Title: Vacation
Author: Livengoo

Summary: Cthulhu meets Fox Mulder, with guest appearances by the Miskatonic Beach Volleyball team. A saga of terror and power spikes.

Hiya. This is my first real post here, but I've got my flame retardant suit out and am ready for folks to shoot me. I probably deserve it for the critter I'm about to lard onto your board. I chortled my way through writing it, hopefully you won't groan your way through reading it. I am writing and posting it in segments, any of you can and write this as a group effort. I have yet to figure out how to complete it. Besides, I'd kill to see an X-Files/Cthulhu/Miskatonic U./Tongue-in-cheek round robin story. Anybody else out there game? Or is this one too gamey?

"Well, even civil servants and FBI crypto-cops have take vacations SOME time," mused Dana Scully as she wrestled her car through the traffic leaving BWI airport. She'd just dropped her partner, Fox Mulder, off at the departure deck.

The ride was ostensibly to save him the cost of satellite parking that only a certified space cadet would pay, but in reality she just wanted to see what he'd wear when he REALLY went off-duty. The ghastly Hawaiian shirt and scruffy blue jeans would keep her sniggering for a week. He'd just smirked and told her it was protective camouflage. Ah, well. She idly wondered where he was going.

Somehow, Mulder and vacations seemed a contradiction in terms. She'd have to fish for clues or souvenirs when he got back.

Fox Mulder cracked his knuckles and worked his shoulders as he got up from the reading table. A suspicious librarian swooped in to claim the venerable tome he'd been reading. He grinned and picked up his bag, heading for the exit of the Spengler-Venkhman wing of the Miskatonic University Memorial Library.

Nothing like a morning of reading about demonic possession and repulsive creatures to make alien abductions (SPACE-alien abductions he reminded himself, enjoying the purple prose of a National Inquirer phrase) seem normal and rational. Hell, he should send a copy to Scully!

It was bright outside, and the cheap sunglasses he'd picked up in town were slipping down his nose. He played eeny-meeny miny with his options, trying to decide between sailing, hiking or the local museum. He finally opted for hiking and decided to head for the hills.

They watched, restlessly, as the human male wandered into the hollow. The ones deeper in the cave chittered and clacked, hungry, but their elders restrained them. The daylight was not a time to feed.

Mulder scuffed through underbrush at the ridge, and tumbled down the when the dirt gave way. He fetched up against a pile of rocks at the bottom.

It took him a few minutes to catch his breath and rub the ache out of his twisted ankle. Then he turned his attention to the . . . barrow? Campfire site? Whatever that he'd tumbled onto. The thing was about eight feet long, and four feet across. There were odd marks on some of the scattered stones, but nothing clear enough to see in the fading sunlight.

He snapped a few shots, more from habit and to prove he'd been somewhere outside on his vacation than for any real reason. The sun dropped below the lip of the ridge, and he shivered. Suddenly the hollow no longer seemed pleasant or scenic, just claustrophobic. He looked around, trying to find a cause of his unease, but failed. He drew a deep breath, then scrambled up the hill and headed back down the hill, telling himself it was just low blood sugar and failing miserably.

It was full twilight by the time Mulder reached his car, and the mosquitoes were making bombing runs on his head. He knew the crucifix wouldn't keep them away, but wondered briefly about garlic. He was all to happy to unlock the door, at least until he put his hand on the handle. Mulder yanked his hand away, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the slime that coated his fingers. Shivering- at the cold? - he raised the goo and sniffed at it. It had an odor like old squid and he flicked it off, revolted, and wiped his hand on the grass, reminding himself that Eugene Tooms was, indeed, dead. Mulder studied the door of his car again, wondering if anyone had recognized him, maybe played a practical joke. It seemed unlikely, but Miskatonic was a strange university.

A hot shower and a good dinner considerably improved Mulder's mood. The squid-goo was starting to look like a teenager's prank now that he was under the mellowing influence of good scotch and a perfect, medium-rare steak. After all, weird shit was for work. You couldn't expect it on your vacation.

The hotel bar had a cheesy band that was covering Elvis hits. The sound drove him from the hotel in search of something better. Miskatonic lived up to its university town status by offering a good selection of dance bars, sports bars, bar bars, and, a folk music/country-western mutation. Mulder cycled through all of them, and finally wandered back to the sports bar where he joined a crowd in jeering a truly abominable Redskins game. He loved the 'Skins, but sometimes they made him believe in mass amnesia. The only way he could justify a game as bad as they were playing tonight was if they all simultaneously forgot how to play football.

It was a relief when the phone rang at about 10:00. Scully's voice was a welcome distraction from the rout on the screen. "Hi, Mulder, it's me."

"Anything special, life getting dull without me?"

"Life is just fine."

"Obviously YOU haven't been watching the Redskins"

He heard her choke on a snigger.

"Actually, I was just too curious to wait. I can't stand it. YOU, on vacation?

Where are you Mulder? Look, there's a betting pool in the office . . . if you tell me I could win about $250."

"Scully! I'm appalled! I thought you were above such an ethical breach. I'm having a very nice time up in the mountains - except that something gooed my car."

"Something. Gooed. Your. Car?"

"Ummhmm. Smelled like old squid. We have any giant, mountain squid in the X-Files that you remember?"

"Mulder. Things don't goo cars. People goo cars."

Mulder thought about it, but left that one to marinate in its own juices. They chatted a few more minutes, with Scully trying to weasel his location out of him. He finally promised that if any murders or mutilated cattle showed up he'd call, and they hung up.

The tip of Dana Scully's tongue edged between her lips as she counted the money she'd just collected from the guys in the fax room. This betting pool on Fox Mulder's vacation was proving tremendously lucrative. The main kitty of $250.00 was untouched, pending a calculation of whose vacation guess came closest on a poiprior supernatural activity, vacation quality, and unusual activity while Mulder was there. Scully was cleaning up, however, on the side bets; the accounting department and Financial Crimes Unit went down first, decoyed by the Hawaiian shirt (they had bet that Mulder was investigating reports of the goddess Pele hitchhiking in Hawaii). The secretarial cartel had coughed up $300.00 after their bet on the California Winchester House lost out when Scully had tracked his plane ticket to a New England airport. The rental car had thrown off any more definite trail, and Scully was going clue by clue while the Violent Crimes Unit was putting their faith in Amityville. Even handicapped by being forbidden to trace his pay phone calls, Scully figured she had the inside track. At this rate, if Mulder took two vacations a year she could tack a $1,500.00 bonus on to her paycheck.

