Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing in the sandbox.
A/N: This chapter takes place in Season 2 between 'Heart' and 'Folsom Prison Blues' and can be read as a one-shot, short-story ghost hunt. Think of it as part one or the prequel to the full story. The story is posting in two parts – the first being this chapter, and the second being multi-chaptered. I will not begin posting part 2 until it is fully written.
Background/Inspiration: This story was inspired by an Animal Planet series known as Fatal Attractions – for those who aren't AP junkies like myself, this show is about the psychology behind people who seek ownership over exotic, dangerous animals and how their obsessions ultimately lead to their downfall – and Bela's conversation with Dean in 'Bad Day at Black Rock.'
"I procure unique items for a select clientele…"
Ratings/Warnings: Due mostly to Dean's mouth, this chapter is rated T. Overall, this chapter is pretty light-hearted and does work as a one-shot, so please enjoy it for what it is. It is likely that future chapters will be rated M for language and some controversial subject matter – it will get dark, so please check the warnings on following chapters to make sure it is content you are comfortable reading.
Special THANK YOU to Beaignu for assisting as my beta.
*** SPN SPN SPN SPN ***
Chapter One: The Screaming Skull
Spring 2007; Near Baker City, Oregon
A soft grip on his left shoulder shook Sam from his nap. He blinked sleepily, not quite ready to move his head away from the cool glass of the window.
"Up and at 'em, Princess. We're almost there." Dean's over-enthusiastic tone was irritating to Sam's half asleep mind, and he scowled in response to the insult, not bothering with a retort.
Sam straightened out from his curled position against the door and glanced at the scenery flashing by the passenger side of the Impala. The sight greeting him was a marbled mosaic of green hues painted by the thick covering of ponderosa pines blanketing the Elkhorn Mountain Range. Low stratus clouds hung heavy over the trees and weaved around the hills and mountain peaks. The atmosphere was still overcast and dreary, but at least the drizzle had stopped since they drove across the state line five hours ago.
Dean grabbed the creased map from the middle seat and pressed it against the steering wheel. The Impala's speed slowed as he kept a sharp lookout for a dirt lane at the right side of the road. The pavement curved left, and the underbrush crowding the roadside cleared to reveal a dirt path. It appeared so suddenly that Dean would have completely missed the turn had he been going faster. Even at his current speed, he had to brake hard.
Sam braced a hand against the dash as the abrupt stop jerked him forward. They were cautioned that the drive would not have any markers, but he had expected something to be there — a small mailbox or post at the least, but there really was no warning. The surrounding forest crept right up to the narrow dirt path and tree limbs criss-crossed above, blocking out much of the light and creating a claustrophobic, uneasy ambiance.
A good mile or so down the drive, the wooded area opened to a large expanse of clean-cut lawn with neatly trimmed hedges defining the lane. The Impala passed between two broad ornamental brick pillars, and the front of a large Victorian mansion appeared.
Dean pulled around the circle drive and parked to the right of the large double-door entrance while Sam leaned forward to survey the high bay and dormer windows dotting the second story between tall and widely-spaced turrets. The architecture of the old building was quite impressive — the brick and stone walls had clearly survived several generations without any exterior renovations. The entry was a concrete slab with a large, foreboding stone gargoyle placed on each side of the wide doorway.
"Shall we?" Dean cocked his head to the side, motioning toward the door. The Impala rocked as they each stepped out, and Dean slammed his door shut. Sam stayed still for a moment, scrutinizing the house and grounds. He shot Dean a skeptical look over the roof of the car as he closed his door.
"Are you sure about this Dean? Something feels off about this place." Sam stated, warily eying the grounds.
"You're kidding, right? We risk our lives hunting scary shit on a daily basis for nothing, and you want to back out on a job with a paycheck?" He replied, staring back at his brother incredulously.
"I don't know, man…" Sam shrugged and looked from Dean to the ominous dark wooden doors, "It's just a bad feeling, in my gut."
"Well tell your gut to grow a pair. It's a poltergeist — a simple salt and burn or house cleansing. We'll be up five grand by the end of the day."
Dean ignored Sam's sour gaze and continued to the doors. Despite his growing trepidation, Sam followed after his brother, hoping this job would be over as quick as Dean seemed to think.
Dean was about to rap his knuckles on the door when the heavy wood creaked and swung back, creating a gap of a few inches. A shadowed figure tall enough to look down on Sam appeared in the entry way.
"Names?" The voice was deep and nasally.
"Uh… Dean and Sam Winchester. We called yesterday. About the want-ad." Dean answered calmly, but kept his right hand resting against the grip of a Desert Eagle .44 tucked in the back waistband of his jeans.
