A/N: Thank you all SO MUCH for sticking with this fic. It sort of took on a life of its own, and I'm forever excited to find that people enjoyed reading it. All your kind words really make me so happy. Winchester13, I'm so glad you like my writing and think everyone's in character! Irismay, I'm thrilled that you think Miss Carver is scary; I was worried she ended up too much like a boring, monologuing villain. Nana56 and ROBINV, thank you two for always consistently providing your opinions and lovely feedback; you're great readers and I love reading what you have to say. And thank you X infinity to everyone who stopped by to drop a review. Anyway, I'm sad to say this fic has come to an end, and I hope that you all enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it!
Come on, Ron, answer your damn phone!
Sam sat at the computer in the main office, staring at the information he'd highlighted for Ron, the phone number he'd punched into his cell phone.
Impatience mounted in his chest.
"This is…" Sam glanced at the three people hovering over him. "Uh, this is the guy who took over your job for the week."
"Oh. Hey, I'm not gonna get canned when I come back to work, right?"
Sam sighed. "No, you're good. Listen, do you know if there's a… a hidden part of the basement, maybe not easily accessible; it would be somewhere in the middle of the school, uh…"
"That freaky old cellar?"
"Yes!" Sam shouted into the phone before composing himself. "Yeah. Can you tell me about it?"
"Sure. Few weeks ago I'm trying to make more space for all that damn crap the school keeps down there, you know? And I'm trying to shove these stacked desks against the wall when they fall over each other and break right through the damn flimsy wall. And on the other side I found this nasty little room, looked like it'd been shut up for a while. Looked like somebody lived down there once, you know? There was a bed and one of those, whatchamacallits, wardrobe things too. So, I needed the extra space, so I moved some of the desks in there and hauled out a big thing filled with books, two big bags of salt, and some real rotten old meat that smelled like horseshit."
Sam's brain got stuck on one important word throughout this explanation. "Salt?"
"Yeah," Ron replied as though Sam were an idiot for not understanding. "Back in the olden days they used salt to preserve their meat. Common knowledge, buddy. I may be a janitor, but I'm not stupid."
Sam could not stifle the surprised snort that escaped him. "Thanks, Ron," he breathed before hanging up the phone. "That makes sense. She's been quiet all these years because she's been surrounded by big bags of salt that she was using to preserve her meat. Then a few weeks ago, Ron moved the salt, she was released, and she started killing," he explained, blinking and realizing that Dean was not here, and that the people to whom he was speaking were all giving him utterly baffled looks. He shook his head. "She's in the cellar. I've got to go salt and burn her body, and this should be over—" Sam stopped halfway through standing up as he patted his pockets. Crap. "I left the supplies in the car. In the parking lot. And we're locked in."
Audrey, Linda, and Marty were all watching him as though waiting for him to come up with a plan. He admired their ability to continue trying to help even though he hadn't really bothered to explain anything. That was one thing about working with his dad that Sam had never been able to handle.
"Okay," he continued. "We need to improvise. Know anywhere we can find salt?"
Marty came up with the answer: "Cafeteria?"
Silence. Audrey bit her lip before suggesting, "Chem lab."
"Okay. Marty, Linda—go to the cafeteria, find as much salt as you can carry. Audrey, show me where the science department is."
The girl nodded and stopped him from barging out of the office for a moment, squirming out of her long dress and dropping it in a heap of cloth on the floor. Sam, having been startled by the sudden stripping, was glad to see that she was wearing shorts and a tank top under her costume.
With a nod at him, Audrey led the way at a brisk pace, down the hall, to the main staircase, up to the third floor. Sam was humming with anxiety, and he cast a few looks at Audrey's blank face as they walked.
"Are your parents back in the auditorium? Will they be wondering where you are?" He asked, the thought coming to him suddenly as an image of all the frightened audience members struck his inner eye.