As she deposited the money at the bank machine, Scully wondered again where Mulder was. She might call tonight just to see how he was. Money aside, she just couldn't picture him on vacation. Besides, she wanted to know if his car had been vandalized again. And he'd be glad to know his fish were doing well . . . and anyway, she just wanted to hear his voice, though she didn't feel comfortable admitting that even to herself.

Fox Mulder was too embarrassed to wear his Redskins T-shirt after the horrible way they had played the day before, so he spent the morning buying a Miskatonic U T-shirt and sweats, and shopping for souvenirs and gifts. He found an "I the Necronomicon" bumper sticker to add to the litter on his desk, and a pretty blouse for Scully that had whippoorwills embroidered on it. The clerk told him it was bad luck, but Mulder thought she'd probably prefer it to the little erasers shaped like skulls.

He was done by lunch time, and headed out to the lake to sample the Miskatonic Town Pride Festival arts and craft. He parked his car among the Chevy Suburbans ranked in the lot that flanked the University beach volleyball "courts" and got out to mingle. A few minutes wandering along the lake left him with strange impressions of robust, largely blonde coeds and frat boys and the dark, sallow townies, most of whom shared Matt Groening overbites and a strong family resemblance. He was musing on this when a volleyball caught him in the chest, almost followed by an extremely, er, healthy looking blonde.

'Hi! I'm Cindy, like, I'm sorry I hit you. Usually we just the cars."

Mulder grinned and handed her volleyball back, momentarily overwhelmed by her exuberance - or that's what he'd have told Scully. The momentary thought of his partner made Cindy look extremely airheaded by comparison and he felt a little wistful that a good, red-blooded American male hobby like idle lust should be so easily wrecked.

He didn't have long to think about it, though, as Cindy trapped his arm against her side and started dragging him towards the game, "So, I haven't seen you around town before. Are you a grad student or something? are you new here? what's your name? I'm Cindy. . ."

"So you said, I'm Fox Mulder, I really am not very good at this," he protested as she tried to shove him into the back rank of the game.

"Don't be silly! You don't have to be GOOD to play on our team," she twinkled. "C'mon Fox, you'll have fun!"

"Mulder, " he corrected as he returned a nasty drive. "Call me Mulder." "Everybody, this is Fox! He'll be playing on our team."

He tried to act inconspicuous while sipping a much-needed beer and nibbling his way through a piece of pizza desecrated with pineapple and Canadian bacon. When he

was sure that Cindy was safely absorbed in the intellectual rigors of a particularly vicious game he wandered off into the warren of stalls and booths.

Crystals predominated, with some cute leather work and musical instruments, but what really caught his eye was a small, squalid booth tucked under a tree.

Mulder tried to no avail to identify several of the decorated skins and skulls that were on display, and finally turned to the dark, coarse-skinned man who watched him malevolently from behind his cash box.

Essaying a friendly smile, Mulder approached with a paperweight crafted of a particularly vicious-looking skull embedded in plastic.

"Excuse me, I don't think I recognize this. Could you tell me?"

"'S a skull. What, you can't see?"

"But what kind of animal? What's it from?"

"Look, do you want it or are you just trying to make conversation, I'm busy here."

A few more equally surly replies sent Mulder off with an unidentified furless animal and bad mood. The volleyball players had degenerated into alcoholic stupors and the booths were packing up in the waning afternoon light when he finally recovered his car and retreated to his hotel for dinner and a peaceful evening reviewing his notes.

At least, it was peaceful until about 1:30 a.m. when the police dropped by to make his acquaintance.

"Excuse us, Mr. Mulber,"


"Mulder. Sorry. Would you mind coming with us?"

Three hours spent in the tender care of the Miskatonic Police Department established that there had been a murder and, as the token stranger in town, Mulder had naturally come to mind as the suspect of choice. It took several phone calls and a brief background check to persuade his "hosts" that this case would not be so quickly and easily resolved. It also provided Mulder with leverage to ask if he could help. After all, he really couldn't think of how else he'd keep himself occupied for the rest of his vacation, and a good crime was much more appealing than dodging Cindy for a week.

When he got a look at the body his stomach turned and his curiosity sat up and took notice. "It's pretty bad," agreed the local doctor, who was acting as M.E. in a crunch. "I've never seen anything like this, though there are always stories."

"This area has had people with their faces, um, removed before?" Mulder found it hard to believe that a town could have had such a murder and not had it permanently installed in local folklore.

"Well, people don't like to talk about it, but Miskatonic had a lot of murders about 100 years back. You get used to the little stuff like the lights, and screams in the mountains and such, but this kind of thing , well . . ."

"Would you have records of this?"

"Used to," offered the sergeant who was occupying the door as far from the body as he could get. "Hell, my granddad used to talk about this kind of thing all the time, but we didn't pay him no mind."

"What about the records?" asked Mulder, circling the body and making notes of what he found. The head, what was left of it, had been liberally basted in goo, kind of squid smelling goo, he realized with a shudder. A jar of the stuff was labeled for local analysis. A second was set aside to go to Scully on the QT.

He had no jurisdiction, but if they were letting him contribute he could probably intrigue her into helping. The same goo puddled on the victim's ample chest, over a wound where her heart had been. The previously nubile blonde could have been one of the volleyball players and Mulder was vaguely relieved when the doctor assured him her name had not been Cindy. She'd died of the wound to the chest, the rest had been done after. The sergeant had no desire to speculate, but the police captain, a dark man named Joe Hazlewood, agreed with Mulder that this probably wasn't a simple passion killing. He held his opinion though, when Mulder suggested that this might be burned in a cataclysmic fire about fifty years before, as well as copies in coincidental fires the same night.

