A/N: I'm baaaack! -cackle-
I love Halloween. I really do. Scary movies and gross decorations and costumes and free candy... it's like my own twisted childhood can live on one night a year forever. :) It's also the kick-off to the holiday season that starts on Halloween and takes us through the winter. My family is big on holidays; it's the one time of the year when we're all constantly together, so it's a lot of fun.
Anyway. A few days before I finished up The Foster Child in the Forensic Anthropologist, I got the inspiration to write this fic. Something about walking back home under the full moon, thinking about the upcoming holiday... it got my muse in a great spooky mood. :) The first chapter is of medium length and mostly fun; the spook comes later. I wanted to get this chapter finished and posted a few days ago, but I came down with some nasty sickness and have been bed-ridden for the past two days. Now I am sitting up, eating real food, and itching to get some fanfic written and posted. So here it is!
By the way, this chapter, more specifically Pete, is dedicated to Melissa (goldpiece). :)
Disclaimer: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's -- I own nothing. I just play with it.
"Geez, they weren't kidding when they said it was out here," Booth said, pausing on the steep Virginia hillside to catch his breath. Brennan strode past him up the narrow dirt path that wound up the hill, littered with leaves awash in fall color. She turned to face him, smiling.
"Don't tell me you're winded," she said, arms akimbo. Booth shook his head and picked up his feet again, catching up to her and matching her stride as they neared the peak of the hill.
"I'm not winded," he said. "It's just, you know, a big hill."
"Right," Brennan said, raising her brows. Booth opened his mouth to retaliate, when they reached the top of the hill. They both took pause, observing the scene.
Large orange growths protruded from the parched autumn field, almost unnaturally bright and saturated in color, spanning from halfway down the slope in front of them, across the valley, and partway up the next hill. They were scattered haphazardly, not in neat rows as corn might be, gnarled roots threatening to trip passers-by. Near the left edge of the field an area was sectioned off with bright yellow tape, uniformed men buzzing around like flies, marking the scene. Everything lay beneath a high, blue October sky; the kind of clear, crisp fall day that came before the clouds and sleet of early winter.
"Pretty day, huh?" a voice said from behind them. Booth and Brennan turned around to see a short man with a kind face in a faded uniform walking towards them, holding up his badge. "Officer John Batey, county sheriff. You must be the FBI agent and… his liaison?" the sheriff said, holding his hand out to each in turn. Booth laughed.
"If anyone's the liaison, it's me," he said as they carefully negotiated the path into the pumpkin patch, trying not to slip on loose patches of dirt and rock as they went. "Special Agent Seeley Booth, this is my partner, Dr. Temperance Brennan."
"Doctor, huh?" the sheriff said, tipping his hat. "I apologize for the liaison comment, then. No offense implied."
"None taken," Brennan said, enjoying the man's geniality. Of all the cultures in the world she had done ethnographical research on, there was something about the people of the rural American south she found refreshingly honest.
"The remains are this way," Officer Batey said, stepping over clusters of pumpkins and navigating through tangles of roots and weeds as they neared the crime scene.
"Kind of a large crime scene," Booth commented, noticing how large the taped-off area was.
"Kind of a large crime," Officer Batey responded. "In the last hour your people have found two more skeletons. They're still looking." Booth whistled.
"Three bodies? What is this place, a dumping ground?"
"Looks like it," Officer Batey said grimly, stepping over the tape and motioning towards an area cleared of pumpkins. In the grass lay a jumble of scattered human bones, partially fleshed, mostly rotten. Brennan snapped on her gloves and dug into the remains, picking up the first skull carefully and holding it against the autumn sky.
"Female," she said, eyeing the features as she turned it. "Mid twenties, probably. Judging from the racial indicators, Caucasian."
"Not surprising," Batey said, trying to look anywhere but at the skull itself.
"Why do you say that?" Booth asked. Batey shrugged.
