~ ii ~
~ ii ~
In Cody Harris' house the front door slammed.
"Shoes!" his mother shouted from the kitchen.
Cody kicked his shoes off and thumped up the stairs.
"How was Tae Kwon Do?"
"I can't talk to you, Mom! I'm a Klingon!"
"Okay, honey. Get washed up and help me with dinner."
Cody slammed his bedroom door too.
Cody's mom sighed and kept peeling carrots. "Klingons are rude."
After the initial startled scream from the twins, the shape froze, letting them all see what it was.
"It's a man," Sam said, but the hair on the back of his still neck stood up. Maybe this was who the FBI agent was looking for.
The man was tall even though he wasn't standing up straight, and stood on the path far ahead of them. As they watched the man tipped his head back and sniffed the air.
"What's wrong with his clothes?" Lizzie whispered.
Sam swallowed. "They're torn up. He's covered in blood."
"A- are you okay, Mister?" Gail yelled at the man.
"Gail!" Lizzie squeaked.
The man growled and started loping up the path towards them.
The twins shrieked again, turned and started to run.
Sam's eyes darted from Lizzie and Gail to the man and back. He's going to be able to catch them, he's got longer legs... But I'm on a bike... "Run and get help!" he shouted at the girls, standing up on his pedals and pumping his bike towards the man.
The man stopped at the sight of eight-year-old Sam bearing down on him and tilted his head to the side.
"Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" Sam shouted, waving an arm and hoping the twins were getting away, not daring to look back. Sam's bike swished close past the man, sending him stumbling backward.
Skidding to a stop several yards down the path, Sam looked back. The man stood in the path, hands opening and closing into fists, huffing. Way beyond him, Sam could see Lizzie and Gail running up and down side-trails, trying to find a break in the fence to get out of the woods. Sam's heart was pounding; he felt like Leonardo. Or Michelangelo. At least Casey Jones without his mask.
"Come and get me!" shouted Sam.
The man snarled, then turned and took a step toward the twins.
"No you don't!" Sam charged his bike at the man again.
When Sam got close, the man stepped to the side, like a bull-fighter, grabbing Sam's handlebars and sending both him and his bike flying into the underbrush.
The world spun around and Sam landed in the bush first, with his bike landing on top of him. A hundred scratches on his arms stung and his elbow hurt.
This'd be a lot easier if I had a turtle's shell, Sam thought dizzily.
The man was suddenly much closer, sniffing the air, grabbing at Sam's bike. Sam yelled and grabbed the bike frame, holding it down, keeping it tangled in the bush and between himself and the man.
But it wasn't a man. His eyes were blood-red where they should be white and his face was a lumpy mess of red welts and scars. His breath smelled like rotting meat. The feeling of 'wrong' flooded through Sam.
"You're a monster!" he croaked, wide-eyed. "Y- you're a real monster!"
The monster stopped pulling at Sam's bike, drooling red, then let go. Sam grunted as he pulled his own bike down on top of himself, tangling him and it further in the bush.
When he looked up again, the monster was gone.
Sam took a deep breath and shouted as loud as he could. "Lizzie! Gail! Run! He's coming after you!"
Lizzie could hear Sam shouting but they'd gotten too far away and she couldn't tell what he was saying. She ran down the trail she'd just gone up. "It's blocked! They're all blocked!" she shouted, running up another faint path leading towards one of the houses. "The fence is too high!"
"There has to be a hole in the fence somewhere!" Gail shouted back, running down a similar path to the main trail. "Keep trying!"
Lizzie got to the end of the next path and nearly turned around immediately at what seemed like another dead end, but stopped and looked again. The chain links behind a dense flower-laden shrub were open, making a big gap in the fence; more than big enough for her Gail and Sam to fit through.
"I found one!" she yelled.
Back on the main path through the woods, Gail screamed.
"Gail!" Lizzie spun and ran back down the path.
The ugly man had caught up to them and had grabbed Gail by the arm.
"You let her go!" Lizzie shrieked, shaking.
Gail glanced at Lizzie, then took a deep breath, twisting and pulling back against the ugly man's thumb. His wrist bent painfully and he released his hold on her arm with a grunt of pain. Then she kicked him in the kneecap with a loud "KAI!" that was echoed by a sick crunch.
The ugly man roared and fell down clutching his knee.
"Wow!" said Lizzie. "That really works!"
