Title: The Drowning House Spell
Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate an unusual northwoods haunted house (based on an actual legend). Spell: magical working; indeterminate period of time; signification
Note: The legend of Cliffside is based on an actual rural legend in Wisconsin. The character of Rebecca Beye is very loosely based on author Dennis Boyle who researched the legend. Names and places have been fictionalized to protect the innocent and the integrity of the story. The title comes from a word-association game wherein Jeni, a co-worker of mine (it was a really slow day), responded to my word, 'drowning' with the word 'house', then got a strange look on her face and said she couldn't explain why she'd said it. It was a strange moment and I thought it fit the story.
Thanks to: Abby, Alesha, Indigo_Skye, Jeni, Mel, Rachel, Sara, and anyone else who may have heard me talk about this story and didn't scream at me to shut up. Thanks for your support and suggestions. My advanced apologies for breaking my "less than 30K" rule. I promise, it's worth it.
Agents Mulder and Scully pulled up the gravel driveway late in the evening. It was just on the last edges of dusk with the purple light fading through the trees in the backyard. The house was a small, well lit ranch protected by a thin wooden door which was itself preceded with an old, creaking screen door. Scully looked around.
"For once your source went through official FBI channels... too bad we didn't find this a year ago when it came through the bureau," She sighed to her partner.
"Something like this doesn't really depend on time," he replied, "Ghosts tend to be persistent phenomenon," Mulder replied as a woman stepped out of the house to greet them. She was in her late thirties and wore a flannel shirt and jeans. Her hair was cropped short to her ears and she seemed far too small to have the strength to live so deep in the Wisconsin woods.
"Rebecca Beye?" Mulder asked.
"Yeah, can I help you? Are you from the publishers?"
"FBI, Maam, Agents Mulder and Scully, we're here about the incidence at Cliffside you called about a year ago?" The woman stood in the headlights of the car, looking stunned.
"Well... Well, I'll be damned! They actually sent someone out after all this time?"
"Yes, Did we come at a bad time Miss Beye?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, where are my manners? Come inside. I'll get you some coffee. Have a seat at the table. I'll have to look where I put my notes... I've been expecting the publishers to call, that's what I thought you were. I've already sent my manuscript in, although I'd hoped I'd be able to include the Cliffside Witch section, but it's too late for that now," The woman spoke congenially as she let them into the tiny house and showed them the kitchen, "So you're from Madison?" She called from the next room while the two agents explored her tidy kitchen.
"Washington actually," Mulder explained. The woman returned from the other room with a notebook stuffed with envelopes and other papers. Scully glanced passed her into the office and noted the stacks of papers and notebooks that buried the desk and the glowing computer atop it. The coffee pot came to life soon after that and the woman finally sat down.
"Washington, that's a long way to come just to listen to an old ghost story..." She prompted, obviously hoping to coax a conversation out of them. She seemed easygoing and comfortable. The yellow overhead light shone on the stained wooden table.
"We caught a flight to Milwaukee, but there weren't any tonight to the local airport. We've been driving for some time to get into town. We came regarding the call you put into the state bureau a year ago regarding the sightings in Cliffside. Would you mind telling us what it is that made you call it in?" Scully asked, opening her pad. Rebecca looked down at her notebook, and then back up again.
"Well, let me start at the beginning, so you don't get me wrong. I'm not your average ghost hunter, seeking thrills by staking out haunted houses in the area. I'm a writer, I have been since I was young. I started with fiction, which was great for a while, but I found out that when you live around here, you hear all kinds of stories. Everyone wants to tell you what happened down the street to so and so, some about ghosts, some folk legends and the like... so I started to collect them and I realized that they were far more interesting then the stuff I was writing.
"I decided to can the fiction and seek out the truth... I put out my first collection of area ghost stories and that was only the beginning. Stories from all over Wisconsin came to my attention. About three or four years ago, I started a project. I journeyed in a spiral starting from home, collecting all the ghost stories and legends I could get people to tell me about. To make a long story short, I got a reputation as a ghost hunter, and I've developed a network of sources, which I try to protect. Do you understand?" The woman paused to get coffee cups and serve the fresh brew.
"I've read your book, 'Hauntings in Norwood County'" Offered Mulder, "It was good, if a bit vague."
"So have I," Scully joined in, "I'm glad you chose to focus on the people telling the stories rather than the stories themselves. It helps put everything in perspective. You have a gift, Ms. Beye."
"Well thank you so very much," She offered them the cups of coffee and took her seat again, "But I just report what I find. As I was saying, I was told about the happenings in Cliffside by a contact in Waterford. People were talking about a witch casting spells and seeing faces in windows, you know, the usual old timer's scaring the kids stuff. I went to Cliffside to check it out and met with a man who claimed to know the whole story from beginning to end. Turns out that they think they've got a haunted house up there. It's an old abandoned building on the hill, no other houses around it, no one ever goes there.... You see a lot of those old abandoned buildings around here and usually people like to say they've seen a ghost in those places, so I didn't think much of his story.
"Something else he said though, made me do some research and ask some questions. He said a young man had lived there recently, since the family of so called witches disappeared. I looked it up and sure enough, one Herald Gerkins had bought the house in 1980. He was a young pastor in the local church, but not two years later he was put in a sanitarium. My source kept telling me it was the witches that drove him crazy. He said the young man kept talking about how there was one witch in three bodies.
