A/N: This is meant to be finished before the end of the day (11:59.59), but in case it isn't, I wanted to offer something up for Halloween. No deep meanings here - just a good ol' haunt. My first real attempt at pre-series, so be kind. Thanks to LdyAnne for reading through this and encouraging me like whoa. All remaining typos are 100% my fault.
Bradley Said It's Haunted
October 31, 1995
This was stupid. Dean had had the whole night planned, and nothing on the agenda involved skulking around in dust and cobwebs. He was supposed to go to a lame party, but only because Tracey Fielding was going to be there. It wouldn't have taken much to convince her to leave with him so they could play their own party games. If things had gone like they were supposed to, he would be tricking, treating and bobbing for Tracey's apples right about now. Oh, how he'd set his sights on those beautiful apples. At the start of the day, he was certain Tracey was exactly what he'd be doing all night long.
Instead, Dean stood on the front porch of the run-down Peabody house on the outskirts of town, pockets filled with rock salt, iron poker in hand and with his jaw clenched unhappily. He couldn't say he didn't know why he was there, and that it wasn't his own fault. A pathetic tilt of the head and a begging look from Sam had canceled his much-anticipated conquest in an embarrassingly quick amount of time. It was a sad, sorry state of affairs that he had been swayed so easily from such a guaranteed score.
The house was tucked away from the road, hidden behind overgrown grass, bushes and trees. There was no real need for stealth. Sam said the kids weren't going to show up for a couple more hours, and by then the Winchesters would be gone, their business (or lack of) done. Dean figured this might be a Halloween hotspot for all kinds of idiots, but they hadn't been in Fairmont long enough for him to have heard anything. Besides he generally spent less time listening and more time sleeping through the school hours, so chances were if there were something to hear he wouldn't have heard it.
He told himself that Sam had suckered him so easily because this was all local legend and no reality. Dad would have known if there was a bona fide haunted house in town, and he never would have left on his week-long anniversary bender without telling Dean about it. He never would have left town, period. No, this was probably a bunch of kids trying to freak Sam out, thinking him an easy mark as the new kid in school. In some ways, Dean thought his little brother was naïve. But in others, he knew Sam wasn't. Whatever. They were there now and he wanted to make this quick so he'd have time to salvage at least the most vital parts of his original plan. With any luck, those punk kids would be around somewhere to watch their handiwork; Dean would like a word with them. Nobody messed with his brother's head except him.
Still, Dean thought, with the way Sammy was starting to mope and whine about the training Dad put them through and the hunting lately, it meant something for him to initiate a hunt. Prank or no prank, Sam had shown interest. Dean might think more often than not lately that his brother was an alien hatched out of a pod, but he knew the kid deep down. Hell, he knew the kid better than he knew himself. Even if this was a bunch of bullshit and he thought it was stupid, he'd seen the crushed look on Sam's face one too many times when Dad didn't listen to one of his boring stories, and he didn't want to be the cause of that.
It wasn't surprising that he was about to B&E this craphole of a house on Sam's say-so.
Dean decided he'd keep an eye out for a patrol car or two, in case the local cops might anticipate trouble out here. He wasn't worried. Dad hadn't let him hunt alone yet, but this wasn't a hunt. This was a cakewalk, a bunch of pipsqueaks in Sammy's class coming out to scare themselves spitless. That was all. The more he repeated to himself that this house wasn't haunted, the more he wondered why he was repeating it to himself. He nudged the door open, rolling his eyes at the clichéd sound of the hinges creaking.
"Give me a break," he muttered.
He made his way through the entry hall, carefully stepping over holes in the floorboards, put there by age and vandals both. This was the perfect fake haunted house, he thought, there always seemed to be one of them in small towns like Fairmont. That might be why he hadn't heard anything about this place. He was so used to the ghost stories he no longer automatically believed them without more tangible signs of supernatural involvement. Well, that, and he wasn't a twelve-year-old sucker like Sammy.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," Dean chanted to the nonexistent haunt.
He thought five minutes inside would be enough to prove a good faith effort to Sam. He sauntered deeper into the house, his footsteps echoing hollowly. In the living room, piles of broken furniture circled the edges, some of it in obviously staged pyramids. Old magazines, license plates and books littered the floor. A McDonald's wrapper here, a pile of dried up shit, animal and (oh gross) human, there. It didn't take a genius to realize the house was a sleep spot for transients, and that stories and rumors had started from there.
