Title: The Mudhouse Mansion
By: Mary, the Contrary One
Pairing: gen
Rating: PG-13
Note: Before you begin reading, I have to warn you about a couple of things:

1) This was a bit of an indulgence for me. No, there's no Mary Sue, but I did set it in my home town (maybe that's a Mary-Sueville?). I loved the Winchester boys so much, I decided to send them to a local, popular haunt, just so I could feel cool. If you already know about the Mudhouse Mansion, wow, awesome! Where do you live? If not, you can research it - but please wait until after you read my fanfic if you want to be surprised. Also, I've been on the grounds of the place, but never inside - and it's been awhile, so details are shaky anyway.

2) My story is loosely based on local folklore, which itself is almost definitely false. I am not implying anything about the house, and I completely made up every event in this fic.

3) This story has not been beta'ed! And I'm a sloppy writer. I do hope to revise it...but just that sounds like something I would say.

4) Don't read if you know anything about building structures, because you will be annoyed with my ignorance. In many cases, I took things that have perfectly logical explanations and made them sound stranger than they are.

Disclaimer: Supernatural does not belong to me. The folks at the WB own it.
Summary: For decades, a tragic story has lurked behind the abandoned Mudhouse Mansion. The Winchester brothers must struggle against strange clues and dark spirits before they become its next victims.

***

The Chevy Impala rumbled down the barely-paved country road, bouncing its two occupants whenever it hit one of the ruts or potholes that pocketed the ground. They had never been on this route, had never even been closer than 45 miles away, but the road was all too familiar. In their twenty years of hunting, they'd traveled down many others that were just like it. Two lanes twisting through hills or plains, fields or wilderness, but almost always remote, almost always lonely. This one was of the hilly field variety, lined on either side with bushes and run-down fences that bordered wide expanses of land. Just another country road.

As soon as Dean had turned onto it, though, he knew instantly that this road would be one of the few that will actually lead to something. He'd never really believed in that "sensitive to the spirits" crap, but deep in his gut, he felt that familiar, uneasy stirring. No, this one would not disappoint.

"Want another burger?" Sam asked him, staring into the white bag as his face twisted in disgusted.

All right, so maybe that feeling in his stomach came from those six White Castles.

"Nah, man, I'm fine," he told his brother. He gripped the wheel as his eyes shifted from side to side.

On the left side of the road were scattered homes, modest places built within the past thirty years. They sat back from the road, half-hidden by bare trees and deadened bushes. To his right lay empty fields, gently rising and falling without pattern. At one time they were probably filled with crops, but now they lay barren under a straggly layer of brown grass covered with a fine dusting of snow.

And even though the road was called Mudhouse, Dean was disappointed he didn't see a single house made from mud, or even clay.

Beside him, Sam stared out the passenger window, a look of disinterest on his face. "Aw, come on now," Dean drawled. "Don't pout."

Sam's head did a slow roll from the window as he looked at his brother through the corner of his narrowed eye. "Yeah, well I'm sorry that a big waste of our time makes me feel less than giddy." His head rolled back to the window, his face now more tense.

Dean gritted his teeth. So their last three stops turned out to be nothing more than overactive imaginations - or in the last case, a group of college students who had too little to do and too much to drink. But in their line of work, wild goose chases and false leads were all too common. Last year, for example, Dean had gone five months before he found a legitimate case of paranormal activity. And Sam was getting pissy over a lousy two and a half weeks?

"Look. One of these cases will lead us to Dad," Dean explained as he had countless times before. "We gotta check out each one until we find the right one, and until..." But he trailed off, knowing Sam wasn't listening, knowing that he himself wasn't paying attention to what he was saying.

Suddenly Sam straightened up, his eyes fixed on something outside the passenger window. Surprised, Dean swept his gaze towards the fields on the right. Almost immediately he saw it, and he felt an irrational bolt of irritation that Sam spotted it first.

The house sat at the top of a low, wide hill, overlooking the expanse of fields they were passing. Instead of facing the road like most houses, this one boldly stared at Dean and Sam head on as their car rambled towards it.

The house itself was a ghost, just a shell left over from past glory. Even from the distance, Dean could tell it was abandoned. Its tall, gaping windows were black and lifeless, its red brick gray with dirt and years.

Sam let out a low whistle. "Damn. If that house isn't haunted already, it should hunt down its own ghost just so all that spookiness doesn't go to waste."

Dean nodded wordlessly, switching his gaze back and forth from the road to the house. Just as they were about even with the structure, he found an overgrown lane that had served as a driveway of sorts at one time. He pulled the car into the mouth, unable to go any farther because of a rusted metal gate that barred the way. The house, with its side now facing the them, could barely be seen from their vantage point. It sat far back from the road and was partially hidden by a clump of trees that stood midway beside the barely-there driveway.

