We All Die Virgins
by Jaime Lyn

Chapter 6


Disclaimers in Chapter 1.


Early December 28th, 2001
Holiday Inn Express
Room 201
(Mulder's room...Scully's for the night.)


Midnight in the garden, and the two Scully sisters trample like squirrels through gardenias.  The day’s been long demanding, and Dana knows that she and Melissa aren't allowed to stay up past nine, perhaps nine-thirty.  But the sun was hot, oh so hot today, and their burnt feet needed a cool respite from summer.

Dana touches her toes, executes a sommersault—something she rarely does, truly rarely ever does—because she feels that foolish things like sommersaults are for babies, for sillyhearts.  But with Melissa, the Universe is different.  With Melissa, Sommersaults are magical.  Evening hours are for dandelions, oak leaves, acorns gathered in fists, and sommersault adventures through newly laid sod.

During the day, Dana is the brain and Melissa is the dreamer.   But at night, alone together in the garden that their mother tends with soiled fingers, Dana and Melissa are best of each other.  They dance.  Melissa makes a crown of forget-me-nots, poppies, and cotton flowers.  Dana wears the crown and declares herself queen of freshly cut grass.

“Dana,” says a breathless Melissa.  “Why, do you think, is the sky only one color?”

Dana gazes up at the sky as she twirls in a circle: wind, seeds, and grass bits whisper past her shoulders, into her hair, and through her shirt sleeves.

“Because in the sky we see reflected light,” says Dana, in much the way she has always been expected to answer questions like this.  “Like the moon, Missy. The moon doesn’t really glow the way we see it.  What we see is the light reflected back from Earth.”

“You think you know everything,” says Melissa.  Eyes closed, she picks up a pink geranium from the Earth and holds the petals to her nose.  She breathes in and says, “Can’t you just be?  Can’t you just say, ‘the sky is blue because I see it that way’ and leave the matter to rest?”

Dana frowns.  “But… that isn’t why the sky’s blue,” she says.

It’s not that Dana wants to make matters like 'the color of the sky' more difficult that they are. Of course, she understands games of fancy and make-believe.  She’s played hopscotch, jump-rope, marbles, jack-in-the-box, and play-house, among others.  And she understands that sometimes, some things go unexplained. She can giggle and dream as much as Melissa can.  But is it so bad, is it really so bad that Dana simply chooses more practical alternatives when seriousness and frivolity intersect? That she reads and reads—biology, astronomy, biographies, mathematics, and she absorbs every bit of information like gospel—is that really so wrong?  When her textbooks dictate the Universe, Dana believes.  She finds safety in the idea of numbers and facts and diagrams.

Believing in an idea that has no safety, an idea that provides no numbers and no facts and no diagrams…Believing in the invisible... this she cannot understand.

“Fine, then.  Why does it matter to you why the sky is blue?” asks Melissa.  She skids across the grass and slams into the ground; another sommersault averted by gravity.  Melissa frowns, but rises again.  Melissa doesn’t care about science.  Melissa never cared a bit about science.

“Because it does,” says Dana, who crouches onto a jagged rock to gaze longer at the sky, which is no longer blue, but black, and splattered with white dots.  Dana tugs her long red curls into a ponytail and frowns. “You need to have rules,” she says.  “Like gravity.  Gravity is a rule.  If we didn’t have gravity, all of us would float away. And the laws that govern relativity of motion, and electrons and atomic function.  They’re important.  The very principals of life require rules.”

“But why?”

Dana scrunches her nose.  “Don’t ask me stupid questions,” she says, because she doesn’t know what else to say.

Dana would like to think that she was born a scientist, reasonable and mature and smart from birth.  Dana could twist things in a modest way, could giggle convincingly and admonish, “aw shucks, I don’t think I’m all that smart,” to anyone who asked about her potential as a future woman of science.  But to herself, Dana admitted long ago that she enjoyed being smarter than all the other kids.  Dana felt powerful, sure of herself, rooted in books and facts.  Education was first.  Friends were secondary; Besides, Dana had Melissa after all, and Melissa was everything that Dana didn’t understand and couldn’t ever be.  Dana liked Melissa's opposing nature--likes it still, although she never admits to such things.

Dana has a lot of potential, said one teacher.  And she’s far surpassed the rest of the class in academia.   But she’s very reserved and solitary. Other children don’t respond well to Dana’s intellectualism, and she doesn’t play very well in a group.

