Title: The Woods, Dark and Deep
Spoilers: The Truth; IWTB.
Category: Halloween, Challenge fic, Monica Reyes.
Disclaimer: Though Chris Carter seems to have forgotten about this character, he created her. I'm just taking her out for a spin.
Summary: An already unpleasant Halloween night takes a nightmarish turn when a small child runs out in front of Monica Reyes’ car.
plain text here: http://mulderscreek.com/text/woodsdark.txt
“Seven-year-olds are notoriously unreliable witnesses to the paranormal,” Monica Reyes told her date before taking a sip of her beer.
“I thought you were going to tell me what made you leave the FBI,” Dave said, pitching his voice so he could be heard over the cheers and boos coming from the group of people playing darts ten yards away. Their conversation was becoming heated as they argued about whether a throw intercepted by a paper bat hung from the ceiling called for a do-over.
“Who says I’m not?” she asked, giving him the evil eye. It was an hour into their first date, and he’d begun to annoy her forty-five minutes ago. Dave wasn’t even a close acquaintance, but someone she’d met two days earlier while wandering the Steeple Gate mall. If she hadn’t been desperate not to spend Halloween alone in a strange place, she never would have said yes when he asked her out after chatting with her in the bookstore. At least he hadn’t wanted to dress up; half of the drunken patrons around them sported wigs or fading costume makeup. “You interrupted before I could connect the dots for you.”
“Do go on, then,” he said a moment after lighting a cigarette himself. It bobbled in his mouth as he spoke.
Grimacing, she plucked the cigarette from his lips and crushed it in the ashtray on the table. “What are you going for, the mobster look?” She decided to continue the story for a lack of anything better to do. “When I moved to the DC office, there were two and a half other agents-“
“How do you have half an agent?” Dave demanded to know. His expression suggested that he was offended by the murder of his smoke, or maybe what he perceived as evasiveness on her part.
Reyes waved her hand, inadvertently pushing aside some of the mingled fake fog and cigarette smoke that filled the bar. “He was suspended or missing a lot. Anyway, there were three other people in my office. Then, a few months later, two of them took off. That left just John and me to run the show.”
“Let me guess, John’s your ex,” Dave suggested. His fingers traced the beveled edges of the salt shaker that had appeared on the table with the burger he’d already eaten.
“What makes you think that?” she asked, wondering how she’d been so transparent.
“Running away from an ex-lover is a pretty common reason for leaving a job,” Dave said smugly.
“So we dated,” she admitted, hating to give him the satisfaction. “For a while. It didn’t work out, and we were professional about it. But I’m telling you, it wasn’t our dead-end relationship that made me leave DC.”
“It was a kid.”
“Right. Like I said, kids make terrible witnesses to the paranormal. Don’t get me wrong, I like kids and would still like to have one someday. I even delivered a baby once. But I hated cases that involved them in any way. If it hadn’t been for that seven-year-old, I might still be an FBI agent today.” Reyes blew out her breath, making the bobble pumpkin decorating their table sway. “Turns out that the kid was mistaken about what she’d seen, and the case was used by people who have long tried to shut the division down to finally do it. They said that entire division was unnecessary, and tossed us out on our asses.”
Dave looked intrigued. “All on the basis that one case wasn’t worth the time and effort put into it?”
“I guess you could call it the last straw. Or maybe the final nail in the coffin. No one liked our division, and they were constantly looking for a way to end it. This was just a case they could use to nail their pretended point home.” Reyes explained.
There was no point in explaining that Dana and Mulder had worked a case during the winter, because Dave would simply ask if she'd been requested too. She couldn't bear to give him the satisfaction of knowing that she hadn't been asked to help, and John probably hadn't been either. Not that she'd been in touch to ask him. She tried to believe that she hadn't been asked onto the case because of her new job, but deep in her heart she doubted it.
“So they closed you down and you were out of a job, just like that?”
She shook her head. “They offered me a transfer to another division. I turned them down. John stayed, but I was only interested in the work I’d been doing there.”
“What do you do now?” Dave asked.
Reyes shrugged her shoulders. “For the past three years I've worked for a publishing house in New York.”
