Chapter 15: Negative Space

     The day passes, uneventful. They find a stained deck of cards in one of the kitchen drawers, so Mulder teaches Isaac to play Poker, much to his mother’s chagrin. The kid is good, a quick study, which doesn’t surprise anyone. Pretty soon the game loses its challenge, so they move on to Skat, Diplomat, and counting cards.

     Doggett joins them for a game here or there, but Mulder and Isaac make for impossible opponents. Like father, like son, the agent thinks, tossing yet another losing hand on the table in defeat.

     When they’re not playing cards, the boy reads on the porch, long legs flung over the arm of the uncomfortable wicker bench. He’s already burned through two novels in their short time at the house, but Mulder gets the feeling this behavior is not unusual.

     The kid’s spent most of his life alone, at least in spirit. Remind you of anyone, Spooky?

     Mulder has to admit, he enjoys the boy’s company. Isaac is clever, with a sharp mind and an eye for details. As Mulder returns his cards to the table, shuffling the deck to begin another round of Diplomat, he feels a vague tug of regret. He never questioned his partner’s decision to give up their son, but now he better understands her uncertainty, and has begun to see more clearly what they might have had if things had been different.

     No point in going there, Fox. You’ve seen where that road leads.

     Meanwhile, Scully remains in her room. She hasn’t said more than ten words to him since she stormed out of the house the other night, and he knows better than to intrude on her personal space when she gets like this. He also knows she’s talked to Gwenyth Van de Kamp, and although neither woman has said anything directly, he senses the conversation went about as well as could be expected; Mrs. Van de Kamp has also sequestered herself in her room.

     But has anyone told Isaac? he wonders. If so, the boy gives no indication.

     The unexpected trill of a phone interrupts the comfortable silence, and Mulder’s head snaps up. Doggett grabs for the cell, a throw-away phone to which only Skinner has the number. Doggett explained this to Mulder his first day at the house.

     “If there’s any news from the Bureau, Skinner’ll be able to reach us. They can’t trace the number, it’s blocked.”

     Doggett strides out the door, seeking privacy, though Mulder can tell by looking at Isaac that the agent may not get it. The boy looks over his shoulder, trying to listen, before Mulder nudges him on the arm. “Hey,” he says, shaking his head in gentle admonishment. No.

     The murmuring outside is too low for Mulder to hear, but the increasingly pale expression on the boy’s face says it all. 

     Something’s wrong.

     “Kid,” Mulder says, thinking fast, gathering the deck and dealing cards onto the table in an effort to distract them from Doggett’s conversation. “What’s the count?”

     The boy looks dully at the table, no longer interested in the game, but responds, “One.”

     Mulder nods, looking Isaac in the eye, dealing another card. “Now?”

     The boy glares at Mulder, rolling his eyes, jaw set. “This is stupid.” The camaraderie of the game is all but forgotten as Isaac rushes from the kitchen, hearts and diamonds scattering to the floor in his wake.

#

     Compromised…not safe…

     Isaac can make out only a few thoughts from Agent Doggett’s conversation, but he knows what this means. They’ll have to run again. The frustration that wells within him is frightening in its ferocity.

     Why? he rails against himself, an internal monologue of vitriol. Why do you have to be such a fucking freak?

     His feet pound at the treads, and he barely notices when he passes Scully on the landing. His only thought is to get to his room, someplace he can be alone. The worn wooden door slams behind him with a gratifying bang.

     Mom’ll be pissed about that.

     A twinge of disquiet fills him at this thought. His mother…where is she? He hasn’t seen her since breakfast, and that was hours ago. She’s not in the room; her bed is tidy, made up in her meticulous, fussy54 way, the covers folded back and tucked under the mattress.

     He can hear Doggett outside the second story window; lifting the curtain, Isaac watches the man pace back and forth as he talks, gesturing indignantly.

     Compromised…we’ve been compromised.

     But the forbidden exchange no longer holds its former allure; something else nags at the back of his mind. He takes another look around the room, and notices the the bathroom door is open a crack.

     “Mom?”

     No response. Isaac realizes his heart is racing. He has a vision, like a still from a horror movie—he’ll find her in a bathtub full of blood, gutted, filleted like a fish. The picture is so clear, he can almost smell the blood; thoughts of the warm liquid oozing over the edge of the tub, the drops of bright red staining the while tile, make him nauseous.

     Stop being a dork, Isaac. This dump doesn’t have a tub.

     He swallows, finding his tongue has gone dry, rough like sandpaper. He clears his throat. “Mom…you there?”

     His fingertips graze the rough surface of the door, questioning…but still, he hesitates. He can’t shake the image of her lifeless body, limbs bloated and floating in a thick soup of death…

     She’s already dead, Isaac.

     He closes his eyes, trying to shake the image from his mind.

     Don’t be an idiot! Just open the damn door.

     His breath is shallow, his chest heavy as he steels himself, giving the door a push…

     The bathroom is empty. Everything is where they left it this morning; his damp towel on the floor, a washcloth hanging over the side of the shower.

     No tub, no blood.

     No mom, either.

     “Isaac?”

     A startled shriek escapes his lips as he whirls around to find her standing in the doorway of their room.

     “Jesus! Mom, you scared me,” he whispers, trying to recover his breath, to slow his rapid-fire heartbeat. “We have to go. That guy, Doggett, he said…they found us, they’re coming.”

     His mother looks confused, her face stony and blank. “Honey?” The word comes out in a gravelly whisper that makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

     Calm down, you’re such a fucking baby.

     She stares at him, and all at once she…shimmers. As though he’s seeing her through a haze, at a great distance on a hot day.

     He blinks, clearing his eyes. You’re tired…the light’s playing tricks.

     “Mom? You OK? We have to go,” he says, unwilling to acknowledge the fear that pricks insistently at the back of his mind.

     She continues to stare, unresponsive, shuffling forward in a daze. Confused, Isaac reaches out to her, probing at her thoughts, seeking…

     Gooseflesh pops out along his arms, a cold chill crawling up his spine. His mother’s mind is engulfed in white noise.

     …it’s empty.

     No, not empty.

     She’s screaming, he thinks wildly. I can hear her screaming in there.

     Beyond the hollow, grating static is a faint, far away screech, as though his mother is calling from the bottom of a deep well. Her image flickers again, this time her eyes go black, dark and oily, her body fading into shadow, then snapping back into vicious color.

     No…no…

     Isaac shrinks back, mouth agape, as she advances with the same unnatural, shuffling gait. He tries to scream, but finds he can’t breathe; he can only manage a soft croak.

     He stumbles as the back of his foot hits a chair, losing his balance, landing hard on the wood floor. The sharp click of his teeth against the tender flesh of his tongue brings the salty, coppery taste of blood to the back of his throat, and he’s swept with a terrible sense of déjà vu.

     His mother—or what used to be my mother, he thinks—continues to advance, the static in his head growing louder, blocking out rational thought.

     “Noooooo,” a moan escapes him. “Mom, please, no…”

     He hears a different voice in his mind now; it rises above the static, a wild, wavering pitch that makes his head ache, speaking a language he doesn’t recognize. In the distance, he can hear someone calling his name, a man yelling.

     He falls back against the floor, hands outstretched, wild energy pulsing at his palms, fingertips burning, heart caught in his throat.

     but it’s mom mama motherrrrr

     No, not his mother, not now. She’s a monster, black emptiness eaten by negative space.

     No no nono please noNO!

     His last conscious thought is sucked into the void of his own power as his head hits the floor, and the world goes dark.

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