With a hard punch on the shoulder Sam was startled awake, a crick in his neck and the right side of his face feeling numb from the way he'd ended up sleeping against the window. Guns N' Roses was Dean's current choice of driving music as Axl Rose's voice came from the dashboard speakers, singing about knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door. They clearly weren't on the interstate anymore, Sam realized, after blinking the sleep from his eyes to see that they were going down the main street of a fairly large town, shops lining either side of the road with carefully planned and up kept foliage dotting the sidewalk, trees that were turning orange and red with the season.
"Check it out," Dean said, pointing further down the road to a commons with picnic tables, children sitting down to paint faces on their treasured pumpkins. "Remember when I told you Jack O'Lanterns got their faces from little boys who didn't share their Halloween candy with their big brothers? You cried every time we saw one for a week."
"I remember I found an animation spell; you screamed like a girl when you got home and found that there was a talking pumpkin on your pillow." Sam stretched his arms as far as he could reach until he felt his shoulders pop. "Dad was so pissed."
"Yeah, at me." Sam could see his brother's scowl reflected in the driver's side window. "You enchant a vegetable, it eats my sheets, and I get stuck waiting in the car when dad had just started letting me help out."
Sam looked at Dean evenly, thinking he couldn't be serious. "A pumpkin is a fruit - you said vegetable." Dean was still staring, looking miffed. "Will you watch the road? And it's not like dad actually let you kill anything. You got to carry a duffel bag and hand him weapons." Sam watched Dean drive, saw how suddenly focused on his driving he was, and wondered if Dean's sudden unresponsiveness had to do with bringing up dad or all the things that had happened to Sam that Dean was held responsible for over the years. Sam hadn't even thought of what Dean had taken accountability for until the incident with the Shtriga back in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. That had been hundreds of miles ago. Dean's obvious guilt when he retold what had happened still caught Sam by surprise, often when he least suspected it, like a burst of cold air. Sometimes he could swear he saw it in his brother's eyes, but then Sam would blink, and it was gone. "Where are we, anyway?"
"Got off I-90 about half an hour ago." Sam saw Dean glancing over at him before looking back outside the Impala at a group of road signs they passed - none of which said what town they were in. "Somewhere in Massachusetts. You know how those Salem bitches usually have a hard time staying dead this time of year." Dean gave him a smile that made him seem like he was back to his usual self. "Need to find a gas station and get my baby a refill."
They drove a little further, passing a fire station and a church with more children out front making ghost decorations out of cotton balls and tissue paper before spotting some gas pumps behind an auto parts store further along. Sam fished through the glove box for a credit card as Dean pulled up to the pump, making a snide remark about the price of gas and how glad he was that they weren't really paying for it. He's looking out the window across the street as he turned off the engine, removing the key to look down the front seat at Sam. "What kind of Podunk town doesn't have a convenience store at the gas station?"
"Podunk towns that have supermarkets across the street?" Sam offered, full-well knowing that Dean bringing it up at all was his way of trying to get Sam to volunteer to find them some snacks and, Sam would guess, a cup of coffee. "What do you want?"
"Roast beef sandwich and the largest coffee money can buy." They got out of the Impala simultaneously, Sam making sure to grab his wallet because Dean definitely wouldn't be paying for his own food as well as his Treo should his brother call, deciding he wanted more food or a scratch ticket or whatever other random impulse he might succumb to. "None of that shitty flavored coffee, and it better be black this time."
Sam just started walking across the street, waving his hand at Dean dismissively. After Chicago Dean had been running on autopilot for a while and didn't respond until Sam had intentionally over sweetened his coffee to try and get a rise out of him. It usually worked, doing something to an item of Dean's. He responded better to inanimate objects than he did to people, and Sam had grown used to sabotaging something of his brother's to get him to react.
Halfway across the street, Sam spotted a deli about a quarter mile down the street and headed off in that direction instead. The sandwiches there would be fresher than the supermarket ones that always had soggy bread, and he bet the coffee would be better, too. There was a decent amount of people crowding the sidewalk, people going in and out of the various shops or just peering in the windows. Navigating around the clusters was easy enough for Sam on his long legs, and soon he was outside the deli, delighted to see that it was crowded, so the selection must be good if it was so popular. Sam got in the line and waited for his turn to order.
There was a twinge in his head, a slight pain right behind the eyes like often preceded one of his visions, and suddenly it was on him, enveloping Sam in pain and darkness before he had time to get out of the deli and away from all those people. He was subconsciously aware of the sensation of falling, of hands grasping at his shoulders, voices asking him of he was all right, and then he wasn't aware of anything.
"This is John Winchester. If this is an emergency, call my son Dean: 866-907-3235."
Dean disconnected the call before hearing the beep. He had been the one that told their father he couldn't come with them, that he was stronger on his own, but Dean had been half lying. They'd hunted together for years with no problems, leaving Dean to suspect that John's sudden vulnerability had to do with Sam. He'd been hoping, though, that even though he told his father to leave he'd start answering his phone again. That apparently wasn't the case.
He'd been done filling the tank for a while, taking advantage of being near an auto shop to wash the windshield, wipe the dust off the dashboard, and buff the scuff marks off the hood. Sam still wasn't back yet, and he'd left almost half an hour ago. He reached for his phone, and like it had read his mind, it started to ring. The unfamiliar number on the display in place of Sam's name as he'd been expecting drew a slight frown. "Yeah?"
"Hi, my name's Sophia. Is this Dean?"
He couldn't remember a Sophia being mentioned in the list of phone numbers in John's journal. Dean also couldn't remember ever having met a Sophia that he might have intentionally or accidentally given his number to. She sounded kind of cute, though. "Why yes it is. What can I do for you?"
"I was actually trying to get in touch with your father..."
"You aren't the only one," Dean muttered under his breath.
"...and his voicemail directed me to your number."
"Did you get the number because of a job he did for you?" Dean was hoping there was a returned poltergeist that needed taking care of. It'd be a cakewalk after those Daevas in Chicago.
"Uh, no," Sophia laughed, and to Dean it sounded forced, uncomfortable. "I got the number from your brother's Palm."
