?

Log in

 
 
23 December 2013 @ 11:50 pm
Gift for: Idella  
Title: Lethe

Author: discordantwords

Rating: PG

Written for idella for the 2013 xf_santa exchange. You said you liked Samantha Mulder, bright colors, empty space and words, so I went with it.

*

"Space, like time, engenders forgetfulness; but it does so by setting us bodily free from our surroundings and giving us back our primitive, unattached state. Yes, it can even, in the twinkling of an eye, make something like a vagabond of the pedant and philistine. Time, we say, is Lethe; but change of air is a similar draught, and, if it works less thoroughly, does so more quickly."
- Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain


*


The walls are white.

She wears white too, like an angel, like a ghost, and drifts through corridors unmolested. They do not look at her as she passes, have not looked at her for years, and she cannot help but feel incorporeal. While she cannot pass though walls she can slip into small spaces and dark places, can nearly make herself invisible.

It is a trick she used long ago, when her parents would argue, harsh voices carrying up the stairs. She could tuck herself behind furniture, into closets, ball herself up so tightly she effectively vanished from the world. And she'd shut her eyes and cover her ears and think about horses, about the thunder of their hooves and wind in their manes.

She has forgotten her parents' names but she thinks of them sometimes, of time-blurred faces and pleading voices. As she ducks behind a supply cart she recalls the scent of her daddy's cigars, the ones he'd retire to the porch to enjoy after she'd gone to bed, sweet smoke drifting in through her bedroom window. She thinks about the press of her mother's warm skin against her cheek, about the record player in the living room, the swish of a red skirt. She presses her own hand against her cheek, tries to hold onto the memory, but it dissipates, same as always. Her palms are cool, slightly clammy.

She cannot remember the song, cannot remember her mother's name. But she remembers the sound of laughter, the red polka dots on her dress, bare toes in thick pile carpet.

The cart she has crouched next to is familiar. She knows it, has seen it before, knows it means they have taken on cargo. The floor beneath her hums and vibrates with the pulse of the engine and she cannot help but wonder how close they have traveled to home while she slept.

Scalpels and drill bits clink together overhead as she rolls onto the bottom shelf of the cart, tucks her knees under her chin, bare toes clenching on stainless steel. There is no carpet in this place, no softness. She has not worn shoes for years.

One of the men with a thousand faces takes the cart, steers roughly down the hall. If he notices her curled there he says nothing, takes no action. They never do.

They glide together down bland halls, everything white, white everywhere, she a silent passenger as they coast through the pressurized doors, past the doctors with their white masks and hard eyes, into the holding room.

She recognizes some of the faces and cannot help but be pleased to see them although she knows the doctors will hurt them. There is Penny, who is comforting and maternal and kind and reminds her in intangible ways of the mother she can barely remember. Betsy, who last time surprised and delighted her by delivering a pitch-perfect rendition of "Amazing Grace" while the others stirred on their gurneys around her.

She had sat on the floor on the other side of the room and listened, knees tucked up under her chin, tears leaking steadily from the corners of her eyes. If anyone had asked her why she cried, she would have been unable to answer.

No one ever asked.

She hopes that Betsy might sing again this time and slips from the bottom of the cart, bare feet stepping lightly across the cool tile. She is graceful, like a dancer, she has forgotten the name of her childhood instructor but she remembers her form, remembers all of her steps, remembers pink slippers and tights. She thinks she once had a brother who called her clumsy.

They have all been drugged and lay docile in a row of wheeled beds, adrift in wires and tubes feeding green liquid.

She goes to Penny first, the woman who is not her mother but could be, should be, might as well be. She sits on the edge of the bed, brushes a strand of hair off of Penny's placid face and watches and waits until Penny's stirs, wakes.

There is recognition in Penny's eyes. "I know you."

She smiles, pleased at the inclusion, at the acknowledgement. Penny has been coming for years. "Hello Penny."

She watches the dreamy confusion bleed away from Penny's face as she came back to herself, sees the awareness and slow dawning horror reach her eyes. She is always the first to remember, the first to orient herself to her surroundings.

"No," Penny says. "Not again."

"I'm sorry," she stands up, steps back, chewing on a fingernail. She hates to see them upset but knows that it must happen. Penny has begun to cry, quiet inoffensive snuffles. She will pull herself together before the others wake, she always does. She is the strong one.

She leaves Penny and moves further down the line, studies the sleeping faces, recites name and birth date and city of residence. She remembers them all, even the ones she has only met once.

One is new to her, pale face with bright hair fanned out around her head. There are dusky dark smudges under her eyes. She moves to the bed, sits, watches the other woman's face. Eyes move restlessly under their lids; she dreams.

