-------- 3 ---------
Back to the present,
He tells the story,
The air conditioner kicks back off and the room is bathed in uncomfortable silence.
I swallow, hard, and Fox stares at me as if he believes there is something to be learned from all this. Something I should take with me, or something I should watch out for in the future---should I ever encounter the death and destruction of an entire city.
I shiver at the thought.
“It was gone,” he finally says, sighing as he stares off into space. “Blown sky high—as Frohike so succinctly put it. The hospital was first---a test run, I assumed----then the Television stations, radio air towers, and the telephone lines. Communication was being deliberately cut off----creating a helpless panic.”
Helpless panic… Oh god….
Pictures and imagery of a helpless, horrified public flash into my brain. Screaming children and terrified adults. Fire and massacre painting the streets with the blood of the innocent, as buildings crumble like sugar cones. People. People everywhere. Littering the streets. Flooding the sidewalks. Running, fleeing, with nowhere to go. Nowhere to run.
Dark shivers race up my spine and my head begins to pound.
Fox continues, “Frohike, as it just so happened, was checking his email when he got a message from one of his online hackers---a guy named ‘the brain’ who had, in the past, fed them information like dog treats on a hot day. In the message, as Frohike would later tell me, it said, ‘they’re coming. Get out, now. There’s no time.’ Then there were directions to an old, abandoned underground railway system--- One that ran the border of DC and Maryland—where Frohike had been instructed to go. As far from the major cities as we could get, the guy later told us. Anywhere else we’d be safer.”
I nod, barely, my eyes glued to his, my brain rivited by this tale of horror unfolding. This story of struggle and events that I had lived through---but never experienced to his extent. A story that I had heard—read about, listened to, watched on TV--- when it came back to us---but didn’t see for myself. No. Not like he had.
I no longer have any doubts in my mind that this will give me nightmares for weeks on end. And almost certainly, later, I will go home and be sick. For a long, long time…
“But first,” Fox goes on, his voice sounding farther and farther away, “ we had to get out of the building. We had to run through the streets before we could escape the city----and I had to try and wake Scully. Otherwise, there was no way we were going to make it----no way in hell, though to tell you the truth, I didn’t think we would anyway…”
Five and a half years ago
Scully’s apartment Complex Hallway
Mulder stared down at his partner and shook her again----grasping her shoulders like a vice and forcing her body to wobble. Her head lolled listlessly to the side and she groaned, pathetically. Mulder closed his eyes in frustration and looked back at the guys.
He nodded to Langly, who pressed a pack of ice to her flushed cheek and spoke into her ear, desperately, as if he felt the entire building was going to be blown to the ground unless they moved. “Wake up!” he called, loudly, “damn it, Agent Scully, wake up!”
Scully groaned again and managed a, “mmmph,” before falling back into the land somewhere between wakefulness and complete unconsciousness, her lashes fluttering against her red, freckled cheeks. Langly sighed and closed his eyes in a similar fashion to the way Mulder had. He pursed his lips and shook his head, defeated, his heart racing and his pulse thumping into his ears.
Mulder grimmaced and stared at her, his body doing a sudden jump as the city’s air raid alarm began to howl and echo into the night like a restless scream.
The four men stared at each other in horror, breathing deeply and swallowing their fear until physical illness nearly took its toll. Mulder squeezed his eyes shut and took a breath…
All around them, people began to crowd the hallway----neighbors in their evening wear---jogging clothes, pyjamas and sweats, children clutching at the hands of their parents in adamant confusion. They crashed and slammed into each other like waves onto a beach, gasping and speculating—shoving and pushing, as confusion and pandemonium dictated. The sirens outside wailed louder, car alarms going off, police sirens littering the air with the fear of approaching death. Screams erupted all around and Scully’s next door neighbor pointed towards the hall window----the building across the street glowing ablaze in fire like a roman candle.
That was all it took.
Everyone began to scatter helter skelter into the hallway and down the stairs like ants from a disenchanted mound.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Byers said, lowly, taking deep breaths. “We need to hurr----“
He halted when he heard the loud ‘slap’ that seemed to drown out the sirens and car alarms, the screams and panic.
Mulder’s face had turned away when his palm connected with Scully’s left cheek, his hand resonating a slap that stung his ears and sent her head flying to the right.
