IMTP VS8 Episode 2 4:

BÍte Noire

By Laurie D. Haynes, Laura Castellano and Katvictory
Art by
HLynn

 

Title: BÍte Noire
Rating: PG-13
Category: X, A
Authors: Laurie D. Haynes, Laura Castellano and Katvictory
Email: shannara@xemplary.com, texxrose@flash.net,
dev1025@uswest.net
Info: Specially written for I Made This Productions
Virtual Season 8
Archiving: VS8 gets it exclusively for the first two
weeks, then it can be archived anywhere, but ask us, first.
Summary: There's a legend of a monster in the swamps along
the Texas-Louisiana border. According to the National
Enquirer, the monster has mated with humans and
its offspring terrorize the small town bordering the
river and its swamps.
Authors' notes: Special thanks to Dawn, Sally and Mori
for their invaluable beta-reading services.

*************************

BÍte Noire
By Laurie D. Haynes, Laura Castellano and Katvictory


Prologue

A swamp near the Sabine River
along the Texas-Louisiana border
6:45 a.m. April 5, 2001

Joe Calderon whistled an old Cajun tune as his boat
puttered along the trot line. He was having a good run.
He'd already found five large catfish on the line. His
Labrador, Beau, who had been lying quietly in the bottom of
the boat until now, suddenly stood up, his ears cocked, and
sniffed the air.

A loud splash came from about 50 yards away and Beau began
barking furiously, the hair on the back of his neck
standing on end.

"Just a gator, Beau. Probably got 'im a nice fish or a
nutria rat."

Old Joe peered out over the water anyway, just to make
sure that the alligator wasn't getting too close. Ripples
spread out from the center of where the splash had been and
Joe spotted a gator swimming swiftly away. He again heard a
splash from the same area, then saw two figures break the
plane of the water. One was another big alligator, but he
wasn't sure what the other thing was. It had arms and
hands, but it certainly wasn't human, its skin was a
mottled greenish-black -- and it was getting the best of
the gator.

As Joe watched, astounded, a pair of claws slashed down at
the alligator, which went limp, and blood began to spread
out from the reptile.

Beau was still making a racket, but the dog was no fool --
he wasn't about to jump in the water. The creature took a
bite out of the alligator, then looked up at Joe and the
dog. Its eyes were red and the pupils were tiny black dots.

The old man gasped, turned his engine up full throttle and
headed for home.

**************************

ACT I

Antoine's Houston, TX
1:05 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, 2001

As he and his partner ate their sandwiches, Mulder looked
over the latest issue of the National Enquirer. They had
just finished a serial murder case and were grabbing lunch
before catching a 4 p.m. flight back to Washington.

Scully was tired and looking forward to going home. Eight
autopsies in two days were enough to make anyone exhausted.
So she was really rather enjoying the silence at the table
-- until Mulder spoke.

"Hey, Scully, look at this!" He held out page 8 so she
could see a blurry photo with a headline saying, "Bog
monster terrorizes East Texas residents!"

Scully sighed. "You know better than to believe anything
you read in those rags, Mulder. You know they make it all
up."

"Sometimes they do," Mulder admitted, "but they have
actual interviews with witnesses this time. Look, that's
only about a two-hour drive from here. We can be over there
before dark. It says here that the reporter who wrote this
article is an actual journalist with a newspaper from that
area."

Scully stared at him coolly as she took another bite of
her sandwich.  "No way am I going out hunting monsters in
the swamp," she informed him.  "You know Skinner is going
to be expecting our report on the case we just finished. I
highly doubt he'll give you the go ahead to chase down
another bogeyman."

Mulder shrugged.  "Oh, I'll use some vacation time. C'mon,
Scully." He gave her his most charming grin and covered her
hand with his own, but Scully would not be swayed.

"That's not going to work this time, Mulder. We have
reservations to fly out this afternoon and that's what I'm
going to do."

He wadded his napkin into a ball and tossed it easily into
a nearby trash receptacle.  "OK, have it your way, but I'm
driving over there. I'll drop you off at the airport first."

Pulling out his cell phone, he first called the airline
and canceled his flight reservation. Then he contacted
directory assistance and got the number for the newspaper
the reporter worked for.

"Orange County Record," an older woman answered.

"Yes, I'd like to speak to Belinda Gaudet, please."

"Just a moment."

Mulder heard a click, then another woman came on the line.

"This is Belinda, can I help you?"

"Yes, my name is Fox Mulder and I'm with the FBI. I read
your story in the Enquirer and I'd like to come out and
talk to you about it. I can be there in about three hours."

He listened a moment, then jotted down the directions she
gave him for the newspaper office. "Great, I'll see you
then."

Mulder ended the call and looked up to see Scully staring
at him with disapproval.

"You could change your mind, you know," he said.  "Come
on, Scully, come with me.  It'll be fun."

Scully shook her head. "I've got plans for the weekend.
Mom is having a barbecue, and Bill and Charlie are supposed
to be coming in. She invited you, too."

Mulder grimaced. "Uh, no thanks. You put me and Bill in
the same town, let alone the same house, and you're asking
for trouble."

He looked hungrily at the half of Scully's sandwich still
sitting on her plate. "You going to eat that?"

Scully gave him a half-smile and pushed the plate over to
him.

He proceeded to wolf it down.

"Just promise me you won't go into the swamps alone, OK?"
she asked suddenly.  "You know how you tend to get in
trouble when I'm not there to keep you moderately sane."
She tempered her words with a teasing smile, but it was
apparent she was truly concerned.

"If you'd come with me, I wouldn't be alone," Mulder
mumbled around a mouthful of sandwich.

Scully just shook her head and finished off her chips and
soda.


********************

Gate 43
Houston Intercontinental Airport
3:45 p.m.

"Now boarding for Continental Flight 2026 to Washington,
D.C." came the announcement over the loudspeaker.

Mulder and Scully rose, and she picked up her briefcase as
she prepared to board.

"Sure you won't change your mind and come with me to check
out this monster?"

Scully smiled and replied, "Sure you won't change your
mind and come on home?"

"Frankly, I'd rather chase a bog monster than make small
talk with Bill."

She laughed, then looked up expectantly.

Mulder bent over and kissed her lightly on the lips.

He started to turn to go, but she grabbed him by the tie
and pulled him down for a deeper kiss.

"Just don't forget where home is, OK?" she said as she let
him go.

"Not a chance. Listen, I'll call you later tonight, OK?"

"You'd better! And Mulder? Be careful, all right?  I mean
it."

"Always!"

Scully snorted, then went on to board her plane.


******************************

Orange County Record
Bridge City, TX
6:10 p.m.

Mulder pulled up at the tiny building that housed the
County Record office. The only sign up outside said Dunn
Advertising, but he had followed the directions given him.
A beat-up 1985 Ford was parked outside, and there was a
light on inside the building.

The door was unlocked, so he went on in.

The desk just inside the door was unoccupied, but piled
with phone books and mail. The place reeked of stale
cigarette smoke, and the carpet had seen much better days.

A woman behind a computer monitor called to him from the
room to the right.

"Agent Mulder?"

He entered the room. "Yes, are you Ms. Gaudet?"

"Just call me Belinda." She moved some layout dummies from
a chair and put them on another desk. "Have a seat. Want a
cup of coffee?"

"Sure, that would be fine."

Belinda grabbed a Styrofoam cup from a package atop a
small refrigerator, then went into the adjoining bathroom
and returned with a steaming cup of coffee. She handed him
the cup and as he turned to set it down on the desk, she
looked him up and down with interest.

She sat down behind the desk and leaned forward slightly,
wishing she'd worn a nicer outfit to work that day.  Maybe
something that showed a little cleavage.

"So you actually read my story?"

"Sure. It seemed pretty factual, unlike a lot of the ones
I see in that particular publication. Your article
mentioned that pets and livestock have been disappearing
around the area. Has there ever been a problem with the
thing attacking humans?"

"Well, Old Joe said he wasn't sure the beast wasn't about
to come after him, but it didn't. It seems to be getting
pretty bold, though, coming up around the houses and fish
camps along the river nowadays."

"Could we go out and talk to Joe tonight?"

"Sure. I thought you might want to," said Belinda, "so I
called him earlier. He said he'd be home all night, but he
goes to bed early 'cause he gets up at 4 a.m."

"Let's go. How far away is it?"

"About 30 minutes. He lives in Deweyville, just up Highway
87 from here."

**************

Joe Calderon's home
Deweyville, TX
6:55 p.m.

Mulder and Belinda knocked on the door of the beat-up old
Airstream trailer overlooking the river. They heard a dog
barking and a man who appeared to be in his late 80s opened
the door.

"Y'all come on in. Hush that barkin', Beau!"

They stepped into the small trailer, and Beau came up to
sniff Mulder. Apparently satisfied, the dog went back to
lay down beside a worn easy chair.

Joe switched off the television and invited his two guests
to sit.

"You really with the FBI, boy?" Joe asked dubiously. "What
does the FBI want in Devil's Pocket?"

Mulder pulled out his ID and showed the man, who nodded.

"I read Belinda's story about your encounter with that
beast in the swamp. I'd like to know more about it," Mulder
told him.

"Well, there's been stories about a monster out there for
about the last 50 years. They call it the BÍte Noire. I
lived in Orange for a lot of years while I was workin' for
the DuPont refinery. So I've only been livin' here for the
past 25 years or so, but I've fished on that river and in
these swamps my whole life and I ain't never seen nothin'
like that thing what attacked that gator."

"You believe there's just one monster?"

