Kripke's and the WB/CW's. I'm not any of them. Written for Yuletide 2005.
Rating: PG-13; language, violence, haunted house-related gore
Author's Notes: Set roughly post-"Bugs"/pre-"Home" during season 1. This story is based on a true "haunted house" in New Orleans; you can read about it here (it's the first story, titled "The Haunted Mansion.") The town of Gattsburg, TN, and all residents--living and dead--are totally fictional. Thanks to Kaliope for the beta, Kaytee for the reassurances, and Gweneiriol for helping locate the text of the original story and general cheerleading.
Written for the 2007 SPN_summergen exchange for ignipes.
The road sign claimed it was twenty miles to Gattsburg. Which meant, Dean figured, that they'd been driving about forty minutes from the last town. At approximately 5,000 trees per mile, he'd seen enough of them to build his own Old West town. And not just some one-street dot on the prairie, either. No, this was Tombstone material. Complete with saloons, jails, and plenty left over for as many O.K. Corrals as the ghosts of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday could ever want.
Dean was tired of trees. Tired and terribly, terribly bored after three days of nothing but driving, and at least for the last day, no scenery except trees. With Sam's attention focused on the laptop almost that entire time, Dean had run out of things to entertain himself with and was reduced to counting trees. Sam definitely owed him.
"You owe me," Dean said.
Sam didn't look up from the screen. "Huh?"
Dean reached over to poke Sam's shoulder. "You. Owe me. Big time."
"How'd you figure that?"
The jerk sounded distracted, like he wasn't taking Dean seriously. Dean hated that.
"Because I'm doing all the driving and you're just sitting over there being boring. You're supposed to keep me entertained. That's part of the job description."
"And you suck at it, dude. The trees are more interesting than you are."
Dean glanced at his brother suspiciously. Either Sam was being deliberately aggravating, or--
"You're over there playing Minesweeper, aren't you?"
Sighing, Sam scrubbed a hand over his face. "No, Dean, I'm working. You remember the haunted house job you insisted we take? When we could be following a lead that takes us to Dad, not that that's important or anything."
Dean's eyebrows shot up. "Remind me not to skip the coffee next time I buy us breakfast."
"This isn't about coffee, it's about staying focused on what we're here to do. How are we ever going to find Dad if we keep running off in all directions after whatever ghost or demon has decided to be a problem this week?" Sam grimaced like maybe he'd actually thought about what he'd just said. "Okay, so maybe demons need to be dealt with fast, but ghosts? Pretty much by definition aren't going anywhere. I don't see why they can't wait until we get done with more important things."
Dean turned to stare at him. "You're serious, aren't you? I thought you were just being pissy, but you're really serious."
"You don't think finding Dad is worth getting serious over? Dude, you're the one who came to me for help in finding him. Now it's like you don't even care anymore. Any excuse to go off--"
Dean's fingers tightened on the steering wheel as he fought to keep his voice level. "How many times are we going to have this conversation, Sam? Do you really think I don't want to find Dad?"
When Sam didn't answer, Dean looked over at him. Sam's mouth was pulled into that tight line that meant he didn't like the direction his thoughts were taking him.
"No," Sam said finally. "I know you want to find him. But--"
"Then, what? When that guy called us about the haunted house, you didn't think the fact that he had kids getting mysteriously scratched and bruised and scared out of their minds made it an urgent case?"
"I think he should have gotten the kids out of the house so they'd be safe."
Dean rolled his eyes. "He called us from a motel, dude. But they can't exactly live there the rest of their lives."
Sam muttered something that sounded a lot like, "We had to," but Dean wasn't in the mood for that particular argument. In fact, he was wishing he'd just stuck to counting trees.
Sam sighed again. "Look, I know you're right, okay? This case needs to be dealt with. So did the last one, and so will the next one. I'm just--it doesn't seem like we're getting any closer, you know? Wherever Dad is, we're still as far from finding him as we were the night you broke into my apartment."
"Well," Dean shrugged, "we've made a little progress. At least now we know where he's not."
Sam made a huffing sound that wasn't quite a laugh. "Oh, yeah. That's progress, all right."
Sam was willing to admit that maybe he was a little under-caffeinated. Not to mention sleep-deprived and stressed and tired of sitting in a car without enough leg room, squinting at a laptop monitor that wasn't designed to be viewed in the ever-changing sunlight that streamed through the windshield. And maybe, just maybe, he was a little cranky as a result. It was also possible that he was taking his mood out on Dean, but wasn't that in the fraternal job description?
What was giving him a headache at the moment was an integral part of the hunting job description: research. Whenever they'd been near a wireless connection, he'd downloaded whatever information he could find on the history of Gattsburg and the antebellum house they were going to investigate. In between the times when he could get online, he read the files he'd downloaded.
The history of the town was interesting enough, especially during the Civil War period, but it didn't seem to have much about it that was paranormal. Sam had thought he'd hit the jackpot when he found that Gattsburg had a historical preservation society and that someone in that society liked to make webpages. Unfortunately, even though the site mentioned the possibly haunted house, the "historic Dupree Farm", it didn't give a hint that the house might have ghosts. In fact, all it did was give a brief description and say "more information coming soon." Sam couldn't find any records of grisly murders, epidemics, or even a Civil War battle that might explain why the dead were still hanging around. The lack of information didn't mean they weren't dealing with a ghost, but it did leave Sam with a bad taste in his mouth. He didn't like working blind.
Dean just shrugged when Sam told him what he hadn't learned.
"We've worked with less information. At least we've got a place where the action's happening."
"I guess it's better than just working from coordinates," Sam agreed. "Maybe we'll get lucky and that guy--what was his name?"
"--Kurt Foster will have more information than what he gave us on the phone."
Dean nodded at the Gattsburg city limits sign on the side of the road. "Looks like we'll be finding out soon."
The hotel where Kurt Foster was staying with his family was near the edge of town. It was a typical roadside motel, upscale enough to advertise a swimming pool but otherwise not any different from the ones Sam had spent a good portion of his life in. Dean pulled the Impala into a parking space in front of room 114, the room number Kurt Foster had given them. Sam unfolded his legs and got out of the car with a sigh of relief. He tried to ignore Dean smirking at him over the hood as he stretched the kinks out of his limbs.
"Getting old there, Sammy."
"You'll always be older."
"And wiser, and better looking," Dean agreed. "But don't let that discourage you."
"Believe me, it doesn't." Sam matched him smirk for smirk for a moment, then let it go with a laugh. "Shall we see what Mr. Foster has to say?"
Kurt Foster turned out to be a man in his late thirties or early forties, with shaggy brown hair and a worried look on his otherwise kindly face. He invited them into the air-conditioned hotel room, a double that was strewn with the belongings of a family trying to fit their entire lives into one room and a bathroom. Twin teddy bears sat on one bed along with a pile of coloring books, and the vanity was covered in toothbrushes, make-up, and the contents of a shaving kit. Peanut butter and jelly jars sat next to a loaf of white bread on the dresser, along with a variety of children's snack packs and a cooler. Sam couldn't help a visceral sense of uneasiness. Dad would have tore Dean and him both a new one if they'd left their hotel room in such an unready state. Being prepared to bug out at a moment's notice was such a basic part of their lives that even at Stanford it had been more than a year before Sam completely unpacked.
Sam pulled his attention back from the memories and focused on Kurt, who was gesturing them to the chairs at the tiny dining table by the window.
"My wife has our two girls down at the pool," Kurt said. "It's probably for the best. They--the girls--were pretty shaken up by what happened at the house. They're just starting to put it behind them."
"Why don't you fill us in on just what happened?" Dean suggested.
Kurt sighed as he sat on the edge of the bed. "Like I told you on the phone, my wife and I just bought this new house over the Christmas holidays. The Dupree Farm. It seemed perfect for us. My wife and I are both teachers, and we just got jobs here in Gattsburg. We wanted the girls to grow up somewhere that they could run outside and see something besides asphalt, you know? And Marsha and I were sick of driving for an hour or more to get to a job that was twenty miles away. We moved in before the semester started, and we've been working on repairs and redecorating in the evenings and on weekends. This week is Spring Break. We were planning on getting a lot done."
Sam watched Dean's fingers drum lightly on the table and interrupted gently. "When did you first notice something strange happening?"
"Almost from the beginning. We just didn't realize at the time that it was something more than the problems that came from the remodeling and the fact that the house was nearly two hundred years old." Kurt grimaced. "I'm a math teacher. I always prided myself on being logical, not superstitious. So when things ended up broken or out of place from where we'd put them, I thought it was my wife and I being absent-minded or the girls getting into things. But then it started getting worse."
When Kurt paused, looking nervously at his hands, Sam leaned forward to prompt him. "What happened?"
Kurt took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "First, it was just stuff like Marsha falling off the ladder when she was painting a room. She said it felt like someone shook the ladder. She wasn't really hurt and we laughed about it. A few days later, I fell down the stairs. Right before I went down, I could have sworn someone pushed me, but I was the only person in the house at the time. I just attributed it to imagination and felt lucky that I only had a few bruises.
"Then, about a week ago, my oldest daughter, Heather, woke up with scratches on her arm that hadn't been there when she went to bed. They looked like marks from human nails, but they were too far apart for them to have been done by Heather scratching herself in her sleep or for Abby--my younger daughter--to have done it. They looked like they were from an adult hand. Marsha and I tried to remember if either of us had somehow grabbed her roughly on accident; we'd been playing tag and catching fireflies outside the night before, so we finally decided that one of us must have done it even though we couldn't remember any time when it could have happened.
"The next morning, Abby woke up with bruises on her legs. They were in the shape of a hand, too, but it was too big for either of the girls and too small for Marsha or me. We still thought there had to be a rational explanation for whatever was going on, you know? I actually thought about the possibility that someone might be slipping into the girls' room at night through the window we'd left open, and then I thought it was too crazy an idea to report to the police without more evidence. Marsha and I decided that she would bring the girls into town and stay here at the motel for a few days while I kept working on the house. We told the girls it was a vacation."
"So what made you decide you had a ghost?" Dean asked.
Kurt reached down and pulled up his pants' leg. Just above his ankle, he was missing a strip of skin that ran for more than an inch across. The unusual thing about the cut was how it was a perfect rectangle with surgically precise edges.
"I woke up in the middle of the night. I was alone in the house. Marsha had taken the girls to the motel, so I wasn't really sure what had woken me up. It was so strange. I was lying there, I know I was awake, but then this, this shadow leaned over me. I couldn't move, but I wasn't really scared, you know? It was like I was dreaming the whole thing. I felt a hand on my leg--" Kurt shuddered. "I felt it trace that shape, and then there was this sharp, burning pain that woke me up all the way. The shadow had disappeared, and I had this. I couldn't come up with a rational explanation for this."
He gestured at his leg, his hand shaking.
"Ghosts are a rational explanation," Dean said in what Sam thought was supposed to be a comforting tone. "Just not one most people expect."
Sam resisted the urge to roll his eyes. As a therapist, Dean made a great ghost hunter.
"Is there anything that you know of in the house's history that might lead to a restless spirit?" Sam asked. "A murder, someone dying young--"
"Native American burial grounds, insane relatives locked up in the attic," Dean added helpfully.
