Warnings: Spoilers for early season 7, show-level violence/language, misplaced sanity, poor editing (hee)
Author's Notes: Written for the 50 States of Supernatural LJ Challenge. Since part of the challenge is to use local legends and culture in the story, some of the places mentioned are real, like the bridge in Dennis, MS, and the Belmont Hotel; however, they have been fictionalized and altered for the sake of the story. Characters are all completely fictional. This story is set in season 7, loosely sometime, say, after "The Mentalists," but before "Time for a Wedding."
Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to Supernatural, and I am not making any profit from this story.
The cries remained.
He shouldn't have been able to hear them beneath the water. Not so clearly. They should have been muted, if not distant. Distorted, at the very least. Instead, they echoed in his ears, deafening him to the sound of his own beating heart.
His fingers, numb, curled at his side, clutching something and nothing. He wanted to reach up, clasp his palms over his ears, hold back the noise, but there were already hands over his ears, slender, cold hands, pressed hard and digging their curled talons into his scalp. But even they didn't hold back the baby's high-pitched squalling.
Through the stir of silt clouding the water, through the glassy ripples, a yellow moon hung above claws made of empty branches. Those shadows hovered hungrily over the narrow creek, and, of course, He was there, too, leaning over the water, as if watching koi in a pond. The clay bank wasn't close, but the skeletal bridge was nearby, and that's where He stood, staring down.
Sam felt something wrap around his throat, tug him further below, deeper, but he paid it little mind. Instead, he kept his eyes to the sky and trained on the Day Star. Lucifer's lips curled into a snide grin. It spoke, the gesture: "What are you doing down there, Sammy? Looks chilly…I thought you preferred the heat…"
The words shouldn't have been clear, but they were, just like the baby's cry.
The fading cry…
It had lost its heat, its energy. Present, but slowed to a hesitant mewling. As if sated, for the moment. The hands released him, trailing fingertips through his hair as they slid away.
Peace. No crying. No tears.
Sam sucked in a gulp of foul water as relief settled over him. But there was something still wrong, he reminded himself. Something he should have been able to remember. Something about the fading cry and breathing and Dean. Dean… Sam tried to hold on to his brother's name, but his attention was back on the form above, Lucifer and his smile. Lucifer and his words, spoken but not:
"Lose something, Sammy?"
Dean was supposed to be on that bridge.
"You've got to be kidding." Sam looked up from his computer, brow wrinkled in confusion. "Dean. Seriously? A Cry Baby Bridge?"
Dean leaned back onto the bed—my bed, Sam mentally noted, watching dirt-heavy boots touch the floral spread—an arm held across his meal-swollen belly, and his face wrinkled with a frown of disgust. "Dude, a pissy-ass alien is about to rip its way out of my stomach, and you're bitching about the case?"
Sam took a breath and bit down his initial response. It was surprisingly easy to do of late, find his calm. He wasn't sure if that meant he'd quit sweating the small stuff or if he'd finally reached "over-capacity" in the part of his brain that stressed him out on a regular basis. Or if it just meant that Dean had already pissed him off as much as was humanly possible (liar), and that every further offense could be brushed away, dust (devil) off his shoulder.
Something gurgled. Sam was pretty sure it had come from his brother.
"I think it was the catfish fry, dude." And the conspiratorial frown on Dean's face all but announced that both the fish and the cats of the world need fear his wrath. "I think one of those little ribs is still stuck in the back of my throat, too…"
"You think?" Sam snorted. He'd watched his brother, whom he'd challenged to forgo a burger, consume two whole, deep-fried fish and a half dozen hushpuppies instead, while kindly disregarding the meaning of the word 'filet'. Sam had been so relieved to see Dean not drinking his meal that he'd let it go. At the time. "Maybe you shouldn't have ordered three side dishes."
"Can't please you, can I? You're the one always telling me to eat my greens. I ate my friggin' greens."
"I didn't tell you to eat the kind that are fried, covered in mayonnaise, or doused in bacon drippings."
"All greens should include pork, Sam."
"Tell your stomach that, Dean."
"Bitch." Dean shot up before Sam could issue his reply and pointed an accusing finger in his direction. "You just hate Mississippi. That's what this is about. Dissin' the food and the case. You. Hate. Mississippi." Then, he disappeared around the side of the bed and into the shared bathroom connecting their two small rooms, what the owner of the hotel referred to as the Family Suite.
Sam blinked at the suddenly empty space between him and a beige wall. He waited a moment longer, then raised his voice. "I do not," he called. Lame, he knew, but it was as much as he could muster.
Dean's voice was nearly at a whisper from the bathroom. "Well, if you like Miss so much, guess you won't mind us slipping west to Tunica after we finish up, then."
