Songs of the Dead
Category: Scully angst, X-file
Timeline: post Emily
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were. They belong to CC and company
Beta thanks to Keleka--the best!
Note: this is different for me and this Scully is different too.
I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me...but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world.
--Lester Burnham, American Beauty
Sometimes I see them standing next to me. The dead. They'll watch as I perform their autopsies, occasionally making comments or leaning over my shoulder to ask a question about what I'm doing. Bland curiosity seems to be what they display most. I've never sensed regret in them, only a feeling of acceptance. If ghosts are those who won't acknowledge their own deaths, I've never seen one.
I can't say exactly when they began appearing. Certainly during residency, when I was performing several in a night at the County Coroner's office. No shortage of bodies in a sad place such as that.
Many were victims of foul play, the violence committed on them so severe as to steal the life from them. Stabbings, gunshot wounds, throttling, falls from six story buildings were common fare. Confirming their cause of death was a swift process.
More often than not, the body would belong to a homeless man or solitary senior. They'd be found by police or a wary landlord and brought in. Death from exposure, or malnutrition was not uncommon to see. Suicide was another unfortunate, but frequent, presentation.
Occasionally a death from unknown causes would grace my table and invariably that cause would be drugs or other toxins. Nothing overtly nefarious was ever discovered. Murder of another by deliberate poisoning happened only in novels or TV shows it seemed.
At first I thought the sightings were caused by a lack of sleep, poor eating habits and profound fatigue. The first few times I only caught glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye. A sudden, shadowy movement at my periphery would make me turn, only to find the room as empty as before.
I tried to ignore the shadows, but they came anyway. Near the end of my tenure, I saw them a little more clearly, recognized them as those on the table underneath my precise hands.
My ingrained scientific training balked at the idea that the dead would stay around to see themselves neatly dissected. I thought it must be a trick of my mind to cope with the misery I saw everyday and I certainly couldn't tell anyone about them. After a time I simply ignored them and went about my business as if they weren't there.
It's wasn't until the Academy that they stuck around long enough to have a conversation. In between training, I helped conduct autopsies on cases from all over the United States. I was never alone during those post mortem examinations, so my dead had no chance to jockey for a position at the crowded table that held their bodies.
One night I was called to perform an autopsy on a body suspected to be a victim of the Breeze Mountain serial killer. I got there before any of the others and drew the shroud away from the body. It was a young female between 18 and 22 with dark brown hair, blue eyes, and freckles; the very M.O. of this particular killer. Without warning she was standing next to me.
"Is that what I look like when I'm dead?" she asked softly. She looked so much younger and prettier than the cold body on the table.
I startled, surprised that she has spoken. Could she hear me if I answered?
"Yes," I said taking the chance.
"Weird," she said with bland fascination.
Just then, a few students showed up and she vanished. It happened twice more and always when I was alone. I desperately wanted to speak with someone about it, but anyone listening to the story could think I was schizophrenic and rightly so. 'Normal' people just did not see or hear the dead.
I had just about given up the hope of seriously discussing it when Dr. Allen gave a lecture. He was an older professor rumored to have been at the Academy since the first bricks were laid. Highly respected, he spent most of his time doing research and only occasionally deigned to leave his laboratory and give a talk. He'd stopped doing autopsies some twenty years previously.
He was the prototype for the absent-minded professor: brilliant, fascinating and endlessly disorganized. When I'd sought him out after the lecture, I thought I'd gone to a storage room by mistake.
His lab was a riot of biological specimens in jars, boxes, and glass cases. Papers seemed to be shoved into every nook and cranny. Tall wooden bookshelves held a variety of odious chemicals in brown jars. Ancient lime green cabinets held other nefarious secrets.
As I made my way across the room, dodging igneous rocks and other paraphernalia strewn across the floor, my sensory-overloaded eyes searched in vane for the errant professor.
"Dr. Allen?" I called.
I saw movement to my left behind a bookshelf. Working my way over, I finally saw his silver-brown mane of hair and thick mustache. He looked up from his desk as I came around the corner and peered at me through his coke-bottle glasses.
"Can I help you?" he asked in voice that said he was surprised anyone had come to see him. I thought he probably had few visitors.
