Title: The Veiled Lady
James Madison University
The thing was, Bridget Galvin had never really considered herself the sorority girl type. So imagine her surprise when she'd graduated high school and discovered that she was one of the most sought after potential Greek pledges at JMU. A lot of the credit for that went to her mom and her three aunts, who, despite the fact that they were among the coolest women Bridget had ever known, were definitely 'joiners' and always had been. Combined, they ensured that Bridget was a quadruple legacy: Delta Gamma, Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Phi (twice over).
She'd started getting flowers over the summer, lots of them, complete with cards encouraging her to join a particular chapter when she got to Madison -- something that was clearly against the rules of Greek rush, but, frankly, Bridget had never been much for rules herself and found she grudgingly respected the audacity of it.
In the end, she ditched the oh-so fabulous Pi Phis in favor of the still-fabulous but slightly more down-to-earth DGs. (She realized early on that she really wouldn't have been able to put up with four years of 'Pi Phi Pink' dresses and dainty slices of 'Pi Phi Pie.') So she wound up pledging, telling herself that if it sucked she could ditch whenever she wanted to.
Up to this point, it surprisingly hadn't sucked.
'This point,' on the other hand, showed some definite tendencies toward sucking. She'd joined mainly for the parties, and considered all this hazing bullshit just a necessary evil to ensure that she didn't spend the next four years sitting alone in her dorm room.
First, though, she had to make it through spending the night in the Civil War-era cemetery on the outskirts of campus, with just one of her pledge sisters for company.
She didn't know January Bauer very well, but suspected that was entirely the point. In the kinder, gentler, post-Animal House Greek system, even hazing was supposed to be about bonding and team building. Their chapter president said the pledge period was about "leaving behind the individual and becoming part of a team."
They were like the Marines, in a way -- but with designer jeans and themed mixers instead of fatigues and boot camp.
Bridget and January had been kidnapped from the dining hall by five of the sisters, dressed in black robes that did almost nothing to hide their identities. The fact that they kept giggling and accidentally calling one another by name also helped to spoil the effect. The sisters brought them to the graveyard, handing them sleeping bags and a fifth of Bacardi before lighting black candles around a piece of statuary.
"This," one of the robed figures (who was very clearly January's big sister, Mallory) began, pointing at the statue, "is the Veiled Lady. People say she was married to a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. After one of the big battles, she got a telegram saying that her husband had been killed. Grief-stricken, she hung herself from a rafter in the attic of their house. When she was buried, her family had this statue of a woman in a mourning veil placed on her grave. After the war, though, it turned out that her husband was alive. He'd just been taken prisoner by Union soldiers and the telegram had been a mistake. Returning home, he found his wife's grave and refused to leave it, lying in the statue's lap all night."
There had been a gust of wind and the candles had flickered slightly. January shuddered beside Bridget, who only just managed not to roll her eyes.
"In the morning, when the family came to get him, they found the soldier dead, lying across the statue's lap, his body crushed as though he'd died in its embrace. Ever since, no one has been able to spend an entire night here, though many have tried." She paused significantly. "That, pledges of the Epsilon Nu chapter of Delta Gamma, is your task. Do you accept it?"
"Sure," Bridget said. January just nodded.
And so, they had to spend the night the cemetery -- and hopefully become BFFs in the process. They'd been there for a couple hours and had made a fairly sizable dent in the Bacardi. No word yet on the lifelong bonds of sisterhood, though.
"Are you scared?" January asked, taking another Diet Coke from the satchel the sisters had left for them.
Bridget did roll her eyes this time. "Duh. Of course not. It's just a stupid ghost story."
January, however, looked unconvinced.
"Look, think about it logically..."
Still nothing. January just blinked.
"If people from every pledge class have had to do this every year, how dangerous could it be?" Bridget said reasonably. "Have you heard any stories about dead upperclassmen?"
"Here," Bridget poured two more shots of rum. "This'll make you brave."
"Sorry," January said, "you must think I'm the biggest baby. I just hate ghost stories."
"You promise not to laugh?"
Bridget knocked back her shot. "Of course."
"When I was a little kid, my dad was in the Air Force. We were stationed in Germany when I was about four, living in this old house near the base in Ramstein. There was this room in the back of the house. My mom says, and I don't know if it's really true or if she just says it because- Anyway, she says she never liked to go back there. She always kind of felt like someone was watching her, you know? My sister and I were too little to know better, so we played there. There were always people in the room with us: a woman, sewing, and a man, pacing back and forth with a book in his hand. We didn't realize our parents couldn't see them until I said something one day. I think they thought we were playing a trick at first. But we found out later that the original owners of the house hid their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis in that room for two years, before being discovered. Supposedly, they all died in a concentration camp, but I don't know if that part is true."
"Wow," Bridget said. "That's seriously creepy."
"Maybe it's dumb, but that's why I don't like ghost stories. It seems possible to me that they might be true, you know?"
"No kidding." She paused. "You should have said something. The sisters never would have made you stay if they knew you were seriously scared."
January shrugged. "I know. But then you would have been alone."
Two boys were walking up the hill toward them, one dark haired and preppy, the other taller and athletic with a shock of light brown hair. Very cute, both of them.
"Now we're talking," Bridget said, and January actually cracked a smile.
"Is this where the party is tonight?" said the dark haired one.
"It's just us and the ghosts," Bridget said, "but you're welcome to hang out, too."
The taller boy smiled at her.
Oh, yes. Very cute, she thought. January could have the preppie.
"So which house are you guys from?"
"Sigma Chi," said the tall one. "I'm Jake. This is Ryan."
