Monday, 7 May 2012

Sanctum

October 13th 1984
Oxford, England.  
9:33 p.m.


Lilly Kessler was standing just outside The Wolf’s Head, ringing her hands as she glanced up and down the dark street.  She could hear the chaos of voices and music emanating from within the pub, but now that the moment came – she didn’t know if she had the nerve to go through with it.  Phoebe would be there, and would say scathing, slightly humiliating things to Lilly.  But he would be there too.  Lilly knew that Phoebe talked about her, about how she was an awkward social freak. 
     Lilly didn’t want him to believe those rumours.  She felt like her heart was about to burst but she swallowed her terror, pulled open the door of The Wolf’s Head and stepped into the pub. 
     The stench of cigarette smoke hung in the air.  People were laughing and drinking and talking.  Someone was playing She’s Leaving Home by The Beatles.  Lilly made her way through the people and spotted her so-called friends over in the corner. 
     Fox was laughing and tossing peanuts into an almost-empty pint glass.  But Phoebe was the first to see her.  There was a look of sheer hostility on her face that quickly became a kind of dark amusement.  It was the look of a cat about to toy with a cornered mouse.  Lilly felt her stomach clutch horribly.  She should have just stayed in her dorm-room, or simply ran all the way back to Mum and Dad.  No, she wasn’t a coward.  And she would have risked anything to spend a few more moments with Fox.
     She approached the table.  Fox glanced up and grinned when he saw her.  He leapt up, edged around Phoebe and Marcus and came to meet her, throwing his arms around her.
     “Lilly! I’m so glad you could make it.  Don’t worry, I’m not drunk yet.  You didn’t miss anything!”
     She savoured the brief moment of his body against hers.  The warmth and humour in his voice, the smell of lager on his breath.
     “Phoebe was sure you wouldn’t come,” he said as he pulled away.  “But I knew better.”  He motioned for her to sit down in an empty chair beside his. 
     “So, how is Oxford’s very own Ophelia?” asked Phoebe, her posh, clipped tones dripping with sarcasm.  Lilly ignored the glamorous brunette’s comment.
     Fox shook his head and chuckled.  “Don’t mind Phoebe.  She’s had a stick up her ass since the First Year.”  He glanced at Marcus and winked.
     And Lilly was so grateful that Fox was a kind-hearted boy despite his natural charm and confidence.
     Lilly removed a small gift-wrapped box and presented it to him.  She hoped she didn’t seem too nervous.  “Happy Birthday.”
     Fox grinned.  “Aww, you shouldn’t have.  Well, actually you totally should have.”
     “Greedy birthday boy,” said Marcus.
    Phoebe lit a cigarette, eying Lilly carefully while Fox unwrapped his present.  Inside the box was a ritual-knife; a depiction of a human eye set into the black hilt.
     Fox seemed puzzled but intrigued.
     “It’s an athame,” she said quickly.  “A ritual knife used in Wicca.  It just…seemed appropriate somehow.”
     With the cigarette perched between her lips, Phoebe narrowed her eyes and started clapping.  “A strange but creative gift, I suppose.  Well done, my girl.”
     But the expression on Fox’s face seemed to be one of delight.  “This…is…awesome!”  He thrust the knife aloft in his hand and declared, “I incline to Cain’s heresy!  I let my brother go to the devil in his own way!”
     Marcus chuckled and Phoebe smiled, but Lilly had no idea what Fox was talking about.  She assumed he was quoting something.
     Seeing her uncertainty, Phoebe offered, “He’s quoting Robert Louis Stevenson.  Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.”
     Fox grinned and peered around the table.  “Indeed I am, comely wench.  And I must thank our fair maiden, Lilly, for initiating me into the dark, mysterious heart of witchcraft!”
     Lilly smiled.  Phoebe was genuinely smiling now too and said, “Your English accent is awful…”
     Fox got up from the table and tucked the Athame through his belt like an olden-day warrior.  He narrowed his eyes and pointed theatrically at Marcus.
     “To the bar with you, terrible fiend.  We need another round.”
     “Indeed,” said Marcus with a smirk.
     Fox edged around Lilly and suddenly her heart sank.  The boys were going to leave her alone with Phoebe.  Before she could even think to protest, Fox and Marcus were already on their way to order another round of drinks. 
     “Just us girls,” said Phoebe.  Her eyes were dark; full of angry amusement.  “How’s the blood-flow? Any scars been weeping lately?”
     Lilly felt her stomach clutch and she tugged ashamedly on the cuffs of her blouse.  “I’m fine.”
     “What would the boys think if they knew your little secret?”  Phoebe smiled at her.  “Don’t worry; we’ll keep it between us girls.  For now.”
     With a sudden flash of uncharacteristic recklessness, Lilly said, “Does Fox know how horrible you really are?”
     Phoebe stared at her with a half-smile.  “Absolutely.  But sex has a way of changing men’s minds.”  Phoebe’s half-smile became a grin.  “And as brilliant as he is, he’s not immune.  The power of the vagina, my dear.”
     Lilly felt sick at the thought of beautiful, tender Fox writhing about with this harlot.  It made her feel small and weak and worthless.  Lilly realised she was about to cry.  Phoebe chuckled as tears trembled in Lilly’s eyes.
     Suddenly Phoebe snatched her wrist and Lilly flinched. 
     “Listen, Ophelia…he’s mine.  His heart and his mind and his cock all belong to me.  He doesn’t even see you, except as an amusing curiosity.  A fragile little willow tree that stumbled out of a Bronte novel.  He would find the idea of loving you secretly hysterical.  But he would be too kind to tell you.  I’m not so kind.”
     Lilly was openly crying now.  It felt like Phoebe had sliced open her belly and spilled her guts all across the pub floor.  She bolted to her feet, turned and hurried into the chaos of people and voices and cigarette smoke.
     “Lilly!” she heard Fox call out to her.  But even his voice wasn’t enough to keep her in that awful place.  She couldn’t stop the tears…or the horror in her stomach…or the pain of her heart.  She shoved open the doors of The Wolf’s Head and fled into the night.

Magdalen College was one of the most beautiful sites at Oxford University.  Its buildings were ornate architectural marvels. The grounds were over five hundred years old.  Lilly had come to know every inch of its groves and gardens.  The site was impressive during the day – but at night it was eerily beautiful.  In the long narrow solace of Fellow’s Garden, Lilly tried to let the beauty of the night soothe her.  But her heart felt broken. 
     Mum and Dad had been so pleased when she was offered a place studying Psychology at Oxford, as though that officious endorsement made her respectable and normal somehow.  She supposed they hoped that her studies might illuminate the darker corners of her own mind.  She was so tired of her parents referring to her as ‘different’ and ‘fragile’.  She knew that her father especially was ashamed of her.
     Lilly took a long, deep breath as she wandered beside the River Cherwell, alone in the garden.  She wiped tears from her cheeks and peered up at the stars.  The sky was black.  She inhaled the night, closing her eyes for a moment.  When she opened them again she pulled up the sleeves of her blouse, and gazed in the moonlight at the scars on her wrists.
     Even death didn’t want her.
     She glanced up, and literally gasped when she saw a tall dark shape ahead of her.  At first Lilly thought her eyes were playing tricks, but then she realized that the dark figure was actually standing there, maybe thirty feet away, apparently peering into the river.  The dark figure slowly turned towards her.  Lilly could make out the vague suggestion of a large muscular man in a hood, his body tightly wrapped in ragged bits of dark cloth.
     She couldn’t see his face, but she knew he was looking right at her.  
     A tremor of panic went through her, and her first thought was that this was some mischievous student too eager to wait for Halloween.
     But then the figure began stalking towards her.  In a moment of unbridled horror, Lilly realized that the advancing figure was at least seven feet tall.
     Unable to run, paralysed with dread at the image, all Lilly could do was clutch the silver crucifix that hung at her throat.  The hooded giant in black rags was upon her, peering down at her.  Lilly realized the thing was faceless, a moment before it snatched her throat…and an inferno of blood and fire and ruin erupted inside her mind.  


*


February 29th 2012
Rural West Virginia.  
2: 26 a.m.