Deep down, Dana knows things weren’t always this way.  Once, when she was six, Dana caught a mall Santa Claus taking off his red suit, and her heart nearly shattered.  Dana had believed so badly in Santa Claus, had even left him cookies and orange juice for the long sleigh journey home on Christmas Eve.  But in the end, cookies and orange juice made no difference, no difference at all, when Dana was faced with the inevitable untruth; her parents lied about Santa.  Santa wasn’t magic.  Santa was just a man, real and biological and fallible and mortal like any other man.  So she’d afterwards asked her mother about Jesus, whether Jesus was also a lie because Santa Claus was a lie, and her mother staunchly told her, “no.  No, of course not, Dana.  Jesus is real.   Santa has helpers.  That’s all.  The Santa you saw was one of Santa’s helpers.  Jesus and Santa, they’re friends, darling.”

So Dana believed.  For two years she believed.  But then, when Dana was eight, her little brother Charlie wandered off a deeply forested hiking trail and fell into a lake.  The second annual Scully fishing trip, and Charlie got mad when Dana caught the first fish.  Charlie ran off to spite his father and his brother and sisters, and Dana told him not to come back.  Dana found Charlie face down in the lake, ten minutes after her best catch of the day.  She dropped the fish and screamed and tried to make him breathe.  “Breathe, Chee,” she shrieked, using her favorite nickname for her brother.  “Breathe, breathe, please God, oh please make him breathe.”

But Jesus couldn’t help her revive Charlie.  Her parents had told her that God was good, that God was trying his hardest, but God apparently didn’t try hard enough.  Her parents lied.  Melissa said that spirits watched over the needy, that vibrations circumnavigated God and a giant, all knowing spirit protected all good things.  But Charlie died.  Dana watched him turn blue.  Where was the great spirit at that moment, at the moment when Charlie’s hands turned to ice and his lips stopped moving?

Only science didn’t lie.  Only books with numbers and facts and diagrams on every page allowed Dana to see the truth; believing in anything without just cause and reason to believe was foolhearty.

But Melissa, she believed in everything.

“But what if I want to make the sky purple?” asks Melissa, who blinks into folded arms, like a gypsy, like a genie, and grins with a tooth missing.

A flash of white light blinds Dana, crackles like a hundred humid fingers at her throat.  She has to gasp for air and blink to bring the world back into focus.

Everything returns in a haze, a blur, a fog.

The sky.  The air.  The world.  It’s all purple. Melissa has turned the Universe purple.
Dana’s eyes widen and she gazes up at the purple sky, grasping the edges of her wilting crown of flowers.  She was the queen of grass a moment ago.  She was the queen of sky. Now she isn’t anything; the world, the world is wrong.

Midnight, and she and Melissa should have been asleep at nine. What are they doing here anyway?  Dana doesn't belong in this garden.  Not anymore.  Maybe she never belonged in the garden.

“You just can’t do that,” says Dana, whose heart pounds at the very idea of a purple sky, of a world without rules, without diagrams and facts.  “You can’t just make things any way you want to make them. There have to be rules.” Dana’s lip trembles and she wants to cry.  She wants to scream.  She feels as if she can’t breathe in this garden; the air is too tight.

“You don’t always need such silly rules, Dana,” says Melissa with a giggle.

“But you can’t make the sky purple,” says Dana, who can’t seem to find the right amount of air.  She rips the crown of flowers from her head and tugs at the interwoven stems; petals flick and scatter mel-pel to the dewy grass.  She stomps her foot.   “You can’t make the sky purple,” Dana says again, but softer this time. “You can’t make the sky purple…”

Melissa opens her mouth and lets out a long, loud ring.


Scully opened her eyes and glared into the darkness of her room.  She smelled Chinese food and freshly vacuumed carpet.  Cherry wood and bleach.  The edges of her vision blurred, and for a moment, the room was tinted lavender.  Such an odd color for a darkened room, odd indeed.  Scully had been dreaming, but she was having a hard time remembering what about.  Her forehead throbbed.  This wasn’t her house.  Where the hell was she?

Another long, loud ring.

Scully glanced at the clock beside the bed and groaned.  3:22am.  3:22am and she was on a case.  Ah yes.  In a motel, on a bed that felt like a vaguely comfortable table; that’s right.  And only one person on this planet would have the balls to call her at this hour, at this ludicrously, obscenely late hour, and not get said balls chopped off.  And that man was Fox Mulder—her partner who, assumingly, was fast asleep in the bed next door.  Her bed next door.  Of course, he had been asleep.  If he was calling her now, he certainly wasn’t asleep anymore.  But that was a given.  Did Fox Mulder ever sleep?

