Title: Shadows of Winter
Author: Jaime Lyn
Email: Leiaj21@hotmail.com or UCFGuardgirl@aol.com
Spoilers: All of everything through season 9 – this includes everything that
has to do with the baby, the adoption, and the myth-arc. And references
to the story that came before this, ‘Light Moves.’ If you don’t know
it, you might be wondering why Mulder and Scully call each other by seemingly
odd nicknames from time to time. You won’t be lost, but you’ll wonder.
Rating: PG-13 towards the beginning, R towards the middle, and an NC-17 section
towards the end. (Syb – this smut’s for you.)
Feedback: Um, yes. Feed me, Seymour.
Archive: Trying to post the story in its entirety, but it’s long and the
newsgroup is a pain in the neck. Once all the parts are up, and out of beta,
you may archive wherever you wish. Just drop me a line and let me know.
Small note about this story: The story has been niggling at me ever
since the finale aired. And since The X-Files (the actual show and not the
fanfic) left the characters, the mytharc, and the entire William saga out
to pasture, this author decided that she needed to reel them back in. If
Chris Carter wasn’t going to close out the mythology or the question of William’s
safety, well, someone had to, right? If you haven’t read the story
before this, ‘Light Moves,’ then you might not understand the nicknames,
but you won’t have any problems with the plotline. Please be patient
as I post this entire thing, as google groups and plain-text documents aren’t
my friends. Plus, I might take a nap and have a piece of chocolate
Lots of love goes out to my Super-Betas, Mish and Sybil. They defend
the universe against bad characterization, unneeded ellipses, comma-splices,
and extra words.
Shadows of Winter
By Jaime Lyn
"It was this moment of love, this fleeting victory over themselves, which
had kept them from atrophy and extinction, which, in her, had reached out
to him in every struggle against the influence of her surroundings, and in
him, had kept alive the faith that now drew him penitent and reconciled at
-- The House of Mirth
The two of them, swept under the carpet, drowning underwater, trapped by
the updrafts of limbo like dandelion wisps in a snowstorm. Nameless
for a time, they clung to a precarious balance between past and future; the
people they'd become versus the people they had once been. To
outsiders, they were an anonymous married couple, relocated to Canada but
originally from the United States, unfailingly content with their no pet,
no children lifestyle. If anyone asked them, they had moved from the
Eastern United States to the Lake Ontario area for a change of scenery and
a chance to get away from the smog of over-crowded cities. But nobody
ever asked them, and so the topic never came up.
Of who they were, who they'd been.
In reality, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were former FBI Agents, long-time
partners, and fugitives from a law that had ousted them from its bevy of
untruths and deceptions. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were friends, and,
up until nine months ago, only the most marginal of lovers.
Now, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were officially un-people: un-married, un-employed,
and un-existing, they were un-parents to an un-child, a baby with soft, piercing
blue eyes had been given up for adoption months ago. Little William
Mulder was their crux, the unhealed flesh-wound for both of them; his absence
reflected in the crevices of dead silences and broken promises. The sadness
over his un-presence was un-spoken. Everything about them was un-defined.
Had Fox Mulder and Dana Scully been characters in an Alice in Wonderland
book, they would have celebrated their un-birthdays and had their own un-mushroom
to sit on.
And then one night, as Scully and Mulder sat amongst a scattering of new
furniture and a scant congregation of utilitarian belongings, staring into
a thick, orange-gold fire, Scully announced to Mulder that they could no
longer be who they were. She planned to apply for a job at the
hospital downtown, all other methods and options for employment having been
considered and discarded, and she couldn't very well go out and introduce
herself to personnel as Dana Scully, fugitive from the United States.
Their previous passports and papers, stamped with fake names and fake histories,
had been burned to cover their tracks, and new identities would necessarily
have to be created.
Mulder had considerately suggested that she select the names, just
as he had once promised her a millennia ago that the next time they got pretend-married,
she could have identity control. The silence that followed this release
of control to her was interminable and strange. She'd gone on to bed
that night, silent, and the next day, had emptied a box of books below the
shelf in the living room, scattering them over the carpet. The books
weren't really theirs, though; each book was an un-book that belonged the
house's former occupants.
"You want this crap, you keep it," the realtor had said, handing Mulder a
tarnished key to a storage closet before relinquishing the rental agreement
to them. Nothing in the house physically belonged to them. Old
possessions from the old owners were either thrown out or adopted.
Mulder and Scully owned little more than the clothes they wore, and even
the clothes had begun to fade.
For days, dog-eared, faded books littered the floor of Mulder and Scully's
new residence. Scully read by the fireplace, read in the bathtub, highlighted
random passages and even ripped out certain pages. Her selection process
was excruciating and drawn-out, and whenever Mulder had thrown out a name
as a suggestion, she had merely hummed at him and gone on reading.
Identity was not a concept she considered lightly.
Finally, on an evening secured in shadow, him trapped, cross-legged, between
two oversized couch pillows, and she on her side facing the fire, her back
to his front, a decision was made. There was no electricity that night,
not since the fuse had popped during dinner; the fifth of six blizzards in
a two week period had obscured the comforts of civilization and tossed them
about seventy years back in time. Flames from the fireplace burned brightly
from behind a mesh screen, and the living room was a flashdance of black
"I think I'll call you Paul," Scully whispered. "In keeping with your
tradition of ridiculous pop-culture references. Don't say I never did
anything for you." She breathed slowly, in and out, like a trumpet
player counting the measures between each breath, her back arching with the
"Paul," said Mulder, testing the name. He recalled suggesting a few
names from television, and others from old conversations they'd once had.
He hadn't thought she'd even been listening, but perhaps she had been.
"And you?" he asked, kissing the inside of her neck, his lips and tongue
reveling in her warmth. He imagined her nude, hot with sweat, and squirming
beneath him. He wanted to make love to her, right there and then, whether
to make himself forget the past or make her forget, he wasn't quite sure.
He didn't care so much about particulars anymore.
She hummed with pleasure, seeming to forget what she'd been saying until
he prodded, "Scully?"
Her head shifted. "Oh, sorry. I decided on Lily. Like the flower."
Mulder sighed into her neck, considering the name. "My partner the
flower," he murmured. "There's something I never would have imagined
"It's from a book," she answered, her voice sleepy. She exhaled as
if trying to expell the remnants of their professional history from her body.
"Last name Selden," she went on, "From the same book."
Mulder nodded into her soap scrubbed skin, breathing in the fragrance of
coconut and desperation. "Selden," he repeated, "Kind of like Seldom,
but not as often..."
Scully groaned, nudging him with her elbow. She sighed. "Which
puts us on a first name basis, I suppose, although I...I've never called
you anything but Mulder. And now...it's like I'm living someone
He nodded, rubbing her back, his head tilted in thoughtful repose.
"That's actually...exactly what it's like."
He hummed and then pressed harder, shifting, as he made his way to her chin,
and then to her cheek, dancing a circle around the dark heart of her mouth.
Her pulse beat a fast, hard rhythm in the jugular of her neck, and she asked
him to undress her. Not slowly, but furiously. "Undress me now," she
demanded. Do it fast, hard, and now. Right now. Time was slipping past,
escaping them, and her bra needed undoing, her underwear was an obstacle...
"Make me feel something," she whispered. "Make me real..."
A deep ravine of hurt stretched between them, and he tasted her skin to ground
himself, sucking in deep breaths, long and slow.
When they made love that night, right there on the floor of their new living
room, both of them kept their eyes tightly closed. It was hard to see
past what had been, and what existed right now, and the future was little
more a blank document, a white screen with a blinking cursor. Neither
would ever give voice to their greatest fear:
We can never again be who we were.
Verona, Canada, was a small, tucked away community north of Lake Ontario
and west of Sydenham. Stretching between Verona and Kingston - the
city to the south - was a bog that sloshed for acres. Cameron Bog,
as it was called, while formerly an obstacle separating Verona from the rest
of civilization, was now nothing more than olive-green sludge underscored
with mud, a watery depression beneath the highway that led from Sharbot Lake
in the north to Kingston in the south. The village of Verona itself was tightly-contained,
close-knit, and nearly cut-off from larger Canadian cities.
While driving without destination on a highway out of Winnipeg, Paul had
singled out Verona after reading a tourist blurb on the history of Cameron
Bog. Thought to be inhabited by the infamous Kelpie Sea Serpent of
Lake Ontario, residents of the area had set up numerous lodges, and fish-and-wildlife
shops dedicated to folklore surrounding the monster and the history of the
village. Paul had grinned, held out the map for Lily to see. He circled
the legend in bold, black sharpie. He told her he'd buy them a camera, and
first chance they got, he'd take the both of them out to Cameron Bog by the
highway to investigate the mystery of Cam-Kelpie, the Sea Serpent.
While Lily had not been of the Kelpie-camp, and had instead ordered her husband
to "shut up and eat his hamburger," she had agreed to the choice of Verona
for the location of their new home. She had based her acceptance on
its secluded atmosphere, for one, and for its Elizabethan name, Verona, for
two. Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona had been one of her favorite
early European plays back in college.
After a few days of searching, they ended up at the end of a pocketed cul-de-sac,
on a road that twisted like gnarled shoelaces off the main highway.
The house was two-story, all brick and stucco and solid wood, and flanked
by three large oak trees and several old, needle-less pines. Lily had
liked the tented circle of trees; she said they protected the house, the
way the branches twisted towards to the bedroom windows like hands.
One maple-like creature pressed right up against the second story, its trunk
bent wide in an arc at the base. Paul noted that its bark was white,
sickly. Positive the tree was diseased, he'd wanted to cut it down after
signing the rental agreement, but Lily asked him not to. “It’s so unnecessary,”
she said, “going to all that trouble just to cut down a tree.” Paul, of course,
suspected the truth; Lily felt bad for the maple and couldn't bear to kill
it. Not that she'd ever admit to such irrationalism painting her judgment.
The tree stayed.
Paul had liked the space between the houses; only four, tiny, Canadian-style
cottages sat on their block, and all inhabited by elderly neighbors who had
been gracious enough to bring by cakes and bread and lasagna during Paul
and Lily's first week at home. Since neither of them cooked and the
nearest Chinese food restaurant was one town over, both Paul and Lily had
been grateful for the meals; they stretched everything out until there was
nothing left but empty casserole dishes and scraped tin plates. Only
then had they gone food shopping, and at the grocery store, had disagreed
on nearly every item that went into the cart. Paul refused to buy any
food item that looked or smelled remotely like Tofu, and Lily insisted that
Mallowmars were not a food group.
