Title: The Barest Bones
Author: Neoxphile
Feedback: neoxphile@aol.com
Category: Halloween-fic, Post Series
Written for this challenge:

Summary: Halloween finds Scully with a mission

October 31, 2007

The small hand in mine is warm. And there's still a brown smear of chocolate on his lips, a reminder of the Hershey bar I'd just given him. I smile down at him. "Come on, Sweetie, we've got to go."

He looks up at me with wide blue eyes, and I am dismayed to see confusion there. I thought we were both on the same page. It doesn't seem to be the case, so I pull him gently to get him moving. He doesn't budge.

"No!" He punctuates this by stomping a small foot so hard that his shock of red hair bounces. The defiance in his expression makes him look so much like Mulder that I almost smile.

"You shouldn't talk like that, young man," I scold, and his eyes threatened tears. Ignoring that, I hurry him past a display of half priced Halloween costumes and out the door. His small black sneakers shred fallen leaves as I drag him out onto the sidewalk.

Eventually I get tired of trying to reason with him, and pick him up. Since he immediately begins to shriek, this makes me angry with him. "Stop that!" Trying not to appear as nervous as I feel, I shoot a woman walking by an apologetic look. She shrugs, so I assume that she has an unruly child too. This doesn't make me feel better, because I don't want anyone thinking I'm a bad mother.

For a six-year-old he has a lot of fight in him, so it's a struggle to get him in the backseat of my new minivan and seat-belted. When I finally wrestle him in he kicks the plastic pumpkin filled with candy off the seat, and the treats scatter on the minivan's floor. Trying not to hiss in annoyance, I sweep my hands across the carpet and capture as much as I can, not caring that I'd managed to snag a wrapper or two as well, and stuff them back into the pumpkin.

I then put the pumpkin in the front seat - if he's going to act like that, I'm not going to let him have any more sugar. Maybe the first candy bar was a mistake. Trying not to stomp like an ill-tempted brute myself, I round the car and climb onto the driver seat.

"Where are we going?" he asks petulantly.


"I want my daddy!" His small fists begin to pound on the window until I still him with a look. My mother would be proud.

"You'll see Daddy soon," I promise, but I don't mean it. Mulder wouldn't understand, so I'm not planning to bring William right home. I have to figure a few things out first. He wasn't there when I realized what's necessary, so he's been slow to accept the inevitable.

I try not to draw attention as I pull out onto the road, because Halloween night often brings out the cops. It's inconvenient to be stopped even if you're let go with a warning, so I'm trying to avoid that. There's no one around to notice when we drive off.

An hour goes by and he and I don't exchange a word. I suppose he's mad at me for taking him out of the store before he was good and ready to leave. That's just too bad. I hate driving at twilight these days, because the October sun has a way of glaring off everything and making it hard to see through the distortion.

Fortunately, twilight passes soon enough, and before I rear-end one of the idiots who slams on the brakes every time the sun gets in their eyes. Since it's getting dark, there are already costumed kids beginning to pour out of their homes, and it will only be a matter of time before they flood the streets. I'll have to dodge them.

A flare of green off to the side of the road catches my eye as I drive by, and I tilt my head to catch sight of a child's glow stick bobbing by, held on a string around their neck. I glance back in the rear view mirror, and decide that William needs one too.

He breaks from giving me the silent treatment by shouting, "Look out!"

Startled, I turn my eyes back to the road in front of me. I have no idea why he spotted it first, but I nearly nail a small black kitten with the front wheels of my car. Swerving at the last second, I'm able to correct and the feline rockets across the street like his tail is on fire.

"Eight lives now," the child behind me murmurs.

"They don't really have nine lives, William," I say quietly. My distraction is beginning to make me feel guilty, because it's far too obvious that my mind is not as fully on the road as it ought to be.

"Don't call me that," he snaps.

I wonder then what they've been calling him. Will? Willie? Billy? Surely not Bill. He's only a small boy, and my brother's choice of nickname is far too grown up for the boy in my car.

"Why don't I see if there's some Halloween music on?" I ask. Before long I find a station playing The Monster Mash. Once, when he was seven, Charlie created a dance to the song for a school play. Our mom taped it, though in pre-camcorder days the films had no sound, and I find myself wondering what happened to my folks' collection of home movies after Dad died.

While the song played William giggles reluctantly, but soon enough it's over. An announcement about a code Adam comes on next, so I flick the dial. "We don't want to listen to the news, do we?" Eventually Sam the Sham came on, and we're both amused by the wolf howls. At least I think it's shared amusement.

The news that some parents out there are missing their child has shaken me more than I want to admit, and I still am not driving as carefully as I ought to be. So when a sign advertising a haunted house rises up ahead, it seems like a godsend.

"Let's go there. It looks scary," I say with false cheer. A break from driving is what we both need.

"Already scared," comes the muttered reply.

That's disheartening. Mulder is never scared, and, short of perps breaking into my home, I rarely have been. Why has our boy turned out to be a scaredy cat? Perhaps braveness isn't something that gets passed along in genes.

