He could hear it just outside the abandoned cabin, scraping at the door in the darkness. He turned off his flashlight and waited, realizing in that moment just how small the shack was compared to the outside word, how feeble his brain was compared to the unknown terrors that lurked just outside his skin. His breath exhaled then froze in the air. If the creature didn't get him, hypothermia would.
Dean wanted to shift his position on the hard, freezing floor. He didn't let himself. He bore the physical agony as his mind bore the mental anguish of not knowing what was out there, not knowing if Sam was safe, not knowing how he would defeat this creature of the night that had pursued him relentlessly. The scratch sounded again; a long, audible tear against the wood of the door. A shape shifted across the panes of grimy glass, too dirty to see out of, yet there was a definite form; almost human but not quite, too large for a man, not hairy enough for a beast. Spindly and suave, it hesitated outside the window, didn't move for a long time, then slowly turned and walked back to the direction of the door. A long scrape was again heard, a preternatural fingernail cutting into wood the way Jack the Ripper would slice into his victims.
Dean was trembling, and it wasn't just the cold.
He remembered a night when he was a little boy, tucked safely in his bed by his mother, his room warm and comfortable. His head dented the pillow, the powder his mother used after bathing scented the room after she walked out. It had been a good day. He went to the park and threw a baseball with his dad. His dad said he had a good arm and a good eye, able to throw the ball right at the target, which was his father's large leather glove, slicked and shining in the sunlight. Dean would squinch his eyes and lob that ball with everything he had, and his father would gently toss it back. Dean had discovered rather quickly that he was far better at throwing than catching.
He remembered his mom watching from her blanket, Sammy laying on his back, oblivious, squirming, kicking his arms and legs and probably wondering why the sky seemed so far over his head. Dean ran after the balls he missed, and threw each one into that glove every time. Afterwards they ate hotdogs and walked around the lake until the sun set. He remembered his dad laughing, his mom laughing, he remembered looking at Sammy and smiling, then getting mad because the baby chose that moment to throw up and ruin the moment.
Poor sun-stricken Sammy was lovingly put in his crib that evening and Dean, brushed and washed and fresh, snuggled into his own bed.
The thunderstorm was distant, but it scared him. He didn't like lightning. It lit things up too much, things that should stay dark in the night. It made shadows where shadow shouldn't be. And in those sharp bursts of light, he saw it; a spindly, long shape, curving in the wind, cutting a sharp contrast against the darkness and light. A scrape was heard, a long, agonizing tear, and Dean screamed.
His dad was by his side, comforting him, telling him it was okay, it was only the tree outside blowing in the wind, that there was nothing to be afraid of. Part of him never forgave his father for that lie. His mother died the next night.
And he was next.
Dean swallowed hard, clenching his flashlight tightly as the scraping continued.
The figure appeared again and seemed to lean in to look through the window, casting a long shadow over the huddled man. There was no face, only darkness, yet it was different from the darkness of night. This was more complete, this was the image that had sprung to the mind that originally coined the word 'darkness'. This was evil in solid form, and it was in no hurry. It stayed bent over the window, peering in, a static form that frightened him even more than the scraping sound had. If he moved, if he breathed, he was certain the glass would explode into crystal splinters, each one aimed at him, piercing his skin, ripping into his eyeballs as easily as throwing a knife at butter. He imagined the glass bowing toward him under the pressure of the thing's scrutiny, and wished he had something with him. Anything.
There were plenty of times when he had been afraid, plenty of times when he had told Sam he wasn't and lied through his teeth. To acknowledge fear was to risk paralysis. He couldn't concentrate on the job if he had to concentrate instead on settling his stomach. Usually there was no time for fear. But now there was ample time, and this creature knew it. It wasn't even playing with him. Dean had the feeling it lived in another realm altogether, where time was meaningless, where this thing could toy with him until he was old and grey and not feel as though a moment had passed.
