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The Subtle Body

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Post Graduate Medical School and Hospital

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Aug. 15, 1893

10 a.m.

 

Keen but frustrated, Dr. Daniel Waterson prowled up and down the surgical theater bay repeatedly scattering and spooking the small herd of interns gathered round like sheep in a field. The grey maned, reportedly brilliant, surgeon and professor scanned the room with his sienna brown eyes and found all wanting. Though he was undoubtedly included in that disappointing host of students, colleagues, and invited guests observing this afternoon’s autopsy of a particularly gruesome suicide, Charles Burks III, found himself suppressing a smirk. Charmed by the turn of his own thoughts, he followed his fancy straight back in time to an afternoon he had spent studying a wolf in Philadelphia’s zoological gardens as a child. Keenly aware yet contemptuous of all the creatures around it, the alpha male seemed to know that aside from the bear that was half a garden away, it was the undisputed top predator of the compound.

This alpha male, however, had a particular prey in his sights – a diminutive young doctor who had dared to disagree with his eloquent and elegantly simple explanation for the death of the individual who was the subject of today’s exercise. Even on short acquaintance with Dr. Waterson, Burks did not need to be told that the man was not accustomed to being contradicted. As the first brain surgeon to be offered a position on the eastern seaboard, indeed the first to be appointed in the whole of the United States, Dr. Waterson’s declarations were usually taken as Holy Scripture in medical circles and for direct divine revelations among his own students.

Until the moment Waterson swiveled his and consequently the entire room’s attention to the sole woman in their midst, Burks had had a fleeting impression of quick hands attached to a compact frame bound up in a shapeless leather smock that fell to the tops of her shoes. At this distance and amid her fellow graduates, she looked but a child playing doctor. The gurney she leaned over to take notes on the body before them came up to just below her bosom. Yet she seemed unaffected by it all – alpha wolf included – pencil flying across rough lined paper every time her gaze landed on another detail as though her eye and hand needed no intermediaries. A cloud of flaming auburn hair perched atop her head and only partially shielded those in the seats farther up the theater from glimpses of the brightest blue eyes Burks had ever seen. Despite having become the focus of all present, her attention was totally taken up with the corpse in front of her – a nameless body whose exposed skin more closely resembled that of a spit-roasted pig than a man. Unfortunately for Burks’ sensitive stomach the smell emanating from the corpse made similar associations. Fortunately his mother’s elaborate summer barbecue picnics were at an end for the year.

“And tell us why, Dr. Scully, do you believe that the subject did not die as the result of the fire set in his kitchen while trying to asphyxiate himself in the oven?” Her title was given her with the barest amount of respect permissible in civilized conversation.

“I do not believe, sir,” she replied in a low, mellow voice Burks had not expected. “I observe that his limbs do not exhibit the degree of extreme flexion common in burning cases.” Everything about her intonation proved that she was reciting an oft-taught lesson back to its teacher. Her professor, however, seemed anything but pleased with his former pupil. “And-“

“Yes, well, the pugilist’s stance is not a universal consequence of exposure to extreme heat,” Waterson talked over her next observation as though she were not in the middle of making it. “You gentlemen may not be aware I have examined several cases of immolation in which—“

“And the subject’s air passages and lungs do not appear to have inhaled smoke enough for that to be the cause of death,” she continued gesturing to the pallid lobes in question in the body cavity before her.

“Then provide us, Dr. Scully, with definitive proof of your observations,” Waterson snapped with all the delicacy of an Army drill sergeant. His gaze bore into the young physician with the clear intent of discomfiting her. Burks, as his mother was fond of pointing out, held more sheepskins than he knew how to usefully employ and was therefore familiar with the vicious ways of academic gatekeepers. But even to him this level of rudeness seemed excessive. She was a doctor after all, not a first year anatomy student. The Jeering Episode as it was known in Philadelphia medical circles was not so far back in the past that its specter could not be resurrected to tarnish the reputation of the city’s most eminent surgeon.

While Burk’s outrage on her behalf grew, the lady herself seemed unfazed. “May I, Dr. Ridley?” she asked politely of the colleague who had exposed the chest cavity at the start of the internal examination. Peering avidly through glasses as thick as the bottoms of beer bottles, the pinch-faced intern had sheered through the ribcage with unprofessional glee. Now with an expression that combined a superior smirk with a flash of unwilling sympathy, the man dropped the scalpel into the instrument tray and stepped aside. With squared shoulders and a bracing deep breath, Dr. Scully took up the instrument, only a slight tremor in the tip of the blade betraying any nerves on her part and made her first cut.

Over the next quarter hour Burks and his fellow observers were treated to as cool and efficient a demonstration of the proper forensic investigation of the human lung under the most hostile scrutiny imaginable. From the pleural membrane to the trachea and all points south at every challenge Waterson threw at her, the young doctor provided clear evidence for her position and once the fluffy pink tissue of the lung’s interior had been exposed on the dissecting tray there seemed little more to be said. The man had not died of smoke inhalation, and appeared to have died before the fire reached his skin. Bafflement reigned in the theater along with the thick atmosphere of unease one experiences while witnessing a family argue in public. The interns were shuffling from foot to foot, determined not to make eye contact with their tarnished mentor or the object of his interrogation. The only two people who didn’t appear nonplussed were Drs. Waterson and Scully: Waterson because he would admit to no fault and Scully because she had already divined the cause of death, Burks was willing to swear to it.

His eyes gleamed as they darted between combatants, for that is what they were at this point. Waterson’s failure to subdue her had done nothing but increase his determination to do so and her temper (Irish, surely with that coloring and that name) was not sufficiently cooled at having proved her point to give him an out to save his face. But how to get her to give up the information without asking for it? Waterson had put his brilliant mind to this question to the exclusion of all others. You could almost see the steam engine powering his brain overheating on the subject and smoke issuing in small wisps from his ears. On his own account, Burks would have gladly watched her eviscerate the brilliant surgeon in front of his students and the visiting company as quickly and as efficiently as she sliced up that lung. But, unaccountably, as she raised her blazing eyes to the good doctor’s dishonest ones Burks began to fear for her. She would not back down and he would not forgive.

“Dr. Scully,” he called half rising from his theater seat, feeling a distinct thrill when those blazing eyes tilted up his way. “What do you suspect? Poison?”

“No, sir,” she replied as though they had been civilly discussing the case all morning. “I see no evidence of poisoning through ingestion, though one would have to conduct a chemical analysis of tissues and fluids to rule that possibility out with certainty.”

“What then? A subcutaneous injection?” Burks posited before Waterson could interrupt, certain now that it would be many months before he was invited back to an autopsy session, if ever.

“Again, a possibility.” He would swear that she was charmed by the idea or perhaps by the artless way he had introduced it, a slight smile teased the corners of her full lips, but was not allowed free rein. “But with the epidermis in this condition finding the injection site would be extremely difficult, particularly if the murderer had the medical knowledge to administer such an injection properly.”

“Murderer…” Waterson huffed.

“Of course! He or she would know how and where to hide it and insure that the area was the most damaged by fire. Well, Dr. Scully, I admit to being quite baffled. Have you discovered the perfect crime? Tell us what you suspect.”

“Yes, Dr. Scully, tell us all what you suspect. And if you please provide us with clear and convincing evidence to back up your suspicions.” Sarcasm could not begin to encompass the sentiment contained in Waterson’s comments. Undaunted, she persisted.

“I am afraid, sir, that I suspect something much more mundane than the scenarios you have suggested. I noticed it when our assistants were laying out the body and the skull refused to stance properly.” Dr. Scully continued to address him rather than her mentor, grateful to be relieved of the weight of professional politics and eager to focus her mind on the facts of the matter.

She edged past Waterson and a stunned fellow intern to reach beneath the black, featureless, and encrusted head and lift it from the block on which it rested. Ignoring the crackle and squish that accompanied these movements she pointed to a depression almost at the base of the skull. “A subdural hematoma killed this man. It was created by a sharp, heavy blow to the back of his head damaging the occipital lobe of his brain. The extent of the damage to the interior of the skull cavity will become clearer once the brain is removed in the last stage of the autopsy. But given the extent that this bone is crushed on the exterior and the placement of the wound….”

“He was taken in a vulnerable moment,” Burks supplied for her.

Here she paused and for the first time emotion colored her voice as her eyes darted to Waterson’s and then quickly away. Burks could not put an exact name to such a complex expression. Grief, anger, regret, pain? “Yes. It’s doubtful he saw the attack coming – he couldn’t defend himself – nor could he have seen who struck him after the fact. Possibly it was someone he…trusted such that he would turn his back to them.” Then her voice and her manner firmed up as she lowered the head carefully back to the block. “With photographs of the crime scene it might be possible to reconstruct the event beyond what the body can tell us. But what is impossible is that after this blow was dealt him this man had the presence of mind or physical ability to build a fire in a cold stove, shove his head in it and self-immolate.” This last was stated so dryly that Burks could swear he heard the dusty, distant ringing of camel bells all the way from Egypt’s western desert.

“Much less write a suicide note….” he whispered in agreement. He could feel his grin extend from one ear to the other. She was perfection of a sort rarely seen. Loose jaws were being quickly shut all over the theater, and all were desperate to move about, clear throats, adjust ties, do anything to make the previous moment pass into memory a little faster. Doubting Thomas interns congregated around the head of their subject to examine the wound themselves and, as a consequence intended or not, placed a wall of bodies around Dr. Scully’s small frame.

Burks abandoned his chair and descended to the floor of the autopsy bay at top speed. “Dr. Waterson,” he boomed extending his hand to the city’s most eminent surgeon and waving him over. Perhaps grateful to have the center of attention back on himself, Waterson complied. “Charles Burks III, I believe we met at one of my mother’s fetes last spring in Bryn Mawr.” Years of experience among Philadelphia elites had taught him that his extensive education was a very fine thing, but if he really wanted to be taken seriously mentioning his widowed mother’s Main Line estate was a sure way to be humored in his eccentricities anywhere.

“Ah yes, Mr. Burks. What can I do for you?” Dr. Waterson seemed to be unbending slightly, though he seemed unable to tear his stony eyes away from Dr. Scully for any length of time. She was deep in conversation with Dr. Ridley and was not returning his looks. Dr. Daniel Waterson, eminent surgeon, criminally obtuse.

“Fascinating discussion today, doctor. Most enlightening. I do realize that this sort of thing falls outside the scope of your normal rounds,” he continued confidentially lowering his voice, as though embarrassed to have to bring up the fact that the good doctor had the victim of a crime lying in his autopsy bay and that, had all his students deferred to him as he clearly wished they would, a vicious and crafty murderer would be resting easy tonight. “Through my late father’s contacts in City Hall I have made several acquaintances in local law enforcement I can inform so that this matter can be dealt with discreetly.”

Waterson seemed a bit taken aback, but grateful nonetheless.

“Ah…hum, most kind of you, sir. I would appreciate that. You have your acquaintances contact my secretary and make the proper arrangements” Waterson produced his card and handed it over as though proffering a coveted ticket to a rare social event before glancing a fourth time in the direction of the petite redhead only to be denied yet again. For a moment his gaze betrayed an almost lupine hunger. None of the sympathy Burks had felt for that captive predator all those years ago resurfaced. That wolf with its keen nose and sharp eyes had not carefully selected his cage and made himself comfortable nor tried to convince others of his kind to share it. “I’ll have my findings written up and delivered to the detective in charge.” Dr. Daniel Waterson, eminent Philadelphia surgeon, husband to heiress Barbara, father to two lovely children on whom their great uncle, the steel magnate, dotes….

Burks decided to let it pass, given that lodging a protest would likely not result in a different outcome. Besides he had an idea. A good one. That is, if Dr. Scully were interested.

 

West Philadelphia Twin Houses

242 Melville Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sunday, Aug. 20, 1893

2:15 p.m.

 

Fox William Mulder squinted at the common wall between his house and the neighboring twin as he reclined on the long sofa in the front parlor. Rolling his tousled head to the right, he shut one hazel eye and aimed an imaginary pistol at the end of his long arm, wondering idly if a few strategically placed bullets between the portrait of Grandmother Katherine and Samantha’s last watercolor had a chance of permanently silencing the Peacock boys.

“Give it back!”

“NOOOOOOOO!”

“Ma guguh ta me!” That was a rough translation.

“NOOOOOOOO!”

Probably not, even though it sounded as though their mouths were fastened to their side of the wall in just that spot to aid maximum sound penetration. Still…aiming and embedding those bullets through layers of lave, plaster and brick might relieve his nerves, he thought, both eyes now sweeping the room in search of a firearm. One explosive release of tension, since he’d learned that screaming through the wall only encouraged their caterwauling. And the shock alone could possibly quiet the brats next door for a few blessed minutes – he could claim the weapon discharged while he was cleaning it….

That Mulder continued to wade through the probable and improbable outcomes of a spur of the moment impulse while passively searching the chaos of his rooms was proof enough of his exhaustion. By nature he was not a man to weigh all consequences before taking action – thought and deed followed close on each other’s heels in most of his dealings, and not necessarily in that order. Finally, having no luck in spotting a firearm among the books, newspapers, photographs and chemistry apparatus that rose up in tapering piles like stalagmites from a cave floor, he abandoned the inspiration, wryly admitting to himself that any half trained Philly cop would take one look at his house and conclude that cleaning of any sort was not an activity that Fox Mulder engaged in willingly. Anyway, the Peacock’s howling hell spawn would be some other unfortunate neighbor’s problem before very much longer.

These last months’ parade of policemen, informants, photographers, and assorted odd characters – some bearing dead bodies or parts thereof wound in bloody sheets and some not – had finally convinced the woman of the neighboring house that he was an unsavory character and the favorable lease terms he provided did not make up for it.

Hallelujah.

Mr. Montgomery Propps was now howling out his own fruitless incantations from within a prison cell in 11 Street Dock awaiting trial for the vicious ritual murders of six young women and at month’s end Mulder would bid a fond farewell to Mrs. Peacock and her brood. That her charmless, slow witted husband was unable to secure more than a week’s gainful employment in the whole bustling metropolis of Philadelphia might have played a bigger role in the Peacock’s decision to return home than him practicing his unusual profession next door, but the why made little difference to Mulder. He’d refund their damn rent and live on soda crackers and water if it meant they’d vacate a week early.

Mulder wasn’t sleeping. At all. But he had to admit that had more to do with Monty Propps than the Peacock boys.

At last exhaustion or hyperventilation drew this afternoon’s vocal expressions to a close and nothing but faint gibberish could be heard through brick and plaster now. As though suddenly freed from sonic chains, Mulder hoisted himself up from the sofa and began a much more characteristic pacing along a worn path through his belongings.

More accurately, it was Victim Number 6, as the papers called her, who was keeping him awake. Her name was actually Amanda Parker. Her family lived in Baltimore and had yet to be informed of their daughter’s spectacular fate. Amanda Parker, she of the strong face, long brunette tresses ending in unruly curls and grey green eyes, their color dulled from exposure to the late summer heat and dust. He could still see it, frozen on that strong face by the rictus of death – a faint expression of acceptance, of welcome, perhaps even of hope.

“Hope of what?” Mulder asked aloud, running his hand impatiently through his already disheveled hair. Certainly not hope of being reunited with the rest of her body, parts of which even now had not been recovered. She, at least, had had the good sense to vacate the premises long before these varied dislocations had begun. He had to believe that or she would haunt him forever. He knew for a fact Propps liked them quiescent as china dolls while he worked. That’s what the laudanum was for. But he could not escape the thought that Victim Number 6 might still be resident in her wholeness, her faint hope saved for more plausible rewards than a world beyond this world…if only Skinner had called him sooner, if only they had let him see the bodies of Victims Number Four and Five sooner, if only he had seen the details Propps’ was looking at sooner.

Shaking himself all over like a wet dog, Mulder tried to shed the vision. It was over now. He had to let it go. He had to. If he could just put some real sleep between himself and all the things he had witnessed in the last three months. The gruesome realities and the visions that were bloodier still. Some unconscious distance between himself and Victim Number 6.

Amanda, close your eyes…please…

Butting up against his desk, desperate to find his mind a new occupation, he snatched up Chuck Burks’ overly enthusiastic, bossy missive wondering whether he should take this seriously and whether there were any tea biscuits in the house that hadn’t gone stale.

Mulder,

You must meet a new acquaintance of mine, Dr. Dana Scully, a brilliant pathologist with a fine analytical mind and, I believe, the perfect complement to your band of merry criminologists. We’ll be coming out your way for tea this Sunday afternoon. Don’t make us go to mother’s house. You know how talk of science bores her. Do be properly bathed, dressed, combed and at home at four. Don’t try to run us off before we’ve had the chance to talk. See if you can get Iris to dust things up and make a proper tea. You won’t regret it.

Chuck

If his friend thought he was being clever by omitting the feminine pronouns from his missive he was in for a rotten surprise. As soon as the note was delivered Friday afternoon, he’d telephoned Langley in Center City, asking him to find out all he could about Dr. Dana Scully before Sunday. Here two days later he had begun to collect the various bits of information in a file on the good doctor.

On paper she did seem brilliant as Chuck claimed. She’s been trained in physics and medicine with a good dollop of chemistry thrown in, though she did not claim chemistry as one of her fields of expertise. After graduating from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, she’s begun her residency in the maternity ward at the South Philly dispensary though she still seemed keen to gain more experience in surgery and pathology.

Good luck, Dr. Scully, he thought sourly. Surgeon’s appointments were as scarce as hen’s teeth and these days seem to be bestowed only on high profile specialists so that the hospital in question could claim to have the “first” of something. Like that brain surgeon fellow whose name appeared or was placed in the newspaper almost every other day – Waterson. Funny no one seemed eager to appoint the “first female surgeon in the city of Philadelphia” just yet.

Most of her former teachers and fellow students spoke highly of her, none ill, according to Langley’s interviews. Mulder, who had a developed talent for sensing disquiet in the smoothest of waters, found this information troubling. That level of approbation was an alarm bell in a field as cutthroat as the medical profession. It was easily assumed that, as a woman, it would be wise for her to make herself pleasant to those with the power to place obstacles in her already rocky career path. But it takes a lot of effort to please everyone all of the time – to be ever perfect. Possibly there was a strong religious influence, maybe even some military service tradition in her family. Langley hadn’t started investigating her blood connections and as yet had procured no picture of his subject either.

Mulder’s eyes narrowed in concentration. He had never been fond of the military or the ecumenical mindset. Rigidity of either sort would hamper the work.

And frankly he was a little offended that his old friend Chuck believed he needed to be eased into the suggestion that a female medical doctor might be a help to him. He knew they existed, even if he had never met one before. Discovering that this Dr. Scully was female did not mean he would dismiss her abilities out of hand.

“I’ve drawn your bath, Mr. Mulder,” Iris interrupted his indignant musings to direct his attention to the front staircase with one imperious finger, “and laid out a freshly pressed suit on the bed. Now hurry up. You have less than an hour before company comes.”

“Iris, have you been reading my mail again?” His housekeeper Iris Henderson, a middle aged trooper who mothered him more than Teena Mulder ever had, stared back at him with a no nonsense smirk. Scents of vanilla and fresh bread floated around her sturdy frame in faint wisps. She must have just come from shopping, though at the moment she clutched a broom, dustpan and dust rag in one rawhide fist while waving insistently upstairs with the other. Certainly the howling from next door would have covered the movement of an artillery battery, but he would have smelled it long before now if she’d been baking.

“I do when I’m in it,” she replied firmly and disingenuously. “Shame on you for having no hospitality laid on for guests. Mr. Charles may put up with your mess and your moods, but I doubt this lady doctor has any time for them.”

“And my files too, I see,” Mulder continued as though she hadn’t spoken. “Isn’t today your day off? What are you doing here? Don’t you have a family of your own to pester or some house of worship to bend a knee in? Trust Burks to forget that since he’s waited on hand and foot seven days a week. I’ve a mind to—“

“To get upstairs and wash and shave yourself. I’ve kissed my grandchildren and prayed to God today. Now give me room enough to make this rat’s nest of yours halfway respectable.”

“Woman, when I need—“

“When was the last time you ate a hot meal? Or put on a clean shirt? You ran me out of the house near every day for the last two weeks. I feel like I’ve stolen wages.”

Mulder sighed in frustration, briefly rubbing his eyelids with thumb and forefinger. It felt as though he were grinding salt into his corneas. “I hold you blameless. Believe me, Iris, you did not want to know what that monster—“

“I’ll take your plain word for that, Mr. Mulder, watching you bear the burden of it now. But let me help you set things right again. Let me do this.” Caught off guard by the unexpected weight of sincerity in her voice, Mulder backed up then swiftly covered with mock annoyance.

“Alright, alright, have it your way, but don’t touch that pile there – or that one. When I write my report for the court I’ll have use for all of that and in that exact order. Nothing is to be removed from them. Do you hear me?”

“Not even the dust?” she asked blandly. “Is the dust important too?”

“And stay out of those photographs if you value your peace,” he continued, shuffling toward the stairs, reluctant to leave the recent locus of so much speculation and pain.

“Just as you say, sir,” Iris mocked, though Mulder saw her suppress a deep shudder. Clearly Dr. Scully’s file was not the only one she into which she had peeked. And now, like him, Iris had sights she could not un-see. He should buy a safe.

 

Melville Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sunday, Aug. 20, 1893

3:50 p.m.

Glancing at the composed face of the young woman strolling at his side, Burks could not believe how nervous he was as they made the turn onto Melville Street. He felt like an anxious matron launching an untried debutante into Philadelphia society with absolutely no idea whether she knew the proper fork to use with her salad or could dance a passable waltz. And that was on Mulder’s behalf. But despite the strong probability of a major faux pas on the part of his old friend, he still wanted these two to meet.

He already counted it a major victory that Dr. Dana Scully had agreed to travel across the Schuylkill to be introduced to the city’s first practicing criminal psychologist. To be honest, he’d shamelessly dangled the fact that Mulder was responsible for the identification and capture of Monty Propps as bait. That madman’s heinous crimes had been featured in every Philadelphia newspaper since the spring, each rag’s reporters vying month after month to wheedle out more lurid details of each succeeding victim from the police. Every gruesome detail gleaned was presented in broad sheet outrage to an ever more shocked and curious readership. From Mulder, Burks had gathered that the terrorized public did not know the half of it.

Despite the case having got her full attention, Dr. Scully had a middle class child’s natural suspicion of the Ivies, particularly when the person in question practiced a discipline that was barely a decade old on this continent. Burks set himself to persuading her over coffee in a very respectable establishment two days after the very enlightening autopsy session. He’d feared that she wouldn’t remember him, but apparently she had asked the policemen who’d come round to collect the body how they had found out about the case and his name was mentioned.

He made his greeting and his demeanor as avuncular as possible, though it was difficult once he caught of glimpse of her without her butcher’s apron. When she joined him at the ridiculously dainty wrought iron table and seated herself squarely in the spindly chair opposite him she looked a picture. Her lime green jacket and skirt complemented by a pert little hat cocked jauntily on her masses of red curls screamed middle class but her bearing and attitude was pure professional. She wasn’t looking for a romance. Fine.

After reintroductions and his formal compliments on her pathological acumen were made, Burks ordered coffee and biscuits and began some gentle probing about her professional prospects and plans for the future. She met these inquiries with vague generalities and a level regard that urged him to get to the point of his invitation. She seemed genuinely taken aback when he asked whether she would be interested in periodically consulting as a professional pathologist on criminal cases with a friend of his.

“It would not be in a formal capacity with the police, I’m afraid. My friend and colleague is not even ‘officially’ employed by them. He’s more of a…specialized consultant. Someone with a particular talent for finding criminals of this type. He would, however, compensate you for your scientific contributions to his investigations.”

“He’s a private detective?”

“More of a psychological investigator. His approach to his subject is…ahhh…more intuitive than analytical I would say, but he’s very effective,” he tried to explain.

“Intuitive science? How is that accomplished? How are his results checked and reproduced?” She sounded genuinely curious if a little dubious, so he tried to answer her honestly.

“It’s a young discipline. Outside of Penn and Johns Hopkins, I don’t know that there is anyone doing the fieldwork that Mulder does – focusing on criminal cases. Most psychological research is still attempting to explain how the ‘normal’ human mind functions.”

“So he is a pioneer in this field.” She said ‘pioneer’, but Burks heard ‘loose cannon’.

“A very reluctant one. You see, in order to apprehend the suspect Mulder attempts to put himself into the mind of the criminal – see what they see, understand the world on their terms, however perverse and twisted those terms may be.”

She sat back in her chair, her grave expression saying what she would not out of politeness. This was dangerous work. Still, encouraged by the spark of excited interest in her eyes, Burks plowed ahead undaunted.

“His results are checked when the criminal is apprehended. I know that sounds circular, believe me. But at present I wouldn’t say that his results are reproducible in the strictest sense. He takes every case individually. I suppose after a certain number of cases are properly diagnosed one might…begin to build models of behavior based on recurring traits…but since the cases the police so far have invited him to consult on are ones of extreme, violent deviance it’s hard to find comparative… um…material. There aren’t many Monty Propps out there, thank God.”

“But then, how does he do it?” She was beginning to sound frustrated. Not that she didn’t believe him, but she needed a deeper understanding.

Oh, I have her well and truly hooked now, Burks thought, almost giddy with excitement and self-congratulation. He’d known as soon as he realized that the reason she withstood every rude challenge from her mentor was not to survive and conquer yet another professional gauntlet nor to prove her superior abilities yet again among her peers nor even to shut Waterson’s smug mouth, if only momentarily. It was because she would not allow the crime she had perceived done against a featureless stranger to go unpunished.

“Being brilliant helps, I suppose,” Burks said with a chuckle, realizing that he had known Mulder for so long that he had ceased to think about these aspects of his friend that others might find odd or disturbing. “Mulder sees all and forgets nothing. And I don’t mean that figuratively.”

Another dubious look, a gently arched eyebrow, and a challenge in her voice this time. “I’ve read that total recall only occurs in children – that they lose that faculty as they age.”

“Not in Mulder’s case, I’m afraid. He is a natural mnemonist. It is very annoying. Don’t ever play cards with him,” Burks warned with a rueful grin remembering the times he’d ended up handing over half of his monthly allowance to Mulder after a long evening at the poker table.

“Yes, but my understanding is that people who can remember everything have difficulty focusing on anything. They can make lists of facts and recount sequences, but beyond that they aren’t known for their intuitive abilities—“

“Fox Mulder is not some carnival sideshow attraction,” he said more vehemently than he had intended, then gave her a quick smile to soften the rebuff. “He-he has an extraordinary faculty for empathy that…” Burks felt suddenly uncomfortable, that any further attempt to describe Mulder to her or to anyone would force him to venture into territory that the subject of their conversation would find too personal. After all, Mulder hadn’t even met her yet. His spur of the moment inspirations were all well and good when they didn’t involve peoples’ lives, but, Burks reminded himself, they could also be quite wrong. Perhaps a little caution was in order. He was assured of her interest now in any case.

“What?” she pressed, her blue eyes delving into his, as though he were deliberately withholding some detail that would tie the entire puzzle together. He plastered on his most ingratiating smile. She sat back in her chair suspecting that she had been indiscreet and embarrassed by it.

“I’ll let you decide for yourself after you meet him. Then perhaps you can explain Mulder to me.”

“Very well. I am interested to meet your friend. One more question if you’ll permit, Mr. Burks,” she said, employing her own winning smile, which was quite charming on first acquaintance.

“Yes, Dr. Scully?”

“If my services would only be required on an irregular basis as Mr. Mulder only consults with the police on an irregular basis, what is his regular occupation? What does he do?”

Shrewd and doesn’t miss a trick, our Dr. Scully, Burks thought approvingly. The question was legitimate. If Mulder was going to compensate her, how was he going to do it?

“Mr. Mulder is probably the most active man of leisure you will ever meet. He supports himself from the interest on his inheritance. And as for his regular occupation, it is very irregular.”

“More irregular than attempting to enter into the minds of vicious criminals?” The eyebrow had ascended again.

There was no point sugarcoating it. Mulder certainly wouldn’t. Maybe if she had a few days to get used to the idea she wouldn’t find it so objectionable when his friend started spouting off about ghosts and demonology and telepathy and whatnot as soon as introductions were made.

“Yes, Dr. Scully. In addition to being our city’s foremost criminal psychologist, Fox Mulder is also our city’s foremost investigator of paranormal phenomena.”

The eyebrow had almost slipped off her forehead and disappeared into her hairline before she managed the polite query, “Is our city in great need of one of those?”

Yet here she was still. For all the world looking a little apprehensive as they made their way up the sidewalk to 242. Today she was in her black Sunday best, still managing to look sharp and vibrant against the crisp fall air. He was on the point of taking her elbow to guide her up the stairs when a shriek and a howl went up from the front parlor of the neighboring house and two grimy, ill-favored children tumbled out the front door and halfway down the porch steps. One had latched his splayed teeth onto the ear of his opponent while the other appeared engaged in gnawing off his assailant’s arm at the elbow.

“Stop that right now!”

Burks thought his face must be just as shocked as the two boys’. They instantly stopped trying to devour one another to stare at the lovely lady barking orders at them like a stevedore instead.

“Get up those stairs and wash those cuts out.” She still had their attention, but this command was a little too complicated. Neither child, peering out from under their mops of unruly hair and heavy shelf like brows, looked as though “wash” was a concept with which they were familiar.

“Now!” To emphasize her point, Dr. Scully gestured to the front door of their home emphatically. This, they seemed to get the gist of and both boys picked themselves up and shuffled back inside.

Before they disappeared back behind murky windows, Mulder had appeared on his porch dressed, pressed and combed as ordered, but looking a good deal more gaunt and exhausted that when Burks had last seem him – before Propps had been captured. Dark half-moons rested beneath his changeable eyes and his skin had taken on a sallow hue. But a jaunty cowlick escaped his chestnut mane and waved over his forehead at the same untamable angle and Mulder’s irrepressible humor still shown through as he shot a wry, bemused glance between his visitors and the next door twin.

“Dr. Scully, I presume.” he said in a deep mild tone. “I see Chuck has introduced you to my neighboring tenants.”

Without assistance, the young woman gathered her skirt, made her way up the steps, and extended her hand in an almost masculine gesture. “Mr. Mulder, I’m Dana Scully.”

“A pleasure to meet you, doctor.” Mulder took her proffered hand and gave it a few firm shakes while favoring her with a self-consciously direct gaze in a mild parody of the stolid businessman’s etiquette. But as his examination of her face deepened, Mulder retained her small hand, his own face becoming completely unguarded, as though a desperately important question hovered at the tip of his tongue and he would not release her until it was asked.

With a sinking feeling, Burks expected his companion to recoil and pull away, already convinced that Mulder’s oddness outweighed the opportunity. Instead her smooth, unshakable demeanor had been replaced by wide open blue eyes. Her face became a mirror for his, catching and throwing back every expression slightly altered by a native sympathy. Burks felt a frisson not unlike one he experienced as a boy standing too close to the electric dynamo at the Centennial Exposition. He wasn’t sure whether the smile that spread across his face was the result of nervous delight or fear.

“Mulder, old boy, might we go inside before your neighbors make a reappearance?” he asked, raising a guiding hand to Dr. Scully’s elbow and prompting Mulder to release her.

“Of course, but no need to worry, Chuck. Dr. Scully appears quite capable of protecting you,” Mulder teased, ushering them through the door and into the parlor.

“That is undoubtedly true, but I missed my luncheon today and I’m famished. Tell me you persuaded Iris to leave something tasty for us.”

“Better than that, I believe she’s concocting something in the kitchen even as we speak,” he said, offering the best, and cleanest, chair in the room to Dr. Scully. He took the high backed desk chair and as usual Burks was left to fend for himself, finally settling on the low sofa.

“Did I hear you say that you rent the house next door to your neighbors?” she asked, eyes scanning the piles of books and clippings lined up in neat rows next to the desk, then beyond to the shelves packed with books, sections divided with newspaper clippings, pencil sketches, handwritten notes, and the odd photograph. She appeared more intrigued than put off by the barely contained chaos.

“Yes, though not for very much longer,” Mulder said with a gratified sigh.

“I wonder that you did in the first place,” she observed dryly.

“Why is that?” Mulder asked, a faint challenge.

Dana Scully seemed to struggle briefly searching for a polite way to say something impolite, but finally gave out with, “Because it is a bad idea when cousins marry.”

Mulder’s eyes were positively sparkling. Burks felt like a boiler about to blow a valve. But it was Iris’s barely muffled whooping from the dining room that triggered everyone’s laughter. The doctor got herself under control first and offered as a red-faced Iris made her way into the room and began to lay out the tea on the freshly dusted low coffee table, “Forgive me. That was very rude.”

“Not at all,” Mulder said with a brief chuckle. “Quite astute, in fact. I will remember to consult you before I let the space again. Iris, are you—“

“Right as rain, Mr. Mulder,” she answered brusquely throwing a quick assessing glance at Dr. Scully before turning to leave. “Enjoy your tea” sounded more like an order than a wish.

Burks was happy to see that Iris had already poured so it was just for them to doctor the beverage as needed. For all his Boston Brahmin upbringing, Mulder could no more serve tea than he could dance a ballet and Burks didn’t want Dr. Scully put in the position of having to hostess her own visit, assuming she would adopt that role in any case. So he jumped in the breech by snagging the first cup and saucer and handing it to Dr. Scully who added a dash of milk and politely took a small crust-less sandwich from the tray. Mulder collected his own cup, ignoring the food. It was left to Burks to appreciate fully Iris’s culinary skills.

“Mr. Burks has told me a lot about you, Mr. Mulder. The city’s first and only criminal psychologist.” She left the title hanging there as if she expected him to begin expounding on his own brilliance.

“Well, isn’t it nice to be so highly regarded by our Mr. Burks.” he said turning an inquiring almost suspicious look to his friend. “You’ll find on longer acquaintance that, outside of a few offices in the Philadelphia Police Department, few share his opinion.”

“If you'd be interested to hear my credentials—“

“You are a medical doctor with experience in pathology, surgical procedure, and chemistry,” Mulder declared, gulping down the last of his tea. “Currently, you are in residence at the Washington Avenue dispensary, working primarily in maternity services.” Seeing the suspicious glance she threw toward the sofa, he continued, “No, Mr. Burks only provided me with your title.” He shrugged a little self-consciously, setting cup and saucer behind him. “I am an investigator, so I investigated.”

“I see. Is there anything that your investigation did not turn up that you’d like to know?” Her flat refusal to take offense meant she had taken this for yet another gauntlet.

“What interests you about the work that we do?” Mulder asked abruptly. “Most of it is bloody and harrowing. Safely delivering babies would be much easier.”

“Clearly you have never been witness to a live birth, Mr. Mulder,” she returned dryly. “Bloody and harrowing describe it pretty well.”

Another loud snort from the dining room where Iris was conspicuously dusting.

“Iris, would you care to join us for tea?” Mulder shouted at the wall behind him.

“No, thank you, Mr. Mulder. I’ve work enough of my own to do.”

“These sandwiches are a peach, Iris,” Burks contributed through a mouthful.

“Thank you, Mr. Burks. Convince your friend to eat a few before he wastes away to nothing.”

“Thank you, Iris.” Mulder was trying to look and sound annoyed, but something about the barely suppressed smile on Dana Scully’s face was distracting him, Burks thought. Then as the lady returned her own cup and saucer to the tray, Mulder reached behind him and took up a file thick with photographic prints with an almost sorrowful expression. “Would you care to see an example of some of the evidence you might be asked to give your scientific opinion on, Dr. Scully?”

“The Propps case?” she asked. At his nod, she stood, removed the long pin holding her hat in place, and set both aside – clearly a get down to business gesture for her. She approached the desk where Mulder offered her his chair, but preferred to remain standing. Burks, who had already seen more than enough of the business to last him a lifetime, kept his seat and his plate before him, determined to finish his late lunch without stomach upset. Besides, he was more interested to watch the discussants than to see more evidence. They faced off on opposite sides of Mulder’s desk like chess opponents, as his friend laid out the photos in four groups, explaining as he went.

“I was not consulted until the third victim was found and then two days after the fact. I sent Frohike, he is the photographer I have on retainer, to the scene to gather as much visual information as he could but by that point –“

“By then the scene had been too disturbed to be of much use. Those third precinct duffs turn every crime scene into a parade ground,” she muttered bitterly. At Mulder’s surprised look, she gave him a dry smile. “Surely your investigation turned up the fact that I am second generation Irish, Mr. Mulder. I have more relatives in the police department than there are shells on the shore.”

