"So what's a shtriga?" Sam asked as they got in the car. They had just left the Tarnowers house and were now in search of a hotel to stay the night.
"It's kind of like a witch, I think," Dean answered. "I don't know much about 'em."
"Well, I've never heard of it, and it's not in Dad's journal."
"Dad hunted one in Fort Douglas, Wisconsin, about sixteen or seventeen years ago. You were there. You don't remember?"
Sam shook his head. He would've been only about five or six if Dean had the time line right, and Dean would've only been about ten.
"I guess he caught wind that the thing is in Fitchburg now and he kicked us the coordinates."
"So wait," Sam started. "This . . ."
"Shtriga," Dean supplied.
"Right. You think it's the same one Dad hunted before?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"But if Dad went after it, why is it still breathing air?"
John Winchester was not known for giving up on a hunt. He had been on the same hunt for the last twenty-two years, actually, so John was nothing if not persistent.
"It got away," Dean said simply, but Sam heard the evasiveness in his brother's voice. He wasn't telling them everything. "It happens, Sammy."
"Not very often," Sam said, shaking his head.
"Well, I don't know what to tell you. I mean, maybe Dad didn't have his wheaties that morning."
Dean looked at the girl in the backseat as he pulled into one of the hotels on the main street in town.
"This one okay?" he asked.
Sam had noticed they weren't staying in rooms that were as trashy as they used to. The rooms actually looked like they had recently been cleaned.
"This is good," Alyson said. "I'm just glad we didn't get caught for breaking and entering in broad daylight."
Dean grinned. "See, Sammy. At least someone's thankful for the little things in life."
Sam scoffed as the car was put in park. Dean was evading and changing the subject, which meant he definitely knew something he wasn't saying.
"What else do you remember?" Sam pushed.
"Nothin'. I was a kid, a'right?" Dean sounded a little annoyed. He got out of the car and walked into the office by himself.
"Why do I feel like it's much more complicated than that?" Alyson said.
"Because with Dean it usually is," Sam said.
They watched as Dean rang the bell in the counter inside the hotel. A young boy, probably about twelve, came out from a back room. He said something to Dean and then looked down but was smiling when he looked back up. He was probably giving Dean a hard time.
A woman, probably the boy's mother, went into the office and the boy went back to the room he'd previously been in.
A few minutes later, Dean came back out with a key.
"I call first shower," he said, leading them to the room.
Sam rolled his eyes while Alyson just shrugged.
"Don't use all the hot water," Sam said.
Alyson was sitting by Sam on one of the beds in the motel room Dean had paid for, while Sam was going through a few paranormal websites. He'd asked if she wanted to help, but she had turned him down. They didn't have time to mess around. They were on a clock with these children and it would take longer if she was the one doing the research.
She was watching Sam closely, though, and ringing in whenever she had an idea he hadn't come up with already.
"Have you found anything yet?"
"No. Just a bunch of stuff about witches in general."
"Try cross-referencing witches with mysterious illnesses or child illnesses."
Sam typed what she said in the search box and a bunch of websites came up. They needed to narrow it down.
"It'd be nice if we knew the origin of the thing," Sam said. "Which country it started in."
The shower cut off and about fifteen seconds later Dean walked out of the bathroom. He was wrapped in a towel that hung tightly from his waist.
Alyson felt heat make its way up her neck only to settle in her cheeks. She wasn't used to guys running around half naked. She actually wasn't used to guys, period.
"Dean, you might wanna take your clothes with you next time," Sam said
"What?" Dean asked, sounding distracted.
Alyson looked up and saw Dean was digging through his bag, probably for clothes. Dean's eyes locked with her for a few seconds and he looked like he finally got what Sam was talking about.
"Sorry." He sounded like he meant it so she nodded, accepting his apology. Dean got his clothes from his bag and went back into the bathroom.
"It was probably just out of habit," Sam said gently. "He'll get used to you being here."
Alyson smiled at him slightly. "It's okay. We all have things to get used to."
Sam accepted that and went back to researching. She moved closer to him so she could read off the computer screen.
