Dean poured a generous measure of whiskey – the regular stuff, not Dad’s best Glenlivet – added ice and carried it out to the back porch where Bobby sat. Bobby didn’t look his way as he approached, but Dean saw his shoulders tense, his hand move out of sight. Bobby heard him coming.
“Hey. I thought you could use a drink.” He offered the glass.
Bobby took the glass. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
“Is my brother dead?” Dean asked bluntly.
Bobby froze with the glass halfway to his mouth. He lowered the glass slowly, his eyes never leaving Dean’s face. “Sure you want to know? Your mom doesn’t.”
“I want the truth,” Dean insisted.
Bobby gazed at him silently, for so long Dean began to squirm under the scrutiny. If someone looked at him like that in a bar, he’d think he’d scored. Finally, Bobby nodded. “Mary showed us a report about a church massacre in ’72. If she’s right to connect that to these missing kids – and I ain’t saying she is – you’d better hope your brother’s dead. That’d be the best case scenario.”
Dean digested that. Every time he thought he’d hit his limit, someone hit him with something even more extreme. What could be worse than Sam being dead? Sam being possessed? Surely if that happened, there was a chance to save him?
Dean didn’t ask any of his questions. He had a feeling Bobby wouldn’t answer. “If that’s true,” he said firmly, “I want you to teach me. Everything you know.”
Bobby snorted. “You freaked out over one little exorcism. You ain’t got what it takes, boy, and I’m not gonna be the one to get you killed.”
Dean rounded on him. “Bite me. So I had a little trouble with finding myself in the middle of a horror movie. I’m over it now, and I can handle it. Bobby, someone’s got to take care of my family and find Sam if he can be found.”
“Your mom was raised a hunter. She can handle it. Your dad’s a vet. He can learn, if he has to. You’re a mechanic.”
“So are you, by the look of your place,” Dean retorted.
“Not the point, kid.”
“Quit calling me ‘boy’ and ‘kid’. You sound just like my Dad, do you know that? He thinks I’m somehow less of a man because I didn’t rush to join up after 9/11, but I don’t think you have to be a marine to be a man. What is it you want? Proof I won’t run away screaming if things get scary?”
“That’d be a start.”
“Fine,” Dean spat the word angrily. “I’ve been a volunteer firefighter since I turned eighteen. Got called to a house fire a couple of years ago. We’re supposed to leave the dangerous stuff to the full time ’fighters but I saw my partner go down – the floor collapsed under him. I saved him. Spent six weeks in hospital and nearly a year in physiotherapy for doin’ it.” Dean didn’t like to talk about the incident. It seemed like boasting, and Dean didn’t feel like a hero. “Didn’t stop me fighting the next fire, either,” he added.
Bobby nodded and there was new respect in his eyes. “It ain’t just demons,” he said gruffly.
Dean stifled his smile of triumph. “I never thought it was.”
“Can you buckle down and follow orders? Even if you don’t agree with me?”
“I’ve been following Dad’s orders all my life.”
“That’s business. This is life or death.”
Dean understood. “I’ll follow your orders.”
“Even if I order you to go home,” Bobby insisted.
Dean hesitated. “Fine. Yes.”
“Give me a chance, Bobby. You know I’m only gonna find someone else if you won’t help me.”
Bobby scowled. “You follow my orders, or I’ll put a bullet in you.”
Dean grinned. “Deal.”
Dean had been staring at the display all over the kitchen wall for a long time.
Mary moved up to his side. “The next step is to establish connections,” she suggested.
“There has to be something these missing people have in common besides their age.”
“How do you find it?”
“In the old days, we’d go talk to their families, friends. We’d try to find out about them. It’s a lot like police investigating a crime, but in our case the suspect isn’t human. Today…I think the best place to start is the internet. Most 22-year-olds are into MySpace or something, aren’t they?”
Dean smiled at her fondly. “You dig MySpace?”
“Goodness, no,” she said nonchalantly. “I just saw it on the news.”
Dean’s smile widened. “You already checked, didn’t you?”
Mary chuckled. “You know me so well.”
Dean’s smile vanished. “I’m not so sure I ever did.”
That hurt her, though Mary tried not to show it. “They’re mostly just normal youngsters as far as I can tell. There’s nothing that links all of them. But I did find one thing that…well, it might be something to look out for.”
Mary pointed to part of the display. “This girl, Lauren Chambers, is a new-ager. She had a website with a lot of stuff about auras and crystals. Nonsense. But she also had an online diary – ”
“A blog,” Dean supplied.
“In which she claimed just before Christmas that she’d been given the gift of automatic writing. Now that’s not new age nonsense. It has a long history.”
