And the void will open before me – stretching and expanding to push at its edges – shifting and growing to encompass it all.
The emptiness will swell – touching and claiming – reaching and grabbing – searching to quench its ravenous thirst.
It will swallow me whole – acknowledging and exploiting – understanding and using my weakness to destroy what little of me remains.
The last wave will break to wash it all away.
And the hollow will remain – demanding and owning – trapping and imprisoning – I will surrender to the darkness at last…
Once she is gone.
Her skin is burning up. It is paper thin and translucent with little flames lapping at my desperate hands from underneath. Her blood is a fire threatening to rage unchecked.
I notice this, not for the first time, as I carry her towards the bathroom.
“Hold on, Scully. Just a little while longer.” I whisper against her ear, not sure if she can even hear me. She has been fading in and out of consciousness for the past few hours. I wish for anything, a small sign, a moan even – one signal that she can hear my voice, that she understands that I have not deserted her.
The bathroom is small, swabbed in shades of murky green, and it must have been housekeeping’s day off because it is far from clean. Right now, however, it suits my purposes perfectly.
I kneel gently onto the cold, hard surface of the tiles beneath my feet, lowering myself slowly so that I don’t unnecessarily jar my precious cargo. Resting her up against my chest, I use a free hand to twist off the tap of the bathtub faucet. Testing the water with the same hand, I decide that it is cold enough for what I intend, without being too cold, and I shift to lower her in. Her head lolls against my arm supporting behind her neck. If I let go, she will slip beneath the water’s surface. She will sink to the bottom of this rusty tub and never come up for air again.
The thin cotton of the camisole she still wears sticks and clings to her fevered skin. I left it on as a concession to modesty, though I realize now that sheer white cotton is barely a concession when wet.
It doesn’t matter anyway. I barely notice her body.
How could I?
How could I look at her that way when she lies so helpless in my arms? How could I be aware of anything except the harsh sound of her labored breath and the feel of her flaming skin? My entire existence lies centered on each of her brave attempts at breathing.
It is all I can say, the only word I have strength enough left to muster. I say it aloud, not even knowing to whom it is spoken.
Maybe I speak to a God I long ago gave up belief in. Maybe I speak to Him for her sake, hoping that whatever faith she still holds will be enough to sway her God towards our favor.
Maybe I say it only for myself.
It is the most desperate of appeals, the most heartfelt. My life is reduced to nothing more than that single word – a monosyllable entreaty.
It repeats in my head, playing over and over and over again. The word forms into a loop, a never-ending recording.
I raise a shaking hand to wrap around the washcloth that lies draped over the metal faucet. Dipping it into the cold water, I bring it up to smooth across her pale face. Her skin has taken on the unearthly pall of a fever that refuses to break.
I pray that it will break. Each breath I take is another prayer that somehow, sometime soon, this will end. I am sitting here, in this bathroom, crouched before a rusty tub, washing her with a cool cloth, all the while silently praying.
Willing myself not to cry out, I shut my eyes. I cannot break into the sobs that threaten to wrack my body. If I were to allow that, if I were to give in to the impulse to weep, I know that I would not be capable of stopping. I would cry until my tears ran dry, and then there would be nothing left. I would be completely hollow, the tears taking the last of my soul with them in their descent across my cheeks. So instead, I swallow lumps of unshed tears, choking them back so that I may stay strong for her sake.
My strength is in terrible danger of running dry.
I feared that I had at last run out of strength when we pulled into the parking lot of this motel. As I scooped her from the passenger’s seat in which she sat, and cradled her in my arms, I thought that my legs would give out right then. I imagined that at any moment I would sink to the rough pavement, Scully still clutched firmly to my chest; and we would lie there together, incapable of movement, two still figures crouched amidst a sea of sun-cracked concrete.
Somehow, that didn’t happen. Somehow, I managed to put one foot in front of the other, slowly but surely, steadily advancing to the room I had just moments ago secured with fifty bucks cash.
She was so light in my arms as I lifted her from the car. When I rose up to stand with her, she shifted and murmured against my shirt. Her eyes opened, and I could once again gaze into oceans of crystal blue and storm-cloud gray. Even though they were clouded by pain, I could still see her spirit behind those eyes. Leaning down, I was barely able to hear her as she whispered my name. It was a momentary lapse of consciousness. For one brief instant, she became aware and called out to me.
