|The Dark and Winding Road
Author: Darkly Ironic PM
There's been a series of disappearances in the tiny Oregon town of Cannon Beach, and all the evidence points to the local legend of the Bandage Man...Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Mystery - Dean W. & Sam W. - Chapters: 2 - Words: 11,411 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 12-29-11 - Published: 12-26-11 - id: 7675619
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Here's the second and final part! Thanks for reading, and I really hope you enjoyed it. Comments and con-crit are loved and appreciated!
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The sun was up by the time Dean stumbled back into the motel room exhausted and bloody. He'd searched for Sam all night, but hadn't found anything. Sam had vanished, and he hadn't even left proof that Dean hadn't been alone in the forest.
So, the ghost had him.
He remembered Sam's unease about the Bandage Man taking the laptop and Dad's journal, and that it now had Sam too wasn't making the picture any rosier.
Dean tried not to wonder if the previous victims had ended up like the bones in the cave. He'd find Sam before that.
His body was crying out for sleep, but he didn't have time for that. He started a pot of coffee and took a shower, gingerly washing around the gash on the back of his skull. Then, once he had a cup of coffee, he called Chief Glass.
"The Bandage Man really took your partner?" she said when he opened the door. There was a second as she took in Dean's appearance. "What the hell happened to you?"
He tried to give a carefree laugh, but his ribs hurt, and it ended up becoming a cough instead. That hurt worse. "Oh, you know," he said, "the usual."
She frowned at him, but didn't comment. "Why did you want to meet here? What's wrong with my office?"
There's too many cops there, was Dean's immediate reaction, but even with a head injury he wasn't dumb enough to say it. He settled for giving her his best really? look, which she obviously interpreted correctly, because she nodded and pushed her lips up and together the same way Sam did when he was caught in the act of temporarily being an idiot. She wasn't dumb either.
They started out working at the tiny, wobbling, table in he kitchenette, then moved to the floor for more space. She'd brought her files and laptop, and Dean had Sam's printouts. They spread the papers out on the floor around them, trying to find something, anything, that might have been the origin of the story, or a hint why it had taken Sam.
Dean stared at the profile of the latest victim, not really taking in the words . He hated this part, stuck here researching, when he should be out rescuing Sam, but he didn't even have a place to start his search. He pushed down the gnawing worry, and re-read the first sentence for the third time.
"I'm sure your partner's fine," Glass said, not looking up from the file spread across her knees. Dean glanced up at her. The glasses she'd grudgingly pulled out of her purse after the second hour had passed were slipping off the end of her nose, and she pushed them back up with an impatient finger.
"Yeah, because we've found this bastard's victims so easily." The snark was a reflex, and Dean knew he should have kept his mouth shut as soon as it was out. Glass' lips pressed into a thin line, but she didn't answer.
They read in silence for a few more awkward minutes.
"Sorry," Dean said finally." I kinda look after him though, you know? He's like my little brother or something."
Her expression softened a little. "He's also better trained than the other victims," she reminded him, and Dean had to admit that she was right there. Sam might be some kind of freaky trouble magnet, but he wasn't incapable. He was smart, he could fight, and he wouldn't panic. He'd be fine, and even if he couldn't escape, Sam could keep himself in one piece long enough for Dean to find him.
"Hey, I think I've got a connection," Glass said, her voice startling Dean out of his thoughts. "Who are you looking at, Nate Givens?"
Dean glanced down at the pages. "Yeah."
"What's his job?"
"Um," Dean scanned down the page. "He's a writer, non-fiction, I guess."
Glass pulled her laptop down from where she'd left it on the bed. "Look," she said, after a few seconds of inpatient typing. She turned the laptop around so he could see the screen and the list of Nate Givens' books she'd found.
"Listening Beyond the Veil, The Ancestors Among Us, Knowing the Unknowable," Dean read out loud. He glanced up at Glass. "The guy's a psychic?"
She nodded. "Or he thinks he is. Then there's Susan Morgan, a small business owner from Tigard." She reached around him to bring up another window. An imposing-looking older woman Dean recognized from her printout smiled back at him from the garish swirling purples of her homepage, while the giant black Persian cat on her lap glared at the camera.
