What is a man? An animal, isn’t he?
A wolf forgiven at his meat,
A beetle innocent in his copulation.
~ Archibald MacLeish, JB
A fluid layer of mist drifted across the winding ribbon of asphalt, bright glare of the headlights shimmering off the imbedded reflectors down the center of the lonely road. The only sound outside of the faint chirp of crickets was the low thrum of 80’s rock as it drifted from the open windows of the midnight blue Chevy Blazer. Its engine humming in time with the music as it wound along the mist shrouded road.
"I’m proud of you, Kimi." Chayton Proudfoot spoke up in the tense silence of the Blazer’s cab. "You did us all so proud, no pun intended." He chuckled, deep and gentle, as he reached out to squeeze his fourteen year old daughter’s shoulder.
Kimi rolled her eyes at her father, lower lip pushing out in a childish pout. "Real funny dad, but why wasn’t mom there? Why’d she just not show up?" Her dark brows wove together beneath damp bangs in a frown that aged her youthful face. "She always does this. She never comes and she doesn’t hunt like you do, Dad."
"You know what’s been going on, Kimi." Chayton’s gaze drifted from the road to his daughter’s disappointed and angry face. "The deaths and the reports linked to them…your mother is rattled is all."
A frustrated sigh escaped her pursed lips. "Yeah, I know." Sinking further into the seat, her eyes lifted from her lap to the dark road beyond the windshield. As she focused on the road her eyes widen in terror. "Dad!" Her scream echoed through the cab, hollow and terrified.
Attention back on the road, Chayton sucked in a ragged breath, and crossed himself with shaking hands as he hit the brakes. "Sweet Mother of Jesus." He swore loudly as the tires shrieked, cab of the truck twisting with the momentum, and leaving the scent of burnt rubber in the humid night air.
Just outside the twin beams stood something Chayton had prayed he would never have to witness. He’d hoped the stories were that--nothing but stories. Fifteen years of pain hidden away, fifteen years of guilt over the death of his sons, his boys. And now in one moment all of it had came crashing down on him like a ton of concrete.
His two sons stood still and silent, just outside the reach of the headlights, far paler than he remembered them. Their skin though--oh, sweet merciful God their skin--it glowed from within, a faint eerie glow. That glow seemed to throb in time with each erratic beat of his heart, with every desperate breath he took as he stared at something that couldn’t possibly exist.
"Daddy?" Kimi’s voice rose on the edge of hysteria. "What’s happening?"
He shook his head as he pushed open the driver’s side door. "Stay in the truck, Kimi."
Stepping around the door, he pushed it shut, clang of metal on metal eerily loud in the silence of the night drenched landscape. Slowly he walked backward to the rear of the truck, eyes never leaving the twin apparitions who stood, silent sentries at the front of the truck, and reached over into the bed for the latch on the tool chest. He could hear his daughter’s muffled and terrified sobs as he pulled open the lid and reached in for his shotgun. Never once did the two pale apparitions look away from him, dark eyes wide and unearthly. Chayton swallowed back the taste of bile as he began loading salt rounds in the double barrel shotgun and headed back toward the front of the truck.
Their voices were hollow and cold, sending an arrow of ice down his spine. His gaze narrowed as he drew so close he could see the glow beneath their skin giving it the appearance of being almost, but not quite transparent, faint ghost of bone and muscle visible beneath. Swallowing hard he lifted the shot gun aiming it with steady hands born from years of hunting.
"You’re not my boys!" He roared. "My boys died a long time ago!"
Two pairs of wide dark eyes turned to focus on the young girl who sat frozen in terror in the passenger seat.
Inside the cab of the truck Kimimela sat up on her knees, dark eyes wide as she watched her father move closer to the apparitions. She’d never known her brothers, they’d died before she was born, but she’d seen pictures and these things, whatever they were, looked just like her long dead brothers. A sudden loud horn caught her attention as an eighteen-wheeler came barreling around the curve of the hillside, lights blinding her. She never had a chance to move as it plowed straight through, hitting first her father, and then the truck she knelt in. The sound of screaming air brakes filled the night alongside her screams as they were drowned by shrieking metal and shattering glass.
Finally silence descended in the darkness. The faint groan of metal and tinkle of glass as it hit the pavement were nothing but dagger sharp raindrops of sound. The silence quickly followed by a man’s gruff cursing as the trucker behind the wheel grabbed his radio, hands shaking.
"Oh, shit…dear God in heaven. This is Carter Willis…I’m up about ten miles outside of town on Devil’s Lake Road. Can anybody hear me? Over…this is Carter Willis out on Devil’s Lake Road. Dear God there’s been an accident…"
Four Days Later
Four Days Later
It seemed appropriate somehow that a storm was coming, Dean thought, his gaze lowering to the two coffins that sat mere inches apart, glossy lids smothered in brilliant white lilies and deep crimson roses. Faint sobs could be heard on the air from almost every person gathered today to witness Chayton Proudfoot and his young daughter Kimimela being laid to rest. Dean released an uncomfortable breath as the breeze began to pick up and swirl through the Starweather Cemetery, scattering leaves and lifting dust devils amidst it’s multitude of marble, concrete, and limestone monuments. As his attention shifted to Sam, standing silent next to him, he wished their father could have been here. Although after what had happened in Chicago he knew it was impossible despite the fact that Chayton and John had been friends for nearly twenty years.
Finally his gaze settled on where Celia Proudfoot stood grey streaked, dark-blonde head, bowed and tears staining her weathered face. No mother deserved to go through this, Dean thought as his eyes drifted shut and his head bowed. Not once, much less twice in a lifetime.
"And so we consign our loved ones, father and daughter, back to the earth from which they came. May they find everlasting peace with our Lord and Savior. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust." The priest intoned as he sprinkled holy water across the top of the coffins. "May God guide you to your well deserved rest."
Two young men stepped forward, carefully lifting the sprays from the top of the coffins and sat them aside, just outside the ring of mourners. Slowly the coffins began their descent into the rich, black earth and one by one the mourners paused to either scattered dirt or a single rose to the tops of the coffins. A sea of faces, all shapes, ages, and ethnicities flowed through the cemetery, each person pausing to whisper a few words of comfort to Celia as they made their way to where their cars sat beneath the stormy summer sky.
