Jessica started to hurt when they reached the bedroom. She didn’t know why she hadn’t felt it before (adrenaline, maybe?) but suddenly the small cuts on her arms and shoulders hurt like hell. She pulled off the robe to get a better look at the damage.
“Are you both okay?” she asked unsuccessfully craning to look at her back.
Claire was staring out of the window into the darkness beyond, hugging herself tightly. “It said mine to kill. Didn’t it?”
Jessica knew it did, but she wouldn’t frighten Claire any further. “It was going too fast,” she lied. “I couldn’t tell.” She turned to Adrianne, silently begging her to say the same thing.
Adrianne nodded. “I’m not sure what it said at the end,” she said.
“You’re both lying,” Claire asserted.
Sam knocked on the door, called, “It’s Sam,” and opened it without waiting for a response. He walked in carrying the box of first aid supplies, followed by Dean who was fully dressed and apparently in the middle of an argument with Sam.
“…EMF in that room was off the scale. At least off my scale.” He waved something that looked like an old Walkman. “You know we – ”
“Sam, what’s going on?” Jessica demanded, interrupting.
Sam set down the first aid box and then took Jessica’s hands in his. “I’ll tell you everything I can, Jess, but you need to let me look at those cuts. Okay?”
Jessica nodded and allowed Sam to lead her across to the bed.
“Dean, check out Claire and Adrianne,” Sam instructed.
It didn’t take long. Sam found seven cuts on Jessica’s back and arms. None of the were deep enough to require stitches. He pulled glass fragments from two of the cuts, cleaned all of them with antiseptic then covered them with band-aids, while Dean did the same for Claire.
“What’s EMF?” Jessica asked as Sam finished.
“Electro-motive force,” Dean answered, taping down a band-aid on Claire’s shoulder. “You find it near generators or transformers. Power lines sometimes. But it also shows up when some kinds of supernatural activity happen.” He nodded to the Walkman on the floor. “That’s a home-made EMF meter.”
“And you used that downstairs?” Jessica guessed.
“Yep. I got a high reading.”
“What does that mean? And why do you even have that thing? What the hell is happening here?” She took a deep breath, and then remembered something else. “And why did Sam insist we all come to this room? What’s wrong with the kitchen or day room?”
Dean patted Claire’s shoulder. “All done.” He turned to Adrianne, ignoring Jessica’s barrage of questions. “Your turn.”
Claire moved to sit on the floor near the window while Adrianne took her place kneeling in front of Dean. Jessica saw Dean glance at Sam, silently asking a question.
Sam nodded. “Let’s all sit down,” he suggested, and sat on the carpet next to Claire. Jessica joined him but did not sit close enough to cuddle as she usually did. She wanted to be able to concentrate.
“Before I answer Jess’ questions – and I will, Jess, I promise – I need to know exactly what happened downstairs. Adrianne, you were leading the séance, weren’t you?”
She nodded. “I addressed the spirit dwelling within this house. I know better than to open myself up to everything.”
“Okay, good. Can you tell me what happened? I’m guessing a spirit made contact.”
Adrianne explained what happened and the questions they’d been able to ask before Sam interrupted and the glass went wild. Her voice shook as she talked about the last words the glass spelled out for them: Mine To Kill.
The brothers exchanged a long look when she was done. “Your call, Sammy,” Dean said.
“Okay.” Sam took a deep breath. “What I’m about to tell you, I hope I can trust you to keep to yourselves. This is very private and I don’t want everyone at Stanford to know.” He didn’t wait for them to agree, but went on talking. “Jess, the reason I know about these things is because I’ve always known about them. My family…Dean and my Dad are specialists in the supernatural.”
Adrianne looked at Dean with new interest. “You’re a psychic?”
Dean made a disgusted face. “God, no! I’m a hunter.”
“What’s a hunter?”
“What it sounds like. We hunt and kill supernatural creatures. Evil. Like the poltergeist you’ve got here.”
Adrianne glanced at Claire before returning her gaze to Dean. “You’re sure this is a poltergeist? Like the movie?”
He scowled. “That movie’s a pile of horseshit.”
“But, if we can just find out what it wants…”
Dean made an impatient gesture. “It wants to scare the shit out of you. It wants to hurt you. You ever seen a cat playing with a mouse before it kills it? In this picture, you ain’t the cat.”
Jessica fought an urge to move away. Dean’s growing anger was scary.
“You could have gotten seriously hurt tonight. You’re playin’ with something you can’t possibly – ”
“Dean,” Sam said sharply.