When Dean next walked out of the bathroom he was fully dressed. His brother and their new traveling companion, whom he had just embarrassed, were on the bed still staring intently at the computer screen.
"So did you find anything?" Dean asked as if nothing had happened.
"Yeah," Alyson said. She smiled his way, forgiveness on her face, and he gave her a small grin.
"Well, you were right," Sam said. "It wasn't easy to find, but you were right. A shtriga is a kind of witch. They're Albanian, but legends about 'em date back to ancient Rome. They feed off of spiritus vetae."
Alyson giggled and he eyed her suspiciously. What was funny? Maybe she was another brain and thought it was funny he didn't know all the stuff that came naturally to people like Sam.
Sam seemed amused but answered Dean anyway. "Vitae. It's Latin. It translates to breath of life. Kind of like your life force or essence."
"Didn't the doctor say the kids' bodies were wearin' out?"
Sam nodded. "It's a thought. You know, she takes your vitality, maybe your immunity goes to Hell, and pneumonia takes hold. Anyway, Shtrigas can feed off of anyone, but they prefer -"
"Children," Dean finished.
Dean dug his dad's journal out of his bag and opened it to the last page that had writing on it. Their dad had left it for them, so Dean had periodically added things to it when he and Sam came across something not written about by their dad.
"Probably because they have a stronger life force," Alyson said. "Or at least more of it."
"And get this," Sam said, looking at the web page. "Shtrigas are invulnerable to all weapons devised by God and man."
"No, that's not right. She's vulnerable when she feeds," Dean countered. "If you catch her when she's eating, you can blast her with consecrated wrought iron. Buckshot or rounds, I think."
"How do you know that?" Sam asked.
"Dad told me. I remember."
Dean busied himself with making coffee, but he could still feel Sam's eyes on him. Obviously Sam knew Dean was holding something back.
"So, uh, anything else Dad might have mentioned?"
"No, that's it."
"Okay," Sam said. "So assuming we can kill it when it eats, we've still gotta find the thing first, which isn't gonna be a cakewalk. Shtrigas take on a human disguise."
"What kind of disguise?"
"Historically, something innocuous – it could be anything. But it's usually a feeble old woman. Which may be how the witches-as-old-crones legend got started."
"An old woman?"
Dean grabbed a map of the town out of his bag – he and Sam always got a map of the town they went to. It helped them find things easier and they could keep notes on it if need be.
"Check this out," he said as he spread the map out on the one table that the room held. "I marked down all the addresses of the victims. Now these are the houses that have been hit so far. And dead center?"
"The hospital," Sam and Alyson said.
Dean nodded. "When we were there, I saw a patient – an old woman."
"An old woman, huh?" Sam scoffed. "In the hospital? Whew, better call the coast guard."
Sam turned away from the map and from Dean, laughing as he did it.
"She had an inverted cross hangin' from her wall."
Sam stopped laughing instantly and turned back around.
"That's what you were looking at earlier when you stopped," Alyson said. "We have to go back there."
Dean nodded. They did need to go back. If that old lady was the thing they were looking for, they needed to stop her as quickly as possible.
The closer Alyson got to the pediatrics ward, the worse she felt. It started as shakiness and quickly turned into nausea and shortness of breath.
"You're not gonna hurl, are ya?" Dean asked from beside her.
"No, Dean. At least not until I get back in your car."
"Hey. Don't talk about my car like that. You'll walk back to the motel."
"Yeah, but you'd just walk back with me since you don't want to leave me alone."
Dean stuck his tongue out at her and it struck her how much of a kid he was. She shook her head but wasn't really annoyed. She thought it was cute.
"Are you two finished? Or do you wanna talk some more so we can get caught?" Sam asked, seemingly caught between annoyance and amusement.
"Don't look at me," Alyson said. "Dean started it."
"Hey, I was just expressing my concern," Dean replied. "I mean, you look like you're about to empty your stomach all over the place and I'd like to be somewhere else when that happens."
"If it happens. Which it's not going to."
Sam rolled his eyes and turned to walk away. "Oh, children, behave."