There was a short pause before the door swung back the rest of the way. The man motioned the boys in with his long, thick arm and held the door while they entered. Sam watched the man warily — not only was he several inches taller, he was also a lot bulkier than either of the brothers. A tattoo inched it's way up the side of the man's neck, barely visible on his dark skin. His somber eyes watched the the boys intently.
"You got a name or should we just go with tall, dark, and Lurch-like?" Dean remarked.
Tattoo-guy closed the door behind them. Without the fresh mountain air, a musty smell settled heavily on the foyer along with an unsettling gloom. The tall man huffed at Dean's comment, "Max."
Sam glanced around in the dim light. A spiraled staircase looped up to the second floor, and there were three shadowed halls spaced around them leading off to different wings. In the low lighting, it was difficult to see details; but there were outlines of various paintings and sculptures spaced out along the walls. Sam jumped slightly when a throaty cough pulled him from his observations.
"This way." Max commented and started down a hall to their left. Sam quickly caught up to Dean and they followed the man through the shadows.
*** SPN SPN SPN SPN ***
Dr. Lucas Pryor scrutinized the two boys from across his work desk as he tapped the eraser end of a #2 pencil against the oak surface. He was not quite sure what to make of the two boys, both slouched slightly in his cushiony leather chairs. The one to his right had an aggressive, annoying air of confidence and wore a grungy leather jacket, giving him the appearance of a biker punk. The other kid looked like a college drop-out with his shaggy brown locks and worn Stanford hoodie, but there was something incredibly trustworthy about him. The doctor was curious about the pair but maintained his cold stare. He was polar opposite of both boys with his neatly trimmed blonde hair and pressed suit – all business in his seriously set jaw line. After a few minutes, he broke the silence. "So you… gentlemen, hunt ghosts?"
"Yes sir," the cocky one answered, "and anything else that goes bump in the night. We're the real Ghostbusters – minus the tacky, cream-colored jumpsuits, of course." Dean's grin was not matched by the man across the desk.
"Clearly." Was the dry response from Dr. Pryor, his blue eyes narrowed slightly. "It would seem uniforms are out of the question."
Dean bristled, ready to retort the insinuating comment, but a hand pressing against his shoulder stopped him as Sam jumped into the conversation.
"Look," Sam started, "I know we probably aren't what you pictured when you requested professional assistance in your ad, but we know what we're doing." Feeling Dean relax, Sam moved his arm back to rest against the side of the chair as he leaned forward. "We can handle this quickly and without unwanted attention from neighbors or media." Based on the secrecy and sparse information provided in the ad, Sam guessed that the wealthy man was trying to avoid any public interest.
"I do value my privacy." Dr. Pryor nodded in agreement and was impressed this kid could read him so well. Having initially brushed the two boys off as drifters when they first appeared in his office and dropped into his expensive furniture, he now found himself somewhat intrigued. After a moment, he continued, "Well, I've got no references for either of you, and prior to handing out a large sum of cash for this job, I do feel an interview is appropriate."
Sam nodded; the request was uncommon in their line of work, but not unreasonable. He glanced at Dean, whose slack-jawed look was priceless – his brother had never seriously interviewed for anything in his life. Dean recovered from his momentary surprise and refuted, "You know Doc, in our line of work, we don't really do caring and sharing. In fact, you're probably better off not knowing our history."
"Dean," Sam hissed and shifted his long leg over to mash his heel into the top of Dean's boot. Dean cringed at the unexpected contact and locked indignant eyes with Sam as he finished, "you were the one who insisted we take this job. Just shut up and cooperate."
Dr. Pryor chuckled at the interaction, causing both boys to focus on him for the moment. He maintained a professional appearance but some of the steel had left his eyes. "My apologies, gentlemen, it would seem I just experienced a moment of déjà vu. My ex and I used to bicker in a similar fashion. Forgive me if this is too forward, but how long have the two of you been together?"
Dean balked at the inquiry. Sam leaned back in the chair with an embarrassed grin accented by the redness on his cheeks. Why was that always the assumption? Dean recovered first and growled, "Since Sam was born."
"Oh… OH, I'm sorry. I just thought, well, you two were a couple – like more than just a work partnership." Dr. Pryor rushed his words, but his eyes were looking intently at Sam, surveying his response. Sam shrunk further down in the seat and fidgeted uncomfortably under the older man's gaze. An interestingly shaped stain on the beige carpet had captured his focus, giving him a reason not to lock eyes with the doctor.
"We're brothers." Dean clarified, also uncomfortable with the Doc's attention fixated on Sam. There was something deeply predatory about the intense look that gave Dean a demanding urge to just scrap this job and walk out now.
"My apologies." Lucas leaned forward and turned a frame on his desk in the boys' direction. "This is Benjamin. When we were together we would bicker, and the moment just took me back. Some days I really miss him." The doctor admitted, his secretive demeanor temporarily lifted.
