Title: A Week in the Country
Summary: Mulder and Scully take some needed time off after a rough case and find more than they expected in an old house.
Author's note: Yes, I'm baaaack! And this is another WIP. My promise to my readers---I adhere religiously to a posting schedule. I post Saturday/Monday/Wednesday, ALWAYS. And I always finish my stories. So give it a try. You'll be glad you did.
Dedication: This one's for Bill, who combines all of Mulder's good qualities: intelligence, wit, loyalty, faith and a wicked sense of humor with none of Mulder's failings. And honey, I promise not to play with knives anywhere near you!
Scully looked tired. No, Mulder mused, she looked shredded. The five little girls that had been found on Federal land were typical enough, but the Satanic symbology that had surrounded the bodies were enough to involve the X files team.
Mulder sighed and glanced to the side of the car where Scully huddled, her face pressed against the window.
"Any more nightmares?" he asked gently.
"Huh?" She shifted position and rubbed her eyes tiredly. "A few. It wouldn't be so bad if that last child....didn't look so much..."
"I know," Mulder said. The last little murdered girl, found hours after her ritual killing, had looked a lot like Emily. Scully was first at the body when they had reached the crime scene and he remembered her stiffening and suddenly becoming quiet. Then she'd shifted into professional mode, coldly examining the scene and the body. The reaction had come later.
The sound of Scully screaming that night was enough to drive Mulder to her motel room door, gun in hand. She'd opened the door just as he was about to kick it in.
"What's wrong?" Mulder had demanded as he moved swiftly into the room, looking for intruders.
"Nothing, just a nightmare," Scully had answered. "I'm fine. I'm sorry I woke you." Mulder gave her a skeptical look until he caught her wry smile.
"Nice shorts. I didn't know you liked smiley-faces," she said blandly.
He shrugged. "Okay, but if you need me I'm right next door." She nodded and saw him to the door.
The next day she had refused to discuss the nightmare and gradually she'd begun looking more and more drawn. Mulder called her on it two weeks into the investigation.
"You aren't sleeping," he said, biting into the burrito from the taco stand across the street.
She picked at her salad and looked up at him. "I've been having some problems. It's an intense case."
"Are you still having nightmares?"
She paused. "I can handle it, Mulder. I'm a professional." Her voice quavered. "Their bodies are so small and fragile, they're so helpless. And at night, I see them. I see their faces, begging me for help I can't give.'"
He stretched his hand across the table to hers. "We can give them help. We can find those who did this to them and put them away. We are helping them. Their spirits will rest when we've done that."
She jerked away. "Do you think I'm seeing ghosts? My God, Mulder, these are just dreams. Not everything has a paranormal explanation. My subconscious sees Emily and feels guilty, that's all. And I can handle this." She glared at him from red-rimmed eyes.
Mulder raised both hands in surrender. "Okay, okay, all I was trying to say is that I think the dreams will stop when the case is over." She nodded and went silently back to her salad.
The case had dragged on another month before they had caught Irwin MacIntyre, amateur Satanist and practicing pedophile. During that month Mulder had known better than to ask Scully how she was feeling, knowing she'd hand him his head for it. But he could tell how close to the edge she was, clearly the apparitions or dreams were still very much with her.
"We're almost at the airport," he commented, swinging the car toward the rental return area. "A few more hours and we're back home in D.C."
She was looking out the window again. "Uh huh."
"Scully we helped those kids. We found the guy that killed them and he'll never be able to hurt anyone again. The girls can rest now."
"It was just dreams, Mulder. Only dreams." Even her usual denials lacked force, she was so beaten down by it.
"You're right, Scully. Just dreams. So, what are your plans when we get back to D.C.? I was thinking about taking some time off; try to recover a bit." Mulder pulled the car into the stall, popped the trunk and gave the keys to the attendant. Scully followed him and began retrieving her luggage.
As they began wheeling their bags up the ramp, she said, "That's not a bad idea. I've been thinking about taking a week or two myself. My uncle Robert died a year ago and left me his house. I've been meaning to go take a look at it."
"Really? I didn't know you had an Uncle Robert."
"He was a recluse. He bought the house in the 1940's and lived there all by himself until he died at 97. The house itself is about 150 years old and hasn't been modernized since Uncle Robert bought it. He said he liked it that way. He was my great uncle, really. He was the only one who supported my going into the FBI. I suppose I was his favorite niece." She smiled absently. "The house is an old farmhouse in a town you've never heard of in Massachussetts. Apparently it's historic somehow but I don't know the details."
The luggage safely checked, security handled, the agents found their gate and sat.
"I'm glad you're taking some time off," Mulder said cautiously.
"Yeah, I guess I need it," Scully said ruefully. "Thanks for putting up with me."
"Not a problem. I'm taking some time off myself. Probably go play Doom with the boys, catch up on my reading."
"You mean you're going to hole up in that sorry excuse for a bachelor apartment you camp out in, eating nothing but pizza and watching movies all night."
"Hey, is there any other lifestyle?" Mulder grinned. "I'm just glad you're taking a rest."
They trailed into the jet and settled in. As usual, Mulder took the window seat while Scully took the aisle. By the time the plane was airborne, she had snuggled over into the middle seat and was fast asleep against Mulder's shoulder. He quietly watched her sleep; one of his favorite pastimes. For a brief period of time her face was empty of the the play of her thoughts and she was simply at peace. Peace. She snuggled in closer and he tucked the blanket more tightly around her. She deserved peace if anyone did, but he knew guiltily who was responsible for the lines she was getting on her face.
How eternally she followed him from monster cases to alleged abductions to government conspiracies but never lost her objectivity. And she never let him bulldoze her with his conviction that he was right. Her essential honesty forced him to prove his ideas time and again. He owed her for that. She kept him honest and made a better investigator of him.
She murmured under her breath and twitched. He could see her brow crease in a frown, then she gasped in a deep breath and shot bolt upright panting. He could see her fighting back the scream as he grabbed her shoulders.
"Scully! Hey, Scully, it's okay. It's only a dream. Just a dream, okay?"
She gulped in air and nodded, her eyes still wide. She leaned back and pulled the blanket against her body. "It was them again, the children. They were looking at me but they weren't pleading with me. They were different this time. They seemed to be trying to say something. I couldn't hear them but they were trying to say something to me. And then I saw a dark room and blood. Nothing but blood. Oh God," she buried her head against Mulder's shoulder. " I wish they would stop. Just stop. I'm so tired and I see them in my dreams every night."
Mulder held her close and rested his chin atop her head. "Hey, now, the case is over and these dreams should die away before long." She pulled back and he met her eyes. "But are you really sure you want to leave town just now? Maybe you should stay close to home and familiar things, just in case."
"Just in case I'm in need of a psychiatric hospital?" she said drily. "In case Agent Scully is finally cracking up from her association with Agent Mulder's X files? No thank you, Mulder, all I need is a rest. I'm fine, just a little the worse for wear."
"I know you're tired. Tell you what, I'll come along too. You probably will need some help if the house is as old as that. You know, fixing things up, painting and cleaning?" Mulder looked at her hopefully and mentally urged her to accept. C'mon Scully, I don't want you alone for a week. C'mon....
She eyed him meditatively for a moment and then sighed. "All right Mulder, you can come along. I know you want to nursemaid me but I'm all right. And you are right, the house hasn't been painted in years, so your help will be appreciated. But I am fine!"
Mulder nodded solemnly. "I'm only coming along to help with the house."
Three Days later
Mulder slammed the rental car door and joined Scully at the foot of the hill. "Hey, Scully! Bates Motel redux! Creepy. You got any family ghosts haunting?"
She just glared at him, then turned to look at the house.
The weatherbeaten gray Victorian house stood alone on top of a grassy hill, a narrow path leading to the front porch. A stand of trees began fifty yards behind the house but there was no other vegetation. The place was old and weatherbeaten, with a three storey round tower.
"Witch's cap," Mulder muttered.
"Witch's cap. That's what they used to call the style of roof on top of that tower. Because of the shape."
"Uh huh," Scully gave him a look. "Well, let's go up."
"We're pretty remote," Mulder panted as he lugged the suitcases up the hill. "Are you sure you want to stay this far out?"
"What? Bored already?" Scully hefted her own bag. "Afraid there won't be any t.v. reception?"
"There sure won't be any cable this far out," Mulder said. "We'll be lucky if we can see the screen through the cobwebs and vampire bats."
They reached the porch and dropped the bags with relief while Scully fished for the key. "Okay, the place definitely needs work. I haven't seen it since I was ten but it was in better shape then. Here we go," she swung open the door and they stepped inside.