“Very well,” smirking slightly, Mulder pressed on. “So for the first three victims all we had to go on were written descriptions, a few sketch drawings from the coroner’s office, and police reports. The families had already buried the bodies. Frohike was able to get to the fourth and fifth scenes much quicker but again by that time the victims’ bodies or what remained of them had been removed. I didn’t see them myself for another two days.”

“Problems with the coroner?” she asked knowingly.

“It took Police Chief Skinner, pressure from who knows how many city fathers who didn’t like the reputation Philly was garnering as a human slaughterhouse, and a threatened lawsuit from my attorney John Byers to get me access, but we finally got it. Alvin Kersh will be the death of me.” He huffed out a huge breath then gathered himself and pressed on, laying out the remainder of the pictures for each girl. “But at least by this point there were some patterns emerging. Tell me what you see.”

“I cannot say anything about Victim 3 without the body,” she began decisively, shuffling through the photographs and pulling up views of the last three bodies and the scenes and setting them side by side. Only Victim Number 6 was recorded in situ. “There’s something wrong here,” she said slowly. At Mulder’s unamused snort, she persisted. “These wounds were made at the scenes where the bodies were discovered? Are we certain of that?” At Mulder’s slow nod, she paled. “Was he…was he collecting the blood?”

“Very good, Scully. Yes, he was, as he divided them,” Mulder didn’t seem conscious he had dropped the proper title from her name. “There was far too little blood at any of the scenes for it to be otherwise.”

“Pleeeease,” Burks interjected plaintively.

“Sorry, Chuck.”

“Why? Why was he collecting it?” she asked almost fearfully.

“Blood magic,” Mulder said simply.

“Surely you don’t believe–“ she began indignantly.

“It doesn’t matter what I believe. He believes it. That was the need he served by killing. It was his harvest at every new moon.” At her raised eyebrow, Mulder stopped and shook his head dismissively a mask of indifference covering his expression. “I’ll know more at the next new moon when he’s…deprived. I expect he’ll be much more open to interrogation then.”

After staring at his bland face for a long minute and not finding the answers she was seeking, Dr. Scully turned her attention back to the photographs. Less analytical now, but not horrified either. She, like Mulder always had, could look past the gruesome objects into which Propps had tried to make them and saw young women whose lives had been senselessly cut short. She will be good at this, Burks thought, another jolt of self-satisfaction running through him. She picked up a photograph from the last pile.

“Small mercy from such a monster,” she muttered. “But at least they had already died.”

“What? Why do you say that?” Mulder asked sharply. “What makes you say that?”

She seemed a little taken aback at his intensity, but answered promptly. “They’re too clean. In order to drain them he is making cuts at major arterial junctions. If they’d been alive – their hearts pumping – there would be…spray. On them…on the floor.”

At his plaintive moan, Dr. Scully looked at him for what seemed like the first time in hours. “I’m sorry, Mr. Burks.”

He had just begun to enjoy the sight of her flushed face, bright eyes, mental faculties at the height of their powers, when Mulder slumped forward, his eyes closed, arms locked, each hand gripping a corner of the desk, a sheen of sweat covering his face. “I say, Mulder, are you alright?” He was ignored.

“Are you absolutely sure, Scully?” he demanded in a low voice. “The laudanum didn’t just depress the heart’s function to a rate that…”

“No, I’m sure of it. Even with a slower heartbeat the pressure in the veins would have forced the serum out at an uncontrollable level. Without special equipment to gather it, he-he would have lost part of his…his harvest,” she finished with a hard swallow.

Mulder straightened up, threw his head back and released one long controlled breath. When he looked up again his face was relaxed in a way Burks had not seen in weeks. With a faint bitter smile, he bent down to speak directly to her as though there were no one else present to hear.

“Do you realize that if I had had a trained pathologist on call, Kersh would have had to allow me access to those bodies sooner? That if you had been consulting with me for the past month we might have saved her?” he asked quietly, tapping the last pile of photographs with one slow finger.

“I don’t deal in counterfactuals, Mr. Mulder,” she replied simply, but not unkindly. “The world as it is provides me with fodder for grief enough.”

“Well, then you leave that part of the work to me,” he replied with a smirk. “The job is yours if you want it, Dr. Scully.”

Chapter Text

Illustration from a manual from The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians




Jefferson Medical College

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 11, 1893

12:30 p.m.

 

Dana Scully’s brain chanted the battlefield hospital mantra drilled into her head in her first triage lesson by a grey-haired veteran nurse named Mrs. Eudora Wicks as she made her way up the steps of the august Greek edifice behind which resided Dr. Daniel Waterson’s educational offices. That elderly dame, who openly dipped snuff and had a ready answer for every nervous inquiry from her timorous first years, referred obliquely and darkly to the days spent in the surgical tents after Antietam only on rare occasion, but every hour of it was ingrained in her deeply lined face.

“Clamp it off. Cut it off. Cauterize and move on.” Breathe. “Clamp it off. Cut it off. Cauterize and move on.”

Once, Dana dared ask her instructress about that mad, red-soaked time which gave birth to this seemingly heartless prescription that purposefully left so many young men feeling less than a man, less than a human being. Mrs. Wicks had turned to her with soft grey eyes still capable of hurt and said simply, “A man and a soul can survive without a limb, but you lose the soul and the man if he loses too much blood. He can choose ‘live’ or ‘die’ with no leg or arm to animate, but if I’m slow, he has no choice. There was many a soldier who cursed the doctor – cursed me – for giving him that choice and not letting the Minié ball decide. But how can you call yourself a healer and not give it? I’m not God on his throne and neither is the doctor, though many think differently, as you will learn, Miss Scully.”

Dana raised a hand to knock at the frosted glass behind which Daniel waited, hardly cognizant of the journey she’d made to reach that point. He was expecting her. She sensed his impatient, fitful movements just beyond; her brief, business-like note had been delivered. Thank God his personal secretary was away to lunch.

“Clamp it off. Cut it off. Cauterize and move on,” she repeated under her breath. Ahab, if he indeed looked on from heaven, would approve her actions. This she knew in her bones, in her flesh. Forgive me, father…for I have sinned.

She’d lost enough blood, she thought, a bitter grimace twisting her full lips as she waited for the door to open. It was time for this to stop. God had given her a choice and she was making it.

 

 

Moyamensing Prison, aka 11 Street Dock, Library of Congress



Moyamensing Prison

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 11, 1893

12:35 p.m.

 

“Why, Monty? Why take all their blood?” Mulder pressed the question through the bars, sounding calmer than he felt.

Propps was agitated enough as was. No need to work him into more of a frenzy. Mulder’s guess about the murderer’s obsession reaching its peak at the new moon had been depressingly accurate. But, watching Propps hitch up and down his cell in a barely restrained passion, Mulder silently admitted he miscalculated by waiting until the second day of the phase. The inmate might have been more lucid yesterday when the light of the orb was first covered. Now, he appeared in a veritable fever of lust with nothing and no one on which it expend it. Periodically when his muddy eye made contact with Mulder’s he’d stop pacing and, as though unaware of his actions, plow his nails up and down the bare skin of his forearms, licking away the ooze in the wake of his fingers. The stenographer had eased away from Mulder’s side so the cell’s occupant could no longer see him – and vice versa.

“According to its practitioners, those seeking to use magicks need only a small amount of the blood of their…subjects. For a healing…or to work a vengeance,” he paused leaving the possibilities dangling there. He thought it unlikely Propps knew these young women. They were chosen by this man, described by his associates as an all-round unremarkable, mousy cleric, for a particular set of traits, he believed, not randomly from a circle of acquaintances or chance encounters. Still with a court stenographer on hand to catch every word, he did not want to lead his subject, he just wanted to let him know he was dealing with someone who could understand. Understand…

In an instant the whole scene, the dank stink of unwashed skin, seeping mortar, and soured food made more pungent by the oppressive weight of men’s desperation seemed concentrated in the sole person standing opposite this iron cage. His wild hair, gaunt frame and wolf-like snarl were forced on Mulder’s senses as a singular impression without parts to dismantle and analyze or layers to dig through.

Mulder knew it. Monty Propps was dying. And in the deepest shadow nights their cosmos could offer he’d sought to exchange his death for theirs.

 

Jefferson Medical College

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 11, 1893

12:45 p.m.

 

“Too much has changed since you left this summer…. I-I’ve had to make some decisions. And I've decided we should no longer see each other – at all.”

Dana kept her feet, stayed in motion, and purposefully chose not to use Waterson’s given name. He on the other hand showed no compunction about throwing hers around as soon as she’d entered his office – as though he had claimed her, owned her.

Small mercy, but after his first attempt to corner her failed, he made no others. That was not Daniel’s way. He much preferred her to come penitent to him, child-like, begging forgiveness, admitting her mistake. Weakened.

Daniel leaned on the edge of his desk, arms folded across his chest, and listened to her lay out her case, shaking his head occasionally at points he found failing on logic or short on vital information. The consulting pathologist job she’s been offered by Mr. Mulder earned a dismissive snort and not one scintilla of curiosity, so she did not bother to elaborate. Besides, some part of her wanted to keep that tentative arrangement separate from this horrid mess at all costs. Tempted as she was to bolt as soon as she had finished, Dana waited, knowing from experience that if he were not given his full and fulsome rebuttal time, she would never hear the end of the matter. This counted as clamping off the flow of blood from the artery.

Arguments marshaled, Daniel began his own campaign, not realizing that his battle was already lost. Had he always been this poor at reading her? She had not come here a neglected lover, looking for reassurances of his affection and regard, teasing just a bit of tacit extortion to better her position under his patronage. That he believed all of this of her was proof enough she was making the right choice. Starting from the position of ‘student’ was bad enough, shifted from there to ‘dependent hanger-on’ was a niche she was determined never to fill.

“Dana, I don’t think you’ve thought this through. Leaving the resources of the college means all your hard work will go to waste. Here at least, you might supervise the nursing school, continue to practice at the dispensary. You have no practice to go to. It will mean an end to your career.”

“You’re confusing two separate issues. It is our personal relationship that’s over. My career is my own affair. The fact that the two can no longer exist side by side is because you refuse to accept that. I’ve tried over the past month to make this work on a professional level, but you’ve made it…impossible. This has to end now,” she was proud that her voice did not betray her sorrow or anger. Heaven help her if she showed any real feeling.

“After what’s passed between us, Dana, how can you say that? Did it mean nothing to you? Do I mean nothing to you?” His deep, confident voice that which she had found so attractive when she barely knew him, still fanned an ember deep inside her, but no longer of admiration or yearning – now it only fed her banked down anger. That she would forever refuse to tell him its source only made it worse. Someday, someday soon, she would have to find a way to pour that poison out of her or die of it. But not today.

“Far more than you know – now and for the rest of my life. But it’s over now.” This was cutting off the useless limb.

Of course, he heard the first half of what she said, but not the second, taking her admission as some sort of signal she could be cajoled, persuaded – a child-like ninny who could not see the world for what it was or willfully did not care. It was as if intimacy had erased all that he learned through study, through the work. Her lips twisted in a bitter smile. Now that he knew her, he didn’t even know her.

Daniel stood, unfolded his arms and advanced two steps. “Don’t be hasty or foolish, Dana. Darling, come here. I can make this work.” For all his professorial posing, she could see his famously rock steady hands were shaking. Something inside, even if he would not acknowledge it, had realized he had lost what he wanted, what he thought belonged to him.

Evading his embrace, she almost made the mistake of laughing. This morning as she dressed in her small cramped rooms, sat on the trolley, marched up the stairs here she had had almost convinced herself that a fool instead of an honorable woman had made this appointment – a pathetic heartsick fool feeding a last wish to see him. But now that she stood here on trembling knees, her emotions floating just beneath the surface of her skin, so desperate to say the right thing and so fearful of any overeager sycophant bursting in with a half-baked claim on his time before this was resolved, pushing away the day of reckoning yet again, she realized it was something less pitiful and less worthy. She wanted to hurt him just as indelibly as he had her. But what would that solve? What would it heal?

“No. I told you last month I will not come to you again. I can’t help that you refuse to take my word when I’ve never lied to you.” Something in his face broke at the angry indignation in hers. His superior veneer was slipping. “Listen, listen to me. I’m leaving. I’m not changing my mind. That’s all. I’d hoped we could part friends, but you don't even respect me enough to--” This must be cauterization. It hurt so badly.

“How dare you do this to me?” he demanded. “How can you be this cruel, Dana? You’ve never been this willfully stupid--” he ground out between clenched jaws, seizing her wrist and arm in a two-handed vise, halting her march toward the door. “What’s happened? Tell me the truth! Did Barbara’s dear “Father Frick” scare you or buy you off this summer while she conveniently removed me from town? What price did you place on my love?”

Quickly and without fanfare she did just as Jack had taught her, bringing her boot heel down solidly on his instep. With a yelp he unclamped his hands and staggered back, half-limping.

“I’m glad you remember her,” she said softly, her voice shaking with suppressed rage. Then taking a deep breath she returned to the farewell she’d scripted alone in her rooms this morning. “You have a wife and children. Take care of them. Take care of yourself, Daniel. Goodbye.” And this, at last, was moving on.

Shutting his door behind her, Dana made good her escape, giving tight-lipped nods to the familiar faces she passed in the hallway and staircases. It was not until she breathed the open air that she tentatively rubbed her wrist where he’d ground her bones together, where she’d broken free of his hold. She didn’t want to believe he’d intended to hurt her, just like she didn’t want to believe she’d intended to hurt him, but whether or no she would feel a phantom pain for some time to come.

 

Moyamensing Prison

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 11, 1893

12:55 p.m.

 

Mulder just kept his face from twisting in disgust, his bland mask plastered in place, but something in his affect must have shifted enough to alert Propps that his histrionics had found a target. He began to chant – some mishmash of Latin, Greek and just enough English to spook the neighboring inmates – calling upon the Unseen and, in this case, the Unhearing because the door to his cell, the bars on his windows remained firmly in place despite his petitions.

“Are you getting this?” Mulder asked the stenographer who had taken a few more steps back and whose shaking pencil was making signs that were definitely not approved in the Pitman system.

“Y-yes, sir,” the young man answered. “I studied Classics as a boy.”

“Good,” said Mulder, turning reluctantly back to his subject.

“Past, present and future are mine to command,” Propps was declaring with pathetic grandiosity, having apparently run out of suitable black Sabbath invocations. He waved his torn shirtsleeve arms and tossed his unkempt ash blond hair, snapping his sinewy neck from side to side like a man possessed. Soon he would be able to do nothing with him. Mulder drew nearer the bars, his voice low and confidential.

“What was it, Monty? A healing? Were you trying to remove a death? A death foretold?”

That seemed to get Propps’ attention. He stopped his cavorting and propelled himself at the bars and near Mulder’s face, creating a dull clang when his whole body hit the barrier. Refusing to flinch or withdraw, Mulder waited silently.

“I could feel…their pulse at the waning,” he declared breathily. “Getting stronger, fiercer. So full, so alive, pressing in every limb. Wanting to be used up, decanted, drunk.”

“On their natal day…” Mulder posited still in that low intimate tone, not noticing that the stenographer was cutting looks at him with as much trepidation has he had Propps moments ago.

“Yessssss,” he hissed, his dull eyes alight now with an acolyte’s fire. “That should have been foretold too, but the fool did not – could not see it. The death he foretold was not mine.”

Mulder made a mental note to find out who Propps’ physician was and exactly when his diagnosis had been made, but he was guessing it had been early in the New Year, February at the latest. There would have been sufficient time for Propps to fish through all the records on file at the employment agency where he worked to discover those young women with birthdays matching his lunar cycle.

His subject continued without urging, mesmerized by the changing landscape of his companion’s silver grey, now green, now hazel eyes. “The Ides of March did not bring the death foretold, nor any of the ides that followed. I was granted life and they – they were all laid out before me, to select as I pleased. Sacrifices for the master – a life-giving elixir for me. And at the end of the cycle the death would be removed. Morningstar at his most brilliant would be appeased and I would receive my reward.”

“Life eternal on earth…”

“…in his service. You must let me continue,” he panted. “The pattern is set. The cycle only half complete! I know her name and address,” he proclaimed proudly, urgently. “It’s not far from here, but it must be tonight!”

“I think you’ll be joining Morningstar long before he is ascendant,” Mulder said confidentially and in such a mild tone it took Propps a few moments to realize his petition had been rebuffed. “And mercy is not a quality for which he’s known.”

It was fortunate that the stenographer chose that moment to drop his pencil and snatch at Mulder’s sleeve, pulling him to the side, otherwise he was not sure he could have backed away fast enough to evade Propps’ bruised and bloodied hands shooting through the bars to claw at his eyes. As it was he escaped with a single, long, deep scratch.

“Monty,” Mulder tutted disapprovingly, sitting on the filthy floor, dabbing at his left cheekbone with his handkerchief as his subject wailed his frustrations and beat his fists against the bars. “And after all we’ve shared.” The stenographer chuffed out a relieved breath, shook his head, and pried his eyes open wide behind his round wire rimmed spectacles as though trying to wake from a bad dream.

“Thank you.” Mulder turned to the stenographer, unfolding and raising himself from the ground in one lithe movement. “I am much obliged. Fox Mulder,” he said, extending his hand in recognition.

“You’re welcome,” the man replied with a nervous snort, formally shaking Mulder’s hand as though he suspected an elaborate joke were being played on him. “Maximillian Fenig.”

 

242 Melville Street

Sept. 14, 1893

5:24 p.m.

 

Mulder was just immersing himself in the schematics Frohike had dropped off the day before when he felt a hand alight on his shoulder. Hard as he tried to control the impulse, he reared back in his chair and threw his head to the side – only to turn and see Iris giving him her sternest, most worried look.

“Calm yourself, Mr. Mulder, or I’ll begin slipping drams of whiskey into your coffee of a morning and evening.”

“Don’t you dare,” he growled, his tone threatening, but his face relieved. “Can’t stand the stuff. To what do I owe the pleasure? By the way, shouldn’t you be at home by now?”

“I’ve never met a man who wanted less looking after instead of more,” she remarked equably. “You have a respectable lady guest,” she continued jerking her chin toward the closed sliding doors. “So I’m staying. Dr. Scully is in the front parlor. I knew you wouldn’t hear her knock.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” he demanded mildly. “She needs to see this. Show her in and brew up some coffee – tea, whatever she prefers. Just no whiskey!” he called at her retreating back while trying to arrange the plans – room by room – in a logical progression, something he suspected the good doctor would appreciate. He had to admit, hard as it was for someone who was adept at predicting people’s thoughts and actions, that Dr. Scully baffled him on occasion. Though their acquaintance was short he usually didn’t have this much difficulty sussing out what made a person tick. But he also had to admit that he found the puzzle she presented charming, if a little unsettling, until he reminded himself that it was beyond rude to apply the same techniques used in criminal investigations to a colleague.

“Dr. Scully, I am glad you could come on such short notice,” he said rising from his chair briefly in welcome, his eyes still on the drawings. “I’ve reached the point when I knew I should consult a trained…” he stopped mid-sentence upon seeing her carefully composed face, the rigid posture of her body. “Is everything alright?”

She seemed taken aback at his question and shook her head at though he were speaking nonsense. “Yes, of course, Mr. Mulder. I came in answer to your letter, and the telephone message, and the note delivered this afternoon....” she trailed off dryly. “But it sounds to me that what you plan would come at great expense and I wonder whether you have fully considered other options.”

“Are you sure you’re alright? If you feel unwell we can do this at some other—“ He had no idea why he continued babbling in this vein when it was clear from her annoyed expression that she had no intention of admitting the slightest weakness.

“I’m fine, Mr. Mulder. Now would you care to show me what you intend doing?” she asked, stepping fully into the room while removing her hat and setting it aside. She alighted on the very edge of one of the dining room chairs a few place settings away from him as though she might fly at any moment. With an unconvinced shrug and an acquiescent nod in her direction, Mulder dove in.

“Well, as I stated in my letter and note – it might also have been mentioned in passing on the telephone – I intend putting the house next door to a more practical use in the service of my investigations now that the howling wolf pack has vacated the premises—“

“Praise be for that!” Iris interjected sailing into the room with a laden tray which she set down between them. “You should have seen the filthy den they left behind! At least I can hear myself think again. Dr. Scully, those are the cucumber sandwiches you liked so well last time,” she finished, managing somehow to combine a business-like and motherly tone, before sailing back out conspicuously leaving the sliding wooden doors open.

Undistracted, Mulder continued, “—I plan to repurpose the entire first floor for medical consultation and pathological investigation. Under this scheme the front parlor would become the consulting room cum library cum office. The dining room will be the autopsy bay. The kitchen would remain the kitchen since the autoclave really should be more convenient to the autopsy or surgical area. Of course the entire space will have to be furbished with an examination table, instrument storage, possibly a large refrigeration compartment for preserving…specimens before and after examination. I think the walk in pantry could be repurposed for that…just a question of drainage and creating an airtight seal around the door, really. What do you think?”

“I think this will be very expensive,” Dr. Scully replied though her eyes had widened appreciatively at the plans Frohike had proposed for the space and even wider at the equipment list. Mulder refrained from mentioning that he had had Frohike sneak photographs of several facilities in the city before drawing up this design. “Would it not be easier and more economical for me to schedule time at the college's dissection rooms? By this scheme you’ll be losing both lease income and laying out a considerable investment in equipment. Surely the police don’t pay you so well as to cover this kind of expense.”

“Perhaps more economical, but much less convenient,” Mulder remarked.

“But all the…the autoclave listed here, for example. You will have to send to Germany for that. I’ve never even used one!”

“Seems simple enough in principle,” Mulder remarked dryly, deliberately misunderstanding her. “I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it without too much study. You’re not drinking your tea.” Distracted, still reading through his list, she absently sipped at her cup, then slapped it down abruptly again.

“And all the instruments…these have to be hand forged, you know. You can’t pick them up at a local hardware store.”

“You don’t carry a full set of surgical knives and forceps in your reticule, do you? Saws and all?” Mulder asked, amused.

“I have a pocket case I keep in my medical bag,” she replied haughtily, ignoring his widening smile. “My point is, you don’t seem to realize the cost of what you propose is unnecessary. I can manage—“

“What you don’t seem to realize is that I don’t want you to have to ‘manage’. The work we do together must be fully documented because it will be scrutinized by everyone from the police chief downtown to psychological experts and criminologists in Europe. We will be contributing to a body of knowledge that is thus far very small. For that reason and others, our standards must be of the highest. No one should be able to cast doubt on our findings for any petty reason…a break in the chain of evidence, an unrefrigerated specimen or the lack of a single Erlenmeyer flask. They will have to argue from the facts. It’s important.”

She seemed taken aback, blinking at him slowly. “You intend to publish…”

His brows drew together in a puzzled frown. “Of course I intend to publish – with your participation, of course. I can’t speak to your scientific findings. That will be your responsibility. Mine will be to perform the psychological analysis and research. Am I mistaken? I’ve read some of your work.” He nodded toward a bulging folder at the far corner of the table. “I assumed you wouldn’t be averse to sharing your conclusions with the scientific or law enforcement communities.”

“No – no, not at all,” she stammered, the smallest of quavers in her voice, her eyes cast down. “It’s just…I never expected….” After a moment she collected herself. “Still investigating me, Mr. Mulder?” she asked almost sharply, half reaching toward the folder.

“Chuck sent me a copy of your thesis last week.” Now he was the one feeling abashed. “I liked it so I asked for additional examples of your research.” He did not mention that he’d also felt he owed Max Fenig some extra piece work for having braved the Propps situation with so little fuss. It turned out that Max much preferred copying medical monographs to taking down a madman’s rantings word for word. “You write well so I assumed you enjoy it,” he finished lamely.

“I do.” Was that some color at last spreading across the apple of her cheek?

“Well…good then. As for this,” he said waving his hand dismissively over the plans littering the table, “You needn’t concern yourself with outlay. The start of every new venture requires some form of investment, monetary being the least onerous, and if having a modern facility in which to work will remove Mr. Kearsh’s objections to our consultations, it will be money well spent.”

“Very well, if you insist.”

“I do. While we are on the subject,” he began, suddenly feeling that his assumption that, for convenience sake, she would choose to work next door was vastly overstepping her boundaries – boundaries that he was coming to understand were very high, deeply founded and surrounded by wide moats filled with ravenous creatures. “Once the renovations are complete, I would like to offer the house next door as offices for your regular practice. That is…I mean, if you are not already under obligation to another lease…I would be grateful if you would consider it – for the sake of our collaboration.”

“Mr. Mulder,” her mellow voice was doubtful, almost reproving, but at the same time he could not be mistaken about the flare of eagerness in her eyes. Then he realized she was scanning him – that was the only way he knew how to describe it. Scanning him for…what? Whatever it was, it appeared she could not find it. Her fine brows drew together in a puzzled frown and her full mouth had drawn up into a confused grimace, teetering on the edge of laughter, outrage or tears; he couldn’t tell which. “That would not be—“

“Convenient for you, I realize that. Certainly not at first. It’s true the number of patients you would attract out here would not initially outnumber those at your offices on Washington, but your fees from the police work should be enough to offset your losses…”

“Mr. Mulder, are you real?” she asked under her breath with exasperated amusement. Though nothing so frivolous could actually be heard, he sensed laughter was winning out. This was a reaction with which he was familiar.

“In what sense, Dr. Scully?” he asked, returning her reluctant smile. “Surely Chuck was kind enough to warn you. I am an impatient, headstrong man, but not without my reasons.”

“This I have observed, Mr. Mulder,” she responded dryly. “I suppose I was asking whether you are sincere. Forgive me,” she rushed on. “I don’t mean to offend, but you don’t seem to realize that offers this generous between a man and woman who barely know each other are very rare. Or do you?”

Pinned under her blue sky gaze, Mulder shrugged, assuming a casualness he only partially felt. “Were you not just fretting about economy, Dr. Scully? Surely to leave these rooms empty and unused a good portion of the time would be wasting a valuable resource?”

Lips pursed and brows quirked at his evasion she waited for him to elaborate which for some strange reason he felt compelled to do.

“What I propose is a professional partnership, Dr. Scully, nothing more,” he said bluntly. “I realize I am doing so on very short acquaintance – before a trust has been established – but only because the work is urgent. See here, we can stipulate at the outset that should the situation become uncomfortable for either of us, the lease agreement and the partnership can be dissolved in such a way as to give you time to set up your offices elsewhere before vacating these premises. Would that be acceptable? I mean, if you’re worried about the look of the thing,” he continued glancing toward the open doors half expecting his housekeeper to appear at the thought. “I can ask Iris to move in here and –“

He broke off when he noticed the unflappable Dr. Scully blushing extravagantly, wave after wave of color washing over her ivory cheeks, tinting them a delicate pale rose. Oh, what had he done now? He sped through the possibilities. One, she was insulted at his insistence that his offer was purely professional. Phoebe had taught him well enough that no matter what the stage or state of the acquaintance, no woman likes to hear that a man finds her unattractive. Two, he’d suggested a quick legal solution rather than allowing her time and space to get to know him and make up her own mind. Three, she thought he was attempting to coerce her into agreeing by reminding her of the gravity of the work. He wondered if it was too late to ask Chuck back here to interpret.

“No, Mr. Mulder, that won’t be necessary.” Now she sounded as well as appeared completely flustered. “I appreciate your candor and I’m sorry I had to ask, but…. I mean, I see the logic in what you’re suggesting and I’d have to be an idiot to turn down offices so well equipped. It’s…look, I’m not some ninny worried about her reputation. Please don’t think that. It’s not the appearance of the thing that concerns me, but the reality. I want this partnership – this opportunity – but I need to know I can make a change if I have to. Your plan solves that problem. Don’t bother Iris with this, please.”

Mulder’s face slowly cleared and then clouded again as she stumbled through her explanation and it dawned that her concerns had almost nothing to do with him.

‘Stop it,’ he reproved himself silently. ‘It’s none of your business.’

Wisely, Mulder didn’t mention that he’d intended to offer the rooms to her gratis. Instead he quoted her a rent somewhat lower than he had charged the Peacocks. Dr. Scully counter-offered with a rent somewhat higher, pointing out that this would be a place of professional practice, not merely a residence. He in turn highlighted the less than ideal location while she mentioned the convenience of the trolley line. And so they went, each bargaining against his or her self-interest for a few minutes more until they at last agreed on a number that was mere pennies off the Peacock’s lease.

“That’s it then,” he said with a satisfied huff, feeling a relief much stronger than the situation warranted wash from the base of his neck to his belly. “I’ll have Byers draw up an agreement tomorrow.” At her wide-eyed expression, Mulder continued, “That will give you plenty of time to review it and make whatever changes are necessary before the refitting is complete.” Then rushing to get past this latest awkwardness, “I would appreciate it if in the meantime you check in periodically to make sure that the examination room, the fittings and equipment meet best practice standards.” He rose from his chair and moved toward her, extending his hand along with with a tentative smile. “I look forward to our association, doctor.” Then stopped stock still at the horrified expression that came over her face.

“My God, Mulder, what happened to you?” she demanded hoarsely, rising and meeting him halfway.

“What?” he asked nonplussed, realizing seconds later that his position at the far end of the dining table had cast half his face in shadow so she hadn’t yet seen Propps’ parting memento. “Oh, that. It’s nothing.”

“Nothing if you don’t mind carrying a scar,” she reproved raising a hand toward his eye, his cheek. “Has this been treated? Let me see.”

Mulder barely restrained himself from flinching back from her as violently as he had Iris earlier, but the sight of a purple-green thumb print on the underside of her wrist froze him to the spot. At first it looked like a hole in her arm; it was so dark against the pale skin. Then he saw it was accompanied by waning gibbous and crescent moon bruises lined up along the delicate blue vein trailing beneath her sleeve into shadow.

Mulder did not touch her, knowing in his gut that would be an irretrievable mistake. She needed to be resilient, capable, in control because whoever had hurt her was trying to make her fragile and weak. If she could bear through so calmly then the least he could do was be the object of her strength.

Still it was all too much, too soon: Propps’ meticulous calendar of sacrifices, Victim Number 6, the ever present, crushing fear he might always be too late. In that instant Mulder wanted to retreat from everyone and everything almost as much as he wanted to snatch her up and hide her until he had pounded the face of whomever had inflicted this pain to a bloody pulp. But he did neither. He merely nodded his assent, letting out a long shaky breath and dropping into the nearest chair while she sped from the room to retrieve her bag from the parlor. He fixed his gaze to the tops of his shoes even after she had returned and began rummaging through it for some ointment or other, convinced he had seen enough to last him for a good long while.

Then her cool small fingers were under his chin, tilting the left side of his face toward the light while her other hand smoothed down the length of the scratch, assessing it before reaching again into her bag. It all would have been oddly pleasant if in the next moment she wasn’t swabbing out the wound with some liquid causing his cheek to burn like hell fire.

“Ow! Scully!” he exclaimed pulling back. “What is that?”

“Shush. It’s only ethanol. You should approve, a man so eager to send off to Germany for the latest in sterilization equipment. Now hold still.” She swabbed the scratch again with something much cooler and he settled back down under her ministrations. “Dare I ask how you got this?” she asked so softly she sounded as though she were talking to herself.

“Mr. Propps was expressing his disappointment that he was not going to be released from 11 Street Dock on his own recognizance,” he replied blandly, closing his eyes. It was hard to concentrate on anything tangible while her hands were on him.

“Was he? And you were close enough that he could express himself so directly?”

“As it happened, yes.”

“Humph,” she grunted noncommittally. Mulder found himself staring directly into her eyes as she bent down over him, one dainty index finger bearing a dab of yellowish salve she proceeded to press into the wound. Just for a moment, delving into that concerned and chagrined bottomless blue he lost voice. When he found it, it came out sounding much lower and slower than he’d intended, as though he were talking in his sleep.

“Out with it, Scully. This partnership will accomplish nothing without candor.”

“What’s done is done. But next time take me with you so I can stop you doing anything so foolish as taunting a lunatic in his cell. Otherwise you stand to lose an eye or worse.”

“I wasn’t taunting him,” he shot back indignantly, then recalling how the scene unfolded. “…exactly.”

“Um-huh,” she doubted briefly. “Candor, Mr. Mulder, remember? Stop shaving, at least this side of your face, for a few days, you’re only irritating the wound and keeping it from healing.” Now his left cheek which had grown crusty and stiff over the last few days was tender all over again, but different. It felt clean, purified. He didn’t stop to examine the sensation, instead he chose to rediscover that playful gleam he’d detected in the depths of her eyes on the day they met.

“Walk about with a half beard, doctor? But my sartorial elegance is my only charm. At least that’s what the ladies tell me,” he smirked lopsidedly. His reward was a slight twitch at the corner of her mouth and the ascent of a single eyebrow.

“How disappointing for you,” she commiserated dryly. “But to be fair, I can see how they might think so.”

“Well, I’ll have no difficulty following your advice for the next few days, Dr. Scully. Traipsing through the New Jersey Pine Barrens doesn’t require the finest grooming.” He was doing his damnedest not to draw attention to the fact that she was still standing close, fingertips resting lightly on his shoulder, soothing him, grounding him.

“What’s in the Pine Barrens?” she asked, trying to sound casual and failing.

“A bat-winged demon,” Mulder intoned in a mock mysterious voice. “With the head of a bovid and a serpentine body.”

“You can’t be serious,” she said flatly, as though expecting him to laugh and admit that he was joking.

“What? You’ve never heard of the Leeds Devil?”

“As a story to frighten small children into behaving, yes.” she replied, at last realizing her position and stepping back to a respectable distance.

“The Society for Psychical Research has asked that the recent sightings be verified by a trained investigator. I am a member of the society and their man in this region. I may have neglected to mention that before. Chuck didn’t…?”

“Mr. Burks did, but I didn’t think he was serious,” she said with a reproving frown. “Surely a man such as yourself has better things to do with his time and energy than chase through the woods after creatures from local folklore.”

Mulder shrugged as though indifferent to her scorn. “At least this will keep me out of your way while the lab and bay are being set up. Construction always gives me the jitters. Can’t concentrate.”

“And why is the Society for Psychical Research suddenly so interested in a legend dating back to Benjamin Franklin’s time?” she asked repacking her medical bag with smooth efficiency.

“Dr. Scully,” he breathed with delighted surprise. “For a skeptic you seem remarkably well informed about this particular legend. Did you have to be frightened into behaving as a small child?”

She favored him with a gimlet-eyed stare and ignored the question. “I have an aunt with a subscription to the Library Company. Books, not devils, were my childhood companions, Mr. Mulder. I read about it.”

“I see,” he said, as his unruly imagination began constructing a childhood for her. ‘Stop it,’ he warned himself again. ‘Not enough data.’ Nevertheless his mind’s eye pictured her quite clearly, a fiery-haired Thumbelina tucked up in the corner of a window seat surrounded by oiled leather and paper companions, arming herself with the knowledge that would one day make her size moot. But even now, as well armored as she was, Scully was still curious and Mulder could never resist challenging blindly accepted ‘facts’.

“To answer your question, the society is looking for solid evidence – or solid refutation – of reports of paranormal phenomena. No proof of genuine phenomena will be accepted by the wider scientific community unless hoaxes and frauds are dismissed. Allow one exception – one Cardiff Giant, one phosphorous covered spectral hand rising through a hole in the table, one huckster, or one hysteric -- and the whole enterprise becomes fruitless. All paranormal reports will be tarred with the same brush. That is why a good investigation is required.”

“Your society’s position is unassailable, admirable, and if adhered to will lead to its own demise, if you ask my opinion,” she remarked matter-of-factly, almost sadly. It seemed that something about an organization dedicated to weeding out truth from falsehood appealed to her. Was it possible she might be interested…? “But surely two-legged, bat-winged, goat-headed demons are safely assigned to the hokum bin without great investment of time or energy.” Then again, maybe not.

“Two weeks ago I might have agreed with you, but…excuse me for just a moment, Dr. Scully. I'll be right back,” he said, holding up a finger to pause the conversation, unwilling to give up on the idea just yet. Still holding up his finger Mulder bolted into his office to locate the letter he had received last week and the telegrams he’d received today – one from the society’s office in New York and two from Atlantic City. In the hall he caught Iris peeking into the dining room. “More tea, please, Iris,” he asked hastily. “Hot tea.”

