This is my attempt at writing in First Person Present Tense. Not my comfort zone, but fun to attempt something new.
Sam's 10, Dean's 14
Sam shuffles from foot to foot, big eyes expectant and taking in every detail. It's an easy hunt, Sam's second, more of a training exercise really.
I'm bored, ready to get on with it, find whatever is keeping the spirit here and take care of it, but Dad's on one knee beside Sam, guiding him through what he needs to look out for.
The meat packing plant is old, depilated and abandoned, built into the side of a hill, overgrown with brush. Dad unfolds the copy of the blueprints, going over each room. He skims over the long freezer room where the bodies were discovered, hanging on large hooks like slabs of beef. Those have been long removed—Dad wouldn't bring Sammy if they weren't—and salt and burned, yet something was definitely keeping the crazy butcher's spirit around. It wasn't his bones. Those had been cremated.
Whatever it is, it's the perfect puzzle to teach Sam how to sift through clues on his feet.
"We could start in the butchering hall." Sam touches the lines of one of the largest rooms. "Maybe he's attached to a favorite cleaver or something."
"That's good thinking." John folds the paper and puts it in his shirt pocket. "We'll start there." He stands, scooping up the crow bar from the ground. "You boys have your iron?"
I nod, lifting the chain cutters and Sammy shows Dad his battered, mostly crooked nine-iron. His lips are tight and serious, yet I can feel the excitement pouring off of him.
I suppress a grin. You'd think we were hunting something cool like a werewolf, not some lame ghost that hadn't killed anyone for years.
"Salt?" Dad's head is cocked, one eyebrow raised.
Sam nods vigorously and pulls his little pouch of rock salt from his pocket.
"Keep it open and in your hand," Dad cautions.
"Yessir," Me and Sam say at the same time and I catch Sam slide a glance my way.
I roll my eyes though I can't blame the kid for wanting to be like me.
"All right then." Dad flips his penlight on. "Let's do this. Which way, Sammy?"
Sam beams. "The side doors." He glances sidewise at me for confirmation.
I nod and Sam's lips twitch, pleased. "It's the closest to the hall where they carved the meat." He looks to Dad this time and I'm suddenly uneasy, images of a butcher with a cleaver in his mitts.
Dad adjusts the blade on his belt. "Sounds like the best place to start. Let's go. Keep sharp, boys."
Dad takes point while I naturally move to the rear, keeping Sammy between us. His young shoulders bunch and he grips his rusty golf club tight. He glances back and I see nervousness in the way his eyes dart around, though whether he's afraid of the hunt or disappointing Dad I'm not sure.
I give him a reassuring grin before moving past him to Dad who waits at the chained door. My chain cutters make easy work of that and we move inside and down the hallway into the carving room. It reeks of old meat. You'd think the stench would be gone by now, but I guess it soaked into the walls.
Our boots and Sam's sneakers slap on the cement floor. Dad's flashlight beam passes over dusty tables covered with brown stains. Old brown blood also forms splatter marks all over the floor.
I pull my own flashlight out and switch it on. There's not much in here—tables mostly, some plastic wrapping, and butcher paper. No meat cleavers or any abandoned tools and I can't help but feel a little relief about that.
"Sam, you're with me," Dad says, and guides the kid around the room, pointing out every crack something could have been stashed into, and any blood stain that doesn't fit the pattern of beef guts hitting the floor, which is a joke 'cause nothing is in here. It's a dead end. I can feel it.
It's out there. I move back into the hallway and icy prickles crawl along my spine.
I raise the bolt cutters. They're a little wieldy, but old school, made of iron. I poke my head back in the room. "Dad."
Both Dad's and Sam's heads swivel up. I blow out a breath and they see it fog in the cold air. We're not alone.
Dad nods, and shifts imperceptibly in front of Sam.
I step back into the corridor, eyes peeled, senses on alert and wait for Dad and Sam to join me.
"See anything?" Dad's presence fills the doorframe. He has one hand behind him, fingers tucked into the shoulder seam of Sammy's T-shirt.
We shine our lights into the hallway, waiting. After it appears the butcher is a no show, Dad moves out, pulling Sam in front of him between us.