<“Hush now, Scully. Everything’s going to be all right.”>
Oh, how I wish I could believe my own words.
And her eyes closed again, shutting her back into her fevered world, cutting off my window to her soul.
It was the last time she would open her eyes.
How must we have looked to anyone who saw us then? A man, unshaved and dirty, wide eyed from lack of sleep, carrying a tiny sick woman into the dirty room of a cheap motel. I hope that no one has seen us. I send that prayer up amongst my others. I have been so careful, travelling only at night, shielding us from view. If we are recognized, it could mean the end.
I fear that they will come for us, that they will decide that they are not done with her and take her back. I fear that the man who brought her to me, who returned her in this hideous condition, will reconsider and track us down. My fears overwhelm me with their terror.
At night, I do not sleep. I stay awake, gun pressed firmly into my palm, listening to the sound of her breath – watching. I sit and watch the night; terrified of sleep for the vulnerability it brings. How can I protect her if I am sleeping?
But I know; I know with painful clarity, that I can not stay awake forever. Sleep deprived and delirious I will be of little good to her. It has been almost a week since I last slept. The exhaustion has faded into a dull pain behind my crazed eyes.
My only consolation is that I have seen no indication that we have been followed. I reason that if they had wanted to catch us, if they truly cared about us anymore, they would have found us by now. As I drove, I searched the highway stretching out behind us. I glanced to the reflection in my rearview mirror every minute or so during our initial flight, terrified of the faint shimmer of blackened headlights behind our car.
Yet no one came. Our vehicle remained the solitary figure on most of the roads upon which we traveled. Silently, we crawled along dusty desert highways with not another soul in sight.
And here we are, in some tiny forgotten town, hidden in the only motel for miles. We hide.
I am completely at a loss. I don’t know how to save her; I don’t know what they’ve done to her. I don’t even know that she can be saved. For all I am aware of, they returned her to me only to die.
All I have, the only hope I still cling to, are the assurances of that man. It was those assurances that encouraged me to hand over the evidence they sought.
<“The damage should not be permanent.”>
She is damaged and lies broken in a tub of cold water.
She is murmuring something now. Shifting and twitching in the water, quietly moaning in her delirium.
I think she is shivering.
Worried that she may catch a chill, that by doing this I have done her more harm than good, I reach down to lift her from the tub. Water pours in rivulets over my chest and legs as I gather her up. Her weightlessness fills my arms and drenches us both.
We move into the bedroom, and I place her gently on the bed. She is shaking now from the cold, but as I lay my hands against her forehead, I realize that she is still warm. Not as warm as she was before, but a fever nonetheless.
I grab one of my own T-shirts from my bag and a pair of her underwear. As I dress her, I hope fleetingly that she will open her eyes, that she will realize what I am doing and wake up only to zing me with some scathing comment.
<Come on, Scully. Wake up and reclaim your dignity.>
But she does not. She lies limp as a love-abused doll, moving only under my manipulations.
I towel dry her hair and pick her up to deposit her on the side of the bed not drenched now by water. There was once a time when I would have given anything for the luxury of seeing Scully unguarded, when the privilege of doing something as simple as drying her hair would have thrilled me. There was also a time when the idea of seeing her body as I do now would have rendered me incapable of speech.
That time is long since buried.
I can now run my fingers through her hair to my hearts content. I can gaze unchastized upon the perfection of her body without fear of being caught. These luxuries now granted I would give anything to return. All I want now, the only gift I have any desire of possessing, is for her eyes to open once again with clarity; for her to wake up, smile that singular smile of hers – the one responsible for melting the lifetimes worth of ice around my heart – and to speak my name.
I would sell my soul for the sound of my name upon her lips.
Once I have her settled under the sheets, I move up close behind her and pull my soaked shirt up and over my head to toss it to the floor. I know that I should take off my jeans, they are wet too, but I don’t have the energy. Instead, I curl myself around her, hoping that by holding on tightly enough I may keep her here with me just a little while longer.