"Not much else around these parts," he said. "Kimball's the closest town to here, 'bout five miles west. Can't be more than two thousand people there. Can't be more than five or ten of 'em that's not white."
"Welcome to Small Town, USA," Booth said, watching Brennan sift through more bones.
"This one," Brennan said, setting the first skull gingerly on the ground and holding up the second one, "also appears to be female, around the same age, with the same racial markers. So is that one." She pointed to another skull about five yards away.
"She's good, huh?" Batey said, watching with interest as Brennan made preliminary groupings of the remains that appeared to belong together.
"Yeah, she is," Booth said proudly. "The best."
"It's hard to say with absolute accuracy how long the remains have been here," Brennan said as she began to bag the body parts. "The remains appear to have been scavenged, and strewn across the area. Hodgins can tell us how long they've been dead, and Cam's DNA markers will tell us for certain which bones belong together. We can finish bagging the remains as soon as we find the fourth body."
"Wait, what?" Batey said, furrowing his brows. "Fourth body? We only found three skulls."
"And I found four of these," Brennan said, holding up a small bone.
"What's that?" Booth asked.
"Proximal phalange of the third finger, right hand," she replied, bagging the bone. "Unless one of our victims had two right hands, there's a fourth victim." Booth and Batey's mouths fell into identical 'O' shapes.
"She's really good," Batey commented under his breath to Booth. "Let's find that fourth body, then." The three wandered off in opposite directions, stepping carefully and scanning the ground for clues.
"Found it!" an FBI tech shouted several minutes later, holding a fourth half-rotten skull into the air.
"What are you doing? Why are you handling my skull? You're disturbing evidence," Brennan shouted, tearing off through the pumpkin patch in his direction. Booth heard chuckling behind him, and turned to see Batey with his hands in his pockets, shaking his head, chest bouncing with laughter.
"She's just a regular firecracker, isn't she?" Batey said, following Booth as they headed towards the fourth set of remains. Booth rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, a regular black cat," he replied, putting his hands on Brennan's shoulders as she verbally assaulted the FBI tech who had dared lay hands on her remains.
"Relax, killer," Booth said, steering her away from the frightened young man. "Your skull's fine. Another white female?"
"Yes," Brennan said grouchily. "Late teens to early twenties, female, probably Caucasian as well."
"Great," Booth said. "Let's gather all of this stuff up and get back to the lab, before you deck someone. Officer Batey, do you mind keeping an eye on things here while we go talk to the farmer who owns the pumpkin patch?"
"By all means, go on ahead," Batey said, waving them off. "I'll let y'all know when everything's done and ready."
"Thanks," Booth said, putting his hand on the small of Brennan's back and leading her away from the shaken FBI techs who eyed her warily as she went.
The couple hiked back up the hill, then down its other side, back to the farmhouse that sat at its base. A wiry, leather-skinned man sat on the back porch, watching them as they approached. He tipped his hat when they reached the steps of the porch, lifting himself out of his chair and offering them a hand.
"Name's Pete," he said sloppily, his words a southern jumble of Virginia hills variety. "Y'alls gotsa be'm folks from'um Ef-bee-eye, huh?" He spoke in a way that was both very drawn out, and very squashed together. Booth opened his mouth to speak, then set his jaw slightly askew out of sheer puzzlement.
"I'm sorry?" he said.
"Y'all's'm polees?" Pete repeated, in what Booth suspected was a slightly clearer variation of what he had said previously, but was just as unintelligible.
"My name is Special Agent Seeley Booth," Booth said in a slow and well-articulated manner that suggested he was speaking to someone with limited English skills. Brennan snorted, and Pete gave the agent a wry smile.
"Y'all ain' frum'uround here, huh?" he said. Booth continued to give him the same completely uncomprehending look, and Brennan stepped in to rescue him from his own ignorance.
"No, we're not, we're from D.C.," she said. "I'm Dr. Brennan, I'm a forensic anthropologist."
"A for-husin-what?" Pete said, scrunching his brows.