“So? I don’t see the connection.”
“Well, it’s not the same thing, but Sam had true dreams. Not often, but he did. And Jessica told John he was having nightmares before he left her.” Mary wondered if Sam saw something bad happening to Jessica if he stayed with her. It was the one thing that might make sense of it: when he brought her home for Thanksgiving last year he’d asked Mary about his grandmother’s ring. She agreed to have it re-sized for Jessica.
Dean was frowning at the display on the wall. “Mom, are you saying you think all of them are psychics?”
“I think it’s something worth checking.” She looked at her son. “You’re going with Bobby, aren’t you?” she asked softly.
“I don’t want you to be a hunter, Dean.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think I have a choice. Mom, this feels right. Like it’s what I’m supposed to do.”
“I suppose it is.” Mary felt tears threaten, but Dean wasn’t a child any more. He had the right to make his own choice. She took a deep breath. “Another of the missing kids is from Kansas. John and I will look into that one. If you and Bobby investigate some of the others, maybe we can make some progress.”
“I’ll tell Bobby.”
It was, Mary explained as they drove out of Lawrence in the pickup truck John used for work, the last case her father worked before he died. Tom Whitshire, who owned the farm at the time, died under somewhat odd circumstances and her father thought something supernatural could be responsible. Though Mary didn’t remember all the details, the dead man’s son had told her a story that was very similar to what happened to her a few days later – the night her parents were murdered by a demon with yellow eyes.
“And we’re turning over this old rock because…?” John asked.
“I want to know if Chuck Whitshire has a 23-year-old son. And if he does, whether anything happened when that son was six months old.”
Although John accepted Mary’s story, what he couldn’t figure out was how a drive out to the Whitshire farm could lead them to Sammy, which was really the only part of all this John cared about. Demons, monsters, other people’s kids disappearing – none of it mattered to him. He needed to find his son. He needed to know his boy was safe.
There was thick, black smoke rising in a column above the farm. From this distance, John couldn’t tell which of the buildings was burning but he was sure it was a building, not the fields.
“Mary, you’d better call 911,” he suggested urgently. He hadn’t heard sirens and he saw no sign that anyone out there was fighting the fire.
Mary plucked his cell phone from the dash and made the call quickly, reporting an out-of-control fire at the Whitshire Farm. While she talked to the emergency services, John turned the pickup into the farm’s private road. If no one from the farm had called for help, maybe it was too late. But he had to try. The pickup bounced on the uneven road as he accelerated toward the burning farm.
It was the main farmhouse burning, and John could see it had been burning for some time. Most of the roof was gone. Why had no one called for help? Even if the family had been trapped inside – a horrible thought – shouldn’t there be farm workers around? This whole thing was giving John the creeps.
Mary was opening the truck’s door before it fully stopped. She ran toward the house, calling out, careless of her own safety.
“Mary! No!” John rushed after her, having shut off the engine but leaving his keys dangling from the ignition. The heat of the fire was unbearable. He pulled Mary back, enfolding her in his arms as much to shield her body as to comfort. “There’s nothing we can do, Mary.” He gazed back at the soaring flames, frowning to himself. There was something…not right. Something about the smell…
John pushed Mary toward the pickup. “Move the truck,” he ordered. “This heat – the tank could explode. I’ll check the other buildings.” He took off, trusting her to move the pickup and stay out of danger. John was worried the flames would spread to the other farm buildings. He was a little surprised they hadn’t already. He couldn’t do a damn thing to prevent it, but he could at least make sure there was no one else in danger.
The first outbuilding held tools and farm equipment. There was a tractor and an old plough. Along one wall, four large barrels probably held gasoline. The sight of them increased John’s urgency.
Next was a stable. The smell hit John as he approached the open door. Not fire. Death. Blood.
“Hello? Anyone in here?” John called out. He walked in, trying to breathe shallowly. The smell made him realise what was so creepy about all this. It wasn’t just that there were no people. He had seen no signs of life at all. This was a working farm: he should have heard horses panicking in the stable, dogs barking. He hadn’t even heard birdsong or seen wasps.
John saw what lay in the first stall and clapped a hand over his mouth, fighting to keep from throwing up. Acid burned the back of his throat. The horse – he assumed it was a horse, it was hard to be sure – had been ripped apart, its guts all over the floor. That mixture of blood, guts, urine and faeces was the stink filling the air…god, at least it wasn’t human. He couldn’t have kept his breakfast down if it had been human.