Ryan gave them both a little wave and a grin. He had dimples.
"And they sent you out here, too? How original."
Jake shrugged. "Pledge Master gave us a choice: spend the night here or in the 'haunted' church on Oak and Maple."
"So why didn't you pick the church? Afraid of ghosts?"
He grinned. "Nah. Pigeons."
"So which house are you two in?" Ryan asked.
"Delta Gamma." January smiled at him. "We have rum," she offered.
"Nice! Why didn't we think of that?"
"Well," Bridget said, "we don't have as much as we did a little while ago, but you're welcome to share what's left."
"We have some lukewarm Keystone Ice, if anyone wants a chaser." Jake tossed his backpack to the ground, unzipped it and passed the cans around.
Between the Bacardi and the Keystone it turned out to be one hell of a party.
"But where are the ghosts?" Jake said, laughing, after his third beer. "Come on. This is supposed to be scary?"
"Boo!" Bridget said, tipping forward slightly.
He caught her by the hands, and tugged her forward. "Do you want to, uh-" He looked over to where January and Ryan were leaning sleepily against one of the large headstones. "Do you want to maybe be by ourselves for a little while?"
Well, finally, Bridget thought. Aloud, she said, "Sure," and picked up one of the sleeping bags.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," she heard January say softly, slurring the words slightly, as they walked away.
"Well, that still leaves plenty of options open, doesn't it?"
January threw an empty beer can in their general direction and giggled slightly.
Maybe that BFF thing was going to work out after all.
Around sunrise, something woke Bridget from a sound sleep. She blinked twice, foggily, wondering why she couldn't move and realized belatedly that she was zipped into a one person sleeping bag with Jake. Her head throbbed dully and she was going to need a glass of water in seriously short order. Then she heard the sound again and sat up abruptly, nearly ripping the bag's zipper from its seams.
Somewhere in the graveyard, January was screaming.
"Wha-? What's going on?" Jake sat up, but Bridget was already scrambling to her feet, her headache forgotten.
January screamed again, louder this time.
"Oh, shit," he said, getting up, too.
"January?" Bridget called out as she started to run.
Jake was right behind her. They ran back toward the statue of the veiled lady.
"Oh my God," Bridget said, coming to an abrupt halt.
Ryan was lying across the statue's lap, ugly blue bruises blossoming across his face and neck. January stood beside him, both hands pressed against her mouth. Bridget put a hand on January's shoulder and reached out another to check Ryan for a pulse.
"Don't," Jake said. "We have to call the police."
With an effort, Bridget pulled her hand away. "Anybody have a mobile phone?"
"Not me," he said.
January just shook her head, her face white and tear-stained.
"Somebody should check," Bridget said, "and see if he's still alive."
"He isn't." Jake paused for a long moment. "We've got to get the cops."
A truck rumbled past on the road beyond the stand of trees that stood near the cemetery wall.
"Stay here," he said. "I'll flag someone down."
Twenty minutes later the graveyard was crawling with police officers. The three of them sat, draped in blankets, fending off offers of bad coffee, until one of the detectives came over.
"There's an awful lot of alcohol in those bags back there, kids."
"You can't seriously think Ryan died of alcohol poisoning," Jake said.
"Shut up." January gave him a look. "Just answer the question."
"That wasn't a question. It was an observation."
The cop fixed them each with a tough-guy look.
"All of you are going to have to come with us."
"Wow, you look like shit," Danny said, poking his head through the door to the office.
Mulder rubbed his hands over his face and looked up.
"Seriously, man. Have you even been home yet this week?"
Danny pushed the door the rest of the way open and took a seat on the only empty chair in the room. "You know, left here for a reasonable amount of time, gone back to your apartment, had a nap, a shower, a decent meal."
Mulder grinned and hoped it didn't look too manic. "I ordered in from Thai Palace and freshened up with some wetnaps on Tuesday."
"That's foul, man. Really. You're foul." But Danny still smiled back.
"So, what brings you all the way down here, anyway?"
"I saw a case come through yesterday that I thought might interest you. You know how you say certain cases just smell funny?"
"Well, this one's all kinds of stinky. Take a look." He dropped a file folder onto the desk.
Mulder opened it, scanning the unusually dense text.
"You're right," he said after a minute. "This is right up my alley. Thanks, Danny."
"Sure thing." Danny hesitated, though, looking half like he wanted to get out of there but couldn't for some reason. "Hey, uh, Mulder…"
"I just wanted to make sure you were… You know, people are saying…"
Mulder sighed. He ought to have known. Danny was a good guy, really solid. He was also a total boy scout. Need an old lady helped across the street? Call Danny. Need a penknife and a pocket flashlight? Danny. Emergency work on a case, above and beyond the call, at three o'clock in the morning? All Danny. The only downside to all that was that he could, on very rare occasions, be a regular pain in the ass.
"And what, exactly, are people saying?"
"That Scully got kil- kidnapped by some psycho who thought space aliens talked to him through his fillings, and that Krycek went fucking nuts and strangled a suspect -- all within the space of about a week."
"A little inaccurate on the details, but mostly true."
"Holy shit, Mulder. If all that had happened to me, I would just let them take my gun and send me on a nice two-week vacation to valium-land, courtesy of the Bureau shrinks."
"Oh, don't think they haven't tried…"
"Did you think, maybe, that might be a good idea?"
Mulder shook his head. "It's probably an excellent idea. But you've known me for a pretty long time, Danny. How likely do you think it is that I'll take them up on it?"
