They postpone further discussion without actually discussing the postponement. Rooms 13 and 14 are waiting for them at the It'll Do Motel. They'll get back to talking about the ghost once everyone's had a chance to recover.
And, yeah, "everyone" mostly means Vanessa, who both got the worst of their encounter and isn't used to this sort of thing.
She goes to take a shower, Dean goes out to grab burgers, and Sam decides this is a good night for being overly cautious and lays salt lines down around both rooms.
He's just about finished with Vanessa's room, when she opens the door to the bathroom, now dressed in clean dry clothes, and surrounded by a cloud of flower-scented steam.
She stands in the doorway and watches him work. "Oh, I bet motel maids just love the two of you," she says.
"We tip well," Sam says. "Are you feeling any better?"
"Some," she says. "I mean, I think Sister Mary Panties-in-a-Twist just tried to baptize me to death in a kitchen sink, but aside from that . . ."
"We're going to take care of that," Sam says. "I promise."
"I know." Vanessa hesitates, and then says, "I'm really sorry."
Sam looks at her in genuine surprise. "For what?"
"Messing up that line of salt in the kitchen. That's how the ghost got across it, right?"
Sam comes over to where she's standing. "Hey, that wasn't your fault, Vanessa," he says. "I'm the one who pushed you."
"Well, it certainly wasn't your fault," she says.
"It wasn't really anybody's fault. It was just one of those things that happen. Okay?"
Vanessa nods. "How's your hand?" she asks.
Sam looks down at the cuts on his right hand. He had half-forgotten about them until she mentioned them. "It's fine," he says. "This is pretty minor for us."
"I'll try to find that reassuring," she tells him. "Where's Dean?"
"He went out to pick up burgers."
"I kind of think I'd throw up if I tried to eat anything right now," Vanessa says.
"Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure Dean got the stomach intended for a goat. He can always take up the slack on the burgers if one of us falls behind." He holds up the can of salt and points to the bathroom behind her. "I kind of need to . . ."
"Oh, right. Sorry," Vanessa says, moving out of the doorway. "Are you expecting her to show up here?"
"Not really," he says. "Just being extra cautious."
"Extra cautious is good," she says, and sits cross-legged on one of the beds.
She's still sitting there, staring at nothing, when Sam finishes with the bathroom. "Are you sure you're okay, Vanessa?"
She smiles weakly. "I'm working really hard here at not completely freaking out on you, Sam. It would kind of help a lot if you'd stop asking that."
"I'm sorry." There's a moment of awkward silence, and then Sam says, "So, who do you think is going to win the Stanley Cup this year?"
Vanessa blinks, twice, and stares at him, head tilted to the side. "What?"
"As something else to talk about. Who do you think is going to win the Stanley Cup this year?"
"Um," Vanessa says. "Well, is that football or baseball?"
"Hockey," Sam says, just before Vanessa starts to laugh and he realizes he's been had.
He's about to reply when he hears the door open in the adjoining room and instead holds a hand up for quiet. And yeah, it's probably Dean, but this is not a night for taking chances. Very few nights are, for them. Sam has reached the connecting door and half-drawn his gun before he hears Dean call, "Sammy?" from the other room.
"In here," Sam says, easing the 9mm back into place.
"You know, they make holsters for those," Vanessa says. "I'm hardly the expert, but I think they're generally considered both safer and more secure than waistbands."
"More obvious, too, sweetheart," Dean says, dropping three bags onto the bed next to her and holding out the tray of drinks.
"Do guns work on ghosts?" she asks, taking one of the fast food cups. "I mean, are those loaded with salt, too?"
"We don't just deal with ghosts. There's other stuff, too," Sam says, moving the bags off Vanessa's bed and onto the dresser. She's looking a little green, and the smell of fried grease probably isn't helping. "Do you want anything else?"
She shakes her head. "Not right now. Just the Coke is good."
"Suit yourself," Dean says.
"Do I even want to ask what else is out there?" Vanessa asks. "Other than ghosts?"
"A whole lot of weird shit you don't have to worry about tonight," Dean says. "And, odds are, probably not ever." He flops onto the other bed with a double cheeseburger and onion rings. There's no attempt at a segue, just, "All right, about this ghost bitch. What do we know?"
Sam finds his own dinner, pushes the rest of the bags and their contents aside, and leans back against the dresser. "She's a nun," Sam says.
"And I'm pretty sure she tried to kill me," Vanessa says. "Which . . . look, why is she trying to kill me? I mean, why me specifically?"
"Well, that's the $64,000 question," Dean says.
"I'm Catholic," Vanessa continues, indignantly. "My confirmation name was Zita."
"Zita?" Dean says. "Isn't that, like, some kind of noodle?"
