Rating: PG-13

The first thing she saw when she entered the main basement was the still burning corpse lumbering around to her right. She watched it for a moment, trying to determine whether it was coming her way, but it seemed to be rather oblivious of her presence. Frowning, she let the flashlight run over the interior of the large room, aware that she would know if that thing came closer. It was, after all, on fire.

Running the flashlight over the outside wall, she was somewhat disconcerted by the lack of things in this basement. It looked spotless as if recently cleaned and there was no sign of any of the things one usually found in a basement. There was nothing down here but a bumpy, empty cement floor and whitewashed walls. And that impossible walking corpse, of course. Sending another glance in that direction, she again watched it for a second before returning her attention to the flowing path of the cone of light. The cone of light caught the edge of something toward the end of the outside wall, a glittering, slithering mass. She adjusted the beam to hit the center of what she considered to be a major blob of translucent slime. Slime which moved on its own. Feeling like Dorothy in a twisted wonderland, Scully cocked her head to one side and stared at the ever moving, reforming blob and decided that it looked more like jelly than slime. At the same time, she couldn't help wondering if it would attack her if she moved closer.

Her attention was drawn away from the nature of that stuff to something she could barely make out, which seemed to be stuck at the heart of the blob. The frown on her face deepened and she started forward, morbid curiosity and some unexplainable internal force driving her forward. The closer she got, the more the form inside the blob resembled a human being to her. It was with utter shock that she realized what – or rather who – it could be.

And then the jelly moved forward toward her. Scully eyed it suspiciously for a second, then hooked the flashlight into her belt, where it because of its up turned handle continued to shine straight ahead, set the fire extinguisher down between her feet, pulled the spray can and the lighter from her pockets and opened fire on it. The fire didn't slow the blob down, though. Starting to back up, she stared at it, trying to come up with an alternative solution. Realizing that if heat didn't do it, cold might, she picked up the fire extinguisher. Somehow, she suddenly felt that this was why she had brought it. All the while, the rational part of her mind tried forcefully to make her close her eyes and wish this all away. But she knew in some basic way that it wouldn't go away if she closed her eyes. It would catch up to her and pull her in. Pulling the pin from the fire extinguisher, she sprayed the approaching slime. It froze and crystalized at once and the remains of it withdrew back to the wall, having met its match in the icy foam of the extinguisher.

Almost smiling to herself, Scully took a step forward, aimed the hose of the extinguisher at the mass and pushed the handle down. White foam started gushing out over the blob, engulfing it in its destructive embrace. She kept spraying until the entire blob was covered and then waited for a second to look for movement. When there was none, she took another step forward, still apprehensive, and prodded the covered mass with the tip of her sneaker. It broke and crumbled under her touch.

When she gave it a powerful kick, it started breaking apart like brittle glass and Scully took a step back to watch it. Becoming aware that the burning corpse was getting closer, she turned her attention toward it and saw it lumbering toward her. Going basically on instinct, she pulled the crowbar from her belt after setting the extinguisher down on the floor and raised the crowbar like a baseball bat, holding it with both hands. The corpse came closer, continuously losing parts of itself along the way and leaving a burning trail behind it. When it came within reach, Scully lashed out with the crowbar, catching it at the shoulder and knocking it sideways. It stumbled several steps sideways, wavered for a moment, then turned and headed unsteadily toward the doorway and the stairs beyond. It disappeared up the stairs and she suddenly knew why she felt that she had to find Mulder and get him out of here before it was too late. That corpse was going to set the entire house on fire.

After making sure it wasn't coming back down, she turned, stepped forward and started prodding through the foam covered remains of the blob with the crowbar. What she heard was the sound of breaking glass beneath the surface until her prodding hit a yielding mass. At first, she thought it might be some of that slime, which had not been crystalized by the foam, but when she scraped a bit of the foam away, it turned out to be a human arm.

With fear in her heart, she threw the crowbar aside, grabbed the arm and pulled at it. With a bit of effort, she managed to pull Mulder free of what remained of the slime. Rolling him onto his back, she looked down at him for a second, then searched for a pulse. It was there, steady enough to ease her mind, but he wasn't breathing. Placing both hands on his chest, she pushed upward, doing what she would if he'd inhaled water. And the result was virtually the same. With an almost convulsive cough, he expelled slime from his lungs.