"I really didn't understand that either, but that's not really what made me call you. In all honesty, I can't really tell you why I did it. It was just something about the way the old man told the story that made me think I was missing something important. The old man told me about that young woman from the house being a witch and vanishing into the river, leaving a curse behind. The man told me that not only was the house possessed, but the river was possessed too, all the way from Douglasville to Portland, and it seemed to me as if the whole town knew what had happened and no one wanted to get too close to either the house or the river... It made me think.
"Someone with a reputation like mine has a tendency to attract people with a story to tell. You get some truths and you get some whoppers. What this guy was telling me was somewhere in between..." Rebecca seemed to be speaking solely to Scully by this point, then she blinked and sighed. "I probably over reacted by calling the FBI, but I didn't know who else to turn to, the local PD is just part of the problem..."
"What exactly did the old man tell you about the disappearances? Did you do any research on them?" Mulder asked.
"Well, no. There was really no where to look, but everyone I talked to seemed to confirm that there had been a succession of three women living in that house, starting with the old woman about a hundred years ago. No one wants to say exactly what they think happened to them except the old man... as for his story, I'd have to tell you to get it straight from him the same as I did."
"You're willing to reveal your source?" Mulder asked.
"Well, I was willing to call the FBI, wasn't I?" She looked him in the eye, "Except I should warn you to be discreet about this. First of all, if word got out that I revealed a source, I'd be finished... I'd probably have to move out of state. Second of all, the way people are around here, it would be better if you didn't tell anyone you were FBI... people tend to get itchy about law enforcement and they'd clam right up around you like you wouldn't believe. My suggestion is to be real quiet about it. Buy him a few beers, tell him I sent you, following up, that kind of thing. You read my book, so you know how territorial the people in this region can be... Not that I'm trying to tell you how to do your job, I'm just trying to get the truth, same as you."
"Thanks for the advice. We'll keep it in mind. How can we arrange a meeting with this source of yours?" Scully asked. They rose from the table and Rebecca led them to the door.
"Oh, that won't be necessary, Hank is always at the Rusty Wheel. He'll talk to anyone."
"Well, thank you Ms. Beye, you've been quite helpful. If there's anything else you think of, here's my card, give us a call," Mulder handed her his card and shook her hand. The two agents went back to the car.
"Remember what I said about the beer!" Rebecca called after them as they drove away.
"I left all my flannel at home," Scully joked, when she saw what Mulder was wearing. He wore a pair of jeans and a light blue flannel shirt. Her usual pants suit seemed over-dressed in the rustic surroundings of the quant motel they'd found halfway between the small farm towns of Larson and Cliffside. It was a short drive into Cliffside following the banks along the muddy Winter River. Scully was almost surprised at the amount of wilderness that closed around them.
Looking at a map, she knew that the region was only slightly less populous than the average Wisconsin county, but the illusion of deep woods was heavy and refreshing. The row of willows that hung over the river and the road from both sides hid the farmlands just beyond and she didn't see houses until after the town line. They were nice little homes facing the river which had started to drop off from the road by a set of low, mud bluffs.
There wasn't much to the community of Cliffside. The Winter River cut through it, flowing south with low bluffs on each side lined occasionally with a fishing pier. The river was just less than one hundred feet across at this point and the surface was smooth and calm, carrying the first leaves of autumn downstream to some unknown destination. Most of the homes and businesses were clustered around the river and main street which ran parallel to the river. The town was dominated by a lush collection of trees that threw cool shadows over the streets and dwellings.
It was early Friday and not many people were outside. The children were in the school and the fishermen were out in their boats or on the docks... or at the Rusty Wheel Inn/Pub. It was a wooden building with a facade, put there to make it look like an adobe pueblo, but the gray wood gave it away as a fake. It stood next to a corner gas station and an empty paved lot that was cracked with weeds and windswept with litter.
Scully leaned her head back against the seat as Mulder pulled in to the small parking lot thinking. This was the kind of place to settle down and raise a family, no alien monsters, no government conspiracies, just good old fashioned values. It was easy to feel safe here. Everyone knew everyone else and there was little outside influence to cause disruption or danger, and no one seemed too interested in expanding their market income or selling anything. Everything just happened the way it always had. Mulder and Scully both felt that feeling already and they'd only been in town for ten minutes. Mulder suddenly envied Rebecca Beye.
No one seemed to notice them when they entered the bar and sat down on the stools. There was no one even attending the place, which was decorated with old beer signs and hunting trophies. They had mutually decided that staying relatively undercover was their best option. Considering the authors advice and the nature of the case, they would need to be as inconspicuous as possible. They patiently waited for someone to serve them and looked around.
The air smelled like last nights stale cigarettes and a lifetimes worth of spilled beer. It was dim inside, the only lights were a few yellow bulbs hidden along the ceiling. It had one long bar with eight or nine stools, three of which were occupied on one end, and there were four booths, two against each wall. Two men sat at one of the booths having an animated discussion, presumably about fish... or politics, Mulder couldn't tell which. They felt out of place, being the only two people in the bar under the age of at least sixty. Without a word, a large bald man had planted himself across the bar, two inches from them and waited with a glum face for them to notice him.