"That's ziti. This is Zita. She's the patron saint of lost keys; I figured she was a good one to have in my corner. And she's an incorruptible, you know, one of the saints whose bodies don't decompose when they die, which I thought was cool, when I was twelve. Anyway, the point is, nuns are supposed to be on my side," Vanessa says. "So why is this one trying to kill me?"
"We may never know," Sam says. "Ghosts are usually born from violent deaths, and they're all a little different in what they can do and how they go about doing it. This one seems to be upset that you've got male company, since she got a lot more active when we showed up. Maybe she's trying to make you live like a nun."
"Like I need any help with that," Vanessa mutters. Dean raises an eyebrow, but stops short of commenting, which Sam is grateful for.
"Anyway," Dean says. "We don't really care what she wants, so long as we can get rid of her. So, let's figure out why she's here, or what she's holding onto. Sammy, is there any record that the house used to be a . . . you know, a whatcamacallit? One of those places where they store nuns?"
"Convents," Sam says, "and no."
"So odds are it's something in the house."
"Odds were always that it was something in the house." One of the many, many, many somethings in the house.
"So what kind of crap does a nun have?" Dean asks.
"Well, not much, honestly," Vanessa says, picking at a threadbare place on the bedspread in front of her. "Nuns don't have a lot of stuff. They give it up. It's the whole poverty thing."
"Poverty?" Dean asks.
"Chastity, obedience, and poverty. The vows a nun takes, when she becomes a nun."
"I knew there was a reason I wasn't a nun," Dean says, before shoving an entire onion ring into his mouth.
"I can think of a couple of others," Sam says, before turning back to Vanessa. "And a ghost is usually tied to some kind of corporeal remains. Like, last year, we ran into a ghost whose hair had been used to make the hair on a doll. And so she was tied to the doll. When we destroyed the doll—"
"When I destroyed the doll," Dean corrects.
"—then the ghost went away," Vanessa guesses.
"Right," Sam says.
Vanessa stands up, and Sam moves the fast food bags over to where they will easier for her to reach. She walks past both him and dinner, though, over to the door. For a second, Sam thinks she's going to leave, but then she turns around, and around again, pacing the length of the motel room.
"So, basically, we're looking for a piece of a nun," Dean says, and then pauses. "Okay, I think that came out really wrong."
"Oh, it did," Sam tells him.
Vanessa stops pacing. "St. Zita is an incorruptible," she says, again. "You can go see her body in Lucca, Italy. It's on display in a church."
"Okay," Sam says slowly, trying to keep his tone soothing. Because the sudden return to St. Zita has him wondering if maybe the stress has gotten to her.
"Saints' bodies, or parts of their bodies, have been venerated in the Catholic church for centuries," Vanessa says. "Maybe we're looking for a reliquary."
"A rel-a-what?" Dean asks.
"Reliquary," Vanessa repeats, and then explains before Sam has to dredge up what little he remembers about them from his own art history class at Stanford. "They were created as devotional objects, but they're also collected as works of art now. They hold a relic, something associated with a saint or another holy figure."
"And when you say 'something,' you mean what, exactly?" Dean sounds like he could guess, but he's hoping that he's wrong.
"Bones are pretty common, right?" Sam asks, and watches Dean's face shift into an expression of resigned disgust.
"Yes," Vanessa says, starting to pace again. "But also scraps of clothing, hair, teeth, blood. Things like a piece of the cross they crucified Jesus on. I think there are even some that were supposed to have vials of the Virgin Mary's breast milk."
"Okay, that's just gross," Dean says, and takes another large bite of his hamburger.
"Gross is not exactly new and different for us, Dean," Sam says. He hesitates, for a second, and then says carefully, "Look, Vanessa, I'm not saying it's not a good theory, it's just . . . didn't they tend to be big gold boxes covered in jewels and shaped like arms and heads?"
"Some of the medieval ones were shaped like arms or other body parts, yes, and they tended to be made of out gold or silver. But not always. They weren't always big, and some were just shaped like boxes or chests." She looks over at Dean. "Chests like trunks, not chests like boobs."
"No shit," Dean says.
Vanessa smiles something like an apology at him before she continues. "Anyway, the Youngs seem to have picked up a lot of stuff from Europe. They could have brought one home at some point," Vanessa says.
"So, how come you know so much about this crap?" Dean asks. "Saint boxes and shit?"
"Dean, I'm an art history major who grew up Catholic. I may not know much about ghosts or guns, but I am definitely the go to girl on 'saint boxes.'"
"And that's another thing," Dean says. "Aren't saints supposed to be, you know, nice?"
"So we're assuming I'm right about what we're looking for?" Vanessa asks, and she sounds pleased.
"For now, anyway," Dean says.