What the house didn't have were any cold spots. There was no electricity, so there wasn't going to be any flickering lights. The more he thought about it, the less it made sense to him that he was there at all. It also reminded Dean that for all his concern about Sammy being a sucker, he was really the gigantic chump. This wasn't news, but with the thought of Tracey Fielding's apples fresh in his mind, it was more annoying than usual. That was it. Dean determined his five minutes were up, whether they were or weren't.
Skipping a halfhearted search of the upstairs, Dean headed straight for the back of the house to meet up with Sammy. Dad would have killed him for letting his little brother out of his sight, but with a heavy suspicion there was nothing doing at the Peabody estate, Dean's executive decision was that the kid could pull his own weight. He might be a sucker, but he was no fool. Sam had started this, he could see it through to the end. Besides that, nothing made Sam madder than feeling like he was being left out, even when most of the time Dean thought he should be left out. It was far too late to hope for anything like a normal, monster-free life for Sammy.
He wandered into the kitchen, twirling the iron poker like a baton. The cabinets were mostly just piles of wood, doors hanging on precariously by one hinge or off. The sink was rusted out, one of the faucets broken completely off. An old Formica-topped table lay on its side, legs torn off a long time ago. Sam wasn't anywhere in sight, though the back door was wide open. Sam should have finished in the kitchen quickly. They should have run into each other deeper into the house.
Dean tensed the muscles of his shoulders, stopping the poker mid-twirl and holding it at the ready. Standing stock still, he listened for any sign of his brother, for anything. All he could hear was the rustle of dead leaves on the ground outside as a breeze picked up, a dull thud of something hitting rotting wood. Glancing out the door, he saw a rocking chair on the small cement porch, banging up against the side of the house, propelled by the ghost of a wind gust. Cliché. Still somehow unsettling.
"Sammy," he said, keeping his voice low and steady. "Sam?"
No answer. That feeling, deep in his gut, started up, the one that told him something wasn't right. The one that was hardwired into his need to protect Sam. Dean lifted the poker even higher into swinging position as he edged toward the door, ready for anything. His mind raced. If he'd been wrong, if he'd blown this off as a prank and it wasn't and Sam … Dean really needed to find his brother. He wished he'd brought the shotgun Dad had left with them. He suddenly thought maybe he was going to need it.
The only place Sam could be was outside. Dean pressed himself up against the doorframe, peering out. His angle was limited, there was too much he couldn't see. The backyard was filled with trees and junk, dark shapes with hard angles. Sam could be out there, or he could be miles away. If he went out there now, he might be walking into a trap. Better to go through the house, get a broader and better look from a different vantage point. He withdrew back into the kitchen.
Halfway through the room, he heard something skitter in the cupboard next to the sink. It was the only one with the door still on both hinges. As Dean looked on, the door bumped open and shut. It was probably a rat, maybe a squirrel. Dean had to look anyway, though his attention was primarily on thinking about all the ways Sam was just fine.
Expecting to find only a rodent or two, Dean nevertheless prepared to bludgeon something to death with the poker. He approached the cabinets, paused only a second and then threw open the door. From inside sprang long, dark worm-like shapes, and the room filled with rapid flashes of light. Shielding his face, he grimaced and ducked in alarm and confusion, swinging at his assailants blindly. After five seconds, everything returned to quiet except his heart, which pounded so fast he was sure he could hear the blood swishing in through his veins.
It took a moment before Dean gathered his wits enough to realize the attack had been … a cupboard full of snakes-in-a-can. The set-up was brilliant and masterfully executed with an elaborate collection of strings, rubber bands, duct tape, and a Polaroid camera. He found a note taped on the inside of the door with "Hi, Dean" scrawled on it in recognizable, tight lines. He snatched the developing photos from the countertop, cringing at the ridiculous expressions on his face.
"Sam," he called.
No answer, but he hadn't expected one this time. If Sam knew what was good for him, and he did, he'd be nowhere in sight for a minute. Dean's anger didn't last much beyond that. The longer he stood holding those photos of himself looking like an idiot, the more his irritation became admiration for Sam's devious plotting and planning. This was an intricate stunt, which was another sign Sam had momentarily gone off the preteen angstfest depressants. Dean had to enjoy it while it lasted; he had no doubt next week Sam would be his regular pain in the ass self. Or maybe sooner, once Dean got his revenge. He was thinking it might be time to break out the Nair.