"It’s not right."
Dean glanced up recognizing the righteous anger in his little brother’s eyes. "It happens though, Sam."
"Wasn’t it bad enough that she lost her sons?"
"I’m surprised you remember that." Dean whispered as the first fat raindrops began to fall. "You were only eight years old."
Sam sighed, long fingers running through his hair. "I don’t remember a whole lot of it, but I know dad and Chayton were hunting a skinwalker along Devil’s Lake. I know we were staying with them and I sort of remember Shawn and Scott."
"Yeah." Dean shoved his hands deep into his pockets. "They were a couple of years younger than me…just turned ten. Chayton and Celia were devastated, but then they found out a few days later that she was pregnant with Kimimela." Dean rolled his shoulders, popping the muscles in his neck as they approached Celia. "I hate this kind of shit." He grumbled beneath his breath.
Elbowing his brother, Sam glanced up to meet Celia’s bright blue eyes. "Celia." He smiled.
Reaching out she grasp Sam’s hands and smiled through silent. "Little Sammy…" her smile widened, "…the good lord has a load of surprises today. My you’ve grown to a handsome young man."
"Thank you." Sam’s cheeks flamed pink as he turned to Dean. "Do you remember, Dean?"
"I sure do." She released Sam’s hands to pull Dean into a motherly hug. "It’s so good to see you boys." As she pulled back her gaze shifted from Dean to Sam then back again. "Is your father…?"
"He’s doing okay. Just on the trail." Dean nodded when her eyes went wide in understanding. "He sends his condolences though and his…well…" he blushed then cleared his throat, "…his condolences and love."
Sam flashed an amused smirk at Dean over Celia’s head and Dean swore he was going to cut the crotch out of every pair of Sam's underwear when he finally fell asleep.
"I can’t believe you convinced Celia to let us stay for a few days."
Tapping his fingers against the steering wheel Dean shook his head in disbelief as he maneuvered the Impala along the winding road bordering the lake. The storm had broke five minutes after they’d left the service at the cemetery and headed back into town to retrieve their stuff from the small motel just off the Interstate. Devil’s Lake, North Dakota was one of those sleepy little towns that got its second breath when tourist season kicked in. There was a population just over 7,200 during the winter months, but during the summer it was crawling with tourists and summer people who had built on lakefront property.
A soft snort escaped Sam. "I didn’t. I think she’s lonely and after all she’s been through I couldn’t tell her no."
"I know that, Sam. It’s just we haven’t seen her in fifteen years. You’d think she’d rather have her family or close friends stay with her. Not a couple of…"
"Party hounds?" Sam quirked one brow with a chuckle.
Dean gave Sam a sidelong glare. "Yeah, well one party hound and one party pooper."
"Hey, man! That is so not cool."
"Yeah, dude, whatever." For Dean that was the end of the discussion. There was little more he had to say on the subject and even if he had more it would have been halted by the appearance of the house.
The Proudfoot home was a moderate-sized ranch style log house built on a small cove overlooking the lake. It was surrounded by a proliferation of trees; white spruce, red cedar, box elder, and silver maple trees along with an abundance of gorgeous roses in shades of red and yellow that curled around the posts holding up the low shingled roof of the porch. The porch itself encircled the front of the house and followed the shape of the house around to the lakeside of the property. It opened onto a spacious deck, a wide winding staircase leading down to the rocky shore of Devil’s Lake.
Dean eased the car into the double wide driveway, parking next to the black Cherokee Scout that sat beneath the spreading arms of a silver maple. The rain that had been pounding down in a fury mere moments before was now easing off to a wind whipped mist that left every thing glittering with crystalline water drops in the green hued light of the sky. Shutting off the engine he turned to Sam and frowned at the vacant look he saw in Sam’s eyes.
It was as if Sam weren’t really there, as if his mind was drifting and perhaps, Dean thought, it was. After all it had been fifteen years since they’d been here last. Just two kids, Sammy had been eight and Dean twelve, when Chayton Proudfoot had contacted John about a string of killings along the shoreline of the lake. They’d met Chayton one other time, at Pastor Jim’s home in Minnesota the year before, in passing, when he’d been hunting down a bean-side in a town a couple miles east of Blue Earth.
Shaking his head, Sam sucked in a deep breath, and turned to Dean with a lop-sided grin. "Yeah, I’m fine---why?"
The frown trapped between Dean’s brows deepened. "Nothing…no reason." He pushed open the door and reached into the back seat to snag his duffel. "Well, then let’s go."
Sam nodded distractedly as he reached back for his own duffel, trying to shake away the eerie feeling that had suddenly crept up his spine. He remembered very little about their time here with the Proudfoot family. There was the vague image of Chayton who’d been a tall graceful man with long dark hair that he wore in a single braid down his back. And then there were the two boys, the twins Shawn and Scott, who he vaguely remembered playing with on the beach in the bright sunlight. They’d had their father’s dark complexion and ebony hair, but their mother’s sharp blue eyes.
And then there was the faint uneasiness that had been squirming in his belly since they turned the curve and his eyes had settled on this house. It was that unease that you felt when you left the house and then thought you’d forgotten something. The oven was on, the iron was on, or you forgot to lock the backdoor---something like that. Yet it was far more acrid tasting, like bile trying to rise in his throat. As he stepped from the car and followed Dean through the misting rain he tried to figure out that feeling, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
He mounted the steps to the porch and stood silently next to Dean as he rung the bell, sucking on his lower lip thoughtfully. As the faint sound of the chimes echoed through the interior of the house Sam caught a flicker of movement from his left, just out of the corner of his eye. Turning his head he saw a faint glow of golden light from between the thicket of trees that guarded the edge of the house. He opened his mouth to call out to Dean, but as quickly as it had appeared it was gone. Sam was left wondering if he’d seen it at all.
