by Debbi K.
This is an X-Files/Magnificent Seven crossover story with a smidge of Dark Skies thrown in. [Click here if you want more info on the characters in these shows]. Obviously, it's not meant to be a literary masterpiece, and I wrote it just for fun. (And don't ask how some people can exist in both universes, obviously, that's an X-file.)
FBI HEADQUARTERS - May, 1998
Fox Mulder sorted through the ashes and debris that used to be his office. The X-Files hadn't been burned. They'd been stolen, he knew that. Maybe some day they'd mysteriously re-appear, or maybe he'd never see them again, but they weren't gone for good. There was too much in them that was too useful to people who had too much power to use them.
This wasn't going to stop him, if that's what they thought.
He kicked his charred trash can and laughed at the irony of it. The whereabouts of the X-Files had become an X-File.
"Quite a mess you have here," someone said.
Mulder turned around. What now? He didn't know the man who stood in his doorway. He was maybe 55 or 60, but still had a trim, athletic build and a headful of hair that was flecked with grey. His blue eyes didn't look old, but they looked wise, he supposed like his own probably did. This guy, whoever he was, had been there and done that too many times, and had seen too much. Mulder almost commented on his black suit and tie, but at least the guy was wearing a blue shirt.
He put out his hand. "My name is John Loengard."
Mulder didn't see what harm it would do to be polite.
The man gave him a warm, paternal smile. "I know." He looked around the burned out cubicle. "They got them all? The files?"
"As far as I can tell," Mulder said.
The man set his briefcase on the charred remains of Mulder's desk. He opened it and took out a plain manilla envelope. "Consider this a contribution to the re-building effort."
The man smiled again. He had an easy manner about him, but Mulder sensed that like himself, this man knew way more than he wanted to know. Still, Mulder instinctively trusted him.
He opened the envelope. There was a another folder inside, made of the stiff dark paper that was used in days that had passed long before he was born. Some of the older stuff in the X-Files had been in folders like that.
He opened it, and looked at the documents inside. The paper had grown dry and brittle long before the pages had been laminated, and even that had been done so long ago that the plastic covering them was yellowed with age. Mulder had seen dozens of documents just like it, the drawings, the eye-witness narrative, but never one as old as this.
"Why do you have this?" he asked the man.
The man took the folder from him, not to keep it, just to run his fingers over it.
"Years ago, I was with a group called Majestic..."
He looked at Mulder for a hint that he recognized the term, which of course Mulder did.
"Go on," Mulder said.
"A mutual acquaintance of ours brought this to me, although I doubt he was going by the same name when you knew him as when I did. They say he's dead now, but who knows?" He gave the folder a thoughtful look. "I don't know if it had anything to do with why I was chosen, but I had a personal connection to this specific file."
He removed a page and handed it to Mulder. "It's a first-person eye-witness account, but it mentions two people. The other was my great-grandfather."
Mulder squinted at the hastily scrawled script in faded pencil that had been written almost 120 years before. "Vin Tanner?"
The man nodded. "After I was given this, I managed to track down the granddaughter of J.D. Dunne, the man who wrote that document . He was a sheriff in a little town in New Mexico at the time, just a kid, really. He ended up making a career of law enforcement, and became quite respectable, but apparently, this story of his was always a source of embarrassment to his family," he smiled. "Guess we know how that goes."
"Anyway, he wrote it all down again after this original file disappeared and she let me read his journal. He was pretty old by the time he put it all on paper again, but nothing about his story changes between the two accounts, except that later he remembered... them. So did my great-grandfather, but I don't think he ever admitted that to anyone but this J.D. Dunne."
Mulder nodded, understanding Vin Tanner completely, even though he'd never known him, because he'd met so many others like him.
"But why give this to me?" he asked the older man.
"It's not mine to keep. It's an X-file. Besides, I have my own stories to tell." He looked around the office one last time. "Hell of a job, isn't it?" He laughed softly, winked at Mulder, and was gone.
Mulder probably should have thought the whole encounter was weird, but he hardly noticed stuff like that anymore.
He sat down on his new chair, the only unburned thing in the room. He opened the aged document carefully and began to read the faded handwriting that had been set on the paper so long ago....
There was no denying that J.D. Dunne was excitable. He was exuberant even when he was calm, so when he was excited he had all the subtlety of a tornado.
He was talking faster than most men could listen, gesturing so wildly in the air that Chris Larabee had to duck a couple of times to avoid a black eye.
He wasn't the only one listening to the kid. The whole saloon was listening to him. Chris Larabee was just one of the few who hadn't started laughing yet.
Nathan wasn't laughing either. He thought J.D. had gone mad. That was the only explanation.
"J.D., you gotta calm down here," the healer said in his best comforting voice. He handed J.D. a drink, thinking maybe the alcohol would at least keep him from talking for a few seconds so he could breathe.
"Isn't anybody listening to me?!" J.D. wailed.
"We're tryin' to son," Josiah said calmly, "but you aren't making a whole lot of sense."
Chris nodded, the way Chris did when it meant 'you better listen, because I'm only going to say this once.' "Start at the beginning, J.D., and try to slow down."
J.D. tried, he really did, but he was just too worked up.
"There was this thing..." he said, his voice already picking up its pace before he had even gotten all of those few words out.
Chris put a hand up. "Okay. Where was this thing."
"On the mesa... No, not on it, over it... In the air... It was just... It was just..."
"So it was, like a tower or something?" Nathan interrupted.
"NO! It was just in the air. Just hanging there!..."
"A cloud," Josiah nodded knowingly.
"It weren't no cloud!" J.D. bellowed. He took the glass of whiskey from Nathan and tossed it back with one gulp, without seeming to even notice the bite it had. "It was just this thing... and it was just hanging in the air."