He had stepped from the outer semblance and into the shimmering realm of the living; a world of colour, shape, sound and fury.  As he coalesced at the foot of the bed he smiled at the terrible, beautiful nature of things.  His son was also asleep in the bed, but he chose to focus his gaze on the redhead.  He smiled again.  She was still beautiful.  He removed a pack of cigarettes from the jacket of his suit, and lit one.  As he inhaled he saw the redhead’s eyelids flutter for a moment.  Despite her sleep, the redhead could sense he was there.
     Dana Scully was startled from the dream as her eyes flew open and she gripped the bedcovers in her fist. 
     There was a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach.  She blinked repeatedly and looked to the foot of the bed, just to make sure she was actually awake.  There was nobody standing there watching them while they slept.  Scully sighed and pressed a hand to her eyes.
     She hadn’t had one like that in a long time.  She turned in the bed and nudged her lover.  Fox Mulder opened his eyes and peered at her with a bleary smile.  “You ok?” he muttered.
     “I had a bad dream, Mulder.  I dreamt the Smoking Man was standing at the end of our bed.”
      Mulder widened his eyes to chase the sleep away, and took her into his arms.  In Scully’s ear he said quietly, “I used to have nightmares about that son of a bitch.  Like he’d come striding out of the darkness like the devil incarnate.  But he’s dead.  He’s nothing but charred bones.  He can’t hurt us anymore.”
     Scully felt like a frightened schoolgirl seeking comfort from a night terror, but she didn’t care.  The dream had felt so vivid.  She had been in the bed, watching him, but also floating above the bed, a nebulous observer.
     “I could smell his cigarette smoke,” she said quietly.
     Mulder stroked her hair repeatedly, a soothing gesture.  He planted little kisses on her cheek and forehead.  He didn’t tell her it was ‘just a dream’.  He just held her silently.  After a while she said, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get back to sleep now.” 
     Mulder released her from the embrace, yawned and sat up in the bed. 
     “Then I’m staying up with you.”
     Scully fluffed her pillow, sat up beside him and switched on the bedside lamp.  The room was cast in a soft orange glow.
     “It felt different, Mulder.  Like a prophetic dream.  More like a vision than a dream.”
     He nodded and glanced at her.  “I dreamt about my dad a lot after he was killed.  And my mom too.  It took me a long time to really accept it.  Dreams are weird, Scully.”
     She looked at him and tried for a smile.  He still referred to Bill Mulder as his father.  She supposed the reality was too awful to contemplate.  “Dreams are answers to questions we haven’t yet learned to ask?” she said quietly.
     Mulder returned the smile.  “For sure.”
     “I think dreams have saved us more than once,” she said, touching the little gold cross at her throat.
     Mulder glanced up at the ceiling and smiled.  “You know, I’m not sure if I ever told you this, but when I was twenty-three I used to have this reoccurring dream.  I’d be in the library back at Oxford, but the lights were off and it was dark.  No other students.  And I would keep catching glimpses of a woman at the end of the stacks.  A redhead.  She always had her back to me, running her fingers along the books.  I never got to see her face, but I remember she felt important.  It felt like I knew her.”
     Scully grinned beside him in the bed.  “And you think that redhead was a premonition of me?”
     Mulder shrugged with a half-smile on his lips.  “I like to think so.  She was your height, your build, the exact same shade of hair colour.  I like to think it was you.”
     Scully nuzzled close to him, drawing an arm around his waist.  “I bet it was me.  How romantic would that be?”
     “That’s not a very scientific response, Dr Scully,” he said teasingly.
     “I’m still a woman.  I’d never let science get in the way of a good love story.”
     Mulder chuckled and said, “I don’t think that’s just a female thing.”
     Scully closed her eyes, relaxing against him.  “Would you do me a massive favour?”
     “Hit me.”
     “Would you make me some cocoa?  With the little marshmallow stars?”
     Mulder chuckled again.  “How old are you?”
     Scully gently prodded him in the ribs.  “C’mon.  I love those things.”
     Mulder looked at her and smiled.  “Yeah, ok, they are pretty awesome.  I admit it.” 
     He got up from the bed and pulled on his boxers and then his jeans.  Scully admired him for a moment, and shot him a sultry smile when he caught her ogling him.
     “Inspecting your merchandise?” he asked with a grin as he hunted around on the floor for his t-shirt.
     Scully raised her eyebrows.  “Just an objective appreciation of the masculine form.”
     Mulder pulled on his t-shirt and pointed at the closet.  “My old Polaroid is on the shelf in there.  Take a few snaps of yourself, why don’t you?  You can be the centrefold for Neurosurgeon Weekly.  A bedside manner to die for.”
     Scully opened her mouth in an expression of mock-offense.  “You rascal.  The bed’s going to get cold without you.”

In the darkened kitchen, Mulder stood waiting for the kettle to boil.  He peered down at the mug with the legend E=MC2 printed on it; a jokey gift he had given Scully for her birthday a few years back.  He tossed a few pink marshmallow stars into his mouth and smiled.
     Mulder froze when he heard a knocking at the front door. 
     A tremor of worry went through him.  The old farmhouse was in the middle of nowhere.  Even during the day they rarely had visitors…and certainly not in the middle of the night. 
     The knocking came again; forceful, methodical sounds.  For a moment Mulder wondered if he should fetch the Glock 22 from the drawer of his study.  He hadn’t taken the gun out of the desk drawer in over a year, and in the years since leaving the FBI he’d only ever used it to practice his aim.
     Instead of fetching the weapon, Mulder moved cautiously out into the darkened lounge, heading towards the front door.  He stopped and waited but there was only silence now.  He went to the front door and peered through the spy-hole.  There was nobody standing out on the porch.  Frowning, Mulder carefully unlocked the front door and opened it wide.  The chill of the Virginia night air blasted past him.  It was lightly snowing outside.  In the last two months the snow had eased off, but it hadn’t stopped completely.  Mulder could see no signs of anyone nearby, no footprints in the snow leading away from the porch.  But for some reason Mulder glanced down at his feet. 
     Lying there on the doorstep was a strange-looking knife.  Mulder felt a flush of uncertainty as he bent down to retrieve it.  As he held it in his hands he stared at the depiction of the human eye set into the hilt…and he realized that he’d seen this odd knife before.  It was the Wiccan athame that Lilly had given him for his twenty-third birthday.  Mulder gently closed and locked the door, a strange fear beginning to gather in his stomach now.

Mulder had put the ritual-knife into the kitchen drawer along with the other cutlery.  It had been an instinctive decision.  He would tell Scully about it tomorrow.  She’d just had a bad dream, and he didn’t want to trouble her with mysterious artefacts left on their doorstep in the dead of night.  It frightened him though.  He hadn’t seen the athame in over twenty-six years.  He’d never expected to see it again.  The fact that it was now lying in his kitchen drawer seemed utterly impossible.
     When he returned to the bedroom with the hot cocoa, he expected Scully to already be fast asleep.  But she was still sitting up in bed, wearing her glasses as she read a book. 
     As he approached the bedside he said, “Here you go…marshmallows and everything.” 
     She put the book face down on her lap and smiled as she took the mug of cocoa.  She sipped it carefully as Mulder climbed back into bed beside her.
     Mulder glanced at the cover of the book in her lap.  Ubik, by Philip K Dick.  It was Mulder’s tattered paperback copy.  Scully normally didn’t read science-fiction.
     “Enjoying the novel?” he asked.
     Scully smiled as she sipped her cocoa.  “I only read a few pages while you were downstairs, but it actually seems really good.”
     “Dick is the master,” said Mulder.
     Scully chuckled.  “You can make even sci-fi sound filthy, Mulder.”
     “It’s a gift.” 
     As Scully enjoyed the cocoa, Mulder tried to replay the events in his mind.  The knocking at the door had come twice.  And someone or something had left Lilly’s ritual-knife on his doorstep.  He had no idea what that might mean, but Mulder realized with a chill that he probably wouldn’t be getting much sleep tonight either.


*

October 18th 1984
Oxford, England.  
10: 34 a.m.