Kurt shook his head. "Not that I know of. But then, my wife and I haven't had as much time as we want to learn about the history of the place. I do know that there's an old family cemetery on the property where various members of the original Dupree family are buried along with some of their slaves. We walked out to see it one evening. It's pretty interesting, with all the old headstones. But the real estate agent never mentioned any tragedies in the Farm's history."
Sam shot Dean a hopefully repressive scowl.
"We'll just have to go out and see what we can find," he said to Kurt, ignoring Dean's "who, me?" look.
"Of course. I'll give you the keys and directions." Kurt looked back down at his hands. "I'd rather not go back out there myself."
Sam could see Dean's relief at that statement; he felt the same way. It was easier dealing with ghosts when they didn't have to protect people who didn't know what they were doing.
Kurt was more than happy to send them out to the Dupree Farm with keys to everything and permission to poke into anything they wanted. It was close enough to nightfall that they decided they'd spend the night at the house and see if they could spot any paranormal activity. After getting enough fast food to hold them for a while, they followed Kurt's directions out of town.
The Dupree Farm had an appropriately spooky setting. Dupree Road was only one lane wide and trailed off into dirt more than a mile from the house. It wound through ancient, looming trees that grudgingly opened up to show a large, two-story white plantation-style house with empty, glaring windows. Sam suppressed a shudder, glancing over at Dean quickly to see if his brother had noticed his unease. Luckily, it seemed like Dean was more interested in the house.
"What do you think?" Sam asked.
Dean shrugged as he pulled the Impala into the driveway. "The description sounded sort of like a poltergeist. That, or a really unhappy spirit."
"The house has been here long enough to have its fair share of those," Sam agreed. "Guess we won't know till we go inside."
"Then what are we waiting for?"
Dean liked old houses. In spite of the occasional angry ghost, old houses usually had a sense of history and permanence that just hadn't had time to wear into newer structures. From the moment he put his foot on the steps leading up to the veranda, Dean could feel the past of the Dupree house hanging heavy in the air. So many feet had climbed these steps, so many lives had spun out their threads across these hardwood floors. Such things left an imprint on the house, a faint energy that hinted at how 'family' and 'home' could be enduring concepts. Whenever he felt the bitter taint of an angry spirit overlay that sense of history, he took it as a personal insult.
"Hey, Dean. You okay?" Sam called from the front door, frowning down at where Dean still stood on the steps.
Dean took the rest of the steps at a jog. "Yeah. Just trying to remember if I got the EMF meter out of the trunk."
Sam's expression shifted to his patented "what an idiot" look. He held up the black duffel bag they carried equipment in. "You gave it to me, remember? Along with everything else."
"Well, I've got the house keys to keep track of," Dean said, knowing it was a lame response even as he said it. The house's negative vibes were distracting him. To make up for his lack of coolness, he added, "Anyway, it's the assistant's job to carry the bags. Although, next time, I want my assistant to be blonde and curvy, if you know what I mean."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I bet Pamela Anderson is a whole lot of help when it comes to getting rid of ghosts. And if I'm your assistant, I want a raise and dental, at the very least."
Dean sighed deeply as he tried out the keys on the door lock. "I bet Pam wouldn't be this much trouble. She'd want more interesting fringe benefits, too." He wiggled his eyebrows to make sure Sam got his meaning.
"You're such a pervert."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
Finally, the key that Dean was trying turned in the lock, and the door opened. Stepping through the doorway, he gave a faint whistle as he took in the scope of the house. He and Sam were standing in an enormous entryway that held a large, flared central staircase leading up to a second floor landing. From the landing, balconies stretched out like the legs of a U along the left and right walls to give access to the second-story rooms. On the first floor, the U shape was repeated, with rooms and a narrow hallway running back past the stairway on either side. From the depth of the halls, it looked like there was at least one room behind the wall that supported the stairway, along the base of the U. The smell of reconstruction, of paint and sawdust and cleaner, held an undertone of dust and time.
"Hell of a house," Sam said. "No pun intended."
Dean rolled his eyes before he nodded. "Foster said they got an amazing deal on it because it had been sitting empty for so long. Guess the former owners got tired of uninvited tenants."
"So they just dumped their ghosts on an unsuspecting family."
"The gift that keeps on giving." Dean walked over and sat on the stairs. "Let's eat, then we can take a tour."
The hamburgers and fries had grown cold on the drive out to the house, but Dean was hungry enough to wolf his down in a few bites. Sam did the same as he walked idly around the entryway, pausing from time to time to look out the window or poke his head into one of the rooms on either side.
"This one's where they're storing their furniture," he reported from the room on the right. "It's wall-to-wall dust covers in here."
"At least the ghosts have supplies if they want to play Casper." Dean grinned at the disgusted look Sam shot him.
Dean stuffed the last of his fries in his mouth and hooked the supply bag with his foot, pulling it over so that he could dig through it. The EMF meter was a given, along with flashlights for when it got dark. Baggies of salt to complement the cigarette lighters he and Sam already carried. Plastic bottles filled with holy water that hooked onto their belts, and small containers of lighter fluid that easily fit into jacket pockets. Two sawed-off shotguns that he quickly loaded with rock salt and handed off to Sam, who came over to him still licking his fingers from the fries. And Sam always said Dean didn't have any manners.
Dean turned on the EMF meter, which immediately started the low hum that indicated there was electricity somewhere close by. No immediate spikes, though, so he led the way into the first room on the left, intending to do a complete circuit of the bottom floor before looking upstairs where most of the Fosters' run-ins with the paranormal had happened. Sam followed, skimming his fingers over whatever surfaces interested him. Dean had never figured that habit out, even though Sam had been doing it since he was old enough to walk. It didn't matter if they were investigating a haunted house or staying in a new motel room. Sam had to touch, had to look out the windows and through the doors, running his fingers along the wood frames, tables, lamps--anything within reach.
Nothing showed up on the EMF meter in the first room, where the smell of chemicals, scattered buckets and tools, and partially stripped wallpaper showed the Fosters' attempts at renovation. The next room along the line was probably intended to be a dining room, based on the intricate crystal chandelier and the fancy but hideous wallpaper.
"Thank God the sixties are over," Sam said, tracing an embossed grape on the wall.
Dean snorted his agreement as he moved into the third room, a small sunroom or breakfast area with French doors that led out to a patio. Next was the kitchen that stretched along the back of the house. Obvious signs of the Fosters' inhabitance were all over the room--a round table with four chairs; the counter holding pots, pans, and dishes; relatively recent appliances that made the EMF meter hum happily. Then, finally, as Dean walked around to the inner wall and ran the EMF meter across the heavy door there, the humming rose to a squeal.
Dean grinned. "It's about time."
"What do you think is behind there?" Sam asked.
"It's up against the stairs on the other side, so there can't be much. Maybe a pantry?"
Sam came up behind Dean and looked over his shoulder at the door. "Why so many locks on a pantry?"
Sam had a point, Dean had to admit. Aside from the lock in the doorknob, there were also two dead bolts; all of them looked positively antique.
"Maybe they didn't want their food escaping?" Dean shrugged as he pulled out the keys Kurt Foster had given him. One worked in the doorknob lock, but nothing would budge the dead bolts.
"Want me to deal with it?"
As Dean looked back at him, Sam wiggled his eyebrows and his fingers in a way that was probably supposed to make him look like a hip cat burglar, but really just made him look like he had a tic.
"Yeah, why don't you 'deal with it'," Dean made the same fingers back at Sam, "while I check out the rest of the house."
"Don't get eaten by any ghosts."
"I'll try not to."
Dean made his way through the rest of the downstairs, finding a laundry room, a half-bath, and two more rooms that were probably parlors or studies, the last of which held the furniture Sam had noticed earlier. He detoured into the kitchen again to find Sam working on the second lock.
"Let me know when you get the door open," Dean said.
"Mm-hm," Sam mumbled around the pick in his mouth.
"Don't go down there without me."
Sam rolled his eyes and made a shooing motion with one hand.
Upstairs, Dean found two rooms on each side of the U and two rooms across the back, each set with a bathroom in between them. He found a king-sized mattress and box springs in the master bedroom and a pair of twin mattresses in the front left room, along with open suitcases in both rooms. It looked like the Fosters were doing their own version of camping out while they worked on their house.
It was in the girls' room that the EMF meter started squealing again. Dean couldn't find a specific spot that the electro-magnetic waves were emanating from. They seemed to be coming from all over the room, or else had just dissipated in the time that had passed since the paranormal activity. Whatever the situation was, Dean had evidence to support the Fosters' claims and two places, the bedroom and whatever was behind the mystery door, to focus the investigation.
He heard footsteps coming up the stairs and smiled. Sam was pretty good with those picks; maybe he should have tried a career as a cat burglar after all.
"Hey, Sammy, I got EMF readings in this bedroom. What did you find?" he called.
When he didn't hear an answer, he shut off the meter and stepped out onto the balcony that ran the length of the rooms. From that perspective, he could see the entire staircase and landing. No one was there.
"Sam?" he called again. "Sam?"
"What?" Came the reassuring answer. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I found something. How about you?"
"Not much. I'm coming up."
Sam heard Dean walking up the stairs, a heavy tread that sounded like it was right over his head. Then the creak of old floorboards as Dean walked around. Sam imagined he could follow Dean's movements even if he were blind.
Turning his attention back to the locks, Sam eased his pick across the pins, feeling for the give that would tell him he was on the right track. Just . . . there. A few more, and the bolt slid back. Sam gave a satisfied sigh as he stood and stretched, then winced as his shoulders popped. At least Dean wasn't around to tell him he was getting old again.
As he was putting his tools back in their case, Dean's footsteps thumped right overhead and the door cracked open with a sound like a sigh. Frowning, Sam pulled it open further, peering into a darkness that just barely showed a set of stone stairs leading down. A basement rather than a pantry, then. Sam picked up his flashlight from where he'd laid it on the floor and pointed it downward. All he could see was the narrow steps; the blackness was too thick for the flashlight beam to illuminate anything else.
He started to lean in and see if he could see all the way to the bottom. Almost immediately, he caught an odor that made him wince. Musty, sour, and yet somehow sickly sweet, it was the smell of air gone stagnant and rotten. Sam pulled back. There was no telling how long it had been since the door had been opened. With a job that led into old, abandoned places frequently, Sam had learned early about the dangers of bad air. A few hours of ventilation would do the basement a world of good.
Stepping back, he glanced around the kitchen and spotted a wooden stool under the window. It looked sturdy enough to prop the basement door open. He went over to retrieve it, his eyes straying across the window and the dark face of a young girl staring at him.
Sam jumped so violently that he dropped the stool on his foot. By the time he was done hopping and cursing, the only thing at the window was the white lace curtains that looked like they might have been hung when the house was new. Sam sighed. There was no real way to know if he'd actually seen anything other than the curtains. It was a weird testament to how his life worked that he was more likely to assume ghosts than moving fabric when he saw something in the window.
The yell came from upstairs, and there was an edge to Dean's voice that made Sam's shoulders tense instinctively.
