Title: Soul Eater
Summary: Excerpt from Scully's Journal, found abandoned in the woods: I am leaving this book inside my backpack and will mark it with a fabric flag in the hope that someone will find it. I have never been so afraid. I am going after Mulder and will save him if I can. If I can. To whoever finds this, there is a terrible entity in these woods which I cannot fully describe, but its touch is madness and it eats souls. Be careful of it. If you do not find us, may God protect you in this terrible place.
Author's Note: Many thanks to my betas, Rachel Vagts, KatVictory, Mori and Dennis.
Journal of Dana Scully March 24 Hendy Woods National Forest Scrawled onto the endpaper of the book.
March 30 Hendy Woods National Forest
"Mr. Skinner, we found something!" The park ranger grabbed Walter Skinner by the elbow. Skinner brushed the misty rain out of his eyes and slogged through the redwood forest to the remains of a fallen giant. The red backpack was soiled with mud and dirt, but still held its color. It was propped against the giant roots of the fallen tree, with a bright blue bandanna tied to a branch overhead.
Skinner squatted down and, with gloved hands, carefully pulled the zipper on the backpack. It was empty except for a leatherbound book, embossed with the initials DKS. He put it into a plastic bag and looked up at the ranger.
"This is Agent Scully's." Skinner said. "The rain's coming down harder now. Let's get under cover and take a look at it. Hey! Abrams! Get a tarp over here and cover this area. When the rain stops I want it examined thoroughly."
Agent Abrams came over with a blue plastic tarp and helped Skinner lay it over the scene. "Are you sure this isn't just Spooky Mulder off on one of his wild-alien chases?" asked Abrams, wiping the rain off his face. "I mean, he's got a rep..." Abrams stopped at the tight look on Skinner's face.
"Agent Abrams, Agents Mulder and Scully have been missing for a week. They failed to appear at a scheduled meeting with the local Field Office to go over their findings about the people who have been disappearing with disturbing regularity from this forest over the past 18 months. This led to the SAC's telephone call to me, because he was concerned for their welfare. As he put it, Mulder had said that he was on to something, but wouldn't say what, and that the agents planned to investigate further. In my professional opinion, Agent Abrams, the skills of these two agents combined put your own modest achievements so far in the dust, that you would have to retire at age 92 if you hope to top their record of cases solved."
Skinner paused to make sure that Abrams was sufficiently cowed, then went on. "Now, was there some gossip that you wanted to repeat to me?"
"Uh, no sir," said Abrams quietly.
Skinner left Abrams to coordinate evidence gathering and went back to the cars where a small camper was parked, the acting headquarters for the search. He sat at the table inside and removed the book from the plastic and opened it. He paused after he had read the note on the endpaper. It was Scully's handwriting, but very rushed and sloppy. He stopped and put the book down. Was that a noise outside? No, nothing but the wind and the trees. He reopened the book and began to read.
Journal of Dana Scully March 15 Anderson Valley Inn
I don't know why I let Mulder talk me into these things. He unearthed a new X File across the continent yet again. I think Mulder likes the West Coast, we seem to go there several times a year.
In any case, the Sonoma Field Office has been investigating a series of disappearances from a local National Wilderness area: Hendy Woods Park. It seems that in the last eighteen months, eight people have disappeared from the park without a trace, and one has been found catatonic. Mulder wants to try to interview her in the hopes of gaining some more insight into this phenomenon. We will be visiting her this afternoon.
It's been a full day. The only surviving victim, Cheryl White, was found huddled in the forest nine months ago and has been completely non-responsive ever since. Her doctors have been unable to diagnose her condition, finding no physical cause for her symptoms. Today she was no different. Her mother, a local 'spiritual healer' was visiting at the time Mulder and I were there. We both interviewed her.
"Mrs. White, I'm so pleased to meet you. I've read all your books." Mulder shook Mary White's hand, oozing charm and warmth. "I'm so sorry to hear about your daughter."
"It is a real tragedy," sighed Mrs. White, sitting by her daughter's bedside. I felt a quick lurch of my stomach; for a moment she made me think of Mom at Missy's bedside. But Mrs. White went on speaking. "If there were any hope for her, in this world or the next, I would feel better."
"I realize that she's been comatose for several months, but I understand that the doctors haven't found any physical cause for her symptoms. It doesn't happen often, but people do recover from extended coma." I knew that she was right, a coma this extended was unlikely to show dramatic improvement, but she seemed so sad I felt I had to try to comfort her.
"Oh, but Agent Scully, she's not there anymore. Her soul is gone. All that's left is an empty body. I don't know what happened to her in that forest, but my daughter doesn't exist any more."
I could see Mulder freeze, like a hunting dog suddenly on the trail. "Her soul is gone? Where do you think it is? Was it taken?" he asked eagerly.
"It wasn't stolen, not so that you could put it back. Agent Mulder, her soul was eaten." Mrs. White sat down, suddenly quiet.
"How do you know her soul was eaten?" I asked skeptically.
She turned to me and smiled a little. "Agent Scully, you probably won't believe this, but I sense things about people and places. In the same way I know that you lost your sister Melissa and your father, I know that my daughter did not go over to the other side. Her soul was destroyed, bit by bit."
"You could have found that information on the internet." I accused her, shocked in spite of myself by her revelations.
"Just as I know that Melissa still watches over you." Mrs. White went on. "But it doesn't really matter whether you believe me or not. My daughter is gone." And she turned back to the still figure in the bed.
Mulder moved in between me and Mrs. White. "What do you mean 'destroyed, bit by bit'?"
"I sense that she was destroyed over time, this...entity...takes the soul in little pieces, savoring them. I really can't explain it, but I know that it happened in that way."
Mulder gently bent to shake Mrs. White's hand. "I'm very sorry for your loss Mrs. White, but I appreciate the help you've given us." He handed her a card and scribbled our motel phone number on it. "Here's my card. Please call me if you can think of anything more that might be helpful."
Mulder and I left the hospital. "What a load of new age psychobabble, Mulder," I commented. "There is no such thing as a soul eater."
"Oh, really?" Mulder grinned in his usual, infuriating way, as he held open my car door. "And, Agent Scully, are you saying that you don't believe in the existence of the soul?"
"Of course I do, Mulder. It's a tenet of my faith." I know where he's going with this, damn him. He does this every time I try to inject a little scientific method into our investigations.
"So, Agent Scully, if the soul exists it's logical to assume that it can be created and destroyed. Therefore if, potentially, a soul can be destroyed we should consider all possible causes, shouldn't we?" Mulder smirked as he pulled away from the parking lot. I made my usual face at him, and sighed, letting him take the lead as usual.
"All right, Mulder." I said patiently. (I am always patient with Mulder--generally). "And just where does one find a soul-eater?"
"Why, in the forest, just where Cheryl White found it." Mulder grinned at me again. He likes the forest, God only knows why. I remembered past trips to the forest with Mulder (moth men, green insects, gender-changing mutants) and resolved to bring my first aid kit.
I've just finished packing a small backpack with eight days' worth of clothing, mosquito repellent and the first aid kit. We'll each take a sleeping bag, but decided to forego a tent because of the shortness of the trip. And I may as well come clean--I wanted two tents, and Mulder wanted to share one. I'm not going into the forest to share a tent with Mulder. Oh, he'd keep it platonic. But would I? In any case, I'll bring this book as well; it will help in writing up the report later. Assuming we find anything worth reporting.
Well, we're here and I wish I were happy about it. I've had the strangest feeling all day that we are being watched, but not by someONE, rather a someTHING. I see movement out of the corner of my eye, then take my glasses off and clean them again. I never see anything directly when I focus on it. I'm edgy and nervous and I know I'm disturbing Mulder with my mood. He keeps asking whether anything is wrong, but I deny it. How can I say that something is wrong, when there's nothing concrete I can say?