"Where are you, you little bitch?" Part of the fun was carrying on with the ruse, building up Sam for his finesse. "You're gonna pay for this."
No giggle, no Sam bursting out of the woodwork to point and laugh and claim temporary victory. Dean furrowed his eyebrows, the pit in his stomach made a rapid return. What good was Sam's gag if his little brother hadn't planned out how to get his hands on the incriminating evidence? Sam wouldn't let him walk away with the snapshots, not in a million years; he was too crafty. Glancing down at the stupid pictures grasped tightly in his hand, Dean wanted to tear them to pieces, but not because they made him look like an idiot. The impulse was baser than that.
"Sam, this isn't funny. Get your ass in here right now," Dean shouted.
This time when no answer came, he knew for certain it was because something was wrong. A multitude of horrible scenarios ran through his head. Sam trapped. Sam bleeding. Sam dead. Dean felt sick at how much of a jerk he'd been just ten minutes ago, thinking himself a fool for pandering to Sam's emo needs. He swore if Sam showed up from behind a door or a corner with a grin on his face now, he was going to kill him, himself. He'd also be one hundred percent relieved. He let the photos fall to the floor.
He already knew Sam couldn't have gone deeper inside, so he returned to the back door. The wind had picked up, banging the rocking chair into the house at a faster tempo. It was a distraction he didn't need, and for some reason it made him angry. Dean kicked the chair over with a sideswipe of his left leg, never taking his eyes off the yard. His senses were on alert, but he still saw nothing out there. There was only the howling wind and a graveyard of old appliances, beer bottles, tires and the rusted-out carcass of a VW Beetle.
No trace of Sam. The pit in Dean's gut turned into full-blown panic. He couldn't afford to panic right now. He considered what his father would do, modeling his behavior on that ideal, except the part where John Winchester murdered him for getting Sammy lost at a freaking bogus haunted house.
Except maybe it wasn't bogus. Dean had to have overlooked something. He and Sam were the only ones out there, and he hadn't been so out of it he wouldn't have heard someone approach. He knew Sam wouldn't have gone silently, if he was actually gone. So, Sam had to be close. Circumnavigating the junk piles was slow going, but Dean knew slow and steady was important in retaining some level of calm. When he was through with looking in old refrigerators and washing machines, he moved back to the house to search every side before heading back in.
"Sam," he said again, just loud enough to be heard above the wind. Half of him clung to the hope that this was part of Sam's joke, as sick and unfunny as it was. It beat Sam being gone or worse. "Sammy."
To the left of the back door he saw the entrance to a cellar. At this point, it was the only lead Dean had, but when he got closer to the double doors he saw there was an ancient padlock with thick chains wrapped around the handles. Sam couldn't be down there. It was locked from the outside, he thought stupidly, so it was impossible. Dean reached for the lock and chains anyway, pulling his hand back when it contacted something wet and warm. It was too dark now for him to see much, but as he stared at his palm he knew what the substance was.
Blood. Warm, fresh ohshitSamwhereareyou? blood.
Sam knew the Peabody house wasn't haunted. Contrary to what Dad and sometimes Dean thought, he wasn't a stupid little kid anymore. The second he'd heard Bradley Hoffstedler talking about the haunted house on the edge of town in a loud, haha-let's-screw-with-the-new-kid-voice Sam recognized instantly, he'd known two things: 1) Brad Hoffstedler was going to be the bane of his existence while they were in Fairmont, and 2) if he played it right, this might be the perfect opportunity to get Dean back for putting his hair in pink bow barrettes, slathering his face in Cover Girl makeup while he slept and then waking him with literally thirty seconds before he had to get out of the house to school. Dean hated when kids picked on him, and yet…
It hadn't taken Sam long to figure out what he was going to do, especially once Dean started bragging about some girl he was going to score with. As soon as Dean's brain was on sex, it was like everything smart about him got dumbed right out of him. He didn't think Dean even knew this about himself, and it was to Sam's great advantage. After Dad left, it was simple. Dean hardly noticed Sam sneaking off for an hour or two every day after school. It was a lot of work, Dean always told him he made things too complicated, but Sam knew it would be worth it in the end. Dean would never expect it, not in a million years. Not once Sam virtually begged him to help save some of his classmates.