It was after dawn when Mulder left the morgue, vial of vile goo in his pocket. His car was steaming in the morning sun. Tired as he was, he couldn't miss the glaze that smeared the handle and door on the driver's side. The sergeant was sympathetic, but told him lots of cars got that treatment. Lots of houses little closer than was good for anyone. Well, he had a "pristine" sample in his pocket. He could afford to sacrifice the stuff on the car. He got in through the passenger's side and was only too glad to dispose of the evidence of automotive tampering with the help of a very busy carwash.

Scully's phone rang, making her jump in her seat, where she was reviewing files.

The last two days had been very peaceful, absolutely routine, and the phone startled her more than it usually would. "Scully."

"Scully? Mulder. Listen, you know my giant mountain squid? I think it's a face-eating giant squid."

"Mulder, I do have work to do. Are you so bored you're making up stories?"

"No, no, really! There's a murder up here. I'm helping, unofficially -"

"Skinner's going to kill you -"

"Only if he finds out. Look, I'm sending down a vial of goo, do you think you could look it over? Oh, and check the files for Miskatonic University and town in Massachusetts."

"Misk . . .Mulder? You're not making this up?"

""The goo should be arriving FedEx."

" . . .Be careful."

Mulder hung up and Scully sat back and thought, then scrambled down the hall for the X-files. A quick review of the files convinced her that whatever was going on, it was definitely their kind of case. It was probably some killer who read too many Lovecraft books, but Mulder would have a better idea of how to proceed than most. She hoped he'd talk the local police into requesting FBI help. She had a feeling he could use backup on this one, someone to keep his mind tethered to earth where he was more likely to find his killer.

Heather Wilson had been a hiker. Mulder had spent a painful morning interviewing Cindy Lee, her roommate and, and fighting off dinner invitations from her. Cindy knew remarkably little about her roommate of two weeks, mainly that Heather had not dyed her roots often enough, waxed her legs and liked to hike in the local hills.

Mulder managed to shake Cindy off and decided it was safer to go for a hike to see the murder site than it would be to remain in town. He found himself retracing his route of two days before, to the hollow where he had photographed the stone pile. He avoided tumbling over the ridge this time, but found himself shivering at an unexpected sight: where a rough pile of stone had huddled in the bowl of the hollow, a finished-looking rectangle dominated the natural amphitheater now. It carried fresh-looking dark brown stains in several spots. Mulder slowly worked his way down to it, puzzling over how it could have been built so quickly, and without disturbing the surrounding shrubs. Outside of the - altar - he could find no sign of any change since he'd been there before. He wished Scully was there, he could really use her level head.

Dana Scully finished combing her light auburn hair, checked her reflection in Logan Airport's restroom mirror, and straightened her jacket. She'd always hated commuterce she . . . returned they were a particular hardship. She hadn't had time to prepare, either. Skinner had called her in that morning to let her know that the Miskatonic Municipal Police Department had formally requested assistance in a murder investigation, that they suspected a ritual murder or possible serial killer. Naturally, she wouldn't have to work alone . . .

"In fact," grated Skinner. "You will be working this with your usual partner. He has . . . preceded you there." She doubted he could sound more disgusted.

"Perhaps you should investigate Mulder AS an X-File. He certainly seems to have a gift for finding these things."

Scully took a deep breath and waffled with great style. She was tremendously relieved when he told her the flight times and dismissed her. She really didn't want to discuss any knowledge of this case that might have preceded official notice.

"Oh, and Agent Scully," she turned, hand on door knob. "You'll have to withdraw from the office pool. You'll have inside knowledge." She wasn't sure, but that might have been hidden behind his glasses.

Now she was picking up her baggage and rental car for the drive into the western Massachusetts hills. The file she'd brought with her gave directions, but also was rife with hints of unspeakable evil and other standard features of an X-file. On the whole, she'd rather talk to Mulder and get her own impressions than trust the urban legends and creative fiction of this particular file.

The drive to Miskatonic was long but scenic. The hilly, wooded countryside was a pleasant change from Washington's mausoleum architecture and bland suburbs. Scully pulled into town early in the afternoon and headed for the hotel where Mulder was supposed to be staying. She stood outside his door, waiting for any answer and finally gave up and headed to the manager's office to rent the room next door. She dropped off her bags and went to get something to eat.

The tuna sandwich and salad came liberally seasoned with a side helping of gossip. The town was buzzing about a gruesome murder in the hills, and rumors of past killings were flying faster than commuters in the breakdown lane. One particularly pneumatic blonde (suicide blonde, was Scully's assessment. Dyed by her own hand) was the strange attractor for this chaotic mess.

Scully edged in through the crush of tall blond Ken-dolls and thin, dark, sallow types who were hanging on the blonde's every, breathy phrase. She was describing her reactions to identifying her roommate's body in lurid terms. Scully listened carefully, noting the important details, until the blonde, (Cindy? Was that what the waitress called her?) started gushing about the "cute detective" who she wished had questioned her. Scully had about tuned her out when Cindy blurted that she would really like to be interrogated by "that Fox guy!"

She couldn't tune THAT out, and felt distinctly irritated with Mulder, although she wasn't quite sure why. When Cindy hopped off her stool and paid up Scully found herself following her out of the restaurant.

"Hi, you're Cindy? I couldn't help but hear you lost your roommate, it must be hard on you. I'm Dana Scully, I think you met my partner."

"Oh! You mean Fox?" Cindy leaned in close and winked. Scully found herself noticing that Cindy's roots were dark. "I guess you must be why I couldn't get him to ask me out, I mean, I hinted and threw my volleyball to him and didn't even hit his car, and like, EVERYthing!" Scully was beginning to see why she hadn't found Mulder at his hotel. He was probably hiding.

"He is very nice. What about your roommate? Did you find the body?"

"No, that was one of these locals. You know, their families all come from someplace called Dunwich or something. Sounds like a donut brand. All the guys here have overbites or are really airheaded," Cindy sighed. "That's why I noticed your Fox."

Scully was starting to feel that the x-file had talked about the wrong horror in this town. The horror in Miskatonic DEFINITELY had a name! Maybe the roommate had committed suicide.

Scully felt profound relief when she saw a Ford drive by with her partner at the wheel. She deftly distracted Cindy by pointing a sale on hair care products and dashed for the hotel. Mulder had made it to his room and was reviewing his notes when she knocked. His smile of greeting was incandescent, and she thought she detected equal parts of welcome, genuine pleasure and relief that it was her.