Scully fumbled clumsily over the nightstand for her cell phone. It was dark and cold and the ringing was getting louder.  The lavender tint slowly faded but the blurriness remained.  And her forehead ached and pulsed in rhythm, like the ticking of a clock.  Her hand hit something hard and plastic, and the object flipped over backwards as she tried to snatch it up.  More ringing and she grabbed the phone with an ungraceful grunt, flipping open the top and jabbing as many buttons as she could, hoping that one of them was “talk.”

“What?” she said with a yawn.

“Real nice, Scully.  Did you have to press all the buttons?”

Mulder.  Of course it was Mulder.  Who else was she expecting?  Richard Gere, Sting, or Publisher’s Clearing House?

“I was asleep,” she said.  

But of course, Mulder knew she was asleep.  He always knew she was asleep; he just called anyway.  Mulder liked doing that.  Scully suspected that Mulder’s late night calling fetish had something to do with paranoia involving the loss of his sister, or perhaps another fear involving the loss of other such important people through  invisible negligence of his own doing.  So really, Mulder was saying that he cared about her, that he cared like a fucking Hallmark card, every time he called her in the middle of the night.  The whole thing would be flattering, really, if only Mulder would let her get a little more sleep every once in awhile.

“What’s up?” asked Scully.  Another yawn.

“Mark just woke me, actually,” said Mulder.  He sounded giddy but restrained, business-like, but on the edge of excitement.   “And you’re not going to believe this.”

Scully rubbed a hand across her forehead and reached for the bedside lamp.  “Let me guess.”  She flicked on the lamp switch and scrubbed at her eyes as if the light could injure her irises.  “V.C Andrews came back from the dead and she’s suing everyone in connection with this case for copyright infringement.”

Mulder snorted.  “You’re creative when you’re half asleep,” he said.  “Creative, but wrong.”

Scully sighed.  “Then what?” she asked.

“Lily’s house is gone,” said Mulder.  “We have to get down there.”

Scully said nothing.  She waited for the haze still circling her brain to lift so that she could process new information.  Lily.  Lily Ann Harbor, the girl whose sister was missing.  The girl who barely existed within the confines of the American social security system, and now her house was gone as well?  Scully blinked and gazed about the room.  Surely, there was a hidden camera around here somewhere.  She was going to find herself on that cable show, Jackass, wasn't she?

“Mulder,” said Scully, yawning slowly and tiredly, “if the next thing you say to me is ‘they’re here,’ I swear to you I’m gone.  I'm on that next broom back to Washington.”

“No,” said Mulder, who was using his ‘secret agent voice’—curt and crisp.  Mulder used that voice when he thought she was making fun of him.  “Some sort of fire consumed the house.  The whole place burned like a real fat marshmallow.  Mark says he has no idea how it got started, but he wants us down there.  Figures you might be of some assistance.”

Scully frowned and asked, “Is Lily—“

“Fine,” said Mulder, “Nobody’s dead, but apparently the firemen are having problems with the remains of the house.  I’m not sure of the details.  And Mark thought, you know, with us on the case and your background in science…”

“You mean my background in science fiction,” said Scully, a faint smile tugging the corners of her dry lips.

“Hey, who ya gonna call?” said Mulder.

Scully grinned still.  Mulder brought out the lighter side of her, the hidden giggler in her, and always late at night, when nobody could see her, when nobody could suspect Scully for being less of a scientist or less of a professional for laughing about Mavin the Martian.  Their relationship, the jokes, the innuendo, the late night calls; it was all in good fun... wasn't it?

Mulder joked with her about UFOs, big foot, sasquatch, and he covered a huge amount of ground in each area every other night, generally before five am.  Besides this, Scully’s favorite lullaby was a purple-people-eater fable, re-told over and over by her partner’s deep baritone. She never tired of his voice.

“Anything else I should know?” asked Scully.

