Chapter One

"Welcome to Bumfuck, USA."

Sam looked up as his brother slid into the booth across from him. A disgusted look crossed his face as he set a cup of coffee in front of Sam and then looked down at his own. "You sure know how to pick 'em, Sammy," Dean complained. "I asked for coffee and this is what I got. They try to pass off this brown sludge as something edible. We should add Holy Water just to be sure it won't eat us from the inside out." Dean reached and grabbed three packets of creamers, pouring them in without hesitation. He had spoken just loud enough to earn a few glances from some of the small diner's patrons. God, you couldn't take him anywhere.

A smile crossed Sam's lips as he listened to his brother bitch and moan. Dean had been in a foul mood ever since they'd entered Arkansas. He hadn't asked what had gotten his brother's panties into such a twist, but he guessed it had something to do with the lack of action they'd seen in the past couple of weeks, both from hunting and from their father. Sam couldn't blame him. After Chicago, they'd decided to separate, or at least Dean had decided, and since then they'd only heard from him once. Coordinates, because apparently John Winchester only spoke in longitude and latitude anymore.

Dean was getting restless. It happened when there was too much down time. As much as his brother loved to advocate fun and frequent bars and hustle pool or darts, there always came a point where Dean would start feeling like he was slacking off, not doing his job. Sam could tell when his brother had reached this point. It always turned Dean into a bellyaching old woman. And it amused Sam to no end.

"Don't like the whole Aliens thing, huh?" Sam asked, watching Dean sip at the coffee and frown in the way little kids do when they try something they don't like for the first time. Dean set the cup down and stared at it to make sure it stayed in its place.

"Sigourney Weaver's hot and everything, but the whole alien babies popping out of people's stomachs is a real turn off," Dean said in a monotone voice, his eyes never leaving the coffee. Sam wondered if Dean was being serious. But then his brother looked up at him and licked his lips. "So, please tell me you have something."

"I have something," Sam answered, scrolling on his laptop.

Dean seemed to perk up and that and he clapped his hands together, ready to listen. He muttered a quick, "Finally."

Sam chuckled and shook his head. "A few somethings, actually. The stars must be aligned right or...something, because we have some choices here."

"Well come on already, Aristotle" Dean urged, rolling is hand.

Sam raised his eyebrows, unable to pass up the chance to annoy his brother. "What, are you on a schedule or something?"

Dean growled and reached for the laptop. "Give me that," he said. Sam slapped his hands away, to which Dean gave a surprised guffaw. "Oh you wanna be like that?"

"Just pay attention," Sam chided, grinning as Dean gave an exasperated sigh. "Choice number one, kid sets himself on fire and walks away without a single burn on his body." Dean seemed impressed, but not too interested so Sam went on. "Choice number two, a guy claims his toilet is possessed after it swallows his cat." Dean snorted and shook his head. "Or choice number three, and my personal favorite, a suspected serial killer in Palona, Arkansas has killed nine people within the last four months. All of them hanged," he paused, for dramatic effect, and to see Dean's death glare if he didn't get to the point, "and no murder weapons found."

Dean leaned back, putting an arm up on the booth and looked contemplative. "It could just be a serial killer," he said simply.

Sam shook his head. "No, there's no signs of struggle at any of the scenes and," Sam turned the laptop around so Dean could read it. "Days before the victims died, some claimed to have heard and seen 'strange things' following them around."

"Strange things, huh?" Dean asked, tilting his head forward to read the article. Sam waited for him to finish. "Well I guess if there's strange things involved it must be our kind of gig, right?" Dean's voice was too sarcastic for Sam's liking. He reached forward and grabbed the laptop away, closing it with a scowl.

"Well if you're gonna be a bitch about it I guess we could just stay here-"

"No," Dean broke in, surprising Sam with his eagerness. "We've done jobs off of less." That was certainly true. "So people getting hung, huh?"

Sam nodded. "Nine victims, a variety of different backgrounds, and never in the same place. Some were killed in their homes, one at work, a lady in her shower, and one guy in his car."

"How can you get hung in a car?" Dean asked incredulously.

With a shrug Sam said, "Got me." Sam took a sip of the coffee Dean had handed him before turning up his nose and placing it next to Dean's in the no man's land of the table top. "You wanna go talk to the families? See if they saw or heard anything?"

"Yeah," Dean said distractedly. "He really got hung in a car? Are you sure it wasn't just a strangling?"

"That's what the coroner's report said," Sam defended himself. "Distinctive marks of a hanging, not strangulation."

