Mulder had arrived first. Mulder always arrived first. He didn't spend a lot of hours sleeping, though he never seemed the worst for it. He seemed to think that early morning was a time for running and swimming and catching up on work. Only in his case it was more likely to be getting ahead on work. The office was full of X-Files because Mulder had a way of finding them in apparently innocent accidents and straightforward crimes.
Scully poured herself a coffee before sitting at her desk and uttering a cursory "Morning" to her partner. He was engrossed in whatever he was reading and mumbled a reply. Scully took a picture from her bag. It was a snapshot her mother had taken one weekend not long ago. It was a good picture, and Scully might have put it in a frame anyway. In light of what had happened it seemed like the right thing to do. She positioned the frame on top of her pc where it was about eye level. It was Queequeeg lying on her lap, his face turned towards the camera with an expression that almost looked like a smile. Scully smiled back, imagined the little dog being well cared for by her father.
"Hey Scully, ever hear of a black dog?"
"They come in all colours, Mulder, but I always thought personality was more important."
"No, seriously," he ambled over from his desk. There was a wad of papers in his hand that gave Scully a sinking feeling. He leaned on the filing cabinet behind her and stared at the back of her head till she turned round. He gave a small nod of approval to the picture of the little dog. "I don't mean black dog as in *dog*, I mean black dog as in black dog."
"Mulder, if it's four footed and canine then it's a dog. That's as far as my knowledge extends. If you want more you'll have to call the Kennel Club."
"A black dog is an elemental phenomenon, Scully."
"Your knowledge of the obscure and ridiculous never ceases to amaze."
"On the 4th of August a church full of people in a town called Bungay in England witnessed a black dog occurrence. The phenomenon happened during a violent thunderstorm. One man was struck by lightning. Following that, something that looked like a large black dog ran down the aisle of the church. Two people were on their knees praying and as the dog passed between them they were both struck dead. The machinery of the church clock was destroyed. There were marks like claw marks left in the stone of the church, and scorches on the door."
"What year did this happen Mulder?"
"It doesn't matter. That same day, the same thing happened at a church in Blythburgh, about seven miles away."
"What year did it happen?"
"Fifteen seventy seven."
"Hysteria, Mulder. There was a big thunderstorm going on and it was frightening the living daylights out of a group of people who were already undoubtedly frightened by a hellfire sermon from the priest."
"There's no way of proving it was a hellfire sermon, Scully."
"And there's no way of proving it wasn't. The people were frightened and it got worse when lightning struck the church spire."
"Two people were killed."
"Conduction. They were kneeling down praying when the lightning struck. It fused the clockworks and found its way out through the devout."
"And the dog?"
"It was frightened by the storm too. It came into the church for shelter and the noise of the lightning sent it into a panic."
"What about the fact that the same thing happened at the same time in the next town?"
"Two explanations. The most likely is that it didn't."
"Happen in both places. The people in the next town heard about what happened and the story became a local myth. The second possibility is that it was a very predictable coincidence. It was a *big* storm. It was a Sunday morning. Churches are more likely to be struck by lightning...or they certainly were in 1577, anyway, because they were built in high places and had tall steeples topped with metal spires. The dogs were probably barge dogs or sheepdogs or something. Now is any of this relevant, or was that just my mental workout for today?"
"Relevant, Scully," Mulder smiled, holding up the papers in his hand, "Because now that you've figured out the rational explanation to what happened, you can come and explain it to the good people of Cuno New York, because the same thing just happened there two days ago."
"A whole church full. Forty nine. That's not counting Father Gault or the two people who died."
"How did they die?"
"Mr Gardner had a heart attack."
"Ventricular fibrillation brought on by electric shock," said Scully with certainty.
"Acute myocardial infarction brought on by plaque occluding the coronary artery. Sorry to disappoint you," he said. Though he wasn't.
"And the other one?"
"Mrs Gardner had a massive cerebro vascular accident apparently attributed to a plaque thrombus originating from buildup in the carotid artery. These people had a very unhealthy diet."
"So what has this to do with a black dog, Mulder?"
"Everyone saw it. Same scenario, the big storm, the lightning strike, and the big dog rushing down the church aisle. The Gardners were down on their knees, and the dog passed between them. There was a brilliant flash of light and the dog was gone. And so were the Gardners. In a manner of speaking."
Scully still wasn't convinced. Near as she could figure, the Gardners' deaths were an unfortunate coincidence due, as Mulder had suggested, to their bad eating habits. Both were in their early seventies and Mrs Gardner had been a great believer in "hearty" meals. Hearty in this case being a most unfortunate pun. It was against her better judgement that she rode with him to upstate New York and the wilds of Cuno.
