Title: Clarke House
Author: Laura Castellano
Rated R for a bit of language
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be
Category: A haunting and some good old-fashioned MT.
Spoilers: None that matter much. Blink and you'll miss the ones for Bad Blood and Chinga.
Timeline: Mid fifth season

Summary: "...silence lay steadily against the wood and tone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

Want to see a pic of Clarke House? Go here:

http://www.8op.com/laurita/standalone/clarkehouse.htm


From 'The Haunting of Hill House' by Shirley Jackson copyright 1959

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.


From the 'Clarke County Gazette' October 18, 1943

CLARKE HOUSE VACANT AGAIN

The Jeremiah Clarke house went on the market again yesterday, this time for a greatly reduced price. The Runnels family, who lived there only six months after purchasing it early this year, decided to sell the house after the father obtained a job in California. When asked the reason for the unusually low asking price, Mr. Runnels would only say that the family was desperate to sell.

The house, built by county founder Jeremiah Clarke in 1870, is in a state of disrepair. Sarah Runnels, youngest daughter of the vacating family, reportedly told her best friend that the house "didn't like" repairs. Apparently Mr. Runnels attempted on more than one occasion to paint the outside of the house, but the paint "wouldn't stick." Mr. Runnels dismissed this allegation, stating simply that the weather had not been right for painting.

Built by county founder Jeremiah Clarke in 1870, the house is still known as the Clarke House although it has had numerous owners since the last of the Clarke family passed away in 1929.

The Clarkes came to Texas from Tennessee shortly after the Civil War, and settled the area which would soon come to be known as Clarke's Station. The town of Clarke's Station later became Clarkeston, and the surrounding area was incorporated into Clarke County in the late 1880's.

From the 'Clarke County Gazette' June 3, 1955

Local Boys Missing

Two young Clarkeston boys, Abel Johnson, 13, and Frederick Mays, 12, have not been seen since yesterday morning. According to Henrietta Mays, Frederick's mother, the boys had been riding their bicycles to the town library when they disappeared. When Frederick did not come home for dinner, the mother became concerned and telephoned the library. The librarian, Miss Conrad, reported that the boys had not been in that day.

A full-scale search has been launched by the Sheriff to find the missing children.

From the 'Clarke County Gazette' June 4, 1955

Missing Boys' Bicycles Found

Two bicycles, identified by Roger Johnson as belong to his son, Abel and Frederick Mays, have been located in a ditch near the old Clarke house. A search of the surrounding area, including the vacant home, revealed nothing to suggest foul play, but both the Johnson and Mays families insist their sons would not have run away from home. Henrietta Mays declared repeatedly that the boys had been "swallowed up" by the Clarke house. Local authorities dismissed her rantings as hysteria.

The Clarke house, which has been empty for two years, has gained a reputation among the local children as being haunted. Some of the stories about the house stem from the fact that since Marybell Clarke, the last surviving member of the Clarke family, died in 1929, the house has had a long string of owners, none of whom have remained for long.

Jason Garn, the realtor who is handling the sale of the home, stated that the poor condition of the home is the reason for the lack of long-term owners, not spooks.

"There's nothing in that house except dust and some old pieces of broken furniture," he insisted. "I've been inside many times myself, and not once have I seen a ghost. The problem is, it would take so much money to repair the place that it isn't a good bargain. I don't know why the current owners don't simply have it torn down."

From the 'Clarke County Gazette' August 7, 1955

Clarke House Slated for Demolition

The Jeremiah Clarke home, vacant since 1952 and in a sad state of disrepair, will be demolished next week. Jason Garn, the realtor handling the unsuccessful sale of the house, applauded the decision by the owner.

"I've said for years it ought to come down," he stated. "The land is worth more as a commercial property, anyway."

There has still been no sign of the two boys who went missing earlier this summer. Their bicycles were found near the house, but no other evidence has turned up.

From 'Stories of Genuine Hauntings' by Alexander Roberts copyright 1986

There is no question that the Clarke House in north eastern Texas is a genuine haunting. Many people have disappeared there over the years, including two teenaged boys in 1955. A young man hitchhiking home from college was reportedly dropped near the house by a trucker in 1982 and never seen again. His backpack was found on the dilapidated front porch of the Clarke House. In 1955, just after the two kids disappeared, the place was supposed to be torn down. Plans for razing it were abandoned when one of the workers went inside and never returned. A thorough search of the premises turned up nothing, but the other men were so spooked by the incident that they quit that very day. Word apparently spread quickly, and it became nearly impossible to find another crew to demolish the house. Once the owner heard what had happened, he immediately changed his plans and ordered the house left alone.

People who lived there, many of them difficult to locate now--the house has been vacant since 1952--are loathe to talk about their experiences. One woman, Sarah Runnels Greenup, was willing the speak to me, and the story she told, while abbreviated, was nonetheless chilling.

"My family lived in the Clarke House when I was just a little girl, about nine," she revealed. "It was me, my parents and my three older brothers. My parents are dead now, and believe me, none of my brothers will talk to you or anyone else about the house. The oldest, Joe, insists that nothing ever happened there at all, but that's just him being in denial. Believe me, plenty happened, and Joe knows it.

"The house was a mess--Mother could never seem to keep it clean, no matter how hard she tried, and my mother was a wonderful housekeeper. It seemed no sooner would she sweep and mop the floors than there would be mud tracked across them. She always yelled at my brothers and me for doing it, but it wasn't us."

Her face tightens a bit as she continues to talk, and I remain silent, letting her memories come as they will.

"I remember once my daddy tried to paint the outside of the house. It was awful, you know--the paint all chipped and bad looking. I don't think it had been painted since it was new. Or maybe someone had tried and the house didn't like it. I know when my daddy tried to paint, the paint just wouldn't stick to the house. It slid off, almost like the boards were coated with Teflon or something, you know what I mean? Just slid right off. My father tried every trick known to man at the time to prepare the wood for painting, but nothing worked. The house just didn't want to be painted."

"I understand your father told the newspaper--"

"He said it wasn't the right time of year to paint," she interrupts, "but that isn't the truth. It was nice spring weather, warm and sunny, not wet or cold at all. It was the house."

I showed her a photo of the house, taken recently with my own camera. The wooden posts supporting the balcony had been replaced by brick pillars, but the balcony still leaned forward slightly--it was as if the pillars had been too short and whoever had put them there had decided not to correct the problem.

Or as if the house itself was biting down on the newness with the dirty white teeth of the balcony rail, protesting any renovation to its original form.

"There," Mrs. Greenup says, tapping her fingernail on an upstairs window in the photo. "That was my bedroom."

"Did anything unusual ever happen in there?" I ask.

She fixes me with a bland stare, and I can see the panic of memory just below the surface.

"There was no place in that house that things didn't happen."


Agent Fox Mulder Federal Bureau of Investigation X-Files Division March 23, 1998

Dear Agent Mulder:

I am writing to request your assistance in locating my twin brother, Alexander Roberts. He disappeared over two months ago while investigating a supposedly haunted house he had once written about. My brother is an author, and although the Clarke House was the subject of a chapter in a book he published several years ago, he has never been able to shake his fascination with the place.

I know he had visited the house several times, and while he reported to me that he had felt a "presence" in the place, he never spotted any happenings that could be called paranormal. I am not at all certain I believe in these things, but the fact remains that my brother is missing after a visit to this house. Local authorities have been of little or no assistance to me, and when I finally contacted the FBI on my own, I was referred to you.

I would very much appreciate your help in this matter. I feel certain something terrible has happened to my brother, but no one wants to listen to me. If you are interested in learning more about this case, please contact me at the number listed below.

Yours, Alexis Roberts Stephens

Mulder read over the letter a second time, then once more as his partner entered the office.

"What've you got?" she asked curiously, heading immediately for the coffee maker. "Anything good?"

"Maybe," he replied, still studying the paper. "A guy's gone missing, and his twin sister has asked us to help locate him."

Scully sipped the hot liquid, closing her eyes in bliss as it slid down her throat. "Why us? Why not the missing persons division?"

"Apparently she was referred directly to our office," he said, swinging around in his chair to face her. "Hope you brought your cowboy boots."

Scully stared. "No."

Mulder smiled.

"No way, Mulder. I'm on a plane for California tomorrow evening, and I am *not* going to Texas instead. And if you tell me this case has anything at all to do with vampires..."

"Not vampires, Scully. Ghosts."

Scully was unamused. "Ghosts," she repeated flatly.

"A genuine haunted house, in fact."

Mulder turned to his bookcase, rooting through the shelves until he came up with a battered soft-cover book, which he held up for her inspection.

"'Stories of Genuine Hauntings,'" she read aloud. The small smile that played around her lips belied her impatient tone. This was so like Mulder. Dangle a spook or specter in front of him and he was off like a shot to investigate, with his loyal partner trailing behind. Well damn it, she resolved, not this time. I'm officially on vacation as of five o'clock tomorrow afternoon, and I am not spending my time off chasing ghosts. "Come on, Mulder, you're not going to tell me someone read that book, went off to investigate a haunted house, and got swallowed up by the ghoulies and ghosties, are you?"

"Not a reader, Scully. The author."

Scully took the book from him and flipped through it casually. Taking note of the copyright date, she raised an eyebrow. "The author disappeared while researching a book published twelve years ago?"

"Not at all. The author disappeared two months ago while visiting a house he wrote about twelve years ago. According to his twin sister, the house in question had always held a weird fascination for him."

He handed Scully the letter, and she read it over quickly. "That's really odd," she commented.

"Most of our cases are."