Sam turned to Adrianne. “Addie, it’s not a ghost. A ghost used to be a person. Sometimes ghosts can be reached and reasoned with. But a poltergeist is different. They’re dangerous and Dean’s right: you can’t appease it or talk to it. We need to get rid of it.”
“You know how to do that?” Claire asked eagerly.
Dean nodded. “I’ve done it before.”
Jessica listened to the exchange, but she barely heard the words. She was remembering all the things Sam had said to her over the past few days.
“It’s only a story, Jess.”
“If this is more Camp Crystal Lake than Hill House…”
“If it’s someone’s idea of a joke, it’s not funny.”
“He always was a good liar. Dean didn’t do half of what he claims.”
“Jess, I think you’re letting the ghost stories get to you. I don’t know what this is, but I know there’s a logical explanation.”
Sam, who are you?
She had been so scared over the past few days, and Sam had known all along what was happening. She remembered his claim that Dean put salt in front of their door “because it’s white.” Liar.
Jessica got to her feet and walked away from the group. Behind her, she heard Claire ask, “So how do we kill this poltergeist?”
Jessica headed for the bureau and opened drawers, selecting clean clothing: plain white panties, a bra, a blue t-shirt with a floral print.
Sam came up behind her. “Jess,” he began.
She rounded on him before he could come any closer. “Don’t touch me!” she snapped, surprising herself with the venom in her voice.
He took a step back. Jessica could see the shock and hurt on his face, but she was too angry to care.
“You lied to me, you son of a bitch! All the time we’ve been here, you lied to me.” She stalked past him, picked up her jeans and sandals and with the clothing bunched in her arms she headed for the door.
Sam hurried after her. “Jess, wait. Don’t go out there!” He raised a hand to stop her.
Jessica simply looked at him. Don’t you dare try to stop me! If he touched her now, she was going to knee him in the balls. Hard.
Sam let his hand drop.
Jessica opened the door and slammed it behind her.
She dressed in the bathroom and left her bloody robe and nightshirt there, rolled up into a ball on the floor. She stared at herself in the mirror and noticed her eyes were red from tears. She hadn’t been aware of crying. Jessica wiped her eyes and splashed cold water on her face. Finally she squared her shoulders and headed downstairs to the kitchen.
It was too early to think of making breakfast, but Jessica needed to work. She needed a task to occupy her, something that would take concentration so she wouldn’t think about Sam, or exploding wine glasses or betrayal. Drawing would be good, in fact that was exactly what she needed, but her art supplies were back in the bedroom. So she decided she needed to cook.
First, Jessica made a pot of coffee. While that was percolating, she turned the oven on and went through the cupboards to figure out what she could bake.
This was good. Pulling recipes out of her memory, weighing ingredients, laying out everything she would need in neat rows on the table…all of it kept her thoughts on the task and nothing else. She would bake muffins. Lots and lots of muffins. With everything she’d found, she could make six different kinds from the same base mixture.
“Isn’t it a bit early for baking?”
Jessica jumped and the mixing bowl slipped from her arms. She dropped the balloon whisk just as the falling bowl hit the edge of the table and managed to catch it before it fell to the floor. She retrieved her whisk from the floor and looked up at the man who had startled her.
He held up two hands in surrender. Brady was wearing the same clothing he had been when they went to bed and his blonde hair looked very rumpled. “Sorry, Jess. I thought you heard me come in.” He walked toward her as he spoke. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
Fresh tears stung her eyes at his concerned tone. “Nothing,” she lied. “It doesn’t matter.” She turned around to wash the whisk under the tap.
“Of course it matters!” Brady protested. “Did you and Sam have a fight?”
Still with her back to him, Jessica wiped her eyes. She nodded miserably.
More seriously, Brady asked, “Did he hurt you, Jess?”
He broke my heart. Jessica nodded again, turned to face Brady, saw his expression and realised what his question had meant. She hurriedly corrected herself. “Oh, no! Not like that. We just…I think we’re broken up.”
Brady’s expression changed to sympathy. “Aw, Jessie, don’t say that. I never saw a couple more perfect for each other.”
A perfect lie, she thought, but allowed Brady to hug her comfortingly.
“You’ll work it out, whatever it is,” Brady assured her, patting her back.
When he released her, Jessica looked up into his face. “Brady, what are you doing here?”
He tilted his head to one side and rubbed his neck. “I fell asleep,” he said, a little sheepishly. “I was reading in the day room after everyone went to bed. Guess it was a boring book. I woke up with a hell of a crick in my neck and I heard…well, you I suppose.” He saw the steaming coffee pot and went to pour himself a mugful. “Do you want to talk about it?” he offered with a smile.