"Palm and Tarot card reader," Glass supplied. "Thought it was a little odd, but it didn't seem important at the time. Anyway, I know two out of five isn't that great a connection—"
"Three out of five," Dean corrected slowly. Everything was starting to make sense. Except for the things he was still clueless about, like, what the hell would this thing want psychics for anyway?
"Sam gets—" He hesitated, trying to gage if this was going to make Glass decide he was completely nuts. "Premonitions."
"Premonitions," she repeated flatly.
"Right." She dragged her hand over her face. "You know, that doesn't even sound crazy to me right now."
"This life will do that to you."
She almost smiled, just for a second, but then Dean's phone rang and the moment was gone.
"Hello?" Dean said, his voice almost cracking on the second syllable, because for an instant, he was sure it was going to be Sam, that he'd escaped and found a way to contact Dean.
Dean let out a breath and pulled his attention back to the phone and away from Sam. "Yeah, that's me. Who is this?"
"Sean, from the bookstore?"
"Sean, right." Glass looked up sharply, and he shrugged in the universal body language for what can you do? "What's wrong?" Because he'd learned a long time ago that the only person who called when things were going well was Bobby.
"I've been trying to figure if I should call you for an hour. I tried your partner, but I just got voicemail. It's Lucy, the girl who works here? She didn't come in today."
Right, Lucy, the Sam-groupie. Dean pinched the bridge of his nose. "Are you sure she didn't just party late last night and is sleeping it off? It's Saturday morning, stranger things have happened."
"She's not like that," Sean snapped. "I already called the police, and they told me the same thing. This is serious though, I know it. I think the Bandage Man got her."
"Look, we're doing everything we can. Trust me, no one wants to find him more than me." Dean's first instinct was to fob him off onto Sam at this point, and it was completely typical that Sam would go and get himself captured right before the witnesses got hysterical.
"Can't you just go to her house or something?" Sean pressed. "I'd do it, but it's a Saturday morning, like you so astutely noted, I'm alone with the hordes, and I can't even take the time to go on a lunch break right now."
"Does she have a phone?" Dean asked.
"I've been calling her all morning. No answer."
Dean sighed again, closing his eyes. His head was starting to pound again. "Okay, what's the address?"
Dean had worried it would be an effort to get Sean off the phone, but a particularly large family sailed into the store as he finished giving Dean the address, and he had to go. Dean didn't really envy him; the family had been loud enough through the phone.
"What's his thing now?" Glass asked as Dean closed the phone.
"His assistant didn't come in today. He thinks the Bandage Man kidnapped her."
"Huh." She frowned, considering it. "It would be the first time he's taken a local." She nodded towards the scrap paper Dean had scribbled the address onto. "That her house?"
Dean handed her the paper. "Do you know where this is?"
"More or less. It's a little bit out of town, but not too far. Should we check it out now?"
Dean raised his eyebrows. "We?"
"You said it yourself, you don't know where this is. Also, I've got the feeling I should keep an eye on you." She smiled and it was just a little bit predatory. "And don't tell me you wouldn't feel more comfortable with an extra gun along."
It took a little convincing, but Glass eventually agreed to take the Impala. As they pulled out of town, it struck Dean just how changeable the weather was on the coast. Thursday and Friday had been nice, the clouds had started to come in during the night, and now it was raining slightly, a steady, miserable drizzle that turned the town grey. It didn't seem to stop the tourists though.
Glass told him to turn out of town the same way he'd headed towards the old section of 101 he and Sam had visited the day before. Lucy lived close by, off the highway and back in the woods. She had a long driveway that was every bit the narrow potholed gravel he'd always hated to take the Impala down, and with every bump he wished they'd gone with Glass' squad car instead, comforting arsenal in the trunk or no.
When the house finally came into view, Dean wasn't impressed. It was an old single-wide trailer, with mossy, corrugated siding, and a haphazard, slant-roofed addition built onto the back. They'd gone through deep forest to get here, but the trailer was in a few acres of clearing, which, as far as Dean could tell, just meant that there wasn't anything to stop the rain.
They parked in front of the trailer. There wasn't another car, and Dean wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not. His boots squished in the mud as he got out, and from the other side of the car he heard Glass swear quietly.
