More Than You Think You Are part four
I was two more weeks in that hospital, which turned out to be in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, just north of El Paso. I had no idea what I might have been doing in New Mexico, but Walter suspected it might have something to do with Roswell.
Skinner was there every day of those two weeks, which surprised me, but also secretly pleased me.
Every morning, he arrived bearing coffee and current news stories; he read the local and national articles to me, and I helped him with the crosswords. Sometimes we watched CNN, and my brain started to feel suspiciously like a sponge, filling with information like warm water; at other times it was like a slide show, where a picture on television would lead to three or four more of them in my head.
Walter told me I had an eidetic memory, so that made sense.
Usually I’d sleep in the afternoons. Despite not doing more than rolling over to avoid bedsores, I found myself often exhausted, especially if I had made a lot of connections in the morning.
Skinner’s evening visits held a more personal note. Sometimes coffee again, more often he’d give my disappointed look a lecture about caffeine addiction, tongue firmly planted in his cheek while he did it, then reveal some other item, smuggled in and just for me.
Sunflower seeds, one night, which I ate during some forgettable movie on the television. I loved them.
“I knew you would,” said Walter.
Two small goldfish swam happily in an acrylic tank next to my bed, and when I told Skinner I’d named them Clyde and J. Edgar, he laughed until he was nearly crying.
One night he brought a thick file folder with him.
It had been an especially long day. I was chafing physically at my confined state. I felt fine and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just go. Surely some other poor sap needed the bed more than me. The staff was kind but implacable. Until they felt confident that I could walk the walk as it were, and not embarrass them by leaving them for the glamorous world of deranged mumbling, shopping cart pushing and foil hat wearing, I was stuck.
Skinner had begged off early from his morning visit, which left me oddly depressed, and the nap I tried to have in the afternoon was broken by nightmares that repeatedly woke me coughing and choking and forgetting where I was. Dinner was a depressing processed affair that I left half uneaten, and the nurse’s refusal to let me have a cup of coffee afterwards was the crappy icing on the bitter cake of my day. By the time Skinner showed up that evening, I was feeling way too miserable and sorry for myself.
“Hey,” he said, smiling easily enough.
“Hey,” I said back, not smiling.
He was quick to read the emotional weather in that one word, and even quicker to move in to calm the storm.
“What’s going on?” Soft concern in his voice as he reached the bed and touched my arm. I didn’t want to be soothed; I wanted to have a good rant, maybe kick something while I was screaming.
It worked despite that, a little anyway, and I mustered up a half smile and a shrug for him.
“Long day,” I muttered. He took his hand away and I wished he’d kept it there. I liked it when he touched me. And he did it often, although it was never overtly sexual, and always subtle. A hand on my arm in greeting every time; a squeeze of my shoulder during a pep talk; a brush of fingers through my hair, which had grown shaggy over the weeks, to push it out of my eyes when I was reading.
A lot of touching, and I was liking it a lot.
He wasn’t touching me now, even though his big hand was hovering over the bed a little and that concerned look was still on his face.
“What can I do?” he asked.
*Hold me* I thought, but didn’t dare ask. I still wasn’t sure where I fit into the grand Skinner scheme of things, or even if I did fit, and I didn’t want to wear out my welcome; at least, not until I knew just how welcome I was. I tried on another smile, and this one felt tighter and less believable, even to myself.
“Nothing, I guess,” I replied with another shrug. “That is, not unless you can turn back time to before the accident, bring back whatever happened then—“ *or who* my mind supplied less than helpfully, and I felt my frustration grow even more. “--or speed up time to get me the hell out of here. Or maybe you could wave a magic wand and bring back my memory. Oh, no, wait, I’ve got it!” I was raising my voice, but he didn’t even flinch. “Maybe you could teleport me to the nearest Starbuck’s, or win the lottery and fly me to the fucking moon!” At the shrill near hysterical note in my words, he reached out for my arm again. I shook him off angrily, ignoring the needy part of me wailing inside for comfort, and instead let all my frustration lash out like a psychotic cat-o-nine-tails onto the back of the one person who deserved it least of all. He didn’t try to stop me as I let down the floodgates and ranted at all my perceived injustices, and even a few that might not have been mine, but definitely weren’t his. He stood placidly while I heaped anger and blame and tired hate onto his shoulders. And though his head bowed so he was suddenly examining his shoes, he didn’t interrupt me, which he should have, didn’t correct me, which he definitely could have (I was hardly an authority on what was happening, even if it was happening to me) and he didn’t punch me in the head, which was also looking like a rational response to some of the personal name-calling I was doing. No, he simply stood there, pointedly not looking at me until I started running out of steam. I had been sitting up during my tirade, and then I flopped back hard on the stacked pillows under me, looking about as surly and menacing as a five year old overdue for a nap. I turned my head away from him, and felt my chest hitch a couple of times while I stared at the wall, but I fought back outright tears and won. I lied there for several long minutes, wanting to look over at him, and terrified to do so.
I jerked a little when the thick file folder fell into my lap, and at last turned to face him.
His eyes were dark, his features neutral, but I could see the tightness around his mouth, the tic that wanted to be there, but was being held rigidly in check.
