(c)2006 b stearns
Cursing, Dean-whumpage, Sam-whumpage, brother-fights, angst, inappropriate humor, abuse of Shakespeare, violence, and poetic license with the geography. The history of the area is accurate, though, right up to where I screwed up the actual lighthouse. Lyrics from Radiohead's Freak used without permission. Henry The 8th lyrics used without permission. Eric Kripke's Winchesters used without permission. State of Wisconsin used without permission. Minor references to all kinds of S1 stuff. Takes place sometime during that summer of S1 that we never saw.
He was standing on a gravel beach, facing out toward an expanse of dark water that he couldn't gauge the size of. Every eight seconds, a flash of crimson light popped somewhere in the distance, illuminating nothing.
Something reached from behind, dragging along his jacket and snagging, but he did nothing to get away.
Sam startled awake and didn't have to acclimate himself. He could hear Dean breathing in the next bed and nothing about the darkness felt like it needed his attention. Not even the dream had felt threatening. When he rolled over to settle himself into a more comfortable position, though, it stuck with him: every eight seconds.
"Possum," Dean said.
Sam shook his head. "Nah, there's a little fur on the tail. Or...I think that was the tail."
Dean walked around the splotch on the asphalt to look at it from a different angle. "Woodchuck."
"Hedgehog," Sam said.
"Same thing," Dean said with absolute certainty.
"No, it's not," Sam said.
"Dude, I'm telling you, same thing. Not that it matters, because it's a raccoon."
They were tired of driving and a little tired of each other, so they had pulled over to stretch and engage in a rousing game of Name That Roadkill. The corpse in question was so flat and aged by time, weather and tires that it was only vaguely mammalian.
Sam shrugged. He wasn't all that willing to argue. They were out there courtesy of a voicemail from Caleb telling them there might be another Wendigo in Port Washington, Wisconsin. Dean wanted a crack at another one. Caleb hadn't said why he thought it was a Wendigo and hadn't returned Sam's calls, and Sam hadn't seen anything online about people missing in the area, so they were taking their time.
"I know one thing for sure," Sam said. "It's dead."
Dean scuffed one paper-thin edge of the creature and frowned. "Yeah, well. Some cells might still - "
"Oh my god, Dean, not every single thing I say has to be disputed," Sam said, tone ringing with impatience. "If I said 'the sky is blue' then you have to say 'not really, it's the scattering and filtering of certain parts of the spectrum'."
"It's absorbed and then scattered," Dean said. "And just the shorter wavelengths."
Sam stared at him in disbelief.
Dean gazed back with one eye narrowed. "What crawled up your ass?"
Sam smirked and spun away on one heel but didn't walk away, distancing himself without leaving. "If something's bugging you, just say so and quit messing with me."
"They have herbal supplements now for your estrogen deficiencies, Sam," Dean said.
Okay. Dean was officially in a mood to fight.
"I'm not gonna do this with you," Sam said. "Go ahead and be a bastard-coated bastard with bastard filling. I don't care."
"I'm glad I have your permission," Dean said
Sam thought about shaking him a little. For a minute. Just until his shoes came untied. Instead, he said, "From here it's the I-94 east. Then the 43 north, about three hours. We're pretty close to Spring Green right now, though. We're gonna pass House On The Rock on the way through to Port Washington."
Dean blinked at his back, waiting for something more or for the statement to connect to anything they'd said in the previous minute or so.
"It's pretty cool," Sam said. "We may as well look at it, since we'll be right there."
"It's a house on a rock," Dean said.
Ignoring him, Sam said, "It's a touristy thing but cool enough that you'll like it. We passed it once when we were kids, and we wanted to go but didn't have time."
Dean squinted at him again. "That time when I was 11 and we were in Wisconsin for that hodag," he said.
"Yeah," Sam said, turning back around and staring carefully at Dean. He had never had to whine or plead in his entire life. A simple well-placed stare was all it had ever taken. He didn't need to speak. Sometimes he meant to do it and sometimes he didn't, but the intent didn't matter; the execution did. He aimed it at Dean then, silently willing him to just lay off with the attitude. "We've got time now. Weapons exhibit. Armor collection. Cannon room."
Dean nodded. "Okay, cool." He clapped his hands together, once. "Daylight's burning, let's get the hell out of here." He headed back to the car.
Sam sighed and tilted his face to the sky. Sometimes a diversion was all it took. Whatever was bugging his brother wasn't going to get dislodged by fighting.
He looked down at the sheet of all-natural interstate stationary and thought ashes to ashes, asphalt to asphalt.
Spring Green, WI
It was a weekday afternoon, so there were fewer people than they expected. The not-quite Japanese serpent-shaped planters at the entrance greeted them and a young couple who were also obviously just passing through. Dean especially liked that the tours were self-guided, because then he could rummage around at will and not get shuffled along with the throng, like cattle. Once he got over the low ceilings and dim lighting, and the annoyance of the music machines (automated instruments playing freakin' Bolero when he walked by was not his thing), he could somewhat appreciate the architecture. The giant fireplaces were interesting. The old guy who'd built the place was nuts, but who wasn't, sooner or later?
He really enjoyed the fact that Sam was having a problem with the low ceilings.
He got tired of the house part and headed out for the actual displays, satisfied that Sam was not going to run into trouble, get grabbed, or piss off some slumbering malevolence somewhere like House On The Rock. He was also driving Sam up the wall and didn't even know exactly why except that he could. Maybe he was bored, maybe he felt a little directionless, maybe he was trying to be in charge of something that wasn't cohesive enough to need leadership. It didn't really matter; he'd get over it like he always did. Probably as soon as there was something to kill.
The weapons collection wasn't too shabby. But hands down, best display was the carousel room because, dude, topless angel mannequins hanging from the ceiling. Topless. Winged. Chicks. Worth the price of admission.
Sam had found the Infinity Room and walked right out onto the ramp of it without hesitation, only glancing at the sign that boasted 3264 windows, 218 feet out over the Wisconsin Valley and 156 feet up. It was a long, narrow room and it didn't matter what the total number of windows was; all he needed to know was that the whole damn thing was built of glass. Trees and sky and nothing else made it seem like he really was just hanging out over the valley below without any support. The shore of Lake Michigan was visible from there, and Sam could just make out an old lighthouse in a break in the trees, far in the distance. It reminded him of something, just a touch of suggestion there and gone, but when he reached for it, it immediately retreated. He shook the feeling off and just stared through the glass coffee table off to one side that let him look straight down to the ground.
He watched the world below through facets of glass, light warping along the angles of the room. It was like standing on a transparent mountain. If he pretended he couldn't see the surrounding floor, it was like a leap of faith. His brain was still convinced he was standing in midair even as his fingers brushed along solid planes of glass. Tress and rock stretched away all around, far beneath and beyond, nothing but sky above, endless, no point of reference to keep him from spinning away.
He felt a small change in the air that meant someone approaching, and he lowered his eyes to Dean.
"You should see the - " Dan began, then his eyes strayed over Sam's shoulder to the stretch of eternity beyond, and he paused. His eyes didn't sweep the expanse of the visible world or do more than register the basics of his surroundings from what Sam could tell.
"See what," Sam said.
Dean's eyes dropped to the floor, to the glass coffee table and the view it afforded. It took Sam too long by his own later estimation to understand that when Dean's face froze and his gaze locked right onto the center of Sam's chest it was because he was overwhelmed by the space and height - and Sam, like usual, was his only point of reference. When Dean was startled or uncertain, he attacked, or ran, or shouted. Those were the rules. A Dean who froze in his tracks wasn't something Sam quite knew how to deal with right away.
He grabbed a handful of Dean's jacket at the shoulder and pushed him ahead and out of the room, then let Dean shake him off with a show of affront.
"You gonna show me or not?" Sam said.
A little pale, Dean refused to look at him. "I don't know - can you be bothered to stick with me for a second? Do I need to get one of those little harness-leash things they put on toddlers at the mall?"
Sam snorted. Better. And the mental image was kind of funny.
Despite his better judgment, Sam agreed that topless winged chicks were at least kind of...disturbingly hot.
"How many times have we been to Wisconsin?" Dean said. They'd been back on the road for nearly twenty minutes and Sam had been close to dropping off.
"All our lives?" Sam said. "Or just since you and I started - "
"You and me," Dean said.
Sam squinted at him, unsure of what he was referencing.
"College boy," Dean said, keeping his eyes on the road. "Since you and me, not you and I. Started what?"
"You're the last person who should correct my grammar," Sam said. "Aren't you the guy who called that bartender in Harmony a 'backassed fucktard noodledick?' Sure sounded like you."
