Title: Scully and Clyde
Summary: Despite herself, Scully is drawn into discussion with an apparition.
"You're dead." Scully frowned at the tall, bald man who stood in front of her wearing a white shirt and dark pants. His complexion was healthy, his eyes alert. Despite his unexpected appearance, she wasn't frightened; she was furious.
Jesus, she thought. How many times am I going to hallucinate dead people? Am I a walking X-File? It began with Ahab. Yeah, okay. As far as ghosts go, that one was pretty conventional. A little visit to say good-bye. Quite a natural impulse on his part. Or my part. Whatever. But the others! Why me, lord? Why me?
She closed her eyes, hoping her vision had been brought on by indigestion, as suggested by Mulder's favorite line from Moby Dick: "Hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple dumpling." Well, this was close to hell, all right, standing here facing an upright, rosy-cheeked dead guy. A man whose lifeless hand she had held. A man for whom she'd shed tears.
Of course, in this case, the culprit would be not a dumpling, but a giant clair, a bedtime treat that had left cream dripping down her chin and coated her lips with a deep, rich chocolate icing. A magnificent clair - maybe even worth the present aggravation.
Sure that her memory of the clair - a rational explanation -
would have caused the vision to dissipate, she opened her eyes. Shit. He was still there, Clyde Bruckman, in the flesh. No, impossible. His flesh had long ago dissolved, as he had predicted to Mulder. He'd been dead for years.
She jumped slightly when he spoke. It was the voice she remembered, soft, unpretentious, with a hint of irony. "Who are you to judge?" he asked. As he had in life, he challenged without giving offense, in a matter-of-fact tone. "What do you know about dead?"
This one she could handle. "A hell of a lot."
He shook his head. "You're fooling yourself. You don't know much about it, despite all those bodies you've examined. You may know what it looks like, but you don't know what it is."
Just what she needed, she thought. A cryptic, argumentative ghost. Bad enough she had to argue semantics with Mulder all day without meeting this wiseass when she was off duty. Way off duty. What was he doing in her living room anyway? She'd wandered out of her bedroom at midnight to look for the novel she'd been reading, Layover. It had some pretty steamy sex scenes and she was looking forward to reading more. But who should she encounter, standing squarely in the center of her carpet, but the late Clyde Bruckman. And he looked pretty firmly planted.
Let's cut to the chase, she thought. It's late and I wanted to read a good sex scene before sleep. Is that too much to ask? Feeling much abused by the advent of her unwelcome visitor, she demanded, "What do you want?"
He shrugged. "I thought maybe you could use my services, so here I am."
She sighed and plopped down on the couch, checking to make sure her pajama buttons were all done up. No point in giving the... the visitor a flash of cleavage. Not that he was real, of course, but still. "And these services would be...?"
"Advice. On how to get more out of life."
"That's rich." She sneered. "You've written a self-help book? In ether?" Did rudeness to a ghost count? Wait, she thought. I'm not admitting he's a ghost. Just have to lay off the eclairs at bedtime. Still, she couldn't stop herself from addressing him as if he were really there.
"You?" she hurled at him, enjoying the luxury of lashing out for a change. She grew weary of keeping her temper in check and arguing in icy little chips. "You had a miserable life. Always thinking about death. Seeing it everywhere. Stuck in that tiny apartment, never going out and doing anything. Thoroughly pessimistic, laconic, letting life pass you by."
He was clearly unoffended. With a proprietary air, he seated himself in her easy chair and crossed his legs. "Sounds like you're describing yourself."
Scully's eyes popped open. She was getting pretty pissed, being insulted by a figment of her own imagination. "I... I'm almost never here," she began. "My house plants can barely survive my absences. I travel, I'm always out and around. My life is... is full of incident."
He folded his arms across his chest. "Don't mistake movement for meaning."
She'd had it with him. "What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
He gave her a sympathetic glance. "You run. Thither and yon. You chase clues, pursue criminals, clear cases. And while you run, like a mouse on a wheel, going nowhere, life passes you by." He leaned forward. "What do you have to show for your life?"
"Christ," she spat out. "What are you - the ghost of Christmas Past? I help people. I put criminals in jail so they won't have a chance to hurt anyone else. I investigate huge conspiracies against the American people. I... I do my job."
He sighed. "And that's all. Has it ever occurred to you that you could have a life outside your job? That there's more to life than flying from coast to coast flashing your badge and then coming back to hole up in the office, fill out forms and fight administrators?" He laughed without humor. "Even I didn't kid myself that my job - selling life insurance - was all that important. Ironic, yes; important, no." His sympathetic gaze bored into her. "I came to tell you to... to change. Before it's too late."
