Title: Safe As Houses
Summary: Itís Halloween 1979. Whatís the worst trouble Dana and Charlie could get into while running an errand?
Authorís note: Iíve read theory more than once that Missy and Bill Jr are twins given how Maggie managed to produce three kids between 1962 and 1964. I think Iíll go with that. Charlieís birth date has been given as 1968, no month, so letís make him a winter holidays baby.Oh, and this is the first, probably only, fic in which I use "Dana" throughout. No one was calling her Scully as a kid, though, so it's necessary =)
"Dana, come on! You said you would take me." Charlie shifted from foot to foot, and his sister was sure that she had approximately ten seconds before the impatient ten-year-old (almost eleven he was forever reminding everyone who would listen, as if a December 26th birthday was hard to forget) imploded so she gave him as stern a look as a fifteen-year-old could muster.
"I told you that I'd take you as soon as I was done my math homework. Do I look done to you?"
Instead of answering, he continued to fidget. Despite her annoyance, she understood. Bill and Missy hadn't spent much time with him since the day they'd gotten their licenses a few months earlier, and most of their promises to him were broken. "Look, I've got three more problems to do. Then we can go."
"And we'll get back in time for trick or treatin'?" he asked anxiously.
"Um, yeah. It's only three, and you can't go begging for candy until six."
"What do you mean 'you'? You're going too," he retorted.
"Whatever. Go play so I can finish this. You're the one who's so hot to go, so why are you pestering me?"
After giving an indignant yelp, Charlie wandered off muttering about how he couldn't wait until he was old enough to walk to the store by himself. Dana couldn't wait, either.
As soon as she shut the house door behind them, Charlie stopped and stared at her. "You're not going to make me hold your hand, are you? I'm not a baby."
"If you promise to stay out of the street and not to run ahead, you don't have to hold my hand."
"I promise! Mom makes me." His confession made him wrinkle his nose.
"I'm not Mom." She knew her mother meant well, but she coddled her youngest son. Probably trying to keep him from turning out like Bill the Jerk, she guessed.
True to his word, Charlie behaved on the way to the store. Dana couldn't figure out why he wasn't allowed to go on his own since it was only two blocks. Lubby Dubbs wasnít a huge store, but it was popular with kids because of its colorful and rather eccentric exterior, and she knew that sheíd seen kids her brotherís age there unescorted.
Five hundred yards from the store, Charlie began to speak rapidly. "They're gonna have a stuffed parrot, right? Cause I don't know what I'll do if they don't."
"If they don't have one we'll look for a stuffed monkey instead. Lots of pirates had monkeys."
Charlie frown at the suggestion. "Yeah... but the good ones had parrots."
"Well, they all had wooden legs too. Want one? I'm taking biology this year, and I think I know where to cut." She lunged for him, and he backed up towards the store, seeming to decide that he was going to hide behind the gigantic red and blue barberís poll that was draped with garish fake cobwebs and oversized rubber spiders. Dana was quicker.
"No tickling!" Charlie gasped through his giggles. "Stop! You're embarrassing me!"
"I'm embarrassing you? Just by tickling? You're going to look pretty silly with a wooden leg, shouldn't you worry about what people think of that?"
"You're Not Cutting Off My Leg!" he shouted so loudly that an expensively dressed woman leaving the store stared at them. Scully's face reddened.
"Ha. Now you're embarrassed." Charlie smirked.
They finally got into the store without further incident. At least once they made their way past a little girl hugging a doll to her chest while refusing to leave the store without it to her mother's dismay, and by three boys younger than Charlie who were running down the isle with cap-guns. The stuffed animal aisle over flowed, and small drifts of faux furry bodies littered the floor in front of the shelves.
"Do you want red, blue, or purple?"
"Do parrots even come in purple?" Charlie demanded to know. As far as he was concerned, his older sister was an expert on all creatures great and small.
She shrugged. "Not that I've ever seen."
"I want the red one then."
"Um...you did bring your allowance, didn't you?" It bothered her that she hadn't thought of that before they'd gotten all the way there.
Charlie shook his head, then waited until she was about to say something to dig into his pocket. "Mom gave me some money, though."
"Dad said you guys shouldn't call me that anymore."
"Why don't you cry about it to him?"
"Dad's away on his boat."
"Ship. And I know Dad's gone, he's always gone."