“…and what are we to make from this quote from Carl Gustav Jung? ‘The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was the soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.’”
     At the lectern the professor glanced up from his notes and addressed the lecture hall.  “Can anyone tell me from which book that quote is taken?”
     Sitting a few rows from the back, Fox glanced at Phoebe beside him.  He knew the answer but she would be the one to take the limelight.  Beside Phoebe, Marcus glanced at Fox with a smirk.
     Phoebe raised her hand along with a few others, but Fox knew the professor had a soft spot for Phoebe’s ‘stunning erudition’.
     The professor spotted her with her hand up and smiled.  “Yes, Miss Green; care to enlighten our fellows?”
     “It’s from The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man.  Although I much prefer this little gem from his Marriage as a Psychological Relationship: ‘Nothing is more repulsive than a furtively prurient spirituality; it is just as unsavoury as gross sensuality.’”
     The professor chuckled, “Indeed.  Well done, Miss Green.”  He addressed the rest of the students and said, “As the young lady implies, we would do well to guard against citing Jung as evidence for the kind of ridiculous mysticism so popular in ‘alternative’ circles…”
     The professor continued his lecture and Phoebe glanced triumphantly at Fox.  Softly she said, “Marriage sounds like a crushing bore, psychologically or otherwise.  Don’t you think, Fox?  I’m sure the sex dries up in the first year.”
     Her words irritated him, even though he knew she was just trying to do that bitchy-funny thing she was so fond of.  He simply shrugged and tried to concentrate on the professor’s words.  But it annoyed him.  Sure, she was brilliant and funny and gorgeous, but Fox couldn’t abide some of the things she said, or some of the ways she treated people.  It made him feel slightly ashamed to be dating her.  But being with Phoebe was like standing in front of a powerful white light; it left you transfixed and bewildered and fascinated. 
     He was sure she’d said something cruel to Lilly the other night at his birthday drink-up.  It pissed him off.  Of all the people Phoebe chose to torment, Lilly was one of the few who didn’t deserve it.  Fox hadn’t got to know her very well over the last twelve months, but despite being very quiet and reserved Lilly was also intelligent and kind.  Fox always enjoyed talking with her about books and movies and music.  He was worried about the fact that she hadn’t been in class for the last five days.
     As though on cue, Fox glanced over and saw Lilly enter the lecture hall.  She was clad in a grey dress and black shawl, and looked as nervous as ever.  Fox tried to catch her eye but she quickly found an empty seat a few rows down and took out her notebook.
     Phoebe glanced at him and then whispered into his ear, “I don’t like the way you look at her.  I don’t like that you feel connected to her.”
     “I barely know her,” muttered Fox.  “None of us do.”
     “And whose fault is that?  We invited her to all the get-togethers.  She only ever comes to half of them.  And she sits there like a ghost unless she’s talking to you.”
     Fox smiled and shook his head, choosing to focus on the professor at the front of the lecture hall.  “Jealous, are we?” he said teasingly.
     Phoebe snorted with derision.  “Please.  That little waif is no threat to me.  Jealousy would be overkill.  Perfunctory.”
     “Whatever,” muttered Fox.  “Just don’t be mean to her, that’s all.  She’s obviously having a tough time.”
     Fox glanced at his English girlfriend and saw a look of something like hate in her eyes.  It troubled him.

Fox managed to ditch Phoebe and Marcus, and catch up with Lilly in the halls of Magdalen College after the lecture had finished.  She seemed to be heading in the direction of the dorms.
     “Lilly!” he called out.  “It’s Fox!  Annoying American guy!”
     Lilly stopped in the middle of the busy corridor and turned to face him.  She didn’t look happy to see him, like she normally did.  As he approached he reached out and touched her arm.  She flinched at his touch and took a step backwards.
     “Are you ok?” he asked.  “You just disappeared the other night.  We were worried.”
     Lilly frowned and peered at the floor.  “You were worried, maybe.  But I don’t think Marcus or Phoebe gave a damn.”
     Fox suddenly felt like he needed to defend his girlfriend to Lilly.  “Listen, Phoebe isn’t half as mean as she pretends to be.  She just has a weird sense of humour.  She forgets that people don’t always find her funny.”
     Lilly kept peering at the floor as other students passed them in the corridor.  Fox could see tears trembling in her eyes.
     “What exactly did she say to you at the pub?”
     Phoebe just shook her head.  “It doesn’t matter anymore.  Everything’s different now.  I was a fool to think you liked me.”
     Confused, Fox gave her a big smile.  “What?  But I do like you!  You’re my buddy.  Lilly…what’s going on?”
     She gazed up into his face as a few tears spilled down her cheeks.  The look on her face was heart-breaking.  Fox could suddenly feel the depth of her sadness, and it shocked him.
     “I won’t bother you or Phoebe or Marcus anymore.”
     She turned and stalked away down the corridor.  Fox wanted to hurry after her, to comfort her in some way.  But he just stood there and watched until she rounded the corner.  There was an awful heaviness in his chest now.


*

February 29th 2012
Rural West Virginia. 
3: 29 a.m.