"C'mon, Lizzie!" said Gail, grabbing her sister's hand. "We need to get help!" They ran up the narrow path towards the break in the fence, through the back yard of a house, up the back stairs and in the open back door, not noticing the dark windows and peeling paint.
Justin spun Sonic around and made yet another fireball-wasp explode.
Sam should be home any minute. Dean rubbed his eyes and glanced at the clock. Four-thirty-five. He blinked and looked again. The numbers hadn't changed.
"Sammy?" Dean jumped off the couch and ran into the kitchen. Sam's shoes and bag weren't by the door. He wasn't home.
"Hey, do you want your turn or not, Dean?"
Dean went back into the family room. "I can't. Something's wrong."
"What?" said Justin, picking up the abandoned controller and thunking his feet onto the coffee table as he took Dean's turn.
"Sammy's still not home."
"So? Your little brother's not here. Nicky left and your folks don't have any other foster kids right now, so that means we get undisputed access to the TV and the Sega, right?"
"You don't get it. Ninja Turtles starts at four-thirty." Dean went to the window and peered up and down the street. No Sam. "Sammy's missing Ninja Turtles. Sammy never misses Ninja Turtles. He wants to be a Ninja Turtle."
Justin snorted and thumbed the controller, eyes locked on the screen. "Your little brother's a real dork."
For a second, Dean felt like punching his best friend. He shoved Justin's feet off the coffee table instead. "Go home."
Justin looked up, surprised. On the screen, rings exploded from the high-speed hedgehog. "But I thought-"
"Go home, Justin."
As Justin left, Dean picked up the phone and dialed the number for the Community Center, next to the school. It would be exactly like Sam to decide he didn't want to ride home after class without Dean and then sit there sulking because he didn't want to call home and admit it.
Sam thrashed his way out of the bush, pushing his bike sideways in front of him. He got free in time to see the monster limping along the main path and the twins nowhere in sight.
Maybe they got away, Sam thought.
The monster limped to a stop, peering up a path that lead to one of the houses along the edge of the woods and... laughed? It sounded like a laugh to Sam; a dry, dusty chuckle. It wasn't a happy sound.
"Hey!" yelled Sam, straddling his bike again, not certain where the twins had gone but guessing probably up that trail. "Leave them alone!"
The monster's head snapped back toward Sam, snarling, then it hobbled up the path.
Sam raced along the main trail and skidded to a halt at the end of the path the monster was slowly limping up.
Even though he'd only ever seen the building from the front, Sam knew exactly which house the twins had gone to for help. He could feel it. It felt just like the monster currently limping up the trail towards it, laughing its unfunny laugh.
"Oh no. Oh no." Sam rode along the main trail as fast as he could, heading for the street. He had to get help. He had to get Dean.
After running up the stairs from the back yard and into the strange house, the twins stopped inside the back porch, panting. "Hello? We need help?"
The house was silent.
"There's nobody home, come on." Lizzie lead the way inside.
"It stinks in here, Lizzie!" said Gail, covering her nose and mouth. "I'm gonna throw up."
"We just need to find a phone and-" Lizzie turned the corner into the kitchen. The first thing she saw was a shattered telephone laying on the floor, wires all torn out of the wall. "Oh," she said.
Then she saw the rest of the kitchen. Brown crusty stuff was splattered all over everything. There were lumps of-
Lizzie turned away. I don't want to know what that is. I want to go home. We need help.
Gail swallowed, eyes wide, taking in the mess in the room. "Lizzie...?"
"It's just a bunch of really gross stuff, Gail." Lizzie covered her mouth and headed back towards the back porch. "We don't need to go in there. We can go back out and-"
Outside, the flowery bush rustled and the chain link fence creaked. Something growled in pain.
The twins gasped. "He's coming!" whispered Gail.
Lizzie looked from the back porch door to the kitchen doorway.
"We can't go in there," Gail said queasily.
"We aren't going to. Hurry!" Lizzie grabbed her sister's hand and headed for a stairway beside the kitchen door, going up.
In the half hour he'd been wending his way through the streets of Clarksburg, Bobby hadn't come across a single house that might look wrong to a kid, in his estimation; a couple with loud dogs, some with untidy lawns, one with a paint job that was absolutely evil, even if the house itself wasn't. He was only halfway through his list of bylaw complaints. People in this neighborhood did a hell of a lot of complaining.
Maybe there really isn't a case here after all.