Sam and Dean both leaned forward a bit to get a clear look at the photo. It featured a more youthful Dr. Pryor and a younger man, probably in his early twenties, arms locked together with genuine smiles. Dean arched an eyebrow at Ben's features. Although younger, he was a bit taller than the Doc and had feathery light brown hair. His physical features and bone structure actually held a strong resemblance to Sam. Dean glanced back at his brother and knew by Sam's expression and slightly widened eyes that he had made the same connection.
"So, um," Sam cleared his throat, "you guys look so happy. What happened to Ben?"
"That, Samuel, is not a topic I am comfortable with." He turned the photo back toward his side of the desk. "Besides, this is your interview." He leaned back and resumed tapping his pencil - business only countenance back in place. "What got you in to this line of work?"
"That, Lucas, is not a topic we are comfortable with." Dean shot back, annoyed by this whole conversation and the false pleasantries. They were here to do a job, get paid, and put this place in their rearview.
"Dean." Sam scolded sharply and turned back to the doctor. "Forgive my brother, but it's a touchy subject for us. Our dad started hunting the supernatural when we were really young, so we've trained for this type of work our entire lives. This is pretty much all we do."
Dr. Pryor could feel the honesty behind Sam's words, but there was also a deep sadness in his hazel eyes. As much as Luke wanted to pry, he held his tongue on the subject and went with another question. "So how do you make a living in this business? I don't really see much profit in it."
Sam smirked, "Well, we usually don't get paid for the work we do. We just look for patterns in newspapers, online… when we see something unexplainable and violent, we investigate and stop it." Sam shrugged and slouched. "I suppose the reward is knowing that we save people. It doesn't have a monetary value. Paid jobs like this are rare for us, but every little bit of income helps."
Luke took a brief glance at Dean. The older boy was definitely on the defensive, sitting back with his arms crossed over his chest, and the scowl painting his face was clearly directed at his brother for revealing even that small bit of their lives to a stranger. Dean's sharp green eyes moved to meet the doctor's, and Luke quickly turned his attention back to Sam.
Dean watched Dr. Pryor as the older man smiled toward his brother. Dean found himself imagining fangs in the wolfish grin and how fitting it would be if the Doc was the supernatural thing needing to be killed.
"Alright," Lucas conceded, satisfied with the small amount of background he'd obtained. "Let's talk business." He slid his thin reading glasses on and looked down to the paperwork in front of him. "Here are the logs for items that have recently come into my possession. I think it's likely that the odd activity is tied up with one of them."
Sam shuffled through the thin stack of ledgers, skimming through the descriptions of each purchase. Not only was each appraisal for a high-valued antique, but all of them were associated with a variety of supernatural legends and lore. Sam handed the papers over to Dean and looked up to the doctor, a deep-seated confusion in his eyes. "Why would you have all these items? Based on their similarities, I'm sure you are aware of their evil and dangerous reputations."
"I collect all kinds of occult items – have for years – and these are my most recent artifacts. I placed them in the East Wing a couple weeks ago, and the God-awful racket hasn't ceased since."
"You mean there is more of this stuff? Some of these items are inherently evil. You understand that, right?" Sam prodded, trying to understand why someone would want any of these distasteful objects in their home.
"I always take all the proper precautions before bringing them into the house. I've read up on their histories fully and use binding sigils and lock boxes on the more dangerous pieces. Whatever has been stirred up in that room, had to have come in with the eight items in my last shipment. There were no problems prior to their arrival."
Sam slouched back in his chair, trying to grasp his head around the concept of collecting evil. It was then that he noticed the doctor's gaze roving over him again, and he shifted uncomfortably in response.
"You really should sit up straight, Sam." Dr. Pryor stated with a slight smile, an odd brightness in his blue eyes.
"Hey Doc," Dean interrupted, drawing the man's focus in his direction, "these items aren't anything to play around with, precautions or not. I think the safest solution would be to salt and burn the entire collection – maybe even the house."
The doctor looked aggravated and insulted by Dean's suggestion as he shot up from his chair. "How dare you make such an outlandish suggestion. Willpower is key. Doesn't matter how dangerous, any power can be contained through strict discipline and control." Dr. Pryor took a deep breath and set down the two halves of pencil he had snapped during his brief tirade. "I'm paying you to take care of the issue, not to torch everything I own."
There was an intense moment of silence. The soft ticking of a wall clock seemed to increase in volume as the second hand hit each increment.
"So um, Dr. Pryor. What sort of activity has been happening?" Sam asked, breaking the tension — always the peacekeeper. "Maybe we can narrow down which item is causing the disturbance. Once that object is removed, you shouldn't have anymore issues."
"Well, it's mostly the noise. Screaming and moaning at various hours. I can hear it in every room of the house. When I enter the East Wing, sometimes the wall decorations will rattle and electric items switch on and off frequently..."
