OUT OF THE MAINSTREAM
|SCULLY'S CASE FILES|
PENNSYLVANIA, 3 AM
The incredibly intense floodlight beam winked out abruptly, leaving those below virtually blinded and helpless in the flickering shadows created by the advancing flames. Above them, the ship vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. People stood mesmerised with hands upraised as if in praise to some unseen deity, oblivious to the threat from the rapidly creeping fire spread, but Scully turned to the vacant wheelchair to confirm what she thought she had witnessed only moments ago. It wasn’t possible and yet she couldn’t deny the evidence of her own eyes. Cassandra Spender had just been taken.
Even as her mind reeled from that incredible event, one fact remained perfectly clear to her - they were in deadly danger - it was obvious the discarded remainder were to be callously eliminated and disposed of by the flames. Scully’s blood ran cold. It was Skyland all over again. They had been summoned here to die!
Scully backed away from the chair until she thumped against the hand rail and could go no further. She brought her hands to her face. Why here? She didn’t know this place. Why hadn’t she died at Skyland Mountain in the last group of victims? Skyland was where it had all begun and where it should have so rightly ended. Four years, a lifetime ago. Yesterday… A moan choked off in her throat and she tried to close down her thoughts, to shut out the flashbacks which continued to haunt her. Unwanted memories refused to yield and once again lay claim to play before her tightly closed eyes…
Whatever it was, was on the ground now. The glare was much too bright and all she could see were vaguely human-shaped silhouettes moving back and forth against the light. She was placed on a stretcher and strapped down. She couldn’t fight them; their hands and arms were much too strong. An oxygen mask was pulled over her face and she felt a tiny needle prick and then herself being lifted and loaded onto the craft. She felt no pain but she couldn’t resist, could not fight back; she was powerless…
The screams of agony reached a crescendo, a mournful chorus of the dying rising above the roaring sound of the blaze and Scully snapped her eyes open to peer fearfully through splayed fingers. Many people now were literally engulfed. Stunned bystanders seemed incapable of escaping the horrifying, death-throws of their companions. Only a few had the sense to run for their lives. Scully was not one of them. As she watched a blackened figure stumbled back and toppled at her feet, a gun fell out of his lifeless hand and she recognised the man she had seen at the hospital and here at the bridge assisting Cassandra. She could tell he was dead. He was smouldering and hideously burnt.
All around her mayhem, impossible images from a waking nightmare, or a living surrealist painting produced by a demented mind. Above all, the terrible smell of burning flesh, cries of help and fearful screams from terrified directionless men and women. Several walking human torches passed among them. Flames flared, danced and swirled all over them, eating at them, killing them. Shock and horror froze on Scully’s face. She took hold of the rail to steady herself. It was hot.
Too much was happening all at once, too many frightened people struggled and failed to save their own lives. Any desire to try and help, and by God it was there, seemed numbed to her somehow, as if some mechanism had kicked in and was working against her, a force that held her bound by her own worst fears. The disembodied wailing took on the sound of hundreds of tormented souls condemned to an eternity in hell. It grew louder, and louder.
Scully covered her ears. "I can’t," she told herself. "I can’t!" She was a doctor for God’s sake, but what could she do? How could she stop it?
A young, auburn-haired woman struggled to flee the flames but fell to her hands and knees as her jeans caught and her clothing burst into a living ribbon of yellow and blue flame. The woman looked directly at Scully and her expression of absolute terror, her pitiful cries and thrashings snapped Scully out of her inaction. Without thinking, instinct-driven, she pulled herself free from her invisible bonds and went immediately in amongst the fire to her aid. Scully tried to douse the flames by throwing her own overcoat around the woman’s shoulders and forced her to the ground. She succeeded in doing so, but as she turned her over she realised she could do nothing more than comfort. The woman was already in extremis, seized by pain-wracked jerks and gasps. Her eyes were glazed. Finally, critically injured and slipping fast, the woman fixed a tortured gaze upon her, mouthed the word ‘why?’ and simply died in her arms.
Deeply shaken, but clearly focused now, Scully looked up and around, breathing hard as the conflagration sucked up the oxygen in order to grow. There contained a domino effect within it. She had no idea what was fuelling the fire. Human flesh and fatty tissue were certainly involved but it was more than that. This was some kind of intense biochemical reaction, artificially produced somehow. She could smell the sickening odour of cremation. The woman’s senseless death turned her shock to anger and finally to a seething rage.
