Summary: Mulder has a dream of majestic proportions.
Note: Here it is, 2 in the morning... and once again insomnia proves to be the second-cousin-once-removed of bizarre inspiration. And so I type this... with sincerest apologies to Lewis Carroll... This story takes place sometime after "A Spirit of Fun" and "An Ancient Spirit" but I'm not entirely sure when. It is not necessary to read the other stories first, but (as the author) I highly recommend them. (Blowing my own horn? No way. I play piano.)
Mulder had always enjoyed running. The pounding of his feet echoing the faster pounding of his heart, he could lose himself in the rhythm. His mind drifted, aimless and empty. He and Scully had just finished another bogus X-file, successfully exorcising a haunted farmhouse by discovering that the local drug dealers were using it for storage and relying on the 'haunted' reputation to keep their merchandise safe. The two were now on their way to jail. He stopped, slightly breathless, and looked around. The flight back to Washington wasn't until later that night, and the drive to the airport was short enough that there was a pleasant afternoon to kill. He found a likely spot under an old tree several yards from the dirt road and settled back to relax. His eyes slid shut, blocking out the sunlight. It was nice to get away, if only for a few hours.
Something knocked into his shin and skimmed over his legs. Mulder blinked his gaze open to find Scully looking down at him. "I'm late," she stated, slightly breathless, and looked at the gold watch around her wrist.
Mulder blinked again and felt his jaw drop. "Scully?" he questioned, his voice getting unusually high on the second syllable. It was hard to believe the woman in front of him was the same one he'd left at the hotel. She had the usual no-nonsense look on her face and her briefcase caught in one hand. Her blue eyes were concerned and her red hair was expertly dressed. It was the Playboy Bunny outfit that blew him away. The white satin left almost nothing to the imagination. If only Frohike could see her now.
"I'm *late*," she repeated, then turned and dashed across the meadow toward the woods.
"Scully!" he shouted, scrambling to his feet. "Wait!" Mulder didn't know what was going on, but he'd be damned if he was going to let his partner go when she was clearly out of her mind. His legs pumped as he gave chase, slowly closing the distance between himself and the fleeing figure. How the hell she could run like that in four inch spike heels over soft dirt was a mystery. He had almost caught her when they reached the edge of the woods. He saw her fluffy tail flash around an old oak tree. "Scully!" he called, trying to stop her. He followed her around the tree, but she'd disappeared. "Scully?" he tried, panting a bit. He looked around, circling the tree. "Where'd you g---"
His question was cut off as the ground gave out from under him and he was falling...
falling... through darkness... falling... for an eternity... falling... and falling... wind whistling past his ears... falling...
Until a black and white checkerboard tile floor brought his descent to a sudden halt. Mulder let himself lay there for a while, catching his breath. He was amazed that the impact hadn't broken every bone in his body. As it was, he only felt slightly bruised. He pushed up off of the floor and looked around.
He was in a room full of doors. They were of every imaginable shape and color. One he spotted to his left looked as though it were made of solid gold. He tried the handles of a few, but soon discovered all that he tried were locked. "Great," he said in disgust. "Now what?" He backed up, trying to get a different angle on the situation. He bumped into something. Turning, he found a delicate little table that had *not* been there before.
On the table was a little key with a little tag marked 'USE ME' in fancy script.
Mulder looked at the key, then turned to the keyholes on the doors. The little key was too small to open any of the doors. It didn't fit the gold one, or the blue one, or the one made of finely carved maple... but it might fit in the little door that was just suddenly there, the same way the table had appeared. He knelt down and inserted the key.
The little key turned and the little door opened. Laying down so that his cheek pressed against the floor, Mulder was able to look out the little door. He saw trees and grass, and Scully in her bunny costume running further and further away.
"Damn," he muttered. There was no way he could squeeze through that door. He stood up, brushing nonexistent dust from his clothing, and turned back to the table.
On the table was a foaming flask of green liquid with a little tag marked 'DRINK ME' in block letters.
Mulder looked at the flask. The flask sat there and foamed back at him. He picked it up and sniffed at it uncertainly. It smelled faintly of something, something he couldn't quite place. He glared around the room. His lips twisted. He looked at the flask, glanced at the little door, and saw Scully's vanishing form in his mind's eye. With a sigh he closed his eyes and brought the flask to his lips, taking a drink.
The world turned sharply to the left without warning and he hit the floor. His eyes flew open and he stared in amazement as the table and the rest of the room grew before his eyes. No, he was *shrinking* down, smaller and smaller. When the dizziness passed, his six foot frame was down to half an inch. He looked around the floor for a moment, then dashed out the door.