Sam pretended not to hear. "You know," and he smirked, "I enjoyed my banana sandwich—you should have had one instead of the fish platter. I think tomorrow, though, I'm gonna try the banana with mayonnaise instead of peanut butter. The waitress said I'd probably love it."
Dean made a gagging sound through the door. "Do you want me to puke?" There was a muffled noise, and a flush. But his brother remained inside. "Too late."
Sam bit down his chuckle and shook his head. A shadow played at the corner of the room, next to the television, but it wasn't the kind they hunted. He pressed his thumb into the scar at the palm of his hand, kneading it. Worrying away the form.
"Alright, fine—but you still didn't answer me," Sam called. "We've got three missing guys who've stayed at this hotel, and you're jumping on a baby death echo as our lead?"
Without meaning to, he gave the room another once-over, even though they'd found no signs of activity at the hotel itself. Considering their luck, Sam figured caution was a good thing. With its unadorned walls, hard wood floors, and burgundy accents, the decor was extraordinarily plain in comparison to the cheesy places they normally stayed. If it wasn't for the musty scent showing its age, and the fact that it had stood out in the missing person reports, he would have ranked the Belmont Hotel amongst the most ordinary inns he'd ever visited.
More importantly, the shadow was gone.
"I know we were gambling on a spirit, but when has any Cry Baby Bridge we've visited ever turned out to be more than an urban legend? And how do you even know there's one located around here? It didn't turn up in my search."
"Dude." There was a sigh through the wall, followed by the sound of running water. "We are not discussing this while I'm on the throne. Now, drop the bitch face, and go get us some extra towels."
Sam frowned, but didn't reply. He honestly didn't want to know what had happened to the other towels. Snatching up his key, he stepped out the door and slammed, shoulder first, into a warm body. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a puff of ash blond hair, took in the scent of Aqua Net, and reached out to help the woman before she could topple over. Pamphlets on the Natchez Trace bike trails—as close as this northern corner of Mississippi got to a tourist attraction—fluttered to the floor, and she blinked up at him over with wide blue eyes, as if in shock.
"I'm so sorry, Ms. Sparks… Are you alright?"
The question seemed to pull her from her stupor, and she grimaced, pulling her hand from Sam, as if she'd just touched something particularly foul, and dusting off the felt leave cut-outs on her sweater, though it remained as pristine and fuzz free as it had been minutes earlier. Faye Sparks was a good foot and a half shorter than him, and she looked up her upturned nose to survey his appearance, her thin, berry-stained lips pursed. The expression made her looks a decade older than her forty-seven years.
"You're being too loud," Faye said. She blinked, as if that hadn't been what she'd meant to say, but continued nevertheless, her rich Southern accent drawling.
"You and your…brother, you need to keep things quiet."
"Oh—sorry. I didn't realize we'd…"
Sam wasn't sure how to continue. When had they talked too loud…? Sam let it drop, and simply refused to believe the woman was still not 'buying' their 'brothers' story—Sam wasn't exactly sure what her issue was with them, but he'd almost been put-out when Dean had ruled the hotel itself out as the source of the disappearances. It would have been easier if he could have blamed the woman's attitude on spirit possession.
"We'll keep it down," he said, instead, ever the diplomat. "If it's not too much trouble, could we get a few more towels?"
Faye gave a curt nod. "I'll bring them up shortly." She chewed her jaw, and added, "This is a family place, not a Bed and Breakfast. So mind yourselves if you plan on staying."
Channeling Dean, Sam made a face at her back, immediately feeling childish afterward. In a land where "hunny" and "sweety" hellos were handed out by perfect strangers, the owner of the Belmont Hotel stood apart as a, well, bitch. And maybe a bit of a homophobe, Sam noted. It suddenly wasn't a surprise that the suite had been available. Or that there was a dusty "For Sale" sign in the front window—in fact, if the motel down the road wasn't closed for renovations, he had a feeling this place would be out of business by now.
He watched her disappear over the slope of the staircase at the end of the narrow corridor, and followed, pausing at the top of the banister, watching the quiet lobby down below. It was richly decorated with antique furniture lined against its red walls and oriental rugs spilled across the wood flooring. A set of chandeliers were dull against the assault of the bright Fall sunshine pouring in through the tall windows.
But Sam hadn't stopped to take in the sights, or to watch the hotel's uptight owner retreat. No, he'd been following a sound. It was faint, just barely audible. A baby, crying.
Sam took a breath, and a step back, feeling foolish when he saw a family walking past the door to the hotel, an infant tote in tow. There was a diner at the end of the block. Of course he was bound to hear a kid.