“You know what I know what you know,” said Mulder, in mock sing-song.  “Be ready in fifteen minutes.  I’ll come by and—“

He stopped abruptly.  A silence stretched, and Scully closed her eyes.  Her head ached.  By God, her head really ached.  She knew what Mulder was thinking.  She didn’t have to be a scientist to know what he had wanted to say, had wanted to say but couldn’t:  I’ll come by and meet you in your room.  The Mulder of a year ago would have just come up and knocked.  Hell, the Mulder of yesterday would have just barged right in. But the Mulder who had kissed her, the Mulder who had, only hours before, swept his tongue thoroughly and wholly and completely through her mouth—that Mulder had no idea what he now could and could not say.

“I’ll meet you downstairs,” Mulder finally amended, sounding perhaps a bit more strained than Scully would have liked.  He paused and finished, “So don’t take that broom back to Washington quite yet.”

Early December 28th, 2001
76 Durland Road

Durland Road was a small, well manicured side street that turned off from the town’s single, all brick elementary school.  Most of the houses were small, two story, colonial style residences that appeared to have been collecting and discarding owners for years and years.  The oak trees and pine trees that lined Durland Road were tall and full, older than the houses probably, old enough to tell some pretty wild tales if ever trees gained the ability to speak.

Deep brown flatboards crisscrossed the exteriors of the first three houses, and beige stucco walls flashed with lights; red and blue, red and blue, red and blue, over and over.  Two red Lynbrook firetrucks had been parked diagonally down the street, and several white police cars were scattered back and forth down the block--doors opened and lights flashing.

Un-uniformed, brown and gray suited detectives wandered up and down the sidewalks, some talking to neighbors who had come to watch the fray, other detectives writing and pacing and generally trying to appear busy.    Firemen meandered back and forth, a few more unfortunate firemen covered from head to foot in a suspicious, dark gray ash.  A couple yellow-jacketed and less dirty firemen sat on one of the trucks, talking, laughing and smoking, of all things.  The sirens from all the trucks and cars lit up the streets and at the same time, threw the concrete back into darkness.  The scene in front of what used to be the Harbor residence was now nothing more than a sea of people congregating in what looked like an out-door rock concert minus the band.

Scully glanced at Mulder as he killed the engine.  Apparently, the town of Lynbrook just didn't do anything small.

“Agents,” said Mark Guinness, who quickly approached as Mulder and Scully exited the car.  Mark was dressed in a wrinkled brown suit,a  hastilly tied black and brown tie, and an untucked white blouse; the uniform of all groogy, awakened police officers.

“Mark,” answered Mulder,  as he slammed the car door shut. Mulder nodded over at the firemen and raised both eyebrows.  “We didn’t start the fire, indeed.”

Scully squinted and frowned past the throng of onlookers and law enforcement.  The circling of lights and the hum of confusion was enough to make her nauseous.  She sighed and shielded her eyes with her hand.

What she saw was simply...

Nothing.  A perimeter of yellow caution tape and a giant nothing behind the barrier.  Whatever the nothing was, it certainly wasn't a house any longer.

From Scully's vantage point, there seemed to be a hole in the ground  beyond the yellow tape.  No rubble, no wood, no remains, no sign that a house had ever been present but a large, gaping hole in the ground covered in gray ash.  The ash whipped and whirled up into the night air, swirling and condensing on the shoulders of shivering neighbors.  Hands quickly brushed off the ash and it rose again.  Apparently, something had exploded.  Or else, it certainly appeared that way.

“What the heck happened here?” asked Scully, who rifled around in her wrinkled overcoat for her ID badge.  Mark took up pace beside her and Mulder, and all three of them flashed their credentials and ducked beneath a stream of lopsided, yellow police tape.

“Well, that’s the thing,” said Mark. He scratched his wide, balding head and sighed.  “Of course, nobody here knows what the fuck happened.  The neighbors say they saw nothing.  All the lights were out. Nobody going in and out of the house.   And why that should shock me at this point is a mystery.”

“What about Lily?” asked Mulder.

“The fire department’s looking for probable cause,” said Mark.  “But the thing is, there isn’t anything left to examine.  The entire house has been decimated, like it burned so hot for so long that there isn’t anything left.  But that’s impossible, you know, because there’s no way this fire could have been going for that long.  The next door neighbor—Noodlebald—“

“Noodlebaum,” corrected Scully, who gazed distracted at the site.

“Right,” said Mark.  “Well, he says he called the second he smelled smoke. Fire department works fairly quick around here—got to the scene about ten minutes after the call came in.  And apparently there wasn’t an explosion or anything, because nobody heard a damn thing.  But there wasn't anything left either.  Just a hole and a bunch of ash.  Then I was called in right after the fire department was called in, and I found Lily wandering the street in her nightgown.  Not a scratch on her.  And no trace of ash or smoke.  But that’s not even the kicker.”

