Summary: There's something in the woods...
He held up the "MISSING" poster when she walked in the door after her lunch break. It had been such a calm, quiet day until that point. She'd caught up on paperwork and he hadn't said a word. When she glanced over at him, he was surfing the net. That was when she'd given in to the pain in her stomach and the unbearable craving for her favorite sandwich with extra dressing at the little cafe across the street. She'd promised herself she would work out after work. Now it looked like she wouldn't get the chance.
"Have you heard about this?" he asked, with that trademark glow in his eyes. She shook her head, setting her hair bouncing around her ears and the look in his eyes changed, for just a second, and she knew at that moment he was noticing her. As a person. Quite possibly as a woman who was standing right next to him, so close he could jab her in the stomach with his elbow if he moved an inch or two. He blinked and the expression disappeared, so quickly she had to wonder if she'd imagined it, replaced again with his obsession and the thrill of the chase.
"Three kids went into the woods on a school project."
"Wait, let me guess, never to be seen or heard from again," she said drolly. "They look like pretty big kids." She peered over his shoulder at the pictures on the poster he'd downloaded and printed out.
"A college project," he corrected. "And they were seen and heard from again. Two days ago, local police found a bag in the woods. Inside was the film they'd shot for their videography project. The one they disappeared making."
"I notice you didn't say died," she pointed out, skimming the flyer. He hated it when she read over his shoulder. "They disappeared in 1994? That was five years ago!"
"If we go up there right now, the local sheriff will let us watch the footage. Something weird happened to those kids. Something weird was already in those woods, which was what they went in there to investigate." He grinned at her and for a moment the way his wide smile stretched his face, she thought she was looking at a death's head. They were both too tired to go on a case like this right now.
She rolled her eyes, then leaned back against his desk, feeling the satiety of her full stomach and the pain in her sinuses. She closed her eyes and rubbed pinched the spot on either side of the bridge of her nose, digging her fingers into the tender, inflamed skin of her ocular cavities. He squeezed her arm and she opened her eyes. "Aliens?" she sighed, looking at him warily.
He just raised his eyebrows at her. "Do you believe in witches?"
"Only the kind you see on Halloween," she said.
"But witches do exist," he said, getting up and beginning to put on his trenchcoat, leaving his computer running and connected to the internet. Scully made a grab to turn it off, and stopped herself. If he wanted to waste Bureau resources, that was his choice. "Recently the United States Army was forced to recognize Wicca as an accepted religion and allow the wiccans to celebrate their holidays."
"Are we talking about Wiccans or witches, Mulder?" she asked. She hadn't had the chance to take her own coat off, just as she was certain she wouldn't have the chance to go home and pack her things before they left on this latest goosechase. "Wicca is an accepted religion. Witches are something entirely different. Witches are women who've traditionally been too powerful, leading to a rebellion in the community born out of fear and loathing, generally begun and carried out by men who felt threatened." She watched him load a couple of files into his bag. "What's that?"
"In the same area where the kids disappeared, a serial killer operated in the 1940s. The FBI has some records from that era. I read about the case when I was with the Behavioral Sciences Unit," he said. "At the time they were baffled, but now..."
"He can't even compare with the horrors we've seen in the last fifty years," she diagnosed. How many of those horrors had she faced herself? Untold numbers of children murdered, serial killers, monsters who wore men's' faces. Mulder had seen even more than she had. "You think there's a copycat killer at work in the area?"
"It's more plausible than a witch, Scully," he told her playfully and she wondered who the hell he was and what he'd done with her partner. He flipped off the lights in their office and held the door open wide for her to walk into the hall while he locked the door behind them. He was more skeptical now, she knew. She wished she could take credit for influencing him to see the light of reason. But with Mulder, it was something different. At times it made him look haunted. With the advent of reason, he'd become another of the faithless. She knew it made him question, and the questions were harder than the ones he'd asked when he was a believer.
"Have you ever heard of the Blair Witch?" he asked her when they were settled comfortably in the car, travelling at 60 miles an hour toward Maryland. He glanced at her and she shook her head.
"Burkittsville, Maryland used to be a town called Blair. And in the 1700s, there is a tale of a woman who made children disappear. She was driven out into the woods, where she died when the winter turned cold. And ever since then, it's been said she still walks in those woods."
"That would be a really good story if it were dark and we had some s'mores," she told him. Although he was a good storyteller. He'd made a career of telling stories and making some people believe them. "So you don't believe it." He sounded disappointed.
"You haven't given me enough facts to convince me. I'm sure there was a woman who lived in the 1700s, probably more than one in fact, who people called a witch because she was a widow and had no husband or father to look after her. She was an independent woman and owned her own property in an era when such things were not allowed. People found her threatening because she was different, and perhaps because she was pretty and men found her a temptation, and so they drove her out. Dead she would be no threat to them." She saw the sidelong glance he cast at her. "Death is final and permanent, Mulder. You and I both know that. There is no such thing as ghosts."
"You know what would happen to someone who said that in a horror movie," he said with a mischievous glance at her.
"Life is not a horror movie," she said forcefully, which only made him give her another skeptical look. "It's not," she added softly, not realizing it made her sound as though she were trying to convince herself.
"Well, thank you, Scully, I had no idea witches were a feminist issue until now," he said, the edge of sarcasm creeping into his voice.
She knew he was trying to provoke her, but she couldn't help saying one last thing on the subject. "In the Salem witch trials, there was one male victim amid hundreds of women who were jailed and killed. Tell me it's not a feminist issue."
He didn't say anything, just tapped his hands against the steering wheel until it annoyed her so badly she had to turn on the radio. She wished she'd had the chance to use the bathroom before they left on this trip, biting her lip and looking at the mileage on the car. She didn't want to ask, "Are we there yet?" and nor did she want to ask him to stop. So she crossed her legs and waited, looking out the window, figuring he'd get hungry sooner or later.
They reached Burkittsville, population 400, in the middle of the afternoon. It was too early for dinner and Scully was sleepy, lulled by the constant motion of the car and the zipping of the white highway divider line alongside her window. She rubbed her eyes and had a head rush when she got out of the car, the world almost completely fading to black before she could see again, blinking futilely.
"You okay?" Mulder looked at her with concern.
She just nodded, following him into the tiny police station. Her heeled shoes clattered against the plain tile floor and she spotted the "Women" sign on the restroom door immediately. "You go ahead," she said, pushing the door open and going inside.
She paused a moment to arrange her hair in the mirror and rub off the last of her lipstick before emerging. She was surprised to see Mulder leaning on the wall outside the door, waiting for her. "You should have said something," he told her sternly.
"Not a big deal," she said lightly, walking alongside him to the police chief's office on the other side of the small building. They both shook hands with the man, who was younger than she'd expected. For some reason, she always seemed to imagine rural police chiefs as being portly and bald, with friendly smiles that made wrinkles appear at the corners of their eyes. This man was younger than forty, with a firm handshake and boring looks. With thick brown hair combed from a side part, he could have been punched from the same plastic mold as Barbie's boyfriend Ken.
"Here's our files on this matter," he said, getting directly down to business. A stack of thick manila folders was lying on his desk, waiting for them. Next to the folders was a plastic grocery bag with videotapes inside.
"That's the footage you found?" Mulder looked interested.
She watched as the policeman swallowed hard and nodded. "It's not easy to watch," he admitted. "But it's what made me call you." When Mulder looked interested, the man added, "You have something of a reputation. I remembered one of the FBI agents we had out here when this first happened mentioning you. I got some information from some of my colleagues, but never followed up. When I saw those tapes, I knew you were the one."
Mulder shot a self-satisfied look at Scully, but it wasn't as bragging as it should have been. He looked tired and it made her want to act concerned about him. She squashed the impulse, touching one of the folders. She glanced at the police chief for permission and got it. She picked it up, thumbing through. There was everything from baby pictures to college transcripts on one of the missing kids, a girl named Heather Donohue. "Thorough," she said.
"We had the time and we didn't know where any of this would lead us," the police chief told her. "The families hired private investigators. They didn't want to give up hope. You won't find gravestones for any of these kids in the town cemetery. Even now."
"Do their parents know you've found the tapes?" Scully asked.
"They know the footage has been found, and they have some idea of what's on it. I haven't had any requests to watch it from them. I think they already know. I don't want to cause any of these people more pain." He put both of his hands on the table and leaned on them. "This thing has come close to tearing this town apart. People here used to trust each other. We've had some trouble like this in the past, and we've gotten past it. For this to happen now...the fingers of blame have been pointed in all directions. I don't think I have to tell the two of you about human nature. I don't want any of that stirred up again and I don't want parents to start being afraid that the Blair Witch is gonna steal their babies. I want your investigation carried out as quietly as possible. Most of what you'll need to know you'll find in those files. We asked everyone every conceivable question."
"That might severely limit our investigation," Scully pointed out, wondering if they were wasting their time. When she looked at Mulder, she knew he was suspecting the police chief was covering up some ungodly truth.
"When people go missing and they're never found...their bodies are never found and they're just gone...there can never be closure," the police officer said. "It's a big gaping wound and time doesn't do much for it."
Mulder nodded gravely. "We won't disturb anyone," he promised, picking up the bag of tapes, leaving Scully to bundle the thick files into her arms.
"There's a motel a little ways up the road. You probably passed it on your way in. A small general store, not much more than a 7-11. Nearest town's some miles away. We don't have a restaurant or a gas station. Just the basics. That's how this town is and that's how it probably always will be." The police chief pulled out his business card and scrawled on the back. "That's my home number, don't hesitate to call if you have any questions."
They nodded and Scully shifted the files in her arms, locking one hand around the opposite wrist to try to keep them from slipping to the floor. Mulder turned, slinging the bag from side to side and she followed, her arms aching by the time she dumped the reams of paper into the trunk.