Their third week in Verona, Paul had taken a trip down highway 401.
A light brown package had been delivered to a post office box in Kingston,
post-marked from A.D Walter Skinner of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,
United States of America. Inside the package were credit reports, birth
certificates, social security cards, secondary-school, college, medical,
and graduate school reports, references from previous places of employment,
references from friends, contacts, names that never existed and never would
again. All of it un-real, and Paul never asked how the papers had been
obtained so quickly. Or at all. He didn't want to know.
And if he tried to call the man and ask, he'd never get a straight answer.
But he called Skinner that day anyhow, from a payphone outside the post-office.
He expressed his thanks, insisted that they'd "be in touch," and drove home
to his wife. That was the last time he attempted to contact A.D Walter Skinner
of the FBI.
Four months passed, and while Summer eroded on the deep bite of Autumn, Paul
noted that he and Lily had not been followed. Or, at least, all signs
pointed towards evasion. Even still, his and Lily's real names remained distant
memories locked behind closed doors. And Lily still prowled the hallways
at night, checking each room and every lock before she crept into bed.
Paul kept their weapons in his nightstand drawer, ready and loaded if ever
the time came for he and Lily to recapture the pieces of themselves that
time and domesticity had chipped away.
Forced familiarity created a sense of daily habit, and Paul slowly but grudgingly
grew used to the icy snow that insisted on killing his grass and making everything
crunch beneath his feet. He hated it, but he accepted it. Washington
D.C, it seemed, made much better use of their snow-plow, road safety system
than Verona did. This Paul complained about every morning when he watched
the weather report.
Lily dropped hints about perhaps buying an actual, real-live turkey for Thanksgiving
and cooking it in the actual oven. Paul dropped hints that he'd be
buying new fire-extinguishers and leaving them by the refrigerator.
Lily's impressive, albeit fake, medical background proved useful in obtaining
a job at University Medical Center, which sat on a hill two blocks from the
main highway. UMC was a small but lovely facility, with an on-staff roster
of about twenty doctors (who worked solely out of the Emergency Room) and
four nurses, who worked wherever anyone needed them. Since Lily's specialty
was listed as pediatric medicine, and since her bedside manner with children
was as impressive as it had always been, she easily fit into the daily grind
as a pediatric specialist in the emergency room. Her work tired her out,
and rare was the day she worked less than ten hours. But the smile on her
face was palpable and real when she talked about her patients.
"Benjamin had a broken finger, and he was so upset," she'd say, "but I asked
him to tell me all about his new tree-house, and by the time he was finished
telling me about the swing he made with his father's old Firestones, I had
splintered his finger. I gave him a purple dinosaur sticker, and he was so
happy, P.I - you should have seen the look on his face."
The purple dinosaur stickers she bought herself. She kept them in a
green Rubbermaid container that she brought with her to work. Paul's
contribution to the container was a roll of red and yellow alien stickers
with googly eyes. Lily stuck one of them on the wall, along with his goldenrod
portion of the Private Investigative Practice Loan Application. Beneath the
sticker, a post-it note stuck to the contract. In Lily's neat cursive read,
"I want to believe."
Lily loved children, which made the fact that she could never have any of
her own all the more tragic. Once, Paul had offered to buy them a dog
- a Pomeranian, perhaps, just as she'd owned during her life before - but
Lily had refused. Besides stating the obvious, that Paul hated yippy
little dogs more than he hated rush hour traffic during a blizzard - neither
of them truly wanted a dog anyhow. What they truly wanted was captured
forever in a photograph, a tiny child with big blue eyes and a round, tiny
nose. The hole he'd left was sizeable, pronounced.
The things he and Lily wanted but could never have were unspoken but real,
so real the absence left black spots in the stretches of silence between
In the end, they settled for only each other, and their tiny house in Verona,
Lake Ontario, and they went on as they knew life should.
Paul Selden glanced at his watch, perused the wavering sea of white coats,
blue scrubs, and pastel-checkered candy-stripers. His wife's lunch
break would be coming up any minute now, and he'd braved sub-zero temperatures
and concrete roads filled with slush and black ice just to have bad sandwiches
with her for lunch. He had hoped that his 'despite-the-ice-sheet zeal,'
coupled with his irresistible boyish charm, would earn him a broom-closet-medical
check-up of the afternoon-quickie kind. Not that his wife was generally
predisposed to afternoon quickies, but more than any other despicable meteorological
condition, Paul hated the cold. He especially hated driving in the
cold, and his wife knew this. But more than that, of course, Paul loved
Not that Paul Selden's afternoon routine was anything much to start parades
over, despite his unannounced foray into the cold. Today he'd picked
up a box of office supplies, on nothing more than a whim, really --he didn't
even have any office space to put the supplies in, yet-- and he'd dumped
the box in the backseat beneath a half-inflated basketball and a Ziplock
bag of floppy disks. The computer monitor he rested on a blanket below
the seat, its black screen smudged with his thumbprints. In the trunk was
an HP hard-drive buried amongst a pile of unwashed towels, and Paul had hoped
to butter his wife up with quirky conversation and a cup of coffee before
telling her about his latest afternoon purchases.
More likely than not, she would first admonish him for his transport-position
choices; It's five-below, she'd say, and you should have put the box in the
trunk and set the hard-drive in the backseat, because the electrical equipment
will certainly freeze up, and what good will it be to you then? But
when it finally hit her, what he had done with their money, her eyes would
go all round and over-sized, and she'd demand to know what business he had
buying a new hard-drive when they hadn't even been approved for a loan yet.
His plan was actually to stuff her full of Jell-o before she could finish
him off with her inevitable, Do you enjoy wasting what little money we have
before we even have it? speech.
And then he'd never get laid.
"I'm so sorry, sir," said one of the nurses, jarring him from thought.
She slid past Paul and through the flip-doors of the nurses' station, pulling
herself up to the desk. Half a dozen files sat unopened and splayed
about the messy station like forgotten UNO cards, and one file slipped off
the edge and fell to the floor.
"Fucking receptionist," muttered the harried nurse. She ran stick-thin
fingers through frizzy black hair, barely contained by a pink scrunchie,
and frowned at the state of her desk-blotter. The phone rang and she
picked up the receiver with one hand, tossing a brown clipboard at him with
the other. "Just fill this out and have a seat, and when you're done
leave it in the box--" She pointed to the far wall, "And then someone will
call you into triage."
Paul took the clipboard and set it back down. His nose was still red
and cold from the wind, and the air in the waiting room felt familiar, but
in a strange way. Paul had almost forgotten that he'd never actually
been to this hospital, and that nobody his wife worked with actually knew
who he was. He wondered if she'd even told her colleagues she was married.
He knew Lily wasn't much for personal conversation, at least not with random
coworkers, but he was pretty sure she wore her wedding ring to work.
"Ah, no, I'm not here as a patient," said Paul, forcing a smile. The
nurse glanced up with an un-amused glint in her eyes, as if she had a weapon
behind the desk she planned on using against him, and Paul shrugged in explanation.
"I'm actually looking for... for my wife..." The word still sounded
strange coming off his lips, and he clucked his tongue a few times, swishing
saliva around in his mouth to get used to the sensation. "She's a doctor
here. Ah, somewhere, here, that is...Lily? Lily Selden?"
The nurse paused for a moment, and seemed to run the name against her mental
rolodex. After a few seconds she nodded, brown eyes scanning him up
and down in unconcealed, unimpressed appraisal. "You're Dr. Selden's
husband?" she asked, with a raised eyebrow. The nurse looked wholly
Paul smiled half-heartedly. "Guilty as charged."
The nurse turned back to the phone and smacked a few buttons on the keypad,
pressing the receiver to her right shoulder, waving him through the station
doors with the air of one who had been on her feet for five days straight.
"Whatever floats your canoe, I guess," she said, pointing. "Never would
have guessed Dr. Selden for marrying a tall guy. You can wait in there."
And she swiveled in her chair, not giving him a second thought.
Paul smiled in silent thanks, and pushed his way through the flip-doors to
the left of the not-so-happy-nurse. A familiar melody floated from
the speakers and lodged in his ears; the musak version of Muskrat Love.
Shuddering, Paul glanced at his watch again; one-oh-five. An awfully
long one-oh-five, for that matter.
Paul tapped his watch and held it to his ear. He was about to remove
it and check the battery, when he felt a slender hand wrap around his shoulder.
"Paul?" asked a familiar, befuddled voice.
Paul turned and found himself face-to-face with his wife's wide, sleekly
eye-lined, blue-green eyes. One auburn eyebrow raised in silent question,
and Paul brushed a chunky lock of hair out of her face in response.
Paul's wife, Dr. Lily Selden, while almost an entire foot shorter than he,
had a firm, no-nonsense manner that made her appear taller than her actual
size of five-foot-three. She was beautiful in an unassuming manner;
with pale, summery-freckled skin, dark red hair, a small, arched nose, and
aquamarine eyes, she stood out not as a dazzling example of perfection and
symmetry, but as the type of woman that once might have been an impressionist's
daydream. For Paul, she was practically perfect in her imperfection.
"What?" he asked, leaning down and pressing a kiss to the underside of her
chin. "I can't join my wife for lunch?"
Lily eyed him warily as he pulled himself back to his full height.
"You broke something," she said, searching him for an explanation that wasn't
Paul chuckled and shook his head. In his peripheral vision, he caught
the exhausted looking, front-desk nurse eyeing them. Resolving not
to appear as guilty as he felt, Paul cleared his throat and put his hand
on his wife's shoulder, guiding her a few steps out of earshot. "What
makes you think I broke something?" he asked.
"You're here, aren't you?" Lily cocked her head to one side and brushed lint
affectionately off the shoulders of his overcoat. "Oh no..." Her eyes
widened. "You're not actually hurt, are you?" She scanned him
for a moment, concerned. Warm fingers brushed his half-frozen forehead.
"You don't feel warm.... Cough? Sore throat? Misplaced
Paul shot her a wry grin. "You're funny, Criminal," he said, using
her nickname to dispel her wary thoughts. She let her hands fell back
into her pockets. He shook his head. "No, no, and no."