"There's nothing grammatically incorrect about that," Dean said. "Really inventive, maybe..."
"Drunken bullshit," Sam said.
"What was the question again?"
"Nothing," Sam said. "We were just driving along, saying nothing." He paused. "You and I. Driving along."
Port Washington, WI
"I'm gonna get a paper, see if anything's happened, hit the restroom," Sam said. "I'll be back."
"Good for you, Ahhhnold," Dean said. "Thanks for sharing." He poked at his beer bottle, smearing the condensation around on the laminated wood of the tabletop in some roadside bar that he hadn't even checked the name of. He could hear the Red Sox getting their collective asses kicked on the big screen at the other end of the bar, but he didn't look up. The place had a weird feel to it, and he found himself reacting to it by drawing symbols in the dampness. Armanen runes, this time, Os for breath of the world, Rit for orderliness, Eh for duality where a pair is bound by primal law, love, trust...
Yeah. A pair, bound.
Oh for God's sake, why did he let Sam get near the jukebox? Radiohead's Creep came on just as he was finishing the tilted cross of the final rune. If he thought of it as his own theme song he sure as hell wasn't telling anyone. A quick glance around told him no one was close enough to hear.
"I don't care if it hurts,
I wanna have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul."
Sam rounded the corner and was inches from Dean's peripheral vision when he registered that Dean was singing. He didn't have any quarters to get a paper and he'd only meant to come back long enough to demand change. He paused and stood, leaning back a little, knowing Dean would sense his proximity if he got any closer.
"I want you to notice But I'm a creep
when I'm not around
You're so fuckin' special
I wish I was special
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doin' here?
I don't belong here..."
But I'm a creep
And that was all he could take. As much as he wanted to listen, Sam felt like a voyeur, and whatever Dean was getting out of the song needed to stop. Dean associating himself with the lyrics needed to stop.
He swung himself around the retaining wall with a scuff of his feet and threw himself into the booth, already talking. "The stuff I choose only comes on when I'm in the bathroom. How many did I miss?"
Dean cleared his throat, eyes glancing up from the table at Sam and then down again. He'd flattened his palms and gone silent as soon as Sam's scuff had hit him. "I think this is the first one, Francis."
Sam watched him smirk. "I thought you hated this song," he said, and he felt his eyes locking in a stare. He couldn't have blinked if he'd wanted to.
"I do," Dean said. "It's alt-rock shit."
"But you know all the lyrics," Sam said, and he dropped his voice into a lower timbre without meaning to.
Dean glanced up at him again, just an instant, smirk still in place. "No, I don't."
Sam tilted his head forward a little and raised his eyebrows, scene one of another production of patented Sam stubbornness. "Yes, you do."
Dean took a swig of his beer and kept his face lowered while he scanned the room, looking at nothing for the tenth time, attention anywhere but Sam and whatever he was reaching for. "Well, um, yeah...it was just some AC/DC to myself, you know, to cover up all the freakin' emo in here."
Sam just smiled and let it drop. He looked at the tabletop and saw the figures evaporating off the surface. "Runes?"
Dean smeared them with the flat of one hand, then wiped it on his jeans under the table. "I'm trying to ward off the emo."
Sam watched him for a moment until he knew Dean was going to glare and ask him what his problem was. "You got any quarters? For a paper."
Dean sighed and checked his pockets, then slid change across the table. "Don't waste it on giant gumballs again like you used to."
Sam shook his head and left again.
Dean stared at the empty air of the place Sam had occupied in the booth and just listened to the rest of the song without so much as a hum. Less than a minute later, Sam was back with the paper and a grimace. "What," Dean said.
"Now we have something," Sam said, sliding back into the booth. "Group of kids went looking for the local legend and ran into something. Two in the hospital, one critical." He held the paper out to Dean, who refused to take it.
"So if we'd gotten here sooner, we'd've stopped it?" Dean said. "No way, Sam."
"Caleb said it might be a Wendigo," Sam said. "We should've hauled ass."
"But now we know it wasn't a Wendigo," Dean said. "It didn't try and drag them off to eat. They got stupid, and the wildlife took advantage."
Sam shook his head. "They all saw it. Not a bear, not a cougar. And what they say they saw agrees with what other people have seen in the area lately."
Dean took a swig of his beer. "So do the reporter shtick and call one of the folks quoted in the paper. Then we'll go talk to the kids. We'll have a better idea of what we're here to kill."
Sam still looked a little crestfallen.
"Hey," Dean said, waiting for Sam to look up. When he did, Dean shrugged. "Folks wanna go vigilante on something without knowing what they're doing, not much anyone can do."
"Something probably set them off, though," Sam said. "Yeah, kids dare each other to do stupid shit, but corner some local myth? That's nuts."
"To bring its head back and get famous," Dean said. "C'mon, Sam. People are stupid. Quit acting like they aren't."
Sam took his cell phone outside to get a better signal.
Dean listened to some Dave Matthews Band song come on the jukebox. That kid and his taste in music - Dean tried to figure out where he'd gone wrong. He read parts of the paper Sam had left behind. Boring, all of it. He'd seen fanfic online that was written much, much better.
Sam threw himself into the booth again. "Guy says he's convinced it's a Boobooshaw," he said.
Dean laughed. It was just an instant of head-thrown-back mirth, but it was the real thing and Sam stared. "A what?" Dean said."Is that like boo-boo kitty?"He laughed again, in a lower volume, shaking his head. "Where are you talking to people, Sam, the local rest home?"
"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Fellatio," Sam said, and Dean started to laugh again, and Sam found himself adding a giddy moment of his own crow's call. "Okay," he said, "It sounds made-up. But it's a local thing, and everybody seems to know about it but us. Dad's never been through this specific area.The guy said it's something the Native Americans named."
"Not another revenge of the natives thing," Dean said. "Sooooo cliche'."
"I said they named it, I didn't say it belonged to them," Sam said. "Are you gonna listen, or what?"
"Whatever," Dean said. "You know what someone should invent? Beer that tastes like coffee. No, no, coffee that tastes like beer. Coffee-beer."
Sam saw no point at all in telling Dean that was disgusting and probably already existed. "This one guy saw it. It was in his backyard four nights ago, and he saw it digging near the house. He said it looked like a burnt skeleton with white eyes. He yelled at it, and it took off into the woods."
"Boobooshaw," Dean said. "I can't take anything seriously when it's got a name like that. Any relation to Tommy Shaw?"
Sam saw no point in sighing either. It made no difference. Dean was listening and absorbing everything Sam said, and formulating ideas about which weapons would kill the thing quickest, but he wasn't going to let on. He'd never change. Sam didn't really mind.
"So now it decides to take out a group of kids?" Dean said.
"Kids that took it on themselves to try and hunt it down and corner it," Sam said. "Isn't what that you said a few minutes ago?"
"So now it's their fault," Dean said.
Sam kept his features still and his hands down. Dean was still in a mood to fight. Sam was still not.
No one was home at the first place they tried. The other two kids named in the paper were both in the hospital. The one critically injured teen wasn't named due to privacy issues since she couldn't give consent or a statement.
They avoided the family waiting areas, not wanting to run into the gravely injured teen's family yet. They wanted the kid who was awake and less likely to have parents hovering. Carter Robbins was 18 so they didn't need his parent's permission to talk to him as 'reporters'.
He was sitting up in bed reading when they knocked on the door of his room, and his confusion gave way readily to eagerness when he realized what they were there for.
"More?" he said. "Sure, but you're not gonna convince me either."
"Convince you of what?" Sam said, taking a chair and sliding it closer to the bed.
"That it was a bear," Carter said. "I already gotta get rabies shots on top of everything else, and I'm telling you it was no bear. I hunt those woods with my dad, and I know bears." He tossed the hospital-issue coverlet aside. "You wanna see the claw marks?" He rucked his hospital gown up before Dean could cover his eyes, but he only bared bandaged ribs. "Six inches across, no lie. They wanna keep me another day to watch for infection." He peeled up a corner of the gauze and showed them a set of deep, angry scores that had been stitched closed.
Dean's stitches are better, Sam thought.
Dad's stitches are better, Dean thought.
One of the slashes had obviously laid a rib open to the air when it was administered. "Had five fingers," Carter said. "Thumb. Not a dewclaw, a thumb."
"So what happened?" Sam said. "I know you've had to tell it before, but we wanted to hear it straight from you."