Scully grabbed his left shoulder and pulled him onto his side, then proceeded to slap his back forcefully, provoking another violent cough, which expelled more slime. At that time, he started moving, too. With a strength she wouldn't have thought him capable of right then, he got to his hands and knees and started to throw up forcefully, bringing up nothing but more of that translucent slime mixed with bile.

For a long moment, he continued his attempt to throw up his guts, but then his arms started shivering quite badly and he would have dropped face first into the puddle of slime and bile if Scully hadn't wrapped her arms around him, holding him up. Finally, the vomiting ceased, leaving only the sound of his labored, sobbing breathing behind.

Quite able to imagine that he wasn't feeling too good right then, Scully was nevertheless concerned about their time frame. Not releasing him, she pulled at him, gently forcing him to rise up on his knees. Crouching down in front of him, she brushed his sticky hair away from his forehead and regarded him with worry. "Mulder, look at me," she told him.

For a moment, he didn't respond. He just knelt there, his arms dangling down his sides, his eyes closed, his breathing labored. Then his eyelids fluttered and he slowly opened his eyes and looked at her. He was responding on reflex, not quite aware of where he was or who she was yet. Tears trickled down his face and his whole body shivered lightly.

"I know you feel lousy right now, Mulder, but we need to get out of here right now. Do you understand me?" she asked, hoping she wouldn't have to resort to brute force to get him up and moving.

Slowly, things started making sense to him again. His comprehension of his surroundings slowly pulled him back to the rational side of things and he blinked. Something in his mind had shut down, locking away recent memories of where and why, but he recognized Scully. He didn't know why she thought they had to get out right now and he couldn't for the life of him understand where he was, but he understood her and he understood the urgency he heard in her voice.

"Mulder?" she insisted. "Do you understand me? We need to get out. Right now." Fearing the worst because of his lack of response, Scully's hands closed hard around his upper arms. "Look at me, Mulder. It's me, Scully."

Nodding, he slowly started moving, placing shaking hands on her shoulders to let her help him get up. Once he had gained his feet, she wrapped an arm around his back and guided him toward the door and the stairs leading up to the ground floor, deeply worried about him but also very anxious to get out of the house.

It took longer than anticipated for them to make it up the stairs and by the time they reached the kitchen, Scully knew they had to speed up to get out in time. There was heavy smoke oozing into the kitchen from the entrance hall beyond, obstructing their view.

"Fire," Mulder croaked, his sluggish mind registering surprise that he was able to think rationally at all. His gait was extremely unsteady and he felt as if all strength had been drained from him, but the thought of having to face his all time worst fear was enough to clear his mind a little and give him the necessary strength to follow Scully.

"Yes, the house is on fire," Scully agreed through clenched teeth, having to muster every ounce of her strength to keep Mulder from falling over. "We need to get out of here. Right now," she added and guided him through the door to the entrance hall.

The corridor with the velvet wallpaper was already engulfed in flames and the smoke wafted through the air, clogging and heavy. Scully dragged Mulder on toward the entrance doors, knowing that this place would come down around their ears soon. She personally had no desire to meet a fire of this size dead on and she knew how Mulder felt about it.

"Mulder, you have to help me here. I can't carry you," she said, trying to keep him on his feet. He was becoming more and more unsteady on his feet and was leaning heavily on her. They reached the door and Scully reached one hand out to grab the handle and pulled hard at the heavy door. It didn't budge. Trying again, she pulled harder and still nothing happened. "Oh no," she whispered under her breath.

Mulder seemed to become a little more aware of what was going on, but he still could not find the necessary strength to focus on his surroundings. He was aware that they were in a burning house and that they needed to get out. He also knew he was feeling extremely lousy and that something was nagging him to remember something he didn't want to remember.

Scully maneuvered him over to the wall. "Stay here. I have to try and get this door open," she said, cursing herself for leaving the crowbar in the basement. Wrapping both hands around the handle, she pulled with all her strength and got nothing out of it. The temperature was rising around them. Cursing under her breath, she braced one foot against the second door and leaned backward, putting her body weight into the act. And still the door didn't budge. Breathing hard, she sent a glance over her shoulder and noted that the fire in the velvet corridor had reached the entrance hall.