"You already said that, J.D.," Buck said. He was trying not to laugh at the kid. Hell, that wasn't hard because if J.D. was lying, he was making a fool of himself, and if he thought he was telling the truth, then the poor boy wasn't sane anymore.
"It was!" J.D. insisted, his voice rising two full octaves, and then he continued babbling, "and it had these lanterns on it. All colors, going out and lighting up again, and it was BIG...." he gestured broadly with his hands and caught Chris in the jaw, which managed to shut him up for just a few seconds while he weighed whether or not his life was in any immediate danger.
Chris calmly grabbed J.D.'s wrists to keep them from flailing.
"J.D., you aren't making sense," he said patiently. "It's almost midnight. Why don't you go..."
"It is?" J.D. blinked in disbelief. "That's impossible. Vin and I just left here a few minutes ago, just past sundown."
Nathan frowned. "J.D., did you fall or something?" He moved in and tried to look in J.D.'s eyes for signs that the boy had whacked his head a good one.
J.D. pulled away. "No. I'm fine! It just can't be midnight already..." He looked around at his friends. Buck looked worried. Josiah looked worried. Nathan looked like he was studying some new thing in a medical book and who ever knew what Chris Larabee was thinking? The only person who was looking at him like he might still be in his right mind was Ezra, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that.
Didn't matter. There was no time for thinking. "Anyway, it got Vin," he said and waited for some reaction.
There wasn't one, not right away.
Then Chris spoke up. "What do you mean, it got Vin?"
For once, J.D. was speechless. He was still moving his mouth like he wanted to say something, and his hands were trying to fly into the air again, but he just couldn't seem to find any words.
He took a deep breath.
"There was this light, and I had to shut my eyes. When I opened them, he was gone."
A cold shiver ran through him. Yeah, that had really happened. Whether his friends believed it or not, somehow that thing had made Vin Tanner disappear into thin air.
Nobody was buying that. He hadn't expected them to, not really.
"I got his horse. It's outside, if you don't believe me. It didn't get the horse."
"You left Vin out there without his horse?" Chris said, and J.D. could tell he was pissed, so he pulled himself up to his full height and stood his ground.
"I told you, Vin wasn't there anymore."
Chris took a step closer, and that made him too close for J.D. not to squirm, even though he had nothing to hide. "Did you look for him?" Chris wanted to know.
"It was open mesa," J.D. said so calmly he even surprised himself. "There was nowhere to look. I tell you, he just disappeared. That thing did something with him."
"That would be the thing up in the sky?" Josiah said calmly.
All at once, J.D. realized how stupid he sounded.
That didn't change anything, though.
"We gotta go look for him," he told no one in particular, because he didn't know who was listening anymore.
He looked each of his friends in the eye, or tried to. Josiah, Nathan, and even Buck turned away, because they were sorry his mind was gone. Chris stared at him. He was pissed at him for leaving Vin behind, even though he hadn't been there and didn't know there was no Vin to leave. Only Ezra looked at him like he was still normal.
The gambler shuffled the deck of cards he always had in his hands, tapped them into a neat stack and got up from the table. "I'll go with you," he said.
J.D. wondered why Ezra was taking him seriously, but thought he better not ask.
At least he'd stopped babbling. J.D. hated it when words just came pouring out of him and he couldn't make them stop, but he felt like a cat in a barnful of dogs, and he was way past excited. Shock was a better word for his state of mind. Not just surprised like when you pulled down your bed and found a bug in it, but .... well, hell, he couldn't think of anything like what he'd felt when he'd saw that thing in the air. It was some kind of machine, but he was never going to say that. Everyone knew machines couldn't... well, whatever that thing was doing in the air, machines couldn't do that. Nothing could do that.
And Vin Tanner was gone. What was that all about?
He and Ezra mounted their horses in silence, and J.D. grabbed the reins of Vin's horse, just in case they found Vin.
He hadn't seen the others leave the saloon. He wasn't really seeing anything, because his eyes were on the sky over the distant mesa, trying to see again what he wasn't sure he saw the first time. But as they rode out of town, one by one, four other riders fell into line behind him and Ezra.
# # #
Mary Travis watched them go. It was midnight, but she was wide awake. She knew when something was up. She owned a newspaper. News was her job. One of her jobs, anyway....
They found Vin where J.D. had last seen him, which made J.D. feel even more stupid than he already did, and which made Chris Larabee mad as hell, J.D. could tell.
Vin was sitting on the ground, like maybe he'd made a fire, but there was nothing burning in front of him. He was just sitting there. He didn't even turn around to look at them until Chris's horse was close enough to step on him.
The funny thing was, they'd already ridden past and around that same spot three, four, maybe five times, and suddenly Vin was just there when no one had seen him before.
Nobody said anything about that, just like nobody said anything about the stuff they had seen while they were looking for Vin.
That big black circle burned into the earth, for example. And that there wasn't a horn-toad, prairie dog, jack rabbit or any other living thing to be seen, except, that is, for Vin, when they finally found him.
The sun was already coming up by then. Vin squinted his eyes when he looked up at them.
"Brought my horse. Thanks," he said, getting to his feet.
J.D. was tired, or else he might have started babbling again. All he could manage to say though was, "Vin... how... where... that thing..."
Vin calmly got on his horse and acted like J.D. wasn't even speaking to him.
"Vin?" J.D. said.
Vin blinked at him. "What?"
"Where'd you go?"
Vin looked at him for a second or two, and then just turned his horse towards town.
Four of the others looked at each other, bewildered by this. Ezra just watched Vin ride off.