“The kicker?” asked Mulder.  He had a glint in his eyes.

Scully raised a suspicious eyebrow.  “Is it possible that Lily set the fire and left the premises immediately afterwards?  Or that she hired someone else to do a professional job?” 

“Ah, I don’t think so,” said Mark.  "This is some fire power we're talking about here, but supposedly nobody heard an explosion. So I don't know what the hell did this."

“And there's nothing left,” said Mulder.

Mark nodded and pointed out into the night, out towards the spot they’d been heading for.  "Not a damn thing," he said, and kicked at the dirt.

Scully frowned.  From the car, she had seen what looked to be a large hole, an extremely large, ash-ridden hole.  But the presence of such a depression in the Earth didn’t exactly mean the house had blown itself sky-high.  It might mean that the house had sunk, that it had fallen victim to some sort of bizarre sink hole and had blown a few electrical fuses on the way down.

But the idea that the house was…well…gone.  That kind of nonsense was simply unheard of.  Houses did not disappear after being set aflame.  Physics dictated that fire burned, but that it only did certain amounts of damage at certain high temperatures.  For a fire to do an extreme amount of damage, it would have to burn awfully hot and awfully fast.  And even then there would be debris. Chunks of evidence left behind.  Something.

Mark stopped short at the edge of a giant, gray hole.  "See for yourself, Wildcat," he said.

Mulder and Scully halted on either side of him.  Mulder whistled.  Mark turned to him and nodded, said, “I know.”

The hole in question stretched for about twelve hundred square feet, and resembled a giant crater, as if the hand of God had plucked the house right out of the ground and dropped ash into the remaining canyon.  The house itself was gone.  Even the foundation was gone. Completely.  Nothing was left.  Not even a tiny scrap of wood.

Scully gasped despite herself.  “This—“ she waved a hand at the hole.  “This…How is this possible?  It would have taken an explosion of catastrophic proportions to do this kind of damage.  We’re talking a fire hot enough to break down the compounds of every solid object in that house within minutes.  I mean, the houses next door…”  She crept down to the edge of the hole and kneeled, stretching her hands out over the expanse of nothing.  The air was warm, and the occasional puff of smoke rose from the dead center of the crater.  This fire hadn't been put out that long ago.

“You would think,” said Mulder, as he peered over the side of the crater, "But I don't think this was an ordinary fire."

"Then what was it?" asked Scully, gazing thoughfully out into the abyss. The hole stretched like a ravine, like a desperate, unhappy ravine.  Scully frowned at that last line of thought and shook it off.  She glanced up for a brief moment, a pained expression on her face.  "Please," she said.  "Please tell me you're not going to say what I think you're going to say, Mulder.  This isn't a crop circle."

“How do you know what I was going to say?" asked Mulder.  "I might surprise you."

Scully shifted her weight.  “Really," she said.  “Alright, then.  Surprise me."

Mulder pursed his lips and crouched down into the ash.  He dipped his index finger and thumb into the sooty mess.  “I would,” he said.  “But right now I've got nothing...I need some time to collect, to come up with something you wouldn't expect me to come up with.”

“Why's that?” asked Scully, who pulled a plastic bag out of her overcoat.  She sprinkled some of the ash into the bag with her fingertips and sealed the top shut.  Then she yawned like a woman who had not slept in days.

“Partners,” said a distracted Mulder, and he watched as Mark crept to the far side of the crater.  “Partners are funny things.”

Scully frowned with the ziplock evidence bag in hand.  She pressed her fingers over the sealed top one last time and gazed up at Mulder, whose face flashed in exact two second intervals beneath the blinking police lights.  Flash: Mulder in the office.  Flash: Mulder at a crime scene.  Flashes, always work flashes.  The X Files left no room for fraternization and petty discomfort.  At work, always at work, both of them.  There simply wasn't room for a life.  Not with each other, at any rate.

Scully blinked, but could not look away from Mulder.  The flashes of light on his jaw were hypnotizing, dizzying.

“Sending that down to Washington?” asked Mulder, who pointed to the ziplock bag.  His jaw went red, then blue, then red, then blue again.

“Yeah,” said Scully.  “I want to get the compounds analyzed.  And I think we should set up a perimeter around here.  Obviously, there was a fire of some sort.  But if there was a sink hole as well, some of the other houses may end up like this one.”