There was one good thing about the entrance hall, though. The marble floor. She had never heard of burning marble and knew that they were still fairly safe where they stood. Unless the house collapsed around them, of course.

Taking a couple of deep breaths, she turned around to face the entrance hall. There was really only one thing she could do. Glancing over at Mulder, who somehow was keeping upright on his own, she tried to determine how much he would be able to understand of what she was about to say. "Mulder, I have to go back for the crowbar. I left it in the basement. Stay here," she said.

His eyes focused on her and he shook his head a little. "No," he croaked.

"Mulder, I have to. This house is coming down around us. I need to get that crowbar to get the door open," she told him. Mulder grabbed out for her arm to hold her back, but flinched and let go when he attempted to bend his broken fingers on his right hand. Scully grabbed his wrist, aware that he was a long stretch from being himself right then. "I'll hurry. Just stay here, okay? Don't go anywhere. I need to know that you're still here when I come back."

Glancing nervously toward the flames licking up the walls from inside the corridor, Mulder made a face. "But... the fire," he insisted.

"I know. That's why I have to get the crowbar, Mulder. We can't get out without it," she repeated, hoping that he would at least stay put until she returned. Giving his wrist what she hoped was a reassuring squeeze, she turned and ran back toward the kitchen.

The entrance doors were built into a niche, which allowed Mulder to squeeze into the corner between the door and the wall. From there, he nervously watched the flames catching a hold of the carved wooden panels and start to devour them with an unending appetite. It was the sensation that fire was a living thing with a mind of its own which had put the fear of death in him. That and an experience he couldn't quite recall from his childhood. And his fear of the licking flames was all he could focus on. At that point in time it didn't matter to him where he was and how he had gotten there. All that mattered was the fire and his fear of it.

Scully reentered the kitchen and was shocked when the door slammed shut behind her. "Damn it," she hissed, grabbed the handle and started pulling at the heavy oak door. It didn't budge. Turning back to face the kitchen, she barely avoided the burning arm of the walking corpse when it reached out for her. She yelped in both surprise and fear and dodged the attack by diving to the right and rolling out of its reach.

Regaining her feet, Scully frantically looked around for something she could ward it off with, but saw nothing which would do the trick. Except for a chair. Grabbing it, she raised it up and hammered it into the approaching zombie, then darted toward the open door to the basement. She lost her footing and tumbled down the stairs, hitting the floor below with a yelp. Her left wrist bent the wrong way when her whole weight landed on it, but somehow it didn't break.

Grateful for small favors and hissing at the throbbing pain from her wrist, she got up on her knees and sent a brief glance upstairs to see the burning corpse coming toward the opening. Without further hesitation and somehow able to ignore her aching wrist, she got back to her feet and hurried into the main basement. Looking around for a moment, she spotted the crowbar lying on the floor not far from the still lit flashlight, which she had put down on the floor when she had finally found Mulder. Rushing over, she grabbed it and hooked it into her belt, then turned around and ran back toward the doorway.

The zombie lumbered toward her, flames licking over its decreasing body, arms stretched out in front of it. Scully sidestepped it and rushed past it, aware that even though it was still moving, it wasn't moving fast. She ran up the steps to the kitchen again and slammed the door shut, not giving her burning nemesis another thought. She didn't care about the impossibility of what she was witnessing in this house. Her rational sense was set on hold until she had gotten Mulder out of this place. That was her first and only priority. To get them both out of this place in one piece and preferably alive, too.

Ripping the crowbar from her belt, she applied it to the door and managed to break it open with a few tries. It took longer than she had anticipated because she couldn't use her left hand. Grinding her teeth in frustration, she put all her strength into breaking the door open and finally managed. "I'd like to see the ghost that can stop me right now," she grumbled in a sarcastic tone of voice. Ripping the door open, she ran back out into the entrance hall, but came to a skittering stop when she saw how far the fire had spread.

"Damn it," she hissed. The flames were everywhere, licking up the walls and closing on the entrance doors. The chandelier had already given in to the fire and lay crushed on the marble floor. Somehow that made her grin viciously. She felt a certain kind of satisfaction at seeing her previous attacker lying on the ground. Shaking her head at those thoughts, she focused through the now brightly lit hall on the doors. Mulder was still there, pressed into the corner between wall and door, eyes on the flames. He didn't look too happy about the situation, but she also instantly realized that he had returned to that sluggish state which allowed for a minimum of comprehension. Pushing away from the doorway to the kitchen, she started across the hall toward him.

