DISCLAIMER

Xfiles and The Characters Mulder and Scully are the property of Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen productions and have been used without permission. I have, in this story, also included some real live people as characters, Stephen, Jenny and Eleanor Kernahan. I have used these names and people without their knowledge or permission, and in the unlikely event that they ever come across this story, I wish to reassure them that I meant absolutely no harm whatsoever and trust they will regard this use of their names as a mark of the deep respect I feel for them. I have no reason to believe that Jenny Kernahan is, anything other than a perfectly normal human being with  two legs, no fins, and no selchies, seals, mermaids, kelpies, bunyips or water nixies cluttering her pedigree.

This story is copyright Amanda le Bas de Plumetot, 1995. It contains no sex, no violence, no naughty language, and not even any very rude bits or nudity :( . There are a couple of bits that might make people feel a little bit squeamish, so maybe if you've got a weak stomach, you shouldn't be eating pea soup while you read that. Aside from that I rate it pretty darned harmless.

Hope you enjoy it. *:) amanda


SONG OF THE SIREN

The die had been cast. Scully hunched down into her seat and let Mulder drive the last part, down twisting roads into the descending night, following a map he saw in his head. She was happy to let him drive. She was less than amused by the assignment they'd been given.

"Take a look at these abductions, Scully," Mulder had insisted, shoving the fat folder at her as she'd climbed into the car, hours ago.

"These things go back over a hundred and sixty years Mulder."

"They actually go back further, but the older records were destroyed when the church was burnt down in 1836. There are legends that the abductions were happening to the local Indian tribe who lived here, too."

Scully tried not to snort too loudly. She pored through the file, flicking backwards and forwards between the different cases, comparing notes written over the years.

"Okay, Mulder," she said finally when they stopped for gas and a break, "So we've got eleven separate incidents here. People disappeared."

"Do you see the pattern?"

"No."

"Average of one every twenty years."

"I wouldn't say that, Mulder. Look: back in 1856 Eileen MacCodrum disappeared, then in 58 Tom Wilson vanished. In 1915 Sheila Kelly went, and then the following year Bill Coulter disappeared. Same thing in 1973 and 77, in 73 it was Rowena Connelly, and two years later Marsha Leeming. So where does your twenty years come from?"

"Forget the men and Marsha Leeming, Scully."

"What, jealous, Mulder?"

"No, look, if we just ignore the two males and the older female, which I think were probably just unsolved murders, you'll find that what we've got is a pattern of abductions of adult females between the ages of twenty and thirty five. On average, one every twenty years."

"Hey, Mulder, that's really great. If you just leave out the bits that don't fit, the whole thing works." Scully waited for him to bite on her sarcasm, but nothing came. She sighed and stared at the road ahead, realising that no amount of chumming would get him to take the bait now. He was focussed on a single distant ray of hope, and nothing was going to distract him.

The road tunnelled away down the track of the headlights and into the black night. Scully opened her window a crack and she could smell the ocean.

"You getting tired, Mulder? You want me to drive?"

"No, it's okay, we should be at the pier round the next corner."

"I sure hope that ferry's there."

"It will be."

They rounded the corner, and Mulder was right. A small car ferry bobbed at the end of the pier. The captain waved and Scully waved back. It was a one man operation. He was dressed the part, though, the grizzled beard, cap'n's hat and jacket, and a white rollneck jumper that he really didn't need in the pleasantly warm weather.

"Welcome aboard," he smiled. "You're right on time, Mr Mulder. I've just tied up. Ah, is this Mrs Mulder with you?"

Scully made a small choking noise, "Ah, Special Agent Dana Scully, Captain. F.B.I." She flashed her I.D. at him. "Agent Mulder and I are here on business."

The captain didn't seem the least bit fazed by his faux pas. "Well," he said, "Make sure you take a little time to enjoy yourselves while you're here, too. It's not geared for tourists or big city crowds, but there are some nice places to eat, and it's the kind of place where I think even F.B.I. people could relax a little bit." He waved them onto the ferry.