"Maybe she's mad because the reliquary isn't being shown the proper respect. It's supposed to be in church, right?" Sam says, "And instead it's been taken as a collectible."
"We've dealt with ghosts pissed off by less," Dean says.
"Or she might not have been a saint to begin with," Vanessa says. "There was a lot of demand for the remains of saints. There was some fraud. There were probably enough pieces of the 'true cross' floating around Europe to build a battleship. Never mind the people claiming to have Mary's breast milk or Jesus' foreskin from his circumcision."
Dean drops the onion ring he's holding back into the bag. "You're doing that on purpose, aren't you?" Dean asks Vanessa. "Naming the weirdest, grossest, creepiest things you can think of about all this."
"Maybe," Vanessa admits, swiping two of Dean's onion rings as she goes past the bed.
"Let's keep to bones, and not all that other stuff," Dean says.
Vanessa almost smirks. "All I'm saying is that, even if it is a reliquary, there's no guarantee that the bones inside aren't just some bones that were convenient. Either because there was fraud from the beginning, or because somewhere over the years, the original bones got lost and these were used to replace them. This could just be some poor nun who got . . . repackaged. Which would annoy me, if I were dead, I think. I know it's just a theory, but if you're looking for the remains of a nun at an old farmhouse in rural Virginia, then this is my best guess."
"Well, we've gone with odder theories," Sam says.
"Any number of times," Dean says. He gets up, crosses to the dresser and picks up the burger Vanessa isn't eating. "Okay," he says, "tomorrow we'll go back, check things out, and then see if we can't find a piece of a nun in a gold box that might or might not be shaped like an arm." He takes a bite of the burger. "And if that's not the strangest thing I've ever said, it's probably in the top five."
"Sammy?" Dean says, standing on the front porch of the house the next morning. He's turned the doorknob, but hasn't opened the door yet.
"What's wrong?" Sam asks.
"Door's not opening."
"Don't know. Let's try the door into the kitchen. Keep an eye on . . ." Dean doesn't have to finish the thought. Sam moves to be between Vanessa and the house as they circle around to the back door.
The screen door is closed, but the main door is still standing open from when they fled the night before. The smell hits them even before they reach it.
"It smells like the morning after a frat party," Vanessa says.
She's right. It smells like spilled drinks and food that's been sitting out. And once they're in the kitchen, it's easy to see why.
"Looks like someone threw a tantrum after we left," Dean says.
Dean has, as ever, a gift for understatement. The kitchen is an unholy mess. The refrigerator is lying on its side, its contents strewn across the room. And if something was breakable, the ghost seems to have broken it. The floor is littered with shattered plates and broken glasses. And the ghost has smashed bottles and jars containing everything from juice and beer to pickles and peanut butter.
Across the chalkboard, over top of Dean's To Be Destroyed list, the word JEZEBEL has been written over and over and over.
Vanessa stands in the middle of the kitchen, turning slowly and taking it all in.
"Vanessa?" Sam asks. He's about to ask if she's okay, but he remembers her comment from the night before.
Anyway, a second later, it's clear that she's not so much upset as she is furious.
Vanessa puts her hands on her hips and looks toward the rest of the house. "Okay, listen up, Sister Whoever You Are," Vanessa says, apparently to the currently absent ghost. "I don't know what the hell your problem is, but I will damn well screw anyone I damn well want to screw, and if it's one of these guys, or hell, if it's both of them, and at the same damn time, I will do it. Whether you like it or not. So there."
And then she looks over at Sam and Dean. "You know I'm not actually going to sleep with either one of you, right? I just want to make it clear that I'm not sleeping with you because I don't want to, not because she told me not to."
Sam can feel himself blushing again, even though there's no good reason for it. Dean, however, grins at her. "Let's not many any hasty decisions, here," he tells her.
"Sorry," she says to Sam. "I just really don't like this bitch."
"Understandable," he says. "Um, well, the good news is that it looks like the salt line between your room and the kitchen held up."
The contrast is actually almost comical. Just on the other side of the ruin in the kitchen, Vanessa's bed is neatly made and her pictures are lined up across the top of her dresser.
"I guess we should see how the rest of the house looks," Sam says.
"Well," Dean says, as they cross into the front hall, "I think I know why we couldn't get the door open."
Every piece of furniture in the hall, except for the wrought iron coat rack, is piled up against the door.
"I guess you didn't put your back into it," Vanessa says, not quite selling the light tone she seems to aiming for, and for her all defiance a moment ago, Sam thinks she's probably still working pretty hard at not freaking out on them.
Dean grins at her. "Baby, I always put my back into it."
Sam bites back the almost instinctive reaction to tell his brother to cut it out.