He turned down yet another dead-end road in the suburban maze when the police scanner on the seat beside him crackled.
'Four Adam Six, I've got a couple reports here of a bunch of kids screaming and horsing around in the avian reserve.'
"Aw no." Bobby turned the volume up. Please no.
'Dispatch, do you have a more precise 10-20 on that complaint? It's a big forest.'
'Calls coming from the old orchard area. Plum Tree Lane, Mulberry Court, Anglewood Crescent and two locations along the ring road in the four thousand block.'
Bobby circled the roads on his map. That didn't narrow down his search area much.
'Doesn't narrow it down much, Dispatch,' the officer said on the scanner, echoing Bobby's thought. 'It's a quiet afternoon. I'll do a drive-by of the access roads. Nothing more than nuisance calls?'
'Negative, just screaming and running around. Nuisance only, low priority.'
Potential case in the area, screaming kids in the woods. Never a good combination. Bobby circled around the cul-de-sac he'd just entered and sped out, heading for Plum tree Lane.
"Okay, thanks Mrs. Martin."
The Tae Kwon Do class had ended almost an hour ago, and no one from it was still at the community centre.
Where's Sam? Dean hung up the phone and jumped a little when it immediately rang. "Hello?"
"Hey, Dean," said Justin.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Look, I'm sorry, Justin, I'm just really worried about Sam-"
"I know, Dean. I'm not that stupid. He hangs out with the kid next door to me, Cody, right?"
A mixed swirl of hope and irritation rose in Dean. "Is he over there now?"
"No, but Cody is. He said Sam and the Thierry twins were going to cut through the bird sanctuary to get home."
Right then, Dean had got a cold shiver. "No way. Sammy would never go through those woods."
"That's what Cody said, but Sam did anyway. They all did." Justin laughed. "But Cody also said he was a Klingon, so I don't know whether you want to believe him."
"Okay, thanks Justin."
"No problem. Hey, uh. I didn't mean to be such a jerk about Sam."
"It's okay. I'll see you tomorrow at school."
"Okay. I hope you find your brother."
Dean hung up, the apple he'd eaten lurching sickly in his stomach. Cody hadn't taken the shortcut and was already home. If Sam took a shortcut with Lizzie and Gail but wasn't home yet...
Something had happened to Sam and the twins in the woods.
Dean looked down at the Gregorovich's phone number, tidily printed on the bottom of the note laying on the counter.
Calling would mean explaining to Mr and Mrs. Older-than-dirt where Sam had gone, and then what? They'd call the Community Centre, even though Dean had already done that, then they'd call Sam's friends, even though Justin had done that. They might even call the police, and that would take even longer because Dean'd have to explain everything again. What Mr. and Mrs. Gregorovich wouldn't do is jump into their car right away and drive straight to the woods, not on Dean's say so.
Dean knew where Sam had gone and stopping to explain things was a waste of time. If Sam was in real trouble, there wasn't time to explain anything to anyone. Dean needed to get to Sam now.
He charged up the stairs to the room he shared with Sam, snatched his handmade slingshot from his underwear drawer, and thudded back down the stairs and out the door to his bike.
The smell wasn't as bad upstairs, but it still hung in the air, tickling the back of the twins' throats.
"He lives here, Lizzie, he has to live here!" Gail whispered as they crept along the hallway. "This is stupid! We're hiding in his house! He's gonna find us!"
"Not if we can find a really good place to hide," Lizzie muttered, peering into rooms. "We'll find a place and wait until he goes away and we can get out."
"Mom's gonna be so mad," Gail said, shaking her head. "We never should have gone into the woods."
"Yeah, I know. Never ever gonna do that again." Lizzie rattled the knob on another door and pushed it open.
Like every other room, everything inside the room was smashed up. The furniture was all broken and tipped over, doors pulled off hinges, mirrors and picture frames twisted and shattered.
"Everything's all wrecked. " Lizzie turned to go to the next room.
"No, look, up there." Gail pointed.
Up above a little nook where the torn-up remains of a bed and a tipped-over chest of drawers rested was an undamaged pair of sliding cupboard doors. They were on a piece of the wall that stuck out a few feet and hung down, making a space about the size of the trunk of Mom's car that hung from the ceiling
"What's a cupboard doing up there?"
"I dunno, but it looks like a really good place to hide."
The floor shook under their feet as the back door slammed. The girls froze. "Maybe he left-"
Downstairs, something crashed.
