed a palm against it and registered that it was cold and clammy. The external wall again. With a sigh, he turned around and started forward in search of the opposite wall. The question was, however, whether or not the house wanted to let him get out of the basement.

Stumbling, he almost fell flat on his face when his right foot caught on something. Hissing angrily, he paused. "Ow, goddamn it," he grumbled and pushed his wet hair out of his eyes again. At that very moment he realized that his shoes were gone. Frowning, he squatted down and touched his wet socks, wondering how the hell he could lose his shoes without noticing it. He had been wearing them when he had stretched out on the couch. He had also been wearing them when he had been hit by that wave. His fear of this place was temporarily quelled and he felt more angry than scared. Rising again, he limped on and eventually reached a wall, which both felt warmer and was drier than the other one. Without hesitation, he started following it, set on leaving this dark place behind, no matter what.

The Crane Residence
Charlottesville, Virginia

Scully felt no remorse over knocking on the Cranes' front door at 7.30 a.m. For some odd reason she couldn't define, she was certain the caretaker and his wife would be up. And she was right. A woman with an indifferent demeanor, fully dressed in a plain-looking, shapeless black dress, opened the door. From what Scully could judge off hand, the woman looked to be in her late forties, plain, thin and with greying hair.

"Mrs. Crane?" she asked the other woman, who nodded in response. "Hi. I'm sorry to bother you this early. I'm Dana Scully. We spoke on the phone yesterday," she went on.

"Yes, I remember," Mrs. Crane said, looking mildly surprised, her tone of voice still sounding sour although her general expression belied it's venom. She didn't look the least bit sour.

"I know that you will probably think that I've lost my mind, but I still have heard nothing from my partner and I can't shake the feeling that he might still be in the mansion. I know you said that you and your husband went over the house before you left and that he wasn't there, but would you mind terribly if I had a look for myself? It's not that I don't believe you. I just need to see for myself." Scully knew she was jabbering and she was fully aware of the rather overbearing look the older woman gave her, but she had to do this. In some way it reminded her of all the times when Mulder had done crazy things she hadn't been able to see the need for. Now she did, though. No matter how silly one felt over asking those kind of questions, they were somehow essential.

Mrs. Crane considered her request for a second, then nodded. "Well, if you think it's necessary, Miss Scully, certainly," she consented. "Just a moment. I'll just get my coat. We can drive there together," she added and disappeared from the door.

Scully had to admit to herself that she was rather surprised at how easily the woman accepted her request, but she was also relieved at not having to go through a major discussion of why she didn't believe Mrs. Crane.

Moments later, Mrs. Crane returned and together they drove the rather short distance to the infamous Schreck Mansion in Scully's car. Mrs. Crane got out at the gates and opened them wide to let them drive through all the way up to the front door. Scully remained in the car and gazed up at the looming mansion, suddenly understanding what the girl from the coffee shop had talked about. The house certainly did have an aura of the forbidding about it. But Scully attributed it to the way the structure had been built and to the stories she had heard about it. She had almost expected it to look that dark and brooding. The overcast sky and the chill in the air had a lot to do with that, as well.

Mrs. Crane got back into the car and pointed toward the house. "Just drive all the way up to the front doors. Normally, when we have the open house, the guests are asked to park in the lot over to the right," she said, waving toward a drive way to a parking lot, which was situated further back. "But since it's only one car, it's okay," she added.

Scully put the car back in gear and drove slowly up the gravel-covered path leading up to the middle of the mansion. The whole building was impressive in its dark, forbidding way. "That's quite a house," she said and parked in front of the main entrance. "Must be difficult to keep it clean, though," she added as they got out.

"Oh, it's not that bad," Mrs. Crane said, sounding mostly as if she was in awe of the house. "Jonathan Schreck somehow managed to create a house that virtually keeps itself clean. There isn't much dust and since nobody lives in the house, it's mainly maintenance."

Scully nodded and followed the older woman up to the front doors, wondering if this place didn't have a major problem with cobwebs. Old houses like this were usually a haven for spiders. Deciding that it didn't matter in the context of her visit, she pushed such thoughts aside again.

Mrs. Crane brought out a rather hefty-looking key, unlocked the doors and pushed them wide. Stepping through to the impressive entrance hall beyond the doors, Scully looked around and could not suppress a shudder.

"Doesn't keep warm, though," Mrs. Crane said, observing the shudder and mistaking it for something other than what it was.

Scully wasn't feeling cold. She just didn't like the house. The atmosphere was oppressive and she wondered how anybody could ever have lived in this place. "Do you mind if I just take a look around? If he is still here, he would have left some signs," she said.

"Go ahead," Mrs. Crane said. "Why don't you check the south wing? I'll check the north wing. We can meet back here in... oh... say, half an hour?" she added.

Scully smiled, grateful that Mrs. Crane wanted to help her and didn't think she was completely nuts. "That's fine. Thank you," she said and started down a long winding corridor with soft velvet wallpaper while Mrs. Crane took off in the other direction.

"Mulder?" she called. "Are you here?" There was no reply. She walked on, both impressed and repelled by the architecture of the house. It was dedicated to the dark side. That much she could tell from the at times obscene carvings on the wall panels. "MULDER?" she tried again, calling out a little louder. Still no reply.

Feeling a little silly, she opened doors along the way, inspecting richly decorated rooms. One door stood open and when she peeked inside, she almost smiled. This room would definitely be to Mulder's liking. A large leather couch dominated the rather small room. Shaking her head at such thoughts, she returned to the corridor, closing the heavy, carved oak door and continued onward, searching for her partner.

Schreck Mansion
The Basement

Mulder had spent what he felt was a lifetime in the basement, searching for a way out. Shivering in the cold, clammy air, he continued to edge along the wall, but something made him freeze in his tracks. Frowning, he listened. There it was again. Somebody calling his name. The sound was muffled, far away, but he could still hear his name being called. At first he thought it was another trick by the house and whatever it contained. But then he suddenly recognized the pitch of the voice.

"Scully?" he almost whispered incredulously. For a second longer, he didn't allow himself to believe that it was really her, but then he smiled. He had known all along that she would come for him. Feeling both relieved at the impending rescue and fearful that she might leave without him, he hurried his steps toward the source of the sound, which was most definitely also a way out of this place.

But something made him stop short again. Listening more closely into the darkness, he tried to determine what had made him stop this time. He identified it almost immediately as being a slurping sound, which came from somewhere ahead of him. There was something in the dark basement with him and he was quite sure that he wouldn't like it, whatever it was.

Taking a hesitant step backward, he realized that the sound did not just emanated from in front of him. It came from the back as well. Whatever it was, it was closing in on him from both sides. Swallowing hard, he pressed his back against the wall, trying to find a way out of this. He did not want to let this prevent him from getting out of the basement. But he didn't know what he was up against.

Scared by the ever closing slurping, he blinked a few times, trying to force his eyes to see something. But there just wasn't any light. Wincing, he pressed harder against the wall. The slurping seemed to come from everywhere at once, slowly closing on him.

And then he heard Scully calling out for him again. At first he didn't want to call for help, feeling silly and ridiculous all at once, but when something splashed against the wall to the right of him, he jerked to the left with a moan of fear. To hell with embarrassment. This was a matter of pure survival, he thought to himself and opened his mouth to call for help at the top of his lungs. But before any sound could come over his lips, something sticky and slimy hit him right in the face, blocking off any sounds he might have made.

Disgusted and terrified, his hands jerked to his face immediately and dug into the substance which felt like slime, but was a lot more viscous than any other type of slime he'd had the displeasure of coming across. And not only that. It was moving on its own accord. Close to panic, he tried desperately to scrape it away from his firmly shut lips, but nothing he did could remove the substance from his face. Too preoccupied by struggling against that stuff to listen carefully to his surroundings, he wasn't aware of what was going on around him. Seconds later, a literal wave of that stuff hit him, covering him head to toe in an instant. Pressing him up against the wall in an urgent, needy kind of way, it slithered over him, forcing his arms out to the sides, making it impossible for him to move.

With unerring certainty, it started invading his body. He could feel it pushing into his nose, clogging up his ears, oozing through his closed eyelids. And it was trying hard to slip past his tightly closed lips as well. Panic overtook him then, but nothing he did made any difference. His lungs hurt from lack of air and his stomach indicated strongly that it did not like this intrusion. Eventually, mostly on reflex, he opened his mouth in an attempt to scream and the slime gushed inside. He could feel it pushing down his throat, a sensation which would have made him gag uncontrollably if he'd been able to do that. It forced its way down into his lungs, filling them up. It pushed further down through his oesophagus, down into his stomach, distending it painfully.

It invaded every crevice of his body, filling him up to the point where he thought he would burst. It hurt ferociously and he couldn't even scream. His movements inside that oversized glob of slime had turned nearly spasmodic, his fingers jerking, his muscles contracting painfully and at random. He was convulsing and he was fully aware through all of it. He would have cried for help, screamed his head of in fact, if he had been able to.

The feeling of utter helplessness, of being abused in the very sense of the word, made his panicking mind spin out of control. All he could focus on was the complete and utter violation of his very being and the fact that he believed he could feel himself going mad.

Schreck Mansion
Ground floor

Scully ended up back in the entrance hall without having seen or heard anything out of the ordinary. With a sigh, she had to acknowledge that Mulder probably wasn't in the house after all. But the feeling that he should be hadn't left her. She couldn't help herself from feeling that he was here and that he needed her help desperately.

Shaking her head in denial at such feelings, not wanting to acknowledge that she might be right, she waited for Mrs. Crane to return, which she did moments later.

"Well?" the older woman asked.

Scully sighed audibly. "Nothing. I'm sorry, Mrs. Crane. I've wasted your time," she said apologetically.

"Ah, no matter," Mrs. Crane said, waving a dismissive hand at her apology. "With this house, I understand why you would want to be certain," she added. "Let's go, then."

Sending a glance over one shoulder back into the entrance hall, Scully sighed heavily and nodded. "All right," she said. "Thank you for indulging me," she added.

"That's all right. No harm done. Besides, the idea isn't that far fetched, Miss Scully. Two years ago, a boy disappeared in this house on Halloween night. We never did find out what happened to him. He was here with some friends. They lost track of him along the way and... well... he just disappeared," Mrs. Crane said, sounding somewhat puzzled by what she was saying.

Scully stared at her while she closed and locked the front doors again. "He just disappeared?" she asked incredulously and glanced at the heavy oak doors.

"Well, I personally think that his friends scared him a little too much and that he took off without them. Whatever happened to him afterward nobody knows. He was nowhere to be found. The police even searched this mansion, trying to find him, but there was no sign of him," Mrs. Crane explained and turned to face Scully. "Don't worry, Miss Scully. I'm sure nothing has happened to your friend. Not in this house, anyway," she added and glanced up toward the bell tower rising above them.

Scully followed her gaze and once again felt that this house was more than it seemed. There was an essence to this place, something she couldn't define. "I'm just worried about him and he has a tendency to get himself into trouble out of the ordinary," she said and smiled a little at her own words.

Mrs. Crane met her eyes when she looked back at her and there was a strange kind of tightness to the older woman's expression. "Well, then he came to the right place," she said and started down the few steps to the waiting car. "If you don't mind, I have chores that need to be done," she added.

"Of course. I'm sorry," Scully said and hurried back to the car to drive the other woman home again. She sent another glance up at the house before she pulled away from the steps and drove them back down the gravel path.


Schreck Mansion
The Basement

The violation seemed to go on forever. He wanted so desperately to pass out, to just get away from the slithering sensation of that gunk against his skin and inside him. He could feel it moving around everywhere and it drove him crazy with disgust and horror.

And then suddenly it was gone as if someone had waved a magic wand, wishing it away. Released from his ordeal, he slammed down hard on the floor, bruising and scraping his chin. With tears in his eyes, he unsteadily pushed himself up on his hands and knees, his stomach revolting painfully against the experience. He threw up on the floor, retching until he had nothing left to spare, his movements weak and labored.

Once he was done, he gingerly pushed himself back and wiped a shivering hand over his lips. With his back against the wall, he pressed the back of his hand hard against his lips, breathing heavily through his nose until he could no longer control his feelings. Breaking down like a little kid and hating himself for his lack of control, he cried. The tears were provoked by the utter invasion he had just experienced, whether it had been in his mind or not. But the sticky feeling of his skin and the slimy sensation when he touched his hair proved to him that it had happened. And that realization made it worse.

The darkness surrounding him was complete. He had once again lost his sense of direction, but still thought he had a fairly good idea of how to get out of this place. What he wanted most at that very moment was a shower. A long, hot shower. The need to get clean, to scrape this stuff off his skin was overpowering to the extreme. The revulsion he felt at what had happened to him once again made him gag and he leaned forward, attempting to throw up something that wasn't there.