"I'm glad you're here, I can really use another viewpoint."

"Mulder, this town is definitely an x-file. You wanted me to be open to extreme possibilities, well I'm open to the possibility that the Stepford Wives are being constructed here."

Mulder groaned. "I take it you met Cindy."

Scully grinned. "You know she's been trying to 'get a date' with you. Said she threw her volleyball 'and everything' at you."

"Think I could write a paper? 'Courtship Rituals of the Beach Volleyball Tribe?"

"I think you'd better show me the autopsy report. I've had enough horror, let's get down to evidence."

Dana Scully yawned and glanced at the clock, only 10:30. She noticed Mulder was sound asleep, sprawled across a sheaf of printouts: alt.sex.fetish.cthulhu was on top. She'd never believed Mulder could get tired enough to fall asleep on something like THAT, but he had been up for more than two days. She smiled at a sudden rush of affection, he looked so sweet sound asleep, no defensive humor or sardonic expressions keeping the world at arms-length. Then she snorted, exasperated at her own reactions. Mulder was a dear man, and a great partner, but she did NOT need to be thinking shaky-knees thoughts about a man who chased after little green men and giant liver flukes. Professional, Dana, be professional! She reminded herself.

But professional didn't mean she couldn't get a blanket and cover him up, it WAS getting cold. She folded up her computer and let herself out. He never stirred, and she hoped he'd sleep through until morning. She turned and looked around the parking lot of the Miskatonic Motor Lodge, indistinct in fog and almost empty. Miskatonic, she thought, vacation haven for weird horror fans and other assorted oddballs. Including, she supposed, Fox Mulder. What had ever made him choose such a dismal place for a vacation, he had the absolute WORST taste in hotels and, she added, holiday spots. Someone had to talk to him about his sense of fun. Maybe next time he'd follow the Financial Unit's suggestions and hunt hitchhiking goddesses in someplace nice, like Hawaii, or look for virgins in the Virgin Islands.

Her own room beckoned and she was all too glad to snuggle into the warm covers and drop into sleep. The pounding on her door was the next thing she knew, and she sat up to sun beaming past the blinds and Mulder complaining outside that she'd better get up, he was starving to death and wasting away. By the time Scully had whipped through a shower, lunged into slacks and a pullover, and thrown open the door he was whining that his ribs could be counted from a block away. Scully nearly hit him with her shoulder bag and he grinned with glee at rousting her out.

"C'mon, they serve a damn good cup of coffee at the diner. We can get breakfast and discuss what we know."

"We know YOU like to eat and that there are a lot of teenagers with morbid imaginations reading some crazy suicide's novels," she groused, still trying to shake off a faint sense of a dream she hadn't finished. Mulder circled around to the driver side of his car, with the look of a man considering his next remark. The look shifted quickly to one of annoyance and disgust.

"We'll have to stop at the carwash on the way. Someone thinks it's funny to keep gooing my car." He was wrapping the bottom of his Miskatonic sweatshirt around his hand when she tossed a handkerchief over.

"Don't you know the mark of a gentleman is to always have a handkerchief on him? Don't use your shirt to open that door, you'll smell like squid all day!" He gave her a dry look.

"Since when did I claim to be a gentleman?"

"I believe it." She looked a little concerned, "has this happened a lot?"

"Every morning," he sighed. "Were you able to analyze the goo?"

"Not really. The smell of it makes lab animals drop dead with heart attacks, but since when are rodent aesthetics solid evidence of anything? I couldn't identify any source animal, it's very strange stuff. It looked organic, but who knows?"

Another six dollar trip through the carwash - which was still busy and smelled unpleasantly like old goo - and a search for parking meters saw them seated in the diner and ordering breakfast. Scully wrinkled her nose at Mulder's cholesterol special, but held her tongue and tried to lead by example with her own yogurt and fruit.

"You'll die of hunger, Scully. I thought we'd go hiking today, maybe you should get something solid to eat."

"Mulder, this will do fine. Why am I not inspecting the body? I'll need boots if I have to hike, my at ones got impounded because of killer fireflies."

"Because the body'll keep and I could use your observations on the site where it was found. Besides, I'd rather not wander around town alone." She grinned. "Afraid you'll run into your girlfriend? She won't hurt you."

He found the idea of being cornered by Cindy Lee even less appealing in light of Scully sitting across the table. He sighed, he really had to stop comparing every woman her saw to his partner. Not that the blonde volley ball prima donna would ever have appealed to him, but she really looked bad compared to Dana. Scully was really playing havoc with his usual hobby of watching porn that just didn't measure up on the whole.

"Mulder," Scully waved a hand in front of his eyes. "You were zoning out. So, what do you think is going on here, I couldn't get anything much reliable on Miskatonic last night. A couple fires, some gruesome murders that resemble this one, a lot of inbreeding," her eyes were tracking a dark, slope-browed couple wandering past the diner hand-in-hand. "But nothing firm. I imagine you are backing a theory of dark, supernatural forces?" She gave him a quizzical look.

"You mean giant mountain squid? Scully, I'm open to extreme possibilities but giant, transdimensional squid-conquerors who like to eat faces is usually credible only after a strong dose of hallucinogens. Smart money's on aliens who're bored with cattle mutilations. I thought we'd go looking for crop circles today," he added, eyes sparkling at her disgusted expression.

"Sometimes I wonder why I work with you," she grated, and left him the check in revenge.

Evasive maneuvers to duck Cindy and a quick run to get Scully a pair of hiking boots let her get over her annoyance with him. The steep climb into the hills outside town didn't leave them a lot of breath to argue until they got to the hollow. Mulder grabbed Scully's arm to keep her from repeating his day one tumble, and pointed to the bottom.

"See that, the altar," she snorted at the term. "Two days ago I was up here and that was just a tumble of rock." They scrambled down to it, not quite racing each other. The rock rectangle puzzled him for a moment, it seemed different somehow. He wandered around it, pointing out details and describing how the body was found while his mind tried to work it out. He leaned in closer to the sides, suddenly. "Look, Scully! Here . . ."

