“We’ve seen it! What? Why that Mermaid! The mischief you have! Where? What is it? It’s twin sister to the deucedest looking thing imaginable—half fish, half flesh; and ‘taken by and large,’ the most odd of all oddities earth or sea has ever produced.”
-The New York Sun, August 5, 1842
Scully was grateful for the wool coat.
The temperature had dipped below freezing, but she remained warm, if not exactly comfortable. A dusting of snow concealed a treacherous crust of ice on the wooden dock. She took careful steps, holding a flashlight in one gloved hand.
Mulder was not wearing gloves, and she had noticed him pause more than once to briskly rub his hands together. He didn’t complain, wouldn’t dare complain when he was the one who had insisted on coming out here in the middle of the night in the first place.
The water had not yet frozen over, but chunks of ice bobbed in the dark, unsettled depths.
“Scully,” he said behind her.
She turned, the beam of her flashlight cutting a path through the darkness.
“Look,” he said, and crouched in the snow.
She joined him, peering down at a series of indentations in the white powder.
“Tracks,” he said.
She chuffed. “That could be anything.”
“That doesn’t look like a fish tail to you?”
“No, Mulder, it doesn’t.”
“But look at how it curves right here–”
She looked at him, his eager face, and wondered, just for a moment, what it would be like to be trapped inside his head. Hearing conspiracies in every conversation, seeing monsters in every closet, aliens around every corner, and… fish tracks in the snow.
He was still looking at her earnestly, pointing down at the zig-zag pattern on the ground.
She sighed, stood up, feeling her knees pop. “That could be anything.”
“Six people are dead,” he said.
“Yes,” she agreed. “But we’re nowhere near the crime scene.”
He gave her a sidelong look, the one that meant he had been withholding something.
She stood there, arms crossed, feeling the cold begin to creep in through her warm coat. “Mulder, what aren’t you telling me?”
“There have been sightings,” he mumbled, turning back towards the disturbance in the snow.
She resisted the urge to kick the snow, instead directed all of her energy into keeping her voice low and level. “Sightings of what?”
He gave her a wry half smile.
“Sightings of what?” she pressed.
“I believe you’re familiar with the legend of the Feejee Mermaid,” he said.
She stared at him.
He stared back.
She gave an exaggerated sigh and turned away from him, picking a careful path to the edge of the dock to look down at the water. She found the sight and sound of the gentle surf soothing.
She stood still for a long moment, just listening to the water lap against the pilings. Then she turned back towards him.
“I cannot even believe–”
He had his phone out, the keypad glowing green in the dark.
Behind her, she heard the slosh of water and a furtive sound, a strange squelching that she couldn’t place. She glanced back at the water, saw nothing, then looked over at Mulder. He had the phone to his ear and did not seem aware of anything amiss.
She became aware of a strong odor, the stench of rotting fish.
“Mul-” something grabbed her from behind, needle sharp teeth sinking into her ankle. She tipped backwards, and the last thing she saw was Mulder’s startled face, staring on as something small and gray rushed straight for him.
The water was black and shockingly cold, seemingly bottomless. She sank, arms flailing uselessly, lungs burning, dragged by her shoes, the weight of her gun in its holster, the thick wool of her coat.
She thought of youthful summer days, of sweaty, claustrophobic heat and the cool reprieve of a swimming pool. Of Ahab calling encouragement, telling her to just swim and Bill dunking her underwater and laughing choking splash fights with Charlie and Missy–
Something seized her hair, a sudden, searing pain in her scalp and her head roughly broke water. She dragged breath in ragged heaving gasps, flailing and struggling and finally feeling her sodden coat slip from her shoulders and sink.
Mulder had her by the hair. He was draped half over the side of the dock, sprawled on wet wood. He was gasping, wheezing, covered in blood but he had her by the hair and dragged her towards him and she took in another salt choked gulp of air.
Her hands found the sodden wood of the dock and gripped, she felt his fingers loosen, disappear. The screaming pain in her scalp vanished. She dug her fingernails into the wood, pulled, tried to drag her waterlogged body out onto dry land.
He wasn’t reaching out to help. A glance up showed limp fingers, a strand of wet red hair wrapped around a thumb.
“Mulder,” she said, and coughed.
She hauled herself up with a Herculean effort, retching salt water, the world spinning dizzily around her. She collapsed upon the prone form of her partner (too still he’s too still) and struggled to prop herself up on her elbows to get a look at him.