Her eyes snap open, vivid blue, alarmed. "No."

"Shh," she says, because she can think of nothing else. She strokes the woman's hair. It is smooth and coppery and she likes the feel of it under her fingers.

"I know you," the woman says, same as Penny, and she wilts a little bit. She has not been remembered at all. It is just another trick of the mind.

She does not know this woman, has never seen her before. Her face is pale and puffy, wrists and ankles bloated; she is a first-timer. It is easy to tell the first-timers, the harvest is only done once and leaves them looking a bit like half-inflated party balloons. She had party balloons at her eighth birthday, crinkly mylar horses and one had come loose from its string and galloped towards the sky.

"Shh," she says again.

The woman struggles up, leans on one bruised elbow, squints at her through bleary eyes. "No, I know you."

The scrutiny makes her uncomfortable and she stands up, moves back. She does not want to know this woman with her sharp face and inquisitive eyes; she wants Betsy and her songs, wants Penny and her warm hugs and comfort.

"Samantha," the woman says, her voice so hesitant that it is almost a question.

She almost asks "Is that your name?" but cannot get the words to pass her lips. She opens her mouth, shuts it, opens it again. Her fingers have gone numb.

She thinks of bright lights, of the thick avocado carpet in the living room, of the leotard she once wore to dance class. She thinks of horses and of board games and meat loaf and briefly, fleetingly, of a fox in the woods.

Samantha, she thinks. Samantha Samantha Samantha.

The walls are white, the floor is white, the dressing gown she wears is white. There were white lights, bright lights, the sense of flight, fear and pain and then emptiness, this strange half-life where she is unacknowledged and unknown. That name, over and over. Samantha.

The woman is watching her, face pinched and tired and she shouldn't be sitting up because she is still weak from the harvest, but--

"Samantha," she says again, sounding more confident. Her eyes are wide. "Where are we? What is this place?"

"We are lost," she murmurs, as the floor beneath them trembles, they begin to move. The gurneys sway gently back and forth, still forms rocking in sleep.

She turns and rushes from the holding room, cold and hot and confused, tears spilling down her face. She does not understand the tears; she is not in pain. Samantha, she thinks.

The man with a thousand faces is at the end of the long hall, by the door with no handle, and she approaches him with her shoulders squared back, cheeks wet. He sees her coming and pauses, waiting to see what she will do.

"Samantha," she says to him.

He tilts his head at her, smiles. "Who told you that?"

His smile is chilling and her newfound courage dissolves beneath her into sand. She turns and darts down the corridor, a frightened doe, willing herself invisible.

*

She does not like to go into the testing room, does not like the doctors, does not like the sounds of tools and screams. The others are asleep when they are wheeled in, but they always wake up. They always wake up.

She waits instead in her compartment, bare white walls and stiff white linen and the odds and ends she has acquired over the years. A lone pearl earring she'd found on a gurney, a spoon, a braided coil of hair.

The walls are thin, and she can hear the faint sounds of distress under the dull throb of the engine. She hums to herself, a tune to a song she cannot remember as she lays on her small bed, curled in a fetal position, nibbling her fingernails. I am lost, she thinks. A white room in the blackest reaches of space, starlight above and starlight below and no place to call home.

She can remember her own tests, the feel of flesh parting without blood, cold steel beneath her and hot steel above her, the burn of foreign metal between her eyes. They took her other memories but they left her that, the awareness of her own small form, trembling like a frightened rabbit on cold steel, the thud of her heart against her ribs, the hot sick wave of terror when they first began their work.

I had a name, she thinks, and sits up. I have not always been here. I was not born in this place.

She leaves the confined space of her quarters and pads down the hall to the holding room. The tests have stopped and the others are brought back in one by one, gray and gasping and moaning.

Penny is the first to drag herself off of the gurney and move to comfort the crying. She is always the first, always puts her own suffering aside.

She wishes that there had been someone like Penny to hold her after it was over, to stroke her face and whisper that it would be all right. She wants her mother, wants her father. She wants her name.

Penny is sitting with the newcomer, who is waking stunned and frightened and bewildered, thrashing and flailing on the gurney. She joins them, reaches out and touches Penny's face. The other woman's skin is warm and flushed under her palm.

"I wish you would stay," she murmurs.

Penny looks at her with such sympathy. There is always sympathy, never anger, although she is as much a part of this place as the doctors and their tools. "No one should stay here."

"You're my favorite," she says.

Her mother used to wear pretty dresses and bake pies and dance in the living room. She would be older than Penny is now but in the absence of anything else to cling to she wears Penny's face.

