ALLSBURG RESIDENCE

GIBSON ISLAND, MARYLAND

SATURDAY, MARCH 7, 2009

1100

In fact, everything vanished. And then it all reappeared in the blink of an eye. They were sitting in the attic of the Allsburg's home, the game between them, with both pieces on the start box.

"Excuse me!" They heard Linda Allsburg's voice call up the stairs. "Agent Mulder, Agent Scully…are you finished? It's been an hour and I need to get the kids to their afternoon activities."

Mulder glanced at Scully. He was fully clothed, and slime-free. Scully was neat as a pin, and nothing seemed to be out of place from the Allsburg's attic. Mulder picked the game up carefully, as if it would explode if he jostled it. "We're coming down," he called.

Scully stood up, and asked, "Mulder…what just happened?"

"I think we played the game, Scully," he said.

"That must have been some kind of…mind trick, or we were drugged, or…"

"Or we played the game." He placed Alan Allsburg's other belongings back in the trunk, and closed the lid. "Let's go."

They approached the stairs, and Mulder pretended not to see Scully's enthusiastic expression. "Mulder, I think I figured something out. Those cards…they were awfully convenient. They gave us exactly what we wanted, in the dream."

Mulder paused close to the bottom of the stairs. "They did, didn't they?"

She looked around cautiously, and once she saw that Mrs. Allsburg was nowhere in sight, she said, "The game doesn't play itself—it gives you everything you want. It lets you control the story, just like you would in a dream."

Mulder grinned. "Yep," he said. "Another X-file solved."

They descended the stairs, and met Linda Allsburg in the front hallway.

"Thanks so much for letting us explore Alan's belongings, Mrs. Allsburg," Mulder said.

"It was no problem," she said with a smile. "I hope you enjoyed yourself. Sometimes, going through those stories of his, you can get caught up in your own little imaginary world."

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other.

"Come back any time," Mrs. Allsburg told them as she opened the door.

As they walked toward their car, Mulder said, "You realize what this means, Scully."

"What?" She asked curiously.

"If the game gives you anything you want, then it could conceivably let you leave as well. And since you never asked to leave…you clearly didn't want to."

"That's unfair," Scully protested. "I was trapped—if I had known I could have escaped if I wanted to…that's not…Mulder," she complained.

Mulder chuckled. "I seem to remember that your first card read 'Relax'…so you wanted to relax. And this is how you relax. With me, chasing monsters."

She folded her arms, and stopped walking.

"And then there was the second card, that read 'a plot', which clearly meant that you wanted some kind of excitement. Then the third card read 'the plot thickens'...Scully, this isn't boding well for your 'I hated this' bit. Then there was the one that read 'unpredictability'."

"And then there was the one that read 'C4' and saved your slimy ass," she countered.

He raised his eyebrows.

She sighed. "Okay, fine," she said, as she started toward the car again. "I liked it. I loved it. I had a great time, and I really secretly enjoy chasing slimy monsters each week and saving your ass. I love not knowing what's coming next and having to jump from space stations to people's porches in the middle of space." She got into the passenger seat, and when Mulder closed the door to the driver's seat and looked over at her, expecting more sarcasm, she said, "Really."

He grinned, and said, "Great! I have a new X-file for us to investigate on Monday. There's a zoo video camera that caught sight of a large hairy beast stealing food from some of the zoo animals, and then escaping. Metro security cameras caught the same thing, escaping into a tunnel seconds before a train came through. It's right here in DC, in our backyard."

Her smile didn't falter. "I can't wait."