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December 23, 2003
The snow was turning pink. Pink was Emma Wellner's favorite color, and the sinking sun had made the world a warm, rosy tint despite the cold. After a full day of sledding, Emma's waterproof pants were not so waterproof anymore. She could feel the cold wetness beginning to seep through to her knees, darker splotches marking the pants where she kneeled too long in the snow. A similar feeling was beginning to make her butt numb. It was almost time to go home.
But she wanted to do one more run. Most of the other kids dragged their saucers and sleds up the hill, leaving one more set of footprints as they trudged up the already pock-marked slope to meet their parents in the parking lot nearby.
The best place in town to go sledding on a snow day was, ironically, at Emma's school. Right by the gym, there was a steep hill that bottomed out into a fairly small field that wasn't really used for anything. Sometimes, during the last weeks of school, Emma's class would eat lunch out in that field because it was too warm inside on a mid-June day. It was lined with trees that provided wonderful cool shade for picnics, as well as creating a barrier to the soccer field beyond. The middle-schoolers played there. It would be another four years before she would be attending that school.
Emma grasped the icy string attached to her saucer through heavily insulated mittens, and began her ascent to the top of the hill. She smushed the red plastic saucer down into the well-packed snow, already feeling round icy chunks beginning to form beneath as evening came on. This last run might be a bumpy ride.
As she was about to push off, she heard a car horn. Behind her, off in the parking lot, was her father waving through the window of their station wagon. He pointed at his wrist, pantomiming that it was time to go.
"One more, Dad!!" she yelled back to him.
He answered with an "okay" sign, then a stern index finger indicating that this was the absolute final trip down the hill.
She pushed off. It started off bumpy, as she'd expected. So many kids sledding in one area walking through established saucer tracks made the slide down unpredictable. She hit a big bump near to the bottom of the hill, and she glided through the air.
She braced herself for the big thump when gravity would pull her back down to the earth, but she felt no hard landing. She continued to skim across the snow, sprays of powder glittering across her cheeks and lips. She kept going and going, until she was travelling through the copse of trees at the very edge of the field. This must be the farthest any kid had gone all day! And darn it, there was no one left to see it!
The saucer spun and slowly came to a stop. Emma now sat in the middle of the adjacent soccer field, admiring the long single track behind her that ran from her schoolyard, through the trees, and ending in her present location. The snow made a creaking noise as she shifted her weight to get up.
No other kids had been here. The snow was a wide, perfectly flat expanse of white. Emma felt like she had found something special. This place was secret, and she'd found it. Nobody else had been here except her today.
As small children do, Emma imagined that she was in a fantasyland for a few moments. This place was all hers. She threw herself back onto the powdery snow as if she were plunging back onto the softest mattress. The thousands of snowflakes beneath her were like feathers, cool and light as she swung her arms up and down. She felt as if she were flying into the darkness above as the sky turned from pink to orange and then the deep purplish blue of twilight.
Small pinpricks of light bled through the darkness to form stars. One star, off to the left became brighter. Emma knew from her Columbus Day lessons a few months back that sailors would use the North Star to guide themselves across the ocean because it was the brightest star in the sky. Emma guessed this must be it.
She remained lying on the ground, swishing her arms and legs through the snow. Then she remembered her father, waiting for her in the parking lot. Sighing heavily, Emma resigned herself to getting up and going home, reluctant to leave her secret place in the snow.
It was really dark now. Emma could barely see the track she had left with her snow saucer, and wondered if what little light there was from the stars was enough to guide her through the trees and up the hill to her waiting father.
A small niggle of worry began to grow inside her, and she stumbled often as her gait became faster. The saucer she dragged behind skipped and bounced on the snow, slowing her down. When she got to the trees, she couldn't see anything beyond the tree trunks. She didn't even see any headlights atop the hill she knew was not far beyond. Where was her father? Now she *was* scared.
"Daddy!" she yelled out toward nothing. "Daddy, come find me! I'm lost!"
She turned back toward the soccer field in panic, and saw the North Star glittering above the horizon. Could the North Star help her find her way?
