Mulder carefully applies tape to his creation and steps back to admire his handiwork. Scully's heels tap-tap their way to the door.
"Mulder," she says behind him, "what are you doing to my poster?"
He gestures to it with a flourish. The poster now reads "I wanted to believe".
"I went all the way to M Street for that," she says reproachfully.
"Scully, since we've been away, many previously unexplained phenomena have been explained." He nudges the phone on his desk. "I, personally, blame cell phones."
"You love cell phones," she says.
"I enjoy the convenience," he tells her, "but the ability for every lay person to be able to record video and take photographs at all times certainly does take the mystique out of things."
"Hmm," she says.
He picks up a photograph and brandishes it at her. "The so-called Death Valley Racetrack, where stones sped across perfectly flat ground? Turns out it was just ice formations, moving the rocks around as they melted. Ice in the desert, Scully, I know, but once again your science explains away a miracle slash mystery."
"Science really is a buzzkill," she says in a dry tone.
"Humility prevents me from recounting how I once thought it had something to do with a series of mysterious sightings of a rock-like creature in Colorado, which...." He reaches for a postcard. "As you may have suspected, turned out to be a publicity stunt by a local landscaping business."
"Rock and Roll Sod," she reads. "Xeriscaping, lawns, and professional landscaping."
"I know, Scully, I know," he says. "It's amazing, going through these archives with fresh - if not necessarily wiser - eyes, how many of these cases, up and including the Amarillo Armadillo Man and the Hairy Whatsit of Walla Walla can be explained away as fraternity pranks, practical jokes, or people making stuff up simply because they're bored, crazy, high, or some combination thereof."
"And if it isn't any of those, it's probably ice," Scully murmurs.
"You know, Charles Fort spent his entire life researching natural and scientific anomalies," he says. "He published that research in four books, all of which I know by heart. And at the end of his life, Fort himself wondered if it hadn't all been a waste. When I was writing up the mysterious case of the Band-Aid Nose Man, Scully, I was thinking maybe it was time to put away the Sasquatches and the Mothmen and even...even the jackalopes." He sighs.
"Wow," she says. "Even the jackalopes."
"I'm a middle-aged man," he says. "And I'm happy to be back at work, but chasing monsters doesn't have the same cachet it once had."
"Sure," she says. "There's all the stairs."
"And that's just for starters," he says.
"Mulder," she says. "I know you're trying to distract me from my mother's death, but believe me when I say there's nothing that could distract me from that. Keep your jackalopes."
"It's worth a shot," he says.
"Yes," she says, tipping her face up. "And I appreciate that." She brandishes a file folder. "We've been given another case. It has a monster in it."
"Of course it does," he says.
"You don't have to give up the things you love," she says softly.
"You're the thing I love," he tells her. "I only want to monster mash with you."
"Good," she says. "Because you know how I feel about working through my grief."
"I do," he says. "So what's the case?"
"We're going to Oregon," she says, perching on the edge of the desk with a little smile.
"Hmm," he says, leaning next to her and crossing his arms. "Not my favorite state at this point."
"Nor is it the favorite state of this man." She shows him a photograph. "His throat was torn out."
"That doesn't look good in the brochures," he says, studying the photo. The wound is jagged. Not a knife. Maybe an animal's teeth. Sasquatches aren't known for this kind of thing.
"He was discovered by two young people who had been huffing paint," Scully says. "They claimed they saw a monster bending over him. Some kind of enormous lizard."
Mulder makes a pensive humming sound. "How enormous?"
"Human-sized," Scully says.
"And how high were they?" Mulder glances at the ground around the corpse. A lot of footprints.
"Higher than a kite, by my estimate," Scully says. "I flipped through the transcript of their statement. It devolves pretty quickly into their theories about how a werewolf might get high and what substances one should cultivate to facilitate such a state, if one were a werewolf."
"I think it's obvious that the answer to that is aconite," Mulder scoffs, and she smiles. It's only a little watery at the corners.
"Of course," she murmurs.
"You know, there's a part of me that wishes it wasn't Oregon," he says.
"Yeah," she says. "We lost more than nine minutes there."
"I'm going to call my therapist," he says. "See if she can get me in today." He's got his finger-tapping exercises, but that might not be enough. Oregon is where his partnership with Scully was forged, and where it was shattered. If he's learned anything over the years, it's that it's never just a nice trip to the forest, and that no matter how well he believes he's healed from his traumas, there are places that still ache when they're touched.
"I will too," she says, letting out a shaky breath.
"We don't have to take the case," he tells her.
"No," she says. "I want to work. When was the last time we had a lizard monster, anyway? Heuvelman's Lake? What was it called, Big Blue?"
"That was a lake monster," he says. "It just happened to turn out to be an alligator. That's not a lizard."
"Okay, when was the last time we had a giant reptile?" she amends.
"Florida, during that hurricane, with Arthur Dales?" he offers.
"Whatever that was, it wasn't a reptile," she says. "I really think it was Big Blue. We got stranded on that rock and you threatened to eat me."
"It wasn't a threat," he hedges. "Anyway, I didn't have to. At that point."
"Good to know it's still on the table," she says.
"When we get back, we should talk to Skinner about hiring more staff," she says. "We have the room. We could use some extra help."
"I admit, I'm not the world's foremost expert on modern cryptocryptids and creepypasta," he says.
"I don't even know what that means," Scully says.
"Join the club," he says.
"Call your therapist," she says, patting his arm.
"I will," he promises.
+ + + +
He manages to fit in a therapy appointment before they go to the airport. His therapist walks him through a series of things he can do to calm himself.
"Are you afraid something will happen?" she asks.
"Not exactly," he says. "But there's always the chance something will. That's kind of the appeal of the X-Files. Or it was."
"Do you think whatever or whoever abducted you is still out there?" she asks.
"I don't know," he tells her. "I used to believe it was aliens. Then I thought it was a conspiratorial alliance of humans and aliens, with the aliens directing the operations. Then I thought there were warring alien factions trying to undercut that conspiracy. Now I don't know if there were ever real live aliens, or just technology we acquired from a crash site. It's almost worse if it was always people, you know? What I remember from the ship - it wasn't pleasant. I know Scully feels the same about her abduction, whoever perpetrated it."
"I see," says his therapist smoothly. "And does the case have anything to do with aliens?"
"It doesn't look like it," he tells her, "but you never know. People didn't think the Billy Miles case was aliens either, and it was definitely some kind of inexplicable abduction of the type that have historically been attributed to aliens."
"If you don't feel safe, you don't have to go," his therapist reminds him.
"If I don't go, I won't have the X-Files," he says. "I know that sounds like a step back. Believe me, I cringe hearing myself say it. I know I've made progress and you're hoping I don't backslide."
His therapist closes her mouth and settles back in her seat.
"I can't explain it," he says. "It's what we were born to do. And I think we can handle it now. We're older and wiser now. We have you to thank for that."
"Global conspiracies aside?" his therapist says wryly.
"Hey, odds are one of them's got to be real," he jokes. "Why not mine?"
"A classic wager," his therapist says. "Well, you're in control, Fox, and you have my number. Call me if you need me."
"I will," he promises.
+ + + +
It's a smooth flight, much smoother than their first trip out, when the little regional jet jolted and Scully almost jumped out of her skin. Mulder imagines it helps that he's holding her hand. Their rental is a generic sedan. It feels a little like home. They drop their things off at the hotel (two rooms, as the Bureau mandates - maybe they'll call each other on the room phones like the old days) and head out to the crime scene.
It's strange, being back in the forest. He takes a few deep breaths as they walk under the trees. Scully shoots a quick glance at him. She isn't going to ask him if he's okay, not while they're on the case, but she'll watch him, and he knows she has an incredible eye for detail. They gaze around the forest. The leaf litter has been disturbed. Scully flips through the file. She shows him the sketches again.
"One witness claimed the creature had three eyes," she says. "The other said it only had one."
"Why didn't they get a picture of it?" Mulder asks, glancing up through the trees. The light sifts through, dappling the forest floor with shadow. It doesn't look like the scene of a murder, but Mulder knows better. Any forest glade or immaculately decorated room can be haunted by the memory of violence. There are no safe spaces, no matter how much he wants to believe in them. Nothing tragic has ever happened to him and Scully in their current place, and they've made it as comfortable as possible, but the only safe haven is the space between them, and it takes work to maintain.
"It is odd," Scully says. "Everyone always has a camera on them these days. Even a hipster with a flip phone should have some kind of grainy image." She sighs and holds up the folder. "Although this does offer some insight. Should we talk to these witnesses while we're here?"
Mulder looks at the photos of the witnesses. They have gold paint smeared across their faces and glassy eyes. "That does provide some clarity. Too busy huffing to Instagram."
"That might explain some of the discrepancy in their stories," she says.
"Maybe we need McGruff the Crime Dog on this case," Mulder jokes.
"Have you dared to keep kids off drugs?" Scully asks, raising an eyebrow.
"Spraypaint, Scully," he says. "Not my intoxicant of choice."
"Mm," she says. "And what is your intoxicant of choice?"
"Redheads." He winks at her. She rolls her eyes, but she's smiling.
"Anyway," she says. "This is the area where they say they saw the creature attacking the animal control officer, even though he claims not to have seen whatever it was that was attacking him."
"You know mountain lions always attack from behind," Mulder tells her. "He was out here responding to a call about a mountain lion. It was probably a mountain lion. I bet that's what killed the other victim too. Not some three-eyed lizard monster, Scully. I don't know where you come up with this stuff."
The corner of her mouth crimps in amusement. "Well, that is what the local authorities thought, until they did a search the next morning."
"Don't keep me waiting," he murmurs. He knows he's being ridiculous, but it keeps both of their minds in the moment.
"They found this area over here," she says, gesturing, "where they found three more victims." She leads him down into a hollow by a fallen tree. The litter has been roughed up there too. There are stains on some of the leaves.
"Grey wolves," Mulder says, propping his hands on his hips. "They've made a comeback in this regions. Wolves take their prey back to a lair."
"This hardly seems like a lair," Scully says.