The rain was coming down like it meant it now, running down the back of Dean's neck and stinging against his skin. His hair was dripping by the time they reached the porch. Glass wasn't doing any better, but she didn't seem to care.
She rapped hard against the door. "Miss MacMillian? Police."
There was no answer. She knocked again, and after they'd waited what felt like an acceptable amount of time and the house was still quiet, Dean tried the doorknob. It was unlocked, the knob sticking slightly as he turned it and let it swing open. He met Glass' eyes, and when she shrugged, he took a step inside, Glass close behind him.
The trailer smelled odd inside, like mold and smoke, with hint of something else that Dean couldn't identify. It was clean, if a little shabby, it and looked perfectly ordinary. Dean shivered. It was cold and damp inside, and felt like it hadn't been lived in for a while. He wondered how long it'd been since Lucy was home.
"Miss MacMillian?" Glass called again from behind him, and Dean jumped, but she didn't seem to notice. She brushed past him towards the half-open bedroom door, leaving him to search the kitchen and living room. Dean waited until she was gone, then eased his gun out of his waistband. Everything was completely normal and benign, but there was an edge of something wrong here that he couldn't ignore. He felt better with the gun's solid weight in his hands.
The main rooms were clear. A cheap bead curtain separated the addition from the trailer, and as Dean pushed through it, almost tripping on the step down, the strands rattled and danced. He swore.
"Are you alright?" Glass called from the bathroom.
"Yeah." He glanced around the room. Here, like in the rest of the house, everything seemed normal and unsuspicious. There were houseplants in the windowsills with chipped patterned plates beneath them, and yellowing old editions of "National Geographic" stacked in the corner. Through the windows was a good view of several old barns that hadn't been visible from the road. An old, squishy-looking armchair, a short end table next to it, with books stacked on top—
Dean almost missed it on first glance, his eyes skimming over the books once he recognized the spines as Nora Roberts and Laura K. Hamilton novels. Then, he wondered how he couldn't have spotted it.
John Winchester's journal was open on the top of the pile, its pages open to an entry from the mid-nineties. He'd been talking about Sam, Dean realized, scanning the entry, and that it'd been left open there wasn't made Dean's skin crawl. He shoved his gun back into his jeans, slid the journal into his jacket, and went back to find Glass.
"There you are," she said as he stepped back through the beads. "Look what I found." She was sitting on the living room floor, looking through Lucy's books with through determination. She pulled a book out of the case, and held it up for Dean to see. For a second, Dean couldn't figure out what he was supposed to be seeing, still reeling from finding Dad's journal here. The book was a hardback, with a swirly blue and white cover that looked like it belonged in the opening credits of Doctor Who, a hokey title that was just a little too familiar…
"That's Nate Givens' book?"
"Exactly. She doesn't have any other books like it—the rest are all fiction."
"You didn't find a laptop, did you?"
She turned away from the bookshelf. "I did. Why?"
"The other night, two things were missing from the motel room after the Bandage Man visited: Sam's laptop, and my journal, which I just found." He pulled the journal out of his jacket and waved it as proof.
Glass slipped the book back onto the shelf. "So she's involved then."
Dean nodded. "There's sheds or something out back. We should check those."
She stood, wincing slightly as she got to her feet. "Let's go then."
They went back out through the front door. The rain hadn't stopped while they were inside, and if anything, it was coming down harder. Glass paused under the dripping eaves, and pulled out her cell phone.
Dean frowned. "What are you doing?"
She poked at the buttons. "I'd feel a lot better if we had backup on the way." She held the phone up and away for her and frowned at it. "Damn it. There's no signal." She sighed. "It happens, up in the hills. It's better than it used to be, but there's still not enough cell towers out here."
There were three barns, two a few hundred feet from the house, and the third one another couple hundred feet further back. The pasture was even nastier than the driveway, and after a few yards, it had Dean convinced that it was more marsh than field. They split up when they reached the barns, each taking one.
The door was warped and swollen shut, but Dean kicked it open without much trouble. It was blessedly dry inside, even with the leaks, but the rain echoing against the metal roof did nothing for Dean's headache. He searched quickly, finding a rusty tractor under a tarp, six cans of dried-up house paint, lots of spiders, a collection of old sickles and hoes that would probably be worth something on eBay if they were cleaned up, and absolutely nothing that suggested the house's owner was allied with an evil ghost-mummy.