Damn it! They were not going to die like the others. She refused to be a victim! From deep within her she found the courage to put aside her own fears and take charge of the straggling, frightened group. She had to, there was no one else. Ironically it was the appalling deaths of two of the faceless men who offered their only of chance of escape. They had been reduced to lumps of bubbling, gluey remains, clearing a way.
"Get off the bridge! Come on! Move! Move!" Scully shouted at the top of her voice.
She began to pull and push people, men and women alike, all seemingly rooted to the spot in shock and unable to react of their own volition, and shoved and dragged them from the converging fire fronts. They followed like sheep. Her example set others to work and the relatively uninjured began to help the walking wounded. All the while Scully called to them, encouraged and cajoled, appealed, yelled and ordered as necessary. She found and directed them to a secluded area in the wooded parkland just off the bridge. When she saw that they were safe, she turned back.
After wading through more survivors she was pleased to see were walking toward her and off the bridge, Scully stood a moment to survey the scene. A terrible pall of smoke had formed, thick and grey and full of fine human ash that even the cascading spray off the dam spillway couldn’t dissipate. The coach-style bridge lamps were unconnected points of fuzzy light and useless. An eerie, reflective orange glow tinted the night sky.
If she hadn’t been here to see it herself, hadn’t been an actual eyewitness to these events, it would have needed some convincing to prove to her that this could be real. This time Mulder would need to rely on her testimony. She went to reach for her cell phone intending to punch in his code only to realise she was no longer wearing her coat. She let out an exasperated sigh then forgot all about it. There was no time. She saw a woman lying on the side walkway hanging tightly to a bridge stanchion, her hands red raw as a result. She was only slightly burnt and stained with soot but overcome and unable to go on. Scully went to her quickly, and latched onto the woman’s wrists.
"Come on, get up, get up!"
"I can’t!" the woman protested loudly.
"Do you want to die?" She had to pry the woman’s hands free before getting her onto her feet. All the while the woman mumbled incoherently, clearly in the grip of some psychosis and greatly agitated. She struggled and was almost a dead weight, heavily taxing Scully’s strength and they stumbled together.
A man appeared at Scully’s elbow, injured himself, but ready to help. They half carried, half dragged the woman to the parking lot where the man literally picked her up and carried her into the woods to the group of sheltering survivors. Scully left him to it and returned to the bridge.
Practically immediately she saw a teenage girl suffering at least second and third degree burns, kneeling beside yet another partly cremated body. The stench of burnt human flesh was terrible. The girl was rocking back and forth intoning: "Mom? Mom?" Scully took her by the shoulders, and the girl somehow got up of her own accord, but she was hysterical with grief. She suddenly clung to Scully tightly and cried violently into the side of her neck. Scully managed to get a name from her - Rebecca - and hugged her gently to calm and reassure her and, using her own body to protect the girl from the flames, walked her off the bridge.
The wooded area resembled the aftermath of an aircrash, only the obvious scattering of plane wreckage was missing. Badly injured were strewn everywhere, like discarded fire-damaged Barbie and Ken dolls. Moans and cries of help drowned out all other sounds. Precious few survivors attended them, but she could tell these Good Samaritans themselves were obviously in shock, and struggling just above the level of collapse. Scully marvelled at their brave if inadequate attempts. What could they do? What could anyone do?
She found a comfortable place for her young charge and laid her shivering and now unconscious body onto the grass. Scully took a moment to look around her, mentally assessing the situation for triage. She needed to be able to give the rescuers, when they arrived, an accurate situation report. It was a scene that mirrored what she had seen for herself at Skyland Mountain, with one very important exception. Her job there had been to supervise in the retrieval of the dead; her task here was to give aid and comfort to the living. But first she must try and rescue anyone left in that inferno.
Scully needed someone to take charge here so she could do that. The young man who had helped her, he seemed to be in control of himself. She finally located him helping another survivor, and drew him quickly aside. He was about 29, handsome despite the blackened and blistered face. His jacket and jeans were scorched. His fair hair was tousled and damp and his blue eyes were watery, red and very anxious.
