Standard Disclaimer: The show Supernatural and its characters do not belong to me.
Author's notes: I know, I know. I should be finishing my other story. Well, I've reached a difficult point in the other story, and I decided it was best to take a step back from it for a while. So I'm going to go ahead and post this one, which is all fleshed out and almost complete. I promise I won't leave the other story hanging for too long!
One last thing: The town of Grant, NE, is a real place. Aside from how to get there, everything else about it as it appears in this story is fictitious.
by Liz Bach
First of all, he knew not to complain. The chance reading of a dated, online AP report had brought them to Grant, Nebraska, where the fifth person in a little more than two years had mysteriously gone missing three weeks ago. To a small town of 2,023, such a statistic was staggering. Suspicion was wreaking havoc on the town's economy, as residents took to locking themselves in their homes after dark. Parents had begun pulling their children out of the schools. For Sale signs were even starting to appear on front lawns as fear of the unknown became too overpowering to ignore. Authorities had no leads; the victims' families had little hope; and the whole town of Grant seemed poised to implode.
Sam wanted to complain, because he couldn't see how what was happening to this town had anything to do with finding their father or tracking down their mother's killer. But Dean had insisted, his danger-lust getting the best of him. There had been two small details in the AP report that had caught his attention. All the victims had gone missing from an old abandoned farmhouse on the north edge of town, and all had come from tragically broken homes. Add to that the matter of a page in their father's journal, the one with three capitalized words on it: Grant, McCray Farm.
So what? Sam had thought, almost bitterly. Not every tragically broken home stemmed from demons and evil of the non-human kind. There was plenty of everyday shit people heaped onto each other, driving them to anger, sadness, desperation, and apart. And who the hell cared what John Winchester had thought of the place? The only opinion of their father's that Sam had any interest in was about what had killed their mother and Jessica.
Besides, Nebraska was what Dean would call one of those "extreme" states: extremely hot in the summer, extremely cold in the winter, and extremely boring any day of the year.
But Dean was already stuffing his things into his bag, and Dean had the keys, so they were going to Grant.
According to the map, Grant was about 300 miles west of Lincoln, off of I-80. The stifling feeling of dread didn't hit Sam until they turned off the Interstate, just past Ogallala. They were about fifteen minutes away.
At first, it was a slight pressure near his lungs. He cleared his throat, and that seemed to ease his breathing a bit. But then he felt a sudden chill, even though Dean had the heater cranked up, and goosebumps broke out on the back of his neck. He reached back with one arm to massage the muscle between his neck and shoulder and noticed the collar of his t-shirt was damp. He was starting to sweat.
Maybe he was just getting carsick. Dean did drive like an idiot at times. But the road, like everything in Nebraska, had been long, straight and flat. And Dean was surprisingly subdued as they sped toward their latest venture. So this was something else. He didn't like it, and Dean wouldn't either. So he kept his mouth shut and tried to focus on keeping his breathing even. He was learning which details to keep to himself in order to avoid being subjected to the look from Dean. He knew better than to complain.
"So where do you suggest we start on this one?" Sam asked to take his mind off his discomfort.
"I thought we'd check out the farm first, while it's still light out. Take the EMF through the place, see if anyone's home." Dean thumped his thumbs against the steering wheel. "Then tomorrow we can do some research and see what else we can find out about the missing people."
"We should probably try to talk to some of the victims' friends. The report said all five of them had been with other people in the house when they disappeared."
"Check and check." Dean glanced at his brother with forced nonchalance. "So when we're in the house, try not to broadcast your ESP thingy or anything. If there's something in there, it may come gunning for you in particular. You know, you being a freak and all."
"I thought we'd established that we were both freaks."
"Well, yeah. But you've gotta admit, you're obviously way freakier than I am."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Not amused. And how many times do I have to tell you it's not ESP?"
"I'm serious, man," Dean continued, a little earnestly. "Just don't go wandering around or anything without me."
The chills and pressure momentarily displaced by exasperation, Sam turned slightly in his seat. "You're serious? What are you going to do next, put me on a leash?"
