It had not been a good year for Jeremy Sunder. Over the last few months alone his mother had been jumped and stabbed to death, he’d been fired from his job, kicked out of school and to the curb by his stepfather, his boyfriend broke up with him, and he blew all of his money on PopTarts and drugs, from which he was currently going through withdrawal. Now, on this chilly mid-October night, he was shaking from both the chill and from the ills of his longing.
Currently, his home was a bundle of blankets in a corner underneath an overpass. The other homeless people in town came and went, never staying there for more than a week before moving on; the place had little foot traffic and was far away from people to beg from or food to plead for. But that was what Jeremy liked about it. He could die in peace here.
How macabre to think that at 25 years old, he’d decided that his life was over.
He was nearly asleep when the whispers began, and he rolled over with a moan, closing his eyes tighter. They had been tormenting him for weeks now, keeping him from a full night’s rest. It was always the voices of people he knew, or even his own voice. His stepfather shouting, his boyfriend scolding; even his mother’s voice tormented him, saying the most horrible things that he knew she had never said and would never say!
And tonight they came again, like clockwork. Only this time, they were joined by a new voice. A deep, distant rumble that seemed to echo in Jeremy’s head.
Come to me…
Jeremy’s eyes shot open, and he sat up and scanned the dimly lit area. “Who’s there?” he demanded. No one answered. Only the whispers. He had just begun to relax a hair when the voice called again.
Come to me now.
Cautious, Jeremy stood and slipped into the wool overcoat that doubled as his blanket. As the voice continued to beckon, he wandered unsteadily in the direction it seemed to come from. The voice got louder the farther he walked, drowning out the other whispers, and he only hoped this meant he was getting closer to the source.
He stopped abruptly in the middle of a field in an empty part of town and was drawn to look down. Crouching, Jeremy picked at the overgrown grass until he found it. A silver necklace with a blood-red diamond for a pendant. He lifted it up by the chain, dangling the gem in front of his eyes. He stared at it for a long time, feeling like somehow it was staring back.
Out of nowhere, dozens of notions filled his head. Horrific ideas and concepts that Jeremy would never have thought possible. And worst of all, some of them actually sounded appealing to him.
No, the sensible part of him protested. This is wrong!
Jeremy blinked hard and realized that he was now wearing the necklace, cradling the diamond close to his chest. The insanity of the situation hit him like a wall, along with what remained of his humanity.
“No!” he objected, yanking the chain over his head and rearing the fist that held the diamond back with the intention of casting it away.
But before he could, a white hot energy spread from the diamond throughout his entire body. Crying out in pain, Jeremy’s legs gave out from under him and he collapsed. He’d never known such agony; he felt like every single bone in his body was being shattered and set on fire, like his organs were being ripped to shreds by some nonexistent beast.
And in the dark of the night, Jeremy’s screams of pure anguish went unheard.
Dean groaned and let his head drop onto the page he’d been reading. This case made no goddamn sense.
A world-weary sigh was heaved somewhere near his forehead. “Dean,” urged his tiny brother. “We’ll get it. We just gotta keep at it, okay?”
The older Winchester grumbled but lifted his head and consulted their father’s journal once more. Research was usually the most boring part of any case, but this time it was downright frustrating.
The hunters had been drawn to this small rural town by local reports of surprise murders committed by usually mild-mannered people, folks having fits of rage out of the blue. It was like a wave of evil had swept over this random little place in the middle of nowhere. Seemingly ideal for the pair of hunters. All they had to do was find out what the cause was and how to kill it.
Easier said than done.
Dean had walked into the local library earlier that morning with his little brother safely in his pocket and set up on a table in the most obscure corner he could find. He sat with his back to the walls and stacked all the extra books he’d grabbed for the express purpose of forming a barrier to hide Sam. With Dean keeping a watchful eye for library patrons, they could research together with minimal worry about Sam being in the open.
It felt good for Sam to contribute for once. The most he needed help with was switching out books, but he could turn a page just fine on his own. It was much more comfortable than hanging out in the pocket while Dean did all the work. To be able to work completely independent from Dean… Not that he didn’t appreciate his brother, but he tended to lean toward being overprotective.
Still, even he had to admit that this case was getting pretty ridiculous. No lore they could find matched with the cases well enough to pinpoint a supernatural culprit, not even in John’s journal. And hours of fruitless research was taking a toll on the both of them.
The soft voice made the brothers jump. Dean’s head snapped up to find a small-statured young woman peeking around a bookshelf. He raised an eyebrow at how odd she appeared, and how natural she made it look at the same time. She couldn’t have been older than eighteen, had short dark hair and wore a tan overcoat that seemed a couple sizes too large for her and covered most of her outfit except for the cuffs of her pants and simple boots. She also had on sunglasses indoors, which would make anyone else look like a douchebag but somehow she made it work.