Vin didn't say anything on the way back to town, but that wasn't unusual because Vin hardly ever said anything, anyway. Problem was, that made J.D. feel more stupid than he had ever felt in his entire long history of doing and saying things that made him feel stupid.
What Vin did do that was unusual was head straight for the saloon and order a full bottle of Red Eye. Vin liked whiskey, but not by the bottleful.
He didn't get a glass, he didn't offer any of the others any. He sat down at a table, uncorked the bottle and drank down a half-dozen hearty gulps.
Chris pulled up a chair and sat beside him. "Thirsty?" he asked.
Vin looked at the bottle in his hand. "No, not really," and then contradicted himself by drinking three or four more gulps of the stuff.
"J.D. here tells me you ran into some kind of trouble out there."
Vin's eyes shifted uneasily when J.D. looked at him expectantly. Uneasily because Vin just wasn't the shifty-eyed sort. He usually said what he meant, and then shut up, so it surprised J.D. to hear him just come right out and lie.
"Nope, nothin' happened."
"Vin, how can you say that!?" J.D.'s mouth dropped open. "There was that thing... I know you saw it, Vin...."
Vin looked at him, the same calm Vin he always was, except now he was calmly lying, and said, "I didn't see nothin', J.D." He took another long swallow. "Not a thing. Nope."
J.D. threw his arms out in exasperation. "I don't believe this!"
"Sit down, J.D.," Chris said, and because it was Chris, J.D. sat. So did the others.
"Suppose you tell us where you were all night, Vin," Chris said.
But, he didn't really want to know, J.D. could tell. Chris was just humoring him. That made him mad. He would have gotten up to leave, but he waited to see what Vin would say.
All Vin did, though, was stand up with his bottle, tip his hat slightly and say, "Been a long night. We best all get some sleep."
And he walked away. Just like that. J.D. felt like everyone was drilling holes in him with their eyes, but they weren't. They couldn't even look at him, they were all so embarrassed for him. All except Ezra, but even he said, "Vin's right. Perhaps in a few hours, we can view this unlikely happenstance from a new perspective."
J.D. was too tired to figure out what that meant. Too bad he knew he wouldn't sleep. It was broad daylight for one thing. For another thing, he had stuff to do. Reports and stuff he had to write and forms to fill out. It was his job.
All the while, he would be thinking about that Thing. He knew he would.
"Aw, hell with it," he said, and like Vin, he got up and left.
Five pairs of eyes watched him go.
"Somethin' ain't right about this," Nathan said.
Buck nodded, concerned. "What do you think he saw?"
Josiah shrugged. "Ball lightnin'. St. Elmo's fire. Maybe a cloud. Boy's got an active imagination. We know that much."
Ezra begin to shuffle his cards. "There are peculiarities of nature and man that we can never aspire to fully ascertain," Ezra said.
"What does that mean?" Buck asked.
"I believe him."
"Why?" Chris asked, not surprised, just curious.
"Because the young man is no liar," Ezra said easily, "and because he is not the first to recount such an adventure in my presence."
"Perhaps you would care to share your previous experience?" a voice said. The five of them looked around and saw one of the locals approaching the table. Conklin was his name. It was odd that he was at the saloon at that hour. The respectable townsfolk usually left much earlier.
He sat down without being invited and looked at Ezra expectantly.
"I'd rather not discuss the matter," Ezra said. Ezra's motto was trust no one, and that especially included weasley characters who tried to break killers out of jail. He hadn't seen J.D. face this guy and his mob down when he'd demanded that Stewart James' murdering nephew, Lucas, be set free. He was somewhat indisposed at the time. But, he'd heard about it.
"What did the kid say?" Conklin prodded.
Five pairs of eyes looked away non-chalantly and five sets of lips stayed sealed.
"Fine," Conklin said. "But mark my word, you had better see to it that whatever it was, he doesn't go around repeating it. We can't have this town getting a reputation for harboring lunatics."
"I don't think I like that guy's attitude," Buck said when Conklin was gone.
"He's right about one thing, though," Josiah said, "J.D. keeps runnin' off at the mouth about seein' things and somebody's gonna get the idea to lock him away."
He yawned and set off a chain reaction. They were all tired from spending the night looking for Vin, and now that he was safe, they were feeling it.
Still, even though his eyes were red from lack of sleep, Buck decided he'd stop at the jail and have a talk with J.D. If he was lucky, he could set the boy's head straight, and at the very least, he could better tell if the lad had lost his mind if he could talk to him without an audience.
Conklin was already at the jail. He was listening patiently to J.D.'s story. J.D. wasn't as excited as he had been during the first telling of the tale, maybe because now that he knew how dumb it sounded, his enthusiasm for it had tarnished a mite.
Buck stood out of sight of the open door until J.D. was done, just listening. When he'd finished, Conklin said, "You are not to say anything else about this to anyone, do I make myself clear, Mr. Dunne?"
J.D. understood the words, but not the intent. "Huh?"
"Let me put it another way. You didn't see anything. Nothing happened out there."
"It was just a cloud, a storm cloud, and lightning."
J.D. thought that one over, but then said, "No it wasn't."
Conklin sighed. "Mr. Dunne, let me assure you that if you persist in this fantasy, life in these parts will get very unpleasant for you."
To Buck, that sounded like a threat. What the hell did Conklin care if J.D. made a fool of himself, anyway?
J.D. wasn't getting it either. He looked at Conklin and blinked his dark little eyes.
"Let me put it another way, Mr. Dunne. That's a big desert out there. It would be a hundred years before anyone found your body."
Okay, that did it. Buck crashed through the door, or would have if it hadn't already been open. "Did I hear you threatenin' him?"