Scully stood on the deck during the short trip, letting the cool salt air blow away the cobwebs of a day's drive. Mulder mooched over and stood beside her, holding tight to the rail and trying to keep his eyes fixed on the horizon.

"You're just lucky you didn't laugh," cautioned Scully, "I would've killed you if had."

"It would have been worth it, Scully, for the look on your face. Anyway, think of the possibilities, we could go undercover."

"Oh, right. You can go as a spoiled paraplegic, and I'd be your companion and medical aide."

"Paraplegic?"

"Once I'm done kicking your shins to pieces the role will be easy."

"Ouch, Ow. Scully. Don't," he jumped around, trying to avoid the pointy toe of her shoe, and then turned an alarming shade of grey.

"Oh, Mulder. You can't get sea sick on a car ferry."

"Scully, I take dramamine before a shower."

"I honestly don't know how someone who spends so much time swimming can get so sick the minute he steps on board a boat."

"Old superstition, Scully, witches can't cross water."

"You'd never make a decent witch, Mulder. You haven't got the warts for it."

Scully drove the final part of their journey, while Mulder sat quietly, the cool wind from the half open car window mussing his hair. He only spoke to direct Scully to the boarding house where their rooms had been booked. There were no motels on the island.

The boarding house was a large, rambling old place made of timber, painted white. Scully was surprised to see how good the place looked, she expected a more weatherbeaten appearance from something so close to the ocean. The house was on the leeward side of the island, though, and the island itself was in a shallow bay that would seldom raise more than a rough chop. As she stepped from the car she heard the sea and smelled the refreshing scent of its salt tang. The ferry captain could be very right about her enjoying her stay on the island.

Mulder got their overnight bags out of the car and they walked up to the front door of the house. The porch light came on before they got to the top stair, and the door opened before they got to it. A woman stood there with a welcoming smile which dissolved a moment later.

"Agents Mulder and Scully from the F.B.I.," said Mulder. "I believe we have rooms booked here?"

The woman was about fifty, immaculately groomed. Mulder had an idea she might have been a head-turner in her day.

"Ah, yes," she said. "Agents Mulder and Scully," she bit down on her plump, red lower lip so that lipstick smudged her teeth. "Um, there's a slight, um...oh dear..." she trailed off.

"It's Mrs Harris, isn't it?" said Mulder. "Is there some problem here? Have we come too late? Is there no room for us at the inn."

"Oh, yes, well, I do have a very nice room. It's just that...oh, dear. You're going to think I'm just a terrible person, but it's only natural. Oh, well, I don't suppose it is natural in this day and age, but you see when I took the booking, and it was two F.B.I. agents, well, I thought you would both be men, and well...I  only prepared one room for the two of you. I have given you our best room. It's the largest one we have, and it does have the nicest outlook, but of course I can..."

Scully pushed past Mulder, "That will be fine Mrs Harris. Don't worry about a thing. I'm having the bed nearest the window," she snapped at Mulder as she picked up her bag.

Mrs Harris led them to the room, apologising all the way, and offering to set up a second room. Scully insisted that all would be well.

"She snores, you know," said Mulder as Mrs Harris opened the door for them.

"You don't even want to know about his nasty little habits," Scully shot back as she accepted the key.

It was a pretty room, and Scully wondered if it doubled as the honeymoon suite. It contained two double beds and had a private bathroom attached. The window was large, with a small balcony out from it. The night breeze stirred the gauzy curtain and brought with it the sound and scent of the ocean. The beds had been made with plain checked quilts and turned back for them. As well as lamps on the bedside tables there were pretty, scented candles, partly used. Scully wondered if they were there for setting an atmosphere, or just in case of a blackout. A large vase of roses sat on the table between the two beds. They were big cabbagey hybrid tea roses whose scent filled the air. Dark bloody petals had fallen from one of the flowers, littering the top of the table. When Scully opened a drawer to put her things in, the scent of lavender drifted up. She smiled and made a mental note to come back here some time and have a real holiday.