Vanessa, however, just lifts her eyebrows and says, "Yeah, I'll bet you do. It's all about leverage, right?"
"Physics 101," Dean tells her, and only his brother could put that kind of leer into the name of a college course.
But despite the fact that they've now been keeping this up for three days, neither of them seems to be taking the flirtation at all seriously. It's all being done with tongues firmly in their own cheeks, not each other's mouths. And given that they're standing in a room whose walls now say REPENT, HARLOT more times than Sam can count, and given Vanessa's outburst in the kitchen just now, Sam is fairly certain that Vanessa's flirting with Dean is mostly about saying go to hell to the ghost. And he's also fairly certain that Dean's flirting with Vanessa is mostly about giving her a chance to say go to hell to the ghost.
Anyway, neither of them seems to be bothered by it, so who is he to be offended on their behalf?
So Sam just rolls his eyes and asks, "Are you two trying to get us killed?"
But as he follows them through the house, listening to their back and forth, he can't help but think about the lengths he would have gone to in order to keep them from meeting five years ago. And not because he doesn't think Vanessa at eighteen would have been comfortable keeping up an easy flow of banter with Dean at twenty-two.
Or, at least, not just because of that.
But because Vanessa was a part of the "normal" world – the one he got to pretend he belonged in when he was at school. The one he had planned to become a fulltime resident of as soon as high school was over and he could leave.
One of the many best laid plans of his life that had gone awry.
It's odd, too, to realize how much like second nature life in the world of the weird has gotten. A year ago, even six months after Jess died, this had all still felt temporary, more like an extended road trip down someone else's path than his life.
And now, following his brother and a girl who could have been voted queen of the "normal" prom through a house full of the oddest accumulation of stuff Sam has ever seen, haunted by a pissed off ghost of a nun, looking for damage caused by said ghost of a nun . . .
Well, this shouldn't feel right, or even real, but it does.
And the three years he spent away from this life are the times that feel like they happened to someone else.
"I think I'm going to go see if there's any chance the ghost left us a way to make coffee," Vanessa says, when they've once again reached the room at the top of the tower, and finished their search of the house.
"Do you want us to come with you?" Sam asks.
"I think it'll be okay," she says. "If I didn't get her attention with my little tirade in the kitchen, I'm pretty sure she's hibernating for the day. Or whatever the term is. And if I'm wrong, well, I can still scream when I need to."
Sam is starting to suspect Vanessa just knows when he and Dean need a moment to consult in private. They wait until they can't still hear her footsteps descending the tower staircase, and then Dean says, "What do you think, Sammy?"
It's hard to say. There are signs of disturbance throughout the house, though nothing like the kitchen and the front hall. But since those are just about the least likely rooms to actually hold whatever they were looking for, that probably has more to do with their location last night than the location of whatever's housing the ghost.
It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. Only it's a really big haystack, and it might not even be a needle.
"The damn thing could be anywhere," Sam says, "and we don't even know what we're looking for. Not for sure."
"Well, not anywhere. We know it's not in the kitchen. The bitch attacked us in the hallway before the salt broke, so she wasn't in the kitchen when the sun went down. She's not in Vanessa's room, either. Of course, that's two down and something like seventy to go, but . . . Sammy? You even listing here?"
Sam is, but only sort of. Because Dean's right; they can eliminate the rooms blocked by salt when the ghost first attacked last night.
"It's not one big haystack," Sam says.
"Right," Dean says. "That clears it up. Dude, you off your meds?"
"The house," Sam says.
"Yeah, you're still not making any sense."
"We've been thinking about having to search the whole house," Sam says. "But what if we knew what room it was in? What if we lay salt lines down around every single room?"
"Then we wait till tonight, see what room the ghost is hanging out in –" Dean says.
"—then come back tomorrow and just search that one."
"And if we happen to find some gold C-3PO arm along the way—"
"—we torch the sucker," Sam concludes.
"It's a good plan, Sammy," Dean says. "Of course, we're going to need a metric fuckton of salt."
"Well, then it's a good thing we know a girl with a truck."
They do a blitz search of the house while Vanessa is off buying out the town's supply of rock salt. Sam is not surprised, though, when they don't find many likely candidates, since most of the obvious stuff went up in flames yesterday.
More importantly, they move things away from the walls of each room, as much as they can, to make room for the lines of salt. Everything has to be inside its room's lines, or this experiment isn't going to work.
They move the pile of furniture away from the front door. And they clear out the mess in the kitchen – righting the refrigerator, sweeping up broken glasses and plates, bottles and jars. Sam is a little surprised when the fridge starts up when they plug it back in.
There's nothing they can do about the writing in the hall, but Dean erases the Jezebels from the kitchen chalkboard.