"Come on!" The twins clambered up the chest of drawers, shoved aside the blankets stored in the cupboard and burrowed inside.
"We just have to hide." Gail whispered. "Sam will call 911, they'll come and get us and take the ugly man away."
Lizzie's eyes were wide in the darkness. "The ugly man caught Sam, Gail. What if-"
"Sam's fine," Gail said. "He's gotta be."
As his bike swooped down onto the road around the woods, Dean heard Sam shouting his name. He turned and saw his brother racing towards him along the forest loop.
Relief flooded through him, rapidly replaced by aggravation. "Where the heck were you?" Dean shouted at his brother.
The back tire of Sam's bike bounced on the pavement as he skidded to a stop in front of Dean. His eyes were wide open, white all the way around. Twigs and leaves stuck out of Sam's hair, and his face and arms were covered in scratches.
Dean frowned. "What happened to you?"
"It's got them!" Sam huffed. "We gotta help! Police would never believe me and it'd be too late!"
"Wait, wait. What's got who?"
"The monster! It has Lizzie and Gail!"
"Monster?" Dean felt his shoulders stiffen. "Sammy-"
"Just come on!" Sam turned his bike and stood up on his pedals, racing back the way he'd come.
Dean followed his brother along the road, chewing his lip. He felt sick. Part of him believed Sam, but part of him felt like he'd failed, that he should have said something earlier, kept Sam from saying anything about what he felt. Maybe Sammy had seen a monster, maybe he hadn't. Sam was all scratched up and scared, but that didn't prove anything. If the twins were playing a trick on Sam because of what he'd said about the house on Anglewood, if the twins were making Sam think there was a monster while they were sitting somewhere safe and waiting to laugh at Sammy, Dean would- he'd...
Ahead of Dean, Sam swooped onto Anglewood Crescent, dropped his bike on the sidewalk in front of house number 2872 and ran straight up the front porch. Dean coasted to a stop beside Sam's abandoned bike and watched open-mouthed as Sam twisted and yanked on the door to the house he normally wouldn't even ride past.
"It's stuck, Dean! We've gotta help them!"
Sam's trying to get into the house that freaks him out. Even if the girls are just playing a trick, Sam wouldn't- Something really is wrong.
"I'm coming, Sammy." Dean dropped his bike beside his brother's and ran up to help Sam with the stuck door. It popped open and the boys tumbled inside.
Looking into the kitchen, Dean hoped there really was a monster, because he didn't want to think about any person being able to do something like that. He really regretted eating that apple.
"They wouldn't have gone in there, Dean," Sam whispered, wide-eyed at the mess.
"Yeah. I wouldn't either." Dean covered his mouth and nose.
Above them, the ceiling creaked.
Dean looked up. "They're upstairs."
"What if the monster is too?"
Dean glanced at the kitchen again then looked away. What would MacGyver do? But Dean didn't think there'd be time to build a trap or make a bomb out of Aspirin. "We're going to have to be really quiet, Sammy. We need to find Lizzie and Gail and get them outside." He looked around, then pointed at a staircase off the front room.
"If they're hiding, how are we gonna find them? This house is huge!"
Dean gripped the stair railing. "We split up. We'll check all the rooms, and as soon as we find them, we all just run for the outside. Whoever it is, they won't do anything to any of us when we're out where people will see. Okay?"
Sam took a deep breath. "Yeah."
This house has way more rooms than ours does, Sam thought to himself in distraction, trying to be completely silent as he walked along the hallway, and focus on his breathing and balance like they taught in Tae Kwon Do. Being inside the house, all he could feel was wrong-wrong-wrong; the hair on the back of his neck felt like it might uproot itself and run away. It was hard to think of anything else.
As he passed one doorway, Sam heard a quiet hiss and looked back in. Inside a funny little cupboard on the ceiling, Sam could see the twins waving.
"Sam! Did you get help?" whispered one of them.
"Yep," Dean was searching rooms in a different part of the upstairs, but he'd find them all soon. "Come on down, let's get out of here."
He helped Gail climb down from the cupboard. Lizzie was crawling down the overturned chest of drawers when the floor behind Sam creaked.
"Dean, I found-!" the rest of his words were choked off as something grabbed the collar of Sam's t-shirt. As the twins backed into the corner, wide-eyed, the monster yanked Sam around so they were face to face.