Mulder was fiddling about with his bag, there was a kind of unfocussed vagueness about him. He looked as if he was going to lie down on the bed and sleep with his shoes and clothes still on. He'd regret that in the morning. His suit would be creased.

"Go take a shower, Mulder," Scully told him."You look as though you could use it."

He stared blearily at her. "I wha?"

"Wash the dust off, Mulder." She placed his toilet bag in his hands and pointed him at the door of the bathroom. He looked like he was already half asleep. She felt certain it was just the effects of travel. It was a real shame that Mulder couldn't seem to handle seafaring of any description. He was missing out on one of the finer things of life.

Scully was propped up in bed, going over the files one last time when he finally emerged from the shower dressed in a pair of black silk boxer shorts. "You're going to bed dressed like that?" she commented mildly.

"I could wear what I usually wear to bed," he offered, slipping his hands under the waistband of the shorts as if he was about to drop them.

"Spare me the shock treatment Mulder, this is a nice establishment, let's try and keep it that way." She dropped the file onto the floor and switched off her light.

He grinned and slipped under the covers of his bed and picked up the file.

"And see if you can make some sort of attempt at sleeping," pleaded Scully.

***

Scully wasn't sure what had woken her, but before her eyes were even properly open, her hand slipped under her pillow and found her gun. She lay there, eyes half closed, waiting for the sound to repeat itself, orienting herself so that if she needed to jump, she could do so with efficacy. She heard the sound again, it might have been a sob or a sigh. It wasn't the ocean. Her eyes adjusted to the light. The moon was full, bright and shining in the window. Mulder was sitting by the window staring out. Scully relaxed, let go of the gun and sat up.

She slipped out of bed, grateful that she'd had the forethought to pack a cosy, flannel nightgown because it was chilly in the room now. She realised that the sound that had woken her was Mulder's teeth chattering; he was sitting in the chill of the open window with just his shorts on, staring out.

"Nightmare, Mulder?" she said quietly.

He didn't respond. She reached out and touched his arm. "Mulder?"

He jumped, startled. "Oh, god, Scully, don't do that."

"Sorry. I did speak, but you didn't seem to hear. You were off in another world. Have you had another nightmare? God Mulder, you're as cold as ice," she ran her hand along his upper arm.

He didn't seem to notice her attention. "No," he said, "It wasn't a nightmare. It was...I thought I heard something."

Scully picked up her bathrobe off the end of her bed and held it out for him. "Here, put this on. If you heard talking it was probably Mrs Harris."

"No, there was more than one voice."

"Maybe she was talking to Mr Harris."

He struggled into the bathrobe, it was too small across the shoulders. "No, it was like...like singing. Scully I can't wear this, it's just not my colour."

Scully flicked the bathrobe back onto the end of her bed. "She had the radio on then, or the tv."

"At three in the morning?"

"Lots of people have the tv or radio on to help them sleep, Mulder. I know of one right here in this room. Now will you please get into bed and warm yourself up."

He crawled under his covers, "I think I'm getting hypothermia, Scully. Want to come and help me get warm."

"Sure, Mulder," she flicked the bathrobe onto his bed. "Wrap that around you r head and think about tropical islands."

Whether or not Mulder got up again during the night, Scully did not know. She slept well and didn't see him until she came down to breakfast. Mrs Harris had set up a table for them in the dining room, the French doors were open and sunlight came streaming in, bringing the scent of roses and honeysuckle over the sea sound. Scully sat back in her chair, blinking in the sunlight, eating toast coated with what she knew was home made strawberry jam, and holding a cup of scalding hot freshly brewed coffee.

"If I'm dreaming, don't wake me," she sighed.

"C'mon, Scully, no sleeping on company time," chided Mulder. "We've got a meeting with the chief of police here at eight."

"Really? He wouldn't see you before eight a.m.?"

"No. Life moves pretty slow in these old fishing villages."

