There's a house in Nebraska that's burning to the ground.
He knows without entering that the people inside are dead. He'd know it even if he couldn't see the house slowly being consumed by the heat of the flames, bright against the night sky, even if he couldn't smell the rotten stench of charred flesh. He'd know it without the silence under the fire's roar, silence in the place where screams should be. He knew before he came here.
Wind blows his hair away from his face, smoke stinging his eyes. Part of him wants to go inside, one last time, just to see. Just to make sure. He knows he's too late, that he should leave before someone comes to investigate.
He doesn't move.
"I'm so sorry," he whispers. This fire was no accident. He wouldn't have seen it if it was. Whoever—whatever—did this, it wanted him, and that's exactly what it's going to get. When he finds that thing he's going to tear it into so many pieces it might as well have never existed.
The sound of sirens in the distance makes him flinch. He can't stay, but he'll be back.
Jesse Turner clenches his fists and turns away from the house. By the time he disappears into the shadows, the fires have all gone dark.
C A M B I O N
2349 Lakefield Dr
Bill & Beth Turner
The mailbox is the only part of the house that hasn't been touched by fire. Jesse brings his fingers up to it briefly, remembering the warm Saturday afternoon they'd spent painting lopsided race cars on the wooden box that had been here before, playing catch while it dried in the sun. This one is storebought, cheap plastic; his father was probably the one that picked it out.
The rest of the house is a charred remainder of something Jesse barely remembers. The windows lie in scattered pieces on the ground. Half a tree stands in front of the wreckage, its branches now thick blackened stubs. It was Jesse's favorite climbing tree when he was a child. It's only a matter of time before the county removes it. He remembers potted flowers on the front porch, but they're gone too, the empty pots seared black with heat and ash. His mother always made time to water the flowers with him, and he'd loved helping her, even though the watering can was too big for his hands and more water wound up on his shirt than in the flower pots. The windchimes she used to collect still dangle above them, though they're barely recognizable pieces of charcoal now, clinging to the roof by scorched metal twine.
Police tape strings across the open space where the front door used to be, as if that would stop anything that wanted to get in. Jesse ducks under the police line and goes in the house, clicking on his torch.
Inside, ashes still hang thick in the air. The furniture in the living room is charred; the furniture in the kitchen beyond is all but gone. But when the beam of his torch falls across the refrigerator, Jesse catches sight of a singed shopping list still tacked to the front in his mother's neat cursive. He has to swallow hard to keep himself quiet.
He shouldn't have come back here. There are no bodies. Jesse's been gone for years, and the Turners had no idea they'd once had a son. Jesse didn't take anything with him, and he made damn sure not to leave anything behind.
His parents were supposed to live together until they were very old, and die peacefully in their sleep. Not this. Not this. He fights the urge to look around one more time as he drags a hand over his eyes, heading away from the stairs and towards the door—
—and something stops him.
Heart dropping like a stone, Jesse turns the beam of his torch up towards the ceiling.
Spread across what's left of the ceiling are the bright red lines of a devil's trap.
Jesse's chest feels tight, and despite the empty room around him, he can't seem to get enough air.
I can get out of this. I can.
Except he isn't so sure. The first time this had happened, he'd sat in the abandoned trap for nearly a week without seeing a single soul until he'd finally given up and used his powers to let himself out. But he still doesn't like to think about the three days he'd spent in a trap the last time—he'd been lucky enough to get away, but the same couldn't be said for the hunters that followed him.
But he can't. Being trapped brings instinct to the surface; every hair on his body stands on edge, and the air reeks of sulfur, always the last warning sign before anger or terror take Jesse over and leave somebody dead. Breathe, he tells himself again, and he forces himself to count the seconds as he draws air in.
After a long moment, soothed by the air still flowing in and out of his body, Jesse leans over, knees weak. "God damn it," he gasps, still rubbing his chest. He sinks to the floor, running a hand back through his hair to unstick it from his face, and leans forward, hugging his knees. Only hunters could have drawn these kinds of traps. And hunters have never cared much for things like him.
There's a creak from the ceiling and Jesse draws in a quick breath, shutting off his torch. His stomach tightens. God, are they still in the house?
The first voice is close, right above him. He nearly jumps out of his skin. "I don't think we're gonna find anything, Claire. Let's just go."
