Title: Vicious Aloysius
Summary: Scully and Mulder chase down a vengeful ghost in wintry Northern Montana. Minimal angst, some oddness, a nice, *friendly* way to keep warm. Notes at the end.
Route 93, Northern Montana
"Only in Montana," Mulder commented, "would they put an international airport in the middle of nowhere."
He glanced over at his partner, who sat hunched in the passenger seat beside him. The car's heater was going full blast and the vents on her side were directed at every possible part of her body. Her parka-clad arms were tucked tightly against her, gloved hands shoved stiffly under opposing elbows. Scully's face registered the barest response to Mulder's exacting observation: a slight raising of the eyebrows.
"I mean, really," Mulder continued. "Kalispell. Why on earth would you expect to find an international airport outside a place like Kalispell? I suppose it makes as much sense as the rest of northern Montana. Nothing here for anybody but militia groups and cross-border bargain hunters."
"And us, apparently," Scully muttered, staring out the window at the white-shrouded landscape whizzing past. She glanced at the heater controls on the car and winced, noting they were already set to maximum. She and Mulder had already waged an inconclusive, non-verbal heater war with each other, and Mulder had resigned himself to simply shutting off all the vents on his side. She hugged herself tighter and hunkered further into her coat.
"The skiing, on the other hand," Mulder continued, "is supposed to be phenomenal. Back there, just outside of Whitefish? Big Mountain Ski Resort. Hip-deep powder. Amazing apres-ski, right on the hill."
"You don't ski, Mulder."
"I know," he responded, glancing at Scully again. "I've always wanted to learn. Maybe when we're done here, we can head up there and take a lesson, whaddya say?" He peered at her unresponsive form, all but the top of her face hidden in the deep collar of the jacket. "You still cold?"
"I've been cold ever since the fresh air vent on the plane got stuck and I couldn't either close it or get it off me," she said flatly. She glared at Mulder. "As I recall, you wouldn't switch seats."
"I didn't know it was bothering you that much," Mulder protested, turning his attention back to the road. He slowed for a patch of ice, squinting slightly at it as wisps of snow cavorted and whirled in the bow wave of the car. "Besides, the attendants get upset when you do that."
They bumped silently northward a few minutes more. Scully swallowed, frowning at the sensation at the back of her nose and throat. She peered out the windshield, scowling at the unrelenting grey of the fields as they blended unapologetically into the unrelenting grey of the sky. A few apathetic snowflakes fell. Vertical slashes of dark grey suggested distant trees, and behind them rolling mounds of an intermediate grey hinted at foothills and mountains. The patchy road continued the achromatic theme as it stretched before them, leading, apparently, to nothing. She glanced at the outdoor temperature gauge on the dashboard: minus five degrees Fahrenheit. Sighing, she closed her eyes, wincing again at the raw patch at the back of her throat. She coughed.
"What's the matter, Scully?" Mulder demanded, slightly annoyed by her silence. Admittedly, she rarely showed much excitement when he hauled her out to some remote place to investigate an X-File, but today she seemed to be copping some attitude that he couldn't quite fathom. Sure, he hadn't told her much about this case, but that wasn't unusual. He punctuated his question by throwing her another look. She glanced blankly back at him.
"Nothing," she said, her voice muffled by the jacket. "I'm just waiting."
"Waiting for what?"
"For the usual. For the spellbinding reason you're about to give me that explains why we're driving down a narrow and icy two-lane highway in a completely uninhabited part of the country."
"It's not completely uninhabited, Scully," Mulder objected, pointing out the window. "See, there's a horse." The animal stood miserably in the middle of a field, its muzzle brushing the frozen ground, its tail drifting between its legs. It shook snow off its blanketed back.
"I stand corrected," Scully sniffed, poking her chin over the top of her parka. "So please do indulge me by explaining why we're here."
"We're here," Mulder explained patiently, "to meet with a graduate student of anthropology who is conducting research on an old burial site for his dissertation."
"And he found something unusual. I get that part, Mulder."
"Well, he didn't find anything unusual by himself. He and the sheriff did."
"You explained that part, too. Several eviscerated animal carcasses and two human ones."
"That's right." Mulder stopped, looking satisfied. They drove on in silence. Scully stared at him expectantly.
"And...?" she prompted.
"And... we're here to investigate the human remains."
"Because the sheriff figured that the animal carcasses should be dealt with by Fish and Wildlife officials," Mulder said, as if responding to a slow child. Scully passed a hand over her face and sighed in exasperation.
"Mulder, if I wanted to pull teeth for a living, I would have become a dentist," she said, glaring at him. "Do I get to enjoy the sound of the other shoe dropping any time soon?"
Mulder sighed. "Okay. This grad student, Ben Heffner, is working on his PhD in anthropology at the University of Montana. His supervisor knows someone I know at the Smithsonian. My Smithsonian contact called me saying that his colleague called him after Heffner reported these animal carcasses to local Fish and Wildlife, who in turn reported the first human carcass to the local sheriff because of the similarities in the manner of death." He paused for a breath. "The X-File," he continued with a grin, "is nothing short of a good old fashioned ghost story. Heffner is excavating the burial site of one Aloysius Bogg, a homesteader in these parts circa the 1850's. Now Mr. Bogg had the reputation of being something of a recluse and an old fart. More than that, actually. He was reputed to have a nasty temper, and wasn't above perpetrating the occasional assault to make his point. The locals called him Vicious Aloysius. He was a trapper and a hunter who also raised chickens and kept a few horses and cows.
"One winter, he went out to check his trap line and found that someone had been helping themselves to his catches, gutting them on site and making off with the pelts. So he laid in wait one night with his shotgun, hoping to take care of whoever had been poaching off his property. Six men showed up. He confronted and threatened them but they murdered and then eviscerated him. The local constabulary eventually arrested the six men and one, whose conscience was bothering him, ratted on his buddies in hopes of getting off more lightly. But the most interesting thing this guy talked about was Bogg's warning; that after death Bogg would seek his revenge upon whomever trespassed on his land again, especially on anyone who uncovered his bones. The offending individuals would be disembowelled."
Scully shrugged slightly. "Great story. And you think that these animal and human deaths have something to do with Heffner's disturbance of old Bogg's burial site."
"It's classic, Scully," Mulder said enthusiastically. "Why else would these tales of vengeance by a disturbed and wandering spirit endure if not for some shred of truthfulness? Legends and myths are dismissed as apocryphal only because there is little in the way of credible, empirical, documented evidence of their veracity. We're not out here because the Ghostbusters are booked up. We're here to document evidence, to give credence to ancient tales such as this one with hard, objective proof."
"So if this is vengeance against people," Scully challenged, "what's with the eviscerated animal carcasses? The ghost needed practice?"
"Okay," she said. "Do you want to hear another story?"
"Since you're going to tell me anyway, go ahead."
"A phenomenon documented in England, particularly the southwest part of the country," Scully began crisply. "Specifically, the story of the Beast of Bodmin Moor. Farmers reported the mysterious loss of livestock, particularly sheep and cattle. They'd go out to the field only to discover their animals dead, legs and head still attached to an empty pelt. The animals had been neatly slit from stem to stern and gutted. There was little blood, no trace of viscera. Foxes and wolves were discounted as possible culprits, because wild dogs tend to tear chunks from their prey and run. This was almost surgical in its precision. One farmer reported the loss of 24 head of livestock in 2 months. Some farmers reported seeing what looked like a big cat, like a cougar or a panther, but it was elusive. No one has caught it. Animal experts believe it might be an exotic pet that was turned loose when its owners got tired of it."
"And you think that's what's going on here," Mulder said.
Scully nodded. "Cougars are native to this region. If there's one around here whose food source is threatened, it will turn to livestock. Now it's unusual that it should turn to people, and I have a hard time believing a big cat would be that tidy with its kill, but yes, I do think that's what's going on here. I think we should discuss this with Fish and Wildlife when we get to -- where are we going again?"
"Don't you think it's an interesting coincidence that these killings would start up within days of Heffner unearthing Bogg's burial site?"
"Not particularly," Scully yawned. "The only thing I find unusual is that Heffner is conducting an excavation in the dead of winter when the ground's frozen."
"He's suffering from a syndrome common to grad students," Mulder replied. "He's scrambling to finish and defend his dissertation before the fall term starts again and he has to cough up more money to stay registered in his program. He's a desperate man." Mulder thought a moment, then looked at Scully, a slightly hurt expression on his face. "You hate these cases, don't you Scully."
"No," she said. "I don't. I think it's fair to say that there are some that I find more -- compelling -- than others." Scully spied a few more outbuildings and houses as they cruised along. Civilization at last, she thought.
"Ghosts aren't compelling?"
"Right now, I'm just wishing they haunted someplace warmer. Say, Florida or Puerto Rico."
"Ah. It's the cold, not the case," Mulder prodded. Scully smiled wryly.
"I've -- developed a greater tolerance for X-Files in the past few years," she admitted. "Sometimes I even think I might have developed a slight taste for them."
"Eureka," Mulder muttered, a note of triumph in his voice.
"No need to be sarcastic, Mulder," Scully admonished.
"No, Eureka," Mulder said, pointing to a sign. "We're here. Eureka, Montana."
Scully noticed the sign at almost the exact same time she noticed something else. She sat stiffly upright, reaching for Mulder's arm.
"Mulder..."she said, tensely.
The car thudded over the body before Mulder could react. He swerved to the side and skidded to a stop, leaving dark streaks in the snow behind them.
Scully was out of the car and running toward the body before Mulder could open his door. She reached the prone form and turned it face up, grimacing as she did so. After a moment, she looked up and back at Mulder's stricken face.
"Jesus, Scully, I didn't see him," Mulder stammered, moving toward her hesitantly. "Is he...?"
"He's dead, Mulder, but you didn't do it," she said, turning back to the body. "He's been dead awhile." Mulder crept up beside her, feeling immensely relieved. Scully pulled gingerly on the figure's bloodstained coat so her partner could get a clearer view of what she saw. Mulder winced.
The body had been gutted, slit from throat to groin and divested of its internal organs with surgical precision.
Sheriff Carl Adams met them where they waited at the edge of town. He took their statements, loaded the body into his truck, and followed them into Eureka, stopping off at the small hospital to unload the body at the morgue. Adams was a small town sheriff of the old school. Fiftyish, with a waistline expanding at approximately the same rate as his hairline was receding, he had grown up in Montana and served as Eureka's law enforcement for twenty-five years. He was avuncular, chatty, familiar to all in the town, and knew everyone in return. Scully sensed that he'd just as soon interrogate witnesses over a friendly beer as haul them into his office. His down-to-earth nature was obscured at the moment by his dark, troubled expression, and Scully felt sorry for him.
"We're not used to this sort of thing around here," he said as he poured them each a coffee in his office. "Folks are pretty shook up about it. I'm sorry you had to meet Harlan Wolfleg like you did back there. You would have liked him. Everybody did." Scully and Mulder took the steaming mugs with thanks and sat across the table from Adams. The sheriff looked at each of them gravely. "I'm grateful that you've come out all this way from Washington to look into this. Frankly, I figured this was a little too small-time for the FBI, but I guess our resident egghead has some unexpected pull."
"Where is Mr. Heffner?" Scully asked, grateful for the warmth of the coffee as it slipped down her increasingly sore throat. She placed her mug down on a small, intricately crocheted doily that served as a coaster.
"I was just about to call him. He's boarding with us, the wife and me, but he's probably out at his excavation site right now. It's a ways from here -- if you like, I can take you out there. Although old Bogg won't be too happy to see you government types on his land, let me tell you."
"Bogg?" Scully asked, glancing at Mulder.
"Hieronymous Bogg," Adams clarified. "Great grand something or other of the original homesteader, Aloysius Bogg, that Ben just dug up." Adams put a pretentious spin on his pronunciation of both "Hieronymous" and "Aloysius". "We just call 'em 'Hi' and 'Al'. Most people call Al 'Old Vicious', although some call him 'Wishy' on account of the way he supposedly chickened out when he was cornered by the men that killed him way back then."
"Well, even with a shotgun advantage, six against one isn't the greatest of odds," Scully offered. Adams shrugged.
"Me, I don't care one way or the other," he said. "The Bogg family has never been that sociable. After Al was killed, his cousin and later descendants took over the homestead. The Boggs are rugged pioneer stock, fiercely independent, suspicious of everything they don't have direct control over. When Hi gets drunk, he gets mouthy, carrying on about how the immigrants have destroyed the heart and soul of America. But at heart, he's a bit of a pantywaist. He talks tough, badmouths the government and all it stands for, but he's always among the first in line to file his federal taxes every year." Adams chuckled. "He'll still give you a rough ride when you meet him, so I'm just warning you."
"He lives alone out there, then," Mulder said.
Adams shook his head. "No. He's out there with his common- law wife. I guess that's as good a description as any. They don't cause trouble. She owns an esthetic salon downtown here, nails, skin treatments, that sort of thing. Hi, he just does odd labour -- runs the Zamboni around the rink, odd construction jobs in the summer. They make out okay. No mortgage, see. Just taxes and utilities."
"When can we head out to the homestead?" Mulder asked.
"Soon as you're done with your coffee," Adams replied, draining his own cup. Mulder and Scully followed suit. Scully spied a box of tissues, reached for one, and discreetly blew her nose. Adams looked at her.
"Coming down with something, Agent Scully?" he inquired. Scully shrugged.
"Looks that way," she said, tossing the tissue into a wastepaper basket and pocketing a few more. "I may need to pick up a decongestant. Is there a pharmacy nearby?"
Adams collected their empty cups and winked at her. "Doc Jensen will fix you up with whatever you need. We can stop there first, if you like." Scully shook her head.
"I'll be fine," she said, offering Adams a smile. "I'll pick something up on the way back." As they headed to the door, Mulder looked at his partner curiously.
"You never said anything about being sick," he said, holding the door open for her. Scully merely gave him a look, and led the way out to Adams' truck.
They drove out to the Bogg homestead near Gregor Lake, about
"So six people have got to die, huh?" Adams said, glancing at Mulder.
Mulder nodded. "According to the story, yes," he said. "One person for every one who was involved in Aloysius Bogg's murder."
"What did Fish and Wildlife have to say about these incidents?" Scully piped up from the back, leaning forward. Adams inclined his head to the right, acknowledging her comment without taking his eyes from the road.
"We're meeting with Avril Todd when we get to the Bogg place," he said. "Avril has been with Fish and Wildlife for ten years, and she knows her animals. She's convinced it's a cougar, but is puzzled by the human victims. Livestock are easier pickings."