"No, I don't mean the letter. I'm talking about the fact that the house mentioned in the letter--the Clarke House--is the subject of the chapter your book naturally falls open to. It's as if you've read this chapter a hundred times."

"Or more."

She glanced up at him, surprised.

"You see, Scully," he told her softly, "the Clarke House has always held a weird fascination for me, as well."

There was a strange silence, which she broke, finally, by saying, "I don't think I understand."

"Look," he offered, taking the book from her hands and flipping to a section of black and white photographs somewhere in the middle. "Look at the photo of the Clarke House."

Scully examined the picture.

"Yeah? So?"

"So doesn't it...I don't know, doesn't it *draw* you in some way? Doesn't it capture the imagination?"

"Mulder, it's just a house. I'll admit it's creepy looking, but a good coat of paint would go a long way toward eliminating--"

"It won't hold paint."

"What?"

"Various owners over the years have tried to make repairs, including painting the exterior. The paint reportedly slid off the house and wouldn't stick. It was supposed to be demolished in the 'fifties, but when one of the workers went inside and never came out again, the other men quit. The owner decided to leave the place standing."

Scully sighed, handing him back both the book and the letter. "Mulder, there are thousand possible explanations for what might have happened to that man, completely rational ones. Naturally I sympathize with Mrs...." She searched the letter for the name.

"Stephens," he supplied.

"Stephens," she acknowledged, "but I don't see anything here that makes this case an X-file. As far as I can tell, it's a simple missing persons case."

"I'd still like to look into it."

"Fine, Mulder, you look into it. I'm going to California."

"You're missing a great opportunity, Scully."

"I'll live with the consequences."

And that, Mulder concluded, was that. Once Scully made up her mind, it was set in stone.


They shared a cab to the airport the next afternoon.

"What did Skinner say when you requested time off so unexpectedly?"

"He told me I probably wouldn't get much work done with you out of the office anyway," Mulder replied. "I think I'm offended."

"I think he's right," she contradicted, amused. "Remember what happened when I tried to take a vacation to Maine?"

"And that was only a few weeks ago. Scully, I think we should talk about this constant need of yours to get away."

She fixed him with a stern glare. "Mulder, the very fact that I did *not* get away--that I did, in fact, get caught up in a case--"

"Aha! So you admit it!" he crowed triumphantly.

"--is the reason I am so determined to get away now," she continued, ignoring his apparent victory. Until now she'd refused to acknowledge that she'd been actually working on a case during that recent weekend.

"So you'd really rather visit with your brother than investigate a genuine haunted house with me?" he asked after they'd paid the cab and retrieved their luggage. "You're missing a golden opportunity to prove the existence of the paranormal."

"Mulder, haunted houses are fiction. I doubt you'll find anything more frightening than rats in that old place."

He made a face. "Rats?"

"Rats and spiders."

"Okay then, you're missing a prime opportunity to prove me wrong." He juggled his suitcase and wiggled his eyebrows enticingly. "C'mon, Scully, whaddya say? Why not ditch old brother Bill and let's have a vacation for two in scenic, historic Clarke County, Texas."

"They're calling your flight," she said dryly.

"Right. Well..." Goodbyes were always awkward, and Mulder hated them. He wanted to give her a quick kiss on the cheek but didn't quite dare in front of this many spectators. Instead, he settled for a squeeze of her shoulder.

"Be careful, Mulder," she told him seriously. "I mean it. I wish you wouldn't go down there alone. You always seem to get into trouble on your own."

Mulder frowned. "I'm not incompetent, Scully," he objected. "I am a responsible human being."

"I didn't say you were incompetent, Mulder. I'd tend to classify you as accident-prone."

"Besides," he continued, "what kind of trouble could I get into with rats and spiders?"

"Have you ever heard of rabies, Mulder?"

"All right, all right, I'll be careful. And you do the same. I hear the--" He started to say "the ghosts in California" but that would bring back memories of Emily...and Melissa. "I hear the rats and spiders in California are some of the worst in the nation."

Scully just smiled and waved pointedly at him as the last call for his flight was announced. He gave another awkward wave and ran for the plane.


Mulder had flown into Dallas/Ft. Worth airport and rented a car. The drive north had been restful, mostly--except for that semi that had parked on his tail for the ten miles of construction they'd had to crawl through. By the time Mulder reached the town of Clarkeston, the afternoon had waned.

Excellent, he thought with some amusement. What better way to catch your first glimpse of a haunted house than in the dim glow of twilight?

His amusement disappeared rapidly when the house itself came into view. Temporarily losing all sense of humor, Mulder took his foot off the gas and allowed the car to roll to a stop.

"Damn," he muttered beneath his breath, staring at the decaying monstrosity.

It was everything he'd read about and more.

Much more.

Perhaps *too* much more.

There was something very wrong here.

After a full two minutes of staring at the peeling paint, loose shingles and off-kilter aspect that were the most noticeable features of Clarke House, Mulder shook his head as if to clear it.

"Of course there's something wrong," he told himself aloud. "It's *haunted*."

He could almost hear the words of dissent Scully would have spoken, had she been there, but Mulder was a little surprised to find that, after his first glimpse, there was no doubt in his mind that the house was indeed haunted.

No way a place could look like that and *not* be haunted, he thought. Wouldn't be surprised to see spooks flying in and out the upper windows right now.

There were, of course, no spooks flying in and out the upper windows--no visible ones anyway--but Mulder felt certain that the local police would no doubt be passing by at some point. Since he was, in truth, trespassing on the property, he thought it might be expedient to hide his car. He felt certain Skinner would be unamused to receive a telephone call notifying him of the arrest of one of his agents.

The driveway, or at least what was left of the driveway--it was marked with rocks and growth but was still clearly visible--curved naturally around toward the back of the house. Switching on the car's headlights against the rapidly gathering gloom, Mulder followed it, and grinned in satisfaction when he saw an empty garage--obviously a later addition to the house--standing open. He pulled the car inside, grabbed his bag off the back seat, and stepped out.

The atmosphere was decidedly creepy, but he shook off the feeling. It would be too easy to be drawn into his imagination in a place like this. He'd have to be careful, and try to employ some of the scientific thought Scully would use if she had accompanied him.

For just a moment--a split second really--he felt a flash of genuine anger at her for deserting him. "What the hell?" he asked aloud, shocked by the foreign sensation. Oh, there were plenty of times he felt negative emotions concerning Scully, without a doubt. Frustration, yes, irritation, hell yes--actual, deep anger...no.

After concealing his car with the garage door, which was surprisingly easy to lower, considering it appeared as dilapidated as the house, Mulder walked toward the house, taking in his surroundings with interest.

Although it was late March--springtime in north Texas--and trees were already showing a return to their summer brilliance, those surrounding the Clarke house seemed as dead as the structure itself. There were a few blades of green grass bravely attempting to push their way up through the blanket of dead leaves that covered the ground, but very few. It was as if the newborn blades found their strength overpowered by the age and wisdom of the fallen leaves.

Crunching through the leaves, Mulder climbed the two rickety steps that led to the back door. He pulled open a screen door that wasn't quite falling off his hinges, and with little optimism, twisted the doorknob. He'd brought his lockpick kit, just in case, but it seemed luck was on his side. The door opened easily.

Mulder grinned at the standard creak the hinges emitted, and his grin grew even wider at the sight of the kitchen table. It was so cliche it was classic.

What appeared to be a modest meal covered the table, which was set with four places. There was a pot of what might have once been baked beans in the center of the table. Next to it sat an iron skillet containing six pieces of petrified cornbread. There was brown liquid on the blue-checkered tablecloth, which he finally realized must be spilled liquid from the beans. Mulder supposed at one time the bean liquid had been a light brown, probably even aromatic and flavorful, but now it resembled nothing so much as dried blood.

He wondered how many books about haunted houses he'd read where the murdered family's supposed last meal remained on the table, forever waiting for those who would never consume it.

The thought of cliches made him remember the door, and he swung around, expecting to find it had closed silently behind him, perhaps even to find he was locked inside. To his surprise, it stood open, exactly as he'd left it a few minutes earlier.

"Not much of a haunted house if the doors don't even close on their own," he muttered, walking over and shutting it himself.

With the door closed, the light inside the house was somewhat dimmer, so Mulder pulled out his flashlight and shone it around the room. The kitchen appeared to be standard, old fashioned, furnished with all the necessities but none of the amenities. The sink was old, chipped porcelain--not a double sink, but one large one, like the one in which Mulder remembered his grandmother washing dishes. There were no cupboards beneath it, and the water pipes--rusted through in one spot--were clearly visible.

Beside the sink was a wooden table that he supposed might have been used, at one time, for food preparation. Another memory flashed through his mind, of his grandmother kneading bread dough on a table very similar, when he realized with a start that he could actually *smell* fresh-baked bread. This was no memory. The aroma was real.

Sniffing deliberately, as if to locate where the fresh bread was baking in this long-empty kitchen, Mulder continued his examination of the room. A large cupboard stood in one corner, its doors standing open. He crossed to investigate and discovered nothing more interesting than rodent droppings. To his left, along the opposite wall, stood an old fashioned stove, not the kind you had to light a fire in, not *that* old-fashioned, but the kind you had to get down on your knees and use a match to light the oven. The kind where the oven door opened to the side, like a clothes dryer, instead of downward the way they did now. The four iron burners on top looked like giant black widow spiders in the gloom.

"Rats and spiders," he told himself confidently. "Nothing more dangerous than that." He ignored the little voice in his head reminding him that black widow spiders were poisonous, and that there had been more than one successful horror movie where rats devoured humans. "Well," he asked, comforted by the sound of his own voice, as if craving human contact after all, "what next?"