It was just Dean's stupid theory putting him on edge. He rubbed at the scar on his hand, and left it at that, pretending that the walls were thin, and that was why he could still hear it, so far away, the crying.
November brought with it an early twilight, one which was approaching quickly in the pink and lavender horizon, and, with it, the quiet settling of nature. Dean cursed under his breath at the sight, angry that his choice off the lunch menu had kept them from visiting the scene until now. With a jerk of his arms, he pulled the old Ford he'd 'borrowed' off the cracked pavement of the old highway and onto a road that was more dirt than gravel, more holes than ridges. It was a move he'd never had made if he'd been in his baby.
Sam watched him, fighting hard to stomp his annoyance out of existence when his head bounced off the padded ceiling for a second time. Thankfully, the car rolled to a stop before he could claim a concussion. They stepped out to mud on their boots, the trickle of the creek not far ahead. The path had been used, recently and frequently.
"Come for the ghosts, stay for the fishing hole," Dean noted. At Sam's raised brow, Dean shrugged. "What the guy at the bait show said. Apparently Cry Baby Bridge is a big deal in Dennis, Mississippi. At least to old folks trying to scare out-of-towners."
Sam snorted. Basically a church, a gas station, and a stretch of highway, the community of Dennis, sitting a couple miles from Belmont and their current lodgings, wasn't exactly 'big' on anything. It didn't exist on most maps, and most bloggers didn't even know if it was a real place…Though, eventually, he had found a mention of the bridge on a ghost sightings web-site, one of the less reliable ones. Even so, it hadn't mentioned any malevolent activity. Sam realized he must have said that part out loud when Dean answered.
"Dude, trust me, the three missings were headed this way." Dean kicked past a patch of prickly blackberry bushes, glancing over his shoulder at Sam, his own sawed-off gripped low. "Met a lady at the thrifty mart—what? I'm thrifty—who said the second guy to disappear had even asked about this bridge. Liked ghost stories. The other two had been looking for fresh biking trails and passed this way. I'd put money on ol' Cry Baby being our creature feature."
It wasn't exactly new info. Dean had told him all this hours ago, and Sam had looked into it while waiting for the Pepto to tame his brother's mood. Still…
"But a baby?"
Dean shrugged. "Never said it was an actual baby. Could have started as one, though."
Sam nearly ran into his brother's back, and realized why quickly enough.
The bridge was a few feet away, lifted about four feet off of the soil on cement supports, where the road used to slope up. Between the height and the state of it, it would be impossible to drive across now. The skeletal frame was steel, once painted crimson judging from the chipping paint at the feet of the beams digging into the dirt, and wooden planks, once strong enough to hold the meager community traffic, were scattered across the balancing rods beneath. Some of the boards were broken, others perfectly placed, all of them covered with a blanket of twigs and crisp brown leaves.
Where the bank broke off into a muddy wall, the water level dropped another five feet. The distance from the bridge's rusted railing to the murky creek below wasn't far enough to necessarily kill a person. So long as that person wasn't tiny and defenseless.
Sam felt a chill creep over him. Twilight, he told himself. The weather turning from mild to seasonal, just as the television had droned it would. He reached up, buttoning his jacket with one hand.
"Something tells me you've already got a theory."
Dean nodded. "Couple ideas. Most likely one seems to be a Rusalka." And he paused, a crooked, sad smile on his face. Sam knew from the expression that he was running down a list of reasons why it wouldn't be a Rusalka. Because, hell, you never wanted to deal with a water spirit. No easy access to bones. No easy way to play therapist for Sailor Casper on a vendetta. "Yeah, yeah, I know. They're almost always the spirits of murdered or suicidal women, a lot like women in white, but the story goes—"
Sam picked it up for him. "That water ghosts like the Rusalka can be any unclean dead. Including unbaptized babies. I remember." He kicked a stone into the water, watched it disappear into the depths. "Didn't you say this was an old ghost story? How come it just started killing three months ago? I don't see any signs of construction damaging the creek flow. Doesn't look like anything's happened at its haunt."
"Good question." And Dean didn't seem to have an answer. "I'd also like to know why it's been picking off dudes. Can't tell me there haven't been any female hikers out to visit. Whatcha think, Sam? Did the dad do the deed instead of the mom?"
Only Sam wasn't listening anymore. He wandered further down the bank, head cocked as he listened. "Do you hear that?"
Sam's heart rattled in his chest, thrumming against his sternum. The chill had returned, fully, raising the hairs along his flesh, pushing his breath out in little puffs. "The crying. Dean, how can't you hear that? It's..."