Conklin seemed suddenly at a loss for words.
"Let me tell you somethin'," Buck looked down on the man, which was something Buck rarely did. He was taller than most people, but he never used that fact to intimidate people unless he wanted to scare them. "Your bones wouldn't be any easier to find than his, and that ain't a threat, it's a fact."
"Are you saying you believe this wild tale of his?" Conklin laughed nervously.
"That ain't the point. If he wants to say the moon is pink, it ain't your business to tell him it ain't and he better not say so. Now get outa here before I get ugly."
Strangely enough, Conklin's threats seemed to have rolled right over J.D. who was sitting at his desk scribbling madly on a piece of paper. The kid liked the badge-wearing part about being sheriff, but he tended to let paperwork pile up and when he did do it, it was with as much eagerness as he'd muster shoveling out a stable.
Buck leaned over the desk to see what he was writing, but he wasn't writing, he was drawing something.
Buck watched patiently as a picture took shape. What it was supposed to be though, only J.D. knew. It was some kind of round thing, with other little round things all around the edge of it.
J.D. shoved the drawing at him when he was done. "That's it. That's the thing," he said, and Buck could tell he really believed this.
No point in upsetting the kid, even if he was crazy, Buck thought, and he picked up the drawing and looked at it thoughtfully, turning it this way and that trying to make out what it was supposed to be.
"These things here..." J.D. stabbed the paper and indicated the round things on the edge of the bigger round thing, "those were the lanterns. All colors... and this here... " he pointed to the center of the contraption, "that's where that bright light came from." J.D. turned the paper in Buck's hands so it was over his head and he was looking up at it. "This part was the underside. I don't know what it looked like on top. And I tell you, Buck, it was big.... bigger'n a locomotive. Hell, bigger'n this building!"
"J.D....." Buck wasn't sure what to say. Something had to be seriously wrong with the poor kid if he was seeing things like this floating up in the sky.
J.D. grabbed the picture from him and stuffed it into a folder, then went back to scribbling, only this time he wasn't drawing, he was writing. J.D. had pretty decent penmanship, but he wasn't taking his time, he was writing as fast as he could, as a matter of fact.
"I'm going to write it all down," he said, "before I forget it, not that I think that's likely to happen."
Buck sat down on the desk. "You really saw this thing?" he asked him.
J.D. stopped writing. "Why would I make it up, Buck? You think I want the whole town laughing at me?"
"But Vin said nothin' happened."
"Vin's a liar." Even though they were his own words, J..D. found them hard to listen to. He changed his tone of voice. "Only Vin knows why he said what he did, and don't think I don't plan on askin' him, first chance I get."
Buck nodded. J.D. was a sight, his hair flopping into his face, his eyes bloodshot because he hadn't slept, but the funny thing was, he was completely focused on what he was doing, something that was unusual for J.D. His mind usually flitted around like a humming bird. Whatever it was he thought he'd seen, it had gotten his attention in a way most things didn't.
Nobody said anything about it, but even though they were all friends, it wasn't that often they sat down to eat together. J.D. wasn't even sure whose idea it had been, he had just shown up at the hotel restaurant where they ate most of their meals, and the others were already there, with an empty chair for him.
He had the folder with him. He'd spent the better part of the day drawing pictures and writing stuff down, and he wasn't about to let anything happen to it now. They all looked at him and he realized he was clutching the thing like it would pick up feet and run if he didn't, so he dropped it on the table.
Buck picked it up and started to thumb through it. He had already finished eating. The others were getting there, except for Vin, who was sitting there shoving his mashed potatoes into a pile with his fork until they didn't look like mashed potatoes should but rather like a big egg made of mashed potatoes.
"What's this look like to you?" he said, eyeing his handiwork.
"Looks to me like a grown man playin' with his food," Nathan snorted.
Vin looked around the table at each of them, but his eyes rested on J.D. "What does that look like to you, J.D.?"
J.D. looked closely, but finally said, "It looks like mashed potatoes, Vin." Didn't any one else notice how weird Vin looked? Like the lamps were lit, but no one was home? He supposed not. They weren't in the habit of looking at each other, funny as that seemed.
Chris took the folder from Buck. J.D. was sure the gunslinger was going to laugh, and Chris surprised him by not saying anything except "What do you make of this, Nathan?" as he passed the folder along. They all looked, they all read what he'd written. All except Vin, who never read anything, anyway, but in particular didn't seem to want to look at J.D.'s work.
Josiah was passing the papers to Ezra when Mr. Conklin was all of a sudden just there again. He intercepted the folder. "I'll take this," he said, like he actually thought he could get away with it.
"I don't think so," J.D. said. "I'm taking it to Mrs. Travis, to see if she'll put it in the newspaper."
Conklin laughed out loud, but held on to the folder. "You can't be serious, son. The whole town already thinks you've lost your mind, why do you want to prove them right?"
J.D. was calm, nonchalant, even. "Because I haven't lost my mind, and whatever that thing was, folks got a right to know about it."
He tried to grab the folder back, but Conklin wouldn't give it up. J.D. was ready to beat the old guy up if he had to to get it back, but he knew he wouldn't have to. Josiah stood up next to Conklin and got right in his face. Josiah could look really scary when he had to.
"Give the boy back his property," he told Conklin.
"He works for this town," Conklin said. "This paper, the pencil he used... all bought with public funds, and as head of the town council..."
"What town council?" Buck frowned.
Chris Larabee tossed two bits on the table in front of Conklin. "That should cover it, now give it back to him."
Conklin gave in to the implied threat in Chris's voice, but he didn't leave. He stood behind Ezra while Ezra looked at the drawings. The gambler was thinking about something, J.D. could tell. Finally, he asked him what it was.