"One of us was a Guide as a kid," Mulder says. "What kind of wolves did you have in base housing? I'm an expert in woodcraft. This has lair possibilities."
"I think that's what you said about the house we bought in Virginia too," she says.
"What can I say?" he asks. "I know a lair when I see one."
"Well, in this case, all the victims in this potential lair were mutilated in exactly the same manner. Some pretty precise wolves. The third victim, in addition to being mutilated, wasn't wearing any clothes."
She flips in the folder to another photo: three bodies among the leaves, and one of them naked.
"Maybe he was a nudist," Mulder says.
"Taking a nude night hike?" Scully asks.
"Wolves hate nudists," Mulder tells her. "As a scientist, I'm surprised you don't know that."
"Of course," she murmurs, looking down past her nose.
"So he's nude in the woods," Mulder says. "Hiking. He gets attacked by a wolf, or a lion, or even a bear."
"Oh my," Scully says. "Maybe all at the same time. I'm no expert in woodcraft, but that seems plausible."
"That's how I'd like to go out," Mulder says. He tries not to think of Clyde Bruckman as he says it. That stupid joke has been a lifeline for him more than once, but it's not his favorite image.
"The uniqueness of the wounds, Mulder, implies a human element," Scully says, calling him back.
"A human wolf?" he teases.
"Is that your official profile?" she asks.
"My official profile is a lizard man with two eyes," he says. "Call me crazy, Scully, but I stick to the classics."
"Hm," she says. "Did you enjoy your foray into the rational?"
"I did," he says. "I might even take a nude midnight hike into the rational."
"Regardless of your nude hiking plans," she says, "people have been killed here. I know this isn't easy for either of us, but I think we can help stop that and save some lives. And to me, that is unquestionably worthwhile for us to do, whatever killer we catch."
"Be he werewolf or lizard man or ordinary murderer," Mulder says. "You okay, Scully?"
"Only a little rattled," she says, and he says a brief word of thanks for the distance the years have brought them from "I'm fine", whatever the twists and turns and detours. "You?"
"I'm taking deep breaths," he says.
"Good," she says.
"We're all right," he tells her.
"I never had a doubt," she says. "Let's go find a killer."
"A two-eyed killer," he reminds her. "Five bucks says two eyes."
"Ten bucks," she says. "Five bucks per eye."
"That's fair," he says.
Mulder's phone rings after dinner. They're lounging in his hotel room, looking over the file, batting possibilities back and forth like a game of table tennis. He puts it on speaker.
"Agents Mulder and Scully," he says.
"Agents, this is the local PD," says the voice on the other end of the line. "We've got a little bit of a situation down at the truck stop if you could make yourself down here."
"Just a situation?" Scully says.
"It's, uh, a little hard to explain," the officer says. She sounds perplexed. "I'd really appreciate it if you could get down here. Ow! Ma'am!" They hear shouting, and then the line cuts off.
Mulder reaches for the keys. "You wanna drive? My night vision's going."
"Aww," she says indulgently. "We'll have to get you some of those anti-glare glasses."
"Don't believe everything that you see on tv," Mulder says, picking up his jacket. He opens the door.
"You remember those commercials for the Amazing Yanni?" she reminisces, walking to the parking lot. "I used to watch those all the time when I couldn't sleep. Didn't we meet him once?"
"I used to call you when I couldn't sleep," Mulder says.
"I remember," she tells him. She takes the keys and clicks open the locks. They climb into the car.
"You know the way to the truck stop?" he asks.
"I was just going to follow the screaming," she says, and starts the car. It isn't hard to find the truck stop. The giant sign towers above the highway. The screaming has stopped by the time they arrive, but the officer doesn't look any less stressed than she sounded on the phone. The cause of that stress turns out to be a person wearing more sequins than Mulder had previously thought plausible.
"Are you the FBI?" the person demands. "Thank the Lord, I can't get through to this particular uniformed personnel." She dismisses the officer with a wave of her hand. "I'm Annabel, and I'm the belle of this town. Pleased to meet you." She extends a hand. Mulder isn't sure whether he's expected to kiss it or shake it. He settles for the latter.
"A firm handshake," Annabel says. "That's the mark of a cultured lady."
"Good to know," Mulder says. "I'm Agent Mulder, and this is Agent Scully."
Annabel shakes Scully's hand and looks her up and down. "Hello, Agent Cheekbones. Have you ever tried contouring?"
"I can't say that I have," Scully says in a dry voice. "Can you describe what happened, ma'am?"
"Please, call me Annabel," Annabel tells her. "I was just leaving a gig, and performing makes me so hungry. I leave my heart and soul on that stage, not to mention my blood, sweat, and tears. This truck stop makes a hell of a burrito, just divine. They roll the fries right up into it, and the sauce? It restores me. Well, I was in the parking lot after having consumed said divine burrito and some gentlemen got the wrong idea. Sometimes the eleganza just drives them crazy. Maybe it's the full moon, I don't know. They were hollering at me from their truck, and I was hollering back, and next thing I know, this lizard thing is coming up behind me, growling like a thunderstorm. I don't stand for that. No ma'am, no ma'am. I turned around and hit him square in the face with my bag. It is a known fact that a lady do carry an evening bag at dinner time. He should have known better."
She hands the purse in question to Mulder. It glitters under the lights of the truck stop. Mulder turns it over in his hands and holds it up. There's a hole straight through it, and the impression of a face with strangely prominent eyebrows. He gazes through the hole at Annabel and then turns to face Scully, who quirks her mouth at him. Mulder hands the purse back to Annabel, who tucks it under her arm with a smile.
"Looks like you gave it a pretty good shot," Mulder says.
"I hit it right in its horn," Annabel says proudly. "Years of Little League. I think Momma was just trying to keep me out of her closet, but ooh, I swung his ass for the fences."
"It has a horn?" Scully asks. "Like a rhinoceros?"
"It had horns," Annabel says, emphasizing the plural. "Not like a rhinoceros. More like a lizard or some kind of dinosaur, just spikes all over the back of its head."
Mulder pulls the sketch of the three-eyed lizard man out of his jacket pocket. "Did it look anything like this?"
"No," Annabel says immediately. "The thing I saw only had two eyes. Red eyes. Maybe colored contacts or something, but, like, good ones. And it was wearing underwear."
"Boxers or briefs?" Scully says in that deadpan she likes to use when she's purposefully not laughing at a witness. Mulder remembers her asking that poor girl with the baby with the tail if her "Luke Skywalker" had a lightsaber in exactly the same tone.
Annabel scoffs. "Tighty-whities. The uniform of unfashionable straight boys. Same kind I used to wear, back when that's what I pretended to be. No more plain cotton Fruit of the Looms for me. I transitioned last year." She glances at Mulder. "I bet your partner here invests in his foundation garments."
"Congratulations," Scully says, ignoring the last comment.
"Did you see which way it headed?" Mulder asks.
Annabel gestures. "I told the officers it slithered off that way, but they think I'm on crack."
"Are you?" Mulder asks.
Annabel touches her chest in a gesture of shock. "I am high on life! The thrill of performance! But if a gentleman wants to buy me a drink, I don't say no, and I couldn't say what was in them." She bats her eyes. Mulder glances at Scully. She microshrugs.
"If you're going to be in town a few days, you should come down to the club," Annabel tells them. She points at the boxy building next door. It's got that seedy nondescript strip club look. "You'll see something you can't believe."
"That happens to us a lot," Mulder says.
"I love a challenge," Annabel says. "Now if you'll excuse me, this kind officer promised me a ride home." She wiggles her fingers at the officer, who waves back with a long-suffering grimace.
"She's a challenge," Mulder murmurs.
"I think we should go see the show," Scully says. "Maybe we can figure out which gentleman supplied her with whatever caused her to hallucinate a red-eyed lizard man in unfashionable underwear."
"That's not a hallucination, Scully, that's a corroborating witness," Mulder tells her.
"Is that your professional opinion?" Scully asks. "Three witnesses, all clearly intoxicated?"
"You say intoxicated, I say receptive to the mysteries of the universe," he teases. "You want a burrito?"
"Actually, yes," she says, and her shoulder bumps comfortably against his arm as they head into the truck stop.
+ + + +
The light in the truck stop is unflatteringly bright, but the smears of the red sauce left on the plates look almost artful. Mulder and Scully lean back on their separate sides of the booth. She smiles at him. He looks satisfied. The cat in the cream, she thinks. It's the look he used to get after they cracked a case. She's glad a burrito can satisfy that craving now, at least temporarily.
"So what next?" she asks him. He toys with the paper from his straw.
"We could go to the drag show," he offers.
"Ha," she says. "Maybe we should talk to Animal Control. The police report said they were called out for the previous attacks."
"Good plan," he says. "We'll make a detective of you one day yet, Doctor Scully."
She rolls her eyes at him. "Mulder, it wasn't funny twenty years ago."
"You know you're a much more thorough investigator than I'll ever be," he tells her.
"I know," she says. "And your intuition is unparalleled. Let's not slip back into our old habits."
He ducks his head. "Felt like old times for a second. Hard not to be that guy."
"I know," she says. "It's going to be a challenge for both of us." She yawns. "Except that we weren't exhausted by 11:30 back in the day."
"You want to go back to our separate hotel rooms and hit the hay?" he asks.
"That will definitely help us maintain appropriate boundaries," she teases.
"No adjoining door," he says. "I checked."
"Mulder, we sleep together most nights," she tells him reproachfully. "Think of it as a chance to stretch out."
"I'll take the opportunity to hog all the pillows," he says. "And in the morning, we'll call Animal Control, and we'll hunt down our lizard man."
She rubs her stomach gently. "We're too old for midnight burritos," she says, wincing a little.
"Yeah," he says ruefully, "but they were delicious."
"They were," she says. She pats his hand. "Come on. I'll take you home."
"That's what I'm always longing to hear," he tells her. He reaches into his jacket pocket. "And look. I've got Tums."
"That's what I'm longing to hear," she says, grinning at him as she reaches for the tablets.
+ + + +
Arranging things with Animal Control doesn't take long, but they agree to wait until the evening to pursue the creature. It gives them time to look over the previous reports.