Lily studied him again, but this time, both eyebrows sunk in towards her
nose and her mouth screwed into a thinned line. "Oh God," she said,
pressing a palm to his chest. "It's the heater, isn't it? You
finally set the house on fire and now we have to live out of the car."
The nurse at the desk snorted, and Paul groaned, pulling Lily farther away
from the triage area. "Good grief," he admonished. "When did
you become so negative?" He exhaled through his lips. "Can't I just
come in and meet my lovely wife for a plate of macaroni surprise and steal
her away for--" He stole a glance at his watch. "An hour or so, before
I go back to brave the Arctic Circle?"
Lily folded her arms and shot him what he'd always referred to as her "wary-look-of-death."
Lily had that odd look about her, that squinted-eye, silent accusation stare,
when she could tell by his expression whether he'd done something incredibly
stupid or was simply holding back information. Her shiny lips stretched
taut into a patronizing smile. "Alright," she said, extending a you-go-first
hand towards the hallway leading to the cafeteria. "All right, that's fine.
Don't tell me."
Paul shrugged. Lily stood, waiting for Paul to take the lead.
When he didn't, she nodded to herself, scratched the bridge of her nose,
and pushed ahead of him.
"'There isn't anything to tell," said Paul, pressing a hand to the center
of her back and leading her down the hallway.
"Sure there isn't," answered Lily, glancing back at him as they stole down
the shiny stretch of linoleum. The pungent odor of bleach and antiseptic
hung stiffly in the air, stealing into his nose, and Paul remembered suddenly
why he had always hated these places. Ironic, he thought, that Lily
would want to work in an ER after years of being a patient in one ER or another.
Lily pulled the black stethoscope from around her neck and stuffed it into
one of her front pockets. The upper right hand corner of her white
lab coat read, "Selden, M.D," and an ID badge hung loosely from around her
neck. The first time Lily had showed him her official ID, the laminated card
dangling off her index finger and thumb from a bright, orange lanyard, he’d
read her official information out loud and curled his lips awkwardly around
her full name: Dr. Lily Selden, ER physician and wife of Paul Selden.
"There isn't anything to tell," Paul insisted, thinking back to the computer
and the box of office supplies that might, in all honesty, set them back
at least a month in expenses.
"Uh huh," she said, righting her under-turned ID badge. "Just do me
a favor, P.I." She glanced at him over her right shoulder, and smiled
a smile that stretched the ivory expanse of her smooth cheeks.
"Don't ever again refer to me as 'your lovely wife,' okay? It
Paul opened his mouth to wittily retort, when she finished, "Or your Sweetie
Pie, or your Poopsie Woopsie, or your Bunny-Hunny--"
"Or what, Bunny-Hunny?" he challenged. "You'll bop me over the head
for scooping up the field mice?"
Lily stopped a foot short of the pale brown cafeteria doors, turning to him
with her hands on her hips. Her blue eyes sparkled like heat from a butane
lighter. "I'm a doctor, Hubby-Wubby. Don't think I wouldn't know
what poison to use to finish you off." Paul pressed a palm to his chest
as if wounded, and then raised the other hand clear over her head, pushing
open the doors. "Or where to hide the body," she finished.
"I still know my way around a morgue, you know."
"Really," he said. "Then would you mind cutting my mystery meat for me this
afternoon, Dr. Slice-and-Dice?"
Lily fought back a smile. "Just walk, darling husband."
"As you wish, Mrs. Selden," answered Paul, leaning closer to whisper in her
ear, "Not that I would ever underestimate you, Sugar Lips."
Lily snorted, and Paul tried to hide the yelp that escaped him when Lily
"accidentally" stepped backwards in her heels and landed on his foot.
Lily picked at her sandwich with the edge of her thumbnail, while Paul bit
down with relish into his apple and nearly swallowed the whole thing in one
chew. Lily frowned at the ravenous way in which he ate, as if his grand
show of starvation was somehow a reflection on her poor cooking skills.
Paul remembered the way she'd burned a steak the night before and nodded
at his apple, while Lily shook her head at his silent question. The
red ones weren't nearly as good as the green ones, he thought, but they were
juicy enough, and beggars couldn't be choosers.
"So, seriously," said Lily, pushing half of her sandwich onto his plate.
It was an unasked for but appreciated gesture. Paul's stomach was twice
the size of his wife's. "Why did you stop by? I don't think you've
ever stopped by during one of my shifts. Or at all, for that
Paul shrugged. "I told you," he said. "I was in the neighborhood."
"It's November," said Lily, rubbing the corner of her eye with her pinkie,
"And you hate the cold. The only way you'd be in the neighborhood now
was if a snowdrift crashed through the windows and dumped you here."
"You make me sound ridiculous," he said.
"I don't. I just know you."
Paul grabbed her sandwich and took a bite - turkey and cheese - a favorite
of his, but not of hers. "Were you even going to eat this?" he accused
around a mouthful of food, knowing full well why she'd bought it, and that,
in fact, she hadn't planned on eating it.
Lily shrugged. "I haven't been feeling all that great lately."
While Paul knew his wife wouldn't deprive herself of the proper nutrients,
not as a doctor who worked nine to ten hour shifts at a time, he wondered
for a moment why she'd suddenly lose her appetite for no reason. Something
was on her mind. Either something was bothering her, or his presence had
disrupted her individual balance more than she let on, and he wasn't sure
which option he found more appealing. Or less appealing, as the case was.
"So." She folded her hands on the table. "You going to talk or do I have
to beat an explanation out of you?" Her eyes twinkled, the color an
alluring shade of sapphire.
"Mysterious, mid-afternoon beatings. A woman after my own heart," he
"Don't talk with your mouth full," she advised. "You'll choke." With
a quirk of her eyebrow, she reached over and stole a piece of bread crust,
popping it into her mouth. In all honesty, she did look slightly green.
Paul shot her a glare, shielded his sandwich with his arms, and nodded silently
for her to 'get her own'. Lily chuckled, and a stream of red hair slipped
over the left side of her face.
"I was looking for some office space in the area," Paul finally admitted,
choosing to omit certain details and relay others. "And while I was
out, I thought I'd stop by and see you. And, you know, scope out the
possibility of some help-- a partner, maybe. Or two. I thought
I'd scatter some fliers for the firm up around the ER. See who came-a-calling.
Hospital's a good place. I could always hire someone medically trained
and teach them the investigative ropes later on."
Lily glanced at him from the corner of her eye. "A partner," she said,
as if she didn't really care at all, but was only asking to be nice.
"Funny, I thought I was your partner." Her tone was flippant, her gaze
almost completely hidden beneath a curtain of red hair.
Paul frowned and glanced up at her from behind his sandwich. He hadn't
planned on exactly what he'd say when he finally told her - that he thought
she might be happier continuing to practice medicine, instead of coming to
work with him at his as-of-yet unnamed P.I firm - and he was unsure, right
now, of how to explain himself satisfactorily. Certainly, they'd both
need Lily's moderate salary as an ER medic to help cover expenses, especially
since any kind of investigative practice wouldn't generate nearly enough
money to live off of, at least not at first. And anyway, he thought
that she liked her job. She seemed to like it.
But still, she had a point. Lily was his partner, had always
been his partner, and Paul had never wanted or needed any other.
"Well...you know what I mean," he said, dropping the sandwich back to his
plate. "I won't deny you're the best of anything anyone's got to offer.
But we both know you can't quit your job to come work with me." She
opened her mouth to protest, and he added, "Not just yet, anyway. Give
it some time. You're doing good work here, aren't you? You're
Lily nodded, looking thoughtful. She was silent for a moment before
answering, "In that case, considering expenses, perhaps you should just wait
on a partner until you've got the loan secured, and an actual office space
to put the practice in." She stole a potato chip off his plate and
popped it into her mouth. "You can't very well interview people from
our living room, and we haven't got enough money to pay someone else's salary.
Get the loan, buy some office equipment, and find yourself a building, and
then we'll discuss possible partners."
He pursed his lips, taken aback by the non-argument. "We?" he asked. "You
mean you don't mind me working with someone else?"
"Annoyed I'm not jealous?"
She shrugged, licking the tips of her fingers. "Seriously, if it's not going
to be me, it has to be someone, right? You'll get yourself killed otherwise."
He smiled, rolling his eyes. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Criminal."
"What can I say? I know you."
"Nah." Paul smiled with a waggle of his head. "You only think
you do." He popped a potato chip into his mouth, pleased thus far with
the friendly exchange.
Suddenly, Lily paused in mid-chew. She seemed to consider him, as if
rolling the conversation around in her head for plot-holes. Another
moment passed and her eyes narrowed, and she leaned back against the seat,
her palms on the table. "Oh no," she said. "Please tell me you didn't."
Paul's head tilted to one side, alarm bells going off in his eardrums.
"You did," she said, her tongue in cheek. "You already bought something,
didn't you? Is that why you're here?"
Trying to force all traces of guilt from his face, Paul scooped up the sandwich
once again and bit off an especially hard slab of turkey. He worked
the meat around in his mouth and licked potato-chip salt off the fingers
of his free hand. He'd forgotten how good Lily was at deciphering him.
"Good sandwich," was what he said.
"How much?" she asked.
Paul swallowed, and the lump of turkey stung as it went down. "So,"
he sidestepped, waving around the hand with the sandwich, "Tell me about
your day..." He waggled his eyebrows and added, "Snuggle Bunny."
"How much?" Lily repeated, tight lipped.
"Anything exciting? Any amputations, lethal contagions, babies with
tails...." he trailed off, his elbow smacking the table. Paul winced,
nose scrunched, and shook out his arm.
Paul bit his lip. Lily had that shoot-it-and-be-done-with-it look on
her face, and the last time he had seen someone on the end of that look,
she'd actually gone and shot the poor bastard. At first glance, Lily
Selden had the delicate loveliness of the flower she'd named herself after,
but in the same breath, she wouldn't hesitate to put her husband through
a wall if she thought the action best suited his interests.
"Seven hundred," he said, trying to flash her his best sheepish smile.
"Seven hundred dollars!"
Lily slammed her hands on the table, rattling the plates and glasses.
Several nearby doctors turned to stare at them, and Lily's shoulders sagged
as she lowered her voice and bent her head towards her husband in thinly
veiled annoyance. "Mu--" she caught herself quickly, took a breath, and went
on, "Paul, just where the hell do you think seven hundred dollars is supposed
to come from? I've been working myself to death just to cover our tracks
on past expenses. For crying out loud, we have expenses for expenses!