All at once, Scully’s eyes shot open in shock and surprise---her hands flying up---swatting in front of her face as if warding off a swarm of angry locusts. Mulder swiftly took hold of her wrists and halted her movements—grabbing her arms so hard he feared he might break bones, his expression fierce and determined. Scully merely stared back at him disoriented, her pupils dialated and wild---her breathing deep and ragged.
Her mouth opened, and she managed, “Mul—wha---“
“Listen to me, Scully,” Mulder interrupted, speaking to her as loudly as he could----forcing her to hear him over the storm of pandemonium reigning all around them. “You have to trust me. Don’t ask any questions. Don’t say anything. Just get up as quickly as you can—I’ll help you---and try to hang onto me. Ok? Just get up and try to stand so that we can get out of here. We need to get out of here. Just nod if you understand.”
Scully’s eyes widened in fear and confusion, but she stared at her partner and nodded, quickly.
Mulder nodded back, pushing an unruly red hair tenderly out of her eyes, reassuring her with a simple gaze of trust and love. ‘I’m not going to let anything happen to you,’ his eyes told her, and she believed.
‘I trust you,’ her foggy eyes tenderly returned.
Langly, Frohike and Byers quickly got to their feet, staring out the window at the panic below. Frohike’s hand flew to his mouth in horror, and Langly cursed, “shit” under his breath while Byers just stared ----as fire after fire erupted around the city---engulfing buildings miles and miles away—alighting the sky like twisted lightning.
“The end of the world,” Langley murmured, mortified.
Mulder ignored them as best he could and pulled on Scully’s wrists to help her to her feet. His adrenaline pumped wildly into his ears and alarms hammered pain into his skull. Hurry, Scully, he thought desperately. Oh god, hurry..
It took them about a minute or so, and she wobbled and teetered drunkenly, but finally, he got an arm around her shoulders and she got her knees to hold her weight.
“Guys!” Mulder yelled over the mayhem, and they turned, nodding their heads.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Frohike managed, and he raced to the emergency stairwell, Mulder, Scully, Byers and Langley following swiftly behind. Swinging the door open carelessly, the tiny man launched himself down the stairs, two at a time—careful to watch for impending signs of danger as screams echoed into the hallway, telling of unspeakable horrors they still had yet to visit. Byers’ forehead began to drip with sweat as he ran, and his eyes closed intermittently to block out the wails of sirens and screams. Langley lagged behind and rushed to Scully’s side----grabbing an arm opposite Mulder to lift her legs off the ground completely—giving the three of them more leverage as they half pulled, half dragged a disoriented Scully down the long stairwell----two flights and a lobby still ahead of them…
Back to the present,
He tells the story,
Fox frowns for a moment and runs a hand through his short cropped, brown hair. His eyes look tired and drained---as if he’s been wandering and wandering for a hundred years without water. Sometimes, I think his world is like an empty desert---one hot and dry, though devoid of sunshine. Vast and endless---stretching like time---but with no light. He never lets the light in…
Not ever since she’s been gone…
I watch him and I wonder just how long it’s been since he’s spoken to anyone about this. How long has he had it bottled up inside him like a tightly lidded Pandora’s box? He keeps the truth---or, at least—his truth, so close and steadfast to himself that it’s a wonder I’m sitting here with him.
Good lord, am I the only one he’s told? Who else knows, I wonder. Who else knows the whole story-- besides the gunmen and him? Does Mrs. Scully know? His mother? Who else was there?
But more importantly…what does he tell his daughter?
How do you explain to a little four year old girl that the world is full of good and forgiving people, when you’ve seen it burned to the ground by those same people who swore to protect you? How do you look her in the eye and tell her why Mommy isn’t with her? What do you say?
How does it not hurt to look at the child who reminds you of the love that you lost?
So much pain…
It occurs to me now that my partner is weary of most things and people---that he is paranoid and unforgiving at times. Untrusting and cynical, and damn near exhausting to even sit in the same room with. He is not by any means the easiest man to get along with----take it from the person he tried his damndest to drive away---but underneath it all----underneath the exterior--- lies a good heart.
I firmly believe that.
I wouldn’t have stayed with him if I didn’t. Or at least---that’s what I continually tell myself---that yeah, he may wrap that heart tightly beneath an air of brooding sulkiness----he may deny its very existence----but it is there. I see it---I see it whenever he says her name.
And it drives me crazy that sometimes I wish I were her.
“Scully was tired,” he says, breathing upon the phrase, “obviously she had been drugged, but she managed as best as she could. We all did. We ran for it---stepping over people---bodies, crashed cars… It was… it was like the Nostradamus theory about the end of the world… you know that one?”