Carter nodded. "That guy over in New Upper Lake Park saw something in his backyard, digging around. We didn't really think there was anything, but we had to go look. So two nights ago we thought it would be funny to go out in the woods and mess around. Me and Mickey and Alex. We finally shut up around 11 and waited to see if anything would really come through. It had only one way to get to the backyard - there was a path out of the woods with just this one hole hacked in the bushes where kids always cut through. The only other way is from the front of the house. It got so boring that I almost fell asleep. Mickey smacked me just in time and this tall monkey-thing came by."
"Monkey-thing," Sam echoed. "It had a tail?"
"Nah," Carter said. "It was more the way it moved. It was upright on two legs but kind of hunched. You could tell it was some really dark color all over - not clothing, either, maybe like fur. I dunno. And claws. Long, long claws. And white hair on its head. We just wanted to get the hell out of there, so we jumped out of the bushes. We had to pass right by it to get around it, it was that close. And it started screamin' at us - that was crazy. Scared me so bad, I can't believe I fell down." He shook his head. "Alex was screamin', and it was screamin', and Mickey took off. I can't blame him, I was trying to run too. It was nuts, we panicked." He pointed to his ribs. "It grabbed me and I just kept rolling until I could get up. Alex wouldn't run into the woods with us, she kept trying to get up into the backyards and get help, and it was in her way. It picked her up and threw her, then it took off into the woods again." He paused and looked at his hands, picking at a split nail. "Shouldn't've brought her. Neck's broken because of the way she landed."
Dean nodded a little. "That's too bad. You think you could show us where - "
Sam kicked him, hard, without looking at him. "We're really sorry to hear that," he said. "Has anybody said whether she'll be okay?"
Carter shrugged. "She hasn't been awake yet," he said. "Life support and everything. Nobody really comes out and says anything, but I get the idea that it doesn't look good. So..." he shrugged again. "We weren't best friends or anything, but she was cool."
Dean pinched the back of Sam's right arm hard enough that Sam's eyes watered. "Anybody mention anything about starting a search?" he said.
"The cops said they were out there, didn't find anything," Carter said. "I guess they're gonna rope it off so nobody else goes out there, cut all the bushes down."
Sam nodded. "Well, thanks for your time," he said, standing. "Sorry you had such a rough time."
"You don't think it was a bear, do you?" Carter said.
"Like you said," Dean told him. "You know what a bear looks like."
"Yeah," Carter said. "I do."
Sam waited until they were back in the parking garage before he grabbed the shoulder of Dean's jacket and shoved him. "That was great."
Dean glared and gritted his teeth. "I don't need you telling me what to - "
"The hell you don't," Sam said, raising his voice enough to drown Dean out. "That girl's probably gonna die. Not everything's about the hunt."
"He didn't seem all that concerned about her, Sam," Dean said, taking a step closer, getting in his face.
"He was trying to put on a tough face, Dean," Sam said. "Just like you. You don't have to be good with people, that'll never happen, but a little restraint with the asshole bit wouldn't hurt you."
"Don't chastise me," Dean said, dropping his head forward and his voice into its lowest range. "You're a long way from having the right. I'm not one of your little friends."
"Someone's gotta try and keep your ass in line," Sam said, just as low, standing way too close. "Since Dad's not around."
Dean bared his teeth and grabbed the front of Sam's jacket in angry hands, tugging him off balance and using his weight and momentum to slam him into the side of a minivan several feet away.
The minute Sam made contact with an oomph of breath, the impact caused the van's alarm to go off.
The ear-splitting annoyance startled them both into jumping apart and walking quickly away. They cut between the rows of cars, jumped a concrete partition, and headed for the Impala. They maintained a mutually chagrined annoyance until Sam snorted.
Dean struggled to hold on to his mood. "Fuck you, Sam," he said.
Sam laughed aloud. "'Little friends'? I can't believe you said 'little friends'. That was so pompous."
"Don't kick me ever again, you bitch," Dean said without looking at him. If he looked, he'd laugh. And it wasn't funny, dammit. It wasn't.
"Don't pinch me, you asshole," Sam said, voice distorted with mirth. "I'll talk to people, and you just stand around looking dangerous."
"I don't need looking after," Dean snapped. "It's called being a team, something you used to know how to do."
"Hey," Sam said, "If you're gonna take low shots at me, sometimes you're gonna get them back."
"That's mature," Dean said.
"Don't be so sensitive," Sam said.
"That's big coming from you, you little hothouse flower," Dean said.
"The mature remark?" Sam said. "You wanna review that?"
Dean began singing I'm Henry The 8th, I Am at the top of his lungs, and the acoustics of the garage made it worse. Dean had sung the song enough times when Sam was a kid just to annoy him that Sam had to roll his eyes.
I'm Henry the eighth I am
Henry the eighth I am, I am
I got married to the widow next door
She's been married seven times before
And every one was a Henry (Henry)
She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam (no Sam)
I'm her eighth old man, I'm Henry
Henry the eighth I am
By the time they reached the car, Sam just leaned up against it and laughed. Argument over. For the time being.
They stared down at the hole.
The homeowner stared down at the hole.
Dean wanted to poke around in it, but not with the guy standing right there, so he waited. He wanted to point the EMF meter at it but they'd already claimed to be reporters, not some environmental agency, so he'd be hard pressed to explain it away as just an air or soil test. It looked like a dog had been digging there, something with claws and purpose and not much patience. It was just a hole, dug alongside the foundation of the house, exposing the cement of the crawlspace by about a foot. Nothing was visible that might have been left behind, but Dean wanted a closer look.
"Neighbors say anything?" Sam said.
The homeowner, Olivarez, shook his head. "Nope. Guy next door's got a Rottie. No barking, nothing, the night this was going on. Thing dug around, took off when I yelled at it. Thought it was kids or a prowler first, when it stood up. But if it was a person, he was really messed up. Looked really gaunt. Burnt."
"Just a dark color?" Sam said, thinking about what Carter had said.
"No," the guy said. "Burnt. Eyes poppin' out, long white hair on the head, skin too black to be natural. Cracking. Tall, bony, cracking thing. Fine with me if it never comes back, I don't know what it was."
Sam glanced at Dean and found him staring at the roped-off opening in the thick brush at the back of the property. "Thanks," he said, offering a hand to Olivarez to shake. "Mind if we look around?"
The guy shrugged. "Nothing to see, but knock yourselves out."
As soon as the guy went back in his house, Dean pointed the EMF meter at the hole. "Residuals," he said, watching the readout. He knelt down and brushed his fingers along the exposed part of the foundation, then scooped out several handfuls of dirt. Nothing came with it. "What the hell is it looking for?"
"Just because no one else has mentioned seeing it - " Sam said.
"Doesn't mean it hasn't been digging in other yards," Dean said. "House was built in 1976, crawlspace, four different owners. No way this is a Wendigo; maybe it's burying prey in people's yards or something, whatever it is, but it should be leaving something behind to find if it's doing that."
Sam didn't ask Dean about how he knew about the house. It was something anyone could get off the county tax assessor's site but Sam knew damn well that wasn't where it had come from.
"Somebody buried in the foundation?" Sam said. "Vengeful spirit trying to warn someone it's stuck in cement?"
Dean shook his head. "I like the way you think, though."
"Did you just compliment me?" Sam said.
"Hallucinate much?" Dean said, bracing his hands against his knees and rising. "Let's check the woods."
There were claw marks in the trees and signs of a struggle in the leaves and soil about fifty yards from the break in the bushes. Countless human footprints had destroyed any other evidence of what had passed by. Sam traced a set of claw marks with his fingertips. They were haphazard and made in passing - not purposeful. Not the way cats paused to sharpen their claws, or the way whitetail bucks marked territory with their antlers. It had nothing to do with territory this time.
They walked the trail down a long incline. The brush and bushes thinned out, the light less available under the canopy of trees. Two hundred and fifty yards in, the woods dropped suddenly in a short bank right into a two lane road. The trail evened out on the other side, still little more than a deer run, heaving with twisted roots and finally partitioned by a small stream that was only two feet across. A short, muddy jump led them through another quarter mile of narrower, rockier trail and then another thick wall of brush with a single break. They heard the water long before they got there.
They surfaced into full daylight at the crest of a hillside, looking down onto a gravel beach several hundred feet below. Lake Michigan sprawled in glimmers of shifting blue-white light. Down to their left, a gravel breakwater stretched away into the lake, terminating abruptly in a traditional style lighthouse. It was a little worse for wear from the wind and spray but still glaring white, round and glass-topped.
It was the lighthouse Sam had seen from the Infinity Room. He knew it.
