A/N: This is a holiday story I wanted to get started before solstice. My beta is a Sam girl and said she would love a hurt Sam with horses in it. This is what happened. She hasn't seen this yet, I couldn't let her beta her gift, so all mistakes are mine! This story is for her and all the Sam girls who have supported me this year. Thank you all so much! I hope you like my story, it's hurt Sam all the way! Don't worry, I will be posting to Be Still and Behind the Wall, too! And a little holiday gift is in the making for the Dean girls out there, hurt Dean galore, in the long promised Waxing and Waning sequel, which I plan to start before Twelfth Night.
A/N II: I am consciously blending mythologies and mixing up a bit of lore. I am not trying to portray any one ritual or myth accurately, but drawing on a wealth of information from Northern Europe—from the megalith builders to the Celts, Saxons and Viking. Title is from the song by Jethro Tull.
Ring Out Solstice Bells
Horses, Bogs and Livers, Oh My!
Fog covered the landscape, a thick wall obscuring the road, causing the trunks of the stunted trees to rise like black ghosts at the edge of the highway. The road was slick, gleaming darkly in the faint daylight. Sounds were muffled, even the rumble of the Impala was lost in the thick gray blanket covering everything around it. Dean had compensated by turning up the stereo and Led Zeppelin was currently blaring out of the speakers.
"You need to turn right at the stoplight," Sam said.
"Stoplight? Where?" Dean said, peering out the window, visibility was down to about three inches. And how much slower can I actually go and still be moving forward? The Impala was creeping along, Dean had his eyes glued to the fog line on the right-hand side of the road.
"There is supposed to be one out here somewhere."
"Right, and we will be through it before we see it," Dean said, slowing down a little more.
"Dean!" Sam yelled.
Dean looked up and saw a horse materialize out of the fog, drifting across the road in front of them. He slammed on the brakes, the horse stopped and looked at the car, at least is seemed that way. It was hard to make out anything but the dark shape in the fog. It stood there for several seconds, Dean felt a chill creeping through the car, like tendrils of fog working their way into it. He honked the horn. The horse threw its head in the air and turned, moving towards them. The cold intensified, the horse drew closer, it was suddenly hard to breathe. The fog was filling his lungs, his mind, the world went gray, Dean felt his head drop back on the seat. It was suddenly silent.
"Dean?" Sam's voice was shaky. When he didn't answer Sam shook him. "Dean?"
"You ok?" Dean said, forcing his eye open and looking over at his brother. Hey, Sammy, you look freaked. Nice look. His head was pounding and he had that odd feeling that a night of too much tequila usually generated.
"Yeah, you?" Sam said, looking at him, concern written on his features.
"I don't know," Dean said, easing the car forward again. What the hell happened?"Something about that horse, I think?"
"I…maybe…" Sam broke off. Dean glanced over, his brother was staring out the window, looking a little sick.
"I…I don't know. It was there in front of us and then…I don't know."
"Yeah, fun place Sammy, why again are we here?" Dean said, trying to change the mood, wondering what had affected his brother so deeply. Ok, blacking—or graying—out is a little strange, but Sam seems a little freaked and he doesn't freak all that easily.
Sam looked over with a little frown. "The bodies? The twelve bodies that are found every year around the solstice?"
"Yeah, right," Dean said. Sam still looked a little off, so Dean persisted. Nothing like a little geeking to take Sammy's mind off of something."Twelve bodies?"
"Well, not actually bodies," Sam continued. "Twelve people go missing and twelve livers are found at the edge of a bog. One each morning, leading up to the solstice." Sam looked over at him. "Dean?"
"I found something more," Sam said.
"There is another victim, found on the morning of the solstice. Always a man under thirty but over twenty-one."
"So thirteen dead people," Dean said. "Nice."
"Yes and no."
"The thirteenth victim, the body is alive but…and it stays alive until the moment of the solstice one year later, at that instant it, the body, dies and then another one is found in the same state that day, and it goes on, every year."
"So they're alive but dead?"
"Do we know why?"
"Not yet. I was planning to do a little more research before we went out tonight."
