APRIL 6, 2015
Isaac hasn’t dreamed since the vaccine drove the infection from his body, but his sleep is restless, erratic. He wakes when the rest of the house has gone silent, like a vampire from one of his novels, a werewolf in a world where the moon is always full. Always, there is the distant drone of their voices and thoughts in the background, never clear enough to understand, the hum of a live and angry wire.
It’s well before dawn, and he lays in his new bed in the strange room. He can hear the faint sounds of Mulder downstairs, the only other person who would willingly maintain such odd hours. The man’s thoughts are open, too, but Isaac pushes them away, not wanting to pry.
He creeps down the stairs, peeks into the kitchen, where Mulder is rummaging through the cupboards.
“Hey, kid,” he says, looking up, tired eyes and mussed hair, not unlike Isaac’s own sleep-tousled brown locks. “Can’t sleep?”
Isaac nods. “I’m going to go look in the study…if that’s OK.”
Mulder shrugs. “Up to you. Feeling better?”
Isaac returns the shrug, a new—but also familiar—silent language all their own.
He leaves him to his work. The study is wall-to-wall shelves of books and small treasures, boxes in the corner, and a broad desk draped with a white cloth. Isaac heads straight for the books, most of which are older volumes, but there’s a shelf of paperbacks to his right.
He blows dust off the surface of the shelf, thumbing his way along the titles, mostly popular fiction. Isaac feels a small comfort at the familiar smell of old paper.
Leaving the books for later, he walks the room’s perimeter; there’s a vintage typewriter with keys that still make a satisfying clack when he presses them, an old pipe that smells of stale tobacco smoke, and an ornate music box that plays a haunting melody.
He unearths a corner chair from beneath a dusty white sheet, and pulls a second sheet off the desk. The surface is smooth, shiny wood, and he runs his fingers along the edge. The top drawer opens to reveal nothing special—anything of personal note has been removed, leaving a pen, several half-sharp pencils, and a few odds and ends.
Junk, he thinks, disappointed.
The other drawers are locked, and his curiosity is immediately piqued.
“Hey, Mulder,” he calls over his shoulder. “Do you still have that lock pick?”
Mulder materializes at the threshold. “You know how to use it?”
“If I say ‘no’, will you let me try?”
Mulder pauses, then digs in his pocket, handing over the pen-shaped pick.
Isaac grins, then goes to work on the drawer lock. It’s a weak lock, too easy, and it pops open.
“I don’t want to know how you learned that,” Mulder says under his breath, taking back the pen, and Isaac flushes with pride, yanking open the drawer.
He wrinkles his nose. “Looks like bills.”
He pulls open the second drawer, and finds the same. More papers, uninteresting. The top locked drawer contains more odds and ends.
“Not every one’s a winner, kid,” Mulder says, patting him on the shoulder. “But remind me to hide this thing just in case,” he says, holding up the pen.
Mulder returns to the kitchen, leaving Isaac disenchanted with his find. He returns to the paperbacks, plucks one from the shelf, and goes outside to find somewhere to sit. The sun is just starting to come up, peeking over the horizon he can make out the outline of Martha’s Vineyard in the distance. Something about the island chills him, the hollow shape it carves out of the line where land meets sea, and he has to look away.
The room is dark when Scully wakes from a troubled sleep, the shutters still sealed tight against the dawn. There’s momentary confusion—where am I?—followed by the harsh slap of reality.
She pulls on yesterday’s jeans, crumpled on the floor from their impromptu lovemaking the night before, and wanders downstairs.
There’s no sign of Mulder in the kitchen or living room. The front door hangs open.
Fear sparks in her chest, but she quells it, looking out over the long grass slope to the edge of the water. She can just make out the top of Mulder’s head next to the dock, bobbing lightly up and down in the boat.
“Hey, pretty lady,” he calls out as she approaches. “How’d you sleep?”
“As well as could be expected,” she mutters, drawing in a laden breath, eying his work. His hands are black with oil and dirt, and the boat’s motor is exposed to the open air as he works.
