K Hanna Korossy
"Michael, did you finish your homework?"
He quickly stuffed the book down behind his pillow and gave his mom a smile as she walked in the door. "Almost, just gotta finish one thing."
"Great. You think maybe you could help Ash with his math when you're done? He always listens better to you."
"Sure." His mouth only flattened out when she left, then he dove back for the book.
It was sheer accident he'd found it, browsing for more horror in the used bookstore down the street. The shtriga should've been enough of a nightmare for a lifetime, but he'd only found his appetite whetted and the book was an awesome find. According to the 'net, there was a whole series, and he planned to track down every one. How cool was it that someone had written books about them?
And that Dean really would do anything for his little brother.
"Oh, I almost forgot, my dear. Here's that book I was telling you about. If I didn't know better, Sarah, I'd swear the girl in it was you—same name, same job, same town! Except for the homicidal spirits." Elaine tittered at the absurdity of it as she handed the slim volume over.
Sarah Blake tried to laugh with her, and the Fabio-esque models on the cover helped. But as she turned the book over and began to read the summary on the back, her smile faded. Couldn't be…
"So, you'll let me know when that D'Angelo piece comes in?"
Sarah dragged her attention back to her client and friend, mustering a weak, "Of course."
Elaine patted her hand, turned, and walked out of the showroom.
Left alone, Sarah stood and stared at the book for a long minute, remembering Sam and his bashful smile and pained eyes. He'd stayed in touch longer than she'd expected, but she hadn't heard from him since…well, since Dean died. If he'd reacted to that as she expected, she was pretty sure she wouldn't want to.
Still, it was with a quiet pang that she dropped the book into the wastebasket and went upstairs.
"Babe. I need to ask you something."
Evan looked up at his wife, drinking in her beautiful features once more, always finding it hard to believe how lucky he was. "Yes?"
Olivia took a sip of wine, her face unusually sober. "We received this proposal today for a series of books—the old publisher was bowing out—about two brothers who go around the country killing monsters. It's pulp—I was ready to pass on it—but…one of the characters was named Evan Hudson so I started reading…"
Evan's face flushed, sweat breaking out above his lip. He'd half convinced himself it had been a dream, some kind of warped fantasy produced by a frightened, grieving mind.
Olivia was looking at him intently. "And it had me in it. My cancer going away because of some deal, and ten years later, the way you were acting. Evan, it even explained those weird gouges in the floor in the den. I need…" She flinched and shook her head. "I know this is crazy, but…I need to know. Is there…?"
He wasn't going to make her ask. The books…he had no idea where those had come from. But maybe it was meant to be. He'd carried this secret long enough.
Evan put down his glass and took her hand. "I met this woman at a bar by a crossroads…"
"Aw, man." Marty shook his head with admiration as he flipped through the book. "This is…this is sweet."
"Yeah, huh?" His assistant—Marty kept forgetting his name—grinned back. "Thought you'd like it. The guy in that one, he even sounds like you, Mr. Flagg."
There was a reason for that, not that Marty had any intention of telling the guy. Clearly those PA/ghosthunter guys had been in it for the buck, too. Kinda amateur, not even changing any names, but so what? He could respect someone who saw a golden opportunity to cash in on his experiences. He was betting this "Carver Edlund" was really that Dean guy—that one'd had style.
"So, you think we should option it?"
Marty tilted his head. "Are you kidding me? Get the rights to the whole series. We'll do one every year—it'll be the next Harry Potter."
And with his name in the credits, Marty leaned back with a grin, it would be gangbusters.
"So, what're you reading? Still on that man-girl series?"
Maggie Zeddmore quickly slid the book back into the comic shop bag and tried not to roll her eyes. "It's manga, Harry. And no, I, uh, found this cool adaptation of…Ghost Rider in the shop."
Her boyfriend—and seriously, how weird was that still?—frowned. "Ghost Rider—is that like the headless horseman or something?"
"Or something," she agreed amicably, hopping down from the bench. "Where's Ed?"
"Oh, he's setting up for the next video we're gonna film. Yeah, this one's gonna be sweet—we're gonna walk all over those wannabe Winchesters, plus with fame and royalties."
Maggie cringed, sliding her hands into her back pockets and her eyes to the bag on the bench. "You know, I don't think the Winchesters are really fakes, Harry. I mean, some of the things I've heard they did—"
He blinked at her. "Ett too, Maggie? How can you say that? You know what they did to our pilot."
"I know, but… I don't know, it was just something I read." She shrugged it off. "So, what are you doing in this vid?"
She wasn't sure how she ended up in this store, but something powerful had drawn her there. Missouri's eyes narrowed at the dusky interior, then closed altogether as she let whatever it was pull her.
She ended up in front of the horror section, of all things. Not exactly her favorite genre; give her a handsome hunk in a ripped shirt anytime. But there was something here… She raised her hand, dropped it on a small, dark paperback.
Heart, the cover declared in gothic letters, above a picture of a girl with long canines and shaggy hair. A dark-haired bodybuilder was staring at her mournfully, gun clutched in his hand. Trash reading that was even beneath her, but as she moved to put it back, something made it cling to her hand. Frowning deeply now, Missouri turned the book over to read the back.
