TITLE: Anger of Angels
AUTHOR: Rilla
SPOILERS: the whole Scully/cancer/Emily arc thing
ARCHIVE: at will, but I'd appreciate it if you let me know first
RATING: PG
CATEGORY: S, X
KEYWORDS: M/S F, case file

SUMMARY: the women have been disappearing from a small Texas town and Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I feel the need to explain a bit of the Mulder/Scully relationship as it is portrayed in this piece. Am I 'shipper or NoRomo? I wouldn't even try to answer that one if I were you; I'm not sure myself. I will happily remain on the fence. The relationship herein is probably best described as a romantic friendship, still completely platonic but with some definitely strong emotional ties. It is built around a concept voiced by my best friend several years ago: that in order to retain a friend, you have to be "in love" with them to some extent, the closer the friendship-the greater that emotional bond. So, you can read into that what you wish.

ADITIONAL AUTHOR'S NOTE: No, I do not think that all of those lovely people who live outside of large metropolitan areas are flannel wearing, baseball cap (or gi'me cap) sporting, obsessive compulsive weirdoes. All, or most, or the characters in this piece are characterizations, or grotesques if you will, of various people I know, or have known, throughout my own existence in small Texas towns; I have known plenty of absolutely "normal" folks as well but they aren't nearly so interesting to write about. We'll see how long it takes IBSkully2 to get weirded out because she knows all the locations in the story, if not the ghost stories that are included...


It crouched among the trees, waiting, watching, infinitely patient. It was almost time. Its hot breath stirred the dead leaves that hung from low branches, nudging them into a stiff, lifeless, rustling dance.

A low creaking broke the deep solitude as Veronica Helmsley slipped through the door and stepped out onto the back porch, padding quietly across worn floor boards to stand in the splash of silvery light flung down from the full moon. A gentle breeze tugged at the hem of her city-bought satin pajamas, much too impractical for country life, and she hugged her arms to her chest in a futile attempt to fend off the cooling air.

"One more summer," she murmured, reassuring herself. "One more summer and I'll be rid of this place and all of its trappings." The acceptance letter had arrived that morning promising her a place in the graduate program at the University of Massachusetts come August. Massachusetts was a deliciously long way away from Saratoga, Texas.

She stood motionless in the pooling moonlight, listening to a faint chorus of crickets and bullfrogs. She wouldn't miss any of this when she was gone, she knew. She didn't miss it when she was up at the University of Texas during the regular school term and she wouldn't miss it next fall. She was so desperate to be far away from the tiny Texas towns where she had lived out most of her existence so far, frantic to be around people who wanted more out of life than to live hand to mouth, struggling to keep the babies fed and the pick up running.

A slow measured movement drew her attention to the edge of the yard and she peered into the dark woods, straining to make out the familiar shapes of trees and shrubbery. Unable to distinguish what had caused the motion, she brushed it off as a raccoon or opossum and let her mind wander back to her future. But no matter how she tried, she couldn't shake the uneasiness that had settled in her thoughts.

"Ha!" she chuckled, "After a lifetime in these woods, I'm not going to be frightened by some little woodland creature that doesn't even reach as high as my knee." Her voice cracked as she fought to control the rising unrest in her subconscious.

Sighing, she turned around and reached for the rusty screen door. Her solitary reverie would have to wait for another day.

A scream caught in her throat as the presence behind her wrapped long, icy digits around her neck. The sickening snap of delicate bones breaking reverberated through the sudden stony silence, even the crickets had stopped their song as the nameless horror lifted Veronica from the porch and easily carried her beyond the darkened tree line.


"Hey Scully, you're late. Take a look at this."

She eyed the paper he thrust toward her with suspicion. "Uh huh."

"What do you think?"

"I think it's a tabloid, Mulder." Tapping the boldfaced letters decrying faceless alien vampires with a manicured fingernail, she set her briefcase down on the desk and shoved aside a small mountain of sunflower seed husks and several strewn file folders. Pulling out a chair, she sat down wearily, remembering too late that she passed the coffee pot without pouring herself a cup. "How can they be vampires if they have no mouths and hence no teeth?" She mused aloud.

"They apparently have the ability to absorb blood through their skin. First they stab their victim with a ceremonial obsidian knife of some kind, probably Aztec or Mayan in origin, and then smear the blood on their own nude bodies. There have been several eyewitnesses to their vampirism. I don't buy the alien part though; that just seems too far fetched." Mulder waited for the laughter that never came, not even a derisive smirk creased her mouth. He paused to consider his partner, his head cocked in concentration. Dark rings shadowed her eyes and her shoulders were slumped, her hair distressed and falling in windswept disarray about her face. The precise exterior she generally worked so hard to maintain was cracking. "Hot date last night?"

The dark scowl that flew across the desk suggested otherwise. "Bill and Tara flew in yesterday to visit Mom. I drove down for dinner last night."

"A Scully family dinner? Sounds like fun."

"Matthew was there."

Mulder sprawled back in his chair and locked his fingers together behind his head; he propped a foot on the edge of the desktop, gently nudging Scully's briefcase with his toe. The last time he had seen Bill and Tara's son had been at Emily's funeral...

"Skinner wants to see us," he advised his partner, thinking to switch conversation topics to something less invasive, something less personal and therefore infinitely safer, for both of them.

"When?" Scully wiped a hand across her face, careful not to smear the cosmetics she had so painstakingly applied that morning; the cosmetics that had done nothing to mask her exhaustion and disturbed psyche.

"Fifteen minutes ago. I told him we'd come up as soon as you got here."

"You didn't file a projected expense report without telling me, did you?" The first vestiges of normalcy began to creep into her demeanor.

"Would I do that?" A grin creased his face as he ran a hand through his unruly hair.

Scully stood, moving toward the door. "Yes, you would, especially if you knew I would object to the plausibility of your lead." She exited the basement office but not before shooting a meaningful look at the discarded tabloid and its bloodsucking, mouth less aliens. "Or the plausibility of the case altogether."


"I want this situation wrapped up as rapidly as possible." AD Skinner pushed a folder across his desk.

Scully was still waiting for the reprimand for holding up his schedule but it had yet to come nor did Skinner appear to be irritated with either one of them, a rarity when Mulder was in his vicinity. She leaned forward to take the proffered folder.

"There have been a number of disturbances in the area, all of which have been dismissed by the locals as having been caused by their resident ghosts. Local superstition runs high and nothing has been done about the so-called poltergeist activity. However, within the last two months four women have disappeared under extraordinary circumstances. The most recent disappearance was just last night." Skinner picked up three snapshots, each of a different woman, and handed them to Mulder as Scully glanced through the file's reports.

"Why not let the state agencies take care of it?" Mulder flipped through the photographs and glanced at the forms Scully held.

"They've handed it off to us."

Mulder raised his eyebrows in surprise at the good ol' boy club passing the opportunity to solve the case and allowing the feds to take over jurisdiction. The Texas Rangers must be getting soft. "When do we leave?"