“Is anyone here?” he called again, then wondered if it was a good idea to advertise his presence. Certainly nothing human could have made that mess, and his purpose here was to save lives, if anyone needed saving. Suddenly, he wished he were armed, and that was a new feeling. John hadn’t felt the need to pack a gun since he was in ’Nam. He could still shoot, and he’d taught both his boys shotgun, but John avoided guns most of the time and never kept them in the house. He looked around for a weapon and found a curved piece of metal on the wall which was probably part of a harness. He pulled it down and hefted it in his hand. It made him feel a bit better.
He moved on to the next stall. It was empty, but the third one wasn’t. Had a rabid wolf been through here or something? For the first time, Mary’s talk of monsters truly sank in for John. She wasn’t crazy or kidding. This carnage wasn’t caused by a wolf. Something did this to the horses.
John moved on to the final stall, already steeling himself for the sight of another mutilated horse. He glanced down, looking for tracks but not really expecting anything. The ground was hard-packed dirt, not concrete. There were deep lines scored in the ground in groups of four parallel lines. They looked almost like claw marks, but what could possibly have claws that huge?
Then, as John watched, another four parallel lines scored themselves into the dirt.
John’s mouth went dry. His head jerked up in an instinctive, futile attempt to see the thing that made that mark. His rational mind simply couldn’t accept he was face to face with an invisible monster. An ominous growl rumbled through the stable. John felt its breath on his skin. Adrenaline took over and John turned to flee. He felt those invisible claws rip through his shirt and into his flesh. The impact of the blow bore him to the ground and John lost his grip on the harness. It clattered away from him as he hit the ground. John groped for it desperately; it was a lousy weapon but he had nothing else. The thing clawed at his side. John grabbed for the harness. As his fingers closed around the cold iron, he rolled onto his back and thrust it into the empty air above him with all his strength. He felt it hit something solid, resist for a moment, then penetrate. As the thing roared in deafening agony, for an instant John saw it – a black shape writhing – and it was gone.
Breathing hard, John scrambled to his feet. He looked around wildly, but of course he could see nothing. He ran.
“Invisible?” Mary repeated.
They were back in the pickup, watching the fire from a safe distance. The fire fighters were still working on the blaze at the farm, but it was clear no one could be alive in the farmhouse. John knew he and Mary would probably be questioned when the police got around to investigating.
Despite the heat of the day, John wore the old denim jacket he kept in the pickup: it covered the wounds on his back from the invisible beast.
“Invisible,” he said again. “But from the claw marks it had to be the size of a grizzly. At least.”
“But that’s…” Mary began. She went very pale. “Oh, god, John. It must have been a hellhound. That would explain why the harness hurt it.”
“Honey, I’m convinced on the Hell part. But you need to explain what you mean about the harness.”
“Iron, John. Hellhounds are, well, what the name suggests. Demonic hunting dogs. I don’t think they can be killed, but salt or iron would hurt it. Maybe send it back to Hell.”
“So, you’re saying a hellhound started that fire.?”
“No, that must have been a demon.” Mary shivered. “It killed all those people so we couldn’t talk to Chuck.”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit paranoid, love?”
Mary took her eyes off the fire to look at him very seriously. “I sound like my father, don’t I? No, John, I don’t think it’s paranoid. In fact, I’m worried we’re not being paranoid enough.” She reached out to him; he squeezed her hand briefly and rested their joined hands on his thigh.
“John, how badly are you hurting?”
“Typical, John. Can’t you tell me the truth just once instead of being so damn stoic?”
John flashed her a grin, but said nothing more.
Mary sighed in defeat. “Do you want me to drive?”
John hesitated, but he knew his hesitation was as good as an answer. Mary knew him too well: if he even considered the question, she would know he was hurting, badly.
“Keys,” she said firmly, extracting her hand from his and holding it out, palm-up.
John gave her the keys and she climbed down from the truck, leaving him to slide over to the passenger side. He did appreciate the offer. He knew Mary hated driving the truck. She found the size awkward and the steering too heavy for her. But she started the engine without complaint and they began to drive back to Lawrence.
By the time they reached Lawrence, the truck was running low on gas. Mary stopped to refuel at a gas station that had a supermarket and pharmacy next to it. She bought painkillers for John and a box of first aid supplies which she planned to leave in the truck. She had a feeling it might be needed.
Mary was glad to reach their home. It was familiar and real. Here, she felt safe. She glanced at John, silently offering her help, but he waved her off. He climbed down from the truck, his movements slow and stiff. They went inside and John actually checked the salt line without Mary asking. That broke her heart a little, but she knew they were on the same page at last.