Looking not the least embarrassed at having been caught snooping on their guest, Iris nodded her assent and favored him with a satisfied smile before retreating to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Returning Mulder found Scully seated again at the table, sipping at her cold cup and nibbling at a cucumber sandwich. Color was at last lingering in her cheek and her posture was relaxed in a way he would have thought impossible given her state when she’d first arrived. But most importantly, Dr. Dana Scully did not look annoyed and she did not look bored.

He laid the documentation on the table in front of her like an offering. Of course, he could not wait for her to read the material herself before diving in. “There have been eight reported sightings of something out of the usual way of the native flora and fauna of the Pine Barrens in the past month. Something dark furred or skinned, abnormally large, swift on the ground, and capable of taking flight when surprised. Its call is described as sounding like the cross between a crying infant and a howling wolf.”

“Certainly it was dark. How reliable can the ‘sightings’ be when they all occurred in the middle of the night?” she demanded, rapidly scanning the pages of cramped handwriting in front of her. “Besides, eagles are native to that area and—“

“Are daylight predators,” Mulder countered. “Are they not? And not noted for their ability to run swiftly on land.”

“I was merely giving your witnesses the benefit of the doubt,” Scully said dryly. “What’s much more likely is that…wait.” The second Atlantic City telegram had finally caught her attention. “You didn’t say children had been reported killed by this thing.”

“And one adult male,” Mulder affirmed soberly. “That, I’m afraid, is the reason for urgency in this investigation.”

“I should think so,” Scully said grimly. “We can’t allow someone to murder innocents and then lay the blame on some fantastic beast. No one with an enemy in or near the Barrens would be safe. What do the local authorities say?”

“As little as possible, as you can see from the sheriff’s telegram,” Mulder responded, trying to hide the genuine unbridled thrill he’d felt at her uncoerced ‘we’. Time to see how far curiosity would lead her. “He won’t tell me how thorough the examination of the bodies has been or will be or anything else about the investigations into these deaths so far. Only that no arrests have been made. A professional autopsy of one of the victims, at least, would allow us to rule out animal attack and determine whether a human agent is responsible.”

“That will be a hard line to sell, if we don’t have an invitation from the police or this Sheriff Thompson,” she responded grimly, fingernail flicking contemptuously at the corner of the terse message.

“Fortunately, the letter and that telegram come from the father of one of the children that’s been killed. He’s invited our society to help investigate his daughter’s death.”

“But this is dated…” Scully held up the first page of the letter next to the telegram, her gaze bouncing between them to be sure there was no mistake.

“That’s right,” Mulder affirmed. “His youngest daughter was killed eight days after he reported seeing the Leeds Devil.”

Chapter Text

Philadelphia Railroad Ferry Dock

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sept, 15, 1893
Courier Post Delivery 11:30 a.m.

Mulder,

Just received your message and now you are not answering your telephone? Bad show, old boy. I find you the perfect pathologist and straight away you set out to ruin her reputation. You cannot take Dr. Scully to Atlantic City unescorted. I won’t stand for it. What’s more important, Mother won’t stand for it. She’s sending Holly to travel with you two on the ferry and train there and back. She’ll be carrying enough money to cover her fares, room and board. I don’t imagine the doctor needs a ladies maid, but if she at least pretends to have a female companion it will diminish the controversy. She can call her a medical assistant, nurse, whatever. Holly is a shy little thing, but a few days’ exposure to you two should toughen her up. Try not to lose her.

Chuck

Courier Post Delivery 4:30 p.m.

Chuck,

Dr. Scully has never had a servant in her life and Holly has never assisted an autopsy. It would be obvious to anyone with eyes that Holly is window dressing, thus promoting scandal, not avoiding it. I appreciate your attempt to boost my storied reputation, old friend, but I think I’ll pass.

If her colleagues (that would be you and me) don’t treat Dr. Scully like a professional, how can we expect the police to respect her or her findings? Ask your mother, the armchair suffragist, that. Besides, do you imagine I’m fool enough to try selling a chaperone to Dr. Scully as common sense? You’d be ignoring your telephone too if I let slip who set up that little charade.

A warning: if Holly appears on the ferry dock tomorrow morning, I’m sending her straight to the United States Hotel, Atlantic City for a well-deserved vacation. You can collect her there. We, on the other hand, have work to do.

I’ll telegraph when we arrive, virtues intact.

Mulder

Camden and Atlantic Railroad Line
Sept 16, 1893

Dana didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted when Mr. Mulder dropped off to sleep no more than twenty minutes after they had settled in to their seats. Part of her was miffed at being ignored when there was so much about the case that still ought to be discussed. On the other hand her more sensible side told her he must need the rest and she certainly needed time to collect herself after the ugly scene with Bill this morning in the kitchen cum dining room of her mother’s Kensington house.

Upon reflection Dana was willing to admit that as Scully family arguments went this one was fairly tame. She just wasn’t mentally prepared for some of the barbs Bill had thrown her way even though Missy and Charlie were on her side. Mother, cautious as she was with the safety of all her children, saw the reason in Dana’s argument, though, ever the peacemaker, she expressed her support far too mildly. This naturally did not slow Bill down one damn bit as he believed all the laws of God and mankind were on his side. It wasn’t until he claimed the authority of their deceased father that things became heated.

“You take that back,” Missy hissed, interjecting herself between her youngest sister and oldest brother. “You don’t know what Da would have said or not said. He always trusted Dana. You should too!”

“I know he wanted her to stay at the hospital delivering babies like a proper Christian woman – not this other…cutting up the dead! I forbid this.”

“My bags are packed, Bill. I wasn’t asking for permission,” Scully said flatly over Missy’s shoulder, her deadpan delivery belied by the waves of crimson washing over her cheeks. For a moment she actually felt dizzy with anger and shame, a first.

That didn’t stop Charlie from chuckling loudly from his corner of the breakfast table, dabbing a bit more butter on the half biscuit he’d been contemplating for the last five minutes as the fight raged over his head and said in a tone calculated to provoke, “Billy always did forget that Starbuck was Ahab’s first mate – not his cabin boy.” After checking to see that Bill was indeed shaking like a kettle ready to boil over, he turned to Dana and gave her a sly wink.

“What do we know about this Mulder anyway?” Bill demanded from the room at large. “His intentions could be … anything!”

“Well, we know he took a vicious killer off the streets in Monty Propps and others before that.” Dana ticked off on her fingers. “We know the police chief himself calls him when his detectives can’t solve a case. We know he puts his own fortune behind his work. We know he counts Justice Burks’ son among his friends,” she continued tossing her head in Charlie’s direction for support. “Clearly a devious character.”

Much as he appeared to loathe having to ask his baby brother for confirmation, Bill turned to Charlie who nodded and shrugged simultaneously. With the brass buttons of his long policeman’s frock coat unbuttoned and out of that ridiculous hat, Dana thought he looked almost handsome with his mop of auburn curls and bright blue eyes. If he would just get rid of that orange-red moustache sitting in the middle of his face blaring like a siren she might be able to find him a dance partner at the next church social.

“It’s true. Skinner swears by him and at him. Can’t follow direction for a damn, but he has an instinct for sniffing out villains – the madder they are the easier the time he has of it, the chief says. Can get right in their heads and rearrange the furniture. All the dicks at headquarters say he’s spooky that way. If you ask me, they’re just happy he does what he does right quick and doesn’t chat with the journos because he makes them all look like fools every odd month.

“Propps will swing for sure. Mulder got him to confess all his bloody deeds with a court secretary standing right there taking down every word,” Charlie chuffed a small laugh his practiced indifference giving away momentarily to a brief huff of admiration. “Damnedest thing…”

“Charles Ian,” Maggie Scully reproved automatically. “Stop swearing.”

“Has anyone ever asked what must have gone awry in him that he can understand raving lunatics so well?” Bill demanded of his sister. “Does anyone have the sense to worry just the slightest bit about that?” This was spoken to Maggie as much as Dana, a mute appeal for her to throw her authority behind his. But her mother refused to be drawn in. Of all her children, Dana was ever the strongest, most sensible one. With or without a husband to act as final arbiter in family squabbles, she wasn’t going to begin second guessing her now.

“He’s a psychologist, Bill,” Scully answered calmly, plucking her short jacket off the back of a kitchen chair and shrugging into it, ignoring his outraged expression. Apparently he had been planning on winning this argument. “A scientist of the human mind. It’s his job to understand them.” On a similar mission, Melissa had rushed to find Dana’s hat and returned from the front room, set it expertly on her little sister’s head and slipped the long pin through the thickest part of her bun with deadly accuracy and a grin she concealed from her oldest brother behind the brim.

“If you don’t put a foot under you, you’ll miss the next street car to the docks,” Missy added giving her a supportive wink for good measure.

“Damn waste of a good education, you ask me,” Bill mumbled out, ignoring Maggie’s reproof, determined to get his last shots in. “Instead of doing God’s work caring for new life or new mothers, you’re running around chasing human monsters.”

“Two children and a man are dead,” Dana snapped back. “Do you think God cares nothing for them, for their mothers? How many more lives can we save by putting a stop to this?”

At Bill’s mutinous “Humph!” Charlie chimed in.

“Well if you ask me, I say it’s a damn shame to raise up a Scully smart enough to be two different kinds of doctor and not let her practice as she sees fit. With all that good education, Billy, I wager she knows there’s more working parts to folk than the ones that make babies – though you and Tara seem to think different.”

Maggie’s “Charles Ian!” was drowned out by Missy’s whooping laughter and Bill’s outraged bull roar. Dana shook her head, put aside her hope of one day pinning her oldest brother until he confessed he was in the wrong, and kissed her mother on the cheek, speaking directly to her, “I gave him my word that I would go. And so I am going.”

“Here’s hoping I live to see the day when you do your family the same honor,” Bill said to her retreating back as she left for the front hall. He might have achieved the same effect by simply punching her in the gut, Dana thought as she picked up her valise and stepped out the door without a backward glance.

Shaking off the lingering guilt she felt over her role in that cold parting, Dana turned her attention to the man sleeping opposite her. It was a blessing he didn’t snore, at least he hadn’t yet, she thought wryly. She eyed Mr. Mulder clinically without the fetters of modesty or good manners as his dark head lolled against the bolster with the gentle rocking of the train, exposing then hiding his healing wound to sunlight. He certainly did have a heavy beard. His prominent nose and high cheekbones had no difficulty distinguishing themselves amidst the burgeoning stubble, but his shapely, almost feminine mouth, was getting lost in the fray after only two days’ growth. The cleft in his chin had already been obliterated.

His restless energy which seemed to dominate every conscious moment had not switched off. Oh no, it had merely gone underground or under skin to be precise. Soon after falling asleep Mr. Mulder’s dark lashes began softly fluttering against his cheeks like the wings of a trapped moth as his eyes began following a play that only he could see acted rapidly on the back of his lids. From his expression it must be a tragedy. His tapered artist’s hands woven neatly over his flat stomach twitched occasionally with inchoate intent. Before closing his eyes he had considerately folded his long legs and large feet out of the way of conductors and passersby, but as a result had penned her in. There was no way she could move about the car without waking him first. She had the distinct impression that this was no accident.

The longer she stared the more frustrated she became. Dana had matched his face – feature for feature – against a gallery full of portraits in the stores of her memory to no avail. He looked like no one she had ever met before, but that annoying sense of familiarity at the edge of her awareness would not go away. Deliberately withdrawing her gaze, she trained it out the window, staring blindly at the shifting landscape in a vain attempt to clear her head and solve this problem.

Knowing she would eventually tell Missy about this feeling of hers, however illogical it was, Dana was trying to prepare her arguments in advance as a bulwark against the flood of unregulated sentiment and impractical speculation that her older sister delighted in. Missy had a knack for wheedling Dana’s worries out of her and urging her to explain each feeling to its fullest no matter how uncomfortable – the exact opposite of Dana’s natural inclination. It was a longstanding source of friction between them, and did nothing to explain why she still confided all to her big sister.

Missy was in many ways Dana’s opposite. Tall and willowy where Dana was petite and compact. Outspoken and flamboyant where she was reticent and wry. Socially and amorously adept where Dana was, despite her recent disastrous foray into intimacy, still a novice. Yet this summer she had backed Dana despite her stupid blunder, held her hand through the worst of the consequences, and swore she would take her knowledge of the entire affair to the grave. Of course she told Missy everything.

‘Yes,’ she argued with the Missy in her head, ‘He is handsome in a bewildering sort of way, but that was the not the point.’ As illogical as it was, she refused to allow this persistent sensation to be dismissed so simply and easily. There had to be a reason for it. During her training and residency she had been introduced to handsome men before, confident and intelligent men, men better suited to her physical stature and her reserved temperament, and had felt responsible to none of them. Who was this man? And why did she feel she had already failed him? Owed him a debt too great to repay?

Mulder had fully expected the rocking of the train, the ambient noise of passengers’ conversations and conductors’ questions, not to mention the stern regard of his traveling companion to keep him in the light dozing state typical of most of his rest. But even the sunlight strobing through the window was not enough to keep him skating on the surface of consciousness. He went under, sinking deep without a fight.

Propps’ cell, he thought at first, smelling the dank dimness mixed with unwashed human flesh again. Well, this should be horrible, he mused with bracing sarcasm. Blindfolded and bound, or so it seemed, he could hear and smell the substance of his dream but neither see nor touch it. And from the din of noise rushing at his unprotected head, he could distinguish only a single voice forming actual words. But he was not hearing Propps’ fevered ranting, or receiving his infected touch. Mulder’s fresh memories of Moyamensing Prison did not account for the dull clink of iron against stone or the rush of pouring water or the nearby dreadful stench of burning coals and carbonized flesh being vigorously stoked – a whoosh of sparks flying ceilingward. He realized that he was in fact bound, immobilized. It seemed to him that he should be in pain – searing pain – from his soles to his wrists, but the dream had inoculated him from all of that. He was only to witness with his ears. The reasoned but desperate voice of a woman rang out from somewhere near his naked feet, speaking so quickly Mulder had difficulty translating what she was saying, though a part of him with that nonsensical certainty of dream life knew the words well.

“Pater Sancte, Davidus est innocens haeresis. Ipse quaerit veritatem! Deus amat eum pro sua passione.”

She was answered out of the darkness by a man’s stentorian refusal whose exact phrasing he could not catch as though that person were speaking from the bottom of a nearby well. Silence reigned for one long moment as she digested his denial, but she was still there, holding onto him without touch, willing him to stay. Furiously formulating from his own antique store of Latin, Mulder was about to call to her, assure her that he was not in pain, not afraid, not now. But the dam of her own passion had already broken. He could feel her sob in his chest, the crack of her knees as they struck the flagstones beneath them.

“Pater Sancte! Et dimísit eum. Mitte illum in America. Et serviemus tibi. Obsecro, obsecro...”

Then without warning he was flung back from that place on his feet into another. Here he could see and feel, but his senses had been dulled by numbing cold air. A north wind, reenergized by the dawn’s first light and made iridescent with diamond dust, whirled around his uncovered head. His body felt weightier, older, wounded and healed time and again. In his arms he held a tiny woman barely wrapped in a hooded cloak, her cheek a colorless snowfield, her lips ice blue. In the distance the mewling protest of a small child disturbed from her rest woke the camp and competed with the creak and drag of a moored boat against the dock for his attention. But he would not be moved, not yet. Though they were both far from safe or comfortable, Mulder had the distinct and rare impression that all would be well.

A woman’s voice, different from the last, but still perfectly recognizable, vibrated into his sternum, speaking gibberish he had no difficulty understanding.

“Mae'n ddrwg bore, fy arglwydd. Ble wyt ti marchogaeth ar y fath ddiwrnod? A allaf i deithio gyda chi?”

He nodded wordlessly, digging his chin into the top of her head through the rough wool of her hood, anchored at last.

But, of course, it didn’t last. He was flung violently forward, some dim fraction of him conscious of his left leg jerking spasmodically in sleep, though it did not free him from the dream to which suddenly all his senses were focused with terrible clarity. Another dawn behind him, this one chilled and bathed in drizzling rain. He was but one of a line of grey and homespun clad men arrayed down a meandering split rail fence leading to a half regrown coppice of shrubs and young trees. Three hundred yards distant, long lines of dark and light blue marched from the west in perfect formation – Thomas’ men – as neat and relentless today as Sherman’s men had been scattered and relentless at Tunnel Hill the day before. The rising sun would be to their backs – if it ever came out – and the ground here was slightly higher than the advancing force, and the federals had no artillary backing them today, but those were their only advantages. As was the case the day before, there were simply too few of them.

But this was different, this was Sarah’s home. Knowing she lay hidden underground some hundred yards away between their thin line and the advancing federals – literally sitting atop crates of guns and kegs of powder – made his knees tremble and his bowel shake as they had not since he saw his first battle two years ago. No longer a removed observer to the events surrounding him, Mulder felt his heart race, his hands shake with pent up fear, anger, and frustration. Slipping the barrel of his rifle from between the two lowest rails he rose to a half crouch. I must be a young man now, Mulder surmised, as one sweat slick hand clutched the stock of his empty Enfield and the other lay on top of the fence preparing to spring over and onto the open stubbled field before him.

The butt of a rifle administering a sharp rap high to his calves below those trembling knees brought him back to the wet ground with a pained curse before he could attempt it. He turned with a snarl toward the man to his right who had delivered the blow. Hidden by the thick gunpowder fog and the neighboring V-shaped cubbie, his sergeant breathed just as unevenly. Mulder knew without looking that Aidan Sionnach was having none of it.

“God dammit, Sully, get your head down before I shoot you myself! Reload! Now, corporal! Or so help me…”

After two years in the volunteers, Sullivan Biddle scarcely needed to direct his hands as they sought and found the cartridge he bit open and poured down the barrel. Mulder, on the other hand was confused; his understanding of who and what he had been dealing with in these varied dreamscapes up to this point had been sure and unerring. Why did he suddenly feel so adrift, so lost? The bunker, the previous focus of all his energy, suddenly seemed less a goal to be reached more a bizarre feature of a wildly distorted landscape. He watched his hands tamping the powder and the Minié ball down with unnecessary violence, as if they belonged to a stranger.

Sullivan hissed out the side of Mulder’s mouth, “She’s out there, Aidan. I know you heard her as well as I did.” Almost out of the force of habit, he rolled onto his belly and pushed the barrel again through the rails. “That Baptist sonofabitch put the women and children in the bunker.”

“I heard; we all heard ‘em. Why do you think we’re still here? Christ! Not covering the arse end of Bragg’s flank, I can tell you that.” Then raising his voice above the din. “Ready! Aim to thin ‘em out, boys!” Mulder’s head shook in confusion so immense he was almost dizzy with it. Aidan? He knew that voice as well as his own, but it was so badly displaced that Mulder could not credit hearing it from that direction.

“We’ve got to—“ Sullivan protested, taking aim at a distant soldier who was just then leveling his weapon in their direction. To Mulder, his target didn’t look old enough to shave. Boys indeed.

“What? Lead federals right to them – and the guns? Is that your plan? Fire!” Ah, the challenge! This Mulder recognized. This was right. Exhilarated and reenergized, he pulled the trigger. His target fell.

As Mulder and Sullivan obeyed, an organized volley went off from the thirteen men remaining under his sergeant’s command, followed seconds later by the fire of the scattered remnants of other companies – all local men and boys – to their right in the scrubby trees. At the last possible moment Aidan’s barrel swung to the south and his uncanny shot unhorsed some Union colonel who had been calmly smoking a cigar, above the fray, watching the skirmish at what Sullivan was sure he thought was a safe distance four hundred yards out. A defiant cheer when up from the zig-zag fence line as the officer’s body was hauled away on a litter by his aides. Federals on the front line cried out and fell in good order and were replaced by more federals in just as good order who trudged around the fallen and continued across the field. This would never end.

“Lordly sonofabitch…high time you felt the ground under you,” Aidan muttered. “Reload!” he shouted, a man earning his future second by second.

“Aidan....” Both Sullivan and Mulder begged without words, the first for leave to do something insanely reckless and the other for a better understanding of who they were and why they were here. But they had never needed to speak to communicate, not ever.

“You see any cover out there, Sully? Wait, God dammit!” snapped Aidan, sounding as desperate as Mulder felt. “Stay with me. We take out their commanders, we thin their front line. When each man stands alone in the field...no one to shoulder him...no one ordering him...they might break...retreat to rejoin the main force. They might...”

Answering Aidan’s unspoken plea, Mulder’s arm snaked through the wooden barrier separating them, and grasped the blue diamond and chevrons on the sleeve nearest him. Apropos of nothing and probably not loud enough to be heard by anyone but himself, he whispered the only true thing he knew in the here and now, “We will live again.”

Then he was flung so far forward that he thought that they had been wrong about the federals not having artillery support and he had been blown out of position, sent flying from the impact, made lighter by the sudden loss of a limb or two.

Somehow, Mulder landed on two good feet, stomach trembling, arms shaking with mute rage, and hands still full. In one, he gripped Wilhem’s tiny sweaty fist and in the other the sleeve of his father’s coat. Tugging vainly he tried to keep Daniel from charging three SS officers who seemed determined to drag all of them out into the street. But Mulder’s strength had been severed -- between the tears flowing unchecked down his face, this unfamiliar willowy female form he now inhabited, and the sheer horror of seeing her husband Karl, unconscious and limp, dragged between two officers to a waiting truck. Over Daniel’s shoulder, he saw their neighbor Jakob Baerwald slumped on his own stoop, blood pouring from a wound on his bald pate. He was not moving.

“Paula, nimm Wilhem zurück ins Haus,” her father said in his sternest voice. But he fooled no one – not Paula or Mulder – this was not a situation that could be handled with reasoned calm. It was nothing they could control; he was as terrified and angry as she. Yet he radiated a conviction and determination that seemed to have completely deserted her.

And Mulder knew him again, leaning into Daniel’s body for strength as Paula demanded, “Wo bringst du ihn hin?”

“Dachau,” answered a dark, thin faced man with bottle green eyes and expression pulled into a perpetual smirk. “Möchten Sie sich ihn anschließen?” He looked about him for support from his comrades. Two shrugged and laughed and a third simply nodded once while deliberately lighting a cigarette under the short brim of his officer’s cap. And with that Green Eyes grabbed Paula by the collar ripping her hand from her father’s sleeve and yanked her and Wilhem down the front steps almost playfully.

“Fass meine Tochter nicht an! Hände weg von ihnen, du Hurensohn!” With that Mulder felt a strong arm encircle her waist and by brute force hoist both her and the toddler back up the steps and over the threshold of the house dumping them unceremoniously on the foyer rug.

Shocked more than frightened by the sudden violent strength his grandfather displayed Wilhem began to hiccup and wail. Regaining her feet Paula snatched the boy out of the sightline from the street and deposited him on the first landing of their staircase pressing a gentle finger over his distorted mouth to still his crying. Mulder knew this child, so like him and so beloved. At the sound of the truck pulling away, he ran for the door just as the first pistol shot rang out through the soft spring air. Two more followed and he threw himself and Paula back into the darkness.

Daniel lay at the foot of the stoop on his side, a seeping wound in his chest staining his best blue waistcoat crimson. Dimly, Mulder heard Paula scream as he tried to propel them down the steps to her father’s side, but they were both halted by the smoking muzzle of Green Eye’s pistol in her face. Beyond his twitching smirk, on the periphery, the officer was slowly holstering his sidearm while taking a long deep drag on his cigarette. Creeping across his face was a relieved expression that mimicked sexual satisfaction.

But none of that mattered, Mulder realized when he saw that Daniel’s eyes were open and fixed on them. His mouth gasped for air, but his fist curled against the pavement demanding attention. A lift of his eyebrow and his pointed gaze alone issued the sternest warning without a word spoken. ‘Stay inside. Protect yourself and the boy.’ Then a slow, gentle blink bestowed the twin gifts of pride and love.

“Lass mich zu ihm gehen!” Paula begged Green Eyes, then shouted around him. "Papa, warte auf mich!" His lungs pumping as though trying to breathe for two, Mulder wondered why in these tortured dreamscapes he was not granted the power to jump into another body at will. He needed to feel their blood pumping out with Daniel, emptying with him, cooling with him. He should not be alone now. Not ever. But he was. Singly entering the darkness. As Daniel released his last breath, Mulder keened with her but Paula's next question was his. “Warum hast du uns das angetan?”

His smirk now pulled into a moue of disgust for his prey's bad form in dying so quickly, Green Eyes shrugged, tiring of the game, but kept his gun leveled on them. “Es ist deine Schuld,” he reasoned condescendingly. “Du hättest nicht als Jude geboren werden dürfen oder einen Kommunisten geheiratet haben. Jetzt geh ins Haus und schließ die Tür oder deine Sohn ist der Nächste.” He waved the barrel meaningfully at the chubby, tear-streaked face now peering around the door frame at the still form of his opa.

Mulder turned, dragged with Paula back across the threshhold, between the darkness and Wilhem. But his eyes stayed fixed on the night, on their enemies, even as he felt the small warm body of the child press against her chill leg. Paula shot the bolt and peered through the door's small glass pane as Daniel’s body was dragged to a pile of broken men from their street, dumped beside Herr Baerwald. Shaking with reaction, fighting to breathe through tears Paula would periodically lift her aching eyes from her father's tranquil face, to the distant, glinting outline of the Queen of Heaven standing high on her pedestal, a crescent moon pinned beneath her foot, holding a child to her breast as below her the beasts of pestilence, war, and famine were slain.

“Nur nicht heute Abend,” she whispered with bitter sarcasm, her breath hitching painfully, verging on hysteria. Half hysterical himself and entirely gutted, Mulder was no help to Paula at all. His cursed memory merely supplied the other name for the gilded statue of her city that she had once admired: Virgin and Child of the Apocalypse.

Slowly, as one, clutching Wilhem to their chest, they sank to the floor unconscious.

Please, no more, he thought wearily, as he felt another push forward but this time light surrounded him on all sides reminding him of all the anecdotal accounts of people who claim to have died and been revived. The air was clear of sulfurous burn of gunpowder and the coppery tang of blood. All had been bathed in carbolic acid, scrubbed to within an inch of its life. Strange machinery hissed and buzzed and beeped all around him. Despite all that, he could smell death nearby. If this was meant to be Heaven it left much of St. John’s account untouched.

But none of that mattered because through a huge pane glass window directly in front of him he saw her, still lying on her side, fist clenched on clean sheets instead of dirty pavement. Alive. He could scarcely find his feet he has so relieved. Through the glass, her clear blue eyes met his in puzzlement as though this reality was suspect to her and she raised her head to be certain that it was him. He could not suppress a smile any more than he could keep himself from joining her inside her glass walled room. He did not know whose life he inhabited now or when or why. All that was important was that she was here sharing it with him. He could warm her small hand, kiss her cheek, brush the hair from her temple, listen to her voice, and argue with her even now it appeared….

“I-I can’t do that,” he heard himself say with a combination of awe, humility, and denial. What were they discussing?

“Yes, you can,” she pressed forcefully, though her skin was porcelain white and her voice little more than a throaty whisper. What was this tubing on her face? Good God, was it breathing for her?! “…if I can save you, let me. Let me give some meaning to what’s happened to me. ”

No. Absolutely not. Whatever they’d been discussing, whatever judgment awaited him, her words sounded like farewell and he would not be witness to that again. His foundation, his element – whatever its composition – refused this sacrifice she offered, intuiting the bitter half-life he had just left behind. Maybe it was nothing but selfishness; he no longer cared. Counting on the sympathy they shared, that they always shared, he grasped her hand in both his own and pressed it to his lips, willing but one thought to her mind.

‘Stay. Stay with me.’


“Mr. Mulder,” said that voice, different, but always the same, now gentle and determined. “Mr. Mulder, wake up. We’ve arrived.”

“Yes?” he replied, satisfied that he sounded almost lucid as he opened his eyes to see her…again. For a spilt second there were two of her overlapping one another like a photographic print that had been double exposed. Mulder gripped the armrest as a bout of vertigo hit his inner ear like the blow of a tap hammer. He closed his eyes tight again and when he reopened them, the world had righted itself. There was only one of her, leaning forward and looking at him calmly and rather clinically as though she suspected him of needing medical attention. At his quick perfunctory smile Dr. Scully leaned back in her seat and provided him a brief, impersonal smile of her own. Nevertheless she exhaled in relief when he withdrew his legs from her side of the compartment. Upon waking he had found his crossed calves pressed tightly to her skirts, pinning her to the outer wall of the train.

“My apologies. I didn’t intend to wedge you in so,” Mulder said, embarrassed, remembering Chuck's admonitions. “I hope I did not make you too uncomfortable. Next time, just kick me out of the way.”

“You must have been very tired,” she observed politely as the train drew to a slow halt at the station.

“You have no idea.”

Chapter Text

Pine Barrens, New Jersey
May 11, 1699
11:52 p.m.

Sweat trickling into her eyes stung and blurred the expression on Miriam’s face, but the girl’s carmine hands fluttering away from her belly said enough. Wearily, Deborah pulled her legs higher, braced her feet flat against the damp mattress and in vain tried to sense the floor of her pelvis before the next contraction came. But it was numb. All was numb, as though something deep between her hips had been broken beyond healing.

“What, Miriam? What…is it?” she panted, her soaked head falling to the flat, brick hard pillow beneath her yet again as she felt her muscles prepare to gather themselves in a peak of effort, a rolling wave of strain surging toward an agonizing crest. There wasn’t much time – to catch breath, to brace against the pain. “Tell me…what you…see now.” All she could see was the tented fabric of her night shift pulled over her splayed knees and stained with her water and blood. So much blood.

“Ma’am, the baby is breeched,” the girl’s brave face broke. Her freckles stood out on her milk white skin like flecks of black paint across her nose and cheeks, amber eyes wide with fear. Deborah calculated that just one more difficulty with this birth would send her only helper running off heedless into this black, rain-drenched night in search of Esther, the real midwife, and Miriam was terrified of storms. “Mother taught me you’re not to touch a breech baby – that it will only make it harder on you – and the child. I’m not to try to turn it.”

“Don’t then. Just…watch with me.” Her flailing hand slapped the mattress next to her and Miriam dutifully sat down and knotted their fingers into a single giant fist – half slick and white and half tacky and gory red. Deborah attempted a smile though it felt as though a millstone were pressing down on her stomach. She’d been chiding herself all day for her foolish fears. After all, she’d bought seven healthy babies into this world for Mr. Daniel Leeds. Why should this one be any different? Now she knew why. Did he? “Where is…my husband?”

“Casting,” Miriam spat out in a tone which mixed fear and contempt. “In his study. He said there’s to be a shadow on the moon tonight.” At Deborah’s perplexed glance at the room’s tiny window lashed with storm water, Miriam answered her unspoken question. “It’s to be a long e-clipse,” she said, struggling with the unfamiliar word. “Master said the storm will clear before it passes.”

“Pray God…it passes…ere I do,” Deborah gasped with a twist of her bitten lips, trying to make light of her husband’s indifference. But there was little need for pretense with Miriam. The young woman had worked at Leeds Point long enough to know that while her master doted and bragged on his children, wives were second or third considerations in the household.

We’re all replaceable, Deborah thought wearily of the two Mrs. Leeds who had gone before her; their framed cameos perched on the parlor mantle. Belatedly noticing that Miriam was comforting her own bulging belly even as she soothed her mistress, she whispered teasingly. “You’ll have no…such vexations, Miri…when your time comes…. Never have. You’re young…strong and…and as—as wide as an Ayrshire cow.”

“Mistress…” Deborah found she was not so afraid as she became when she blinked her eyes clear enough so that she could read the girl’s expression – a mixture of suppressed laughter and genuine, deep worry. She opened her mouth to ask whether it was as bad as all that when her next contraction spun through her like a cyclone. Clamping down on their joined hands she screamed, literally screamed, with the pain as she felt the child trying to exit through her belly and rather than her sex.

“Aaaaaahhhh! God, help me!” But God, like Daniel’s eclipse, seemed content to be hidden by the storm. She swooned and still found no relief as she vaguely heard Miriam babbling above her head, at her side, between her knees. Begging her leave to go find Esther. “NO!” she screamed again. “Don’t leave…I may not be here…when you return! Curse this one…he hurts…like the Devil.”

A red mist descended over her eyes blocking out Miriam’s comforting touch and muffling her directions. Just when she thought she could bear no more there was a vague tearing sound and a startled, strangled cry followed by a scream not her own. Her muscles ceased straining for there was nothing for them to strain against. A thick spurt of blood across her breast registered only as something warm and wet, a comfort to her rapidly chilling skin. To her left, the sounds of sodden leather slapping against the plastered wall and thick glass breaking as the room’s small window was smashed, were the last ever to enter her mind. The storm and the night were let in and she had let out into the world something unspeakable to which she could give no name. Doubtless its father would think of something fitting – Samael perhaps….

She did not hear the screech-cry of the newborn creature forcing its way through the fresh opening, the thud of Miriam’s lifeless body slipping from the edge of the bed to the floor or the bedroom door burst open at last to admit a drenched and breathless Esther. The sight of the room and its occupants provoked the scream that finally dislodged Daniel Leeds from his study and propelled him into his wife’s chamber.

The tableau beyond the threshold more closely resembled that of a slaughterhouse than a child’s birth. The bed’s curtains and bed clothes fluttered and twisted in the wind rushing through the window, daubed gory wherever they lighted. Deborah’s soul had departed indeed, from her senseless, staring eyes and arms flung wide above her head as though completely abandoned to and welcoming of her fate. Esther sat on the floor trying in vain the staunch the flow from a gaping wound in her daughter’s throat.

“No, no, no, child. Don’t go. You’ve a babe to look after! Look at me, girl! Miri, look at me!” But her words went unheeded as the young woman’s fear stiffened face gradually relaxed into a nightmare’s troubled slumber.

Leeds, never one to allow the tragedies of others to cloud his focus on his own interest, demanded, “Where is it? Where is the baby?”

“What baby?” Esther spat out, rocking her daughter’s lifeless form in her arms. “There’s no baby here.”

Snorting his disbelief and disgust Leeds stalked around the bed, averting his eyes as much as possible from the sight of his wife’s torn body, searching for an infant. “Talk sense, woman! Where IS he? Where is my son?!”

“The devil you sired has flown, Leeds. If you would visit it -- off to the woods with you! I am done, and so is your wife and…and my poor Miriam. God rest them far from you and this cursed ground!”

As if to punctuate the woman’s words a shriek outside the house pierced the roar of the storm and sent a chill from Leeds’ core to his fingertips, it was a sounding of the depth of the forest by a creature both viciously feral and piteously abandoned. Leeds rushed to the window, gashing his palms on the broken pane as though he thought to follow it into the squall.

“Titan!”

But there was no answer, just the rush of wings and the snapping of tree branches.

“Titan!”

 

The New Jersey Pine Barrens

Leeds Point, New Jersey
Sept. 6, 1893
6:42 p.m.

Casting a cautious eye to either side of the tree-lined road, Joseph Whitten urged chestnut mare to a cantor in the hopes of reaching home shortly after dusk if not before. The sky to his back seemed to be growing pinker at an alarming pace. Even without the recent “excitement” as his wife dubbed it in her polite ladies’ gatherings there was no need to tempt fate or a desperate soul out of work and out of doors to rob a man so obviously well-heeled.

He could not fathom the vanity of the previous owners of Bateson Village to actually live in the tiny backwater town. In his more uncharitable moments he attributed it to the desire of the Richardsons to emulate the noblesse oblige of English lords residing among their grateful tenants and hangers on. But the prospect of living in the middle of a pine riddled wilderness with none but glass foundry men and their undereducated families to turn to for conversation frankly appalled him. Father might have bought the failing iron plantation as a ready-made laboratory to conduct his little agricultural experiments in, but that by no means made it a home away from home. If it wasn’t for his family’s love of the seaside and the few potentially entertaining residents of Bateson he would have relegated this onerous chore to a paid manager long ago.

And it was not as though the locals seemed to give a fig that his father was trying to save their little backwater from sliding further into ruin. This devil business was proof enough of that. Surest way to drive off investment was to make the place ripe for chaos or imply the locals were eager to succumb to it. And yet here we were, he thought bitterly, arguing over stories about some hodgepodge of a demon inhabiting these woods, molesting unwary females, and attacking passersby. Idiocy.

Unconsciously, Whitten gave his horse another nudge when her enthusiasm for the cantor seemed to wane. The mare sped up again, but the triple beat strike of her hooves and the increased rush of wind over his ears was not loud enough to drown out the sound of something crashing over the treetops to his left. She snorted, her chest expanding, seeming to have caught wind of something he had not until now noticed. She needed no further urging to keep her pace.