"It's probably nocturnal," Mulder says. The Animal Control officer looks a little blank. He also looks like he just graduated high school. "All of the attacks have been at night. That's probably when it hunts."
"Whatever it is," Scully adds.
Animal Control Officer Spencer swallows visibly. "Yeah, uh, that seems right. It, you know, attacked one of our officers. So we're very interested in catching it."
"So we'll see you tonight," Mulder says.
"Um, yes," Spencer says.
"Don't worry, officer," Scully says dryly. "We're very experienced."
"In animal control?" Spencer says, startled.
"In all kinds of situations," Scully reassures him.
"Yeah," Spencer says. "Uh, yeah. I'll see you tonight. Or not me. It's, uh, Pasha. On the night shift. Officer Pasha."
"Ten o'clock at the truck stop," Mulder says.
"Really?" Spencer says.
"Really," Scully says.
+ + + +
Animal Control Officer Pasha is lurking at the edge of the truck stop parking lot when they pull up. He's got dark hair and dark skin and his uniform is dark brown; fortunately, he's wearing a giant headlamp, so he's easy to spot even in the deep shadows where the brushy woods begin.
"Think that's him?" Mulder asks.
"The guy with the comically large net?" Scully asks. "Maybe he thinks we're after a giant butterfly."
"Or a mothman," Mulder teases. "That would explain the light."
"He looks nervous," Scully says.
"Well, let's go introduce ourselves," Mulder says. "That usually calms people right down."
"Hmm," Scully says.
They stalk across the parking lot. Pasha is watching the woods. He's making some kind of weird noise. After a moment, Scully realizes that he's trying to whistle. Whistling in the dark. It's better than a metaphor.
"Any sign of anything?" Mulder asks, putting his hands in his pockets the way he does when he's pretending to be genial.
"Ah!" Pasha jumps into the air and drops the net. It clatters to the ground, hitting Pasha on the shoulder as it goes. "Don't! Sneak! Up! On a person!"
"Sorry," Scully says, and she knows she doesn't really sound sincere. "Animal Control Officer Pasha? You were attacked by the creature during your attempt to capture it the other night, were you not?"
"That was me," Pasha says nervously. He leans down to pick up the net.
"So what kind of animal do you think we're pursuing?" Scully asks.
"And how many eyes does it have?" Mulder asks, looming over her shoulder.
"I got a call earlier about a stray puppy running around," Pasha offers. "I'm, you know, hoping it's that. I can handle cats and dogs. Anything bigger than a Doberman and I really start to question, you know, my, uh...."
"Choice of career?" Mulder suggests.
"No, basically my entire life," Pasha says.
Out in the brush in the dark there's a growling noise, a low rumbling that reverberates through the trees. Pasha yelps and runs off, dropping his net. Mulder picks up the net and pulls out his phone. Scully has her gun drawn. They advance side by side toward the source of the growling. Scully's wearing sensible shoes for once, and it feels strange that she's so short at work as she stalks along next to him, like she should only be short if they're at home. He hadn't thought about that as one of the markers of their private life before.
The net is unwieldy, but it makes him feel a little safe. Mulder thumbs open the camera on his phone and turns on the flash.
"Are you planning to draw your weapon at any time?" she asks in a low voice.
"I'm going to shoot it," he says, "with my phone. Scully, nobody's gotten a picture of this thing. Don't you want to settle the two-eyes, three-eyes question?"
"If I see it, I'm going to empty my clip into it," she says. "We can solve the two-eyes question in the morgue if we have to."
He grunts and holds the phone down lower, making sure his thumb is over the button on the screen. He taps the screen and accidentally takes a picture of the grass. The flash strobes on and off.
"What the..." he says. "The app must have updated or something." He shakes the phone. The flash keeps blinking. He taps the button again and takes another picture of grass, which freezes for a second and then disappears. It doesn't help the flash situation. Mulder waves the phone around, taps the screen, tries the home button. He's probably alerted every creature in a mile radius to his presence. The flash turns off when he closes the camera, but starts up again immediately when he opens it.
"Damn," he mutters. He holds the phone at waist-level; the flash seems less blinding there, though walking with it on makes him a little dizzy.
Scully stretches over to look at the screen. "Why's it doing that?"
"Don't know," he says.
She frowns at the phone. "What's that?"
They both peer at the image. "That's not a photo," Mulder says, moving the phone. "It's live. So to speak."
They both look at the body on the ground. The grass is soaked with blood. It looks red and then dark, red and then dark as the flash blinks on and off.
Scully kneels beside it, pulling gloves from her pockets. She snaps them on and finds a tiny flashlight in another pocket. Mulder closes his camera app and the phone stops flashing. Scully flicks her light over the body. She presses her gloved fingers against the neck of the corpse, but it's clear that there's no life left in the body. She looks up at him.
"We're too late," she says. "It's a fresh kill." She takes out her phone and dials the local PD. There's a rustling in the trees as she holds the phone to her ear. Suddenly, a form pelts out across the grass toward the truck stop.
"Halt!" Mulder shouts and races after it, still holding the net. He turns on his camera again by accident and the flash starts blinking again. He follows the shadow between the parked semis, stumbling as the world goes dark and bright. It's amazing how much light his phone can put out. He's pelting between two trailers when he hears footsteps close behind him. He turns, dropping his phone as he grabs the handle of the net with two hands and brings it up and over and down.
"What the hell?!" yells Pasha, his head and shoulders snarled in the net. "I'm not the monster! Puppy! Whatever!"
Mulder growls and picks up his phone. His screen protector's cracked and the flash is still blinking. He squints at it, wincing. "Sorry," he says. "I, uh, overreacted."
"I don't blame you," Pasha says, finally struggling out of the net. "Dude, what is up with your phone?"
"I don't know," Mulder says. "I opened the camera and it just started doing this. I don't know if the app updated and it's buggy or what."
"Are you taking picture or video?" Pasha asks. He sets the butt of the net's pole on the ground and leans on it.
Mulder glances at the screen. "I don't know."
Pasha points at an icon in the corner. "Usually there's, like, a red dot when you're taking video. Go to settings."
"Where?" Mulder asks.
Pasha points again. "Settings. It's the little gear."
They're both squinting at the screen when there's another growl behind them. Mulder and Pasha both whirl and scream, Pasha brandishing the net in front of them. Mulder taps the button to take a picture as fast as he can, and keeps tapping it, even as the thing rushes at them. He jumps out of the way at the last second, but the creature still clips him hard and he slams into the trailer and falls to the ground. He's definitely going to feel this case in the morning. There's a line of pain flaring across his back, punctuated by the dull ache where he ran into bolts, plus he's got gravel under his shoulder and possibly in his cheek. At least his phone is still is his hand this time.
"Pasha?" he says.
Pasha groans. "I hate this job," he says thickly.
"Is it gone?" Mulder asks.
"Mulder!" Scully yells, and comes skidding around the corner of the trailer. Mulder grunts in response. She kneels beside him, holstering her weapon and tucking her flashlight between her ear and her shoulder. She strips off the gloves she touched the corpse with and touches her fingers to his forehead.
"I'm fine," he says as she slips her hand behind his head. "It knocked into me, that's all."
"You've got blood on you," she says. She withdraws her hands and rescues the flashlight from the crook of her neck.
"It's probably not mine." He winces as she helps him up. He's not bleeding, but he's not happy.
Pasha tries to use the net to prop himself up and he falls again as the pole snaps. He holds up the net from the ground. Mulder can see that the pole was gouged by something sharp. It broke along the score of the gouge. The net is shredded too.
"On the plus side, you could use it for pickup basketball," Mulder offers.
"That's it," Pasha says, heaving himself up. He drops the net on the ground and kicks it. He pulls off his Animal Control baseball cap and drops that too, stepping on it and grinding it into the grave. "I quit. I signed up to get kittens out of trees, not to be almost killed in the dark at the truck stop!" His voice rises until he's almost shouting. He kicks the net again for good measure and storms away. "Control your own animals! I'm out!"
Scully shakes her head. "Probably for the best."
"I mean, we'd all like to just catch puppies and rescue kittens for a living," Mulder says. "Ow. Have I mentioned that I'm too old for this?"
"A couple of times," Scully says. "Did you get a good look at it?"
Mulder grins. "Better. I shot it." He starts to show her his phone, but there's a rattle of gravel and a growling noise from the other side of the trailer. Scully's drawing her weapon and sprinting after it almost before Mulder can gather himself to follow her. He stuffs his phone in his pocket and pelts after her. There's a blur of motion, feet crunching away, faster and faster, gravel spurting as the creature takes a corner. They round the end of the last trailer and catch sight of a Portapotty. The door is still closing. Scully nods to Mulder and they approach it cautiously. Mulder puts his hand on the door and counts silently on his fingers. Scully braces herself. Mulder yanks open the door.
No puppies or lizard creatures burst out. There's a man on the toilet: average height and weight, white, reddish beard, dressed in a summer suit. Well, partly dressed. His pants are around his ankles. Mulder can't help grimacing. The truck stop's a few hundred feet away. He can't imagine preferring a portapotty.
"Ooh," says the man.
Scully averts her eyes and her weapon. "Sorry," she says. "Uh, sorry. We were pursuing a suspect. Have you, um, seen anyone?"
"Um, no," the man says. "A bit of privacy please?"
"Are you sure?" Mulder asks. "Because we were attacked right over there." He points.
"It's a one-holer," the man says. "So definitely not. Although if you were attacked, I'll make sure to lock the door."
"You should," Scully says. "Just in general."
Mulder closes the door.
"Well," he says.
"Let's try that way," Scully says, motioning with her weapon. They comb the brush, but there's no sign of a lizard creature, or any other creature.
"Nothing," Scully says at last. "Should we go examine the body?"
"Yeah," Mulder says. "Then I might have to examine a hot bath." He winces.
"Let's hope that doesn't knock you on your ass too," she teases.
The morgue is as familiar as a hotel room. Scully's in her uniform of scrubs. These are light blue. They really set off her eyes, Mulder thinks as he flips through the photos on his phone.