"You know," Dean admitted thoughtfully, "Dad and I considered it for a while back when you were a kid. See, sometimes you had this little problem of not doing what you were told. We thought maybe we could tether you to the kitchen table, give you enough slack so you could at least reach water and hit the head."
Sam shook his head, giving in to a small smile. "You are so full of shit."
"Whoa, get a load of this crack house," Dean said, leaning forward to get a better view through the windshield.
They'd turned off the highway onto a long dirt drive and were now approaching a decrepit, two-story farm house that had definitely seen better days. Windows had been shattered and poorly boarded up. The large, wrap-around porch had sunken into itself in one corner beneath a rotted porch swing that was hanging crooked and precarious from two rusted chains suspended from the roof. Where three porch steps had once been there was now a large plastic bucket that someone had used to gain access to the decaying front door. A lone piece of broken police tape fluttered in the cold Nebraska wind, the only remaining sign of the failing investigation.
The place looked haunted, and Dean could imagine quite a few young yokels being enticed by its ominous presence on the huge, wooded lot. The house sat about a half mile back from the highway, and it had clearly been years since the acreage surrounding it had been a working farm. There wasn't much left of the two barns that had long ago begun to disintegrate in the back yard. Three concrete silos stood half crumbled and empty, a small tree peeking out of the top of one.
They pulled up in front of the house and Dean shifted the Impala into park.
"Talk about a fixer-upper," Sam muttered, stepping out of the car and pulling on his coat.
"Yeah, no shit," Dean agreed. He got out and moved to the front of the car, perusing the lay of the land. "Well, Bob Vila, let's have at it." He started moving towards the porch, retrieving the home-made EMF meter from his coat pocket.
Behind him, Sam cupped his hands and brought them to his lips. His breath was warm as he blew against his fingers, but it did little to abate the bitter cold creeping into his bones. He knew there was a reason he'd attempted to settle down in California.
He was uncomfortable again. His so-called ESP thingy aside, the place just gave off an insidious, negative vibe. He realized, disconcertingly, that even when he was a kid he'd often felt nervous like this on a hunt. Whenever he'd voiced his apprehension, their father had chalked it up to the latent hunter's instinct in him just waiting to develop. Sam had always figured his father was just kidding himself. Dean was the hunter. Sam was merely trying to survive.
"Dude, are you coming?"
Dean was already standing on the porch getting ready to shove open the front door, and Sam quickly joined him, skipping the overturned bucket. His long legs easily scaled the distance from the frozen ground to the porch. Once beside his brother, Sam turned to survey the property from their new angle. It was secluded, and he thought it probably had been beautiful back when it was alive. The people who'd lived there must have felt lucky and content. And safe. And now people were vanishing here. Maybe dying.
The door creaked as Dean opened it. His eyebrows lifted, and he smiled mischievously back at his brother as he crossed the threshold, as if they were sneaking into the cookie jar, not an old abandoned, haunted house. Once inside, Dean started sweeping the EMF from side to side, carefully watching the lights for signs of electro-magnetic fluctuations.
Sam sighed and looked around. What with the broken windows and busted floorboards, it was nearly as cold inside as it was out in the snow. It was almost as if the weather had frozen the house in its current state of disorder. There were bits and pieces of ratty furniture scattered throughout the first floor parlor, as if the house had truly just up and been abandoned one day. No one had noticed, or no one had cared, or for some other reason no one had been willing to deal with the house, and so it had simply started to decompose. Animals had had their way with upholstery and wallpaper. Pictures had blown off walls. Lamps and knick-knacks had fallen from their proper places and now lay broken and dusty, strewn around the bowed and buckled hardwood floors. Someone had lived here, and their departure had been sudden.
"Wow," Dean murmured, his eyes on the converted walk-man. "There's definitely some kind of activity going on in this joint. I'm going to check out the second floor." And with that, he started up the steps.
Ignoring his brother's earlier warnings to stay within sight, Sam made his way down a hallway towards the kitchen. The broken window over the sink had never been boarded, or the boards had fallen or been ripped out, and a light snow was blowing gently into the room. It was a country kitchen with what appeared to have once been white wooden cabinets and a pine kitchen table with two chairs next to the wall. Another chair lay toppled in a corner. Without thinking, Sam reached down to right it, its legs thumping loudly in the relative silence.
