Title: The X-Witch Project
Author: Stacy Q.
Written: May 2002
Blair Witch Spoilers: many!
X Files Spoilers: Uh, "Darkness Falls" and "Squeeze/Tooms" (time period-after Sixth Extinction episodes. before Closure!)

Summary: Mulder goes looking for the three missing students.

To Cindy W. for the most super-duper edits I have ever seen!!

To "Fox" for all their help and advice, and for putting up with me! To Fay Wray for encouraging them! :>

 


PROLOGUE

Summer 1999
Burkittsville, Maryland

"She has to be ok. She has to. oh, God, not again!"

Evylin Williams sat down on her daughter's bed. Deputy Callahan remained in the doorway. They had just returned from the Black Hills.

In 1994, Taryn Williams's cousin, Mike, vanished in the Black Hills Forest. Now it was five years later, and 16-year old Taryn had disappeared into the forest as well. The day before, she had gone for a walk. Her mother had no immediate concerns. Taryn knew her way around the Black Hills very well. She could make it in and out of the woods in only four hours .

That was 18 hours ago.

"Mommy? I got to show you sumpin'" Taryn's 5-year old sister, Jessica, came into the room.

"I'm very tired, honey. We just got back. I need to rest, sweetie."

"But it's important, mommy."

"I'll take her down and get her some juice." Deputy Callahan said. He picked up the black-haired little girl. "We're gonna go downstairs and get you some juice, ok? Let your mommy rest."

"Mommy didn't leave Taryn's asthma med'cine at home."

"No, she brought it with her so she could give it to Taryn."

"I know."

Jessica got down from his arms and pushed open the door to the kitchen.

"Oh my God," the deputy exclaimed. "Evylin! Get down here."

Taryn was curled up in a corner of the kitchen, wheezing loudly and the deputy could see her shivering. He ran and knelt beside her.

"Taryn! Can you hear me? Taryn?"

In her shivering hands she clutched a dirty DAT recorder.


Three Days Later

"... So, Taryn is taken to the hospital and they diagnose that she has not had a treatment for three days, even though she had one less than 20 hours earlier. She's severely dehydrated, and has minor cuts and scrapes on her legs, which indicate three day old injuries. The recorder is then given to Sheriff Cravens who secretly turns it over to the FBI."

Fox Mulder glanced around at the countryside while he and Scully drove to Taryn's house in Burkittsville. "Now Taryn says she just went out to Coffin Rock. She was going to follow it out to Nanticoke Blue Trail and home was 45 minutes away. So she's following alongside it and she notices this stick bundle floating downstream. She chases it for about 500 feet and finds the recorder in the middle of the stick bundle. She took the recorder, went home, and collapsed on the kitchen floor."

Scully looked at him. "And you suspect..."

"Something very strange in the Black Hills. Ok here it is."

"The cemetery? Mulder, we're supposed to meet a living girl, not a dead  one!"

"The dead ones come later." He smiled. "I called earlier. She wanted to meet us here."

Mulder and Scully wound their way through the tiny cemetery, and came upon a large headstone that read "TREACLE"

"Eileen Treacle? I thought they never found her body."

"They didn't!"

Mulder and Scully leaned around the headstone to see where the voice was coming from.

There, sprawled on her back, was a young girl, arms crossed behind her head. She was small, 5 feet, with long black hair.

She opened her brown eyes and continued. "It's a memorial. Who are you?"

"Hi, you must be Taryn Williams." Mulder began and shook the girl's hand. "Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully."

"Yeah, sorry I. I got into a fight with my parents. I took Jessica to play hide and seek."

"Really? Shouldn't you be seeking?" Mulder asked.

"I already know where she is. Come on."

As she led them up a long incline, "Mulder said, "I understand you were on a little excursion into the Black Hills, and that you came back with a very interesting present."

"My cousin's recorder!" Taryn stopped and faced them. "You got it with you?"

"It's back at the lab," Scully answered. "Broken. Filled with mud."

"But it was my cousin's, right? It was a sound recorder and my cousin was recording the soundtrack." Taryn looked hopefully from one to the other. Her thoughts were interrupted by shouting.

"Why you never looked Taryn? I been hidin' and you never seeked!"

A tiny girl with black hair ran up to Fox Mulder. "I know who you are! You are the g-man!"

Mulder smiled. "I can't remember the last time someone called me a g-man."

The little girl darted over to Scully. "Are you a g-lady?"

"Jessica! Don't call them that," Taryn hissed, and swept her off the grass.

"She learned that from the TV." Taryn said.

"No, I di'nt. You said they was g-men... and ladies."

"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder."

"Oh, that's ok. Jessica, I hope you don't go anywhere without Taryn to protect you. Taryn, we'd like to ask you some questions, and later you could show us exactly where you found the recorder."

"Sure. There's a bench at the front gate. Come on."

Jessica looked over her sister's shoulder as Mulder and Scully followed them.

"You gonna go lookin' for Elly the witch?" Jessica asked.

Scully looked at Mulder. "Well, we were planning a trip into the hills, but we don't plan on finding a witch." Scully shot that you-know-what-I-mean glance at her partner.

"She'll find you," the little girl said, and looked directly into Mulder's eyes. "She'll find you, and tie you down to Coffin Rock, then she'll take out all your insides, and then-"

"Jessica, knock it off!" Taryn insisted, and the three of them sat down on the bench. Mulder pulled a slim notebook from his jacket pocket.

"I can assume you've seen the video. Was that tangle of sticks, stickmen? Like the ones that were hanging from the trees?" Mulder asked.

Anger flashed in Taryn's eyes, and she looked down quickly, shaking her head.

"How about these?" Mulder asked. He showed her some drawings. Taryn stared at them, her eyes widening in surprise. Mulder noticed her reaction. "You've seen these before, haven't you?"

She looked back up. "They weren't like that."

"Tell 'em what you called the sheriff! That's why mommy sent her outside, cos Taryn said Sheriff Cravens is a big sack of. what you call him?"

"Nothing!"

"No. started with an s. or a c."

"Jess, be quiet now!" Taryn ordered. Jessica shifted around, and lay against Taryn's chest. Mulder lowered his head, smiling. Scully leaned forward. "How would you feel about taking us out to Coffin Rock? Parr's house?"

Taryn leaned back. "Fine. But you won't find anything. No one ever does."

"You found more evidence." Mulder insisted.

"That's different. You won't find anything 'cause no one ever knows where to look. there's stuff out there that can't be explained. and anyone that Sheriff Cravens hires will never get that."

"Well, he didn't hire us. When this new evidence surfaced, it was handed over to me because. I have a knack for solving unsolvable cases."

"That was before you came to Burkittsville." Taryn stated.

"I think you'd be surprised at how open-minded I can be."

Taryn looked down at Jessica, who was falling asleep.

"How would you feel about going out there tomorrow?!" Taryn challenged.

"Mmmm. Tomorrow's bad. I want to conduct some interviews, a little research. Next day would be good."

Taryn just shook her head. Another day wouldn't make a difference, but she said, "Whatever!"


2 DAYS LATER-THE BLACK HILLS FOREST

"What are you looking at?" Scully asked.

Mulder was staring up into the trees as they followed Taryn.

"You don't see them?" he asked.

"Not cocoons, I hope."

"No, they're easy to miss."

Taryn stood about 100 feet ahead of them. She couldn't understand why Agent Mulder kept looking up into the trees. It couldn't be because he actually noticed them; no one ever did. Except for Mike and his friends. Taryn sighed, turned and jogged on ahead.


"Ok, this is it!" Taryn pointed to the creek's edge. "Found it right there. Chased it that way."

Then she sat down by a tree, and watched both of the agents with keen interest.

Mulder looked skyward again, readied his camera and took six pictures. He walked towards Taryn and looked behind the tree she was leaning on. He looked up.