"Seems pretty thorough," she commented, not knowing what to say next. With his singular focus, Mulder got into the car and started it, leaving her standing out by the trunk, worrying about him and how this was going to turn out. Whenever people got going about "missing" rather than dead, it got to him. He couldn't help it, and she couldn't blame him, but sometimes the very thing that made him such a driven investigator - his sister's disappearance - also blinded him.
He drove to the motel they'd passed, so small it wasn't even a name brand one. It was beginning to get dark already, in the way of the fall, and without lights from the city, the darkness surrounding them was complete. She almost waited in the car while he went in to register for rooms, but thought the better of it, dashing after him and hoping he wouldn't notice, that he wouldn't accuse her of being afraid of the dark.
Sometimes the dark seemed to have eyes that watched her. It made the hair rise on the back of her neck and goosebumps form across her shoulders, as though she could feel the gaze of inhuman creatures obsessed with her. She wasn't afraid of the dark - just of the impractical leanings of her imagination.
She stood behind him and he looked surprised to see her there, as though he'd completely forgotten her existence. It wasn't a look she liked to see. The motel desk clerk returned from the back room with a VCR in his hands and gave it to Mulder.
Mulder shoved it immediately into her hands and scooped up their room keys while she stood there trying not to drop the thing. He drove around to the back of the two-story motel, with its typical railings on the second story and big windows above small wall-set air and heating units.
Their rooms were on the first floor and Scully took the VCR into hers, because there was nowhere else to put it. Her overnight bag swung awkwardly from her arm as she pushed the door open and the motel smell hit her. Even after so many nights, years of nights, spent in motels, the smell was never home. It was a combination of cleaning products and cigarettes and polyester bedding and strangers. She dumped the VCR on the dresser next to the TV and turned on the lights, looking at the window. She didn't like to stay on the first floor.
Scully quickly stripped the bedspread from the bed. She knew what kind of mites and bugs and germs lived in motel bedspreads. They never got washed, not like the sheets, which could be a horror in themselves. She wadded it up and dropped it into the closet where she wouldn't have to look at its brown and orange pattern. Her bag rested in the chair.
She gave in to the urge to peek around the curtains into the night. Their car was the only one in the lot. Very likely they were alone. The sound of the connecting door opening made her jump, even though she knew in her rational mind it was only Mulder.
He flopped down on her bed and then sat up a little, as though noticing something was amiss. "You didn't get a bedspread?"
"I took it off."
"You always do that," he said, crawling back up from the bed to connect the wires from the VCR to the television on the dresser. His hair fell down over his eyes as he bent to look at the markings and she felt the urge to ruffle it, to feel its glossiness under her fingers. What would he do if she gave in to the urge?
"There's all kinds of things you can catch from unwashed bedding. Who knows who slept here last," she said.
"Tell me again what I can get from a nice rare steak," he invited.
"Speaking of steak, Mulder, what are we going to do for dinner?" She crossed her arms and looked at him.
"Order a pizza? I don't know."
"The police chief said there weren't any restaurants in town and this isn't the sort of place that has room service," she informed him.
"I'm not that hungry anyway," he said, popping the first of the tapes into the VCR and jumping back onto her bed.
Well I am. She didn't say the words. She felt she shouldn't have to. He should know. He should try to make his life like a normal person's, someone who ate at regular times and slept when it was night. But he didn't care about that. The problem of no food was easily solved by not being hungry. She picked up her bag and went to find the vending machines.
"Don't you want to see this?" he called after her, but she didn't answer, just closed the door firmly behind her.
Out in the dark again. There's nothing that can hurt you, she told herself as she waited a second for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. She expected to hear wolves howling, but there was nothing and the silence was as ominous as the sound of predators lurking behind the trees.
The vending machines were near the motel office, which she saw was now dark and closed. Her watch said it wasn't even six o'clock yet. She shook her head and bought candy and soda, then found the real treasure - a machine with some actual items of real food, like preservative laden burritos and microwaveable popcorn, plus an old microwave. She cooked up some popcorn and took it back to the room.
Mulder's head perked up as soon as he smelled the fresh buttery snack. "This is my popcorn," she told him, but he'd already wrested it from her hands and was helping himself. She sighed. There were worse things in the world to resign yourself to than a packet of M&Ms and a Pepsi. Even though she'd wanted real food.
She sat with her back against the headboard, crossing her feet in front of her, her shoes and jacket still on. Mulder had disrobed down to his T-shirt and his jacket, shirt and tie now adorned the floor like stepping stones. She pulled the first of the file folders onto her lap and began to page through, looking at the pictures and reading page after page of interviews with family, friends, loved ones, classmates and teachers.
Mulder was absorbed in the television, which was playing one of the tapes found in the woods. The faces on the screen were those of the young adults she was reading about - Heather, Michael and Joshua.
"Aren't you watching this?" Mulder asked again, glancing at her.
"I can see it." She could see that if they'd turned it in as a documentary, they would have gotten an F. The camera work was uneven and terrible and they spent more time talking to each other than they did finding evidence of the witch in the woods.
Finally, she finished the files, her eyes feeling raw and dry from all the reading, her fingers dirty from turning page after page. The clock by the bed said eleven. Mulder was still glued to the television. She wondered why they bothered to get two rooms.
Scully got up from the bed and he groaned a protest as she crossed between him and the television, blocking his view for a few seconds. "How many tapes are there?" she asked him, washing her face in the bathroom.
"Twenty hours," he said.
She made a face at herself in the mirror and stepped out of her shoes, pulling off her jacket to reveal the tailored T-shirt underneath. This was as comfortable as she was going to get for a while, she thought, walking back into her room.
"Why are the lights off?" she demanded.
"You were done reading," he said, glancing at her again and patting the bed next to him. She sat down carefully, looking at him and then at the screen. They were crossing a river. She thought she remembered them crossing a river before, but as she listened to the voice over, she realized they had crossed the river before.
Voice over, she thought. Put it on television and it becomes a movie. These kids filmed their own doom. She looked at Mulder, wondering if they should just put in the last tape and get it over with. He would protest, she knew.
"There's still some popcorn," he said, picking the bag up from the floor and handing it to her.
"Thanks for saving some," she said, digging her hand inside.
"I was full." He was lying on his stomach with his knees bent and his bare feet in the air, like a kid sprawled in front of a family room TV set. His eyes looked swollen and tired, trained on the jouncy images on the screen from where his head was pillowed against his arm. She listened to him breathe and to the sound of her teeth gnashing the popcorn into submission.
"Have you learned anything yet?" she asked.
"I knew it!" he cried, startling her. "Michael hid the map."
He was as involved in it as he would be if it were a movie. She said his name sharply and he glanced at her. "Why don't you get more comfortable?" he asked. "Stretch out, it's been a long day." She didn't move. "We could just put in the last tape, but I think what was going on in these kids' heads is as important as any evidence they might have come across."
"If you were the one who murdered them, wouldn't you have taken the tapes with any evidence on them?" she proposed.
"No one knew where the tapes were."
"And they just appeared, in the middle of the forest, perfectly preserved, five years later?" Her eyebrows shot up. "It's a hoax," she realized, a sick feeling in her stomach. After the thousand pages detailing the hell they'd put their families and friends through, could she really believe these kids had faked it all?
Kids today are callous, she told herself, unable to believe she'd actually used the phrase "kids today" as though she were an octogenarian.
"They were in the cellar of a house targeted for demolition," Mulder told her.
"Is the house still there?" she asked. He nodded and she knew he'd had the same thought. They had to go to the house. Yawning, she gave in and stretched out on the bed, sliding like a snake onto her stomach next to her partner. Even though the bed was queen-sized, he moved so his hip was touching hers. His body was warm and she didn't move away, folding her arms and resting her head as he had done.
After a while, she was the one who got up to change the tapes. Then she realized it was because her partner's eyes were closed and his breathing had evened out into that of a deep sleep. She didn't want to disturb him or wake him, but she didn't want to waste time, either. She had no trouble convincing herself she wasn't that interested in what happened in the end.
It began to get creepy, and Joshua disappeared one night while they were tormented by what they thought of as the witch. She frowned, thinking Mulder should see this, but she couldn't bring herself to wake him. So she hit the Stop button and the tape went off, plunging the motel room into darkness.
She took a deep breath and gave in to the desire for sleep that made her eyelids so heavy. She curled onto her side, the remote control still in her hand, and closed her eyes. It was only an hour or so until dawn and then the sunlight would wake them both, she told herself. It was only an hour, what was the difference of an hour in an investigation of something that had happened five years before?
She dreamed she was the witch. Her long red hair fell in tangles into her eyes and her dress was dirty and worn. Her feet were bare and cold as the townsfolk turned her away. A child pointed a bony finger at her and she cast the evil eye back, only to find the child's mother glaring and picking up a stone.
It hit her in the face, just above her right eye. It stung and tears came, but she wouldn't let them fall. Just kept her head up and kept walking, aware of the crowd at her back and what they would do to her if she tried to come back into town.
It wasn't her fault her husband died. It wasn't her fault the baby had taken ill and died, too, as children were wont to do in a time of sickness. She had no other kin and a talent for healing, or had until that time. She had roots and herbs in her cellar, but the people who came to see her died anyway.
She was aware of the talk in the town and she couldn't help it, any more than she could help the way Master Reynolds looked at her when she walked past his store, any more than she could help the way he'd forced himself upon her and she'd had to let him because she had nothing to trade for the goods she needed. She couldn't help that Goody Reynolds knew and blamed her. Things happened to a woman when she had no husband, father or brother to protect her.
She stopped, at the edge of the wood and faced the rabid crowd behind her. Some of them had torches, like they wanted to burn her. "A curse on you and yours," she spat at them. "A curse on your children for what ye've done to me!"
