The sky is a pale soft blue and the sea azure coloured. The boat is old fashioned, antique maybe, wooden, like a pirate ship from an old movie and she cuts through the water like a knife. The woman stands at the prow with her black hair pulled away from her face by the soft hot breeze. She wears a loose white dress which buffets about her legs and is pressed against her skin by the wind. She holds one arm aloft at the end of which sits a small mechanical nightingale with real feathers which is trilling a song.
When she sees him she smiles, but her eyes are infinite- the same blue as the ocean. "The Carpenters, really?" he asks. It is the song the bird is singing in its high mechanical voice that sounds like the striking of tiny bells.
"On the day that you were born the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true." She says, then with her other hand she pushes a lock of hair from her face, tucking it carefully behind her ear. Then her expression stills itself and the bird in her hand stops its chiming song. "For he comes, the human child, To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, From a world more full of weeping than he can understand." Her expression remains aloof, fond and infinite. "Do not chase your father," she says, and it sounds like the shriek of tires. "Now wake up." Then her expression stills itself and the bird in her hand stops its chiming song.
Waking up in the chair outside the hospital ER where he worked Dean cracked his back. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his arms above his head, with his hands clasped. He had slept maybe ten minutes. The tragedy of it was that it was all the sleep he had today.
He hadn't been sleeping well. Since Cassie was gone the bed was too big; too empty. The apartment had all sorts of strange noises it never had before. The bathroom tap had started dripping. The bedlinen didn't smell right. Except for Cassie's pillow, which maintained its lingering melange of menthol chest rub, cinnamon Chapstick, and cold cream that she used at night. He didn't find it comforting any more, now that it was just a reminder that he had lost her.
"Hey, Dean," Tom was only slightly older than Dean himself but there was something in the way that he carried himself suggested that he had been around, had seen things. There were times that Dean didn't like him very much and other times he was his best friend. "I thought you were on leave,"
Dean shrugged. "Well," he started, "you know how it is, people don't stop getting banged up just because I'm having a bad day."
Tom brayed a laugh- he sounded like a donkey. "Ain't that the truth. Me, I'm convinced they wait for me to come on shift. You just starting?"
"Nah, man," Dean said, "just pulled a double, my last went into labour, didn't wanna be on her own, the dad passed out in the hallway - in with her ever since. Think I've been on," he looked at his watch, "fuck, 18 hours now. Just on my way home."
Tom laughed again, "well that explains why you look like shit. You're too nice, man, I'da just handed out the smelling salts and gone on home."
Dean grinned but his heart wasn't in it. "Ain't got nothing to go home for, not since, well, I'm not sleeping, might as well be useful till I pass out."
At that Tom frowned, "well if all you're doing is holding hands in maternity it ain't a problem, you're not going out are you?" One of the things Dean liked about Tom was that he understood there were just things you didn't talk about.
"Well," he looked a little shifty, "I was kind of hoping to scam a ride home. Sleep in the back maybe. Spoke to Winters, he gave me a scrip, got something to help me sleep, and I'm not in tomorrow, plan on sleeping through."
Tom nodded as if he understood, "well, kid, grab your rig. I'll swing by and drop you home, but you come in tomorrow and I'll be pissed." Tom was built like a wardrobe, easily six-foot tall and three hundred pounds and he wrestled in his spare time. He wasn't the kind of guy you wanted pissed at you.
Dean just grinned again, as completely fake as the last ones. "You spoil me," he said patting Tom on the shoulder. "I'll just grab my rig."
"Hey, Tom," Martha called from the desk. She was the duty nurse and another person Dean didn't like to cross. "Gotta call for you, need you to run backup for Mercy. They got a big pile up, all hands on deck. Out on the road towards the refinery. You boys better get gone." Dean grabbed the duffel at his feet, the one with the street clothes he just didn't have the strength to change into, his rig could wait, it was still in his locker, he was a paramedic - the Accident would always come first.
The accident was dantesque. The truck had swerved to avoid something, a fox maybe, or another car – there was no trace – and then jack-knifed, rolling over the ditch, and straight into one of the outbuildings- the one that housed the break room. With no windows the workers had had no idea it was coming. There were fires and fumes and god knows what else. There were firemen trying to calm the blaze, and others trying to calm down the chemical spill and other paramedics clearly called in from all over the county.
Dean had intended to stay in the truck, possibly fall asleep to the white noise of the engine but it was clear that that wasn't going to be possible now. He might not be fit for work with exhaustion but he was here and he could manage triage, running on endorphins and adrenaline. He just knew that when he crashed he'd hit hard.
He resolved to carrying things for the other medics and hoping he didn't fuck anything up.
He found her as he tried to bring Watson, one of the older paramedics, more gauze for packing. He had climbed over the rubble when he heard her moan. She must have been a secretary, he thought, and it was funny how she still clutched the handle of her broken coffee cup. She was half buried in concrete but when she saw him she tried to smile. He fell to his knees beside her, working out in his head what he could move to try and free her, hoping it wasn't too bad under the rubble.
He was murmuring reassurances even as he started pulling gauze from the pack, ripping open the paper and pressing it against the worst bits. She reached out with her hand, the one not holding the broken handle, and cupped his cheek. Her voice was raspy when she spoke and he was held in her blue gaze. She looked like the girl from his dream. "And what rough beast, its hour come at last, slouches towards Bethlehem waiting to be born."
"I need help over here!" he shouted.
"Dean Winchester. Do not search for your father." She said very clearly and then she fell backwards, like the air had been let out of her.
It was clear that she was dead, and had been since the accident first happened. She looked entirely different, her hair was black, but that was because she was Asian and not the pale girl of his dream, but the back of her head and her entire jaw had been torn away in the crash and the hand she had used to cup his face was still attached to the arm ripped off and under the rubble. There was no way she could have spoken to him, and he stumbled back, crawling on hands and feet away from the body muttering fuck, fuck, fuck.
He couldn't stay here, not if he was that tired he was hallucinating, but the handprint felt like fire on his cheek and her words lingered like a bad smell. It was Tom who came over to help, his hand on the top of his kit to stop it holding him back. The girl was a mess. "I," Dean started, "I coulda, I mean, I coulda sworn." He cut himself off. "I'm going to see if I can't get home some other way," he said looking around, wild eyed, he had his hand on the mp3 recorder he wore around his neck with the amulet his brother had given him, "I'm not safe to be here, I coulda," he shook his head, "I coulda sworn."
Tom rested his hand on his shoulder. "It happens to us all, see if you can't get one of the journos to call you a taxi, go home, sleep. We can manage." And damn if Tom didn't sound paternal all of a sudden. "Hell, sleep in the cab if you need to, but this is going to be a long one. Go home, Dean, you've been on shift long enough as it is."
He got back to his house just before midnight, nearly two hours after leaving the crash. Throwing his jacket across the back of the chair he toed off his work shoes and padded in his socks to the bathroom, turning the shower on hot, half sure he was going to fall asleep standing up.
There were three messages flashing on his answerphone, he pushed the button then tugged off the mp3 recorder he wore on a thong around his neck, leaving it on the bedside table. Cassie wasn't around any more to complain about the mess.
"Dean, this is," there was a pause but Dean knew the voice, and pushed the delete button before it went any further. He wasn't in the mood for his father and certainly hadn't been in a long time. The guy had cut out on him and his brother, he was going to have to work harder than a few missed calls. And Dean was tired, tired enough that he couldn't be bothered to fling the answer machine against the wall in bad temper. Instead he just methodically poured himself a glass of bourbon and laid the pills Dr Winters gave him on the side next to them.
"Dean, pick up, this is important, I've found." He pushed the skip button again, cutting off his dad's voice before he started to unbutton his shirt. It was kinda weird doing this in the kitchen but the machine was just there and hell Cassie wasn't going to complain about him wandering about naked in his own house any more.
"Dean!" the voice was more curt this time. Dean just left it running, undid his belt, stepped out of his trousers and went to the shower.
As he walked through the bedroom, appreciating the pile of the carpet under his feet, which ached from being in sensible steel toe capped shoes for what felt like a lifetime, he saw a golden birdcage in the window, and could hear its mechanical occupant singing "close to you," but when he turned to check, because it sure as hell hadn't been there before, he realised he was mistaken. Shaking the tiredness from his head he turned on the radio and stepped into the shower.
"And in between the moon and you, the angels get a better view, of the crumbling difference between wrong and right." The man crooned in the background and comfortable in the songs he knew so well he cast his head back and just let the water wash over him, and tried to wash the day from him.
He was too tired to sing along, so with a towel wrapped around his waist he padded into the kitchen and knocked back the pills with a bourbon chaser, then back up the stairs to his bedroom, collapsing face first onto the comforter. He reached across and lifted the handset from the phone, breathing in that lovely menthol and cold cream smell of Cassie, and finally fell asleep.
He dreams of a yacht slicing through a Mediterranean sea. She stands at the prow with the breeze whipping her white skirts and her black hair about her. Her eyes are empty and infinite, but her smile is soft and warm. In her arms she holds the mechanical nightingale and this close he can see the golden gears and pistons that make its joints. It is trilling the Carpenter's into the glorious summer day. "Beloved," she says, smiling when she sees him, and they are no longer on the boat, with that sort of soft changability of dreams that makes sense only in the dream, but she remains unchanged and immutable, empty and infinity. There is a table before them with the makings of tea before them, and a beautiful golden cage in the chinoiserie style into which she places the nightingale. She sits and gestures that he does the same.
"I don't know your name." He says but she just smiles and pours the tea, it hangs for an endless instant in a golden stream, then he is drinking it, time shifting in the dream scape.
"For he comes, the human child, To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, From a world more full of weeping than he can understand." She sips her tea and then from a vase on the table he had not noticed she plucks a single rose. She peels from it a leaf and presses it to her face. When she pulls it away there is a tear beaded on the waxy surface of the leaf. "Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths; of night and light and the half light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet,"
She presses the leaf with its suspended tear into his hand. The tea, the pot and the table are all gone. "For my dreams of your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart." She says, and he half woke, enough to feel the chill of the night on his skin, and burrowed under the covers drifting back to sleep again.
The second dream was uncomfortable. He was in the car with Cassie, they were talking, it was just stupid shit about the day. The headlights were casting beams of light on the tarmac that striped between the trees.
He awoke to the shrill screaming of Patricia Arquette on the television. He fumbled about, half zombified from the sleeping pills and, he lifted the clock to squint at it, nearly fourteen hours sleep. He eventually turned the film off, sure that he hadn't set the alarm on his tv, let alone put in Stigmata, because seriously there were better things to wake up to than zombies, flashing lights and screaming girls. He scrubbed his hand over his face and plugged the phone back in, before stretching his arms above his head to get some of the kinks out. "Man," he said to himself, "I think I slept in one position all night."
He pulled the mp3 player around his neck, slipped on a reasonably clean pair of sweats and padded barefoot into the kitchen to make coffee. Dean was still suspicious of the mp3 recorder, but wore it like a locket anyway- Sam was so busy at college and this way he could talk to him like he was still there. "Hey Sam, it's me" he starts, "something really freaky just happened to me." He grabbed a cup and poured the coffee. "I don't even know where to start."
It was funny how easy it was to talk to Sammy, even like this, the words just fell out of him, it had always been like that between them. Even when they were fighting, and brothers fought. It was normal. What wasn't normal was the way that they were totally open with each other. It had been them against the world for too long for it to be anything else. Bobby used to laugh and say that they were neurotically co-dependant on the other.
Dean had been fourteen when his Dad left them, he had dropped them off at Bobby's saying he had something to do that afternoon and he'd pick them up later. His memory of his father was stuck on that image- of him driving away- and the beginning of Dean not wanting to see him either. So as it all tumbled out he told Sam about the fact that his Dad kept calling his land line, and where had he gotten the number, because he sure as hell hadn't gotten it from him or Bobby, and Sam had despised their father long before Dean had. Sam was very like his Dad and they'd butted heads as soon as Sam learned to talk.