With a groan, he pushed himself back to his feet, his legs shivering beneath him, his eyes watering with the force of the vomiting. Using the wall for support, he slowly made his way along it, feeling over it for a door, an opening. Anything would do. He just needed to get out.

After a few steps, the toes of his right foot connected with something soft and squishy. Startled, he yanked his foot back and hesitated for a moment, wondering if whatever it was would attack him. But there wasn't even a sound. Slowly, he brought his foot forward again and gingerly jabbed whatever was lying on the floor. It felt soft, yielding. But not in the sense that the flesh and skin of a living being felt. Frowning and actually glad to have something to distract him from his current ordeal, he squatted down and reached seeking fingers forward until he found and touched whatever it was. There was definitely some kind of fabric covering it and the surface underneath yielded to pressure. When he pushed a little harder, there was a sound he couldn't identify and the feeling of moisture leaking out. A split second later, a putrid smell hit his nostrils and he jerked his hand back with revulsion. Something rotten was lying on the floor in front of him. He had no particular need to find out what it was, though.

Pressing the back of one hand against his nose to block out the stench, he felt his way around that thing, on the verge of throwing up again since his stomach was already on a roll, and managed to get past it without stepping on it. Pushing on, he felt along the wall until he found a break. A door. He could barely contain his relief when he searched over it, found a handle and pressed it down. The door swung open into a tiny hallway and the vague light suddenly flooding him made him blink painfully a few times. He took a second to let his eyes get used to the light, then started forward to ascend the staircase rising in front of him.

Before he could take the first step, though, he heard the sound of dragging footsteps from somewhere behind him. His breath caught in his throat and for the split second he was frozen in place, his mind was trying to imagine what was making those sounds. Then a hand fell on his shoulder. Swallowing hard, he glanced down at his shoulder from the corner of his eyes, seeing a decaying human hand there. He started shivering when he very, very slowly turned his head to look behind him.

The sight that met him definitely belonged in a horror movie. A putrefied face, half of it nearly gone, the other half swarming with maggots and one milky white eye staring blindly at him made him feel horribly unable to move. He was petrified with shock and fear.

And then what remained of its lips moved. A guttural, wet sounding voice spoke to him in hushed tones. It said, "It will never let you go."

And that did it for him. No matter how much he had seen, no matter how many monsters he had battled, this one would haunt him till the end of his days. He screamed in terror at that half-rotten thing, ripped free of its not very tight grip and scrambled up the steps toward the ground floor of the house, never looking back.

Despite all he had been through, despite all the kinks and bruises which under normal circumstances would hamper his movements, he ran like crazy through the corridors, slithered and slipped on the slippery floor of the entrance hall, falling painfully hard on his side, but got up and continued running until he found the door to the room he had felt safe in. Once inside, he slammed the door shut with all his might and leaned against it, bracing it with his body while his breath came in hysterical little gasps.

And still he could feel that hand on his shoulder, still he could smell that putrid stench and hear those words. Close to hysteria, he started brushing his left shoulder with his right hand, trying to remove the sensation of that touch. He was no longer rationally thinking about his next step, about how he would get out of this place. His mind was racing, but it was making no sense any more. He had lost touch with his sanity and ended up sitting on the couch, his arms wrapped hard around his knees, which he had pulled up to his chest, bloodshot, puffy eyes staring wildly at the door, which he had barricaded with anything he could carry, while he rocked lightly back and forth, whispering to himself between hysterical gasps of air, "This is not happening. This is not happening."

** Tiki Motel
Charlottesville, Virginia

After dropping Mrs. Crane off at her home and once again apologizing for wasting the woman's time, Scully had returned to the motel to plot her next course of action. Once there, though, she sat down on the edge of the bed and stared into space for a while. That feeling that Mulder was still in that house wouldn't let go of her. If he was still there, he had been there for three days now and she wasn't sure what that would do to his psyche. What she couldn't understand was that he hadn't heard her if he was still there.

"Okay, I'm taking a walk on the wild side here," she told herself quietly. He couldn't still be in that house. She would have seen traces of someone having spent three nights there. Or Mrs. Crane would have. But the feeling persisted. If nothing else, it grew stronger.

"Damn it," she mumbled. Glancing at her watch, she noted that it was well past noon and it occurred to her that time seemed to move a whole lot faster in this town than it did anywhere else. Shaking her head with a snort, she got up again and decided to go get something to eat. She would have to plan what to do next.

The Tiki Motel was not equipped with a restaurant, so she took a walk through town to find a decent place to eat. She would have to call Skinner at some point and fill him in. She just knew what he would think of all this and she thought she knew how he would respond to her strange ideas.

Schreck Mansion

Time had once again passed quickly and it had gotten dark outside again. Mulder was still sitting on the couch, knees hugged tightly against his chest, his eyes on the door. He had stopped rocking and whispering to himself and his mind was slowly calming down. He had begun thinking rationally again, although it was on a very basic level.

An occasional desperate chuckle escaped him, making him bite the inside of his cheek to stop himself from going totally over the edge. The fear was now deeply rooted in his mind, making him shiver continuously at the prospect of running into that corpse again. He didn't like dead bodies as it were. When they started moving, he bailed out. The problem was that he couldn't bail out. He couldn't get out of this house. And searching for a way out was not on his agenda any more. If he left the room, he would be exposed.

While he sat there, his mind slowly rolling back into its customary track, his reawakening senses started to point out to him that he had been in this room when he had been transferred to the basement. That again raised his level of fear and he started glancing around him in a panicky, jerky fashion.

The one place in this house where he had felt marginally safe apart from this room had been the kitchen. But the kitchen had a door leading down to the basement. He didn't want to be that close to the basement. The corpse might turn up again and the thought of that putrid thing made his stomach roll.

"Get a grip, get a grip, get a grip," he whispered hoarsely to himself, trying to force himself to remain reasonably calm. But he knew that attempt was futile. The crawling sensation on his left shoulder told him so. He could still feel that hand there. Groaning under his breath, he slipped his icy-cold hands up on his shoulders, squeezing them hard. There was nothing there, of course, but the sensation would not leave him.

Okay, he wasn't safe in this room. There was only one other room he was willing to try out and that was the kitchen. He'd just have to block off the door and make damned sure it stayed blocked. Nodding to himself, he pushed off the couch and started moving the furniture he had piled up in front of the door out of the way. His rationality had suffered a severe break or he wouldn't have attempted that kind of action after dark if he had been thinking straight. But the thought of having to spend another night in this room and maybe get abducted again made his survival instincts override his common sense.

Opening the door, he slipped out into the corridor, his eyes frantically scanning the immediate area. There were sounds in the house, bumps and dragging sounds from upstairs. Sounds that told him without a doubt that he wasn't alone, that the house was keeping him company. That thought made him grin joylessly while he slowly edged along the corridor. "That's the kind of company I don't want," he told himself hoarsely.

Slowly, it was becoming clear to him through the shroud of panic covering his mind that maybe it wasn't such a great idea to be out in the open. Maybe it would have been safer if he had just stayed in the room, kept the door locked and stayed awake.

But it was too late. He was almost halfway to the entrance hall now and there was no turning back. He could hear something bumping in the corridor behind him, which made him unwilling and rather unable to go back the way he'd come. Wincing, he pushed on, his ears slowly starting to pick up on sounds ahead of him as well. Sounds of movement in the entrance hall.

He rounded a corner and came to a stop. From where he stood, he had a prefect view of the entrance hall and what was going on there and it made his blood freeze in his veins. The huge chandelier seemed to have come to life and long, candle-covered bronze arms were weaving over the floor, almost searching for something.

Terrified, he stood leaning against the wall, aware that he would have to make a move in either direction soon. The bumps from behind him were coming closer and he sure didn't want to find out what was making those sounds. On the other hand he didn't feel much like going out into the entrance hall where he risked getting caught by one of those bronze tentacles weaving around over the floor.

He couldn't make up his mind until he started hearing a recognizable sound from behind him. Dragging footsteps. Almost too scared to turn his head, he did anyway and saw the half-rotten corpse of a teenage boy lumbering toward him, one hand stretched out, that milky white eye still staring blindly at him. "It won't let you go," it wheezed.

With a yelp of pure fear, he pushed away from the wall and launched himself out into the entrance hall, dodging the bronze tentacles while he skittered across the floor, fighting to keep his balance. Just when he thought he was about to make it, something grabbed his right ankle in a steel grip, ripping him off his feet. He fell sideways, slamming down on the marble floor on his right, bruising his shoulder in the process and breaking two of his fingers on the right hand.

Although the pain was bad, the fear was worse. Using his left foot to kick out at the bronze tentacle wrapped around his leg, he held his right wrist with his left hand. "Let go of me," he yelled, continuously kicking at what was restraining him until another of those chandelier arms grabbed his other ankle and started pulling him back into the center of the hall.

He rolled over on his stomach and tried to dig his fingers into the floor, but there was nothing to hold onto, nothing which could give him the slightest bit of leverage. The chandelier arms holding him flipped him back over on his back and that was when he spotted the corpse standing there, rotting arms reaching out toward him. He started screaming and ripped both arms up in front of his face to block out the vision of pure terror coming toward him.

On the road back to D.C.

Scully drove from hospital to hospital on the route back to D.C., checking for and not finding Mulder anywhere. She went as far as checking in on every John Doe they had listed. It took her the better part of a day to do so and she ended up back in D.C. without a clue on how to continue.

Frustrated, she drove home to change, packed a new supply of clothes and decided to drive by the office to talk it over with Skinner. Kimberly showed her straight into the office and Skinner looked up expectantly when she stepped in.

"Scully. What did you find out?" he asked, waving toward the chair in front of his desk.

Scully sank down on it with a sigh. "Nothing yet. I went to the mansion and took a brief look around, but didn't see anything. I've checked every imaginable hospital on the way and there's no sign of him," she explained.

"It's been forty-eight hours now. So we can officially list him as missing. What are your next steps?" Skinner replied, not happy about it.

"I don't know," Scully said, thoughtfully shaking her head. She had to voice her innermost thoughts even if Skinner thought she had lost her mind. "Sir, I think he's still there. Somewhere. He's somewhere in that house," she said, her tone of voice implying what was only too plain in her expression.

Skinner was silent for a moment and regarded her with a frown, then he sighed. "Listen, Scully, if you didn't find him in that house, he's probably not there, okay?" he suggested.

She instantly shook her head. "No, I know he's there. I don't know why I didn't find him, but I was only there for half an hour and it's a very big house. I need to go back and check it more thoroughly," she insisted.

The frown stayed on, but Skinner's expression revealed some lenience. "All right. This is getting out of hand. I'm coming with you, Scully. We'll check the house out together and if we don't find him, you're going back to D.C. and I will launch a search party for him."

"Sir, maybe I should handle this on my own. You have enough on your plate as it is," she tried, aware how Skinner would feel when it turned out that Mulder had taken off on some strange notion and had completely lost track of time.

"Scully, Mulder has done a lot of stupid things in his time. He has taken off on a whim and has stayed out of touch for long periods of time. And that was before he met you. Since you two have been working together, I've had more of a grip on his whereabouts for the past seven years than I had for the first three he worked under me. So... I'm not complaining. One thing I do know, though is that if he had gone off on some whim, he would have called you within the first twenty-four hours. That he hasn't called you yet means something's wrong."

For a long moment, Scully just sat there, her hands folded in her lap, her eyes on her intertwined fingers. Then she looked up to meet Skinner's eyes. "He's in trouble," she said.

"I realize that. But how do you know that?" Skinner asked, intrigued by the fact that Scully had seemingly adopted some of Mulder's traits. Or maybe they'd been there all along and it had taken a rather hefty subjection to Mulder's paranoid view of the world to set them free.

"I don't know," she said, shaking her head. "I just know. He's in trouble and it's bad. Really bad. I have the distinct feeling that if I don't get to him fast, he's... I don't know. There won't be enough left to salvage if it doesn't happen soon."

There was no doubt about the seriousness of Scully's words and Skinner instantly decided to take them to heart. If she thought it was urgent, it had to be. "Right," he said and got up. "Let's get down there and check out that house more thoroughly. If we don't find him there, I'll launch a major search for him. I don't care what I have to do to explain it to the director. Let's just go find Mulder."

Scully's relief was obvious. She had not expected Skinner to even go as far as file this as a missing-persons case and here he was, ready to go with her and help her search. Grateful, she rose, too, and they left the office together.

Schreck Mansion
Charlottesville, Virginia

Mulder came to, lying on the floor of the kitchen without any recollection of how he had gotten there. He jerked up, pushing himself up with both hands and let out a yelp when he bent his broken fingers. Holding his wrist in a hard grip, he sat up and glanced around the kitchen.