"Huh. The phrase 'snowball's chance in hell' seems somehow appropriate."
Mulder laughed at that, and Danny seemed to relax a bit.
"Well, good luck," he said, heading toward the door. "You're a braver man than I am… or maybe just crazier."
James Madison University
Bridget Galvin was a slim, suntanned brunette who chainsmoked and kept a death-grip on her vanilla latte. January Bauer was nearly her exact opposite: a pale, quiet blonde who folded her hands neatly together in her lap and wouldn't look Mulder in the eye. Jake Scott, on the other hand, was notable only by his absence.
"He's coming," Bridget said, reading Mulder's expression with scary accuracy.
Mulder looked her over for a moment; she looked back, meeting his gaze. She looked a little scared, as he would have expected, but mostly she looked angry.
"You're gonna catch them, right?" she said.
She gave him a look that implied his I.Q. lay somewhere in the single digits. "Him. The guy. The one who did this to Ryan."
He watched her take a long drag on her cigarette before responding, "What makes you think it was a guy?"
"Well, I don't imagine it was a woman. Unless you know about any psycho female bodybuilders running around. Besides, what else could it be? It's not like anything like this has ever happened before."
"Actually, it has. Forty years ago."
January looked up abruptly, her face going even paler than it already was. Bridget just tapped ashes onto the stone steps of the university library where she was sitting, her backpack at her feet. They were in front of the neo-gothic library building at the center of campus, between classes.
"Really?" she said. "Are you going to tell us about it, or would you have to kill us if you did?"
"That's the CIA, not the FBI," he said. "But how about you tell me your story first?"
"Oh, you know, the usual. Girls meet boys, everybody gets drunk, one of the boys dies horribly-"
"Bridget!" January said. "Cut it out."
"All right, all right. I'm sorry, Jan." She paused. "We were supposed to spend the night in the cemetery. Some stupid pledge thing, but totally harmless no matter what the cops say. Ryan and Jake were doing the same thing for their house. We all decided to hang out together and share our sleeping bags and beer. We drank a little too much, passed out, and when I woke up, Ryan was dead."
"What about you?" he asked, turning to January. "Is that how you saw things?"
"Mostly," she said. "Bridget and Jake were sharing a sleeping bag down the hill from us, but I stayed up near the statue with Ryan. I was kind of scared, so we stayed awake talking. Eventually, I think I fell asleep… it's all a little fuzzy. When I woke up, Ryan was gone. The sun was up and I got up to look for him and…" She swallowed hard. "There he was."
Jake Scott finally showed up then, almost fifteen minutes after the time they'd agreed upon. He still had purple ink stains on his fingers from being printed by the Harrisonburg police. Neither of the girls did, though, Mulder noticed. Nothing like a little rural Virginia sexism.
Jake took a seat on the step next to Bridget, invading her personal space in a way that suggested the two were more than just drinking buddies. Mulder made a mental note of it. It put a potentially interesting spin on things.
"So," Jake said, by way of greeting, "FBI, huh? The university will love that."
"I'm not too worried about what the university likes or doesn't like. I just want to find out what happened to your friend."
"The cops think we hazed him to death." He raised his eyes to Mulder's, his gaze challenging. "Is that what you think?"
Mulder ignored the question and, instead, asked, "Is there anything you can tell me about Ryan? Anything unusual about him?"
"Unusual how? He was just like the rest of us. It was his first year here, he was excited about classes, parties. He really liked baseball…" Jake broke off, swallowing. "I'm just not sure how any of that will help."
"I know. But it actually could, even if it's something that doesn't seem important."
"Uh, well, he went home a lot. To see his family, you know? His mom died a year or so ago. In a car accident, I think. He didn't really like to talk about it."
Jake shook his head. "Not that I can think of. I've only known him a couple months. He seemed like a nice, normal guy. He was fun, a good pledge brother, a really decent guy."
"I'd like to see the cemetery. Could one of you show where it is?"
"The cops have it blocked off right now, but I can take you over there before my next class," Jake said. He paused, exchanging looks with both girls. "So, you being here… does that mean the cops are going to stop following us around?"
"They think we're lying," January said softly. "They think we were doing some dangerous hazing thing and that he- he died from it and we're trying to cover it up."
She looked him in the eye for the first time.
"No, we aren't."
Offices of The Lone Gunman
Nothing much really surprised Mulder anymore, but Langly answering the door in a pink taffeta prom dress and tiara was, he discovered, among the few things that still could.
"That's a new look for you," he deadpanned. "Very chic."
"Shut up, man. It's Halloween." Langly flung the door wide and motioned him inside. "We're getting ready to go to a costume party."
"In that dress? Did you lose a bet?"
Langly appeared to choose not to dignify the question with a response. His hair was actually pulled up into a very nice chignon.
"So what's up, Agent Mulder?" he said, leading the way back to where Byers and Frohike were putting the finishing touches on what appeared to be Frohike's Hugh Hefner costume, red brocade smoking jacket and all.
"Mulder!" Frohike said. "Nice of you to join us."
He held out a bottle of Crown Royal. "Have a drink?"
Frohike shrugged, poured two glasses and handed one to Byers, who was dressed as John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.
"Where's Uma?" Mulder cracked, taking a seat.
"Where is the wife, Byers? She's late. I thought you said she was coming."
"She changed her mind. She's, uh, at her sister's," he replied in a tone of voice that warned the subject wasn't up for discussion.
Langly didn't seem to take the hint, though. "Again? I'm gonna start thinking she doesn't like us-"
The phone rang and Byers went to get it, looking grateful for the interruption.