At the far end of the kitchen, there was a doorway opening to a dark set of stairs apparently leading down to a cellar. Sam went to the top of the stairs and peered down. Pulling a flashlight out of his pocket, he slowly began to descend the staircase, testing each step before he took it to make sure it would hold his weight.
If it had been cold on the main level, it was downright freezing at the bottom. Sam wrapped his free arm around his stomach, partly to ward off the cold, but also because a wave of nausea had suddenly washed over him. It was akin to the feeling he'd had approaching this place in the car, only more intense. Sam was grateful Dean was not with him then, or his older brother would allege it was Sam's supernatural radar kicking into high gear.
The floor was dirt, frozen solid. It was a relatively small space, almost claustrophobic because of the tall shelves lining the walls. Here and there were empty Ball canning jars. One jar actually contained what looked to be ancient peaches or tomatoes, Sam couldn't tell which. A rusted coffee container on one shelf was full of different sized washers, screws, and nails. There was an old wooden oar propped against one of the cinder block walls and a set of snow shoes hanging from a nail in one of the overhead support beams.
Shoved into one corner, in a miserable state of disrepair, was an old, solid oak desk with no chair. Sam shone his light over it and then reached out numb fingers towards the top drawer. The drawer made a mournful scraping noise as he pulled it open. There was nothing inside, so he tried the next one down, and then the next. Moving to the other side of the desk, he noticed a flimsy piece of what looked like faded ribbon hanging out of the bottom of the lower-most drawer. When his first attempt to open it failed, he set down the flashlight and used both hands to pull.
The drawer inched open slowly, haltingly. It was heavier than the others had been. Sam finally managed to open it all the way, and there was a wooden box inside. He pulled the box out and set it down on the desk, picking up his flashlight again and wedging it under his chin so he could use both hands to explore the contents.
There wasn't much. An old broken stop watch. A couple pencils. The rest of the piece of ribbon. What looked like a well-preserved dry head of a flower, maybe a rose. There were a few pictures, and Sam picked them up. One was of a young woman, probably in her early twenties. The picture was from the waist up, and she wore a dirty men's flannel, unbuttoned, over a white tank-top. There was mud on her face, and her brown hair was falling out of its ponytail at the nape of her neck. She wasn't smiling.
Another picture was of the same girl with an older woman. The woman was sitting in what looked like the parlor upstairs, a blanket draped over her lap. The girl stood behind and off to the side of her in a plain-looking dress, her hair piled high on her head in a bun, her hand resting on the older woman's shoulder. Neither woman looked especially pleased to be posing for the photograph.
The last picture was overexposed. Sam could make out the outline of a man's body. He looked to be standing at the edge of a pond or small lake. The middle of the picture was completely obscured by a bright white light, like you see when you take a flash photo of yourself up close in a mirror.
At the bottom of the box was a tattered book. Sam thought, rather bitterly, that it resembled John Winchester's own personal book of tricks. It was brown with yellowed pages inside. Sam ran a hand over the leather cover. As he slipped a finger under the clasp, he suddenly registered a low rumble, as if a train were speeding past nearby. He paused, aware of the jars rattling and bits and pieces of dirt and dust being dislodged and floating down from the ceiling. He strained his ears, listening for the train or whatever else it might be causing the floor and walls to tremble, but heard nothing other than the clinking of glass against glass and a deep hum. He turned back to the book in his hands, sliding the clasp open.
But before he had a chance to read any of the hand-written entries, he heard Dean's voice calling to him from upstairs. He sighed, snapping the book shut and putting it back into the box. The rumbling abruptly stopped. He closed the lid and tucked the small box under his arm. He glanced around the cellar one last time before taking the steps two at a time back up to the kitchen.
Dean's heavy footsteps sounded in the hall, and he made it into the kitchen just as Sam emerged from the stairs.
"Dude, didn't you hear me calling you?" Dean was looking at him expectantly.
"Well, yeah." Sam gave Dean a "no duh" look. "Why do you think I'm standing here?"
