THE HUNTERS' NEW CLOTHES
Sam reached into the bunker’s giant washer and pulled out a tangled wad of damp denim and flannel.
Laundry had never been a favourite task of the brothers; even less so now that they were at the bunker, and it meant doing actual work; not just rocking up to the nearest launderette with a stuffed bag of underwear and a rolled-up copy of Busty Asian Beauties.
But over recent weeks, this already unpleasant job had become downright depressing.
As he leaned over the ancient monolith which had stood steadfastly in the corner of the bunker’s laundry room for generations, washing the Men of Letters’ smalls year after year, he reflected that it had probably never had to deal with as paltry a collection as this.
As he folded the washing, he took inventory …
Eight shrunken T-shirts with holes under the armpits
Four ratty pairs of jeans mottled with stains of indeterminate origin;
One almost entirely bald fleece hoodie;
One saggy grey Henley that was so stretched and mis-shapen, it could actually be a tarpaulin;
Thirteen odd socks;
One canvas jacket which still stunk of chupacabra fluids even after having been washed seven times;
Two pairs of sweatpants with no discernible elastic;
Six moth-eaten plaid shirts with half the buttons hanging off;
Pathetic wasn’t even the word.
Sam knew that if he went rummaging through his wardrobe, he’d find an equally uninspiring collection of old, faded rags which might have once been clothes and likewise, he was pretty sure that Dean’s room was harbouring the same motley collection of gear that was so grim, even the moths wouldn’t touch it.
The trouble was, Sam hated shopping for clothes; and shopping for clothes along with Dean, the proud owner of the world’s shortest attention span, was the stuff of nightmares.
He briefly considered online shopping, but neither brother were exactly what could be described as a conventional shape. Sam had his slim build, great height and endlessly long limbs, and Dean with his broad shoulders and narrow hips somehow managed to be stocky and slim all at the same time, so the need to try clothes on was essential. Shopping online was just a Dean temper conniption waiting to happen.
His melancholy musings were interrupted when Dean strolled into the room. Freshly showered and in search of coffee, he was sporting only the dead-guy robe, untied and flapping open in the breeze together with a pair of threadbare black boxers which were graced with a very unfortunately placed hole.
Sam finally broke.
"Dude, we have GOT to buy some new gear,” he snapped.
“This is stupid,” huffed Dean. “I don’t see why both of us need to go out and buy clothes. You know what I wear.”
“Oh no, I’m not buying your clothes,” snorted Sam dismissively; “whatever I get would be wrong, and anyway, you’re a weird shape – I wouldn’t know what sizes to get.”
“Weird shape?” Dean snapped in wounded indignation; “what’s weird about my shape?”
“You’ve got these stupidly wide shoulders, bandy legs and practically no ass,” Sam replied with a grin; “you need to try stuff on.”
“Oh, listen to the world’s biggest praying mantis,” Dean countered; “you’re one to talk about weird shapes.”
He paused momentarily, “and anyhow, you been looking at my ass?”
“Not willingly,” replied Sam calmly; “it’s just it’s been hanging out of your jeans for the last few weeks; it’s kinda hard to miss. Every pair you own are either worn out or falling apart.”
“Hmph,” Dean grunted; “well, I did have one decent pair, except they got shredded when we took out that piskie nest in New Hampshire, remember?”
“I remember,” Sam nodded; “they were tricky little jerks; freaking destructive too.”
“Still, we gave them something to think about, didn’t we,” grinned Dean. “That spell that neutralised their faerie magic was a stroke of genius, Sammy.”
Sam nodded; “yeah, now they can’t fly or transport or even become invisible. They’re completely exposed and vulnerable just like any other small animal, so they’ll have to stay hiding in the woods well away from people and animals to stay safe from now on.”
“That’s that they get for being annoying little douchebags – and for mangling my gear. Oh, and for your information, I do have an ass, and it’s awesome!”
Sam grimaced. “If you say so Dean.”
Dean rolled the Impala to a halt in downtown Lebanon. “Let’s get this freakin’ farce done with,” he snorted; “I’ve got important stuff to be getting on with back at the bunker.”