"If we ever find civilization again," Dean said sourly. Sam sounded a little better, but he still had a frown on his face. Dean recognized it, it was the concerned frown. The "I might be more worried than I'm letting on" frown. Dean noticed a series of yellow reflectors in the fog line, slowly out of the thick fog a stoplight became visible. He let out a sigh of relief. Getting off the road for an hour or two will be nice. "How far from the stoplight, Sam?"
"About three and a half miles."
The buildings of the small resort town passed by ghost-like in the fog. Appearing and then drifting out of view, never in focus, just shapes in the soft gray blanket. Dean kept his eye on the odometer and after three miles started watching for a sign to the motel. Sam was right, exactly three and a half miles. Dean turned onto the one lane road that led up to the motel and pulled up at the office. "Be right back."
The office was warm, a fire burning merrily in the large fireplace. A Christmas tree held the place of honor in the corner opposite the door and holly decorated the mantelpiece. There were large candles in silver holders on the desk and an interesting hanging on the wall with a small branch in it, slightly gold-colored with white berries. Dean rang the bell.
"Can I help you?" a dark-hair woman came out of the office.
Oh, yeah, you can help me. "I need a room for a couple of nights, two beds," Dean said, smiling his best smile. The one guaranteed to melt every heart.
She smiled back. "We're having a holiday special, our third floor view suite with two queens, fireplace, microwave, fridge and spa tub is the same price as a ground floor room, third night is free and you get a credit at the restaurant."
"Sounds almost too good to be true. Is there internet?"
"Yes," she said. "And we just re-opened the pool, hot tubs and sauna. Since it's off season you are our only guests right now."
"Nice," Dean said, signing for the room and reaching for a credit card.
"You can pay when you check out, Mr. Butler," she said, smiling at him. "You're in room 333. I hope you enjoy your stay." She handed him two keys and pointed the way to their room.
"Thanks," Dean said, trying the smile again. Well, I'm a little tired. It might not be working at peak performance right now. He dropped back into the car and drove through the parking lot to the spot marked 333.
Sam looked over at him. "Dean?"
"They're having a special," he said with a shrug.
It was a large room with a balcony overlooking the wildlife refuge. Not that I can see anything but balcony in this fog. Dean could hear the irritated quacking of a duck out somewhere in the mists. Crows were cawing there was another bird, it sounded a little like a crow, but deeper with a gravely tone in its voice. Dean looked over at his brother.
"Raven," Sam said, walking up beside Dean. "Nice view of the fog."
"Yep," Dean said. He turned the gas fireplace on and wandered back through the room, looking in at the large spa tub in the bathroom. He was grinning when he sat down at the table by the fireplace. Sam already had the laptop open and was frowning at something on the screen. "Want to eat before we head out? We have a credit at the restaurant."
"Sure," Sam said, snapping the laptop closed.
"Huh? Uh, nothing," Sam said, standing. "Let's eat."
They were the only diner in the large room. The waitress brought them drinks, she explained they were complementary when Sam tried to send his back. They ordered dinner, Dean happily settling on the prime rib special. Sam rolled his eyes when Dean sighed "sixteen ounces, Sammy." Dinner came, the waitress was attentive, bringing them another round of drinks and then making suggestions for dessert. They decided to try the cranberry and pear pie. Cranberries were, according to June the waitress, a local specialty. The bill for the whole meal was picked up by the motel. Sam frowned a little at that.
"Just seems a little odd, don't you think, Dean?"
"It's part of the special, Sammy," Dean said, getting into the car. "Where are we headed?"
"Turn left when you get back to the highway," Sam said, looking out the window. "It looks like the fog is lifting a little."
"Maybe," Dean said. The trees along the road were a little more visible. Although that is not really comforting, those are some of the creepiest trees I have ever seen. The pines, stunted from growing in salty sand, gnarled, branches oddly sparse were covered with moss, bright against the black of the trunks. The undergrowth, where visible in the twisting tendrils of mist, was dark, nearly black and reeds rose at odd angles, indicating it was far wetter just off the road than it might look at first glance. An open area loomed up on Dean's left, the square pond covered with blood-red plants.