She trembles and moans softly in my arms, trapped by the tempest of dreams.
My arms wrap tightly around her, fists clutching white-knuckled bundles of her T-shirt, and she quiets in my embrace.
I hold her like a lover in her sleep, as I have never held her in the light of day.
Eventually, comforted by the now steady sound of her breath across my cheek, I give in to the temptation of sleep, hoping that within its embrace I might find peace, knowing that miracle won’t be possible.
The wind blows ancient dust across a highway rarely traveled. Those who have suffered can smell the emptiness of this wind. Solitude, they know, has a scent like old burnt paper. It is crisp and brittle and dry. These winds are filled with the stench of that void.
I fill my lungs with that aching solitude as the gas station looms into view. It is a spot of light on the not-too-distant horizon. Starkly set against the desert sky, a single lamppost casts a wide, harsh circle of too-white light. A spotlight almost, positioned by chance to fall on the shape of an old brown sedan.
Behind it, the low structure of the abandoned gas station sits in undisturbed darkness. The slice of the light will not penetrate that far. Its harshness lies focused on the car pulled purposefully to the side of this lonely highway.
A man stands in the road on the driver’s side, back leaning impatiently against the frame of the door. His expression is schooled to be blank. I wonder briefly if this is a skill that can even be taught. Can men be trained to abandon their souls, or are some of us born with that absence already in place?
Gravel and dirt spray the air with a crackle of motion, as I slam my squealing brakes to stop close behind him. Allowing the dust to settle, I take in a long steady breath before stepping from the car.
I will not believe she is dead. I would know if that were so.
I can still feel the assurance of her life, the steady pulse of her that thrums within my blood.
My boots crack dully atop the highway; sharp steps, carefully planned, cautiously placed. I grasp tightly to the reigns of control.
The cold comfort of body-warmed metal against the small of my back – the familiar bulk of my weapon.
I pause a few steps before him, clenching and unclenching the envelope clutched firmly in my hand.
“Did you bring what we requested?”
What they demand of me. The price they’ve placed on what they’ve stolen. The anchor of my life ripped painfully from my grasp.
I have brought what they “requested.”
“Yes.” Dead and long cold the word slips from my tongue.
“Let’s see it.”
Clenching and unclenching, a slice of the rough paper tears a tiny wound in the palm of my hand.
They have a promise to fulfil; a bargain they’ve made. It will be honored, or I will die with this paper clenched in a death’s grip, retiring with gratitude to the side of this sun-parched highway.
I wonder if she will be waiting for me.
I know I would smile then, reaching phantom arms out to graze a memory’s cheek. That – at last – would be peace.
“You want what we’ve promised.” He says it as a recited fact, his voice failing to rise or fall upon any of the words.
My answer is not even needed.
He gestures to the passenger’s side of the car, indicating with his assassin’s eyes the path I must follow.
I am vulnerable now, my back exposed to the threat he might pose. He could shoot me at any moment, and I would fail to see it coming.
This thought is forgotten as I glimpse a flash of muted copper through the tinted windows of the passenger’s side window.
I open the door with trembling fingers, afraid of what I may find, fearing the crimson of her blood. As I open the door, her limp figure slumps lifelessly through the frame. Moving swiftly, I catch her in my waiting arms.
Her body is warm, a heat I have missed like sunlight these past few weeks. I bury my face in her hair; unable to force back the tears that pinch and sting at my eyes, inhaling the heaven’s scent I could name in my sleep.
With arms now strong by the nearness of her, I lift her up to carry her from this car.
When I turn, his gun is leveled not at my own head, but at the shuttered eyelids of the tiny woman I shelter in my arms.
“Your side of the deal.”
He wants what I’ve promised, the sacrifice I willingly make.
I take one more step, and shifting my living burden, I unclench my hand to drop a creased and tattered envelope to the trunk of his dirty car. Tiny specks of blood dot the crispness of wrinkled paper.
His gun still planted squarely at Scully; he picks up the envelope to place it in his pocket. While he moves back to the door on his side of the car, I hear his last words.
“The damage should not be permanent.”
And then I am left there, the pulse of my life’s passion fluttering faintly against the palm of my hand, her breath slow and warm against my neck.