"There is no natural phenomena of which I am aware that would represent itself in this fashion," Ezra said, flipping a page. "At least," he looked at the others, "not of this earth."
The others looked at him curiously. Or rather, Josiah, Buck and Chris did. Nathan was a man of science when it came right down to it, and he wasn't going to buy this without proof. Vin was still playing with his potatoes.
"What're you sayin'?" Nathan scoffed.
"I'm saying that we might be dealing with that which of its very nature may have inclinations in an extraterrestrial direction."
Nathan was way smarter than most men, but so was Ezra, and the gambler could confuse the devil himself sometimes. "X what?" Nathan frowned.
"It's a perfectly applicable term," Ezra explained. "'Extra', meaning from without, 'terrestrial' from the Latin root 'terra' meaning..."
"Earth," Josiah finished for him. "Did you just make that word up?"
Ezra glared at him, which meant he had.
Behind him, Mr. Conkln had whipped out a little black book and jotted something down in it.
"Are you saying that thing was from another world?" J.D. asked. Even he was shocked by that assertion.
"It's not from this one," Ezra said calmly.
Vin stabbed his fork in the mashed potatoes and grabbed his hat. "I'll see you boys later," he said, and he left like he had someplace really important he had to get to, which he didn't.
J.D. wanted to get up and follow him, but, he was hungry, and he'd been without sleep so long that he'd gotten to where he was almost too tired to move, so he let the bounty hunter go.
He didn't like what Ezra had said. They had all taken an oath to protect Four Corners, but nobody had said anything about outlaws from another world who had God only knew what on their mind. How did you deal with that?
"We've got to find a way to shut the kid up, Marita," Conklin was saying.
"Don't call me that!!! It's Mary. I'm Mary here, remember? What do you want me to do?"
"He's going to bring the story to you. He wants you to put it in the paper."
Mary Travis signed, exasperated. "It would serve them right if I did. What the hell where they doing here? Roswell is a hundred miles away."
"Maybe they got lost," Conklin shrugged. "The way they come barreling through the atmosphere, it's amazing they get anywhere close to the place. It's only a matter of time before an extraterrestrial craft accidentally reveals itself."
Mary frowned. "A what?"
"Extraterrestrial. It's the... um... scientific name for them."
Mary looked annoyed that no one had briefed her on the new term. "Well, whatever they're called, it won't be my problem when one of them crashes in the desert. Let someone else cover up the evidence. My job is to find some way to explain them away, and how am I supposed to do that when they show themselves like harlots on a chorus line?!"
"The boy isn't the big problem," Conklin said. "He's young, and he likes to talk just to hear himself. It should be easy to discredit him. It's the bounty hunter we need to worry about, if he ever remembers anything."
"Do you think he will?" Mary said.
Conklin shrugged. "Sometimes, they do. He mignt need a little bit more convincing to forget all of it."
"Did you send for Alex?"
Conklin nodded. "I hated to do it, but we may need his help persuading Mr. Tanner that he doesn't know what he can't remember... and convincing the boy that what he does remember didn't happen."
# # #
Mary Travis was a nice lady. A pretty one, too. Just that sometimes, J.D. was thinking, she was a bit too patient with him, like he was some little kid who didn't know enough to keep his nose clean.
She was talking to him like that now. She had reached across her desk and taken both of his hands in hers.
"J.D., now you know I can't print a story like this. What would people think of this town?"
J.D. didn't know what that had to do with anything. "Why would they think anything?"
Mrs. Travis opened his folder and looked at one of the drawings he'd done. They did look pretty amateurish, but he wasn't an artist and he'd been in a hurry when he drew them. She was too sweet and too patient when she spoke.
"Can't you just see people coming from miles around to look at this thing, and then when they don't see it and think they've been duped... Well, not only is the town's reputation at stake, but you'll look the fool."
"I saw it," J.D. said firmly.
Mrs. Travis patted his hand and said, "I'm sure you believe that, J.D. but where's your proof? All we have is your word."
"My word is good," J.D. said, insulted by the insinuation that it wasn't.
"Of course, of course," she patted his hand some more. "But...
"And there is a big burned spot, out on the mesa!" he remembered suddenly. "Come with me and I'll show it to you."
She looked vaguely troubled by this information, but then said, "Anything could have done that, J.D. Lightning, a brush fire... anything."
There was truth in that, J.D. had to admit. He realized he wasn't going to get anywhere with Mrs. Travis, but he said, "I did see it," somewhat dejectedly.
She patted his folder full of papers. "I tell you what. I'll hang on to these, and if anything else strange happens, I'll be sure to give it a second look..."
J.D. hated to be rude, but he was suddenly suspicious of Mary Travis. Gut instinct told him to grab the folder from her, which he did, and he wasn't too nice about it, either.
"No," he said. "I'm keeping this."
She suddenly looked very angry with him. "Fine," she said. "But let me tell you something, young man. You are inviting trouble the likes of which you cannot even imagine. Drop this thing and drop it now. Do I make myself clear?"
J.D. got the feeling she wanted to throttle him. He had no idea why, but he figured he'd worn out his welcome, if he'd ever had one.
"Sure, Mrs. Travis," he said nervously. "I won't bother you again."
Whew! He thought, when he was outside. He never suspected Mary Travis could be such a bitch.
He was dead on his feet, having not slept since the night before the night before. Hell, he didn't even remember the night before, and it was bothering him in a big way that it had jumped from just after 6 in the evening to 3 am without him knowing the time was passing, so he tried not to think about it. He considered making the rounds he usually made after the sun went down, but he was just too tired. He went to his room at the boarding house instead.
