Title: Whistlewood
Author: Deb Longley
Category: MulderTorture, MulderAngst, Mulder POV, X-File
Rating: R for disturbing images and language
Spoilers: minor for "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"
Archive: COX, MTA, EMXC, Xemplary, FWMW; others please let me know
Disclaimer: Mulder and Scully belong to Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions, and Twentieth Century Fox Television. They are used here without permission. Why should Chris have all the fun? No copyright infringement intended. Occupants of Whistlewood belong to me.

Author's Notes: I have never been to Bell Haven, VA; I plucked the name from a map because I liked it. No disrespect is implied. Whistlewood is all mine.

This was written for the Church of X Oct. 1999 Monthly Fanfic Challenge (see note at end).

Summary: Trapped in a decrepit house on Halloween, Mulder witnesses the events of its horrific past.


All Hallow's Eve
The Whistlewood House Bell
Haven, VA

This two-storey house I stand in, from its place on the hill, lurks over the little town below. It sees everything, but is, because of its isolation, unseen. The house is surrounded by untended grass from a hundred summers, blossomless lilac bushes and aged weeping willow trees. Rubbing away the grime from the study window on the second floor, I clear a peephole and look out into the night toward Bell Haven. I feel like I'm intruding on those living below as if, somehow, by being in this place, I, too, am a pariah.

When I turn away from the window, the beam from my flashlight changes the view into a bare and dirty room. The ceiling, like a barn, is supported by rafters, or else it would have become part of the floor years ago, and the papered walls are so soiled and faded it's impossible to tell what the pattern might have been. Sagging, empty bookcases line the walls--what they might have held can only be imagined. There is a fireplace, empty but for the cobwebs blanketing its interior. I shiver; it's chilly and the air smells of damp and decay.

I pull my black leather jacket closer around me and stamp my cold, sneakered feet. I sniff as the brisk air loosens the mucous in my nose and I rub my left hand under it. I make another sweep of the room with the flashlight and stumble over a gap in the floor, a loose board. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I pull up the rotten plank, recalling my and Scully's grisly discovery last year in a haunted house in Maryland. I point the beam into the gaping hole. It's merely a home for several scurrying beetles. Exhaling slowly, my breath appearing then disintegrating before me, I laugh with relief although it sounds hollow. Suddenly, without forewarning, I'm in darkness. The damn beam didn't even taper off gradually, it just died.

"Shit." Frustrated, I flick the switch on the flashlight a few times with my thumb. Nothing. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid, Mulder. Why didn't you put in new batteries before you left home and drove three-and-a-half hours to get here? Refusing to answer my taunting subconscious, I shudder involuntarily, feeling icy fingers of dread tickling the back of my neck. Here I am, in an abandoned, old house with a reputation, on Halloween, and my flashlight conks out. Spooky. Scully would love this. Arching an eyebrow, she'd say it serves me right for my impetuousness then put the back of her hand up to her mouth to bury, albeit unsuccessfully, her giggles. I beat the flashlight against my right thigh, not really expecting results, but the beam re-kindles. Grinning, like an idiot, I raise it to lead my way out of the study into the next room, but my smile slides off my chin faster than melting ice cream. My brain attempts to deny it, but I see him.

He has just one eye. His husky build implies that he might have lost it in a brawl. He is a man one would stare at twice; not because he is handsome, but because his face is long with a prominent nose, narrow lips, and his eye...the way it looks suggests the forest and the wild creatures that live there. His face is creased and puckered--not from age, but from years of thankless sweat and too much booze. He sneers, giving him a malevolent appearance, as if the one eye isn't bad enough, and I turn to peek at whom his scorn is directed. I hope to hell it isn't me and I don't want to turn my back on him for long.

There is no one in back of me.