"Canigetforya?" he asked. Scully jumped and turned to him.
"We're looking for a friend of Rebecca Beye's actually," she said to the bartender.
"Hank, we're looking for Hank Kenderson, is he here?" Mulder jumped in.
"Didn't cha say so? 's over der, HEY HANK!" One of the red faces at the end of the bar looked up.
"Got visitors!" the bartender shouted at him and winked, then turned back to Mulder and Scully. "Canigetforya?" he repeated.
"Nothing, Thank you," Scully said, watching the old man part from his well worn stool and make his way over to them.
"Two of your best," Mulder said, remembering the authors advice. The bartender half rolled his eyes and went to the taps. The old man stood next to them leaning against the bar.
"Do I know you people?" He asked, suspiciously. He was a beefy man of about eighty.
"Hi," Mulder stood up and offered his hand, "I'm Fox and this is Dana, my... sister." Hank shook his hand and nodded.
"I can see the resemblance."
"Half-sister," Scully countered, perturbed at Mulder's choice. She offered her hand as the bartender came back with two large foaming mugs of pee colored beer.
"So your friends of that ghost hunter woman?"
"Well, yes. She sent us to ask you about the story you told her. She just wanted to make sure she had everything she needed. She would have come herself, but she's wrapping things up with her book right now." Mulder said, "Beer?" he added.
Hank waved at an empty booth and they all crossed the room to a more private spot. Hank looked across the table at them, gulping his beer with a twinkle in his eye... It was story time.
"I've been telling people this for years," He began, "Just that no one really took me serious. They all know something's wrong up at that house, but no one likes to talk about it. Still don't. So how much do you know about that house up there?"
"Not much," Scully said, "We know it was occupied for one year in 1980 by Herald Gerkins a young priest in the area, and that it was built some one hundred year ago, but we don't know by who... There are no records before 1975," She added, citing the research she'd done last night.
"Well, let me tell you who built it, and what happened to them... everyone around here will agree with me on this, just ask... But they won't tell you all of it. About a hundred years ago when this town was first being settled... that would be just around, or just after the time of the gold rush... the Carter family built that house on the slope.
"We all know the old woman's name was Agetha and she lived in that house for about thirty or forty years, kind of a hermit. No one in the family got out much. It was just around that time that we started to have the epidemics, animals dying, then people. They started to blame Aggie up there on the hill. Everyone knew that there was witches in the Carter family, ever since they came to America. They were Dutch or German, they argue about that. The Dutch say they were German and the German say vica-versa, know what I meen?
"If you go to that house, though, it's different from all the others around here. There's no windows facing the river. I heard it's because witches hate water... it can kill them, you know. The room up on the top floor has all it's windows sealed. People hear voices up there at night, like someone's chanting. She's still up there you know, the witch. I've seen her face in the window, pointing her finger at me, like she's got it in for me."
"You've seen this? Can you tell us who else in town might have seen this or heard the chanting?" Mulder asked.
"Well, just about everyone in town has heard the chanting, and a lot of folks have seen her, whether it's her face in the window or reflected in the river... She's still up to her old tricks, making people sick, killing livestock..."
"Miss Beye said that you had mentioned the young priest to her, could you tell us what else you know about him?" Scully interrupted, growing tired of listening to the obviously bogus ghost tale.
"Maam, I'm telling a story here, did you want me to finish or did you two want to keep interrupting?" Mulder smoothed over his disgruntlment by signaling for another beer to replace the old man's empty mug.
"Where was I? The priest... He moved into that house in...
"Anyhow, I was telling you about Aggie. She lived up there for some time when her daughter, Sylvia, took over, so they tell me... I wasn't even born yet. The one I remember was Aggie's granddaughter, the third witch, Susan Mary. This was when I was just about her age, just about seventeen or maybe nineteen she was. Things were starting to get really strange about that time... all the girls in town seemed to just up and move away. They said the witch put curses on them to make them leave. It really messed things up for the boys in town, so four of us got together to put things right.
"We'd seen her some nights walking down by the river, but nobody knew what she did there. We were tough guys back then. One night we decided to follow her, scare her a little, shake her up, run her off, catch my drift? So that's what we set out to do. We followed her to this place upstream where it jets off into a tiny lake by the side, still and calm. It was a full moon, so we hid in the bushes and we could see everything good. Except that when she showed up, we were all surprised to see she had no clothes on! That's right, she'd taken them off and she slipped into the water for a swim!
"Something came over us, right then, like magic, or some kind of spell. All us boys jumped up and we went into the water to swim with her. After that, she got out of the water, and I'm telling you all of us were under some strange spell, she went behind the bushes with each one of them boys and... Well, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that part..." The old man winked, "I was the last, but I didn't go with her. She got mad at me and just ran off, so I chased her down, all the way back to my grandfather's pier. She ran down to the end of it and jumped off into the Winter River... cept that she didn't come back up again... ever.
"After that no one ever saw her again. We figured it was just some kind of magic spell she cast, or maybe she'd just become part of the river, like a spirit. I don't go near the river much any more, I'm afraid she'll pull me under. And I tell you, I'm not the only one who thinks so. Almost everyone around here knows that there's something strange in that river. People disappear all the time. The river gets them." The man sat back, seemingly through with his story, and was to the bottom of his second beer.