The marble floor was slick beneath her feet and her momentum carried her right into the entrance door, nearly knocking the air out of her. Grunting, she pushed herself away from the door and glanced at Mulder, who wasn't moving. He was staring blindly out at the flames and Scully knew that she would have to hurry up and get them out. He was going catatonic on her and if he slipped into a catatonic state before she had managed to get him out and away from the house, it could pose as an insurmountable problem. Mainly because she wasn't strong enough to drag him out of the house.

Taking the only course of action she could under the given circumstances, she laid off the door for a moment and slapped him hard across the face, startling him enough to return him to the present for a while longer. "Mulder," she urged him. "Don't zone out on me now."

He blinked as if he had just awoken from a dream, then slowly raised a hand to touch his cheek. Scully regarded him for a moment longer, then returned her attention to breaking the door open. Once again leaning all her weight into the act, she landed hard on the floor when the door gave in way too easily. But Scully was not one to question good luck when it came her way. Not in this place, anyway. Not when the house was coming down around their ears. Reaching out, she grabbed a hold of Mulder's arm and pulled hard at him to make him follow her.

Mulder felt the fresh, chilly air hit him in the face and he briefly glanced back over his shoulder. He instantly wished he hadn't. Something obscene came stumbling toward them, engulfed in flames, nothing but a skeleton beneath.

Scully felt his hesitation and looked back to see the still burning hands of the zombie reaching out for her shell shocked partner. Her instant reaction was to lash out full force with the crowbar. The impact sent the zombie's head flying. Scully found that she was almost able to see humor in the situation. It looked comical to see the skull bouncing across the marble floor of the burning house, which was already falling apart on the inside. Stepping forward, she lashed out with the crowbar again, breaking off one of its arms, which went flying to the right. She continued her assault on the zombie until there was nothing left but a pile of scattered bones.

Breathing hard, she finally tossed the crowbar aside, grabbed Mulder's arm and pushed him out the door without looking back. They stumbled through the doorway and down the few steps to the square in front of the house and the waiting car. With feverish nervousness, Scully fumbled with the door on the passenger side, managed to open it and somehow got Mulder inside.

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the flames blazing through every window in the house and thought she heard the old building moaning. "Serves you right for what you've done," she grumbled, then briefly closed her eyes. She was talking to burning house, assuming it had intelligence. That alone made her feel more than concerned for her mental health. With a heavy sigh, she slammed the passenger side door shut and raced around the car, got in behind the wheel and started digging through her pockets for the keys.

Mulder stared out at the burning house. Although he was still a long way from being okay, he was more aware now than he had been inside the house. One thing he could focus on was that it was groaning dangerously. "Scully?" he groaned anxiously. There was nothing he wanted more than get away from this house. It was on fire, after all, and there was nothing he feared more than fire.

"I know," she told him, hissing with anger when she couldn't immediately get a hold of the keys. She shifted and managed to push her right hand all the way into her pocket.

"Hurry," he insisted, his voice breaking with tension and fear.

"I know," she replied once again and finally managed to drag the keys from her pocket when the first windows exploded. Sliding the key into the ignition, she turned it, put the car in drive and pushed the gas pedal down. The car jumped forward before she could tear the wheel around and steer them over the well kept lawn toward the gravel path leading away from that hell house.

Mulder laboriously turned in his seat to watch the burning house as the car sped away, through the broken gates and out onto the road. When the car hit the road, Scully slammed her foot down on the brake, managing to spin the car a few degrees around. Enough for both of them to have a clear view of the burning house.

All the windows had blown out and the curtains flapped in the wind, most of them already being consumed by the flames, which licked through the house, through the roof, and reached for the sky above, brightening the grey morning with an eerie, orange glow.

The house creaked and groaned under the strain of the fire and part of the roof collapsed. Scully watched the whole scene with some trepidation. Mainly because her common sense was screaming at her that she would be accused of arson. How she was going to explain herself when this was made an official case she didn't know. It would be damned hard to prove to a review board that she had followed a gut instinct to rescue her partner from a haunted house.