"All right, let's tear this bitch up," Dean announced, grabbing his pack from the backseat before hopping out of the Chevy. Sam followed suit, coming around to meet Dean at the back of the car. "We should keep it light for now," Dean said, rifling through the stuff hidden inside the trunk. "It's still daylight, and I don't want to explain the katana to the local police." He straightened up, holding a hammer and a short dagger. Sam didn't look surprised when Dean handed him the hammer, keeping the blade for himself.

Dean slammed the trunk lid shut and the two of them headed for the house. The gate, which consisted of two metal poles stretched across the width of driveway with a faded "No Trespassing" sign hanging from the top one, provided no real challenge, and the two boys were quickly on the other side, trudging through the overgrown grass.

It was a short hike as they stomped past rocks, thorny branches, and the occasional animal-dug hole. The cold, early December air stung Dean's nose and snaked its way into his lungs with each breath, yet his armpits grew sticky under his coat and shirt as they continued their way up the slow incline. The distance was longer than it looked.

The driveway suddenly faded into an open yard, and the two boys paused to gaze up at the three-story brick house, now in full view. All of the glass was missing from the windows, giving the place the feel of an empty, hungry void. The woodwork, especially the front porch, looked rotted. Though the websites dubbed it the "Mudhouse Mansion", it wasn't overly huge - but even so, it held the promise of many rooms and dark corners to explore.

The house did not stand alone. Dean took a quick survey of the property, his heart pounding at the possibilities. They were walking on the grounds of an estate, complete with several old outbuildings, all which beckoned them. In fact, the building they stood closest to wasn't even the mansion, but another large brick structure a mere couple of steps to their left. At two stories tall, it was the size of a small house, though as far as Dean could tell, it looked more like a workshop or storage building.

Behind the house stood another, smaller building, one that made Dean think of a tiny, one-room schoolhouse. There was also yet another brick structure - storeroom maybe - also in the back. Way off at the far side of the house was an old wooden barn. One wall and some of the roof looked partially collapsed. Dean also saw the edge of another building the house blocked from view.

"So, this is where Bloody Mary originated," Sam remarked, frowning thoughtfully. His tone faked interest, but Dean knew him well enough to recognize his sarcasm.

"Of course not," Dean replied easily. "But that doesn't mean she's not here."

"Yeah, well I wish we had more to go on than a couple of websites," Sam threw back. "I trust them less than those drunk college kids."

"Aw, you miss your friends, Sammy?" Dean knew he probably shouldn't have said that. Sam was still touchy when it came to his happy life as a happy little college student, and Dean really didn't want to remind him how he had come along and ripped him away - perhaps even getting his girlfriend killed in the process.

So Dean accepted the glare Sam shot his way, knowing he deserved it. He shook his shoulders and sighed. "All right, let's see what's here," he said, stepping towards the house.

Sam hung back, so Dean decided to relent a little. "If we don't find anything right away, we'll go on our merry way, okay?" he said as a peace offering. "Be outta here by tomorrow." Normally, he'd spend up to a week investigating a place - his father had always insisted - just to make sure it wasn't haunted/possessed/cursed. But now he had his less-than-patient brother with him.

And frankly, Dean was anxious to find his father too.

"And then what? We'll travel through another three states just to get to the next Bloody Mary legend?"

Dean shrugged, slowing in his tracks. "Unless Dad gives us another hint," he said over his shoulder.

Though he didn't show it - after all, getting anything done would be hard if they were both bitching - he was frustrated too. Their father had only left a two-word phrase scribbled on a napkin, the only thing they had to go on. Dean had found it sticking out of Miller Genuine Draft sign - a hiding spot their dad had used before - at a rundown bar after their last successful hunt. All he had written was "Bloody Mary" and nothing more, least of all an actual location.

Hell, he was probably drunk when he wrote it.

Sam groaned as he eyed the mansion. "Something might be here," he admitted. "But I doubt it's Bloody Mary. I bet there isn't a single mirror left inside that thing."

"Won't know until we look." Sam nodded reluctantly, pulling out the hammer as he caught up with Dean.

As the two brothers walked towards the house, Dean raked his eyes over the windows, looking for a way in. The ones on ground level were boarded up; even the doorway, missing its door, was blocked by a large piece of wood. The hammer would definitely come in handy.

Dean suddenly stumbled over something small and hard on the ground. Fortunately he caught his balance before he could make an ass of himself by falling. Frowning, he looked at his feet and kicked at the thing he tripped on. When it moved, he reached down and picked it up.

"Damn, that place is falling apart," Sam remarked as he looked at the thing in Dean's hand.

It was a broken piece of metal twisted into a delicate design. Dean looked up and saw that it matched the metalwork that crowned the porch roofs in patches. He frowned. They were still a good hundred feet from the house. Even though the piece fit in his hand, it still had a heavy weight to it. It was small, only a fraction the size of the length missing from the roofs. Could a strong wind knock down a iron molding piece by piece? Dean ran his fingers along the sides, feeling the rough spots where the metal broke off.