"Well, next time you might try answering so I know you're not being eviscerated by a hostile spirit or something."
"Eviscerated?" Sam smiled incredulously. "Wow, Dean, I'm kind of impressed. When I find out what that means, I'm gonna kick your ass."
"I'm gonna kick your ass," Dean muttered under his breath. He gave his brother a dirty look, his anger subsiding now that he could see that Sam was okay.
Dean hadn't found anything on the second floor, and when he'd come back down, Sam was nowhere to be seen. He'd tried calling Sam's name several times and checked the front door to make sure he hadn't gone back outside. There was no sign of him out front, no fresh footprints in the snow. So Dean had turned around and headed back for the kitchen.
"What's that?" Dean asked, nodding towards the box.
"I'm not sure," Sam admitted with a shrug. "I found it downstairs. It's got a few pictures in it and I think a journal. I didn't have time to look at it much before you called me up here."
"Well, we'll take it with us," Dean said, pocketing his EMF meter. "Go put it in the car. I want to have a look around outside."
Sam followed Dean back out the front door, jumped off the porch, and landed lightly in two inches of snow. He went to the car and carefully placed the box in the back seat. When he turned around, Dean was already poking around one of the silos.
"That's kind of cool," he said, indicating the tree growing out the top.
Sam cocked an eyebrow. "Yeah. Thrilling." He closed the door and joined his brother. Together, they walked around out back. "So what did you find?"
"There's something hanging around on the first floor, but the upstairs was clear. It'll be interesting to know exactly where the victims were when they disappeared."
"Well, we know they were actually inside the house," Sam commented, watching Dean enter one of the barns. He lagged behind, his hands in his pockets. He just wanted to find a motel and get warm.
Sam scanned the back yard. On the side of the house opposite the barns, there were hundreds of acres of untended fields, overgrown with brush. Behind the barns were a multitude of mature trees, the edge of the woods. Sam started to turn to join Dean in the barn when something in the trees caught his eye. He did a double-take, positive he'd seen something dash across his line of sight.
"Dean!" he hissed after a few moments.
Sam jumped. He'd been concentrating so hard he hadn't realized Dean was standing right behind him.
"Calm down, Samantha," Dean grinned, slapping Sam on the back. "What's up?"
"I saw something dark moving out there," Sam said. "We should check it out."
Dean followed Sam's gaze out into the trees. He didn't see anything, but nodded just the same. If Sam said he'd seen something, he probably had.
"Okay, but hold up a minute." Dean jogged back to the car and popped the trunk. He lifted the floor to reveal the small arsenal he kept hidden in the spare tire well. He grabbed their standard, sawed-off shotgun and pocketed a few rounds of rock salt. He also grabbed a 9mm for good measure, double-checking the clip before tucking it into the back of his jeans.
When he got back to the barn, Sam was still waiting for him, squinting into the trees. Dean shoved the shotgun into his brother's hands.
"All right. Stay sharp."
They trudged into the woods, all senses on alert. Dean followed Sam, who acted as if he knew where he was going, the shotgun cocked and ready.
It was late afternoon, and the sun was already starting to set. It was that time of year when the days were depressingly short. It was dark when people drove in to work and dark nine hours later when they drove back home. The waning sunlight filtered through the skeletal tree branches, funneling thickly down to the rock-hard ground.
Dean was about ready to announce that they were going back to the car when Sam abruptly grabbed onto his sleeve and pulled Dean down next to him behind a thick tree trunk.
"I just saw it again," Sam whispered.
"Well, what was it?"
"I don't know." Sam looked perplexed, which made Dean more uneasy than he'd already felt.
"Where is it?" Dean tried.
"I think it went over there." Sam started moving again, crouched down low to the ground.
They were approaching a break in the trees, and a small body of water stretched out before them, frozen and austere in the gray light of dusk.
"What the hell?" Dean whispered. "Where did that come from? I didn't see a lake on the map."
Sam scanned the opposite shore, trying to discern the figure he'd seen. The air around them was heavy with potential energy. He turned to ask Dean what he thought they should do when the hair on the back of his neck prickled.
Argh! Sorry, it's kind of an awkward place to stop.