"I mean I know what it's like, you get tired, over stressed and you see shit, I know that, but that's just it, Sammy, it wasn't even..." he stopped, "it was just fucked up, I mean one minute she's there talking to me in fucking riddles, and then the next she's like this complete other person with her head half ripped off in the crash. It was like something out of Pet Semetary, I don't mind telling you, so I got myself out, told Tom I was more a danger than a help and went home. But here's the really fucked up bit, when I saw the different her she touched my face, and when I got home there was a bloody handprint on my cheek - which is probably why I had such a nightmare getting a taxi- but she had been dead when I got there, Sam, it's just..." He left it open and took a deep sigh, before picking up a banana and cracking it open to peel. "She didn't have a fucking hand to leave the print!"
"And then there's the dreams" he shook his head and dropped the banana, barely touched into the waste disposal, "I know I haven't been sleeping since Cassie ..." the words still weren't ready, "but seriously, I was having them before Winters got all drug lord on me and foisted me off with something. There's this girl and she looks like Christina Ricci in that Moby video,- you know the one, where he's the old man- and she talks in riddles and she has this mechanical bird that sings the Carpenters, just the tune, but damn I haven't heard "close to you" since I visited Dad at the asylum that time and they said it calmed them down. She talks in riddles and then goes "you must not search our your father" and pours the tea. It's all very strange, I swear, Sammy, there are times I don't know up from down any more.
"Maybe it's just a sleep hang over, I mean I just slept for something stupid like fourteen hours straight, thanks to Winters and his little white pills." He could see the answer phone flashing at him with the number ten. "I'll get back to you Sammy, but maybe you can look it up for me, what goes to Bethlehem waiting to be born, that's what she said, and what beast goes to Bethlehem waiting to be born." He laughed to himself, "Hell, I might even try googling it, it's possible and all, stranger things have happened. It rained frogs once, yanno. Call you back later, Bitch,"
In his head Dean still heard his brother answering, Jerk even though he's clear across the country. He drained the last of his coffee and then poured another before he pushed the answer phone button. The first one was the bookshop telling him that the book on Kerouac he had ordered was in. He scribbled down the number and made a point to call in when he picked up his car. It was supposed to be the definitive biography and god knows he'd read enough about Neal Cassady after Bobby had told him that's where he had gotten his name, and then he had just found him fascinating and dangerous in his own right.
Finding out he had been Pat McMurphy too had just been the icing on the cake.
The second message was from his dad. He skipped it just like he had the night before, then the third and the fourth. The fifth was a hang up. The sixth was clearly from a cell somewhere in the sticks because the reception was awful, but he could almost hear voices, sort of choral and twisted, like ten voices, each of them different, layered upon each other, but not so he could make out what they were saying. It was clearly a wrong number so he deleted it.
Seven and eight were from his dad, he actually listened to the last one because he was finding something else to do rather than actively ignore him. Dean didn't feel he was worth that much attention. The line was atrocious. "Dean, it's your father. I've found it, the thing that killed your mother. I've finally found it. Stay safe." Dean scoffed at that, if he had wanted his boys to stay safe he wouldn't have driven off and left them with a veritable stranger.
The next message was from his father's friend Rufus, who called in occasionally to let Dean know his Dad was still alive. Rufus was a mechanic in the Midwest and sometimes went with his Dad on road trips so he didn't hurt himself, or worse yet, someone else. "Dean, this is Rufus, have you heard from your Dad, he was supposed to meet me a week ago in Jericho, California, but there's been no trace. He showed up here, I've got the slip he booked the hotel in, but since then, nothing. It's like he's vanished into thin air. Call me even if you haven't heard from him."
The last call was the most telling. "This is a message for Dean Winchester from the Tulare County Sheriff's department. We have your car here, a 1967 Chevrolet Impala, with a registration starting KAZ, it was left with the doors open and engine running in the middle of the road. We need to speak to you about this as soon as possible. Please call at this number."
Dean scribbled it down and called back straight away.
The deputy who answered seemed surprised that Dean had actually called back. The car it seemed had been registered to him sometime in 2000, obviously a sort of 21st birthday present from his dad, he thought wryly, who had then had never actually given him the car. The car was full of old fast food wrappers but because the door had been left open and it was suspected in grand theft auto, its owner was registered in Connecticut after all, they had searched the car completely. It was full of fake IDs, credit cards, and weapons.
"Deputy," Dean said with a long suffering sigh. "The car is my father's. He is," he stopped, the words were lacking, "my father has been in and out of mental institutions all of my life but no one has ever really considered him dangerous before. He thinks demons and monsters are real and he "hunts" them. Mostly this involves throwing holy water at people and then a six week stay in hospital. I haven't seen him since I was a kid. I...," he stopped again, looking for the words. "I'll come out and get the car, if you catch him I will happily sign the forms to put him away again. But he's never been dangerous before."
The deputy didn't sound convinced and Dean didn't bother to correct him. "If I hear from him I'll let you know, okay." The deputy agreed as Dean reeled off his cell number. Then he called Rufus to give him the heads up, he told him that the car had been found, empty, with the door open and the engine running. That was almost enough to make Dean worry, his Dad loved that car, perhaps it was the only thing he did.
Then he phoned the hospital and told them that he had a family emergency and needed to take some time off. They signed him off for a fortnight without question, Dean had never taken big blocks of holidays before and they were worried about him since Cassie was gone.
When he went to check the mail, perhaps an hour after getting off the phone, he found a small wrapped parcel, which he opened on the way in. When he saw its contents he dropped it on the carpet with a muttered "Son of a bitch," his father had sent him his most prized possession- His journal.
Although Dean's car wasn't really ready for a service he took it to a garage anyway. He pretty much kept it in check on his own, with what Bobby had taught him, but if he was taking her across country he considered it prudent to get her checked over, just in case, even if all they did was change her fluids and flash her headlights.
He packed enough clothes for two weeks, enough underwear for three, because you could never be too careful, a couple of airport thrillers he picked up at Walmart, his father's journal and some basic necessities for the trip, like blankets, a flask and some flash lights. Looking around his apartment as he decided to fuck it and packed two of his favourite novels as well just in case the thrillers were a bust, "The Complete Hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy", which was a lie because it didn't have the fifth part of the trilogy in it, and "The Complete First chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever" in one huge volume.
On the advice of the mechanic, who worked at a place called Don Coyote's and looked like Wolverine in overalls- all feral threat, teeth and muscles, he bought a couple of packs of dried banana - to eat whilst on the road - and a bottle of charcoal pills because the last thing he needed trapped in a car for any great period of time was gas.
He made the decision, after talking to Bobby, not to take the interstate even if it would have been quicker- because it was just traffic and assholes, and if he was going to drive across America, hell he might as well be Dean Moriarty and take the scenic route. His route finder showed the trip at being about fifty hours but he knew from past experience it would be at least sixty with traffic and other problems. So he made sure to plan some rest stops and motel rooms along the way. Then he phoned Rufus and told him he was on his way and that he wouldn't be more than a week because he was going through, or kissing close to Denver and Las Vegas. He left a message for Sam saying that he would be in California in a few days and he was certainly going to crash, and that the details would be by mp3.
Then he locked the front door of his apartment, feeling like a weight was settling on his shoulders, sure he heard the mechanical trilling of bells playing "close to you" and then the screeching of car tires, he took a deep breath and climbed into his Toyota and started the engine.
The Journal had started "I went to Missouri where I learned the truth," Dean had read it several times the previous evening. It was funny, his dad was utterly fucked in the head and the book was more than proof of that, there was a whole section on recognizing and eliminating something called a Rakshasa, but the book was diligent, and researched properly. Every reference was properly cataloged. There was even a handwritten bibliography in the back. News articles had the name of the paper and the date attached. Even those that were yet to be pasted in.
On the inside of the front cover there had been an old polaroid of Dean's mom, Mary, it was probably from before they were married judging by the Farrah Fawcett bangs and white crochet dress, but she looked so happy, smiling indulgently and posing for the camera. The edges were twisted and the photo cracked suggesting it had spent a lifetime in a wallet before being stuck in here, but Dean couldn't really help but trail his fingers over the image. He barely remembered his mother, she a soft warmth in the night; then the wail of sirens, and the steady reassurance of a very small child that she loved him and that angels were watching over him. She had died when he was four.
It would have been entirely different, he knew, if she hadn't died. He probably wouldn't be so close to Sam. They would have been bickering like cats like most brothers instead of being pretty much the only thing that they could trust in the world- well apart from Bobby, but Bobby was Bobby, and their father probably wouldn't have gone mad, convinced that she hadn't died in a house fire, but instead that a demon killed her for reasons he couldn't understand.
John Winchester wrote in his journal that he went to Missouri and learned the truth. The truth had deluded him a long time ago.
Dean wasn't going to dwell on it- the image of his father in the asylum scribbling away in that damn book- the one he had sent - not even noticing that his two sons were in the same room as he asked for just one more minute, hang on, I'm almost there, until it was time to leave. The walls had been covered in charcoal crosses and Stars of David and pentacles and other things John claimed were for protection. And over the tannoys they played "Close to You" by the Carpenters so Dean had left with the words "on the day that you were born the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true" stuck in his head on repeat all day long.
The song was too fucking catchy by far, Dean thought, and even now he rolled his eyes at the memory, the song threatening him from the dim past, and opened the partition between the two front seats and pulled out one of his favourite cd's slipping it into the drive. It was one he could have left on for the sixty hours non stop and he never would have tired of it. Nevertheless he skipped straight to track ten, which started with a rolling guitar riff, and then the building drum beat and "here's a message to the souls that rust and rot" and felt better about the whole affair.
Funny how that song always managed to do that to him, and so he left Bristol with the song on repeat, loud, singing along "Lollipop, she tastes like butterscotch," not giving a damn if the neighbours listened or cared or for once feeling guilty that he liked this album, poppy as it was, better than the harder core ones that both followed and preceded it.
As Bristol, with its demons and its ghosts and Cassie, shrank away into nothing in his rear view mirror he turned the album onto repeat, and gave over to the joy of driving with no end in sight. It was a glorious autumn day. The sky was golden and the air brisk as it rolled past the windows of his silver Toyota - that he didn't in anyway consider to be his personal silver surfer, no siree - and for a moment didn't resent his Dad for this, because he had clearly needed it.
He stopped for the night just outside Council Bluffs, Omaha, in a motel called the Jury's Inn, so named because it was next to an old court house. The receptionist was a burly man with more hair on his arms than his head who passed over the keys to the twin room- cheaper than the single king go figure- and squinted at the photo on his driver's license as if daring him to be someone different to the name on his credit card. In the back of the small office there was a fan blowing listlessly, though it really wasn't hot, a few strips of paper flapping to show the breeze, and an old bakelite radio played REM's "man on the moon."
He took his key and took his duffle from the car as well as a copy of "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown -that he would later leave in that self same motel room-, and his collected "Thomas Covenant", just in case. He had chattered all day long, on and off, to Sammy by mp3 and so brought in his laptop in its customized case, a gift from Sam so it looked like a heavy metal first aid kit, and set it up on the table. He plugged in the stick and as it did what it needed to on autoplay - Sammy had programmed that, thank god - he checked his email. There was the usual: a couple of mails pretending to be from his bank - something that would have worked better if they had actually been from where he actually banked; some offering to make his penis bigger; some Russian brides that he just had to pick from, and wasn't that a tempting offer, but nothing from Sam.
That was kind of unusual in and of itself but when Dean checked the date he just came to the conclusion that with term just starting he was probably just really busy, and he could listen to Dean prattle on about nothing whilst he worked. He always had before. Sam was starting Stamford Law this year, on a full ride scholarship, and between that and his long term girlfriend Jessica, who he lived with, it was hard to find time. Dean understood that, even if it stung to be the one left behind.