“That’s quite a switch, going from the FBI to publishing,” Dave said as he flicked the bobble on the table.
“It’s a living,” she said, not willing to tell him what her job for the publishers entailed. It was a small imprint that had been opened shortly before Jose Chung’s murder, and her job was as a field researcher/fact checker for the small eccentric collection of non-fiction science fiction writers that the publishers had taken under their wing over the past decade.
“It brings you all the way to New Hampshire?” Dave asked.
“Here, and other places,” Reyes said, but they were both distracted when an argument about the results of the World Series broke out at a nearby table.
“Last call,” a heaven-sent voice from the bar finally announced.
Grateful, Reyes gulped down the last of her soda and wiped her mouth with her napkin. Dave had given her a hard time for only having two drinks, but it was a long drive back to her hotel, so she’d switched to soda what had seemed like days ago.
“I can’t believe the bars around here close so early,” Dave grumbled. The closing time had seemed incredibly early to her as well when they first arrived, but she was now grateful.
“Come on, let’s go now to beat the rush to the parking lot,” Reyes coaxed, counting the seconds until she could drive away from him.
Their timing was good, and they were able to slip past the costumed drunks before the last of them got their final drinks of the evening. Watching someone dressed as a clown trip over his floppy shoes on the way to the bathroom made her wince and hope there would soon be a fleet of cabs arriving to see the patrons home.
“Well.” She said as they stood in front of her car. It was all that she could think to say that wouldn’t be rude.
“That was fun, huh?” Dave asked, and she wondered if he’d had more to drink than she’d noticed.
“Sure,” Reyes agreed, and even she could detect her forced enthusiasm.
To her surprise, he pulled her into an awkward embrace and pressed his lips to hers hard enough to make her teeth scrape her lips.
“Hey!” she protested, trying to pull away. Something hard ground into her hip, and she was grateful that it seemed to be an object in his hip pocket, not any lower.
Giving her a baleful look, Dave let her go. “So I guess we’re not going back to your hotel.”
“Hell no.” She rubbed at her sore hip. “What the hell is in your pocket? I think I’m bruised.”
He shrugged and fished the salt shaker out of his pocket. Sighing, she took it from him. “Jesus, what are you, twelve?”
“Too bad you’re not a fed any more. Else you could cuff me,” he purred, apparently in a lame attempt to sound seductive.
“Go home, Dave,” she said, stuffing the salt shaker into her pocket. If she had time she’d bring it back to the bar in the morning, but she wasn’t about to try to fight her way through the mob of people now streaming out the bar’s doors.
“Fine.” He gave her a sour look. “You don’t know what you’re missing out on. I’m the best sex you’ll never have.” He turned on his heel and stomped off into the darkness of the parking lot. He was completely out of sight by the time she yanked open her car door.
A moment later she slid onto the driver’s seat and put her head on the steering wheel. Her shoulders shook with the force of her laughing. The line had seemed dumb coming out of Joshua Jackson’s mouth years ago, but it seemed extra pathetic that her date had said the same thing. Of all the lines he could have picked, he’d stolen from a teen drama. At least she’d had the excuse of being in the 18-32 demographic when the show had been on.
Once she was able to compose herself, she put the car into drive and headed for the highway.
If there was one thing the FBI had up on the publishing industry, Reyes thought as she drove, it was that they were far better at making accommodations. Although she was supposed to be interviewing people in Salisbury, New Hampshire, they had arranged for her to stay in Concord. Given that this put her half an hour distant from her target, she had to rent a car, and drive all over, to unfamiliar places.
Places that got more unfamiliar by the moment, she realized, as an orange detour sign blazed into view, the lurid color making it clear despite the cloudy darkness. She dutifully followed it, expecting to soon come upon another sign that would tell her where to turn next. After a couple of miles it became apparent that the sign had been an orphan.
“Shit.” She muttered to herself. If she got lost, there didn’t seem to be any place to buy a map because every business she passed before the detour had been dark. There wasn’t anything in the glove box; she had looked in it right after picking up the car. A scan of the dashboard revealed what she already suspected as well: the car didn’t have GPS either. Of course it didn’t.
