Title: Bumps in the Night
Summary: A haunted house in Michigan scares its residents away and draws Mulder and Scully in to investigate.
Hi all! The chief at the E-mail X-Creative Club on AOL, sent out "Bumps" before the revision that the author, Rhoda Miel, was working on part one. So now that it's rewritten, here's the revision. The changes are small, but here is what the author wanted to go out. All comments about the story to her, please. All about the screw up to me or to SciNut on AOL. :) The revised story is the only one that is being placed at the FTP's. Gyr.
Many thanks for story consultation to FancyKatz and MelTaylor
The sound was soft that first time. Jack Koehler wasn't certain if he'd really heard it -- a short, sharp interruption in his home's usual night noise. It was as if someone had blown up a paper bag. Koehler rolled over, drifted back to sleep.
Raccoons, the thought sifted through his mind. Or that skunk again.
The next sound was different. A rumbling that crawled across the floor.
It rose halfway up the wall, then exploded.
Koehler's wife, Maggie, sat up with a start, looked for something solid to grab for support.
Moonlight filtered through the uncovered window, shadowing the bed in a pale, gray illumination. The red numbers on the bedside clock read 2:48.
The silence had returned, but seemed thick somehow -- filled with the sound of their breathing. Koehler could count his own rapid heartbeats as he moved away from Maggie, slid out of the bed and walked to the wall.
The plaster had cracked, half way up.
FBI HEADQUARTERS WASHINGTON D.C.
Dana Scully walked through the maze of desks and agents toward the long hallway at the rear of the room. Her partner, Fox Mulder, always seemed to pass through the crowd of people and furniture with his mind somewhere else, threading past the obstacles with his eyes focused on some point in space visible only to him.
Scully watched everything and everyone -- the changing faces of the men and women she worked near, but never with. With spring came the flowers clipped fresh from the gardens Scully never saw. There were new school photos late each autumn and the small souvenirs from each vacation. There was a world inside that room, a world that changed every day.
Mulder's back was to the door when Scully walked into the office. He continued rummaging through the filing cabinet as she took off her coat and hung it on the rack. "Do you like ghost stories Scully?" he asked, turning around.
Scully sighed, looked down at her empty coffee cup. "Well good morning, Agent Mulder. How are you today and have you ever considered that if you started the day with a normal conversation you might have a few more friends out there?"
Mulder stopped, sat at his desk and leaned back, a slight smile barely hidden behind his eyes. "Good morning Scully. Sleep well?"
"Just fine, thanks, and in my opinion ghost stories were invented by camp counselors to keep young girls awake all night."
"Sounds like my kind of camp, Scully," Mulder grinned and handed her a thick stack of papers. "But this time, it looks like this story is for real. State police in Michigan are looking for a little help tracking down some unusual sounds emanating from a family home in a quiet corner of the Upper Peninsula."
"What kind of sounds?" Scully asked.
"Oh, you know. Creaks, rattles, bangs -- the stuff that usually accompanies a haunted house."
"Mulder, it's April not October and I'm not ready to hear anything more about a haunted house until I get some coffee."
Scully grabbed her mug and headed for the door.
"OK, but make it fast," Mulder called after her. "We've got a plane to catch."
"Mulder, are you suggesting we become Ghostbusters?" Scully let the exasperation seep into her voice. "This doesn't sound like the kind of thing Skinner would want to use the FBI's time and money on."
Mulder shrugged. "It's not," he said. "I brought up the subject a month ago after I saw the report in a weekly newspaper."
"So why the travel plans?"
"Seems the freshman congressman representing northern Michigan is intent on fulfilling his campaign promise of 'responding to the people,'" Mulder leaned back on his desk. "And," he added, "It seems the new congressional leadership is intent on keeping the people happy."
Scully stared out the window of the rental car. It'd been early spring in Washington D.C. that morning but winter still clung to the bare trees and dirty gray snowbanks that lined the two-lane highway.
They'd switched planes three times -- finally ending up in a 15-seat prop jet with seating so cramped that Mulder complained he would've been more comfortable riding on the wing.
Chippewa County International Airport was an abandoned air base. A sign in the former jet hangar that now served as a terminal read "Welcome to Sault Ste. Marie, the city so special it takes two countries to hold it."
Now, after an hour on the road, they were approaching the one-stoplight town.
"Who are we supposed to contact?" Scully asked glancing over at Mulder behind the wheel.
"Township constable by the name of Ken Rybkowski. His deputies started the original investigation. When they couldn't find anything, they called in the state police. The state called us."
Mulder pulled into the lot in front of a concrete-block building housing both the police and fire departments. Scully pulled her coat a little tighter around herself as a hard wind blew across the icy lot. For once she was grateful for the faulty heater in their basement office that prompted her always to dress in warm layers just in case it was on the fritz again.
Mulder was three steps ahead of her, taking the stairs two at a time, anxious to discover something new -- and the kind of paranormal proof he was determined waited somewhere out there.
Rybkowski was a half-head shorter than Mulder with a stocky build that seemed to match the pictures of the pig farm on the walls behind his desk more than the badge on his haphazardly pressed uniform.
"My grandfather homesteaded 40 acres on the north end of the county after the lumbermen were done with the land," he was saying. "My mother's family goes back another generation beyond that. I know this county like the back of my hand. I know who dated who in high school and which children aren't going to do their daddies proud."
"But I tell you. I don't know a thing about this."
"Have you been out to the house?" Scully asked.
"Dozens of times. I've known Jack Koehler since I was born. He grew up with my older brother and the two of them used to pester my mother whenever they'd worn out his with their questions. He helped my brother rebuild his barn after it burned down. My brother and I helped him frame up his house."
"How long ago was that?" Mulder asked, putting down the cup of strong coffee he'd been given as soon as they entered the office.
"About 15 years. Jack and Maggie had lived in the farmhouse on the family land for years, but when they learned they couldn't have kids, they kind of lost heart for that big house. They rent it out now."
Rybkowski pulled open a desk drawer and began rummaging through the papers, finally pulling out a photograph of a single-story home with white aluminum siding and a couple sitting side-by-side on the front steps.
"This is the house," he said.
Scully studied the photograph and the two people in it -- both in their early 40s, average height and weight, his sandy brown hair swooping back off his forehead, hers tied back behind her head. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
"Jack runs a charter fishing boat in the summer, farms a few acres but the land here isn't very good for cash crops," Rybkowski said. "Maggie works part-time at the school library."
"Where are they staying now?" Mulder asked, taking his own turn studying the photograph.
"The Paradise Motel. It's the only place open this time of the year. You'll want to get a couple rooms there yourself. They're not fancy, but they're clean," Rybkowski grinned. "If they're not, you can blame my daughter. She works there two hours every day after school. Jack and Maggie know you're coming. You can talk to them tonight."
"We'd like to see the house first," Mulder said and Scully glanced over at him, recognizing the nervous energy that gripped him at the start of every case. "That will give us a better handle on what's going on before we talk to the Koehlers."
Rybkowski showed them the way on the map and said he'd radio his deputies on the road to meet them there with the key.
What little light there was behind the clouds was dropping from the sky by the time Mulder slid behind the wheel of the car and headed northeast toward the little house.
"Just what is it you think we'll find out there, Mulder?" Scully asked as she glanced over a new folder the sheriff had given them.
"I don't know," he admitted. "Maybe something spooky?"
Scully ignored him as she tried to leaf through the papers in the dimming light. The state had called in experts in electronic surveillance to determine if someone was 'bugging' the Koehler house to create the sounds. They'd found nothing. And, the sheriff had said, no one could find any reason why anyone would single out the couple for audio abuse. "I can't imagine that any sports fisherman would be unhappy enough with his day's catch to go to these lengths to get back at his guide," she said, putting her thoughts into words to gauge Mulder's reaction.
"Maybe he didn't get his legal limit," he answered as he pulled into the driveway. A mud-splattered township police unit was already there and Mulder parked beside it. A nervous young deputy stepped out, handed over the keys.
"This one fits the back door," he said, shifting from one foot to the other and looking longingly at the open door of his patrol car. He'd left the engine running. "We left some equipment in there -- cameras and a tape recorder and such -- Kenny says you're welcome to them. "He moved back to his car.
"You don't want to come in?" Scully asked.
"Ma'am, I've been in there twice," he said, grabbing the car door.
"And that's two times too many."
The house was silent, echoing the sounds of their footsteps and the click as the door closed. All the lights were on -- Rybkowski said they hadn't been able to turn them off.
From the back door Scully could look down the basement steps to where a washing machine sat with its lid open. They moved right, into the kitchen. The coffee pot was half full and a few dishes sat in the sink.
A reel-to-reel tape recorder sat on the dining room table along with last week's edition of the weekly newspaper. Mulder headed down the hallway to the bedrooms as Scully turned and walked into the living room.
There was a large television against one wall, a tan sofa and two easy chairs. Next to the recliner were farming magazines and an old TV Guide. A remote control was on the table between the chairs along with three issues of Reader's Digest. A bag filled with yarn, knitting needles and crochet hooks rested against the swivel rocking chair.