"What?" Sam shoved the stool in front of the basement door and started toward the stairs. "You okay?"
He relaxed marginally when Dean called back, "Yeah. I found something. How about you?"
Sam glanced back at the window, but it showed nothing but innocent glass and lace.
"Not much. I'm coming up."
He jogged up the stairs and found Dean in one of the bedrooms, running the EMF meter along the back wall of the closet.
"What've you got?" he asked, leaning against the door jam.
Dean glanced over his shoulder before going back to his investigation.
"There was something in this room for sure. The EMF reading is even higher than downstairs. For some reason, it's really strong here in this closet."
"Any idea what?"
"Not a clue, dude. Not a clue. So, what was behind Door Number Two?"
Sam filled him in on the state of the basement and the maybe-ghost in the window. As he finished, Dean came out of the closet--Sam manfully refrained from commenting--and dropped down to sit cross-legged on the mattress by the wall. Dropping the EMF meter beside him, he ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
"So. We've got creepy curtains, creaky stairs, and something making the EMF squeal. That's not much to go on."
"Well, then, what do you want to do?" Sam asked. "We need research, but it's kind of late to head back into town and hit up the local library."
"Right. But since it's night anyway and ghosts tend to screw around more at night, why not just hang out and see what happens? If nothing comes up, we can head into town tomorrow and see what you can dig up."
Sam didn't miss the "you" in that sentence, but he didn't comment on that, either. Dean would gripe, but he would help with the research if there wasn't something more interesting for him to do. He just liked to pretend that he was the intrepid hunter and Sam was lowly research boy.
Sam nodded. "I think little girls that died here might be a good place to start. Assuming I really did see a ghost, then either she might be who we're after, or she could be an earlier victim."
"Makes sense," Dean agreed. "You want first watch or first sleep?"
Sam took first watch; he hadn't been sleeping much lately anyway. Dean, on the other hand, had driven all day and looked worn out. While Dean brushed his teeth and curled up on the mattress, Sam wandered around the upstairs and then back to the first floor. The basement still had the same overpoweringly musty odor. The window still had curtains and nothing else. Everything was quiet and distinctly not haunted.
After more than an hour of nothing happening, Sam had walked around the house so many times he'd lost count. He was bored enough that he was almost ready to see a ghost. Almost. He could imagine what his father would say to that. John Winchester liked kicking ghost ass more than just about anything, but he'd never wish for one, not even as a joke. John Winchester never took the job anything less than seriously. It had driven Sam crazy before he went to Stanford. Lately, though, the longer he looked for his father, he found himself vaguely missing his father's determination and confidence. It was reassuring to know his dad was there, directing the hunt and keeping one eye on him and the other on Dean while somehow still keeping both on their target.
Of course, Sam thought as he went to grab his laptop, if his dad had been there, he would have been telling Sam to review the information they had, and Sam would have been resenting the hell out of his authoritarian mannerisms. They'd probably end up scaring the ghosts off with their yelling at each other. With a private smirk, Sam pulled up the files he'd saved on the Dupree Farm and Gattsburg. Maybe he hadn't found anything obvious before, but that didn't mean there wasn't something in the local history that might prove useful at some point.
Before long, he was lost in the story of the town's founding, which incidentally was driven by the Dupree family. Apparently, they were one of the main families in this area, and the Farm had once been fairly decent-sized, complete with five or six field slaves. The Dupree family hosted dinner parties and soirees; they helped the poor, practically paid for the construction of the church, and occasionally participated in local politics. On the one hand, their status in the community was promising, because any major events that happened at the Dupree Farm were likely to be reported in the news. On the other hand, all Sam had access to at the moment were the files from a few historical and tourism sites that essentially gave summaries of the area's history. He didn't have any actual text from newspapers of the time or other primary sources, which was what he really needed. He could only hope that the resources in town would be better than what he'd been able to find so far.
Suddenly, a shout from upstairs broke the silence. Heart pounding, Sam all but dropped the laptop as he rose and dashed for the stairs.
Dean's dream was one of the type he wished he could have every night. A woman was leaning over him. Her face was obscured by her long, wavy black hair, but her scent was a subtle floral and the smooth curve of her arm hinted at greater delights. He could feel the silken touch of her hair as it brushed across his chest. The woman's lips touched his, sending a shiver down his spine.
Out of nowhere, a trail of cold fire ran across his collarbone.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean yelled, lunging upward.
He reached for the shotgun by his bed as he looked wildly around the room. There was nothing to suggest that he'd had a visitor, supernatural or otherwise. He could hear feet pounding on the stairs, but they were coming closer, not running away. Sam's "Dean!" confirmed what Dean had already guessed. He lowered the gun to make sure he wasn't pointing it at the door as Sam burst in, his own gun ready.
"What the hell?" Sam gasped, looking around just as Dean had done.
"I think I just had a run-in with our ghost," Dean said, pulling out the collar of his t-shirt in an effort to see what was making his collarbone sting. It was an awkward angle; as best he could tell, he had what looked like scrapes from fingernails, three bright red marks that were beading up with drops of blood.
Sam was still peering into corners like he expected to see Casper. After another minute of no apparitions, however, he gave up and crossed the room to look at Dean's wounds.
"Friendly," he commented. "Want me to put some alcohol on those?"
"I don't know, do you think I can get an infection from something that's already dead?" Dean asked, but he didn't argue when Sam grabbed the alcohol and cotton swabs out of his duffel and dabbed them on Dean's scrapes.
"Was your 'something dead' a little girl somewhere between eight and twelve years old? Wearing some kind of bonnet-like thing?" Sam asked as he put the medical supplies away. "Because that's what I thought I saw in the window downstairs."
Dean shrugged. "I didn't see anything. Just woke up when this happened." He gestured at his scratches. "Too bad. I think I was dreaming about Rachel Bilson."
"Why is it I get pre-teens ghosts and you get dreams about Rachel Bilson?"
"At least your ghost didn't try to skin you."
Sam raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at Dean's scrapes, but said only, "It's a pretty safe guess that yours is the one that the Fosters were having trouble with, don't you think?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah. The cuts on Foster's leg are similar enough to what it did to me. That at least gives us a directly to look in tomorrow. You think it was your little girl?"
"I don't know. Child spirits aren't necessarily any nicer than grown-up ones. I guess we'll just have to see what we can find out tomorrow."
Dean glanced at his watch. "It's nearly midnight. You want to get some sleep? I'll stay in here in case something comes back."
Sam looked doubtful for a moment before shrugging. "Yeah, I guess. Whatever it is seems to like sleepers. Maybe it'll come while I'm out and you can get it with the rock salt."
"As plans go, that may be the dumbest I've heard in a while," Dean said pleasantly, then ducked the pillow Sam threw at him. "I'm just saying, what if I missed? You'd be blasted full of tiny, salty holes."
"Yeah, like you'd miss." Sam shook his head disdainfully. "Yell if you see anything dead, okay?"
In minutes, Dean was left with his shotgun and the sound of Sam's muffled snores.
Sam was walking through the dark hallway that led to the main staircase. He wasn't sure why the lights were off. Before Dean had gone to sleep earlier that night, they'd agreed to leave the lights on in case of ghost attack or other emergencies. But now, the only lights in the hall came from the window at the front of the house, a dim, bluish moonlight that made the shadows look as if they were moving.
Dean was down in the basement. Sam really didn't feel right about him being down there by himself, even though Dean was probably one of the most capable human beings he knew when it came to taking care of himself. Still, the basement gave Sam a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach, a vague intuition that something down there wasn't right. He walked a little faster as he turned around the balustrade and started down.
The boy was standing about half way down the stairs, his back to Sam. The moonlight made his loose-sleeved white shirt almost seem to glow. Some part of Sam knew that running into a kid on the stairs shouldn't be happening, but the greater portion of his mind accepted the situation as normal. There were people all over the house; why wouldn't this boy have stopped on the stairs?
With an odd slowness, the boy turned to look at Sam. His eyes were pits of blackness, opened wide and pleading, and his mouth gaped in a silent scream. He held something out, as if asking Sam to take it from him.
Two things came to Sam at once: first, that the object in the boy's hands wasn't rope, as he'd first thought. It was a long, coiled strip of skin, still glistening with blood. And second, the boy's shirt was hanging open, showing the path on his thin chest where the skin had been carefully, precisely cut away.
Instinctively, Sam reached out to take the boy's burden. Only at the last minute did it occur to him what he was taking. He started to jerk his hand away, and in that instant, the boy disappeared. Feeling oddly relieved, Sam continued down the stairs, hurrying just a bit faster than before. He really needed to get to Dean.
He was practically running by the time he reached the kitchen. The basement door stood open. A light had apparently been turned on in the basement; yellow brightness spilled across the floor in an almost welcoming manner. Sam approached cautiously, squinting down the stairs in the hope that he'd see Dean grinning up at him. But the light was too strong after so long in the dark. Sam's eyes watered and he couldn't see anything. Throwing caution to the wind, he started down the stairs, keeping one hand on the brick wall beside him as he took the steep steps two at a time.
The room had a hard-packed dirt floor and brick walls. At least some of the bricks looked old enough to be original to the house. Sam took the details in as he glanced around the room, looking for his brother. Only Dean wasn't there. The only thing in the basement, as a matter of fact, was a table down at the far end where the light didn't quite reach. Something was on the table, but it was the wrong shape for a human. Totally the wrong shape, because humans didn't have wings.
Wishing that Dean was there to watch his back, Sam started toward the end of the basement slowly. He needed to see what was on that table, yet he knew he didn't want to. The urge to run away was so strong it was all Sam could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Inexorably, he drew closer to the table until he could see what was lying there.
At first, the only thing his brain would let him recognize was feet--a man's feet, bare and white in the dim light, with a sprinkle of black hair across the arch. Long, strong legs, clad in blood-soaked jeans. Above the jeans--at first, he couldn't comprehend, and then the side of his brain that learned torts and codes and methods for disposing of poltergeists took over. It catalogued the ribs, obviously separated from the spine because they'd been raised on both sides to splay out like wings. It noted the emptiness under the ribs and how the area seemed almost to have been cleaned, as if whoever had removed the lungs had washed out the body cavity. It took in the arms, stretched above the corpse's head, and how the wrists were stripped raw from fighting against the rope. It even supplied a name, dug from some memory of research long ago: the blood eagle.
But even disassociation could only get him so far. Nothing could protect him from the face of the victim on that table. Sam's whole body was freezing cold and trembling. It felt like he was floating as he took that last step forward and saw.
The word tore from his throat, ice-edged. It was horror and denial at the same time. But John didn't stir, didn't open his eyes, didn't sit up and tell Sam it was all a joke. He simply lay there, face waxen and grayish-white and pulled tight with pain. Sam took another step, reaching out, hoping against all his senses that his touch would make the horror disappear as the boy on the stairs had.
His father's cheek was cold and unyielding, not like human skin at all. But Sam knew death, and he knew he was touching it now. And it wouldn't, didn't go away.