Audrey shook her head and pursed her lips. "They're not interested in theater." Sam didn't press the issue, and after a moment she changed the subject. "So this'll kill her? Well, she's already dead, but…" Audrey shrugged.
"Yeah. It'll send away her spirit, permanently. I wish I didn't have to tell you that ghosts are real, but it's kind of late for that, I think," he replied.
"Well, if it's a choice between 'there's an afterlife' and 'I'm clinically insane,' I guess I don't mind the first one being the winner. Right around here, all these rooms should have matches." She stopped him and motioned to the L-shaped hall, and when Sam peered inside the classrooms he saw large black tables ideal for experiments, the kind of tables he remembered having in high school and college.
He stepped inside and immediately made for the teacher's desk, rummaging around until he found a pile of matchbooks. Audrey had gone into another room, and as they both re-entered the hallway, Sam saw that they had enough matches to burn down the entire school. Not that Sam would ever do something like that.
Hurrying back to the main office, they found Linda and Marty already waiting with pocketfuls of salt shakers and little white paper packets.
"Perfect," Sam said once they had all converged. "Okay, now we—" He cut himself off, horror dawning as he remembered what he was still missing. "Lighter fluid."
The three of them shrugged and glanced around. Of course there was no lighter fluid in the school.
"Okay," Sam mumbled again, trying not to panic, knowing that every second they wasted brought Dean closer to getting his face carved up like a Christmas turkey, if it wasn't already. "Okay, what else is flammable? If it's dry enough down there, she'll catch anyway, but it's probably not, we need insurance, we need something… flammable…"
Everyone was silent. Then Linda, looking unsure, asked timidly, "Is vodka flammable?"
Marty raised his eyebrows at her incredulously.
"I'm not supposed to… but I have some in my desk drawer."
Sam couldn't stop himself from grabbing either side of Linda's face and giving her a quick kiss on the mouth. "You are a genius."
Linda, who had probably never been called a genius in her life, looked pleased.
Dean swallowed dryly as the blackboard wiped itself clean again and a spasm went through his fingers. Trying to distract her from his inability to keep writing, he talked.
"So Robbie, your one good student, killed you? And then, freaking out, not wanting his parents to find out what he'd done, he hid your body and stopped talking."
"There are no good students." While Miss Carver's voice was still calm, there was a furious note of malice, of pure viciousness, when she spoke. "All students are bad students. Even the ones who seem good. Audrey. Sam. You. Everyone needs to be taught a lesson. Have you learned yours yet?"
Dean was busy trying to write 'lie' when the chalk slipped again and clattered to the floor, rolling slightly, sounding like a death knell. He didn't bend down to pick it up.
"It doesn't matter. You'll kill me anyway, you psychotic bitch," he spat, turning around to face her.
Miss Carver's lips curled up in a sneer. "The classroom is no place for swearing. Nasty tongues ought to be cut out."
And then that same high wind, that same force that had the power of a demon's telekinesis, shoved Dean so hard that he slid and stumbled over to the desks where the children were waiting. He tried to resist, but it pushed him closer, and he watched as the loose rope tied around their necks and snaking up into the ceiling tightened, pulling them slowly out of their seats, lifting them into the air. They made no reaction, did not move, did not resist. The rope lifted them up until they were hanging with their feet dangling in the air five feet above their desks.
The wind pushed Dean into the nearest desk, jarring his thigh into the edge, and he swung around and found himself seated; and then that mysterious rope that held the dead children twisted around his feet and tied his hands behind the chair, locking him in place.
Miss Carver strolled over to him as the wind died down, lifting her wooden pointer.
"I told you I would let you go when you learned to be a good student," she told him quietly, cracking the wooden stick down on the old-fashioned desk before pointing it at his face.
Dean tugged fruitlessly at his bonds and grimaced up at her. "I thought you said there were no good students."
Miss Carver smiled.
The wooden pointer in her hand had become a knife.