Mulder saw a dark entryway with a staircase leading up. He heard a 'snap' and the place got a little less dim. Scully had found the light switch.
"It could use a good cleaning," he commented, eyeing the dust and began to wander around the foyer.
"One of the reasons we're here. If I want to put it on the market, it'll have to be cleaned and maintained. Let me show you around."
Mulder trailed glumly behind Scully while she showed him the parlor, furnished with period antiques. "Uncle Robert collected them." Then through the ancient kitchen and up the stairs to the tiny bedrooms, then to the attics. The place was old and had clearly been lived in.
"Well, what do you think?" Scully finally asked.
"Scully, if you wanted to host the Monster Mash, you have just the place."
Scully frowned at him. "Mulder, this is NOT an X File and this house is not haunted by any ghosts, poltergeists, monsters or mutants. This is just an old house that was formerly occupied by my Uncle Robert. There's nothing wrong with it and I'll thank you not to drag work into this!"
"I'm sorry Scully, it's just that this house has...atmosphere. I couldn't resist."
"I'll make dinner, you go see what the television reception is like," Scully headed for the kitchen.
"Okay," he wandered into the parlor. To his surprise, Uncle Robert had owned a fairly recent television set and, miracle of miracles, it got cable!
Mulder settled back on the uncomfortable settee with the channel switcher, as close to content as he'd been yet inside this creaky old barn. Scully, wiping her hands on a towel, soon joined him.
"So, Uncle Robert did have some amenities after all. Feeling better?" She snuggled next to him on the couch.
"Yeah. I'm sorry I was being a jerk, but you said that this place is historic somehow. It'll be interesting to find out its story."
Scully settled into a bed that she was certain had seen the Civil War. Oh well, she'd slept on worse in some of the motels Mulder had picked. Annoying man, making all those jokes about the house. There was nothing wrong with this house, Mulder was just obsessed with the paranormal. She yawned and fell into sleep.
The children came, pleading. But this time they surrounded her, or tried to. They were pushed aside by another, not a child. Dark eyes glared into hers and she felt her will seep away like dust.
The house was quiet and dark, the way she had anticipated. The woman crept down the stairs and into the kitchen where she knew he'd be waiting.
Yes, he was there all right, drinking just like he always did. He squatted in the chair, a pile of cigarette butts overflowing the ashtray. The man looked blearily up from his whiskey. "What do you want?"
"I couldn't sleep." The woman moved toward the kitchen drawer and opened it. "I thought I'd make myself a sandwich. You want one?"
He didn't turn his back to look at her, to see the knife she was pulling from the drawer. He still didn't turn while she approached him from behind and, moving swiftly, drew the blade across his throat.
He gasped and his blood shot across the table, splattering over the table. He twisted and fell from the chair writhing on the floor. As he died, she could see his green eyes widen as Mulder mouthed the words, "Scully, why?" and then died.
Scully dropped the knife in horror. The clatter of it woke her and she found herself standing in the kitchen. It was dark and empty. The metal table she'd seen was gone and Mulder..?
She stepped over the knife and ran upstairs to his room and gently opened the door. In the dim starlight she could see him huddled in the bed and heard him breathing evenly.
Safe. He was safe. She hadn't killed him.
She closed the door and tiptoed back downstairs to the kitchen, rubbing her hands. She could still feel the hot stickiness of his blood, could smell the familiar iron tang of it all over the kitchen. She stood in the doorway, afraid to go into the room again. In the dim light the room was empty and quiet. No blood, just the faint gleam of the knife where it had landed on the worn linoleum.
This was silly. It was a dream. Just a dream. She reminded herself of other nightmares in the past in which Mulder appeared dead or dying to her terrified eyes. But I was never the killer in those dreams, she whispered to herself. I was always unable to stop it, trying to help him but powerless. This dream was so real.
Nonsense. Just another symptom of overwork. She gave herself a good mental shake and strode into the kitchen, plucking the knife off the floor. She wiped it down carefully with a damp cloth (no blood, no stains...) and shakily put it back into the drawer.
Even the knife looked different. She had used a butcher knife, not this stainless steel breadknife. In fact the whole dream had almost been from another era. Dream. Yes, that's what it was, a strange dream.
She shivered and held her arms tight against herself. As a child she had sleepwalked, but never since then. This case had her more rattled than she had anticipated. Could she be a danger to Mulder? No, surely not.
But tomorrow night she'd lock herself into her bedroom just in case.
"What are you doing?"
Scully jumped and dropped the breadknife onto the cutting board. She turned to watch a cheery Mulder amble into the kitchen.
"My God, Mulder, you startled me. Don't do that." She leaned against the countertop as Mulder took a seat at the kitchen table.
"Making breakfast?" Mulder sniffed the air. "Bacon and eggs?"
"Yes," Scully turned back to the french loaf she was slicing. "And toast, if you can keep from interfering long enough for me to slice it."
She deliberately kept her hand steady, watching the blade cut through the delicate white loaf, half expecting it to begin bleeding beneath her hand. No. No, don't think of that. That's unbalanced thinking. Despite herself she could see the blade cutting through flesh, visualized it until she dropoped the knife in terror and watched it clatter into the sink.
"Hey, Scully...What's wrong?" Mulder stood behind her and gently put both arms around her. "We don't have to have toast if you'd rather not. What's wrong? You look like a banshee's after you."
She took a deep breath, about to confide everything but a thought stopped her. No, this was just overwork. There was nothing Mulder could do about it except worry. She was the strong one in this partnership; she didn't want him hovering over her anxiously all week. He'd just make her tension worse. She turned to him. "I'm fine. Really. Just too much coffee this morning, I guess. It's making me jumpy."
He looked deeply into her eyes for a moment, not buying it for a minute, but nodded his acceptance. If she wanted her privacy, he'd grant it to her for the time being.
He moved back to his seat at the table while she dished up eggs and bacon. The bread she left on the cutting board. She just couldn't deal with it or the knife just now. Mulder took a bite of his eggs and asked with studied casualness, "So, what's the plan for today?"
Scully sat down and picked at her eggs, stirring them around the plate. "I thought I'd start by cleaning the ground floor, scrub the floors and dust. Then, when the house is cleaned up we can decide if it needs new wallpaper or paint."
Mulder nodded. "That sounds good. How about I take a bucket upstairs to the attic and work up there. I can meet you somewhere on the middle floor."
"Mulder, you really don't have to do this." She stopped pushing the eggs around her plate. "You're spending a week of your vacation time house-cleaning. You don't even clean your own apartment!"
"I do too! It's clean, just...cluttered. What's the matter? You trying to get rid of me?"
Mulder's voice was only half joking and Scully realized that she was serious about wanting him out of the house. "I really think you're wasting your vacation time, Mulder. You can do better things with it."
"Like investigate some new crop circles? Naaaah, been there, done that. I'll stay here and provide labor for your renovations." Mulder took another bite of his eggs. "Besides, here I get home-cooked meals." His eyes bored deep into hers, challenging her to argue with him.
She got up and emptied her plate into the trash. "All right, but don't blame me if you get housemaid's knee," she said, facing away from him. She heard him put his plate in the sink, next to the bread knife. She watched as he silently ran a bucket of soapy water and grabbed a roll of paper towels.
"I'll see you at lunch then," he said solemnly. "And Scully, if you need me for anything just call."
She nodded, watching him leave the kitchen. Then she grabbed up a second bucket and began to fill it, the presence of the bread knife in the sink haunting her. This was silly, was she afraid to touch a stupid knife? It wasn't even sharp. Angrily she reached into the sink, inadvertently grabbing the blade. Damn! The thing had cut her! She moved her hand closer to her face, watching the blood droplets ooze from her cut finger, then in a decisive motion grabbed the knife by the handle and threw it across the kitchen. She stopped. She could almost swear she'd heard a giggle.
No. No she hadn't heard anything. Just the wind or the neighbor's cat or something. She picked up the bucket with her good hand and marched into the parlor.
The linoleum in here wasn't in any better shape but at least it would be clean when she was done with it. She got on her knees and began to scrub, her right hand stinging where she'd cut herself. She should clean and bandage that, maybe wear rubber gloves. The first aid box was in the kitchen and so were the rubber gloves.
She didn't want to go into the kitchen.
She stopped and wiped the sweat off her brow. Dana Scully, ace FBI agent and crack pathologist, top of her class was afraid to go into the kitchen because of what? A dream. Okay, a very vivid dream, but still a dream.
I'm letting this get to me. Why am I letting this bother me so much? She thought about her relationship with Mulder. She worried about him a lot.