"How the hell did I get in here?" he whispered. He'd been out for a while, he realized, because it was light outside. Struggling to his feet, he tried to remember what had happened when the chandelier had attacked him, but couldn't remember anything beyond the terror he had felt at being dragged across the floor toward the waiting corpse.

The memory of that made him looked around quickly to make sure that he was alone in the kitchen. And even though he realized that he was alone, he still felt anything but safe. His broken fingers throbbed away with a pulse of their own, but he barely noticed them in his current state of mind. Fear was a remarkable painkiller and he would have marveled at it if his mind had been in one piece.

All he wanted was to find a corner where he could hide. Preferably underneath something, which would shield him. A part of his mind, which was still marginally attached to his common sense, found the whole thing intriguing, but the majority of his consciousness wanted him to get out of this house. And fast.

He spotted a corner which seemed adequate to his needs and started toward it. It was underneath the water-heater, which was suspended by powerful-looking iron bands on the wall. There was a cupboard on one side and a closet on the other, forming a tight little niche which he believed he would fit into.

Before he could get that far, though, the door to the basement sprang open, slamming into him and knocking him off his feet. He landed hard on his back and banged the back of his head against the stone-floor hard enough to make his vision waver. It steadied immediately again, though, to reveal what had opened the door. The corpse stood in the open doorway. "It won't let you go," it whispered to him, reached out to grab his ankles and started hauling him toward the staircase leading down to the basement.

"NO," he screamed, lashed out and grabbed the leg of the long table with his left hand. Despite the debilitating pain, he wrapped his right hand around it, too, and held on for dear life. But the table's weight was no match for the corpse and it started scraping over the stone floor as it was dragged toward the door as well.

"It won't let you go," the corpse repeated.

Something snapped in Mulder's mind and he started putting up one hell of a fight, struggling to get out of the dead man's grip. When he managed to wrench his right foot free, he kicked hard out at the decaying head and hit it full force. All that did was destroy the remains of the face, which fell off and spilled maggots onto his leg.

With a howl of terror and disgust, he intensified his struggle, but to no avail. The decaying fingers would not leg go of him. The fear of having to end up down in that basement, in the dark, with that slime oozing around down there and the corpse dragging itself around, too, he just knew that the last remains of his sanity would evaporate. He could not allow this thing to drag him down there. He would die like that boy had. He would become a part of this place, preying on other unfortunate souls who got lost in this house of horrors.

Letting go of the table leg, he grabbed a hold of the doorframe and started pulling himself back into the kitchen, using his right foot to push away from the stairs. He heard a hoarse rattle from the corpse when his left foot finally slipped free and he hurriedly hauled himself back into the kitchen and kicked the door shut. Getting to his feet instantly, he grabbed the long table and used every ounce of strength he had in him to push it over in front of the door, blocking the thing's reentry. With feverish intensity, he started piling anything he could find onto the table and eventually was content that it couldn't get into the kitchen that way.

Before he had finished that thought, though, transparent slime oozed out from under the door, heading toward him. Terrified, he ran for the closest door and ripped it open, nearly falling backward with the force of his actions. He caught himself in time, though, and ran as fast as he could down the corridor, away from the bubbling sound of that stuff. He was not going to let it get him again. No way. So he ran until he rammed full force into a pair of frosted glass doors. They swung open when he hit them and his forward momentum carried him into the center of the room before he managed to stop. Glancing around, his sluggish mind took a moment to reveal to him where he was. The winter garden.

The memory of his last encounter with the winter garden was still vivid in his mind. The vines hung limply from their supports up under the glass ceiling, shriveled and brown, dead leaves still attached to the stems. The stink of rotten vegetation hung in the air, which was heavy with moisture. His gaze darted around, searching for the movement he was certain would be there, but nothing happened. The vines hung there, dead and unmoving. There was no indication that they had ever been alive, either.

Slowly, he started forward, intent on getting to the other side of the room where there was another door. He had to force himself to move and his motions were jerky at best. It was as if his joints were frozen, making it difficult for him to move at all. If he had been able to think rationally at that time, if his mind had not been set to pure self preservation and terror, he would have realized that moving quickly through the room might be better. But he moved on instinct and instinct told him to take it slow. That the slower he moved, the less likely it might be that the entity of the house would detect him.

He was halfway through the room when he heard the first rustle. Jerking around, he scanned the immediate area rapidly, searching for and finding no sign of movement. His breath came in shallow puffs, leaving him light-headed and slightly dizzy.

What happened next nearly cost him his mental faculties altogether. Six heavy vines suddenly started moving and they were all heading for him. They came from all directions, giving him no chance of escape. In his already depleted state of mind, the moving vines nearly scared the life out of him. Withered vines wrapped around him hard enough to break the skin, drawing blood along his arms, ripping his t-shirt, his jeans. He struggled against them, trying to break them, but for every one that broke, another took its place. It was an unwinnable fight. He screamed then. Not so much in pain as in total terror. He couldn't control his fear, couldn't maintain his composure. And he couldn't think clearly enough to find a way out of this fix.

The slithering vines raised him off the floor, continuously wrapping around him, scoring him, squeezing him until he could barely breathe. His screams tapered off to halfhearted sobs and his movements slowed down the more the vines tightened around his limbs.

Outside the Schreck Mansion grounds
Charlottesville, Virginia

Scully had asked Skinner to take a tour past the house before going to the Crane's residence. She wanted to check something which had not occurred to her earlier.

"What are we doing here, Scully?" Skinner wanted to know. "We can't get in there without the Cranes' help."

"I know," Scully said, staring intently at the heavy-looking gates. "Could we just drive over to the parking lot? I just want to make sure his car isn't there," she added, pointing toward the driveway Mrs. Crane had shown her.

Skinner sighed, then pulled the car around and drove up the short path to the parking lot. He stomped his foot down on the brake rather suddenly when he caught sight of the dark blue Taurus sitting there, all alone. "Shit," he mumbled. He didn't have to ask Scully if that was Mulder's car. He knew it was. "Looks like you were right. He's still here," he added after a moment.

"Yeah, looks that way," Scully agreed quietly. "I wish I'd been wrong, though."

"Well, let's get over to the Crane's residence and get them to open the gates for us," Skinner said and turned the car around.

Scully remained silent, her eyes on the Taurus until it disappeared from sight. Then she settled back in her seat and folded her arms over her chest, suddenly feeling cold.

The Crane Residence
Charlottesville, Virginia

Skinner glanced at Scully when she reached out to knock on the front door to the caretaker's house, aware that she was uneasy. The further they had driven, the more uneasy she had become and she downright jumpy at this point. Not that he blamed her. Not after seeing Mulder's Taurus sitting in that parking lot.

Before he could say something, though, the door in front of them opened and Mrs. Crane gave Scully a surprised look. "You're back," she stated.

"Yes, Mrs. Crane. I'm sorry to bother you. You must think I'm completely out of my mind here, but could we take a more thorough look at the mansion?"

Mrs. Crane looked sort of perplexed by her request, then glanced at Skinner, who remained silent. "But he wasn't there. Why would he be there now?" she wanted to know, looking back at Scully again.

"We checked the parking lot outside the mansion and his car is still there. Apart from that, I can't explain it, Mrs. Crane. I just have this feeling that he's still in the mansion and I would really like to take a look around again. Just in case. I know I'm imposing on you and I'm very sorry, but..."

"That's all right," Mrs. Crane said, her tone somewhat overbearing. "Let me get my coat."

Scully gave Skinner a nervous glance. "She's very cooperative," she said.

"Yes, very," Skinner agreed. "How urgent is it?" he asked after a moment of silence.

"I don't know. I just have the distinct feeling that we need to go there right now. That we're almost too late," she said and shook her head at her own words.

Skinner's only reply to that was a raised eyebrow since Mrs. Crane joined them then and they returned to the car to drive back to the old mansion.

Skinner's immediate impression of the mansion was the same Scully had felt. There was something utterly wrong with that house. It was with the greatest control that he did not step on the brake when he saw it. The looming mansion rose almost threateningly toward the heavily overcast afternoon sky.

After parking the car in front of the house, Skinner let Scully and Mrs. Crane go ahead. He looked up at the building, feeling a foreboding sense of dread he had not experienced even in Vietnam. There was something forbidding about this house and he figured a person would have to be dead not to notice it. The atmosphere was heavy with bad vibes.

Scully stopped in the now open doorway and glanced back at him. "Are you coming, sir?" she asked him, not unaware of that he perceived the house in the same way she did. As threatening.

Skinner nodded and followed the women inside only to be swept by the sensation that they were anything but welcome in this house. Far be it beyond him to show such feelings, though. He hesitated for a second, then frowned. "What the hell is wrong with this place?" he asked after a moment.

It was with no small amount of willpower that Scully refrained from gaping at him. It was the first time she had ever heard him comment on something which was beyond her realm of explanations. "I don't know," she replied. "But the atmosphere is definitely hostile," she added, wondering how he would perceive that.

Skinner glanced at her, maintaining a cool exterior, but feeling slightly surprised at her comment. "Yeah," he agreed. "Let's take a look around. I don't want us to stay here any longer than we have to."

"There's an unusual amount of activity today," Mrs. Crane observed, glancing around the huge entrance hall. Both Scully and Skinner stared at her for a second and she smiled almost benevolently. "The house is haunted, of course. It's not just a gimmick to attract visitors. It really is haunted," she added.

Scully's reaction to that was fueled by her concern for her partner. Turning, she looked up at the ceiling for a second, then focused on a corridor leading away from the entrance hall. "MULDER," she yelled.

Her voice carried in the old house and it was answered with a resounding thud, which made all of them freeze for a second. Scully was the one who regained her mobility first and she raced down the corridor toward the source of the sound. She rounded a corner and pushed through a pair of swinging glass doors, ending up the winter garden. For a moment, she stood still, her eyes trailing over the dead growths in this room, then she caught sight of something from the corner of her eyes and turned to face the center of the room. "Oh, my God," she whispered and hurried over her partner's side.

He lay curled up on the floor, shivering, bloodied and completely unresponsive at first. Scully gave him a visual examination, noting that the blood came from abrasions on his arms, torso and legs. His jeans were in tatters and that was all he was wearing. He was also absolutely rancid, but that was beyond the point for Scully. "Mulder," she said, grabbing his arm in a fairly unharmed place. His instant reaction was to try and get out of her grip, but she held on, shocked to see him so scared. "Mulder, it's me, Scully," she urged him, wishing he would let go of his head so she could see his face. "Mulder, damn it. Look at me," she insisted.

Something about her tone of voice made him slowly uncoil and raise his head. He was still shivering badly and the fear in his eyes was overwhelming, but he did raise his head and he did look at her.

At first he thought it was a dream, his imagination playing games with him. Or maybe it was even a cruel plan devised by the house itself to break him completely. Certain that this would be the case, he ripped free of Scully's grip and pushed himself backward until his back connected painfully hard with the edge of one of the flowerbeds and he let out a yelp of pain.

"Mulder," Scully exclaimed, rose and followed him. "It's me. It's Scully. Look at me. Can't you tell it's me?" She was deeply shaken by the terror in his eyes and the state he was in.

Shaking his head with jerky motions, he didn't take his eyes off her. "No, you're not real," he croaked, his voice all but gone.

Scully crouched down in front of him and reached a hand out to him, palm up. "I'm real. I'm here," she said quietly, trying to convey her reality to him by just looking at him. Saddened by his state of mind as much as she was frightened by it, she continuously held out her hand. "I'm sorry I didn't come sooner. I... didn't know anything was wrong."

His expression mellowed a little at her words. He was convinced that if this was trickery, the apparition in front of him would not say those things. Blinking for the first time since she had turned up, he stared hard at her, willing her to either change into that horrible corpse or to just disappear. When she did neither after what he considered an appropriate amount of time, he gingerly leaned forward, but still kept his distance. "Scully?" he almost whispered, not daring to hope that she had finally come to end his nightmare.

"Yes, Mulder, it's me," she agreed with a weak smile, her hand still stretched out to him. Carefully, she edged a little closer, but froze when he drew back, the look in his eyes darkening. Sending a brief glance over one shoulder, she became aware of Skinner's presence, but also knew that he understood the situation and stayed back. Returning her attention to her partner and friend, she edged forward. "Mulder, what happened to you?" she wanted to know.

For a moment longer, he just stared at her, still not trusting that she was real. Then his gaze jerked over the interior of the winter garden. He saw Skinner and Mrs. Crane standing by the door, but didn't really register them as being present. Then he looked back at Scully, who was still crouching in front of him, hand outstretched, a small smile on her lips and concern in her eyes and things just became too much for him. Moving shakily, he closed the distance between them simply by leaning forward and pulling her into his embrace.