"You're on a flight tomorrow morning. Due to the sensitivity of the case, it's been decided that you'll be undercover while pursuing this."

"Meaning, Sir?" Scully raised her eyes to the AD.

"You'll be posing as a married couple. This is a small town and they don't particularly like strangers but as a couple you should have an easier time fitting in. The Bureau is requesting a two week time frame." He extracted a manila folder from his desk drawer. "All the pertinent information is here."

Scully rose and followed Mulder to the door.

"Good luck."

She turned to cast a curious glance at Skinner before allowing Mulder to guide her through the door.


"Dana!"

I'm not going to get used to this she mused, setting aside the cardboard box she'd been unpacking. They'd arrived in Saratoga that morning complete with a moving van the Houston FBI field office had provided for them at the airport. Unpacking the boxes they'd discovered within it had almost been like Christmas with a surprise in every newspaper wrapped bundle.

Saratoga, they discovered, was even smaller than they had expected. The city limit sign claimed a population of 623, but if it was accurate, they couldn't imagine where all of those people were hiding. The main street boasted four businesses: a mechanic, a bar-b-que shop, a beauty parlor, and a gas station. Even in the midst of the town the dense Piney Woods surrounded them at every turn, obscuring the landscape and filtering both the light and the noise.

"Dana!" Mulder's voice called out again and she stood up and dusted her hands off on her jeans before running them through her hair in an attempt to push it back from her eyes.

"Coming," she answered at last.

Mulder stood in the front yard taking a break from unloading the remaining boxes from the van; another man sat on the van's bumper, his eyes shaded by the baseball cap he wore.

Scully stepped out onto the front porch. "What is it, Will?"

An unnamed flicker of emotion flashed across Mulder's face at her appearance. "Dana honey, I wanted you to meet Jason Beauchamp. He lives in the house across the street."

The man rose and extended his hand as Scully approached, "It's a real pleasure, Ma'am. I was just tellin' your husband here that my Sara wanted to invite ya'll over for supper tonight."

"Oh." She looked to Mulder and waited to see what he would say; when he remained silent she smiled up at their new neighbor. "That sounds wonderful. I'm not sure we'll be moved in enough to cook tonight."

"That's what Sara thought. She also wanted to see if you would like to go into town with her tomorrow to go grocery shopping. The closest grocery is in Kountze, and that's twenty miles on down the road."

"Sure, that would be great." Scully glanced across the street at the house they faced, the curtains in the front window swayed slightly.

"She would have come over herself but she had to drive out to her folks' place this morning to help with her mom. She should be getting' back pretty soon though." Jason nodded to Mulder. "If you're sure you don't need anymore help I'll be getting back to the shop. You have our number. Just give a holler' if you need anything. Oh, Sara generally serves supper at seven."

Scully watched Jason Beauchamp saunter down the street toward the group of businesses. "That was interesting."

Mulder smiled and walked back to the rear of the van. "Now you just give a holler' if you need anything," he teased. He peered around the side of the van to watch Scully turn back around to reenter the house, calling out to her as she stepped across the threshold, "You might want to wash your face before tonight. Unless smudged newsprint ink is this season's newest fashion statement."

"What?" Scully flipped the bathroom light on once she'd made it that far and glanced in the mirror. "Oh no." The ink smears had transformed her face into that of a coal miner. So much for good first impressions. Sighing deeply, she wet a cloth and started working at wiping away the offending black splotches.


"You're going to start a forest fire."

The sun hung low on the horizon when Scully walked out the back door and sat down on the top step, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin on her fists, lazily following Mulder's movements around his bonfire. The furniture had been arranged and rearranged and most of the boxes were unpacked, leaving them some time before their dinner invitation.

Lack of a garbage pick up was proving to be interesting for both of them. Luckily the burn ban had been lifted and it was safe to burn off some of the excess rubbish, or so the flyer on the gas station door had claimed.

"Just call me Smokey. Do people actually live like this?" Mulder pounded a stray smoldering leaf as it left the mini-bonfire of their packing boxes; the broom he had swiped from the kitchen was singed and tattered from his attentions. "Maybe we can just put everything in the barn and let the next residents dispose of it."

Ignoring his final comment, she looked doubtfully at the small blaze. "Smokey the bear prevented forest fires." Her voice was flat as she continued to watch Mulder pound the now blazing leaf into oblivion. "Is that going to be out before seven?"

Mulder shrugged. "I don't know." He was unsure whether she was talking about the whole fire of the leaf that refused to quit sparking but figured his answer was appropriate in either case. "I'm just a psychologist, not a pyrotechnic engineer."

"Or a fire fighter. That bush is beginning to burn." She pointed at a flowering bush near the back door and watched as Mulder grabbed the water hose to douse the smoldering plant. "I'm going to get ready. Would you like some water?"

"Oh, I've got plenty." The stream of water sputtered belligerently as he continued to spray the plant and nearby grass. "How about you?" He caught her before she could rise and duck back through the door, grinning at the screech his surprise shower received.


"I'm so pleased to meet you!" Sara smiled broadly, balancing a chubby baby on her hip as she swung open the screen door to allow Mulder and Scully entrance into her home. "Jason told me that you'd accepted our invitation. Please excuse the house, I've just been so busy lately."

Scully cast a glance around the spotless living area, if it were any cleaner it could double as an operating room. Every figurine on the mantle was precisely placed, the magazines on the coffee table were stacked neatly, and there wasn't a misplaced toy or article of clothing anywhere. It was the sort of home that spiders and dust bunnies would be afraid to enter.

"Don't apologize to us, we've been elbow deep in crumpled newsprint all day." Mulder's charm delighted their hostess as she followed them further into the room.

"I just hate moving, having to find places to put everything and then nothing quite looks right for the first few weeks."

You should try doing it when you don't know what you're unpacking. "We're getting better at it. We seem to move every year or so with Will's job," Scully replied, taking up the role of dutiful wife with more ease than she was comfortable acknowledging.

"That's amazing, I just don't know how you do it," Sara commiserated. "I'm Sara, by the way." She extended the hand that wasn't holding the baby and accepted the bouquet of flowers Mulder had cut from their singed bush. "I just love Gardenias, thank you. This," she nodded to the baby, "is Emily."

Mulder shot a quick glance over Sara's head to assess Scully's reaction; her fašade however, was firmly in place.

"She's beautiful," Scully murmured. "How old is she?"

"Four months tomorrow. Let me set her down and I'll see what Jason's doing and put these in some water. Ya'll have a seat and I'll be right back." She crossed the room to place the child on a blanket on the floor, leaving the three of them alone together, the almost too sweet scent of the Gardenias following her across the room and out the arched doorway.

Scully perched on the edge of the sofa, raising her gaze to meet Mulder's. She knew he was concerned but there was no way to discuss it with him until after they were back in the house they had spent the majority of the day arranging and so his worries would have to wait. Perhaps by then she would be able to decipher her own emotions over the situation.

The baby picked that moment to complain over her abandonment, gaining the undivided attention of both the adults in the room. Struggling to roll over, she moved her head to gaze at Scully, her tiny mouth pursing in agitation. The wail she exhaled brought Scully to her feet.

