Children's laughter danced across the broad green. Scully raised an eyebrow. She did not approve of the ghoulish custom of turning mothballed prisons into parks. This wasn't Alcatraz, after all. This was Saint-Helene Women's Correctional Facility.
"The park is still open to visitors?" she said to the superintendent.
"Yes, ma'am." The superintendant ran stubby fingers through close-cropped golden hair. "We were told there was a strong possibility of a familial abduction, but the father's alibi checks, so...."
"So you called in the FBI?"
"No, ma'am. The governor did that. There's an election next year, and he feels a real need to find a scapegoat. Ma'am, what is your partner doing?"
Diana Fowley was looking up, way up, at the high walls of the watchtower. Huge gray block of the prison on one side, a sheer drop into deep water at the back, the broad green park in front and beyond it, staff housing. At an island prison, almost everyone had lived on the grounds. Fowley was trying to fix every detail in her mind, Scully knew. She'd done it before, on every case since... since they'd been together. Tried to think like the missing one. Tried to be Mulder, and as far as Scully could see, failed.
"She has her own approach," Scully said, and then realized when she'd said that before. Maybe Diana wasn't the only one trying.
She might have something this time, though. High up on the wall, the pattern of barred windows was disrupted. Far above the dark waves, one of the windows had no bars. Scully realized that the superintendant was speaking to her.
"If you find those children, I can promise you no one will complain."
"You ain't gonna find them." Scully turned to find an elderly black woman watching them. "The spirits has got those little ones now."
"Mama, come away and let these people do their jobs." An attractive woman in a red business suit put her arm around the old lady. "I'm sorry about this," she said to Scully. "Mama likes to come out here sometimes. I can't understand why. If it were me I wouldn't want to think about being in prison."
"Not like I did nothing," her mother said. "I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was easy, in the sixties, if you were dark enough."
"You were incarcerated here?"
"That's right. Eight years, the judge said, but it wound up being three. Even after they caught the one that really did it, my lawyer had to bust a gut to get me out. They told you when you got off the boat, nobody outside gives a damn about you once you're in here."
Scully took out her notepad.
"The park service has only just taken over the island. No one here really knows their way around yet. Can you think of any places that those children might be, anywhere that a casual search wouldn't find them?"
"I told you," the woman insisted, "the ghosts has got them."
Before Scully could respond to that one, Fowley walked up with her arm around a teenaged girl in a Marilyn Manson shirt.
"Dark, this is my partner, Agent Scully. This is Dark. She has something to tell us."
"Hello, Dark." Scully reminded herself to speak to Agent Fowley about proper verification of the identities of witnesses. "Do you know something that might help us find these other children?"
"I'm not a child."
Fowley squeezed her shoulder.
"Just tell her what you saw, honey."
"I'm not your honey, either. Okay, what it was was, I was back in the blocks with some friends, and we heard kids, like little kids. We went and looked, but there was nobody there. This was a couple of weeks ago, though. That couldn't have been your lost brats, could it?"
"No, honey, they've only been gone since Saturday."
Scully fought the urge to grin.
"You were back in the blocks doing what?" she asked instead.
"Just foolin' around." No one said anything, and the girl rolled her eyes. "With a couple of guys, okay?"
"And you went to investigate these voices, and then what happened?"
"The guys started acting weird and Wander and I left."
"What's Wanda's last name?"
"Wand-ER. I don't know her real name. She was on vacation. Her folks thought this would be, like, educational."
"How exactly did the guys get weird?" Diana asked.
"Their voices got strange, like maybe they'd been, uh, like they had a cold or something? And then they started making fun of us, and telling us what they were going to do, which most of it we, um, we'd already done, you know? So why talk about it? And Wander said it was gross anyway, so we left."
"Did the boys follow you?"
"Not right then, but they caught up. We were all the way in the back, where the ocean's right under the windows. They caught us before we came out, and they were normal again."
Scully wondered what was Dark's definition of "normal," but let it pass. A fat woman in rose polyester was hurrying toward them.