The living room, his subconscious answered as he reached for the door next to the stove, but instead, Mulder found himself in a formal dining room. Moth-eaten velvet drapes covered the windows, plunging this room into almost total darkness, and what had once probably been nicely fringed edges now lay in rotted tatters on the floor. The large dining room table was surrounded by eight chairs, their rotting velvet covers apparently matching the drapes. Before each place was a formal dinner setting. This time, there was no decayed food present.

Walking through the dining room to the door at the other end, Mulder at last found himself in what appeared to be a formal living room. The sofa and chairs looked French-style, but Mulder couldn't have said if they were Louis XIV or Napoleonic. In fact, he wasn't even sure they were French--they just looked like the impression he got in his mind when he thought of French furniture. Again, the furniture and windows were covered in rotted velvet.

"The Clarkes were nothing if not consistent," he murmured.

The huge brick fireplace still contained the charred remains of a fire, and on the mantle was the requisite clock, its hands set to twelve.

This place was beginning to look more and more like some kind of haunted house a group of kids had set up for Halloween. In fact, he wondered briefly if it had been just that, several months earlier and if he was simply seeing the remnants.

On the other hand, Alexander Roberts was still missing.

Something in the fireplace caught his eye, and Mulder knelt beside it, shining the flashlight directly at the remains of the fire. There, in the very back--something white. He reached for it, then drew back his hand quickly.

The ashes, dark, grey and without a single glowing ember, were hot.

"What the hell?" he demanded aloud again, thinking it should become his mantra.

Grabbing a poker from the set of fireplace tools conveniently placed, Mulder fished through the ashes, drawing the object towards himself carefully. It appeared to be a tiny baby shoe, covered in soot except for the toe, which was what had caught his eye.

Mulder picked up the shoe to examine it, and nearly screamed when the desiccated foot fell out of it as he turned it over. He stared at the object on the floor in revulsion. It was apparently the foot of the previous owner of the shoe. The left foot. It had been severed--only severed wasn't the right word, he realized with growing horror. The remains of the tiny foot appeared to have been chewed from its leg.

After regaining his equilibrium, Mulder fished around in the ashes some more, looking for further evidence of a body, but there was none. He bagged the tiny foot and shoe.

Trespassing or not, it was time to call in the local authorities. Mulder felt in his pocket for his cell phone, then remembered he'd left it in the car on the portable charger.

He lay the evidence bag on the mantle, swinging the flashlight around for one final look at the room, and started back the way he had come. When he reached the kitchen, he stood totally still for a moment, staring at the table in disbelief.

If the meal had simply disappeared, he could have chalked it up to a number of things, including his own active imagination, but instead...it appeared the meal on the table had been consumed. Plates that had been formerly clean now contained crumbs from the cornbread, the ladle had been removed from the bean pot and now lay to one side, staining the tablecloth still further with the blood-like stains and, most confusing of all, there was now a half-empty gallon of milk beside it.

Mulder knew with a certainty that the milk had not been there before. He slipped on one of the latex gloves he carried in his pocket, and picked it up. Out of force of habit, Mulder sniffed the milk in the open jug, and nearly gagged. It was soured. More than that, it was practically cottage cheese. It looked and smelled like milk that had been left sitting at room temperature for days.

The oddest thing was that the door to the kitchen had remained partially ajar during his time in the next room, and Mulder knew, without a doubt, that there had been no human presence in the kitchen while he investigated the fireplace. There was no way four people could have sat at this table, consumed beans and cornbread and clabbered milk within the few minutes he'd been absent, without making a single sound.

On the other hand, he reminded himself, he'd been pretty preoccupied with what he'd found in the living room. It was possible--highly unlikely but *possible*, he admitted--that one person could have stolen into the room and made it look like a family of four had eaten a meal.

On the heels of that thought came another, a memory of his old partner Jerry Lamana, who had inadvertently sent an evidence bag to the cleaners, almost costing a judge his life and seriously hampering Jerry's own career. "Stupid!" he berated himself, remembering the bag he'd left on the mantle. "How could you do that?"

He rushed back to the living room, half expecting to find the bag gone, and breathed a sigh of relief when he caught sight of it right where he'd left it. His relief was short-lived. When he reached the bag and shone the flashlight fully on it, Mulder could see that it was empty.

"Dammit!" he said under his breath, looking quickly around the room. He was alone. Mulder picked up the bag and examined it, and his heart nearly stopped when he realized it was perfectly clean.

The shoe had been covered with ash, and the foot had even crumbled a bit when he'd picked it up, but the bag showed no signs of having ever held such dirty contents. In fact, it didn't appear to have ever been used at all.

"What is going on?" Mulder demanded aloud. It occurred to him that he was doing quite a bit of talking to himself. Naturally, a guy who lives alone is going to speak to the room now and then, he thought, but this was becoming completely out of character for him.

"As long as you don't start answering yourself, Mulder," he mumbled, and then thought uncomfortably that that was exactly what he'd just done.

Again, he thought he ought to retrieve his phone. Even if he didn't call the local police--because there was no way in hell he would ever convince them there had actually been a desiccated infant's foot in the fireplace--he should at least call Scully and tell her what was happening.

He immediately changed his mind, feeling his anger at her surge again, more intensely than before. This time he didn't question it, which should have felt odd to him but didn't. She was his partner. She should have been here. She could visit her brother any time. The fact that his thoughts were a bit irrational, that she in fact *couldn't* visit her brother "any time" didn't cross his mind.

Mulder had a digital camera in his bag, and he wanted to take it out and shoot some pictures, but first, he decided, he'd better explore the rest of the house and make sure he was really alone. Because he could believe--almost--that someone had changed the kitchen during the five minutes he'd been in the living room, but there was no way he could accept that someone had stolen the evidence bag containing the shoe and replaced it with a clean one during the minute and a half he'd spent staring at the eaten meal and sniffing a milk jug.

Which left him with one solution that he could clearly see. Ghosts.

He could hear Scully refuting this in the back of his mind, could almost see her rolling her eyes, and this only made him angrier.

"Bitch," he said clearly, not even pausing this time to be shocked.


From 'Hauntings and Their Effects on Human Behavior' by Grant Stallings, Ph.D. page 137

'It is clear then, from evidence I have already presented, that spirits, or presences as they may be known, can have a direct effect not only on human behavior but on our very thoughts of that behavior. The best example I have discovered of this is Clarke House in rural northeast Texas.

'The Garman family, who lived in the house for a period of only three months just after World War II, are an excellent example of this theory. The father, Frank Garman, had just returned from the war when he moved his wife and son into the house. The son, who is still living but refused me an interview, gave reports to friends and neighbors that his father had become abusive towards him and his mother.

'Although he gave only vague clues, since attitudes of the time did not allow for the open discussion of such matters, it was impossible for his friends and his teacher at school to miss the fact that Fred often sported black eyes or other bruises. One day, shortly before he moved out of the school district, his teacher notified the authorities that the boy had arrived at school with his arm in a cast. Local police, upon investigation, learned the boy had fallen down the stairs at his home the previous day and broken the arm. No charges were filed, because the family was united in their claim that the incident had been an accident, but there was suspicion in the neighborhood that the father had caused the injury. (See transcript of interview with teacher Peggy Farmer.)

After the wife ended up in the hospital, again claiming the injuries had been caused by a fall down the stairs in her home, the family moved from Clarke House. Subsequent investigations of public records from their previous and future towns of residence reveal no signs of abuse. Apparently the behavior only occurred while the family lived in Clarke House.

When asked by a friend why they were moving after such a short time in the house, the Garmans would only say the house "didn't suit" them, but Rina Garman's letters to her sister reveal a much more sinister reason.

"Frank has started to hit me now," she wrote just a month before they vacated Clarke House. "At first, when he was so mean in what he said, I figured it was because of what he'd seen overseas. Then he started doing little things like pushing me around or grabbing my arm too tight. Last night he slapped me so hard I still have the mark on my face. At least he's not hurting Freddy. I can stand it as long as it's just me." (Letter written to Mable Stone, sister of Celia Garman, August 17, 1946, given to the author in 1973 by Mrs. Stone.)


Other than a tiny bathroom, tucked away under the stairs and obviously added sometime after the house was built, the entire downstairs consisted of the three rooms he'd already seen. Mulder now turned his attention to the stairs.

They curved gracefully up one wall between the living room and dining room, wide and sweeping for the first three steps, then narrowing, though still comfortably wide. He shone his flashlight into the gloom at the top, and seeing nothing but a few spider webs criss-crossing the way, tested the bottom step. It seemed sound.

Making his way carefully, planting each foot deliberately and testing the integrity of the wood before putting his full weight on it, Mulder had gotten almost halfway up the stairs when he paused. He cocked his head, listening carefully--he could swear he'd heard footsteps in the kitchen.

Drawing his weapon, he turned slowly. "Federal Agent," he called firmly. "Is anyone there?"

Naturally, there was no answer. Mulder was about to descend the stairs to investigate when a streak of--a streak of *white* was the only way he could later describe it, although it looked nothing like what he imagined a traditional ghost would look--rushed past him. He felt a freezing cold blast of wind brush his body as it passed.

Mulder turned, staring up into the darkness where the thing had disappeared, his mouth open in astonishment. If anyone had asked him, before he arrived, if he believed Clarke House to be haunted, he would have answered, "Probably." Had anyone demanded to know whether or not he expected to see a supernatural entity, his honest answer would have to have been, "Probably not."