Dean manages to find a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and a package of Oreos that have survived the devastation in the pantry. Sam scrounges up a couple of plastic cups and fills them with water.
They've had worse lunches.
Much, much worse.
"We're going to have to take her into every room until we find it, you realize that, right?" Dean says.
"We'll take her right back out, though."
"You might have to kiss her a lot, Sammy. Think you can handle that?"
"Better me than you, man," Sam says. "Though, the ghost is pretty mad at this point. Vanessa's just being here will probably be enough, and even that might not be necessary."
"Maybe we should try to get her to stay at the motel."
"I don't really think she'll go along with that," Sam says.
"Go along with what?" Vanessa asks, coming into the kitchen with a bag from a Chinese restaurant in one hand and a six pack of beer in the other.
Dean shoves what's left of the chips to the far end of the table. "You are the best looking girl I have ever seen."
"I bet you say that to all the girls who show up with hot food and cold beer," Vanessa says, setting everything on the table. And then asks again, "Go along with what?"
"Staying in the motel tonight while Sam and I take care of things here," Dean says.
"Oh." Vanessa pauses for just a second in the middle of setting out white paper cartons and plastic forks. "No, I won't go along with that," she says.
And that's that.
"You cleaned up in here," Vanessa says. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Sam says.
"You know, if you fought ghosts with sugar instead of salt, I'd be on some list of suspected moonshiners now," Vanessa says.
"Did you have any trouble getting it?" Sam asks.
"No. People probably think that I'm the latest crazy person to live in the old Moss Place, but I have a truckload of salt waiting outside."
"Welcome to our world," Dean says, and helps himself to the carton of fried rice.
One of these days, Dean will surprise him and pick paper, but until then, rock beats scissors every time. Dean, therefore, gets to be the one to haul salt up to the room at the top of the tower.
Of course, that leaves Sam dealing with the first floor, which has the most rooms and the biggest rooms, which are also the rooms with the most crap in them. So he's not sure he can say he won so much as he might not have lost quite as badly. Vanessa spends the afternoon going from one to the other, squeezing around things like a grand piano with no legs and the giant cauldron, things that create passages and corners that are just a little too tight for Sam and Dean to get into.
They work as fast as they can, because February afternoons aren't all that long. They're cutting it close, to have time to both finish and check every wall and every corner to make sure they haven't missed anything. And they have to check, because the margin of error on hunting tends to be don't screw up. But when they're done, every room in the house is a ghost trap.
Vanessa drags them out to dinner, with the argument that it's better than just sitting around waiting for the sun to set, and that there's nothing to eat in the house, anyway. And since she's right, about both of those things, they go, Dean following her directions to what she calls the best restaurant in town.
Sam, who has lived in a lot of towns like this, and visited more, is expecting "the best restaurant in town" to be an Italian place with high prices, mediocre food, and low lighting, aimed at pre-prom dinners and anniversary dates. Instead they wind up on a side street at Tommy's, a little squat brick building with a neon sign and a pink plastic statue of a pig out front. Tommy's serves what Dean declares to be the best barbeque he's ever had, and a lot of it. The waitress's hair is a gravity-defying wonder, the soundtrack is pure twang, and the walls are covered with signed pictures of stock car drivers and local beauty queens.
The conversation is deliberately light. They don't talk about ghosts or hunting, and neither do they talk about Sam and Vanessa's high school days. She asks about the Impala, which Dean can go on about for however long you'll let him. Sam asks about her truck, which she tells them is named Warhol, and which was passed down to her when her father decided to buy a new one.
It's only when the place is closing up that they leave the waitress a hell of a tip for tying up her table for so long, and drive back to the house in the dark.
It's almost unnaturally quiet, when they get there. They stand for a minute in the yard, watching the windows, and then Dean opens the trunk and distributes flashlights and weapons – shotguns for him and Sam, and the iron fireplace poker for Vanessa.
Vanessa's eyes grow slightly wide at the sheer number of shells full of rock salt Dean hands to Sam. "I thought tonight was just –"
"Yeah," Sam says, quickly. "Yeah, we're just going to figure out what room the damn thing is in and then we're getting the hell out of there."
"Better safe than sorry, though," Dean says. "Ghosts can be real pains in the ass. So load up, Sammy."
The house is even quieter inside. There ought to be floorboards creaking and random taps from the old pipes and there aren't. Just the sounds of their footsteps and breathing.
Without discussing it, they fall into a sort of line, always keeping Vanessa in the middle, so that she is never in a room or a corridor without at least one of them.
There's nothing on the first floor, no cold spots, no ping on the EMF reader, no reaction to Dean's yelling, "Show yourself, you bitch!" even when he adds "Or we're going to third base!" (Sam is both grateful for his decision to go with the euphemism, and skeptical that the ghost will get the reference.)