Scully leaned back, pressing her foot into the back of Mulder's seat as she did so. The barest expression flitted over his face in acknowledgement.
"A hungry cougar wouldn't turn to people as a food source unless it was absolutely desperate," Mulder said, gesturing to a herd of sheep pawing sustenance out of a passing field. "As far as I know, this hasn't been a particularly bad winter."
"You're right about that," Adams agreed. "Lots of snow, but the weather's been comparatively mild. Plenty of elk, deer, antelope, and bighorn sheep around. Food shouldn't be an issue for big cats this year - they shouldn't even have to turn to livestock."
"So why the people?" Mulder asked, pressing the back of his seat against Scully's knee and feigning a stretch.
"You got me," Adams shrugged. "Maybe this ghost thing of yours is true. No offense, but I doubt it. Still, it's weird."
"Have you considered that it might be the work of a cult?" Scully wondered after a silence. She leaned forward, bumping the back of Mulder's seat with her shoulder. Adams grimaced.
"You mean, someone is running around gutting people and animals?" he said, surprised. "I hadn't given it any serious consideration, no. I suppose it just seems too bizarre to think that people might be behind this." He glanced back at Scully, gratified. "Thanks for the tip."
"If you'd like, I can have a look at the bodies," Scully offered. "I'm trained as a forensic pathologist. If there was human involvement, I may be able to find something." She leaned back, giving Mulder's seat a discreet shove.
"That's a great idea, Scully," her partner said, glancing over his shoulder. "An autopsy may show human involvement, but in the absence of evidence of that, we might be able to rule out the work of cultists." He sat forward and let his body thud back against the chair, bumping Scully's knees again. She grinned and shook her head.
"I - don't mean to question your procedures in such cases," Scully began, addressing Adams, "but in order to make a determination of human involvement I need to know that appropriate continuity procedures have been followed." Adams nodded.
"I stayed with Harlan's body until it was locked in the fridge, and signed off on it. Let me know when you want to proceed, and I'll make sure I'm there when the body's removed for your autopsy." He reached for his radio. "I'll just get someone to let the hospital know that we're doing one. Normally we don't if the cause of death is as obvious as this."
"I just need to be sure that evisceration was the cause of death," Scully said. As Adams radioed in to his office, Mulder turned in his seat and looked at his partner.
"You just need to be sure?" he repeated, incredulous. Scully looked back at him confidently.
"If there was cult involvement," she said, "the victims might have died in some other manner. They may have been eviscerated post-mortem."
"Which would make the manner of death something less than supernatural," Mulder said, looking disappointed. Scully raised her eyes and turned her head to the side.
"Not necessarily, Mulder. They might have been slimed to death, first."
Mulder wrinkled his nose at her and turned back. Adams had finished with his radio call.
"All set for you, Agent Scully," he said. "No one touches old Harlan until you can have a look at him. I also signed off on the other two victims, and they haven't been touched yet. I put a hold on them, too, but we have to inform their families. They're not gonna like it. I know one family that already has their funeral plans in place."
"I'll deal with the first two victims first, then," Scully said. "The examination shouldn't take long, especially since there are no internal organs."
Adams nodded, then pointed to several greyish lumps of varying size in the middle of a field. "That's it," he said. "The Bogg homestead."
As they drew closer, the greyish lumps resolved into a log bungalow and several outbuildings, including a barn. Several old vehicles in varying stages of decay littered the barnyard which, as far as Scully could determine, was devoid of animal life. A truck similar to Adams' was parked in front of the house, alongside a pickup and a sedan from another era. The 4X4 and the sedan were brushed clean of snow, indicating they'd been recently driven. Snow blanketed the pickup with the remains of the most recent storm; partly buried tracks indicated it had been driven probably a couple of days ago. Scully noticed the huge satellite dish behind the house, pointed up at the five hundred channel universe. Beside it was a flagpole from which Old Glory hung upside-down, stirring feebly whenever a slight gust of wind tickled the fabric.
Adams pulled up behind the pickup and killed the engine. He led the way up to the front door and rapped confidently on it.
"Who the hell is it?" a male voice rasped from within. Adams threw an amused glance at Mulder and Scully and spoke to the door.
"Sheriff Adams, Hi," he said. "I've got some company."
"It ain't the goddamn FBI, is it?" Bogg said, his voice becoming clearer as he opened the door. He glared at Mulder and Scully, his eyebrows ascending slightly as he caught sight of Scully. The two agents produced their badges.
"I'm Special Agent Mulder, and this is Special Agent Scully of the Goddamn FBI," Mulder said, deadpan. Bogg sneered. He was a slightly built rodent of a man with sharp features accentuated by a scraggly moustache and deep creases in his sun-damaged face.
"I just want it clear that I didn't invite you," he said, stabbing a long skinny finger at Mulder, then Adams. "He did. Jesus H. Christ on a cracker, I put up with enough shit from the Feds. Soon as this crap is cleared up, the sooner you can clear the hell out of here. That's the only reason I'm cooperatin'". Bogg stomped away from the door and into the house. The three at the door took that as their invitation inside and stepped over the threshold. The agents looked around. Mulder's nose twitched at the old, tanned-leather mustiness of the air, his eyes adjusting to the dim, warm lighting of the room.
Taxidermy had evidently been a hobby of one of the Bogg clan. Stuffed heads of every creature ever deemed a trophy lined the walls, many of the heads appearing old and moth-eaten. The moose was missing part of its rack and its jaw hung broken and limp, its mouth open in a way that reminded Mulder of Bullwinkle. A bearskin rug lay in the middle of the floor, its pelt matted and encrusted with probably several years' worth of crumbs and grime, its head permanently frozen in a taxidermist's idea of a primal snarl. Hunkering above the oversized stone fireplace was a rather mangy stuffed beaver. A battered manual typewriter sat on an antique desk in the corner, sheaves of typewritten paper stacked loosely alongside. A bookcase stood next to it, lined with tomes as old as *Mein Kampf* and as recent as *The Bell Curve*, with every related topic spanning the publication years in-between. Mulder grimaced in distaste. He stepped closer to the bookcase, staring at a stack of newsletters and magazines, his eye catching something familiar. His jaw dropped. The most recent issue of "The Lone Gunman" lay, well-thumbed, on top. He'd have to tell Frohike.
Scully's eyes travelled around the room as well, her gaze settling on the stuffed carnage and the bookcase as well as the lamp with its hide-covered shade. Another inverted American flag hung defiantly from one of the cabin's log rafters. She noticed other touches as well, touches that didn't come from Hi Bogg. A bucolic paper-tole scene hung proudly near the door, surrounded by a padded, calico-patterned, heart-shaped frame with lace around the edges. Needlepoint samplers, all with a "Home Sweet Home" theme, were scattered around other walls, all framed in a similar fashion. A huge macramé hanger was suspended in the corner, gripping a round glass table stiffly in its fringed grasp. Dried flowers and garlands, tied elaborately with satin ribbon, festooned the lintels of the doors. Scully was willing to bet that a spare roll sat on the back of the Boggs' toilet, covered by the crocheted skirt of a cherubic doll that smiled dumbly next to a stack of "Guns and Ammo" magazines. She shrugged, deciding that there was, after all, no accounting for taste.
Bogg stood defiantly in his living room, his arms crossed, staring at them all belligerently with his small, dark eyes. "You wanna talk to that kid Heffner, I suppose," he said. "I didn't invite him, either, specially diggin' up Al Bogg like he's doin'. 'Furtherin' the cause of science', my balls. Goddamned university is payin' me for my trouble, otherwise his ass'd be grass, stupid little intelleckshul shit. I'll go get 'im." With that, Bogg disappeared, brushing past a woman as he stalked into the back of the house.
The woman watched him go with an amusedly resigned expression, then moved into the room, beaming hospitably. She was taller and stockier than Bogg, her bottle-blonde hair coiffed elaborately in a French roll and a series of improbable curls. Her makeup was impressively stagey. She didn't so much walk as flounce, her ample bosom undulating under the bodice of her flowing peasant dress, her hands held about shoulder height. She extended one of those hands to Mulder. He jumped slightly and pondered briefly how he could avoid being gored by the impeccably manicured nails that extended a good inch or more beyond the tips of her fingers. He tentatively put his hand out and hoped for the best.
The woman took his hand and pumped it once, making contact with Mulder's eyes through heavily lined and mascara-hedged orbs of her own. She smiled broadly at him, her nicotine stained teeth framed by scarlet lips. "I'm April-Mae June," she said with syrupy warmth. "Please don't mind Hi; he's never had much use for social graces. He leaves that to me."
Mulder smiled politely back and extricated his unscathed hand from April-Mae's after a suitable interval. "Special Agent Fox Mulder," he said formally, and introduced Scully. He noticed that Scully shook April-Mae's hand with similar trepidation. April-Mae turned Scully's hand over in her palm and examined the fingers intently, stroking the tips with her thumb.
"Oh, hon," she said. "Who does your manicure?"
Scully looked uncomfortable. "Uh, I do," she said. April-Mae pursed her lips.
"Not bad for a home job," she admitted, pulling Scully's hand up for closer examination. "But you know, a professional linen batiste application will do those pretty hands wonders. I might even be able to give you a discount." April-Mae thrust her free hand under Scully's nose and beamed, turning her long scarlet nails so they caught the light. Scully carefully pulled her hand out of April-Mae's and smiled, her lips pressed thinly together.
"It -- looks like you do lovely work," she said to the twinkling nails hovering inches from her face. "I'm afraid that nails like that would probably get in my way."
"Oh, pish-tosh," April-Mae said dismissively, waving her hand. "You'd be surprised at how fast you get used to it." She clasped her hands in front of her and continued to beam at her guests. "You folks like anything to drink? Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soda?"
"Hot chocolate for me," Scully said, while the men decided on coffee.
"Coming right up," April-Mae said lightly, and flounced away into the kitchen. Mulder moved over to Scully and lifted her hand, grinning.
"Definitely a linen batiste job," he said. Scully pulled her hand away, answering Mulder's playful expression with a cautious one of her own. Mulder looked toward the kitchen.
"'April-Mae June'?" he wondered, shaking his head. "If she marries Bogg and hypenates her name, she could be a June- Bogg."
Adams shrugged. "She came in one day a few years ago, after she opened her nail shop," he said. "She didn't think that Edna Alice Shpyth carried the right sort of panache for the proprietress of a beauty salon, so she changed it to April-Mae June."
Mulder and Scully cast a dubious eye over the décor once more. Adams lowered himself into a cracked and studded leather armchair with a chunky afghan tossed casually over the back. Doilies graced the armrests. The agents followed Adams' example, scrunching side by side into a similarly festooned love seat. Scully began examining the decoupaged pine coffee table while Mulder cast a disapproving eye over Bogg's library again.
A door slammed somewhere in the house, followed by the stamping of multiple sets of feet. A moment later, Bogg entered the living room, followed by a youngish man in his mid-twenties and a dark, willowy woman in her thirties. Bogg grunted something unintelligible and pushed past the newcomers into another room. The sheriff and the two agents rose and the five stared at each other for an awkward, silent moment.
"Uh," Adams began, "Avril, Ben, this is Agents Mulder and Scully of the FBI. Agents Mulder and Scully, Ben Heffner, University of Montana, and Avril Todd, Fish and Wildlife." Mulder and Scully shook hands with the pair. Heffner blew briefly on his hands and removed his jacket nervously; Todd removed her outerwear with grace and ease. Everyone sat, taking care not to disturb the doilies.
Scully regarded Heffner as he removed his glasses, trying to unfog them. He was small and stockily built, his close cropped red hair receding from his temples. He glanced up once to meet Scully's studious gaze. Abruptly, he dropped his brown eyes and intently supervised his hands as they buffed the lenses. Scully decided he needed to be put at ease.
"How goes the research, Ben?" she asked. Heffner jumped as though shot.
"Oh, uh," he began, nervously. "Good. It's good. It's um, going good," he concluded helplessly, blushing intensely. Dammit, he hated attractive women, and it wasn't fair that she was so poised and evidently smart, too. Scully settled her shoulders and strove to assume a hopefully less threatening posture.
"What's it about? What are you investigating?" she said, animating her voice with genuine interest. Heffner shrugged, scrubbing the lenses furiously on his microfleece shirt.
"Um, nothing important," he stammered. "Um, I mean, nothing important to anyone outside of academia. I don't think. I'm, uh, looking at old murders. You know. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid kinds of things. Looking for patterns. Historical interest. That sort of thing."
"Oh, you're a forensic anthropologist," Scully said soothingly. Heffner looked up abruptly then, squinting at her through uncorrected vision.
"You know about forensic anthropology?" he said, fumbling to put his glasses back on. When he did, his face registered genuine surprise.
"Sure," Scully said. "It's a branch of physical anthropology, recognized only in the last thirty years or so as a distinct discipline. The FBI consults with forensic anthropologists all the time. The National Museum of Natural History is just down the street from where Agent Mulder and I work. I have a background in forensic pathology, myself, but the work of forensic anthropologists has always interested me."
"You work in DC? Wow. Cool." Heffner laughed self- consciously. "A forensic pathologist - cool. Great." Heffner was beginning to melt, then he looked abruptly uncomfortable again. "Shit -- sorry, I mean shoot -- I know that. I know the FBI works with forensic anthropologists all the time. How stupid. Of me, I mean." He laughed again, nervously. "Anthropology is policy with the FBI, right? At least that's what my advisor says."
Adams broke in. "Ben's been across the West, trying to clear up a few mysteries. What happened to Billy the Kid, to Calamity Jane, to Butch and Sundance. Frontier justice sorts of things. How people died and why, under what circumstances, especially if they died violently. He's putting together crime scene data from forensic excavations, hoping to establish some standardized procedures and a body of work for future archaeologists and forensic investigators. It may even have some application in prosecuting war crimes in the future. Isn't that what it's about, Ben?"
Heffner nodded. "Yes. Exactly. Old Vicious Aloysius' death is legendary around here. It was a thrill to get Hi Bogg's permission to excavate on his property. I'm learning a lot." Heffner was warming to his topic and to his new acquaintances. "Butch and Sundance aren't in the States, of course. They were killed in Bolivia. I was part of an undergraduate class that studied the work of Clyde Snow's team, the one that tried to positively identify the Saint Vincent remains. I got hooked on this stuff. It's so cool."
