The Train - Friday, 5.55 p.m.
There was a farmer, had a dog...
and Bingo was his name-o.
B-I-N-G-O... B-I-N-G-O... B-I-N-G-O
and Bingo was his name-o.
"That's kind of a dumb name for a farmer, don't you think?" Mulder paused from his singing to ask the question of his stalwart companion whose ear he was playfully scratching. Pretending to receive a response, Mulder stated, "Yeah, I know, I know. That's the dog's name, not the farmer's. Hey, did you hear the one about the farmer with a wooden leg named Smith? He named his other leg Jones. Get it?"
Mulder became aware of the train slowing down. A few minutes later and it came to a complete stop. At last, he thought his rescue was assured. He began banging on the sides of the wall and yelling at the top of his lungs for several minutes. Finally, he stopped and put his ear to the wall, hoping to hear his partner's call in return. Mostly what he heard were train noises, the loud hissing of air brakes, the chugging sounds of nearby trains and warning whistles. It wasn't likely that anyone could hear him over all that racket, so he thought it best to wait until things quieted down a bit. After another moment, he felt the train moving again, but in the opposite direction. It moved slowly for perhaps a few hundred yards, then lurched to a stop.
"I think we're switching over to a different track."
Attempting to decipher the sounds and vibrations of the train, Mulder concluded that the engine was being disconnected from the freight cars. They had perhaps reached their final destination. It wouldn't be much longer, he thought. As soon as some of the external noise died down, he'd make himself heard. Someone was bound to be in the area to load or unload cargo. And of course, he still hadn't given up on Scully making a surprise visit.
"We've got to make some noise, Pooh," he said to his traveling companion after a half hour of anxious waiting. "We've got to let someone know we're here. Can you bark for me? Speak!" he gave the command, hoping that the dog had been trained to bark on cue. "Come on, Pooh, speak!" From the continued silent treatment he received, Mulder had to assume that the animal had no clue as to what he was saying. He thought then that a demonstration was in order. "Listen, I need you to bark. Like this: Woof woof, arf arf arf!"
In response, Pooh simply cocked his head sideways and stared at him with a furrowed brow, befuddled at the odd sounds emanating from his lips. Mulder sighed in defeat. "You know, you remind me of Scully during her first couple of weeks of working with me. After a while though, she finally got used to hearing weird shit coming out of my mouth."
Seeing that the dog wasn't going to assist him, Mulder considered the best way to make himself heard. He took off his right shoe then began pounding out an SOS with the heel against the side of the wall. He alternated that with an occasion verbal cry for help. Pooh backed away from him, skittish of his sudden strange behavior and all the racket he was keeping up. Mulder kept the clamoring going for a few minutes, then waited to hear a response. Nothing. He checked his watch for the time and felt hopeful that someone would happen by soon.
The Train - Saturday, 2:55 a.m.
Mulder was terribly disappointed in Scully. She was quickly losing her Wonder Woman status with him. Again she had failed to show up and save the day, and no one had responded to his pleas for help. His throat was raw from constant yelling and his right arm sore from pounding on the wall. Off and on for hours, he'd kept it up until he'd seen that it was well past midnight. If there was no one around to hear him during the earlier part of the evening, he seriously doubted that anyone would be within earshot now.
Mulder sat in stony silence, his arms hugging his chest and his head resting against his drawn up knees, trembling from the cold. While the train was in motion, the friction of the wheels on the track had added a certain amount of warmth to the freight car. Now that the train was still, the temperature had dropped considerably. He raised his head and looked out into the blackness at the other end of the car. He could barely make out the eerie glow of the dog's eyes as the dim light from the penlight penetrated the darkness. The animal was lying down several feet away, apparently uncertain about the human opposite him.
"Sorry if I frightened you with the noise," said Mulder softly. "But I'm trying to get us out of here. You don't have to be afraid of me... Then again... if you'd had the sense to be afraid of me in the very beginning, you wouldn't be in this mess. Just leave it to old Fox Mulder. If anyone can endanger your life or get you killed, it's me. Whether it's through personal contact or casual association, Fox Mulder can be your one-way ticket to hell."
Mulder slipped into a momentary state of depression as he silently paused to think of all the people whose lives had been sacrificed or drastically altered because of him and his efforts to uncover the truth or solve a case. Just thinking of half the dangerous situations he had put his partner through was enough to cause self-loathing of his own existence. "I'm like a walking plague. I destroy the lives of practically everyone I come in contact with."