"Well, people claim the Morgan boys are descended from the
monster, and the Morgans'll tell you the same thing. I hear
tell they've been known to kidnap people, 'specially black
people, and bring them back to hunt for sport. The rumor
goes that old man Morgan and his son, who lives up in
Jasper (and Lord knows how that pug-ugly cuss ever got a
woman to bed him and sire a whelp), were involved in the
killing of that poor colored man up there a few years back.

"They chained the poor guy to the back of a pickup and
drug him down the road. They arrested three of the assholes
that did it, but not O.D. and his son. People around here
say O.D. and his boy were involved, too, but folks are too
scared of them to talk. O.D. brags now that the trials are
over
and he figures the law thinks they solved the case, that
he and
his boy, Butch, killed two other men that night the same
way. O.D. says they just weren't so stupid as to pick up a
local man with a family, like them other fellas.  And they
didn't leave enough of the ones they tortured to be found.

"The Morgans are mean, vicious and they're ugly enough,
but they're human.  Just a bad bunch of river rats. I think
mebbe they just take advantage of that swamp monster story
to make themselves look tougher."

Mulder bit back his tendency to urge the elderly man to
get to his point.  "I'm told that pets and livestock have
gone missing. Couldn't it just be alligators doing the
killing?"

"You ever seen an alligator that could take down a 3,000-
pound bull, Mr. Mulder? Yeah, gators could be blamed for
taking the pets and small livestock, but no way they could
get a full-size bull. Somethin' got Johnny Parker's bull --
and that thing was a mean sonuvabitch."

"Is it possible that someone stole it?" asked Belinda.

"Well, if they did, they hurt it pretty bad, because there
was a lot of blood in the pen where Johnny kept it. I SAW
that thing. It was no kind of animal I've ever seen before,
and there ain't anything much fiercer than a big ol' bull
alligator. That thing whupped that gator easy. It was
shaped like a human in a weird kinda way, but that was no
man. If anything, it looked like it was half alligator and
half man. The skin was bumpy like a gator's hide and it had
sharp teeth. No snout to speak of but its face did stick
out some."

"How long ago did you see it?" asked Mulder.

"It was about a month and a half ago -- it was early in
the morning and the weather was kind of cool so there
wasn't nobody else out where I was."

"And you haven't seen it since?"

"No, sir! You ain't gettin' me back out on that river with
that thing out there!"

"What about your neighbors? Have they seen it?"

"Some of 'em have, but most of those that ain't seen it
for themselves at least believe something nasty is out
there. Most everyone knows someone who's either seen it or
lost stock or hunting dogs to it. We were plannin' on
gettin' a bunch of us together with shotguns and goin'
after it. But the game warden, Chick Jackson, said he'd
arrest the whole bunch of us if he found us out there with
guns when it ain't duck season."

"I take it he doesn't believe?" said Mulder.

"Nah, he insists it's just a big gator and ain't none of
us got alligator tags for huntin' gators."

Suddenly, Beau growled, and someone banged on the door.

Shushing the dog, Joe got up to answer it and found a very
wet young man outside his trailer, breathing heavily, the
water dripping from his ripped, sleeveless western shirt
and cutoff jeans.

"Lonnie? What in the hell?" Joe said and pulled the
younger man inside, sitting him down. "What's wrong?"

"Dickie and me were just comin' in from fishin' when
something hit our boat and turned it over!" Lonnie
reported, still gasping for breath.  "I managed to swim to
shore, but somethin' got Dickie. I heard him yell, but
there wasn't a thing I could do but come get help."

"Alligator?" Joe asked, reaching for the shotgun he kept
next to the door.

"No, it wasn't no alligator. I got a glimpse of it. It was
the BÍte Noire!"

Joe grabbed a hunk of beef out of his small freezer.
"Maybe we can lure it away from Dickie with this, if it
ain't too late," he offerred hurriedly.  "You comin'?" he
asked Mulder, "or you afraid of gettin' that fancy suit of
yours dirty?"

Mulder quickly pulled off his coat, tie and dress shirt
and threw them aside. He still wore his tee shirt, and the
slacks would just have to be sacrificed. "Let's go."

"What about me?" asked Belinda.

"You stay here and call the sheriff and the game warden,"
Joe ordered.  "Get an ambulance out here just in case we
find Dickie alive."

A few minutes later, Joe, Lonnie and Mulder were shoving
off from the shore in Joe's boat. Joe pulled the starter
cord and the outboard roared to life.  Joe guided them into
the murky swamp, and Mulder grabbed the sides of the small
boat, thankful the water was smooth.

They soon found Lonnie's overturned craft and a wounded
Dickie lying on top of it and yelling as loud as he could.
The man had blood flowing from a deep wound in his right
arm, but other than that he appeared whole. Mulder and
Lonnie helped him aboard, and Mulder got him settled while
Lonnie managed to grab the bow rope of the overturned boat.
He threw it to Joe, who tied it to a cleat on the corner of
his own boat, and they set off for shore.

Mulder steadily watched the area from which they'd come,
but it was too dark to see much. He thought he glimpsed a
movement, and something splashed, but he wasn't sure it was
the BÍte Noire; it could have been any of a dozen creatures
that inhabited the swamps.

Once they were safely on their way, Lonnie pulled off his
own shirt, which he promptly tied around the gash in
Dickie's arm.

"You OK?" he asked sympathetically.

Dickie nodded, but his face was white in the twilight and
he didn't speak.

When they arrived back at Joe's dock, ambulance attendants
were waiting for them. They helped Dickie out of the boat
and sat him down on the stretcher. The man was bleeding
badly, the blood soaking through the makeshift bandage
Lonnie had applied.

While the EMTs readied Dickie for transport, Mulder leaned
close to the injured man. "Dickie, I'm Agent Mulder with
the FBI," he said quietly. "I've come down here to look
into all this. Can you tell me what it was that attacked
you? Was it an animal?"

Dickie's eyes darkened in fear.  His breathing had become
labored, and one of the EMTs slipped an oxygen mask over
his face.  Mulder could see Dickie's lips moving, and he
leaned closer to make out the words.

"BÍte Noire...BÍte Noire."

"OK, folks, we've got to move," the ambulance driver
insisted, gently shoving Mulder aside and helping load
Dickie into the vehicle.

As the ambulance sped away with Dickie in the back, Mulder
turned to Lonnie. "You said the thing was attacking your
friend?"

"It was, I swear! I thought sure Dickie was a goner."

"Why do you suppose it didn't kill him?  It surely had the
chance."

Lonnie shook his head slowly.  "We had a pretty big mess
of fish in the boat. Maybe it figured the fish were less
trouble."

"Or it prefers fish to humans?" Mulder wondered.

"He didn't seem to mind goin' after Dickie!" Lonnie
objected.  "Joe, we gotta do somethin' about this creature."

"Calm down, Lonnie. You heard what Warden Chick said." Joe
had stood silently aside while his young friend was
attended and taken away, and now he spoke calmly to Lonnie,
obviously trying to avert a disaster.

Lonnie barely heard Joe's reasoning through his adrenaline-
induced frenzy.  "Forget Warden Chick! You listen to me,
old man, that thing is gonna kill someone next time!"

Joe maintained his soft-spoken tone, putting a hand gently
on Lonnie's shoulder to calm him.  "Let me and Agent Mulder
talk to the warden and see if we can't convince him to form
a huntin' party to go after it. Now, you go on to Dickie's
house and tell his wife what happened, then get on home and
get some dry clothes on."

Lonnie agreed reluctantly. "Can you give me a ride? I
don't feel like it's very safe walkin' after dark with the
BÍte Noire out huntin.'"

"Sure, go ahead and get in the truck and I'll be with you
in a minute."

Lonnie walked away as Belinda came down the stairs to
stand beside Mulder. She handed him his coat, tie and shirt.

"Look, I gotta run Lonnie home, Mr. Mulder," Joe said as
Mulder began dressing.  "Why don't you give me a call
tomorrow and we'll go talk to the warden?"

The last thing Mulder wanted was to see the unique
creature destroyed instead of studied, but he knew this was
neither the time nor place to voice those feelings, so he
just nodded his agreement.

"C'mon, Fox, I'll take you to dinner," offered Belinda.
"They got some good restaurants in Orange."

"Mulder, not Fox."

"Oh." Belinda's face fell a bit. "All right."   It seemed
to be the only appropriate reply, so she offered no more
comment as they climbed into her car and drove toward town.


*************************

Cody's Bar and Grill
Orange, TX
9:30 p.m.

Mulder picked up another boudin ball, dipped it in
horseradish sauce and bit into it with relish.  His eyes
closed in bliss.

"Hey, these are good! What are they?" he asked
enthusiastically.

"Sausage, spices and rice dipped in a batter and deep
fried."

Belinda took a sip of her beer and leaned forward, her
elbows resting on the table. Again she thought it was a
shame she hadn't worn her low-cut blouse today, but maybe
Mulder would like what he saw anyway.

Unfortunately, the object of her interest seemed to be
paying more attention to his food than his companion. The
waitress stopped by their table, a perky little brunette,
and Belinda felt herself grow warm as Mulder turned on the
charm.  The little waitress practically oozed invitation,
and for a moment Belinda thought he might ask for her phone
number.  To her relief, he ordered another basket of boudin
balls to go with his bowl of chicken gumbo.

Maybe he was just shy, she thought.  After all, it wasn't
his fault the little twit had nearly fallen at his feet.
Mulder looked like the kind of man who needed a real woman,
not one who'd be interested in silly high-school girls.
Belinda considered herself a real woman, certainly up to
the challenge.  She'd try to draw him out.

