Virtual Season Two
  • Blood and Thoughtstalking
  • Psychodiagnostiks
  • 360 Maple Grove
  • Oestrus
  • Game Over
  • The Loyal Ones
  • Hypnagogia
  • Electioneering
  • Dreamscape
  • Callipso
  • Teporingo
  • The Jade Monkey Project
  • Bitter Revenge
  • Red Tide
  • Chi
  • Human Nature
  • Asthenopia
  • Ley of the Land
  • Everything To Live For
  • Warden
  • Grimm
  • A Piori

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    MAY 21ST
    11:47 P.M.

    The bloodcurdling scream awakened most of the residents and promptly sent a nurse hustling down the hallway. Again the painful shriek reverberated down the corridor, bouncing freely off of the shiny linoleum tiles. Within moments, the nurse had reached the origin of the commotion, breathing heavily from over-exertion.

    A small man thrashed in his bed, twisting the sheets violently about him as he slept, the springs groaning in protest. He mumbled something before unleashing another cry of agony, spittle leaping from his mouth.

    The nurse hastened to his bedside, her brow furrowed with concern and eyes lit by the flames of fear. "Carl," she called to him in a soothing voice. "Carl, calm down."

    His unpredictable spasms continued as she continued to try to calm him. Frustrated and lacking feasible options, she reached to press the help button mounted on the wall. Without warning, she was knocked backwards as the man's flailing fists made solid contact with her face.

    "Get away from me!" he shouted. "Stop it!"

    Frightened and stunned, she looked back at him, only to discover his eyes still squeezed tightly shut as his jaw locked, the vice-like grip of his teeth grinding into the tortured sheets. She raised an unsteady hand and wiped away the blood gathering on her lips.

    He contorted his body yet again, kicking the sheets free from the bed. A purely terrifying scream pierced the air, sending a shiver down the nurse's spine; it was then that she noticed it.

    With every twist, a slash suddenly appeared across the chest of the man's T-shirt. Blood seeped onto the white fabric as he fought in vain against an invisible assailant.

    "Die, you little piece of shit!"

    The nurse turned around at the voice. She didn't recognize it, but knew it wasn't Carl's. Her eyes quickly scanned the room, her previous fear now replaced by petrifying terror. No one was in the room with her, but the voice had been unmistakably close.

    The man continued to struggle, his clothes turning a deep crimson as the violent scene continued to play out. Patients awoke throughout the building, their inquisitive minds leading them towards the sanguine event. Tears rushed down the man's face, their silent appearance a sharp contrast to the conspicuous sound of feet shuffling down the hallway.

    The crowd that had gathered around the doorway stared in reviled horror as the man before them slowly bled to death. Again the nurse shook the man, but her attempts were fruitless as he continued his final battle.

    Nightmares had plagued him for weeks, often causing sleepless nights. Many a night he awoke to find himself bathed in a cold sweat, his breathing labored as his pulse raced. One morning he discovered deep gashes in the headboard and wood flakes under his fingernails, reminders of the frightful monsters who attacked him in his dreams.

    The nurses had found it difficult to wake the man during his nightmares, usually having to splash cold water on his face to end the terror. This was the first time he'd ever bled during a dream, and the first time he had visibly fought back. The nurse hoped that the situation could be ended the same way as its predecessors, and stood from her position near the bed.

    She scurried out of the room, fighting through the throng that watched the scene breathlessly. The onlookers turned to one another, unable to do anything but continue their voyeuristic perversion as a man died in their midst. Just seconds later she returned, pushing her way back in, a cup of water in her hand.

    Standing over him, her breath ragged and eyes moist, she poured the liquid onto his face. Sputtering, he awoke, blood trickling from his mouth with every cough. His face ashen, he nervously surveyed the strangers in his room.

    "Nurse Michelle, what are they doing in here?" he whispered.

    Her voice cracked with emotion. "Carl, I'm sorry." She could manage no more as sorrow swelled in her throat.

    He stared at her, perplexed. "I told you," he said. "He wants to kill me."

    "Who?" she asked softly.

    "Him!" Carl pointed at the crowd. The nurse looked at the group, not knowing which resident he was singling out.

    "Who?" she repeated, turning to face him. Frustration reigned supreme on her harried face as she saw it was too late; unconsciousness had enveloped him in its dark tendrils, his shallow breathing the only sign of life remaining.

    MAY 22ND
    9:06 A.M.

     The file folder came down hard on the wooden desk, sending a resounding slap throughout the small basement office. Scully looked at it disdainfully for a few moments, her lips pursed in dissatisfaction.

    "That would be much more effective if I had my own desk for you to cover with these annoyingly plain pieces of crap."

    Her partner chuckled, wondering if his sarcasm had finally begun to rub off on her. "Wow, Scully. What causes your feistiness this morning?"

    "I've been doing some thinking," she revealed. "About the future, about my career."

    Mulder looked at her intently, his brow creased as he bit his bottom lip. He felt a frisson of dread as he sensed what was coming next. Uncomfortable silence surrounded the pair. Neither would allow the other into their thoughts as they played an emotional and psychological game of cat and mouse.

    "What do you mean, Scully?" he finally asked, his mouth dry.

    "What I mean is that I'm tired of being sent on meaningless assignments to investigate morons who build anti-electrocution suits and going to Small Town, USA, to meet some woman who was raped while watching Jerry Springer. I'm tired of you dropping everything at a moment's notice when a tip comes across your desk, not even knowing who your source is or why we are investigating the case." Mulder opened his mouth to speak, but she forged onward. "Most of all, Mulder, I'm tired of wasting my time on a job that has me on a fast track to nowhere. I've lost a sister and a brother to this pointless job, and I'm not even sure why I'm still here."