"Okay, where to now, Sam?"
Sam stares, mesmerized by the cloud of cold air, emphasizing Dad's question. He knows it identifies the proximity of a spirit, but he's never seen it before.
"Sam?" I nudge him before Dad grows impatient.
Sam blinks. "Uh, the storage freezer?"
I jolt, uncertain why. The freezer is empty, we already know this, but for some reason I don't want Sammy going in there. I expect Dad to pick up on the same eerie vibe, but he nods to Sam and we head off.
I'm spooked by shadows now. A swaying branch scratches against glass and I flinch. Jumpy. Scowling, I tamp the feeling down, get my head in the game.
Maybe it's me not ready for my ten-year-old brother to go on hunts. I get Dad wanting him to be prepared, not vulnerable due to ignorance—I do too—but he's just a kid.
We come to the freezer and stop outside the large open door.
The power's off, plant hasn't been used in years so it shouldn't be this cold, but it's freezing inside. Sam wedges in between us. "Could he be attached to those?" His words trail fog.
Our light plays over the large hooks hanging from the low ceiling, still and rusted, except the last time they were used it wasn't to store slabs of beef. The ghost of Butcher Crazy slammed several people onto the hooks, piercing right down their spines and left them there to marinate.
I'm rarely squeamish, yet bile floods my throat and my eyes dart to the corner in case I hurl, but I don't go there. I tamp everything down. Shut everything down. I blame the smell. Old rotting meat odor permeates the entire building.
"It's possible," Dad says coolly, with no indication that anything's out of the ordinary. It must just be me. "However…"
Sam's brows draw down low enough to be seen beneath his long bangs. I can practically hear the gears in his brain screeching. "These were installed a couple of years after the original murders. After they thought there wouldn't be any more, until the last batch a few years ago." Atta boy, he was working through all the information we'd gathered. He sounds so much like Dad that I stare at him.
"So it couldn't be these." Sam's features sink. "Then what are we missing?"
Which is the question stumping even Dad, because we are missing something. The place was wiped clean. I bristle at the way Sam's eyes lower. Kid tries hard to please Dad. He shouldn't be expected to figure something out that me and Dad haven't been able to.
I go to say something, but stop. Dad studies Sam with more than training in his gaze. There's a cautious hope. Dad really believes that Sam will be able to pick up on something that neither of us can see.
I stare at Dad as he watches Sam and understand. He's hard on Sam. Hell, he's hard on me. But now I glimpse his confidence. He trusts that we can do this job. I also see a little bit of worry that maybe we can't.
Sam's lips purse tight. His gaze hits the floor. His shoulders pull in as he thinks.
We wait. Patient. Anxiety pulls off Dad like perspiration, but he remains still.
Finally Sam lifts his face, uncertainty shimmers as shiny specks in his dark eyes. "This place is built in the side of a hill, right?" He wants to get this right so bad it tears an ache in my belly.
The creases leave Dad's face as he considers.
Sam rushes on. "And there wasn't electricity. When it was first built, I mean."
Dad's countenance lifts, completely transforming him. He smiles, nodding, getting where Sammy's going, though I admit, I haven't caught on yet.
"Before electricity, before freezers, any meat would have been stored below ground." Dad cups a hand over Sam's shoulder and the kid melts under the unspoken praise.
I think of the blueprints. "There isn't a basement."
Dad rubs his jaw, sending the beam of his penlight arcing across the ceiling and the hooks. "Could be an old cellar, not on the blueprints. All right, boys, look for anything that might indicate a door in the floor or a stairwell."
We search the old plant. It's mostly empty so it doesn't take long, then we go outside to look for an outdoor entrance. Dad finds the old wooden door at the side of the hill, overgrown with brush.
It takes a few moments to clear it before we climb down old wooden steps that creak and groan under our weight. Dad goes first, carefully testing each plank. Only one cracks under foot and Sam and I step over it.
The air is musty with mold and age. My throat closes against the dirt coating the air. And the smell. Like something more than cattle crawled in and died down here.