She started awake, thinking the dream was real and that she was going to freeze to death in the woods. Her breath caught and she wasn't cold and it wasn't dark. "Are you okay?" She felt Mulder's hand at her back, gentle, steadying her.
"Fine," she murmured, wanting the thoughts of the dream to go away. She got up from the bed, the warm spot on her back burning where he'd touched her. She put cold water on her face but still felt upheaval inside. It was just a dream, she told herself and waited to believe it.
Mulder appeared in the doorway of the bathroom. "Sure you're okay?"
She nodded, toweling off her face. "There was something interesting on the tape I think you should see. I turned it off when I realized you were asleep."
"You should have woken me."
"You needed to sleep," she said, businesslike, even though his voice was soft and his eyes were curiously following her. He was worried about her. "It was just a bad dream," she said, to try to make him stop looking at her that way. He nodded, still watching her. "How long have you been awake?"
"Long enough," he said and she couldn't help but frown, confused - had he been watching her sleep? She looked at her watch, surprised to find it was nine. They'd slept side by side for longer than she'd thought. Then he walked out of the bathroom and she heard the video start up again. For a second she had enough space to breathe, without him hovering over her, and then she heard the terrified breathing and screaming from the videos and wished she could plug her ears to keep from hearing it.
She steeled herself against it, and against the image she saw in the mirror. The witch from her dream was still with her, even as she sat back down on the bed next to Mulder to watch the last few tapes.
She couldn't look away by the last. Joshua never returned and Heather and Michael went into a house to look for him, the house where the serial killer had kept the children and killed them. It had to be the same house. Where the tapes ended. And where they had been found.
She was shivering when he turned the tape off and he looked at her. "What do you think happened?" he asked her, his eyes still gentle and careful when he looked at her.
"I don't know. Someone who knew they were there killed them. Or they scared themselves to death." She turned away, picking up her suitcase to find a fresh set of clothes for the day that was already half gone.
"We have to go there, Scully," he said. "We have to go into the woods, to that house."
"I know," she said and she wasn't pleased about it. "First we have to get something to eat and some gear. I didn't bring anything, did you?" Her overnight travel case contained pajamas and an extra suit and shampoo in tiny bottles, not jeans or camping equipment.
He shook his head. "I'll meet you at the car in fifteen minutes."
She nodded, although she was thinking fifteen minutes wasn't long enough to take a decent shower. She wondered why they rented two rooms at all if he was going to sleep in hers. And she hadn't eaten in so long she'd completely forgotten about being hungry.
She managed the shower as best she could. It didn't take long to wash, but she wished she had the time to let the hot water soak into the cold places between her bones, the places haunted by the legend of a witch she didn't believe in. The heat and the water would convince her she was safe, but there wasn't time.
She combed her wet hair back behind her ears and dressed, reaching the car just as Mulder was emerging from his room, his hair still sticking up in wet clumps from where he'd rubbed the towel over it but not combed it back down. His hair had gotten long. Hers had, too, she supposed. Their last case had been long, and complicated, involving weeks of work in conjunction with other departments. They hadn't had time to sneeze, let alone think of things like haircuts.
He drove away from Burkittsville, following the map to the next town, which was large enough to have a strip of fast food restaurants and a sporting goods store. He didn't say anything when she ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a soda; just went one better with two burgers and super size fries and paid for them both. They devoured in silence, sharing an open packet of ketchup until he asked, "What was the dream about?"
She didn't answer right away, finishing as much of the cheeseburger as she intended to and wadding up its paper wrapper. "You know," she said, watching him chew on a limp french fry, "back in the day, people would have called me a witch."
"You've heard me talking behind your back," he said, teasing her mildly.
She smiled wryly at his joke. "I'm serious," she said, taking a sip of soda. "An independent, unmarried woman with no father or brothers as guardians. And red hair used to be taken as a sign of a witch. As well as freckles and moles."
"Your secret is safe with me," he said, his voice more serious than she thought he'd intended. He was staring at the mole on her upper lip that she generally covered with makeup. His eyes then went up to gaze at her hair for several long moments before he looked away. "You do have that air around you."
"What air?" she frowned.
"You make things happen." She looked at him like she didn't understand, but he didn't elaborate. He checked his watch. "I want to get back to Blair to conduct some interviews. Despite what the police chief said, there are questions that weren't asked in those files."
"Blair?" she said and he looked at her blankly. "You said Blair, you meant Burkittsville."
"I didn't..." He stopped because it didn't matter. "Anyway, by the time we do that, it'll be too late to head into the woods so we're looking at another night in the motel before we go looking for evidence and that house. Okay with you?"
"Mulder, have I ever told you how much I absolutely loathe camping?" she asked and he laughed out loud, a sound she didn't often hear.
"It'll be fun," he said quietly, his eyes serious, but he was teasing her in that deadpan way he had.
"I'm sure that's what those kids thought, too," she said, and fought the shiver that came over her. She began tidying up their table. "Finished?"
He nodded, cramming the rest of the fries into his mouth in a large bundle. He swept out of the booth, leaving her to dump the trays in the trash. She followed him out to the car and they drove the miles back to Burkittsville, where she knew they were bound to make people upset. Especially the police chief, with his "Missing is worse than dead" speech. Was he covering something up? She couldn't shake the question from her mind.
An hour later found her feeling bloated, standing on the doorstep of yet another nondescript home of a victim, waiting for them to open the door so they could look at her and Mulder's badges, just as this woman did. A sad, knowing look came over her face. "This is about Heather," she said, turning to go inside.
They followed her. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Donohue," Scully said. "But with the tapes being found, the investigation has needfully been reopened."
"We want to find out what happened to your daughter. Isn't that what you want?" Mulder asked. The woman nodded and sat down, pressing her face into her hands for a moment. Scully looked at Mulder helplessly and he nodded, moving in closer to the woman to ask the questions he had.
Scully got up to look at the photographs on the fireplace mantle. Some of them she recognized from the police file. All of them were from happier times.
"She was a good girl. Headstrong, yes, but...she was going to win an Oscar, she said. And I believed she could do it."
"Did she have any enemies?" Mulder asked, and there was a long pause.
"No," the girl's mother said finally.
"What about ex-boyfriends?" Scully picked up.
"She was too busy. She went to school, and worked -"
"So she wasn't dating Joshua Leonard?"
Mrs. Donohue gaped at her. Mulder looked surprised as well. "No," Heather's mother said.
Scully nodded, wondering just how much the mother knew about her college age daughter. "Did your daughter live at home while she was attending school?"
She nodded. "To save money. What are you getting at?"
"Nothing," Mulder said quickly, frowning at Scully, trying to signal her to be quiet. She took his cue and returned to looking at the photos on the mantle, not even listening as he asked a few more questions. He said her name sharply and she joined him as they left.
"Where did that come from?" he demanded in that disgusted way he tended to get, opening the door of the car and climbing inside.
"It was a hunch," Scully said.
"Since when do you have hunches?" he sneered and what little camaraderie and closeness she might have been feeling the night before and earlier that day disappeared.
"It's something I thought I saw on the tape."
"Thought you saw is right," Mulder said. "They hated each other."
"Passionate hate and love are born of the same place."
"Do you honestly believe that?" he demanded.
Just listen to us, she thought, and didn't respond. "Where are we going next?"
"Joshua Leonard's house. Are you going to ask his parents the same question?" Mulder asked.
"Maybe," she shrugged and looked out the window, cutting herself off from any further communication. They pulled up in front of another house of the type the Donohues had been, and got out and repeated the same routine with the door and the badges.
This time was different because the entire family was gathered around - mother and father and younger brother who now looked older than Joshua had on those videotapes. She glanced at Mulder and he seemed affected by that fact. "Are you going to find out who killed my brother?" the young man demanded.
"What makes you so certain he's dead?" Mulder asked, and she thought he should have known better that to sound like he was asking a child. The brother shot him a look that said, loudly, DUH.
"Did your brother have any enemies, anyone with an ongoing bad relationship?" Scully asked.
The boy pursed his lips and shook his head.
"Can you think of anyone -"
"The police asked us all these questions before and it didn't help!" he screamed, throwing himself to his feet so violently Scully took a step backward away from him.
"Michael!" his mother hollered.
"I have a different question for you," Scully said, following him into the kitchen where the angry boy popped the top on a Coke. "What about Heather?"
"What about her?" He made a sour face. Not a fan, Scully thought.
"What did your brother think about her?"
"I don't think he did. I mean, she was his partner in their class project. They had some of the same goals. But she was bossy and that annoyed him." The boy shrugged and glugged his Coke.
"Do you think your brother might have ever had feelings for Heather?" she asked and he shook his head. "Do you think he might have ever wanted to hurt Heather?"
"She could get pretty annoying," Joshua's brother allowed. "I mean, I saw the tapes and -" He stopped, knowing he'd said something he shouldn't have.
"You saw the tapes," she said.
He was quiet, locked up. An iron curtain had fallen.
"The police told me none of the families had seen them," she said, probing gently.
"I found them," he said, slipping into a chair at the kitchen table. She joined him. "My friend Ryan and I were messing around in the woods. You know, looking for clues. We did that." He nodded and his eyes were filled with the pain of loss. "His dad is the police chief, so he turned them over. Didn't mention me."
Didn't mention they'd taken them home to look at first, she thought.
"Have you seen them?" he asked, shaking back hair that he wore long enough to fall over his eyes. It was fine and blond and he looked slightly like Leonardo diCaprio.
"Yes," she said. "Let me ask you...what do you think happened to your brother and the others?"
"I don't know."
"Do you think it was people?" she asked. "Playing tricks that went too far?" He didn't answer. "Do you think it was the witch?"
He closed his eyes and slunk away. Mulder appeared in the doorway. She got up and followed him out, aware of tension filling the house. "What did you get out of the parents?" she asked.