Scully heard him hiss when she locked her arms around him, but he didn't pull back and he didn't tell her to let go. Instead she could feel his hot, rapid breath on her ear and felt the brush of his stubble against her cheek. "Get me out of here," he whispered hoarsely into her ear.

She nodded and helped him stand, finding it a little difficult to get her balance while he was holding onto her that harshly. With an arm around his back, she managed to turn them both toward the door and Skinner, who was still waiting patiently. Scully met his eyes and saw the deep concern there and hoped that he wouldn't do something to spook Mulder.

"Should I call an ambulance?" he asked when they slowly approached him, his eyes on the bloodied younger man.

"No, I don't think that's necessary. He has abrasions from what I can see and nothing more," she replied and returned her attention to Mulder. "Do you need to see a doctor, Mulder?" she asked him quietly and he instantly shook his head in a jerky motion, not saying anything. He was looking sternly at the floor in front of his feet. The reason for that had nothing to do with embarrassment. He was beyond that at the moment. He just did not dare to look around out of fear that he might see something which scared him.

Skinner wasn't happy about the situation, considering that he thought Mulder looked to be in worse shape than any of his mates in the army had after heavy battle, but he was not inclined to make a fuzz about it right then. It was obvious that Mulder did not want to go to the hospital and Skinner had seen enough shell shocked men to know what it would do to him if he was forced to do anything against his will right now. During the days he had spent in this mansion, he had been bombed back to being a frightened, little kid and it would take a lot of patience and a lot of care to get him back to normal. Instead of commenting further on it, he turned and led the way back to the entrance hall.

Getting out to the car didn't take as long as Scully had feared it might. Mulder was very eager to leave despite the fact that he was wearing nothing but his torn jeans and it was cold outside. He didn't say a word, but she felt the increasing shiver going through him when the cold air from the open door hit him. Before she had a chance to ask Skinner if he had a blanket in the car, he had shrugged out of his coat and draped it over Mulder's shoulders.

Scully slipped into the back of the car with Mulder, who hardly let go of her long enough for her to get into the car. Mrs. Crane, who kept glancing at Mulder with deep concern, slipped into the passenger seat as Skinner settled behind the wheel. "We'll just drop you off on the way, Mrs. Crane," Skinner said.

She nodded and gave Skinner an almost anguished look. "Will there be an investigation?" she asked timidly.

"Yes, there will," he agreed. "I'm going to open a case file on this house the minute we get back to D.C. But don't worry, Mrs. Crane, you and your husband will not be blamed for this," he added, instantly picking up on her greatest concern.

Mrs. Crane almost sighed, then glanced back at Mulder. "I hope he gets well. Schreck Mansion has a tendency to alter people's minds," she said quietly.

Scully stared at her and wondered for a moment if she was right. Then she adjusted Skinner's coat around Mulder, pulling it together so he wouldn't freeze, and looked down at him. He had curled up on the backseat, his head resting on her lap, his left hand almost cramped around hers. She tightened her own grip on his shoulder and settled back for the long ride home. She knew that it would take time for him to recover from this one. He never really showed his feelings and for him to get this far out, it had to have been pretty bad.

Mulder couldn't really focus his mind beyond the point that he was out of that house and on his way home. The warmth of Scully's hand on his shoulder and the hum of the wheels of the car on the asphalt was soothing to the extreme. But the terror stuck with him, making him close his eyes hard and pray that Scully would still be there when he opened them again, that he wouldn't find himself in the basement of Schreck Mansion, alone, cold and scared to death.

Scully gently caressed his shoulder, brushing her palm over it in a monotonous motion which was aimed at calming him down while she regarded him thoughtfully, trying to make sense of what had happened to him. She knew up front that it would be hard for her to believe it, whatever it was.

Skinner drove in silence, not making any attempt at conversation. He didn't know what to say anyway. It was against his better judgement that he had agreed to drive them back to Scully's apartment rather than straight to the hospital, but Scully was convinced she could deal with Mulder's state of mind and he wasn't about to argue that point.

Glancing in the rear view mirror, he caught sight of Scully's concerned expression while she stared down at Mulder. He was concerned about the man himself, but also figured that a professional should handle it. And, as far as he knew, Scully had no education in psychology. Making a face, he returned his attention to the road.

Scully's residence
Arlington, Virginia

After picking up Mulder's overnight bag at his place at Scully's request, Skinner drove to Arlington and helped Scully get Mulder inside. They got him as far as the couch before his shaky legs gave way beneath him and they had to leave him there.

Skinner grabbed Scully's arm and pulled her out into the corridor where they could talk in peace. "Listen to me and listen good, Scully. Mulder's mental state is equal to zilch right now. He's vegetating. If you can't get him to respond properly to you within the next few days, I insist that you get him some professional help. I don't think I have to tell you that I've taken you both here against my better judgement."

Nodding, Scully indicated that she was aware of that. "I know that, sir, and I appreciate that you did it anyway. But putting him in a hospital right now might cause him to withdraw further. He's scared senseless. But I believe I can reach him."

Still rather unhappy about the situation, Skinner sighed. "All right, but keep in mind what I've said. If he doesn't start recovering quickly, he will need some professional help. I've never seen him like this before and I don't like it."

"Neither do I. Believe me. But I do not want to put him through more than he's gone through already," Scully insisted.

"That's just the point, isn't it, Scully? We don't know what he's gone through. Where the hell did he get those abrasions? He was alone in the house, wasn't he?" he asked in a hushed, rather harsh tone of voice.

Scully almost nervously ran the tip of her tongue along the inside of her lower lip. "As far as we know he was. I'll try and see if I can't get him to tell me what happened. But, the state he's in right now doesn't give me much hope of that. I think he needs to sleep. He's exhausted. I don't think he's slept much. And there are a million places in that house where he could have gotten abrasions. There are stairs everywhere from what I could see. And some of them probably aren't carpeted, either," she said, trying to soothe Skinner into letting her do this her way.

"Okay, fine, maybe he fell down some stairs, Scully. But can you tell me why the hell he would take most of his clothes off? I don't know much about what Mulder does in his spare time, but I've never taken him for an exhibitionist," Skinner replied, still not convinced he was doing the right thing.

"That's what I'm going to try and find out, sir," Scully promised. "After a good night's sleep, I'm sure he'll feel a lot better in the morning. He's probably also going to be embarrassed like hell about the whole thing," she added with a vague smile. She didn't believe it herself, but it was essential for her to convince Skinner that she was on top of things. Otherwise he might change his mind and insist on taking Mulder to the hospital.

For a moment, Skinner just stared at her, then he shook his head in defeat. "All right. Do it your way. But if that doesn't work, I'm personally going to take him to North-West Georgetown. I'll drop by tomorrow after work to check up on him."

Scully nodded. "All right. I'm sure he'll be a lot more responsive tomorrow," she said, hoping that would be true. Judging by Skinner's expression, she knew the man was anything but convinced, but he left anyway.

With a sigh, she returned to her apartment and after closing and locking the front door, she walked over to the couch and sat down on the coffee table in front of Mulder, who was still shivering and seemed to be far away. "Mulder?" He blinked and focused on her, but made no move to speak. "Mulder, what happened?" she wanted to know, wondering if he was even hearing her. He stared at her, eyes still wide and full of fear, his expression strained.

"Look, Mulder, you're going to have to talk to me. If you don't, Skinner will have you admitted to the hospital. You don't want to go there right now, do you?" she asked him. He shook his head vaguely, thereby indicating that he understood her all right. That was always a good sign. "Right," she added and glanced down at his left hand, which was wrapped almost convulsively around the edges of the coat, holding it together. For the first time since they had found him, she realized that he wasn't using his right hand at all. Frowning, she reached out for it, but he yanked it back, hiding what she thought had to be a sprain.

Holding out her hand, she looked him in the eye. "Let me have a look at your hand," she said and he instantly shook his head. "Come one, Mulder. Don't make this any harder than it has to be," she added somewhat sternly. She wasn't able to force as much authority into her voice as she would have liked mainly because she was so worried about his state of mind. When he didn't respond in any way to that, she leaned back a little. "What do you want to do now?"

He swallowed, almost as if he was attempting to speak, but changed his mind again. Glancing sideways, he tried to force himself to calm down. This was Scully talking to him. She was offering him help and he would have to accept it. Very slowly, he brought his right hand out and placed his wrist almost gingerly in her still outstretched hand.

Scully took one look at the swollen digits and knew that this was not a sprain. "Broken fingers again, huh?" she asked him with a vague smile, trying to make him calm down some more. She carefully felt over the digits, finding that the breaks were pretty straight forward and would not need setting. But the way he jerked when she touched his fingers told her that they were pretty sore. "I'll get some ice for that," she added and rose to go to the kitchen.

After placing an ice pack on his hand, she once again became aware of how rancid he smelled. There was more to that smell than dirt, though. There was something else involved in it. It smelled like old oil, but he had no traces of oil on him. She carefully wrapped a dishtowel around his hand to keep the ice pack in place, but before she could finish, his left hand suddenly cupped her cheek. Raising her gaze to his face, she met his eyes and placed a hand over his. "You okay?" she asked quietly.

Again he made an attempt at speaking and this time it came out. His voice was rather hoarse, though. "I need a bath," he whispered.

Scully smiled at that. "Yes, you do. I think you need to soak in the tub for a while," she replied, happy that he was speaking to her. Her comment actually pulled a very small smile from him and that made a whole world of difference to her. She was slowly beginning to believe that he would actually be doing a whole lot better the following day. All he needed was a good night's sleep and a bath, of course.

After filling the tub with warm water, Scully had to coax him to move, but once he got moving, it wasn't so hard. First of all she pulled Skinner's coat off his shoulders and once again wondered about those abrasions. It was hard to see how bad they were with all the dried blood and grime on him, though. Reminding herself that she would have to give Skinner his coat back, she put it aside and then became aware that all activity has ceased. Mulder was just standing there, looking a little lost, a little unsteady. "Do you need some help?" she asked him, not wanting to push him.

For a moment, he just stood there and stared at her, then he swallowed and nodded. His rationality was slowly resurfacing and with it came the embarrassment. He wasn't happy about the situation, but found himself in a position where he couldn't make the next move. His limbs simply did not respond to what he wanted to do. Embarrassing as it was, he would have to rely on Scully to get him out of what remained of his clothes and into the tub. "I... can't open the button with one hand," he croaked.

Scully raised an eyebrow, then smiled a little uncertainly. This was a tricky situation. "Okay," she said and reached out to undo the button on his jeans. "Can you manage the rest?" she asked and glanced up at his face. Somehow this situation was becoming somewhat embarrassing for both of them and if he hadn't been in such dire need of help, she would have found it funny. As it were, there was fairly little to laugh about.

He halfway nodded and she stepped around him, turning her back to him to give him a little privacy. It took time and she more than once considered to just turn around and help him, but he didn't ask for it and she didn't want to increase his obvious embarrassment. When she heard his pants drop to the floor, she reached out for a towel and handed it back to him without turning. He took it without a word and then cleared his throat. "I... don't know..." he began, but trailed off.

Scully glanced at him over one shoulder, noticing that he had the towel wrapped around his mid-section and was holding it together with one hand. "What?" she asked him.

He gave her a wavering glance, still looking pretty much spooked, then sighed heavily. "I don't think I can get into to tub," he finally said, his voice sounding almost as if he dirt in his throat.

Smiling, still feeling as if this should have been handled by a professional nurse, she turned fully toward him. "Of course you can. I'll help you," she told him.

With a bit of effort and a near slip, he finally managed to settle himself into the hot water. At first it stung in the scrapes and scratches on his body, but he soon felt revitalized by it. Scully asked him only once if he wanted to be alone, but the nearly panicky look in his eyes made her soothe him instantly. Instead she took it upon herself to make sure he got as clean as he could get. This included washing his hair, which he couldn't do with only one hand anyway. It took her three tries before she was able to wash some sticky stuff out of his hair, but eventually she brushed both hands through it, pushing it away from his forehead and was satisfied with the result.

In the meantime, the water had removed most of the grime and dried blood from his arms and torso and Scully frowned deeply at the strange abrasions he had. It looked like something rough had been wrapped around his arms and his chest, which had scuffed his skin. At first she considered asking him about it, but decided that it could wait until the following morning.

Using a soft, natural sponge, she washed his back, doing her bit to make sure he was clean. Despite the warm water and the fact that she thought it was rather hot in the bathroom, he was still shivering and she knew for a fact that it wasn't because he was cold. The constant, low-key jitter running through him was an indication of how scared he really was and she knew it had to be a struggle without measure for him to keep up appearances as well as he did at present.