The cellar is as big as the rooms upstairs, though far older. Our lights play over dirt floors, walls also hewn out of the hill and then covered roughly over with flaking cement.
There's a few rooms. The first is empty. The door is missing from the second room and we freeze at the opening.
Oh God. My heart drops. It's the earliest cold room, complete with hanging hooks. Except… bodies hang from these hooks, pierced through their spines, clothes rotting off decomposed shrunken corpses. The cops never found these victims.
I hear a soft gasp. Shit. Sammy. He was never meant to see this. He's sandwiched between me and Dad, peering through the bent vee of my elbow. His eyes are huge and frightened.
I whirl, bringing Sam with me away from that entrance. I crouch in front of him and take his arms. Shock slackens his features.
Dammit, he's only ten. "Hey, you okay?" I ask lamely, not really knowing what else to say. I can't make him un-see it.
Sam nods. His chin quivers. As far as I'm concerned, this training exercise is over.
Dad's palm comes down. Wide and scarred fingers curl over Sam's small knob of a shoulder. "I'm sorry, sport. I didn't expect there'd be others."
Sam and I both look up. Dad's features are tight.
"Do you… Are they…" Sam's eyes track toward the cold room. "Are they what's keeping the ghost here?"
My heart breaks a little at how Sam pulls it together. I'm proud too, but I bleed for every piece of innocence he loses over this life. Lost smiles replaced by a solemnness that shouldn't be there.
Dad squeezes his shoulder, his way of tossing out pride and affection, and we scramble for it like ducks pecking up bread. "Could be. Could be something else." Dad steers Sam away from the cold room and I'm glad for that.
"But you don't think so," I say, going along with Dad's attempt to get Sam focused on the job instead of hanging corpses.
Sam's brows scrunch tight. "What about whatever made those holes?"
"Holes?" Dad and I stop. Our eyes meet before shifting back to Sam. "What holes?" we say in tandem.
"In the…" He points back toward the cold room, though he doesn't finish.
"On it." I swivel on my heel, and head back. Sure enough, every one of the corpses has a pair of one-inch holes in their sides, tearing through clothing and what's left of their dried flesh. In-and-out holes, like something pierced through and then out the other side.
I go back and report.
"Good eye, Sammy." Dad seems pleased and we move off down the hall. Hopefully there won't be any more gruesome surprises. I take point just in case.
"What do you think made them?" I ask. Our footsteps thud along the hard packed dirt floor.
"The holes?" Dad's in the rear so I can't see him, though I imagine the thoughtful creases bending his forehead. "Could be anything. A lance or stick. Better question is why?"
"I think Sam's right. Whatever made them could be the thing we're looking for." I stop and aim my flashlight into a room to our left, casting the beam over earth-carved walls and nothing else. Sam presses nearly up against my back. His breath tickles the back of my arm. "The thing that's keeping our ghostie around."
Dad nods. "Keep an eye out for anything with a half-inch or more diameter."
That's our cue to head on. The air grows cooler, if that's possible. I wish I'd worn my jacket, but it was warm outside. We come to another room, also empty, but I have a weird vibe and step inside. The temperature drops substantially.
"What do you got?" Dad pushes into the room beside me, peering about and a fissure of pride swells my lungs that Dad takes my instincts into consideration.
I sweep the flashlight beam across the empty space. "I don't know…something…"
Dad lifts his hand back, fingers splayed. "Sammy, stay in the hall."
"Yes, sir." His voice sounds as small as he is, a slight shadow dwarfed in the wide doorframe.
This room's walls are braced in weathered, buckled and warped plywood. Anything can be hidden behind them. Dad and I make quick work of prying the boards away, finding mostly packed dirt walls behind, until…
"Bingo," Dad says and drops a plank to the ground, revealing a gaping darkness beyond.
Moving to his side, I push the flashlight in the hole between planks, casting about. It's a small room, about four by four, crammed with old watches, a woman's shoe, jewelry, wallets, trinkets of forgotten lives. Whatever is anchoring the butcher's ghost has to be among those scattered items.