"Can you give us names of some people in town who have seen this spirit?" Mulder asked.
"Well, just about everyone knows about her. Just ask anyone, right John?" Hank asked the bartender who had come to claim the empty mug.
"Course, Hank," was his only grumbled reply.
Scully was obviously in a bad mood as they left the Rusty Wheel. Mulder imagined she was probably angry at having to waste her time listening to such a gossip tale. After hearing Hank's story, he was inclined to agree with her, there was little, if anything to find here. It was a waste of time. He hadn't heard anything in Hank's claims that he hadn't heard or read at least a hundred times before in books and files that dated back for decades. His original enthusiasm for this case had dimmed to a mild curiosity as to what the old Carter house looked like and why the 1980 owner had to be institutionalised.
"Don't go to that house," said a voice softly, but casually. Mulder turned back towards the Inn/Pub. A young man approached them from a creaking side door. He wore an apron and was smoking a cigarette.
"Can we help you?" Scully asked.
"No one that goes to that house comes back the same, everyone here knows it, they just don't like to have to talk about it." The young man spoke in a presumptive tone. He'd obviously known Hank for a long time and knew what to expect.
"Who are you?" Mulder asked, stepping forward.
"I live here with my dad," he nodded towards the Rusty Wheel. He was probably the bartender's son, Mulder reasoned. The youth threw his cigarette to the pavement with disgust.
"So what all did old Hank tell you about that place? Did he tell you what happened last year?"
"What happened last year?" Scully encouraged him. He looked over his shoulder. The wind swept leaves around his feet, then back into the empty lot.
"You know that lady, right, the writer? She came here last year. She talked to Hank for about an hour and by the time she left everyone here knew what he'd told her. They called a town meeting, decided that it was finally time to demolish that house once and for all. You see, it's always been up there, like the damned Scarlet Letter in that book we had to read for English. A couple of us guys went up there the next night... some crazy pyros they are... they wanted to burn the place down to the ground before the demolition crew could wreck it." The young man looked over his shoulder again, as if waiting for his father to come out and tell him to get back to work. He put another cigarette in his mouth, but didn't light it.
"So Jay, Kev an I went up and lit a camp fire, just for effect, I guess they wanted to see the ghost as long as we were up there. Nothing in a sheet jumped out and went boo right away, so Jay took a stick and started lighting the bushes around the house, except that they wouldn't take. It was almost Halloween, autumn, so the things should have lit, but they didn't. Instead, the next thing we know, Jay is screaming his head off and running around. The SOB had lit hiself on fire! We couldn't catch him. He just ran off. Last thing we saw of him, he jumped in the river and never came back up again. The river got him."
"Let's get to the airport before our flight leaves," Mulder grumbled as he buckled his seat belt.
"What are you talking about? Don't you want to see the house?"
"Scully, I saw this movie on HBO last week, and I'm betting that old man did too. I'm sorry we came all the way out here to listen to that. And that kid... How old do you think he was? In a town like this, for a kid like that..."
"You're ready to give up on this already?"
"You think there's something to this? You of all people, Scully..."
"I'm not saying that I think the house is haunted. I just think we ought to at least look. I think there's more here than just an old man and a ghost story. There was a woman who disappeared, and what about Herald Gerkins?" Scully argued, "I think that Hank knows more than he wants to say. That story may have been bullshit, but if you listened to him... What I'm saying is, how could you miss that story about the young woman? I think what really happened is that those four boys raped her and then drowned her out of frustration. They branded her as a witch, probably because she was different. They blamed her for their misfortune and killed her. She was murdered, Mulder, don't you get it? She was murdered over sixty years ago and no one even asked any questions! I think that's what Ms. Beye saw, that's why I think she called this in..." Mulder looked at her in silence, then started the car.
"OK, we'll go to the house, then we'll give what we have to the state police. Even if we had evidence of what you're saying, there's no way we could prosecute...."
The old Carter house wasn't too hard to find. It stood on the slope of a rise in the towns hilly landscape. The hill itself
The sky was cloudy, making the dark wood of the house seem even darker. The roof was peaked, it's ridge rising about one story higher than the summit of the hill. The summit lie twenty feet from the back of the house. The house itself was three stories high and no windows or doors were visible on the river side wall. Four windows and a door lined the south side, most of which were boarded up, the rest were covered by hemlock bushes that grew around the perimeter of the house.
It was the only feature on the hillside, an eyesore in the wilderness. The air fell cool around Scully's shoulders. They stepped out of the car onto the driveway and looked at the old building. A dusty mist clung to the low bushes around the house. It was the kind of place that would easily lend itself to haunted house or witch's curse stories.
"Think anyone's home?" Scully wondered out loud, doubtfully.
"Maybe Norman Bates?" Mulder replied.
Scully dug her toe into a two foot wide bare spot on the ground near the corner of the house. She bent and rolled the black dust through her fingers.
"Looks like ash. Something was burned here, a campfire maybe?"
"From what the boy at the bar said, it's safe to assume this is something of a popular place. I'm guessing he and his buddies aren't the only ones who like a cheap thrill in these parts."