Mulder knew he wasn't behaving rationally. But knowing that did nothing to diminish the fear he felt. He had always hated to ask for help, hated to let anybody know that he was afraid of something. Even when he had been a child and had been scared of the shadows in his room had he stayed in bed, closed his eyes and tried to ignore the imaginary sounds he heard or the sensation that he wasn't alone in the room. If it got too bad, he had his sister. At least until the day she disappeared. Samantha had always been more afraid of the dark than he had and she had eventually ended up in his bed if she had been scared of something. In that effect, he'd been able to cover his own fear by making her feel safe.

After he had grown up, he had no longer feared the dark. Shadows were, after all, just shadows, and although he knew that monsters did exist, he also knew that they could be beaten and that they were usually more afraid of him than he was of them. Monsters were, after all, usually animals.

An ironic facade along with the ability to cut his feelings off like he would shut off the light had left him in a place where he hardly ever got hurt. Mainly because he never let anybody get to him. But his ordeal in Schreck Mansion had left him emotionally raw. No matter how he tried, no matter how he scolded himself, he could not shut down those feelings of pure terror. He had tried to keep up a strong face for Scully, to let her know that he would be a-okay and that nothing could touch him now that he was back where he belonged. But that wasn't true. Sitting up in the bed of Scully's spare room, he almost convulsively clutched the covers to him, his eyes darting over the dark room, searching for the threat he knew wasn't there.

Rubbing his left hand hard over his face, he tried to calm himself down, to tell himself how ridiculous he was, but the panic was built in at the moment and he couldn't shake the feeling that if he fell asleep, he would wake up in that basement again. He was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to sleep, but he simply didn't dare. The idea that maybe he should seek Scully's company had crossed his mind, but he did not want to appear as a bigger coward than he already did. And for some reason, that was how he thought she saw him right now. As a coward. After all, Scully didn't believe in ghosts. She would eventually claim that he had been frightened by his own shadow and was letting one too many ghost stories get the better of him.

Realizing that those were not Scully's words, but his mother's did nothing to calm him down. His mother had assumed that the best way to still her son's fears of the dark would be to make him feel silly about being afraid. Instead she had instilled the need to appear brave in him rather than being brave. Hiding your emotions was what mother wanted you to do.

Almost aggressively slapping his forehead, he clenched his jaws in an attempt to banish his mother's virtually condemning voice from his mind. The matter of the fact was that he was too afraid to sleep while he was alone. Given the things he had seen in that house, that wasn't such an odd thing.

His mind started working overtime at trying to find an excuse for going to Scully's room in the middle of the night. It would have to be watertight and it would have to earn him the right to stay with her for the rest of the night. But he couldn't come up with anything that would warrant that outcome. So what could he do other than sit in the darkness and fear the shadows? Almost sneering at his own stupidity, he realized that there was one option he had forgotten about. He could turn on the light.

Reaching a shaking hand out for the lamp, he turned the light on and found that it made him a little more comfortable. But not enough to fall asleep. Not enough to lie down, either. Because if he did lie down, he would fall asleep, and sleeping was dangerous. He had been moved in his sleep. Moved to a dank-smelling cellar with dead people pursuing him and giant globs of slime invading him.

"Stop it," he hissed quietly at himself, his t-shirt already moist with cold sweat, which was breaking out all over his body.

A soft knock on the door made the shadows advancing on him in his mind draw back and he stared at the door for a moment until it opened and Scully stuck her head in, blinking in the sudden light. "I saw the light. Are you okay?" she asked, her eyes scrutinizing him.

He tried to smile, but it came out all wrong. Then he nodded, afraid to speak lest his voice betray him.

Scully pushed the door wide and stepped inside. "You don't look okay," she commented, finding the need to push the subject in spite of what she normally would do. "Can't sleep?" she asked on and he quickly shook his head, cursing his pride to hell. Settling down on the edge of the bed, Scully regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then reached out to brush fingers through his hair. "Mulder, you need to sleep. You're exhausted," she told him.

'Don't you think I know that?' he wanted to ask her, but he couldn't get the words out.

Dana Scully was no fool. She had not gotten this far in life by being oblivious to other people's state of mind. And it was apparent beyond the subtle that her partner and friend was scared out of his mind, unable to process whatever he had gone through in that house. And one thing she knew without confirmation. If he didn't get a good night's sleep, his condition would worsen. Drawing a deep breath, she considered her options, decided what she needed to do and sighed. "Look, you've been alone in that house for almost a week, Mulder. I don't know what happened to you, but you'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to notice the atmosphere in that house," she said. "I for one would not want to sleep alone after having been stuck in a place like that for that long."

He stared at her, unable to fathom that she was offering him what he so desperately wanted. Hell, he didn't care if she held his hand. All he needed was for her to be in the same room, to hear somebody breathing and know that he wasn't alone. But still he could not get the words out.

Scully took his left hand in hers and gave him a light tug as she got up again. "Come on. You're not going to get any sleep while you're alone," she told him.

Seemingly reluctant, he got up and followed her into her bedroom. This would be a gesture he would not forget. Ever. The fact that she made him feel like he was doing her a favor by doing this was enough to soothe his strained pride.

Scully slipped into bed again and padded the mattress gently. "Come on," she said.

Mulder considered his options for a moment, the fact that he just wanted to jump into bed with her, then actually managed something similar to a smile and slipped under the covers beside her. "I'm sorry about this," he mumbled, his voice grating in his throat.

"About what? Being human?" she asked back with a soft smile and stretched her arm out for him. "Come here," she added. "Let's spoon up."

That brought the first earnest smile to his lips and he snuggled down with her arm around him and her body pressed against his back. Suddenly things didn't seem as terrifying. And it took him less than a minute to basically pass out. The warmth of Scully against him, the feeling of being close to someone, made him relax completely.

Scully smiled to herself, aware that she would be sleeping lightly this night and probably wake up every time he moved. But the smile wavered and died again after a second. She couldn't even begin to imagine what he had gone through and she knew it had to have been pretty damned horrible to make him act this way. She had known Mulder long enough to know about his almost compulsive need to control his emotions and for him to show so clearly that he was afraid made her wonder just what exactly had set it off.

Waking up a while later, the first thing Scully became aware of was that she had actually fallen asleep in the first place. The second thing she observed was that it was 4.15 a.m. Lying on her side with her back to the center of the bed, she wondered what had awoken her and figured it was probably Mulder. Turning over on her back, she looked over to the other side of the bed to find it empty.

Still a little sluggish from sleep, she propped herself up on her elbows and glanced around the bedroom. There was no sign of her partner anywhere. "Mulder?" she asked and sat up.

There was no reply. It made her wonder where he was. She was aware that his actions at the moment were not very rational, but on the other hand, when were they ever? Slipping out of bed, she padded barefoot across the floor to the door and opened it, actually expecting him to be watching television or something similar.

The living room beyond was dark and empty. "Mulder?" she asked again. Switching a lamp on, she blinked in the light for a moment, then slowly let her eyes slide over the room. Rubbing the back of her neck with one hand, she frowned. "Where the hell is he?" she mumbled.

Turning, she eyed the half-open bathroom door, walked over and pushed it open to take a look inside. Nobody there. Thinking that maybe he'd thought it a little awkward if they woke up together, he might have returned to the guest room. She walked down to that door, pushed it open and found another empty room. And the clothes she'd had Skinner pick up for him on their way to her apartment were still there. That meant that wherever he was, he was wearing nothing but his boxer shorts.

Turning around, she headed to the front door and found it locked with the chain still in place. He could have locked it from the outside, but he could not have put the chain on. That was just not possible. Besides, why would he want to leave, wearing nothing but his boxers? It was cold outside, a promise of snow in the air. Despite his presently irrational state of mind, she knew him well enough to know he would not go out there dressed in practically nothing.

At that point she started to get worried. Something was utterly wrong with this scenario and she found herself doubting that he had been there in the first place. If it hadn't been for the fact that there were telltale signs of his previous presence, she would have considering it to be her imagination.

Taking a walk through the apartment, she checked doors and windows to make sure he hadn't left in some spur of panic or something, but no exit-ways were left open. She jiggled handles and pushed doors to make sure. The thing that occurred to her when she ended up back in her living room without a clue of how he had gotten out, was that he couldn't have gotten out. Not with everything locked and closed.

Starting to feel cold despite her pajamas, she stood in the middle of the living room, staring into space as a rather implausible notion dawned on her. What if he was back in Charlottesville?

Mulder jerked awake, becoming painfully aware of the complete darkness around him and the clammy cold air. He was on his feet before he was even aware he was moving.

It took him no time at all to realize that his worst fears had come true. The thing he had been afraid of before drifting off to sleep, feeling marginally secure in Scully's arms, had been that if he did fall asleep, he would wake up in that basement again. In this basement. Unable not to, he moaned in fear, blinking rapidly, trying to see something without being able to.

The smell was enough of an indicator of his whereabouts. The dank basement-smell, the chilly-moist air, the stone floor beneath his bare feet. This was the basement of Schreck Mansion which he had once again been transferred into during sleep.

Suddenly finding it very hard to breathe, he started backing up, trying to listen into the void this basement was to hear any sounds, which might sound threatening. "Oh God," he whispered hoarsely to himself. So far he had heard nothing, but once again he could not find his bearings, could not even estimate in what direction he ought to go to get out of this place. He knew there was a door somewhere. But he didn't know where and the dangers between him and that door were plentiful.

Taking another hesitant step backward, his right heel did not immediately touch the firmness of the stone floor. It sank into something squishy. Letting out a yelp, he turned and tried to back up, but the goo had already encased his foot and was moving slowly up his calf, making his skin crawl with the sensation. In his attempt to free himself from this unspeakable horror, he lost his balance and crashed heavily down on the floor, bruising his left shoulder and upper arm severely.

He cried out in pain when the skin on his arms was ripped to tatters by the rough floor, but he still kicked out, trying to push himself away from whatever that stuff was. Having it force itself inside him again was something he thought his mind couldn't stand. Not a second time. Instead of gaining ground, though, his left foot slipped on the floor and splashed into the goo as well, instantly becoming submerged and restrained by it.

Holding his left arm with his right hand, he struggled against the panic, which would dim his senses and make it impossible for him to think straight, but the sensation of that stuff reaching his knees and proceeding up his thighs made him freak out. Struggling harder than he ever had before, he managed to roll over on his stomach and used both hands, no matter how painful the broken fingers of his right hand or the torn skin on his left arm made it for him, and tried to drag himself out of that stuff. And still it kept oozing up his legs.

Although he knew better, he tried to scrape it off with his hands, only to get both hands entangled in the goo, which instantly started oozing up his arms as well. The pull of that stuff was horribly strong and he knew he didn't stand a chance, but he fought nonetheless.

When it reached his elbows, the pull lessened a little. But only for a second and he realized too late what was going on. With tremendous power, it yanked him forward and he slammed face-first into a major blob of the goo, which closed around him like a slow-moving wave. He tried to move his head, tried to pull back, but it was everywhere around him and his movements were slowed to a crawl while it slowly started invading him again, pushing through every opening it could find.

He writhed and twisted, putting all his panicky strength into the movements, but nothing he did made any difference. It pushed into his nose and from there into his mouth and filled it up, forcing his jaws apart before it again oozed down his throat, into his lungs, his stomach, filling every nick, every open space. And in the middle of everything, with his mind revolting against this intrusion by starting to shut down, a calm, rational thought rose to the surface. What was the purpose of this? Why was the house doing this to him?

The rationality of that thought was scary because it was completely detached from the revulsion he felt. Again that part of his mind produced a possible explanation why he was able to rationalize when he was suffocating to death in a giant blob of slime. Maybe he had just suffered a split in his personality, he thought.

Scully took about five minutes after realizing what might have happened and until she was able to move again. The idea alone was preposterous. But, on the other hand, she would not be the first to discard it as Mulder's influence at this point. During her seven years with him, she had seen things she was a lot less likely to try and explain than this.

When she finally regained her ability to move, she ran into her bedroom to get dressed. Not caring what she threw on, she did it quickly, rushed into the guestroom to pick up the clothes for Mulder, and was out the door before she had a chance to give her present course a second thought.

She unlocked the door of the car and slid behind the wheel, dumping a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt on the passenger seat, slid the key into the ignition and twisted it. The engine came to life with a soft purr and that was when she stopped short again, blinking almost in surprise at how far she had gotten without conscious thought. But there was no doubt in her mind what she had to do. One corner of her mouth jerked when a completely unmotivated thought popped into her head. Her brother Bill would have had a heart attack if he knew what she was up to. And Melissa would have encouraged her.