“What is it, gir—?” He stopped at the sudden awkward phwap of leather slapping around the trunk of a tree and then taking to the air in a scrabbling, bark shredding flurry. Eschewing his frustrated pose, he gave the mare a further kick and held on tight as she responded with an unexpectedly enthusiastic transition to a full gallop, throwing him back in the saddle. She’d heard it too he realized, a slow terror taking him over just as he was about to chide himself for his morbid suggestibility. With a panicked snort the mare’s eyes and ears rolled back in his direction reproving him for his foolish pride and she laid on the speed as if riderless. He could do nothing more than hold on or lose his seat and his way home.

‘Where had the damn sun gone?’ he babbled to himself before a buffet of wind at his back and the pinch of a claw landed heavily on his right shoulder, tearing the muscles beneath. Then his left side, equally paralyzed, loosing the reins from his grasp. Somehow Whitten had the presence of mind to shove his feet firmly into the stirrups and clamp his thighs to the sides of his mount with all his might. As the reins fell from his numb fingers, he whipped his head to his right and into a vibrating sheet of leathery membrane enfolding his head, cutting off all light – all air.

The mare, giving voice to her silenced rider, screamed into the gathering dusk and bolted forward. Burdened suddenly with his own weight and that of a creature he could not name, Whitten was flung back over the cantle and from there to the hard ground. His last thought as his lungs filled with fire was that his own wife would never believe him when he told her.

Chapter Text

Atlantic City Jail

Cell #3

Sept. 16, 1893

2:29 p.m.

 

Dana bent over the slightly bloated form of Denise Elder and set her notebook out to the side at the head of the cot, pencil at the ready, ignoring the leaf brown lock from the child’s head that it covered. Her instruments were spread out on the girl’s shins, there being no table available to hold them. She had grown used to hiding her embarrassment at the budget conscious size of her kit, how many of her instruments were called on to do multiple duties, ignoring the knowing smirks of her well-heeled fellow students at the college. Her kit’s shiny, but modest, sharp delicacy so clearly stated she was the first of her family to study the medical arts that she felt the matter hardly needed acknowledgement or discussion. But no such problem here and now. Her instruments seemed designed to tackle this puzzle, specially scaled to explore a child’s small body.  

She was already past the worst of it, she told herself, taking a deep, bracing breath -- undressing the body. The mosaic of buttons and hooks, ribbons and lacings that marked this little girl as a well-cared for daughter made the essential medical distancing near impossible; pity had threatened to overtake her eyes, her senses. Now, stripped and her eyes and forehead covered with a light cloth, Denise Elder was an anatomy problem to be solved, a test of her knowledge.  

Mr. Mulder would be the last person she’d confess this to, though she suspected he knew, but she had never performed a dissection in such inhospitable conditions. But given Sheriff Thompson’s surly, unhelpful attitude, she was not about to complain and provide him an excuse to call off the autopsy. They were being tested, she and Mr. Mulder. In different ways, but still tested.

Plainly when Mr. Mulder had telegraphed the sheriff’s office he’d neglected to mention that the pathologist accompanying him was a woman, if the sheriff’s shocked then exasperated attitude was anything to go by. At first, Dana had felt her insides wilting. Daniel’s scoffing at the idea that she’d ever be accepted as a pathologist outside the carefully constructed world of the college echoed in her ears. Then unaccountably Daniel’s voice was overridden by her father’s basso chiding when she’d complained to him about Bill and Charlie cutting her out of their childhood games. “Start out as you mean to go on, Starbuck. Let anyone tell you you can’t and there’s the end on it.” So braced, she’d met the sheriff’s doubtful look with a firm handshake and a no nonsense attitude that put him on his back foot. Before long she and Denise Elder were deposited in the cell and left decidedly alone.

If she were honest, Dana had to admit Mr. Mulder’s test was more difficult. How to explain that you were here to investigate a reported mythical beast roaming the Jersey woods without being dismissed out of hand was a professional and social high wire act Dana knew she could not perform. Yet Mr. Mulder seemed to relish the challenge, combining his self-deprecating, sarcastic humor and a genuine concern for those affected into a morally persuasive call for action. Even now she could hear her companion in the front office alternately soothing and distracting the prickly sheriff with a combination of careful questions and seeming random observations that always circled round to the same undeniable truth: people were dying here and no one seemed to have a good explanation for why. The subtler notion that Mr. Mulder had planted and was nurturing in Thompson’s mind was even more daring: Why not let this odd New Englander conduct his investigation? If things remained unresolved, the sheriff could always lay the blame on the interfering outsider.

As a consequence, and Dana didn’t think it was unintended, she was being given the time and space she needed to work. She found herself grateful both for Mr. Mulder’s unspoken deference to her skill and his delicacy towards this girl. Considering their spirited wrangling all the way from the train station to their hotel to this office, she’d half expected him to be scrutinizing her every move. His off-the-cuff, detailed knowledge of each and every arcane legend associated with the Leeds Devil’s origins – or conjuring, if you believed some of the stories – to his surprisingly pointed insights into the characters and motives of Thompson, Marcus Elder, even the pimply-faced porter who took their bags to their rooms at the hotel, she hardly knew what to make of him. How could such a perceptive and intelligent man be so gullible?

“All sciences tend to ignore what they cannot explain,” he’d pronounced airily, goading her. His long legs paced her shorter ones as they crossed the busy street toward the funeral parlor to which Marcus Elder had directed them. “As if ignoring whatever doesn’t fit our current definitions of what is ‘real’ made those things nonexistent. Our dismissing them does not make them go away. Instead they burst into our attention, ever new, always a shock, and then are later forgotten as if they were nothing more than a bad dream. Did you know, Dr. Scully that a series of similar unexplained attacks were reported more than twenty years ago in this area? At that time, four persons were killed. Yet a collective forgetting seems to have taken place. Now here we are again.”

“If this beast existed, which I am not even entertaining as a possibility, wouldn’t it need to feed more often than every twenty years?” she demanded with some asperity. “This ‘bad dream’ is probably resurrected every time some ‘bad actor’ wants to cover a heinous crime. That would go a long way toward explaining its irregular habits.” He responded with a cheeky smirk that acknowledged the logic of her argument but was not the least bit cowed by it. Half annoyed, half amused, she pressed on.

“What I refuse to accept, Mr. Mulder, is the notion that there is anything observable in this world that cannot be subjected to the scientific method. Just because the people around here would rather tell campfire stories than apply that method does not mean that the facts are immune to it.”

“And that, Dr. Scully, is why we’re here,” he responded, opening the funeral parlor door for her with a flourish.

That spirited beginning was soon dampened by the arrival of Sheriff Thompson who, despite the girl’s father’s consent, flatly refused to allow Denise Elder’s body to be examined at the funeral home, stating that would not be “official” enough. So the girl’s small wooden coffin had to be hoisted across the street to the jail by a couple of surly deputies and deposited where she now lay so that their investigation could be properly “supervised”. Mr. Mulder had looked as pained as she felt at the needless disturbance, but grimly accepted it as part of and parcel of dealing with territorial local law enforcement.

Dana had had to bite her tongue to keep from informing the bulldog faced officer that he was going to regret his insistence. Whoever was responsible for maintaining this cell would certainly regret it. The uninitiated always imagined autopsies to be cold, bloodless affairs, but that was rarely the case. Particularly when a body had been left untreated for as long as this one had. As a student, Dana had made a point never to smoke a pipe in the autopsy bay like so many of her male counterparts as a way of dealing with the odor. Today, she was beginning to regret her prideful stoicism.

Another day gone by and it would be hard to glean any evidence from a gross anatomical examination. Fortunately the body, until today, had been closed off from insect predation. After doing a thorough external examination, taking notes all the while, Dana calmly, almost automatically, set to work. Making the Y-incision, opening the chest cavity, ligating the major arteries, she did her best to examine each internal organ in situ as there was no place to remove them for individual dissection. Occasionally, she would pause to make a note, sketch a likeness, take a deep, cleansing breath or ease the ache in her back from stooping over the low cot. It wasn’t until she noticed that the lesions around the mouth were strikingly similar to the internal ruptures in the trachea that she began to feel like she was making real progress. Again, the lungs would tell the tale or not.

“Oy, lady! Not that I mind the view but what the hell are you doing in there? Stirring slop jars?”  Shouted a man in the jail cell opposite hers.

Ignoring him as she had been every other frightful distraction and delay this day had presented, she continued dissecting the lung where the tissues were most burned. Afternoon light streaming through the thankfully open window was poor enough, she couldn’t waste any of it chatting with the jail’s living occupants. And this was strange enough to require closer examination. Absently she regretted that the infinitely useful Mr. Frohike, about whom she had heard so often but never seen, had not accompanied them to Atlantic City. A photograph, not to mention a camera flash, would be extremely helpful here.

“Oy, laddie! Mind your own business, or you’ll be sleeping with one of those jars under your bunk,” Mr. Mulder hailed back in a tone that managed to sound both jovial and threatening. 

Startled, Dana turned to see him standing in the open cell doorway though she never heard him approach. His back was facing her but he looked to have expanded in width and height, his unruly mop of hair bristling with offense. The inmate mumbled something she didn’t catch and retreated back into the shadows of his cell. Dana released a tense breath she did not realize she had been holding.

“Mr. Mulder,” she huffed, resisting the urge to rest her hand over her quickly pounding heart. “Is Sheriff Thompson asking us to leave?”

“Um, no. He was called away to manage some scuffle on the boardwalk. Not a moment too soon. I had completely run out of chit-chat.” Despite his breezy tone, Dana noticed his eyes darted everywhere in the cell but the cot and its small occupant. Not surprising. Few could stomach the sight and even fewer the smell, but with his reputation she’d half expected him to pass if off with hardened investigative zeal. “Anything turn up?”

“A few things. Several of them rather strange,” she said reluctantly. On seeing the flare of interest in his eyes as his full attention fixed on her, she took a step closer, oddly afraid someone else might hear what she had to tell him. Dana found herself hedging from the start which set her teeth further on edge. “I wish we had gotten here a day or two sooner, I could be much more confident in these findings.”

“And? What have you found?”

“This child appears to have died after inhaling some sort of corrosive gas. I have to finish examining the lungs, but it appears that her tissues reacted to the exposure by swelling to the point that her air passages closed off. In other words, she suffocated.”

Mr. Mulders brows quirked curiously, his voice lowering with his head toward hers. “Any ideas how this gas was administered?”

“Not as yet, it may not have been administered at all. She could have inhaled it on accident. We need to check where she was immediately before she was discovered. If this gas is still being created and released, she may not be the last victim.”

“Anything else?” Mulder’s penetrating gaze was now on the girl’s half-veiled face, his long index finger fairy tracing the air above the burned skin around her nostrils and mouth. Dana found herself answering his unspoken observation.

“It does seem unlikely that she walked through a cloud of vapor or she would be burned over more of her face and body. Her clothing appeared unaffected which seems unlikely give the caustic nature of whatever this substance is. And,” she drawled reluctantly, “She suffered other wounds.”

Mr. Mulder turned back to her, his face studiously blank, and waited for her to continue.

“Punctures and some tearing on both shoulders,” she said in a rush, at last clearing the block before her tongue.

“Dr. Scully, can you identify these marks?” His tone was just as neutral as his demeanor. She couldn’t tell whether he was mocking her.

“Not definitively, no,” she huffed, feeling ridiculous, a stubborn child being backed into a corner.

“What do they suggest to you?” he asked patiently, eyebrows raised in polite inquiry.

“Claws of some sort, but given the opposing three-to-one configuration they were likely…talons.”

“Did you say talons?” No doubt about the teasing now or the excitement that accompanied it. Without moving a muscle he suddenly seemed to radiate electricity from within.

“Yes, talons,” she snapped back, sounding peevish to her own ears. “Three hook-like indentations in the anterior opposing one in the posterior surface of the upper shoulder, suggesting she was attacked from behind. The tissue has begun to decompose so I cannot say with any certainty what made the wounds, but the force exerted was sufficient on the right side to fracture her clavicle. Whatever clamped down...”

Dana found herself stuttering to a halt when he stepped back, his studiously blank face returned, eyes stormy and distrustful as though she had said something deliberately to upset him. Her brows rose in silent inquiry which he pretended not to notice. Alone now in her adversarial stance Dana felt somehow abandoned on the battlefield. For some reason he was no longer willing to engage. But asking pointed questions about someone’s emotional state was his forte, not hers. Oddly his sudden withdrawal gave her the space needed to complete her report without embarrassment.

“So whatever clamped down on her must have been quite heavy or strong, possibly both. The wounds are deep but I cannot tell whether she received them before or after she inhaled this gas. It could have been two separate incidents. But neither were postmortem.”

“Is there any other sign of abuse or injury, recent or not?” he asked, now staring at the small occupant of the narrow cot as if the force of his regard could get Denise Elder to give up her secrets. Something he had said on their walk over about Marcus Elder’s hidden temper suddenly resonated with her, but the spark of suspicion she wanted to nurture was quickly extinguished. The evidence simply didn’t support it.

“No,” Dana shook her head decisively, not wanting to admit her surprise that it was high on his list of suspicions as well. “If this child suffered anything more serious than a skinned knee before this happened, I would be surprised. No concussive fractures, no green stick fractures of the arms, no bruising or scarring, no evidence of…”

“Very well,” Mr. Mulder cut her off, his own face turning a whiter shade beneath his tan, conceding that she had thoroughly checked every possibility. “Could you make a cast of the shoulder wounds – using plaster of Paris or paraffin?” he asked, his voice somewhat distant but still fully focused on the problem at hand.

“Possibly,” Dana sighed with frustration. “I didn’t section them all. But I didn’t bring with me any…” she admitted faintly, feeling suddenly inadequate to the task of solving this puzzle. It sounded like such an elementary preparation when he said it like that. Why hadn’t she thought of it? Because, she scolded herself, she’d been so worried about declaring her independence from her older brother she hadn’t bothered to pack the most basic--

“Don’t worry, I’ll find some,” he said shortly. “Will you sample her lung tissue? Perhaps, with the proper chemical tests we can isolate the composition of the gas she inhaled? You have a sealed flask or two in your bag?”

“Yes, of course,” she answered automatically.

“Good. I’ll be back soon. Take these,” he said, producing the keys to the jail from his back pants pocket and hooking their large ring over her pinky, seeming pleased with the way her last clean finger clamped the purloined keys securely against her wrist. “If Sheriff Thompson returns and tries to expel you, lock yourself in here and hide these under the mattress until I return. Complete the autopsy. We need this evidence.”

Dana nodded crisply; if her orders were cut and dried she had no problem following them. Suddenly his guarded demeanor transformed again and he looked at her with a sort of cautious, disbelieving approval. For no reason she could name she felt her cheeks coloring as if he had paid her a flowery compliment. Palming the keys she turned back to her unrolled kit and began searching for her small forceps. Probably best to sample from multiple points of contact in the girl’s airways in case the gases had reacted differently with different tissues.

“Good work, Dr. Scully,” she heard spoken clearly behind her.

“Be quick. And bring a light; the sun’s going down.”

**************************************

The scene in the Atlantic City Jail upon Mulder’s return that late afternoon was not quite as dire as he’d feared leaving it. Sheriff Thompson hadn’t yet tried directly expelling Dr. Scully from the premises, but he was still menacing the investigation by blustering up and down the cell block muttering about ‘time enough’ and ‘common decency’ and his impending dinner time. How anyone could contemplate dinner after breathing in the sickly sweet odor of decay mixed with a whiff of bile that hung over the cell block Mulder could not credit. It, like every other obstacle the sheriff had set before them this afternoon, was a thin disguise for a frightened man. All Mulder needed to determine was what frightened Sheriff Thompson the most.

Dr. Scully, who seemed frightened by nothing save the possibility of her competence failing her, appeared to be holding Thompson at bay through willpower alone. She had not locked the cell door and continued the autopsy as though the sheriff were just another of the flies buzzing around her charge. But the curve of her back and the tension in her shoulders and hands said she was near the end of her store of forbearance. Mulder himself felt a bit reluctant to approach her while she wielded a scalpel. Maybe the sheriff was not as thick as he appeared.

On the other hand, Thompson hadn’t yet realized that Dr. Scully, and not he, was the current jailer in Atlantic City. Where she had secreted the keys to the cell block Mulder could not tell. Neither was it apparent where she had stashed the tissue samples she had taken from Denise Elder. Her curt nod as he reentered the crowded cell told him only that the deed was done and he should not mention it in the sheriff’s presence.

By way of silently complimenting her skills, Mulder, with a conjuror’s flourish, produced from his satchel the small bag of plaster of Paris he’d procured from a local artist’s studio, a ration of water and a small metal basin in which to mix it. Finally he withdrew his latest acquisition from Germany – a dry cell battery-powered light encased in a small cylinder. Through the bullseye lens at one end he could direct a beam of bright light where Dr. Scully wanted it -- provided he held it absolutely level, didn’t give it any sudden shakes or draw any deep breaths.

With a grateful sigh and scarcely any acknowledgment of his clever, temperamental gadget, the doctor snatched up a small spatulate blade from her bag and immediately set to work mixing the molding material and pressing it into one of the girl’s wounds as Mulder did his best to block the sheriff’s view. Nonplussed by all these goings on and relieved to have a fellow male on hand to bully, Thompson began demanding that Mulder “order” his companion to wrap up this waste of time.

Mulder wisely, he thought, pretended not to have heard. But Dr. Scully had, and with that pointed suggestion had finally reached the plucked and fraying selvedge end of her patience. She wheeled within the small space between the cot and Mulder’s quickly outstretched arm and faced off with her gadfly, her eyes spitting blue fire, fists clenching at her sides. Afraid to turn his attention from the trembling Fury before him, Mulder nevertheless sensed Thompson taking two cautious steps back.

“Common decency demands that this girl’s body be properly closed and dressed before being removed, sheriff,” she responded in a tone that combined the authority of a Bible school matron and an Army drill sergeant into something truly formidable, especially issuing from such a petite package. Mulder was quickly revising his dim views of both the military and ecumenical mindsets as she finished icily, “Now, if you would have the courtesy – the decency – to allow me and Mr. Mulder work in peace we can return Miss Elder’s body to her family within the hour.”

Thompson muttering a stream of nonsense about how he was an important man, a community figure, had better things to do and more important things to deal with than nosy out of towners interfering in local affairs that were rightly none of their concern and-and…decamped in short order. Dr. Scully’s steely gaze followed him until he disappeared back into the office and the door slammed decisively behind him. Mulder was opening his mouth to say something – he had no idea what – when a long low whistle issued from the half-light in the cell opposite.

“Oy, lady. Earlier…meant no offense. Okay?”

“None taken,” she responded grimly, drawing a wickedly curved needle from her bag and threading it with a long black skein of silk. “Could you direct your light a little lower, Mr. Mulder?”

**********************

Traymore Hotel Dining Room

Atlantic City

Sept. 16, 1893

8:32 p.m.

 

It was imperfect, only half-defined in section, but cruelly sharp. They hadn’t the means to inject the plaster directly into the wound so they’d had to settle for a half impression and that hastily made. If Dr. Scully had told him once to leave the cast alone until it was properly set she’d told him a dozen times. During the requisite half hour as she gently closed Denise Elder’s body back in on itself, he’d hardly been able to contain himself. Finally, she’d eased the cast from the wound and cleaned it. Now, in his coat pocket, on the white tablecloth, balanced on his palm, he couldn’t keep his hands off it, as though it were possible to learn by touch all about the creature to which it belonged and why it had chosen this child as its victim.

Just as she had described it – non-definitively, of course – the talon shape was unmistakable, though incomplete. Its solidity, the fact that it was here – present to be analyzed and discussed - was a circumstance that Mulder did not quite know how to scope. He had not even cabled Chuck about it when they got back to the hotel. If the full curve had been preserved in Denise Elder’s tissue, he ventured to guess that the claw would measure a good five inches long.  Dr. Scully had had to admit that not even the bald eagle she’d first suggested as the natural explanation for the recent devil sightings was capable of leaving such an impression. They simply did not grow this large.

“A harpy eagle, perhaps,” she posited faintly seated across from him at the hotel’s restaurant, drooping gracefully over a half-eaten roasted chicken dinner. Her hair caught the light from the electric chandelier overhead in unexpected ways, Mulder thought, trying to reconcile its intricate piles of auburn fire throwing sparks toward the ceiling with the sleepy blue eyes beneath. She didn’t look quite real or, what was more likely, he still hadn’t recovered from his bizarre dreams on the train. He felt a strong urge to wipe away a smidge of gravy clinging to the far corner of her full mouth but managed to fight it off.

She’d done justice to her large plate of food, proving her aptitude for her calling once again, if any more proof were needed. After that last hour in the close, miasmic airs of that jail cell, Mulder couldn’t think of downing anything more savory than toast and tea. Clearly Dana Scully was made of sterner stuff. Nevertheless, today’s findings had knocked her off kilter, so much so, she began voicing his objections before he could.

“Though raptors of that size are native to South America…Panama. Still, it’s possible that….”

“You must remind me to add naturalist and magician to the long list of your competencies when we return to Philadelphia, Dr. Scully. Mr. Langly must be losing his touch,” he deadpanned, referring to the skill with which she’d produced the keys to the jail from some hidden location on her person as soon as she had buttoned Denise Elder back into her funeral garb. He’d hung them back on their hook in the front office unobserved while the sheriff supervised the deputies replacing the girl in her coffin and removing her back to the mortician.

He half expected her to take offense, but her only reaction to his teasing was a faint twist to her lips clamping down on what looked like the hint of a smug smile. But even that small acknowledgement sent a jolt to his center and a grin across his face. ‘Stop it,’ he admonished himself. ‘You’re only lending her glamor because she brought you proof.’

“Marcus Elder didn’t seem the least bit surprised by your findings,” Mulder observed mildly. Their dinner companion had departed only minutes before but his sorrowful, needy air hung over the table like cheap cigar smoke.

“Mr. Mulder, the man is grieving,” she said, her tone almost reproving. “He’s barely aware of his surroundings right now. I doubt he would have argued if you’d suggested a sea monster was responsible.”

Elder did cut a sympathetic figure, but Mulder refrained from pointing out that Mr. Elder seemed well aware of that fact. With his pale poet’s face, fair hair, and long lidded brown eyes, how could he not know? Whether consciously aware or not he’d sought a compassionate ear from the young doctor, directing most of his answers and observations to her, even when Mulder asked the questions. And his appeal seemed to be working. Dr. Scully had listened attentively to Elder’s vivid description of his sighting of the creature and not only did she spare their dinner companion the objections she felt obliged to issue whenever Mulder mentioned the Leeds Devil, but now she seemed to have completely abandoned the man as suspect. The inconsistency Mulder found by turns annoying and disturbing for reasons he really did not want to dwell upon. But if a ‘bad actor’ was indeed trying to use the legend of the Leeds Devil to cover his crimes it followed that any eye witnesses to the devil’s activities should reside on the short list of the potentially guilty.

“A pity his wife did not accompany him this evening,” Mulder observed, probing. “Her recollections might have proved useful.”

His companion caught his gaze coolly and without turning a hair responded, “Yes, a great pity. Perhaps we should call at the Elder’s home tomorrow morning and see if she is open to being interviewed. Mr. Elder did say he had business to attend to tomorrow. It would be best to speak to them separately so that their recollections do not color each other’s accounts, would it not?”

“Ahh, yes, indeed,” he agreed, half choking on the sugary dregs of his tea. No, he was not nearly up to the task of cracking Dr. Dana Scully’s composure and still farther from deciphering her. But someone had, Mulder thought, again seeing the vivid bruises on her forearm, doubly chagrined by them now since today had taught him that this woman was not easily subdued. Not at all.

“I did find what he said about the first victim – the little boy – being resident in Bateson Village interesting. That Mr. Whitten was killed on the road from Leeds Point would suggest we inquire there next – before we speak to Mr. Whitten’s father.” He could tell that it was a prospect neither of them looked forward to, but the Sheriff had insisted that if they intended to “interfere,” as he put it, in his investigation that they state their purpose and credentials to all the interested parties. Whitten had the reputation in three states of being a hard driving entrepreneur with the ear of many of the region’s newspaper editors at his beck and call. If their investigation proved less than satisfying, it was sure that word of it would get beyond the Society for Psychical Research’s membership.

“Agreed. Sheriff Thompson said Mr. Whitten isn’t due back here until tomorrow. Something about business keeping him in Philadelphia. I-I could speak to him alone if you like,” Mulder offered tentatively. Sure if reputations were going to be damaged by this inquiry, Mulder’s should be the only one to take the hit. Dr. Scully’s didn’t deserve it, particularly when she was so adamantly opposed to his primary theory. Her face turned wary suddenly.

“If you don’t think a female doctor will inspire confidence in our findings…” she began in a clipped, offended voice.

“No. No, it’s not that at all,” Mulder stated emphatically, convinced there was no awkward situation he could not make doubly so with his big mouth. “It’s just, a man like Whitten – someone so well connected – could make or break a young physician’s reputation with a word. Perhaps you’d be wise not to associate yourself with, well, with something this…paranormal.” He was not aware of it until he tore his eyes from her startled gaze but his finger was idly tracing the talon cast, back and forth, forth and back. Her calm, measured voice called him back immediately, snaring him with her sincerity.

“Mr. Mulder, I appreciate your concern, but I never would have agreed to accompany you here if I feared something like that. I’m here, just like you, to solve this.” Then the point of her chin and the corners of her mouth lifted in friendly challenge. “Besides, I don’t believe anything paranormal is involved.”

Simultaneously taken aback and charmed, Mulder gave out a dry chuckle and an affirmative nod. He considered teasing her with the cast again but decided against it. An instinct he possessed in abundance but rarely listened to was warning him that he stood on new ground. Best to get the lay of the land before charging through.

Instead he signaled the waiter for the bill, plucking the cast from the tabletop and dropping it back in his pocket before the boy arrived while his tireless memory noted the signs of exhaustion particular to her: brows climbing her forehead in vain attempts at keeping her eyes wide open, blurry diction, a childlike laxness around the cupid’s bow of her mouth.

Small wonder she was tired. She’d been forced to keep vigil the entire trip from Philadelphia and been harassed all afternoon and into the night by mulish law enforcement. There would be time enough for exploring and testing the “rational” explanations for her discoveries tomorrow morning. In any case, he was more interested in pursuing the “irrational” ones – a job best done alone, he thought as he escorted her to her door and bid her goodnight.

She graced him with a faint, sleepy nod and said around a barely suppressed yawn, “Thank you, Mr. Mulder, for…” and here her tired brain seemed to lose its way momentarily. “For listening.”

Feeling awkward and somehow abashed Mulder bowed his head briefly in her direction and turned to go.

“Don’t shave in the morning. Your wound is healing,” she called to his retreating back.

 *****************************

For half an hour Mulder sat in his suite’s sitting room, taut as a bowstring, knees bouncing to an internal rhythm, just long enough to ensure Dr. Scully had no late inspirations that would move her to call on him. Once certain she’d retired for the night, he began preparing. His hip pocket holster he lodged deep in his coat, first checking to see that the H&R 1½ was fully loaded. Side arms were frowned upon in most seaside resort towns as the activities that tempted people into fights were so plentiful here. But Mulder had no plans to enter any Atlantic City establishments where he might be checked, so he felt reasonably sure he would not be picked up for a gun ordinance violation. As much as Thompson might want to retaliate for the many affronts to his authority and dignity this afternoon, Mulder was reasonably sure if he kept a low profile he could go about his business undisturbed.

He next exchanged his shoes for boots more suitable to rough terrain and retrieved the handheld battery light from his night table where he’d set it before dressing for dinner. Underneath was the map he’d carefully augmented while discussing the recent killings with the sheriff and his deputies in the jail this afternoon. Based on their reports he’d pinpointed the find spots of the three victims in relation to the locations of the Leeds Devil sightings. All were within a two mile radius of the main road leading to the pygmy forest from Atlantic City. If it existed, the center of that roughly circular arrangement of dots would be the area in which to catch a glimpse of the creature.

If it existed... Mulder’s hand unconsciously stole back inside his coat pocket and hefted the weight of the cast on his palm. Something existed out there and he needed to see it. Resolved, he turned out the light and waited five minutes more before exiting into the hall.

He told himself several things as he slipped down the back stair of the hotel and out to the backstreet, not all of them entirely truthful. The first was that he had forgotten to mention to Dr. Scully that he had created this map but that he would rectify this oversight in the morning. Another was that, since the creature thus far seemed to prefer attacking its victims near dark, it was highly unlikely that he would spot it this late. And the last was that he was being considerate by sparing his companion the discomfort, potential danger, not to mention lack of sleep, inherent in such an excursion. If Chuck’s mother got wind that he was threatening not only Dr. Scully’s reputation, but her safety, by including her in these investigations that would be the end of that.

Comforted by these notions and buoyed by the prospect of a long walk after a day of inactivity, Mulder escaped the leisure town and set out on the lightless road leading to the pygmy forest.

 

Pine Barrens outside of Atlantic City

September 17, 1893

11:37 p.m.

Two hours and several miles behind him, Mulder paused, leaning against a tree. He’d long since cut away from the road that led him to these woods at the mile marker closest to his destination, but had been stingy with his pocket light for fear of draining the batteries too soon. Instead he’d navigated using starlight to trek north into the forest where he determined both Denise Elder’s body and the third devil sighting had been reported. According to his understanding the two incidents could not have been more than a few hundred yards apart, if the stream that was mentioned in both accounts was not too winding. The faint sound of rushing water was to the north of him, but he had yet to intersect with it.

The deeper into the woods he went, the more Mulder missed open space through which he could spot tonight’s half moon. If he kept on this trajectory, he’d soon have to use his light or risk a serious injury in the dark, but for some reason he was loathe to so close to his destination. So far he had not seen nor heard anything extraordinary, though the ordinary was enough to keep him alert. At one point, he had barely stopped himself from stepping off a steep grade that could have resulted in a serious spill. And he would swear that a quarter of an hour ago he had heard over the tromp and snap of his own heels the grunt of a black bear making its lumbering way toward habitation and possibly a free meal from a trash heap created by the ever encroaching humans to the east.

Starting to trust his dead reckoning less and less Mulder peered up through the spreading branches of softwood needles, to fix the position of Mintaka, the westernmost star in Orion’s belt, and turned at a right angle to it, again pointing himself in a cardinal direction. But when he looked down from the white blue of the supergiant, as though a curtain had been drawn back, the bright light of the moon cast a patch of light through the canopy to the forest floor and he saw on the opposite bank of the creek for which he’d been searching a line of standing stones.

Re-energized, Mulder skidded down the creek bank and leapt the few feet necessary to cross the water. Hiking up the other side he drew nearer, fascinated by this construct that looked unmistakably man-made and yet fully part of the surrounding forest. Fishing his handheld light from his pocket, he shook the connections to and the bullseye sprang to life giving the conglomerate stones a glittering aspect, their dull pebble inclusions winking at him like tired brown eyes. Interspersed among them were rough hewn pillars of grey granite, obviously not native to the barrens. Mossy growths half obscured the northern surfaces of the rocks, some half leaning, others already fallen, none as tall as himself. But as he passed between them, Mulder realized that the line was in fact part of a larger construct. Sweeping a slow beaming arc around himself revealed a standing stone circle.

Puzzled and delighted, he moved carefully to the center of the ring expecting to find it filled with an altar stone or the cold remains of a fire, but he could see nothing to indicate recent visits. Yet the air around him felt charged somehow, expectant. A faint smile crept across his face as he realized he was half relieved, half disappointed that Dr. Scully was not there to scoff at his impressions. Following the feeling, Mulder looked up again wondering whether those who had built this circle had fancied themselves sun or moon worshipers and what auspicious days or nights had been marked by the placement of the stones around him. How were those dates met – with celebration or solemn sacrifice?

He’d visited England’s most famous stone circle while on a European tour with his parents when he was seventeen. His mother had insisted that the months-long excursion through England and the Continent would break her disaffected son out of his depression and ready him for university. Even from the farmer’s track from which their landau had rolled by the site at a respectable, casually interested distance on their way from one boring medieval cathedral to another, the semi-collapsed megaliths of the Salisbury plain had somehow exercised their ancient power to awe and fascinate. They were all Mulder cared to remember about that dreary spring in the south of England. This much more modest monument to the revolutions of the sky did not have that majesty, but its existence here alone was so remarkable that Mulder made a mental note to telegram the Society tomorrow so a proper survey and map could be recorded. This find alone could justify his late night excursion to his companion or anyone else who might question his traipsing around the woods this time of night, he thought with a grin, tilting his head further back.

Overhead all that met his gaze through the needled canopy were the three neatly aligned stars of Orion’s belt. Again, Mintaka winked back at him blankly, as if to say, “Yes, the same guiding star, untransformed by the grounded manipulations of man, suitable only for navigation, not divination.”

Something about its reflected white blue light through the frame of pitch pine branches froze him to the spot momentarily and, just as he had on the train this morning, he felt as if he were witnessing two distinct and separate moments in time simultaneously. The winking supergiant underlay an even brighter light overhead – as distinct, as clear – but nearer, so near, moving with intent to hover directly above him. A deep basso humming vibrated him from his crown to his boots. Mulder shook his head, trying to clear it of the vision, but the light only intensified, bore down, blinded. His poor, dim handheld lamp fell from his paralyzed hand. His muscles seized tight; he could not move. He could not move.

“Fox!”

Oh, god.

“Help me, Fox!”

Tears sprang from eyes he tried desperately to shut, but the vision shook him like a terrier would a rat. It would not free him, not even at the rush of footfalls crashing through new fallen leaves from behind. He scarce felt a difference when the scrawny naked arm encircled his throat and squeezed like a vise. He did not register the jagged nails digging in the nape of his neck, the grunt of effort released by his attacker, the stench of the air he could not inhale, or the flat of the teeth laid against his cheek.

Samantha!

From some distant past point deep in his ears he heard his voice cracking, breaking on his sister’s name, desperate to reach her, but unable. The blinding white vista above only opened wider, taking him in entirely, taking in the whole of the circle. Trapped, his blood scoured the last of the oxygen from his lungs. Soon it would be too late. Again, too late. His knees began to buckle beneath him; he had to move! Instinctively, his right hand scrabbled in his pocket for his gun. Freeing it, Mulder spun it recklessly to point behind him in rebellion against the light overhead as much as his assailant behind, and pulled the trigger.

A guttural howl went up by his ear and the pressure on his trachea disappeared. Blessedly, the vision faded as well and Mulder pitched forward into darkness on his hands and knees and began crawling away, left hand blindly sweeping the ground before him for his light while he clutched his pistol in his right like a lifeline. At last the cylinder was in his palm. Rolling to his side, he pointed it at the center of the circle.

The beam flickered over a shaggy brown mane of hair, a full set of canines and incisors and eyes narrowed in pained fury. The creature darted to one side, squealing, as if the magnified light had burned it.

“Who are you?” Mulder shouted, his voice ruined, fighting to draw a deep breath. “Why did you attack me?” When Mulder’s beam found it again it was to illuminate a raised arm clutching a jagged stone before winking out entirely.

“Dammit!” Mulder cursed, dropped the light and grasped the butt of his gun in both hands, and aimed where he had last seen his foe. However, with the element of surprise lost, the creature seemed less eager to close with him. His shot must have made at least a glancing wound for him to be suddenly afforded so much respect, Mulder thought.

Perhaps, instead of trying to strike up a conversation with it, now was the time to press his advantage, his native sarcasm suggested in the back of his mind. He heard a rush of footfalls to his left and swiveled, preparing to squeeze off another shot to the right of the sounds in the hopes of scaring the thing away when again the night sky above them became a torrent of sound and movement. By starlight Mulder had only a vague impression of a vast spread of wings suspending a massive body between them. Unlike the hushed feather flight of an owl or eagle these appendages beat the air with a turgid, fleshy resistance, not soaring with, but assaulting the element, fighting for lift. The night air was rent by squawk that managed to sound also like a high-pitched scream.

Awed by the unexpected presence of this expedition’s objective, Mulder forgot to protect himself from his rushing assailant, instead rolling over to follow the progress of the massive body just before it slammed into the trunk of a tree just outside the circle and clung there, tearing free the branches below it. Ever after he could never swear to whether it was the stone dropped from his assailant’s hand or a snapped log falling from above that caused him to lose consciousness.

 

 

Chapter Text

Atlantic City Jail
Cell #4
September 17, 1893
11:27 a.m.