"What’s your name?" Scully asked him. He didn’t answer straight away and she repeated the question.
"Ken Wallace," he mumbled, finally, coughed and she could tell that he was barely holding it together. He wasn’t looking at her. She needed him focused and she grasped his arms to shake him.
"Where are you from? What do you do for a living?"
He blinked rapidly and frowned at her. "Philadelphia. I’m a carpenter." He suddenly looked alarmed. "How did I get here?"
Scully couldn’t answer that. She wasn’t even sure how she had got here. She ignored his question and tightened her hold.
"My name is Dana Scully. I’m an FBI agent. I need you to keep these people together. I don’t want them wandering. Can you do that for me?"
He nodded. She smiled encouragement and turned away.
"Where are you going?"
"To see if there’s anyone else. To get help."
He reached out and took her by the elbow. "No, it’s too dangerous. Look at those flames." But Scully simply pulled free. "Take care of the young girl for me."
She went back to the bridge determined to get to the injured at the far end. The heat was almost unbearable, a furnace that instantly sapped her energy. She sweated profusely, unchecked streams ran into her eyes to sting and blur her vision. She tried to shield herself with her jacket pulled up over her head and found herself having to sidestep large mounds of flaring fire that she knew were people burnt to death and still burning. She had to put that grim reality from her mind and concentrate on the horrible obstacle course before her.
Scully hadn’t gotten half way across when she saw a severely burnt man standing slumped over the hand rail. It was a miracle he was still on his feet. He stirred when she called to him and looked up as she slowed and stopped. Wild red eyes stared from a horror mask of a burnt face, not a hair remained on this head. Most of his clothes had been burnt away and hung about as loose rags. Flesh from his upper body had been charcoaled and was cracked open. He reached out to her. His hands were sticky, discoloured red, white, red and black masses and his fingers were fused together. It was a ghastly sight.
"Where’s my wife?" he asked in a voice that sounded inhuman and heavy with raspy coughs. "Have you seen my wife?"
"She’s probably sheltering in the woods with the others." Scully had no way of knowing that and hoped it wasn’t a lie. "Please you must get off the bridge." She didn’t know where to touch him that wouldn’t hurt him so she pulled at his belt to make him walk. He lurched forward, arms outstretched, in a morbid parody of Frankenstein.
Scully steered him through the human debris and aimed him in the right direction. She saw Ken Wallace get up to help as the man cleared the bridge. Once again Scully turned back to face the flames.
At the pump house end of the bridge it seemed countless bodies were scattered, many still burning. Scully had to accept she could not save these people. Nevertheless she checked as many as she could for signs of life which in the end, proved to be a wasted, disheartening effort. Kneeling, exhausted, she had decided, finally, to leave when suddenly a badly charred figure, almost unrecognisable as a person (she couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman) and that she had earlier passed over as dead,
suddenly gave a convulsive shudder, its mouth opening and closing like a landed fish.
Startled, Scully fell back onto her haunches. She heard a bubbling, rattling sound and bright frothy bubbles of blood popped one after the other from the cooked lips. She naturally went to reach for the stricken individual but hesitated, tormented by her desire to help and the cruel logic that this victim was far beyond any. She knelt beside the body. "I’m sorry… I can’t…" she whispered, distraught, a heartfelt apology. Yet driven by the need to do something took hold of the two remaining unburnt fingers to somehow convey to the person that they were not alone. The left hand, she saw now, the wedding and engagement rings melted and misshapen - someone’s wife; a child’s mother.
But it was the crucifix that drew her closer, the cross and its chain crusted to the flesh, its colour tarnished to the same deep ebony hue so that it seemed sculptured to the curve of the neck. Ironically the figure of the crucified Christ retained its golden brilliance, untouched by the catastrophe that had consumed them all.
Scully searched the dying eyes of a fellow Catholic seeking perhaps some confirmation of the presence of the soul. She found a life spark clinging to the remnants of humanity, so faint as to be impossible, and experienced a far greater empathy than she ever thought imaginable. Moved beyond words she turned to a silent prayer…
"God of power and mercy, you have made death itself the gateway to eternal life. Look with love on our dying sister and make her one with your Son in his suffering and death, that, sealed with the blood of Christ, she may come before you free of sin…"
Scully stayed by the woman’s side and watched the agonised face until, after a time, the bubbles mercifully stopped. If she could have seen her own face she would have been horrified to find the timeless expression of trauma and battlefield fatigue - the young/old eyes of someone who had seen too much, endured too much, much too often.