He hung his head dejectedly, primed to wallow in self-pity, but was startled out of it by the unexpected touch of a cold nose against his forehead. He quickly lifted his head and pulled back slightly as Pooh attempted to give him another nudge.
"What? What do you want?" Mulder found himself asking before realizing he wouldn't be getting a response.
The animal stood in front of him and nudged his knee with his muzzle. When his attempt at communication went unheeded, he made a whining sound and lifted his front paw to Mulder's leg.
"I know you want food, you want water, you want to get the hell out of here. Well so do I... Don't worry. It's gonna be okay. We'll get out."
Pooh's nudging became a bit more forceful as he worked his snout between Mulder's knees. Uncertain of the dog's intentions at first, Mulder was reluctant to let it get closer, but after a moment, he finally understood what it was after. He spread his legs apart and welcomed Pooh into a one-armed embrace. Besides the instantaneous warmth the dog provided, Mulder could also feel the tiny tremors going through the animal's body. With the thick coat it wore, Mulder knew that it couldn't possibly be cold. It was undoubtedly scared, but of what was unclear. Perhaps it knew their fate already. Perhaps Pooh could already sense the fact that they were running out of air. Mulder had contemplated that possibility from the beginning but never wanted to dwell on it. If he were as selfish and uncaring as Scully's brother had made him out to be, he would take the dog's collar and pull it tight, snuffing out his competition for the remaining air and buying himself more time.
As Mulder nestled his face against a deep, downy muscular neck and plowed his fingers through the thick, soft undercoat, he felt the trembling ease under his touch. Mulder knew he could never do anything to harm his new friend, even if it meant saving his own life.
Indianapolis Freight Yard - Saturday, 4:22 a.m.
Scully drove up and parked alongside an emergency vehicle and a row of three police cars. As soon as she stepped out, a tall, balding middle-aged man stepped up to greet her.
"Agent Scully?" he inquired. Receiving a tired nod, he introduced himself. "I'm Lt. Devlin. I've had some of my people and about a dozen of the train crew searching through the freight cars. I'm afraid your partner's nowhere to be found."
That wasn't what she wanted to hear. She had been up all night waiting for confirmation as to the train's location. According to the computer shipping records, this was the last possible train Mulder could have been on. All other cars matching the description had already been found and searched. If Mulder wasn't on any of these cars, that meant the search had to start over from the beginning. It could have been that Billy had been mistaken about the type of car he had locked Mulder in. He had been given a lie detector test, so Scully felt sure that he had been honest about what had happened. He didn't have a criminal record and had been the typical boy next door until he had been influenced by a fifteen-year-old vixen who was mature beyond her years.
So if Billy had given the right information, something had to have occurred along the way. Either Mulder had been rescued by someone at some point and no one had reported it yet, or a computer error had sent them chasing after the wrong train. That possibility Scully didn't want to have to think about just yet. She looked to Lt. Devlin and asked, "Could you please have your people search again?"
The detective was about to tell her that their search had been thorough, but after one look in those sad but hopeful, aqua blue eyes and he conceded to her wishes. He knew he'd want his own partner to go that extra mile if it were him. He nodded, and immediately called out to his small army of searchers to take it from the top. This time they'd have one more pair of dedicated eyes working with them.
The Train - 8:22 a.m.
It was getting harder to breathe. The oxygen was just about gone. Mulder lay curled on his right side, gasping for air like a fish out of water. His traveling companion lay nestled close, still providing that much needed warmth, but little else. He hadn't moved in quite some time, leaving Mulder to guess that the animal was unconscious. Scully was really cutting it close again. Why couldn't she ever get to him before he was facing that white light at the end of the tunnel? He'd had near-death experiences before, and as much as he loved discovering life's mysteries, that was one place he didn't like to visit too often.
Suddenly, Pooh raised his head from where it had rested in the crook of Mulder's neck, and began a low growl. Mulder tensed, thinking that the animal had finally been driven mad from the lack of food, water and now oxygen. Mulder covered his head protectively with his uninjured arm as if that would keep the sharp teeth and claws at bay. Pooh barked once softly, as if clearing his throat. He then got to his feet and began using his voice at full volume which Mulder found compatible to having some teenager blasting a boom box in his ear. Pooh moved quickly away from the form lying at his feet and trotted towards the opposite end of the car, his yapping becoming more intense by the minute.