“Did you sleep, Mulder?”
He frowns at something, squinting into the engine’s mechanical recesses. “Nope. You know me, though—I’ll crash tonight.”
What she knows is that his sleeping habits are abysmal no matter the circumstances.
“Have you seen Isaac?”
“Our young prodigy was up early…think he’s out back. If you see him, let him know we should leave soon. I want to get out to the mainland and back before dusk.”
She folds her arms, shifting uncomfortably. He notices.
“What is it, Scully?”
“I don’t know how you can be so….so calm. It’s like you’ve been thinking about this, like you have everything figured out, Mulder, and I’m…I’m still trying to catch my breath. The last two weeks have been…” the words catch in her throat, and she fights back angry tears.
He purses his lips, ducks his head in acknowledgement. “I guess I’ve had fifteen odd years to think about it.”
She presses her fingers to her mouth to collect herself, and he watches carefully, but doesn’t make a move to comfort her. Even if he did, she thinks, there’s little he can offer.
“I’ll get Isaac,” she sighs.
She finds him on the back porch with a paperback, legs draped over the arm of a weather-beaten wicker chair. She nods toward the book, a tattered Dean Koontz novel. “Anything good?”
He shrugs. “S’not one of his best, but I like it.”
“Mulder asked me to—“
“Yeah, I know,” he says, wincing. “We’re going back out there, huh?”
“You don’t sound very happy about that.”
Isaac shrugs again, but doesn’t respond. She bites back her frustration, decides to change the subject. “How are you—“
“I’m feeling good,” he interrupts. “No, really,” he says, forcing a small smile. “I’ll tell you if I don’t, but my stomach doesn’t hurt anymore. Promise.”
She smiles back, marginally relieved. “In that case, let’s get something to eat.”
Breakfast is the rest of the canned fruit and a sleeve of saltines, passed around while standing in the kitchen.
“My compliments to Chef Del Monte,” Mulder says, wiping peach syrup off his chin with the back of his hand.
Isaac makes a show of levitating his empty can toward the trash as Scully watches, half perturbed, half relieved. The can doesn’t quite make it, bouncing lightly off the edge, spilling leftover syrup on the floor.
Well, at least he’s feeling better.
“I think we can find most of what we need here,” Mulder says as they dock the boat at Martha’s Vineyard. “There’s a grocery store about half a mile that way,” he says, pointing west. “And there should be a boat shop down that way, if it hasn’t moved. This thing needs oil, and we should get some spare spark plugs,” he says, looking at the boat.
“Let’s split up,” Scully suggests. “Isaac and I will get food, you get the supplies for the boat, we’ll meet back here…”
“No!” the boy says, startling them. “No. We should stay together.”
Mulder and Scully exchange a look, before agreeing. “OK, sure. Boat first, then food.”
The island is showing first signs of greenery, fragrant buds opening to the warm spring sun. Isaac walks ahead, and Scully doesn’t take her eyes off his back.
“If I remember correctly, there’s a marine supply shop about two miles down the main road…Mr. Craddock, our next door neighbor, owned it. I think his son took over when he passed away, but that was after I left,” Mulder says.
“Small town, huh?” Scully remarks, looking around, ocean on one side and wild grass on the other. There’s a house in the distance, a large old Cape Cod structure set atop a small hill, but the rest of the landscape is silent. The building’s dark windows loom over them like eyes following their path, and she shivers. Suddenly the isolated island feels even more sinister.
Mulder interrupts her thoughts. “The smallest,” he agrees. “Mr. Craddock was the one who caught my friend and I smoking pot behind the yacht club when I was sixteen,” he smirks. “He never told Dad, though. Think he felt bad for me.”
“Is it hard, coming back?” Scully asks. She had imagined, someday, coming back to the place where her partner was born and raised, but had never thought it would be under these circumstances.