Maybe he just needs toughening up. "It'll be fun."

To my surprise he doesn't need to be dragged out of the minivan. Instead he comes along, hesitantly, but on his own two feet.

There's already a crowd waiting to go in, so I clamp my hand to his wrist so there is no chance that we'll get separated. Not that there is much danger of that, given the way he cringes against my legs every time a person in a mask comes within ten feet of us. If he's this scared in line...

"I think we should go home," he whispers urgently a second after I take our tickets.

"We will. You're going to like my apartment." I hope he will, anyway. Mulder and I had had a huge fight about how I'd decorated William's room.

"I don't want to go to your apartment. I want to go home!"

Just then a clown races by, wielding an axe. I pull William behind me, but he still gives a shriek of terror.

It takes two long minutes before he's calmed down enough to speak to. "You're going to live with me now, William, I thought you understood that."

"Stop calling me William! My name is Nicholas!" he shouts at me, his face nearly as red as his hair. "My name is Nicholas Turner!"

"Sweetie, that might be what your adopted parents told you-" I start to say, but he cuts me off in a rush.

"I'm not adopted. I look just like my dad, with his red hair. And I'm left-handed like him too."

That doesn't mean anything, I tell myself. There are lots of left-handed kids who have two right-handed parents like Mulder and I. There's no reasoning with a boy that age, though. "That's no way to talk to your mother."

"You're not my mother! I'm eight now, and my mother died when I was six. And you're not her!" With that, William turns, breaks free of my grip and runs deeper into the structure.

I follow after him, but slower. A single father. I suppose that explains why it was so easy to take him from the store. Not that anyone ever questions a red-haired woman and child, even if that child is screaming. It used to exasperate me to no end growing up that people would ask of every other redhead we knew "are you related?" But now I've found a use for that inability to tell us apart.

But I think of his father now. If he'd been truly loved, even a single man would have kept an eye on him, not let him wander the store. Not let him take candy from a stranger, and hold her hand.

And that's what I am, I realize as I side-step a screaming ghoul. This boy is too old to be my William, and there's no way to make him into him. It's not the first disappointment, the first one was too young. And a her, I discovered when I changed her diaper. But she'd looked so much like William as I watched her doze in the seat of a shopping carriage. She even had the same sweater I'd once put on William.

I think Mulder brought her back to the store. Maybe he put her in the same carriage I'd taken her from. I suppose she eventually found way home.

Not like my little lost boy.

Mulder doesn't think we'll ever find him again, and he starts talking about hospitals every time I bring it up, ever since then. I'm smarter than that, and I didn't tell him when I found William this time. He has no idea where I am, and that suits me just fine.

Borne along by despair for having failed a second time, I finish walking through the haunted house. None of the people in costumes scare me at all, because I've seen true monsters in the past fifteen years. Some of them left their scars, but all have left marks. Enough to bruise my soul.

Though it's not frightening I feel a kinship of a kind to the fake skeleton hanging from the rafters of the haunted house near the exit, so I linger to study it, ignoring the screams of over-excited teenagers that are finding the frights I didn't. It's not the sort that would be accepted as a substitute for the real thing in a medical class, but it's pretty close. All it lacks is artful artificial sinew holding it together. It could be me hanging there.

After five years on the run I've been pared down to the barest bones. I lost Dana years ago, but even Scully was striped away piece by piece as we've fled one danger after another. We're still not safe, and I've littered seven states with the remnants of myself.

I know that Mulder is trying so hard to understand, but his whole life has been chaos, so for him it's just been one more time into the breech. I wasn't built to withstand a world turned on its end, a life of sucking maelstrom, and I'm struggling. I think the fact that I realize this is what scares Mulder the most. His own forays into madness have always run into him head first, but for me it's a slow seduction. I fight it, but sometimes it's like a lover you know you should leave, but talk yourself out of fleeing.

I decide to leave the boy there. Someone will bring him home. He's not what I need. I find a car with the keys in it, and leave my minivan in trade.

There are screams as I leave the parking lot, but when I get a tenth of a mile away I can't hear them any more. All I hear is the pound of my sadden heart. It's a slow steady rhythm, and it promises to keep going forward longer than I'm sure I want to commit to.

How long can anyone go on this way, shivering without their skin?

It's full dark now, and small shapes rush past my vehicle, clinging for dear life to bags of candy. I smile to see them, and think back to when I was them in my life. That's a bit of lost Dana trailing after the big kids. She'll never catch up.

The headlights of my car lighten up a lone figure. He's too young to be out alone on a night like this. When I see the red of his hair lit up like the sun, I pull the car over and draw the plastic pumpkin full of candy onto my lap.

The End

End Note: Mulder is easy to imagine losing his mind, but I think Scully would be less inclined to fall into madness' embrace. Everyone has their breaking point, though. Five years on the run just might be hers.

feedback? Neoxphile@aol.com

My Halloween Fics
Neoxphile's Other Fics page