It came in hiccuping shrieks. Desperation, fear, confusion, rolled off the water in waves. Sam dropped the gun and clasped his hands over his ears. "Shit! Dean—make it stop!"
Fingers wrapped around his bicep, shaking him. Sam blinked, not sure when he'd shut his eyes. The crying dulled down, just as quickly as it had appeared. Dean was in front of him, his eyes wide, a familiar expression on his face.
You're crazy, Sam.
So crazy I can't trust you. Have to lie to you. You give me no choice, Sam.
Sam shook his head, countering the voice in his head, the one that sounded a hell of a lot like Dean, at the moment. "You didn't hear it, did you?"
Dean didn't answer at first, then he cracked a forced smile. "It's called Cry Baby Bridge for a reason, genius. Guess you believe me now."
Sam accepted the unspoken "no." Maybe. Maybe he didn't hear it because it's not real and this old bridge is just an old bridge. Then his eyes fell on it, trapped in the v of a fallen tree dipping down into the water, and he was allowed to push that thought to the back of his mind.
"I think you're right," Sam confirmed, pointing down.
Dean made a face at the remains, what remained of the remains. It was a hand, had been, back when it was attached to an arm. It had been in the water long enough for the frail skin to slosh off, fleshy bits still clinging to the joints and the wrist. Maggots made a feast of the open fingers sticking up out of the silt bed, but between those fingers clung long, pale strands. They were thin as hairs, maybe rope fibers.
Sam realized Dean's hand was still on his arm the moment he pushed him back from the water, leading him toward the path, both of their guns tucked securely between sleeve and side.
"Rusalka feed at night," he said, shooting the horizon a glance. The sky was already beginning to darken, chasing off the rosiness of the absent sun. "We need make sure we're hunting the right thing before we half-ass it. We'll come back tomorrow."
"Let's go, Sam."
Dean didn't take comfort in silence. He held on to the clack of Sam's fingertips against the keyboard, the swish of each page he flipped through, the slide of cloth on gunmetal. It wasn't enough. What he wanted was to hear his baby's engine in front of him and AC/DC rattling his seats. He'd settle on just having the tv turned up a little but apparently their hostess, Ms. Stick-up-her-ass Sparks had harped on Sam for their inability to be Church mice, so even that was a no-go.
The silence was bad. Downright evil. And he knew evil.
Because silence gave him a chance to think about the person in the room with him, the one pretending absolutely nothing was wrong. That his head wasn't completely screwed-up. That hearing a baby crying wasn't at all upsetting. That said-cry may or may not have been fake-Satan pulling a practical joke. Yeah, that guy.
Dean picked a broken rubber band out of the stack of papers on the bed and flicked it at Sam's that-kid-needs-a-haircut-ASAP.
Sam pretended not to feel it. Or maybe he hadn't. He was leaning in close to the screen, eyes narrowed with curiosity, face aglow with the light off the page.
"Got something?" Dean shot up from the bed, crossing the room in a stride. "News of the gank-it variety?"
Sam turned in his chair. "Well, obviously, looking for death records was a bust. No strange suicides or murders in the area…And, no one reported killing their own kid, of course. Never that lucky. But, I was thinking, Dean… Maybe we're taking this too literally. Maybe it's not a Rusalka, but something with the same M.O."
Sam pulled the computer closer, tapping the screen. "Like a creature, not a spirit. The Native American river mermaid. A Ho-ha-pe." He scrolled the page down for Dean to read.
"A Water Woman, US Grade. Great." Dean raised a brow. "But this legend is from the West Coast—kinda a long distance for something that travels by water, isn't it?"
"I know, I know," Sam admitted, "but that doesn't mean there weren't any on this side of the Mississippi River. There's a report from the mid 1800s of a shape-shifting river creature in Alabama that ate a local. And his canoe. Think about it, Dean. Whatever is killing prefers young men, while a Rusalka created from a baby would probably want to punish young women, mother figures. And did you see those strands? Hair. I'm sure of it."
Dean scanned the site's page. "And the Ho-ha-pe are known for their long flowing locks. Much like every evil Ariel around the globe… What about the baby cries? Coincidence?"
Dean almost offered up "Complete bullshit?" as another option before he looked down at Sam. Remembered that his brother had heard the cry, too.
"Not sure, but this account of the Water Woman caught my eye. And, though they reportedly prefer attracting male prey, apparently there's a legend of these Indian maidens walking along a river bed and hearing a baby crying. Turns out, it was the Ho-ha-pe luring them to the water."
Dean cocked a brow. "Good enough for me. Let's hunt these bitches."
End Notes: Story to be completed in Part 2. Hope you've enjoyed it so far.