***

Police chief Kevin O'Sullivan must have been verging on retirement age though he gave the impression that he could easily slog on for another twenty years or so without being too bothered by the hard work. He had a mass of thick grey hair and a broad, strong body, the kind of physique that came from working hard at playing; fishing, gardening, and just walking the dog. Not an athlete's build, but an honest worker's build that cast a strange contrast against his eyes which were sea green and held Mulder and Scully in an almost otherworldly gaze. His broad smile belied the strangeness of his eyes, though, and he shook hands heartily with both agents.

"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, I'm very pleased to have you here. I'm very pleased you were able to take the time to have a look at the...situation here."

They sat as O'Sullivan indicated, Mulder with the file on his lap. "O'Sullivan," he mused, "There was an O'Sullivan in the records here. Kathleen O'Sullivan was listed as missing back in 1935. She any relation of yours?"

"You like to cut to the chase, don't you Mr Mulder?" the chief grinned at the exasperated look on Scully's face. "I wondered how long it would take before you noticed that. Kathleen was...is...my mother. I was two years old when she disappeared."

"I don't suppose you have much memory of what happened at the time," said Mulder hopefully.

"Mr Mulder, I remember it like it was yesterday. My mother became terribly sad. I don't know how I became aware of that, I only know that she was normally a happy person, and then she became sad. Kids pick up on these things. I sure did. She would spend days, just staring out to sea, and then other times she would ransack the house, like she was in a cleaning frenzy."

"Do you know if she might have lost a child at that time?" asked Scully. "Maybe you had a younger brother or sister who died, or she might have been pregnant and had a miscarriage."

O'Sullivan shook his head from side to side. "No. There was no brother or sister. My father died about ten years ago, and there were always questions about mum's state of mind when she vanished, but he told me that as far as he knew she wasn't pregnant."

"The searching behaviour sounds like the sort of thing people go through as part of the grieving process," commented Mulder. "Which is why it seems possible she might have lost a child."

Scully gazed at the books and photos on a shelf under the window. She picked one of the photos back and gazed at the face in the portrait, "Is this your mother?"

O'Sullivan nodded.

"She has your eyes," said Scully, handing the photo to her partner. Mulder looked at it. It was black and white, a portrait of a gentle looking woman with soft face and the same striking eyes as O'Sullivan.

"This is a portrait of Jenny Kernahan," said O'Sullivan, handing over a photo of the woman who had vanished from the town three weeks earlier. She had a slim face and high cheekbones, long honey blonde hair, a generous, smiling mouth and the same sea green eyes as O'Sullivan's.

"Are you related?" asked Mulder.

"I don't know," said the chief.

"Have you checked the records?" said Scully.

"There are no records, Agent Scully, of any of the women who vanished. No registration of birth, no marriage certificates...no death records. Nothing."

"No records?" said Mulder.

"Nothing. Not even a maiden name. It's as if they didn't exist until they came here. They were here for a while, and then they were gone again. I don't know where these women go to, Agent Mulder, and I don't even know where they come from. I've spent my life trying to find out, and met with nothing but lies, prevarication and dead ends."

Mulder nodded, he understood what the man was going through. "In the file we were given, there were two men and an older woman who also went missing. Do you think they're part of the same set?"

O'Sullivan shook his head. "No. I don't have proof of any of this, of course, but I've researched those three. The man who vanished in 1858; Tom Wilson, was, I believe, murdered. There were rumours at the time, a fight with a rival fishing boat skipper who had no alibi for the time Wilson died. He was never charged though. No body was ever found. The Atlantic's a big place to get lost in. Bill Coulter was sixteen when he vanished, it was right around the time a recruiting band came through for the army, trying to drum up volounteers for the first world war. Again I have no proof, but I've checked the records, and there was a casualty named Frank Wright a couple of months after Coulter vanished. He claimed to come from around here, but he was about fifty years off. Frank Wright was Bill Coulter's grandfather. I think Bill changed his name and lied about his age and ran away to join the army."