If I tell him what I'm feeling Mulder will either decide that it's a psychic experience on my part and run with it, or he'll dismiss it as incipient PMS. I don't feel capable of dealing with either reaction at this point in time.
Mulder spent most of last night charting the hiking trails on which each of the victims was last seen. All of the disappearances have one trail in common, each hiker was near or traveling on the Hendy Grove trail. It's a 20 mile trail winding through ancient old-growth redwood forest, and is frequented by backpackers and campers in the summer months.
We arrived at 8 a.m. and Mulder parked the car in the lot at the head of the trail. He shouldered his pack (a larger one, with his clothing and our food as well) and led me up the trail.
"Mulder," I panted. "Slow down." He slowed and I pattered up behind him.
"Scully, you should spend more time running and working out. You're gonna fail your physical this year," Mulder pulled a handful of sunflower seeds from his pocket and began munching.
"Yeah, well I'll do better on the firearms tests than you will, so there!" I grinned back, catching my breath. "Besides, a slower pace gives us a chance to see what's around us. Like soul-eaters." I looked down and noticed that he'd worn his ankle holster. "Did you bring both your weapons?"
He nodded. "You never know, we might meet a bear." He cracked another seed and went on. "There's nothing new in the concept of an entity that eats souls. Ancient Egypt had a god, Anubis, who ate the souls of the dead who didn't merit heaven. And in Japanese folklore, there is an evil spirit that eats human souls."
I stopped short. "Mulder, even if something like that exists, why has it only materialized now? And what on earth do you think we could do about it? Exorcise it?" I folded my arms across my chest and waited for his answer.
"Well, we could study it. And as to why it's only appearing now, there have been some massive landslides and shifts in the last year, due to heavy rains. Maybe it was trapped somehow and only just got loose." Mulder stopped when he saw that I wasn't buying it.
"It's ok, Mulder." I re-seated my backpack and started up the trail again. "I'm used to wild goose chases. We'll find what we find."
As we hiked for the rest of the day, I was conscious of a feeling that we were being watched. First it was a niggling sensation, but then it grew into the conviction that something was paying very close attention to us. Mulder was his usual self, casual and self-assured. I was a nervous shrew.
"Scully, what the hell is wrong with you? Do your feet hurt? Headache? What?" Mulder finally stopped walking and grabbed my arm. "You've barely said two words for the past six hours and I think that's some kind of a record. The only time you get this quiet is when you're either mad at me or upset about something. Did I do something wrong?"
I swatted at a mosquito and stopped to think. I couldn't explain my edgy feeling in any words, but I knew it wasn't because I was mad at Mulder. "No, Mulder, I'm not mad at you. I just feel...nervous. I don't know why." As I stood there I was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of utter despair and sadness. It was close to the feelings I had when Emily died, but more intense somehow; and the more frightening because I couldn't pinpoint the cause. As suddenly as it had arrived, the feeling left and took with it most of my energy.
"Hey, Scully, careful there." Mulder caught me as my knees sagged and kept me from falling to the ground. "You aren't doing so well. Maybe we should go back and do this some other time?" He looked at me with concern in his eyes.
But I knew that Mulder would just take me back to town, then return by himself to find this soul-eater. And I knew that I wasn't going to let him do that. He needs me to watch his back; God knows, he'll never do it for himself.
"No Mulder. I'm fine, really." I looked straight into a pair of skeptical green eyes and added. "I am tired, though. I'm not used to all this hiking. Maybe we should stop for the night."
Mulder checked his watch. "You're right, it's 4:30 now and it'll start getting dark soon. We might as well make camp." He looked back at me, searching my eyes deeply. "Scully, if you're not feeling well, please tell me right away. Or if anything else is bothering you, ok? I'd like to help."
"It's ok, Mulder. I'm just an out of shape wimp right now." I said confidently, and I was sure at that moment that this was the entire explanation for my symptoms.
We made camp and sat around the fire, exchanging small talk. Mulder wanted to tell ghost stories as though we were at camp, but I demurred. The nature of our trip was spooky enough without adding to it. Besides, ghostly fiction has ceased to entertain me since I can describe realities much more gruesome.
We've decided to go to bed early. Mulder invitingly patted his sleeping bag.
"C'mon, Scully. You know it's the best way to keep warm in the forest. And when will you get another chance like this?"
I grinned. If I ever took this idiot up on one of his 'offers' he'd probably faint dead away. "No thank you, Mulder. I like my own sleeping bag perfectly well."
He grinned back. All part of the game. "Oh, well. If you change your mind, I'm right here."
I turned over and snuggled into my sleeping bag, completing this entry by flashlight. It is comforting hearing Mulder's breathing just a few feet away. I must admit that no matter what godforsaken place Mulder leads me into, I always feel secure when he's nearby. I think that's the only thing that has made it possible for me to see and experience all the different things I have these past years. I know that in the middle of insanity, there's Mulder, strong and unwavering.
I just woke up from a nightmare. I suppose that calling it a nightmare is relatively accurate, especially since I can't find any other term for it. I have never felt like this, in the grip of nightmare or in reality. I was afraid, not that I would die, but that something infinitely worse was about to happen.
In the dream I found myself in a dark, featureless place. I was incredibly tiny, a miniscule speck of consciousness, but I could sense the approach of another being. It was incredibly vast, with a consciousness, a being that was as far beyond my understanding as I am beyond an amoeba. It was evil, ancient evil, older than I could comprehend and it was searching for me.
As it approached me, I could feel a tremendous sense of hunger radiating from it. Nothing could fill a void that huge, but it would try if it could catch me. I could feel myself shrinking down, trying to hide myself in the blackness, like a wild animal in the underbrush. I could feel my mind open to its inspection and prayed, harder than I have ever prayed, that it would not see me.
I was still praying when my eyes opened and I saw, not the Void, but the stars overhead. I was shaking and covered with sweat, but I said a quick prayer of thanks.
I don't want to sleep again, in case that...thing is waiting for me in my dreams. I know that this is just a nightmare, born of this case that we've taken on. Too much discussion with Mulder about soul-eaters and other ghoulies. It's feeding my imagination.
As I finished writing the last sentence, I could hear Mulder cry out. I turned my flashlight on him and saw him writhing in his sleeping bag, struggling against it. He seemed to be surrounded by a dark mist. I looked around, but there was no fog, and when I looked back the mist was gone.
I quickly crawled out of my sleeping bag and went over to him.
"Mulder...Mulder, it's me..." I shook him gently awake. Mulder sat bolt upright screaming "Samantha!" at the top of his lungs. Then he stopped and realized where we were.
"Scully, it's you. Thank God..." He wiped sweat off his face and sagged in his sleeping bag. "I was dreaming of Samantha and the night she was taken. It was so vivid; I've dreamed about it before, but never like this." Mulder began shivering. "I feel really washed out, tired."
I pulled the sleeping bag up around his shoulders. "I'm not sleeping very well either. Would you mind if I pulled my sleeping bag closer?" When I started talking I intended to comfort Mulder by snuggling closer to him, but ended by realizing how much I craved comfort myself. That dream really shook me.
Mulder agreed with alacrity, and he is now sleeping with his head on my shoulder and I think he's drooling on my sleeping bag. But it does feel good to have him close to me. He dropped off to sleep again pretty quickly. I think he's used to nightmares. I am less accustomed to them, and am afraid to try to sleep again. No choice, we're hiking tomorrow and I need my energy. But thank goodness for a warm Mulder snuggled against me. I wonder if Cheryl White had nightmares?
March 15 Hendy Woods National Forest
"Well, what have you found?" Skinner looked up from the diary to find Agent Abrams nervously holding a plastic bag.
"Sir, we've combed the area where the backpack was found and located these items." Abrams held out a clear plastic bag with one Nike running shoe.