"You found the first animal carcasses, the ones that were eviscerated," Mulder said. Heffner jumped again. Scully wondered if they would have to start all over and acclimatize Heffner to Mulder now.
"That's right," Heffner said, twisting his hands in his lap. "I found a sheep and a deer. I told Sheriff Adams about them, and he called Fish and Wildlife. Then when Ms. Todd went out to investigate, she found..." He looked over at Avril Todd and swallowed.
"I found the first human victim," Todd finished, as calm as Heffner was nervous. "He was a few days gone. The sheriff identified him as Hugh Granger. I knew Hugh - he was a poacher. Got what he deserved, in my opinion." Todd spoke with neither rancor nor pleasure; her manner was cool and professional. "That's when I got in touch with Sheriff Adams again. Everyone around here knows about the Bogg legend and what his ghost is supposed to do once the site is disturbed. I'm not sure where the FBI fits in, but I'm told you have an interest in cases with a bizarre bent."
"We found Sam Erickson a few days later. He was a buddy of Granger's," Adams said grimly.
"Can we go out to the excavation site?" Mulder asked. Heffner leaped to his feet and grabbed his coat.
"Absolutely. I think you in particular might find this interesting, Agent Scully." Heffner looked at her and smiled shyly, then turned away abruptly, hunting for his gloves. The group headed out through the kitchen, where April-Mae had prepared several steaming mugs. They each took one, Scully cradling her hot chocolate and sipping it gratefully as they headed out into the cold.
Heffner had sheltered his site under a tent. A small generator chugged noisily outside, providing power to the light and a small heater that resided inside. The fit was snug for the group of five. Scully noticed extra clothes and a thermos stuffed in one corner; the thermos rested rather incongruously on another doily. They arranged themselves around a pit that Heffner had carefully portioned off in squares of string, each square labeled and marked. His tools -- picks, trowels, soft brushes, and rags -- lay scattered around the rim of the site. Some sections were dug deeper than others, creating a 3-D checkerboard effect.
In the pit lay one Aloysius Bogg, or what was left of him. Heffner was completely relaxed now, in his element. He lowered himself into the pit and looked up at Scully, pointing to Bogg's chest.
"This is what got me kind of excited," he said. "If you look carefully here, you can see that Bogg's assailants weren't too careful in gutting him. There's a roughly diagonal line across the sternum. Normally you don't find any evidence of knife wounds in skeletal remains if the assailant is aiming for soft tissue - why would you, right? I also think Bogg might have been killed in some other manner first. See here..." Heffner pointed to a small horseshoe-shaped bone that lay in pieces against the cervical vertebrae, just under the lower mandible. "The hyoid bone is crushed. Very common when the person has been either strangled or hanged. I'm tentatively saying strangulation."
Scully nodded, fascinated, and crouched down at the edge of the pit. "Good guess. You might also want to check the odontoid process on the first cervical vertebra. If he was hanged, there's a good chance it's been snapped off. Many hanging victims die that way. The process pierces the spinal cord, resulting in complete paralysis of the post-cranial musculature. The victim essentially suffocates."
"That's right, Agent Scully," Heffner said, pleased. "I'll use that information to confirm my suspicions once I get around to removing the skull. It's a tricky process, doing this work when the ground's frozen like this. I have to thaw everything out carefully, and only when I'm satisfied I've got all the data I need from the previous layer."
Scully looked at her companions. "I think the autopsies on the victims might reveal whether we have a human killer or an animal one. It's true that bones can't always reveal how a person died, but the soft tissue almost always does." She glanced back down into the pit to see Heffner staring at her with naked admiration. "You're welcome to observe an autopsy if you like, Ben."
Heffner shook his head. "No, thanks. I've - got a lot of work to do. Data to gather, a dissertation to finish, you know. Besides," he said sheepishly. "I've never seen a dead body. Not with flesh still on it, that is. Bones - they're a little less personal, you know? If you - if you know what I mean, that is."
Scully nodded, smiling. "If you change your mind, let me know," she said, straightening. The world spun a bit as she stood and she took a deep breath. Damn the flu, anyway.
Mulder looked over at Todd. "Is there evidence that there was an animal involved in the human deaths, Ms. Todd?"
Todd shook her head. "That's the weird part. I couldn't tell. There were no tracks, no scat, no signs that the bodies had even been dragged by human or animal." She smiled apologetically. "I'm like Ben here -- I've never seen a human body before this. I wasn't about to look closely at what happened. I figured that was more the expertise of the medical examiner and you guys," she said, looking at Adams. Uncomfortable, she looked again at Scully. "I can identify most bite marks. If you want me to, I can be at the autopsy to identify anything that looks like it might have come from an animal, but if it's all the same, I'd rather not."
Scully shook her head. "I'm sure that won't be necessary, Ms. Todd," she said. "I can take a Polaroid and show you if I need to. I'm sure I can rule out either human or animal involvement, but I'm pretty sure it was one or the other."
Todd looked over at Mulder, who was patiently waiting for Scully to finish with her mundane theorizing. "You think it was something else."
"I suspect something else," he replied. "The fact that these were fresh kills, but that there was no sign of any animal activity of any kind, including human, around the bodies makes me consider other possibilities."
"You don't actually think this ghost story about Bogg is true, do you?" Todd asked dubiously. Mulder looked at her levelly.
"I think we need to consider all possibilities," he said simply. Todd looked at Scully, who returned a blank look over the tissue she held to her nose. Scully shrugged and crumpled the tissue.
"I think we should consider and eliminate all competing hypotheses before drawing any firm conclusions," she said, offering her standard scientific disclaimer in counterpoint to Mulder's usual, less orthodox pronouncement. Mulder shrugged, executing his step in the familiar dance. Scully thanked Heffner and led the group out of the tent; Heffner stayed behind in the pit, eyeing Scully not at all surreptitiously as she left the enclosure.
Scully looked at the outbuildings and glanced up at the flag, its ragged end flipping morosely whenever a passing gust occasioned by. Adams fell into step beside her and glanced at her thoughtful expression.
"Something, Agent Scully?" he asked.
Scully frowned. "I don't mean to indulge any redneck stereotypes here, but does Hi Bogg have any links to paramilitary organizations?"
Adams shook his head. "I've long suspected that he does," he admitted. "Scuttlebutt around town has it that he's a low-level gun dealer and that he keeps a cache of weapons here on the homestead. When he's drunk, Hi likes to call this place his 'compound'." Adams waved to a snow-covered mound near the barn. "Hi's father built himself a bomb shelter over there in the '50's. Hi brags that it's fully stocked and ready to shelter him and April-Mae when the revolution comes. I suspect he's got unregistered weapons down there, but I've never had probable cause to search the premises. Myself, I think Hi is all sizzle and no steak. He's got a mouth on him, but apart from spending a night in the drunk tank once in a while he's a law abiding citizen. He's got no prior arrests except for relatively minor things. He's low-key. I keep my eye on him, though."
They reached the house and pushed the door open. The house was full of cooking smells, and as they returned their mugs to the kitchen April-Mae could be seen stirring something in a large cast iron skillet. Scully sniffed hopefully, but the congestion was rapidly robbing her of her sense of smell. Just as well, she thought, as April-Mae reached for a smouldering cigarette and took a long drag off it, its ash hovering mere inches from the skillet.
April-Mae beamed again at her guests. "Anyone for chili tonight?" Mulder made a show of checking his watch, an unnecessarily pointed gesture, Scully thought.
"I'm afraid we can't -- we've got to check in and plan what we're doing tomorrow," he said, glancing at Scully. Scully nodded, and turned abruptly to sneeze.
"You sure, Agent Scully?" April-Mae asked. "My chili's just the thing for stuffed up noses. Guaranteed."
"Thanks anyway," Scully responded, dabbing at her nose as April-Mae took another drag. "Agent Mulder's right; we do need to get back."
April-Mae shrugged noncommittally, unfazed by the rejection. Mulder led the way out of the house, looking covertly for Bogg. The homesteader was nowhere to be seen.
As they climbed back into Adams' truck, the sheriff glanced over at the two agents. "Well," he said, buckling himself in and turning the ignition, "what do you make of that, then?"
Mulder's eyes were shining. "No tracks, no scat, no evidence of animal or human involvement in Granger's or Erickson's deaths," he said, his voice edged with excitement. He glanced over at Scully, huddled again in her jacket. "This should prove interesting, once Agent Scully has done her autopsy."
There was a silence while Adams backed the truck out of the drive and accelerated it down the highway. The snow, for now, had stopped. "What do you think, Agent Scully?" Adams prompted.
Scully considered. "I think I'd like to read Mr. Heffner's dissertation when he's finished it," she said dryly. Mulder turned and glared. Scully smiled slightly, threw her partner a "gotcha" look. "I'm not sure," she said, turning serious. "Agent Mulder's right -- we may know more after I have a look at the three victims tomorrow. Even then, the histology and toxicology will give us the best information, but it'll be at least a couple of weeks before we get the results back from the Great Falls medical examiner's office. I still think," she continued carefully, "that we're dealing with something odd but explainable in conventional terms."
Mulder threw her a look again, the familiar, challenging look that said "you're on". Scully returned it with a slight lift of her eyebrows, then closed her eyes for a quick nap.
They headed back to Eureka in thoughtful silence.
The Archimedes Motor Hotel
Scully groaned at the insistent tap on the door and opened her eyes. It always startled her a little to find herself in unfamiliar surroundings when she woke up. She had no idea why. The Learning Channel was showing what looked to be a repeat episode of "Blast Masters", and her laptop screen swirled patiently, waiting for her to return to her work. She sat up and rubbed her face. Doc Jensen of the Twilite Pharmacy had fixed her up but good. She could actually breathe now, but the good doctor's ministrations had left her groggy. She checked the time.
She ran her hands through her hair, smoothing it down as she peeked through the peephole. Figures, she thought. She sighed, unclipped the chain, and opened the door to the guy standing outside in the dark and the cold. Mulder peered at her inquisitively.
"Sorry," he said. "Did I get you up?"
Scully shook her head. "No problem," she replied, her voice thick and husky, tinged with sarcasm. "I was getting up to answer the door, anyway." She took in his wet hair, his t-shirt and shorts, the towel around his neck, the battered Keds, and the steaming mug he held in his hands. "You trying to catch a bug, too?"
Mulder raised his eyebrows a little at her voice. "I was just down at the hot tub and sauna," he said, his breath condensing. "They've got a great little setup here. The manager was trying to ply me with beer. He's tickled pink that he's got a couple of FBI agents staying at his humble inn." He grinned. "You should have come down. I think the steam might have done you some good."
Scully massaged the back of her neck, mustering an indulgent smile. "Aren't you cold?"
"Not really," Mulder said. "It's kind of invigorating, actually. I can understand why the Swedes like to throw themselves into snowbanks after sitting naked in a sauna."
"I don't think I want to know, Mulder," Scully muttered.
"Anyway, I brought this for you," Mulder said, proffering the mug. "Hot lemon and honey. The manager's wife made it up when I told her you were sick. The honey's from her family's apiary."
Scully smiled, warmed by the gesture, and took the mug. "Thank you, Mulder," she said. She took a sip, stepping aside to let Mulder in. She sat cross-legged on the bed while Mulder settled in a chair, rubbing his wet hair with the towel. Eyeing the TV, he pointed at a figure in an FBI jacket.
"Hey. Isn't that Harrison? I did some of my explosives training with him." Scully eyed the TV and nodded.
"I think so," she said. She slid her finger over the laptop's touchpad and the screen saver winked off, replaced by text. She turned the little computer so that Mulder could see. "I did a little background check on Hieronymous Bogg," she said. "Adams was right; he has no recent convictions, but he has been arrested in the past for weapons violations, mostly handguns. He's been fingerprinted and his prints are on the FBI database. I can't find any definite links to paramilitary organizations. He hasn't been charged with anything in the last three years other than drunk and disorderly, but he does have a file with us." She looked up at Mulder and found herself mildly surprised that he was paying attention.
"Interesting," Mulder said, draping the towel back over his shoulders. "You said that Adams thinks he has some low-level connections with a group."
"And that Adams has never had cause to search the Bogg homestead for weapons caches or any sign of illegal activity connected to these groups," Scully finished. "I did see on Bogg's bookshelf a newsletter from the Sons of Freedom. Now they have been linked to terrorist activities. They have a compound here in Montana and a sister compound in Northern Idaho."
"Did you catch the copy of 'The Lone Gunman'?" Mulder asked. Scully smiled.
"Yes, I did. Poor guys. They have their ideas, but they're only capable of assaulting good taste." Scully shifted and took another sip of her drink, studying the screen. "I'd agree with Adams; nothing I saw out at the homestead indicates that there's anything we can legally use as probable cause to search the premises. But I wonder if we shouldn't keep our eyes open for an opportunity while we're here." She looked back at Mulder, who was nodding in agreement.
"Go on," he said, absently playing with the little doily that lay on the side table.
Scully regarded him, slightly puzzled. "So I'm thinking that while we're out here chasing ghosts, we might as well look for opportunities to get more information for our colleagues in Domestic Terrorism. I know the field office in Salt Lake City has a file on the Sons of Freedom and I'm sure they'd appreciate any information we can give them."
"I think you're right, Scully," Mulder said. His expression was solemn, but tinged with amusement around the eyes. Scully shook her head, frowning.
"What?" she demanded.
"Nothing," he responded, his eyes turning serious for a moment. "I think you're right about needing to keep tabs on Bogg. I appreciate the fact that you have your eye on the bigger picture." The mischievous look returned. "But I've got to say that I'm really enjoying listening to your voice."
Scully cleared her throat, feeling a flush creep over her face. "Right," she said, and winced as her voice emerged lower and huskier than ever. "Thank you so much."
Mulder stood and pulled a blanket down from the closet shelf. He unfolded it and draped it around Scully's back, letting his hands come to rest on her shoulders. She looked up in surprise. Mulder looked back at her with genuine warmth and affection.
"Good work, Scully," he said. "I mean it. Keep it up." He touched her cheek briefly. "And I hope you feel better tomorrow." With that, he left.
Scully smiled softly as she took another sip of lemon, feeling its heat mingle with the rest of the warmth suffusing her body.
Eureka General Hospital
Scully flopped wearily into a chair and slowly pulled off her gloves, looking at the bagged remains of Mr. Wolfleg. Three autopsies, all done before lunch. Not bad for a morning's work. She closed her eyes and massaged her neck, wincing at the general achiness that pervaded her body. She'd slept well last night and had awakened this morning feeling considerably better, but the bug wasn't out of her system yet. Far from it. A chill ran through her and she thought ruefully that she would order anyone else with the same symptoms to bed with a hot water bottle, or at least a stack of videos.
