JUNE 15, 2015
WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS
As days pass, the island house begins to feel more like a home, although the supply runs to Martha’s Vineyard and the mainland remain haunting and unsettling. It’s the middle of June; the island should be crowded with tourists, but instead it’s dead and silent. They have yet to find another survivor.
They procure a larger boat during one of these treks, making it easier to transport supplies. Isaac and Scully rig a system of rain barrels for collecting runoff, to be boiled and used for drinking in the event they get stranded. The solar panels provide plenty of electricity, but they’re not well protected, and Scully worries about relying on them.
“The islands don’t usually get much hurricane activity, but we can’t be too cautious,” Mulder says. They stock up on candles, and keep the smaller boat, bringing it ashore as a spare.
“We can’t stay through the winter, Mulder,” Scully says in the midst of a supply run to a grocer in Woods Hole.
Mulder looks up from the cans of tuna he’s been rummaging through, as though this revelation is unwelcome, but not unexpected. He nods, shrugs.
“I’ve thought about that. We could head north in the fall, maybe up as far as New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. There’s some remote territory up there, and the houses are winter-ready.”
“Yeah, but can we make it that far?” she says under her breath.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” he says. “We can skirt some of the cities, take back roads, but suburbs are just as likely to be overrun. We’d probably travel easier in the south, but it’s warm there. We’re better off where it’s cold; the cold is a deterrent.”
She considers this as they continue their slow walk up and down the aisles, holding her breath as they pass the meat case. It smells more terrible than she could have imagined, with its pounds of ground beef and pork left to rot in the heat and humidity.
Isaac gives them a funny look when they find him in the next aisle, picking through the chips and pretzels.
“Ready, kid?” Mulder says, grabbing a bag of Doritos for himself.
Isaac frowns, troubled. “Yeah.”
They’re heading for the dock when Isaac stops in his tracks in front of a house. The yard is overrun with dandelions and long grass, the lawn in a state of neglect with no one to tend it.
The vacant look in Isaac’s eyes isn’t unusual; they’ve seen it before, usually when he’s trying not to hear the creatures stirring. He hasn’t said anything since that first encounter in the garage on the Vineyard, but he doesn’t have to; the presence of the infected are commonplace. Isaac is their human barometer.
He’s stopped ahead of them, and Scully can tell from his posture that this time is different.
“Isaac? What is it? What do you hear?”
The boy swallows hard but doesn’t respond, simply continues staring at the house in his alarming way. Mulder draws the .38 from his belt, keeping its muzzle to the ground.
“What is it, Isaac?” he asks, casting a sideways glance at their son, who stays rooted in place.
“This one hatched,” he whispers in a voice so low and heavy with dread that they almost can’t hear it.
Ice runs in Scully’s veins. Before she can register what’s happening, Mulder is on the porch and trying the door.
“Mulder? What the hell—”
“Gonna check it out,” he mutters. “Stay here.”
Now it’s Isaac’s turn to give her a look, and she turns back to the door where her partner is already out of sight, then again to her son, torn between them.
“Fuck that,” she growls, following Mulder into the dark recesses with Isaac at her side.
The inside smells much like the meat section of the grocery store—dank, heavy with dust and rotten food. They collectively wince at the smell.
“Upstairs,” Isaac says, his words dry and grating as sand.
Mulder heads for the stairs, gun still drawn, but Isaac stops him.
“Let me go.”
“If it’s still there, I can protect us,” he says, in a voice too old for his fifteen years, then looks down at the revolver. “That thing isn’t going to help.”
They don’t ask how he knows this, and they don’t try to stop him as he ascends the staircase. Scully glares at her partner, but he just offers a helpless shrug and follows their son.
“Right behind you, kid,” Mulder whispers as they reach the first landing. Isaac stops for a second, closes his eyes as if listening, then takes a right.
There are two rooms on either side of the hall, the first one empty—the door hangs ajar, revealing a neatly made bed with a quilt spread over the top, and a bureau. Save for a layer of dust, everything looks in order.
The other room is closed, and this is the one in front of which Isaac stops. Sweat beads across Scully’s brow; it’s too warm, claustrophobic in this house. The distinct odor coming from behind the bedroom door doesn’t help.
Isaac pauses once again, casting a wide-eyed look over his shoulder. She can feel the fear and adrenaline coming off him, and Scully gives him what she hopes is a reassuring nod. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”
He takes a sharp breath and a shake of his head. “Might as well get it over with,” he says, the echo of his father’s wry voice in his words. “Going.”
Mulder swallows hard and raises the revolver at Isaac’s side. “Got your back.”
The door swings open without a sound, and what follows will forever be burned in her memory as the beginning of the end.
There is no looming creature, no skeletal gray frame with black eyes the color of nightmares. There is no attack, no gunshot, no blast of energy and light. Whatever thing might have birthed out of the man had already escaped it’s dead host’s womb, leaving nothing but a rotting shell.
There is only a man, or something that used to be a man, lying on the bed in front of them in a state of repose. His features are gruesome and stark, frozen in a scream, as though he’d been conscious for the birth, there to witness this thing that took hold of his body and ate him alive from within.
The room stinks of rotten flesh, and it takes her a moment to realize the insistent buzzing in her ears can be attributed to hundreds of flies that blacken the windows and flood the ceiling, though the gaping hole in the man’s midsection is untouched.
Even the flies won’t touch the body, Scully thinks dully.