Before he was able to fully process what had just happened, another series of footsteps--and they were footsteps, of that he was now certain--crossed the kitchen floor. He turned again, this time to descend. The sound of the kitchen door slamming suddenly took him by surprise, and Mulder's foot slipped.

Rather than tumbling down the stairs, he slid down, scraping his back and butt along the time-roughened wood. His right foot, the one that had betrayed him, caught between two of the railings supporting the banister and twisted, painfully enough to cause him to cry out. He landed on his side, bruising his ribs and banging his head against the floor, his ankle still caught between the rails.

Lying quietly on the floor for a minute, Mulder took swift inventory: breathing hurt but wasn't difficult, which indicated broken ribs were unlikely, his arms were uninjured, his hands slightly scraped. The biggest problem was his right ankle, but although twisting it was excruciating, it was possible. His head ached where he'd banged it, but he hadn't lost consciousness. Altogether not a bad accident--at least not for Mulder.

He'd dropped his gun, which had skidded across the floor, and his flashlight. Managing to locate the light, he switched it on and was surprised to find it still worked. His weapon wasn't so easy to locate, but after a few minutes he found it lodged against the sofa.

Pulling himself carefully to his feet, Mulder tested his weight on his injured ankle. He bit his lip hard at the shooting pain, but after a few seconds of determined movement of the injured joint, decided he could walk.

Now he turned his attention back to the kitchen, and the noise that had startled him. The slamming of the kitchen door, it had sounded like, although Mulder reminded himself that the kitchen door had already been closed--he had closed it himself. So there was no way it could slam, unless someone else had opened it while he was in the adjacent room, in which case they'd have had to be exceptionally quiet.

His mind was, for the moment, ignoring the whiteness that had flashed past him on the stairs.

Mulder entered the kitchen, examining the door, which was indeed tightly shut. Then he naturally turned his attention to the kitchen table, wondering idly if he would find it set for coffee and dessert this time. Instead, it was completely cleared of both dishes and food.

He swung his flashlight beam toward the sink and spotted the dishes, neatly washed and stacked on a drain board.

"Why can't my apartment have a ghost that does dishes?" he wondered aloud.

He limped across to the kitchen door and looked outside, but was unable to see much. His flashlight didn't seem to penetrate the now complete darkness, but as far as he could tell, there was no evidence of anyone else having been there recently. Not in the last half hour, anyway. Mulder shut the door and, surprised to find what appeared to be a fairly sturdy lock, twisted it firmly into place. That would at least make it more difficult for any human visitors to gain entrance, he thought.

When he limped through the living room to the stairs, he barely acknowledged that there was now a blazing fire in the fireplace.


The upper floor of Clarke House consisted of a small square foyer at the top of the stairs, off of which opened four doors leading to identical sized bedrooms. Examining them one by one, Mulder noted that they were furnished in a style similar to downstairs: velvet drapes and velvet bedspreads, all rotting. One of the beds was neatly made up, the other three appeared to have been recently slept in. The bedspread on one was askew, and the other two had their covers thrown carelessly back, as if the occupant had just risen. Mulder had a suspicion that if he looked in the rooms again five minutes from now, the beds would all be made.

Deciding to leave further investigation of the second floor for daylight, he backed out of the fourth bedroom. As he turned to locate the stairs, the beam of his flashlight illuminated another set of stairs tucked into the far corner of the foyer. He crossed to them and shined the beam upwards, but the stairs twisted almost immediately and all he could see was a blank wall. He decided they must lead to an attic.

There was no banister here, only the wall itself to hang on to for support, and for a minute Mulder hesitated. His ankle was still very sore, and he knew he should go downstairs, lie on the sofa and prop it up. Maybe that fire was still lit. On the other hand, the lure of the mysterious, narrow staircase was strong. In the end, it won out. He knew there was no way he'd sleep without knowing what lay above him. Not that he expected to sleep anyway.

The staircase was barely wide enough for Mulder to climb without turning sideways. He ducked his head instinctively, but soon realized he could stand up straight without a problem. Favoring his sprained ankle and testing each step carefully, as before, Mulder climbed to the top.

He expected the stairs to end in an open attic, but when he reached the top of the stairs, after three turns, he was met by a solid oak door, securely locked.

Now he had a choice to make--climb down two flights of stairs to where he'd left his bag, dig out his lockpick set, climb back up two flights of stairs on his rapidly-swelling ankle, and try to get past the door, or...wait until morning. At the thought of sleep, Mulder realized he was truly weary, and was surprised upon glancing at his watch to see that it was just after seven. It was so dark in the house, and he was so tired, he thought it must be nearing midnight.

With one last fruitless rattle of the doorknob, Mulder turned around carefully in the narrow passage and began to make his way down. It took him nearly ten minutes to traverse both flights of stairs--for some reason, the nearer to the ground floor he came, the worse the pain in his ankle grew. By the time he placed his good left foot on the living room floor, Mulder was unable to support any weight at all on the right. He hopped over to the sofa with the aid of the banister and a convenient chair, and sank down gratefully.

He expected clouds of dust to engulf him, but the furniture seemed surprisingly clean.

"Maybe the same ghost who does the dishes also dusts," he remarked to the room.

At his comment, the fire, which had still been blazing brightly, abruptly went out. Apparently the ghost of the nineteenth century Martha Stewart was unamused at his humor.

"Sorry," he offered to the emptiness by way of apology, but the fire did not return.

Mulder had dropped his backpack and sleeping bag near the sofa, and stretching out an arm, he was able to snag the strap on the sleeping bag. He dragged it over to himself, unrolled it carelessly, and threw it over his rapidly chilling body. He intended to stay awake as long as possible, to see if he could observe any other paranormal phenomena, but as soon as he was covered he again felt the heaviness in his eyelids that had struck him upstairs. It was similar to the lethargy he felt when he took cold medicine--no matter how badly he might want to stay awake, his eyelids would turn to lead, and as soon as he lay down he'd be out.

Mulder forced them open for one more glance at the fireplace, and just had time to think it odd that, in spite of the fact that the fire had burned for probably half an hour, the room was no warmer than when he'd first entered.

In fact, it was much, much colder.

He awoke feeling refreshed. This in itself was an oddity; that he could sleep soundly at any time was something for which to be grateful, but the idea that he could do so in a haunted house was incredible. Mulder raised his wrist and pushed the button that illuminated his digital watch. It showed twelve minutes after ten.

According to his watch, he'd slept for nearly fifteen hours.

Tossing back the sleeping bag and sitting up on the sofa, Mulder tested his ankle against the floor. It still hurt, that much was definite, but the swelling seemed to have gone down. When he tried to rise, he found that by breathing deeply and gradually increasing the weight he placed on that foot, he was able to stand on his own.

Mulder shuffled slowly across the floor to the window facing the front of the house. He pushed the velvet draperies aside and looked out upon a grey day. It was raining heavily, and he realized suddenly that he hadn't even been able to hear the rain falling until now.

He thought of his cell phone, lying on the seat of his rental car, still connected to the portable charger. He really ought to give Scully a call.

On the other hand, why should he stumble through a downpour on an injured ankle just to call someone who hadn't cared enough about him to come along in the first place? If she'd been here last night, she could have wrapped his ankle or something...at the very least talked him into lying down instead of making that stupid trip up two flights of stairs. In fact, if she'd been here to watch her partner's back, the way she should have been, the entire incident would probably have been avoided.

Screw her, then. Let her wonder why he didn't call. Let her worry about him, for a change.

Still staring out at the rain, Mulder was unconscious of the malicious grin that now spread across his face.

Suddenly, screwing Scully seemed like a fine plan.

Turning away from the window, he noticed the fire was blazing away in the fireplace again. He wandered over to it and warmed his hands, wondering if the table was set for breakfast. On the other hand, if all the occupants of the house had to offer for a meal was dried beans and petrified cornbread, he'd pass. Desiccated infant foot sounded more appetizing by far.

Mulder instantly snapped out of his reverie, shocked by what had just crossed his mind. Where had a thought like *that* come from?

The fire went out at once.

Without it, the room was plunged into near-total darkness again, so Mulder opened the rotting drapes. The daylight that managed to find its way in under the balcony outside was dim and grey, but it did help to illuminate the room a bit. It was better than nothing, and his flashlight batteries were already showing signs of running low. Which was weird as hell, because he'd replaced them just before leaving home.

Damned store must have sold him old batteries.

He was hungry, but instead of checking the kitchen for breakfast or searching the now darkened fireplace for more baby parts, he sat down on the sofa and rooted through his pack. Mulder extracted a couple of granola bars and a bottle of water and consumed them with gusto, tossing the paper into the fireplace. Maybe the next time it lit itself, Clarke House would oblige him by taking care of his trash.

After his breakfast, he rooted again through his backpack and found his lockpick set. It was time to find out what was hiding in the attic.

Maybe it was that white thing that had flashed past him on the stairs.

Mulder didn't stop to question whether or not he really wanted to encounter such an entity, he just made his way purposefully, if slowly, up the stairs.

By the time he reached the door to the attic, he was breathing heavily, as if he'd run several miles. He couldn't account for the tiredness that swept through his body, considering how long he'd slept, but for some reason he was unsurprised to find the door standing open.

"Okay," he said resignedly, and climbed the last three stairs to enter the attic.

There were no velvet curtains here, only bare windows letting in the dim light. The room itself was devoid of furniture--devoid of dust as well, he noticed--but there was writing on one wall. Crossing to where the wallpaper was peeling away, Mulder lifted a piece of it so he could read what it said.

