Chapter 3: Introductions

      RIVERTON MIDDLE SCHOOL

     WYOMING

     11 A.M.

     “How are we supposed to find him? There have to be at least 200 kids at this school.”

     “I dunno, Scully, this is your show. We can’t exactly waltz into the principal’s office and ask if we can speak to someone else’s child.”

     He’s restless, irritated. The rental car floor is littered with the dry husks of sunflower seeds.

     She arches an eyebrow. “You spent enough time in the principal’s office as a kid. I’m sure you could figure it out.”

     Another husk flies from his lips in a wide arc, this one landing on the dashboard in front of her. She wrinkles her nose, brushing it away in mock disgust. “Mulder, this is a rental…they’re going to think I let a squirrel move in.”

     “You’re squirrel, I’m moose, remember?” he fires back, a wry smirk on his lips, but she’s frowning at something outside, not looking at him. They’re waiting outside the large concrete building, although what they’re waiting for remains unclear.

     If William is here, how would we recognize him? Scully wonders. She hasn’t seen him since he was ten months old, and Mulder’s time with their son could be more accurately measured in hours, not days or months.

     A bell rings; there’s the telltale sound of young voices growing louder, shouting in glee as they leave the building in a flood.

     Ahh. Recess.

     “Maybe we don’t have to go in,” she murmurs, reaching for the door handle. 

     They head toward the source of the commotion, a playground off to one side of the school. Children are running, laughing, most of them little balls of barely contained energy. The monitor, a young teacher, already has her hands full trying to break up a fight.

     Scully notices the boy almost immediately; it’s impossible not to. He sits apart from his rowdy classmates, his back to a wooded area on the far side of the yard, absorbed in a book.

     The resemblance to her partner is unmistakable. Lanky frame, tousled brown hair that probably hasn’t seen a brush in weeks, black t-shirt, jeans. The shape and intensity of his eyes, his jaw…she could be looking at a picture of Mulder as a teenager. Her knees go weak and she stumbles, sagging against a nearby tree for support.

     “Scully…?”

     “It’s him,” she whispers, eyes riveted to the quiet child with the moody, focused expression.Mulder follows her gaze, but she can tell by the cool detachment in his eyes that her partner isn’t convinced.

     “You think—”

     He doesn’t get to finish; at that moment a dark figure comes out of the woods behind the boy, and they watch in confused horror as gloved hands wrap themselves around the boy’s face, covering his mouth. She’s close enough to see the surprise in his eyes as he’s yanked upward and backward, dragged into the woods kicking and struggling.

     “Mulder!”

     He’s already making his way toward the woods at the back of the school, shouting over his shoulder, “I’m on it—call the police!”

     He doesn’t think, just runs, fueled by adrenaline. He doesn’t know if this is really William, but it doesn’t matter; whoever it is, the kid’s in trouble. No one else could have seen the boy’s abduction, it happened too fast.

     Kid would have disappeared if we hadn’t been watching.

     It’s not lost on Mulder that the timing is too convenient, but he can’t think about that now. There’s a show of black fabric ahead, a glimpse of the boy’s arm through the trees. Branches whip by, scratching Mulder’s face, tearing at his clothes. He can see the figure and the boy clearly now, he’s gaining on them, closing the gap. Twenty yards…fifteen…

     Keep fighting, kid, you’re slowing him down. I’m coming.

     Someone yells in the distance, and the world suddenly goes white. Blinded, Mulder loses his footing, landing hard, air rushing from his lungs in a violent spasm that leaves him breathless.

     That’s going to bruise.

     Then Scully is behind him, calling his name as she steps out of the thick growth. She stops short at the sight of her partner, now rolling onto his back with a painful groan, but he waves her onward.

     “They’re…that way, go! Go, I’m fine!”

     She continues through the thick brush, but there’s no sign of the boy or his attacker, no sound to guide her.

     “Mulder, I’ve lost them…damnit!” She spins on her heel, breathing hard, scanning the forest.

     Wait…

     There’s a scuffling to her left, and Scully lurches toward the sound.