Skinner looked at it closely. "That could be Mulder's but it's hard to tell. I generally see him in business attire. What else?"
Abrams held up a smaller plastic bag with a delicate gold cross and chain. Skinner held it up to the light and squinted at it. Then his face fell. "It's hers, all right. Anything more?"
"The bandanna we found marking the backpack was stained with blood. We're testing it to determine whether it's human or animal. Otherwise, nothing. There is no clear trail leaving the area. I'll let you know when we find anything." Abrams left Skinner alone with the diary.
Skinner couldn't lose the feeling of foreboding he'd had since he read Scully's last entry. She was the most logical and skeptical agent he'd ever worked with, and if she was getting spooked by something it was significant. He just hoped that if..when..he found them, they would be alive and sane. He picked up the book and began to read again.
Although both Mulder and I are tired from our respective nightmares, hot coffee by the fire got us both moving quickly. I was just beginning to enjoy the morning, the clean air and the bright sunshine, when I found the first of the dead animals.
It was a small brown bird, its chest covered in blood. I carefully stepped around it, then saw another and another. "Mulder, look at all these dead birds!" I called to Mulder who was ten paces ahead of me. "There must be twenty of them."
Mulder turned back. "Probably a disease or something." He squatted down next to me, examining one of the birds.
I pulled a tissue from my pocket and gently handled the bird. "Mulder, its neck is broken....no, its head is almost torn off. It's the same with all of these birds." Each one I picked up or turned over was the same. The head had been partially ripped off, and the body left to bleed in the dirt. "Predator?" Mulder asked, poking one of the birds with the toe of his shoe. "What predator leaves a meal uneaten behind it, then kills some more?"
I looked around the area, suddenly conscious of a darkening of the sunlight, as though a cloud had lowered. No, the sun was still shining. I squinted and saw Mulder through a gray haze, as though the air were thicker where he was standing. He was reaching down to touch one of the birds.
"Mulder, NO!" I yelled and pushed him away from the bird.
He looked up at me with mixed perplexity and anger. "Hey, you didn't have to do that." Mulder stood up and brushed his hands off. "I wasn't going to touch it. I know that they might carry diseases or something."
"I'm sorry Mulder, we just don't know if they died naturally or from some illness." But I wasn't sorry, and I'm not as I write this. I had a feeling that if Mulder had touched one of those birds, something terrible would happen to him. It isn't rational, but I had to act on the feeling.
We continued walking and soon found other dead, partially decapitated animals. We kept going after the two squirrels and the raccoon, but I stopped when I saw the rabbit.
It lay dead in a pool of its own blood, with no other tracks leading from the body. I rummaged in my backpack, and to Mulder's raised eyebrows pulled on a pair of latex gloves from our forensic supplies. I picked up the rabbit, it had been gray in life, and found myself stroking its bloodied fur.
"This wound goes deep in its chest and looks more like a stab than the bite of another animal." I looked more closely. "This animal has been disemboweled, and the organs removed. And there are no signs of predation, there is no evidence that the entrails were dragged away. Mulder, what can be doing this?" I found myself tearing up, mourning for this poor bunny.
"Could these wounds be the caused by man?" Mulder asked quietly, as I put the rabbit back down.
"It's hard to tell without examining the body closely. Possibly. For now all I can determine is that the object was sharp. It could be a beak or a sharp piece of rock. Not a blade, the edges are too jagged. And unlike the birds, this animal wasn't decapitated."
I looked up and around at the clear sky. "But how do you attack and kill a flock of birds that way?"
Mulder looked around as well. "Let's keep moving. Do you have your gun?" he asked. I nodded and began following him up the trail again.
We have stopped for lunch, mostly packaged food, granola bars. I still feel a sense of foreboding, as though the sunshine were dimmed somehow.
I am exhausted, but must record this. Mulder has just fallen asleep.
The rest of the day's hike was uneventful until we reached Hendy Falls. We arrived there at about 3:00. It was the original goal for two of the lost hikers, Jim and Shannon Gordon. The falls are beautiful, sparkling clear water cascading down a hillside of mossy rocks and ferns.
While I admired the falls, Mulder scouted around, looking for any evidence that the Gordons had gotten this far. "Scully, I'm going to look around and see if the hikers left anything behind. It would be interesting to see if they got this far." Mulder shrugged off his backpack and started to climb the rocks around the falls.
"Mulder, this area was thoroughly scoured when the Gordons disappeared in January. It isn't likely that anything would be left after all this time." And I don't want you out of my sight, I mentally added.
"Scully, that's why Uncle Sam is paying for our beautiful trip to the redwoods," Mulder called. "So we have to pay the ticket...whoops!"
I heard a crashing sound in the underbrush and ran towards it. "Mulder? Mulder! Where are you!" I ran into the ferns and stopped short of a deep pit. It had been hidden by underbrush, except for the hole caused when Mulder fell through it. "Mulder! Are you all right?"
I peered into the hole, then ran back to my pack and grabbed a length of rope. Back at the pit, I called again but Mulder didn't answer. So I tied one end of the rope to a tree and rappelled into the pit.
It was about fifteen feet deep and ten feet across. The bottom was covered with rocks and dirt. And in the corner, Mulder was crumpled in on himself. I ran over and knelt next to him, feeling for a pulse. His pulse was strong, but he was pale. I checked for broken bones and found nothing obvious until I saw that his left leg was seeping blood. Damn. I gently rolled him over and found that a sharp tooth of rock had cut a deep gash in his left shin.
And then I noticed that a larger tooth of rock had barely missed gutting him. He must have twisted as he fell, or he'd have impaled himself on the larger rock.
"Just like the animals," I muttered under my breath, then stopped. This was silly. Mulder falling into a pit had nothing to do with the death of some birds and a rabbit. I pulled off my jacket and wrapped him in it, then tried to decide the best way to move him. Before I'd reached a decision, Mulder began to wake.
"Uhhhh....Hey, Scully," he grogged. "What'd I do now?"
Ask a silly question. "Mulder, you fell into a hole. A big hole. How are you feeling?"
Mulder blinked at me, then examined the walls around us. "Where did that come from? I'd swear it was solid ground, then suddenly it wasn't." He cautiously moved and gingerly rolled onto his back. "Anything broken?" he asked as he tried to sit up, but I pushed him back down.
"You tell me. Stay on your back until we know the extent of your injuries. From what I can see, you have a nasty gash in your leg, and probably a bump on your head with concussion. Anything else?" I pulled out my pen-knife and began to slit his jeans to get at the wound.
"Hey, these jeans are new!" he protested.
"Were new. So, anything else hurt?" I insisted. Trust Mulder to grit his teeth and hide an injury.
"No, I don't think so." Mulder moved carefully and felt over his body for other injuries. "Nope, nothing broken." He looked up. "So how are we going to get out of here? I don't see any bodies to stack." He put both hands down behind him and propped himself up then got a funny expression on his face. Then he pulled his hand away and came up with a human femur. Injured or not, I've never seen Fox Mulder move so fast.
Before I could blink an eye, he was crouching painfully on the other side of the hole, still clutching the femur in his hand. "Scully, I landed on a body," he gritted out, handing me the femur.
I took it cautiously then set it down on the floor. Under a litter or fern fronds and dirt I could see ribs peeking out around the projection of rock. Gently I cleared away the rest of the dirt and debris to find a complete human body, female by the look of it. Judging by the position, I surmise that this person died in a fall and, unlike my partner, was impaled on the rock. In the meantime, Mulder was sifting through more debris on the floor of the pit and finally came up with a weathered ripstop wallet. "Bingo. Her drivers' license identifies her as Shannon Gordon. She must have fallen like I did, but she wasn't as lucky."
"No, she wasn't," I replied. "It's hard to tell how long she was down here before she died. If the fall didn't kill her, she could have been dying slowly down here for days, bleeding to death. Is there any trace of her husband?"
