Title: La Llorona (4/12)
Author: phantagrae
Rating: PG (mild language)
Category: Casefile
Spoilers: Not really, but assumes everything through at least Amor Fati.
Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate a series of deaths in Albuquerque, NM.
Feedback: Yes, please. phantagrae@earthlink.net

Archive: Not to Gossamer. I'll submit directly there. Yes to anywhere else. Just let me know, please.

Scully slipped out of her jacket and sat on the edge of the bed, easing out of her shoes. They were cute, with their shapely heels and narrow toes, but, boy, did they hurt her feet after a day like this. She fell back, resting on the large bed, and absently counted the vigas overhead. She was on six when Mulder knocked on her connecting door. She was going to tell him to come in when she realized she had to unlock it for him.

She groaned for good measure as she rolled off the bed and shuffled her sore feet to the door, unconsciously straightening her shirt and hair just before opening it.

"Hey," he said as he walked through, looking unnaturally tall in the low old doorway. "You okay?" His lips were just so slightly pouty. She knew that he knew the effect that particular look had on her. She didn't know whether to be annoyed or to let it melt the little hard spot of anger she was holding in reserve.

"Just tired. Come in." She moved back to the bed, but took a more dignified sitting position.

Mulder walked to the window and opened the drapes a bit to see out. "It's raining." As if on cue, the rain intensified and began pounding on the roof. Scully looked doubtfully at the ceiling. The rain sounded as if it would beat the roof down.

"Mmm. What was it you wanted to talk about?"

"So..." Mulder sat in the large soft armchair near the window, stretching his legs out like a cat. "That Paul is a looker, isn't he?" Scully leveled her eyes at him and forced her face to be still, impassive. "Is that what you wanted to talk about...Zorro?" "All the girls like him." Mulder smiled at her stoic face. He knew she wouldn't stay silent for long.

"How many girls have you brought here?" she asked. Before he could stop it, Mulder's brow furrowed in worry. That wasn't what he meant. And in the same instant he realized he had just lost the match.

Scully allowed just the corner of her mouth to smile in victory as she shifted her weight on the bed and gracefully curled her legs around to one side.

"So, your friend Paul tells me we're here to investigate an old ghost story. I was under the impression we were here to profile a possible serial killer. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Would you have come?"

The question hung there in the room, the sound of rain deafening them. When she didn't answer, Mulder cocked his head and raised an eyebrow.

"...Yes, Mulder. I would have come to investigate the true cause of these people's deaths, whether or not you went chasing ghosts." "Well, this time, I think we just might catch one." Mulder smiled slowly.

"Oh yeah?" Scully felt suddenly combative. Even though she had been down this path with him too many times to count, she hated it when it seemed as if he had deliberately kept things from her. But the thought that he brought her here to waste her time with implausible theories when her desire was to help the victims' families further angered her. "Which ghost would that be?"

"La Llorona." He dropped the words in the air to tease her but felt a sudden chill on his skin.

"What...?" Scully rubbed her arm absently, feeling gooseflesh and blaming the rain. She managed to continue to glare at him, yet wondered where he learned to roll his 'R's.

"Once upon a time..." Mulder pulled a small worn book from his pocket and began to read.

"You can't be serious."

"Once upon a time, not so long ago, there lived a girl. Some say she was the most beautiful girl who ever lived around these parts. Because of her beauty, people didn't treat her like others. Girls her own age got together and talked about her behind her back.

'She thinks she's so special, look at her, her dress isn't any nicer than the one I have.'

'Look at her hair! What's so special about it? I have hair combs more beautiful than hers.'

"And so it was. The more beautiful she became, the more people shunned her. Boys who thought her the most wonderful thing to look upon were afraid to talk to her. Surely she would reject them, they thought. Even her own family felt guilty for not being able to provide more for such a beauty.

"One day a stranger came to the pueblo. He had fine clothes and fine horses and he spent lots of money gambling and drinking in the saloon. The men were impressed. He played poker till dawn and provided free drinks throughout the night. They really liked this fine- dressed stranger. But the stranger grew bored and decided to leave the small pueblo in search of something a bit more interesting.

"One fellow, who was truly enjoying himself, spoke up. 'No need to leave our small pueblo. We have what no other has, the most beautiful girl that eyes have ever seen.'

"The stranger was curious. A beauty here amongst the dust and the cacti? He found out where she lived and dressed in his Sunday best. He could not believe his good fortune. A beauty like no other he had ever seen with a family and pueblo practically giving her away. She was humble, kind, soft spoken and gentle.