"This could be its ear," he says, squinting at the screen. "Or maybe it was making a fist? It's kind of curled around, whatever this is."
Scully sighs at her steel table as she examines the body. "Signs of trauma to the neck and chest. Possible bite marks from an unidentified attacker. Possible claw marks along the ribs."
"If I turn this one like this and hold it at arm's length, it looks like...something," Mulder says. "Hey, Scully, you ever do those Magic Eye posters?"
"I don't think your optical illusion is admissible evidence," she says. "Or particularly helpful, unless we both want headaches from trying to unfocus our eyes."
"This one's in focus!" Mulder declares. He walks up to the table, not looking at the corpse, and shows her.
"Hmm," Scully says. "And what is it, exactly?"
Mulder gestures with the phone. "It's a close-up. Of the creature. Not a monster, of course, Agent Scully, because monsters don't exist. Bigfoot has been debunked. Nessie is no more. But this is photographic evidence of someone or something that was undeniably humanoid, or at least human-sized, with scaly green skin. I mean, this is beyond even Gold Bond territory."
"Perhaps a Sasquatch in need of a deep conditioning treatment," she suggests dryly. "Or mange medication."
"I've got video," he says as the images on the screen start moving. "Check it out."
They both watch the video. It's about sixty seconds long. It's almost completely dark, except for occasional glimpses of the truck stop lights or Mulder's nostrils. There's a lot of screaming. The sound echoes off the tile and metal of the morgue.
"All I see is conclusive evidence that you don't know how to use your phone," Scully says.
"It's not my fault the app updated," he protests. "Ah!" The video shows a sudden red spatter across his face. "See that? It shot blood at me, Scully. Right in my eyes. From its eyes."
"I might be able to salvage enough from your sleeve to run an analysis, since you wiped it off," Scully says, turning back to the corpse, "but it's most likely residue from the previous attack on this victim. And as far as I'm aware, neither mountain lions nor bears are known for shooting blood from their eyeballs. Hmm. This is odd."
"We know we're not dealing with mountain lions or bears at this point, Scully," he says. "Whatever it is is bipedal, human-sized, and green."
"Humans don't shoot blood from their eyeballs either," Scully says, using something that looks like forceps to probe the wounds on the corpse. "I'm certain of that, or I would have had to sit through fewer of those meetings in Skinner's office."
"You and me both," he says. "But if we narrow our suspects down to green and scaly, we arrive at the irrefutable scientific fact that horned lizards are known to shoot blood from their eyeballs."
"And how big is the average horned lizard?" Scully asks. "The size of an adult human?"
"We're not talking the average lizard," Mulder says. "This one is clearly exceptional, and not just because it walks on two legs."
"I agree," she says.
"You agree?" he says, astonished.
She smiles. "I agree that your theoretical lizardman would be exceptional, Mulder, because my preliminary analysis of the bite marks on this victim suggests that the attacker was human. The size of the marks, the shape of the mouth, and the shape and size of the teeth are all very suggestive."
"My irrefutable lizardman doesn't look so plausible with human teeth," Mulder says. "Before that, though, extremely plausible."
"Oh, of course," she says with soft eyes. "That well-known perpetrator, the six-foot lizard."
"I think I had the poster for that movie," he says. "Pointy teeth."
"Aside from the fact that people have been killed, I am enjoying this," she offers. "These flights of fancy with you - I've missed them. Your ability to see beyond the rational world is inspiring in its own way."
"Only you would find my ravings about a six-foot lizard with human teeth romantic, Scully," he says fondly.
"Aren't you lucky I do?" she says. "It's getting late. I think we should head back to the motel. Get some sleep. Wash the blood out of our eyes. I'll let the ME handle the autopsy."
"You're lucky I find your biohazard protocols romantic," he grumbles, but he's already heading for the door. "But you know what's not romantic? Separate rooms."
"I don't know," she says, a secretive smile curving her lips. "It offers up its own set of possibilities, if you can figure out how your phone works."
"I'll Google the manual if I have to," he promises.
+ + + +
The motel is more than a little rustic. It's a lot rustic, in fact, in a way that looks forced. The light of the full moon glints in through the plaid curtains. The crickets outside chirp so rhythmically they might be a recording. Everything is made of wood. Even the mat in the bathroom looks like the cross-section of a log. He's half-glad that Scully's in a separate room. He doesn't really want to form any positive associations with this place. Mulder lies in bed still mostly clothed with the lights still on and stares up at the animal heads on his wall. He doubts anyone associated with this motel hunted down any stags or bears. The manager barely seemed to know where the ice machine was.
His mind circles his lizardman theory like a dog trying to find a place to lie down. Considering the testimony of the witnesses, a lizardlike creature does fit the description. He's seen it, or something like it, himself. He wasn't counting its eyes tonight at the truck stop, but he's pretty sure Scully owes him ten dollars. The human teethmarks don't fit, though, and there's no reason that a lizard would suddenly become bipedal, especially at such a large size. He hopes it's not another person in a latex suit. He's seen enough of those. He's pretty sure if he suggested that, Scully would tell him that the internet isn't good for him, but she's just as versed in that kind of thing as he is, at this point.
A scream rips through the air. "Ahhhhh! Monster! Help me! It's a monster!"
Mulder's up and pelting toward the door before he can remember to put shoes on. He doubles back, jams his feet into the sneakers he brought in case he had time for a run, grabs his weapon and his badge, and heads toward the voice. The door of the lodge's office is swinging open. Mulder sidles up to it and throws it open. The manager is inside, a washcloth pressed to his forehead. As Mulder watches, he peels the washcloth off his skin, douses it with cheap whiskey from the bottle in his hand, and applies it to the bloody wound on his head. He winces. Mulder does too. It doesn't really help that the manager is the kind of rangy, unkempt, middle-aged white man who looks like the town drunk in a Western, or the formerly willing accomplice to a mad scientist.
"Everything okay in here?" he asks.
"Uh, yeah," the manager says. "Sorry about the disturbance. Had a guest get a little feisty. Uh, go back to your room. Now. Please."
"I heard someone yell about a monster," Mulder presses. He's surprised Scully wasn't on his heels, but maybe she was showering. He knows she likes a long hot shower after she's been in the morgue.
"That's what he had the nerve to call me," the manager says. "I just asked him to pay his overdue bill. That's all. Does that make me some kind of monster?"
"In the eyes of the law, it would make him the monster," Mulder offers.
"Exactly," the manager says. He's got blood running into his eye. He wipes it away, splashes more whiskey on the washcloth, and slaps it back onto his forehead.
"Do you, uh, need medical attention?" Mulder asks. "My partner's a doctor. I'm sure she could help you."
"I'm fine, just fine," the manager says. "Please go back to your room. I wouldn't want you running into this monster. We don't have that kinda insurance."
"Fair enough," Mulder says. He backs out of the office, keeping his eyes on the manager, who just takes a swig from the bottle of whiskey.
Mulder wanders through the parking lot, not heading directly back to his room in case anyone's lurking in the shadows. One of the doors to the other rooms is open. He eases through it. The bed has been slept in, and it doesn't look like whoever occupied it had particularly sweet dreams. There's trash all over the room from various fast food establishments, and a plastic bag from some place called "Smart Phones Is US!!" The overhead light is fine, but the lamp from the bedside table is in pieces on the floor and the mirror over the sink is cracked. The various paintings and stuffed heads on the walls have been knocked askew or onto the floor. Whoever occupies this room has done a real number on it.
There's a pill bottle on the floor. Mulder leans down to pick it up. The label is smudged but legible. "Lycans Pharmacy," it proclaims. Clozapine, 450 MG, once daily, for one Guy Mann. Mulder puts it in his pocket.
"Not safe to leave your meds lying around," he murmurs to himself, as if he needs to justify his behavior. Maybe he does. Maybe that's what he's learned after all these months in therapy. He can't just go crashing through the world and expect to end up without bruises, or without bruising others. But this Guy Mann really shouldn't leave his medications on the floor of an unlocked motel room. Mulder's far from the worst person who might have retrieved them.
The trophy head in this room is a jackalope. Of course it is. Right after he's sworn them off. It seems lighter than it should when he picks it up and as he holds it to his face, he discovers he can see through its eyes, and not in any kind of metaphorical way: the eyes are hollowed out and so is the head. He holds it up, looking for where it hung on the wall, and yes, there's a hole there. Mulder tosses the jackalope head onto a chair, not without regret, and tugs at the edge of the hole. The panel of the wall swings open.
"Speaking of monsters," he says to himself as he steps into the secret hallway behind the wall panel. He wishes this was the first time. There was that town in Wisconsin with the good barbecue and the weird cult, for one. This one's better designed, and hopefully offers fewer opportunities for spying on children. He peeks through another hole to get his bearings. It's Scully's room; she's fast asleep.
"Oh, hell no," he says, and retreats to Guy Mann's room. He retrieves some of the fast food wrappers and stuffs them into the eyes of the trophy head in Scully's room. It's not a perfect solution, but at least it will keep her temporarily safe from prying eyes. He makes his way to the end of the hall and pushes open the hinged panel there. There's a giant brown bear on the other side, and the hotel manager, still alternately applying bad whiskey to his insides and his outsides.
"Oh, hello again," Mulder says, resting his hand gently on his weapon, just in case.
The manager turns toward him. "What the hell...?"
"Just looking for the ice machine," Mulder says.
"That's private back there!" the manager declares. "You're not supposed to be back there!"
"Sorry, couldn't hear you over the glaring invasion of privacy," Mulder says. "Speaking of which." He pulls out his badge and flips it open. "FBI."
"That's, uh, a security feature," the manager says. "You know, for, uh, security. After 9/11, I mean, I gotta know who's in my rooms."
"I'm not looking for an explanation," Mulder says. "I'll leave that to the local PD. I'm sure they'll be more than equipped to help find your victims."
"Hey!" the manager says. "What if I tell you what I saw earlier?"
"When you were screaming about monsters?" Mulder asks.
"Yeah," the manager says. "You're not gonna believe it. Not in a million years."
Mulder nods. "Try me."