“I brought this for you,” he said, his voice flat. “I’ve had it ever since I left the Bureau. It’s yours now, I guess.” He looked like he might say more, but then he abruptly turned and marched out the door without another word.
I didn’t think I could feel crappier, but apparently the Powers That Be just love to prove guys like me wrong.
One sniffle and a rub of my eyes and no one would know anything was amiss. Glaring at the door didn’t bring Skinner back, so I turned my attention to the thick sheaf of papers he had dropped in my lap.
My name leapt out at me and I traced my fingers over the typeface. Fox William Mulder…13/10/61…
It took a few more minutes and a couple more glances at the door before I could find the courage to open the file.
It was massive, full of names, dates, cases—cases? For some reason, although Skinner had said that we had worked together, and although he had talked about working for the FBI, somehow I hadn’t put the two together in some sort of ‘crime-busters’ way. For some reason, the images his words had conjured up were more of offices and background checks, not violent crimes and gunshot wounds. I read a report about a kidnapper and pulled the covers back to look at the scar on my thigh. Another one told of a trip to Antarctica, and I shivered involuntarily. Here was a copy of classes taken at Oxford and I had to sit back and close my eyes as memories jostled in my head like Scrabble tiles in a leather bag.
When I felt okay to go on, the information on life at Quantico was less overwhelming, but no less fascinating. Talk about your overachievers!
Reggie Purdue…Bill Patterson…Jerry Lamanas…. Diana Fowley…. names of partners, supervisors, other agents; it was compelling reading, even if it hadn’t been about me. Except for the financials. Finding out I had a case of terminal cell phone loss was something I could have probably lived without knowing. As the reports and information became more and more recent, I noticed two things: the reports and requests signed by me were getting more bizarre, and more often than not, they were backed up by Agent Dana Scully, or signed off by Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner.
I took a moment to try and reconcile the quick-to-smile, abs-o-steel, all-shoulders picture of Skinner that I had with the serious, pencil-pushing geek picture that these reports suggested, and couldn’t do it. I gave the door a wistful look, wishing Skinner would come back, maybe with a cup of coffee or two, and we could start the evening over again. I’d squelch the temper tantrum for starters, and then he could tell me what kind of idiot requests airfare to Oregon based on an article from the National Examiner.
Skinner remained stubbornly absent and I went back into the file and read autopsy reports from Dr. Scully, more absurd 302 requests signed by Skinner and then a missing person’s report filed by the both of them.
I was the missing person.
That gave me a nasty jolt, but not nearly as bad as the reports of my demise did, what with there being three of them in the file and all.
I found a photo of myself looking impossibly young, another picture of a boy and a girl in plastic wrap, wrinkled and bloodstained beneath the clear film. And I found more reports, and more beyond that. I was apparently quite the busy beaver before my stint here as John Doe. My head started to ache but I couldn’t stop reading. Every note, every report, even the damned financials (who pays that much for a flashlight?); each one was like throwing out a road flare on the dark highway my mind had become; each one cast illumination on who I had been, who I was now.
Krycek? Sounded like the villain in an Ian Fleming novel. Werewolves? I’d have to ask Walter about getting COPS episodes on DVD…
Every time I saw Skinner’s name on another report, I couldn’t stop myself from glancing over at the door again, feeling like a schmuck for doing it, but unable to stop myself.
Nurses came and went, refused to bring me coffee and offered sleeping pills and lights out instead. I sent them away with a snarl that had as much to do with my current Skinner-less state as it did the headache thumping at my skull like some sort of demented bodhran player.
I didn’t remember falling asleep. All I knew was that one minute I was reading some dry yet horrifying report about an attack on me in a psych ward from Dana Scully’s perspective, and the next thing I knew the room was hot and smoky and I couldn’t breathe. I coughed out burning air and tired to rise from the bed, and then felt the first hint of real panic when I couldn’t. My arms were secured to the bedrails and I struggled against them, fighting desperately to get out of the smoke before I could be overcome by it. A skittering noise above me made me freeze and a shudder worked through my body. Staring wildly around the room didn’t help; the smoke was growing thicker.
This has got to be a dream, I thought. I’ve got to wake up.
That stealthy noise again, and a shadow loomed over me. I couldn’t help the cry of terror that ripped out of me and started me coughing even worse. My struggles grew more frantic; canvas straps chafed my wrists.
The shadow creature vanished into the smoke, and something else came forward. Smaller than the darkness that had been threatening to swallow me, and vaguely human shaped, it reeked of blood and fire and reduced me to mindless thrashing, whipping my head back and forth screaming “No! No!” over and over again, choking on smoke and screams, choking…
“Mulder? Mulder!” The fire creature dropped my name from its mouth like dead ashes and I tried to curl myself into a ball of ‘God, don’t kill me!’ as its charred hands reached for my throat.
There was a flash of light that robbed me of my vision, but I could hear an angry hissing noise from the creature, and something hot and crusty that I think were fingertips fell away from my neck. I blinked away tears, tried to focus on what was happening. I could still hear the thing shrieking my name “Mulder!” and then the tone was growing deeper and far less frightening, though no less intense.
“Scully!” I heard myself scream, and then the white light obliterated everything….