"I'm Dana Scully, one of the pathologists."
"Ah, yes Dr. Scully I saw you at my lecture," he said squinting. "Can't miss that lovely red hair."
I had the distinct impression that was probably all he could see from the podium.
"Please sit," he said indicating a chair piled with journals next to the desk. He hastily set them on the floor. "What brings you to this neck of the facility?"
"I was curious about you last lecture. The one about spectrometry."
We discussed spectrometry at length, but that wasn't why I was there. He'd mentioned the dead speaking during the same lecture and I was intrigued. At first I'd thought he'd meant it metaphorically, but then he'd said his 'dead' had spoken to him all the time whether he found the cause of death or not. It wasn't much and certainly not enough to think he'd experienced the same phenomena that I had, but I hoped he was a kindred spirit.
When we'd exhausted the subject an uncomfortable silence fell between us.
"Is that all?" he asked as he if expected more.
"Yes," I said, deciding against discussing my dead. I rose from my chair and started for the door
Before I left he casually asked, "Have they sung to you yet?"
"What?" I asked, turning.
"The dead. I know you can see them, but have they sung to you yet?"
I walked back toward him feeling apprehensive. The singing dead? It sounded like a bad joke. "What makes you think they appear to me?"
"I can always tell. One of you will come in here and ask too many questions about a boring subject. I always say something about the dead talking when I give that lecture just in case one of you is present."
I ruminated over what he said and came to a decision. "No, they've never sung to me," I said, quietly.
"But you see them?"
"Have they spoken to you?"
"It means you're paying attention. They're there to remind you that you can't divorce your feelings from what you're doing, to remind you of your own humanity."
"Isn't it better to distance yourself from the process?" I asked, feeling defensive.
"Yes, but not removed. They were people once, not just inert material to be picked apart. It's good to remember that."
"What do I do about it?"
"There's nothing to do. Consider yourself fortunate."
I give him a half smile. "Fortunate."
"Yes." His smile was radiant and I knew he meant it. Maybe he was right. "I want to show you something."
He opened a drawer and pulled a small, leather-bound case from it. Inside, nestled in the red velvet lining was a scalpel with a gold handle. It looked old, like an instrument used in antiquated days.
"I was given this by my mentor in medical school," he said, lifting it out of the case. "He said he wanted me to remember the dead and that every time I used it, I'd be reminded of that."
Reaching across, he handed it to me to admire. It was beautiful and strangely elegant in a sterile way.
"Of course, that was long before disposable blades and electric scalpels."
"Did it work?"
"Thank you, Dr. Allen." I handed the scalpel back, and rose to leave.
Just before I passed through his door, he called to me, "Remember to come back and see me when they start singing."
Years went by and I continued to see the dead now and again. Later I joined Mulder in the basement and began my long journey with him on the X-files. After that the dead appeared to me less and less. I believed it was because I became even more skeptical, less tolerant of new ideas. That was my purpose, after all, to be Mulder's conspiracy foil.
I never told him about the dead either, even when we investigated a case directly related to them. By then, I'd wanted to believe it all had a simple, scientific explanation.
All that changed with the appearance of Emily.
Emily's life and death shook my world to its foundations. The concept of being a mother was so foreign an idea, that I found it incredulous to become an instant one. One day I was an infertile agent and the next I had a five year old coloring pictures of butterflies next to me.
I hadn't known about her, but once I did, I wanted her with a fierceness I've rarely shown. It took single-minded determination to survive medical school and the Academy. I used that same resolve to fight first for Emily's custody and later for her life.
As she deteriorated, my resolve wavered and finally crumbled. Mulder had been right. She was never meant to be. She died in my arms with my cross around her ruined neck.
I walked with the orderly down to the hospital morgue to deliver her body there. It's unusual for a family member to do so, but they allowed it in deference to my standing as a physician. I didn't plan to stay long.
Emily's lifeless little body was shrouded in a white sheet, her skin nearly as pale. The stainless steel drawer he laid her on was hard and cold for such a tiny girl.
"May I have a moment?" I asked the attendant.
He hesitated, but finally nodded his assent.