“Sorry to bother you, you’re clearly busy, but I seem to have gotten myself turned around.”
Dean chuckled despite himself, admittedly intrigued by her strong British accent. It was a little out of place for the rural Midwest. “Yeah, they really need to do a better job of putting up signs around here. What are you looking for?”
She approached, digging through the inside pocket of her coat. Without batting an eye, Dean shifted his hand on the table to cover Sam. He kept it arched to avoid smothering his brother. She wasn’t yet close enough to see behind the makeshift wall of books, but Dean took no chances when it came to protecting Sam.
The sudden motion and lack of space startled Sam, but he got over it as soon as he realized what was going on. When the woman spoke again, she was much closer than she had been.
“I’m a transfer student, you see, studying journalism,” she said, flashing a small, black leather wallet that held her student ID. At least, Dean assumed it had; she shoved it back in the pocket right away. “Thing is, I’m a little late in the semester and have a bit of catching up to do on current events. Could you tell me where I can find archived newspapers from the past few months?”
Nodding, Dean pointed in the direction she’d come from with his free hand. “You gotta take the stairs down to the lower level, go straight down the hall, and it’ll be the first door on the left. Should still be unlocked.”
Her gaze followed his finger and she sighed in immense relief. “Thanks. Sorry again for interrupting you, I just noticed those,” she gestured toward the large copies Dean had made earlier, “and there don’t appear to be any librarians around…”
“They’re kinda understaffed today.” As they had been for weeks, Dean knew. One of the librarians went crazy and attacked her coworkers in their homes, leaving them inches from death. She was spotted and chased by police before she could get all of them, and she jumped in front of a bus before she could get caught. The others were currently in intensive care, leaving only a handful to pick up the slack.
She adjusted her sunglasses, brushing aside a lock of hair that had fallen behind the lens. “Well, thank you again sir,” she said as she turned to leave.
“Name’s Dean,” he grinned charmingly.
Pausing at this unexpected introduction, she nodded in acknowledgement and smiled faintly. “Thank you, Dean.”
“Happy to help, sweetheart,” drawled the hunter. From under his uncomfortably warm living shelter, Sam rolled his eyes and jabbed his elbow into the nearest finger in protest of Dean’s incessant flirting. Dean blinked, but didn’t otherwise react.
Her brow lowered slightly and her mouth twitched, as though she were at a loss for how to respond. Finally, she set her lips into a firm line and left silently with tense shoulders.
Dean frowned as he watched her go. Though the girl had been friendly enough, something about her seemed…off. Distant. Almost otherworldly, though he couldn’t think why she would give him that impression. He just felt it; something was weird about her.
His thoughts were broken by the sensation of something small pushing up on his thumb, and he remembered his brother was under there. When he lifted his hand, he was greeted with a severe bitchface.
“What!” Dean shrugged.
Sam got to his feet, straightening his hair and rumpled jacket. “Something is seriously wrong with this town, Dean. If there was ever a time to not flirt with every girl with a cute accent that comes along, it’d be now.”
Dean scoffed and shook his head. Who said anything about every girl? Touchy, touchy… Leaning back in his chair, Dean grabbed a fresh tome from the pile and opened it to a random page. “What would you have me do, short stuff, leave the damsel in distress?”
“Let’s just focus, okay?” With a sigh, Sam walked to the right of his book to turn the page.
Dean watched his little brother as he resettled on the left page. He’d never seen Sam so determined on a case, not one that didn’t involve someone the Winchesters were close to. But Dean didn’t pry, sensing that Sam didn’t want to talk about it and, frankly, neither did Dean.
Research continued in silence.
The library’s closing time came, and Sam and Dean had nothing to show for it. More than a little discouraged, they returned to their motel room. Dean ordered pizza and the brothers quietly watched TV for a couple hours before diving into the internet and double-checking John’s journal until fatigue finally sank in and they turned in for the night.
Despite his exhaustion, Sam was still awake when 2:00 a.m. rolled around. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but something about this case rubbed him the wrong way. Even Dean, who unlike Sam had been doing this all his life, was stumped. The thought of some unknown thing infecting this middle-of-nowhere town with its evil—it was simply unnerving to Sam.
And apparently, he thought bitterly as he ran his hands down his face, it bothered him enough to keep him awake. Even in his own, familiar bed, walled in by books on the bottom shelf of the nightstand, less than three feet away from his older brother. He should feel safe. But nothing about this town felt safe. Heaving an aggravated sigh, Sam rolled over and forced his mind to clear.
Just as he was about to fall asleep, rewarded for his valiant efforts, an unearthly sound tore through the air.
It wasn’t loud, but it was nearby and strange enough to snatch Sam back into the waking world, fully alert and straining to hear. The only way he could possibly compare it to was an ancient machine struggling for air. It wheezed laboriously, groaning gradually louder and ending on a low bass thrum that brought back the silence with finality.
