Chapter 16: Mother

     Scully passes Isaac on the stairs, having heard the phone ring moments earlier.

     “What…?”

     The boy’s angry footsteps echo in the narrow hall as he brushes past, scowling.

     She enters the kitchen to find Mulder, picking up cards and throwing them into a careless pile on the table.

     “What was that about?”

     “Doggett’s talking to Skinner. Kid heard something he didn’t like.”

     Scully blinks, folding her arms. “What did he hear?”

     Mulder shrugs. “We’ll find out soon enough.” He leans forward, about to say something else, but they’re interrupted by Doggett, who stands in the doorway, red-faced and fuming.

     “Where’s the boy?” he demands.

     “Upstairs,” Mulder says. “What did Skinner say?”

     “He said we’ve been compromised. We need to clear out.”

     Scully’s eyes widen. “What? How?”

     Doggett lowers his gaze but doesn’t say anything.

     Mulder rises slowly from his chair. “You brought them down on us, didn’t you?”

     “Skinner was bugged, they followed me. Whoever’s responsible has someone on the inside.”

     Mulder looks at Scully, jaw clenched, but she’s already headed for the stairs. “Let’s go. We can be on the road in…”

     There’s a sudden thud from upstairs, a stifled cry. 

     She stops on the second step, alarmed. “Isaac? Gwen?”

     No response. A moan, this time louder. “No…mom, no…”

     She pulls the gun from her back pocket, taking the steps two at a time, not waiting for Doggett or Mulder to follow.

     “Isaac!”

     Still no response. The boy’s bedroom is closed, but thankfully not locked. The gun is warm and ready in her hands as she opens the door.

     There’s a shape standing about five feet in front of her, a black mass that shifts and moves like nothing Scully has ever seen.

     Nothing human, at least.

     For a moment, there’s a flicker of light and she thinks she sees Mrs. Van de Kamp.

     No, that can’t be right…she’s…where is she?

     The boy is across the room, keening on the floor, hands held in front of his face, babbling a steady chorus of pleas and terrified whimpers.

     Instead of going to him, Scully finds her eyes drawn to the flickering shadow. It dances like a flame, hypnotic, suggestive. She hesitates, lowering the gun, lulled by its movements.

     She vaguely understands that Doggett and Mulder are yelling behind her, but the black shadow flame is too enticing, too soothing; she can’t pull her eyes away. She’s sinking into a dark place, her mind emptying itself of rational thought. The space around her fades to black, she realizes this was a trick, a horrible trick, but she’s paralyzed, no longer in control

     Mulder’s voice breaks through the shadow’s reverie, yelling, “Scully, out of the way! GET OUTTA THERE!”

     What? Out of the way of what?

     The panic in his voice startles her, bringing her back from the precipice. The room comes back into focus, her eyes widen as sickening reality falls around her.

     That thing! What the hell…

     She feels someone jerk her back into the hallway by the collar of her shirt, hard enough to make her head snap forward. The door to the bedroom slams shut behind her as a searing white light bursts forth.

     She comes to on the floor of the hallway, dazed and coughing. Her face and arms tingle painfully, the skin papery and dry, as if burned by the sun.

     Mulder and Doggett are crouched on the floor beside her; she feels Mulder reach out, grasping at her shoulder. “You OK?”

     She sits up painfully, still dazed. “Yeah…yeah, I think, I’m…” her eyes widen as she comes to.

     Oh God, no, Isaac…

     “Where is he?!? We have to get in, we have to get to him! We have to—”

     Panic rises in her throat. Frantic, she scrambles for the door, but Mulder grabs her by the shoulders, spinning her around. “Don’t, Scully, don’t go in there.”

     “That thing is in there! We have to get—”

     “Scully, listen to me!”

     But she’s blind with panic, all she can think about is getting to Isaac. Her hand finds the bedroom doorknob but she jerks it away with a strangled cry, “Ow, shit!” The palm comes back bright red and blistering.

     “He’s fine, Scully, he’s…fine. He…he did it again. You’re lucky you didn’t get hit—”

     She ignores Mulder, whirls around, searching for something, anything in which to wrap her hands. Doggett tosses her a sweatshirt, and she winces at the sensation of rough fabric against her tender skin before trying the door again.

     In what has become an all-too-familiar scene, the entity is lying on the floor, with Isaac just beyond. Scully rushes to him, kneeling down.

     “He’s…still breathing,” she says, her fingers moving to the boy’s neck, checking his pulse. “He’s alive!”

     “That makes one of them.”

     “What do you—”

     Mulder nods toward the shadow on the floor…except as Scully looks closer, it’s no longer a shadow.

     Oh…oh, no…

     Relief is replaced by a deep twist in her gut as she stares at the body of Gwenyth Van de Kamp.

     “Looks like they found us,” Doggett mutters, his face lined with darkness.

     Mulder doesn’t hesitate. Stepping past the body, he leans down to pick up Isaac; the boy shifts slightly in his arms and moans, but doesn’t wake.

     “We have to go.”

     Scully and Doggett follow them downstairs as the woman’s corpse begins to disintegrate into the floor, melting like the others.

     Mulder places the boy on the couch, storms over to his bag and begins to stuff what few possessions he’s brought—a sweatshirt, undershirt, his laptop—into the duffel, talking as he works. “Whatever this…this thing is, it used her to get to her son. That shows planning, a certain level of intelligence…they’ve been watching. Any one of us is a potential target.”

     Scully barely hears Mulder’s words. She moves to check on the boy; he’s unconscious but fitful, his limbs twitching and jerking, eyes moving fretfully behind closed lids. She brushes a strand of hair from his forehead.

     My God, he’s burning up.

     Mulder continues, persistent, “We can’t stay here. These attacks aren’t going to stop, and I don’t want to wait around for one of us to be next.”

     Scully stands, crossing her arms in exasperation, though in her heart lies dread, the cold certainty that her partner is not wrong. “We can’t just run away with him, Mulder! We need a plan, we need…we need backup.”

     “Scully, the kid just lost his mother. He shouldn’t wake up to that,” he gestures upstairs, where they can hear the poor woman’s body sizzling. “We’ll head north, cross the border…lay low until we can figure out what to do.”

     “How are we supposed to cross? The authorities will have a watch on our car,” she protests, hating the whining, helpless tenor of her own voice.

     “We’ll avoid the border posts…hike up through the woods. Camp out.”

     “And then what? How long do we have to run before…before…,” but she can’t finish, temporarily recalling the dark place, a black landscape of nothing unfurling before her, forever lost in its depths.

     “He’s right,” Doggett interrupts, startling them both. “Go. I’ll cover for you, tell ‘em you’d already left by the time I got here, point ‘em in the other direction. It’ll give you some time.”

     Mulder glances at Doggett, his voice tempered in an unusual show of gratitude. “I need to use your phone.”

     Scully doesn’t speak, doesn’t move, just stares at Isaac in sadness.

     William. Oh, what have we done to you?

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