The second voice—Claire, Jesse assumes—is further away, but moving closer in slow, measured steps. "I dunno, Ben. If demons were here, they didn't leave much behind." She's right above him. Jesse's heart is hammering against his ribs; his blood is rushing in his ears. He's almost surprised they can't hear it. "I just feel like there's something we're missing. What if—"
There's a loud crash and a shriek, and then Jesse's on the floor, covered in broken boards, with a hunter on top of him.
"Claire! Christ, are you okay?"
Oh, hell. Jesse hasn't even untangled himself before he feels the cold edge of a blade against his pulse.
"Who the hell are you?" The girl—Claire—turns him over, roughly, and Jesse winces at the light shining down from the ragged hole above, a halo that blinds him and throws her features into darkness. Her thighs bracket his waist, pinning him to the floor, and the hand snagged in his hair jerks his head back, leaving his neck bared against the razor-sharp edge of her knife.
"I'm Jesse," he chokes. "Jesse Turner."
"Turner?" The grip on his hair doesn't loosen, and she doesn't take the knife away. Her weight's pressing him hard against the floor, and he can feel her breath against his face. "You knew these guys?"
"My parents." Jesse's still struggling to draw in air. He squeezes his eyes shut against the light. "They were my parents."
There's a long moment where he's sure she's going to stick that knife through his neck, and part of him doesn't even care. But to his surprise, she backs off and gets to her feet. "I'm sorry." She offers him a hand up.
Jesse takes it, letting out a soft groan as he stands. Having another person and part of the second story land on him cracked a few ribs, and they ache as they heal up. Something must have scraped his leg, because that's stinging too, the familiar feeling of his skin knitting itself back together. His jeans are probably still wet with blood. "Thanks," he mutters.
Claire tips her head up to look at her friend. "Ben, get down here. And watch the floor."
After Ben moves away from the hole in the ceiling, everything's almost pitch black, save for the weak light from the streetlamps outside. Claire's already brushing herself off. She leans down, reaching for something and swearing under her breath.
"Bust your torch?" Jesse asks. "Here." His is on the floor nearby, relatively undamaged. He clicks it on and shines the light around thoughtlessly, quickly aiming it back at Claire when he sees the edge of another devil's trap on the ceiling a few yards away. God, he's got to get out of here.
"What are you doing here?" Claire asks. Now that they've got light, Jesse can see she's cut up too—and dirty, her blonde hair in a messy braid over one shoulder. Her white tank top is torn near the hem, bloodied in a few places. She twists around, looking at the back of her shoulder, then reaches over and pulls a splinter the size of a pencil out of it, wincing and tossing it aside. "It's not safe to go walking around in places like this."
Jesse can't help but laugh. "You're the one who just fell through the floor." He glances up at what he can see of the hole. "Anyway, I'm after the same thing you are." Telling the truth is a split-second decision; he hopes he won't regret it later. "I want to find whatever burned this house down and kill it."
Ben, a boy about Jesse's age, appears at the kitchen doorway, shining his light directly in Jesse's eyes. "Hell of a fire," he says. "But don't worry, man, I'm sure they'll catch whoever started it."
"You can't honestly think people did this," Jesse says, and the light drops away from his face.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ben's light is directed toward Claire now, and she gives him a look Jesse can't interpret.
"I mean humans would have left the bodies," Jesse snaps. "I'm no expert, but I figure even rookie hunters would know that."
Ben's shoulders loosen at that. "You're a hunter?"
"Close enough." In point of fact, the idea of calling himself a hunter makes Jesse want to take a long shower, but he can't raise suspicion around these two, not when a single wrong step will put him back in one of those damn traps. He kicks at a chunk of burnt ceiling that Claire had brought down with her. "Never heard of something that does this, but. You two got any ideas?"
"Demon," Claire says. He can't see her knife anymore, but the way she stares without blinking unnerves him. "We followed some omens into town, just before this place burnt down. Notice how this place smells like sulfur?"
Jesse only just manages not to wince.
"Fucking demons," Ben mutters, and then he ducks his head toward Jesse. "Sorry about your parents, man."
Jesse shrugs, looking away, and his eyes fall on another trap lying under a half-burnt rug. He's got to get out of here.