Dean was bored. There had been no more ghostly visitors. Nothing except Sam snoring away on the other mattress--which Dean was grateful for, yes, because Sam hadn't slept nearly enough since Jess died. But it still wasn't entertaining. Dean was a man of action, not a man of sitting around counting his brother's inhalations. If something didn't happen soon, he was going to--
And then, with a half-gasp, half-shout, Sam sat straight up. Dean grabbed for the shotgun, ready to blast some ectoplasmic ass. Only Sam wasn't bleeding from any mysterious scrapes, he was rubbing at his eyes in a way that Dean had become all too familiar with in the past several weeks.
"Nightmare?" he asked.
Sam blinked at him like he had no idea who Dean was. Sam never had woken up well. It took a minute for recognition to set in, and then Sam gave a jerky nod. Abruptly, he clambered to his feet and stumbled out the door. Dean was just about to follow him when he heard the water running in the bathroom next door. A few moments later, Sam came back in, the strands of hair around his face wet from where he'd splashed water on himself. He dropped onto the mattress beside Dean, mirroring his posture--back against the wall, knees up, hands in his lap, except Dean couldn't help but notice that Sam's fingers were laced together so tightly that they were turning white and his breath was still a little too fast.
"You okay?" Dean asked, more to get Sam talking than because he didn't already know the answer. Sam hadn't been "okay" since the night his world went up in flames for the second time in his life.
Sam just shrugged. Obviously he was going to make Dean work for any response. Dean sighed. What else was new? It wasn't even like he desperately wanted to have an emo moment with his little brother. He just worried that Sam was getting wound tighter and tighter, and the nightmares only served to confirm his suspicion.
Dean took a deep breath and plunged straight in. "Was it about Jess?"
Sam flinched but shook his head. "No. Just . . . this house. I guess it's getting to me."
Dean eyed him sharply, but Sam was meeting his gaze with no sign that he wasn't telling the truth.
Leaning his head back against the wall, Sam was silent for a moment. Dean was just about to declare the emo moment over when Sam asked, "Do you think Dad's okay?"
And that was the sixty-four thousand dollar question, wasn't it? No, Dean didn't totally think their dad was okay; if he had been, they wouldn't have needed to be hunting for him. That just wasn't exactly what Sam needed to hear at the moment.
"I think it would take a hell of a lot to make him not okay," Dean said finally. "I'll feel better when we catch up to him, though."
There was an odd note in Sam's voice, a vulnerability that Dean wasn't used to hearing when it came to their dad. Sam's usual reaction to their father was tension at best, anger at worst. Dean wouldn't have been willing to bet anything important on the notion that Sam missed John, but that was what he was hearing in Sam's voice now. He didn't dare comment for fear of ruining the moment, but he tucked the memory away for the next time they had a fight about their father and he needed something to keep him from kicking Sam's ass.
"You want to get some more sleep?"
Sam's shake of the head was more emphatic this time. "No. No, I'm good."
A crash from downstairs interrupted Dean's probably futile attempt to reason with Sam. Feeling his pulse pick up, Dean aimed a grin at his brother.
"Feel like a little recon?"
The downstairs area was flooded with light and the laptop sat somewhat precariously on the bottom step. Nothing had changed from how Sam had left it when he dashed upstairs. Even so, he couldn't suppress a shudder, tightening his grip on his shotgun as he recalled his dream. But a dream was all it was, not a harbinger of his father's fate. He was sure of it. The visions he hadn't even admitted to Dean that he was having felt different. Aside from the brain-crushing migraine that accompanied them, they also had a more distant feel to them. He watched the visions; he lived his nightmares every night.
"Stick together," Dean said as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
Sam grunted his assent. He really hadn't had any intention of letting Dean out of his sight; he could remember the frantic need to find him all too well. Sticking close, he kept one eye on Dean's back and the other open for any potential threats.
At first glance, it looked like the worst they were going to have to face was a wooden ladder that had fallen in the room where the wallpaper was being stripped. The ladder had apparently crashed into a white plastic bucket and sent it sliding across the floor to land in front of the door. Looking around cautiously, Dean stepped over the bucket as he walked into the room. Sam hung back by the door. He wanted to be able to keep watch on the stairs and the hall leading toward the kitchen. Something was making the hairs on his neck stand on end. While it might be the leftover freakiness from his nightmare, he didn't want to take any chances.
"Find anything?" he asked, glancing back at Dean. The windows on the opposite wall were darkly reflective, a dividing line between the night and the brightness indoors. Dean's image, bending over the ladder with the EMF meter, was oddly incorporeal. Sam looked away quickly, back to the real thing.
"EMF seems to think so," Dean answered over the squeal. "Looks like our friendly neighborhood ghost is either a klutz or wanted our attention."
"Or had a tantrum."
Dean grinned up at him. "Or didn't like the changes in decor."
It was weirdly appropriate that the bucket at Sam's feet chose that moment to rise up and slam into his stomach. By reflex, Sam caught the bucket in his free hand as he stumbled backward.
"Sam?" Dean's voice was sharp, just on the edge of worried.
Sam stepped back into the room.
"Man, everyone's a critic," he said, dropping the bucket back to the floor.
Dean had stood up when the bucket went flying. It was the only thing that saved him from getting bashed in the face as the ladder suddenly jumped and swung around, landing at a ninety degree angle from its previous position. Dean stepped back, bringing the shotgun up into a position where he could turn it on the threat as soon as they figured out where it was coming from. Sam did the same as he moved closer to Dean, stopping where he could cover the part of the room Dean couldn't see.
"Seems like someone's getting pissy." Dean's voice was amused, taunting. Waving a red flag in front of a bull.
"Tantrum, just like I said," Sam agreed, willing to do his part. "Seems like our ghost is a spoiled brat."
Spoiled or not, the ghost didn't seem to take well to constructive criticism. Strips of wallpaper flashed through the air, hitting Sam's face with stinging slaps. He ducked as the bucket hurtled toward him again. It bounced off one of the windows and came back for a second pass. Sam blasted the bucket with rock salt. Even if he didn't hit the ghost, he was getting a little tired of being attacked by a chunk of molded plastic.
Behind him, he heard Dean's gun go off. His ears were ringing from the two blasts so close together. Looking around quickly, he saw the ladder rising off the floor and aiming for Dean, who was too busy battling a step-stool to notice.
Dean went down in a smooth move, under the flying ladder and back up again, shooting in that direction while Sam aimed at the area where the ladder came from. The problem was that they were shooting blind. They could see the effects of the ghost, like the filled spray bottle that Sam barely managed to deflect by twisting his hips, but the ghost hadn't incorporated enough to make rock salt shot effective.
Out of instinct, Sam moved, lunging down and to the side. Something went over his head, clipping his shoulder hard enough that he stumbled. Dean let out a shout that started as a cry of pain and ended as a curse. Before he had his balance back, Sam was already whirling around. But Dean was on his feet, his hand clamped on his forearm. A few feet away, a putty knife was rolling to a stop on the floor.
And as abruptly as that, the onslaught was over. Sam gave it a second, just in case, but Dean had already set his shotgun down and was poking inquisitively at the cut on his arm.
"You okay?" Sam asked.
Dean tilted his arm so that Sam could see the trickle of blood curving down toward his elbow. Stepping closer, Sam grabbed Dean's wrist and turned his arm to get a better look. With a tinge of relief, he saw that the cut was close to two inches long, but not so deep that it would need stitches.
Sam shook his head in mock reproach. "That's what you get for saying someone's pissy."
Dean shrugged. "Sometimes the truth hurts."
"And not always the recipient. Come upstairs and I'll bandage that up."
"This is getting to be a habit," Dean replied grumpily, but he followed Sam upstairs all the same.
Dawn crept slowly across the sky. Dean watched it from the front porch, enjoying the cool breeze that was rustling through the trees. It would warm up as the day went on, but for the moment, the air felt almost chilly. The perfume of the rose bushes planted around the base of the porch was subtle enough that he could almost have been imagining it. He could see why the Fosters had wanted this place; otherworldly visitations aside, it was a beautiful piece of property.
There had been no other signs of supernatural activity after the ghost's temper tantrum. Once Dean's arm had been bandaged--and really, there wasn't any need for Sam to be so enthusiastic with the alcohol--he and Sam had worked at setting the torn-up downstairs room to rights. Dean had come outside to cool off and watch the sunrise while Sam packed up the laptop.
"You ready to go?" Sam asked from behind him.
Dean nodded and accepted the hand up that Sam offered. They were going to get breakfast in town and then hit up the library as soon as it opened. They needed to pinpoint who was pitching such a paranormal hissy. Without a name, they couldn't find a body; without a body, they couldn't salt and burn. The house itself had offered little help. Unless Sam's little girl was a clue, they barely knew more than when they'd first driven to the Farm.
Unfortunately, after several hours had passed, they still hadn't gained much information. Well, Dean had discovered that the Gattsburg Public Library had a Dupree Children's Wing--really just a room with some colorful plastic furniture and a ton of children's books. He had also learned that the "Christian Fiction" section was less than half the size of the "Romances"--which no doubt said a lot about human nature--and roughly the same size as the "Westerns". Their paranormal section was completely inadequate, and the pretty blonde librarian meant it when she said, "Shh!"
He hadn't really learned that microfilm was created by a demon out to destroy humanity one pair of eyes at a time, but that was because it was a secret he had figured out when Sam went off to college and he got stuck doing most of the research. Sam still owed him for that, no doubt about it. Graciously, he allowed Sam a chance to make restitution by searching through the microfilmed back-issues of The Gattsburg County Gazette, which apparently went all the way back to the 1820's, while he used the library's internet to see if he could find anything online that Sam might have missed in his original search.
"Nothing," Sam whispered finally; he'd caught the librarian's evil eye a couple of times himself. "There've been a few murders and a cholera epidemic, but nothing specifically related to the Dupree Farm."
Dean sighed. It was getting ridiculous. What historic homestead didn't have its bits of juicy rumor and gossip? The Dupree Farm, apparently. Going by public records, the Duprees should have been nominated for sainthood.
"We need someone who knows the good stuff," he said. "Local historian, local busy-body, whatever. Hang on."
The cute librarian, Lorraine, was checking in a stack of books at the main desk. Her bright smile forgave him for his past indiscretions, possibly going all the way back to high school. Dean leaned against the counter and gave her his best "you're the sexiest thing in five counties" look. They'd given her a spiel about being writers for a travel magazine doing articles on vacation spots with an antebellum flavor when they first came in; she didn't seem to find Dean's latest request strange at all.
"You want to talk to Bob Harveseimer," she said. "He's a retired history professor. Used to teach at the university in Memphis, but he retired here and now he runs the Historical Society and county museum. It's too bad you didn't come in on a Tuesday. He's always here doing story time for the kids."
"Any idea where he might be when he's not doing story time?" Dean asked.
"You might try over at the museum. Here, I'll write down directions."
A few minutes later, Dean returned to Sam not only with the directions to the museum, but also the name of the local watering hole where Lorraine was sometimes known to kick back and relax after work. Sam just rolled his eyes. He never had the proper appreciation for Dean's skills.
The Gattsburg Historical Society and Gattsburg County Museum were located in the same building, a two-story limestone structure three blocks down from the city square. Sam grunted when he saw the plaque announcing the organizations and their times of business.