Gently lifting the baby into her arms, Scully readjusted her ruffled sleeper and carried her back to the couch. She sat her up in her lap to look at Mulder, jostling her slightly with nervous hands. Emily promptly latched onto Scully's hand and shoved one neatly manicured finger into her mouth. Huge blue-grey eyes stared at Mulder with unabashed curiosity as she gnawed contentedly on Scully's finger.

"Hi there." Mulder's voice was low in the quiet room; babies were not his specialty by any means. He'd never spent that much time around them in the past and once the doctors had confirmed that Scully couldn't bear children... He had never expected to be is such close proximity to one. He was inordinately pleased however, when he was granted a wide toothless smile.

Scully watched the exchange with amusement. "She's teething," she explained, allowing the child to shove her finger back into her mouth.

"I was wondering," Mulder lied. "I mean if you were experiencing some deeply engrained need for someone to chew on your finger, I'm sure we could arrange something..."

Sara bustled back into the room. "Oh, did she start fussing?" she asked, seeing her daughter's new position. "I'm sorry, she's cutting teeth now and just isn't happy being left alone."

"It's not a problem," Scully assured her, leaning the baby back so that she could see her face. "My brother has a little boy. We don't get to see him all that often."

Sara smiled. "Before I had Emily here, I used to love to hold babies. I just couldn't wait to have one of my own." She smiled down at the child. "Dinner's ready if you'd like to come into the dining room."


It was nearly nine before Mulder escorted Scully across the road to their darkened house. Emily had attached herself to Scully for most of the evening, at last falling asleep in her arms; her tiny face a study of exquisite bliss. By the time they reached their front porch, Scully's own face was drawn and tired.

"You okay?" Mulder shut the door behind them, leaning against the frame as Scully walked listlessly across the room.

"I'm fine. I'm just tired; it's been a long day."

"I know that had to have been hard for you."

"I'm fine. You get the couch tonight."


It crept across the lawn, silently stealing closer to the house, dew-damp grass clinging to it tenaciously. Slowly it neared its destination. It paused at an open window, peering over a pair of sweet scented rose bushes and past the curtains that billowed in the gentle night breeze.

Within the room a young woman threw herself face down across her bed, arms spread wide and feet hanging off the edge, dangling free. She rubbed her face against the soft chenille of the ancient coverlet for a moment before rolling over on her back to glare belligerently at the pock marked ceiling.

Industrious spiders had woven intricate webs in the corners of the room, catching over achieving dust motes and damned insects in their delicate strands. Dark water stains bled across the white expanse above her head, creating a map of strange and foreign lands, exotic locales she could only dream of visiting each night when she closed her eyes.

"Georgia, lights out." A voice called from another room.

She rose up on the bed and glanced at her alarm clock. The red numbers glowed eleven o'clock. School in the morning, a pep rally at lunch, and cheerleading practice in the afternoon. Sleep would be a pretty good idea. Maybe she'd call her sister in Beaumont tomorrow and arrange to spend the weekend with her just to get out of the country for a few days. She didn't notice the curtains swaying more intensely as she reached to flip the light switch off.

"'Kay Mom, good night."

A crunch and a soft thud followed the darkness as it lurched back out the window with its latest victim swaying disjointedly with each step, slipping back through the rose bushes just as the bedroom door was pushed open.

"Georgia dear? I forgot to tell you that your sister called today. She's coming over for dinner tomorrow..." A middle-aged woman stood framed in the doorway backlit by the hall light. "Georgia? Georgia!"


Mulder awoke in the early morning hours, lying among the crumpled blankets he'd claimed from the linen closet. Padding back from the bathroom he paused at the closed bedroom door, listening. Sure enough, a soft sound drifted past the heavy wood: a gentle, stifled sob.

"Scully," his aching voice broke and he pressed his forehead against the door before turning the knob.

She lay curled beneath a crisp sheet, her face buried in a pillow. Sobs wracked her shoulders as she tried to quiet her misery. She didn't fight when Mulder placed a cool hand against her shoulder.

"I'm sorry, I didn't want to wake you. I..." The words were muffled through the pillow.

Her apology was cut off as Mulder sat down on the edge of the bed and sighed, tightening his grip on her arm. "You don't have apologize, Scully. I know this is difficult; I want to help. Let me help."

Scully lifted her head from the sodden pillow to look up at her partner with red-rimmed eyes. "I'll be fine, Mulder. It just caught me off guard." She drew up a hand from beneath the sheet to dry her cheeks. "I think I'm just over-tired."

"Well, you can rest now. I'll be right here." To emphasize his statement and exhibit his permanence, he shifted so that his back rested against the headboard, pulling her hand across his lap until he could wrap both his hands around hers. He shifted slightly before making a great show of yawning and closing his eyes.

"Really Mulder, I'm fine," she insisted.

"I'm not leaving you." His statement enveloped more than an anxious teary night spent lamenting the past and its reckoning of consequences and repercussions. "Good night, Mrs. Murphy."

Scully watched him for a long moment, struggling with her automatic response to snatch back her hand and insist that he leave the room. At last deciding to accept the comforting gesture and savor the unfamiliar warmth and security he offered, she closed her eyes and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

"Good night, Mr. Murphy." Her voice was so soft and slurred from the sleep that had descended that Mulder almost didn't hear her. He smiled into the darkness, holding her small chilled fingers in a tight clasp of strong, callused masculine hands, roughened from countless basketball games if not actual physical labor.


An insistent rapping startled Scully awake. She panicked when she tried to move and found her limbs immobile. Sunlight streamed in through the newly hung curtains, illuminating the room and the means of her temporary imprisonment.

Mulder, who had started out propped against the headboard, had slumped down further onto the mattress, pinning her right arm and leg to the bed with his weight. Her left hand was still held in the tight grip of his protective hands.

Gently withdrawing her fingers from his grasp, she worked at freeing the rest of her body. He rolled over at last, liberating her from his confinement.

She rushed to the door, peering out the window to see who was so determined to rouse her from sleep. Sara stood on the step with Emily perched on her hip. Scully threw the latch and pulled the door open.

"Good morning." Sara's cheerful tone was followed by a happy gurgle as Emily took notice of Scully in the doorway. "I'm sorry, did we wake you?"

"No, no, it's fine." Desperately she searched her memory for the reason behind the visit. Grocery shopping. "Just give me a minute to get dressed." She looked down at the rumpled pajamas she wore and ushered Sara and Emily inside.

"I'll just be a second."

"Take your time," Sara said, a smile still playing on her lips. "We just wanted to get out of the house. It gets depressing being cooped up inside all day."


When the phone rang, Scully and Sara had already left the house. A note lay on the bedside table beside the irritating device.

Mulder slipped the receiver from the hook, surprised to find himself alone. "Mulder."

"Murphy," the voice on the other end reminded him.

"Alright," he acquiesced, "Murphy." It was too early in the day to be playing these kinds of games, even if he was the 'morning person' in the partnership.