Releasing the brake, she steered the car out into the road and floored it, driving much faster than the speed limits allowed. She didn't care about that either until it hit her that she could be seriously delayed if she was pulled over for speeding. Yet she maintained her hap-hazardous speed until she hit the freeway and slowed down to what she at that point considered a near crawl. Glancing at her watch, she noted that it wasn't more than forty-five minutes since she had realized that Mulder wasn't in the apartment any more.

Nearly wincing, she had to maintain a firm grip on her anxiousness to prevent herself from pressing the gas pedal to the floor. The feeling that she needed to get to Charlottesville as fast as she could would not let her go. And it became more and more urgent by the second.

Knowing that it would take her about three hours to get there, she found it extra hard to control her need to drive faster than allowed. But she could not afford to be pulled over. Instead she found herself cramping up because she was holding onto the steering wheel like a drowning woman would hold onto a straw.

The traffic was almost non-existent at that hour and Scully very much had the highway to herself, which made it even more difficult for her to remain within the speed limits. Reaching over to search the pockets of her coat, she checked if she had her badge with her, found that she did and made up her mind about what she needed most. She would risk getting pulled over and if she was, she would pull rank on them. All she knew was that she needed to reach
Charlottesville earlier than she would if she kept driving as slowly as she did.

Glancing in the rearview mirror, she noted that there was nobody behind her and there was nobody in front of her, either. Throwing caution to the wind, she pressed the gas pedal down and the car accelerated to eight miles per hour within a few seconds. When the needle passed eighty-five and it still did nothing to quell her nervousness, Scully started fearing that she would be to late no matter how fast she drove. But the urge to get there as fast as she could was still very much present and would not let her go. The needle hit ninety and that's where she tried to keep it as the landscape sped past her at an alarming rate.

And all the while the feeling that she was on the right track and needed to get there as fast as possible kept increasing. Scully could honestly admit to herself that she had never felt anything so clearly in her life except for the very acute and mind-shattering pain a bullet wound caused. At that moment, she was again acting on instinct, being driven by her subconscious mind and she didn't even slow down to question those feelings, which she would have considered one hundred percent irrational if Mulder had been by her side and this had been a case they had been on.

It made her question her feelings toward her partner when she realized this. The fact that she was willing to throw all her disbeliefs and beliefs overboard to follow a gut instinct made her wonder how much of Mulder's attitude toward the world she had adopted over the years she had known him.

Had people she knew not started to give her strange looks when she spoke about her work? Weren't those looks comparable to the looks that Mulder received from his colleagues? Smiling grimly, she acknowledged that she was earning her newest title, her newest nickname. She had heard it only once and the man who had said it had quickly found something else to look at when she had given him a withering stare. He'd called her Mrs. Spooky.

When she hit Charlottesville one hour ahead of time, she was relieved to have made it in one piece and without being pulled over, but the urgency was nagging her to keep speeding. She didn't, though, once she hit a more populated area. Driving almost on instinct back to the mansion, she let the car roll to a stop in front of the closed gates. The manners taught her insisted that she should go by the Cranes and ask them to let her into the house again. The nagging feeling in her subconscious screamed in rage at that idea. There was no time, it insisted. No time to be pleasant. Mulder's sanity and perchance life were at stake here. That could not be measured in material goods.

Swallowing hard at what she was about to do, she backed the car up to the opposite side of the road, revved the engine and floored it, ramming the Taurus right through the heavy, wrought-iron gates. The lock on the gate was fortunately not very strong and the gates jumped open with the force of the impact, doing minimal damage to the car.

She raced the car up the trail to the mansion and was out of it before the engine had stopped entirely. Ripping the trunk of the car open, knowing full well that the doors of Schreck Mansion would not be nearly as easy to break through as the gate had been since she for obvious reasons could not drive the car through them, she retrieved the mandatory crowbar, which was a standard item in the trunk of the cars issued to federal agents. Stopping short, she stared at the fire extinguisher for a moment and once again heeding that nagging voice in her subconscious, she grabbed it and ran up to the front doors. She had no idea why she bothered to bring it. All she figured was that it might come in handy.

After applying the crowbar to the door, she put all her strength into breaking the doors open. Holding onto the crowbar with both hands after wedging it between the doors, she leaned back, letting her body weight do the job for her. Unfortunately, the crowbar was not wedged in deeply enough and slipped out of the crack, landing Scully rather unceremoniously on her behind. With a grunt of annoyance, she rose back to her feet and regarded the crack between the doors for a moment. Then she raised the crowbar with both hands and hammered it into the crack with all her might. Satisfied that it wasn't going to slip unless the wood of the door splintered, she once again leaned backward, her hands locked around the steel bar. With an audible metallic creak, the lock broke open, once again spilling Scully unto the ground.

She growled under her breath and rose again to pry the doors apart. It was Mulder's specialty to pick locks, not hers. She went for brute force when she had to open a door she had no key for. Not that this had happened too many times before. She could remember only one occurrence where she had been forced to break a lock open and that had happened long before she had met Mulder.

As she stood there, one hand against the door, the crowbar in the other, it suddenly occurred to her that she could have shot the lock open. On the other hand, that would probably have attracted unwanted attention. And how was she going to explain to the police that she needed to save her partner from a haunted house? With an almost nervous titter, she returned her attention to her shady transactions.

She gave the doors a push and they swung wide, allowing her to step into the entrance hall. For a moment, she doubted her senses. There was no doubt in her mind that she needed to save Mulder, but she started doubting the brilliance of coming to this house alone. There was clearly something going on in this place. She could sense it as much as she could hear it. There were bumps from upstairs, doors slamming, and a cold draft made her shiver almost uncontrollably. Scratching sounds along with a moving thumping along the walls made her hold her breath and look around anxiously. This house was alive in the very sense of the word and somehow she knew that there was no natural explanation for this, no matter how much she wanted there to be one.

Taking a few hesitant steps into the entrance hall, she cleared the doors, which instantly swung shut behind her. Jumping at the noise, she swirled around and stared at them for a second, then glanced down at the crowbar in her hand. One thing she was certain of. If she could get in, she could get out. No matter how, she would find Mulder and get them both out of this house of horrors. A thumb followed by a rustling from the area where she had found Mulder the last time made her forget about her immediate concern. Certain that she would find him in the winter garden once more, she broke her own partial paralysis caused by the incomprehensibility of what was happening around her and rushed in that direction.

She hit the frosted glass doors, which swung open into the winter garden, where she came to a stop at the sight that met her. The withered vines were all in motion, creating the sound she'd heard. They were moving all over the room, twisting around each other, breaking through the floor, the walls, the glass ceiling above. Scully stared at the scene for a second, not really understanding why those vines didn't go for her, and then she started to withdraw. The second she started moving again, the vines started slithering in her direction. She jumped back and pushed the doors shut, knowing that the swinging doors would not hold back those vines. Instead of sticking around to see what those reanimated growths had in mind, she turned and ran back to the entrance hall, trying to figure out where she might find her partner and friend.

Stopping in the center of the entrance hall, she started turning in a circle, her eyes scanning doors, floor and stairs while she tried to figure out where she might find what she was looking for. A strange sound made her tilt her head back and she looked up at the huge chandelier dangling right above her. With equal amounts of dread and fascination, she watched while the copper arms of the chandelier started moving, weaving through the air like someone's twisted idea of snakes.

"What the hell?" she mumbled, unable to fathom this odd form of life. Despite her inability to understand what she was seeing, she knew on instinct that her chances of being able to avoid trouble and find Mulder as fast as possible would increase if she did not let herself get distracted by oddities like this. She followed a sudden inclination to step aside and was barely missed by one of the arms of the chandelier, as it embedded itself in the marble floor right where she had been standing. Somewhat shocked that the appliances in this house would go to such extremes to stop her, she decided to keep moving. Standing still could be dangerous.

She briskly walked toward the stairs leading to the first floor and grabbed a hold of the banister when she reached it. But something made her hesitate before going up. Frowning, she turned her head and looked toward the north wing of the house while she tried to work out why she felt such a strong urge to go in that direction rather than follow her first impulse to go upstairs. Almost as if guided by invisible hands, she turned fifteen degrees and headed straight for the kitchen.

The Cranes had cleaned up after Mulder's last visit to the house and everything was back where it belonged. Hence the door to the basement, unbeknownst to Scully, was once again unobstructed. Stopping dead once more, she stared at it, being swept by an overwhelming sensation that she was on the right track. "A flashlight," she mumbled to herself. "I need a flashlight." Although she was fairly certain that the basement would have electrical light, she felt the need to get some of her own. Just in case.

Dropping the fire extinguisher on the long table, she hooked the crowbar into her belt, swirled around and ran back out into the entrance hall, somehow having managed to forget the threat from above. She once again barely avoided being speared by another of the arms and generally had to throw herself out of the way. Landing hard on her side, she grunted at the brutal impact, which sent a jitter through her elbow and all the way up to her shoulder.

With little effort, she got back to her feet, eying the chandelier suspiciously while she tried to anticipate its next move. "Gotta be more careful," she mumbled to herself and edged along the walls to the closed doors. With some surprise, she could open the doors with no trouble and she rushed outside to get the powerful flashlight, which was also a standard item in the cars. Flicking it on, she made sure it worked, then ran back inside again, where the doors once again slammed shut behind her. With one brief worried glance at the closed doors, she then turned and ran straight into the kitchen, avoiding any further attacks by the chandelier by simple measures of speed.

Once back in the kitchen, she came to a stop in front of the door to the basement. Realizing she was in the process of forgetting the fire extinguisher, she took a step back to grab it from where it was sitting on the long table, then returned her attention to the door.

Drawing in a couple of deep breaths to steel herself against any possible dangers, she reached out, grabbed the handle, twisted it down and pulled the door to the basement open. There she came face to face with the half-rotted corpse of a teenager. Her instant reaction was one of stunned surprise and disbelief. For a second, which stretched into eternity, they both stood there, unmoving. And that second was enough for Scully to move past her initial reaction and push aside the urge to disbelieve what she was seeing. With the initial surprise dissipating, she ripped the fire extinguisher up almost on instinct and hammered it into what remained of the corpse's face, knocking it back down the stairs to the dark basement beyond before it could make any move against her.

Lowering the fire extinguisher again, she stared at the open doorway for a second, utterly stunned by what was happening around her. She knew by now that this house was anything but normal and she knew she would have to suspend her rational thoughts for now if she wanted to find Mulder and get them both out of this place in one piece. Exhaling sharply, she flicked the flashlight on and shone it down the stairs to watch in horrified fascination as that thing down there started moving and slowly crawled back up the stairs.

Scully considered her options, then slammed the door shut again and glanced around, trying to find something she could fight it with. Her eyes fell on a spray can of furniture polish sitting on the kitchen counter next to the sink and a lighter lying on a shelf above it.

Putting the fire extinguisher and the flashlight down, she grabbed those two items and turned back toward the door, keeping a safe distance, where after she flipped the cap off the furniture polish and flicked the lighter on. Seconds later, the door opened and that thing stood there, wavering, its face all but gone. Despite the gruesome sight and the fact that the rational part of her mind was screaming that this wasn't possible, Scully didn't wait for the corpse to make the next move. Instead she sprayed the furniture polish through the flame of the lighter, creating a virtual blast of fire, which engulfed the walking corpse and sent it tumbling down the stairs again.

Holding the spray can like she would hold a gun, Scully stepped up to the open doorway and sent a cautious glance down the stairs. The corpse had left little burning pieces of itself on the steps and was lying in a heap at the foot of the stairs, still very much on fire. It was with no small amount of dread that she watched it get back to its feet once more. But it didn't come back up. It lumbered around at the foot of the stairs for a moment, then broke through a door down there and stumbled into the basement itself.

Breathing hard as if she'd just run a marathon, Scully remained standing at the top of the stairs, lighter switched on, spray can at the ready, and stared in utter disbelief at the bottom of the stairs. It took a long moment before she managed to shake the mental picture which to her was taken directly out of a Romero movie. Dawn of the Living Dead, wasn't it? Glancing sideways at the large windows of the kitchen and the rising dawn beyond, she tittered almost nervously. "Night of the Living Dead is more like it," she whispered to herself, flicked the lighter off and lowered the spray can.

The dead thing in the basement wasn't coming back up. Not right now anyway. The last thing she wanted to do was go down there and give it the chance of catching up with her, but she had a very distinct feeling that Mulder was down there with it. The thought of that thing lumbering around down there made her shudder, but she was also determined to get her friend and partner out of this place before it was too late, a feeling which grew by the minute and had been growing since she had realized he was no longer with her. Pocketing both the spray can and the lighter, she returned to the long table, grabbed the flashlight and the fire extinguisher and turned back to the door.