He didn't want to admit it, at first. There was simply no way he could catch up to Scully. Mulder was completely lost in a thick forest. He was in trouble and so was his partner, and there was nothing he could do about it. Still, he pushed onward. He had to try.
"Scully!" he called, his squeaky voice echoing back. "Scully!"
"Who are you?" came a reply from above him. Mulder looked up. He was standing next to a patch of toadstools. Atop the largest of the fungi, shrouded in shadow, sat a giant caterpillar. The caterpillar took a drag on his cigarette and leaned forward into the light, exposing his face. Cancer Man, the caterpillar, blew a smoke ring at Mulder. "Who are you?" he asked again.
Mulder leapt up, clawing and climbing until he stood on the next toadstool, almost on level with Cancer Man. "What's going on? Where's Scully?" he demanded. The caterpillar blew another ring of smoke, causing Mulder to choke and cough.
"Who are you?" The repetition was starting to seriously annoy Mulder.
"I am Special Agent Fox Mulder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," he snarled. "You know that. Now, where's Scully?"
"I did not ask your name. I asked 'who are you?'" The caterpillar chuckled deeply. "You cannot catch the white rabbit." He flickered the ashes from his cigarette. "Not as small as you are." Another flare, this time a match, and another cigarette began to burn. "Not as helpless as you are. Not even knowing *who* you are."
Mulder's fists clenched. "What do I do? How do I reverse the effects of the liquid I drank?"
"You could eat some of the mushroom you're sitting on. That may help you." The caterpillar was losing interest. "Or it may not. The choice is yours." Cancer Man smiled. "But the game is mine."
Mulder reached down and ripped off a piece of the mushroom cap. He eyed the caterpillar warily. "I always knew you were just a bug."
The coughing chuckle sounded again. "But I'm a very big bug. And I *know*."
"You know what?" The question was slightly garbled by the mushroom in his mouth. The world tilted to the right and he fell from the toadstool, followed by the sound of choking laughter.
"I know the truth!" the caterpillar shouted. Then came the darkness.
Mulder blinked his eyes open to bright sunlight. He was flat on his back, looking up through the trees at a clear blue sky. He sat up carefully, relieved to find himself back at his normal size.
"It's about time you woke up," a voice noted. The sound came from behind him and slightly up. He stood and turned, looking for the source.
His jaw dropped. That seemed to be happening a great deal recently. "Jessica?" She smiled silkily at him. The dead seventeen-year-old was reclining on a tree branch about a foot above his head. Her green eyes blinked lazily at him.
"Yes?" she purred. She rolled off of the branch and dropped gracefully to the ground. Stalking toward him with a sultry stride, she reached forward and forced his jaw shut, his teeth coming together with an audible click. Her black hair was loose about her shoulders and her green eyes sparkled. It was the skin-tight black leather cat-suit that really caught his attention. Why was every female dressed like, well, one of the stars from his 'entertainment' tapes?
"What are you doing here?"
She laughed. "This is *your* wonderland, Mulder. I'm here because something in you thinks I should be here." He paused, processing that bit of information. "How can I find Scully?" he asked hopefully. His encounters with Jessica in the past had ended in his favor. Chances were good this would not prove to be the exception to the rule.
Jessica danced away from him, her tail lashing. "Just follow the path," she cried. Mulder looked down, only slightly surprised to find himself on a clearly marked trail. He started after the girl, doing his best to keep one eye on her and one eye on the path, lest either unexpectedly disappear. Which is why he stumbled to a halt at the fork in the road.
"Which way now?" he inquired.
Jessica sat, perching on the boulder which divided the path in two. Her right hand moved, fingers pointing to the left. "I recommend this way." Her left hand moved, fingers pointing to the right. "I recommend that way." She smiled, her crossed arms pointing in totally opposite directions. "It all depends on where you want to go." His eyes widened as she started to fade from sight, one body part at a time, until only her smile and eyes remained. One eye winked, and the last of her disappeared, leaving nothing but her laughter on the wind.
Mulder raised his hands, massaging his forehead. He looked a both paths and shrugged, choosing the right.
Had he waited a bit longer he would have seen Scully run up the way he'd just come and turn to the left.
Mulder was able to work quickly up to a ground eating jog. He periodically checked left and right, hoping for a glimpse of white satin and red hair. He found nothing but the seemingly endless woods. There was no trace of the scantily-clad Scully.