Sam searched through the grass with his feet, and he pulled up another small fragment about ten feet away. He held it up so Dean could see before he tossed it back on the ground. Dean dropped his down in front of him, where it landed with a thud against the frozen ground.

Once they reached the house, they found a window around the back that had a loose board hammered to the frame. Unlike the other windows, this one was boarded from the outside, which probably meant it was the entrance most thrill-seekers and ghost hunters used. Sam took the flat end of the hammer head and with a few strong jerks, managed to pry the board from the window. Behind the board, the glass was gone, just like the others.

Dean crawled through first, stepping aside to let Sam in behind him. Inside, the room was trashed, and he had to be careful where he stepped. The lighting was dim, coming only from the cracks and holes in the floorboards above, and the sunlight that seeped around the edges of the window boards, much like a solar eclipse. Fortunately, it was just enough light to see.

This place definitely had its share of visitors, and at least some of those decided to vandalize the walls and furniture. The floor was covered with debris, and any furniture that had been left behind - and by the looks of it, most of it was - was torn to shreds.

"Okay, we've got a nice place-" When Sam snorted at that, Dean shrugged in agreement and went on, "-with lots of land, and an abandoned house filled with personal belongings."

"These people didn't move," Sam concluded for him. "And whoever this place was left to wanted nothing to do with it."

"And why didn't they sell it?" Dean mused, already thinking of possible answers. Sam spoke two of those possibilities out loud.

"Because the family had something to hide," he said. "Or they tried to sell, but no one was willing to buy."

"And we gotta figure why," Dean added.

"I still don't think it's Bloody Mary," Sam said stubbornly.

Dean ignored him as he started to pick his way through the junk. Sam searched beside him, and together they explored the entire first floor. It wasn't a comfortable search - even though the boards in the windows blocked the wind, the temperature inside was just as low as it was outside. But each room was filled with enough things to distract Dean from the cold. Every room was filled with debris, and the two brothers searched through it for clues or signs.

Dean wondered briefly if looters had left anything valuable behind in the junk that littered the rooms. But of course he didn't have enough time to look.

In one room, someone had spray-painted an inverted pentagram on the wall, but there wasn't any real evidence of Satanists or any other group using the room as a meeting place. However, there were several beer bottles and cans littering the floor - obviously this was a popular hangout. But there wasn't anything to tell them what - if anything - lurked inside the home.

After they made a sweep of the first floor, they came to a wooden staircase, the kind that went up halfway, and then turned to go up the rest of the way. "Well, this must be the spot where Greg Johnston died," Sam murmured, gazing up the stairs.

"Yep."

"Doesn't look like a fall that would usually kill, but all it takes is headfirst landing." Sam shot a look at his brother. "It's not exactly a death that screams paranormal."

"Nope. But there's also the coed with a mysterious aneurysm, that boy who disappeared, and those two suicides."

"Anything could have happened to Stevie McDougal, and that was thirty years ago. Just because he lived on the same street, there's no proof he wandered over here. And, you know, if I kill myself a week from now, I somehow doubt this house will have anything to do with it."

Dean thought about saying something but didn't, feeling too uncomfortable. Sam continued. "If anything, this place is cursed, and we don't have time to figure out how to reverse it." Cocking his head, Dean shot him a dark look, and Sam threw up his arms. "Hey, it's not my fault they decided to trespass onto a haunted property."

"And I thought you were the sensitive one," Dean remarked dryly. He turned to the staircase and tested the first step. When it proved to hold his weight, he started making his way up. He could hear Sam following behind him, the stairs creaking with each step.

The second floor was much like the first, only with bedrooms. However, the air was much easier to breathe than it had been the enclosed level below. A fresh breeze blew in from the open windows, so Dean didn't have to inhale a noseful of old, stale dust with each breath. Not only that, but the windows also allowed the late afternoon sun in, so seeing was easier as well.

Despite these luxuries, Dean and Sam didn't find much to hold their interest on the second floor. More trashed furniture, more litter, and no signs of any horrible past that may or may not have happened.

Dean rubbed his temples. He remembered the articles and online rumors they found concerning the modern-day deaths connected to the Mudhouse Mansion, but his mind drew blanks whenever he tried to remember the story of the original family - or even if there were more than one. Details from previous cases - from previous horrors and evil deeds - blended together so that Dean couldn't remember which story this house held. "Okay," he said, giving up. "Now what do we know for certain about the history here?"

"Nothing," Sam replied, effectively explaining why Dean couldn't remember. "No one seems to know anything. In fact, no one can even remember how long it's been abandoned. They certainly don't have any basis for a haunting claim, except that it looks haunted."

Dean swept his gaze over the walls of the last bedroom on the floor. "Great. So even if this place is haunted, no one knows why."

"Exactly. Then somebody starts a Bloody Mary rumor, just to have something scary to say. The next thing you know, teens are trampling around this rundown hole, and one of them trips down the stairs, just fueling the rumors."

Dean sighed. Sam did have a point, and as he mentioned earlier, they had yet to find any mirrors in the house. Even if the place were haunted, right now they were looking for a Bloody Mary.