"Leave it alone, man," Frohike said. But then, in an aside to Mulder, he said softly, "She doesn't like us."
"Not like you boys? You're kidding."
"Punkass." He cast Mulder a sidelong look. "It actually has less to do, if you can believe it, with anything offensive about Langly or myself than it does with a certain lady of our mutual acquaintance. One who Byers has been less than successful at forgetting, if you take my meaning."
"Ah. The elusive Dr. Modeski."
"So the wife does have a point. She says we enable his obsessions -- or at least that's the way Byers tells it." He shrugged. "She might not be wrong."
Byers hung the phone up and came back over. "That was the printer. Copies of the new issue will be ready for pick up on Monday. It's your turn to get them, Langly."
"As fascinating as this is," Mulder said, pulling out the file on Ryan Jefferies' death, "I did actually come here for a reason."
"Yeah, we figured. What can we do for you?"
"I'm investigating this case: a college kid killed down at James Madison. There's some question about whether it was an accident or something a little… spookier."
"How appropriate to the season." Frohike poured himself another drink.
Byers took the file from him. "We'll take a look and give you a call tomorrow."
"I was actually hoping to have something tonight…"
"Come on, Mulder, it's Friday," Frohike said. "Don't you have somewhere to be?" There was an extended pause. "Wow, I guess looks really can kill."
"Sorry, man. We're going to a party, with free kegs."
"And the lovely Linda promised to dress up like Lt. Uhura." Frohike grinned. "Beam me up."
Mulder sighed. "So you guys are still in high school, then."
Byers flipped open the file and Langly groaned.
"I just want to see what we're dealing with…"
"Quick, Frohike. Pour him another drink before he completely sobers up…"
"This will only take a minute," Byers said shortly. "We're still going to the party, so just relax."
Mulder blinked. That was possibly the closest to actual rudeness he'd seen Byers get in the five years he'd known the guy.
"This is supposed to be a fun weekend," Langly protested. "Parties, women, booze. You know, the stuff we never do… Come on, you two promised."
"Quit your whining. Let Byers read the damned file, then we'll go," Frohike said. "Go make yourself another of those girly-girl drinks you call alcohol."
"So, you think… what? That someone caused this student's death and placed him near the grave site to confuse the issue?" Byers looked up, frowning at Mulder.
"Possibly. Or there could be something a little more… supernatural… at work."
The other three exchanged somewhat skeptical looks. It should have annoyed him, that these three, with their perpetual paranoia and far-out theories, could look at him like he was nuts. But that was what he'd come here for, wasn't it? He needed a healthy dose of skepticism, a raised eyebrow, a quietly questioning voice. He needed someone to balance him, to ground him, and in the absence of anyone else to do it, these guys were the best he had.
"This isn't the first time something like this has happened," he said, flipping to another page in the file. "Check it out… 1954. A JMU sophomore named Alan Charles was found dead in the graveyard. The police at the time said his injuries looked as though he'd been hit by a car, but his body was found inside the cemetery, twenty feet from the nearest road."
"He could have been hit and thrown clear, if the car was going fast enough-"
"It is possible, but given what happened last week, I wonder."
Byers laid the current crime scene photos out on the table. There were several different angles of the body, stretched out across the knees of the seated statue.
"It's Black Aggie," Frohike said, recognition dawning across his face. He tugged one of the photos closer to him.
"That's an urban legend," Byers protested. "It's been completely debunked..."
"There's this statue in Baltimore…"
"It isn't in Baltimore anymore," Byers cut in, looking vaguely irritated. "It's at the Smithsonian now, and there's nothing supernatural about it..."
"There's this statue in Baltimore," Frohike continued, "called Black Agnes. Supposedly, Aggie was jilted by her fiancé while she was alive, so now she has to wreak her bloody vengeance from beyond the grave… or something. There are a bunch of different versions of the story. One version says that she has burning red eyes that blind anyone foolish enough to look directly at her. Another says that lying or sitting in her lap will earn you a 'fatal embrace'." Frohike chuckled and brought his hands together. "Squish. Kids used to go there on dares, for college initiations, stuff like that. The statue at your crime scene looks just like her."
"Squish, huh?" Mulder said. "That's unfortunate. At least if you're Ryan Jefferies."
"I hate to say it, Mulder," Byers said, still looking through the photos, "but this is probably just the result of a Halloween prank."
"I might be inclined to agree with you, except for the very real dead body we've got down at the morgue."
"A Halloween prank gone wrong, I should have said."
"I talked to the other kids involved. I don't think they had anything to do with it."
"They might not have. There've been several recent cases of Halloween pranks backfiring and killing the person planning them. There was a teenager here in Maryland last Halloween who accidentally hung himself while setting up a haunted house…"
"Fine," Mulder conceded, "I accept that that's a possibility. But I need your help to find out for sure."
"And we will help," Byers said firmly, "but in the morning."
That was clearly the best he was going to get from them. He closed the file folder and stood up. "Fair enough. You guys enjoy your party."
"You're more than welcome to join us," Byers said, reverting to his usual politeness.
"Yeah," Frohike grinned. "Come on, Mulder. You can go as an FBI agent. Won't that be a kick in the ass?"
Mulder was learning an awful lot about Langly, Byers and Frohike that weekend. For one thing, they had a wider social circle than he did -- which, frankly, even given his current mental state, disturbed the hell out of him. Granted, it was a deeply geeky social circle (he gave up on counting the number of people dressed as Klingons at the party), but it was a large one. He wasn't really sure what had possessed him to tag along. He didn't 'hang out' with much of anyone, let alone the staff of The Lone Gunman, despite their many offers over the years. Then again, the one person he seemed inclined to spend his downtime with wasn't exactly available these days -- and he didn't like to consider the many implications of that too closely.