Penny smiles at her, turns away.

The woman on the gurney moans softly in distress. Blue eyes blink up at the white ceiling, hands grasp at the thin white blanket. She is not in any shape to impart wisdom, is not likely to remember her own name let alone the name of anyone else.

She recedes, watching them over her shoulder.

*

The next morning she does not eat in her quarters but instead roams the hall nibbling on a slice of raisin bread, picking the raisins out and dropping them on the white floor. She has never liked raisins.

She finds the holding room, goes first to Penny who has fallen into shallow slumber. She goes to Betsy next, although when her eyes flutter open there is no recognition there.

They do not always remember.

She goes then to the first-timer, the woman who has brought the name Samantha with her like some kind of poisoned gift. The woman is awake, aware. She has been restrained, her hands bound to the rails of her bed. Purple bruises mar her wrists. She has fought.

It is not uncommon for the first-timers to fight. She can recall a man, terrible in his rage, overpowering one of the doctors and fleeing into the white corridor. She had watched him with a strange, dull hope as he'd rushed for the door with no handle but he had been eventually brought down, white walls painted with thick ropes of his blood. The next time she saw him, he was docile and drooling.

When they are brought back again and again, regardless of how much they remember, the fight begins to go out of them. Eventually, they accept.

"Where am I?" the woman asks, sitting up as much as her restraints will allow.

She sits on the edge of the gurney, picks at her white dressing gown. "I don't know."

"What's your name?"

She looks up sharply, sees lucidity in those blue eyes, intensity. There is fear there, yes, but it is well hidden. What she does not see, however, is recognition.

She wants to scream, wants to tear at her hair and fall on the floor, wants to curl into a fetal position and shut her eyes until she is turned to dust. Samantha, she wants to scream. Say my name.

"What's yours?" she asks instead.

"Dana," the woman says, but her voice is shaky, hesitant. "Dana," she says again, and this time sounds certain. "Can you untie me?"

She shakes her head, sits on her hands to keep them from creeping towards the restraints. "I'm not allowed."

"I'm an FBI agent, and I'm being held against my will," Dana says, and she doesn't quite know what that means but thinks it might be trouble.

"Are you hungry?" she offers up the piece of half-eaten raisin bread, and Dana shakes her head, looks away.

She drops the uneaten bread on the floor, looks down at her lap. Dana begins to strain against her restraints again. She reaches out a hand, lays it on her arm.

"You said something yesterday," she whispers. "Do you remember?"

Dana meets her eyes, confused. "I don't--"

"What's my name?" tears begin to pool in her eyes and she does not try to wipe them away. "Samantha. You said Samantha. Why'd you say it?"

She watches recognition bloom and it makes her feel sick and happy and horrified all at once.

She wants to grab Dana and shake her, wants to hurl questions at her, wants to climb into her brain and find out what she knows, if she can blow the smoke away from the blurred faces in her mind. Instead she stands there, tears flowing freely, thinking about her mother dancing in the living room.

She opens her mouth to speak and instead makes a strangled sound, clenches her fists, begins to hum. She can hear the song but not the words, can see her mother dancing but not her face, can hear her father's words but not his voice.

"I know that song," Dana says after a moment, watching her with a curious expression. "My parents had that record." She shuts her eyes, concentrates. "It's, um, 'Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again.' Is that what you're humming?"

She still cannot speak so she nods, and now she can hear the words, now she can picture the scene, her mother in a red polka dot dress placing the record on the turntable, her father in his easy chair groaning and laughing and telling her not again, not that damned song again, and her mother has taken his hand and pulled him to his feet and he is complaining but laughing too and he twirls her once, twice, and she stands in the doorway in her nightgown, toes curled into the thick carpet, wanting to join in but feeling somehow separate, not wanting to intrude.

And the record is turning and the needle is scratching out a familiar tune and it is as if her ears have been cleared and she can hear the words, they come blaring out with a clarity that is wholly unexpected and wonderful and--


Here comes that rainy day feeling again
And soon my tears they will be falling like rain
It always seems to be a Monday
Left over memories of Sunday always spent with you
Before the clouds appeared and took away my sunshine



And there is someone behind her and she turns, sees her brother, and he is making a face and she wants to yell at him not to spoil it, he always spoils it, can't he see that they are happy and then instead of doing something stupid or mean he grabs her hand and twirls her around the way their father just did and she giggles and is then shrieking with glee and then the doorbell rings and she looks at the clock because it is late, after dinner, much too late for guests and her mother takes the needle off of the record and says "Bill" and her father shakes his head and says "I have to" and he opens the door and the stink of cigarette smoke wafts in and her mother is no longer smiling and she says "Go to bed" and she does not want to go to bed, she wants them to slam the door on the man on the porch and go back to dancing, because they don't smile much these days and it was nice it was wonderful it was warm but the door is open and it lets the cold air in--

"Samantha," Dana says, and she lifts her head.