And gasped. "Lordy, what did you two get yourselves into now?" she murmured.
At the end of the summary, Missouri turned the book over again to look at the muscle-bound man who was apparently supposed to be Sam. She shook her head, raising one eyebrow before she firmly tucked the book behind the others on the shelf.
"I hope you boys know what you're doing," she chided the world at large, and walked out of the store without a backward glance.
She'd almost checked herself into the psych ward for a while.
But Katie needed her. The real Katie, not the one who'd looked monstrous in the mirror, nor, apparently, the one Annette had tried to drown in the lake. Although, she never would forget seeing Katie watching her as she rolled the car into the water…
So, it was touch-and-go for a while. Annette had spent a lot of hours in the bathroom sobbing and rocking and trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't. But Todd was dead, and Katie still had nightmares from whatever those creatures that had replaced her had done to her, and she needed her mom.
Annette hadn't realized what she'd needed until she'd stayed up nearly the whole night on the computer, searching, and finally came upon it.
At first she thought it was a book about…about people like them, and the kind of monsters they'd faced. But Katie was in it, and Annette, and Lisa and Ben and others. Somehow, it was her story, and while that should have been ridiculous, impossible, so would've been at one time the idea that she'd drown her daughter. She ordered the book, even if it was out of print and ridiculously expensive.
Katie went over to Chloe's for a sleepover the day the book came—the girls spent a lot of time talking about their shared ordeal, which Annette had agreed with Chloe's mom was a good idea—and Annette climbed into bed with the book and a bottle of wine.
Four hours later, the bottle was empty, her face was wet with tears, and…
She'd found it. Answers. Closure. Whatever you wanted to call it. It hadn't been Katie she'd tried to kill, it really hadn't, and other parents had done terrible things to try to stop those monsters, too. It wasn't just her. She wasn't horrible. It hadn't been Katie; her child was safe.
It was the first night Annette slept straight through since Todd had died.
Okay, so she googled him sometimes. She was a reporter, after all, and he was in a…dangerous line of work. It made her nostalgic, and annoyed, and worried every time she did it, but Cassie couldn't seem to stop. Even when, God help her, she found he'd finally run out of luck, going up in an oddly karmic blaze of glory in a police station explosion. She'd thought she'd mourned and moved on, but she couldn't seem to stop looking for traces of his old life, a life he'd once invited her to share.
She hadn't been expecting to find this, though. She hadn't even known he could write.
Cassie stared at the screen first in disbelief, then growing outrage. He hadn't had the time for her, but he'd found enough to write this…this? Amazon let her search inside the book and, crap. Even the sex was in there. The jerk had not only written about them—about all of them—he hadn't even changed their names! Her cheeks burned as she read details that only the two of them had known.
It was a good thing he was dead, or she'd kill him herself.
But…there was passion in the words, and longing, and care. He'd loved her in a way, even as he'd chosen his mission over her. And, God help her, she still missed the jerk.
Before she could regret it, Cassie made a face and hit "Buy Now."
She still jumped every time the phone rang.
"Hi, is this Charlie Stackpole?"
It was a girl, sounded around her age, but she answered cautiously, "Yeah. Who's this?"
"You don't know me—my name's Emily. Emily Jorgeson. I read about you in…" There was a pause, then suddenly the words were pouring out. "Look, do you know a Sam and Dean? Because I think we've got something in common, and I don't know about you but I'd really love to find someone to talk to about it."
And for the first in a long time, it felt like she could breathe.
"Man, you're not gonna believe this."
Special Agent Tim Colgate looked up at his colleague, raising an eyebrow in question. Ross handed over a file, and Tim flipped it open, perusing the first few lines before the second eyebrow joined the first. "Is this for real?"
"More real than what Victor had been chasing, apparently. Came up in a standard sweep."
Tim kept reading, disbelief growing as he went. They'd all had their suspicions about Henriksen; the guy made Captain Ahab look disinterested, with his total obsession with the Winchester brothers. It had seemed fitting to Tim that Vic had gone down in flames with his own personal white whale. But even while Tim had had his doubts about the resources Victor had poured into his investigation and the priority he'd given it, he still hadn't actually questioned the man's sanity.
"So," he shook his head, "the Winchesters—the men we've chased all over the country, pinned dozens of homicides and assaults and robberies on, and poured thousands into tracking down—are fictional?"
It'd been at the bottom of the care package, under a ton of car and porn and sports magazines that had gone fast. Louis didn't mind waiting for the rush to pass and taking the dregs; anything beat the boredom of daily patrols and lots and lots of Middle Eastern sand. Even a cheap, tattered thriller. Louis stretched out on his bunk and started reading.
Two hours later, Danny had to slap his boot to get his attention. "Time for mess—you coming?"
"Uh," Louis jolted, looking around the emptying tent. "Naw, man, you go. I'll catch up."
Danny shrugged and jogged off. Louis immediately turned back to the book.