After departing his senses to such fantastic scenes, Mulder found the view upon his return to them to be depressingly prosaic. No starlit sky, no setting crescent moon, not even the shaggy, red-rimmed visage of his attacker. Just mottled brown stone and mortar streaked with mid morning light broken by the black shadows of evenly spaced iron bars. Once again, he was in jail.

His…everything…hurt, but the goose egg on his forehead sounded the loudest. It seemed to throb in concert with every blink of his eyes, every short cautious breath he drew. His ribs felt as though someone was sitting square on his chest and there was a sting in his cheek, a twist to his ankle and bruise somewhere on his flank also demanding attention. All those discomforts didn’t prevent his stomach from rumbling ominously. Last night’s tea and toast was long gone. He was ravenous.

One boot was half off his sleeping, twisted foot, its muddy laces dangling limply, but otherwise he was fully clothed. With a start, almost before he was conscious of what he was searching for, his hands began rifling his pockets. From more experiences that he cared to recall Mulder well knew that being in custody meant nothing belonged to you.

Gun, hand light, billfold, coins, train ticket stubs, the keys to his hotel room and his own front door were all absent. Surprisingly, his all too accurate map was still nestled in his breast pocket. Even after registering these facts, his hands continued their restless search, tossing his jacket again and again, until at last he remembered what wasn’t there.

“Shit!” he croaked.

“Oy, laddie,” whispered an amused voice disconcertingly close to his right ear. Mulder turned a bleary eye up in that direction and focused on the unhappy witness to yesterday’s autopsy leaning casually against the bars that separated their cells. Muddy brown eyes, sharp features, bristled cheeks, and a demeanor as relaxed as any dandy free to stroll the boardwalk peered down from overhead. Mild curiosity marked his demeanor. “Better not let that little spitfire hear you talk like that. She’ll not only lay you out again, she’ll send you up to the Trenton Fortress to boot.”

“She didn’t lay me out,” Mulder replied automatically, still trying to order his jumbled impressions into some kind of coherent narrative he could present to Dr. Scully that might make last night’s idiocy seem, if not a worthy, at least a reasonable endeavor.

“Well, what did then?”

“I-I don’t know,” Mulder said, realizing to his shaky dismay that he spoke the absolute truth. “Can we get messages out?”

************

If some species of maternal pity stirred in Dana Scully when she spied Mr. Mulder slumped on a low cot behind bars, elbows planted on his knees, head pitched out over them cradled in his hands with his boot laces trailing messily, she ruthlessly shoved the nascent creature back down from whence it came. Her relief at finding him whole after a morning of worry notwithstanding, she was not his mother and some hard things must be decided between them right quick. But half way to his cell his confused grey-green eyes tilted up to meet hers and her resolve suffered a hitch.

A man lost at sea who thinks he’s hallucinating an approaching ship might wear this expression of dubious relief. He focused on her as if looking away would cause her to disappear. She grasped the bars of the cell firmly. Until she did, she did not realize her hands were trembling with anger. That she was unsure of its source or direction did not help matters a whit.

“Mr. Mulder,” she said steadily, proud that her voice did not reflect her inner turmoil.

“Dr. Scully,” he responded blandly, not giving her one thing on which to hang her outrage. Not a roguish smirk or feeble excuse. He seemed prepared for the worst, however.

“The sheriff has agreed to forego charging you with a firearms violation and drunk and disorderly conduct-”

“How kind of him, considering I was not drunk and did not discharge my weapon within city limits,” Mr. Mulder remarked dryly.

“Oy, lady! Don’t you believe a word. They poured him into that bunk in the wee hours. Witnessed it myself,” chuckled the same inmate who had accosted her yesterday in the adjoining cell. Mulder barely cut his eyes at his companion, so focused was he on her face. Even through her anger, Dana could tell he was lying so she paid him no mind and plowed ahead.

“– but you still must pay a fine in order to be released. And since the sheriff has also confiscated your wallet which is now suspiciously empty of cash, it appears that it is incumbent on me to make those arrangements.”

Her estimation of Thompson and his deputies dropped several degrees below yesterday’s nadir when she heard the barely suppressed sniggers of the deputies who had hauled Mr. Mulder’s unconscious body back into town. She supposed they counted it a carrying charge. Thompson was too busy savoring his petty revenges to insist his men behave professionally and return their prisoner’s belongings. Mr. Mulder was the only man of the lot who had the grace to look ashamed.

“Dr. Scully, I assure you that I will repay whatever-” he rushed to reassure her.

“Oy, lady! Plunk down not one red cent until your man here explains who this ‘Samantha’ he calls for in his sleep is,” leered the pest in Cell #1. “Or you’ll be fighting with the bondsman while he’s off chasing some other skirt.” He lounged against the bars now, inviting confidences.

Taken aback by Mr. Mulder’s sudden recoil and ashen face and simultaneously grateful for the chance to cut loose on somebody, anybody, Dana whirled about and hissed at the man who was already crab walking to safety at the end of his cell, “Boyo, you back away from me,” she seethed. “When I need your opinion, I’ll ask for it! Alright?” Not waiting to see his reluctant nod, she turned back to Mr. Mulder and continued in less venomous tone, “This is not a matter of money. It’s –” She paused at his puzzled and pained expression. He was wincing with every blink and she couldn’t swear to it in this light but his pupils appeared to be different sizes. “It’s a matter of – Mr. Mulder, how did you hit your head?” she demanded, deciding suddenly that what she had envisioned as a donnybrook of a dressing down right here, right now, would have to wait.

I didn’t hit it. Something -- I’m not certain what – hit me. That’s one of several reasons I’m glad you’re here, Dr. Scully. I need you to-to,” he stopped and, with a furtive glance toward the neighboring cell, he lowered his voice to a timbre that required her to press her face up to the gap in the bars to hear him. “I’m not sure…I need you to…tell me what happened to me. Can you – would you do that?”

Dana was familiar with every variety and grade of male subterfuge, having been the witting and unwitting accomplice to countless misadventures first through her older brother and then her younger. Each had his own way of getting around her, the first by bluster and the second by charm. Still, she would have sworn to Father McCue on a stack of Holy Bibles that Mr. Mulder’s request was sincere. Without her angry reminder that he had placed their trust in jeopardy by his thoughtless actions, he had just freely offered to substitute her confidence for his. And somehow, she trusted him in return. Heaven help her.

“Alright, Mr. Mulder. I’m going to get you out of there.”

************

Traymore Hotel
Atlantic City
September 17, 1893
1 p.m.

Making good on her promise was less tedious than Dana had expected. At least it was after she insisted on filing an official complaint over Mr. Mulder’s missing effects. She could do no less after watching him pawing desperately through the wooden tray containing his things, stuffing gun, torch, and keys willy-nilly into his pockets but still, it seemed, finding more missing than his cash. At her stubborn insistence on legal action, Sheriff Thompson finally realized that he and his men had overstepped a mark, dropped the fine, and quickly facilitated their departure in exchange for her "forgetting" about her complaint, probably, she guessed, because she was not the only person to have ever filed for the same cause.

That Mr. Mulder did not have the energy to fight these battles himself only served to subdue him and enrage her further. By the time they reached the sitting room of her suite he was all but mute, palm pressed to his forehead as though he feared what lay behind it might spill out, and she was near on fire to do something.

When she saw he was at a loss for a place to sit, she waved him to the high back chair in front of the small secretary where she had been writing out her autopsy notes on Denise Elder early this morning at the time peacefully oblivious to his wanderings. Thankfully the chamber maid who had been in to straighten up had not disturbed them.

“No, Mr. Mulder, over here next to the window -- in the light.” He flinched at her words but folded his long legs obediently under the desk out of her path. Gathering her bag and towel from the wash basin, she made to start cleaning his wounds when he swung back away from her as though she had come at him with a hot iron.

“No...evidence. Examine me as you would a corpse. Tell me what you see--” he rasped out sharply.

“Mr. Mulder--” she protested.

“Please,” he said more softly. “It could very important to...our investigation.”

Dana huffed, dropped the towel back in the basin and began searching her bag for her lens and tweezers.

"As you are not a corpse, Mr. Mulder, I am going to ask you to tell me what--"

"No! You tell me! Assess what you see without prejudice, without direction," he insisted, turning dark grey eyes up to meet hers, looking not the least bit like a cadaver. In fact he looked consumed, the most passionate person she had ever met.

"Very well," she agreed, feeling at bit breathless at his challenge. Picking up her lens she grasped the hair at the back of his head and yanked, tilting it back to look first at the knot on his forehead. He gave no resistance and in fact sighed and closed his eyes in seeming satisfaction that she has now taking his instructions literally.

Though swollen, the outline of the wound was broad and jagged, she noted. Point of impact must have been open, not sharp and at least partially flat in profile. And there was no oblique direction to the blow. Instinctively, Dana began making a new set of penciled notes on the blank sheets at the desk. Whatever had sailed into his head seemed to have done so randomly. Abrasions concentrated at the center of the knot indicated that the surface of the projectile was irregular and rough.

Ignoring the impulse to ring for room service to have ice brought in for it, Dana moved on, but not before prying each of his eyes open in turn to confirm that his pupils were, in fact, even. This, for some reason, amused him and he smirked up at her as if privy to her furtive enjoyment at exerting this kind of power over him. She barely resisted the impulse to give the hair at the nape of his neck another sharp tug in retaliation. Instead, she deliberately shut each of his eyes in turn and tilted the crown of his head forward to hide his smile from her since he seemed unwilling to do so.

Here Dana gasped. From under his hairline and down the center of his cervical vertebrae was a string of jagged short flat cuts laid atop bruising which was without question intentional in nature. If these were not cleaned out soon, Mr. Mulder's chances of becoming an actual corpse would increase exponentially.

"What?" Mr. Mulder demanded.

"How did --?" She stopped herself just in time. "Never mind." Making quick note of the orientation and directional pressure of the marks, she demanded, "Give me your right hand."

Silently he lay his hand out flat palm down on the air between them. Dana grasped it, half-curled it in the cradle of her own palm and wrapped it and the long arm attached to it unceremoniously across his chest and around his neck. Mr. Mulder's convulsive start as the crook of his elbow closed over his throat as much as the mismatch of his fingernails to the wounds convinced her that they were not self-inflicted. But that was not definitive.

Hastily she unwrapped his arm from around his neck and moved to stand in front of him, pinning herself between his knees and the desk. Without ceremony he drew his feet back under the rungs of the chair and spread his thighs to accommodate her. Tilting his head back again, she examined his throat and found dull bruising at his Adam's apple and the left corner of his jaw beneath the scruff of his beard consistent with an attempt at strangulation. Nothing that could give them a fingerprint though.

Absently checking to see that the wound to his left cheek was continuing to heal properly, Dana could not suppress a gasp at the smears of dried blood she found there. Snatching up her lens again she sifted through the hairs of his beard until she had a clear idea of the pattern, position, and size of this new injury, twisting and bending practically backwards between Mr. Mulder and the secretary to sketch it. Then, the final prize his head had to offer, an eight-inch-long, brownish-black hair as curly as a corkscrew snagged between Mr. Mulder's left ear and collar. Without comment, now fully inhabiting an autopsy mindset, Dana tweezed it from where it clung to his skin, deposited into an envelope marked with the hotel crest, sealed it and gave it a specimen number.

Gently retrieving his right hand from where it rested on his thigh she scanned it with her lens. Negligible dirt deposits under the short, neatly squared off fingernails but powder burns, undoubtedly, scattered along the base of the metacarpal of the thumb to the proximal phalanx of the index finger.

"Where is your pistol? Give it to me."

Fishing it from his coat pocket, Mr. Mulder silently handed it over. With some difficulty she cracked open the cylinder, noting that one chamber was indeed empty and recently fired if the smell of gunpowder was anything to go by. Setting the open weapon on the desk she circled to Mr. Mulder's right with her lens and began inspecting his clothing. At this point she was not at all surprised to find blood spatter on his right coattail, but she smelled the small caliber bullet hole that had burned/tore its way through a seam before she saw it. Unfortunately wool was a poor medium for helping to determine the angle of the path the bullet took. There were too many variables, particularly if he was grappling at the time.

Flipping the tail of his jacket up to make sure that the bullet had not grazed him, Dana discovered on accident that Mr. Mulder's oblique muscles were unusually sensitive. "Sorry," she muttered at his jolt and sharp hiss. "Corpses generally don't complain." Aside from an amused gust of breath over the back of her neck, Mr. Mulder said nothing. Feeling unaccountably warm and a bit breathless, Dana avoided his eye while retrieving another envelope, then circled half behind his chair to scrape off a sample of the dried blood. This too she cataloged.

"Legs out," she ordered dropping to a low crouch beside the chair, skirts ballooning into a pouffe around her. Mr. Mulder unfolded himself, matching the heels of his boots side by side like a dutiful schoolboy. There was a wicked scrape across the fabric of his trousers along the back of his upper thigh, but for some reason Dana did not feel bold enough to investigate it closely now. She was not his personal physician, she reminded herself sternly as another annoying wave of color spread over her cheeks, though she was beginning to wonder whether there were a single sawbones on the Atlantic seaboard with the intestinal fortitude to take on that job. Even on short acquaintance, it was crystal clear to her that the man was a magnet for trouble.

His knees, as might be expected from the residue under his nails had spent some time on the ground. The smeared matrix caking them, consisting of soil, coniferous resin if her nose did not deceive her, and leaf mold, indicated a forested environment. The disreputable state of his boots doubly confirmed it. Laces on the left one looked tighter over his ankle and lower calf than the other. Perhaps a mild sprain? Good Lord, what had he been doing during those few short hours out of her sight?

Chagrined to realize she'd left her pencil and paper on the desk above her, Dana reached over her head blindly groping for them only to feel a supportive hand under her elbow hoisting her to her feet with ease. True to his word, he allowed her to make her final observations without comment. In fact, it was she who was the first to speak after jotting her last period.

"Now will you allow me to dress your wounds, Mr. -- " she was interrupted by the loud and uncouth growling of his stomach.

"Very well, but, please, be quick," he sighed, as though submitting himself to tedium solely for her benefit. "I'm starving."

************

And starving he was.

To this day Dana would swear she witnessed her brother Charlie consume an entire roast turkey at a one memorable extended family gathering. But after watching her companion down four fried eggs, two rashers of bacon, fried potatoes with gravy, and she had lost count of how many slices of toast she was certain Mr. Mulder could have given her sixteen-year-old brother a run for his money. It wasn't just how much he was consuming. The speed at which his food disappeared was dizzying. Their waiter seemed completely nonplussed as to how the plates he kept providing were emptying so quickly. Dana was beginning to think she had dreamt the pale, watchful man picking at his toast and tea the night before.

"Do you think there is pie?" Mr. Mulder asked hopefully, his hazel eyes at halfmast in contentment as he sopped up the last of the yolk from the bottom of his plate while simultaneously signaling to their waiter to return. "You like pie, don't you, Dr. Scully?"

"Mr. Mulder, I--" She darted a glance around the near empty hotel dining room as though she feared being overheard. It was fortunate that few had seen them, Mr. Mulder sat before her in the clothes he'd gone adventuring in the night before, white bandages randomly accenting his head and face. He hadn't even waited to hear her assessment of his "autopsy" before bolting downstairs.

"Two slices of your best fruit pie, please," Mulder said over her shoulder to the waiter before the man had a chance to draw abreast of the table. A faint, "Very well, sir," was all Dana heard at her back before the man was gone to the kitchens again.

At least, Dana mused, his late breakfast had revived his spirits. During his rapid repast she'd been filling him in on her interview with Mrs. Marcus Elder from earlier this morning. She'd suspected that he was only giving her half his ear until he began quizzing her, all the while keeping a watchful eye out for the return of their waiter.

"So Mrs. Elder is a jealous wife," he remarked. "Does she have reason to be, in your estimation?" Again he had fixed her with an appraising look that almost made her certain he was capable of reading minds.

"Possibly," Dana said slowly. "That she mentioned this Bateson Village woman's infatuation with her husband so early in the interview, unprompted, certainly makes it seem so. But she also--"

"Could have been trying to divert suspicion to someone of the lower orders, away from her family," Mr. Mulder spoke casually, as though he were well acquainted with the tactic.

"Yes."

What she had at first envisioned as at least partially a condoling visit had turned into something else entirely in the richly appointed, meticulously neat front parlor of the house whose every corner Caroline Elder seemed to inhabit fully from dark themed flower arrangements to shrouded clock faces. Small wonder Denise's body had shown no marks of a normally active child's life. Her sister Peggy, at least two years older in Dana's estimation, regarded her as a visitor from exotic lands from her sensible, no frills hat down to her even more prosaic sturdy shoes.

Dana wondered mid-way through the visit who was interviewing whom as apparently whatever mention Mr. Elder had made of her after last night's dinner engagement had excited the wife's interest to a high degree. It wasn't until Mrs. Elder had extracted details about Dana's education, experience, and age had the woman paused to ask how her daughter had died. Dana confessed to Mr. Mulder that she was a little taken aback at the question as she naturally assumed that Marcus Elder would have told his wife of their preliminary findings last night.

"She--" Dana hesitated with the little girl's older sister regarding her with such wide, serious, light brown eyes.

"You can speak in front of Peggy, Miss--" Caroline Elder began severely.

"Doctor, if you please, Mrs. Elder," Dana countered firmly and followed with an apologetic glance at the silent child.

"Very well, Dr. Scully," she acquiesced with a toss of her tightly coiffed ash blond head. "As I was saying, you can speak in front of Peggy. She is a sensible girl. Not at all given to starts or fits."

"Mrs. Elder, your youngest daughter asphyxiated after being exposed to a toxic fume. Do you have any idea where she might have come into contact with such a substance? Are there factories or mining operations she might have visited with your husband?"

"Is that what you think? She died from mine gas?" the woman demanded incredulously, her head raring back like a horse refusing a bit.

"It is one possibility we are investigating," Dana plowed on determinedly, trying to hide just how much she was fretting about where the other half of their "we" was this morning. "Mrs. Elder did your daughter suffer any congestion, shortness of breath or coughing in the days before her death?"

"No, nothing like that," Mrs. Edler said dismissively. "She was a healthy child. Adventuresome, curious, always poking into things. Why else would she had wandered away from Marcus into the woods like that?" The stern question was issued with what sounded even now like maternal disapproval.

"There is one other thing," Dana said feeling a fool, but chastising herself that all evidence must be answered. "Did your husband or your daughter recall seeing a large raptor or scavenger – an abnormally large eagle or vulture -- on the way to or from Bateson Village?"

"Dr. Scully, you're not subscribing to this Leeds Devil balderdash, are you?" the matron demanded sizing her up yet again with a flinty gray eye.

"I am following all the evidence we have to hand that might explain your daughter's death, Mrs. Elder," she responded trying to control the rising of her own hackles. "As I told your husband last night, there are wounds on your daughter that suggest a raptor attack."

"I have neither seen nor heard of such a thing, Dr. Scully," Caroline Elder stated with a dismissive sniff. "Denise never mentioned anything of the kind to me."

"But your husband has reported such a sighting, Mrs. Elder," she countered automatically, sensing she was teetering on the point of being ranked a person too silly for her hostess' consideration. "He wrote to Mr. Mulder two weeks ago--"

"I cannot account for what Marcus thinks he sees on his wanderings in the pine barrens," she intoned, her voice turning severe. "Now, if you will excuse us, Dr. Scully, I must prepare to receive my family who are arriving today for my daughter's funeral -- unless there is any other evidence you wanted to discuss..."

And as she suspected was coming, Dana was politely but firmly dismissed from the Elder's crepe shrouded home.

"So the Elders speak, but they don't communicate," Mr. Mulder said matter-of-factly, his eyes lighting up when the waiter reappeared bearing two pieces of apple pie that he swiftly set before them. Her companion waited until their server had departed before lobbing his next pointed question.

"Do you trust her word?" Mr. Mulder attacked the dessert with a fork he had not set down once since his late breakfast had begun. His eyes, however, never left her face even as he shoveled his first bite in.

"Not particularly," Dana answered baldly, picking up her own fork and breaking eye contact.

"Good," he said, his voice slowing. "Never trust a married couple at odds. They become practiced at hiding truths from each other and outsiders with equal skill. Determining motive is notoriously difficult."

Dana said nothing. Merely stared at the lace trimmed tablecloth and waited for him to leap to his next point. She didn't have to wait long.

"And I should thank you for conducting the interview in my absence. You have saved us considerable time. There is still enough daylight for travel." That was a bit surprising. She'd half expected him to ask for another audience with Caroline Elder himself. His open acceptance of her report caused a creeping return of that warm regard with which she had left him the night before.

"You're welcome," Dana replied reluctantly, discovering to her surprise that the more that she stared at the wedge on her plate rather than the keen eyes of her companion the more inviting the smells of apple, butter, and cinnamon became. The knots which had occupied her stomach since this morning began to ease. Before she made a conscious decision to do so, Dana joined his repast with real enthusiasm.

"Dr. Scully, when we've finished here, would you be interested in a brief detour on the way to Bateson Village?" he asked in that same low, challenging tone. She glanced up to meet warm hazel eyes and half smile, both stating quite clearly he was well aware that he had escaped a scolding for the second time today. "The path is a bit rough, but the sights are of great interest. There we might be able to put your 'autopsy' notes of F.W.M. to good use."

********

"Tell me what you see."

Breathless, both from the climb up the embankment and the presence the stone circle before her his question seemed ridiculous, adding to her growing sense of unreality. Dana felt as if she's been physically plucked from one continent and dropped down onto another. Maggie Scully had told her of visiting such sites with her grandfather in Ireland when she was a girl -- Beltany, Newgrange, and other miraculously preserved pagan spots that still had stories to tell on a solstice or fall full moon -- but she had never herself seen such a primal, unsettling place. That this one made absolutely no sense here where it sat did nothing at all to dispel the sensation.

Mr. Mulder, standing close at her back, hovering as he had the whole trek into the woods as if she were in danger of falling over or fainting with every step, was not helping matters any. Dana was about to reply with a tart obvious when she realized what Mr. Mulder was asking of her. He meant her to bring reason here to this completely illogical spot. Without a word she dropped her valise to the ground, fished out her notes and her lens, and carried them into the ring, determined to ignore the superstitious feeling that she had broken a sacred circle without performing the proper rite.

Some minutes later, just as she was about to protest that the ground cover would make reconstructing a scene too difficult, Dana spied a narrow path swept of needles and leaf mold, marked by the drag of a shoe sole, and followed it back to the circle's center, careful to stay out of the disturbed area.

"Your attacker first set on you here, from behind," she said, pointing to the spot. "There's your boot heel and...there's blood spatter from the gun shot wound and...perhaps traces of a footprint or two coming from that direction. But the ground cover here doesn't make the best.... Wait. Was he barefoot?" she demanded, pointing to what looked like toenail impressions dug into the soil and a divot in the mud from the ball of a right foot.

"You tell me." Mr. Mulder demanded still behind her, careful now not to impede her wandering in any way. Afraid she would lose her spot on the ground, Dana spared just a brief glance to where he stood, hands planted deep in his pockets, his face neutral and his monotone voice even more so.

"Yes, then, definitely barefoot. This person clamped onto you, that would explain the bruising at your throat, the cuts on your nape, and the bite marks on your cheek. You struggled and were nearly overcome -- fell to your knees -- but your shot dislodged him. You went that way," she said pointing to the clean path leading to circle's edge. "He went...here, trying to flank you." Dana was beginning to feel like a scent hound, bent half over, tracing the ground with her lens, wanting now to identify the spot where this vicious attacker met his comeuppance. Was that what he feared? That he had killed his assailant unintentionally? Even if he had, all evidence clearly pointed to self defense against an unprovoked attack. To her mind, such caution in evidence gathering was unnecessary.

"Then...." Here her smooth reading of events stalled with the appearance of a jagged stone with its mud caked side pointing up and a sudden change of direction in the traces of footprints in the forest floor, away from Mr. Mulder's path and at speed, if the heavy ball strike of the foot were any indication. Off the person had gone even deeper into the woods, it appeared.

Curious, Dana carefully stepped over to the path left by Mr. Mulder's movements. Here things became even more confusing as the path ended in a wide bed of crushed leaves and needles sprinkled with tree bark and torn branches.

Almost involuntarily, Dana's eyes left the ground and traced up the trunks of the several trees rooted just outside the circle. One in particular had had its lower branches stripped at least on this side and not long ago. She easily caught a whiff of pine sap mixing with fall pollen and leaf rot.

"What do you see, Dr. Scully?"

"Your injured attacker escaped into the woods, and...hem...something appears to have struck this tree," she replied as colorlessly as he had asked. At this point she was not going to start guessing, but she fully expected him to present his own thrilling Leeds Devil sighting account at any moment. "Likely it was one of these branches that gave you that concussion," she continued toeing over chunk after chunk of wood until she found a branch with a profile matching the one from her notes. Marking its location, her eyes trailed further outside the circle and she huffed with frustration. "And then the site becomes a hash -- boot prints, dragging heels -- the sheriff's men, I assume. How did they know to come all the way out here to find you?"

"A good question," he said, though he didn't sound particularly interested in the answer. "Thank you, Dr. Scully, for confirming some things for me." And he was grateful, she could tell he wasn't simply exercising his overly polished New England manners. But there was something else, something he wasn't telling her. And it still troubled him.

"What exactly have I confirmed, Mr. Mulder? What did you see?"

"One more question for you, before we get into that, if you don't mind. Did you note any signs of a fading rash or sunburn on F.W.M.'s head, face, or hands?" She didn't even have to consider the question.

"No, nothing like that," she said firmly, but nonplussed. "And how would you have acquired a sunburn in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night, Mr. Mulder?"

"How indeed, Dr. Scully," he said with a rueful grimace and a dismissive shake of his head that did nothing to hide the worry in his eyes.

"And how was this attacker able to take you by surprise?" she demanded, not the least bit satisfied by this answer and feeling her anger and frustration from this morning returning. That he was not even looking at her now didn't help. Instead sweeping his boot along the path his hands and knees had cleared last night, he seemed to be looking for something her investigation had missed. "Even barefoot you should have heard them approach before they put you in a choking hold. There's too much litter on the ground for you not to have heard them. What were you doing out here in the forest? What were either of you doing out here in the forest last night?" At her demand he seemed to give up his search with a defeated sigh.

"Well, Dr. Scully, I cannot answer for whomever tried to kill me. I'll only observe that that individual seemed quite at home here in the forest," he said with a smirk, something about his native humor fighting to return to his battered and bearded face. "As for the other," he began slowly, taking a deep breath. "I apologize, but I failed to mention yesterday that I have been compiling a map of the locations of the Leeds Devil sightings and the locations where the bodies of our victims were discovered."

Here he trailed off and shot her an almost embarrassed look. Dana was afraid to ask because she was equally afraid she knew what his answer would be.

"And what does your map tell you?" Instantly he drew a folded piece of vellum from his breast pocket and handed it to her. She had scarce unfolded and begun perusing before he confirmed her fears.

"We now stand at the geographic center of all those events."

***********

New Jersey Pine Barrens company town mansion


"A bear?"

Mulder couldn't help the level of sarcastic incredulity in his voice and really didn't want to. Now that she had independently confirmed most of what he had experienced last night, he felt ready again to take on this investigation, even to take on his diminutive companion who right now was proving both stubborn and generous in equal measure.

"You said it yourself. You heard one on your way through the forest last night," she rapped back, pausing for a moment to catch herself on a young pine trunk, refusing to take his arm, trudging out of the woods with the same self-sufficiency with which she had trudged in. He could tell she didn't want to bicker but was flatly refusing to even entertain the idea that he had seen what he claimed to have seen. Yet in the kindest way possible she was trying to fashion from reason and logic a way for him to save face. "A large mammal capable of climbing trees could easily account for the broken limbs we saw. Perhaps the struggle with your attacker, the pistol shot, startled it and it bolted up the tree to escape. You were...disoriented, deprived of oxygen and mistook a perfectly natural occurrence..."

"Why would my attacker -- someone comfortable enough to run about the woods in the middle of the night shoe-less assaulting strangers barehanded -- take instant flight at such a regular, natural sight if a gunshot wound was not enough to deter him?"

"We should be trying to find out where they went and report them to the authorities so that they can be arrested, instead of chasing these 'devil' sightings," she repeated almost sullenly as she plodded determinedly toward the thinning trees indicating they were getting closer to the road.

Of course, she had wanted to follow the tracks of his attacker deeper into the woods, while he had wanted to shimmy up the tree outside the circle to see if there was a gouge from which they could make a new impression. He had not yet brought himself to tell her that the original was lost. She was angry enough with him today already. But in the end, neither got their wish. The sun made the decision for them. If they were to get to and from Bateson Village before dark, they were going to have to hurry.

"It has to have occurred to you, Mr. Mulder, that this person, this lunatic, might also be responsible for these three deaths. That you yourself came close to being the fourth victim."

"Did any of the evidence you recorded on me remind you in any way of what you discovered in your autopsy of Denise Elder, Dr. Scully?"

Here, she stopped so suddenly he almost ran into her from behind and shot him a look over her shoulder that was equal parts respect and regret.

"No. Nothing, Mr. Mulder."

There was no reason for the warmth that filled his chest at her admission, at the way she gathered herself and resumed her trek to the open air unaided, stopping to check on the horse before turning to face him with a determined air. He did not flatter himself that he had convinced her, far from it. But that she was dissatisfied with the facile answer pleased him no end. Nevertheless, he was determined to betray nothing.

"Then I suggest we follow our first course of action and return to search for my attacker when there is more light and we are better armed." She nodded her acquiescence and then fired her next shot across his bow with a dry smirk.

"Perhaps our days will prove more productive if half the team does not languish the mornings away in jail, Mr. Mulder."

This time, Mulder did not attempt to hide his grin.

********

Bateson Village offered little to impress, being much in the way of other run down company towns Mulder had visited in the past. Perhaps there were a few more works buildings here and there. He could tell that at one time it had been a showplace of glass industry but no longer. It retained an operating grist mill if the shussing of a water wheel beyond the town center was any indication. There was also an open general store and post office where a few curious residents hung about outside smoking. The owner's mansion in the center of the village looked newly renovated and furbished in the Italianate style Whitten adopted in all his sponsored projects. But overall the town was more dilapidated than he expected given Whitten's storied reputation as an industrial genius. Then again who from Philadelphia society was going to see it out here? With the bog ore played out and the rail line now seldom used, Bateson Village was all but cut off, reduced to an agrarian experiment for a powerful man, fully furnished with economic "actors" too impoverished to move elsewhere as willing test subjects.

"Plantations for the 'enlightened' North," Bill Mulder had dubbed them with all the sneering contempt of one born to old money. Though he supposed the alternative for the families who had lived and worked at Bateson Village, some for generations, could be worse, but that was little to choose between in Mulder's estimation. At least in a proper town they could look for and find a variety of wage employment whereas here they could only work Whitten's cranberry bogs or sugar beet fields.

Those who stayed were given a living wage, but only just, and most of same was spent at the company store and paying rent for company housing, operated by the same people who owned the business at which wages were earned. For comfort, the locals were discouraged from drink and taught patience and acceptance at the local Methodist Church which was also conveniently owned by the Whittens. So much for the 'open market' systems Whitten vocally championed in the press, except when it came to the tariffs he wanted to protect his interests. Bateson Village was about as closed and suffocated as a market could get.

Mulder, still conscious of the time, steered their rig into the sun and straight through the center of town, over the bridge that divided a lake from the waterway feeding the mill wheel and straight into the residential area of the village in search of the duplex of Mary Fenton, mother of the second victim, five year old Matthew Fenton.

At the crossroad on the far side of the bridge, he caught sight of a signpost.

Leeds Point > 2 miles

He beetled his brows at Dr. Scully suggestively and peered hard in that general direction. She pretended to ignore him with a raised brow, curled lip, and eyes fixed straight forward. As they continued down the neat row of sad houses her expression sobered.

"There's no school," she said quietly.

"No," he agreed. He had not considered that her thoughts might be running along the same path as his own. Of course she would look first for the only ladder out of Bateson Village. The sarcastic comment he'd been about to make died in his throat. "Here we are."

Mulder had scarce made it around the rig to offer his arm to his companion so that she could stoically refuse it when the front door to the house opened and, he assumed, Mary Fenton stepped out. From her black stuff dress and plain grey-white apron, down to her serviceable shoes she was everything you would expect from the surroundings. But her glossy dark hair, elegantly tall stature, smooth olive complexion, and amber brown eyes made her look like an exotic escapee from an Arabian harem. For a moment Mulder could not help himself; he blatantly stared, mouth agape. A sharp elbow in his side from Dr. Scully, who had perforce made her way down from the carriage unassisted, brought him back to himself.

"Mrs. Fenton," he choked out, stepping forward, hand extended. "My name is Fox Mulder and this is my colleague Dr. Dana Scully. Might we speak with you for a few minutes?"

"You're not from the sheriff's, are you?" the woman spoke, her accent much more in keeping with rural New Jersey than the rest of her.

"No," Dr. Scully replied, while he tried to fit this odd mosaic of a person into a frame. "But Sheriff Thompson knows that we are here investigating these deaths connected to the village and we thought that if you know anything that might help us -- have any recollection that might help determine who is responsible we might prevent what happened to your son from happening to anyone else."

"Nothing I know will stop a blessed thing," she said, flatly. "But ask what you want. You working for Whitten?"

"No, ma'am. We're to speak to him tonight to see if he can shed any light on these events," Dr. Scully continued in fine style, her manner frank and easy.

"Well, when you speak with him find out whether he's going to pull out of Bateson," she advised, sourly. "Some here have a concern about it. He hasn't been here in weeks."

Scully merely responded with a tight lipped smile and a nod of the head.

"Well, I'd ask you in but there's not enough chairs in my front room to seat you," Mrs. Fenton said half turning back toward her door in apparent embarrassment.

"That's quite alright, Mrs. Fenton," he assured her swiftly. "We will try not to keep you long. I wonder if you could you tell us if you saw or heard anything strange in the days or particularly the evenings leading up to the attack on your son?"

"What do you mean 'strange'?" she asked suspiciously.

"What he means, Mrs. Fenton," Dr. Scully jumped in. "Is there anyone here in the village or from the city even that might have a grudge against your family, someone owed a debt or felt a slight?" At this the lady snorted derisively.

"Try finding anyone in this town who isn't owed a debt from someone. There'd be none of us left if that were cause for killing." With that she leaned against the door jab of her home and crossed her arms skeptically. "But go on," she encouraged with a lift of her chin. "You're asking more questions than Sheriff Thompson did outside my boy's name, age, and where'd we plan to bury him."

"You help out in the company store after harvest, do you not? You'd have occasion to see almost everyone in the village. Had anyone made threats to you or your family recently or against the Whittens in your presence -- before your son's or Joseph Whitten's death?" Dr. Scully continued doggedly. Mulder could tell her fingers were itching for her pencil and notepad.

"No," she said flatly. "No one living in this town is fool enough to threaten them that own everything in and on it. And it was just me and my boy here. My husband Jonas passed in a mill fire two years back and it's just been me and Mattie ever since. That was our house there," she said pointing to one of the standalone homes across the street. "But since it was just the two of us Whitten's manager decided this was room enough and moved us lock, stock, and barrel in here one day while I was out working the fields. Said I should be grateful that my rent was going down a whole dollar."

"How well do you know the Marcus Elder family?" Dr. Scully asked flatly, trying to provoke a reaction. Mulder decided she must spend a great deal of time with her many relatives in law enforcement.

"He has business here same as the Whitten's," the lady drawled casually, her lids shielding her eyes. "Maybe once a week or more he'll come out sometimes with his youngest girl, sometimes not."

"Did you have any direct dealings with him?"

"Not to speak of." Oh, he could see now they had entered the lying portion of the interview.

"Did your son and Denise Elder play together? Spend time in the woods?" Dr. Scully pressed.

"Not as I recall. I did my best to keep him close to the house, under my eye," and here Mary Fenton's hard bitten exterior began to crack. Mulder had not observed her long enough to tell whether she was genuinely distressed or had found a convenient, conventional escape route.

"Mrs. Fenton, I am sorry to have to ask this, but I was permitted to examine the body of the little girl, Denise Elder, who was killed this last week and we need to know whether your son's body and hers suffered any of the same injuries. Did Matthew's body show any signs of being burned by acid or breathing in a harsh fume?"

At this the woman's finely drawn brows drew together in surprise and her easy manner that had progressed to wary, now began to close in on itself.

"No, nothing like that," she said flatly, her face paling beneath her tan.