"Our angelic son, blah blah blah," Mulder said. "What about the brother?"
"He found the tapes. Watched them."
"I thought so," she said. "He wouldn't tell me what he thought."
"What's your take?" Mulder turned to search her face.
"I don't know, Mulder. In a lot of ways, he seemed like a boy scarred by grief. His big brother is gone and his life is never going to be the same. That's as good a reason as any for him to go into the woods to look around." For a second she flashed on Mulder. How was he different from Joshua Leonard's brother - devoting his entire life to asking questions and looking for evidence, trying to find some peace, if not his missing sibling. "Where are we going now?" she asked.
He looked at her. "We should interview their teacher. All those pages and transcripts, no one ever spoke to the instructor who assigned the project." She nodded, agreeing it was a good idea. Ground that hadn't been covered.
"I gave the kids free reign." The Film instructor at the local junior college was relaxed. His hair was long and graying, curling over the collar of the plaid flannel shirt he wore. He lounged back in his chair, crossing one leather cowboy boot over the opposite knee. "All they had to do was shoot a documentary. Something true."
"You didn't make any suggestions?"
"Filmmakers find their own inspiration, like any artists," he said, sounding very superior. Scully didn't like that. He was teaching at a backwoods junior college - obviously he wasn't as cool as he thought he was. "Heather was the one who came up with the Blair Witch subject. She was the kind of girl who was interested in things like that. Used to wear black all the time, quote Sylvia Plath. It was a phase, it always is, but she was interested. I think for a while she was going to major in women's studies. You know."
Scully nodded, holding back the urge to roll her eyes. In towns like this and colleges like this, women's' studies was synonymous with lesbianism.
"Josh was all for it. He was into horror movies, metal albums, that whole nine yards. Had an anarchy symbol on his notebook. The usual. Used to talk about shows like 'In Search Of', trying to figure out why they were creepier than horror movies with ten buckets of blood per reel. So I suggested they work together."
"You suggested?" Scully asked, surprised.
"Everyone had to work in pairs. I thought they would work well together. Balance each other's faults out."
"So you approved the project and..." Mulder asked.
"Off into the woods they went, I guess. I verbally approved everyone's projects and opened myself for advice. It was an independent study project." He raised his hands. "Nothing else I could do."
"There's no more light you can shed on the investigation?" Scully asked.
"None," he assured them.
She raised an eyebrow and looked at Mulder. He nodded and they thanked him for his time. "Is it just me, Mulder, or does everyone in this whole damn town seem suspicious?"
"Maybe my paranoia's rubbing off," he quipped, not answering her question.
"What now?" she asked, "The library?"
"I've got something different in mind," he said, and she saw the he was steering the car toward the Burkittsville cemetery, which the trio of filmmakers had visited on the tapes, before they went out into the woods.
"It's getting dark," she protested weakly.
"Afraid of the Blair Witch?" he teased, parking the car diagonally next to the stone church. He got out and she followed somewhat reluctantly, wishing she had her flashlight handy, but it was back at the motel. Mulder walked out ahead of her, through the rows to the old stones.
He crouched down in front of one and she followed him slowly, looking at the inscriptions as she passed them. Emily, Margaret, Tommy, Lester. "There are a lot of children here, Mulder," she said, stopping next to him and looking down at the stone.
"This is him," he said. "The serial killer. All those children buried here, the seven, he took them into the woods and hurt them. Made them watch from inside that house. It's the house, Scully, I'm sure of it."
"Is there proof?" she asked and earned a frustrated groan from him. "Or did the townspeople just blame him because he was quiet or a loner or different?"
"He killed seven children," Mulder snapped. "I'm sorry if you empathize with him, if you think he was another sorry soul like the Blair Witch." Her mouth dropped open to protest, but no words came out. "But he was a monster and a killer." Mulder pushed himself up from the ground and stood over her.
"Why are we here, Mulder?" she demanded.
He shook his head like she wouldn't understand and stalked out of the graveyard. She half expected to hear the car start, for him to leave her there, ditching her as he had done so many other times. But he waited, grinding his teeth behind the wheel and when he pulled out, driving too quickly, they were headed for the library.
It was a small brick building, comparable to the police station. Wooden built-in shelving lined the walls and the books looked old, with bright colored permabindings and no jackets. Mulder browsed around, forcing Scully to get down to business. She approached the reference librarian boldly. "What do you know about Blair Witch legend?" she asked.
"We all know too much about it now in these parts, ever since she took the souls of those three young people. But I can tell you're not from around these parts, so may I ask how you heard tell of the legend?" The woman asked with the cadence of a fortune teller.
Not from these parts, Scully thought, what gave me away? "I'm investigating the disappearance of those three young people." She flashed her badge and watched the old woman's eyes widen. Mulder was over in the kids' section, smirking up his sleeve.
"We had a book. It's kept out of circulation now, ever since we found it among Heather's things. But I suppose, for you.." The woman lumbered from her seat, beckoning Scully to follow her. She cast a glance at Mulder that he didn't return, bent over the card catalogue with an open picture book that took his full concentration. She hadn't seen a card catalogue in years. When the woman held out the book, Scully recognized it as the one Heather had been reading from in part of the film footage. She didn't reach out to take it.
"Maybe you could just tell us - me -" since Mulder wasn't listening, "About the legend of the Blair Witch," Scully suggested.
The old woman nodded and settled back in at her desk. "In 1785, the accusations started. A woman named Elly, and the children said she came into their homes to drink their blood. She was banished into the woods during a cold winter and presumed dead. But by the end of the winter, all of the children who had accused her had disappeared without a trace. Like that colony, you know, in Virginia..."
"Roanoke," Mulder inserted, even though he never looked up from his book.
"Many people say they've seen the Blair Witch out on the creek. And then there was the business with the children. Oh," she said, sounding very sad. Since Mulder seemed to be an expert on the subject, Scully didn't push the woman.
"Thank you, you've been very helpful," she said, checking her watch. They had just enough time to get their camping supplies in the next town before the store closed for the night. She motioned for Mulder to join her and he did, skipping down the library steps so he reached the car before she did.
"If witches are a sexist thing, what about the children who were her accusers?" Mulder asked in a testy tone, designed to provoke her.
"What do you think, Mulder, she was a vampire and deserved her fate?" Scully demanded. "They're children. Children are always cruel to those who are different or outcast."
"What makes you the expert?" he asked, as though to imply that he was an expert on the subject. She didn't answer. There was no talking to him sometimes. "Were you one, Scully?"
"One what?" she asked sharply.
"One of those gothicky girls who ran around in black with flowers in your hair?" he asked.
She shook her head. Of course not. Her father never would have stood for such a thing, and Mulder knew she didn't believe in that stuff. Not to mention there hadn't been gothic girls when she was younger. If there had been, Missy might have tried it. Missy had tried everything, from hard drugs to incense and everything in between. Instead of college, she'd gone to follow the Dead.
"We're here," he said and Scully wondered how long he'd been trying to get her attention. "We don't have much time." She nodded at his order and got out of the car. He might get to drive, but she commandeered the cart, picking out two compasses first thing, and then wondering if she should get Mulder an extra one. She settled on two.
"We only need one," he said.
"What if we get separated?"
"We won't," he informed her with a look that implied she was planning something. It made her cheeks pink with anger since he was the one perennially ditching her. She put the other compass back into the cart when he wasn't looking, absorbed in a comparison of tents.
"Get the lighter one," she suggested, wondering if they needed a tent at all. "We're not staying for a week," she told him. "We don't need a tent at all."
"Better to be prepared," he said. "We're on an expense account."
Yeah, Skinner loved it when they overspent. "We can return it if we don't use it, I guess," she said, investigating the sleeping bags. She picked two that were the highest rating for warmth and advertised that they could zip together to make one large bag. Just in case, she told herself, and was reminded to look at first aid kits.
The lights in the store flipped off and then on again. It made her jump, until she realized it was the signal of the store manager that it was time to close. "Are we through?" Mulder asked her and she took a quick stock of their items.
"I guess," she said, and headed for a cashier. Neither of them jumped for their corporate expense credit cards when the total appeared, and then it became a game of waiting. Scully lost, unable to bear the clerks' unamused stare any longer.
"Where ya going camping?" the clerk asked to pass the time while waiting for the card to be approved.
"Out in the woods," Scully said.
"Obviously," Mulder added, to point out what an idiot she was.
"Be careful," the clerk said as he watched Scully sign the sales slip. "People go missing in that woods and are never heard from again. Have a nice day now." He handed the heavy shopping bags to them and they carried them out to the car. The ride to the motel was silent.
"Leave it," Scully suggested, wondering if Mulder, in his mood, would leave her to her room alone that night. He made every show of going to his own room and she sank down on her bed, sighing with the pleasure of finally being alone with her own thoughts. Then she realized the sheets smelled like him. She frowned, thinking that they hadn't been changed and that bothered her. They also hadn't picked up any food. She groaned and dug through her purse. She was getting low on change for the vending machine.
At least she hadn't put her pajamas on yet, she thought, slipping out to the candy machine. Someone was already there, popping a bag of popcorn in the microwave provided and not shivering even though he'd already stripped down to his T-shirt and the night was bitterly cold. "Missed me already," he said to her.
"Missed dinner is more like it," she grumbled, eyeing his popcorn.
"It was the last one," he said. "Sorry." He didn't sound sorry and she shrugged, putting her money in for a soda, aware that he was watching her. "We could share."
She nodded her agreement and followed him back to his motel room, where they stretched out carefully on the bed together for an evening of mindless television where the most threatening witch to be seen was Sabrina, the Teenage one. Scully was sorry when it was time to go back to her own room, but she found herself exhausted despite the caffeinated soda she'd drunk. And it would be an early morning, as they headed into the woods.