Isaac stumbles backwards blindly; his body hits hers and he lets out a soft, horrified shriek. Without thinking, she takes him by the shoulders, turning him around so he can’t look at the scene. He buries his face in her shoulder with a silent, anguished cry. Over the din of her own terrified thoughts, she can feel Mulder tugging her into the hallway. Part of her—the old Scully, the FBI agent—wants to stay and examine the body for evidence. The other part wants to take Isaac and run as far away from this place as they possibly can.
The mother wins.
She doesn’t remember how they get downstairs, or out of the house. She doesn’t remember pushing their cart back to the park, or the way Isaac’s hand clung, clammy and damp, to hers. She doesn’t remember Mulder’s steady footfalls at her side, watching for signs of life behind them, gun still drawn.
we’re not safe here we’re not safe anywhere
It’s not until they get to the boat access that she stops, collapsing to her knees in the middle of the lawn and pressing her forehead to the clean, cool grass. She tries to breathe and finds she can’t, her heart won’t stop pounding, her lungs won’t expand to take in the air.
it’s real it’s real oh god it’s happening
She’s startled when she feels the hand on her shoulder, even more so to discover it’s Isaac and not Mulder who stands before her. His look of staunch fear has been replaced with something else—sympathy? Empathy? Curiosity?—but she can’t define it, only sees the reflection of her thoughts in his eyes.
What are we going to do?
Mulder is kneeling beside her, offering water, his face drawn and pale. “You OK?” he asks gently, even though he knows the answer.
We all know the answer now.
It rains that night. The humid air curls Scully’s hair at the ends, the dark clouds rolling outside match her own inner turmoil. She tucks her legs beneath her body on the couch with a cup of tea, a blanket spread across her lap, but neither warm her. The tea grows cold before she can take her first sip, and her book lies untouched beside her.
“Hi,” Mulder says, leaning in the kitchen door, his earlier humor diminished, eyes dark and brooding.
She nods in silent greeting, holds up the mug of tea to offer him some, but he shakes his head.
“Figured you’d need something stronger than that,” he says.
“I considered it,” she breathes. “But we should stay focused. Especially now.”
“What are you thinking?”
Her back straightens, she meets his gaze with her own. “I’m sorry about my reaction today; it was unnecessary. I panicked.”
Mulder smirks in disbelief. “Jesus, Scully, is that what you’re worried about? Looking unprofessional?”
She presses her lips taut. “I never would have run away from a scene like that before.”
“You don’t have to prove anything to me. You never have.”
She shakes his comments off, anger bubbling to the surface like lava. “We don’t have the luxury of weakness. We’ve been in denial…all this time, time I could have spent researching, all these weeks pretending nothing had changed. We can’t do that anymore.”
He swallows hard, nodding slowly, understanding.
“Two weeks,” she says tonelessly. “Given the condition of the body, I think it’s safe to assume the…virus,” she says, faltering, unable to bring herself to call the thing what it is, “…the virus…left its host within the last two weeks. Which makes the gestation time anywhere from two to three weeks, depending on the time of onset.”
“We’ve seen this before. The gestation time is wrong, though,” he murmurs, the intensity of his gaze sinking beneath her hardest outer layers like a soothing balm.
“Maybe this one was a late bloomer,” she sighs. “But we have to assume more of them have already spawned.”
Mulder nods, biting at the tip of his thumb.
She fixes him with a pointed stare. “I want to go back. I need to examine the body.”
Mulder’s lips part in surprise, but he doesn’t protest. The look in her eyes doesn’t leave room for it.
“We need more information about what we’re dealing with, and some of the answers are in that body,” she continues. “I can’t do a full autopsy but I can examine the scene, the extent of the tissue damage, maybe I can get a more accurate assessment of time of death…”
“Do you think it will come back?” he says, with a look that suggests he wants to say more.
She sighs, “I didn’t see any evidence that the organism had returned, I think we would have noticed. The house looked untouched.
“But Isaac shouldn’t come. He can’t go through that again,” she says, lowering her voice. “We can’t protect him, Mulder,” she whispers. “Every drive, every…every instinct I have is telling me to, but I know I can’t keep him safe.”
A laden pause as she sets her jaw, takes a deep breath, “But I can gather information. I can study this thing. We have to try to find a way to…to beat this. Not for us, but for him.”
Something shines in her partner’s eyes—love, perhaps, or recognition—and she holds his gaze while the seconds tick away.
There’s a cry from upstairs, jarring them from their shared silence, and Mulder is on the steps before Scully can extract herself from the blanket wound around her lap.
He’s in bed, pale, drenched with sweat, his body arched at an awkward angle, like a tightly strung bow. Scully has a vision, a ghost from their recent past. A different bed, a different time, but the same dull fear on his face, sweat on his brow, as the virus wreaked havoc on his body.
He’s gasping for breath, while Mulder sits at the edge of the bed, attempting to calm him.
It takes a moment for the boy to speak. “Dreams,” he rasps. “Just dreams.”
Scully presses her lips together hard, until the pink flesh turns white, and turns to get the boy a drink of water. It’s the least she can do.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks when she comes back.
He shakes his head, but his voice is quiet. “Stay?”
She swallows hard, struggling against her own carefully constructed emotions, feeling the weight of her words to Mulder as she takes a seat next to their son and lays a careful hand on his shoulder.
Not for us, but for him.