Every time he felt a twinge of regret for the manipulation, Sam would remember the laughter as he'd run into school with barrettes in his hair and bright red lipstick drawn cartoonishly across his lips. Miraculously, he stopped feeling bad when he thought about that. As they walked up the drive to the Peabody house, he could barely keep the grin off his face. Dean stomped next to him angrily, mind still on the sex he would now be missing. He'd be even madder once he realized the only ghosts on the Peabody property were the vapor trails twirling specter-like in the air with their every exhalation. God, Minnesota was cold.
"You go around back, Sammy," Dean said.
Sam's heart raced. Split up? Oh, crap, Dean knew something was up after all. Dean would never let him out of his sight otherwise. He nodded, though, pretending he was very excited for the opportunity to join this "hunt" on his own. Maybe it would be better this way. He could be back there, hiding in the kitchen so when Dean sprang the trap he would have a front row seat. The grin was back, threatening to give everything away.
"Okay," he said, lifting the small iron poker he was carrying. Had to sell the performance. The switchblade in his pocket felt heavy, significant. "You sure?"
"You know what to do, kid."
Sam took a deep breath, trying to look both scared and confident at the same time. It wasn't hard. It was how he felt most of the time.
"Be careful, he says," Dean said, rolling his eyes. "You're the runt, runt. You be careful. Don't let the big bad ghosts get you."
Yeah, Dean definitely knew something was hinky. Sam felt a stab of disappointment. He'd been so sure he had managed it all without Dean having a clue. Oh, well. It didn't matter. They were here now, like he'd wanted. He was positive Dean might not believe there was a ghost in the house, but that he didn't know about the trick Sam had worked so hard to set up. This was going to be epic. Dean would have to admit his little brother got him good.
Sam moved quietly. Even though he knew there was nothing supernatural to deal with – he had not once seen or heard anything out of the ordinary during his frequent visits – he wanted to keep on making it look good. He couldn't tromp around like an elephant. He'd give Dean enough time to poke around the second floor, then conveniently not show up anywhere downstairs so his brother would have come back to the kitchen. He rounded the corner of the house, the wind swirling around him. In the dark, he had to admit the back yard was creepy. But only normal creepy, not creepy, creepy.
He was trotting up the few steps to the back porch when it happened, and it went down so fast he didn't have time to think, let alone react. As Sam plummeted onto hard, sharp-edged cement, he did try to understand what was happening. Unfortunately, all he got was "oh I'm falling" when his chin smacked into the top step, he bit his tongue and his head clunked against cement. Everything became bursts of fireworks and pain and then nothingness.
It didn't last longer than a second or two. Sam came to flat on his back and with the ground rippling beneath him. No, no, he was moving across it but that wasn't possible because he couldn't feel his arms and legs or anything, so he couldn't be moving. There were flashes of stars and deep near-black blue sky above, snatches seen through trees that still somehow had a few leaves hanging on branches. He blinked, trying to get his brain to work. The backs of his hands scratched along cool blades of grass and rough pebbles.
He was being dragged. How? Who? Dean, help. Sam couldn't do more than croak, but he knew he had to do something. This couldn't be but was happening. Shit, he needed to pull it together. His hands were blocks of ice, his fingers icicles, but he forced them to move. He fumbled in his pocket for the only defense he had against … he didn't know who or what or how. Couldn't think about it even if he could think. He had a sudden, strange urge to giggle.
"Dean," he said instead, not recognizing his own voice. He sounded like a baby. He didn't want to be a baby, but now he wanted to cry and not laugh. Tears were hot in his eyes and he was scared as hell.
"Shhhh," someone said, a voice both male and female, hard and soft. "Shhhh."
Shit. Crap. His fingers finally closed around the switchblade as his body stopped sliding along the bumpy ground. There was a low, jangling sound, the scrape of metal on metal and then metal on wood. Sam blinked again and again, but still all he could see was stars and branches. He lifted his head, squinting at the huge figure clutching at one of his ankles. Left ankle or right? Wrong. Oh, this was all wrong. The dark shape leaned in close and Sam did what came instinctively.