"I'll survive," she muttered to herself. She moved over to the sink to wash up. Her cell phone rang, and with a flash of prescience she groaned audibly. Not another one.
"Scully," she sighed into the handset.
"Hey, Scully, how you feeling?" Mulder's voice came through crackly, on the edge of the cell boundary.
"That depends on what you're about to tell me," she responded, tucking the phone against her shoulder and beginning to run water in the stainless steel sink.
There was a pause. Scully closed her eyes and waited for it.
"Uh, well actually, Adams' deputy should be there any minute with the latest victim," Mulder said apologetically. "A Mrs. Rice, aged sixty-four, the town librarian. Her boarder found her this morning, in the kitchen. He could smell the breakfast burning and he went to investigate."
Scully pinched the skin between her eyes. "And you want an autopsy, right?"
"That would be helpful," Mulder said, his voice fading then returning. "Sorry, Scully. The cellular service is a little spotty out here. What did you find on the ones you did this morning?"
Scully stretched the kink out of her back. "Well, the good thing about eviscerated corpses is that there's a lot less to do," she said. "The only fluid I could obtain was vitreous, since the bodies have all been pretty effectively exsanguinated and urine samples were out of the question. I've sent brain tissue to the labs in Great Falls, along with samples from the body cavity and the incision site. But I couldn't see anything obvious. No bite marks, no evidence of trauma other than the fact that they were disembowelled. And that appears to be the primary cause of death." She paused. "But what's most interesting is how neatly it was all done. Surgical in precision. Both ends of the digestive tract are cleanly cut."
"Definitely not an animal, then," Mulder crackled.
"I'd say not. We might be dealing with a psychopathic neat freak." The connection stuttered. "Mulder, I'm losing you."
"Can...alk...oard?" Mulder fizzled. Scully frowned, her free hand instinctively flying to her ear.
Scully paused, piecing together his request. "You want me to talk to Mrs. Rice's boarder?"
"Anything else, Mulder? Can I pick up your drycleaning? Return your video rentals?"
"Look, I'd help," Mulder said, still crackling but clearer. "But I'm out here at the Bogg homestead."
"Sorry, Mulder," Scully said. "I hate being sick. I get cranky when I'm sick."
"I appreciate what you're doing," Mulder replied. "Really. I'll make it up to you somehow."
A door opened and the familiar sound of gurney wheels on rubber-coated concrete caught Scully's attention. "Looks like Mrs. Rice is here," she said resignedly. "This shouldn't take too long. Then I'll find her boarder, and meet you out there."
"Sounds good. When can I expect you?"
"Okay," Mulder said. His voice became conspiratorial. "By the way, Mr. Heffner keeps asking after you. I think he's kinda sweet on you, Scully."
Scully smirked. "I'll see you later," she said, and clicked off. She looked up to see two lab techs bringing in the bagged form of Mrs. Rice, with a stricken-looking deputy following behind.
"Agent Scully," he said, looking at her, "I'm Deputy Griffin." He shook her hand, and glanced at the body bag. "God, I hate my job."
"This kind of work is never easy," Scully soothed.
Griffin clutched his hat and chewed his lip. "I wish I'd made my peace with her," he blurted, his eyes reddening. "The last time I saw her, we argued. It almost came to blows."
Scully studied the form on the clipboard that rested on the body, reminding herself of the close-knit nature of small communities like Eureka. She looked at Griffin with sympathy. "You knew her well, then. I'm sorry. It's difficult to lose someone you care about."
Griffin sniffed and hesitated. "She revoked my borrowing privileges," he blurted finally. "Kept saying I owed twelve dollars and fifteen cents in overdue fines. I should have just paid them, dammit." With that, he grabbed the clipboard from Scully and scribbled his name. He fled the room with a whimper.
Scully shook her head and sighed, tossing the clipboard aside and snapping on a fresh pair of gloves.
Mike Petrou ran a shaking hand through his thick black hair as he sat next to a more composed Deputy Griffin in Mrs. Rice's living room. The living room was immaculate, its appointments genteel and spare while still conveying warmth. A large stone fireplace dominated the room, its mantle holding several framed pictures and keepsakes. Scully stirred the mug of instant chicken noodle soup as she listened.
"I thought she'd just slipped, you know," Petrou said, reaching tremulously for a cigarette. "She's lying there on the kitchen floor with her back to me, and I go to turn her over..." Petrou gagged slightly, his eyes tearing. He giggled self-consciously. "She was frying up breakfast sausages. Is that sick or what?"
"It would be helpful if you could show me where you found her," Scully said. Petrou shook his head.
"I ain't setting foot in that kitchen again," he asserted, pulling on the cigarette. "You wouldn't have that soup if Griff hadn't gone and got it for you. I've already made arrangements to move in with the Millers. Once you're gone, I'm outta here." He looked at the cigarette in disgust. "I haven't smoked in ten years. I could even put up with Mrs. Rice's habit without a thought, that's how clean I was."
"I understand," Scully said, dodging slightly to avoid a wisp of smoke. "Can you give me any other details? Anything you can tell me would be helpful."
Petrou sighed. "The weirdest thing was there was no blood, no - - no guts, either. None at all. Maybe a llittle blood on her dress where the -- where the cut was. She didn't scream or call out or anything. I first knew something was up when I smelled burning and the smoke alarm went off. But there was a noise as I came down the stairs. It was -- " He shivered. "It was kind of a sliding noise -- a scraping, hollow sort of noise, like maybe someone was dragging a hollow tube across the floor. I dunno." He looked up at Scully with red eyes. "She kinda reminded me of a gutted fish, you know, kinda laying there with her mouth and eyes all open and glassy-like." He paused and took a deep breath, the ash from his smoke shuddering off the end and onto a doily. "That's when I called the Sheriff's office, and started making phone calls to other boarding houses. That's all I can tell you, Agent Scully. Wish I could be more helpful."
"No blood, no entrails," Scully said. Petrou nodded. Scully looked at Griffin, who grimaced in confirmation. "Could you show me?" she asked the deputy. Reluctantly, he rose, clapping Petrou on the shoulder as he led the way into the kitchen.
Scully looked at the polished surfaces and knelt on the floor near the refrigerator. "This is where Mr. Petrou found her?" she asked. Griffin nodded. Scully bent closer, running a gloved hand over the surface, straining to see minute blood stains. There were none. She straightened, glancing around. "This place belongs on the cover of Good Housekeeping," she murmured, rocking back to her feet and standing slowly.
"She kept her place pretty spic and span, all right," Griffin acknowledged. Scully regarded him.
"How well do you know Mr. Petrou?" she said softly. Griffin shook his head.
"He's not the one who did this," Griffin said firmly. "He's an environmental consultant and a member of the Sierra Club. Comes in once in awhile to work with the forestry industry and to do a little backcountry hiking and skiing. I saw him accidentally squish a bug once, and I thought he was going to cry. There is absolutely no way. I can vouch for his character."
Scully nodded, peering out at the haze of smoke in the adjoining living room. "And you can confirm his story about how Mrs. Rice appeared when she was found?"
"Absolutely," Griffin said. "There was no sign she'd been dragged or moved, and definitely no sign of blood or anything else." He shifted, uncomfortable. "I don't know about that dragging noise he described. She definitely died where she dropped. It was like she was here, cooking, and then she was down there, dead. With no guts. Like Scotty had beamed them out of her or something."
Scully frowned and nodded. "Thank you, Deputy," she said. "I think that will be all. I've arranged to have the lab work on all the victims sent to your office. If there's anything worth following up on, the reports should give you the data you need."
Griffin nodded. Scully bid her farewells to the deputy and the still-vibrating Petrou and headed toward the rental car. As she headed out of town toward the Bogg homestead, her thoughts swirled around the case much like the snow that was now drifting downward, obscuring the tracks behind her.
Mulder peered worriedly out the living room window, parting the chintz curtains with his fingers. The snow was falling steadily and thickly, and the light was fading. He was about to reach for his cell phone when he saw two yellow globes gliding toward the house along the roadway. He sighed, relieved, his attention only partly on Heffner's animated chatter.
"...and the conference buffet was this theme thing," Heffner was saying. "Great food. They had salmon mousse piled into the tops of these Australopithecus skulls. Plastic, of course. You spread it on crackers with these fake spear points." Mulder looked at Heffner, not sure whether to be amused or disgusted. Adams, Todd, and April-Mae sat near him, April-Mae focused intently on crocheting a doily. Bogg was hunched over his typewriter in the corner, banging away on a manifesto.
"I mean," Heffner continued, addressing Mulder since it seemed he was the only one paying attention, "it could have been tacky if it wasn't so tastefully done." His face lit up as he heard footsteps outside the door. "Is that Agent Scully? Oh good, I'm glad she made it okay."
Mulder opened the door to Scully, who was stamping and brushing the snow off herself. "It's really coming down out there," she commented, stepping inside.
"The sheriff and I were debating calling you," Mulder said, taking her coat. "About half an hour ago he got a call about a storm warning, but we figured you were already on your way. We might want to consider just turning around and heading back into town."
Adams shook his head. "I wouldn't recommend that, not now," he said. "The forecast is for a blizzard. They blow in fast here. I'd hate to get stranded." As if to confirm his warning, a gust of wind slammed hard against the house, blowing whorls of snow against the window. Scully looked at Mulder, slightly irritated, then thought better of saying anything.
"Agent Scully?" Heffner said, waving to attract her attention. He pointed at her, gun style, and winked. "Hanging."
"I'm sorry?" she said, moving closer to the group.
"Aloysius Bogg. He was hanged. The odontoid process was broken off, like you said."
Scully smiled and nodded. "That's fascinating," she said, squirming internally under Heffner's covetous gaze. Mulder, curious to observe Heffner's reaction, sidled up beside his partner and briefly but pointedly laid his hand on her upper back. Heffner glowered. Mulder smiled softly, taking a seat across from Adams. Scully rolled her eyes.
"Well," April-Mae said brightly, laying her crocheting on her lap, "since we may all be here together for the night, who's up for leftover chili?"
Heffner enthusiastically raised his hand. Bogg muttered something impolite from his corner and threw the carriage return hard enough to knock the little typewriter askew. Todd smiled at April-Mae. "That sounds great," she said. "But we may be able to get out of here. Let's just see how the storm shakes down."
"No problem," April-Mae said cheerily. "In the meantime, Hi has a stock of some pretty good homebrew." She glanced at Bogg, knowing that one way to draw him out of one of his antisocial funks was to get him to start talking about his beer making. Bogg straightened and swiveled in his chair, his response purely Pavlovian. April-Mae grinned.
"Whaddya got, Hi?" Heffner said. "I've played around a bit with stouts and porters, but I've got that sedimentation thing happening all the time."
"You just don't know how to rack properly, kid," Bogg grumbled, but his expression had lightened considerably. "I'll show you a good brew. Be right back." He disappeared into the kitchen, and his feet could be heard pounding down the steps to the basement. He returned a few minutes later, several unlabeled longnecks clanking between his fingers.
"I got some pale and dark ale, some wheat beers, and a porter for the kid," he said, standing them upright on the decoupage table. He looked at Adams. "What's your pleasure, Sheriff?"
Adams checked his watch. "I'd better hold off," he said. "In case the weather lifts and we can go back to town." Todd nodded her agreement. Bogg looked over at Scully, who was blowing her nose again. "I'm on medication," she said. "But thanks." Bogg looked disappointed.
"Buncha candy-asses," he muttered. He threw a challenging look at Mulder. "What about you, Fed?"
Mulder pointed to the array of bottles with his chin. "What's your recommendation?" Bogg lifted a couple of bottles, squinting at the contents. He tossed one to Mulder, who barely caught it.
"Dark ale," Bogg announced. "Better than the horse piss you probably drink." He disappeared into the kitchen, hunting for a bottle opener. Mulder held the slightly sticky bottle gingerly away from him as though expecting it to explode.
"We're still on duty, Mulder," Scully admonished lightly.
"Technically, yes," he said, bringing the bottle to his face for closer examination. "But are you planning to go back to the office?" Scully shrugged, looked amused as Bogg returned with an opener, glasses, and, unexpectedly, coasters. He popped the cap off Mulder's bottle first, then did the same for Heffner and himself. Mulder poured the ale and took a cautious sip. Scully watched as Mulder's expression froze, a grimace trying to force its way past the polite mantle. Reluctantly, he swallowed.
Bogg was making a big show of his sediment-free porter to an impressed Heffner. He looked at Mulder, whose expression was carefully neutral. "Well, Fed? Isn't that impressive?"
Mulder nodded slowly. "It's -- well malted," he said. Bogg snorted.
"Damn straight it is," he said. "The extra sweet kick comes from the honey." He plunked himself down next to Heffner and engaged him in an animated conversation about brewing. Mulder caught Adams' eye. Adams was laughing quietly.
"Shoulda warned you," Adams said softly, leaning close to Mulder. "It's the worst goddamned stuff on the planet."
Mulder shook his head. "It's going to be a long night," he said ruefully.
Scully studied the cards in her hand, less interested in the game than in the fascinating conversation she was sharing with April- Mae and Avril Todd. They'd played several rounds of Hearts, Scully winning most, but mainly due to the fact that she was paying attention to the game. Todd had started the conversation by inquiring about Scully's background; this had led to a sharing of information on career choices. April-Mae's contribution was turning out to be the most surprising of all.
"So, after getting my Bachelor's in physics and minoring in urban sociology, I went for the Masters," she was saying. "Quantum mechanics - that was the thing I really had the aptitude for. I really wanted to look at chaos theory and its application to human events like moral panics and mass hysteria."
"So what happened?" Todd asked, hoping she wasn't asking an indelicate question.
April-Mae shrugged, sucked on the end of a cigarette. "I realized that unless I wanted to teach at the university, which didn't appeal to me, my only other option was to offer paper or plastic at Safeway for the rest of my life. I dropped out of my program and went for an MBA. I finished that, summa cum laude, and moved back to Great Falls to start up my own business. That's where I met Hi."
Scully bit her lip, ungraciously tempted to repeat Todd's question. April-Mae smiled at her companions.
