Author's Note: I'm not going to lie, I am not in love with this chapter. It was hard to write and this is probably the best draft I could come up with. I'm sorry for the long wait and now you know why.
Author's Note 2: I really, really need to thank Indigo Nights for noticing how I put "topa" when it's supposed to be "tulpa" on my last chapter. I owe her a large platter of my (almost) world famous cupcakes for catching that!
Chapter 20 - Target
The moment we got within the city limits of Lynchburg, Wisconsin, my Spidey-senses were tingling. John sent us here and Dad was whole-heartedly convinced that this is just a wild goose chase.
"Hey Liz, do you see something wrong with this picture?" Dad asked me. Uncle Dean went to a coffee shop and Dad and I stood around the Impala needing to stretch our legs. Dad was looking at a park with very few kids at it.
"Um…you look like a pedophile the way you are watching those kids," I answered, knowing fully well that was not what he was asking
"Liz…it's four-ten in the afternoon. Now, I know I haven't done it in a few years, but remember when I used to take you down to the park? Remember how it used to be so crowded that there were lines for the slide and stuff?
"Yeah…sure," I lied. In reality, I didn't remember any of this. Dad hasn't taken me to the park since I was four.
"So, now do you see the problem?
"What problem?" Uncle Dean asked, suddenly appearing out of nowhere with three coffees in hand.
"There're hardly any kids at the park," Dad reiterated, accepting the coffee from Uncle Dean.
"Okay, pedo, what gives?"
"Seriously?" Dad shook his head. "Liz just called me that. You are a terrible influence on my daughter."
Uncle Dean and I just smiled sheepishly at Dad.
"Well, finding out that you are a pedophile—" cue bitch-face number 23— "is the most interesting thing I have found out in this town. The hot waitress—whose number I got, by the way—said that, other than the local free masons acting suspicious, nothing out of the ordinary has happened."
"This may be a long shot, but maybe something is up with the kids."
"Or the parents," I suggested. "I know I've met a lot of crazy parents in my lifetime."
"Oh yeah, remember Mrs. Hassley who was head of the P.T.O.?"
"Wasn't she the one who had a major crush on you and made sure you volunteered for stuff while she was volunteering?"
"Yeah, and then Jess realized what was going on and flipped out at her."
"That was when I finally learned what a bitch was—well, the American version, anyway."
"That word was tossed around a lot along with slut, whore, and a bunch of other names."
"Well, while you two go skipping down memory lane, I'm going to go do what Dad sent us here to do: find and kill a son of a bitch."
Uncle Dean sauntered off towards the park, leaving Dad and I by the Impala, confused about Uncle Dean's sudden change in demeanor.
I took a sip of coffee. "What was that all about?" I asked.
Dad shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know."
The two of us fell into an awkward silence. We sipped at our coffees absentmindedly as we watched Uncle Dean conversed with one of the only parents at the park.
"Do you think he's jealous?" I asked, looking down at my cup of coffee. I could sense Dad giving me a confused look, so I elaborated. "I think Uncle Dean is jealous you had a normal life even if it was only for a few years."
I slowly built up the courage to look at Dad. His face was impassive as he contemplated my words. "Maybe…I dunno…he acts like he doesn't want a normal life…but I think, deep down, he does."
Uncle Dean walked up to us. He sighed deeply before he said, "Well, it might be nothing, but there are a bunch of kids sick—sick enough that they're in the hospital right now."
"Do you think it might be something?" Dad asked. I immediately recognized the tone that he rarely used. It's hard to decipher and even harder to describe. It's a combination of worry, anger and a couple other unrecognizable emotions. I've only heard it a few other times like when pink eye was going around my kindergarten class or when I come down with a bad bout of the flu.
He was now worried about my health.
"Let's head up to the hospital," Uncle Dean suggested. "It's the only lead we've got."
-SPN- -SPN- -SPN-
By now, I know that on most jobs I am supposed to stay in the Impala or in the motel room and work on schoolwork or something. It's second nature to just stay put and stay out of the way. This is why I was very annoyed when Dad drilled me about staying in the Impala while he and Uncle Dean went to the hospital. But, I humored him by acting like a good daughter and said all the right things in the right tone to help calm him down.
I never understood why he always fretted over my health. I could get a concussion or screw up my ankle and he more or less says rub some dirt on it. But, like I said, I just take his antics in stride. I know he means well, no matter how suffocating it gets at times.
