Warnings/Spoilers: General through the end of season four. Character transformation. Crack.
Author's note: Written for the 2009 spn_j2_bigbang challenge over on LiveJournal, and inspired by, among other things, avant-garde cinema of the early 20th century, logging folklore, and environmental theory. Beta-ed by maisfeeka and lilacsigil, with art (visible on my LJ) by charlies_dragon. This is a complete story -- five chapters will be posted over the course of five days.
There were times, when Sam was growing up, that he equated his life to a giant game of dodge ball, Dad on one side, the Thing That Killed Mom on the other, with him and Dean as the balls. It was the idle, bitter sort of imagining of a too-smart-for-his-own-good child, stuck in gym class and bitter at the world in general and giant red rubber balls in particular. Some time before he left for Stanford, when the Thing That Killed Mom became too abstract and distant to be a credible force against the obstinate wall that was John Winchester, he forgot about it.
As he was hurled backwards, flying headfirst at a pane of smoked glass lit an eerie gold in the darkness, he thought that maybe, all those years ago, he'd been right. Only now John was "out" and the Thing was "out" and here he was, a red rubber ball thrown at nothing in particular by nothing at all. He liked it better when he could at least assign teams.
The glass shattered into a spray of silver and gold shot through with red and black. Sam's back hit the sill, becoming a fulcrum which sent his legs up and his head down into an awkward, painful flip. His feet struck metal with a hollow clang that reverberated through his head, drowning out the high toot and whistle of the Wurlitzer organ. His ankles hooked and his laces tangled around the leg of a giraffe and he was being dragged in a steady circle over rough, sticky concrete, and he thought this is all Dean's fault.
In all honesty, though, he knew it wasn't. For all of Dean's faults, he wasn't the source of universal perversity -- either the lewd sort or the contrary -- that Sam often wanted to make him out to be. Still, it was true that, if it weren't for Dean and his burgeoning and disturbing obsession with tentacles, he wouldn't even be in Maryland, much less being dragged around by a possessed carousel.
"Snallygaster, Sam," Dean had said. "Part bird, part reptile. The bastard son of a dragon and a thunderbird," he'd said. "Tentacles, Sam. Tentacles!"
And so they'd been off, riding the asphalt wave through Pennsylvania and into Maryland, chasing after a beast that hadn't been reliably spotted in at least thirty years, and had once been described as wearing water wings, riding a flying bicycle, and shouting "Balance the budget!" The artist's rendering Dean had found looked more like the Flying Spaghetti Monster to Sam than a creature bent on carrying off children and attacking whiskey stills. But Dean was determined, and excited and giddy in a way he hadn't been since well before Cold Oak, and these days Sam was too happy to see Dean being Dean to argue.
At least their encounter with the beast would hopefully turn Dean off tentacles for a good, long time.
A crash echoed over the boom of mechanical music and Sam caught a glimpse of blue denim and black cotton tumbling above him before it disappeared behind the head of an intricately carved and painted rabbit.
The Snallygaster was local to the Blue Ridge Mountains, occasionally spotted as far north as Ohio, and rumored to have made it only as far south as Rockville, Maryland. Sam had to wonder why it had seen fit in its flight to carry them here, to a turn of the century amusement park turned artist commune on the outskirts of the nation's capital. He could only think to blame it on that universal perversity, the mysterious force that had turned him and his brother into bouncing red playground balls in the first place.
He refused to call it "God". Even after being rubber-balled by angels and demons alike, Sam refused to see God with such a demented sense of humor.
The head of the rabbit shuddered and Dean appeared over it, Kilroy style, his eyes wide under eyebrows streaked in red. Sam tilted his head back to stare at him upside down as he was pulled along in the giraffe's wake.
"'Snallygaster,' you said."
"'Dragon,' you said."
The Wurlitzer howled, the carousel spun, and broken glass dug into Sam's back. Dean pushed himself up, clinging to the rabbit's ears, and stretched a hand forward to grab the tail of the horse in front of him. He dragged himself forward, his left leg held stiff and straight, the pant-leg bulging ankle to hip and leaking green gore against the rabbit's wooden feet. Sam lifted his head, grabbing at the carousel's suspended platform. He could see the thick, stubby end of the Snallygaster's tentacle dangling out from the cuff of Dean's jeans like some bizarre, avant-garde fashion accessory.
"'Tentacles, Sam.'" he said, sing-songing along to the Forget-me-not Waltz. "'Tentacles!'"
Dean's face screwed up tight as he shifted his weight to the ass of a brown and gold horse. "Never say that word to me again, Sam."
Sam wrapped his hand around the support pole for an ostrich and dragged himself up off the concrete and away from the scraping glass. "'Come on, Sam, haven't you always wanted to slay a dragon?'"