"Great Dog River," Mulder pointed out as they crossed the bridge, "and did you realise "Cuno" is an old Celtic word meaning "dog"?"
Scully glared blearily at her partner, "You woke me up just to tell me that?"
"Surely you'll sleep the better for knowing."
Scully was pleased that she had bitten the bullet and gone with Mulder. In this instance she was utterly convinced that he was barking up the wrong tree (she winced mentally at the pun. They seemed to apply themselves so aptly to this case), and she would be able to prove common sense in a pleasant setting. Summer was leaving fast and the first bite of fall was tinging the leaves with an early bloom of colour. It wouldn't be long before the mountains were painted glorious hues. Great Dog River...rather less impressive than its name implied, came crashing down from the mountain into a small lake, and from there it rushed and tumbled its way through the town. The little river was fed in some places by underground tributaries that meandered about the rocky earth below Cuno, sometimes popping up in unexpected places as little springs in the middle of paddocks.
St Mary's little church sat, as Scully had suggested, on a small rise overlooking the town. Cuno had formed as a centre place for the local farming communities and the wholesome rough hewn stone of the church gave the place a comforting feeling. It was like the little building was watching over its flock of houses and shops.
Father Gault smiled a welcome at the FBI agents. He wasn't at all what Scully had come to expect. She supposed her opinion had been somewhat clouded by childhood experience, but there was something about this man that just made him so totally unexpected that she found him very hard to relate to. She had rather been hoping for a kind of ruddy cheeked, Irish-accented jolly sort of person. Failing that she would have made do with an eagle-eyed ascetic whose adherence to the letter of the lore was at the same time humble and unrelenting.
Father Gault was neither. There was about him a kind of severity that was otherworldly, but lacking in any kind of asceticism. He seemed somehow indulgent. He had a sharp, hawk's face. A kind of Basil Rathbone whose Sherlock Holmes was more due to an inspiration born of the use of recreational drugs than any real wit driven by observational skills. At the same time he had about him a kind of compulsive attractiveness that made Scully, for some unknowable reason, think *sleaze*.
Gault walked them along the aisle, "Tracing the footsteps of the dog," he said. They halted at the place where the Gardners had knelt in final prayer, Gault said nothing. A feeble gleam of late afternoon sunshine sent blurred colours of the crucified Jesus across the burnt stone of the floor and in the distance they could hear the rumble of thunder. Mulder shivered, he could feel an unearthly prickle of something racing towards him along the aisle of the church. There was an overwhelming need to defend himself, but when he turned there was nothing at all behind him. Scully could feel a tingle of electricity in the air. The autumn air had been dry and warm, it wasn't surprising that this was happening. She could feel the little hairs on the back of her neck rising in response. Gault was staring at her in a kind of predatory leer. She was glad she'd never met anyone like him when she was a child or there would certainly have been one more lamb straying from the flock. She stared back at him, refusing to let him intimidate her. She wanted to reach to her neck and just make sure that the little cross she wore sometimes was not there today. She had an uncomfortable feeling that he would have some kind of hold over her if she knew she was Catholic. She didn't move her hand though. She knew the cross wasn't there and she didn't want to show any kind of doubt or insecurity before Gault. He opened his mouth and started to say something to her but Mulder suddenly jumped as if he'd been bitten by an ant. Gault's attention swung round to her partner and she saw the older man smiling like a bear trap before he asked if Mulder was quite all right.
Scully had brought with her a large book, a kind of FBI collection of dog mug shots. It contained large laminated looseleaf pages of pictures and descriptions of every recognised breed of dog in America, and a good many of the more common cross breeds. Scully sorted through the book, bringing pictures of all the big black breeds towards the front, putting the toy and miniature breeds at the back. She paused over the pomeranian. A year ago she might have wondered what such a dog could possibly do to warrant it being on an FBI list, but even Queequeeg had displayed a tendency towards exotic tastes. Perhaps Mulder was right about this black dog thing, as though even the most domesticated pet had some connection to the fantastic. Or, rather, *because* they had lived so long with human vagaries and needs, it might show a twisted, ironic sort of logic that dogs should be woven into the occult parts of the human psyche, and have their own place in the supernatural.
One by one Scully and Mulder visited the parishioners who had witnessed the demise of Mr and Mrs Gardner. All gave similar descriptions of a frightening storm and the noise of the thunder. All spoke of a terrible feeling of tension in the air.
"The atmosphere was electric," said Mrs Selene, waving her hands about dramatically, leaving a scent of lilacs in their wake.
"It was as if the air was full of electricity," said Mr Gordon, his eyes as wide as saucers and bulging out of their sockets.
"I could feel all the little hairs on the back of my neck prickling up and standing on end," said Miss Costa, her bony little head nodding as her bony little fingers prickled the air.