There was a clenching sensation in his gut. "Excuse me?" Who was this chick and how the hell did she get Sam's Treo? Dean hoped she wasn't another demon-possessed girl his brother had come across. Sam had a knack for attracting trouble, which would be impressive if it wasn't always really deep, life-threatening trouble.
"I'm sorry, I should have said something before. I'm a nurse at Mercy Medical, and we just admitted your brother."
Dean tried to swallow only to discover that his mouth had gone dry. Sam had seemed perfectly fine, and Dean couldn't think of any natural reason for him to be at the hospital, which made Dean wonder if it was a supernatural attack of some sort. "Is he okay?"
"It sounds like he blacked out. One of our doctors was there on lunch break and drove him down. He hasn't regained consciousness yet, but he seems perfectly healthy. Has anything like this happened before?"
"No," Dean said after a moment, thinking of all the things they'd encountered that could render a person unconscious, or the countless spells that could be performed with the same result. "Can I come see him?"
"Yes, of course. I didn't realize you were in-state; I didn't recognize the area code."
"Me 'n Sam were on a, ah, road trip. We needed to stop for gas, so he went across the street to get food." Dean looked up the road for a street sign, finding the address written on the bank next door. "I'm on Armory Street across from the supermarket. Which way is the hospital?"
"You're going to want to take a right onto Armory so you're traveling southeast. There's a park and after that a large intersection where you want to take another right onto 20A, which is Carew Street, where the hospital is. I'll wait for you at the front desk, Dean."
"Right. Thanks." Dean hung up the phone hurriedly, not caring if he was being rude. Nurses had to deal with frantic family members all the time, so he doubted ending the call short had fazed her. His brother was in the hospital. Sam was in the hospital because Dean had wanted a roast beef sandwich and a cup of coffee. If it wasn't arcade games, it was caffeine and food. Dean pulled onto Armory Street so quickly that the tires squealed in protest, earning him nervous looks from the pedestrians nearby.
The hospital wasn't hard to get to considering there were signs for it at every intersection, no matter how minor, he drove by. Once he turned onto Carew Street, Dean started following the signs that were for visitor parking, which actually took him behind the hospital. He pulled into the nearest open space, trying to hurry but at the same time not wanting to dent the Impala's bumper by being in too much of a rush to fully avoid the tank of an SUV parked next to him. Inside the hospital there were more arrows for him to follow, bringing him down a flight of stairs to a large, oval desk in the middle of a room where a lot of people were waiting to be seen. Inside the oval were a handful of nurses and a couple doctors rushing around and looking busy as well as one girl sitting quietly with a chart in her hands. He'd pictured her blonde for some reason, but her hair was red, and as her brown eyes settled on Dean's, she must have known who he was because they took on that sympathetic look that nurses seemed to get formal training in.
"Your brother's on the third floor," she said as she stood and exited the station. "He's awake now and making a point of telling us he feels fine and that nothing happened."
"What exactly happened?" Dean asked as he followed her to and up the stairwell.
"Doctor Farron said Sam was waiting in line one minute and then the next his hand over his face and then he fell to the floor. It could've just been a migraine, but..." They stopped outside a room in the middle of the corridor. The door was shut and through the narrow glass window Dean could see his brother who, to his credit, was looking extremely patient for the situation. "We were wondering if there's a history of brain tumors in your family."
"No," Dean said quickly, thinking how Sophia couldn't be serious. If Sam said he was fine, then he was fine. Dean would just go in, talk to him, and then they'd get out of the damned hospital. After maybe restocking their first aid kits on the way out, of course. Sophia looked at him pointedly for a moment, like maybe she thought he was lying to her, before walking away to let Dean talk to Sam alone.
Sam was certain there were other times when he had been more glad to see Dean, but this was definitely in the top ten. He was on a gurney in an elevator when he regained consciousness, immediately getting barraged by an onslaught of questions on how he felt and what he remembered by the doctor that was with him. He couldn't tell them the truth, couldn't let them submit him to any tests despite how much they press he should get an MRI scan. He could tell Dean, though, and Dean could try to get them to release Sam.
"You gotta get me out of here, man," Sam said as Dean flopped bonelessly into the chair beside his bed.
"What the hell happened to you that I got this cute little nurse asking about cancer?"
"They think something's wrong with my head."
Dean scoffed. "Don't need a medical degree to figure that one out."
Sam looked at his brother pointedly. "I had a vision."
This caused Dean sat up suddenly and rigidly, locking his gaze with Sam's. "They haven't made you black out before."
"Well their still such a new occurrence I think it's difficult to say what's normal when it comes to having one." Sam shrugged. "It was strange, though."
"What did you see?"
Closing his eyes, Sam thought back to the deli, standing in line, perfectly normal, and trying to pull every detail of what happened before he passed out. "It started like the other ones - my head hurt, like behind my eyes, but when I closed them there was nothing there. Usually it's like watching a movie or a slideshow of images, but it was just black. But the pain kept getting worse and then... Well, I woke up here."
There was a knock at the door and Doctor Farron entered, his hands deep in the pockets of his lab coat, with Sophia behind him. She handed Sam's Palm and wallet over to Dean which, Sam suspected, Doctor Farron had taken off of him when he passed out at the deli to know who he was and then to contact Dean. Sam could literally see Dean start to lay on the charm as he stood to greet the doctor, introducing himself with a proffered hand and thanking Doctor Farron for making sure Sam was okay.
"We can't be one hundred percent about your brother's condition without running some tests. Black outs could be harmless, but the cause might also be gravely serious."
Sam found himself mentally agreeing with what the doctor was saying. His visions were caused by something serious, and from the way Dean glanced over at him quickly, Sam could tell he was thinking the same thing. The situation might have been funny if it weren't for the fact that now he had a vision where he didn't see anything and was left worrying over what that might mean.
"I appreciate your concern for Sam, Doctor, I really do, but he's had these spells since he was a kid." Sam's curiosity was piqued to find out what direction Dean was going in with his lie. "See he doesn't do well in tight, enclosed areas - likes his fresh air and personal space." Dean lowered his head, whispering conspiratorially to the doctor but was still loud enough for Sam to hear. "It doesn't help the fact that he's so damn tall." They started to slowly make their way back into the hall, Sam feeling put at ease when Doctor Farron told Sophia to get release papers before apologizing to Dean about causing undue stress about Sam's health before leaving to continue his rounds.