What could she say? That her boyfriend knew everything about ghosts and poltergeists but pretended to be a sceptic like her? How would that sound?
“Not really.” Jessica picked up her mixing bowl again and began to whisk.
“Want me to kick his ass for you?”
She managed a laugh. “No, that’s okay. But thanks for offering.”
Brady grinned crookedly. “That’s a relief. Sam’s bigger than me and I think he boxes. Can I help you here, then?”
She raised her eyebrows and gave him a sidelong look. “You cook?”
“I don’t have your culinary talent,” he shrugged. “But my BLT is to die for.”
Jessica considered. “Finish your coffee first. I’ll think of something you can’t screw up too badly.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Brady drank his coffee.
By 6am Jessica had enough muffins to start her own bakesale cooling on wire racks, freshly made bread rolls in the bread maker and a bowl of pancake batter ready to go at the first sign of a hoard of hungry students.
In spite of the two pots of coffee she and Brady had shared while baking, Jessica felt exhausted. Brady had been good company; Jessica was no longer crying and no longer wanted to brain Sam with a mixing bowl. But she wasn’t going to forgive him easily.
Brady persuaded her she needed rest, but Jessica wasn’t going back to the bedroom until she knew for sure Sam wasn’t there. She wasn’t ready to face him yet. She didn’t know which of the other bedrooms was empty. So she went into the day room and curled up on the couch. Brady offered to stay with her but Jessica, pointedly wrinkling her nose, told him to go and take a shower. He wisely left her alone.
Jessica closed her eyes while she lay there but if she slept at all it was fitfully, and not for long. The sun was already up when she lay down but she watched through the French doors as the light changed from the deep blue of early morning to a hazy yellow as the sun rose higher in the sky.
She didn’t move until she heard someone crossing the hall and entering the day room. She sat up, looking toward the door. It was Dean.
“Are you alright?” he asked gently.
For some reason, his kindness pissed her off. “Go away,” she said childishly.
Dean ignored her words. He crossed the room to the easy chair beside the couch and sat down. “I’ll go. I’m on my way out. But I want to talk to you first.”
“Did Sam send you to talk to me?”
“Not since eighth grade. Why are you so pissed at him? He was trying to protect you.”
Jessica drew up her feet onto the couch, hugging her knees against her chest. “I don’t need that kind of protection. I’m not a child.”
Dean shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re dealin’ with…”
“That’s the point!” Jessica interrupted him. “Damn it, Sam didn’t just lie. He deliberately misled me, made me think everything was fine when he knew we were in danger. Every time we talked about what was going on here, every time he could have told me the truth he lied or distracted me or deflected my questions. And I’m the one dealing with it!” She should have been saying these things to Sam, but he wasn’t here and now she couldn’t stop. “So don’t you dare defend him, Dean. I don’t know what I’m dealing with? Even if that’s true, either one of you could have fixed that by telling me the truth. But you didn’t. Is it because I’m a girl, or just because I’m not in your fucking club?”
Dean was silent for a moment, taking in her words. “Jess, do you know anyone who’s in the military? Maybe someone in your family who’s seen action?”
She frowned; the question seemed so out of left field. “Um…my great grandfather was at Pearl Harbour.”
“Nothing more recent than that?”
“I don’t think so. Why?”
“No wonder you’re Sammy’s perfect woman,” Dean muttered, then he met her eyes. “Our Dad was a marine in ’Nam. He came home in one piece. He met our mom and got married a few years after the war. He started his own business. Had kids – me and Sammy. Then something killed our Mom.” Dean’s face twisted with pain.
Jessica’s stomach flipped over slowly. She’d known some of this, but it was like hearing it for the first time. Hearing the story instead of the facts.
“Dad was like you: he didn’t know about any of the scary stuff out there until it was too late. When our Mom died, he started seeing danger everywhere, and he wasn’t wrong. Paranoid, yes, but the kind that’s justified. He fell back on his marine training to keep us – his kids – safe. Most military people would – you’d understand if you knew any vets, but I guess you don’t. Dad went into the fight and me and Sammy, we were trained for the same war. Right or wrong, that’s the life we had. Sammy hated it. He wanted out more’n anything.”
“He told me,” Jessica said quietly.
“For two years, I’ve barely heard from him. Sammy wanted a normal life. And I wanted that for him, so I’ve left him alone. But when this poltergeist showed up, Sammy did what any good soldier does. He fell back on his training. That’s why he didn’t tell you the truth, because rule number one in our family is don’t tell.”