They had all pored through the book, looking long and hard at the dogs. They flicked past the pit bulls and rottweilers. Labradors, German shepherds and dobermans held no interest. They paused briefly at the Newfoundlands and black standard poodles, but, each in their own words, decided that these dogs were not really spiky enough or big enough or fierce enough, or, curiously, *black* enough.
Eventually each witness flicked through Scully's carefully sorted batch of black dogs and came to the hound section of the folder. They stopped momentarily at the Afghans before turning the page. One by one they landed on a picture of a Scottish deerhound and paused there, gazing at it. "Do they come in black?" they asked. Scully was reminded of her own reply to Mulder earlier that morning and bit her tongue at the question. The dog in the picture looked harmless enough, a mottled grey-brown coloured gracile animal with scruffy looking curly fur and an aloof, slightly bemused expression on its face.
The interviews had taken most of the day. There was nowhere to eat at Cuno, so Mulder and Scully had driven to Hillcrest, a few miles to the south. They sat at a comfortable table in the window of a cosy restaurant. There was folk art on the walls and a blazing fire. The staff chatted with regular customers and treated Mulder and Scully like a honeymoon couple. They ate succulent fish fresh from the river and vegetables so sweet they almost still had the sap running in them. There were delicate petit fours with the coffee, meringue swans and chocolate filigrees.
Mulder stared moodily at the picture of the deerhound.
"It was probably someone's hunting dog that strayed down from the mountains," said Scully, nibbling at one of the meringue swans.
"They said it was black."
Scully shrugged, "It was probably dirty. Or maybe it wasn't a pure breed. It doesn't say that much about them on the breed notes, you might get black ones. Anyway, they're not a common dog. It shouldn't be too hard to find the owner of one that's gone missing."
"They're a very old breed," said Mulder after a while, "Primitive. The kind of breed that gets a lot of folklore built up around it. You know the sort of thing, Cernunnos running with his pack of hounds. They were deerhounds, Scully, they had to be. Celtic mythology is filled with dogs guarding spirit paths that lead to Other Worlds and...."
Scully held up her hand in a gesture demanding silence, "Mulder, I've had a really nice meal. The food here, in case you hadn't noticed, was well worth the trip. Right now I've had dogs up to about here," she held her hand horizontal at eye level, "tomorrow we can go and visit every vet in the district and find out whose lost a deerhound. That's as far as I'm prepared to humour you. Don't ruin my meal with spirit dogs.
For the first part of the drive back to Cuno Mulder was silent, chastened by Scully's comment, or so she thought. She dozed while he drove, rousing slightly from time to time to stare up at the vault of stars above. They shone like crystals in the pure mountain air. Nothing disturbed her peace, the sound of the car's engine lulled her and Scully wished Mulder would drive forever while she dwelt in the peaceful anticipation of sleep. The feeling was completely destroyed a moment later when the car shuddered to a halt and Mulder leapt out saying something that at first sounded like gibberish.
"Don't tell me, Mulder, you've run over a black dog."
"Lights," he said again, "Down there," pointing to rocky open land beside the road.
Scully could hear the sound of running water. It was probably an underground stream, "Swamp gas," she said.
"No Scully, they looked like eyes. There were two of them, close together and moving, like the eyes of an animal as it was running along."
"It was your headlights reflecting off the back of the retinas of some animal's eyes, Mulder. Possibly even a black dog. I'm sure you've experienced it before."
"They weren't reflections, Scully, they were *glowing*. They were lights."
"Perhaps you'd like me to drive so that you can rest a little," she suggested.
"Scully, I *saw* them."
"I'm sure you did, Mulder," she said, directing him to the passenger's side of the car and walking to the driver's side herself, "...and if you're going to see any more of them, I'd prefer you not to do so while you're in control of a motor vehicle."
Although it wasn't particularly late there were very few lights on in the houses of Cuno. Scully pulled the car up to the small cabin at the back of the church. She hadn't been comfortable with Father Gault's offer of hospitality during the day. In the dark it was even harder to think about. She imagined his leering face looming at her from the shadows as she locked the car and went to the back to fetch out her overnight bag. Mulder got to the rear of the car before she did and carried both their bags inside.
"You okay, Scully."
"Yeah," no lights showed in the windows of Father Gault's house on the other side of the driveway. The cabin they were staying in had once belonged to a caretaker. There was a small, well scrubbed kitchen, a small sitting room and two cell-like bedrooms. The bedrooms were just big enough for a single bed each. The beds were made with thin looking grey woollen blankets and hard, tight hospital corners, and Scully knew that the linen sheets would be so cold they'd feel wet. At the very back of the cabin was a tiny bathroom featuring antique plumbing that might have been quaint but certainly wasn't funny.