Mulder riffled through the debris on the floor, then shook his head. "No, nothing."
When I caught sight of Mulder and got a good look at the bleeding, all attention was drawn away from the body to Mulder. "Hey, we need to bandage that." I moved over to Mulder then remembered that the first aid kit was in my backpack, where I'd dropped it. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my blue bandanna and rolled it into a makeshift bandage. Mulder's only comment, beyond an occasional ouch was "Nice fashion statement."
I resolved to use the iodine to clean the wound when we got to the surface rather than the bactine. He deserved some payback for all the anxiety he put me through.
The problem of how to get out was resolved fairly simply. Nothing was wrong with Mulder's arms, or his athletic ability. He climbed out of the pit first, then I climbed out with Mulder pulling on the rope. We left the body where we found it for a later forensics team to examine.
I have mapped below the location of the pit relative to Hendy Falls as well as the apparent configuration of the body as we found it.
(Handwritten diagram appears in Scully's journal here) Once on the surface I forcibly cleaned and bandaged Mulder's wound. I say forcibly because Mulder wanted to search the area around the pit for further clues to the Shannon Gordon's demise. It was a relatively deep gash, but shouldn't require stitches.
A thorough search of the area turned up nothing related to Shannon Gordon's death. I did ask Mulder what had prompted him to go searching off in that direction anyway. "It's all underbrush back there, Mulder. Why go plowing through the bushes, for goodness sake? The best you could hope to find is a good case of poison oak," I commented as we scoured the rest of the underbrush for clues.
Mulder's eyes never left the ground he was scanning. "I don't really know, Scully," he said. "I just had the feeling that I HAD to go there. As if I were being led, somehow." I chalked up another one to Mulder's 'intuition', i.e. his eidetic memory and steel-trap subconscious.
We walked a mile or two up the trail, looking for any further sign of the hikers, before stopping for the night and setting up camp. By this time I noticed that Mulder had begun to limp a bit, but every time I tried to bring it up he stopped me with a glance. The man can communicate with his eyes, I swear, and he was communicating that he did not wish to be fussed over. Sure. Fine. Whatever.
We have unrolled the sleeping bags about three feet apart. The prospect of Mulder sleeping any further away makes me uneasy. This whole trip makes me uneasy. The one thing niggling at the back of my mind, that I still haven't mentioned to Mulder, is that I still have the feeling that we are being watched. And I could have sworn that in the dimness of the pit, I saw a kind of dark fog surrounding Mulder as I approached him.
4:20 a.m. Our second night out, and my second nightmare, and I am afraid. I dreamed that I was in that dark place, the Void, only I wasn't alone. I sensed another spark sharing the same Void and knew it for Mulder. Then a third presence arrived, the entity from last night. God help me but I don't want to call it a soul-eater, but that's what it felt like.
It was there, and it was hungry, so very hungry. And it was looking at, focusing its entire attention, on Mulder. And then it began to feed.
I tried to scream but could make no sound. I heard Mulder crying out, trying to fight it off, but I couldn't move to help him. I mustered all my energy and tried to go to him, then found myself awake and in my sleeping bag. And heard Mulder crying out next to me.
Under the starlight I could see a dark cloud surrounding him, pulsating like a heartbeat. And with every cry Mulder made, the thing got darker and thicker and less transparent. I grabbed my flashlight and scrambled over to Mulder. The cloud seemed to linger for a split second in the yellow light, then dissipated.
"Mulder!" I grabbed his shoulder and shook him. "Mulder! Wake up! You're having a nightmare!"
At first I couldn't wake him and began to worry. Then he did awaken but stared at me for a good 30 seconds without any recognition. All personality was wiped from his expressive face, his look completely blank. Then he seemed to snap out of it.
"Scully!" He grabbed my shoulders and hugged me close. "I dreamed....I dreamed...terrible things. I was being eaten alive and I was powerless to save myself."
"Well," I said into his soft hair. "That is a nightmare. I don't know about you, but the mosquitoes here are eating me alive and they do it while I'm awake!" It was a feeble joke but I think it helped. He moved back and studied my face.
"I'm sorry I woke you, Scully. This is the second night in a row." He rubbed his face with his hands. "I have nightmares, but not usually bad ones this often."
"Mulder," I said uncertainly. "I've been having nightmares too. Terrible ones. And I've had the constant feeling all through this trip that we're being watched."
Mulder looked up with interest. "Do you think somebody is tracking us?"
I shook my head. God this was hard to say, especially to Mulder. "Mulder, I'm starting to wonder if there's some chemical in the air or water that alters perception. While you had your dream of being attacked, I dreamed that something was attacking you. And I could have sworn I saw a pulsing dark cloud surrounding you, just as I trained the flashlight on you."
Mulder was thoughtful. "That would certainly explain the fact that both of us are having nightmares. But I'm not experiencing any paranoid feelings." He grinned. "At least, not until you talked about that black cloud. Still, we weren't drinking local water until we were a day out, were we? Did you feel watched before then?"
I considered. "Yes, almost from the time we left the car I had the sense of another presence. I've been drinking mostly bottled water since we arrived in California."
"Do you want to go back?" Mulder asked reluctantly. Oh, how I'd love to go back. But we can't quit now. The nightmares, the feelings are all some kind of plant poison affecting our systems. That's all it is. And undoubtedly that's what's been killing all the animals. The gashes are just the marks of predators. I'm certainly no trained vet, and can't really make a determination out here. That's all it is.
March 30, Anderson Valley Inn Room of AD Walter Skinner
Walter Skinner put the book down on the table and drew a breath. If he were a drinking man, he'd be halfway through a bottle of whiskey by now. As it was, he drew the last gulp of his soda then crumpled the can and shot it into the wastebasket.
Soul-eaters. My God, why did I sign off on the 302? But how does this monster differ from any of the other monsters they've gone after? Sewer-creatures, liver-eating mutants, alleged giant zombie-making insects for god's sake.
Skinner got up and began to pace the room. They were out there, he knew they were. But where? Certainly within walking distance of Scully's backpack. If she'd gone back for Mulder, he couldn't have been that far away. But why did she leave him in the first place?
Wearily, Skinner picked up the book again and began to read.
Journal of Dana Scully March 18
Nothing to report. No new bodies or clues to the hikers. No black clouds or dead animals. Mulder whistles while he hikes. Annoying.
We are at the halfway point on the trail and have found nothing more of note. Although there have been no further nightmares for either of us, Mulder still hopes to find this 'soul-eater'. Last night he brought out all the folklore he could remember about soul-eaters in history and how to combat them.
"So, Mulder what you're saying is that this thing, if it exists, is really a kind of vampire?" I visualized Bela Lugosi trying to separate my partner from his soul, then shook my head.
"C'mon, Scully, go with it. I know you are capable of an open mind, when you work hard at it," Mulder gave me his best puppy dog look. "Besides, we need to be ready to face this thing if we do meet it."
I grinned back. "Mulder, if you're trying to tell me that those hikers disappeared because they didn't bring enough garlic with them, I'd say you've been watching too many late movies."
Mulder smiled. "No, garlic isn't what I had in mind. For something like this, basically a spiritual parasite, you'd probably want to adopt a method commonly used in folklore. You'd want to build a circle of power to protect yourself from it."
"A circle of what? You mean like witches, dancing widdershins around in the moonlight? Mulder, I'm a good Catholic. We don't do things like that," I fingered my cross uncomfortably. The idea of practicing any kind of 'magic', no matter how baseless and superstition-laden made me uncomfortable.
"No, you're thinking of black magic. All you'd have to do is make a circle of salt, pouring clockwise, then follow the circle praying for protection. You're supposed to imagine a wall of force building up and shutting you inside. Of course, classic witches do pray to the spirits of the four cardinal directions, too.." he stopped when he saw my expression and added hastily "but the salt should work fine with some earnest prayer."