Taryn couldn't stand it anymore. "What do you see up there?!"

"Oh, this and that; leaves, birds, stickmen."

"No way!" Taryn stammered.

"Yes, way." he insisted, smiling. Then he pointed up and said, "Right there. And there. Some over there."

"All right, I get it!" Taryn said. Mulder walked away, and Taryn called out.

"How'd you know?"

"I told you, I'm very open-minded. Does that surprise you?"

Taryn just crossed her arms, and looked out at the water. "Just make sure your brains don't fall out." she snapped.

"Agent Scully helps to keep them in."

Scully came down from Coffin Rock, and walked around it. Then she walked over to Mulder and Taryn.

"It's unusual that your cousin and his friends just vanished like that." Mulder said.

"Not just vanished Mulder," Scully countered. "Taryn said so, herself; it's nearly impossible to get lost in these woods."

"So, what is your professional opinion, Scully?"

"I think it was Josh. I believe he went right over the edge. He was waiting in the basement, and his shattered mental state led him to believe Heather and Mike were the enemy. After --"

When Scully saw Taryn standing right behind him, she stopped. "Go ahead." Taryn responded. "People have said a lot worse things. You think Josh... killed my cousin?"

"I'm sorry. Yes I do-"

"And then he buried them, and got eaten by a bear? People have said that, too."

"Ok, Scully. That does sounds like a very good theory. You get 2 points!" Mulder lowered the camera. "Then what about the house? That was Rustin Parr's house, but that house burned down 50 years ago."

"Yeah," Taryn agreed. "What about that?"

Mulder jerked his thumb upwards. "Those things that you're not seeing, and Parr's house. They're connected."

Taryn's eyes grew wide. "Really?" she whispered, and looked up.

"Want me to point them out, Scully?" Mulder asked.

Scully sighed hard, shook her head no, and walked around, looking into the treetops. Mulder took two more pictures, and approached Taryn.

"I saw one of those little cartoon-bulbs go on above your head... so, what do you think they're for?"

Taryn shook her head slowly.

"You have seen those carvings before, haven't you? The ones I showed you?"

"I was never supposed to," she said bitterly. Then she pointed away from the creek.

"House foundation is that way." She began to walk off. "Lots of carvings!" Mulder and Scully followed, and Mulder wondered how there could be lots of carvings if the house wasn't there anymore.


"This can't be right, Mulder. There has to be another house. somewhere out here," Scully insisted. Her eyes swept over the empty foundation. Mulder walked to a wall and stared at it closely. Taryn came up behind him, smiling triumphantly. But her smile faded as she watched him brush his hand across the exposed stone foundation.

"There's carvings here." He peered closer. "Fifth layer, going down."

"Let me see." Scully said. "Taryn, you need to move."

Mulder's head snapped up and he caught a glimpse of Taryn's shock. He smiled and turned to the wall, and tapped it. Then he went all the way around the cavernous pit. Taryn sat on a low wall to watch them.

"Ok. I'd like to take some of these to the lab. But for now," Scully sighed and pulled Mulder up. "Show me what's in the trees that you find so fascinating."

"Ok, look, right there. No, there. Look real hard."

She stared, cocked her head, and even squinted.

"The stickmen? They're here, too?"

"They're everywhere, Scully. All over the forest."

Taryn stood a few feet away. She used her inhaler, and said, "There's one in almost every tree. At least one."

"Who put them there?" Scully wondered aloud.

"I think she hung them-" Mulder began, and Scully cut him off.

"She? You mean... Elly Kedward? The old woman accused as a witch, who died in 1785? Are you saying one little old lady decorated an entire forest with these... bizarre ornaments? Oh, Mulder!"

"Someone hung them," Taryn countered.

"That's right. And, if I'm not mistaken, it's a highway... more or less."

"A highway... "

"Gives the spirits the ability to move around."

"Dammit! I was afraid you were going to say something like that."

A motorcycle engine sound roared in the distance.

Mulder walked over to Taryn. She looked up pointed to a cluster of figures. "I think that's the stick-family reunion."

"Yeah, kind of looks that way," Mulder guessed. He looked in the direction of the sound. "Sheriff Cravens. I take he's more closed-minded."

Taryn straightened up, and said, "He's a sack of shit!"

Taryn looked away. The motorcycle sound was a backroads buggy carrying Sheriff Cravens and Deputy Callahan. It stopped at the bottom of the hill, and Mulder walked towards them. Scully caught up to him, and asked, "How is it possible for them to have been here for over 200 years and no one has ever noticed them?"

"Extremely possible. They're practically unnoticeable. You have to look for them specifically." He smoothed his hair back, and nodded. "I need to analyze these. We're looking for a pattern -- that way we can see how they work."

"How they work?" Scully asked.

"Yeah, you know, find out where all the turnpikes are, major interstates... maybe we'll even find a Denny's for ghosts." He smiled mischievously.

Scully approached a nearby tree and gazed up at the stickmen. "Ok, how about I collect a couple to-"

"No!" Mulder insisted, and pulled her away from the tree. "They're fine where they are! And the sheriff will think you're kind of silly if he sees you swinging from the branches."

"Mulder, I wasn't-"

"Sheriff!" Mulder walked up to him, and shook hands. "Thanks for coming  out."

Cravens pointed behind Mulder and said, "She's not giving you any trouble, is she?"

"Who. Taryn? Oh, not at all." Mulder waved her over. "As a matter of fact, I think she. hey!"

Taryn pushed Mulder's outspread arm aside, and stepped up to Cravens. "I hate you!" she hissed.

"Now you listen to me, girl-"

"You knew! And you lied to me! You told my parents to lie to me!"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Cravens shouted. Taryn turned to Mulder, tears pooling in her eyes.

"They never told me about. the tape! I found it at my uncle's house and I. I." Taryn swiped the tears off her cheeks.

Deputy Callahan took her arm gently, and pulled her aside. Mulder watched her for a moment, and Cravens cleared his throat loudly.

Mulder turned back. "I'm sorry, sheriff. You were saying?"

"I would love to talk to you further, but not with her around."

Taryn ran back up to them. "You knew about them, too, huh? The stick-guys! You knew and ignored it!" she said harshly.

"Can you give us about 5 minutes?" Mulder asked gently. "Just 5 more minutes, Taryn."

She sighed angrily. "Try 5 years!"

"Deputy, why don't you take Taryn here, and let her run all over the hills if she likes! I'm a little preoccupied at the moment," an angry Cravens told him.

Mulder was barely listening to the sheriff now. He saw Taryn run into the foundation and stare at the figures. Backing away slowly from the sheriff's diatribe, he followed Taryn, who was now swinging around a tree.

"Hope you're not planning on taking one of those figures. I'm not sure. what they're for."

Taryn snickered. "You probably do! Everyone else has lied to me, why should you be any different?"

"Ok. I think they're very dangerous. That's not a lie."

"How could they be, they're just sticks!" She plucked a twig from the ground and threw it at him. He knocked it away, and she burst into giggling. Then she began to climb the tree overhanging the foundation.

"Taryn? Please don't do that." Mulder calmly instructed. She ignored him and continued climbing.

Mulder swore under his breath and went after her. She was already sitting on a long branch, with a stickman dangling a few feet away.

"Taryn!" The two of them looked right into each other's eyes.

He pointed right at her, angry now. "Do not touch that!"

The stickman swung lazily in the light breeze of the afternoon.

What would happen if she did touch it? It looked harmless enough. Slowly she reached out her hand.

The branch she was sitting on bounced crazily. Mulder jumped forward. At the same moment Taryn grabbed the leg of the stickman, Mulder grabbed her other hand.

The branch cracked and broke.