My brain flashes back to an old theology class and I nod, silently.
“We had to make it across fifth,” he continues, softly. “Somehow, we had dodge the fire---fire everywhere….” He looks directly at me, catching himself inside a memory. “There were men with blowtorches that looked like machine guns—men who were not really men--- men who could take out entire city blocks with little more than a two foot walk. Men with no faces and no consciences… And there were… bees… bees everywhere….”
I frown and stare at him, confused. Now he’s lost me. I honestly don’t understand how there could have been men with no faces—men who were not really men. But maybe that’s just him---getting ahead of himself---like usual. I also don’t understand where the bees came from, or how they fit in here. I hope that he’ll tell me—that eventually he’ll let me know just how it is that his “no-terrorist” theory came about and why these “not terrorists” had no faces. Does he mean figuratively or literally, I wonder. I can never tell with him…
He forces a smile. “Sorry… I ah…” he waves an errant hand. “Anyhow, I dragged Scully down the streets and tried to keep her from totally… well… freaking out on me. Frankly, there wasn’t much I could do---other than to hold her up and keep her quiet. By that time it had occurred to me that I had no idea how she had ended up unconscious on her couch, and that it was very possible she could have been in shock—or worse. I figured—if we lived---that I would be able to check her out once we got to this supposed underground tunnel. But it wasn’t going to be easy. Before I could even try and do anything, we had to climb into the sewer grate at the corner of fifth and Carnon---into the city’s water system…”
Five and a half years ago,
Scully’s apartment lobby,
The five of them hurried down the stairwell, eyes darting, legs taking two and three steps at a time, the echoes of their shoes and rushed footsteps nearly silent against the explosions seeping in from outside. Car alarms and police sirens wailed and screamed, and the barely audible sounds of metal against metal, horns blaring in the distance--- told of car crashes and downed traffic lights all over Georgetown.
Frohike reached the doorway first---waving a desperate hand to stay down—to stay against a wall---keep away from the entrance to the lobby. If there was anyone standing in the hallway, he figured, at least then they’d have the cover of the wall for a few seconds—long enough to bolt upstairs and climb a fire escape, if need be.
Mulder yanked Scully’s shoulder towards him and then stood ramrod straight against the left wall---keeping Langly on the other side of Scully so that she wouldn’t fall forward.
Her eyes rolled around in their sockets for a moment—her mind reeling from the over exertion, and her head lolled to the side to shoot Mulder a questioning glance. He breathed in deeply and turned his face to see her—to make sure that she was alright.
Her blue, normally sparkling eyes were dull, her pupils dialated and fuzzy---her dazed expression telling him that her steel trap mind had not yet properly processed the situation. Her mouth was slightly ajar in restless confusion---her lips somehow unable to voice what her mind was trying to convey. In short, she looked drugged---brain damaged, helpless.
That scared him more than anything.
Suddenly, the door flung open and Mulder winced as his ears were heavily assaulted with the shrieks of sirens, car horns, and chaos. From inside the tiny hallway where they stood, he could make out the orange-red glow of fire, ripping into the evening sky like a sick fireworks display. An 86 Chevy van had overturned in front of the building---it’s side and rear ends completely smashed in, glass from the front and side windows littering the pavement--- catching the rays of fire and splintering them like prisms on a sunny day. The power cable----or what had been left of the powerline that was once the traffic light--- had snapped in two like a lanyard string. It lay sparking a fire of its own by the coffee shop across the way.
And if that hadn’t been enough to cause a roadblock, hundreds of thousands of panicked people flooded the streets like an ocean of humanity---screaming and running for their lives----hopping over cars, dodging fallen debris, tripping over their feet and the feet of others to get better leverage for their scramble. They ran and they shoved. They yelled and they disregarded the weak—the fallen. There was no time. No time for anything.
Frohike sucked in a breath and Byers stepped forward in shock.
“Holy shit,” Mulder barely managed, almost losing his grip on his partner as he watched the mayhem unfold in the street. He turned and shot Langly a determined look. “We’re getting out of here,” he vowed, pulling Scully into the hallway, motioning for the gunmen to follow.
He took another deep breath and stared into the disoriented eyes of his partner.
“I need you to keep up with me,” he told her, breathless. “Ok, Scully? I need you to run. Can you run?”
Scully watched his lips and opened her mouth to respond, but only a low whimper came out and her eyes closed in frustration.