Skinner's voice continued, "There's been another disappearance."

"When?" Mulder sat up in the bed suddenly no longer sleepy, shoving the sheet away from his chest in an impatient gesture as the first wave of foreboding nausea crashed.

"Last night around eleven. The victim is Georgia Amelia Waters, a seventeen year-old high school student. She was last seen in her bedroom at 10:50 and was gone when her mother went to speak with her at 11:05."

"She disappeared in fifteen minutes?"

"It would appear so, yes." Skinner took a deep breath. His faith in Mulder and Scully's abilities couldn't waylay his concern that they were in over their heads. Five women had disappeared in two months and the disappearances were becoming more frequent. If they continued to escalate at such a rate the town would be missing an important section of its population all too soon. "You and Agent Scully will be receiving a visitor this afternoon, a crime lab technician from the Beaumont FBI office who has extensive knowledge of the area and the victims."

"Then why isn't Beaumont..."

"She's a lab tech, not an agent. And she's much too close to the case to begin with. Her superior is furious that she's involving herself at all, I spent this morning reassuring him that she would not be drug into this any more than is absolutely necessary." Skinner paused before questioning, "You do understand what that means, Agent Mulder?"

"Will Murphy," Mulder chided. "How close is she to the situation?" Mulder had a sinking feeling that rested heavily in the pit of his stomach until it felt like he'd swallowed a chunk of lead, swirling nicely with the ebb and flow of nausea he couldn't quite get rid of.

"The second victim was a childhood friend of hers and there's a good possibility that she also knew the others, the girl last night was her little sister."

Mulder completed the call, automatically accepting what information Skinner could provide. All in all, it was pitifully little. Georgia Waters had been a prize pupil, well liked, and had no disciplinary problems. No forensic evidence had been recovered from her room or from the grounds surrounding the house. She had virtually vanished without a trace.

It wasn't until he hung the receiver up that he noticed the note, penned in Scully's familiar script and resting on the table. It at least explained her absence. He hoped she would think to buy some sunflower seeds.

Stretching long arms overhead, he rose from the bed and approached the shower. Scully's pajamas were strewn across the bathroom floor in testament to her earlier haste. Nudging them into a pile against the wall with his toe, he rubbed his hands across his face and leaned heavily on the vanity to stare into his reflection in the mirror. They needed to wrap up this case before any more deaths could occur. Before any more women could disappear into the night-filled woods.


"Will!" Scully pounded on the door with her foot, juggling grocery bags in her arms and trying to fish the house key from the pocket of her jeans. "Will, if you're home come open the door!" She could see Sara in her peripheral vision as she maneuvered her car across the road into her own driveway.

"Damn it Mulder, open the door already!" she muttered softly. She glanced down at the veritable mountain of grocery bags at her feet, wondering just how long it would take the ice cream to melt in its specially insulated paper bag.

Finally the door was pulled open. "Hey, food." Mulder reached out and took the bags from her arms, nudging the door open even more as he backed up for Scully to enter. Carrying the bags into the kitchen and setting them down on the counter, he returned to the front porch and lugged in the rest of the bags. "We're only here for two weeks right? What did you do? Buy out the whole store?"

Scully sighed in exasperation before turning to the task at hand. "Here, I saw these and thought of you. Can't have you going into withdrawal out here in the middle of nowhere." She grabbed a package of sunflower seeds from one of the sacks and dropped it on the counter in front of Mulder, turning back around to find places for the rest of her purchases and rummaging in the sacks for her coveted ice cream.

"Wow, I didn't know they came in five pound bags!" True appreciation filled his eyes and Scully had to repress a chuckle. The man was too easy to please sometimes.

"What are you looking at?" She nodded toward her open and activated laptop on the kitchen table as she picked up an armload of canned goods and walked across the room to the pantry.

"Skinner called this morning after you left," Mulder groaned and raised his eyes to his partner's face. "It happened again last night."

"Where?" Scully turned from her task of depositing the melting ice cream in the freezer and approached Mulder's chair, looking over his shoulder at the document displayed on the screen.

"Less than a mile from here on County Road 5314. It runs back behind the mechanic." Mulder tugged on the hem of his tee shirt, stretching the fabric in his distress at the futility he felt over the entire situation.

Scully set the canned goods aside and together they went over the files they had been forwarded, the same files Mulder had been pouring over ever since Skinner's phone call. But no matter how long they studied them, or how closely they examined the circumstances and the pitiful absence of forensic evidence, they made no advances. The bagged groceries were forgotten as they spent the early hours of the afternoon huddled around the kitchen table, scribbling notes and printing up additional information as the crime lab in DC made it available.

They had been bent over the files for nearly four hours when someone knocked on the front door. A question furrowed Scully's brow in response.

"Oh yeah, Skinner also said that we'd get a visitor today." He rose from the chair to stretch the kinks out of his back. "The Beaumont office has a lab tech who might be able to give us some insight into the case."

"How so?" Scully opted to remain seated, slipping her feet from her sneakers and curling her toes against the cool linoleum.

"She knows the area and the victims. Apparently Janice Henley, the second woman to go missing, was a friend of hers. And Georgia Waters, the most recent victim, was her sister." Mulder continued into the living room, spying a diminutive blonde standing anxiously on the front step. He pulled open the door, smiling charmingly at their guest. "Hi, you must be from the Beaumont office?" Just in case his guess was wrong, he didn't want to blow their cover so soon.

"Yes," she replied, extending a small hand in greeting. She was about the same height at Scully, maybe a bit smaller, definitely a bit gaunter. "I'm..." She was cut off when Sara called out to them from across the road.

"Augusta Rose?" Sara hurried across the blacktop, wrapping her arms around the smaller woman warmly. "We only just heard about Georgia. It's simply terrible!"

"Umm, thanks Sara. Yeah, Mom's not doing so well. The doctor gave her a prescription to help her rest." She kept her eyes diverted when she addressed Sara and Mulder noticed that she didn't respond to the embrace. "Dad wanted to let all of ya'll know that there's going to be a special service at the church tomorrow evening, if you'd like to come."

"Of course we'll be there. Georgia was the sweetest girl, almost as good with babies as you are." Sara hesitantly touched the blonde's cheek before forcing a smile. "So you're working with Will at the Forestry?" The question was rhetorical and didn't necessitate any response. "I'll let you get back to what you were doing now. Take care, Augusta Rose, we'll be praying for your family."

"Thanks."

Mulder watched the small woman gaze after Sara for a moment before turning back to him.

"As Sara said, I'm Augusta Rose Waters but everyone in the crime lab has shortened it to Gusta... or Waters. I was informed that you were here to investigate the disappearances?" Her question hung in the thickening atmosphere of the shaded porch, weighted by her haggard appearance and thinly suppressed anxiety.

"Why don't you come inside," Mulder replied, guiding her through the door and into the rear kitchen where Scully was still seated at the table. "This is my partner Dana Scully," he offered, "and I'm Fox Mulder."