She dreamed again that night. She was in a cold stone house with a dirty floor. A baby was crying and the sound jarred her bones. She walked through the house, but it was dark and there was no baby, even though the cries became louder and more insistent.
"Stop," she said, wiping long strands of hair back from her face. She was exhausted but the crying didn't stop. She opened the door and walked out, into the woods, in the darkness. Her feet were bare and the snow burned them. Still she heard the baby cry.
"Where are you?" she said, and stopped because she felt someone's eyes on her. That was when she knew the baby wasn't real, wasn't something of this earth in any case. "Why are you doing this?" Her voice carried and she began to run.
She stumbled and branches, bare with winter, tore at her skin and clothes. She just kept running, afraid the forces of darkness would take her. She fell and was suddenly warm. It took her several seconds to realize she'd fallen into water.
It was pitch black but a cloud moved to reveal the moon. People were everywhere, as the water made her clothes heavy. She couldn't climb out of the river. "She floats!" someone screamed, and she heard splashes as they waded into the river.
Hands captured her limbs and she was too tired to fight. She struggled slightly as they pushed her face under the water, holding her there. Drowning her.
She cried out as she woke, but her panic didn't abate. There was a dark figure crouching on her bed, moving toward her. "Stop right there," she said, her voice wavering.
"It's just me." The figure flopped onto her bed and she recognized the voice.
She snapped on the light next to the bed and it stung her eyes. "What are you doing in here?" She saw that the connecting door was open. "You just come in here in the middle of the night..."
"It's morning," he said, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "The sun will be up in twenty minutes. Your phone was ringing with the wake up call and you didn't answer it."
"And then I heard you crying."
"What?" she said, startled, realizing that her face was wet with tears. She rubbed the offensive moisture away with harsh strokes, alarmed, not knowing where to look because she didn't want to meet his eyes.
"Scully, what's wrong," he asked, moving up to lie on the bed next to her. She tried not to move immediately away. His body was warm and her first instinct was to curl into him. That little scared feeling in her chest told her it would feel good to have someone's arms around her.
"Nothing," she swore, lying. "It was just a bad dream."
"Another one?" he murmured gently, smoothing back a strand of hair that was clinging to her cheek. "Want to tell me about it?"
"I don't remember," she lied, hating that she still felt the panic coursing through her body. "We have to get ready...we have to go..." She moved to get off the bed, but then he touched her and she hesitated.
"We have time," he said, his hands on her shoulders urging her back onto the bed. "Is it this case?" he asked.
She shook her head, still not meeting his eyes, wishing her eyes didn't feel so damp again. "I'm okay," she insisted, and launched herself up from the bed. "We do have to get going because the house is a four hour hike. Four hours in and four hours out doesn't leave us much time on either side, with the days being as short as they are right now."
"Maybe we should come back in summer," he said easily. "If it gets dark, we'll stay overnight in the woods."
She didn't answer. The hum of the bathroom fan almost succeeded in drowning him out. She looked terrible, with dark circles under her eyes, tear tracks still visible. She wiped them away again.
"Are you afraid of something in the woods?" he asked her through the closed door.
"What do you hope to find out there?" she demanded, throwing open the door, wiping her hands on the jeans she'd put on, adjusting the hem of the thermal top she wore, moving briskly past him to pick up her sweater and pull it on over her head, aware of the way the thermal top clung and the fact that Mulder noticed it.
"They have to have gone somewhere," he said.
"Then we should have a forensic excavation team at the ready?" she asked sharply.
"Something is going on here," he told her. "You feel it as strongly as I do." She looked at him, wondering if he was having the dreams too, if he had this weird sense... He met her eyes and she turned away. "I'll be in the car." His gaze lingered on her as he left through the connecting door and she listened to him gathering his things.
"I'm okay with this," she told herself, pulling her hair into a ponytail and hating the way it made her feel exposed. But she would hate it more if things caught in her hair and tangled it in the woods. She nodded and gathered her things, carrying them to the trunk.
They drove to the woods in silence. She ripped open a Powerbar and made herself eat it, even though the meal turned to mush in her mouth that it took her forever to manage to swallow. "Here," she said, indicating the best place for them to stop. Mulder obliged and steered the car off the road, parking it on the soft shoulder.
"I hope we don't get stuck," she said, looking at the wheels of the car as Mulder pulled his backpack from the trunk. She walked around, her head turned sideways. "Mulder, look at this."
"Another car's been here," he said, glancing at the ruts in the road that didn't match the ones they'd made. "But they're gone now."
"What do you think it means?" she asked him.
"It probably doesn't mean anything," he told her.
When had anything ever been meaningless when he was concerned? She pulled on her backpack and tried not to groan under its weight.
"Can I carry any of that for you?" he asked, his eyes measuring the big backpack and her small frame.
"I'm fine," she said. "Besides, you're carrying the tent." He looked at her a moment longer and she nodded, then looked up at the sky. The sun was rising, but it was still dark and hazy due to thick cloud cover. She could practically hear Mulder having the same thought she did: I hope it doesn't rain.
It wouldn't be the first time and it wouldn't be the last, she thought, reminded of how very much she hated the woods.
"Here," he said, handing her the photocopy of the map he'd made on the motel office copier. She folded it and put it into the pocket of her jacket for safekeeping. He needed her help to read his own map anyway. He had no sense of direction at all. He still got lost in the FBI building.
"Okay, let's do this," she said, hiking up her backpack to try to give herself a little momentum. Four hours in and four hours out. To the house where the serial killer had murdered seven children. And where two videographers had disappeared five years ago.
It was cold in the woods and damp. The rain didn't begin until they'd hiked for forty five minutes and come to the creek. It looked exactly like the one in her dream. She told herself that was because it had been suggested to her, by the video shot by the missing filmmakers.
"Here we go," Mulder said, offering her the right to go first across the slippery logs. The creek was rushing past them with impressive current, driven no doubt by the rain. She shivered and looked up the banks.
"There has to be another way," she said.
"It would take hours to go around," he told her, raising his voice over the sound of the water. "And you're the one who doesn't want to have to spend the night."
"That's right," she declared, putting on a determined face and pulling herself up onto the dead tree that cross the creek.
"Is it my breath?" he asked, playfully.
"What?" She hadn't heard him and turned. She felt her foot slip sideways and cried out, trying to steady herself, but the backpack threw her center of balance off. She scraped her arm as she slid into the rushing water.
She panicked as it closed over her head. She was strong and a good swimmer and it wasn't deep, but panic took any thoughts on how to react from her mind. She heard Mulder yelling her name and thought calmly, I'm going to drown.
His hands grabbed her roughly by the arms and she heard the water crash as she broke through. He shook her and she found footing, blinking the water out of her eyes, too stunned to think of the infections she was now open to. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded, shaking her roughly.
"I -" No sound came out, then rage took over. "I slipped," she said. "Because it's raining and you said something I couldn't hear and I slipped and the backpack is heavy and I panicked." She heard the despair in her voice and she slogged through the water to the creek bank on the other side and stood there, dripping and cold. "Okay, Mulder? I panicked," she shouted.
"Easy," he said, putting his hands on her again. "You're safe now."
She'd never been the type to bury her face in a man's chest and cry until the world stopped being so hurtful. And she didn't like the fact that she wanted to do so at that moment. Instead she held her sweater out in front of her and wrang out the hem, but it didn't help.
"Look on the bright side," Mulder said and she raised an eyebrow at him. "Now we won't notice the rain." She watched him check the map and amble away awkwardly in his soaked, cold jeans. Hers were just as uncomfortable and water squelched out of her socks through her toes every time she took a step. Her nose was frozen and she breathed into her hands to try to warm it.
"Try to keep up," Mulder said to her and she frowned, thinking he was being mean. She was doing the best she could. He looked back at her and stopped, extending his hand until she caught up. How could his skin be so warm when hers was so cold? she wondered as he grasped her hand, keeping them together as they walked. It slowed them both down but she didn't pull away.
"We're lost," she said, three hours later, when they should have reached the house in the woods and hadn't.
"We aren't lost," he told her.
She held out the map, its ink smeared from her fall into the water. The rain continued steadily. She didn't even feel it anymore, or the weight of her clothes, or the cold. "Then where are we?" she challenged, holding it out to him.
He didn't take it and a wry grin crossed his face. They were lost, and she sighed. "There isn't anywhere for us to ask directions anyway," he told her, some kind of joke that made her furious. This wasn't like being lost on a freeway. It was raining and they were lost and no one knew where to look for them.
And three people disappeared just this way in the haunted woods, the voice in her mind told her before she could manage to quiet it. She sighed again and could see her breath. She turned in all directions, comparing their surroundings to the map. There weren't any street signs for her to get her bearings; in that way Mulder was right. She pulled out the compass she'd purchased and oriented the map to match.
"Well?" asked Mulder.
"We should be there," she said. "It should be right here." She stomped her booted foot into the muddy grass.
"Then we keep walking." He took a few steps determinedly. "No point in heading back until we get there." She followed him, unhappily, but she knew they couldn't become separated, just as she knew she couldn't eat the Powerbar in her backpack because she would want it more later, just as she couldn't drink the water she carried because she would be thirstier later.
"Doesn't your cell phone have US global positioning satellite equipment?" she asked. She knew that it did; she'd given him the phone for his birthday a year or maybe two ago, since he was always getting lost.
"It got wet," he said apologetically, not adding that the phone she'd given him had actually gotten wet a couple of weeks after his birthday and he'd replaced it three times since then. "Why don't you have your phone?" he asked her.
"I thought you had yours." It wasn't an excuse.
"You weren't a girl scout, were you, Scully?" he asked, laughing at her.
"What makes you say that?"
"Isn't their motto 'be prepared'?"