I take a little longer than I should to turn back around, but the room behind me has transformed: it is lit softly, by candles fixed on each side of the fireplace, casting amber halos on the walls, and the fireplace now has a fire, which has burned down to nothing but softly smoldering ashes. The flickering light reveals that the bookcases are filled with books--I see Melville's Moby Dick--and the tiny green ivy-leafed pattern on the wallpaper looks like it's actually creeping over the walls. There is a large, sturdy desk and a couple of brightly-patterned, hand-hooked rugs are strewn across the plain wide-planked floor.

I swing back in his direction. He hasn't budged. Unexpectedly, he moves past me into the room, startling me into a yelp which he doesn't seem to hear. I hadn't realized how tense I am. He looks like he had thrown on his clothes thoughtlessly--the long-sleeved buttoned shirt isn't fastened at the cuffs or tucked into his pants, its collar is standing up, and his boots are untied. Kneeling in front of the fire, and setting something on the floor by his feet, he takes some wood out of a nearby metal pail, adding it to the embers. Igniting quickly, flames dart and lick between the logs, but, strangely, there's no heat emanating from them. The room is still freezing. He sits in a hard wooden chair in front of the fireplace. It's then that I notice the sledgehammer; it is incongruous in this room. The tool is wet with blood and some has also splashed on his hands and clothes.

Oh my God, what has happened?

It's not like I haven't seen blood before--red *and* green (when Roddenberry gave Spock green blood he didn't know how right he was)--but my mouth goes drier than chalk dust. I swallow hard, but get no relief. My stomach chooses to roll into a ball of lead and drop into my sneakers.

One-eye rests there for a moment, his head in his hands. I hear him start to weep then he screws his knuckles into his right eye and left eye socket as if to halt the rush of emotion. He sighs deeply, his shoulders heaving, as if he has resolved whatever is plaguing his conscience, and, seizing the hammer, rises. The blood from his hands has left perfect finger marks on his stubbled cheeks. As he goes by, I flinch, but he doesn't acknowledge me.

My flashlight beam illuminates the hallway for both of us, but I sense that he doesn't need it. He walks with purpose as though he knows exactly where he is going. He turns into a room two doors down on the right from the study.

I could have sworn it, too, was sheathed in darkness, but, when we enter, the room is lit faintly by the dying embers of a fireplace. The bed's quilt, covered in pink, blue, and white flowers, is spread over a small, sleeping form.

It's a little girl's bedroom.

In a back corner, parallel to the door, is a petite clothes trunk tethered around the middle with a fine white ribbon. On its top is a soft-bodied doll dressed in a red cotton gingham dress; its hair is made out of yellow yarn and its blue eyes and pink mouth, shaped like a half of a heart, have been sewn lovingly out of thread. It has a tiny round button for a nose. A matching girl's dress, discarded after a day of play, has been placed on the trunk next to it.

I sit down on the trunk, my legs sprawled in front of me, and the flashlight in my lap, and pick up the doll. I lift it to my cheek; closing my eyes, its fragrance reminds me of powder scented like roses, dainty laughter, and doubling Sam on my bicycle's cross bar, her doll bouncing in the basket on the handlebars. I don't want to put it back, reluctant to relinquish the memory, but One-eye shifts from the doorway, where he has been standing like a sentinel, watching her, although I get no feeling of safety from him. I feel anxious--slightly sick--and my hands begin to tremble and sweat. Adrenaline kicking in, my heart is racing like I'm in the middle of a ten-mile run.

The fire in the fireplace is nearly extinguished, but he makes no effort to get it going again. Stepping to the bed, his booted feet make no sound. The child, flushed from sleep, looks utterly beautiful and innocent. Lying on her side, her hands drawn up under her chin, she is clothed in a ruffled, flannel nightgown and her ash blond hair is pulled into one braid that hangs halfway down her back. Her little mouth is pursed, like that of the doll. She coos quietly in her sleep, but doesn't awaken. He lifts the sledgehammer over her.

My guts feel like ice.

No, sweet Jesus, no! Oh, God, Scully!