“Not really.” Mulder gives her a wry half-smile. “Funny how an apocalypse can put the rest of your life’s problems in perspective.” He presses his lips together, staring into the distance, keeping his voice low. “There’s a lot of my childhood I wouldn’t want to relive, Scully…but there were some good times, and most of them happened here.”
His hand finds hers, giving it a brief squeeze, and for a few moments, her fears are lightened, if not quelled.
The boat shop is small, but the shelves are stocked. Mulder grabs two boxes of spark plugs, two containers of motor oil, then sends Scully and Isaac to hunt for a gas can.
“We need to mix the gas and oil,” he says. “There’s probably something in the garage.”
The garage next door is as tidy as the shop, and Scully finds a red plastic gas can at the rear. Isaac hangs back, nervous, his eyes pinned to the inner door at the side, presumably the entrance to the house.
“Empty, but we can siphon some from the cars in town,” she says, picking through the shelves. After a pause, she grabs a toolbox, intending to fill it with tools. “Never know when we might need these. Isaac, can you grab that wrench over there?”
No response. She turns to find the boy rooted in place, staring at the door with wide, pale eyes.
“There’s two of them.”
Scully glances back and forth between the door and her son, puzzled. “Two of what?”
The boy swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing with the effort. When he finally speaks, his breathing is shallow and his voice is raspy. “Them. They’re in there.” He points to the door with a shaky hand.
Scully’s heart begins to pound a sturdy, angry rhythm in her chest, and she moves slowly to Isaac’s side. “What do you hear?” she whispers, as though keeping her voice down will somehow prevent these telepathic beings from being alerted to their presence.
“Them,” he says, more insistent. “I hear Them. They’re not finished growing, but…they’re waiting.”
Former owners, Scully thinks, a sour fear tickling the back of her throat. Infected.
Isaac’s voice is shaky, bordering on panic. “I didn’t want to come out here…they know where I am now, they’ll find us, Doc, they’ll—“
“Hey, what’s the hold up? We should—” Mulder asks, coming around the corner and into view, stopping dead in his tracks at the sight of his son and his partner, blanched and backing away from the inner garage door. “What is it?”
Isaac looks up to Scully, and she to him. “We should go,” she says finally, grabbing Isaac’s hand, leading them outside.
“Locals,” Scully mutters under her breath, still hefting the toolbox under one arm.
Mulder’s brow knits together as he follows them out. He’s found a wheelbarrow, more supplies for the boat, and she plops the empty gas can and the tools in alongside the boxes of spark plugs, trying to ignore the prickling fear at the base of her neck.
“We’re not alone out here,” she says quietly, still locked on Isaac’s troubled expression.
Mulder looks back toward the house—a simple white clapboard with blue trim, neatly trimmed lawn and shrubs on each side—and frowns. “Yeah, I get it. Let’s go.”
The walk back to town takes a couple hours, the wheelbarrow is clumsy and they take turns pushing it. By the time they cross the village borders into West Tisbury, Scully’s hands are beginning to blister from the rough wood handles.
“Maybe we can pick up a car,” Mulder ponders aloud, his limp becoming more and more visible as the walk draws out. “I still want to get out to the mainland before we head back.”
By the time they arrive at the grocery store, temperatures have warmed to the point of discomfort. The light ocean breeze can’t compete with the noon sun, and all three are sweaty and tired.
“Let’s eat and rest up,” Scully says, heading for the supermarket. It will be cooler inside, and they need water. “Isaac—”
“It’s clear,” he says, reading her mind. “There’s no one in there.”
There are a handful of cars in the parking lot, but no sign of any customers. The store is unlocked—“Most places are, around here,” Mulder says—and they rummage through the dry goods and only slightly wilted produce, avoiding the frozen and refrigerated sections. The freezers are dark, the store hasn’t had power for days.
Doesn’t stink yet, but it will, Scully thinks, wrinkling her nose at the thought of cases full of rotting meat and dairy.
Isaac sits on one of the checkout conveyors, legs swinging as he eats a fistful of cereal straight from the box. Mulder is somewhere in the back; she can hear him throwing cans into a shopping cart.