The monster grinned and spoke.
The scanner had gone quiet. No further complaints of screaming were being called in and the patroller had signed off after a visual check of the roads. Bobby's tires squealed as he pulled into Anglewood Crescent and stopped opposite the bylaw violator on the street.
The house was wrong by many people's standards. Peeling paint, a broken window and a lawn that needed a scythe more than a lawnmower.
Two kids' bikes lay abandoned on the sidewalk out front, and the front door stood wide open.
"Son of a bitch."
Old abandoned-looking houses always drew the imagination into thinking they were haunted, but they drew in other things as well, like monsters and kids on bikes. Bobby parked the Chevelle and grabbed his bag from the passenger seat.
There can't be many more places two girls could hide, Dean thought, then saw the back of a man in tattered and bloody clothes through the doorway of one of the rooms Sammy was checking and didn't see Sam anywhere. He loaded a rock into his slingshot and crept closer, taking aim.
"H-" Dean's shout froze in his throat. It wasn't a man. The thing had a head, two arms and two legs, but there was no way it was human. It was a monster. The skin on the man's face was rough and mottled and the edge of his eye where it should be white was red.
Not just too much imagination, not a shadow or a trick of the firelight, not just an ugly man. A genuine, actual monster.
The monster had Sam pulled up by his shirt collar, and the girls were stuck in the corner, holding onto each other, scared.
Dean swallowed and raised his slingshot, scowling. "Hey! Ugly!"
The monster's head snapped around and he snarled at Dean.
With a whiiip-THWACK, the stone hit the monster in the face. It howled, dropping Sam and curling away from Dean and the other kids.
"Run!" Dean shouted, loading another rock into the slingshot as Sam and the Thierry twins scooted out the doorway past him.
Sam stopped in the doorway behind his brother. "Dean, what about-"
"Just run, Sammy!"
It wasn't the monster that had haunted him since the day his parents died, but it was a monster he could keep away from Sammy. Dean aimed the slingshot again.
"You stay away from my brother, you hear me?"
The monster drooled and shuffled toward Dean.
Bobby picked a retirement home staff ID badge from a pile of non-organic items that had been hurled into a corner of the horrific kitchen, the collar of his t-shirt up to cover his nose and mouth.
"Stress leave my ass," he muttered. Though he guessed becoming a full-fledged Rugaru was a stressful experience, as was being eaten by one.
Along with several snapped animal collars were the sad, unmistakable remains of Thaddeus Fischer - a set of dentures, a pacemaker and a barely used metal hip joint - and the remnants of a set of scrubs and another retirement home staff ID that Bobby was certain would match up to at least one of the other orderlies on stress leave. No signs of any kids, but this was definitely a Rugaru.
Upstairs there was a holler, a thump and a roar. Bobby grabbed the flamethrower from his bag and ran for the staircase.
The twin girls and the boy who'd thought the house was wrong were at the top of the stairs as Bobby came charging up. The girls screamed.
"It's okay," the boy said, "he's the FBI man from school today, he's just wearing a hat!"
"Keep running kids!" yelled Bobby, "Get out of the house!"
The girls passed him on either side and rattled down the stairs, but the boy stayed in front of him, looking back down the hallway.
"You too, sport!"
"Please, my brother!"
"I'll get him, just get out of here!"
The boy looked at Bobby assessingly, then nodded and ran past him and down the stairs.
Bobby looked down the hall to see the damnedest thing he'd ever seen. The older boy from the schoolyard, face pinched white in fury, backing out of one of the rooms down the hall and holding a slingshot loaded and aimed. Inside the room there was a crash of some furniture going over and the snarl of something really unfriendly.
The boy let fly with the slingshot and the snarl inside the room turned into a yelp of pain. He started reloading the slingshot, still backing up, glaring into the room.
Bobby ran up the hall. "Kid, I got him! Get out of here!"
The boy whipped his head towards Bobby. "Where's Sammy?"
"They're all outside." Bobby pulled an improvised flamethrower from his bag, stepping up to the doorway. "Get outside with your brother and don't look back."
When Bobby didn't immediately hear footsteps running away, he glanced over his shoulder. The kid stood behind him in the hall, face pale, freckles standing out on his cheeks, staring at Bobby.
He holds a Rugaru off with a slingshot and freezes now? "Now, kid! Go!" Bobby barked.
The kid gasped and ran down the hall, clattering down the stairs.