Bits and pieces of plaster, broken off the walls, dusted the edges of the carpeting. The largest piece lay on the floor between the living room and dining room, under a paint-by-number portrait of Jesus.
"Looks like we missed the big party, Scully," Mulder said, wandering in from the back of the house. "And someone is looking at seven years of bad luck." He pointed her to the bathroom where the large mirror was cracked through at every corner.
"But I don't hear anything, do you?" she asked him.
"Maybe our ghost is shy," he answered.
"I've never heard of a ghost that didn't like company, Mulder. I thought they liked to show off."
Mulder studied the crack above the portrait, then turned his attention to the tape machine, rewinding it.
"Let's see if this tells us what scared off the county's finest young deputy," he said.
There were no sounds at first, then two voices -- deputies filling their time on their unusual duty.
"This is crazy. How much longer are we supposed to wait here, anyway," came one voice. It sounded like it matched that of the scared officer who'd delivered the keys. "You're going to have to learn a little patience, Billy," another man answered. "I've never seen any case yet where you could find the answers without a little patience."
The other man was nearer the tape recorder, in one place. Billy seemed to be pacing.
"Well, maybe sitting here waiting for nothing to happen sounds good to you," Billy said. "I'd rather be doing something."
"You *are* doing something. You're getting on my nerves. Now are you going to sit down and play some cards or do I have to watch you wear a hole in that carpet?"
The two men played for a while, passing the cards back and forth. Then there was a moan. Scully wasn't certain at first if it came from the tape recorder or the house around them. A shriek flew out of the tape player's speakers and Scully heard the sound of a chair falling backwards. "The hell is that?" Billy cried out.
"Don't know," the older man yelled. "But whatever it is, it seems to be here." Mulder leaned down, trying to hear the sounds better. There were creaks, bumps, pops and a crash that sounded like a cannon exploding.
"Jesus!" Billy yelled and Scully looked over at the portrait on the wall. The tape rolled on, smoothly, as it yielded the sound of a door flying open. "Billy!" the older man shouted. "Billy get back in here."
Scully listened to the footsteps as the older deputy chased the younger man out into the night. After they left, the tape went silent again. No more noises, except; 'was that the wind?' she wondered. It sounded more like a sigh.
"Well that sounded interesting," Mulder said, snapping off the machine.
"I'll grant you that much, Mulder, but I'm not ready to agree that this is a haunted house yet."
"I would have been disappointed if you did, Scully. It's more of a challenge when I have to convince you that I'm right. If you'd agreed with me, I wouldn't have as much fun proving my case," Mulder slid the tape off the machine.
"It's after 8 o'clock and our ghost doesn't seem very accommodating just now," he said. "What do you say we go find the Koehlers before we fall asleep and miss all the fun."
"I think we can make a fresh start at the house tomorrow," Scully answered. "I doubt your ghost is in much of a hurry to leave." She reached for light switch on the way out of the house, but it already was switched off despite the burning bulb. The light shone out of the windows as they pulled out of the driveway.
Jack Koehler had lost more hair since the time the chief had snapped that photograph. The little that he had crowned the sides of his head, cut roughly to the tops of his ears and hanging raggedly above his collar. He looked tired. The dark circles under his eyes matched those of his wife's on her pale skin. Her brown hair still was tied behind her back, but now had streaks of gray.
"We thought we'd get more sleep once we moved in here," she said. "But, well, you know how it is with motels. You never sleep as well as in your own bed, doesn't matter how nice the room is."
"Besides," her husband added. "I keep expecting to hear those noises -- even from 10 miles away."
"Did you ever have any problems with sounds before?" Mulder asked, settling himself in one of the stiff chairs in the corner of the motel room.
"One of the reasons we picked that site for our house was the quiet out there," Jack Koehler said. "The noises in town here may not seem like much compared to Washington D.C., but you can still hear them. I'd rather not know what TV show the neighbors are watching," he said, grinning. "And I'd rather have the birds wake me up in the morning than the neighbor kid's car with a bad muffler. Of course, now I'd rather have that than those other sounds waking me up."
Maggie Koehler fidgeted as she sat on the corner of the bed. Scully wished she'd remembered to bring the knitting supplies from the house so the woman could have something to keep her hands busy.
"Where did you get the land from?" Scully asked, turning her attention away from the uncomfortable woman.
"State land sale," Jack Koehler answered. "There's a lot of empty land up here, and not a lot of people. If you keep your eyes open, you can find some pretty property for a good price. Of course, land right along the water doesn't open up very often."
"We didn't see much of your property," Mulder said. "You've got waterfront?"
"Not much," Maggie Koehler answered. "But it's real pretty in the summer. You can see the freighters heading through Whitefish Bay from Lake Superior to the Soo Locks."
"It's not safe to build right on the water," her husband interrupted.
"November storms and the ice'll try to blow right through the house. The erosion will try to pull it into the water. Only the tourists build right on top of the lake."
"So why didn't anybody try to build out there before?" Scully asked.
"Just came out the market when we bought it," Jack Koehler said.
"Don't know why the state didn't sell it off earlier, but we were glad to get it when we did -- or at least we were. Don't get me wrong," he continued. "We love our house. It's our home. Now I'd just as soon be rid of it and find somewhere new, but no one's going to buy it and I don't know of any insurance company that's going to consider ghostly possession as a legitimate claim on a policy."
Mulder and Scully said nothing to each other as they left the motel room, but Scully realized she was hungry. Mulder looked at his watch as they walked toward the small cafe next to the motel.
The woman was getting ready to close when they walked in, but pointed them to a table anyway.
"You're those FBI agents here to help out Jack and Maggie, right?" she asked. "Kenny told me you'd probably be by. The cook's gone for the night, but I can rustle you up some soup and a couple of sandwiches. Is that all right?"
She headed back through the swinging doors and they could hear her humming as she worked.
Scully broke the silence.
"First thing tomorrow, we should track down the deed, find out who owned that property first, see if we can find anything on that. I want to talk to that other deputy and I want to go over that state electronic surveillance report again, see if they might have missed something," she stopped as she noticed Mulder staring at her. "What? Did you have something else in mind?"
"No, that's what I was going to say. I didn't expect to hear you getting so involved in this. Are you going to tell me you ..."
"That I've changed my mind and I believe in ghost stories after all?" Scully interrupted. "Not exactly. But I do believe that those two people deserve to get their lives back, and maybe we can help them."
"Scully, I'll make a believer out of you yet," Mulder said with a grin.
The county land office was back in the county seat, north of the airport and a 90-minute drive away. Rybkowski called it a 'short drive.' People around here, he said, we're used to driving two hours or more for basic shopping. "Everything here is kind of isolated,"he added.
"Who's the other deputy we heard on the tape?" Mulder asked.
"That'd be Toivo -- Toivo Johnson," Rybkowski grinned at the shocked look on the agents' faces at the mention of the first name. "Toivo's a pretty common name up here. I'd guess there are more Toivos around than Kens.
"Anyway, he's working the afternoon shift. He won't be in until 2, unless you'd like to head out to his place and talk to him now."
"That's OK," Scully interrupted. "Let him know we'll catch up with him when he gets in."
There wasn't much to see on the drive into town. According to the map, the state road slid around the edge of Lake Superior, but Scully could rarely catch a glimpse of it through the bare trees except when the summer cottages spread out. Koehler was right. Lakeside land did seem hard to get.
Mulder was driving. Scully could care less if she drove, but Mulder was a fidgety passenger. She usually let him take the wheel -- it was easier than listening to complaints. "I'm trying to remember how old I was the last time I was in Sault Ste. Marie," she said.
"You were here before?" Mulder asked. "You don't seem to be 'deh UP type, eh, Scully?'" he joked, mimicking the regional accent pouring out of the radio.
"My father dragged us up here on one of those 'family vacations' back when he was stationed outside Chicago," Scully said, smiling at the memories. "He insisted we come up to see the Soo locks on the river and took us to Mackinac Island -- you know the place, no cars, just horses, tourists and fudge shops. We've got some family movies with me and my brothers sitting inside some huge anchor downtown somewhere."
"Why Scully, you're practically a resident," Mulder joked. "This is just like old home week."
"Yeah, and those ancestral ties -- along with this map -- are telling me we should head north at the next intersection."
There wasn't much to look at downtown, although Mulder kept warning he would drive around until he found that anchor to get a new picture of Scully sitting in it.
The county building was another drab concrete structure. It looked like there wasn't much else open downtown.
"It's the off season," the county clerk commented. "Actually, most of the year is the off season. If it weren't for the village elections in March, I think we could actually shut down the office during the winter."
She led them to an ancient, walk-in safe that contained the county land records. It looked like the office had been built around it.
Most of the land records for Paradise Township were hand-written in fading ink. "We want to copy these over onto computer while we can still read them, but the county doesn't want to pay anyone to do the work," she apologized.
There weren't many entries under the Koehler's property description. It had changed hands only twice in the recorded history -- to the Koehler's in 1978 and nearly 50 years earlier to the state from the Bay Mills Indian Reservation.
