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 profits from this story.
Dean was surprised when he woke up the next morning to a high-hanging sun and the smell of coffee, mostly because waking up implied he'd slept, and that was one thing he hadn't been doing very often of late. At least not without the help of Jack, Jim, or Jose.
The door to the bathroom they shared was ajar, leaving Dean a glimpse of the lone mirror, a reflection of the current occupant. Sam spat paste suds into the sink and peeked his head into his brother's room, toothbrush still in one hand. His hair was slicked back from a shower, eyes bright, which probably had more to do with the waft of caffeine trailing from his room than the soap.
Dean wondered how much sleep his brother had gotten after he closed his laptop. Not knowing precisely that was the very reason he regretting taking up the offered 'family suite.' Good price or not, the distance sucked.
"I'm thinking decapitation will work."
Dean wiped the grit out of his eyes. "Good morning to you, too, sunshine."
Sam gave him a rueful grin. "Hope you feel better than you look. We slept late. It's after two. If you want to eat before this hunt, we need to get a move on."
Dean took the hint and threw back the covers with a groan. His leg gave a deep-ached protest when he rolled off the mattress, but he resisted the urge to rub the muscle, which would call attention to the fact that he hadn't let it heal properly. And why he hadn't let it heal properly.
"Jeeze, someone's in a hurry."
"Want to get it over with," Sam said, and shrugged. Yeah, that shrug didn't go a whole hell of a long way in covering his nervous jitters, but Dean didn't comment on it. "I thought you'd be in a hurry to get to the blackjack tables in Tunica."
"Point made. I'll get the grub. You pack the machetes." Dean paused, remembering what he'd been dreaming about. "Dude, this job—I had a dream about a friggin' baby. Bet Freud would have something to say about that…"
Sam frowned at the comment, but stood his ground. "Burning daylight, man."
Dean waved him off, grimacing at the fishy taste at the back of this throat. "Then get your ass out of the bathroom so I can take a…"
The words had barely left his mouth before the separating door shut. Stupid separate rooms.
The eatery down the block, a refurbished Dixie Queen, was down with the foam take-out containers, and after a shower, Dean made his way there. He stuck with the burgers, not wanting a repeat of the catfish platter incident, and decided to take a bite with the locals. A couple of them remembered him from the previous day. Usually, that wasn't a good thing, what his is mug occasionally on the evening news for mass murder. But the Belmont Few, old folks, factory workers between shifts, a barber, were a non-national-news-watching social crowd, who'd, apparently, heard from so-and-so, who'd heard from so-and-so's cousin, that Dean and Sam Martin were writing a new book on Mississippi ghost stories.
As far as cover stories went, it had been an easy one, especially for a short job. Unfortunately, it meant he was nearly surrounded by locals for the next few hours, receiving tales of slave cemeteries, ghost dogs, and, his favorite, the tale of the spiral staircase. Which basically was about a house that had burnt down a few decades back, left an iron staircase standing, but tended to appear whole again in the light of the full moon. Nice. Also, boring and safe. Which was how Dean liked his civilians' ghost stories.
A few of them brought up the Cry Baby Bridge. "Not everybody hears it, though…" said a plump woman, a beautician if the smell of chemicals coming off her was any clue. "The baby. Not everybody hears it. Usually, it's just the kids, ya know. Guess they're more in tune with the spirit world." She seemed to appreciate the way the folks at the next table were nodding along. She seemed to appreciate Dean's attention a might bit more. "Knew a couple who visited it, brought their five-year-old. Didn't say a word to him about why they were going out to that creepy ol' place, but, sure 'nuff, he said he heard a baby cryin' off from the bridge. You writing this down?"
Sure, there were days when Dean still saw Sam as Sammy, a kid, but his brother wasn't some innocent, or anywhere near his teen years anymore. He brushed it off. This was a folk story, after all. These people didn't even realize their missing tourists were becoming mermaid chow. Still, something about the account was nagging at him…it was the same part that had been bugging him yesterday.
"How long ago was that?"
She shrugged. "I was a teen. Everybody was goin' out there back then. Big make-out spot. Guess it musta been about fifteen years ago."
Dean leaned in, put on a smile he knew the fairer sex appreciated. "So, the story's been around a while?"
She nodded, big bangs bouncing. "Oh, a long time. My daddy used to tell it to me when I was a little thing. Thirty years ago or more. Guess those old stories have died down lately though. Don't think the kids go looking for stuff like that anymore. Guess they prefer watching it on TV. You ever watch that ghost huntin' show about—"
He got the pie to go. Dean had a feeling he was going to need it after tonight.