"It was so nice of you boys to agree to stay a few nights." Celia puttered about the brightly lit kitchen pulling out dishes and glasses from the silver maple cabinets. "After every thing that’s happened I just…" she paused at the refrigerator door, "…I just don’t know if I could stay here alone." She grabbed a bottle of juice from the shelf and slammed the door shut turning to Sam and Dean with tear-filled eyes.
Sam swallowed hard at the pain he saw in her eyes. He knew that pain well, it was quite fresh in his memory. "What about your family? Your friends?" He stood up from the stool and took the plastic jug from her trembling hands, then began filling glasses.
"Most of my friends are grieving themselves." She sighed her voice thick with tears as she sat down at the counter.
"What do you mean, Mrs. Proudfoot?" Dean questioned softly.
She laughed softly. "None of that Mrs. Proudfoot crap." She reached across the dark marble counter, patting Dean’s hand. "Call me Celia, please."
"Celia." Dean spoke again, his voice softer this time. "What did you mean about them grieving? Not all of them could have known…" he trailed off unsure what words he wanted to use. Sam was always better with this sort of thing and he threw Sam a pleading glance as his brother turned back from the refrigerator where he’d tucked away the jug of juice.
Celia’s eyes widened. "You hadn’t heard about the deaths?"
Lowering himself to a stool Sam raised a brow and glanced at Dean and then back to Celia. "The deaths? What deaths?"
She shook her head as she stood and grabbed her oven mitts. "Over the past two months there have been five deaths connected to some kind of phenomenon. Chayton was investigating the reports at his job, but he wouldn’t discuss them." She choked up, her eyes glistening.
"Deputy." Dean piped up. "I remember Chayton being a deputy."
Nodding, she turned back from the oven, setting a steaming casserole dish on the counter. "Yes, he started out as a deputy, but he’d been the sheriff for the past ten years. The folks here in Devil’s Lake loved him almost as much as I did." She smiled, her lips quivering as her eyes welled up. "I just can’t…" she swallowed hard.
Sam leaned in pulling her into a hug and there was a part of him that remembered her more clearly in that moment. He remembered the scent of French lavender that seemed to cling not only to her skin, but to every strand of her wavy hair. Of course the memory he had was of a far younger woman. Fifteen years ago Celia Rose Proudfoot had been just three years older than Dean was now. She’d been a bright eyed, youthful thirty year old mother of twin boys, and there hadn’t been a strand of gray in her dark blonde hair. Now she was forty-five and the first fingers of silvery-grey were slowly weaving through the blonde. He lifted one hand and stroked it through her loose hair as he looked over her head at Dean. Dean returned a knowing glance over the rim of his glass as he took a drink of juice.
"It’s okay, Celia. We’ll stay as long as you need us, too."
Sam stood at the window in the guest room, staring out at the woods, the trees thick, and shadowy. "What do you think about these deaths?" He tightened his arms around his chest as a chill rippled through his body.
"What do you mean, Sam?" Dean glanced over his shoulder as he unpacked, the low hum of the television the only other sound.
"I saw something, Dean."
Dean spun around as he dropped the shirt he’d been pulling out of the bag. "What the hell do you mean you saw something, Sam?"
His eyes focused on the tiny sliver of the lake he could see to the right, Sam sighed. "I don’t know, Dean. I just haven’t felt right since we got here."
"A vision?" Dean frowned, his chest tightening.
Sam shook his head as he turned away from the window, his worried gaze focusing on Dean’s confused expression. "No, I---honestly?"
"Honestly, dude." Dean’s eyes narrowed. "Tell me what it is?"
"I don’t know, Dean. But whatever it is I think these deaths are attached to it. I also think Chayton and Kimi’s deaths had something to do with it." He worried at his lip with the edge of his teeth.
Dean’s eyes widened, his brows shooting up. "You’re serious? You have some kind of weirdo Jennifer Love Hewitt vibe going on and you think whatever it is had something to do with Chayton and his daughter dying?"
A faint sigh of frustration escaped Sam as he ran his fingers through his shaggy hair. "Yeah, I’m serious, Dean, but this can wait until tomorrow morning. I’m just so damn tired."
The look in Sam’s eyes worried Dean. He wasn’t sure about what Sam remembered and what he didn’t about their last visit to Devil’s Lake. What had happened fifteen years ago had scared the shit out of both John and Dean. They’d nearly lost Sam and even though they hadn’t it had been months before Sam had been himself again. After what had happened in Fort Douglas a couple of years before Dean had been ever vigilant when it came to his baby brother
"Okay, let’s get some rest and we’ll check in with the sheriff’s department in the morning." He gave Sam a final once over before he picked up the shirt he’d dropped. "You take the shower first---okay?"
Sam agreed with a slight nod of his head and went to grab a pair of sweats and a tee shirt. He felt sick to his stomach, but he knew he was right. Whatever Chayton had been working on was the exact reason that he’d died.
He’s in the closet, but his brain is that of an eight year old and he can’t quite understand what he’s seeing or hearing.
There’s the rustling of sheets and the wet sound of something being split open, an overripe melon sound, as if an axe had slammed into a watermelon. In between those sounds is the sobbing and whispering. He can’t quite make out the words, but he knows that he can’t let whatever is in the room, beyond the closet, know that he’s there.
He’s so scared and he bites his lip to keep the choked whimpers that are rising in his throat locked back and he prays. He prays that daddy and Dean will come stop the monster. He prays that they won’t let the monster get him and drag him away into the darkness. His terrified thoughts are abruptly interrupted by the sound of footsteps retreating and he wants to run, but he remembers his daddy’s words.Stay still and quiet, Sammy. Never give them any info on your location.
Suddenly the sound of glass shattering fills his ears, followed by an anguished howl.
Sam sat bolt upright in his bed choking on a scream, gasping for air, and trying his damnedest to cling to the nightmare that had invaded his sleep. His chest ached like a son of a bitch, like he’d just got done running the Boston Marathon in record time, and the air just refused to come. The room was spinning, and although it was dark, tiny flashes of light danced at the edge of his vision, as he felt his brain aching from lack of oxygen.