"So, hey," he says. "Uh, how about we grab some dinner, swap stories?" Jesse has to get them out of the damn house before he gets himself caught in another trap. Just the thought of spending a second more than he has to with them has Jesse's skin crawling, but they have information, and he needs it. "There's a place not too far from here. Best burgers in Nebraska."
Ben and Claire exchange another look.
Jesse tries to smile at Claire, and isn't sure what comes out. "It's on me."
Claire raises one eyebrow. "Well, Ben never turns down a burger," she says. "We'll follow you?"
"Actually, I don't have a car," Jesse says, carefully leading them out of the house. "So if I could just catch a ride..."
"...chew with your mouth closed, Ben, that's disgusting."
"Sorry," Ben says, around a mouthful of burger. He swallows. "They're good!"
"So tell me about these omens," Jesse prompts, ignoring the pickle seed on Ben's upper lip. "The ones you mentioned earlier."
"Oh, yeah!" Ben gets out an iPad out, tapping it a few times. "We're pretty sure they have something to do with your house burning down," he says, still chewing. "This town is squeaky clean. Haven't been any weird deaths here in the last decade."
Jesse knocks his drink back with ease of practice, savoring the burn in his throat. It's his twenty-first birthday, and he doesn't give a damn about the look Ben and Claire exchanged when he chose vodka over beer; the only thing important about this particular birthday is that both his parents died today. "What kind of omens were there?" he asks. "That's a start."
Claire pops a fry in her mouth and glances over at Ben. "You had the weather reports, right?" she asks.
Ben doesn't look at her. "Gimme a sec," he says, frowning.
Claire waits. "If you're not going to show us, Ben, you could at least pretend you're interested."
Ben looks up from his iPad, eyes on Jesse. Jesse fights down the urge to run out of the diner. "I—" He pauses. "...yeah."
Claire gives him a long look, then crosses her arms and rests her chin in one hand, sighing. "The omens...there were electrical storms, temperature fluctuations, cattle mutilations..."
Jesse files the information away to help him track it down later. "But a demon wouldn't just pop in to some small town to burn a house a pair of civs lived in," he says, trying to dig for information as subtly as he can. "A demon'll have an endgame, some higher purpose. What the hell would it want?"
"I have no idea," Claire says. "We got the call about the omens a few days ago. They started on..." She pauses. "There were some here about three years ago, actually, but only for a day or two. Then everything was quiet until this."
Jesse's burger feels too thick in his mouth, tastes like cardboard. He nearly chokes on it when he swallows. "You got an exact date?"
"Three years ago to the day," Ben says quietly. "Why? That mean something to you?" His eyes are on Jesse now, and Jesse feels something accusatory in his stare.
Jesse takes another drink—a longer one. "S'when I moved out. Thereabouts. Don't really remember." He can feel the familiar panic clawing at his chest, threatening to escape, and he does his best to keep his face blank. "So," he adds, needing the change of subject, "how long've you two been hunting, anyway?"
"I've known about this stuff since I was a kid," Ben says, and Jesse doesn't miss the note of pride in his voice.
Jesse looks at Claire. She raises her eyebrows.
"So you moved to...Australia?" she guesses. "Your accent's pretty strong for only having lived there three years."
Ben scowls. "He's not Crocodile Dundee, Claire."
Jesse elects not to tell them about the crocodile he blew up by accident. "I was going to uni in Melbourne. Kind of picked it up."
Claire taps her pinky against her mouth in thought, frowning slightly. "So when did you get back?"
He rarely dreams about anything pleasant, but it's worse tonight. He sees the faces of his parents, twisted up in agony—he can smell the smoke, feel the flames licking at him—
He wakes in the dead of night to the cool summer air, nothing but stars above him. There's a house in Nebraska that's burning to the ground.
He can be halfway around the world with a thought, and he goes.
"Not soon enough," Jesse mutters, and then, louder, "I came as soon as I knew." He thinks about eating the rest of his fries, but he's not hungry anymore. "You two about done?" he asks.
"I'll get a box for mine," Ben says.
"Suit yourself." Jesse takes his wallet out of his back pocket, makes a show of opening it and glancing inside. It's empty, save for a small picture he's careful not to let them see. "Damn," he says. "Don't have any American money. I can grab some at the ATM," he adds. "Saw one outside."
"Don't hurry on our account," Ben tells him, getting his iPad back out.