"You sound as though you think we'll run into this thing," I commented darkly. "So far I haven't seen any monsters, just some dead animals."
Mulder's grin faded. "I don't know how to explain this, Scully, but I have a strong feeling that we will find it. Or it's already found us. Do you remember telling me that you felt like we were being watched? Well, I've begun feeling that way too."
"Three words Mulder, folie a deux. We have no concrete proof on anything beyond some shared nervousness on our part," I got up and stirred the fire.
"And some dead animals," Mulder said defensively. I just looked at him. Mulder shook his head and began unrolling his sleeping bag. I did the same, putting mine a little farther away from his than I had been laying it. Had to show him that I didn't think there was anything to be afraid of. I know that I dreamed last night, and that it was upsetting, but I don't recall what it was. Mulder didn't answer this morning when I asked him how he slept.
Mulder is upset, but won't discuss it. And I, I am confused and afraid. We found another dead animal this afternoon.
The day was somewhat overcast, with a cold wind. I think a storm system is coming in. I was walking with my head downward on an uphill slope and Mulder, as usual, was about five paces ahead of me when he stopped suddenly.
"Do you hear that, Scully?" he asked.
Over the rising wind I could hear a high pitched cry, like an a dog or an animal in pain. The howl continued, falling and rising, for a long time, until it cut off abruptly.
"What was that?" I asked, almost whispering. The rest of the forest had gone silent. No bird sang, no animals made any sound at all. The only noise was the rustling of the wind in the trees.
Mulder shook his head and began to walk forward cautiously, pulling his gun from the ankle holster. I drew mine as well. About ten feet up the trail, around the bend, we could see a reddish blotch on the dirt. It looked like a small, doglike animal, surrounded by a puddle of blood. It was a fox, recently dead. Its eyes were wide open, and the muzzle open in a last snarl, flecked with bloody foam. The body was warm to touch, and it had been partially decapitated with a long slit down the chest area.
I looked sideways at Mulder, and his eyes were a translucent green, his face a deadpan, the "panic face" we'd joked about. "It's a coincidence. Foxes are common in woodland areas," I stated flatly, hoping that sheer pragmatism would get through to him. "And we've seen other dead animals."
"Yeah, but not this recently dead. Scully, this wasn't a clean kill. This animal suffered before it died; I wonder how long the others were in pain before they succumbed." He scanned the area surrounding us. "And I wonder just how long Shannon Gordon survived in that pit before she finally died."
"What, you think something is torturing then killing? Your soul-eater? I thought you said it eats only souls?" The wind was picking up and the sky was darkening. I shivered in my light jacket.
"Some vampire-like creatures live on emotion. It can be happiness or pain and fear. This species might find that certain kinds of emotion add, uh, 'flavor' to the meal," Mulder's eyes got that distant look he gets when he's profiling. For a moment I could see that dark cloud surround him, almost blotting him from view. Mulder swayed a bit, then shook himself and took in the weather brewing." Come on, Scully, we need to find some shelter before the rain starts. I brought some tarps and we can rig a tent with it."
He pulled me up the trail until we found a sheltered spot well removed from the dead fox. The two of us together fought the wind and tied the tarps down into a semblance of shelter. Mulder finally had his single tent. I'm just sorry that I was too upset to take advantage of the situation.
Looking over my past entries, I see now that my assumption that the animal deaths were due to some anonymous poisonings was disingenuous at best. I can no longer ignore the promptings of my own instincts, as uncomfortable with them as I am. I can tell that Mulder has already decided that the creature is here, and it has focused on him. I must believe that, because my own experience bears it out. I will try to persuade Mulder to turn back, now, while we still can. Whatever this thing is, it's definitely beyond FBI jurisdiction and we aren't equipped to deal with it.
The rain has died down and we were able to start a fire. I find the firelight to be very comforting, although I harbor no illusions about this fire's ability to keep away the true evil that lurks in the night. I began trying to persuade Mulder to go back at dinner time, continued talking through dinner, and into the evening. He can be an incredibly blind, stubborn jerk sometimes. Finally he realized that I really am afraid for him.
"Scully, do you really believe that this thing is out here?" he asked wonderingly.
I nodded, trying to hold back tears of frustration and fear. "Mulder, this isn't rational, but something just isn't right here. This forest is..alive somehow, and not in a good way."
I noted how closely Mulder and I had huddled together, drawing strength from each other. "Mulder, whether either of us admits it or not, we both know that something is wrong. Didn't you see that dark cloud that surrounded you when we stood next to the dead fox? For a moment, I couldn't see you. It had blotted you out."
Mulder shook his head. "No, I didn't see anything, but I did feel...blank...for a moment. Like I'd forgotten something and couldn't remember." He moved closer and wrapped one arm around my shoulders. "Scully, if this upsets you so much, I can let it go. We'll start back tomorrow."
I was too grateful that he finally agreed with me to call him on his condescending attitude. Mulder is asleep, and I am ready to rest. I pray that I have no dreams tonight. Propriety be damned, I'm snuggling my sleeping bag next to his.
It doesn't want us to leave this forest.
We started out early this morning, to a bright, sunny day. The rain had blown over and we were both anxious to be going. All went well for the first two hours. Mulder, as usual, was about five paces ahead of me but well within my view. I saw the whole thing.
We were hiking through a hilly area, with a deep gully on our left. A small, black animal ran across the trail and tangled itself in Mulder's feet. Mulder lost his balance and was PULLED over the side of the trail. I have no other words for it, because he was at least seven feet away from the lip of the ridge. The animal disappeared, and I haven't been able to identify it.
Mulder fell over the side of the trail and rolled down the hillside through the underbrush. I dropped my backpack and started carefully down the hillside after him. It took a good twenty minutes of searching before I found him laying at the bottom of the gully against some rocks.
He was stunned by the fall, but began to come around as I arrived. He wore his hiking shorts today, so I was able to see that the gash on his leg had reopened and was bleeding freely. His left knee also looked red and swollen. Mulder began to shiver, so I took off my jacket and covered him with it as I examined his knee more closely.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see a darkish haze surrounding Mulder like an aura. His skin felt vaguely cold and clammy, almost as though there were an extra layer of frigid air surrounding him. I had a suspicion what that frigid air was composed of, and it wasn't going to stop me.
"Mulder? Can you hear me? Say something," I said calmly. I could see Mulder's eyes looking up in a blank stare, his mouth working as he tried to get the words out.
"Hard..to..talk, Scully. Don't know why. I'm so cold." He shivered in my jacket as I looked up the hill and tried to figure out a way to get him back up to the trail.
"Mulder, can you stand? We need to go back up to the trail, where there's some sunlight. It's warmer up there. Come on," I coaxed him and gradually got him to his feet and limping with me up the hillside. Eventually we made it up to the trail where I sat him down and examined him more thoroughly.
The physical injuries seem minor, a sprained knee and some renewed bleeding to the old laceration on his shin. It's his general fogginess that troubles me. I found no evidence of head injury, no bumps or bruises. But Mulder isn't himself since the fall, he's not entirely here. And he seems to be in pain, although from what physical source I cannot determine.
But I know that we must get out of this forest, and quickly. I bandaged Mulder's knee and cut a walking stick for him, strapped his backpack onto him, then alternately pushed him and persuaded him up the trail.
We have stopped for the night. Mulder has barely said two words to me all day; he seemed miles away until dinner time, when I put a cup of extra strong instant coffee in his hands and made him drink it.
Worse than I thought. I sat close to him and took the coffee mug from his hand, setting it down. "Mulder, what's the last thing you remember?"
"I remember tripping over something, then falling down a hill...then nothing till now. Did I hit my head or something?"