"Cranberries," Sam said softly.
Dean looked over at his brother, something in Sam's tone alerted him to trouble. "Sammy?"
"Nothing," Sam said, looking out his window. He took a deep breath. "Dean, that horse—did it…was it…what happened to you?"
"I felt cold, then everything went foggy," Dean laughed, trying to shake his brother's mood. "You?"
"I, uh," Sam looked over, his eyes looked a little haunted. "It looked at me."
"Looked at you?"
"Yeah, and then…" He stopped, swallowing hard.
"Sam?" Full blown alarm bells were ringing, blocking out everything including Zeppelin.
"I, I don't know," Sam said.
"We're going back to the hotel," Dean said.
"No, we have to hunt tonight, Dean, someone is going to die," Sam said. He put a hand on Dean's arm. "I'm ok, really."
Dean frowned at Sam.You don't look ok. We need to hunt, you're right, but all of a sudden I'm starting to get a bad feeling about this. "We'll go out to where they find the livers, but nothing else."
"I'm fine," Sam said, still looking a little sick.
"Yep, sure you are."
They were silent. Dean watching the fog line and the odd forest drift by, Sam seemed caught in his own thoughts. Dean was covertly watching his brother, Sam had a frown on his face, looking inward even though his face was turned towards the window.
"I think this is the turn coming up," Sam said suddenly. "Winthrop road."
Dean turned carefully onto the narrow muddy track. Along the road birch trees were mingled with the pines, their stark white trunks looking like bones rising out of the fog. The forest opened a little as the road turned and Dean could see the black edges of a bog. He pulled the car over and they got out. As they got closer he could smell the rotten smell of the pond, ancient vegetation mixing with other scents, dead, decaying things, lost from view in the swirling mists. Two large rocks, just visible as dark shadows in the fog, sat at one side of the bog.
"Nice place," Dean said looking at Sam.
"Yeah," Sam said with a wan smile. Sam turned and walked along the edge of the bog. He stopped by a large flat rock. "Dean?"
"What?" Dean said, walking from where he had been exploring the other edge of the pond. He could just make out Sam, a solid figure in the shifting mist.
"This looks like an altar." Sam was crouching down by a flat stone.
Dean looked down at the stone, even though it was wet he could see the darker stains of blood. The rock was decorated with spirals, blood had pooled in the deeper parts of the design. "Nice."
"Yeah," Sam said, looking around them. "I don't see many footprints." He walked away, watching the ground. "These look like hoof prints."
"Hoof? As in horse?"
"Yeah," Sam said, the sick look back on his face. "I think we might be dealing with the each uisge. It can take the form of a horse. It drags its victims into the water and then devours everything."
"Except the liver?" Dean said, looking at his brother. "There's more, what?"
"Well, this isn't really all that consistent with the lore. The twelve dead victims and then the thirteenth. The livers match, but I'm not sure about the rest."
"Then what's going on?"
"I'm not sure," Sam was walking around the edge of the bog, into the dense undergrowth. His figure faded into the thick fog.
"Don't go too far, Sam," Dean said, looking back down at the stone and the hoof prints that went from the rock into the water. "Sam?" Silence. "Sammy?" Dean strained, trying to catch any sound. The fog swirled around him, cold, getting colder. He thought he heard something large moving through the undergrowth. "Sam?" Dean had his gun out and was moving in the direction Sam had been going. I'm panicking for no reason. He is just concentrating and didn't hear me, sounds is a little weird out here anyway. No, he'd answer. "SAM!"
Silence. Dean stopped, listening. Something was moving again, it was growing colder, he was having a hard time breathing, the fog was filling his lungs, his mind. His legs went out from under him and he dropped to his knees.
"Dean?" his brother's voice, pain-soaked full of fear, terror, barely audible.
"Sam!" Dean forced himself up and through the bushes, feeling blackberry thorns tearing at his hands and face as he pushed through, trying to get to where Sam's voice had come from.
Sam screamed and then there was the sound of a splash, then silence again.