“Kitchen, John. Now,” she ordered. She pulled her box of first aid supplies from beneath the sink and sat John down at the table. She helped him remove the denim jacket and gasped. His shirt was saturated with blood but it had begun to dry, sticking the shirt to his skin. She could see that, beneath the material, his skin was cut, but she couldn’t tell how badly, except that there was a great deal of blood. Mary knew the sensible thing would be to take John to the ER, but how on earth could she explain this?
“John, I’ll have to soak this off with warm water. It’s going to sting.”
John gave his quick smile again. “A little pain won’t kill me.”
Mary set some water to boil and poured cold water from a bottle into a clean bowl. She added some liquid antiseptic.
“Did you learn this from your father, too?” John asked. His voice betrayed the pain he was struggling to hide.
“The first aid? Mom taught me the basics, but that was a long time ago. I stayed in practice by being a mom myself.” It was true. The only difference between the cuts and scrapes of boys’ rough games and the mauling on John’s back was a matter of degree.
“Yeah, I guess you did. I just don’t know how your parents could do that to you. Raise a kid to patch up bullet wounds and hellhound maulings?”
Mary shook her head. “Dad had his reasons. I didn’t agree with him, that’s why I never told you or our boys about…my upbringing. But now I wonder if Dad was right all along.”
The water was boiling. She took it off the heat and poured some into the bowl, testing the temperature with her fingertips. Satisfied, she soaked a towel in the warm water, wrung it out and laid it on John’s back.
“My dad used to talk about a family legend. It was the reason he kept us away from other hunters, but he always said he would tell me when I was older. When I was old enough, I didn’t want to know. Maybe if I’d listened…”
“You can’t think like that,” John told her. He was gripping the table hard. “Maybe that legend would make a difference, Mary, or it might have nothing to do with this. But what happened to Sammy when he was a baby, you knew. You should have told me then.”
“I’m sorry, John – ” she began.
He cut in, “ – But I understand why you didn’t. Doesn’t matter now anyway. We – ” he broke off as someone knocked on the front door.
They looked at each other and Mary read her own worry in her husband’s eyes. She forced a laugh. “This is silly. I’ll go. It’s probably some kid selling girl scout cookies.”
She left John with the wet towel still on his back and headed for the front door. She would just have to get rid of whoever it was quickly.
The young woman who stood there was a stranger and she definitely wasn’t selling cookies. She smiled widely as Mary opened the door. “Hi, Mary!” Her blue eyes turned absolutely black. “Bye, Mary.”
Mary started to close the door. In the same instant she heard breaking glass and John, panic in his voice, yelling her name. The demon woman threw something. It hit the door as Mary slammed it closed. Instinct made her dive for cover.
The explosion rocked the whole house. Mary screamed in terror, hardly aware she was doing it, trying to protect her head with her arms as plaster fragments and splinters flew around her. Searing heat burst around her, turning the air to flame and Mary was frozen in terror, her old nightmare coming to life.
The second explosion came from behind her. The kitchen.
“John!” Mary screamed, her ears ringing painfully. Her fear of fire was overtaken by her terror for John. She began to crawl through the debris of her home to see what was left of her husband.
Dean walked stiffly through the door, fighting an urge to rub his sore back. He made his way to the table, sat down and began to strip his gun so he had an excuse to be sitting there. He was embarrassed and angry with himself for getting hurt, and it showed in the movement of his hands.
Bobby spoke from the doorway. “Don’t beat yourself up about it, Dean. You’ve only been doing this a few weeks.”
“I don’t need to beat myself up,” Dean retorted. “That damned poltergeist did it for me!”
Bobby sat down at the table. “You told me it was just bruised.”
“It is. I’m fine.”
“Then you’ve had a lot worse. Suck it up, kid. It won’t be the last time some critter tosses you across a room.”
Dean finished dismantling the gun and rose to get the cleaning kit. As he stood, his bruised muscles cramped. Pain shot through him and he doubled over.
He felt Bobby’s hands on his shoulders, even through the pain. Dean couldn’t respond for fear he would cry out. He gritted his teeth, holding the pain inside. After a while, he felt his muscles begin to relax, the pain fading. He let Bobby help him up.
“That’s more’n a bruise, kid. Better let me check you out.”
“Quit calling me ‘kid’,” Dean complained reflexively. He’d become used to Bobby calling him ‘kid’ and ‘boy’ but he still told him to stop it. He had the impression he had to prove himself before Bobby would.
Bobby ignored his objection, which was also routine. “Upstairs,” he ordered. “And take your shirt off.”
Uh-oh. That was so not a good idea. Bobby was only trying to take care of him but Dean had been fighting his less-than-appropriate feelings for Bobby since they left Lawrence. But he couldn’t argue with Bobby’s order without admitting his feelings.