"I won't," Jesse says under his breath.
He ducks out the front door and strolls straight past the ATM. Claire seems smart enough, but Ben's obviously a few snags short of a barbie. He'll probably play with his iPad for at least ten minutes before he realizes Jesse's stuck him with the bill, and that's more than enough time to get away.
Dinner with hunters. He never thought he'd see the day. Jesse walks away from the light of the windows, his mind already back on the house and the demon that burned it.
The parking lot's empty save for a young woman smoking on one of the benches outside. She's got short black hair and sunglasses on, even though it's already dark. Jesse sees a leash in her hand and thinks, guide dog. Sure enough, she tosses the cigarette at him as he walks by.
"Watch it," Jesse says, without thinking. "Oh, God, sorry—"
"That's all right," she says. Her voice is low. "Handsome guy like you, I'll make an exception. I do love me some long hair."
Jesse starts to walk away, rolling his eyes, then what she said hits him. She's blind.
Jesse's hackles immediately go up at the cold prickling underneath his skin. He's only been around another demon once before, when he was very small, but he'll never forget the feeling. He turns around, slowly.
The woman stands, taking the sunglasses off and tossing them over her shoulder. It's not a trick of the light: her eyes are as black as her hair.
He takes two unsteady steps back. "What the hell do you want with me?" he asks. "The hunters are in there."
She smiles, all teeth, and Jesse's stomach turns over. "I know."
The leash in her hand catches fire and burns to ash. Jesse takes his eyes off of her long enough to glance at what's stepping out of the shadows, what was at the other end, and freezes.
It almost looks like a dog, a big one, but it's more like the idea of a dog, hastily assembled out of parts that don't quite fit: slimy oil-black skin that twists over extra joints, fangs longer than Jesse's arm, a forked tongue lolling almost to the ground, and too many eyes rolling madly in its broad head. The smell of corpses rolls toward Jesse with every eager breath the thing pants as the ground scorches under its clawed feet.
"What—" Jesse swallows. "What is that thing?"
She grins. "Hellhound." She looks him up and down once, briefly. "Listen, Jess, you and I need to have a chat."
Jesse's eyes widen. "How do you know my—" He stops. "Of course," he says quietly. "You're the one who killed my parents." In one swift movement, he reaches in his coat for his silver knife.
Her hand catches his wrist, squeezing so hard Jesse feels the bones crunch together. He cries out and tries to jerk away, but she's stronger than he is; she's willing to call on powers he'd rather not use.
"I said," the demon says, "we need to talk."
"I erased every trace of myself from this town," Jesse gasps. She's still got him by the wrist, and it hurts; his bones are jagged and poking through his skin, and blood's dripping down onto the sidewalk. The hellhound laps at it eagerly. Jesse's dizzy, feels half ready to pass out. "No one remembers me. Even my parents didn't know they'd ever had a son. So how did you?"
The bell above the diner's front door rings; Jesse and the demon both look up.
"I can't believe that fucker stuck us with the bill—"
"It's not like that's your credit card."
"It's the principle of the thing!"
Jesse winces. The last thing he needs is for hunters to want to beat the money out of him now. But it's too late; they've turned the corner and seen him. "Hi," he tries.
Claire's frowning. Her eyes go from his face to the blood on the sidewalk beneath him, then back up to the coal-black eyes of the woman holding his wrist. "I see you found the demon," she says calmly. "Not bad."
The demon squeezes Jesse's wrist even harder, and the world spins around him. "It's a gift," he manages.
The demon's not smiling anymore. "This isn't your fight," she says to the hunters. "Just keep walking."
Ben reaches in his own coat and comes out with a pistol. "These are salt rounds," he warns the demon. The next few words that come out of his mouth are in Latin, and Jesse can't understand it but the demon takes a step back, black eyes narrowed in fury.
Jesse groans. "Good God, please just leave."
"I warned you," the demon snarls. She flings Jesse away from her; he lands on the ground four feet away, pain shooting through his arm.
The hellhound lets out a howl that makes Ben and Claire jump. "What the hell—"
"Look out," Jesse croaks, nursing his wrist, but it's too late: the dog jumps on Ben and he screams. More of them are skulking out of the shadows, and Jesse struggles to his feet. "What the hell do you want with me?" he shouts at the demon.