As the door closed behind him, Emily's image appeared next to me. I hadn't seen one of my dead in some time and this presence made the shock even more profound. She's just an image in my mind, I told myself.
"No one knows why I died, "she said matter-of-factly. She observed her own body with a blank face.
"But you want to know don't you?"
"I may be able to prevent them from doing this to other children."
Her voice was flat and absolutely sure. She was right and I didn't want her to be.
"I have to try," I said as my voice cracked and tears threatened.
"I know. So does he."
Yes, Mulder understood. I'm grateful he understood so well.
"Don't be sad," she implored, "Why don't you sing with me? Remember? We sang Frere Jacque before."
She began the song in her soft child's voice, see-sawing up and down the scale with heartbreaking sweetness. As she sang a terrible ache began in my chest and snaked its way throughout my body. Pain, sharp, ruthless and inevitable, spread like cancer.
I started to cry as the pain changed to a haunting mourning. I cried for all that never was, and will never be. Emily was gone and she was never coming back. Touched by others but never held.
Leaning forward onto the steel table for support, I closed my eyes and let the sound of her voice serenade the tears flowing down my cheeks. When the song ended, she disappeared.
The morgue attendant came back and I left the hospital with a new purpose in mind. I knew exactly where I needed to go and wouldn't stop until I got there.
I arrived early, long before anyone else was even due to be there. I parked in the glow made by a lone light post.
I found him in his office hunched over a desk with files piled high around him. He was humming a wordless tune as he worked, oblivious to the world outside his. Hasn't changed a bit, I thought to myself.
"I've been waiting for you Dr. Scully," he said without turning around.
"I know now," I said with a hard voice. "The dead sing to me too."
He turned but said nothing, apparently waiting for me to continue.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked, feeling hurt and confused.
"You had to find out for yourself."
"Is it only the children who sing?"
"Don't you know the answer?"
He watched me with solemn eyes, waiting patiently as I put the pieces together for myself. I struggled hard to merge the images of Emily as she stood beside me, and lay on the table before me.
"They are innocent."
"Yes, and so is their love. A child's love for you is the purest form there is. Nothing has more power in the universe. The death of a child is its greatest tragedy."
A dawning light filtered through the rigid order of my mind, breaking it apart as I realized what he meant.
"And the singing makes you remember your own childhood; the purity of your own love?"
"At last you know."
I felt the truth of his statement settle like a pleasant weight inside me. It's something I should have known all along, but realized only now.
"Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not-"
"-for of such is the kingdom of God," I finished.
"Now others will sing for you too. Adults as well."
"My father came to me when he died. He didn't...sing. He tried to tell me something, but I never found out what it was."
"Perhaps you weren't meant to. The journey to knowledge is as important as the knowledge itself."
"Still, I wish I knew," I said with a tight longing.
"He'll tell you himself someday."
I smiled as tears formed in my eyes. "Yes."
"Remember that hope never dies, and neither will you."
I was about to ask him something else when a door opened behind me. A young woman with silver-brown hair and a dark suit walked through the door.
When I looked back, Dr. Allen was gone. A cold tendril of fear wrapped itself around my heart.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"I'm Dana Scully. I came here to see Dr. Allen."
"You...you're Dr. Scully?"
I turned to look back at her. "Yes."
"Dr. Allen was my father. He died last week. I came in to finish packing up his things."
A nauseated sensation hit me full in the stomach and I had to sit down. Dead he was dead. I looked around and saw the packing boxes I'd missed before.
"He had cancer, but he died peacefully at home." She stepped closer. "He kept saying he was waiting for you to come back. He made me promise to give you something.
She walked to his desk and brought something out of the drawer.
"He said you'd understand."
She held out a small package wrapped in newspaper. I accepted it, mumbled a thanks and left, my heart pounding fast.
Once inside the car, I tore the newspaper bundle apart with trembling hands. Inside I found a rectangular leather box and the gold scalpel he'd shown me back in school. I pulled the scalpel out of the box and saw a word engraved on it that hadn't been there before.
Full American Beauty quote:
- I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me...but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst...
And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life...
You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure... but don't worry...
You will someday.
---Lester Burnham, American Beauty
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