They pause for a moment at the bottom of the staircase. "Next time, Sammy," Dean says, "we're checking out a haunted condo. Or better yet, like, a haunted tool shed."
"I'll see what I can do about that," Sam says.
"She has to be somewhere, right?" Vanessa asks, as they climb the steps to the second floor. "That's how it works?"
"Somewhere," Dean says. "Let's see what's behind door number one."
There's nothing in the first bedroom, or the second. But the moment Sam steps into the third one, he feels it. It is way too cold in here.
"I think we found her," he says, and Dean nods.
"All right, let's get out of here," Dean says, and leads the way back into the hallway.
Sam's not sure what Vanessa stumbles over on her way to the door, but she does. She doesn't fall, just has to take a second to right herself. And it's in that second that the door slams shut, with Sam and Vanessa on one side of it, and Dean on the other.
Vanessa looks at him for a second, horrified, and then tries to open the door. "It won't open," Vanessa says. "Sam, it won't open."
"Shit," Sam says, trying the door himself, and then taking the safety off the shotgun and bringing it up so he can fire when he has to.
"This is bad, right?" Vanessa asks, and then screams when there's a bang from the other side of the door.
"That's just Dean," Sam says. "I'm sure he's trying to get the door open."
Or to beat it down.
"Will he be able to?"
"It's a long shot," Sam admits, as his phone rings. It's Dean, and not answering will be interpreted as I'm being murdered by a ghost nun, so Sam answers it.
"Sammy? You guys okay in there?"
"For now." He crosses the room to look at the windows, since the drop is probably a lot less likely to kill them than the ghost is.
"Windows?" Dean asks.
"Trying them now," Sam says. He picks up a heavy brass paperweight and throws it at one of the windows as hard as he can. A spider web of cracks appears across the glass, but the weight doesn't go through it, and it should have. "Looks like the ghost is keeping them closed."
"Shit. Okay, I'm going to keep trying to get the door open. Break the salt line in front of it, okay? Maybe she'll decide she wants to get out of there or something."
They both know the ghost won't. Or at least that she won't until she's done in here. She's been very clear about who her first choice of target is. But all Sam says is, "Okay. I gotta go, Dean. She could—"
"Yeah. You . . . well, you know."
Sam hangs up the phone, drops it back into his jacket pocket and looks up. "Vanessa, duck!" The ghost is behind her, its hands outstretched.
Vanessa ducks, and Sam fires.
"What the hell do we do now?" Vanessa asks, and there's another bang from the door.
"Now we have to find it," Sam says.
"The ghost? Call me crazy, but I think we already did."
"No. Whatever it's attached to."
"Oh, right," says Vanessa. "Okay. Yeah. We can do that." She doesn't believe it, that's obvious. She has used one too variations on okay.
"Keep the poker handy, and start looking. You're the one who has the best chance of recognizing whatever it is," Sam tells her, in a firm tone that he hopes will help her stay calm and composed.
Because if she freaks out, they're screwed.
"What are you going to do?" Vanessa asks.
"Try to keep her off you."
Vanessa still looks less than completely confident about this plan, but it's the only one they've got, and so she starts opening drawers in a roll top desk by the door.
"I'm going to have to reload, after the next shot," Sam says.
"So I whack her with the poker if she shows up," Vanessa says. "Right?"
"Sam?" she says, without looking up from the drawer.
She looks up at him. "If that happens, when that happens . . . you better reload really fast."
Sam takes a second they don't really have to meet her eyes and nod. "I will."
She nods back, and then flinches when Sam fires at the ghost again. Vanessa brings the poker up and takes a step closer to Sam even before can tell her he's reloading the shotgun.
It continues in that vein for about five minutes. Vanessa searches frantically for the space of two shots – and this ghost regroups fast – then stops to be the only line of defense while Sam reloads, and then repeat. And through it all, there's the steady bang bang bang of Dean's trying to open or break down the door to the room.
And then the ghost apparently decides it's had enough of playing the duck in Sam's shooting gallery, and starts throwing things at them, instead.
He looks up from reloading the shotgun to see a dresser slide across the floor and slam Vanessa up against the wall. He can only see her head and the top of her shoulders over the top of it.
"I'm okay. Ish."
"Hang on, I'll try to . . ." Sam pushes at the dresser as hard as he can, but it's not moving.
Sam turns, bringing the shotgun up and firing just before the ghost can reach them.
Shit. They've got maybe fifteen seconds before this ghost bitch regroups again, and then only one shot before he'll have to reload.
Maybe he can try to move the salt, and make a ring around the dresser or something. But not in fifteen seconds.