To reach the front door, they had to dig through thick foliage and branches of hemlock. There was barely room for one person in the entrance between the bushes and door, which made Mulder feel suffocated. The bushes seemed angry, unwilling to let them through their secret gate. It was an old fashioned lock, not a dead-bolt, and easy to pick.
The door opened easily and with the help of their flashlights, the two agents began to examine the house. It smelled just the same as it looked, stale and a little rancid. The front room was empty except for an old rocking chair in the corner near the opposite window. The dust that caked the hardwood floor came to life with the sudden wind from the doorway, swirling and dancing along the old boards.
Moving to the next room caused the old floor to creak and Mulder wondered that it still held them up at all. There were no doors on the first floor but the front door. The old kitchen looked as if no one had used it in more than fifty years. Mulder guessed that, as a bachelor, Mr. Gerkins didn't do much cooking. The staircase to the second floor was well hidden in the back of the kitchen behind a partial wall and was only wide enough for one person to ascend at a time.
It was the second floor that told them what kind of person the last inhabitant of this house had been. There was no bed, only a thick mat spread on the ground with a thick, army type, brown woolen blanket on top. One thin pillow and a broken oil lantern lay next to it. Piled in the corner in even rows and stacks were books of all shapes and sizes.
"I guess he didn't entertain much," Mulder quipped, picking through the titles in the corner. Most of them were books on religious philosophy. In the second row, however, next to a couple of bibles, stood at least seven books on different aspects of the supernatural. There were books on witchcraft, spells and spirits as well as a few on mythology. Strangley enough, it was these last few that looked the most used, some pages were torn and bindings were cracked. A few volumes were scattered on the floor nearer the bed.
"So do you think it was the late night reading that drove him nuts or just the clean living? Hey, I'd go crazy without my video collection..."
"Living alone in this house in this town, I wonder if he wasn't crazy before he bought the land," Scully mumbled, looking out the window.
"It's possible," Mulder agreed. Scully looked into the bare bathroom. It held only an old sink, toilet and tub that looked fairly new compared to the rest of the house. The only other object on the second floor was a skeleton staircase that disappeared into a deep set hole in the ceiling. Scully tentatively felt her way up the ancient wood stairs and unlatched the double set of trap doors. They fell open with an angry crash sending dust and mold down over her head which put her into a coughing fit...
"You OK, Scully?"
"Yeah," She choked, swiping the dust away from her face. Once she'd regained her breath, she crawled up to the dark third floor of the house and shone her light around.
"It stinks up here," She told him as he started up the stairs. The floor was coated thickly with dust, even more than the first floor. She left foot prints in the dust as she walked around the empty attic. It was a tall room crowned by the peaked roof. Nine shuttered windows lined the walls, three on each, leaving the west wall bare. The flooring was the same as those on the lower levels, dusty wooden planks in straight rows. She heard a clattering sound suddenly and looked behind her. Mulder ducked back down the stairs to retrieve his fallen flashlight and Scully moved to the windows. She threw open the latch on the first and pulled them open, only to find that there was a second set of shutters on the outside of the house.
"Mulder, I think something may have gotten caught in one of these windows," She called to him. That would explain the smell, she thought. She undid the latch on the outer set and threw them open. She moved quickly, doing the same to each of the nine windows until daylight and thick air streamed into the old room. She had found nothing trapped in the windows, but at least the air that streamed in like rapids in a torrent river swept the dust and moldy smell away.
The heavy air seemed all too eager to fill the vacuum that had been sealed for so long. Dust and slivers of wood swirled in the sudden burst of cool wind that howled through the now open shutters which clapped loudly against the side of the house. Mulder climbed into the room and looked out the windows.
"Do you think there's a storm coming?" He asked, with a sudden need to leave the house.
"Maybe, the temperature just dropped."
"I think we need to get to the airport before this storm can delay our flight."
The tiny local airport had one runway and four working planes. The terminal was small and there were five counters left abandoned by various services, from an empty car rental agency to a couple of airlines that had pulled up stakes to move to a busier location. Despite the impending bad weather, they were told that their flight would be right on schedule. Mulder draped himself on one of the ten chairs in the only waiting area and closed his eyes.
"I'm going to use the ladies room," Scully said and walked down the hall, looking for the door. Mulder leaned his head back and took a deep breath. The hour he had before the plane would board gave him time to think. He admitted to himself that Scully had probably been right about Hanks crimes. He regretted having to remind her that the statute of limitations would not allow him to be prosecuted for his crime sixty years after the fact, besides the problem of evidence... there was none. There was nothing to do, no way to find justice.
He wondered just what Rebecca Beye had hoped they would find. Had she seen the same thing Scully had or was it something else that had alarmed her? Why call the FBI and not the state police? He couldn't reconcile her reasons. Why had he wasted their time bringing them here? A tap on his shoulder awoke him.
"Sir, your flight has arrived, just as scheduled," an attendant told him as politely as she could. He had fallen asleep in the uncomfortable chair. He looked around, but didn't see his partner.
"Is Scully already on board? Why didn't she wake me?"
"The woman who was with me, did she already board?" The young woman looked at him, confusion evident on her features.
"I'm sorry Sir, do you mean the woman who dropped you off? She left an hour ago..." He stood up, perturbed.