Putting her trust in the person in front of her, she prayed they were local and followed them. This seemed to work as they wove their way through side streets, but at the end of one the other driver came to an abrupt stop on a one-way street, then flipped on a turn signal and pulled into a driveway.
Reyes growled in frustration. This was the third one-way street she’d followed the driver down, so there was no simply turning around and tracing her way back to where the detour had led her away from the highway. There was nothing she could do but continue forward, so she did.
At the stop sign she paused and looked left, then right. Neither option seemed more like civilization to her, so she decided to go right, thinking it might at least lead her in the cardinal direction she believed Concord lay to. She only realized her mistake when the houses thinned out, leaving long stretches of farmland and woods. Eventually the houses gave out all together.
She slowed the car to a stop on the shoulder and pulled out her cell phone, wondering who she could call to help her find her way back to the hotel. Her first thought was the man she was supposed to speak to about the Woods Devils he claimed to be the first person to have spotted since the late 80s, but it was already after one in the morning, so she didn’t think waking her already reluctant source would earn her any points. Losing the interview that author James Grace hoped to incorporate into his next book about New England supernatural would not be good for her career.
The question of who to call quickly became moot as she noticed that her phone said “no service.” Glancing around her, she wondered why there was no cell phone tower, and decided that the lack of houses was probably her answer. Why bother will cell towers in such a sparsely peopled area?
If she didn’t want to sleep in her car, she needed to find her way, so she pulled back onto the road with the vague idea that even in New Hampshire if she kept going in the same direction she’d eventually find something that passed for populated.
Her only company as her tires ate the uncertain miles was the radio. She’d settled on a local NPR broadcast, and half listened to people argue about who would win the elections that was less than a week away. Worried and distracted, she was slow to react when a white blur shot out in front of her car.
Braking hard and twisting the wheel towards the double yellow line wasn’t enough, and she felt a small, sickening thud as the passenger side of the hood hit something. Please let it have been a wild animal, she prayed as she quickly got out of the car. Don’t let it be someone’s pet.
The prayer ended abruptly when she saw what she hit, and it was much worse. Already on his feet, a small blond boy with blood dripping from a gash in his calf was running towards the woods. His long white night shirt billowed up, exposing a pair of blue sleep shorts.
“Stop!” she screamed, horrified that she’d stuck a child with her car.
He, she thought it was a little boy, quickly outpaced the beams of her headlights, rapidly disappearing into the dark night. How could he run like that after being hit by a car? Obviously it hadn’t been a bad impact as it could have been, but he was bleeding so it should have been enough to slow him down.
“Come back!” she shouted, expecting that he would.
When he didn’t, she reached into the car long enough to throw on her hazard lights and grab up her flashlight. Within seconds she was in hot pursuit, but far behind.
Although she couldn’t see the boy, she could hear him crashing through the woods some distance ahead of her. And with her flashlight, she was able to catch the sight of the occasional drops of bright red blood.
“Sweetie, I know you’re scared, but you need to come to me,” she coaxed. “I’m sure that your leg hurts, so I want to bring you to the hospital.” Not that she knew where a hospital or anything else was.
There was no reply but the continuing sounds of twigs snapping as they were trod upon.
She could understand why he was scared of her - she’d been the one to hit him with her car after all. But what was he doing alone at night? It had been several miles since she’d seen a house, though perhaps there were some nearby in the direction she was headed. There would have to be. The boy was tiny, probably no more than five or six years old.
How could his parents not know that he was outside, alone? The idea of having children, or even marrying was something nebulous, and nothing she’d spent much time dwelling on. Well, at least nothing she thought about obsessively, anyway. But she was sure that she’d notice if her hypothetical son was in danger. Why didn’t his parents? Her mind conjured up images of unconscious people sleeping off the effects of drugs or alcohol.
That was hardly fair, she decided. She was indulging in the fantasy that the child didn’t have caring parents, so she wouldn’t feel so bad about hurting him. He could have been killed when the car hit him. How he had avoided worse injury was something she couldn’t quite wrap her mind around.
The sounds of snapping underbrush changed suddenly, and she slowed as she realized that she had lost track the child. The sounds she heard now could not be the boy because they were too many footfalls. It had to be an animal, and not a small one. A howl - much too near - had every hair on her body standing on end.