Dean’s voice was sharp and he heard the rustling of sheets once more, the same sound from his dream, and he gagged. His stomach convulsed and suddenly Celia’s delicious casserole made a reappearance along with a not small portion of stomach acid in his mouth. Before he could even focus on Dean and pinpoint him, he rolled to his side, and hung his head over the edge of the mattress. With a painful heave he emptied his stomach on the tile floor, the sound of his regurgitated dinner hitting the floor causing the nausea to ripple through him again. He hadn’t puked on himself since he was ten and had the stomach flu, he thought, as he fought to keep what remained in his stomach there.
"Awww…shit." Dean’s voice snapped him out of the stupor he’d been in. "Shit, Sammy. You okay or you going to hurl again?"
Groaning softly, he lifted his arm and wiped it across his mouth, the sour stench of vomit filling his nose. "Be…okay…" he gritted out through a raw throat. He rolled over on his back panting and focused on Dean’s worried, and yet somehow disgusted, face. "Sorry, man." Sam croaked.
Dean ran his knuckles across Sam’s forehead and frowned. "You’re burning up, Sammy. I’ll go get Celia." He pushed up from the bed and crossed the room without another word.
Refusing to open his eyes, simply because he was sure the room would still be spinning, Sam listened as Dean opened the door and left, his foot falls growing faint as he headed up the hallway. Finally he allowed his eyes to drift open and although his vision was watery, he could see the actual room rather than just the shadows. He tried to remember what it was that he’d seen or heard in his nightmare, but the images were already fading away. Blinking back the tears from heaving up the contents of his stomach he pushed himself up and groaned. His ribs, his stomach, hell everything was screaming bloody murder. Outside their room he could hear Celia and Dean talking, but it seemed like they were far away, drifting down a tunnel. Maybe he’d picked up a bug, Sam thought. Head spinning he tried to swing his legs over the edge of the mattress, he needed to get that acrid taste out of his mouth, but his body had other ideas. As did something else.
In the direction of the window, Sam caught the soft flicker of golden light that he’d seen earlier on the porch, but this time it was stronger. Stumbling to his feet, his head swimming along with his vision, Sam moved to the widow where the drapes were pulled shut. He swallowed back the nausea as it rose back in his stomach again, his fingers tangling in the drapes. Tugging as hard as he could Sam nearly fell forward, but caught himself on the wall. His eyes widened as he saw the spider web cracks spreading out from the center of the window, then they grew even wider when he saw what was beyond glass.
Two little boys, standing in the rain drenched darkness.
Two little boys that stood staring at him, their eyes pinning Sam like a butterfly to corkboard.
His throat tightened as he heard their voices, although their lips didn’t move. Their eyes were so black and shining, Sam thought, no longer human and their skin seemed lit from within by an unearthly glow.
Help us, Sammy…
Reaching out Sam pressed his hands to the shattered glass, his breath fogging the rain slicked surface. His chest tightened as he tried to breathe, to even talk, but the air wouldn’t come. His throat felt as if it were filled with something wet and thick, salty and coppery. Lifting his trembling hands he began beating at the glass weakly.
You know, Sammy…
"I know…" he moaned deep in his constricting chest, "…I know…I’m sorry…I’m so sorry."
Beyond the window the tiny apparitions flickered in and out of existence, their glow growing brighter with each flicker. Their dark eyes pierced Sam’s brain and demanded that he remember, that he understand what they required from him, and the pain of their intrusion was painful, a red hot poker slamming into soft tissue, setting his nerve endings on fire.
His hands drew back, fingers curling into tight fists, and he slammed them into the glass letting out an animalistic howl of pain. As the glass shattered outward in a flurry of sparkling shards Sam’s eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the floor in a tangle of spasming limbs.
"Sam? Can you hear me, Sammy?"
Eyes flicking beneath bruised lids, Sam groaned. "Dean…?" He blinked and let his aching eyes focus for a moment until he could finally see Dean clearly.
"Shit, Sammy, what the hell happened?"
Dean’s hand brushed back Sam’s sweaty tangled bangs and if Sam hadn’t known better he would have sworn there was a tremor in Dean’s touch. He smiled weakly up at Dean, shaking his head in disbelief. What could he honestly say? His eyes drifted shut as he released a breath.
"Who’s here besides us?" His voice was tight, raspy from the vomiting earlier.
Frowning Dean pulled back. "Just Celia and you and me---why? Well, there is Doc Harris now, but I don’t know what that has to do with…"
"No little boys?" Sam interrupted, his eyes opening to focus on Dean’s confused expression.
"Little boys?" There was a wariness in Dean’s voice that caused Sam to tremble. "What little boys?"
Sam closed his eyes again, let his thoughts drift to memories of a past he rarely thought about. He didn’t know why he thought so little of his childhood, but the few times he did were when he thought of Dean. Memories of this place played out against the delicate darkness of the back of his eyelids.
A twelve year old Dean standing barefoot on the shoreline of Devil’s Lake, worn and patched jeans rolled up to his knees. He could feel the warmth of the late summer sun spreading along his skin as he clutched Dean’s hand tightly. Everything around him was so damn vivid and sharp; clear cerulean sky, rocky shoreline, verdant forests, and the shimmering stretch of azure water.
"Why can’t we find seashells, Dean?"
"Because, Sammy…this is a lake not the sea."
"I saw them, Dean." He finally whispered, his words just a bare hint of breath between his lips.
Opening his eyes, he allowed his gaze to drift down to where his hands were bandaged, cut by the shattering glass of the window. Sam took a deep breath. "Shawn and Scott."
Both Dean’s brows rose up as his eyes widened. "What?" He hissed, leaning closer. "You saw what?"
"Celia’s boys…I saw them…outside." He stumbled over the words, the bitterness of fear and stale vomit coating his tongue as he met Dean’s piercing, green-grey eyes. "I saw them outside the window." Trying not to flinch he turned away, biting his lower lip.
Dean stood, the mattress swaying as his weight left it and began pacing. The frown lines around his eyes and between his brows deepened as he moved back and forth at the end of Sam’s bed. He paused and turned to Sam, their eyes meeting again, and his frown deepened further. "Why? Why in the hell would you see her dead sons?"