Scully finished the cocoa, and then she and Mulder had made love.  Now the two of them lay together in the bed, glistening with sweat in the lamplight.
     “Sleepy yet?” Mulder asked with a smile.
     “Nope.  Satisfied though.”
     “Score,” said Mulder.
     Scully smiled and put her hand in his, peering up at the ceiling.  For some reason she was thinking about the first time she had met Mulder, in his little office basement nearly twenty years ago.  She remembered it so clearly.
     “You know…when I first met you I thought you were kind of a jerk.  I’d heard all these amazing stories about how brilliant you were that I built up this idealized picture of you in my mind.  But when we first met…you were just so abrasive.”
     Mulder glanced at her and frowned.  “I hope this story is going somewhere nice.”
     She chuckled.  “It didn’t take very long for me to warm up to you.  Quite a lot, in fact.  When I came into the office that day, and you were sitting there, I thought Wow, this guy is really handsome.  I didn’t expect you to be so easy on the eyes.”
     Mulder squeezed her leg and winked.  “The feeling was mutual.”
     Scully went on, “So when I realized I was quite attracted to you, I thought if you really did turn out to be a jerk it would make it that much harder to hate you.”
     Mulder chuckled.  “Well, I’m glad you didn’t end up hating me.  That would’ve made working on the X Files pretty damn complicated.”
     Scully nodded.  “It’s funny, but as much as I wanted you…I never thought in a million years we would ever end up in bed together.  I needed a friend…and you were always my friend, Mulder.  I treasured that so much.”
     Mulder seemed to be enjoying this conversation considerably.  “But you secretly did want to end up in bed with me, right?”
     Scully grinned.  “Well, duh.”
     Mulder laughed, and then his voice became serious.  “I think I loved you pretty quickly, Dana.  It just took me a little while to admit to myself that I was in love with you.  Why do you think I was so eager to come to work every day?  It wasn’t just for the aliens and monsters and serial killers.  I also got hang out with a killer redhead.”
     Scully glanced at him and gave him a knowing smile.
     Mulder was silent for a little while.  Eventually he sighed and said, “There’s strangeness in the air, Scully.”
     “I know,” she replied quietly.  “But things have been quiet for nearly two months now.  Since the terrorist thing in Washington at Christmas, the X Files has left us alone.  I didn’t think we’d get such a reprieve.”
     Mulder nodded.  “I know what you mean.  After everything we went through, not a mention of it in the news.  It’s like it never happened.”
     “But the Deputy Director seemed to have our backs,” said Scully.  “A totally different guy to Alvin Kersh.”
     Mulder frowned at the mention of the FBI’s previous Deputy Director.  Scully added, “What’s the strangeness you’re picking up on?”
     Mulder shrugged.  He seemed reticent to discuss it.  “I don’t know.  I’ve tried to follow up some of the leads about Imogen Ianelli, this thing called T.E.C., but I’ve got nowhere.  All I could find out is that right now Imogen Ianelli is a three year old child living with her mom in Vancouver.  Not a psychotic, time-travelling Ice Queen.  I couldn’t find anything linking Lisa Ianelli to an NSA black project.  It’s really frustrating.”
     “Well,” said Scully, “That’s not surprising.  They’re the National Security Agency.  Counter-espionage is what they do.  They’re never too forthcoming even with other alphabet agencies.  But it makes a weird kind of sense that NSA would be wrapped up in this whole thing somehow.”
     Mulder sighed again.  “But it’s bigger than that, Scully.  It feels like strange, metaphysical forces are starting to gather.  And we’ve got only ten months until December 22nd.  If that is still the date for colonisation…I’m not sure how we’re supposed to stop it.  I mean…we’re talking about the end of the world.  An actual alien invasion.”  He suddenly laughed at the madness of what he was saying.
     Scully couldn’t help but laugh too.  “It’s crazy.  When you go online and Google all this 2012 stuff; a worldwide disaster, or an evolution in human consciousness…they have no idea.” 
     Scully flinched when a voice in her ear suddenly whispered, “I’m sorry.  I know you love him.
     “Jesus!” she cried in fear, and immediately scrambled out of the bed, clamping her hands over her ears.  Her heart was suddenly pounding.  She spun round and peered at Mulder.  He was looking at her like she’d gone completely insane.  It only took a moment for him to recognise the genuine terror in her eyes. 
     He hurried out of bed and came to her, grabbing her arm.  “What?  What just happened?”
     Scully could only peer bewilderedly at him for a few moments.  Finally she managed to speak.  “Mulder…someone just whispered in my right ear.  A woman’s voice…holy Christ.”
     Mulder frowned.  “What did she say…?”
     Scully swallowed and shook her head.  “She said ‘I’m sorry.  I know you love him.’  It was crystal clear.  Oh my God…what the hell is happening?”
     Mulder peered at her.  Even amidst her fear Scully could see his incredible mind working.  Eventually he said quietly, “I think it might be Lilly.”
     She just stared back at him, nonplussed.  “Who the hell is Lilly?”
     Scully could see fear in Mulder’s eyes now too.  “She was one of my classmates back at Oxford.”
     Scully grimaced, still terrified.  “What are you talking about?”
     Mulder frowned and glanced around the bedroom.  “She left university during our second year.  I never saw her again.  She was…troubled.”  Mulder suddenly fixed Scully with a piercing stare.  “Scully, listen to me.  When I went to make you the cocoa there was this weird knocking at the door.  Something didn’t feel right.  But there was nobody there.  Except…there was an athame lying on the porch – a ritual-knife used in Wicca.  I think it’s the same one Lilly gave me on my twenty-third birthday.  I never thought I’d see it again.”
     Scully shoved his arm, suddenly furious with him.  “And you didn’t think to tell me that!”
     “I just…I didn’t want to trouble you after your dream.”
      Scully grimaced and cut her eyes at Mulder.  “So you just figured you’d lie to me?  Someone leaves a goddamn witchcraft knife on our porch and you keep it a secret?  From me?”
     Mulder eyes seemed full of regret now, but Scully was too angry. 
     “I’m sorry, baby…”
     He reached out to touch her cheek but she backed away.  “Don’t touch me, Mulder.  Jesus Christ…after everything we’ve been through over the years, you still feel the need to protect your fragile little woman from this stuff?”
     “It wasn’t like that,” Mulder said in his defence.  “I was really freaked out.  I just shoved it in the kitchen drawer and tried to forget about it.  Dana, I realise now that my behaviour was completely crazy.  I’m really sorry…”
     Scully closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths.  She didn’t want to be mad at him.  She might have done the same thing in his position.
     When she opened her eyes again she said, “Ok, ok…let me just calm down.” 
     She went and sat on the edge of the bed.  Mulder came and perched beside her, hesitant to put his arm around her.  Scully put a finger in her ear and wiggled it.  “That voice was so clear, Mulder.”  He was silent.  Scully looked at him.  “Was this girl psychic?”
     “Not as far as I was aware,” he said quietly.  “She was…quiet, nervous.  She had a thing for me.  I didn’t realize at first.  I was dating Phoebe at the time.”
     Scully sneered at the mention of Phoebe Green.  She had only met the Scotland Yard Inspector once before, on an early case for the X Files – but once was enough.
     Scully took another deep breath.  “We were just sitting in bed talking about strange forces gathering…and then I hear some phantom voice in my ear?  Screw this.”
     Scully got up from the edge of the bed and marched to the window.  She peered out at the softly falling snow, the black sky.  She couldn’t see anyone out there.  She’d half expected to see a woman peering up at the window.  But there was nothing.
     Scully turned from the window and glanced over at Mulder.  “Show me this knife you found.”


*


October 18th 1984
Oxford, England.  
2: 24 p.m.


Lilly was sitting cross-legged on the bed in her small dorm-room.  On the wall above the bed was the large crucifix that her grandmother had given her when she was little.  Lilly peered at the photo in her hands.  Fox was walking up the steps of Magdalen College, grinning into the camera.  Lilly had taken it in their second week at Oxford.  He had befriended her easily, and didn’t seem to mind that she was so quiet and nervous.  Lilly felt herself relax around him immediately.  During their first months studying together she quickly realized that Fox was stunningly intelligent, but also compassionate, funny and disarming.
     He talked with her about the poetry of Emily Dickinson, apparently as much of a fan as Lilly was.  They discussed Freud and Jung, The Rolling Stones, old horror movies – and he never made her feel self-conscious about the gaps in her knowledge.  During those times even Phoebe was nice to her, before she began to suspect the depth of Lilly’s affections for Fox.
     She gazed at the photo, tears in her eyes.  She hadn’t really expected that falling in love would be such torture.  She had read about such things in novels and poetry, but all that fictional love seemed so exotic and glamorous.  The constant ache in her heart and dread in her stomach felt anything but sexy.
     The tears rolled down her face.  She was twenty-two years old, and she had never even kissed a boy.  She could scarcely imagine what it might really feel like to have one thrusting inside her.  But she had tortured herself over the last twelve months with fantasies of she and Fox in bed together.  And the brutal reality was that Phoebe had quickly stolen his attention.  Phoebe was the one who got to feel the warmth of his touch, his kisses, and the sexual heat that Lilly had never known.
     She was being punished.  She was sure of it. 
     That was why the demon came for her the other night in Fellows Garden.  The hooded giant in black rags had appeared at her most vulnerable moment.  She remembered the feel of its hand around her throat.  She remembered the vision it had shown her.
     A vision of Hell.
     The sky was ablaze, blood-red, and the Earth was in utter ruins.  Cities crumbled and burned.  People screamed and begged and fled through the decimated streets, praying for a mercy that would never come.  Dark chariots of Lucifer glided through the scarlet skies.  The demon had shown Lilly the Apocalypse.  Human sin was now too great, and the Lord had finally brought down his Wrath.
     Lilly knew why she was being punished.  Because as a child she had strayed from the righteous path, just like her father said.  She developed an interest in paganism and the occult…had stepped too close to the devil’s kingdom.  But she was only trying to understand this strange darkness in herself.  Finally, she tried to kill herself when she was sixteen.  The depression and loneliness had become too hideous to bare, and she wanted to end it.  But she had survived, so that she could remember her unforgivable sin…and be punished for it.
     As Lilly wept, the photo in her hands seemed to darken.  Fox’s warm smile became a scowl.  She saw his expression in the photo change drastically – and suddenly his eyes flared like the tip of a lit cigarette.  Holes began to burn through his eyes, through the photo.  Lilly’s blood went cold and she cried out, instinctively dropping the photo onto the bedcovers.  For a moment she thought the whole photograph was going to burst into flames, but only the eyes burned away, smouldered and stopped.
     Lilly’s heart was hammering inside her chest.  She could smell the acrid scent of the burnt photograph.
     The demon was with her.  That night in the garden it had left a piece of itself inside her mind.
     Lilly wanted to cry out, to beg forgiveness for her transgressions…but she knew the Lord had already turned his back on her.
     There was a sudden forceful knocking at the door.  In a confusion of pulse and panic, Lilly leapt up from the bed, ran to the door and threw it open.  She expected the demon to be standing there.
     But it was Phoebe in the doorway, scowling at her.  The tall brunette snatched her arm and pulled her close, their faces only inches apart.
     “I want you to stay away from Fox,” she hissed.  “From all of us.  Do you understand, you pathetic little waif?”
     Lilly could only stare, terrified, into Phoebe’s eyes.
     “Because if you don’t…I will make life very, very unpleasant for you.”    
     Phoebe seemed to notice the chemical scent in the air.  She glanced over Lilly’s shoulder, into the room.  She released her, barged past and stalked over to the bed.  She snatched up the burnt photo of Fox, staring down at the scorched holes where his eyes had been.
     When Phoebe finally looked up at Lilly, her expression was exceptionally dark.
     “You sick, twisted little freak…”
     “It wasn’t me,” Lilly faltered, but her heart was still pounding. 
     Phoebe moved towards her and slapped her hard across the face.  Lilly squeezed her eyes shut at the stinging force of the strike.
     “Stay away,” she heard Phoebe growl.  And then the door was slammed shut, and Lilly was alone in her little dorm-room.  And then she was sobbing, doubling over, falling to her knees, her face pressed to the floor in penitence as she cried and cried and cried.