I meet Dad's eyes. Showtime. This is about the time the nasties make an appearance to stop us. By nonverbal agreement, I brace the bolt cutters in my grip, on guard, while Dad places the end of the crow bar between the remaining boards. Adrenaline kicks in. This is it. He pulls the board off the wall and stills. Our eyes meet again, before tracking about the room, expectant. I look at Sammy, still in the doorframe, fingers tight around his misshapen golf club. I want him over here, near, but I also want him there out of the way when the angry ghost makes his appearance.
Nothing happens. Dad must be right. This will be an easy case. Burn whatever's in this hidey-hole and get out of here.
Dad positions the crow bar beneath the next board and we hear a faint gasp.
At first I think it's the creak of the plywood until Dad's head whips toward the door.
I jerk my head that way too.
Sam's still there, looking down at his side. The curved end of one of those rusted hanging meat hooks is pushing out from his bunched T-shirt. Behind him, the chain on the other end of the hook is stretched tight.
I blink, unable to make sense of what I'm seeing.
And Sam is jerked backwards off his feet into the hallway.
Dad and I both shout. I'm not sure who's saying what, and we race toward that door.
I'm out first, ready to kill, ready to grab Sam, but there's nothing there.
There's freaking nothing there.
Panic crashes through my muscles, dulling my reactions. I stand there in disbelief.
Dad latchs onto my shoulder, hauling me with him. "We know where he'll take him!"
The cold room.
Hot blood rushes into my veins, snapping me out of it. The cold room is only down the hall. We sprint toward it, heels sliding across the dirt floor as we turn into the room.
They're not there.
The corpses hanging on the hooks sway as though a wind has recently blown through.
"Upstairs!" Dad and I both call out and rush through the basement, up the rotting stairs and out into the warm autumn air. It's dark now, but we know the way.
We scrabble up the incline, practically on hands and knees in our desperation to get back into the main floor of that packing plant. Heedless of our sown safety, we slam through the main door.
Sam's screaming. Relief that he's close and alive battles my fear. It pulsates through me, pumping my heart and legs. I run faster down the hallway than I've ever raced. Dad's inches behind, his breaths heaving out in loud bursts. The bent golf club spins on the floor as though just dropped.
I bank hard, skidding sharply into the freezer.
The largest ghost I've ever seen holds Sam high, about to slam my brother's spine down onto one of the hanging hooks. The kid's fighting for all he's worth, kicking, goughing at the butcher's eyes.
The butcher's meaty arms flex, lift fractionally higher…
Dad doesn't hesitate.
He flings the crow bar across the room. It slices above the top of Sam's head, ruffling hair, and catches the chain, sending the hook swinging.
Sam crashes down onto empty air.
I'm moving. I don't know how, working on pure adrenaline and anger. The bolt cutters are in my hands, stabbing through the ghost. My momentum carries me through him as well, while he disperses like cold mist across my skin.
Sam's on the floor, screaming. He's pulling out the hook in his side. He's going to tear himself up.
I fly at him, grab his hands. "No, Sam. Stop!"
He doesn't see me. "Out! Out! Get it out!" Tears pour down his face. His hands are strong, scrabbling beneath mine.
Doors slam, reverberating from the long hallway. Lock down. We're trapped in here until we end this butcher.
Dad's arms close around Sam from behind. Big hands fold over thin wrists. Sam appears even smaller, engulfed within the circle of Dad's body. Dad's stubble-dark cheek presses against Sam's sweaty temple. "We're going to get it out. Sam! Calm down. We're going to get it."
In full-blown panic, Sam keeps fighting, keeps pulling at the hook beneath our blood-slick hands. I hold and he pulls. I know we are causing damage. "Sam, stop it," I cry. "We'll get it."
His feet scrape the floor. "Now! I want it out now!"
"Okay," Dad grounds out. His features are tight, gray in the creases. "Right now. Let me get it. Right now, son."
It's the first I can tell we've gotten through to him. His hands still beneath mine.
My gaze snaps to Dad. We both know removing the hook now, here, is not a good idea.
"You have my word," Dad says, so that's it.