The thought had barely crossed her mind when the light from what Emma thought was the North Star grew brighter. She blinked at it, thinking that the tears blurring her eyes were just playing tricks on her.
But the light grew, and grew -- brighter and brighter. And then it began to move towards her.
December 26, 2003
"She came back, Scully. She was taken the day before Christmas Eve, and she came back in time to go to midnight mass with her family and open presents beside the tree."
Scully gazed through the kitchen pass-through window into the Wellner's living room where Emma dozed in front of the television, hugging the new Care Bear she'd gotten yesterday morning.
"Mulder, the girl looks fine to me. She's home safe, unharmed and enjoying her Christmas vacation. Whatever happened here is over." Her voice was barely above a whisper, kept low so as not to attract attention from Emma or her parents, who sat nervously just on the other side of the wall.
"But she saw a LIGHT in the sky!" Mulder countered, emphasizing "light" a little too loudly.
Scully shushed him silently and touched his arm. She checked through the window again to see if anyone had become alarmed. No one had moved, but Scully was almost positive she could feel the air becoming electric with tension.
She stood up straight to her full height and pulled him closer to her. Now she was whispering, "We have their statements. The parents told us their story and Emma told us hers. Now we have to take it from here. They can't help us any further."
Mulder's cheeks sucked in, tightening the skin in rebellion against his inner turmoil.
Scully's hand squeezed his arm tighter, a silent response that said, 'I know you're excited, but we should leave.'
He nodded and moved past her to thank the Wellner family, and to leave his card with cell phone number in case they ever wanted to reach him.
"Merry Christmas," Scully said with a polite smile as the Wellners closed the door behind them.
The smell of flavorful wood smoke from chimneys filled the crisp December air. Dried salt pellets crunched beneath the agents' feet on the path as they walked back to their car. The snow from three days ago had not melted yet, and the few icy patches left from inefficient shoveling made Scully glad she was wearing boots with treads on the soles.
"I want to go see this soccer field," Mulder commented to the air. He was watching the sky for clouds. The weather report had called for more snow this weekend.
"What do you expect to find?"
"I don't know yet. Something. Tracks, maybe. Other markings in the snow, or signs of radiation left over on the trees. The usual." He was extremely nonchalant about his statements, almost as if he were trying to play it off as not a big deal.
He inhaled deeply one last time, memorizing the smell of the air before they had to climb into the musty pine-scented car, then turned to finally give his attention to Scully. He raised his eyebrows in question.
"So what is this, just your normal run-of-the mill alien abduction? Is that what you think this is?"
"A minute ago you were dying to pick that little girl's brain for any inkling that it could have been an abduction. Now its 'I don't know?'" She raised her own eyebrows back at him, but hers were more incredulous than questioning.
"Yes, okay? I do think this was an alien abduction, or I hope it is." He leaned his butt on the trunk of the car, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"'I don't know,'" he continued, "because it's extremely random. Nothing else has happened surrounding Emma's disappearance. No sightings have been reported. She is a little girl, and she could have just run away for a night, or she could have hidden out at a friend's house. There are a million possibilities. My big question is, if Mr. Wellner was less than 200 yards away from his daughter that evening, why didn't he see this enormous light or hear his own child's scream?"
"And why," Scully added, following his train of thought, "is Emma completely at peace? She says she doesn't remember any time lapse, but she's not afraid of anything either -- no paranoia like we usually see. Do you find that strange?"
Mulder looked down at her, then back toward the Wellner's front porch, decked with multi-colored lights and a big fresh wreath hanging on the door.
"Yes, I do."
December 26, 2003
There was a bitter wind at the top of the hill next to Edgefield Elementary School. Not a sign of one sledder was out today. Mulder imagined they'd all been instructed to come home, or were playing video games in warm cozy family rooms.
A gust of wind kicked up and Scully hissed through her teeth at the chill. She fumbled in her pockets for gloves and quickly pulled them onto her frozen fingers.
"Come on and jump on my back, little lady! You know, 'I'm the fastest belly-whoppah in the Northern Hemisphere!'" Mulder quoted from an old Frosty the Snowman cartoon.
Scully looked him up and down, judging his capacity as a "belly-whopper."