*


February 29th 2012
Rural West Virginia.  
4: 16 a.m.


As they lay on the bed, bathed in lamplight, Scully peered at the strange-looking knife in her hands.  She inspected the blade, the black hilt and the glass eye that furnished it.  She looked over at Mulder.
     “It’s creepy,” she said quietly.
     Mulder was glad that Scully’s anger towards him seemed to have finally cooled off.  He nodded and said, “Yeah, Lilly was kind of like that.  A really nice person, but deeply troubled.  I got the feeling that she suffered from clinical depression.  I felt sorry for her, really.”
     Scully peered at him. “Was she into Wicca, the occult; that kind of thing?”
     Mulder sighed.  “I guess a little…we talked about it sometimes.”  A sad smile touched his lips.  “I do remember that she once called me a skeptic.  But as far as I was aware, she was a Catholic.”  He gestured at the cross around Scully’s neck.  “She wore a crucifix. A little silver one.  I got the feeling that it meant a lot to her.  She would always touch it when she was nervous.”
     Scully frowned and averted her eyes.  “Mulder…did you sleep with this girl?”
     “No.  I told you I was dating Phoebe.  But…Lilly eventually left Oxford.  She seemed desperate and crazy, like she was having a nervous breakdown.  I was really worried about her.  I felt like I should’ve got to know her better, been a better friend to her.”
     Scully tossed the Wiccan athame onto the bedcovers between them.  She pressed a hand to her eyes and sighed.
     “Mulder, I have no idea what’s happening here.  But there’s no way I’ll be able to sleep now.  I’m thinking that my dream of the Smoking Man is somehow connected to this girl…and this knife.  If this Lilly is in Virginia, somehow obsessed with you…”
     Mulder didn’t know what to say to her.  He glanced down at the ritual-knife.  He didn’t know how the athame was here in their bedroom, when it should have still been lying at the bottom of the River Cherwell back in Oxford.
     Suddenly, Scully declared in a loud voice, “If you can somehow hear me, Lilly, I’m asking you to stay the hell away from us!”
     The bedside lamp flickered, dimmed, flickered again and went out.  The bedroom was plunged into darkness.  Mulder heard Scully gasp beside him.
     “Oh…my…God,” she whispered.  The panic in her voice was palpable.
     Mulder found her hand in the darkness and gripped it.  For a few moments the two of them waited for something awful to happen.  But the darkness was calm and still. 
     “Just wait here,” Mulder told her.  He climbed from the bed and went over to the main light-switch on the wall.  He clicked it, and clicked it again.  The bedroom remained shrouded in darkness.  There was just enough moonlight coming in through the windows to faintly illuminate Scully on the bed.
     “Power cut,” he said, trying to hide the worry in his tone.  After a moment he added, “Give me one second.” 
     “Be quick.”    
     He left the bedroom, hurried into the bathroom and snatched up the big candle resting on its metal holder.  He rushed back into the bedroom with it.
     “Still here,” said Scully, fishing around in the bedside drawer for a box of matches.  When the candle was finally lit, she peered at Mulder with a grim expression.  “I think we should have your gun nearby.”
     He nodded at her in the candlelight.  “I’m not staying in this bedroom alone,” Scully said quietly.  She threw back the covers and climbed naked from the bed.  She didn’t even bother to put on her underwear.  She just pulled on her slacks and put on her bra, turned to Mulder and said warily, “Let’s go.”
     Mulder held the candle ahead of them and they cautiously made their way down the staircase.  Scully hated this feeling; like their home was now sullied, corrupted, haunted.  
     They moved quickly into the study and Scully waited anxiously while Mulder unlocked his desk drawer and retrieved the Glock 22.  “I don’t–”
     There was another methodical, forceful knocking at the door.  Scully froze, peering into Mulder’s eyes.
     Mulder moved past her and she followed, though the lounge and towards the front door.  Mulder raised the gun in his hand and cautiously unlocked the door and threw it wide open.  The sudden rush of frigid night air.  Nobody was there.  The porch was empty. 
     Mulder glanced at Scully, and she saw the fear in his eyes.  Slowly he lowered the Glock, and said quietly, “Is that you, Lilly?”
     Only the wind answered them.
          
 
*


October 18th 1984
Oxford, England. 
4: 34 p.m.


Lilly was sitting in the pews of the vast Chapel at Magdalen College.  She gazed around at the other few parishioners, and peered up at the vaulted ceilings, the intricate stonework…the stunning stained-glass windows.  The Chapel always soothed her, but not enough today, and Father Brennan could sense her fear. 
     As he sat beside her he frowned and said, “You sounded distraught on the phone, Lilly.  I was worried, that’s why I took the time to see you personally.  But you must talk to me now.”
     She swallowed and nodded.  “My heart…my heart feels broken.  I’m in love with someone…but he has no idea.  He sees me as nothing more than a friend.”
     The priest nodded.  “Unrequited love; the most painful kind.”
     Lilly did her best to hold her emotions at bay, but just talking threatened to unleash them.  She took a long, tremulous breath.
     “It’s more than that, Father.  I’m…I’m a sinner.”
     Father Brennan smiled sadly.  “We’re all sinners, my dear.  It doesn’t mean God loves us any less.”
     “No,” Lilly said quietly, “You don’t understand.  I’m a suicide.  I killed myself when I was sixteen.  My heart stopped.  Apparently I was brain-dead for almost three minutes.  The doctors couldn’t explain it.  I had to have several blood transfusions.”
     Lilly rolled up the sleeves of her blouse and showed the priest the scars on her wrists.
     The sadness and compassion in his eyes seemed genuine.  “You poor, sweet girl…”
     “I’m a sinner, the worst kind.  I took the gift that God gave me and threw it back in his face…but, I was just so tired of being lonely and sad and afraid of everything.”
     “God still loves you, Lilly,” the priest said quietly.  “He loves all his children.”
     Lilly grit her teeth, narrowed her eyes and peered at Father Brennan.  “A demon came for me the other night.”
     The priest looked worried now, unsure of how to respond.
     Lilly went on, “It touched me with its sickness…left in inside my mind.  And now…I’m damned.”
     Father Brennan frowned again, trying to figure out what to say to her.  “Lilly, if you truly believe you were visited by a demon…then you need to pray to God for his protection.  If you pray, and your heart is pure, the demon won’t be able to harm you.”
     Lilly chuckled darkly and closed her eyes.  “I wish that were true, Father.”
     She opened her eyes, got up from the pew and said, “Thank you.”  The priest called out to her but Lilly was already walking away.

The afternoon sky was grey.  As Lilly wandered the grounds of Magdalen College, intending to return to the relative safety of her dorm-room, she gazed at the other students dotted around.  Most of them were smiling, laughing; some of them moved in groups, or sat on the steps, eating sandwiches and drinking tea.  But she felt a million miles away from them.  They were sharing friendships and intimacies that she would never know.
     “Excuse me, miss…can I talk with you for a moment?”
     Lilly turned at the American voice from behind her.  A tall older man in a grey suit was standing a few feet away, smiling at her.  She didn’t recognise him.  Despite the smile on his face, something about him gave her a chill.  His eyes seemed hard, cruel.
     “What do you want?” she asked bluntly, backing away a few steps.
     “I’m visiting my son here for a few days, but I thought it might be expedient to talk with you.”  He reached into a pocket, removed a pack of cigarettes and lit one.  The action was smooth and fluid, like he’d done it a thousand times before.
     He took a deep lungful of smoke, peering strangely at her, and said, “I know about the demon that came for you.”
     Lilly’s eyes went wide and her mind started racing.  How could he possibly know?  She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came.
     “We can help you, Lilly,” he told her, taking another drag on the cigarette.  “I represent a group that have a lot of experience in dealing with secrets and spiritual matters.  We have a lot of power, and we can help you with your problem.”
     Lilly peered disbelievingly at him.  “My problem?  My God has abandoned me.”
     “Yes,” said the man in the grey suit, with a little smile on his lips.  “He has.  But we won’t.  Think about it, Lilly Kessler.  A demon is a frightening thing to face alone.”
     And with that he turned and walked away.  Lilly just stood there, watching him go.  There was dread in the pit of her stomach, and she didn’t know what to do or what to think.

