The most frustrating part was that Sam knew the only reason he'd been unable to escape from the cellar was that his thirteen-year-old body was too small and not nearly strong enough to break the door down. If he was still his adult self, it would have been a two-minute job to break through this door with its rusty hinges and its splintered wood.
He still had all the regular instincts and impulses of his adult mind; someone locks you in the cellar? No problem, kick in the door. That'll solve it. But even knowing the exact place to kick, the exact force to apply and the exact direction from which to apply it, his leg muscles hadn't developed enough yet to get the door to even budge. Breathing heavily, he dropped onto the top step again, little hands clutching the railing. Knowing wasn't everything.
Except for when it was, Sam thought suddenly. Eyes traveling over the contents of the small cellar, they rested on a pile of yellowing newspapers in the corner. That was all he needed. He bounded down the stairs. Dean probably would have kicked at the door until his leg was as splintered as the banister, but Sam could bust himself out using nothing but a piece of paper. He considered this fact with a fair amount of pride. Suddenly, his short stature and minimal upper body strength didn't bother him quite so much.
He took the top sheet of newspaper and raced back up the stairs. Checking once more for the shadows on the floor to make sure Tanner's parents weren't outside, Sam unfolded the piece of newspaper and slid it under the door so that half was sticking out into the hallway. Rising, he stuck his little finger into the large, old-fashioned keyhole and prodded gently at the key until it worked its way out of the lock and dropped onto the sheet of newspaper waiting below. Feeling triumphant, Sam pulled the newspaper back under the door and the key came with it.
He unlocked the door as quietly as possible, and slipped out. Not to say for one second that, just because he was physically smaller, he couldn't take on two battered, middle-aged parents in a round of fisticuffs if the need arose. All the same, he would much rather just climb back out of the window quietly and let that be that. He'd had more than enough confrontation tonight and – as he was mortified to realize - he was beginning to feel sleepy. It must be true that children needed more sleep than adults. Sam had always thought it was just something parents told their kids to make them go to bed.
Sam navigated his way quietly down the hall, using only the light from the kitchen window at the end, trying to remember the way back to Tanner's bedroom and the window with the broken latch. The cool blue moonlight was refreshing compared to the bare, yellow light bulb in the cellar. Tanner's parents had either gone to bed or flown the coop, as he could hear no movement at all from inside the house. For that, he was immensely relieved.
And that relief lasted, ooh, four or five seconds. Six, if you counted the moment of confusion Sam spent squinting at the body which lay at the end of the hallway, half lit up from one side. There was no blood, but Tom was clearly, indisputably stone cold dead. Eyebrows knotted together, Sam went to him wordlessly and knelt down. His neck was broken. A few feet away, near the kitchen table, Judith lay in a similar state. There was a trickle of blood on her forehead, probably from hitting the table edge on the way down.
Sam put a curled fist to his mouth, giving himself a moment to calm his nerves and collect his thoughts. Tom and Judith – despite having locked him in their cellar – were good people. At least it had been quick; Sam hadn't heard a scuffle.
There was no doubt as to who had done it either, and Sam found he needed another moment to clarify this new thought; Tanner had actually done this to his own parents? When he met him at school, and even in the days up until he showed him his 'trick', he'd seemed so normal. Apart from the killer baritone, of course. Could the development really be happening this fast, or was he just really, really good at refraining from evil cackling in public? It was hard to believe the fun, cheerful kid he'd been talking to at school only days earlier had been harboring inside himself the ability to kill his parents. And for no real reason at all. Sam could only speculate, but he thought that Tanner probably felt too many people were onto him.
Sam glanced up at the moon, needing to see something pure and distant to center himself... and that's when he saw that the window was open. It was one of those kinds of windows that you slide the bottom half up to open it, and the gap wasn't particularly wide. Just enough for a boy of, say, fourteen or fifteen to escape out of.
Sam stood and went to the window. It opened onto their back lawn, although whether it was theirs, their neighbors or public property was unclear. There were no fences, trees, shrubs or dividers to mark it as anyone's personal yard. The same could be said for their neighbors. All that was decorating either lawn was a bare washing line. The two houses looked like displaced caravans at a carnival when the rest had moved on. The grass was very short but not particularly neatly kept. Here and there, the ground was reduced simply to patches of dry earth.
That's what made it so easy to see the footprints.
Okay, they weren't exactly footprint footprints. Certainly not the television-brand 'see the tread of your Nikes' footprints. Really, there were just a few places here and there that a little dirt had been kicked up. But they made a logical path towards the neighbors house, and on the facing wall, another window was open. While not concrete, that was a lead that Sam could follow.
Sam felt slightly guilty leaving the bodies of Tanner's parents just lying there, but there wasn't much he could do for them now. He climbed out the open window, all the while unable to remove the one thought from his head, going around and around on repeat; he killed them, he killed his own parents.