Gusta smiled slightly. "Lo and behold, it's Spooky Mulder and the Ice Queen themselves," she murmured.

"I see that our reputations have preceded us." Scully commented lightly, unsure how to approach this newcomer and also unsure how she would take to dealing with them and their unconventional reputation.

Gusta raised her face to meet Scully's appraising gaze, her tired eyes taking on some small glimmer of half-buried humor. "You're legendary. At least you are in the Bureau. What with the aliens and conspiracy theories and mothmen and such." She cast a glance over her shoulder toward the front door. "I have to apologize but I had to ask one of my co-workers to meet me here with what little evidence we've managed to collect. They won't let me any where near it," she explained when she met their questioning expressions. "The SAC is very...distressed with my possible involvement with this case due to my ties to the victims."

Scully nodded knowingly, "He's concerned that there would be a conflict of interest?"

"Actually he's more afraid that I'll flip out and try to use my fellow Bureau co-workers for target practice. We've had some pretty horrendous things come down in the past year or so, with some rather horrific consequences. He's been playing it strictly by the book ever since Special Agent Harris tried to take out a couple of agents in the parking garage a few of months ago." She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly as she sank, unbidden, into a chair.

"I'm sorry, Gusta," Mulder glanced at Scully where she was seated across from the woman.

"Would you care for something to drink?" Scully recovered her manners at last, feeling uneasy in the face of so much controlled pain and anguish. She studied Gusta silently in the sudden hush that descended on the house.

"She could probably do with a healthy shot of Tequila."

All eyes snapped to the back door that now stood open; a woman leaned against the jam with her arms folded across her chest and a bulging briefcase at her feet.

"Surprise," the unannounced visitor said mirthlessly, remaining rooted to the spot. "Sorry about the subterfuge and sneaking into your house but the fewer people who see us over here, the better." She paused to shove her hands deep into the pockets of her jeans, adding, "Not that they don't already think that Gusta and I work for the Texas Forestry and Wildlife Commission."

Mulder's expression turned quizzical, "Why would they think that?"

"This is a small town. Folks around here have little tolerance for government agencies that don't have some direct impact on their daily lives," she explained. "We figured it would be easier on both of us if we claimed to be part of something they had a good working knowledge of. When you live in the Piney Woods you know who the forestry service is; there's a sub-station just down the road in Olive."

"The SAC isn't aware that Lara's from here too." Gusta murmured.

"Do you know the victims as well?" Scully queried, intrigued by the extent of subterfuge these two lab technicians were involved in.

"Yeah, I do... did... whatever..." Lara hefted the briefcase and set it down between the gathered Bureau employees. Rifling through the stack of papers, she produced a sheaf of files and reports that she set on the tabletop. "Since the Beaumont office is still so preoccupied with the drug trafficking ring and a local serial rapist, they haven't really had the man power to devote much attention to the disappearances. The current theory is that all of the victims left of their own free will."

"But the two of you don't uphold that theory?" Mulder sat down in the empty chair next to Scully and accepted the reports she handed him.

"No, we don't. It's a lame theory at best and doesn't hold water when you take into consideration the personalities of the victims." Lara turned the remaining chair around and straddled the seat, her long legs wrapped around the back chair legs.

The clock chimed 5:30, drawing a few cursory glances from the group.

Mulder looked up at the pair of technicians after perusing the reports. "What can you tell us about the women?"

Gusta took a deep breath and fanned out the growing stack of pictures, pointing to each as she explained. "The first one was Jessica Robbins. We all went to school together." She glanced up at Lara.

"Jess had just gotten married a few months ago. She and Tyler were planning to move into Houston; they both wanted a change of pace, something beyond the scope of Saratoga. She was the kind of person who always left notes explaining where she was going, what she was doing. Lara and I used to tease her by saying she was already in 'big city mode.' You know, making sure someone knew where you were at all times in case something happened or your car broke down. She was anything but impulsive."

"Tyler came home after work one night and she was simply gone. Dinner was in the oven, burnt to a cinder, and there was a glass of warm watered down iced tea on the patio table in the back yard. No one knew where she had gone and there weren't any messages."

Lara reached across the table and snagged the next photo. "Janice Henley was pretty much the same. She was single and wanted out of Saratoga more than anything. I think she was planning to move up to Dallas where her sister is living. She was home with her family one evening, everyone had gone to bed and Janice was last seen in the living room trying to figure out how long it would take her to save enough money to move. By the time morning came, she was gone, her budget still spread out across the coffee table."

Gusta sighed, "Janice graduated from high school with us."

"She would never have just left without letting her parents know where she was. She was always worrying about them and didn't like to trouble them needlessly." Lara stared at the photograph. "She hated this picture," she whispered softly.

"Mary Manheim," Gusta continued, moving to the next image, "was a few years older than us. She dropped out of school when she was sixteen and married a local man. They had two kids, Chelsey and Marjorie. The girls are in grade school now. Mary never quite fit in anywhere. She was quite bright but didn't see any reason to get her GED."

"The night she vanished she had taken the girls to her parent's house; they were to spend the weekend with them. Poor Mark thought that she'd just decided to stay over at their place for the night until the next morning when her mother called to say that Chelsey had lost a tooth and asked to speak with Mary."

"Veronica Helmsley, commonly known as Roni." Gusta picked up the next photo. "Roni had just gotten her BS. She'd already been accepted into graduate school somewhere on the east coast. Lara saw her just a few days ago."

Lara took the picture from Gusta's hand. "She was so excited about getting out of here; it was all she could do to stay put for the summer until fall term began." Taking a deep breath, Lara continued, "she was home, from what was apparent, she'd stepped out onto the back porch at some point during the night and had just never gone back inside."

The last photo stared up at them from the table. "Georgia was still in high school..." Gusta's voice broke.

"Georgia was in her room one minute and gone the next," Lara offered. "She isn't the kind of girl who would sneak out in the middle of the night. She had a pep rally today, the last one of the year; she wouldn't have missed it. She's probably the most responsible and stable teenager I've ever known."

Silence descended again as the four stared at the collection of photographs.


It gravitated toward the house approaching the light that spilled out the windows and onto the cropped grass of the lawn. It paused just outside of the lamplight, watching and waiting. The time would come soon. Patience was all that was required.

Voices, muffled and sincere, broke the silence again. Talking in riddles and circles. Attempting to reason the unreasonable. The voices would be silent soon, they would themselves become part of the unreasonable.


"What can you tell us about the supernatural activity that's been attributed to this area?" Mulder questioned, looking again at Gusta and Lara.

"There are lots of old stories about these woods," Lara said, her voice softening. "There are tales of white men who walked in and never walked out again, were never seen again." She giggled, "Kind of the Native American version of the pharaoh's curse I guess. My grandmother used to say that the entities that inhabit this area don't like the white men who would come in and destroy the wilderness. So in order to protect their home they dispose of those who would destroy them."

"What would you say?" Scully asked, detecting disbelief in the woman's tone.