He wasn't sure how he'd managed to lose time, but the gray overcast seemed to imply that he was running late. For his own damn hunt. A hunt he was starting to think might be more complicated than they'd first thought. He'd heard of creatures being drawn to places where spirits dwelled. Something about the energy ghosts gave off was appealing to creepy crawlers. Bobby had explained it to him once, but he'd been more interested in the bottom of a bottle and a pretty girl at the time.
There was a good damn chance he and Sam were both right about what they were facing, and it wasn't just the mermaids faking a cry…His walk sped up. He could see the old Ford they were using. And Sam, sliding a duffle, their weapons, into the back seat, keeping an eye out for passerbys who might notice what he was sorting through.
He turned, and Dean could see the paleness, the strain on his face. It was the same fixed, dull expression Sam always had when he had a headache. "Dean—where were you?"
"Sorry, man." Dean got close enough to not be heard the next sidewalk over, where two old men were wagging jaw under the hood of a truck. "Did you pack the extra salt rounds?" He took Sam's wrinkled brow as a no. "I think we might need them after all. Just to be on the safe side. I'll explain it when I get back."
"I'll tell you on the way," Dean assured, and tossed him the bag of food.
He slipped up the steps to the front of the hotel, not hearing Sam's frustrated reply. The chandelier light was yellow and bright as the windows darkened, and the lobby was especially quiet, despite its current occupant, standing at the foot of the lone staircase along the wall, her cleaning buggy, loaded with dirty linens, parked behind her. Blocking his way.
Dean shot her a polite grin, but lost it as soon as he caught her expression: she was livid. Shoulder's held stiff, nearly trembling with the strain, she stared up at him, eyes narrow, and raised a knotted finger at his chest.
"I want you out," she hissed. She lifted her chin, staring down her nose at him, and the gesture gave her voice more confidence when it returned. "Your kind isn't welcome at this hotel, understood? You're to leave immediately."
Dean blinked, confused by the outburst, and nearly moved for his wallet before remembering that he hadn't paid with a card—most of his confrontations of the landlord variety concerned declined credit or trashed rooms. Then her words made a loop through his head again, and he wrinkled his nose.
"Why does everyone think that?" he snapped. "Listen, lady. A.) he's my brother, and B.) what friggin' century are you livin' in? You own an inn, and you're tellin' me you kick out every Dick and Harry who checks in together…?"
Her frown deepened, mocked by the line across her brow, and Dean realized he'd jumped on the wrong bandwagon at some point, because she didn't have a clue what he was talking about. She pulled in her pointed finger, curling her hand around one ear, as if it pained her.
"I know what you've been up to," she said, only, her voice had lost its strength. "I heard about the two of you, that you're looking for ghost stories. I know what you're writing—I won't have it. I won't have you looking for the baby, stirring up the past like that."
"So, hated for being a writer? Huh. That's a new one." Dean took a step closer, cornering her against the wall and the cleaning cart, and leaned in, his voice gravel on pavement. "Now, Lady, you having a problem with me? Bringing it up was your first mistake, because all it did was point me in your direction. You know those missing guys are related to Cry Baby Bridge, don't you?"
She winced, clasping to her ear more tightly. "I told you to leave," she said, spittle spraying her lip. "I told you to leave!"
Dean held his ground. "You can hear it, can't you?" He watched the color drain from her face. "Why can only some people hear it?"
Her reaction wasn't what he expected. Faye laughed, a low sound that quickly grew manic. "Why?" she chuckled. "Why? He cries to be heard, but he's so little, so little…Only me. I'm the only one who could hear him, and then the children, and I never really understood why…Why, why, why…" Tears streamed down her cheeks, her grimace pained. "But the others, the others hear because I chose them…Put my touch upon them."
Dean didn't have time to react when she reached out, grabbing him at the wrist. He jerked back, out of her grip, but she didn't pursue him.
"I didn't mean to mark your brother, I didn't…But I'm not sorry for it," she said, staring up at him. "The ones, the ones who can quiet the baby, they demand a meal, and I choose what meat they'll have…Can you hear him? Can you hear my baby yet?"
"What'd you do to Sam?"
Dean's answer came in the form of noise, distance but closing. It was a screeching, followed by a breathy wail, a hiccuping pause. And then it looped again, getting louder. His eardrums vibrating with the assault, he reached up, covering his ears. It didn't do any good—the cry carried on, unhindered.