"Not always," Charlie protested. "And you should be glad he's not home this week, otherwise you'd be in big trouble for smoking his cigarettes."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Do too. I saw you," he insisted.
"Are we going to pay for that thing or what?" Her swift changing of the subject was to mask her chagrin. She'd been so sure there had been no witnesses; her brother had no idea how lucky he was that theirs wasn't a mob family.
Either he took pity on her, or was oblivious to her ruse, because he clutched the toy and began to walk towards the front of the store.
Until all the lights went out.
"Power failure?" Charlie's voice sounded loud in the wake of the store's sudden, shocked silence.
"Must be," Dana agreed.
"No storm, though, isn't that weird?" The look in his eyes begged for a logical explanation.
Dana mentally ran through things she knew from her science classes. "There could be a lot of reasons. Maybe someone hit the power line with their car-"
"Mommy! The door won't open! It won't open!" a high, thin voice screamed.
The door rattled over the mother's assurances, but that ended without the sound of the door opening.
"What the...This isn't possible," a stunned adult voice muttered.
"Look outside!" another adult voice demanded.
Before Dana could stop him, Charlie ran for the front of the store.
"Look, Dana. Oh my God," he said without looking at her when she joined him.
"Charlie, you know better than to take the Lord's..."
She finally looked outside.
Charlie pressed his nose up against the window leaving an oily smudge. His sister resisted the urge to pull him back, knowing that doing so would only scare him needlessly.
"It is her, isn't it?" he asked, referring to the woman they'd seen leaving earlier.
"I don't know, it's gotten so dark..." Very odd for that time of day she didn't add. "I think it might be, though."
The woman who'd stared at them when they'd horsed around outside. Lying in the blue gloom. Unmoving.
"I believe that woman is dead," one of the adult voices said. Looking over her shoulder Dana saw that everyone in the store had gathered towards the front. The girl and her mother, the three small boys with cap guns were now crowding the legs of a man who looked like them, a grandmotherly type and two girls about Charlie's age, and three store employees. Looking at them, she was surprised that there had been that many people that she hadn't noticed.
"We ought to do something to help her," one woman said. Her name tag helpfully identified her as Carol.
"The door won't open," the mother replied. "So we can't go out."
One of the employees tried the back door and reported that it was stuck too. Someone asked if the store had electric lock that cut out went the power did, but the store employees didn't think so.
"And the phone is dead," Carol informed them.
"This is ridiculous," the father of three muttered. Before anyone had any time to react, he'd grabbed a heavy case of pogo stick sticks and threw it at the picture window. The action was so unexpected that no one so much as put up their hands to shield their faces from glass.
There was no broken glass. The heavy case bounced off the window like a rubber ball, then landed heavily on the floor. Fortunately no one was hit.
Charlie tugged on Dana's hand. "What's going on?"
"I don't know," she admitted. Whatever it was, she was beginning to become frightened. Not that she was going to let it show.
"Oh gosh!" the grandmother cried. When they turned to stare at her, she was white-faced and a pair of binoculars from the children's camping gear shelf hung loosely from her fingers. "It's just us," the woman muttered to herself.
"I want to see too!" Charlie ran to the aisle with the kids' camping stuff and grabbed another pair of binoculars off the shelf. The other little boys looked like they were going to follow suit as soon as Charlie rejoined them, but a hard stare from their father squashed the impulse. Seeing that, Dana knew she ought to have kept her brother from ripping the bag open but she didn't. She wanted to see too.
After a couple of minutes Charlie put the binoculars down, and looked at her. "You have to see too."
After he thrust them into her hands, she raised the binoculars to her eyes and saw what had the old woman stunned.
The blue light that consumed the walk in front of the store wasn't universal. It extended only as far as the next block - after that the sky was bright.
She kept staring, but nothing changed. Eventually her brother tugged on the strap of the binoculars. "Give them back. I'm the one who went and got them."
"Yeah..." Her fingers were slack anyway. "Charlie, is it getting colder in here?"
"A little. Can we go home soon?"
"I don't know. You heard the same things that I did - the doors won't open."
"But it's going to get dark soon! We might miss trick or treating!"
"Oh no! Trick or treating!" two of the other children chorused.
"We have bigger problems than that," the boys' father grumbled. When he pointed to the floor there were several gasps.
The treacly blue light was seeping under the doorsill. Everything the light touched lost all color and became a flat gray.