"So how long have you been with the Bureau, Mulder?" she
asked, taking a "real woman" sized sip of her beer.

"Fourteen years.  I'll have 15 years in October."  He
didn't seem inclined to talk about his job, but as she'd so
far discovered nothing else they had in common to discuss,
she tried again.

"I'll bet you're really good at your job. I'm sure your
family is very proud of you."

Storm clouds passed over Mulder's face.

"My family is all dead."

Belinda felt her "real woman" smile slipping, and could
have kicked herself. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to touch a
nerve."

He gave her a forgiving grin and a shrug of his broad
shoulders, and she felt her stomach do a lazy flip-flop.
"That's all right, you didn't know. I don't have any blood
kin, but Scully, my partner, is like family to me."

"I'm sure you two are as close as brothers. Has he been
with the FBI as long as you?"

Mulder chuckled. "Dr. Dana Scully is a woman. She's a
brilliant forensic pathologist and one hell of a fine
investigator. We make a good team. And to answer your
question, no.  I've been in the Bureau longer than Scully,
but we've been partners for years."

He got a faraway look in his eyes that Belinda did not
like at all.  This guy was attractive, more so than any of
the other men she knew, and it had only taken her moments
after being blinded by his good looks and obvious
intelligence to notice he wore no wedding ring.  Now it
looked as if her hopes, barely-formed though they were,
might be for nothing.  He hardly seemed to notice she was
there as he suddenly groped in his pockets.

"Oh! That reminds me. I was supposed to call her."

He pulled out his cell phone and punched one digit, and
Belinda sighed inwardly as he waited, a look of expectation
on his face. Then he smiled, and she could only assume
Scully had answered. Belinda was no fool; from Mulder's
expression and the eager tone of his voice, it was clear
there was more than a work relationship between the two
agents.

"I've got a real X-File, here, Scully! The monster
attacked a pair of fishermen earlier this evening. Thanks
to Belinda, who had taken me down to meet a witness, I was
there when one of the fishermen came running up to get
help."

He seemed to listen for a few minutes.

"Belinda?  Oh, she's the reporter who wrote that article I
showed you. No, she wrote the article for her own paper
originally, then sold it to the Enquirer. She doesn't
actually work for the Enquirer. Hmmm? No, she's not that
old -- in her 30s, I'd say. What? I don't know, but it's a
good question."

He put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and
addressed Belinda. "Say, your husband isn't going to get
upset about me keeping you out so late, is he?  Wouldn't
want any angry cowboys coming after me with their six-
shooters," he grinned.

Belinda gave him her best smile in return, the one that
said, 'No, I'm not easy, but if you want me I'm yours.'

"I'm divorced," she told him. "And my mom keeps my son
when I'm working, so I'm at your service."

Mulder spoke into the phone again. "No, she's not married
and someone's looking after her kid, so I'm not imposing on
her."  He waited.  "You don't have to do that, Scully, I
can handle this one.  You've got that family barbecue...
well of course, I'd love to have you, but it's not... yes,
there's a victim in the hospital, but he wasn't hurt that
badly."

His smile grew broader and Belinda's mood more resigned as
the conversation continued.

"Well, if you really want to help me out, you could file a
302 first thing in the morning and come on back down here.
I can always use your help, Scully, you know that. You
will? Great, I was hoping you'd say that.  Thanks, Scully,
I owe you! Call me tomorrow and let me know when your
flight gets in. Try to fly into Beaumont. They have a
commercial airport. OK. I'll see you then. Yeah?" Mulder
smiled. "Me, too, Scully."

He hung up without saying goodbye, but Belinda had a
feeling any chance she might have thought she had with
Mulder had disappeared with his final words.

Mulder put away his cell phone and looked over at Belinda,
who was sitting with her head leaning on her hand and an
odd look on her face.

"You about ready to go?" he asked. "I need to find a
motel..."

Belinda perked up.

"...but first I need to drive you back to your office."

She sighed in disappointment and nodded.

*******************

Best Western Inn Orange, TX
9 a.m. May 16

Belinda knocked on Mulder's hotel room door after taking a
quick look in her compact mirror to make sure her makeup
wasn't smeared.

"Who is it?" she heard Mulder call.

"It's Belinda. You ready to go interview some more
witnesses?"

The door opened and Mulder stepped out, dressed somewhat
casually in khakis and a black polo shirt.

He noted Belinda looking him over.

"I decided I might relate a little better without the
suit," Mulder told her. "People along the river don't
exactly dress up."

Belinda laughed. "You're right about that. You'd be hard
pressed to find river rats wearing Armanis."

They climbed in Mulder's car and headed north to Deweyville.

**************

O.D. Morgan's home
Devil's Pocket
9:37 a.m. May 23

Mulder and Belinda climbed the somewhat rickety stairs to
Morgan's stilt house. Mulder knocked on the door.

"Whaddya want?" a gruff voice called out.

"FBI," Mulder replied. "I'd like to talk to you."

"I ain't done nothin'! Unless you got a search warrant,
get the hell out of here," the man yelled back through the
closed door.

"I just want to ask about the BÍte Noire," Mulder told him.

The door opened and an overweight man in a dirty T-shirt,
his belly hanging over his jeans, stood in the doorway.

"Lemme see your ID."

The agent pulled it out of his hip pocket and showed the
man. "Are you O.D. Morgan?"

The older man nodded and came outside, directing them to
go around the corner and sit on the deck. There were no
chairs, but there were some overturned crates and scattered
empty beer bottles.

Morgan plopped down on one of the crates and nodded for
Belinda and Mulder to do the same.

"Whaddya wanna know about the BÍte Noire? I'm
descended from it, y'know?" O.D. reached into a cooler
and pulled out a cold beer and opened it."

"So I've heard," Mulder replied, successfully fighting to
keep a grin off his face. "How is that?"

"My great-great-granny mated with it. It come into her
bedroom one night and took her right there."

"I see. What did it look like?"

O.D. took a swig of beer.

"It was a cross between a gorilla and a man. The baby had
a face like a monkey and a hairy body. Weren't stupid, but
my great-granddad was one mean sonuvabitch."

"But that doesn't meet the description of the beast in the
swamp," Mulder pointed out. "Joe Calderon saw it and said
it looked like a cross between an alligator and a man. It
was living in the water."

"Ahh, he's senile -- must be almost 90. I wouldn't put no
store in what he says."

"It attacked two fishermen last night, and before you say
it was probably an alligator, they said it definitely
wasn't. They said it was the BÍte Noire."

"Who were the guys?"

"Dickie Johnson and Lonnie Williams," Belinda told Morgan.

"You'd believe those two lushes? You gotta be kiddin'!"

Mulder turned to Belinda. "I think I'm finished with Mr.
Morgan. Did you have any questions?"


"Yes. O.D., I've heard some folks say your great-great-
granny had a black lover. You sure that wasn't the case?"

Morgan's face turned red and he jumped to his feet. "The
only thing keepin' me from sluggin' you right now is that
you're a woman. You get out of here and take this Yankee
with you."

Mulder stood up, purposely brushing his hand along the gun
in the holster on his belt.  "Thank you for your time, Mr.
Morgan."

He and Belinda walked back to the car. As soon as they
pulled away, Mulder burst out laughing. "I thought he was
going to have a stroke right on the spot. Where did you get
that information on his great-great-grandmother?"

Belinda chuckled. "It's a tale that's made the rounds
about O.D. They say that's why he hates blacks so much.
Folks say his great-great-grandmother made up that story
when she got pregnant -- because her husband was impotent.
Oh, yeah. And the hairiness and monkey face came from HER
side of the family. She was pretty enough, but her brothers
looked like Neanderthals."

Mulder laughed again and Belinda joined him.

When he finally was able to stop laughing, he said, "Well,
I think I'd like to spend the rest of the day in the
library, doing research."

"Want some help? I've got some comp time coming to me."

"Sure. We'll get done twice as fast."

They drove to Beaumont to use the library there, since it
was bigger than the one in Orange. The two spent the rest
of the day looking through microfilm of old newspapers as
well as articles in magazine archives on CD.

At the end of the day, Mulder drove back to his hotel in
Orange. Belinda dropped several hints about the two of them
going out to eat, but Mulder politely turned her down,
saying he was too tired after poring through the records
all day.

He thought he was going to have to physically put her in
her car when they arrived, but she finally got the idea and
left.

**************************

ACT II

6:27 a.m. May 17

Belinda watched as the small, red-haired woman emerged
from the crowd of people exiting the plane.  The woman
looked rumpled and weary, and Belinda was suddenly glad
she'd taken extra care with her own hair and makeup that
morning.  Now she stood next to Mulder, breathing in the
heady scent of his aftershave, while the redhead approached
them, her expression bordering upon shrewish.

"Great idea, flying into Beaumont, Mulder," she said
sarcastically.  "If I'd landed in Houston I could have
gotten a flight at a decent time.  I could have had a meal.
I could have gotten here in three hours instead of six, and
I could have gotten a nonstop flight, instead of having to
go through Atlanta and Dallas."

She stopped, as if out of breath, and Belinda stared in
amazement as Mulder responded to this wave of nastiness
with a brilliant smile.

"Glad to see you, too, Scully," he grinned, ignoring her
outburst.  Mulder picked up the bag that had slid off
Scully's shoulder and swung it effortlessly across his own.
"This is Belinda, the reporter who wrote the story about
the BÍte Noire.  Belinda, my partner, Dana Scully."

