“Stop it!” Tamara cried, her forehead creased with distress. She gripped Dean’s hand tightly. Her eyes were closed, but not like she was relaxed: they were screwed shut, as if she didn’t want to see something.
“Tammi, it’s okay,” Dean tried to say, but he wasn’t sure that it was. He would have broken the circle – wasn’t that how you were supposed to stop a séance? – but her grip on his fingers was too tight. Dean looked to Jennifer for help, but she was staring at Tamara, fear plain on her face. Jenn didn’t know what to do, either.
Suddenly Tamara’s eyes flew open and she straightened. For a moment, Dean thought she was somehow possessed, but her voice, when it came, was still hers. “Damn it, I’m a person!” she shouted. “I’m not a telephone! And you’re dead. Deal with it or piss off!”
Dean let out a bark of laughter. Hoping he was doing the right thing, he raised his voice. “She’s right, Dad. Maybe you can’t tell, but she’s just a kid. She’s tryin' to help and you’re hurting her. Cut it out, or we'll have to stop this.” He felt Tamara’s grip on him ease a little. “Tammi?”
She breathed out a long sigh. “I’m okay. It was just coming too fast, that’s all.” She breathed deeply for a few moments, then met Dean’s eyes. “He says that Bill lied…no, that Bill didn’t tell Jo everything. He says Bill couldn’t admit he fuh- messed up.”
Dean stifled a grin at her little stumble, amused that she felt she needed to clean up John’s language. He concentrated on the serious issue. “Are you saying that consecrating the graveyard won’t work?”
“He says it will, but – ” Tamara broke off. “John, you’re going too fast again.” She looked at Dean. “He’s saying that you have to do something first or the spirits will…I don’t know. Something bad.”
“Alright. Dad, I get it, I know how fast these things can go south. But Tamara isn’t understanding you.”
“Try it as twenty questions,” Tamara suggested. “You ask, Dean, and John can answer with yes, no or maybe. It will take longer but I think it’s the best way.”
Dean nodded. “Alright.”
Tamara was silent for a moment, then she nodded, too. “Good. Thank you. Dean, go ahead.”
Dean decided to begin with what he did know. “We need to consecrate the burial ground. Is that part right?”
“Yes,” Tamara breathed. Dean could hear the relief in her voice. This was working for her.
“So you’re saying that the consecration isn’t enough? There’s some other task or ritual Jo has to do first?”
“Well…it must be something that will weaken the spirits…” Dean hated twenty questions.
“Uh…” Tamara hesitated. “I think that’s no…and yes.”
“Helpful,” Dean answered sarcastically. “Is it a salt-and-burn?” Dean knew it wasn’t, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to get that option out of the way.
“No.” This time Tamara sounded certain.
“Well, it can’t be a banishing. We want the spirits tied to their bodies.”
“Yes it’s a banishing?” That didn’t make any sense. When Tamara confirmed that, Dean added, to be sure, “We want the spirits tied to their remains.”
“Yes,” Tamara answered again.
Okay. Tell me something I don’t know. “Wait. Is there some ritual to do that?” Dean had never heard of one. You could use a piece of a dead body to summon a spirit, but that wasn’t the same thing.
Tamara answered uncertainly, “He says no, but there’s something…” Her breathing quickened again and suddenly her eyes opened wide. “Dean, he says that if you just do the thing you planned, the joined spirits will fight it. I don’t understand what he’s showing me. It’s like a twister, sucking in everything around it. It’s bad.”
Dean didn’t understand it, either. “But, Dad, you’re not making sense! Spirits are already tied to their remains. That’s why a salt-and-burn works.” You didn’t need any ritual to make sure of that. A thought niggled the back of his mind, but he couldn’t quite make it come front-and-centre. What else worked with spirits? It couldn’t be an exorcism, that was just for demons…or could it?
Understanding burst on him. “Dad, we have to lay the spirits first, don’t we? Just like that house cleansing in Oregon!”
“Yes!” Tamara smiled. “You’re on the right track, Dean,” she added.
“I remember we used spirit bags, but what the hell did we put in them? Dad, please tell me it’s in your journal somewhere.”
Dean lay back, almost letting go of Tamara’s hand. “Thanks, Dad.”