Sam must have seen Dean's torn expression. "Look, we can always come back," he bargained, "After we track down Dad."

Dean looked around the room, staring at the lifeless furniture that had at one time held warm bodies, and he couldn't help but wonder what they had witnessed. He thought he could feel it in the air, the energy, the desolation, from something long ago. The place just didn't feel right.

But they hadn't actually found anything.

"All right," he finally agreed. "Let's just check the third floor, and then we can-"

Something thumped on the floor above them.

"What the hell?" Dean muttered, looking up at the ceiling. It shook as another thump sounded above.

Dean and Sam barely glanced at each other as they immediately raced for the stairs.

Sam, with his longer legs, reached the stairs first, but Dean was right behind him as they pounded up the steps. As soon as they reached the third floor, they both stopped in their tracks as a thick stench hit their noses.

"Oh, God," Sam choked, covering his nose and mouth with his hand. "What is that?"

The windows were open, but Dean felt none of that fresh air they enjoyed on the second floor. Instead, the air up there lay thick and heavy, clinging to their faces. The air even seemed darker, but he couldn't tell if it was the result of a setting sun or something else. But that wasn't the reason he wanted to sink to his knees and throw up.

It smelled like death.

"Ugh," Dean ground out. He's never gotten used to that smell, and judging by Sam's reaction, he hadn't either.

"You think there's a physical source?" Sam asked.

Dean shook his head in answer. "But we'll find out while we catch whatever's up here."

They quickly searched the rooms - most of them bedrooms - but no matter where they were, the smell didn't grow stronger, and to their chagrin, it certainly didn't get any weaker. They could not find anything to explain the smell - though they did find plenty of animal droppings, which only added to the sickening stench.

Nor could they find any sign of whatever had made the thumps they heard. Dean thrummed with irritated adrenalin, spinning around in the last room. "C'mon, show yourself, you son of a-"

A loud bang shook the house.

"The second floor," Sam remarked, and instantly they were at the stairs again, this time racing down to the floor below.

Once again they were greeted with the same decaying smell, a stench that definitely hadn't been there moments before. The two brothers split as they ran through the rooms again, but other than the smell, Dean found nothing had changed since their last search. As they came together again, they shook their heads negative. Neither had seen anything.

Right then, another bang sounded, this time from the other side of the house. Just as they were about to run to check it out, another bang from somewhere else stopped them in their tracks. They paused, stilling their breath as they trained their ears for other noises. Another bang, two rooms down.

And then another bang, this time from the bedroom right next to them. "It's coming closer-" Sam hissed

His last word was clipped when the door to the room they stood in slammed shut.

When nothing else happened, the two brothers lunged for the door. Just as Sam's hand wrapped around the handle, a scream ripped through the air.

"That sounded like a young girl," Sam gasped as the house settled back into a still silence. Dean bounced impatiently as Sam struggled with the doorknob. Finally it gave in, and Sam yanked the door open. They poured into the hallway.

But throughout the entire house, they found no sign of a young girl.

***

By the time the sun sank below the horizon, the Winchester brothers gave up their search inside the house. Dean suggested going through the outbuildings next, and Sam was forced to agree, even though the temperature was starting to dip from its already cold starting point.

They climbed back out of the window that lead to the back of the house. Sam eyed the small building stood right behind the house, almost butted up against the house itself. The only thing separating the brick structure from the house was a narrow back porch. It seemed curious to Sam, though admittedly he didn't know much about 19th century estates. Maybe it was used as a kitchen or for meat storage.

He was too busy wondering about the building, which stood to his right, to notice Dean had fixed his attention to their left. "Oh, no," Dean muttered angrily. Sam whirled around and saw the flashing blue and red of a police car. "He better not touch my car," Dean added with a growl.

When his older brother started stomping his way back down the driveway, Sam quickly caught up and followed behind him. In the failing light, he could barely make out the form of an officer standing by the two cars, obviously waiting for them.

"Anything I can help you with, gentlemen?" he asked gruffly once they were within hearing distance.

Dean quickly stuck out a hand. "Good evening, officer," he greeted cheerfully, shaking the reluctant man's hand. "My name is John Martin, Jr. and this is my co-worker, Larry Baumgartner." With a swift, practiced movement, he pulled something small and white from his shirt pocket and handed it to the officer. "I'm a real estate agent, here to assess the property."

"From Kansas?" he pointed out skeptically.

"Just transferred a week ago," Dean replied without missing a beat.

Sam watched, forcing himself into a relaxed stance, as the officer read the business card. "You're out here awfully late, aren't you?" the cop remarked.

"Time got ahead of us," Dean explained with an easy chuckle. "We couldn't get here until late this afternoon, but the owner demanded we put this up on the market ASAP, so..." He threw up his arms in a helpless, what-can-you-do shrug.

