There was something forever creepy about Halloween night, no matter how sensible you were or how little you believed in things that went bump in the night.
Even though this Halloween wasn’t spooky in the slightest – the decorations around Stanford University were more funny than frightening, the costumes either sexy or stupid (with a few exceptions), the weather cold but calm – Jessica Moore found herself turning the bathroom light on, rather than removing her make-up in the near darkness as she would normally have done with her boyfriend asleep.
She winced apologetically as the bulb flickered into life, alcohol making it seem brighter than normal, but Sam didn’t stir.
He hadn’t been sleeping well for the last week, probably due to the stress of waiting for his LSAT results, which, combined with his habit of early rising and their late night, had led to him collapsing on to their bed and falling asleep almost immediately.
Jess glanced towards the window as she reached for her cleanser pads. Somehow, the calm weather made the night seem even spookier – there was no howling wind, or crashing thunder, or tree branches tapping against the glass, but the silence was unsettling.
She shook herself, returning to her reflection, navigating the skin around her eyes with care.
Halloween night was only creepy because society made it so, she told herself firmly, and that was that.
But, still, her eyes were drawn back to the window.
The sill was empty, but for a potted plant and a thin layer of dust.
As it should be.
Jess flicked the light off again, and stepped back into their bedroom, navigating around the art supplies.
Art was more of a casual hobby than a vested interest, but since it was one they both shared, they had made the decision to invest in some equipment when they moved in together. Unfortunately, the apartment they shared was quite small, so it did create something of an obstacle course, but they could live with it for now.
Slipping out of the nurse’s costume she had donned for the evening (and feeling very glad she’d never actually have to wear one for work), Jess changed into the shorts and t-shirt she tended to sleep in and tossed the costume towards the laundry basket.
It didn’t quite make it, but she left it be.
She climbed into bed beside Sam, and exhaled deeply, her muscles relaxing as she gazed at the ceiling.
Something about dark and silence always brought her mind back to salt.
It was just after they’d moved in together a few months ago that she’d noticed it. At first, she had assumed the cellar had been knocked over, but at second glance, she had realised that the cellar was on the other side of the kitchen.
Plus, the salt was far too neat to have simply been spilled – it looked as though it had been poured precisely, along the base of the window.
Jess had cleaned it up, but not mentioned it to Sam, and she never saw a line like it again, although up to a few weeks previously, she had still spotted salt granules in places they shouldn’t have been.
It probably wouldn’t be bothering her at all had she not looked it up online, and found that salt lines were supposed to be a deterrent for demons and other evil spirits.
In the light of day, it was so easy to laugh that off, but sometimes, when the room was dark and quiet, when she was trying to get to sleep, her mind continued to return to it.
If she hadn’t put that salt there, then Sam must have done, but Sam was a sensible, logical guy – he wasn’t that guy.
And that right there – that was what kept her awake and was the reason why she hadn’t said anything to him.
She wasn’t afraid that her boyfriend was a little on the crazy side.
She was afraid he wasn’t.
Beside her, Sam stirred slightly, breaking her out of her musings, and she huffed out a laugh into the darkness.
She told Luiz those last shots were a bad idea.
Sam had probably spilled the salt, moved the cellar, got distracted, and forgotten to clean up.
And here she was, getting all worked up over things that didn’t exist.
Even on Halloween.
Rolling over, she pressed a soft kiss to Sam’s shoulder, feeling him relax against her, and closed her eyes, letting sleep wash over.
Less than three hours later, Jess’s eyes snapped open again, and she rubbed her face tiredly, dimly realising that Sam was no longer lying beside her.
It took a few more seconds to realise that there were noises coming from the kitchen. She wanted to think that Sam had got up to get a glass of water and knocked something over, probably what had woken her up, but straining her ears, she realised that there was someone else with him.
No one had buzzed from outside, or knocked on the door, because she knew from experience that would have woken her up.
Steeling herself, Jess jumped out of bed and hurried towards the noise, not bothering with slippers or a dressing gown.
“We gotta talk.”
Jess slowed down, hesitating outside the kitchen. She didn’t recognise the voice, but the words seemed pretty casual for a burglar.