The house -- which seemed to belong to one of the many Klingons -- was filled to capacity and then some. People packed themselves into every room, crowded around the keg in the kitchen, and spilled out into the front lawn to smoke.
Frohike led Mulder over to the keg, while Langly headed upstairs for a 'quick game' of D&D. A fetching young woman in a Starfleet uniform planted a kiss on Frohike's cheek and gave Mulder a serious once over before handing over the keg tap.
"Thanks, Linda." Frohike grinned at Mulder as she walked away. "Mamma mia."
Byers had claimed a spot on the sofa in the corner as his own, and was already well on his way to finishing a bottle of what looked like really excellent gin.
"What's with him, anyway?" Mulder asked.
"Same thing that's wrong with you," Frohike said, handing over a plastic cup. "He lost somebody he cares about, and can't figure out why."
"Susanne Modeski? Still?" Mulder said, pointedly ignoring Frohike's intrusion into his own personal life.
"First Susanne, and now possibly the wife. Of course, he hasn't quite figured out yet that losing the wife is mostly his own fault."
"I've never really thought about the fact that he's married." Mulder shook his head. "I mean, he wears a wedding ring. I noticed that, I just never really thought about it. He never mentions her."
"And now you begin to see the problem."
Mulder took a drink of beer. It tasted flat and sour, which probably wasn't a reflection on the quality of the keg. Everything tasted like that to him lately.
"I think he's afraid of, like, contaminating her or something with our ideas. She's a nice kid -- a smart one, too, from what I can tell -- but she's not one of us. She doesn't get what we do, or why we do it." Frohike took a long drink from his own cup. "Women. I tell ya."
"You don't have to tell me," Mulder said, trying for humor and not entirely succeeding.
"Yeah," Frohike began tentatively. "About that… What are the chances of you actually talking to someone about what happened to Scully?"
"Slim to none."
Frohike sighed heavily. "I swear, between you, Byers and the prom queen up there…" he gestured at the stairs where Langly had disappeared.
"You carry a heavy burden," Mulder said, dumping the remnants of his beer into a potted ficus near the back door. "This has been, uh, fun… but I think I'll see you boys in the morning."
"We just got here!" Frohike protested.
Mulder just aimed a wave back in his direction as he pushed through the crowd and out the door.
"You want us to spend the night where?"
It was Saturday morning and they were seated around one of the workstations in the Lone Gunman offices. Langly and Frohike were thumbing through crime scene photos from the Harrisonburg PD again. Byers, sipping from a cup of black coffee, looked slightly worse for wear. And Mulder had just finished laying out his plan for investigating Ryan Jefferies' death.
"No way, man," Langly said, shaking his head and holding up both hands. "I had enough of those kinds of stupid dares back in Cub Scouts."
"You were a Cub Scout?"
"Langly has a point, Mulder," Frohike said. "I can't see the value -- from a purely investigative standpoint, of course."
"You guys have all sorts of surveillance and video equipment…"
"We don't have anything that would be suitable for this. Real ghost hunters have all sorts of specialized equipment, like EMF meters…"
"…and motion detectors…"
"All right, all right." Mulder held up his hands in a show of defeat. He waited a moment for effect, then said, "Are you sure it's not just because you boys are chicken?"
Langly rolled his eyes; Frohike looked like he might take umbrage at the suggestion.
"Not chicken," Byers said mildly, setting his coffee mug down, "just appropriately cautious."
"I think," Mulder said, sensing Byers was probably going to be his best bet for an ally on this, "that this is the best way to figure out whether this was an accident of some sort, or whether there's something more sinister going on."
Byers nodded thoughtfully.
"Oh, crap," Frohike said, taking in the expression on Byer's face. "We're gonna do it, aren't we?"
"The ME placed time of death between midnight and two-thirty," Mulder said, pressing his advantage, "so we should probably be there and be set up before eleven."
"You owe us big time, Mulder," Langly said.
"We'll need some equipment-"
"We'll have to make do with the cameras and recorders we've got-"
"That'll be fine. But we'll need some outdoor equipment too."
Langly laughed sharply. "Dude, I don't even own a coat, let alone a sleeping bag."
Frohike shook his head. "Come on. Do any of us own look like we own camping equipment?"
"I do," Byers said, surprising them all. "Own some, I mean."
Byers' place was on the way down to Harrisonburg, though Mulder wasn't at all sure how they were going to fit anything else in the van. The back was already packed with various pieces of electronic equipment.
He'd been a little surprised to discover that Byers had his own residence, apart from the other two. He shouldn't really have been, he supposed, but he had trouble imagining any of the three existing outside their paranoid little cave in Takoma Park. They did, though. Or, at least, Byers did.
It was true that Frohike and Langly hibernated in the back rooms of their warehouse offices when they weren't hacking into things or playing D&D. But Byers, apparently, owned a yuppified townhouse a block or two from the Vienna metro stop.
It was a nice house, a little small, but excellently appointed. The furniture all smartly tailored and matched with military precision. Signs of female cohabitation were all over the place, too -- which, again, was weird. There was a wedding photo on the table in the front hallway and a doggie bed in the t.v. room. Mrs. Byers must have taken the dog with her, though, because there was no other sign of it in the house.
Byers opened the hall closet and began pulling out sleeping bags and a two-person tent.
"Who knew you liked the great outdoors, buddy," Frohike said.