“What stuff?” Sam replied calmly.
“Just ‘stuff,” snapped Dean; “an’ it’s important.”
“Stuff. Important. Got it,” Sam grinned; “we’ll make sure you get back before the game starts this afternoo … oh, look!” he tailed off, distracted. “A new thrift store – it must have just opened, it wasn’t there when I came downtown last week.”
Dean rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe you even notice things like that. C’mon, Samantha let’s go look.”
A small bell tinkled as Sam pushed open the heavy wooden and glass door, which looked oddly weathered and old for a shop which had seemingly only opened days before, and he glanced sideways to the counter which seemed equally antiquated.
Trailing in behind him, Dean paused, his nose wrinkling in disgust at the musty smell so typical of large amounts of secondhand clothing.
“Sam,” he whispered, tugging on his brother’s sleeve; “this place feels skeevy, let’s …”
But it was too late. Sam had already caught the eye of the lady behind the counter who, notwithstanding the weathered and aged appearance of the door and the counter, still looked like the oldest thing in the shop.
“Hello there,” she muttered nervously; “how can I help you boys?”
“Uh, my brother and I are looking for some gear,” Sam announced, projecting his warmest smile towards the old lady; “jeans and shirts mainly”.
“Well, that’s most fortuitous,” she smiled; “I just got a consignment from a gentlemans’ clothing store in Cedar. Went into liquidation a month ago and it specialised in clothing for the younger man. I’m sure I can find something to suit a pair of nice young bucks like you.”
She hobbled over to some racks at the back of the shop, and pulling aside some obviously unsuitable garments, she gestured towards one particular rack festooned with jeans and plaid flannel shirts.
“Take your time, boys,” she smiled, “there’s a small room out back where you can try on if you want.”
At her invitation, the brothers began to rummage.
“Well, that was a stroke of luck,” grinned Dean as he unlocked the Impala’s door and tossed his stuffed shopping bag on her back seat. “I got three pairs of jeans, four shirts, and an awesome suit - all a perfect fit.”
“Me too,” Sam agreed as he slid into the passenger seat. “Four shirts, a jacket to replace that one the chupacabra puked on, a suit and two pairs of jeans. And they’re the all the right size,” he added; “what are the odds?”
“Don’t knock it,” Dean replied with a shrug. “Let’s head back, I’ve got time to make some muffins before the game starts.”
The Winchesters’ current hunt was a fairly mundane affair. A poltergeist infesting the local library, and terrorising the staff, but particularly the sweetly timid and mousy chief librarian who had been off work with a serious case of the vapours, ever since she’d nearly been decapitated by a flying copy of Titus Andronicus.
Through extensive research that Sam had done, and Dean had constantly interrupted with masterful ease and absolutely no shame, they had narrowed the culprits down to two unfortunate souls who had met untimely ends within the library many years ago as a result of a fiery disagreement over a lost copy of The Pickwick Papers.
It was time to interview the unfortunate lady to glean whatever additional information would help them to figure out which one of the warring bookworms was their target, and also because Dean was flatly refusing to ‘bust his awesome ass’ digging up two graves’.
Resplendent in their new suits; a sharply pressed charcoal black for Sam, and a flatteringly fitted navy blue for Dean, they found themselves standing on the doorstep of a twee, lavender-painted house. It was adorned with lacy curtains, a squirrel-shaped doorknocker and surrounded by an eye-wateringly colourful riot of flowers.
The whole thing screamed suburbia and gave Dean the dry heaves.
However, given the effort they had gone to with their dapper new suits, and allowing for the fact that Dean had been warned on pain of salad for supper tonight to be on his best behaviour, the last response that they were expecting was a horrified scream and a door being slammed in their faces with a panicked cry of ‘get off my property, perverts’.
Sam was at a loss, and his confusion wasn’t entirely helped by Dean’s assertion that ‘she’s fuckin’ nuts’.