    He looked at her in silent shock, rubbing his temple as if trying to erase the stinging words from his memory. "When did you have this revelation, Scully? Have you been holding this inside for seven years, waiting to lay it on me?" The words came out small and uncertain, his throat constricting amid his mixed emotions.

    "No, Mulder, I haven't been. I told you before that I was worried about how far you'd go, but that's not my main concern anymore. I'm troubled because I don't know why you still suffer through a job where you are the joke of your peers. You've learned what happened to your sister, you exposed a conspiracy to colonize earth; what more do you want to do in the Bureau?"

    "I want to help people." He still sounded unsure of himself, as if he were treading carefully with his words.

    "So do I, Mulder, but are the X-Files really your place to do so? Do you think that being the promotional equivalent of stagnant water for seven years is worth it if you help someone?"

    He stared at the floor blankly, pain flooding his features. "Yes, I think it is worth it," he answered softly, conviction still evident as he defended his ideals.

    Scully let out an exasperated sigh. "Mulder, I don't know if this is what I should be doing anymore. I went to med school so that I could help people, and I think that is what I want to do with my life now."

    Her partner looked sorrowfully at her, the betrayal cutting his soul. He shook his head, still trying to deny the words he was hearing. "You don't mean that, Scully."

    She uncomfortably shifted her eyes to the floor, unsure as how to tactfully resolve the situation. Indecision won out, as she frowned and softened her words. "I'm sorry, Mulder."

    "You're sorry?" he challenged. "You work with me for seven years, you let me risk my life for you, and when you stab me in the back all you can say is 'sorry'?" His glare pierced her, and she couldn't help but look up. "That's unacceptable, Scully. I would have expected more than just a cop-out from my best friend."

    His sharp retort battered the depths of her soul as she slowly began to regret her direct approach. Her stomach worked itself into a knot as she searched for the right words. "I don't know what to say, Mulder. I know how hard this is for you, but it's hard for me too. I'm not trying to hurt you, but there's no way around this." She clenched her jaw, determined not to let any emotion peek through her stony façade.

    He didn't take his eyes off of her. "So that's it? You're done with the FBI? You'll just walk out that door, and nothing can make you stay?"

    Scully looked at the ceiling, trying to blink away the tears that were forming in her eyes, not wanting to let Mulder see her vulnerability. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I know how hollow that sounds to you, but that's all I can offer. I can't stay here in a job that holds no interest for me any more. I won't do it, Mulder. I can't keep putting your feelings before my own."

    He took a deep breath, controlling his emotions. He didn't want to alienate her further by saying something in anger. The words could be taken back, but the wounds would still remain. "Have you given Skinner your two weeks notice?" he finally said, the residue of anger still tainting his words.

    "No," she replied softly. "I wanted to talk to you first." She couldn't stand to bear his hate-filled stare for a moment longer, and quickly glanced down at his shoes.

    He stood up from his chair, preparing to leave. "If you wouldn't mind accompanying me on a final case, take a look in that folder. I thought it would interest you, as a medical doctor." His whispered words hung in the air, raking her conscience across the hot coals of guilt.

    Mulder slammed the door shut behind him, leaving Scully alone in the room, still filled with the suffocating aura of anger and regret. She looked at the folder once more, a feeling of culpability chewing at her. Slowly she picked up the manila folder and began to peruse its contents, her interest piquing with every turn of a page.

    11:09 A.M.

     The man stared straight ahead, a huge grin frozen on his face as he looked up at Mulder from the perpetual confines of the photograph.

    "Carl Kleitman," the agent announced as he passed the snapshot to his partner.

    "I read the file, Mulder," she reminded him.

    "And?" he queried, genuinely interested in her thoughts on the matter.

    "Where should I start?" she asked herself aloud, taking the folder from his hands. "Well, while I find it implausible that this man lost four liters of blood and survived, there is no doubt that he was cut with a serrated blade. The wounds are also consistent with a struggle, which eyewitness accounts seem to confirm."

    Mulder chuckled, propping an elbow on the tray table in front of him. He leaned his head on his open palm, the weight shifting the table and seat considerably. The passenger in front of him stirred in her sleep, but did not wake. "You left out the most important thing, Scully," he jokingly chided her. The redhead bit her lip, promising herself that she wouldn't say anything snide. "How do you explain fourteen corroborating stories, all which conveniently fail to include a description of the attacker?"

    "Mulder, these 'corroborating stories' are being offered up by mentally ill people. Need I remind you that Utopia House is not a hotbed of credible witnesses?"

    He nodded, humoring her. "That may be what you want to believe Scully, but you can't deny that we do have one completely sane witness." She watched skeptically as he jabbed his pointer finger into the police report. "Michelle Elliot, the nurse who saved Mr. Kleitman's life."

    "Mulder, even Miss Elliot's account of events may have been skewed," she reasoned. "It says here that she suffered a concussion when Kleitman punched her."

    "Skewed or not, I still think we should talk to her."

    A flight attendant tapped Mulder on the shoulder, interrupting the intellectual exchange. "Would you like a drink, sir?"

    "No, thank you," he politely responded, Scully doing the same. Both fidgeted in their seats, waiting impatiently for the drink cart and its escorting attendants to progress up the aisle.

    Scully gazed out her window, contemplating the case, her logical mind unable to produce a sufficiently rational explanation. Her partner's soft voice broke into her concentration, a foghorn in the serenity of her thoughts. "Even if you take into account the mental disabilities of the other thirteen witnesses, you can't tell me that you aren't surprised by the similarities of their accounts."