Thanks to the coffee, there is no way I can fall asleep and mind-rape either Dad or Uncle Dean. I'll just have to get information the old fashioned way: asking questions.
Ugh, it sounds like work.
Three or so chapters of Anthem later, I see Dad and Uncle Dean approach the Impala. I hear them talking, but I can't understand a word they are saying until they are right next to the muscle car.
"Okay, we'll go stake out the place, but there's a stop we need to make." Dad seemed really, really scared now. He kept glancing at me as if this moment would end up being my last.
"Where would you need to stop?" Uncle Dean asked, circling around the Impala to the driver's side.
"At a motel," Dad said. "We should drop Liz off before we continue."
Uncle Dean gave Dad a confused expression. "I think she'll be fine in the Impala," he said, talking slowly as if he was choosing his words wisely. "Hell, she could come in and help investigate. It'll be a good learning experience."
Dad did not look at all pleased with the suggestion. "We're dropping Liz off at the motel and that. Is. Final!"
Dad opened the passenger door and was about to climb in, but Uncle Dean motioned for him to stop. "Do you wanna explain why you've been acting so weird since you found out that pneumonia was spreading around this town like the plague?"
"Do you wanna explain why you've been acting weird since Liz and I talked about Jess and that crazy mother?"
Uncle Dean didn't reply and the two of them climbed into the Impala. I pretended to read my book, as if I didn't hear the previous conversation.
My psychic abilities may suck most of the time, but it is times like this where I wish that I can control them.
-SPN- -SPN- -SPN-
The drive to the motel—despite its short distance—was long and foreboding. Uncle Dean drove with white knuckles and stared out the front window. I held the book up and pretended to read, but I couldn't focus and I was scared to turn the page in fear that it would make too much noise.
Even when we got to the motel, the awkwardness continued. Uncle Dean mumbled something about getting a room and climbed out of the Impala. He left Dad and me to our own demises—which meant more awkward silence that seemed to grow with every heart beat.
With nothing else to do, I watched Uncle Dean talk with the kid behind the counter. He couldn't have been much older than me and he was pretty cute in my opinion. Not that I was interested or anything, just stating facts.
A lady came up and talked with the kid. She took over with Uncle Dean's transaction. I couldn't see much, but, from what I could tell, the kid who was behind the counter was pouring a glass of milk for who must have been his little brother.
Uncle Dean eventually came back, looking as sullen as ever. He announced the room number and we grabbed out things and headed to Room 19. Not even five minutes later, Dad and Uncle Dean left and, for once, I was like those green alien men from Toy Story: eternally grateful.
I occupied myself with schoolwork. Ever since Dad and I had that huge fight a few months back, I've been trying extra hard with my studies. I am currently maintaining an A or an A-minus in all my classes except for math since it wasn't really my forte. Well, pointless math, anyway.
It took forever for Dad and Uncle Dean to get back. Their normal, hard-ass demeanor when they are on a hunt and don't have to deal with people they know was gone. They both looked shaken and…scared, maybe.
Dad and Uncle Dean dove right into research-mode. Surprisingly, they didn't ask me to help. Normally, I would be relieved that I didn't have to do research, but it just felt odd. If I knew what to look up, I would voluntarily help, for once. Of course, I was completely out of the loop.
"Well, you were right," Dad said, an hour or so later. "It wasn't very easy to find. But, you're right. A shtriga is a kind of witch—Albanian, but legends date back to ancient Rome. They feed off of spiritus vitae."
"Spirit…what?" Uncle Dean asked, in obvious need to brush up on his Latin. Of course, I'm not one to speak. But, in my defense, I have only been learning it for a few months. Uncle Dean practically had a lifetime.
"Vitae," Dad repeated. "It translates to 'breath of life'. Your life force or essence."
"Doctor said that the kids' bodies were warring out," Uncle Dean noted.
"Well, it makes sense. You lose your vitality, your immunity goes to hell and pneumonia takes hold. Anyway, shtriga's can take it from anyone, but they prefer—" Dad's mood rapidly deflated as he stared at the screen.
"Children," Uncle Dean offered.
I finally understood what was going on. Dad was worried I'd get the life sucked out of me by this shtriga character and, for all intents and purposes, die.
"Yeah," Dad said, "but, listen to this, shtriga are invulnerable to weapons made by God and man."