Tamara’s voice was just a whisper. “That’s it. He’s satisfied.”
“Wait, Dad!” Dean tightened his grip on her hand. He wanted to say so much. About what happened in Willow Creek. About love… But as he looked into Tamara’s eyes the words failed him. It was hard enough to talk to Dad face to face. To say those things through a stranger seemed impossible.
Tamara smiled gently. “He says he’s proud of you. He’s glad you found Sammy.” She made a sound that could have been pain. “I’m sorry, Dean,” she whispered. “I have to let it go now.” Slowly, she pulled her hand from his.
“Can you help me?” Dean pressed.
Jennifer bit her lip. “I can, but…” She met his eyes but didn’t complete the sentence.
Dean thought he understood. “They'll kill you,” he said quietly, so she wouldn’t have to. “It’s okay. I understand.” It had been a long shot anyway.
“They're going to kill me anyway.” Jennifer spoke with weary resignation.
She was only sixteen! No one her age should have to feel that way. Dean was beginning to wish the people who ran the Psi Project were the kind of monsters he could hunt.
Jennifer met his eyes earnestly. “It’s not that, Dean. Please believe me.”
She took a deep breath. “I’m supposed to be a healer,” she told him. “They teach us how to make the best of our powers, but they don’t teach psychic surgery. I learned that myself, testing stuff on my own body. I've never tried to set bone, but I can heal torn flesh. I think bone works the same way, just slower. So I think I can do it.”
It was a long speech, but Dean stayed quiet, letting her get through it.
She bit her lip again. “The thing is, if I try…Dean, it’s gonna hurt. You don’t know how much. Yesterday I had Colin and Sam to help keep you under, like a psychic anaesthetic. This will be like real surgery, with you awake.”
Dean swallowed. He’d had a lot of broken bones over the years and he’d been through a lot of pain. Jennifer’s words conveyed very well just how bad this might be. But Dean had to try. Tamara’s words haunted him: he’s showing me a twister, sucking in everything around it. It’s bad. Dean had to get to Jo and Sam if he could. A warning wasn’t good enough: he had to go himself, make sure they were both safe.
“Okay,” he decided. “Let’s try it a little at a time. Is there something I can bite on?”
Jennifer smiled weakly. “You’ve done this before.”
“The psychic thing? No. The surgery without anaesthetic – yeah, a couple of times. I can handle pain, Jennifer, if you’re willing.”
Jennifer turned to look around the room. “Tammi, there are some towels in the bathroom. Could you bring me the smallest one?”
Tamara took a few moments to sort through the towels, then came into view carrying a white towel over her arm. She offered it to Jennifer. “Will this do?”
Jennifer took the towel from her. “Too big. We'll need to tear it.”
“I’ll look for some scissors.” Tamara disappeared again. She returned with a scalpel. “I found a surgical tray next door,” she explained unnecessarily.
Jennifer sliced a strip off the towel and twisted it into a tight rope. She bent the improvised rope double, then offered it to Dean, placing it carefully between his teeth.
“I’m going to start with your pelvis, because that’s the cleanest break,” Jennifer said to him. “If it hurts too much, we won’t go any further.”
“Okay, then.” Jennifer moved down the bed and reached out to lay her hands gently on his hip.
It turned out she wasn’t kidding about the pain.
Jennifer released the harness holding Dean’s arm, lowering the sling so Dean could extract himself from it. There was no cast on the arm, just a stiff brace to keep the bones straight: the Psi Project doctor had assumed Dean would transfer to a regular hospital so hadn’t used a permanent cast that a hospital would probably have removed.
Dean sat up. The movement didn’t hurt. He clenched his fist, then rotated it. Still no pain. Although, after going through the hell of psychic surgery, Dean wasn’t sure he’d notice regular pain. He felt as if he’d screamed his throat raw. All the screaming had been inside his head, though: he hadn’t dared make a sound for fear that would bring “help”. He was soaked in sweat, the infirmary-issue pyjamas clinging to his skin.
“Please tell me my clothes are here.” Dean pulled the wet shirt off over his head.
Jennifer was already searching the closet. He was alone with her: Tamara had volunteered to guard the door (translation: she couldn’t stand to watch) and was, as far as Dean knew, still outside. Jennifer produced a bag that Dean recognised: his own duffel.