Coming to a complete stop, she turned to pinpoint the source. It seemed to be coming from her right, so she focused her flashlight there. When she caught sight of amber eye shine, she had to bite down on a scream that tried to force its way out of her. The animal saw her too, and growled deeply in its throat.
Reyes stood stock still for a moment, trying to remember if you were supposed to play dead or try to appear threatening when he came to wild dogs. All that came readily to mind was about bears.
Eventually she made up her mind. "Go on, get going!"
It growled menacingly, but when she sent a larger branch at it, it ran off.
Towards what, she immediately worried. For several long moments she strained to hear the little boy. The crashes through the woods were unmistakably the coyote, not the child. This realization soon had her racing in the same direction as her four-footed foe.
What had happened to the boy? Had he gotten tired, and stopped to rest? Or worse, was the brief look at his wound not enough to have told her the whole story? Perhaps he had been overcome by blood loss and passed out, leaving him the perfect prey.
"Sweetie, are you there?" Reyes called desperately, hoping for some sort of reply. None came.
Think about something else, she commanded herself. Something other than a small figure dressed in white, face down in the frosted leaves that crunched underfoot. Something else. Not the memory of discovering Luke Doggett's body superimposed onto this boy.
Luke had looked like he was sleeping. For the first half-second after spotting him, she'd felt relief. Here the missing boy was, asleep in the grass. He gotten tired and laid down, just like countless children before him. Her own mother liked to tell a similar story about the frantic search for two-year-old Monica - a tale that ended with the slumbering girl being discovered under a buffet table.
But Luke wasn't sleeping.
Ultimately it had been Luke's specter that had driven her and Doggett apart, which is what she hadn't been willing to tell Dave, her erstwhile bad date. She and John had started to date just after Luke's murder was solved, and she truly believed that this event had given him the closure he needed. She'd continued to believe this for the next ten months while her biological clock gained in volume. Eventually she brought up the idea of having a baby.
John had immediately shut down, and refused to talk about the subject. The haunted look in his eyes spoke volumes, even if he wasn't aware of it. It was clear that he sooner walk through fire than risk giving his heart another child.
Even so, she'd given him another two months before breaking things off with him. They continued to have a civil, it's somewhat strained, working relationship for nearly another year. Right up until the case that cost them the X-Files. Since there had been so little left between them by then, it hadn't been painful to leave him behind when she left DC.
John had been the only one she hadn't kept tabs on when she'd left. Dana sent her e-mails every few months, telling her what she and Mulder were up to in their new life. Skinner dutifully sent out impersonal Christmas cards every year, and Folmer occasionally wrote her self-serving letters posted from his prison cell. But she never heard from John, and never took the initiative to contact him herself.
Years later, nearing forty with still-empty arms, she occasionally felt a twinge of regret when she thought of John. It was always fleeting, though. No one was going to change his mind about having a child; it was better to search for "the one" who could give her what she wanted than to chain herself to the one man who couldn't bear to make her happy.
A sharp snap brought her back to the murky present. Barely within reach of her flashlight beam, she glimpsed white linen and saw a blur of flesh. All at once it became easier to breathe, and the imaginary bands around her lungs and heart loosened. The child had not yet fallen prey to the beast. He would never, if she could help it.
"Hey!" she cried, hoping to finally draw the boy towards her.
To her dismay, he merely picked up his pace. How did he have the energy to, she wondered, as hurt as he was? The cut on his calf bled freely enough to leave a trail of blood droplets on the small oak seedlings that they were crashing through.
All too soon, the boy outdistanced her. By the time she stopped ease a stitch that burned in her side like a brand, he was out of sight. She hung her head, hands on knees, and panted. It was a good thing that her former fellow agents weren't there, or they would be tutting over her inability to catch up to one small boy. She captured criminals, but this injured child was putting her to shame. Though at that moment, she would've welcomed the disdain of her former fellows, if only it meant having assistance with what felt increasingly like a ceaseless task.
She ran a few feet experimentally, and was pleased that the stitch had become a bearable dull ache. She'd only gone a few hundred yards when a sound sense the hairs on her neck on end again: a forlorn howl. With one long-held note, the animal told her that he too was tired of their struggle. "Then give up, you bastard." She muttered mostly to herself.