Bobby led Dean into his own bedroom. It was the only real bed in the house; Dean had been sleeping on an old fold-out in another room. Dean managed to get his shirt off and, following Bobby’s directions, he lay down on the bed. Bobby’s bed was a metal-framed king-size, the mattress firm and comfortable. It was covered not with a comforter but wool blankets and a quilt. Dean recognised the quilt as hand-made, because his mother made them, too. He realised the quilt must be a remembrance of someone. A woman…sister? Wife? The cotton was cool against his skin as he lay down, wincing when his back muscles twinged again. He rested his face on his hands.
Bobby sat beside him. “Keep still. I’m just going to check these bruises.”
Dean felt Bobby’s warm fingers trace lightly across his shoulder. The touch seemed like a caress at first, more sensual than exploratory. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. He knew Bobby was seeing his scars for the first time.
“You’ve got some colourful bruises,” Bobby informed him, “but it looks superficial.” His touch became firmer, his fingers dug into Dean’s muscles.
It was painful, but Dean endured it without a sound until Bobby probed one particular spot. Dean yelped involuntarily.
“Ah, that’s it,” Bobby said in a satisfied tone.
“That hurt!” Dean groused, thinking that at least the sumbitch could apologise.
“It would. I think you’ve torn the muscle a bit. Did you fall awkwardly?” His fingers, gentle again, stroked the painful spot slowly, repeatedly.
“I don’t know,” Dean admitted. “Maybe.”
Bobby grunted, still stroking Dean’s back. “Well, I’ve got some liniment that might help.”
“Snake oil,” Dean groaned. “I’ll heal.”
“Not for the first time,” Bobby remarked and his hand swept over the area of Dean’s scars.
Dean drew in a shaky breath. “Uh, Bobby?” He moved away from the man’s touch, confused. Was he imagining more than a friend’s concern in that touch? Was it just his fantasy intruding into real life? Living in such close quarters with Bobby with little opportunity to hook up elsewhere had left Dean thinking about Bobby as more than a friend. He always had liked older men. But he had never picked up even a hint from Bobby that the attraction might be mutual…until now. He didn’t want to make a wrong move and screw this up. Hunting was too important. Finding Sam was too important.
He rolled over, moving further away from Bobby but it allowed him to see the man’s face. It also made the erection tenting his pants pretty damn obvious if Bobby chose to look that way.
“No,” he said quietly. “It’s not the first time. I told you about the fire.”
“How old were you?”
“Twenty three. It’s not as bad as it looks. Second-degree burns, mostly. Not muscle-deep, it just messed up my skin.” Dean began to relax, the familiar conversation pushing his confusion into the background.
Bobby shook his head, half-smiling. “You didn’t learn not to run into burning buildings?”
Dean grinned. “I learned not to wear clothing that melts.”
Bobby chuckled. “Might want to remember – ” He broke off, his eyes rising to meet Dean’s, the smile gone.
Oh, hell. Caught. Dean knew hesitation was a really bad idea at a moment like this, but he didn’t know what to do. If he were sure Bobby wouldn’t react badly, he would make his interest clear. But this felt too unpredictable. He found he was holding his breath, desperate for Bobby to make a move – any move – so he’d be off the hook.
Dean tried for a smile. “Bobby, I – ” If only he could figure out what Bobby was thinking!
“Seems unlikely to me,” Bobby said slowly, “that a boy with your looks would have trouble getting laid.”
It wasn’t much of an opening. Dean answered, feigning a confidence he didn’t feel, “I do okay with girls. Never had much luck with men.” And quit calling me ‘boy’.
To his amazement, Bobby smiled. “Yeah. Me too.” And he laid his hand over Dean’s erection.
Dean threw his head back, taking in a sharp breath. The warm touch, the acceptance, shot to his centre with an unexpected intensity. He closed his eyes, reaching out blindly toward Bobby. His fingers encountered denim, stretched tight across Bobby’s thigh. He squeezed and slid his hand upward as Bobby rubbed Dean’s cock through his pants. He felt an answering shudder from Bobby and opened his eyes.
He found Bobby watching him intently. Dean mouthed a word, Please, and Bobby drew his zipper down. Dean sighed, able to relax now he was sure they wanted the same thing. Bobby eased Dean’s cock out of his pants and stroked him firmly. Dean gave himself up to the pleasure, thrusting into Bobby’s fist. Words spilled from his lips, words Dean couldn’t think clearly enough to control. Dean arched his back, chasing orgasm and cried out in mingled pleasure and pain as his muscles protested the movement. Right then it happened; he came, spilling himself over Bobby’s hand.
As his body relaxed, Dean became aware of a renewed pain in his back. He ignored it, reaching out to return the favour.