We--we've got a rent payment on the house, grocery charges on the Visa, electric
bills...Whatever we had before we came here is gone. You promised you'd wait
for the loan, and once the loan came in - "
"Could you not talk to me like I don't know," he interrupted, his voice a
hiss. His eyes were deadly serious, and the weight of his stare seemed to
stop her cold. "I'm not your dependent."
Their eyes connected and held, searching, wondering at the other. Paul
had to ponder, in the span of that moment, if Lily had ever considered what
it was like for him. To sit at home and do nothing, like a useless
house pet. He and Lily had made a list of possibilities, of things
he could do to pass time while he waited for the loan, but none of the choices
seemed to fit right. He tried to write, but, nauseous, could somehow never
make it past the first paragraph. He thought about applying to teach
as an adjunct, but found he had no patience for a classroom full of inexperience.
He entertained the notion of getting a job at the local precinct, but being
a cop and a fugitive, Lily pointed out, teetered the line of danger.
He could kid himself into infinity, but what Paul really wanted was the hunt,
the investigation. And the bank seemed to be killing him with the hold
For almost four months now he'd sat in their quiet, Lake Ontario cottage,
turning the heat up and down, answering emails, surfing the net, and watching
snow collect in lazy drifts outside their living room window. He ran
around the block in his overcoat. He watched Oprah, the Canadian BBC,
reruns of Monty Python, and read enough novels and mythology volumes to fill
several bookshelves. While Lily went to work, Paul Selden stayed at
home, pacing the floor, waiting for truths that could never come to him while
standing so still. After years of constant running, of chasing after shadows,
reality and circumstance had finally dictated that his truth-seeking legs
be cut-off beneath him, and what was left was agonizing in its emptiness.
"I needed to get out," he finally said, annoyed at himself for snapping at
her. "Even if just to buy some damned office supplies. If I could
pull some money out of my ass, I would, but I can't. I can't do anything.
We don’t spend all that much. Seven hundred dollars we can put back."
Lily nodded slowly, as if forcing herself to understand something she almost,
but really didn't, understand, and she raised a smooth, warm hand to his
cheek. Her fingers brushed over his stubbled skin as if in a whispered
kiss, and she breathed a sigh through dark pink lips. "Do what you
need to do," she said, lowering her index finger to his upper lip.
"Just..." She shook her head. "Seven hundred dollars?"
His mouth found the inside of her palm and he opened his lips over her skin,
tasting her. Lily closed her eyes and exhaled. "Couldn't you
just have gotten some printer paper?"
"I did," he said, clutching the inside of her hand to his lips. "And
I got you an eraser that looks like Buzz Lightyear. Don't say I never think
of you. But if you don't want it, you can return it."
Lily finally smiled. "Eighty-five cents out of two seven hundred dollars
we don't have," she said, shaking her head. "That's great, just great."
"Hey Criminal, did I ever tell you the story of Loch Ness?"
Paul patted the bed beside him, waggled his eyebrows. Lily blinked, expressionless,
toothbrush in her mouth, her lips creased with white foam. She wore the blue
pajamas, the silk ones that clung to her breasts in all the right places,
and buttoned with little pearly circles that caught the light. She
frowned, padded back into the bathroom, unimpressed. The sink ran for
a moment, and Paul could hear rustling.
"Oh come on," he said, gathering up the remnants of the day's newspaper and
depositing the pages on her night-table. "It's a good one, I swear."
Lily poked her head out from the bathroom, locks of russet hair dangling
in freshly brushed waves over her shoulder. She wiped her mouth with the
back of her hand. "If this story ends in 'we leave for Europe tomorrow
at seven am,' I don't want to hear it."
Her head disappeared again.
Paul clucked his tongue, folded his arms. "Do you really have to suck
all the joy out of my life?" he asked.
The bathroom went dark and Lily re-emerged, brushed, washed, and exhausted.
Her eyes were rimmed with slight creases of purple. She'd worked eleven
hours that day, ten the day before, and had been called in during the middle
of the previous night to perform an emergency something-or-other on an eight
year old who'd been injured in a serious car accident. There were occasions
that Paul thought her using work to avoid him - or perhaps just the idea
of him - and then there were other times when Paul understood the distraction
and decided to simply not ask her; he needed his investigative practice just
as badly as she needed her middle of the night surgeries. After years
of non-stop movement, of saving the world before lunchtime, they were now
stranded at the door of monotony and neither had been built for such a life.
Lily sighed, crawled into bed and leaned against the headboard, knees drawn
into her chest. "Is there a particular reason you're suddenly so interested
in Loch Ness?"
"Didn't I tell you I'd take you out to the bog so we could take pictures
of the Kelpie?"
Lily groaned, rubbed her eyes with the heel of her palm. "Again with the
Paul grinned. "Think of it as a romantic weekend getaway. Just you,
me, the bog, a couple of sandwiches - "
"And mud, and snow, and, before the day is over, a hefty fine, a ruined pair
of clothes, a cold, a headache, and a lot of pissed off locals."
"Is that a no?"
Lily shot him an exasperated look, settled back into her pillows and fiddled
with the alarm clock on her nightstand. With a backwards motion, she scooped
up the newspaper and pressed the crumpled international section into his
chest. Paul pretended to cough in the defensive, and fell back
onto the bed.
Lily wanted to go out to the bog - he knew she did. She just didn't
know it yet. After all, with her occasional weekend freed up from work
and hours of nothing that stretched on like an endless string of melted mozzarella,
he'd have plenty of time to either charm her or confuse her into a drive.
When in doubt, he could simply pretend he was lost on highway 38.
"All right," she said, clicking away at her alarm clock, her back to him.
"All right, let's go hunt sea monsters?"
Lily turned, her blue eyes alive with amusement. "Alright, I'll listen
to your Loch Ness mythology."
Paul pressed a hand to his chest as if struck. He folded his arms behind
his head, gazed up at the ceiling. In another moment, Lily was beside
him, her chin atop his ribcage, her fingers tracing swirls over the planes
of his biceps. Her breaths were warm, her lips wet and soft. The arcs
of her hair lilted with the scent of banana - Lily owned about fifty bottles
of shampoo, each with a different scent. She had arranged each bottle
just-so on the tiled alcove in the shower.
Paul cleared his throat. "Back in the mists and greenlands of Scotland,
there was a benevolent community of people living off the land, tilling the
soil, fashioning their lives under the fair rule of a Druid priest. They
had a sweet water well from which they collected the entire village's drinking
water, but The Druid, far wiser than the commoners he ruled, had devised
a strict rule that the well must always be covered after drawing water."
Lily snorted. "You really do admire the sound of your own voice, don't you?"
"You are positively killing the mood, here."
With a chuckle, she pressed a kiss to the underside of Paul's shoulder.
"Go on," she said.
"The rule was followed by all who lived in the village, for not one of the
villagers dared disobey the words of a holy man. But one day, a young
woman was in the middle of drawing her waters when she heard her baby screaming
from the house. Frantic, she rushed off to see what was wrong and left the
capping stone off the well."
Lily drew a breath. "Was the well cursed?"
Paul laughed, and Lily's hair drifted over his chest, her cheek bobbing along
his ribs. "You've been hanging around me for too long," he said. "You
"I should have it written on my forehead," Lily muttered, elbowing him with
one arm. Paul took a final breath, exhaling on a sigh. Lily yawned
into the springy hairs on his skin.
"So, what happened?"
"Well," said Paul, "The well was deep, almost bottomless. The water
was said to be ancient, springing forth from the core of the Earth itself.
The pressure from beneath was great, and had been building for years and
years. The Druid who founded the village had studied the area, and
he knew of the water's purity, its propensity for bringing luck and prosperity.
But he also knew of the danger that existed if the villagers left the well
"When the woman dropped her bucket to tend her to her child, she had freed
the well from its bindings. Within a few short minutes the water had
risen up and overflowed, bursting forth from the ground below. The
Druid, upon hearing the explosion, ran outside to see, and realized immediately
what had happened. And even though the naive young woman had caused the catastrophe,
the priest rushed to her cabin to save her. Soon, the valley began
to flood and the villagers had to flee to the hills. From that very
flood Loch Ness was birthed, and it's said that the ancient sea monster is
the result of a spell cast by the Druid, who wished nobody else to claim
Lily hummed, and her arm draped across Paul's abdomen, her palm on his hip.
"The sea monster was actually not a serpent, but a water horse," Paul went
on, plucking a page of the newspaper off Lily's side of the bed. "Complete
with saddle and bridle. When the weary off-roaders paused for a drink
from the Loch's clear waters, the horse would appear to him, natural and
real. But when the unsuspecting rider got into the saddle, the horse
would revert into its monstrous self, and drag its victim down into the depths
of Loch Ness and devour him whole."
Paul paused, folding down the corners of the newspaper. The pratfalls of
being an insomniac and having a wife who was exhausted by ten pm meant long
nights staring at the ceiling, or re-reading the newspaper, or folding the
classified ads into Origami hats, or else brushing up on every volume of
'Outer Signs' that he'd purchased from the occult store off Main Street.
"So, of course, the villagers were terrified of the Loch," he said, waving
the newspaper in explanation. "But then, years later, Saint Columba caught
the beast attacking a swimmer who had gone to fetch a boat for the day's
activities. The saint raised the sign of the cross and told the beast to
turn and go back with all speed - and of course, the beast complied, which
is why tourists can go visit the Loch unscathed every year. Although, if
it were me, I would have left a clause in the agreement for eating tourists..."
Paul frowned, folded the newspaper in half, and then in fourths, and brought
the smudged newsprint closer to his face. He hadn't read this
section, had actually been saving it for when Lily fell asleep and the inevitable
boredom would chew at him. He ran his finger over one of the articles:
"Four U.S CIA Operatives Missing in the latest string of U.S government disappearances."
Paul lowered his fingers to his wife's hair, brushing his thumb and index
finger through the smooth, silk strands. A strange tingling began at
the back of his brain, sprung forward and then down, catching him square
in the chest.
"Hey Lily," he whispered, squinting at the headline, "Have you seen this
There was no answer.
Nothing but the low, evened sounds of breathing, of hot air pulsing into
Paul frowned, and then yawned. Perhaps he was more exhausted than he'd
first imagined. He felt tattered, paranoid. Lily often called
him restless. With a shake of his head, he folded the newspaper and
dropped it onto the wooden nightstand beside the bed.