Dean yanked the door closed, and half-ran through the muck to the barn Glass had taken. He found her inside, feeding a mangy-looking flock of about a dozen chickens.
She looked up when he came in. "They were starving," she said, a little defensively. "I don't think they'd been fed for days."
Dean didn't have much experience with chickens, but it didn't look like they were exactly dead on their little scaly feet. If Glass had a soft spot for chickens though, he wasn't going to be the one to bring it up.
"If there's anything here, it'll be in the last barn," he said instead.
They were quiet on the walk to out to the barn. It had been built close to the tree line, and the land had risen steadily since they'd left the highway. Now they were high enough up that when Dean looked back he could see a sparkling blue line of ocean beyond the trees. It was wild and beautiful, but all he could think of was that there was an awfully big padlock on the door, and he should have grabbed a shotgun out of the trunk before they hiked all this way.
This door was still strong, and Dean had to resort to picking the lock while Glass pointedly looked the other way. Dean guessed this barn was the oldest; its shape was different, long and low instead of the square pole-barn build of the first two, but while its wood was worn and weathered, it had also been kept in better condition.
Inside, it was dark and musty, with a sharp undertone of copper that made Dean's skin crawl. The door swung shut behind Glass, shutting off what little light had made its way in through the door.
As Dean's eyes were adjusting to the dim light, something rustled to his right. He swung towards the noise, but misjudged its distance, and it was on him before he'd managed to pull out his gun.
Dean went down hard, his breath rushing out as his already damaged ribs voiced their disapproval. He still couldn't see a damn thing, but it wasn't like he'd never had to fight in the dark. He blocked the punch to his face on instinct, and kicked out. His foot made contact with what he thought might have been a shin, and his attacker gave an involuntary gasp of pain. It sounded familiar.
The dark figure froze just as Glass hit the light switch. The fluorescents flared to life with a rattling hiss, illuminating the too-big form of his little brother leaning over him.
"Dean!" Sam grinned, and helped pull Dean back to his feet. Sam was pale and there was an ugly bruise forming across his cheek, but he was alive, and as far as Dean was concerned, that was a win. "Sorry, we've been kinda on edge." He grimaced and rubbed his leg. "You kick like a mule."
Dean gave him his best cheeky grin in response, but sobered as Sam's first sentence sank in. "We?"
Sam gestured back towards the depths of the barn. A dark-haired man lay slumped against the far wall, and for a second, Dean couldn't tell if he was breathing or not.
"He's been unconscious for about half an hour now," Sam said, following Dean's gaze.
Glass brushed past Dean, and knelt down to take the man's pulse. His head turned slightly, and Dean recognized him as the missing author.
"He's still alive at least," Glass said. "I'm going to try the cell again. We'll need to search for the other victims." On her way out the door, she stopped and looked Sam over. "Glad you're alright. Your partner's been worried sick."
"So," Dean asked once she was out of hearing. "What are we dealing with?"
Sam sighed and leaned back against the side of the doorframe, rain flecking his face and clinging in his hair. "She's some kind of wraith. She's got some kind of telepathy—my headache last night, and when I thought I heard a scream? That was all her. She's been—feeding—off us. The bodies of the other missing people are in a stall in the back. They're just…shells."
"Glad I found you soon then." Dean reached up to pat Sam's shoulder. "Let's get Nate out of here."
Sam was weak, and Dean was still aching from the night before, and it took them far more effort than it should have for them to pull the unconscious man to his feet and steer him out of the barn.
"And the Bandage Man?" Dean asked, as they turned sideways to make it though the door.
"I saw it, and it's definitely real, but I don't think it's a ghost, at least not one with free will. Lucy treated it like some kind of pet."
"Huh." Real ghost or not, Dean was more worried about wraith-Lucy. Life-draining wraiths, especially ones that fed regularly, could be nasty, and their bite was definitely worse than their bark.
Glass met them outside. "No luck with the phone still," she said, frowning. "Do you need a hand?"
"I think we've got him," Dean said, trying not to think of how long the walk was back to the Impala. At least it was downhill.
The rain slackened to a drizzle as they neared the house, which Dean was thankful for, but the fog rolling in from the ocean was almost as bad, leaving the Impala as little more than a dark smear in the swirling white.