She grinned and when she looked at him, she noticed he was grinning too. Their playful banter, however, was over.
When they reached the end of the hallway, they had to stop because there were voices coming from the next hallway over.
"Good night, Dr. Hydecker," a woman said from around the corner.
"See you tomorrow, Betty. Try to get some sleep."
Sam, Dean, and Alyson turned away from the voices and they made themselves look busy until Dr. Hydecker walked by them. He didn't notice them and she was relieved. She didn't feel like having to make up a lie for why they were there so late. They weren't really from the CDC and she didn't know that the CDC would have a legitimate reason to be there so late even if they were who they were pretending to be.
The longer they stood there waiting for the doctor and nurse to leave, the worse Alyson began to feel. She felt like she was going to pass out.
Dean lightly tapped her on her arm and mouthed "Are you okay?" when she looked at him.
"I'm okay," she mouthed back.
She was dizzy. Not as dizzy as she'd been when it had happened earlier, but still . . . She didn't like it. It wasn't normal. She'd never been the overly sensitive type. She usually didn't let nerves get to her. She hated hospitals, true, but her body had never reacted like this just because she'd been in a hospital. Something else was wrong, it had to be.
Like last time, she focused on matching her breathing with Dean's and it worked this time as well.
"Okay, let's go."
Dean hesitated, but then nodded. "Come on, and stay behind us."
"Really not an issue. You two are the ones with the weapons and all."
Dean led Sam and Alyson to the room he'd stopped at earlier. The door was closed now whereas it had been open earlier – probably due to some lights out thing.
Dean got his gun out of his jacket pocket and gestured for Sam to open the door. All three of them walked into the room and Alyson closed the door quietly; it barely even clicked.
There was an old woman sitting on a wheelchair in the middle of the room. She wasn't moving – she didn't even seem to be breathing, but she had to be or there would've been doctors and nurses flooding the room by now.
Dean walked closer to the woman, but Sam stayed behind with Alyson. Sam pulled the gun out of the waistband of his jeans. The woman still wasn't moving even though there were three new people in her room. Maybe she couldn't hear properly?
Dean was pretty much nose-to-nose with the woman when she said, "Who are you? Who's there?"
All three jumped, but Dean fell back against the wall and forced himself not to pull the trigger his finger had been tightening around.
"You tryin' to steal my stuff?" the woman asked. "They're always stealing around here!"
Sam turned the light on and Dean saw that he hadn't been the only one frightened. Both Sam and Alyson were breathing heavily, and Alyson had her hand over her heart.
"No, Ma'am. We're maintenance. We're sorry. We thought you were sleepin'."
Dean ran a hand over his face trying to calm himself down. The woman really knew the meaning of the word 'surprise'.
"Oh, nonsense," the woman said. "I was sleepin' with my peepers open? And fix that crucifix, would you. I'm asked four times already."
Dean put it the way it was meant to be. The old broad wasn't evil, apparently, but that didn't mean there wasn't something evil in this hospital.
Dean put his gun back in his jacket pocket and Sam put his back in his jeans.
He decided it was time to leave after that embarrassing mishap.
When Alyson and the hunters got to the car, Sam started smiling.
"I was sleepin' with my peepers open?" Sam laughed and Alyson joined in.
"I almost smoked that old gal, I swear," Dean said, but it sounded like he was trying to keep from smiling. "It's not funny."
"Oh, man, you should've seen your face, Dean."
Sam was still laughing, but Alyson could tell something was bothering Dean, so she stopped. By that time, all three of them were situated in the car, so Dean started her up.
"Hey, are you feeling better?" Dean asked.
"Yeah, definitely better."
"You get like that every time you go into a hospital?"
"No. Maybe it's because I know how bad off these kids are. Anyway, I feel completely okay now."
Alyson did feel completely fine since she wasn't in the hospital anymore. She just didn't understand what was going on with her body. It was having random freak outs and she didn't know why. Which wasn't good at all. If she didn't know why she was having mini panic attacks, she couldn't stop them. If she couldn't stop them, they would soon become a liability. She would become a liability.