“Here,” Jennifer said as she turned around with the duffel in hand, “Oh!” She looked down at once and opened the bag without coming closer.
Dean couldn’t see her face clearly, but he would bet she was blushing. He couldn’t resist a wisecrack. “I'd love to, sweetheart,” he drawled, “but there ain’t time.”
Her head jerked up. “Pig!” She threw a bundle of denim at him.
Dean stripped off the pyjama pants and pulled the jeans on without waiting for underpants. “Sorry, I was just kidding.” He buttoned his jeans, aware of her trying not to watch him. He held out a hand. “Is there a t-shirt in there?”
She looked. “What happened to you?” she asked.
Dean didn’t understand at first. As she handed him the t-shirt, though, he caught sight of the scar on his arm. Then he got it. He turned around, showing off the claw marks on his back. “That was a werewolf,” he told her, “and this…” he indicated a different scar just below his waist, “was a poltergeist.” He turned back, pulling the t-shirt over his head. “The burns are from the pyrokinetic that killed my Mom. And these…” he passed a hand over his cheek, “…are from the last time I ran into the spirit of a psychic. She exploded a mirror right in my face. Ruined my good looks forever.”
“I don’t think you’re…” Jennifer began, then stopped, staring down at the floor. Dean could have sworn she was blushing.
“They’re just scars, kid. The wear and tear goes with the job.”
Jennifer put his duffel down and went back to the closet; to avoid looking at him, apparently. It was kinda sweet.
“Why do you do it?” she asked with her back to him.
“Because I don’t trust anyone else to kill these things.” He picked up the duffel and went on dressing in silence. Finally, he tucked his colt into his belt and closed the duffel.
“Jenn, I won’t forget this. There’s no way I’m going to let them kill you.”
She did turn around to look at him then. “I don’t think you can stop it,” she said quietly.
Dean moved toward her and took her hand in his. “Not every psychic is part of the Project, you know,” he said softly. “You can leave here with me and Jo. I know someone who can get you into Canada and help you get papers for a new identity. Canada isn’t too friendly to psychics, either, but from there you could go to Europe or Asia. With your talent you could do well there.”
Jennifer looked uncertain. “On my own?” she asked.
Dean got it. “Oh. Colin, right?”
She nodded silently.
“I think my friend could take two. Would he go with you?”
“I think he would.”
“Then talk to him.” Dean tapped his forehead. “His way, you understand? And let me know. You'll only have one chance to leave with me.”
“Are you sure this will work?”
“I’m sure. Jenn, you saved my life. Least I can do is return the favour.”
“You can’t kill us,” Nedah said sadly.
Sam reached out to touch her face. She was exactly as he remembered her, dressed in her favourite faux-patchwork skirt and a layered, flowing top. Her large brown eyes were partly hidden by the hair which hung loose about her face. That was different – she usually held the front strands of her hair back with a barrette, leaving her face bare. Nedah was fifteen years old forever, because she was dead. But dead or not, her skin felt warm under his hand, and she leaned into his touch with a sigh.
“You can’t kill us,” she repeated.
“No,” Sam answered, “you’re already dead.”
“Because of them!” she flared.
Sam took her hands in his. “Nedah, what you are doing is wrong.”
“Talking to you?” She cocked her head to one side quizzically.
“Hurting people. Hurting other psychic children.”
Nedah snatched her hands out of his grip. “They hurt children.”
“Yes, they do. But that doesn’t make it right.”
Sam saw Nedah’s eyes narrow and knew he had offended her. He was sorry for that, but he couldn’t let this continue.
They were standing near Nedah’s grave, pale-grey mist swirling thickly around them so Sam couldn’t see more than a few feet beyond where they stood. He was not even certain they stood in the physical world. He had been reading the consecration rite, struggling a little with the flickering display of his phone, when Nedah came to him. He knew she was a spirit, part of the problem, and he knew she probably meant him harm. Yet Sam couldn’t turn away from her. She was the first person he had ever loved, except Dean and his father. He couldn’t help blaming himself for her death; if he had been there to help her she would never have lost control…
What were you gonna do, Sam? asked a cynical voice in his head. Sam knew that voice was just his own mind, but in his head it sounded like Dean. Were you gonna spend the rest of your life looking after her? Never have a life of your own?