    She turned back to her partner, a forlorn expression weighing down the corners of her mouth. "Mulder, I agree with you that are unexplained aspects to this case, but I don't attribute it to paranormal phenomena of any sort. I think much of it could be caused by a lack of compassion or shoddy police work." She immediately read his quizzical expression and quickly offered up an explanation. "We lock these people away from the world. We try to hide them from view, afraid to face the fact that with the accidental alteration of just one chromosome, any one of us could end up in a place like that. People don't care about them once they enter that building, Mulder. It's out of sight, out of mind, and I wouldn't be surprised if the investigation was conducted improperly."

    "That's quite an assumption," he commented. "I'm sure the Smithtown police department is quite competent and wouldn't compromise a case based on personal or social opinions of the victims and witnesses. Besides, what you are suggesting is in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. If anything, I think the police would work harder on this case so they won't piss off the wrong guy."

    Scully remained silent for a few moments, staring straight through the grubby blue fabric on the seat before her. "I'm sorry, Mulder," she mumbled. "I know that this is hard on you, and my skepticism isn't making this any easier."

    He smiled disarmingly, seemingly unharmed by the underlying tension she had alluded to. "Don't worry about it, Scully. You're here as a scientist. I have you here to keep me in line and make me work for my answers."

    His acting job didn't fool his partner in the slightest. After seven years together, she could sense his innermost feelings in the span of only a few seconds. She smiled unconvincingly at him. "Then let's go see Michelle Elliot. Maybe she'll support your newest theory, whatever that may be." She searched his eyes once more, soon turning to look out the window once again.

    He watched her intently, yearning to talk about the thorn in his side, hoping he could make her stay. The sun streamed through the thick window, glinting gloriously off of her auburn hair. He observed her in complete silence, leaving so much unsaid, unknowingly letting the emotional wound fester more with each passing moment.

    4:32 P.M.

     A curt rapping at the door brought Michelle Elliot out of her nightmare-infested slumber. Her T-shirt was saturated with her nervous sweat, plastering the material to her skin. She lay still for a moment, staring at the ceiling. The pounding continued, refusing to allow her more sleep. She slowly rose from the couch and shuffled to the door. Disengaging the deadbolt, she turned the knob, the cold metal tingling against her palm. The nurse swung the door open, immediately scrutinizing the pair before her.

    "Michelle Elliot?" the man queried. She slowly nodded, blinking to adjust her eyes to the hazy afternoon sunlight streaming through the door.

    "I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI. This is my partner, Dana Scully." He nodded to the redhead standing beside him as they both flashed their badges. "Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?"

    The woman briefly searched for words, but decided upon a slow, tired nod. "Please, come in," she finally offered.

    The agents crossed the threshold, immediately taking in the details of the room they had entered. The blinds were down, blocking out the world, save for a few small slivers of light that peeked through, illuminating the dust motes floating silently in the still room.

    She led them into the living room and flipped on an overhead light, cutting the eerie darkness. "Have a seat," she told them, gesturing to a pair of recliners in front of her antennae-laden television.

    "Thank you," Scully replied softly, taking a seat as the woman reoccupied her couch.

    "Miss Elliot," Mulder began quickly, "I've read the police report and your statement, but I feel that there are still many unexplained aspects to this case. I'm hoping that if I can ask the right questions, you'll be able to help us find Mr. Kleitman's assailant."

    "So you think someone attacked him?" she asked.

    "The FBI doesn't make its business investigating accidents, ma'am. I think that there is no question this is a case of attempted murder."

    "The report says that the victim is a schizophrenic," his partner interjected. "What type of medication was he on?"

    The woman blinked owlishly, taken aback by the new line of questioning. "Um," she stammered, the name resting on the tip of her tongue. "Uh... Nardil."

    Scully could feel Mulder's expectant gaze and turned to appease him. "Nardil is the brand name of phenelzine. It's a monoamine oxidase inhibitor used to treat schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety. Usually it's only tried after other drugs have failed to yield results, though." She faced Michelle again, her mind rapidly processing information. "Mr. Kleitman didn't respond to the usual medicinal treatments?"

    "No," the nurse replied. "Phenelzine is the first drug we've seen results with, but we hadn't tried the other MAO inhibitors yet. I take it you are a doctor, Agent Scully?"

    "Not a practicing one." She looked down to the floor, afraid that the short exchange might have touched off one of Mulder's already-wounded nerves. She slowly looked back up at the woman across from her, a haunting emptiness in her eyes. "Does Mr. Kleitman suffer from paranoia or depression?"

    "The medication tends to keep him in line, but every now and then he'll become paranoid or depressed."

    "Sounds like me," Mulder commented, chuckling.

    "Excuse me for saying this," Elliot softly said, "But it almost feels like you are investigating Carl."

    Mulder nodded, pushing back into the recliner. "I can see how we may come across that way, Miss Elliot, but I've found that sometimes it is easier to know why a crime was committed when we know more about the victim."

    The agents watched her carefully, hoping Mulder's explanation kept them from alienating their witness. Scully took a deep breath, not wanting to speak too soon. She lifted her chin and forged ahead. "How long has he been a patient at Utopia House?"

    "A little over two years," Elliot replied, her words more measured and succinct. She still eyed the pair somewhat suspiciously, not wanting to incriminate her favorite patient.

    "Does he hold down a job?" Mulder asked her.

    "He works the afternoon shift at the Wendy's down the street from the House. It's only four hours, but his managers make him work fry and burger duty. They don't think he can interact with the customers. It's not my place to fight with them, and Carl is just happy to be working again, so I let it go." Both agents saw the glimmer of a tear sliding down her cheek and nervously looked at each other. Scully shifted uncomfortably in her seat as more tears trickled down the woman's flushed face.