The white-shaded lamp cast a long oval of light across the mattress, and
over the carpet. His brain turned the headline over again, and for
a moment he considered calling Agent John Doggett over at The X-Files, just
out of curiosity, just to see who had been put on the case, and what the
exact circumstances of the disappearances had been.
Paul's lids lowered like heavy drapes begging closure, and he decided that
calling anybody over in D.C was a bad idea wrapped in what his wife would
insist were misguided intentions. Even if nobody had followed them
out to Canada, calling The X Files office over in D.C would certainly be
a mistake. Chances were high that it was nothing; another series of murders
in the heartland of false federal prosperity and hidden, governmental conspiracies.
They could burn for all Paul cared.
He flicked off the light with his fist, and the room was thrust into darkness.
One half of the bed was empty, the simple gray comforter and ivory sheets
tossed over to Paul's side of the mattress with careless abandon.
It wasn't unusual for Paul to awaken like this in the middle of the night;
nightmares were frequent, chaotic as they had always been: jumbled slices
of reality that twisted his wife's face into bizarre forms of untruth.
He called out for her in his sleep, called another name from a lifetime ago,
and awoke to hollow discomfort; he could smell her scent on the pillows.
Lily wasn't always there when he searched for her. Sometimes, she lay
just on the other side of the bed, her soft body curled next to him but her
thoughts, her dreams, eons away. Other times, she sat upon the mattress'
edge, her bare back to his front, her skin bluish from rays of moon-shine.
Tonight, Lily was gone from the room altogether. And while Paul wasn't
sure she necessarily wanted to be found, he missed her in a way that constricted
air-flow to his lungs.
After having once been yanked from Lily like a bandage, ripped clean away
for months, and then reunited with her in a dark, pungent jail cell, Paul
often felt an overwhelming sense of possession when it came to his wife's
whereabouts. Certainly, Dr. Lily Selden would contest that she belonged
to no one except herself, but Paul Selden had no qualms about belonging only
Often, in the low belly of night, Paul recalled the months he'd spent alone,
collecting his thoughts on a dusty cot in New Mexico, the air thick with
straw and bramble. He'd dreamed about the sound of her voice, the way
her heels clicked when she walked into a room, the way she drove rental cars
like a lawless mercenary. How he could have loved her without ever
telling her; the idea was unthinkable.
Rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes, Paul slipped from the master
bedroom and crept down the stairs, feet following the faint glow of
yellow-auburn that glittered the steps. The house was 'S'more-Toasty,'
as Paul liked to describe it, perhaps even warm enough to lay out in and
perfect a tan. But Lily's piece-de-resistance was her fireplace, her
prized, brick and marble fireplace, which she dusted at least three times
a day (to keep the finish shiny, she insisted,) and which, despite the warmth
of their home, was a favored spot of hers to think.
Lily once told Paul that her father had always required, of each house that
her family had ever lived in, an old fashioned hearth to bloom smoke from
the chimney. Captain Scully liked the bellow of gray clouds puffing
from his roof - a familiar signal to greet him when returning home from the
sea. A symbol of life ambling forward, she'd explained, as life had
and always should. "Keep them home-fires burning, Starbuck," was what
Lily often quoted.
The auburn glow got stronger at the bottom of the steps, deeper, warmer,
as if alighting the path directly into the sun.
Sure enough, in front of the fireplace his wife stood like a back-lit garnet
statue, her arms wrapped tightly around her middle, her russet hair a burnt
ochre against her pale skin.
"Hey," he said, his voice smoky from sleep.
She turned to gaze at him over her left shoulder, nodded in return.
He took a few steps closer, but stayed a good foot and a half behind her.
Paul had known his wife long enough to know when she didn't mind conversation,
but preferred not to be touched.
"Can't sleep, Criminal?"
She waved her hand as an afterthought. "Restless. A little nauseous,
"Sick?" he asked.
"No," she said. "Just overtired."
"Okay, I know what this is about - if I giggle like a girl in my sleep, just
roll me over and poke me. You don't have to come down here to get away."
"I'll keep that in mind," she said.
Paul pursed his lips and straightened the waistband of his sweatpants.
"Is it the cold?" He smiled lopsided and gestured towards the thermostat.
"I could turn up the heat, maybe play some Hawaiian music, get a luau going..."
Lily shook her head. "Bad dream," she explained, distracted, turning
back to the fire. Her posture gave away nothing but silent resolve,
and Paul took the opportunity to press.
"Ah," he said, nodding. "I had one, too." This time, Paul took a few
more steps forward until they stood side by side, not touching, but individually
gazing into a fire that burned from behind a wire-mesh screen.
"What about?" she asked, not breaking her gaze from the flames.
"I was tied to a board and forced to watch Full House reruns."
That one finally got through. Lily laughed in a way that was more breathy
exhale than chuckle. Silence blanketed them in the wake of his joke,
and the crackle-snaps from Lily's fire seemed to applaud their ability to
stand side by side and discuss the 'personal' without spontaneously combusting.
"I'm alright," she said, answering his unspoken question. She sighed
to herself, and when he turned to face her, her eyes were framed by heavy
lids, and gently upturned, auburn lashes.
Paul nodded, but said nothing.
"I was in a car," Lily finally admitted. "In the backseat. I
don't know where I was going, but I think it was important that we got there.
The roads were slick. It...We were driving fast."
"You and I?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No. Not you and I. I don't know who
"Ah," he said, scratching spiky wisps of brown hair behind his ear.
"But you were going fast?"
"Too fast," she replied. Her fingers pressed tightly over her sides,
and her pajama top crinkled beneath her fingertips. "I remember a tree...."
she squinted. "Yes, there was a tree. And tires squealing. I...
I was afraid we would crash, and I think I was going to scream, but..."
She turned to him with a forced smile, tears jabbing at the corners of her
luminous eyes; Dr. Lily Selden wasn't always as brave as she liked to think
she was. "It was so dark and cold and I... I couldn't scream."
She inhaled through her nose, and the sniffle echoed. "I tried, but
I couldn't get it out."
"And then you woke up?" he asked.
Paul frowned. Briefly, he tried to remember back to his psychological
profile training days, and what had been said about the phenomena of REM
sleep, about nightmares pertaining to real life. Paul had, of course,
been of the camp that believed dreams were simply a form of truth, a baser
form of it too disturbing for waking reality. Generally speaking, dreaming
about one's own death usually pointed towards either a morbid curiosity with
the phenomena of death, extreme dread or apprehension garnered from everyday
stress, or a deeper, more subconscious depression. If Paul had
to guess, he would hazard to say that a cross between the latter two was
the problem, although he wouldn't rule out a subconscious longing to return
to the post-mortem work Lily had engaged in before relocating to Verona.
Not that he was trying to profile his own wife, of course.
Forcing back a sob, Lily twined a lock of hair back over her ear, and her
age molted off her like overused skin. If his wife was actually thirty-eight
years old, as Paul knew her to be, then her brain had somehow forgotten to
relay this important information to the rest of her body. With her
un-styled red-hair and her unmasked freckles, she was eighteen, perhaps,
maybe twenty-one, but definitely not thirty-eight. So very far removed
from the version of Lily Selden that had once made police officers cry.
Lily smoothed down some fly-away strands, her hands working a little too
quickly. "What are you thinking?" she asked.
Paul took a deep breath. His arms folded over his chest. "I'm
thinking..." He squinted into the fire; the deep tangerine flames licked
ribbons of smoke up through the fireplace. "I'm thinking... Full House
is worse." His eyes darted back to her, and then to the fire, and then
back to her. He smiled with a tilt of his head. "Much worse."
Lily nodded with a soft "hmm" sound, smiling a ghost of a smile through half-shed
tears. "That Bob Saget can be scary," she said.
"You stand in front of him, then," Paul returned, "Be my hero, scare him
"When have I not?"
He directed an outstretched hand to an invisible audience: "The lady has
Lily's eyes glistened through heavy lashes; adoration peeked from behind
abject exhaustion. When they turned back to the fire for the last time,
Paul felt the tips of her fingers nudging his. Her palm pressed over
his knuckles, angling, seeking, and her index finger grazed his folded arm.
He squeezed her hand with two of his fingers, and together they stood in
the companionable silence of their darkened living room.
Together but separate, as always.
Sun squinted through the windows with the autumn scarlets, oranges, and violets
of sunset. At the very least, thought Paul, there wasn't any snow tonight
- which was always a plus- even though it was cold enough to freeze-dry pork
chops on the front stoop. And at the very most, Lily was home for dinner,
a rare occurrence in her nine-ten-twelve hour shift existence.
Paul rushed into the kitchen waving a piece of paper and nearly slid to his
death on a puddle of warm liquid. His arms pinwheeled backwards and
he flailed forward, one leg kicking up towards his chest, the other scarcely
holding grip with the floor. Paul gasped and struggled for hold of
the kitchen counter. He hissed furiously, bit his lip, and skidded
about a foot and a half until the pantry broke his fall. "Holy shi--"
"I spilled some water," said Lily, and when Paul glanced up from his twisted-limbed
position at the counter, he saw she wasn't even facing him. She was
bent over the sink, and the answering splash of liquid informed him that
she'd either been drinking something or cooking something. And the
latter worried Paul enough to consider calling the fire department for reinforcements.
"You don't say," said Paul, untwining his legs to stand fully upright.
Lily nodded without turning. "I was going to make some spaghetti,"
she said, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. She sounded vaguely annoyed. "Anyway,
you might want to look in the drawer for an Italian menu. I think I
picked up all the noodles but I haven't yet wiped the floor, so watch your
Grimacing, Paul reached down and grasped his ankle to massage away the 'ow.'
For a woman who had once boasted a ninety-eight percent accuracy average
on the bureau shooting range, she was an unbelievable disaster with a pot
and a spatula. "Maybe you should just, um... not cook from now on?"
he suggested. He pulled himself to his feet and straightened the wrinkled
sheet of paper.
"I can cook," his wife grumbled, and she finally turned to him, slipping
past with a large dish-rag to mop up the floor. She bent down in front
of him and ran the towel in circles along the tile, scooping up smudges of
water and several remains of cork-screw pasta. She muttered something
he didn't quite catch and slapped the floor, glancing back up at him with
a dangerous glint in her eyes. "Did you need directions to the menu
drawer or something?"
Paul cleared his throat, confused. "What?" She raised an eyebrow at
him and he remembered her request: Italian food. "Oh, no," he said.
