Nov 13 edit: While this story is supposed to be disjointed and confusing, general consensus seems to be that it's too much so. I'll leave it up for now, but there is probably a re-write somewhere in this fics future.

Written for a horror story challenge. Wowzers, I'm out of practice. Title ganked from an old horror film that I have not seen; any similarities are purely coincidental.

Title: Spirits of the Dead

Author: Sister_Dear

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Anything you might conceivably find in a horror flick you stand a chance of encountering here.

OoOoO

He needed help.

The transmission Prime sent out to the entire Autobot army had included landing coordinates. He wasn't going to make it that far, too close to the northern pole of the planet, coming in over the wrong ocean. His trajectory was off, software insisting all the calculations were correct while his visual feeds told him he'd be lucky to even make it to the continent.

Throwing caution to the wind, strained engines stuttering even as he poured every bit of available power into them, he sent out a wide-range distress code.

He needed help.

The coastline was still miles away when his engines finally gave out and his semi-controlled entry became a plummet. At the speed he was going, hitting the water was like colliding head-on with a mech five times his size. He lacked the energy to keep his processor online through the impact.

OoOoO

"Ironhide."

"Prime?"

"You received that distress call?"

"Affirmative."

"We've pinpointed the location of origin. You're closest." Coordinates followed the transmission, pointing northeast of the Massachusetts highway Ironhide was currently navigating. After several days of chasing energy ghosts and rumors of Barricade's presence – nothing substantial, but close enough to Washington DC to have the humans on edge – Ironhide was more than ready for a change of pace.

And a Cybertronian distress call so close to the resting place of their greatest enemy more than took priority over his current activities.

"On my way." Prime couldn't have heard the eager rev of his engine over their internal comm lines, but he spoke up with one last word of caution nevertheless.

"This is recon only, Ironhide. You are not to engage."

"You know me, Prime. Ironhide out."

OoOoO

He came online surrounded by fluid, systems automatically rushing to compensate. His alt form wasn't protecting his vital components as it should, damage sustained before entry compromising a hull designed to withstand planetary entry even without resorting to the meteor-like mode most other Autobots had to take.

He was sinking, a fact pushed to low priority. Planetary entry hadn't burned off the parasite – virus – infection – whatever it was – as he'd hoped. If anything, the present location seemed to make the invader in his systems even more voracious.

Shorts in his circuitry caused his limbs to jerk and spasm, last-ditch efforts to dislodge the cause of the slimy, crawling sensation. The Trojan in his systems steadily continued to isolate his spark, cutting off control of his own body, slowly killing him. His firewalls were failing, spark steadily giving in to the sickening impulse to remove itself from his body. His most basic programming would soon be breached; he'd loose all ability to even know something was wrong...

Something below him. His optics were offline; he couldn't see, couldn't hear, but his spark hadn't gone out. He could still feel. Whatever was below him was... familiar. Familiar and warm and absolutely terrifying. Body to heavily damaged to do anything more, he continued to sink.

OoOoO

Ironhide stood at the edge of a lonely beach in Newfoundland, watching his surroundings with every sensor available to him. He'd started picking up an odd signal several hours ago, strange, hard to pinpoint. He felt it more with his spark than any instrument meant for the job. He doubted human technology was capable of reading it. Even now, with millennia of experience telling him something was wrong and his spark insisting on a presence close by, none of his sensors were picking up on anything.

He slipped alongside a rocky outcropping, moving towards the water.

A sudden, sharp rise in the feeling of unease. Ironhide's canons charged with a low whine.

Blackness.

OoOoO

Ironhide rebooted fighting.

Underwater. He was underwater.

Ironhide hated water.

Something long and narrow was wrapped around his middle, his legs.

Just as he became aware of it, his internal alarms wailed to life at multiple pinprick bites into his systems, the sharp invasion of a forced hack. His firewalls were as good as they came, written by the best of Prime's security programmers, but his attacker tore through them with an ease infinitely more frightening than the physical situation. Foreign data poured into him, new alarms activating before – even more worrying – they fell silent.