Dean slid himself to the floor, wincing as he dragged his left leg and laid himself out flat, then stretched out his hand to grab onto Sam's wrist and pull him the rest of the way onto the platform. "Seriously, dude, shut up."
"How's that tentacle feel now, Dean?"
"I will end you."
They lay there like that for a long moment, as the Wurlitzer shifted to Together We Two and they whirled past the two broken pavilion windows once . . . twice . . . three times before the music wound down and the carousel ground to a halt. The twinkling incandescent bulbs flickered and went out, leaving them with only the dim glow of the reflected neon sign, art deco letters proclaiming a stationary "Glen Echo" in several of the fancy mirrors. Sam breathed -- once, twice, three times -- and sat up. "Get me off this giraffe."
Dean lifted his head off the platform, staring at the window, yellow and blue light marking the planes of his face. "Is it over?"
A tinkling laugh blew in on a non-existent wind and Sam lunged toward his own ankle. "Dude! Giraffe! Off!"
A low toot trailed the laugh and Dean's eyes widened further. He scrambled to his hands and one knee, dragging himself from the ostrich to the giraffe and wrapping his arms around Sam's leg like -- like freaking tentacles. The carousel lurched and accelerated as though trying to throw them off. Sam grabbed onto Dean's shoulders as Dean clutched Sam's leg and centripetal force sent them tumbling up the slight bank of the platform and over the edge, back onto the concrete. There was a sharp, searing tug, and then Sam's shoelaces lost the battle between the force of the carousel and the brothers' combined weight.
"I hate Maryland," Dean said. Sam couldn't answer, not with Dean's right knee shoving into his gut. "Almost as much as I hate Florida."
"Snallygaster," Sam gasped. Dean shoved his knee even harder against Sam's diaphragm. The Wurlitzer matched its tempo to the speed of the carousel, the plinks and toots of the already manic Ben Hur Chariot Race blending into a chaotic howl. Sam shoved at Dean's chest, mouthing 'off, off!', but Dean was staring upwards, eyes wide, into the blaring music and glaring lights, so he closed his hands into fists and pounded.
Dean rolled off, narrowly missing clocking his head against the whirling metal platform and squashing Sam against the wooden wall of the pavilion.
"We gotta get out of here," Dean said, and Sam wanted to roll his eyes and say something pithy about Dean's amazing grasp of the obvious, but he was too busy trying to get his breath back. Dean scrambled forward, his left foot smacking into Sam's chest as he went.
Really, he was starting to wonder if his brother wasn't doing it on purpose.
Dean made it a whole six feet on his hands and one knee, shoulder knocking against the pavilion wall with a rattling thud just barely audible over the Wurlitzer every time he shifted his weight, by the time Sam made it to his feet. He shuffled forward, trying to ignore the way the spinning, flashing lights were playing havoc with his sense of balance, and reached for the back of Dean's jacket to haul him upright.
"There's no door!" Dean stumbled backwards into Sam, then forward again as he didn't so much limp as execute a bizarre hop-and-drag maneuver around the edge of the carousel. "Who the hell builds a building with no doors?!"
Sam opened his mouth to explain that it wasn't a building, it was a pavilion, that panels were meant to fold away when the carousel was open for business so they just had to figure out how to fold one of the panels. Instead, he found himself doubled over when Dean stumbled again, bounced off the wall, and managed to slam his elbow into Sam's stomach while he flailed to keep from falling into the whirring wooden animals.
It was a moot point, anyway. Dean had managed to find the broken windows. He yanked his sleeve down over his fist and knocked the shards of glass away from the base of the sill, then pushed himself up and over in a move that would have been graceful, if he'd had a full range of movement in his left leg. Sam caught a glimpse of Dean's wide eyes and "O" shaped mouth as he tumbled forward into a flip instead, tentacle stub flailing in the air before catching against an errant bit of glass, leaving Dean's booted foot sticking up over the window ledge like it was a character in a low-budget puppet show.
Sam rolled his eyes heavenward, trying not to sway, and mumbled a soft "I hate you" before climbing out after him. He had to give himself a good, sharp push off the ledge to make it over his prone brother, and the landing sent a jarring sensation through his ankle, which wasn't taking too kindly to the giraffe treatment.
Dean propped himself up on his elbows and looked up, peering at Sam through his lashes as he jerked his raised leg. "Peachy."
Sam chose, as usual, to ignore the sarcasm in Dean's tone. Instead, he took Dean's boot in his hand, determined to make good use of the flickering light from the still-whirling carousel and examine the tentacle himself. The flickering yellow and blue cast an odd light over the thing, making Dean look like a character from a badly-colorized Ed Wood film: jerky and unreal and paying more attention to something off camera than to his fellow actors. Actor. Sam. And, hey, maybe he was. It wasn't every day that you went up against a dragon and ended up battling a carousel instead.
Don Quixote and his windmills had nothing on the Winchester brothers.
