Title: La Llorona (8/12)
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.

North Valley

Scully refolded their city street map to the section they needed, comparing the tiny lines and microscopic print to the written directions Sanchez had given them.

"Well, it's a little hard to see on the map," she said, "but Sanchez said we need to look for El Portal Street...it should be the first left after Chavez Road."

Mulder nodded, then added, "Paul said he knew the way. I guess this old guy is well known in the neighborhood. He's going to meet us there."

Scully pretended to be looking closely at street signs while she wondered if Mulder would say more. At last she went ahead and asked him.

"Mulder, what do you expect to learn from this man?"

He shrugged, keeping his eyes on the traffic. "I'm not sure yet." He looked over at her briefly and changed the subject.

"Were you able to get in touch with the families?"

"Yes," she began, finding the appropriate page in her notebook. "I asked them to tell me anything the victim might have said, or if he or she was acting at all strange."

"Anything interesting?"

"Well, everyone mentioned the local news coverage of the deaths down by the river—that the victim was upset by or talked about the deaths. And no, Mulder, no one mentioned La Llorona." Scully gave him a pointed glance, softened by an easy grin.

Mulder chuckled and said, "You gotta roll that R, Scully."

She smiled more broadly as she turned again to her notes. "Manny Garcia's wife said that he had been upset about the loss of their daughter. She said that he had mentioned her death earlier that evening, during dinner."

"When did this daughter die?"

"Well, that's why his wife found it a bit unusual—it was twenty years ago. Their daughter died of SIDS."

When they finally turned from El Portal onto Tomás Court, Paul's pickup truck was idling at the entrance to a private drive. As Mulder approached, Paul pulled into the narrow tree-lined way.

Mulder followed him slowly, the car waddling its way down the uneven, washboard-surfaced lane. They pulled into the shady yard, parking on the semicircular driveway just behind a big new sedan.

The yard was neatly kept and full of tall irises in peaceful shades of lavender and yellow. A walkway of flat stones led from the driveway to the entryway of an ancient adobe house, its front door set back in a sheltered patio.

Paul rapped the aged iron knocker several times on the heavy wooden door, rocking idly on his feet as they waited for someone to answer.

"I hope the old guy's awake," Paul said, looking casually around the patio.

"Does he live alone?" Scully asked.

Paul shook his head. "No. His niece lives with him—of course, she's as old as the hills herself."

Mulder tried not to fidget as they waited.

At last a slight, bent old woman opened the door. She wore a simple floral print housedress, a plain cotton apron tied around her waist.

"Buenas tardes, Senora Vigíl," Paul began.

"Buenas tardes," she replied politely. She eyed him expectantly, her eyes sharp and clear behind her thick glasses.

"Yo soy Pablo C de Baca. This is Fox Mulder with the FBI. We were wondering if we could speak with your uncle this morning."

She nodded and stepped back from the door, waving them in. "Páse," she said, and then in deference to her Anglo visitors she added, "Please, come in."

She led them through the dimly lit living room to a small, bright kitchen in the back of the house and invited them to sit at the table.

"Quieres café? Would you like some coffee?" she asked.

"Si, gracias," Paul answered for all of them.

After serving them, she excused herself and went to find her uncle. A few minutes later she reappeared with Mr. Hurtado, who lowered himself carefully into the remaining kitchen chair. His niece served him a cup of coffee, placed the pot in the center of the table and slipped away.

Paul introduced himself along with Mulder and Scully. Mulder looked from Paul to Hurtado and began.

"Sir, I'd like to ask you about some phone calls you made recently to the Albuquerque Police. My partner and I are investigating the deaths that have been occurring down here along the river."

Hurtado looked at Mulder for a moment, his dark eyes taking the measure of Mulder's earnest gaze. He spared a look at Scully, then turned back.

Mulder waited for him to speak, wondering if the old man had understood him.

"I told them it's her," Hurtado said at last. "La Lloróna, the Weeping Woman." He paused to catch Scully's eye. "She's killing these people."

Mulder felt a wash of goosebumps rise on his body and he looked at Scully.

She pressed her lips together before lifting her coffee cup to take a sip, her eyes returning to their study of the Formica tabletop.

Mulder turned back to Hurtado. "Tell me about La Llorona."

Hurtado took a deep breath and began. "I saw La Llorona when I was a young man, many, many years ago. One night, my cousin Ernesto and I went down to the river. It was a full moon and the rains were heavy that year.

"We had heard the legend of La Llorona since we were niñítos, and some people claimed to have seen her, but we thought they were foolish—old ladies, little children, boráchos. So we decided we would go and look for her ourselves. We didn't believe in ghosts or stories meant to frighten children. Ernesto even thought we should play a trick on his younger brother, Francisco, because Francisco was afraid of La Llorona. We didn't know that that night we would come to believe."

Hurtado's eyes looked into the middle distance of his memories for a moment, his lips moving very slightly as he murmured to himself. At last he sought Mulder's gaze again and continued.

"So we went down to the river and sat under the cottonwoods, and we waited. After a while it started to rain and we thought maybe we should go home.

"But then I heard something...something in the distance. Someone was screaming...or crying...I...I wasn't sure.

"Ernesto wanted to leave, but then I realized it was my mother's voice, calling to me. I told Ernesto I had to go find her, help her, but he said it couldn't be her voice. She had been dead for ten years. Part of me knew he was telling the truth, but I could hear her voice...

"I ran down toward the water and then I saw her a dark shape, like a woman, but hard to see—crying and screaming and calling to me in my mother's voice." His eyes rose to look beyond the kitchen table, his hand reaching up as if to touch his memories.