Mulder opened his eyes. His back ached from the fall, and from Taryn landing on top of him. Thank God she was not overweight!

Except for a small shaft of light in the corner, it was dark. He whipped out his mini mag light and stood up. He swept the light around and above him. The noticeable difference was a ceiling above them. They were still in the hole in the ground, but a house had sprouted up around them in the two seconds it took for them to fall from the tree.

Taryn shakily got to her feet, gasping.

"Here," she whispered, meekly handing him the stickman.

"Incredible... I hope it's not a one-way ticket!" He laughed.

But Taryn was not amused. "One way? What do you mean by. " She swallowed hard.

He took her by the shoulder and tossed the "harmless" figure to the ground. "Up those stairs. Come on."

At the landing, Taryn pulled away from him, and stood near the door, peering around cautiously. With dread, Mulder noticed the ominous handprints scattered on the walls.

Taryn noticed them as well. "You recognize... does this place look familiar to..." Her jaw snapped shut when he held up his open hand. He went to the stairs, touched the banister softly, and stared at the small handprints. Then he straightened up and moved towards Taryn.

She whimpered softly as he grabbed her hand and pulled her out the front door.

"Watch your step!" he ordered.

They stepped off the porch and walked about 20 feet. He then turned, pulling her around.

"Oh, God!" she choked as they both stared up at Rustin Parr's house.

Mulder turned to her. "Now that you got us here, you have some kind of plan for getting us back?"

She felt as if her insides had turned to water. It was several seconds before she was able to speak.

"No." She said in a tiny voice.

He shook his head. "Didn't think so." He left her there and went back inside. She ran after him.

"Don't leave me!"

Mulder was ignoring her, and looking around the lower floor. She followed him and grabbed his arm. He forcibly removed it, and said, "Don't talk to me yet, ok? Just."

His hand hovered in mid-air, then dropped to his side. Turning his back on her, he continued up the stairs. Walking slowly from room to room, he noticed that every single doorframe and window frame had carvings in them.

He pulled out his notebook and dictated this. He also pulled out his cell phone.

OUT OF SERVICE the screen read.

Frustrated, he shoved it back in his pocket.

He went back down the stairs to the front door. There were carvings here as well, and he was starting to get an idea.

Perhaps the house was the 'door' and the stickmen were 'doorways,' and that could explain why Heather and Mike vanished after coming in here. Quickly, he went back downstairs and saw Taryn pacing back and forth in front of the house. He watched as she dropped to the ground, crossed her legs and buried her face in her hands. Her body shook with sobs.

"Taryn," he began in a soft voice.

She began coughing and a chill went up Mulder's spine.

Did she have her medicine?

Taryn pulled out her inhaler, shook it, and took two puffs.

He approached her, and sat down.

She looked up at him, her face tight with pain. Gulping hard, she whispered, "I'm sorry?"

"You didn't know," he affirmed. She gripped her inhaler, and brought it to her face again.

He gently reached for her hands. "Save as much as you can, ok, cause I don't see any pharmacies around here. Can you do that, Taryn?"

She pushed herself back and nodded. "I was thinkin' about... about how Mike... on the tape. about when Heather yelled at him, and said they were all gonna die and it'd be his fault. Now it... " She started crying again.

"Taryn... I am getting out of here, and I won't leave you behind... I promise I won't leave you."

He took her hand and helped her up.

"Come inside. I have something to show you."


"See these?" He pointed at the carvings. "This house is actually a door. It's a portal between dimensions. The stickmen are the doorways. maybe more like hallways. These carvings are an ancient language called Twana; they're also-"

"They're keys!"

He looked at her and smiled. "How did you know?"

"Oh, well... I thought of doors, and you put keys in doors. It just came to me... " She smiled happily. "I'll get the stickman!"

He grabbed her just as she was ready to go down the basement stairs. "I won't need that. And don't go down there again."

She nodded. Mulder went back to the door frame. "Now, the big challenge is to find the right key to fit the right door. We brought the door, now we need to find the key."

It was sunset before he finally came across a promising set of "keys", and he set about arranging sticks in the required order.

"I can't go yet," Taryn told him.

"I have to insist; I do believe there are other forces here, besides-"

"I'm not leaving now! Show me how to do it and I'll come back later."

"No! Taryn-"

"Just listen, I got an idea that, well...since it is a time door... and since it is the same house, well, I'm gonna wait to see if Mike and Heather show up. If they do I'll bring them back, too... Mr. Mulder, I know you can't understand that, but-"

"I do! Taryn, I... "

He looked at her for a moment, stared into eyes that were filled with hope.

What if that were me, and I was waiting for Samantha to come back? He thought. What if I could go back and do it all over again... and finally save her?

"We should leave by dawn, even if they haven't come. It's just not..."

"Yeah, I know; Elly the Witch!" She smiled and hugged him quickly. She ran up the first floor steps, and disappeared from sight, but he could hear her.

"This is gonna be soooo cool! I'm getting Mikey back!"

"You go, girl," Mulder sighed, and pulled some sticks out of his diagram.


NIGHT

"So, you never saw their video before?" Mulder asked.

"Til a year ago. by accident. I found a copy at my uncle's house. After that, I. I've been mad at a lot of people for a long time."

"Well, I don't blame you. I hate it when people lie to me."

"You get that a lot?"

"Oh. few thousand times a year. Uh, except for my partner. One reason why I like her so much. I know she'll always be honest with me. to the best of her ability."

There was a few minutes of silence. Taryn leaned toward the window, resting her chin on the sill.

"You know what time it is?" she asked.

"Watch stopped. And I can't call the time hotline... cell phone's out of range."

"Yeah," she giggled. "Way out of range."

Mulder sat down, and Taryn leaned out a little further.

"Hey, easy," he admonished gently "This house is-"

"It's him! Mike!"

Mulder quickly looked out the window. Taryn jumped to her feet and ran from the room.

"Taryn, wait!"

He heard her run down the stairs, and then he saw her dash from the house and into the darkness. Mulder was on her trail in seconds.

Leaves crunched under his feet, and an owl could be heard somewhere in the distance. Pulling out his flashlight, he waved it around, illuminating the darkness. He walked slowly, listening for anything.

"Where'd you go?" Mulder called out.

A brutal scream answered his plea. It sounded like a young girl. He ran toward the sound, and soon came upon the source.

Yes, it was from Taryn. She was up in a tree, and there were two men on the ground with flashlights.

"Get away from her!" Mulder shouted, and ran to the tree.

"We're trying to help!" said a short guy with curly hair.

"Scaring her won't do much good," Mulder insisted. He approached the tree, and called out, "It's ok. Come down."

The two men eyed Mulder anxiously, and one said, "Those pictures of Heather Donahue just don't do her justice."

Now Mulder knew where they were, but how they got to this time was a mystery.

It was late October, 1994, and a search for the three missing filmmakers was well underway.

They mistook Taryn for Heather... how fascinating! Mulder smiled brightly in the harsh glare of their flashlights.

"Who are you, anyway?" one of them asked curtly.

"Bill... I came out earlier... I came across her about an hour ago. she heard noises and ran off."

"Good thing she screamed, or you probably would have gotten lost, too." said the curly-haired guy, who began to climb up Taryn's tree.

Mulder played along. "I haven't seen anyone else out here. What about you?"

"Not those two boys. Was it a bear you think?"

"No!" Taryn screamed.

The short curly head fell right on his butt and exclaimed, "She kicked me, right in my head!" He shook his fist in the air and yelled, "You can stay up there for all I care!"

"Got any ideas on how to get her down?" a tall man asked.

"I do!" said the curly-headed one as he felt for a lump "We can set the tree on fire!"

Mulder climbed up Taryn's tree. She was sobbing freely now.

"Taryn you need to come down."

"I wanna go home," she cried.

"I know you do. But first you have to come down."