Arching her flashlight, she was finally able to spot the creature again. Her fear grew when she noticed a stripe of dull red on his tawny hide, so dark a red that it was nearly colorless.
Don't let it be the boy's blood, she found herself praying silently. Let it have gouged itself on a sharp stick. Don't let the blood be the boy's.
Suddenly furious, she felt her coat pocket for her gun. Though she'd turn in her government issued glock with her badge, carrying a gun had become a habit, and she bought a replacement as soon as she left DC. Her current piece was a .22 and probably not a weapon suited to hunting coyote, at least not in the dark. But as she became increasingly sure that the blood that streaked the animal belonged to the child, she also became convinced that the handgun and her aim could prove to be the coyote's match. It wasn't as though she'd never shot a moving target before.
Thoroughly convinced of the coyote had further injured the boy, she expected to stumble over him at every turn. At her most optimistic, she feared she find him bitten. Or much worse, she tripped over his throat-torn body.
Don't be dead, she begged the unseen boy. Don't be dead, and I'll bring you home. If you die I can't save you, so just don't die. Slowly, she became aware that she was producing the only sound in the closed darkness of the forest. It was as if both boy and coyote he had winked out of existence, magicked away, or perhaps abducted by Fox Mulder's accursed aliens.
Her steps faltered, and she wondered how far away she had strayed from her car - it had to be miles. From the ache in her legs, and her dim recall high school track meets, she guessed it had been four or five. The realization that there were still places with woods so deep that you didn't come out the other side even at that distance surprised her. New Hampshire had seems like civilization until she'd gotten lost, but clearly there were wide swatches still left untamed.
The next sobering thought she had was to wonder if she would be able to find her way out of the woods, whether or not she found the boy. She crashed after the boy, and after the coyote, heedlessly, and change direction more than once. Her car might be discovered by the side of the road, providing the opening image of an unsolved mystery special about her disappearance.
Thoroughly demoralized, a slight movement ahead nearly escaped her notice. White, and by a thick copse of immature trees. Having learned her lesson, she quietly switched off her flashlight before being noticed and kept her mouth shut. If this child couldn't be coaxed, maybe he could just be captured. He was undeniably quick, but she could easily overpower a child that small. She hoped.
Moving a soundlessly she could, she let the moon, now that it finally broke free of the clouds, light her way. The boy didn't notice as she closed the distance between them. He was on his hands and knees, with his back towards her, which Reyes considered a stroke of luck.
At first she thought he was on his hands and knees because it finally tired, but eventually she realized he was crouched over something. She hadn't worked out what when he lifted his head and looked at her.
Afraid, her mind stuttered over what she was seeing. The boy's eyes shone with the same liquid gold as the coyote's, and his small face was streaked with blood. It coated his chin and dropped off, landing on a flannel covered chest.
The man the gory blond angel crouched protectively over was gray in the moonlight. The stiffened fingers of one hand pointed up, as if he had been startled into throwing his hands out as he died.
Eyeing her, the boy growled deep in his throat, matching the coyote's volume.
"He's a dog too," a voice whispered, and at first Reyes thought she was imagining that her thoughts were broadcast aloud.
A slight movement to the right tore her eyes from the macabre child, if that's what he was. She found her gaze being met by a perfectly human pair of blue eyes. Sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest, a boy of nine or ten stared at her. "He's a monster, you know," the boy commented tonelessly.
She found that she did know. Taking advantage of her distraction, the feral child warily bit the corpse again. Flecks of fresh blood dotted chubby cheeks, and he growled again.
Not a child. A ghoul. Middle Eastern lore said they could transform themselves into jackals. That was a dog out of place in North America, but coyotes were now found in all 48 contiguous states. Had an imported nightmare adapted to the local fauna, or was this a homegrown monster? Either way, she now knew that she had not been following an animal who stalked a boy. They had been one and the same.
The other boy, the authentic child, scrambled to his feet and made a wide pass around the horror before stopping it Reyes' side. "He didn't kill Paul but I'm still afraid."
Paul. The corpse with chunks missing had a name.