I took a deep breath. "Mulder, you didn't trip exactly. A small animal that I still can't identify tangled itself in your feet and tripped you, then you were pulled by something over the edge of the trail. You rolled down the hillside and, I think, hit your head on some rocks. I didn't find a bruise, so I'm not sure about the head injury. You have been in a kind of trance all afternoon, but aside from a sprained knee and a reopened wound on your shin, I can't find anything physically wrong with you."
"Scully, what do you mean I was pulled over the side?" Mulder looked at me curiously, surprised that his rational Scully wasn't even trying to find a mundane reason for the accident.
"Mulder, you were thrown off balance, then yanked off that trail. And no, I didn't *see* anything that could be doing it. And there's more. When I found you, I saw a dark cloud surrounding you, like an aura. I.." I stopped because my voice had begun to tremble, then continued. "I don't know what that cloud was, but it seemed to take you out of yourself. For the afternoon, you weren't you. You've only just come back."
I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered. Mulder took my icy hand in his warm one and began rubbing it to warm it.
"What you're trying to say, Scully, is that the soul-eater has found us and it wants me for dinner." Mulder has a talent for summarizing all the facts and stating the obvious, even when I don't want to admit it. I hate that.
I just looked up at him miserably. "We have to get out of here, Mulder. Now."
He was amazingly calm. "Can we? I know we can't have gone far today. My knee has slowed us down, hasn't it?" I nodded again and he continued. "How long has it been hovering over me, do you think? You've been seeing this dark cloud for a while, haven't you?"
"But Mulder, the first time it was only a dream," I began, but he interrupted.
"Scully, it's well known that our latent psychic abilities are more active while we are asleep. Most prophecies reported in history have come in dreams. Why not a little clairvoyance?" He gnawed his lower lip. "So it's been attached to me for several days now. This implies that once it chooses its victim it's tied to it until the meal is finished. Either it won't or can't change victims, or it may be limited to only one soul at a time."
"Mulder, how can you talk like that? It's eating your soul, piece by piece!" Mulder's fatalism drives me crazy at the best of times, but indulging it now could get him killed.
Mulder just smiled. "Who says only humans can be profiled? Scully, we can't outrun this thing. I think..it's attached to me like a leech. No matter where I go, it'll be there. The only way to fight it is to understand it."
I hate it when he's right. "Okay, Mulder. It only takes one victim at a time, but stays with that victim until the end. And it's been..with you..for a while. How long can you last? What is the progression of symptoms?" Putting it into clinicalese makes it easier to discuss the unthinkable.
"You tell me. I've experienced frightening dreams, filled with terror and horror, as well as physical injury caused by it. And I've also experienced lost time. We also know that it likes physical pain, as in those animals. But I think it's a sophisticated gourmet. With a human soul to dine on, it likes to vary its meal. That dead fox was no accident." Mulder rubbed his knee and fell silent.
I am surprised that my voice was as steady as it was. "So with a human victim, it will cause psychological pain as well as physical. That's consistent with Shannon Gordon. If I hadn't come along, you could have died slowly in that pit just as she did."
The full horror of the situation slowly dawned on me. "My God, Mulder, I'd always assumed that even if we got killed on the job, there would be something more after, a heaven. If this creature's nature is what we assume it to be, death isn't the worst result."
I grabbed his hand and held it tight. Mulder nodded and squeezed back. "Complete obliteration, and nothing follows," he said quietly.
"And it's already started devouring you," I whispered.
We have tried to hike steadily in the past 48 hours. We don't dare stop. But if we ever doubted that something wants us trapped here or that the entity has found Mulder, they were banished yesterday. At about noon, we were hiking steadily but slowly back. Mulder's knee is swelling and he walks with pain. I can see him forcing himself, but I agree with his reasons for hurry.
Suddenly Mulder collapsed on the ground and began clutching at his chest. I ran to him and rolled him over, pulling off his backpack. It seemed to take forever to get it off of him. His shirt was stained with blood and he was gasping in pain.
I pulled the shirt off of him and saw something that will haunt my nightmares. As I watched, strips of Mulder's skin bubbled as though burned by caustic chemicals, the blisters forming, breaking and starting to bleed in a matter of moments. The tissues surrounding the patches looked healthy and I know that Mulder didn't brush up against any plants. I grabbed my water bottle and poured the entire contents over Mulder's chest and arms, hoping to wash off whatever it was that was causing this. No effect. Finally, the only thing I could do was hold him and cry with him until it stopped.
The wounds are limited to his anterior chest and upper arms. The progressive 'rash' (for lack of a better term) stopped forming approximately twenty minutes after onset and there has been no recurrence. They are consistent with a virulent form of a so-called 'flesh-eating' virus, but given our recent past I doubt that diagnosis.
I treated Mulder with antiseptic and bandaged him, then made camp. We could travel no further that day. I sat with him in the night while he alternated between writhing in pain and a delerium in which he was devoured whole by a cloud of darkness. He finally dropped into a real sleep shortly before dawn, and I let him rest.
I woke him at about ten this morning, but he didn't speak, didn't look at me. I made some more extra strong coffee and forced it on him, but even so it took a full cup of the stuff to bring him back. I will finish this entry, then we will begin our journey again, and we will walk until we drop. Or until we are attacked again. I am afraid that we are losing the battle.
We have barely made it half a mile today. Mulder has been sluggish and clearly in pain, although he hasn't said much. I don't know how much he is comprehending. He fell into a trance-like state at about noon, but I couldn't rouse him although he did keep walking in the direction I pointed him. I was able to wake him briefly when we stopped at
"Scully? Where are you?" Mulder's head lolled as he tried to look for me. I knelt next to him and held his chin, forcing his eyes towards me. He squinted blearily then brightened when he saw me. " S'there you are," his voice trailed off as his eyes closed. I pulled open his shirt to check his wounds. They aren't healing, but they aren't spreading either. Thank God for small blessings.
I smiled at him. "Hey, partner. How you feeling?" I checked his vitals while he struggled to answer. "Could be worse...could be less of me than there is." Mulder's eyes closed then he forced them open. "Scully, leave me here. I'm not going to make it; we both know that. At least it won't go for you until it's done with me. If you run you might get out of its range." He closed his eyes again, seeming to go into a light trance.
"No Mulder, and you know why." I responded softly, even though I knew he could no longer hear me. When I had rested enough, I got Mulder to his feet and led him back to the trail.
The food is starting to run low. Mulder and I each are taking only one meal per day. I should say that I am eating and trying to get Mulder to eat. He won't even swallow sunflower seeds. In the original plan, we were to be back in civilization tomorrow, but we're travelling at barely a crawl.
March 24 I woke at first light to find Mulder up and moving away from the sleeping bags. I could see the dark cloud coalescing and shifting around him, almost blotting him from my sight.
"Mulder!" I called. "Where are you going?" Mulder just kept on moving into the forest. I jumped out of my sleeping bag and grabbed him. His eyes were focused on something only he could see.
"Mulder? Mulder! Where are you going?" I gave him a hard shake and pulled his chin toward me, forcing him to meet my eyes. Still no response, so I slapped him. Hard.
That jolted him. "Hey, Scully, I know I'm a real jerk sometimes, but you didn't have to do that..." He finally saw me and realized that he was standing in the forest.
"Mulder, just where were you going?" I demanded angrily.
He paused and gave it some thought. "I don't know. I think I was being called somewhere. I have to go over there.." Mulder raised his right hand and pointed into the brush.
I grabbed my gun from my then we began moving forward into the underbrush.
The dark cloud came back and surrounded him, thick and dark and opaque. The cloud radiated the same hunger and ancient evil of the entity in my dream. I think that this was the first time it was able to fully manifest itself. I shivered in fear of it until Mulder cried out and I could see him fall.
I yelled "No!" and ran toward Mulder. He was limp on the ground, still surrounded by that cloud. I plowed through it and grabbed his arm. The cloud was like ice, and terror and emptiness.