"Where did she go? She said she was going to the ladies room." The attendant only shook her head and threw up her hands in sympathetic confusion.
"I watched her go back out to the car and drive away. I thought she was your ride and I haven't seen her come back. What should I tell the pilot? He wants to take off before the storm sets in."
Mulder pulled out his phone. He dialed her number and waited.
"Scully? Where are you?"
"I'm at the Carter house," she answered.
"What the hell are you doing there!?" He cried. Instead of a reasonable answer, he got dead air.
When he drove up the hill in a car he'd borrowed from the airport staff, he saw the rental car abandoned nearer to the house. It was getting dark out and Mulder wondered how close the storm was. All he knew was that it was pretty obvious that they weren't going to be able to get out of Wisconsin tonight. The wind whipped the fallen leaves around in the sky above the unkempt yard and the shutters on the third floor still flapped in the wild air. He tried the door handle, but it was locked.
"Scully, are you still in here?!" He called and banged on the door. He heard nothing from the house as he picked the lock for the second time that day. Still, when he tried the handle, the door wouldn't budge.
"Scully, come on, let me in!"
"Go away!" He heard her shout from a second floor window. Mulder pushed on the door but it was jammed. He then picked his way through the thick bushes on the left side of the door and stood on his toes to look inside. Braced up against the door and its inside knob was one of the kitchen chairs, blocking him out of the lonely house. The dust lay undisturbed on the floor.
"Scully!" He banged on the window. What the hell had gotten into her? "Come on, Scully! What are you doing in there?!" The wind roared through the leaves, making it difficult to hear anything. As it grew stronger, the sanctuary of the car drew him back away from the house. He needed to think.
Why had she come back to the house? Perhaps she thought she had missed something the first time around. Why hadn't she told him? This he couldn't' figure out. What the hell did she think she was doing up there?
Mulder felt overwhelmingly out of place and he found himself utterly bewildered. It was so unlike her to pull something like this. Mulder pulled out his phone and dialed information.
"I'd like to speak with a resident in your ward," Mulder asked, "I'm trying to reach Herald Gerkins." He waited on hold as the receptionist searched.
"I'm sorry, sir, but he no longer lives here. His records show that he was released several years ago."
"Do you have a current address?"
"Hold on one moment, sir, I'll find it."
Mulder puffed out a patient breath and waited.
"I do have one address, but I'm afraid it won't do you any good. The files show that Mr. Gerkins passed away recently. I'm very sorry, sir."
Mulder's shoulders fell, "How about relatives I might be able to contact?"
The receptionist didn't return, his phone went dead. The radio flickered to life under his fingers until he found a news channel.
"... has issued a tornado warning for the counties of Torshe, Larson and the Cliffside area, please take the necessary precautions..."
Mulder slammed his fist on the dashboard. As if it wasn't bad enough already, now he had to negotiate with a streak of severe weather. The sky had darkened rapidly in a few minutes and when he left the car again, it was a struggle through the harsh wind to reach the relative protection of the hemlock bushes.
"Scully!" He cried, "Are you alone!"
"Yeah!" She answered finally, "Leave me alone!"
"Scully we have to get off this hill before the storm sets in! If the tornado strikes this area that house will be blown to pieces!"
She didn't seem to hear him. Perhaps she couldn't as the wind was strong and his voice didn't carry. He slammed his body into the door, with no more result than a hollow thud. He moved back to the window and looked in. He saw her, sitting across the room in the rocking chair, just a shadow against the light from the far window.
"Scully, listen to me! We don't have time for this now! Let's go back into town. We can question those boys about the fire. We can make some calls, but there's nothing we can do if you don't come out."
She stood, as he spoke, and walked toward the window. He hoped he was getting through to her. He felt utterly bewildered, almost hurt, that she was doing this. She, who was so often the pillar of sanity in confusion was being even more stubborn and hot-headed than he.
Her shadow moved into the light and what he saw was not what he expected. An old crone glared at him, pointing her thin finger at him. She wore her clothes like they were rags, draped curtain-like around her. Mulder pushed back from the window in surprise and she vanished.
Mulder drove back down the gravel. He would have to investigate on his own to find the cause of Scully's strange behavior. The first person he thought of was Hank. It wasn't likely that he'd be able to help, but at least he'd mentioned some other people who might know something.
Curving around the corner under a streetlight, he found signs that the pub was closed for the night. Frustrated, he pulled in to the parking lot and banged on the side door. There was still a light on in what he presumed was the kitchen. He wasn't made to wait long, the door flung open revealing the grumpy bartender and a messy kitchen.
"I'm looking for Hank, where can I find him, it's an emergency," he told the man. John grunted and let him in.
"Cha doin' out drevin around ina sterm like dis?"
"Is Hank here?" Mulder repeated.
"Oh, nah, usually goes home round dinner," He said, picking up a few pots.
"Is your son here?" The bartender threw the pots down suddenly in anger.
"No good son of a..." John took a deep breath and calmed. "Takes care ohimself. Out withis friends, I guess, leke alwees." Mulder leaned against the counter.
"Have you ever really seen anything that Hank told you about regarding the Carter House?" He looked up from his hands, incredulous, the first expression other than grumpy that Mulder had seen.
"Town's preparin fer an act of God and ya can only think osome fairy tale?"