"God grante that she lie stille," he quoted aloud. "Hey, I read that story when I was a kid! Although if I remember correctly, it was about possession, not a haunted house. You're slipping."

He wasn't sure what he meant by that statement--was it a comment on his own memory, or that of the house?--but he didn't bother questioning it at the time.

It was cold up here, and seeing nothing out of the ordinary--except for that odd sentence written on the wall--(was it written in blood? He leaned in for a closer look and was almost disappointed to find it looked more like a black permanent marker had been used)--Mulder decided to check out the second floor more thoroughly. He'd barely seen it last night.

The door behind him was closed, although he'd left it open wide, and again, Mulder was unsurprised. At least it hadn't locked him in the attic, he thought as he twisted the knob and the door opened easily. That could have been awkward, considering all his food and water was downstairs.

Although as neat as the ghosts who haunted Clarke House seemed to be, it might have been put away in a kitchen cupboard by now, he thought, and giggled at the idea. Giggled like a girl, he realized, which brought back memories of a discussion with Scully concerning a girlie scream. Wondering what a girlie scream would sound like coming from him, Mulder opened his mouth and tried for one.

"Eek!" he murmured in a high-pitched voice, but it didn't feel quite right. He tried again. "Eeeeek!" This time he managed to increase the volume, but it still didn't have that shrill fingernail-on-a-blackboard quality he was attempting to achieve. He drew in a deep breath and made one last effort. "Eeeeeeeek!" he screamed as loudly as he could.

Downstairs somewhere, a door slammed.

"All right, fine," he answered it sulkily. "I just wanted to see what it felt like."

Having experienced the girlie scream with no discernable side effects, Mulder left the attic and descended the narrow stairs to the second floor. The doors to all the bedrooms, which he'd left standing wide open the night before, were shut.

"Doors sensibly shut," he commented. "Isn't that how it's supposed to be in a haunted house? At least, I'd call Hill House the definitive haunted house of fiction. Do you suppose Clarke House is the definitive haunted house of fact?"

Mulder didn't even bother questioning who he was talking to. He opened the first bedroom door, finding the bed made neatly, as expected. He was surprised, however, to discover the curtains drawn back, letting in the daylight--such as it was. He took a look around.

The room was tastefully decorated in shades of blue. There was a hooked rug beside the bed, a ruffled bed skirt that swept the floor beside the rotted remnants of velvet bedspread, and a blue vase holding some dead flowers.

"You really ought to replace those," he commented absently to the room at large. The dormer window looked out upon the side yard, and Mulder found himself fascinated with one of the dead trees outside. It looked for all the world like a grotesque monster, its arms spread threateningly, or maybe one of those apple-throwing trees Dorothy had encountered in the Wizard of Oz.

He watched the tree for a few minutes, waiting for it to exhibit some sign of life, and was mildly disappointed when it continued to act like nothing more than a dead tree.

"Try coming inside," he told it confidently.

He left that room, uninteresting as it was, and entered the next. This one was done up in yellow, and Mulder wondered briefly if there was a Purple Room and an Orange Room, just like in Hill House. At this point, he would almost be disappointed if there was not.

The yellow room was just as neat as the blue room had been, except for the indentation in the bed, indicating someone had lain down on top of it after it had been made. The shape appeared to be that of a small child, perhaps four or five years old. Peeking out from under the bed was a pair of canvas sneakers, falling apart with age. Mulder crossed to the old fashioned dresser and opened a drawer, but there was nothing inside but a few rodent droppings.

"There are your rats," he told Scully, although she was not present at the time because she had chosen to desert him, the man who had stood by her through cancer and Emily and all nature of crises, to visit that bastard brother of hers.

He opened another drawer, and this one was not empty.

"Eeek!" Mulder screamed half-heartedly as he looked at the infant foot, complete with shoe, that had disappeared from his evidence bag the night before.

Shaking his head at his effort, he put the foot into yet another bag he withdrew from his pocket. There was no point, he knew. No doubt the foot would disappear from his possession soon, only to reappear in the kitchen sink, or something.

The thought of kitchens made him realize he was hungry, and Mulder looked at his watch. It read 3:15.

He shook his wrist, then looked again, but the watch still insisted that over five hours had passed since he'd awakened.

"So is it my watch that's screwy, or does time really pass faster here?" he asked the room.

His answer was the bedroom door swinging silently open--no creaking hinges on this door, oh no, and it occurred to Mulder dimly that the Martha Stewart ghost needed to give the kitchen door some ghostly oil. And oddly enough, he had left the door open when he'd entered the room. Which meant sometime in the past few minutes, someone had shut it.

He watched the door silently, his heart pounding in his chest, but no entity came through it. No flash of white, no Martha floating above the floorboards...nothing.

"Federal agent!" he called again, a small grin on his face. "Bet that intimidates the hell out of you, doesn't it!"

Clarke House made no reply.

"Answer me!" he yelled suddenly, frustrated with the lack of response, although had he been forced to say, he couldn't have told *what* response he expected.

Silence reigned.

"Maybe I'll just grab some paint and fix this place up," Mulder said maliciously, and immediately received the answer he'd sought.

The door in front of him slammed shut, faster and louder than any human could have slammed it, and that was followed by a series of bangs throughout the house. It was as if every door in the house had been slammed shut one after another.

Mulder stared at the door, listening to the noises from below and above, his eyes wide with fear, but once the house was again silent, he regained some of his bravado.

"Is that what it takes to get a response out of you?" he asked the house. "Maybe I'll just threaten to repair this cracked window over here."

He watched the window, listened for the doors...but all was still quiet.

It struck Mulder, quite suddenly, that darkness was falling outdoors. The rain had stopped, and the sky was clear in the gathering twilight.

His watch now read 6:42.

"What the FUCK!" he demanded, ripping the timepiece from his wrist. "This is bullshit."

It was unlike Mulder to swear so constantly, and some part of him realized the oddity and questioned it, but he managed to stifle that voice of reason.

"Fuck you," he said to it. "And fuck her, too. Actually, I think I will. Fuck her, that is. I don't think I'll even ask her permission first--she likes to play rough. Why else would a girl join the FBI? Wanted to play with the *big* boys, no doubt."

Mulder grinned, and the distorted image of himself he caught in the mirror brought him instantly back to reality.

"What am I talking about?" he asked himself, horrified at the thoughts he'd been entertaining. "Scully, I'm glad you're not here with me. Who knows what I might try to do to you while under the influence of this house."

Under the influence, he told himself firmly. That was it exactly.

"I have to get out of here."

The thought came clearly, all by itself, not on the heels of another, as thoughts are wont to do, and Mulder decided he would heed the advice. He walked purposefully to the bedroom door and twisted the knob.

It was locked.

"Dammit!" he yelled, pounding on the door.

He stopped when answering thuds seemed to come from the other side. His breath caught in his throat when he realized that there was someone--or some thing--just outside the bedroom where he was now trapped.

"Let me out!" he demanded firmly, twisting the knob again, but the only reply was the closing of another door across the hall.

Turning away, scanning the rapidly darkening room for another exit, Mulder again noticed the indentation on the bed. It had changed. It looked like the person who had been lying on his or her back had now turned on their side, perhaps to observe his pathetic attempts to free himself. Perhaps enjoying his descent into...was it madness?

No, Mulder answered himself absently, eyes glued to the bed, it was not madness. It was perhaps a profound lack of judgement, maybe even carefully suppressed desires--he shuddered at *that* thought--but it was definitely not madness. He had seen madness, and this wasn't it.

As he stared at the bed, he thought he saw a movement--like breathing, only it wasn't as though the unseen person on the bed was breathing, it was as if the bed itself was breathing. He could barely make out the slow rise and fall, rise and fall, of the mattress, but it was there.

This time the girlie scream came with no effort. "Eeeeek!"

The noise from his own throat woke him from his near-trance.

Mulder threw himself at the door again, pounding frantically, more afraid of what was *inside* the room with him than of what might be outside. The dreadful banging on the door had ceased, but the bed, when he risked a glance over his shoulder at it, continued to breathe.

All at once the doorknob began to turn slowly from side to side. Mulder backed away in horror, realizing he was drawing ever nearer to the breathing bed but unwilling to face whatever monstrosity now wanted to come in.

It wants to eat me, he thought clearly. It wants to eat me but I won't let it, I can't let it, I--

His thoughts broke off when the door itself began to breathe.

It pressed inward and outward gently, bending the wood on its hinges but not threatening to splinter the door...it was as though...

"The house itself is alive," Mulder said softly. "It's alive and it knows I'm here."

He turned frantically toward the window, planning to jump from the second floor if necessary in order to escape the house. He was two steps toward the cracked glass when he caught sight of the heavy wardrobe in one corner of the room.

"Of course!" He nearly sagged with relief. A place to hide! Surely inside a wardrobe was as perfect a hiding place as beneath a bed, and Mulder could hardly crawl under *that* bed, now could he? At this moment, the wardrobe itself showed no signs of life.

The doorknob behind him continued to turn slowly back and forth, the door continued its gentle inhalation and exhalation, and Mulder yanked open the wardrobe door with a feeling of almost profound gratitude. Gratitude towards whom--or what--he didn't really know...perhaps to Clarke House itself for providing him a place to curl up and hide until the monsters went back into their lairs.

He yanked the wardrobe door open and stared in shock at what occupied the small space.

It was the rest of the desiccated baby.

There was nothing girlie about Mulder's scream this time--it was long and loud and healthy. It was the scream of a man who has nearly reached the brink of insanity, and it occurred to Mulder in a detached sort of way, even while he screamed, that it was a fine thing--here he had worked all these years on the X-Files, had seen all manner of frightening things, had even discovered that the evil that men do is far worse than that of the imagination...and now he was ready to collapse over a simple haunted house.