“Uh, the phone?” Sam asked, sarcasm dripping from his voice.
Jess breathed a sigh of relief, but didn’t relax completely. It definitely sounded like Sam knew their mysterious visitor, but it also sounded as though he wasn’t too happy to see him.
“If I’d called, would you have picked up?”
Reaching into the kitchen, Jess flicked on the light. “Sam?”
“Jess, hey.” Sam said blankly, looking between her and the unknown man. He cleared his throat, directing his next words at their visitor. “Dean, this is my girlfriend, Jessica.”
Jess’s eyebrows rose towards her hairline. “Wait … your brother Dean?”
At Sam’s hesitant nod, her gaze slid towards Dean to survey him. Sam never spoke about his family – never – and all she knew was that his mother had died when he was a baby and that he hadn’t talked to his father since he started at Stanford, so her curiosity was more than peaked.
Dean was at least a head shorter than Sam, even though she knew he was the older brother (by four years, she seemed to remember), and his hair was shorter too. He held himself with casual grace, a kind of laid-back easiness that didn’t quite reach his green eyes, which were roving over her in a way that didn’t quite disguise the mistrust in them.
They lingered on her shirt, and he gave her a charming smile that she was sure had bought him entrance to many a bedroom over the years, and that she couldn’t help feeling wasn’t as sincere as he wanted her to believe.
“I love the Smurfs.” He said, by way of greeting. “Y’know, I gotta tell you … you are completely out of my brother’s league.”
Jess glanced down at her pyjamas, realising belatedly that what she was wearing could hardly be called appropriate for meeting her boyfriend’s brother. “Just let me put something on.”
“No, no.” Dean said, still grinning. “I wouldn’t hear of it. Seriously. Anyway, I gotta borrow your boyfriend here, talk about some private family business, but – uh – nice meeting you.”
Jess smiled uncomfortable. Under other circumstances, she would say Dean was hitting on her, but it didn’t feel like his heart was in it, and a glance at Sam’s stony expression made her realise that his sole intention was to get under Sam’s skin.
She didn’t appreciate it, and neither, clearly, did Sam. “No.” He said, his tone clipped with annoyance. “No, whatever you say to me, you can say it in front of her.”
Jess’s smile grew more genuine as Sam moved to stand beside her, slipping an arm around her waist.
Dean shrugged. “Okay. Dad hasn’t been home in a few days.”
“So he’s working overtime on a Miller Time shift.” Sam said frostily. “He’ll stumble back in sooner or later.”
Dean sighed. “Dad’s on a hunting trip. And he hasn’t been home in a few days.”
Beside her, Sam froze, and when she looked up, his expression was suddenly unreadable. “Jess, excuse us.” He said softly. “We have to go outside.”
“Well, you can’t go out like that.” Jess said automatically. “You’ll catch your death. I’ll grab you some sweats or something.”
She may as well have floated back to their bedroom, her mind was racing so fast. She pulled on some sweat pants and a hoodie herself, the chill beginning to permeate the thin walls of their apartment.
As she rooted through a drawer for something more substantial for her boyfriend, she finally made up her mind.
Sam’s reaction was too odd for their father to simply be hunting game. Clearly ‘hunting trips’ were not an uncommon occurrence, but they were worried he’d been gone more than a few days?
Again, her mind returned to that line of salt, the so-called protective nature of it.
It was crazy, she was crazy, there was nothing strange or unusual about it at all, but her feet carried her back to the kitchen almost without her consent, and the words spilled out of her mouth before she could stop them.
“Does this have anything to do with the salt?”
Sam and Dean had returned to their earlier face-off, but both turned at her words.
“What salt?” Dean asked.
The note of bewilderness in his question almost made Jess backtrack, laugh it off as tiredness and retreat back to bed to allow the brothers some privacy, but she didn’t miss the spark of panic that flared in Sam’s eyes or the glance he cast at his older brother.
“There was a line of salt at the kitchen window.” Jess elaborated, her gaze flitting between the two men. “I cleaned it up – didn’t say anything –but it was too neat for it to have been spilled or something. Seemed a bit quirky so I looked it up – salt lines are protection against demons and evil spirits, but Sam’s not the kind of guy to believe in that stuff if it wasn’t real, so either I’m going crazy or those things really exist.”
