3/10/17

New X-Files! Mulder and Scully Investigate The Haunted Mansion

Sick of waiting for more new "X-Files"? Me too. What's a girl to do? Write her own episode. Naturally.

Though I've enjoyed celebrating Fan Fiction Friday once a month, I've been less than pleased with my results. (Exception, the first round, which was Star Trek-based and therefore came fairly easy to me.)

This time, I decided to spend some more time on the story instead of treating it like a warm-up exercise.

Also, I recently did an interview with the producer and director of the Haunted Mansion documentary "Foolish Mortals". (Read it at Inside the Magic.) I figured there was no better way to honor the "spirit" of their film than by creating something new.

In the grand tradition of weird one-off, episodes like "The Ghosts Who Stole Christmas", "Triangle" and "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster", I bring you my very own "X-Files" episode...

"Taken For a Ride"  

Photo via DisneyAvenue.com

WHEN HINGES CREAK...


Scully had been to a lot of unexpected places with Mulder, none so ridiculous as this. Over the years, the two had seen tiny towns, big government facilities, carnivals and worst of all, Los Angeles

No, she thought, this is the new winner. No doubt about it.

Scully's flashlight danced across a nearby sign. She read it aloud making sure to keep the two words distinct, “Haunted. Mansion." She spoke with all the sarcasm she could muster and looked up at Mulder from under thick eyelashes. “Just when I think…” she let her words trail off but held her gaze. 

“Come on,” he smiled, walking ahead on the winding, well-manicured path. In the crisp California air, Scully followed him between two diminutive brick towers, past a wrought iron gate, swung wide. 

She turned off her flashlight and took a long deep sigh. “We don’t even need these!” She held her flashlight up in the air. A workman in a hard hat driving a cherry picker very slowly made his way behind Scully. The machine beeped a comical, exaggerated rhythm, as if to help make her point.

Mulder turned to answer her. She silently and emphatically gestured at the workman. She was out of words and analogies for exasperation. All she had left was the ability for incredulous pantomime. He wordlessly indicated she should follow. Scully rolled her eyes, let her head fall backward for just a moment, then trudged forward looking defeated.

A few moments later, they stood at the front door to the picturesque plantation-style house. Mulder broke the silence, “What wrong? Christmas flashbacks?”

“Sure. I’m terrified by all the atmospheric maintenance workers,” she said in full deadpan. Almost as if on queue, the cherry picker started to back up again in the distance. She looked toward the sound and then back to Mulder, “Weren’t we supposed to have an escort?” 

“Escorts? We don’t need no stinking escorts.” He began searching for a way to open the door from the outside. The handle wasn’t working.

“Mulder, They specifically told us to wait…”

“Come on, what’s the matter? Afraid of a little mouse?” He was still preoccupied with the door. 

“You ever get tired of reverse psychology?” Scully took out her phone, ready to dial.

“Not when it works so well.” The door opened on its own. He smiled wide and stepped aside to let her enter first. She put her phone back in her pocket and walked into the darkness. He followed. The door closed slowly and gently behind them.


...IN DOORLESS CHAMBERS...

They walked into a small receiving room. Lamps on the wall and a chandelier above flashed an artificial flicker. Loud organ music floated in through speakers above them. Scully turned her flashlight back on; Mulder promptly swatted it down. “You wanna ruin the magic?”

“Honestly Mulder, this is a very large corporation we’re dealing with here. One of the biggest in the world, in fact. You obviously blew off our corporate liaison. We’re backlogged with actual cases that need our attention and you very likely put us over our travel budget for the month to get here. If you wanted a break, you could’ve said so. You’ve never been one to flash your badge just to get…”

“You always do this,” he said. He seemed the opposite of bothered. His shoulders relaxed.

“Do what?”

“Whistle in the dark. You talk in circles when you’re nervous.”

"Irrelevant," she said. The faux antique wall in front of them began to slide open.  They stepped forward into the center of the next room. Scully looked around for a few moments. The octagonal chamber had colorful striped wallpaper above dark wood wainscoting. Cartoon painted portraits hung on every other wall. Wooden gargoyles holding electric candles, the kind you might see in a window at Christmas, loomed above their heads.

A voice began a pre-recorded spiel. Mulder had to shout so Scully could hear him over the soundtrack. “Our liaison is meeting us at the start of the ride. Your theory about me playing corrupt cop to get in for free is a good one. Just one problem. They called us.”

“This isn’t the start of the ride?”

