Chapter 18

MARCH 31, 2015
7:45 P.M.

Mulder’s truck doesn’t do well under the best of circumstances, and now, at a time when he needs it most, it’s giving him grief. It’s been hitching and groaning for the last hour, and finally the pickup coasts to a stop on a back road just outside of Prospect.

When the dash light comes on, he knows he’s pushed the truck past its feeble limits. He turns it off, letting the engine cool before turning the key in the ignition, nothing but an empty click-click-click to show for his efforts.

“Damnit!”

His fist hits the steering wheel with a dull thud, bruising the side of his hand in a rush of delicate pain. He relishes it, lets every nerve vibrate with it, a chance to feel something other than the desperation that followed him from the hospital.

But it’s temporary, the pain, and when he comes back to himself he realizes he’s stranded in the middle of nowhere with a truck that won’t start and a couple hundred miles to go. He can’t help but take the machine’s failure as a personal affront.

Yeah, well…fuck you, too.

#

He’d bought it from a neighbor, though they use the term loosely. The man’s property abuts Scully’s, but they’ve only talked once; when Mulder showed up on his doorstep, asking about the Ford at the end of the drive.

It was during one of the bad times, shortly after they’d settled at the farmhouse, when Scully started her residency at the hospital. Mulder was dead weight, unable to work, unable to do much of anything besides wait for Scully to come home. He spent a lot of time wandering back roads, walking and brooding, and on one of these walks he happened upon the truck with the For Sale sign propped in the windshield.

It had probably been red once, although in Mulder’s expert estimation, it needed a new coat of paint and then some. He hadn’t bothered to negotiate on price with the former owner, who was as gruff and weathered as the pickup itself. He’d even convinced the guy to tow it back to the farmhouse. The older man knew a city sucker and a good deal when he saw one.

The truck wasn’t running. In fact, it needed a shit-ton of work, work Mulder didn’t have one clue about, but he figured he had the time to learn.

Scully had come home to find the strange Ford in the driveway, her partner sitting in the same place she’d left him that morning, now with a dusty book in his lap, his t-shirt muddy and damp.

“Mulder?” she’d hedged, standing in the doorway and looking every bit the medical professional in her blazer and skirt. She was crisp where he was filmy; maybe they had always been this way, but it had never been more obvious until now.

“Hey, doc. How was work?” He hadn’t looked up from the manual, the 1987 edition of Motor’s Auto Repair.

“It was fine…Mulder? What’s with the truck?”

“Hmm? Oh! Yeah, I bought a truck today.”

“You bought a…truck.”

She’d blinked, looking over her shoulder to stare at the vaguely vehicular heap of rust that had invaded their front yard. One look at her face told him she thought he’d finally gone over the deep end, and maybe he had.

“Mulder…does it work?”

He’d frowned, flipping back and forth between pages and squinting, then tilting the book from side to side, trying to make sense of the fingerprint-smudged line drawing of this strange beast’s mechanical heart. “Define ‘work.’ I’m going to fix it.”

He’d never been inclined. Brought up on the Vineyard amongst government officials and ivy-league graduates did that to a person. In his world, cars worked by magic and voodoo trickery. When they didn’t work, you paid someone until they did.

But the endless stretches of empty time made him restless, anxious, paranoid—and for a man who had good reason to be paranoid, he couldn’t afford to lose what little grip on sanity he had left. It was time one forcibly retired Fox Mulder found something useful to do.

He’d fixed up the truck, little by little, agonizing over his tattered copy of Motor’s as though he were back in college cramming for a test. Scully would come home at midnight to find him under the flood lights, elbows-deep in the engine block, wrenching away on one piece or another. Over dinner, he’d yammer on about carburetors and fuel pumps with the same level of intensity he used to reserve for UFOs and the abominable snowman.

One day, miracle of miracles, the thing started and moved, rolling forward on rubber feet. Slowly, unexpectedly, with every gasket replaced, every gauge tested, the truck came back to life.

It wasn’t the prettiest thing to look at, rough around the edges, but it was functional, purposeful, not unlike Mulder himself.

#

When the engine gives a final, shuddering groan, when he needs the damn truck to go, it won’t. With an angry kick of the left front tire, he leaves it by the side of the road, continuing his journey on foot.

He tucks his hands into his pockets and hunches his shoulders against the wind. It’s misting, a light rain that sinks into his bones, leaving him rusty. His knee aches from the wet weather, and a long walk wasn’t exactly part of the plan.

What was the plan again, Fox? Oh, that’s right. You didn’t have one.

It will be dark soon. His best hope is to find an abandoned car, but he’s on a less-traveled back road, lined with forest and trees, dotted with the occasional house with curtains drawn against death’s impenetrable gaze.

Even when he sees a farmhouse set back from the road with candlelight burning in the windows, he doesn’t stop. The dead don’t scare him, but the frightened, with their jittery trigger fingers, give him good reason to move on.

The news is talking about a zombie apocalypse, bleeders everywhere, and Mulder would laugh if he weren’t in such dire straights. He’s had the misfortune to encounter more than one actual zombie in his career, but he’s less worried about the undead as he is about the living. He hasn’t seen a walking corpse yet; only soon-to-be corpses, and a lot of scared people, and that’s enough to keep him moving at a steady, limping pace, alone.

Better to stay out of sight.

He’ll wait until this road crosses the main stretch. It’s a five-mile trek, maybe more, and he grits his teeth against the agonizing tick of time.

He thinks of Isaac, how diminished he’d looked in that hospital bed, how his skin painted the white sheets with barely a hint of human color.

The dark voice follows him, sidles up to him, an unwelcome tenant who resists eviction.

There was never a happily ever after for this story, Fox. You don’t get to make the choices you’ve made and walk away from everything a free man. You have to see it through.

He’d once told Scully that the darkness finds them, but tonight, as he walks the back road with the wind in the trees and not a trace of moonlight to guide him, he decides he’s not going to wait, not this time.

Tonight, he’s going to find the darkness first.

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