He took off everything but his longjohns and crawled into bed and almost fell instantly asleep, but at the last moment, he remembered the folder which he'd set on a chair under his clothes. He got up and fetched it and tucked it inside his undershirt, then he grabbed one of his pillows and hugged it close to his chest, which he pretty much always did, anyway. The folder was rough and scratchy, but he was too tired for it to keep him awake, and he just had a feeling it was safer there.
J.D. was a sound sleeper, and he'd been tired, but he found it hard to believe when he woke up and discovered his room had been ransacked with him lying right there on the bed the whole time.
What the hell did he have that anyone would want? It gave him the shivers to think someone had been in his room and he hadn't known it. He promised himself that from then on, he was going to sleep with his gun under his pillow. He sat up and the corner of the folder stabbed him in the belly, causing him to remember it was there.
He pulled it out of his undershirt and glanced down at it thoughtfully. He hadn't dreamed it after all.
He was too upset about his room being vandalized to eat breakfast, so he went to find Chris. He didn't know what he expected Chris to do about it, after all, he was the sheriff, not Chris. But maybe Chris would have some idea as to who would do such a thing. He sure as hell didn't.
He never got as far as the saloon where he figured Chris was, though.
He was sidetracked when he saw Vin Tanner in a cattle holding pen near the livery. There were no cattle in it at the time, just Vin and whatever it was he was fussing with.
J.D. wanted to talk to him alone, so he approached, but then slowed his steps a mite when he saw what Vin had done. Everyone was so busy thinking he was crazy that he was the only one who had bothered to notice that Vin was acting strange. Strange was the only word that described what he was doing, anyway.
He'd taken a white flour sack and stuffed it with straw, and then stuck it on a stick. He was painting something on it. J.D. had to get really close before he saw it was a face. Well, not really a face, just these two big eyes. Really big eyes. Vin was an even worse artist than he was.
"What are you doing Vin?" he had to ask.
Vin boxed the flour sack a couple of time to reshape it. He poked in the corners so it looked like a big egg on a stick. A big egg with two big, black eyes. It was the dumbest looking thing J.D. had ever seen, and it was kind of scary, too, for some reason, but Vin seemed quite pleased with it.
"What does that look like to you, J.D.?" he asked.
J.D. found out he couldn't stare at the thing for very long. It gave him this cold, creepy feeling that he should know what it was, but his brain was refusing to even consider the question.
"I dunno Vin. What's it for?"
Vin got that easy smile of his on his face and picked up his sawed-off shotgun. He cracked it open and inserted two shells. "Target practice," he said softly.
Then, still grinning, he put the shotgun up against the egg-thing and blew it completely to hell.
J.D.'s ears rang from the blast. There was nothing left of the flour sack, except for a piece of cloth with one of those big eyes on it. Vin re-loaded and shot that, too.
J.D. scratched his head. What Vin had done seemed crazy, yet, Vin himself seemed just fine with it. He looked... well, J.D. couldn't really put a name on it. Funny thing was, J.D. had gotten some odd sense of vindication out of what Vin had just done. Seeing that flour sack shredded everywhere was just so damned.... satisfying.
"Let's do another one!" he said, before he could stop the words from falling out of his mouth.
Vin looked at him and thoughtfully scratched his chin. Finally, he said, "I think that's a good idea, J.D."
So, they made 5 more of the things, one from a flour sack and four from pillow cases, the loss of which they would have to explain later.
They blew four of them to hell like the first one, and were about to do the last one when a man dressed in black walked up to where they were. Not all black like Chris Larabee wore. He had a white shirt, but his suit was as black as pitch, like an undertaker.
He put out his hand and smiled a cordial smile. "Name's Alex," he said.
He looked nice enough, but J.D. just didn't want to shake his hand. He had no reason for that, it was just something his gut was telling him, but, he didn't want to be rude, so he finally did. "J.D. Dunne," he replied.
Vin pretended to have his hands full and only nodded at the man.
"May we speak privately, Sheriff Dunne?"
"Uhh..." J.D. did not want to go with this guy. That was really stupid, because he didn't even know him, but he just didn't. There was something not right about him.
"Anything you got to say to him, you can say in front of me," Vin said protectively. Ordinarily, that would have pissed J.D. off, but instead, he wanted to get behind Vin and hide. He didn't though.
"What's this about?" J.D. asked, his voice more calm than he felt. Lord, this guy gave him the heebie-jeebies.
Yet, he was just an ordinary-looking guy. Women might even say he was good-looking, he supposed, but he was just average in most ways. Except he had eyes that looked right through you. Beady, little, dark eyes, like a rat, which was exactly what he reminded J.D. of. J.D. didn't like him. Not one bit.
"Okay," the rat-guy said, still smiling. "If that's the game we have to play... Where is the folder? The one with all of your pictures?"
It was still in his undershirt, but J.D. said, "What folder?"
Quite unexpectedly, and much to J.D.'s disbelief, the guy hit him.
He punched him hard, in the midsection. Ironically, some of the blow was absorbed by the folder, which the guy hadn't seemed to notice was there.
J.D. still had the wind knocked out of him, though, and he wondered why this guy thought he could just punch him like that and get away with it. Vin brought up his shotgun and aimed it at the rat's head.
"That was a bad move, mister," Vin said.
"You won't shoot me, Tanner," the rat said confidently. "I'm unarmed."
"How do you know my name?"
"None of your business."
The guy was right, Vin wouldn't shoot an unarmed man, but Vin was not himself, so he did crack the guy in the head with the business end of his weapon.
Alex, if that was really his name, acted like he didn't even feel it. He didn't even look at Vin as blood went trickling down his head.