    "I'm sorry," Michelle whispered.

    "It's quite all right," Scully replied compassionately. "You were close to Carl?"

    "Yes," she replied, sniffling. "He was the first new patient that came in after I started there. We were both the new folks, so I suppose that's why we found it easy to talk to each other." Her eyes were almost glassy as she recalled the memories of him.

    Mulder's confident voice broke in. "I'm sorry that we've upset you, Miss Elliot. We may have more questions after we see where the investigation is headed."

    Scully narrowed her eyes at her partner's sudden announcement, but stood despite her doubts. "Thank you for your time, ma'am," she intoned, extending her hand. The woman came to her feet and shook it, ushering the pair to the doorway.

    She opened the door and the agents stepped onto her porch. They turned to face her, an uncomfortable silence hanging in the sunlight. Michelle Elliot looked at the wooden planks in her porch, her jaw set in a mix of pain and determination. Her throat knotted as she tried to force words out of her body. "Get the man who did this to him," she managed, swallowing hard.

    "We will," Mulder guaranteed, and the door shut slowly.

    The pair walked to the car before Scully finally voiced her thoughts. "Why did you do that, Mulder? I still had more questions to ask her."

    He walked around the car to the driver's door while hitting the remote keypad, unlocking the car. "I need to see the crime scene, Scully. I still don't have a feel for what is going on here. All that we could have accomplished would have just scraped the tip of the iceberg."

    "So what you're saying is that you need to formulate a theory?" she asked.

    Mulder grinned and opened his door. "Oh, I've already done that, Scully."

    5:55 P.M.

     "Astral projection?" Scully asked incredulously as they walked down a long corridor.

    "We've seen it before," Mulder reminded her.

    "No, Mulder, I've seen what you claimed was astral projection."

    He pursed his lips and paused a beat before continuing. "Hear me out, Scully. If Carl Kleitman was attacked by someone else in this home who was projecting, it wouldn't be that surprising." His partner shot him a skeptical glance as they rounded a corner. "If the attacker lives here, what would be his or her connection to the quadriplegic, Rappo?"

    The pair came to a doorway blocked with yellow crime scene tape and ducked under the obstruction. Even the dimness of the room failed to hide the evidence of a fierce attack. The bed liner carried a reddish-brown tint, perfectly matching the blood splattered on the far wall.

    Scully turned to face her partner. "After seeing this, I'm inclined to say that both are brutish criminals. I have a feeling that's not what you are getting at, though."

    "You're very astute." Mulder grinned despite the gruesome scene. "Both of the men were hospitalized for medical conditions. In fact, there's a chance that both suffer from mental illnesses. Utopia House caters to these types of maladies, and Rappo could very well have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." He glanced at Scully, trying to gauge her reaction.

    "That would make sense, considering Rappo served in the Gulf," she conceded, eliciting an expression of pure surprise from her partner. "However, now you're the one who is leaving out an important fact."

    "What's that?" he asked, as he moved to the headboard and peered at the fingernail gouges in the wood.

    "Kleitman indicated someone in the room as his attacker. This other alleged incident of astral projection you've referred to would only serve to prove you wrong. Rappo was nearly comatose when he did his supposed 'projecting'. I don't think anybody standing near the doorway during Kleitman's attack would fit that description."

    Mulder silently moved to the dresser and opened the drawers, finding them empty. Perplexed, he crouched to look under the bed. "Kleitman didn't indicate his attacker," he pointed out, standing with a wry grin on his face. "He was trying to show Michelle Elliot a person, someone who he feared was trying to kill him. Maybe Carl was referring to his attacker, but we can't be so hasty as to assume that." Scully stared irritably at the wall above him as she held back an exasperated sigh. The lanky man continued almost immediately. "Take a look under the bed. I think you'll find something interesting."

    She complied, eager to see his new discovery. Her eyes scanned the darkness, almost immediately spotting a white object. She leaned in closer, finally discerning the outline of a winged creature. "Is that a bat?" She asked him, standing back up. "What's that got to do with anything?"

    "Not just a bat, Scully. A white bat."

    "And?" she replied, immediately chiding herself for the harsh tone.

    "Gustavus Hindman Miller compiled over 10,000 dreamsigns into a book. I read it when back I studied pysch at Oxford," he explained, sensing something nearing disinterest in her eyes. "Miller said that a white bat symbolized or prophesized the death of a child. My guess is that whoever attacked Kleitman is going to kill a child, or already has."

    Scully felt her stomach turn at the mere mention of violence against a child. She stood rooted to her spot, thoroughly disgusted, as Mulder made his way to the door. "Where are you going?" she suddenly wondered.

    "I'm off to browse through patient files. Maybe someone here has a history of child molestation or violence. It's a long shot, but maybe I can turn up something."

    "So what do you want me to do?"

    "You can help me, if you want, but I'm going to need to you talk to Kleitman in the morning. I'll probably still be on my snipe hunt, plus you know how to handle these types of people better than I do."

    He turned and left quickly, leaving Scully alone in the room, its pungent odor of death filling her airways. She started after him, ready to assist, her heels clicking on the blood-stained tiles.

    MAY 23RD
    1:29 A.M.

     He greedily sucked at the tiny seed, the saltiness filling his mouth. Working it between his teeth, he searched for the right spot and finally found it, splitting the shell apart. He lifted a Styrofoam cup to his lips, sending the shell halves into it with a burst of air.

    Scully looked at up at her partner, who had set down the cup and was absently picking his way through the bag of sunflower seeds, his entire attention devoted to the pages in his other hand. Her eyelids were heavy, slowly being lowered by the nearly hypnotic chirps of crickets outside the motel room.