Mulder slung his bag onto his bed and went to brush his teeth. Scully sorted through her belongings and took out her laptop. She thought of sitting up in bed working while her body heat warmed up the cold charity of her blanket, but there wasn't even a power outlet in the little room. Mulder came and stood in the doorway, smelling slightly pepperminty.
"Ever done it in a single bed, Scully?"
"Sure, Mulder. I slept in one all the time when I was a kid," she closed the door firmly in his face.
She had to switch the light off by the door and pad barefoot to the bed. She'd packed a long, thick cotton nightgown, and was very glad she had. She tucked her feet up into the folds of the gown and pulled the blanket up high around her neck. She'd put her coat on top of the bed for extra warmth. It was hard trying to sleep in such a quiet place. In the far distance she could hear a dog barking. She smiled, wondering if Mulder could hear it too.
"You hear that, Scully?"
"It's a dog, Mulder."
"That's what we're here for."
"Go to sleep Mulder."
"Good night, Jim-Bob."
"Don't let the vampires bite."
Mulder wore his track suit to bed. It was more comfortable than pyjamas and a whole lot warmer. He unmade the bed, wrapped all the bedclothes around him like a cocoon, scrunched up the pillow and lay down with his head at the foot end of the bed, cellphone beside the pillow and gun smuggled under the blankets with him. He stared out the window, watching the stars. He wanted to go on teasing Scully. It was easier than sleeping.
He was standing in the church. Same church, only bigger. There were scorch marks down the walls and the flayed skins of humans hanging about the place. "These are damned members of our small group," Gault told them cheerfully. His cassock had turned into greasy feathers and his neck was wattled like a vulture's.
"We excommunicate those who won't take the communion with us," Gault explained.
Scully put her hand up to her hair and considered the flayed hides of those who would not take the communion. Gault's eyes glowed and his face twisted into a wolf's hungry leer. He led Scully to the altar and drew aside a black cloth. There was a little chalice with wine in it and a platter of wafers. Gault lifted the cup to Scully's lips, and as she bent to sip from it Mulder saw it transform, for a second, into a human skull. She drank something thick and red from its eye socket. Mulder was paralysed, enveloped in one of those terrible dreams of helplessness. He saw Gault pop the wafer into his partner's mouth and speak some gibberish that he knew meant the wafer was supposed to be transmuting into the flesh of the Christ. He heard a snap as Scully broke the wafer with her tongue and saw a trickle of blood seep out of the corner of her mouth. Even his vocal chords were paralysed, he couldn't yell at Scully to spit it out. He reached for his cellphone to try and dial for help, but his fingers couldn't push the right buttons. Then he was aware that something was behind him. With all the will in the world he twisted, forcing himself to see what was coming for him, and a moment before it struck him he was dazzled by the glowing eyes of the black dog.
The instant of the dog barrelling into him coincided with Mulder hitting the cold wooden floor as he fell out of bed. There was weak morning sun coming in the window, and it hurt his eyes. He staggered out of his room and heard Scully's voice in the kitchen. Gault was with her. Still dazed and a little alarmed by the dream, Mulder burst into the kitchen. Scully had something white in her hands, it was round with staring sockets like a skull and it was filled with red liquid. It was pure reflex that had Mulder smack Scully's hand aside and send the cup to the floor.
"You can't drink that. You can't drink that, Scully."
"Mulder it's tea. Sit down. I'm sorry, Father, I think he's still asleep. Sit down Mulder," she pushed him down onto a chair, flicking red droplets off her fingers.
"Are you all right, Agent Scully?" said Gault, handing her a tea towel, "It didn't scald you, did it?"
"No, I'm fine. Mulder what's this all about?"
"That...red stuff you were drinking."
"It was tea, Mulder. Father Gault was good enough to bring us a kettle and some tea bags and I was having a cup of tea with him."
"It was red."
"Rosehip tea usually is," Scully had her hand on the back of Mulder's chair and was leaning over as she spoke to him, trying to meet his eyes. She was more worried about him than anything, concerned that he really was still half asleep. In a way she was pleased about his dramatic entrance, too. She wanted Gault to see that her partner was erratic, unpredictable and overprotective. She didn't want to be in a position where she would have to question the integrity of a Catholic priest. While accepting that not all members of the Church were perfect, it would be very difficult to maintain a sense of faith and integrity with Gault moving in on her like a predator.