But it isn't simple, his inner self objected. There is nothing simple about Clarke House at all. It is the most complex of creatures.

He closed his eyes for a long moment, pressing the lids together tightly, willing himself to believe that the abomination in the wardrobe was only a figment of his imagination, but the steady breathing of the house around him gave lie to that notion. At last, summoning up the last of his courage, he opened them again.

The infant corpse was gone.

Mulder stared at the empty wardrobe--dust free, if you please--and wondered if it was a safe place to hide, or if the infant would reappear the moment he closed the door, crawling toward him in the pitch black, its breathing rattly and labored in contrast with that of Clarke House, its eyes glowing as it came for him, came to eat him--

A single drop of blood fell from the shelf above. Mulder knew it was blood even though he could barely make out the dark red of it in the growing gloom, because the time in this infernal house was all screwed up and even though he'd only been awake a short while, it must already be nearing midnight.

Then the first drop was joined by a second, splattering lightly as it hit the wooden floor of the wardrobe.

Slowly, as slowly as he could justify, Mulder raised his eyes to see what resided on the shelf.

There was no scream at all this time, just a bulging of his eyes, a hand to the mouth as he fought back a retch.

This time, the infant wasn't desiccated. Not at all.

It was freshly chewed, its foot missing, its body more red than white, its small blue eyes open and staring directly into Mulder's.

He reached a hand automatically toward the pocket where he'd stashed the bagged, dried foot inside the sneaker, and when Mulder felt the blood coat his fingers, the blood from the foot that was not desiccated, but was as fresh as that in the wardrobe, his shock was complete.

He withdrew his hand bit by bit, reluctant to confirm with his eyes what his sense of touch told him was true, but at last it could be put off no longer. He raised his fingers so they caught the beam of moonlight that shone through the window, past the dead tree that resembled nothing so much as a man, a dead man stretched out on a rack or a bed of iron spikes or some other equally awful instrument of torture...and saw the blood coating them.

Mulder fell, thinking just before he hit the floor that he had already accomplished the girlie scream, now he might as well go for a girlie faint.

He hoped Clarke house would be merciful, and eat him while he was unconscious.


Scully slammed the phone down in frustration.

"Still can't reach him?" her brother asked with something almost like sympathy in his voice.

She shook her head, worried.

"Don't worry, Dana. He's probably forgotten all about you in the excitement of his ghost hunt." The sympathy for his sister's concern was now replaced with unconcealed sarcasm.

Scully sighed, fighting back the urge to yell at him. "You don't understand, Bill," she said defensively. "It isn't like Mulder to completely ignore his cell phone. I'm afraid something might have happened to him."

"What?" Bill snorted derisively. "You think a spook got him? Don't tell me you're buying into that nonsense now."

She counted to ten, then counted to ten once more for good measure. "It's an old house," she explained. "There's no telling what kind of condition it's in. He might be hurt, and unable to call for help."

"More likely he's been arrested for trespassing and spent the weekend in jail."

Her face hardened. "Then he'd have called me to come bail him out, now wouldn't he?" she replied coldly.

Scully drained her coffee mug and stood up from the kitchen table. "Bill, Tara, I've enjoyed the visit, but I'm afraid I have to go check on him."

"What!" Bill slammed his fork down, causing his plate of bacon and eggs to jump. Matthew began to cry.

"Great, Bill, thanks a lot," Tara snapped, getting up to see to their baby.

"Sorry, honey," he murmured to her as she passed. "Dana, this is ridiculous. Every time we get together, every time I try to see you, Mulder always gets in the way. Why can't you get away from that guy for just one week?"

"He's my partner," Scully insisted, trying to make him understand, wondering why she felt the need to explain herself to Bill--was it just because he was her older brother? Had she never grown up where he was concerned? "I have an obligation to watch his back."

"He has obligations to you, too," Bill said darkly. "Besides, it's not like you're on a case."

"If you thought Tara was in trouble, would you sit calmly at my place drinking coffee, or would you do everything in your power to help her?" she demanded.

"But that's different," Bill objected. "Tara is my wife. You can't compare what we have to what you and Mulder--"

He stopped as Tara, coming up behind him with the baby in her arms, placed one gentle hand on his shoulder. He glanced up at her to see the warning in her eyes.

"No," he said obstinately, suddenly fearing the worst.. "Dana, don't tell me you've gone and *married* that louse!"

That was the last straw.

"No, I have not," Scully replied evenly, pushing her way back from the breakfast table and heading for the stairs. She could pack her things and be on a plane to Texas within a couple of hours, she figured. Then all she had to do was locate the place and find Mulder and haul him out of whatever danger he'd managed to get himself in. But she couldn't resist tossing one more word at her stunned brother and sister-in-law as she started up the stairs.

"Yet."

Bill was finally at a loss for words.


Scully called the police in Clarkeston on her way to the airport in a taxi and explained the situation to them. The promised her they would look into the matter and get back with her.

The police dispatcher had every intention of complying with her request--he'd heard all the stories about Clarke House growing up, and although he didn't really believe this Agent Mulder was in any danger from ghosts, he might have fallen through a loose floor board and broken his leg or something--but just after Agent Scully called, they received a report of a robbery in progress.

Clarkeston was still a small town, and major crime was uncommon, though not unheard of, and the police department was understaffed. As soon as he received word that the robbery also involved a possible shooting, he forgot all about Mulder. Every available officer was called to the scene of the current crime.


Mulder awakened slowly, fluttering his eyelids open, then shut, then open a time or two, adjusting his eyes to the daylight that streamed brightly through the window, its beam slightly distorted by the crack in the glass.

It took a minute for the events of the night before--and was it really the night before, he wondered, or was it last week, or last month?--refreshed themselves in his mind. Once they did, he sat up suddenly; he was horrified to discover himself lying on the bed.

The bed which was now, at least, no longer breathing.

He wanted to scramble off the offending piece of furniture, but the shooting pains in his head nixed that idea. Instead, he pressed his palms to his eyes hard, trying to drive the headache away. It reminded him for a moment of the headaches his mother used to suffer after Sam disappeared. She'd get a pinched look on her face, her skin would turn pasty, and the only relief she could find was contained in a prescription bottle and a darkened room.

As an adult, Mulder had always supposed his mother's pain was psychological, a result of her family's tragedy. Now he felt ashamed of himself for doubting her. Clearly it was a family trait, one which Clarke House had uncovered where real life had failed.

He hoped after he left this place, it would disappear again.

He hoped he would actually leave this place.

Alive, preferably.

And sane.

His head shot up from his hands at the sound of a laugh. He winced at the shifting cannonball in his head, but continued to listen.

It had come from upstairs, in the attic, and there was no mistaking whose laugh it was. He hadn't heard it often, but it was memorable enough to him that he'd recognize it anywhere.

It was Scully.

Scully was here, in the house. And she was laughing at him.

"Bitch," he said clearly. "I'll teach you a lesson, bitch."

It did not seem strange to Mulder that the bedroom door, which had been locked when he'd passed out last night, was now standing wide open. Clarke House had welcomed him, and since he'd passed the test of initiation--which had to be what the horrors of the night before had been--it would now begin to accommodate him. Hence, he fainted on the floor, but woke up in a comfortable bed.

His watch, which he'd apparently dropped when he fell, lay glittering in the sunlight. Mulder picked it up, noticed the time said 12:00 midnight, and shook it. There was no result, and Scully laughed again from above, louder this time, more mockingly.

"Scully!" he called loudly. "Scully!"

Her voice came back to him like a breeze, like a whisper, as soft and ephemeral as the whiteness that had flashed past him on the stairs--how many days ago?

"Mulder," she called, teasing him, teasing like the bad girl she was, like a girl who needed to be taught a lesson.

And who could teach Special Agent Doctor Dana Katherine Scully better than her partner, who knew her every quirk and could read her mind in the most crucial of moments.

"Nobody," he told himself confidently. He started for the door, and was surprised to find that he could, in fact, read her mind this very moment. Right now, she was sitting in a chair upstairs in the attic, a chair that very much resembled the desk chair in his basement office, and her blouse was unbuttoned to the waist. She wasn't wearing a bra, and her nipples peaked, beckoning him onward.

She wanted him.

Oh yes.

Mulder licked his lips in anticipation, wondering what she would taste like, believing he could already taste her on his tongue, savoring the flavor that was Scully.

Behind his eyes, behind the pain, there was a part of him that screamed (no, this is wrong, this is crazy, this is NOT ME!) but he ignored it. That voice wasn't saying anything he wanted to hear.

He put one foot on the stairs leading toward the attic, his eyes trained upwards, his ears waiting to catch any noise, his nose already smelling the scent of her waiting.

"Coming, Scully," he said in a sing-song voice as he slowly climbed the stairs.


From the Clark County Gazette June 2, 1961 From the Obituary Column

Alice Johnson, beloved wife of Roger, passed away suddenly at her home early this morning. Mrs. Johnson was born April 16, 1923 in Randall, Texas. She and her husband moved to Clarkeston in 1951. In addition to her grieving husband, she also leaves a daughter, Elisa, a son Bill, a sister, Ruthann Albrecht, of Enid, Oklahoma, and several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her son Abel, who passed away in 1955. Funeral services will be a Clarkeston First Presbyterian Church, Saturday morning at 10.