"What the hell, Lady!"
"So loud, isn't he? He was born with such healthy lungs. Didn't use them once when I dropped him. Hasn't stopped using them since. Thirty years. I've been listening to that for thirty years." Faye's face broke with a crazed grin. Delight in her eyes. "The women in the water, though, they're such a blessing. Exactly what I needed. They know how to quiet him…but they only do it after they've eaten. When their bellies are full, they're so very thankful…
"I don't even have to send the prey to them. They go on their own. Once they hear my baby crying, they can't resist the urge to find him. Save him."
Dean's eyes widened. "Sam."
"It'll be quiet soon, if just for a little while. Wait and see."
She smiled after him, watched him glance out the glass front door, see the empty parking space beyond. He pretended not to feel the pit at the bottom of his stomach turn into a black hole. Dean moved on instinct, ransacking the key rack behind the counter. A Chevy's ring stood out to him, the hotel's lone work truck, and he snatched it up without hesitation.
"And when they see I've sent them two, they'll keep him quiet even longer."
The words should have sent ice down his spine, but Dean was numb to it. He'd seen too much, felt this sinking sensation too many times before to drown in dread. "I get done with them, I'm coming back for you," he promised, murder glistening in his eyes.
Faye didn't hear him over the cries. "Save the baby, boy," she teased, pained tears trapped in the bags beneath her lashes, lips drawn to show teeth. But a bullying song remained in her voice. "Fail like all the others and give me some peace and quiet. Fail, just like your brother's gonna."
Sam didn't realize he was driving until the car hit the narrow county road. He couldn't hear it, the shallowness of his breathing, but he could feel it, forcing the blood beneath his skin to pump a little faster. Fear, fear of being here, on his own, almost let him press his foot to the brake, but the cry urged him on. It wasn't as loud, wasn't as painful to hear, but just as urgent. Just as insistent that he go faster—be here be here be here.
"Someone is going to be my bitch tonight," sung a voice.
Sam kept his eyes on the windshield, on the newborn night ahead, cut by the headlights. He didn't want to see Lucifer leaning forward, fiddling with the seatbelt, pouting at the attention he wasn't receiving.
"You know," Lucifer said, mock surprise in his voice, "I'm having déjà vu. Didn't we do this little road trip once already? I wonder if you'll pull the trigger this time. Close the deal."
"Do you miss me that much, Sam? Ready to dive back into the pit again? I promise, we'll always have a place for you downstairs, kiddo. Been keeping you a seat warm…"
"You're not here."
It came out hoarse, broken, but he believed it. What he didn't believe was that the cry was in his head fake. It was there, beckoning him. Real.
Sam jerked the car off the road and put it in park. When he stepped out, the machete's handle was tight against his palm. He smiled at the weight of the blade, barely bit down a chuckle: See, Dean, I might be crazy, but I'm sane enough to remember my weapon. But thinking about his brother, left behind, made his mouth go sour. The guilt wasn't enough to force him to turn around, get back in the car with the devil at his shoulder, leave the crying baby to its fate.
The water came to him. Or he came to it. Either way, he was there, standing with his toes hanging off the clay bank, watching the trickle of light in the movement below. Just beneath the reflection, he could see something swirling, thin, dark shadows that looked so much like the Leviathan spilling into the world that he shivered. When she surfaced, the shapes circling around her became flowing hair, black beneath the surface, shining white as soon as the water left it. It was far more beautiful than her face. Slick flesh against bones, angular and dark with the slime in its every crease. And, disgusting as it was, there was something enchanting about her features, something enticing. But Sam wasn't taking her bait.
She watched him. Seemed to know that the ruse was up, but she didn't flee. Instead, she raised up further, water dripping off of heavy breasts. Plump lips parted to long, needle teeth, and a slick green film slid over her eyeballs. When exactly her fingers had curled around his ankles, he wasn't sure, but one second he was looking down, the next, his ass was bouncing off of the dirt.
Instinct took over, and he swept the blade out, just barely missing his own knee. It found purchase in the side of her neck. Not a clean cut, but enough. She slid off the end of the machete with a sick gurgle and disappeared beneath the murky grave.
Sam reached out behind him, free hand digging into the wormy roots. He could see light through the trees, another car pulling up beside his, hear a voice calling out. It was too low, too pushed beneath the cries to be fully heard, but Sam knew it was his own name being shouted by his own blood.
The second mermaid didn't surface. She snatched. She pulled. She won.