"I was making my rounds," the manager begins, after another fortifying swig of whiskey. "Just like usual, just making sure everyone's...safe. I saw you last night. You seemed all right. You keep yourself fit."
Mulder rolls his eyes and motions the man on.
"And then, in that other room, that man's room, he was yelling about something. He kept staring into the mirror, just screaming about how every day it was the same thing, he was sick of looking at his own reflection. He busted up everything in his room, yelling about how his alarm clock was a bastard. He threw a chair at the mirror. Guess he really hates himself."
"Or the décor," Mulder says.
"But then!" the manager says. "He started screaming about how it couldn't happen again, how it had to be the last time, and he changed into a lizard! A lizard!! And then I screamed, and he screamed, and he knocked the head off the wall so I ran back in here."
"Yelling about a monster," Mulder finishes.
"Yeah," the manager says. "So you think you could see your way clear to not telling the fuzz about my little security feature?"
"Absolutely not," Mulder says with a grin. "They're definitely going to shut you down and deservedly so, I might add. Your so-called security measure is illegal as hell."
"Well, damn," the manager says, slumping into his chair. He looks at the bottle in his hand and then at Mulder, seemingly doing some complex math in his brain, but in the end, he just takes another swig.
Mulder sighs and takes out his phone. He opens the gallery and finds the photo he took of the sketch of the lizard man. "I do appreciate your cooperation when it comes to the matter of the monster. You said he turned into a lizard? Did he look anything like this? But, uh, with two eyes?"
"Yeah," the manager says, gazing at it. "That's him. That's exactly it." He taps the picture and it flips, showing the photograph of the man in the portapotty.
"Oh, sorry, meant to delete that," Mulder mumbles. "We were pursuing a suspect and we had the wrong guy."
"But that's him," the manager says. "The one I was telling you about."
"Not that man's room," Mulder says slowly. "That Mann's room."
"Yeah, I told you so," the manager says. "Guy Mann. I mean, so-called. He's hardly a man at all."
"Maybe there's hope for jackalopes," Mulder murmurs.
The first thing he does after he leaves the manager's office, after he calls the police to check in and let them know about the secret passageway, is deal with the animal heads in his room and Scully's. A roll of duct tape is a good enough stopgap, but since he has to run to the local Walmart anyway, he picks up a hammer and some nails and rehangs a couple of pictures in a fairly irreversible way, and nails the secret doors shut while he's at it. He's not too worried about any kind of charge for damage to the room. Scully just watches with the case file in her laps as he bangs away. The stuffed head in her room was a fox. Of course it was. It glares emptily at Mulder from the corner where he tossed it.
"It's a monster, Scully," he says, whirling with the hammer still in his hand and a couple of nails between his teeth. He spits the nails into his palm. "An honest to God monster, plain and simple."
Scully tilts her head and purses her lips. She's wearing his Knicks t-shirt. God knows where she got it, but that's all he wants to see her in for the rest of his life.
"I know what you're going to say," he tells her. "'Mulder, we can't base our entire case on the testimony of a drunk Peeping Tom' or 'Mulder, the very narrative of a transformation from man to monster, especially on the occasion of a full moon, is so archetypical as to be beyond admitting' or even 'Mulder, you're nuts', but I think we're dealing with an actual monster. Maybe that kind of transformation is described in werewolf myths and other stories of shapeshifters which may originally have been conceived of to explain away the violent behavior of people who'd been bitten by rabid animals before rabies was understood, but I don't think it's outlandish to consider, Scully, that some legends may be based on actual occurrences. We may turn up our noses at the common werewolf, but to discount the mythology of various indigenous peoples is foolish at best, and potentially ignorant."
She opens her mouth.
"To which I'm sure you're going to say, 'But Mulder, the idea of a werelizard defies every known law of science and nature.' Exactly, Scully. Every known law. As a scientist, you understand that our understanding of the universe in which we live changes frequently and at a fundamental level, based on new information. What if this creature that we've stumbled upon here could transform that understanding, creating a new paradigm for our comprehension of the relationship between humanity and nature, or even of our concept of life itself? Or maybe science created this being, accidentally or on purpose. Is this a genetic engineering specimen gone feral? A byproduct of a drug trial? Another trial run at a new face for humanity by a shadowy conspiracy within the military-agricultural-pharmaceutical complex? The next evolution of the human race, a being who cannibalizes us as we cannibalize the world we live in? And I know you're going to say, 'Mulder, that sounds like the ravings of a lunatic madman!'" He sets the hammer and nails down on the table. "I don't know what this thing is, Scully, and I don't know how it came to be, but...all I'm saying, is it's a monster."
Scully stares at him for a moment and then nods. She smiles indulgently at him and the tight coil of stress and anger and excitement in him eases.
"Yeah," she says slowly. "This is how I like my Mulder."
"You're agreeing with me?" He sounds incredulous even to his own ears.
"Absolutely not," she says. "Lunatic is one word for you, Mulder." She gestures at the window. "I should have been tracking your cycles all these years - my current working theory is that you have all your wildest ideas when the moon is full. But it's good to see you so impassioned. I've missed that part of our partnership."
"I haven't been impassioned?" he asks, looking her over in a way he can tell makes it clear how much he's enjoying her choice of sleepwear.
She smiles. "Not about work. Not like this."
"A soupçon of youthful vigor seasoned with wisdom, experience, and antidepressants," he says. "Oh, and I found his prescription." Mulder pulls the bottle out of his pocket and tosses it to her.
"Clozepine," she says. "It's an antipsychotic. Not a silver bullet." She raises one eyebrow.
"There are no silver bullets when it comes to mental health," Mulder says solemnly. "But what else would you give a werewolf? Werelizard. Were...something."
"That would depend on how the symptoms presented," she says. "Psychiatric medicine isn't my area of expertise."
"I think it's more than a coincidence that the man we saw in the portapotty is the man the manager identified as this Guy Mann," Mulder says, holding out his phone.
Scully snorts. "With a name like Guy Mann, of course he's a monster." She peers closer. "Mulder, his clothes."
"I know," he says. "White after Labor Day."
She shakes her head and picks up the file. "They match the description of what one of the victims was wearing when he disappeared." She holds out the page. "We need to talk to this guy."
"I agree," Mulder says. "I have an idea about where to start based on some of the trash I found in his room. But first I think we should get out of here. I've got a feeling this place is about to be shut down."
It is a crime, or at least some kind of tragedy, that changing hotels means that Scully has to get dressed, but Mulder takes solace in their solid lead and the fact that he can probably talk her into putting his Knicks shirt back on, preferably with nothing underneath, at least for his birthday if not while they're working a case.
+ + + +
The pharmacy - Lycans, which is either ironic or a neon sign - gives Mulder the name of the prescribing doctor the next morning, and before McDonald's stops serving breakfast, he's squinting in the sun outside the office of Dr. Rumanovitch. He wonders if Eastern Europeans get tired of being the stronghold of werewolf and vampire lore, or if it's an easy way to turn a profit. Six of one, probably. Either way, Dr. Rumanovitch welcomes him in warmly and offers him a chair.
"How can I help you, Agent Mulder FBI?" he asks.
"I need to ask you about a patient of yours who's a suspect in a murder investigation," Mulder says. "Guy Mann." He reaches across the desk and sets the pill bottle in front of Dr. Rumanovitch.
"Ah," Rumanovitch says. "Mr. Mann. A strange one."
"How strange?" Mulder asks.
"How strange are you imagining?" Rumanovitch asks.
"Strange enough to kill?" Mulder counters.
"The man I met did not seem to have that sort of instinct in him," Rumanovitch says, steepling his fingers.
"Ah," Mulder says, "but what if the man you met wasn't entirely himself? What if he could transform, possibly against his own will?"
"What are you suggesting?" Rumanovitch asks.
"I have an eyewitness who swears he saw Mr. Mann become a lizardlike creature," Mulder says, his voice and his eyes steady. "That lizardlike creature has been described by multiple witnesses at the scene of several recent murders."
"Dr. Gecko and Mr. Mann," Rumanovitch murmurs. He sits back in his chair. "I have a story to tell you, Agent Mulder."
Mulder inclines his head.
"Once upon a time," Rumanovitch says, "there was a village that was being tormented by a man-eating dragon. The local constable did everything he could to try to trap this creature, but nothing could stop it. In the end, he visited a local witch, who read his palm and told him the only way to kill the monster was to stab it in the liver with a lance made of green glass."
"The liver is the source of bile," Mulder says, thinking briefly of Eugene Tooms. "But is the green glass significant?"
"Who the hell knows?" Rumanovitch asks, waving his hands expansively. "In these old fairy tales, the monster must always be destroyed by some form of penetration. Perhaps a silver bullet, or a wooden stake, or perhaps a lance of green glass. Herr Freud would have much to say about our historical and current fixation with impotency, no doubt. But the constable would do anything to save his village. He had a lance fashioned of green glass and the next time the dragon attacked, he stabbed the creature right in the liver. But as the monster was dying, the constable realized he was looking at his own reflection. He was the monster all along, you see?"
"The moral being...?" Mulder asks.
Rumanovitch shrugs. "It's easier to believe in monsters out there in the world than accept that the real monsters dwell within us." He points to his head. "Some may live here, or some in our hearts, or perhaps even in our livers."
Mulder refrains from mentioning the Flukeman. "Not everything can be reduced to psychology. I've witnessed any number of unlikely transformations, physical and mental."
"Perhaps you're right," Rumanovitch says, clearly not meaning it. "At any rate, I was reminded of this tale because of your suspect's delusion that when the moon was full, he would turn into a werewolf."
"A werewolf?" Mulder says.
"Perhaps a werelizard would be more apt," Rumanovitch says. "He was my patient on Monday. In any event, I prescribed for him this antipsychotic. I doubted it would do him much good. I seem to have been correct."
"Why did you doubt it?" Mulder asks.
"He seemed pretty loony," Rumanovitch says, shaking his head, and Mulder wonders again if everybody in this town is just messing with him. He sighs.
"I assume Guy Mann is not a real name," Mulder says. "Your records don't provide much information. Do you know where I could find him?"