"You're probably wondering what happened there too, aren't you?" she asked, looking from one to the other. Both her companions displayed carefully cultivated neutral expressions. "Hi's a good man, under the crust," she said, rearranging her cards. "He's a redneck, and he has his beliefs, but you've never heard a man quote Shakespeare and Proust quite like he does." April-Mae leaned forward confidentially. "Especially in bed. He's a solid, dyed-in-the-wool romantic. Seriously."
"Can't judge a book by its cover," Scully commented sagely, laying a card on the pile. April-Mae and Todd nodded in agreement, examining their cards. Scully looked across the room at Mulder, who was trapped in a corner with Heffner, Adams, and an obviously drunk Bogg. Heffner was in the middle of a joke.
"...so when they found the skeleton inside the wall of the old barn," he was saying, "they figured they wouldn't have too hard a time identifying it. He had a medallion around his neck..."
"...saying 'Hide and Seek Champion, 1935'," Mulder finished, flipping one of Bogg's beer tops into an upturned ballcap. He had a bigger pile of bottle tops than his companions, including the entirely sober Adams. Mulder had switched to Bogg's wheat beer, which was considerably more agreeable than the dark ale. Even so, he'd only had two.
Heffner looked hurt. "Agent Mulder, you spoiled my best anthropology joke," he said indignantly. Mulder shrugged, attempting to bank a cap off one of the empties into the hat. He missed by a mile.
Bogg was twitchy when he was drunk, but at the moment he appeared relatively mellow. Adams, Mulder noticed, was keeping careful watch. "So Mulder," Boggs slurred, "how come you've worked for the Fibbies for so long and you're still a field agent? Ain't you any good?"
Mulder shrugged and flipped another cap. "I keep losing the swimsuit competition at promotion time," he said indifferently.
Heffner snorted, swigging another mouthful of Bogg's finest porter. He decided he liked Mulder, even if he stole the punchlines to his best jokes and acted like he had the better claim to the lovely Agent Scully. Speaking of whom... Heffner leaned back in his chair and gazed at Scully, who was yawning not entirely discreetly. God, she had the most beautiful zygomatic arches.
The wind howled and pounded the sturdy log cabin in this, the third straight hour.
"So, Agent Mulder," Adams said, leaning forward to empty the ballcap for yet another round, "tell me more about your theory about these deaths and the ghost of Al Bogg. I read quite a bit, and I've begun to wonder if all this resurgent interest in the paranormal isn't just some sort of new fad."
Mulder tried not to bristle. "Well, it's been my long-held belief that we've become so reliant on science and Western empiricism that we've neglected other ways of knowing the world, that there are other belief systems that are equally valid but tend to be dismissed because they don't fit the scientific paradigm. I respect science, but I don't believe it can answer everything."
"Your partner seems to think it can," Adams countered.
"True," Mulder admitted. "She does our work a very important service by insisting that we rule out the scientifically plausible explanation before we seriously entertain the scientifically unverifiable. I embarrass myself occasionally in my work, usually because I've ignored her input. But I'm getting better." He accepted his share of bottle caps from Adams and flipped one. It bounced off the button in the hat's centre and landed squarely on the bill. Adams positioned one of his caps on his thumb and eyed the hat.
"Still, you don't think that this increase in popular interest in paranormal phenomena has a lot to do with life in the '90's?" he mused. "A kind of post-modern deconstructionism that's rejected absolutes in favor of hyper-relativistic thinking? Is it pre-millennial tension, maybe?"
Mulder regarded Adams, impressed, and was about to answer when Bogg belched. "Pre-millennial tension," the homesteader grunted. "When April-Mae gets that, she bloats up like an old cow."
Adams missed the hat. Both he and Mulder looked disapprovingly at Bogg, while Heffner merely giggled into his beer.
A hollow dragging noise reverberated through the room.
Scully looked up, startled. The noise dwarfed the racket of the wind, its residual harmonics reminding her somewhat of an attenuated digeridoo in its lower registers. It sounded again, sending a chill down her back.
The others stared around room; they'd heard it, too. It sounded a third time, riding down the rafters into the structure of the building itself and dissipating into the moan and wail of the wind.
"What the hell is that?" April-Mae said. Scully looked over at Mulder, who had stood along with everyone else. He looked back, and an understanding passed between them, unspoken.
"I think it's just the wind," Scully lied. Todd shook her head.
"That's no wind," she said. It sounded again, more distantly this time, away from the house.
"It's headed toward the barn," Bogg muttered. Adams looked at him warily, recognizing the initial stages of alcohol-induced rage he'd jailed Bogg for numerous times.
"Steady, there, Hi," Adams warned, brushing his hand past his sidearm. Bogg ignored him.
Scully had moved over to Mulder. "That's the noise that Mrs. Rice's boarder described," she said quietly. Mulder nodded. Adams moved closer to them.
"That's not your ghost, is it, Agent Mulder?" Adams said, staring nervously up at the beams.
"I don't know," Mulder said. "I think we should have a look."
Adams looked at him in disbelief. "You kidding?" He wandered over to the window and pulled back the curtains. Snow had drifted against the sill and was swirling outside. The single flood light had been reduced to a diffuse glow. "Assuming you can even find the barn, why would you go out there to look for this thing?"
"It's demonstrated that it can enter buildings," Mulder said. "I think it's also fairly discriminating in who it kills. If it wasn't, I think we'd all be dead by now."
"Fucking great," Bogg burped, his rodent eyes glowing. He popped the top off another beer.
Mulder looked at Scully, who looked back uncertainly. "Mulder, that blizzard is blinding," she said. "We could so easily get lost, even if we think we know where we're going."
Mulder looked out the window, studying the rise and fall of the wind. "It only gets bad when the wind really gusts," he said. He motioned her over, pointing. "See, when it dies a little, you can just make out the barn." Scully watched, reluctantly agreed with Mulder's assessment. Mulder looked at her, at her high colour.
"If you don't feel up to this, I can take Sheriff Adams with me," he said. Scully shook her head.
"I need to see this thing for myself," she asserted. In truth, she was tired and had been hoping for an early night. But she wasn't about to let Mulder go out alone.
"Sheriff Adams," she said, looking up at her colleague, "stay here and make sure everyone stays put. Mulder and I won't be long." She and Mulder headed for their winter gear; Scully glad that she had opted for the ugly but functional Sorel boots.
"I'm not staying here and letting no government shit-fer-brains look after my property!" Bogg bellowed, leaping to his feet. Adams pushed him easily back into the chair, giving him a stern look. Bogg glared back at him, then slid out of the chair and stalked stiffly toward the basement. Adams looked after him, wary, and followed him as far as the kitchen.
"Leave him be, Carl," April-Mae said. "He's all right." A gust of wind and snow pushed into the house as Mulder and Scully left.
The two agents fished the big flashlights out of the rental car and stood for a moment, disoriented, looking for the barn. The clanking of the flagpole's halyard drew their attention to the flag, now snapping and whipping in obeisance to the wind. Snow scattered the light everywhere, diffusing it, stealing its power to illuminate their path. The wind died for a moment, and Mulder grasped Scully's arm, pointing. The barn loomed perhaps two hundred feet ahead, a grey mass huddled against the charcoal of the night sky. They put their heads down, Mulder pushing a path through the snow, Scully hanging on to his jacket. They stopped as the noise sounded again, from the general direction of the barn. Then the wind reasserted its dominance over everything and they pressed forward.
They found the barn. Pushing its heavy doors open, they entered, shining their lights around. The wind screamed, knifing through the slats and through the seams of their jackets. Mulder shivered, taking note of the barn's contents. Two old, rusting vehicles, ancient farming equipment, a pile of bald and cracked tires, a scattering of hay. Mulder took one side of the barn doors, Scully the other. He listened carefully for the hollow dragging sound through the howling of the blizzard.
Bullets suddenly ripped through the old wood of the barn in a deafening, deadly staccato.
Instinctively, Mulder threw himself to the ground. More semiautomatic rifle fire tore through the wall he'd been standing next to, spitting splinters through the newly rendered holes. He looked ahead, wild-eyed, and saw movement across the barn, as though of someone crawling along the floor.
"Scully!" he yelled, and ducked his head again as another volley of bullets sprayed through the open barn door. Faintly, he heard Bogg's voice above the wind:
"'By the pricking of my thumbs,'" Bogg bellowed, "'something wicked this way comes!'"
More bullets spewed through the door. Mulder thought he could see Scully's face lift from its prone position.
"Mulder!" she called. "You okay?!"
"Get down, Scully!" he yelled back, hugging his head tight to the floor as more ammunition poured through the wall, sending showers of wood chunks over his back.
"'Oh villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!'" Bogg quoted again, his words snatched away by the wind. He howled as he yanked again on the trigger, spraying the barnyard with lethal metal projectiles.
"'That he is mad, 'tis true'," Mulder muttered into the floor. More bullets. By the light of her flashlight, he saw Scully move. His heart flipped as she appeared to lift herself off the floor and crawl away from the wall. The gunfire stopped for a second, then started up on her side of the structure. He watched, horrified, as bullets gored the wall near her and she suddenly pitched forward.
"Scully!!" he screamed, panic igniting. Wide-eyed, he searched the floor for her, every sense, every nerve standing on end. He inched forward, releasing an involuntary whimper of frustration and fear as the projectiles reached for him again. Goddammit, she was hurt, perhaps dying, perhaps dead...
"Bogg, you fucking shithead, cut it out!" he yelled, his voice catching, as metal casings pinged around him like hail. The onslaught continued and Mulder lay flat, counting off the endless seconds, tears of abject fury stinging his eyes.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!" Bogg yelled hoarsely, forsaking the Bard for Bronson, and strafed the barn once more. After several more agonizing seconds, the volley suddenly stopped. Mulder listened through the ringing in his ears but heard no more gunfire, only the scream of the wind. He paused, waiting, then could wait no longer. He pressed his advantage, scurrying across the floor on his elbows and knees as fast as they could take him. He heard Bogg's distant swearing and hoped
that the bastard had run out of ammunition.
"Scully??" he called softly, his voice pitched high and frantic, directed at a soft huddled lump in the dark. His heart was in his mouth -- oh god, they'd never be able to get her to the hospital in this weather, oh god oh god oh god...
The floor disappeared under his elbows as he pitched forward into blackness. There was a blinding pain and a blaze of ungodly light, and then there was nothing.
grey, grey, the world was grey, a wizard of oz grey, its features bleak and flat and jesus who's been messing with the colour on my tv
warm and smooth against my face what the hell is that oh my god SCULLY
He gasped and jerked awake. Someone knifed him in the head as he tried to sit up.
"Shh. I'm here. It's me. It's okay." Pressure on his shoulders, pressing him back down onto something that scratched against his jacket and pricked his scalp. The someone had finished with the knife and was now excavating his skull with a backhoe.
"Scully..." he said, lying back and reaching forward feebly. He grabbed something, an arm, and gripped the Gore-Tex fabric. The warm softness again on his face, on his forehead, on OUCH
"Just lay back. You've got a nasty gash on your temple."
Mulder sobbed once, an inarticulate blend of relief and unreleased, anticipatory grief. "I thought you were dead," he said, his voice hoarse and tight. "I saw the gunfire, and I saw you go down..."
"I went down all right," Scully said, squeezing his hand and gently smoothing hair away from his wound. "Same way you did." She watched as his eyes focused on her face. He squinted in the indirect glare of her oversized flashlight as she held a finger up. "Follow this," she said, moving it slowly side to side. Holding up more fingers, she asked, "How many?"
"Four. What do I win?"
Scully smiled. "A working brain," she said. "Your pupils are reacting normally, you're tracking okay, and you seem to have most of your marbles. How's the head?"
"Feels like I drank a case of Bogg's ale," he said, closing his eyes again and wincing. Scully nodded soberly.
"You've probably got a mild concussion," she said. "I want you to just lay there and relax. I don't think we're getting out of here tonight, anyway." Mulder opened his eyes again and looked around at the darkness that lay beyond the pool of light near his hip. "What is this?" he asked.
Scully sat back on her heels and followed Mulder's gaze. "While you were unconscious, I did a little exploring," she said. "It looks like a hay storage bin of some sort. There's hay everywhere, big piles of it. I looked around as best I could, but I didn't see a door. The only entry or exit seems to be the way we came in." She gestured to the trap door above them.
Mulder sighed and pushed himself to a more upright position, Scully watching disapprovingly. He breathed out again, more slowly, watching his breath condense in the air. "It's cold," he said. Scully nodded.
"The weather report said it was going down to fifteen below tonight, which will feel like forty below with the wind chill." Scully spoke idly, unconsciously pulling down on the zipper of her jacket. Mulder frowned, noticing her flush and the damp, dark strands of hair sticking to her jaw.
"You look warm enough for both of us," he said, concerned. Scully grimaced, pressed her wrist against her forehead.
"I've been running a fever all afternoon," she said tiredly. She crawled beside Mulder and began pulling up handfuls of hay, piling them around and over her partner.
"Hay is insulating," she said. "We should be okay as long as we're out of the wind and stay under some cover." Mulder tried to stand to help her, but she pushed him back. Mildly annoyed but in too much pain to put up much of a fight, he settled for grabbing what he could around him, feeling impotently becalmed in a sea of dead grass.
Scully worked slowly, methodically, pushing hay over and around them. She shoved a large mound to her partner's left side and dragged her wrist across her freely perspiring forehead, her breathing laboured. Mulder looked at her pained expression and held out his hand.
"I know a perfect, scientifically valid method for keeping warm," he said. Scully smiled. She took his hand and stepped around the mound, lowering herself to her knees beside him.
"Believe it or not," she said, "I was going to suggest the same thing." She pulled Mulder's hood over his head and snugged the zipper tight, reluctantly doing the same to her own. She settled beside him, reaching to pull the hay over him while he drew the large mound over them both. Exhausted, she lay her head on his shoulder, resting in the crook of his arm, her own arm draped over his stomach. Mulder pulled his right glove off and slipped his hand under Scully's hood, letting it rest on her cheek.
"Mmmm," she murmured, "that feels good." She lifted her chin a little, directing his cool palm elsewhere on her face. "Don't let your hand get cold."
"Not here it won't," Mulder said, subconsciously pulling her closer. "You're radiating like a blast furnace."
"Frohike was right," she muttered into his wrist. "I am hot."
Mulder bit his lip.
They lay like that for several minutes, both craving sleep but still feeling the adrenalin rushing through their bodies. Each of them hovered at the twilight edge, but just as they dipped over it their still-jangling nerves yanked them back to wakefulness. The wind howled and pounded the building in ragged gusts, whistling through the new holes Bogg had made for it, making the aging timbers sway and creak above them. At times the entire barn shook, sending a vibration clear down to the hay bin. It was unsettling. It was unnerving.