"That's not what I wanted to ask you."
She frowned. "What you wanted to ask me?"
Paul nodded. He grinned and waved his crumpled holy grail in front
of her, waggling his eyebrows. "What are you doing tonight, Doctor
Lily squinted and tilted her head, as if waiting for him to drop a heavy
object on her.
"I've got my first case," Paul explained, smoothing the piece of paper clean
enough to skim and paraphrase the information. "Invisible man breaking
into a garage."
"Invisible man breaking into a garage," he clarified, slower this time.
Lily sat back on the kitchen tile with her arms folded beneath her breasts.
She opened her mouth once, closed it, and then started over with a deep breath.
"First of all, all invisible men aside, you don't even have a base of operations,
nor do you have any proper equipment."
When Paul opened his mouth to protest, Lily went on, "Buzz Lightyear erasers
don't count as equipment, P.I."
Paul closed his mouth.
"Second of all, you don't even have a license to practice private investigation
yet. The paperwork hasn't gone through. How - "
"Office supply store," said Paul, quite satisfied with himself. "You
always told me my communication skills could use some work, and I think I
made a breakthrough today. Done my little woman proud, I did."
Lily narrowed her eyes. Paul licked his lips, swallowing back the urge
to continue drawling in his bad rendition of a southern accent. While Lily's
expression was completely unreadable, he could've sworn she was twisting
the towel in her fists in order to strangle him with it.
Finally, she sighed. "Go on."
He cleared his throat. "Like I was saying, I made friends with this
guy in the manila envelope aisle. Nice guy, a mechanic, works somewhere around
here. Anyhow, we got to talking, and the conversation shifted to what
he did for a living, what I did... You get the idea. I mentioned what
I specialized in, and he mentioned that something strange had happened in
his garage. Someone broke in and screwed around, killed the cat --
maybe poisoned the cat -- he's not sure, but he didn't see anything, and
he couldn't find any sign of a break in."
Lily said nothing, simply squinted her eyes as if trying to process this,
and so he went on, "And since I said I was a private investigator, and that
my practice specialized in strange phenomena, I guess he felt comfortable
enough to ask about emailing me with the details. In case I wanted
to look into it..."
Sill nothing from his wife.
"And, um... I, I do... want to look into it, that is..."
Lily blinked and tilted her head to her left shoulder, and then to her right.
"So it's actually... it's a good thing that I went to the supply store today
and bought that computer."
She nodded and cracked her neck. For the life of him, Paul couldn't
make her out.
"Are you even conscious?" he bit out, finally.
Lily worked her tongue around in her mouth, shooting him a dark look.
"So what you're saying," She waved a hand, "Because I want to get this perfectly
square, is that some guy just asked you to come and investigate his garage
for him?" Lily's eyebrow raised upwards into full-attack-mode.
"A man you don't know, who doesn't know you, asked you to come by and poke
around his private property without requesting any proof that you're even
qualified to do so?"
"Anyone ever tell you you're a real buzzkill, Criminal?"
Lily's answering silence told him that she either wasn't bothering to hear
that, or else she was just considering the pros and cons of busting a kitchen
chair over his head.
"Look, I insinuated that I was an ex-cop," Paul tried to rationalize.
“I didn’t specify anything in particular – but I gave off an LAPD sort of
connection. Or maybe I sounded more NYPD. I’m not sure - one of those big
city jurisdictions, with the haughty types. I think I gave off the right
amount of arrogance.”
And at the sight of her stunned expression, Paul immediately regretted opening
"You told him what?"
Paul swallowed and cursed himself, realizing he could have worded that better.
Ever since leaving Washington D.C, Lily’s preoccupation with being followed
had grown from understandable fear, to compulsive paranoia, to an almost
all-consuming obsession. She chewed her cuticles raw with worry, and
some nights, couldn’t even sleep. For the house, she’d bought three sets
of locks for the doors, installed them herself, and re-locked each one over
and over, every night.
Paul, meanwhile, although paranoid as he’d ever been, had grown wary of feeling…
Threats of being found existed, just as they always had, and all he and Lily
could do now was turn tail and hide. And thus far, nobody had come
looking, not then and not now, and after months and months of peering over
his shoulder and finding only his shadow, Paul refused to run anymore.
Before, in an effort to thwart both the government and the supersoldiers,
both he and Lily had backtracked all over the United States, twisted down
side-streets and dirt-roads, switched cars, stockpiled cash, utilized aliases,
and spent months covering their footprints. They’d burned all their
old IDs and passports. They never uttered their real names. He swept
the house for bugs at least four times a week. There wasn’t anything
else he could do, and surrendering back to the road was unfathomable.
Paul put up his hands, and Lily stood and advanced on him slowly, dish towel
stretched between shaky fingers.
At least in Washington, thought Paul, they’d been able to fight. Paul
and Lily could defy their adversaries in plain sight, could tilt their chins
to the wind and scream, “If you want me, come and get me, you motherfuckers.”
But all the lost months and running made Paul feel like a coward. He
was sick, and Lily’s nightmares had grown worse. He wanted one place,
one destination. He wanted a base of operations, a home. They deserved
Paul shrugged, tried to win her over with a coy smile, but backed away from
her until his hip jabbed the dishwasher.
"Are you crazy?" She went on. "Are you completely out of your
"Not any more than usual," Paul tried, waving his hands to somehow pull his
drowning argument to the surface. "Come on, Lily. I didn't incriminate
anyone. I only insinuated that I once worked for some as-of-yet unnamed
police department. So, in essence, I’ve actually cemented a phony background
for us -"
Her eyes were wide and dead serious. "Is that supposed to make me feel
better?” She swatted the dishtowel at him and missed by half an inch.
"This isn’t funny. You – you keep doing these things, taking these
obscene risks to get at the truth. You’ve done it for years.
But now it’s not just you anymore. It’s us – you and me. When
are you going to realize that? What is and isn’t worth dying for -
He grabbed her shoulders to still her, and came dangerously close to getting
punched in the face. She pushed against his stomach in an effort to
free herself, and he clenched her biceps harder, pressing her arms to her
sides to keep her from injuring both of them. Their eyes met and clashed
over her thrashing arms, and when she quieted enough to hold his stare, Paul
searched her watery gaze for answers. He still feared she'd knee him
in the groin for grabbing her, despite her body having gone still, her mouth
half-opened with breath. He needed to know what was going on inside that
head of hers.
In the back of his mind, Paul recalled driving cross-country with Lily in
their tiny, battered car, flooring the gas when she ordered him to go faster,
propelling the both of them through miles upon miles of cornfield and ruddy
earth until she finally okayed him to stop. She'd gripped the back
of her seat and gazed into the rear windshield, her eyes a mix of contorted
emotions. He'd just kept his mouth shut and driven them faster, winced
at the sound of green-plant hitting metal, of tires squealing off-road, her
voice, commanding him forward, words filled with apprehension and intense
paranoia: "They're behind us, Mulder - faster."
"I’m not stupid," said Paul slowly, waiting for a reaction. “I wouldn’t
have said anything if I thought I would endanger us. I’m not going
to get us killed. You believe me, don’t you?” She looked away,
and he prodded on, taking a dangerous risk. "Scully?"
Lily's face snapped to his in rubber-band quickness, her breathing still
uneven, and she regarded him maliciously.
The uttering of their real names, he knew, was strictly forbidden.
Safety was a priority, and real names might be un-safe, but he had to get
through to her somehow. His wife had a great many unspoken rules, and
while Paul could only guess that following these rules kept her from losing
her tenuous hook on normalcy and sanity, he was starting to lose his.
Somewhere, someplace in between facsimile and reality, a fine line needed
to be drawn in the sand.
"There are things I need to do in this life, parts of me that aren’t going
away," he said, pushing an escaped strand of red hair from her eyes.
"I've spent my life looking for the truth and I want to keep looking for
it. I need to. You taught me that."
At this, Lily's gaze met her husband's, and her expression steeled.
She gave the appearance of a woman scorned, of a baseball coach annoyed at
taking pot-shots from the worst player on the team. She said, "I know
you’re restless. That you can’t take the waiting around anymore. But we need
to be careful."
Her gaze darted about the room as if searching for eyes and ears embedded
in the wall. Her voice lowered to a whisper. "Because that man
in the supply store doesn't know, and he doesn't give a rat's ass one way
or the other about how dangerous it could be if he finds out. And do
you honestly think he couldn't do it?" Her eyes watered with purpose. "Let's
say that he decided to check up on your claim. Let's say he got lucky and
stumbled on the right branch of law enforcement, or just on our pictures
on some federal web site." She shook her head. "There are still
people looking to arrest both of us. It's not just these shadow men
or these supersoldiers I’m afraid of. The unknown has been after us
for years. It's the FBI. It's the US justice department.
It's not paranoia if everyone really is after you, is it?"
Paul stilled. Much as it hurt for him to replay her words in his head,
he knew she had a point.
"All right," he said, releasing her from his grip. "You're..." He fought
to say the word 'right,' but found that his ego had problems releasing such
words to his mouth. "You're not completely wrong."
That last part earned him another raised eyebrow.
Exhausted from honesty, Paul tilted back into the counter. Lily rubbed
her arms to revive the circulation, and she breathed as if trying to deflate
herself. Paul's wife never broke, but she certainly cracked from time
to time, and he couldn't blame her for that. Whose fault was it that they'd
been forced to run in the first place? Who'd broken into Mt. Weather,
who got thrown in jail, and who couldn't leave well enough alone? Lily had
long ago adopted his ideals, had searched relentlessly with him for his answers,
but he searched harder, like a man on a suicide mission. Even now,
he wouldn't stop. Even if he risked endangering both of them.
He was who he was, and whose fault was that?
Paul took a deep breath, feeling suddenly foolish. "Look," he said,
"I'm sorry that I - "
"You know..." Lily rubbed the back of her neck, avoiding his eyes.
"Much as how you went about this bothers me, I can’t say that you're completely
Paul cocked his head to one side, scratching the side of his temple for understanding.
"Wow." He pursed his lips and gazed, with raised eyebrows, at a point
just above her head. "That's so strange. I think my hearing aid's
going out on me. I just heard --"
"Look, P.I, daylight's burning and I don't feel like standing around.
Are we going to just sit here or go or what?"
Paul bent his head to meet her expression, venturing for whatever truths
she was willing to give.