On the basis that this line of investigation was a bust, Dean pulled up the Impala outside a reasonably respectable diner, halfway back to the bunker because, Sam assumed, he was genuinely scared that Sam might make good on his threat.
They emerged from the car, and entered the diner side-by-side to be met with a sea of turned heads, faces gaping in every flavour of astonishment from disgust to appreciation, and the cook throwing a ladle across the room. The ladle, FULL OF Mulligatawny soup, bounced off of Sam’s forehead. It needed more salt.
“YOU GODDAMN WEIRDOES GOT FIVE SECONDS TO GET OUT OF MY DINER OR I’M CALLING THE POLICE…”
Backpedalling frantically out of the diner, Dean shook his head and grimaced. “Was I drinking last night? Have I woken up in some bizarro world where everyone’s a freaking idiot?”
Sam wiped the last droplets of soup that were dripping off his nose, and stared, hunched and miserable, at Dean.
“I hate Mulligatawny soup.”
Suddenly, the library poltergeist job was on the back burner, and the Winchesters’ new quest was to find out what the holy hell was wrong with their suits. Dean just couldn’t understand why everyone had gone postal when he wore his. It was a damn shame because his ass looked seriously hot in its hugging lines; he’d expected chicks to be screaming for other reasons.
The plot thickened the following day, when Sam received a cryptic phone call from Dean during a simple supply run.
“Dude,” Dean hissed; “I’ve got a problem.”
Sam blinked. “which one do you mean?” He answered earnestly.
“Shut your piehole, smartass,” Dean snapped; “I need you to come and get me.”
“Sorry dude,” Sam replied hesitantly; “I don’t follow. Has the Impala broken down? Where are you?”
He heard Dean’s laboured sigh.
“No she hasn’t,” Dean explained. “I’m at … at the police department.”
“The police department?” Sam repeated in the hope that he’d heard wrongly.
“Yes, Dean snapped; “the police department. I need you to come and sign me out because I’ve been arrested.”
“Arrested?” Sam’s heart dropped into his boots.
“Goddamnit Sam, is there a freakin’ parrot on this line?” Dean’s voice rose in indignation; “yes, arrested. I’ve been arrested for indecent exposure!”
The silence on the phone that followed was deafening.
Sam had never suffered from migraines.
But this seemed as good a time as any to start.
Sam couldn’t help feeling slightly humiliated as he stood and waited for the bus to take him into town so that he could collect his errant brother.
There had to be some logical reason for this. Dean wasn’t wearing the suit that had caused all the problems over the last few days. He was wearing a pair of his new jeans and one of his new plaid shirts.
Sam reflected that he was possibly going nuts, or Dean was going nuts, or maybe they were both totally sane, and it was the world around them that was going nuts. He thought that the last option was the most reassuring possibility, although he had to accept it was probably a long shot.
As he stood waiting, a little old lady approached the bus stop. Taking one look at him, her eyes widened in horror and her lips tightened into a disapproving ‘cat’s ass’ pout; a not inconsiderable physical feat. She made a point of standing as far away from him as was reasonably possible, making angry ‘tutting’ noises, whilst still being in the vicinity of the bus stop.
Sitting on the cot in the corner, Dean looked up as the door to his cell opened.
“I take mine black, one sugar”, he announced cockily before the door had even fully opened and, to his horror, Sam was shoved through it.
“Sam, WHAT THE HELL?”
Sam sighed. “Guess what? I got arrested.”
“Arrested?” Dean gasped.
“Yes Dean, arrested. It’s that goddamn parrot again.”
“What the hell were you arrested for?”
“Apparently I was arrested for trying to get on a bus without wearing any pants.”
Dean looked his brother up and down, taking in his brown plaid shirt and the heavy faded jeans which covered his long legs.
“But, you’re …”
“New jeans, old shirt,” Sam snorted.
“The sheriff asked me if I thought it was funny walking around in just my boxers and my boots.” Dean, sighed, pulling at the blanket he’d been issued with presumably to cover himself. “I tried to explain what I was wearing, even told them the colour of the shirt.”
Sam motioned for Dean to continue. “Then what?”