It was still out there.
And so was Bogg, somewhere, perhaps reloading.
"There's something I've always wanted to ask you. About autopsies."
"What about 'em."
Mulder shifted, knowing the distraction was nine-tenths for his benefit. "I know you develop a clinical detachment, but does it ever bother you?"
"Sometimes," Scully replied thoughtfully. "Most times I'm just doing a job, a service to find the truth about what happened to someone. Sometimes, though, I'm very much aware that I'm dealing with what was once a human being, someone who was once as alive as you or me, with thoughts, beliefs, experiences, dreams. I convince myself that that person is no longer occupying the shell, but some days it's harder than others."
Mulder nodded, noting that his headache was subsiding a little. He listened to the wind for a moment more.
"What part of an autopsy bothers you the most?" he asked. He felt her small shrug under his left arm.
"I don't know. Cutting open the skull and removing the brain, I think."
Scully hesitated. "I think it's because that's where I believe the person, the essence of the human spirit, resides," she said. "It amazes me to think that a person might be nothing more than the electrochemical action of a few pounds of grey, gelatinous tissue. I believe we're more than that, but..." She trailed off, then added, "Removing the brain makes me feel a little, well, sad."
"It's sort of like a desecration," Mulder offered. He felt Scully's head move against his shoulder in a nod.
"That's interesting," he mused. "The ancient Egyptians believed that the heart contained a person's essence. When the nobility were being prepared for mummification, the priests excised all the organs except for the heart. The only organ they didn't preserve was the brain. They felt it was irrelevant. They removed it through the nasal cavity or eye sockets and discarded it -- maybe fed it to the cat or something."
He prepared to launch into another cultural analogy but stopped, aware of Scully's deepened breathing. He felt her body rise and fall gently under his arm, keeping slow, measured time.
"Scully?" he whispered. No response. He glanced down, seeing the edge of her hood, a protruding shock of slightly damp hair, and the subtle curve of her slender nose. Her eyes were closed, long lashes grazing the top of her cheekbones.
The crushing sensation of love and gratitude in his chest was as powerful as it was unexpected. On impulse, he brushed his lips gently against her forehead. Then he let his head fall back against the hay, closed his eyes, and toppled after her, into the abyss.
It was deathly quiet.
Even on the coldest winter mornings, a city still bustles and creaks with noise. The rhythmic cough of engines reluctantly starting, the styrofoam groan of tires on snow, the scream of said tires spinning futilely on ice, the all-season susurration of traffic on streets, the wail of sirens, all carrying for miles on endless, microscopic filaments of crystalline air. One of the few winter sounds the country shares with the city is the haunting, hollow moan of a jet as it slices through even colder air at thirty thousand feet.
Such a jet groaned through the frozen firmament above the barn and scared the bejeezus out of Scully. Her head popped out of the haystack as though spring loaded.
She was still alive.
Remembering where she was, she settled back into the warm pocket. At some point in the night, Mulder's arm had slipped off her shoulder and she'd curled up like a cat, half on, half off his groin. She peered at the face of the still-slumbering Mulder, glad she'd awakened first somehow.
Reluctantly, she crawled out of the shelter and stood in the chilly air. She shivered. The clothes under her jacket were damp and clammy, the result of the good fever sweat she must have had during the night. She was tired, stiff, and wobbly, but no longer feverish. She still felt like crap.
Wandering unsteadily over to the opening in the top of the storage bin, she noticed for the first time the ladder lying on its side against the wall, mostly buried by hay. Disgusted, she cursed softly in self recrimination for not noticing it the previous night. She really must have been out of it.
A groan and a rustle drew her attention back to the mound of hay. She moved back over and knelt beside Mulder, who was wincing as he slowly sat up.
"Good morning," she said, peeling off her glove and inspecting the gash on his temple. It had clotted messily and dried blood was matted in his hair. "You look like shit," she mused. "How do you feel?"
Mulder opened one eye. "Like shit," he said.
"I think you're going to have a scar," she muttered, frowning. "Sorry about that. Didn't bring my first aid kit."
Mulder painfully rolled to his hands and knees and sat on his haunches, stretching his shoulders back. "Please tell me," he groaned, "that you're at least half as sore as I am, and I'll feel better." He eyed her, taking in her pale complexion and the circles under her eyes. "How are you doing?"
Scully shrugged. "I'll live. I'd kill for a hot shower." She gestured to the ladder, her voice taking on a tone of apologetic self-reproach. "Look what I missed last night."
Mulder laughed voicelessly. "From what I recall, neither of us were in any shape to deal with Bogg or the blizzard or anything else last night," he said. "Just as well we stayed here." He listened, noting the absence of wind. "We can get out now, though."
Pushing himself to his feet, he made his way stiffly over to the ladder. Scully retrieved her flashlight, noting ruefully that it had been left on all night and the battery was now dead. She noted something else and squinted, peering at the rectangular shape in the wall.
"Mulder," she said, her legs swishing through the hay as she moved toward it. "Look at this."
"What is it?"
Scully ran her hands along the edge of the old wood door and encountered a rusty hasp with a padlock attached. "I'm not sure," she said. She batted at the hasp with the butt edge of the flashlight. The hasp came off on the fifth whack, and she pulled on the door edge. Her eyes widened.
"It's a heavy duty steel door," she said. A wheel sat in the middle of it, reminding her of a bank vault. She pushed the wood door outward, kicking hay out of the way. Mulder waded over to join her.
"What do you think that is?" he said, frowning. Scully tried turning the wheel. It resisted at first, then gave in a clockwise direction. She looked at Mulder.
"Let's find out." Scully turned the wheel, straining slightly at its stiffness. They heard bolts slide back. Scully pulled hard and the door swung open smoothly on oiled hinges. Behind it was a short tunnel with another door at the end.
Scully looked up at Mulder. "Want to bet this is part of the bomb shelter?" she asked. Mulder nodded his head, peering into the tunnel. They slipped inside.
Floor, walls, and ceiling were solid, poured concrete. The door at the other end wasn't nearly as heavy as the one they'd come through, but it was still made of metal. Scully turned the knob and reacted, surprised, when the bolt slid back. She opened it cautiously.
The inside was dark, and she squinted at the black interior. She squeezed her eyes shut as light blazed through the room, and opened them cautiously to see Mulder standing next to a light switch.
"Sorry," he said absently, looking around the room. Scully looked too, and raised her eyebrows.
The room was laid out as amicably as any modest basement apartment, the furniture covered loosely in plastic. The décor, though vintage Cold War, looked comfortable enough. A sofa and recliner rocker sat companionably by a coffee table. On the coffee table was a large, elaborate crocheted doily, and upon this was a vase containing silk flowers. A "Home Sweet Home" sampler hung above an old stereo and a decent selection of 78's,
A dozen wooden packing crates were stacked against the back wall of the room. Scully lifted the lid on one, and looked up at Mulder excitedly.
"Gun parts," she said. "Looks like knocked down semiautomatic rifles." Mulder lifted the lid off another box and nodded. "Same here," he responded. He ran his hand over the lid and looked at the floor, noting the absence of dust in a pathway from the door to the wall. "These haven't been here long. Looks like you were right, Scully. He's stockpiling weapons, perhaps dealing them on a small scale."
Scully looked at the serial number on a gunstock. "We can get a warrant to do a check on these numbers. He might have legal ownership if he can prove he owned them prior to September, '94, but somehow I doubt it." She closed the lid.
Mulder gestured to a hatch in the ceiling with a ladder leading up to it. "We might be able to get out there," he said, moving over to the ladder. Scully shook her head.
"It probably dumped a good couple of feet of snow last night," she said. "We'll never get it open." Mulder nodded reluctantly, and they made their way back out to the hay bin. After wrestling the ladder into place, they climbed out. Mulder retrieved his dropped flashlight and eyeballed the rolled up tarp he'd mistaken for a gravely injured Scully last night. He shuddered.
The snow had stopped, but the day had dawned ashen and depressingly cold. Still, it was bright enough to make their eyes hurt as they stood in an ankle deep drift inside the barn doorway. The drift angled up to knee height as it opened into the yard. The house lay just ahead and to the left. Mulder saw smoke curling languidly out of the fireplace chimney.
"Someone's home," he said, pointing. Scully nodded. They exchanged glances, each sharing the same wondering thought about what might have happened there last night.
Mulder took the lead, breaking trail toward the house. The snow had drifted to mid-thigh in places, but wasn't well compacted. Scully followed in his wake, keeping her head down as she trudged. She looked up once, just in time to see Mulder pitch forward.
"Aggh," he complained, rolling over, brushing snow from his face. Scully stifled a laugh. Mulder stood and stumbled, his boot slipping on something buried under the snow. He bent and cleared the white stuff away, uncovering a sock-clad foot. Scully drew closer.
"I think I know what happened to Bogg last night," Mulder said grimly. Scully nodded and knelt, helping Mulder clear away snow.
Bogg lay face down in a rough spread eagle, his semiautomatic rifle lying next to him. He was dressed exactly as they'd seen him last - shirt, jeans, and socks. Turning him over was a challenge; he was no more pliable than a store mannequin. Scully shook her head, noting the ice and frozen vomit stuck to Bogg's face and chest. Mulder was examining the rifle.
"Passed out and froze to death," Scully muttered. "Probably would have choked on his own vomit if the cold hadn't got him first."
Mulder gestured to the weapon. "He'd run out of ammo," he said. "Probably was on the way back to the house to reload." He glanced at Bogg's torso. "Vicious Al didn't get him, then."
Scully looked back at the house. "I'm surprised Sheriff Adams didn't come looking for us," she said. She stood, kicking snow back over Bogg's body. "We might as well leave Bogg out here in refrigeration until we can get him back to town. No point in moving him right now." Mulder picked up the weapon and the spent magazine and continued moving toward the house. He made it perhaps fifteen feet before he pitched face first into the drift again.
"Jesus!" he cursed, scrambling awkwardly back to a standing position. He dug furiously until he'd uncovered the other body. Grimly, he pointed to the sheriff's frozen corpse, riddled with holes from Bogg's rifle. Scully closed her eyes.
"He must have come out to try and get Bogg under control," Mulder said. "He had his gun drawn. Bogg was probably so pissed he had no idea he even hit Adams." They stood for a moment in silent respect for a fallen comrade before continuing on to the house.
Both of them were perspiring from effort by the time they reached the door. Avril Todd had seen them coming and opened the door just as Mulder placed his hand on the knob.
"There you are," she said worriedly, looking at each of them. "We were afraid something had happened to you." She glanced at Mulder's forehead. "That looks nasty," she said.
Brushing snow off themselves, they stepped into the house. Mulder glanced around the room, shivering slightly as the warmth enveloped him. A fire burned placidly in the fireplace. He made a beeline for it, Scully not far behind.
Mulder looked at Todd. "Where are Ben and April-Mae?" he asked.
"They're here," Todd said. "Ben's still asleep, I think. April- Mae is in the house somewhere. She's worried about Hi."
Mulder looked at her solemnly. "Both Bogg and Sheriff Adams are dead," he said, sitting on the hearth. "We found them outside just now when we were coming back from the barn."
Todd looked stricken. "Carl's dead?" she said, her dark eyes moistening. "Bogg shot him, didn't he?"
"It appears that way, yes," Scully said, joining Mulder on the hearth. "I'm sorry, Avril."
Todd sat slowly on the couch, trying to keep her emotions under control. "That bastard," she sniffed. "Carl tried to stop him last night, even though he knew how dangerous Bogg could be when he was loaded." She sat quietly for a long moment, tears sliding down her face. Abruptly, she dashed them away and looked at Scully.
"What happened to Bogg?" she said. Scully told her.
"Serves the little shit right," Todd said bitterly. She reached for a tissue from a box encased in colourful crocheted yarn and blew her nose. Mulder regarded her compassionately, shuddering slightly as the warmth penetrated another layer of cold.
April-Mae appeared suddenly in the kitchen door and regarded Scully and Mulder with a look of intense apprehension. She glanced at Todd, then back at the two agents.
"He's dead, isn't he," she said flatly.
"I'm very sorry, Ms. June," Scully said gently, "but yes. And so is Sheriff Adams."
April-Mae caught her breath. "Oh God," she whimpered, her hand covering her mouth. She sobbed once, then disappeared into the kitchen. Her feet pounded down the stairs to the basement, where Bogg had disappeared the previous night. Mulder and Scully looked at each other in alarm.
Scully stood, checking her sidearm. "I'll go," she said. Mulder stood, grabbed her arm.
"I'm going with you," he said firmly, checking his own gun. "You're no match for an assault rifle."
"I hate to break this to you, Mulder," Scully said tautly, "but neither are you." She glanced at Todd. "Stay here," she commanded, overriding Todd's protest. Todd shrugged and sat down, resignedly staring into the fire.
Weapons drawn, the two agents cautiously moved to the top of the dark stairwell. Noises crept up the steps, sounds of clanging, sliding, metal on metal. Mulder's pulse went up a notch, and he flexed his fingers around the butt of his handgun. Scully slipped around to the other side of the stairwell, intent on the space below.
"April-Mae?" she called. "Everything okay?"
"Oh yeah," April-Mae called up from the dark, her voice wavering with grief and bitterness. More noises. Mulder crept down the first few treads, holding his gun near his shoulder. April-Mae suddenly appeared at the bottom of the stairs, and the three of them jumped. She looked up at them with mascara- raccooned eyes, holding a metal mixing bowl, a tub of flour, and a can of syrup in her arms.
She smiled bravely. "Anyone for pancakes?" she asked.
"It's kind of a blessing, in a way," April-Mae sniffed, picking apart the shredded tissue. She smiled at Scully and thanked her for the fresh one the agent was handing her. "I never took him that seriously, all his bullshit about the government and so on. Not until recently, anyway. He just started collecting all those books and things in the last few years. And the guns. I told him I didn't like it. He just kept getting more and more militant in the way he talked though, you know?"
Several hours had passed, and Scully, Mulder, Heffner, and Todd sat in a small circle that included April-Mae. April-Mae had busied herself with breakfast and had insisted on washing the agents' clothes while they took turns showering. Now, with nothing to do, her grief had risen in force.
Scully marveled at how much better she felt with clean, dry clothes on. The cut on Mulder's head looked much better, too, leading her to revise her opinion on the potential scar. Her physical comfort satisfied, she was better able to attend to the personal dynamics playing out in the room.