He stopped. “Come on, didn’t you ever come here when you were a kid? Didn’t you ever dream of riding alone? Get into the spirit of things.” He raised his eyebrows again at the word spirit.

“I grew up in San Diego, remember? It was kind of a drive.”

“You’ve never been here before? I just assumed,” Mulder didn't even try to hide his shock. 

Scully shrugged her shoulders.

“Not even a YouTube video? Nothing?” He smiled. This wasn't the first time he'd pop culture shamed her. When he did, she usually reminded him that the majority of her youth was spent achieving. While everyone else partied in college, she fixated on her graduate work, then her doctorate, then the Academy and ultimately, the FBI. After all that, he'd call her Clarice a couple times, then give up when she ignored him. This time, they skipped the routine.

“It’s just a ride, Mulder.”

“Boy are you in for a treat.” The lights went out, a pre-recorded, high pitched scream permeated the darkness. When the lights came back on, Mulder held a spooky face not an inch from hers. Scully was less than amused. He realized it wasn’t funny anymore and backed away looking sheepish.

Another wall slid open. This one opened into a long hallway. On the left, billowing lace curtains framed tall windows. On the right side of the hallway, a row of portrait paintings lined the wall. Lightning struck periodically, illuminating glow-in-the-dark, sinister overlays of the portraits. One showed an ordinary woman lounging on a chaise transformed into a cat lady. A knight in shining armor was revealed to be a skeleton. 

Mulder stepped aside and extended his arm, showing her the way to go next. She didn’t budge. He acquiesced. “I’ll go first,” he led the way. Speaking aloud to no one in particular, he asked, “Can we get some lights here?”

“You know, I’m not some stoic harpy. I might even make the odd pop culture reference myself from time to time. But yes, Mulder, this does bear a certain similarity to the last haunted house we visited.” She made air quotes when she said the words haunted and house. “I just like to know what I’m walking into, or next to,” Scully looked at the changing portraits on the wall to her right. Their eyes followed her. “Cute,” she said.

Mulder turned back to her, “What’s cute?”

She pointed at the eyes. “You know…” She took a few steps backward, then forward again.

He smiled, “Uh…they’re not supposed to do that.”

“Mulder, if you don’t start treating this like an actual case, I’m walking. Right here, right now.”

“I’m serious. I’ve never seen them do that before.” He walked up to the last portrait on the wall, a medusa. He stood in one place, but swayed back and forth. “Sure enough,” he said aloud as her eyes followed his almost comical motions.

“Well, they’ve probably changed the effects since you were a kid,” Scully said. Mulder looked guilty, then tried to look busy, scanning the wall more intently. “A teenager?” Scully tried to hide a smile by looking down and covering her face with her hand. “When was the last time you visited?”

“Last week. For research,” he admitted. “I didn’t expense it.”

This time, Scully took the lead. She stopped at the end of the hallway in front of two marble busts. She reached up to touch one of them. “So what do these do?”

Mulder looked confused. “These shouldn’t be here. I mean, not like this. They’re supposed to be an optical illusion. A relief.”

Scully turned around while Mulder took pictures with his phone. “Where do we go now? Another secret door?” He stopped taking pictures and turned to his right.

“There should be a space right here. I mean, this is where the ride starts. Right here.” He ran his hands over the wood looking for seams. He even pushed on the wall.

Just as she began to enjoy the experience, she noticed him switching into investigation mode. He turned his flashlight on and aimed it at the busts. He began to search every corner of the room while Scully did the same. “You need to give me some context, Mulder.”

He finally started talking like a grown-up, “The ride has been functioning normally. But every day for the last two weeks, guests have been complaining about changes. Not that complaints aren't standard fare for theme park fans. They don’t always take so well to upgrades. But people were saying some scenes were too violent. Too scary. Children were running out screaming." She raised an eyebrow in his general direction, "More than usual. Guest services reported the complaints, but as far as maintenance and managers could tell, the ride was exactly the same. Until they looked at security footage, where they saw that entire rooms were…"

“Changing?” Scully pushed on a windowpane, testing its strength. It wasn’t going anywhere. She tried, to no avail, to pull up a corner of the carpet as Mulder continued.

“Changes that would’ve taken weeks were manifesting on the ride right in the middle of the day. The company assumed hackers were doing the changes to the footage digitally and the people making the complaints were part of some big prank. They thought maybe someone was trying to pull a Banksy. Making a statement about copyright. If you want to talk about something haunting a company…wait,” he took a soft jog back toward the now-closed sliding door they took to get here. He stopped to orient himself for a minute rubbing his forehead, turning from right to left, then back to right again, “It should be here.”