He leaves us to the night.
A forced rush of air passed through over-taxed vocal chords. The rasp of an abused voice box.
The sound of her scream will, for the rest of my life, be ingrained upon my psyche. Even if she survives this, even if by some miracle we pull through this terror together, I know that the exact pitch of her screams will resound through my unconscious forevermore, taunting me, shaking me with memories of this time.
And right now, haunting memories of pain-laden screams would be a blessing, a bliss willingly surrendered to. I would welcome such silent torment if it meant that those sounds were to be only a distant occurrence, some terrible past event.
My problem, the thing that torments me at this moment, is that the sound of her screaming is an all too sharp reality. She rips through the night with rasping gasps of horror, tearing away the silence.
It has been this way since I picked her up off the side of that highway, since I bundled her within my arms and realized the gravity of the illness that grips her.
I was torn from my vigilant observation of the road beyond our motel room – refusing to sleep – by the sudden pierce of her scream. It began a nightmare, a constant terror this night as she shudders through her delirium, imprisoned by her dreams, caught in a place that I cannot rescue her from.
The worst of it, the absolute worst of it is that often times her screams become less senseless, emerging from nonsensical babbles and shrieks to crystallize into one perfect word.
She calls for me. From the terror of her dreams and memories she searches for me, begging me to save her.
I wasn’t there.
She suffered for me, and I wasn’t there.
Over and over and over again – the only word she can form with precision. Her beautiful voice, that familiar cadence, the sound that has brought me back from the edge of death time and again, it rips apart the night with waves of what I feel as an accusation.
All I can do, the only option I have, is to hold her through the tremors while she cries out again and again, to attempt consolation of her trembling body with a litany of soothing words.
“It’s okay, Scully. I’m here now. No one will hurt you anymore. Hush, Scully. Everything’s all right now.”
I say these words, in the dark of this room, the fluorescent red glare of a neon sign sifting through the slats of the venetian blinds, casting us both in a twisted sanguine glow.
I whisper in the dark, my consolations mixing with the timbre of her anguished voice.
A duet of two different types of pain.
On and on…
I am so weary.
With my forehead pressed to the cool metal of this wall, I can feel the vibrations as the elevator rises. With a low ding, the doors swish open onto a hall. I know it is time to move, I know that I should open my eyes and exit the elevator. I know these things yet cannot bring them to be.
I want to stay just this way, eyes cradled in the bliss of darkness, forehead soothed by the touch of a cool surface, unmoving and unwilling to move again.
Of course, with my luck, one of my neighbors would find me in here eventually and call the police.
So instead, I open my sleep-deprived eyes to the dull glare of florescent overhead lights, and step with unfeeling determination out into the corridor.
Approaching my door, I notice something odd. Of course, the fact that I notice anything in this state is a God granted miracle indeed. Yet I am able to observe the unusual fact that my door appears slightly ajar.
Pulling the comforting weight of my weapon from the holster behind my back, I grip the metal and almost pray that whoever may be behind that door finds his aim before I am able to discover my own.
With a swift kick, the door flies open, and I sweep my sight around the dark space.
What a lovely target I must present standing here, illuminated so clearly by the harshness of the hall lights at my back. It is as I consider this, as I wait for some unseen enemy to take me down from the shadows within my own apartment, that I first notice the small package that rests on the ground in front of my open door.
Assuming that I would be dead by now if that were anyone’s intention, I bend swiftly to snatch up the item.
Its brown paper wrapped visage is a familiar one to me. A man tends to find companies that will supply him with certain items without the embarrassing obviousness of marked packaging. I would assume that this was one of those particular packages had I ordered anything recently. The problem is, I haven’t, in quite a long time.
It must be something else.
I move with a burden of dread to the front of my television without even bothering to shut my still open door. The brown paper reveals what I already know as I tear it off and slide the tape into my VCR.
Pressing play, the picture is fuzzy for several long moments before crystallizing into blackness, and then, before my terrorized eyes, an image I have both prayed for and dreaded slowly fills the screen.
At first, all I can distinguish are the dirty walls of a small room. After a few moments, a small bed, or cot of some sort, is visible. Lying on that bed appears to be a tiny figure.