Mulder shook his head.  “You know there wasn’t any sink hole,” he said.  He smiled at her as if he felt the conversation had become circular, and Scully let out a short breath.  She felt suddenly and unexplainably queasy.  She felt as if a part of her wanted to faint, to swoon out of nausea so that Mulder would be forced to catch her and bring her back to the car.  And then the other part of her wanted to slap the shit out of the first part for thinking such terrible, unprofessional things.

“No, I don’t know that,” said Scully, and she shoved the evidence bag into her coat.

“Scully—“  Mulder waved his hands as if to go into a long, detailed oration.  Scully raised an eyebrow.

Mulder didn't get very far.

At that moment, a small, speeding, weeping creature bounded past Scully and ran, head-first, into Mulder.  Scully’s legs wobbled, her back arching from air-rush, and she flailed her arms in circles to keep from tumbling into the hole where Lily’s house had once been.  Scully cursed for balance and managed, “Mulder?” with her arms spread to try and regain some sort of footing.

Mulder wasn’t so lucky.  He  yelped, lost his balance, and topped back onto his jean-clad bottom, his long legs going spread eagle out in front of him.  The creature, who Scully soon recognized as a very disheveled Lily Ann Harbor in a nightgown, tripped, shrieked, and fell over Mulder’s knee caps, nearly rolling down hill into the gaping hole.  Mulder, who had fallen sideways and had gotten himself tangled up in hiw own limbs, grabbed Lily’s nightgown sleeve and hauled her back up.

“Lily?” asked Scully.

Mulder cocked his head to the side to examine the girl.  Lily’s long brown hair was matted to her red, wet cheeks, and it was obvious that she’d spent a great deal of time crying.  Her previously clean nightgown was covered in ash from the fall over Mulder's lap, and both she and Mulder spit ash and dirt out from their mouths.  Lily shivered and gasped, hiccupping and alternately sobbing.

“Oh,” she said.  “Oh Agent Fox Mulder, oh I’m so sorry.  I just wanted to get away from all the policemen and I was so cold and scared and my house--“ she gasped and pointed to the hole.  Her teeth chattered.  “My house!  My house is gone.  How will Kelsey know where to find me if my house is gone?” She hiccupped and pushed hair out of her eyes.  Mulder opened his mouth to speak but Lily kept on going.  “Where can I stay?  Oh what am I supposed to do now?  I’ll have to pitch a tent.  A tent in the hole.  I'm going to live in a tent in a hole.  At least Gilligan had an Island.  Oh dear, oh God—“ and she started crying again, her chest heaving, her arms going tight around Mulder.  Lily's back arched with each sob and her face pressed hard into Mulder’s chest.

Mulder looked up at Scully and frowned.  Then he proceeded to disentangle his limbs so that he could remove his coat to bundle Lily up properly.  Scully knew what he was thinking, knew the routine by heart; Lily’s cold and alone, and she needs our help, Scully.  Let me help her.

Scully’s eyes narrowed and she frowned.  Something was definitely not right with Lily--and not a supernatural, X-File "not right," but a very basic, biological, psychological, "not right."  Scully couldn’t explain it, not exactly, but something was very off with the whole situation.  It was as if she was watching a Penn and Teller routine, and her brother William was sitting right next to her and whispering in her ear, “all smoke and mirrors, Dana.  That’s how they do it.  Smoke and mirrors.”

“Ah,” came a familiar male voice.  “There you are, Lily.”

Scully looked up.  Detective Mark Guinness was striding back towards the north edge of the hole, his arms folded across his chest, his teeth chattering, air puffing out from his thinned lips.  Behind Mark lurched a scrawny old man, hunched and frail and white, very white, with large black glasses perched over his button nose.

"Agent Scully," said Mark with a forced smile.  "My apologies.  I had to--"

"You."  The old man pointed a shaky finger at Lily. His eyebrows were thick and black, his skin sagging in ripples off his face, the elasticity succumbing to gravity.  “There you are,” gasped the old man.  “There’s the witch!  She did it!”

“Damn it,” said Mark, who turned from Scully and waddled as he walked backwards on his heels to block the old man.  “How many times do I gotta tell you to calm down?”

“But she’s the witch,” protested the old man.  He sneered over Mark’s shoulder at Lily, who pressed closer to Mulder.  Mark groaned and ran a hand over his shiny bald head.