"Am I awesome or what?" Dean asked when he reentered the room. "Seriously, dude, you should be kissing my ass for pulling that one off."
Sam climbed off the bed, happy to stretch his legs and get away from the noxious smell of hospital. "Your affinity for lying never ceases to amaze yet disturb me."
Dean clapped him on the shoulder, steering Sam forcefully towards the door. "Yeah, yeah, hurry it up. You gotta sign something before they're letting you out of here."
A team of doctors and nurses rushed by pushing a cart when they were walking towards the stairwell, Sam and Dean having to press themselves against a wall to get out of the way before being run over. They turned into a room a couple doors down, Sam hearing a beeping alarm sounding from the room as they approached. They watched the nurses monitor various equipment a middle aged woman was attached to as the doctors tried shocking her heart with a defibrillator, but it didn't seem to be doing anything.
Sam knew they shouldn't be standing there, but he couldn't seem to tear his gaze away, the beeping starting to give him a headache that made him bring a hand up to massage his temples.
"Come on, Sam," Dean said, hand gripping his upper arm to pull him along. "Don't need to see that."
At the front desk down on the first floor, Sam had to present his ID and medical insurance as well as sign his name in every spot they marked with an X, the gist of it basically saying how he came in, that he didn't let them run any tests, that the hospital was not reliable should his symptoms that caused admission worsen due to lack of treatment, and that Sam couldn't sue Doctor Farron because he had been going against medical advice. Sam handed the forms back to the admissions nurse, a nod telling him that he was all set to leave before she moved on to the next patient.
They had to go back up a floor since Dean had parked on the second level of the garage. Sam's mind kept going back to the woman whose heart had stopped beating, wondering if the doctors had managed to save her or if she died as Sam had been signing his name on dotted lines. He saw Dean looking at him like he was reading his mind. "Why'd you need to watch that?"
"I don't know," Sam replied, running his fingers through his hair. "I couldn't look away, like something was holding me there until you grabbed my arm. Did it seem normal to you?"
"What? You wanting to watch that woman die? Yeah, man, that was weird."
"That's not what I meant," Sam said, reaching the top of the steps and feeling a wave of relief at the site of the pair of automatic doors that separated him from outside. He hated hospitals, even though he wasn't really sick, but the last time they'd been in one outside of a hunt was when the doctor had told Sam that Dean was going to die from the damage to his heart. It wasn't an experience Sam liked being reminded of.
The automatic doors slide to the sides for Sam and Dean to pass through, and Sam blinked suddenly at the pain he felt, seeing the sky swirling around above him then in front of him, Dean's emphatic cursing echoing through Sam's head before darkness enveloped him once more.
If someone inside the hospital hadn't seen Sam's collapse they could have gotten away with anyone knowing better, but to Dean's and even more so Sam's misfortune, a group of interns had shown up for their shift, one rushing inside to get a wheelchair as the others ran preliminary tests on Sam. Dean could guess that it was the visions again, which made the situation a little funny as they checked Sam for signs of a concussion. They had to readmit Sam, the nurse Sophia giving Dean a disapproving glance like it was somehow his fault. Dean knew he couldn't lie again, pass it off as claustrophobia, so while the doctors were present he needed to pretend to be seriously concerned for his brother's health, letting them do the damn MRI scan when they started threatening to have security remove Dean from the premises for potentially harming Sam.
Dean didn't have the heart to tell them that he would never hurt his brother so they should shove it with the accusations.
He was in the cafeteria taking advantage of free coffee and cookies when nurses sat at the table behind him, talking about a patient that had died earlier in the afternoon. It didn't interest Dean at all until they mentioned the room number, which had been the one down the hall from Sam's room that they'd seen. They talked about how unusual it was that the woman had died, how the autopsy reported it was a heart attack, but she was so young and healthy and had been preparing for orthopedic surgery on her knee. A lot of what they talked about didn't mean anything to Dean, but he knew that it was odd enough for the medical staff to be confused, and Sam had said as much before passing out in the parking lot.
Going back to the Impala, Dean grabbed the journal, laptop, and a container of rock salt - just in case. He went and sat in Sam's room even though his brother was still out of it. The hospital room was the only place he could get some real privacy, and it would probably be awhile before they came to talk to Dean about the results of whatever they poked and prodded Sam with. Dean knew Sam would be pissed when he woke up and found out, but it wasn't like it was Dean's fault that he collapsed again. Now all they could do was wait it out until the doctors saw that there was nothing medically wrong with Sam.
Pleased that he was able to pick up an Internet connection from within the hospital, Dean started researching the hospital and its history. The hospital had been around since 1873, which was a good, long amount of history talking about how the hospital was originally a mission founded by nuns that Dean didn't feel interested in reading. He went back to the search page, scrolling through the results to see mostly hospitals with the same name in different parts of the country, until one link caught his eye. It was a news article from three years ago - a fifteen year old girl had died of a heart attack while recovering from having her tonsils removed and the parents decided to sue for malpractice when they learned that two other patients had died in odd circumstances that month. There was a large monetary settlement and the law suit was never mentioned again.
Searching the local newspaper's website resulted in stories about multiple other deaths in similar veins from the hospital. Every three years in October, three people inexplicably died in the hospital, and Dean was willing to bet that all of these people had been in rooms on the same floor, if not the same exact room. The strict following of patterns and the repetition of three made it apparent to Dean that there was a malevolent spirit in the hospital, and he had to either find it and kill it, or it was going to kill two more people this month before resting for a few more years.
Dean put the computer away, needing to get up and move around, possibly go dig through hospital records and look up the files on the people that died, pocketing the scrap of paper he had written the names down on. "I'll be back, Sammy," he said softly, knowing his brother was fine but still not liking the sight of him unconscious and slightly paler than normal. "I hope you wake up soon because damn do I have something to tell you." Dean saw movement out of the corner of his eye and saw Sophia standing in front of the door either waiting to talk to Dean or check on Sam.