He hadn't thought twice about a main character named Sam, not even when he had a brother called Dean. But "Sam" losing his girl Jess in a fire? At Stanford? Sure sounded like the Sam Winchester he'd known at school.
Louis stuck his finger into the book to mark his place and looked at the cover again. "Carver Edlund, huh?" he mused, then grinned. The road trip, the going around helping people thing, he guessed it didn't pay all that great. Trust Sam to find a side-business. "Not bad, bro."
Even if the demons thing was kinda cheesy.
Nicky was running on again about his favorite book series. His mom had long since lost patience listening to him, but Ellie enjoyed her nephew's enthusiasm and indulged him with a smile.
Until it started sounding oddly…familiar.
"Wait, wait. So this…Sam, he's got powers?" Ellie sat up. "Like, psychic abilities?"
"Yes," Nick said with the exasperation of the young. "Aren't you listening?"
"Nicholas!" came his mother's admonishment from the other room.
"Sorry," he mumbled. "Yeah, Sam has demon blood in him and he gets these visions about people dying and once he even moved a huge cabinet so he could save Dean…"
She tuned out again, because she knew now where she'd heard this before.
Her old job had been an ethical nightmare, but it had been Sam who'd broken that camel's back: quiet, frightened, strong Sam who'd been a patient at the Centre against his will, who'd held on until his brother Dean could get him out. And who'd been experimented on because he was different.
She'd thought that was fiction once, too.
"Sorry, kiddo, I have to go make a call," she excused herself, trying not to see Nicky's disappointed pout. She slipped out of the room, into the bathroom, and pulled out her phone. The number was in her speed dial even though she'd never called it.
"The phone you are trying to reach is not in service—"
Ellie snapped her cell shut, sitting and staring at nothing for a moment as she chewed her knuckle. Thinking about two brothers who would do anything for each other.
She returned to Nick's room. "Hey, so…how does this series end?"
It was a year and nine days when he finally found the lead he'd been searching for. In a pulp horror book, of all things.
Rick tossed the paperback with its lurid cover onto his desk and tented his hands to rub his nose, his eyes. A year of searching for what had left Renee dead of a broken neck, her two friends stabbed and choked in the wreckage of the house. He'd felt such a flare of relief when his search had turned up a hit on Renee, Tammi, and Elizabeth. Even when it had turned out to be a fiction book, he'd still hoped…
What? For an explanation less ridiculous than a book club that was a cover for a coven of witches? For a culprit other than a demon possessing Tammi? Some ridiculous story about a good demon and a pair of brothers who'd stopped the bad demon, but not before she'd killed Tammi and Liz?
And yet…and yet, all the facts fit. Not just the names and the ways they'd died and all the stuff a money-grubbing hack could've gotten from the paper, but autopsy details that were never released: the pins they'd found inside Tammi's windpipe. The bruising in Liz's throat, as if it'd been crushed on the inside. And even a detail no one but Rick had known: Renee's final words to him.
His hands were shaking as he dropped them into his lap. No, there was more to this than just fantasy. Whether the murderer himself wrote these books, or…or whether there was some truth to them. And Rick had to find out what.
The transient, first-name-only Sam and Dean and Ruby the books mentioned would be near impossible to find, but his search had turned up an Ellen Harvelle and a bar that had been burned to the ground only months before. It was a place to start. Rick was determined to get his answers.
He reached for the phone and dialed.
"Bobby, it's Ellen. You're not gonna believe this…"
He only read the books when Sam wasn't around. And not because he was embarrassed about his interest.
Dean skipped the parts he already knew: the casework, the idle conversations, the sex scenes…especially Sam's, 'cause, gross. But he zeroed in on the parts where Sam had been alone, and read with a hunger to understand the brother he could feel slipping away from him.
Sam's lostness after Jess died, and finding his anchor in Dean. His despair when he thought he'd lost Dean along with their dad, then again when he'd learned about Dean's deal. The self-hatred and fear he lived with every day as he dreaded what he was and what he would become. His numb grief during the mystery spot thing and the months after, and the desperation that led him to kill "Bobby." And, thanks to Chuck's unpublished manuscripts, the self-destructive, guilt-ridden insanity Sam had sunk into after Dean went to Hell for him. It literally hurt to read, his chest so tight that it made Dean wheeze for breath and crush fingernail marks into his palms. He'd been selfish, pulling Sam back from Heaven, into this Hell on Earth, and months after his release from the Pit, Dean was still paying for it.
Sam was, too.
He looked up as the passenger-side door opened, the book already safely secreted between seat and door. Not that Sam would've noticed as he got into the car, his gaze always distant these days. His jaw was clenched and his eyes were hard and he never relaxed anymore, never let his guard down.
And for the first in a long time, Dean didn't feel anger or frustration or irritation as he looked at his brother, just remorse and compassion.
But they didn't talk these days, and Dean wasn't sure what he would have said, anyway: Sorry I left you alone to all this? I promise I'll stick around this time, so trust me instead of Ruby? I know how you feel?
So all he said was, "You wanna pick a tape?"
And left the book about Cold Oak that night on Sam's duffel, the one volume he'd kept away from his brother, and hoped that in some small way, it would help Sam understand.