He checked a few other sites that he did most days, forums for music- that kind of thing, before logging off, and flicking on the TV. He had never really got the hang of being the only person in a room and liked the noise. He missed Cassie most when it was quiet. He showered and shaved, then picked up the Dan Brown to read on the toilet. He read perhaps a hundred pages before deciding that the book was a bust, badly written and far fetched with an unlikeable hero that was just asking to be played by Tom Hanks, and he didn't have that "I've started so I'll finish" urge, which was really the worst indictment, and tried to sleep.
After ten hours of driving, well eleven counting breaks to stretch his legs, grab coffee, refill his thermos and piss, he was out pretty much as soon as his head hit the pillow.
He dreams of a prison. It is a series of circular rooms built around a central spire that goes deep underground. At the end of each room is a wall that looks like glass but he doesn't think that it is. It is covered in Latin and Greek writing and through it he can see into the central room with its soft couches and low wooden coffee table. Between the glass panels which ring the room are pillows upon which English has been carved but he can't read them.
In the center of the inner room is a plinth upon which a lotus flower is displayed under a glass dome. It seems to glow of its own accord.
There are things in the other cells but he can't see them. The cell he is in, and he has no question that it is one, is quite large, one corner is piled high with pillows, it is thread worn and bare in places, and the walls are bare plaster but here and there are marks where some three clawed creature has tried to dig its way to freedom.
A small basin on the wall has water that trickles into it endlessly from the broken mouth of a fat cherub. The water comes in fits and starts making it look like the cherub is vomitting into the bowl. To the left is a toilet with the lid down, and above that is a mirror. When he looks into the mirror he becomes aware that this is a nightmare, which he had not thought it before.
The figure he sees in the mirror is not himself but is instead strangely avian. It has human features, somewhat, but they are wrong, birdlike in comparison. It is not a face like that of Hawkgirl, as he would imagine, that he sees, but instead more a human face stretched over the skull of a bird. It is bone white, but pale blue traces through the feathers that cover the head like a skullcap. The mouth sits too low on the face and the chin is soft, almost, the lips are almost brittle thin and a slightly more pink colour than the face around it. The nose is broad and flat like the beak of a bird, coming in straight lines over the hollow of the eyes. The eyes were set too far apart and tilted almost at forty five degrees and that sort of blue on blue that he associates with the "Dune" movie.
When he casts his eyes, eyes that are alien and divine, down he sees the body is clearly inhuman also. A great pair of wings emerge from powerful muscles along the back, and where the wing bends it becomes a humanoid forearm with three claws emerging from it, these too have the tracery of blue power that dances under the skin as the feathers. The arms and torso are unfeathered, but there are no marks of humanity upon the form, it is like a doll, without breasts, nipples or navel. There are no genitals, just a smooth curve of soft blue white feathers.
He feels himself stepping back in horror from the image as the voice shrieks "Do not see me!" pulling its wings over its head. And the world goes black.
Dean woke just before the alarm went off at six. He felt unsettled by the lingering memory of the dream and the sweet melancholy of the figure in the dream and the remembered sound of something thrashing in water and a great bird screaming when it had spoken.
He swung his legs out of bed, feeling uncomfortable and new in his own skin, before stumbling into the small adjoining bathroom where he went through his morning routine of shit, shower and shave.
The radio in the other room clicked on as the hour turned playing "one of these nights" by the Eagles, but he didn't particularly care even as he fumbled about in his bag for the jar of instant coffee that would get him up enough to actually walk the three blocks to the diner where he'd eaten at the night before.
He pulled on a comfortable tee and over it a worn hoodie he had stolen from Sam before he'd left for Stamford, it was black with the Jagermeister logo on the left breast as a red blazon, but mostly it was warm without being too heavy for the autumn weather and laced up his boots. He drained the last of the coffee, put the cup in the sink to wash when he got back and went to get breakfast.
The diner was a usual Mom and Pop affair and he ordered waffles and bacon, relishing the still-fresh naughtiness of it because Cassie had been a vegetarian and so out of love for her Dean had given up meat, except for sometimes when she didn't need to know. But the novelty of going into a restaurant and ordering bacon with no consequences was almost as good as the bacon itself. He missed Cassie, he really did, but this was good bacon. As he ate he carried on with his reading- so comfortable with the book he practically knew it word for word.
When the waitress came over she smiled at him indulgently and when he looked at her with her scraped back blonde hair and capable hands he had a moment of thinking this woman could be my mother, before he just closed the book and asked for more coffee if she didn't mind. He made sure to grin at her because waitressing was a shitty gig at the best of times and being nice never hurt. She looked at the book, at how tattered and worn it was, although it was large and very thick, he had carried it with him for a long time. "Yanno," she said as she refilled his cup, "a favourite book is like an undiscovered country, my Jennie told me that, she's studying to be one of them English professors, just loves to read, she does, she said it's because every time you read it you find something new, and you see things differently because you ain't the person you were even ten minutes ago, so the book is always different because you are."
He agreed with her and chewed on her words as he sipped the coffee. It's true, he thought to himself, I change and therefore what I perceive changes. Then he decided it was far too early at 8am to give a shit about these things. It was something to mull over in the evenings, in bed chatting and before the unending silence that suggested that the other person had succumbed to sleep.
He didn't notice the old woman come in. She was just another customer after all and he had his back to the door and his nose in his book. The waitress intercepted her as she walked to the kitchen, her movements off and jerking, "senile," she mouthed to Dean and he nodded, understanding. She wasn't aware of what she was doing, but as the waitress left to get the old woman a glass of water she sort of slithered from the chair, that Dean did notice because the motion was so unnatural like she had no bones, and sort of lurched, sort of fell in a weird lumbering gait straight into the kitchens.
The cook noticed her and tried to move her back into the main dining area by using his quite considerable size to block her away. Dean watched it with a sort of grim amusement through the serving hatch because he couldn't quite turn away. The old lady said something, then she reached up and pulled a hatpin from the bun she had on the top of her head, and put it down on the counter. Then smiling she turned as if to leave the kitchen, as if whatever reason she had for gone in was gone, and then, still smiling her inane and vacuous grin she plunged her hands, up to the elbow, into the fryer.
It was nearly two pm by the time the police had done with their investigation. Dean, who had immediately gone to help, was questioned about a hundred times about what he had seen, why he had done what he had done which was mostly keep her out of shock and run warm water over the burns, and where he was going. It wasn't until he got back to the motel room, which he'd had to book out for another night because there was no way he was going to make any kind of headway on his drive that he noticed he was shaking.
He had asked the girl on reception, who looked barely legal for work, if there were any local movie theatres but she shrugged him off saying that there was nothing worth watching but gave him the local paper anyway. He was inclined to agree. Seeing the mp3 recorder around his neck she asked if he had a laptop and pointed out that most of them had DVD players built in so he might be better off hitting up Walmart's movie section and just watching them in his room with a pizza, at least that way he'd get a film worth watching.
So he did.
He picked up the "Evil Dead" trilogy because they were always good for a laugh and just the right amount of scares; the greatest hits of Faith No More which was on mid-price and had a crack in the case so he argued them down just because he could; a leather bound art book to serve as a journal and a pack of ball point pens. When he got back he laid out his treasures on the table and made himself more of the instant coffee, laying out the snacks and cheetoes to eat later. Then sitting down he took a deep breath and started his own journal.
He stared at the blank page for long, empty minutes before he pressed the button on the mp3 to record. "God, Sammy, some days it's hard to tell up from down, yanno." He took a long slurp of the coffee which was now starting to go cold. He loathed instant coffee. "Seriously, the world is getting more and more fucked up. I had this freaky dream. I was in a prison cell, but it wasn't a prison, and it was underground and there were electric lights, and it was round, but it was like a segment of pie around a central circle, yanno, and one of the walls was glass with all this Latin carved into the glass. But when I saw myself in the mirror it wasn't me, it was this bird thing, like a devolved Hawkgirl or something, and it panicked and screamed and I woke up.
"Right and if that wasn't strange enough, and left a seriously odd taste in the mouth, yanno, like I should be spitting feathers, literally, I went to breakfast, right, here in Omaha," he stopped, and drank more coffee, his hand doodling on the inside of the cardboard sleeve of the journal with the pen, not really noticing what it was he was drawing. "And this senile old lady wanders in, goes straight into the kitchen and puts her hands in the fryer. If I ever get like that, you have my express permission to poison me, kay? Hell, dump me in an unmarked grave, I won't need my body. I don't want it if I'm incontinent. Ya' hear me, Sammy, I start shitting myself - into the hole I go."
He laughed for a moment. "God, her arms were a mess, I mean three hundred degrees plus on that oil, easy, and she just keeps smiling and laughing and chattering away in this language she's clearly made up, and when the cook tries to help me hold her under the water, because she was like a fucking eel, she wrenched her arm away, lifted up the hatpin she had put down earlier and stabbed him in the shoulder. Then she throws up this black bile down the sink into the running water and just collapses, shock as far as I can tell. After that it was a lot easier to treat her, but I had nothing there except running warm water and ice.
"So the police come with the ambulance, after all there was a stabbing! And it's every question you can think of including the colour of my socks, am I in town long, and the old woman is screaming because, obviously, her arms hurt, as they take her in the ambulance, and one of the cops sees this yellow powder on the can shelf and asks if they're putting sulfur down for the ants, and the cook loses his shit, I mean, seriously, about how it's against code and he wouldn't fucking do that, sulfur's fucking poisonous and explodes, but it's there, and it's like really thick and the only thing I can think of is that one of the other members of staff put it down, but who's heard of putting sulfur down for ants?"
He stopped, emptied the coffee and finally looked at what he had scrawled on the cardboard. It was avian but humanoid, and very clearly the creature that he had dreamed of. He stuck it into the artbook, in the place where Mary's polaroid had been in his father's journal. "And I'm stuck here because by the time it was done it sure as hell was too late to start a ten hour drive and actually find a motel when I got there." He rolled his eyes, putting the pen down, "but I ain't eating my dinner there, that's for sure, or fried chicken- for a long time."
He looks at the picture he's sketched out on the cardboard, with its wide oval head and blueBlueBLUE eyes he knows it, he has drawn the creature in the cell, wings arched, there is even a design of its back, the shoulder muscles over defined all the way down to the waist, set on a diagonal rising up to the illusion of wings. He hadn't thought that his artistic talents, such as they are, would cover it. "Fuck, Sammy, I'm damned if I know what's going on." He took a deep breath staring at the creature he had drawn. "I bought a dream journal today, you know the saying, god knows I drilled it into you. The Danger in Dreams is Madness." He looks at the page. "My dreams are just getting stranger and stranger, so I thought I'll record them then when I have that one about Angelina Jolie and it comes true I can show her and she'll let me do the really kinky stuff." He snorted in laughter but his eyes were held by the blueBlueBLUE eyes of the drawing.
"Dad sent me his journal, god knows why, I sure as fuck don't, but he did. It's weird, I mean, perfectly normal for a man who spent the last fifteen years in and out of the nuthouse, but it's so methodical, it reads more like the "Golden Bough" than the ravings of a mad man. It's got a picture of Mom in it," He paused, "from before we were born, she was so beautiful, a case of if she wasn't my Mom I so would have tried to hit that." He snickered to himself. "Omaha, fuck, you don't expect the straight damn fucked up to happen here, do you? I'm tired, all these dreams, man, I feel like I'm not sleeping. The funny thing is, the thing in the cell, the thing with the wings, well, I can't help but think, I mean I'm probably wrong, but I think it's an, well, an angel."
He turned off the recorder and pulled it off from around his neck, putting it on the table beside the journal which he turned to the first page. "I had the first dream in the hospital," he wrote, "getting off a double shift and then caught in the labour ward holding the hand of someone as she had her baby. Maybe ten minutes but it was more than long enough. She comes to me in the dreams, talking nonsense and riddles with this mechanical bird that sings "Close to you" by the Carpenters. It's the song they played in the asylum whenever Bobby took us to see Dad. He'd sit at the desk and write in his journal but over the tannoy you'd hear "Close to you" and "Only Yesterday" and "We've only just begun." If I didn't hate them then I certainly did leaving that building.