"I heard the MRI was clean but we're still waiting on the blood that was drawn." She was back to giving him the sympathetic nurse look, traces of the disapproval from earlier completely gone. "They probably won't be done until sometime tomorrow, so he'll need to spend the night. I know the two of you aren't from around here. Is there someplace you're staying at?"
"We were just driving through," Dean said, really hoping they wouldn't kick him out of the hospital. It was only a matter of time before more people died, the spirit not seeming to care which days of the month it happened or how much time passed between deaths, as long as it happened at all. It made him even less happy knowing that Sam was still unconscious, defenseless, on the third floor where people liked to die without being sick.
"I could talk to someone about staying with your brother if you'd like."
Dean gave Sophia his most winning smile. "That would be great." She blushed slightly, turning to leave, but Dean was grabbed by an impulse to see if she might know anything before she took off. "This might be a, ah, strange request but I'm worried about Sam, and I need something to distract my mind."
Sophia's apprehension was thinly shielded. "What is it?"
"I have this...hobby. Collecting local legends, ghost stories, whatever. Fascinates me to see how long people pass these traditions on for. I was wondering if you knew any for the area or maybe even the hospital."
Dean's watched at the nurse looked distinctively at the room where the woman had died earlier before looking at Dean. "No, I'm sorry, I don't. I only just started working here. Maybe Pam will know - she's the head nurse and has worked here for almost thirty years." The smile Sophia gave him before walking away didn't reach her eyes, and Dean noticed that her pace seemed to quicken when she passed on particular room.
Waking up in a hospital for the second time in a day did not make Sam happy. It made him even less happy to see the IV sticking out of his arm and the fact that his clothes had been traded at some point for looser hospital attire. At least they didn't put him in a gown - he'd never have heard the end of it from Dean. Dean who wasn't in the room but evidence that he had been at some point was on the bedside table. Sam swung his body around so his legs hung off the edge of the bed, pulling the IV stand into his right hand so it wouldn't pull at his arm when he tried getting up.
It was dark in the hallway with every few lights dimmed down to a dull glow, like the entire third floor just shut down for the night and no one stuck around to monitor them as they rested. Sam saw a light coming from under a door further down the hall, but it just turned out to be the stairwell. He looked at the IV, contemplating carrying it downstairs to find someone or keep meandering the hall until he came across the elevator, when he felt the hairs on his neck stand up and a sensation like a cool breeze. He looked up to see the bulb overhead flickering on and off erratically, turning around and seeing that all the lights were doing the same thing.
Sam started towards the nurses' station in the middle of the corridor, figuring it would have a phone to get in touch with a station on a different floor that would have people at it. He wanted to know why he was still at the hospital, where his clothes went, and if he someone could remove the IV because it was making his arm itch. And where the hell was Dean? He reached the station and went to grab the phone but the black monitor of a computer caught his eye. It was reflecting the direction he had just come from, and it looked like there was someone walking towards him, but the image was too small to tell much else. Sam turned quickly to see a woman in a nurse's uniform, and when he blinked, she was gone. The hand that suddenly grabbed his forearm caused Sam to jump, spinning to confront whatever had grabbed him only to be greeted with the smirking face of his brother.
"Hey, Sammy," Dean said, clearly amused by Sam's reaction. "Who's your date?"
"So you saw her too?" Sam looked back at where he saw the nurse, but she was gone.
"Whoa, dude, I'm talking about this thing." He slapped at the IV bag. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"A woman was standing there one second and the next she was gone. I told you something weird was going on here!"
"I think your visions were telling you about something supernatural. Instead of showing you what was happening, though, it made you go where you needed to be. I don't think you'll be able to leave without blacking out until we take care of this spirit. I've been doing some digging around... You actually seeing her proved it. Come on," Dean walked passed him, Sam noticing one of the rock salt pistols sticking out of the back of his brother's jeans. He didn't even want to ask how Dean had managed to get a gun in and then walk around with it so no one would notice or be suspicious. "We need to salt your room, then we can talk."
Sam crawled back into the bed as Dean opened the duffle bag to remove the journal and a container of salt. He tossed the journal at Sam and then walked over to the walls, proceeding to form a ring around the room. "Was she wearing a nurse's uniform?" Dean asked as he worked.
"Yeah, an older one - was wearing white scrubs and one of those pointy hats." Dean continued pouring salt without even looking at Sam. "So...?"
"I'm guessing we got here a Blue Nurse. It's in there." Dean was pointing in the general direction of the journal, so Sam opened it and started to leaf through the pages.
The Blue Nurse entry was on a piece of paper that had been ripped out from later in the journal and was taped and folded below the Woman in White page, almost like it was an addendum. From the sound of what had been written, a Blue Nurse was a variation on the Woman in White, but instead of being driven into a rage by her husband's infidelity, a Blue Nurse fell in love with a patient who then died. The grief usually drove her to suicide, but the spirit would be too mournful to pass, instead choosing to stay and inflict pain on others. Inserted in the journal in Dean's distinctive scrawl was a list of twenty three names with dates going back to 1982.
"Who are all these people?"
"Most recent was the woman who died earlier today. I did some digging through the records - the hospital has every single patient ever logged into the computer. Three people die every three years in October for no discernible reason. The last name is the one I think is doing it. Looks like she killed herself at the hospital, and they kept a file since they tried to revive her, but it was too late. I only figured out it was her because someone stuck an old newspaper clipping in there about her death and how she'd worked at the hospital." Sam watched his brother, quietly impressed with all the work Dean obviously had to do to dig up the information. Dean must have noticed Sam looking at him because he took on a sheepish grin. "What else was I supposed to do? Sit here and watch you sleep?"
"So Ruth Jacobs committed suicide in 1982 then, starting three years later, killed three people every three years in October. Did she kill herself on the third floor?"
"I think the patient she had a thing for died on the third floor, too. She was still bleeding out when another nurse found her and tried to save her."
"You think it's just unfinished business or are we going to have to figure out where they buried her to salt and burn the bones?"