    Mulder set down the file folder on the circular table and selected another one as he again lifted his nearly-full cup and shot another round of shells into it. His eyes never left the page of the new file as he set the cup back down. Hours of reading had begun to blur the words together, but still he pressed onward. With no clues left behind as to the attacker's identity, he had to hope that the small letters on the page could help save a child's life.

    He finally felt his partner's eyes on him and ceased his reading. She was staring almost forlornly at him, red lines snaking across the whites of her eyes. "Scully, what is it?" he asked, concerned.

    She quickly shifted her gaze to the cheap table. "Nothing," she mumbled.

    Mulder watched her, not believing the denial for a moment. She had buried herself back in the file, obviously trying to avoid his prying eyes. Hurt, he turned back to his own file, quickly losing himself in the maze of black print.

    Only moments later the sound of her voice interrupted his thoughts and his reading again. "Mulder," she said, her tone a familiar one. He knew she had found something.

    "What is it?" he asked, mirroring his words from just minutes before. This time his inflection was different, not expressing compassion but instead a feeling of extreme urgency.

    "This file is for a nine-year old with a bi-polar condition. Maybe we've been looking for the attacker when we should have been looking for his next victim all along."

    "Scully, we don't know if the child is dead yet or not. If we know who we're after, it should make it much easier to know who he is targeting, if he is in fact doing that."

    She grew quiet, her eyes searching the floor as she thought. "I feel like I should be doing more. A child could be taking its last breath and I'm holed up in a motel room with coffee looking through files."

    "You're doing all you can," he assured her. "We can't help the kid with what we know right now. Worrying that you aren't doing enough won't make anything better."

    She looked at the floor again, her eyes penetrating the dirty carpet, their calm, steady stare masking her emotional struggle. She needed to talk to him, to heal the deep wound she had left with her words, but it was too difficult. She was afraid to tell him what was on her mind, worried that it might make things worse.

    Mulder moved his chair next to hers and placed his hand on her shoulder. "Scully, whatever you're keeping from me is turning you into a wreck. If you really want to help this kid, you can't be preoccupied with whatever internal demons you are battling right now. You need to talk to me."

    Her eyes came to rest on his fingers, wrapped comfortingly around her shoulder. She looked up at his face, his earnest eyes conveying his concern. He saw the dim lamplight reflect off of a tear as she struggled to speak. "I'm not being completely honest with you," she finally offered. "There are other reasons for my resignation."

    "Which are what?" he asked, bracing for bad news.

    "I'm not sure if what I told you in Seattle last year is true. I don't know if I want a relationship with you or not."

    Mulder immediately thought of Clarice. "Some things have changed since then, Scully. I don't know if that would be good for us anymore."

    She blinked, more surprised than hurt. "So your feelings have changed?"

    "No, Scully, they haven't." He took her hand in his. "I just don't think that it would be good for us, or for the X-Files. I care about you very much, but if I have to pass up that chance to make you stay, I'd do it in a heartbeat and never think twice."

    She smiled at him, relieved to have released her burden. "I didn't want to hurt you, Mulder."

    He laughed softly. "It would hurt me so much more to see you go. You have no idea how important you have been to me and the X-Files over the past seven years. It might be frustrating always being questioned, but you've saved my ass more times than I can count."

    "Thank you," she whispered, squeezing his hand.

    Mulder smiled at her, sorrow remaining in his eyes. He had resolved one issue, but he was not sure that she would still stay in the Bureau. "We need to get back to work," he finally uttered.

    She lifted the folder from the table again, her moist eyes searching the contents again. He did the same, once again munching on sunflower seeds. The crickets continued to chirp outside, oblivious to the world and its horrors.

    3:17 A.M.

    Jeff woke from a deep sleep and looked at the red digits of the nightstand clock. Groaning in the realization that he had only a few hours of sleep left, he kicked the sheets off of him and plopped his bare feet on the cold floor. He trudged to the bathroom, picking at the gunk that sealed his eyelids together and adjusting his Poke'mon underwear.

    After using the bathroom, he splashed some water in his eyes, hoping to see a little better on the walk back to his room. Moments later he re-entered his room and shut the door behind him, darkness enveloping him again. He glanced at his clock and started towards the bed. He paused, realizing what he'd seen- the red lights had formed abstract shapes, nothing resembling numbers. Jeff looked back at the clock. It was still gibberish, but he could tell it was different; the shapes had changed and the clock was in a different spot on the nightstand.

    He jumped back into bed, pulling the covers up tightly to his chin as fear sent a chill up his spine. Shivering, he buried his head in his hands, eyes clenched tightly shut. Minutes passed, but he eventually convinced himself to pull his hands away and peer into the dark room. The room seemed normal, so he reached to turn the clock towards him, hoping the sticky film on his eyes had caused him to see things.

    He was greeted with odd shapes again, but then he noticed something even more strange. His hands seemed to be dissolving, his skin turning into sand and then disappearing. Frightened, he looked at the door, contemplating escape. Jeff opened his eyes wide, not sure if he was really seeing well. The knob had moved into the middle of the door, its usual dull bronze having changed into a bright pearly substance.

    Then he felt it. A sharp pain in his ribs, quickly moving before he felt his flesh tearing. Blood seeped onto the sheets, and he remembered watching Carl the night before. Jeff felt another stab of pain as a wound was opened on his wrist, the blood flowing even more freely. Finally he overcame the initial shock and managed to shout for help, but his yell was cut short as he felt his jugular vein sliced open. He reached to cut off the bleeding, but then looked to find his arms disintegrating into nothing.

    Jeff felt something stab into his heart, slowing pulling out as the ridged blade tore through the flesh. He ground his teeth together, pain washing over his entire body. More wounds continued to appear, blood spraying in every direction as he thrashed in agony. He let out a final cry, as once again hurried steps could be heard echoing through the halls of Utopia House.

