Title: La Llorona (9/12)
Rating: PG (mild language)
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
Archive: Not to Gossamer. I'll submit directly there. Yes to anywhere else. Just let me know, please.
Mulder pulled a sweatshirt down over his t-shirt and clipped his gun to his waist. He was a little miffed that Scully had refused to come along, but he knew it was a long shot. Although she was as interested in the truth as he was, he knew he hadn't convinced her of the ghost's reality. But he was ready to see it, to see her. He believed Hurtado's story and he knew La Llorona would come tonight.
He stepped out onto the veranda, hesitated by her door, then turned to go down the stairs. He walked through the breezy courtyard and out around the wall to the edge of the bosque where he and Scully had walked that morning.
Scully heard Mulder's door close and could practically feel his presence outside her door. She held her breath, unsure if she wanted Mulder to knock and speak to her. Part of her wanted him to invite her one last time, but though she didn't want to spend the night getting soaked down by the river, part of her would find it hard to turn him down.
She sighed in relief and disappointment when she heard his footsteps receding.
Once he had cleared the trees, he turned north and started walking. The full moon was high in the sky, only occasionally obscured by the clouds that were thickening above him, providing enough pale light to walk by.
He had a hunch that he would be most likely to see her north of the next river bridge. Apart from the death of Laura Mesker, all the bodies had been found just north of one of the river's crossings. Kinsey had been found near the Paseo del Norte bridge, so that left the Alameda bridge, a few miles to the north. It was a long way to go, trudging through the sandy riverbank, but the effort kept him warm in the cool night air.
Scully paced her room in her stocking feet, arms wrapped tightly around her body. He had really gone out there. And he had gone on foot. How far would he go?
The wind had picked up and even through her closed door she could smell the perfumed scent of impending rain. He was going to get soaked. He'd end up cold and wet, maybe even hurt. If there was a killer roaming the riverbank looking for a victim on a cold, rainy night, would Mulder be safe? She knew he would not encounter a killer ghost, but he might very well encounter a killer.
Mulder sat on a large flat rock, leaning back against the rough bark of a fat old cottonwood. He wrapped his arms around his chest and huddled into his sweatshirt, pulling his legs up tight against his body, wishing he had worn a jacket. Scully was going to laugh at him. She was snuggled comfortably in bed by now. Well, maybe she wouldn't laugh out loud, but she would have no sympathy for him tomorrow morning when he showed up tired and sore from sitting up all night waiting to see La Llorona.
One look at the dark circles under his eyes and she would quirk an eyebrow, purse her lips and shake her head. If he were lucky, she'd refrain from asking him how it went. But her eyes would say, 'I told you so.' Maybe she was right. Maybe he was Linus, after all. He blew out a sigh and shifted his position, trying to keep his butt from going numb. He looked out over the river, sliding by just a few yards away. The full moon lit the landscape in soft grays. He could almost forget he was in the middle of a city—the bright lights and traffic noise filtered out by the lay of the terrain and the trees of the bosque. Frogs and crickets made their night songs all around him and he could hear other furtive sounds in the undergrowth along the river. It was peaceful and beautiful.
Above him the clouds began to build, threatening to cover the shining moon with their blue-black thickness. Lightning skittered deep within the storm clouds, but the accompanying thunder was only a faint rumble far above the earth.
He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He didn't think he was going to see anything tonight.
Scully slipped in through the large front door of the main house, wondering how she could discreetly ask someone where Paul might be. Her question was answered by Paul's sudden appearance at the inn's business office door.
"Dana!" he said, his easy smile fading slightly as he noticed her wet and wind-blown hair. "Is something wrong?"
She nodded and looked at the other guests relaxing in the parlor. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"
"Sure," he replied, opening the office door. "Come on in here." He closed the door behind them and offered her a chair. "What's wrong? Is it Fox?"
She began to nod then stopped to look at him. "How did you know?"
He shrugged. "The look on your face. Is he okay? Or is it something else?"
She was a little embarrassed that her care for Mulder might be so obvious on her face, but she set that aside and got to the point. "He's gone out on the riverbank somewhere and I'm worried that he'll...well, that he could get hurt. It's already raining and it's going to get worse, and..."
"And he's out there looking for La Llorona?" Paul suggested. "Do you think he'll find her?"
"No," Scully said quickly. "But that doesn't mean it's not dangerous out there. Whoever or whatever may be causing these deaths may still be at work. And...and I just have a bad feeling about it."