Scully stared, amazed by the melodramatic language. Feeling as though she'd been transported to A Christmas Carol, and as grumpy as Scrooge, she folded her arms across her chest, leaned back and closed her eyes. With any luck, by the time she opened them again, he'd have disappeared from her armchair, as Ahab had. "Why me," she murmured, eyes still resolutely clamped shut.
"I liked you. I've been watching you. You've had it rough." He was silent. Some seconds passed. Scully hoped he'd been thoroughly digested by now and disappeared within her digestive tract. Her hopes were in vain. "Your cancer should have been a wake-up call," he told her. "You should have grabbed at life after that, clasped it to your bosom, sucked out the marrow."
"Oh, please," she groaned. "You sound like Phillip Padgett."
Bruckman snorted. "He liked you too. We all do. We all want what's best for you."
Scully was afraid to ask who "we" referred to. She just didn't want to know. Despite her skepticism, however, she responded to the voice, annoyed that she still felt the need to justify herself. "I did try to reach out after the cancer. But Emily came along and knocked me on my ass."
He was again silent. She considered opening her eyes to see if this strange incident was over. No such luck.
"That was a setback," he agreed. "But you still have your partner. Even a blind man could tell that you two have a... special connection. There's your opportunity for a personal life. You don't have to watch the years drain away. You don't have to get your romance out of books." She heard him pick up her novel, Layover. Pages rustled. "Pretty hot stuff," he noted. "Ever think of practicing it instead of reading about it?"
"You're a fine one to talk. I remember you saying, at a murder scene no less, that everyone except you was having sex."
"I was wrong. The other two people who weren't having sex were in the room with me at the time."
"So, what do you hope to accomplish?" she asked. "You expect to make this little... visit, and... what? Inspire me to slink over to Mulder's and jump him? You think I should tell him Clyde sent me? That your supernatural presence would be sufficient to turn him on?" She gave a humorless laugh. "Knowing him, this little story *would* give him a hard-on."
"I realize he gets excited about the psychic stuff, the weird stuff. What *you* don't know is that he gets excited about you."
Scully's eyes shot open. "You don't know anything about us."
Glares were exchanged. Eventually, Scully felt embarrassed to be fighting with the...image...presence...of a man she knew to be dead. She sighed. Bruckman, whatever he was, seemed to be dug in. Would she need an exorcist to dislodge him from her living room? Was he her personal Raven-"and the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, *still* is sitting. . ."
"Okay," she challenged him. "How does he feel? You know so much; tell me."
"He thinks you're the center of the universe. You're his reason for getting up in the morning. The woman he'd do anything in the world for, risk everything for, *give* everything for. He wouldn't want to live his life without you. You... validate his existence. He'd like to know if he validates yours."
Oh, Christ, she thought. Don't do this to me. He's making me... want to believe. Despite the fact that he sounds like one of those damned fortune tellers: You will meet a tall, dark stranger. She summoned up her skepticism. "He sure hides it well."
"If you were receptive, he'd show his feelings. Hell, he shows them all the time, already. You just refuse to see. You're ... afraid to let yourself believe, open yourself to disappointment. If you open the door, just a little, he'll slide through. He will occupy your heart, warm it in his hands, offer you his, undefended and vulnerable, to keep with you forever."
Scully blinked back the tears she could feel forming, despite the barriers she'd built up against such thoughts. She parried, "You don't sound like Clyde Bruckman. I think you're channeling Padgett."
"You're afraid to hope." Bruckman sighed. "You thought my life was a waste because I got too caught up in death to try to live. Well, you're in the same boat, and you don't even know you're asea. You're too caught up in... in death and.. . and loss to see what's right in front of you. What more do you want than a man who thinks... you're the center of his world?"
Scully sat up and marshaled her forces, now fully engaged in arguing with a... ghost. "A lot more. What makes you think being with a man will solve everything? Or anything, for that matter? Do you think that's all a woman needs? Romance is just a part of a person's life. Surely, you're old enough to know that."
"And you're old enough to know that having an intimate relationship is vital to keeping up the spirits. Otherwise, you wind up alone and depressed. And you die alone in your bed because you see no reason to go on. Without reward, without hope... why bother?" His voice softened. "You've been there. Emily, as you say, blindsided you, cut you off. Let it go." His voice dropped to a whisper. "She asked you herself. . . let her go. It's the only way."
She would not discuss Emily, her sore spot, the wound that still festered. Emily was private, off-limits to the world. She stared at Bruckman. "You say I'm the center of his world. How do you know I'm interested in him... that way?"