"My name is Samantha," she says. "I have a mother and a father and a brother. I want to go home."

"Untie me," Dana tugs against the restraints, her voice insistent, hovering on the barest edge of panic. "I'll help you get out of here. We've been--" she shakes her head, smiles, and she can see that her eyes are damp. "Your brother has been looking for you for a long time."

"He didn't forget me?" she feels rooted to the ground, sluggish and dumb and stunned.

"No," Dana says, and shakes her head. "He didn't forget you."

She acts before she has decided on a course of action, her cold fingers slipping on the leather restraints, tugging at the buckles, freeing Dana's trapped limbs.

"Come," she says, and tugs Dana's hand.

They go together out of the room and into the white corridor, and Dana is moving slowly, she is in pain but soldiering on, all gritted teeth and fisted hands.

"Be invisible," she says, but she can see already that Dana does not know how to do that, does not know how to skirt around in the background. She is not graceful, she is grim, she is purposeful, she is stumbling and she is going to get them caught.

They move together down the long corridor, towards the door with no handle, Dana on unsteady feet, gray-faced and grimacing and looking young and old and tough and fragile all at once.

"There has to be a way out of here," Dana says as they reach the door with no handle, the end of the line, the farthest she has ever gone.

"Stop," she says, suddenly panicked, as Dana reaches out for the door. She does not feel the engine vibrations beneath her feet any longer, can only imagine the blackness of space beckoning, ready to pry the breath from her throat and the life from her body.

"We are adrift," she says.

Dana shakes her head, a stubborn, frustrated jerk of the head that seems a holdover from her childhood. "No. I don't b--" she shakes her head again. "Those were men."

"Not all of them," she says. She can tell the man with a thousand faces apart, regardless of who he wears. She wonders what he would do if she asked to see her mother, her father. Would he oblige? Distort himself into a visage that held some long-buried meaning for her?

She starts to hum, her nervous habit coming back in full force, self-soothing with the song that makes her think of warmth and smiling faces and the family she no longer belongs to.

"Shh," Dana says gently, moving past her, still trying for the door with no handle.

"No," she says, but it is a weak protest.

"There has to be--" Dana is concentrating, moving her hands over the door, frowning and trembling with the exhaustion of being on her feet after all her body has been put through. A rivulet of blood leaks from her nose.

"We'll die," she says, and shuts her eyes.

There is a click, a hiss, and a gasp of warm air through the door. She turns her face towards it in surprise. She had always thought it would be cold.

"Yes," Dana says, little more than a breath of air through her teeth.

"How many years?" she asks, as Dana pauses to wipe her brow. She is gray sweaty and wavering and seems seconds from collapse.

Dana meets her eyes, "It's 1994."

She does the math. I'm almost thirty, she thinks, but is not sure what that means. She has never had a mirror. The face she remembers, the face she assigns herself, is the face of a child.

"You look--" Dana says, but her voice is weakening, fading. "You look like him."

"Don't go," she says.

"You're coming with me," Dana says, pushing herself off of the wall.

Someone grabs the back of her neck, icy cold, thumb pressing uncomfortably into the base of her skull. She cannot contain her frightened squeal as the man with a thousand faces casts her aside like a piece of litter. He moves for Dana, who is barely able to stand let alone resist, but resist she does, bare feet shrieking against the tiles as he drags her off. She is fighting, giving them hell, but he is strong, so strong.

She watches them go, heart sinking, and realizes that she always knew she was never going home.

"They'll bring you back," she calls, meaning her words as a comfort but finding them barbed. "They always bring you home."

Dana is still fighting, her hair mussed, wild with rage. Their eyes lock, just for a moment. "We will find you."

She almost believes her.

She watches as Dana is dragged through the doors into the holding room, knows she will be drugged and purged and left drooling and drooping until they are done with her. They will wipe Dana's memory, she knows, and she will be wiped along with it. She will be nameless, faceless, as incorporeal as smoke. Just another ghost.

She turns back towards the door, which bumps gently in its frame.

My name was Samantha, she thinks. I had a name. I was not always a part of this place.

With a quick determined gasp she shuts her eyes, sweeps the door open and flings herself through, preparing to be sucked into an endless void, prepares for cold, prepares for heat, prepares for the end.

Her feet hit ground and her teeth click together hard, she stumbles and goes down onto both knees. Her fingers scrabble in sandy earth and she forces herself to her feet, squinting and blinking in the glare of the sun.