The sun had not moved in the sky, yet it seemed to him that he'd been moving for hours. He stumbled, his foot catching an exposed tree root. Cursing under his breath, Mulder pushed himself up and glared behind him at the offender. When he turned back he noticed two things. First, the clearly marked trail he'd been following vanished into blank dirt.
Second, there were two men standing in front of him. Both wore identical glowing neon orange polyester bellbottom jumpsuits, open to the navel, and propeller-topped beanies. Mulder cringed away from the '70s disco fashions, shielding his eyes. Peering between his fingers cut down the glare enough for him to recognize the men as his informants, Deep Throat and Mr. X.
"Well, well, brother," commented Mr. X, "what have we here?"
Deep Throat circled around the dumbfounded Mulder. "Could be a new breed of game, brother," he answered. "Sent to us by the Queen."
"Indeed, brother. Should we kill it?" Mr. X drew his gun, aiming at Mulder's head.
"I think we should, brother," Deep Throat replied, also drawing a gun. Mulder's attention swiveled from one to the other. Each took up a duelist's stance, gun trained on Mulder's brains. Feeling like the monkey in the middle, he dropped to the ground as the guns fired. He looked up, expecting to find two dead bodies. Instead he found Mr. X standing with a suction cup arrow stuck to the center of his forehead. Turning, Mulder discovered Deep Throat had been hit with a paint-ball, a large fuchsia stain spreading over the tacky orange jumpsuit, reminiscent of one of Mulder's neckties. Mulder decided to run.
Taking to his heels, he soon left the two men far behind.
Mulder finally let himself stop. He pressed his back against a tree trunk, closing his eyes and gasping for air. "Things just keep getting curiouser and curiouser, don't they?" asked an annoyingly familiar voice. Mulder leaned back and looked up to find Jessica once again sprawled over one of the tree branches above him.
"What is going on, Jessica?" he asked. His heart rate had returned to normal and he stopped panting. Looking back over his shoulder, he squinted at the way he'd come, picturing the Tweedle twins and their weapons. "Two men just tried to kill me, and one of them is supposed to be dead."
"You seem to forget, I'm *dead*," the voice was at his elbow. Mulder jumped, finding Jessica had somehow moved silently from above him to next to him in the blink of an eye. "The rules don't apply, here."
He grabbed her shoulders, shaking her lightly in frustration. "Do you know where Scully is?"
"Do you know the way out of this place?"
"Are you going to share the information?"
Mulder shook her a bit harder, then suddenly released her. "Why not?" He was nearly pleading with her. He let himself slide down until he was sitting at the tree's base. Jessica sat in his lap, curling into his chest. She looped her arms around his neck and rested her cheek against his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her, quietly ignoring the fact that she had been dead for several months and therefore should be a rotting corpse, not the picture of perfect seventeen-year-old health. "I'm sorry," he admitted.
"Not a problem," she replied, patting his cheek. "You're just worried about Scully. It's not necessary. She's in no danger."
"Are you sure of that?"
She grinned at him. "Absolutely. Scully is in no danger here. She never was, and she never will be."
He sighed into her hair. "Now what?"
Jessica laughed lightly. "Well, as comfortable as this may be, you really should be moving on. There's more to see."
"Can't I just click my heels together three times and wish myself home?"
Jessica stood, pulling Mulder to his feet. "Wrong fairy tale, you dolt." She pulled a small pocket watch from her decolletage. Flicking it open, she frowned slightly. She reached out and took Mulder's hand in her own, pulling him after her as she headed off in a seemingly random direction. "Come on, we'll be late," she said, her tail lashing.
"Late for what?" he asked, his feet moving mechanically as he followed after her. He couldn't figure out if the tail was a trick of the costume or if she was actually turning into a cat.
"For tea, of course."
"ROTATE!" Mulder blinked in surprise as they walked into the clearing. There was a large wooden table set with eight places. Teapots and covered dishes and plates of sweets rested on its surface. And the shout he'd heard as he stepped out of the woods was that of... "Byers?" he asked. Seated at three of the eight chairs were the Lone Gunmen. Byers was looking rather bizarre in an oversized suit and extra large top-hat with the size card stuck in its brim. Frohike was dressed in a russet velvet tux with tails and a set of bunny ear much like those he'd seen Scully in. Langly was dressed much like Frohike, but his clothes were green and a set of mouse ears perched atop his head. Jessica had released his hand and was now standing next to Langly, making small braids in his blonde hair.