"Let's hope this guy we're talking to has more information than his website."
"Anything at this point would be better than what we've got."
Stepping inside the foyer of the building was, cliche as it sounded, like stepping back in time. Ancient green tile covered the floor, and the walls were a dark wood panelling topped by white plaster that had yellowed a bit with age. A black mahogany lawyer's desk sat at the far end of the foyer, the leather inset top faintly scarred and worn from years of use. Even the smell of the room held a hint of dust, a touch of history mingled in with the vaguely chemical smell of the air conditioning. Dean paused for a moment, taking in the framed county road map from 1901 that hung on the wall. His eyes traced the route to the Dupree Farm; at least at that time, it had held enough importance in the county to rate being named specifically on the map.
"May I help you?"
The voice belonged to the elderly black gentleman standing at the foyer entrance. His hair and neatly trimmed beard were completely gray, and the suspendered slacks and bow tie he wore seemed to fit with the atmosphere of the building.
"Yes, sir." Sam was sporting that "We're totally trustworthy, now don't you want to help us?" smile that Dean never could quite master. "I'm Jon Cain and this is Steve Smith. We're writers with Southern Travel magazine. We're doing a series of articles on travel spots with antebellum roots. We're mainly focusing on in-depth looks at the history of the area, but we're also doing sidebars on local legends, especially ghost stories and the like."
Hell, if Dean hadn't known the truth, he would have believed Sam. The kid could have made a killing in Vegas. Dean just fixed an earnest, history-geek look on his face as the elderly man looked at him and let Sam do his stuff.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, son. I'm Bob Harveseimer, curator of the museum and head of the Historical Society. Would you like to come in and look around?"
"That would be great, sir. We're hoping to do a feature on the Dupree Farm, so any information you have would be very helpful."
Mr. Harveseimer led the way into a long room lined with displays. A life-like family dressed in Little House on the Prairie clothes were posed in presumably authentic activities: the mother sat at a spinning wheel, the father sat by a fake fireplace with a leather harness and some sort of tool in his hands, the little girl held a cloth doll as she "watched" the little boy play jacks. Next to that section was a collection of antique farming tools, and then a display case filled with 18th and 19th century rifles and handguns. Dean paused there for a moment, his lips quirking slightly as he saw the 1873 Winchester rifle. Now that was a beauty.
"In that case," Mr. Harveseimer was saying, "why don't you come into my office? As luck would have it, I've just been doing some research on the Dupree family and their farm. I've been trying to get together a comprehensive history of the county on the Society's website, and the Duprees are my next project." He shook his head. "Technology these days. You boys probably don't think anything of it, but for my generation, the idea of having information right there at your finger tips . . . It's disconcerting and nearly miraculous."
"That it is, sir," Dean said, not really wanting to get into a long discussion of the advancements of the 20th century. "But sometimes there's nothing like the human touch, you know? Hearing things right from the horse's mouth, so to speak."
Mr. Harveseimer smiled. "A man after my own heart. There's nothing like a story told by someone who knows how to tell it. Have a seat, boys, and tell me what you want to know."
They had reached what Dean assumed was Mr. Harveseimer's office. It was a small, bookcase-lined room that seemed nearly overflowing with books of all sizes and colors. In spite of the sheer number of books, the office was almost painfully neat, with the papers on the desk perfectly aligned with the desk calendar. In front of the desk sat two leather-seated chairs with rounded wooden backs. Sam and Dean sat as Mr. Harveseimer went around the desk and took his seat.
"Well, sir, our main interest at the moment is in the Dupree Farm. What can you tell us about it?" Sam asked.
Mr. Harveseimer sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers together.
"It's one of the oldest structures in the county. The Dupree family first came here in the 1790's, as far as I can tell from the records that exist from that time period. They started out with a fairly small log cabin and less than an acre of land. But by the 1820's, they had built the current house and expanded their acreage. They planted cotton and acquired some slaves to help run the farm." Mr. Harveseimer's voice had fallen into an easy cadence that made it easy for Dean to picture him lecturing in front of a classroom. "The last of the Duprees, Matthew and Lydia, never had children. When Lydia died in the 1890's, the property went to first cousins of the family, the McCutcheons. It stayed in that family for nearly ninety years, although it wasn't always occupied. After that, I believe it's been owned by a couple of different families, although no one did much with it until the most recent owners. The--Foresters? No. Fosters. I believe they're working on renovating the place. It'll be nice to see it used as a home again."
Sam nodded. "We spoke with Mr. Foster about our article, but unfortunately he didn't know much about the Farm's history."
From somewhere, he had produced a notepad and pen. Dean shook his head slightly. Geek.
Mr. Harveseimer was nodding. "Most of the information we have on the Duprees comes from a mix of public records and private recollections, primarily personal diaries. It's fascinating reading for an old history buff like myself, but a bit like putting together pieces of several different jigsaw puzzles in an attempt to make one picture." He patted an obviously old, embossed leather book sitting on the corner of his desk. "I've been working with this one recently. The personal diary of Millicent Bradford, wife of the mayor of Gattsburg during the 1850's and through the War. She was a good friend of Lydia Dupree. Luckily for me, Mrs. Bradford was a real gossip. I've gotten more information on the Duprees and other notable families in the area from her diaries than from all the issues of The Gazette combined."
"Anything in there about a little girl dying on the Dupree Farm? Maybe a slave?" Dean asked. He ignored the glare Sam shot him; Sam had his way of doing things, but so did Dean. Dean's tended to involve less beating around the bush.
Mr. Harveseimer frowned. "That's an interesting question, son. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, we've just heard some rumors, you know? Ghost stories, things that go bump in the night, that kind of thing." Dean tried to remember what Sam had told Mr. Harveseimer when they'd come in. "Some of our readers get a kick out of knowing the legends of the places they visit. I guess they think they're ghost hunters or something."
"I suppose that sometimes the ghost stories are the most interesting part of the history of a place," Mr. Harveseimer said with a chuckle. He opened the diary and started paging through. "Since you brought up the question, I do seem to remember reading something. Not about a girl dying on the Dupree Farm; Lydia and Matthew Dupree only had field workers, mainly adults. Lydia had a rather unusual rule about never allowing their slaves into the main house. Even for her dinner parties, she would hire servers from the community. Mrs. Bradford mentioned that habit several times. She found it odd that Lydia did most of her own house cleaning."
Dean shifted in his chair. Sam, naturally, seemed fascinated by the old guy's meanderings, but Dean wished he'd just get to the point. Preferably before the turn of the next century.
As if to torture Dean, Mr. Harveseimer paused, scanning the page he had landed on.
"Yes, here it is. I thought I remembered it being in this particular diary. 1860, June 18th, to be exact. Mrs. Bradford writes about sending one of her slaves, Molly, out to the Dupree Farm to deliver an invitation to a ladies' tea and to ask if she might borrow Lydia Dupree's latest Godey's Lady's Book to copy the dress pattern. She mentions elsewhere in her diaries that Molly was roughly ten years old and becoming a good lady's maid, but was sometimes overly energetic. Mrs. Bradford often sent her on errands to give her a chance to use up some of her energy.
"Let me just read this to you: 'The most dreadful event has occurred. At about two o'clock this afternoon, when I was in the lounge reading to escape this ridiculous heat, Philippa'--that was another of their slaves--'came to knock on the door with the most horrible look on her face. She told me that Mr. MacDougal, the man who owns the farm south of town by Crooked Creek, had been driving his wagon home along the old Post Road. He happened upon our Molly! She was lying at the side of the road, bruised and battered as if she had fallen down the side of a mountain. I ran immediately to the kitchen, where they had brought her. As soon as I saw her, I knew it was too late, but I sent Philippa for Doctor Treville in vain hope that I was wrong. Mr. Bradford returned home to find us all in a state and proposed to call in the sheriff to investigate who had done this to our poor Molly.'"
Mr. Harveseimer looked up from his reading.
"There's more about buying Molly a headstone, which would have been somewhat unusual in those days, and a bit about how the sheriff never found who beat the child to death. I've never heard of any stories about Molly turning into a ghost, though, and certainly not at the Dupree Farm. In fact, Mrs. Bradford mentions that Lydia Dupree never saw Molly that day, so she must not have made it to the Farm before she was murdered. It seems like she'd be more likely to haunt the roadside where she was killed, or maybe the Bradford's house, doesn't it?"
"You never know."
How Sam managed to kick him without looking like he moved his leg, Dean would never know.
"That does make sense, sir." Sam made a show of looking at his notes. "I was interested in what you said about the slaves on the Dupree Farm. This was close to the start of the Civil War. Did they ever have any trouble with slaves uprising or trying to escape?"
Mr. Harveseimer shook his head.
"Actually, the Duprees seemed to sense which way the wind was blowing, politically speaking. It wasn't long after Molly's murder, in fact, that they decided to take an extended vacation in Europe. Of course, at that time, both the Union and the soon-to-be Confederacy were predicting that war, which many of them believed to be inevitable, would only last a few months at most. The Duprees weren't the only wealthy family to try to wait out the conflict overseas. Unlike some, the Duprees spent the entire War there.
"As for the slaves, they had been left to run the Farm with an overseer. According to Mrs. Bradford, it was several weeks after the Duprees left that anyone had need to go out to the Dupree Farm. They found all the slaves and the overseer gone. There was all sorts of speculation, but most people apparently came to the conclusion that the slaves had run off and the overseer disappeared so he wouldn't be blamed. This was late in 1860, and the political climate at that point was so uncertain that people seemed to forget about the whole thing pretty quickly. In fact, the Duprees and their property are barely mentioned in Mrs. Bradford's diaries through the War years. It wasn't until Lydia Dupree returned in 1866--Matthew had contracted pneumonia in France and died--that Mrs. Bradford even mentions the family again."
"That's fascinating," Sam said. "And what about the earlier Duprees? Before Matthew and Lydia? Is there anything there that might help our readers experience the history of the area?"
Dean thought Sam was laying it on a little thick, but Mr. Harveseimer seemed to consider the question carefully.
"Well, I did see mention of Bartholomew Dupree--that would have been Matthew's great-uncle--going off to sea. There was a letter to his mother from a cousin asking about the rumors that he had turned privateer, which was a nice way of saying pirate. Unfortunately, we don't have his mother's response." Mr. Harveseimer shrugged. "The further back we go in time, the less we know. According to the county tax records, the Duprees paid their taxes on time and in full. At some points, that's all we know about them."
"Well, sir, thank you for sharing what you do know. It's been really interesting," Sam said, standing and holding out his hand.
Mr. Harveseimer stood and clasped it. "It was my pleasure, boys. If you feel like it, take a look at the picture display on the west wall when you leave. It's a chronology of pictures and daguerreotypes that people throughout the county have given us copies of. I know there are a few Duprees up there, and I'm almost certain Lydia and Matthew were among them. There's also a picture of the Farm from the early 1900's."
"Thank you, sir. We appreciate it," Dean said, shaking his hand in turn.
"I'm looking forward to reading that article when it comes out." Mr. Harveseimer smiled as he sat back down. "Have a good day, now."