"Well we'll pay him a visit too-"


"What?" Dean asked, his eyebrows raising.

"The coroner, Dr. Becky Lashinger," Sam said, watching first surprise then annoyance flash across Dean's face.

"Dude, whatever," Dean snapped. He stood up, grabbing his jacket. "Come on," he demanded and grumbled, "Hung in a car, that's the craziest thing I've ever heard," all the way to the Impala.

Sam gave a chafed laugh and shook his head. Oh it was too easy to annoy his brother. He gathered his stuff together and followed Dean, grinning the whole way.


It was an hour drive to Palona. Most of the trip was quiet except for a few mumblings from Dean about unnecessary stoplights and "slow ass drivers." When they finally pulled up in front of a two story farm house, Sam was more than ready to get started. Anything to get Dean out of the funk he was in, because in all honesty, Sam would prefer a annoying Dean to a grumpy Dean any day. There was only room for one grump in this relationship and Sam had already laid claim to that title.

Getting out of the car, Sam looked up at the house, feeling mild trepidation course through him. He shook himself, trying to make the feeling go away, not really knowing where it was coming from. But instead of going away it seemed to collect itself and wedge into the bottom of Sam's stomach, waiting for the perfect opportunity to spring, claws barred, ready to bring on the panic.

"Sam?" Dean's voice snapped him out of it and he turned to look at him over the top of the car. Dean was watching him, foul mood gone but replaced with something much worse, worry. Sam hated that side of Dean. He'd seen too much of it recently. "You all right there?"

"Yeah," Sam nodded. "I mean, this house just feels...creepy." Dean glanced at the house, giving it a once over with his eyes before turning back to Sam, obviously not picking up on the same vibes. "Yeah, nevermind," Sam licked his lips.

Dean paused for a moment, torn between wanting to get Sam the hell away from this house if they'd just pulled up and already his brother was having bad vibes, or going on inside to talk to the family. In the end, he decided to go inside, but to keep an extra close eye on Sam. He didn't know when Sam had turned into his own personal human EMF meter, but he trusted Sam's vibes more than he trusted the actual equipment sometimes.

"Here," Dean said at last, tossing an ID over to his brother and heading towards the front door.

Sam looked down at the ID. "FBI?" he asked, taking two long strides to catch up with his brother.

"Sure, why not?" Dean answered nonchalantly.

"No it's just," Sam shrugged. "We haven't done this one in a while."

Dean rang the doorbell and turned to look at him, frowning. "So?" Sam just shook his head in response. "What's up with you lately?"

"What?" Sam asked, surprised at the question. Lately? What did he mean by that? Dean was the one who'd been acting strange. "Nothing. You're the one whose been pissy, what's up with you?" he retorted, unsure why he felt so insulted that Dean would think something was wrong with him. Hell, he'd actually been happy the past couple of weeks. Or, at least happier than he'd been in a while.

Dean looked shocked and angered. "What are you talking about, I haven't been pissy."

"Yes you have," Sam argued, wondering again why they were arguing over this in the first place.

"Have not."

The front door opened and any further argument ceased as the brothers turned to smile warmly at the woman standing there. She was older, graying hair, pudgy from age. She looked wearily at them. "Can I help you gentlemen?" Her voice soft, warm, timid.

"Hello, Mrs. Carlton?" Dean asked, collecting himself and holding up the ID. Sam did the same. "I'm Agent Dall, this is Agent Michaels, from the FBI." He put down the badge and continued before the woman had a chance to say anything. "We were wondering if we could talk to you about your son, Roger?"

"The FBI?" Mrs. Carlton asked, her eyes widening. "But I've already spoken to you."

Sam took a step forward, sensing his brother's frustration ebbing out onto this poor old woman. "We know Mrs. Carlton, this is just a follow up inquiry. Dottin' all our i's." She studied him for a moment before seeming to accept the answer and open the screen door. "Thank you," Sam said politely, following her into the house.

Dean was at his heels but stopped when they got to the hallway on the way to the living room. Sam felt his brother elbow him in the back and turned with an "Ow," present on his lips, but it fell away as he saw Dean had something actually relevant to show him. He was holding up a framed picture of Roger Carlton. Sam's eyebrows rose in surprise at the man's stature. He was huge. A freaking body builder. In the picture he was posing with his friends, getting ready to play baseball.

"This guy was Goliath," Dean muttered. "Take a lot of muscle to hang a guy like that."