Mulder lifted his head cautiously and stole a glance, still uncertain of what was going on until Pooh silenced himself for a moment. It was barely audible to his ears, but gradually the sound from outside became clearer. "...doggie on the train!" It was a child's voice calling out in response to the dog he or she had heard barking from within the sealed freight car. Mulder opened his mouth, attempting to make his presence known, but found that the lack of sufficient air in his lungs and a raw throat made speech impossible. Oddly enough, Pooh had no problems filling his lungs and expelling a high-decibel howl, which received more attention from outside. "Doggie!" the child spoke loud and clear enough for Mulder to easily pick up, "Daddy, daddy! There's a doggie on the train!"
The voice faded out as the child moved off into the distance, hopefully to bring help. Pooh trotted back over to Mulder and nuzzled his chin almost as if to tell him to hang in there a bit longer, help was on the way. Mulder managed a grateful smile and one last affectionate pat on the head before losing consciousness.
Grady Memorial Hospital - Sunday, 2:34 p.m.
Mulder opened his eyes to a wondrous sight. A big grin stretched across his face as he found his voice. "Just like old times," he spoke in little more than a whisper.
"Yeah, just like old times," Scully replied with a relieved smile. "How do you feel?"
"Lucky." He looked towards the window, not recognizing the view outside. "How far did my train ticket take me?"
"We're in Atlanta."
He raised his brows in surprise. "Land of the free, home of the Braves." He cleared his throat to get a bit more volume, then asked, "Can I get a little water, please?"
There was a pitcher of water nearby and Scully poured some for him and held the glass while he sipped from the straw.
"Thanks," he said, letting her know when he'd had his fill.
"Where's my little buddy? Is he all right?"
"Who are you talking about?"
"You know, the short, four-legged guy with fur."
"Oh, you mean the dog?"
"He's okay, isn't he?" Mulder asked showing marked concern.
Scully sighed in exasperation. "I'm sorry, Mulder, but we lost him."
"Lost him?" Mulder felt his heart sink. He had lived while Pooh had died.
"Yeah, he just ran away."
It took a few seconds for her words to sink in. Pooh wasn't dead. "He ran away?"
"Yeah. Well, at first I had him placed in an animal shelter for safe keeping, but then, A.D. Skinner and I got this idea that perhaps he could lead us to you since he was our only witness at the time. Anyway, we took him back to where we had located your car and at first, he led us to where we had found your coat earlier, then he went straight to the railroad tracks. That's when I realized that you must have been on the train that had been parked there the night before. Then, all of a sudden, Pooh broke free from his leash and he started running down the railroad track almost as if he was chasing after the train. We tried to stop him, but..." Scully noticed the bewildered look on her partner's face. "What?"
"He... he caught up with the train," said Mulder, his brows furrowed in thought. "I didn't think he was there before, but he must have caught up and somehow got inside the car with me."
"He was on the train with me, Scully."
"Mulder, you must have been dreaming."
"No. He was there, Scully. I talked to him, I petted him. He helped keep me warm."
Scully shook her head sympathetically. "I don't know what to tell you Mulder, but there was no dog in that freight car with you. Even if he had been able to catch up to you, there was no way he could have opened the hatch to let himself inside and then lock it again from the outside."
"How did you find him to begin with? Was he still in my car?"
"No. I went to your apartment looking for you and he just showed up. Right at the main entrance, he nearly knocked me over, jumping up on me. Going by your description earlier, I assumed he was the dog you'd found. He had one of your gloves, then I found traces of blood on him and thought that perhaps he had attacked you. It turned out that he had attacked the man who had thrown you into that train car."
"Did you catch the guy?"
"Yes. Billy McWhorter. The kidnapping you stumbled onto was a ruse set up by him and his girlfriend to extort money from her father so they could run off and get married. Mr. McWhorter claimed that he hadn't intended for you to be hurt. He believed that you had caught on to him and he just wanted you out of the way long enough for him to get the money and run. He said he planned to call the police later and inform them of your situation. At any rate, he described the freight car you were in. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error, we were unable to pinpoint your exact location."
"I was wondering what took you so long," Mulder teased lightly. "But, Scully, I swear to you, it wasn't my imagination. The dog was there with me. My dislocated shoulder..." Mulder nodded towards his left arm in a sling, "he helped to reset it."
"The dog reset your shoulder?" Scully questioned dubiously.
"He helped," Mulder emphasized. "We were playing tug of war with my belt and I figured that maybe, if pulled just right, I could get my shoulder to pop back into place."
"Mulder, that was very dangerous. You could have done some serious damage."
"So you believe he was there?"
Mulder tilted his head to one side as he looked at her. "That didn't sound exactly like a, 'No'."