Dean would have been just as happy to skip the pictures, but Sam, of course, insisted on stopping. The display was in a glass case hung on the wall; pictures were arranged on a time-line that showed the important events in the history of the country and of Gattsburg county. The earliest, showing a bunch of stiff-looking men in uncomfortable suits, was a hand-drawn picture titled, "Celebrating Tennessee's Statehood--1796." Dean wandered ahead, hoping for something interesting to leap out at him, while Sam apparently decided to peer at every single caption on every single picture. There were times when Dean wondered if they were really related.
Then something caught his eye, and he stepped in for some peering of his own. There they were, Matthew and Lydia Dupree. It had been the last name that drew his attention, but something about the old-fashioned picture seemed familiar. Maybe it was their poses: the woman sitting straight up, the man standing at her shoulder, both wearing identically serious expressions. It seemed like every old picture Dean had ever seen, including many in this display case, were set up in exactly the same way. In fact, if you cut the heads off one couple and pasted them on another, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. It was kind of creepy.
As Sam came up behind him, Dean glanced over.
"Hey, look at this. American Gothic, Civil War-style."
Sam gave him an odd look as he leaned down to look at the picture.
"What? I dated an art major once."
It had been kind of cool, looking through her textbooks. She'd known all sorts of weird and kinky things about the various artists. They'd tried out several of the more interesting stories--just to check them for accuracy, of course.
"Of course you did," Sam muttered. "They don't look like they were destined to become restless spirits."
Dean looked back at the picture. Matthew's hair was parted down the middle and he had a thick handlebar mustache; Lydia looked like Rachel Bilson crossed with a spinster school marm.
"Maybe they were so depressed by what they had to wear that they decided to get revenge on anyone who could actually bend at the waist and breathe at the same time."
"Or maybe they had nothing to do with it, and we're not any further along than we were this morning."
Dean sighed. He'd been trying to avoid that conclusion.
"Well, dude, in that case, let's head back to the ranch. Maybe our spirit will come out and introduce itself, and we can have a quick heart-to-heart before sending it on to its eternal rest. Or kick its ass, whichever it prefers."
It was mid-afternoon as they left the museum, and they hadn't eaten since breakfast. Dean hit the Dairy Queen drive-thru before pointing the Impala back toward the Dupree Farm. As the beat of Metallica filled the car, Sam sipped contemplatively on his Coke and turned the information they had learned over in his mind.
The story of Molly was the closest thing they had to a lead. But Mr. Harveseimer was mostly right: ghosts usually haunted the place of their death or the place they had lived, which meant either the roadside or the Bradford house. Unless, of course, Molly hadn't really died on the roadside. His thoughts flew back to the previous night, and he pictured again the image he had seen in the window. A young girl, dressed in clothes from an earlier time period. He wasn't an expert, but Civil War-era seemed right from what he could tell. She had been staring in the window, eyes wide. It had been a fleeting glimpse, but if he had to put an emotion to her expression, it would have been terror.
"What if," he said slowly, reaching over to turn the music down, "Molly actually died at the Dupree Farm?"
Dean shot him a considering look, one that said, "That's kind of nuts, but I'll play along so we can figure this thing out." For a second, Sam realized how much he'd missed this kind of give-and-take when he'd been at Stanford, and then Dean's impatient grunt got him back on track.
"When I saw her--"
"If it was her."
"Okay, if it was her. She was staring in the window, watching me. I'd just opened the basement door. Now, I know this is a leap, but it's not like we've got anything else. What if Molly went into the house, maybe saw something she shouldn't have? And someone, probably one of the Duprees because they didn't let their slaves come into the house, caught her and pushed her down the stairs. Or maybe she was just curious, poking around, whatever, and she tripped and fell. Those stairs are steep, man. I can totally see someone breaking their neck if they fell."
Dean was silent for a moment, his expression thoughtful.
"But why would the Duprees lie about it if she was there? Why not just say she tripped and fell?"
Sam's dream from the night before hung vividly behind his eyes.
"Maybe they had something down in the basement they didn't want anyone to know about. If someone did push her, she might be looking for revenge."
"I don't know, Sam. Like you said, that's kind of a leap."
"If you've got a better idea, let me know. And Mr. Harveseimer said that the Bradfords had bought Molly a headstone, which means we can probably find her grave."
"Good point." He paused for a moment as they pulled up in the Farm's drive. "Since we're here, why don't we check out the basement, see if there's anything down there that might give us a clue. If we don't find anything, we'll head back to town and see if we can figure out where Molly's grave might be."
"Works for me."
Sam led the way into the house. As they passed the main stairs, Dean started up.
"I'm going to run up and get the EMF meter and a couple of flashlights. Don't go down there without me."
Sam, with the remnants of his nightmare still on his mind, had absolutely no problem with that.
"Don't take forever," he said by way of agreement as he continued on to the kitchen.
The basement door stood just as he had left it, with the stool propped in front of it to keep it open. He braced a hand against the doorjamb and leaned in just a bit, testing the air. It still had an odd, musty smell to it, but not nearly as strong as the previous night.
Hearing steps behind him, he started to turn, expecting Dean. Instead, he caught a glimpse of long dark hair. He distinctly felt the pressure of two hands at his waist, shoving him so violently that he stumbled forward. And then the door slammed shut behind him, and everything was dark.
Dean had just grabbed the EMF meter from where he'd left it in his duffel when he heard a door slam downstairs.
"Sam?" he called. He had a sudden memory of doing the same thing the night before and how Sam had been fine.
This time, there wasn't an answer.
Dean took the stairs two, three at a time and skidded on the hardwood floors as he rounded the balustrade and ran back toward the kitchen. There was no sign of Sam. The basement door stood as he had last seen in on their original tour of the house, closed and deadbolted against any entry.
Dean frowned. Probably, he had heard the front door slam as Sam went out to the car to get something. It was a logical explanation, but one that left Dean with an uneasy feeling as he headed back toward the front door. His worry only increased when he didn't see Sam outside. A quick circuit of the downstairs rooms left Dean back where he'd started--in front of the locked door with no Sam to be found.
"Okay, Sammy, where are you?" he said, his voice intruding on the house's stillness. Even though he waited, straining his ears for any sound, there was no answer.
He frowned at the door as if it could give him an answer, his eyes falling once more on the deadbolts. Hadn't Sam left the door open last night? He didn't know for sure; he hadn't come back into the kitchen until now. But it made sense that he would have left it open, given that he wanted to air it out. If so, there was no reason for him to shut and lock the door since he knew they were about to go down. And there also wasn't a reason--a normal, mundane reason--why, if Sam had stupidly decided to go down on his own, that the door would be closed and locked again.
"Sam?" He pounded on the door, then stopped to listen for an answer. Nothing. "Sam!"
Dean set down the EMF meter and yanked his pick case out of his back pocket, pulling out the torque and pick with fingers that were clumsy with haste and fear. He'd never had the hands for lock picking, not like Sam did. It took a delicate touch. It didn't matter, though; if he didn't get the locks open in a couple of minutes, he'd get a crowbar and let delicacy be damned.
Darkness. All he could hear was screaming. People. Voices. Screaming.
Sam was in a gloomy, brick-walled room. Lanterns hung from hooks on the wall above the stone staircase that lead down into the room. The flames cast flickering shadows across the odd shapes that lined the walls.
Moaning. Pleading for help. Sobbing.
He was chained to the wall. The brick was cold against his bare back, and it hurt like fire. His left foot ached horribly. When he looked down, he saw only emptiness below his knee.
He was screaming.
Rivulets of sweat ran down the ebony skin of the two men kneeling in front of him. Their faces were twisted, not by fear, but by horrible scarring that left them looking more like monsters than humans. Only their eyes could show the abject terror they were feeling. A black shadow leaned over them, and Sam could see the flames from the lanterns glinting across the blade of a knife.
Help me. Please, please help me.
She had been beautiful once. She lay on a wooden table, naked and spread-eagled, her black skin coated red with her own blood. She had been cut open, gutted, her ribs spread and her organs mangled. Her empty eyes stared straight at Sam.
He didn't look more than fourteen at most, although he was small and half-starved. His head lolled, the whites of his eyes showing under half-closed lids. His ankles were shackled, possibly because his hands couldn't be. His arms had been crudely cut off and cauterized just below the shoulders. Starting at his left nipple, his skin had been taken off, sliced in oddly neat strips in the shape of a spiral.
Help us. Please.
He couldn't see. His eyes, they'd pressed and scraped and taken his eyes, and when he'd screamed, they'd cut out his tongue. He kept screaming anyway though the blood was filling his mouth and choking him. They were pressing him into a space, square and reeking of decaying flesh. They were burying him. He wasn't dead. Couldn't they see, couldn't they hear he wasn't dead? He struggled wildly, his hands scrambling at bricks, at the clothes of the ones holding him down. Something heavy fell on him. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe.
He couldn't breathe.
Dean had clamped down on everything but the need to get the door open. He couldn't let himself think about what might be happening to Sam on the other side, or the possibility that he'd guessed wrong and was wasting time trying to get through the door when Sam was somewhere else, hurt badly enough that he couldn't answer when Dean yelled. Indecision was just as deadly as a bullet, their dad had told them over and over, and Dean knew it was true. Even so, there was a tiny voice at the back of his mind that just kept chanting, Sammy. Sammy. Oh, God. Sammy.
Feeling the pins finally give in the lock, Dean yanked the door open. Stairs and darkness and no sign of Sam, but the stairs had to lead somewhere. He flipped the light switch just inside the door. The stairs flooded with brightness, steep and curving at the end into a longer room that he couldn't see into from his angle. He made himself take the time to prop the door open with a nearby stool, then splash the door, stool, and especially the locks with holy water and sprinkle a line of salt across the bottom of the door frame. Not wasted time if it kept them from getting trapped down there, he told his conscience firmly, and started down at a breakneck speed. As he turned the corner, he saw Sam huddled in the middle of the floor.
"Sam?" Dean didn't wait for an answer as he vaulted down the steps, but it scared him that Sam didn't even look up. "Sammy?"
Dean fell to his knees beside his brother. Sam was straining for each breath, the sound coming from his mouth harsh and hoarse as if a weight was resting on his chest. Dean checked him over, hands moving in a controlled panic as he tried to see where Sam was hurt. The ABCs of first aid had been drilled into him since he was a child and he checked each one off mentally: airway clear, breathing--sucked for reasons he couldn't explain, circulation seemed to be fine and no blood anywhere that he could spot. He wrapped an arm around Sam to support him, feeling the tremble of muscles straining for air. The only sign Sam gave that he knew Dean was there lay in the way his hand clutched frantically at Dean's jacket, practically clawing at it.
"Come on, Sammy, don't do this," Dean muttered as he cupped Sam's cheek and tilted his head back. Sam stared past him with blank eyes, his skin clammy and his lips starting to turn blue. "Okay. Okay. If it's not physical, it's probably paranormal, right?"
Grabbing the bottle of holy water off his belt, he up-ended it over Sam's head, hoping that the shock of the water might help even if the blessings it contained did nothing. For a moment, there was nothing but the sound of Sam's gasps.
"Damn it, leave him alone!"