"She wears a white dress, it's sort of sheer, it's not fitted but it clings, I don't know what kind of fabric, and her hair is curly and black. She looks like Christina Ricci in that Moby video where he's an old man. I don't know the name of it. Her eyes are strange, they hold me in place but the only words I have for them are empty and infinite. She stands on the prow of a boat and without her eyes changing at all she seems so happy to see me, then sad as she talks, then frustrated as if the riddles are all she can say. I can't help but think that, no, I'm wrong. I have no idea what she means, what she represents, but she speaks of a world of suffering that makes no sense, no those aren't the words she uses, it something like "a world more full of weeping than he can understand." He put the pen down and stretched out the cramp from his hands, long unused to the pages of script. "I dunno if I'm just being dense or it's something bigger than me. I just know she's there and she's beautiful and so sad and she's trying to tell me something but no matter what she wants to say those are the words that come.
"Then there was the girl at the accident."
The room was dark by the time he finished, squinting into the half light, the coffee cold stone beside him. He ran his hands through his hair, considered ordering pizza and discarded it, his stomach still churning from that morning, and climbed into the shower.
It didn't improve his mood, which disappointed him, and wearing a pair of sweats he climbed into the bed beside the door, booted up his laptop and put in disk 1 of the Evil Dead set. It was comfortable and easy viewing, films he knew backwards and forwards and it didn't matter about anything else because it wasn't real. There no such thing as Kandorian demons, hell there were no demons, and the real cabin in the woods where it had been filmed had burned down years ago. But as he watched Sheryl, stuck in the cellar, stab the pencil into Linda's ankle with the most sickening crunch his mind flicked back to his father's journal, and as the black lines crawled up the girl's leg he thought of the description his father gave of the passage of an exorcism, copied dutifully in block capitals from a medieval book written by some monk, of the black oil that creeped through the veins, and covered the eyes, suppressing the will of the person underneath.
He thought of the description of the Ravers in "Covenant", possessing forces of some sort of primal evil that were never truly explained in the book, but he had read somewhere that their names, turiya Herem, samadhi Sheol, and moksha Jehannam were states of enlightenment and also names for Hell, but they sought chaos for the sake of chaos, and did not so much use their host to wreak evil, but instead did those things that the host wanted to do but never would leaving them with the guilt.
He wondered if it was the same for these demons, this dark force that lived in that forest, that picked on those kids. On screen Linda sat on the ground with her black curls and white night dress and blue eyes, her face painted up like that of a kewpie doll to represent the demon within her, and with a head shake of disgust he turned off the film. She sort of looked like the woman in the dreams.
He lay down, lights off and prepared to sleep, knowing that when he did he would dream of her. He was almost looking forward to it.
She sits in Bobby's parlour, still half decorated from when he and Sammy tried to paint it and Bobby had a fit. There is a woolen throw over the couch and a table cloth over the coffee table. He sits in the chair with the broken base so if you sit back you end up practically sat on the floor, but it's okay if you perch at the end. There are small china plates with a rose pattern laid out on the table, and a tea pot. Dean remembers the tea pot, it was broken years ago, and Bobby had been upset, but he had tried to hide it, just said that accidents happened - and it had been an accident - and it was okay if neither of them were hurt, but it's on the table now.
It had been a wedding present.
She butters him one of the scones on the table, it's studded with dried fruit, and then slathers on some jelly, before she hands it to him on one of the plates. She smiles when she sees him. "Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths, Of night and light and the half light, I would spread the cloths under your feet." Her smile is dazzling but her eyes are as empty as the dark reaches of space.
"Is it all you can say?" He asked, "can you only talk to me in riddles?"
For a second something flickers across her face, disappointment maybe, it's hard to tell when her eyes are so infinite. She is trying to say something but the words, when they come, are riddles. "And what rough beast," she starts, "its hour come at last, slouches towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born."
"You've got me, sister, can you tell me your name?"
She opens her mouth to speak but nothing comes out, behind him the glass on Bobby's carriage clock, a wedding gift he said, it never worked right either, cracks in two. She takes a breath and tries again, "the solemn eyed." She manages. Then frowns, her calm brow furrowing and her eyebrows forming two dark darts above her empty eyes.
She is expressive but it never touches her eyes.
"You're trying to warn me of something, aren't you?"
"A world more full of weeping than he can understand." She agrees.
"It's bad, isn't it?"
"A world more full of weeping." She repeats, nodding sagely. He takes a bite out of the scone, not sure why she is giving him baked goods and tea. In the Chinoiserie golden cage behind her the nightingale sings its cheerful song, the sound like tiny hammers striking tiny bells, but it makes him see the grey green walls of the asylum he visited his father in.
"Is it to do with Dad?"
"For he comes, the human child, to the waters and the wild."
"This is a dream," he tells her, "I'll humour you, although my dad's mad, he says he's found something, can you tell me what?"
"He'll hear no more the lowing, of the calves on the warm hillside, or the kettle on the hob sing peace into his breast, or see the brown mice bob round and round the oatmeal chest."
"Real bad then?" She nods again. There is a book beside her. It wasn't there before. She opens it and shows him the painting inside.
The painting is stylised and shows a man in armour, with sword drawn. He stands to the left of the picture, in front of a wall of thorns, and in front of him are a pile of bodies, five of them, twisted together, parts of their armour hanging in the brambles. She then lowers her solemn, empty eyes, eyes that look like the shattered remnants of a stained glass window after the war, and turns the page.
The second painting shows another man in armour. His breastplate is blue and his cloak red, his golden wings outspread. He holds aloft a sword ready to plunge it into the man upon whom he stands. His hair is the colour of Dean's own, but he kind of reminds him of Cate Blanchett. All around him there are dead bodies. He's seen that painting before, it's quite famous. It's the archangel Michael.
She turns the page again to show a great horned beast, it faces away from the page, into the book, and stands on human feet. There is an angel lying at his feet, with hands templed in prayer but face twisted in fear. The back of the creature is splayed into wings and a lizard's tail falls between his buttocks. Under the horns, in place of hair, is a golden crown.
She closes the book with a sigh, frustrated clearly by her lack of ability to communicate. "No more the lowing." She says sadly. "That is no country for old men," she adds as if it explains anything else at all. Then looking at him she gives him a soft, sad smile, "I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."
Dean thinks he must be getting better at understanding her. "You just called me your champion, didn't you?" She looks at the book for a moment, and then something crosses her face before she lifts it and throws it hard against the wall. Clearly angry she says "A shape with lion body and the head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, is moving its slow thighs, while all about it wind shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again but now I know that twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle."
"I wish I could understand you." Dean tells her. For a moment, secure that this is a dream, he thinks if he could understand her he might fall in love with her.
She shrugs then, a slow patient gesture of solemnitude, before she pours him a cup of tea.
Dean didn't go to a diner for breakfast, he hit the deli counter in Walmart and bought himself a small loaf. At the counter, with it barely six am, he picked up a few bars of candy, dropping them unto the conveyor. "Hey, you know where I can find a book store around here?" he asked the girl. She had a sort of vapid half asleep expression but answered that they had books on aisle four, but if he wanted more he'd have to go to the big mall, but it didn't open till eight.
He found a coffee shop and bought himself a large black Americano, and sat outside, despite the brisk chill of the early morning in early autumn, flicked through "Thomas Covenant", well into the death march of the "Illearth War" and then he fished out his dream journal, picking off bits of the bread as he wrote.
"She came to me again. She was in Bobby's house this time, pouring more tea, I wish I could remember the exact words she said, something about a lion with the head of a man, and desert birds, and a cradle. And "a world more full of weeping than he can understand" I'm happy with that line. She says it enough. She's trying to tell me something, I know that, I just have no idea what it is. She is losing her temper at her inability to communicate. She thinks that whatever it is she is trying to tell me is important. I have no fucking idea what it is though.
"Sam hasn't got back to me at all, it's been well over a week, this isn't like him. I don't think he has exams at this time of year. I'm starting to worry. He doesn't normally go this long. First Dad goes missing and then Sam stops answering his mails, I can't get to California fast enough, but I have to figure out what she's trying to tell me. I'm going to a Barnes and Noble in," he looked at his watch, "less than an hour to see if anyone there recognises what she's saying. It's important, I know it is, my brain is trying to tell me something, but I don't have the faintest fucking clue what. Tread softly, she said, because you tread on my dreams."
He closed the book and finished off his coffee in a large single mouthful, dropping the paper cup into the recycling bin. "Fuck it," he said, and went back to the motel to check out.
Dean sat outside the mall, waiting for it to open, with the radio blaring. He tapped his fingers against the wheel in time to the solid beat and matching bass line. "And any way, for all the things you know, tell me why does the river not flow, and any way for all the things you said, tell me why the river runs red, and any way for all the things you've seen, tell me why does the river run green, and any way for all the things you know tell me why does the river not flow."
He didn't know the song, but he liked it, liked the repeating motif and heavy guitars, beating his fingers against the wheel in time to the bassline. In front of the mall a woman stood leaning against the wall smoking, she wore a white tunic top under a black vest and tight black jeans. Her arms were completely covered in tattoo sleeves, and her hair was bleached a colour Cassie had always called suicide blonde. He noticed her only because she was the only other person about as the song ended and the news came on.
"Three more homeless men were found dead in Council Bluffs last night, raising the body toll to eighteen in the last week. The FBI have taken over the case but it baffles police. The bodies are found, obviously dumped, in alleys. The police have issued no formal statement but asks that people take more care than usual, just because the victims have been homeless so far doesn't mean that people shouldn't lock their doors and"
Dean clicked off the radio as the clock rolled over to eight and got out of the car, locking it behind him. By the time he reached the door the woman was gone and the day was shaping up to be warm. He pushed open the door, noticing how empty it felt and laughed at his own "Dawn of the dead" paranoia. He checked the map and made his way to the Barnes and Noble that was spread over two floors.
The girl at the counter, whose name badge read "Miranda" asked him, when he brought out his journal, if he hadn't just googled the riddles. He admitted ruefully he hadn't thought of it. She opened up the web browser on the desk and opened the search page and he started to read aloud "Had I the heavens cloth, with gold and silver light."
"I know that," one of the other staff members said. He didn't look like he should. He had shoulder length dyed black hair that looked like it only saw shampoo when he colored it. He had his sleeves rolled up to his elbow and leather thongs and steel chains around both wrists, "Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, enwrought with golden and silver light," he pushed Miranda out of the way, "It's Yeats, man," he pronounced it Yeets, Miranda, to her credit, seemed doubtful, "Sean Bean reads it in "Equilibrium", man, I love that movie." Then he shrugged, he wasn't wearing a name badge. "It's a really famous poem, dude." He came out from behind the counter and went to a display, coming back holding a thick paperback. "Here," he put it on the counter. The cover was a sepia toned photograph of a man asleep in a deck chair. "This is the Faber and Faber, they're the best for poetry but a bit more expensive. If all those poems are Yeats they'll be in here."
"There's one about slouching towards Bethlehem." Dean suggested.
He nodded. "I got this book 'cause of "Equilibrium", I mean yeah, I went for the gun-fu, but the poem really struck me, yanno, I thought I might use some of his lines for my band. But there's this one about kids taken by fairies which is just epic, Shriek and me, Shriek's my drummer, we were just gonna put it to music, a little hardcore like Megadeth and..." He flicked through the book, it was the first poem as far as Dean could tell. "Come away, o human child, to the waters and the wild, with a faery hand in hand, from a world more full of weeping than he can understand."
"I'll take it," Dean cut him off. "And do you have any audio books?" The guy just grinned and took him to the display.