Scully was glad that she'd been up at all when Gault had let himself into their cabin earlier that morning. The cold night had made her kidneys hyperactive. There were still stars in the sky when she'd got up to empty her bladder, but it was late enough for her not to want to bother going back to bed. She'd peeped round Mulder's door, smiling at his tousled head sticking out from the top of his rolled up bedclothes. It was a change for her to be up before him. She was sitting in the kitchen using her computer when Gault had come creeping in, a box of groceries in his arms. Scully had been relieved that he hadn't caught her in her nightgown, or worse, in the bathroom battling with the primitive plumbing that heated the shower water.
She stood protectively over Mulder, though he wouldn't meet her eyes. He put his hands over his face and ran them through his mussed up hair. She felt embarrassed for him, jumping about like an idiot in front of the slimy priest.
"Are you okay Mulder?"
"Tea," he said, sounding embarrassed, "Oh."
Gault smiled greasily at Mulder and picked up the black polka-dot mug from the floor, "Perhaps I should go. Miss Costa will be bringing breakfast over directly, you are invited to come and join us," he slid from the room, his eyes never leaving the back of Mulder's neck.
Scully repeated her question.
"I guess," he said.
"You want some tea?"
He shook his head.
"I've got some coffee."
She boiled the kettle, found another polka dot mug and put a coffee bag in it, "You want to tell me about it?"
"Just a dream."
She handed him the cup, "You seem pretty shaken up for just a dream."
"The usual stuff, black dogs, evil priests, communion wafers that really *do* transmute, you know the kind of thing."
He perched on the chair, his bare feet hooked over the leg bar to keep them off the cold floor. He wrapped his hands round the mug to keep them warm and sipped the scalding coffee.
"Just a dream."
"Scully, if they ever come up with a drug that lets you survive without any sleep at all, you will tell me, won't you?"
Scully had not wanted to accept Gault's breakfast invitation. Her discomfort with him had grown. She felt drained when she was in his presence, and for some reason she was beginning to worry about him with Mulder. Gault seemed to have some sort of ugly charisma that held his flock of believers in his sway. It wasn't that she thought Mulder would be at all moved by Gault's ungainly glamour, and she certainly wasn't going to allow herself to be influenced by him. But he had a certain insight and it seemed to Scully that the man had discovered a vulnerability about her partner. Mulder, however, wanted breakfast.
"C'mon, Scully, I'm hungry and I bet Miss Costa's cooking is better than take out."
"Do you really want to do this, Mulder?"
"I have a very persuasive stomach. What's your problem?"
"I was just thinking about what happened...before."
"What? You think he's going to make me use plastic crockery because I made an ass of myself? C'mon Sculleeeee forgiveness is his business. Hey I bet Miss Costa does French toast."
Miss Costa did French toast. She did homemade marmalade and scrambled eggs with bacon cooked just crisp. Miss Costa had a relationship with a coffee pot that made Mulder wonder if she hadn't sold her soul at some stage and was trying to cook her way back to redemption via Father Gault. Miss Costa's cooking made Scully wonder if Father Gault didn't have some kind of hormonal imbalance, because she knew if she ate a breakfast like this every day she'd be as fat as a horse in six months.
Mulder and Scully's praise was as rich as Miss Costa's breakfast, but she hardly seemed to hear them. Her attention, even when she was cooking, seemed focused on Gault. She moved around him, salting his eggs, buttering his toast, sugaring his coffee. She leaned across him and pressed against him. Aside from a polite compliment about her [as always] fine cooking, Gault seemed hardly to acknowledge Miss Costa's presence in the room. Scully was embarrassed by the performance, Mulder was fascinated. He wondered how long she'd been throwing herself at him. Gault had been at the same church for forty years. Had he so easily resisted the temptations of Miss Costa when she was twenty and nubile?
Miss Costa cleared away the breakfast things and began washing the dishes. Gault ignored her completely and turned his full attention to Mulder. Again Scully felt as though the older man was digging for her partner's vulnerable spot, trying to entrap him in some way. She wondered if Gault's total lack of response to Miss Costa's attentions was due to his sexual orientation. He certainly found Mulder a whole lot more fascinating than anybody else.
"So tell me, Mr Mulder, how this black dog fits into the FBI's understanding of justice."
"I don't think justice has anything to do with them, Father. They are apparently a natural but poorly understood phenomenon," he fielded an expression of extreme scepticism cast by Scully, "They quite probably have a lot to do with ley lines."
"Certain schools of understanding..." Scully battered him with another look, "...dowsers, geomancers..."
"The Wicked Witch of the West," muttered Scully.
"...are able to experience lines of power running within the earth itself. They call them ley lines or dragon roads or spirit paths or feng shui. The Romans actually built their roads along these ways when they invaded England. The early Christians took advantage of their natural power and built their churches at significant points along the ley lines, usually putting them in places where pagan shrines had previously existed."
"How very pragmatic of them," smiled Gault.