It took both of the Winchesters maneuvering him and Glass holding the car door open and watching out for spare feet to get Nate in the backseat. When he was finally in, Glass slammed the door.
"I'm going to try the house phone." She strode towards the house.
For a moment, Dean waited like an idiot by the car, running over his internal inventory of things that could lead the police back to them once this hunt was finished. Guns, check. Journal, check. Computer…damn.
"Here." He pulled the journal out of his jacket and pressed it into Sam's hands, then opened the passenger's door. "Take that, wait here, and I'll be right back." He jogged back to the house.
Now that he knew its owner was a monster, the house had gone from a little sad and lonely to downright creepy. Little things, like the houseplants in the back room that had been a bright living spot in the house now looked sinister and probably poisonous, and the dark stains on the pokers by the living room fireplace were more like dried blood than rust.
Glass had managed to reach the police station on the landline. He caught her eye as he entered the house and mouthed computer. She jerked her head in the direction of the bedroom.
He found the laptop in the bookcase by the bed, and was on his way back to the living room when he heard the gunshot.
Dean sprinted towards the door, but it flew open before he could reach it. Sam stood in the doorway, and for a second Dean still thought everything was fine. Then he saw the gnarled, grey talons digging into Sam's arms, and realized that Sam was merely there as a shield for the smaller creature behind him.
Lucy took a half-step out from behind Sam, just enough so that she was visible, but not enough that he'd have a clear shot. She didn't look like Lucy now. There was still enough of a resemblance that Dean could recognize her, but her features were warped into something demonic and unnatural. Her skin was grey and decaying, and her eyes were small points of dull red light in the shadows of their sockets. She still wore the jeans and cheerful t-shirt she'd worn the day before in the bookstore, and the contrast only made it worse.
"Didn't you think that was a little too easy?" she asked, tightening her grip on Sam's arms. He winced, and Dean felt the familiar low flare of murderous anger at someone hurting his baby brother.
"Well, you didn't exactly hide very well," Dean told her lightly, his right hand drifting very, very slowly towards his gun. Bullets probably wouldn't do much, assuming the shot had been Sam trying to slow her down, but it would make him feel better if he could shoot her, maybe make her let go of Sam.
"I didn't need to hide." She didn't sound like she had when she looked fully human either; there was a soft rattling hiss underneath her words that sounded almost insect-like. "This is my town. I've lived here since before the settlers came, taking what I needed, and no one troubled me."
"Come on, if you've been eating people at this rate for all that time—" Dean frowned. The disappearances had gone back for decades, but there had only been enough to attract attention in the last few months, starting with that palm-reader from Tigard.
Dean's fingers closed around the grip, but Lucy had finally noticed. "Stop that," she said, letting go with one hand for long enough to make a complicated gesture. Dean felt the presence behind him just as the smell hit.
He got three shots into the Bandage Man's chest before it reached out with one cloth-wrapped arm and knocked the gun out of Dean's hand. The bullets didn't even slow it down. He got a good look then—it actually did look like a mummy, its filthy bandages unraveling, its eyes dark, reflection-less pits.
The smell was worse than it'd been the night before in the forest, the close quarters of the trailer giving them no escape. Glass was on all fours, coughing, and Dean felt like he wasn't far behind her.
"Call him off," he gasped. There was no way he could think in this, much less fight.
"Aww, you don't like my baby? He's such a good little friend, even if he does call attention to himself. He likes dogs, you see. Can't resist them."
Dean's eyes were streaming from the smell, but he could still see Lucy smiling. Sam had fallen to his knees, and only her grip was keeping him from falling to the floor. He didn't look conscious.
She looked between Dean and Glass, and the smile faded. "Still, you're no good to me like this." The Bandage Man didn't leave, but the smell faded until it was at the "open grave" level Dean could deal with.
"Why psychics?" he asked once he got his breath back.
She frowned, caught off guard, then glanced down at Sam, pink-grey tongue skimming unconsciously over her lips. "So much in his head," she murmured, voice so low Dean had to strain to hear her. "So wonderful." She dipped her head, nuzzling the hair by Sam's temple.