"Okay." Paul touched her arm. "We'll go look for him. Do you know where he might have gone?"
Scully released an anxious breath, already beginning to stand.
"I have an idea."
His eyes flew open. He wasn't sure if he had actually been asleep or how much time had passed, but something had happened. His ears strained to hear in the deafening silence.
The silence. The frogs and crickets were still. The night held its breath. Like a distant whisper, the rain began to pepper the canopy of leaves above him. But there was something else.
He stared wide-eyed into the shadows of the trees and all along the sandy riverbank. What was out there? He climbed slowly to his feet, silently cursing his cold-stiffened joints. He walked forward out of the protective shadows of the trees toward the water's edge. He thought he could just make out something moving in the darkness, fuzzy and out of focus, far down the bank. He opened his eyes as wide as he could, trying to see it more clearly in the distance, but it remained indistinct. Whatever it was, it moved with a dreamy side-to-side motion, graceful and fascinating. And there was a sound—a low, humming, wailing, shrieking sound—that he couldn't quite hear. A nightmare sound that crawled through his skin.
He moved down the bank toward it, wishing the nightmare sound would stop. It was sending shivers up his spine. It whispered and hummed and shrieked at the very edge of his hearing. The harder he tried to listen, the fainter it became, but if he focused on the dark object, the sound grew inside his head. He thought there were words within the sound, but they seemed jumbled together, different voices all speaking at once, and yet, no words at all. A cold realization seeped into his bones. This was what he had heard from the veranda the other night. It wasn't the wind in the trees. It wasn't the screaming of a victim.
It was La Llorona. It was the weeping woman, searching the river for her child.
He felt every hair on his body prickle up to stand on end.
His breath caught in his throat.
"Look! Look at me!"
He shook his head. Sam?
"Can't you see me? Come on! Come and look!"
Her voice hadn't changed at all—eager and young, insistent and beckoning. A warm smile spread across his face at the familiarity, the fear of a moment ago replaced with understanding. She had been calling to him.
"Sam! Where are you?" he called in reply. He stumbled through the muddy sand of the bank, feeling that she was down there, near the water's edge.
"Fox, come and get me!" An edge of urgency now colored her tone. "Fox!"
A tight ache began in his chest.
"Fox! Help me! Fox!"
Those words, the cadence and inflection, slammed into his heart and made his limbs go numb. He had heard those words like an endless tape loop in his nightmares and memories.
"Sam! I'm coming!" he cried, trying to force his leaden limbs to obey. This time he would save her.
He surveyed the dark silken water. Was that her down there? The dark shape was now near the bridge...was that her? It had to be her.
"Samantha!" His voice broke and he began to run along the bank, brushing tears and rain from his face with his sleeve. "I'll help you! I'm coming! Samantha, don't move! I'm coming!"
He stumbled to his knees, clambered up to continue, then froze. Her voice had dissolved into that humming shriek, no longer familiar.
"SAMANTHA!!" he howled. "WHERE ARE YOU?" he screamed in frustration, turning full circle to try to find her.
It was a woman, moving toward him in the moonlight, her dark dress an inky blackness in the shadows of the riverbank. She was beautiful, her eyes glowing darkly in her pale face. But her face was both strange and familiar, like Samantha, but not Samantha.
Her arms were reaching out toward him, her mouth moving in time with the sound in his head, but the words were indecipherable. She beckoned to him, sorrow and love in her face, in her meaningless voice, and he longed to go to her, to help her, to help Samantha. "Sam?" he whimpered, tears choking his voice away. He had been so sure...
Thunder rumbled over his head and the rain intensified and grew colder.
A knot of fear hardened in his belly and his heart stepped up its tempo. No, no, it wasn't Sam. Sam had disappeared long ago, a thousand miles from here.
La Llorona? Was this how she did it? His calculating mind unlocked the puzzle even as hot fear began to course through his veins. She had drawn him to her, using his loss, his need, to lure him. He understood now, but understanding did little to help him. He knew the pain that Manny Garcia, Laura Mesker and the others had felt, the naked hope that had drawn them against their better judgment, forced them to come to her.
Had the weeping woman felt the same need—the need to search in futile hope for the one that was lost?
He felt the tears burning their way down his face and again the wailing shriek called to him, trying to assure him that Samantha could be found, if he would just look down by the water.
No! He clutched at his hair, pulling it hard, trying to use the physical pain to keep himself from being drawn in again. He had to get away from her, but his heart was melting with that old familiar ache. His sister...his little sister...