The two women sized each other up, Scully wearily and
Belinda with a growing sense of futility.  She'd managed to
convince herself overnight that she'd been imagining things
during Mulder's phone call to Scully, but it was becoming
increasingly clear that she was wasting her time.  Agent
Scully looked tattered and worn after her all-night
airplane ride, while she herself was fresh and perky, but
Mulder had eyes only for his exhausted partner.

After giving her a brief nod of greeting, Scully turned
back to the tall man at her side.  "BÍte Noire?" she
questioned, one eyebrow arched delicately.

"That's what the monster's called in these here parts,"
Mulder drawled. "It means 'black beast.'"

Scully ignored his phony Texas accent.  "Monster?"

"How about we grab some breakfast, and I'll fill you in on
our little adventure the other night."

He quickened his pace, pushing open the door and holding
it for the women before letting it shut behind them, then
starting off for the car he'd parked in a nearby space.
There weren't too many people at the Beaumont airport at
6:30 in the morning, so finding a close spot had been easy.

Scully hesitated for a moment, closing her eyes and sighing
dramatically before asking Belinda, "Adventure?"

Belinda just shrugged. She'd let Mulder handle this one,
gladly.

"I'm starving, Mulder," Scully complained as he opened the
door and waited for her to climb in.  "You'd better feed me
before you start regaling me with tales of monsters with
French names."

Belinda slid into the back seat, privately miffed that
Scully had taken "her" seat next to Mulder, yet unable to
deny that the two of them seemed barely aware of her
existence.

"Sure, Scully," Mulder agreed, backing the car carefully
out of the parking space.  "What's it going to be --
McDonald's, Wendy's or Taco Bell?  Wait, scratch that. Taco
Bell doesn't open until lunchtime."

Scully stared at him with an expression of wounded horror.
"Do you mean to tell me, after six hours of air time and
two layovers, not to mention the fact that I spent the
final leg of the journey next to a man named Max, whose
sole reason for living is his poodle, Puffy, that you can't
even offer me a decent meal?"

He bit his lip slightly.  "Wendy's serves burgers round
the clock," he offered. "Quick and cheap. But if you
insist, we can go to a coffee shop.  If we can find one
open."

"McDonald's," she growled.  "At least I can get something
resembling healthy food there.  And they'd better have
decent coffee, Mulder."

Soon they were seated at a table in a local McDonald's
restaurant, and Belinda watched in careful silence while
Agent Scully underwent a transformation, becoming more
human with every sip of caffeine.

"So," Scully invited them at last, when nothing was left
of her apple-bran muffin except a few crumbs and she'd
downed her second cup of java.  'BÍte Noire?'"

Mulder nodded.  "After you've gone to the motel and
freshened up a bit, I'll take you to meet Old Joe, one of
the locals.  He claims he saw the monster himself a couple
of months ago.  But the really interesting thing, Scully,
is what happened last night."

Scully regarded Mulder over the rim of her paper cup.
"What exactly did happen the other night, Mulder?"

Belinda felt a sudden rush of warmth to her face, but
Mulder let the suggestive comment slide.

"The creature attacked a human," he reported seriously,
stabbing at the crumbs on her napkin and licking them off
his fingers.  "Sent him to the hospital."

"Mulder, that area is swampland," Scully pointed out
gently.  "It seems to me more likely that your monster is
nothing more than a large alligator."

"You'd think that, wouldn't you?" he asked, grinning.

She stared up at his teasing eyes for a second.  "But what?"

"The people in question have lived around there all their
lives, Scully.  I think they'd recognize an alligator if
they saw one."

"It wasn't an alligator," Belinda cut in positively.  "It
was the BÍte Noire.  Everyone from around the Deweyville
area knows about it."  As she spoke, she rested her hand on
Mulder's forearm, which lay across the table.  Then, seeing
the way Scully's eyes traveled possessively over Mulder,
Belinda quickly pulled her hand away.

"So, tell me all about it," Scully invited, and Mulder and
Belinda proceeded to fill her in.

****************

Mulder dropped Belinda at her office, then drove Scully to
the motel and checked her into a room on the same floor as
his.  He sat on her bed, going over his notes from the
previous evening and trying to puzzle it out in his head
while she showered.

It was odd, he kept thinking, that the creature didn't
kill Dickie when it'd had the chance.  Instead, it had only
injured its prey, leaving him alive and relatively mobile.
Something about that scenario niggled at the back of
Mulder's mind, but before he could sort it out, his
cell phone chimed.

"Mulder," he muttered into it, still immersed in the case.

"Hey, Mulder, have we got something for you!"  Langly's
voice captured his attention.  The guys never called him on
the road unless it was important.

"What's up?" he asked, glancing toward the bathroom.
Scully was still in the shower, and he shifted position,
focusing on Langly in order to banish the image of her with
droplets of water beading on her skin.

"Scully told us you were chasing monsters in the Southeast
Texas swamps, so we took the liberty of doing a little
research. Did you know there were reports of an alien
spacecraft crashing there about fifty years ago?" Langly
asked smugly.

Mulder tried to jog his memory, but it was tough when he
heard the water shut off and Scully step out of the shower.

"Uh...refresh me on that?"

Langly snickered.  "Three separate reports of a UFO crash
were made on the night of July 18, 1948.  Naturally, all
three were explained away by the authorities, but their
'explanations' were weak, as usual.  Just thought it was
interesting, since you're hunting for some type of monster
down in those parts."

"So your theory is this is some kind of an alien that's
been running around the swamps for fifty years?" Mulder
asked, only half-sarcastically.

"And mating with women to produce offspring, if the
reports are to be believed."

"C'mon, Langly, even *you* would have an easier time
getting a date, if what I've heard of the creature's
appearance are to be..."  Mulder trailed off, his thoughts
beginning to race as he put together pieces.

"Mulder?  You there?"

"Yeah," he responded absently.  "Thanks, Langly."  He
disconnected and shuffled through the papers on the bed
until he came up with Belinda's article, then matched it
with the description Lonnie had given him the night before.
He sat back, his eyes flitting between the two papers, his
brain working at a pace that would have astounded most
people.

He barely noticed when Scully strolled into the room, clad
in her underwear, and began dressing for the day.  He
stared at the papers, but his eyes saw a very different
scene, one which had replayed in his mind countless times
over the past couple of years.  He remembered the aliens on
the ship, how they had looked through his fear and
determination to get himself and Scully out of there before
they became a wake-up snack to the newly-hatched monsters.

Humanoid shape, tough, hide-like skin, sharp teeth -- it
wasn't exactly as he remembered them, but he had been under
a bit of stress at the time.  Also, if the reports were to
be believed, this creature had been roaming the swamps for
fifty years.  Why hadn't it sought out its own, in all that
time?  Why stay here?  Unless it wasn't fully evolved, or
perhaps had...

"Mutated," he muttered to himself.

Scully stopped brushing her hair and glanced toward him.

"What's mutated?" she asked.

"The alien.  Or it could be a different species altogether."

Now she put down her hairbrush and turned to face him fully.

"Mulder," she explained patiently, feeling much more human
now that she'd had food and a shower, "nobody has said a
word about aliens.  I thought it was a monster we were
looking for."  She kept most of the sarcasm out of her
voice, but left enough so he'd know she was merely humoring
him, that she believed it was definitely an Earthly being
they were seeking, and most likely an alligator.

"Langly called while you were in the shower.  He told me
there were reports of a UFO crash nearby about the time the
sightings began."

She turned back to the mirror and began applying her
makeup. "There were reports of UFO crashes everywhere fifty
years ago," she commented.  "People saw strange lights in
the sky, BAM! They attributed it to a UFO.  That doesn't
mean it has anything to do with this case."

"I think I want to check into it, all the same," he
replied, shuffling the papers into a pile and shoving them
back into a file folder.

"We should interview the victim," she contradicted. "Maybe
he can tell us more this morning about what attacked him."

"You should do that," he agreed, slipping his jacket on
quickly.  "While you talk to Dickie, I'm going to go
investigate the area in daylight."

He slipped out the door before she could argue.

****************

After 30 minutes of wrangling with Game Warden Chick
Jackson, Mulder finally talked the man into taking him out
into the swamp. Using a GPS mounted in the warden's boat,
they soon arrived at the coordinates the Lone Gunmen had
given Mulder.

"Turn on your sonar, Warden, and let's see if there are
any large structures on the bottom."

Mulder looked over Jackson's shoulder as he ran the sonar
and slowly drove the boat around the area.

Suddenly, a large mound showed up on the screen.

"There! Stop here!"

They watched the screen for a moment.

"Damn, I wish I had some SCUBA gear," Mulder muttered.

"Wouldn't do you any good. You would barely be able to see
your hand in front of your face because the water is so
murky. Whenever we have teams of divers searching for a
body, they pretty much have to do it by feel. And then they
usually have something to go on, like an overturned boat to
pinpoint the area."

"Any way we can get some divers out here to take a look?"

"You'd just have to ask for volunteers. After all, it's
not an emergency situation," the warden told him.

Mulder considered for a moment.  "Throw out your anchor,"
he said at last. "I'm gonna jump in and do a free dive and
see what I can tell. Do you at least have a face mask?"

Warden Jackson's eyebrows shot up in surprise.  "You're
nuts! I wouldn't get in this water without a full wetsuit.
It's really not very safe."

Mulder was already stripping down to his boxers. "I
appreciate the warning.  So do you have a face mask or not?"

Jackson sighed and pulled out a diver's safety vest as
well as a mask, snorkel and a set of fins.