“Alright, look.  She’s not a witch,” said Mulder, who wrapped his coat tightly around the huddled, sobbing Lily.  "Let's not jump to conclusions."

“Are you Noodlebaum?” asked Scully, whose eyes darted from Mulder and Lily back to the old man, and then to the hole and then to Mark.  She just couldn’t shake this feeling, this bad feeling she had.  Damn, how she needed some sleep.

“Yeah, that’s me,” said the old man.  “Noodlebaum.” He pointed again to Lily.  “And that’s the witch.  Take her to jail. You know they used to hang witches.  That’s what we need around here.  A good hanging.”

“Jesus,” said Mark.

“Nobody is arresting anyone,” said Mulder.  "Or hanging anyone."

“Where am I going to stay?” sobbed Lily.

“Everyone calm down,” ordered Scully, who held up her palms in frustration.  She was slowly running out of patience.  For this whole thing.  “Mark,” she continued.  “Tell the fire department to evacuate this neighborhood for precaution’s sake.  I want a perimeter set up around this entire block until I get that ash analyzed, and until we can get some definite answers concerning the nature of the fire.  And for God sakes—“ She shot a look at Noodlebaum, who glowered at Mulder and Lily.  “Get all these people out of here.  Now.”

Mark held up his hands in a surrender type gesture.  “Hey, we're working on it,” he said.  "But that means you gotta figure out what to do with her."  He pointed to Lily.

“Yeah.  What about me?” gasped Lily, through a fresh torrent of tears.

“You’re a witch!” said Noodlebaum.  “You don’t get a say.”

Scully rolled her tongue in her cheek and folded her arms across her chest.  She felt like killing something.  Anything.

“Come on,” said Mark, and he grabbed Noodlebaum’s tweed jacket sleeve.  “You heard the woman.”

Scully nodded, watching as Mark half-hauled, half danced in backsteps and sidesteps around Noodlebaum to get him back under the police tape.  The sirens had been turned off not too long before Scully had first reached the scene, but the block still flashed brilliantly in red and blue.  Had there been some sort of strobe light, they’d all look like American flags.  Walking American flags.  And although the temperature was below thirty, and God only knew what the wind chill was, it hadn’t stopped the neighborhood folk from standing outside in their underwear, shivering to get a good look at the hole in the ground.   A few people started taking pictures.  One man had a camcorder.  Who said that life in small town suburbia was boring?

“Scully,” said Mulder.  He was holding his coat around a shaking Lily and rubbing her shoulders to get her warm.  “I think it would be a good idea to have her stay in the motel with us.  What do you think?”

  The statement came from so much farther left than regular old left field that Scully had to re-run Mulder's voice in her head a few times just to make sure she’d heard him correctly.

“Excuse me?” said Scully.  She gazed at Lily, who in turn watched Scully from the corner of her eye.  “All smoke and mirrors,” she heard in her head again.  “Smoke and mirrors, Dana.”

“Mulder,” she tried.  “I don’t think that’s a good idea.  Surely there are places—“

“Oh please let me stay with you,” interrupted Lily.  “My sister’s missing and my house is gone and I don’t have anyone, not anyone.  Oh please.”  Lily moved slowly, impishly.  She leaned back far enough to gaze directly into Mulder’s eyes.  She cocked her head to one side and pressed her palm to Mulder’s chest.  The jacket and the cover of her hair obscured a full view of Lily's face from Scully’s line of sight.  “I promise, I promise I won’t be a bother Miss Sully,” she said, looking only at Mulder.

“It’s Scully,” said Scully, with her arms over her chest.

“Oh yes, yes of course it is,” said Lily, who continued to stare into Mulder’s face.  Mulder smiled congenially.  He looked amused and flattered and genuinely incomprehensive about the attention he was receiving.  About why he was receiving it.  Scully gritted her teeth.  She was not as easily fooled.  And she didn't like this at all.  Not at all.

"I won't be a bother, won't be a bother..."

Getting her name wrong was one thing.  Frankly, Scully didn't care if Lily called her Dumbo so long as Lily listened and followed directions well.  So that hadn't bothered her.  No.  But what annoyed her most, what irritated Scully beyond all good common sense and reason, was the bad feeling she had in the pit of her stomach about Lily.  Well, that... that and the slight flicker of attraction she had seen in Mulder’s eyes when Lily asked to stay with them.


Continued in Chapter 7.  Watch for it :-)