"If you don't tell me where the folder is," he said to J.D., "I'll be forced to make you tell me. You don't want that, kid. Trust me.."
"Mister, you go right ahead and try that," J.D. said, hoping, praying, that the others would back him if it came to that. Hell, he knew they would.
The guy backed off, but he pointed at J.D. as he walked away. "You don't know what you're toying with," he warned him.
J.D. showed him a not arbitrarily selected finger. "Neither do you, rat-boy."
He turned back to Vin, who was picking up the mess they'd made.
"Vin, we need to talk..."
"No, we don't , J.D."
"Vin, you gotta remember what happened... "
Vin stood upright and stared at him. His blue eyes had iced over, but J.D. couldn't tell the what Vin was thinking. He didn't sound angry when he spoke, but his tone didn't leave any room for argument. "Leave it be, J.D.," he said softly. "It'll be better that way." His words were final. He started to walk away and J.D. knew there would be no chance of getting his attention again.
Chris Larabee knew about the stranger in town, the one in the black suit who called himself Alex. He always knew these things.
Funny thing was, when the guy walked into the saloon and he actually saw him, Chris wasn't able to peg him as he usually did. The guy looked like an easterner, in that fancy suit and tie, but he walked with the easy confidence of a gunfighter, although he carried no visible weapon. This guy either was not afraid of anything, or he didn't mind having the crap pounded out of him for having an attitude that invited that.
He was talking to Conklin, and Chris knew it had something to do with the kid's wild story. J.D., in all likelihood, had just read one too many Jules Verne novels, so why was it that he had attracted all this attention? If they'd just ignore him, he'd shut up. Eventually. Sometimes it took J.D. awhile to take a hint, but eventually, he caught on.
Conklin and the stranger knew each other, no question about that. When they headed out of the saloon together, Chris followed them. They headed for the newspaper office. So, the stranger was a reporter. Great, that was all he needed. A fancy big-city reporter there to talk to a kid who lived to hear his own voice. He'd better tell J.D. to stay away from the guy...
He found the kid back at his desk at the jail, scribbling away. He had to have gone through a few dozen sheets of paper by now. When he looked up and saw Chris, he quickly tucked what he was doing under a stack of wanted posters.
Chris wasn't fooled. He reached under the posters and pulled out the drawing J.D. had been doing, not that it told him anything. He couldn't tell what it was supposed to be. It looked like a praying mantis. He never had liked those things.
"What is this, J.D."
J.D. looked ashamed, like he'd been caught drawing dirty pictures.
"Just something I think I remember, that's all. I'm not sure what it is."
Chris squinted at the drawing, even though he could see just fine. "It looks kind of like a face."
J.D. turned absolutely white as a ghost. "No! It ain't that!" he said, and grabbed his picture back, like he was afraid Chris was right..
Chris shrugged. "J.D.... Maybe you should keep this story of yours just between you and your friends."
J.D. snorted. "Hell, even you guys don't believe me. Well, except Ezra, I guess." He tucked his drawing into the folder. "Chris? Do you think what Ezra said could be true? About exortortorials... or whatever he called them?"
Chris folded his arms and leaned against the desk. "Anything's possible, J.D."
"But do you think it could happen? Things not of this world?"
"Truthfully?" Chris asked, and when J.D. nodded, he said, "No."
J.D. looked disappointed, crushed even, so he added, "But I didn't see what you saw."
J.D.'s shoulders sagged. "I'm beginning to think I didn't see what I saw."
There was knock on the door and without waiting for an invitation, Conklin and the stranger in black walked in.
"I'm glad I found you here, Mr. Larabee," Conklin said. "I think you should hear what we have to say to the boy," he nodded at J.D.
Chris glared at them both, but said, "Go ahead. We're listenin'"
Conklin pulled up the only other chair in the room and sat across the desk from J.D. He folded his hands in front of him and looked patiently at the young sheriff.
"J.D....Sheriff Dunne," he began, and indicated the stranger, "this man works for the government, do you understand that?"
"The boy ain't stupid," Chris said, irritated by Conklin's tone of voice. "Get to your point."
"Specifically," Conklin continued undaunted, "he works for the United States Army. Now, what I'm about to ask you will be the ultimate test of your patriotism, because I am about to reveal to you secrets known only to the highest officials in our great nation."
J.D. looked at Chris to see if this was bullshit or not. He couldn't tell from the look on Chris's face. He didn't even know why he expected to.
"Go on," he said.
"What you saw... was something our Army is hard at work on. A new tactical weapon that will prove invaluable to the defense of our country. It was an experimental flying machine. Specifically, a balloon."
"No, it wasn't," J.D. said.
Conklin looked taken aback, but only momentarily. The stranger leaned forward with his hands on J.D.'s desk until he was almost nose-to-nose with J.D. "What do you know, kid? Have you ever seen a balloon?"
"It wasn't a balloon."
Conklin grinned smugly. "We've already spoken to Mrs. Travis. She's far more reasonable than you are, and she has been convinced to discredit you with the truth."
"It's not the truth. It wasn't a balloon, and if it's so damned secret, why did you go and tell Mrs.Travis to put it in the newspaper?"
Conklin and the stranger exchanged uncomfortable glances, but the stranger got even closer to J.D.'s face. "It was a balloon. It will always be a balloon. And you will keep quiet about it, one way or another. Do I make myself clear?"
Chris pulled the stranger back by his shirt and spun him around. "What's going on here?"
"You figure it out, Larabee."
Chris and the stranger stared at each other for almost a full minute.
Finally, Chris grabbed a stack of papers from J.D.'s desk and said, "The man is right, J.D. You need to stop this nonsense. He tossed the papers into a wood stove that was used to heat the jail in winter, and then tossed a match in after them. He looked at Conklin and the stranger. "I'll see to it he doesn't say any more."
