Fifteen hours ago Sam had his first vision… barely past midnight. The whole situation had felt impossibly huge. How the heck were they supposed to find one tree? Still, stubbornness is a family trait in these men and it was one Annie shared with them. By the time ten a.m. rolled around there were open books and scribbled notes littering every flat surface in both the living room and kitchen.
Sam was blinking owlishly into the book he was pouring over, trying hard not to give in to exhaustion and hoping harder not to lose this time. John was plugging away at his latest collage of information on the freshly painted walls of the living room. Annie had just picked up the only untouched book in all of their arsenal and curled up with it on her favorite tattered green chair. That's when Dean saw it.
He walked into the living room nursing his millionth coffee since breakfast and stopped next to Annie just long enough to kiss the top of her head in passing. One look at John's wall as he straightened up and he knew.
Public hangings and haunted hanging trees. There were three places where the legends on those two particular things generally came from. The better part of what they dug up had come from Europe in the middle ages… specifically the United Kingdom. Though that particular information could prove useful when they finally found out what they were up against in order to kill it, it didn't help them find the tree itself.
The second largest source of information came from Salem and the witch trials that had been held there in the late 1600's. Witch trials were generally ritualistic, which could explain the white dress Annie had been hanged in. There were always 'tests' to prove that the accused really was capable of witchcraft. The white dress could have been a symbol of purity, an attempt to save the witch's soul from darkness as she died. Another interesting connection was that the witches of Salem had all been hung, rather than the slightly more gruesome burnings that had always been the preferred 'norm' for witches. They, however, had been hung from gallows rather than trees.
Finally there were the ghost stories in Illinois and Texas of the haunted hanging trees. In both cases the trees had been used by angry mobs of townsfolk to dispense quick and frenzied justice in the form of death. Just like the witch trials the hung were victims of mob mentality and lust for violence.
Witch hunts in this day and age? Public hangings? That alone wouldn't have been enough to go on… except for the map his father had started. It was that map that had caught Dean's eye. Three circled cities in three different states. If they connected them the route cut a rough semi-circle from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico. The interstates John had used to connect the them passed three of the Great Lakes. Michigan, Erie and Ontario. Three cities, three states, three large bodies of water, three of the great lakes… even the roughly plotted route had three wide curves in it. There was something about those threes…
It hadn't been easy but Dean had found a possible link in the pattern of their research. They'd have to start following the plotted route to see where it took them, but there was more information and a possible solution along the way. He was positive of it.
Now it was three o'clock in the afternoon and he was behind the wheel trying to keep the needle below eighty as they headed toward Salem. They had a direction. A trail they could follow. Hopefully it was the right one. Only time would tell, and time was something they currently had precious little of.
Dean hated Sam's visions. He hated that they hurt. He hated that he couldn't protect Sam from them. He hated that it meant Sam would never truly have the 'normal' he'd always dreamed of. There was definitely nothing in the world that Dean hated more than those damned visions… but so help him he was practically praying the next one would come. Maybe the next one would tell them if they were on the right track…
Thunder crashed in the distance under angry purple clouds. Trouble was brewing on the horizon. Heat lightning struck ground dangerously close to the two men, an accent to the ominous storm that was rolling in at incredible speed.
The smell of rain and ozone were coated the air. Something was coming… something big and destructive. It was a tangible force, brushing against them as they ran down the stretch of road that led to their destination.
A large crowd had gathered around the base of the tree. Damned cultists were chanting hymns and calling for death by hanging. Not if Dean could help it… not a freaking chance they would do that to her! The crossbow strapped to his back said he wouldn't let it happen, as did the knives he had strapped to his left forearm and right calf and the to semi-automatic hand guns he had holstered against his chest. This vision was NOT coming true. Not today, not ever.
He wouldn't have let the crowd and the girl out of his sight for anything. He didn't need to chance the glance beside him to know that fear and guilt were plastered all over Sam's face. "It's not your fault Sammy, you hear me? It's theirs. That vision thing of yours is not coming true. I won't let it. Everything's going to be alright." It came out broken and breathless as they ran, but he got the point across. Big brother was making a promise, and he always kept his promises. Always. Sam wasn't sure if his brother was right about any of it this time. The promise did make him feel better though. If anyone could stop this it was Dean. It was enough to get his mind off the guilt and fully into the game.
John was around somewhere too. Sam could feel him in the wriggling mass of chanting, white robed people. It helped to know they had backup. Dean and John were one and the same. When they made up their minds that something was not going to happen they made damned sure it didn't. Annie was safe as long as their Dad was close by.
The frenzied chanting got louder and the lightning came closer. The storm and the event were connected somehow. It had to be magic. Dark magic. A bunch of dark magic cultists hanging an innocent woman for witchcraft. Sam never thought his brother would be right about this, but there it was just like Dean had once said. 'Demons I get, people are crazy'.
The lightning was a constant bright flash, surrounding the tree and everyone around it leaving the brothers outside trying to get in. Suddenly all Sam could see was bright, blinding light. He couldn't think, couldn't breathe, couldn't move. The world shifted around him so fast he thought for sure he was passing out, or dying. Maybe he'd been hit by lightning? It lasted bare seconds and then just as suddenly everything was so clear and focused around him that the sharpness of the scene almost hurt his eyes.
Dean, under the tree again on his knees in the dirt with tears streaming down his face. Broken, defeated but not for long. Letting out his anguish in one long moan he let anger and lust for revenge fill the hole in his soul where her love had once been. "I'll kill you all for this." He whispered. "Do you hear me you bastards? I will kill you ALL.!" He was screaming now, strained voice cracking from the force of his own emotions. "Until my dying breath I will hunt you down and make you pay. There is not a demon alive that is safe as long as I walk this earth. I swear it to you Annie. I swear it on the life you just lost because of me."
Sammy grabbed at his temples again where the pain shot straight through him. He could feel pavement under his knees but that didn't make sense because he was standing on trampled dirt ground. It didn't matter anyway because the pain got so bad he couldn't keep the thought in his head long enough to find an answer. Everything went black and then Dean's hazel eyes were inches from his again. The sinister tree was nowhere in sight. His brother wore a concerned frown. None of the anguish and anger was there anymore. The solid pavement he felt under him was the motel parking lot. As the realization struck him he breathed a sigh of relief. A vision, it was a vision. They could work with it and stop it before it happened.
Annie was safe for now. His brother's happiness was safe for now. As disturbing as the visions were Sam was glad he had them this time. Dean gave everything he had to others and asked for nothing in return. It took three recent brushes with death for Sam to finally see it. Annie was the only person Dean had ever allowed to give something back. Even there she had to sneak it in when he didn't realize it. Dean didn't know it yet but this was Sam's chance to give back. It was his chance to protect his older brother for a change. He refused to let him down and he would use everything he could get his hands on to get the job done. 'Bring on the visions', he thought to himself, 'no way I'm letting these freaks win and hurt my brother.'