"That's what bedridden little brothers are for. You get to look up all those names and see if there's a connection while I try to get some facts out of someone in this damn hospital. You'd think a ghost that's losing them patients and causing law suits would be one they'd want to get rid of." Sam saw that Dean had finished the circle and didn't feel like asking how he was going to explain it to the nurses and doctors - hospitals were supposed to be sterile, and Sam doubted they'd let a thick ring of salt on the floor slide. "The laptop's in the bag - you're gonna need it."
"Where are you going?" Sam asked as Dean stepped gingerly over the salt line.
"I gotta go get some nurses to open up," Dean said with a wink before disappearing out the door.
He found Sophia on the fifth floor changing out sheets on the hospital beds. She stopped in the threshold of the doorway when she saw Dean waiting outside, pausing to look at him evenly before continuing to the next room. "I think you should leave me alone."
"I think you were lying to me before," Dean countered. "You know there's something going on in this hospital. People died when they didn't need to."
"This is a hospital." Her tone was clipped. "People die here all the time when they don't need to."
"Not usually because of a nurse who killed herself twenty years ago."
Sophia readjusted the bundle of sheets in her arms. "That's just a story they like to tell in pediatrics this time of year to try and scare the children a little, help them have some Halloween spirit even if they can't go trick or treating outside. Ruth Jacobs did work here, she did love a patient who died and kill herself, but that's it. There's no such thing as ghosts, especially ones that kill people, or whatever you think is happening here."
"What about the third floor?" Dean asked, stabbing at the air with a clenched fist. "The equipment outside the patient rooms is shut off, the hallway is dark, and there's not a single staff member - doctor, nurse, janitor, no one - to be seen. Afraid of something that goes bump in the night?"
"You should go back to your brother's room," Sophia said, stopping in the hallway and lowering her voice to a whisper. "You're allowed to stay passed visiting hours, but that doesn't mean you get free range of the hospital."
Hands on his hips, Dean watched her leave, restraining himself from kicking the wall for a count of five before the toe of his boot made impact - twice. This was the part he hated, the part when people denied what was going on, or just flat out lied to him. Dean liked to think he was a damn good liar, which made it all the easier for him to tell when he was being lied to. It was just a matter of time before someone else died, the hospital strangely comfortable with keeping Ruth Jacobs' spirit a secret. Dean kicked the wall again for good measure.
"Excuse me!" Dean rolled his eyes, turning to see a security guard that had just come out of the stairwell and was quickly approaching him. "You need to go back downstairs - can't have you bothering people trying to do their jobs."
Dean was tempted to counter that Sophia was keeping him from doing his job, as well, but the rent a cop was hardly worth his time. "All right, I'm going." If it weren't for the fact that Sam seemed stuck in the hospital until they took care of the malevolent spirit, Dean wouldn't be forced to play along, but he couldn't do anything that would end in Dean getting escorted outside. The guard was walking right behind him, following him back down to the stairs and presumably the third floor to Sam's room, when Dean heard the distinctive slide of metal on leather. "Son of a bitch," he swore, raising his hands in the air. The dead weight of the gun in the back of his pants was so familiar that he'd forgotten it was there. He doubted he'd be able to get this guy to forget about it, though, as he held the gun at Dean with shaky hands and a twitchy trigger finger.
"Slowly hand over the gun." Reaching down slowly with one hand, Dean's fingers wrapped around the handle of the pistol, pulling it up and away from his torso, the guard snatching it by the slide the second it cleared the waist of his jeans. Dean pressed his lips together as he heard the guard radio in a code, telling the front desk to call the police. "What were you planning on doing with this, huh?"
Dean twisted his head around, looking at the guard and then passed him to Sophia who stood in the middle of the hallway seemingly frozen by what was happening. He was slammed roughly against the wall, wincing slightly as the side of his face made contact with the cool, hard surface, but humans seemed fairly weak as of late with all the ghosts and demons that felt the need to throw Dean around like their own personal plaything. "There's something in this hospital killing people!" he yelled, more for Sophia to hear than the guard. "They know about it and people are dying because they're too damn stubborn to say anything!"
"You're the one in here with the gun, pal."
The guard seemed a little unnerved when Dean chuckled darkly. "That thing can't kill anybody - it just hurts like a bitch, for the living and otherwise. You can shoot me with it if you want. Come on, free shot, and I won't hold it against you." He felt the handcuffs snap around his wrists and then tighten, allowing the guard to pull Dean along by the arms in what he knew was his last shot to get Sophia to listen. "Two more people are going to die this month, Sophia, and you know it. It's Ruth Jacobs! Ruth Jacobs!"
"That's just a story," the guard commented as he dragged Dean down the stairs. "There's no ghost in the hospital - people just die."
Famous last words, Dean thought, as they entered the main floor lobby, two police officers already there waiting. He figured Sam could more than handle it until he got back, but that didn't mean Dean had to like it. He doubted the salt ring was still intact, but as long as security hadn't searched Sam's room, he had another one of the rock salt loaded pistols. Right now Dean needed to figure out how to escape police custody so they wouldn't keep going back to the hospital and bringing him in, and the only way that seemed likely was to figure out a way to kill it and get the hell out of town before they noticed he was missing.
Sam better have been working on a plan because they sure as hell needed one.
His regain of consciousness meant that Doctor Farron took the IV out of his arm. Sam supposed it was nutrients since they didn't know how long it would be before Sam could eat under his own power again. It was easier to type now without it, but that didn't necessarily mean the research was getting anywhere. There was just no discernible way that the people who had died were connected aside being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Woman in White spirits tended to kill men who had cheated on their girlfriends as had happened to the Woman in White while she was alive, but the Blue Nurse didn't seem to follow such a pattern when it came to her victims. This wasn't even one of those cases where the spirit had unfinished business - Ruth Jacobs would have tried to contact more people, leave clues as to what she wanted in order to pass on. Sam had only actually seen her once, and that was hours ago.
Sam had tried walking around to try and talk to people, see if they knew anymore details about the suicide than the newspaper article gave, but no one offered up answers, just told him he shouldn't be waking around and that he needed to go back to his room, which he followed because even though Sam knew he wasn't really sick, there was no telling when his visions would make him black out again. The last time he had just put a foot out the door when it happened - maybe as the situation got more urgent he'd be confined to the third floor and eventually just his room.