"Thanks," Mulder said, accepting the gear from the
reluctant man.  "Oh, and uh, how about keeping an eye out
for alligators and snakes, huh?"

"On one condition. You tie this rope around your waist so
I can pull you up if you get into trouble," the warden
insisted.

Mulder nodded.  "Deal. I'll tug twice if I want you to
pull me up. If you see anything bad, give one good jerk and
let me make sure I'm clear, then haul me in."

Mulder donned the vest, mask and fins, and tied the rope
around his waist, then swung his legs over the side and
jumped in. The water was only about 20 feet deep so it
didn't take long to reach the bottom. As the warden had
said, it was all but impossible to see anything through the
murk, but Mulder felt around with his hands and moved along
the bottom, trying to stay down.  He grasped at the
vegetation that grew on the bottom, came up with a rock or
two, and hoped he wouldn't slice his hand open on a rusty
can or broken beer bottle.

Mulder came up for air a couple of times, diving
resolutely back to the bottom, and was almost ready to give
up when he abruptly bumped into something very large and
solid. Feeling it with his hands, he could tell it was
smooth, perhaps metallic, but covered with slime. Wishing
again he had a set of SCUBA tanks, he ascended to the
surface for another breath. Greedily gulping in air, he
looked around for the warden's boat and saw it, about forty
feet away.

He pulled the snorkel from his mouth and called out to
Jackson.

"I found something! I think it might be some sort of ship!"

The warden shook his head and called back. "You won't find
any shipwrecks in this water, but I guess it might be an
old sunken boat."

"Not that kind of ship!" replied Mulder. Putting the
snorkel back in his mouth, he took a deep breath and again
swam down to the bottom.

Mulder had no sooner found the object again and started
exploring its surface, than he felt a sharp jerk on the
rope. He struck the object with his fist. It definitely
seemed to be hard metal, not decaying wood. Something was
happening topside, and he didn't have time to explore
further.

This time when the rope jerked, he felt himself being
pulled at an angle to the top. He didn't resist, but
instead turned and swam for the surface.

Mulder had no sooner reached the surface and taken a
breath when something struck him hard from the side. He
turned to see what had happened, confused at the suddenness
of the attack, hoping like hell it wasn't an alligator.

It was no alligator that ripped its claws down Mulder's
side.  Whatever the thing was, it was large and black and
vaguely humanoid, but with gleaming red eyes. It bared
its teeth, and Mulder cried out, banging his fist in the
attacker's face as Jackson frantically tried to drag him to
the boat. The monster released him, but soon began
following, keeping back just a pace as the warden hauled
Mulder into the boat.  Jackson already had the engine
running in idle so immediately put it in gear.

Once the boat began to move, the monster lunged toward
them, trying to climb aboard. Mulder grabbed a heavy paddle
and slammed it into the BÍte Noire's face. It fell back,
emitting a hissing, screeching sound of anger. Warden
Jackson fired both barrels of his shotgun at the monster
before gunning the boat swiftly away. They hadn't gone far
when they hit a partially-submerged branch and damaged the
propeller.

"Oh, shit!" the warden cursed and looked over his
shoulder. The BÍte Noire had seen their plight and was
rapidly headed their way. The shotgun didn't seem to have
caused it any problem.

Jackson quickly began rigging up his trolling motor.
Mulder had kicked off his fins and was helping the warden
hook up the motor to the battery, his eyes never leaving
the monster, when it again tried to climb aboard. The leads
in his hands had not yet been attached to the motor, so
Mulder jammed the two ends into its hide and let it have
the full charge from the marine battery.

The beast roared in pain and fell back into the water.
Mulder and Jackson quickly hooked up the spare motor and
moved toward the shore.  Their pace was slow, but the
monster did not follow.  Instead, it lay floating in the
water, although Mulder was sure its head turned and watched
them as they limped away.

As they left the BÍte Noire far behind, Mulder sat down
heavily on one of the motorboat's cushioned seats. The
adrenaline rush was over and his side was suddenly hurting
badly. Glancing down, he saw four rows of bloody claw
marks. The warden glanced at him and threw him a first aid
kit.

"Here, grab a wad of gauze and hold it against your side."

Mulder opened the kit, found a bottle of hydrogen peroxide
and poured it over the wounds on his side, hissing in pain
as the antiseptic burned into the open wounds. The gashes
weren't deep enough to hit any vital organs, but looked
serious enough to require several stitches. Scully was
going to be pissed, and he wasn't too happy about it
himself.

*****

"Scully?"

She stopped in the hospital parking lot, trying to find a
decent signal on her cell phone.  The crackling connection
told her Mulder had to be out in the boondocks somewhere,
because she was smack in the middle of town, as Dickie
would have put it, she thought with grim humor.

"Yeah, Mulder, where are you?"  She raised her voice,
hoping he could hear her over the sound of the traffic in
the background.

"I'm...Old Joe's place...," he answered.  "...need you to
help...hurt...bad..."

"What? Mulder, what happened?" Scully shook the phone
fiercely, as if her anger would make the connection
clearer, then thrust it against her ear once more.  "How
badly are you hurt, Mulder?"

"Not...kit..."

The connection died and she slammed her hand in anger
against the hapless phone.  Then, hoping her sudden burst
of temper hadn't damaged it, she dialed information,
obtained Belinda's number at work, and called the newspaper
office.

"Belinda Gaudet."

"Ms. Gaudet, this is Agent Scully.  I need your help."



Belinda arrived quickly and Scully jumped into the car.

"He said he was at Old Joe's place," she said by way of
greeting.  "Does that mean anything to you?"

Belinda nodded and gunned the engine, racing out of town
as fast as her aging Ford would carry them, when Scully had
a sudden thought.

"Wait!" she commanded.  "I need to stop off at the motel
first."

"What for?"

"Medical kit," she replied tersely.

"Is Agent Mulder injured?"

Scully gave Belinda a sidelong look.  "From what I could
tell of the conversation, he may be.  We had a lousy
connection."  Belinda increased their speed slightly, and
Scully didn't know whether to be annoyed at this woman's
obvious preference for Mulder.  After all, who could blame
her?

The car screeched to a halt in front of her motel room
door, and Scully was out of the car in a flash.  She
grabbed up her medical kit from the table and, taking a
second to wipe the sweat from her face, carelessly tossed
her suit jacket on the bed.  No reason to ruin her entire
outfit if Mulder planned on dragging her out into the
swamp, she reasoned, and knowing Mulder, anything was
possible.

Feeling instantly lighter, she dashed back to the car and
hopped in.  "Let's go."

Belinda took off, and within half an hour they were
pulling up to the dirt patch that served as Old Joe's
driveway.  The trailer door opened and a man waved them
inside.  Scully wasted no time in making for the door,
Belinda following close behind.

"Mulder!" Scully called as she entered the dimly lit
Airstream. "Where are you?"

"Over here," he answered calmly from the kitchen table.
Beau sat with his head on Mulder's knee as the agent
scratched him behind the ears.

She stared at him, sitting there cool as a cucumber while
she feared the worst.

"I thought you were injured."

He pulled up his shirt to show her the gauze, reddened
from the bleeding which hadn't quite stopped.  "Just a
scratch," he grinned.

She gaped.  "But... when I asked how badly you were hurt,
you said it was bad."

"I said *not* bad," he corrected.  "Must have been the
connection."

"Great," she muttered, slamming her kit down on the table.
"Well, you'd better let me see it."

"I'm sorry, Scully," he said apologetically as he stripped
off his T-shirt.  "I didn't try to get hurt, you know."

She gave him a look of apology and forgiveness combined,
and her face softened a tiny bit. "What happened?"

He winced as her probing fingers examined his wound.  "I
was in the water--"

"The water?"

"Yeah, I found a ship--"

"A ship?"

"--and the BÍte Noire sliced me."

"He gave it a monstrous jolt of electricity, though,"
Warden Jackson cut in, and Scully raised an eyebrow.

"Did you kill it?"

Old Joe laughed.  "It'd take more than that to kill the
BÍte Noire, Miss," he told her.

Scully looked dubious and turned her attention to her
partner. "Mulder, this is no scratch. And it's already
showing signs of infection," Scully said.  "How long has it
been since you were injured?"

"Only a couple of hours."

"That's unusually fast for infection to set in." She
sighed. "I can stitch it up, but it would be better to get
you to a  hospital. There's only so much I can do with this
kit."

He opened his mouth to protest, but her face, coupled with
the fact that the pain in his side was growing by the
minute, stopped him and he just nodded agreement.

"Uh...getting to a hospital...that may be a problem,"
Belinda said from the window, her voice noticeably
trembling.

All eyes turned toward her, while she kept her own glued
to what was slowly making its way toward the cabin.

It was the BÍte Noire.

"Holy..." said the warden in astonishment, peering out the
window beside Belinda.

"Joe," Mulder announced, reaching for his weapon, "we need
to get out of here.  That thing's stronger than the five of
us.  Any suggestions?"

"What about calling for help?" Belinda asked, her voice
dripping sarcasm.

"No phone," Joe replied apologetically.  "Didn't pay the
bill a few months back and the phone company finally shut
me off.  I've been  arguing with them to get the thing
turned back on, but..."  He shrugged.  "It beats all, I
tell you -- a man shells out cash month after month for his
whole life, then he misses one miserable payment and--"

"Scully, where's your cell phone?" Mulder interrupted.

She reached for it automatically, her face whitening as
she realized she no longer had it in her possession. "Back
at the motel," she ground out, clearly furious with herself
for this lack of foresight,  "in the pocket of my jacket.
Where's yours?"