Sam stills completely, except for the ragged gasps expanding and collapsing his chest. He lets me pull his hands away and Dad's hands immediately replaces ours over the embedded hook and torn bleeding flesh.
"Dean," he says. "Keep an eye out."
I shift to my knees and upend my salt pouch in a tight circle around Dad and Sam. I wish I had enough to make it thicker, although that won't make any difference. I retrieve the crow bar Dad threw and stand guard above them.
Sam makes awful hissing noises. His heels ground across the floor, disrupting the salt line. I don't tell him to stop, not while Dad pulls an eight-inch curved hook out of his side.
I look down just as the hook and chain disintegrate from Dad's hands as though they never existed. Damn ghost things.
Sam's right. That hook, the real one, is what's keeping the butcher here.
Sam's face is pressed hard into Dad's chest. His entire body is trembling. Dad's hands are pressed over the wound, red seeping between each finger.
That's the easiest order to follow. I put the crow bar down and sit in front of them and Dad leans Sam over to me. Sam clutches on, fingers digging into my shirt.
In minutes, dad has his outer shirt off and I'm pressing it into Sam's side. Dad realigns the salt circle around us and hands me his salt pouch and places the crow bar within my reach.
"You know what to."
I nod. Keep the damn spirit away from Sammy.
Dad smiles tightly, scoops up the bolt cutters and is gone.
Not two seconds later, sicko butcher reappears, bringing a buzz of energy with him.
Sam's fingers flinch in my T-shirt.
The butcher launches his hook at us, but it disappears the moment it sails over the salt line and reappears as it swings back. Persistent, the ghost rams us himself and disappears. He's back in moments, glaring at us, the hook swinging from his fist.
Sam looks over my shoulder with wide eyes.
"Don't look at him," I coax. I'd turn his head, but my hands are pressing Dad's wadded shirt against the still weeping puncture wounds.
Sam doesn't look away. "I wish we could shoot it."
That's my bro. Scared shitless and hurt, but head's still in the game. "Me too. Bam, he's gone."
"Wh-why don't bullets work?"
"Too small? Too fast?" Hunters hadn't figured that one out yet.
Sam finally tucks his head in. "Wish we had salt bullets."
I smile. "Or how 'bout sling-shots?" I look over my shoulder at the scowling spirit. "Ka-pow, you're dead."
Sammy snorts. He's not shaking as bad. "He's already dead."
"Soon to be dead dead."
"But Dean." His voice drops to a whisper. "What's Dad gonna do? The hook is in the basement and we're locked in up here. So is Dad."
"Dad will get it. If he has to punch a hole between floors, he'll get it."
Sam looks up at me, gauging my confidence. I grin for him, then feel it slide from my face as I get a good look at his eyes. They're glassy and unfocused. Overly bright against his paling skin.
"Hey." I nudge him with my shoulder. "How do you feel?"
His lips hitch into a pout. "How do you feel?"
"No, really. Tell me."
Tiny lines pucker his forehead as though I asked him something hard. "Weird?"
Alarms clang across my scalp. "Weird how?"
"I don't know, Dean. Weird. Leave me alone about it."
Whiny and pissy equals really hurting and scared about himself, but trying to cover. Dad better hurry.
"Okay. That tells me nothing. You're always weird."
Sam huffs. He lowers the top of his head to rest against my collarbone. Outside the salt circle, the ghost crouches down to our level, peering at us inches away.
I glare right back, anger pounding at my temples. Sick bag of pus hurt my brother, tried to skewer him. "You know you're ended, right?"
Sam's head moves along my chest. He faces the ghost and a tremor rolls through him. "Make it go away," he slurs, which shoots anxiety up my spine for altogether different reasons.
I could get rid of the ghost for a second. The iron crow bar is right here, but as long as the vengeful spirit is here, staring at us, Dad's clear to torch the hook.
"Naw, we want to see when this monster goes up in flames, don't we Sammy?"
Sam lifts his face to mine, questioning. I see the moment he gets it and he turns toward the ghost head-on. "Yes." His chin trembles. "We want to see that."
I've never felt so proud.
The ghost growls, feints toward us and we both flinch back.