He picked up a copy of "The Thing on the doorstep" by Lovecraft because it was the only thing that looked even vaguely interesting and it meant he wouldn't be alone when he was driving, even if it was just some guy reading. He paid for it all, picking up the hardback copy of the new "Thomas Covenant" book which he hadn't known was coming let alone available.
Dean saw the suicide blonde again about twenty kilometers out of Council Bluffs, thumb out to pick up a ride. She had an old army duffle, just like the one he used for work, thrown over one shoulder, and Dean couldn't have said why he slowed the car down, let alone opened the window and offered her a ride. Perhaps, he thought, I'm just lonely. "Where are you going?" he asked.
"West," she answered, throwing her white hair over her shoulder to reveal a series of chains and strung beads that fell between her breasts. "Don't care about the details." She had a bit of an accent, which he assumed to be European.
"I'm going west too," he answered, "do you need a ride?"
Her grin, when it came, was a devilish slash, a joker rictus across her face, "you could be a mass murderer." She said.
"Yeah, well, so could you," he said, smiling back, his smile no more sincere than her's had been. "I'm Dean."
"Ilsa," she answered, opening the door and sliding into the passenger seat. "Guten tag."
He turned down the radio but as he reached across he noticed a faint but disturbing smell, like wet clothes left too long in the washer, heavy clove scented cigarette smoke, a blue Lifesaver was flashing between her teeth, and something underneath coppery and heavy. Something old and musty. He didn't recognise it. "Where in Germany are you from?" he asked, "I mean, I'm guessing it's Germany, not Austria, I,"
"Buchenwald." She answered, cutting him off as she pulled her sunglasses down over her eyes, "do you mind if I catch some sleep? I've been walking since forever it feels like." Dean looked at the digital clock display on the dash, it read eleven twenty two, and he'd seen her at eight, so she'd had three hours. She'd made great time.
"Knock yourself out," he said, "I'm going as far as Denver tonight, if I can make it, do you want woken up anywhere along the way?" He had no idea why he was doing this, this woman could have been anything; a serial killer; a wanted criminal; one of the tentacle monsters from the Lovecraft CD.
"bitte." She said taking a deep, snuffling breath as her body relaxed. "Just let me know when you break for gas."
He just concentrated on the radio, turning up the air con to help shift the musty, old smell of her, and carried on driving.
Dean broke the drive at a small roadside diner, but when he tried to wake Ilsa she sort of rolled in on herself in the front seat muttering "scheissekopf" before going back to sleep completely. He picked her up a burger, fries and a large cola, eating his own inside, before going back to the car, reading comfortably about the last of the fatal errors of Hile Troy as he tried to save the fictional country. He was reminded of a conversation he had had with Sam years before, when Sam first read the books because Dean had loved them so much. Sam had asked why Covenant had attacked Lena, the act on which the book was hinged. Dean had answered it was because she wasn't real. It hadn't satisfied Sam- he couldn't understand it. Then why did he do so much to make up for it? He asked. Dean's answer to that still woke him up at night. Because she was real enough.
That was the problem with the girl in his dreams, she wasn't real, she read poetry to him instead of talking, but she was real enough to matter. He wanted to find her. He wanted to understand what it was she was trying to tell him. She wasn't real, but she was real enough.
He closed over "Thomas Covenant" and opened the book of poetry, reading the first poem, "The Stolen Child," about a child snatched by fairies. He recognized the refrain, and odd lines but he was left with no idea why she had used it. It was just about a child snatched by fairies.
He thought of Hile Troy, the blind man; the doomed general, and his army marched to death. He thought of a small child led away by fairies. He thought of the creature in its cell. Then he closed the book and opened his wallet, and caught sight of the photo of his mom. Whatever it was the woman was trying to tell him, he was no closer to finding it than he had been when he hadn't known the poet.
He put Ilsa's food in the back of the car for when she woke up, his thermos, recently refilled in the slot behind the arm rest that was designed for it, checked his eyes in the mirror, because they felt heavy and tired, before he pulled the car back into drive, wondering why he had picked up a hitch-hiker for conversation when all she was going to do was sleep. She was muttering in German in her sleep and he could make out the detail in her tattoos, there was a spray of cards, a naked woman, twisted through with vines, birds, insects snakes and other things. There was something written there, but he didn't recognize the language. Along the top of her shoulder, like an outline, were the words "between angels and insects". The designs trailed down to her fingers, up to her collar bone where it showed under the vest and ropes of beads. "Take a photo," she said sleepily, "it'll last longer."
"Nice ink." He commented.
"Yeah," she shrugged it off. "We stopping here?"
Reaching into the pocket of her jeans she pulled out a denuded packet of Lifesavers, popping one in her mouth, she offered the packet to Dean but he shook his head even as he answered her. "Yeah, you missed it, I got you something to eat." He pulled out of the car park and back to the main road.
"You didn't have to." She said, "I don't have hunger." The words were strangely stilted, he assumed that it was simply part of her he didn't understand, a carry over from being a native German speaker.
"Yeah, well," he said, "you can eat it when you are hungry." He said flicking his eyes to the road sign over head. "We're making good time," he said, "we'll be in Denver earlier than I thought."
"Any plans for Denver?" she asked, shifting in her seat, in such a way that she gave him an accidental flash of cleavage, then stretching out as best she could in the cramped confines of the car. Ignoring the bag of food she lifted the large wax cup of cola and took a long slurp.
"Just passing through." He told her. "I'm secretly a serial killer who drives from town to town, killing hitch-hikers and then dumping their bodies in alley ways." It was an easy enough joke to make and she knew that if he had intended anything he would have done it whilst she slept.
She laughed so hard she almost brought the cola back up through her nose. "Oh, entlein," she said, "You'd need a panel van for that, or an SUV, you couldn't do it in this car, not nearly enough room."
He laughed with her. "That's what everyone thinks," he continued blithely, "so they always look for SUV's and camper vans and estates, but it's amazing what you can do in a saloon class Toyota, why it's got all sorts of little pockets and cabinets here and there where I keep my souvenirs."
"Fingers or eyeballs?" she said getting into the joke.
"Hair bands." He said catching her eye in the rear view, "easier to explain."
"I was always partial to tattoos myself." She ran her hand up the length of her arm. There was a devil with a machine gun under her thumb. "You could cure them, bind books, that kind of thing."
"Hey," he mocked disgust but he knew he had started the joke, and it wasn't that far of a stretch. "Human skin doesn't hold ink for shit, so unless you're going all "Evil Dead" it isn't going to do any good, and then you have a stinking useless book in the back. It's why I'm a serial killer and not a deviant."
"Ich schlucke Ihre Seele," she said with her wicked empty Joker rictus. Dean only had a vague idea what she said but he couldn't stop the shudder than ran through him at her words. He was suddenly hyper aware that the CD changer had shifted over to "Sehnsucht" and the band was singing in German. She tilted her head. "It is beautiful." She said, "this song about angels."
"Engel." He said wondering why he wasn't pulling the car over, why he wasn't telling her to get the fuck out, to fucking walk the rest of the way to Denver.
"Angels live they never die, apart from us behind the sky, they're fading souls who've turned to ice, so ashen white in paradise." She said the words with a sort of distant look in her heavily made up eyes, as if they meant something to her. "Erst wenn die wolken schlafengehn, Kann man uns am himmel sehn, Wir haben angst und sind allein, Gott weiss ich will kein engel sein."
"I never knew what the words meant." Dean admitted, "I just liked the song."
"It's a rough translation." Ilsa shrugged, "you'll find others. People forget, angels were killers in the Bible, soldiers, destroyers. They're not shining beacons of faith, they're just souls that lost their humanity and found it easier to serve and to kill." She took a deep sighing breath, "mind if I change the track, this song is depressing, he's right though, please not an angel when I die."
Dean didn't answer her, he just pushed the disc change button the steering wheel. Then brayed a fake laugh when Meatloaf came on. "I think someone's trying to tell us something." He said to the heavy guitars, "we go from Angels to bats out of hell."
"Yeah," she said, pulling her sunglasses back down over her eyes, "if I gotta be damned, you know I wanna be damned dancing through the night with you." She paraphrased the lyrics with a trashy falsetto and a bit of a leer over the top of her shades, then popped another Lifesaver into her mouth.
"I got two left feet." He said bringing the tone of the conversation back to the jovial, but the grin her lipsticked mouth gave around the straw of the cup of cola still made his blood run like ice.
There was a sign for an upcoming rest stop and he suddenly wanted fresh air, away from the musty old mouldy smell of her, with its copper undertones; the lingering wreathes of clove scented smoke, and the tang of the Lifesavers she sucked relentlessly so he indicated and pulled in. "You stopping, liebe?" she asked. "I'm more than happy to get out here, you've done more than enough for me."
"Yeah, was going to get a bathroom break," he told her, "stretch my legs, that kind of thing. You sure you wanna stop here, I mean it is the middle of nowhere. We're not that far from Denver." He wanted her out of the car, but she was still in the middle of Colorado at a truck stop.
"Ja," She said, her teeth flashing in that waxy Joker grin of hers, "this will be just fine for me." From the pocket of her too tight jeans she pulled a note and dropped it into the change tray where it was a tightly crinkled ball, "for the gas." Then she smirked to herself, the gesture suiting her more than blank indifference and it was slightly cruel. "And when you see your vater, tell him I said hi."
As she walked across the car park, ass swaying in her too tight jeans and the sun setting on her suicide blonde hair Dean hoped he never saw her again. He picked up an pine scented air freshener card in the gas station to hang from the rear view and drove the rest of the way too fast with the windows open.
Dean booked himself into a small motel he didn't bother to notice the name of, but he did stick one of their leaflets into his dream journal and wrote, at length, about his strange hitch-hiker, and the overwhelming sense of unease she gave him. That done, he showered thoroughly, until the water ran cold, even though it didn't make him feel clean, before pulling on clean sweats and climbing into bed. It was late and the very idea of food nauseated him.
The sheets were cold and felt slightly damp on his skin. He pulled the blanket about him a bit tighter, turned the radio on to an alternative station, for the comfort of not being alone and did his best to fall asleep.
"You came," it is the girl from the boat, her tea set laid out before him, and her dress falling in loose waves from her shoulders, it has slipped down to expose the beginning swell of her breast. His mouth waters at the sight. He suspects that he loves her, in the way that is only possible in dreams, in soft half movements, but this is the first time he has desired her.
There is movement behind her, a ginger coloured flash and he can see it out of the corner of his eye, but when he turns his head to look there is nothing there.
She stands barefoot on the rug, "never let me go," she says and the arch of her instep is dazzling him. "Hold me like this for a hundred thousand million days," she turns and reaches out to him, "why do you cry?" she asks, "what did I say?" But as her smile is sweet and sad she wipes away his tears. He had not known he was crying. She steps forward, hangs herself in front of him, then slips her dress like a flag to the floor, and hands in the sky, surrenders it all. Another moment, he thinks, will break his heart, so instead of lingering, instead of waiting for her next statement- he kisses her. She tastes like licorice under his tongue.
He woke to the sound of Robert Smith singing on the radio, about waking up in the rain and the high yipping kvaa kvaa sound of foxes fighting.
He slammed his hand down on the radio and flopped over, going back to sleep, but did not dream of her again. Instead he heard the screech of car tires and the radio singing "so they sprinkled moonbeams in your hair and golden starlight in your eyes so blue," as the car turns, turns and the tree rushes up so fast as Cassie screams.
Dean was woken just before dawn by a heavy hand thumping on the door to his motel room. He hadn't been making noise so the only reason he could think of in his sleep drunk head was that the place was on fire. He gave a quick glance at the clock to find it read but when he blinked he realised it was only 5.05.