    5:21 A.M.

     Camera flashes bounced off of a shattered dresser-top mirror as crime-scene photographers went about their business. A young boy's body lay near the doorway, his multiple stab wounds seeming inadequate next to the large amount of blood staining the floor beneath him. Scully stood completely still in the hallway, her empty gaze coming to rest on his pale skin.

    From amid the typical crime-scene murmur, a familiar voice rang out. "Scully," her partner called to her. She pulled her badge from a trenchcoat pocket and flashed it at the officer guarding the door. He nodded, noting the uneasy expression etched on her face.

    Scully shuffled her way to Mulder, who stood with yet another file folder in his hand. "The victim is a Jeffrey Peal, age nine. He suffered from- "

    "Bi-polar condition," Scully mumbled, cutting him off. "It was him Mulder. I just knew it." She couldn't keep her eyes from roving to the boy's wound-covered corpse.

    "You can't beat yourself up over it, Scully. If anyone is to blame, it's me; I should've listened to you." He narrowed his eyes and surveyed her face. Dark rings helped to give her a depressed, saucer-eyed visage, and her usually pristine hair sat limp on her head.

    "It's not your fault," she responded. "Maybe it's not anyone's fault." She eyed the body again, the boy's marred face imprinting itself in her mind. "I have to get the bastard who did this."

    Mulder chewed at his bottom lip. "You can't make this personal, Scully. Don't do that to yourself."

    She turned her face towards her partner, a sliver of anger still evident in her haggard eyes. His mouth hung open awkwardly; the words he had intended to say had suddenly left him. The uncomfortable silence seemed to drag on, with no end in sight. "We need to go talk with Kleitman," he finally announced. "I can go over the details of the Peal case on the way there."

    For a split second, her expression betrayed her initial surprise. "Are you sure?"

    "Scully, Kleitman is our only witness from the first crime that might know what happened to that boy. If he can identify this man he thinks is going to kill him, then maybe we'll have something to go on."

    He walked out of the room and turned back to her. "I need you there, Scully. You are better at dealing with people than I am."

    She stepped into the hallway, moving almost before her sluggish brain could think about doing it. "Did anyone see Jeff's attacker?" she inquired almost immediately upon beginning their walk.

    "Once again, it appears we have an invisible attacker at work here. The nurses that responded to the boy's screams did not see anyone leave the room, and found the door shut when they arrived."

    "And obviously the same serrated knife was used here as well," she commented.

    "Exactly. The thing that takes the cake, though, isn't the re-appearance of the invisible man."

    Scully's eyebrows arched up into a quizzical countenance as they turned a corner, the Intensive Care Unit coming into view at the end of the hallway. Mulder read the reaction perfectly and offered an explanation. "The nurses found the boy near the door, bleeding to death, but he didn't seem to be concerned with the forty-six stab wounds all over him. He was staring at his hands and screaming, and judging from the bloody handprints in the middle of the door, he had only briefly tried to escape the room."

    "He didn't have a history of obsessive-compulsive behavior?"

    "Apparently not, at least according to the preliminary investigation from our friends in the Smithtown PD."

    The pair arrived at a glass door, and Mulder opened it, holding it ajar for his partner to enter. Kleitman lay in a bed across the small room, and he regarded the new visitors with suspicion.

    "Good morning, Mr. Kleitman," Scully said as they approached his bed. "We need to ask you a few questions. Is that all right?"

    "Who are you?" he asked, his eyes flicking back and forth between the two agents.

    "We're Agents Scully and Mulder with the FBI," she responded. "We're here to catch the man who attacked you."

    "The police told us that you said someone was trying to kill you," Mulder added. "They also said that you wouldn't tell them who it was."

    Kleitman shifted his eyes down to the foot of his bed. "He said if I told anyone, he'd slit my throat."

    Mulder looked over to Scully, hoping she'd noticed the conspicuous throat wound on the boy's body. "Did he threaten to kill anyone else?" he asked.

    "No, I don't think so, but he doesn't like many people. He's not a very nice man."

    "Apparently not," Scully muttered, thinking of the crime scene she had just observed.

    "Carl," Mulder started in a near-whisper. "We need you to give us his name. He killed the little boy, Jeff, that lives here."

    "He's going to kill me!" Kleitman shouted, seemingly disinterested in the death of his fellow patient.

    "Carl, he's going to kill many other people, too, if you don't help us," Scully informed him. "You have a chance to stand up to him, to be a hero. We just need his name."

    He nibbled at the inside of his cheek, his fingers twisting the sheets into little knots as he weighed the options. "You have to protect me," he confided in a hushed tone, his pitiful eyes pleading with Scully. "Help me, and I can help you."

    "I promise we'll protect you," Scully told him. He seemed more like a young child than a twenty-five year old man.

    His long blond locks hung over his blue, frightened eyes as tears began to form.

    "It's Kevin McCloy. He's the one who wants to kill me."

    "Does he live here?" Mulder asked, his eagerness showing.

    "No," Carl told him. "He works at Wendy's with me. He usually helps people at the register."

    "Excuse us for a moment," Mulder told him, and walked to the other end of the room, Scully following close behind.

    "Mulder, do you believe what he is saying?" she asked furtively.

    "Yes, I do. Even if I didn't, we really don't have much else to go on."

    "Have you considered that this death threat is just a byproduct of his paranoia? He told Michelle Elliot that McCloy was standing in the doorway, but it is very obvious that he wasn't. This can all be attributed to his paranoia and delusions, Mulder."

    "It's still worth checking out," he decided. "There's nothing to lose."