When the light gradually increases, my breath stops in an abrupt gasp.
Hair fanned out like angels’ wings, eyes drawn shut in a clench of pain, skin white and pallid against dirty sheets, is the small figure of a woman I have cried blood for these past few weeks.
Salty streams streak unnoticed over my cheeks, as the woman on the tape twitches and moans in her sleep. She stirs restlessly, thrashing about on the bed momentarily before quieting once again. With her position shifted, the brutal outline of angry purple bruising can be seen clearly along the once pristine delicacy of her jaw and throat.
I am sobbing openly now, my anguished cries filling the room, almost succeeding in drowning out the whimpers of the woman – my Scully – on the tape.
The tape plays on for another moment or two before fading again into blackness. The whir of the VCR, as it automatically rewinds the offending tape, snaps me back into reality.
I snatch up the discarded papers that previously held the tape, searching their folds for something – anything.
With a flutter, my angry hands dislodge a scrap of paper that floats gently to the floor. Grabbed desperately, the words of the paper swim into focus with forced concentration.
< CR 119, mile marker 1078, TX
Bring what does not belong to you.>
A road, a mile marker, a state, and a demand – a place of exchange to deliver a ransom. They know I will come. They know I will give them what they ask; they could have asked for this weeks ago and I would have handed it over then. They have only forced me to wait with the intention of teaching me a lesson, a lesson in pain, in the anguish they can create permanently if I am not careful.
And oh what an effective lesson it has been.
In the back of my mind, as I numbly dial up the airline to book a flight, and swiftly grab my jacket from where it is tossed hastily by the television, her words replay clearly in my head.
<“I can only follow you so far, Mulder.”>
And my reply…
<“What’s that supposed to mean?”>
<“We’ve seen what these men are capable of in the past.”>
Her pause as she refused to meet my eyes…
<“I don’t want to see you destroyed by a search that can only reveal more lies, that will never bring you any closer to the truth you seek.”>
<“How can we know what this search will yield if we don’t even try?”>
The pain in her eyes as they finally reached my own…
<“Because, I can remember the last time we possessed this type of evidence, proof this damning, and I can remember the lives that were lost, the prices we paid.”>
Her voice was so quiet.
<“I don’t think I can go through that again, Mulder. I don’t want to.”>
And my loneliness as I sensed that she would not continue with me…
<“I won’t force you into anything that you don’t feel comfortable with, Scully.”>
I won’t force you into anything, Scully.
I won’t force you.
And *I* didn’t force her.
I abandoned her. I left to pursue my own selfish goals. I stalked after my elusive truths with the practiced sight of a hunter. And for the first time in all my years of searching, I could smell the stench of victory looming on the horizon. The first tang of my quarry fed my fevered lust and spurred me forward in blind pursuit.
I didn’t force her; I promised her that I wouldn’t.
And the hollow sound of my fist against the wood of her door, the shrill ring of her telephone as I called again and again, the worried voice of her mother as she assured me that Dana had said nothing to her about leaving town – the knowledge that she was gone.
I won’t force you.
But in a way, I had.
Three weeks of silent agony, three weeks of unanswered questions, three weeks of dead ends, all culminating in the discovery of a brown paper parcel on the cold floor of my lonely apartment.
So as my door slams shut behind me, and I stab the button to summon the elevator I only so recently disembarked from, I play and replay the last words I heard her speak. I torture myself and hope that I am not too late. I pray that if these men have killed her, that at least they might find the decency to do the same to me.
Thinking again, I doubt that will be a problem.
Perhaps then, I will see her again soon.
<“I can only follow you so far, Mulder.”>
But, Scully, I can follow you.
My eyes scan the road with nervous terror.
<There’s no one behind us, there’s no one behind us, there’s no one behind us, there’s no one behind us, there’s no one behind us…>
It’s safe now, I think, safe enough to stop.
I pull the car to the side of the road as gently as possible, warring with my impulse to slam on the brakes and sweep her into my arms.
We have broken every speed limit in three counties racing along these distant highways. I had to be sure, had to travel far enough to be certain. I needed assurance that no one would follow us and try to take her away again.