He opened the door and blearily appraised the man before him. He was a man mountain, a black man easily the size of a wardrobe with square shoulders and perhaps a hundred pounds on Dean. His hair was pulled back into tight cornrows but a horrible scar crossed his eye. He wore a ten thousand dollar suit. "Are you Dean Winchester?" He asked and his voice was a terrible whisper. It sounded unused and rusty.
"Yes." Dean answered, backing into the room.
"My name is Mr Fixx," the black man said quietly, "if you would accompany me, my employer would like to see you." A thousand ideas flashed through Dean's head, none of them good. "If you would like to get ready I am prepared to wait."
"And if I don't want to go?" Dean asked.
Mr Fixx slowly opened the side of his great coat to show a silver gun holstered there. "I am authorised to bring you against your will as long as a minimal amount of damage is done. My employer is most eager to make your acquaintance."
Dean dressed as quickly as he could, stuffing his journal and mp3 player into his pockets, then threaded his feet into his boots, without bothering to tie them. "Let's get this over and done with then," he said, because he was not arguing with the man with the gun.
Mr Fixx had a limousine parked outside and gestured that Dean ride in the back, whilst he himself got in beside the driver. There was a large flask of coffee and cups. The coffee was steaming hot, and beside it were warm pastries. They were clearly intended for him. A ball point pen sat beside them advertising the pharmaceutical company Niveus, Dean pocketed it, because after all pens wandered. He didn't even consider it a weapon. He had heard of the company before but couldn't have said where.
He had no idea how long the car journey was, in the movies and tv shows people were able to tell the police exactly where their abductors took them by how the car turned and how long it was. Dean decided that this was a crock. He couldn't' have told you if he drove for an hour or five minutes. The windows were tinted so he couldn't see anything outside and although there was a plethora of buttons he didn't dare touch them in case the man with the gun took umbrage.
Mr Fixx certainly looked like the type of man who "fixed" things.
The thermos of coffee, however, was fair game. He drank it down to the dregs and decided if he was going to go for something as trivial as drinking the boss' coffee, at least he was glad that it was good coffee. In fact it was fucking good coffee, even being in the thermos which had some kind of lever to keep the dregs in the bottom of the flask like one of those fancy presses that you saw on TV. Normally coffee went a bit strange in the thermos, but this stuff hadn't, it was hot and syrupy and ashy against the back of his throat. It tasted a bit like he imagined Hell would, bitter and strong and clinging to the recesses in his teeth.
He knew, however, that this was the kind of coffee that someone on his salary didn't buy, or could afford to go into the shop to get. He drank it gladly, secure in his defiance, thinking that if it cost him his life, or even a flesh wound, it would have been worth it- the coffee was that good.
The house that they pulled up to was part of a large estate in what appeared to be a nature reserve, or a half way house for endangered animals. Dean heard them neighing and trumpeting and roaring as the car passed. Mr Fixx, who drove the limousine, didn't seem affected by the ways that the small monkeys shrieked as they went past. There were white peacocks walking about on the stairs to the house, bobbing their heads. "My employer," Fixx said in a dull monotone, "is something of a Collector."
As they went into the house Dean considered this an understatement. There were items from all sorts of places, old, new, shelves upon shelves of things, shiny things, round things, boxes, cartons, bottles. There were glass cabinets in which some of the more valuable treasures were kept but it was clear that this was only the smallest part of his collection.
Fixx led him to the west wing, the house was big enough to have wings - and guided him up the stairs. "This room has been put aside for your convenience. My employer is currently flying in from Shanghai, he asks that you wait for him. If you wish for anything you are merely to ask."
"And if I want to go?"
"My employer," Fixx said in that dead monotone, "asks only that you wait for his arrival. He has a proposition for you, one that you are singularly equipped to fulfil, and you will be rewarded handsomely. As he is not, at present, able to explain this to you in person, he asks that you wait." In the stronger daylight Mr Fixx's black skin had a weird pallor, and his tone was always flat. Something about him raised Dean's hackles but he could not have said what it was, other than it was there. Like Ilsa he had a lingering sense of wrongness. One of his fingernails was missing and two others were black, but not from paint. His breath over Dean's face was cold and rank. "If you wish to explore the grounds or to see the animals please do not hesitate to ask. Mrs Cates, the housekeeper, has been instructed that she is to obey your every whim."
"My every whim?" Dean raised an eyebrow and attempted something of a leer.
"Yes, Mr Winchester." Fixx answered in that cold tone, his one black eye, the other missing under the puckered scar that disfigured half of his face, appraised Dean like he was something of an idiot. "My employer asks also that you do not feed the animals, especially George, as otherwise he will not want what he is given."
"And if I tried to leave? I mean, if I took the car back to the motel?"
Mr Fixx didn't give a long suffering sigh, he didn't even blink. "My employer asks that you remain here whilst he travels to meet you." It wasn't much of a threat, but Dean understood it completely. "There is a telephone in the room," Fixx continued, "if you wish for something dial 1, it will put you through to Mrs Cates. I will have her send some food for you." Then he took a step forward, forcing Dean back into the room, and closed the door, locking it behind him with a heavy clunk clunk click.
The room was a sitting room that adjoined a large bedroom. It wasn't a room, it was a fucking suite. There were several large plush couches and a dining table in the corner. There was a desk, and a large cabinet, which stood open to reveal a huge television, over a DVD player. One of the drawers on the cabinet stood slightly proud revealing it was full of DVD cases. A bookshelf covered the wall behind the dining table, paperbacks stuffed into it, vertically and horizontally to make more of them fit.
Lying beside an unlit fireplace, curled up on a huge cushion upon one of the couches was a lizard. It was about the size of a house cat, and its snake tongue flickered out in its dream, its legs were jerking about as it dreamed its little lizard dreams. It was a breed Dean had never seen before. It was a dull dark red colour, not unlike black currant cordial, with flashes of bright green here and there about its body, with black claws that looked big enough to pluck out an eye. Dean didn't like lizards on the whole, and this one, with its skin stretched out between side and foreleg, like a lizard skin batwing jumper, wasn't endearing him to it, even as it made weird noises in its sleep. It wore a collar and he suspected that if he got close enough then it would read "George". A series of spines ran down its back, culminating in its tail and although it didn't have teeth he suspected that it would give a truly nasty nip if something was caught between his gums.
Settling himself on the other couch Dean pulled out his journal and began to write, because he had no reason not to, he quickly sketched the lizard, hoping that when he got to Palo Alto that Sam would be able to tell him what kind it was, because it was like no Iguana he had ever seen, and he thought that if he started recording for Sam then he might wake the thing up, which was the very last thing he wanted to do.
He had only been sat for a page's worth of writing, when the door opened and a middle aged woman came in. She wore a maid's dress and apron, and had a large tray in her hands. "I was asked to bring you some breakfast," she said laying the tray on the coffee table before him. Then noticing the lizard, whose flaring nostrils had caught the scent of bacon and sausage, had raised its draconian head to appraise what it considered its due right, she shooed him off with her hands, "never you mind George," she said, flapping her hands at the lizard, "he'd have you believe we starve him." She smiled although it looked kind of forced, "I'm Mrs Cates, I'm sure Mr Fixx," there was something in the way she said his name that just made Dean more uncomfortable, "has explained, but you want something, honey, you just ask for it. I don't know what he was thinking sending Mr Fixx to get you, why you probably think you've been kidnapped."
Dean had expected the housekeeper to be more like Mrs Danvers in the novel Rebecca, tall and thin with hard eyes and harder hands. He expected her to run the house with a military precision that bordered on the insane, for after all Mrs Danvers had burned the house down. But Mrs Cates was a rotund woman in her mid to late sixties who looked like she had faced the world, and smothered it against her almighty bosoms. She was about the size and shape of a barrel, with wide hips, a round belly and bosoms that looked like they might have had their own area code. "You don't want to be wandering around, some of the animals can give you a nasty bite, but the house is reasonably safe, bits of it are just overstuffed or getting derelict, you want something, even just a walk, you call me, but we're keeping the door locked for your own safety, okay."
He assured her that he would, mostly to get her out of the room so he could tuck into the meal she had made him. There was fried ham with eggs on top. There were fat juicy fried German wurst practically swimming in their own grease. There was three different types of fried bread. There were little disks of black stuff he didn't' recognise but was happy to try. There were fried mushrooms and tomatoes and baked beans. There were hash browns, and on a separate plate pancakes and french toast. To wash it all down were two bottles of fruit juice, tropical and orange, and a carafe of coffee. There were bottles of sauce and syrup, but sitting on the floor, staring at him with greengage eyes through thick eyelashes, which struck Dean as perhaps a little strange, was the lizard. It licked its lips and then nodded towards the plate. Then nodded again.
Dean rolled his eyes and cut off a chunk of the sausage, throwing it across the floor where George gobbled it up greedily. "Don't you be telling anyone I did that." He said. He decided he was relieved when the strange lizard didn't answer, just licked the grease off his claws, before staring at Dean and nodding his head towards him to suggest that he wanted more.
Dean ate slightly more than he could manage, because the food was just that good, the coffee was even better than it had been in the limo, and when he was done, despite having thrown quite a bit to the lizard, he let the creature jump up on the table to finish what he hadn't. It had given up on suspicion and was looking at him with what might be adoration as it used its claws to stuff bacon fat into its face as fast as it could. Then, after licking the plate clean it jumped back unto the couch, next to Dean, burrowing under his hand for skritches, and gave an almighty burp, his green belly looked uncomfortably distended as he scratched at it with a lazy claw. Dean, pleasantly over stuffed, knew exactly what he felt.
Not knowing what else to do with the plates, he left them on the table and went into the bedroom, removing his boots and lying on the bed for just a while, flicked on the television and oofed at the lizard who landed on his stomach before curling up in the crook of his armpit and going back to sleep. Although he intended to watch the television he was asleep before he even realized it was showing "Dr Sexy, MD"
"Find me," she whispers into the summer wind that buffets her hair. She has tied it in ribbons and curls that bounce in the light. She is more beautiful now than he has ever seen her. Between her feet twines a fox, it turns to stare at him with golden eyes that seem almost human. "Come to me." In the dream he is barefoot but clothed, wearing a white shirt and pants, and there is a staircase in front of him and he knows that she awaits him at the bottom. "Come to me." He thinks it strange that she does not talk in riddles but nevertheless, with the carpet soft under his feet, he begins to descend the spiral stair case.
A door stands open at the bottom, revealing a second stair case, this one spiral with bare stone steps. "Come to me," she repeats and he continues on. He can see her, feel her, but knows that she waits at the bottom of the staircase. "Save me from my enemies."
The stairs seem to go on forever. He goes down and down and down, until he appears in a white room with a large plush white couch. There is a table and on it sits a glass dome under which is a lotus flower, where almost all of the petals have fallen away. In frames around the walls are some poems by Yeats, and between them are glass panels, inscribed with what he thinks might be Latin. Each of them reveals a smaller triangular room where the thinnest part is the glass window. There are women in each of the embrasures. The first squats awkwardly upon a great branch, naked apart from a smattering of feathers on her head. Her breasts are high and tight but she scratches at them ruthlessly when she sees him. "Come to me," the dark haired girl says.
He imagines, but could be wrong, that he sees the quick white flash of the fox's tail but as soon as he turns his head to check it is gone.
The second is underwater with soft features and huge black eyes, her mouth is full and ripe, but the hands that clutch at her bosoms is clawed. She opens her mouth to reveal row after row of sharp shark teeth. When she moves away from the glass he sees she has no tail, instead she has the great tail of a snake.
The third room contains Ilsa, wearing only a bathrobe with gore smeared about her face and chest, her hand mercilessly rubbing herself between her legs, fingers flickering around her vulva as much out of boredom he thinks than the delight she has taken in the gore.
The last contains the girl he is looking for, a great pair of wings erupt from her back and she is haloed by a perverse holiness, caught and dulled by the inscriptions in the glass which glows brightly. She alone is clothed. "Find me," she repeats reaching out and pressing her palm flat upon the glass, behind her, on the pile of cushions is a white fox mask with black eyes and red streaks of paint, "come to me, save me from my enemies."