For a second, Sam looked like he would dispute it, but then Dean chuckled humourlessly. “Not bad, Jessica. Not bad at all.”
“Dean …” Sam began.
“Give the girl some credit.” Dean said, a strange smile lurking on his face. “Not many people would figure it out.”
“So I am right.” Jess said shakily, handing Sam the clothes she was clutching. “Your dad’s not hunting game, is he?”
Sam sighed heavily as he pulled the sweats on over his pyjamas. “No, he’s not. Alright, apparently, you can say it in front of her.”
“Whether she hears it is irrelevant.” Dean said with a shrug, letting himself out of the apartment. “She’s not coming with us.”
Jess gave Sam a startled look, but he seemed just as alarmed. “With us?” He repeated, following Dean into the stairwell. “Come on, you can’t just break in, middle of the night, and expect me to hit the road with you!”
Jess hesitated for a split-second, before curiosity won out, and she followed them, checking the door on the way. The lock had been picked, not forced, and she left it on the latch, relatively comfortable that no one else in the building was awake.
“You’re not hearing me, Sammy.” Dean said bluntly. “Dad’s missing. I need you to help me find him.”
“You remember the poltergeist in Amherst?” Sam asked in an undertone. “Or the devil’s gates in Clifton? He was missing then too! He’s always missing, and he’s always fine!”
Jess’s head was swimming. It was one thing to get suspect that these things existed, something else entirely to get confirmation, but to just have them thrown out as casually as last week’s shopping list? She grasped Sam’s hand as they hurried along in Dean’s wake, half trying to calm him down, half trying to comfort herself.
Dean swung around to face them, and they stopped short. “Not for this long. Now are you gonna come with me or not?”
“I’m not.” Sam answered flatly.
“Why not?” Dean asked.
“Because I swore I was done hunting.” Sam said tiredly. “For good.”
“Then … the salt?” Jess asked.
“Just because I was done hunting didn’t mean I forgot.” Sam answered. “I got better at hiding it … under the carpets and so on. However much I wanted to turn my back on it all, I couldn’t risk it.”
“Come on!” Dean said, rolling his eyes. “It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t that bad.”
“Yeah?” Sam asked, as Dean started down the stairs again. “When I told Dad I was scared of the thing in my closet, he gave me a .45.”
“Well, what was he supposed to do?!” Dean demanded, stopping once more as he reached the door out into the parking lot.
“I was nine years old!” Sam protested, causing Jess to inhale sharply against her will. “He was supposed to say ‘don’t be afraid of the dark’.”
“Don’t be afraid of the dark?” Dean repeated scornfully. “Are you kidding me?! Of course you should be afraid of the dark – you know what’s out there!”
His words were directed at Sam, but Jess still felt a shiver of fear run through her. It must have travelled through into Sam as well, because he glanced at her and softened his tone a little. “Yeah, I know. But still … the way we grew up after Mom died … and Dad’s obsession to find thing the killed her …”
Jess raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Killed her? I thought Sam said it was a fire.
“… but we still haven’t found the damn thing. So we kill everything we can find.”
“Save a lot of people doing it too.” Dean stated proudly.
Sam stared at his brother for a second. “You think Mom would have wanted this for us?”
Dean rolled his eyes, but didn’t answer, opting instead to let himself out of the building.
Sam’s jaw clenched and he followed, pulling Jess after him. “The weapons training? Melting the silver into bullets? Man, Dean, we were raised like warriors!”
“So what are you gonna do?” Dean asked. “You’re just gonna live some normal, apple pie life, is that it?”
“No, not normal.” Sam refuted. “Safe.”
Dean snorted, almost under his breath. “And that’s why you ran away.”
“I was just going to college.” Sam said coldly. “It was Dad who said that if I was gonna go, I should stay gone. And that’s what I’m doing.”
Jess’s sympathies may have lain solely with Sam, but that didn’t mean she missed the regret that flashed through Dean’s eyes, even if he did promptly try to hide it.