If I had to. Sam answered that inner voice defiantly, but Dean’s practicality – even through the filter of Sam’s imagination – made him realise the truth for the first time. Nedah had been unable to control her pyrokinesis while she slept. It was because of her nightmares: she would strike out in her dreams and her power responded in reality. It wasn’t her fault, but without Sam the Psi Project would have figured out a lot sooner that Nedah was a danger to herself…and to others. By the Psi Project rules, that was a clear-cut case. Sam was shocked to realise he was beginning to see their point of view. After all, what was the alternative for someone like Nedah? Have her sleep in an asbestos cell every night?
Nedah raised her hands in a kind of push-away gesture and flame exploded into Sam’s face.
Sam cried out, stumbling back to avoid the fireball. He threw up his arms to protect his face, shocked by how much her power had grown. Had she read his thoughts? How could she? Nedah wasn’t telepathic!
She advanced on him, her hands aflame. “We won’t let you stop us,” she declared. Sam could hear something odd in her voice, like an echo or an overlaid sound.
Stupid! So stupid!
This wasn’t Nedah’s spirit. Nedah was part of the gestalt; if what Sam was seeing looked like her, it was because the spirits could read his mind. They could read Sam’s guilt over her death and knew he would respond to her.
Her pretty face twisted into a snarl, Nedah sent a second blast of flame his way. Sam flung himself down, talking the fall on his side and rolling across the grass.
A loud report of gunfire shattered the silence of the mist surrounding them. Nedah froze mid-gesture and dissolved into the mist. A moment later, the grey mist surrounding Sam and Nedah’s grave seemed to melt away.
“Sammy!” Dean ran toward him, vaulting over a headstone to stop at Sam’s side.
Sam stared. Had he hit his head when he fell? Dean was in the infirmary… But as Dean’s hand grasped his arm firmly, Sam could not doubt his presence. “Dean? How…?”
“Are you okay? What happened?”
Sam looked around them, hardly able to believe how quickly the mist had vanished. “Uh…it was Nedah. One of my friends…from before.”
Sam nodded a yes.
Dean gave him an exasperated look. “Holy crap, Sammy! We’re here to stop them, not make friends!” He straightened and offered Sam his hand. Sam reached up, grasping Dean’s wrist as Dean clasped his and hauled him up.
“Is Jo…?” Sam began.
“She’s okay.” Dean glanced around as if looking for her. “Is the spirit still here?”
“No. At least, I can’t see her. Dean…”
Dean interrupted before Sam could ask how he’d come here. “We can talk later. We need to…” He broke off, staring at Sam.
Sam frowned. “What?”
“That spirit you saw. She’s someone you have a connection with?”
“Uh…yeah. We were close as kids.”
“Good. I can use that.”
It took a while for Dean to explain what he wanted from Sam. By the time he was done, Jo had joined them.
“You got it, Sam?” Dean checked.
Sam nodded. “How will I know if…I mean, when it works?”
“You’ll know, psychic-boy. Trust me.” Dean began to walk away, but then he turned back. “This ain’t like Rachel, Sam. You had a blood connection with her.” He offered Sam his shotgun.
Sam took the gun and cracked it open. It wasn’t loaded. Of course it wasn’t, because Dean had fired it at Nedah’s ghost. Dean threw him some ammo, which Sam caught one-handed and loaded the gun. “Nedah’s not my blood, but we had a psychic connection. I’ll be fine, Dean.”
Dean took him at his word.
Sam sat down on the grass beside Nedah’s grave. He laid the shotgun down beside him, within easy reach. He wouldn’t use his psychic vision again: the migraine wasn’t worth it. But he didn’t think he would need it. The spirits used Nedah to approach him; that meant they wanted something from him. It could be they wanted him dead…well, that was why he had the gun.
Dean’s plan to “lay the spirits” involved burying something in a few places around the perimeter of the cemetery. Sam hadn’t paid much attention to the details since Dean assigned him a different job.
He waited for Nedah to appear. It didn’t happen at once, but Sam was patient. He remained where he was, remembering the Nedah he knew. She’d been a quiet girl, but she’d made an effort to be friendly with Sam when he was new to the Psi Project and still desperately missing his family. He would always be grateful for that.