"So, use kryptonite," I suggested. Neither of them acknowledged that I said anything and, one has to admit that was a great solution…if, you know, kryptonite actually existed outside of the Superman movies, comic books and various television series.
"No, that's not right," Uncle Dean said. "She's vulnerable when she feeds."
Dad gave Uncle Dean a confused look. "What?"
"If you catch her when she's eating, you can blast her with concentrated raw irons—buck shots of rounds, I think."
"How do you know that?" Dad asked him.
Uncle Dean shrugged. "Dad told me. I remember."
"Oh," Dad sneered. He gave a humorless chuckled. "Anything else Dad might've mentioned?" If I had to guess, I think Dad was actually jealous of Uncle Dean for knowing that.
Or maybe my psychic abilities are flaring up—I have no idea.
"Nope, that's it." Uncle Dean seemed detached, like he didn't notice Dad's animosity. Well, maybe that wasn't completely true since, moments later, Uncle Dean asked, "What?"
Dad simply shook his head. "Nothing."
It was totally something. I didn't need any psychic abilities to know that.
"Okay…so, assuming we can kill it when it eats, we still need to find the thing first which ain't gonna be a cake walk. Shtrigas take on a disguise when they are not hunting."
"A human disguise?" Uncle Dean asked.
"Historically, it's been something innocuous. But, they typically take the form of an old woman which is probably where the witches are old crones got started."
Uncle Dean abruptly stood up from leaning against the counter and grabbed a map from the table where they had all their researched lay out on. I considered going to look for myself, but decided against it. At this moment, I am most likely invisible to them.
"See here, I marked down where all the attacks have been located," Uncle Dean pointed around the map randomly. "In the center of all the activity is—"
"Right," Uncle Dean approved. "When we were there, I saw a patient—an old woman."
Dad considered Uncle Dean's words. "An old woman?"
"In a hospital?"
Uncle Dean just gave Dad a look.
"Oof, we better call the Coast Guard on this one," Dad said. Well, now I know that he's the only one who can make jokes around here.
"Well, listen, smartass. She had an inverted cross hanging on her wall."
In record time, they were loaded and ready for action.
"Stay here," Dad ordered, tucking a pistol into the waistband of his jeans.
"I know, Dad," I said. "Don't let anyone in the room and don't leave unless it's a life or death situation. If I do have to leave, call you and go to the nearest 24-hour gas station and wait for you there."
Dad readjusted his jacket and looked down at me. "Just…be careful. And keep your cell phone and gun close to you at all times. If I call or text, you better answer."
Uncle Dean stood awkwardly by the door, impatiently watching Sam. He probably understood why Dad was like this.
"Can we go now, Sam, before that bitch decides to leech the life outta another kid?"
Or, maybe he didn't.
Dad looked like he wanted to say something more,
I had no clue when I fell asleep. One moment, I was reading my book and the next I was just passed out. It must have been a blue moon because I started out in a dreamless state. But, then, the black turned into the hospital parking lot.
"Yeah, let me know if there is any changes to the kids' condition," a doctor said, speaking into a phone. His eyes darted back and forth as he walked, as if he didn't trust his surroundings. "Okay, thank you Jackie."
When he ended the phone call, he gave a wicked smile. "As if those kids' conditions'll ever change."
I instantly felt panic. Was this man actually the shtriga and not the old woman like Uncle Dean thought? If only I could control this and get wake up to warn them. That doctor needed to be stopped.
I watched in horror as the man transformed in the nearby woods. He contorted into unnatural angles that looked awfully painful. But, instead of crying out in pain, he was laughing. He was gleeful that he was about to have himself a feast.
It made me sick just thinking about it.
In a matter of moments, the doctor transformed into the shadowy figure of a shtriga. It glided through the woods at an unnatural speed. Then again, there was nothing natural about this creature.
Eventually, a building loomed into view. It took me a few moments to recognize the nondescript sign and building as the motel I was currently sleeping in.
Oh god, what if the shtriga is coming for me?
The shtriga floated towards the window. It used its powers to open the window without physically touching it. It crawled into the room. I was slightly relieved that the shtriga wasn't entering my room, but then I realized its intended target and wished that it would go after me instead since the shtriga went right for the owner's youngest son.
-SPN- -SPN- -SPN-
I violently woke. I jerked up and clutched my erratic heart. It took a few moments for my head to clear and, when it did, I reached for my phone and called Dad.