Mulder sat beside her, staring up at the continuous destruction of Schreck Mansion. He couldn't gather his thoughts to form any kind of coherence in his mind. There were barriers there which hadn't been there before. All he knew was that he was scared out of his mind and he didn't know why. His gaze became distant when he touched on the reason for his fear, a reason which was currently buried and locked behind a door with a pretty heavy lock on it. He couldn't allow himself to think of it right now. Not yet. Later, maybe. And with that decision, he slipped away into a dreamworld where he felt comfortable and unafraid.

Scully sighed again when another portion of the roof collapsed, then turned her head to look at Mulder. He sat there, his head leaning against the headrest, his eyes vacant and dead. Suddenly afraid, she reached a shivering hand out to touch his neck, to feel for a pulse. It was there, steady enough to put her mind at ease, but the lack of life in his eyes made her worry blossom again. "Mulder?" she asked, cupping his cheek lightly with her left hand. Her wrist hurt ferociously, but she didn't have time or thought for her own pain. When Mulder didn't respond to her voice or her touch, she realized that he had probably withdrawn into himself to tend to his mental injuries. She would have to give him time to heal, time to get over this one.

Deciding that she did not want to make the entire trip back to D.C. in one go, she decided to go back to the Tiki Motel and get a room for them there. She would let him sleep for a day or two and then try to get some life back in him. Maybe, eventually, he would be able to tell her what had happened. She wanted to know what had scared him so badly that he needed to detach himself from the world.

Glancing back up at the burning house, she knew that what she had seen would have been enough to send her into catatonia seven years ago. Now, however, she had handled herself well because she had been subjected to Mulder's weird way of thinking for that long. What had happened to him went beyond what she had seen and sensed in that house and she knew it had been pretty damned bad to make him react this way. Shaking her head almost sadly, she gingerly put the car in gear and drove away, not sparing another glance for the burning mansion.


The grounds of Schreck Mansion

Scully stood beside Skinner, looking at the still smoldering remains of the once great mansion. Skinner had been very quiet since he had first laid eyes on the destruction and Scully saw that as a bad sign. He usually wasn't that quiet. She had several times attempted to make a move to speak, but had regretted it and closed her mouth again without uttering a sound. What could she after all say that would appease him?

"This..." Skinner finally started, waving a hand toward the ruins of the house, "... this is really bad, Scully. The mansion alone was worth a few million dollars. The inventory..." He trailed off, not certain he could make her fully comprehend what this meant.

"I know the value of the house and the inventory, sir, but... I did not burn it down. I... defended myself," she tried to explain, remembering only too well the look he had given her when she had told him about the events.

"Against a chandelier which had come to life and a zombie?" he asked and glanced at her. "I would have expected that kind of explanation from agent Mulder. Not from you," he said, then glanced at his watch. "When where the caretakers going to turn up?"

Scully glanced back down at the road, then at her watch. "They should be here any minute now," she said and at the same instant, an old battered Ford Station wagon turned the corner and rumbled up the driveway.

Mr. and Mrs. Crane climbed out after the car had rolled to a stop a few feet from where Scully and Skinner stood. Mr. Crane took a few steps toward the remains of the mansion, then stopped. But he made no attempt to turn toward Skinner and Scully. Mrs. Crane, however, walked straight over to them. She didn't look particular upset, which kind of surprised Scully a little.

"Mr. Skinner, Ms. Scully," she said, nodding in an almost friendly manner.

Skinner had mentally prepared himself for this meeting ever since Scully had told him what had happened. But he was also slightly taken aback by the calmness of the caretakers. "Mrs. Crane, may I just express my sincere regrets at what has happened here? We will attempt to compensate you, of course, but..." he began, but Mrs. Crane interrupted him.

"No need to apologize," she said and looked up at the ruins. "My husband and I have talked it over and... well... Schreck Mansion was something of a deathtrap. Old house, unused for many years. This was bound to happen sooner or later. There are no living relatives left behind from the Schreck family and the last member of that family left us the house in his will, stating that we were to take good care of it. We have taken good care of it, but it's been a huge job." Glancing up at Skinner with an almost benevolent smile on her lips, she gave him the distinct impression that this was no great loss at all. "The house was insured against such events, well insured, and the money goes to us now that Schreck Mansion is no more," she added and glanced up at the ruins again. "Besides, I believe it's for the best. Schreck Mansion was never a friendly house. I'm only glad that Mr. Mulder survived his encounter with this place."