Sam doesn't look away, though he shakes so hard I feel it through my bones.
Several more minutes pass with the ghost just sitting there close, glaring. It's unnerving. And not the usual modus operandi . They normally go after whoever is closest to ending them, which in this case is Dad. Unless Dad isn't any closer to finding the hook.
A few more minutes pass. Sam's shaking subsides and his head is heavier against me.
I hitch my shoulder forward to nudge him again. "No sleeping, Sam. I need you alert." And not passing out from blood loss.
He mumbles and does not lift his head. I'm worried. Dad's taking too long.
I frown at the butcher. What is his deal? He's no longer glaring. His eyes are fixed on Sam's limp arm. I follow his gaze down where Sam's lax fingers sit in the line of salt. One startled flinch and the line will be broken.
"No," I say and let go of the wadded shirt to pull Sam's arm closer.
Sam jerks. His leg kicks out across the salt and I fly backwards.
The butcher is in my face, lifting me high by my collar. I kick. I yell. I stab my thumbs in his face. A hook's going to stab up my back any moment.
Sam's screaming. He runs through the ghost with the crow bar, pushing him back, pulling me with him and the spirit erupts.
I fall flat on my back. Air pummels out of my lungs. Black spots dot the air. I can't breathe. Something squirms under my legs, pushing them off. Sam.
"Dean," he wheezes. His face comes into my line of sight, stained with worry. "Dean!" He curls over his side. He drags the crow bar with him across the floor.
Droplets like rain fall over my chest. He dumps the last of his salt over me and claps his palms around my cheeks. They're cold and bloody.
"Dean, get up."
I try. I really try, but I can't drag any oxygen back into my lungs. It's like they're stuck.
"Dean." Sam's crying.
I redouble my efforts and heave. It feels like a Mack truck runs over me, all sixteen tires, but at the end of the ordeal, I can breathe. The black dots are bigger, my vision hazy, but my lungs expand.
Sam's looking down at me, his face pinched, and suddenly his head jerks up and he shouts.
The butcher's in my peripheral. I grunt, using everything I have to twist around. I'm not fast enough.
Sam's wrenched away, tossed in the air. I hear an awful thud.
Butcher's over me, raising the hook and chain to swing.
He erupts in shrieks and blue flame.
The air is unnaturally still.
I flop onto my stomach, uncoordinated. The room does a counter-clockwise rotation around me. Fireworks explode across my brain.
I squeeze my eyes to focus, to find Sam. I hear him wheezing. The room finally rights itself and I see my brother, close, on his side, face against the wall.
Footsteps echo, getting louder. "Sam! Dean!"
Dad's boots skid to my side, then his knees as he crouches. "Dean?"
"I'm okay," I heave. "Just…wind knocked out of me. Sam—"
Dad's gone, already over to Sam.
On hands and knees, I steady myself, pulling in deep breaths, and watch as Dad scoops Sam up in his arms and whisks him away.
By the time Dad comes back for me, I'm steadier and have made it to the door. With his help, I make it to the car without any more dizziness. Sam's curled up in the back seat with every blanket we own around him.
"I want you in the back, keeping pressure on those punctures," Dad orders, as though I would have done anything else.
I slide in next to Sam and he immediately turns to rest against me. His face is wet and scared. He knows this is hospital bad.
Dad fills us in on our cover story, a simple fall on a pitchfork hidden in an overgrown field we played ball in, then we all go quiet, until dad pulls into the Emergency bay and runs for help.
Sam lifts pleading eyes to me. "I don't want to do this."
"Hospital?" I squeeze his arm. "No one does. But they have the good stuff. You'll feel better and as soon as we're home, we'll make sling-shots."
"No," he whispers like he's about to spill his worse sin. "Hunting. I don't want to do this."
My throat clogs. I don't know what to say because right now with bleeding holes in my little brother, I don't want him hunting either. Not yet. Tonight scared me.
His eyes are bright, penetrating. He waits for me to say something, but the moment's gone. The back doors jerk open and people in scrubs are reaching in.
But it turns out this hunt must have scared Dad too, because it's a long time before we take Sammy out on any more hunts.