"Her family said, 'Marry him if he asks. No other will be able to give you the fine things that you should have.'

"The Beauty, obedient and sincere, accepted his proposal and the whole pueblo turned out for the wedding ceremony.

"It seemed like a perfect match. The stranger was given the respect due a mayor. Being married to such a beautiful girl, he became the envy of every man. The Beauty kept their home clean and orderly. Her shy smile came easily and a kiss was given with each new dress or surprise. No matter that the women of the pueblo found her conceited and haughty. She had never been part of their circle and they seemed no different to her now. She was happy and it showed.

"Before long, she had a child and the happiness she felt would surely cause her to burst.

But the stranger felt different. He was tired of the sleepy, dusty pueblo and his money was running low. He longed for the excitement of the big city. Even the Beauty was beginning to annoy him. She was lovely in the morning and even lovelier after working all day. She said nothing when he came in late after gambling and looked the other way when he had too much to drink. The child was only interested in its mother, which was not what the stranger had expected. No, he was tired of this place and secretly planned to leave. Her family would take care of her. He was sure of this. "Just as he had come to this pueblo, he left it, without telling a soul. The Beauty waited. She was sure that he had to make a short trip somewhere. Each night she kissed her child goodnight then lit a candle by the door. And each morning she greeted her child with a smile and blew out the candle.

No one came to see her, not even her own family. They were sure that she had somehow chased the stranger away with her beauty. Alas, she began to go crazy not knowing what she had done to turn everyone against her.

"The monsoons began building and the heavy air was making her imagine all sorts of things. The wind picked up and mesquite thorns rubbed against the windows. The sky became dark and the heavens opened up. The torrential rains exploded, soaking their adobe home.

The wet smell of mud came through the walls and she covered her nose and eyes. But she could stand it no longer. She grabbed her sleeping baby and raced out the door.

"She ran to the river, which was already overflowing its banks. There was nothing else left. With all her angry might, she threw her baby into the rushing waters.

At that instant she realized that what she was doing was mad. She threw her arms to the heavens, let out the most agonizing cry, and fell to the ground, dead.

"Her soul appeared at the gates of Heaven and she begged the Lord for admission.

"'My daughter,' He asked, 'where is your child?'

"She began to weep in shame.

"'When you find your child,' He said, 'then you can come in and be at peace.'

"It was the worst storm that the tiny pueblo had ever seen. People said that they couldn't sleep that night. Cries too horrible to describe were heard all over the valley.

"And to this day, when the rivers fill and flow swiftly, people see the beautiful ghostly figure walking the river banks.

If you get too close to the river you can hear an eerie cry and some say a beautiful hand may even touch you on your shoulder."

Scully forgot to be cynical and sat still, immersed in the story. She barely noticed that Mulder had finished reading and was watching her. Rain pelted the ceiling. She felt a chill roll down her back and she instinctively hugged herself.

"What book is that?"

"Paul lent it to me," Mulder said as he rose from the chair and carefully closed the book and handed it to Scully. "It's his mother's. It's a book of legends and oral history from this area. The front half is in Spanish and the back half in English."

Scully rubbed her arms and shivered just a bit.

"Are you cold? Can I get you a blanket?"

"Mmm?" Scully looked up from the small book.

"Are you cold? Do you need anything?"

"No, no, I'm fine. Listen, Mulder, you don't really believe this do you?" The words were the same as always, but Scully had lost her fierce belief in science for the evening. She was now just fishing for some comfort.

"I'm not sure, Scully, but I think there is something more going on here. Something unusual."

"What are you talking about?"

"I think Laura Mesker was frightenedóblinded by fright, if you will. Something frightened her enough to cause her to run along the river instead of east, away from it and toward the houses nearby."

"Don't you think being chased by a murderer would be frightening enough?"

"Yes, Scully, but wouldn't you run to the nearest place of possible safety? She was panicked in a way that prevented her from reasoning. I think we're dealing with something more unusual than just some mugger or killer. I can't prove it to you yet, but, like I said this afternoon, I think these people died of fright. Fright caused by encountering La Llorona."

Scully stared at him a moment, amazed that after all these years he could still surprise her with yet another outlandish theory. "You're right about that," she said at last. "You can't prove it. Here." She handed him the book. "Here's your ghost story. I need to go to bed."