"That was Indian land?" Scully asked.
"Most of the county was at one point," the clerk answered. "Up until they discovered this area was filled with copper, no one figured a civilized person would want to live in the UP."
"Where would we find the reservation now?" Mulder said.
The clerk smiled. "Just follow the billboards."
The signs advertising the Soaring Eagle Casino covered the city and pointed -- as the clerk had promised -- directly to the reservation. Two tour buses advertising Seniors Unlimited and nearly a hundred cars filled the gravel parking lot, a decent crowd for a Thursday morning. A neon sign on the outside of the building pointed the way to the entrance. Murals of beaver hunting, fishing and wigwams covered the walls inside and cigarette smoke hung in the air. A few dozen people sat in front of the video slot machines while others gathered around card tables and roulette wheels. None of them looked like high rollers. Most were in their 50s, 60s or 70s. They reminded Scully of her mother's card parties.
The hostess pointed them to the office at the back of the hall and Mulder told a receptionist they wanted to speak to someone in charge. They waited only a few moments.
"Hi, I'm Arnie Sowmick, the tribal council president. Deborah says you want to talk to me?"
Sowmick was just a shade shorter than Mulder, but appeared taller, standing ramrod straight. His short-cropped hair was a mixture of black and white.
Mulder displayed his ID.
"I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder, this is Special Agent Dana Scully. We're hoping you can help us track down some background on a piece of property the tribe used to own."
The tribal leader glanced at the ID, took in the information and nodded toward the rear of the building.
"Come on back to my office," he led them down the hall.
The stroll from the casino to the tribal business end of the building brought a change in the atmosphere.
This end of the building was strictly for business. There was a day-care center and a class next door filled with adults working on a geometry problem.
Sowmick paused next to his office to sign some papers and picked up a thick bound volume.
"The budget," he explained. "We just got it back from the printer."
Scully paused to glance at the framed photos on Sowmick's office wall. An earnest young man stared out at the room from a black-and-white print, wearing an Army dress uniform. Another young man gleamed from a second photo, eyes sparkling, looking ready to burst from his flight suit.
"This you?" she asked.
"1952," Sowmick shook his head. "I'd just finished my first combat mission and I thought I owned the world." He picked up another photo from his desk -- a group of men, ages ranging from their 30s to their 70s posed in three rows in front of a pair of flags. "We just formed our own tribal VFW. We have a tradition as warriors."
"Who's this?" Mulder pointed to the black-and-white photo on the wall.
"My brother," Sowmick's grin faded. "We lost him at Guadalcanal."
Sowmick sat behind his desk and waited as Scully and Mulder settled themselves. "So what brings the FBI to the frozen north for property?"
"We're helping the local police with an investigation of unexplained noises at a home on Whitefish Bay," Mulder explained. "So far, nobody's turned up anything. We thought we might as well find out about what went on out there before. County record show the tribe owned it until 1946."
"Our records weren't very sophisticated then," Sowmick apologized in advance. "I'm not sure what we'll have. Where's the property?"
Scully pulled a county map from her briefcase, and pointed to the spot. Sowmick nodded as he saw the location.
"I didn't know anyone had built there," he said. "But then, I don't keep in close contact with the folks out in that corner of the county."
"Are you familiar with the land?" Mulder asked.
"Passably familiar with it. I've spent some time regretting that land was ever sold. A lot of us have, but 48 years ago, there wasn't a lot of money available for tribal services. We've found new funding since then," he grinned and waved his hand his hand toward the casino. "It was land none of us ever intended to use, so I suppose they figured they might as well sell it."
"Why not use it?" Mulder interrupted.
Sowmick paused. He studied the map, still open on his desk, and the photos on the wall.
"Listen. I'm a modern man. I've attended one of the best military institutions in this country. I spent two decades in the Air Force. But I came back to the reservation because our heritage means something. Do you understand?" He looked at Scully, studied Mulder's face for a glimpse of doubt, then pushed ahead. "There are stories to go with almost every tree and rock in this part of the country. My grandfather told them to me and his grandfather told them to him. Even before his time, the Ojibwa told the story of the great victory over the Iroquois on the shore of our lake.
A great medicine man at the time saw the Iroquois approach in his dreams. He sent his two sons out as scouts, disguising his older son in the body and soul of a hawk. The younger he made a beaver. The two sons returned and told him what they saw. A great band of Iroquois warriors had made a camp on the shore one day's walk north of our village. There, they danced and prayed to make good war. Their dances would continue for another two days. The medicine man gathered the tribe's warriors and they went north. They surprised the Iroquois as they rested from their dance and slaughtered the men and left their bodies lying on the beach as warning. The rocks turned red from the blood that spilled down onto them."
Sowmick stared into Mulder's eyes as he told the story, holding back none of the legend. "The old men told us that the ground was made sacred by the battle. We were never to live on the site, only worship for the honor of the great battle and the brave men who fought there."
Scully spoke, drawing Sowmick's attention away.
"Do you believe the story?"
He looked down, folded his fingers and rested his chin on his hands before answering.
"I don't know," he said. "The logical side of me says it's impossible. That there is no such thing as spirits inheriting the ground. But there's another side to me -- the one that heard all those stories from my grandfather. I don't know as I can say that I believe the story, but I've never been tempted to go out there, either."
It was past noon by the time the agents left the building. Mulder held his enthusiasm in check, but Scully could see the signs. He walked faster, his trench coat flapping behind him, hopped over the puddles in the parking lot while Scully simply walked around them. He loosened his tie and unlocked the door on the passenger side of the car and practically ran around to the driver's side while Scully slipped into the car seat.
"You realize of course that we still don't have anything except for a legend and a tape recording," she said as he settled himself behind the wheel.
"Have some faith Scully," Mulder couldn't help but smile as he considered the possibilities back at the house. "At least we've got a working theory now."
"We've got *a* theory, Mulder. And we've got a lot more to do before you can prove that the spirits of some warriors dead for the past three centuries have taken possession of that house."
"Spoilsport," he grumbled, but knew Scully was right. "So, what do you say we find ourselves that other deputy so we can go about *proving* our theory."
Mulder started the engine and eased the car out of the muddy parking lot before Scully could reply.
Deputy Toivo Johnson was waiting for them at the station when they got back to town. He was in his 50s or early 60s, tall and with thick gray hair. He told the same story Mulder and Scully had heard on the tape. Mulder stood at the back of the office as Johnson spoke, staring out the window as he listened.
"Have you ever heard anything like that before, deputy?" Scully finally asked. "Not quite like that, no," Johnson shook his head. "Of course, the mines around here give off a lot of different sounds."
"The mines?" Mulder turned back toward the room as he looked for an explanation.
"Sure," Johnson added. "The chief didn't tell you about them?" he paused for a minute that went on. "Well, he don't know as much about them as the miners. His folks were farmers. Mine were miners."
"I knew there was copper mining in the UP, but not right here," Mulder interrupted.
"Sure. They're all over the UP, but the ones here aren't as famous as others. There's probably one under us here. Shoot, the only thing we've got up here is snow and mines. Go west about 200 miles and you've got one of the richest copper deposits in the country. Around here they went after the iron ore and a little coal, but then no one's operated a mine full-time for more than 30 years here," he explained. "The minerals are still here, but they're too far down to make any profit any more."
"And you think there are some mine shafts under that house?" Scully asked.
"More than likely."
"But how could the mines make the noises you heard?" Mulder walked toward Johnson, took the seat next to him.
"All those bends and turns down there? Sound moves around funny. It echoes and sometimes it makes it louder. Nights when it's real quiet, I can hear the footsteps in my bathroom from someone walking down the street three blocks away."
"Did you tell the state investigators about the mines?" Mulder asked.
"No," Johnson shook his head. "They didn't ask. Don't reckon they'd pay much attention to an old hick like me, anyway."
"But do you know for certain if there's been any mining in that area?" Scully searched for the reasonable explanation.
"I don't, no," Johnson admitted. "But Bennie probably would -- my Uncle Bennie. He worked just about every company in the UP at one time or another."
Johnson agreed to talk to his uncle. He'd try to have some kind of map ready by the next day.
Mulder was anxious to return to the house, so the agents headed back to the motel to switch out of the suits and into something more comfortable for a long night.
Scully wondered -- not for the first time -- why she even bothered to get a motel room during a case. Mulder never seemed to get much sleep, and seemed to think she shouldn't need much either.
Scully thankfully switched out of the power suit and into jeans, a turtleneck and an oversized sweater -- no need to impress anyone on this case, she thought to herself.
Mulder was walking back from the cafe when she finished tossing an extra pair of boots into the car. He'd changed into jeans, a sweatshirt and hiking boots. He was carrying a large bag filled with something that smelled good.
"At least we won't go hungry tonight," he said as he slid behind the steering wheel.
Mulder switched off the ignition as he parked beside the lone, white house, reached into the back seat and handed the bag of food to Scully along with the house keys.