"Hello! Won't you join us for tea?" Byers asked, offering a seat and a cup. Frohike was peering into the woods. Langly bit into his cup, preferring it to the tea, and chewed thoughtfully while doing his best to coerce Jessica into his lap.
"Uh, sure," Mulder said, taking the seat. "Thanks." He raised an eyebrow. "What are you guys doing ---"
"ROTATE!" Byers shouted. Instantly the Lone Gunmen stood, moved randomly to another seat, and sat down. The tea party proceeded as though nothing had happened. Byers peered at the still seated Mulder. "We can't be too careful. Never know when someone's going to infiltrate the party."
"There's an international plot to reduce the populace to mindless zombies by spiking the tea," confided Frohike. "Have an eclair."
Mulder looked at the goo-filled pastry and then at Langly, who was now licking globs of chocolate custard off of Jessica's fingers. It was rather nauseating. "Ah, no. Thanks."
Frohike shrugged. "Your loss," he said before biting into the same eclair, squirting yellow custard across the table. "Damn. The goo's the best part."
Byers pointed out a plate of cookies, which Mulder accepted. "You should be on your way to see the Queen."
"What queen?" Mulder asked, distracted by the sight of Jessica lobbing bonbons into Langly's open mouth. They seemed to be keeping score with the braids she'd made in his hair. Mulder was going to have to get her away from these guys. They were alright, but not the best company for an impressionable, if dead, teenage girl.
"The Queen of Hearts, of course," was the answer. "ROTATE!" This time Mulder participated in the seat changing ritual. All resumed their seats and their activities. Most of Langly's face was now chocolate coated due to Jessica's poor aim. He was trying to get her to kiss the mess away. Mulder silently grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into the safety of his own lap.
"Party pooper," she whispered into his ear. His reply was cut off by the Lone Gunmen Chorus.
Mulder's head snapped around. There she was, still in the white satin Playboy bunny costume. Frohike was instantly on his feet. "Dana!" he growled. A mad chase around and around and around the table ensued, Scully only a few paces ahead of the near-drooling Frohike. Jessica was out of Mulder's lap and on her feet in a flash. One foot shot out, and Frohike fell flat on his face as he tripped over it. Scully paused on the other side of the table. "I'm late," she stated. "We're late." Then she turned and ran off.
"Scully!" Mulder shouted, on his feet, he leaped over the table and went flying after her.
"Mulder!" Jessica called after his retreating form. "Beware the Jabberwocky!"
Mulder cursed the woods around him, his blistered feet, life in general, and Scully, who had once again managed to outrun him in her four inch spike heels. At least this time the trail didn't disappear. He followed it at a slower pace, his eyes still searching for his partner.
When the trees gave way to fields, he was uninterested except that he could see farther. When the fields filled with grapevines he became a bit worried. When the house he'd grown up in came over the horizon, he gaped in pained shock. While the rest of this place was sunlit and bright, his childhood home sat under a black thundercloud.
He approached the house, not knowing why, really, but unable to do anything else. The yard was the same. The door squeaked the same way. Inside, the wallpaper, carpeting and furniture were the same. It was as though the place had been preserved perfectly for twenty years.
Unbidden he moved through the house until he entered the *room*. The last place he'd seen the eight-year-old girl that was his sister. True, Sam had returned, in a way. But the clones weren't really Samantha. They weren't the little girl he'd failed.
"Careful, Mulder," Jessica said as she materialized at his side. "You'll call it here."
"Call what here?" he asked, not really listening. He was too far into his own misery.
"The Jabberwocky," she replied. Outside of the house a wild wind began to blow. "It's coming," she said. Her hands wrapped around his arm and she pulled at him. "Come on, we have to get out of here. Before it comes!"
Mulder looked down at her. He remembered her death. It had been his fault. She had died in his arms, her throat slit by a madman he'd been following. She was another girl he'd been unable to protect. Another young life, gone before it had a chance.
Outside the wind grew louder, shrieking like damned souls in hell. Jessica was pulling frantically at him, trying desperately to drag him from the house. "Damn it, Mulder! Stop calling to it!" she cried.
His fault. She was afraid because of something he was doing. Scully was running around in this mad place, alone. Cancer Man, Mr. X and Deep Throat were out there, each dangerous to him and her. And he couldn't catch Scully. Or calm Jessica's fear.
The windows imploded, showering them with glass shards. Jessica was finally able to pull him from the room and then out of the house. "We have to run!" She pulled at his hand but it was no use.