They crashed down the stairs and into the basement, leaving behind the main hallway into which people from the auditorium had begun to trickle, arguing and running around and causing a general commotion. Sam had thought about trying to calm all of them down and stop the panic, but he was a bit preoccupied at the moment.
The school basement was dark and dirty, dust gathering in the corners, old desks piled up amid bookcases that had nowhere to go. It was like a graveyard for forgotten school supplies.
He started off through the room, scanning the walls for the break Ron had mentioned, his three lackeys doing the same behind him. He wasn't sure whether they realized in a conscious way that they were looking for a corpse that had been busy decomposing for over a hundred years, but he figured he would climb that mountain when he came to it. They were surprisingly calm and eager to help, and he didn't want to spoil that by worrying them needlessly.
He snorted disbelievingly. Maybe that's why Dad had always been so secretive.
No time to dwell on that, though. The past was the past, and the only chance that he had at saving Dean and ensuring their future was to find the body and burn it into dust.
"I think I found it!" Audrey's voice echoed through the basement, and Sam was immediately rushing to her side, seeing the split boards in the wall and the large opening that they created. Ignoring the splintered wood around the sharp edges, he ducked inside and found himself in another time entirely.
It was a small room, just as Ron had described it. The bed was plain and adorned with a tattered blanket that was covered in dust and spider-webs; there was an old-fashioned wooden wardrobe whose door was cracked slightly open, revealing dull brown dresses of a traditional nature. The floor was bare, and the wood looked rotted through in places. It was damp and cool down here.
Sam kicked at some of the rotten floorboards, but there was nothing but dirt underneath. "Okay," he muttered to himself, scanning, searching. She was here somewhere. She had to be.
Suddenly, the four of them were not alone in the room.
Six children were hanging from the ceiling, their eyes cut away, their mouths too-large and bloody, six jack-o-lanterns and jill-o-lanterns with nooses around their necks.
Linda screamed and stumbled back into Marty, who almost lost his footing on the precarious, old floorboards. Audrey squeezed her eyes shut.
Sam ignored the ghosts. "It's just a distraction!" he shouted, searching wildly for a hiding place, feeling as though time were slipping away like water through his hands.
He took a step forward, footsteps sounding hollow here, breathing hard, and he nearly dry-heaved at the foul stench that forced its way into his nostrils. It gave him a visual of green, putrid meat crawling with maggots. He looked down. Near his feet were a few stray grains of salt. This was where the bags had been.
And, he realized, the bags had been on top of something. Hiding something.
A brass handle stuck up near the foot of the bed, and Sam realized what he was standing on.
He immediately dropped to his hands and knees, grabbing the handle and pulling. The wooden floor creaked and groaned, and then the square door swung up and open, revealing a small, dark pit with an even worse smell emanating from its depths.
"Gotcha!" Sam spat victoriously, glancing up for the supplies. Linda was chugging from the bottle of vodka, glazed eyes locked on the still, dead, hanging children.
Sam rolled his eyes and snatched it out of her hands.
Dean tried not to show the fear in his face, but he figured Miss Carver would see it anyway. And then she would probably chide him for being a liar.
"Stop pretending to be brave, Dean," she told him. "Where you're going, that won't do you any good."
He didn't want to think about that. Hell was probably something like an eternity in high school. But he couldn't think about it. If he did, he thought he'd crack. And he couldn't crack. Especially not when Sammy was around.
"You'll go to Hell, Dean. You'll burn for your sins." She brought the knife up, inspecting its gleaming blade. It looked sharp. Dean tried to twist away as she angled it towards his mouth.
"Yeah, and when my brother finds your body, he'll send you straight to Hell where you belong, no matter how many Bible verses you quote at me," he spat savagely, craning his head back as far as it would go to avoid the knife.
Miss Carver only smiled at him. "Then I'll see you there."