"I don't even know your name," he protests, pressing his own palm flat against hers.
"Castiel." She says.
With a start Dean woke up. The lizard was lying on his chest snoring, its legs kicking and its eyelids flickering in its dream. Warm and lazy, with no real intent he tried to drift back off to sleep but found himself unable. Lifting George as carefully as he could, to lay him back down on the mattress, Dean swung his legs down and as he sat the lizard scampered up his back to curl around his neck like a scarf. "New best friend, huh?" he asked skritching the lizard under the chin, "if only everyone was so loyal after some sausage."
Dean had slept for perhaps two hours, maybe three, but in the meantime Mrs Cates had both removed his earlier dishes and replaced them with a tray of small rye sandwiches which appeared to be cream cheese and cucumber, with watercress on the side. There was a large jug of iced tea with condensation forming on the outside of the glass. Whatever reason Dean was here, and he didn't know, they weren't trying to starve him. He had a momentary thought that they were feeding him up for the Christmas supper, but that gave him months to escape.
There was, in one of the drawers, a flat head screwdriver, and half convinced that they had locked him in he pocketed it.
Debating on whether or not he was still asleep Dean left the room and retraced the path that Mr Fixx had taken him down to the main door. Beside it were were two glass display cabinets inside of which were amulets of different sizes and shapes. The cabinet was not locked and so he opened it and took out one that caught his eye. It was a star surrounded by flames. He pulled it over his head without thinking about it, tucking it into the collar of his tee-shirt.
Above them was a shelf where, amidst ceramic bowls showing pictures of demons and angels, were two large pebbles, one of a milky white stone he had never seen before and one as black as fossilised pitch. He took the white one but was not sure why. The whole thing felt like a dream. He wondered if Mrs Cates had drugged him. The lizard around his neck just snuffled in its sleep at his obvious larceny.
At the front door he was met by the peacocks. They puffed up their chests and waved their white tails at them, forcing him to make a quick escape for the hedge maze. Laughing at his own cowardice, after all they were only birds, he flicked on the mp3 player he wore around his neck. "Oh god, Sammy, I've just been run to ground by a pair of over dressed chickens," he couldn't stop laughing, "who needs a burglar alarm or guard dogs," he was bent double when a pair of beady black eyes popped around the corner. "fuck, they've found me." He vaulted over the low hedge and slipped down. "I'm having to take cover from poultry with pretensions."
"They are a bit zealous," the man sitting on the ground calmly taking a late breakfast told him. He was tall and thin, with sharp features and eyes as black as those of the peacock. "Don't worry about them though, at worst they'll just give you a nasty nip." He gestured to the spread before him. "George teases them, they weren't after you, just him." At mention of his name the lizard raised its head to look at the newcomer with his greengage eyes before crawling down Dean's arm to the blanket and surveying the meal before him. Consciousness of being watched was the only thing, Dean was sure, stopping him from gobbling everything down, cutlery and all. "I'm Robin," the man said offering a hand, "Robin Goodfellow, I'm the groundskeeper here."
"I'm Dean," he said, deciding it was better to play along and escape later than it was to bring down what was clearly a large security force, and the peacocks, who were not to be discounted.
"Oh, I know, the boss brought you in to help him finish his collection." He said it magnanimously as if it was perfectly normal to kidnap people at gunpoint. "Here," he threw a small silver flask at him, and gestured that he drink. Dean took a mouthful, and although no stranger to liquor coughed as it scoured his throat all the way down, feeling like molten rock in his stomach, hot, roiling and heavy.
"What the fuck is that?" he asked, coughing and passing back the hip flask. Whatever it was it had left a sweet perfumy taste in the back of his mouth that no amount of running his tongue over his lips seemed to exorcise. His mouth burned with the taste of aniseed.
"Oh, apples, mostly." The groundskeeper said calmly, "I make it myself." He took the lid from a bottle of water and poured some in and offered it to the lizard who had just taken the opportunity of the distraction caused by Dean choking to swallow a boiled egg whole. It took the opportunity and drank it all down. "It kicks like a mule."
"With a toothache," Dean agreed, taking the bottle of water and draining it. The groundskeeper just laughed, unwrapping a candy bar and biting into it. "Look, it's been great meeting you but I, I lost something on the way here and I just wanted to find it."
The groundskeeper didn't believe him for an instant. "Alright, call if you need me." He said. "The way out is that a way," he pointed to the east. "Want to leave George with me? I'll get him back to the main house." George trilled his displeasure at this idea and scampered up Dean to rest against his neck and then hissed, mouth and face still covered in potato salad. "You know," the groundskeeper continued, "some days it's like he understands everything we say."
The hedge maze led to a rose garden, the roses swaying loose from the wands that held them upright and the scent of them mesmerising and sweet and just beyond it Dean saw the summer house. It was like a pagoda made of white wood and was the exact same shape as the birdcage in his dream. He could almost hear the soft trill of the nightingale, its hammered bells sounding out "Close to you". Dean wasn't sure what he had drunk only that he felt even more off kilter than before, like the world was swirling around him and everything had a slight aniseed taint.
The door to the summer house was slightly ajar so he took the few steps, half convinced that the steps were about to buck up and throw him off. Inside it was like a tomb, one of the old ones with the shelves on the walls for the bodies to dessicate before they were eternally encased in stone. At the back of the marble, which was odd, so odd, because the outside of the summer house was wood, was a large metal door, such as one found in those old tombs. It led to a staircase and it was so easy, so natural, so right to let the stairs cascade down, to take them with him in a fluidity, a natural circularity, a perfectly sublime liquidity.
All his thoughts were coalescing, crashing into one another and there was entropy and the walls were whispering. They were whispering and the dragon, it was a dragon, not a lizard, how could he have missed that? He was laughing with Dean because it was good and happy and his mouth tasted of flowers and bitter licorice oil and he wasn't going to fall.
He reached the end of the steps and fell onto his knees and hands and looked at a room so familiar it might as well have been his own.
It was circular, and all around it were glass apertures upon which Latin had been inscribed. There was a white leather couch, and a low coffee table with old leather bound books upon it. There was a plinth and on it, floating like the flower in Beauty and the Beast was a lotus flower and most of its petals had fallen off, unto the wood beneath it. There were wooden prints of old poems. He knew them so well.
There were five windows he saw. The first of which had a dark shadow who did not come near the glass.
The second held a great bird, which was like a vulture, but it had tusks and under its great ruff of black feathers its front was naked and showed three great heavy tits. When it saw him it raised its black wings and flapped angrily, its face showing a pair of terrible tusks either side of its hook beak. On his shoulder George hissed back at it, rearing up on his back legs and waving his forearms at him to show the membraneous skin stretched there.
The third was full of liquid, a dark green sea mystery in which something thrashed angrily. Disturbed as it was by the bird's shrieking.
The fourth stood empty.
In his dream there were only four, but now there were five.
She waited in the fifth window. Standing there in her white dress, soiled by wear, with her long thin face and huge eyes and soft bee stung mouth, her hair is long and lank down her back. She had cheekbones like a bird and pressed her thin fingers, so thin like she had gone hungry for such a long time, against the glass.
He pressed his hand against the glass in line with her own.
"And palm to palm is holy palmer's kiss." A male voice said behind him.
Dean turned, his head suddenly unsteady on his shoulders, to come face to face with the collector. He was a tall man, solid but not stocky or fat, with longish black hair and wire framed glasses. He wore a white suit with a lilac coloured shirt and a blue tie. Dean's skin crawled at the sight of him. Beside him was a large dog carrier in which a small fox whined. "I should have put money on you finding this place," he said, "I would have won. Hello, Dean Winchester, and welcome to the heart of my collection."
He didn't introduce himself.
"Magnificent, isn't she?" He asked, ignoring the dog carrier to stand beside him. His aftershave was light and faint, citrus and musk and something else, possibly floral. All of Dean's senses were heightened, he blamed the drink that the groundskeeper had given him. "A pity her kind does so badly in captivity. I've seen to her every need but still she fades away." He touched the glass and the girl, the one Dean had dreamed of, the one who spoke in riddles to him, shrunk back away from his touch. "They are so difficult to catch, you know, first you need to find a vessel, someone who can literally bear her Grace. That on its own is difficult enough, I spent years searching through the records of mental institutions looking for people who heard their voices- whose lunacy told me what I needed to hear. Then when I found her, my dear Catherine Novak. Her brother was capable too, but he was married, and so Catherine was so much easier to acquire. I had to make her malleable, make her want to agree. I find opium works best." He looked then at the inside of her arm, at the train line tracks of needle marks there. "Then, when she is on the cusp of death, when the heart has stopped but the brain still lives you have to perform the ritual."
"You're a murderer." Dean accused stepping back.
"No," he corrected him. "I am a collector, and her kind are very, very rare. Of course I shall have to renew my search, this one is fading faster than I anticipated. This," he gestured around the room with his gaze, "is the very pinnacle of my collection, my harpy," he looked at the bird, "my mermaid," at the room of water, "my vardoulacha," he gestured to one of the windows, "who I am told I have to thank you for, my kitsune," he moved his hand to point at the dog carrier, "my dragon," he nodded to George, "and of course, my angel."
"It has taken me a lifetime to collect them, and my collection is almost complete. I lack one simple item, one I cannot find, however there are others who search for it. My plan is simple, Dean, do you mind if I call you Dean?" Dean didn't' answer. "I told your father certain secrets when he came to me, certain truths. I told him what he wanted to know. I also told him a solution to his problem. There is a gun, a very special gun, indeed. It was made by a Samuel Colt, not that Colt I discovered, just someone with the same name, on the night of the comet and is very much one of a kind. I want it."
He was pacing with his back turned to Dean. "I believe your father will be the first to find it. When that happens I want you to bring the gun to me. That is all. I will reward you handsomely for this, you can have her if she survives that long."
"What, why?" Dean was sure it wasn't just the drug that the groundskeeper had slipped him that made his tongue trip.
"I am old," he said, although he didn't look to be more than in his mid forties, "and I have nearly unlimited wealth. I own a very large conglomerate and I like to own things. I have museums to hold my art. I have zoos and rescue centers for my animals. Now I am collecting the preternatural. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, "you look at things that are and say `why', I look at things that never were and say `why not'?"
Dean made a move as if to scratch at his neck, at the thong he wore there, but instead he grabbed George by the forearm and threw him at the collector. George was terrified at his sudden take off and in his panic started clawing at his owner. In the confusion Dean pulled the screwdriver he had taken earlier from his jacket pocket and slammed it into the glass nearest him, the window that held what the Collector had called the Harpy.
Joyous at the prospect of being free it started shrieking and flapping its great wings. "No, you fool!" The collector said throwing George to the side. "She'll kill us all."
Dean didn't care, he pushed the screwdriver into the seam of the glass as tight as he could watching as it started to crack and shatter. The great bird dove at the glass and it exploded outwards. It had no interest in Dean, for now, but instead attacked the Collector, knocking over the dog carrier and freeing the animal inside. He took the empty case and shattered it against the glass of the vardoulacha's cage, trying not to hear the terrible wet ripping sound. Then the mermaid's, and finally the angel's.
He heard the framed poetry hit the ground, the wet gurgling, and then the harpy turned its amber gaze to him. Its pointed tongue flickering out to lick its face. From the corner George launched itself at its face, the harpy just threw him hard against the wall, he hit with a terrible crunch before sliding down the wall in a greasy smear. The mermaid was shrieking - so high pitched that Dean couldn't hear it, just see its mouth, like that of a giant eel, open, with its rows of sharp jagged teeth. The last glass shattered and the room was full of light.