He twisted, fired, wasn't sure if he'd actually managed to hit anything because the invader had reached his targeting systems, fired again. His weapons went offline without his permission.

Another presence pressed close. There was something wrong with this attack. His spark reacted to the invader as it would to the presence of another spark, straining out of his body.

It wasn't in Ironhide to retreat. He reinforced what protection he could around his spark chamber and dove, mind and body, back into the fight.

OoOoO

His intakes pulled with an unhealthy sucking noise – liquid where it shouldn't be. The squealing of strained, crushed metal greeted his every move. He was exhausted, the same kind of feeling as if he'd just deleted at particularly nasty virus without outside assistance. His spark chamber burned. He stood up and his hands made a strange slurping sound as they pulled loose from a ground that didn't want to let go. How strange. Everything about this place – where was this place? – felt wet. Soft. Loose. Wrong.

He stood, but there was too much mass around his arms and shoulders, not enough at his middle. He teetered – when had he acquired a new alt mode, and why hadn't his software adjusted accordingly? – and fell. The way the ground trembled under him was odd. No metallic clang save the working of his own parts, no harsh jolt at striking something deeply solid. Just a tremor of the ground, and the feeling of something small and loose working up inside his joints.

There was something very important he was supposed to be doing. Something... a message. That was it. Wasn't it?

Help. He needed help. He needed to call... someone. Ratchet, some part of him supplied. The name brought forward a confusion of emotions. Loathing, bewilderment (he'd not seen Ratchet for centuries!), and the certain knowledge that if anyone was in a position to help, it was Prime's medic.

His radio worked. For some reason, this surprised him.

"Ratchet?"

"Ironhide! What happened? You've been out of contact for days. What did you do? The humans can't seem to find you. Optimus and I are en route."

Ratchet. Prime. Why this urge to dig in his claws at the last? He didn't have claws. CMO. Commanding Officer. Report.

"Prime."

"Optimus here. What is it, Ironhide?" ...Ironhide?

"Prime."

"Ironhide?"

Report. Report. What was it he needed to report?

"-hide. Ironhide. Ironhide."

Something ugly shifted inside him, a foreign feeling slithering through his processors. He didn't feel right in his own body.

Where was he, again?

"Stay where you are, Ironhide. We're nearly to you. Do you copy? Get out of sight and stay there."

That, at least, he understood. Even if part of him railed in fury at the order, most of him knew it was very very important that he not blow cover.

OoOoO

Six hours later found Optimus and Ratchet carefully transforming in the cover of the trees just off the beach road. Just before stepping out onto the sand, Ratchet jerked to a stop. Optimus, no fool, paused as well. "What is it, Ratchet?"

"Ironhide isn't the only one out there."

Optimus checked for himself. "I only pick up Ironhide."

Ratchet shuffled, tusks working irritably. He shook his head, clearly at a loss.

"We'll be careful," Optimus stated. "Move out."

They found him at the base of a cliff, wedged out of sight among the rocks. He was covered in sand, sea scum, and dried fluids. More worryingly, something foreign – clearly of neither Earth nor Cybertronian origins – twined over and through his legs, up his torso, perilously close to his spark chamber. Whatever it was, it appeared to be dead. That did nothing to alleviate their worry: this close, it was obvious that there was something terribly, terribly wrong with Ironhide's spark signature. Neither could pinpoint exactly what it was until Ironhide moved. He lifted his head, pushing himself to a more upright position, and an energy trail shifted behind him, just out of sync enough to form a ghost image on their scanners.

Ratchet's fingers twitched with disbelief and recognition. "Cosmos?"

"Ratchet? Prime." It was disconcerting to hear Cosmos' voice come out of Ironhide's vocalizer, but even more so was the strange, malicious smile that followed, fitting neither Ironhide or Cosmos.

Hydraulics in Optimus' legs and arms hissed under sudden tension. The plates in his face shifted to form a mask made not of metal but calm, sickened authority.

"Megatron."