"We went- We go to the beach in Delaware sometimes during the summer and camp out at the state parks." He handed Langly a sleeping bag. "This stuff can go out to the van."
The phone began to ring, but Byers ignored it. The machine picked up.
"John? John, it's me. If you're there, please pick up..." There was a long moment of dead air. "All right... Well, when you get this please call back. It's important. I'm still at Paige's and... please just call."
Frohike leaned down and grabbed the tent. "Aren't you gonna call the lady back?"
Byers looked truly torn. "I'll call her... after we're finished with this," he said, after a minute.
Frohike opened his mouth to protest, then seemed to think better of it. He handed over the tent instead. "Sure thing."
Byers kicked the front door wide and toted the folded tent out to the van. Frohike frowned after him.
"Something on your mind, Frohike?"
He shook his head. "It's none of my business. The last time I brought it up he took a swing at me."
"Byers did? Seriously?"
Frohike shrugged. "We were halfway through a bottle of eighteen-year-old Glenfiddich."
"Aren't we always?" He managed a leer, but it was half-hearted at best. "Maybe a belt or two of Scotch would do you some good."
"Let's concentrate on not getting squished by the possessed statue tonight, and then maybe we'll talk."
Frohike picked up the last sleeping bag and headed toward the door. "I'm gonna hold you to that, buddy. Don't think I won't."
Black Aggie, aka Margaret Beaumont (b.1841-d.1863), was depicted as a seated figure, carved from black marble, her face almost entirely obscured by elaborate mourning veils.
Langly and Frohike were treating the whole outing like a college roadtrip. Byers, on the other hand, had been behind the wheel the whole way down, not saying much, and alternating between sips of black coffee and Alka-Seltzer. Mulder had actually dozed off briefly during the drive, the white noise of the van's engine lulling him into a fitful, shallow sleep. He'd jerked awake somewhere around Mt. Jackson, coming out of a dream about white lights, slick metal tables and electrical burns.
He hadn't dared to try and sleep again after that.
"Okay, kids, we finally made it to Wally World," he'd said, when they'd finally gotten to the JMU campus, jumping out of the passenger seat and sliding open the back door.
The sun had set completely by the time they were camped in the cemetery, the two-man tent pitched a suitable distance away from Black Aggie. They'd set up the video cameras and lights around the statue, reserving a couple of the lanterns for their own small campsite.
"Too bad we can't build a fire and tell ghost stories," Frohike said.
Langly brought out fixings for s'mores, anyway, while Frohike contributed slightly more grown-up treats.
"Frohike..." Byers began, sounding vaguely exasperated.
"Hey, if we're gonna be out here, freezing our asses off all night, I'm going to keep warm with a hot toddy or two. This is supposed to be a 'fun' weekend. So, who's with me?"
Langly held out his mug.
"Oh, God. No." Byers went slightly green.
"That'll teach you to mix Bombay and Crown Royal, my friend," Frohike said with a chuckle. He took a hearty drink from his own cup.
"Just coffee for me," Mulder said.
"You sure, man? I'm not convinced you need any caffeine, if you know what I mean…"
"Coffee," he repeated firmly, and Byers poured two cups from a battered, red thermos.
"So," Frohike said, screwing the cap back onto his flask, "we may not have a fire, but let's have a ghost story anyway. What do you know about our veiled lady over there?"
He gestured in the statue's direction with the flask, turning it into a toast at the last minute.
"Just what's in the official records," Mulder said, "which isn't much."
Frohike was right about coffee being the last thing he needed. He could practically feel the thrum in his veins when the caffeine hit his blood stream. The coffee was hot, though, so he kept drinking it.
"Daniel Beaumont was reported killed in action during the Civil War. He'd married Margaret, his childhood sweetheart, a few months before joining up to fight in the Confederate Army. Margaret died several weeks after receiving word of her husband's death. The town doctor here in Harrisonburg listed the cause as accidental, but local legend suggests that she actually hung herself out of despair and the family paid the doctor to cover it up. The Beaumonts were fairly well-to-do and respected in the town so it probably wasn't too hard to get people to go along with the story. After the war it was discovered that Daniel Beaumount hadn't been killed at all, but simply taken prisoner by Union troops. In the aftermath of the battle, though, another soldier was identified as Beaumont. He returned home to find his wife dead. There isn't much more in the records: simply that he passed away himself in early 1866. His cause of death wasn't listed at all."
"Anything supernatural aside," Byers said quietly, "that's a horribly tragic story."
"Not much of a ghost tale, though," Frohike said. "Was there any indication that Daniel Beaumont met a sticky end thanks to his lovely but unfortunately deceased wife?"
"Not really. Just local legend, again."
"I guess we're gonna find out the hard way tonight," Langly said, "one way or the other."
"Not necessarily. Kids have been coming here and spending the night in this cemetery every Halloween for decades. None of them wound up dead. What made Ryan Jefferies different? Or that kid back in the fifties?"
"That's what we're here to find out," Mulder said, "if we can."
Their camping adventure was turning out to be singularly uneventful, a side effect of which was that it turned into a freakish hybrid of a Boy Scout Jamboree, sci-fi convention and the night before Christmas, with Frohike playing the role of perverse scoutmaster (or was that redundant?). He led them through a series of drinking songs, dirty jokes and drinking games, including a truly horrifying hour when Langly and Frohike played the world's longest game of 'I Never.' That at least got a chuckle out of Byers, who, frankly, looked the way Mulder felt.
"I've never had sex in or on a luxury car," Frohike said with an unholy twinkle in his eye, taking a long drink from his mug.