Dean's stomach churned and for a second, all he could feel was revulsion. Then everything clicked into place. "You're a junkie, aren't you? You got one taste of psychic life-force, and now you can't stop. That's why you've been taking more people."
Her head snapped up. "The writer wasn't enough. He had a little, I guessed that from his books, but it was weak, diluted. Your brother is pure and strong. I sensed that from the moment I saw him." Lucy let go of Sam, and he slumped to the floor. She crossed the room towards Dean, and he tensed, ready for the fight, but she picked up his fallen gun instead, leveling it at his head.
"You don't realize how much you've helped me," she said, talons wrapping around the trigger. She smiled. "The things on your computer—I haven't left this town for a century, but if there's more like little Sammy out there…" She cocked the gun, adjusted her aim. Dean winced as he waited for the inevitable, but it never came.
Lucy stared down, dumfounded, at the poker sticking through her heart. Sam stood behind her, panting. She fell forward, just missing Dean, as her skin crumbled to dust, and her face lost any humanity it once had. There was a swirl of foul air, and the Bandage Man vanished.
Dean looked up at Sam.
"Iron," Sam supplied. He was supporting himself against the wall with one hand, and looked like he was going to throw up at any second. "Figured it was worth a try."
"Yeah," Dean agreed. "Never hurts to give the classics a shot." He let his knees fold under him and leaned back against the wall as Sam did the same. Glass had worked her way up to sitting, and he smiled at her. "See? No problem."
In the distance, sirens wailed.
It took the rest of the day to clean things up.
In a chest under the bed, Dean found a mangled skeleton that looked like it might just have been in some sort of horrible lumber mill accident, and when he and Sam dragged what was left of the wraith's body behind the house to salt and burn, he threw the bones on the fire as well.
The paramedics had claimed Nate Givens and taken him to the hospital up in Seaside. From what Chief Glass had said, he was expected to make a full recovery, though the doctor were mystified by what was actually wrong with him.
They'd wanted to take Sam to the hospital too, but Sam had managed to pull himself together long enough to convince them he was fine. Then he'd collapsed and bitched for Dean to bring him coffee and pastries. Dean let him sleep in the backseat for a few hours, then made him help with the damage control. He was looking better already, a little pale maybe, but strong enough to help carry the gasoline. By the time they stumbled back to the motel room at a quarter to midnight, he was back to his usual self.
Dean didn't let him see how relieved he was. Over the last few months, he'd felt like every injury Sammy suffered could be his last. It was nothing new—the life of a hunter was nothing if not filled with imminent death, but between Dad dying and the looming danger of the Yellow Eyed Demon's plans for Sam, everything somehow felt more real, more threatening. From what Sam had said, he hadn't been in any pressing danger. The wraith would have kept him alive for days, maybe weeks, depending on its self-control. Somehow though, that wasn't comforting.
Dean glanced at Sam, sleeping like the dead on the other bed, and let his own eyes drift shut.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
They were driving south on Highway 101, the Pacific sparkling and blue on Dean's right. It had been a quiet drive since they'd left Cannon Beach. Sam was watching the waves out the window, and when Dean had cranked up the radio he hadn't complained. It was a more companionable silence then the one on the way into town had been though, and Dean was happy about that. It didn't mean he had to enjoy it though.
He turned the radio down, and Sam turned to look at him.
"Have you ever been to a cheese factory?" Dean asked him, and Sam frowned.
"Cheese factory. I saw a billboard. Could be fun."
Sam's frown deepened. "Is it haunted?"
Dean hadn't considered that. "Don't think so."
Sam bit his lip. "We're going back up through Portland before we head east, aren't we?"
That had been the plan.
"Okay, we can go to your cheese factory if we can go to my bookstore."
Dean turned to glare at him. "You like cheese too."
"And I also like books. If we're going through Portland anyway…"
"Fine. You can go to your lame bookstore." Dean sneaked a glance at Sam. He looked properly happy for the first time in days, and that was worth it, all of it.
"Thanks," Sam said after a moment. "For, you know, coming to rescue me, like you always do."
Dean's smile was easy and natural, even as something twisted painfully inside him. "Hey, it's my job. I'll always be there to save your sorry ass."
"Yeah." Sam turned to look out the window again. "I know."
They drove on in silence.