No further clues about Ruth Jacobs meant there was two things they could do - salt and burn the bones or get her spirit to cross over hallowed ground. Hospitals usually had a chapel, but it wasn't on the third floor, and it seemed evident that she never wandered the rest of the building. Research wasn't turning up where the body had been buried, and there were at least a dozen cemeteries in the town alone. Ruth Jacobs might not have even been buried here if she had lived in one of the neighboring towns or had a family elsewhere in the country that buried her where she'd grown up.
Something moved in his peripheral vision, making Sam's arm to tense and reach subconsciously for the handgun Dean had left for him in the duffle bag that he was now keeping under his pillow. It was just Doctor Farron passing Sam's room, though, attention buried in a chart that he was flipping through. Sam released his grip on the pistol, picking up the journal instead of the computer to look at the name's Dean had written down, but he felt like he'd read them so many times, hoping the visions would kick in and show him a connection, that he could recite them all by heart.
A flickering light made Sam reach for the gun again, a scream from down the hall making him jump out of bed to find its source. The scream came again, and Sam saw doctors and nurses rushing towards the same room, all of them freezing in the doorway, faces wide with shock, and falling completely silent as same could start to distinguish a woman's voice crying for help. The patient in the room was male and comatose, clearly not the source of the distress as the heart monitor beeped monotonously. Sophia was in the doorway that led to the bathroom, clinging to the doorframe as the spirit of Ruth Jacobs flickered before her. Sam pushed through the people crowded in the doorway, hearing some gasp as he brought the gun up, aiming and yelling for Sophia to get down before firing. The spirit recoiled from the rock salt coursing through her, facing Sam with a snarl as he fired twice more before she vanished completely.
"What the hell was that?" Doctor Farron asked, being the first one to recover from the shock of what he'd seen.
Sam was about to respond when Sophia answered for him. "Ruth Jacobs... It's the ghost of Ruth Jacobs."
"That's just a story," a resident Sam didn't know said, clearly confused. "Isn't it?"
"You just saw her, didn't you?" Another voice spoke up, which sent the group into an argument over what exactly they'd seen and what they should do about it. Sam ignored them, crossing the room to make sure Sophia was okay.
"I'm so sorry," she said as Sam crouched down in front of her. "I didn't want to believe it."
"I don't want to either sometimes," he admitted, even though in the grand scheme of things, when it came to the supernatural, malevolent spirits were the least of their problems. "It's possible to stop her, though, and then she'll be gone for good."
"Your brother tried to get me to listen, but I didn't want to hear it. I paged security, and they saw his gun... I didn't mean for him to get arrested, but I didn't know he had it."
The fact that Sam hadn't seen Dean in the last couple hours suddenly made sense. They should just have him in the station holding cell, and if Sam just told Sophia to call the police station and drop her charges, say there was a mistake, they'd let him go. Sam was certain they had fake licenses somewhere that permitted them to carry the guns around. Dean had been undercover and Sophia just didn't know...maybe.
A phone started to ring at the nurses' station, signaling to the doctors and nurses that they should get back to work as the group slowly dispersed. One returned to the room, knocking politely on the door. "Are you Sam?" he asked. At his silent nod, the nurse said that the phone call was for him.
"There's no point in you having the damn thing if you're not gonna answer it," his brother's voice came through the line, sounding a little annoyed.
"I had a Ruth Jacobs problem that needed to be dealt with. How did you get this phone number?"
"Took a guess than when Sophia called and said you were at the hospital that she called from the station near your room. The dude that answered didn't recognize your name, but he recognized the 'tall, gangly kid with passing out tendencies' description."
"Thanks, Dean," Sam said wryly, able to imagine the smirk on his brother's face. Lowering his voice, Sam asked, "So what did you do, break out?"
"Yeah... It'll be a while before they notice I'm missing, though. They're going to be pretty damn confused when they search my fingerprints in the database for me to turn up listed as deceased. I think we should take care of Ruthie down at the hospital and be out of here before they get on my tail."
"I think I just got an idea," Sam said, spotting the crucifix hanging around the neck of a doctor that was walking by. "We can't get her to hallowed ground, so what if we bring hallowed ground to her?"
"It's worth a try if you think it'll work," Dean replied, and Sam could hear him swallow heavily through the line. "But first I found out something that you're gonna want to hear."
"Nice hat," Sam commented as Dean shut the door behind him and drew the blinds so no one could see in. It was a navy blue baseball cap that at least half the town's populace seemed to be wearing, so Dean borrowed one from a shop he'd passed on the way back to the hospital, using it to blend in more and shield his face should the police notice he was missing sooner than he wanted them to.
"Yeah, too bad no one would believe us if we told them that the curse had been real." Dean pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket and handed it to Sam, watching the wrinkles on his forehead get deeper and deeper as he read what Dean had printed at the police station. He had been pushing his luck breaking into police records instead of getting away from the building quickly after breaking out of the holding cell, but what he had found was worth it, and he had a feeling that Sam wouldn't have believed him without seeing it for himself.
"The demon killed Ruth Jacobs?" Sam was incredulous.
"Sure sounds like it." Dean has read through the police report five times on his walk over, at first not really believing it, either, but as he kept looking at it, the more it made sense. "The nurse that found her said she was bleeding, figured it was a suicide attempt, but the fire alarms had been going off when the police arrived even though there were no signs of fire."
"I thought this was a Blue Nurse."
"Oh, it is. The patient she loved and then died was her son, six months old and in the room on the second floor right below where Ruth died being treated for whooping cough. The nurse had gone looking for Ruth right after the baby died and thought Ruth killed herself because she'd already found out."
"So the demon was killing Ruth when the baby died and then just, what, called it off?"
"Something like that." Dean leaned against the foot of the hospital bed, crossing his arms over his chest. "The problem now is that Ruth Jacobs isn't an ordinary Blue Nurse, and we have no idea why she's killing those people like she is."
"Her death was listed as a suicide. There are a lot of cultures that believe the souls of people who take their own lives are punished by being stuck on this plane of existence instead of passing to the afterlife." Sam folded the paper up, putting it on top of the laptop and their father's journal on the table next to him. "She could be angry that people thought she had killed herself, and it manifested by killing others, people who were perfectly healthy."