I pulled Mulder away from the cloud and forced him to his feet. Grabbing him under his shoulders I helped him through the stone circle and back to our camp. I scooped up my backpack and we kept on running.
Finally, back on the trail we had to stop for breath. Mulder was pale and sweaty, so I gave him some water from my bottle. We sat down to rest next to a giant fallen redwood. I closed my eyes for just a second, when I heard Mulder get up and begin to go back the way we had come. It was calling him.
"Mulder! Stop!" I called and tackled Mulder from behind. He pulled hard and slipped away, leaving his shoe in my hand. I grabbed him by his belt, trying to drag him back with my body weight.
He turned around and put hands around my neck and began to tighten his fingers. I was choking and could see Mulder's eyes, empty of the man I've known for six years, and knew that the entity was making him do this.
I gave a lurch and pulled myself away, leaving Mulder holding my golden cross and chain in his hands.
"Mulder, this isn't you. Fight it, Mulder. You've got to fight to hold onto yourself," I started coaxing Mulder, trying to recall some of his memories to the surface. I succeeded too well.
Mulder's eyes became alive again, then he looked down at his hand, holding my cross. Then he looked at me with a terrible expression on his face. The cross and chain ran through his fingers, then he turned this time and ran, of his own free will, down that trail and back to the creature.
March 31, Anderson Valley Inn
Walter Skinner put the book down at last. He'd carefully checked the blank pages after the last entry, then closed the diary. He got up from the table and began to pace.
Ever since the X Files had come into his life, he'd had moments of fear when Scully or Mulder (usually Mulder) appeared with a wild story of monsters or other psychic phenomena that just didn't square with a normal world view. But they'd always come back before, with a wild story if not the monster itself. But this monster, this entity, was beyond anything they'd ever run into before. And how do you match up a group of men, armed only with guns, against something that eats souls?
Skinner removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I don't think they can be alive." Skinner whispered to himself. "I don't think they're coming back." He ran his palm over the cover of the book, picturing what Maggie Scully's face would look like when he had to break the news to her. "God damn it to Hell! I'm bringing them back, regardless. And no damned black cloud is going to stop me."
March 31, Anderson Valley Inn
Walter Skinner walked slowly to his car, reaching into his pocket for the keys. He felt defeated, and knew this for dangerous thinking.
"Mr. Skinner!" He heard a female voice behind him and turned around wearily. A blonde woman in jeans and a jacket ran towards him.
"Mr. Skinner, please wait!" The woman came up to him, panting for breath. "I left phone messages for you, but you haven't called back. I'm Mary White, Cheryl's mother. I think I can help look for those agents."
Skinner paused, trying to remember to be tactful with the general public. "Mrs. White, I appreciate your desire to help in this investigation, but I'm afraid I don't see how you can be of assistance. We have forensics professionals scouring the woods for any trace of them."
"I understand that, Mr. Skinner, but your professionals don't know how to deal with a soul-eater when it finds them. How many more lives will be lost to it? By the time Cheryl was found it was too late. There still may be time for your agents, if we can find them quickly." Mrs. White looked earnestly at Skinner, trying to communicate her utter seriousness.
"You know about this thing? Do you know how to kill it?" Hope crept into Skinner's voice. So who cares if she's a, what did Scully call her? Spiritual healer, yeah that's it, he speculated. If she can take this thing down, I want her.
"I can't kill it. Nothing can, because it is the essence of non-life. But I can contain it and send it back to where it came from."
Skinner paused and stared at her for a moment, reluctant to believe this claptrap. Then he nodded. "I'll bring you along. But you follow my orders if it gets dangerous, okay?"
"Yes, I will. Let me go back to my car and get my bag." She ran back to a Ford Falcon stationwagon and retrieved a gym bag from the back, then slung a sword over her shoulder by its embroidered scabbard.
Skinner just closed his eyes and shrugged. This wasn't the first weird experience he'd had in his tenure on the X Files.
Mary's bag and sword were safely stored in the trunk and the two were on their way.
At the park, Skinner helped her retrieve her belongings from the trunk, then cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Why a sword? Is that really necessary?"
"Oh, yes. It's a consecrated sword. I need it to create a magic circle." Mary patted it affectionately before slinging it over her shoulder. "Don't worry, I don't swing it at anybody."
"Yeah, right." Skinner eyed her doubtfully, but led her up the trail. They met Abrams half way.
"Well, what progress?" Skinner asked crisply as Abrams eyed Mary and her sword with dumb fascination.
"We found the remains some sleeping bags and some clothing near where we found the backpack. It looks like Agent Scully dumped out their backpacks and took Mulder's.
"Let's see!" Abrams led the way as Skinner and Mary ran up the trail. When they got there, Mary began looking around the area, then nodded her head.
"They were here. He left first, then she did." Mary began to cast around the area, almost, to Skinner's incredulous eyes, sniffing the air.
She stopped. "They went this way." She began to walk up the trail, then cut through the foliage into an area the agents hadn't deemed worth searching. Finally she came to a stop where two huge boulders stood side by side, their bases covered with underbrush.
She pulled her sword from its sheath and moved the plants aside with the tip and stepped forward between the rocks. Skinner drew his Sig and followed her. Abrams, still bemused, did likewise.
They found themselves in a circle of stones, the ground covered with the bones of at least four bodies, to Skinner's count. Skinner looked up and spotted two forms huddled at the far side.
Scully lay on her side, her arms wrapped tightly around Mulder. She looked as if she hadn't moved in a long time. Her hair was lank and dirty, her face pale and gaunt. Surrounding them both was a circle of table salt.
Skinner felt his stomach clench inside him. They were both dead, then. He walked slowly forward, but Mary got there first.
"She's still breathing, and so is he." Mary knelt down next to them. "Call the paramedics and get some gatorade or sugar water, quickly!"
Skinner ran forward, Abrams nearly bumping into him in his eagerness to get to the agents. Skinner turned on Abrams.
"You heard her, do it!" Abrams turned around and ran.
Skinner knelt next to his agents. Mary had pulled a clear bottle of spring water out of her bag and was giving some to Scully. Slowly Scully's eyes opened and she recognized Skinner.
"You...found us. I didn't think anybody would." She paused then drank more water. "Haven't been able to leave the circle for two days; it wouldn't let me out to get water."
"What happened, Dana? I read your journal." Skinner took the bottle from Scully and poured some into the empty bottle next to Scully. He lifted Mulder and began trying to feed the water to him.
"Mulder ran back to the creature. By the time I got there, it had him. The creature was an opaque black and I could see it pulsate, getting darker and darker the longer it held him. I ran over and managed to push him away from it, over to this corner where I'd made a circle of salt. Then I just prayed. It hasn't been able to get in. We've been here for days."
"Why didn't you go for help?" The water was dribbling out the sides of Mulder's mouth. He wasn't swallowing. Scully put out her hand and began to stroke Mulder's throat while Skinner dripped water. Mulder finally swallowed a little water.
"I couldn't. Mulder has been like this since I took him from the creature. I...I think it succeeded in taking his soul." Scully buried her fist in Mulder's shirt and lowered her head, her hair covering her eyes.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," said Mary. "There's quite a lot of damage, but he's still there."
"He is?" Scully looked up. "Can you do anything for him?"
"I hope so, but not until the entity is disposed of. I'm afraid that this solution involves some danger to Agent Mulder." Mary looked solemnly at Scully. "The entity is tied to him, and won't leave until Mulder's soul has either fled or been devoured. I can cage the entity in another circle, but.."
"You need Mulder as bait," Scully finished, closing her eyes in agony. She opened them again. "Once the creature enters your circle, then what?"
"Mr. Skinner, here, removes Mulder and himself from the circle. I close it and the creature is trapped. From there I can send it back to where it came from, where it won't harm anyone again." Mary's eyes took on a steely glint.