"He'd be dead now, if not for me," she muttered resentfully into the linoleum. "Stupid man can't stay out of trouble for ten minutes unless I'm there to take care of him." She angrily wrung out her rag and began scrubbing at the floor again. "He'd be out of a job by now if not for my just plain covering for him half the time. Huh! If it weren't for my reminding him, he'd miss half of Skinner's meetings."
"You'd be better off alone," the thought whispered through her brain. "Too bad he's been holding you back."
Huh? Scully sat back on her haunches. She was startled at the strength of the thought. Sure, she'd considered leaving the X files before, but somehow the thought of leaving Mulder always stopped her. It would be like cutting off the other half of herself. True, her career ambitions had been largely derailed by her assignment on the X files but she was a different person now than she'd been then. She had different goals now.
"He's a leech, stealing the best years of your life and for what? To feed his obsessions."
Okay, so he made most of the decisions and sometimes ordered her around. He *was* the senior agent. Besides, she argued and he...
"He listens? And then he does what he planned all along. He lets you blow off steam and then you do it his way..."
True. Very true. But, she mused, I lo...like him a lot. He was a brilliant investigator...she began feeling very uncomfortable with this train of thought. So carping and angry. She normally didn't get that annoyed with Mulder unless he'd ditched her and she was trying to find him. But no, he hadn't done that in several years.
Scully sat up and stretched her arms, turning to face Uncle Robert's television set, then stiffened.
A pair of blue human eyes stared back at her from the television screen.
We must have left the set on, she thought, and got up to turn it off. She hit the power button on the remote and a picture brightened and filled the screen. And the eyes were still there.
Scully blinked, then turned the set off. The screen went gray except for the eyes, which followed her as she reached behind the set to pull the power cord.
"That should do it," she muttered, then went to look back at the screen. The eyes still followed her movements. Scully felt unnerved and shaken and then light began to dawn.
"Mulder! Mulder, God dammit get down here right now!" she shouted with a voice designed to carry during gun battles.
Seconds later she heard a loud clattering on the stairs and stood watching while a terrified Mulder barrelled into the room, weapon at the ready. "Scully? What is it? Are you all right?"
He skidded to a stop when he took in his partner standing quietly next to a bucket of dirty water. "What's wrong? I thought you were being attacked." Still looking around, Mulder holstered his gun.
"How could you, Mulder? How could you play such a cruel joke on me? You know how jumpy I'm feeling these days and it's just mean of you to do it," she said angrily.
"Do what?" Mulder was nonplussed.
"That! All your jokes about this house being haunted, and you had the gall to get the boys to rig up the t.v. set so that it's *watching* me. It just isn't funny and it's a good example of that sophmoric sense of humor you have."
Mulder looked intently at the set and then at Scully, then paused before saying carefully, "You feel that the television set is watching you?"
She folded her arms across her chest. "You can see those eyes, can't you? They follow my every movement! What is it, a computer prog...Where did they go?" She bent over the television, looking in vain for the eyes. "They were there. What did you do?"
"Scully, I didn't do anything. Really. I wouldn't play a cruel joke like that on you, but when I find out whoever did I'll tear them limb from limb." He watched gratefully as she straightened up and moved briskly toward the set.
"You're right. Let's dismantle this thing and see if we can find the mechanism. I'm sorry, Mulder. I know you'd never do anything so mean spirited."
They spent the next two hours disassembling the set, finding nothing unusual. "Scully, I'm sorry, but I don't find any devices hooked up to this set. But if you want, I can box it up and send it to the boys for more analysis."
Scully shook her head. "No, Mulder. It's okay. Probably some weird after- image." She propped the blank picture tube against the empty television casing and looked at it thoughtfully. She looked up and caught Mulder's concerned expression as he levered himself up from the floor.
His look was kind and sympathetic as he went on. "All of my jokes aside, do you think that your experience could have a basis in the supernatural? You may be seeing something that's actually there, you know. This house is at least a hundred years old."
Suddenly she was mad. Why did everything always come back to Mulder's blasted obsession with the paranormal! "No," she snapped. "I don't think that there's anything at all supernatural about this television set or this house. What I saw was a...a...strange reflection or after-image on the screen. And that's all it was!" She faced him, craning her neck to meet his eyes. She was surprised when his glance dropped before hers did. For once, he wasn't fighting it.
Mulder spoke softly. "Well, I think I've cleaned enough for now. How about a break? We haven't really looked around the property yet, have we? Why don't we check out the grounds? You up for a walk?"
"I think I'd like that," she nodded, startled to find that she'd been holding her breath. The second day of her vacation and she was tenser than she'd been before she left D.C.
"Well, let's go and get some sunshine, huh Scully?" Mulder walked to the doorway and gestured to Scully. She gave the television screen a quick glance before following him out the door. She thought she saw...no...no nothing there.
"You coming?" Mulder looked even more worried.
"Yeah, yeah I'm coming." She followed him out of the room.
Mulder led her through the remains of an old rose garden, pointed out various species of tree and tried to interest her in some animal tracks. She was conscious that her responses were absent at best.
She found herself resenting Mulder's continual presence. Why must she always be chained down by him? Didn't he have a life? Oh yes, that was it, he didn't. So instead Dana Scully was elected Fox Mulder's keeper by the FBI in a vain attempt to keep him out of trouble. Well, she'd spent years in a vain attempt to do just that and he was still nattering about ghosts and spooks. Funny that she'd never realized all this before, but then, she hadn't taken many vacations in recent years.
She looked back at the house. It was old and weatherbeaten, but it was hers. Nothing wrong with it that some paint wouldn't cure. That, and getting Mulder and his theories the Hell away from here.
"Haunted, my ass..." she muttered under her breath.
She was pulled from her reverie by Mulder's shout. "Hey Scully, look at this!" He pulled some underbrush aside to show a small clearing with headstones.
"It looks like they had their own private graveyard here," he said, climbing over the low iron fence. He squatted down before one block of marble and dusted it off. "James Tucker, died in a fire October 13, 1876. His wife Martha Tucker, died October 14, 1876. And an interesting epitaph, 'Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord.' Scully? Hey, you okay?"
She found herself being propped up by a concerned Mulder. "Yeah, I'm fine. Really Mulder, will you stop babying me?" She could feel the rage building again. Must he always hover around her? Did he think she was some stupid painted doll incapable of taking care of herself? She shook his hand off and stood upright while Mulder backed away, both hands held away from him.
"I'm sorry, Scully," he said. "I thought you were going to faint."
"Well I wasn't. I was just dizzy." She looked up at the sky. "It's getting dark. Why don't we go back to the house."
The sun was just setting as they entered the house. Mulder seemed very anxious to please and offered to help with dinner. What was that phrase? 'Walking on eggshells', he was carefully tiptoeing around her, trying not to make her angry. Scully felt a little guilty.
"Mulder, there's a chicken in the fridge. If you make the salad, I'll fry up the chicken."
Mulder gave her a relieved grin. "That I know how to do," he said and reached into the refrigerator and handed her sack with the whole chicken in it, then went back for the salad fixings.
While he was tearing lettuce leaves, Mulder watched Scully wash and dry the chicken, then reach into the drawer for a small serrated knife and begin to cut it apart.
"Hey, there's a better one in the drawer over here. Why don't you use this one?" Mulder reached around her and, opening the second drawer pulled out a butcher knife. She stood mesmerized as he handed it to her, handle first. "Here you go," he said cheerfully, then went back to his seat at the kitchen table to finish the salad.
She stood there quietly holding the knife. This was the knife, she was sure of it. The blood had beaded up on the blade, just there. The grip of the wood was smooth and fit her hand, just so. It wasn't a new knife. The wood was old and worn with use. Like the house.
Mulder was bent over the salad bowl, concentrating on getting the salad just right. She flashed on her dream of last night, saw him lying in a pool of his own blood and remembered that the knife was there, in her hand. It could happen just like the dream.
No! She dropped the knife and it clattered to the floor. Mulder looked up and found Scully immediately bending over to pick it up again. "I don't think I like this knife, Mulder. The handle wobbles," she said calmly and returned it to the drawer.
She was quiet at dinner. Well, Scully was normally a quiet person, mused Mulder, but not this quiet. She seemed preoccupied, glancing behind her from time to time. Looking for something?
"Penny for your thoughts, Agent Scully," he smiled.
She smiled back tiredly. "Oh...nothing. Just thinking about the history this old place must have. And feeling guilty that I made you take apart the television set."
"I can live without television. The withdrawal doesn't set in for at least 48 hours," Mulder sipped his iced tea. "So what do you know about this place? Aside from the fact that your Uncle Robert lived here?"