    "I'm going to stay here, Mulder. I told Carl I'd protect him."

    "That's fine. I'll call you once I talk to McCloy." He turned and left, softly shutting the glass door behind him. Scully glanced back at Carl, discovering that he had already fallen asleep again.

    7:30 A.M.

     Mulder turned angrily from the door, having knocked and then waited for over two minutes. A car was parked in the driveway, and the dirty Wendy's shirt in the back seat made the agent extremely sure that it was McCloy's vehicle.

    He stalked around the house, finding a high deck affixed to the second story. Without a warrant, Mulder's hands were tied, but he hoped that peeking through windows could at least give him a glimpse of the suspected killer.

    He started up the stairway to the deck, taking the steps two at a time. He reached the top, immediately noticing that the wood was faded and cracked. Whether he was a killer or not, it was evident that he was extremely careless.

    He rubbed some of the grime off of a window and peered in. Clothes were strewn everywhere, some resting on a large pool table. A big-screen TV was on, turned to the morning Sportscenter. The agent didn't understand how a Wendy's employee could afford such posh living arrangements. He moved to another window and again wiped away dirt with his fist. Peeking into the new room, his eyes widening as he took in the scene before him.

    Mulder was looking into McCloy's bedroom, which was in even more disarray than the living room. McCloy lay in his waterbed, blood pooling around what was left of his head. A Sig Sauer lay not too far away, next to a black badge wallet.

    In an instant, Mulder had out his cell phone and had dialed Scully. "It's me," he told her as soon as he heard her answer.

    "What's wrong?" she asked, hearing the urgency in his voice.

    "Scully, I'm here at Kevin McCloy's house, and I am looking at his body."

    "Oh my God. Are you sure?"

    "I'm pretty damn sure, Scully. His car is out front with his work clothes in it, and nobody else appears to be home. Do you have your gun with you?"

    She reached and felt the empty holster as her breath caught in her throat. "No, Mulder, I don't. How did you know that?"

    He didn't answer her question. "How about your badge, Scully?"

    She patted her breast pocket, becoming more confused by the minute. "That's missing as well. What the hell is going on, Mulder?"

    "Scully, your gun and your badge are right next to this man's body, and I'd be willing to put money on the fact that your gun is the one that blew off his face."

    "What?" she asked incredulously.

    "Where's Carl?" he demanded, once again ignoring her question.

    "He's right here, Mulder. He's been asleep since you left."

    "Are you sure he was there the whole time?"

    "Well, the nurses took some readings, and I might have nodded off then. It wasn't more than five minutes, though, Mulder. When I woke up, they were still here, and so was he."

    Mulder checked his watch. "Stay there, Scully. I think I might know what's going on. I've got some research to do, but I'll be there in two hours."

    "Mulder," she started, her voice a mix of bafflement and panic. There was no response, save for the click of her partner hanging up his phone.

    9:13 A.M.

     "Mulder, you're early," Scully commented.

    "Come into the hallway," he commanded her.

    She did as he said, and stood opposite him in the dimly lit corridor. "I've seen that look before," she said, her arms in their usual crossed position. "What theory have you come up with now?"

    "Scully, McCloy wasn't astrally projecting. He obviously wouldn't have projected just to kill himself with your weapon."

    "So what are you suggesting?"

    "I think that Carl Kleitman is dreaming everything that is happening."

    "You think he has premonitory dreams?"

    "No, I don't. In cases where psychics had accurate dreams, the incident always occurred sometime later, in some instances, years later. This man dreamed it while it was happening."

    Scully wrinkled her brow, not seeing where her partner was going with his reasoning. "Mulder, you know I rarely support any paranormal theory, but what you are describing sounds like your original astral projection idea."

    Mulder shook his head. "Astral projection is achieved when the dreamer reaches an astral plane, separating himself from his body. The astral body tends to stay close to the earth body because of its etheric matter, but the astral body is a part of the astral plane. This man is too emotionally disturbed to be able to reach another plane."

    "Mulder, he's medicated. The MAO inhibitors make him as normal a person as he can be under the circumstances."

    The agent laughed. "Are you playing devil's advocate, or do you actually believe the astral projection theory?"

    Scully grinned despite her fatigue. "I just like to make you work for all of your answers." She continued to smile, realizing that it seemed like old times again. If Mulder could keep his promise, maybe it would be possible for her to stay.

    He stared at the floor throughout his partner's response, seemingly lost in thought. "Regardless, I think that the key to our case lies within that man's dreams, and we need to evaluate him overnight in a laboratory."

    "Mulder, why should we do that to him? He's already medicated and stuck in a managed care home, not to mention that he nearly died just a few days ago. Why should we put him through anything more?"

    "Scully, if his dreams are becoming reality, it would explain everything. His file says that he had been suffering from nightmares for over two weeks. There have been murders like the one of Jeffrey Beal throughout the state for eighteen nights. All died from stab wounds inflicted by a serrated knife." Scully still didn't seem to be buying into his theory. "You said that Kleitman is paranoid, and that created his belief that McCloy is trying to kill him. I think that might be true, and because Kleitman was so afraid of that man, he saw him as a murderer in his dreams."

    "Mulder, that still doesn't explain how my gun and my badge ended up next to Kevin McCloy's dead body."

    "Scully, you promised to protect Carl. I think that he dreamt that you killed Kevin to protect him. You said yourself that you fell asleep for a few minutes. That's more than enough time for you to have lived out his dream and killed McCloy."

    "Mulder, even if that is true, why has the rest of our world stayed normal? The dreamworld is so off-kilter and unquantifiable that we would see significant changes to our world every time this man goes to sleep!"