He flicked the switchblade and jabbed uncoordinatedly at the large mass of whatever or whoever. Sam didn't think he had the strength, but knew the second the blade sank into something firm and fleshy. He nearly lost it, his stomach coming to life with nausea. The thing he'd knifed didn't make a sound. He knew he'd hit it, though. It let go of his ankle as it hunched over, and Sam kicked and scuttled backward on the cold earth. As soon as he was far enough away from his attacker, he flipped over to his hands and knees, crawling. Wriggling when his legs refused to work like they should.
"Sammy … Sam?"
Dean. That was Dean's voice, faint and cautious. It came from so far away. Dean was close, though. Dean. Dean would help him. Sam was so, so sorry about the prank. He hoped Dean wasn't too mad to help, to save him. No ghosts there, but he was in a cold spot. Cold, wrong. Heart beating too fast. Mind racing but not working right. He opened his mouth to shout. All Sam knew for certain at this moment was that Dean would help him no matter what. It was all he could count on in his life, all he'd ever counted on. Another deep clank sounded nearby and an icy, wet heaviness across his mouth and nose. He smelled and tasted blood. His stomach clenched, and his vision tunneled.
"Shhhh, now," it said into his ear. It spoke English. Human? "Be a good boy, Sammy."
With the pungent smell of blood in his nose and the sharp taste of it on his tongue, Sam gagged once and then blacked out.
Waking this time was slow. Sam still smelled blood, but there was something else. Dankness, cool dirt. Wet rocks and mold. Straw and burlap. Something underlying it all, a smell of decay and rot. He opened his eyes a crack. All he could see was dark, and out of only one eye. He lay on his right side, face half buried in a stinky pillow. He turned onto his back, opening his eyes wider with the hope things would become clearer. Wherever he was now, there was no light. No matter how wide his eyes got, he couldn't see. He sat up, a faint rustling from beneath him sounding very loud in the silence.
Dean hadn't saved him. Sam knew it wasn't because he'd unleashed snakes-in-a-can on him, but at the same time he somehow wondered if that was why he was wherever he was and Dean wasn't with him. Unless Dean was with him and he was hurt or unconscious. He didn't know if that would be worse or better. Better. He shivered.
"Dean?" he said cautiously.
His brother, if he was there, didn't answer. Sam almost maybe kind of wanted this to be a really bad joke, for Dean to have figured it all out and gotten Sam before Sam got him. But Dean would never hurt him. Scare him, yes. Hurt, no. And Sam was hurting. His head pounded, his tongue felt swollen and tender and there was something sticky on his chin. Blood, probably. He pressed the butt of his left hand against his temple, his arm shaking from the exertion. His whole body shook. It was cold.
Tonight was supposed to have been fun. This was supposed to have been a stupid attempt at revenge, a chance for him to prove to Dean that he was as good at giving as he was at receiving. Dean always expected lame pranks out of him. Sam stood up on shaky legs, shuffling away from the bed or cot he'd been on. Maybe he could find Dean, if Dean was there with him. Dean had to be there with him, because he didn't know if he could get away all by himself. There was something heavy on his left ankle. He heard a familiar, heavy clank. Forward motion was halted after two steps. He tried to crouch down, feeling for his ankle, but he got dizzy and collapsed back onto the lumpy cot.
He didn't have to touch it with his fingers it to know was chained up, and he didn't know where or why. Sam tugged at his shackle, out of frustration and not any real idea he could get loose. The rattle of thick chains against cement or rock was loud and ominous. The room fell into quiet again. All he could hear was his own breathing, at least for a moment. Then there came a soft, swooshing noise somewhere to his right. He widened his eyes again, still trying to see. There must be light coming from somewhere. His eyes adjusted somewhat. He could see shapes, nothing more than darker blobs among the dimness.
"He … hello," he said. "Dean, is that you?"
Almost immediately after he'd spoken, Sam knew it wasn't his brother. He felt a presence near him, but it didn't feel like Dean. No, he was all alone with something or someone else. Sam tried not to freak out. Freaking out was the last thing he should do right now, but, chained to the wall in a dark dungeon, freaking out was about all he could do. His blade was gone. He had no idea where the iron rod he'd had was. The only weapon he had was a rough pillow, and that wasn't even good for crying into. He was dead. He was so dead.