As it was, she wasn't able to contribute much anyway because she had no clue how to be a hunter. She didn't even know how to shoot a gun.
As if that wasn't enough, now her body was doing things she didn't want it to do.
Alyson's eyes popped open and she hurriedly sat up. She looked around the semi-dark room – the room could only get but so dark with the neon lights flashing outside.
Neon lights? She definitely wasn't home. She didn't have a home anymore. Not really. She wasn't at home and the demon wasn't attacking her, and her mom's death was not her fault.
She pushed her hands through her hair, her fingers catching on tangles that had been made from tossing and turning.
It was barely four in the morning and she knew she wouldn't be going back to sleep. This was going to be a fun day.
Noise came from the bathroom and light poured from underneath the door. Sam was missing from the other bed so she assumed that meant he was the one in the bathroom.
Sam walked out of the bathroom quietly but stopped short when he saw Alyson sitting up.
"Did I wake you?"
"Yeah, I guess."
Truth be told, she was starting to feel shaky again. A cold chill went down her back and she shivered. She assumed the dream had caused her nerves to act up again.
"Do you wanna talk about it?"
"I just had a nightmare."
"Oh. Your mom." Sam frowned. "Do you wanna try to go back to sleep."
"I won't be able to."
"You wanna watch TV?"
"Sure." She grinned slightly at the awkwardness that was her and Sam. He probably wasn't used to trying to figure out how to best comfort a teenage girl, and he wasn't used to a man trying to comfort her.
Sam handed her the remote and she scooted over so Sam would have enough room on her bed to sit. She thought about throwing something at Dean to wake him up but then thought better of it. If Sam was going to stay up with her to comfort her, they would need Dean to be well-rested and level-headed.
After failing to find something on TV, Sam suggested they go outside. Maybe the fresh air would do them both some good. There was a café across the street, and Sam wanted coffee, so he began walking that way.
He and Dean were used to drinking a lot of coffee. He needed it to wake up in the morning – or in this case he would need it to stay awake.
Sam ordered something for Dean and himself while Alyson ordered a French Vanilla cappuccino. Apparently she needed sugar and caffeine.
"So I know why I woke up so early," Alyson started, grabbing her cup from the counter, "but why were you awake?"
"I woke up for the same reason you did."
"Nightmare," she said. "You have nightmares often?"
Sam pointedly did not look at her. She seemed sincere enough in her concern over his nightmares, but this was a touchy subject for him. He hadn't always had nightmares even though no one would've been able to blame him if he had – just look at the life he lived. The nightmares had started a little less than a year ago and he had ignored them until the crazy night Dean had come back in his life.
"The thing that killed your mom – that killed my mom – it killed my girlfriend too."
"Oh. Wow. Recently?"
"About eight months ago," he responded.
"I'm sorry for bringing it up."
"It's okay." Sam took a deep breath and sighed. "That's the main reason I'm here now."
"I thought it was because you were trying to find your dad."
"That's part of it. My dad knows more about this thing than me and Dean. In order to find this thing and kill it, I have to find my dad first."
It wouldn't be too far a stretch to say that he was obsessed with finding Jessica's killer. He needed to find that demon. He couldn't think about anything else.
"I was in college," he said. "I was going to be a lawyer."
Alyson snorted. "A lawyer?"
"Nothing. I just can't see you being a lawyer. You're too honest, for one."
Sam smiled tentatively. "Thanks, I think." He was choosing to take it as a compliment. "Anyway, I took time off after Jessica died."
"You wanna go back?"
"I do. I miss my friends. I miss being even remotely normal."
Alyson didn't say anything, but Sam chalked it up to them having made their way back to their room. When they went in Sam saw Dean was already awake and alert.
At least one of them would be useful today.
Around nine o'clock Dean led the way out of the room so they could get ready to find a restaurant for breakfast. The young boy who had given Dean a hard time the night before was sitting outside on a bench.
Dean remembered the guy's mom had called him Michael. He also remembered that Michael had had a smart mouth. He wasn't being smart now. In fact, the poor guy looked devastated.
"Come on," Dean said to the others and began to lead them over to the boy.