“Glad to see your appetite’s back,” Scully remarks, biting into an apple, relishing the taste of the fresh fruit.
Isaac nods. “I do feel better,” he says after a moment’s pause. “But I don’t like it here,” he says softly.
“I know,” she says. “I don’t, either.”
“There aren’t any safe places now.”
Her stomach turns, and she puts the apple down, suddenly not hungry. She takes a sip of water instead. “What do they sound like, Isaac?”
He stops mid-chew to think about this. “Like hissing,” he says finally. “But I can understand it. I don’t like that I can understand it.”
She swallows hard. I don’t like that you can, either, kid.
He snorts. “I heard that.”
She smiles a little. “You hear everything, don’t you?”
He nods uncomfortably. “I try not to. It’s harder now.”
“I guess it keeps us honest.”
“It doesn’t, though,” he says, a trace of sadness in his voice. “Even though you know I can hear you thinking the truth, you still lie.”
She opens her mouth, then closes it again, struck dumb.
He ducks his head. “But I know you’re just trying to make me feel better. To protect me. My mom used to do it, too,” he sighs.
Scully presses her lips together. “It’s what parents do.”
There’s the sound of a cart—a very full, noisy cart—rounding the corner. “I always get the one with the sticky wheel,” Mulder says, pulling up beside Scully and Isaac. “We’re stocked, at least for a week or two. At some point soon we need to figure out how to get more food over.”
Scully thinks, because who knows how much longer we’ll be able to make this trip without putting ourselves in serious danger.
“We’re going to need a bigger boat,” Scully says.
Mulder grins. “Jaws, nice. But a wise man once told me, it’s not the size of the boat that counts—it’s the motion of the ocean.”
“Mulder,” Scully sighs, but her lips quirk upward in a smile when she sees Isaac grinning a little, too.
They set out to search for a vehicle, and they don’t have to go far—there’s a truck in the back of the parking lot, keys still in the ignition.
“Told ya,” Mulder says. “Small town hospitality.”
The truck is rusted, and the inspection sticker is three years out of date—reminding her once again of Mulder’s red beater. She can see why no one’s bothered to take it, but it starts on the first try.
They load up the boat with groceries and water, taking care to leave enough room for the rest of the supplies. The mainland is an additional hour and a half from the southern point of the Vineyard, so Mulder fills the boat’s tank with gas and oil.
“That should get us through the next few days, I hope.”
The breeze feels good against Scully’s sun-pinked skin as the boat speeds across the water. She slathers on sunscreen while Mulder navigates. Isaac seems focused on a point off in the distance, but it’s too loud for conversation.
They pull up at the dock outside Woods Hole. Isaac scrambles out of the boat, shading his eyes, then points toward the landing parking lot.
Scully looks toward where Isaac is gesturing. The lot is devoid of cars, but she can make out the shape of several deer—four of them, grazing along the shady grass at the edges.
Watching the creatures move freely, undeterred by the presence of their human counterparts, gives her an unexpected chill.
“That’s encouraging,” Mulder says. “If the local wildlife isn’t scattering, we may be safer than we think.”
Scully grimaces. “I’m going to go check on the car,” she says. “We should find a better place to hide it.”
Mulder nods. “I’ll load up.”
She and Isaac help Mulder unload, then take the car in search of a more remote location.
“That should work,” she says, pointing to a forested tree line about a quarter mile up the road. “We can park it there, cover it with brush.”
Isaac nods, looking around, but she notices the tension in his shoulders has lessened since they left the Vineyard. She shows him how to strip the lower pine branches from nearby trees, layering them across the hood to create a visual shelter for the Prius, camouflaging it with the rest of the brush. When they’re finished, she steps back to the road to survey their work.
“It’ll do for now,” she sighs, examining the hiding spot from all angles. “You can’t see it from the road unless you’re looking for it.”
They walk back to Mulder, who sits precariously in the packed boat, shuffling their possessions around for balance.