The last thing Scully wanted was to be alone, but her brain had split at some point in the middle of Mulder's reading. Half of her mind was laughing and mocking and scolding the other half, which was truly frightened.

"Mulder, you think that bringing me to this old house in the creepy woods is going to trick me into jumping on your bandwagon." She was pushing him toward the door.

Mulder opened the connecting door, ducking down as he stepped through. Just before he shut the door, he poked his head back in and smiled.

"So, you think it's creepy, huh?"

"Goodnight, Zorro." Scully pushed him back into his room and shut the door without another word, but smiled as she turned the lock. She moved to get ready for bed, but two steps from the door, another huge clap of thunder made her jump. Without missing a step, she turned back to the connecting door and as quietly as she could, unlocked it.

Casa Cabeza de Baca

Mulder lay on top of the covers on his bed, his bare feet at the headboard, one pillow squashed under his chest. There were no televisions in the rooms at Casa Cabeza de Baca and he was suffering for it. He had had too much tea and coffee at dinner and with no TV to lull him, he knew he would be wide awake for a while. Maybe the sound of the rain would help, but for now he decided to make the most of it by getting some work done. Paul's little book was open below his chin at the foot of the bed, the casefile spread out to his right. He absently worked his way through a pile of sunflower seeds as he read and reread the report notes on the victims, pored over the crime scene photos. He knew there was a connection of some kind, some reason that these particular victims had all met the same fate, but it was not coming to him. He knew he needed more to go on if he hoped to prove his theory. He certainly hadn't thought that Scully would take his theory seriously, but he had hoped that maybe he could keep her from dismissing it altogether.

Outside, the wind began to hum around the corner of the house, just beyond Mulder's window. He shivered a bit and tucked his bare feet between the mattress and the headboard, trying to warm his chilled toes.

But the humming of the wind became a moan, the moan a howl. Mulder looked up at the window as his scalp crawled. He put a hand to the hair on the back of his neck as he rolled to sit up on the edge of the bed.

She walked among giant cottonwood trees, in the dark, in the rain. She heard voices and followed the sound.

A woman ran through the forest, carrying a bundle. Her hair blew wildly around her head, her gown flying in ragged shreds around her bare legs. She ran toward the river.

Scully heard a baby's cry and realized what was in the woman's bundle. She hurried ahead to catch up to her.

The woman reached the bank of the river, and stood looking out over the dark water. She raised the squirming bundle above her head.

"No!" Scully cried, but the woman ignored her, hurling the baby into the wild current.

The woman paused for a moment, then began to moan and wail, tearing at her tangled hair.

Her cry rang out over the water and through the trees, making Scully's skin crawl. The woman turned to face Scully and wailed again, her beautiful face contorted in anguish.

The howl came again, rising into a scream. Mulder's heart began to pound. He bit his lip and walked to the door. He took a deep breath, then opened the door just a bit.

Scully woke in darkness, her breath caught in her throat, the rain still thrumming on the roof. She shivered at the memory of her dream, despite the warmth of her tangled covers. She found herself looking up at the heavy vigas in the ceiling, and started counting them, trying to clear the dream images from her mind.

The cold wind blew directly into his face, carrying the sharp scent of the rain. The howling was louder and Mulder slipped out onto the veranda, padding down its length in his bare feet. He wrapped his arms around his chest, and glanced back toward his room. He had left his gun on the nightstand.

Suddenly Scully heard a sound that cut through the steady noise of the rain. It was a moan, a scream, a ...something... outside, both far away and just outside her door. That must have been what disturbed her sleep. She sat up, threw the covers off, and was halfway to her feet when she checked herself.

It was the wind. She became sure. She willed herself to be sure. Mulder's ghost story was playing games with her mind. She heard the scream again. Was it closer? She strained to listen for any sounds coming from Mulder's room. If he was stirring, then it was real and not just the wind or her overworked imagination.

She heard nothing from his room.

It was the wind. It was the wind.

She lay back, straightening the covers, counting vigas again. One...two...three...

The moaning scream came again, rising, rising. Scully turned on her side, away from the window, refusing to acknowledge that it could be anything but the storm, refusing to consider Mulder's ghost story or her own dream. She was not going out in the middle of the night looking for an apparition on the riverbank.

The rain suddenly slackened, the wind dying down. The moaning scream faded into the night as the storm began to abate. Mulder stood at the far end of the veranda, every hair on his body standing on end, staring out into the darkness until the rain had subsided. Only then did he realize he was soaked to the skin.

Part Five