"She came closer and closer and I ran toward her. Then I saw it was La Llorona. She was beautiful, but she was...she was...lóca...mad. She was weeping for her child, crying for me to help her—'Ayúda mé! Ayúda mé!'

"I tried to run away, but she reached out and put her hand on my shoulder. I could feel her fingers burning into my flesh like ice, and then my heart began to burn...

"Just when I knew I would die there on the riverbank, I felt strong hands grab my arms and I was pulled from her grasp. Ernesto had pulled me free and he dragged me away from the river."

He paused to sip his coffee, his eyes focused somewhere in the past.

"Last night I heard her again."

Mulder nodded in recognition, his hand tightening around the solidity of his coffee cup.

The old man caught Mulder's eye. "You know the story, verdád?"

"Yes," Mulder said in a choked whisper. He took a gulp of coffee to relieve his tight, dry mouth.

"She walks along the river when it rains," Hurtado finished in his dreamy dark voice. "She's looking for her child."

They emerged into the early evening, perfumed by the subtle scent of the irises and lilacs in Hurtado's yard and the smell of the rain-dampened earth. The sun hung low in the sky over the distant western horizon but the moon had risen, fat and white, over the solid bulk of Sandia Peak. There were clouds lofting into the sky, but the rain had stopped for now.

"I think we might have missed dinner," Paul commented, glancing at his watch. "But I'm sure Mamá would be willing to warm something up for us..."

"You go on, Paul," Mulder said. "Thanks for helping us out here."

"So did you learn anything useful from that old man's story?" Paul nodded back toward Hurtado's house. "Is there any connection to the case?"

Mulder shrugged, his lips pressed into non-committal half-smile. "I'm not sure yet. I have to think about it."

Paul nodded. "So, you're not coming back for dinner?"

"I thought I'd take Scully to El Pínto for dinner tonight." Mulder let one hand rest lightly on her shoulder.

"I see..." Paul answered, smiling at Scully's surprised look. He winked at her and turned to leave.

Scully made sure she had closed her mouth before she turned to face Mulder. "What did he mean by that?"

"I don't know," Mulder replied with a wide-eyed bat of his eyelashes. "Maybe he thinks we're going out on a date."

"A date?" Scully's skeptical tone was mirrored in the arch of her left eyebrow. "You mean a 'date' date?"

Mulder tilted his head toward her. "Miss Scully, would you care to join me for dinner?"

Scully's expression dissolved into a wide smile. "Sure. Why not?"

They drove north and east, then north again until Scully thought they would actually drive out of the city, but Mulder at last turned and entered a graveled parking lot set back from the street. A low adobe building with large white-trimmed windows nestled under tall cottonwoods trees.

As they crunched over the gravel toward the building, Scully could hear gentle music drifting through the night. A breeze cooled the air in the shadows of the big trees and as Mulder took her hand and placed it in the crook of his arm, she felt like she really was out on a date—a regular date with a regular guy. She smiled as they stepped through the door.

"Mulder, I don't understand why you're so insistent on eating Mexican food for every meal. You don't eat it very often back in DC." Scully dipped a tortilla chip into the little bowl of salsa that Mulder had pulled a little closer to his side of the table.

"But this is different, Scully. It's New Mexican—it's really pretty different from what most Mexican restaurants serve, especially in our neck of the woods. Mrs. C makes just about the best authentic New Mexican food you can get, but this place is the next best thing."

He went on to explain the difference between green chile and jalapenos, how cumín was the secret ingredient of real Spanish rice, that shredded meat was a measure of authenticity, and the absolute sacrilege of cheese dip.

As the evening progressed, their conversation avoided any talk of the case, leaving Scully wondering exactly what Mulder had learned from Hurtado. But she was determined to enjoy the evening and his company and to take a break from death and ghost stories.

Casa Cabeza de Baca

"Mulder, you can't be serious."

"Of course I'm serious. This is my serious face." Mulder paused in the warmly lit parlor and turned to face Scully. The house was quiet, the only other visible occupants a quiet young couple, sitting close together in a love seat, engaged in the secret language of newlyweds.

"Mulder, are you telling me that you are going to sit out there on the riverbank all night in the hopes that this ghost-woman will make an appearance?"

"I know she will."

"Mulder, it's supposed to rain tonight. Really rain."

"I know," he nodded eagerly. "That's why I know she'll come. Are you going to come with me?"

She looked steadily at him, trying to keep from rolling her eyes.

"No," she said at last.

"Scully..." he began.

"No, Mulder," she repeated. "Maybe you get a kick out of sitting out there like Linus, waiting for the Great Pumpkin, but you can count me out."

"I will see her, Scully," he replied with a petulant confidence. He bit his lower lip to keep it from rolling out into a pout.

"And that will prove what?" she demanded, crossing her arms.

"That she exists!" he exclaimed in frustration. "That this is how these people are dying!" He lowered his voice and continued. "The legend of La Llorona, that she appears when the rains come, fits this series of deaths. People have reported encounters with her spirit for more than 300 years. There may have been similar deaths over the years, but maybe there was no obvious connection."

"So if it's true, how could you possibly stop it? You can't arrest a ghost."

"I don't know, but if we could see it, maybe we can find a way. Maybe there's a way to exorcise her."

She let her head cock over to one side and continued to press him.

"Even if you were to see something that you believed to be this...this weeping woman, how would that be proof of the cause of death of these victims? Do you think you'll catch her in the act?"

Mulder said nothing, but held her gaze unflinchingly, his lips now pressed into a firm line.

Comprehension widened her eyes.

"You think you'll be the bait."

Part Nine