"Battery ran down while I was talking to you. Completely
dead, now." Mulder gave her a pathetic look, and Scully
shook her head in frustration.

"OK, so we have no phone, but some of us are armed and
it's five against one.  How tough can this thing be to
beat?"

Four pairs of eyes turned to her, clearly implying they
thought she'd taken leave of her senses.

"Fine," Scully snapped, in answer to their silent
accusations.  "But I'm not ready to give up. Has anybody
tried simply shooting this thing?"

"Oh yeah, it's been shot at before," Joe replied and
nodded sagely.  "Bullets don't seem to hurt it none."

At Scully's skeptical look, Jackson put in, "It's true,
Agent Scully. I don't know if its hide is too tough or
what, but I fired at it from the boat, and it only made the
thing pause a minute."

"Are you sure you hit it?"

"Oh yes, ma'am, I hit it, all right."

"Well then, we'll have to think of something else."

"Electricity," Mulder said suddenly.  "Warden Jackson and
I managed to stun it with electricity.  We might not kill
it, but maybe we can put it out of commission long enough
to get away."

"Well, you'd better think of something fast," Belinda told
them nervously. "It's coming closer."

Mulder thought for a moment. "Joe, have you got some
extension cords?"

"Yeah, sure," the old man replied and opened up a cabinet
under the sink. He pulled out two heavy-duty extension
cords.

"I use them to rig up light outside sometimes for when I
come in late from fishing. What do you want with them?"

"Let's plug them in and wire them to the metal exterior
walls of the trailer. Hopefully, that will keep the BÍte
Noire at bay until we can figure out how to get rid of it,"
Mulder replied.

He stood up gingerly and walked into Joe's kitchenette.
"Got a sharp knife?"

Warden Jackson pulled his own buck knife from his belt and
Joe handed Mulder a butcher knife.

"Warden, cut off the female end of one of the cords and
strip off the rubber insulation."

Jackson nodded. "I see where you're going with this.
Belinda, what's the monster doing?"

"It's looking around, like it's sniffing in the air,"
answered the reporter. "Uh, oh, it's headed for our cars."

They all heard a loud crash from outside. The warden and
Mulder worked frantically on stripping the extension cords,
while Joe and Scully peered out the small windows.

Scully watched as the BÍte Noire bashed in the top of
Belinda's Ford, then actually picked up the vehicle and
threw it on top of Joe's pickup. Both vehicles exploded in
flames as the gas tank of the Ford was ruptured and the
gasoline ignited.

"I thought that only happened in the movies," Scully
muttered.

As they watched, the flames spread through the dry grass
and began licking at the tires of Mulder's rental. The
monster seemed surprised and fascinated by the rising
flames. It stepped back a few paces and just stood watching
the vehicles burn.

In the meantime, both the warden and Mulder had finished
exposing the wires. Mulder opened the door a crack and
peered out. His jaw dropped as he saw all three vehicles
burning and the monster staring in rapt fascination.

"Holy shit!" he muttered as he held the cords' stripped
ends between the door and the door face. He shut the door
and locked it for good measure to help keep the wires in
place. The warden plugged both cords into the trailer's
floor sockets.

"Nobody touch the door or windows," Mulder warned. "That's
a lot of juice going into the metal parts of the trailer
right now." The interior walls had wood paneling that Joe
had installed himself, so they should be safe as long as
nobody did anything stupid.

That job completed, Mulder leaned heavily against Joe's
kitchen table. The adrenaline rush was dying down and his
side was bleeding freely again and burned painfully.


*****

Now that they were relatively safe from the creature
outside, Scully could concentrate on her partner.  She took
a long look at him, and what she saw alarmed her. His face
was ashen and he was sweating, his breathing was slightly
labored, and the tightness around his mouth told her of the
discomfort he tried to conceal.

"Sit down, Mulder," she ordered, pointing at a nearby sofa
covered with a ragged, hand-crocheted afghan. The fact that
he obeyed without argument did nothing to reassure her; it
was obvious the pain from his wound had grown much worse.
Mulder's hand was clamped over the makeshift bandage, and
he was bleeding badly from the deep gashes which had been
aggravated during his earlier exertion.

Scully dug into her medical bag, ignoring the way his eyes
flicked over the suture kit she pulled out, then fixed
themselves on the wall ahead.  She'd only stitched him up
once before while they were in the field, when he'd come
too close to an assailant's bullet and they'd been unable
to reach a hospital quickly, but this injury was much
worse. She had a small amount of the mild anesthetic she'd
use to deaden the area, but not enough.  No matter what she
did, Mulder was going to feel this.

"I'm sorry, Mulder," she apologized, looking up at him
from her position on the floor, and he answered her with a
fleeting smile.

"Don't worry about it, Scully.  Just don't make me watch,
and tell me when you're done."

She nodded, grabbing a small bottle of betadine and some
gauze and beginning to clean the area thoroughly.  The
scratches were red and swollen, and Mulder winced when she
pressed on them.  She wrinkled her brow in thought -- the
wounds were showing advanced signs of infection, and it had
come up very quickly.  Without a lab, there was no way she
could determine what had caused the rapid infection, but it
was clear Mulder couldn't wait much longer before receiving
antibiotics.

As she prepared to begin stitching him up, Scully thought
conversation might be the best distraction.  She'd given
him the local and waited for it to take effect, but there
was no way that small amount of medicine would deaden the
entire area.  Starting in a spot she thought would probably
be the least painful, she began.

"So tell me about this ship you say you found," she said
gently.

"I dove into the water at the coordinates Langly had given
me.  It was there, Scully, I swear.  I couldn't see because
the water was too--"  he gasped, clutching the back of the
sofa tightly as she reached a particularly sensitive area,
then continued.  "--too murky, but I could feel. Round,
metal, strange markings etched into the surface..."

"Sounds like it could be anything," she observed.

"Yeah, it could have been anything, but it *was* a ship,"
he replied flatly.

Belinda joined them, sitting carefully on the sofa beside
Mulder, and held out a strong hand.

"Need something to squeeze?" she offered, and he accepted
gratefully, grabbing at her fingers and clenching them
tightly between his own.

Scully finished with the first gouge and began on the
second, hoping the local would keep working for a little
while longer.

"What are we going to do about this thing out there?"
Belinda asked them both, her eyes darting from one agent to
the other quickly.  "We can keep it out of here, but for
how long?  And how long can we stay inside this trailer?
We're not exactly fixed for a siege here."

"I've been...thinking about that," Mulder gasped.  "Damn
it, Scully, hurry up!"

"Then hold still!" she snapped, putting a hand on his
abdomen to stop his involuntary writhing.  "I can't stitch
a moving target."

"Sorry," he whispered, leaning his head against the back
of the sofa and breathing slowly and deeply.  "Didn't I see
some kind of lot filled with old junk cars nearby?" he
asked.

Joe, who had been watching the proceedings with
interest, answered. "You sure did. Right out behind
my trailer, as a matter of fact. It's an old wrecking yard,
although they don't get much business these days.  But how
does that help us, Agent Mulder?"

"What if we managed to rig up one of the vehicles like we
have this trailer, then lured the creature inside?"

"Lured him how?" Belinda asked, interested.

"We'd have to have some bait," Mulder said after a few
seconds during which Scully finished his second laceration
and started on the third, the deepest of the four.

"What kind of bait?" Scully asked suspiciously, waiting
while he caught his breath before proceeding.

"The one that got away," he replied stoically.  "Me."

"The one that got away?"  The tone of her voice told him
just what she thought of his idea, so Mulder explained
further.

"It could have killed me, Scully, but it didn't.  It could
have killed Dickie, but it didn't."

"So, it's not very smart," she argued.  "That's no reason
to give it another chance."

Mulder shook his head.  "I don't think it's that.  I think
this creature likes to hunt.  It wounded me, that's all. If
Warden Jackson hadn't been there to pull me on board his
boat, it could have toyed with me indefinitely before it
finished me off.  I think it was enjoying the thrill of the
chase.  All I have to do is let it chase me into a trap."

"How do you keep from getting electrocuted yourself?"
asked Belinda.

"Tires," put in the warden, who had finally taken his eyes
off the creature.  "Lots of them in a wrecking yard.  We
could make a pile of them so Agent Mulder would have a safe
place.  The electricity won't conduct through them.  But I
think I should be the bait," he continued.  "You're in no
condition to escape from the monster, in case our plan
backfires."

"If it backfires, whoever's out there is dead meat
anyway," Mulder argued.  "I'm the one it's hunting right
now.  It's drawn my blood.  I think it wants to finish the
job."

Scully looked away, tying off her final sutures, and
compressed her lips together in order to avoid further
protests.  Mulder would never listen to her anyway.  It was
in his nature to sacrifice himself for the good of others.
There was no stopping him.

*****

The fire had burned the grass within its reach and been
stopped by the wide expanse of dirt around the Airstream.
Now, it was beginning to die out, and the BÍte Noire had
taken a renewed interest in the occupants of the trailer.

Belinda had taken up residence beside the window again,
keeping a careful eye on its movements, and suddenly she
screamed and backed away.  The monster was charging the
trailer, and as they watched, it thrust its arm through the
window, scattering smashed glass around the room.  It
grabbed for Belinda, but before its claws found purchase,
its body came into contact with the metal exterior.

The scream the creature emitted was deafening, and it
backed away furiously.  They watched to see if it would
fall to the ground, but instead it glared at them, then
began circling the trailer purposefully.

