A spirit should not be allowed to haunt a vibrant, kid-filled town over ten miles away from the abandoned mineshaft where he'd died. Worse, dying alone in the mine had filled James Andrews with both rage and power.
Though his body had long since been recovered and cremated, the face of the spirit they'd tangled with two nights earlier was unmistakable. Since he'd died in a cave in, the brothers concluded, some bits had been left behind.
One thing they left behind was their cell phones. Five steps beyond the mine entrance, all signal would be gone. Besides, if anything happened to them, the GPS would eventually lead Bobby to the car.
The Winchesters peeled back the boards covering the mine entrance and crawled in. With the old elevator out of service, they'd have to walk down the long, sloping cavern. Though it was only about a mile, it was no easy trip. Their flashlights barely dented the utter blackness of the deep mine, built out of a natural cave. Though the bottlenecks had been widened and the roof had been reinforced with timbers and concrete in many places, the floor was only slightly improved. At times loose rocks threatened to send them flying.
Even though the way down seemed simple enough, they brought spray paint and marked out a number in red every five minutes of the trip, and an arrow at each turning. A couple minutes after painting marker eleven, they found what they'd come for.
The site of Andrews' death was fairly easy to identify. Search teams had repaired the small cave-in with a different type of timber when the body was recovered. The EMF meter, initially more silent than they had ever seen it, squealed loudly at a group of small rocks. A closer inspection found part of a man's hand buried underneath.
The moment Sam touched it, a wind swept through the dark, still cavern. Quickly he reached for the salt, but before he could use it, a hand seemed to grab him around the waist. He flew across the chamber and out of sight. A horrific smashing sound echoed though the cave.
The bottom dropped out of Dean's stomach, but training took over. Whatever had become of Sam, taking a few seconds to finish the job would do no harm, and might yet save both their lives. Pouring the lighter fluid and burning the fingers took only a moment. Andrews reached out for him, but too late, because he flamed out before reaching Dean.
Dean took no satisfaction watching the spirit flame out. He was already moving toward the shaft. "Sammy!" he called, not daring to shout lest he bring the roof down.
The flashlight turned down the shaft. Dean drew in a sharp breath as it found a crumpled figure on the stone floor, perhaps ten yards away, then let it out again as Sam's arm moved.
"Ow," he muttered. Sam's eyes were wide open, but he made no effort to rise.
"You okay there?" Dean asked. Sam had hit the tunnel wall going fast.
"What did you land on?" Dean demanded.
Dean snorted. "That could be serious. I mean, you keep your head up there. Can you move your legs?"
Sam made the attempt. "A little. Rather... not."
Kneeling beside him, Dean prodded. There seemed no major injury to Sam's lower legs, but he gasped at the lightest touch on his left hip or lower back, suggesting bone injury, and there was either a minor fracture or heavy bruising on Sam's left shoulder. Most alarmingly, his upper outer thigh had no sensation at all.
Dean scowled, thinking. It was ambulance-worthy, and at the moment the two of them weren't committing any crime other than illegal spelunking.
But he'd have to walk to the surface and get the phone out of the car, then most likely wait for help and lead them here. The mine was inherently unstable, and every passage in and out increased the risk of cave-in. The cave floor was cold, and they didn't have nearly enough blankets or clothing to stave off shock. Almost as bad, the bulb in Sam's flashlight had shattered, leaving them only one working light source. Once he was out of sight, the utter darkness of a deep cave would return, darker than sitting in a closet on a moonless night with eyes squeezed shut. He could not leave Sam alone for hours, badly hurt, without heat or light.
One way or another, then, he'd have to get Sam out of here. Obviously, Sam couldn't walk, and Dean would need to minimize shifting and jolting. Sam was a freaking Sasquatch, there was no possible way he could bring his brother so far in, say, a fireman's carry even if it weren't for the potentially unstable bone injury.
Backboard, then, and some way to drag him.
With a plan at last, Dean sprung into action. The timbers that had once supported the collapsed section of mine had simply been left in place. One was nicely splintered as well. They'd brought a pickaxe, with it he split the broken timber until he had two sturdy pieces a little longer than Sam. The wool blanket quickly turned the timbers into a litter. Still, Dean needed a way to immobilize Sam before they tried moving. Dean searched deeper down the mine, finding the elevator car. The bolts were rusty, but the panels were intact, and one was large enough to cover most of Sam's back.
Short of a full length backboard with proper restraints and a few more people to carry it, this was about as good as they were likely to get.
At each of the four corners, there were holes that the bolts had passed through, big enough for Dean's parachute cord. He cut two pieces a couple yards long, threaded one through the bottom and one through the top, leaving the ends sticking out the front to be tied together. Dean laid the makeshift backboard down beside Sam and the stretcher beside it. Using a foot to hold the board in place, he slid Sam onto it, grabbing his clothing in two places to move him as smoothly as possible. Quickly he strapped Sam down, one around his thighs and one around his chest.