She glanced around the kitchen with a troubled look. "Not much, really. Uncle Robert bought the house in 1946 and lived here ever since. He never married, didn't have children or pets. He was pretty reclusive and I only saw him a few times. He did say once that the house was so cheap it was a steal. And it came fully furnished. I think he once said that the boxes in the attic belonged to the original owners." She gestured toward the kitchen walls. "It's pretty obvious that Uncle Robert never updated the wiring or plumbing."
"Cheap guy, huh?" Mulder followed Scully's glance. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather find a nice bed and breakfast in town? Especially one that has television and", he leered. "A hot tub?"
Despite herself Scully laughed. "No, Mulder. I can be just as cheap as Uncle Robert and I'm here to fix up this place. You knew what to expect when you invited yourself along!"
Mulder made a face. "Well, I guess I'm in for the long haul then. Happy housekeeping."
Over Scully's objections, Mulder helped wash dishes. She washed while he dried and put away. "Say Scully, you really ought to wash that knife you dropped. I mean, my mom would never let me put away silverware that had fallen to the floor unless I washed it first. Here," he opened the drawer and carefully handed her the knife.
She almost dropped it into the soapy water in her hurry to get rid of it. "I'll let it soak," she said, backing away from the sink.
"Oh no," said Mulder, fishing it out of the water. "That's carbon steel. It'll rust. No, it just needs a quick scrub and rinse. Like this. See?" he held up the shiny knife for her inspection. "All done."
Scully backed away from the knife and plunked down in one of the kitchen chairs. Watching her from the corner of his eye, Mulder calmly wiped it dry and replaced it in the drawer. Her eyes never left the blade until the drawer closed.
"Scully? Hey, Earth to Scully!"
"Huh? Oh, I'm sorry Mulder, my thoughts were wandering. Where were we?" She looked down at the cards in her hand.
"Gin. I just won my seventh game. Your play is off tonight, Scully." Mulder folded his cards onto the table.
"Well, I'm just tired I guess. Think I'll go up to bed." She yawned and checked her watch. "Only 9:30! Oh well, I guess all that exercise is doing me in. G'night Mulder."
"Sweet dreams!" Mulder called after her as she climbed the stairs.
An hour or so later she heard Mulder climb the stairs to his bed. She almost had to giggle. Here was this poor t.v. junkie, deprived of his fix. He'd have to resort to something wild and different, like reading himself to sleep!
Sleep. She didn't want to sleep. What if she had another dream like last night? No, she wouldn't. It was just a nightmare borne of Mulder's stupid jokes.
But that damned knife was still in the house. Dream. Just a dream, Dana. Just a stupid dream. You've been having dreams your whole life. (And some of them came true!) Shut up. This one won't. It won't. I won't let it...
She was angry, so angry. This was her home, how could he bring his doxy, his mistress here to live. Housekeeper? That woman was never a housekeeper in her life! She knew the stories from town about those two.
Well, she wouldn't stand for it. He was known to smoke a pipe while falling asleep. When he was gone the house would be hers---completely. She had always liked fire; its beauty when it flared up gold and orange and red. He would make a lovely bonfire.
She struck a lucifer match, smelling the sulphur on the air, ready to drop it into his bedclothes when he sighed and turned over. He muttered something in his sleep and she bent to hear what he was saying. The match, burning down to her fingertips, stabbed them with pain.
"Ow!" she muttered and then took in her surroundings. She blinked and looked at Mulder, sleeping peacefully in the bed, and at the burned out match in her hand.
She opened the box and carefully removed another match.
She struck the new match and watched the tiny flame glow in between her fingers. At a small movement she looked up and saw children. No, not children, little girls--five of them. They were surrounding her.
The tall one with a face like Emily's spoke.
"You can't do that, Dana. Don't let her do this."
Scully tried but found that she couldn't talk, so held up the match pleadingly.
A second little girl stepped forward. "She's making you do this. You don't want to hurt him. You don't want to hurt anyone. You aren't that kind of person."
The second match burned down and Scully, puzzled, dropped it. The first girl gestured toward the door. "Come on back to bed now, Dana. You need to go back to bed."
Scully followed the little girl down the hallway to her own bedroom, the rest of the children trailing behind her. Once inside, Scully shut the bedroom door and then locked it at a gesture from the child. At an almost physical pressure from the group, Scully climbed into her bed and pulled up the covers.
"She probably won't let you remember what happened tonight, Dana, but try! Try! You have to leave here right away or she'll make you kill him, just like she did the others."
"Wh...why? Why are you helping me?" Fighting, Scully managed to get the word out. She was so sleepy it was hard to keep her mind focused.
"You caught the man who killed us. You cared about us. We want to help you now," the little girl said. "But she's really strong and we can't do much." Then she and her sisters faded out before Scully's eyes. Feeling somehow safer than she had before, Scully nestled into the bed and relaxed into sleep. Her last thought before unconsciousness was "Remember. I must remember...."
Dana Scully sat up in bed and stretched. She felt amazingly rested, although her body was a mass of small muscle aches. All that cleaning, she decided, then checked her alarm clock. 9 a.m.! She was usually up by 6:00. She must have worked harder yesterday than she thought.
She slid out of bed and stretched some more, puzzled by the sensation that there was something she should be thinking about. What was it? It was on the tip of her mind but she just....couldn't....catch...it. Oh well, she yawned, if it's important I'll remember later. I'm just glad that I finally had a night's sleep without nightmares. This trip was a good idea.
She pulled on her robe and went downstairs to see if Mulder was up yet.
In the kitchen she found a note on the table:
"Scully, We were out of orange juice so I thought I'd go to town and stock up again. Maybe I'll get a local paper and find out what passes for entertainment here. See you later. M."
She wrinkled her lip and put it down again. Wasn't that just like Mulder to ditch her and leave her to the house-cleaning, solo. Well, it was no more than she'd expected.
She found the bacon in the fridge and began slicing it with the butcher knife from the drawer. She didn't know how long it had been since she felt so content, but it must be this house. It was...homey. Yes, that was it. Lived-in. No nightmares since she'd arrived, and that was a pleasure. Too bad she'd gotten so hysterical about the television set; Mulder must be missing his programs.
She placidly ate her breakfast, then went to get her bucket and washcloth.
Mulder pushed the shopping cart through the small grocery store, a troubled frown on his face.
What was going on in that house? He reached into his jeans pocket and found the two burned down matches he'd discovered on the floor this morning. They were fresh and the wooden floor had been clean the night before. How did they get there? His readings in the paranormal implied that these might be apports: physical objects teleported from one place to the other. He knew that this was a common occurrence in haunted houses.
A haunting could also explain Scully's odd behavior. She'd always been the more psychic of the two of them, whether she'd admit it or not. Mulder had to admit he hadn't seen so much as a whiff of a ghost in the house. But something was surely spooking Scully. First her preoccupation with that knife and then the television set. The knife may have had some residual psychic vibrations....and he remembered a case he'd read about. Where was it? Oh yeah, the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego. A ghost trying to avenge its untimely death had appeared to a hotel guest via the screen of a television set. Could something similar be happening here?
But Scully would never believe in a haunting, no matter how obvious it was.
He took his groceries to the front checkstand (orange juice, jelly doughnuts, 2 packages of Jiffy Pop and a bag of Oreos) and waited for the clerk to ring up the purchase.
"That'll be $18.07, sir," said the clerk and caught Mulder's eye with her flirtatious smirk. "You're new around here, aren't you?"
"Well, yeah, I guess I am. I'm staying in an old house outside town. Robert Scully's old place. I'm helping to fix it up a bit. Do you know the place?"
"What, you're living in the Death House?" Here eyes popped. "I wouldn't set food in that shack if you paid me. But then, you're probably okay as long as you're there alone."
Mulder frowned. "I'm not alone, my friend is there with me. Why do you call it the Death House and why is it dangerous to be there with somebody?"
"You don't know about it? Geez, I thought everybody knew about that place. If your friend is a female, then you'll be lucky to get outta that place alive, is why we call it the Death House. There've been three murders in that place over the last hundred years! And it's always the woman killing the man. Then she either kills herself or dies."
"Wait a minute, Robert Scully lived in that house for fifty years. He wasn't murdered."
"You aren't listening to me," the clerk said patiently. "Robert Scully lived there *alone*. He always said he didn't believe in spooky stories, but he never had so much as a housekeeper up there. He usedta brag at how cheap he got the house. Well, that was because they'd barely cleaned the blood out of it before he bought it."
"What were the murders that happened there?"
"Oh, let's see. In the 1940's a woman slit her husband's throat with a butcher knife and then took pills herself. Then, there was the fire in 1876. They say she set fire to her husband's bed 'cause he'd brought his mistress to live in the house as their housekeeper. The wife roped together some sheets in jail and hung herself the next day."
"And the third one?"