“Yeah, well, Dad’s in real trouble right now.” He said gruffly. “If he’s not dead already. I can feel it. I can’t do this alone.”
“Yes you can.” Sam disagreed.
Dean’s gaze dropped to the ground. “Yeah, well … I don’t want to.”
Jess’s initial dislike of the man (caused more by protectiveness of her boyfriend than anything else) melted a little. It was clear – to her at least – that both brothers had been hurt deeply by the separation, but were both too stubborn (or emotionally repressed, or both) to show or admit it to the other.
Deciding to give Dean the benefit of the doubt, she cast around for some way of changing the subject or, at the very least, of lightening the mood, when her gaze fell on the car Dean was leaning against. “Wait a second …” She said softly. “Is that a ’67 Chevy Impala?!”
Dean looked vaguely surprised. “Yeah, why?”
“I never thought I’d actually get to see one.” Jess answered, running an appreciative hand over the bumper. “My Gramps loved classic cars.” She explained, seeing his mystified expression. “Whenever I went to visit, we’d look through all his pictures – the Impala was always my favourite.” She hesitated, telling herself not to ask, but her curiosity got the better of her. “What was your dad hunting?”
“Jess!” Sam protested. “I’m not going!”
“I know that.” Jess said with a smile. “But I’m curious. And, if I know you at all, you are too.”
Sam sighed heavily, his head dropping for a second. “Yeah …”
Dean grinned almost triumphantly and popped the trunk of the Impala, opening the spare tyre compartment to reveal an arsenal of weapons and paperwork.
“Jesus …” Jess muttered weakly. “Do you two know how to use all of these?”
“Yep.” Dean answered absently, rifling through the papers. “Let’s see, where’d I put that thing?”
“So when Dad left why didn’t you go with him?” Sam asked.
“I was working my own gig.” Dean said. “This hoodoo thing down in New Orleans.”
“Hoodoo?” Jess repeated. “Is that anything like voodoo?”
“Pretty much exactly the same.” Sam responded. “Voodoo is the common term, but it technically only refers to a particular type of … Never mind. It’s folk magic, basically.” He looked at Dean. “Dad let you go on a hunting trip by yourself?”
It was clear from his tone that it was his turn to get under his brother’s skin, and Dean reacted with a decently insulted expression. “I’m twenty-six, dude.” He finally pulled out a wad of newspaper clippings from a folder. “Alright, here we go. So Dad was checking out this two-lane blacktop just outside of Jericho, California. About a month ago, this guy …” He handed Sam one of the cuttings. “They found his car, but he’d vanished. Completely MIA.”
Sam examined the cutting and Jess tucked herself under his arm to read it in the dim glow of the car’s interior light.
19th Sept 2005
Centennial Highway Disappearance – Andrew Carey MISSING
“So maybe he was kidnapped.” Sam said, handing the article back.
“Yeah.” Dean agreed, tossing another newspaper clipping into the trunk. “Well, here’s another one in April. Another one in December ’04. ’03, ’98, ’92 … Ten of them over the last twenty years. All men. All in the same five-mile stretch of road.”
“Okay, I’m no expert, but that sounds fishy to me.” Jess admitted.
Dean nodded. “Started happening more and more, so Dad went to go dig around. That was around three weeks ago; hadn’t heard from him since, which is bad enough.” He pulled a hand-held tape recorder out of the arsenal. “Then I get this voicemail yesterday.”
He pressed play and the other two leaned closer to listen. The quality of the recording was terrible and full of static, but they could just make out a man’s voice.
“Dean … something big is starting to happen … I need to try and figure out what’s going on … It may … Be very careful, Dean. We’re all in danger.”
Jess could feel her heart racing. If these people could take poltergeists and evil spirits in their stride, then what actually scared them?
“You know there’s EVP on that.” Sam said, not bothering to pose it as a question.
Dean smirked slightly. “Not bad, Sammy. Kinda like riding a bike, isn’t it?”
“Wait, what’s EVP?” Jess asked.
“Electronic Voice Phenomenon.” Sam said. “Something’s interfering with the EMF – electromagnetic field around the cell phone. That’s what’s causing the static.”
“And that something is …?” Jess prompted.