Finally, he dragged the backboard onto the stretcher. "Okay, Sammy." he said softly. "Worst is over." Sam made no sound, but his face had grown tighter than ever. They both knew Dean was full of it.
It'd take both hands to carry the stretcher, and he had to be able to see the path. Which left only one person to carry the light, and he'd have a hard time shining it in front of them. Still, giving Sam a job might be for the best. It'd help him stay conscious, keep the adrenaline levels up, and delay shock. He stuffed it into Sam's hand.
"Whatever you do, don't drop that flashlight." Dean offered, reaching for the shafts of the travois.
"Wait, bring mine." Sam called.
"It's broken." Dean reminded him.
"Extra batteries." Sam said.
Dean had a spare set in his pocket, but with only one light source left, they couldn't have too many. He offered Sam a grin. "Guess you didn't hit your head."
Dean opened the dead light and slipped the batteries into Sam's shirt pocket. He grabbed the shotgun, his knife and Gatorade, everything else could be left behind to lighten the trip.
With one last glance around the cavern, Dean again reached for the stretcher.
"That book you were reading on the drive down, what was it called?" Dean asked.
It took a full eight minutes to get from marker number eleven back to number ten, and Dean was already breathing hard.
At number seven, his monologue was finally interrupted.
"I have to pee," Sam complained.
"You should have gone when we stopped for gas," Dean replied reflexively, but he put down the handles and drank the last of his Gatorade before handing the empty bottle to Sam.
"Ew," Sam said conversationally, as he fumbled with a zipper. But he managed to fill the bottle without making a mess. "Here."
Dean took the bottle and held it up to the light before screwing the cap back on and abandoning it at the side of the tunnel.
Sam made a face. "Dude, why are you looking at... Oh."
"No blood I can see. And your pubic muscles work, which means you probably aren't too smashed up in there." Dean returned the light to Sam and picked the handles up again. "So this guy at the laundromat in Nashville was telling me about how he tried to fix his car after the freaking engine caught fire and burned up all the cables. And anyway it was some lame-ass Japanese car. He'd actually paid a thousand dollars for the piece of crap when it was already ten years old."
Just past number five, Sam put words to what Dean had already noticed. "Flashlight's getting fainter."
"Should we change the batteries?" His voice shook slightly. With only one light between the pair of them, if a piece fell...
Dean glanced at the shrinking circle of light and sighed. "I think I have to."
Sam reached into his pockets, found the batteries and licked each one, just to be sure. Dean lowered him onto a relatively flat patch of ground, and Sam passed him the spares. Dean dropped down to the cavern floor, and Sam rested his elbow on Dean's boot.
Just like taking a pistol apart blindfolded, Dean thought. Then he twisted open the flashlight.
Neither of them spoke a word until the cavern lit up again, but Sam's arm pressed into his ankle, hard enough to be felt right through the leather.
The scrape, scrape of the litter seemed to echo through the tunnel. Sam's breathing was quiet and controlled, enduring pain as they'd been taught. IN two three four HOLD two three four OUT two three four HOLD two three four. Dean found his chest growing tighter as his own breathing fell into the same pattern. Deliberately he broke it, drawing in rapid gulps to ease his burning muscles. The fourth marker passed without words from either man, but at the third, Sam opened his mouth. "I think you'd better take the light."
Exhaustion pulled at him, dragging on every step. It had been a long time since he'd raised his eyes from the patch of rock in front of his feet. He desperately wanted to rest, but if he broke his stride, even for a moment, he doubted he could pick it up again. Sam had given up on regulated breathing and was panting shallowly. Whether Sam was even conscious, he dared not stop to check.
He'd given up counting markers and begun counting steps. At step thirty-five, he began to wonder why he hadn't seen the next marker. Somewhere past fifty, he gave up counting anything at all, everything focused on staying upright. His arms had long since gone numb from the stretcher. The rocks seemed to jump out at him, trying to trip him with deliberate malevolence. Right. Left. Right. Left. He could barely hear Sam breathing anymore, over the rush of blood in his own ears.
At first he thought the flashlight was dying again, as the circle of light weakened. Then, he realized it was daylight creeping into the cavern. Somehow, he'd walked right over the last marker without even seeing it.
He dragged the stretcher clear of the entrance, then made one last check. Sam was grey and shivering, but his pulse was only running a little fast. His abdomen was still soft to the touch. Shock not too far advanced, no internal bleeding severe enough to pose an immediate danger.
Leaving Sam lying in the afternoon sun, Dean pulled a phone out of the car and called 911. They had time to do this right, and the last thing Sam needed was to be folded into the car.