She leaned over and examined the base of the thing - she refused to call it an altar - where metal rings had been set into the ground at each corner. "What do you think they're for?"

"Didn't you ever see a Frank Frazetta painting? They're to tie someone down."

"You watch too much television, Mulder." She looked up the hill and shaded her eyes. "What's that?"

He traced her gaze, "looks like some kind of cave. He started to climb towards it, when she called him back.

"Mulder, I don't think you should go in there without a flashlight or rope. Besides, the scrub around it doesn't look disturbed. I doubt anyone climbed through it for the murder."

"Yes, Mom." He headed back down. She turned her attention back to the . . . thing. It was puzzling her, the marks on it, why anyone would commit such a crime. She had to check that body, she decided.

Besides, bodies didn't tell awful jokes. That was one of the good things about being a pathologist. Mulder was writing down the marks he could find, but let her draw him away. The hollow seemed to make him uneasy, he'd made remarkably few wisecracks since they climbed down here, and didn't protest much when she demanded equal time in the morgue.

Scully's afternoon was spent getting to know Heather. Her heart wasn't the only thing missing, as Scully found when she reviewed the autopsy report. Scully doubted she'd had much in the way of a brain to start with, but even that little was gone now. No fingerprints, no particular marks besides the obvious, and a lot of goo. Scully wasn't fond of getting up close and personal with the dead, but whatever pain they had known was past by now and they were reduced to a puzzle for her to solve. Nonetheless, she was glad enough to wash up and join Mulder by late in the afternoon.

His eyes were red from reading archived newspapers, and he seemed unsteady on his feet.

"Motion sick," he complained. "I hate those microfilm readers." She would have teased him if he hadn't looked truly seasick. She had to have sympathy for anyone who could get seasick at the library.

"Sorry I don't have any Dramamine," she offered as she plowed through a big dinner. He was picking at a salad with very little interest. "Don't worry, you'll make it back up at breakfast."

"Please don't talk about food," he looked utterly mournful, and she almost choked on a squigger (cherry tomato for those not familiar with the scientific designation) she plucked off his salad. It would be another early night.

When they got back to the motel Scully was surprised to note at least half a dozen Chevy Suburbans in the parking lot. It had been empty earlier, except for her rental and his.

"Kind of like the elephant's graveyard," observed Mulder. "I think they come here to die."

"Mu-u-ulderrrr! I bet it's a stag party for some gas station owner."

"You have a dirty mind, Dr. Scully."

"You'd have thought of it first if you weren't seasick."

"Please, don't remind me," he looked a little greener as a faint whiff of squid

wafted past them. "Excuse me." he raced for his room.

She let herself in to her own room, relieved to see that, for once, it had not been ransacked, nothing had been moved, and there was no slime anywhere. Once the door was shut she couldn't even smell squid.

A hot shower worked the kinks out of her back, a cold one worked them out of her mind (Mulder in hiking shorts!) and she was pleasantly tired when she tucked herself in. Maybe, just maybe, they'd be able to finish a case without her getting kidnapped, him getting beaten up, or anything really weird happening. It would be nice! Why can't we get a nice, normal serial killer like everybody else, she mused.

Mulder had just finished brushing his teeth and was about to get into his favorite Redskins lucky sweats when a knock on the door stopped him. He looked out the peephole, but it was too dark outside to make out much. He was still standing behind the door when it slammed open and pinned him against the wall.

Joe Hazlewood stepped in and looked around, grinning when he saw Mulder trying to catch the breath that had been knocked out of him.

"Don't you know to put the chain lock on? Don't matter now, though. Glad you're still up." Several other dark men who shared Joe's squinty eyes and bad dental work drifted in, followed by a couple more who wore melodramatic hooded robes. Mulder couldn't decide whether he should feel annoyed, amused or alarmed. The hooded guys may have had bad colds, they dripped pretty constantly.

"Look, as long as you're here we can have a beer, go over the case," Mulder had slipped from behind the door and was considering whether he could get past the two guys standing in it. He briefly considered thumping the wall or yelling to get Scully's attention, but decided she was as likely to be taken along with him as to come in with her gun out. He'd rather have her safe and sound, preferably following with the cavalry. "I think you've got the wrong room, anyway. I'm not a nubile blonde."

"Yeah, we noticed" said one he didn't recognize.

"Look, I'll be glad to step out while you find one," stalled Mulder. "I hear there are a lot of them up the road." He was beginning to think he'd rather do taxes than go along with these guys.

He was heading towards the door when Hazlewood caught up and grabbed his elbow, "Slippery out there, wouldn't want you to have a tort claim against us here," Hazlewood had a grip like a steel vise. Mulder was starting to have bad visions of being taken hostage by a batch of sushi-scented Satanists. He offered again to go find them a blonde, but Hazlewood just squeezed his elbow and pulled him hard enough to plow up a little wake of goo around his feet. One of the hooded sinus-sufferers had his other arm now and was accelerating as well.

The man behind him started speaking again. "The Master doesn't really care about gender or hair color, the Master's equal opportunity, but we really prefer the volleyball team 'cause of the way they like to dent the Chevys." Mulder was being ushered towards one now, a hulking, ugly woodie. He didn't think he'd get a better chance and kicked Hazlewood behind the knee, breaking loose as the policeman hissed and grabbed for his knee.

Unfortunately, he'd underestimated the thick layer of slime the hooded guys had laid down. When his feet went out from under him he only had a moment to be disgusted before his head hit the fender.

Scully woke to the sound of some jerk laying down rubber in the parking lot. The party must have broken up, because the lot was almost empty when she looked out the window. Mulder was probably still up, maybe he felt better by now.

She pulled on a robe and stepped out into ankle deep goo and had to fight to keep her feet under her. Mulder's door was hanging open, and she slithered up to see his room, empty and slimed pretty thoroughly. There was no real sign of a fight, but his cherished Redskins shirt was trampled in the goo. Her stomach lurched, with either anxiety or disgust at the squid smell, as she stood surveying her partner's empty room.

"I hate it when this happens," was her main thought.