“Always said I wanted to try low-riding, but this isn’t what I had in mind,” he quips.
She raises an eyebrow, scanning the boat, which is indeed lower than before—much lower. “Just take it slow.”
They arrive at their new home as the sun is setting. Unloading takes the remainder of daylight, followed by another quick meal, and night soon finds them curled in bed. As promised, Mulder is asleep before his head hits the pillow, and Scully isn’t far behind.
The next day dawns bright—brighter still when Scully opens the shutters to let the sunlight flood the living room and bedrooms. Every window looks out to sea; the perfect house for a former captain’s daughter, she thinks.
She sets to dusting, wiping down shelves and furniture, setting aside someone else’s family photos. She can hear Mulder and Isaac talking as they rummage around in the study.
“Hey, Doc, check this out,” Isaac calls from downstairs. “We found something.”
Scully wipes off her hands and makes her way to the living room, where Isaac and Mulder are peering into a lockbox.
“What is it?”
“A gun,” Mulder says, holding up the revolver. “Government issue, .38 special.”
“It was in the drawer,” Isaac says. “Buried under a bunch of papers.”
“You said these were friends of your family’s?” Scully asks.
“My parents didn’t have friends,” Mulder murmurs, turning the gun over in his hands, checking the barrel. “They were Fibbies.”
Scully looks up. “FBI?”
“Former,” Mulder says. “The husband was one of the higher-ups, worked with my father at the State Department. I don’t remember who, couldn’t have been more than six at the time, but—“
“Yeah, the irony isn’t lost on me,” he says. That they could be staying in a house belonging to a member of government, possibly even the Syndicate, and therefore one of the men responsible for their ultimate downfall was difficult to swallow.
“Well,” she sighs. “We may need it. Any rounds?”
Mulder holds up a small cardboard box of shells. “We should be able to get more in town.”
“Let’s clean it up, then we’ll see if it works.”
The gun is in near-perfect condition given its age. Mulder and Scully disassemble the weapon as Isaac looks on, then they take it behind the house for a test. It’s windy, the waves crashing on the shore nearby are almost loud enough to drown out their words.
“Ladies first,” Scully says, taking aim for a gnarled apple tree at the edge of the bluff.
“Wait—” Mulder interrupts, placing his hand on top of hers, pushing the gun down.
“If this thing backfires, we’re out a doctor. I should go first.”
“You know I’m right,” he insists. “At the end of the world, profilers are dispensable. Doctors aren’t.”
She sighs, but relinquishes the gun. “Fine. Isaac, plug your ears.”
Mulder squints, takes aim, and fires. His first round misses the tree by several inches, but the second one nicks the wood to the left. “It’s safe, at least. Ready to try, Scully?”
It’s been months since she’s held a gun, even longer since she’s fired one, but muscle memory guides her hands. Her first shot hits the tree dead center, splintering the surface with a satisfying crack. Mulder gives her an approving look, and Isaac looks uncharacteristically impressed.
“You always were a better shot than me,” Mulder grins.
She smiles. “Isaac? You want to try?”
The boy’s eyes widen. “Me?”
“You probably won’t need to use it, but you should know how.”
He swallows and nods, and Scully can’t help but smile at his nervousness.
“Doggett showed me a little,” he admits. “But I wasn’t allowed to fire in the shooting range.”
They show him how to take the proper stance, how to hold the weapon and check the safety, where and how to aim.
“It’s going to kick back hard,” Mulder warns. “Identify your target, hold it steady…don’t forget to breathe.”
The boy does, firing his first round well away from the tree. His hands are shaking a little.
“That’s OK. Takes a lot of practice. Try again.”
This time the bullet grazes the tree. He sighs in frustration, but Scully corrects his stance. “One more time. Keep trying.”
He frowns, holding the revolver in both hands, concentrating. There’s a shift in energy; even the waves seem to quiet. It’s no more than a half-second pause, the length of a single breath, but all three of them feel it. This time, when he fires, the bullet hits the tree dead center.