She stood there, glorious and incandescent. Everything was gone except for her, and the water that lapped around her ankles. She stepped forward and picked up George's little broken body and breathed into him. He lifted his face and looked at her, and bowed his little dragon head. "Fly free, little brother," she said and her hair was no longer lank, but fell in perfect ringlets about her lovely head, haloed as she was with holiness. "Go with God." She stepped through the water, as if it wasn't there. It didn't even wet the hem of her perfect white dress. "Thank you, Dean Winchester, beloved" she said, "and know that I am with thee." She cupped her hands about his face and kissed his forehead. "I shall teach thee all of the songs of all of the creatures of this Earth. I shall teach thee where man stands, between angels and insects. I shall teach thee wonders and I shall never abandon thee. Thou hast, despite warning, done unto me a great boon. Though thou dost not see me, do not doubt that I am with me. I shall set me as a seal upon thine heart, and as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. I shall be thine forever, and thou belongeth also unto me. Close thine eyes, beloved, for never doubt that I love thee."
Enthralled by her, overwhelmed by her, ensorcelled by her - he obeyed and felt the soft press of her bee stung mouth upon his own.
He woke up in the car, head wedged into an uncomfortable position and the mp3 player as blank as he had left it the day before. He opened his journal and he had, at some point doodled what might have been a dragon but apart from the strange dream where the angel had named itself there was nothing.
"Okay," he said, stretching out his muscles and slipping the book into his glove box. "That is seriously the last time I have Thai green curry before I go to bed." He put the key in the ignition, changed the cd in the player, and put the car in drive.
Dean wasn't sure, when he started driving- head full of fog and questions- whether or not the whole debacle with the Collector had even happened or if he hadn't just had a really bad pepper before bed and dreamed the whole thing. He gave the car its head, like it was a horse that needed the freedom, and just drove, Live's "Secret Samadhi" album blaring from the open windows and the engine roaring.
He raised his voice to sing along with "Turn my head" and let the act carry him out of Colorado and into Nevada, taking the occasional handful of the dried banana chips. One more night and he'd be in California, by early afternoon he'd hit Jericho and collect his father's car, trading it for his silver Toyota, because he had loved that car- even when he downright hated his dad. He'd sell the Toyota to the first dealer that wanted it and then put the money aside for Sammy's wedding fund.
When his dad was in the asylum the car always found its way back to Bobby's, Singer Auto Salvage had a parking space just special for John Winchester's 1967 Impala. Dean and Bobby would spend happy hours, with Sam sprawled over the broken porch swing perched on a mound of tires with a book in his hands, adjusting the engine. Dean's earliest memories were of the car. Perhaps that was why his father had registered it in his name. Or perhaps it was just easier for him, meaning the car wasn't registered to him meant he wouldn't get pulled over so often.
Dean had rebuilt the car after John had wrapped it around a tree. He had come out of the hospital, promising to take his medicine this time, not to stop, just because he felt better, but then put the keys in the engine and just gone.
Dean told himself that he had only missed the car.
She was walking along the side of the road, thumb held out almost as an afterthought. She had that nova bright suicide blonde hair and he knew it was Ilsa. He just knew. There was a large truck behind him, he could give her a lift, Dean thought, he could deal with her special brand of creepy. But there was no guarantee that the other driver wouldn't rape and murder her. She wasn't dangerous, Dean thought, just creepy. If he gave her a lift to the nearest town he could slip her some money for the bus and the problem was solved. He wouldn't have her on his conscience when she turned up in the local news.
He cursed himself even as he pulled over, "do you even know just how dangerous this is?" he said.
"Mein Retter," she said with a lipstick greasy grin that made his blood run cold and showed just too many teeth. "I was not expecting you again, are you offering me a ride?"
"Sure," she reached in and popped the tab to open the door and then slid in, throwing her pack on the back seat. "Where you going this time, just west or do you have a destination this time?"
"Not far." She said. "There is a cat-house on the border with California," she told him, "I am going there."
Dean was not so provincial that he didn't know what a cat-house was, he just wondered if she did. "A Cat-house?"
"Ja, I love die Katze," she gave him that smile that was just too much teeth, "I could gobble them all up." Deciding her business was none of his he didn't disillusion her. She tilted her sunglasses to show him a flash of her eyes, heavily made up but far too pale. "It is just south of Silverpeak, just off the six. You follow the signs to Tonopah and then go through, it is signposted. There is an army base nearby." Her accent seemed thicker. "It should not be too far off your course if you do not mind."
"What the hell," Dean told her, "it aint that far out of my way."
Nevada was one of the few states in America with legalised prostitution, girls could ply their trade as long as it was in registered Cat-houses. This one had the charming name of The Buckin' Bronco. Dean was quite happy to just open the door and let her go, but Ilsa had other plans. "You must come in," she said, "I must thank you, you have been most kind."
"I'm good," he protested.
"One drink, perhaps, something to eat. My treat." Her grin got no more inviting even as she tilted herself to show the cleft between her breasts and the flash of her bra. "You have been so kind to me, I would repay the favour, if you do not mind, you are, after all, mein Retter." He didn't know the word.
"One drink," he agreed, "and soda, I'm driving, I can make it over the border tonight."
Her grin, if such was possible, seemed to grow larger, a joker rictus of blood red lipstick and ashy grey skin with far too many teeth for comfort. Every instinct in his body screamed at him to run, but it was just one drink, one soda. The top of his arm burned like someone had pressed a flaming brand to the skin there.
Everything would be fine.
That was his first mistake.
Ilsa left him at the bar with a twenty dollar bill and told him to get anything he wanted.. She'd be back soon, afterall, he was her "Retter" and she owed him. She had taken his chin into her hand, which was so much stronger than it looked, and told him he was beautiful. That he shone. His skin crawled to get away from her, but he ignored it. She was just some creepy lady who had been on the road too long, he thought. He'd wait, he thought, finish his drink, let her know that he was going. He'd give her an hour. The juke box was playing "Run, baby run," Dean noticed, and he was half sure he should take the singer's advice. He didn't.
That was his second mistake.
When the screaming started, as the ice clinked in the reasonably empty glass he ran towards it. After all he was a paramedic. The woman stumbled out of the private hallway, hand to her throat and blood everywhere. "Fuck," Dean muttered thinking she had gotten a bad trick.
That was his third mistake.
He tried to staunch the blood with a bar towel but it was too late. She died looking up at him with surprise and sadness. He closed her eyes and hollered for help. It was then that the bartender appeared and then ran back to the bar to make the 911 call. Then Ilsa came. She was covered in blood and from her boot she pulled a knife and threw it at the barkeeper, killing him and ending the emergency call he was making. It didn't sound like it was for the police. "Oh, mein herz," she said looking at Dean. She was as covered in blood as he was. "I hoped, I dared not hope, but look at you, so beautiful. You are like me." Dean stumbled back away from her.
"What the fuck are you?" he asked, transfixed and horrified, up against the wall and for sure this was it. That he was going to die.
Ilsa used the pad of her thumb to collect the blood caught at the corner of the mouth, before popping it between her lips. "I thought by now, mein kleiner Held, that that would be perfectly obvious, for after all, if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, then surely it's a mother," she licked the blood from her fingers, one by one "fucking," she pulled the last of her fingers from her mouth with an obscene pop "duck." She took a step towards him, her cowboy boots slipping in the blood on the floor from the girl Dean had tried to save. She tilted her head. "You are not like me. That is bedauerlich. I was so sure. Ah, mein kleines Entlein, you will understand so quickly. You will be schön, you will be mein schöner Todt. It only hurts at first."
From the side a woman barrelled into Ilsa as hard as she could, using leverage and a run up to throw her through the window. The new comer wore a green mini kimono with sleeves that dragged the floor and a white fox mask. Her hair, which was black, was fastened in two thick tails but her golden eyes reminded him of the fox in the dream. She grabbed Dean's hand and ran for the manager's office.
Inside she barricaded the door and pressed a cell phone into his hand. Then she removed a panel from the wall revealing a small enclave, it was only large enough for one person. She pressed the forehead of her mask against his face and then shoved him into the gap, closing it behind him and he heard her drag a piece of furniture over it. He didn't know why she had saved him but he was grateful.
In the dark as he rocked, using the cell's screen for light he heard her calling, "Mein Entlein, wo bist du? Ich werde Dich finden, kleines Entlein. Komme her zu mir, mein süsses Entchen. Die Hexe will Dich haben. Komm heraus, komm heraus, von wo auch immer du dich versteckst!" He could hear Sheryl Crow singing "Run, baby, run, baby, run, baby, run." And then the light came.
The doctor met the young man at the entrance to the asylum. "Mr Winchester," he said outstretching his hand to shake. "Thank you so much for coming. As you can imagine this is," he stopped, "well, it's,"
"Sam, please," the young man corrected him. "Where is my brother?"
"We have him in protective custody here in the hospital," the doctor said, "we can talk as we walk over there. He," the doctor stopped, "There is no easy way to say this, your brother had what we call a complete psychotic break. In many ways this is not as final as it sounds, with treatment and medication Dean will be completely normal in time. He is not, in any way a danger to himself or others, and so we will, in the next few weeks be happy to release him to his family."
The young man nodded. "That is good to know."
"As far as we can tell," the doctor continued, "using his journal, the mp3 recordings he sent you and his own testimony Dean started to break before he left Bristol, perhaps as early as two weeks ago, probably when his girlfriend, Cassie, died in that car accident when he was driving. This is fortunate for us as it means the delusions haven't had too long to settle in. He had absolutely no idea that there was a problem, only thinking that really weird things were happening around him. His journal talks about speaking corpses, dreams of angels, dragons, harpies and all sorts of horrors." The doctor stopped at a glass window where overlooking where Dean was sat on the grass picking up insects and holding them to his ear, one by one.
"I'm sure you heard about the "Bucking Bronco" massacre. Dean is the only survivor, we found him hidden in one of the walls. He says a vampire did it. He said he was saved by a woman of whom we found no trace." The young man scoffed. "Although he was covered in blood the evidence suggested that he had tried to save one of the employees there rather than hurt anyone. Whoever did it used a knife, so the police are not looking for Count Dracula." The young man smiled, all teeth and cold eyes. "We have also contacted Mr Singer, who was listed as his next of kin, and informed him of what happened. We will need to keep Dean with us for a while, and hope that he has more information about what happened there that night. He doesn't know we've contacted you, we are trying to keep him calm."
"What's he doing?" the young man asked looking at Dean's fascination with the insects.
"He is listening to them." The doctor said, "Apparently he can hear them singing. It can take several weeks for the medication to kick in, such strange behaviour will pass." He carried on past the window. "Of course we will need some family participation. I understand, from Dean, that your father also had a mental condition, the more information about that we could get the better."
"Sure." the young man told him. "anything for Dean."
On the grass Dean looked at the brick building and the doctor and the blonde man who stood framed in the window. "They can't see you, can they, Cas?" he asked the angel who sat so eloquently on the lawn beside him.
"No, beloved." And he smiled.
Brady walked out of the hospital and rolled his shoulders before joining Sam in the car. Sam looked tired and wan since the fire. "How is he, your friend, I mean?" Sam asked. Dear sweet, Sam, so trusting.
"He's not doing well, its' the best place for him, really." Brady answered. "He didn't recognise me."
"That's terrible," Sam told him and put his hand on Brady's arm.
"Yeah, are you up to the drive to Jericho? I mean, it's still so soon."
"Someone's going to have to pick up Dad's car if Dean's not going to." Sam told him. "I just don't know why he hasn't gotten in touch. I think if I sit still too long I'll start thinking about Jess and the fire and then it will be me you're visiting in there."
Brady offered Sam his most understanding expression, these human facial expressions still new to him after only three years. "Dean's mourning, he probably doesn't want to mess you up with his grief as well as his own. You know your brother, he always has you first in his heart."
"Yeah," Sam agreed. "Do you mind if I try to call him again, I mean I know everything was lost in the fire, but..."
Brady handed him his cell knowing Dean wouldn't answer. "Knock yourself out."