"I think we have enough daylight left to walk it, cowboy."
They began their descent, taking careful note of the sleigh tracks and footprints. Most of the prints ended at the bottom of the hill clumped in short arcs where children must have jumped up at the end of their rides, to run back up the hill immediately. Past that, the snow was completely flat, interrupted only by a small track left by a rabbit or where icicles had fallen from the tree branches.
They studied the entire field, but only found their own tracks in the snow as they doubled- back to their original spot.
"Do you not notice something here, Scully?"
"Yup," she said, scrutinizing the snow as if she could invoke Emma's trail into existence. Then she blinked against another gust of wind, eyes tearing from the icy air as she looked to Mulder for their next move.
"Let's take a trip over to the soccer field."
Navigating through the trees was easier than they had expected. There were several small trails that cut through the trees for easy access to both fields. Still, there were no signs of footprints.
The sun was close to setting at this hour, and the ground was painted with cool blue shadows and warm pink streaks of sunlight. Upon emerging from the trees they found the soccer field to be a pure, untainted expanse of snow, just as Emma had a few days ago. They remained at the edge, unwilling to destroy the beauty of it.
"Nothing," Mulder stated.
"Wait..." Scully squinted her eyes at the setting sun, the narrow rays extremely harsh and bright right before sinking below the horizon. The edges of the clouds seemed afire with bright pink light. And on the perfect, smooth surface of the snow before them, similar vibrant lines began to glow with just the right angle of the sunlight.
They both gasped.
In the center of the field were small, about four-foot long impressions. The edges of the impressions, the outlines of the holes in the snow, blazed as if they were edged in delicate neon lights. They were the shapes left behind by small children who had made snow angels.
"There were more of them?" Mulder asked.
After a brief moment, her mouth working noiselessly as she counted, Scully answered. "There are twelve of them."
"Magic numbers from the Bible?"
Scully stood silent, staring out at the impossible landscape.
"Twelve apostles, 12,000 from each tribe of Israel, the woman with twelve stars on her crown facing the dragon..." Mulder rattled off factoids, theorizing out loud, excited that this might be some kind of communication from the stars.
"Mulder, please stop," she said, her breath nearly taken away. She only half-listened to her partner, trying desperately to avoid falling into an intellectual discussion over Catholicism while facing a completely inexplicable *natural* anomaly. "It might not be... *that.*"
Mulder inhaled to begin his argument against her, but stopped himself. He watched her staring at the field, the moisture dappling her lashes. It wasn't just the cold that was making her eyes tearful. Perhaps it was the influence of the Christmas season. Perhaps he had gone too far, too quickly for Scully to handle the idea.
He shut his mouth tightly, took her hand and squeezed it in reassurance. She looked up into his eyes, understanding apparent in them.
"You ready to go take a look?" He asked.
She nodded in reply.
They both took the first step together, the slightest crunch breaking the thin icy coating atop the snow and the silence.
And the snow angels disappeared.
"No!" Mulder exclaimed in a desperate raspy whisper.
He let go of Scully's hand and ran toward the center of the field where the impressions had been. The snow kicked up behind him as he crashed through the six inches of powder, completely destroying the unblemished landscape. Scully lagged behind at a slower pace, but followed him nonetheless.
"You saw them, didn't you, Scully?" He turned in place, searching the snow. Then kneeling down, he skimmed his hand over the white surface, hoping to feel what he could not see. His hand became pink and wet from sifting the snow through his fingers too long.
Then a gloved hand touched his arm. He got up in response, facing Scully with a thousand questions in his head. He fought to pin down just one, and finally realized that they all were the same question.
"I don't know," she answered lamely, noticing the mess of footprints they'd left behind them. The moment was lost. "Maybe we were only meant to have a glimpse of it."
Mulder huffed, dissatisfied with that answer. He could, however, not think of a better one himself. He looked around them, then.
"Never thought a soccer field could be so magical." He returned his gaze toward Scully, her face solemn, but alive with the frost making her cheeks a mottled pink. "It is beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yes," she said, "It is."