"I'm sure the reason for that was that these were concentrated areas of population," said Scully, "Getting rid of pagan altars probably meant saving a lot of lives."
"I think they did it because they knew how powerful these key places were, Scully."
"A lot of these places happened to be on the highest point in town. Seeing the Cross up there would have been a source of constant reminder to the people of the town."
"There's more to it than that."
"It's psychological, Mulder. A way of lending strength to faith through familiarity."
"You've never been to Stonehenge."
Gault's smile broadened as he listened to the exchange between Mulder and Scully. Scully could feel it like a wedge going between them. Mulder's talk of black dogs and ley lines seemed to be an attack on her faith and it was very hard for her to justify the spiritual power of the Church while rejecting the idea that this power might in any way be enhanced by some *phenomenon*.
"So tell me," said Gault, leaning in towards Mulder, "How the black dog uses the ley lines."
Mulder shrugged, "Maybe it's a psychic overload. An esoteric spike," he said. Mulder smiled. Gault seemed highly amused by the whole idea. It irritated Scully, she felt as if Gault was toying with her partner, leading him on, though she could not guess to what end, other than the assumption that it was some kind of sexual game. What made her angrier was that Mulder would apparently have stayed there all day if Miss Costa's coffee hadn't run out and Scully hadn't dragged him, almost bodily from the place, with reminders that they were actually supposed to be working.
Scully had spent the day canvassing veterinary clinics. Trying to track down some kind of rational lead on the black dog. No one was familiar with it. No one knew of that breed in the area, and the prospect of finding a black Scottish deerhound seemed very unlikely to the doctors who were familiar with that breed. There had been no queries about lost dogs fitting the description of the Black Dog.
Mulder stalked the fields about the church, trying to find the ley lines through some sensitivity to power that he may have never been aware of previously. He could hear water flowing beneath his feet and he imagined he could feel its faint vibrations, but he had no geomancer's perception of energy. Only a slight uneasiness about the idea of ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes if he wasn't careful where he stepped. The sky darkened about the nearby hills. Black thunderheads loomed above him. Mulder felt the electric tingle of static in the air. He heard the first faint boom of thunder echoing back at him from the face of the mountain where the water came crashing down. A breeze stirred around him and a second boom of thunder sent vibrations up through his feet. As yet there was no indication of rain, just the vocal threat of the storm and static filling the air till Mulder could feel his hair prickling. He wondered if it was standing on end.
Mulder glanced uneasily about him. There were no tall trees in the immediate vicinity. It had to be the noise and atmospheric ionization that was making him feel so anxious. At least, he thought that would be how Scully would explain it. Mulder wasn't so sure though. As he walked through the paddock he could feel something beneath his feet. It was like a vibration, sometimes strong, sometimes less evident, and he could follow it like a path. He wondered if he had suddenly become sensitive to ley lines, or if in this kind of weather and place anyone would be able to feel the energy flowing through the earth. The next crash of thunder rattled him and he felt the force beneath his feet surge so that it almost knocked him off balance and a moment later he saw the Black Dog.
It was as the witnesses from the church had described it. In size and shape you could have mistaken it for a Scottish deerhound, but it was Blacker than anything he had ever seen. Only its eyes glowed with an unnatural incandescence. It stood stock still for a moment, testing the air, its head in perfect profile. Mulder could see then that the thing was the embodiment of some wild elemental force. This was what his ancestors talked about when they frightened each other with stories of Cernunnos the hunter and his pack of hounds. This was no gentle spirit guardian of fairy paths, this was the horned one's hound and it hunted men to death. The glowing lights of the Black Dog's eyes met Mulder's a second before he took off for his one hope, the Great Dog River. Everything Mulder had ever read about Black Dogs indicated that they couldn't cross running water.
Scully had seen the man running and recognised intuitively that it *had* to be Mulder before her brain had even processed the clothing the man was wearing and ascertained by deduction that it *was* Mulder. The road went over a small bridge, and Mulder seemed to be headed across the paddock towards that point. He was travelling at a dead run and Scully could tell by the way he held his arms that he was in some kind of a wild panic. He hadn't even seen her in the car. He'd managed to find the dog though, or it had found him, it was chasing him, not in the fast buckled gallop that its hound body suggested, but a long, loose lope that ate the distance between itself and Mulder in lazy strides. Scully couldn't understand why Mulder was running, surely he understood that a dog could run faster than he could. If it was rabid, or had bitten him, he should have shot it. Scully had no rational explanation for Mulder's wild behaviour.
Scully stopped the car on the bridge and got out to wave at Mulder and get his attention. He didn't even look up when she shouted, he simply ran, with the dog two strides behind him, straight into the river, tripped on a rock, and fell head first. Scully scrambled down the bank, thankful that the rain had not begun and the river was neither very full nor very wide.