Shifting up against the headboard, Sam shook his head. "I don’t know, Dean. All I know was that they were here outside the window. I saw them…" he hissed softly as he heard the sound of footsteps outside the room, his gaze flicking towards the closed door, and back to Dean.
The door opened just as Dean turned away, his gaze focused on the plastic covered window, and Celia stepped into the room. "Thank God." She smiled softly. "You’re awake. We were worried about you, Sam. I mean first you’re sick and then the window." Her eyes drifted in the direction of Dean who stood with his back to her and she frowned. Turning back to Sam her frown morphed to an expression of motherly worry. "You are okay---right?"
Sam nodded. "I’m fine, Celia. Just a bit light headed…sorry about the window." He gave her a flustered glance. "I’ll pay to replace it."
A soft snort escaped her as she waved her hand dismissivly at him. "Don’t you never mind about that damn window, Sam. It isn’t like it hasn’t been replaced before." As she turned to leave, Dean cleared his throat. She paused and glanced over at Dean. "What is it, sweetheart?"
"Nothing…just wanted to thank you for calling the doctor." He shrugged toward the window, then gave her a barely there smile. "And for not making a fuss about the window."
Her lips curled in a wide smile. "No, problem. As long as you boys are okay…well I’m fine." Then she was gone, the door closing with a soft click behind her.
They exchanged a silent conversation of subtle glances and then Dean turned back to the window, sucking in a soft breath of air as he listened to the heavy plastic creak and shift in the wind. Something wasn’t right, Dean thought, he’d always known that something was off that summer, even as a child Dean could smell the stench of trouble. It seemed to be an innate ability that ran through the Winchester blood and right about now that ability was turning its nose up at the stench that permeated the entire room.
John sat in the Impala guiding her along the Interstate, eyes focused for the exit to Devil’s Lake. His eyes were burning from the exhaustion of driving straight through to North Dakota from Oklahoma without sleep. "Yes, Dean, and don’t give me any shit."
"What’s in North Dakota?" Sammy piped up from the back seat where he’d been reading.
"Skinwalker." John answered as he switched lanes, the rumble of the engine beneath them soothing to his tense senses. "You remember, Chayton? From Jim’s last summer."
"Oh, the Indian dude." Shifting in his seat restlessly Dean glanced at John.
Sam made a soft snorting noise. "Native American, Dean." He corrected.
"Yeah, whatever butt munch." Dean growled. "Does he live in a tee pee?"
"Dean, don’t be stupid." Rolling his eyes at Dean, Sam went back to his book.
Dean growled, turning in the seat and glaring at his brother. "I’m not stupid, ass---"
"Language, Dean!" John snapped as he pulled onto the exit. "Shut your mouth and sit in that seat quietly or so help me God, Dean!"
Dean had slid back in the seat, head hanging down, and a look of utter sadness on his young face that told John that he felt as if he’d disappointed his father once more. Since the incident in Fort Douglas their relationship had taken a turn for the worse. The once vibrant personality had faded to be replaced with a child who had suddenly become a small soldier. He snapped to attention at the faintest hint of anger in John’s voice.
"Yes, sir." Dean whispered softly.
John hated that his eldest looked at him like that, but his temper was frayed and his body exhausted from the long trip. When his boys hadn’t been sleeping they’d been at one another’s throats, constantly sniping, and fussing. It was moments like this that he wished Mary were here. She’d always had a soothing effect on the people around her and the thought of Mary being here in the car with him caused tears to threaten. He never allowed himself to cry in front of his boys, he didn’t have the luxury. He was the father, the soldier, and he was the adult who had to be strong for his boys.
It still boggled his mind that nearly eight years had passed since his wife had been ripped from his life and the lives of their children. Sometimes late into the night when the boys were sleeping and he sat up watching over them he wondered what Mary would have wanted for them. Surely not the nomadic life his grief had forced upon them, but he was a soldier and this was the only way he knew to ease the open wound, deep and bloody, that still lay his soul open. Violence, vengeance, and justice; these were the things he understood, that he could do. What little comfort and compassion he’d had in his life had been drawn from his beloved Mary and they’d had one another for such a short time, only a few years. It tore his soul to shreds thinking of what could have been. No other woman could ever take her place in their lives and his heart.
His gaze drifted back to his eldest and he released a soft breath. "Dean."
John wanted to say he was sorry, he really did, but he wasn’t sure how. How do you tell your child that you’re sorry for not being the man you needed to be? The father? That you were sorry for allowing his mother to be taken from him? There were no words in him that could express what he felt and without Mary those words were lost forever. She’d been his soul, his light, and his very being. For him Mary had been the sweet taste of everything good and pure in the world, the very definition of love. Now the world was nothing, but an ugly, lonely, and dangerous place to be.
Taking a deep breath John glanced at Dean who was staring at him with wide glistening eyes awaiting his next order. "Do me a favor would you, sport?" He offered Dean the brightest smile he could muster.
"Yes, sir?" His back straightened and he smiled shyly back.
"When we get to Chayton’s home I need you to treat his wife with respect. You do what she says and don’t you argue or fuss---okay?"
Dean nodded with a gravity that no twelve year old should have.
"You treat her like you would your own mother. You hear me, Dean?"
"Yes, sir." Dean’s smile, brightened. "I sure will, sir."
"Good." John reached out and ruffled his son’s hair. "Make me proud, son."
"I will, sir."
John felt a dull ache in his chest as his hand moved back to the wheel. Nearly two years and he’d not heard the one thing he’d sell his soul to hear. Dean no longer called him dad. Never dad, always sir.
The next morning was overcast with promises of rain, but the humid heat of the previous day had been vanquished. A cool breeze blew through the windows of the Impala as Dean guided her back into downtown Devil’s Lake. Before they’d left Celia had feed them a hearty breakfast and fawned over he and Sam as if they were her own sons. If Shawn and Scott hadn’t been killed by the skinwalker all those years ago they would have been twenty-five, probably graduated from college and starting lives of their own, but fate had stepped in. They would always be children, forever frozen in time by the memories of those who had known them.
Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Dean glanced at Sam in the seat next to him. Sam had been quiet and almost introverted since the night before. Whatever had made him ill had seemed to fade away, but the bandages on his hands reminded Dean that it had happened. Sam had told Celia and later Doc Harris that he’d been up to get a drink, rinse his mouth out, when a sudden dizziness had knocked him off balance. That was how he explained the broken glass and his cut hands, but Dean knew better. He knew that Sam had experienced a vision or maybe he had truly seen the spirits of Chayton and Celia’s long dead children, but if that were true then why now?
Why the sudden appearance after fifteen long years.
"Quit staring at me, Dean."
Dean frowned. "I’m not staring, dude. You ain’t that damn pretty."
Snorting, Sam turned and smirked. "You’re always staring at me…like I’m a freak. I’m not."
"That’s ridiculous, Sammy." Dean grunted as his gaze moved back to the road. "What was the address that Celia gave us?"
"222 West Walnut Street. It’s the LEC building, the municipal courts are in the same building." Sam shifted in his seat, glancing at Dean and then looking down at his bandaged hands. "She said to speak to Deputy Laurell."
There was silence that filled the station, a silence that lay in thick layers of grief and loss over everything, even the sounds of day to day life here in this place. It seeped into Sam’s bones as he and Dean stepped through the door. Death had claimed a man respected and loved by all who upheld the law here in this small community. Officers moved about in their daily duties, tan uniforms unchanged but for a simple black band of mourning that encircled all their sleeves.
He and Dean might as well have been invisible for as much attention they garnered. Sam moved to the main desk where a young woman sat behind a computer monitor, her fingers moving with graceful speed over the keyboard. She wore a head set and a nearby switchboard, flickered with lights. Her voice was firm and professional as she spoke over the headset to an incoming caller.
"Yes, Miss Miller. Yes, I understand that, but we’ve been out to your house three times in the past week. Yes, ma’am I’ll let Deputy Laurell know. You have a nice day ma’am." She pressed a button and glanced up into Sam’s eyes. "Good morning, can I help you?"
"My name’s Sam Winchester and this is my brother Dean. We were wondering if we could perhaps speak with Deputy Laurell?"
Her brows rose up in amusement at the smirk Dean flashed at her. "I’ll find out if Deputy Laurell can see you, but I doubt it. Since…" a gleam of tears flickered in her eyes, "…well she’s been busy with taking over the sheriff’s duties." Standing, she pushed back her chair and crossed the enclosed space so she could speak with a young man. The young man in question, who’s name tag read Halyard, took her place at the desk as she disappeared through a set of double doors.
"Do you think there’s a chance?" Sam questioned.
Dean shrugged. "Girl has a point, but you never know."
Christina Laurell was an almost motherly woman in her mid to late forties, short brunette hair streaked with silver, and stood almost as tall as Dean. She was lean, fit, and her sharp grey eyes made Sam feel as if he were five years old again. Hell, her gaze even had Dean twitching which to be honest wasn’t something that happened very often.
"So, you’re John Winchester’s boys." She chuckled softly. "Who knew a rude cuss like him could have such polite kids." She waved them to sit down in front of her desk that seemed a lesson in controlled chaos. "So what can I do for you?"
Dean glanced at Sam as he took a seat and Sam shrugged. "You know our dad?"
"Met him all those years ago back when Chayton, God rest his soul, lost his boys. And you can talk free here boys. I know what Chayton and your daddy did for a living so to speak. Chayton and me were good friends never hid a thing from one another. He was my mentor when I decided to join the department." Her smile held a hint of amusement. "So what can I do for you?"
Sam cleared his throat. "Celia told us that there had been some deaths here in town and the outlying areas that Chayton was investigating that might be right down our alley."
She leaned back in her chair, fingers steepled beneath her chin. "Did she now? Well, to be honest they might be and then they might not be. I’m not the expert here." She grew silent her gaze moving from Sam to Dean and back again. "Actually you might be just what I need though."
Standing she pushed back the chair and headed to the file cabinets lined along the back of the office. With one hand she pulled out a top drawer and then with the other went quickly through the neat rows of files, finally pulling a thick one from the drawer. Sliding the drawer shut she moved back to her desk and took a seat. Calloused fingers grazed over the cover for a split second before she flipped open the file and skimmed the first page, then glanced up at them.
"First time it happened we didn’t give it much credence. After all it was old Tommy King that reported it. Tommy had a rep here as the town drunk course we let it lay being as he was a Vietnam vet. War’s hell on a man."
Dean leaned forward his curiosity piqued. "So what did he report?"
She grinned from ear to ear. "Was round about two months ago, not quite sure what the date was being as we didn’t file a report. Tommy was always coming in saying he saw things. Hell one time he showed up with a tin foil hat and claimed aliens had abducted him from Gruener’s Bar down on US Highway 2." She shook her head chuckling. "Well, he showed up around midnight here at the station all wild eyed and said he’d seen a couple of glowing kids out at Starweather Cemetery. Said they weren’t human and he figured they were aliens cause they asked him for help."
Exchanging a look with one another Sam leaned forward and met Laurell’s steely gaze. "Glowing kids? So what happened after that?"
"Not much." She shook her head. "Tommy was run over out on the Interstate a couple days later and we laid him to rest in Starweather. Military honors and all, then we pretty much forgot about it until a couple of weeks later. That’s when we got a call out on Warthen Road. Danny Meyers and Cheri Attar were out at the local make out point overlooking Devil’s Lake. Said his car’s electrical system started flipping out. When they stopped their shenanigans they saw two little boys standing out in the edge of the woods."
"What happened?" Dean questioned his eyebrows drawing together.
Laurell took a deep breath. "Well, same thing. They claimed they were ghosts or some nonsense and that they were giving off this glowing gold light. Claimed the little spooks begged for help. By the time Chayton and I put two and two together it was too damn late." She released a frustrated sigh, leaning back in her seat, and rubbing at the knot of frown lines between her eyebrows.