    "Freud posited that the dreamworld is controlled by a censor, that our dreams are nothing more than vehicles for revealing unconscious desires to us. Maybe it isn't this man's dreams per se that are coming true, but the unconscious wishes that lie behind them."

    Scully tried not to laugh. "Freud is not exactly held in high regard by psychologists, Mulder. Need I remind you why?"

    "No, you don't, Scully, but you still haven't offered up any satisfying evidence to contradict my theory."

    "OK, Mulder. Freud also believed that our fears are seen in our dreams, so why hasn't Kleitman died from a dream in which he did the same?"

    "It's a widely held belief that if you die in a dream, you die in the real world, and, given my theory, that would be even more true for this man. Perhaps he has dreamed of his death before, but it was hidden in a dreamsign in such a way that whatever controls his abilities was completely fooled. That might even be why he survived the attack a few nights ago."

    "Mulder, some of this is making sense, but there is still quite a bit that can't be explained, like the choice of victims."

    "I think that Carl saw McCloy as an evil man who preyed on the weak, and that is why Jeff was killed. Some of the other victims were elderly, and still others were handicapped. In fact, other children died as well."

    Scully looked at the floor, still trying to process all of the information he was throwing at her. "I still don't see how you came to this conclusion, Mulder."

    "You told me Carl was asleep, and it had been just over two hours since I left. Rapid-eye movement sleep, the stage in which we dream, takes over at approximately an hour and a half after sleep begins. I figured that if we were all living out his dreams, it would also explain why Jeff was looking at his hands."

    "How's that?"

    "When someone tries to have a lucid dream, there are various tests that they can do to see if they are dreaming. One of them is to look at your hands, because if you are dreaming, your hands will melt away. If Jeff was living out Carl's dream, then seeing his hands melting would have surely frightened him."

    "I don't know, Mulder. This is just all so unreal."

    "That's why I need you to examine Jeff's body, Scully. Maybe you can see for yourself that what I'm saying is true."

    "I hope so, Mulder," she said, almost resignedly, before turning to leave.

    9:30 A.M.

     "Carl, I've got a present for you," Mulder announced.

    "Really?" The man perked up at the news.

    The agent produced a six-pack of Mountain Dew from behind his back. "This is best kind of soda made." He grinned at the man lying in the bed, who had a huge smile of his own.

    "Nurse Michelle never let me have soda, but one time I snuck some. It was good." The smile remained and Mulder handed him the drinks.

    "Drink up, Carl."

    9:50 A.M.

     Scully saw her partner enter the autopsy bay, an upbeat expression on his face.

    "Just doing an external exam?" he asked, stating the obvious.

    "I don't think there really is any question as to cause of death," she responded. "So what are you so happy about?"

    "I think I figured out how to stop this problem."

    "Really?" she queried, surprised.

    "Sleep deprivation," he told her. "If Carl doesn't sleep, he can't dream."

    "Mulder," she started, her voice almost a whine. "Who knows what that could do to someone suffering from schizophrenia? It could make his symptoms worse, or maybe even send him into catatonic schizophrenia."

    "What else is there to do, Scully? There isn't any other way to stop it."

    "Mulder, you're suggesting that we put a man's life at risk."

    "No, Scully, I'm not suggesting. I've already done it."

    "You've done what?" she asked, in complete shock.

    "I gave him a six-pack of Mountain Dew. The caffeine should keep him awake for quite a while."

    Scully tore off her smock, mask, and gloves and threw them into the trash can, completely silent the entire time. She rushed out of the room, leaving a befuddled Mulder in her wake.

    9:57 A.M.

     Mulder finally reached Kleitman's room in Intensive Care to find that Scully and a trio of nurses had already arrived. Carl was lying on the bed, surrounded in his own vomit, his skin shiny from sweat. Mulder rushed forward, looking at the small man's unconscious body. The agent's eyes were pained, fear starting to pool in their recesses.

    He sank to the floor, and buried his head in his hands. His body shook with sobs as four people rushed to save the man's life.

    MAY 27TH

     "Yes, ma'am, I understand. We will both be there." Scully paused as she listened to the woman on the other end of the phone line. "Thank you."

    She hung up the phone softly, her lips pursed tightly. Mulder stopped tossing his basketball in the air and leaned back in his chair, his eyes closed. "They want my badge this time, Scully."

    "No, Mulder, they don't. As far they know, Carl Kleitman died of heart failure."

    "You shouldn't have lied for me, Scully. Your job isn't worth risking."

    "Mulder, you've done it for me before." A brief vision of Donnie Pfaster flashed in her memory and she closed her eyes. "Besides, Mulder, you are my only reason for staying. If you leave, I will too."

    "You weren't in control of your actions when you killed Pfaster; I was. I killed Kleitman because of my own stupidity."

    "Mulder, you didn't know." Scully walked to him and wrapped her arms around him reassuringly.

    "I don't think that OPR will see it that way, Scully. They find out that I gave him caffeine that reacted with Nardil to cause a fatal hypertensive crisis. No matter what you think, it is my fault. I killed him."

    "We're going to get through this, Mulder. I can't leave you. Not now." He looked up at her through tear-filled eyes. "We won't lose the X-Files. I promise." She rocked his large body gently, his guilty tears spilling on her shoulder. "We're going to get through this."

    Skinner stood in the doorway silently, watching his agents compassionately. He had a feeling that Mulder was responsible for Kleitman's death; there had been something different in the man's demeanor the past few days. He hoped and prayed that the other Assistant Directors on the board would not develop the same hunch. Skinner was their ace in the hole, possibly their last hope in the Bureau if the truth were to come out. He turned and walked away silently, determined to save their jobs, even if it meant his own.