“You don’t think people have a right to know when they’re in danger?” Jessica flared.
“You don’t have to agree with it, Jess. I only want you to understand it.” Dean leaned forward, looking into her eyes.
This was important to him. Jessica wondered why, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t change what Sam did. She shook her head. “He let me think I was imagining…”
“Because if he’d been able to take care of it quietly,” Dean interrupted impatiently, “you would have been much happier if you never knew the truth.”
Was he right? Jessica tried to imagine how she would feel about this if Claire had never fallen on the stairs. If there had been no séance and no exploding glass. But she couldn’t imagine it. It happened, and her whole perception of the world had changed.
“Do you love him, Jess?”
Tears filled her eyes again, betraying her. Damn it! “Yes,” she whispered.
Dean nodded. “Good. ‘Cause I’ve got a job for you.”
Screw you. And your lying brother! “Me?”
“I need to leave. I’ll be back,” he added quickly, “but I need to pick some things up.”
“What can I do? I’m no ghost hunter.”
Dean reached for her hand. “My Dad gave me a job to do when I was four. Watch out for Sammy.” He smiled. “I tried. All my life, I’ve looked out for him. But I’ll be gone for a while. So, watch out for Sammy. Please?”
It sounded like a joke, but Dean’s eyes were so sincere Jessica couldn’t laugh. She nodded seriously. “Okay.”
“Thank you,” Dean said, just as seriously. He squeezed her hand and left her alone. She heard the front door open and close and a few moments later, the rumble of his car engine and the heavy bass beat of his music as he drove away.
Jessica returned to the kitchen, selected two of the muffins and hid them away in the cupboard so there would be some left for Dean when he returned.
Then she made more coffee.
She was on her second cup and beginning to feel a little too caffeinated when the others began appearing for breakfast. Travis and Matt were first, which was good for Jessica. She got to make pancakes and talk about baseball and their plans for a day of fun.
Though the combination of fatigue and the false-energy of too much coffee felt weird as hell, by the time Sam appeared with Claire and Adrianne, Jessica felt calm. She was ready.
She had promised Dean she would look out for Sam. He must have some reason for asking. He’d made it sound very significant. If this poltergeist was somehow a greater danger to Sam than the rest of them, Jessica had to do as Dean asked. But that didn’t make sense! If it was that important, if there was some danger Sam couldn’t handle, Dean would never have left.
Jessica couldn’t make herself smile, but she kept her voice friendly. “Pancakes, Sam?”
He smiled at her, the smile she loved, and there was relief in that smile as if he thought her offer meant all the lies were forgiven. “Pancakes would be incredible,” he said.
Jessica swallowed back a bitter reply only because she didn’t want to fight with him in front of all their friends. She served him pancakes and went on with her conversation with Travis.
The others weren’t finished with breakfast when Claire and Adrianne dragged Jessica away for “a talk”. The three girls headed out to the terrace where they could sit and talk in privacy. Jessica knew they wouldn’t be alone for long, and she was bursting with questions, so as soon as they were outside, she began.
“Claire, what happened last night? Where did you and Addie sleep?”
Claire seemed surprised. “We slept in my room. Dean made it safe.”
Jessica had a vision of Dean sitting on the attic stairs all night with a shotgun across his lap, watching for ghosts all night while the girls slept. She thought that unlikely, though. “Safe, how?” she asked.
“He put salt on my windows and across the doorway. He said that would keep the spirit out.” Claire gave a shrug. “It’s really peculiar but Dean seems to know what he’s talking about.”
“He’s convincing, true enough,” Jessica said resentfully.
Claire slid across the bench to wrap her arm around Jessica’s shoulders. “What’s wrong, Jess? Why did you walk out last night?”
She pulled away from Claire’s attempt to comfort her. “Why didn’t you?” she demanded. “My god, Claire, you were sleeping with Dean. He lied to you, too.”
“No, he didn’t!” she protested with a little laugh. “I mean, he didn’t tell me everything, but he never lied. And even if he did, Dean and me, it was just sex. We had a great time, but we’re not a couple. We’re not even friends, really.”
Claire’s words didn’t blunt Jessica’s anger. “Well, Sam lied to me. If it was little things I wouldn’t care, but this isn’t little, Claire.”
“Um…Jess?” Adrianne said hesitantly.
“I called my aunt this morning.”
“Your aunt who’s a medium?”