Being outside was even better after being locked downstairs. The breeze was cool and such a welcome alternative after the still, stale air of the cellar. He crossed the flat void of a moonlit yard to the neighbor's house, which was more like a deserted fairground than anything. Reaching the open window, he glanced around with that practiced nonchalance and, once he was confident that he wasn't being watched, hefted himself up to the windowsill and pulled himself inside.
The neighbor's house was much more neatly kept than Tanner's. He guessed almost immediately from looking at the dried flowers, the watercolor paintings of sparrows and the cross-stitched sign which read 'Bless This House' that an old lady lived here. Possibly alone. Sam quickened his pace.
The room he'd landed in seemed to be the living room, and the next one was probably the dining room, if the large-ish table was anything to go by. The one after that, Sam could see, was the kitchen, but sounds of breathing and low voices stopped him before he entered. Nimbly, he stepped out of the doorway's view and pressed himself against the wall. There was definitely someone in there... possibly more than just one. Sam slowly reached around to the back of his jeans and wrapped his fingers around the gun that was still safely tucked in there. He pulled it out and looked at it for a moment; if that was Tanner in the next room, was he really going to shoot him? Remembering the bodies of Tom and Judith, dead for no reason at all, Sam realized he knew the answer to the question before he'd even asked it. Of course he was going to shoot him. He was going to shoot him right in the heart and he was going to kill him. Now there were no excuses. Tanner had lost the right to be called a child the moment he snapped his father's neck.
Gun held skillfully at the ready in his little hands, Sam swung around the corner; silent but instantly commanding attention.
As Sam had estimated, there were two people in the kitchen. One was a youngish guy, lanky and quite tall, masked by a balaclava and brandishing a knife which was now not so much being brandished as it was being held in one of the two hands he'd flung into the air upon seeing the gun. He was the one who'd uttered the cry. The other was a woman of about seventy, face frightened but pretty despite her age, who was tightly clutching a crucifix pendant at her neck and praying under her breath. Behind her on the counter top, a jewelery box lay open.
Sam was willing to bet that the attacker was Tanner in his new skin. Or maybe his disguise was the woman, but only if he wanted to take the really, really convoluted route. Unlikely, Sam surmised.
"Woah, woah." Tanner repeated. "Take it easy, kid. Put daddy's gun down."
"Drop your knife." Sam ordered flatly. The blade clattered to the ground.
Sam took a moment to look at him. He was too tall to be Tanner – in a physical sense, of course. That didn't mean the tyke hadn't slipped his skin and returned for some getaway cash. Sam was about to tell him to take off his balaclava, but realized there wasn't much point.
"I know that's you in there, Tanner. I'm..." Sam considered his odds "ninety-nine percent certain."
"Tanner?" The guy asked. Sam ignored it. That could easily be an act. It wasn't like he was gonna admit it. Nice try.
"What I don't understand is," Sam kept the gun trained on Tanner's form. "How you could go so quickly from being such a genuine, nice kid to someone who could kill his parents."
The old lady stiffened.
"My... what?" Tanner asked. "My parents? Has something happened to my parents?"
"I saw what you did to them." Sam stated bluntly. "Necks snapped like it was nothing. For-"
Sam was cut off by a low whine. For a second he thought it was a police siren, but after a moment he realized it was coming from the balaclavaed Tanner. He began to lower his hands, and Sam gripped the gun a little more tightly but relaxed when he realized the boy's whole body was lowering. Head in hands, he dropped to his knees, all the while letting out a tearful, forlorn moan.
"Oh my lord..." He twanged, sounding just about as Southern as can be. He took off his balaclava and held it over his heart. Sam could now see that he was a guy of about twenty, with a scruffy cap of short, darkish hair and the beginnings of a messy goatee. He dropped his head and continued sniffling."Mama... oh, why'd I say those things to you?"
"Erm..." Sam's certainty wavered, and he lowered the gun a fraction of an inch. "Tanner? Are you-"
"Pop!" He continued, casting tear-filled eyes up at the ceiling, lower lip trembling. "Pop, why'd we fight? You know I love you! I always will, no matter what we say to each other. Why now, Pop? Why now?"
"Tan... erm, Tanner?" Sam tried again to catch his attention as he slumped his shoulders, fingers brushing the ground, and proceeded to weep limply.
Sam let out a loose, defeated sigh, his own shoulders slumping similarly. "You're not Tanner, are you?"
The intruder's long sobs were answer enough, and Sam lowered his gun all the way. Tanner may be an amazing impressionist, but he doubted he was this good of an actor. He chanced a glance at the old lady and the jewelry he'd inadvertently saved. She was still clutching her cross, but the wide eyes now staring at him looked a little more puzzled than frightened. Sam forced an awkward grin, and began to casually work his way towards the exit.
"I, erm... I don't think he'll be giving you any more trouble."
Sam huffed as he slipped out the door and trotted down the path. Why were things like this always happening to him?