"Aren't you coming inside?" she questioned.
"I figured I'd check out the beach," Mulder replied.
"A bit nippy for a swim, isn't it Mulder?"
He ignored the remark and headed down a worn trail leading past the deck and its barbecue grill. What little there had been of the sun during the day was beginning to drop from the sky and shadows stretched along the frozen ground.
Mulder watched the trail ahead, the damp leaves covering the path.
Fox Mulder was 20 the first time he'd gone searching for ghosts. It was the winter holidays at Oxford. He had no interest in heading home to see his family -- or what remained of his family. Holidays in Massachusetts were spent around the table, the empty chair merely a reminder of everything they had lost. Of Samantha. Of the family bonds that shattered eight years ago.
He'd planned on doing some hiking, checking out Blenheim Palace up in Woodstock while all the tourists were gone. Maybe getting in some extra reading -- studying ahead for those history classes all about the golden years of the British empire. Sometimes he wished the professors would throw in just one or two questions about the U.S., but their interpretation typically ran around how Britain 'lost' the colonies, rather than America 'winning' its independence.
But Geoff had changed those plans.
For six weeks, his friend had passed on invitations to visit his home for the holidays. He'd begged, wheedled, wined and pestered Mulder to the point where Mulder decided it'd be easier to just go along with him.
Geoff was a good guy, and Mulder decided on the train heading north that his partner on the intercollegiate crew team was right -- he *did* need to get his head out of the books for a while.
The family homestead was impressive. Geoff's parents liked to refer to themselves as 'the poor relatives' of the Churchill family, but for distant cousins, they certainly seemed to have some social standing.
The house was made of thick stone, its high ceilings disappearing into the night.
"It's nearly 300 years old," Elizabeth Churchill-Harding had told him.
"Not bad by American standards, but fairly young compared to the rest of the family's holdings."
They'd tried to make him comfortable, and Mulder did manage to relax, but kept himself distant. Shrinking into the shadows as Geoff teased his sister and tickled his new nephew.
Mulder was up early the day before New Year's. The dreams had pulled him out his comfortable bed and down into the study in search of some quiet and a chance to finish a book rather than moping in the guest room.
Geoff's mother walked past the study a little before 6 a.m., stopped at the sight of a light on.
"Couldn't sleep?" Elizabeth asked, stepping inside the doorway. "Neither could I. It's the holiday fever. Ever since I was a girl, I always woke up early -- too excited to even lay in bed. I was just going to make some coffee. Would you like some?"
"Sure," Mulder answered, setting the book aside and following her down the dark hallways. He smiled.
"What?" she asked, seeing his expression.
"Um," he started. "I was just thinking of what *my* mother would have said if she'd caught me up this early. She thinks I don't get enough sleep."
"Well I'm not your mother," Elizabeth said. "I'm sure you're old enough to figure out on your own whether you can get up or not." She pulled a coffee maker out of a cupboard, pushing aside the tea.
"Just look out for George early in the morning. He tends to get a mite testy if he thinks someone is invading his space."
"George?" Mulder asked. "I don't think I've met him."
"I would imagine not. George is the family ghost," she said, then laughed at the expression on Mulder's face. "I guess that sounds a bit eccentric, doesn't it, but then we British are a bit eccentric."
She pulled two cups out of the cupboard and grabbed the sugar from the counter. "We've been around a lot longer than the Americans," she explained. "Places that have a few hundred years of experience tend to gather a few odds and ends that don't go away all that easily.
"George happens to be *our* little piece of dark family history."
"He was a member of the second generation to own the house -- or was it the third, I always forget, that's Henry's side of the family."
"Anyway, the story says that George was in love with his brother's wife. The older brother had the run of the house, of course, and George joined the Army, but he could never forget her eyes," she paused finally, smiled to herself. "I think it was the eyes. Maybe it was her hair ... like I said, it's not a story from my side of the family."
"Anyway, he came home for a visit one Christmas and, well, you probably can figure it out. George had an affair with his sister-in-law, fought with his brother and killed him accidentally. George also killed himself in his grief. They say he's wandering the house looking for his brother to somehow turn back time and stop it all from happening," she poured the coffee. "Cream?"
Mulder was fascinated. He couldn't explain why -- and he couldn't stop wondering about the legend.
For three nights, he kept himself awake all night, tiptoeing through the halls and waiting in the study for some glimpse of the ghost.
Geoff teased him, telling Mulder that if George wanted to meet him, he'd probably introduce himself.
On the fourth night, Mulder gave up.
"It's crazy," he told himself. "All you're doing is missing out on some sleep."
The morning they left, he helped Geoff carry the suitcases out to the car. "So did you see him finally?" Geoff asked, packing the new suit he'd received for Christmas into a garment bag.
"Are you going to keep bringing this up back at Oxford? All I need is for the *other* half of the college to think I'm crazy," Mulder sat on the bed, waiting for his friend.
"No. It's just, well, I think *I* saw George last night -- George or something strange. I had to use the bathroom. There was, I don't know, someone outside your room. I blinked my eyes, and then I didn't see anyone there," he zipped the bag shut. "It was probably my imagination. Let's go."
In the waning Michigan spring light, Mulder finally could spot the lake at the end of the trail. He stood on the shore. Ice glossed over the water's surface and waves lapped at the frozen ground. The gray water flowed into the distance to meet the gray sky. There was no beach here, just rocks -- rocks the color of blood.
Mulder could hear the house before he even stepped inside. It was a whine and a growl, growing in volume and pitch.
"It's not exactly Beethoven, but it's certainly making a statement," Scully commented as Mulder walked through the kitchen. She already had the tape machine running, recording the sounds. "It hasn't slowed down any since I came in."
Her voice was light, but Scully had to control her clenching stomach.
Mulder said nothing, walked from one end of the room to the other, back into the bedrooms then through the living room. The sound came from nowhere -- and everywhere.
The whine dropped off, into silence, then returned.
"I guess this is something we can all believe in," Mulder finally said.
"The basement is just as loud," Scully noted. "Whatever is amplifying that noise, it seems to be somewhere below the house. This is just the speaker."
"Yeah, but how far down?" Mulder questioned. "It seems we finally have proof of something, anyway."
"You still want to spend the night?" Scully asked. "It seems we've witnessed whatever it is."
"Scully, don't tell me you're spooked by a few bumps in the night," Mulder teased. "Come on, this will make some great stories to tell by the campfire."
Scully watched out the picture window as the sun finally dipped below the clouds then slid from the horizon.
The house screeched in the background.
"Well," she finally said. "What's life without a few adventures?" She turned, took off her coat and hung it over a chair. "So what's for dinner?"
Star light Star bright First star I see tonight .. "Yeah, right," Scully muttered to herself.
All the lights in the house were burning bright. They seemed to flash with every new yelp from the house -- or maybe it was just her nerves that jumped and swayed, but beyond the burning lights indoors and the porch light outside, it was hard to see anything out in the night.
Mulder busied himself checking the levels on the tape recorder.
It'd been hours since Scully had eaten her fill of the take-out diner of ham and scalloped potatoes and the house had shown no plans of quieting down for the night. Every so often, the sound dropped away and Scully briefly hoped the noise was gone, but it would return with a vengeance -- a crackling explosion that sounded like thunder and often sprayed down cracked bits of plaster.
Scully was ready for a long shower when she finally got back to that motel room, but thoughts of the motel reminded her of the Koehlers and Maggie's nervous hands. <"You know how it is with motels,"> Maggie had said. <"You never sleep as well as in your own bed, doesn't matter how nice the room is.">
Scully tried to ignore the sounds and cupped her hands over the window, trying to shield out the light. She craned her neck to catch a solid view of the dark sky hanging overhead, searching the horizon visible through the panes of glass.
There. There it was.
Star light, star bright -- at least I *think* it's a star, Scully thought to herself. Astronomy wasn't exactly her field of interest. It was just the stars themselves, filling the night sky, that drew her in.
They had since she was small. They were always there, no matter where she looked at night, and she'd looked from a lot of places.
How old was she, eight? Maybe nine? They'd moved again. No surprise there. It was a life on the move for every military brat. This time it was a switch from Chicago to Norfolk, Virginia, in the middle of the school year.
Night after night, Dana would walk out into the backyard, look for that first star and wish -- wish they'd stop moving, wish the Navy would send her Dad back to Chicago, wish she could see her friends again. Not that it did any good. She knew that. She always knew that. But it made as much sense as doing nothing at all.
Dad had tried to explain it. He always did.
They sat together, in the back yard of the rented house, wearing sweatshirts against the early spring and cool sea breezes.
Nothing he said seemed to help.
"I know it's not easy, honey," he said. "But you've got to understand. It's important that I do what the Navy tells me to do. It's my job."
"Get another job," she answered.
"It's not that simple," her father replied.
They sat there quietly a little longer. After a few moments, her father pointed up at the sky.
"What's that up there?"
She followed his finger up toward the blackness. It pointed at the one area of the stars Dana knew.
"Big dipper," she answered.
"And that one?"