Scully slipped back to her room. The only good point she could see now was that this goo was inert, no risk to either her feet or her shoes. She hated the time wasted while she rinsed her feet (eewwww!), and threw on her clothes. Mulder had somehow gone and gotten himself into trouble right up to his five o'clock shadow and she needed to get out there and pull him back out of it. Her stomach was clenched with anxiety over him, but she couldn't let that slow her down, she had some tentacles to tie in a knot.

Mulder slowly swam back up to consciousness, although the pain in his temple made him regret that. He'd been dreaming that he was hockey puck, but they were playing the game on Astroturf. Being hit back and forth was making him feel motion sick, on top of the headache, and his shoulders and wrists hurt too. They were behind him, tied? Oh, this just got worse and worse. The Astroturf under his cheek smelled like a carryout fish sandwich he'd forgotten then rediscovered in his refrigerator after about three months. He groaned.

"You're awake?" Hazlewood's voice, sounding revoltingly cheerful, echoed back to Mulder over the rumble of a badly-tuned engine. He braced himself against the wheel well and worked his way into a sitting position where he looked forward into a packed Suburban. Two normal guys sat in the back seat, and one of the hooded ones had a window seat. Hazlewood rode shotgun, a hooded one was driving. Mulder felt his blood chill when he saw tentacles grasping the wheel.

"You know, I really hate to ruin a tradition like you have going," Mulder hoped his voice sounded steadier than it felt. "I really wouldn't mind if you wanted to drop me off and go get a blonde."

"No, they do dent the Chevys, but the minions," Hazlewood gestured to the driver, "decided you'd do just fine. Somehow, it seemed appropriate to have someone with a brain bigger than a walnut for a special occasion like this." "For that matter, Joe, how does a walking squid get a driver's license? What happens if a traffic cop pulls him over?" Mulder looked hopefully around, but only saw a caravan of station wagons and minivans behind them.

"You don't need to worry about Icfasssil, Mulder. He's a good driver, he's always got at least three hands on the wheel and he doesn't ever use a car phone while he's driving."

Mulder leaned his head back against the cool glass and tried to concentrate on the horizon line, or mantras or whatever you were supposed to think about to keep you from feeling motion sick before being sacrificed to demon squid.

Scully tore into town like a stock car driver on steroids. She was looking for any sign of Chevys or minivans, but the town only sported a thin scatter of Mazdas and Fords nou¡ It suddenly struck her that everyone on the sidewalk

this Saturday night looked normal. No sallow complexions, no walking dental ™

convention ads, no receding chins or squinty eyes. The proportion of blondes was high, too. Even in this crowd Cindy Lee stuck out, particularly when she got into Scully's car at a stop light.

"Lee, would you get out of my car, I don't have time to talk to you right now."

"But you work for FBI and you find missing people and Dougie, that's my boyfriend, promised he'd take me up to Nookie Nook and if he's running around with some dumb blonde I'll kill him and you and Fox have been hanging around up there" - Scully was starting to feel out of breath just listening to her - "and if you see him you tell him I'll kill him and he's short and has black hair and he drives a Chevy and-"

That was when Scully's hand clapped over her mouth. Cindy squirmed a little and glared but, thankfully, shut up when Scully took her hand away.

"What kind of car did you say he drives?" Scully's low, intense voice and look made Cindy blink.

"He drives a Chevy Suburban, Joe Hazlewood got him a good deal on a used one, I think he got it from a bait shop." She wrinkled her nose.

"Have you seen any other Chevys tonight?"

"Sure, they all headed up to the hills just like two days ago. That's why I figured you'd see Dougie tonight."

Scully briefly wondered how such a small brain could keep her body functioning. "Thanks, Cindy. I'll tell him when I see him." She threw the blonde back out and ripped a massively illegal U-turn right across the main street of town.

The highways were empty and she figured she could make good time up to the hollow - Nookie Nook? - with the . . . altar. She had a feeling she'd better make good time if she didn't want to see Mulder filleted like Heather had been.

Trying to climb steep hills at night with your hands tied behind your back and your stomach heaving is not the easiest thing in the world to do, and Mulder was hanging between two squid-guys since he'd slipped and fallen for the fourth time. Admittedly, trying to roll away down the hill may have been what encouraged them to hold on to him so tightly, it certainly had left him feeling even worse than he had before. Their tentacles dug into his arms and goo was soaking his sleeves. He wondered when Scully might show up with the cavalry. *Wait a minute,* he thought, *the cavalry is walking ahead of me and helped drag me up here.* He sighed. This was not turning out to be a good night for him. When they hauled him over the lip of that damn hollow and he got a look at the altar is started looking even worse.

Torches framed the hollow, and fresh rope ran from the rings in the ground to coil neatly on the stone altar. Tentacled hooded figures bustled around like Lutheran church ladies at a Sunday brunch, but he didn't think it was jello-molds they were carrying. Several had rather sharp looking knives, and two carried bowls ornamented with truly ugly designs. One carried a Dukes of Hazzard lunch box with the reverence owed a holy object.

"If I'd known it was pot-luck I'd have brought something," he murmured, rather weakly. Hazlewood chuckled as he cut Mulder's hands free (not much good when he still had tentacles around his elbows).

"Don't worry Agent Mulder, it's come as you are."

Mulder almost sneered. Hazlewood was NOT in Scully's class for rejoinders.

His headache flared up and his stomach clenched when they hauled him down and onto that stupid . . . thing. At the moment he preferred to tell himself that Scully was right and it wasn't an altar. Unfortunately, he believed it about as much as he believed political campaign promises. Somehow he never minded risking his life to chase UFO's, but being sacrificed to glorified marinara really bothered him.

Scully kicked up gravel and knocked down a sign as she skidded into the parking lot, (the sign invited careful drivers to enjoy Miskatonic's natural beauty and to please refrain from littering). She was out of the car before the engine stalled and tackling the path she and Mulder had followed the day before. The thought of Mulder (in his hiking shorts) made her throat feel tight and her hiking boots (nice, NEW hiking boots, ran an appreciative thought in the back of her head) bit into the dirt and propelled her up the hill like seven-league boots. She patted her side to check her sidearm, and narrowed her focus.

Mulder would be all right or he wouldn't, her job right now was to get up this hill.