“Then the deputy asked if I thought he was stupid,” Dean replied with a smirk.
“Dean, you didn’t …”
Dean shrugged. “Well, he did ask.”
“Okay,” Sam sighed; “so anything we bought from that weird store the other day can’t be seen by anyone else, only us it seems.”
“Apparently so,” Dean muttered glumly; “we need to go check that place out.”
“We gotta get out of here first, Sam stated; “just – in future – let me do the talking, ‘kay?”
Dean picked at the frayed edges of his blanket with an ingracious scowl. “Well, he WAS stupid,” he mumbled sulkily into his chest.
Two days, and Sam’s best, most contrite puppy-eyed pleading, later, the brothers found themselves free, and back at the bunker. Siftng through their wardrobes to make sure they weren’t setting themselves up for another brush with the law, Sam suspected even his most pathetic puppy eyes wouldn’t help them get away with nothing but a lecture about public decency a second time.
Clad only in the minimal amounts of old clothing that had escaped the trash since the encounter with the mysterious thrift shop, they headed downtown in search of the place.
“Dean, you remember the plan right?”
“Yes Sam, we figure out what’s happened BEFORE we burn the place down.”
“That’s right, Sam replied with a decisive nod.
“You’re no fun,” Dean grunted.
“It was here!” Sam threw his arms aloft in exasperation. “You saw it, right? It was here. It was in this building. Wasn’t it?”
Dean nodded. “It sure was.”
The building that the Winchesters now stood before was a study in advanced neglect and dereliction.
“But this place hasn’t seen any signs of life since the stone age,” Dean observed, rubbing a palm across the dust-caked window to peer into the dank, lifeless interior.
He looked down at his soiled palm, and grimaced, rubbing the dirt off on Sam’s back.
Sam threaded his long fingers through his hair.
“This is nuts.”
“Yep,” Dean agreed with a shrug. “Nuts is totally what it is.”
Over the following weeks, the Winchesters became aware of an alarming and growing trend. As they travelled around, canvassing the locals to find out about the mysterious store, or going about their daily lives, they began, increasingly, the be greeted by screaming women, outraged men and one creepy dude with a lazy eye who asked them if they were interested in a job in his nightclub.
They couldn’t help but come to an inescapable and deeply troubling conclusion.
“It’s a jumper!” Dean shrugged, as if he was stating the painfully obvious. “This damn spell or hex or whatever it is has jumped. It’s starting to infect our own clothes, not just the new ones.”
“B-but,” Sam stammered; “what can we wear? How the hell are we ever going to be able to leave the bunker if everyone thinks we’re butt-ass naked?”
Sam got a terrifyingly close-up view of butt-ass naked the following morning, when his brother walked into the kitchen at breakfast time, and he came within a hairs breadth of choking to death on his coffee in response to the spectacle before him.
Sam was never eating hard-boiled eggs or weiners for breakfast again.
“It’s intensifying,” Sam observed, as both Winchesters sat at the table in the main hall wrapped in their bedsheets. “Now, we can’t see each others’ clothes.”
“How long before it affects the bedlinen too?” Dean added, pulling his grey sheet around him; “we’re running out of goddamn options.”
“There’s a tablecloth in the kitchen,” Sam suggested forlornly, ignoring Dean’s unappreciative scowl.
“It’s got to be faeries.” Sam announced the following morning, out of the blue.
“Faeries, Dean. Think about it;” he snapped; “Our last job was dealing with those piskies, and we haven’t completed a job since then. This …” he waved a hand up and down the sheet wrapped around him as if to encompass the whole situation, “… this, only started after that job.”
He could see the wheels turning in Dean’s head.
“Let’s face it,” he added; “faeries get off on tricks and humiliation. This is exactly the kind of crap those little jerks would pull.”
“But I thought we’d neutralised their freakin’ shitty faerie magic,” replied Dean hesitantly.