Once again stopping at the top of the stairs, she gazed down into the darkness for a moment, hauled in a few deep breaths as if the air had suddenly become too heavy to breathe, then flicked the flashlight on and started her decent.

The first thing she saw when she entered the main basement was the still burning corpse lumbering around to her right. She watched it for a moment, trying to determine whether it was coming her way, but it seemed to be rather oblivious of her presence. Frowning, she let the flashlight run over the interior of the large room, aware that she would know if that thing came closer. It was, after all, on fire.

Running the flashlight over the outside wall, she was somewhat disconcerted by the lack of things in this basement. It looked spotless as if recently cleaned and there was no sign of any of the things one usually found in a basement. There was nothing down here but a bumpy, empty cement floor and whitewashed walls. And that impossible walking corpse, of course. Sending another glance in that direction, she again watched it for a second before returning her attention to the flowing path of the cone of light. The cone of light caught the edge of something toward the end of the outside wall, a glittering, slithering mass. She adjusted the beam to hit the center of what she considered to be a major blob of translucent slime. Slime which moved on its own. Feeling like Dorothy in a twisted wonderland, Scully cocked her head to one side and stared at the ever moving, reforming blob and decided that it looked more like jelly than slime. At the same time she couldn't help wondering if it would attack her if she moved closer.

Her attention was drawn away from the nature of that stuff to something she could barely make out, which seemed to be stuck at the heart of the blob. The frown on her face deepened and she started forward, morbid curiosity and some unexplainable internal force driving her forward. The closer she got, the more the form inside the blob resembled a human being to her. It was with utter shock that she realized what - or rather who - it could be.

And then the jelly moved forward toward her. Scully eyed it suspiciously for a second, then hooked the flashlight into her belt, where it because of its up-turned handle continued to shine straight ahead, set the fire extinguisher down between her feet, pulled the spray can and the lighter from her pockets and opened fire on it. The fire didn't slow the blob down, though. Starting to back up, she stared at it, trying to come up with an alternative solution. Realizing that if heat didn't do it, cold might, she picked up the fire extinguisher. Somehow she suddenly felt that this was why she had brought it. All the while, the rational part of her mind tried forcefully to make her close her eyes and wish this all away. But she knew in some basic way that it wouldn't go away if she closed her eyes. It would catch up to her and pull her in. Pulling the pin from the fire extinguisher, she sprayed the approaching slime. It froze and crystalized at once and the remains of it withdrew back to the wall, having met its match in the icy foam of the extinguisher.

Almost smiling to herself, Scully took a step forward, aimed the hose of the extinguisher at the mass and pushed the handle down. White foam started gushing out over the blob, engulfing it in its destructive embrace. She kept spraying until the entire blob was covered and then waited for a second to look for movement. When there was none, she took another step forward, still apprehensive, and prodded the covered mass with the tip of her sneaker. It broke and crumbled under her touch.

When she gave it a powerful kick, it started breaking apart like brittle glass and Scully took a step back to watch it. Becoming aware that the burning corpse was getting closer, she turned her attention toward it and saw it lumbering toward her. Going basically on instinct, she pulled the crowbar from her belt after setting the extinguisher down on the floor and raised the crowbar like a baseball bat, holding it with both hands. The corpse came closer, continuously losing parts of itself along the way and leaving a burning trail behind it. When it came within reach, Scully lashed out with the crowbar, catching it at the shoulder and knocking it sideways. It stumbled several steps sideways, wavered for a moment, then turned and headed unsteadily toward the doorway and the stairs beyond. It disappeared up the stairs and she suddenly knew why she felt that she had to find Mulder and get him out of here before it was too late. That corpse was going to set the entire house on fire.

After making sure it wasn't coming back down, she turned, stepped forward and started prodding through the foam-covered remains of the blob with the crowbar. What she heard was the sound of breaking glass beneath the surface until her prodding hit a yielding mass. At first she thought it might be some of that slime, which had not been crystalized by the foam, but when she scraped a bit of the foam away, it turned out to be a human arm.

With fear in her heart, she threw the crowbar aside, grabbed the arm and pulled at it. With a bit of effort, she managed to pull Mulder free of what remained of the slime. Rolling him onto his back, she looked down at him for a second, then searched for a pulse. It was there, steady enough to ease her mind, but he wasn't breathing. Placing both hands on his chest, she pushed upward, doing what she would if he'd inhaled water. And the result was virtually the same. With an almost convulsive cough, he expelled slime from his lungs.

Scully grabbed his left shoulder and pulled him onto his side, then proceeded to slap his back forcefully, provoking another violent cough, which expelled more slime. At that time, he started moving, too. With a strength she wouldn't have thought him capable of right then, he got to his hands and knees and started to throw up forcefully, bringing up nothing but more of that translucent slime mixed with bile.

For a long moment, he continued his attempt to throw up his guts, but then his arms started shivering quite badly and he would have dropped face-first into the puddle of slime and bile if Scully hadn't wrapped her arms around him, holding him up. Finally, the vomiting ceased, leaving only the sound of his labored, sobbing breathing behind.

Quite able to imagine that he wasn't feeling too good right then, Scully was nevertheless concerned about their time frame. Not releasing him, she pulled at him, gently forcing him to rise up on his knees. Crouching down in front of him, she brushed his sticky hair away from his forehead and regarded him with worry. "Mulder, look at me," she told him.

For a moment, he didn't respond. He just knelt there, his arms dangling down his sides, his eyes closed, his breathing labored. Then his eyelids fluttered and he slowly opened his eyes and looked at her. He was responding on reflex, not quite aware of where he was or who she was yet. Tears trickled down his face and his whole body shivered lightly.

"I know you feel lousy right now, Mulder, but we need to get out of here right now. Do you understand me?" she asked, hoping she wouldn't have to resort to brute force to get him up and moving.

Slowly, things started making sense to him again. His comprehension of his surroundings slowly pulled him back to the rational side of things and he blinked. Something in his mind had shut down, locking away recent memories of where and why, but he recognized Scully. He didn't know why she thought they had to get out right now and he couldn't for the life of him understand where he was, but he understood her and he understood the urgency he heard in her voice.

"Mulder?" she insisted. "Do you understand me? We need to get out. Right now." Fearing the worst because of his lack of response, Scully's hands closed hard around his upper arms. "Look at me, Mulder. It's me, Scully."

Nodding, he slowly started moving, placing shaking hands on her shoulders to let her help him get up. Once he had gained his feet, she wrapped an arm around his back and guided him toward the door and the stairs leading up to the ground floor, deeply worried about him but also very anxious to get out of the house.

It took longer than anticipated for them to make it up the stairs and by the time they reached the kitchen, Scully knew they had to speed up to get out in time. There was heavy smoke oozing into the kitchen from the entrance hall beyond, obstructing their view.

"Fire," Mulder croaked, his sluggish mind registering surprise that he was able to think rationally at all. His gait was extremely unsteady and he felt as if all strength had been drained from him, but the thought of having to face his all-time worst fear was enough to clear his mind a little and give him the necessary strength to follow Scully.

"Yes, the house is on fire," Scully agreed through clenched teeth, having to muster ever ounce of her strength to keep Mulder from falling over. "We need to get out of here. Right now," she added and guided him through the door to the entrance hall.

The corridor with the velvet wallpaper was already engulfed in flames and the smoke wafted through the air, clogging and heavy. Scully dragged Mulder on toward the entrance doors, knowing that this place would come down around their ears soon. She personally had no desire to meet a fire of this size dead on and she knew how Mulder felt about it.

"Mulder, you have to help me here. I can't carry you," she said, trying to keep him on his feet. He was becoming more and more unsteady on his feet and was leaning heavily on her. They reached the door and Scully reached one hand out to grab the handle and pulled hard at the heavy door. It didn't budge. Trying again, she pulled harder and still nothing happened. "Oh no," she whispered under her breath.

Mulder seemed to become a little more aware of what was going on, but he still could not find the necessary strength to focus on his surroundings. He was aware that they were in a burning house and that they needed to get out. He also knew he was feeling extremely lousy and that something was nagging him to remember something he didn't want to remember.

Scully maneuvered him over to the wall. "Stay here. I have to try and get this door open," she said, cursing herself for leaving the crowbar in the basement. Wrapping both hands around the handle, she pulled with all her strength and got nothing out of it. The temperature was rising around them. Cursing under her breath, she braced one foot against the second door and leaned backward, putting her body weight into the act. And still the door didn't budge. Breathing hard, she sent a glance over her shoulder and noted that the fire in the velvet corridor had reached the entrance hall.

There was one good thing about the entrance hall, though. The marble floor. She had never heard of burning marble and knew that they were still fairly safe where they stood. Unless the house collapsed around them, of course.

Taking a couple of deep breaths, she turned around to face the entrance hall. There was really only one thing she could do. Glancing over at Mulder, who somehow was keeping upright on his own, she tried to determine how much he would be able to understand of what she was about to say. "Mulder, I have to go back for the crowbar. I left it in the basement. Stay here," she said.

His eyes focused on her and he shook his head a little. "No," he croaked.

"Mulder, I have to. This house is coming down around us. I need to get that crowbar to get the door open," she told him. Mulder grabbed out for her arm to hold her back, but flinched and let go when he attempted to bend his broken fingers on his right hand. Scully grabbed his wrist, aware that he was a long stretch from being himself right then. "I'll hurry. Just stay here, okay? Don't go anywhere. I need to know that you're still here when I come back."

Glancing nervously toward the flames licking up the walls from inside the corridor, Mulder made a face. "But... the fire," he insisted.

"I know. That's why I have to get the crowbar, Mulder. We can't get out without it," she repeated, hoping that he would at least stay put until she returned. Giving his wrist what she hoped was a reassuring squeeze, she turned and ran back toward the kitchen.

The entrance doors were built into a niche, which allowed Mulder to squeeze into the corner between the door and the wall. From there, he nervously watched the flames catching a hold of the carved wooden panels and start to devour them with an unending appetite. It was the sensation that fire was a living thing with a mind of its own which had put the fear of death in him. That and an experience he couldn't quite recall from his childhood. And his fear of the licking flames was all he could focus on. At that point in time it didn't matter to him where he was and how he had gotten there. All that mattered was the fire and his fear of it.

Scully reentered the kitchen and was shocked when the door slammed shut behind her. "Damn it," she hissed, grabbed the handle and started pulling at the heavy oak door. It didn't budge. Turning back to face the kitchen, she barely avoided the burning arm of the walking corpse when it reached out for her. She yelped in both surprise and fear and dodged the attack by diving to the right and rolling out of its reach.

Regaining her feet, Scully frantically looked around for something she could ward it off with, but saw nothing which would do the trick. Except for a chair. Grabbing it, she raised it up and hammered it into the approaching zombie, then darted toward the open door to the basement. She lost her footing and tumbled down the stairs, hitting the floor below with a yelp. Her left wrist bent the wrong way when her whole weight landed on it, but somehow it didn't break.

Grateful for small favors and hissing at the throbbing pain from her wrist, she got up on her knees and sent a brief glance up stairs to see the burning corpse coming toward the opening. Without further hesitation and somehow able to ignore her aching wrist, she got back to her feet and hurried into the main basement. Looking around for a moment, she spotted the crowbar lying on the floor not far from the still lit flashlight, which she had put down on the floor when she had finally found Mulder. Rushing over, she grabbed it and hooked it into her belt, then turned around and ran back toward the doorway.

The zombie lumbered toward her, flames licking over its decreasing body, arms stretched out in front of it. Scully sidestepped it and rushed past it, aware that even though it was still moving, it wasn't moving fast. She ran up the steps to the kitchen again and slammed the door shut, not giving her burning nemesis another thought. She didn't care about the impossibility of what she was witnessing in this house. Her rational sense was set on hold until she had gotten Mulder out of this place. That was her first and only priority. To get them both out of this place in one piece and preferably alive, too.

Ripping the crowbar from her belt, she applied it to the door and managed to break it open with a few tries. It took longer than she had anticipated because she couldn't use her left hand. Grinding her teeth in frustration, she put all her strength into breaking the door open and finally managed. "I'd like to see the ghost that can stop me right now," she grumbled in a sarcastic tone of voice. Ripping the door open, she ran back out into the entrance hall, but came to a skittering stop when she saw how far the fire had spread.

"Damn it," she hissed. The flames were everywhere, licking up the walls and closing on the entrance doors. The chandelier had already given in to the fire and lay crushed on the marble floor. Somehow that made her grin viciously. She felt a certain kind of satisfaction at seeing her previous attacker lying on the ground. Shaking her head at those thoughts, she focused through the now brightly lit hall on the doors. Mulder was still there, pressed into the corner between wall and door, eyes on the flames. He didn't look too happy about the situation, but she also instantly realized that he had returned to that sluggish state which allowed for a minimum of comprehension. Pushing away from the doorway to the kitchen, she started across the hall toward him.