She's laughing, walking slowly towards Jesse. "We'll start with your friend's intestines on a stick."
Jesse scowls. "He is not my—"
Ben screams again. He's fighting the dog like a wild animal himself, thrashing without making any progress. Run, Jesse tells himself, let him go, let him die, it's no skin off your back—
"Get the car!" he shouts at Claire, and moves forward, drawing his knife out with his uninjured hand. He has no idea if silver works on hellhounds, but it sure as hell works on him, so he takes a swipe at it. It howls in rage, backing off of Ben and inching towards its master. "C'mon," Jesse says, and he practically drags Ben off the ground, scrambling to get to the truck parked three spaces away. Claire's already behind the wheel.
"Drive!" he shouts at her, even while he's still clambering into the truck bed, tugging Ben up after him. By the time Jesse gets his bearings enough to sit up, they're doing at least forty.
The wind is blowing his hair in his face, but there's no mistaking the baying of the hounds, the stink of sulfur as they come close. They're practically flying, skittering and undulating in ways physics was never meant to accommodate. "Drive faster!"
The road starts to crack behind them where the dogs' paws are pounding against the asphalt. "Shit!" Ben opens a toolbox in the back of the truck; it's full of weapons. He gets out a rifle and loads it. "You know how to use this?"
Jesse grabs the rifle and aims it at the nearest hellhound. "I'll figure it out!" He fires just as Claire takes a sharp right turn, and between that and the recoil, he's knocked flat on his back.
"Careful!" Ben doesn't spare him a second look as he fires his own gun. The recoil doesn't faze him at all, but he can't aim for shit. The hound is so close—how the hell did Ben miss it?
Jesse grits his teeth and gets himself back up on his knees. He raises his rifle, aims right at the dog's face, squeezes the trigger. The recoil's still a hard punch against his shoulder, but he keeps his balance, and the dog screams and stumbles, falling behind its companions and out of sight.
"Nice shot," Ben says.
"There are more." Jesse takes aim again and fires, disabling another dog, and another. He hits thirteen of them before the smell of sulfur fades. Ben doesn't hit a single one.
It's a long time before Ben finally knocks on the back window of the truck, motions for Claire to pull over. She brakes hard and opens the door, jumping out and coming over to the back of the truck. "Ben? Are you all right?"
"I'm super," Ben says weakly. He's sitting with his back against the cab of the truck, eyes closed.
"Liar," Claire says. "Did you lose a lot of blood?"
Ben smiles halfway, but it's easy to see he's exhausted. "M'fine, Claire. Are they still coming?"
Claire's looks down the road behind them, takes a deep, slow breath. She's quiet for a long moment before she finally says: "I don't think so. Can't hear them if they are." She meets Jesse's eyes.
"You're welcome," he says.
Claire doesn't look very grateful. "So are you."
"What for?" Jesse scoffs. "I never asked you to get involved. Even the demon told you to keep walking. If not for me your boyfriend would be puppy chow."
"He's not my—"
"Whatever." Jesse climbs out of the back of the truck, brushing the dirt of his palms. His wrist is as healed as it's going to get; it's crooked, naturally, but if he wants to fix that he'll have to rebreak it, and he doesn't exactly feel like explaining himself to a couple of hunters who'd want to know how it healed so fast in the first place. He's just glad the sleeves of his jacket are long and baggy. "Thanks heaps for the lift," he adds sarcastically.
"Where are you going?" Claire asks him. "You don't have a car and we're in the middle of nowhere."
"I'll manage," says Jesse, walking further down the road.
"Have been since I was a kid," Jesse says. "It's quite easy once you get the hang of it."
"They're hellhounds, Jesse." Claire's arms are folded. "They've got all of our scents. Those bitches will never stop coming after us. We're on borrowed time."
"Best to split up then," Jesse reasons. "Here's hoping they eat you first."
"You don't even have any weapons! How are you going to fight something you can't see?"
"What d'you—" Jesse catches himself. So humans can't even see them? No wonder Ben was such a terrible shot. "I can muddle through," he says. He's looking back down the road, too. He's wasting time with these amateurs. The hounds could be back any minute.
"It'd be safer to come with us," Claire says. "If we stick together we might just live through this."
"I know a place we can hole up," Ben says, pulling himself up a little. "Safest place in the world."