"Lisa? Lisa, come away and leave these people alone. I'm sorry, I don't know what gets into her...."
FBI badges flashed. The woman turned on Dark.
"Lisa, what have you gotten yourself into now? You know we said if you had one more problem your father...."
"Ma'am, your daughter was assisting us with an investigation involving the disappearance of three small children."
"What did she do? Lisa, what did you do?"
Scully thought about that one for a minute, but finally resisted.
"Lisa. Lisa knows the prison very well. She must spend a great deal of time out here."
"She and her little friends are interested in the history of the place, aren't you, Lisa? Seems to me she's going to see plenty of prisons before she's done without going looking for one."
"Well, I don't think it'll happen today. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to tell us where she can be reached?" The woman scribbled on Scully's pad, and then almost bodily dragged Dark away.
"If she gets someplace like here," the old woman said, "that Mama's gonna be put her here."
"Mrs. Gilhorn was an inmate here, Diana."
"That's right, and I'm telling you, the spirits is back and they've taken those children!"
Fowley brightened. "There was evidence of supernatural activity?"
The superintendent and the daughter looked at Scully. She fought down the urge not to respond, or to find different words.
"Agent Fowley's primary field is parapsychology," she said, wishing it didn't sound so much like an apology.
"I'm not assuming there are ghosts," Diana said into the stunned silence. "But if there was something going on thirty years ago that passed for a haunting, these children might have stumbled on... into... whatever?"
Huge eyes beamed on Scully. Well, at least she couldn't make the puppy dog eyes. Mulder could have melted Scully's heart with a look like that. Fowley only tugged. A good solid tug, but only a tug.
"Agent Scully?" the superintendent prompted.
"That's actually not an entirely implausible theory. Mrs.... I'm sorry, I don't believe I got your name?"
"'Becca Gilhorn," she said. "B-12-3. B was the block, and twelve was the cell, and I was number three. Mary Thomas was one, and Liz Mercedes was two, and Jenny was four."
"Mama," her daughter said, "I wasn't there."
"No, but the one I named you for was. You didn't know that, did you? We were special friends, me and Jenny. And the spirits come and took her away, and that's how I know they're real, too!"
Fowley shook her head. Scully knew that a good part of her training in parapsychology was plain old clinical psychology, and this story was beginning to trip alarms even in Scully's layman's mind.
"Is there a phone jack somewhere where I can hook up my modem?" Scully asked.
"Genevieve Delancey," Scully said. Diana peered over her shoulder. The picture on the screen was a blue-eyed blond girl, maybe nineteen, maybe not. "Two years for violating probabtion--a habitual shoplifter. Killed during an escape attempt...." Scully fell silent.
"What is it?" Diana asked.
"What kind of an idiot tries to break out of prison three weeks before her release date?"
"She wasn't an idiot, and she didn't try to escape. The spirits took her."
"Did you see this?" Scully asked. "Did anyone?"
"Just the guards, and they weren't talking."
"Why's that? One would think the prison staff would make every effort to uncover the cause of an unexplained disappearance."
"'Cause of what they made her do." Mrs. Gilhorn walked to the window and lifted the blind aside. "You see that building on the left? The big one? That was the bachelor dormitory. Think about that for a moment. Single men guarding a women's prison."
"That couldn't have happened," her daughter whispered. "They couldn't have done that, mama. Could they?"
"You're here, ain't you?" Her daughter sat down heavily.
"You were raped?" Scully asked.
"Not exactly. You did it for a bar of soap, or some toothpaste. Any little thing you wanted, they wanted something, too. Some of them wouldn't play at first. They learned. Finally they all learned."
"What happened to the ones that didn't?"
"They all learned. Sometimes you'd hear them crying, the first couple of times. Sometimes they'd be all bruised up. Jenny was, sometimes. But before it was over, they all learned."
Diana wasn't quite sure how to phrase her suspicion. "Mrs. Gilhorn, is there any possibility that something could have... gone wrong?" Scully glared at her. "I mean, it was wrong to start with, of course, but you said she had bruises. Suppose things got out of hand, and she... died?"