"It chased us, and Paul climbed a tree. Me too. Paul fell out, right on his head. I heard a snap. His neck, I think."
"Oh," Reyes said senselessly.
"I think it wanted to kill us," the nameless boy confided. "But Paul died before it could. I tried to run away, but it chased me back. Do you think it will kill us, too, once it has eaten Paul?" The boy's question was flat, making Reyes wonder he was in shock.
"I don't know," she whispered back, unable to think of any convincing lies.
The ghoul growled again, glaring at them.
I think it's more dangerous when it's a dog," the boy said calmly. "He chased us as a dog, and scared Paul out of the tree."
She considered this. The boy was probably right, but it was hard to resign yourself to killing something that looked like a child. Dana had nearly been undone by just such an incident, John had told her once.
Ghouls were demons, at least that's what Reyes once had been taught. She pulled the salt shaker out of her pocket and studied it, thinking of protective circles. It was nearly empty.
So she threw it into the woods. When the ghoul turned its curly blond head to see what she had done, she fired her gun at it.
Two bullets later, it dissolved into a thin black smoke.
"Did you kill it?" the boy asked, finally showing some animation.
Reyes shook her head. "I doubt it." Demons were hard to kill, so the gun probably hadn't done the trick. "But I think I bought us some time." She hoped they could find her car before it rematerialized.
"We should go this way." The boy pointed in a different direction than she'd come from. She was about to protest when she saw he was holding a silver compass.
They trotted quickly and quietly through the woods, taking a far more direct route than the meandering circuit Reyes had already traveled. Sooner than she thought possible, she saw the vague glow of her headlights in the distance. How long and she been in the woods, she wondered. The battery hadn't time to die. Time elongated when lost and scared witless, she decided.
"I'm sorry that thing killed Paul," she offered as they jogged towards her car.
"Why?" the boy asked. "I'm not."
"You're not?" she asked, surprise.
"No. He kidnapped me. He got what he deserved."
"Oh." She knew she should get him to say more but she was too tired to form the questions. A few more steps brought them to her car, and they clambered inside. She just put in the car into drive when a howl sounded in the distance.
"Go! Go!" the boy urged.
She did as he asked. They were already flying down the road when she finally thought to ask, "Where do you live?"
"Five miles down the road, I think," the boy said, and pushed sandy hair up his forehead. "You got to go on a couple of side roads from here, though."
"All right, you navigate." Reyes found that her heart was slowing down to its normal pace. There been no further sign of the ghoul after they floored car. Apparently there were limits to how fast it could run after all.
She turned twice at the boy's prompting, then stopped when he said "right here."
She looked up the long winding driveway. It was so long that she couldn't even see the house. "Why don't I drive you up to the house?"
"I'd rather walk," the boy said quickly.
"Don't you need me to explain what happened to you?"
"No," he said firmly. "Thank you for the ride."
Before she could protest, he slipped off the seat belt and opened the door. Why had she driven him home? They should have gone straight to the police to report the kidnapping. Maybe she could do that alone when she left, and it could be sorted out with the boy's family in the morning.
As she watched he quickly walked up the driveway, but he disappeared from view at the first bend. She expected him to reappear when the driveway straightened again, but all she saw was a large pale dog.
It paused and turned its head towards her. Its eyes shone blue in the beam of her headlights. The mouth fell open in a doggie grin, then it bolted up the path away from her.
Her mouth went dry, and she'd seen enough. Reyes threw the car in reverse and floored it. She didn't stop until she reached a hotel near Salisbury. She'd pay to have whatever she left the other hotel mailed back to her.
Sitting in the dark of her new hotel room, she decided two things. The first was that she would never agree to spend another Halloween in New Hampshire. The second was the children were overrated, and a longing for one would no longer keep her from checking in with John Doggett.
The thought her brain kept returning to was why had the second ghoul let her go. Had it been working with the first, luring unsuspecting people like her and the now dead Paul to their untimely, messy, deaths? Or had it actually been afraid of the other one? Were they literally children, perhaps only half-grown ghouls, playing pranks on the unsuspecting in a vicious mocking of trick or treat?
The Saints Day sun was high in the sky before she could close her eyes and not still see the shine of monstrous eyes.