The closer he got to Michael, the easier it became to see that Michael had been crying.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Dean asked, crouching down in front of the boy.
"My brother's sick."
"The little guy?"
Dean had found out the night before that Michael had a little brother. Michael had been caring for him when Dean had gone into the office area to check in.
"Pneumonia," Michael said. "He's in the hospital. It's my fault."
"Oh, come on. How?" Dean asked.
"I should've made sure the window was latched. He wouldn't have gotten pneumonia if the window had been latched."
An open window? Coincidence? Dean didn't believe in coincidence. He began to wonder how many of the patients had parents thinking their children were sick because of an open window.
"Listen to me. I can promise you that this is not your fault, okay?"
"It's my job to look out for him," Michael countered, shaking his head.
Dean understood the responsibility that having a younger sibling brought onto someone's shoulders. When something happened to Sam, Dean always felt responsible. Michael felt responsible for his brother's sickness.
Michael's mom came outside with her arms full of blankets and a pillow. She was frantically telling Michael what to do. Turn the No Vacancy sign on because she was going to be gone for the night. Don't mess with any of the rooms or guests.
"I'm going with you," Michael said and walked toward his mom and her car.
She put the things she had in her arms into the backseat and turned back around. "Not now, Michael."
"But I gotta see Asher!"
Dean stepped forward and put a hand on Michael's shoulder. "Hey, Michael. I know how you feel, okay? I'm a big brother too, but you gotta go easy on your mom right now. Okay?"
Michael nodded, and his mom shut the back car door only to drop her purse. Sam picked it up and handed it to her. Dean could tell by the way she was acting that Michael's mom shouldn't be behind the wheel of a vehicle.
"Hey, listen, you're in no condition to drive. Why don't you let me give you a lift to the hospital, huh?" Dean figured he would end up at the hospital later, anyway, so he may as well get this woman there safely while he was at it.
Before Dean left the parking lot – in fact, before he'd even gotten in the car – he told Sam, "We're gonna kill this thing. I want it dead, do you hear me?"
"So does every case hit Dean this hard?" Alyson asked.
"No. I think it's just because this thing is messing with kids."
"Oh. Well, yeah, that's bothering me too." Alyson looked at Sam. "What happens now?"
"Well, library. We need to find a newspaper that covers the state of Wisconsin or at least check the newspapers in the surrounding towns."
About ten minutes later, Sam pulled up in front of a two-story brick building. The library wasn't huge, but it was average size for a small town. It had a quiet room that had computers in it. Well, they weren't really computers – it was more of a monitor that didn't have a keyboard. It was loaded with newspaper articles.
They had only been searching for a few minutes when Sam found what they needed. More information on the patterns of the Shtriga. He got his cell phone out and dialed Dean's number. You weren't actually supposed to use a cell phone in the library, but Alyson didn't say anything. Considering she had already broken into someone's house, this was just a minor offense.
"Hey, how's the kid?" Sam asked.
She looked at Sam, who shook his head. She took that as not good and turned her attention back to the monitor. Sam went on to explain to Dean what they had found. They had started the search from the date Dean had given them earlier, the one from when their Dad had been there. Every fifteen to twenty years, the shtriga seemed to hit a new town. In all the other places, it went on for months and went through dozens of kids before everything just went back to normal. The kids would languish in comas until they eventually died.
In other words, this shtriga had just begun in Fitchburg.
All the cases they had found had happened in Wisconsin; it made Alyson wonder if this was the same one – the location fit, and if this thing went into hibernation or whatever it would need to be close to its lair.
Alyson pulled up one of the articles Sam had found and read the title: Doctors Battle Mysterious Ailment. It was dated from the 1890s, and there was a picture beside the article of a group of doctors crowded around a patient's bed. Hydecker was there. Wow. He was extremely well-preserved.
"Sam, I think I found the shtriga."
Sam turned to her and she pointed to the picture. She saw him check the date and watched as his eyes widened.
"Dean . . . it's the doctor."
Sam hung up and grabbed Alyson's arm. She assumed that meant they were done there.