“A spirit, probably.” Dean answered. “That’s why you often find flickering lights or non-working radios and televisions around spirits. Their presence interferes. Anyway, I slowed the message down, ran it through a gold-wave, and this is what I got.”
He pressed play again, and a soft female voice floated out. “I can never go home.”
“Never go home?” Sam repeated
Dean dropped the recorder back into the compartment, closed it and the trunk, and leaned against the car again. “You know, in over three years, I’ve never bothered you, never asked you for a thing.”
Sam sighed, and Jess practically watched his resolve break. “Alright. I’ll go. I’ll help you find him. But I have to be back first thing Monday. Just wait here.”
“What’s first thing Monday?” Dean asked.
“He’s got a law school interview.” Jess said proudly, beaming at her boyfriend. “He scored a 174 on his LSAT.”
“I’m gonna pretend I understood that.” Dean said, shrugging. “I’ll assume it’s a good thing though, so way to go, Sammy. Law school, huh?”
Sam said nothing, wrapping an arm around Jess’s shoulders and guiding her back inside. Neither of them said anything until they reached their bedroom, at which point Sam released her in favour of grabbing an overnight bag.
“I’m sorry I never told you.” He said, not looking at her.
“It’s okay.” Jess said quietly, sitting down as she realised her legs were shaking. “I wouldn’t know how to start either.” She watched him retrieve a rather nasty knife from his underwear drawer. “How many weapons do you have hidden around this place?”
“Not many.” Sam assured her. “Just enough that I can protect us both if I have to.”
To her surprise, Jess found that oddly comforting. Here was Sam, and this completely unexpected past, but he was still her Sam, still sweet, and thoughtful, and a little protective (and who could blame him, given what he knew?). There was still something bothering her though.
“How does a spirit kidnap someone?” She asked. “I thought they were … you know, incorporeal?”
“Never underestimate the power of a spirit.” Sam said darkly. “Especially an angry one.”
“Is that …?” Jess hesitated a second. “Is that what happened to your mother?”
For a few minutes, Sam didn’t answer, and when he did, his words were addressed to his duffle bag. “I don’t know. None of us know. I was only six months old when it happened. Dad heard Mom scream and came running into the nursery to find her pinned to the ceiling. Then she caught fire and the whole room went up.”
Jess’s hand flew to her mouth stifling a gasp she was sure he wouldn’t appreciate.
“Dad swore to hunt down whatever it was and destroy it.” Sam continued heavily, sinking on to the mattress. “But … honestly, Jess, the way we grew up …”
Shakily, Jess crossed the room to perch on his lap, his arms encircling her waist automatically. “There’s something else.” She murmured, kissing his neck. “What is it?”
“Jess, for the last few weeks,” Sam took a deep breath, and let it out shakily, “I’ve been having nightmares … of you … dying in the … in the same way as my mom and … and it’s scaring me.”
A week ago, Jess would have brushed them off as understandable – she was one of (if not the first) significant women in his life since his mother died, after all; for him to transfer subconscious fear like that would not be unusual.
Given the night’s revelations, however, she was reluctant to label anything as ‘natural’. “What can we do?”
“Be careful.” Sam answered, before choking back a laugh. “I don’t know, Jessie … I don’t know what killed Mom; none of us do, and if it’s coming back …”
“Ssh.” Jess soothed, cupping his face. “It’s probably just a bad dream, honey. But if it makes you feel better, why don’t I come with you to Jericho?”
“Jess, that’s hardly safer!” Sam protested. “It could well be dangerous and …”
“Then I’ll stay in the car.” Jess interrupted. “I’ll be with the two of you; I’ll be safe.”
Sam grimaced. “Jess … I didn’t just keep it quiet because it’s unbelievable … hunting is … well, it doesn’t exactly rake in money, and we’ve done some … stuff in the past … and will do again, probably …”
“Sweetheart, you’re rambling.” Jess said, cutting him off. “Is anyone going to get hurt?”
Sam hesitated. “No one living.”
“Then I’ll deal with it.” Jess said simply. “Let me come with you.”
Sam sighed. “Alright. But Dean is not going to be happy.”