"I'd say that they walked into the dense woods and got lost, probably became dinner for a bear or something similar. But... I have seen things that I cannot explain, things I wouldn't even try to explain or rationalize. As annoying as it is, not everything can be explained by all-powerful Western scientific thought processes."

"What have you seen?" Mulder was quickly becoming intrigued.

"Trains where there were no rail road tracks, people who were not there. I've heard sounds that could not be attributed to anything natural, balls of light that dipped and curved and followed cars down the road. Once when by sister's baby was sick and fussy, a heavy beading loom that had been sitting flat on a table, became airborne and fell at her feet."

"What happened then?"

"We took the baby to the emergency room. It turned out he had pneumonia, he was hospitalized for a week." Lara folded her hands on the table and intensely studied the wood grain. "There are other things, things that manifest as bad vibes or a powerful sense of being unwelcome. I've felt intensely ill at ease in certain parts of the woods and even on the res, very unwelcome. I love to watch the stars, but I wouldn't stand outside here after dark, no matter how much you paid me."

"The res?" Mulder shuffled the folders, frowning as they refused to sift in an orderly manner.

"Just north of here is the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation. Back when I was a teenager I used to go on the pow-wow trail every summer. We'd start out at the res here, then would move up to Oklahoma in time for the Red Earth pow-wow, and on across the country. I still have a few contacts there, people I go to visit occasionally." Lara's unease at the switch in topics was clear.

Knowing all too well her friend's attitude about expounding on her ethnicity, Gusta sought to end the distressing conversation, "Lara, where's your car?"

"I left it at my sister's place." Lara looked at the clock, noting the lateness of the hour. "I know we didn't provide you with any useful information, sorry. The field office is swamped right now, even specimens going through the crime lab are about three weeks behind. Speaking of which," she turned her head to address Gusta, "SAC Markson wants all the techs in the lab by 6am. He's threatening to call me in this weekend if we don't make a sizable dent in the backlog. He did say that he wanted you to stay at home, but that he wouldn't order you to."

"Great," Gusta smiled grimly. "I've got to get over to my parent's house to see how they're doing. If I can be of any help to you, you can reach me in the crime lab at the Beaumont office." She rose, pushing the chair back under the table she spoke to Lara, "I can give you a lift to your car, it's on the way to Mom and Dad's."

"That's alright, I just have to dash across the Morrison's field, with any luck the cows will be in the barn. But give me a call in the morning if you opt to stay home."


Scully stepped into the living room donned in satin pajamas and her hair still damp from the shower. "Alright Mulder, tell me your theory about what's behind the disappearances." She smiled at the man sprawled across the couch. The TV was on but was muted, flashing pale light across his motionless form. "You didn't bring any selections from your video library, did you?" She couldn't see the screen from where she stood and wasn't entirely sure she wanted to be witness to his choice of programming.

"Nope. But the video section at the gas station does have a little room in the back..." He tossed the video box to her, grinning wickedly.

She braced herself for the worst, The Devil Does Mrs. Robinson or Tales From the Brothel. Glancing down at the box in her hand she almost laughed. The Piney Woods Phenomena: a documentary of supernatural occurrences. "Is it any good?"

"Nah, not really. It recounts some of what Lara told us earlier." He raised the remote control and pressed a button, plunging the room into darkness.

A moment later a lamp clicked on. "Your theory?" Scully reminded him. She sat down next to him on the couch, turning sideways and tucking a leg beneath her.

"My theory..." he stated. "I have to agree with our two lab techs that these women did not leave on their own. While none of them were entirely happy here, all but one had made plans to move elsewhere. They weren't in the position of hopelessness that often accompanies or precedes an unannounced departure. As to the reason or cause behind their disappearances, perhaps there's something to be said for Lara's 'Piney Woods Entity'. Some type of supernatural phenomena that weeds out the undesirables, seeks to protect the harmony of the woods. Remember the mothmen? Maybe the desires of these women to leave the woods was seen as a potential threat to the area's over-all well being."

"Then why not just let them leave?" Scully interjected. "Mary Manheim was the only one who we don't know had already made plans to move. If this... whatever it is could sense their disharmony, why wouldn't it be able to pick up on their anticipation, their excitement?"

"I don't know." Mulder shifted to face the kitchen. He could just make out a few pinpricks of stars above the silhouettes of trees through the windows. "I don't know, perhaps this entity of Lara's can't detect anything but the negative energy. It seeks out the bad and eliminates it."

Scully followed Mulder's gaze, "If that's the case maybe we need to focus on determining who its next victim will most likely be."

Mulder's brow furrowed in concern and he swung his gaze back to his partner. "What's wrong, Scully?" His concern was mounting with each passing second.

"I don't know what you mean."

"Why haven't you tried to shoot down my theory? How can you, of all people, sit there and contemplate evil-seeking forest-dwelling paranormal entities without trying to analyze it into a scientifically provable abduction case? What happened to the analytical, enigmatic Dr. Scully?"

"You want me to debunk your theory?"

"Well," Mulder ran a hand through his already tousled hair, "no, but..."

She grinned, "Give me a day to think on it. I hate to admit it, but right now Lara's entity is more believable than anything I can come up with."

"It could be mere coincidence that all five victims shared a disharmony with their location."

Scully pursed her lips at Mulder's suggestion.

"There could be a very talented serial abductor hidden out there in the woods. Small towns are very good at hiding their unconventional citizens."

"Stop it, Mulder," her voice was louder that she had intended, the vehemence too obvious, "stop trying to debunk your own theory. You're too talented as a profiler, too good at solving these insane cases we get through the X files to start trying to destroy your work before it's even done." She twisted a lock of coppery hair around her finger, finally smoothing it away from her face with a measured sweep of manicured fingers.

"It's late," her voice had lost its sharp edge, the telling passion receding to its carefully monitored cage hidden within the dim recesses of her mind. "You want the bed tonight?"


Mulder was still awake when the phone rang at 3am. Convincing Scully to take the bed again, he was stretched out on the couch watching the video he had indeed rented from the adult collection offered by the local gas station/video store. Sleep eluded him but Scully, it seemed, was able to rest easily enough tonight.

He quickly grabbed the receiver in hopes that it hadn't roused his partner. He had noticed earlier in the day that her eyes were still shadowed with fatigue; she needed as much uninterrupted sleep as she could get.

"Murphy," he answered, at least remembering which name to use.

"Agent Mulder?"

Why did he use the alias when the only people who called knew who he actually was? "Yes. Gusta? What's wrong?" He recognized the voice of the small blonde who had occupied their kitchen table earlier that evening.

"It's Lara, she was attacked tonight."

"Attacked? When, where? Is she..." he couldn't quite bring himself to voice his concern about the dark-skinned lab technician. He liked Lara, her mixture of both unconventional beliefs and conventional scientific knowledge appealed to his own muddled psyche.

"She's still alive. But she's at the hospital in Beaumont. I'm up here with her. Umm... she's in surgery right now, they won't tell me anything."

"We'll be right there." Damn, so much for Scully's beauty sleep.