"You've really done your homework," commented Scully.

O'Sullivan grinned. "It's a quiet town, Agent Scully. I don't get a lot of work to keep me busy and the good people hereabouts will only tolerate their chief of police doing so much fishing on their time."

"What about Marsha Leeming?" said Mulder.

"I think she was a suicide. She was fifty eight,  and her husband was about to retire. She was looking forward to a happy, fulfilled old age. He was looking forward to running away with his secretary. She came home one day, and he'd cleaned her out. Nothing left in the house, nothing left in the bank account. She never left a note or anything, but I just think she took herself for a long walk into the rising sun," he waved his hand out towards the flat jade beyond the bay's edge.

"So where would you like us to start?" said Mulder finally.

"You could try Kernahan," suggested O'Sullivan. "I don't know that you'll get much out of him. God knows, I've tried, but he wouldn't even report Jenny missing until I practically twisted his arm. I feel like I'm on the edge of a conspiracy. Liam Connelly was the same when Rowena disappeared back in `73. I'm hoping that with your background as a psychologist you'll be able to screw an explanation out of him."

"I'll try," said Mulder. "Screwing's one of my best things," he added. Though it was out of earshot.

***

Stephen Kernahan made Mulder feel very uncomfortable. It wasn't rudeness or attitude, it was just that at 6'2" Mulder was considered tall, but he had to look up to this man, who was another three inches taller. As well as being tall, Kernahan had a powerful, athletic build and carried the kind of muscle that could only be constructed by a lot of work with the weights. Scully barely came up to his armpit. Mulder quickly hid the smile that spread across his face, watching his partner being so...short, he knew he would suffer if she caught him grinning at that. Kernahan led them into his lounge room and plumped down into a sofa, indicating that they too should sit. A small child crawled into his lap, a stuffed toy seal in her arms. He held her gently as if she was a kitten.

"We need to talk about Jenny," said Mulder gently.

Kernahan shrugged and flicked at a lock of his long, slightly scruffy black hair. "Jen's gone to visit family," he said.  His voice had a booming, resonant quality that matched his size. He held Mulder in a dark, steady gaze. "I don't understand what the fuss is about."

"There are some pretty odd circumstances surrounding her dissapearance," said Mulder. "She didn't take any clothes or other personal items, no one seems to know where her family is, and she didn't use the ferry to leave the island."

Kernahan shrugged again, "She told me she was going to visit family, and that's where she's gone. She'll be back soon."

"Where does her family live?" said Mulder.

"Can't say." He distracted himself with the child, teasing her with the toy, alternately hiding it from her and tickling her with it.

"Why can't you say?"

"Because I don't exactly know."

"Have you tried to find them? What's their name?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know your wife's surname?" said Scully.

"Look, it was a common law marriage. We met, we fell in love, we live together. No papers were signed, no big ceremonies, just two people. I love her. I don't..." he paused for a moment, his voice breaking on the last word and Scully was surprised to see that he was fighting tears, "I don't own her," he said finally, quietly.

"Mr Kernahan, do you believe your wife was capable of suicide?" said Mulder.

"She's not dead," said Kernahan. "She's visiting family."

"What was her state of mind like before she...went away?"

"She was miserable. She was missing her family. I told her she should go see them. So she did."

Scully felt as if she was standing in the blazing sun beating her head against a brick wall. "We have a warrant to search your house," she told Kernahan.

He gave the paper a cursory glance and shrugged, "Do whatever you like. Elly and I are going fishing." He took the little girl's hand and they walked out together.

"This is only a guess, Scully, but you didn't get straight A's in bedside manner, did you?"

"The man's lying through his teeth, Mulder. How can he be married, even living with someone for eight years and not know her surname?"

Mulder shrugged, "Maybe she has one of those unpronouncable Scandinavian names."

"He knows where she is, Mulder. He knows what's happened to her."

The search started in the bedroom. Scully pointed out jewellery, make up, toiletries and other personal effects, untouched.