"I'm sorry, Agent Scully," Detective Bridges said, holding the phone a little away from his ear while the woman on the other end railed at him. "I'll talk to the dispatcher on duty, but things have been pretty busy around here today."

He waited while the FBI agent took some deep breaths, clearly attempting to bring herself under control. When she finally spoke again, it was with a much more reasoned tone.

"Can you send someone out there now, Detective?" she asked. "I understand you don't have a lot of people right now, but I haven't heard from my partner in three days. I'm certain something must have happened to him."

"I'll send a car out there to check," he assured her, relieved that she'd calmed down. Although he'd never admit it to another living soul, angry women scared the hell out of him. His wife was just like this one--calm and serene one moment and furious the next if someone she cared about was threatened. He could almost picture Agent Scully. Tall, brunette, curvy but definitely not overweight--he'd wager she looked a lot like his wife, in fact.

"Thank you," she said. "My flight should land within half an hour. I'll get up there to Clarkeston as quickly as I can."

"You drive carefully, ma'am," he admonished. "Weather's been cold and rainy all weekend, and the streets are wet."

Only after receiving her assurance that she'd drive very carefully, did he break the connection. "Bill," he called to the officer in the outer office.

Bill Johnson, who had just finished regaling his wife with tales of his own bravery in vanquishing the man who'd robbed the store that morning, turned to Detective Bridges with a big smile. Life was good.

Life became a little less pleasant in the next moment when his boss told him to swing out by Clarke House and make sure some damn fool FBI Agent hadn't gotten himself hurt there.

Bill Johnson had also grown up in Clarkeston, but unlike the dispatcher, who was young and full of cocky self-assurance at times, he believed the stories about Clarke House. After all, his older brother Abel had disappeared there when Bill was only two.

Grumpily, not missing the look of amusement that passed between the dispatcher and Detective Bridges, Bill stomped out to his patrol car. He slammed the door and screeched out of the parking lot, leaving behind no doubt as to his feelings about this assignment.

Clarke House was only a ten minute drive from the station, but all the way there, Bill could feel the knot in the pit of his stomach growing bigger. For all his bravery in chasing down a criminal, he knew, and readily admitted, that he was afraid of Clarke House.

He'd be a fool not to be afraid, after what had happened there over the years. After what had happened to his own big brother. And although Bill had been too young when Abel disappeared to really remember the laughing, tow-headed boy in the family pictures, he never forgot how his mother had reacted. She'd fallen into a depression so deep that nothing his father could do helped, no doctors seemed able to help, no friends or relatives or well-meaning strangers could help...and finally, when Bill was eight, she had taken her own life, unable to deal even then with the loss of her oldest son.

It was no wonder, then, that Bill both hated and feared Clarke House. So he'd do exactly as he'd been ordered, and no more. Bill would drive by Clarke House, but that was all. He wouldn't park in the driveway, he wouldn't step foot in the yard, and above all he would never, *never* go inside.

And when Bill Johnson, younger brother of Abel Johnson, who had disappeared into Clarke House when he and his young friend decided to go exploring over forty years ago, drove by the house, Mulder's car, carefully hidden in the dilapidated garage, was out of sight.

Bill saw nothing to indicate there might be a missing FBI agent on the premises, but the eerie bluish light glowing from the attic windows through the grey afternoon made him stamp down harder on the gas pedal.

He almost thought he could feel Abel watching him as he passed.

From 'Stories of Genuine Hauntings' by Alexander Roberts copyright 1986

Bill Johnson, who was only a toddler at the time his older brother Abel disappeared, still lives and works in Clarkeston. He's a police officer, and while he often patrols the town, he tells me he avoids Clarke House if at all possible.

"I just won't drive by it unless it's absolutely necessary," he reveals. "It's not that I've ever seen anything there, and I don't really remember when my brother disappeared, but..." Here he pauses and gives a shudder. "There's just--you can feel there's something there, y'know? Something bad."

Something bad, indeed. The mother of the other boy who disappeared along with Abel Johnson told the newspapers she was convinced the boys had been "swallowed up" by the house. Swallowed up seems to be as accurate description as any, since people seem to go inside and never return. Subsequent searches of the house, both inside and out, have turned up no evidence, but the fact remains that a string of disappearances, all associated with Clarke House, have occurred.

Not one body has ever been found, not one runaway has ever changed his or her mind and phoned home, not one construction worker has returned to work the next day, laughing at the joke he played on his co-workers.

In fact, there is nothing at all humorous about Clarke House. One might even say it is diseased.

Mulder watched the darkened stairwell turn brighter as he approached the attic. He remembered the four windows, and imagined how they would let in the brilliant sunshine. It would glint off Scully's copper hair, tinge her eyelashes with gold, and caress her nipples just before he--

The thought of what he might do to Scully's nipples broke off at once when he emerged into the attic.

The door had been open again, of course--the attic was waiting. Scully was waiting.

But Scully was not, and even as he heard the whisper of her voice at the back of his mind, Mulder stared at the walls, floor, ceiling--all covered with dripping, blood-red paint that spelled out his name, over and over and over again.

In the next second, his eyes wide and his gaze fixed, he became aware of the smell, and realized it was not red paint, but blood--naturally it was blood, what else could you expect from a haunted house but to find your name written in blood all over the walls, beginning to drip, beginning to run, beginning to meld together until it appeared the entire attic had been *painted* in blood.

With a feeling of betrayal--was it possible Clarke House was not welcoming him, accommodating him, but was instead merely playing with him? And what would happen when the house tired of its new toy?--Mulder turned and stumbled down the stairs. The pain in his ankle was still very bad, and the lightning bolts in his head increased as he descended.

He intended to go on down to the first floor, maybe find something to eat, since he couldn't remember having any food at all since those granola bars, and that had to have been days ago, his stomach was gnawing at him, protesting loudly, telling him he was *hungry*, dammit, and *thirsty*. As he grew closer to the ground floor, he could feel the welcoming atmosphere of the house, and he suddenly couldn't wait to get downstairs and see if the fire was glowing, and if the dining room table was set for dinner.

He was about to put his foot on the first step of the main staircase when he caught a flash out of the corner of his eye. He whipped around, wincing at the renewed agony in his head, in time to see one of the bedroom doors drifting closed.

And he could smell her. She was in that room, no doubt reclining on the bed, waiting for him, her dripping panties down around her ankles and her breasts jutting upwards, straining for his touch.

Mulder grinned, but it was not a nice grin. It was not a grin any of his associates had ever seen on his face. It felt like the grin he'd caught in the mirror the night before, and his amusement deepened at the realization.

"Honey, I'm home!" he called in his best Jack Nicholson voice, and glanced down, halfway expecting to find a hatchet in his hands.

Instead, he saw his weapon.

He didn't remember drawing it--didn't, in fact, remember replacing it in the holster after he'd fallen down the stairs, but there it was in his hand, gleaming silver in the broad daylight that flooded the second floor through the three open bedroom doors.

Hearing what he was certain was an answering moan from Scully, Mulder stepped forward, nudging the fourth door aside with his foot. It swung open to reveal a room ravaged by time, but quite empty of human occupation.

It was the Purple Room, and Mulder laughed aloud at the sight, forgetting that it had been decorated in shades of muted green when last he'd explored.

"Did Hill House actually *have* a Purple Room?" he asked himself. "Oh well. Doesn't matter. I can report with absolute confidence," he told the dust particles swimming in the sunbeams, "that Clarke House has a Purple Room. Guess Martha forgot to dust in here. Maybe she doesn't like purple."

Bowing politely to the dust-filled room, Mulder withdrew, reholstering his firearm and drawing the door quietly shut.

It was then that he heard the banging on the door downstairs. And Scully calling his name. No sultry, come-hither lilt in her voice this time, either--she sounded worried. And possibly pissed.

He knew he should call out to her, reassure her that he was all right, but when he opened his mouth to do so, the pain in both his head and his ankle grew so severe that he nearly blacked out. Opting instead for working his way down the stairs, Mulder intended to greet her in the kitchen.

He wondered if the petrified cornbread was back.

Right now, it even sounded appetizing.

His fingers unconsciously slipped into his pocket, feeling for the baby's foot, but his pocket was blessedly empty now. He wasn't sure exactly why that was a blessing, but Mulder knew without doubt that it was.

"Scully," he tried to call, but found his voice wouldn't work, and a second later, that whiteness passed him on the stairs again, trailing his name behind as it disappeared.

It had Scully's voice, but the woman pounding on the door--that was Scully. That *had* to be Scully.

But what if it wasn't? He was suddenly unsure. What if it was Scully who waited upstairs, soft and inviting, and the thing pounding on the back door, trying desperately to get in, was really the monster of Clarke House, come to eat him?

Mulder inched forward down the remaining stairs and peeked around the corner just as the glass crashed inward, shattering. A hand reached inside, flipped the lock, and opened the door, and Mulder recognized the hand, he knew it was her, it was his partner, it was Scully, so why was he filled with terror?

"Mulder?" Scully asked uncertainly, seeing him staring at her with fear on his face. "It's me. Are you all right?"

He said nothing, and she reached out a hand to him. Just as she touched him, tried to grip his wrist, he twisted away and darted around the corner. Scully heard him running up the stairs as she stood stock still, her brain still trying to register the fact that Mulder had appeared...transparent. And that her hand had gone right through his arm.

Shaking her head at last, realizing how absurd her thoughts were, she started after him, but upon rounding the corner into the living room, saw her partner lying at the foot of the stairs.

But he was running *up* the stairs, I heard him, her subconscious whispered as she knelt to examine Mulder. UP the stairs.

"Mulder, can you hear me?"