Whether it was the holy water or Dean's demand, he'd never know. Sam collapsed against him, gasps turning to near-sobs for air. Dean tightened his grip. He brushed the damp hair out of Sam's eyes with his fingers and breathed his own sigh of relief as he saw the color coming back into Sam's face.
Suddenly weak, Dean rested his chin against the top of Sam's head. "It's okay, Sammy. It's okay now."
At first, all Sam could focus on was the need to take in as much air as possible. Every muscle in his body felt abused and trembled with exhaustion, and he couldn't force himself to open his eyes for fear that he might find them gone. Then, slowly, other sensations penetrated his awareness: the warmth of the body he was leaning against, the strength of the arms holding him, the gentleness of the fingers carding through his hair.
"Dean?" The voice didn't sound like his, but it came from his raw throat.
"Yeah, Sam, I'm here."
The shakiness in Dean's voice did the trick where will power couldn't. Sam opened his eyes, squinting against the light that was thankfully there, and pushed away from his brother enough to see his face. Dean gave a weak facsimile of his usual cocky grin, but Sam couldn't see anything to indicate Dean was hurt. Just scared half out of his mind.
"There were ghosts," Sam told him, and let himself lean back against Dean's shoulder for a moment. "They were trying to show me what happened, I think. They wanted help."
Dean snorted. "To what, strangle you? Dude, you were barely breathing."
"I know." Sam cleared his throat and brought up a shaky hand to rub his face. "Dean? Why am I all wet? And don't say what I think you're going to say."
Dean's sigh was deep enough to shake his whole body. "Would I do that to you?"
"You're learning, grasshopper." Dean patted Sam's shoulder and shifted his position so that they where sitting side by side, but he kept one hand against Sam's back as support. "I baptized you."
Sam was still working on the breathing thing; it took him a second to work that out. "You dumped holy water on me?"
"Yep." Dean grinned. "Look on the bright side. You probably don't have to shower for a week now. All your germs are washed clean."
Sam shook his head, making sure to fling a few drops of water in Dean's face. "You're warped."
"At least I'm not all wet." Dean wiped his face. "Much. Thanks a lot, Sam."
"My pleasure." Sam straightened up to sit on his own and looked around the room. "Dean, what those ghosts were showing me--"
"Looked like more than just showing to me," Dean interrupted.
"They've got 3-D beat all to hell," Sam agreed, "but I really didn't get the feeling that they were trying to hurt me. I kept hearing these different voices asking for help."
"So what did you see?"
"These people--I think they were the Dupree's slaves. They'd been tortured, Dean, cut up and arms and legs missing and skin just sliced off like you would an apple peel."
"Like Kurt Foster's leg?"
Sam nodded. The images still danced behind his eyes and made his stomach clench in rebellion. "Yeah."
Dean frowned. "So you think they were asking the Fosters for help, too? Funny way to go about it, if you ask me."
"I don't know." Sam looked around the room, seeing shadows chained to the wall in spite of the bright light. "No. I think--" He frowned, hating that he only had feelings to go on, not evidence. But sometimes, feelings led where the brain didn't know to go. "I think that whatever cut Kurt Foster and attacked us was probably responsible for torturing the people who were held captive down here."
"Why? It sounds like these people had a reason to want revenge. And they sure as hell weren't all open arms and welcoming to you."
"They were scared, Dean. It didn't feel like they were angry. They just wanted someone to know what happened to them, to help them get free. Whatever attacked us last night, that was pissed as hell that we were here."
Dean sighed, not quite conceding the point but not objecting, either.
"Okay, that would mean two separate sets of spirits. One group stuck here because, I don't know, the other wouldn't let them leave? They want justice? And the other still trying to protect its secrets. Maybe it got stirred up when the Fosters started renovating, or maybe it's been here the whole time. Either way, I say it's time for all of them to move on. Which means we need to figure out where all the bodies are buried. Maybe that family cemetery Foster told us about?"
Sam remembered the feeling of being pushed into the hole, of scratching futilely for purchase on the bricks around the opening.
"I don't think so," he said slowly, his eyes once again searching the walls. "At least, not the slaves. I think they're still down here."
"The ghosts? That's pretty much a given."
"No. The bodies. I felt--" He stood up, walking toward the end of the basement where a long rectangular section of bricks were a slightly different shade of faded brownish-red than the rest. "Some of them were buried alive. I felt it, like I was inside the memory of it happening, you know? I was being pushed into a hole with other bodies, and I could feel bricks around the hole."
Dean came up behind him, bumping his shoulder sympathetically. "How do you think the Fosters are going to feel about us demolishing part of their wall?"
"Better than they feel about having ghosts, if I'm right."
"And if you're wrong, we'll totally say the ghosts did it."
All things considered, Dean thought that taking a sledge hammer to the brick wall felt pretty good. At least for the first strike. The second broke the bricks into enough pieces that, once the dust cleared, he could see the piles of bones entombed in the wall. Sam made a muffled sound and turned away, but not before Dean caught the queasy look on his face.
"Hey, Sammy, why don't you go upstairs and get us a couple of those dust sheets to carry these in?" Dean asked as if he hadn't noticed Sam's discomfort. As Sam escaped up the stairs, Dean added, "Don't shut that door!"
"Didn't plan on it," Sam called back.
Dean turned back to the hole in the wall. The bodies had mostly decomposed into brown-stained bones, but here and there he could see strands of hair or tissue that had hardened to the bone. He pulled his shirt up over his nose so he wouldn't have to inhale the dust and started back to work on the wall.
When Sam came back down, he had work gloves in addition to the dust sheets. They laid all the bones out on the two sheets. Before Sam could start wrapping the sheets up, Dean sprinkled salt on them. He chose to ignore the face Sam made.
"I told you, they weren't trying to hurt anyone."
"Maybe." Dean didn't really care what the ghosts' intentions had been. Whatever had happened to Sam hadn't been a gentle pat on the back. Dean wasn't exactly seeing Casper-like friendliness to the living, here.
Sam tied the sheets into make-shift bags while Dean used Sam's bottle of holy water to sprinkle the hole where the bodies had been kept. He'd suggest that the Fosters get someone to bless or smudge the whole room, depending on which way their beliefs ran. Glancing at the bundles of bones, he grimaced. Maybe he'd suggest they do the whole house.
Sam led the way up the stairs and out the back door, pausing to grab a couple of shovels he'd apparently brought in from the car when he'd gone to get the sheets. Dean refrained from calling him a Boy Scout only because he seemed somber, as if whatever the ghosts had shown him was still bothering him. But that was Sam, too soft-hearted not to care in spite of all his earlier talk about wasting time with side jobs when they needed to find Dad.
Being in the country, the Fosters' backyard stretched out for a long way before it ended in a row of trees. The sun was close to setting, a deep orange-red glow that was already fading to black at the edges. Dean would have happily picked any spot that was a safe enough distance from the house to prevent a fire from the sparks when they burned the bones. Sam, for some reason, seemed bent on finding the perfect spot and kept walking until they'd cleared the trees. Finally, he stopped in a clearing where a large square of ground was still outlined by uniform stones--the remains of a cabin or shed of some sort, it looked like. Possibly, Dean couldn't help but think, the cabin where some of the slaves had lived.
Whatever it had once been, the dirt made a good area for burning and burial. Sam didn't seem in the mood for chatter as he started digging. Dean left him to his thoughts. It wasn't that unusual to run across horrors in their line of business, but Sam wouldn't be Sam if he didn't need a little time to wrap his mind around how awful it could get. Particularly when it was a case of humans committing the horror on other humans. Dean couldn't understand that himself, but unlike Sam, he didn't get any benefit out of trying to understand it. No, his therapy lay in fixing the problem however he could--preferably with some ass-kicking if at all possible.
It was fully dark by the time the grave was complete. Sam untied the knots in the sheets and lowered them into the hole. Dean liberally sprinkled the bones with salt, then doused them in lighter fluid. Some nearby twigs worked as kindling, and the entire grave was quickly filled with flames. The heat from the fire caressed Dean's skin as he looked over at his brother.
"You're free now," Sam said. "You can go. You're free."
Dean didn't sense any difference, but Sam seemed to relax, the tension fading from around his eyes as they watched the fire die down. In the light from their flashlights, they filled in the grave and then turned to go back to the house.
Sam followed Dean back to the house, hanging back just a bit to enjoy the cool night air brushing against his face. He imagined it cleansing his skin, not from the touches of the ghosts, but from the miasma of hatred and pain they'd suffered in for so long. He hadn't told Dean that it had felt like the ghosts stayed with him, feather-light brushes of their fingers against his neck and face and through his hair, whispers of thank you as the fire flared bright. He wasn't sure Dean would understand. For that matter, he wasn't sure he understood, except that for a few moments, he'd been one of the people suffering. He'd known that they had remained trapped in the nightmare for all these years, and he knew that all they wanted was to move on.
He had a feeling that, if he told Dean all that, Dean would call him a girl.
As they approached the back porch, Dean slowed and looked over his shoulder at Sam, his face thrown into a half-shadow by the lights from inside the house.
"You ready to hunt down that cemetery and see if Lydia Dupree is there?"
"We need more salt first." Sam glanced around at the dark yard. "And flashlights would be good."
Dean's teeth flashed white as he grinned. "Wimp. I told you you needed to eat your carrots when you were little."
Sam snorted. "I seem to remember you hiding them under your bowl whenever Dad made that stew."
"Those were cooked," Dean said as if it explained everything.
"And you call me a wimp."
"As much as I can work into the conversation, yes."
Sam sighed as he walked past Dean. Someday, maybe, he'd learn how to not let Dean get the last word in, but--
His thoughts and feet came to a halt at the same time as he realized what he was seeing: standing under the kitchen window was a young girl in an old-fashioned striped dress and a kerchief tied around her head. It could almost have been a trick of the night that made her seem vaguely indistinct, her coffee-colored skin almost translucent. The shadows that lay across her face could have been from the house lights rather than bruises. She could have been an oddly dressed neighborhood child, except for the fact that her feet faded away into nothing before they touched the ground.
"Dean?" Sam asked.
"I see her."
Sam felt Dean come up beside him. Glancing at his brother's face, he saw emotions similar to his own: pity and wariness equally mixed.
"Hey, Molly, what are you still doing here?" Dean asked, as gently as if he were talking to a living child. He didn't step forward, though; didn't crouch down and give her the reassuring grin that kids never seemed to be able to resist.
For a moment, Molly seemed as if she hadn't heard him, as if she didn't even know they were there. Then her eyes darted to the house, fixing on something Sam couldn't see. Her expression held the same terror as the night before; Sam felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up from the intensity of the emotion. In another second, she was gone as if she had never been there in the first place.
"That was probably not a good sign," Dean said.
"Neither is that."
The house lights were flickering off and on with a cadence that looked, from Sam's perspective, distinctly angry. Through the window glass, he could see the curtains swaying as if a breeze had hit them.
Dean shot Sam a wry look.
"Time to meet the Duprees."
The kitchen was cold in a way that had nothing to do with air conditioning. A breeze was whipping about the room, sliding Sam's hair into his eyes. He brushed it out of the way with the back of his hand, squinting against the flickering lights to spot the threat he knew had to be there.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," Dean singsonged, setting his shovel on the table so that he could hold his shotgun with both hands.