Sam kept calm as the cop looked between the two brothers. "So Ol' Miss Morey finally caved in, eh?" he finally asked, and Sam let out an imperceptible breath.

"Yes, she sure did," Dean agreed. "Needs some money so she can spend her golden years in comfort."

The officer let out a half laugh, half sigh. "Damn, what a relief. She's had us patrol this road since before I became a cop, just to kick out occasional high-schoolers or sightseers." He shook his head at the thought. "So, how much is that trash heap worth?"

"Well, obviously, it needs major renovation, but when you add in factors such as the acreage and the historic age of the place, it should fetch Miss Morey a pretty penny, at least." Sam nodded along with Dean's assessment, relieved it didn't sound too half-assed. "I'll have to figure everything out at the office, but you should see the listing in Sunday's Eagle-Gazette."

"All right," the cop said. "Well, it is getting dark, so I'll have to ask you to leave the premises. I'm sure you guys understand."

"Oh, of course, Officer," Sam replied smoothly. "We were just leaving anyway." There. He could lie just as easily. The two brothers parted with the officer, who ambled back to his cruiser.

"So I guess we're not leaving tomorrow, are we?" Sam said as they climbed back into the Chevy. When it was apparent the policeman was waiting for them to leave first, Dean pulled out into the road, turning back towards town.

Once he was on the road, he glanced over at Sam. "Well now, you have an equal say. What do you want to do?"

Sam sighed, slumping against his seat. Of course Dean would leave it up to him. It wasn't thoughtfulness, it was a dare. Sam glowered, knowing Dean was gambling that he wouldn't want to leave an open case. As sorely tempted he was to prove him wrong, Sam was torn.

"Larry Baumgartner?" he finally asked, raising an eyebrow.

Dean smirked. "You haven't gone through the all those ID's I gave you?" Sam rolled his eyes.

As they lapsed into silence, Sam replayed the factors in his head. The Mudhouse Mansion was definitely haunted - they witnessed that first-hand - and possibly dangerous. But since winter was rolling in, what were the chances of somebody trespassing on the grounds to explore or hang out? Even if they did, fatal encounters seemed to be few and far between. But what if Sam and Dean did leave, and some hapless person is killed?

Dean spoke up suddenly. "Hey, did you know this town still has a drive-in movie theater? My baby would feel right at home," he said, patting the dashboard of his '69 Impala. "Maybe we should relax, check out a movie..."

Sam snorted. "Sorry, Dean, but I just don't like you like that."

Dean grinned back at him. "Thank God. So then, no movie?"

"Don't we have research to do? I want to get this thing over with," Sam replied, and Dean's grin grew wider.

The hunt was on.


As soon as they came back to their hotel room, Sam quickly set up his laptop computer and within minutes was logged into the hotel's wireless connection. Dean dropped onto the edge of the bed closest to the desk where Sam was seated so he could look over his shoulder.

"All right, since the local paper isn't archived past 1990, we'll have to try other sources," commented Sam as he started typing away.

"At least now we have a last name," Dean added, and Sam nodded distractedly as he raked his eyes over the search engine results.

"Damn. Nothing," he muttered a few moments later.

He went back to the websites dedicated to the mansion, hoping to find something they might have overlooked. Unfortunately, he didn't, and he was quickly reminded why he had been so skeptical in the first place.

Somewhere along the line, someone attached a Bloody Mary to the property, but no one said why. The only information the different pages listed were rumors of a neighborhood boy disappearing back in the sixties (a slight detail Dean had remembered wrong), and the death of Greg Johnston back in 1991 and Cheryl Lee in 1998, both of which Sam verified in the newspaper archives. A woman on one of the websites also claimed that back in the eighties, two of her high school friends committed suicide a week after visiting the mansion.

And that was it. No background, no history. No mentions of anybody named Morey, nothing about a girl dying.

Sam suddenly leaned forward and began typing again. "That girl we heard scream...She was probably under twelve, you think?"

"Yeah, I'd say so," Dean replied.

"According to the cemetery records, there are 32 people with the last name Morey buried in this county."

"And are any of them young girls?" Dean asked, catching on.

Sam was already checking. Running through the list of names, he quickly subtracted the birth year from the death year to get the age for every female. By the time he reached the end, he had found only one girl that fit. "Here we are," he announced, taping the monitor to show Dean. "Lucy Morey, died May 8, 1925 at age ten."

Frowning thoughtfully, Dean leaned forward to read the screen. "Same day as Marcus," he announced.

"Huh?" Sam asked, startled. His eyes immediately went to that entry. Marcus Morey, April 3, 1912 - May 8, 1925. Intrigued, Sam ran down the list again, this time searching for matching death dates.

"Annie, Henry and Henry junior also died on that day." Sam and Dean exchanged looks. "A family massacre?"

Dean cocked an eyebrow. "Well, I doubt a house is haunted because a bunch of people died from typhoid."

***

Dean and Sam stood side by side on the doorstep, a position Sam was quickly becoming familiar with again since he joined his brother a month and a half ago. Eventually, the door swung open, and a man not much older than Dean looked at them from behind a screen door. "Hello?" he greeted, bewildered.

"Hello, Mr...Palanki?" Dean returned politely. "Hi, my name is John Martin and this is Larry Baumgartner. I'm really sorry to bother you so early, but we're real estate agents, and we'd like to ask you a few questions about the, uh, Mudhouse Mansion? I know it's a strange request, but believe me, we'd really appreciate it if you could help us out. It'll only take a few minutes, and then we'll be out of your hair."

Sam recognized his tactic instantly - take a friendly tone, catch the subject off guard, and while he's still surprised, bombard him with smooth, aw-shucks talking until he agrees to help before he has a chance to think it through. And it worked. The guy opened his screen door and let them inside.

"The Mudhouse? I don't know how I can help you," Jack Palanki told them.

"Well, you see, before we're allowed to list a house, we have to disclose any deaths that occurred at the property." At that, Jack's eyes widened and his expression cleared as the confusion disappeared from his face. His shoulders stiffened as Dean continued.

"Now, as I understand it, you were there when Greg Johnston fell. I'm sorry I have to ask this, but we're required to designate each death as either an accident or a homicide." As he spoke, he managed to sound both regretful and sympathetic. "Unfortunately, all we've been told is that he fell, and the police-well, they're too busy with more important things to talk to us."

"Oh, it was...it was an accident, I guess," Jack replied with a sigh. Sam sagged with relief that he apparently bought Dean's story.

"Are you sure? I mean, can you tell us what happened?" Dean pressed. "I'd really hate to get sued down the line if it turns out he was murdered.

Jack raked a hand through his hair and fixed his gaze on the wall. "Don't you guys have to report if it's haunted, too?"

Dean and Sam glanced at each other, feeling a little bit of triumph. "Well, yes, actually, we do," Sam stepped in. "Why do you say it's haunted?"

A few moments passed before Jack swallowed heavily. "Back in high school, we went out to the mansion because we heard all these stories about it. So we - Me, Greg, and this girl, Christy - decided to check it out. It, you know, gave us something to do, someplace to hang out and drink without getting caught. Anyway, we snuck inside, and we started to drink in like, the living room or something on the middle floor. But we only had a six pack between the three of us, so it wasn't like we were actually drunk. We weren't drunk," he repeated, staring at Dean levelly. Dean shrugged and nodded for him to continue.

"Anyway, Greg decides he wants to explore, but me and Christy stay behind. And we hear him wandering around up there and everything, making fun of him because we were in high school and stupid. And then all of the sudden-" Jack's tongue flicked out to wet his lips. "-Greg screams.

"We just thought he was joking, you know, pulling a prank on us. And we hear him running towards the stairs, and we get up and go to there, see what the hell he was doing.

"And then all of the sudden, he was at the railing at the top of the stairs. Only-only it looked like he was trying to get to the stairs, but something was stopping him. And his face was just-I don't know. We didn't know what was going on. And then, suddenly, his body just...flew off over the railing." As he said that, he illustrated the movement with his hand. "First his head slammed into the wall, and then it just toppled down the rest of the stairs." Jack's gaze flicked between the two brothers. "It was like...I swear somebody threw him."

The three of them stood in silence as Sam and Dean absorbed the story. "Did you see anything?" Sam finally asked. "Any figures or..."

Jack shook his head jerkily. "No, no...It looked weird, though, up at the top of the stairs. Like it was darker than it should be. But I mean, that was probably just my eyes."

"Did you hear anything else, when Greg started screaming? Right before it maybe?"

Jack shook his head again. "No, not really. At first, I thought it was a girl screaming," he said with a humorless laugh. "But then I realized it was him." Even though he tried to repress it, but Sam saw him shudder.


Sam yawned as once again the Chevy rumbled down the same country road as the day before. Already it had been a long morning, and he had been on the computer late into the night performing searches. None of the searches produced any results, other than the current addresses Jack Palanki and "Ol' Miss" Julia Morey. Now they were returning to the site, knowing almost as little as they had yesterday.

Sam wasn't sure what they were looking for. He didn't expect to find anything in the outbuildings except for rusty antiques, so the best they could hope for would be another sighting.

He just hoped it wouldn't be a kid screaming this time.

The house suddenly came into view, a gray spot in an otherwise bright landscape. Sam controlled his shudder and glanced over at his brother through the corner of his eye. Dean was also staring at the house, a solid look to his face as he pulled off the side of the road again. His words from earlier that morning suddenly rang in Sam's head.

"If evil runs in the family, we have a lot to worry about."

Of course, Miss Morey wasn't exactly evil-just cranky. She glared at them from the moment she answered the door to her small house on the south side of town. But her temper intensified as soon as they mentioned the mansion, and she angrily refused to answer even the most innocent questions - a fact made peculiar because even Sam thought Dean was at his most charming, posing as a history grad writing a paper on local folklore.

The frosty grass crunched underneath their feet as they hiked up the property. The sun was out, but it hung distantly in the sky and offered little warmth. "I sure as hell hope Dad sends us south for the winter," Dean remarked, and Sam cracked a grin. He didn't have the heart to tell Dean the next Bloody Mary on their list was in upstate New York.

They decided to check out the other buildings first. In total, there were seven scattered around the property, six brick and one wooden barn. As Dean started for the first and largest building, the one that stood near where the driveway disappeared, Sam did a quick survey of the other ones in sight. He wished he knew more about their purpose.

Curiosity suddenly struck him as he glanced at each structure. "Hey, Dean," he called out. "Do most outbuildings usually have chimneys?"

Dean shrugged and frowned in confusion. "How the hell should I know?" But he stopped and looked at each building anyway, his eyes going straight to the roofs. "Hey, yeah, you're right, though. Is that weird?"

Sam knew some buildings would be equipped with a chimney. An outdoor kitchen for example, and a blacksmith workshop, if they had one. Maybe any type of workshop, if someone spent long hours there in the winter. But he saw at least three buildings with a chimney, and none of them looked like a kitchen. The two larger ones looked like they might have been workshops, including the one Dean was about to enter, but he couldn't tell what the purpose of the smallest one would be. Though it looked like a schoolhouse in a way, it didn't have any windows or other openings other than a door and the chimney at the top.

He quickly strode towards the back so he could see the rest of the buildings. The one that almost touched the house did not have a chimney, but the two others that sat back did. Just like the "schoolhouse" they were the size of a room, with solid brick walls built without windows.

Sam met back with Dean, who was already stepping through the first building. With the amount of debris that filled the room, neither of them could go very far. Fortunately the lower level was just one large room, and Sam saw no need to travel any further inside. All it held was junk.

He eyed the ladder that lead to the second floor at the opposite side and knew it wouldn't hold their weight. "Let's check the other buildings," he told his brother, and Dean grunted in assent.

The next building, which stood behind and off to the left, was just like the first. Junk and nothing else.

The only thing Sam found interesting was its pair of doors; a regular, man-sized door, and then a wider set of double doors which were arched at the top. But nothing on the inside hinted why the wider entrance was needed. The two brothers quickly moved on.

To the right of that building in an evenly-spaced straight line stood the three smaller, windowless structures. Dean started for them, but Sam found himself veering away, heading for the partially-collapsed barn at the far side of the property.

He was just about to pass the first of the three buildings when Dean called out to him. "Hey, dude, where you going?" he asked, sounding both surprised and irritated as he stood near the doorway.

Sam turned to him and shrugged. "I don't know, just don't feel like looking there."

Dean rolled his eyes. "C'mon, it'll only take a minute."

"Nah. I don't really want to," he said, crossing his arms.

Dean stared hard at him, and Sam knew he had made his brother angry. He shifted his gaze from Sam to the building and back to Sam again, obviously trying to decide what action to take. Then suddenly, almost imperceptibly, Dean's eyes widened. Sam frowned, wondering what Dean was thinking.

Then Sam felt his own eyes widen as realization dawned on him.

Abruptly, with a new sense of determination, he started marching to the entrance where his brother stood. Dean watched him approach, a knowing smirk on his face. Ignoring him, Sam focused on the building before him. As soon as he was close enough, he saw that the door, though it looked weak with rot, was closed fast. Unlike the other buildings, no one had forced their way in.

"God dammit," he cursed.

Dean grinned cheekily at him. "Don't feel bad, buddy," he said. "I know how you sensitive types tend to be more vulnerable."

Sam scowled at him. "Dammit," he repeated under his breath, kicking the brick wall.

Still smirking, Dean turned and stepped close to the doorway. "Well, let's see what's causing the human repellant," he said, giving the door a quick shove with his shoulder. It held fast.

"So why weren't you affected?" Sam demanded behind him. Since the door hadn't been tampered with, Sam obviously wasn't the only person who had avoided the building. Every trespasser, every ghost hunter and partying teen before them, had left it alone, just as Sam had almost done.

Dean shrugged. "I think I was. The only difference was, what I felt wasn't subconscious." With a sudden powerful motion, he kicked at the door, and it burst inward from the force.

"What, you're psychic now?" Sam asked him, following behind him as he stepped inside.

Dean looked over the shoulder at him. "Shut up."

Sam smirked but didn't say anything as he stood staring into the black room. Since the open door was the only source of light, he had to wait as his eyes adjusted to the dark.

One thing different about this room, Sam noticed, was the distinct lack of debris. While he was still waiting for his eyes to adjust, Dean was already feeling for the walls. Sam took a cautious step forward, hesitant because the room wasn't completely empty. Along one wall stood a small fireplace, and at the opposite side, the same side his brother was exploring, were dark shadows of some objects. His eyes could barely make out their vague shapes.