Conklin and the stranger looked on with satisfied smirks on their faces.
J.D. thought it would not be a good idea to point out to them that Chris had just burned a stack of outdated wanted posters.
"I don't want to have to come back here," the man in black told Mary Travis, and it was more of a threat than a statement.
"Don't worry. I'll see that he's made a laughingstock if he doesn't shut up," she assured him.
"What about Tanner?"
"He doesn't remember enough to be dangerous, I'm sure of that," Conklin said. "They usually don't."
"See to it that he never does," the stranger said. "We've got a job to do, and our work is only beginning."
"That job would be much easier if the extraterrestrials would cooperate occasionally," Mary said.
The man in black frowned. "Extra what?"
Mary looked annoyed. "Extraterrestrials. It's the new term for them."
The man in black looked annoyed that no one had briefed him on this.
Mary added, "They can start by staying where they belong."
The stranger looked at her and laughed sarcastically. "They belong wherever they want to belong. We can't stop them. They just don't know that yet. With luck, they never will."
# # #
Conklin had seen the stranger off on the evening stage, and when he was walking home, Chris Larabee seized the opportunity to speak to him alone. More specifically, he dragged him into an alley where no one would see if he decided to beat the hell out of him.
"I want you to tell me one thing," Chris told him, "and I will never bring this up again. You know me, my reputation. If I say I won't talk, I won't talk. If I say the kid won't talk, he won't talk, but I want you to answer one question for me, and if you don't tell me what I want to know, I might just kill you, understand?"
"And I'll know if you lie to me. I don't like liars."
Conklin swallowed. "What is your question, Mr. Larabee?"
"What the kid saw, it wasn't a balloon or anything to do with the Army, was it?"
Conklin looked him in the eye. "No."
"Was it... what Ezra said?"
Conklin's expression was unrevealing. "What if I said it was? What would you propose we do about it?"
Chris thought that over and came to a conclusion he didn't like. "We can't fight them and win, can we?"
"Not now. But maybe someday... I am only telling you this because you are a man with secrets Larabee. People with secrets are good at keeping them. But the boy... do you understand why we can't tell him the truth?"
"He knows the truth."
"No, he knows he saw something he didn't understand. He's not the first, and he won't be the last. But I think you can see why this knowledge can't be shared."
Larabee nodded. "Yeah, I think I do."
Conklin stared at him thoughtfully. "You'd be a good man for our line of work, Mr. Larabee. Would you consider joining us?"
"Depends on who 'us' is."
Conklin laughed softly. "You're a leader, Larabee. You've taken upon yourself the responsibility to protect this town, and you take that job seriously. Let me just say that if you worked for us, the stakes involved would be much higher... and the game far more interesting."
Chris stared at him, but Conklin wasn't intimidated.
"I'll think about it," Chris said, finally.
"You do that," Conklin said, and turned to walk away.
Chris called him back. "Hey, Conklin... or whatever your name really is... "
Conklin turned around.
"They're for real, aren't they?" Chris said.
"And they're really here?"
Conklin smoothed the brim on his hat. "Mr. Larabee, they will be here for a very, very long time."
"So, what are you going to do, J.D.?" Buck asked his young friend.
J.D. shrugged. "I guess I won't say any more about it. Chris thinks I shouldn't, and besides, what's the point? No one believes me, not even Vin, and he was there."
He tapped the sheaf of papers on his desk into a neat little pile. All of his drawings and the notes about everything he could remember. "I ain't gettin' rid of these though. Maybe someday, someone won't think I'm crazy."
He gave Buck an accusing look, because he knew the best friend he had didn't believe him, either, but it just rolled past Buck, who asked, "I hope you don't plan to carry it around in your shirt with you forever."
J.D. shook his head. "No. I'll just stick it in the file cabinet with the rest of the paper work, just like any other routine report. Nobody will ever think to look for it there."
Buck nodded his agreement and pulled open the file cabinet.
"What're you gonna file it under?"
J.D. shrugged. "I dunno. I guess under X for existerratorials, or whatever Ezra called them."
Buck thumbed through the alphabetized folders. "There ain't no 'X' file," he commented.
J.D. grabbed a pencil and scribbled a great big X on his folder before tossing it into the back of drawer. "There is now."
Debbi K. (Nice comments welcome)
NOTES on the characters in this story:
The characters of "Mary Travis" on The Magnificent Seven and "Marita Covarrubias," a covert character on the fourth, fifth and sixth season of The X-Files, are both played by actress Laurie Holden. Mary/Marita... a coincidence? That's what they want us to believe.
"Mr. Conklin" is one of the recurring townsfolk on The Magnificent Seven (the guy who tried to get J.D. to let Stewart James' nephew out of jail in One Day Out West), and he is played by Jerry Hardin, who played Mulder's informant "Deep Throat" in the first season of The X-Files. The mild-mannered Mr. Conklin and the elusive Deep Throat seemingly have nothing in common, but what good is a conspiracy if it's obvious? We are not fooled.
"Alex" happens to be the first name of "Krycek" (aka Rat-boy), the guy we love to hate on The X-Files. Is it the same "Alex" as in this story? We know, but we can't tell.
"John Loengard" was the leading "man in black" on the series Dark Skies. He was played by Eric Close, who also plays "Vin Tanner" on The Magnificent Seven. Vin and John have a strong family resemblence.
And let's not forget that Dale Midkiff, who plays Buck Wilmington on The Magnificent Seven, also plays Darien Lambert, a character who can move through time, on Time Trax... but, that's a whole other story.
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