     The man dressed in black is lying face down on the ground, motionless. She spots the boy crouched beyond the body, pale and afraid, but alive, and his name escapes her lips in a relieved rush.

     “William!”

     The boy is confused, panicked, backing away. “Get away from me!” he screams. “I…I’ll…”

     “Scully, where—”

     Mulder limps into the clearing, stopping short when he sees the man on the ground. Looking from the man to the boy and back, his mind races as he tries to put the pieces together.

     “Hey, kid, it’s OK, we’re…we’re friends,” he begins, addressing the child, keeping his voice low.

     Kid looks like he’ll bolt. Can’t say I blame him.

     “What happened here?”

     “Who are you?!” The boy is close to tears, blind terror shining in the depths of his eyes. “What do you want from me?!”

     Scully steps forward, trying to reassure him, to keep her voice calm even though she’s shaking. “We saw this man take you. We’re not going to hurt you, we just want to make sure you’re OK.”

     Without warning, the body of the man on the ground begins to…sizzle? Yes, sizzle, thinks Scully in revulsion, like a steak on a hot grill.

     A popping, fizzling sound erupts as the flesh dissolves. Moments later, there is nothing but a sticky pile of black soot in its place.

     They watch this gruesome production in fascinated horror. Without thinking, Scully bends to examine the remains, although the man is obviously beyond help, but Mulder’s cry of alarm stops her.

     “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch that thing. We don’t know what it is.”

     She withdraws her hand, looking up at her partner in confusion. There’s the sound of distant voices.

     Ahh, the cavalry arrives right on time, as always, Mulder thinks, shaking his head in frustration.

     “Who…who are you?” The boy speaks, this time more curious than afraid.

     “I’m Dana Scully, I’m a doctor. We—” but Mulder stops her with a quick shake of his head.

     No time for introductions.

     It dawns on her that he’s right. Two random strangers hanging out by a school playground, in the right place at the right time to witness the abduction of a student, and now there’s a dead body—if you could call that thing a body, she shudders. It was too convenient, too unbelievable, and no cop who was halfway decent at his job would buy it.

     Mulder speaks quietly, so as to not draw the attention of the approaching police. “What’s your name, kid?”

     “Isaac. I’m Isaac.”

     Scully can’t hide her shock. I called him William. They must have renamed him…

     “Look, Isaac…when you tell the police your story, tell them you may be in danger. This isn’t the end, do you understand? Tell them you need protection. Tell them—”

     Isaac shakes his head in visible distress. “Why?!? Why would someone…I don’t understand—”

     “Freeze! Police! Hands in the air!” A male voice calls out from behind them. “Step away from the kid, put your hands up!”

     Mulder shoots a knowing look at Scully, hands rising above his head as she does the same. “We’re unarmed,” he mutters, rolling his eyes.

     Scully turns to one of the officers, to explain, “We saw the attacker, we tried to help. We’re former FBI agents. I can give you our badge numbers.”

     The man ignores her, his eyes trained on what once was the corpse of the attacker. “What the hell happened here?” He reaches down to touch the body, but Mulder interjects.

     “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

     The cop glances up, sneers, “Yeah? Who made you the expert, buddy?” Still, he withdraws his hand.

     “If you only knew,” mutters Mulder under his breath.

     Knowing her partner will do their case more harm than good if she lets him continue, Scully steps in.

     “Call Deputy Director Walter Skinner, FBI. Phone number 555-3347. We’re former FBI agents,” she repeats. “I’m Dana Scully, this is Fox Mulder. We saw the attack, we’re unarmed, we’re going to cooperate.”

     Isaac, almost forgotten in the commotion, speaks up in a small voice. “She’s right. They…they were trying to help.”

     “Well, they did a hell of a job of that,” the officer sniffs, looking at the body on the ground. He shakes his head in disbelief and indicates for the other officer to holster her weapon.

     “I’m going to need all three of you to come down to the station. Holly? Get C.S.I. out here. Detective’s going to want a full forensic work-up on this…uhh, whatever this is.” He gestures to the human puddle on the ground, grumbling to himself, “Why do the crazies always come out on my shift?”

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