They navigated the unevenness of the faint trail that was left. It was old, and unkept, and there were no recent tracks or damage to the foliage to say anything had been through there recently. The remnants of an old construct just above and to their right had fallen or been thrown down the hillside, rotted wood and broken brick. Only a crumbling foundation remained. Dean climbed up and straddled a larger chunk that was still standing. What was left lay in a loose circle about 300 feet across with an impromptu firepit in the center. It had the feel of an old lookout. A light-keeper's post. Dean noted that not a single intact brick was there - there were pieces only.
When Sam looked down, the newer lighthouse was framed by the trees but fully visible from there.
Every eight seconds, he thought, the dream returning.
Dean turned back to look at Sam, who gazed back with a calm blue echo of acknowledgment that Something Was Going On, Here.
They worked their way down to the beach, to the lighthouse. The breakwater it rested on showed no signs of erosion. Somehow, neither did the shoreline - everything was too straight and orderly to have anything to do with a beach. The paint of the lighthouse was fading, though, left to the elements. Constant spray from the waves had bitten into the foundation, wearing the waterside away. The fifteen feet of gravel extending toward the water away from the lighthouse didn't show a single stone out of place - the line of demarcation was unnervingly perfect. They walked the perimeter of the building, measuring, checking, taking stock without touching. Someone had spent an inordinate amount of time keeping the boundaries in place or making some attempt at repairing the foundation of the lighthouse. With brick.
Dean leaned in to look closer. Old brick of the same color as the broken pieces left on the hillside had been shoved into the spaces that had been undermined by water.
"Stones at the front here are newer," Dean said, gesturing to the front end of the spit.
Sam stared at it for a long moment. "Someone's been pushing the rocks out to keep the water further away. There's probably a log."
A maintenance log.
They circled back to the front of the building and climbed an old set of iron stairs to a padlocked wooden door that was badly in need of fresh paint. Dean picked the lock, and they checked the narrow, rounded confines. Just inside the door on a hook was a clipboard with handwritten notes on a lined template that dated back to 1976. It was a basic maintenance log that had begun when the light was first automated. Most of the entries were the same all the way to the end.
4/02 no maint req
4/03 no maint req
4/04 chk pnt rst brkr no maint req
4/05 set fndtn spr 2007?
"Someone doesn't think the foundation can wait until spring," Dean said.
"Guess not," Sam said. "Funny how the place needs so little maintenance with the waves coming right up on the rocks."
"Yeah," Dean said, putting the log back. "Funny how only bricks from the original post on the hill will do."
They climbed the ladder to look at the light itself. It wasn't scheduled to kick on until the built-in timer engaged later and told it that it was dark. In the center of the room, hemmed in by a low railing, was a large, round, plastic-encased, reflective harbor light. Sam thought for a moment that it would be red, but when he looked at it, he could tell it would be yellow when it flashed.
"Could make some great shadow puppets out to sea with this," Dean said. "Could flip people off for like fifteen miles."
No claw marks, no sinister inhuman semi-handprints, no signs of sacrifices made and left behind for the Great Harbor Light God. There was fresh dirt along the hardwood floor, though.
When they went back out to look at the damaged part of the foundation, Dean pulled several bricks out to look behind. Several inches back was a layer of brick mortared into place.
"The original foundation's brick," Dean said. "One good storm this fall or winter, and this thing's going in the water."
They looked at each other for a moment. Then Dean went to the water's edge and used a foot to push several inches of gravel into the water. "Someone'll come fix it," he said.
They walked off the breakwater and back up the hillside wordlessly.
They couldn't check the whole neighborhood, but there were enough people who weren't home that they could check several backyards. Each one they checked had signs of freshly turned earth right up against the homes themselves, similar to the first house. Most had been filled in, but one was significant enough that it exposed a four foot length of foundation and was taped off with stakes. A chunk of the foundation was missing - all brick.
Dean glanced around to make sure no one was going to come flying out of the house with a rolling pin. Then he ducked under the taped-off area and reached in, loosening a few crumbles of brick. He brought them back to Sam and rolled them around in his hands.
"Someone's on a mission," Sam said.
"Someone's collecting back all the brick that was part of that original post, and doesn't like to be interrupted," Dean said. "We should meet him. This is the same stuff. What dumbass decided to reuse really old brick for these foundations? Somebody oughta sue."
"Stakeout?" Sam said.
"Maybe," Dean answered, letting the bits of brick fall out of his hands. "We know the basic extent of where it hangs out and we know it's too dumb to notice a bunch of teenagers sitting in the bushes. So...we can be a little direct with this one."
"Can't kill it without figuring out what will kill it," Sam said. "Don't even know what the hell it is."
"We just have to bring it down long enough to burn it," Dean said. "It's solid. Anything solid can be brought down with enough force."
Sam didn't respond. He didn't need to. They'd learn as they went, like always.
"Boobooshaw," Dean said with mock gravity. "This is one for the journal. One whole entry for the Boobooshaw."
When Dean pulled up to a drug store on the way back to the motel, Sam said, "What are we doing?"
"Something I'm sure you're good at," Dean said. "Picking out makeup."
"So we can go into stealth mode?" Sam said. "Are you gonna rub leaves all over yourself too so you can smell like the woods, O mighty hunter?"
"Whatever it takes," Dean said.
Since it was nowhere near Halloween, Dean ended up settling for a couple of tubes of a dark green lipstick and muttering something about goth chicks.
When they got back to the motel, Sam poked around online while Dean opened the lipstick and messed around with it in front of the mirror above the counter at the back of the room.
"'In 1889'," Sam read aloud, "...'the first pier head light was built at Port Washington. Constructed of wood and accessed by a wooden catwalk, it was situated at the end of the North Pier. Unlike many Great Lakes lights, Port Washington stayed open all year whenever possible, as it was home to an active fishing fleet...okay, hold on. The original black lantern room contained a fourth order Fresnel lens, which exhibited a...'"
He paused suddenly, and Dean watched him in the reflection from the mirror without turning.
"... red light which flashed every 7.7 seconds," Sam said.
"So?" Dean said.
Sam frowned over something onscreen and didn't answer. Dean didn't push, because Sam suddenly had his thinky-face on and something revelatory was likely to come out of that face if he left it alone.
" 'At some point in time the lantern room and lens were removed," Sam said, "... and replaced with a modern beacon and foghorn. Before this lighthouse was built, a light station atop St. Mary's Hill functioned in a similar manner. This station was built in 1860 and replaced a light tower that had been built in 1849 on land just east of the 1860 station. From 1860 until the mid 1970's, U. S. Coast Guard light keepers and their families lived in the light station. They first tended the tower light that rose above the station, then an 1889 wooden pier-head light and finally the current pier-head light. When the foghorn and light were automated in the mid 1970's, the keeper's post was eliminated."
"Someone's still trying to keep the post," Dean said. "When'd the guy - Olivarez? - say people started seeing the boo-boo?"
"I couldn't find anything on it," Sam said. "Nothing but that it was named by the Oneida Iroquois and people see it every now and then. No lore about it killing anybody or being a restless spirit or anything."
"But I'll bet it popped up just after the original post was knocked down and taken apart," Dean said.
"But why?" Sam said. "Why does it care that much about the post? And why hasn't it been trying to dig foundations up before now?"
"Because the lighthouse is in danger, Sam," Dean said. "It's tied to the lighthouse and the post somehow." He shrugged. "Not gonna matter much after tonight."
"So where do you want to start?" Sam said, closing the laptop.
"He'll come back up into one of the backyards again," Dean said, twisting the bottom of one of the sticks and starting with his forehead. "We can't watch all the backyards, and we can't be shooting anything that close to the houses. So I'm gonna wait up there in the woods, and you're gonna wait in the car below on that road we crossed. I flush it out, and you get into place, and when I herd it toward you, you blast it from one side and I blast it from the other."
"That's your plan," Sam said, shoulders slumping in exasperation. "That's it. The big plan."
"If you got a better one, say it now," Dean said. "It's been taking off every time someone tries to get a look at it. It's probably not gonna attack if I don't corner it."
"And you're a badass hunter with ten times the experience that group of kids had," Sam said, rising. "No, Dean."
"This isn't a discussion," Dean said, voice lowering straight into gruff annoyance. "I'm telling you the plan. You're gonna be waiting at the bottom of the hill, and I'm gonna chase the damn thing right into the road."
"It's fucking stupid," Sam said flatly. "You don't know that it'll run."
Dean moved fast enough that Sam actually flinched when he came within inches, nostrils flared, eyes wide and voice low with rage. "I'm not stupid."
"I wasn't calling you stupid," Sam said, voice barely audible, more an attempt at self control than at meekness. "If you hit me, I'm gonna knock you on your ass."