Scully stifled a sob. How many more? It could so easily have been her; have been any one of them! The indescribable ordeal of the victim, the stress of her own ordeal, her inability to help, brought her to the verge of tears. She was so close to the point of withdrawing completely in total surrender at the overwhelming enormity of the situation. Somehow she managed to prevent herself from breaking down then and there and forced herself to her feet. Will power and blind stubbornness drove her on, back through that dreadful obstacle course.
The flames were beginning to expire and a cold breeze mixed with a fine spray from the dam spillway had begun to win the contest over the thick,
choking smoke. For the first time she was able to survey the scene properly. It was a sight her mind had difficulty accepting.
Scully made herself take in the extent of the carnage. She wanted to remember every single detail. More than a tragedy this was a holocaust. There were numerous bodies in various stages of incineration, some carbonised by the intense heat and burnt to a cinder, others were barely touched. She caught her breath. An image of those unforgettable pictures of the gas ovens at Auschwitz flashed in her mind.
A hand landed gently on her shoulder. She turned abruptly at the touch to see the sweat and soot-streaked face of Ken Wallace. "You’ve done enough," he told her sincerely and began to guide her off the bridge.
"I can’t leave them like that," she resisted. He took hold of her arm tightly.
"There’s nothing more you can do!"
She shook her head. "I can’t…"
"They’re dead! Your place is with the living - with the people you saved. They need you!"
She knew he was right, and yet with a reluctance she couldn’t qualify she turned her back on the bridge.
But in that retreat Scully found herself going through a strange, unwanted transition. There was always a price to pay. With her intellectual and emotional responses already taxed beyond the limit, she had been relying on the automatic adrenalin rush to keep going, but now the extreme physicality of the crisis was no longer there, and she found herself seriously encumbered by her own flagging energy. Not only were her raw eyes grainy and stung with smoke-induced tears, she was annoyed by an incessant low, throaty cough and a persistent runny nose. She quickly recognised the symptoms of smoke inhalation and just as quickly ignored them.
Scully went from group to group instructing anyone capable with what first aid she could under the circumstances, but she was just going through the motions. There were too many critically injured and she had nothing. They were still dying around her; she didn’t even have anything to cover them up with. Among so many deaths, one in particular nevertheless affected her so deeply she was completely numbed by it. Rebecca had succumbed to her injuries without ever regaining consciousness. Scully looked at the young, once innocent and beautiful face, disfigured by ugly blisters and burns and grieved over the wasted young life. Physically, emotionally, it was the final, crushing blow. She wanted to run, to flee, but instead the only escape was distance.
Scully struggled to get up but didn’t get far. The hand she put against a tree for support, missed, and she had to use her shoulder to stop her from falling. She coughed violently and strained to get her breath as her miseries began to overwhelm her. She no longer cared about the unpleasant cinder-like taste in her mouth, or that swallowing was difficult. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t smell the cold night air or even the fire, that her sinuses had been ravaged by the smoke. Nothing mattered.
Scully became very thirsty and light-headed. She felt badly sunburnt and although cold and shivering, continued to sweat, and that wasn’t right. The dominating, analytical side of her nature was well aware of her situation and condition. She suspected she was losing too much fluid and electrolytes too quickly. She had been trying to fight it. She no longer could. As the nausea grew worse and then her legs became rubbery she knew she was in trouble.
Scully collapsed awkwardly, only the conscious effort to bring her arms up to her chest prevented her from smacking her face against the cold hard lawn. But she couldn’t lay there, even if she wanted to. From absolute necessity she used her hands to somehow lift herself back onto her knees, because she was unable to control the need to be ill. She vomited once, twice, a third time and after flopped back against the tree. She felt terrible, heartsick. "I can’t," she protested aloud to no one in a breathless voice. (Not alone!) Mulder. Did he know where she was? How could he? She didn’t even know herself.