Bobby turned back to see the Rugaru creeping out of the room towards him. He stilled with a snarl when Bobby spotted him.
"Seems like I owe Travis a case of beer," Bobby said, aiming the improvised flamethrower.
The Rugaru shifted, keeping his left leg from touching the ground as much as possible. His knee was swollen and reddened beneath the shredded remnants of his nursing home scrubs. Given time, it'd bruise spectacularly. Bobby didn't plan on giving him time to bruise.
"You're gone, aren't you?"
Showing no reaction to Bobby's words, the Rugaru limped forward. He hunched low and snarled, looking for an opening to attack.
"Sorry about this, but you should've left humans off the menu."
Bobby sparked up the flamethrower.
It was still daylight out when Dean stumbled out the front door; it felt like it should be the middle of the night.
The FBI man, he sounded just like Dad. Dean shook his head and waded through the over-long grass to where Sam and the twins were ducked down, hiding. Sam's collar was torn and the scratches he'd gotten earlier stood out against his skin.
"Did it hurt you?" Dean asked, dropping his slingshot and grabbing Sam by the shoulders.
"I'm okay, Dean. I got hurt worse when he threw me in the bush."
Dean scowled. "You're sure?"
Dean turned to the twins. "How about you two?"
"Oh, we're fine," said Lizzie.
"If you hadn't found us, the FBI man might've walked right by us," said Gail distantly. "That monster would've ate us all up."
Lizzie sniffed and crossed her arms. "He's just an ugly man, Gail. Monsters aren't real and don't really eat kids. And we could've gotten away on our own, we were just-"
"Oh Lizzie, shut up!" Gail said, then hugged Dean and Sam tightly. "Thank you."
"Uh. Sure," said Dean.
Sammy squirmed away and made a face. "Ew. Gross."
Gail stuck out her tongue. Lizzie pulled at a tuft of grass. "Yeah, thanks."
"No problem," said Sam. "That's what friends do, right? Look out for each other?"
Lizzie glanced up, face set in a defensive scowl, but Sam just smiled.
"Yeah. I guess." Lizzie smiled back.
"The house! It's on fire!" Gail gasped.
Dean's head snapped around. Smoke poured from the upstairs windows of the house they'd just escaped, orange light flickering.
"C'mon Lizzie! We gotta go call 911!" Gail grabbed her sister's arm and pulled, wading through the long grass to the next house on the street.
Dean's breath stopped in his throat, and he stood up, and stepped out of the grass onto the path to the house's front door. "Take your brother outside! Now Dean! Go!" The man had sounded like Dad, and now there was fire. Dean watched the flickering upstairs windows for shadows.
Sam's hand nudged into his. Dean grabbed it and held on. "It's okay, Sammy," he said from a long way away.
"That FBI man. He'll be okay, right Dean?"
Mom and Dad are coming. Mom and Dad are coming. Dean swallowed, an old feeling of numbness coming over him. "He won't come out of the fire. No one comes out of the fire."
Glass shattered and flames shot out from an upstairs window. Dean ducked and threw his arms over Sam to protect him.
Just then the FBI man burst out the front door, coughing and staggering.
I hate burning Rugarus, Bobby thought as he stumbled down the porch stairs, eyes watering, clearing the smoke residue. Travis can have 'em all. He took a big breath in the clear air, coughed hard a couple times then opened his eyes to see the two brothers standing on the path in front of him. Be damned if he could remember either of their names off-hand. The littlest one was grinning ear-to-ear.
"You're alive." The older boy was even paler than he'd been inside the house. "You walked out of the fire."
Bobby coughed and straightened up. "I'm fine, kid, I'm fine. Are you okay?"
"We're okay!" chirped the little one.
The older boy blinked and straightened up too. "Yeah. No problem."
"Hell of a job with that slingshot." Bobby picked the handmade weapon off the overgrown lawn and handed it back.
"Thanks." The boy's mouth opened, looking down at the slingshot as though he wanted to say something about it, but then closed his mouth and looked back up at Bobby like he'd just landed from Mars.
"What about the girls?" Bobby asked.
"They're calling the fire department," volunteered Sam. "They're okay too."
"Good. Good." Bobby smiled grimly. "I better get out of here then."
"Did you..." The older boy hesitated. "Did you get him?"
"Yep." Bobby took off his baseball cap and wiped his brow. "Probably best you all forget about what you saw."