"If he'd killed her he might have packed some of the stuff away," said Mulder.

"Look, even her handbag is right here on the chair with her purse and credit card still in it," said Scully, "He hasn't even tried to make it look as if she packed for a trip."

"Maybe she didn't. Maybe she likes to travel light. If he'd killed her, surely he would have disposed of some of her personal things, made it look like she had packed up and gone."

"What do you think is going on here, Mulder?"

"Oh, something you're going to really like, Scully. Ever heard of selchies?"

"The sound galoshes make in good mud?"

"Seal people. They come out during the high tides and shed their skins to become human. If a man falls in love with a selchie woman, he takes her seal skin to prevent her from returning to the sea. They live together and have children, but the woman misses her seal family and the freedom of the sea. Eventually she finds her seal pelt and puts it on and returns to the sea. You never heard that story?"

"No, Mulder. I never heard that one."

"I'm surprised. There are a lot of Irish names associated with the selchies. I thought it might have been the kind of Irish sea story that your father might have shared with you."

"No, but there was a story that my mother shared with me," said Scully. "I'm going to extract a few of your teeth, and we'll sit up tonight and see if the fairies come along and leave you some money."

"Scully the facts fit."

"Mulder, it's a bunch of coincidences."

"How would you explain it?"

"Murder, suicide, running away with their lovers, accidental death at sea. This is the real world, Mulder. These things happen."

"What about Jenny Kernahan?"

"I think he murdered her."

"There's no motive, Scully. There's no evidence or indication that it happened. This is a small town, there are no rumours that he had ill feeling towards her or was fighting with her. One final small detail, Scully...there's no body."

Scully snorted, she was hunting around in the wardrobe. There was a fishing basket in it. It struck her as being odd and rather disgusting, keeping a fishing basket in the wardrobe, though it looked brand new. It seemed very strange, too, that Kernahan should have taken his daughter fishing and left the basket at home. It was this last fact that prompted Scully to open the basket. At first she wasn't sure what she was seeing in the basket, it took a moment to comprehend. Quietly she called Mulder over and indicated the basket's contents, "It isn't exactly a body..." she said.

Fine silky skin and hanks of honey blonde hair lay coiled in the basket. "I really think I need to look at this," said Scully quietly.

Chief O'Sullivan issued a warrant for Kernahan's arrest for murder when Scully presented him with the bizzarre evidence. The man was clearly upset by the whole business. "I like Steve," he said. "I'm just completely stunned by all this."

Kernahan could not be found immediately. There was no terrible mystery, he had simply taken his boat out fishing. Mulder frowned, concerned, "Get some people out there and find him quick," he advised, "This kind of instability could easily be precursive to suicide. I believe the little girl is at risk, too."

"You want to come with us?" asked O'Sullivan.

"I'll...help Scully on the forensics."

"Don't blame you," grinned O'Sullivan, "I'd rather be with Scully than me, if I was you."

Scully trailed her cool fingers along the back of Mulder's neck. "It would depend on which one of us was on dry land," she said quietly.

Provision for autopsies was scarce on the island. Non existent, in fact. Scully took the skin to the cool room at the back of the police station. It had once been a fish packing factory and the cool room had been a storage area for the fish. Scully laid the skin out on a large slab table in the middle of the room.

"Look at it, Mulder," she said, lifting the fingers into place and straightening the limbs. "It's perfect. I've never seen anything like it in my life."

More than simply a flayed hide, it was a perfect skin from which the owner had simply been removed. It was slit from the nape of the neck to half way down the back. That was the only damage done to it...aside from the obvious fact that it was no longer inhabited. It reminded Scully of the shell of an insect, forced apart by the animal's growth until it popped open, leaving the insect free to climb out and go on to the next stage of its life. The fingers were hollowed, the eyelashes were intact, the skin itself was soft and supple, almost warm to the touch.

"How the hell did he do this?" wondered Scully.