Mulder shook his head and lowered his voice. "Look, I need some help. I don't know what you believe but, the woman I came in with, she's locked herself up there and I can't figure out why..."
The bartender looked at him, his expression changing to an angry wall, them took up his dishes again. Mulder waited for an answer. John seemed contemplative. Finally, he shook his head.
"She's safe... Not even God would touch that house."
Apart from the disheartening comment about the house, Mulder could get nothing from the bartender and there was no one else to ask. He finally returned to the hill and settled into park, the wind heaving so hard that it rocked the car. Rain battered the hood with alarming ferocity. He could see virtually nothing in the dark.
Barley able to open the car door against the careening wind, Mulder stumbled towards the house, calling out, only to hear the wind and rain strip him of his voice like sandpaper. He looked up into the sky and plunged forward again, then tripped and, with nothing to support him, fell in the mud.
The wind had stopped and the rain had ceased within an instant. Startled at the sudden silence, Mulder slowly pushed himself to his feet. The calm before the storm, he concluded fearfully. A thunder rumbled from the deep black clouds that hung thickly over the house. It was followed by another and a third in even succession. He soon realized that it was coming from the house, and that it may not be thunder at all. The sound was a low rhythmic crashing, the sound of wood against wood or metal against packed earth.
Mulder crept closer to the house, watching the skies and listening to the racket from above. He wiped the rain from his face. The crashing sound ceased as quickly as the storm had and within a few seconds, a loud, low creaking moan erupted from the house and he heard something snap. Silence followed, smothering everything in it's wake.
"Scully!" He called through the electric silence. The lack of sound was more violent then the storm. Mulder broke from his stance near the house and raced back to the car, determined to finally break the spell. He threw the car into gear and slammed on the gas. The tires spun helplessly in the mud for a few moments before kicking and jerking up the hill towards the west side of the house. Without a hesitation, Mulder smashed through the wooden siding as it broke and crumbled around the car. He shivered when he remembered the shadow in the window from earlier that night.
The sky had become brighter by now, the black clouds drifting apart and sifting away into the pale evening sky, all signs of the storm vanishing with them. Mulder sneezed when he stepped into the house from the car.
"Scully!" He called again into the house and waited for her response. He could hear nothing but the cool gentle breeze that had returned to the hillside. He moved cautiously into the kitchen to find everything the same as it had been earlier. The only difference was the missing chair and four clean points on the dusty floor where it had once been. He then climbed the stairs to the second floor and here found everything in disarray.
The meager bed looked as if it had been slept in and as many as ten books from the tiny library lay open and scattered across the floor. These were the same volumes he'd noted earlier as unusual for a priest to have in his collection. The tiny bathroom also looked used, water filled the tub and the old pillow-case floated in the water. He noticed spots of red on the fabric and spatters of water were splashed almost everywhere, as if whoever had used it had done so in a terrible frenzy.
He worried when he saw the blood. Had she been hurt? She had said she was alone and there was no direct evidence that she wasn't, but he couldn't help thinking that someone was here with her. What had the crashing sound been? He was fairly certain it had come from the third floor. He remembered Hank mentioning the chants, but what he had heard was nothing like a voice.
The darkness from above seemed to filter down onto the stairs themselves and he hesitated. The smell Scully had mentioned earlier was present, almost suffocating. When he tried the handle, it wouldn't budge. A hard yank threw splinters onto his face and the doors swung open. The stench thickened and the blackness congealed around him. Even the light from his high grade flashlight couldn't come close to dispelling the darkness. He rose up the stairs feeling peculiar, as if he were instead descending into a pool of murky water.
One sweep of his flashlight showed no one hiding in the shadows. What he found instead was a very large hole in the wooden floor. He neared the edge and peered in, wondering at the act of violence that must have created that hole. He reasoned that this is likely where the thunderous racket he'd heard had originated. It didn't comfort him much, leaving him to the even more disturbing question of why.
In the hole he saw nothing but cobwebs and more of the ever-present dust. It so coated the place that he almost didn't see the lump of cloth at the bottom. Crouching at the edge of the gap, as he dared not descend into it's threatening depths, he examined it and came to the recognition that it was Scully's jacket, or at least part of it. The hem was shredded, leaving only the arms and collar intact.
"Scully," He called again. His breath felt intrusive in this room at night. He stood and noticed that all nine windows were shut tight. Looking closer he saw the weak shutter latches bound together with strips of fabric that would seem to match the torn garment.
"Mulder!" He jumped. Scully's voice came from downstairs, urgent and out of breath. With his hands gripping the railings, he scrambled down the stairs all the way to the kitchen.
"Scully?" He called. He was once again met by silence. He had heard her voice, but where had she gone? Two footsteps against the hardwood floor in the main room told him. He retraced his steps out of the kitchen and was startled when a sudden rush of wind and sound flew passed him.
Scully ran, jumping over the car, out of the house and across the hillside. Mulder followed, shouting after her, but she didn't turn. Instead, she fled him. Down the side of the hill and into the thicket of trees that ran the valley, he persued her. His feet slid on the fallen leaves and branches. She continued to cut a fast pace ahead of him, a will-of-the-wisp remaining just barely in his sight.