"Okay, so based on the profile for these artifacts, I'm going to guess it's probably the skull." Sam reasoned and pulled that ledger out of the stack. "There are legends surrounding screaming skulls, most of which come out of England. This skull happens to be from Agnes Hall in Yorkshire which fits the profile. The activity you described can be typical of most angry spirits, but few of them are able to vocalize. The skulls supposedly 'scream' because they have been moved from their designated or preferred resting place... usually without the rest of the body."
"So let me guess." Dean jumped in, leaning forward and speaking directly to Sam. "Doctor do-good over here probably disturbed the remains when he decided to add the skull to his collection. Now our options are either to take the skull back to its resting place or salt and burn it."
"If a salt and burn will even work." Sam followed. "We wouldn't have access to the full corpse to put the spirit to rest. We might just end up creating a flaming, screaming skull." Dean chuckled and Dr. Pryor rolled his eyes. "Ideally, you may just want to fly this back to Agnes Hall – hopefully get a refund from the seller."
"Don't think that will be possible. Most of these transactions are nonrefundable and one of a kind. I really don't want to part with any of them."
"Well, then you will just have to find a way to live with the screaming." Came Dean's snarky reply. "I suggest headphones." He stretched, placing both hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair.
"I don't appreciate your tone, young man. If that's the best solution you can come up with, we can just forget our business arrangement, and you can be on your way." The doctor ran a hand through his short straight hair, frustrated by the opposition Dean was giving him. He walked over to the window and stared out at the landscape a moment before turning back. "I'm a psychologist. I spend most of my office hours in an asylum where shrieking, screaming, moans, and groans fill the halls. When I'm at home, I need absolute silence. That skull wasn't cheap either, so I don't find plotting for its destruction amusing." His accusing tone was directed at Dean.
"Well," Sam interjected. "We could try a lock box. Maybe if we can get some sound proof material, we could contain both the power and the noise."
Dr. Pryor looked back to Sam and smiled genuinely. "I like your thinking, Sam. Let's go with that option. I've got some sound proof glass casing — might be a little large, but it should work nicely. I will have Max bring it up from storage, and then we can head over to the East Wing."
*** SPN SPN SPN SPN ***
After a quick stop at the Impala for supplies — a couple sawed-offs, some iron and rock-salt rounds, holy bottled water, and a silver bullet on the off chance Dean's wolfy suspicions about the doctor were on target — the boys found themselves in a musty hallway looking at a large, dark paneled door.
"As a security precaution," Dr. Pryor began, "this entrance is the only access to the East Wing. The interior is completely cut off from the rest of the manor. Prior to starting my collection, I had envisioned a large library so the space is completely open with shelves and display cases lining the walls. There is a curved stairway to allow access to the upper balcony and the lower level. As I stated earlier, the artifacts within this wing are extremely valuable, so I will be cutting any unnecessary damages from your pay." He finished sternly and looked pointedly at Dean.
Dean responded with a cheeky look of innocence, already planning to use the loosest possible meaning of necessary. He was ready to begin the job and even more ready to be done, so they could put this place and the all too creepy doctor in the past. "So, I take it you won't be tagging along?"
"No, there are other… activities I must attend to; and the last few times I entered the room, I noticed this particular spirit does have some violent tendencies. Besides, I'm paying you to take care of this, so I would expect you to be professional and handle it without constant supervision."
Sam anticipated a sarcastic remark from his brother and jumped in to respond. "Don't worry, we'll take care of this quickly."
Dr. Pryor was quiet for a moment, casting an appraising look over Sam and a distasteful glance at Dean, before he nodded and turned to leave.
Dean growled slightly at the retreating form and looked at his brother while turning to open the door. "Violent tendencies, huh. Would have been nice if he'd mentioned that earlier." The heavy door groaned open as the boys let themselves in as quietly as possible and quickly closed it. Everything was still.
Sam looked beyond Dean as they entered the massive room and let out a deep breath. Although the center area was open, the outer walls were packed with all kinds of relics. It was comparable to stepping into the page of a 'Where's Waldo' book. "Would have been nice if he had told us where the skull is."
Dean had wandered several feet ahead and his mind was also working to take in the unfamiliar setting. Having fought the supernatural on a nearly daily basis for most of his life, Dean wasn't rattled by much anymore; but he found himself momentarily overwhelmed by the quantity of deadly objects surrounding him and Sam. He sensed his little brother moving toward him and mumbled, "You were right Sammy, this place... that guy, just creepy."
"Now who needs to grow a pair?" Sam earned himself an elbow in the gut from Dean. "Jerk." He snipped.
"Shut up, Bitch. Let's just do this and get the Hell out of Dodge." As Dean's sight moved toward the stairs, he noticed a tall, empty glass case that had been hefted up onto a sturdy table. Attached to one pane was a white sheet of paper labeled 'Screaming Skull' in thick black letters. "I suppose that's where he wants it. Now, where is that creepy dead thing?"