By the time Mulder and Scully arrived at the hospital, it was nearly 4:30. Scully had woken up in record time once Mulder had informed her of the situation. Both in jeans, they strode down the empty hallway to the recovery waiting room. They found Gusta seated inside with another woman they didn't recognize but who bore a definite resemblance to Lara.

"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, thank you for coming. This is Lara's sister, Karen. We're the only ones here, we sent Lara's parents home to rest." Gusta clutched the arm of the stiff plastic chair. "Karen knows about the whole FBI thing, but she's the only one. Even our parents are unaware of our true employers."

"How's Lara doing?" Scully asked, claiming a seat next to Gusta.

"We still don't know for sure," Karen answered. "The doctor said that she should be out of surgery soon but he won't elaborate except to say that she should be okay, relatively speaking."

"What happened?" Mulder walked over to the coffee machine and poured cups for both Scully and himself.

"We don't know." Gusta's tone radiated her distress. "She was supposed to get her car and drive back to my apartment to pick up some samples I'd borrowed from the lab. I waited for her for two hours before I called Karen to see what the delay was. Her car was still in the driveway and Karen hadn't seen her since she'd dropped it off."

Karen spoke up to continue the story, "When Gusta called I got worried, so many unexplained things have happened in Saratoga recently. I woke my husband and we grabbed some flashlights and went outside to retrace the path she had most likely taken to your house. We'd just gotten to the barbed wire fence that encloses the Morrison's cow pasture when we saw her."

Scully watched the anger and fear that waged battle in Karen's eyes. She appeared to be a few years older than Lara, although her face was gaunt with stress. But as much as she looked like her sister, Lara was probably thought to be the 'pretty sister'.

"I thought she was dead when we got to her. She was so bloody and pale, her breathing was shallow, her heartbeat irregular. It looked like she had drug herself across to the fence before she passed out. My own sister and I was afraid to touch her lest I make the damage even worse..."

A man appeared in the doorway dressed in green scrubs and a white lab coat. He'd removed the surgical cap but a paper mask still hung around his neck. "Are you here for Lara Washi?"

"Yes, I'm her sister, how is she?" Karen rose but reclaimed her seat when the doctor waved her down.

"She's in recovery right now, you should be able to see her in a little while. Am I right that we don't know what happened to her?"

"Yes, I found her in a field near my house and called the ambulance. She was last seen two hours before that, and she had been fine."

"Well, if luck is on our side, she's recover and will be fully functioning again soon. There was a great deal of internal bleeding, a few cracked ribs, fractures to her left femur and humorus, contusions and puncture wounds consistent with nothing I've ever seen. All in all, she's a very lucky lady to be alive at all. We'll have to monitor her for signs of infection and peritonitis; there was some damage to her spleen and lower intestines. She'll be receiving heavy doses of antibiotics as well as some pretty strong painkillers. She didn't respond well to the morphine drip so we'll be administering codeine instead."

"She's allergic," Karen replied.

"Okay, we'll try something else. We're going to keep her doped up pretty good at first. She'll need to rest in order to heal and she won't be able to do that if she's in constant pain."

"When can we see her?" Scully's concern was evident in her voice.

"Let's give her an hour or so to recover from the surgery, then we'll let you in one or two at a time for a few minutes. Once she's sent to the floor we can arrange to alter the visiting procedures."


Lara finally made it into a private room on the floor at dawn. Karen had slipped away to use a phone to contact her family and apprise them of her condition, leaving Gusta, Scully, and Mulder to keep watch over the sleeping woman.

Bundled beneath a blanket, Lara was lost in a sea of tubes and wires. Monitors kept track of her heart rate and blood pressure, beeping steadily in the otherwise silent room. The rosy sunlight that crept in through the half-drawn blinds did nothing to improve her complexion, her skin tone nevertheless vying to be paler than the starched sheets. Her dark hair was still swept into a surgical bonnet but what strands had escaped lay limply on her chilled brow.

Gusta stood at the bedside, silently willing her friend's condition to improve. She'd already lost a sister and several acquaintances; she refused to loose her best friend as well. "We must find this thing before it strikes again."

"We will," Mulder assured her.


They approached the house wearily. Saratoga was just waking up, sounds drifting down the road from the vicinity of 'downtown'. Sara waved to them from her front porch gently pushing a chortling Emily in a small plastic swing.

"Let's get some sleep, we'll need it if we're going after this thing tonight." Mulder held the screen door open for his partner.

"It almost killed her. It tried to kill her."

"I know, Scully, that's why we're going after it. Too many people have died already."


"Oh, thanks, Sara, but I think Will and I are going to call it an early evening. Thanks anyway." Scully replaced the receiver on its hook.

"Another neighborly dinner invitation?"

"Uh hum. I turned her down though. When do you want to go out tonight?"

"After sun set, nine would probably be best. Most of the attacks haven't occurred until closer to midnight but we should get a feel for the area in the dark before we go up against this thing."

"I agree. So, what do you want to do for the next five hours?"

Mulder wagged his eyebrows suggestively, "I have a few ideas..."


Scully rolled her shoulders, trying to ease the tension in her neck. Five hours spent bent over reports was about four and a half hours too long. They had received a call from Gusta at the hospital letting them know that Lara had regained consciousness enough to argue with the nurses about the painkillers. She had insisted on speaking to either Mulder or Scully before accepting the next dose, wanting to stay lucid enough to speak coherently.

She hadn't remembered much about the attack, but she was certain that whoever, or whatever, had attacked her had followed her halfway across the field before making its move. It had been so quiet that she hadn't realized her peril until it was too late to defend herself.

Scully had insisted that she hang up when she could hear Lara fighting her pain to keep speaking. Demanding that she accept the pain meds, she promised that both she and Mulder would be back to visit the next day. She failed to mention that they would be going out after their murdering entity, concerned that the knowledge would interfere with the lab technician's recovery.

The sun had dipped down beyond the horizon at last, shrouding the town in deep shadows when Scully rose from the table. She grinned at Mulder's choice in clothing, he looked like he was ready for spy surveillance in the black jeans and shirt he had chosen.

"Are you thinking to hide from Lara's entity?" she teased.

He shrugged, "It seemed appropriate."

They exited the house through the back door, plunging into the outer fringes of the woods. Small scurrying noises followed their trail through the trees as they made their way beyond their own yard. They had already decided on a location, the most probable place to find anything of import, and plunged on through the woods.

Mulder had noticed a pattern in the entity's movements, it seemed that the Morrison's field was a central point. If this was indeed the case, then Lara's attack may well have been simply a problem of her being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It may have been on its way to another victim when it came across Lara in the field.

They staked out a semi-hidden spot in a group of young Yaupons and waited. Tension dragged the seconds out into hours as they waited in the dark, hoping beyond hope that they were right and could wrap up this case. They had been given two weeks but three days would be better, especially with the rate at which women had begun to disappear. In two weeks there might not be anyone left to be abducted.