"I apologize again, Mrs. Fenton, I know how hard this must be for you, but was there any sign of tearing on his upper body on his chest or shoulders?" And Dr. Scully did sound sorry, more sorry than her tightly controlled voice could encompass. Mulder suddenly realized that despite of how brilliantly she was doing, he should be shouldering more of this burden.

"Any signs of talon marks? Like an eagle or a falcon might leave?" he chimed in over her shoulder.

The woman closed her eyes and shook her head shortly, her voice choked.

"I cannot say what killed him."

"Just a few more words, Mrs. Fenton. Have you ever heard of a creature called the Leeds Devil?" he asked ignoring he frustrated look Dr. Scully tossed him over her shoulder.

At this, Mrs. Fenton snorted loudly, took a deep breath and cast her eyes skyward trying to force the tears back to their source.

"Anyone born in these parts has heard of that, Mr. Mulder," she said dryly.

"Have you ever seen it?"

************

"Did you honestly think that she was going to begin describing the Devil to you there and then?" Dr. Scully demanded incredulously from beside him as their rig headed east into the gathering twilight.

She had not, of course. Instead she had let out a loud bark of laughter, dashed a tear from the corner of her eye and informed them she had wash to gather in before dew fall.

"Despite your excellent interview skills, Mary Fenton was not about to spill the beans about her ongoing affair with Marcus Elder. She has too well developed a survival instinct for that," he responded, somewhat pleased at the startled look she threw him. He noted that she did not appear inclined to argue that point though she appeared ready, willing, and fully capable of arguing ever other point.

"Why would someone with a well developed survival instinct cut herself then?" she rapped back. At his equally surprised look she moderated her tone somewhat. "It wasn't terribly noticeable but there were cuts healing at both her wrists. I saw them."

"Really? Could you tell how deep they were?"

"I wasn't able to fully examine them, but they looked like practice cuts, shallow," she said faintly.

"That is surprising."

"How so? The poor woman's lost her husband, her home, and her child within the last two years. Some would think not surprising at all," she challenged.

"She's suffered certainly but something's holding her up. Sustaining her. I assume it is her attachment to Elder. But on the whole she doesn't read that way to me," he said simply.

"Oh, is that what you were doing? Reading her?" she remarked with arch sarcasm, deliberately looking off into the woods on her side of the road.

"What exactly are you implying?" he asked with a grin. He was swiftly realizing that teasing her was going to become a favorite pastime.

"Oh, nothing except that for health reasons, it would be advisable not to allow your jaw to hang open like that every time you meet a beautiful woman. The flies that sail in and out carry all manner of germs and contagion," was her tart rejoinder.

"Thank you, Dr. Scully. I will take that under advisement." He had to laugh at himself as much as her. Then she seemed embarrassed at her own quip and gathered herself together, hands in her lap, facing forward, firmly back under control.

They continued on in a not uncomfortable silence. Despite half hoping to hear or see something to corroborate the Devil sightings with her present to document it, nothing seemed inclined to manifest itself this evening. Even the horse looked bored. They re-entered the brightness of Atlantic City unmolested.

Those conditions did not hold. After they turned in the hired rig and made their way to the Traymore they were converged upon by no fewer than three bellhops the minute they passed the threshold of the lobby.

"Pardon me, Mr. Mulder, but a Mr. Whitten--"

"Mr. Whitten wishes to speak to you, sir and madam --"

"As soon as possible, please, sir," finished the third boy, the young man with the unfortunate skin condition who had carried in their bags the previous day.

Mulder turned to Scully with a rueful grimace.

"It appears we're late, though I don't recall setting a time with Mr. Whitten's secretary. This feels like Chuck's doing. I'm sure his mother and Whitten's wife play bridge or something every week. If you'd like to go change I'm sure I can hold--"

"Mister Mulder! What is the meaning of this!?"

Mulder scarcely had time to turn around and see who was accosting him when the late edition of the Evening Star was shoved directly under his nose. Front and center and above the fold of the broadsheet, the "this" was certainly hard to miss.

JERSEY TERROR IN AC
FLYING "LEEDS DEVIL" HAS
PEOPLE FRIGHTENED
Night Watchman Saw It

"Oh, for the love of Pete." Dr. Scully's exasperated voice sounded off distinctly behind him.

Chapter Text

Traymore Hotel
Atlantic City
September 17, 1893
7:15 p.m.

Her companion had barely scanned the headline when the "gentleman" -- Mr. Whitten -- Dana presumed, continued shouting.

"Discreet, Burks said! This was supposed to be handled quietly. I was given assurances! Do you call this discreet?! By morning all of New Jersey and half of Pennsylvania will be laughing at this wretched farce," he boomed, making sure everyone within earshot in the Traymore lobby knew of it at least.

Fists pulsing at her sides, Dana half hoped Mr. Mulder would knock the man back on his heels for his arrogance at so addressing a stranger. Spit shined shoes, fine tweeds, and gold watch chain bouncing on neat waistcoat with every bellow, his dress announced him as a successful businessman. But cold, heavy-lidded eyes, an inverted bow of a mouth, and the way he led with his close-cut bullet of a head spoke of the personal ruin brought on by prosperity. For sure, here stood a man who could not be satisfied. Every win stood only as a way station to the next win. Every man he met an impediment or a competitor.

Regardless of how she thought this verbal assault should be answered, Mr. Mulder was not in the mood to be provoked. Hazel-grey eyes scanned the man haranguing him with all the dispassionate interest he showed any novel human specimen crossing his path, cataloging every blink and blush. More shocking to Dana was that he wasn't pretending a cocky indifference. He was indifferent to his man's opinion. As accustomed as she was to professional male rivalry both in medical school and the hospital beyond she could scarcely credit such blatant disregard of an assault on rank. She caught herself envying his detachment, but one glance at the circle of gawkers they were attracting convinced her for other reasons that this had gone on long enough.

"Sir, I would thank you to lower your voice and please explain what makes you think we had anything to do with this?" she requested forcefully, cutting Whitten off mid-complaint.

"And who the devil are you, miss, if I may ask?" Whitten demanded, looking down on her as though a cheeky chambermaid had dared interrupt him.

"Because we were mentioned, Dr. Scully, quite extensively," Mr. Mulder drawled, handing over the paper he had reluctantly taken from Whitten during his tirade, mainly to avoid getting bopped on the nose with it. His attention was still fixed on the businessman, gauging his reaction, but his manner had segued from relaxed to vigilant. Though he made no move toward Whitten, Dana got the impression he was preparing to pounce at the tiniest slight. It recalled his attitude toward their cheeky cellmate the day before. Wait a minute...

Forgetting Whitten entirely she caught Mr. Mulder's eye and found that they were in complete agreement at every point on a subject they had not yet discussed. He only nodded with a rueful smirk and a slight roll of his shoulders. 'Who else could it be?' his eyes seemed to ask and she had to admit with a frustrated sigh that that was her conclusion as well. It wasn't until he turned his attention back to Whitten that she caught herself, blinking rapidly, wondering at what had just happened. Lowering her gaze she scanned the newsprint in her hand to hide her confusion.

The reporter's narrative scattered just the right number of truthful nuggets among the fantastic falsehoods to sound both plausible and ridiculously thrilling. The account of their last two day's work was quite careful to avoid mentioning the sheriff's role or referring directly to Mr. Whitten's son's death, telling her the author, here by-lined as Joseph Mackie, well knew on which side his publisher's bread was buttered. However, she and Mr. Mulder received no such delicate consideration. Nor did Denise Elder, Dana found as she read further. A fierce blush brought on by a potent combination of outrage and embarrassment covered her face and neck as she raced through each paragraph. Bill was going to love this.

"...intrepid Philadelphians investigate latest innocent victim of the horror encroaching on Atlantic City...

"...clandestine dissection tucked away from public record...

"...near fatal encounter with the 'Beast of the Barrens' that same night..."

The purported sighting by the night watchman, a "John Smith" by name, described a creature drawn straight from every hoary story of the Leeds Devil, Dana had ever heard or read. According to Mr. Smith, whose recall was astonishing considering he only caught one glimpse as it escaped around the back of a livery stable, the being possessed the horned head of a goat, hooves of a horse, wings of a bat, and the serpentine body and barbed tail of a dragon.

The imaginary interviewee also reported that his pursuit of the creature around the outskirts of the city revealed ample evidence of the beast's dastardly occupations, which included souring fresh milk, laming horses in their stalls, drying up cows' udders, and tipping over the odd trash barrel.

Of course, Mackie recounted older tales -- naturally with no names, places or dates attached to them -- of the beast devouring newborn infants in their cribs and harassing attractive young women who dared venture out at night. Such encounters inevitably left the unfortunate damsels in a state of immodest dress.

"What a load of rubbish," she erupted louder than she intended, crumpling the broadsheet and slapping it against her skirt in frustration. Another word and she'd be raving like Mr. Whitten, who had now wound down to bewildered blustering in the face of Mr. Mulder's bland, emotionless affect.

"It's a disgrace...I say," he finished lamely, casting about for something or someone to fill his sails again. Waiting one more beat to make sure the man was finished, Mr. Mulder at last drew breath to address him.

"How do you do?" he said extending his hand. "Allow me to make introductions. I am Fox Mulder, consulting forensic psychologist. This is my colleague, Dr. Dana Scully. We were invited to Atlantic City by the Elder family to investigate the death of their daughter. Neither of us--"

Given enough time, Dana could see, he would not only placate Mr. Whitten, but remove him as a block to their investigation. Unfortunately, Marcus Elder chose that moment to charge directly into their circle, fists flying. On instinct, Dana inserted herself between him and Mr. Mulder. Once there, without weighing her actions, she intercepted Elder's wrist before he could land a blow and applied direct pressure to a nerve just beneath the heel of his thumb. He yelped as his hand went limp and Dana found herself grimly pleased that she's spared Mr Mulder's battered head yet another shock.

"Ow!" Mr. Elder looked like a man who'd thought to deal lightning suddenly struck by it. Dana half expected him to redirect his ire at her, but he was so stunned that his assault had been turned aside by a woman, and a small one at that, he merely stared, rubbing his wrist and squinting at her as though she had grown a second head.

"Mr. Elder!" she reproved, tossing his numbed hand aside. "You know we had nothing to do with this. Calm yourself, please."

Caroline Elder, still draped in the back silk weeds she'd worn to her daughter's funeral, drew abreast of her husband and fixed her with a stern eye.

"Lay off my husband! It's not his fault. What father wouldn't be outraged? Someone gave me this before we'd even left the churchyard," she said severely, waving another copy of the Evening Star. You can understand that, Dr. Scully, surely."

"Surely, you both might consider that the timing was intentional so that a scene such as this might be provoked?" Dana snapped back.

Without conscious thought she began scanning the circle of onlookers until she spied the face she was sought. One Joseph Mackie aka "John Smith", she presumed. Their guilty bystander, now shaved, pomaded, and crammed into a suit coat too pinched even for his hunched shoulders, stood half hidden in the crowd. Sheriff Thompson must have emptied his jail this afternoon and set this one-man plague of falsehood loose on the world. One of Mackie's hickory brown eyes was trained on her and Mr. Mulder and the other focused on the pad of paper upon which he was dutifully recording the scene he'd just created.

"You fecker..." Dana muttered, all this day's delayed and diverted anger re-surged in a snap and she stood but one small spark away from her whole head igniting into a fair imitation of Whitten's rage. Moving to dart through the assembled curious to mete out her own brand of justice on that oily sneak before he could think of slipping away, she felt a long, gentle hand alight on her back and another curl around her elbow, effectively redirecting her forward momentum toward the hotel dining room.

"Might I suggest we continue this conversation out of the public eye before we all feature prominently in the Morning, Afternoon and Evening Star tomorrow?" said Mr. Mulder's mellow, amused voice over her left shoulder. "It has been a long day and Dr. Scully and I are in need of refreshment."

 

Fox Mulder's Sketch Plan of Cave Interior with Major Features of Interest Marked

Pine Barrens outside of Atlantic City
September 18, 1893
10:25 a.m.

Dana nearly stepped on the body before she saw it. Belly down, arms akimbo and right cheek pressed into the needle strewn forest floor, it was near covered by a patchwork layer of leaves, needles, and dust. A forest sprite might have fashioned this gossamer blanket to comfort a stricken Caliban as inner lights faded, Dana thought, for sure this man was long dead -- at least a full day if not more judging from the cloud of flies at his eyes and mouth. Her odd flight of fancy more than the unexpected stab of pity had Dana shaking her head dismissively and taking a quick steadying breath. Dropping to a crouch she began examining the body, shooing flies energized by morning light and warming temperatures away from the deep crease of a bullet wound in the man's right side and then away from his half turned face.

Beneath a broad woolly shelf of a brow, muddy brown eyes stared off into the deepest shades of the wood, set in a fearful yet unsurprised expression. A matted mass of long, curly dark brown hair half concealed his cheek and jowl, but Dana noted the chemical burn marks around his darkened lips and nose, the whiskers that once covered them singed away. Though they could not have been more different from one another, it seemed the coddled, younger child Elder and this hirsute wild man shared the same stifling end.

Dana grasped him by the wrist, lifted his right forearm then let it drop to the ground. The fingernails on that hand crusted with Mr. Mulder's blood. Judging from the stiffness of his limbs, rigor was now leaving the body, another sign he had been killed the same night Mr. Mulder was knocked out by a falling tree limb. That would at least remove her partner from suspicion. The sheriff's men could finally prove useful since they had unwittingly given their innocent prisoner an ironclad alibi.

Scanning the surrounding trees Dana could spy no evidence of the source of this chemical fume. The forest was quiet but for the buzzing of the flies around their latest victim. Not a factory, mine shaft or any obvious man-made or natural source for this gas presented itself.

Dana sighed forcefully as much in anticipation of what Mr. Mulder would make of this evidence as to clear her lungs of the airs emanating from the corpse. She'd only just held her tongue through last night's late supper while Mr. Mulder had doggedly and with surprising persuasiveness argued the possibility of a beast similar to the one so vividly described in The Evening Star was loose in the Jersey woods. Mr. Mulder referred so frequently to her scientific findings and she put enough cautions and qualifiers around his bald statements to convince both Mr. Whitten and Caroline Elder that the investigation was still somewhat tethered to the rational world. By the time they had broken company for the night, Whitten, Elder, and Mr. Mulder all were regarding her with the same degree of cautious approbation. She honestly didn't know what to think about that.

As if her thoughts summoned him, she heard Mr. Mulder's baritone bellow at some distance calling her name, sounding more and more concerned as it gained volume.

"Dr. Scully! Dr. Scully! SCULLAAAY!"

"Here! Mr. Mulder!" Then standing so that she could project her voice properly, "Mulder, over here! I found him!"

Before she could draw breath Mr. Mulder came crashing through a thick stand of brush directly opposite her, pistol in hand. Somewhere along his sprint he'd lost his hat. Hair flopped over his forehead in two equal, opposing locks. At least they hid the bandage, Dana thought ruefully. The flush above the whiskers on his cheeks attested to both his exertion and worry. A few more days out here and Mr. Mulder would look more alike than different from his deceased attacker.

"Oh," he said, chuffing out a relieved sigh then, pocketing the gun, began circumnavigating the scene, catching his breath. "Give a shout next time, would you? Can't see the top of your head when you kneel out here." Then he was back on task and retreating to the corridors of his own mind as he studied the body, like a theater critic might a dramatic stage. "Don't move," he ordered, pointing at her and before she knew it, Mr. Mulder had jumped to a higher position on a boulder to the south of the dead man's head and was taking in the scene from a wider vantage.

"Dr. Scully, come look at this."

"Which is it? Am I not to move or should I come join you?"

"Come here, if you please," he said, amused, hands beckoning. "But raise your skirts so they don't brush the ground."

Doing as he asked, she minced to the foot of the boulder. He extended an arm and half hoisted her up to stand beside him on the broad flat rock.

"Now, doctor. What do you see?" he asked, looking over her shoulder from behind.

"I see our suspected murderer lying on the ground dead."

"And what do you see around him -- on either side?" he asked, extending his arms above her as if he could physically widen her gaze.

"There's a disturbance..." she paused, unwilling to voice her first impression.

"Does that not bear a striking resemblance to--"

"Mr. Mulder, if one seeks patterns in nature, it is often not difficult to find them," she cut him off, a bit exasperated and distrusting of her own eyes now, at how quickly they had leapt to the conclusion he seemed to have reached.

"And what pattern is it that you see, Dr. Scully?"

"I cannot say with any certainty," she averred stubbornly.

"And yet, it suggests..." he drawled. Seeing he was not going to relent either, she blurted out.

"It looks like the impression of a span of wings...maybe ten to 12 feet across." She waited for the crow of triumph, at the very least a smug tweak, but he was already leaping from the rock and offering her a hand down, careful to keep them both well outside the outline.

"Agreed. Damn! Where is Frohike when you need him? I'm not the artist I used to be," he muttered, fishing an envelope and short pencil from his breast pocket. After flattening the folds into a single sheet, in short order he had roughed out a sketch of the attitude of the body to its surroundings in a fair hand, wing impressions, cardinal directions, and time of day included. Then tip-toeing inside the wingspan outline, he leaned down to brush the hair from the face of his attacker and regarded it solemnly, a curious sort of pity coloring his expression. "Notice anything strange about this kill, Dr. Scully?"

At her wary regard, he continued. "A lack of motive."

"If you're proposing this person was killed by the demonized embodiment of Mrs. Leeds' thirteen offspring--" Dana began with asperity.

"I have formed no solid theory on the origin or nature of this creature, I am merely proposing that it, in fact, exists," Mr. Mulder said blandly. "But didn't you suggest nourishment as a possible motive? Yet I see no evidence of raptor predation on this gentleman or on Miss Elder aside from the talon wounds themselves. Do you agree?"

"No, none. But that argues against it being a creature--"

"Of natural origin. A harpy eagle, if one happened to stray this far north, would have eaten after bringing down its prey. Yes?"

"One would assume."

"And if the local bear population had frightened off our killer, one would expect them to claim the carcass. At night the smell of blood from his wounds would have been quite distinct. Yet I see no evidence of any kind of animal predation. Seems rather...unnatural, don't you think?"

Dana sighed. "It is also possible that the fume that killed him is toxic enough to warn off scavengers, Mr. Mulder." Though the fact the body had not been touched at all even in his extremities was remarkable. His being correct on the facts did not make him any less annoying though.

Shrugging out of his long coat Mr. Mulder nodded at her point while emptying pockets of gun and light before stepping lightly within the outline and draping it gently over the body's head and torso. Dana could not tell whether he meant to be sensitive to her or to the dead man. He then stood, rearranged his affects and peered off to the west then back in the direction from which the man had run.

"Where do you suppose he was going?" at her raised eyebrows he continued as though she had posed a question. "Well, he seems a little too primitive to be an average back to nature enthusiast. I don't think even Ancora would lay claim to this fellow. And he would have to shelter somewhere out here or die of exposure."

"That's logical."

"Let's follow his direction then. See where it goes." At her surprised look. "Aren't you curious?"

"I just thought you would--" Dana began, then stopped, taken aback by his consideration.

"We should attempt to account for all threads tying into this investigation," he smiled. "And while this fellow is not of primary interest he is rather interesting. Isn't he? In any case, I'm not anxious to deal with Sheriff Thompson again right away. Are you?"

"Agreed," Scully found herself smiling at his assessment and joined him as he picked his way outside of the winged outline and headed west.

Almost immediately Mr. Mulder picked up a faint trail though the forest that while hidden here and there by undergrowth was worn enough to show it was regularly used. Dana was impressed by his observational skills in this terrain. She quietly admitted to herself she had misjudged him as a privileged city dandy based solely on his fine clothes, education, and ease with money, but he clearly was no stranger to the natural world. They spoke little as they went and a good half hour had passed before she realized that the terrain was growing increasingly rough. As seemed to be his habit, Mr. Mulder walked slightly behind her and to the side, suggesting changes of direction by the point of a finger over her shoulder, which she found peculiar, half expecting him to charge headlong onto the faint trail. She was turning to ask whether this was really worth their time when he grabbed her elbows forcefully and snatched her back to prevent her falling headlong down a steep grade hidden by a mass of browning ferns.

"Pardon me, Dr. Scully," he apologized, setting her firmly behind him then immediately releasing her. "I think this is where we are meant to lose the trail or break our necks." He scanned the nearby terrain for signs she felt incapable of reading having become hypnotized by the endless sun dappled green and brown surrounding them on every side. But the landscape had distinctly changed since they began their hike. The tree stand had thinned up ahead and in the distance she thought she heard falling water. That was odd.

"This way." Guiding her to the north with his hand on the small of her back, he pointed to a path the pitched downward at an angle almost as steep as the one she'd almost fallen down. A little beyond she could see a rocky outcropping about six feet below. "Here's the proper entrance. Let me hand you down, Dr. Scully. It wouldn't do for both of us to sprain a joint."

Without preamble, he turned her around to face him, grasped both her hands in his, and lowered her over the grade, allowing her to control the speed of her descent by catching the toes of her boots in the seams and crevasses on the way as he lowered himself to his knees on the ledge. Once she was near enough he dropped her the remaining foot or so of distance and immediately followed with much more speed and much less care til they stood side by side on a sort of natural stone shelf that ran the length of the rock face for about fifty yards. Another twenty vertical feet separated the shelf from the bottom of the ravine. Looking northwest Dana could just see a steady stream of clear water tricking over the blue grey stone face on the opposite side of the ravine, though its final destination was obscured by the tops of young pine trees rising up from below. The scene was near idyllic.

Less interested in the scenery than in exploring, Mr. Mulder had taken off along the rock shelf at a cautious lope, until he disappeared entirely around an outcropping where their shelf narrowed to no more than a foot in width. For a moment Dana was certain he'd fallen off and she'd just failed to hear his body hit the ground below.

"Mulder?!" She sped up to reach where she'd last seen him.

Then his chestnut head popped out of nowhere seemingly, face flushed and eyes alight with wonder. Then a disembodied hand appeared, beckoning her forward.

"Scully, in here!"

"In here" was a cavern entrance roughly triangular in shape and about ten feet wide at the mouth, one side blackened from the smoke of a succession of modest fires that had been sparked and fed on its porch. A small pile of dried moss and folded grass kindling tucked back to the side of the entrance attested to this tradition along with a scattering of bluish white bone fragments among the ashes. The lingering clean, woodsy smell of smoke did not cover the overriding odors of musk, sweat, and dry decay detectable inside the opening. The ceiling of the cavern lowered the farther you penetrated. Dana had to bend over before she had advanced ten feet and Mr. Mulder already searching for the back of the enclosure was almost in a crouch. But none of that seemed to faze or slow him. Light out and activated he was sweeping the beam from side to side inside the shelter, delighted with whatever it revealed to him.

"Look, Scully. Flint stone chips here are from some sort of tool sharpening," he enthused sweeping his light along the floor, sparking the glitter of a multitude of glassine fragments. Stooping still lower he tested the sharpness of one of the larger flakes then lay his palm on a flat stone with a worn depression at its center. Maybe some form of whetstone? Ten feet further on the cave seemed to dead end in a large alcove whose floor was covered in a fragrant palette made of pine boughs and dried leaves. To the side of this natural cushion on the uneven floor lay a small wood carving that might have been meant to represent a bear shoving its front paws against the trunk of a tree. To the side of that a hollowed out bone with holes drilled on the flat plain of the cortex like stops on a primitive recorder. Though she strongly favored this investigation from the outset, Dana could admit to herself she was beginning to feel uncomfortable, as if she risked being caught in the act of breaking a recently deceased man's home and riffling the contents of his bureau.

"Mr. Mulder--" she cautioned hesitantly, but he was already off to her right, having discovered an offshoot corridor within the confined space. Perforce, she followed him as his was now the only source of light in that dim space. This though was much narrower and no more than 15 feet in length, until it too collapsed to the floor it appeared from the furthest reach of Mr. Mulder's lamp.

"Wait. Look." something about his change in tone warned her that he had come upon yet another thing that would make her lose her moorings in this strange abode they stumbled through, but when she peered around his hunched frame to see where he was directing his beam she could not suppress a gasp. A dugout hole had been made in the side wall of the narrow, low-ceilinged corridor and on this rocky shelf thus created there sat three near complete human skulls and scattered fragments of calvarium, atlases, and mandibles. One of the specimens had been marked on the frontal bone with a spiral symbol in charcoal while the same symbol appeared on its opposite companion daubed in dried blood. Below on the floor, flies buzzed around the freshly severed heads of two young deer, antlers interlocked, dried, peeling snouts nuzzling each other, as though doomed to spar even in death.

"Oh my god," slipped from her mouth before she could stop herself, taking in what looked like some savage pagan alter from a distant millennium and Mr. Mulder's wide-eyed, yet disturbed expression altogether. Visited suddenly by images of the wounds on Mulder's neck, spine, and cheek, she felt an unfamiliar rush of blood up her throat to her ears. Had this wild man meant to collect her companion's head to add to his primitive tableau? It didn't bear thinking on. "Mulder, who was this?" she demanded urgently, senselessly since there was no possible way he could know the answer to her question.

"Scully, I think we should leave," Mulder said quietly, reaching behind him to capture her forearm in a firm, warm grip while the beam from his torch continued to probe every detail of the scene which he seemed to be rapidly committing to memory.

"But these people," she began. "We have to find out who they are! Return them to their families. There are bones from at least five individuals here. Possibly more! Who knows how many he may have killed before--"

"I think we should leave," Mulder repeated. "Listen, he may not be the only person living here. You shouldn't be found here." Then she realized the cause of his sudden urgency. Judging from the freshness of the carcasses the deer had been killed within the last twenty-four hours. Dana was about to remonstrate that he seemed to forget that he stood right next to her until she realized what he meant -- that he intended to return later -- alone.

"No. Mulder, we've got to secure at least some evidence of what he did. Bring back the sheriff --" she protested even as he began crab walking them both back away from the tube and towards the western light, now making an effort to disturb as little as possible as he went. Once they were both near upright she began to drag on his arm, slowing his retreat.

"Scully, these aren't victims," he replied with astonishing surety. "They're ancestors."

************

In the end, they compromised. Mulder hunkered his way back to the tube and delicately filched a few of the larger skull fragments from around the base of the alter, securing them in a large white handkerchief he tugged from a back trouser pocket and handed them out to her for safekeeping. When they emerged from the cave entrance Mr. Mulder firmly steered her south instead of north.

"Not the same way we came in." His voice was pitched so low Dana had to lean up to hear him. He must have read some of the skepticism in her expression because he grimaced and muttered, "Humor me."

So further along the ledge to the south they stepped, Mulder flanking rather than forging ahead now, keeping one eye trained fore and one aft of them. Dana was about to point out that they were running out of ground when Mulder spied a broken, somewhat more sloped than vertical face of the rock that seemed suitable. The top was a good seven feet above them.

"Up you go, Scully," he said in the same low tone, but now sounding almost amused as if he were privy to all the scraped knees and bruised elbows she'd earned running and tumbling after her brothers, a little girl determined to be as stout and fearless as any son of Captain Scully could be. There was no point in protesting or pretending; he knew. Studiously he averted his eyes as she opened her blousey shirtwaist, slipped the cloth bound evidence inside, rebuttoned, and then tucked the front hems of her skirt and petticoats into her waistband. When she turned to the rock face she found his long arms bracketing her on either side, his warm breath stirring the petals of the simple silk flowers on the brim of her hat. "Quick as you can."

Dana might have been a little too proud of the speed and skill with which she slipped from beneath his safety cage and scaled the distance, but Mr. Mulder didn't seem to mind. As soon as she had gained her footing at the top and untucked her skirts, he was motioning for her attention from below.

"Catch." Before she realized what he intended his revolver floated up into the space in front of her face. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to reach out and slap both her hands around it. "Can you shoot?" he asked in a stage whisper as he began his own climb.

"No." Dana was surprised at how pained she was by the admission, but though she'd begged and pleaded it was one area where her father refused to indulge her.

"Well then, if anyone comes up behind me, fire over both our heads, if you please. Maybe you can scare them off." By the time she had what seemed a secure grip on the butt and trigger and was pointing it toward the narrow strip of ledge behind Mr. Mulder, his hand was gripping the ground on the rim of the ravine and hoisting himself up. On his feet he gently withdrew the gun from her hands and asked still in that subdued voice, "Are you alright?"

"Yes, of course," she tried to answer dismissively, only then realizing that her fingers were trembling.

"Very well," he didn't seem inclined to argue though he looked a bit concerned. "We need to keep moving -- quickly as possible. I won't feel better until we're back to the road."

Because Mulder refused to follow the same trail back to the wild man's body that they had followed out, Dana was having difficulty recognizing way points she mentally marked on their trek west. In fact, the whole morning had seemed disjointed, out of place and time and sense. It was as if by stepping into the woods with her companion she had left behind everything she had come to accept as steady and predictable and now navigated a world with no map. Winged devils? A possibility that must now be disproven, it seemed. Savage men occupying the forests of New Jersey? Yes, definitely, the rattle and scrape of bones purloined beneath her shirt attested. In the midst of this nonsensical reality paced Mr. Mulder, who not only had no difficulty accepting these possibilities, but was ever ready to open himself to them, record them, marvel at them.

If this fantastical world of the pine barrens was topsy-turvey then he was its gyroscope, unaffected by tilting or rotation of the circumstances surrounding him. The speed and seriousness with which he'd accepted that a modern, well armed man and woman might still be considered easy prey in this environment was a testament not only to his quick adaptability but to an astonishing lack of ego. As one who ever required proof and surety before acting, Dana found herself trusting him almost against her judgment because of it. Amid the chaos surrounding her, he appeared the one fixed point.

Dana's rueful thoughts helped distract her from her overtight corset and shortened breaths as she paced Mr. Mulder who'd set off through the trees at such a clip that she soon missed the wild man's comparatively easy to traverse hunting trail. She was to the point of demanding a spell or at least some recognition that her legs were not as long as his own when he halted so suddenly that she near ran into him from behind. Then her companion's crestfallen demeanor and slumped shoulders alerted her that they were at last back to where they started. Before them was the lee side of the large flat boulder that they had perched on earlier. It was only when she peered around Mr. Mulder's stock still frame that she recognized what was supposed to be their crime scene.

Mr. Mulder's meticulously recorded tableau had been obliterated. The outline of wings trampled to incoherent segments. And his attacker's body was gone. A dampened, human-shaped depression in the forest floor the sole indication it had ever existed. Circle the spot as she might, Dana could not find a single drag of heel or boot print, bear track betraying where it might have been been carried or dragged off. It was as if the faeries she had imagined earlier had purposefully come and swept the forest floor then scattered a new carpet of leaves and needles to obscure their work.

The coat shroud Mr. Mulder had so considerately provided was all that remained to mark the spot. It had been rent into halves by savage hands. Its sleeves clawed and shredded at the shoulder as though whatever had attacked it felt a vendetta against its owner and imagined him to be still inside. Against her will Dana recalled every feature of the cave Mulder had touched and tested -- and the alter. She held her trembling hands against her rapidly pumping sides in an attempt to steady them both. They would surely know his scent now.

"What the hell is going on here?" It took Dana a moment to realize the high pitched incredulous voice was her own. Acting the lady was beyond her at the moment, she was tired, thirsty, and outraged. When he at last moved Mr. Mulder scarce seemed to register her agitation or anger. He merely laid his hand at the small of her back and resumed their journey to the edge of the wood and the road he had convinced himself promised safety.

Even after they reached it he did not relent until he had handed her up and into their hire. Only then did he seem to settle into a calmer frame of mind. Jumping up into the rig he performed a neat U-turn in the narrow road and set them off at a steady trot back to the city. Huffing out a relieved sigh, he spoke the first words since they had discovered their latest evidence stolen.

"Dr. Scully, where exactly are the tissue samples you took from Denise Elder?"

*************

City Drug Store
Atlantic City
September 18, 1893
4:12 p.m.

Dana preferred not to consider how large a bribe Mr. Mulder had had to put forth to get her access to the pharmacist's laboratory in the biggest drug store on the Atlantic City boardwalk. But she'd seen enough bitters bottles and different flavors of opium-infused cure-all snake oils on display shelves in the front of the store to convince her the proprietors would do just about anything for money. While Mulder had been making these arrangements and sending telegrams to Mr. Burks and Melvin Frohike, she had been requesting the retrieval of the girl's tissue samples from safe keeping. Dana was a bit cagey with Mr. Mulder as to exactly how she had properly secured them. But their pimply faced porter had apparently taken something of a shine to her and when she had asked him where she might find some refrigeration on the first evening of their investigation he's been more than eager to offer to secret them in the hotel's ice house for her. Though the young man seemed prepared to retrieve them for the payment of a warm smile and sincere thanks from his new friend the lady doctor, Mr. Mulder tipped him five dollars anyway. At the boy's stuttering thanks Mulder warned him to speak of it to no one else.

"I doubt our Mr. Mackie has that kind of pocket change for bribes if he cannot make his own bail, but you never know," he shrugged at her raised eyebrows. "No more free information for the press."

Mr. Mulder ushered her into the lab with a flourish and seated himself between the room's curtained entrance and the workbench keeping a weather eye on both while he sipped contemplatively on a chocolate egg cream, hair flopping in his eyes.

Ignoring the improbably charming picture he created, Dana marched straight to the work table and began gathering materials, flame, flasks, and litmus papers she would need, half wondering how much of his interest was his curiosity about the processes involved and how much was his protective instincts still in full force. In the end, it was such a quickly unraveled chemical puzzle that Dana ran the test twice with both samples just to be sure, chuffing a laugh that this had been so simple when the rest of the day had been so full of complex obstacles. But there it was, obvious, hard evidence on the blood red litmus strip.

"What is it?" Mulder demanded, catching something of her mood and hoping to share in her amusement.

"Sulfuric acid, Mr. Mulder," she answered with a nonplussed shrug. "Oil of vitriol." A wry smile spread across his face as he too seemed beguiled by her findings.

"Brimstone? As in 'fire and brimstone', Dr. Scully?"

Chapter Text

Hotel Traymore
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Sept. 18, 1893
7:42 p.m.

"I tell you, Bernie, you have to send me a photographer. I could be above the fold every night with some pictures to go with this!" Joseph Mackie was exaggerating but the maid had allowed him only five minutes to make his case in a free trunk call from the Traymore's manager's office before she would give him the broom. He had to convince and convince fast.

"What for?" demanded his editor, Bernard Leher, his high pitched tenor crackling and distorted over the telephone line. Staring into the brass eyes and oak face of the magneto telephone, Joe would swear he could hear the man chewing on the worn stem of his unlit pipe from here while beating a martial tattoo on the top of his desk with the silver letter opener his wife gifted him for their anniversary last year. Bernie was balancing his mental ledger between expense and profit, the actual newsworthiness a side consideration. "You haven't even seen the thing! What's a photographer going to do? If any pictures of your toothless, hayseed 'witnesses' make the front page your jig is up. No one will believe a word or plunk down one red cent to buy the paper it's printed on."

"But that's what I'm trying to tell you! It isn't the 'devil' we need pictures of. Edna can draw those. It's these two doctors... detectives...whatever they are who are here looking for it. Both as pretty as a new bride and they are shinning around town and the pine barrens like they think this thing is real! They're the story!"

"Huuuuummeh," was Bernie's doubtful reply. "I thought you said they were working for Whitten? Do like I say and stay away from that suited rattlesnake."

"Well, I might have been wrong about that,” Joe confessed rubbing the back of his neck so hard he almost knocked off his own hat. “I doubt they're working for him since he's put a tail on them."

It was going to be hard enough to follow the pair since they'd already deduced that their nosy cellmate was also a reporter for the Evening Star. But the second he'd spotted that plaid-suit and brown bowler-wearing tough lying in wait just inside the Traymore lobby door last night, he'd known that there was more to this pair and their "devil" investigation than it first appeared. Joe supposed he should be grateful that he was so easy to spot. An earlier encounter with his kind had left him with a permanent knot on the back of his head. But he still couldn’t understand why a private detective agency which sold itself on its discretion and ruthlessness did such a sorry job concealing who was in its employ. They just might as well have tattooed "Pinkerton" above the broken nose and scarred brow of their agent and been done with it. That he was having such a hard time figuring the angles of this story both bothered him and filled him with a predator’s coiled energy.

"They have old man Whitten worried, Bernie. That alone is reason enough to milk this. Who knows what his late son and heir was up to out there in the Barrens? If these two find out, my guess is that will be the end of any Leeds Devil inquiry."