The back of his white dress shirt was red with blood. He lay with his pale cheek pressed against the cold wet wood; his one hand dangling into the water, looking for all the world like his last act on this earth had been to yank her, single-handedly, from a watery grave.
Her rapid, shuddering breaths puffed visible steam in front of her as she rolled him over with trembling hands, wincing as her fingers encountered open wounds.
She fumbled, felt for a pulse. For a terrible moment she felt nothing but cold pale skin.
Then something. Faint, thready, but there.
He had a cut over his eye. Blood ran down the side of his face. She touched his face, gently at first and then with soft, urgent little slaps.
“Mulder, you have to wake up.”
Her teeth were chattering. Her fingers were numb. And, even worse, she had the growing realization that something was out there and not quite finished with them yet, and that if she didn’t get him up and somewhere reasonably safe they might not live to see daylight.
He groaned as she slapped his face more urgently, leaning closer so that her face pressed up close. “Mulder, please, I can’t carry you.”
She heard a splash, somewhere behind her in the dark. Her skin prickled and she thought of the victims she’d autopsied, skin flayed open and eyes chewed from their sockets.
He groaned again, eyelids fluttering.
“Come on,” she whispered urgently. Icy fingers found her gun in its holster, but even as she touched it she knew it would never fire, not after being submerged.
His eyes opened, focused on her, widened. “Scully.”
Without hesitation, she threw herself to the side, landing hard on her right shoulder. She felt the rush of something past her face, smelled the fetid odor rising off of its cold wet flesh.
She rolled out of the way, hearing the soft wet plops behind her as it thrashed around and came for her again.
Mulder grabbed her arm, struggled to his feet, taking her with him. His face was gray in the moonlight. He was fumbling for his gun, his movements confused and slow, too slow.
“Run,” she said.
He had his gun out of the holster now, was pointing it down the length of the dock. His arm was quivering.
“Mulder,” she reached out, stilled his hand. From somewhere in the dark ahead of them came a terrible moist slithering sound. A hiss that sounded almost like a laugh.
He pulled the trigger.
Something squealed in the blackness. A splash.
He let his hand fall, sagged against her shoulder. She wrapped a cold arm around his waist and half dragged him across the dock towards the small bait shack by the water’s edge.
She flung her weight against the weathered red door, rattling it in its frame. Her heart thudded in her chest, her feet blocks of ice in an ankle deep drift of snow.
She rammed the door again, her bruised right shoulder screaming in agony. Again. Again.
The fifth time, the door gave inward, spilling them both onto a scuffed and dusty wood floor. She scrambled to her feet, slammed it shut behind them, shoved a chest freezer against it.
She whirled to look at Mulder, lying on the floor and gasping like a gutted fish. His eyes met hers, and she thought she saw the ghost of a smile flicker across his face.
She grabbed a towel off of the counter, dropped to her knees next to him, aware that her teeth were chattering violently together, that hypothermia was most certainly setting in. She pressed the towel against the worst of the gashes in his back. He hissed in pain.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “Where’s your cell phone?” Hers had sunk to the bottom of the bay in the pocket of her coat.
“Dropped it,” he said, confirming her fears. “You need to get warm.”
“You’re losing too much blood,” she replied, pressing the towel tighter against his skin. “You have to get to a hospital.”
“It’s still out there, Scully.”
“You hit it.”
He shook his head. “It’s not dead.”
“You don’t know that.”
He shook his head again, his eyelids drooping. “Not exactly what Walt Disney had in mind…”
She felt a flare of alarm, felt for his pulse. “Mulder, you have to stay awake.”
“Sorry,” he slurred. He had begun to shiver, his limbs twitching.
“Dammit, Mulder,” she hissed, bringing her face down close to his. “You’re not going to die from a goddamn mermaid bite. I won’t allow it.”
His eyes stayed shut, but he smiled.
Crouched there on the dirty floor, her sopping clothes beginning to stiffen and freeze against her skin, she scanned the room for something, anything that could help them.
The bait shop was closed for the season, the electricity turned off, the phone disconnected.
She cast a worried glance down at Mulder, stood, moved to the window. Outside, all was dark and still. She could see their rental car, no more than two hundred yards away.
She turned back towards Mulder. “I think we can make it to the car–”
The window imploded behind her, something horrid and stinking and shrieking came crashing in. She was driven to her knees, shards of glass spraying her back.
The writhing gray thing on the floor turned towards her, opened its mouth to reveal needle sharp teeth, and hissed. Then it began shimmying towards Mulder, leaving a trail of translucent slime in its wake.