No, Sam wasn't going to sit around and wait to be dinner or worse for something. Dad would never let him live it down. He nearly laughed and cried again. Dad would never anything with him if he was dead. Sam got himself under control with a shaky breath. He wiggled on the cot, trying to figure out if it had springs somewhere. He didn't want to make any sudden movements, in case whatever had him could see in the dark. It rubs the lotion on its skin. Oh, crap, Sam was going on a diet the very minute he got out of there. No more Twinkies just to spite his father and his stupid training. He wasn't going to be some sick freak's skin wallet. His hand shook, partly from cold but mostly from stark fear. He reached to the side cautiously, running his numb fingers along the coarse mattress and down until they contacted the frame.
It was made of wood. Oh, crap. No longer caring if he gave himself away, Sam shoved the thin mattress aside and felt under it. The entire frame was wood. The shackle on his ankle felt heavier than ever. He pulled at it. Panic returned, made his movements jerky and useless. He grunted as he heaved backward.
God, that was right next to him. Sam stopped moving. He almost stopped breathing. He wanted to move, but had nowhere to go. His knees were jammed against the bed and behind him, he could feel it behind him. So close. Too damned close. He lifted his right foot, willing it not to get tangled up in the chain, and kicked backwards. Like the knife earlier, it struck something. It did no good. A strong arm wrapped around his middle, another across his chest. Held him tight, almost like a hug.
"Shhhh," it said.
Sam wished it would stop saying that.
"Dean," Sam screamed as loud as he possibly could, because if Dean were anywhere near he would hear it. Sam really, really needed him to hear it. "Dean, I'm here!"
The almost-hug transformed into a tight grip on his arms. Sam was thrust forward, face pressed into the smelly mattress. He couldn't breathe. It was suffocating him. He didn't want to die. Sam fought wildly, but it was no use. His opponent was way too big and strong.
Dean's brain turned to a pool of sludge, useless and uncomprehending. All he could do was stare down at the black smears on his hand, as if he were a wet behind the ears rube who'd never seen blood before. He blinked a couple times, stupidly waiting for it to make sense. Finally, it did. It wasn't Sam's blood. It couldn't be. Dean refused to believe it. He crouched and quickly, frantically wiped his hand clean on the grass. He looked at it when he was done, checking. The blood was mostly gone, but he could still feel it, like a remnant thought whispering in the back of his mind that it really was Sam's.
"SAM," he yelled at the top of his lungs, knowing if Sam were anywhere nearby he would hear him and do whatever it took to reveal himself.
The only answer he got was skittering in a nearby tree, claws on bark, a squirrel terrified out of its tiny wits. He had to start the search somewhere. Though he knew it was impossible for Sam to be in the cellar, there was only one thing Dean could do. He didn't think much beyond his incredible need to take action, pounding at the padlock with the fire poker with every ounce of his strength. It wasn't enough. Other than a few gouges in the old, rotting wood of the door, the poker was useless. He dropped it, letting it slip through his fingers and thud to the ground. It clinked against something. Dean leaned, catching sight of a glint in the dim light. The second his fingers closed around it, he knew what it was. Sam's knife. Blood covered the blade, was already turning gummy on the handle.
"Damn it," Dean muttered. His stomach did a flip. "Sammy, you'd better have stuck the son of a bitch."
He slipped the blade into the ground, getting it as clean as he could. Like on his hands, traces of blood remained. It wasn't Sam's. It wasn't. Dean's brain had caught up completely by now. He knew had to get into the cellar. If there was even the slightest chance his brother was down there right now, then Dean couldn't let some rusty metal stop him. The gouges shone slightly brighter than the rest of the wood, looking like a large animal had attacked the door.
There was no way Dean could break the lock with his limited resources, but the wood was soft. With renewed resolve, he picked up the poker and began carving the door, focusing all of his energy on the wood around the hinges. The work wasn't as easy as he'd hoped, but his motivation kept him strong. Fear-driven adrenaline pumped through his veins, would keep him going as long as it took. He punctuated each strike with a guttural sound he knew was desperate. He didn't give a damn. Dad wasn't there to tell him to suck it up. He needed this outlet.
Dean couldn't believe all of ten minutes ago he'd been cursing Sam for pulling a stupid prank. He actually hoped there'd be some more motherfucking snakes-in-a-can down in the cellar when he got there, and Sam standing there holding a jar of stage blood, even though he knew there was nothing stage about the blood under his fingernails. And Sammy thought he wasn't a dreamer.