"They say she poisoned him, then she got sent to the insane asylum. She died about six months later. That happened at the turn of the century."
"I see," Mulder said. "I saw a copy of the Hawkinsville Courant out front. Could you point me to their office?" He put the money on the counter and gathered up the sack of groceries.
"Sure. It's two blocks down, on the right."
Mulder absently nodded a farewell and moved down the street. He deposited the groceries in the trunk and strode down the street toward the newspaper office.
Offices of the Hawkinsville Courant
Mulder put down the crumbling old newspaper and picked up the next sheet. On October 13, 1876 James Tucker had died in a house fire, witnessed by his wife Martha and a hired hand, Paul Gensler. Only Gensler had reported to authorities that Martha had set fire to her husband while he lay in bed. She was seeking revenge because her husband had recently brought his mistress to live in the house. Martha was later found dead in the local jail, hanged. General supposition was that she had committed suicide, although there were rumors that the local constable had killed her himself.
"They were buried on the property," Mulder whispered to himself. He picked up the next yellowing paper. On April 14, 1904, Genevieve LaBalle had put rat poison into her husband's dinner and sat with him until he died. Then she had turned herself in to authorities. Within a week Genevieve claimed that she had been in some kind of 'mesmeric trance' and was unable to control her actions. She blamed the murder on evil spirits in the house. She was committed to a mental hospital and died within six months of unknown causes.
He could feel himself growing tenser and more worried as he read through the newspaper accounts. Only one murder not accounted for...he picked up the paper dated January 22, 1946. Elsie and Preston Gardiner had lived in the house only five months when Elsie murdered her husband with what was believed to be a butcher knife, then committed suicide herself. "The murder weapon was never found," Mulder read quietly to himself. He could picture the knife and knew just where it was.
What was really happening in the house? Was the spirit of one of the victims trying to find justice? The knife obviously carried echoes of the past; that was obviously unnerving Scully. The television and the matches were probably an attempt to communicate. Yes, that was it. He had to talk to Scully about this.
He gathered up the papers and returned them to the librarian, confident that he'd uncovered the reason for the strange happenings.
"I wonder where I'd find a medium in this town?" he mused.
Author's Note: Sorry this chapter is so short. It's Valentine's day and I'm having trouble stirring up the requisite angst among flowers and other lovey- dovey stuff...
"No, I don't need a bag, I'll carry it with me, thanks. " Mulder waved a cheery good bye to the clerk and tucked his purchase into the pocket of his shirt. Scientific proof should convince Scully.
"You're going to what? Mulder, this house is absolutely not haunted!" Scully put the scrub brush back into the bucket and climbed off the kitchen floor. Mulder could see that she had been working hard all morning. Although the kitchen was sparkling, Scully looked tired, hot and sweaty. And angry. Don't forget angry. "You took off this morning and left me to work on this house all by myself, Mulder. I thought you were coming along on this trip to help me out! And now you have the gall to tell me you think my house is haunted and you're going ghost hunting? Give me a break!"
She folded her hands across her chest and glared at him. Mulder winced at the force of it but held his ground. "Scully, I've told you already that I think this house has at least one trapped spirit trying to break free. How else do you explain the face in the television set, your reaction to that butcher knife and the matches I found apported to my room? He or she is trying to communicate. I also found out something about the history of this house. Did you know that there have been three murders here in the last hundred years?"
Mulder moved eagerly forward and pulled some folded photocopies from his back pocked. "I got copies of the newspaper articles. It makes sense that one of the victims may be trying to communicate with us."
Scully's eyebrows moved closer together, her eyes full of thunder. "And so you went to a sporting goods store and bought what high tech piece of equipment to investigate this phenomenon? A combined compass and thermometer. For what? So you can play ghostbuster?"
"Scully," Mulder said patiently. "Research has shown that magnetic fields show a strong reaction in the presence of spirits and often there are dramatic cold spots in haunted places. This is a method of gaining objective, scientific proof of the presence of a disembodied spirit."
"And if you're standing next to the refrigerator when it turns on the compass will react just as strongly. In that eventuality are you going to tell me that the Frigidaire is haunted?"
This was not going well. "Scully, I'm going to prove it to you. You'll see!" Mulder pocketed the compass and headed for the doorway.
"Well at least take some cleaning rags and wipe the walls down when you do, damn it!"
Mulder started in the basement and gradually took readings throughout the house. The basement was was null, no temperature variations. Kitchen was quiet (although Scully glared). He thought he saw a jump near the television set in the parlor but couldn't capture anything more. He moved upstairs until he had reached Scully's room and found the compass needle circling wildly.
Scully's bedroom? He paced the perimeter of the room and found the highest concentration in the center near the ceiling. Upstairs? He ran upstairs to the attics and got more readings near the floor and wall of the attic room. And was that a cold spot?
He went to the doorway and waited for the thermometer to read. 60 degrees. Then he gleefully took a temperature reading in the cold spot. 40 degrees. Overjoyed, he ran down the stairs to tell Scully.
Scully was in the entryway of the house, damp mopping the hardwood floor when Mulder rushed in. "Mulder! I've just washed the.....floor," she ended angrily as Mulder skidded to a stop in front of her.
"Scully, I found a cold spot. And the same area registers magnetic field fluctuation. I think I found our ghost."
"I see," Scully said flatly, beginning to feel the stirrings of rage. "And now that you've found it what are you going to do about it?"
"I thought," Mulder began hesitantly, suddenly regretting that he hadn't helped with the cleaning all that much. "I thought I'd bring a medium by to look at the place. Maybe banish the spirit."
"Sure. Fine. Whatever," Scully turned away from him and began scrubbing at the floor that much harder.
Madame Teresa's Occult Bookstore
"You want a what?" The stringy woman in the bifocals asked with a distinct Brooklyn accent. "A medium? Why?" She peered more closely at Mulder, pulling her threadbare sweater closer.
"Because I'm staying in a house that I have reason to believe is haunted. Can you put me in touch with Madame Teresa?"
"I am Madame Teresa," the woman stood at her full height of five feet. "I am also a sensitive but I am not inclined to put my God-given talents to use for practical jokes."
"This isn't a joke," Mulder said patiently. "This is real. We've had some genuine psychic phenomena in the house and I'm convinced that a spirit is trying to communcate with us."
"I see," the woman sighed. "I don't do trance mediumship much anymore, you understand. Bad for the blood pressure. But....where did you say you were staying?"
"In the old house that Robert Scully used to live in, we..."
The woman moaned and covered her face. "Not that old place, please. It's got quite a reputation already."
"You know it? You've been there?" Mulder asked eagerly.
"Know it? Yes. Been there? Are you crazy? People get killed there!"
"So you won't come? Don't you think you owe it to whoever that poor soul is that's trapped in that house? Just come and take a look," Mulder pleaded. "I'll pay you for your time."
"I charge $150 per half day, non-refundable. And it's either cash or credit cards. No checks."
Mulder got out of his car and waited for Madame Teresa to pull her VW Bug behind him. She hesitantly got out of the car and eyed the house doubtfully. "Are you really sure you want this?"
"Are you going to refund my $150?" pause "I didn't think so. Shall we go inside?"
Mulder led her into the house. While the medium stood hesitantly in the entryway Mulder went to find Scully. He found her in the upstairs hallway, dusting.
"You brought a medium. Here. To exorcise the house," said Scully patiently, her dustrag hanging limply from one hand. "Somehow I didn't think you'd really do it."
"Scully, you know what I've found. I have objective proof that..." His voice was drowned out by an earsplitting crash and a yell from downstairs. Mulder and Scully both ran down to the entryway to find the medium huddled in a corner and the crystal chandelier that had formerly hung from the ceiling in a heap on the floor.
"What happened?" Scully demanded.
The quivering medium pointed toward the chandelier. "I...I was right underneath it when I heard this loud shrieking sound. And...and then I saw it beginning to fall, my Gawd, right for me. It was gonna squash me like a bug!"
"But you dodged out of the way?" Mulder asked.
"What dodged? I was pushed away from it! Something in this house saved my life!" She huddled more deeply into herself and began to creep her way to the door.
"So the spirits here are kind ones?" Mulder asked eagerly.
"KIND? Hell no! You got a couple good, sane spirits here, yeah. But the dominant one is vengeful and full of hate. This house is full of evil and darkness and murder. You two better pack your bags and get yourselves out of here before it's too late." Madame Teresa had reached the door and began twisting the knob. "I wouldn't stay here if you paid me another hundred fifty! This house is a death trap! You mark my words!"
With that, she swung open the door and ran down the front steps. They heard the coughing sputter of her car engine as it started up, then the rattle-shriek of her shifting the car quickly into gear and forward down the driveway. As the sound of the car's engine faded away into the distance, Scully turned to Mulder and asked calmly, "You paid her a hundred fifty dollars?"