Sam found himself beneath the chill waters, senses stunned, body wrapped in a tangle of dark hair and claws. And in a passing glance, as another one of the water women arrived, ripped into his jacket, he saw his brother, high above, edging along beside the railing of the bridge, trying to keep up with him. And failing.
"God damn it, Sammy!"
Dean aimed the pistol at the water but pulled back before he could fire a round. The mermaid's hair put a black cloud beneath the surface, blocking Sam from view and leaving Dean with a sight that reminded him too damn much of the last time he'd seen Cas. Watched the angel disappear beneath the water, and stay there. Dean cursed under his breath, forcing the memory down. Wasn't a good move. Left more room for the cries.
He winced at the high pitch.
"I'm coming," he swore, "I'm coming."
He found his footing on the shaky boards lining the bridge. The opposite side was closer; he dropped his jacket along the way, toeing off his boots before he jumped down onto the grass and all but slid to the bank. He abandoned the pistol and pulled the machete loose from the noose at his belt.
In the distance, he could hear the slam of a car door, but it didn't shock him into looking away from the creek. He'd known she was following him as soon as he hit the highway, and he didn't give a shit. Sam, where are you? Let the crazy bitch come and watch. Just hold on, just a little longer. It would make her easier to find when this was over. Don't you dare do this to me, Sam.
White knuckled, Dean put his focus back on the job at hand. Sam. Find Sam. Kill evil. That easy. And he took a breath before he let his jeans slide against the red clay bank. The water felt icy against his flushed skin. It took too much skill to slip in with caution. Still, he watched for movement, blade held high and ready. Something soft touched his stomach, tickled. It took him a split second too long realize it was a thick coil of hair wrapping around his waist like a rope.
The mermaid had sent out her line, caught her fish. She jerked him down into the water, and he struggled, sending up a splash when his head dipped under. The pull of the water made the machete feel like it was slipping and left the blade moving in slow motion.
Hot pain flared up from his forearm. Dean let out a silent scream and yanked his arm free from the mermaid's teeth. The machete hit its mark with the second swipe, cutting at the hair holding him down. Dean shot up out of the water, coughing up spit and grit. His foot bounced off the mud floor beneath him—he wasn't deep. Somehow, the thought didn't comfort him.
The water stirred a few feet away, where the mermaid darted off, away. Dean raised a brow, confused by the retreat. It wasn't good. He knew that, deep down. She was helping her sister take down the weaker prey first. She was…
Dean watched something glimmer to life at the edge of the railing above. A lump of fabric that shook and shimmered and existed, if only for a second. It was a blanket, pale blue in the moonlight. That was the only observation Dean was able to make before he realized it, the felt blanket and its occupant, was falling. It hit the water loud. Sent up a few bubbles of air before the ripples stilled, swept away by the gentle current.
Dean dove after it, letting the weapon in his fingers slip away to gain speed. And when he found the spot, he pushed himself under the water, eyes wide against the burn of stirred silt, and searching.
Save the baby.
Dean wanted to go for his brother, but he told himself Sam could wait this once. Sam was strong, grown. Didn't need him to be there all the time. The baby came first. The baby needed him to try, if only for a moment.
The cries died, and the silence stirred something in Sam. He could hear it again, his pulse, the splash of the water around him, the gnashing of teeth behind him, the screaming of his own body. It was enough: he jerked away from the clawing fingers, patted his jeans and found his knife snug against his body. He slipped it loose and latched on to a tuff of hair. The mermaid tried to pull away, but Sam lashed out at the dark water and buried the blade into the back of her neck, twisted, and slid the weapon free again.
A second later, he surfaced and his lungs shuttered back to life. He sputtered water and bile, eyes burning at the sting of the autumn air, and blinked up at the cool, quiet night.
The stick hit him square in the chest, nearly pushing back under.
Sam cried out, and swam out of its way before it could strike another bruising blow. Above, on the bridge, stood a woman, Faye Sparks, her face twisted in such an ugly sneer that she was almost unrecognizable. Sam starred up at her in surprise as she maneuvered past a gap in the rusted out railing, looking for a better position.
"No!" she snapped, swinging the skinny branch at him again, when he drifted too close. "You have to stay down—you have to!"
Sam ducked out of her way. "What the hell are you doing?"
"They won't keep him quiet if you don't stay down, you bastard!" But she paused mid-thrust, blinking into a sudden awareness, her head cocked to one side. Listening. "What-?"
Her eyes trailed the creek, coming to a stop at the other side. Sam followed her gaze and found what had stilled her. Dean lay with his back to the bank wall, body still under the water. He held something, a bundle, against his left shoulder.