"Actually, the real reason we were able to locate you in time was due to a six-year-old girl whose father works for the rail line. He's a little hard of hearing, so he can't actually verify it, but his daughter insisted that she heard some barking coming from inside one of the freight cars. When he checked it out, all he found was you. I don't suppose that you were so delirious that you were barking like a dog?"
"I wasn't delirious."
"But you were barking like a dog?"
"Earlier, when the train first stopped, I tried to get Pooh to bark, but he wouldn't. I guess he knew there was no one close enough to hear. But, anyway, I tried demonstrating what I wanted him to do."
"So you're saying that you were trying to show an imaginary dog how to bark?"
"Is that what you truly believe?" Mulder asked with a hurt tone. "That it was all my imagination?"
Instead of answering, Scully stared thoughtfully for a moment at Mulder's IV, then said, "I went to see Pooh's owner the day he ran away."
"She said that it couldn't have been her dog. She used to have one just like it though. She showed me pictures. But her dog died last month from problems associated with aging. She believes it's just a coincidence that this dog should have the same nickname that she called hers, and she thinks that the phone number on his ID tag is probably a misprint. She said she's had recent calls from people who have encountered him, people wanting to reward him for saving lives, or for helping during emotional crises. She says she'd love to see this dog for herself but no one has ever been able to hang on to him. Apparently, he does his duty and just disappears."
"Scully, are you saying that he's a ghost dog?"
"No, Mulder, I was leaving that for you to say."
"You have to admit it's strange how he just came out of nowhere. Maybe he knew ahead of time that I was going to get into trouble."
"It doesn't take a ghost dog to know that sooner or later you will get into trouble, Mulder."
"But why did I take to him the way I did? I'm not a dog person, Scully. I don't make a habit of befriending big, wolf-like, strays. And why did he go to you? What made him go back to my apartment building and single you out? Maybe he wasn't a ghost. Maybe he was the reincarnation of a recently deceased person who was given the opportunity to return to earth in order to avenge his own death or redeem himself by helping out someone else who might be in danger, only he had to take on the form of a dog to do it.."
"Mulder, you're describing the movie "Oh, Heavenly Dog!" with Chevy Chase and Benji."
"Well, then maybe he's my guardian angel."
"Your guardian angel?"
"Yeah. How do you think you always manage to find me when I ditch... when we become separated and I end up in serious trouble? I know you're a good investigator, Scully, but you have to admit that it sometimes take a miracle to pull it off."
That statement she couldn't argue with. Deciding to change the subject, Scully asked, "So what did you talk about with your doggie friend?"
"You mean my imaginary doggie friend?" Mulder shrugged, not wanting to reveal what really transpired. "Actually, he did most of the talking," he quipped. "He uh... he started out complaining about how much he really hates cats. Both the animal and the musical. Then he told me that the rubber from certain chew toys leave a nasty aftertaste in his mouth. And at one point, he was trying to enlighten me as to the significance of butt sniffing... I think I must have fallen asleep during that though."
Scully chuckled lightly and watched as her partner unsuccessfully tried to keep a straight face, then he held his hand out to her. She placed her palm in his and received a gentle squeeze.
"I'm sorry about Queequeg," he said out of the blue.
Scully raised her brows in total shock, wondering where the heck that had come from. "Mulder, that was a long time ago and you've already given me your condolences."
"But they weren't exactly heartfelt. I told you I was sorry about your dog's death because it was expected of me, but I really didn't understand what it was you were actually going through at the time. I had forgotten what it was like to have a pet like that and lose it."
He had surprised her yet again. "You... you had a dog once?"
"When I was a kid, before Samantha left... And it was my fault that he ran out into the street and got hit by a truck. I'd pretty much forced myself to forget. When I was on that train with Pooh, I was forced to remember again. And I also thought about you and Queequeg... You still miss him?"
Scully took a moment to think about it, then nodded. "Sometimes. I know you didn't get along with him well, but he really was very sweet, very affectionate. He'd make me smile when I didn't really feel like it. He was always so happy to see me when I got in. He'd leap into the air and spin around in circles, his whole body would be shaking with excitement."
"Oh, just like me. I'm doing all that internally right now," Mulder teased.
Scully smiled lightly, but it soon faded as she shook her head with remorse. "I keep thinking that I should've held on tighter to that leash, that I should've taken you up on your offer to accompany me when I took him for that walk or that-"
"You should've stayed home with him when you realized you couldn't get anyone to dog-sit for you."
"You didn't exactly leave me much of a choice, Mulder."