He pointed to other constellations she could never remember and coaxed her to study the sky a little longer.
"You should learn these. The sailors used to navigate by them," her father said. "Those stars will always be there. They'll be there for you to see every night.
"Just like I'll be here, and so will your Mom and your brothers. When we move, we move together."
Dana didn't reply at first. Instead, she sat, looking up.
"Together like the stars and the moon?" she finally asked.
This time it was her father's turn to remain quiet, but he looked at the ground rather than the stars, then studied his daughter sitting beside him. "I'm sorry I can't keep your friends around you, honey," he said. "But I'm going to keep everything else together. The whole family, and that's important."
They sat in the dark together a little longer before her father leaned over, kissed the top of her head, then stood to go back inside. "Good night, Starbuck," he said.
Dana sat alone that night for a long time, until her mother came out and sent her to bed.
Even then, she sat with the room dark and the window open wide to the stars.
"Penny for your thoughts."
Scully jumped at the words and glanced over to see Mulder standing beside her. "You should save your money for better investments," Scully said.
"Hey, I'm splurging," Mulder grinned.
"It's nothing. I'm, um, just stargazing."
Mulder leaned over and glanced out her window.
"Scully? Uh, that's not a star."
Scully looked over at Mulder. She didn't bother asking the question. "I think it's Mars." he continued.
"Well then, I'm planet gazing. It's not important, Mulder. Just forget it." Scully wandered back toward the kitchen. The cups hanging below the shelf rattled as the house let off another crack and boom. One fell from its hook. Scully picked it up and found a chip missing from along the top and a small crack running through the words "Soaring Eagle Casino." Another crash followed -- louder this time, almost like a sonic boom echoing through the house -- and a two-foot section of plaster fell from the ceiling onto the dining room table, knocking the tape recorder onto the floor.
The house was silent.
Scully looked up at the ceiling and could hear herself breathing -- fast and shallow -- just before the world shook.
The floor buckled beneath her, knocked her to her knees. The coffee mug she was holding smashed beneath her hand. The paint-by-number picture on the wall across from her fell and its glass and plastic frame cracked apart. Jars of ketchup, mustard and two bottles of beer smashed on the floor from the refrigerator as the door flew open.
The house ripped itself apart, the nails screeching as they tore out of the wood and the night went dark. The lights flicked themselves back on. Dust hung in the air and Scully choked as she pulled herself to her feet.
Her hand stung from the mug's ceramic splinters and blood clung to two cuts in the palm. "Mulder!?" Scully ignored the cuts. There was no answer. "Mulder?"
She walked around the edge of the kitchen, shoving the smashed tape recorder and an overturned chair out the way. Scully could barely see the carpet. Plaster, family portraits and debris covered the floor.
Part of one wall had collapsed. Broken bits of lumber and drywall lay in a heap, covering the floor and Mulder.
"Mulder!" Scully moved to him as her partner stirred, pushing a 2-by-4 off from his side.
"Let me help," she said, picking up pieces of the drywall and shoving the other debris away.
Mulder scooted out from the mess.
"You OK?" Scully eyed him, trying to judge for herself regardless of what he might say.
"I've had better days," he replied as he shoved himself to his feet.
Scully guided him toward the dining room and kitchen, righted a chair and pointed him toward it. "Sit," she ordered, and walked into the kitchen for a cloth. Water still flowed out of the taps and she dampened the washrag.
Dust covered Mulder's face and hair with gray and Scully saw from her reflection in the window above the sink that it had masked her as well. Scully reached out to wipe off Mulder's face, but he took the rag and did it himself.
A large bump was beginning to swell above his left eye and Mulder paused gingerly over the bruise.
"Let me see," Scully ordered, pulling up another chair. Mulder flinched as she brushed her finger across the swelling. "That looks nasty."
"So does *that*," he replied, nodding toward her hand.
She ignored the remark, instead turning his face more toward the light.
"I'd say our ghosts have a little attitude," he continued. "They're definitely not very sociable."
"I'd say that was more like an earthquake than the spirit of some long-dead warrior," Scully commented. "Now look this way." She held out one finger and had Mulder follow it from one side of his head to another.
"Do I get to guess how many fingers you're holding up next?" Mulder joked, but Scully could see he'd had the wind knocked out of his sails.
"Not unless you want to." Scully stood and went back to the sink, rinsed out the washrag and wiped off her own face before rinsing it again in cold water.
"Here," she handed the cloth back to Mulder. "Keep this up against that bump. It'll help with the swelling. You hurt anyplace else?"
"Not really," Mulder answered.
Scully looked him in the eye.
"Where 'not really?'"
"It's just a couple of bumps, Scully," he paused, then changed the topic. "What time to do you have?"
If Mulder wasn't going to cooperate, Scully wasn't about to push the subject. She glanced at her watch. "3:20. Why?"
"The majority of all ghost-related paranormal events occur around 3 a.m.," he answered. "Looks like this one is following the pattern."
"I thought midnight was the witching hour, Mulder," Scully walked over to the sink and rinsed out the cuts on her hand. Scully was suddenly tired. She wanted to get out of there -- just find somewhere she could sleep for a day.
The house was quiet around them. The silence had taken hold and Scully jumped as the pipes creaked and groaned. She turned off the water, leaned against the counter. She closed her eyes, collected her thoughts. Scully sighed, looked at the darkness outside the window and saw her own reflection. "Come on Mulder, let's go."
He looked up.
"Whether it's angry Iroquois or a collapsing mine shaft, I think I've seen enough for one night," Scully said.
"Scully, this is just the beginning. I think we could have something here -- something substantial to prove the paranormal, not just anecdotal evidence," Mulder walked over to Scully, holding the wash cloth in his right hand. "We can't quit now."
"I'm not talking about quitting, Mulder. I'm talking about getting out of here in case whatever it is returns and decides to bring the rest of the house down." Scully paused, then looked straight at Mulder. "And I'd say you've got a mild concussion -- along with any other 'bumps' you may have experienced."
"Scully, I'll be all right," Mulder looked away, leaned back against the counter. "Besides, there *is* a doctor in the house."
"Dammit, Mulder. I did not join the FBI to be your nursemaid. I don't plan to spend the day worrying about whether you'll be able to keep up," Scully regretted the words as soon as she said them.
The silence hanging in the kitchen was more intense than the sounds ever had been. Scully stared at the sink, watched the drops of water slide toward the drain.
"I'm sorry..." she started.
"No," Mulder interrupted. "You're right. You can handle this on your own for awhile. You don't need me hanging over your shoulder. Here," Mulder tossed the car keys on the counter. "You drive."
The town of Paradise didn't offer much in terms of medical care, but there was a nurse practitioner and a young doctor at a business called 'RediMed' -- a place Scully's medical school classmates had termed a "Doc In A Box."
The nurse practitioner cleaned up the cuts on Scully's hand, bandaged them and led her to the next room where the doctor was checking Mulder. Mulder's left arm had turned stiff and sore on the drive into town.
"Sprained," the doctor announced. "And a hyperextended elbow." He gave Mulder some anti-inflamatory medication and warnings to take it easy. The arm would heal naturally with rest. For the headache, he recommended acetaminophen.
"You should try to stay awake for another six to eight hours," the doctor said. "But if you need to sleep, someone should wake you every hour or so." Mulder was silent as they walked out to the car.
Dawn still was about an hour away and he slouched in the darkness as Scully drove the short distance back to the motel.
He kept his elbow bent, his arm stiff, next to his body as they walked into the rooms. There was a message taped to Mulder's door. Scully pulled it off and snapped on the lights. Mulder plopped down in a chair, not bothering to take off his coat.
"Toivo Johnson's got a map of the mines in the area," Scully announced, folding the note back up. "He'll be here at about 10 o'clock."
Mulder scratched the back of his neck, then leaned down with his good arm on the arm of the chair.
"You should get some sleep," he finally said. "I'll watch some TV. Maybe catch up on some reading. I'll be OK."
Scully sat on the edge of the bed.
"Mulder," she took a breath, let it out. "I'm sorry..."
"What for? Nothing here is your fault."
"No. I was angry back there. I was nervous," Scully said. "I was scared. I took it out on you instead of dealing with it."
"Yeah, well, that's OK. I probably needed it," Mulder grinned to himself. "I've been told I can be a pain in the ass sometimes."
Scully smiled. "Only sometimes?"
The silence was gentle, comfortable now.
"I should get some sleep," Scully stood up. "You sure you're going to be all right?"
"Yeah. Don't worry. It's just..."
"I feel like I'm missing the party."
"All you're going to miss out on is some old mines," Scully opened the door and cold air seeped past her. "I'll check on you before I go, OK?"
Mulder nodded in agreement and Scully breezed out, tugging the door shut behind her.
She lay there for a long time, the motel bed feeling stiff, uncomfortable. Exhausted, but unable to sleep. Scully's mind wouldn't shut down. She'd drift off to sleep, only to hear the sounds of the house interrupting her dream. Finally, she dropped into sleep, only to dream of a home caving in on her.