Five hours later Scully dozed fitfully against Mulder's shoulder, still worn out from her emotionally draining week. He had shifted so that he could lean against one of the tree trunks, wrapping an arm around Scully's waist to anchor her more securely.

A slow stealthy movement caught his eye. He waited, not wanting to wake Scully up for another opossum or armadillo. The wildlife had been abundant and he was beginning to think that the only things out and about were the sort that walked on four feet and hissed or jumped when startled. He'd seen his fair share of bared teeth and springing armored creatures.

He continued to monitor the movement as it neared their location. Whatever it was, it was definitely larger than an armadillo. The dark form ducked beneath a low hanging branch.

Holding his breath in the sudden stillness, Mulder carefully placed his hand over Scully's mouth and nudged her. She startled awake, suppressing a gasp as she realized the hand that was silencing her belonged to Mulder. He nudged her again, indicating a shuffling movement just beyond the grove of trees.

It continued to move through the trees, dodging around thick trunks as it made it's way deeper into the forest. Just as silently, Scully and Mulder rose to follow. The lack of underbrush made it easier to track the thing they followed and they kept up the steady pace it adopted.

It slowed as it came within sight of a small, dark house. A single window was illuminated against the night and the creature moved steadily toward it.

Drawing their weapons, Mulder and Scully continued to follow it, stopping before they were free of the protective trees. They continued to watch its approach to the house. In the open area of the yard, they were better able to distinguish its form.

The shock of straw colored hair that sprouted from its head surprised them, as did the very human form. As it reached for the window, they sprang from their hiding places, plunging across the lawn and tackling it to the ground.

"Freeze, FBI."

Their suspect wasn't cooperative and it took several moments' grappling before they were able to subdue it enough to utilize the handcuffs Mulder had withdrawn from his pocket.

The ruckus they created brought the house to life and the external porch light clicked on.

Scully looked down into a face that was Sara's except that it wasn't. Painful gauntness caused her jaw and cheekbones to strain against parchment-like skin and deep purple shadows bruised her eyes. Her hands, now bound behind her, had been reduced to elongated bony claws with only a passing resemblance to something human. Ragged auburn hair stuck out at odd angles, adding to the illusion that she was something more animal than human. She woman looked like death itself.

"Jesus..."


"So it was Emily all along," Lara mused, her voice harsh and raspy, "You know, I'd forgotten about her until Sara had the baby and named her Emily too. Do you remember, Gusta? We were still very young at the time, but Emily was such a kind soul, a real angel among out band of little monsters. My mother could never understand how she could bear to be around other children who were so rough and tumble. I used to imagine that she was one of those porcelain angels they display at church at Christmas time, that she had somehow become a real child and couldn't figure out how to make it back to heaven."

"Hush!" Gusta admonished her friend, "The doctor told you to rest."

"And his version of rest is for me to be high as a kite on a truckload of pain meds, no thank you." She shoved at Gusta with a pale, shaky hand and turned the conversation back to Sara's sister. "We all knew each other as children, but when Emily got sick they had to send her up to a hospital in Dallas. It was really tough on Sara, losing her twin, she used to sit around and daydream about the day Emily would be cured and could come back home. Of course she never was cured. Gusta, do you remember what her final diagnosis was?"

"No, all I remember is Mom sitting on the back pew with their mother at church one Wednesday night, they were both crying. When I asked her about it later that night, all she said was that Emily was very sick and would never be able to come back home."

Lara turned her attention to the pair of agents who were standing at her bedside, "So who wants to be the one to tell me why my dear childhood friend tried to kill me? I never imagined the Piney Woods entity would pay me a visit in the form of an old friend..."

"Sara told us this morning that she had Emily discharged from the institution in Dallas two years ago. Because of her appearance and due to what the disease had done to her mind, she kept her in the house and didn't tell anyone she had brought her back home." Scully began the tale, stepping closer to the patient and laying a hand across her clammy forehead.

Concerned, she brushed the back of her hand along Lara's cheek and lifted her wrist, ignoring the noisy monitors and feeling for herself as the woman's life blood pulsed through her veins with increasing strength. "Stay here, and don't try to talk anymore." She wagged a finger at Lara, her tone obdurate and foreboding.

Returning a few minutes later with a nurse in tow, she explained, "Lara, I know you don't like to take the painkillers, but you need them. By trying to ignore the pain, you're only increasing your likelihood of infection. Your body is so busy denying it hurts that it doesn't have time to defend itself against the real dangers."

Lara's eyes shone with relief at the prospect of pain relief although she still tried to deny that she needed it. "I'm alright, really I am."

"Put this under your tongue." Scully brandished a digital thermometer in front of her eyes. "If you take the meds, I'll finish the story of the Piney Woods most recent body snatching entity," she promised.

"And I'm supposed to trust your word as a physician? No offence Agent Scully, but all of your patients are dead."

"I get to practice on Mulder often enough and he's still living."

"Fine, then start talking." Lara nodded to the nurse who had been standing by, syringe drawn up and at the ready. "But be quick about it, I don't want to nod off before you've finished telling us about this mystery."

Mulder picked up the story so that Scully could devote her full attention to Lara's physical well being. "This disease that Emily has ravaged her mind every bit as much as it ravaged her body. She began targeting those women who were able to achieve what she couldn't. Actually her first victim died eighteen months ago. As the end was drawing nearer, she increased her number of chosen victims. If it makes you feel any better, I don't think she had you targeted as one of her victims, I think she attacked you out of pure happenstance."

"She found out about the women's plans through Sara and she undoubtedly had secretly observed Georgia on the evenings the teen watched Sara's baby. She acted out of jealousy and hatred. She would never be able to lead such a life as those women had, and so she felt they didn't deserve to either."

"In her defense," Scully added, "Sara didn't know what was happening. The doctors had told her that Emily's medications would see to it that she would be comfortable for what was left of her life. They failed to mention that near super-human strength was a possible effect of the disease."

"All she wanted was for her sister to be able to spend her last few years with her," Gusta's voice was sagging, memories of her own sister spinning around in her mind. "I can't hate Emily though, she's been destroyed by so many years of disease. I can only pity her."

"Poor Sara. But, in reference to the Piney Woods entity? If you were to ask my grandmother, she'd tell you that it was the Old Ones who killed those women, they just used Emily's body as the vessel to carry out their tasks." Lara's tone was becoming sluggish as the meds took effect.

" At least we now know what happened Georgia Amelia and the rest, even if we don't know for sure who or what initiated it. All the families can have some extent of closure, even if we don't find all their remains."

Lara's eyes drifted shut at last and the tension drained from her face. Gusta brushed a dark lock of hair off her friend's brow with a steady hand. "Knowing that Georgia is dead is one thing, but I wish we had a body to bury, you know. It just seems like it would give the whole situation some sense of finality to be able to look at her sweet face and tell her goodbye."

Scully looked into the woman's eyes, recalling another pair of azure irises and the cherub face that had gone with them. Another body that would never be buried, never be told farewell. "Yes." She left the room, Mulder following close behind, and exited the hospital, it was time to leave Texas and its avenging angels far behind.




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