“Fuck,” Mulder cursed under his breath. He held onto her tighter and straightened his back. “Alright. Fine. It’s fine. Let’s just go---Frohike---where--“
“Left!—Then straight to Carnon!” came the yell—before Mulder could even finish the question. Frohike’s unspoken phrase was left dead in the air----‘we can’t all run together. We’re going to have to split up.’
Mulder nodded at him briskly before hurrying to the building’s entrance. He took a quick glance right, nearly getting his head chopped off by running passerby, and yelled as loud as he could back to the guys.
“The grate! At the corner of Fifth and Carnon! We’re going in! Meet us!”
He did not run until he recognized Langly’s faint, “Hear ya! Fifth and Carnon! GO MULDER!”
And he took off like a shot—shoving his way through the panic stricken fray like an angry bulldozer. His left hand roughly clamped around Scully’s middle, he did his best to half-run, half-drag them through the screaming, terror stricken mob. A crack sounded from above them, and he looked up with a hundred other people just in time to catch shrapnel, falling like rain from the sky.
He didn’t even get the word out.
Without warning, he was slammed into from behind----several dark hispanic looking men, tall guys he only saw in a blur of motion, toppled over him in nervous succession, rolling onto the pavement with bloodied screams of horror and pain. Their arms and sleeves had been drenched with glowing yellow fire, and they fell into the streets, eyes awash in horror. One by one they were engulfed by flame, and Mulder’s eyes widened in fear as he yanked Scully into an alcove beneath a fallen wooden frame. Holding her close, he tried to shield her with the bulk of his bodyweight, but he knew that it would be no use if they were found. If they were targeted, they would die. It was that simple.
Scully’s breathing came out ragged and shattered, and she clutched to the collar of Mulder’s jacket with shaking, sweaty hands. For the briefest of moments, he realized that she had no clue what was happening. She couldn’t possibly understand it in her frenzied, drugged state. All she knew was the loud noise, the heat, and him pulling her around like a wet rag doll.
‘We’re gonna make it, Scully,’ he thought to her, as if that could make things better.
Swiftly, Mulder’s head turned to peek up and over the edge of their makeshift wooden shield. From his vantage point, he could make out the backs of men with torches----torches that shot out flames like an airplane engine---and he swallowed hard. These were the men who had destroyed those abductees, set them ablaze at Skyland Mountain. These were the men Scully had seen in her regression therapy, he realized, in a split second. These were the men who were not men at all.
And they moved with agonizing slowness. So many of them… destroying everything they touched.
An old man lying in the street put his hands up, as if in surrender, and he was decimated like a leaf under a shoe. Men and women around him ran, tripping over each other to fall onto broken shards of glass----and they were eliminated in a single motion, their mortified screams piercing Mulder’s ears until he knew he’d never forget the sound.
Finally, he yanked Scully to her feet, hard, and managed the only word he could think of.
He grabbed her arm and took off—dragging her with him as debris and ash flew into his face like snow in February.
For a minute or two he had to drag her---holding her waist to keep her upright, but soon he felt her head spin around to look behind them—as if her mind was returning to her. She gasped in fright.
Her leg muscles slowly began to come back to her, and she started to run with him—not as fast and not as strong, but as hard as she could, gripping onto him for dear life. A chance look behind him showed the faceless men again—moving like molasses through the crowd as they set fire after fire, people falling in flames left and right.
“Faster!” he ordered her, yanking on her arm to pull her. “Hurry, Scully! Run!”
More car horns honked and blared into the night sky. Air raid sirens and scattering crowds screamed and wailed of unspeakable horror as the exploding of windows inside buildings gave way to stained glass rain. The crackling of erupting flames spat ashes and debris into the air---polluting the oxygen around them with smoke. Scully began to cough uncontrollably, and Mulder watched her carefully as he pulled her faster, securing his grip on her arm.
Above them, a snap like a firecracker exploding resonated, and shards of glass flew into the crowd---knocking half the men and women to their knees, screaming in terror. Dark slats of wood fell from the roof, and Mulder’s legs were knocked out from under him----someone crashing into him from behind like a battering ram. The wind rushed out of his lungs like a gush, and his hands flailed as lost the grip on Scully’s arm. Her tiny body fell loose from his, and she yelped as she slammed into the mob, her hands flying to shield her face as she dropped to the ground in a curtain of ash.
Mulder coughed and sputtered, then widened his eyes in fear.