"Everyone get back," the old woman demanded in a surprisingly strong tone. "I'm not saying that light is dangerous, but with that woman lying out there de- I'm just saying that we shouldn't take any chances."
The other adults apparently agreed with this, because Dana and Charlie found themselves herded to the back of the store with the other children. They didn't protest.
Every person in the store huddled against the back wall, backs pressed up against boxes containing model cars of varying intricacies. They had only just settled close together, which helped a little against the rising cold, when one of the store employees jumped to her feet with a sheeplike bleat and ran towards the back room.
She returned a couple of minutes later wearing an embarrassed expression. "I remembered that the back door wouldn't open either, so I worried that the... blue might becoming in under that door too." There were several concerned looks at that, so she smiled reassuringly. "It isn't though. No blue out back."
The news might have cheered them all, if no for the fact that all eyes were fixed on the blue light creeping across the floor as it spread towards the cash registers.
"Do you think that could hurt us?" Dana asked, gesturing towards it.
At first the adults were so quiet that she wondered if it was possible that they hadn't heard, but then she realized that they were all looking at her.
It was one of the boys that finally spoke up. He was nervous, and brushed his shaggy blond hair off his glasses. "What if we throw something to it?"
People shrugged and then nodded; it seemed sensible enough. One of the other little boys gave up the large stuffed bear he'd been using as a cushion, but as the blond was about to take it, his father grabbed it first. "It's a good idea, son, but let me throw it. I won't have to get as close to make the toss." What went unsaid was that the man would rather risk his own safety rather than his son's. The child merely nodded and sat back down, not waiting to be told not to follow.
With what seemed to be a well practiced throw, the man sent the bear flying through the air. It landed near the front windows with a muffle thump.
They all held their breath as they waited to see what would happen. Although they didn't discuss it, Dana and Charlie were both waiting to see if the bear was going to turn gray like the walls, floors and windows had. It did not.
"It isn't possible," Dana muttered to herself; despite already expanding her concept of the possible to include a light leeching objects of all color, her mind resisted believing what was happening to the bear, which was a bear no longer. It had melted by degrees, and flowed into another shape entirely.
"Grandma, how'd the bear become a dolly?" a small voice piped up.
Hearing the voice say it out loud dashed her hope that her eyes were playing tricks on her. It was true then; the fuzzy white bear had been transformed into a faded calico rag doll, with bits of yarn for hair.
Things changed rapidly after that. Within a couple of minutes the front quarter of the store was gone. They didn't know if they could get out now that the front of the building no longer existed, but no one dared to go near the void. Instead the huddle pressed back against the relative safety of the shelves.
The blue light thickened and congealed, becoming a fog. Or smoke. It was hard to tell which. And before their eyes trees sprung up, first thick gnarly roots, then trunks, then spreading limbs bedecked with leaves that were far too green for the season...
But for all the trees, it was not a forest scene that spread out before the terrified spectators.
The woman they'd all thought dead rose up, reborn in a gingham dress that replaced the mink she once wore. A linen cap covered her once fly away curls, locking them into submission as she stooped to examine a plant.
One of the youngest children in the store gasped out a warning - which went unheeded - because she was not the only new player. A mob of men was creeping up on her.
A mob of men was creeping up on her.
At first she'd thrown her hands up in surprise, but even in the odd light they could see her face become angry. They could hear something, a murmuring of heated conversation, but something like the wind pulled away all meaning, though there was no movement to the air.
Quite abruptly, the dispute seemed to escalate. One of the men grabbed the woman's arms and she spit in his face.
"She oughtn't of done that," the girl's mother said loudly.
Several people, including Dana flinched. The men, however, did not turn their wrath onto the people in the store.
"I don't think they can hear us," Charlie said, his voice nevertheless a whisper.
"I don't think they can either," Dana replied.
A piercing scream that needed no translation rang out, and every head turned from the conversation back to the mob. "What are they doing to her?" Charlie whimpered, reaching for his sister's hand.
At first Dana thought that they intended to hang her because someone had produced a length of rope but it was used to tie her up. It was only as a fourth man appeared that she realized why the going-ons had a deja vu quality to them - she'd seen something similar in a play she'd watched for school. The Crucible.
Apparently Dana wasn't the only one who realized what was going on, because the father of three jumped to his feet, shouting, "You bastards leave that woman alone!" If he was heard, he was ignored.
Within seconds he was running towards them at full tilt. Just as he reached the divide he was flung backwards, and sent sprawling while his young sons squeaked in terror. After a groan, he got back up and rejoined his family, telling them softly that he was okay, not to worry.