Another voice had his attention. "Fox," it called. "Help me, Fox." A little girl's voice, pleading, begging her big brother to save her. "Fox." A second voice joined it. "Mulder," it echoed. "I need your help, Mulder." Fear from his partner, a phone away. "Mulder." The black cloud that had floated above the house descended, boiling and bubbling, swirling into a vortex that was all eyes and claws and teeth.
Jessica's hand flew across his face, slapping him back to his senses. "Run!" she demanded, pushing him away. "It's the Jabberwocky!" Mulder obeyed. Together they ran, not looking back. But they couldn't block out the screams.
Mulder dropped to his knees. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had to run so far. His feet hurt, his legs ached, his lungs and throat were on fire. "Jessica," he gasped, "are we far enough yet?" There was no answer. "Jessica?"
He looked around. He was kneeling in a well tended garden. Flowers of every shape and size as far as the eye could see, and all of them shades of red. He'd been so concerned with running that his surroundings had faded away. And so, apparently, had Jessica.
"You're late." Mulder looked up at Scully. She was standing with her hands on her hips and glaring at him with one of the many Looks he'd grown used to over the years.
"You've become really time obsessed, you know?" he asked as he staggered to his feet. Her hand rested lightly on his arm as she escorted him through the garden. "Late for what?"
"Your appointment with the Queen," she replied. They'd arrived at a croquet field. There were the Lone Gunmen, Langly and Frohike rooting as Byers smacked his ball through one of the wickets. And there was Jessica, taking careful aim at another ball. Mulder gaped when he realized the mallets they were using weren't wood or flamingos. Each player held a silvery-gray EBE by its ankles and carefully rammed its head into the desired ball, sending the spheres through the wire targets.
Most bizarre of all, however, was the Queen of Hearts. It was Assistant Director Walter Skinner, decked out in drag. "Mulder!" he bellowed as he approached the two agents. "Where have you been?"
"Well, sir, I ---"
"I don't want to hear your wild theories and excuses. The Bureau needs real agents and real facts. Proof, Agent Mulder. I need proof!"
Mulder was having sever difficulties taking Skinner seriously. Not that the AD didn't look positively *smashing* in the red velvet dress and ermine cape. The powdered wig added almost another foot to his already impressive frame. "Yes, sir. You see, I ---"
"Agent Mulder! You are a disgrace to the Bureau!" At this point Mulder noticed the caterpillar sitting on Skinner's shoulder, calmly smoking. Skinner turned slightly, thinking, listening to the slimy bug whispering in his ear. "Off with his head!" he declared.
There was a flurry of noise behind Mulder, he turned and stared as a deck of cards came charging toward him. They surrounded him, cutting him off from Scully, from Skinner, from everything. Then the card-soldiers removed their helmets. Fifty-two Agent Kryceks stared at Mulder maliciously. Fifty-two spears were raised. And Mulder was drowning in a sea of Kryceks. The card-men whirlpooled around him, joined by the cloud of teeth and claws he knew as the Jabberwocky. And was falling...
falling... through darkness... falling... for an eternity... falling... and falling... guilt and pain roaring through him... falling...
In desperation he screamed, "Scully!"
"Mulder! For God's sake. WAKE UP!" He blinked rapidly. Scully was kneeling in front of him, shaking him. "Scully?" he asked.
"Yes. What were you dreaming about? You were thrashing around so much you could have hurt yourself."
He considered telling her, for about two seconds. "Nothing. Just another crazy dream." His smile was lopsided and a bit uncertain. "What are you doing out here?" he asked, realizing he was back under the tree he'd originally sat under before the whole lunacy began.
"We're late," she stated. Mulder stared at her. "The flight, remember? You've been out here all afternoon. I finally decided to come looking for you." She shook her head and gave him one of the Looks, the one that said 'what am I supposed to do with you?' "If we run back, we might make it without breaking the speed limit." She looked at her watch. "At least not by much," she added.
Mulder rose and helped her to her feet. "I don't think I want to do anymore running today, Scully." Together they headed back toward town. Scully was humming under her breath. "What's the song?" he asked.
"It's 'I'm Late'. You know, from Disney's 'Alice in Wonderland'? The white rabbit sings ---"
He cut her off. "Please, don't sing that song. Ever. Okay?"
She looked at him, puzzled. "Okay."
Neither agent noticed the raven-haired girl watching them from the heights of the treetop. Jessica quietly stifled her laughter and faded from sight.
THE END (for now)