She placed the knife in his mouth. It was cold on his tongue. The blade dug into the right corner of his lips. Applying a little pressure, Miss Carver began to saw, and Dean's cheek exploded in pain as the knife sliced up, forcing his mouth into a smile, blood dripping down his chin, Miss Carver cackling in his ears in time to the pounding of his heart.
Her body was crumpled at the bottom of the pit, limbs lying haphazardly where they'd landed 118 years ago. Her clothing was nothing but unraveling threads, her flesh eaten away to bone. What little light there was shining down into the black pit showed her face. It was a skull, her eyes two empty sockets, her nose a dark crater, her teeth and jaw bare of lips. Sam thought it was fitting.
He hastily unscrewed the caps of two salt shakers and let a waterfall of white crystals empty into the pit, covering the skeleton. As he worked, he tried to breathe through his mouth, a technique Dean had taught him, but the odor of death seemed to invade his taste buds, and he gagged a couple of times.
Turning over the bottle, he watched as the clear vodka cascaded down on top of the salt, splashing through the darkness, and after putting aside the still half-filled glass bottle, he pulled out a book of matches, snatched one out, and struck it against the side.
It was a dud. He tried the next one, which snapped into life as a small flame popped up on the end, glowing brightly orange. Without hesitation, he tossed it into the pit, and the alcohol burst into flames, which danced on the corpse and ripped through the air with blinding, electrifying light.
Heart pounding, Sam fumbled shakily with his cell phone, saw with relief that there was still service down here, and called Dean.
Straight to voicemail.
"No," he murmured. "Something else is binding her here." He looked around, noting dimly that the students were still hanging from the ceiling. "This room. This entire room is grounding her." Audrey stepped out of the way as he threw himself to his feet, snatched up the bottle of vodka, and whipped it around, splashing the entire room with alcohol.
"What are you doing?" Marty cried out as the flames raged in the pit beside him, sweat beading on his brow.
"Burning what's left of the schoolhouse."
Sam lit another match, tipped his head in the direction of the opening that led back out into the basement, and waited until all three had scurried through before throwing the match onto the bed.
The room exploded in golden fire, which quickly ate through the wood and the dusty sheets and the ancient wardrobe.
The ghostly children shimmered as air does in extreme heat, as though they were nothing more than a mirage, and dissolved.
Sam ducked through the opening, the heat of the flames slicking his skin with sweat, smoke starting to pour through the hole in the wall.
They stood in the dark basement looking at one another. Linda and Marty looked shell-shocked, Linda's hands clutching Marty's arm for dear life. Audrey was staring at the dancing flames through the hole in the wall, mouth hanging open, dazed.
"We just burned down a school," she noted with awe.
"Technically it was a cellar," Sam corrected absentmindedly as he flipped through his address book again and pressed for Dean, placing the phone against his ear, pulse pounding in his head, listening to the phone ring.
Dean squeezed his eyes shut against the tears that prickled his eyes and leaked out at the corners, the sharp, stinging pain in his cheek almost unbearable as she sliced through the thick tissue there. His mouth tasted coppery, and for the first time he thought that Sam was not coming. Sam was going to let him die here, too early; his deal wasn't yet due, but he was going to die anyway, and Hell would be waiting for him on the other side, and Dean didn't think he'd ever before felt the sheer terror that this knowledge instilled in him.
Soon she would turn the knife and start coming back down around his lips, hacking them away to reveal his bloodied teeth, giving his jaw the look of a skull.
Then she would cut out his tongue.
Then she would saw at his nose, digging around the cartilage until it came off.
Then she would slide the knife against his eyes, and they would pop out of their sockets, and the world would go dark.
Then that rope tying his hands and feet would slither around his neck and tighten into a noose, pulling him up slowly from his chair as he struggled, blind, twisted by pain, and he would slowly suffocate.
But none of this, of course, really happened.
The cut from his lips to his cheek was about half an inch long, and it would get no longer, for the knife suddenly dropped from his mouth and fell to the floor with a clatter.