Scully was *not* going there, no matter how imaginary he was. She stared at her hands. What did she need to say to rid herself of this unwelcome visitor? What if he stayed indefinitely - talking, persuading, cajoling her? Too bad she couldn't call Ghostbusters. She could try telling Bruckman he was right and she'd be sure to follow his advice to the letter. But that kind of lie wasn't in her nature. She did most of her lying to herself.
So she fell back on her usual weapon, reason. "I remember Mulder asking you a question about fate. You told him you believe the future is already determined, that events are all set. You said you wouldn't try to change anything because you didn't want to affect fate. But here you sit, trying to get me to act differently. Isn't that interfering with fate?"
She leaned forward, forehead creased, her voice intense. "Suppose it's my fate to be alone? To work hard at my job and lead a productive life doing good work for the country. Not everyone needs to be married or have a romantic life. That's just a myth. There are dozens of ways to have a happy, fulfilling life. Women, particularly, according to studies, do very well on their own. Not everyone needs to be part of a couple."
"You already are," he said. "I'm not changing your fate. I'm giving you the push you need, right on schedule."
He rose, tucked in his shirt carefully, stood staring down at her. "It's time," he told her. "I know what it feels like in your position - the solitude, the detachment, the fear of the intimacy that could get you hurt. But the truth is, you're in too deep not to get hurt. You need to go forward. That's where your fate lies. I'm just the messenger."
Scully was lost in his words. In a more normal frame of mind, she might have been curious about his means of exiting her apartment. Was he going to leave by the door, like a flesh- and-blood person? Was he going to... vaporize, fade from the center of her carpet? Would there be a sudden pffft, and he'd be gone? Or would he fade gradually from top to bottom?
She studied her clasped hands. "So you're saying that I'm the one who needs to make the move," she said. "That it's up to me to be the instrument of my fate. To use a clich, the ball's in my court."
Suddenly, the room felt barren. Emptier than it had ever been. She looked up. She peered into every corner. She was alone.
Another in a long line of appearances of these... presences in her life, she reflected. Ahab, the victims she saw when she was dying of cancer, the image of Emily, pleading for her to let go. How many visions would it take for her to let go of the grief and bitterness, the emotions that had isolated her in misery?
Then there were the malevolent visions, like that smug, nasty couple in the house she and Mulder visited on Christmas Eve. Another set of ghosts, she thought, who persisted in giving unwanted advice and making unflattering character analyses. Ghosts could be awfully bitchy and self-righteous.
And some were simply... murderous, like Padgett's creation, the hooded man who nearly tore her heart out. In some way or other, Scully thought, *all* the ghosts had torn at her heart. Starting with Ahab, who took with him a piece of her heart, gladly given. The newly dead in the bowling alley case, who reached out to her. Her nosebleeds made them see she'd soon be one of them, so they touched her heart.
Then came Emily, who'd captured a large piece of her heart. The pain, she knew, was disproportionate to the time she'd known of the child's existence. Emily's memory had grown into a symbol of what she could not have, of her powerlessness in the face of evil - a personification of the specific and the general sterility of her life. After Emily died, she'd *lost* heart. Maybe tonight's experience was telling her to take heart, that there was hope for the future.
Sometimes, as Mulder had suggested, dreams offered answers to questions the conscious mind was afraid to ask. Perhaps her dreams were more vivid than most, more imaginative. Her conscious mind was trained to stick to facts, be observant and analytical. Her rebellious subconscious - that's where her desires, her feelings, her needs burgeoned.
Clyde Bruckman - or rather, his image - had delivered a message from her subconscious self: That it was time. She smiled, amused that for her confrontation with herself, she'd chosen to conjure a man long dead, one who was good at predicting certain future events.
How... apt, she thought. Then her eyes widened as she noticed that her novel, Layover, was not where she'd left it. When she went to bed, she'd dropped it on the arm of the easy chair, where she'd been curled up. She *knew* that's where it'd been. But now it was lying on her coffee table, having made its way across seven or eight feet of space. Oh, Clyde, she thought. You had to leave a calling card.
She chuckled, picking up the book and hugging it to her chest. Okay, she told herself, I got the message. Enough already. Time to stop reading smut in bed and engage in some first-hand action instead. It doesn't have to be as hot as this book, few things are! But, as "Clyde" said, it's time to go forward. Why not? Who am I to argue with fate? Especially when it's strong enough to move objects.
Laying the book on the coffee table, she picked up her phone and hit the first number on her automatic dial. As the phone rang, she awaited her fate - with curiosity, with trepidation, and with anticipation. She was ready to turn to a new page.
The "Raven" quote comes, of course, from the poem by E. A. Poe.
Layover is a novel by Lisa Zeidner.