Dean broke through the undergrowth to the edge of the bog. He saw the huge horse disappear into the fog shrouded water. It was dragging something. "Sam!" Dean yelled again, recognizing his brother's jacket. Something moved behind Dean. The cold filled him, the fog entering his mind, taking everything away. He felt himself hit the ground, he was aware of the cold seeping into his clothing, he couldn't move, he was held trapped in the mist.
Something stepped over him. He had the brief vision of graying flesh of the huge figure before he closed his eyes, somehow knowing he shouldn't look at it anymore. Something cold, slimy, touched his face, fetid breath smelling of death wafted over his face. He kept his eyes closed. Whatever it was rolled him over, he couldn't fight it. Dean felt the weight of a foot on his back. In the distance he heard what sounded like dogs howling and barking.
Another scream tore through the air. Sam? No, please. The weight suddenly shifted and the world went black. No, I have to get to Sam. Dean forced his eyes open, wondering how much time had passed since that scream. He managed to get to his feet, the fog had lifted a little more, he could make out the huge rocks in the bog much better. Lying on one of them... "Sam!" He waded out into the water, feeling the muck pulling at his shoes, the reeds catching him, trying to prevent him from getting to his brother. Dean had to swim the last few yards, the cold water pulling his energy away into it.
He finally reached Sam. After trying to climb onto the slick rock and falling twice, Dean just pulled his brother down and into his arms. He somehow managed to get them both back to shore and pulled Sam out onto the ground. There was blood on Sam's face. The left sleeve of his coat was tattered, bitten through, blood flowing out of the wound on his arm. There was a gash in his side.
Sam wasn't breathing.
Dean put his hand against Sam's throat feeling for a pulse.
Sam's heart wasn't beating.
Dean felt the cold begin again, the fog getting thick, obscuring his vision.
He started CPR.
The horse-thing was moving closer, he could feel the ground vibrating with its steps.
Come on Sam.
Dean could now hear the dogs getting closer and the sound of more hooves, beating against the ground galloping towards him.
He kept the rhythm, kept the count. Compressions, breath, compressions breath.
The horses stopped, he could hear them shifting out in the fog, something that sounded like bells chiming softly in the mists. They were watching him, he knew that, sensed their eyes, felt a chill run up his spine, soft whispers of conversation drifted through the fog, the language unrecognizable.
The horse was getting closer, the fog began filling Dean's mind, his hands were slowing, the compressions stopping. He couldn't breath. No, Sam, hang on.A shout, human, but somehow not, flowed over them, the horse stopped and whinnied. The voice called again and the horse backed off, the fog retreating from Dean's mind as it moved away. Still they waited watching.
Sam suddenly coughed, he drew a ragged breath, a little moan of pain escaping his lips.
The horses were moving again, getting closer, all of them. A hand touched Dean, cold, pulling the warmth out of him, taking his breath way. Dean fell. Someone was holding him immobile, the lifeless hands pressing him into the earth. The hands held his head so he was forced to look at Sam. Hang on Sam. I'm right here. He could hear the bell clearly now, someone was chanting softly, words he didn't recognize. A man walked over to Sam.
"Leave my brother alone," he managed to say.
The figure bent over Sam, Dean saw a hand, nearly human, touch Sam's face, his brother moaned. The man sighed. "Yes," he drew a small curved blade from his belt.
"NO!" Dean shouted, the hands pressed him harder into the earth, their claw-like nails tearing into his skin.
The man gently pulled the fabric of Sam's shirt away. He spoke softly in the language, it sounded old somehow, and then drew something on Sam's chest with his finger. It looked like a complicated design of some kind. When he was finished he placed two fingers on Sam's forehead, pausing for a moment, waiting for something. Suddenly Sam's body arched. The man looked at Dean briefly. He was human, then his face shifted, young to old, living to dead, flesh to decay. The man pulled his hand away from Sam's forehead and then…
"No, please no," Dean said.
The man took the curved blade and slowly drew it across Sam's neck, blood tracing the passage.
"NO!" Dean screamed. The man looked into Dean's eyes, darkness became visible and the world was swept away in the darkening fog.
To Be Continued