His right hand dropped to his waist, feeling for the solid reality of his weapon, though he knew it was useless against this enemy.
He must stay grounded. He must fight against her. He knew what she was—he knew the truth.
He had to move!
His feet were planted in the sand, his legs trembling as he fought to make himself run. He wanted so desperately to run, but he was afraid—afraid to move, afraid to stay, afraid that Sam really was down there, afraid he was losing his mind.
He began to feel lightheaded and realized he'd been holding his breath. He released the stale air in a whoosh and began to breathe again, but couldn't keep his breathing calm.
And the sound! The sound was growing, clawing at his heart with icy fingers. He put sweaty palms up to his ears, even though he knew he couldn't block it out.
Her eyes...her eyes were beautiful, but full of madness...her face, the sweetest thing he had ever seen, yet stricken with sorrow and anger...her voice was sweet singing and shrieking fury...love and loss, beauty and horror, silence and screaming, her supplicant hands became the claws of a witch, trying to touch him, the thrumming energy around him making his hair stand on edge, making it impossible to breathe or think, his heart pounding and burning in his chest.
Her voice, her voice, in his mind, in his ears, the singing weeping screaming...screaming...her mouth, her hands, her eyes, her face...her beautiful, horrible hands reached for him!
Screaming. He was screaming in white, blind, animal panic. His body was shuddering and vibrating as adrenaline flooded his system.
Fight or flight, a tiny rational particle of his brain whispered. He answered it with a full-throated animal scream.
Fight or flight, the tiny voice whispered again. He could see—feel—burning icy hands reaching for him, touching his shoulder and chest. He screamed again and was dimly aware of wet warmth spreading in the crotch of his pants.
A lightning bolt tore the sky directly above him and thunder exploded down with physical force, pressing against his eardrums, somehow freeing his feet.
He broke for the tree line, running with all the speed he could summon. He struggled through the sand of the bank and stumbled into the forest, never slowing as the rain now sheeted down upon him. He flung himself through the dark shelter of the trees, tripping over roots and washed up debris, never feeling the branches that slapped red welts onto his face and the Russian olive thorns that tore at his skin and clothing. The rain came pounding through the tree canopy, but he was oblivious to anything but his fear. He ran though his lungs were burning. He sucked in the cold night air, his body straining to glean oxygen from the lean atmosphere. He had lost the capacity to think. The tiny rational voice had gone silent.
He fell with a whump that forced the air from his lungs. For a terrifying second he couldn't inhale, but at last he began to draw air into his overworked lungs. As his head cleared, he realized that the horrible sound had ceased. Only the sound of the rain remained, pelting the tree branches above him. He lay still and tried to slow his ragged panting.
He got his hands beneath him and raised himself up on all fours, his arms and legs trembling with the effort. His stomach shuddered and lurched and he puked up every bit of his authentic New Mexican dinner. He crawled away from the vomit to the relative shelter of a large tree and sat back on his heels to try to gather his wits. As he did he became aware of an unpleasant sensation.
Oh, God. He bent forward, resting his head on his forearms in the dirt. He couldn't remember ever pissing himself on a case. Tears of humiliation threatened to spill from his eyes, but he ground them away with the backs of his hands.
He had to get out of here. He wanted a shower, to stand under a pelting stream of hot water and wash this night away. His breath hitched into a sob and he crammed his fist into his mouth, though there was no one to hear him.
The rain began to slacken and he got to his feet, clinging to the tree as his watery knees regained their strength. He stood there a moment, wiping snot off his face with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, getting himself under control. There was an ache in his left shoulder and in the center of his chest. He wrapped his left arm across his chest and massaged his shoulder with his right hand as he began to try to find his way back out.
As he came to the edge of the bosque he froze. The rain had slowed to a light sprinkling. He looked up and down the riverbank, hugging himself to try to quell the shivers that had started up again, hoping that...she...had gone.
The river slid by under the quiet moonlight, the clouds dissipating, the moving water whispering to the night breezes among the trees. The frogs and crickets sang.
He couldn't help but feel deception in the peaceful beauty, wanting to both remember and forget the terrifying transformation the night had undergone.
He had run a long way, but he could just make out the bridge in the dark distance to the south and he headed back down the river, hugging the tree line and staying away from the open bank and the water's edge.
As he walked south he heard something and stood still to listen more closely, his heart hammering in his chest so that he thought it would burst, icy fear burning up his spine.