He leaned in, and brushed her cheek with the backs of his fingers. She smiled at that. It was a radiant smile that seemed to make her face glow. Mulder fancied that she was actually filling herself up with light, just for him. He could see every hair on her head, every faint freckle on her nose, every eyelash.
But it was getting dark. The sun had set the moment they'd walked onto the field. How could he be seeing all this detail? He realized then, that there *was* more light. He saw Scully's eyes move a fraction of a millimeter away from his face, just to his left. His reflection shone in her irises, outlined by a light that glowed behind him.
By the time Mulder turned to see the light, it was all over.
"What was that, Scully?"
She didn't answer right away.
"What was that?" Mulder asked again.
She shook her head, doubtful of her answer before she even said it. "It was what Emma saw. I don't know how else to explain it."
"That's it? But we didn't even... That can't be. There has to be more than this!"
He stood with his hands on his hips, his face turned up to watch the stars come out above. They shone with an extra brilliance since the moon had not risen yet. "What is it that's out there? What was this all about?"
She put her arm around his waist and her head into the little crook between his chest and shoulder. He took one hand off his hip and instead used it to cradle Scully's shoulders.
"Can we just let this one go?" she said in a quiet, but not timid voice.
Mulder expected himself to argue with the decision. He would normally have been determined to come back the next day and see if it would happen again. An encounter such as this, something that could have been an encounter with extra-terrestrials was too good to miss. But he found himself accepting Scully's suggestion. He thought that it was right.
"Yeah," he said, "okay."
They made their way back, stepping in the tracks they had already made in the snow. As they approached the trees they noticed blue, red and white lights flashing at the top of the hill near Edgefield Elementary. The local police had surrounded their car, and were shining floodlights down the hill.
Mulder and Scully had to shield the blinding light as they ran up the slope, curious to find out what had happened. There were way too many police cars for it to be a simple parking violation.
"What seems to be the problem, officer," Mulder asked the nearest man in uniform who held a megaphone in one hand, and reached for his holster with the other. Mulder lifted his hands up in reaction to the officer's movements.
"What are you doing here? We're conducting a search for--" The officer cut his sentence abruptly and grabbed the flashlight, instead of his gun from the holster. He shone it into Mulder's face. "It's you!"
The officer moved the light to Scully's face, causing her to squint. "And it's you, too!"
Mulder looked at Scully, and she looked back at him. He went to pull his ID out of his pocked and began to introduce himself. "I'm agent--"
"Fox Mulder and Dana Scully," the officer finished for him.
"I didn't know we had become celebrities in this town," Mulder quipped.
The officer put down his flashlight. "We were called in to begin a search party for you two last night by an Assistant Director Walter Skinner. When he couldn't reach you on your cell phones or at the motel you had checked into, he sent out a search party."
The space between Mulder's eyebrows contracted as he filtered this information. "But we'd only spoken to him this morning."
"According to A.D. Skinner, you'd spoken to him two days ago. He'd expected you to report in yesterday."
"I don't understand."
"We've been looking for you since Saturday morning, Agent Mulder."
"Wait a minute," Scully interjected. "What's today?"
"Sunday, the 28th."
Scully glanced down at her watch, at the little box that showed the date where the "3" would have been. "Mulder, he's right." It was also 8:12 at night.
The officer left the two agents to go gather up his men. They heard him call out toward the field with his megaphone, "It's all over, boys! We found them!"
After promising the officer that they'd meet him at the police station to fill out some paperwork, Mulder and Scully sat in their car, waiting for it to warm up. They were not surprised that it took some time, nor that they had to brush a few inches of snow off the windshield that wasnÕt there when they had left it. There was snow forecasted for this weekend, after all.
The headlights illuminated the tree branches ahead, the pine scent from the air freshener became stronger as the hot air from the car's heater made it warm.
At length, Mulder asked, "What did we see here, Scully?"
"I don't know Mulder. Maybe a little piece of heaven on earth."
He grasped her hand gently before pulling the car into reverse. "Well, if I was lucky enough to share it with you, then I can accept that explanation."
They drove away from the schoolyard, and headed straight for DC. They didn't stop by the police station, nor did they stop by the Wellners, or their motel. This was one case they both realized they had to leave behind.
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