Scully woke feeling as tired as when she'd gone to sleep. Barely three hours had passed and the world looked fuzzy. She stood in the shower, willing the water to sharpen her mind.
Mulder could be right. She knew that. He had a sense about things that made no sense --- things that no one else could see.
Scully had learned to trust that -- rely on it.
But she couldn't live by it.
Scully couldn't accept by faith. She needed proof. She needed to explore the known before she could grasp the unknown.
Mulder accepted too easily -- so anxious to find proof of the paranormal that he'd risk ostracizing himself, living alone in a crowd.
Scully knew she needed others, her family, her friends, even the people in her apartment building she knew by face, but rarely by name. She knew the way to prove to them that there was something other than logic was to use logic.
Mulder had proved it to her. Now she had to keep him anchored so he could prove it to others.
The television was on in Mulder's room when Scully walked in. Two men were on the screen, seeking donations for their public television station, begging the children who were waiting for Sesame Street to ask their parents to give.
"These two haven't gotten a pledge in 45 minutes," Mulder commented. "I'm tempted to call them just to put them out of their misery." Instead, he switched the set off.
Sunlight that had hidden from them the day before now came blasting through the windows, filling the room with brilliant rays.
Mulder looked awful. The lump on his head had turned several colors of black, blue and a few shades of green. The circles under his eyes had darkened and spread against his pale skin. At least he'd showered and shaved.
"How are you feeling," Scully said, moving Mulder's coat off a chair to sit down.
"Useless," he replied.
"How's the arm?"
"Stiff," he said. "I could go with you though. I'd rather head over to the mines than spend the day in here."
Scully shook her head. Mulder didn't have the energy to argue with her. "Are you ready to head out?" he finally asked.
"As soon as Johnson gets here. Let me get you some ice for that arm. It'll help with the swelling."
Scully grabbed an ice bucket from the bathroom, headed out into the morning, squinting against the bright sunlight as she turned the corner toward the vending machines and ice maker. She pushed a few coins into a slot, grabbed a granola bar out of the machine and filled the bucket. Johnson was waiting at the room when she returned.
"I brought a couple of copies of the map," he was saying. "Bennie didn't have anything newer than 30 years old, but it's the best we've got."
Scully placed the ice bucket on the table, next to Mulder's arm. "So where do we start," she said.
Scully waited behind for a moment as Johnson headed out to his truck. Mulder leaned against the door frame as she pulled on her coat.
"Sure you're going to be all right?" she asked.
"I'd be better if I could go with you," he said, then shrugged. "Yeah," Mulder tried to look disinterested and failed. "I figured I'd head to the library later, see if they've got any local history -- Indian or mining. It'll give me something to do."
"Just take it easy, OK? I've got the chief getting someone to check out the house, see if it's safe to visit."
"Visit the scene of the crime again?" he gave Scully a half smile.
The roads out to the mine didn't offer much in terms of modern transportation. The pavement turned to gravel, then to dirt and finally to a muddy two-track. A wooden shack and rusting machinery waited at the end of the trail.
"Didn't pay to haul the stuff out," Johnson said. "Everybody kept figuring the mines would open again, then more closed. Before long, everyone had some old machines in their back yard."
He pulled a pack from behind the seat. Scully reached for the backpack she'd borrowed from Mulder, filled with a flashlight, extra batteries, note pads, a camera and the granola bars.
"This is the closest mine to the house," Johnson was saying. "There's no tunnels on the map going under the property, but you can never tell. Mine owners weren't too particular about property lines if they could get away with a little extra cash."
The mine entrance itself was open to the elements. "Not too many people would bother coming back to the mine, so they didn't worry about sealing it," Johnson told Scully.
"Of course, the township never did anything to force the mine owners to seal them up," he added. "No one wants to tick off the people who still might reopen the town's biggest industry."
"Technically speaking, we're trespassing," he said as Scully walked behind him into the darkness, the light at the entrance turning small behind her. "Of course, it'd take four days to figure out who owns this now, and another two days to get permission."
The air was cool, damp. Scully turned her collar up and shrank down into her coat. She turned on her flashlight.
Johnson stopped, rummaged in his pack for a can of spray paint, marked an arrow on the mine wall. "Better than bread crumbs," he said, then moved on, to the right, following some internal sense of direction.
They followed one tunnel only to find a dead end. Another took them down and down, but water seeped up from the floor of the mine, growing deeper and finally blocking their way.
Scully checked her watch. It was a little before noon. In the tunnels, she could barely see the walls for the darkness all around. Johnson made a comment, but she didn't catch the words as they echoed past her.
"Excuse me?" she said.
"I was just wondering how a little lady like you got into this kind of work -- not the kind of thing I think a pretty little thing like you could handle," Johnson was saying.
Scully bit her tongue, grateful for the darkness that the deputy couldn't see the look on her face. "I've seemed to handle it just fine, up to now," she said. The 21st century was closing in, Scully thought to herself, but some people just couldn't grasp the concept. No use pointing that out to Johnson though. The deputy knew his way out of the tunnels better than she did.
"My granddaughter, she's not too much younger than you," he said, sloshing past a puddle. "She's smart as a whip, studying at the beauty school so's she can earn her own 'till she gets married. She was homecoming queen last year."
"I'm sure she was," Scully said, wishing the old man would revert back to his habit of silence.
"Now what would you have done if the FBI hadn't gotten in the way? I'm guessing there's a good man who'd love to have you for his wife," Johnson made a sudden right turn into a tunnel Scully hadn't seen lurking in the darkness.
"I'd probably be a pathologist actually," she replied, then changed the subject. "Do you know where we are?"
Johnson stopped, turned his flashlight beam down to a compass. "We should be getting pretty close," he said. "Not tired, are you? We could take a break."
"No. I'm fine," Scully had no intention of mentioning her growling stomach, or her tired legs to Johnson if she could help it.
Mulder's head ached. His arm had stiffened into a half-bent position. He couldn't turn his arm to look at his watch or straighten it to his side. He switched the watch to his right wrist. It felt out of place.
He'd tried to make some notes on his laptop computer, only to give up. He couldn't keep his arm in place to type with both hands, and working one-handed left him frustrated.
He'd walked through town, trying to clear his mind. The library was two rooms in the back of the township hall -- half a dozen newspapers sat on the counter and popular fiction and non-fiction books crowded the shelves. There was barely room to walk through the stacks. A hand-printed sign asked for residents to approve a tax request next month to build a new library.
"I'm sorry," the librarian apologized. "We don't have much on local history here. The county might have something back at the Sault, but I don't have anything here."
It was just as well.
Every time Mulder tried to read, he could barely concentrate on the page. The pain thumped behind his eyes. He spent 10 minutes staring at the map Johnson had left him only to abandon the work when he couldn't figure out which way was up or down.
Mulder wished Scully were there. She could help him work it out. She was good at directions -- good at what was plain and simple, black and white and laid out before her.
He relied on her ability to cut past the extraneous elements around them. She was his sounding board, someone who could listen without judgment.
Without her, Mulder could lose himself, obsessed in the past and things he couldn't change. But Scully had better things to do, Mulder realized. She didn't need him slowing her down.
Mulder knew Scully could do better by herself, at least as far as the bureau was concerned. Without him, she wouldn't be weighed down by the comments about her "eccentric" partner or the whispered nickname of "Mrs. Spooky."
He'd told her that before, asking where she thought she'd be if he hadn't gotten in her way up the FBI's ladder. Scully claimed she probably would have spent the rest of her life behind a desk at the Academy.
"That's the problem with an instructor's life," she quipped. "You teach all the green agents how to do their jobs and then they decide you're far too valuable as a 'molder of young minds' to be spared out in the real world. Without you Mulder, I never would have known the joys of liver-eating serial killers or little green men."
Mulder was just grateful to have her sound presence. And right now, he'd be grateful when he could get some sleep.
He glanced at the clock. One more hour, he silently promised Scully. One more hour and then I get to sleep.
Mulder flicked the television back on. There were only three channels visible -- one of them filled with snow and the sound of a talk host introducing his victim/guest for the day. A soap opera filled another channel while on public television two other hosts were begging for pledges. He leaned back in the chair, thought about taking another walk. A soft knock at the door interrupted his thoughts.
Maggie Koehler stood at the door, a steaming tray covered with a dish towel in her hand. "Hi," she looked down at the floor, awkward with the moment. "Kenny told us what happened. He said your partner was out with Toivo. I thought I'd check in with you, see if you're OK."
"Come on in," Mulder stepped back, held the door open as she swept past him.
"I don't know if you've eaten, but I brought some lunch just in case," she set the tray on the table. "It's not much. Just some bean soup, some bread. We've got a little kitchenette in our room."
She finally stopped talking, looked up at Mulder, the bruise on his forehead. She looked away again. "I'm sorry," she said, sitting at the table. "It's silly, but I keep thinking that we shouldn't have bothered you with our troubles."
"Don't worry about it, Mrs. Koehler," Mulder said, sitting in front of the food. "I seem to have this knack of finding trouble wherever I go. I'm a regular magnet for it."