The stink of rotting fish hung heavy in the air.
She grabbed for the nearest implement, a piece of broken windowpane with a shard of glass jutting out of it, and dragged her uncooperative body to her feet once again.
His eyes were open, and he was watching the thing– she couldn’t bring herself to call it a mermaid again– crawl towards him with a gape-mouthed expression that might have been funny under different circumstances.
She saw him struggling to lift the gun, knew he wasn’t going to make it.
The creature lunged for him, webbed hands outstretched, drool dripping around exposed teeth, and she hit it from behind with the shard of glass, putting all of her strength into it, driving the glass home behind the creature’s gills.
The thing shrieked, flopping like a fish, slippery and boneless. It thrashed on the floor, spiny tail whipping towards her. Milky fluid leaked out of the wound she had dealt it.
Pain seemed only to have enraged it more. It abandoned Mulder and came skittering towards her, the wood from the window pane thumping along the filthy floor behind it.
Mulder’s gun went off, and the creature lifted in the air and slammed against the wall. It crumpled to the floor.
She stumbled towards him, dropped to her knees. “Come on.”
He grabbed her arm, the frozen sleeve of her shirt crunching under his fingers, let her pull him to his feet. He leaned heavily against her as they moved towards the door.
“Wait,” he said, straining back towards the body. He stumbled, and she wrapped an arm around his blood-slicked waist, steadying him.
“It’s not going anywhere,” she said, and they moved through the door.
They inched towards the car, battered and limping. She opened the passenger door and Mulder sagged into the seat. In seconds she had the engine running and blessed heat pouring from the vents.
Her teeth chattered and she began to shake uncontrollably as the warm air began to thaw chilled skin. She could make out the faint wail of approaching sirens.
She turned towards him, shivering, dripping water all over the seat of their rental car. He sat in the passenger seat with his head tipped back, his breath shallow.
“Who did you call?” she asked, reaching out to probe at his wounds with her cold and trembling fingers.
“Sheriff,” he murmured without opening his eyes. “He must have heard it happen.”
The blood on his face had begun to dry, the skin under his eye beginning to darken and swell with bruising.
“Think I’ll live, doc?” he asked.
She shut her eyes, breathed deeply, nodded. “Help is on the way.”
“Good,” he said. “I’d hate for you to have to list ‘mermaid’ as the cause of death after all.”
“We shall never speak of this again,” she smiled against his ear, relief swelling in her chest.
He laughed, coughed, groaned.
“I’m sure there is a logical explanation for that… thing.”
“Oh, of course there is,” he said.
The sirens grew closer. She could see faint red and white lights illuminating the night sky behind them.
“I only said mermaid because I knew it would get your attention.”
“It certainly did,” he agreed.
A police cruiser pulled into the parking lot, lights flashing. Behind it, blessedly, an ambulance.
“Get to the hospital,” she said to him, opening the door to the car and reluctantly stepping out into the cold. “I’ll see to Ariel.”
Someone threw a blanket over her shoulder as she left him at the mercy of the EMTs and waded back through the snow towards the bait shack.
The scent of fish hung in the air. She stepped back inside, shivering and pulling the blanket tighter around herself. She scanned the room, all dirty floor and broken glass.
But no mermaid.
She frowned, walked to where she had last seen its crumpled form.
Something hissed behind her.
She turned, slowly, to regard the small, gray creature huddled underneath a pile of fishing nets. It wrinkled its lips, revealing a row of needle sharp teeth. A viscous, milky substance dripped freely from its wounds.
Scully reached for her gun, swore when she realized she had not thought to bring Mulder’s weapon and instead only had her own waterlogged one.
The creature squealed when she lifted her gun, went slithering off into the snow with a speed that belied its injuries.
She broke into a run, feet slipping on the icy wood of the dock. For a moment, she caught a glimpse of the creature, illuminated by moonlight, pallid and hairless and grotesque.
Then it was gone, disappeared off the edge of the dock and into the water with barely a splash.
“Dammit,” she murmured.
She returned to the ambulance with a defeated slump to her shoulders. Someone grabbed the blanket from her and handed her a fresh one.
Mulder was on a stretcher, being fussed over.
An EMT turned towards her, looked her up and down. “Acute hypothermia. You’d better come with us too.”
Mulder lifted his head from the stretcher. Someone had kindly mopped the blood from his face. “Scully, where…?”
She sighed, sat down. “Under the sea.”
The EMT closed the doors. Moments later the siren came whooping to life.