Adrianne nodded. “Most of what Aunt Lilly does is the kind of thing you see on TV – just sittings for people who want to talk to dead relatives. But occasionally people come to her for help with things like, well, like what’s been happening here.”
“Okay…” Jessica nodded.
“Aunt Lilly won’t deal with the dangerous stuff, but she knows a few people who do. People like Dean.”
“And Sam,” Jessica added.
“Maybe. I don’t know. But the point is, I called her to make sure Dean wasn’t just talking bullshit. And when I said the name Winchester, she freaked out.”
Jessica felt cold suddenly. “Why?” she asked, then realised she knew. “Wait. His dad, right?”
Adrianne’s eyes went wide. “How did you know?”
“Sam talks like he’s scared of him. What did Aunt Lilly say?”
“She said John Winchester’s good at what he does but if she finds out I’ve been within ten miles of him she’ll beat me with a peach switch. She meant it, too.”
“Wow.” Jessica took a deep breath, mentally sliding that piece of the puzzle into place. She wondered if Dean left to contact their father. From what Sam, and now Adrianne had said, it sounded as if they’d be better off with the poltergeist. She would have explained what she was thinking to her friends, but she was conscious they wouldn’t be left alone for long. She should have insisted on answers from Dean, but she hadn’t exactly been awake when they spoke.
“Do you know what they’re planning?” she asked.
Claire nodded. “Dean said he can banish the poltergeist from the house. It sounded like some kind of spell. There are ingredients he needed to get.”
A spell? Just peachy. But at least he wasn’t involving their father. Jessica quoted: “Eye of newt and toe of frog; wool of bat and tongue of dog; adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting; lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing. For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”
Adrianne laughed. “I don’t think so. He said something about angelica and crossroad dirt. Something else. I don’t know.”
“Okay, then,” Jessica sighed. “I guess I’d better go and pack up my things.”
“Are you leaving?” Claire blurted.
“Only the room.” Jessica stood up, intending to head back into the house, but she saw Kathy and Brady coming toward them.
Brady slid the French window open. “We thought we’d all go down to the beach,” he announced. “Picnic lunch. Swimming.” He glanced at Claire, then at Jessica. “Are you up for it?”
Jessica would enjoy a day at the beach but she never wanted to see that cliff path again. She turned to Claire and saw her own uncertainty mirrored in Claire’s eyes.
Claire swallowed. “I’m okay if you are.”
That left Jessica little choice. “Is everyone coming?” she asked Brady, meaning Is Sam coming?
“Of course!” Kathy said with a big smile.
Of course. “I’ll pack a lunch,” Jessica decided. “Claire, could you grab my bathing suit for me? The blue one, not my bikini. And remind Sam to pack a rope.”
“Jess, are you two still fighting?” Brady asked, concerned.
“Haven’t spoken yet,” she snapped. “Stay out of it, Brady!” She pushed past him into the house.
“Well, sor-ee!” Brady called after her.
Sam was alone in the kitchen, stacking bottles of water into a cool box. He looked up as Jessica walked in and stopped, surprised to see him there. She considered bolting, but that would be cowardly and her promise to Dean was bugging her. So she walked forward.
Someone had cleared the breakfast things away, she saw with relief. All she needed to do was make lunch, which would be easy because she had already baked enough bread for everyone. There was cheese and cold meat and she could throw in some chips…as long as they had drinks that would be plenty.
“Hey, Sam.” She walked past him to the refrigerator.
“Jess,” Sam pleaded.
She had no choice but to face him. Jessica pasted a bright smile onto her face and turned around. “Are you coming to the beach?”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said. He sounded sincere.
Jessica moved a little closer: not close enough to touch, but enough that she had to look up at him. “Okay,” she agreed. “What for?”
Sam opened his mouth. Closed it again. “Whatever I’ve done to hurt you. Jess, please, just…I’m sorry.”
He looked like a giant puppy, his eyes begging for a kind word, a smile. It was so hard to stay mad at him! “Sam, I…I can’t do this. I can’t patiently explain why I’m angry. If I have to do that, well, it means you don’t know me at all. It would mean I can’t trust you ever again. We’ll be over. And, damn it, Sam, I love you!” Her voice cracked and she realised she was crying again.
Sam reached toward her awkwardly. “Jess…”
She brushed her wet cheek, angry with herself. “Just help me make lunch, Sam. We can talk later.”
His adams-apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Okay.”
So they made lunch. They sliced ham, chicken and cheese, buttered bread, prepared salad and assembled sandwiches, which they slipped into bags. Everything went into a chilled container in the picnic box, with a huge bag of corn chips on top.