"Scully," Mulder said helplessly as the door swung closed. "I thought we needed a professional here."
"A professional what?" She could feel the rage coming back. Funny, she normally wasn't this on-edge and she'd been working with Mulder a long time now. "Mulder, the only professional that this house needs is a housecleaner and general handy-man. You aren't helping one bit with this amateurish ghost-hunting you're up to."
Now Mulder was starting to look ticked. "Scully, you can't deny that the chandelier falling like that was suspicious." He leaned over and began examining it. Scully knelt next to him, looking as well.
"This chandelier has to be 50 years old if it's a day and look! " She held up a length of rusted chain. "It hasn't been maintained in at least that long. The chain finally gave way and it was just a blessing that your medium stepped out of the way."
"Pushed. She said she was pushed out of the way," Mulder insisted.
"Sure. Fine. Whatever. I'm going to finish the cleaning I was doing and would appreciated it if you could bestir yourself to clean up this mess." Scully stood up and dusted off her knees, giving the chandelier a meaningful look.
"Sure. Fine. Whatever," Mulder muttered and began cleaning away the debris of the chandelier. Later, as he dragged another load out to the back of the house he looked out over the pond and saw the clouds forming. Snow maybe? Pretty soon, he thought. He didn't relish being stuck in this house in a snow storm. He went back indoors.
"Scully!" he called up the stairs. "It looks like there's going to be a good snowstorm tonight. Are you sure you want to stay here? We could drive into town and get some motel rooms."
Scully came down the stairs and peeked out the front windows. "Why?" she asked calmly. "The house has a wood stove if the power goes and we have plenty of supplies."
"Well, if anything...well, happens...we might be cut off..."Mulder could hear his voice trailing off in the light of her withering glare.
"Fine, do whatever you want, Mulder. But I'm staying here in my house."
"Scully, you may have title to this place but I don't think it's your house," Mulder began slowly. "There's something going on here that I don't like. I think we'd both be safer if we left now."
The edge of anger was patent in her voice. "Mulder, to my observation, the only danger you've been trying to avoid has been housework. Now if a warm motel room would make you feel safer from that eventuality, you're welcome to go find it. I am staying here." She started up the stairs.
"Scully, don't you see that you aren't acting like yourself? You never..." He tried to follow her.
"What?" She turned abruptly. "I always what? I agree with you, no matter how much my good sense rebels, I agree with you. Isn't it time I stopped listening to your blathering idiocies and trusted my own instincts for a change? My God! I'm a grown woman, Mulder, and I can make up my own mind on this and everything else! This house is MY house and I'll thank you to stop insulting it. I'll stay here for as long as I like and neither you nor anybody else will be moving me out of here!" With that, she ran up the stairs leaving a silent Mulder in the entryway.
The snow, beginning lightly and then more heavily, continued to fall as he worked at clearing away the shattered glass and shards. He wasn't going to find that motel and he wasn't going to leave Scully either. Something was wrong here, that he couldn't put his finger on, but it was definitely affecting Scully. An hour or so later, Scully came down the stairs past him, ignoring him as she went. Well, if that was the way she wanted it, he'd ignore her as well.
He could hear the water running in the kitchen while she rinsed out bucket and washcloth. Then he heard the sound of her chopping vegetables. He dumped the last dustpanful of glass into the can out back and wandered into the kitchen. She barely looked up from her cuttingboard, wielding the butcher knife with deadly efficiency against carrots and celery. He could feel a vague uneasiness in the pit of his stomache, but squelched it. This was Scully. She would never endanger him. Finally she looked up from her chopping. "So, you've decided to stay?"
"Yes, Scully. I'm here to help you. I know," he held up his hand. "I'm not going to go on about ghosts or anything. I'm sorry. I'll obey your house rules while I'm in your house. You can be sure of that."
Her eyes seemed to glitter a little as she nodded. "All right, then. Dinner will be ready in about an hour, biscuits and gravy, stew with mashed potatoes." She poured the chopped vegetables into the pot and turned to him. "You wanna whisky?"
Mulder shook his head 'no'. This was a different Scully. She knew he only drank rarely, and there wasn't any alcohol in the house. And her cooking tended toward grilled chicken breast and salad, but at this point he wasn't arguing.
She looked at the woodstove and then at the snow that had been falling for hours. "I'm going to get some firewood. I'll be back in a minute."
Mulder got up. "I can..."
She glared again. "No. I'll do it."
Helplessly he sat back down again. Gradually he felt the room become colder and colder. Was the snow coming down harder? He sat up and went to look out the window. Still snowing, but no different than before. He shrugged, then turned around to return to his chair and found himself facing a shadowy figure.
He jumped back, still staring at the wispy form. It, no she, looked back at him from dark eyes. "Who...who are you?" he asked.
"You know who I am," she replied. Her voice began softly, then picked up volume. "You know the history of my house."
"Which murderess are you?" Mulder asked calmly. Her form shivered in angry response.
"I sought justice, that's all. He deserved the death he got. They all did. I wanted them out of my house!"
"You were the first, weren't you? Martha Tucker?"
Her shape solidified a bit and she straightened in pride. "Martha Anderson Tucker. This house was my house and I married that fool James to have enough money to keep it mine."
"But then he cheated on you, didn't he? He brought his mistress here," Mulder moved closer to her, examining her with fascination.
"He brought that bitch here! That unclean prostitute from the village; said she had reformed and would be our housekeeper! I knew what was on his mind. He wanted my house and my land, and she'd be the mistress here, not I," she shivered and began pacing the kitchen. "I soon taught them both what I would not tolerate!"
"The histories don't say what happened to the housekeeper," Mulder said with interest. "Did you kill her too?"
"Oh yes. I killed her first, then put her body in a secret room until I could bury her in the forest. Then I went to take care of James." She smiled and licked her lips at the memory.
"The house has a secret room?"
"It was a stop on the Underground Railroad in my father's day, so I knew about it. But nobody else did."
"So you buried her in the woods?" Mulder felt himself almost in a trance of eagerness. A ghost. He was interviewing a ghost!
She shrugged. "I did not have the opportunity. I set fire to James' bed but was seen by our hired man. I was taken to jail before I could remove the woman from my house. She's still here!"
"And you don't like that," Mulder said flatly.
"This is my place and no one can be here without my permission! She is still here and until that woman is gone from my roof, I can find no rest."
"Why did you kill the others? Did you force the wives to do it?" Mulder watched a crafty look drift across her face.
"I only enhanced resentments already in place. Each woman had unspoken angers against her husband. These men treated their wives as uncaringly as my husband had me. I only helped it along. *I* decide who can stay here."
Truth began to dawn in the back of Mulder's mind. "Scully. She's been out there a long time. Where is she?" The spirit smiled and then faded away.
It was then that Mulder heard Scully calling to him.
He ran to the back door and frantically tugged it open. Across a while snowfield he could see Scully standing on the shore of the pond, waving to him.
"Mulder! Come here! Quick!!" She waved both arms over her head and Mulder pounded through the snow to her. He'd forgotten his jacket and it was cold but hopefully he could get to her and help her before he froze.
"What? What is it?" he panted when he drew level to her. She was still absently clutching a heavy log of firewood in her right hand, and pointed out to the pond with it.
"There! Can you see it? He's drowning!"
Mulder strained his eyes trying to see what she was pointing at. He saw nothing, nothing but snow and pond and trees in the distance. Not even any neighbors. This place was too damned remote.
He didn't see or hear Scully draw back her right arm.
"I don't know what you're pointing to, Scully. Is someb...." The blow dropped him face forward into the icy water. With a delicate foot Scully pushed his body into the pond until Mulder was floating face down. She dropped the club and began to study her watch with clinical exactitude. One minute....two minutes....three....four.
She leaned over and lifted his wrist from the water. The skin was blue and cold. She felt no pulse.
She nodded her head and, turning her back on the dead man in the pond, began to walk back to her house.
Scully walked briskly and with purpose up the path. Now that the intruders were taken care of she would return to her house and...and...she felt...strange. All purpose gone, she felt as though something had filtered out of her. She looked around at the snowy landscape. What on earth was she doing out here? It was freezing! She couldn't recall...and then she did.
"Mulder! Oh my God!" She turned around and ran back down the path, skidding in the snow. He was still floating where she'd left him, where she had drowned him.
Frantically she tugged at his body, pulling him back to shore and painfully rolled him over onto his back. His face was blue and she could see the dark lump on his head where she'd hit him with the piece of firewood.