"Stop, damn you!" My scream goes unheard. I'm shocked by the sound. Is that raw, desperate voice really mine? Automatically, I reach for my gun, but I don't have it with me. The fact that I'm on my own time and not the Bureau's doesn't make a whit of difference--if I could reach it, I would kick my own ass.

Dropping the doll, I struggle to get to my feet from my awkward position on the low trunk, the flashlight clattering away. Its beam bounces and rolls. I lunge for the bastard, but he brings the hammer down. I wrench my eyes away, but I feel something warm and sticky spray on my face and in my hair. *Her* blood. The two cheeseburgers and large fries I ingested with gusto halfway here hurl on to my feet. I crash to my hands and knees, and, scrambling and clawing like hell hounds are biting and salivating at my heels, I heave myself frantically into the hallway.

My arms collapse and my forehead sinks to the floor, but still on my knees, I sob brokenly. I-I'm sorry. I couldn't stop him. I-I couldn't protect her. I couldn't save her. I-I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry, Dad.

Panting, and shaking like I'm in the throes of a bad flu bug, I struggle to draw some oxygen into my lungs, to steady my breathing, but the air is dank and heavy and I nearly choke. Sensing, rather than seeing, that One-eye is now standing over me with his tool of death, I panic and back myself up trying to shove my back into the wall. I look up at him, my eyes wide-open with fear then squeeze them shut, bracing myself for the imminent blow.

It doesn't come.

My arms and knees screaming with abuse, and sweat pouring off of me despite the frigid air, I am physically and emotionally drained. Legs folded under me, and sitting on them, I sniffle. Bowing my head, and clutching the hem of my gray t-shirt, I pull it up and dry my face.

I feel like the late October ground--hard, cold...dead. I am lost in sorrow. Moaning, I clutch my arms around me.

His fingers clench around the handle of the sledgehammer readying himself for the next strike. The next victim. The cold from the floor permeates my jeans and knocks the lethargy out of me. I use my hands to push myself up, but my body betrays me; I still have a slight tremor, my head aches, and my insides are rumbling loosely. Hugging the wall, I try to get my bearings.

I don't know if I *can* follow him again, but even more significant, I don't know if I want to. I wait for him to move, but he lets go of the tool and, leaning against the wall and reaching into his shirt pocket, pulls out a pipe and a match. His hands shake a little as he lights it, illuminating his face, and, smelling the not unpleasant stench of the tobacco, despite the fact I haven't smoked in years, I wish I had a cigarette.

I look into his eye, attempting to see into his soul, to make sense of all this, but how do you explain illogical behavior? I'm sure to One-eye it serves a purpose, and that's damn chilling. What makes a man bludgeon his family to death? He must have been thinking about it for some time, and had to have been consumed by a volatile rage and hopelessness in order to murder them so ruthlessly.

What kind of person can do such a thing?

Maintaining eye contact with him, I try to convey how futile his heinous misdeed is.

Puckering his lips, he takes a final puff, blowing it out in a ring of smoke, then tips the pipe over, tapping it to discard the ashes. Thrusting the pipe into his pocket, he grasps the hammer once more.

Oh, God, get me out of here.

I must have voiced it out loud because I hear Scully promise, "You're almost free, Mulder. I'm right here with you." She sounds confident and serene--typically Scully.

Scully?

Why can't I see anything? What the hell is going on?

Two sets of arms dislodge the last of what's obstructing my vision and secure a hard cervical collar around my neck. Massive and small pairs of hands support my back and haul me from beneath the debris. Squinting in the early light of morning, I see that my left forearm has been splinted with what looks like fragments of wood and remnants of Scully's Calvin Klein t-shirt. The two Emergency Medical Technicians strap me on to a backboard.

"Scully," I rasp. "He's killing them; he's murdering them all."