"Dude." Dean was struggling to sit up despite the odd angle of his leg. "Stop feeling up my ankle and get that damned thing off already."
"Is it okay?" Sam poked at the stubby tentacle end, not sure he wanted to touch it. "I mean . . . does it hurt?"
"Head's worse," Dean grunted, stretching his hands up but missing his foot by inches before flopping back to the ground. "Leg's mostly just awkward. Come on, seriously, just get it off."
Sam picked at the gory hem of Dean's jeans. "I'm not sure if I can. Not without cutting your jeans off."
"Goddammit." Dean struggled to sit up again, then jerked his leg hard, out of Sam's grasp and off of the carousel window ledge. The carousel itself was winding down, the Wurlitzer slowing in time like a child's music box. By the time Dean had made it to his feet again, it was dark and still, a strange, looming shape through the dim, broken windows. The only remaining light came from the neon sign facing out against the road and the faint glow of distant houses and streetlights. Dean brushed himself off, then shook his leg furiously as though to dislodge the tentacle before giving up and turning back to the carousel. He pushed himself up over the ledge slowly this time to compensate for his stiff left leg.
"Dean, what the hell are you doing?"
"Be right back, Sammy."
Sam cursed and moved to follow him when a great, ululating cry cut through the quiet.
Right. The Snallygaster.
"Dean!" Sam pressed his back against the pavilion wall and searched the sky for the beast, wishing they hadn't lost their weapons in the flight over from the Impala. He couldn't see it, but the thing would be practically invisible against an already black sky. He wouldn't know it was there until it was on top of them. "Dean!"
"Just a second!" Dean called from within the carousel. Sam heard an odd thock-thock followed by a painful cracking sound that was quickly drowned out by another howl from the Snallygaster.
It sounded like it was in pain. Sam thought of the tentacle and the green blood. It probably wasn't used to prey that carried boot knives.
Boot knife. Dean still had his knife, now their only weapon. "Dean, it's back and I think it's pissed!"
"It can blow me!"
Made sense, considering what it might have already -- Sam's train of thought was broken off by his brother launching himself back through the window, tucking into a roll and coming up limping, knife in one hand, something conical and gleaming in the other. Sam had never been happier to have his thought processes interrupted.
Some things really just didn't bear thinking about.
"Where is the son of a bitch?" Dean pivoted on his left foot, hopping in a circle, hands held wide. Sam narrowed his eyes and tried to focus in on the thing in his brother's right hand. It was twisted and gold-plated, jagged at the wide end and narrowing into a wicked point. It looked familiar, somehow.
"Dean. Tell me you didn't just hack the horn off the unicorn."
"We needed a weapon."
"This carousel has got to be almost a hundred years old!"
"And it tried to kill us. That makes it fair game."
"But -- but --" Sam could feel his jaw flapping loose as he tried to get his mouth around the protests desperate to come out. He was certain that if he looked up this park, he'd find all sorts of proud references to the carousel, renovation and restoration projects, some kind of deep connection to the history of the area. Haunted amusement parks weren't nearly as common as some people thought they were, and a haunted carousel like this one wouldn't have stuck around long if it weren't very important to the people in the area.
But Dean was right. It had tried to kill them. And they needed something more than Dean's boot knife if they were going to get rid of the damned Snallygaster.
The Snallygaster howled again, and Dean turned his head back and forth before narrowing in on the sound. He set off at a rapid limp, and though Sam's head was pounding and his ankle was aching and for some reason, his fingers were itching, he hurried after him. They made their pathetic way to a weed- and ivy-choked doorway, freestanding on the edge of the park. Sam could just make out the broken, unlit sign hanging above it, announcing that it was the entrance to the "Crystal Pool". The Snallygaster, it seemed, had taken up residence inside.
The old door was no match for Dean's shoulder moving at full tilt, and within moments he and his brother were standing at the edge of a vast, cracked, empty pool. In the middle of the deep end, lying in a few inches of water, was the Snallygaster, curled up on its belly, its tentacles drawn in close to its face.
Suddenly, the thing looked much less like something evil that needed to be destroyed and far more like some pathetic creature trying to hold on to the last of its existence. Sam paused at the edge of the pool, and even Dean hesitated as he lowered himself down over the lip, his mad dash now a determined death-limp, his crude, tiny weapons still clutched in his hands.
"Dean, maybe we shouldn't. . . ." Sam let himself trail off, figuring that the effort was worthless, but Dean hesitated again, half-turning back so that Sam could see the odd, half-blank, half-desperate expression on his blue-and-yellow-lit face.
Then the Snallygaster let out a huge, blaring shriek like a train whistle and lunged for Dean, its giant beak wide open to display its glistening fangs, and Sam was forced to watch in seeming slow motion as his brother's eyes widened and he turned back towards it, left leg folding beneath him, sending him staggering back, arms flailing as the giant maw descended.