Sam lifted his sawed-off slightly, anticipating some form of spirit activity as he and his brother advanced toward the displays. Nothing happened.
They both approached a bookshelf full of trinkets. Although the electrical light source to the room was off, the massive picture windows lining the the south and east walls, provided plenty of light for them to make out the objects. Most were jewelry — pendants and lockets, earrings, bracelets, and rings — and there were also several stones and small animal parts, some attached to key rings. Unfortunately, no skull.
Wanting to be done quickly, Dean gestured at Sam to head left as he started moving toward the table on his right. The idea being to split up and survey the exterior of the room faster.
Sam complied and moved to a table covered with daggers and smaller blades, some of which had been encased in glass with binding sigils etched into the panes. A rapier at the back immediately captured his attention. It looked to be made of crystal and seemed to pulsate with a blue glow. He was suddenly disappointed that they wouldn't be able to spend much time here — the immeasurable amount of knowledge they could gain from these items would be extremely beneficial to the hunting community.
Dean was circling around quickly, not giving a second glance to anything that wasn't white and melon-sized. The quietness of the room was almost alarming and the absence of an EMF meter wasn't helping his nerves — although, odds were it wouldn't be able to differentiate the activity from just one object in a room full of spiritually charged items.
It took close to an hour to sort through all the bookshelves, tables, displays, and shadowed corners before the main level had been covered. Sam had found nothing resembling human bones and arrived back at the main door. On the other side of the door was just a short distance of empty space leading to the stairway. He turned to head toward his brother, who appeared to be almost done on the other side.
"No luck on this side, Dean. Although, your idea to burn this wing to the ground wasn't so bad. Some of the stuff he's got on these shelves could kill instantly given an opportune moment." He stated loudly in Dean's direction. "Shouldn't we have experienced some kind of activity by now?"
Sam could see the slight shake of his brother's head indicating he hadn't found anything either. As Sam walked across the center of the floor, movement caught the bottom corner of his eye and he stopped suddenly. An eerie feeling of being watched settled over him. He stared curiously at the floor and wondered what sort of material would give it the appearance of a swirling black abyss. He didn't see any further movement.
He started walking again and jerked still when another dark flash moved beneath him. "Hey Dean… I think there's something moving in the floor."
Dean, who had pulled his flashlight out earlier in the search, turned and aimed the beam at the floor near Sam's feet. The surface had a reflectiveness to it and the black color was pressed against the clear material coating the floor, but there was no movement. Dean raised an eyebrow, "Sure you're not imagining things, Samantha?"
Sam scowled at his brother and looked back down to his feet, hoping the ghostly shadow would pass again, but still nothing. With an anxious sigh, he continued toward his brother.
Dean found himself bored by the museum-like atmosphere and quietness stifling the room; he was really hoping to find the skull soon. He turned back to the bookshelf he was perusing and a mischievous grin appeared on his face when he noticed what was on the next table.
"I seem to have had some luck – not a skull, but we got tunes." Dean called and reached over to click on an old transistor radio.
"Dean! What are you doing? Anything in here could be cursed." Sam snapped at his brother's lack of cautiousness.
There was a little static before the auto-tuning grabbed a station. I always feel like somebody's watching me...
"And I have no privacy o-u-ohoh. I always feel like somebody's watching me." Dean faltered in his sing-along upon seeing the incredulous look Sam was giving him. "What? Nothing wrong with a little Rockwell."
"Seriously?" Sam hissed.
"Shh. You hear that?" Both boys stood still. Very quiet, but increasing in volume was a moaning that didn't fall in line with music. "Ha! Guess our skull enjoys insurance commercials."
Moments later, the moan exploded into a cry that had both Winchesters jamming their hands against their ears. Unexpectedly, a conjured wind swept up and pulled in from the outer circle of the room. The wind swirled into a cyclone at the center of the wing, picking up loose papers and other light weight objects.
A sudden strong current of wind lashed in Sam's direction, taking his legs out from under him and sliding him into a sturdy bookshelf. Sam gripped the edge tight, using it as an anchor when the breeze grew more violent. Upon seeing his brother go down, Dean attempted to dash across the room to Sam. A gust lifted under him, throwing him into the air. There was a loud shatter of glass as his body crashed into one of the display cases. Dean had seen it a second before he hit and had thrown his arms around his head, yelling "OH SHIT."
"Dean!" Sam called, but wasn't certain his brother could even hear him over the wind.
As quickly as the whirlwind started, it abruptly ended, as though a breaker had been blown. Everything dropped, littering the floor with debris. Sam stood up slowly, glancing around the still room. Aside from a few bruises and some soreness, he was fine. He quickly made his way over to Dean.