Mulder sat up slowly in the water, slightly dazed, "Scully. Did you see it? Did you see the dog?" Blood was flowing from just above his hairline where he had cracked his head on a rock. He had also managed to scrape his face on the right side, twist his ankle and bruise his right hand.
She helped him up, "Mulder, what was that all about?"
"The dog. Didn't you see it? I had to get to running water. Black Dogs can't cross running water," he looked about, oblivious of Scully patting at the cut on his head, "You see? I got to the river and it's gone."
Scully looked up. There was no sign of the dog, "Mulder, did he bite you?"
"The dog. Did he bite you?" she looked at the scratches on his hand, hoping there was no sign of a puncture wound.
"Scully if that thing had touched me I'd be dead."
"Mulder, if that thing had bitten you, you'd be in hospital getting treatment for rabies. Why else did it run off when you got near the water?"
"It's a Black Dog, Scully. I told you. They can't cross water. I think it must have some disruptive effect on their energy field."
"Mulder can we please not stand about in this river all day? It's cold, it's ruining my shoes, and I really think you need to get warm and dry and let me look at that cut on your head."
There was no point in arguing with Mulder. There never was. He was convinced of the dog's supernatural powers when it was plainly obvious to Scully that its strange behaviour had to be due to rabies. Although she hadn't seen it up close enough to spot whether or not it was foaming at the mouth, hydrophobia, a sure sign of rabies, was the obvious explanation for the dog not following Mulder into the river.
Mulder's only change of clothing was his tracksuit and a pair of runners. Scully made him take a warm shower and then he sat looking sulky and rumpled while she dabbed at the cut on his head. It bled copiously though it was only a shallow cut. She made him hold a wadded bandage against it while she put disinfectant on the cuts on his face and hand and bound up his ankle and grilled him about dog bites.
"It wasn't rabid Scully, it wasn't even a dog." Thunder almost drowned out his words, and though it was still daytime, Scully had to put the light on.
"Mulder, it was a dog," she peered intently into his eyes, looking for signs of concussion, "I saw it, you saw it, the people in the church saw it. It was a black Scottish deerhound. Just like the one in the picture. Only black. I don't understand why you ran from a dog, knowing that it could outrun you. I do know that it is certainly savage and presumably rabid and the only responsible thing to do is shoot it."
Mulder wasn't listening though, "The church," he said, "of course," and got up, testing his hurt ankle. "It's attracted to the church, Scully, that's the dragon's head. That's the energy source of the ley lines." He went out, headed across the garden to the church. The thunder had stopped for a moment and the first drops of rain had begun to fall. Scully checked her gun. Mulder was right. The dog would head for the church because it was raining and the door was always open and a rabid dog would want to get out of the rain.
Father Gault sat in the Church listening to the thunder. His cassock shrouded him like the greasy feathers of a gaunt black crow. He hated the analogy. Worse still he hated the bat analogy which he used on himself, because he knew it was far more accurate. Vampire bat.
He had known from a fairly early age that he was different. Other kids didn't feel what he felt. Adults certainly didn't feel what he felt. Didn't know what he was talking about when he tried to explain himself, put his "stories" down to a vivid imagination. Long ago he learnt to stop telling people. Long ago me made a conscious decision to use what he had for good, not evil. It hadn't been easy, but the Church gave him a kind of symbiosis that made life a whole lot simpler to understand. He drew a great deal of energy from the congregation each Sunday. They came to him and he fed off the strength of their Hope and Faith. When he was younger that had been enough. He didn't need food at all, though he ate to keep Miss Costa happy. Her happiness was more nourishing to him than a thousand of her hearty breakfasts. There was joy in the church. There was love and courage and fear and doubt, and it all fed him. His life was spiced by the wicked flavour of confessionals, and in a way it made his own faith stronger, because he knew when someone was truly repentant, and he learned in time how to govern those who came to him only to pay lip service to the Church's requirements. If nothing else, his gift of being able to draw energy from the emotions of others meant that he could always design an appropriate penance for them.
Time passed though and his congregation dwindled and aged. The powerful flow of Mrs Selene's will had become a carping nag. Mr Gordon's sense of awe and wonder had died down to a gullible susceptibility. Miss Costa's sexual heat had finally become frustrated and twisted itself down into bitter vinegar.
Gault could feel the first tingling of energy directed through the aisle of the church. Mulder would come soon. At least, he hoped Mulder would come, it seemed logical, after all the stuff he had been saying that morning about Black Dogs and ley lines. None of it made terribly much sense to Gault, but he hoped Mulder would come. He liked Mulder. There was freshness about the young man, and a great deal of strength. He was curious and intelligent and he had an indomitable will. Gault didn't know what had killed Mr and Mrs Gardner, and he was sad that they had died, but he was glad that the circumstances had meant Mulder's arrival. It was like a sudden feast in a bright and brilliant place, to a man who had dwelt in a dungeon and been living on stale bread and water for years.