The voice wasn't quite a whisper, but it seemed to fill the entire room all the same. Sam scanned the room quickly. He wasn't seeing anything.
"Let's just get the salt and get this over with," he said.
With a sharp pop, the overhead light bulbs shattered, raining glass down on them. The room was suddenly black except for the light from the basement, which spilled from the door as cheerily as in Sam's dream but somehow didn't penetrate the rest of the room. He gripped his shotgun more tightly.
From somewhere to his right, Dean chuckled.
The voice was closer to a scream. Sam felt something whip by him that wasn't solid enough to be Dean. There wasn't enough light in the room to risk a shot, not when he didn't know more than Dean's general location.
Dean's voice sounded closer. As Sam turned toward it, he heard a sickening sound--metal hitting flesh, and then a pained grunt that he knew came from his brother.
He practically fell over Dean's curled up form on the floor. Crouching, he skimmed his hand along Dean's side, checking first for breathing and then--
"Dude, quit feeling me up."
The gasp was labored, but definitely Dean.
"What the hell--"
"I think it got me with my shovel."
Dean grabbed Sam's arm and used it as leverage to sit up. The house had gone eerily still, with a heaviness to the air like the calm before a hurricane. They needed light; Sam fumbled for his lighter and flicked it on.
She was close enough to touch.
He scrambled backward, dragging Dean with him. Still winded, Dean was more pliable than usual; they ended up in a heap with Dean sprawled across Sam's legs. Unfortunately, both of their shotguns had been left behind. Sloppy, Sammy, his dad's voice whispered in the back of his mind.
She stepped forward, her long, wavy black hair blowing in a breeze only she could feel. Her face was as white as a shroud, her eyes frozen pools of hatred. Her prim flowered dress was covered in a white pinafore-style apron that provided a pristine canvas for the Pollock masterpiece of blood that decorated it. It was hard to believe she was the same woman who had sat so properly in the photograph they had seen at the museum, but then, Lydia Dupree had apparently been very good at hiding her real self from the world.
Her words had risen to a shriek, and the window behind her shattered with the force of it. Defying gravity, the glass shot up and across the room. Sam shoved Dean back down, trying to cover them both from the flying shards. His arms stung where the glass hit bare skin.
A second later, he was rolling off Dean, ready to make a run for one of the guns. Dean grabbed his shoulder.
"Get the salt," Dean whispered, glancing at the hall that led toward the stairs.
The rest of their supplies were up in the bedroom where they'd slept. It would only take Sam a few minutes to dash up there, but that was a few minutes that Dean was left alone with an angry spirit and no weapons.
The tone was so reminiscent of their father that Sam was running before he even thought about it. He heard something heavy hit the wall as he pounded up the stairs and hoped like hell it hadn't been his brother. He didn't bother to search the duffel for what he needed, just grabbed it and threw himself back down the stairs at a pace that nearly had him falling and breaking his own neck.
There was no time to slow down, though. Something crashed in the kitchen, and as he pelted down the hall, he saw Dean fly into the kitchen table with enough force that it collapsed under him.
Dean didn't get up.
Sam's heart had stopped, but somehow his hands managed to unzip the duffel and locate the slick solidness of a baggie filled with salt. But as he dropped the duffel, Lydia Dupree turned to look at him.
He couldn't say how it happened. One second, he was fumbling with the opening of the bag; the next, his back had slammed into the wall and the same shovel that had blind-sided Dean was flying at him. The rough wood of the handle pressed against his throat. Pressure and a red-tinged blackness rushed up from that spot, obscuring his view of Lydia's coldly smiling face.
The blast was loud and close. Abruptly, the pressure stopped. Sliding to the floor, Sam rubbed at his neck. He looked blearily around the room, his eyes stopping on Dean. Dean, and the rock salt-loaded shotgun he still held in both hands.
Sam took a deep, painful breath and croaked, "Told you you wouldn't miss."
Dean reached down and grabbed Sam's hand, hauling him to his feet.
"Come on. I don't know how long it'll take her to come back. We need to find that cemetery."
Sam nodded, still swallowing repeatedly. Dean thought for a second about leaving him there; he didn't think Sam was hurt too badly, but the kid had practically suffocated twice in the last few hours. He deserved a bit of a break. On the other hand, the odds of their ghost seeing it that way and leaving Sam alone seemed pretty slim. Not being much of an optimist, Dean figured that keeping Sam where he could keep an eye on him was probably a good idea.
Shovels, shotguns, salt; Dean handed the tools of their trade to Sam, grabbed his own, and they were off. They'd barely cleared the porch when Sam stopped, dropping his shovel.
Dean turned back, a frisson of fear racing through him as he wondered if Sam had been hurt worse than he'd thought.
Sam held up something small and glowing; squinting, Dean realized with relief that it was his cell phone.
"We'll be out here all night if we just walk around looking for it," Sam said, dialing a number. "Hello, Mr. Foster?"
Sometimes, Dean reflected, his geek of a little brother was pretty damn smart. Not that Dean would ever admit it out loud where Sam could hear him.
"Okay." Sam flipped the phone shut and slid it back into his pocket. "Behind those trees, about a quarter of a mile to the west. He didn't know if Lydia was buried there; if not, he told me where the city cemetery is."
"Did he ask why?"
"Said he didn't want to know."
Dean snorted. Some people, as Nicholson would say, just couldn't handle the truth.
After the chaos inside the house, their walk toward the cemetery was remarkably peaceful. Crickets chirped all around them and the occasional firefly darted past. Somewhere in the distance, frogs croaked out plaintive love songs. The clear night sky sparkled with stars obscured only by the occasional tree branch shifting in the cool breeze. Sam was walking a little ahead of Dean; his flashlight played over the ground and caught the sudden jumps of grasshoppers startled by their footsteps.
Dean was hanging back on purpose. It was nothing but a hunch; however, Dean had learned early to trust his gut. Lydia Dupree had clung to the mundane world for over a hundred years. He just couldn't see her giving up that easily.
"We've got headstones," Sam called back to him. "Old headstones. I think this one says 1805. It's kind of hard to tell. The engraving's worn away."
Dean picked up his pace, jogging the last several feet to catch up with Sam. As he panned his flashlight around, he saw several rows of headstones intermixed with rose bushes and a couple of old, gnarled trees. A stone bench, worn with time, sat under one of the trees. Most of the stones were fairly simple, slabs of rock roughly hewn into squares, but Dean spotted a lamb lying on one and a particularly ugly cherub perched on another.
"When did the old guy say Lydia died?" he asked, shining his light on another headstone. "This one's Martha Dupree, 17-something to 1813. They seem to get more recent the further back you go."
"1890, I think," Sam replied. "She's probably going to be a couple of rows back, at least." He paused. "Or, maybe, right over there?"
Dean looked where Sam was pointing his flashlight. Under the second tree, by a gravestone decorated with a pair of angels, stood Lydia Dupree.
"Lady, you're making this too easy." Dean dropped his shovel and brought his gun in line.
She was gone before he could shoot. Scanning the area quickly, he saw nothing paranormal. Only Sam, moving closer to cover the area he couldn't see.
"Okay, not so easy."
"You want to dig first or keep watch first?" Sam asked from behind him.
"You can dig."
"Thanks a lot."
One thing about their lifestyle, they could both dig six feet down fast enough to leave a gravedigger envious. In a relatively short time, Sam had hit the top of the coffin, splintering the wood.
"Almost there," Sam said. "Don't worry about helping out or anything."
The rose bushes waved gently, catching Dean's eye in repeated false alarms. Jump at everything, you'll land on your ass right when you need to be on your feet, John said over and over. Dean kept that in the back of his mind, trying to stay loose and alert. He couldn't cover Sam's back if he was busy blowing shrubs all to hell.
The attack came without warning, a banshee scream and a blast of frigid air. Something knife-sharp dug into Dean's chest above his heart. He staggered, trying to bring the shotgun up. For some reason, his arms felt heavy, held to his sides with a preternatural strength.
Hoping to dislodge his attacker, Dean fell back onto the ground. Sam, apparently thinking he was hurt, started clambering out of the grave.
The word came out hoarsely, but Sam paused, clearly torn.
"Burn her," Dean growled. He had managed to work his hand into his pocket; he pulled out a baggie of salt and slung it in the air in front of himself. The white granules seemed to hang in the air for a breath of time before falling to the ground. The pain in his chest faded, leaving only a dull ache.
Looking up, he saw that Sam had pulled himself out of the hole and was pouring lighter fluid on the casket and bones. But as Sam's lighter flared, Lydia Dupree was suddenly there, running across the grass toward him with her face twisted in a howl of fury.
With agonizing slowness, Sam let the lighter go. As flames shot up from the grave, Dean heard his voice over the fire's hungry roar.
"Go to hell, bitch."
Lydia screamed again. This time, her voice held the terror that must have been felt by her victims. Dean couldn't find it in himself to be sorry for her as flames licked at her feet. In another second, the flames rushed up, consuming her completely.
Sam stepped over to where Dean was still lying on the ground. He reached down to pull Dean up, giving him a quick once-over in the light of the grave fire.
Dean was giving himself a once-over, too. He felt just fine, but that wasn't the issue. He stared in horror at the five small cuts in his leather jacket, each curved in a fingernail's half-moon, that formed a circle around his heart.
"That bitch ruined my jacket!"
Sam stretched his legs out as best he could in the Impala's passenger seat and leaned his head back on the headrest. Dean was still talking to Kurt Foster, hopefully remembering to tell him about getting the house cleansed. The horrors that had occurred there would leave a negative energy that would look like McDonalds to a hungry five-year-old to any supernatural creatures that passed by. Sam really didn't want to have to come back and clean up the house again.
Actually, all he wanted to do at the moment was get back on the road and figure out where their dad was. It was hard not to wake up every morning feeling like he'd lost another day in the hunt for Jess's murderer. That wasn't a job he and Dean could handle on their own; he needed his dad to even know where to start.
Hell, sometimes, he just needed his dad. Even though they'd end up in each other's faces in five minutes or less.
The metallic click of the door signalled Dean's arrival. He slid into the driver's seat and tossed Sam a white envelope that felt thick enough to guarantee them meals for another few weeks, at least.
"You ready to go?" Dean asked somewhat rhetorically since he was already starting the car.
"Yeah. Maybe we can make up some lost time."
Dean shot him a look that Sam couldn't quite decipher, but seemed to have a hint of apology to it.
"Look, Sam. I know how important finding Dad is to you right now. I promise, no more side jobs until we have an idea of where he is."
"Dean, man, you can't promise that. Something will come up that can't wait, and there won't be anyone else who can deal with it. We'll just keep working on finding Dad in between those times."
"And you're okay with that?"
Sam wanted to find his dad more than anything in the world, except maybe getting his hands on the thing that had killed Jess. But as he caught sight of the Fosters leaving their hotel room, the little girls dashing toward the hotel pool in their neon swim suits; as he thought of the collection of bones no longer encased in that hellish hole in the wall, he couldn't be sorry for the delay.
"Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah, I am."