"I was never a girl scout," she admitted, though she had read the biography of Juliette Lowe, founder of the girl scouts.
"What did you do instead?" he asked curiously.
"Instead of scouting?" she asked, wrinkling her nose like she didn't know what he meant.
"Yeah, after school. What did you do?"
"Mulder, that was back in the days when parents didn't budget every free moment of their children's time. I played."
"You played?" He made it sound impossible to believe she would ever have done something so frivolous.
"When I was a child I thought as a child," she said, thinking it was a quote from somewhere. She couldn't remember the rest of it.
"What did you play?" he asked.
She frowned, trying to remember. Games with balls in the middle of the street with the neighborhood kids. Dolls when Melissa demanded it. She watched TV, and she read. She realized she'd always done what her siblings had wanted to do. Hadn't she ever had interests of her own?
It doesn't matter, she told herself, remembering fondly the games they had played. The family football games on Thanksgiving, especially, a tradition that went through her first couple of years of college until they all got too old and scattered. She found herself smiling despite the situation. Her feet hurt in the boots and the moisture was making a prime condition not only for blisters, but for fungus of all sorts. She didn't want to think about it.
"We're lost," she said.
"Would you stop saying that?" Mulder snapped.
"Not saying it won't make it any less true," she griped. "I have to rest." She sat down, pulling the backpack from her aching shoulders.
"That's going to feel ten times heavier when you put it back on," he warned her and she stuck out her tongue at him, then instantly felt self conscious. He paused, listening to something she couldn't hear.
"What?" she asked, rubbing the sore muscles of her left shoulder with her right hand.
"Sounds like a helicopter."
"I don't hear anything," she said, and was silent. It wasn't true. She heard the rain and the wind, but no helicopter.
"It sounds like a stealth helicopter."
"The silent kind?" she said skeptically. If it was stealthy and silent, there was nothing to hear.
"The disturbance in the air, you can hear it," he told her.
"Are you telling me those kids were abducted by the government?" she said. "Mulder, please."
"Please what?" he asked seriously, staring at her.
So much potential. Please get us out of these woods. Please stop acting so weird. Please rub my shoulders for me and carry my backpack and find me some chocolate. She chose to say nothing.
"What's your problem, anyway?" Mulder demanded.
"What do you mean, what's my problem?"
"You haven't stopped bitching in a month of Sundays."
"I've always been confused about that term," she said, as annoyingly as she possibly could. "Does it mean four weeks or does it mean when hell freezes over because there's never thirty Sundays in a row." She spat the last words at him.
"Let's go," he ordered, one hand on her arm, brutally pulling her to her feet, the other hefting her backpack. She pulled away, losing her balance, and falling on her face in the mud. He didn't offer her assistance getting up and she wouldn't take it. Just as she wouldn't admit he was right; the backpack did feel heavier for having taken it off.
"It's getting dark and we're lost," she said.
"It's only four."
"That's what time it gets dark," she informed him.
"I'm sure it's just up there." He pointed through the trees.
"If it was, we'd be able to see it. We have to set up camp and get a fire going before it gets dark," she said.
"Are you sure this is a good place to set up camp?" he asked.
"You were the girl scout," she muttered, looking around. "It looks fine to me." She took off her backpack and set it with a heavy thud on the ground. It didn't sink into the mud, which she took to be a good sign. After a moment, Mulder took off his own backpack and opened it. A bit of water trickled out and he yanked the tent components out, arranging them on the ground. "I'll start a fire," she offered, wandering a little ways away to try to find some dry kindling.
"Scully!" she heard him yell and ran back.
"What?" she asked breathlessly.
"Don't go too far," he warned, his back to her, his attention focused on the pieces of their tent. It looked awfully small for two people to share, she thought, looking at the pieces of wood and sticks in her hands. They would do. She arranged them into a pile and dug into her bag for the matches she'd put into a plastic bag.
It was full of water. "Damn it!" she cried, trying to light one of the saturated matches anyway. "These are supposed to be waterproof!"
"The matches got wet?" His tone said it all.
"You didn't bring any. Damn it." What a time to be a pair of healthy adults in the woods. Teenagers would have zippo lighters for their cigarettes, while they, FBI agents, had nothing.
"It's not that cold," he told her, finishing his assembly on the tent.
"Let me see your phone," she ordered and he handed it to her. "Is this the one I got your for your birthday?" She looked it over carefully, and noticed that he didn't answer. She dialed and got nothing but static. "You were right. It's dead." She handed it back to him and he put it into his backpack. "How could we walk all day and not find a house four hours into the woods?"
"Maybe the map was wrong. Maybe we walked too slow. It could be a hundred things," Mulder told her.
We're lost, she thought, but she had her compass and didn't understand how they could have become lost.
"We'd better get some sleep," Mulder told her, disappearing into the tent and rolling out his sleeping bag. "There's not much room in here."
She put her head inside. He was right. "We'll manage," she told him, spreading out her sleeping bag as well, and putting her backpack at the head of it. Mulder had left his outside. It would feel good to lie down, she thought, finding her eyes closing. She slipped out of her shoes and made sure her flashlight was nearby. All of her bones and muscles aligned as she stretched out on the ground, although it made her nose itch with the need to sneeze.
"Here." It was too dark to see Mulder by the time he spoke, but she reached out and managed to connect with his hand. He put half of a granola bar into her palm. It was crumbly and moist, but she found it was better that way.
"Thanks," she said, her mouth still full.
"We'll find the way tomorrow," he told her. "And we'll find out what happened to those kids."
She was too tired to reply. Then she sneezed, violently, a spasm that rang all the way to her toes. "I hate the woods," she sniffled, turning partway onto her side and closing her eyes. She wiped her nose on the back of her hand and slept, too tired to dream.
Someone was shaking her, but it was still dark. "Too early," she mumbled.
"Scully, get up. Someone's out there."
Mulder's voice cut through her stupor and she sat up. His hand stopped her just before she turned on the flashlight. "There, do you hear it?"
She did. It sounded like howling - not the wind, but nothing human, either. "It's animals," she whispered, just as a thumping sound disturbed her from close by. They both jumped as something hit the tent wildly, seemingly from all directions at once. She grabbed his hand with no intention of ever letting go. "Maybe it's hail," she whispered, trying not to be afraid when her heart was pounding so madly.
"My backpack's out there," Mulder whispered back.
At least you're not out there, she thought, holding onto his hand. He clutched hers back as they sat, straight upright, for what seemed like hours until the noise and the pounding and the torment stopped. They sighed at the same moment, when they were sure it was over.
"What the hell was that?" Scully asked. Now that it was gone, she could be rational and angry.
"I don't know." She heard the noise of his sleeping bag zipper and he lurched forward, toward the opening of the tent.
"You can't go out there," she protested, fumbling for her flashlight as she heard him unzip the flaps of the tent. She shone it on him and he winced, holding up his hand to protest the sudden light.
"Who's out there?" he called into the night, but there was only an uncanny silence in reply. She heard him take a couple of steps and crawled closer to the opening of the tent. "Shit," he said.
"What?" She scrambled from the tent, getting to her feet. The ground was cold and wet, soaking through her socks. "Mulder?" She swept the flashlight from one side to the other, until she located him.
"My stuff's been destroyed," he said, irritated. He marched back over to where she stood and took the flashlight from her hands, illuminating for both their benefit his ruined backpack. Everything was strewn about, stomped into the mud. Scully picked up his compass and found the glass cracked. His cell phone was in pieces. "I want to know who did this!" he shouted into the night.
There was no answer.
Scully was glad.
"Coward!" Mulder yelled, as though he could provoke someone. "This is someone trying to scare us away, Scully. Plain and simple. Something is out there and we're going to find it." He sounded like he was going to put his boots on and tramp off into the night.
"In the morning," she told him.
After a moment, most of the anger faded from his shoulders and he faced her, agreeing. He clicked the light on his watch. "It's only a few hours until morning anyway."
"We need the rest. It's going to be another hard day tomorrow." She ushered him back into the tent and carefully fixed the zipper herself. She crawled into her sleeping back and switched off the flashlight, listening to Mulder's breathing grow even. But she couldn't sleep. She told herself it wasn't because of fear. She didn't believe in witches.
She was tired by the time the sun came up.
"We're going to find stuff today, Scully. I know it," Mulder told her cheerfully. She could only groan like Frankenstein's monster and try to hold her eyes open. She wanted to be home in her own bed.
"How can you be cheerful when we lost half of our supplies?" she asked, surveying the ruin of his equipment in the daylight.
"You did insist on buying two of everything," he pointed out.
"Fine," she said, disassembling the tent herself as he helped himself to a feast of powerbars from her bag. "I hope you didn't eat the last one."
"Chocolate chip," he said, holding it out to her.
"Is this the last one?" she asked, digging through her bag. "How could you do that?" she demanded. "We could be stuck out here for days and even if we knew what kind of plants were safe to eat, it's the middle of winter. Even if we shot and killed an animal to eat, we don't have matches to start a fire."
"We're going to find the house and once we find the house, we can find our way back to the car," he told her. "We won't spend another night in the forest."
"So you say now. You're gonna be damn hungry by tonight so I hope you're right," she told him, shouldering the bag and leaving him the tent pieces to pick up and stow away.
He caught her by the strap. "What's your problem?" he demanded. "It's my stuff that got trashed. You could at least change your clothes."
Without meaning to, she lowered her eyes to his jeans, which were stiff from their soaking in the creek. They were dry, but looked uncomfortable. She glanced up at his face but he'd turned away, following the map he had to have taken from her bag, along with her compass since his was broken.
"I think you'd better let me navigate," she told him.
"You didn't do a very good job yesterday."
"You're the one who got us lost," she accused, breathing hard to keep up with him, since he was unencumbered by stuff.