"Hey man, wake up." Sam said worriedly as he looked at all the small cuts on Dean's hands, which were still locked at the back of his head.
"M 'wake," Dean groaned as he allowed Sam to tug him over to his back. Dean sat up shakily and started to dust the small shards of glass off his jacket and pant legs. "Wha' the Hell was that?"
"I'm not sure, but whatever it was seems to sucked the energy out of the spirit, at least for now." Sam grabbed Dean's hands to check the cuts. "These all look pretty superficial. I think you got really lucky." Sam commented while continuing to look his brother's clothes over for any blood stains or impaling glass shards. "You feel any pain other than your hands?"
"I'm sore as shit, but I'll live." Sam eyed his brother skeptically. "Dude, seriously, I'm good. We need to find that skull before its batteries recharge." Dean hoisted himself up from the floor, waving off Sam's hands and offer to help.
"Well, I think it's safe to say the skull isn't on this level. So that leaves the upper balcony or the room below." Sam glanced at the railing above while trying to strategize their best course of action. "If we split up, now is probably the best time. It's a good bet the energy it took to form that cyclone weakened it temporarily. We need to go quickly though."
"Sounds like a plan. Dibs on the downstairs – one flying lesson is more than enough for me today." Dean snatched his flashlight up from the ground and started toward the stairs.
Dean rubbed and itched at his hands on the way downstairs. The small wounds weren't bad at all, certainly not life-threatening, but the microscopic glass dust left behind was crazy irritating. He wasn't sure what he was going to find on this level, but he couldn't imagine it being as boring as the hoard of things he'd just searched through. Upon reaching the bottom level, he had to feel along the wall for a light switch — apparently, there weren't any windows in this room. He finally located what felt like a large power switch and pressed the lever with a pop sound.
The floor to his right lit up brightly, illuminating a glass wall, which was actually a large tank filled with water. He could see the partial remains of an old wooden ship at the center of the aquarium and within the hull, settled in the sand, was an open chest overflowing with gold coins and gems. Large ghostly sharks swarmed around the centerpiece, each one flickering until it vanished and then reappearing several meters from where it was.
Completely in awe, Dean lifted his hand to the glass and watched the holograms glide around the tank. One of the sharks noticed Dean's presence and turned sharply to charge at the glass. Dean felt the impact against the side of the glass and jumped back in surprise before the shark completely disappeared — this wasn't a hologram. He pulled out his phone and dialed his brother while following the half-circle hallway around to a closed door.
Sam had taken the curved staircase up to the balcony and realized that there really wasn't anywhere for the skull to be hiding on this level. There were a few narrow tables, but all the artifacts appeared to be photographs with frames and paintings. Some were encased in the same modified glass panes as the artifacts below him. He walked the full circle rather quickly, keeping a close eye for anything on his right that resembled a skull. Then, his phone rang.
Seeing the caller id, Sam picked up and answered with a hopeful tone, "Did you find it?"
"Nope, but I think I figured out what you were seeing in the floor earlier." Sam immediately moved to the balcony rail, looked down, and gasped. The floor was now illuminated and he could see clear to the bottom of the tank through the plexiglass-like covering. He could also see the shark-shaped silhouettes drifting around the broken wood planks of the boat. It was impossible to tell how thick the layer of glass was, and his stomach twisted uncomfortably at the thought of having to walk across it again. "You still there Sammy?"
"Uh, yea. Just looked down. Find anything else downstairs?"
"Aside from cursed treasure, just an empty hall and a small library room. Looks like it's also used for storage and supplies, but everything is boxed up. No skull." There was a minute of silence. "Sam?"
"I just found it." Sam had looked up to get the disturbing ghostly images below out of his mind and found he was looking at an ornate chandelier. There sat the skull, as though someone had carefully placed it on the light fixture, and it appeared to be staring at directly at him.
"Well, stick it in the case."
"Not sure it's gonna be that simple. Getting to it might be a problem."
"I'm on my way up now."
Having nothing else to do for the time being, Sam stared back at the skull, trying to formulate a plan.
Dean looped up the stairs quickly. As he came up to Sam, his gaze turned out in the direction his brother was looking. "Well, son of a bitch. It really is watching you." His grin was overly cheesy. "How the Hell did it get up there anyway?"
"No idea. Maybe the wind?" Sam voiced his best guess, but his concern wasn't really how it ended up there; it was how to get it down, especially without pissing it off immensely. "But it definitely presents another issue."
"Nah." Dean replied, whipping out his Desert Eagle and firing a round at the skull without warning. The bullet glanced off its cheek bone, cracking it. The skull teetered on the edge before plummeting to the ground. "Problem solved." Dean declared proudly, ignoring Sam's mumbled comment about him being a complete idiot.