She takes one step, two, stumbling and hesitant and stunned. It makes no sense, what she sees. Vessel after vessel, boxy and dirty, parked like hibernating monsters on metal rails. Something tickles in her brain and she thinks of toy store windows, of Christmas trees and trains circling endlessly, the toot of the horn.

She has not been spiraling through the galaxy. She has been earthbound.

Home, she thinks, and takes another halting step. The air is warm and her chilled skin prickles at sunlight's unfamiliar caress.

She feels him behind her and tries to run, tries to make herself invisible, to become one with the shadows. But he is fast and she is sluggish and he seizes her arm, whirls her around so she is looking up at his angular face, the one he most prefers to wear.

"You'll be punished for that stunt," he says.

She trembles in his arms. Now that she has tasted life, her desire for its opposite has fled. "Please."

"Your protector is an old man," he says, his face rippling into a smile. "When he is gone there will be no one left to care whether you live or die."

"Someone cares," she says, jutting her chin out.

He keeps on smiling, not a cruel smile, but the kind that one reserves for a pet that has done something unexpected and not entirely welcome. He looks at her with an interest that has been absent for years.

"She'll be dead in a week," he says, and keeps on smiling at her. "Not everyone gets to come back."

"No," she shakes her head, but there is no fighting that smile. "She's coming back for me. I have a brother--"

He takes her arm, steers her back towards the train they have exited. She cringes as he pulls her through the door, back into all that white.

For a moment he grips her shoulders, lowers his head so it is mere inches from her face. His breath ruffles her hair. "No one is coming."

He releases her, pulls the door closed. The sunlight vanishes and she is left blinking and stumbling yet again.

"No one is coming," he repeats, and turns away.

She stands by the door, waiting to see if he'll look back. He does not so much as twitch in her direction, she has lost whatever small interest she had awakened in him. She wonders why he does not call her away from the door and then realizes it is because he already knows she will not attempt escape again.

Samantha, she thinks, and sinks to the floor, drawing her knees up under her chin. She has a song in her head and a name in her heart, but the world is blurry, all fuzzy edges and ill-fitting pieces. She realizes that she did not ask Dana for her brother's name.


*

Coda


It is a sunny Thursday afternoon, the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Mulder is behind the wheel, slowing to stop at a red light. He is still chewing on the straw he saved before discarding his soda cup, still smirking and muttering and mulling over the details of their lunchtime debate. In the passenger seat, Scully looks out at the passing people, absently hums a little tune under her breath.

She stops when she sees he is looking at her, his face inscrutable in the slanting sunlight.

"What?" she asks.

"That was my mother's favorite song," he says.

For a moment there is something, white lights, the whir of a blade, a glimpse of a pale face framed by dark hair.

"Scully?" he asks.

She starts, looks back at him, touches the bridge of her nose.

"You okay?"

She takes stock of herself, nods. "Yeah. Just déjà vu."

"You know, there are some who believe that déjà vu is proof of reincarnation." He shoots her a sly look, taps his hands on the wheel.

She turns to look at him, shakes her head, smiles.

"Back in the eighties, a Swiss scientist named Arthur Funkhouser proposed the theory that precognitive dreams are actually the source of déjà vu. You experience the feeling of having seen something before because you have seen it before." He taps the steering wheel again for effect. "In your dreams."

"It's just brain chemistry, Mulder," she says, the feeling already fading, replaced with the here and now, the spring sunlight, the pine scented air freshener, the teasing lilt to Mulder's voice. "The brain processes a smell or a sight or a sound and associates it with an existing memory."

"You always go for the boring explanation."

She lets out a little chuff of laughter. "There's nothing remotely supernatural about it."

The light changes. He steps on the gas.


End


*

Song lyrics are from "Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again," by The Fortunes, which was released in 1971 and could conceivably have been played on a turntable in the Mulder family living room.

Merry Christmas! Hope you enjoyed your gift.
 
 
 
Fish: X-F - Cagebadforthefish on January 11th, 2014 10:19 pm (UTC)
This is outstanding stuff. In my head, this is now abduction canon. I loved everything about this.The atmosphere, the wonderful characterizations, the chilling descriptions of the abductees'ordeal. You gave Samantha such a unique voice. I'm in awe.

Edited at 2014-01-11 10:20 pm (UTC)
discordantwordsdiscordantwords on January 15th, 2014 01:55 am (UTC)
Thank you! It always bothered me a bit that the show so quickly dispatched all of the women who were abducted at the same time as Scully-- there was such potential there to mine their shared experiences.