"Who are they? Why are they calling me Heather?"

"I think we shifted dimensions again. By the way don't talk to anyone. Just go along with whatever I say." He looked down at the ground. "Move it!" he yelled.

Once on the ground, Taryn clung to him like a wild cat.

"Can we get some water!" Mulder asked. As long as they were back in civilization, they might as well grab some essentials. "For her. Been doing a lot of crying."

He stood by her side as she guzzled the water as fast as she could. He bent over and whispered in her ear. "I need some too."

She wiped her mouth and handed him the thermos.

"Thank you, Heather."

"Ok?" she said.

"Heather, did one of those boys try to hurt you?" the tall one asked.

She looked at Mulder. He nodded slightly.

"Uh, no... as a matter of fact, Michael Williams is the greatest... in the whole world. He would never let anything bad happen to me!"

"Ok, Heather!" Mulder leaned over again "Don't overdo it!"

"I... I'd rather not talk anymore... I need to lie down, please."

A search-headquarters was nearby, and Mulder took her to a well-lit tent. A woman by the name of Dottie helped her lay down on a thick blanket.

"Hey! Uh,...Bill?" The tall man walked over to the tent. "We just contacted the sheriff. He wants us to bring her to town immediately!"

"Just a second." He leaned close to Taryn. "Close your eyes. We're safe now."

She looked up at him with tired eyes. ". be here... when I get up?"

He looked at her with tenderness. She needed him so badly. He couldn't remember the last time someone needed him like that.

"You don't even have to ask." He answered softly.

"Thanks, Mr. Mulder."

"That's my father's name. You can call me Fox."

She closed her eyes then. "Ok," she whispered.

He exited the tent and looked at the two men standing in front of him. "We can't take her back yet. I have an idea of where... Josh and Michael are. Can I get a couple people to go with me to the Parr house... the foundation?"

"You mean RUSTIN Parr! I remember that story. What makes you think they'll be there?"

"Uh... something she mentioned. You two wanna go?"

Hesitating for a bit, they nodded.

He went back inside the tent. Taryn was fast asleep.

"Dottie? Can you please keep her here until I get back. it's very important that you do this."

Dottie smiled. She covered Taryn with a shawl. "All right, she'll probably still be asleep... I'll make sure she stays."

"Thank you, Dottie."

How Mulder would explain to these people who they really were, he didn't yet know. Hopefully the appearance of the real Heather would give him the opportunity to begin to explain, but even that would be far from easy.

At first Mulder appreciated the silence of the others -- it gave him a moment to think. But eventually the silence became too much and he turned to the two men.

He gasped with shock. They had both become transparent. Their lips moved as they carried on an inaudible conversation, while the passing of every second rendered them more invisible! He stopped, slowly turned, and watched with awe as the campsite lights began to dim and go out.

"Taryn!" Would she vanish along with the tent? He ran back.

To his relief he found her asleep on the ground where the tent used to be. Her blanket was a pile of leaves. He watched her for a moment, then realized being on the cold ground was bad for her asthma. God, how he wanted Dr. Scully here. What if Taryn experienced a severe attack?

She whimpered slightly when he pulled her into his lap. Leaning against a tree, he put his arm around her shoulders, and pulled her close to his body-heat.

She stiffened, trying to push the unwelcome figure away, and began to cry out.

"Taryn, it's ok," he whispered. "You're ok. I'll keep you safe."

She relaxed again, but whimpered softly in her sleep. He put his other arm around her waist.

Was any of what just happened real at all? Mulder thought. He wondered why they were traveling through time in such a weird way. Maybe it had to do with the stickmen being in the air, and now THEY were traveling like the spirits did.

Or maybe it was the Witch up to her games. It seemed she liked to toy with people -- run them around in dizzying circles until they collapsed in fearful exhaustion.

"I'll keep you safe," he whispered again. "I won't let her get you...that's a promise, Taryn."

Mulder closed his eyes then, forcing himself to relax.


Mulder jerked back. His eyes flashed open and he held his

breath.

"Taryn?"

He looked down. "Oh, God, no!"

Taryn was gone! He jumped up. "Taryn? Taryn!"

He grunted as something slammed into his back. Grabbing his

maglite, Mulder whirled around, and raised his arm high into

the air.

"It's me! I found it! I found it, you gotta come see!"

"What... Taryn..."

"Come on!"

Taryn was shaking him excitedly, her eyes wide with

anticipation. She jerked several times at the lapels of his coat, then

grabbed his hand and pulled him forward. Mulder gripped her hand and she

tugged him along. It reminded him of a puppy straining at his

walker's leash. She hurried for a couple hundred feet and

pointed to some underbrush.

"Right there."

Mulder leaned forward, still holding her hand tightly.

It was a tent. He released her and peered inside. He shone the

light around, and picked up a small book.

ALL WEATHER BACKCOUNTRY NOTEBOOK. And written

at the top, HEATHER D.

"When did you find it?"

"Just a few... MIIIIIKE!"

Mulder stood up and shone his light into the darkness.

"HEATHER?"

"Somebodeeee... help meeee!"

"Fox! it's coming from over there."

"All right" he took her hand again. "Let's go."

Within a few more minutes they were back at Rustin Parr's

house.

It was him, Mulder thought. It was actually Parr himself in the

basement when the film ended. He was the one who killed them,

then hid the film and all their equipment!

"Michael Williams?" he called into the darkness. Taryn stopped

suddenly. She was breathing hard.

"Sit down," he told her.

She shook her head. "No way. My cousin needs me!"

"Ok." He turned her to face him. "When you see him, don't tell

him who you are."

"Why not?!"

"Because, to him, you're only eleven. We'll tell them the truth,

but we'll have to do it very slowly. You understand?"

"Yeah, he's scared enough, huh?"

Mulder shone the light around, and discovered the house was

back together.

His muscles tensed with anticipation as he saw Heather and

Mike entering the house.

"Upstairs! We can stop them," Mulder said.

They ran to the back of the house, climbed up a nearby tree

and into a third floor window. Taryn pushed herself ahead and

walked into the darkness. Sighing, Mulder gently pulled her

behind him.

"Put your arm around my waist." He shone his light on the

floor in front of them. Mulder pulled Taryn behind him and

illuminated the floor ahead of them

"Heather Donahue! Michael Williams! Special Agent, Fox

Mulder, FBI! I'm here to help you!"

"Mike!"

"Stay quiet, Taryn!"

But there was no one inside the house. Mulder and Taryn

continued to the first floor, and exited a window close to the

door. Mulder was shocked as he saw Heather and Mike enter

the house.

"Upstairs! We can stop them," Mulder said.

They ran to the back of the house, climbed up a nearby tree

and into a third floor window. Taryn pushed herself ahead and

walked into the darkness. Sighing, Mulder gently pulled her

behind him.

"Put your arm around my waist." He shone his light on the

floor in front of them. Mulder pulled Taryn behind him and

illuminated the floor ahead of them

"Heather Donahue! Michael Williams! Special Agent, Fox

Mulder, FBI! I'm here to help you!"

"Mike!"

"Stay quiet, Taryn!"

But there was no one inside the house. Mulder and Taryn

continued to the first floor, and exited a window close to the

door. Mulder was shocked as he saw Heather and Mike enter

the house.

"Upstairs! We can stop them," Mulder said.

They ran to the back of the house, climbed up a nearby tree

and into a third floor window. Taryn pushed herself ahead and

walked into the darkness. Sighing, Mulder gently pulled her

behind him.

"Put your arm around my waist." He shone his light on the

floor in front of them. Mulder pulled Taryn behind him and

illuminated the floor ahead of them

"Heather Donahue! Michael Williams! Special Agent, Fox

Mulder, FBI! I'm here to help you!"

"Mike!"