It seemed to take a long time, but it had probably only been a few minutes. He finally broke through the wood to the old hinges below. The hinges weren't all the way cleared, but Dean didn't care. Setting the poker aside again, he heaved the door – both doors – open, splinters flying all over the place, slivers puncturing his fingertips. Dank, stale air wafted up from the dark hole in the earth, but no sound. He bit back the impulse to cry out for his brother. He'd made too much of a racket to expect he could manage a surprise attack now. He wished again for the shotgun, though in his current jumpy state it might do more harm than good.
The steps were weak, bending under Dean's weight as he slowly descended with Sam's blade in his left hand and the poker in his right. If he hadn't needed caution in anticipation of what lay beneath, he'd have needed it to make sure he didn't fall ass over teakettle down the stairs. He brushed against the large stones lining the stairwell, for balance and steadiness. He wiped the images of Sam broken and bloody from his mind's eye, couldn't let himself get distracted by what-ifs and maybes. The closer he got to the bottom, the more he expected some type of offensive attack.
None came. No sound but his own controlled breaths and the stairs groaning slightly under his weight filled the night. His mind was capable of conjuring auditory figments, too, because Dean swore he could hear Sammy calling for his help. He listened for a second, to make sure it hadn't been real. Then he stepped from the last stair onto cement that sounded wet under his feet. The air was cold, and it was far too dark. From what little he could see, the walls were also made of stone. No obvious light source. No obvious sign of his brother. Dean lodged the poker under his left arm and fished out his penlight, illuminating the cellar.
He knew there was nothing and no one there, but it was still disheartening when the flashlight revealed that it was true. There were shelves covered in cobwebs, a few jars of something he couldn't name and didn't want to scattered on them. In the far corner there was a hole that looked deep and was filled with water.
"Shit," he said. "Gimme a sign, little brother."
Abandoning the basement, Dean took the rickety stairs two at a time back into the open. The yard was still quiet. If anything, it seemed quieter. The wind had died down. The VW Beetle looked like it was laughing at him. Screw that. He wasn't going to lose it now. The cellar had been too easy anyway. Someone or something had his brother; they wouldn't remain close. That … didn't make him feel better. In the time it had taken him to get into and search the small root cellar, Sam could have been taken who knew where. Dean didn't know what to do. He was tough. He was cool.
He wanted his daddy.
Unfortunately, Dean had no idea where Dad was either. Even if he did, he had no way to get in touch with him. He had to do this alone. He could do this alone. The switchblade in his hand felt heavy. His fingers tightened. He scanned the ground around where he'd found the knife, looking for blood drops. There was some spatter. Not much. He was relieved and worried by that at the same time, depending on whose blood it was. He shone the flashlight across the grass until he found a trail, and followed it.
The blood disappeared after ten feet. So did the trampled grass, the scuffed dirt, and Dean's hope. None of this made sense. The house was not haunted. He knew that in his gut, but whatever nabbed Sam was fast and it was silent and it had done it right from under his nose. That was worse than a friggin' ghost. He thought of those five minutes inside, him pretending he was playing along with the game. Five minutes could go by in a flash, or they could last forever. For Dean, they'd gone fast, but he didn't think the same was true for Sam.
No more wallowing. He had work to do. He needed better weapons. He needed a plan. As much as he wanted to tear through the grove surrounding the Peabody estate, Dean knew it would get him nowhere. Fifty feet to the north lay civilization. Fifty feet to the south lay nothing but empty fields. Either direction meant the same to him: a quick escape route.
"SAM," he shouted again, hoping with the wind gone maybe he'd hear a response.
He did. From around the front of the house came snorting, snuffling sounds and one half-swallowed giggle. Dean ran, convinced it was Sam and ready to throttle him. He was all for a good practical joke, but this had gotten out of hand. The cold dread in his gut would linger for a while. It was there like a block of ice even now, as anger and relief boiled through him.
"Sam, this wasn't fun –"
Dean slid to a halt, confused. There was no one up there. One of the overgrown bushes next to the front steps rustled, and not from the wind. He retracted the blade of the knife and slid it in his salt-filled pocket, pretending to look confused for a second. He put on a good show, walking around the yard like he didn't have the first clue Sam was in the bush. The kid was sloppy as hell. Dad would have his head if he knew this was the kind of stealth tactics Sam had in him. He climbed the steps to the porch slowly, still playing like he was unaware of his pain in the ass little brother.