But everyone in the store did worry; his experience taught them something Ė they were not going to be able to help the woman.
"We've got to do something," Carol the store employee declared, her voice trembled with either fear or conviction. Maybe both.
The grandmother shook her head. "We can't. You saw what happened just now, we're not allowed to intervene. I don't think that we're witnessing anything that can be changed, if you want my opinion."
"Then why are we here?" another employee, this one with a name tag declaring him to be Joe asked. Joe frowned a little. "You think this is a...a ghost?"
"Something like that," the old woman shrugged, and pulled her granddaughters up on her lap. "If you read books about ghost sightings, you read a lot about things like this, about an event replayed over and over again, like a movie reel. Not the same as ghosts who are there to communicate with the living, but ghostly none the less."
"But ghosts aren't real," Dana complained. "There are no such things as ghosts."
"Then how do you explain that?" Carol asked, waving her hand at the mob and the woman they'd tied up.
"Then don't be so quick to dismiss explanations just because you don't like them."
It was on the tip of Dana's tongue to retort, but looking at the adult faces, she knew that she'd never convince them. Not that she had any idea of what it was she would like to convince them of.
Dana squeezed Charlie's fingers. "I don't think you should look." But of course her brother ignored her advice.
Once the fourth man appeared with a burning brand, Charlie was not the only child with their eyes tightly shut; the little girl had her face buried against her mother's shoulder, the granddaughter remained on the old woman's lap despite being too big, and the three young sons had their hands clasped over their eyes like the thirds of three sets of see no, hear no, say no evil monkeys.
Despite the horror, Dana couldn't make herself look away. As much as she wished that it was all a delusion her eyes were trained on it, reconfirming every second that it was reality, no matter how surreal it felt. Her nature fought against it and later on she would convinced herself that it was an instant of mass hallucination, but just then she was reluctant believer.
The mob itself seemed unaware of the wrongness of their actions. There was very little emotion on their parts, although there victim rained curses upon them, they displayed a matter-of-fact diligence one would expect to see as they performed everyday tasks, like milking cows or woodcutting. Was witch burning a commonplace event for them? The question made Dana shiver. In school she'd learned that the alleged witches in Salem had been hung, not burned at the stake, but they weren't in Salem. Who knew what isolated incidents elsewhere hadn't been recorded by historians?
The witch, if that's what she was, shrieked and stamped her feet as the kindling beneath her caught flame. Her efforts were futile ones. The rest of the wood began to burn soon after.
Hands left eyes, jumping to ears, an effort to block out the sounds of agony as the flame ate the woman's clothing then her flesh...
"This isn't happening, this isn't happening," Charlie insisted, flinching when the burning woman flailed an arm in their direction. The other children picked up the chant. "This isn't happening, this isn't happening."
"It is!" thundered the father, making them all jump. "This is happening. You can't pretend things that you don't like aren't real just because it's unpleasant. A lot of reality is just as unpleasant as this, and plenty of other things are going to make you feel just as helpless, so you better get used to it."
The urge to ask why filled Dana, but she held her tongue. It would only have set him off, and the firm conviction that she herself could grow up to be an agent of positive change didn't need the validation that convincing the man would provide.
Scully muttered the lines of a poem she'd recently become enamored with under her breath.
"I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind."
Dana muttered the last stanza of the poem, a tribute, a distraction, she didn't know which.
"I have ridden in your cart, driver, waved my nude arms at villages going by, learning the last bright routes, survivor where your flames still bite my thigh and my ribs crack where your wheels wind. A woman like that is not ashamed to die. I have been her kind."
One member of the mob threw an arm front of his eyes, finally wanting to block out the painful sight, but the others stood grim-faced, arms folded, watching until the bitter end.
So too the store's prisoners; as the screams faded, tears blurred all eyes. Because of this, they were slow to realized the change when it swept through once again. The light receded, trees evaporated, and walls reformed. The mob, the victim, the flames, all gone. Just the store remained, and the people within it.
"It's over?" Carol's voice was dazed, mirroring how they all felt.
Charlie rubbed his eyes with both fists, then looked around the toy store. "That was weird."
Dana noticed that Charlie was still trembling beside her despite his flip remark, so she threw her arm around his waist. "It's okay now. We're safe."
He gave her a wobbly smile. "Safe as houses, right Dana?"