Why did she run? Had something frightened her so terribly that she couldn't think straight? No, he couldn't imagine his level-headed, courageous partner so afraid as to run like this. It didn't make any sense. He was amazed at how fast she could run. He knew he could out-run her at this speed, but he couldn't seem to catch up. The sky had darkened, leaving just a wisp of twilight on the horizon, which was entirely obscured by the trees around them.
He called her again, to no avail. She would not stop, her footfalls pounded the dirt and echoed through the trees. Her path was heedless, twisting and seeming without a destination. It was all Mulder could do to follow. He no longer knew where they were. He sagged, out of breath, amazed at her pace, his feet grinding the dead vegetation into the soil. He couldn't imagine what she was running from.
Abruptly, the trees stopped and they broke out onto a gravel stretch of road. The Winter River swam before them, smoothly running southward. Scully had turned and continued to run along the gravel upstream, away from town. The last of the twilight glittered from the rivers surface. Mulder watched as his partner found an old wooden pier, and without stopping or slowing at all, veered onto it.
"Scully!" He cried as she threw herself forward and dove into the dark water. Mulder reached the pier a moment later and looked out across the calm river, ready to jump in after her. She surfaced again, with a loud laugh, her hair plastered to her head. It wasn't her laugh... it wasn't her face... It wasn't Scully at all.
The woman who had surfaced was younger, with black hair tangled around her, and her face was narrower and pale white. She laughed at him again, spitefully, when he caught himself from falling in against one of the posts holding the old pier together.
The laughter stopped within an instant and when he looked, she was gone. Not a ripple stirred in the dismal water.
The walk back to the house from the river was long and dark, unlit by anything but his flashlight. A sudden serene apathy had overcome him. He'd witnessed things change before his eyes and he wondered who was the more haunted, Scully or himself. The town at night seemed dead, empty. He hadn't seen much of the townsfolk during the day and it gave him the feeling of being watched from windows. Where they inside because they were hiding or was there anyone in the houses that lined the street at all?
He felt them there, and he knew, as Rebecca Beye had, that they were hiding something, denying it, pretending that it didn't exist. But there was no denying it now. He was amazed that he hadn't felt it before. He pondered briefly, remembering that it was only a few counties away that a local farm boy had been exposed as one of this centuries most notorious serial killers.
Forget fiery pits and demonic minions, Mulder though, Hell is a cold, dark, vast and lonely space. It's amazing the depth of the human mind. With all our capacity, is it not astonishing the percent of that space is unused in perception of the universe? What happens to that empty hole that remains unused? What fills that chasm? Are our minds really as fragile as our bodies? Can we too become the monsters that we awake ourselves in the middle of the night screaming about?
Scully was right, Mulder thought, the young woman of the house and her family were victims, not only of the boys in her town, but of this indescribable 'thing' that lived here.
Mulder wasn't surprised when he saw her leaning up against the car. He climbed the hill in the dark towards Scully who was waiting for him. She shivered in the misty chill, her features pale. He nodded to her, out of breath.
"Where have you been?" She asked. She didn't know what else to say. He shook his head and looked at her hands.
"You're bleeding," He noticed, looking her over. She lifted her hands, as if noticing for the first time that her fingers were bleeding and that splinters of wood were embedded in her skin. She didn't seem alarmed by this and said nothing. Instead, she picked at the splinters absent-mindedly, her eyes downcast, her face unreadable.
"Are you OK?" He asked her. He knew that she too felt the overpowering sense of oppression that hung stagnent in the mist over the town.
"Yes, I just need a shower," she whispered, rubbing her hands together in the cold. She seemed emberessed and she iched her neck and arms. He could barley see her lips trembling in the moonless night.
"The storm never touched down," she remarked after a few moments of silence, looking up.
"No," Mulder shook his head, peering skyward, "I think it did..."
Both agents shifted their gaze to the house, with its new maw swallowing the car. It was darker inside the house than out and the hill, though the highest in the area, felt under a great shadow.
"Let's go, Scully."
A car waited for them in the vacant lot near the Rusty Wheel Inn/Pub. A nervous Rebecca Beye came out and ran across the lot to them and knocked on the driver side window. In the dim reflection of the headlights, Mulder could see that she wore a thick jacket over a pair of flannel pajamas.
"You're here just in time," she said, her voice cracking, "They just pulled Hank out of the river. He's dead..." She pointed across the street at John who stood solumnly next to a motionless shape on the ground.
"Who knows what he was doing out here so late," she sighed, on the edge of tears.
Scully cleared her throat and looked up. "Maybe you should leave the Cliffside section of your book out for now, Ms. Beye," She suggested. The sound of the engine humming gently under the hood and the sweep of the wind across the lot drowned out the silence of this isolated space.
She nodded, her eyes falling, and backed away from the car. She'd obviously been hoping for a more helpful conclusion after all this time. She sighed, nodded and a defeated smile appeared on her face in understanding. Her gaze shifted upward then, gazing at the house.
"Oh my God," She whispered, her eyes going wide, "Oh my God, look! The house!"
Mulder and Scully got out of the car and turned around.
The flames lit up the sky, licking at the heavens, greedily swallowing the great old house down its gullet.
"Some say 'Write what you know' I say 'Write what you fear, lest it become what you know'" --LilacPhileX