And now, an hour after I first lifted her into my arms from the seat of an ominous brown sedan, I am battling with the handle of my door which refuses to release me. Finally, it gives with a hard push and I launch myself out and around the car, bringing myself to the passenger’s side and opening the door with rapid movements.
She looks so deceptively peaceful. Eyelashes gracing the soft swell of her cheeks, head turned to one side with a fall of flaming hair obscuring her features. You could almost imagine that she is sleeping, merely resting her eyes after the exhaustion of travel.
You *could* imagine this, were it not for the soft mewling noises of pain that continue to escape her pursed white lips.
I stumble to kneel beside her still form, sharp bits of gravel digging into my knees through the jeans I wear. Almost blindly, I reach out to touch her, one shaking hand grazing the soft skin of her face, the other reaching to clasp one of her tiny hands within my own. She stirs further at this contact.
Softly, so slowly I almost do not register the sight at all, her lashes flutter gently and then part fully to again showcase the brilliance of her eyes. They stare up at me with frightening serenity, an unusual aura of calm that contradicts the trembling of her weak body.
Her lips part slightly, and the longed for sound of her voice fills my ears with delicately spoken words.
“I knew you would come.”
The trust in her voice, the absolute certainty, causes my soul to ache with a deep burning. I realize that I am crumbling from within. The faith this woman places in me tears down my walls and raises them again, set in stone so strong even the fires of Hell would prove challenged in an attempt to destroy them.
She knew I would come.
Even when they dragged her from her home, when they beat her and shoved her to the damp floor of a cold cell, even then, she knew I would come.
Even when she spent weeks suffering as punishment for my actions, even then, she knew I would come.
She possesses faith I will never have – the ability to believe that even I have never obtained.
Scully alone carries the strength and faith for the both of us.
Her eyes have closed again, and she has resumed her fitful slumber.
And I am left here, kneeling in the ditch of an empty highway, the skin of her burning flesh clasped tight against my own, terrified of the journey to come.
<sun beating down on a dusty desert highway>
<mottled purple bruising marring the purity of once lily-white skin>
<“Did you bring what we requested?”>
<the squeal of slamming brakes, and the hiss of scattering gravel>
<“I can only follow you so far, Mulder.”>
<an innocuous looking brown paper parcel>
<“The damage should not be permanent.”>
<a tiny figure curled tightly atop the dirty sheets of a thin mattress>
<“Hush now, Scully. Everything’s going to be all right.”>
<a single lamppost illuminating the desert night>
<“I knew you would come.”>
<the harsh bite of stones beneath my knees>
<“I can only follow you so far, Mulder.”>
<rivulets of water that streak over my chest as I lift her damp and shivering into my arms>
<“No one will hurt you anymore.”>
<my name torn as a scream from her lips>
<“Hold on, Scully, just a little while longer.”>
<a prayer sent up to an uncertain God>
I wake to the sensation of weight shifting in my arms. Snapping from sleep’s sweet oblivion, I sit up roughly, shaking the images of terrible memories from my dream-clouded mind, and pull Scully more firmly against me. She quiets in my embrace, and in what now seems to be a miracle of monumental proportions, I see something that stalls my lungs mid-breath.
Lying in my arms, her now cooler cheek resting against my chest, Scully tilts her head to the side and looks up at me with a lucidity I have not seen in far too long.
Humid breath dances across my bare skin.
Yes, Scully. I came. I would walk to the edge of the Earth to find you. I would suffer the fires of Hell. Because while you may be my greatest weakness, you are also my greatest strength, the single entity that grounds me in humanity. You complete me, and without you, I am less than whole. And that is as it should be, as it has always been. We are linked this way – inseparable despite our differences, intrinsic pieces necessary to complete the other’s puzzle.
I close my eyes, sending out a silent thank you to whomever can hear, to whatever deity has seen fit to answer my desperate prayers. She is looking up at me questioningly, wondering about the strange expression that must be on my face. She wants to know what I am thinking.
I smile down at her while gliding my hand up to caress her hair.
“Yes, Scully. I came.”
Weird? Hopelessly confusing? Brilliant?
Just wondering, so tell me what you think – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading.