~ CHAPTER 2 ~
Dean finally had his free coffee in hand and in one of those nice re-useable thermal mugs, too. He was about to pull out his latest bullshit credit card to pay for the food and gas when the door was flung wide open, accompanied by a high-pitched, supersonic squeal. Both he and Sam snapped their heads around in unison to see the source of the commotion.
“Papaaaw!” screeched a toddler, who launched herself through the open door, across the room and into the open arms of Lester, who took a knee to the groin with little more than gritted teeth and a grunt.
One would think from the way she was hugging the old man, she hadn’t seen him in months or years. But, Dean would lay money down that it had been more like days or even hours.
Sam used to be like that. When he was this little girl’s age (around three or four years of age) he was almost like a dog. If Dean left the room for more than five minutes, Sam would act like he was the second coming the moment he reappeared. Now he wanted him gone, out of the way, preferably not even on the same planet. How did they get from there all the way to here?
It wasn’t that he wanted Sam to run squealing and wrap himself around him like a spider monkey every time he walked into a room. That would just be all kinds of weird. But, did he have to resent him so much that he wanted him gone? Was he that awful to be around? Growing up, he had tried to handle everything Heaven and Hell had laid on their family and he knew it was a piss poor effort at best, but he was just a kid too. Didn’t Sam ever consider that when he was busy bellyaching about his crappy, subnormal life?
No more thinking, Winchester, he told himself. Just pay for your crap and go. Still, he couldn’t help tuning-in on the insane conversation going on just feet away.
The little girl was keenly interested in the location of the resident kitty cats and he found himself listening to the grilling she was giving her grandfather on what they’d been doing and the elaborate bullshit he cooked up for her in return. If you were to believe Lester, those cats had a full and exciting daily agenda that began with reading the morning paper while eating pancakes with blueberries on top.
The questions were endless, but the little girl’s voice had a sweet, musical quality to it and she made it all sound so damn fascinating. Honestly, he could probably just stand here all day and listen to her get lost in the imaginary adventures of two fat housecats. But, it was time to hit the blacktop, so he handed the card over to Joey and tossed in two Snickers bars from a box sitting on the counter. Cat hair was stuck to the wrappers, but he could deal with that, at least his food problem was solved.
Dean raised a brow at the rare screech of a modem; even he recognized that was behind the times.
“Lester refuses to upgrade,” Joey explained with an embarrassed shrug. “Sometimes it takes a minute… sorry.”
“Not a problem,” Sam replied. “We don’t have anywhere we need to be.”
“True, that,” Dean agreed as he leaned against the counter, waiting for his credit card to go through and glanced over at who he assumed was the toddler’s harried father.
The young man still hovered by the doorway looking shell-shocked. That wasn’t surprising, considering the little girl looked like she’d lost a fight with a red marker, a permanent one judging from the pungent, chemical smell surrounding her. Those stains weren’t coming out, the ring around her mouth was screaming blue Kool Aid, and the elastic on one of her honey-colored pigtails was just barely hanging on for dear life, and only because Dean sensed something sticky was aiding in the process. The kid was a cute but tiny train wreck, and the poor bastard was probably terrified of what Mommy was going to say about it.
An angry woman was a terrifying and rather exotic creature to Dean, something his lifestyle hadn’t given him a lot of experience with. Lisa had handled him with kid gloves during most of that year, seeing as how he was such a pathetic head case. She was probably afraid he’d drink himself to death if she spooked him and once all the shit hit the fan, it was too far beyond saving to bother with a fight. Now, here he was feeling a tiny bit jealous of this poor doomed schmuck. Yeah, he was definitely still a head case, but he was seriously in trouble if he was imagining this latest crazy.
The drop in temperature caused by a spiritual presence was usually subtle, something a person might shrug off unless they were asked about it later or used to looking for that type of sign. In this case, you’d have to be completely oblivious to your surroundings or dead yourself not to notice.
Someone or, more likely, something had flipped a switched and the entire store was now a giant walk-in freezer. The air temp had dropped a good twenty degrees in the span of few seconds and his breath was now billowing out in front of his face like tiny clouds. He turned his head to meet his brother’s alarmed gaze, the one that silently screamed: “Dude, holy shit. What the hell?”
Dean almost pumped his fist in the air. Finally! All the paranoia he’d felt since stepping out of the Impala was justified. He wasn’t that crazy. His freak-o-meter may be running a little hot, but it wasn’t completely on the fritz.
In one deep breath, he felt both incredibly calm and amped up to a thousand plus. He was in his comfort zone now. It was on.
“Nobody panic,” he said calmly but loudly, holding his hands out to his sides to show Lester he wasn’t planning to draw on anyone (no one human, anyway). “I need you all to gather close. I’ll expl-”
That was all he was able to get out before he was interrupted by the little girl’s father, who suddenly went from quiet and bewildered to complete piss-your-pants terror. If you asked Dean, his reaction was a little over-the-top for a drop in temperature. Of course, that was assuming this guy was just another civilian who didn’t know crap.
“Kenzie!” he screamed as he threw himself toward Lester, who was still holding the little girl on his hip. “Don’t let her go, Daddy! Whatever happens, we can’t let her go!”
Obviously, this civilian knew a little more than crap, but now wasn’t the time to ponder exactly what or how much.
“Lester, I’m about to pull my gun. I’m not shooting anybody. You’ll just have to trust me,” Dean warned while he dug in one of his hidden pockets for the clip of consecrated iron rounds he had stashed there. Then he yelled, “Sam!”
He hoped his brother’s name would be enough to convey everything he needed to get across, which was: ‘Move your ass, watch these people, protect them in any way you can, and try to make sure the old redneck doesn’t put a bullet in my back while you’re at it.’
It only took him a second or two to pop out the clip of regular bullets and replace it with the iron ones. He was vaguely aware of the background noise made-up of the little girl crying, Lester cursing, his son babbling, and Sam using his most earnest ‘everything’s going to be fine’ tone.
As soon as he heard and felt the familiar click of the magazine as it slid into place, his thumb flicked the safety and he pivoted toward the horrified shriek to his right. It was high-pitched, but not from a child. No, this sound was most definitely that of a grown man who’d just seen his very first ghost.
Lester was still standing over by the checkout counter, holding his granddaughter, but his son, who was a good deal taller, had his arms wrapped around the both of them, trapping the little girl so snugly between the two men that only one pigtail was visible. If it weren’t for the child’s crying, Dean would be worried about her ability to breath. The sight would have been comical if it weren’t for the sheer terror on Lester’s face and the obviously no-longer-living woman who stood mere inches away from his son’s back.
Like the typical ghost, she was pale and gaunt looking. Ligature marks were plainly visible above the collar of the frayed, old fashioned, cotton dress she wore. She looked tired and Dean guessed she was probably younger than the deep furrows between her eyes and lines around her mouth would suggest. This was someone who had lived a hard life long before the noose ever took her.
The spirit stretched an arm out and, unsurprisingly, her goal seemed to be the tiny wisp of hair peeking out from between the two men embraced in front of her.
“My blood…” she said in a raspy, unused voice which barely rated above a whisper. Anything else she may have had to say was lost when Dean’s bullet flew through the empty space where her head was and buried itself in a shelf of what looked like stuffed animals, muffling the shot and sending a puff of stuffing into the air.
Pillow Pets, read the sign on the boxes of stuffed animals. More As-Seen-On-TV crap.
After that, the room descended into deafening chaos. Dean’s ears were ringing (along with everybody else’s, he was sure), the freaking cats went scrambling across the room to find a new hiding spot and knocked over a rack of candy bars, the little girl was screaming, and everyone wanted answers yesterday. The usual stuff.
“Holy crap, Dean!” Sam yelled. “What the hell was that?”
That little tidbit he was able to pick out of the melee. Sam thought he’d lost it by shooting off a regular bullet that close to civilians, one of whom was a preschooler, when it was probably the least effective weapon in their entire ghost arsenal.
“Consecrated iron bullets, dude.”
Dean had to admit it. He was feeling a little smug, especially now that Sam appeared speechless.
“Since when do you just carry consecrated iron bullets around? Only thing we’ve ever used them on is a shtriga. I mean, yeah, they work on spirits… but rock salt’s always been cheaper and easier,” he finished with a shrug.
Oh, so Dean was being judged now for saving the day? That’s how this was going to work.
“I carry them since I was blasted to Purgatory with a lock pick, a pocket knife, my pistol, a little spray bottle of Borax, and a friggin’ bone. A bone, Sam. My ace in the hole was some old nun’s arthritic bone. So, yeah. I go out armed for bear these days. Cut me a fucking break!”
A gasp and a high-pitched giggle reminded Dean that they were not alone.
“He said the word!” the little girl said as she bounced and tugged on Lester’s shirt collar, sounding both delighted and scandalized at once. “Papaw, he said the word. You know! The one you said that one time, ‘member?”
If Lester remembered or not, he didn’t say either way. Dean’s foul-mouth seemed to be the least of his worries at the moment. Mostly, he seemed shocked. But the kid wasn’t crying anymore, maybe Dean could at least take credit for that.
“I wasn’t complaining, Dean,” Sam began in his best nice guy voice. “Seriously, man, I’m glad you-”
Dean threw up a hand. He didn’t want to hear it. “Never mind, we need to secure this place and figure out ‘what the hell’ before that thing comes back for more. I only have nine more rounds. Lester, Joey,” he snapped loudly, “one of you, please tell me you’ve got some salt around here.”
Lester seemed out of commission for the moment. Joey, who still stood behind the checkout counter and appeared even paler than he already was, watched his boss worriedly for a moment before finally speaking up haltingly, “Uh… there should be a couple a boxes of table salt in the second aisle from the door.”
“Any road salt?” Dean prompted, “for the parking lot, maybe?”
The young man pursed his lips and Dean knew he wasn’t going to like the answer.
“Well, I talked Lester into letting me order this liquid ice-melt stuff this year. It’s faster,” he added defensively. “But, we do have some bags of sand for traction just in case.”
“Told ya not to buy that crap,” Lester grumbled, suddenly snapping out of his trance and shooting a scowl in his employee’s direction. “Jayne thought those damn sandbags was kitty litter. Ripped one open and laid a big, smelly turd right in the middle of the durn thing. That was a banner day.”
Dean doubted Lester understood the significance of the lack of salt, but at least he was back in the world and the giggling little girl had two foul-mouthed men to amuse her. That was good, because she seemed to be the center of this mess. The less aware she was of that fact, the better.
Sam appeared at his elbow bearing three round containers of table salt decorated with the familiar figure of a girl under an umbrella. It was something.
“Was that a ghost?” Joey asked in a loud stage-whisper as he leaned his large belly over the countertop. Like a lot of people, he didn’t seem to think it was right to ask such a thing out loud.
Dean cast a guilty glance at the little girl, whose huge, blue eyes were now wide and alert, tears still drying on her cheeks as a reminder of how quickly things could go south again. Why did he always have to be the bad guy? He wanted to save people, not give children fuel for their nightmares.
“Why don’t we close the store down and make sure we’re safe, and then we’ll all have a talk,” Sam said, deftly sidestepping the question. He handed a container of salt to Dean and then took two of his extra-large steps and was standing in front of the doorway, where he flipped a switch that turned the neon ‘Open’ sign in the window off.
Sam had his own set of special skills in this business, Dean mused as he drew a large circle of salt in front of the checkout counter. His brother was good with people, much more patient and sensitive than himself in many instances, and a damn good hunter in his own right. He just didn’t understand why he wanted to leave it all behind.
What could Sam possibly want out there in the suburbs or wherever the hell he was while Dean was gone? Dean had tried it. He couldn’t do it. He was on eggshells, like a freaking tiger in a cage, constantly terrified that something was going to come and rip Lisa or Ben apart just for knowing him.
What was wrong with Sam? Was he too selfish to see that he couldn’t have that type of thing? Did he need to watch another woman burn on the ceiling?
There was no getting out. They couldn’t do normal. It wasn’t in the cards. But, here they were again, back to the teenage “I just want a normal life” broken record routine. History really does repeat itself.
“Hey, let’s play a game,” Dean said once his circle was complete. He looked at the little girl and winked, hoping his bullshit charms worked on the younger ladies too.
These people had just seen something they couldn’t explain. They’d seen him handle it and now they were all looking at him to tell them what to do next. He needed to move before they got over the shock and started looking for more ‘rational’ explanations. That kid was obviously their priority. She was the key the castle so to speak.
“Kinda game?” she asked curiously.
“The stupid grown-up kind,” he said with a shrug and a frown. “We’re gonna sit here in this circle of salt and tell fake ghost stories and you…” Dean scanned the room desperately.
“You can have a one of them pillars, bunny rabbit. Which one you want?”
Huh? Dean wasn’t sure what the hell Lester was talking about, but the little girl’s eyes lit up as he led her toward the display of Pillow Pets.
“Not bunny rabbit today,” she said matter-of-factly as she pursed her lips and surveyed her options. “I’m a kitten.”
Dean just wished she’d be ‘in a damn hurry’, but then wished she’d change her mind when her eyes fell on his collateral damage.
“Him killed it,” she sniffed.
“Naw, he’s not dead. He just needs love.” Lester reached down and grabbed the pinkish, bluish, yellowish nightmare that was once a unicorn and passed it into her arms.
“Band-Aids,” she insisted as she surveyed the large hole that was leaking stuffing from two sides.
“We don’t have ti-,” Dean cut himself off when his eyes fell on a stash of first aid supplies on a shelf near the front. He’d say someone upstairs liked him, but he knew better than that.
Quickly, he grabbed a large package of peel-n-stick bandages and balanced them on top of the unicorn the child was holding and offered her a smile, but gratitude was one thing he wasn’t getting. Damn, if this kid couldn’t do a vicious mean face. It seems that bad men who shoot defenseless unicorns are considered shifty characters by little girls.
Being in a circle of salt with four other full-grown men was awkward, especially when two of them were giants in their own way. There was no sitting. There wasn’t enough floor space and they couldn’t afford to waste the salt for it if there was. The five men simply stood facing one another now that formal introductions had been made.
The little girl, who Dean now knew as Miss MacKenzie Lester, sat in the middle of the circle at their feet, putting roughly five-zillion bandages on her new unicorn pillow and soothing it with tales of what a horrible man he was.
MacKenzie’s father, Mike Lester, was a train wreck. That was actually a good thing when it came to the often time-consuming ‘ghosts are real’ part of their gig. This dude was past convinced. He was nearly catatonic, but convinced.
Old man Lester was a no-nonsense type of guy. He’d seen something he couldn’t explain, but he had seen it with his own two eyes. His son was a basket case, his highly adored granddaughter appeared to be in danger, and he wanted answers. Still, he was amazingly calm in a crisis once he got over his initial shock and he didn’t appear the type to go off half-cocked. Dean was impressed. Of course, three tours in Nam probably put even incredibly jacked-up supernatural things in perspective.
And then there was Joey. That poor kid just wanted somebody to tell him what to do. Mostly, he seemed to want Lester to tell him what to do. Dean just hoped his resemblance to Ronald wasn’t an omen. He wanted to come out of this siege without any blood on his hands for once. It would be good to have a nice, clean win for a change.
“It’s Annabelle Early,” Mike finally choked out after quite a bit of coaxing.
“Annabelle Early?!” Lester scoffed. “That’s the damn stupidest thing I ever heard. Come on, Mike.”
“Who’s Annabelle Early?” Sam asked. It was the obvious question.
“Crazy woman,” Joey piped up. “Everybody around here knows about her. Back during the Civil War, all her kids got killed and she went nuts. She slaughtered all the farm animals; the horses, the cows, the chickens, even the barn cats and the poor old dog.”
The animal death toll had distracted MacKenzie from her nursing duties and now she was looking up at them with her lower lip poked out.
“It’s okay, baby doll,” Lester soothed when Mike’s silence made it obvious he still wasn’t up to the task of being Daddy yet. “He’s just tellin’ stories. Stupid stories,” he emphasized, glaring at Joey. “It wasn’t no Civil War, you idiot, it was World War I and all that animal stuff is just a bunch of lies.” Although the expression on his face said they weren’t lies.
“The woman had ten young ‘uns, so I reckon she was a little nuts,” Lester allowed. “War came along and her three oldest was boys, so they went off to Europe. Two of ‘em was killed and they didn’t hear from the other one for a good stretch, so they figured he’s probably dead too. Then the Spanish Flu hit. That was a real bad time. Wiped out whole families; took her husband, elderly mother, and all the rest of her kids. What was left of her sanity went too, you can damn well bet,” he said, matter-of-factly, but without any malice. “So, the poor ole thing took her own life and ever since they’s been all kinds of crazy stories flying around. Teenager stuff mostly. Kids go to her grave, light some candles; make a wish, goofy stuff like that. Nothing ever comes of any of it. Half the town’s done it at one time or another.”
“And these wishes?” Dean prompted. “What happens when you cash out? Nothing’s free.”
Mike whimpered, which was an odd sound coming from a strong, healthy looking man in his mid to late-twenties. And Lester, for his part, looked extremely uncomfortable. This was clearly the heart of it.
“Your firstborn,” Joey offered reluctantly. “That was always the story, anyways,” he said as he looked sideways at Lester, clearly expecting to be corrected again. “She lost all her kids and she wanted to get her some more. So, she’d grant your wish for you, but you had to give her your firstborn in return. Supposedly, she was into witchcraft or worshipped the devil or something crazy like that”.
“What did you wish for?” Dean asked Mike point blank. He had to know if they were on the right track. No point dancing around it all night.
But Lester turned on him like a bear defending its cub before he could answer. He was pissed. “Listen here, you can’t believe-”
“Baseball,” Mike answered abruptly, cutting across his father. “I wanted to make it to the majors, but we was all just kids. We were drunk and playing around. I wasn’t even the only one that made a wish that night. I didn’t actually think it would work!”
“You played pro ball?”
Mike nodded and looked Dean in the eye. He’d seen the look before, relief and guilt at once. Dean was now the equivalent of a cop or a priest to this guy. He was taking a confession.
“I was a relief pitcher for the Braves. Got to play in one game,” Mike informed him with a laugh, holding up a finger. “Then I threw my shoulder out for good in practice the very next day. End of my famous career right there.”
“Did any of the other wishes that night come true?” Sam asked. Dean could tell from the tone of his voice that he was trying to figure out what the key was. What was it that made Mike Lester so special?
Mike chewed his thumbnail while he thought about it for a second and then shook his head slowly.
“Don’t think so. I know for a fact that Dave Hensley never became no Army Ranger and I’d bet you pretty much anything that Scott Conklin never,” he paused and looked down at his daughter, who predictably seemed to be interested once again, “well let’s just say he never married Pamela Anderson.”
“Did you do anything different than those other guys?” Sam asked. “Maybe the ritual you did was different or you said something different? Can you think of anything?”
“Think I had one or two more beers,” he shrugged.
Awesome. A ghost that only grants the wishes of those who manage to blow a .08 or above on a breathalyzer. At least crazy and evil never let you down. A man can always count on things getting more crazy and more evil.
But Sam was shaking his head. His logical mind obviously wasn’t latching on to the crazier/eviler theory of the universe. “Think,” he pleaded. “There has to be something else. That doesn’t make sense.”
Joey giggled and then snorted when he tried to stop himself. It was way too girlish of a sound for a guy of his size and, like any child would, MacKenzie began giggling just because someone else was laughing.
“Sorry,” he gasped out as tried to compose himself. “It’s just… man,” He looked at Sam and began giggling again. “Dude, you are really, really intense. None of this makes sense. We’re standing in a circle of salt and your brother just blew away Rainbow Unicorn in front of God and everybody. Where’s the sense in any of this?”
That’s when Dean felt a slight nudge against his foot, hardly anything at all really. He looked down in time to see a little pink corduroy covered leg bent back under the kid’s chin, then the foot attached to it was launched full-speed into his boot once again. The pink and white sneakers she was wearing had flashing lights that lit up when her foot connected, which was really cool. MacKenzie wasn’t giggling anymore. Now she was wearing that face again. The pouty, angry one he was pretty sure was half-fake and designed mostly to keep the men around her in line. He had a feeling it worked too.
“Kenzie,” Lester scolded, trying hard to sound stern. “You’re bein’ ugly.”
This time, Dad had the presence of mind to step up. “You can’t kick people, Miss MacKenzie. Say you’re sorry.”
She shook her head and held up the bandaged unicorn pillow. “No! He shot Sparkles. He has to say sorry first.”
For God’s sake. Seriously? He was saving the kid’s life.
“I’m sorry.” It was the best he could manage. He even smiled and tried not to roll his eyes, but it wasn’t enough.
MacKenzie stretched her arm out and held the plush toy toward him. “Now kiss him.”
She sounded smug. How could someone that young sound so smug? And Sam. He heard that snort. It was time to stand firm. He wasn’t kissing a damn Pillow Pet.
“Just do it, son,” Lester said with a sigh. “Nobody’s judgin’. I had to kiss Jayne that time I accidentally stepped on his little paw.”
The image of the old redneck kissing that ginormous cat while strapped and wearing full hunting gear made Dean feel better about laying one on a glorified stuffed animal. At least it didn’t have fleas… hopefully.
He snatched the toy from where she was waggling it in midair and pressed it quickly against his face before handing it back. The grin and giggle he got in return was worth it and it shouldn’t have been. He was being played by a friggin preschooler! The giggle from Sam, on the other hand, was not gonna fly.
“Bite me, Sam.”
But Sam still looked smug too and he was nowhere near as cute as a MacKenzie.
“Are you forgetting something, Miss Kenzie?” Mike prompted.
“Oh,” she said innocently before looking up at Dean and giving him the biggest, cheesiest smile he’d ever seen in his life. He could see every tooth she had, along with every one she was currently missing. “Sorrrry,” she drawled.
“Not a problem, sweetheart.” Dean had to smile back. It was hard not to respect a well-played con, even when it was exactly the last thing they had time for.
“Okay,” he said, addressing the adults once again. “Just tell me where this chick is planted. My brother will stay here and keep everybody safe and I’ll go take care of her.”
“We don’t even know if she’s the real problem,” Sam argued back. “You heard what Mike said about the other wishes not coming true. Annabelle Early might just be an urban legend. We can’t afford to split up and waste time chasing a dead end. Something doesn’t add up.”
Sam would have made a good lawyer. He did love to argue.
“And what can we afford to do, huh, Sammy? Stand in a circle all night? Sometimes you have to go with what you’ve got. There’s not always time to plan when you’re in the middle of a freaking war. Course, you are rusty,” he threw in, instantly regretting it when he spotted the hurt, betrayed look in his brother’s eyes.
“Dean, you always-.”
There was enough of John’s military sense of order and Bobby’s flat-out crankiness in Lester’s tone to shut Dean up and apparently it worked for Sam as well, because he quit arguing too.
“If you two ’ll stop sniping at each other, I’ll tell you what makes Mike different from them other boys.” He paused for a moment to make sure he had everyone’s attention before continuing.
“It turned out one of Annabelle’s sons did make it back from the war. The oldest. He wasn’t dead, he was just taken prisoner for a while and nobody here knowed it yet. Back then, word didn’t get around like it does now. He came back after the war and started a family. Mike here is Annabelle Early’s great, great grandson.”
“What? No I ain’t.”
Lester seemed to find his son’s disbelief funny, but his laughter quickly turned into a deep, nasty-sounding cough. The man had clearly been smoking for far too long.
“Of course you are,” he said, after spitting into a handkerchief he must keep handy for such occasions. “You knowed your mamaw was an Early and all the Earlys is kin to each other. Shoulda known she was related to you somehow.”
Mike wrinkled his nose in disgust. “How come nobody told me?”
“Well it’s not really a secret, but we don’t pull her picture out on a regular basis and parade it around. She ain’t exactly the pride and joy of the family, now is she?”
Shit. That made sense, perfect twisted sense. This ghost wasn’t granting those other people’s wishes because it didn’t want just any old firstborn. She wanted her kids back, so she was only interested in those from her own bloodline. The only question was, why now? Why had she waited until MacKenzie was nearly old enough to go to school before trying to stake her claim?
“Did the legends say anything about a timeframe?” Sam asked.
Funny how they could be miles apart on most things, but often had the exact same thoughts.
“Did they specify…” Sam paused and shifted on his feet. He was apparently trying to make sure the firstborn in question wasn’t too aware that she was the topic of this conversation. A panicky kid was all they needed. “Was there maybe a certain age?” he finally asked.
The expressions on the three men in front of them told Dean that there never had been any special time provisions in any of the various ghost stories. Not that it mattered. Sam’s giant brain should be satisfied now. They had established motive, so to speak. Now they needed to move their ass and burn some bones. He did almost scream hallelujah, however, when his eyes fell on the local paper sitting in a newspaper rack a few feet away. Now he could shut Poindexter Winchester up for good.
There was supposed to be a fairly spectacular meteor shower tonight. Dean had even heard about it on the radio earlier when Sam was off taking-a-leak during one of their gas breaks, but he’d forgotten about it. At the time it didn’t seem like anything important. But now. Now it seemed extremely important.
Spirits and other crap loved that sort of thing. Comets, meteors, eclipses, certain moon phases, solar flares, and what-the-fuck-have-you. It was all like supernatural Viagra to these freaks.
He elbowed Sam and pointed toward the headline on the newspaper. “Case closed, dude. Can we move this show along now?”
Sam narrowed his eyes as he followed the path of Dean’s finger. It wasn’t possible for anyone, aside from Superman, but he was still straining to read the fine print of the article.
Sammy liked to have all possible information in all cases, except when his brother mysteriously disappeared. That was a clear cut case for an exception if there ever was one. Definitely a time to shrug and say to yourself, “Nope, not here. Must be dead. Maybe I’ll get a dog? Ooh look, a girl!”
“What? What is it?” Joey demanded.
Dean noted there was a great deal of anxiety in the young man’s voice as he looked back and forth between him and Sam, trying to figure out what they were talking about. Part of that likely came from the temperature having bottomed out again. It had happened so suddenly, it was amazing. Either this was one mother of a meteor shower, one mother of a powerful ghost, or one hell of a combination of the two.
“Sam, cover the little girl’s ears!” Dean ordered.
This time, she appeared in front of the display of dog Snuggie’s, shimmering slightly before becoming a solid, tangible presence. As real as anyone, only dead. Definitely not something a person could claim they had imagined. This wasn’t Mr. Scrooge’s bit of mustard. In fact, Dr. Peter Venkman would call this one a full-on Class IV Apparition.
Almost as quickly as she’d appeared, she blinked out of existence and then there she was, not an inch from the tip of Dean’s nose, as close to the edge of the circle of salt as the ghostly rules of physics would allow.
Dean was telling himself the sound of his gun going off drowned out his high-pitched scream. Then again, to hell with it. Who cared? Everybody else screamed too. Who wouldn’t? Jesus H. Christ. ventually he was going to get too old for this crap. There was no way his heart could take this for too many more decades. Fifty was going to be pushing it. That Bobby managed it for so long was a miracle.
When he turned, he noted that MacKenzie’s father had scooped her up and was holding her tightly against his chest. Between him and her grandfather, her ears were thoroughly muffled this go around. Despite his ears not being covered when the shot rang out, he could still hear the terrified wailing coming from the child, although the sound had the illusion of being in a tunnel and much further away.
“Shot kitties,” the echo accused.
Good grief. A seriously terrifying ghost just popped up and that’s the drama. Yes, he did shoot the stupid fake unicorn, but he did not shoot any cats and Dean wasn’t going to waste time trying to find two terrified balls of fur with giant claws and kiss them to make it better. The line was drawn. He didn’t care what anybody said. He gave Lester a look he hoped conveyed as much.
The old man scrubbed a hand through his white hair and absently patted the little girl’s back. “It’s okay, bunny. I saw ‘em squeeze in under the shelves on the first aid aisle. They’re fine. Papaw wouldn’t let nobody shoot your kitty cats.”
“Shoot him if he tries,” she demanded with a sniff and another pouty stink eye directed at Dean.
Lester just shook his head and gave Dean an apologetic shrug before answering her with a tired sigh, “If he tries to fire on those precious kitties, old Papaw will shoot him down where he stands.”
The brat grinned and wrinkled her little nose at him as she burrowed deeper into her father’s arms.
“Seriously?” Dean asked. Okay, the kid was obviously a little spoiled, but jeez.
“You got plans to shoot them cats?” Lester spat back impatiently.
“Nothing set in stone,” Dean mumbled, ignoring his brother’s snort of amusement.
Now, he felt vaguely stupid in the same way that Bobby used to make him feel at times. Lester did look pale, his hands were visibly trembling, and he supposed he should cut the old guy a break. He was probably seriously jonesing for a smoke about now and that was the least of his problems. Arguing over popping a cap in a couple of cats no one had any intentions of killing wasn’t real productive unless you were four.
“I think we better find that grave,” Sam announced seriously, echoing his thoughts.