"Stay quiet, Taryn!"

But there was no one inside the house. Mulder and Taryn

continued to the first floor, and exited a window close to the

door. Mulder was shocked as he saw Heather and Mike enter

the house.

Mulder swore in frustration.

"I know. we can go upstairs!"

"And stop them?" Mulder gripped her shoulders. "You get the

feeling like you've been here before?

She started to shake her head, then her face registered

desperate confusion.

"Taryn we're stuck. They go in, we go upstairs and they're

gone. We come out and watch them go in. We go upstairs... you

see? We've done it three times already!"

"What. well, how do we stop it?"

"I think. if we stop. we need to do something different to break the chain

of events."

Mulder pulled Taryn to the front of the house, put a hand on her shoulder,

and said, "You wait here. I'll be back out to get you, all right? Ok?"

Taryn neither agreed nor disagreed. But she did sit down, and Mulder raced

into the house.

"Michael?"

Mulder set a foot on the steps, and began to climb slowly. "Heather? It's

all right. I'm with the FBI. I'm here to help you."

He continued up the stairs, and found nothing except a torn shirt on the

stairs. He began to move quickly downstairs.

"Stay where you are! You're ok. I came to help."

Mulder ran to the basement steps, and came face to face with Taryn.

"Didn't I tell you to wait outside? This was very dangerous!"

Her face was blank, her eyes red and swollen. He put an arm around her

shoulder and led her back to the first floor. Then he pulled her around to

face him.

"Taryn, what happened?"

"I went to get Mike," she whispered stonily.

"You shouldn't have done that."

"I had 'im... Down there." She turned to the steps. "I was pulling him

out... " She stiffened. Mulder pulled her face up to meet his gaze. The

haunted look in her eyes was so painfully familiar to him. He knelt down so

they were at eye-level.

"Something grabbed him... and pulled him. I couldn't hold onto him! I'm not

strong enough."

She hunched up and Mulder brushed her hair from her face.

"Taryn... you did what you could-"

"I'm too small. I have asthma cause my lungs are too small, and. " she shook

her head.

"The asthma's not your fault, neither is what happened to Mike."

"I wasn't good enough," she stated, tears spilling down her cheeks.

"Taryn, You did your best. I know you did your best."

She just continued to weep, her head down and hot tears spilling onto the

floor. He sat down beside her, letting her lean on him.

A sympathetic tear rolled down his cheek.

"Taryn," he whispered. "We both did our best."


"Mulder? Mulder!"

Scully saw him trying to get Taryn out of the tree. Then she saw them both

fall, but when she reached the foundation, they were gone.

"Deputy, see which direction she ran off to?" Cravens asked. Scully walked

down into the foundation, and looked for an impact point in the ground; of

course, she found none. She looked up, and noticed the largest stickman was

missing.

"Well, deputy, it won't take long for the spook to catch her. She's good for

less than ten minutes of running. I ain't gonna wait for her, she don't want

that. Ok, you need to take me back to town. Agent Scully? You coming?"

She looked at him, dumbly. "No. I'll wait. when will you come back deputy?"

"Very soon. Ah, give me about 30 minutes."

"I'll be around," Scully said, as she gazed up into the trees.


When Scully noticed the partial tunnel at Coffin Rock, she was confused.

"Deputy, has anyone ever done an excavation here? It's possible that the

students-"

"No." Callahan shook his head. "Well, it wasn't excavated, but we did use

some scanning equipment, kind of like ultrasound?"

"And?"

"Nothing bigger than worms. Besides, I think it's been blocked off for

about. 40 years. I was told that the fire at Parr's house caused it to

collapse."

"Someone's been in here." There were sounds of digging. Scully reached her

hand out, giving Callahan an old, dirty video cartridge. "I don't think they

made those 40 years ago."

"God! You think those kids. damn! Right under our noses, too."

Scully touched the dirt wall, and tapped it.

This was all so confusing; first, there was Mulder's 30 minute lecture about

the Twana-stickmen, and how they made time/dimension travel possible. Two

hours ago, Mulder prevented Scully from touching the stickmen, and Taryn was

playing with a stickmen when she and Mulder vanished. The filmmaker, Heather

Donahue, took a stickman, and all three students vanished.

Not to mention the appearance of long-lost items in connection with these

stickmen.

"Where does this tunnel go, deputy?"

Callahan leaned in. "Uh. back to the house, I think."

Scully's heart leapt as she remembered Mulder's words: the stickmen and Parr

's house are connected.

"Mulder?!" She cried to the wall. "If you're in there. I'm coming!"

She dashed outside. The deputy looked ashen.

"You think they got. caved in or something?" His voice was hollow.

"I don't know. we have to get in there. But not this way. You said there's

an entrance at the house?"

"It was part of the Underground Railroad. Miss Scully, that entrance is less

accessible than here."

"I know, but that's where. we last saw them. Come on!"


"Taryn? I'm ready."

Mulder went to the back of the house. Taryn was sitting in a corner, as she

had been for the last hour. Mulder went over to her. "We have to go," he

said softly, then bent down and looked in her face. Her eyes showed no

emotion. She didn't speak to him, and her breath was raspy and wheezy.

Mulder put a hand on her shoulder, but there was no response.

She's withdrawing, Mulder finally realized. He reached into her coat pocket,

and pulled out her inhaler.

"Use this," he said in a gentle but firm voice, pressing it into her hands.

There was still no response.

He felt her face, took her pulse, and checked for other signs of official

shock, and realized she was just shutting down emotionally.

He pulled her face up to meet his. "Taryn I know how you feel."

She shook her head, her vacant eyes staring through him.

Mulder knelt down in front of her.

"My sister was taken from me when I was 12. She was taken

right before my eyes and I couldn't stop it from happening. I

know how you're feeling."

Confusion crossed her eyes, followed by doubt.. She pushed herself against

the wall and closed her eyes.

He pulled out his wallet. "Taryn, look. Look at this."

"That's her," he said as he held it firmly. Her fingers touched the edge of

his wallet.

"Her name is Samantha."

Taryn's jaw shook. She looked into his face. "Your sister. Fox, does it

still hurt?"

"It does. but I've learned to live with it. You can too."

Taryn began to smile and stopped. She looked him up and down, seeing someone

who had actually been right where she was, now, and survived it.

Taryn stood quickly and fell against the wall. Mulder supported her as she

shook her foot.

"It's asleep," She said, and hobbled around the room. She stopped at the

doorway. Mulder approached her.

"We have to go. I guess," she said quietly.

"The sooner the better. Come on."

Mulder walked on ahead to his diagram which he had spread out in the

kitchen.

"Now, look. See what I've. Taryn?"

But Taryn was no longer behind him.

"Taryn?" Mulder's heart seemed to freeze in his chest. "Where are you!" he

choked.

"I'm ok. Just had to be sure. Yes, I was right! Fox, come look at this!"

The cellar? "Taryn get out of there!"

"You gotta come look at this!"

He stumbled down the cellar steps. Taryn was kneeling in the

corner.

"There's a hole here and. Miss Scullery was right, Fox! It was Josh. uh,

kind of."

"That's Scully. come to me, Taryn!"

"Ok, but I gotta take this back. more evidence!"

She stood up and shoved a shark tooth necklace into her pocket. Mulder ran

towards her.just as she was yanked to the ground. Something inside the hole

had grabbed her feet and was pulling her in.

Mulder lunged forward and grabbed her arms. Short panicky

breaths escaped her lips.

"I've got you, Taryn. I won't let go."

She sobbed softly at first then began moaning like a wounded

animal.

"Taryn I'm not letting go," he said again.

Mulder pulled back. Looking into the abyss, he screamed,

"LET HER GO!"

She was torn from his grasp and vanished into the hole.