Byers laughed again and took a sip of his coffee.
"Are you drinking because you've done that, Byers?"
Langly looked vaguely horrified; Frohike just looked impressed. Mulder chuckled himself, and reached over to offer Byers a high five. If they were going to devolve into back-slapping frat guys, they might as well have a good time doing it. Besides, he was actually starting to relax a little in spite of himself.
"But the question is, what kind of luxury car?"
"A Cadillac. And, no, you don't get any more detail than that."
The game went on awhile longer, growing increasingly dirty with each passing round, until Byers called a halt to the festivities.
"I think it might be time to settle in for the night," he said, indicating Langly, who looked ready to nod off into his half-empty mug of schnapps-spiked cocoa.
"I'll take the first watch, if the rest of you want to get some sleep," Frohike offered.
Mulder laughed sharply. "Sleep? That's a good one. You fellas go ahead and snooze."
The others bickered good-naturedly over who was going to sleep where, while Mulder made himself comfortable against one of the headstones. He double-checked to make sure he had his sidearm handy, not that he really anticipated needing it.
He stared away from the campsite, out into the darkness, away from the lanterns beside the tent. Byers unrolled a sleeping bag across from him and unzipped it.
"Wake me if you need anything," he said, getting into the bag.
Byers paused, as though he wanted to say something else. Instead, after a moment, he said, "Well, good night then," and rolled over.
Frohike zipped up the tent flap and turned out one of the lanterns, leaving Mulder basically alone among the shadows of graves cast in the half-light.
He jerked upright abruptly. Someone was calling his name.
He'd dozed off. After all his talk about insomnia, it was, frankly, a little embarrassing.
He could hear Langly's snores from inside the tent, but nothing from Frohike. Byers was a motionless lump inside one of the sleeping bags on the ground beside him. Mulder got up, careful not to disturb him.
The wind picked up, the shadow of a cloud passing across the moon, and he thought he heard the voice again. All the battery-operated lanterns flickered and went out as one. The red recording lights on the cameras blinked out of sequence but stayed on.
This time he definitely heard it. He followed the sound: it sounded as though it originated over near the statue. He hesitated a little, reluctant to get too close. That was out of character for him, normally he would have rushed in headlong, so he pulled himself together and moved in closer, actually stepping up onto the dais where the veiled lady statue sat.
The voice said his name again, his first name this time. The idea that perhaps he was still asleep, and this was all a dream, occurred to him briefly. He took a step back... or tried to. He found that he couldn't move. He was rooted to the spot.
Cool hands reached out and brushed his face, and he looked up into a pair of clear, familiar blue eyes.
"Scully?" he heard himself say.
It was her, but it wasn't, her pale face framed by heavy, black veils.
"Let go," he said.
"Don't you want to know what happened to her?"
The statue's lips didn't move, but he could hear the voice clearly in his head.
"Don't you want to know?" And suddenly she wasn't Scully anymore. His breath caught, and her arms went around him, the stone very smooth and cold even through his jacket.
"Mulder?" a soft, very un-supernatural voice said from somewhere just beyond his peripheral vision.
Byers stepped into view, his eyes wide.
"This is not happening," he said, looking from the statue to Mulder, then back again.
Oh, it's happening, all right, Mulder tried to say, but found his voice didn't work. He was having trouble getting his breath.
"Stop," Byers said, stepping forward and grabbing at the statue's arms, then trying to pry its stone fingers off Mulder.
It didn't budge.
"Stop!" he said again, more loudly. "Langly! Frohike!"
Byers turned back and looked into the statue's face for the first time. Mulder could feel breath on his neck as Byers tried futilely to pull him free. Catching sight of the statue, though, Byers' breathing stopped short, then sped up.
"Oh, God," he said, then closed his eyes. "Don't look at it. Don't."
That, Mulder realized belatedly, was probably very good advice. He closed his eyes, and suddenly the pressure around his chest seemed to ease slightly. Byers grabbed him by the arms, planting both feet against the stone base of the statue and yanking hard.
Mulder was vaguely aware of noise in the tent behind them. All the yelling must have finally woken the other two.
Byers hung onto Mulder's arms and pulled again with all his strength. They tumbled backward, hitting the ground hard, and all the lanterns flickered back to life. They landed in an awkward heap, Byers shoving Mulder off his knees once they'd caught their breath.
When they looked up, Frohike stood at the edge of the darkness, a flashlight in his hand.
"What the hell happened to you two?"
"We've got bupkis," Frohike said. "Twenty minutes of static and blank screens."
It was eight o'clock on Sunday morning and they were back in Maryland, sitting on one of the dumpster-diver couches in the Lone Gunmen's office. They'd arrived there an hour or two earlier and Frohike had promptly poured everyone a couple fingers of scotch. Mulder was still nursing his.
Langly brought a hand down on one of the VCRs in frustration. "I don't believe this."
"That makes one of us," Byers said. His hand shook slightly as he reached for his glass.
"I meant, I don't believe we didn't get it on film."
"That's a fairly common side effect of certain types of paranormal phenomena," Mulder said, his voice sounding flat and passionless in his own ears.
"What phenomena, though?" Langly said. "Frohike and I didn't see anything. Just you two freaking out and rolling around on the ground."
"Well, we weren't rolling around on the ground for the hell of it."
"Unless there's something you two want to tell us-" Frohike leered at them.
Byers put a hand to his forehead.
Mulder decided to take pity on him.
"Grief," he said.