Not breathing. Of course not. She'd timed it. Damn! She started CPR and while she was working over him tried to imagine what it was that had brought her to this place. Why on earth could she have done this to him? Mulder's insistence that the house was haunted flooded back. The knife, the dream, she remembered them now. Something, no someone had made her forget about them. Mulder had tried to get them both away from here but she had refused to go.
Was that a movement in his chest? Come on, Mulder. The hypothermia should have protected you. That bitch knew enough to hold you under over four minutes but she didn't know about hypothermia. She felt for a pulse at his throat. There it was, faint but there. Had to get him to the house but he was too big to carry. Should be grateful for the snow, it's slippery.
Slowly she began dragging him back to the house.(Tug...pull...pull...damn Mulder you've put on weight) This was going too slowly and she had to get him warmed up. Where to take him? Back to that damned house? (stop...take a breath) She didn't want to go to the house, the spirit or whatever it was remained up there. Nothing around here, though.(pull...c'mon Mulder...) No neighbors, no outbuildings, nothing. No choice. I'll deal with that when I have to, she decided. She stopped for a moment and pondered hard. Maybe there's a way to make this a bit faster.
She left Mulder there and plodded up to the house. How did I know that it was a female spirit doing this to me? I called her a bitch. But the spirit was a woman, and a vengeful one at that. She ran into the silent house and grabbed a tablecloth and a blanket, expecting to be prevented. Nothing happened. Gratefully she returned to Mulder.
He was still alive, thank God. She rolled him onto the tablecloth and wrapped him in the blanket. Using her improvised sled, she then began pulling him up the hill once more. The going was easier this time and she was soon at the back porch.
"C'mon Mulder," she grunted. "You have to stand up. I can't get you into the house unless you stand up," she tugged and pulled at him, trying to force some consciousness into him. "Please, Mulder, I can't do this alone. I'm not strong enough." She heard his sigh and at last his eyelids opened a crack.
"Yes. That's it, come on Mulder, I need you walking," she urged and slowly Mulder stumbled unsteadily to his feet. Supporting most of his weight, she slowly moved up the porch steps and into the kitchen.
The blast of heat from the woodstove hurt. She hadn't realized how cold she was. Mulder felt it too and collapsed limply to the floor, pushing the kitchen table and chair over with a screech.
"Damn," she muttered and rolled him onto his back. This linoleum floor was too cold for him but she wasn't sure she dared move him any more. Victims of hypothermia need to remain horizontal to prevent heart abnormalities.
She checked his pulse: still beating, then ran to the bedrooms for more blankets. On her return she slid him off the wet tablecloth, then mopped the floor around him with bathtowels until it was relatively dry.
He had lapsed back into unconsciousness, or at least didn't make any remarks while she stripped his wet clothing off of him and rolled him onto a pad made of blankets, wrapping more around him.
By the time she had him wrapped up like a mummy a bit of his color had come back and his breathing was stronger. Good. She went over to the phone to dial 911.
As she lifted the receiver the lights went out and the dialtone went dead. Scully jerked. Snow storm? Or her ghostly friend in the house.
"God dammit!" she yelled into the darkness. "Let us go! Just let me get him out of the house and we'll never come back! Please..." She stared around into the dark and felt nothing, heard nothing.
All right, she'd try the cell phone. A quick rummage in her purse turned it up and it was still active, but the phone had no signal. They were too remote.
She pulled a flashlight out of her purse and went to check on the car. She'd drive Mulder out of here herself. From the front porch she could see nothing but more snow. The car was covered, they were trapped here.
If she'd considered moving Mulder to one of the beds, that idea was out. He had to stay in the kitchen with the wood stove. Good thing she'd started a fire.
Back in the kitchen Mulder was still unconscious and the fire was getting low. An armful of logs from the back porch fixed the fire but there wasn't much she could do for Mulder.
"Keep him warm, that's all I can do, and hope that the lines are repaired soon..." she muttered as she built up the fire into a roaring blaze. "Well, I can add a bit more heat..." The kitchen began to warm to a balmy temperature.
She had to smile as she stripped off her own clothes in the flickering firelight. Mulder would be very sorry he missed this by being unconscious. Naked, she climbed into the blankets beside him and snuggled up against his back, carefully tucking the blankets back around them and settled herself in to wait for morning. His skin was cold to touch but soon began to warm. Amazing how soft this man's skin was. She could smell a faint whiff of his aftershave. Nice. How could she have been so furious with him? She didn't feel any more effects of that damned ghost or whatever it was.
Or was it a ghost after all? Maybe she was cracking up. That would certainly make more sense given the past weeks. If she were psychotic, snuggling up to Mulder was probably the most dangerous thing she could do. There were still weapons within reach....she could feel herself drifting off to sleep but fought it.
No, she had to stay awake and monitor Mulder. And besides, she had to admit somewhere deep inside herself, she was afraid of what might take over if she slept. Mustn't sleep...mustn't...
"Dana! Dana wake up!"
Huh? Her eyes felt gummy and she slowly pried them open. Five glimmering shapes hovered in the dark air in front of her. "Wha...?"
"You remember us, Dana? We're here to help you. She's still here and she wants you back."
"You. You tried to warn me." She could feel herself waking a bit. "What's happening?"
"This is her house. She hates anyone who comes here but she can only work through women. She killed her husband."
Scully blinked. Those stories that Mulder had gone on and on about. "And she's been killing ever since? She made me do those things didn't she?"
The little girls nodded solemnly.
"What can I do? We can't leave and I can't get help."
"Scu..." she heard a voice rasp next to her ear.
"Mulder? How are you feeling?" She shifted over so that she could see his face. He blearily gave her a quick once over and leered.
"You shoulda woke me if we're gonna do this..." He shivered and she tucked the blankets around him more tightly. "Hey Scully, you HIT me!"
"I'm so sorry, Mulder. You were right, this house is haunted and she doesn't like you. She's been...influencing...me since we arrived. You have a probable concussion and hypothermia. We've got to get you to a hospital." She looked around warily. "If we can get out of here."
"Who w'r you talk'n to?" Mulder's eyes began to close again and he fought them open.
"Ghosts. Five of them; the murdered girls from the MacIntyre case. They've been trying to help me all along," she said matter of factly.
Mulder grinned, his eyelids at half mast. "More ghosts? Wow...Jus' before you hit me I met a real unhappy one. She killed her husban'."
Scully's glance sharpened. "Tell me about her."
In fits and starts Mulder repeated his conversation with Martha Tucker. When he finished, Scully shook her head thoughtfully. "Why does she haunt this place? She killed her husband years ago. Does she hate men that much?"
"S'not the point. Her anger's never been appeased for a hundred years. This's her place 'n we're intruders. If she doesn like you she gets rid of you. But y'know, there's one intruder still here, a hundred years later..."
"The housekeeper? True, her body is somewhere here in the house. If we got the body out of this house do you think she'd stop haunting?"
"I might," a tall woman appeared next to the stove. "This is my house and that slut is still here."
"If we got rid of her for you would you bring the lights back? And the phone lines?" Scully asked. "Will you let us go?"
The woman looked at Mulder and her lip curled. "Don't you know by now that all men are deceivers? Look what you've already done for him? What has he ever given you back? A proposal of marriage? Has he even told you that he loves you?"
Scully looked at her steadily. "Do you agree?"
"Why should I agree? What can you ever do to me if I refuse?"
"I can burn this house down and sow the land with salt," Scully stated. "And if Mulder dies, that's just what I'll do. Your house will be nothing but charred timber and space. You can't control me anymore. I can feel you trying but I'm on to you now. I know you're there and I won't be caught again. Now, where is this body?"
Mulder was unconscious again when Scully put her clothes back on. She piled some more logs onto the fire and followed the ghost up the stairs.
"Why don't you just let him go?" asked the ghost as they climbed the stairs.
Scully shone her flashlight on the steps to avoid tripping. The ghost was a glowing pillar ahead of her. "Shut up," Scully said shortly.
"If I could have lived alone, made my own decisions in life, I would have. The fool I had to marry betrayed me but I really can't blame him. It was his nature." The ghost paused on the landing.
"You still killed him," Scully said. "You forced two other women to murder their husbands. All this destruction because you were betrayed and hurt? Those were evil things you did."
"All I ever wanted was this house to myself." The ghost shrugged. "The women already had angers against their husbands. I simply enhanced them. You have angers of your own."
"I know." Scully momentarily flashed on the reasons for the angers then quickly squelched them. Don't give this spirit any ammunition!
The woman smiled sympathetically. "You can't hide your thoughts from me. He gives you no independence. He doesn't listen to you and when he does he mocks your opinions. You've been with him for how many years? What do you have, Dana? Do you even have a house to call your own?" The ghost gave her a compassionate look. "You have this house if you want to live in it."