"I know." The kid's shoulders stiffened and that same opaque expression from the schoolyard threatened to slide across his face again.
Bobby looked sidelong at the kid. If there was one thing he could tell, it was when someone had something they wanted to say, but couldn't. Also there was the proven accuracy of his little brother's sense of 'wrong'. Bobby knew a lady in Kansas that might be able to help him with that.
"Tell you what, kid." Bobby pulled out one of the 'FBI' business cards with the number of his alternate line at the wrecking yard on it and handed it to Dean. "Next time you or your brother hear tell of a monster, or if you wanna talk about what happened in there, you call me, okay? 'Cause I can tell you right now, your folks ain't gonna believe you."
That got half a smirk out of the boy. "Trust me. I know." He ran a thumb over the card before tucking it away.
Sam and Dean stayed to talk to the fire department, but Lizzie and Gail didn't let them get a chance to try to explain. The girls talked over top of each other explaining that they had been attacked in the woods by an ugly man who tried to grab them. They ran into the house and found really gross things and hid. Sam had ridden off for help, and he and Dean had come back and rescued them from the ugly man. They didn't know how the fire started.
Since the fire damage was primarily on the second floor, the police found plenty of evidence of what had been happening in the house before the fire. Once the remains of Thaddeus Fischer, two other retirement home orderlies and several animals turned up in the ruins of the house, the police stopped asking about the fire and started looking into the orderly who had been at its center.
Dean and Sam got their pictures in Dean's newspaper. After a short inquiry into his activities at the school that day, no one asked about or mentioned Agent Kayser.
~ Epilogue ~
Two months later, Dean sat at home in the kitchen with an untouched piece of peach pie. It was summer. The Kirklands - his and Sam's folks - were at work, Sammy was over at Cody's place, and Dean had a worn business card and the telephone in front of him.
After the therapists and counselors trying to get him to talk, and then telling him he was imagining things or sick in the head when he did talk, he'd stopped talking about that night to anyone. He never even told Sam what he saw, not really. After what had happened, Dean wanted to. He couldn't figure out how yet, but he would.
Dean stared down at the card.
"Darn it." He picked up the phone and dialed the Agent's direct office number.
The line picked up after two rings. "Agent Kayser speaking."
Dean sat, staring at the formica tabletop, phone to his ear, just breathing. After years of not speaking about something, talking to someone he barely knew felt impossible. He couldn't even see the Agent's face to gauge his reaction. Dean wanted to hang up.
"Hello?" Agent Kayser's voice was a little annoyed. In the background on the phone, a dog barked.
He fights monsters. He walked out of the fire. If I ever tell this to anyone other than Sammy... Dean cleared his throat. "Um. Hi, Agent Kayser. It's Dean Kirkland, from Clarksburg, Iowa. I dunno if you remember me?"
There was a pause and something creaked over the line, like an old chair leaning back. "Yeah! You're the young fella that's good with a slingshot. What's up?"
"I..." Dean took a deep breath, let it out again. "Me and Sammy, we're orphans, or I mean we were 'til the adoption-" Dean shook his head to himself. Stop babbling. Just tell him. "The night our parents died, I saw something. In the fire, like a shadow."
"Yeah?" Dean wished he could see the man's face, but his tone didn't hold any judgment or ridicule. "What kind of a shadow?"
"It looked like a man, up at Sam's nursery window, watching me and Sammy. He was all on fire, and watching. Then he, he waved."
"Like he was in a parade. He waved at us. And then he turned away." The next words came out in a rush: "I think he killed our parents."
Silence fell on the other end of the line and for a second Dean worried he'd made the wrong choice, that even with the monster and everything, Agent Kayser was just another grown-up that wouldn't believe him.
"Dean, I believe you."
The panic building in Dean fell away. "Really?"
"Yeah, son. Really. I can think of a couple things that might've been, and given the possibilities, it definitely bears looking into."
"Thank you." Dean swallowed. "Thank you, Agent Kayser."
"Incidentally, my real name's Bobby Singer. If we're gonna be looking into what happened to your folks together, you'd best call me that."
"Okay, Mr. Singer."
"Now," Dean heard a rustling of papers and the click of a pen. "Tell me everything you remember about the night of the fire."
(If anyone's interested, there are Bonus Features for this fic (two graphics and a hint about something you might have missed in the story) at my LiveJournal. The link is on my author page.)