"The victim in '54, Alan Charles, he was walking along that road near the graveyard because his girlfriend back home had just left him for another guy. He told friends he wanted to clear his head. He had the girlfriend's letter in his pocket when they found him. Ryan Jefferies had recently lost his mother in a car accident."
"Well, that's two, anyway," Frohike said.
Byers straightened his tie, the movement reflexive and unconscious.
"It's not conclusive proof, I admit," Mulder said. "But it makes a certain amount of sense. It might explain why you two didn't see the thing, for starters."
"What? Langly and I are tougher than you two sensitive souls?"
"Something like that." He paused. "I don't think the spirit is necessarily malevolent... just misguided. It's attracted by loss, it's attracted to people who are grieving."
Byers gave him the briefest of sidelong glances.
"I think," Mulder continued, "that, in a weird way, maybe it's trying to help. It wants to make all the sadness go away. Margaret Beaumont only knew one way to do that when she was alive, so it makes a certain amount of sense that death would continue to be the only answer she understands."
"I don't think it was trying to kill you, though," Byers said, finally speaking up. "It seemed more like-"
"More like what?"
He shook his head. "It will probably sound ridiculous."
Frohike rolled his eyes. "And the rest of this doesn't already?"
Mulder looked over at Byers, and prompted, "It seemed like-"
Murphy's Irish Pub
Drowning his sorrows was so clichéd, but highly effective. After the events of the preceding weekend, Mulder really wanted to be alone, spending some quality time with his new friend, Jose Cuervo, and his old friend, self-pity.
Eventually, though, Byers tracked him down. He ought to have known.
"So," Byers said, taking a seat at the table, "is it really true that you don't sleep anymore?"
Mulder had always been a bit of an insomniac, but since Scully...
"I sleep sometimes," he said. "Just not often, and not very well."
Byers nodded as though he could relate.
A cocktail waitress came up to take his order.
"I'll have one of whatever he's having."
"You sure, Byers? It might put some hair on your chest."
"I think I can probably handle it."
But when the waitress brought him a double shot of tequila, he didn't look quite so convinced.
"So," Mulder said, picking up his own shot, "the Harrisonburg police have ruled Ryan Jefferies' death an accident, and JMU is instituting a 'Hazing Awareness' program for all incoming freshmen." He shook his head. "That is why you're here, right?"
"In part," Byers replied noncommittally, holding out the shot glass.
Mulder clinked the two glasses together and downed his tequila. Byers followed suit. He choked a little, his eyes watering.
"That is truly awful." He flagged down a waiter. "I'm going to need a chaser. Whatever you have on tap, something better than Budweiser, if possible."
The waiter brought the beer and Byers took a large gulp.
Mulder's phone rang. He took it out of his pocket and switched off the ringer without answering. It was Bridget Galvin again. She'd been calling all afternoon, leaving voice mails asking whether he'd found out anything. He just couldn't deal with her or her friends or their grief until he'd had a little time to process what had happened. He promised himself he'd send her a copy of the case file the next day.
"Aren't you going to answer that?" Byers asked.
"Did you ever call your wife back?" Mulder replied unkindly, then felt a little guilty when Byers flushed.
Byers took another long drink of his beer, looking away from Mulder.
"What did you see?" he said, once he'd put his glass down, the flush fading from his cheeks.
"When you looked at the statue, what did you see?"
"Lots of things," Mulder said carefully. "Some things I expected, a few that surprised me."
Mulder signaled for another shot of tequila. "What did you see?"
"Susanne, my mother, my wife…" Byers shook his head. "My mother died last year. Heart attack. She'd been sick for awhile, so it wasn't exactly unexpected. And my dad… well, we don't speak anymore, and even before our relationship was distant at best."
"Tell me one I haven't heard before."
Byers exhaled sharply in what might almost have been a laugh. "It is a pretty common story, isn't it?"
"And your wife?"
"She left me," he said. "She moved out two weeks ago. I haven't told anyone yet. I haven't even really admitted it to myself."
Mulder found he didn't know what to say to that. Byers just stared into his empty shot glass.
"You must think I'm an idiot," he said at last. "After all this time, still half in love with a woman I barely even knew…"
"Happens to the best of us," Mulder said, though the truth of it was he'd never really gotten the appeal of Susanne Modeski, especially not after five years.
"My wife thought I was an idiot for it. Not that she ever said as much, not that she ever really even knew the details. She knew enough to suspect, though." He passed a hand over his face. He was still wearing his wedding ring. "She told me she was still in love with me, that she always would be, but that she just couldn't live with me anymore. Her bags were already packed. I hadn't even noticed.
"While I was off chasing shadows, the one real, honest thing in my life slipped away."
Oh, yeah, Mulder thought. Way to hit too close to home. Thanks, buddy.
"Your turn," Byers said mildly.
"Did you really think I was going to spill my guts and then let you get away with not sharing?"
A waitress brought Mulder's second shot of tequila.
"You're sneaky, Byers."
He shrugged, taking a sip of beer. "I spend a lot of time around Frohike."
"And, for that, you are a braver man than I am."
Byers just smiled and kept quiet. Unnervingly, expectantly quiet. But Mulder had a degree in psychology. He knew this game already. He picked up the happy hour menu and started to read.
Predictably, Byers cracked first.
"You're going to have to talk about it sometime, with someone. You can trust me, you know."
"I don't trust anybody."
Byers' sigh in response reminded Mulder powerfully of Scully.
"All right. Fine. You want to know what I saw? I saw Scully... and my sister. To be expected, right?"
"And the part you didn't expect?"
Mulder shook his head. "I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out."
Leave feedback for the author here https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2659543/1/