"I know this probably isn't the best time to bring this up," she said apologetically, "but Agent Mulder and I need to inform our colleagues about the stash of gun parts we found in the bomb shelter. They will execute a search warrant on the premises and run a check on the serial numbers. There's a chance you will be arrested and charged because of your complicity in secreting the guns."
April-Mae nodded morosely.
"There is also a chance," Scully continued, "that because you didn't have a direct role to play in Hi's gun dealing, your circumstances might be mitigated."
April-Mae's jaw firmed, and she looked squarely at Scully. "I'll take whatever responsibility is mine," she said. "I knew what he was up to, and I didn't say anything. I guess I just tried to ignore it." She laughed sardonically. "I always did hook up with losers. But he was such a sweet loser."
Heffner slumped in his chair, looking glum and hung over. The student shifted and sighed. "I don't mean to sound callous," he said, "but when can we get out of here? Knowing there are two bodies in the yard out there is creeping the hell out of me."
"When I called the sheriff's office this morning," Todd remarked, "they said that the plow was out clearing the roads in and around Eureka. They doubted it would get here before tomorrow at the earliest, and there's another blizzard expected tonight."
"The *plow*?" Heffner said, disbelievingly. "One plow?"
Todd looked at him, bemused. "How many plows do you think a town like Eureka needs?" she said. "I imagine there are plows running all over Northern Montana right now, but it'll be awhile before anything from Whitefish makes it up this way. Not unless the Canadians are running their plows across the border. This storm went as far north as Sparwood, B.C. and into Alberta."
"My tent blew over," Heffner blurted helplessly, seeing he wasn't garnering any sympathy for his outrage over Eureka's dearth of snowplows. April-Mae sniffed, tears welling afresh.
"Hi... he sometimes... drove Eureka's plow," she whimpered. Todd put a hand on her shoulder. April-Mae wept quietly for a few minutes, then abruptly gathered herself together and reached for her crocheting. Her nails clicked as she briskly chained tiny loops of fine cotton together.
Mulder looked at his companions. "That -- odd noise we all heard last night," he began.
Heffner shuddered. "That was another thing that creeped me out," he said. "That went on above the house all freakin' night."
Todd nodded. "It was a weird noise," she said. "I think it was the wind blowing through the rafters, but I'll admit it was just a little too strange for wind."
April-Mae didn't look up from her work. "The cold makes things sound strange, sometimes," she said dully.
Mulder looked at Scully, motioned with his head toward the fireplace. They got up and moved toward it. "That sound again," he reminded her. Scully nodded.
"But no one died last night, not the way our victims have," she responded. "I don't think that noise has anything to do with anything. Maybe it's as April-Mae said -- the cold changes the way things sound."
"Or maybe Old Vicious figured that Bogg did his work for him last night," Mulder replied. Scully shrugged.
"Are you still convinced there's an X-File here?" she asked.
Mulder nodded. "There was Mrs. Rice, who was killed only yesterday morning. We don't know how many may have died in town last night. We probably won't know until after the snow is cleared and things get back to normal."
Scully folded her arms and glanced over at the little group. She noticed Heffner's watchful eyes dart away as they made contact with hers. "In any case, we're probably stuck here until tomorrow."
"True enough," Mulder sighed. He peered out the window at the two 4X4s and felt suddenly stupid. He looked over at Todd.
"Ms Todd, the two 4X4s," he said. "I know the snow's deep, but can't we get back to town that way?"
Todd shook her head with a soft smile. "I know the ads make it look like those trucks can go anywhere, but truthfully they can't," she said. "Besides, I went out to start mine this morning. The battery's dead."
"What about Sheriff Adams'? He's probably got the keys on him. We can try that."
Todd looked doubtful, then stood slowly. "Okay," she said. "Let's try that."
Mulder looked at Scully. "Keep a lid on things here," he said, and went to put on his winter gear. Scully nodded, and went back to rejoin Heffner and April-Mae. She saw Heffner's look of mild triumph at seeing her separated from Mulder, and a wave of mild irritation went through her. She sat with a sigh and picked up one of April-Mae's doilies, fingering the delicate pattern. And waited.
The wind howled and battered the house again, spitting icy chips in a steady hiss against the windows.
Mulder sat and stared numbly at the fire, his vision confined to the glowing embers under the grate. He'd gone through Bogg's library, picking out his favourite issues of "The Lone Gunman" and rereading the articles. He'd leafed through the less distasteful volumes on Bogg's bookshelf. He'd read a few pages of Bogg's manifesto and cringed at its content. He'd done everything in his power to make his situation more comfortable, except succeed in making Heffner shut up. The student wailed nasally from one of the back bedrooms:
"And I knooooooooooow that my heeeaaaaaaaaaarrrt will go ooooooooonnnnnn..."
Heffner was drunk. Earlier, when he was only a few bottles into Bogg's homebrew, he'd tried to deliver an impromptu memorial service for Bogg and Adams. Todd had pushed him into the kitchen for a stern talking-to. He'd come back into the living room, muttering apologies, and sat sullenly in the corner working his way through Bogg's stock and his own repertoire of old Steve Miller tunes. Mulder had to escort him to one of the bedrooms and shut the door when Heffner inexplicably started covering Celine Dion and weeping uncontrollably.
Mulder had never felt so trapped in his life.
It bothered him, more than he wanted to admit, that none of the vehicles would start. Even Todd had been surprised at the uncooperative 4x4s. In any case, the snow had drifted well over the bumper of the trucks and halfway up the grille of their rental car. No one was going anywhere for awhile. Now Mulder stared grimly at the new blizzard as it battered the house.
Scully was disappointed, but had surrendered herself to the inevitable. At least tonight would be spent in relative comfort. The forecast was for improved weather tomorrow and there was a chance they could get out of here and back to Eureka. And, with any luck, back to Washington shortly thereafter. It frustrated her that they were no closer to solving the case than they were when they'd arrived, and now two other individuals were dead. She didn't hold out a great deal of hope that they'd get home any time soon.
April-Mae had settled into a sort of resigned despondency, punctuated by brief periods of forced chipperness that unsettled everybody. Todd had engaged her in a game of cards in one of these moments, but the game finished early when April-Mae's grief had risen again and was once more sublimated in a bout of frenzied crocheting. On the side table, a small but growing pile of doilies stood testament to the power of her sadness. Scully was wary of the nearing end of April-Mae's cotton supply.
Todd was silent and ruminative. At one point she unbraided her sleek black hair, ran her fingers through it, and began braiding it again in tight, Caribbean-style plaits. She had enough hair to keep her occupied all night if need be. She leaned back against one arm of the sofa, one sock-clad foot on the seat, the other on the floor, intent on her work. Scully noticed Todd had her firearm with her, and on the floor beside her lay a tranquilizer gun. She'd brought them in with her after she and Mulder had failed to bring the vehicles to life.
Heffner finished with Celine Dion and, after a moment's careful consideration, began to yowl a song about pickles and motorcycles.
The hollow moan reverberated through the house again. Heffner stopped singing. Everyone looked up at the ceiling.
"It's back," Todd said softly, pausing in her delicate braiding work.
The noise sounded again, moving across the top of the house and dissipating somewhere above it.
"'nnnnI don' wanna die," Heffner sang, "I jus' wanna ride on my motorcy -- cle..."
"Shut up, Ben," Todd commanded. She sat up straight, listening carefully.
A strong gust of wind knocked the house. The lights flickered, and went out.
"Dammit," April-Mae muttered. Swearing under her breath, she stood and went to the closet, fishing blindly for her winter gear. "Generator's out back," she said tersely. "I'll go out and start it. I only hope Hi put enough gas in it."
Mulder stood along with Todd and Scully, all of them reacting with instinctive alarm. "Just stay inside, April-Mae," Todd said, her voice edgy. "There's something out there. We can make do with the fire and candles, if you've got them."
"It's just outside the door," April-Mae said firmly. "I won't be a second." She moved to the back door and paused as the hollow noise dragged itself across the house again. She glanced back once, a little nervously, and disappeared outside.
The three of them stayed rooted to the spot, all of them staring apprehensively at the place just vacated by April-Mae. Scully knew that either she or Mulder were obligated to go after her if they felt that she was in some kind of danger. Scully, on some level, also knew better under these circumstances. She stayed put.
Long seconds followed. The generator roared distantly. The lights flickered on, and everyone let out a collective sigh of relief.
The noise sounded again. The generator died, and the lights went out.
Tense, Scully edged closer to the mantle and grabbed a pillar candle from its decorative holder. Wordlessly, she bent to light the candle in the fire and stepped cautiously to the back door.
"Scully," Mulder cautioned. Scully held up a hand and continued carefully on her way. Mulder took the other candle, lit it, and followed her. Todd, candleless, crept slowly behind Mulder.
Carefully, Scully opened the back door and held the candle out as far as she dared. She swept it in an arc, slowly.
"April-Mae?" she called. "You all right?"
The only response she got was a gust that blew out her candle. Mulder sidled up beside her and peered into the dark.
"There," he said, pointing. Scully squinted into the dark, then her eyes went wide. She stepped outside into the storm and ran the few steps toward the huddled shape. Mulder watched as Scully knelt beside the form, then slumped her head and shoulders. Abruptly she stood and attempted to start the generator. The lights flickered, and in the brief illumination Mulder could see the inert form of April-Mae and spatters of blood in the snow. The lights sputtered and died. Scully tried twice more to get the generator started, and gave up. She ran back to the door, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. She banged the door shut behind her.
"Dammit!" Scully said, vigorously brushing snow from her limbs. In the glow from his candle, Mulder could see she was angry. She slammed her palm down on the kitchen counter and ran the other over her forehead.
"She's dead, isn't she?" Mulder said gently. Scully nodded, trying to find words.
"Like the others," she said bitterly. "We should never have let her go out there alone, Mulder."
"I think we just knew better than to follow her," Todd said.
They heard the sound again. Instinctively, they all backed away from the door. Scully grabbed her extinguished candle and lit it from Mulder's. Todd looked pensive, almost puzzled, listening carefully through the wind.
"Something's different," she muttered.
"How different?" Mulder asked. Todd listened a few seconds more, then shook her head in frustration.
"I don't know. It almost sounds familiar, but I'm not sure." She turned into the living room abruptly and sat on the couch. She checked her sidearm. "Are you armed?" she asked the agents.
"Yes," Scully said. "What do you think it is?" As if on cue, the moan repeated itself. Todd tensed and listened carefully as it dragged itself out and faded into the wind. She shook her head again.
"I can't say what it is," she said. "It's no animal I'm familiar with. I don't know of any animal that kills like that." She jerked her thumb toward the back door. Scully could see she was shaken.
"You've got your tranquilizer gun with you," Scully said, gesturing. Todd glanced at it and snapped the clip of her sidearm back into place. She looked at Scully, her dark eyes on fire.
"Whatever it is, it doesn't live," she said coldly. "It gets torn apart and studied."
The house shuddered as something slammed into it. The front window of the living room rang like a gong.
"That wasn't the wind," Mulder said nervously. They all tensed as the moan started up again. It was almost a noise of frustration, as though something was being thwarted in some way. They listened as it paused, then started up again, drifting around the outside perimeter of the house.
It reached the front door. In the dim firelight, the knob twisted and caught against the lock. Abruptly, the door vibrated as something threw itself against it, rattling the framed needlepoint that hung on the inside. The door vibrated again, and again a third time. Then it stopped.
The sound moved away from the door and continued its journey around the outside of the house.
"It's looking for a way in," Todd whispered, transfixed. The three of them turned slowly, in almost perfect synch, as they followed the creeping sound.
Mulder abruptly ran to the back door, startling Todd and Scully, and threw the deadbolt. The door shuddered. Backing away, he rejoined the two women in the living room, but not before noticing the large rechargeable flashlight hanging on the kitchen wall. He grabbed it and lit it, extinguishing his candle. He instantly felt better.
The noise stopped for several seconds then started again, its resonant groan now creeping up the side of the house alongside the stone chimney.
Todd grabbed a chunk of firewood and threw it on the grate. Sparks flew everywhere. She backed away, wide-eyed in fear, as the flames began to feed on the log, sending orange tongues up the chimney. She looked at Scully helplessly; Scully returned the look.
"It's the only part of the house open to the outside," Todd said nervously. "Except for the furnace air intake." Her voice dropped to a whisper again with these last words.
The sound crept up the chimney and seemed to pause at its top, hovering and whistling down the flue. The flames flattened and flared sideways, nearly extinguished. The three of them beat a hasty path down the hall toward one of the bedrooms and slammed the door behind them.
With their sidearms drawn instinctively, they huddled against the wall and listened. The sound crept down the outside of the chimney and drew itself along the length of the house toward them. It threw itself against the outside wall, rattling the bedroom window. They hustled out of the bedroom and headed in a tight pack to the room Heffner was passed out in. He groaned as they entered.
"Have you made a sex and age determination yet?" he muttered, half conscious. Mulder stared at him as the anthropologist drifted off again into an alcoholic slumber.
The thing threw itself against the wall. Heffner jumped and grumbled, curling himself into a tight ball. Todd and Mulder left the room while Scully looked after Heffner worriedly. Whatever was out there seemed to be after the three of them, judging by the way it followed them as they moved within the house. She left Heffner in the room, reluctantly shutting the door behind her.
Todd and Mulder had slipped into the bathroom. Scully followed, closing the door behind her. She looked at her companions, the gravity of the situation etched across her face.
"How long do you think we can keep this up?" she said in a hoarse whisper. Mulder shook his head, his own apprehension visible.
"I don't know," he said. He sat on the toilet, looking up at the ceiling. The noise was still out there, muffled. "This room has no outside walls. It can't get to us directly. I don't think." He flinched slightly as the house shuddered. He looked over at Todd, who was listening with puzzled intensity.
"What is it, Avril?" he said. She frowned and shook her head abruptly.
"This doesn't make sense," she said. "It doesn't happen this way."
She stopped. Mulder and Scully waited for her to continue.
"What doesn't happen this way?" Scully prompted. She watched as Todd seemed to gather herself, her slender brown fingers flexing around the butt of her sidearm. After several moments, Todd seemed to pull herself out of a trance and turned her gaze to Scully.
"Stay here," she said with authority. "Don't move." With that, she moved fluidly to the bathroom door and opened it with caution. Mulder got up to follow her; Scully stopped him with a hand on his arm. He shook it off and peered around the edge of the doorframe, his light trained on Todd. She was walking slowly and purposefully toward the front door, her gun ready. The sound followed her, pausing as she paused at the front entrance.