They stood and breathed on each other for another moment, then Sam diffused things by leaning in a little further. "You better not be thinking of kissing me, either."
Dean shoved him one handed, using the move to push himself away as well. "You should be so lucky," he said, turning away.
"You're the one wearing lipstick," Sam said. "If you're bent on doing this alone, then you have to be armed better than you usually are. You saw what it did to those kids."
"They panicked," Dean said. "They weren't organized, either. Of course it attacked them."
"You're going after it like it's a wild animal," Sam said. "If it thinks well enough to -"
"It's no big deal," Dean said.
"If you underestimate this," Sam said, "...and it ties you up somewhere to eat later, I'm not saving your ass."
"Liar," Dean said, rolling his cuffs up.
"I'm serious, Dean," Sam said, hands on hips, staring at his brother's back. "I will 'leave your ass out here'."
Dean ignored him and went back to painting his face dark green in front of the vanity mirror.
Sam kept staring at him. He knew Dean had some other motive and he hated that he wasn't sure what it was. It would be like him to get cocky and pass the creature off as having chimp-level intelligence, but he was up to something else. "I won't do it," Sam said.
"Then you can guilt yourself into oblivion when I get killed because you weren't there," Dean said. "Aw, that's what you wanted anyway, right?"
"You're a manipulative asshole," Sam said. "I know you can see how flawed this is."
"Trying to get me not to do something by telling me you won't do it makes you a manipulative asshole," Dean said. "King of the manipulative assholes, to be exact, and don't look at me like that," Dean said, eyes meeting Sam's in the glass. "This works. You wanna stand out there in the dark with me all back-to-back, that's nice, but I'm not interested in getting distracted by whether you're okay this time. I've done this before, with Dad. It's cute that you're all worried, but this once I'm safer if you just goddamn do what I say."
Sam felt embarrassed and furious and wanted to tell Dean to go stuff himself, but he folded his arms across his chest and said, "It's usually the other way around."
Dean dropped his hands and held Sam's gaze in the mirror. "Meaning?"
"The ratio of me pulling your ass out of trouble is a lot higher," Sam said. "So don't throw that bullshit at me. You're not trying to protect me. You know I can hold my own." He desperately wanted his voice to stay steady, wanted to keep the whine at the back of his throat from creeping in the way it always did when he was angry enough for tears. "You're the one who distracts me, with the goddamn cowboy bullshit all the time. Just tell me what's really going on."
Dean sighed, hands braced on the cracked Formica of the countertop. He went back to filling in his brows and eyelids with green, his silence as loud as any argument.
Sam drilled several holes in the back of Dean's skull with his eyes. Dean ignored him until he was finished, then he turned and came to Sam again, standing close in front of him. With all the dark paint on, the brighter green of his eyes stood out in preternatural starkness and it made his gaze difficult to hold.
"I don't have to," Dean said. "You don't always get to know everything. I wasn't lying when I said I've done this before. Everything we know so far points to this thing being dumb as shit, and it's probably just a scavenger. So don't get all insulted on me. If there's two of us up there, and we lose it, we gotta start all over again. What part of me herding it right toward you sounded like I was protecting you?"
Sam shook his head and looked away.
"Sound like fun, sound like the safer job?" Dean said. "If I do this right, it's gonna come screaming out of the dark right at you, and I expect you to blow it to shit. Without hitting me. I wouldn't even ask Dad to do that. You're the better shot."
Sam's eyebrows shot halfway up his forehead. "Huh."
"So shut up," Dean said, the words almost a whisper. When he moved to step by, Sam stopped him with a hand on his chest. "What? What now?"
"Hold on," Sam said. Dean didn't protest when Sam used a thumb to wipe some of the darkness from his forehead. He stood, arms folded, face titled slightly up to Sam's. When Sam dropped his hands, Dean turned to glance in the mirror at the shape of Tyr on his forehead, in this case meaning art of concealment.
"You're such a girl," he said, but he said it with audible approval.
He'd taken a guess at the distance from the backyards of the homes above to the stream, then on to the road, just so many steps in the dark. His night vision was good, so he'd have no problem navigating the trail in the dark. He left Sam on the road below and walked up the trail to be sure, crossbow cradled loosely in the crook on one arm.
He could do anything when he was hunting.
It was the perfect night for it, too: overcast, dry, with the slightest breeze keeping him upwind of anything that decided to use the trail. A bit of light pollution reflected down off the clouds, giving him a little detail. He was hoping the thing wouldn't take the night off, because sitting out there over and over was going to get boring and piss him off.
He checked the crossbow again. Bolt nocked, set to a low enough weight to slow it down. He'd use his jacket to flag it in the right direction, get it to run for home base. Assuming home base was on the other side of the road.
He found a tree with roots high enough to sit on, and he settled himself just out of sight of anything using the trail. An hour later, a raccoon went by without noticing him or maybe just not caring. Three others followed, looking wary but never catching sight or scent of him. Right around one a.m., he heard a twig snap somewhere below and waited to see how many legs the visitor had.
What came into view finally was hard to make out; it was black, too black to be anything but charred, and he could tell by the hunch of its shoulders and the angle of the back that it wasn't put together very well. Two legs, humanoid, and sparse shoulder-length hair of a fiber-optic white that nearly glowed as it waved in the breeze. Had it been able to stand straight, it might have been nearly six feet tall. He'd seen enough things like it to know it had been human once, but how long ago he couldn't imagine. The attitude of its body language said a long damn time, because it meandered along with a wary, feral shuffle.
Uniformly white eyes rolled along the darkness. He could see the wide, stark shock of them standing out against the black.
He aimed for it, meaning to graze a leg and really piss it off. Just a warning shot across the bow, that was all, just something to get it running. He nocked a bolt in the crossbow and waited, watching it lurch a little in place as if it couldn't figure out what to do next. It wasn't sniffing the air or anything else he expected a wild animal to do; it didn't seem nervous or even concerned.
As his finger tightened on the trigger, it barked, a sharp coughing noise that startled Dean into tightening his finger a little too far.
The bolt nailed it right in the ass.
The bark rose in a shriek of affront and pain, and it whirled to face him, all teeth and claws, a look of complete understanding in its face.
"C'mon," Dean said aloud, lowering the crossbow. "Let's get this done, bitch." So his aim was a little off. It wasn't that hurt.
Keeping its eyes squarely on his, the creature reached back and pulled the bolt out of its left hindquarter.
Then it grinned.
Dean knew the difference between an aggressive show of teeth and a smartass grin. When it gave him both and tossed the bolt away, he knew Sam had been right and that it was a good thing he was ready to run. He wouldn't make a break for it. It had to make the first move, and he wasn't going to show his back until he had to.
As if it knew, it made a false start toward him, sudden and violent. Dean startled but held his ground. He kept holding it even when the Boobooshaw started hissing and circling around to his right a little. He kept his face to it, turning as it circled, backing away to keep it from turning him completely away from his intended flight path. It didn't give him any warning when it did make a play for him; no shrieking, no claws extended for a grab. It just came, at full speed, in silence.
Dean dug in and got as much traction as he could, running low and keeping his head down, headed for the road. He had a quarter mile sprint in front of him and one angry something-or-other behind, and life was good.
Okay, he was supposed to be chasing it. Didn't matter.
It made the same amount of noise as he did, not even bothering to try for quiet. It just wanted to catch him. If it could close the distance, it wasn't trying, so it was probably trying to run him down by degrees.
The thought that it was maybe capable of patience and planning made Dean nervous, finally. Too late to worry about it, though.
He navigated fallen branches and brush with ease, eyes adjusted to the dark, running steady and easy, not out of breath yet and not intending to be. He jumped what he couldn't dodge, watching for branches at face height, bow in one hand.
He was off course. It had turned him and he hadn't even realized it.
He tapped the already-open phone in his jacket, one-touch dialing Sam, hearing the distant ring stop over his own breath, and he yelled into the dark for Sam to hear.
"I'm further down! You've gotta come further down!"
He left the line open and turned further, zagging to the right and then down, leaping a shattered stump and watching for the break in the trees that would give him a glimpse of asphalt beyond. He had to guess.
He reached for his gun with his right hand, thinking about how the silver wouldn't do anything and that he had fifteen tries on a full clip with one already in the chamber to prove himself wrong. Brute force would bring it down, he'd hit it with the car and make roadkill of it if he had to. Sam would go for the thing's head with the shotgun and the combined firepower would make the difference.
When he realized that he couldn't hear the car at all, he knew things had gone a little further than he'd meant them to go. The damn thing had angled him off course, had been herding him, and he'd let it, somehow. He was almost parallel to the road, and veered back toward it just as it started screaming at him.