"Over there," Vanessa says, and Sam turns again, to look at what she's nodding at, bringing the gun around to fire again, but there's no sign of the ghost.
"What?" he asks.
"Box. Top shelf. On the left."
Sam looks. He can just make out the shape of a box with a curving lid, like a treasure chest or a trunk. It looks black, and nothing like the golden arm he's been watching for all day.
"You think that's the thing?"
"Maybe," Vanessa says.
Still, it's not like they have a whole lot of other options presenting themselves, here.
Sam grabs a handful of the salt from the floor beside the dresser and checks his jacket pocket for his lighter. It's the only accelerant he's got with him, but there's paper on the desk Vanessa had been searching, and maybe he can use that. "Okay, as soon as she reappears, I'll shoot her and move as fast as I can."
"Okay," Vanessa says.
The ghost reappears, reaching for Vanessa again. Sam fires and is headed across the room to the box on the shelf before the ghost has even completely dissipated.
The box is silver, though tarnished to the point of blackness and pitted. He has no idea how Vanessa managed to see that from across the room. It's elaborately decorated with engravings and inscriptions, and he fumbles with the ornate clasp before finally opening it to reveal the three bones of a single human finger.
Yahtzee, as Dean would say.
Sam dumps the salt into the reliquary, then lights the crumpled sheet of paper he grabbed from the desk. He pries the lighter open and dumps its contents onto bones, and then drops in the burning scrap of paper.
He hears Vanessa make a sound midway between a gasp and a scream, and looks up just in time to see the ghost wink out of existence, blowing and swirling away like smoke from an extinguished candle.
"Are you all right?" he asks.
"I think so," Vanessa says. "That was the kind of vanishing that means it's not coming back, right?"
"Yeah. It's over."
And then, with an almighty crash, the door comes splintering off its hinges and falls into the room.
Dean stands in the doorway, holding the iron coat rack from the foyer. Sam is impressed, though it's also not really a surprise that Dean got something that would work as both a battering ram and a weapon against a ghost.
"You get it?" Dean asks.
"Yeah," Sam says, dropping the lid back into place on the box. The fire, now that it's done its job, will die out without air in the metal box, and they won't have to worry about burning the house down. "Help me with the dresser, would you?" he says.
It's just a basic wooden five-drawer dresser, and there is no way it should be as heavy as it is. Fortunately, they don't have to move it far to give Vanessa enough space to wiggle out from behind it.
"Jesus, what the hell is in these drawers?" Dean asks.
Sam ignores him. "Are you all right?" he asks Vanessa again. "You're sure you're not hurt anywhere?"
"I'm all right enough," she says. "I think I'm going to have some pretty impressive bruises, but I don't think anything's broken or anything like that."
"Dude," Dean says, "check this out."
Sam and Vanessa both move to see what Dean has found in the drawers of the dresser.
"Are those what I think they are?" Vanessa asks.
"Rounds for a .45," Sam says. Boxes and boxes of them.
"It's an entire dresser full of ammo," Dean says. "You mind if we snag some of these?"
"Y'all knock yourselves out," Vanessa says.
As far back as Sam can remember, this has been part of the rhythm of his life – finish a job, or a visit with Bobby or someone like that, or a semester, and then pack the car and drive someplace new to start all over. Short trips, short stays, long drives, and unplanned detours. His life is and always has been one long road trip. And he doesn't know where he's going, except that he doubts this all ends at either Disney World or the Grand Canyon.
He'll have to worry about the destination someday, and maybe even someday soon, but for now, it's all trip, with stops along the way.
The past twenty-four hours have been about as close to a real rest as they ever get.
Burning the bones in the silver box seemed to have taken care of the problem, but they decided to hang around one more night just to make sure. And since that left them with a day to fill up, they'd helped Vanessa restock the kitchen and swept up at least some of the salt lines. Sam and Vanessa had taken bags and bags of broken odds and ends to the dump while Dean had painted the front hall with two coats of dark green paint to blot out the words the ghost left behind.
Vanessa had made another pasta dinner, one that they actually got to finish without ghostly interruption, and the night had been quiet.
Sam is willing to officially call this job over and done with.
He sets his duffle bag next to Dean's, closes the trunk, and leans back against the Impala to look up at the house.
It would be really easy to stay on this stop along the road for a little longer. Vanessa would let them stay, Sam knows, for however long they liked. And Dean would probably be all for taking a break and ignoring whatever destiny some demon has planned for Sam. And they wouldn't be bored; God knows there's enough here they could help Vanessa with.
But that's a bad idea. Hanging around Vanessa Foster is, and always will be, chasing after his past. And that past – the one where Sam Winchester just got to be a normal kid and have a normal life, the one preserved in Vanessa's neat scrapbooks and prom pictures – that past is probably best left here, packed away with all the other oddities in Vanessa's cabinet of curiosities.