“Sam?” Jessica broke the tense silence as she closed the lid on the large cool box.
“What else is real?” When Sam didn’t answer at once, she added, “Ghosts and poltergeists I know. What else?”
“Are you sure you want to know?” he asked seriously. It was clear he wanted her to drop the subject, but Jessica was sure if she pushed, he would answer. Dean said she’d be happier if she didn’t know the truth and maybe he was right. But she wanted to know it all.
“I’m sure. Vampires?”
He was silent for a moment, then took a breath. “They exist in Europe. Dad says they’ve been wiped out on this continent.”
Holy shit… Jessica absorbed that for a moment. “Zombies?”
“Yeah. They don’t eat brains, though. Well, not exclusively.”
“The Sigourney Weaver kind? Not as far as I know.”
She narrowed her eyes at the evasion. “What about the X-Files kind? Or the Mars Attacks kind?”
He smiled. “As far as I know, all those stories about UFOs and alien abductions are either hoaxes or caused by things not from other planets. But I don’t know everything.”
“Wow. Okay, so maybe aliens. Witches?”
He nodded. “Several kinds.”
“Santa Claus?” she asked hopefully.
Sam laughed. “What would you do if I said yes to that one?”
Jessica grinned. “I’d be pissed. And I’d want his address. When I was eight we had a deal involving a pony and the son of a bitch welched on me.”
He looked at her critically. “I see you more with an Easy-Bake oven than mucking out stables.”
“It was my princess phase. Didn’t last.” They shared a smile and Jessica almost felt as if things were alright between them again.
That was when they heard the scream.
Sam was running, knocking over one of the kitchen chairs in his haste, before Jessica realised what she’d heard. She dropped the picnic box and took off after him, leaping over the fallen chair.
A man’s voice – not Sam – shouted, “Claire! No!”
The scream echoed again.
Jessica reached the hall in time to see the end of Claire’s fall. The awful thud as she hit the ground would stay with Jessica forever. She heard the sickening crack of breaking bones, but Claire didn’t cry out in pain. She lay still, her body twisted into an unnatural position, blood spreading across her pale green skirt.
“Claire!” Brady shouted again.
“Call 911!” Sam yelled to Jessica.
Both men reached Claire’s side in the same moment.
Jessica didn’t have her phone and the house didn’t have a working line. “Sam, I don’t – ” she began helplessly.
He threw his Blackberry at her, barely even glancing her way.
Jessica caught it and dialled 911. Sam’s body blocked her view of Claire’s face, but she could see her lower body. One of her legs was visibly broken, the muscle and skin of her thigh ripped open by the sharp bone.
A voice answered her; Jessica asked for an ambulance and gave the address.
“What’s the nature of the emergency?” the operator asked.
“She fell. She’s badly hurt.”
“An ambulance is on the way to you. Is she conscious?”
Jessica thought it unlikely, but she relayed the question to be sure.
“No,” Brady answered. He sounded a breath away from panic. “She’s not breathing.”
Jessica answered the operator. “She’s unconscious and not breathing. They’re trying CPR but, oh, god, please hurry!”
“An ambulance is on the way,” the operator repeated like some dammed robot. There was a lot of blood spreading across the floor.
The two men managed to turn Claire over and Jessica heard Sam giving orders, but it was as if he were speaking a foreign language; she simply didn’t comprehend the words. Jessica stayed back, the phone in her hand. She felt so useless, just watching, but Sam and Brady seemed so confident. She would only be in the way.
Brady said something about broken ribs as Sam positioned his hands to perform chest compressions.
“I know!” Sam barked back. “She’s dead if we don’t, Brady!”
Brady leaned over Claire’s face, giving her mouth-to-mouth. Between breaths, he said, “It was freaky, man, I swear – ”
“Not now!” Sam snapped.
Kathy came out of the day room and Jessica ran to intercept her.
“Oh, my god! What…?”
“Ssh!” Jessica hissed, terrified she would disturb Sam and Brady’s desperate attempts to keep Claire’s heart beating. “Claire fell down the stairs,” she explained quickly, not at all certain that was true. “It’s bad. I’ve called 911.”
Kathy was craning her neck, trying to see past Jessica. “What can I do?” she offered.
“Tell the others,” Jessica instructed. “But keep them outside. Claire doesn’t need an audience.”
Kathy nodded. “Right.” She left them alone.
They didn’t stop until the paramedics arrived. Jessica had no idea how long she watched the men working to keep Claire alive until she finally heard the approaching siren.