"Seriously?" he asked. “You’re okay with this?”
"Seriously," she said, with a jut of her chin.
Paul grinned, and felt a definite surge of adrenaline, a pumping of energy
that he hadn't felt in months. "Then let's make tracks, Bunny-Hunny,"
he said, extending an arm for her to lead the way.
The house was a brown, two story cottage not unlike Paul and Lily's own rented
property, and it had a slanted wrap around porch that blistered in spots
where inclement weather had gnawed away the wood. Two large trees stood
like proud pillars out front, guarding a black and gray stoned walkway leading
to the front steps. A Gibbous moon cast undulating shadows on the pavement
leading from the gutter: long rays of inky black that danced over the grass
and flower beds. The flowers were dead, and they had been, if looks
were any indication, for a long time. There was never a lack of cold weather
in the Verona area, and the bite of consistent winter seemed to suffocate
anything straining for warmth and sunlight.
Paul pulled open an outer screen door and knocked on the heavy wooden one
with the heel of his palm. Lily stood a few feet away, her back to
him, studying the outlines of houses across the street. She ran her
hand along the framework of a rusted porch swing, and bent over the railing
to search the side of the house. She turned to Paul and inquired, "Garage
on that side?"
Paul nodded, and the door opened before him with a creak of hinges and a
flood of light.
"Paul Selden," exclaimed a gray-haired man at the door, who smiled as if
inviting in the warmth of summer. He extended a hand to Paul like they'd
been old friends, and shook heartily, shivering at the cold with a seizure
of his shoulders. "So you found it okay, did you? It's good to
see you again - glad you could come by on such short notice, I know it's
not that early anymore... Goddamn, but it's cold out here--come in, come
in, this shit's deadly."
"No arguments there, Jake." Paul nodded and reached out a hand to Lily,
who had crept up behind him and stood with her hands clutching the collar
of her overcoat. "Jake Walker, This is Dr. Selden, my partner in crime
for this sort of thing."
Lily reached out a gloved hand to Jake and smiled thinly. "Lily Selden,"
she said. "How do you do?"
"Ah yes," said Jake, standing sideways in the doorway to allow them entrance.
Lily shivered the remnants of night from her shoulders, and Paul guided her
into the entryway. Jake grinned at them with his hands clasped in front
of him. "Sister, wife, or coincidence?"
"Wife," said Paul, shooting a grin at Lily, who seemed only mildly interested
in grinning back. While Lily had no problem playing the part of dedicated
spouse, he couldn't imagine her ever feeling comfortable with being introduced
to others that way. Especially not in a professional setting.
Paul took a deep breath, sucking in the warm air of a heated foyer, and waited
for Jake to close the heavy wooden door behind them. The house blossomed
with a eucalyptus fragrance, and a large brown pot by the door held several
tall green stems with tiny buds exploding from each side.
Jake nodded and extended an arm towards the living room, leading them both
through a wide, dimly-lit corridor splashed with mismatched family portraits
and framed Crayola drawings, each one signed in scratchy block letters with
a different name: Annabelle, Joshua, Lucas. Paul glanced back at Lily
and caught her running gloved fingers over one of the encasements, a red
stick person standing with a green cat outside a brown house. The sky had
been scribbled in light purple, and the clouds were orange; a child's version
When Lily caught him watching her, she ducked her gaze and focused on playing
with her gloves, her posture giving away nothing but stoic focus. Paul
lingered a bit on the play of light over her red hair, and for only a moment,
he wondered whether his son's hair was that same color.
"So what kind of law enforcement were you two involved in?" Jake asked, craning
his head to regard them as he guided them through the house.
Paul swallowed, and he felt his wife bristling behind him.
"I'm a medical doctor, and I was involved in forensics for a time," said
Lily, forgoing a real explanation in lieu of vague generalities. "And Paul
was..." She paused, thoughtful. "Paul is... a behavioral psychologist."
"You mean like a profiler?" Jake asked, intrigued.
"Something like that, yeah," answered Paul, and the look that Lily shot him
while pretending to study the photographs on the wall told him that if he
let too much slip, she would kill him in his sleep.
"Anyway, I really appreciate the two of you coming by like this," said Jake,
thankfully putting an end to the background check. He turned at the
end of the hallway and lead them into a wide, sweet smelling, carpeted living
room. A wooden entertainment center sat against one wall, the embedded
television flashing rays of light over the floors and ceiling. A VCR
beneath the television blinked out the hour in short bursts of digital red,
and several Disney movies lay unopened on a side shelf.
"Oh, we do this all the time," said Paul, turning to face to Jake so that
the two men and Lily formed a triangle in the middle of the living room.
To the right of Paul, two green armchairs bookend-ed a faded, brown couch,
and the couch aligned a wall opposite the entertainment center, where more
family snapshots were arranged in a pyramid. Adjacent to the wall of
photos was a wooden door, and, to the right of the door, a kitchen.
"Really?" asked Jake. "Just the weird stuff?"
Lily and Paul exchanged glances, Lily's eyebrow raising just a hair.
"We only like the weird stuff," explained Paul, and he winked - more at his
wife than at Jake. Lily caught the gesture, and Paul warmed at the
sight of her lips twitching to conceal a smile.
"So you mentioned something about ghosts?" Paul asked, fighting back the
urge to tap dance around the living room in celebration of his and Lily's
return to the field.
"Well, I don't - I mean, I'm a religious man and all, and I believe in the
afterlife, but I don't know what the hell is going on around here and I..."
Jake cleared his throat uncomfortably. "See, my wife's out of town visiting
her mother, took the kids with her, you know? But since I have to work, pay
the bills and all, I stayed at home to take care of things. And I've
been here by myself for, oh, about a week now."
"And something strange happened?"
"Yeah, something. I think it's the ghost of a dead football rival,"
said Jake, eyes wide with apprehension. He shook his head as if embarrassed
and shrugged. "Or someone. I don't know what live person could
have done this."
"You're thinking someone broke in," Lily said, changing the direction of
Paul grinned at her, and Lily pretended to ignore him. Some things
just never changed.
Jake nodded. "It was the damndest thing. I was sitting in bed
and getting ready to turn the lights out, when I heard this ridiculous crash--"
He raised his arms and pressed them downwards, mimicking. "And I thought
it was the cat, you know, because the cat's always getting into shit and
making trouble. The garage's kind of my office, see, and I let Aluiscious--the
cat--I let him out there at night because the garage is heated. It's also
closed off--door's sealed good and shut. Nobody parks the car in my
office, know what I'm saying?"
Paul exchanged a glance with his wife, and Jake went on. "So I went out there
to go yell at the cat...drove me crazy, that cat did. One of my kids
brought him home one day and I let her keep him, but I made him sleep out
there at night. Anyway, thing didn't deserve the end it got."
The man sighed, ran a hand through his wavy gray hair. "So, ah, I go
out there and I open the door, and I see all my oil cans lying all over the
place. Just everywhere. But no oil on the ground. Whoever
broke in took the oil and left the cans. And whatever was blocking
the cans was on the ground, and the damn cat wasn't anywhere."
"And how long had you been in bed?" asked Lily. "Away from the main
part of the house, before you heard the crash?"
"Oh, I don't know..." Jake squinted. "An hour, maybe? Maybe more?"
Lily nodded, and Jake began walking again, until all three of them stopped
simultaneously at the wooden door next to the kitchen. Jake unfastened
the brass deadbolt at the top, and went on, "So I start calling the cat,
I said, 'Aluiscious, Aluiscious.' And there was nothing. Usually, he
meows. So I went looking, and that's when I saw him. He was in
the corner, dead as a post. Don't have any idea what the hell could have
Jake opened the door, and motioned for Paul and Lily to step through.
"So I didn't want to call the cops because the whole thing sounds crazy -
at least it does to me. And besides that, my wife's good friends with
some of the detectives, and I don't know how I'm going to explain thinking
that a ghost screwed with my office. Besides that, I have to do something
about the cat. My kids are gonna be heartbroken. And I know I
don't know you folks all that well, but this is a nice area with nice folks,
and since you live around here too, I thought... well, if you want to come
take a look, be my guest, you know?"
Lily nodded, and stepped past both men into the garage.
There was the faint smell of rotted garbage, of decimation of skin and decay...something
not quite living. Lily glanced back to her husband as if to confirm
her suspicions, and Paul nodded that he smelled it, too.
"Gotta get rid of that cat," said Jake, and he pressed two fingers over his
Lily stood in the center of the room, perusing the space with her eyes, and
Paul stepped past her, a hand pausing on her shoulder as he went.
The walls were gray, splotchy, and dented in dirtied, water spots. One gray
wall was lined with brown shelves, each brown shelf containing various boxes
of car-parts or cans of motor-oil, or else metal tubes filled with some sort
of liquid. Some of the boxes and cans had been knocked to the floor, ripped
from their symmetrical piles, while others had been overturned, or scattered
like candy to the far edge of the garage.
The retractable garage door was sealed shut to the ground (as per Jake's
explanation) with some type of grout, or else some type of cement, and a
white wipe-away board was posted over the door; customer names were written
over the board with check marks and 'X's, and awkward lines divided into
An L shaped, wooden desk sat front and center in the room, and its mottled
surface was littered with files and papers and office supplies, and tiny,
jeweled picture frames protecting the likenesses of children dressed as lions
and baseballs players and princesses for Halloween. An I-Mac computer
sat off to one side, and a box of printer paper sat next to the desk.
Three metal filing cabinets stood like stout skyscrapers protecting the shelves
above them, and a fourth lay on its side beneath one of the shelves, dented,
"Were they all upright before?" asked Paul, pointing towards the cabinets.
Jake nodded. "Everything was ship-shape in here when I went to bed.
I like to keep the office organized. The crash must've been that cabinet
Paul squinted, and then turned back to the cabinets. "Someone looking
for information?" He glanced at Lily. "Files, maybe?"
"I don't have anything interesting," said Jake.
"Perhaps someone else feels differently," said Paul.
"No, I don't think so." Lily stepped forward and pressed a hand to the metal,
running her fingers along an oblong, blackened dent. "They weren't
looking for something. More like standing, trying to get leverage."
She smoothed her hand around the outside of an uneven depression. "See
this, right here? This looks like the indentation of a foot. Someone
using the cabinet as a footstool."
"Does that mean something?" Jake asked, furrowing his brows.