But Bobby stopped him. “No, Dean. You’re hurt. Some other time, okay?”
Disappointed, Dean nonetheless had to concede the point. He wasn’t up to anything strenuous tonight. “Another time,” he promised.
Morning found Dean feeling like he’d gone ten rounds in the ring, but he also felt more relaxed than he had for weeks. Aside from his injury, which wasn’t really all that serious, the hunt went well, and he was proud of his part in it. Best of all, he and Bobby seemed to have an understanding on a personal level, and Dean felt incredibly good about that. So he was smiling as he headed downstairs, ready to face whatever fresh horror Bobby had for him.
When he reached the main room, Bobby was at his computer. He was concentrating hard on whatever was on the screen and looked very grim. His head jerked up as Dean entered the room.
“Hey, Bobby. What’s wrong?”
Silently, Bobby beckoned him over and turned the screen around so Dean could see. Dean leaned over the desk and read the article displayed there. His stomach churned. Three paragraphs in, Dean ignored the rest and pulled out his cell phone. It showed six missed calls, all of them from his father’s cell phone. That number had always meant garage business to Dean, so he ignored them without thinking and dialled the home number instead.
“I already tried the house,” Bobby volunteered unhelpfully. “Line’s dead. Does your mom have a cell?”
“No.” But Dad did, Dean realised, remembering those missed calls. He called the cell phone. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I only just found it. I was about to call you when you came in.”
The phone went to voicemail. Dean swore, disconnected without leaving a message and hit redial. “Answer, you son of a bitch!”
Finally the call was answered, but not by John. Mary’s voice came, heavy with sleep. “Hello?”
“Mom? Mom, I just saw the news. Why didn’t you call me? Where’s Dad? Is he okay? Are you okay?”
“Dean. Thank god. I’m fine. John’s hurt, but he’s going to be okay.”
“The newspaper says you’re both dead! What the hell happened?”
“Demons came after us. We had to run. I tried to call you last night but your phone was going straight to voicemail.”
Shit. Those missed calls. “I’m sorry, you’re right. We were…” Dean glanced at Bobby. This wasn’t the time to mention to his mom that he’d been hurt. “…hunting,” he finished. “Where are you?”
“In a motel.” Mary laughed, and it sounded weird. Not like Mom at all.
“I’m sorry. It’s just…this is exactly what my Dad would have done. I’m having trouble with the irony. We lost everything yesterday.”
“Not everything,” Dean reminded her.
“No, you’re right.” She paused, apparently pulling herself together. “John’s sleeping; he’s on some heavy pain meds, and I need to sleep, too or I can’t drive. But once we’re rested we’ll come to you and Bobby. Is that okay?”
“I’ll check.” Dean turned to Bobby. “They’re both alive. Mom says demons attacked the house. Can they come here?”
He expected Bobby to say yes, no problem, but instead he held his hand out for the phone. A little worried, Dean handed it over.
“Mary, are you both okay? Really?” Bobby demanded. He was quiet for a moment, listening. “Where are you, exactly? Are you both safe?” Another pause. “Okay. Yes, of course, but don’t come here. Can you make it to Harvelle’s?…Good. We’ll meet you there. Do you need money, Mary?…You sure now? Okay. I’ll see you soon.” He didn’t hang up, but offered the phone back to Dean.
“We’re fine, Dean. We’ll see you soon.”
“Okay. Bye, Mom.” Dean waited until he heard the click of her hanging up. “Why wouldn’t you let them come here?” he accused, anger flaring.
“Because we need to be in Nebraska by tonight, and I figured you’d want them with us. And if they’ve got demons on their tail, Harvelle’s is safer.”
Dean relaxed. “What’s the hurry? Why do we have to go to Harvelle’s?”
“Bill has a lead on your brother.”
Ellen Harvelle closed the saloon door behind the last man to leave. She locked the door, pocketed the key and reached up to slide the bolt home. Then she turned to face the people who were left: Bobby Singer and his new protégée, Dean Winchester. Dean’s parents, Mary – Mary Campbell, whom Bill claimed as a relative – and John. She didn’t like having so many strangers in the Roadhouse, but Bill insisted. Family was family, however distant. The old hunting families supported each other.
She headed back to the group gathered around the pool table, and kissed her husband. “I’m going to bed. You’ll be okay here?”
Bill kissed her back. “We’ll be fine, love. Don’t wait up for me.”
Ellen nodded and left them to it.
Bill watched her go, then it was time to get down to business. He’d kept everyone waiting long enough. He pulled the rolled-up maps out from beneath the pool table and spread them out over the baize. He used a couple of balls to weigh down the corners. “So,” he began, I’ve been tracking the omens since we talked,” he nodded to Bobby, then looked around at all of them. “What I found…well, it’s got me scared. So it’s between us, here, you understand?”