"Well, be careful it doesn't become the end of you," Bernie said with uncharacteristic concern. "Don't think he's forgotten that ruined heiress piece you did last year. She was his niece, you know. I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't the reason the sheriff picked you up."

"Sister's daughter," Joe dismissed airily. "His name was nowhere mentioned. And Thompson's had it in for me since I wrote the gambling-police-corruption story two years ago. But bless him for an angel this time because this story fell right in my lap while I was in lock up," he joked, nervously pulling his hand away from his coat pocket for the third time since this conversation began. "By the by, it looks like Thompson's still got gamblers on his payroll. Picking the pocket of every man jack who walks through the doors of that jail. Even this Mulder fellow got the treatment and from what I hear he's got a pedigree that rolls right back to the Mayflower charter."

"Good thing you had gambled your money away before you were arrested then," snapped Bernie sarcastically. "And you're welcome, by the by, for the bail this establishment fronted to get you sprung from jail. I expect to make that back -- with interest -- before you step foot on the return train." A long pause. "Take a good picture, would they?" Bernie's voice was starting to take on the doubtful but dreamy tone that meant he was interested and/or about to do something against his better judgment.

"Would they! Lord Byron with a beard and a bandage, he is. And she's a blushing peach of a gal with a temper stands two foot taller than she does. You could slap them on the cover of a dime novel romance and no one would blink. And it would sell like hotcakes. I tell you we can milk this thing for weeks, but I need a better angle. This is only a story as long as someone looks to be taking it seriously. And they are."

"No one takes this seriously," Bernie scoffed. "But it everyone wants to believe it. Your devil sells papers...that's for certain," He sounded almost sorrowful at the predictable gullibility of his own readership of which he now planned to take full advantage. "Okay, I'll send Chester out to you tonight. His wife's baby's not due till next week. Try to keep each other out of jail."

"Thanks, Bernie. You won’t regret it," Joe rushed, thinking he heard Alice's footfalls and dragging broom coming down the hall just outside the door. "I'll wire you the latest before noon."

"You do that," his editor snapped. "Well before noon. And if you plan to embellish your 'devil' any further, Edna would appreciate early warning. It's not easy putting that ridiculous chimera together with you adding and subtracting parts every day. Though I have to say, the back legs were an inspiration. Now any stray horse clopping by in the night by can be read as a sign of the devil passing through in the morning. "

"Oh, Edna loves it," Joe scoffed. "It has to be more fun than drawing sober judges on the bench and Main Line tea parties all day.”

Without his realizing it, his wandering hand had again stolen into his coat pocket to touch the plaster arc resting there. He hadn’t told Bernie, or anyone, about it seeing it was stolen property. He'd nicked it through the cell bars after it slipped from that Mulder fellow’s breast pocket onto the dingy ticking of his cot as he slept. Admitting its existence would explode this entire tawdry fame and profit scheme and put him for the first time in memory on the trail of a story that might be considered truly grand but he had no intention to. He wasn’t sure if that meant he was nobody’s fool or a coward. “Tell her...tell her I promise the front legs will never change." His palm curled around the long talon as he spoke, its sharp point digging into his palm and sending a superstitious shiver racing over his skin like a strong wind. As the sting registered, he slammed the earpiece down in its cradle just as the door handle turned and Alice's angry-worried face appeared pale in the gap.

*****************

Marcus Elder Household
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Sept. 19, 1893
3:30 p.m.

Through a hairline crack between the frame and his library door Marcus Elder examined his guest unawares. The man rose from the seat before the desk to which Caroline had shown him and headed, not as Marcus half expected to his desk to inspect the business papers scattered there, but straight to the bookcase dominating the eastern wall of the room. Touching nothing, he simply read the titles, hands easy at his sides. Chuffing quietly at ones he recognized? Possibly. What an odd man.

Marcus was convinced he had never met a man as unsettling as Fox Mulder. As a man who could say without immodesty that he rarely had difficulty commanding the attention and emotions of others, he found himself at sea with this person with no idea what tactic to adopt. If he proposed a fantastic explanation, Mr. Mulder seemed willing to consider it, at least for a time. Doubting didn’t work because he would be quickly remind that Mulder had been summoned to Atlantic City on the strength of Marcus' eyewitness account. All true, but he never guessed that this Philadelphian would find more to baffle in the pine barrens than he had been sent to find. Now the only question was how to stop him from discovering anything else.

He doggedly ignored Caroline's penetrating gaze. She had stood at his side a full five minutes waiting for him to open the door and admit them both to the room. Only now did it occur to her that he had no intention of inviting her to this interview. Gathering her carefully tended dignity, his wife silently returned to the sitting room and Peggy's embroidery lesson. It was something of a surprise that she had interrupted her lesson in the first place to beat their maid Edith to the door when Mr. Mulder rang. Doubtless she had heard in the roundabout way of the household that Mr. Mulder had sent a message asking for an appointment because another dead body had been discovered in the barrens.

Once his wife was safe behind sliding doors, Marcus sighed in relief. Since their daughter's funeral he and Caroline had scarcely exchanged a word. Not that communication had been easy before Denise's death, but now the lines of congress between them felt utterly broken, nonexistent. She blamed him and he could not comfort her without accepting that blame.

If he’d thought to unnerve his guest by making him wait, the tactic was turned on him when, after fully scanning his library, Mulder strolled behind the desk to gaze out the western windows. From the farthest one, if you lifted the sheer curtains as Mulder did, one could easily spy the road leading out of town to the pygmy forest. Elder’s breath caught as his guest backed up a few steps to catch the view from behind his desk. Stooping over he peered over the high-backed leather chair, no doubt observing that from that vantage a man could gaze straight down that dark path into sun dappled shadow without moving a muscle.

Deciding enough was enough, Elder pushed his way fully into the room, noisily clearing his throat.

“Mr. Mulder. Sorry to keep you waiting. What news?”

Far from startled or embarrassed, as Elder had hoped, Mulder straightened unhurriedly and circled back round to his seat.

“Mr. Elder, I was just admiring your view,” he said without a hint of embarrassment. “Small wonder you have been tempted to wander in the woods so often. It is a very enticing prospect." And instantly Marcus was on his back foot. Every word the man spoke seemed loaded with double entendres.

"But to business," Mulder segued smoothly when his host failed to respond beyond an open-mouthed gape. "Dr. Scully and I have gathered some unusual information pertaining to your daughter’s cause of death I would like to share with you.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said, shaking Mulder’s hand and taking his seat behind the desk with a weary air. “I was afraid my unfortunate temper and Mr. Whitten’s involvement might put you both off the case. I am sorry to see that Dr. Scully is not with you today. She has not returned to Philadelphia, I hope?” He hadn’t thought his personal interest to be obvious, but Mr. Mulder’s tightening jaw and slightly narrowed eyes said differently. The man didn’t miss much, but then again, he’d have to be blind not to realize his common bred, but pretty, companion would draw male attention wherever she went. Elder still hadn’t decided whether Mulder saw himself in the role of chaperone or rival.

“Currently Dr. Scully is pursuing another line of inquiry following the physical evidence,” he said, his voice becoming flat and neutral. “While I’ve been researching the Nelson Archive. I thought it best to try to find the earliest version of the Leeds Devil legend and work from there. As I am sure you realize, being something of a folklorist yourself,” he said nodding toward the bookcase closest to the desk, “such stories are rarely spontaneous inventions, but arise from some historical incident that is embellished and embroidered once the public's imagination is engaged. In this case, I refer to the birth of Deborah Leeds’ eighth child – the child that killed her.”

“That’s an odd way to put it, but I take your point,” Marcus said, trying to sound nonchalant. “Titan Leeds was his name, if memory serves.”

“Yes, and that is where the record and public lore becomes confused. Legend has it that the devil was the thirteenth child born to 'Mother' Leeds, no real identity is given to this person. Also this jibes with common lore and the general Christian association of the number thirteen with Judas Iscariot. However, the fact of the matter is Deborah Leeds and her maid Miriam Clayton’s -- both with child -- died on the same date. No cause of death was recorded for Miriam Clayton and neither is there a record of the fate of her child. All we can state is that two women died that day and two children were born, but one remains unaccounted for.”

“What do you suggest happened?” Marcus shook his head as though unfamiliar with these facts, pretending the reams of notes securely locked away in his desk drawer did not exist.

“That one man with power and interest manipulated this record: Daniel Leeds. What do you know of him?” Mulder asked, with a quirk of an eyebrow. This was a direct challenge, no allowance to a claim of ignorance would be given.

“Only what everyone from these parts knows. Leeds was Welsh by birth and a Tory who was fiercely loyal to the crown. He published one of the first almanacs in the colony advancing his positions. I believe he also published a book laying out his natural philosophy,The Temple of Wisdom, though I have never seen a copy.” Mulder nodded approvingly.

“Yes, Leeds practiced and preached through his writing, a species of Christian mysticism. By most accounts, he was an ambitious, proud, and hot-tempered man, who despite close connections to New Jersey’s royal governor and a generous grant of land, was unlucky in his personal business dealings.” Marcus wished the pause Mr. Mulder took here was coincidence, but the still and steady look that accompanied it said otherwise.

“He was of the firm belief, however, that his connections and enlightened self-teachings should guarantee him wealth and rank. Both he and his youngest son were inordinately proud of the sigil of their Welsh homeland – the wyvern, a four-legged dragon-like creature that, according to legend, emerged from underground to defend the rightful lord of Wales. Naturally, some draw comparisons between the Welsh wyvern and descriptions of the Leeds Devil."

“And you don’t?” Marcus asked, forgetting for an instant his own worries and genuinely curious about Mulder’s thoughts on the subject. At the moment, the man sounded more like his skeptical partner than the enthusiastic investigator with whom he’d corresponded. Mulder shrugged.

“It is a plausible and most would say probable explanation. Leeds' and his son’s almanacs both feature it. Titan went so far as to design a bogus family crest decorated with three of the four-legged dragons. It’s no wonder the Leeds family became associated with the monster, but not to their benefit.

“His reverence for observing celestial bodies and the magical properties associated with their alignments led the Society of Friends to condemn Leeds. They ejected him from the faith, branding him ‘an evil, pagan blasphemer.’ Franklin who had an almanac of his own to sell, mocked the family for their obsession with the mythical beast and their lordly pretensions. By the time Titan inherited his father’s almanac, the rivalry had escalated to an all-out battle in print.

“Franklin, of course, detested Leeds’ politics but he took particular delight in ridiculing Leeds’ obsession with the mystical arts -- alchemy, astrology, and astronomy. My background research in Philadelphia taught me this much, but I was not aware how deep Leeds devotion to the practice of his esoteric knowledge was until a few days ago when I discovered the stone circle he had erected in the barrens.”

Mulder continued as though Marcus’ convulsive start was a natural reaction to this revelation. Standing, he again went to the book case nearest the desk and ran a considering finger down the spine of one of the oldest and well-worn volumes, so often used the title had rubbed off the powdery leather. Superstitiously, Marcus could almost feel his guest reading The Temple of Wisdom by touch.

“Like other mystics of that era, Leeds had a fascination with prehistoric stone circles, particularly those in Wales – Bryn Cader Faner, Bryn Gwyn, and the like. As a surveyor it would have been nothing for him to site his circle well away from casual discovery in the forest, but still position the stones along the powerful ley lines he’d chosen. Leeds was convinced he had divined the true purpose of these stones – standing portals between separate planes of existence. Doorways that could be manipulated -- opened to admit spirits and beings from those planes above and below if one knew the proper formulae of symbols and spells. Commanding such a portal, he believed, would solve all his problems, but what fed his passion wasn’t hope of touching the divine unseen, it was a desire for revenge. On the Society of Friends, on Franklin, on all those who mocked, cheated, and condemned him.”

“Yet we know Franklin survived Leeds and his son by many years," Marcus interrupted. "Even after his father's death, his son Titan had no luck winning popular opinion over to his views. Franklin all but made Titan Leeds a laughingstock in the pages of Poor Richard’s Almanac. For the sake of argument then, neither father nor son could have succeeded opening this portal and left their revenge unfinished, could they?” Marcus asked trying to look and sound like he was posing a rhetorical question.

“Titan could not succeed where his father had failed. The Leeds might have been mystics, but they were Christian mystics. Leeds’ life experiences, personal convictions, and the patriarchal religion he followed blinded him to the key he needed to unlock his portal and command his monster from below.”

Marcus shook his head as though he had lost the thread his guest was spinning. Mulder gave him a chiding look. When he spoke again his voice had dropped its storyteller’s cadence and took up a much more personal tenor.

“You know, Elder. The key. This is old magic – pre-Christian – an art passed from mother to daughter, not father to son. Daniel Leeds was known for overbreeding and neglecting his wives even by colonial standards. None of three survived him. Of course, he was bound by his traditions to forget that the devil he called up was born in the blood of women. Only a woman descended of Deborah Leeds or Miriam Clayton could command it.”

Marcus felt the blood rush from his head to his feet in an instant. Had he been standing he would have fallen over. “Miriam Clayton?” he whispered under his breath. Collecting himself, he attempted to shore up the wreckage of his disinterested façade. “So…so you think the portal was opened by—”

“We will never know for sure whose child originally commanded the devil, but it appears its first victim was Daniel Leeds. Circumstances around his death are vague in the extreme. Officially it was reported that he was waylaid and murdered by thieves in the barrens who were never apprehended. He was found face down, coat torn, but pockets full. His decomposing body was identified by the watch chain he carried. It was bound to happen eventually. He had published or practiced every known sign list and spell he had researched in an attempt to call the incarnation of his sigil to him and fostered enough resentment and fear within his family and those who served him to last generations. All that would be required was for a woman of either family to realize the power of her blood, enter the circle, and summon the devil. Or for someone to teach her and lead her there.”

“What are you suggesting?” Marcus demanded, rising from his chair, leaning on the fists he planted on his desk blotter for support. But he feared his theatrics were solely for his own benefit. Mulder looked singularly unimpressed.

“Miss Nelson has a phenomenal memory for one of such an advanced age,” Mulder continued mildly as though Marcus had not spoken. “She was very pleased to help me with my research this morning. It seems she knew exactly the documents tracing the Leeds family descendants in this area because she remembered helping you on a very similar project more than a decade ago when you were a charming, but hungry young bachelor.”

“You think you know me, Mulder,” Marcus hissed. “You know nothing—"

“Tell me about Denise, Mr. Elder. Why take your youngest daughter to the forest circle? She doted on you and you her, by all accounts. Or was it what she represented that you loved? Why expose your little girl to that horror?” Here what had increasingly felt like Mulder’s cold dissection of the inner pathways of Marcus’ mind was abandoned in sheer outrage. “And for what? To settle some petty spat between you and Joseph Whitten? For that you married Deborah Leeds’…what – fifth generation granddaughter?”

“I never intended for it to roam loose! You don’t understand what I had been forced to endure at that man’s hands. The disgraceful things he’d done to Mary and threatened to do to her and her son if she didn’t agree to…. And, and Caroline knew. Her grandmother taught her the secret, but she refused to—"

“To what? Commit murder in defense of your mistress? That is surprising." Mulder didn’t try to hide his contempt. "So you groomed Denise, a sixth generation granddaughter, to be your Celtic sorceress. It was only when the beast stopped killing for you did you alert the authorities. Did you honestly think Thompson and his deputies could shoot it down for you if Dr. Scully and I arranged an introduction?" Mulder mocked. His expression soured from grim amusement to genuine disgust as he read the utter lost confusion on the face of his host. "You never found the means to send it back, did you? You turned it loose on the world without the first idea of how to send it back.

"Well, though you never asked, it might interest you to know, Elder, that the devil you unleashed has killed again. A man, this time. A man with family, by all indications, whose crime was simply being in the wrong part of the barrens at the wrong time. He died in the same manner as your daughter – choking on a sulfurous fume.”

“I thought Caroline was the last of that branch. It never occurred to me that the Clayton woman’s children could..." Marcus slumped back in his chair, drained, seemingly uncaring of what came next. But that was a lie too. He had so many faces to so many women to maintain. Why had Mary turned on him, her one defender? If he had ever known a true love in his life he would have sworn that it was hers. Surely, she didn't believe that he had ordered her Mattie killed?

“You’re as blind as Leeds with his aristocratic pretensions and reverence for ‘royal’ bloodlines,” Mulder snapped, making for the door. Now that he had Marcus' confession he seemed to have no further use for him. “Titan was Miriam’s child, a changeling adopted to hide the birth of Leeds’ monster. Those two families have been linked since the beginning. And still are – through you."

“I don’t—”

“Where is your wife?” Mulder interrupted, throwing open the library door and casting a look up and down the central hall. At Marcus' stupefied stare, he pressed. “If I were you, Elder, I would need to know where that woman is at all times. Where is she?”

“In the sitting room. She and Peggy are sewing...”

“Are you sure?” And with that Mulder dashed across the hall and threw open the doors to the sitting room. Within Peggy was calmly seated in the precise middle of a low settee pulling a needle and a long scarlet thread in and out through a taut hoop of pale muslin.

"Where has your mother gone?" Mulder asked her in a gentled voice. Like the dutiful child she was, Peggy answered the adult promptly and calmly, laying her hoop dead center in her lap.

"She left half an hour ago, sir. Said she needed some air."

Mulder nodded and then bolted down the center hall and out the back door of the house down the path to their small stable. Both mare and buggy were gone. Marcus who was following Mulder like an automaton stopped dumbfounded, staring at the empty stall.

"She never knew. Caroline never knew about Miriam Clayton," he chanted to himself just now realizing what Mr. Mulder had already deduced and what his wife of the quiet footfalls might have heard at the crack in the door. "She thought she was the only one. Oh my god! Mary—she's gone for Mary! You've got to – ”

But Mulder had already hurdled this question and was onto another. He checked the position of the sun above, muttered, “The circle is your truth,” and ran for the street and, Marcus guessed, the nearest hiring livery stable. Marcus would tell himself later than it was common sense and his fatherly duty to remain to protect his surviving daughter but in that moment, standing surrounded by rose bushes and buzzing bees on grounds of his and Caroline’s stately house, he knew himself a coward.

 

*****************

 

Home of Mary Fenton
Bateson Village
Sept. 19, 1893
5:12 p.m.

The yellowed square of paper pierced by a nail embedded in the front door was the only greeting Dana received when she knocked at Mary Fenton’s duplex. There was no addressee on it. She felt no pinch to her conscience when she freed the paper from its perch and began reading the cramped block letters.

“I have nothing to gain – not house, husband or child. So believe me when I say I went to my end at the hands of Caroline Elder. She holds all those things – house, husband and child, and she would see the whole world burn before loose her grip on a single one. I'm not saying my hands are clean, but I shed my blood only to take what she took from me. Marcus will never forgive it and so what is left? God will judge me soon enough. We are glad to lean on his heavenly mercy as there is none here on earth. -- Mary Fenton”

It was not the first confession/suicide note that Dana had read in her time, having done multiple rounds in the morgue but it was certainly one of the most succinct. She did not have to think long about Mary Fenton’s likely destination as she turned and pulled herself back up into her hired rig. But this confession puzzled her. Mary let her own blood in order to kill Denise Elder? Surely that was the sin Marcus Elder would never forgive. But how had it been accomplished? She half wished Mr. Mulder were here to spin some improbable explanation because left to her own devices her mind provided answers that made her uncomfortable and with no one but herself to blame for them.

Dana’s sensible self piped up to remind her that people contemplating ending their own lives are seldom coherent, and that even in extremis of grief, Mary might be attempting to implicate Caroline Elder hoping that the authorities would punish her for a suicide made to look like a murder. But that did not fully satisfy. Mary Fenton was no scholar dashing off notes as quickly as her thoughts formed. Like many who were unaccustomed to writing regularly, Mary had weighed carefully what she would say. The tone of the note said she was more deeply concerned with her own eternal reckoning than with Caroline's guilt.

Unbidden, the words of her mother's morning telegraph unspooled in the back of Dana's mind. Maggie Scully was another woman who wrote seldom and only when she had something vital to say. For the fiftieth time today Dana tried to scope the reason her mother thought to telegraph the Traymore to relate the contents of a dream she'd had the night before. Secondary to this, but no less baffling, was how her mother had, at the break of day, managed to find a telegraph operator in the city of Philadelphia willing to send a message in the Irish.

"Dana, shamhlaigh mé fút aréir STOP Bhí tú i bhforaois le beirt fhear agus beirt bhan, ach ní raibh ach duine amháin ina chara STOP Ná déan dearmad ar do thine STOP Sa chiorcal tá d’fhírinne STOP Tar abhaile chugam, a iníon STOP Ná habair Bill STOP"

Maggie could have saved herself those last six cents, she thought ruefully. There was no power on earth that would compel Dana to confess to her older brother that their mother was so worried about her that she had spent close to a dollar to send a telegram begging her to come home.

Dana had read and reread the message furtively across the breakfast table from Mr. Mulder fighting to keep her expression calm and neutral. She needn't have bothered.

"What's wrong?" he asked after giving her face a cursory sweep. "Is everyone well at home?"

"Yes, of course...yes." At his quirked eyebrow, she dismissed, "It's my mother." His sudden genuinely concerned expression, forced her to rush on tossing out the least distressing scenario she could imagine on the fly. "She's wondering when we will finish here and return to the city. There's a church social at the weekend she wants me to attend."

"A bit early to panic, seeing as it's only Tuesday," he observed dryly. Damn him. No frenzied repast this morning, Mr. Mulder was eating heartily but at a normal pace which left him plenty of time to examine his companion's embarrassed blush. "There must someone in particular to whom she wants to introduce you."

"As a matter of fact, yes," Dana snapped, hoping to end this line of inquiry before he worked the entire contents of the strange message out of her. Lord knows what he might make of Maggie Scully's unspoken but firmly rooted conviction that some of her dreams were prophetic.

"Anyone I might know?" he asked, a slight edge deepening his voice, his frank eyes dropping from hers as he chomped down on a triangle of toast. "Not that I'm a regular in the church social circuit." She could tell precisely where his thoughts were headed. A pathologist looking to marry wouldn't suit his needs at all.

"Rob Porter," she said flatly, naming one of Bill's least objectionable land-loving friends, a city hall accountant if memory served.

"No, doesn't ring a bell. Well, we'll see if we can get you back in time for the Sunday social, Dr. Scully," he said in a formal tone than he had not used with her in several days, causing her to regret her reticence. "Tell me, what did you learn from the bone fragments?"

Dana decided to pass over that he somehow knew she had spent half the night making notes on them by hand lens and lamplight. She was coming to believe it was a waste of her time trying to map the pathways of his mind as it would be work enough to prevent him mapping hers. Or she looked more tired than her mirror had let on this morning. Maggie wasn't the only one who'd spent a restless night.

"They're old. Both in life age and in the number of years since death." Since none of this information seemed to surprise him she continued. "Of the three individuals whose skull fragments we retrieved, two were in their sixth decade at least and the third was even older, the sagittal suture was obliterated. In all cases the bone tissue was dry and friable. They had to have been exposed to the open air for decades to reach that level of desiccation in this wet environment."

"Go on." Mr. Mulder had stopped eating and was giving her his full attention.

"Well, I don't want to...read too much into this, but two of the specimens don't look exactly...modern." Before the word had fully left her mouth Mr. Mulder's eyes had gained that sharp hazel-green focus that told her that her warning was falling on deaf ears.

"What do you mean? Not modern?"

"It is only two specimens and so it could be an abnormality brought about by inbreeding," she cautioned. "If you are correct, and these individuals are ancestors of our victim, the people this man came from could be a fully insular breeding population and therefore may be suffering some of the same problems as your most recent house tenants." Mulder sat back in his chair, his expression a mixture of wonder and amusement until he let out a genuine delighted laugh. Unwillingly Dana found herself smiling back at the rare happy sound from her normally single-minded companion, their earlier tension forgotten. Waving his snow white napkin in her direction before dropping it to the tabletop in mock surrender, he signaled that she still had the floor.

"There is another possibility however, a more remote one, but one that also fits the evidence we have in hand. I am not sure how well read you are on the subject of modern human ancestry, Mr. Mulder, but in 1859 an English naturalist and biologist --"

"I'm familiar with Darwin's work," Mr. Mulder assured her with a nod.

"Then you probably know that those who have carried on Darwin’s research into human descent have been examining fossil skeletons discovered in caves in central Europe with features that are unlike those of modern humans. Larger cranial vaults, large nasal cavities, heavy brow ridges, receding chins--"

"Are you saying that our cave dweller--"

"I observed all these features easily on the body we discovered in the forest and some of them are present on the fragments of crania you recovered. I don't have their mandibles to match, but the frontal bones, brows, the measurable arc of the vault are more different than alike modern humans. I don't want to overstate the possible importance of this finding but if these features bear out on the complete skulls in that cave, it could be one of the most significant evolutionary and anthropological discoveries ever made in North America. A population of living human ancestors," she finished in a breathless rush.

"Careful, Dr. Scully," Mr. Mulder warned severely. "You keep talking like that and you will be barred from all church socials forthwith."

Dana pulled up short and was on the point of issuing a retort that would blister his eyebrows when she saw the tease in his eyes and instead burst out in a short fit of the giggles. His answering grin made her less self-conscious about her laugh which she always thought too silly and girlish and not at all professional sounding. Sobering as she noticed that they had drawn attention from neighboring tables, she wondered how many years it had been since she had permitted herself to laugh with a colleague.

"What do you suggest we do?" he asked simply, surprising her again. She had half expected him to begin raising objections to pursuing this line of inquiry any further. And there were good reasons not to. It was an aside to their original purpose in being here. And she knew Mr. Mulder was at best ambivalent about returning to the cave now that they suspected it was still occupied. It was fairly certain its occupants had observed or tracked them moving through their territory and therefore had reason to suspect his hand in their companion's death.

Dana also felt Mr. Mulder had an as yet unvoiced objection to their continued pursuit of this question. He did pity the man who choked to death on that forest floor even though the man had attacked him unprovoked. His leaving this decision to her felt like an unearned victory, especially as she had not voiced her strongest argument against his pacifist impulse. Whoever had spirited away the wild man's body undoubtedly now viewed Mr. Mulder as an enemy. However benevolent his present intentions toward them, his safety in the barrens was by no means assured. Dana was certain he meant to return there today and equally certain she would not allow him to do so alone.

"We see the sheriff and tell him what we've discovered. Ask for a few of his deputies to go with us back to the cave so that we can retrieve more evidence. If Mr. Frohike arrives today as he promised--"

"He can fully document the cave as well as the stone circle," Mr. Mulder finished, nodding with reluctant approval. "Very well. Finish your coffee and we'll be on our way." At her wide-eyed stare at his statement that might have come from her brother Charlie over their mother's Kensington breakfast table, he shrugged. "I’ve noticed you're generally in better spirits when you've had two cups over one. I predict our interview with Thompson is going to be more trying than you believe. He's afraid of the barrens."

Mr. Mulder wasn't wrong. He allowed her to take the lead, though whether her expertise carried any more weight with the sheriff than his was up to debate. Mr. Mulder reasoned that the man would be more likely to believe someone he had not previously held in lock-up. Nevertheless, despite her carefully described evidence chain forged to the wild man and the not entirely honest connection to the recent murders Dana hinted at as a means of enticing him, Thompson merely shook his sagging jowls when she requested an expeditionary force of deputies, stating he simply didn't have the manpower.

The interview reached it lowest point when Mr. Mulder pulled his sketch map of the crime scene from his breast pocket and presented it wordlessly to the lawman as incontrovertible proof of her statements. The recognizable outline of a massive pair of wings he had been so careful to record around the body was probably not its strongest selling point. Dana's cheeks warmed but she didn't know whether she was embarrassed at Mulder's bravado or angered at Thompson's stubbornness. She had seen the wing impressions too, dammit, but did he have to drag the Leeds Devil into the discussion at every opportunity?

Then it occurred to Dana that she had advanced a theory of the wild man's case this morning that would be thought no less fantastic to the editors of American Anthropologist than tales of the Leeds Devil. Her outrage cooled in an instant and a quiet shame took its place. If she chose to volunteer her expertise to study the unexplained she was bound to follow the evidence no matter how odd its final destination. She did not get to pick and choose which facts constituted evidence, she reminded herself sternly. Resolved, Dana took herself in hand and gave Thompson a stone-faced, "Is there a problem?" look when he laughed nervously at Mulder's drawing and turned to her to share in his amusement. Mulder was absolutely right, he was afraid, she thought, as Thompson began sweating when she refused validate his doubt.

"If you have manpower enough to send your deputies to the barrens in the middle of the night to collect Mr. Mulder for the crime of sleeping on the forest floor, sheriff, you have manpower enough for this," she continued doggedly. "And by the way, why was it so urgent to arrest him? How did your men even know where to find him to make an arrest?" she pressed. Sweat had beaded Thompson’s brow at this point. He wasn't afraid, she corrected herself. He was terrified.

"How the resources of this office are used is my decision for as long as I hold it. And if I choose not to waste them pursuing spurious reports of wild men in the pine barrens, it is not for you to question me, Dr. Scully. Now, if you two don't mind, I have more important matters to attend to today," he blustered, handkerchief mopping around his collar and forehead. "Good day to you, sir and...ma'am," throwing the sodden cotton square to the floor, then reaching across the desk for Mr. Mulder’s sketch with the clear intent to crumple and toss it into the nearest trash bin.

Mulder withdrew the paper and, before Thompson could touch it, creased it carefully and tucked it back in his breast pocket. Smiling bitterly he muttered, "Maybe at my next arrest, sheriff. Good day."

Hands on her hips and uncaring whether Thompson overheard her, Dana began venting her frustration before she had crossed the jail's threshold, "He knows, Mulder! He knows who's responsible for these murders."

"He knows something," Mr. Mulder agreed, leading her away from the building at a fast clip. “I think at least part of what he knows is in the history of this place and its people, not in the barrens. Might I suggest an expedition to the library? Maybe we can both find some answers there."

“Atlantic City has a library?” Dana asked, taken aback, but relieved at least he did not seem determined to strike out on an expedition to the woods.

“A semi-private archive, much the same,” Mulder said, looking pleased with himself. “I sent a request for an appointment yesterday afternoon and received word this morning that the archivist has agreed to allow us a visit.”

The archive was in the second floor of a private home, an imposing rambling brick structure tucked deep in the older residential part of the city. Its curator, a Miss Amelia Nelson, looked old enough to have seen the foundations of her home set in the ground. The white-haired maiden welcomed them with an air of suspicious restraint, but before half an hour had passed she was dancing attendance on Mr. Mulder’s every question as if she had known him since boyhood.

Dana had to admit that Mr. Mulder knew how to turn on the charm when it suited him. In Miss Nelson’s case, all he had to do was to don a pair of round rimmed wire spectacles, produce a pencil and pad of paper from his pockets, and display an uncannily accurate memory for dates and names of the region’s historical figures to be welcomed as a fellow scholar and confidant. Dana, on the other hand, was treated much more suspiciously. It was the red hair and freckles, she always assumed, that and her lack of a decent pair of lace gloves.

As Miss Nelson’s archive held little of interest for a medical doctor, being mostly a repository for local history, genealogical records, and accounts of the heroic deeds of ladies’ civic committees and their banker husbands, Dana assisted Mr. Mulder by scanning sources in search of marriage records of Leeds family women and their descendants. When that occupation palled, as it soon did when she realized that the term ‘Irish twins’ would have been better applied to the Welsh, she tried to amuse herself by reading the antique English in copies of Daniel Leeds almanac. Within those pages he tried, and failed to her mind, to connect the month and day of the year to the movement of celestial bodies to the drawing of particular mystic symbols in order to determine everything from the most auspicious days and sometimes hours within which to plant a crop, breed livestock, or father a male child with one’s wife. It was not until Mr. Mulder dangled a book on ancient Welsh folktales before her face that she became genuinely interested, though she tried to keep her enthusiasm to herself.

“Dragon lore, Mr. Mulder?” she whispered skeptically so as not to draw the eye of Miss Nelson who had not appreciated her contemptuous snorting at the insights contained in the yellowed pages of the Leeds Almanac one little bit.

“How do we learn about the present, Dr. Scully?” he murmured quietly, a deep and pleasing sound that felt like velvet to her ear. “We look to the past. I think this is where it all began, Leeds’ mania for the mythical symbols of his homeland.” At her raised eyebrow, he smirked and whispered consolingly, “Just see if you can find and jot down the earliest version of the story of the raising of the beast. I don’t ask you to believe it. Unless of course you’d like to examine more genealogical records or tackle Leeds’ magnum opus, The Temple of Wisdom,” he teased with an uncharacteristically skeptical roll of his eyes.

“No! No, thank you, Mr. Mulder,” she said snatching the book from his hands to his clear amusement. “I’ll find it.”

Miss Nelson appeared soon after with an invitation to tea for Mr. Mulder that she grudgingly extended to Dana as well, but informed them that they could not, of course, imbibe among her precious volumes. Dana politely declined, thinking rightly that Miss Nelson wanted her handsome visitor all to herself. Oddly, she also sensed that Mr. Mulder had a few delicate questions he wanted to pose to the maiden lady. She could think of no other reason that he continued to go out of his way to appeal to her rusty maternal instincts. He’d likely have better luck getting his delicate answers out of their hostess if Dana was not present.

Besides, she was eager to reacquaint herself with this tome on Britton mythology she had loved as a child. She’d never hear the end of it if Mr. Mulder found out she had read and reveled in stories of Merlin, Uther Pendragon, and his son Arthur when she was a little girl. Of course, she knew that in the earliest telling of the tale a young Merlin advised the first king of Wales to free the red dragon from under the earth to defend his kingdom from invaders. In the long term, that strategy went about as well as many of Merlin’s other strategies, she thought wryly. And as she continued to read and outline she admitted that young Dana had conveniently forgotten some of the less romantic aspects of having a Ddraig, as the Welsh called them, roaming one’s kingdom unhindered. For example, the unearthly screech of the beast was said to cause all women within earshot to spontaneously abort any pregnancies they were carrying.

Her mother’s telegram appeared in her lap below the work table before Dana realized she had reached into her coat pocket for it. Strange that she should want to reread it now, though. As vague and disconnected as the features of Maggie’s dream sounded in the retelling it still carried a lyrical sort of power on the yellow Western Union paper, speaking to her in Maggie’s soft voice between all the STOPs.

“Dana, I dreamt about you last night. You were in a forest with two men and two women, but only one was friend. Do not forget your fire. The circle is your truth. Come home to me, daughter.”

“Are you sure you don’t need to return to Philadelphia?” Mr. Mulder asked quietly over her shoulder giving her such a start, the telegram dropped from her cold fingers to the floor.

“Yes, of course,” she answered automatically, grimacing ruefully when he bent to retrieve the scrap of paper at her feet and return it to her, making no pretense of not trying to look at it. “I’ve finished with these stories,” she said handing him the pages with her outlines while snatching back the telegram and slipping it into her pocket. “I think I’ll return to the hotel and finish writing out the notes I took on the bone fragments before luncheon. What about you?”

“I still have a last few bloodlines to follow to their end, but that should only take another hour or so. I’m so full of tea and biscuits that I don’t think I’ll want a lunch,” he stage-whispered with an eye roll as Miss Nelson rattled her way down the hall carrying the tray holding her best china service, a bemused smile on her face.

“When I’ve wrapped up here I’ll go to the station and wait for Melvin’s train and see him and his equipment settled at the Traymore. Then I think it will be time that Marcus Elder and I have a heart to heart. Your information will be a great help with that. Thank you,” he added sincerely. “Maybe take a rest before this evening? I think Whitten will be expecting another report on our progress over dinner. That and an introduction to Melvin Frohike will require all your strength, believe me,” he added with a smirk.

“Actually, I think my afternoon might be better spent visiting Mary Fenton,” she announced out of the blue. She had no idea where the impulse had come from but was somehow certain this was the right course. Besides if he thought she was going to spend the afternoon napping while he interviewed witnesses, he was dead wrong. She had not come here to be coddled and he had best get used to the idea. “I’m convinced she knows more about her son’s death than she told us the other day. We need corroborating evidence and I think a woman to woman conversation with her will give us better results.”

Mr. Mulder’s face which had resolved into a gentle and supportive mien fell into a turmoil of conflicting impulses as she spoke. He knew she was right about Mary Fenton. She could see that. But he was loathe to let her make the journey to Bateson Village alone. And the itinerary he’d just proposed for himself couldn’t be jettisoned without making it obvious that he didn’t trust her with that part of the investigation. Then, of course, he would also be giving up an excuse to spend time with a stunningly beautiful woman.