"I recommended that he go for a quiet stroll in the local cemetery the next time he felt an episode coming on," Rumanovitch says. "A tangible reminder that no matter how overwhelming our anxieties or convictions might be, they will soon be resolved when we are dead and buried for all eternity."
Mulder frowns. "Do you really think that's sound theraputic advice for a patient for whom you prescribed antipsychotic drugs?"
Rumanovitch shruggs. "It's what I do."
"Thank you, Doctor," Mulder says, getting up.
"Uh, a moment," Rumanovitch says, reaching for a pad of paper and a pen. He scribbles on the top sheet, rips it off, and hands it to Mulder. "A prescription for yourself."
"For me?" Mulder asks. "Why me?"
Rumanovitch leans back again. "Perhaps I've read you wrong, Agent Mulder, but I wonder: who is more in need of an antipsychotic? Is it the man who believes himself to be a werelizard or a man who believes that man? Hmm?"
Mulder drops the slip of paper in the middle of Rumanovitch's desk. "My doctor told me not to take candy from strangers."
Rumanovitch shrugs. "Suit yourself, Agent Mulder, but you look a bit liverish from this angle."
"If he comes back, let us know," Mulder says. "My prescription for you is to avoid engaging with him - whatever he thinks he is, he seems to be dangerous."
"Stay away from mirrors," Rumanovitch advises, winking. Mulder frowns and turns to leave. The guy better not turn into some kind of bat when he turns his back, or tomorrow Mulder finds out that his office was never here. Seems par for the course, though. Mulder's phone rings and he pulls it out of his pocket.
"Scully, what's up?"
+ + + +
Scully gazes in through the window of Smart Phones Is US!! She cradles the phone against her ear. "I found our lizard man."
"Lizard Guy," Mulder says. "Where are you?"
"A phone store," she says, glancing up at the sign, "with a very stupid name."
"Smart Phones is US!!?" he asks.
"Are you behind me?" she asks, glancing around.
"I saw it on a bag in his room," Mulder tells her.
"I think he works here," Scully says. Guy Mann is the only person in the store. He looks bored. He's leaning on one of the counters, poking at a display phone that doesn't even seem to be on. He gets more and more frustrated as she watches and slaps at the phone and then snatches his hand back, shaking it like he's hurt himself.
"I'll be right there," Mulder says.
"I got an email with the lab results," she says, and realizes he's hung up. "There are some discrepancies on the blood tests from the victim," she says to the air. She shrugs to herself and opens the door of the store. A bell jingles. Guy Mann looks up with a strange expression; Scully thinks he means it to be an inviting smile, but it's something more like a manic grimace.
"Welcome to Smart Phones Is Us!!," he says, baring his teeth at her. "How may I help?"
He's got an accent she can't quite place. She adds that to her mental file and smiles at him. "I was wondering if I could ask you some questions," she says. "About where you were last night."
His eyes widen. He looks at the ceiling. "I quit!" he nearly roars, and sweeps his arm across the display phones. They wobble on their stands, but stay firm. Mann whacks at them until a few dangle on their cables. He spins a display until the cases and accessories fly off, and rummages through the storage until phones are strewn across the room. Scully stands stunned. Mann doesn't seem to be a threat to her - she's standing in a circle bare of any phone-related debris - but it's certainly an atypical reaction. He turns and sees her still standing there, screams hysterically, and bolts into the stock room and out the back door. She stands there, too stunned to even put her hands on her hips. She opens her mouth and then closes it again. The bell jingles and Mulder pelts into the store.
"What the hell happened?" he demands.
"I don't know," Scully says. "I came in and asked him if I could ask him some questions, and he suddenly yelled, 'I quit!' and went on a rampage, and then he ran out through the stockroom."
"Why didn't you wait for me? You know it's not safe to approach a dangerous suspect without backup," he says.
She gestures in the air. "He doesn't look particularly dangerous, Mulder, and I didn't want to lose him while I was loitering outside trying to look inconspicuous."
He smiles at her. "Nobody could fail to notice you, Scully."
She smiles back at him. "I got the results back from the lab."
"Can we get our suspect first?" he asks.
She nods slowly. "He went that way." She points. "Down the alley."
"After you," he says, gesturing.
"I thought you didn't want me pursuing the suspect?" she reminds him.
"Only without backup," he says. "We both know you're a better shot and a cooler head."
"Flatterer," she says, but she stalks down the alley with a practiced stride, weapon out. The alley is empty, Guy Mann long gone. She stops and sighs. "Well?"
Mulder peers out the end of the alley. "Could have gone anywhere."
"Should we go back to the hotel and wait for him to come back?" she asks.
"Is that a cemetery?" Mulder says to himself, craning his head.
"Mulder," she says in a gently warning tone, "not every cemetery is full of vampires or what have you."
"The old monster-hunting instincts are kicking in," he teases. "Can't you feel it?"
She cocks her head. "All right. Let's go."
"Really?" he asks.
"Really," she says. "We can handle tracking down one possible monster without finding ourselves adrift in a shadowy conspiracy, can't we?"
"I guess we'd have to try sometime," he says. "At least this case is laughably ridiculous."
"Exactly," she says. "A werelizard. It's a joke. Even we couldn't take that seriously."
"Let's go, G-woman," he says. "The cemetery won't investigate itself."
They head toward the tall iron fence. They're not walking fast - barely strolling, really, enjoying each other's company as much as the pursuit. Scully is sure their therapists would have something meaningful to say about that, but she thinks she's learned to be passionate about her work in a healthy way. There are times that urgency is unhelpful. Guy Mann, if he is the killer, requires a delicate approach. So she'll take her time walking through the sunshine to the graveyard, thinking about but not dwelling on the times they've nearly ended up under markers of their own.
"What did the psychiatrist say?" she asks.
"A lot of nonsense about impotence and stabbing dragons in the liver with green glass lances," he tells her. "He tried to give me a prescription for antipsychotic drugs of my own."
He glances at her. "Don't start."
"I didn't say anything," she says, and catches a glimpse of white through the trees. "Mulder, I think that's him. I was just in the store. He'll recognize me."
"Don't worry about it," Mulder says. "You're my backup. He only saw me in the dark - maybe he won't remember."
"I thought he shot blood out of his eyes at you," Scully teases. "You'd think that would create a bond."
"I'm sure it he shoots blood out of his eyes for every evening rendezvous," Mulder says, craning his neck to look at Mann. "I'm going in."
"I've got your back," she says, caching herself behind a tree.
+ + + +
He can feel her eyes on him as he wanders purposefully toward the figure in the white suit. He scoops up a bouquet on the way from another gravestone. Sacrilege, maybe, but he's done much worse. He walks through the rows of markers carved with names in heavy serif fonts. There's a nice one a few stones away from Mann. The epitaph says "Let's kick it in the ass". That sounds like the right one. He bends to lay the flowers gently in front of the stone and stands with his head bent for a moment. There are some leaves and some flecks of grass on the stone. He brushes them away with his fingers. When he looks up, Mann is watching him. Mann is clutching a paper bag with a green glass bottle in it.
"Pouring one out for absent friends?" Mulder asks, nodding at the bag. "I should have brought something like that instead of flowers."
"Oh, yes, that's what you bring to a graveyard," Mann says.
"Did you lose somebody recently?" Mulder asks.
"Myself," Mann says dramatically. His accent is interesting. Australian, maybe. "I know this sounds weird, but...until a few days ago, I didn't know we died. I mean, I knew we could die. I instinctively knew to avoid death, but what I didn't know was...well, no matter what we do, eventually you end up in a place like this."
"Sometimes more than once," Mulder says under his breath, and then addresses Mann. "It's that classic damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of deal."
"It doesn't make any sense!" Mann exclaims, swinging his arms around. "Nothing makes sense!"
"I don't mean to intrude," Mulder says, "but I think I've gone through some of what you're dealing with. I've lost myself. I've been forced to confront my own mortality." He taps his fingertips against his thigh in the pattern his therapist taught him. "It seems to be weighing on you. Sometimes it helps to unburden yourself, even to a stranger."
"You mean, to confess?" Mann asks, sidling closer.
"I'm no priest," Mulder tells him, "far from it, in fact. But I've found a willing ear enough times in the past to know it's time to pay it forward."
"Well then, I confess I think that life is pretty much entirely nonsense," Mann says excitedly. "And to be honest with you, I just want the madness to end."
"Don't do anything extreme," Mulder tells him.
"No, of course not," Mann says. "I'm just gonna, er, kill you. You ready?" He slips the green bottle out of its paper bag and smashes it over the nearest headstone. Wine gushes over the granite, pattering down with the shards of glass. Mann lunges at Mulder with the jagged top of the bottle. Mulder dodges, reaching for his weapon, but Mann sees him.
"Not the gun!" he says, and grabs for it, tumbling into Mulder, who trips over the flowers and lands on his ass. He drops his weapon, but Mann doesn't dive for it. In fact, he hasn't moved at all. He stands over Mulder, still brandishing the bottle.
"You okay?" he says.
"Huh?" Mulder says in confusion.
Mann looks around and hesitates, then takes a step and trips so theatrically Mulder's pretty sure he'll get the lead in the next community theater production. "Oh no!" he says, dropping the bottle top next to Mulder's hand, the neck of the bottle conveniently positioned for easy grabbing. "I've lost my weapon! Oh, how could this have happened?"
Mulder picks up the bottle and his weapon and climbs to his feet. Mann lunges forward, grabbing Mulder's wrist, trying to direct the glass into his stomach.
"You really took the dragon story seriously, huh?" Mulder asks.
"Defend yourself!" Mann demands.
"I'm not gonna kill you," Mulder tells him. "I want to help you. The thing about the green glass and the liver - it was a metaphor, and it wasn't even a subtle one."
"The only way you can help me, mister, is by killing me," Mann says. "I'm miserable. I'm a wreck of a human. Please just end it."
Mulder hesitates, the glass still in his hand. "I'll consider it," he says, knowing Scully is going to have his ass for even pretending to promise something like this to a suspect. He's just lucky she hasn't burst out from the trees yet and cuffed Mann for slashing at Mulder with a bottle. "But first I want to hear how this happened to you."