The timing was perfect. Dean waited until he knew Sam had to be relaxing into careless self-satisfaction, then he launched himself over the shaky railing and into the hiding spot.
"You're going to pay for this, you asshole," he shouted. Further insults stuck in his throat, jammed up by confusion and disappointment.
The shocked, white face gawking back at him wasn't Sam's. The kid's features were hard to distinguish at first. He seemed to be all enormous eyes, flared nostrils and a mouth open so wide Dean could see how many fillings there were in it. The mouth flapped shut, then open again. The eyes remained like saucers.
"I didn't do anything," the kid said, voice high-pitched and trembling. He flung his arms up in front of his face. "I didn't – I swear I didn't do it. Please don't hurt me."
"I'm not going to hurt you. What the hell are you doing out here?" Dean said, then remembered it was Halloween and this place was like a magnet for stupid kids.
"Nothing. Nothing. I just wanted to scare him. I didn't do anything," the kid rambled.
Damn it. Dean wasn't a bully, but suddenly had to tamp down the urge to pop the boy one. He knew who this was – Brad Hoffstedler, as in, "Dean, Bradley said it's haunted and I just know some kids are going to go get themselves hurt tonight." Well, at least Sam hadn't lied about some things. And ironically, the one kid who'd gotten hurt was himself. Knowing Sam like he did, his brother had probably seen a great opportunity when this punk had started goading and trying to freak him out. Dean's mouth tasted sour. He'd started the prank war. He always started the pranks.
"Scare who, Brad?" He knew the answer already. He needed to hear it.
"H-how do you know my name?" The kid blinked at him. Blinked some more when Dean glowered at him and waited for an answer. The words came in a rush after that. "The new kid. Winchester. Everyone in town knows the stories about this place. The ghosts, the pervo family that used to live here. New kids always fall for it. Please don't hurt me."
"I told you I'm not going to hurt you."
Though taking a mental step back, Dean could see why Brad was concerned. Dean had his hands balled into fists and he towered at least six inches over the kid. Maybe more, since Dean stood while Brad cowered on the ground. There was something rolled up next to him, white. Dean leaned, not displeased when Brad yelped. He picked up the white thing – a sheet, tattered. Two small holes cut into it. Eyeholes.
"This was your big plan," Dean stated flatly. "A sheet over your head?"
"I just wanted to make him pee his pants. He looks like a real wimp. You should see him," Brad said. "I'm sorry."
He was sorry. A sad, sorry bully who deserved a beat down, but not tonight. Dean didn't have time to deal with this punk now, might never have time. All he needed was for the kid to get gone.
"That new kid happens to be my brother." Dean glowered. "He ain't a wimp, and you will never even think about pulling this kind of shit on him again."
If he's still alive. The voice in Dean's head was cruel.
"Yeah. Okay," Brad said.
Dean was about to tell Brad to get the hell out of there when he heard faint voices whispering up the driveway. Of course this wasn't a one-man show.
"Go. All of you, clear out. If you wanna have fun, egg the gym teacher's house or something. The new kid is off limits. You got me?"
"I got you," Brad squeaked, darting out of the bush as if his life depended on it.
The second Dean was alone, he sagged back against the porch. He'd just wasted too much time chasing the wrong kind of monster, the kind with a bigger bark than bite. The kind with baby teeth. Valuable minutes were gone, and Sam was that much further out of his grasp. He didn't know who he thought he was kidding. Not himself. He had no fucking idea what he was dealing with. The only less-than-stellar brainstorm he had at this point involved getting a shotgun to shoot at an invisible enemy. Really, Sam had been out of his reach since his executive decision to split up.
When it boiled down to it, Sam disappearing was entirely his fault. He'd been careless and stupid, Sam was paying for it and Dean still didn't know what to do. It was time to fish or cut bait. Since he had only one plan, he was going to stick to it. Something was getting found tonight, and something was getting shot to death, especially if he found his brother hurt at all. It wasn't Sam's blood staining the handle of his own switchblade. It wasn't. He shook himself out of his hesitation, vowing to not get caught in that trap again. Dean eased his way out of the bush and trotted down the driveway. It was all about time, making up for what he'd lost and not losing any more.
He was so focused on the task at hand and the constant reaffirmations that Sam was okay, Dean didn't know anything had hit him until his knees met sharp gravel. Then the pain came.