"That could very well be," Scully said, "but it doesn't get us any closer to finding these missing children."
"Spirits got them."
"Mrs. Gilhorn, where did the guards take these girls?"
"The back wing. There were never enough women to fill this place. The back wing was empty. They had 'em a mattress back there where they'd take us."
"Can you show us?"
The daughter blanched. "I'm not sure...."
"Oh, don't be a silly, Jenny, it was thirty years ago! Come on let's see if that's where the spirits took them younguns!"
Diana agreed with Jenny: she would just as soon have skipped the walk through the old prison. The cells were empty now, except for plumbing and dust, but she could imagine the steel bunks, each with some desperate tossing woman.
Some with more than one, or so Mrs. Gilhorn had implied. She could almost see them, there in the sunlit dust, round bodies rubbing against one another in ways Diana couldn't imagine... didn't want to imagine. She had fallen behind, entranced by the image. Scully looked back at her, and Diana smiled. It didn't seem to affect Scully. Of course, Scully liked girls. She'd had a couple of brief romances with women since Diana had known her. It didn't bother Diana one bit. She couldn't imagine Scully having sex at all. Well, she could, but she tried not to think about Fox Mulder and his collection of kinky ideas from porn movies. She herself never got around to having sex any more. She'd get disgusted with the average guy before he dared to drop his zipper. She was trying to keep green blooded aliens from exterminating the human race, and the men she met were obsessed with case studies and productivity. Men weren't interesting any more.
And women had never interested Diana. The last close friend she'd had had been Carmen, in high school. They'd hug sometimes, the way girls do. Someone at school had told Diana's foster mother they'd been kissing in the bathroom. Diana couldn't remember kissing Carmen in the bathroom, or kissing her That Way at all, but it wouldn't have mattered. The woman didn't even speak to her about it. She just called social services and told them to get the teenaged pervert out of her house before bedtime. Seven weeks in juvie hall before they found her another placement. She'd never seen Carmen again, and she'd never had another friend so close. She'd never really had a woman friend at all. Maybe that was what it was about Scully. Maybe this was what friends were supposed to feel about each other.
And maybe she ought to get her mind on her work. The others had stopped, and were watching Scully. Diana pulled her jacket close around her, and then realized it was cold. Very cold. Scully was staring ahead of them, at a spot about twelve feet up the corridor.
"It's them!" the old woman crowed. "It's the spirits!"
And you are the parapsychologist, Diana told herself. She moved close to Scully, carefully not touching, but close enough to feel her body heat through the linen suit.
"Dana?" she whispered.
"Oh, my god! They're children!"
Okay, it was not totally out of the question that Scully could see apparitions. Some people could. There were implications in certain X Files that she'd seen her father's ghost, had a phone call from her sister after the sister's death and... Diana refused to think of Emily as Scully's daughter. So why had Scully seen Emily's ghost? And why was she apparently seeing children's ghosts in the halls of a women's prison?
"Dana? What are they doing?"
"Playing... laughing... beckoning... come on!"
Scully darted ahead, and Diana followed, deeper and deeper into the prison, until she could hear the waves crashing below the barred windows. Then she stopped. Ahead, at the end of the corridor, one window was open and unbarred.
"What is it?" Scully said to empty air. Then she turned to look behind them. "There isn't anybody there!"
"What's happening, Dana?"
"They say we have to hide. They say he's coming."
The superintendant put a hand on the old woman's arm.
"Do you know this place?" he asked.
"This is the bad place."
"Bad how, mama?"
"This is where they brought them when the babies come."
"Diana?" Scully's hand had crept into hers, as if she were a child herself. "I think we'd better do it."
"They say this way." She led them into an empty storeroom. Empty, that is, except for three cowering children.
"Amber?" Diana asked. "Cameron? Tish?" Three tear-stained faces bobbed up and down. "You know your mother's very worried about you. Why did you come up here?"
"We were playing with them," Tish said as if it explained everything.
"With the other children?" Scully said.
"Yes, ma'am. And then they got scared and said we ought to hide. Then the scary man came, and it wasn't safe."