It's time, as they say, to ramble on. (The "they" in this case being Led Zeppelin, and a tape Sam will probably be hearing all the way to the West Virginia border.)
So, after dinner last night, Sam hit the internet and searched until he found something that looked like a promising lead. Dean is calling Bobby about it now, pacing in small circles while he talks, ten yards away.
The screen door leading into the kitchen snaps back on its spring and fwaps shut, and Sam looks up to see Vanessa, carrying a large paper bag.
"What's this?" Sam asks, when she hands it to him.
"Lunch for the road," she says. "Sandwiches and chips and a couple of apples. Oreos."
"You didn't have to do that," Sam tells her.
"I know. But I wanted to."
Sam reaches in through the Impala's open window and sets the bag on the passenger's seat.
"It was really good to see you again," Vanessa says. "I'm glad I ran into you at Lowe's and I'm not just saying that because you and Dean saved me from a ghost. It was just really good to see you again."
"It was good to see you again, too," Sam says. "And not just because you made us dinner and packed us a lunch for the road."
Vanessa shakes her head, and swats him lightly in the shoulder. "You know what I mean, though, right?"
"Yeah," he says, and nods. "I know what you mean."
"So is there any point in asking if you'll keep in touch this time?"
Sam would like to be able to say yes, and more than he thinks Vanessa can know. But . . .
"Probably not," Sam says. "What we do and everything, it just really doesn't lend itself to –"
"I get it," she says. "It's okay. I had pretty much figured that out. But I put my phone number and my e-mail address in the bag, anyway. Just in case you're ever in my neck of the woods again and need or want to crash in a room decorated in Early American Creepy."
"I left ours on the chalkboard in your kitchen. Just in case something else in there turns out to be creepier than you're expecting."
"Thanks," she says. "And if you just jinxed me, Sam, you had better believe I will be calling you. Probably from the It'll Do."
"Well, if I just jinxed you, you should call."
But only if. And they both know it.
They're silent for a moment, and then Vanessa says, "So, where are you headed now?"
"To beautiful, scenic Milwaukee," Dean says, coming across the yard to join them. "There's been a string of weirdass robberies up there. Might be our kind of thing."
"Robberies?" Vanessa asks. "So, what, like the ghosts of Bonnie and Clyde?"
"Nah," Dean says. "Took care of them years ago."
Vanessa's eyes widen in surprise. "Really?"
"No, Dean's kidding you," Sam says. At least he thinks Dean is kidding her. But maybe that was one of the hunts Sam missed when he was at Stanford. Hell, maybe Dean got Dillinger, too.
Either way, the comment has neatly avoided actually answering Vanessa's not-quite-asked question about what they're heading off to hunt.
"Milwaukee's a long drive," Vanessa says.
"Not as long as some," Dean tells her.
"But we should probably get going," Sam says.
"Right," Vanessa says. She hugs them both, first Dean and then Sam. "Thank you, again. For everything."
She waves, as they're getting into the car, and calls "take care" and "drive safe." Sam knows without looking that she's the sort who will stand in the yard and wave until they're out of sight. Dean pauses for a split second at the top of the hill in the driveway, glances into the rear view mirror, and then raises his hand in a single wave of farewell. And then he drives on, and the house disappears from view.
"What's in the bag, Sammy?" he asks, as Sam starts to twist around to put the bag Vanessa gave him in the backseat.
"Vanessa made us lunch. For the road." Sam opens the bag, reaches down into it, and inspects the contents. "Sandwiches and stuff."
"Yeah? Nice girl." Dean lets the car idle for a second at the end of the driveway. "You know, if you want to hang out here for another day or two—"
"We've got a case, Dean. We should head for Milwaukee."
"Yeah, you're right," Dean says. "It was just a thought." He pulls the car out onto the road. "You mind closing that window?"
"Sure," Sam says. "Guess it is a little cold for it."
"And only going get colder. Wisconsin in the winter, here we come."
Sam rolls the window back up while Dean pushes a cassette into the Impala's tape deck. And Dean either doesn't notice or doesn't comment on the small square of paper Sam lets drop out the window before he closes it. Vanessa's name, and phone number, and e-mail address, retrieved under the guise of looking though the lunch bag, flutter away in the wake of the car, and are gone.
As they reach the highway, Dean and Robert Plant start singing.
Leaves are fallin' all around, time I was on my way.
Thanks to you, I'm much obliged for such a pleasant stay.
Sam closes his eyes and leans his head back against the seat.
And with time on his hands and a lot to not think about, he starts making lists in his head.
Alabama . . . Alaska . . . Arizona . . .