Sam was bewildered. At first he wondered if someone in the room over had turned the TV on, but Sam was sure he’d never heard anything like that on TV or in reality. Struck with the thought that it might have to do with this town’s evil problem, Sam threw off his covers and slipped into his boots. He peeked around the corner of the entrance to his little room as he put on his jacket, to check on Dean. The older and much bigger hunter slumbered on. Sam allowed himself to relax a little; if anything evil were even remotely close, Dean’s hunter instincts would have him up in a heartbeat.
Sam knew better than to let his guard down completely, and he had to admit he was insanely curious about that had caused such a peculiar noise. Double checking that his knife was where he left it in his jacket, he marched under Dean’s bed to the entrance to inside the walls he’d found earlier, and disappeared from sight.
He meandered slowly in the general direction he’d heard the noise. As determined as he was about this case, he wasn’t looking for a fight. There was no way Sam could take on this thing on his own. Not with a comparatively miniscule silver knife as his only protection. But if he could glimpse it, he could finally set them on the right path to defeating this thing.
Or it could turn out to not be the thing they’re hunting, and lead to a totally awkward situation.
His train of thought was broken by a soft shuffling noise, and he froze to listen. A faint muttering ruled out mice or any dangerous rodents, and opened up the possibility of someone else living in the motel, someone Sam’s own size that he could talk to!
He followed the dark passage with brisk steps and in his excitement nearly trampled the small person as he rounded a sharp corner. The petite woman gasped sharply and backpedaled in distress.
“Sorry! Sorry,” Sam hissed, putting his hands up to show he meant no harm. “I didn’t see you there. Are you alright?”
Her startled breathing started to even out, and her defensive stance relaxed a little. She nodded, still eyeing him warily. As she straightened to her full height, Sam took in her appearance as best he could in the dim lighting. Her hair was cut into a short, messy bob, and her clothes were form-fitting. A single-strapped bag was slung over her shoulders and a long pin hung at her side. She was taller than he’d originally thought, somewhere in between the heights of his respective adopted parents; her eyes were just about level with his chest. He must have been thrown by her slim frame and crouched posture. But now she was composed, authoritative, waiting for Sam to make a move.
Sam pocketed his hands awkwardly, trying to seem less intimidating despite the way he loomed. After living and travelling for months with his gargantuan brother, he was unused to the feeling of being taller. “Um. I’m Sam. What’s your name?”
She squared her shoulders and looked him up and down, but answered quietly.
Sam smiled. He’d never heard such a unique name. A compliment about it was on the tip of his tongue when he noticed a light beeping sound. He followed it to her hand, which held the most intricate little device he’d ever seen someone like him in possession of.
“Whoa! Did you build that?” he blurted.
Zepheera blinked and glanced at the device like she’d briefly forgotten about it. “Well…yes.”
Sam’s brow threatened to disappear past his hairline. He chuckled gleefully, impressed with her apparent ingenuity. “That’s so cool! What is it? What’s it do?”
“Oh! Er, well…” She took it in both hands and fiddled idly with the dials. “It’s a machine that…that beeps,” she mumbled feebly. “Not my best, honestly, still got a few kinks to work out, y’know…”
Sam’s excitedly curious smile slowly melted the more she spoke. “Wait…I know you,” he said flatly.
Zepheera stiffened again. “Pardon?”
He frowned. It was impossible, had to be, but there was no mistaking that accent. The one he’d bitterly labeled ‘cute’ earlier.
“You were in the library earlier.” Suspicion rising, he took a step toward her, unintentionally intimidating her with his height alone. “The journalism student.”
Sam had no idea how, but it was definitely her.
Zepheera’s eyes were wide now. In a panic, she ducked and pushed past Sam’s legs, clutching the device to her chest as she bolted in the direction Sam had come. This caught Sam by surprise, but not for long, and he gave chase.
There wasn’t much to this passage, and only one place for Zepheera to end up. She ran faster than Sam, but his legs were long enough for him to keep up easily.
“Wait!” he called to her when they were getting close to the room. “I just wanna talk!” This was for her benefit, but also for Dean’s; if he was right, all the commotion of the chase would have woken his brother.
Sure enough, he found Dean’s closed hands when he emerged from the dark, the bed pushed hastily aside to make room for his hulking form. Sam wordlessly jumped on, stabilizing himself on Dean’s wrist as he stood and carried their captive over to the table. Dean dropped her onto his closed laptop and clicked on the light. As he sat down in the nearby chair, Sam kept an eye on her. She hadn’t made a move to stand, still getting over from the vertigo, but all the motion and vibrations from Dean forced her to look up with wide, violet eyes.
Dean squinted at their tiny prisoner, eyes flashing in recognition.