“I got it,” Bobby agreed.
Bill waited for everyone else to nod or agree before he went on. “First, your boy,” he nodded to Mary and John, “and all those other kids who disappeared. Coincidental with each disappearance, there was an electrical storm over this area.” He indicated a county of South Dakota on the map.
“That’s my backyard, Bill,” Bobby objected. “I would have noticed.”
“Not these, you wouldn’t. Not unless you were searching the way I was. These are micro storms, not the kind you’d notice in the weather.” He leaned over the map. “Just about the only thing in the area is Cold Oak.”
“What’s Cold Oak?” Dean asked.
“It’s a ghost town,” Bobby answered. “One of those old frontier towns that died when it wasn’t the frontier any more. Cold Oak is literally a ghost town. It’s supposed to be haunted.”
“No one lives there?” Dean frowned.
“An occasional idjit thrill seeker camps out in the street. No one lives there permanently.”
“Is it really haunted?”
“Beats me. No one lives there, so if the ghosts are real, they ain’t hurtin’ anyone. Most likely it’s just stories.”
“And you think,” John said, wincing as he leaned forward to examine the map, “the missing kids are there?”
“I think they were taken there,” Bill corrected. “I ain’t sayin’ they stayed put.”
John nodded, accepting the distinction. “Why would anyone do that?”
Bill shrugged. “I know you don’t want to hear it, John, but demons mostly kill, maim or torture. Whatever they want with those kids, it ain’t good.”
“So we’re going to Cold Oak.” John looked at Mary. She nodded, pale and tired.
“Before you make travel plans,” Bill interrupted, “I found something else you should see.” He turned to Bobby. “You know what the demonic omens have been like recently. Impossible to track because they’re showing up everywhere.”
Bobby nodded. “Storm’s coming. We all know it.”
“Yeah. Well, like I said, they’re everywhere. Except an area about a hundred miles across, in southern Wyoming.”
Bobby sat up straight. “What are you sayin’, Bill?”
“I just said it. The one part of the continental US where there’s no demons at all is southern Wyoming.” Bill drew the second map from beneath the first: this one was a state map of Wyoming, but he didn’t lay it out, not yet. “Do you know what’s there, Bobby?”
“Nope,” Bobby answered at once. “Quit making such a production of it, Bill.”
Bill smiled. Can’t help myself on this one. ’Cause if you already know about this, man, I’m pissed as Hell you didn’t tell me. But if you don’t…Singer, I am about to blow your mind.”
“Get on with it,” Bobby growled.
“Okay, okay. So, you ever hear about the Colt?”
Mary’s eyes widened, but she said nothing. She was a hunter’s daughter, born to the life. Naturally she knew the legend of the Colt.
Bobby nodded. “I heard the story. But I’ve been hunting a long time, Bill, and I never met anyone who’s ever seen it or even knows for sure it’s more’n a fairy tale.”
“If anyone had the Colt,” Bill pointed out, “they sure as Hell wouldn’t admit it. A lot of hunters would kill for that thing.”
“What’s the Colt?” Dean asked. He sounded irritated.
Bill took a breath to answer the question, but Mary spoke first. “I’ll tell you the story later, Dean.” She turned to Bill. “What does the Colt have to do with my son’s disappearance?”
“Southern Wyoming,” Bill answered, and he unrolled the map of the state. “Samuel Colt built five churches across the state.” He had already marked each of them on the map.
“A perfect circle,” John observed.
“Oh, it’s a bit more than that. That circle is a hundred miles across, and Colt didn’t just build churches. He built railroads to connect all five of them.” Bill produced a pen and drew the lines of the railroads on the map. “Just like this…” He drew a large, five-pointed star, a pentegram, connecting the churches already marked.
Bobby gave a low whistle.
“That’s genius,” Mary whispered.
“And for those of us new to demon hunting?” John prompted.
“It’s a devil’s trap,” Mary answered, but it was obvious her husband didn’t get it. “It’s what we use as protection,” she explained. “You can trap a demon inside the sigil. Or use it to keep them out.”
John studied the map. “So, which is this one doing?” he asked after a moment. “Keeping demons out…or keeping something in?”
Bill exchanged a look with Bobby. “That’s a real good question, John.”
“What about this Colt?” Dean asked.
It was almost 3am and they were in the motel parking lot. Mary could tell John was in a lot of pain. She wanted to get him into bed and check his wounds, change the bandages if necessary. The hellhound attack, followed by the explosion at the house had taken a toll on him that was more than physical. The injuries would heal, though there was still a risk of infection. Emotionally, though…Mary wasn’t sure. There was a new hardness in John she didn’t like seeing.