Dana waited expectantly for the mental gymnastics she was certain Mr. Mulder could easily perform to make a complete reversal of his plans sound like a reasonable, even logical course of action. Instead, he darted over to the he’d coat hung over the back of his chair and fished out his pistol and handheld lamp from its pockets. Returning with a set expression he pressed both into her hands.

“Stay well out of the barrens. I do not expect anyone to bother you, especially if you return before dusk but if anyone comes near the buggy without invitation, shoot them. Just point to the center of their torso and pull the trigger. I’m sure you know what points will cause the most or least damage, but just keep in mind precision is not vital. If they don’t reconsider their plan after your first shot, keep pulling the trigger until they do.”

There was not a scrap of humor or irony in his voice as he issued these directions and Dana began to feel sorry for testing him so.

“Never put your finger on the trigger if you don’t have a target. Here is how to use the lamp,” he said, demonstrating the switch that put the batteries into contact and fired the filament in the light bulb. “It works best if you hold it level and steady.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mulder,” she said, feeling anything more she might say would sound inadequate.

“Stay well out of the barrens, Dr. Scully,” he repeated with a single nod. “Return before dusk.”

Yet despite every warning and caution here she was a half an hour before dusk headed into the barrens to find Mary Fenton.

Chapter Text

New Jersey Pine Barrens
Sept. 19, 1893
5:37 p.m.

Frank Dempsey swore for the fifth time that day that if he never saw the backside of Fox Mulder again it would be too soon. For the love of God almighty, the man never stopped! Five days ago he’d been assigned to follow the private investigator – Frank refused to grace Mulder with the title ‘detective’ as he considered their professions to be as different as night and day – and in all that time once, just once, had he stayed put in one location for more than five hours straight. And then only because he was locked up in a jail cell.

Trudging through the forest undergrowth as quietly as he could so as not to be detected by anyone not just his target, Frank silently congratulated himself for that much-needed, satisfying interlude, probably the last he would ever know. It was lucky he paused to smile at those brief hours of alcohol-soaked hedonism as he just stopped himself stepping into a hole that would break his leg. That night, all it had taken was a flash of his agency badge and the card of his client for the sheriff to send off a few deputies to collect Mulder after he’d given them directions to the spot. In fact, the sheriff was downright enthusiastic about the idea, not even questioning the battered and bruised appearance of the man from Pinkerton’s in his eagerness to take that ‘nosy New Englander’ down a peg or two.

Thompson probably thought Frank would drop by the next morning to provide him a list of offenses and spurious proof with which to charge Mulder. It wasn’t like he hadn’t done it before. Instead, Frank had gone straight from the jail to a full steak dinner, a full bottle of bourbon, a full-bottomed whore, and a half night’s and half morning’s drunken sleep. This was Atlantic City after all. But none of it had been enough to make him forget what he had done, heard, and seen in the woods that first night or what he continued to see and hear whenever that jackass Mulder slowed down long enough to give him time for a little shut-eye.

Now, here he was in the woods – again. Trying to keep a distant eye on his subject while keeping his other eye peeled for any hairy, bare-assed lunatic looking to cut his way through anything in his path with a stone blade. And, his inner voice added, for whatever the hell it was flew tree-top level in the dark making them godawful sounds that he was grateful not to have seen.

At least it was still light. For now.

Frank Dempsey was not a man who dwelt on the moral ambiguity of his profession. He was known at the agency as a man for getting a job done with as little fanfare as possible, collecting his pay and his bonus if any particularly thorny or legal gray area had to be dealt with, and moving on to the next one. Conscience had no place in his world, which made his services highly prized by his clients. None of that explained why he kept the knife he wrestled away from his attacker. Well, attacker was a strong word. The lunatic had looked more to be escaping deeper into the forest as fast as the terrain and his bare feet would permit. Frank just happened to be in his way.

Switchblade was out and in his hand before he’d fully scoped the strangeness of the person running at him – his deep chest, long arms and wiry build. Frank preferred to think of it as his survivor instinct when he answered the slice of the stone blade through the sleeve of his coat with spring loaded metal blade six inches deep into the man’s gut. But an Atlantic County judge and jury who knew nothing of the mental and physical habits of his kind of detective would likely just call it murder.

His attacker, after issuing a hard, coppery grunt of shock through the curtain of curly hair veiling his face, let go the wooden handle of his knife, pulled Frank’s switchblade from his liver with both hands, and dropped it to the ground, hardly slowing as he ran. Frank would bet good money at any straight or crooked table in Atlantic City that he didn’t get far. But when he heard the phwap of leathery wings beating at the air above, the pressure thus created bearing down, jamming his hat more firmly on his head, he had no desire to find out. He ran in the opposite direction.

No mention of the wild man in the woods made it into his daily report nor did any description of the sound of giant wings rushing overhead in the wake of the wounded man’s escape. In the days following his and Mulder’s misadventure in the woods, Frank kept a close eye on the papers as well as on his subject and the colleen pixie to see if anyone reported finding a naked dead man in the barrens, but when no such report materialized his worries about being brought up on charges began to ease.

Stupid to have left his knife behind. Pinkerton Detective Agency thorny difficulty rule number one was never leave your weapon behind, particularly not one that had your initials engraved into the silver handle. But the Pinkerton Detective Agency rule book writer had never heard what he heard crashing around in those woods that night, never felt the warping of air and space around him, as though he needed more senses than the five he’d been born with to fully scope what was happening. And he’d kept the stone knife, breaking Pinkerton Detective Agency thorny rule number two of leaving behind every bit of evidence that could link you to the deceased. It rode in his coat pocket, slicing the lining and his fingertips if he shoved his hand in there carelessly, occupying the space his switchblade used to. Animal sinew tying it to the wooden handle had been weathered smooth and tough as a metal filament. When he stared at it closely, as he did some nights watching the lights still on in Mulder’s window, he could make out caked blood caught in the binding.

Frank was much less relieved to read stories of a giant winged devil attacking in the barrens and on the edges of the forest, but after a couple of days with no new developments, he became fairly certain that the journos were spinning yarns with nary a thing to back them up but the tales of credulous bumpkins wanting to see their name in the paper. He tried to convince himself that he’d taken Mulder’s notes too seriously, regretting that he’d slipped into the man’s room after the chambermaid to read them. That was not part of his original assignment. And just because Mulder's notes were full of so many details on the Leeds Devil legend, just because he wrote like he believed there might actually be something to these stories did not make it so. But still Frank heard those wings and that screech-cry in his sleep. So loud that one early morning a fitful start found him curled and sweating under his bed frame rather than on it.

Frank Dempsey was not like this. Frank Dempsey did not do this. This case needed to end.

The problem was Mulder. Fecker would not stay out of the damn woods! As soon as that little colleen sprung him from jail, he went right back there, taking her with him this time. Frank bleary and shaking from hangover, had followed only as far as the edge of the forest, like a dog left behind the front gate of his master’s house. The longer he stood listening for sounds of their return, which he didn’t expect to be hard – the two never stopped arguing – the more he convinced himself that eyes were looking out at him from the sun-dappled shade. The next time Mulder and the colleen went back, Frank didn’t even make it as far as the wood’s edge, hanging about the road like a duff for an unconscionably long time waiting for the two to re-appear. Standing there, his skin crawled again with that unmistakable feeling that someone you could not see was watching you -- a feeling he was used to dealing out, not receiving. Frank pondered whether the responsibility for reporting them missing or dead were going to fall to him. It wouldn’t be good for his reputation at the agency if he were the last to find out his subject had been stabbed to death by…what? A naked, ugly Delaware Indian who somehow escaped removal? Or choked by some bat-winged demon? Nothing about this case made sense.

Nearly two and a half hours passed while he sat in the shade of their hired rig and wondered if he had it in him to quit detective work and see if his da would take him back in the family business. He wasn’t even sure if the old man was still around. Packing salt pork barrels was no more his idea of the best way to live out his days now that had been thirty years ago when he was eighteen, anyway.

Frank almost whooped with relief as he ducked out of sight after he spied Mulder and the colleen hot-footing it back out of the woods, straight to their rig, and straight back to the city. Neither was talking and both were pale, which he took to mean they must have seen something like he’d seen and were sensibly scared right down to their drawers. Maybe, prayed Frank, this would be the last of the barrens. Mulder would find a way to wrap this thing up and get himself and the colleen back to Philadelphia next day.

But one day later and here he was -- again. The colleen buggied off in the direction of Bateson Village only a few minutes before Mulder left to visit the Elders. Following his original orders, let the colleen go and stuck to Mulder but he was surprised when Mulder came sprinting out of Elder’s back yard less than an hour later and into the street like his own house was afire. Within minutes he had a rig and was off at top speed. Frank opted for riding horseback for fear of losing him, but it was a sure bet where he was headed. The damn barrens.

He stood for a solid ten minutes looking into the woods after Mulder had disappeared beyond the tree line. There was nothing good in those trees for him. He knew that. But maybe Mulder had figured it out. Maybe he had a plan. Or maybe Mulder already knew what Frank had just now figured out. That he wouldn't be able to live with a version of himself who stood outside the forest looking in, too afraid to move. So Frank followed.

Not fifteen minutes later they had him surrounded. He could hear them, and the one upwind he could definitely smell, but he couldn't entirely see them. They blended in and out of the dusk shadows of the trees like ghosts or tricks your eyes played on you late at night. Frank counted at least three though, closing in from behind, blocking his way back to the road.

The first blow came from out of the dusk to the east -- a flat pebble the size of a silver dollar hard to the temple, knocking his hat clean off. Team hunting, Frank thought blearily, that was smart. Like the duff he’d become since that night he’d heard a devil overhead, he’d expected a direct, face to face fight. But no one walked up to deer to shake hands before getting to business, and he realized now that is what he was, no more than a deer, prey. Staggering to his left, cupping his hand over the depression made by the rock, Frank felt warm blood pulsing out onto his fingertips. It was not meant to be a killing blow, just to slow and disorient him. They could afford to take their time. They had a plan.

But a deer didn’t need to run if it could shoot, Frank reminded himself with a snarl, pulling his pistol from his back holster and holding it out before him.

"C'mon then, you bastards," Frank hissed into the dusk, just as a second, larger pebble arced out of the gloaming and hit him square between the eyes. He fired a shot. He had no idea what or who he was aiming at, but he did get a shot off. If the ping he heard was the bullet striking the trunk of a tree or his own ears ringing, he couldn’t tell.

The sun sat down on an obscured horizon and Frank sank to his knees. A trembling, scarred hand he barely recognized as his own held his gun in front of him like a talisman against growing shadow. Then one of his attackers stepped forward.

He's just a kid, Frank thought, staring at beardless adolescent almost his height wearing not a stitch of clothing. His curly mane was held back in a knot showing his hilly pate and at the end of his long hairy arm he held Frank’s silver-handled knife, blade out. Frank guffawed at the sight of such a modern shiny gadget of a weapon in the hands of a creature that looked like he’d be baffled by a fishhook. After his broad flat nose gave the evening airs a good sniff, the boy’s walnut colored eyes met Frank’s from beneath bushy brows with satisfaction as though he had long awaited this introduction. Not an Indian, Frank decided, trying to wipe the blood out of his eyes with the back of his gun hand. Too ugly to be an Indian.

On a dizzy whim he dropped the pistol he no longer seemed capable of aiming and pulled the stone blade from his pocket. Holding it out wordlessly, offering a trade to this beast child – knife for knife. Walnut eyes flashed in recognition and rage in the gloaming and the kid’s long arm shot out at his throat. Cold steel sank deep, past arteries to spine and Frank Dempsey just had time enough to think ‘Offer accepted’ before he knew no more.

***************


Leeds Circle by M. Frohike 1893


New Jersey Pine Barrens
Sept. 19, 1893
5:45 p.m.

Mulder hadn’t intended to look at Dr. Scully’s telegram before he handed it back to her, but he had.

What that normally meant in the abnormal byways of his brain was that a readily perusable image of it was available to him should he choose to recall it for as long as he should choose to recall it. Images were generally stored for more than a few hours only if he considered them interesting, beautiful, useful in the long term or, more often than not in his profession, painful. A gentleman possessing this odd quirk would have immediately endeavored to forget what he had seen and go on about his genealogical research.

But Mulder, apparently, was no gentleman. As soon as Dr. Scully had decamped for the Traymore and her anthropological studies he wrote down the words he’d seen between the STOPS, grabbed a copy of O’Reilly’s dictionary, and began piecing together the gist of the message. It was from her mother, but nothing so innocuous as a church social was mentioned. In fact, it read like some kind of warning. Fair enough, mothers tended to worry. It came with the motherhood vocation, at least in most cases. But precious few mothers knew specific aspects about their current case without being told first. Forests and circles, friend and foes, all seen in a dream.

Once he thought he had the meaning fairly well sussed out, Mulder returned to his research, impatient now to be finished. His theory of the case was burning a hole in his mental pocket, increasing his eagerness to confront Elder and see if he had deduced correctly. But something about Mrs. Scully’s message echoed in his head, ringing over the maze path leading to Elder and his motives that he had drawn in his mind.

Mulder didn’t know how he knew Dr. Scully had deviated from the timetable they’d discussed, he just did. There was no time to check at the Traymore to see if he was right. If he was wrong she was safe now and no harm done. If he was right…the Indian summer sun was dropping fast. After Samantha, he was never one to question his intuitive leaps, taught so early in life the most painful lesson that he’d rather look a paranoid who succeeded in protecting those he was responsible to than a sensible man who failed them. If Caroline Elder was headed to the barrens knowing that her and her husband’s disastrous balancing act was at an end it was a sure thing that no one had better be near her or her newly acquired avatar. Not Mary Fenton, Marcus Elder, and certainly not Dana Scully. For as lightning quick as Marcus’ temper was, Caroline’s was magma hot and deep, having been forced underground for so long.

Best to remove everyone from the barrens vicinity until a viable strategy for banishing the devil could be devised. Put Mary Fenton up in the Traymore if necessary. He could just imagine Dr. Scully’s exasperated response to such a plan. In fact, he was eager to hear it. Right now, with her sitting shotgun next to him in the carriage on their way back to another late supper in the twilight.

He near ran over his Pinkerton tail on his way out of the stables, whipping the horse from a canter to a near gallop on the road to the pygmy forest. But he was sure the man would be able to figure out where he was headed. He hadn’t seemed to have much difficulty over the past week anyway. Frohike had enjoyed directing his luggage trolley directly at the man in the train station by ‘accident’ to see what he’d do as Mulder was away arranging for a cab to take them to the Traymore. Turned out Pinkerton’s finest was not as graceless as his wrestler’s build suggested, according to Melvin. Mulder had to admit to being more that a little amused at that. But if they didn’t watch themselves, the game would be up and someone who was perhaps more skilled at concealing him/herself would be assigned and that would not do at all. Always better the enemy you know.

It wasn’t that Mulder was accustomed to being followed, but he and his associates had been at the center of enough sensitive cases he could usually tell when someone of power or wealth thought they could best protect their interests by adding extraneous detectives to the investigation who were loyal to them or their pocketbooks rather than the truth or the law. This time the only thing Mulder had not been able to determine about his tail was for whom he was working, though thankfully this one seemed uninterested in tailing Dr. Scully unless he was with her. Which in the end might prove to be unfortunate. He urged the horse to a faster pace.

His biggest gamble was that Sheriff Thompson, in the end, was not a liar. If the locations of the bodies so far discovered had been correctly reported, the devil had killed no one within the stone circle – only outside it. His own experience the first night and his research since seemed to confirm this. He had collapsed inside the circle and the wild man had run out into the forest. The circle protected as well as focused the energies that called the Devil. If he could get everyone at risk inside the circle it might be possible to persuade Caroline to call the beast off. Her grandmother must have passed on the necessary formula to banish the creature. From the episodic nature of the Leeds Devil sightings through the decades it seemed that the Leeds or Clayton women had called the creature to solve immediate problems and then withdrew it until it was needed again. Though judging from the relative wealth and position of the Deborah Leeds vs the Miriam Clayton descendants, the Leeds family women had been making better or more frequent use of the devil than their Clayton counterparts. There had to be some way to send it away. There had to be and Caroline Elder knew what it was.

Inside the tree line all the obstacles and pitfalls Mulder remembered from that first night seemed to have yielded their places, as though the forest were opening, drawing him inside herself like a lover, gently pulling him forward bit by bit to her center. Ignoring the gathering dusk and the quieting of all the life surrounding he pressed on. Even the crickets’ relentless chirping sounding throughout the wood just minutes ago had fallen silent. When he reached the east bank of the creek, he risked a look to the opposite side.

Mary Fenton stood at the circle’s center, a dark goddess as tall as one of the granite sentinels standing between them. Dark red streaked her grey-white apron on either side from the cuts to her wrists and dripped down to spatter the alter stone she stood upon. Head pitched back, hair spilling over her shoulders, she seemed to be praying to the small patch of purpling sky overhead, though Mulder could not make out a single word. He ran down the embankment, slipping into the water, suddenly certain he needed to stop her from completing whatever summons she spoke to the twilight. But even as the cold stream soaked his boots through and he bound up the opposite bank he could feel with each movement of her lips, the air above his head bowing, pressing in close, popping his eardrums inward.

A gravity greater than Earth’s was pushing up rather than pulling down from below, expelling in a mammoth whoosh from a darker realm the beast that materialized in the air above the circle with a great flap of its wings. It reflected no color that he could name and its size seemed to focus, then unfocus depending on whatever “real” object to which it was perceived closest. Next to a tree it was monstrous, near a standing stone it was man-sized. The claws were no doubt there, shiny and razor-tipped. And the smell that surrounded it some sort of unholy combination of sulphur and rosemary. As graceless as Mulder had recalled its collision with the tree on the night he’d first seen it, at that moment it put him in mind of a peregrine’s terrible grace, stooping into a dive at its prey.

Then all hell broke loose.

Ears still aching from the conjuring of the beast, Mulder made out Caroline Elder’s voice ringing out from the small heel stone just outside the circle to the east. She stood much in the same attitude as Mary though the effect was somewhat diminished in that she was every bit as pressed and buttoned in as ever, not a hair out of place, blood securely held in her veins. But he had to amend this opinion when he caught the words of the chant/song she unleased with a high pitched keen that he wagered was never heard in her church choir on Sundays.

Gan adain y Ddraig a chlawdd y Ddraig,
Tynnwch fi o'u golwg.
Hedfan o'm blaen, olau'r Ddraig,
Ac yn ddall fy gelyn â'ch golau
Llosgwch nhw gyda Tân y Ddraig!

Using her three middle fingers she drew a complex series of lines down the center of her brow and in the air before her face as she wailed into the gathering night. The beast did not hesitate, turning its great horned head in his direction with a deep inhalation and a wheeling of its fleshy wings. Like any good keeper of a house, Caroline had decided to clean this matter from top to bottom. No one who could tell of her, her husband’s, or her daughter’s guilt was to be left alive.

Mulder struggled to climb the crumbling embankment to enter the circle he was more than ever convinced promised protection only to be knocked to his knees by a great whoosh of air pressing down from above. Ducking his head he rose up and pressing his upper body close to the vertical wall of soft mud, he just missed the devil’s first feint in his direction by giving it nothing to grab onto. When he felt the creature lift off again he regained his feet and scrambled up the embankment to level ground. Mulder’s heart stalled when he saw the devil had changed tactics, lowering itself to hover between him and the nearest gap in the stones. It’s great tail ruddered back and forth to hold it in position, blocking entry. As he’d learned from the wild man, running in the opposite direction to escape the woods was hopeless. Mulder gambled that if he made to attack in Caroline Elder the beast would follow and so made to dash in her direction. That was enough to dislodge it from its defensive position and back up into the air above him with a frustrated snort. Just as the beast cleared the top of the granite slab it’s been guarding, from across the circle, Mulder saw her.

From the west, Dana Scully bolted into the ring, a red-headed juggernaut medical bag clutched in one fist and his hand torch in the other, seemingly ready and able to put a quick end to these irrational archaic magicks once and for all. He could not but smile at the sight of her and at the fact that she had made it within the circle, safe. At least that is what he thought until she reached the center and Mary Fenton without warning, cuffed her hard across the face.

“Scully!” Mulder screamed as he watched her fall backwards, smacking her head hard on the forest floor. A moment later she had risen to one elbow and thrown Mary a mutinous glare. A relieved sigh whooshed from his lungs just in time for him to realize he should not have taken his eyes off the devil.

******************

New Jersey Pine Barrens
Sept. 19, 1893
6:07 p.m.

Dana's half certainty that she had hit her head on one of the circle stones in her fall and was now dreaming or hallucinating the scene before her evaporated in the moment she heard the creature's wheezing inhalation as Mulder's torso began to disappear between its fleshy wings. A deep shadow closed over his shoulders and head. Now, even now, he stared up in fear and fascination into the visage of the monster.

From some near-distant point her ringing ears heard a voice screaming with fierce authority, "Mulder! Cover your face!" before he disappeared entirely behind a grotesque dark veil, roped in vein and sinew.

She could not tear her eyes from the sight of his body still struggling to fight its way inside the circle, carrying the devil on his shoulders, knees buckling under its weight. Undeterred, the creature's head was tucking down into its monstrous embrace preparing to administer its fiery poison through a deadly kiss.

Mulder’s pistol was out of her bag, in her hand and spraying bullets in the direction of the devil’s head, or so she thought. She could really not be sure as her hands and eyes now seemed to be acting independently of each other. All that she could see was the devil unaffected but Mary Fenton fallen backward when a bullet struck after she raised her arm to deal another blow. All that Dana could feel was her finger pulling the trigger over and over, hammer striking empty chambers now, but the devil not reconsidering its plan in the least.

This wasn’t working. Whether at last overburdened by the weight of the creature on his shoulders or strangling on a poisonous fume, her partner’s forward progress halted.

Mulder fell to his knees but two feet shy of the circle’s edge.

Do not forget your fire.

Dana was up on her knees, one hand scrabbling for Mulder's light and the other rifling blindly through her medical bag as she willed him to hold on.

Stay. Stay with me.

Sweeping aside the collection of chalk symbols and wooden talisman, smearing away Mary's blood offering from the surface of the alter, Dana snatched up a handful of clean leaves and slapped them down onto the center of stone. The bullseye crystal was off Mulder’s lamp and a battery from within freed to lay next to her small pile of leaves in an instant. Scrabbling in her bag for her cleaning kit she had the steel wool out and teased into a small rope long enough to lace from one side of the battery to the other directly atop her kindling.

Birthday wishes, church alters, a solid entreaty for Ahab’s safe return from sea in the form of a candle in the window. Maggie had always called it an old, simple prayer, but even as a child Dana had known then as she knew now, this was more than an appeal to unseen forces holding power to grant wishes – or not – according to their whim. It was a way to take control of those forces and bend them to one’s will.

'Do not forget your fire,' Maggie had said then with a small smile and a great hug. And Dana had not forgotten, she waited for it, her blood screaming for the first sign of fire crawling along the fine tangle of filaments once the two poles had been joined. At last the kindling caught and a small flame appeared and the words returned as though they had been sitting on her tongue the entire day.

Tine san aer, tine sa talamh,
Bainim úsáid as an tine nach féidir a fháil,
Tagann sé ó mo bhéal i mbuille,
Chun anamacha timpeall orm, taispeánfaidh mo thine
Níos gile ná aon tine ó thíos.
Bí imithe!

And with as deep a breath as she could draw, drawing it for herself and for him who could not have inhaled now for whole minutes, Dana blew out the alter flame. With the scattering of leaves and cinders to the forest floor in front of her, the air above and around the circle seemed to compress and pull up to the tree tops, drawing her eardrums out. The devil dropped Mulder and shot up into the air overhead where it seemed to strike an invisible ceiling and fall back to the earth, to the ground, to where Caroline Elder stood. Now useless wings wrapped round its plummeting body the devil issued an eldritch screech that tore the night airs around them from pine top to creek bed. A woman, perhaps two women, screamed in concert with the creature as it struck earth. The impact popped Dana’s strained ears almost beyond their limits and she clenched her eyes shut in anticipation of the final rupture that would break that sense finally and completely.

When she dared open them, Dana could see nothing outside the circle save Mulder lying on his side, blistered hands shielding his eyes, nose, and mouth, still and unmoving. Finding her feet at last, stepped uncaring over Mary Fenton’s sobbing, supine body. The woman was clearly alive though injured and in any case she was no longer Dana’s primary concern. Instead, she ran to him, feeling his throat for a pulse and weeping a little with relief when it surged strong beneath her fingers.

“Mulder?” she demanded only to be answered by a deep, heartfelt groan. She leaned over to speak into his reddened ear. “It’s alright. They’re gone. Rest here, I’ll be right back.”

******************




Epilogue

9th and Arch Museum
Sept. 22, 1893
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
3:02 p.m.

>

"Dr. Scully, I would think that you of all people would want to examine this specimen. The only hard evidence so far provided of the existence of the Leeds Devil," Mulder teased with a tentative smile, easily holding their space amid the throngs of gawkers crowding around and past them in this carnival sideshow which had somehow been graced with the title 'museum' by virtue of the four brick walls around it, he guessed.

A contemptuous roll her eyes was the sole indication that his companion was beginning to ease out of her dark mood. It hadn't been a simple matter getting her to agree to meet him here this afternoon. After disembarking the Camden ferry yesterday she had seemed more than ready to wash her hands of everything to do with the Atlantic City case, including him.

Truth be told they were both angry and out of sorts by day's end. He had no more begun to comfort her over the discovery that the wild man's cave she was so eager to document had been vacated while they dealt with the last of the Leeds case than she had had to console him over Whitten ordering Leeds' stone circle completely dismantled.

Ancestor shrine, whetstone, even the well worn hearth at the cave's entrance had been removed or swept away. Iris could not have done a better job scrubbing the shelter of clean of all signs of its former occupants. They searched, for sure they searched, but there was no hint of where the wild man's companions might have relocated. No corroborating evidence remained with which to compare her partial specimens, and nothing more was left to say. With a frustrated sigh she had curtly refused his invitation to return to the stone circle then announced she was going back to the Traymore and would send a horse and buggy to collect them when she got there.

Even Frohike, one of the more sanguine souls Mulder had ever encountered in his travels, was cranky and out of sorts after all the wonders he was promised to capture with his lens turned out to be disappointing wrecks. By the time he and Mulder had hauled all his equipment from the empty cave site and then to the stone circle, a dozen or so of Bateson Village's stoutest workmen were already uprooting and dragging off select blocks of stone lashed to draft horse teams that were usually tasked with plowing Whitten's sugar beet fields. Those monoliths that were too deeply set in the ground or too large to haul away for re-purposing were simply toppled and pick-axed where they lay. Daniel Leeds' painstakingly surveyed doorway to another realm had most emphatically been closed. Then nailed shut.

There was no protest legal or otherwise that Mulder could issue that could stop or even delay the work. He considered trying it, though, as he watched one of the conglomerate pillars at the 'entrance' to the circle wrapped in chains and then sharply pulled out of place, a sympathetic popping sounding in his ears. But it would be no use. Whitten literally owned the forest and could do in it what he pleased there according to the great state of New Jersey.

At least Whitten's spy had stopped following them, Mulder thought bitterly. Apparently after having conveyed the most important details of Mulder's investigation to his employer to permit in this destruction, Mulder had not seen hide nor hair of him. Though it was strange and rather unprofessional that he had left his hired mount at the forest's edge for anyone to discover.

After a few minutes watching his employer's continued wincing at the dismantling, Frohike exerted some of his low-key, workman's charm to convince Whitten's men to take a thirty-minute break so that he could at least document the location and what was left of the larger granite pillars, for which Mulder was deeply grateful. But as with the wild man's cave, there was really little left to see. The alter stone at the center now bore the only signs of any ritual activity. Mulder had stared at it long and hard while Frohike set up his tripod, but for the life of him could not remember a fire being part of Mary Fenton's summoning ritual as she had placed herself in the middle of the alter stone. Yet here was an unmistakably fresh ashy blackening dead center. When he had regained full consciousness in the darkness that night, he'd found Dr. Scully checking his limbs for breaks and pouring her evil disinfectant concoction directly into the gouges in his shoulders. But there was no excited narrative to accompany the events he'd missed while in the devil's embrace nor was one forthcoming on the ride home in the rig he'd brought. Just quick, competent dealing with the externals of the case, dressing Mary Fenton's wounds and seeing her settled comfortably. Comfortable or uncomfortable it seemed that Mary would not make a reliable witness for quite some time as her reason seemed completely unbalanced by shock. She followed when told and sat when told but would say not a word about what she'd been doing in the circle or witnessed while there. Later in his hotel sitting room, after both she and the hotel doctor had dressed and redressed his wounds, Dr. Scully had silently handed back his revolver, now empty of bullets, and his hand lamp in several pieces as if they would speak for themselves.

Do not forget your fire, the telegram had read.

No sign of Caroline Elder or the Leeds Devil, the real one, was discoverable in or around the circle. Mulder had looked. Marcus Elder was making a great show of demanding search parties and offering rewards, but everyone involved was certain he would never be called upon to pay out one red cent. Those who knew her well speculated that she had at last had enough and had chosen to leave her philandering husband. All were equally certain that after a decent interval had elapsed and Mary Fenton regained her full senses she would be invited to make her home at the Elder mansion. Caroline's disappearance and Marcus' very public distress over it, however, had pushed the Leeds Devil mania to new heights. Newspapers, zoos, and merchants, all looking to capitalize on the feeding frenzy were offering rewards upward of $10,000 for information leading to the monster's discovery or capture. This seedy establishment they now occupied with its poor lighting and even poorer exhibits was the first in Philadelphia to cash in by claiming to have an actual specimen.

"Mr. Mulder," Dr. Scully replied, all marvelous matter-of-factness, "That is a moth-eaten, taxidermied kangaroo that some poor unfortunate soul was ordered to paint green."

"You have to admit using umbrella ribs covered in leather for the wings was an inspiration," he remarked dryly, earning himself the smallest possible half smile in return. He felt partly redeemed.

"Sir, could you move along please? There is quite the crush here and we must make way for those new visitors coming in," asked the proprietor primly, clearly afraid the small island of healthy skepticism they were creating at the center of the throng was in danger of spreading. Doffing his hat politely Mulder turned toward the exit and smiled to himself when Dr. Scully's hand alighted on his arm, indicating that she was with him. His redemption was complete.

Back on the street he took a chance that she was in the mood for a short stroll and steered her around the long line of the credulous waiting their turn with the 'Leeds Devil' and west toward city hall.

"The next time you are at a loss to spend 20 cents reasonably, Mr. Mulder, might I suggest you consider the poor box at St. Johns," she remarked mildly, tilting her head back, seeming to enjoy the crisp fall air. "Was there anything else you wanted to discuss then?"

"Only to tell you that the renovations to the twin are half done. If your rounds permit this week, I would appreciate your taking a look to confirm that all is as it should be. Provided no adjustments need making, I'll order the work to finish while I am out of town." When she appeared a bit taken aback by this statement. "What? It's the autopsy bay that mainly concerns me. It needs to be convenient for you to move gurneys from the lighted area to the cold storage pantry with ease. Shelving, basins, and whatnot will be arranged around whatever works best for you."

"No. I mean, that's not a problem. I'll see to it. But...do you think it wise to take on a new case before you've had time to fully recover from your last one?" she asked, indicating his gloved hands. Beneath the soft kid leather his bandaged hands were healing well. Mulder was almost sorry to see it as he now considered himself the last piece of surviving evidence that the Leeds Devil had existed at all. His beard had been scuttled days ago as the creature's breath had singed most of it away in ugly, smelly patches. For the first time since he'd grown old enough to shave it, Mulder was grateful for his dense beard as it had done such a good job protecting his face. However, his hands had fared worse.

"Better outside than in," had become Iris' new mantra as she reminded him morning and night to change his bandages and smeared Dr. Scully's preferred salve on the blistered skin before mummifying them again in gauze and cotton gloves.

"Can't be helped I'm afraid. Captain Skinner's asked me to aid his friend's investigation in Baltimore. Always wise to stay on Capt. Skinner's good side for the purposes of our work here and there are baffling aspects to this case that they think might require a psychological specialist."

"What's so baffling about these murders that they have to send off to Philadelphia for consultation?" Dr. Scully demanded. Mulder felt himself smiling involuntarily at her blatant curiosity masquerading as outrage.

"The point of entry to the crime scene cannot be determined," Mulder said slowing their pace so as not to speak in front of a group of school boys strolling up the sidewalk in their direction. "In all cases the houses or rooms were well sealed from the inside. And Baltimore police suspect there is a ritualistic feature to the case because, well, the cause of death.... "

"Well, what about it?" she demanded, eyes narrowed.

"The victims were killed by having their livers ripped from their bodies and removed from the scene," he said baldly and in a rush since the boys were almost upon them.

"What?!" Already he could see the wheels of her mind furiously turning over this information from all directions.

"If you're interested, I could--" Mulder began.

"Dana?" said a deep male voice from behind him. "I thought you were working at the dispensary all day today." Before turning to the speaker, Mulder noted her exasperated eye roll and a tightening at the corners of her mouth that did not bode well. The two men were practically at his back looking over his shoulder down at Dr. Scully. It was an effective move, essentially causing him to move out of their way so they stood directly before her. One, from the red hair, blue eyes and similar chin, was definitely a relation. The other, a couple of inches taller than him, with dark curling hair and an intense air was most decidedly not. He looked Scully up and down like a starving man sizing up Delmonico steak dinner.

"Mr. Mulder, my brother Bill Scully and a friend of the family Jack Willis," Scully made introductions dutifully, though he got the distinct impression, very reluctantly.

Mulder should have know better than to offer his hand to either man as both were in competition to see who could do the most thorough job grinding his metacarpals to dust. His burns sang a whole new melody of pain after Willis gave it one last determined shake before releasing him, but Mulder was determined to make no sign. He believed he had succeeded until Dr. Scully with a look that mixed apology and exasperation placed herself firmly between them and demanded to know what had brought them to center city at that time of day.

Small talk ensued. The only salient fact that emerged from it, at least to Mulder's understanding, was that Bill Scully most decidedly did not like the idea of him working with his little sister, though he would not mind at all his buddy Jack marrying her and locking her up at home for life with a passel of kids. Seeing that she was becoming increasingly fed up with lot of them, Mulder decided to win the contest of which man would irritate her least today by taking his leave.

"One last thing, Dr. Scully. My report to the Society is almost finished, but I would very much like to include your final account of the Atlantic City case to make the record as complete as possible, under the circumstances."

Maybe he should have been sorry, seeing the combination of fear and stubbornness that covered her features then, but he was not. For he just now realized that her exasperation and anger over the ancestor's cave was both genuine and a convenient excuse to avoid returning to the circle and reliving what she'd seen and done. It was a bit of a jolt. He thought they knew each other better than that.

With a curt nod that promised nothing, she bid him goodbye and, refusing both her escort's arms, began walking back north. Mulder watched them for a moment until surprised by Frohike calling his name from across the street. Dodging a streetcar and assorted carriages and bicycles Mulder joined him.

"What's Dr. Scully doing with him?" Frohike demanded without preliminaries.

"Good afternoon to you too," Mulder joked. "Well, he is her brother so I assume they have lots to talk about."

"Not him," Frohike said impatiently dismissing the ginger giant pacing their diminutive doctor with a contemptuous wave of his hand. "Him."

"Jack Willis, friend of the family I gather," Mulder said, trying to both look and sound unconcerned.

"Mulder," his friend said as though he should already know. "He's Pinkerton."

"Dammit!" Mulder exclaimed, brain racing back through their every discussion trying to call precisely what he had told her. "Where the hell is Langley?"

Across the street and two blocks away Dana was already ignoring her brother spouting off his first impressions of Fox Mulder. Everything was undergoing critique from his untidy hair to his effeminate gloves. She knew he knew she would not tell him to shut up like he deserved while they were in the presence of company. So she chose to ignore him entirely.

Jack, seeing the little lady's mood souring by the second, finally gave Bill an elbow to the side and broke in, "So Dana, tell me about this trip to Atlantic City. Sounds like quite the lark, from what the papers are saying."

But it turned out Dana was ignoring him too, her thoughts running someplace far away. Until she turned to him with a snap, blue eyes blazing with an intensity he'd only dreamed of seeing there before. But the words that came with the look were the last he'd dreamed of hearing.

"Jack, you need to teach me how to shoot."