Dean found himself thinking back to Lawrence, how their mother's death had been ruled by an accident, but that hadn't driven her to kill anyone. She'd actually helped them, driving out the poltergeist that had been turning into a real pain in the ass. People didn't just become malevolent spirits when they died - there had to be a choice. "Maybe," was all he said to Sam, not daring to betray his thoughts to his brother.
The difference could be that Ruth Jacobs' baby had died. They'd seen a lot of ghosts that were women mourning over lost children, sometimes the mother's own fault and sometimes not.
"Well, a spirit's still a spirit. They all die the same way. What's your idea?"
"I think we can talk to her."
Arching his eyebrow, Dean gave Sam an even look. "You're joking, right?"
"Before I knew this," Sam replied, motioning to the police report, "I thought of a way we might be able to trap her. But now, knowing the circumstances, I think she just wants someone to know what happened - to believe that she didn't kill herself and that something else was to blame for her death."
Dean laughed - he couldn't help himself. Sam's suggestion was so ridiculous that it made Dean wonder what kind of drugs the hospital was giving his brother and where Dean could get his hands on some. Talking to a spirit that had made a habit of killing people over the last twenty four years and was still seeking two more victims as they sat around trying to come up with a plan - yeah, right, that made perfect sense.
"We need to salt the other rooms to make sure Ruth Jacobs doesn't kill anyone first." Dean pushed himself off the bed, going around it to the duffel bag where he had more salt still from what he'd brought in earlier. "They won't let you walk around, though, and I can't be seen here unless I want to be brought back to lock up. You need to go bat those big brown eyes of yours at the right people to get them to drop the charges."
"I'll see what I can do, but the gun won't be easy to get around."
"They drop the charges, we get rid of Ruth Jacobs. Otherwise we just leave and they can have patients keep on dying because of her. Simple as that. You said they saw her attack Sophia. They can't pass it off as a story any longer." Dean started pulling the salt out of the bag, putting it on the table until he found what he was looking for - the other handgun that he'd left with Sam. It was down two shots, but the salt rounds weren't going to kill the spirit anyway. He looked up to see Sam still sitting on the bed staring at him. "Wow, Sammy, you're getting so quick at warming people up that I didn't even see you leave."
Dean watched his brother leave the room with a smirk, nothing to do but wait for Sam to get back with news that the charges had been dropped. He needed to get more gear from the Impala, but if the police had noticed he was gone by now, that would be the first place they'd be keeping an eye out for him. The hospital was slightly safer in that they probably didn't think he was stupid enough to go there.
Fifteen minutes later Sam was back with a triumphant smile on his face, and it was time to get to work.
All the rooms on the floor except for Sam's got salted, the best available method for controlling where Ruth Jacobs could go to bring her to them instead of having them meander the hall in search of her. Sam's room was then salted everywhere except the door - the idea being that when she entered they'd block off the entrance with salt and have her trapped. He didn't know what Dean had to go get out of the car, but Sam just figured it was more salt rounds. Dean had been strangely willing to go with Sam's idea to try and talk to Ruth after he'd returned from getting Doctor Farron to drop the charges, which Sam had found a little strange since Dean had looked at him like he thought he was the biggest idiot on the planet when Sam had first suggested the plan. Sam was doubtful, as well, but if this was a case of unfinished business, he was willing to try. It was no use wasting resources if Ruth Jacobs just wanted people to understand the way she had died.
Sam's hand wrapped around the hilt of the pistol under the pillow as the dimmed hall lights started to flicker. He'd been willing to be the bait this time around, the fact that he'd shot at Ruth's spirit a likely cause for her to come after him willingly. Sam stood slowly, moving the gun to sit in the waistband of his pants before standing and looking around the hospital room. The lights had stopped flickering, but the sensation of cold at the back of his neck was all too familiar. Movement out of the corner of his eye had Sam crossing the room in two quick steps, snatching up the bag of salt that had been left by the door to complete the circle, trapping Ruth Jacobs in the room.
She was standing inside the line of salt by the window when Sam turned around, watching her angle her head at him curiously, dead eyes looking at the half-raised gun in Sam's hands. "Mercy," she said, her voice the breathless whisper spirits always possessed. "They're at my mercy as I was in his." She straightened her head, face becoming dark. "And now you are too."
"No," Sam responded, keeping the gun between him and her. "I know what killed you."
"You don't," she said, steel in her voice, and Sam knew she was right. He knew how she died, he knew it was the demon, but what the demon was, exactly, they hadn't quite figured out yet. "You don't know."
"I know you didn't kill yourself. You were murdered by something strong, something evil, and you aren't the only one it's killed." She took a step towards Sam, which made him back up half a step, mindful to not disturb the salt ring that kept Ruth trapped inside the room. "It's not too late to fix things, to pass on, be with your son." Sam swallowed, fighting the tears as he thought of his own family, at how his father and Dean looked at him when they were forced to remember that Sam never knew his mother. "I'm sure he misses you."
She took another step forward. "You don't know," she repeated, voice lowering to a hiss. "You don't know mercy."
"Stay back or I'll shoot you again," Sam warned, raising the gun so he could look straight down the barrel. She knew it wouldn't kill her, but Sam hoped she realized that the force could be enough to throw her against the ring of salt, which would hurt her a lot more.
"You can't kill what's already dead," she mocked, her laughter raising the hairs on the back of Sam's neck.
"You can't kill what's already dead," she mocked, her laughter raising the hairs on the back of Sam's neck. Ruth took another step forward, and Sam's finger tensed reflexively, hitting her square in the chest with the salt round, causing her body to recoil as she snarled in pain. The ghost recovered and sneered at Sam, taking another step forward for him to shoot her again, this time in the shoulder. Sam watched her twist around, falling backwards before disappearing out of his sight entirely. Sam kept the gun raised, training it around the room as he waiting for her to reappear. He wondered what the hell was taking Dean so long getting whatever it was he needed out of the trunk of the Impala. Talking didn't seem to be working, Ruth Jacobs not experiencing a shred of remorse or guilt for the lives she had taken, not even seeming to have a desire to be reunited with her son.