"I look at dead people's bones," she clarified, and he nodded in understanding.
"Well why aincha jus'ay that?" Pete said, shaking his head.
"Can I talk to you for a second? Excuse us," Booth said, stepping a few yards away with Brennan and leaning in towards her.
"I can't understand a word he's saying," Booth whispered. "Is he speaking English?"
"Of course he's speaking English," Brennan said, stifling laughter. "The people of the Virginia foothills speak a particular brand of the American Southern dialect, a very interesting result of the geographical barriers during the—"
"That's great," Booth said, cutting her off. "But how am I supposed to conduct an investigation when I need a translator just to talk to these people?"
"Well that's what I'm here for," Brennan said. "To make up for your shortcomings."
"Shortcomings?" Booth said as Brennan turned back towards the farmer, who watched the pair amusedly. "I don't have shortcomings!"
"Short-comin's, huh? Soun's like a personal prob'm t'me," Pete said, flashing them a dirty post-fence smile and shaking his head. Booth sighed heavily.
"Sir, I need you to tell me how and when exactly you found the remains in your pumpkin patch," Booth asked. Pete thought for a decent thirty seconds before answering, which in and of itself aggravated Booth. In the city, everything got done fast—you talked fast, you walked fast, you drove fast or you got run over. No waiting around. Out here, people did everything in slow motion. He could watch the pumpkins grow while he waited for a response.
"Well, I reckon's 'bout ni'on five or six in th'mornin'. I been up feedin'm chickens an' pigs'n such an' thought to check'm pun'kins, make sure none of'm rotten out'r nothin', with it bein' 'bout that time'a year," he explained, in a slow, rambling manner that made Booth want to pull his ears off. "I ain' been out in'm in a coon's age'n so I warn't s'pectin'm all nice, but shee-oot, when I saw'm bones out there, if'n I's a dog you could'a run me right off'a meat wagon!" Booth stared blankly at the man, while Brennan nodded in comprehension.
"Oh-kay," Booth said slowly, nodding his head. "I think I'm going to have you write down your statement, how's that?" Pete shrugged, and Booth shook his head, retrieving a pad of paper and a pen from the SUV. As the man scrawled his story on the paper, Brennan gave Booth a superior look.
"You know, with as much experience as you have dealing with people from so many walks of life, it surprises me that you can't understand him," she said. Booth set his jaw.
"I'm sorry I don't speak Hillbilly as a second language," he said. "Where I come from, everyone's real easy to understand, and if they aren't clear enough, they've got a whole variety of hand gestures they can use to get the point across." Pete approached the pair with his written statement, and Booth thanked him for it. Not long after, Officer Batey came strolling down the hill towards them, hands in his pockets.
"We got everything bagged up," he told them when he approached, wind threatening to blow the hat off of his head. "The truck is taking it to your lab, so unless there's something else you guys need…"
"No, that should be it for now, thanks," Booth said, shaking hands with the officer, who tipped his hat to them before he drove off in his dusty squad car. Booth and Brennan loaded into the SUV, Booth shaking his head and grumbling.
"Great, let's go," he said, revving up the engine. "Back to the lab, with more people I can't understand."
A/N: Yes, I am a southerner, and yes, some people really do talk like that down here. We Southerners have a very colorful means of decorating our language. :) If Pete's dialogue was difficult to understand, then congratulations, you're in the same boat as almost everyone else! I tried to make it true to form without being too over the top grammatically. And no, my own accent is not that horrible. It's quite intelligible, albeit a little flavorful at times. One of my good friends who is from Miami loves to make fun of my use of the phrase "fixin' to". As in, "I'm fixin' to go down to the store." That and the phrase, "might should", as in, "Y'all might should start working on that." Apparently those are strange, but I wasn't aware until she pointed it out to me!
Anyway, Southernisms aside... what are your thoughts? Good start? Intriguing? Not enough of a hook? Plain ol' boring? Leave a review and let me know!