 

PART THREE

 

Mulder dove in after her and discovered it was a long tunnel.

He started running down the passageway.

"Taryn! Taryn, I'm coming! I'm coming for you Taryn!"

The only reply were Taryn's shrieks and the sound of her

being dragged away.

Tears began to spill from his eyes. It was happening all over

again; Samantha being taken and he could only watch.

He couldn't let it happen all over again and he ran faster. Ten

minutes later he reached the end of the tunnel. He dashed

through -- and emerged in the basement

Mulder shook his head in disbelief. He squatted and leaned

toward the tunnel. Once again he could hear Taryn screaming as

she was being dragged away.

The witch was playing games again.

Mulder got to his feet and ran out of the basement.

He had lost again. He had let them both down.

It couldn't really be happening!

Mulder leaned into a corner and squeezed his eyes shut.

It has to stop. if I wish hard enough, it will stop. It will go

away.

He gasped and held his breath.

It isn't really happening!!

He slid to the floor and buried his face in his hands.

Oh, my God. I can't make it go away.

It was several minutes before Mulder opened his eyes.

No, I can't sit here crying about it! I can't lose Taryn. That is simply not

an option.

Rushing down to the basement, he once again leaned into the hole. All he

could hear now were swishing noises. Puzzled, he pulled back and braced

himself for whatever might appear. Nothing did, but rather than go through

the tunnel again, he would take a different approach.

After a few minutes he went to collect some sticks. Maybe he could form the

proper diagram to turn time back several minutes, and at least warn the

past-Taryn.

By the time he had set up most of the pattern in the basement, it had become

dark, and now he worked by flashlight. The constant thunder finally faded

away. There was no rain.

He began to get hot, and unzipped his coat. He pulled another stick into his

diagram and heard shouts of anger from outside. He also recognized the smell

of burning wood.

What did I do? Mulder wondered. He straightened up and looked around.

A flaming piece of wood tumbled down the basement steps, and he realized

with horror that the house was on fire.

He darted forward, scattering the diagram as he ran to the window. As he

struggled through the small opening, he heard the roof above him creaking.

As soon as he was out, he heard the basement ceiling collapse with a

shudder. He backed away from the flames, right into a another person.

Taryn?!

He turned and found himself staring into the face of a tall, fat man in dark

overalls. A rifle was slung over his shoulder.

"Who in the hell are you?!" the man thundered.

Mulder shifted his feet and swallowed hard.


"A reporter, eh?" The tall fat man, Pete, looked back at Fox Mulder. They

were riding back to town in a truck.

"I. have a competitor, and we made a bet to see who gets the next scoop on

Rustin Parr. I had to come unannounced."

Mulder quickly realized he was time-traveling again; now it was 1942, at the

same time an angry mob burned Rustin Parr's house to the ground.

"So, you really wanna see killer-Parr, huh? They're gonna hang him next

month ya know." The tall man smiled and shoved a cigarette into his mouth.

"Good riddance to the child-killer."

"He said the Blair Witch made him do it."

"Blair Witch, pshaw! You don't believe such hokum, do ya? Maybe ya oughta go

talk to old lady Weaver. She's got some good witch-stories-"

"Shut up, Pete!" the driver yelled. "You yammer way too much! 'Sides, old

Robin Weaver won't even discuss the legend, and you know it!"

"Robin Weaver. she was the one who got lost. and the search party was found

at Coffin Rock. disemboweled." Mulder told them.

"That's right, son! Ok, here's the jail. Oh, don't forget to let Rustin know

we torched his place good."

"Right, thank you!"

Mulder got out quickly. They both talked too much, and the driver was

slightly drunk.

Hopefully Rustin would talk a lot.

BURKITTSVILLE JAIL

"I ain't talkin' to no reporters! I tol' the sheriff, no! I'm not gonna talk

about her no more!"

The haggard man moved away from the bars, toward the wall. Mulder swallowed

hard. "I'm not a reporter. Mr. Parr. I need your help."

Rustin laughed. "My help? I can't help no one! I'm goin' ta die, soon! What

kinda help you think I can be givin'?"

"You can tell me everything you know about the Blair Witch, about the Old

Woman who told you to-"

"No. no. " Rustin dropped onto the cot. "Can't be talkin' bout."

Rustin curled up and pulled the blanket over his head.

Mulder shook his head, frustrated. What would it take to get him talking?

"You can help me stop her, Mr. Parr. I know some of what is happening and I

need to know all of it."

"All of what?" came Rustin's muffled voice. "Told ya'! I ain't talkin' about

her!"

"How about before you met her? Can you tell me what was happening in your

life right before you met the Blair Witch?"

Rustin threw back the blanket and stalked over to the bars. Mulder put his

hands on the iron railings, Rustin's eyes narrowed.

"If I tell you what I know, you leave me be? All right, then."

Rustin took a deep breath. "I was huntin' that day, shot me a deer, down by

the creek? So I dragged it home through the tunnel."

"The tunnel.in your basement." Mulder agreed. He assumed the bloodied deer

left a trail that went all the way back to Parr's house.

A blood connection.

Rustin grimaced and looked down. "The basement where she made me take them

kids."

"Mr. Parr. there's another kid in danger. from her."

"No. she left. She don't come around no more! I ain't crazy, mister! I know

she left!"

"How do you know?"

"Well, it. sometimes she'd be talkin'. telling' me things, and. then she'd

vanish. sometimes for an hour. Maybe a day. sometimes even my whole house

would leave."

"It would leave? How?"

"It disappeared. Dunno how she made it happen, but that was after she made

all them carvin's. Maybe that was it. But one day, she was gone for good.

that's when I came down to the market. She was gone. and I was finally

finished."


That was interesting. Too interesting. Mulder thought about these 50-60 year

intervals. It kind of reminded him of Eugene Tooms, the genetic freak who

ate human livers and hibernated every thirty years. Maybe Elly Kedward's

spirit went into hibernation every 50 or 60 years.

Could a spirit hibernate?

It seemed more right that the time portal would open every 50 or 60 years.

That would explain the need for so many key-carvings and stickmen-doorways.

And what about the time-switches? He and Taryn had already experienced at

least three different time periods.

Could it be that this 50-60 year cycle was coming to and end?

Mulder moved down the empty street at a faster pace, toward the Black Hills.

He had a terrible feeling that the time-portal was ready to close, and he

had to find Taryn.

Otherwise, he would never get back at all.


Mulder ran up the slope leading to Parr's house. What was left of it,

anyway.

He pushed his way through some bushes and came upon the cinderblock. It was

almost dawn.

I need to go back, he thought; I need more sticks, and I have to go

backwards in time.

So, Mulder set about constructing a diagram with sticks from the ground. He

was really getting good at it. It was just

too bad that the portal seemed to be closing for at least another 50 years.

At any rate, if he and Taryn made it back

to 1999, that would have to do. Besides, there were plenty more X-Files to

be solved.

A snapping and cracking behind him caused him to leap away from the diagram.

The house was back, and the dawn illuminated the old structure that must

have been pretty at one time. Mulder ran forward, up the front steps, and

into the house. He made sure to be very quiet as he moved down the basement

steps, listening for anything.

He reached the dirt floor and was immediately shoved from behind. Going down

to his knees, he turned and saw Taryn rushing up the steps behind him. He

quickly ran after her, grabbing her around the waist.

"It's all right, Taryn. It's me. It's Fox Mulder!"

She wrenched away and pushed herself against the wall.

She was almost savage in appearance. Her coat was torn and her hair was

matted with dirt, twigs and leaves. Her shirt was spattered with what looked

like dried blood, and her hands were caked with it.

He reached for her and she pulled away, her eyes never leaving his face.

"Let me help you," he said quietly, and reached for her again. In a second,

she buried herself in his arms, and put her hands around his waist. Tiny

fingers dug into his back. She was shaking.