The paramedics did all the things they were supposed to, but Jessica knew before the paramedic said the words that their efforts were in vain. She could see it in the blood smeared across Brady’s mouth. She could see it in Sam’s despairing, angry eyes. She could see it in Claire’s white skin and her still, broken body.
None of it made sense.
How could Claire have fallen like this? Her position, the layout of the hall…where could she have fallen from?
Although no one believed it would make a difference, the paramedics had to transport Claire to the hospital. Brady wanted to accompany her; Sam agreed to follow in Brady’s SUV once he’d taken care of things at the house.
Sam told the others what was happening.
It was Jessica who called Claire’s parents.
They found Brady at the hospital, leaning against the wall outside the ER. As soon as Jessica saw him she knew that Claire was dead.
“Let me,” Sam said quietly, nodding toward a nearby bench seat. Jessica nodded and went to sit down while Sam approached Brady.
“Tell me what happened.” Sam spoke gently, but the words were an order.
Jessica drew her feet up onto the bench seat and hugged her legs up against her chest. She laid her head on her knees, looking away from the two men to give them at least the illusion of privacy. Brady slumped against the wall. Claire’s blood was still smeared across his face.
“You wouldn’t believe me,” Brady answered. His voice slurred a little as if he’d been drinking, though Jessica was sure that wasn’t it.
“Tell me!” Sam insisted.
“She was…” Brady began, then let his voice trail off. When he spoke again, the words came rapidly. “She was on the ceiling, Sam! I swear to god, she wa – ” He cut off mid-word.
Jessica turned her head to see what was wrong.
Sam, white-faced, had shoved Brady up against the wall, his fists balled in Brady’s t-shirt. “Don’t you lie to me! Not about that!”
“It’s true, I swear!” Brady protested, not attempting to fight free of Sam. “I was coming down the stairs when I heard her scream. I looked up and…Sam, I know it’s impossible. But she was there. On the fucking ceiling, like a freaking sci-fi movie when the gravity goes all wrong. Then she fell, right past me.”
Jessica felt sick. Brady’s story was impossible, but it explained everything that had confused her in the house. The ceilings in the house were quite high, but only in that one place, under the stairwell, was there no ceiling at all. There was just a two-metre-square gap that the staircase spiralled around all the way up to the attic. If Claire fell from the ceiling of the attic, all the way down to the ground floor, it made sense of her horrific injuries.
Sam let go of Brady’s shirt and took half a step back. “Okay. I believe you. But no one else will. You’ll have to tell the police that she jumped. Me and Jess will back you up.”
“No!” Brady objected before Jessica could get her own objection in. She wasn’t going to lie to the police! No way!
Sam moved back into Brady’s space. “Listen to me, Brady. I believe you. But if you tell the cops what you saw they’ll think you’re lying. They’ll start to look for reasons you’d be lying and in the end they’ll decide that you killed Claire and this story is a crazy attempt to cover it up. Trust me on this, Brady. Either tell them you don’t know what happened or tell them you saw her jump.”
Sam turned to look at Jessica, holding out his hand. “I need my phone.”
Taken aback, she handed him the Blackberry and Sam walked away from them as he dialled.
Jessica got up and started to follow him, but stopped. She reached out to touch Brady’s arm gently. “I think he’s right, Brady,” she said softly.
Brady didn’t answer, but she saw understanding in his eyes. She hurried after Sam.
“Dean, it’s me,” he was saying into the phone. “No, we’re at the hospital. That’s why I’m calling. Claire’s dead, Dean.”
Jessica reached Sam’s side. He met her eyes briefly; the gesture was enough to let her know he didn’t mind her listening in.
“You need to stay away. We’re waiting for the police.”
There followed a longer silence, during which Jessica assumed Dean was speaking.
“Dean, just listen.” Sam lowered his voice as he reached the door to the outside. “I don’t know if this means anything, but according to Brady Claire was on the ceiling before she fell. I think you should call Dad.”
“I’m not sure. We’re stuck here until the police are satisfied but I doubt we’ll stay more than a few days. If you can just wait – ”
A long silence.
Finally Sam nodded. “I can deal. Just don’t… Yeah. See you.” He pocketed the Blackberry and turned to Jessica, his expression very serious. “Jess, I need to ask you to do something you won’t want to do, but I believe it’s the only way to protect everyone.”
He was going to ask her to lie to the police. “I’m listening,” Jessica said, careful not to promise anything.