The thunder had stopped for the moment and the first drops of rain began to patter down. It was dark inside the church and full of dancing shadows from the flickering lights of the votive candles. Mulder didn't see Father Gault at first, the older man sat very still, dark as a shadow himself. Mulder felt the hair prickling along the back of his neck. Distant thunder rumbled, bounced off the far hills and echoed about. The rain began to come down heavily.
"Hello Agent Mulder."
"Father Gault. I didn't see you there."
"Just roosting in my favourite haunt," the older man smiled, "Do you think the Black Dog will come back today?"
"It's already been back once. I had a close encounter with it," Mulder held his hurt hand where Gault could see it.
"Did it bite you?"
"No. I fell over in the river trying to escape from it. I had to get to running water."
"Crossroads and running water, eh?"
Lightning briefly illuminated the church and in the seconds before they heard the thunder Mulder felt himself almost bodily lifted by a surge of energy, "Did you feel that?"
Gault nodded, slightly breathless. He'd felt the energy and the thrill that had gone through Mulder at almost the same time. He wondered if this is what sex was like. He wanted to keep Mulder close, considered, with the man's predilection for the fantastic, that he might be one of the few people in the world that Gault could trust with his secret. That Mulder might not meet his confession with anger or outrage or denial or scorn, but might actually listen to him, might even believe him.
Mulder had begun to walk slowly the length of the aisle, curious about how different the energy might feel as he got closer to the place where the Gardners had been standing when the Black Dog had come into the church. Gault followed him, wanting to be close, feeling his strength, revelling in it. Used it to buoy up his emotions while he chose the words of his confession.
Scully stood in the doorway of the church, flicking the rain out of her hair. She held her gun in one hand and watched the fields, waiting for the black dog. It was hard to see through the cloud dark and driving rain. The wind sent the rain in ripples and surges so that it seemed to be moving across the land, moving towards the church. The sudden dazzle of lightning and simultaneous crash of thunder that roared in her ears made Scully jump with fright, but it was Mulder's yell from inside the church that galvanised her into action.
There were no dogs in the church, only a terrible smell of ozone and Mulder supine on the floor coughing and gagging. Scully rushed to him, pushing her fingers through his hair which was still crackling with electricity. She saw consciousness fade from his eyes and his lips began to turn blue. When she laid her fingers against the side of his neck, he had no pulse.
Somehow, in between breaths and CPR, Scully was able to dial 911. She pumped his chest and breathed into his mouth. Her arms ached, her shoulders and elbows felt locked and fixed and spots danced in front of her eyes. Every two minutes she stopped for a couple of seconds and felt for a pulse in his throat. She didn't waste any breath on trying to call Mulder back to life during that time, she just tried to steady her own breathing and then went back to breathing for both of them. Scully would have continued with the CPR until she dropped from exhaustion, but by the time she heard the distant siren of the ambulance she felt the first thready pulse under the skin of her partner's throat. Mulder wasn't going anywhere without her.
It wasn't until the emergency crews got there that anybody even realised there had been a second casualty. Gault had struck his head on a pew as he had gone down. He had lay in the shadows, concussed, and his heart had been stopped just as Mulder's had. There was nothing to be done for him.
Scully rode with Mulder in the ambulance. Her arms hung like lead weights in her lap and she breathed steadily from the oxygen mask that had been provided for her. She rested with her eyes closed, but from time to time roused herself to watch the attendant as he fussed over her partner. She felt no concern, at her request the attendant had pulled some of the tape off the electrocardiogram and given it to her to read. It showed a normal looking QRS complex. Mulder's heart had been deprived of oxygen for only a brief amount of time, already it had begun to stabilise.
Scully's report contained no mention of ley lines or dragon paths. She had seen a black dog, which she assumed, by its behaviour to be rabid, chase her partner into a river. She had seen a Church building prone to lightning strikes, and recommended that a new lightning rod be installed. She had seen a burnt patch on the floor between where Mulder and Gault had been lying, and it was obvious to her that the black dog had come into the church to get out of the rain, and had been struck by lightning and completely obliterated by it. It was reasonable and logical and that was why Scully put it in her report. It explained the facts in a way that fitted the world. She didn't mention the faint surge of energy she felt rushing through the church, and she assumed that the silhouette of a deerhound behind the altar of the church had been painted there by a prankster. She couldn't explain how or why the eyehole of that silhouette had been cut clean through the stone outer wall of the building.