They traced their way back down the steps and toward the skull, maintaining a precautionary distance. Sam felt the need to step softly now that he knew what was just beneath his feet, even though he could hear the reasoning at the back of his mind. Given the precautions Dr. Pryor had taken with most of his inventory, it was highly unlikely the floor was going to shatter under his weight. He watched the skull warily as he moved, but it did what any normal skull would do – lay there, without so much as a twitch. The boys looked at each other briefly, expecting the worse case scenario. Sam shrugged and stooped to pick up the skull, handling it gently. When nothing happened, he stood and carried it to the glass case.
Dean remained where he was and grinned brightly. "See Sammy, piece of cake."
"Tell that to the glass display you demolished earlier." Sam retorted as he opened the latch for the case.
A loud straining groan pierced the silence, followed by a swushing noise. Sam looked up just in time to see the plaster above the chandelier crumble, and the light fixture descend toward the ground quickly. He dropped the skull and sprinted for Dean. Sam barreled into his brother, knocking them both to safety as the chandelier crashed, sending more glass, plaster, and small metals pieces around the room.
The floor had to be reinforced in every way possible, but that still didn't stop Sam's heart from jumping into his throat at the destructive noise. He looked down just as a dorsal fin passed under him. All the apparitions had moved up to the top of the tank, as if awaiting a possible kill.
Dean jumped up quickly, and — as soon as he confirmed Sam was clear of the damage — ran over to the case. He chucked the skull in and tucked the door close. "Sam get over here with the marker! We need to bind this, now."
Sam raced over and flipped open one of his dad's old books they had dug out from the trunk. He scribbled a litany of symbols across the glass – the final one crossing over the border of the door pane. He stepped back eying his work and compared it to what was on the page. "I think we're good." He gave a relieved smile to Dean.
"So," Dean glanced around the room with a frown, "How much do you suppose that bastard is going to take out of our pay for all this? That chandelier has to be worth way more than what we're getting today."
"Well, I think we'll be lucky if he doesn't bill us the overage. If he does, I'm so coming back here to torch this entire place. There's just too much evil in here – feels uncomfortable to leave it all in someone else's hands." Sam's afterthought weighed heavily between the two boys as they each glanced around the East Wing one more time.
"I for one, will be happy if we never see this place again." Dean shook his head and turned Sam to the door. "Let's talk with the doc and put this place in the rearview."
Dean pulled the heavy door back and came face to face with Lucas Pryor. He stopped short, causing Sam, who was taking a final look at the ghostly scene below, to bump into his back.
The doctor's stern continence from their earlier dialogue was replaced with a relieved smile as he looked at the Winchesters. "Well done, gentleman." Even though he could see the destruction left on the floor through the still open door, his comment was absent of any sarcasm.
"You're not upset about the damage?" Sam replied skeptically.
"No. I've been meaning to remove that flashy chandelier anyway, and the shattered glass case will be quite easy to replace." He watched Sam and Dean exchanged surprised looks — both had clearly expected to be scolded — and chuckled a bit, catching their attention.
"Security cameras?" Dean guessed because how the hell else would the doctor have known to appear right as they were leaving. The comment was met with a smug smile. "Guess that remark about us not needing constant supervision from you was complete bullshit, huh?"
"Oh, it wasn't me watching. Max has been monitoring your progress and alerted me the moment you sealed that damn skull in its case. I thought it would be polite to escort you out."
"And pay us." Dean interrupted.
"Yes, and pay you. I've got your check for five thousand dollars right here. Who should I make it out to?" Lucas inquired.
"Sam Winchester, like the riffle." Sam spoke up. Between the two of them, Sam was the only one who had ever had a bank account and had left a small amount in his savings account from college for occasions such as this. Paid jobs were a rarity, but being able to cash a check without the bank taking a percentage was beneficial. Plus, as long as they didn't deposit anything, the record of the cashed payment would not show up on any bank statement associated to his name — exactly the thing Agent Hendrickson was waiting for, so he could pinpoint any recent location of his most wanted felons.
Lucas finished writing out the last line on the check and moved to hand it to Sam. Dean intercepted and folded the payment in half, securely tucking it into an inner pocket of his jacket. "Thank ya kindly, doc. Think it's time we got going. More jobs waiting."
The doctor nodded and looked somewhat disappointed as he looked back to Sam. "How about a meal before you leave? My cook is absolutely wonderful."
"Thank you for the offer, but we're ready to get back on the road." Sam politely declined. Lucas nodded stiffly and gestured for the guys to follow him back through the stuffy corridor.
After a few minutes of walking and awkward silence, they arrived back at the front entrance to the mansion, the two large gargoyles greeted them as they stepped into the fresh mountain air.
Dean was relieved to be out of the congested air in the house and took a deep breath while looking up at the thick white and gray clouds still blanketing the sky. His focus then turned to the Impala and in his rush to leave, he nearly missed seeing his little brother's step falter. Dean turned back just as Sam lifted his hand to one temple and scrunched up his eyes as he would with a piercing migraine… or a vision.