Lily rose to her full height and motioned at the splay of discarded cans
and boxes. "It means, more likely than not, that we're looking at someone
shorter than I am, if the intruder wasn't tall enough to reach those shelves."
"But how'd he do it so fast?" asked Jake. "I swear I was out here right
after I heard that crash."
Paul clasped his hands together and rubbed, still feeling slivers of winter
slice through him. "That... I don't know yet."
"Oh." Jake nodded, but seemed wholly unconvinced.
Paul returned his gaze to the floor, searching the disarray for answers.
Overturned cans of oil lay everywhere, dozens of them, lids pried loose,
but there were no stains on the concrete, not a drop of oil anywhere.
Paul bent forward and scooped up one of the cans with gloved fingers.
"Were these originally empty?" he asked, peering into the can as if it was
"Nah," said Jake. "Those are stock from work. I take them back here
at the end of the night. None of them ever been used. The oil's
just...gone." Jake shivered, and scrunched his nose at the dull, lingering
scent of barely set-in rigor mortis.
"Was anything other than the oil stolen?" asked Lily, circling the room and
eyeing Jake with the precision of a trained investigator.
"No, just the oil. That's the other thing."
"The other thing?"
"Yeah." Jake scratched his head and pointed towards the computer. "Nothing's
smashed or broken. That computer's worth about a thousand bucks, but
it's still here. And all the doors were locked, so I don't know how
anyone even got in."
"Could it be you forgot to lock the door?" asked Lily, always one to look
for the most logical answer. She bent to the desk and examined one
of the files.
Jake shook his head. "No, I remember locking it. I was on the
phone with my wife and she told me specifically to lock the front door.
She's always reminding me to do that stuff." He shrugged good-naturedly
at Paul as if searching for confirmation of this type of wifely behavior.
Paul granted an answering smile at Jake and dropped the oil can to the ground
in favor of another. Each one he looked at had been licked clean. The
oil completely gone, with not a single trace left behind. There was
something niggling him about that, about the oil going missing without the
cans. It was as if the oil just...walked right out.
Paul shivered, his imagination whipping him quickly through a mental stamp
of a telltale checklist. Missing oil, missing oil...
The black oil virus had that type of signature, but was more or less contained
only in certain oil rigs, in certain parts of the country where prehistoric
caves had been dug up. It didn't survive long without a host, and if
it needed a host, Paul was reasonably sure that Jake Walker would not have
been left standing. Besides that, there weren't any digs in this area, and
the air was too cold for the virus to awaken and survive. It just wasn't
Or was it?
"Any irate customers, Mr. Walker?" asked Lily. "Disgruntled neighbors,
perhaps someone looking to set you back in funds?" She glanced up from
the desk, where she'd been rifling through papers, and finished, "Or perhaps
someone with a key to the house? Maybe a friend or a relative playing
a prank, looking to scare you?"
Paul bent down again and reached back behind one of the file cabinets as
far as his arms would let him. The oil cans in the middle of the room
were too clean, too perfect. Something was not right about that, something
important. There had to be a can with residual traces of oil still
left inside. Especially since the time-frame between the crash and
when Jake got to the door didn't seem to mesh with the compulsive neatness
required for this professional type of job. Either someone was looking
for something in the oil... or else the oil itself was looking to get out.
And that last part was unacceptable.
"Can't think of anyone," said Jake, answering Lily's question. "Especially
not someone who would want to kill my cat."
"Right, the cat," Lily murmured, as if to herself. She paused.
"The cat's still out here. Can you show me where?"
Finally, Paul's fingers closed around the rim of a can, and he wriggled around
between the cabinets and the opposing wall in order to yank the object free.
Sitting back on his folded legs, Paul turned the can over and over in his
hands and examined the inside.
Unlike the others, the shadowed depths of this can were most definitely not
clean, and the color of the liquid left clutching to the sides was most definitely
not black. Paul's jaw moved stiffly, compulsively, as he considered
the familiar color of this liquid: deep, emerald green. Congealed.
Speckled with black and yellow in certain places, but mostly green, and hugging
the circular tin can in thick, soupy blobs. A dusty ray of yellow light
poured through one side of the can, where a rusted, jagged hole had eaten
the metal clean away.
"Cat's crumpled up behind one of those boxes," said Jake. "I'll go
move them for you."
Paul cleared his throat and tried to push back an encroaching wave of unease.
"Lily," he said, gazing into the can with disbelief. "I think you'd
better take a look at this."
Lily frowned, and her questioning gaze was accompanied by a raised, russet
eyebrow. Paul said nothing further, and long accustomed to the way
that he worked, Lily was at his side an instant later, with Jake standing
not far behind her, both of them peering over Paul's shoulder to get a good
look at the evidence.
"What does this look like to you?" Paul asked, tipping the can so she could
better examine the inside.
The room fell silent, and his wife's breath caught dead in her throat.
Paul glanced backwards and saw that she'd gone almost completely white, her
dark pink lips and blue eyes no more than angry streaks of color across otherwise
colorless skin. Her mouth opened as if to postulate a theory, but no
sound came out, and only Jake's voice was audible in the silent garage.
"What in the hell is that?" he asked. "Doesn't look like oil to me."
"No," said Paul, unable to break his gaze with his wife, his stomach churning
into twisted knots. "It doesn't, does it?"
Lily finally cleared her throat, but her cracked tone was unsteady when she
spoke. "It's an acid solution," she lied, her gaze never wavering from the
green substance in the can. "Not a highly volatile one, but acid nonetheless.
The solution's corroded part of the metal right there--" She pointed to a
gap in the metal and made a circling motion with her index finger.
Only Paul noticed that her hand trembled as she explained. "Which means that
the user most likely was forced to wear gloves. Further, I'd say that
the compound was homemade, amateur, because you certainly don't have a mess
on your hands here. Chances are you won't find any fingerprints, but I can
assure you that this was in no way supernatural. Unless ghosts have
started utilizing chemical compounds to haunt houses. Do you have an alarm
system, Mr. Walker?"
Too fast, she was talking too fast. She barely breathed in between
sentences. Paul caught her nervousness like a quick moving contagion, but
Jake shook his head but seemed relieved, nonetheless. "Not a ghost,
then," he said, clasping his hands together. "Well, this makes more
Lily swallowed, and her throat bobbed. "I'd recommend checking the locks
on your windows," she said. "If an acid solution was used, it's possible
that the intruder melted the window locks and crept in without using force."
She took a few deep breaths, as if she stood two inches short of tilting
her head back and screaming up at the sky. Her voice filtered in and
out. "The cat? You said it was around here?"
"Oh... right, right." Jake stood back and allowed Lily to sidestep him.
He turned and made for the opposite wall, and Lily finally met the gaze of
her husband, her eyes naked with fear, filled to the lashes with abject horror.
Lily's breathing was ragged, uneven, and if Paul hadn't been so assured of
her not-so-easily-forgotten professional comportment, he would have insisted
on removing both of them from the house until they could safely figure out
just what the hell all of this meant.
Lily's brows furrowed, and suddenly she looked like she wanted to curl up
into the floor and melt into nothingness, disappear like hot, sticky wax
from a birthday candle.
Paul removed a key-chain and a small plastic bag from his pocket, and flipped
up a retractable Swiss army knife. With careful precision, he scraped along
the inside of the tin and gathered a thin film of green liquid on the tip.
The liquid bubbled for a moment, and shone like olive juice, splotched with
ugly pebbles of forest green and black.
Paul held the knife in front of his face, tilted it from side to side, and
waited. When the liquid didn't eat through his knife, he nodded to
himself and smudged the coagulated substance into the inside of the bag,
his hands surprisingly calm and controlled. His eyes watered but didn't
sting, and he assumed that any and all poisonous effects wore off in increments,
as the actual substance met with oxygen and died.
Lily watched all of this with that pasty, numb expression on her face, her
blue eyes darting about the room as if looking for hidden cameras, or waiting
for Jake Walker to shape-shift into something else entirely. Something terrible.
Something she'd seen in her nightmares, perhaps. Her voice echoed in Paul's
skull: "Walls are listening."
"Cat's over here if you're interested," called Jake, and his voice startled
both of them.
Paul blew out a breath, and Lily raised a palm to her throat and closed her
eyes, inhaling and exhaling slowly.
When her lids fluttered open, Paul nodded at her and she broke their silent
Paul stood and placed a guiding hand on her back as she made her way through
the sea of overturned oil cans. Ribbed and dented tin reflected prism-ed
shards of light, scattering rays of white-yellow across the walls; a disco
ball gone insane. Lily didn't turn back to him, but Paul was positive
she was aware of his thumb, tracing rough circles over her spine. Touching
Lily made him feel grounded, tied to this world, as if she alone could keep
him secured to Earth.
"Here we go," said Jake, his eyes watering as he shoved aside some empty
boxes. "Holy Jesus, that's rancid."
Lily paused at the foot of a molehill of boxes and gasped, and Paul peered
over her shoulder. The stench of life-ebbing-away was heavy and floating,
and it stilled both of them in their tracks. Paul had to turn his head so
that he could cover his nose and keep out the stink. The irrational
feeling that he'd be swept away again, taken from her again, just because
he'd breathed in the odor of that dead animal, was nearly paralyzing in its
"It's the damndest thing," said Jake, holding his sweater over his nose to
eradicate the smell. "When I found him I thought he'd been poisoned,
but.... look at his eyes."
Lily's back had gone stiff, and Paul didn't need to see her to know what
she was thinking.
The cat's small, sunken eyes had been welded shut, and mucus seeped from
the edges with congealed blobs of dried, brown blood. The gray and white
fur of its torso was slicked back, damp with a foggy, grayish film, its legs
frozen in a deranged pantomime of broken movement; the cat had been running,
clawing for its life when it died.
Only one known substance could have done that kind of specific damage in
so short a time, and the idea made Paul literally sick.
"You think someone sprayed the cat with that acid you were telling me about?"
asked Jake, and his voice was muffled by his sweater.
"I, ah...Yeah.... It's possible," said Lily, but her voice was far away.
Paul swallowed back the taste of lunch rising in his throat. He felt
dizzy, disoriented, like he would drop through the floor and keep going until
he reached the core of the Earth.
At her sides, Lily's fists balled as she clenched and unclenched her slender
fingers. Had she taken off her gloves, Paul was positive her knuckles
would be three shades lighter than the rest of her.
The air was thick with unspoken horror:
They had been found.