Mulder was rapidly revising his opinion of face-eating inter-dimensional squid-conquerors. Not only did it seem likely at this point that they were responsible for the murder of Heather Wilson, but they also tied a mean knot.

He'd been trying to pull his wrists and ankles loose of their ropes and decided that the squid must have been boyscouts in a prior incarnation. He could have wished that they were out helping little old ladies cross roads right now. Hazlewood and the other humans had finished passing around a couple of really huge joints and were presently dancing widdershins around him and . . .the thing. They kept giggling as they told really stupid jokes, but that didn't make them look much less dangerous playing with knives. The squid-guys were gathered behind them, sniffling and holding tentacles. All very touching.

Mulder was wondering what was taking Scully so long, which lead him to thinking about how stupid he must look lying stretched out there. Suddenly, dying for intergalactic squid didn't look as bad against the prospect of Scully never letting him live this down. This was worse than when she found that video, even worse than her finding those stupid handcuffs (they were for a practical joke, yeah, that was it). Mulder started pulling at those damn knots again.

Scully peeked over the lip of the hollow and froze. It looked like a training film on Satanic worship down there, dancing idiots and hooded idiots and that idiot Mulder tied down to the altar. She was now willing to grant him that it was an altar, she really doubted it was used for weenie roasts or any of the other theories she'd had. She checked her clip and started counting, praying she wouldn't have to get into a pitched battle with a batch of high, ugly, armed fools. And there was Hazlewood, oh lord, they might well have a gun or two as well as those big knives they were playing mumblety peg with.

Mulder was visibly awake, and pulling at the ropes. She felt a flood of relief that at least she'd gotten here before he lost too much face. Fine if his ego hurt, as long as he didn't get the Ginsu Knife treatment like Heather had. She started to carefully edge her way over and down, hiding behind clumps of poison ivy and shrubbery. She'd gotten almost to the ring of torches when the hooded idiots started keening. It was a horrible sound, ululating in B-sharp. It set her teeth on edge. She didn't have to play music critic for long, however. A wind was starting and, when she looked up, she saw the stars blotted out by a great gray whirlpool in the air above Mulder. It looked kind of like watching the water go down the drain after you finished washing your floors when you haven't washed them in far too long. There were even cloudy clumps like that

unidentifiable stuff from under the kitchen cabinets.

Mulder's shout drew her attention back from her filthy thoughts.

Fox Mulder was thrashing around on the altar like a cat trying not to take a pill. He hadn't succeeded in getting loose and had been about to try to show some dignity, when he got a really good look at what was lurking down the far end of the vortex hovering over him. That sucker was uglier than a giant sewer fluke, and looked twice as hungry. In fact, even as he tried to count some tentacles so he could try attacking it, the big ugly thing produced an even

nastier-looking protuberance like a big straw with a rasp on the end. This

charming object started to wend its way out of the vortex. Then it was weaving over his forehead and all he could do was shout at it.

Dana Scully watched a long proboscis of some sort drop out of the vortex and hover over Mulder. He was shouting something but whether it was the Lord's prayer or "Bad dog! Heel!" she couldn't hear over the chanting and keening.

The hooded bozos all seemed to be entranced by the spectacle and no one even looked at her as she crashed through brambles to kneel at Mulder's side. "Thought you'd left me at the altar, Scully," he gasped, although he was too busy watching the tentacle above him to more than glance at her.

"Trust you to find the worst joke possible, have you tried telling it a couple? It might shun you." She was desperately trying to untie the knots his thrashing had pulled tight. A nail broke and she cursed.

"Scully, could you try and do that a little faster," his voice sounded strained, as he ducked his head sideways and the rasp-tentacle slammed into the stone next to his ear. "Don't you have a Swiss Army knife or a scalpel or anything on you?"

"I'm not in the Swiss Army. Besides, you borrowed my pocket knife and lost it on your desk. If you'd just keep your desk clean you wouldn't be in this kind of trouble." She was finally getting one knot a little looser when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the tentacle pull back for another strike. Mulder was bracing to try to duck and she whipped her pistol across the tip of the tentacle. It wrapped around the metal and retreated up the hole. It had her gun but at least it was busy elsewhere for a minute. She redoubled her attack on the knots. "What's taking you so long? I thought all women could undo knots! Isn't it genetic?" he was feeling panicky and knew his patter was running thin. Her steady stream of soft curses wasn't at all soothing. "Ah HA!" Mulder's left wrist was suddenly free but his friend the tentacle was back. It lunged at his face and he grabbed it. "Ow! Ow! This thing's COLD! Yuck!" He was holding the ugly, wriggling tentacle back from his face, but it was clearly giving him a run for his money.

"Don't be a sissy, Mulder." She was hard at work on his right wrist now, sparing glances around her to see the hooded acolytes, and Mulder playing dodge games with the tongue from outer space. The acolytes were still utterly absorbed, chanting something about slugs and egg-nog, something with lots of sibilants and "g" sounds. It had the ominous ambiance of a frat party after a football victory and she badly wanted out of there.

Mulder squeaked and deflected another attempt to lick his ear all the way through his skull. He was holding it off with panicky, adrenaline strength.

If she didn't get this soon this thing would shish kabob him. It didn't seem to notice her, thank god, or she'd never be able to work on these knots. "Damn it, Mulder, why'd you have to pull them so tight?"

"That's right, blame the victim," he panted. "A common psychological re-ACK!"

The death-tongue scored a long, angry looking scratch along his cheek as he forced it past him again. At least it was shutting him up. She gave a yelp of triumph as his right wrist suddenly came loose. He locked both hands around the tongue with a heart-felt cry of "Ewww-YUCK!" and she started on his ankles.

"You know, Mulder, I wish I'd brought my camera." She was out of breath from adrenaline and fear, but distracting him from his problems seemed as good a way to vent as any. "Jackie St. George would have paid me a fortune to see you

tied up like this."

"Scully, you've been working with me too long! Would you just get me loose, I'm a little busy to carry my wisecrack load right NAAACK!"

"Naaack? Mulder, would you quit playing around with that thing, and just tie a square knot in it?"

"If you don't hurry UP, you're gonna have to write a report explaining to Skinner how you got me eaten by interstellar sushi! He is NOT going to be Happy with you!"

