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The X-Files: I Want to Believe
The day had been so overcast, Monica Bannan barely noticed dusk settling in, the last cold light of day doing its best to hold on to the somber colors of winter, and failing. Skeletal trees and occasional farm buildings were black shapes against a darkening sky, but Monica found them comforting, soothing, not forbidding, much less foreboding. Only when her car's headlights came on automatically did she realize that darkness was upon her.
The heater purred and she was almost too warm in the hooded sweatshirt, down vest, and sweats. Her curly blonde hair, however, combed back, damp (from her swim on the way home from work), would freeze out in that chill wind. But it would be only a few steps from her carport to her warm house. She could risk it.
With no makeup on, and her prominent nose, Monica looked almost plain, though she really was quite attractive—in her youth she had even done some fashion modeling. Now, approaching thirty, she was one of that army of professional women who worked for the government in nearby Washington, D.C.
She'd had a typically long, not particularly memorable day, and looked forward to a quiet evening in front of her TV with the fireplace going behind her and Ranger, her German shepherd-ish mutt, curled up beside her on the couch, big head in her lap.
The little housing development loomed ahead, dark boxy shapes in the descending night. The snow had stopped mid-afternoon but the roads were still slick enough, with patches of black ice, for her to take the turn into the settlement of small houses with extra caution.
Soon, however, without incident, she was pulling into the driveway and up into the carport beside her single-story clapboard house, its lights mostly off. Had her eyes been on her rearview mirror, she would have seen the bulky figure passing behind her, blushed red in her brake lights, ever so briefly.
But she did not.
She switched off the ignition, her medical ID bracelet swinging to strike the dashboard lightly, and she was about to go in—her things in the trunk could wait—when she heard Ranger going nuts in there.
By all rights she should have kept the animal outside—hadn't she gone to the trouble of putting in a doghouse in back? But with this cold, this awful goddamn arctic cold, how could she do such a thing to the only male in her life right now?
So Ranger was in there, yapping his head off, but it took a moment for her to realize that this was not a display of welcome-home affection, rather a vicious growl-tinged round of barking of a sort usually reserved only for cats and squirrels.
Monica opened her car door and stepped out, yelling, "Ranger! Be a good boy! Settle down in there! It's just me . . ."
But she had not even started toward the nearby house when she saw something that contradicted her: footsteps in the snow.
Monica froze in place, almost literally, her damp hair already stiffening despite the hood; she was still under the roof of the carport, if barely, her mind working to overcome the fear rushing through her bloodstream.
If Ranger was barking, these footprints were fresh . . .
She took a step back, Ranger's frantic muffled barking still in her ears, her eyes searching the back wall near where she stood, where an array of gardening tools nestled, waiting for better weather. Perhaps one of these could provide the weapon she needed to help her make that short, endless trip to the house; she had a gun in there, after all.
That was when the figure in heavy winter gear, thermal jacket bulging like steroid-enhanced muscles, appeared before her, breath pluming, the big man's face barely visible in the near darkness, though she somehow made out rugged angles and light-color eyes colder than the wind.
He saw her.
He moved toward her.
He reached for her.
She grabbed up the gardening tool with its soil-ripping attachment and, as if she were carving her way through dense jungle, drew it back and came down with it, swinging it, slashing.
His gloved hands came up, reflexively, but the sharp prongs caught a wrist, tearing flesh, and leaving red jagged trails across one cheek as well.
Ranger's barking seemed to pick up as Monica spent half a second marking her path to the house, but the next half second took that possibility away, as another intruder stepped out of the dark to block her.
This second big bulky figure in winter gear had long, dark, greasy hair and an angular, unforgiving face from which breath emerged like smoke.
Rasputin, she thought.
The gardening tool, with its long handle, was too big and awkward to run with—a part of her brain chastised herself for not grabbing something smaller—and she could do nothing else except toss the thing toward the first intruder. The second one had his hands on her, grasping at her, but she was already running, taking off toward the woods way at the rear of the row of houses.
Once in the trees she could circle around and get help from a neighbor; but first she needed to get away from these hulking attackers, put some space between her and them . . .
She was in good shape, and she was slender and lithely muscular and she could make it. She could make it.
Only they were as fast as they were big, and she could hear their footsteps behind her, crunching snow and ice and the twigs and leaves beneath, and their heavy but not labored breathing made a disturbing percussive counterpoint to her own fear-tinged, quicker intakes of breath, cold steam streaming from her lips.
Words from the Frost poem tumbled in her brain in a refrain of quiet hysteria: Woods are lovely dark and deep . . . miles to go . . . promises to keep . . .
And they were on her.The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Copyright © by Max Collins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.