"Sorry," Jesse says, with the least apologetic smile he can muster. "I don't play well with others."
"That's really too bad," Claire says, "because we've been in the game a long time, and we could probably help you track down that demon."
Jesse's smile drops. "You told me everything you know."
"Not everything," Claire says. She's half-smiling, like she knows she has him but doesn't want to gloat about it. "So?"
That's a damn dirty trick, even for a hunter. There's nothing he wants more than to find the demon and squeeze the life out of it with his bare hands. But he hasn't encountered a demon in ten years, and he has no idea how to track them. Even with his powers—which he'd rather not use—it'll be tough to find.
Still. They're hunters. If they find out what he is...
Jesse blows his bangs up out of his face. "Guess you're not leaving me much choice, then."
Claire smiles. "Guess not." She moves to the back of the truck, helps Ben out of it. Her touch is light, looks almost gentle; it's a hell of a difference from the way she manhandled him back at his place. "We're still in Nebraska," she tells him. "Just outside of Crookston, I think."
"Not too far, then." Ben gets in the driver's seat and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Gimme the keys, Claire."
"I'll drive." Claire shoves him lightly. "You look dead on your feet. Get some sleep."
"Thanks." Ben slides across to the passenger's side. Claire gives a sarcastic flourish to the open door and waits until Jesse climbs in next to him, then slides behind the wheel and shuts the door.
"Where are we going?" she asks.
"South Dakota," Ben murmurs. His head's already pressed against the glass window of the truck, and his eyes are closed. "Sioux Falls."
The sun's rising by the time Claire pulls the truck off the highway, but with the dull rainclouds hanging overhead, the morning offers little light or warmth. At first Jesse feigned sleep rather than endure the questions Claire probably still has for him, but somewhere along the way he fell into an uneasy doze, images of fire and black eyes haunting the edges of his mind.
He jerks back to consciousness but doesn't open his eyes, glad Ben and Claire seem not to have noticed.
Ben directs Claire quietly from Jesse's other side, still half-asleep himself. It's quiet save for the rain pelting against the windshield and the wipers flicking the water off the sides of the truck. "I just don't want to cart his ass all over hell and back," he says softly. "He's a liability. For all we know, he's dangerous."
"Yeah, and if he dies it'll be on your conscience," Claire whispers. "Ben, he might know something. You said yourself, it's the same omens as last time."
"Yeah, okay," Ben says, "but that don't mean I like it."
The conversation dies after that, and a few minutes later, Jesse pretends to wake up. "Morning," he says. "We there yet?"
"Almost," Ben says.
They keep going past the neatly manicured lawns and the well-lit shops of the town, onto a narrow back road. Claire has to turn the brights on, and when she does, Jesse spots a rusted chain-link fence in the gloom. The tires splash through the ankle-deep puddles on the long unpaved road, kicking up mud and dirt onto the side of the truck. They pass a few old plastic trash cans stacked at the bottom of some kind of gate, and Jesse squints up at it. "'Singer's Auto Salvage'." He glances doubtfully over at Ben. "The safest place in the world is a junkyard?"
"Yeah," Ben says with quiet confidence. "A demon couldn't get past that gate if its life depended on it."
Jesse twists around to look at the gate, already several feet behind them. "You're sure about that?"
"Nobody likes a skeptic, Jesse." The truck pulls up in front of a ramshackle old house, and Claire cuts the engine. "Is this it?"
"Yeah." Ben opens his door, letting in a rush of cool air, and jumps out into a puddle. "When I said I wanted a shower, this was not what I meant," he says, shielding his eyes with his hand and glancing up at the sky. "C'mon, the front door's got a hundred locks on it. We'll need to go around to break in."
"Break in?" Jesse asks. "Who lives here?"
They grab their bags out of the back of the truck and trek through the mud around to the side of the house. There are rusted-out shells of cars stacked everywhere, piled five or six high in some places; the backyard could be a labyrinth. "Here," Ben says, when they get to the back door. He hands Jesse his duffel and tries the door. It's locked. He backs up a few paces, eyes the windows. There's one next to the door that's low enough to the ground to get in. Ben takes out a pocketknife and undoes the latch, opens it and crawls inside. "C'mon!"