Todd flexed her free hand and reached for the doorknob. The sound had changed somewhat, morphing into a kind of snarl that overlaid the moan like an eerie set of harmonics. Todd's fingers closed around the knob. After a pause, she twisted the knob hard and pulled the door open.
A large blur of motion skittered across the opening. Todd fired, the flash from her gun strobing in the doorway. She fired three times. Scully thought she heard a muffled thump as something hit the snowpack outside. Todd remained frozen in place for several seconds, then lowered her arms and straightened.
The noise was gone.
Several more seconds trolled by.
The noise was still gone.
Still tense and alert, Todd looked over her shoulder at the two agents peering at her from around the bathroom doorframe. "Come here," she said, her voice tinged with a mixture of relief and sadness. "Look at this." They met her at the door.
On the bloodstained snow, its pelt already gathering a layer of frozen flakes, lay a cougar. Even dead, it was an imposing figure. Scully looked at it in amazement, figuring it was at least seven feet long without the tail. She looked at Todd, who was staring at the animal with tears in her eyes.
"God, I hate doing that," Todd said quietly, her voice thick with self-reproach. "It's not right." She gathered herself and slowly shut the door. The three of them listened carefully. The only moan now was the familiar one of the wind.
Mulder looked bewildered. "A cougar," he said dumbly, looking at Scully. Scully looked back at him without triumph, feeling Todd's profound regret at killing such a magnificent creature. She looked back at Todd sympathetically.
"If it was a threat, though, Avril," she began, but Todd shook her head vigorously.
"It wasn't a threat," she said. "It would never have come in the house. But it killed April-Mae. Cougars don't attack people as a general rule. There was something wrong with this one if it was killing people." Todd slowly replaced the gun in her holster and looked at Scully. "I knew there was something familiar about that sound."
Mulder shook his head. "It wasn't completely familiar, though," he prodded. Todd looked troubled.
"No," she said. "It wasn't entirely the sort of noise a big cat makes. But the wind -- it does strange things to sound." The professional mantle slid over Todd's bearing once again. "I'll take it back to Fish and Wildlife. We'll want to examine it, see if there's any reason why it would have attacked people like that." With that, she retired to one of the bedrooms and quietly shut the door.
Scully sighed. "I guess that's it, Mulder," she said. "A cougar. The Beast of Bodmin Moor strikes in the colonies." She tried to feel satisfied, but the feeling stalled before it could be fully realized.
Mulder frowned at her, irritated. "I don't think we're done with this, Scully. Vicious Aloysius still has one more victim to claim."
Scully pondered this for a moment, then shook her head. "'Vicious Aloysius' is lying out there dead in the snow, Mulder," she said finally. "I wish it wasn't, but it is." She shrugged the tension out of her shoulders and neck and slipped her gun into its holster. "I'm going to bed. Goodnight." She drifted off down the hallway to another unoccupied bedroom.
Mulder stared at the front door, apprehensive, lost deep in thought. The firelight crawled over his troubled features as he considered the events of the evening, trying to make all the pieces fit, and failing. Something was wrong, something was still missing from the equation. It had to balance out somehow.
He sat on the hearth, thinking, for a very long time. Finally he rose and lay down on the couch, pulled an afghan over himself, and stared contemplatively into the flames, his sidearm within easy reach on the coffee table.
It was a long time before he fell asleep.
The plow finally reached them late the next afternoon. Earlier, Todd had radioed into town and informed the sheriff's office of the three bodies and the cougar carcass; a solemn procession of hearses and a truck with a winch now followed behind the laboring plow. Mulder, Scully, and Deputy Griffin helped bag and load the frozen bodies of Bogg, Adams, and April-Mae while Todd and another Fish and Wildlife officer rolled the cougar onto a tarp and winched it onto the truck bed. The truck was kept busy jump starting dead batteries; engines turned sluggishly over, trying to force cold-thickened oil through their works. Heffner looked on miserably from the living room window, his desire to sing supplanted by a monstrous headache and a nasty case of dry heaves that sent him sprinting for the bathroom every few minutes.
Scully couldn't remember a sky so blue or cloudless, or a day when she'd seen the air sparkle so. Suspended ice crystals formed a ring around the sun, sundogs flaring along the circumference. The brightness of the snow made her eyes tear relentlessly and her nose run in sympathy, but at least her cold was waning. Now she climbed into the rental with Mulder, their job here finished. The group traveled silently and morosely, forming a bizarre procession of trucks, cars, plow, and hearses leading back to Eureka.
She kept a respectful silence as the bodies were wheeled into the morgue's cold storage and the doors were closed and tagged. Griffin looked troubled for reasons that appeared to Scully to go beyond the death of his boss and two other people. He looked at her inquisitive, sympathetic gaze and shook his head.
"Something weird, Agent Scully," he said. "I'm not even sure it's worth mentioning." He hesitated; Scully prompted him with a look. Griffin winced, uncomfortable.
"We followed proper procedure at Mrs. Rice's house after we'd documented the scene. You know, dusted for prints, took fiber samples, that sort of thing. We turned up an anomalous set of prints that didn't belong to either Mrs. Rice or Mike Petrou, and they didn't show up in either the state or federal database. Something told me to check for prints from the bodies you autopsied: Granger, Wolfleg, and Erickson. The prints," he said, "belonged to Harlan Wolfleg."
Scully considered this information. "I imagine that he must have visited Mrs. Rice at some point before his death," she offered. Griffin shook his head.
"No, those two weren't that friendly. The relationship wasn't hostile or anything, they just had nothing in common and tended not to associate with each other. I can't imagine why Harlan would have gone over to Mrs. Rice's. Besides," Griffin continued, looking at Scully significantly, "the prints were found on the kitchen counter and the utensil drawer. You saw Mrs. Rice's house. It was practically sterilized. She always kept it like she was having an open house."
Scully frowned. "I don't know how else to explain it," she said.
"Sheriff Adams also told me something about the seal on the cold storage when he opened it for you the other day," Griffin mused. "It hadn't been tampered with, exactly. But he said the tag was upside down, and he was sure he'd put it right side up when he'd signed the body over to the hospital." He paused, considering this, then dismissed it, shrugging philosophically. "I've just started asking around about Harlan's activities prior to his death. I'm sure there's a logical explanation. He might very well have stopped by Mrs. Rice's about something. I'm sure that's what it is." He looked thoughtful a moment more, then his face assumed a professional mask and he held out his hand. "Thank you, Agent Scully," he said. "I'm glad you and Agent Mulder were able to help."
Scully shook his hand. "I think you owe more thanks to Avril Todd. She was the one who figured out it was a cougar."
"Strange behaviour for a cougar," Griffin mused. "But I'm sure you've seen stranger things."
Scully smiled. "Take care, Deputy Griffin," she said, and left for the motel to pack up.
Griffin looked at the stainless steel doors of the morgue cold storage room and scratched his head.
Glacier Park International Airport
Passengers for the flight to Washington, D. C. were filling the departure lounge where Mulder and Scully sat. Scully leafed through a paper while Mulder slumped beside her, staring into nothing, his expression vaguely troubled. He crunched on something hard, swallowed, and popped another lozenge into his mouth. The smell of menthol and eucalyptus wafted past Scully's nose and she glanced over at her partner.
"How's the throat?" she inquired.
"Sore," Mulder croaked with a grimace. Scully suppressed a smirk, and turned the page.
"Well, take care of it," she offered solicitously. "It's quick, but it's nasty." She cleared her throat of some residual congestion, glad to be feeling better. Mulder glanced at her miserably.
"You've been awfully quiet since we left Eureka," she added. "I'm sorry we didn't get to go skiing."
Mulder shook his head. "It's not that," he said. "There's something not right about leaving Eureka. I keep feeling there's work left to be done."
"The sixth victim," Scully said. Mulder nodded. Scully considered this, then shook the paper to straighten the creases. "Mulder, it was a cougar. Admittedly, Avril said it was highly unusual behaviour for a cougar, but the explanation still makes sense in a very worldly sort of way. I think our work there is done and we can just go home and write it up. Five people died. I wish they hadn't, but there will be no sixth victim. I'm quite sure of it."
"Mrs. Rice is what puzzles me," Mulder persisted. He straightened and turned to his partner. "She was the only victim found inside. There were no signs of struggle or attack. Yet she was killed the same way April-Mae and the others were. And what about Harlan Wolfleg's fingerprints? I think that Aloysius Bogg's spirit takes over the bodies of his victims and gets them to do his work."
Scully frowned. "So how does the cougar fit in?"
"I don't know," Mulder admitted. "Maybe he doesn't just take over his victim's bodies. Maybe he uses what's convenient. Sometimes it's a person, sometimes an animal. It might explain the animal carcasses."
"Yes, but so would a lot of other things," Scully replied. She shook her head. "I'm satisfied that the sheriff's office kept proper continuity on the bodies. Both Adams and Griffin signed them in and out for the autopsy in my presence. There was no -- " she hesitated, then continued, "no sign that the seals had been tampered with."
"Scully, if I'm right, then the spirit of Aloysius Bogg is still out there, using animal and human bodies to carry out his revenge. And he's got one more score to settle. We need to be there, or at least warn Deputy Griffin." Mulder paused as the gate attendant announced pre-boarding for their flight.
Scully folded her paper and shook her head. "Mulder..." she began, and stopped as her cell phone rang. She answered it and listened. Mulder watched as a frown crawled across her face.
"How did it go missing?" he heard her say. Mulder looked at her intently; she returned his look with a puzzled one of her own. "That's very odd, I agree," she said. Reacting to Mulder's stare, she sighed. "Agent Mulder feels that you should stay vigilant, that this thing isn't quite over yet. Yes, that's right. Vicious Aloysius. I -- think it might be wise to take whatever precautions you can, yes," she finished reluctantly. She listened a moment more, then ended the call and looked at Mulder uncertainly.
"That was Deputy Griffin," she said. "Hieronymous Bogg's body has gone missing." They stared at one another for a moment, mulling over the significance.
The attendant announced the start of regular boarding. Reluctantly, they stood and moved slowly toward the gate.
A pair of frayed and worn jockeys sailed across the room and landed half in, half out of the suitcase. Heffner didn't care. He pulled shirts and pants out of the dresser drawers and flung them at the bed without looking. His head hurt, and he was scared. He was anxious to get the hell out of here.
The house he'd shared temporarily with Sheriff Adams and his wife was empty. In her grief, Muriel Adams had gone to the house of a friend for solace and company. Heffner knew it probably wasn't good timing, nor was it especially polite, to have blurted out to her that he was leaving, but at the moment he didn't care. Nor did he care about the remains of Aloysius Bogg. He had enough data; he could go back to Missoula and finish writing his dissertation. Maybe his advisor could come out and clean up his dig site. He sure as hell wasn't going to. Ethics and respect for the dead be damned. Aloysius Bogg hadn't exactly shown much respect for Ben Heffner, after all.
Heffner turned and stared at the clothes strewn about the room. He swore and began to gather them up in armloads, dumping them into the ancient hard-shell Samsonite that sat on the bed. He was so out of here. His ruminating mind paid scant attention to the sound, a sound much like that of a jet plying its way through the soul-numbing temperatures of winter at thirty thousand feet, or an attenuated digeridoo at its lowest registers.
The bedroom door clicked shut. He started and looked behind him, his eyes growing wide with astonishment.
Hieronymous Bogg stood between him and the door, looking entirely the worse for wear. His skin was a pasty bluish-white, with red patches where the cold had frozen skin and burst blood vessels. He was naked and bore nothing save the broad bladed carving knife that Ben had seen Mrs. Adams use to slice the Sunday roast. The blade twisted slightly, its keen edge catching the cold winter light from the window. Heffner froze to the spot, his mandibular joint clicking as his jaw dropped. He stared into Bogg's flat, dead eyes as the latter grinned at him.
"Hiya, kid," Bogg said, and summarily gutted him.
Nancy FF performs beta duties, once again. Thanks, hon!
I am a non-credit night school junkie. I usually take at least one course each fall and winter just for the hell of it. I have taken courses on everything from juggling to investing (I still can't juggle, and I'm still a very un- shrewd investor, so don't ask me to demonstrate my skills in either.) When the local university offered up a course in forensic anthropology this past winter, my immediate thought was "hm. What a fascinating field of study. This couldn't possibly give me cool stuff to use in my fanfic, could it?" So I signed up.
What an amazing course. The instructor, Dr. Hartmut Krentz, is a physical and forensic anthropologist who spent some time in Seattle assisting the FBI on the Green River murders. He had many, many anecdotes to share. I learned so much. I learned how to identify the sex of skeletal remains from various key points on the bones. I learned why the skull doesn't tell you much about a person's age after the age of 20. I learned why trying to dispose of bodies by fire is generally a lousy idea, unless you
The ME's office was not for the squeamish, but then again, neither was this course (handle actual human skeletal remains? Yeah!!). We didn't get to see an actual autopsy
a) The reception area smelled faintly of formaldehyde. The actual examination bays smelled of -- nothing. b) There is a separate area for autopsying AIDS and hepatitis victims, and "decomps", which has its own air exchange system. 'Nuff said. c) The ME doesn't usually perform autopsies. In fact, doctors don't even perform most of the autopsies. In Canada, anyway, most of the autopsies are performed by "forensic pathology technicians", who usually have an undergraduate degree in either nursing or anthropology. Good thing Dr. Scully works on the oddball cases that require her specialized knowledge, because otherwise she'd be *way* overqualified. d) Not every body that comes through the ME's office gets autopsied. While all sudden and unexplained deaths generally warrant an autopsy, sometimes the cause of death is so obvious that it's signed off without anyone lifting a scalpel. A good example is death by carbon monoxide poisoning; cherry coloured skin and blood colour is a dead giveaway.
What I used from this class in "Vicious Aloysius": Heffner's joke about the hide and seek champion, the stuff about the hyoid bone and the odontoid process, and Scully's explanation to Mulder about how she feels when she does autopsies. Our tour guide at the ME's office, one of the technicians, made the comment about removing and dissecting the brain, and how difficult he finds that process. He said that he considers the essence of what makes us human to be located in the brain, and I thought, what a Scullyish thing to say. I think I'll use it. ;)
If you've got the time and the spare change, I encourage you to seek out and take courses like this. I would have taken it even if I wasn't a fic writer.