by Walter De La Mare
'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:
"This is stupid," Dean says for the third time as Sam raps on the wooden door before them. It's taken three hours to find the manor house and Dean's patience is wearing thin. Sam just stares at his brother as if he's made the most ridiculous comment ever. And that's saying a lot for Dean.
"You're the one who insisted on coming out here tonight," Sam reminds him.
Dean shrugs his shoulder in a noncommittal fashion. "You saw the note," he argues. "You agreed we needed to look into it. I just didn't think it was going to be in the middle of nowhere."
Sam shakes his head then stops, fist midway between the door and his shoulder, attention distracted by a movement from his brother. He looks at Dean who has his head cocked to one side, listening carefully.
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
'Is there anybody there?' he said.
"Dean?" Sam questions, knowing Dean has seen the same thing as he has. Birds are swooping around in the moonlit shadows of the trees. Sam hasn't seen the film but judging by Dean's reaction to the flock, his brother has an unfounded dislike of the creatures. Dean tears his eyes away from the sky, back to his brother.
"Damn birds," he mutters, nervously fingering the gun tucked safely away at his back. Sam bites down a sarcastic retort. They don't know what, if anything, is lurking behind the door and he might need his brother to watch his back. It wouldn't do to piss him off just yet. 'Later, though,' he thinks to himself with a smirk.
Dean glares at his little brother, willing him to say something, and when it becomes apparent Sam is going to overlook his reaction, he waves at the door.
"Well?" he demands, "what are you waiting for?"
Sam knocks on the door once more but he's not really expecting a reply. He's beginning to think this whole business is a colossal waste of time. Dean's obviously thinking the same thing but then Dean's never had the same tolerance for doing nothing that his brother has.
Dean takes a step back and looks up at the house, dark and empty. He throws his arms out to his side and takes a deep breath. Sam shakes his head and becomes suddenly interested in the floor at his feet.
"Hey!" Dean hollers at the top of his voice. "Here we are! What do you want?"
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
Nothing. Sam hadn't really expected anything else. He takes the opportunity to study the house properly while his brother huffs and puffs and builds up steam. It's clearly stood in the forest for a long, long time. He steps to the side of the entrance, trying to see through the window adjacent to the door. It's covered in grime collected over many changing seasons and the foliage has grown out of control. It's sad, he muses, that such a magnificent house has been left to wrack and ruin like this.
Dean's getting pissed now though. They've been given specific directions, they have the note which Dean couldn't let lie, but now the older hunter wants, needs, some action. Three hours looking for the place doesn't sit well with him. He wants answers and if he's been dragged out here on a wild goose chase, someone is going to pay for it! Sam has a horrible feeling it might be him.
The silence greeting Dean's exclamation isn't ominous, he reflects, but it is annoying. Someone's playing games with them and he's tired, hungry and getting cold. Why they didn't set off earlier is a question he's been asking himself for some time now and Sam's cool, poised presence is annoying him now.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Dean stomps his feet, trying to keep the blood flowing in the night air. He casts a sideways look at his brother who is standing back, admiring the architectural skills that went into the construction of the house. He watches as his brother's shoulders stiffen and his back straightens.
Sam doesn't know why, but he's suddenly aware of a chill in the air, a drop in the night's temperature. Moving to the cracked and filthy window at the side of the door, he pulls his sleeve down over his hand and wipes a swathe of dirt off the glass pane.
There's nothing to be seen inside other than cobwebs and a broken staircase. The shudder that courses through Sam's body takes him by surprise and he stumbles back from the window, not realising his brother has stepped up to him. He backs unwittingly into Dean and it's only the hand Dean puts on the small of his back that stops him falling over.
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
"Sammy?" Dean raises a quizzical eyebrow at his brother. "What's up?"
But Sam just shakes his head. The house seems to reverberate to the echo of Dean's hushed query and he can't quite put his finger on it, but there's a sudden sadness in the air. He looks at Dean but it's clear the older Winchester doesn't feel anything.
Sam turns back to house and for a brief moment he can almost see a throng of men and women pressing their faces to the window. But he blinks and it's gone, as if it was never there. And maybe it wasn't. Sam's finding it hard to stay focussed.
Dean's hand is resting on his shoulder and he takes some warmth from his brother, turning to look him in the eye. Dean's worried by what he sees there. He wonders if Sam is about to go all psychic on him and glances back to where they left the Impala. He reckons maybe it's time to go, note or no note.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
"Do you feel that?" Sam asks, as the wind in the trees beyond the house shatters the tranquillity of the night.
"Nope," Dean replies and wraps his arms round his chest. "All I feel is cold." His patience is wearing thin now. They've been here long enough he reckons. There's plainly nobody to answer their call and he thinks Sam is starting to feel the effects of the cold only too much.
"There's something in there, Dean," Sam insists and wipes his hand over the filthy window pane again, leaving another smear of years' of neglect in his wake. "I can feel it."
Dean pushes Sam out of the way and presses his face to the ancient glass. It's cold and slimy and he wouldn't do this for anyone else. But Sam sounds fairly adamant and Dean's learnt not to ignore his brother's instincts. Except he can't see anything.
"There's nothing, Sam. Whatever you felt, it's gone. And so should we."
But Sam shakes his head once more. "We can't go, Dean. I just…" he trails off, not really knowing what it is he wants to do.
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,' he said.
Dean huffs. He's had enough of this. He strides across to the oak door and pounds on it with his fist, two, three, four times. Sam flinches at the violence of it and fights the urge to grab hold of Dean's wrist and yank him away from the door.
He casts a wary eye around, almost expecting the inhabitants of the house to pour forth from windows and doorways. But nothing appears, no spirits or revenants or witches or people. He almost laughs at himself but stops when he notices Dean watching him strangely.
"You okay, Sammy?" he queries. He doesn't know what his little brother is looking for, what he's waiting for, but he thinks the longer they stay here, the more edgy and erratic Sam is going to become.
Sam just nods, "I'm okay," and shuffles away from the house, away from Dean. He's known Dean long enough to know what's going to come next and he doesn't need to be up close when, true to nature Dean opens his mouth.
"Okay, you freaky sons of bitches," he bellows through the night air. "We came. Okay? Are you satisfied? We came and there's no one here!" He flings his arms up for added emphasis and glares at the door, flicking his eyes to the windows and back again. He turns to Sam with a half cocked smile playing with his lips. "Never let it be said Winchesters don't keep their word," he declares.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Inside the house, the musty air, unmoved for countless generations, stirs in time with the hunter's angry words. Dust lifts from the wooden floorboards and dances up the stairs, settles on the railings, on the decaying window sills, coats the neglected dressers and hat stand.
And somewhere, deep in the inner sanctuary of the drawing room, a sigh ricochets off the walls. Echoes in memory of what once was, cries for the vitality that previously encompassed every room, every wall, every inch of the grand structure.
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
Through the woods the trusty screech of the Impala doors opening and slamming closed bounces along the overgrown track recently trampled by feet of hunters summoned to a pointless task. The engine revs up, loud and incongruous to its surroundings and as the tyres spin on wet leaves and gravel spits up in their wake, the forest falls back into a comfortable silence.
And the stillness of the house is so old, so ancient, so complete that the disturbance from outside goes barely noticed.
A/N: 'The Listeners' by Walter de la Mare is, by far, one of my favourite poems. When we teach it to year 5 one of the things we ask them to do is put themselves in the place of the traveller and write a journal entry. This isn't exactly a journal entry but it's been in my head for nearly two years now. Time for it to come out to play.
I own neither 'The Listeners' nor anything in the Supernatural world.