He swallowed again. Every muscle within him was rigid with cold, and aching. His butt was asleep. Any other time he would go out fighting rather than cower in the corner, but the pure dread of what was out there convinced him that he shouldn't go seeking for trouble. Sam might still show. He didn't know what could be done, but he might show. Dean cursed under this breath, the sound hardly more than an exhalation, but it was enough. Faint moonlight peeled into the room as the creature moved, ever so slowly, and raised a hand to the door to make another long scrape. Then another. And another, like a ghoul digging out of a grave, or pushing into one.
He knew he was running out of time. His eyes darted around, his anxiety not propelling him to his feet, nor causing the creature to up the activity. The scraping was loud, whiny, and constant. On occasion the creature would move slowly to the window and peer in, making sure Dean was still there.
He was about to go out of his mind. His heart beat heavily, defying his body's need to sink into oblivion. He had once told a belligerent Sam that he should be afraid of the dark because of what was out there, but of course he never showed that himself, instead running in with guns blazing. It never occurred to him that he needed to find a way to fight without his weapons, without his knowledge. This was unknown territory. Sam would probably talk to the damn thing, find it's MO. Dean winced, wanting to stretch his legs out, to lengthen his back. The best he could do was the best he could do, and it looked like the only option would be enticing it to enter. He forced back every bit of the stinging fear he felt in his soul and bellowed, "That the best you got? You freaks not learn how to open a door? Maybe cause there's no brain in that . . .thing. . .of yours!" He took the opportunity to shift a little, and his body groaned in protest. His shivering increased, he could no longer keep his teeth from clicking together. His heart pounded, forcing blood through his body.
The scraping stopped. The figure leaned in at the window again, still discernable, still grotesque.
"Yeah, I'm talking to you!" Dean grimaced as he fought for his breath. "That all you got?"
The thing continued to lean in, and stayed there for several minutes. Then it returned to the door, and scraped.
Dean had found an asset. Anger. This was ridiculous, he'd been pinned down in that cabin for several hours, and nothing was happening. Screw the consequences, this was just another evil bastard that needed taking down. He groaned loudly as he pushed himself to his feet and hunched over in stiff pain, right as the door opened.
Snow billowed in. Dean gasped and yanked his jacket around him, watching the light change from very dark to not quite so dark, punctuated by whirling white flakes. He backed against the wall and waited.
The figure peered into the window, motionless.
Dean's breath caught. He was shaking crazily by this time, and kept jerking his head to regain his focus. Was the thing luring him out? Why didn't it come in and attack him? He angled his flashlight and turned it on, cutting a dimming light into the blurred darkness. Breathing heavily, he summoned his courage and aimed the light at the window.
The face that stared back was his brother's. "Dean!"
Dean shook his head. He continued to shake it as he fell, collapsing on the wooden floor, feeling arm suddenly wrap around his freezing body. "W-w-where is it?" he asked.
"Dean! Oh thank god, I've been looking everywhere for you . . ." Sam shouted something into the trees through the open door, and the room suddenly filled with blinding lights and people and voices, all disorienting him so much he wanted to pass out.
Blue, numb finger tried to grasp Sam's thick jacket. "Where . . .is it?" he huffed.
Sam tried to lean over his brother, but was pushed away by the rescue team that had spent most of the day looking for Dean in the freezing storm. "Dean, it's okay, it's over," he assured him, frustrated and being shoved away. Dean just looked around in confusion, batting at the people, at the light.
He was carried through the trees and loaded into a waiting ambulance. Sam turned to one of the medics, who shrugged at his question. "He was damned lucky. Something kept him alive out there, kept him conscious. Don't know if he was just stubborn or what, but his heart should've stopped, and it didn't."
Sam nodded and looked back toward the cottage. "I'm going to make sure we've got everything," he said, and rushed back.
The room was empty. Sam's breath hung in the air and didn't move. He saw where Dean had been, saw frost starting to cover the space the body had occupied, saw how quickly the room was filling with drifts. He walked out and shut the door, then hesitated.
Deep scratches in the wood had caught his attention. He frowned, and ran his index finger down the long trail, and suddenly turned as he felt a presence behind him.
But nothing was there.
Sam waited until a man yelled out for him to return. He surveyed the area quickly, one last time, and joined his brother.
And a figure melted out of a tree, and watched.