“Lucky shot?” Mulder quips, watching the boy carefully. Scully looks back and forth between them, questioning, as Isaac’s finger tightens on the trigger once more. This time his aim is off, she can see his grip is weak, but the bullet hits the tree in the center regardless. He lowers the pistol slowly, shakily.
The significance of the event occurs to her when she examines the tree, finding the second bullet lodged within the first’s indentation, as though it were placed there by hand.
Isaac looks stricken rather than proud. “That was cool, thanks,” he mumbles, his voice flat. “I’m gonna go back inside.”
“He directed it,” Mulder murmurs as they watch Isaac retreat.
Scully nods tightly, tracing the goosebumps on her arms that have nothing to do with the breeze.
Dinner is penne with a jar of sauce, garlic bread, and sautéed vegetables—their first hot meal since arriving at the island, a veritable feast.
“This calls for a celebration,” Mulder says, withdrawing a bottle of wine from one of the cupboards while Scully frowns at the slightly overdone green beans and carrots browning in the sauce pan.
She arches an eyebrow. “I didn’t see you bring that in.”
“I didn’t; found it in the back of the pantry,” he admits, his fingers leaving prints in the dust on the bottle. He pours a glass for her, a slightly larger glass for him, then looking at a third glass as though he’s not sure.
“Let him, if he wants,” Scully sighs, looking out to the living room where Isaac is reading on the couch. “We’ve already corrupted him with firearms, robbery, and grand theft auto. What’s a little glass of wine?”
“I like your thinkin’, Red,” he murmurs, pouring a small amount of the ruby liquid for Isaac.
The study holds another treasure that Isaac overlooked in his initial explorations, lacking a sense for life’s finer, more antiquated luxuries—a record player and an extensive collection of vinyl.
“He may have been a spook, but the guy had good taste,” Mulder says, pawing through the records. After dinner, he moves the turntable to the living room and hooks it to the old wooden speakers. That night, he sits on the floor of the living room amongst stacks of vinyl.
“Hey, Scully, found your favorite.”
He holds up an orange sleeve. “Three Dog Night.”
She snorts and shakes her head at the memory of a long, grueling night in the Florida wilderness. Mulder places the record on the turntable, and the telltale scratching of needle on vinyl is soon followed by the harmonious melody of “Joy to the World.”
Mulder grins at his partner, extending his hand. “Dance with me, Scully.”
She raises an eyebrow. “Mulder, no.”
She sighs and rolls her eyes, but grasps his hand anyway, letting him pull her into a sloppy, off-balance twirl. She cries out in surprise when he dips her—not very low, given his weak knee, but enough to make her flail and laugh despite herself.
For a few minutes, she forgets that the house they’re holed up in is not their own, that the world outside is a changed and terrifying landscape, and that their place in it is uncertain.
“You dance about as well as you sing, Scully,” Mulder remarks, but he’s grinning, pleased that she’s humoring him. He catches her off-guard, ducking his head, kissing her until her sense of balance is thoroughly gone and she has to wrap her hands around his neck.
She catches a glimpse of Isaac, who directs a disapproving scowl at his book.
“We have an audience,” she murmurs.
“Let him watch. It’s emotionally healthy for kids to see their parents—“
“Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” he grins, nipping at her lips with his, until she pulls away with a gentle rebuke.
“Save it for later.”
That night in bed, Mulder reaches over to twirl the ring on her finger, watching as it catches the light. Rather than comfort her, the gesture makes her chest constrict, a reminder of how much they stand to lose.
“You and Isaac seem to be copacetic,” Mulder murmurs into the nape of her neck.
“Funny how an apocalypse can put the rest of your life’s problems in perspective.”
She feels him snort lightly against her shoulder, kissing the spot below the base of her neck, where the chip remains just beneath the surface of her skin.
He doesn’t offer promises of hope, doesn’t soothe her with false encouragement. His arm rests steady around her waist the way it had when they’d danced, and for now, that’s promise enough.