Back at the dorm-room, Lilly locked the door and hurried into the bathroom.  She ran the tap in the sink and splashed cold water onto her face.  It felt like her mind was coming apart, like she was plunging deeper and deeper into the Abyss – with no way to halt her fall. 
     The cold water on her face was momentarily soothing. When she finally looked up and gazed into the mirror, the hooded giant in black rags was standing behind her.  In the next instant the mirror cracked.  Lilly screamed in terror and spun round.
     She was alone in the bathroom.  She thrust back round to face the mirror, seeing only her own distorted reflection bisected by the long crack in the mirror.  Lilly’s heart was racing, and suddenly she felt a strange heat on her wrists.  Terrified, she glanced down at them and saw that her scars were gently weeping…spilling little droplets of blood onto the bathroom floor.


*


February 29th 2012
Rural West Virginia. 
4: 52 a.m.


Scully was sitting alone in the bathroom, dressed now in one of Mulder’s t-shirts. She was perched on the edge of the bathtub, her face in her hands.  She didn’t really want to be alone right now, but she needed a few moments to gather her thoughts and try to control her fear.  Her mind was swirling with possibilities.  It felt like something was invading their home, a malevolence that had been growing as the night progressed.  She couldn’t handle the thought of Mulder looking into her eyes and seeing how afraid she was.  The knocking at the door, the strange knife Mulder had found, the sudden power-cut when she had spoken Lilly’s name aloud…it was too much.  Her first instinct had been to get out of the house; just jump into the car with Mulder and drive.
     Scully clenched her hands into fists as she sat perched on the edge of the tub.  She wouldn’t be terrorised and forced from her own home.  She didn’t care what strange forces were at work.
     “Are you ok?” she heard Mulder ask from the other side of the door.
     “I’m fine…I’ll…be out in a few minutes.”
     She didn’t sound fine, and Mulder could obviously hear it.
     “We can just get out of here, Scully,” she heard him say cautiously.  “Just get in the car and go.”
     “I’m ok, Mulder.  Just give me a few minutes.”  Scully closed her eyes, took a deep breath and muttered, “Wherever you are…whatever you are, I won’t let you frighten us.  Do you hear me?”

As Mulder stood in the hallway just outside the bathroom, his mind was furiously trying to make sense of what was happening.  He gazed down at the Wiccan athame in his fist.  How had Lilly retrieved this, if indeed it was Lilly playing these weird games with them?  It made no sense.  He had tossed this thing into the River Cherwell over twenty-seven years ago.
     If it was Lilly, using some kind of psychic ability, why was she tormenting them like this?  Mulder remembered her kindness, her gentleness.  This didn’t seem like her.  And how had she found him all these years later?
     Mulder grimaced and tucked the ritual-knife through the leather belt of his jeans.  From downstairs he heard a faint but audible sound.  He recognised it immediately.  It was the sound of his laptop powering up. 
     He frowned as he realized he shouldn’t be able to hear it all the way up here.  With a worried glance at the bathroom door, he turned and hurried down the steps.  He moved through the lounge towards the open study door. 
     Inside, he could see the screen of his open laptop glowing in the darkness.  He moved cautiously into the study, approached the laptop and peered at the screen.  A Word document was open, with a single line of text on the page.
     He is trying to draw the demon towards you.
     Mulder tried to swallow his fear at the words on the screen.  He leaned forward and typed: Who?
     A line of text suddenly raced across the page.
     The man with the cigarettes.
     Mulder’s blood went cold.

In the bathroom, Scully was jolted by the sound of a sharp crack.  Her gaze snapped up to the mirror.  A large crack was running the length of it.  As panic claimed her again she bolted from the edge of the tub, rushed to the door and lunged into the hallway.
     “Mulder!” she cried, and began racing down the staircase.  Mulder swept round the corner and she almost collided with him as she reached the bottom.  She grabbed his arm.  “The bathroom mirror just cracked on its own!”
     He hugged her suddenly and said into her ear, “Something was just writing on my laptop.  I think its Lilly.  It said that the man with the cigarettes is trying to draw a demon towards us.”
     Scully pulled away and peered wildly into Mulder’s eyes.  “The Smoking Man.  My dream, Mulder.  He was standing at the foot of our bed.  I told you.”
     Mulder nodded and Scully could feel that his anxiety was now matching her own.  “Scully, maybe we should get out of here…”
     At that moment Scully caught a strong scent of cigarette smoke.  She gazed at Mulder again, wide-eyed.  “Can you smell that?”
     Mulder nodded fearfully.  “Cigarettes.”
     Scully peered into the lounge.  “Mulder, he’s here…he’s in the house…”
     The lounge was dark and empty.  “He’s dead,” Mulder said unconvincingly.
     “I don’t think he cares about that,” Scully murmured.
     And in the next moment it felt like a bolt of lightning had sliced through Scully’s mind.  She let out a guttural scream of agony, as her consciousness exploded into a billion glittering fragments…

…Scully’s eyes snapped open amidst a swirling, howling wind.  She could feel the heat and grit on her face.  The sky above her was blood-red.  Dark shapes glided silently through the skies; huge black saucers and triangles, dominating the heavens.  Scully’s mind went blank with utter terror.  She was standing before the Reflecting Pool in Washington D.C., and beyond it the shattered Washington Monument.  The edifice was sheared away halfway up, and huge broken pieces of white stone lay scattered at the base. 
     The wind howled and shrieked and moaned.  Fires were burning everywhere.  A cruising ship curved in its path in the sky above her.  A dark shape was ejected from it.  The falling shape plummeted through the sky, and slammed into the ground only thirty feet away, with a colossal boom that shattered the paving stones beneath her feet.  Scully felt the impact in her teeth and bones. 
     In the small crater a dark figure climbed to its feet – a hulking, muscular figure in a hood and tightly-wrapped black rags.  The unfathomable sight made Scully take a few steps back.  She wanted to scream, to run, to escape this hell she had suddenly slipped into, but all she could do was stand there transfixed, peering at the dark hooded figure and the blood-red skies beyond it.
     It began stalking towards her, faceless and at least seven feet tall.      
     Her stomach clutched so powerfully that she nearly collapsed, but in the next instant a surge of strength went through her.  She felt herself straighten immediately.  She glanced to her left as the hooded giant approached. 
     Standing a few feet away in the howling wind was Albert Hosteen.  Back-lit by the red sky, the tall Navajo elder was dressed in full ceremonial garb.  His urgent eyes found Scully.
     He wants your fear, Dana.  Do not give it to him.  His lips didn’t move but Scully knew exactly what he’d said.
     The elderly Native-American stepped in front of Scully and threw up his left hand.
     You shall not pass, Skinwalker.
     The hooded giant in black rags stopped immediately; apparently afraid of the Navajo elder.  It began heaving its broad shoulders in an impotent fury, growling so deep that Scully could feel it in the pit of her stomach.
     She…is…mine, storyteller…   
     Albert Hosteen thrust the palm of his hand forward a second time.  No.  She belongs to another.
     The hooded giant growled again.  Tell the Red Queen…that the temples fell…and I butchered her son…
     Scully’s eyes widened as she realized what the entity was saying.  She lunged forward with a scream, but Albert Hosteen reached out and snatched her arm.
     BACK…

Scully’s eyes snapped open as she jolted and flailed and struggled to escape from Mulder’s arms.  Mulder held on to her until she realized it was him. She saw his concerned eyes peering down at her, saw his love for her.  When she finally stopped struggling, she realized that Mulder was cradling her on the floor of their darkened lounge.
     “What…what happened?” she faltered, and could already feel the tears coming.
     “You went into some kind of seizure,” he said quickly.  “Jesus Christ, baby…you were shaking like crazy in my arms for nearly thirty seconds.”
     “I…I saw it, Mulder.  I saw it.”  She began to cry at the confession and Mulder tightened his embrace.
     “What…what did you see?”
     “The invasion.  The Apocalypse…Oh…my…God…”  The tears finally found their way out, and then Scully was sobbing in Mulder’s arms with her face pressed against his chest.