Sam nodded curtly before walking into the living room where Mrs. Carlton was taking a seat on the sofa. She looked around the room nervously, folding her hands on her lap and wringing her skirt. Sam tried to look as harmless as possible as he sat down across from her. Dean stood behind him, examining the room, letting Sam do the whole question and answer thing. They'd come to a silent agreement some time ago that Sam was better at asking the questions. Dean didn't have the patience, but Sam, all he had to do was pucker his face and people would spill the story of their lives to him. It drove Dean nuts.

"Mrs. Carlton," Sam started, ready to get down to business. The sooner he got the story out of this lady, the sooner they could get out of this house. The bad vibes hadn't stopped, hadn't lessened. He didn't like that. "You told the police that Roger had been talking about hearing things and seeing things before he died."

"Yes," Mrs. Carlton replied. She took in a deep breath and smiled at an empty chair at the back of the room. "Roger said that he felt like someone was following him. He kept spooking himself, that's what he did. Seeing things out of the corner of his eye, he got paranoid towards the end. Wouldn't go outside, wouldn't answer the phone."

Sam leaned forward. "What sort of things did he think he saw?"

"A man, mostly," she said quietly, picking at a button on her blouse. "He said he saw a man sometimes, in a black hood."

The piqued Sam's interest. He was about to ask another question when Dean came forward and pointed towards the kitchen. "Is that where you found him?" Sam winced at the abrupt question. So much for being sensitive. Mrs. Carlton nodded, however, undisturbed. "Mind if I..?"

"Go ahead," she nodded. Dean smiled his thanks and headed towards the kitchen. Sam caught him reaching into his coat pocket to pull out the EMF meter. He looked at Mrs. Carlton, she hadn't seen the motion.

"You said your son was hearing things as well?" Sam asked.

Mrs. Carlton sighed. "He said he heard things, but he was paranoid. He was losing his mind."

"Did he say what he heard?" Sam pushed, trying to keep the woman talking without making her close up completely. She didn't answer him. "Mrs. Carlton, any little detail could help. I need to know what he said he heard."

Sam watched the emotions play across Mrs. Carlton's face. She looked distressed, her eyes going to the stairway at the back of the room, looking for an escape maybe? Sam licked his lips and lowered his shoulders, urging her to go on by showing her he wasn't here to judge. He wouldn't laugh and call her son crazy. She looked at him and a half sob half laugh escaped her throat. "He heard whispering," her voice broke. "Always whispering. He said he couldn't make out the words, the voice was too soft. He said it sounded like..." she trailed off.

"Like what?" Sam asked quietly.

"Like they were choking."

Sam leaned back, trying not to look too surprised. He gave her a nervous half smile. But anything he had to say after that was cut off as Dean walked back into the hallway looking accomplished and a bit excited. "Hey Agent...whatsyourname, come here," he said, fumbling to remember the alias they'd chosen.

He shot a warning glare at him before turning back to Mrs. Carlton and saying, "Excuse me." He got up and walked over to Dean, grabbing his brother's arm and moving him out of Mrs. Carlton's sight. "Agent whatsyourname?" he asked angrily.

"Dude, chill," Dean commented and jerked his arm away. "She's not gonna do anything." Sam sighed and rolled his eyes, waiting for Dean to tell him what he had. His brother held up the EMF meter. "Check it out, EMF readings are through the roof. There was definitely something in that room. Something strong enough to nearly blow this thing's batteries."

"Yeah well Mrs. Carlton said her son was seeing a guy-"

"In a black hood, I heard that," Dean nodded.

"She also said he was hearing things," Sam added. "Someone whispering and it sounded like they were choking."

"Choking?" Dean asked, giving an interested "hmph" before scratching his cheek and saying, "So, what? You thinking spirit? Going around hanging people for kicks?"

Sam shook his head. "I don't know. Spirits usually haunt certain places or people. This thing is attacking at random and all over the place."

"Well, it's not entirely unheard of," Dean defended his thought.

"Yeah but, I don't know, Dean." Sam sighed. "We need to see the bodies."

"Oh my favorite," Dean said unamused. "Hanging out with a bunch of dead guys. All right, say goodbye to Grandma and let's get out of here. You still got that creepy feeling?" Sam nodded. "We're gonna have to be careful with this one."

Sam couldn't help the jest. "I thought you were always careful?"

Dean guffawed. "I am. But knowing you and your choking fetish, we're gonna have to be extra careful."

"I do not have a choking fetish," Sam huffed.

Dean held up his hands playfully. "Hey, your into the whole breath control play thing, I've got nothing against it. You find a girl that likes that, good for you." Dean turned towards the door and started heading for the car. "It's okay to have a fetish, Sammy."

"I do not have a choking fetish!"