Scully eyed the ghost coldly. "If I kill Mulder for it? Is that what you told the other women? I don't hate Mulder and I won't let you force me to kill him to satisfy some twisted need of yours. Now where is this body? I want to fill my part of the bargain and leave."
"Well enough," the ghost said and gestured Scully upstairs.
Scully came to a halt in the attic room above her own. This was where Mulder had told her about finding a cold spot. "All right, where is it?" She held the flashlight close and examined the beadboard wall but could find no evidence of a door.
"A secret room," the ghost lightly caressed the wall. "Press the baseboard and it will release the latch."
Scully felt along the base of the wall until a section depressed. A section of the panelling popped open. Smelling old must and decay, Scully pulled it open further and peered inside.
She saw an old skeleton with wizened bits of skin still clinging to it, a garotte wrapped around its neck.
Scully went downstairs to her own room and took the top sheet off the bed. On returning to the attic room she carefully moved the bones into the sheet and knotted the fabric together into an improvised sack.
"I'll take the body with me when I go," said Scully. "I'll see to it that it has decent burial." She carefully carried it downstairs and to the front door. Shrugging on her jacket, she picked up the bundle and walked with it out the door and onto the front porch, then carefully set it on the bottom step. She picked up her flashlight, then turned around to the open door.
As she began climbing the steps the front door abruptly slammed shut. She could hear the sound of the locking mechanism closing.
"Hey!" Scully ran up the steps and tried to open the door without any luck. The doorknob rattled but didn't give and pushing against the door was futile. She ran down the steps and made her way to the back door. It was locked too, but she could hear the sounds of dishes breaking inside and the thudding as heavier objects hit the walls. There was still light in the kitchen but the curtains were closed. She could see nothing.
She wrapped her jacket around her fist and tried to break the window but it was stronger than bulletproof glass. It just wouldn't break.
"Mulder! Mulder what's happening in there?!? Open the door! She's locked me out, open the door and let me in!"
"I can't, Scully!" Mulder's voice came faintly over the racket. "She's got me pinned. Can't you break a window? Shit!" A loud crash sounded through the door, then all was quiet.
"Mulder? Mulder are you all right?" She pounded harder on the window, then grabbed a chunk of firewood and began beating it frantically against the glass. It finally broke and she cleared it quickly with her jacket-wrapped arm then climbed in.
At first she saw nothing in the dim room, but broken glass crunched under her feet. She felt her way slowly toward the stove, still glowing with heat, and found the overturned kitchen table wedged against the wall.
"Mulder? It's me. Where are you?" She moved to where the pile of debris was highest: against the table. "Mulder?"
She heard a faint cough, then Mulder's voice. "Scully is that you? Is it really you?"
She fought the urge to giggle hysterically. "Yep, it's me. All me. Are you okay?" She began to pull the table away and found Mulder huddled against the wall behind it, still wrapped in blankets.
She crouched down next to him. "We have to get out of here, fast. Think you can walk out to the car?"
"Let's get the Hell out of here!" Mulder struggled to his feet. Scully found his shoes and helped him put them on, then moved with him out the back door.
"You'll have to wait on the porch until I can make a trail to the car. Will you be okay?" Scully eyed him anxiously.
"I'll make it," he said grimly and leaned against the wall.
Scully nodded and forced her way through the snow to where she remembered parking the car. Finding it, she pushed the snow away from the passenger door, then went back for Mulder.
"Come on, at least it's shelter and it'll be morning soon." She helped him out to the car and the two of them snuggled together in the back seat.
"And in the morning?" Mulder asked, shivering hard. Scully wrapped herself closer around him.
"If I have to, I'll hike out and get help. Or burn this damned house down for warmth. A fire that big is bound to attract the fire department."
"Scully," smiled Mulder. "You'd burn your house down for me?"
"This isn't my house, Mulder. It never was. What's more, I don't think it's belonged to anybody but Martha Tucker since 1870." She pulled the blankets tighter around them. "So what happened in the kitchen?"
"After you left..." Mulder fought for words. "Stuff started raining down. Dishes, cups, plates and then pots and frying pans. Then I saw the knife drawer open and knives come flying at me. I'd got down behind the table but when the cutlery started flying..." He shook his head, at a loss for words. "Then that butcher knife was headed right for me and I had to grab one of the frying pans to deflect it. Just then you broke the window and the whole thing stopped." He rubbed his nose thoughtfully. "Funny thing. I thought I saw a ball of light floating around the kitchen just before she stopped attacking me."
"One of my little ghosts, you think?" Scully mused.
"Could be. They clearly want to help but they can't control her completely. Did you succeed in removing the housekeeper from the house?"
"Oh yes," Scully said bitterly. "The place is all hers now. No intruders left."
Scully pulled her ear away from Mulder's chest and yawned. She'd slept, listening to his heartbeat all night long. Mulder was still sleeping, his breath moving steadily. Thank God no long term effects. She could picture what would have happened if he hadn't revived. Would she have died in a mental institution like one of the women here? Or would they have decided that it was premeditated? Or, she pondered seriously, knowing that she'd killed him, would she have followed Mulder into death as she always had in life? She didn't know. She truly didn't know.
She heard a noise from outside. An engine. Help? She pushed against the car door and forced it open. The sky was a clear blue and the sun shining brightly. While she watched, a snowplow left the road and began climbing the long driveway to the house.
Scully made her way through the snow carefully to meet it. The driver stopped the plow and levered himself out of the cab.
"Hello! Are you Dana Scully?" he called.
"Yes! I'm so glad to see you. My partner needs to be taken to a hospital. Can you get us out of here?"
The driver grinned. "So Aunt Teresa was right again! Damn it. She called me last night and told me she was worried about you two. She had a foreboding, she said. Made me promise to come up here and check on you even though you aren't on my regular route." He eyed Scully appraisingly (and favorably). "But it looks like you survived the Death House just fine."
Scully smiled back weakly. "If you only knew. But my partner needs help. Can you get us back to town?"
The driver helped Scully move Mulder into the cab, squeezing them both into the front seat beside him. Then they began the trip back to town. Out the window Scully could see the house, standing quiet in the morning, a few wisps of smoke still coming from the chimney.
"It looks safe enough. So what happened?" asked the driver.
Scully looked at him for a few long seconds, opened her mouth and then closed it again. "You'd never believe me," she finally said.
Three Days Later
A small VW bug followed a rented Taurus up the long, freshly plowed driveway to the front of the house. At the top of the hill the Taurus parked and the driver got out to greet the VW driver.
Scully felt like smiling as she approached Madame Teresa. She'd had an odd dream last night that had left her with a feeling of hope and blessing. The five little girls were wishing her well and saying good-bye. Now that she and Mulder were free of the house, they were no longer needed. Now the rest of the cleansing had to be accomplished.
"Teresa, I really appreciate what you're doing. I know how this house bothers you," Dana Scully shivered as she looked at the place. Mulder was out of the hospital, recuperating in his motel room and would have no permanent damage. He'd wanted to come along but under the circumstances Scully and Mulder's doctor had agreed that he needed to stay away.
"I'm glad to do it, Dana. When I think of what that spirit almost made you do! Well, it can't be tolerated. I haven't done an exorcism in a few years but I still remember the ritual."
"Thank you. I appreciate it," said Scully. Then she stood back and watched Teresa work. The house was quiet throughout the ritual sprinkling of salt water and herbs, the reading of prayers, the singing of hymns and the final injunction to the spirit that it leave the place.
At last Teresa was done. "Well, that's done it. The house is clear as far as I can tell. I think I had some help from the friendly spirits here."
"You sense them?" asked Scully. "How many?"
"I'd say four or five. And they're very young and well disposed toward you and your partner. They're probably the reason you both survived." Teresa finished packing her ritual gear into her bag.
"You didn't banish them too, did you?" Scully said in alarm.
"Oh no. They're here by free choice; they aren't bound to the house. Think of them as a set of guardian angels. They can come and go as they please."
Scully nodded gratefully. With Teresa's help she'd gathered her own and Mulder's belongings from the house but had no further desire to set foot in the place, ghost or no ghost.
"You're going to see to it that the housekeeper's bones are buried," asked Scully.
"Oh my, yes. She still has family in town who never knew what became of her; they'll have a funeral for her. That's another mystery solved."
"Good. Well, I'd better get going and see if Mulder's broken the television remote yet." Scully waved at her and got into her car. The VW roared into life and went down the gravel road, followed closely by the Taurus.
In the distance, at the top of the hill, the house sat quiet. As the Taurus turned around the bend a pale face peered out the attic window and then disappeared.