"De'n," Sam gasped out as the pain assaulted his mind, seeking to overtake his senses. He stumbled forward as his tactile signals were lost and the ground below him seemed to vanish. He barely felt the supporting hand through his hoody as his brother guided him down with one hand gripping Sam's arm and the other grasping the back of his neck.
Dean had known immediately what was happening and was at Sam's side in seconds. He got the kid to the ground before his little brother's face went completely blank and his mind was whisked off to another place and time.
Dr. Pryor moved out of the foyer, alarmed by the sudden ailment displayed by Sam. Dean was crouched in front of his brother, keeping him upright with a locked arm, and his gaze was fixated on the younger boy's hazel eyes, as though searching for a spark of life. Lucas took a hesitant step forward and reached out to touch Sam's shoulder.
"Back away," Dean barked out suddenly without glancing away from impassive look on Sam's face.
Lucas passively raised his hands in a gesture relaying he meant no harm. His unease for Sam's situation grew. "He needs help. Would you like me to contact the authorities for an ambulance?" He offered.
"No," Dean muttered in response. "He'll come out it in a minute." He commented confidently, but a part of him always wondered if that little thought he used to comfort himself would be wrong someday, and Sam would be forever lost within his own mind.
"Perhaps we should move him inside." The doctor suggested. Dean didn't respond. At that moment, Sam's eyes closed tightly and then fluttered as he came out of the vision. Dean was the only thing in his brother's field of view and he felt the tenseness leave the muscles in Sam's arm and neck.
Sam continued looking forward, but was now able to actually see his surroundings and his brother who was crouched close, green eyes full of concern. A moment later, Sam found his voice. "It was awful Dean… so much blood and that poor girl. We have to go. Now."
"We will Sam. Let's get to the car and we'll talk about it on the road." Dean responded, and Sam could read the unspoken words in his brother's eyes. This was not a good time to discuss what he'd seen. An image of the mansion and the creepy doctor flashed back to Sam as he remembered where they were, suddenly wishing he hadn't said anything at all.
Dean pulled his brother up, supporting a good portion of Sam's unsteady weight as he moved them around to the passenger side of the Impala. Sam was grateful for the help and uncoordinatedly dropped into his seat. He moved his legs over to the floorboard and slouched back as Dean shut the door for him.
Dr. Pryor had followed the brothers around their car, his mind turning quickly as he placed together the bits of information. He was confused and curiously excited. "What more did he see. Was it a vision? How long has this been happening? Is he psychic?" Lucas rambled as Sam was placed in the car. Dean whirled on him the second the door was closed.
"You didn't see shit and neither did he. Not that it's any of your business, but that was a pressure headache brought on by a day-terror episode." Dean explained while taking a fierce stride into the doctor's space. The move worked as he hoped and caused Lucas to take a few intimidated steps back toward the front door, but that did not stop his mouth.
The doctor gave a unconvinced look at Dean's rehearsed-sounding answer and glanced over to the car's windshield where Sam sat, head back and eyes closed. "At least bring him in and let him rest before you get back on the road. Look at him, he's exhausted."
Dean stepped over, blocking Lucas's view of his little brother. "You won't be looking at him ever again." He said with conviction. "My last piece of advise is to get rid of your 'collection' before you end up getting someone killed. We will NOT be coming back this way to save your ass should something like this happen again. Not for any amount of money."
Dr. Pryor felt his cheeks redden with anger — how dare this backroads punk speak to him in such an impudent tone. Before he could respond, the other man stepped around him, bodily moving past him and practically knocking him to the side with his shoulder.
Dean slid into the driver's seat and glanced at his little brother who seemed to have dozed off for the moment. The more powerful the vision was, the more energy it seemed to drain. He considered waking Sam to get more details on where they needed to go until he looked back through the windshield and saw the dark scowl painting the doctor's face as he continued to watch them from the front stoop. Probably better to at least get out of the mountains and further away from the doc before rousing Sam.
As the '67 Chevy purred to life, Dean stepped heavily on the gas, kicking up bits of gravel back toward the doctor as they passed him and continued around the circle drive. Dean took one last look in his mirror right before proceeding out of the clearing, planning to never return.
*** SPN SPN SPN SPN ***
Once the car rumbled past the brick pillars at the edge of the circle, Lucas pulled out his phone and quickly found the number he needed. He masked any residual anger from his voice as the line picked up on the other end.
"Hello, Luke, darling. I wasn't expecting to hear from you again so soon." A young, feminine voice answered – her faint British accent lighting the syllables.
"Just a quick question for a lovely, resourceful lady. What's the going rate for information these days?"
"Well it would depend on what information you're looking for." She countered.
"Everything there is to know about a young man named Sam Winchester."
END, PART ONE