"Did you see the scary man?"
"No, ma'am, but we could feel he was there. He... he's there now."
Diana imagined she could feel it, too, some dark urge to silence these prattling brats, to put the silly old bitch out of her misery, to rip into the little redhead's...
Scully? She was dreaming of hurting Scully, who had faced down the Colonel for her when they hadn't even really liked each other, and here Diana was thinking...
Thinking about an anatomical impossibility. She didn't have the equipment.
And the urge... well, it didn't exactly pass. It lifted, like a cloud, or like a dizzy spell that you shake off, and go on with things. She looked at Scully again with nothing but concern. The other woman frowned and crossed herself, a gesture the superintendant echoed with a shudder.
"Good enough," the old woman said, her voice low and gravelly. "Maybe even right. She shouldn't have come back here."
"Mama, nothing. She wasn't nothing but a black whore, and that's all she'll ever be. And you, missy, you ought not to have ever been. But we can fix that, now. We can make it like it ought to have been in the first place."
"Mama?" Jenny was edging away, edging towards the door.
The old woman's voice returned to normal. "Run, baby," she said. "Get them younguns out of here."
And Jenny ran, but by fate or chance or inattention, she ran the wrong way, not back the way they'd come, but toward the gaping window at the end of the hall.
Her mother laughed, a man's harsh laugh. "That's right, honey, you just keep on running. That's what your mama's little friend did, just kept on running till she ran out of floor, and then she tried to fly. Just like you're gonna!"
Scully seemed entranced, and the children were wrapped around Diana's knees. The superintendant looked from one agent to the other, but neither offered him any guidance. Mrs. Gilhorn's voice rose to a screech.
"No! Get out of here, Jen! Get out of here before he hurts you again!"
"I'm not going to let him hurt you! I can't...." The old woman turned abruptly and ran on wobbly legs down the corridor. Diana ran after her, but by the time she had shaken off the children and reached the end of the hall, Mrs. Gilhorn had hauled herself across the windowsill and plunged toward the waves below.
One last cry of "No!" floated up. A baritone cry.
"He's gone," Scully said. "She took him with her."
"How do you know?" Diana asked her.
"They know." She nodded about her, toward empty air. "He's gone now, and they can go, too. All of them." Scully's face turned upward, beautific in the sunlight from the window. "See them? There they go."
So convincing was she that Diana actually looked. There was nothing there, of course. She looked back, and found that Scully's arms had snaked around her waist, and her head had fallen against Diana's shoulder. More alarming still, Diana's own arms held the other woman close.
She must have tensed, because Scully almost shook herself, and pulled away.
"Come on," she said. "Let's get these kids to their family."
Skinner shook his head.
"How many bodies did you say were found in all, Agent Scully?"
"Aside from Mrs. Gilhorn, sir, there were three adult female skeletons. We don't have an exact count on the infants. More than twenty."
He took off his glasses. "More than... were they strangled, or beaten to death, or what?"
"Many of the skulls are relatively undamaged. None of the long bones show spiral fractures, nor are there...." Skinner's eyes begged her to get to the point. "My conjecture is that they were simply dropped from the window shortly after birth."
"Quite possibly. Although it can never be proven one way or the other."
"Do we know who perpetrated this?"
Now it was Fowley's turn.
"Interviews of surviving inmates suggest a widespread pattern of abuse among the guards. In an isolated situation, even the ones who protested at first would rapidly be sucked into the culture. Surprisingly few of the guards are available for interview. Most have simply disappeared."
"And the warden who allowed this to happen?"
"Was killed in a riot at the prison in 1978. The facility was closed after that, and it sat empty until the state in its wisdom decided to turn it into a park."
"Sir, who is to be held responsible for the murder of all those children? Someone, somewhere...."
"The truth is, Agent Scully, that twenty-year old infanticide is back page news. No one cares what was done at Saint-Helene except the three of us, and as much as I would like to pursue this, I'm not going to turn myself into Agent Mulder on some endless quest for the unattainable. The case is closed, agents. Let those children rest in peace."