“No,” Sam replied; “we neutralised THOSE faeries’ magic. There are hundreds of different types of faerie; Brownies, Redcaps, Leprechauns, Elves, Sidhe, Undines, Nymphs, Sylphs, Gnomes, Boggarts, Kobolds, Piskies, Nixies and that’s not even all of them. They’ve all got their own magic, and we just neutralised one strain of it.
Pausing in thought, the Winchesters both spoke up at the same time.
“The old lady in the store …”
“I knew there was something weird about that old buzzard,” snapped Dean; “she looked about a thousand years old for a start!”
“I guess we need to reverse the spell on the faeries then,” Sam sighed; “maybe they’ll reciprocate and reverse this spell then.”
“Oh man, that sucks” Dean groaned at the exact same time his grey sheet faded from view.
“So does that,” Sam muttered with a grimace.
The following midnight, the Winchesters stood around a circle of mushrooms in the middle of the woods where they had banished the powerless piskies only days before.
They had managed to sneak unseen into the heavily wooded area, and hoped that their stealthy approach could be maintained until they’d somehow managed to undo the spell, and hopefully regain some degree of decency, for each other and more importantly, for the world at large.
As Sam spoke the incantation, and tossed a handful of crushed acorns into the circle, they waited breathlessly for a moment to see if anything would happen.
Something did happen; they heard someone walking toward them.
Gravitating towards each other for protection and reassurance, both brothers’ hands travelled south to their respective groins instinctively as the soft footfalls approached.
Dean peered intently through the blackness. In trying and failing to juggle his flashlight and protect his modesty all at the same time, he simply succeeded in spotlighting it.
“Who’s there?” he snapped.
“Now you can see,” came a mysterious voice; human, but also somehow otherworldly, light and melodious, like a tinkling bell.
“I can’t see a goddamn thing,” Dean snapped in response, as a familiar and very elderly lady emerged from the gloom to approach them.
“You!” Sam’s hand twitched, desperate to reach for the gun secreted in the waist of his invisible jeans.
“Now you can see what you did to my little people,” she stated calmly.
“Your little people?” Sam queried.
“My little people.” The old lady repeated. “I am the Piskies’ Queen, and their protector. Your incantation does not affect me, but nor can I overcome it. Without their magic my poor little piskies are helpless, and that I cannot endure.”
“Yeah, well they were being a pain in the ass,” Dean snapped, ignoring the elbow that Sam jabbed into his ribs.
“My little people can be high-spirited,” she conceded; “but they did not deserve what you did to them. You left them naked; exposed and vulnerable,” she accused, “now you know what it is like to be naked, exposed and vulnerable.”
“We’ve reversed the spell,” Sam explained apologetically; “they should have their mojo back now.”
She stood silently for a moment and closed her eyes, stock still, as if she was concentrating hard on something.
“Yes,” she eventually agreed; “they are restored.”
“Yeah, well, speaking of restoring,” Dean prompted, gesturing up and down the length of his body.
She glanced at him and back at Sam.
“You put my people at mortal danger,” she muttered darkly; “I should leave you as you are, unable ever again to set foot into the outside world, but I will prove to you that the fae folk can forgive.”
She snapped her fingers, and suddenly the Winchesters’ clothes reappeared.
“Thank you,” Sam murmured sheepishly as Dean breathed a sigh of relief.
“Never again will you cross paths with my little people,” she warned; “do you understand me?”
Dean opened his mouth to explain exactly how well he understood, but was cut off by Sam clapping a hand over his mouth.
“Yes,” Sam agreed contritely; “we understand.”
“The first faerie that suffers at your hands will herald an era of humiliation beyond your imagination,” she added coldly. “You have been warned.”
And with those words she was gone.
“Bossy old trout,” snorted Dean from between Sam’s fingers.
“Hey Sam,” Dean strolled into the bunker’s kitchen, resplendent in his new navy blue suit. “it’s awesome that I can still wear that suit we bought at the creepy old lady store. It’s not invisible anymore.”
He brushed an imaginary mote of dust from the lapel. “This suit is sweet. Did I say it makes my ass look awesome?”
Sam ignored him.
They’d seen quite enough of each others’ asses to last a lifetime, thank you very much.