The noise kicked his adrenaline into high gear but it also kept him from hearing anything beyond it. He just had to get to the road and out into the open, when he could aim and where he had all the advantage once it lost all cover. That was still the plan and it was golden, it would work just fine, he wasn't a little worn down by running further than he should have and he wasn't beginning to experience some sort of adrenaline crash, no way that was happening, no problem just to make that last sprint out of the trees and right into the road, safe.
When the Impala struck him Sam had already been standing on the breaks with a wordless howl of denial and had managed to get the speed down to thirty or maybe thirty five.
His legs taken out from under him, Dean slammed onto the hood and then into the windshield. Spun into the air in a rebound off the glass, the momentum tumbled him to the asphalt on the passenger side near the rear panel with punishing force. He was still aiming the gun back toward the trees even as the world spun and his breath was taken. The Boobooshaw was crossing out of the trees and reaching for him anyway, bent on finishing him off, and he was emptying the Glock's clip while lying on his back in the road in the darker shadow of the car, the flashes of gun powder turning the dark into a disco stutter of stop-motion photography as Sam got out. He was hitting it every time and not stopping it and he didn't see Sam aiming across the roof of the car with the shotgun, never thought of it until the first boom slammed the dark back further.
Dean ran out of ammunition first while the thing was feet from him, claw tips grazing the Glock's barrel even as the last two rounds nailed it in the neck. When the head disintegrated in a shower of bone and brain matter it was no surprise to him and didn't cause him to even turn his head. The body stood for several long, wavering seconds, balancing, claws clicking together as it continued to try and grasp for something, anything. When it collapsed with a wet thud, the clicking went on against the pavement.
There was a long moment full of the reek of cordite and blood and the exhaust of the car, and Dean let his arm come to rest against the pavement, let the gun slide away a little. He heard the clatter when Sam dropped the shotgun on the other side of the car and was glad Sam wasn't yelling for him because no way was he going to answer, not with the little bit of breath he was still pulling in.
"Dean," Sam said, knees hitting the pavement inches away. "Oh, Jesus, Dean."
"Sam," Dean said, grating it out in a half-cough.
"You're gonna be okay," Sam said, the beginning of a tremble at the edges of his voice. "You have to. I'm sorry - I'm so-"
"Sam," Dean said.
"How's your back? Can you tell if it's okay for me to move you?"
"I can't believe you fucking hit me with my own car," Dean said. "You little shit."
Sam leaned back on his haunches to look at Dean appraisingly. There was a sigh of relief that even Dean could feel over the hum of spent adrenaline and a thousand aches settling through him into the asphalt.
"Dean," Sam said, and it was the weariest Dean had ever heard him. Weary, concerned amusement. "The deal was that you run to the road. Not right into the goddamn middle of it without looking."
"You hit me. With my own car. I'm writing you out of my will," Dean said.
"'I'm gonna chase it right into the road'," Sam said in a mocking impression of Dean's vocal cadence that still trembled at the edges. "Yeah. Let's find an ER."
"I'm fine," Dean said, resting his head on the pavement. "I just hate you a little, that's all."
Once Sam was certain there was nothing major broken, he forced Dean to let him help him up. Slowly. Then he moved the car off the road and set the Boobooshaw's remains on fire. Dean leaned against the back of the car and watched, and thought about how there had better not be any dents in the hood.
Sam was backlit by the fire when he returned, face in shadow. Dean tried to look stern and annoyed when Sam got close enough, but mostly all he did was pat Sam's shoulder once he realized there were tears on his brother's face.
"I was walking by the side of the road," Dean said to the nurse. She wasn't his type - mid forties, short mouse-brown hair, no-nonsense look. No fun at all. "And some idiot clipped me. Same thing happened to Stephen King, you know."
The nurse glanced up at him. "Did you see - "
"Yeah, tall guy, dark hair," Dean said. "Looked like a geek, except kind of slack-jawed. Gorgeous car, though, late model, dark color. He must have borrowed it from someone."
Sam tucked it all away for later. He would get Dean, once he lived a little of this down. A little of the almost killing him part.
"Did you get the plate number?" the nurse said.
"Nah," Dean said. "It was dark."
She eyed him for a moment as if she didn't believe him. Then she said, "Is that...green lipstick, on your neck?"
Two cracked ribs, a sprained shoulder and some serious scrapes and bruises earned Dean a sling and some pain meds. It also earned him Sam trying to do everything for him the next morning when Dean realized, man, he hurt everywhere. At first he thought it might be amusing to take advantage of Sam's guilt for just a little while, but if he didn't get moving it would only get harder. Plus Sam was genuinely suffering and that was never fun.
"Dude, get off me," Dean said again, waving his good arm around in an arc, warding Sam away at least that far. "I'm fine. Go get me some coffee and I'll be better."
Less miserable, anyway.
"And I'm telling Dad," he said. "'Daaaaaaad, Sammy hit me with the caaaaaaar.'"
There. That got Sam to laugh. Caustic, jaded laughter, but still, better than moping.
"And don't bring me any shit coffee, bring me a big-ass cup of the good stuff, some name brand you recognize," Dean went on. "And a Pop-Tart."
"Whatever, Dean," Sam said, but he left the room.
"Cinnamon!" Dean shouted after him. "No fruity crap, Sam!"
Then he used all the hot water.
The local paper had a notice just below the fold recounting the same tale the kid in the hospital had told them, with one addition: the girl, Alex, had died during the night.
Sam was handing a ten over to the clerk at the Quik Stop Shoppe when he realized that the whole thing had not ended with them killing the Boobooshaw and burning it. In fact, he examined his fingers and decided it was only just beginning. And fast.
"Dean," Sam said as soon as he opened the door.
Dean waved him off. "Dude, whatever it is..."
"Sam, c'mon, just -"
Dean shut up when Sam grabbed him and pulled him back with one hand and held the other in front of his face, fingers spread.
"Look," Sam whispered. "Look at my goddamn hands."
The very tips of Sam's fingers were black and shriveling.
Dean grabbed Sam with his good arm and pulled him over into better light, holding one of Sam's hands between his own and looking close at his fingers. "It's totally uniform," he mused.
"That's great," Sam said, "But what the fuck is it?"
"Not frostbite, obviously," Dean muttered, turning Sam's hand one way and another, examining each finger tip in turn. "Not ink from something, doesn't look like a chemical burn or contact reaction...dude, look at your nails. They're narrowing into points. Feel anything?"
"No," Sam said, trying not to sound alarmed. "I mean, it doesn't hurt or anything."
"Toes?" Dean said.
Sam stripped his shoes and socks off. Yes, toes too.
They both stared at Sam's feet for a moment.
"Doesn't look like...mold," Dean said. "What have you touched? No, never mind. It wouldn't be your toes too. Shit. That's weird. You haven't been anywhere or done anything I haven't. So if there was a curse or something we'd both have it. Maybe it's a hitting-your-brother-with-a-car curse."
Sam didn't look up. "If it keeps going, what'll I be?"
"We'll have figured it out by then," Dean said. "This is...it's just..."
Sam held his hands up again. "The Boobooshaw," he said. "I'll be that. Until somebody shoots me down."
"Not gonna happen," Dean said gruffly. "Knock it off, you're not turning into -"
"Like a burnt skeleton, with white eyes," Sam said. "I killed it. So now I'm taking its place."
Dean purposely shoved that aside, because thinking about it too long made it impossible to think about anything else. If he panicked about Sam then he'd lose him. He'd treat this like he treated anything else. "So why would it need to be replaced? What's it here for?"
They looked at each other. "Not just a monster," Sam said. "It was...what, maybe guarding something? A territory, a thing, a family line?"
"You said you couldn't find anything on it," Dean said. "Just what it was called, and that people see it sometimes around this area, and mostly only this area. How far back did sightings go?" Dean reached for the laptop and checked the history to see where Sam had already been.
"When the post was torn down," Sam said. "It's got something to do with that, we already figured that out. We just didn't know why it cared. We killed it without knowing why it was here." That last didn't hold any recrimination of himself or Dean; it was just fact.
Dean closed the laptop again and stared off at nothing for a moment, calculating, retracing the last couple of days, measuring the steps. Sam watched him do it with a fractured calm. "No, Dean," he said.
"I didn't even - "
"You don't have to. You're thinking about burning the lighthouse, or knocking it into the water. I don't think that'll fix it."
A pair bound by primal law, Dean thought. "Okay, well," he said aloud, "There's nothing about this thing anywhere we can find, we don't know what the hell it was really doing here and we don't know where it came from. If there's nothing to take care of then there's no reason for a caretaker."