Jesse shrugs, motions for Claire to go ahead of him. He looks around the yard one more time before he follows her. Safest place in the world, right. If Jesse can get in this easily, he's not buying it.
He throws the bags in before he crawls in the window, and lands hard on a tiled floor. He flings the wet hair out of his eyes, looking around. There's no light fixture, and the light coming through the windows is dim, but he can see an old table in the middle of the room, phones lined up along the wall with different professions taped on the backs. He takes a step towards them, reading aloud: "Federal Marshall. FBI. Health Department?"
"Bobby was a conman," Ben says with a small smile. "After he got too old to hunt he set up a base of operations, to help keep other hunters outta jail. I used to spend every summer here with him and my dad, learning how to hunt, until..." He falls silent.
A hunter's house. Jesse's cold for an entirely different reason, now. "This is his place, then? What happened to him?"
Ben shrugs. "The official story is coyote attack, but I still think it was a skinwalker." His expression shutters. "This is all mine, now, so don't worry, no cops. I just left the keys at home." Jesse can see why. It's not much to look at, this place; there's cobwebs everywhere and he can hear the roof leaking in two different place. Ben walks over and flips on a light. It flickers weakly, but it's on, and that's what counts. "Claire, you wanna take the first shower?" Ben asks.
Claire waves a hand. "Forget showering. I'm beat."
"Fair enough." Ben picks up his bag and moves off towards the stairs.
Claire digs through the cabinets and pulls out a can of salt. "I'm gonna go lay some salt lines," she says. "Can you give me a hand?" She tosses the container at Jesse.
Jesse catches it deftly with one hand, glad that salt, at least, doesn't burn him. It's the only lucky break he's gotten since he came back here.
Claire's expression relaxes a little. If that was a test, Jesse's passed it. She pulls out another can of salt for herself, and goes over to the open window to lay the first line. "Make sure you don't miss anything." She glances outside and then shuts the window, eyes staying on the treeline until she turns away. Then she goes off in one direction, and Jesse takes it upon himself to wander away in another.
The windowsills are a little damp, but though he doesn't have much faith in the power of salt, he lays the lines dutifully, not wanting to be blamed if things go south. It's seen to quickly enough, and though Jesse's sure he won't be able to fall asleep again, in a hunter's house with two hunters in it, as soon as he collapses on the worn, beat-up couch, his eyes close, and he returns to dreaming of wide black eyes and fire.
He's up before Claire or Ben. His dreams are so rarely kind to him, and the short nap he'd caught was no exception. He wants to explore the house while they're still asleep; it's a hunter's home, and there could be things he's never even heard of just laying around waiting to fuck him over.
The house is old, almost falling apart; it smells of oil and dust, and the boards creak underfoot. Jesse can hear water dripping from somewhere, and wonders how many leaks the roof has gotten since the house was last tended to. The wind throws rain up against the windows, whistles through the cracks in the walls, and Jesse hugs himself, wet and cold.
A nearby door creaks open. Jesse jerks his head up, but it's only a change in the air pressure. Another room, he thinks, and he's curious enough to go and push the door open.
There's a long flight of stairs leading down into darkness. Jesse used to watch horror flicks when he was a teenager, sneak into theaters and marathon them two or three at a time. He knows better than to walk into the dark room unarmed.
He goes back to the kitchen and finds a butcher's knife.
The basement smells like mildew. There's just barely enough light to see by coming in through a barred window near the ceiling of the basement. Jesse has to brush away cobwebs as he reaches the hallway at the base of the stairs. He sets his can of salt down on a dusty table, looking around as his eyes adjust to the darkness. There's light glinting dully off of something in the distance, further down the hallway, and he casts his eyes around the place around once more before making his way down the hallway, fingertips on the wall to guide him through the dark.
Jesse can't quite see the metal door reflecting the light, but he runs his fingers over the letters stamped on the front. Premiere Steel. The handle is cold and leaves rust on his palm.
It's a round room, he thinks, but it's too dim to see all of it. The floor feels gritty under his feet, and the air is colder, more humid. He can hear the rain falling much more clearly here. He takes a few steps in the room, squinting up to try and make out the ceiling. It's open to the sky, some kind of grate covered with glass, and if it wasn't so cloudy he'd be able to see just fine, but all he can make out is—
Jesse stumbles back against the wall, heart pounding.