"I thought you left me," she whispered in a trembling voice.

"No, I've been looking for you." He pulled her back. "Didn't you hear me

calling for you?"

Taryn shook her head. "Josh. well, I think he was possessed. He took me to

Coffin Rock, through the tunnel."

"How did you get away?"

"I stabbed him. with that. necklace he dropped. He bled all over me. I came

back here, and you. you. "

"I was still around. Just. I think in another dimension."

Taryn's visage began to soften, and her eyes brightened.

"Guess what though! I found out that Mike and Heather got away! Yeah. Yes,

it's true. Come on, I'll show you!"

She led him down to the basement, where he found a crude diagram in the

dirt.

He bent down to look at it.

"Did I do it right?" Taryn asked.

"Almost." Mulder tore most of it apart, and reassembled it. "Taryn, get away

from there."

He hooked an arm around he waist as she was leaning into the tunnel. She pulled forward.

"It's ok. I think Josh is dead; he was bleeding a lot."

She darted through. Mulder once again grabbed for her, but she was already inside. Sighing angrily, he followed, careful to not disturb the diagram.


Scully faced the opening in the foundation.

"We'll need tools. You sure this is it?"

"Yeah. that's also where the footage was originally found."

"Really?" Scully asked earnestly. She knelt down and put a hand in.

The climate felt moist. She leaned over to smell it, and was puzzled by the sense of dryness.

There was something highly unusual about this place. Scully pulled back and noticed some roots imbedded in the dirt. Upon closer inspection, she found the roots were actually sticks. Grass had grown through and mud had partially covered them, but it was clear enough that these sticks had been put here deliberately.

She looked at the hole again. Taryn could probably fit through here easily.

She turned to Callahan. "We have to open this up. I think Taryn is in  there."

So where was Mulder?


It was dark by the time Bill Barnes, the town historian arrived with tools in a large bag. Callahan had called and apprised him of the situation.

The old man was pale as he looked at the tunnel entrance. "Think they got buried alive. my God, how awful."

Scully strode up to him. "Mr. Barnes? Dana Scully, FBI."

Barnes nodded. "Right. Little Taryn told me you were coming. Good lord, if I find her cousin's body in there. Well, anyway, look, all I got are these.

They should be enough to widen up the entrance." He hoisted the bag over his shoulder and walked down to the tunnel. He pulled out some lanterns and got to his knees.

Callahan was slightly flushed. "I have to leave in about an hour. Taryn's parents called the station. Frankly, I don't know what I will say."

Scully looked back at Barnes. "We'll know more then, than we do now."


Footprints in the dirt.

Scully shook her head in total bewilderment. She sat directly in front of the widened opening, and gazed down at two sets of prints.

One of them belonged to Mulder! She shook her head in near-disbelief. Mulder chased her in here? He was too big, wasn't he? Scully scooted in a little more.

"Mulder?" It was the third time she called out. Scully crossed her fingers and prayed.

It was faint, so very faint, almost like a whisper.

"Can you hear me, now?! Hello?"

"Someone's in here. they're alive!" Scully called out to Callahan and Barnes. "Give me that spade, quick!"

Scully dug a tiny hole in the lower portion of the cave wall, then she shoved a long, thin screwdriver into the hole.

Carefully, she placed her ear to the hole.

"PLEASE HELP US!" screamed a terrified voice. Scully jumped, but steadied

herself fast. Then she leaned back down. "Calm down. I'm Agent Scully, I'm with the FBI. Tell."

Scully's mouth worked and no sound came out. The voice was not Mulder's, but it sounded too familiar, and she almost didn't want to know who it was.

"Tell me who you are. you need to stop crying! Now tell me."

"Mike W-W-Williams. Heather Donah-h-hue. Oh, God please get us out!"

"We'll get you out. Ok? Don't move until I tell you. We're worried about a cave-in! Stay VERY still."

"Aw, shit!" Michael cried, and began sobbing again.

Scully backed out. Callahan just stared at her, and said "I heard it, but I. how could they have survived. Oh, God, when the media finds out. " Callahan almost laughed with hysteria. "Sheriff's gonna love that!"

"Later!" Scully insisted "Ok, lets start with this wall. one stone at a time."


He finally caught up to her at Coffin Rock.

A howling wind blew as gray mist swirled all around, and it was raining. The forest in the area between Rustin Parr's house and Coffin Rock seemed to be normal enough, but outside was an almost black, misty void. The rain was warm. The air seemed very thin, as if it were on top of a mountain.

The thing Mulder found most amazing was the swirling purple figures.

They're spirits, Mulder thought, as he watched them swishing around high above him.

A strange sort of ball lightning flashed in the hazy mist outside the triangle-shaped area, and Mulder wondered if that was New Time being born.

He looked up and saw dim silhouettes of the trees, and the air around it glowed a soft yellow. Was that Old Time?

Taryn stopped, gasping. Mulder directed her to sit down.

"Where's your inhaler?"

"I. I lost it. and my chest hurts."

He put his hand on Taryn's shoulders and nudged her forward.

"Slowly, Taryn! Breathe slowly."

She nodded, and pointed to a clump of bushes. Leaving her at the entrance to the tunnel, he strode quickly to a hunched-over figure.

Yes, it was Michael Williams, clothes torn and bloody, face battered, but still alive.

"You're ok now, Mike. You're all right. I won't hurt you." Mulder spoke softly.

"I'm an FBI agent, Mike. We've been looking for you." He placed a soothing hand on Mike's shoulder.

"Oh, thank God!" Mike blubbered. He dropped his head. "We couldn't find the way out, and. and. "

"Mike, where is she? Mike, we don't have much time."

Mike struggled to his feet and pointed to the bush. "She sprained her ankle, or broke it, I don't know!" Mike went to the bush.

Mulder jumped up. He noticed that the triangle-area seemed a lot smaller.

"No, Mike! I can't! My leg! I can't!" a woman's voice cried.

"Yes, Heather! Yes you can! You lean on me, all the way," Mike assured.

"What if it's a trick?"

"Would that make a difference, now? Give me your hand, Heather."

Mulder stood a short distance away. "Hurry up, Mike!" Mulder called.

He looked back towards Coffin Rock. Taryn was not there. He saw her crawling onto the mound, and above her hovered a beautiful, glowing woman.

"Mike! You see that tunnel. That's the way back." He took Mike's arm and pulled him up. "You have to go, now!"

"Mike we CAN'T go back there," Heather cried.

"We don't have a choice anymore, Heather."

Mulder urged Mike on, and then went to Taryn.

"Come on. Taryn. Snap out of it!"

"She's pretty," Taryn muttered. Her eyes were glazed over, and she couldn't seem to hear Mulder at all.

He pulled her to his chest. "Don't look at her," he ordered.

"She said she would protect me," Taryn mumbled, making a feeble attempt to get out of his arms.

"Outsider!" the lady hissed at Mulder.

He cocked his head and smiled. "Sticks and stones may. break. my. " His words drifted off, as the lady shook. He appearance begin to split, starting from her feet. Her beautiful form cracked open and fell away. In her place hovered something that looked like a giant furry ape. It had long, dark hair, glowing red eyes, and long, sharp fangs. It pointed a long claw at Mulder, and snarled, "Give her to me!"

Mulder pushed himself up, and ran towards the tunnel entrance. The beast was quicker. It dashed in front of the entrance, and Coffin Rock shook and rumbled. The tunnel caved in, cutting off their escape, and possibly burying alive Mike and Heather.

Mulder felt sick. He swallowed hard and stepped back. Looking down at Taryn, he saw that her eyes were shut tightly. She was wheezing again. He looked back at the beast, who was struggling to stand. The ground beneath it gave way, and the beast emitted a long howl, before dropping away into the oncoming mist.