Cheek burning, Dean blinked open his watery eyes and gazed blurrily around the room.
Miss Carver was dissolving before his eyes, her figure oozing and flickering. She released a furious, snarling scream, teeth bared, fury etched in her eyes.
It's time you learned your lesson, Miss Carver, Dean wanted to say. Killing people makes you a bad person.
The lamps whooshed out, and the children that were still dangling above Dean's head were released, their ropes having been cut or untied, and they floated down to the floor as the chalk picked itself up at the front of the board and wrote, GO TO HELL, MISS CARVER in large, childish handwriting.
And then she was gone.
The children disappeared, too.
The room looked just as it had when he'd first found Audrey there: new plastic desks, a projector at the front of the room, a clean blackboard and a dry erase board on one wall, a flat ceiling with rectangular fluorescent lights. He brought his hands around to his front, the rope gone, and he gingerly felt his cheek, fingers coming away red.
He was alone.
And then his phone was ringing. He flipped it open and pressed it against the uninjured side of his face.
"Cuttin' it a little close there, Sammy."
"Dean, thank god," came the voice at the other end. "You okay?"
Dean felt his broken cheek with his tongue and swallowed. So, he was alive. He wasn't in Hell yet. Still, it loomed in the background of his thoughts, Miss Carver's taunting voice echoing in his ears.
But Dean was a good liar. "Yeah."
The doors were open.
Frightened, confused, anxious, and excited people burst into the clear, cool night, the full moon washing a white glow over their relieved faces as they surged through the parking lot, into their cars, and drove off down the street. The flashing lights on the police cars lit red on the school, along with the fire truck that had just arrived to tend to the freak fire that had mysteriously broken out in the basement. Police officers stood around questioning the baffled people who remained, leaving the policemen just as bewildered about what, exactly had happened.
The parents of Messenger #3 were still in the auditorium, crying, shouting—angry and despairing. The students in the play were still hanging around in their costumes, faces covered in makeup and surprise, watching as a police officer cut down the body and placed a jacket over the mutilated face.
Mr. Lindaugh was pale, seated in a chair in the auditorium, staring at the empty stage and the bit of rope still hanging from the stage lights.
Audrey watched the disorder with a sense of detachment. Her reality, after all, had been severely altered these past few days. She stood around the corner, in a hallway just off the main one, with Linda, Marty, the not-really-a-custodian, and the not-really-Mr.-Robinson, who was currently pressing a rag to his bleeding cheek.
"Uh…" Said Not-really-a-custodian, whose name she thought was Sam. He peered around the corner, eyeing the cops. "Listen, thanks for everything, guys, but we've got to get out of here."
"Certainly." Marty stepped forward and shook each of their hands, once again composed. "So the… problem… is over?" Not-Mr- Robinson, whose name Audrey had discovered was Dean, nodded. "Well, that's good. I suppose if this is the kind of thing that happens here, I'm glad you took my job."
Dean, whose voice was muffled from the rag pressed up against the side of his lips, replied, "Well, if Mrs. What's-her-face is still out with the broken leg, the job's all yours." His eyes flickered to Audrey, a grin curling up the visible side of his face. "Go easy on him, okay?"
She thought maybe he didn't hate her as much as she'd assumed he did, and that lifted her spirits significantly.
"Take care, Paul," Marty said as they turned to leave, and Dean's eyes twinkled as he pressed the rag more firmly against his cheek and started whistling Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel, and Marty's mouth dropped open as if in realization, and he huffed out a laugh.
"Wait," Linda spoke up as Sam and Dean walked quickly down the hallway in the opposite direction of the auditorium and the resulting commotion. "Did we just kill a ghost?"
Audrey rolled her eyes. Marty was staring at Linda with an expression of pity, amusement, confusion, and affection. "Why don't I go buy you a drink."