"If the lighthouse is the real source of the...curse, or whatever it is," Sam said. "It hangs...it hung...out there, but what was it really trying to do?"
"You mean was it actually taking care of the lighthouse," Dean said. "There was no erosion on the beach, either, and there should have been. What's the point of making sure the water doesn't gain any ground?"
Sam shook his head, beginning to pace. He looked at his hands again. They belonged to someone else, now, and he wanted to be calm about it but he could feel himself freezing with a not-so-distant horror. "I don't know," he said. "I don't get it."
Dean rested his head in one hand and tried to go over every land/water scenario he'd ever seen or heard of. Sirens...no, this was something bound to the land but trying to keep the water back. And it hadn't been seen until someone had caused it to go looking for the missing parts of that post. It had always been looking, nights spent wandering and keeping track, but making no move to take anything back until the lighthouse itself was in danger.
"Unless the water and the land have some kind of agreement," Sam said. "With each other."
Dean raised his eyes to look at Sam. He knew if he looked close enough he'd see the beginnings of a milky sheen at the edges of Sam's sharp blue irises.
"Something you don't wanna break," Sam said.
"Agreement for what, though?" Dean said. "Not to crowd each other? Not to...rise up in some elemental battle against the humans who settled the area? I'm reachin' on this one."
He was all about saving people and averting disaster, but not if he had to sacrifice his brother to it. No way.
"Irresistible force versus immovable object," Sam said. "Same old thing."
"So we figure out where it starts," Dean said. "We've got the history of the area, we know when the original lighthouse was put up. We know it thinks brick from the original post is important...what the hell was so special about the post?"
"We have to look at it again," Sam said. "Maybe all the brick is gone, but not everything is."
"I'm not gonna let you turn into this thing, Sam," Dean said. "We're gonna figure this out. You know that, right?"
Sam smiled, but it was too pale. "Nice to hear it," he said.
They walked the perimeter first, checking each rotting board, looking for remnants of the original walkway, a set of steps, chunks of the foundation. The original layout of the foundation was still plain, hand-laid stones tumbled into a loose square shape. Dean straddled the largest standing piece of it again and tried to pretend that walking around out there wasn't kicking his ass. He'd already tossed the sling, since it was only in his way. And maybe Sam kept looking at it like it represented every damn wrong thing he'd ever done.
There was nothing out of the ordinary left behind by time or souvenir hunters. Nothing was carved into the base of the foundation that was left, no one seemed to be buried under the ground they walked on. It was just an old building that had been taken apart and reused elsewhere.
"Just before we got here," Sam said, "...I didn't know it was a lighthouse at the time. I had a dream about a light, off in the distance. There was nothing else to see but the light. It was red. And it went off every eight seconds. Or I thought it was eight...it was really 7.7."
Dean was looking at him with the same expression he always used the moment he realized Sam was talking about what might be a slice of the future: a wary alertness. As much as Sam wanted to take it personally, it had nothing to do with him. It was something Dean couldn't see or touch, or kill, and Sam knew he viewed the visions and dreams as something to try and protect Sam against. There was nothing to kill, nothing to ward against, nothing to prepare for. He wanted to trust whatever Sam could pull out of the air, but knowing it would happen was not the same as trusting the mechanism or intent. He still felt like Sam was being used, somehow, and it made him wary.
"You said the original light was red," Dean said. "The history you read said it was. So you weren't seeing anything that would happen. You saw how it used to be."
Sam didn't respond. He simply stared at his fingers.
Dean stared at him a little harder, making it a demand. "Sam."
"There was something there with me," Sam said. "I really thought that one was just a dream. I didn't see anything...something sort of grabbed me from behind."
Dean dropped his eyes and used a fingernail to dig at the pitted edge of the chunk of foundation he rested on. "Feel like a vision?"
"No," Sam said. "Which is why I didn't yank you out of bed and make you go running off in the middle of the night."
Dean smirked at the wry tone of voice.
"That kid is dead," Sam said. "The girl. I forgot to tell you."
Dean nodded and didn't look up, but the smirk vanished. "Think we did the right thing?"
"We're not gonna know that for awhile," Sam said. He leaned against the same chunk of foundation that Dean was sitting on. "Whatever this is, it's something that's affected by the place, because I never touched it. The place wanted it here. The place asked for it. That makes sense to me."
"Something created it, then," Dean said. "Anything that can be created can be undone, or reversed." And if it can't then I will be the one who puts you down, and I'll be right behind you.
He didn't say the last part aloud. He didn't need to. Sam knew it was there, and Dean knew he would and could turn the universe inside out preventing it. He really wanted it to be as simple as torching the lighthouse, though. It was just a shame that it wasn't. The right application of explosives and/or fire solved so many things.
"We can safely go on the idea that it's an agreement," Sam said, gaze slightly unfocused, staring off at the lighthouse. "I mean, for the job - whatever job it is - and form to transfer straight to the person who kills the current candidate...that's powerful, baseline stuff."
Baseline stuff. The oldest, the simplest, the scariest. The things the world started out with. Everything since, sigils and rituals and incantations, was just layer on layer built onto one foundation.
Dean looked at the foundation he sat on. "Uh huh," he said. "The job. So how many keepers were there?"
They looked at each other.
"Seven different people lived at the post and took care of the light from 1889 to 1976," Sam said. He was propped on one of the beds with the laptop and Dean was laying widthwise across the other, staring at the ceiling, pretending he wasn't as tired or sore as he really was. "The last one was the longest, born 1924, died 1976. George Ahlmquist. The year he died is about the same time people started seeing the Boobooshaw."
"Coincidence?" Dean said.
"I think not," Sam said with mock drama.
"George is our boy, then," Dean said. "Died, or just vanished?"
"Well, it says he died in the post, not in a hospital or family member's home," Sam said, setting the laptop aside. "Just after that, they tore the post down. He died the day after they took out the original light, the 'fourth order Fresnel lens'."
"Where is it now?" Dean said.
"The historical museum," Sam said. "We're not gonna break in there and take it. They'll notice that there's a damn red light in the supposedly modernized lighthouse. A red light that runs on whale oil, Dean."
"We're gonna run it long enough to see what else happens," Dean said. "There was no reason for Boobooshaws before the damn light was taken down and the post was trashed. This guy was the last keeper, and he obviously did something. He had some attachment to all of this to the point that he became something so that he didn't have to give it up."
"And then what?" Sam said. "The whole setup is gone, we can't recreate everything, and if it's more than the light that's binding the whole thing together..."
"The light is red," Dean said. "Maybe that's only a small part of it, but I'll bet it's still got something to do with it. Israelites in biblical times painted their doorframes in red blood to scare demons. It symbolizes fire, blood, power, killing, protection, passion...danger. It's the first color people with color blindness from brain damage can see. Maybe it's the color, maybe there was something about the physical light that was messed with, maybe there's something out in the water, maybe it's all of the above. We'll figure it out. But we need that light first. If nothing happens, then we'll try something else."
Sam just looked at him.
"So let's go," Dean said.
"I kind of want to add that the original light weighs about 400 pounds," Sam said.
Dean nodded like he'd expected to hear it. "The whole thing does," he said after a pause. "We'll take the bastard apart and rig it if we have to. We'll take it one part at a time."
"You're in the best possible shape to haul really big things around, too," Sam said. "I kind of sealed that deal."
"What do you want, Sam?" Dean said. "You wanna become this thing, take care of the lighthouse? Have me bring you bricks?"
Sam flopped back on the bed, face set. Dean struggled to a sitting position and glared at him, meaning to keep scolding, but instead fell to staring at the roots of Sam's hair. Sam's dark chocolate colors were going sea-salt white at the roots.
Dean got up and grabbed his keys off the dresser, masking stiffness and fear with the abruptness of anger. "You coming or not?"
They sat outside the Port Washington Historical Museum as it got dark, checking how busy the area was, watching the windows of the two story brick building to see if anyone had stayed late, eyeing the ways in and out. Security lights, one in the front, one in the back, single light on the second floor that looked like part of a display. No patrol went by while they were there. No one on foot. Two cars drifted through, residents headed somewhere else cutting through the narrow parking lot to avoid the traffic light on Grand Avenue. They were far enough back in the 'lot that they weren't seen from the street.
Dean said nothing. He couldn't trust himself not to start something.
At ten when it was dark enough, they each got out without a word, nothing tense in it, just unspoken agreement and acknowledgment. They kept away from the security lights and found the rear entrance in shadow. It was an old hollow metal door with a center push bar. Sam held a flashlight and cupped it in his hand to keep any extra light from escaping while Dean picked the lock.