Bobby said quietly, “That can wait until tomorrow, Dean.”
“No,” Mary answered wearily. “It’s late and we’re all tired, but there are still some things we need to discuss.” She bit her lip, worried about Bobby’s reaction, then added, “As a family.”
Bobby looked at her, his face unreadable. “And I’m not family. Fine. At least one of us will get some sleep, then.” He turned toward his room.
“Bobby, I didn’t mean – ” she began apologetically, although she had meant exactly that. She had promised Bobby honesty, but there were some secrets she was not ready to share with him. Her father’s paranoia again: he had never trusted other hunters.
He turned back. “It’s fine, Mary. Really.”
Mary turned to Dean. “I know you’re tired, Dean, but please?”
Dean nodded curtly, clearly not happy. He led the way to Mary and John’s room.
Once they were inside, Mary gave John some painkillers and insisted he take them, then she sat down, watching Dean checking the salt lines. She hadn’t needed to ask him to do it.
“The Colt,” she said. “It’s an old legend. Back in 1835 Samuel Colt made a gun for a hunter. This gun is supposed to be able to kill anything. Demons, vampires. Anything.”
“Bobby seems to think it’s just a story,” Dean shrugged.
“It’s not. I mean, I can’t vouch for what it can or can’t kill, but I know the Colt exists. I’ve seen it.”
“Do you remember, John? Just after my parents died.”
John frowned, then he nodded. “Yeah, I do remember. An antique revolver. There was a star carved on the grip and something etched along the barrel. Spanish?”
“Latin,” Mary corrected. “Non timebo mala. I will fear no evil. Thirty years ago I returned the Colt to a hunter from Manning, Colorado. If he’s still alive, he still has it.”
“Think he’d give it to us?” Dean asked, then answered his own question. “Not likely, is it? That thing must be priceless.”
“I don’t know, Dean. Tell Bobby. I can’t remember the hunter’s name but Bobby might know him. There’s more I have to tell you, though, and this you can’t tell Bobby.” She looked at John. He didn’t know what she was going to say, but she thought he would understand why she wanted it kept in the family.
John met her eyes briefly and nodded. “Your word, son.”
“I trust Bobby!” Dean protested.
“So do I,” Mary agreed, “but not with this. You’ll understand when you hear it.”
Dean looked at her, then at his father. “Okay. I promise.”
Mary sighed with relief. “The night before you left with Bobby, I told you that Sam has true dreams.”
“I remember,” Dean agreed warily.
“Sam inherited that gift from me. I’ve had these dreams since I was a teenager. Not all of them are things I can check on but of those I could, only once have I ever been wrong. It’s a true ability, Dean.”
Dean sat down heavily. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Because I was raised a hunter, and most hunters don’t trust psychics. That’s why you can’t tell Bobby. I didn’t even tell John until recently.”
“Why tell me now, then?”
“Because I know what’s happening to Sam. I’ve been dreaming it.”
Dean stared at her. Mary waited for him to say something.
“Tell us,” John urged. “Is he still alive?”
She nodded, though John must surely have known she couldn’t have hidden it from him if she thought their son were dead. “Yes. I think so.”
“This is bad, isn’t it, Mom?” Dean looked grim and she wondered what inspired that look.
“The demon is taking these people to…a place. It’s a deserted settlement, maybe it’s this Cold Oak, but I can’t say for sure. At first they are simply abandoned there. They’re left to find each other, to…to begin to bond. Then…” Mary tried to continue, but the words wouldn’t come.
She felt John’s warm hand enfold hers. Mary met his eyes, drawing strength from him as she always had. She took a deep breath.
“The demon tells them that only one of them will be allowed to leave. Last one standing. He’s making them kill each other.”
Dean paled. “Sammy?”
“In my first dream about this, I saw a girl try to kill him in his sleep. Sam woke up, there was a struggle and he killed her instead.” With John holding her hand, she could say the words, but she couldn’t explain the horror of that scene, or how Sam seemed to lose control, how he stabbed the girl over and over again in some kind of frenzy.
“Self defence,” Dean said firmly.
“Yes, it was. That time. But Sam’s still alive and he’s still…killing.”
“No! Sammy wouldn’t do that. Come on! He won’t even swat flies!”
Mary felt tears sting her eyes. “I couldn’t believe it, either. But it’s what I’ve been dreaming. And one thing more.” She swallowed, then forced the words out. “I dreamed about Sam standing in an old cemetery. He had the Colt.”