He answered on the first right. "Liz, what's wrong."
"Shtriga—not—lady—doctor—transformed—kid—attacked—motel—owner—dunno—to do." My words came out in an unintelligible phrase, but I think—well, more like hope—Dad understood.
"Wait, the shtriga attacked one of the motel's owner's kids and you saw it happen?"
"Yes," I said, practically crying into the phone.
"Okay, Dean and I are on our way back. Just stay at the motel. It's probably already done with and there is no way I am going to let you get in the line of fire."
Despite my disagreement, I told Dad that I would and hung up. It killed me insides to just sit on the bed with my knees drawn to my chest and let that kid suffer, but I doubt my legs would work even if I did decide to disobey Dad's orders.
It could have been hours or it could have been days before Dad and Uncle Dean showed up, looked haggard and wayward.
Uncle Dean collapsed into one of the kitchen chairs before saying, "You were right."
Those were the last three words I wanted to hear.
Dad sat down on the bed next to me. "It's okay, Liz. We have a plan to stop the shtriga."
"But…it's only vulnerable when it's feeding…that means…"
They didn't verbally confirm my suspicions. They didn't need to tell me that they planned on using the oldest kid as bait.
"We don't like it," Uncle Dean said, "but it's our only option and…we think it might actually make the kids, you know, wake up."
"Do you think?"
"That's just it, it's just a theory."
"Look, why don't you go take a shower," Dad suggested. "It might help you calm down a bit."
I nodded. With shaky legs, I walked into the bathroom. I closed the door and leaned against it for support. There was no other word for it—I felt like shit.
I stepped into the shower and blasted the water as hot as it would go. It was scalding. I just stood underneath it for who knows how long. Eventually it turned cold and I turned it off. I'm pretty sure that Dad and Uncle Dean hadn't planned on taking a shower for a while, but I still felt guilty about it. Or, maybe I was still guilty about being unable to stop the shtriga from more or less killing that innocent boy.
Wrapping a towel around myself, I heard a gentle knock on the door. "Liz, we're going to talk with Michael—" I'm guessing that's the older kid's name. "—did you want to come with us?"
Normally, I would. I just don't think I can handle it right now. I shouldn't be like this. I've handled watching a shape shifter in the form of me being killed, I watched a woman die practically by her own hand, I watched a man kill himself by telepathically using a gun and I've come close to death numerous times.
But, watching that kid get his spirit sucked from him; that was worse—much, much worse.
I heard the door slam shut and I knew I was alone. Somehow, that made things a million times worse.
I took my time getting dressed. I tried reading, but my mind wandered back to the vision that I had so I couldn't concentrate on it. Not even the screwed up Ayn Rand novel could free me from my guilt.
Sometime later, Dad and Uncle Dean came back. I didn't ask them what the kid decided to do—they told me anyway. It took some persuasion, but the kid eventually said yes—for his brother and possibly the fact that, either way, he was screwed.
"We're going to set up cameras to keep an eye on him," Dad explained, probably just to fill the void of silence. "We'll shoot the son of a bitch before it kills him."
The only thing I truly hoped that all the other children will recover from this. I dunno what I'd do if Michael's brother didn't come back from the hospital.
-SPN- -SPN- -SPN-
That night, the armed and dangerous Dad and Uncle Dean went to set up and prepare to kill the shtriga. I was ordered to stay in the room. I was glad they didn't even suggest that I should go—I would refuse anyway.
I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned, unable to free my mind of this hunt. I just laid in the bed, not even bothering to read or listen to music or anything. I just laid there drowning in my own guilt.
Eventually, I drifted off. However, it was that awkward place between wake and slumber. One moment, I was awake but barely alert and the next I was completely surround in darkness.
But the scraping sound of the opening window sent panic through my spine. I sat up, in search of the assailant. I stiffened when I saw the shtriga come towards me, it's huge, ugly mouth wide open.
To my indiscretion, I screamed loudly. I scrambled to reach the gun that was on my bedside table, but it was useless. The shtriga, practically on top of me, shoved me down further into the bed, it's clammy hands keeping a firm hold on chest.
It leaned down, it's face inches from mine. It sucked in and I felt an icy chill course through my body. The pain was unbearable, but I was unable to cry out for help. Instead, I fell into a void of beautiful and glorious nothing.