Scully wiped her mouth and noticed for the first time the distinct blistering burn on the back of her right hand that even the soot and grime couldn’t hide. She allowed a low soft moan to escape her lips. Where the hell was rescue? How much longer? Her watch face was covered by a black smudge and a smear of blood and human tissue. She didn’t have the strength to clean it.
She had to forget about herself, forget about the deaths, and concentrate on the survivors. They were her responsibility… It was hard to think… All she wanted was a drink. She was so thirsty. Water, cold water from the dam, it would help. Cold water on burns. Simple but effective. At least it was something she could do, granted not much of something. She would have to organise parties, find something to carry it in. Where was Wallace?
Scully tried to ride out the waves of nausea and dizziness hoping they would subside. She damn well knew she had to get up immediately or she would be lost. Truth was, she simply couldn’t, too tightly bound by the ties of exhaustion. She dropped her head back and let the tree support her. Rest for awhile.
The grass was cool under her touch, and she ran her fingers through a thin layer of dew. The lawn was manicured. This was such a beautiful place a park, picnic areas, a place for families yet secluded, romantic,
ideal for lovers… a place for cherished memories. Picturesque, postcard vistas. Just like Skyland. Beautiful. Deadly.
Above, patchworked by the leaves and branches, inky cottonballs of smoke drifted lazily across the night sky and the stars waxed and waned. Scully herself had strayed into a twilight world, her concentration began to wander and she struggled to keep her eyes open.
"… was a bullfrog…" she suddenly blurted in a strained, raspy voice, a fractured lyric from a song, "…was a friend…of mine…" It had worked before. Mulder had needed her awake.
Why was it taking him so long? Absently, she felt her pockets to try and find her cell phone until she remembered what had happened, where she was. There had been too many burnt faces. Charcoaled faces. Masks of terror. Agony, horror. Anger. Young faces, old faces, men and women. Expendable. A charred, and so frightened face; a golden crucifix smeared by bright bubbles of blood - red balls that burst and turned into spinning circles, into rings, to melted wedding rings. Mother… Mom?
Oh God, it could have been her mother! A familiar tightening in her throat and tears. Not smoke this time. She screwed her eyes tightly shut, even then embarrassed, unwilling to allow the grief to rule. She would dictate when and how, not some childish reaction. And yet she couldn’t be sure of anything now - uncertain what was real and what wasn’t. Scully opened her eyes again. Did she actually feel the odd tingling in the base of her neck, or was she imagining it? Her eyes could no longer be trusted either and thought perhaps she was beginning to hallucinate.
A dot of bright light, not much bigger than its neighbours had independently moved against the starfield and was travelling in a diagonal line, downward. It stopped and remained in the one position but grew into a large haloed ball that she strangely recognised. When it ‘broke’ into many points of light she knew what it was. Another ship. "Oh, my God!" Scully became alarmed; she didn’t know if it was the attackers or those they had attacked. More intense search lights swept the woods.
Scully just managed to avoid being caught in the beam by rolling to one side and she crawled into the protection of the bushes. A loud ‘whooshing’ sound, and she turned her face upward. The ship had been fired upon by an unlocated source, hits on its surfaces could clearly be seen, and Scully thought she saw it teeter. Suddenly it exploded over them in a frightening yet beautiful starburst, fragments sparking like so many tracers, flaring and fizzing, then winked out quickly as they disintegrated before hitting the ground, leaving no evidence behind. Scully knew then that they had been pawns in a hell of a shooting war, but for what purpose? Bait for an ambush? The faceless men, their attackers - the ones who had taken Cassandra - who was who? From where she was sitting it was immaterial - the threat came from both sides.
More search lights. Turning she saw Wallace trying to hide amongst the bushes; saw how burnt he was, bent over and shivering uncontrollably from shock and cold. Scully crawled to him. She embraced him, mothering, warming him with her body. He had done what he could, but all their efforts had been in vain. It was certain now they were going to die like the others. Scully huddled against this man, no longer stranger.
It was all just a matter of time. The bright, searching light continued to dance upon her closed eyes. Scully couldn’t think, couldn’t feel as she began to fall unerringly within an unstoppable spiral, all consciousness rapidly slipping away. Out of the indistinct and shifting half images and fleeting spectral illusions a manifestation emerged, clarified, became solid. A beckoning or a warning? It was a lighthouse.
--end of file--
L Goodwin 1999
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