"Look it's still light out. Trick or treating hasn't started yet. But... let's tell Mom we don't want to go to that haunted house at the church tonight, okay?"
"Yeah, okay. A haunted toy store is enough for one day."
"If we told mom and dad they wouldn't believe us." Charlie's face held an air of disappointed realization.
"If someone told you, would you believe them?" Dana asked.
Charlie wrinkled his nose. "Nah, I'd think they were a nutter."
"Yeah, we wouldn't want them to think we were nuts, so we shouldn't tell. C'mon. Let's pay for you parrot so we can get home and beg for candy." The forgotten parrot lay on the floor by his right sneaker.
The adults were even more adamant that no one speak of the event that had taken place to anyone else. They went so far as threats, warning that talking about something like that might have the children taken away from their families and put into hospitals for crazy people. The younger children seemed suitably cowed, and Dana promised for both her and Charlie that they would never speak of it to their parents.
Promises made, they left the store in a hurry. Both eager to get home, but for different reasons. Charlie was still very excited about Halloween, while Dana was just thrilled to be heading back towards comfortable normalcy.
They hadn't gotten very far when Charlie stopped in his tracks. "Dana, look!" Charlie pointed at something in the weeds just to the right of Lubby Dubbs, then he tramped through the weeds to get to it. As she joined him, she saw that it was a historical marker. "1796. On the spot Goody White was burned as a witch by a vigilante group after she was accused of bewitching several children, making them ill; most of whom died of their affliction," Charlie read aloud. "That's what we saw!"
"Kind of ironic that they would build a toy store on the site of a murder of a woman accused harming children."
"That they built a toy store here."
"No, what does ironic mean?"
Dana wrinkled nose and tried to think of a way to explain it to her little brother. "Um... It kind of means that it figures. Like there was this guy scared to death that he'd be buried alive, so he created this system with a bell and a string so a person could get help if they woke up in a coffin. Anyway, when the guy died, his family didn't use the system because they thought it was silly and they were kind of embarrassed that he had gotten famous for it. Years later they dug him up for some reason and reburied him somewhere else. There were claw marks from his fingernails on the inside of the coffin, meaning he'd been buried alive after spending all that time making a system that kept a lot of other people from being buried alive."
"Eww! Do people still get buried alive?"
"Not usually. They embalm people now with chemicals to preserve them, and those chemicals are poisonous, so they'd kill you if you weren't already dead."
"The things in your head are scary sometimes."
"You asked," she told him with a shrug.
"Do you think that we will get many Hershey bars tonight?" he asked, apparently back to thinking about trick or treating. "With almonds! Those are better."
"Probably, lots of people like to give them out. They're pretty popular." She smiled herself, pleased that her brother's mind had wandered back to candy. The less they discussed the day's strange events, the less she herself had to think about it.
Christmas morning 1998
"I think I better get going." Mulder stood up, with her gift to him clutched in her hand. "I'm already on brother Bill's shit list, so I doubt keeping you up long enough to make you late for the morning's festivities would go over big."
She looked at him as he took his coat, and it was on her lips to ask him to stay, but she squashed the impulse. "I guess I ought to wish you a Merry Christmas, then. Drive carefully, Mulder."
"Oh yeah, safe as houses."
He didn't notice the surprised look on her face as he left. She stared at the closing door, wondering why he'd used that particular turn of phrase. Charlie's favorite antiquated expression, one derived from the notion that real estate was the least risky investment a person could make. It was something their father had picked up while stationed in the UK, and Charlie, wanting to be just like him, said it at every possible occasion. When he was small he applied it only in a more literal sense Ė buying the houses in Monopoly Ė but he began using it figuratively once he was old enough to understand what a metaphor was.
She'd never admitted to Mulder, but their all-too-recent haunted house experience had made her think of that day nearly two decades ago. A day the memory of which she visited as infrequently as possible. Mulder would have told her that she didn't like to think about it because it represented a challenge to her comfortable belief that all things could be proven scientifically. It was an anomaly that no amount of scientific theory could explain, even though some scientists were beginning to float an unsubstantiated claims that electromagnetic properties were the cause of residual ghosts, as they like to term them.
As she pushed the lingering Halloween memory away like an unwanted blanket the middle of an unexpectedly warm night, she wondered how many types of ghosts there were.
Author's note: the poem in this fic is "Her Kind" by Anne Sexton
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