"Danny and Cheri did they…?" Sam began.
Laurell nodded as her hand dropped to her lap, fingers kneading at the muscle in her left thigh nervously. "Yeah, both of them. As a matter of fact it was the damnedest thing, they died pretty much at the same time. Danny’s parents are farmers just south of town, his arm got caught in a combine while they were working out in the field---bleed to death. Now Cheri died at work, too. She was a waitress out at the Denny’s just east off US 2. Damnedest thing…she slipped and fell in the walk in cooler, fractured her skull on the tile floor. Ramsey County coroner said she died instantly."
Frowning Dean rubbed his now sweating palms on his thighs, the denim rough beneath his palms, and they weren’t sweating because Laurell was a cop. Every last one of the deaths she’d so far spoke of had been preceded the appearance of what Sam believed were the Proudfoot boys. Not only was there that, but the deaths had been violent and bloody. "Is there any way we might get a copy of the file?"
She thought about it for a moment and then leaned across the desk. "Technically I’m not suppose to, but considering the circumstances behind those deaths and the last two…" she let the unspoken linger in the air between them.
"The last two?" Sam swallowed hard, his throat tightening.
"Had Wilmer see them, too. He was the fire chief and during an exercise he fell through the second floor of the old Gobel place where they used to do their exercises. He was impaled on a broken water pipe." She paused, taking a deep breath. "Then there was Chayton and his daughter out there on Devil’s Lake Road."
Dean’s brow quirked up. "Chayton, but he didn’t see them did he---the spooks I mean."
Shaking her head, she stood taking the file and moving around the desk to where the photocopier stood, and began pushing buttons. "Not that I know of, but then that trucker swore he saw what he thought was a fire in the center of the road as he turned that curve up there. Claimed it blinded him and he didn’t see Chayton’s truck out there." As the copier began to hum she turned back to them, moisture streaking her sun browned cheeks. "I think what Carter Willis saw was those spirits or whatever the hell they are. I think maybe they’re escalating."
The remainder of the morning they spent tracking down the families who’d lost loved ones within the past two months. Thomas King had no family to speak of left, they decided to leave the Meyers family until later their farm being a good forty-five minute drive from town, and now they found themselves at the front door of the Attar residence.
It was an old farm house or what Sam imagined might have been a farm house when it was built at the turn of the last century. The wooden siding was freshly painted a soft buttery yellow and the roof was covered in dark green shingles atop the two story structure with its wrap around porch. On either side of the low wide steps that led to the front door were huge lilac bushes, their leaves a glossy dark green. Sam eyed the old-fashioned porch swing that hung from chains that disappeared into the shadows of the porch roof.
Lifting a fist, Dean knocked on the solid wooden door, the sound causing Sam to jump nervously and turn from the porch swing that swayed in the faint summer breeze that had began to pick up as the sky darkened. In the distance a jagged flash of lightening lit up the underbellies of the charcoal clouds and a sudden shiver rippled down Sam’s spine. So far they hadn’t discovered much as far as the mysterious apparitions were concerned. Wilmer Jenkins the deceased Fire Chief had been on the verge of retiring, his wife having passed from cancer the previous winter at a care facility in Grand Forks. There didn’t seem to be any connection to him and Thomas King and he doubted, considering their ages, that either had known Danny or Cheri except in passing.
The sound of the front door opening drew his attention back to the here and now. Standing behind the screen door was a man in his late fifties with salt and pepper hair and watery red rimmed blue eyes peered at them from behind wire framed glasses. "Yes, can I help you?"
Before Dean could open his mouth and tell some wild tale of FBI agents or federal marshals, Sam cleared his throat. "Mr. David Attar?"
The man frowned and pushed his glasses up. "Do I know you?"
"No, I’m Sam and this is my brother Dean. We’re friends of Deputy Laurell and private investigators out of Grand Forks. She asked us to help gather information about a few cases in Sheriff Proudfoot’s files." He gave the older man his friendliest smile. "I know this isn’t easy, sir, but if we could speak to you about your daughter Cheri we’d really appreciate it."
David Attar seemed to think about it for a moment and then he pushed open the screen door, waving them in. "Anything to help out Christina."
"Cheri was my only child. It was just the two of us after her mother left."
Dean sat at the wide kitchen counter next to Sam nodding in understanding over the glass of sweet tea that David had poured them. "Did Cheri have any enemies? Maybe old boyfriends that were holding grudges."
"Oh, God…no." David shook his head furiously. "Cheri was one of the happiest girls you could ever know. She and Danny had been dating since their freshman year at Devil’s Lake High. Everyone in town knew they would get married eventually…" his words trailed off as he rubbed at his wet eyes. "You know sometimes you can just tell."
Nodding, Sam reached out to pat the older man’s hand. "Can we maybe see her room?"
David glanced up and whatever he saw in Sam’s wide eyes caused him to nod. Perhaps it was the true understanding of someone who knew what grief was, Dean couldn’t honestly say as he watched the silent exchange between the two men. All he knew was that Sam had silently convinced the grieving father to let them check out his daughter’s room.
Her room was at the end of the narrow hall David had explained, his voice trembling, he hadn’t been in there since the day of the funeral a month ago. Sam had moved down the hall like a man possessed, as if he knew there was something waiting behind the simple wooden door. Against the dark wood was a small porcelain name plaque with a branch of painted lilacs and softly curling letters that spelled out 'Cheri'.
Reaching out he closed his hand over the door knob and turned it. As the door swung open he glanced over his shoulder at Dean who offered him a small smile and a sharp nod of his head, then he stepped in.
A thin layer of dust lay over everything in the room, but other than that one could expect that Cheri Attar might just walk in any moment. It was sparsely furnished and was the room of a typical college student. The walls, painted a pale lilac, were decorated by cheaply framed posters of popular movies and bands. Against the far wall was a modern black metal and cherry wood desk, a desk top computer with a flat screen monitor and a printer/fax/copier/scanner taking up the most room. Above the desk were some fairly cheap faux wood shelves stuffed with novels, non-fiction, and text books. A corkboard to the left held a scattering of photos, concert tickets, and greeting cards pinned with multi-color stick pins. The only other furniture was a full size canopy bed that matched the black metal and cherry wood desk, covered in a thick comforter of cream with a floral pattern, and matching overstuffed pillows. Two night stands stood on either side of the bed with brass lamps and a digital clock on one. Against the other wall was a matching chest of drawers, the top covered with a fine woven black shawl, and a multitude of stuffed animals.