Her mouth turns down, twin lines of worry appearing between her nose and top lip. Obviously, she is alarmed at my words. Kneeling, and reaching for my left eyelid, she scrutinizes my eye solemnly, repeating the gesture for my right eye. Running her fingertips gently over my head, I wince when she fingers the swollen gash on my left temple. "John Henry Wood bludgeoned his wife, daughter and son to death one hundred years ago on Halloween. You read me the case file yesterday. You wanted to take a look at his house."

"I saw him, Scully." The memories fresh and brutal, I tear up, but, clearing my throat, manage to keep my voice steady and speak with conviction. "I'm not confused. I saw him do it."

She tucks an errant strand of hair behind her right ear. "You fell through the second floor not long after we entered, Mulder. You were trapped under debris, semi-conscious."

If my damn head didn't hurt so bad, I would roll my eyes at her immediate dismissal although I do allow my annoyance to sweep my face. Never let it be said that I am subtle.

"I called for help from the cell phone in the car, but that was the only time we were separated all night." She gives my right hand a pat, like she is placating a five-year old who has just skinned his knees, and smiles, not exactly acknowledging my irritation in the way I intended. "You cried out for me once. I held your hand. Your left arm was the only part of you not buried in the floor boards."

My forehead wrinkles in doubt. The male EMT, running his hands over me, checking me from head-to-toe, says, "Tell me if I hurt you anywhere, okay, Agent Mulder?" When he reaches my left knee, I yelp.

Noticing my reaction, he asks, "Does it feel tender?"

Gritting my teeth, I grind out, "Yes. There's some muscle tension, too."

My pant leg is cut away to expose massive swelling and bruising. Wrapping it with a bandage, and turning to Scully, he remarks, "He's exhibiting some signs of shock, Agent Scully--cool skin...his pulse is a little fast."

Who wouldn't be in shock after what I've witnessed, pal?

His female partner brings a stretcher, and, together, they lift me, backboard and all, on to it, fasten the restraints around me, and cover me with a blanket. She starts an intravenous line, informing me that it's normal saline to replace some of the salt and water lost to bleeding.

"This is the last time I go ghost hunting with you, Mulder, on Halloween, Christmas or any other day. Don't even ask me," Scully dictates. "Three-and-a-half hours, Mulder. Three-and-a-half hours it took us to get here because you wanted to play navigator, now this. You'd try the patience of a saint."

I'll never live it down.

I guess she must forgive me, just a little, because she gives me a quick peck on the nose. I don't know if it's her or the blanket, but I feel heat wash over me like the incoming Vineyard tide.

As I'm carried outside and loaded into the ambulance, I glance at The Whistlewood House. Such a pretty name, for a place saturated in ugliness. It's a pitiful facsimile of what it once was with its peeling paint, asymmetrically hanging shutters, and numerous window panes of plastic sheeting instead of glass. The sagging porch looks like it's grinning crookedly, with irony. My eyes stray to the study window on the second floor. It's dirty, like I remember it, with a portion of the filth cleaned away. It reminds me of an eye. I see movement. There is someone there. Lifting my head, I look more intensely.

My intake of breath is so loud that Scully asks me if I am okay. "Mmm hmm," I murmur, but I don't clarify any further.

One-eye--John Henry Wood--has hung himself.

Reminded of a line of Byron's poetry, I recite softly, "All tragedies are finished by a death."

"Did you say something, Mulder?"

"Just thinking out loud," I say. "Take me home, Scully."

"Soon, Mulder, soon," she promises.

~~~end~~~


Challenge #2: It's Halloween night. Mulder and Scully encounter some real goblins (ghosts, vampires, werewolves, mummies, or whatever you like). Make it scary, with a little bit (or lots) of MulderTorture, and angst. Shippers, add MSR (not sappy, please. Steaminess factor is up to you.) NoRoMos can leave out the MSR.

Thanks: to Grace, for keeping Mulder's voice true and to Medusa, for not letting the little things go.

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