This wasn't fair! A few more seconds and they would have been safe. The Witch was gone, Time was evaporating, and it would not be long before Mulder and Taryn dropped into the Void as well.

Mulder held Taryn firmly, as he began running back towards the house.

Purple figures darted to and fro in Mulder's path, two more followed right alongside him, and he could distinctly hear the laughter of children.

Mulder pushed himself to run faster, even though he knew that running only prolonged the inevitable outcome.

When he reached the house, he knelt down. Taryn was gasping and choking loudly. He stroked her face, miserable because he could think of no way to ease her suffering. "I'm right here, Taryn. I haven't left you. ok?"

"Are we. gonna die here?" she choked, her eyes reflecting the agony she felt as she struggled to breathe.

No, they wouldn't die. Eventually the Void would catch up to them, swallow them whole, and they would drift forever in Limbo.

He brushed his fingers across her neck, and whispered, "I'm so sorry,  Taryn."

The purple figures drew nearer. Mulder swiped at them with one hand. He looked up and noticed the tree Taryn had climbed earlier. He looked harder. The dimension opening was still there. Of course! It had been open all along. Mulder chided himself for not thinking of this sooner. They could have gone home at any time. All they had to do was go back to the opening.

The purple figures pushed closer, as Mulder hiked up Taryn on his side. He placed a foot onto a low branch. The air became wet and heavy, and, Taryn nearly slipped from his grasp. He tried not to think of the heavy, thick moisture that was now enveloping him. Taryn continued to choke as the ghosts reached and grabbed for them, and he began to climb.


Scully was at a total loss. She knew Mulder had been inside the tunnel, and she got the impression that. the two claiming to be Mike and Heather.must have come across him at some point.

But where was Mulder now?

She stepped back from the entrance, shining her light around in the darkness. Then she illuminated the area where Mulder and Taryn were last seen. She stepped over to it, remained there for a moment, and shone her light up into the tree.

A dark figure caught her vision. It seemed to be falling slowly, and then there was a sudden heavy weight on Scully's chest that pushed her to the ground.

"Mulder!" she gasped.

He was flat on his back, one arm wrapped firmly around Taryn's waist, and the other hand firmly clutching Scully's. Both of them were covered in blue slime.

Mulder opened his eyes and groaned. "I yelled at you to move, Scully."

"I didn't hear you," she gasped. Where had he come from? Was he up in the tree the whole time? Scully looked upward again, as Mulder lifted his head, and looked at Taryn. He jerked into a sitting position, knocking Scully aside. "Why did you-" she started. Mulder shook Taryn slightly, and reached for her face.

"She's. oh, God, Scully. She inhaled it!"

"Mulder, let me have her." she spoke urgently. He ignored her, and shoved his fingers into Taryn's mouth. He drew out a blob of slime, and said, "Breathe, Taryn!"

"Mulder, give her to me!" Scully ordered.

Mulder stiffened, hesitating.

"Let me have her," Scully whispered. She pulled Taryn away, holding the slippery girl tightly.

Scully brushed off her face, and began mouth to mouth. After her third time, Mulder said, "Let me try."

Taryn's chest heaved suddenly, the blue slime flushed out of her mouth and she began to cough.

"She's ok, Mulder." Scully smiled. "She's all right.."

Scully pulled her up, but the girl tried to push her away. "Taryn, we made it!" Mulder leaned over her. "Your safe. Your safe, now." Taryn was shaking badly, and she pulled her knees up to her chest. Scully placed her hand on the girl's back.

"It's ok, we gotcha!" A voice yelled. Scully looked over to the hole. A man was crawling out, followed by a girl with long brown hair. Bill Barnes and the Deputy guided them from the hole, and the deputy radioed for help. Scully turned back to Mulder. Taryn was cowering in Mulder's arms, crying softly.

"Scully?"

She looked at him. There was hope in his eyes.

"I'm another step closer, Scully."

And he bowed his head, still assuring Taryn that she was ok.


EPILOGUE

THE NEXT DAY

"Michael Williams?"

Mulder and Scully entered the young man's hospital room. Mulder approached the bed. "How are you feeling?"

Mike was silent for a few moments. Then he asked, "How's Heather?

"About the same as you. Malnutrition, dehydration, exposure. she cracked her ankle when she. fell down the basement steps. Do you remember that?"

"No. Well.I heard her screaming, but. " He shook his head and remained silent.

"How did you make it to Coffin Rock?" Mulder asked after a few moments.

"Ssssomething about. a tunnel. That's all. I remember you coming out there, and. that girl."

Scully cleared her throat, and asked. "What about Josh Leonard? Can you tell us what happened to him?"

Mike looked away, grimacing. "I. have. no. idea!" He turned back to them.

"You sure you ain't lyin' to me about Heather? I haven't seen her since we got here."

"She's fine." Mulder said "Her mother is with her now."

Mike looked right at Mulder and said, "That girl? Taryn? I got a cousin named Taryn. she has asthma, too."

Mulder smiled, "I'll bet she'll be happy to have you back. Ok, I have another appointment, but I'd like to see you again when you're feeling better. You and Heather together! I'm hoping you can answer some puzzling questions for me."

Mulder and Scully walked to the door.

"Sir? How. how long were we out there?"

"A long time!" Scully answered, then pulled Mulder to face her, shaking her head. He looked down.

"How long?" Mike repeated.

Mulder turned to face him. "Almost five years."

Mike just said, "Ok," and resumed looking at the ceiling.

Mulder and Scully left the room. Coming towards them was a short, older woman, with black and gray hair. He recognized her from one of the documentaries as Heather's mother, Angela Donahue.

Without a word, the woman approached Mulder and hugged him, sobbing openly.

He shifted and pulled her back.

"How can I. how can I ever thank you? Of all the people I have talked to, the investigators I hired, the psychics. " She pulled out a handkerchief and pressed it to her face.

"So, you confirm, that is your daughter, Heather?" Mulder looked at Scully for a reaction.

Angela nodded vigorously. "My Heather. You are the one who brought her back to me."

Mulder thought about that, and realized if it had been up to him, he would have dragged Taryn back to their time, and Mike and Heather would have been forever missing.

"I'm not the one who brought her back," Mulder said gently.

It was Taryn that Mulder and Scully saw next. She was lying on her back, a nasal cannula in her nose, and her hand wrapped in a bandage. When she noticed them, she said, "Newsweek called my mom today. they wanted to know if it was true that my cousin was found. She said, "no comment". which is stupid, cos you always look like you're hiding something when you say that!"

Mulder smiled and said, "I get told that a lot. Mostly by Scully."

"I do not, Mulder!" Scully insisted, smiling herself. "Taryn, how do you feel?"

"Lungs feel like shit. other than that. guess I'll be ok."

"Taryn," Scully asked "When you were in. this other dimension, did you see any sign of Joshua Leonard?"

Taryn swallowed hard. "Yeah."

"No, Scully-" Mulder looked at Taryn. "If anyone asks, you never saw him, ok?"

"Don't ask her to to do that. His family has a right to know." Scully insisted.

"What would you say to them, Taryn?" Mulder continued. "That Josh was possessed by a demon and you killed him in self-defense? Scully, will his family want to know that?"

Taryn's eyes widened. "I'm not gonna say that!" she cried fearfully.

"Exactly. Scully I believe in the truth, but in this case..." Mulder thought again.

"If anyone ever asks, you tell them to direct all questions to me. I'll take care of it."

Taryn nodded, and Mulder and Scully turned to leave.

"Wait," she called. "If Elly Kedward didn't get the blood she needed. does that mean she can't come back?"

Mulder thought, his hand on the open door. He looked toward the window, and saw the outline of the black hills.

"I guess. we'll know in 50 or 60 years."

THE END

 

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