*


October 18th 1984
Appleton, Oxfordshire. 
11: 21 p.m.


Lilly had finally succumbed to the terror and loneliness, and had got on a coach and then a bus; returning to the small village where she had grown up.  Her father hadn’t been home, but Mum had seen the terror in her eyes.  Mum had comforted her, asking her what was wrong, but Lilly could hear in her voice that she just assumed it was the same thing that was always wrong.  There was resignation and disappointment in Mum’s tone, though she did her best to console her daughter.  Lilly didn’t tell her about the demon, just simply cried in her arms for nearly half an hour.
     Now, Lilly was sitting on her old bed in her old room, peering at the pink and purple walls.  The familiarity should have soothed her, but it didn’t.  Something had always been wrong with her, and this room contained too many of those memories.  But it was better than staying at the university, waiting helplessly for something awful to happen.
     Fox didn’t love her.  How could he?  She always tried to treat people with kindness, but they usually ended up finding her too unsettling and would distance themselves from her.  She’d found it hard to make friends even as a little girl.  Lilly took a long slow breath there in her old bedroom, and wondered if she had been a horrible person in another life.  Was that why she was being punished so brutally in this one?
     From downstairs she heard the sound of someone moving things around.  She listened with apprehension but quickly recognised the sounds as that of her father.  But he seemed angry, stomping around and cursing to himself.  Perhaps Mum had told him that she was here.  Dad had never been able to completely hide his shame regarding Lilly.
     She forced herself to leave the bed and wander into the hallway.  She listened.  Dad definitely sounded angry.  It was unlike him.  Maybe he was finally sick of his pathetic daughter. 
     Carefully, Lilly made her way down the stairs and into the dining room…only to freeze in the doorway at what she saw.
     Dad was sitting at the dining table, loading shells into Granddad’s old shotgun.
     With a tremor in her voice Lilly asked, “Dad…what’re you doing?”
     He didn’t even bother to look at her as he snapped shut the breach with a clacking sound that made Lilly flinch.
     “You’re such a disappointment, Lilly.  You were such a smart little girl.  You had so much promise.  But now…you disgust me.”
     Lilly felt her stomach clutch at the realisation that something truly horrific was about to happen.  “Dad…”
     But Lilly’s father shoved the barrel of the shotgun up under his chin and pulled the trigger.  The top of his head exploded in a cloud of red and black.
     Lilly screamed as though hell itself had found her.  She turned and raced to the front door, flung it open and sprinted as fast as she could down the driveway, down the street – her bare feet slapping the wet pavement as she ran.  Her heart hammered. 
     Her mind was a white-hot flare of terrible incandescence – no thought, just every nerve in her body shrieking in the language of the Abyss.
     It was only when her adrenalized muscles began to ache that she even realized what she was doing.  She was racing through the dark, night-time streets of Appleton.  For a moment she couldn’t comprehend why she was running.  But then the memory resurfaced with appalling clarity.  Her father had just committed suicide right in front of her.  The demon was showing her that the End had finally come.  She had cheated death and Hell when she was sixteen.  But her time was up, and Hell had sent a reaper to collect her.
     “Lilly!”
     At first she thought it was the demon calling to her, but then she realized despite her dread that the voice was human. 
     She didn’t stop running, only glanced to her left.  A dark car was keeping pace with her, a man’s face at the open window.  It was the man who had spoken to her in the grounds of Magdalen College; the older American man with the cigarettes.  He had known about the demon.  He had offered to help her.  The dark car pulled up about thirty feet ahead of her.  The passenger door opened.  The American man beckoned her.  It was the only possible hope that was left. 
     Lilly didn’t need any time to think about it.  She raced over to the car and climbed into back seat with the older man, slamming the door behind her.


*

February 29th 2012
Rural West Virginia. 
5:13 a.m.


Mulder was still sitting on the floor of their lounge, cradling Scully in his arms as he attempted to comfort and console her.  Whatever forces were at play here, he had no doubt that his beloved had seen something incredible.  He knew that Scully was sensitive to psychic vibrations and subtle energies.  Back when Scully used to think of herself as a skeptic, Mulder had known it before she did.  She was open, more than she ever gave herself credit for.  Their time on the X Files together was proof enough of that.
     Mulder was really scared now.  If they stayed in the house any longer, he wasn’t sure if he could protect her.
     Softly, in her ear he said, “Baby, let’s just go…”
     “No, Mulder.  I’m not giving them even a single piece of me.  This is our home.”
     “Ok.  But I don’t know what’s happening, Dana.  I don’t know how to stop it.”
     “Help me up,” she said.
     Mulder climbed to his feet and helped her up as he did so.  They both stood in the darkness of their lounge, peering at each other.
     Mulder had seen that look in Scully’s eyes before; an expression full of steel and resolve.  She was done crying.  She looked like she was willing to tear down the sky singlehandedly, and for a moment Mulder had the strange sense of seeing some of his own obsessive intensity reflected back at him.  He could almost see his own single-mindedness in her eyes. 
     This vision she had witnessed…it must have shaken her to the very core.
     Scully took a few steps back and glanced around the darkened lounge.  “I know you’re afraid of me,” she said quietly, apparently addressing the invisible forces that seemed to be tormenting them.
     “I know you’re afraid of me, skinwalker,” she added.  Mulder watched as she spoke.  He could feel a tightness gathering in the air around them.
     “I know you think you can invade my home, invade my mind, and that I’ll just fold over as you terrorise us.  But you don’t know me.  And you don’t know Fox.  You don’t know the things we’ve experienced…the things we’ve seen.  You showed me the End of Days.  And you called me Red Queen.  Well, the queen is telling you now that you can’t have my mind, or my fear.  So stop screwing around and come for us…because one of us is going to kill you.  You’re not gonna leave this house alive.”
     A small, prideful smile touched Mulder’s lips, roused by Scully’s words – when suddenly the front door blasted open and a howling, freezing wind roiled into the house. 
     Scully moved quickly to the front door and peered into the Virginian night.  Mulder followed her.  They both squinted against the frigid wind, realizing what was out there.
Out in the falling snow, maybe fifty feet away from the house, a hulking, dark hooded figure was standing motionless.  The figure was faceless, but it seemed to be peering right at them.
     “Jesus Christ,” Mulder muttered incredulously.
     And then the dark figure broke into a run towards them, moving impossibly fast, straight towards the front door. 
     “Close it!” Mulder cried.
     Scully grabbed the door and slammed it shut.  In the next instant there was a huge bang and the door shook in its frame as the thing slammed into it.  A terrifying roar came from just outside, sounding inconceivably loud…like the roar of a monster-lion.  Scully and Mulder immediately took several steps back from the door, peering fearfully at each other.  The massive bang came again as the door shook in its frame.
     Scully pulled away from Mulder’s wide-eyed gaze, looked at the door again and cried, “You will not pass!”
     The door blasted inwards a second time with such force that it almost came off its hinges.  The hooded giant in black was standing in the doorway, fists clenched.  It had to duck slightly to step into the lounge with them.  Mulder and Scully could only peer helplessly at the terrifying, unfathomable sight.


*

October 19th 1984
Graywell Royal Army Base 
Oxfordshire.  
12: 54 a.m.