"You'll really think about it?" Mann demands excitedly.
"I want the whole story," Mulder cautions.
Mann considers. "Okay," he says at last. He reaches into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulls out a flask. "But you're gonna need this."
Mulder looks at the flask, sighs, and takes it.
"It all began in the forest," Mann says. "I was just relaxing in a clearing, enjoying the moonlight on my scales, when two men came crashing through the trees. They were either fighting or mating. It's so hard to tell which with you people. Finally one of them pinned the other down and bit his neck, which again, mating, fighting, very fine line. Still don't understand it."
"You and thousands of others," Mulder quips. "Go on."
"Well, he ripped the other fella's throat out," Mann says. "Which seems slightly less romantic. Anyway, I may have made an inadvertent noise" - he shrieks in demonstration and Mulder jumps, the liquid in the flask sloshing over his hand - "and he leapt on me and bit me! Without even a how-do-ye-do! I tried to fight him off, but he was too strong." Mann mimes the wrestling. Mulder just nods and leans against the gravestone, and then remembers himself and stands up straight. He catches Scully's eye where she's peeking around her tree cover and shakes his head, warning her off.
"Finally, I grappled him to the ground. My neck was bleeding something fierce. I didn't know what to do, so I just ran away. Discretion is the greater part of valor, you know."
"That's what I've heard," Mulder says, remembering his own retreats.
"As I was getting the hell out of there, I ran into two other humans with strange shiny faces," Mann says. "They weren't entirely happy to see me. I assume he bit them too."
"And that's it," Mulder says.
"That's it," Mann tells him. "That's how the whole thing started. I should have stayed still, but I panicked when I saw the blood. I tried to scare off the predatory. Of course, that only made him more rabid. I didn't even get a chance to shoot blood out of my eyeballs, although I don't know now whether that would have scared him off. He seems to enjoy blood, frankly, at least when it comes out of other people."
"So a man bit you?" Mulder asks.
Mann nods. "Right here." He tugs down his shirt collar and points at a red mark on his neck. Mulder peers at it.
"That looks like a hickey," he says. "In my professional opinion."
"Well, it looks different when I'm normal," Mann says in an aggrieved tone. "Take a picture. It's evidence."
Mulder reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone to take a picture. The sketch of the three-eyed lizard man is stuck to his screen. He unfolds it after he takes the picture and shows it to Mann. "Is this what you look like when you're normal?"
Mann takes the sketch and examines it. "What? Three eyes?" His voice grates higher. Then he shrugs. "But yeah, actually that's quite close."
"So if this is you normally," Mulder says, taking the sketch back and tucking it into his pocket, "when did you first...transform?"
"Oh," Mann says casually, "that didn't happen 'til the next morning. I ran and ran and at some point I ran into a tree. When I woke up, I was squishy and soft and warm-blooded. It was awful. My transformation wasn't just physical but mental. I heard a voice in my head. My voice. I became conscious of my own self-consciousness and then I had my very first thought."
"Which was?" Mulder asks.
"I'm naked!" screams Mann, and Mulder jumps again. "I mean, not now. That was the thought. I became overcome with some irrational need to cover up. I'd never felt that before. I was used to running free, if you know what I mean. For some reason, there were a bunch of dead bodies lying around all around me. I had never worn clothes before, but through some primordial instinct, I knew...I knew how to put them on. I picked the most suitable chap and stripped him bare. Once clothed, I became, well, possessed. I fought against it as much as I could, but I lost control. I had to go on a hunt. I had to hunt down a...a...." He trails off, staring vacantly into the middle distance.
"A human victim?" Mulder suggests quietly, trying to control his excitement.
"No!" Mann says, horrified. "A job."
"Ah," Mulder says, unable to stop himself from frowning.
"My craze wouldn't be satiated until I found steady word," Mann continues. "So I walked straight into town, wearing my clothes, and rather tragically, I...well, I found something right away. Smart Phones Is US!!! had a sign in the window saying there was help wanted. I walked right in and had what's called an interview. They loved me, asked me to start immediately. I jumped right in. It was perfect for me. I talked all day about pixelbits and how many gigabertz each phone had. I had no idea what I was saying, but the customers loved it. By the end of the day, I was the manager."
"No Social Security number," Mulder says. "No references. That would be a logistical nightmare for any ordinary person."
"I don't need any of that stuff," Mann says dismissively. "You see, I now possess the one Darwinian advantage that humans have over other humans: the ability to B.S. my way through anything! I mean, it's better than camouflage! It's almost as effective as shooting blood from my eyeballs!"
Mulder shifts his feet. "You wouldn't happen to be B.S.ing me right now about all this, would you?"
Mann shrugs. "Maybe. I don't understand half the things I'm telling you. I mean, pockets." He stuffs his hands into the pockets of his white linen trousers. "Did you know somethings there's just stuff in them?"
"I find that disconcerting," Mulder says.
"What's even more disturbing is what I did after work that first day," Mann says in a confiding tone. "I was exhausted, stressed, cranky. I was out of my mind. I committed a murder."
Mulder leans closer. "Who did you kill?
"A cow!" Mann says, looking horrified. "I went to a restaurant, they're called? I stood by the little window, but they made me come inside. They said it was for cars only, if you can believe that."
"So you're a vegetarian in your natural state?" Mulder asks.
"No, an insectivore," Mann says. "But nobody likes insects. Anyway, I took my kill, checked into a motel, and then I spent the rest of the day helplessly watching porn. Normal human stuff. And then, sometime during the night, a change occurred. I reached down to pick up the remote, because the porn was so boring, and I had changed back! I had scales! I could shoot blood out of my eyes! I leapt out of bed and tore off all my clothes. I was myself again, and everything was fine until the next morning. I awoke with a painful hunger."
"For insects?" Mulder hazards.
"For coffee," Mann says sadly. "I was human again. I chewed up some coffee grounds - frankly I can't see the appeal - and went off to work. Now that I had a job, all I could think about was how much I hated my job. I wanted to quit. I fantasized about it all day while I polished my stupid manager's nametag. But I was too overcome with human fear to go through with it. How would I pay my bills? Without a job, I'd never get a loan, never afford a mortgage. I mean, whatever that is. Already I was terrified I wasn't saving enough for my retirement. And what else was I supposed to do? If I haven't written my novel by now, I'm never going to write it, you know? I just couldn't go on. So I visited a witch doctor."
"A what doctor?" Mulder says.
"No, a witch doctor. You would call it a psychiatrist," Mann says. "But the medicine he gave me didn't cure me, it just clouded my thoughts. And as a result, I did something insane."
"You attacked someone?" Mulder asks.
"No, I got a puppy!" Mann says. "I named him Daggoo. And I quickly realized that the only way to be happy as a human was to spend all of your time in the company of non-humans. We played all through the night. But the next day when I came home from work with the dog food and treats that I'd brought, he was gone. I suppose the maid must have let him out. I searched everywhere, all night long, but it was hopeless. Life is hopeless. A few fleeting moments of happiness, surrounded by crushing loss and grief."
Mulder pats his shoulder awkwardly.
"Just when I'd given up the search, I saw him," Mann says.
"The dog?" Mulder asks.
"No," Mann says sadly. "No, I saw the man who had bitten me and turned me into a human. He walked past me as I was contemplating the complete meaninglessness of human existence. Just catching sight of that son of a bitch made me even more human, because I was filled with the one thing that only humans can understand: revenge. I got up and stalked after him. I just wanted to strangle him and eat his flesh."
"Now we're getting somewhere," Mulder murmurs.
"But just as I was about to do that," Mann says, "I saw him do the same thing to someone else. He just ripped into that man's throat. I'd never seen such pointless brutality. I was so transfixed by the horror that I didn't notice that the moon had come out. Having caught a glimpse of what human nature was capable of, I wanted no more part of it. I decided to shed my clothes and return to the wild! I stripped down and crept through the parking lot, surprising a beautiful woman who hit me in the face with her purse and screamed at me. I think she gave me a concussion. The rest of the night's pretty foggy. At some point, I put my clothes back on, I suppose. Some people chased me around a truck, and a man took a picture of me while I was on the toilet."
"That was me, actually," Mulder says.
"I thought I recognized you!" Mann tells him.
"But wait," Mulder says, "how could you have changed back into a man? It wasn't morning yet."
Mann shrugs. "I don't know how it works. I'm not a scientist. I'm not even a witch doctor."
"I'm just looking for some kind of internal logic to your story," Mulder says. "It doesn't make sense."
"Why?" Mann asks. "There isn't even an external logic. That seems to be a feature of human life. I went back to the motel and a jackalope head on the wall started screaming at me. Explain that! I've been afraid of jackalopes ever since a friend of mine got gored by one."
"Jackalopes aren't real," Mulder explains. "They were a hoax perpetrated by a Wyoming taxidermist with too much time on his hands. They never existed."
"Well, I'd like to hear you tell that to my dead friend George!" Mann huffs. "Anyway, I fled the motel, turned into a human again the next morning, got down another mouthful of coffee, and went into work. And then some lady came into the phone store and asked where I was last night, and I told her well, I've got several girlfriends! They all say I'm terrific in the sack! We were doing at it like rabbits from dusk 'til dawn!"
"Is that true?" Mulder asks.
Mann shakes his head. "Ever since I'm a human, I can't help but lie about my sex life. But that's the only untruthful bit in the whole story." He hangs his head. "So please, will you kill me now? Release me from the pain of human existence?"
"You don't believe me, do you?" Mann asks, sounding disappointed.
"I wanted to believe you," Mulder says, "but it's all too fantastic, even for me."
"It's not fantastic, it's tragic!" Mann insists.
"No," Mulder says, "I mean, it's just silly."
"That's my life you're talking about," Mann huffs.
"It's my life too," Mulder says. "I've been where you are, Guy. We both want to believe in things that aren't real or even possible. Jackalopes. Lizardmen."
"My multiple girlfriends," Mann says mournfully. "Orgasms in porn." He shakes his head. "There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
"I know that," Mulder says.