Sam wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he had no doubt it was there. Moving to the desk he lowered himself into the wheeled desk chair and booted up the computer. Behind him he could hear Dean start on the chest of drawers, the soft rustle of fabric overly loud in the eerie silence of the room. As the computer came to life Sam shifted his gaze falling on the corkboard and the picture that were layered and hanging at odd angles. One photo caught his attention and he rolled the chair across the slick hardwood floor, pausing to reach out and pluck the picture from the board.
A young woman with wild brunette curls was laughing, dressed in a Lake Region State College sweatshirt, her blue eyes sparkling with amusement. Next to her was a tall, athletic young man around the same age, his arm pulling her in close and his head tilted down so his eyes were focused on her laughing face. Flipping the photo over he read the loose, neat script in black ink ‘Me & Danny – Christmas Eve 2005’. Closing his eyes, Sam released a soft breath as his thoughts drifted to Jess and his four years at Stanford. Sometimes the memories were too damn much, but at the same time they were all he had left.
As he reached up to replace the photo he noted an older photo, faded and worn. He tugged from beneath layers of memories and rolled back to the desk, the computer forgotten for the moment as he placed it on the desk trying to smooth the bent corners. The picture was of a group of kids and adults standing on the rocky beach, their backs to Devil’s Lake. His eyes widened as he recognized Wilmer Jenkins, Thomas King, and Chayton Proudfoot all much younger. Around them were a group of kids; a little girl around eight or nine with curly brunette hair, Shawn and Scott Proudfoot, another little boy with dark blonde hair, and to his utter shock his own eight year old face looked up at him. Sucking in a deep breath he flipped the photo over and read the inscription in faded blue ink.
Wilmer, Thomas, Chayton, Cheri, Shawn & Scott, Danny, Sammy
Black Tiger Bay, Fishing Trip August 21, 1991
Sam’s hands began to tremble and he swallowed back the bitter taste of bile, a sudden flood of images hitting him head-on.
"We’re going to take the kids down to Black Tiger Bay."
"Mr. Proudfoot, can I come?"
A bright smile in a dark face, sparkling black eyes.
"Ask your dad, Sammy."
"Daddy please can I go? Please?"
"Do you think that’s a wise idea Chayton? Considering what you called me up here for."
"Look, John…the deaths have been on this end of the lake. Besides we both know that a skinwalker hunts at night. This is the last week of summer and the kids deserve to make this trip."
His father’s worried hazel eyes looking down at him as he bounced on his heels.
"Please, daddy? I never been fishing ‘cept with Pastor Jim."
John’s slow smile as he nodded. "Ask your brother if he wants to go."
"No way, dude. I’m too big to hang out with the babies."
His hiss of pain was so sharp that Dean turned from where he was going through the closet and was across the room in two quick strides. "Sam? Sammy? You okay, dude?"
Eyes watering, he reached out slapping at the photo. "Connection…shit it hurts, man."
Dean glanced down at the faded photo, his eyebrows raising as he recognized his brother’s face in the photo. "Holy shit." He whispered as his fingers curled around the photo. "The fishing trip to Black Tiger Bay." He flipped it over and read the inscription. "Shit, Sam…all the victims." His gaze shifted from the back of the photo to Sam who was slouched in the chair panting.
"I didn’t remember." Sam’s voice was raspy when he finally spoke, his watery gaze meeting Dean’s. "What happened that summer, Dean? Why didn’t I remember that?"
Turning away, Dean’s shoulders stiffened. "I think we need to go, Sam."
The desperation in Sam’s tone squeezed the air from Dean’s lungs. "We need to leave now, Sam." He turned back to the door and walked away, leaving Sam to stare at his back in confusion.
The drive back to Celia’s house had been a tense one. Dean’s body seemed to vibrate his muscles were so tense as he’d guided the car out of town. Now he was sitting on the deck that looked out at the lake his thoughts whirling a mile a minute inside his brain. Celia had taken care of Sam when they arrived back and the memories of that summer were almost too damn much as they battered his senses. He remembered everything that had happened that summer as if it’d happened yesterday.
Dean glanced up as Celia settled on the stairs next to him. "Thanks." He whispered as his gaze drifted back to the lake out beyond the trees. "Celia…I don’t know how to tell you this."
She leaned close the lavender scent that followed her always drifting around him. "What is it, Dean?" When he didn’t answer right away her eyes narrowed. "You’re scaring me, Dean. What happened to Sam while you two were out?"
Reaching into his shirt pocket he pulled out the worn photo. There was no easy way to explain what he thought so the straight forward approach seemed the best thing to do. He didn’t want to hurt Celia, she’d been so sweet to them during that long ago stay it’d been almost like having a mom again. She’d baked cookies, read Sammy bedtime stories, and listened to Dean when he’d finally talked about what had happened nearly two years before in Fort Douglas. And then that thing that dad had been hunting with Chayton had brought the hunt up a couple of notches by killing their sons right in their own beds. A soft breath whistled past his lips as he held out the photo.
"I don’t think that the skinwalker killed your sons, Celia." His voice was tight as he continued staring out across the lake, the water dark beneath the storm clouds. "I think someone killed them and made it look like that thing dad and Chayton were hunting did."
At first he wasn’t sure that Celia had heard him or maybe she didn’t understand, but as he turned towards her he saw how wide her eyes were. The surface of her eyes glistened in the gathering darkness of the on coming storm, tears that welled and danced on the fringe of her lashes.
"My boys…my boys were killed by that skinwalker." There was no emotion in her voice as she stood and walked away, the photo slipping from her fingers to flutter to the deck’s surface.
Seconds later the first drops of rain began to fall.