"I've heard of a society of tattoo preservers in Japan," said Mulder, "People who've raised the art of tattooing the human body to such a high standard that they want to preserve their work in perpetuity. They have a secret method of pickling the skin..."

Scully poked at the skin before her, waiting for Mulder to complete his thought. When she turned her attention to him he was staring into the middle distance.

"Mulder?"

Nothing.

"Mulder?" she shook him and he turned to her, his expression a little dazed and he looked pale. A thin haze of sweat beaded his forehead. "You okay?" she said.

"I thought I heard something."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Singing or something."

"Mulder you said that last night. Are you all right?"

"I don't know Scully. To be honest, I've felt pretty odd ever since we came across the water."

"Well you can't still be seasick."

He shrugged, "I don't know. I just don't feel...right. Is it stuffy in here? Close?"

"I feel fine. Why don't you go and sit down. Have a rest. You were probably up half the night sitting in the open window freezing your buns off before I made you go back to bed. Maybe you're coming down with something."

"Maybe," he shrugged. He carried a chair over by the exterior door, and sat with the door open, staring out at the wild garden that had once been a loading yard for the fish factory. A spring arose somewhere near the middle of the island and fed into the canal at the back of the loading yard. The grasses and weeds were long about the spring, and clumps of wild briar roses and honeysuckle leaned over the waterway.

Sunlight streamed in the door and across his face and he leaned back in the chair, his eyes closed. He could smell sweet honeysuckle and rose and the sound of the water drifted in to him. It wasn't just water though, it was something else that he could hear above the intermittent sound of the little bit of island traffic that the breeze carried in to him. There were sounds in the water, like voices and music. He was sure he could hear voices raised in song. He could almost understand them if he could just achieve the right state of mind. He knew he would know what they were saying...what they were singing about, if only he could hear them clearly.

He stepped through the door and into the unkempt garden. A cloud of dragonflies buzzed briefly around his head, drawing him towards the freshwater brook. Briars and sticks snagged at his ankles, scratching him and drawing blood, though he hardly seemed to notice. He stood on the bank of the stream, overwhelmed by its simple beauty and the depth of its chuckling voice. Sudden warmth engulfed him and he wanted to go down to the water and immerse himself in it. There were joyful voices in it calling his name and he needed to go to them. He slipped down the bank of the brook, his legs suddenly turned to rubber, his left leg twisted under him. He lay back amongst the lush weeds, smelling the sweet scent of flowers and crushed herbs under his body. He couldn't get up to go into the water, but it didn't seem to matter. He would lie there on the bank of the brook and listen to its secrets in the pure warmth of the day. Dragonflies clattered about his head and he stared at a cluster of little purple flowers and thought of Shakespeare, -I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,/Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows...- he would lie there forever and listen to the rest of the words as they wove themselves through the sound of the water.

Scully had been so involved with the skin she didn't even notice Mulder leave. "Mulder, look at this," she said, looking under the magnifyer at the tiny scratches inside the arms of the skin. There was no reply. She looked up. Mulder was not there.

She went to the door, realising that he must have stepped outside. "Mulder?" Sometimes working with him left her feeling like a harassed mother, forever chasing an errant child. There was no sign of him, though clearly someone had walked through the yard, flattening the grass in a path that led down to the stream. She followed the crushed grass, "Mulder come on. Don't play games with me."

He was lying on the river bank, one foot in the water, ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes. There was a sprinkle of rose petals over him. "Oh, god, Mulder, what have you done this time?" She slipped clumsily down the bank and crouched beside him. He didn't respond when she spoke to him. His head was hot under her hand, and his pulse was fast and thready. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and a shadow fell across her.

Scully turned, squinting into the sun, a woman's voice said: "What's happened? Is he all right?"

"I'm not sure. He's unconscious. I need help with him." They each took one of Mulder's arms and dragged him away from the water, up the bank. He grumbled, responding slightly to the movement.

"Look at that," said the woman indicating Mulder's bloody ankle. "Bet he's been bitten by a snake. There's a few of them around this time of year, especially in the long grass by the beck."