Linda nodded fervently, said something about getting her purse, and hurried down to the main office. Audrey stared wonderingly after her before returning her gaze to Marty, appraising, sizing him up. His neatly-combed brown hair was tousled, his dress pants rumpled, his sky blue tie askew, sweat stains marring the underarms of his white collared shirt. At last she asked dubiously, "You were supposed to be my sub this week?"
"That's right," he replied in a cool, confident tone.
Audrey snorted. "I'm kind of glad the school was haunted. Class with you wouldn't have been nearly as fun."
Turning away from Marty's affronted expression with a smug grin, Audrey sauntered off in the direction of the auditorium. She wasn't insane, but she'd certainly thought she was multiple times; she could use that to flesh out Lady Macbeth's character. Like Lady Macbeth, she was ambitious, but she wasn't perfect. And as long as she wasn't actually insane, she figured she could live with that.
Yes, tomorrow's performance would go better.
"If they were in Hell, how could they hear her chanting?"
"They must have superhearing!"
Dean chuckled, and Sam gave the TV the same look he'd been giving it for the last half-hour: openmouthed, disdainful incredulity. They were each sprawled on their separate beds, a giant bowl of half-eaten popcorn sitting at the end of Dean's, pieces of popcorn strewn over both beds and the floor.
"Honestly," Sam commented, never tearing his eyes away from the train wreck on the television. "I said we should spend Halloween sitting around eating popcorn and watching movies. And you go out and rent Hell Hazers 2."
Dean grabbed a handful of popcorn, spilling some into his lap as he shoved it into his mouth and chewed. "Happy Halloween," he said through a mouthful of half-chewed food, which finally made Sam look away from the screen and frown at his brother.
"Don't stuff so much in your mouth. You'll rip out your stitches."
Dean put a finger to the right corner of his lips, feeling the stitches and the cut. Sam had done a nice job. They'd come out soon, and he probably wouldn't even have a scar. He shrugged and shoved another handful of popcorn into his mouth.
Sam sighed. "It's a miracle you managed to listen to a teacher long enough to not get yourself killed."
"I have a whole new respect for teachers," Dean replied after swallowing, grabbing his beer from the bedside table and taking a swig to wash out the shells stuck between his teeth. "Well—good ones, at least, which I never had. I don't know, I didn't see a whole lotta difference between Miss Carver and every teacher I ever had in high school."
"That's because you were a troublemaker, Dean. All your teachers hated you."
Dean shook his head with a grin. Not all of his teachers had hated him. A few had even been quite fond of him. But he allowed Sam his misguided opinion, glad that he wouldn't have to deal with teachers or high school again anytime soon.
Every so often, a trick-or-treater would run past outside the window, dressed as a ghost, a vampire, a zombie. Tonight was the night that monsters ran amok, where the world of the supernatural got tangled up with the world of normal people. It was a day for parties and horror movies, a day Dean wanted to like.
His mind drifted back to watching monsters outside windows, to zombies in the woods, to kids playing pranks and pretending to be ghosts. And then to crazy, dead teachers fashioning jack-o-lanterns out of faces, and this was just one more thing to put on the list of Why Halloween Sucks.
But then again, Dean wouldn't have to deal with anymore screwed up Halloweens anymore. This time next year, he'd be in Hell with Miss Carver.
He pushed the daunting, heavy thought away even as a little voice told him that he could lie to Sam, but he couldn't lie to himself: he was scared of Hell. It crept around the corners of his mind as time slipped away like sand through the hourglass. He was scared all the time.
Instead, Dean decided to voice a different truth: "This," he announced, gesturing generally at what they were doing, "is nice and all, but I'm not gonna lie, Sam. I hate Halloween."
"Amen to that." Sam took a drink from his beer, raising his eyebrows at the terrible CGI on the TV. "I'm glad this job is over. Hell, I'm just glad to be out of that damn janitor costume."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Custodian, Sam. Jeez."
Sam grabbed a handful of popcorn and threw it at Dean.