“What?”

“The chicken exit,” he said as he parted some curtains. Behind them was an average-looking door. Mulder looked triumphant. Scully pushed it open. They aimed their flashlights into the stairwell ahead. 

“Mulder,” she said without being able to tear herself away from the sight.

“Yeah?”

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”


ALL WE HAVE TO DO NOW...

Their flashlights illuminated a stairway full of bizarre trinkets. Small statuettes were haphazardly tied to railings by yarn. Crude markings were drawn on the wall. Small mason jars of unidentifiable liquid sat in neat, organized rows on the concrete floor.

“Scully, what does this look like to you?” he asked as he bent down and picked up a jar filled with red liquid.

“Some form of voodoo...hoodoo maybe? But it doesn’t look…authentic. There’s something off about it. Homespun, almost.” She took the jar from Mulder’s hands, unscrewed it, dipped a finger in and inspected the contents.

“Blood?” he asked.

“Paint,” she offered him a sniff of the jar. “Acrylic.” She put it back down and tried to figure out where to wipe the paint. She settled on the inside of her blazer, then aimed her light at the walls. “Some of these symbols though, they don’t really match. That one’s Egyptian,” she said pointing to an eye. “But this,” she grabbed one of the small statues tied to the stairwell, a black and white skeleton. “This is Mexican, meant to be used on the Day of the Dead. And that,” she pointed to a dimly lit prayer candle at the top of the landing, “…is a Catholic prayer candle you can buy at a grocery store.”

Mulder couldn’t help but briefly glance at the delicate gold crucifix around Scully's neck. He looked away quickly, shining his light high into the stairwell. “Maybe somebody wasn’t getting a long enough lunch hour...decided to skip human resources for another alternative.”

“This is hastily thrown together, but it does make a kind of sense.”

“How?”

“This is death worship, Mulder, from multiple cultures. Some of it ancient, some very contemporary.”

“What are you saying? Somebody watched too much Bergman and wants to play a quick game of chess?”

“Not badly enough to use real blood. I can’t speculate on their aim, but it's ritualistic which suggests a deep emotional motive,” Scully said. “Practitioners of these types of traditions claim to need energy in order to manifest…whatever it is they want. There’s no energy in a cemetery, or so they claim. And there aren’t any modern American temples dedicated to death. At least, not any commonly known. But this? If you believe in that sort of thing...”

Mulder continued her thought for her, “Talk about putting the magic in magic kingdom." 

"Where else do thousands of people a day come to look for death?" Scully walked back through the chicken exit and found herself standing in the hallway again. “Hey Mulder?” she called.

He walked through the door. She was pointing up. “I think we missed something.”

Mulder’s head popped through the curtain. He followed his eye line to where she was pointing. Scrawled on the ceiling were the words “All we have to do now, is take these lies and make them true somehow.”

“I know my Biblical texts, even apocryphal scrolls. But I don't know this,” she continued searching the ceilings.

Mulder smiled again. “You wouldn’t. They're George Michael lyrics.”

“Excuse me?”

Mulder started to sing George Michael's "Freedom". Off key. “I won’t let you down, I will not give you up. Gotta have some faith in the…” he stopped.

Scully’s mouth was hanging open.

“No? Nothing? You know JAWS, but you never listened to the radio? MTV? Come on, Linda Evangelista? Naomi Campbell? It’s a song, Scully!”

A third voice suddenly interrupted. A slender blonde man in a well-pressed Disney uniform came breezing through the now open space at the other end of the hallway. The one that was previously closed.

He sang loud and on key, “I won’t let you down! So please don’t give me up! Cause I would really, really love to stick around. Oh yeah!” The harsh glare of their flashlights was suddenly on him. He shielded his eyes. “Hey! Those aren't consistent with show lighting!”

They lowered their flashlights, but didn't move or speak. The man smiled a big wide smile, "Off, please." They obliged, clicking the lights into instant darkness.

Mulder spoke up, “And you are?”


“Your liaison, silly! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Mulder and Scully looked at each other, conveying a thousand words of surprise and confusion without having to say a single one out loud.

The man cheerfully gestured for them to follow, then whipped around the corner. They lingered for just a moment too long and the man popped his head around the corner, this time sounding a little terse. "Guys?" They followed immediately. His head disappeared again. Scully took the opportunity to gesture to the lyrics on the walls. She held up her paint-stained finger. The shades matched perfectly.  

The role of corporate liaison
goes to Tom Lenk.

TAKE THESE LIES AND MAKE THEM TRUE SOMEHOW

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