"Why can't I...?" Scully's voice trailed off at both Skinner's frown and Mary's understanding smile.
"My dear, you've been through a lot. This job requires strength and speed. Your heart is in the right place, but you just aren't up to it."
"Are you sure that this will work?" Skinner challenged.
"No," Mary answered evenly. "But it's the best chance for Agent Mulder, and others who might be attacked later."
"All right. Do it," Scully sighed, then clasped Mulder's hand, gave it a squeeze, and let go.
"Oh, and Agent Scully, do keep praying. Your circle is really very good for a beginner. You have quite a bit of natural talent for this sort of work." Scully just stared.
With Skinner's help, Mary cleared a small space in the stone circle, moving bones and clearing rocks and small debris. Then while Scully and Skinner watched, Mary began to work.
She faced east and walked a circle clockwise, first with a small tray of burning incense, then with a flaming candle, a goblet filled from another plastic bottle of spring water and then with a large chunk of crystal. Then she repeated the circle, drawing a line in the dust with her sword, leaving one section open.
"All right, bring Agent Mulder in through the doorway. When I tell you to run, run as fast as you can out the same way. Don't stop for anything, and if the black cloud blocks your way, run through it. But don't let anything stop you."
Skinner's eyes got round, but he followed her instruction, grabbing Mulder under his shoulders and helping him into the circle. Once inside, Skinner remained standing, propping up a swaying Mulder.
It was odd, he reflected, but the noises inside this circle seemed hushed somehow, as though the rest of the world were filtered out. I sure hope so, was his next thought, or we're both dead or worse.
Before long Skinner could see a fog coalescing outside the circle. It grew larger and denser as it formed until it finally floated inside, heading straight for Mulder.
"Now! Run now!" Skinner heard Mary's voice calling. He grabbed Mulder and began to run forward, but the cloud blocked his way. Run through it, gotta run through it. Skinner took a deep breath, shut his eyes and ran like hell.
In the middle of the cloud he heard Mulder cry out and jerk away from him. Skinner grabbed at him, but felt him fall to the ground.
"I'm not gonna lose you now, damn it! Where are you? Mulder! I can't see you!" Skinner groped around in the cloud, which was chilling him to his very bones. An alien, terrible intelligence regarded him from a long way off, and Skinner knew that he would die if it ever really saw him. At the moment he was about to freeze in terror, he felt Mulder's arm beneath his fingertips.
He grabbed Mulder's arm in a bruising grip and dragged him from the cloud. Ahead he saw Mary, sword in hand like an avenging angel, motioning him forward.
Skinner ran toward Mary and the doorway, he and Mulder landing in the dirt as they slid through it. Mary quickly closed the 'doorway' with three sharp strokes of the sword.
While they watched, the dark cloud formed itself into a pillar, then into a mushroom as it struggled to free itself.
Mary smiled with satisfaction. "That ought to hold you," she said. Then she raised her sword with both hands and began reciting words that Skinner didn't understand, but the creature evidently did. It began to thrash and coil inside the circle, then it spun and began to fragment. The air inside the circle went from black, to gray, to transparent.
Mary pronounced the final words and lowered her sword, sheathing it again in its scabbard.
"Is it gone?" Skinner had to clear his throat before he could get the words out. "And just where did it go?"
"Yes, it's back where it belongs. Another dimension, if you will, another spiritual plane of existence. Slip-overs happen occasionally, but not very often, thank the Goddess." Mary wandered over to where Mulder still lay on the ground.
Scully had quickly moved over to him, and sat with his head in her lap, her lips still moving in prayer. Mary smiled approvingly.
"You keep on praying, Agent Scully. That's just what he needs right now, and probably what's kept him salvageable these many days." Mary knelt next to Mulder and lay one hand on his heart, the other on his forehead.
"You mean, if I hadn't been praying for him he might have died?" Scully was incredulous.
"Or the rest of his soul might have slipped away." Mary said absently. "The creature did some more damage in the circle just now, but it might be possible to save him."
"How? What do you need to do?" Scully looked up anxiously. To her eyes, Mulder already looked dead. And she hadn't had a lucid word from him in days.
"Actually, it's what you need to do for him." Mary sat back on her heels. "There is a belief that each of us possesses a certain amount of 'life energy'. You would call it a soul. This is what animates our bodies, and makes us unique. Mulder has just lost the greater portion of this substance and what little is left will dwindle away unless it's stopped."
"What can I do?" Scully drew loving eyes across Mulder's face, then looked up at Mary. "You know how I feel about him."
"Yes, I do. That's why you're the one to transfer some of your life force, your soul, to him. Think of it as a form of blood donation to a sick friend." Mary sat back and waited for the reaction. It came.
"You aren't serious!" Scully was aghast. "This can't be real!"
"Real is what you make it. Try to look at 'extreme possibilities', I think Agent Mulder would say."
Scully was silent, then turned to look at Skinner. He looked as shocked as she felt, then she felt his hand on her shoulder.
"I believe. I can't describe what the inside of that cloud felt like, but I know that it could destroy a man's soul without a second thought. If you need a donor, I'll do it." Skinner met Mary's and Scully's eyes, then turned away in embarassment.
Scully watched Skinner, then turned back to Mary. "I'll do whatever you say will help him, whether I believe in it or not."
"Good. Two donors are better than one, you'll be less tired afterward that way. Let's get this done quickly before we can be interrupted. Come over here, one of you on either side of him and put your hands on his heart. Yes, like that.."
Scully sat on one side of Mulder, Skinner on the other, feeling more than a little foolish. Scully put her hands on Mulder's heart, one on top of the other. Skinner piled his on top of Scully's. Mary sat at Mulder's head and put both hands on his forehead.
"All right now," she said soothingly. "Just focus on Mulder, on how important he is to you. Think about any good memories you have of him and build up a reservoir of your positive feelings about him."
Skinner found himself remembering all the bullshit expense reports he'd laughed over before calling Mulder on the carpet for them. Really, the man should be a comedy writer. But what a brave man. Skinner remembered Mulder investigating when Skinner was accused of murder, insisting on his innocence when nobody else believed, the memories of six years of work came flooding in.
Scully thought about the wise-ass young man in glasses who called her Doctor Scully with such challenge. And he'd never stopped challenging her, never let her be less than her best. She remembered Mulder watching her like a mother hen when she had cancer, then finding her cure. And how he left trails of sunflower seed hulls throughout the office, even though she insisted it was disgusting and unsanitary.
"All right, now pour that energy into him as I direct you." Mary's voice was soft and persuasive and somehow Scully and Skinner knew just what to do.
Skinner could feel energy pouring through his hands and tried his hardest to increase the flow, to push more out.
Scully could feel her hands trembling with effort, although she could never describe exactly what it was that she was doing. But she could feel the strength flowing from Skinner's hands, through hers and into Mulder. She added her share and, like him, tried to pour as much as she could into the mix.
"All right, I think that's enough." Mary's voice was still soft, but compelling.
Skinner took a deep breath and opened his eyes, leaning back in sudden fatigue. He pulled his hands away and saw Scully do the same.
Mulder lay there, no longer pale but flushed with color, sleeping naturally.
Scully put her hand to Mulder's throat and took his pulse. "He seems better."
As she got the words out, Mulder's eyes opened and he yawned.
"Hey, what's going on?" Mulder looked up and caught Scully and Skinner grinning at each other and struggled to sit up. "What's the joke? What'd I miss? How long have I been out?"
"Lay down, Agent Mulder. It looks like the paramedics have arrived and you have a date at the hospital," Skinner said drily as medical personnel began to pour into the clearing.
"I don't need paramedics, I feel great! Hey Scully, don't let them take me! Scully?" Mulder's voice went unheard, because Dana Scully had curled up against Mulder's side and was soundly asleep. Smiling.