She smiled, relaxed. "Call me Maggie," she said. "And go on and eat. Don't be polite."
Mulder pulled the towel off the tray and the smell drifted up to him, prompting him to remember that he'd ignored the hunger pains in his stomach.
"Let me get you some water," Maggie said, walking back to fill a cup from the bathroom.
Mulder took a bite of the bread smothered with butter, then lifted a spoon of the thick soup to his mouth. "You've lived here all your life?" he asked before taking a bite.
"Lord no. I'm a troll," she said with a matter of fact tone, then giggled at herself and the expression on Mulder's face. "In Michigan, we call people from the U.P. Yoopers," she explained. "People from the lower peninsula are called 'trolls' because they live below the Mackinac Bridge. I'm from Flint. I met Jack back in college, when he headed down to Michigan State for farm studies. We got married two weeks after he graduated. My family was convinced that I was moving into the wilderness. They thought I'd be fighting off bears and living in the ice age."
She barely paused as she spoke. She seemed shy, out of place, uncertain what to do -- what to say.
"I'm a city girl by birth," she said. "But I belong here now."
She suddenly stood, zipped up the coat she'd never taken off. "And now," she continued. "I should leave you to your lunch. I'll pick up the dishes later. Don't worry about them -- you rest now, hear?" She was out the door before Mulder could respond.
Scully and Johnson trudged ahead in the mine's darkness. Scully wished Mulder were there -- or anyone else to talk to rather than Johnson.
The deputy suddenly lurched ahead, fumbled for his balance. Scully grabbed at the back of his jacket, pulled him toward her. In the beam of his flashlight, Scully could see the floor of the tunnel drop away. Pebbles dribbled over the edge.
"Thanks," Johnson said, leaning against the solid wall and pausing to catch his breath. "Guess we can't go no further that way."
Scully lowered her pack to the floor and moved cautiously to the edge of the hole. Rocks caved in toward the bottom. At the far side, more rocks clung to the walls, blocking the tunnel.
"Looks like part of this collapsed," Johnson said. He sat on a rock and fumbled in his pack for another lamp. He lit it and set it on the ground in front of him.
The black, coal-filled walls gave back little light, but Scully could see as well as Johnson that they could go no further. "Do you know where we are?" she asked. "Are we near the house?"
"Hard to say for certain. We could be right under it, but I think we're probably within a half-mile for sure. I guess we're about 30 -- maybe 50 feet down."
"Well if this happened last night it would explain the tremor we felt at the house," Scully said.
She sat beside Johnson, dug out the granola bars from her pack and handed him one wordlessly.
"Thanks," he said. "Of course, you can't tell how old this is. Could be it caved in last night -- it seems awful sturdy now, though. Maybe it's been this way for a long time."
"Maybe," Scully said. She stood, pulled her camera out of the pack, took a couple of shots to document the site, then slid the pack back onto her back. "Do you know of anyplace else we should look? If you don't, I suppose we could get out of here," she looked down at Johnson who groaned as he pushed himself onto his feet.
"Might as well go," he said. "I think I'm gonna sit in the sauna when I get home -- chase some of this chill out of my old bones."
He said nothing more, just gathered his lamp, pack and headed out of the tunnel.
The climb back to the surface seemed longer than Scully thought it should be. She worried if Johnson had lost his way, but then another of his painted arrows came back into sight.
The sunlight crowded into the tunnel at the entrance, cutting through the darkness.
Scully blinked her eyes, shielded them from the sudden transition. She looked down at the ground, unable to take in all the colors around her. Johnson grabbed an old pair of sunglasses in his truck, handed them to Scully. His own glasses had turned their shading in the sunlight. He sat in the truck for a moment, slipping the keys between his fingers.
"You know, people used to think we were all a bit strange because we miners used to shy away from the sunniest places, but spend your life down there, and even midnight seems like it's too bright," he said and turned the ignition, headed back down the two-track.
Mulder didn't respond when Scully knocked at his door. She used a spare key to let herself into his room.
The television was on, a cartoon with super-human heroes battling to save the earth. Mulder slept on as Scully snapped off the set, the blankets pulled up to his chin. She decided to let him sleep a little longer and noticed a short note on the table as she headed out of the room. "Call Rybkowski," was all it said.
Scully wrote a quick note, left it on the nightstand to let Mulder know she was back in case he woke up. She locked the door behind her and headed to her room. Rybkowski's patrol car pulled into the lot as she was unlocking her door.
"Agent Scully," he pushed his hat down onto his head as he stepped out of the car. "I saw Toivo's truck, figured you were back." Rybkowski suddenly smiled.
"Looks like you've seen all our dirty little secrets," he joked. "Anyway, just figured I'd tell you that the building inspector checked out the house. He says all the supporting walls are still in place. It's safe -- that is if you want to go back out there. Anything else you need?"
"Not right now -- nothing but a long shower, anyway."
Scully waved goodbye and eased into her own room. "Twenty minutes," she told herself. "Just 20 minutes to do nothing -- that's what I need."
She pulled off her boots, shed her coat and turned up the heat. She padded into the bathroom in stockinged feet, then laughed at her own reflection.
"So *that's* what he meant," Scully said out loud as she looked in the mirror. Dirt, mud and coal dust smeared across her forehead and cheek. Her nose had a speck of dust that looked like it was ready to attach itself permanently to her skin. Her eyes were bloodshot and shadows and her auburn hair had turned dark from the coal.
Scully started the shower and stripped off her filthy jeans and sweater. She dug clean clothes out from the bottom of her suitcase, then climbed into the shower.
She stood there until it seemed there was no more hot water, until her skin turned red from the heat. Steam filled the bathroom and the towels were thick. Scully let the moist warmth seep into her bones before she opened the door and dressed.
Dusk was creeping across the sky when she left the room.
This time, Mulder answered her knock -- a mumbled "Who is it," coming from inside the room. Scully heard the lock turning and Mulder pulled open the door before ambling back across the room. He was wearing jeans and an old t-shirt. He sat on the edge of the bed as Scully closed the door behind her and snapped on a lamp in the darkened space. Mulder's hair stuck out at every angle and he rubbed his eyes to force the murky corners of his mind away.
"How'd you sleep?" she asked.
"OK, I guess," he replied. "I got about four hours."
He forced his brain back into working order. "Did you find anything out there?" he finally asked, remembering where Scully had been.
"A lot of rocks. There's been a cave-in of some old tunnels near the house, but we can't tell whether it happened last night or three years ago."
Mulder nodded. "I, um, took a message," he started, pushing his fingers back through his hair.
"I saw," Scully answered before he'd finished.
Mulder looked straight at her. "Do you always make yourselves to home in other people's motel rooms, Scully?"
"Just yours, Mulder," she returned his slight smile. "I was going to go get some dinner. You up to it?"
"Anything to get away from these walls. Just give me a minute, will you?"
Mulder headed into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. Scully could hear the water running as she flipped absently through a visitor's guide to the Upper Peninsula.
Mulder emerged with his face freshly washed, some of the water still clinging to his hair. He reached into his duffel bag, pulled out a fresh shirt and stiffly pulled it over his head, grunting as he stretched the cloth to fit over his still-stiff arm.
"I thought I'd head back to the house again when we're done," Scully commented. "If it was that mine creaking that caused all the disturbances, then it *should* be quiet tonight."
"I'll go with you," Mulder said, reaching for the door and waiting as Scully crossed the room toward him.
"Maybe you shouldn't, Mulder," Scully said, looking up at him. The area lights in the parking lot accentuated the dark circles under his eyes, the bruise on his forehead.
"If you're right, and it's just the mine that's been causing all the trouble, then we shouldn't have any problems, right?" Mulder had a familiar, determined set to his mouth. "So what's the difference if I stretch out on the bed here or the couch there?"
Scully didn't feel like arguing. Besides, she'd rather have some company out at the house, in case she was wrong.
"Let's just get something to eat, OK?" she asked. "We can argue about it later."
The diner was half-filled with families and teenagers.
Young boys with varsity jackets were full of talk of the upcoming baseball season. Scully couldn't understand the attraction here, where the ground still waited for spring. A young woman took their order -- the waitress they'd had that first night was working behind the counter. She nodded and smiled at them.
Scully and Mulder sat in silence for a few moments, the conversations of the town crowding around them.
Mulder shifted stiffly, leaned against the side of the booth, his back to the window and the blackness that had settled outside. "So why did you?" he asked Scully.
"Excuse me?" she stared over at him, not certain if she'd missed the first part of the question.
"The FBI. If you didn't join to be 'my nursemaid,' why did you?" he turned a guilty eye her way. "Come on. Give."
Scully sighed, suppressed a laugh. "Mulder, you really don't want to know about my professional history, do you? There's nothing exciting here." She paused, only to see her partner looking at her, ready for her reply. "The challenge, I guess," she finally said. "A way to push myself..."
"That's for the recruiting poster," Mulder interrupted. "I mean, why did you even consider it?"
Scully stopped, thought about it. "To help, I guess," she gave an embarrassed chuckle. "That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it."