"You know what I used to like about you, Scully?" he asked, implying that he no longer liked her at all.
"You never used to whine and complain."
It took every ounce of willpower she had not to shoot him in the back. She just closed her mouth and followed him, enumerating a mental list of all the things about him she couldn't stand. There were plenty.
They walked until their legs were numb, and then they walked some more. Scully couldn't even think, let alone feel anything. She didn't want to complain, so she waited until he stopped to take a break. Then she let the backpack slip from her shoulders and lowered her trembling knees to the ground.
Neither of them spoke as they sat there together, waiting to feel stronger, rested. That feeling didn't come. She noticed a pile of stones on the ground and remembered the stones in the film footage the kids had shot before they disappeared. She remembered how they, too, had become lost, even though the woods were only two and a half square miles and walking in any direction consistently would carry you to the highway.
She found her army knife in her pocket while they sat and she tested it on her thumb, enjoying the sharp pain, as opposed to the dull pains throughout the rest of her body. When Mulder stood, she joined him, but she slashed the trees with the knife as they walked, leaving a trail.
"We're walking in circles," she said when she started noticing the marked trees. He stopped and looked at her, shaking his head and holding out the compass. "I've been marking trees. Look."
"How do you know you're the one who marked it."
She gave him a dirty look.
"Are you saying you don't trust me?" he asked, provoking her.
She didn't answer, too tired to argue and not really caring. She just grabbed the compass from his hands and looked up in the sky to where the sun was getting lower. It was afternoon already. She turned in a circle, watching the compass's needle. It didn't swing evenly, and at no point did it indicate where north should have been in relation to the sunset.
She let it slip through her fingers to the ground.
"What are you doing?" he yelled at her.
"It doesn't work. That's why we're lost."
"You don't know how to use it."
"Because I'm a girl? Give me a break. It points at north. But that -" she pointed, "Is west, where the sun is going down."
"Then we know which direction we're going," he told her. "If the woods are only two miles square, it should take less than an hour to get to the highway. Even if we go diagonally across, it's only two miles, right? The base of an isosceles triangle..."
"That's if it's equilateral, but you've got the right idea," she admitted.
"How much daylight do we have left?" His eyes were burning and she could tell he wanted to be out of those woods as much as she did. It didn't occur to her until they were walking again that the light in his eyes might be from fever.
"Jackpot," he said.
"That's not the freeway," she protested wearily, coming to stand next to him and dropping the backpack again. He looked at her when it thudded, and she could tell he was wondering why she wouldn't just let him carry it. But he'd lost his own things and she wasn't going to let him lose hers. These were the last they had, and they might need them.
They were standing in front of the house. The one occupied by the serial killer in the 1940s, who had tortured the children there. The one where the filmmakers had gone, never to be seen again, not even in their ambiguously ended footage. She didn't want to go inside.
"Daylight's fading," he said, bumping her arm with his hand. "And it'll be warmer in there. Plus no rain." He started toward it and she didn't, watching it hesitantly. It exuded foreboding. She felt like Gretel. There was a witch in that house, and being turned into gingerbread was the least of her worries. "You coming?" Mulder turned around to yell to her. She started walking because she didn't want to appear afraid.
She followed him through the door and stopped, unable to breathe. The pain in her chest was intense and she put her hand to it. It was the house from her dream. Everything seemed to go dark.
"Are you all right? Scully?" Mulder's voice rose with worry, but she couldn't keep the world from slipping away as her knees buckled. She thought she felt his arms go around her, but she was already unconscious.
Faces tormented her. The faces of children, distorted, their laughter turned into crying. Some of them wore long homespun dresses and some of them were in jeans. But they were all crying and she couldn't comfort them.
She groaned, opening her eyes, blinking furiously when she saw the darkness and decay above her. She sat up, still in the darkness, reaching for her flashlight or her gun. It wasn't in its holster.
"Mulder!" she yelled, but there was no sound. She stumbled to her feet, losing her peripheral vision to darkness again and steadying herself against the doorframe. She couldn't see anything in the night.
She was alone.
Back in the house, she stumbled around, but finally found her backpack undisturbed in the dark. Her hands seized the flashlight and turned it on. She saw the barrel of a gun pointed at her head and jumped.
"Mulder?" Why was he pointing a gun at her?
"I took the bullets away," he said and his voice was carefully controlled. It wasn't a good sign. "Just in case."
"In case what?" she asked. "Mulder, what happened while I was out?" He didn't answer and her voice rose, grabbing the gun back from him. "What did you do with the bullets?"
"I threw them away."
"Why?" she demanded. She could smell his sweat before she saw the drops of it on his forehead.
"In case...I might have to kill you," he said.
"Just stop right there," she said. "This is me. Scully. There's no reason you would have to kill me."
"You were dead and now you're not," he told her.
"I passed out, Mulder, probably from hunger. Or maybe it was exhaustion or exposure. I'm not really sure. And you aren't well." She reached over to feel his forehead, and he jerked away.
"You're the witch," he said. "You're the one who hurt all those children. You did it, Scully. And an innocent man took the blame for what you did. Just like now, you want me to take the blame."
"How could I be the witch," she reasoned. "I wasn't even born..."
"You're possessed. That's why the things you say make sense, but they don't." By the light of the flashlight, his eyes looked red. Her stomach was knotted. He'd completely lost his mind. Had he really believed her to be dead? Was that really enough to drive him over this edge? Or was it the dementia from a high fever?
She found the tiny tin of aspirin in her backpack and put two of the pills in her palm. "You have to take this, Mulder," she coaxed.
"Poison!" he declared.
"It's aspirin. You have a very high fever. I'm worried it's what's making you delusional." Why hadn't she brought her cell phone? They needed help. She walked toward him and he took two steps back, away. Afraid of her.
She rushed him, shoving the pills into his mouth and mashing her hand over his face, trying to make him have to swallow. He spat half-chewed bits of chalky aspirin into her face and it made her eyes burn, but he'd won the advantage. He knocked her down and covered her body with his, pinning her. Her head throbbed where she'd struck it on the dirty floor and she thought she could feel blood trickling.
If she lost consciousness again, he would kill her.
As it was, she didn't know what he would do. She told herself this wasn't Mulder, that he didn't know what he was doing, but he'd pinned her solidly to her floor. She couldn't even raise her knee to hit him with it.
"This is for your own good, witch," he told her, leaning very close. His breath smelled bad and for a second she thought it was a demon from hell hovering above her rather than her partner.
She bit him on the cheek as hard as she could. He howled and blood filled her mouth. She spit it out, onto the floor, gagging, but she was free of him. She ran, but stopped before she was out of sight of the house. If she ran into the woods in the night with no supplies, they would find her bones sometime in the next century.
"Ready or not, here I come." Mulder lumbered from the doorway of the house, searching for her in the blackness. She darted around to the back, slipping into the house when he wasn't looking and reclaiming her backpack and her flashlight.
"I'm going to get you, witch," he yelled and she told herself it wasn't him, that he wasn't in his right mind. He couldn't help what he was doing. His footsteps sounded heavily and she darted up the rickety stairs of the abandoned building, not thinking whether the floor would hold or the stairs would be there for the return flight.
She trembled when she saw the room upstairs. At first the stains looked like graffiti, but they were blood. The police had been in the house, why hadn't they cleaned it up? She could only stare in amazed horror.
The flashlight blinked out. She shook it, trembling with the realization they weren't going to escape. They were going to die in this house. She couldn't hear Mulder any more and worried.
After some time, which could have been minutes or seconds or hours, she moved. Cautiously, she found the first step, feeling it out with her foot, aware that her partner's silence could be a maddened trap for her. The next step creaked and she cringed, but no one came after her.
She found him, on the ground floor, huddled into a corner, hugging his knees. He was harmless now, rocking back and forth, making inhuman sounds. The sounds abused children make, the sounds animals make when you've injured them. "What happened?" she asked, putting her hands lightly on his shoulders. One of them was sticky with blood that had run down the side of his neck.
"That's why I got rid of the bullets," he cried. "I knew...I didn't want to hurt you."
"What did you know?" she asked gently.
"Bad things in this house."
"You have a fever," she said. And she'd bitten him. He probably needed medical attention just for that. Human wounds had the worst tendency to get infected. Her mouth was as dirty as anyone's. He pushed her hand away and coughed dryly. Why hadn't she noticed him doing so before? She put her hand against his back and felt his breath. He was definitely sick. She worried.
"I'm sorry," he said, the words a plaintive cry as he turned his tormented face to look at her.
"Don't be sorry. You couldn't help it." She pulled him against her and he clung, burying his face against her breasts.
"I'm sorry for everything," he told her. "I brought you out here. I always take you places you don't want to go and it ends...I'm always wrong, Scully, and you're always right."
He really is sick, she thought, to say such crazy things. "We're going to be okay." She wished she believed it.
"I saw them, Scully."
"The children. The ones who died. He made them stand right here, and face away. If they looked, he'd kill them. He killed one first, while the other stood right here. But even if you don't look, he'll kill you," Mulder told her.
"It's just a ghost story. Ghoulishness," she said, rubbing her hand over his hair. Maybe if he stopped talking about this, he could go to sleep. She would sit up, until morning, and then they could follow the sun out of the woods and go home.
"And I saw the other children, too. The ones from Minnesota."
Their last case had been in Minnesota. They hadn't been able to save all of them. There had been so many. "That wasn't your fault," she said fiercely. They all would have died if it wasn't for Mulder. Another monster, holding children prisoner.
"So many children in so few years, Scully," he lamented, and she felt his tears stain her shirt. She could only hold him close, knowing her embrace brought him no comfort. He cried brokenly and it hurt, deep, where she tried not to feel. "Which one is he going to kill first, Scully?" he asked, his voice rough but the crying overwith.