The marble floor was slick beneath her feet and her momentum carried her right into the entrance door, nearly knocking the air out of her. Grunting, she pushed herself away from the door and glanced at Mulder, who wasn't moving. He was staring blindly out at the flames and Scully knew that she would have to hurry up and get them out. He was going catatonic on her and if he slipped into a catatonic state before she had managed to get him out and away from the house, it could pose as an insurmountable problem. Mainly because she wasn't strong enough to drag him out of the house.

Taking the only course of action she could under the given circumstances, she laid off the door for a moment and slapped him hard across the face, startling him enough to return him to the present for a while longer. "Mulder," she urged him. "Don't zone out on me now."

He blinked as if he had just awoken from a dream, then slowly raised a hand to touch his cheek. Scully regarded him for a moment longer, then returned her attention to breaking the door open. Once again leaning all her weight into the act, she landed hard on the floor when the door gave in way too easily. But Scully was not one to question good luck when it came her way. Not in this place, anyway. Not when the house was coming down around their ears. Reaching out, she grabbed a hold of Mulder's arm and pulled hard at him to make him follow her.

Mulder felt the fresh, chilly air hit him in the face and he briefly glanced back over his shoulder. He instantly wished he hadn't. Something obscene came stumbling toward them, engulfed in flames, nothing but a skeleton beneath.

Scully felt his hesitation and looked back to see the still burning hands of the zombie reaching out for her shell-shocked partner. Her instant reaction was to lash out full force with the crowbar. The impact sent the zombie's head flying. Scully found that she was almost able to see humor in the situation. It looked comical to see the skull bouncing across the marble floor of the burning house, which was already falling apart on the inside. Stepping forward, she lashed out with the crowbar again, breaking off one of its arms, which went flying to the right. She continued her assault on the zombie until there was nothing left but a pile of scattered bones.

Breathing hard, she finally tossed the crowbar aside, grabbed Mulder's arm and pushed him out the door without looking back. They stumbled through the doorway and down the few steps to the square in front of the house and the waiting car. With feverish nervousness, Scully fumbled with the door on the passenger side, managed to open it and somehow got Mulder inside.

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the flames blazing through every window in the house and thought she heard the old building moaning. "Serves you right for what you've done," she grumbled, then briefly closed her eyes. She was talking to burning house, assuming it had intelligence. That alone made her feel more than concerned for her mental health. With a heavy sigh, she slammed the passenger side door shut and raced around the car, got in behind the wheel and started digging through her pockets for the keys.

Mulder stared out at the burning house. Although he was still a long way from being okay, he was more aware now than he had been inside the house. One thing he could focus on was that it was groaning dangerously. "Scully?" he groaned anxiously. There was nothing he wanted more than get away from this house. It was on fire, after all, and there was nothing he feared more than fire.

"I know," she told him, hissing with anger when she couldn't immediately get a hold of the keys. She shifted and managed to push her right hand all the way into her pocket.

"Hurry," he insisted, his voice breaking with tension and fear.

"I know," she replied once again and finally managed to drag the keys from her pocket when the first windows exploded. Sliding the key into the ignition, she turned it, put the car in drive and pushed the gas pedal down. The car jumped forward before she could tear the wheel around and steer them over the well-kept lawn toward the gravel path leading away from that hell house.

Mulder laboriously turned in his seat to watch the burning house as the car sped away, through the broken gates and out onto the road. When the car hit the road, Scully slammed her foot down on the break, managing to spin the car a few degrees around. Enough for both of them to have a clear view of the burning house.

All the windows had blown out and the curtains flapped in the wind, most of them already being consumed by the flames, which licked through the house, through the roof, and reached for the sky above, brightening the grey morning with an eerie, orange glow.

The house creaked and groaned under the strain of the fire and part of the roof collapsed. Scully watched the whole scene with some trepidation. Mainly because her common sense was screaming at her that she would be accused of arson. How she was going to explain herself when this was made an official case she didn't know. It would be damned hard to prove to a review board that she had followed a gut instinct to rescue her partner from a haunted house.

Mulder sat beside her, staring up at the continuous destruction of Schreck Mansion. He couldn't gather his thoughts to form any kind of coherence in his mind. There were barriers there which hadn't been there before. All he knew was that he was scared out of his mind and he didn't know why. His gaze became distant when he touched on the reason for his fear, a reason which was currently buried and locked behind a door with a pretty heavy lock on it. He couldn't allow himself to think of it right now. Not yet. Later, maybe. And with that decision, he slipped away into a dreamworld where he felt comfortable and unafraid.

Scully sighed again when another portion of the roof collapsed, then turned her head to look at Mulder. He sat there, his head leaning against the headrest, his eyes vacant and dead. Suddenly afraid, she reached a shivering hand out to touch his neck, to feel for a pulse. It was there, steady enough to put her mind at ease, but the lack of life in his eyes made her worry blossom again. "Mulder?" she asked, cupping his cheek lightly with her left hand. Her wrist hurt ferociously, but she didn't have time or thought for her own pain. When Mulder didn't respond to her voice or her touch, she realized that he had probably withdrawn into himself to tend to his mental injuries. She would have to give him time to heal, time to get over this one.

Deciding that she did not want to make the entire trip back to D.C. in one go, she decided to go back to the Tiki Motel and get a room for them there. She would let him sleep for a day or two and then try to get some life back in him. Maybe, eventually, he would be able to tell her what had happened. She wanted to know what had scared him so badly that he needed to detach himself from the world.

Glancing back up at the burning house, she knew that what she had seen would have been enough to send her into catatonia seven years ago. Now, however, she had handled herself well because she had been subjected to Mulder's weird way of thinking for that long. What had happened to him went beyond what she had seen and sensed in that house and she knew it had been pretty damned bad to make him react this way. Shaking her head almost sadly, she gingerly put the car in gear and drove away, not sparing another glance for the burning mansion.

The grounds of Schreck Mansion
Charlottesville, Virginia

Scully stood beside Skinner, looking at the still smoldering remains of the once great mansion. Skinner had been very quiet since he had first laid eyes on the destruction and Scully saw that as a bad sign. He usually wasn't that quiet. She had several times attempted to make a move to speak, but had regretted it and closed her mouth again without uttering a sound. What could she after all say that would appease him?

"This..." Skinner finally started, waving a hand toward the ruins of the house, "... this is really bad, Scully. The mansion alone was worth a few million dollars. The inventory..." He trailed off, not certain he could make her fully comprehend what this meant.

"I know the value of the house and the inventory, sir, but... I did not burn it down. I... defended myself," she tried to explain, remembering only too well the look he had given her when she had told him about the events.

"Against a chandelier which had come to life and a zombie?" he asked and glanced at her. "I would have expected that kind of explanation from agent Mulder. Not from you," he said, then glanced at his watch. "When were the caretakers going to turn up?"

Scully glanced back down at the road, then at her watch. "They should be here any minute now," she said and at the same instant, an old battered Ford Stationwagon turned the corner and rumbled up the driveway.

Mr. and Mrs. Crane climbed out after the car had rolled to a stop a few feet from where Scully and Skinner stood. Mr. Crane took a few steps toward the remains of the mansion, then stopped. But he made no attempt to turn toward Skinner and Scully. Mrs. Crane, however, walked straight over to them. She didn't look particular upset, which kind of surprised Scully a little.

"Mr. Skinner, Ms. Scully," she said, nodding in an almost friendly manner.

Skinner had mentally prepared himself for this meeting ever since Scully had told him what had happened. But he was also slightly taken aback by the calmness of the caretakers. "Mrs. Crane, may I just express my sincere regrets at what has happened here? We will attempt to compensate you, of course, but..." he began, but Mrs. Crane interrupted him.

"No need to apologize," she said and looked up at the ruins. "My husband and I have talked it over and... well... Schreck Mansion was something of a deathtrap. Old house, unused for many years. This was bound to happen sooner or later. There are no living relatives left behind from the Schreck family and the last member of that family left us the house in his will, stating that we were to take good care of it. We have taken good care of it, but it's been a huge job." Glancing up at Skinner with an almost benevolent smile on her lips, she gave him the distinct impression that this was no great loss at all. "The house was insured against such events, well insured, and the money goes to us now that Schreck Mansion is no more," she added and glanced up at the ruins again. "Besides, I believe it's for the best. Schreck Mansion was never a friendly house. I'm only glad that Mr. Mulder survived his encounter with this place."

For a second, all Skinner could do was stare at her. "Uh..." he then said, not sure how to ask the question foremost on his mind in any other way than the direct one. "Does that mean that you're not going to pursue this any further?" he asked.

Mrs. Crane almost chuckled at that. "No, Mr. Skinner, there will be no lawsuit. As we see it, it was a natural development. There's no sense in making more of a fuzz over this than necessary. My husband and I are set for life now. We certainly are not going to raise any rabble about that," she replied, then turned her attention to the stunned-looking Scully. "My best regards to Mr. Mulder. I hope he recovers quickly," she said with a smile, then walked back to the car. "Are you coming, Alfred?" she called.

Alfred Crane turned and met Skinner's eyes over the top of the stationwagon. The man was spindly, yet sinewy with hard-cut features and dark eyes. But he smiled. "Actually, I think we ought to thank these good folks, Emma," he said, his voice deep and grating. "They've done us a tremendous favor," he added, tipped his fingers to his brow and joined his wife. They both got in and drove away again.

For a long moment, Skinner just stood there, then he blinked, pulled off his glasses and polished them thoughtfully on his tie before replacing them and turning to face Scully. "Looks like you got off easy this time around," he said.

"Well... " Scully said, but trailed off again. She didn't know what to say. With a vague nod, she walked back toward the car. "Let's go pick up Mulder and get back home. I for one have had it up to here with Charlottesville," she finally said, passing a finger over her throat in a descriptive movement.

Skinner nodded and followed her. "Yeah, I can understand that," he mumbled. "How is Mulder doing, by the way?"

Scully turned to face him, her expression a little pale. "He's catatonic. He hasn't moved or spoken since I got him out of that house," she said. "Which of course isn't that long ago, but still..."

"Shouldn't he be in a hospital, then? I mean... " Skinner tried and unlocked the door on the driver side.

"I don't know. I have the feeling that it would make things worse. Although I can't really imagine how things could get worse than they are for him right now. What happened to him in that house was enough to make him pull into himself. I have no clue how I'm going to get through to him, but I have to try," she said and slid onto the passenger side seat.

North-West Georgetown
Washington, D.C.

A few days had passed since Scully had returned to Schreck Mansion to bail Mulder out and in that time, sensible denial had set in on her account. Her mind had started rationalizing what she had seen and had tried to sort the events into categories which she could handle.

After a few restless nights, she had given up on that, though. She knew she could not explain this in any rational way and even though it scared her, she knew that her partner and friend was even more scared. So scared, as it were, that he had yet to come out of his shell and respond to anything anybody did to him.

On Skinner's insistence, he had been admitted to North-West Georgetown Hospital and had been there since, unresponsive and catatonic.

Scully sat at his bedside, holding his left hand in her right, her own left wrist bandaged. She regarded Mulder thoughtfully, her eyes searching his for any kind of response, but found none. Eventually, she sighed. "Mulder, listen to me," she said, her voice quiet and stern. "I know you're scared," she told him. "I'm scared, too. What I saw... I can't find an explanation for it. I can't make sense of it. I need you to help me make sense of it, okay?" Squeezing his hand lightly, she waited for a response that did not come. He just sat there, staring into space.

"The house is gone, Mulder. Whatever was in it went up in flames," she tried, but still got no response of any kind from him. He didn't even blink. With a heavy sigh, she leaned back on her chair, never releasing his hand. Unaware that she was doing it, she started stroking his palm with her thumb. "Mulder, come on. I'm aware that you've experienced some pretty terrible things in that house. But... I need you here, okay? I need you to come back to me." And still he did not respond. She went through the same deal every day, trying to rouse him, to get him at least to blink, but he did nothing.

Closing her eyes, she tried to come up with something she had yet to try, but found that she couldn't imagine what she should do to make him respond. With another sigh, she shook her head, feeling tears stinging her eyes when she opened them again. "Guess I was too late after all, huh?" she whispered and pressed a shaky kiss onto the back of his hand.

Rising, she wiped the tears away and gently placed his hand in his lap. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I should have gone with you in the first place," she added, pressed a kiss on his brow and turned to leave. When the door clicked shut behind her, he blinked and a single tear cruised down his cheek.


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