"Ah," says Mann, "but did you know the First Folio version reads, 'than are dreamt of in our philosophy'?"
"You know a lot about humanity for someone who's only been human for a few days," Mulder says. "I don't think most people have even heard of the First Folio."
"That doesn't come standard?" Mann asks, horrified.
"Most people work for a lifetime to understand their existence and learn about their culture and other cultures," Mulder tells him. "Knowing things is basically having a job."
"Sounds awful," Mann says dismissively.
"But if it's our philosophy," Mulder says, mulling over the Shakespeare, "Hamlet isn't just calling Horatio an ignorant idiot, he's calling us all ignorant idiots."
"It's comforting, isn't it?" Mann says, "Because if there's nothing more to life than what we already know, then there's nothing but worries, self-doubt, regret, lost dogs, bad sex, and loneliness." He shakes his head. "You've got to put me out of my misery, man. I don't want to wake up tomorrow and have to go to work!"
He grabs Mulder's lapels. "I'm begging you!" he pleads. "One way or another, put me out of my misery. Are these pills? I'll take them! Nothing you could do, I just overpowered you." He pokes at the shape of Mulder's ID in his inside pocket and pulls it out. He flips open the ID. "What the hell's this? You're the fuzz?!"
Mulder pulls away and takes his badge back. "I'm in town investigating the murders."
"And you think I'd do something like that?" Mann yells. "What kind of monster do you think I am? You didn't want to help me! You weren't going to end my misery! You just wanted to arrest me for something I didn't do! You were just listening for evidence! Who takes advantage of someone like that? A human, that's who!" Mann waves his hands in the air for emphasis. "Humans! I'd call you a rat, but that's an insult to rats!"
Apparently this has all been too much for Scully, because she appears at Mulder's elbow.
"You!" Mann says. "You're the woman who came to the store! Of course you're the fuzz. It's a conspiracy!"
"We're here to find a killer," Scully says. "If that isn't you, you have nothing to fear from us, Mr. Mann."
"That's the whole problem!" Mann shouts, gesticulating wildly. "I'm not delusional! I'm no monster! You're the monsters, pretending to help people when all you really want is to put them in a cage. J'accuse!" He points one trembling finger at them, and then turns and flees. "Monsters! They're monsters! Run for your lives!"
They watch him weave his way through the cemetery, screaming as he goes. The other people in the cemetery squint suspiciously at them. Scully holsters her weapon and waves weakly.
"That went about as well as I expected," she says.
"He's the were-lizard," Mulder says, putting his ID back in his pocket and pouring the contents of Mann's flask out on the grave. "Not a man who turns into a lizard, but a lizard who turns into a man."
"Hmm," Scully says. "Well, both scenarios are equally foolish."
"I've always been a fool," he tells her.
She smiles up at him. "And I'm the fool who follows him. It's hard not to fall off the wagon, Mulder."
"All it takes is a taste," he says.
"We're handling it," she says.
"Could be worse," he tells her. "We're in a cemetery in Oregon. At least we're on top of the ground."
"We can have salmon for dinner," she says.
A dog barks shrilly and they both turn. A bundle of brown and white fur dashes up to them and jumps up on Scully. She bends to pick it up.
"Look, Mulder," she says in a voice that melts, "he's so cute."
Mulder checks the collar for tags. "Daggoo?" he says incredulously. "This is Guy Mann's dog."
"Well, I suppose we should take him to Animal Control," Scully says. "We can talk to Officer Pasha at the same time. He didn't quit, apparently. Some jobs just keep calling you back."
They walk back to the car, the dog nestled contentedly in Scully's arms. Mulder flips through the photos on his phone and deletes the pictures from the truck stop parking lot. There's a picture of Pasha and he deletes that too. They climb into the car and Mulder turns on his maps app to direct them to the animal control center. Scully holds Daggoo on her lap and wiggles her fingers in his face. Daggoo nips at her playfully.
"Ouch!" she says. "You know, he kind of reminds me of Queequeg."
"Because of his taste for human flesh?" Mulder asks dryly.
Scully laughs. "You know, there was a recent comparative cognition study that showed that dogs hold hostilities toward people who harm their masters? I guess I miss having someone to hold my grudges for me."
"Kismet would hold a grudge for you," Mulder says, putting on his turn signal.
"Kismet is your dog," Scully says. "I miss having a dog of my own."
"Kismet is our dog," Mulder argues. "Although I guess a puppy is a better souvenir than a magnet."
"And his name is Daggoo," she says. "It goes with my Moby Dick theme."
"Can't argue with that," Mulder tells her.
Scully's phone rings. She slips it out of her pocket. "Scully," she says, and listens. "Mmhmm. Okay. We're headed there now. Have the police meet us at Animal Control."
"What's up?" Mulder asks.
"You know I said there were some discrepancies on the lab results?" Scully asks. "The autopsy results showed that the actual cause of death was strangulation, not the bites. When we were running around through the fields with Officer Pasha, I thought his net pole might be a good tool for it, so I had the lab analyze it."
"You played a hunch," Mulder says approvingly.
"There was tissue and blood from the previous victims on the fibers of the net and on the wire loop of the pole," Scully continues. "Turns out your lizardman wasn't the monster in this story after all."
They enter the Animal Control office to the spectacle of a mild scuffle as the police cuff and arrest Pasha.
"It all started when I was a child," Pasha says. "The uncontrollable urge to torture small animals. As I got older, my compusion didn't vanish...."
"All right, leave it for the trial," Scully says. "You're right, Mulder. You've seen one serial killer, you've seen them all."
"But I have a whole speech prepared," Pasha begins.
"Come on," says the officer leading him, and takes him out to the car.
"Thanks for coming with me on my wild lizard chase instead of approaching a dangerous suspect without backup," Mulder tells Scully, who's still holding Daggoo.
"You're welcome," she says. "I wasn't going to tear you away from quality time with your lizard man. Besides, you're not immortal - you need the backup."
"My lizard man!" Mulder says, and rushes out the door.
Scully shrugs and leans over the front desk. "Could I get a leash for my dog? He just slipped out the door this morning and I had to chase him all over town." She beams at the volunteer and clips the leash to Daggoo's collar. "Thank you. I don't know what I'd do without him."
It takes Mulder all afternoon and evening to find Guy Mann. It's dark before he thinks of the forest, and it isn't easy for him to venture into the forest at night. He's sweating more than he should on a cool evening, but finally, as he's driving along the edge of the woods, the headlights of the SUV illuminate a forlorn form in a summer suit, shedding pieces of clothing as he walks.
Mulder parks and jumps out of the car. "Guy! Hey, Guy! We caught the killer."
Guy pauses and turns toward Mulder. "So?"
"So for a while there, I thought maybe it was you," Mulder says. "But I know now that you were telling the truth."
"You don't sound so sure," Mann says, unbuttoning his shirt. He tries to take it off, but his tie is still on and he can't manage it.
"Well, you have to admit it's a little absurd," Mulder says. "A human-sized lizard who turns into a man during the day after he's bitten by an animal control officer who's really a serial killer."
"A little bit absurd?" Mann says. "It's a lot absurd." He wrestles with the tie still around his neck. "I mean, look at this thing. Whose genius idea was it to tie a piece of cloth around your neck? It's waiting to strangle you! Just like a serial killer!' He manages to wrestle off the tie and tosses it to the forest floor. He offers his hat to Mulder. "Do you want a hat?"
"No," Mulder says. Mann flings the hat away. "What are you doing?"
"This is the time for my kind to go into hibernation," Mann says matter-of-factly. He sheds his trousers, standing under the trees in just his underwear. "I'm hoping I won't turn into a human again during it, and maybe when I wake up, I'll have slept off the whole transformation thing. Good riddance, I say. Humanity's like a bad head cold."
"I didn't know that reptiles hibernated," Mulder says. "Although I guess there are some amphibians that do."
"Whoa!" Mann says. "I'm not a reptile. That's racist!"
"Ooooh-kay," Mulder says slowly. "Sorry. Just taxonomically, as a were-lizard, I assumed...nevermind. How long do you hibernate for?"
"Well, I never really did get the hang of human constructs of time," Mann says thoughtfully. "Let me see. Uh, lunar cycles, you got four of those, then you got your seasons, your ages, so...yeah, right about ten thousand years."
"That's...not possible," Mulder says.
"There you go again!" Mann says in outrage. "Not believing me!" He takes off his underwear in a huff. Mulder tries not to look. Mann turns away and stalks into the woods.
"I want to believe!" Mulder calls after him. Mann stops and turns around, his nether regions hidden behind a convenient shrub.
"I don't mean to get too personal," Mann says, "but this has been a real trying time for me. I've been through a lot. But just having someone like you to listen...look, what I'm trying to say is, I'm glad to have met you. Even if you wouldn't kill me. Human existence is terrible, but you made it a little bit all right."
"Likewise," Mulder says. He steps closer and reaches out to shake Guy Mann's hand. Mann's skin is warm but oddly smooth. Mulder glances down and sees scales instead of skin. He looks back up into Mann's two lizard eyes. Mann drops his hand and crashes away into the forest.
"Likewise," Mulder says in quiet wonder, watching Mann disappear into the undergrowth.
He drives back to the hotel hardly focusing on the road, but at least it's not because he's dissociating. When he unlocks the door to his room, Scully looks up.
"We got another dog," she says. "I've already made arrangements with the airline."
"Just as well," Mulder says. "His owner went into hibernation for ten thousand years."
Scully squints at him. "I thought you poured out all the liquor Guy Mann gave you."
Mulder spreads his hands in a gesture of innocence. "I'm only saying what I was told. The truth, as usual, is unverifiable."
"The human condition," Scully says, petting Daggoo. "Unverifiable truths, unquantifiable struggles. Isn't that right?" The dog hops up and licks her on the chin.
"Hey," Mulder says to her. "You make the struggles more bearable."
She smiles at him. "Likewise."
He sits next to her on the bed and Daggoo wiggles his whole body. For a moment, they're a perfect tableau of a joyous family, and that's all he really needs.