Sam heard his brother's voice, low, whispering a steady mantra, "…Shh, now, it's okay. I've got you. You're okay…"
Dean was holding a baby wrapped in a blue blanket. Only there was something off about the way the moonlight hit the fabric, danced across the white roundness of its skull. It almost glowed against the shadow where his brother perched, speaking to it with more affection than he'd given anyone in so long.
Sam felt something inside him pull tight, a sense of loss and longing so strong he nearly dropped beneath the surface again.
"I was just a kid. Went away to have him."
The voice startled him. When Sam looked up at her, the woman was swaying slightly, breathless as she watched Dean with a dazed expression upon her face. That same longing Sam had felt showed bright in her wet eyes.
"When I came back," she said, and Sam wasn't sure if she was speaking to him, but he listened, "I thought he'd be waiting. Thought I'd show Tim the baby, thought it would be enough to make him ask me to…But the first thing I saw, when I came home, was his face in the newspaper. Engagement announcement. To Slutty Sue Vinson. I was so angry…I had to punish him. So I took his baby. His. And I—"
Faye hesitated and looked away, ashamed. "I swear, I swear, I'd backed out of it. Wasn't gonna go through with it… but then he wiggled, and I lost my footin'. He fell from my arms. Didn't make a sound…I told my parents I'd put him up for adoption. Told everyone else I'd spent the summer with my yankie aunt and gained some weight. Never told Tim nothing."
Sam saw it. And he knew he should have called out. Gave a warning. But the shout didn't make it past his lips.
One end of the branch was dipped into the water, and Faye was holding the other end with a stony grip. When the mermaid latched on, Faye tilted over, a leaf hit by a sudden wind. She fell without a shout, hit the water, and disappeared beneath. There was no stillness, no silence.
The surface churned with frenzied movement, a dark red stain lifting to the surface as a tail whipped up, breaking the water and sending out ripples of pink, frothy bubbles. Sam swam away from the feeding, refusing to look back, see if any other part of Faye Sparks floated to the surface. When he reached the bank, Dean was there to grab hold of his shoulder, keep him steady in the shallow water.
Dean's arms were empty, and his face was blank.
Sam didn't want to ask, but he did. "The baby?"
Dean blinked at him, his breath catching in the cool air. "I..." Dean opened his mouth to answer and seemed to change the words before they ever left. "He's gone."
The Belmont Hotel was lit by a lone streetlamp. The creamy paint of its door frame, its columned porch, looked stark and fresh against the brickwork. Sam and Dean gave it a shared glance before tromping up its cement steps and through the entrance, a trail of water marking their path, a dufflebag swung between them, and a good three hours lost to them in their hunt for the third mermaid. Her head had been their reward, and it was fleeting, given over to the creek current.
A man and woman stood at the counter, carrying luggage, the guy rhythmically tapping the bell for assistance and leaning far, looking for signs of life beyond the litter of keys and cash register. Neither noticed the brothers walk past and up the staircase.
Dean stopped at his door, glared at the door knob, but didn't say a word when Sam walked past, to his own, separate room. "I say we get tonight free," he announced.
Sam snorted. "Seems fair. But, I'm so not sticking around for Tunica."
"I was promised blackjack. But I'm open for other options…Hear Vegas is great this time of year."
Sam hesitated to answer, staring at his brother and trying not to the notice the wounded arm Dean had already repeated noted looked worse than it was. "You asked this morning, about your dream."
Dean raised a brow. "I'm tired."
Sam shrugged but didn't let it drop. "I've heard that if you dream about trying to save a baby, you're really dreaming about yourself. Not a real kid. I don't think your dream had anything to do with the case."
Dean's answer was a snort. "As insightful as that is, Dr. Phil, I was bullshitting you this morning. Didn't have a dream last night." There was a hint of a frown on his face when he opened his door, but he flashed his brother a tight grin a second later. "Nighty, night, Sammy. Don't let the evil mermaids bite."
He slipped inside, slamming the door behind him.
Sam shook his head, hating the sudden distance that separate rooms brought. He watched the door, pretending it wasn't there.
"You saved the baby, Dean."
There wasn't a reply. He didn't expect there ever would be one. Sam smiled, and walked into his own room.
Story Notes: Hope you enjoyed the tale. If you have any questions about the myths/cultural references in this story, please feel free to ask me about them. Also, reviews of the short and sweet variety (or long and critical variety) are also welcome. Thank you for reading!