Without having seen photos of it online, they never would have guessed the thing was even a light. It looked more like someone's idea of a space age communication device, something right out of a Star Trek episode. Brass fittings held numerous glass lenses in place, tilted for maximum light reflection. The whole thing was just over two feet high and egg shaped. It was displayed behind glass in an alcove on one wall.
It was also at least two feet wide at the center. And all that glass and metal really did come out at somewhere around 400 pounds.
Dean looked at it, nose nearly pressed to the glass. He'd have to get his hands on it and see how it came apart, but for a moment he wanted to memorize how it was put together. Each slot, each slice of lens, the brass base and fittings. If he could look at it and touch it then he could put it back together again from scratch if he had to. Like a car, like any puzzle.
They'd come prepared for breaking and entering on all fronts, and cutting the glass and setting it aside was the last easy thing they did the rest of the night.
It took forty minutes to disassemble the bastard and get it out to the car safely. Not a single piece dropped or scratched, history spread out over the backseat and in the trunk. No one saw them, or if they did they didn't care. After all, who the hell steals an old lighthouse lens?
Dean thought about 400 pounds of stupid lighthouse lens, one fifth of a ton, and looked at the stairs of the lighthouse and wondered if it was too late to just ask Sam to run him over again.
It was Sam who did the majority of the lifting, finally, trying to do it without suggesting why, without taking things away. It was long, annoying, dirty work, and even with the thing laid out on the floor of the top of the lighthouse they were only half done. They had to kill the existing light and hope no one needed it, hope no one noticed it was off, hope no one came looking.
"Oh bullshit," Dean said, leaning against the far wall and staring out at the lights of nearby homes from the windows. "I'll goddamn barricade us in here and they'll have to drag me out with a SWAT team."
Sam shook his head. "You've been dreaming of that for years."
"I'm a man of simple wishes, Sammy," Dean said, purposely not looking at Sam when he said it because Sam's eyes in the dark carried a faint moonstone glow. "Help me get the base up there and I'll put it back together."
Sam handed him piece after piece from the floor, working by flashlight and feel, and somehow it seemed easier to put back together then it had been to take apart. Maybe the thing knew it was home. It was after one by the time Sam poured regular lamp oil into the thing and lit it -
"Sonofa - " Dean started to say, but before Sam could try again there was a whump and red light flooded the room, too bright to look at after working so long in pale handheld light.
They descended the stairs and circled around to the very edge of the breakwater, watching crimson light spread out over the water. They didn't necessarily expect anything to happen; they were taking a chance on what seemed like a logical progression. They'd probably never know what exactly had happened with the last post-keeper, and that wasn't so hard for Dean to take, as long as Sam got away.
It was Sam who saw it first; Dean was facing the right side of the breakwater, scanning the dark lake for anything, watching the shore, and Sam watched a twenty foot section of water to the north begin to bulge upward as if pushed. It was only feet from his side of the breakwater, and he stared without saying anything. There was no sound; the water didn't cascade down and away from the apex. It kept rising in place as if it was a single solid sheet of material.
When bright crimson started spilling downward out of the top of the lighthouse rather than shining out into the air, Dean watched it slide to the rocks and spread out. When he turned to get Sam's attention, he was just in time to watch the water close over his brother's head as Sam stepped off the breakwater.
Dean's feet slipped in the rocks as he ran for the edge, meaning to go right into the water after him. He got as close as the spot where he'd used a foot to shove an area of gravel into the water the day before when he was thrown back by something he couldn't see. When he slammed into the side of the lighthouse, he felt and heard those cracked ribs break. When he could see something besides stars again, he dug his hands into the gravel and tried to push himself back to his feet, wheezing this time, realizing it was more than having the breath knocked out of him that was causing it. He'd collapsed a lung before, and if he was really unlucky...
His throat clogged and he coughed. The blood would have been bright red if it hadn't been dark, if the only light to see by hadn't already been red. Yep, he was unlucky. Pieces of rib in all the wrong places.
The moment his blood hit the rocks, the light surrounding him pooled away from the point of contact, leaving an absence as if it couldn't tolerate the sign of life.
He made it to his knees and finally to his feet, but he'd have crawled to the water if he had to, he'd get Sam back out however he could. He never thought Sam is all I have. In his head it became Sam is a lot to have and all I really need. It was no problem to get to the water even if his vision was narrowing to a point and he was drowning on dry land, drowning in his own blood because Sam was going to drown too if he didn't do something, and he fell to his knees and put his hands into the water without realizing that he was bleeding freely from mouth and nose, bleeding right into the water.
The dome of water flattened suddenly and inverted, concave instead of convex, and Sam broke the surface feet away with a desperate, grateful gasp, face tilted to the sky. He was aware enough to want to get the hell out of the water, to want to get to Dean, and when he surged forward and gripped Dean's forearms, the world went red.
The entire top of the lighthouse burst outward into the dark, a gestalt of violent red light and glass spinning in all directions, showering them, pattering into the water, bright sharp noises on the stones. The topmost brass fitting of the lens, clocking in at 30 pounds on its own, missed Dean by inches.
They left nothing behind but glass and blood on the gravel.
When Dean awoke in the hospital, he was already pissed off.
First off: hospital. Dammit.
Second, ow. He had nothing left that didn't hurt except maybe one big toe.
Third but something that rapidly became foremost: hello, where was Sam? He remembered Sam getting out of the water and nothing else.
He took inventory and realized he was hooked up to a pulse monitor and an IV and nothing else. That was good, that meant it wasn't all that bad, and thank God no catheter, because no need to go into how bad that was. His ribs had been set and from what he could tell without pulling all the bandaging off, someone had been in there repairing the lung.
The sitting up thing didn't work at first, so he laid there and thought about escape. He was in a double room and the other bed was empty. His clothes were probably in the floor-to-ceiling cupboard in the corner. He would suck it up, pull the damn IV out, get dressed and find Sam. They had to get back onto whatever was going on and keep Sam from turning into a boo-boo.
He'd count to three. It wasn't that bad. He'd had worse. One. Two.
"Knock it off," Sam said from the doorway.
Dean relaxed and glared as Sam came in, pulled up a chair and straddled it backwards. "What the - "
Sam shut him up by raising a hand, palm outwards, fingers spread. Perfectly normal. His fingers and nails no longer looked like anything but his own. He didn't smile or comment.
"Then why the hell is your hair still white at the roots," Dean said, "...if we broke whatever it was?"
"Because you scared me pretty goddamn bad by trying to die on me," Sam said. He still wasn't smiling. "It'll grow out. Or I'll dye it. Whatever that was all about, it was mostly the light. I don't know what the last keeper did - and right now I don't really care - but it was something between him and the light and the water."
Dean rested his head back on his pillow and stared. "And you," he said.
Sam knew what he was asking for. Dean wanted to know why Sam had gone into the water, wanted to know what had happened to him in the water. The truth was, Sam didn't remember and didn't want to. It just didn't matter. "Not anymore," he said. "You're gonna be here at least another day, so quit trying to figure out how to make a break for it. They had to remove part of one rib."
"I'm missing a rib," Dean said. "Great. Don't fashion models have that done on purpose so they can have a longer waist?"
"You get that from watching Oprah?" Sam said.
Dean ignored him. "Did you ask for it? I wanna keep it."
Sam blinked. How the hell did he not see that coming? "They don't let you keep body parts, Dean, even if they're your own."
"Hang it from the rearview," Dean said, staring at the ceiling. "Dude, imagine."
"No thanks," Sam said.
They were both quiet for a long moment. Then Dean said, "What did you tell them?"
The ER staff. "I said you were hitchhiking too close to the road and I hit you," Sam said.
Dean wanted to laugh but that was just not going to work, pain-wise. Plus, he'd already made Sam think he was funny at least once that week. "I wanna press charges."
"Shut up," Sam said. "I'm covering your bill out of guilt and the goodness of my heart."
"Aw," Dean said. "Did you offer to give me a replacement rib, too?"
"I asked them to check your jaw because I was pretty sure it was broken and needed to be wired shut," Sam said. "I'm a man of simple wishes."
Dean shook his head a little. "At least it wasn't a Wendigo. I hate those damn things."
Two days later Sam mandated that Dean wasn't allowed to drive or decide where they were going, and he wasn't going to do more than sit around and stay doped up. Sam found a half decent place in Elgin to hole up for a week. Dean demanded tabloids and Pop Tarts. Sam brought him both, and shared. 'Bat Boy' was still apparently giving advice to world leaders and Jesus had been seen in Idaho again.
So obviously, all was right with the world.