“When you talk to the police, you need to make it sound as if Claire was…unstable. She imagined – ”
“She’s dead, Sam! I won’t tell everyone she was crazy! I won’t!”
Sam flinched, but he didn’t give an inch. “Would you rather see Brady or me on trial for her murder?”
“No, but – ”
“Jess, if the cops catch a hint of ghosts in all this, they will start looking for a killer. It’s how cops think. And the prime suspect will be Brady because he’s the only eyewitness or me if they check out my background and find out who my father is.”
“Even if that’s true…” she started to protest, intending to point out that they were both innocent.
“It is true. Jess, we can’t hide what’s happened and her death is suspicious because it’s inexplicable. So the only choice I can see is to put it on Claire. Make it seem as if the whole haunted house thing was in her mind.” Sam gripped her shoulders firmly. “Jess, I am begging you. I know you hate it. So do I. But it’s the best way.”
“You mean the most convenient way,” she answered bitterly.
Jessica thought about trying to explain to the police about the strange noises in the night, about the séance and the exploding glass. It would make her seem insane. They would never be able to conceal it entirely: too many people already knew. It would be easier to present it all as Claire’s delusion. Only Adrianne had witnessed the glass and the rest, if the three of them kept the truth to themselves, was only hearsay.
But how could she do that to Claire?
“Please, Jess,” Sam said again.
She took a deep breath. “If Brady agrees, I’ll do it.”
He looked incredibly relieved. “Thank you.”
It wasn’t really that bad.
The police spoke with them briefly at the hospital, but decided to interview everyone at the house.
Jessica did as she’d agreed and presented the poltergeist activity as a fiction invented by Claire. She told the same story to Claire’s father when he arrived. She never asked what Brady or Sam told them. It didn’t matter one bit: she knew neither man would have told the truth.
The following day the police told them all they could leave, perhaps because the three main witnesses – Jessica, Brady and Sam – were returning to Palo Alto rather than leaving the state.
The three of them were the last to leave the house. They had replaced the dust covers on all the furniture, turned off all the electrical equipment and shuttered all the windows. Their things were packed into Brady’s SUV. Brady locked the front door behind them and slipped the key into an envelope; they had agreed to mail it back to Claire’s uncle.
Jessica stared up at the house they were leaving. It seemed impossible that only a week before they had arrived here happy, joking and optimistic.
Whatever walked there, walked alone, Jessica remembered and immediately wished she hadn’t.
She felt Sam’s arm across her shoulders. “Is it over?” she asked quietly.
“Poltergeist activity is usually centred on a person, so it should be,” Sam answered, keeping his voice low. “Dean will make sure of it when we’re gone.”
Jessica thought that should make her feel better, but it didn’t. All she could do was nod. But then she thought of something she’d meant to ask sooner. “There’s something that still doesn’t make sense to me,” she admitted, wondering if Sam would tell her.
“Only one thing?” Sam asked with a hint of humour.
Jessica managed a weak smile. “Well, one specific thing.” Sam didn’t answer, so she pressed on. “Why did Dean think you were in danger, if it was after Claire?”
Sam seemed surprised. “Dean told you that?”
“Not in those words. It was right before he left. Dean implied that – ”
“Hold it, Jess. Dean doesn’t imply. He tells it like it is. So what exactly did he say to you?”
Jessica wasn’t sure she could remember Dean’s precise words, but she tried. “He asked me if I love you,” she answered. “I told him I do.” Before she’d told Sam, she realised, but didn’t mention that. “Then he said that was good because there was something he wanted me to do. I thought…I’m not sure what I thought he had in mind, but I was worried. But all he said was to keep an eye on you.”
Sam shook his head. “No, Jess. His exact words,” Sam insisted.
She strained to remember. “‘Watch out for Sammy.’ That’s it.” She felt Sam’s body tense where they were touching. “Sam?” She couldn’t read his expression. “Sam? What is it?”
Sam’s frown broke into an unexpected smile. “When we get back to Palo Alto, remind me to teach you how to speak Winchester.”
Jessica raised her eyebrows. “Y’all can’t speak American like the rest of us?”
“I can.” Sam reached out to brush her hair back. “Dean wasn’t warning you I was in danger and he wasn’t saying I need looking after.”
Jessica frowned. Maybe she really couldn’t speak Winchester. “What else could he mean?”
“I think he was saying, Welcome to the family,” Sam answered.
Before Jessica could question that, Brady called, “Hey, guys! Let’s hit the road.”
“We’re coming!” Sam called back. Then, to Jessica, more gently, “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
The drive back to Palo Alto was very long and very, very quiet.