There was no response. She felt for a pulse and was relieved to find one although it was weak and thready, and she worried at the pallor of his skin. He lay on his side, half on the floor and half still on the stairs, one foot caught between two of the rails. There was a large lump on his head. The ankle of the captured foot was swollen to at least three times its normal size, and she thought it was probably broken.

"Come on, Mulder, wake up," she urged, slapping at his cheek lightly. After one slap, her hand drew back.

There was something--*wrong* about his skin. It felt soft...too soft, as if he was...melting. The word didn't even begin to describe what she meant, but it was as close as Scully could come on such short notice, and without a thesaurus handy.

She reached for her cell phone, prepared to call an ambulance, and it seemed as she watched, Mulder's body began to take on that transparent appearance she thought she'd seen when she thought she'd seen him in the kitchen. Shaking her head, both at the confusing thought and at the image, Scully looked again.

It was as if Mulder was disappearing into the house.

Suddenly, the ambulance was a secondary concern. She had to get Mulder out of here, now.

It took Scully almost half a minute to extricate his ankle from the rails that held it prisoner, and during that time she watched as her partner grew steadily more transparent. Even his clothing seemed to be fading, as if he was turning into a ghost right before her eyes.

When she finally had him freed, she slipped her hands under his arms, ignoring--denying, even--the *squish* sound his skin made when she touched it. Praying under her breath, unaware she was even doing so, Scully summoned all her strength and began to drag Mulder toward the kitchen door.

He was much lighter than he'd ever been before, all the many times she'd pulled him out of danger, and she managed to make rapid progress. Not rapid enough, though--the closer to the door they came, the more transparent Mulder grew. By the time she'd pulled him all the way across the kitchen, she could barely see his form at all. Her hands were clearly visible through what should have been his clothes and skin and bones and muscle and blood...

And then, just before he faded away entirely, Scully reached the door. She had left it open, but now it was shut, and for a wild, irrational moment, she was afraid it would be locked, that the house had locked them inside, that it wouldn't let Mulder go. Then she opened it, breathing a sigh as it swung easily and quietly on well-oiled hinges, and pulled Mulder outside.

As soon as he was out of the house, his form returned. Whatever trick of lighting or shadow had caused him to appear transparent, the cold light of day revealed the man she knew so well--battered and perhaps broken, but whole and breathing. She felt for a pulse again, and this time was gratified to find it strong. As she withdrew her hand, his eyes opened.

"Hey," she smiled, relief flooding through her because now she knew he would be all right.

"Scully?" he asked, his voice sounding confused, his expression dazed. "How did you get down here?"

Thinking he meant to ask how she had gotten "down" to Texas from California, she answered, "I flew."

Mulder, who had meant nothing of the sort, merely nodded, accepting her answer as no less strange than anything else he'd seen in the past few days.

"Do you think you can lean on me and hobble to the car?" she asked, offering a hand and helping him sit up. "I'm pretty sure your ankle's broken."

"It's not broken, just sprained," he contradicted. "I've been walking around on it for days."

She stared. "Mulder, when did you fall on the stairs?"

He shrugged casually. "A few days ago. It was no big deal. I just twisted my ankle and bumped my head a little."

With an uncomfortable glance back at the house--it seemed almost to be watching them, she thought, then shook that thought off as well--she helped Mulder to his feet. All at once, Scully wanted to put distance between them and Clarke House, and she didn't care to examine her reasons for feeling that way too closely.


They drove less than half a block before Mulder made her stop. She pulled over to the shoulder, glancing at him worriedly out of the corner of her eye, but he seemed calm enough. For just a moment though, his face--the expression on it was one she'd never seen before. Turning to him once the car had stopped, examining every aspect of the face with which she had grown so familiar, Scully dismissed the notion as folly. Clearly the atmosphere of Clarke House had gotten to her for a minute, but it was nothing.

And all that idiocy about Mulder "fading away" - that had obviously been her eyes playing tricks on her. It was a dark, gloomy day, and the light inside the house had been minimal. Anyone might have made the same mistake. It was nothing.

Nothing, she told herself firmly as Mulder gave her a weak smile.

"I just wanted one last look," he told her.

He turned around in his seat and craned his neck to see the house around the head rest. Clarke House stared back at him, furious at having lost him, and Mulder knew without a single shred of doubt that, should he venture back inside, he would be completely absorbed into the structure and framework and essence of the house very quickly. It had wanted him, that he knew for fact; hadn't it written his name in blood all over the attic? Hadn't it welcomed him with a glowing fire and petrified cornbread, possibly the best it had to offer? The house was, after all, very old.

And with that thought, with a flash of sudden insight, he knew. He knew why the house hated repairs, why it wouldn't allow its walls to be painted, why it had grown angry when he'd threatened to repair the broken window.

It was alive. He'd seen it breathing.

And it wanted to die a natural death, not be artificially kept alive long after its time, like an elderly grandmother on life-support, knowing her life has passed, ready to move on, furious at those who kept her bound to earth and her wasted, useless body. Clarke House wanted to live and die as itself, not to be kept alive with paint jobs and repairs, not to be murdered before its time by demolition.

It wanted to fall, bit by bit, one piece of plaster, one roof shingle, one supporting beam at a time, until at last it sank back into the ground and returned to dust.

Mulder opened his mouth to tell all these things to Scully, and then stopped. It would sound irrational, when explained with mere words, and Scully would blame it on his head injury. He didn't want her disbelief to sour his feeling of understanding, perhaps even of empathy--his feeling of *oneness* with Clarke House. For a time, however long he'd been inside, he had been a part of it, and it had been a part of him.

It had wanted to eat him, and he had wanted to be eaten.

"Can we go now?" Scully asked nervously, interrupting his thoughts, and it occurred to Mulder that she was afraid of Clarke House. Oh, she'd die before she'd admit it, especially to him, but he knew that slight tremor in her voice.

Scully was afraid.

She hadn't been initiated.

She hadn't been welcomed.

She didn't know the house the way he did.

At last he nodded, giving her permission to drive onward. After a few moments of silence, she asked him, "So what did you see inside that musty old house, anyway, Mulder? Did you meet up with any ghosts or goblins? I assume you didn't find any trace of the missing writer."

He was astonished to realize he'd forgotten all about Alexander Roberts, had forgotten that he'd gone there to find the missing man. He had forgotten everything once he'd entered Clarke House. But Scully would never understand that.

He knew it was an attempt to escape her own fear that made her speak so lightly of Clarke House, but it annoyed him, nonetheless. He tried to think of an explanation she could accept.

"I'm not really sure I saw anything," he lied, for Mulder was as certain of recent events as he was of his own name. He knew, for instance, that time had been different inside the house--it might speed up or it might slow down, but it was not time as he knew time. He also knew the fire had lit itself, evidence had disappeared and reappeared, and that someone inside liked to keep the dishes washed.

He knew that although outside it was cloudy and rain had obviously been falling for most of the day, while he'd been inside Clarke House, the sun had been shining.

And that something in there ate babies.

And that it had wanted to eat him.

And that he'd wanted to be eaten.

Swallowed up.

Absorbed into the structure and framework and essense of the house, to die its natural death with it, however long that might take.

And somewhere deep in his soul, Mulder knew--he *felt*--that if he ever went inside again, he'd never come out. He'd never want to come out.

"I think I imagined a lot of stuff while I was unconscious," he told her, making it easy for her, giving her explanations she could cope with in her narrow view of the world, a view that did not allow for houses that lived and breathed and ate babies. "There were bits and pieces from all the ghost stories I've ever read, and all the scary movies I've ever seen. So it must have been in my own mind. Clarke House wouldn't be that unoriginal."

"You talk about it like it's alive."

"Do I?" he asked absently.

A few minutes later, Scully turned into the parking lot of the Clarke County General Hospital, drawing to a stop in front of the Emergency doors.

"Scully-" Mulder protested.

"Don't even argue with me," she ordered. "You have a head injury, and in spite of your opinion, I still think that ankle is broken. You're going to get checked out. It isn't optional."

Mulder sighed, and sat back in the seat while Scully went inside to fetch the orderlies. He knew he had no choice but to let her fuss over him. She just had that tone in her voice.

While he waited, he let his mind roam idly over the events of the past days, and for few seconds, Mulder found he could almost make himself believe it had been a hallucination brought on by the blow to the head. He wondered, if he worked at it, how long it would take to make himself agree with Scully that it had all been in his mind.

He wondered if he would sleep better at night, believing none of it had been real.

But when he stuck his hand in the pocket of his jacket, the pocket where the infant's foot had been while the house initiated him, he felt wetness, and when he withdrew it, his fingers were covered with blood.

END

~*~

Author's notes--

The locations in this story are purely fictitious. There is no Clarke County, Texas, and if there is a town called Clarkeston, it's too small to be listed in my atlas. The "references" to newspaper and book articles are likewise fictitious, except for the paragraph from The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. If you have never read the book, and haunted houses interest you, find it and read it. If you've never seen the movie made back in the sixties by director Robert Wise, try to rent it, or watch for it on late-night television. That piece of junk that came out a few years ago by the same name can't hold a candle to the original.

This entire story, including the name of the house, Clarke House, are figments of my imagination. The structure itself is real, however. On a trip home from Oklahoma one day it caught my eye. I thought it was such a fascinating house that I took the next exit off the freeway, turned around and went back for a closer look. Only the fact that there were late-model cars in the driveway, indicating people actually lived in the house, stopped me from exploring further.

On my next trip north I took along a camera and snapped some pictures, and it is from those photos and the inspiration they provided that this story grew.

T

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