Scully wasted no time. She had a pair of scissors in her pocket and used them to cut the pants off Mulder's injured leg, tearing the material into wide strips that she wound around his wound. "Here," she flipped her cellular phone towards the other woman. "Call the doctor, tell him what's happened. If snakes are common he must have an anti-venom kit."

The woman made the call and Scully finished binding Mulder's leg. "Let's get him back to the cool room," said Scully. Between the two of them they were able to lift Mulder upright, each propping him under a shoulder and lugging him, stumbling, into the cool room. The woman was almost as tall as Mulder and she supported most of his weight.

"By the way," said the woman when they got to the room, "I'm Jenny Kernahan. I believe you've been looking for me.

The doctor concurred with Jenny's diagnosis of snakebite and administered a remedy, along with admonishments to Mulder about walking in the long grass. Mulder was in a dreamy state, though, and seemed more concerned with the pain from the sprain in his left ankle and the fact that his right shoe was waterlogged. "Do you think the snake that bit me was a watermoccasin?" he asked, trying to wring out the shoe.

"I really think, Mr Mulder," said the doctor, struggling to keep him still while he injected the antivenom, "That you need a very long rest."

"And a new pair of shoes," said Mulder miserably, unaware of the fact that he was sliding off the chair and onto the floor.

Owing to the vastly premature nature of the rumours of Jenny Kernahan's death, police chief O'Sullivan was more than happy to tear up the warrant for Stephen's arrest. To say he was thrilled to see the family reunited was an understatement. To say he was confused by the whole situation was dead on the truth. Nevertheless, his small community was intact again and he was pleased by the outcome, whatever its mysterious means had been.

***

Mulder stood beside the car, waiting for the ferry to arrive. The sea breeze had picked up and the crossing was going to be choppy. "Couldn't we walk, Scully?" he pleaded.

"I gave you some dramamine, Mulder, don't be such a sook. Anyway, on that ankle you practically needed me to carry you down the stairs."

"I hate going by sea."

"Mulder it's a half hour car ferry."

The little boat rolled up to the jetty and Scully drove them slowly on, smiling and nodding to the captain. Mulder started turning grey the minute they began to move. Scully was convinced it was psychosomatic. She could think of one distraction. "Mulder, there's something I want you to look at." She reached into the back seat of the car where her bag was sitting. She pulled the bag onto her knee and opened it, exposing a plastic bag. "Look at this." Inside the plastic bag was a fur pelt.

Mulder pulled the pelt out. It had the same suppleness and brilliance of the skin that they had found in Kernahan's wardrobe, but it was clearly the hide of an animal. A seal from one of the offshore rocky colonies. Like the other skin, it seemed to have been peeled off intact, though this time the opening was down the front. Mulder ran his hands over the supple, slightly warm hide. "That's macarbe, Scully. Where did you get it?"

"When I went to look for you after you'd been bitten by the snake, I left the other skin on the table in the cool room. I didn't take much notice of what was going on after we brought you back. I was pretty worried about you."

"You mean you left evidence unattended?" Mulder tutted.

"When I did my training we were taught to look after our partners first, the evidence second. Besides, I didn't know what it was, but I knew it wasn't evidence that Jenny Kernahan had been murdered. Anyway, by the time I got you back to the boarding house and then came back to the cool room...the human skin...or whatever it was, had gone. This was there in its place."

"She gave you her selchie skin, Scully. She can never go back to her people without it. She must really love him."

"I'll put that last comment down to aftereffects of the snakebite, Mulder. You'll never convince me about seal-fairies."

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Scully."

They rode in silence for a little while, Scully with her window down, breathing deep the fresh scent of the sea while it was there for her. She turned to look at Mulder, hoping he was enjoying the moment as much as she was. He had actually turned green, the look on his face was pure misery. He leapt clumsily out of the car, the sprained ankle almost giving way on him as he made his way to the side of the boat to throw up.

end