"Don't worry, Mulder," she was yanking at the rope and felt it start to come loose. "You think I want to write this one up? I'd have to rescue you to file this report no matter what!" His right ankle was suddenly free but he was too busy avoiding the worst French kiss of his life to try to roll off the stone.

Scully snatched a Dukes of Hazzard lunch box off the ground and whacked the tentacle with it. The thing recoiled and Mulder launched himself off the altar, sprawling headlong as the ankle that was still trapped tethered him at the foot of the altar. The hooded and robed chanters around them stirred.

The tentacle suddenly hung suspended, seeming confused. Scully held her breath, maybe it could only perceive someone on the altar!

An angry voice behind her suddenly cried out. "You defile the ceremony! The Great One must be sated!" The acolytes, lead by Hazlewood, had come out of it and were descending on her and Mulder. She heard him yell, still trapped by the altar, but was too busy to look. The first one went down to a well-placed kick in the groin but the next was a hooded, tentacle-waving creature that felt like punching a futon full of jello. She wished she had salt to pour on it.

She was going under, borne down by a wave of these unpleasant people. She couldn't see Mulder, he was under a scrum of these jokers. She'd faced death before, death by dehydration and psycho and alien and a lot of other nasty stuff, but had never contemplated death by squid. The idea did not appeal. She knew she was losing ground, looking at the big Bureau in the sky.

The end, when it came, shocked her as much as her attackers. A shrill voice suddenly rang out in the night.

"Dougie! What do you think you're doing! You stood me up, you pig!" The

Voice shrilled on and on, and a volleyball suddenly flashed out of the night to strike the altar. The tongue from space flashed in the torch light as it struck and drew the volleyball into a shriveled mass. The hooded and robed men and squid who held her and her partner suddenly gelled into rigid and fearful immobility, the only sound was Cindy Lee's voice still casting aspersions on the unfortunate Dougie.

A static, frozen moment caught everyone with enough brains to appreciate it.

The moment was broken as a deafening clap of thunder slammed them all into darkness. Scully clawed her way up from stunned darkness to peer frantically around her by the faint light of the stars. In the distance she could hear a barbaric yawp castigating Dougie, but here she seemed almost alone. The hooded forms were mostly gone, although she thought she saw several deeper shadows retreating into the brush at the lip of the hollow.

She felt about her for any point of reference, her eyes were little help in this dim setting. She found a decrepit tumble of rock at the same moment a soft moan signaled where Mulder was lying. Scully scrambled towards him, and tripped over him, eliciting a whoosh as her knee caught him in the stomach. He curled into a ball and groaned, "I survive being sacrificed to a space squid only to get stomped to death by my partner."

Scully was too relieved to do much more than remind him that she wasn't the one who got him into this mess to begin with. A quick check by touch alone (Scully blushed at as her heart rate jumped and was very glad of the dark) confirmed that he was only scuffed and bruised. She had no wounds and few bruises, although her skin was starting to itch. She and Mulder, together, managed to free his left ankle and, together, limped back down to the Miskatonic Park parking lot.

Dana Scully dabbed a little more cortisone cream onto several blotches of poison ivy and went back to revising her report. Fox Mulder was barricaded behind the mess on his desk, also trying to figure out how to write this one up without bringing the M.I.W.'s (men in white) down on his head.

Scully was rapidly reaching a point of satisfaction with her own report.

"While Satanism seldom attains as widespread a status as was the case in Miskatonic, it is not unheard of for mass hysteria and the delusion of crowds to take in an entire locality. The university students seem to have been insulated" by the wool between their ears, she thought, "from the hysterical environment by their educational affiliation and extra-curricular activities."

She sighed with relief, having managed to convey a sense that the whole thing had been mass delusion, and was broken up by revelation to the rest of the town. There had been no sign of Hazlewood or the others, although several suspiciously large piles of slime had been found in the surrounding hills in the days after the cult had fled. The Chevys and minivans had not been retrieved and were finally sold at auction. They had gone for very low prices, due to an unpleasant scent of rotten bait that permeated them. Everything Mulder had had with him had needed a thorough washing to get that old sushi smell off, and his lucky Redskins sweatshirt had been slimed beyond rescue. The two had burned it in a solemn ceremony and scattered its ashes in the Potomac.

Scully looked up and bobbed until she could see her partner behind the stuff on his desk. His scratches and bruises had mostly healed and he was looking less scruffy than he had when they'd got back. Skinner had raised an eyebrow at Mulder's appearance and expressed the hope that Scully had not had to wait too long for rescue - having assumed that if Mulder had been beaten up Scully must have been kidnapped - and told them he'd rather not know anything more until they'd agreed on their story. The kitty from the office pool had gone to an anonymous bettor who'd come closest on points. No one saw him or knew his name, but he had left a note with Violent Crimes that was so uncannily close they'd have thought it was Mulder or Scully cheating if the two had not had witnesses that they were elsewhere. Mulder abruptly looked up and smirked at Scully. He'd pretty much recovered from being "left at the altar," as he put it. "I've ordered pizza for lunch, everything but pineapple, squid and anchovies (He couldn't stand the furry fish). And here . . ." he got up and wove his way over to her desk (Scully wondered if they could get a new Olympic event, navigating Mulder's office) and put a small, prettily wrapped package on her tidy, clutter-free desk. She looked up at him, "what's this for?"

"Just a thank you for getting to the church on time," he grinned.

She carefully opened the tiny box to find . . . an official Swiss Army knife with enough blades to stock a surgery and equip the holder to terraform planets.

"Thank you Mulder." She smiled up at him. "I'll cherish it, especially," she fidgeted a moment until she found what she was looking for, "The fish scaler and bait cutter." He looked a little green and went to get their pizza.

The End

Th-th-that's all folks! Mulder is back from his holiday, Cthulhu is thwarted yet again. Tragically, Miskatonic didn't make it to the Beach volleyball finals because they were unable to practice. Every volleyball that is brought within

the town's vicinity mysteriously deflates, leaving the holder with a squashed bag of leather. The Miskatonic file was sealed and has not been seen since, although the Lone Gunmen know more than they say.

The Truth may be out there, but for the time you've spent reading this it's been. . . on Vacation.

Blame livengoo

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