Nedah faded into view beside him. “We did have some good times, didn’t we?” she said.
That was better than throwing fireballs at him. Sam smiled nervously. “We did.”
“You should go, Sam.”
“I can’t. I want to help you.” He meant it. He didn’t want to think about Nedah as a restless spirit, earthbound forever. Sam believed in God and in Heaven. He wanted to think of his friend as in a better place, like his daughter.
But he couldn’t think about Rachel. Not now.
“Help us?” Nedah repeated. “You came to stop us.”
“I came to stop you from hurting the children here, that’s true. But I didn’t know…Nedah…” he hesitated, then plunged in. “Nedah, you know you’re not supposed to be here, don’t you? You, and the others, you’re supposed to move on.”
To Heaven, Sam thought, but he wasn’t sure Nedah would accept that.
“The children are part of the Project,” Nedah said. “We didn’t want to hurt them, but we couldn’t touch the weak ones.”
“Weak? You mean psychically weak?” The realisation came with a chill of fear. Sam had told Dean he had a psychic connection with Nedah. He’d told Jo there was a bond between psychics. He hadn’t understood what those things meant. Of course the spirits targeted the children! Many of the mentors here were psychics but few of them were powerful. The children, Tamara, Colin and particularly Jenn, were some of the most powerful psychics Sam had ever met.
As powerful as Sam himself.
“I’m one of you,” Sam told her, keeping his voice low and soothing. “The Psi Project tried to kill me, remember?”
Nedah’s expression hardened. “They let you go.” Her voice was almost a snarl.
Sam was not just talking to Nedah now. This wasn’t Dean’s plan. He’d said that since they were dealing with multiple spirits one of them might have to take the lead “crossing over”. He’d suggested Sam might be able to talk Nedah into it, but even if Sam couldn’t, watching her would let them know when it worked.
“They let me live,” Sam answered, keeping his voice steady. “The Psi Project never lets anyone go.” Sam heard the resentment in his own voice and knew it was true. He’d run all the way to California, worked harder than he ever had in his life at Stanford, so he would not have to return to the Project when he graduated. Yet here he was, and a part of him would always belong to the Project. “What they did to you was wrong,” Sam said carefully, “but you can’t fix it. None of you can. It’s time to move on.”
“We can’t go until our work is done.” The words came from Nedah’s mouth, but the voice didn’t sound like her at all.
“But you can’t do this work,” Sam pointed out. “You told me you can’t touch the weak ones.”
“We are getting stronger.”
“Yes. You’re hurting the children worse and worse. You brought down the monorail and hurt someone who has nothing to do with the Project. Strength isn’t everything. This work of yours can only be done in this world, by the living.”
Nedah shook her head. She started to say something, but then Sam saw her vanish for an instant, then re-appear. She stared at him, shocked. “What have you done?”
Sam had done nothing; this had to be Dean’s work. Sam answered as honestly as he could. “We're trying to help you. So you can rest properly.”
“No!” she screamed.
Nedah looked so frightened, it took Sam right back to their childhood together. He reached out to her, instinctively trying to reach out with his mind as well as with his hands. He shouldn’t have been able to touch her psychically, because he was awake, but he felt the touch, the internal click that told him he had connected with her mind. Instantly, he realised his mistake and tried to pull back.
The whirlwind he’d felt earlier engulfed Sam’s mind. For a moment, he felt himself falling, falling into endless darkness although he’d been sitting on the ground with nowhere to fall. He heard voices, too many now to pick out one voice among the din, shouts of anger and screams of terror. He knew he was being sucked into the maelstrom, and if he let it happen he would be just like them, a ghost in the graveyard.
Sam tried to shield but he couldn’t concentrate enough to make it work. The bizarre image in his mind was the twister scene in The Wizard of Oz, nightmare images appearing out of the tornado and disappearing, while Dorothy peers through the window, her fragile home miles up in the air.
Sam hit the ground without warning, a bone-crushing impact. He lay on his back, the sun bright above him. The whirlwind was gone and in its wake there was only silence, and the pounding pulse of a beginning migraine. Sam raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sun. He was alone.
It was over.