"It's looking for another way in," Joe said grimly.

"You OK?" the warden asked Belinda, and she nodded shakily.

"I'm fine, I..." She stopped suddenly as they were plunged
into darkness.

"Bad news," Mulder commented weakly, but before he'd
completed the short sentence, the lights had come up again,
dimmer this time, but still working.

"Generator," Joe told them proudly.  "We have flaky power
out in these parts."

"Is the generator outside?" Scully asked quickly, but Joe
shook his head.

"Nope.  It can't get at it, don't you worry."

"How long will it last?"

Joe's face fell.  "Only a couple of hours," he answered
Mulder's question.

"Then maybe we should consider putting my plan into action."

"Mulder, you're too weak!" Scully protested.  "You can
hardly stand on your own, let alone outrun that creature to
lure it into a vehicle."

"Where are you going to find a vehicle large enough,
anyway?" Belinda put in.  "It'd have to be--"

"A bus," Joe interrupted.  "There's an old school bus in
that junkyard, ought to do nicely."

"And even so," Belinda continued, "where are you going to
get the electricity?  I doubt Joe has that many extension
cords.  And what happens if you only manage to stun it? Our
cars are destroyed, and the only way to safety from there
is a two mile hike through snake-infested woods. Besides,
Agent Mulder, we'd have to practically carry you."

Mulder gave Scully an exasperated glance.  "Dr. Scully,
I'm just wondering something."

"Yeah, Mulder?"

"Is pessimistic second-guessing of a man's plans a gender-
related trait?"

Scully rolled her eyes, then her worried frown slipped
back into place.

"OK, does the bus move at all? Maybe we can get it closer
to O.D.'s power lines -- he's got to at least have a
generator, doesn't he?"

Joe grinned at Mulder. "She reminds me of my Ruby. That
red hair keeps their brains cooking. I've got my last two
tractors stored in a shed out there.  The green John Deere
still runs fine, and that's where we get the juice. That
dump is where everybody brings their cars when they die; we
just might find a few diehards still with a little zap, so
this is looking promising."

"But how are we going to get out there without the BÍte
Noire attacking?" Belinda asked.

"I'll try to distract it while you and Scully fill some
coolers with water and see what we can rig up here. We need
some kind of switch we can pull once it gets on the bus. If
we soak the floor with the water,  it'll make an excellent
conductor. Maybe the monster won't have a chance to get to
close to me before you three trigger the juice."

Scully's frown darkened. "So you're determined to be the
bait?  Mulder, you're weak, if something happens, if it
doesn't take him down quickly enough...or at all, you
aren't moving fast enough to get away."

"Scully, if we've got the current flowing through the
wreck that I hope we'll get, I don't think I'll want to
move anywhere but the tires we can rig for me to be safe.
And anyway, I'm the one he'll be coming for. At least at
first. He knows my scent. He marked me."


"We've got to get it away from here long enough to get to
the junkyard and rig up our trap," Mulder said.

"Why don't I toss out everything in my freezer -- keep him
busy eating for a while?" asked Joe.

"Good idea," noted Warden Jackson. "But how are you going
to get it far enough away from the door?"

"Somebody will have to get out there and throw it away
from the trailer," Mulder replied, rising slowly from the
couch.

"You're not moving fast enough, Mulder, forget it," Scully
insisted. "I'll go."

"No. I was an all-state quarterback in high school,"
Jackson told them. "And I still run a pretty quick mile.
Joe, give me the food, and I'll sneak out the back door and
run around front and let him see me throw the food out.
What have you got?"

Joe sighed. "I have a real nice pot roast I was gonna cook
up for Sunday dinner, a five-pound pack of hamburger and a
lot of fish."

"Lonnie said he thought the thing chose the fish in their
boat instead of coming after him -- at least right away,"
Mulder noted.

"Well, he can have it all," Joe said. "I do believe I'd
rather let that thing have my dinner than have me for
dinner."

"I heard that!" agreed Jackson.

"But if we get out of this alive, you feds are gonna owe
me for a freezer full of meat," Joe added with a grin.

"It's a deal," Mulder replied. "I'll personally stock it
with prime rib and T-Bone steaks."

Joe loaded up a cooler with every piece of meat and fish
he could find in the freezer.

"Hope it don't mind they ain't thawed."

"No time for that," said the warden. "Give it to me."

Cooler in hand, the warden nodded to Mulder and Scully who
unplugged the electricity long enough to allow the warden
to get out the door.

They watched out the window as the warden ran around the
side of the trailer and yelled, "Hey you nasty son-of-a-
bitch! You hungry?" He tossed a frozen fish at the feet of
the BÍte Noire.

The monster eyed the warden, then decided to take the food
which was closest. It snatched up the fish and crunched it
up quickly. Joe threw the next fish several feet past the
monster and it watched and followed the food.

Mulder, Scully and Joe slipped out the back, leaving
instructions for Belinda to plug in the electricity, then
unplug it when the warden came back.

Their walk to the junkyard was not swift by any means.
Scully helped Mulder along, but was grateful for the feel
of his strong arm holding her much more firmly than his
injuries or weakness should allow.

So they began. Joe and Scully found five serviceable
batteries, made Mulder a tire and bus seat bed and got the
magnetos set up. Scully and Mulder got the water, rigged
three switches and the able-bodied conspirators started
lugging the pieces of their trap to the site. Scully was
glad to see Mulder catching some sleep while they worked.
He felt a bit feverish to the touch when she came in to
wake him near dusk. She forced some Tylenol down him.

Night was falling as they loaded Mulder on the bus, then
dumped the barrels of water. "Do you think the beast will
catch your scent even in there?"

"Scully, it craves the odor of fear. I think right now, it
could pick up that particular bouquet from me if it was
down in Galveston." His partner caught the glazed look of
terror in the man's fever bright eyes and forced a
consoling smile, a game attempt to disguise her own fear.

"Hey, you be careful in there, OK? I plan on putting in
for a vacation for us when we get home. This time it's my
show."

"I'll follow you anywhere you wanna go, Scully. Maybe with
you making the plans we won't be eating hospital food for
half our stay." He tried to grin but the gesture didn't
quite make it to the corners of his mouth, which had become
frozen in a tight-lipped slash of pain. She reached a hand
to squeeze his arm, then suddenly pressed her lips against
the smooth, too warm skin of his forehead.

"Checking for fever?" he asked, in a weary, slightly
bitter tone. His grimace died instantly, morphing into an
almost boyish grin of sheepish surprise, when his partner
cupped his face and softly, lovingly kissed him. The oral
caress lasted but a heartbeat before she pulled away. Her
eyes were bright and somewhat damp.

"You need to get to your place, hurry!" he whispered. Her
reply was a quick nod, and she scurried out into the muggy
evening, the light fading quickly behind the dense, lush
forest. She jumped when a loud, almost human howl of pain
was carried on the warm, heavy breeze from the direction of
Old Joe's house. Joe heard the agent in the bus stumbling
to his feet at the sound, seeing his wide eyes stare
through the dusty, mud splattered windows.

"He must have touched the trailer again," Scully
whispered. "I hope the warden made it back in."

The sun was just beginning to hit the horizon when Scully
heard the low, deep-throated growl of an animal,
approaching from behind her. Burying her face in a sparse,
soft patch of  grass by her head, she tried to muffle the
harsh, frightened  gasps of her breathing. Neither she nor
Joe could risk distracting the BÍte Noire from its prey or
their plan would fail. Nor could they chance that the
monster would not have the wits to suspect a trap had been
laid, should he realize that his intended victim was not
alone. Hearing the shuffling steps move  past her in a
hunched, hurried sprint, Scully  cautiously raised her
head. The sight that greeted her was a horrific beast.

The creature's thick, green-black hide glistened in the
faint illumination. It looked as though  a gel or resiny
secretion covered its rough skin.  The sight she caught of
the BÍte Noire's face as he paused, not more than a stone's
throw from her place, to sniff the hot, sultry night air,
made her turn away. There was something familiar about the
monster's appearance. She had seen one of these somewhere
before, but couldn't place the memory.

The powerfully-built creature let out a guttural hissing
sigh, seeming to finally catch the odor he'd been searching
for --distinctly enough to pinpoint its exact location. The
teeth that filled the lipless grin were at least two inches
in length and so sharply pointed she wondered how they
didn't rend the flesh that was stretched so tightly against
them. It moved deliberately, if not quickly, toward
Mulder's bus.

Mulder found himself dozing, and the fear that he was
losing his fight against his ever increasing weakness
brought a sudden surge of adrenaline which allowed him to
push himself up to sit. His insulated tire perch raised him
enough that if he craned his neck he had a dark, dirty but
almost 180-degree view of the area outside the bus. He saw
the smooth, fluid movements of a dark blur rush toward him
across the field and felt a burning, watery wave of terror.
The walking nightmare had returned. Clawed feet scraped
against the wet metal floor. The agent had noticed in the
dim, rapidly fading light that his friends had somehow
scraped off what little rubber had remained of the bus'
center aisle so nothing but cool metal lay beneath the thin
layer of water.

Harsh pants of excitement echoed through the hollowed-out
wreck, growing louder and more filled with a damp, lustful
hunger, as the shadowy, fetid-smelling form drew closer.
The agent closed his eyes, forcing himself to remain still,
struggling against the instinct to bolt in the direction of
the rear exit door; praying that everything his friends had
set up worked as planned.