For a second, all Skinner could do was stare at her. "Uh..." he then said, not sure how to ask the question foremost on his mind in any other way than the direct one. "Does that mean that you're not going to pursue this any further?" he asked.

Mrs. Crane almost chuckled at that. "No, Mr. Skinner, there will be no lawsuit. As we see it, it was a natural development. There's no sense in making more of a fuss over this than necessary. My husband and I are set for life now. We certainly are not going to raise any rabble about that," she replied, then turned her attention to the stunned looking Scully. "My best regards to Mr. Mulder. I hope he recovers quickly," she said with a smile, then walked back to the car. "Are you coming, Alfred?" she called.

Alfred Crane turned and met Skinner's eyes over the top of the station wagon. The man was spindly, yet sinewy with hard cut features and dark eyes. But he smiled. "Actually, I think we ought to thank these good folks, Emma," he said, his voice deep and grating. "They've done us a tremendous favor," he added, tipped his fingers to his brow and joined his wife. They both got in and drove away again.

For a long moment, Skinner just stood there, then he blinked, pulled off his glasses and polished them thoughtfully on his tie before replacing them and turning to face Scully. "Looks like you got off easy this time around," he said.

"Well... " Scully said, but trailed off again. She didn't know what to say. With a vague nod, she walked back toward the car. "Let's go pick up Mulder and get back home. I for one have had it up to here with Charlottesville," she finally said, passing a finger over her throat in a descriptive movement.

Skinner nodded and followed her. "Yeah, I can understand that," he mumbled. "How is Mulder doing, by the way?"

Scully turned to face him, her expression a little pale. "He's catatonic. He hasn't moved or spoken since I got him out of that house," she said. "Which of course isn't that long ago, but still..."

"Shouldn't he be in a hospital, then? I mean... " Skinner tried and unlocked the door on the driver side.

"I don't know. I have the feeling that it would make things worse. Although I can't really imagine how things could get worse than they are for him right now. What happened to him in that house was enough to make him pull into himself. I have no clue how I'm going to get through to him, but I have to try," she said and slid onto the passenger side seat.


North West Georgetown
Washington, D.C.

A few days had passed since Scully had returned to Schreck Mansion to bail Mulder out and in that time, sensible denial had set in on her account. Her mind had started rationalizing what she had seen and had tried to sort the events into categories which she could handle.

After a few restless nights, she had given up on that, though. She knew she could not explain this in any rational way and even though it scared her, she knew that her partner and friend was even more scared. So scared, as it were, that he had yet to come out of his shell and respond to anything anybody did to him.

On Skinner's insistence, he had been admitted to North West Georgetown Hospital and had been there since, unresponsive and catatonic.

Scully sat at his bedside, holding his left hand in her right, her own left wrist bandaged. She regarded Mulder thoughtfully, her eyes searching his for any kind of response, but found none. Eventually, she sighed. "Mulder, listen to me," she said, her voice quiet and stern. "I know you're scared," she told him. "I'm scared, too. What I saw... I can't find an explanation for it. I can't make sense of it. I need you to help me make sense of it, okay?" Squeezing his hand lightly, she waited for a response that did not come. He just sat there, staring into space.

"The house is gone, Mulder. Whatever was in it went up in flames," she tried, but still got no response of any kind from him. He didn't even blink. With a heavy sigh, she leaned back on her chair, never releasing his hand. Unaware that she was doing it, she started stroking his palm with her thumb. "Mulder, come on. I'm aware that you've experienced some pretty terrible things in that house. But... I need you here, okay? I need you to come back to me." And still he did not respond. She went through the same deal every day, trying to rouse him, to get him at least to blink, but he did nothing.

Closing her eyes, she tried to come up with something she had yet to try, but found that she couldn't imagine what she should do to make him respond. With another sigh, she shook her head, feeling tears stinging her eyes when she opened them again. "Guess I was too late after all, huh?" she whispered and pressed a shaky kiss onto the back of his hand.

Rising, she wiped the tears away and gently placed his hand in his lap. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I should have gone with you in the first place," she added, pressed a kiss on his brow and turned to leave. When the door clicked shut behind her, he blinked and a single tear cruised down his cheek.