Horror clutched at her heart, and Lilly knew she was doomed.  The American man had betrayed her, and now she sat strapped into a strange chair in the centre of a dark room.  They had driven her to this place, in silence.  And when she’d protested the American man had slapped her hard, lit a cigarette and muttered, “You’re a fool, Miss Kessler.  And there is never any hope for fools.”  Menacing soldiers with guns had been waiting for her when she was finally allowed out of the car.
     Now, sobbing and immobilized by the straps of the chair, she could only turn her head slightly and peer at the window that ran the length of the left wall.  Beyond the glass, the older American was standing with two doctors in white coats.  The three of them stared emotionlessly at her from behind the partition as he lit another cigarette.
     “You son of a bitch!” Lilly screamed amidst her tears.  “I trusted you!  I thought you wanted to help me!  I hope you burn!  I hope you burn!  I hope you BURN!
     The American with the cigarette pressed a button somewhere on a panel in front of him, and suddenly Lilly could hear his voice coming from speakers she couldn’t see.
     “You’re part of something very special, Lilly,” he said calmly.  “An experiment.  I chose you for many reasons.  You’re not just a girl anymore.  You’re a weapon now.  A weapon that might help us win a war.  You’re doing God’s work, Lilly.”
     Lilly screamed, “I hope you burn!  Do you hear me!  I hope those cigarettes kill you and you burn for what you’re doing!  I pray that you burn in HELL!
     And suddenly there was a strange flickering in the room with her, a few feet in front of the chair.  Terrified and furious, Lilly managed to turn her head to see it.  The air seemed to shimmer, distort and warp like water – and then the hooded giant in black rags was standing in the room with her.
     The sight instantly cooled Lilly’s anger, and then all she could feel was the fear.  The demon took a step towards her, peering down faceless at her.  Suddenly the giant’s form seemed to collapse into a mass of black oily fluid that quickly spread out across the floor.  Lilly could only gasp fearfully.  She struggled against the straps of the chair, but it was useless. 
     On the floor, the black fluid that had been the demon only a moment ago now began rippling and moving with intention. Like it was alive.  Like it was thinking.  It shifted this way and that, searching for her.  Gathering itself into a long sinuous form, like a python made of crude oil, it began slithering towards the chair.
     “No!” Lilly screamed, as though the ferocity of her cry might stop it in its tracks.  
     But it only coiled around the base of the chair, rising inexorably around Lilly’s torso, winding its way towards her face.  Hyperventilating, Lilly squeezed her eyes shut and tried to picture kind-hearted Fox in her mind.  But her eyes flew open again as though forced, as though the huge oily serpent wanted her to see the final moments.  She spat at it, and for a moment it reared up like a cobra – before plunging into Lilly’s mouth and down her throat.  The agony was incandescent as horror filled every part of her, and her final desperate thought was, Protect me, Holy Father


*

February 29th 2012
Rural West Virginia. 
5: 17 a.m.


The frigid wind howled through the lounge of the old farmhouse as the hooded giant in black stood just inside the open doorway.  Scully couldn’t fully comprehend what she was seeing, and peered dumbstruck at the sight. But in the next moment Mulder suddenly seemed to refocus and snap back to reality. 
     Scully watched him snatch the Glock 22 from the waistband of his jeans, raise the weapon and fire six shots into the hulking figure.  It only jerked slightly with each impact, and then stalked across the lounge with frightening speed.  Scully only had time to gasp as the thing reached them, swatting Mulder aside like a child’s plaything.  Mulder was hurled into the wall and collapsed onto the floor, a loosened painting crashing down on top of him a moment later.  Scully didn’t even have time to cry his name.
     The hooded giant snatched her throat with a massive, powerful hand.  Scully could feel the life being choked out of her.  She spluttered and gasped, somehow realizing that the entity could crush her entire windpipe at any moment.
     It peered at her.
     Your immortality makes you arrogant, my queen.  But you can live inside me forever, as the others do, and you will know humility…
     As Scully felt her throat and chest begin to burn, as her vision began to dim, she forced three words into her mind.  Kiss…my…ass
     Scully heard it growl so deeply that her teeth seemed to vibrate.  Your son is dead, my queen.  I tore his heart from his chest…and I ate it.  I can still taste his blood on my–
     Mulder lunged up behind the hooded giant and plunged the Wiccan athame into the back of its neck.  It roared in agony, immediately releasing Scully who went crashing to the floor.  Scully took a huge lungful of air.  It felt like her throat was on fire, but she glanced up in time to see the hooded giant snap round – looming over Mulder.
     But Mulder slammed the ritual-knife into the thing’s chest, all the way to the hilt. 
     It stumbled backwards, and for a moment it swayed slightly, peering down him.  Despite her pain, Scully could see the fear in Mulder’s eyes.  But suddenly the hooded figure toppled and crashed to the floor beside Scully, immediately bursting into a mass of black oil that spilled across the lounge, some of it spraying Scully before she had a chance to turn her head.
     No, was all she could think.
     Scully pressed her eyes shut and clamped her mouth closed, expecting the black oil to begin invading her at any moment.  Her heart was pounding in her chest. 
     She waited in pain and terror for the inevitable.  But nothing happened.  
     Then she heard Mulder’s voice calling her name, and felt Mulder’s hands on her.  He was caressing her face, and his voice was saying, “It’s over, Scully…I think it’s over…Oh my God…”  
     When Scully finally opened her eyes Mulder was kneeling beside her, peering lovingly at her.  Her heart was still pounding and her throat was burning, but she glanced round.  The mess of black oil on the floor had become a milky white.  It didn’t move. 
     Scully faltered and wiped some of the oil from her cheek.  The milky fluid was on her fingers too.  She glanced back at the white oil on the floor of their lounge.  The Wiccan athame that Mulder had found was lying in the rapidly drying pool.  And suddenly Scully realized the truth. 
     Mulder had killed it.
     Somehow, he’d managed to destroy it with the ritual-knife.  Scully turned her gaze back to Mulder.  She wanted to kiss him, to hold him, but the pain was still too intense.  She gestured at her bruised, tender throat and managed to croak, “Water…”
     Mulder nodded with concern and pain in his eyes and hauled himself to his feet.  He quickly limped towards the kitchen.
     As Scully lay on the floor her breathing was shallow, burning and painful.  But she was alive.  She and Mulder were both alive. 
     She closed her eyes, and was strangely unsurprised to hear a female voice whisper gently in her ear:  Thank you, Dana.  Thank you, my queen.  Please take care of him.  He loves you…and you’re the only ones who can stop it now…   
     Scully felt someone kiss her cheek; a tender, grateful kiss.  She opened her eyes, turned her head and saw Mulder limping back into the darkened lounge with a glass of water in his hand.
     And then he was above her, putting the glass to her lips.  And Scully drank and drank and drank, to cool the fire.
      When she finished the water she glanced up at Mulder and managed a small smile.  “We’re still alive…” she said hoarsely, defiantly.
     And then she saw a cautious, relieved smile on Mulder’s lips to match her own.
       

*


October 19th 1984
Oxford, England.  
2: 26 p.m.


Fox was sitting on a bench beside the River Cherwell, in the Fellows Garden of Magdalen College.  He felt confused and dejected.  This morning he had finally interrogated Phoebe, and found out that she’d gone to see Lilly yesterday.  He made her give him the address of Lilly’s dorm-room.  But when he’d arrived the door was unlocked and the room was empty. 
     All her things had been packed away, the covers stripped from the bed, the clothes taken from her cupboards.  Lilly had left, had apparently dropped out without even saying goodbye.  Fox didn’t know her very well, but he’d finally realized that Lilly had been harbouring very deep feelings for him. 
     It disturbed him, because if he was honest with himself he had been attracted to her too.  He had felt very warm towards Lilly; her kindness, her strangeness.  She might never have believed it, but in another life he could imagine having fallen in love with her over time.  But he had no idea where her parents lived, or any place to start searching for her.  And Phoebe was furious with him for even feeling a connection to the girl.  But Phoebe was a hypocrite and a spoilt brat.
     She thought he didn’t know, but Fox was almost certain that Phoebe and Marcus were having an affair behind his back.  He had seen the way she looked at Marcus whenever she seemed bored or angry with her current relationship.  It was darkly amusing how quickly everything was crumbling.  At the start of the first year, Fox had been enraptured by Phoebe’s brilliance, and he let himself be seduced by her.  He let himself get swept up in all the sex and thrills and mind-games that she loved to use as currency.  Lilly had been the polar opposite of that.
     Fox gazed down at the Wiccan athame in his hands.  The ritual-knife felt odd to the touch, like it was vibrating slightly…like a piece of Lilly’s strangeness was contained within it.  It unsettled him.  Fox sighed, raised his arm and hurled the Wiccan athame into the River Cherwell.  It vanished immediately, like it had never existed at all.
     Fox didn’t notice the man carefully watching him from the back of the garden, concealed beneath the shade of a large tree.  Fox didn’t notice as the man removed a pack of Morley cigarettes, and lit one.


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2 comments:

  1. This story is magnificent, Raj. It's everything I always wanted from the X-Files. I was just about to comment on your Exomancy videos when I got word of this. I rushed to read and found its all part of the same wondrous whole.

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My pleasure, Eziliveve! I'm very glad you appreciated it. Best wishes!

    ReplyDelete