His eyes popped open in stunned awe as he heard the animal
sounds stop to be replaced by what could only be described
as a triumphant chuckle. The sound came deep from within
the beast's throat, and Mulder no longer thought of
fleeing. He was frozen to the spot, his mind numbed along
with the deadly paralysis of insane fear that grew greater
each passing second as the fierce creature like those he
and Scully had barely escaped in Antarctica, drew close.

He could feel its breath against his skin, smell its
stench, and the light scratch of a needlepoint claw traced
a line across  his neck, and once more, the agent closed
his eyes. This was the ending of a nightmare that had
plagued his slumber  all too often. This was what would
have come had he not  always awakened to his own hoarse
screams.

It happened so quickly Mulder wasn't certain which had
come first -- the acrid smell of ozone scented electricity,
the low buzz of flowing current interspersed by quick snaps
and pops as magnetos arced, or the ghostly touch of the
creature's fingers against his neck. His lids slid open at
the sudden burst of heat, and at seeing the bright flash of
flame through a blood-filtered curtain. BÍte Noire had
burst into flames, the cremation fueled by something within
the creature's unique body chemistry.

Mulder fell back, almost toppling from his vulcanized cot,
but hastily grabbed hold of the battered, vinyl-covered
seat before he hit the deadly fluid conductor. The moving
fireball thrashed madly about and Mulder flinched as
singeing ash was thrown off by this wild dance of death,
peppering him with a searing rain that instantly formed
blisters every exposed place it landed.

"Mulder!" Scully's voice called out a few minutes later,
and he lifted his head from the huddled ball into which he'd
curled for protection. The organic torch had fallen at
last, and it cast harsh, bright light against the walls of
the bus. He saw both his partner and old Joe standing at
the now-opened emergency exit. "Come on, it's safe."

Unfurling his long limbs, Mulder lurched to the doorway,
almost toppling through when he swayed from his fevered
weakness and the bone-deep weariness that was beginning to
take hold now that the crisis was over. Scully didn't reach
his chin and Joe was several inches shorter, but both
helped him to the ground, their grasps feeling strong and
protective. Allowing himself to be supported by them, an
arm thrown across each pair of shoulders for balance, the
survivors made their way back toward the metal Airstream
trailer.

Belinda and the warden had seen them coming, so they
opened the door to let them know it wasn't still
electrified.

Jackson helped Joe and Scully get Mulder settled on the
sofa.

"Is it dead?" asked Belinda.

Mulder nodded, and Joe replied, "We fried that sucker
good! Burned him up and there was nothing left but green
goo."

The warden sighed in relief and said, "Thank God! Looks
like you need a hospital. I'll take Joe's boat over to my
office and call an ambulance. Joe, I'm sorry I didn't
believe you guys."

"That's OK, Chick. It was pretty unbelievable, I know.
Just goes to show there's a lot about these swamps man
hasn't learned yet."

"The BÍte Noire may be a longstanding legend," Mulder told
them, "but that thing was not native to this area."

"How do you reckon it got here?" asked the warden.
"Somebody brought in another species from South America or
somethin'? But I gotta say, I have never heard of anything
quite like this."

"Let's just say it seemed unearthly and leave it at that,"
Scully said, and gave Mulder a meaningful glance.

The warden shrugged and left. After a few minutes, they
heard
Joe's boat engine start up.

An hour or so later, an ambulance had pulled up at Joe's
trailer. Mulder was lying on the couch quietly, the pain
and fever dissuading him from any more talking.

The paramedics took a look at the wounds and one of them
whistled at the sight of the infection present.

"Nice stitching job, but you should have got treatment
several days ago when this happened."

"He was wounded this morning," Scully told them. "The
infection set in that quickly. And a wild creature had us
trapped here and we couldn't get away until we killed it."

The paramedic looked up in surprise. "Sounds like quite a
story." His partner finished putting a clean bandage on
Mulder's wounds, then they loaded him on the stretcher for
transport.

"I'm coming with you," Scully insisted. "I'm his doctor."

The paramedics exchanged a glance and the one who had
spoken earlier, shrugged and replied, "OK, as long as you
know we gotta take our orders from the emergency room doc
at the hospital."

Scully nodded agreement and accompanied them out to the
ambulance.

Belinda followed them out as well, then reached down and
squeezed Mulder's hand.

"Sorry you got hurt, Mulder. I'll come check on you at the
hospital later and then maybe when you get out we can have
dinner."

Mulder sighed and answered, after first looking at Scully,
"Thanks, Belinda.  I appreciate the offer, but that won't
be necessary. Scully will take good care of me."

Belinda nodded in disappointment and waved at Mulder as
they loaded him in the ambulance.

As the ambulance drove away, the warden, who had driven
his Jeep and led the ambulance to the trailer, walked up to
Belinda.

"You know, I'd love to grab some dinner in town," he told
her. "Gets kinda lonely out here sometimes."

Belinda brightened up and seemed to notice the well-built
warden for the first time. She also noted he wasn't wearing
a wedding ring.

"Why, Chick, that sounds wonderful! And I'll interview you
all about our adventure."

Old Joe smiled as Jackson and Belinda walked to the
warden's Jeep.

***************************

Epilogue

Two days later
Baptist Hospital-Orange

Scully stuck her head in Mulder's hospital room to see him
channel-surfing. He was still receiving antibiotics
intravenously, but he was doing well and set to be
discharged tomorrow evening.

"What's the matter, can't find a ball game?"

Mulder turned to see his partner standing in the doorway.
"No," he sighed. "Just can't find a decent game in the
middle of a weekday. What's up?"

"Just checking in on you, making sure you're behaving."

"Did you bring me anything to eat? Hospital food leaves a
lot to be desired."

"As a matter of fact, I did," Scully replied, holding up
two Styrofoam containers. "Belinda said you loved the gumbo
and boudin balls from Cody's, so I picked up an order of
each."

"Ahh, Scully, marry me!"

Scully chuckled. "You can't afford me. Besides, you know
very well that for you, the pursuit is 90 percent of the
fun."

Mulder patted the side of his bed and invited her to sit.
Scully set the food down on the bedside table and sat down
beside him.

"You're saying the monster and I had something in common?
You wound me, Scully."

Scully seized on the opportunity to change the subject. "I
made Belinda promise not to write this story up in the
paper."

"Why did you do that?"

"Do you really want people swarming down here to these
swamps, looking for monsters?"

"I imagine the area would like the tourism money."

"Yes, but the swamps aren't safe. How many people would
get hurt looking for such a monster? And are we sure that
is the only one?"

"Good point. You know that was an alien, don't you? That
thing is not native to these swamps. I saw them before --
hatching out of humans in the pods on that ship in
Antarctica, and I saw one with Gibson in the nuclear power
plant."

Scully looked dubious.

"Oh, c'mon Scully, surely you remember something?"

She shook her head.

"I think it was on that ship that crashed here years ago.
Something happened to keep it from maturing into the gray
aliens. I guess we'll never completely understand why."

Scully picked up the Styrofoam cup, opened the gumbo and
handed it to Mulder, hoping his hunger would take his mind
off aliens.

"Mmmmm," he said around a spoonful of chicken and sausage
gumbo. "Scully, you should try some of this." He offered
her a bite and she bent down and sipped some from the spoon
he held. Some of it started to drip down her chin, but
Mulder wiped it away, then caressed her cheek. He set the
cup down with one hand, and with the other, drew her into a
deep kiss.

*******************

Journal of Belinda Gaudet

I know this record will never be published, but it was
written for other than my own eyes. A copy of these pages
will find a home in a neatly labeled, filing cabinet drawer
which is located in what I've been told is a too small,
somewhat cluttered, basement office of the Hoover Building,
home of the world renowned FBI.  I'm rather proud of
myself. My literary genius has been featured in Texas
Monthly, Reader's Digest, The Orange Leader, both the
National Enquirer and the Midnight Globe, and now my
work is officially part of The X-Files. Mother would be so
proud.

I do feel I should add a note here, Agents. I'm hoping
your little R & R was refreshing because there might just
have to be a bit of follow-up on this case. At least I
don't believe WE should deem this file officially closed.

The French are the ones who started up the more commonly
told legends, and, of course, we know now that gruesome,
vicious, ogre-like monster from these fairy tales wasn't
our monster. Did BÍte Noire really venture out to raid the
villages and snatch up the naughty children who ventured
out after dark for mischief? Why else would a kid go out
after sunset back then except to find mischief? There
wasn't much else out there. I know this area didn't get a
drive-in until the mid-1960s, and the first arcade didn't
come until the disco era. Mischief was all I ever found
after dark while I was growing up around here. I could show
you a few of the spots to find it, Mulder -- that is, if
the lady ever gets bored with this humdrum lifestyle you
two share, and leaves.

Still, as I said, this child-snatching ghoulie really
doesn't seem to share the behavioral patterns that we saw
and more modern tales attribute to the black beast. Perhaps
it did feed on an unattended child or two that wandered
down and got lost in whichever bayou he'd claimed as his
lair at the time, but the lust for the hunt must have been

more muted then, for a lost baby would hardly be the prey
that would satisfy this mismatched animal/human-like
instinct.

I'm now convinced that what we dealt with was not of this
world. I've done my research and found the records of the
meteorite that crashed in the swamp. Did it carry some sort
of eggs that later hatched? I guess we'll never know.

****************

Deep in the cypress swamps along the Texas-Louisiana border

A green-black head broke the surface of the water, red
eyes looking around for a meal. The other had been the
better hunter, but the other never returned from its foray
into the soft ones' territory. Instinct told the creature
not to make the same mistake -- but to stay far away and
hidden.