"Not for you," Mulder said.
"I don't know. Doctors are a dime a dozen, and with my interest in pathology? Other than being outright creepy, well, let's face it, you can't do much to help the patient until it's *way* too late. Putting it all together with crime research offered a, well, a new twist on an old game. The bureau gave me a chance to dissect one body, if you will, to help another." Scully shook her head. "That sounds morbid," and shivered.
"It's not," Mulder scooted toward her, leaned across the white-paneled table. "You do help."
Their salads arrived, slightly wilted iceberg lettuce and a few carrot shavings topped with dressing. Mulder retreated back across to his side of the booth. He fumbled awkwardly with the plate in front of him.
"You've helped me," he said, his whispered words barely audible.
Scully wasn't sure how to respond. She stared down at her salad, pushed her fork down into it, finally looked up to see Mulder glancing at her. "We've helped each other," she finally said.
They spent the rest of the meal in simple, easy conversation. Mulder lecturing her on the hockey abilities of the local college that won the national championship three years earlier and Scully filling him in on Johnson's social skills.
"He called me 'Little Lady,'" she said, shuddering at the thought. "'Little Lady.'"
"And did you fill him in on the last 50 years of social progress?"
"Well, not knowing where we were at the time, I figured silence was the smarter idea at the time."
Mulder fumbled with his sandwich -- 'finger food,' he'd called it, although with his left arm conspicuously kept out of use below the table, he still had problems keeping the toppings between the two thick slices of homemade bread. Mustard and mayonnaise slid out onto his fingers. He gave up using the napkin to clean off his hands and excused himself, heading back toward the bathroom.
Scully closed her eyes, fought back a yawn and a desire for sleep. She opened her eyes again, stopped the waitress and asked for coffee. The caffeine wouldn't do much to help her nerves, she knew, but at least it would help keep her alert.
Scully tried to think about how many hours she'd have to spend at the house tonight. Even if it's quiet for a while, she thought to herself, that's no guarantee if it's going to remain quiet. She didn't want to send the Koehler's back to a house that would betray them again.
"Hi!," a small voice interrupted her. Scully looked down to see a boy looking up at her, holding out his hand to shake hers. "Hi!" he repeated. "I'm James. I'm three. What's your name?"
"Um," Scully was taken aback, finally went along with him. "Dana."
"Hi Dana. I try to meet three new people a day. You're number two," James was blond, smiling, happy with the world around him. Scully couldn't help but return the smile.
"He's Mulder," James said as Mulder walked past Scully and settled into the booth. "He's number one!"
He then ran down the aisle, toward a woman -- his mother, most likely -- who took her son's hobby in stride.
"Number one in the hearts and minds of children everywhere," Mulder joked. "Does that make me special?"
"I'd never argue that you weren't Mulder," Scully reached for the cream as the waitress approached with the coffee pot.
The road up to the house was a familiar one now. Scully eased the rental car out of the parking lot and turned onto the main road.
A full moon hung in the sky and stars filled the horizon. The pale light illuminated the thin pine trees along the muddy ditches. Fog rose from a narrow stream and hung in the air.
The house was quiet when they walked in. Mulder tapped his boots against the concrete steps to shake the mud off. He considered taking them off, but it took too much time and effort to lace them up again with his stiff arm. Someone had swept the broken glass off to the side of the kitchen floor, but the food stains remained. Scully's shoes squeaked and the rubber clung to the sticky floor. She considered finding a mop to clean up the debris. Someone had tracked dirt across the carpet -- the building inspector, most likely -- and shoved the debris in the living room into one pile.
Scully reached for a lamp, flipped the switch and felt a surge of elation shock through her when the ever-burning bulb flipped into darkness.
"That's a good trick Scully," Mulder said. "Think you could cut out my electric bill that easy?"
Scully ignored him, tested other lights.
She knew the operating electricity was no true indication that her theory was correct. It might have nothing to do with the mine -- after all, unlike the sounds and shaking she could find no way to connect the two events. But it was something.
"You know that doesn't prove you're right," Mulder said, echoing her thoughts.
"Are you always this stubborn, Mulder?"
"I prefer to think of it as tenacity," he said with a smile.
"Are you going to be in this mood all night?" Scully asked.
"I knew I should have left you back at the motel," Scully laughed. "It's going to be a long night."
"Scully, I'm hurt," Mulder's mood was as light as hers. "Do you mean you'd rather spend more time with Toivo Johnson?"
Scully fixed him with a stare. "Don't get me started."
Scully walked back into the kitchen, stared down at the sticky floor. She still had the urge to clean it -- give the Koehler's back some semblance of their home when she and Mulder finally left it. There'd be time later, she finally decided.
Mulder settled himself into one of the easy chairs. Might as well get comfortable, he reasoned. He leafed through one of the magazines -- a two-month-old copy of Reader's Digest -- then reached for another one. "Hey Scully, want to read about the new fertilizer for dry bean production?" he called out. "Looks like a great read."
Scully left the kitchen behind, plopped into another chair, eased herself back. She stretched her weary legs out in front of her and leaned her head against the pillow. The cushions were soft and she dropped into relaxation. "Pass," she said.
Mulder woke to the sound of alarms. He sat up, tried to place the sounds, the light around him. He choked.
Smoke alarm. The high-pitched squeal echoed through the house.
Mulder could feel his stomach clench and tighten, the old fear rising with the smell of burning wood.
He held his breath, closed his eyes and cleared his mind. He couldn't see Scully, forced himself onto his feet and called for her.
"Here!" Scully stood in the hallway leading to the bedrooms, emptying a fire extinguisher onto flames climbing up to the ceiling. "There's another extinguisher by the back door," she yelled to Mulder. "Get it!"
He took a breath of the smoke-filled air, ordered his feet to move. The extinguisher hung near the basement stairs. He yanked it off its hook, carried it back to Scully. The fire was winning. Yellow tongues of flames sprung past the bathroom door. Scully had backed out toward the dining room. She choked on the smoke, grabbed the extinguisher.
"What happened?" he yelled to her and reached for the kitchen telephone.
"Don't know," Scully yelled back.
There was no dial tone on the line. Mulder went for his cellular telephone.
Scully prayed for enough power in the extinguisher to hold off the fire until the fire crews could arrive. Mulder dialed, frowned, shook his head and dialed again. He kept backing toward the door, unable to stop his feet from moving toward safety. His hands shook and he had to force his fingers into position to operate the small buttons.
"I can't get through!" he yelled to Scully. "It keeps cutting out!"
The fire was taking control. It held the rear of the house and Scully could feel her skin turn red. There was nothing she could do. Nothing to stop it. She looked for some new weapon to fight the flames.
"We've got to get out of here," Mulder was saying. "Come on!"
Scully could hear a window breaking and the fire took new strength from the air blowing into the house.
"Come on!" Mulder yelled again.
The wood crackled around her. The fire popped. Something screamed. Scully tried to take another breath, choked on the smoke. "I'm right behind you," she called back.
She took a step toward the door, then turned back, grabbed the knitting bag and stuffed a photo album into its deep pocket as she ran for the door. Mulder was waiting outside. He was pale, shaking, but still dialing the cellular telephone. He finally made connection, shouted out the information and lowered it from his ear.
The flames broke through the roof and turned the night sky blood red.
Scully was handing in a week's worth of paperwork when Mulder got the package. He'd already went through it once and made a telephone call by the time she got back to their cluttered office. He handed the stack to Scully.
"It's from Michigan," he told her. "State police fire unit finally finished its report at the Koehler house."
The fire had destroyed the building. By the time the volunteer fire crew had arrived, the flames had pulled the walls in on themselves. There wasn't much left to investigate.
"The arson unit searched everything that was left," Mulder walked around the desk, flipped the reports in Scully's hand to the final page of the report.
"Undetermined origin?" she asked, looking to the final paragraph.
"None of their tests have given them a clue as to its cause," Mulder repeated. "But they did decide that the flame pattern ruled out arson."
Scully took the reports over to her desk, sat down and leafed through the rest of the papers -- diagrams of the fire's spread and chemical tests on the soot and residue.
"That it? No answer? Just, 'Sorry about your house?'"
"Actually, the Koehler's have what they need to get a new house now. Fire *is* a legitimate claim on a homeowner's insurance policy," Mulder explained. "I called Rybkowski."
"They going to build in the same place?"
"I asked," he said. "They sold the land. The tribe bought it back. They're planning to turn it into a wildlife refuge."
Scully leaned forward, one elbow on her desk. She pushed her hair back behind her ear. "I hope the Koehler's find some nice, quiet place this time," she said.
Scully could hear the footsteps as someone passed the closed office door.
Mulder nodded, turned toward his desk, then spun around, reached for his suit jacket hanging near the door. "How about lunch?" he asked. "I'll buy -- 'little lady.'"
Scully looked up to see Mulder with an expectant grin on his face, waiting for her to take the bait. "You know, Mulder, sometimes you can be a pain in the ass," she said, but grabbed for her coat.