"I know. But I should have, and I'm sorry. He was special to you, and I'm sorry I didn't understand that at the time."
"He really had an effect on you, didn't he?"
"No. Pooh. Whether he was real or imaginary on that train, he had a profound effect on you."
Mulder shrugged lightly and said, "Yeah, well, guardian angel ghost dogs always have a profound effect on me."
Quiktrip Gas Station - Monday, 9:45 a.m.
On the way to the Atlanta Hartsfield airport, Scully stopped off to fill the tank on the rental car. After pumping the gas, she was miffed to find that the credit card taker was out of receipt paper and she'd have to go inside the store after all. She asked her partner if he wanted her to bring him anything back, and Mulder simply shook his head. He was still feeling a bit weak from his ordeal and all he wanted to do was rest. He watched as Scully went into the store and disappeared behind the cappuccino machine. As his eyes trailed back towards the front windshield, he spotted something in the outside rearview mirror. By the time he'd unbuckled his seat belt and bolted from the car, the vision he'd seen in the mirror was gone. Mulder glanced all about and caught sight of a flash of white as it turned the corner of the building.
Mulder gave chase, and as he rounded the corner, he had to quickly put on the brakes to keep from tripping over his quarry. Pooh sat waiting for him just a few feet away from the edge of the building. Mulder squatted down and held out his hand. The animal went to him instantly, showering him with wet, doggie kisses. Mulder smiled and gave the dog a loving hug.
"Hi, boy. You got away before I had a chance to say thanks. You saved my life, Pooh. Lassie couldn't have done it any better."
"Mulder?" Scully called out, a tinge of worry in her tone.
Mulder stood and turned, peeking his head around the corner so that his partner could see him. "Over here. Come see who I found."
It only took Scully a few seconds to reach him. "So who'd you find?" she asked, looking about for whomever it was he wanted her to meet.
Mulder's jaw dropped when he turned to see that Pooh was gone. There didn't seem to be any obvious places he could have gone that quickly. Mulder ran to the back of the building and saw nothing but a fenced area designed for trash pickup.
"Mulder, what is it?"
"He was here, Scully. The dog was here just a second ago."
"What do you think he wanted?"
It was a strange thing for her to ask, she knew, but she was too weary to argue with him or accuse him of seeing things. Mulder seemed taken aback by the question and had no immediate response. After giving it some thought, he shrugged and said, "I guess he wanted... to say good-bye."
Scully nodded, then put an arm around his back to urge him towards the car. "We've got a plane to catch, Mulder."
When they reached the car, Scully got inside and proceeded to adjust her seat belt while Mulder lingered outside the passenger door. He looked back towards the side of the building and saw Pooh sticking his head around the corner. Mulder nearly took his eyes away to inform his partner, but thought better of it. Instead, he gave a nod towards his temporary friend and spoke in a whisper.
"Good-bye, Pooh. Give my regards to Shane and Queequeg."
Pooh tilted his muzzle upwards in what appeared to be an answering nod of his head, then he turned away and disappeared behind the building again. Mulder finally opened the door and climbed inside. As he buckled himself in, he felt his partner's steady gaze on him. He cringed at the thought of what she might say. When he turned to look at her, he saw an amused scowl on her face.
"Is that a gray hair I see, Mulder?"
"Where?" he blurted out with unintentional panic in his voice.
Scully reached up and plucked a thick, white strand from his bangs. Examining it closely, she came to a new conclusion. "I think it's animal hair."
Proof, Mulder thought. Proof was what his wonderful, practical partner always insisted upon. He eyed her expectantly, waiting for her to begin spewing perfectly logical explanations as to where the hair she held, plus the others he noticed clinging to his black, denim jeans and jacket had come from. Scully, on the other hand, was waiting for him to start spouting off his bizarre theories as to why a guardian angel ghost dog would be shedding. But she didn't want to question or belittle his beliefs at the moment. She was just so happy to have him alive and well and back in her life again that the rest didn't really matter. She managed to convey that to him with bright eyes and a gentle smile. Dense as he was at times, Mulder picked up on her silent message easily. He didn't want to argue either. He warmly returned her smile, then casually brushed away the evidence from his clothing. Scully let the hair strand she'd been holding fall away, then turned her attention to driving. Mulder reclined his seat, closed his eyes and blithely relived his tenth birthday.
In loving memory of Dynamite, (aka Pooh) 1984-1997 with a special nod to his predecessor Shane, 1970-1980. Dog used in cover photo is my dog Angel, 2010-