Scully… oh god… where was Scully…
“SCULLY!” he yelled at the top of his voice, his eyes darting, his hands shoving shoulders and heads out of his way. Damn it, he couldn’t see.
“SCULLY!” His head jerked left then right. “SCULLY, ANSWER ME!”
When his head turned again, he caught sight of something else---and his heart lurched into his throat.
Hundreds of thousands of Bees—closing in on the city like a black plague.
His hands closed into fists and he fell back onto the ground, horrified, stupified. “oh shit….SCU-LLY!” He yelled, helplessly. “SCUUULLLYY!”
And then he heard it---from somewhere along his left----a loud, high pitched, terrified shriek.
“MULDER!!! OH GOD, MULDER!!!!”
His head snapped in the direction of her voice and through the smoke and ash he found her—spotted her russet head kneeling in shock next to a bloodied corpse alongside a half-burned building. Her hands were covered in soot, her arms shaking in terror, and blood soiled the front of her Donna Karan blouse and black tailored pants.
Shoving errant bystanders out of his way, he rushed to her side, his stomach still reeling from his fall, his skull throbbing in pain. Her head turned as he approached and she stared at him with her arms spread, her still hazy brain non comprehending, as if seeking benediction.
She swallowed, then managed a gasp, as if just finding her voice. “Mulder,” she wailed, miserably. “What—“
He didn’t let her finish.
Yanking her roughly to her feet, he clamped onto her arm with the strength of an electric magnet. She stumbled with a yelp then gripped him back, and they took off. Her head turned and her eyes widened in fear as she watched the men with torches who followed---the bee swarm that grew closer to the crowd and seemed to be attacking the faceless men who attacked them.
It was war.
In front, Mulder could make out the gray metal sewer grate on the corner of Fifth and Carnon---the metal manhole cover that had been overturned in the melee. He tugged on Scully’s arm harder.
“A little further,” he urged, frantically. “Just a little further...”
Scully’s breathing began to turn awkward and she started to slow down, gripping Mulder’s arm with a shaky underhanded fist. She swallowed and gritted her teeth, trying to keep up, and spoke again, “Mul… der… What…. Happening…. What…”
But her lungs were desperate for air and she couldn’t get out the phrase without losing breath. Her eyes were still foggy and disoriented, her expression wild, and Mulder did not answer her as they reached the manhole and stared down. She looked back up at him, terrified and bewildered.
“GO!” he ordered, briskly. “Climb down, Scully!”
She stared at him and hesitated.
“DO IT!” he ordered frantically, and Scully needed no more prodding. She nodded, taking a breath as she bent down, and then she crawled her way into the manhole---shakily at first, then steadily as she went. About a quarter of the way down, Mulder joined her, pausing only long enough to catch his breath and yank the 10 pound manhole cover over their heads behind them.
“Keep going,” he ordered, firmly.
The overhead noise all at once seemed to lower about twenty decibals, and Mulder breathed a slight sigh of relief as he realized that they were relatively safe---down here—if only for the moment, at least. His heart still pounding, he allowed his pulse to gradually equal out, his legs slowly descending behind Scully’s.
Exhausted, she reached the bottom rung and collapsed to the watery ground, sucking in air desperately as her hands closed in fists against the mud and water. Mulder quickly reached the floor behind her and dropped to her side, rubbing her back as she coughed and sputtered, her mouth wheezing as she took in breath after breath, eventually slowing and steadying as the seconds passed.
“Ok…” Mulder managed softly, running his hands down the back of her head, then her spine, then up again. “It’s alright… we’re ok…”
Scully swallowed another mouthful of air and let out a gut wrenching sob, her back hitching to control a spasm that wracked her spent frame. She swallowed again and gasped again, her body starting to shake and tremble as she lay there----crumpled, sick and exhausted.
“Oh… god…Mulder---” She finally managed, her voice coming out echoed into the darkness of their cavern.
Mulder closed his eyes in sadness, in grief for what he had seen, for the dead he had been forced to step over, and for the total disregard for human life that they had just witnessed. It was the end of the world, and he would never live to forget it….
Gingerly, he leaned down and wrapped his long, muscular arms around Scully’s shoulders, pulling her to him. Her hands reached up to clasp onto his shirt, her fingers gripping and shaking, and she collapsed against him in a torrent of terrified tears.
“Mul… God… what… happened… what…”
He just held her, protectively, his eyes closing as she sobbed and sobbed…