Something solid snapped downwards at his wrists, causing Sam to grunt in pain as he dropped the gun, Ruth coming back into sight to grab Sam by the shoulders, throwing him against the wall. Sam saw stars when the back of his head connected, barely recovered when he felt himself being dragged to the middle of the room, being pinned to the floor by a knee pressed against his sternum. "Death is nothing to be afraid of," she said, leaning down to speak into his ear, the weight of her crushing Sam's lungs. "It's less painful than being alive."
"Hey!" Sam craned his head back, seeing Dean standing in the doorway, cocking the shotgun as he raised it to Ruth. "I like Sam in pain. Now get the hell off of him." She flickered away and then back to standing near the window as she had been before. Sam rolled to his side, coughing from being able to breathe easily again. He could see Dean's boots as his brother crossed into the circle. "You just had to start the fun without me, didn't you?"
"You know how it is," Sam responded, forcing a smile to his face.
"Boys, boys, boys," Ruth laughed, shaking her head. "When will you learn? A bigger gun won't make any difference."
"Maybe, maybe not. What do you say we find out?" Dean fired the shotgun, hitting Ruth Jacobs in the stomach. She looked at Dean then down at her stomach, clearly confused, before combusting into blue flames and vanishing without a trace. "Holy water, bitch." Sam sat up, letting Dean help pull him to his feet. "You tried talking to her, didn't you?" Sam avoided his brother's questioning gaze, which seemed to be enough of an answer for Dean. "Dude you're such a girl."
The Impala idling in the parking lot, Dean's left arm was hanging out the driver's side window as he tapped against the door with his fingers to the opening guitar solo of Run Like Hell, which was appropriate considering that was precisely what Dean wanted to do once Sam finished signing his release papers...again. He knew the charges had been dropped, but Dean wouldn't be comfortable until there was at least a state between him and this hospital. A shower would be nice, too. It seemed like the distinctive smell of hospital had permeated into his clothes and skin. Antiseptic and sick people weren't exactly what he wanted the upholstery to stink of, either.
Dean looked at the hospital doors, seeing Sam going up the stairs inside to the exit. He chuckled when Sam paused at the threshold, crossing it slowly and heaving a visible sigh of relief when he didn't black out like the last time he'd tried leaving. Dean watched Sam slide himself into the passenger seat, stretching his arm behind the back of the bench and giving Dean an odd look back. "What?"
"Just making sure your visions don't roofie you again." Shifting from park and into drive, Dean put his foot on the gas pedal, eager to finally be putting Mercy Medical in the rearview. "Sure you feel okay?"
"I'm fine," Sam replied, the awkward half-laugh present in his voice that told Dean he really didn't want to be worried over.
They drove through town in silence, Pink Floyd and the purring of the engine filling the void so the quiet wasn't absolute. Dean was having a difficult time digesting what had happened, not exactly Ruth Jacobs and her connection to the demon that had been the bane of his family since Sam was a baby, but the fact that Sam's new abilities could make him do more than see things that hadn't happened yet. There was no way it was a coincidence that Doctor Farron, who worked at Mercy Medical, had been at the deli when Sam's vision hit the first time and caused him the black out. Even worse was the fact that there seemed to be no way for Sam to control it. Dean hoped this latest incident was a one shot deal. They had enough to deal with and worrying about Sam passing out in every new town didn't need to be added on top of everything else.
"Are you okay?" Sam asked once they got on the interstate.
"I'm fine," Dean said, echoing what Sam had said minutes earlier as his left hand slipped subconsciously from the steering wheel into the pocket of his jacket, palming his cell phone and wishing he could talk to John.
"I'm sure Dad's fine, too," Sam added, almost like he knew what Dean was thinking. Almost because that wasn't who Dean was worried about. "So...where are we going? I thought you wanted to check out Salem."
"Nah, I'm done with this state. We'll just go west until we find something or something finds us. It's almost Halloween - that's better than Christmas for people like us." Dean knew Sam hated this time of year for precisely that reason, so he felt like it was his brotherly duty to rub it in. "And the candy goes on sale afterwards, which is almost as good as all the stuff to hunt."
"You're weirded out," Sam accused after a beat.
"I've seen a lot of strange stuff, Sam. Takes a lot to weird me out."
"This is me, though, not something out there," Sam pointed through the windshield, and he had a point. Ghosts and goblins were one thing, but within the family, it was a whole other monster. "So you're weirded out."
"I'm not weirded out. It's just...something I need to get used to." Dean glanced between the road and Sam, knowing his brother well enough to realize something was bothering him for pushing the issue, and Sam had said he was fine, but he clearly wanted to talk about something. "Are you weirded out?"
"Ruth Jacobs..." Sam began, and Dean inwardly rolled his eyes. He knew it. "She was so hell bent on hurting families like the demon had hurt hers that she didn't even care about her son's death. She could've passed on and been with him, but she chose to be angry instead."
"We don't know the whole story. We hadn't read anything about a husband, maybe she didn't want the baby. Or it was her fault he got sick. Hell, some women are just lousy moms and then they become lousy spirits." Sam didn't look to be feeling any better about the situation, but Dean honestly had no idea what to say to him. Not every family was all sunshine and rainbows, and Sam should understand that better than anyone. "What's done is done - nothing will come out of analyzing it."
"Yeah, you're right," Sam agreed, sounding reluctant, but he also sounded like the subject was dropped.
"Of course I am," Dean said, his voice light. "I'm older than you - means I'm always right."
The traffic cleared up the farther Dean drove, and he was perfectly okay with being alone on the road. It meant he could drive as fast as he wanted without some moron getting in the way. Soon enough they had crossed a state line and Mercy Medical with the spirit of Ruth Jacobs was just another completed job, another addition to the list of evil he and Sam had vanquished since Dean had dragged his brother out of that burning house in Stanford so very long ago. Ruth Jacobs had thought she was being merciful by killing those people instead of letting them experience life - life that she had thought was only filled with pain. It made him wonder if his decision had been more merciful, bringing Sam along to keep an eye on him, protect him, instead of leaving him in California to let him put together the pieces of his life that had been broken after Jess's death.
Dean was certain, though, that when he finally did get face-to-face with that demon, he wouldn't be showing any mercy.