"What do you mean?" His question set her nerves on edge.
"Is he going to kill you first, or me? Would you be able to turn your face away and listen to me die?"
"Of course not," she told him. "There is no killer, Mulder. They caught him. Fifty years ago. You're safe."
"He killed Michael. And then Heather."
"You don't know that. Just be quiet and rest. Save your strength for tomorrow." She wondered if she tried again, she could get him to take some aspirin now. He sat quietly for some moments, and she slipped away to get the pills, to try.
He grabbed her wrist when she wasn't expecting it, when she was down on the floor with her backpack. He towered over her. "What are you doing?" she asked. She'd never been afraid of him before. The handcuff fastened around her wrist with a sensual click before she knew what was happening.
"He'll have to kill us together," Mulder told her, his eyes dark and haunted.
"Mulder, you're sick. You need to take some aspirin and you need to get some sleep." She struggled to her feet, seeing that Mulder had handcuffed her to his own wrist. "We will be safe tonight, and we will go home in the morning. It's only a few hours now until morning."
Her confident words were interrupted by wailing. He tensed and his eyes darted to the ceiling wildly. "It's the wind," she said forcefully.
"It's starting, Scully," he said, dragging her with him to his corner, where he curled into a tighter ball than before. What had happened to him that he'd so completely lost his reason? she asked herself. He was scared and exhausted and sick. But she was just as exhausted. With her dreams, she'd expected to be the one to crack.
She held him, listening to the wind, reminded of the stories of banshees her grandmother used to tell. And despite everything, she fell asleep.
She didn't know what time it was when she opened her eyes again. She started awake, at some unexpected sound. Mulder was breathing harshly and for a second she thought he'd gone into distress, but then she realized it was terror. There was someone...something...else in the pitch dark room with them. She kept as still as she could, swallowing back the noise of her own breath, praying the person wouldn't notice them.
There were footsteps in the room with them and shrieks upstairs.
"He's killing them, Scully!" Mulder screamed. He yanked at her wrist, jumping to his feet, but she resisted, tugging back at him. They were like a two headed dog on a leash. Footsteps bounded down the stairs as the screams stopped. "He's coming. We have to get out of here."
Mulder broke into a run. Scully couldn't come up and she felt the agony as her wrist wrenched. Pain shot up her arm and down her fingers, so intense she couldn't make a sound. Her stomach turned, but she had to run, she had to follow Mulder, out into the damp darkness of the woods where a soft rain had begun to fall, soaking their clothes quickly. She heard a keening sound and realized it was coming from her; her wrist was most likely broken.
"Mulder, where's the key to the handcuffs," she demanded. She had to be free of them. It was going to swell. Damn it, if she started to go into shock... she couldn't even look at her watch to see how many more hours it was until daylight.
He stopped, ducking down, dragging her by the torture in her arm. She clenched her teeth and tried to stop making the ragged sobbing sound. Her nose was wet. He watched the house and she could see his eyes dart in the darkness. "Mulder, where's the key. I think my wrist is broken," she said, sniffling, wiping her nose with her other hand.
"He'll hear you."
"He'll kill us if he knows we're here." He sat, waiting and watching. After a moment, she slid against him, leaning against his shoulder, trying to cradle her wrist as best she could. It hurt like hell. She drew blood from her lip with her teeth trying to distract herself, to stifle her crying.
No one came out of the house.
"There's no one there," Scully said practically.
"Then it was you in the house." He turned on her slowly.
"Mulder, I've been attached to you the whole time. The footsteps were probably a raccoon, or a cat. The screams could have been animals, as well. There's no way..."
"You're the witch."
She sighed. Not this again. "You're delirious."
"You take your power from hurting me."
"Damn it, Mulder, you broke my wrist with your stupid handcuffs. I'm the one who's hurt. I'm the one who always gets hurt on these cases. I'm the one the bastard in Minnesota tried to rape. I'm the one Duane Barry put into his trunk, the one Donnie Pfaster tied up in a closet. Me, Mulder. Not you. You get a couple of scrapes and your hair messed up. You'd better believe if I were a witch, you'd be dead from all the times I wished you were."
He was very quiet and she wished she could take the words back.
"Is your wrist really broken?" he asked eventually.
"I think so, yeah," she said.
Carefully, he slipped the handcuff key from his pocket and unfastened it. Her hand still dangled brokenly, at an unnatural angle, and she let it drop between her thighs, onto her lap, where it would be safe. She heard him put the handcuffs into his pocket. He put his arm around her shoulders and she let him.
Then he wrapped his hand around her wrist and her body jerked in shock. She couldn't move for the pain. Panting, she slumped away from him as he released her, staring at him. "I wish you were dead, too," he confided, leaning over her, his breath hot and close. "For all your bitching and whining and science. You always have to be right. You never listen. You think you're better than everyone. You think your pain is more genuine than mine. I gave up my family... my life..."
"Stop this," she pleaded. "Mulder, stop this."
"No, you're going to listen to it."
"Stop saying that!" he shouted. "My sister was *taken*. My father was *murdered*. Even when I chose you over my sister, were you grateful? Did it change anything between us? I fucking loved you, Scully, for years, but your nose was too high up in the air for you to see it."
"No," she whispered, not sure if she was protesting his saying he loved her in such a terrible way like he hated her, or that she hadn't seen it. She wanted this to stop. She wanted him to be Mulder again, she didn't want to say these crazy things. She wanted to be safe. "We've been under a lot of stress, we're cold and sick and scared and tired..."
"Stop rationalizing. It's real," he told her. "Just like the witch is real. Look!" He pointed to the house. Scully sat up and looked. They watched in total silence as a woman walked out of the house. She was translucent, white, like an image projected onto a scrim during a play in a hushed theater. Her dress was old and her hair was long, twisting into ropes of curls. She beckoned with her hand to the children. Two...six...ten...fourteen in all. They followed her, like the piper of Hamlin.
And then they were gone.
Neither of them spoke. Scully's heart was pounding. It's not real, she told herself, and yet...she wasn't afraid. In the next moment, the first pink streaks of dawn broke over the trees and she looked at her watch. It was time for a new day. Looking at Mulder, she got to her feet. After a pause, he pushed himself up from the ground, his footing unsteady. She didn't reach for him.
They walked, together, toward the horizon where the sun was coming up. East. It was the unspoken pledge between them. East, east, east, said the crunching of the leaves beneath their feet. East, east, east, whispered the wind. Into a new day.
A police car was pulled off to the side of the road when they reached the edge of the woods. An officer sat inside, along with Mrs. Donohue. "Did you find her?" the woman asked, walking up to Mulder and Scully with panic in her eyes.
Mulder shook his head.
"No," said Scully. "We didn't find anything."
It felt good to be home, and safe. They'd both spent that first day and night in a hospital in Burkittsville's neighboring town, being treated for dehydration and exhaustion. Mulder was on the verge of pneumonia. His temperature was a hundred and three and spiking higher, but the doctor's brought it down quickly. Scully's wrist, with three separate bones broken, was set and plastered into a cast. She didn't see Mulder again until they were both released, and he didn't offer to sign it. Just put the car into gear and drove as fast as he could. Neither of them looked back at Burkittsville, formerly Blair, in the rearview mirror.
She took two days off before returning to work. With hot baths and novels from the library and classical music, she thought she could forget. But she still dreamed of the witch at night, and heard Mulder's words in her mind when she relaxed. Had he really meant the things he'd said to her? She hadn't meant her words, only on the level she'd been pushed to by the woods and the terror and the darkness.
The power of suggestion, she told herself. There is no Blair Witch and there was no terror in those woods except for ourselves. Yet she still felt lucky to be alive.
On the day she'd chosen to go back to work, she found too many unanswered questions to write any sort of report for the file. Ultimately, they'd failed. Nothing had been found or discovered. They'd been too damaged to look. At that moment, driven by something she didn't understand, Scully used Mulder's computer and also telephoned the Lone Gunmen. They weren't pleased that she'd called them on a line from the Bureau, but they answered her questions.
"I've come to some conclusions," she said when Mulder came in. He still looked thin and haggard, and there was regret in his eyes. "I did some research. The woods outside of Burkittsville, Maryland, are home to a very rare but specific kind of pest. In the fall of 1994, just a few days before Halloween, the government sprayed to get rid of the pest and save the forest. What they sprayed, they claimed, was a simple poison, harmful only to the pest but not to humans. Much like the malithion sprayings in California to kill fruit flies at about the same time."
"You think the poison they sprayed had something to do with the missing people," he said, "and what we saw on that tape."
"Insecticides do affect humans. Paranoia wouldn't be an unknown effect, nor illness or exhaustion. There would have been a fine layer of poison covering every surface in those woods. The trees, the leaves, the water in the creek. The air they breathed and the ground they slept on."
"I don't believe it," he said. "We saw something in those woods."
"We thought we saw something in those woods. And as I recall, you thought you heard helicopters over head. In fact, you did. Some colleagues of ours have been able to verify that the infestation is back in the Burkittsville forest. They sprayed over a period of a week. Ending three days ago."
"When we were in the woods," Mulder said, and she nodded. He didn't say anything after that, didn't argue or agree. Just stared at her face for a moment, and then looked down at the floor. She did the same after a second, looking down at the white cast on her arm, resting uselessly against her thigh. It wasn't as good as a witch. But it was more likely.
They had been in those woods themselves and even they didn't know what had really happened.
Author's notes/Disclaimer: Mulder and Scully belong to Chris Carter's The X Files. The missing filmmakers, Heather, Joshua and Michael, are characters in the film The Blair Witch Project. However, some lines may become blurred because they were portrayed by actors using their actual names, and the film was shot in the real town of Burkittsville, Maryland. This story is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to real people, places or events is coincidental. No infringement to the copyright holders is intended, and no profit has been made from this work.