Suddenly a strange noise came over from where Dean was feeling against the wall. "What the hell?" Dean muttered. Sam could see him kick at something on the floor, recreating the sound. This time Sam was listening for it, and it sounded like loose metal.

"Is that...a chain?" he asked, taken aback.

By now, his eyes had fully adjusted, and he watched as Dean picked up the thing on the floor and stretched it out from where it connected to the wall. "Yep," he replied, his voice full. He held it up by the end, and Sam saw that the chain was attached to a shackle.

"Whoa..." Sam said under his breath. "What is this place?" He turned and stepped closer to the objects he had been looking at. With a start, he realized the low shapes were two sets of broken, rotting boards, which at one time had been fitted together to form rectangles.

"Beds," he hissed.

More rattling, clinking noises came from Dean's position at the wall. "There's a least four chains here," he announced. He took one in his hand and drew it out towards Sam, who was standing next to the remains of one of the beds. The chain stretched about a third of the way along the bed's length. "There's another one on the other side. There's two more set up by the other bed." Dean's voice sounded wooden.

"Hell." Sam ran a hand through his hair.

"They chained their slaves to their beds," Dean said darkly.

"Yeah," Sam replied, trying not to snort at the unreal-ness of it all, feeling sick to his stomach. "Except Ohio was a northern, free state."

Dean scanned the room, shaking his head slowly. Half of his face was faintly illuminated from the glow outside, and the expression there caught Sam off guard. Even in the poor lighting, his older brother looked pale, and his breath came out a little too hard.

"Hey, you okay?" Sam asked him.

Suddenly Dean turned to the door. "Yeah. Just-fresh air," he said, hurriedly, his voice rough. Startled, Sam watched as he quickly left, and he followed right behind him, crossing the threshold into the outdoors. The sudden change in light hurt his eyes, and he had to squint under the bright cloud cover. Despite that, he'd forgotten just how nice fresh air was.

Dean stood in the middle of the back yard, studying the mansion with a fixed expression on his face. Sam considered his options. With one last look at the slave quarters (Is that what he should call it?), he came up beside his brother. "Think we have a possible double haunting here?" he asked him casually.

"Wouldn't be surprised," Dean drawled without looking at him. Another moment later, he asked, "Think they're connected?"

Sam ran a hand down his face, wondering just what they've stumbled into.

They decided to grab their flashlights from the car before they checked out the remaining buildings. Once they had those, they started for the next building. Curiosity and trepidation warred inside Sam's chest at what they would find inside.

The next building in line startled them. They hadn't paid it much attention until just then, though Sam instantly wished he had. "Don't suppose you have a step ladder in your bag of tricks?" Sam asked his brother.

"How the hell are we supposed to get in there?" Dean complained, looking up at its front.

Unlike the identical buildings that stood to either side of it, the door to this one, instead of being at ground level, hung midway up the front. The bottom of the door frame was level to Sam's chest, and there was nothing leading up to it. "There must have been stairs at one time..." Sam mused out loud, bewildered.

"But why would they build it like that?" Sam didn't have an answer.

They spent the next fifteen minutes trying to open the door, but from their position, they couldn't get enough force behind their shoves and high kicks. They decided to leave it until later and moved on to the next one in line.

The inside of this building was identical to the other one. A small stone fireplace, two broken beds, and four chains attached at the wall. Sam swept his flashlight over the room so they could see everything in better detail. At first the light didn't reveal anything. He lingered over the rusty chains, but they looked just as he had expected. The beds were just piles of wood, and the fireplace had no discernable markings.

He ran the flashlight beam over the plain walls. They had been sloppily covered with plaster, and in many spots the plaster had worn off, revealing the brick behind it. Sam reached the far end of the room when his flashlight caught something near the corner. He got Dean's attention and then knelt down to take a closer look.

In the plaster were man-made scratches. Someone had left tally marks along the wall.

Curious, Sam studied the markings. After a group of so many, the person had scratched out "1870." The marks then continued, and after another group was "1871." Sam did a quick count of the tally marks. "They were counting the weeks," he discovered.

As Dean knelt beside him, Sam counted the marks after 1871. They ended after the seventeenth one. "Looks like whoever wrote this stopped keeping track around the end of April, beginning of May," Sam said after some quick calculations. He turned to Dean. "I'm guessing something happened then."

Dean nodded thoughtfully as he stood back up, and Sam followed, feeling his knees crack. When they found nothing else worth noting, they went back outside.

They only had two other buildings left to explore, and they proved to be anti-climatic. The barn was just a barn, too dangerous to venture into, and the structure right behind the house was empty.

Sam blew a puff of air out his mouth, watching as it turned into a cloud of fog in the cold air. "Should we try..." As he spoke, he looked to the building they had yet to enter, the one with the high door. His voice faltered, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dean start violently.

"Oh, shit!"

A man was hanging from the roof of the building, a noose squeezedaround his neck. His body swayed gently in front of the door.

The two brothers immediately took off towards him. Sam avoided his eyes, his entire face, and concentrated on the clothing instead. The old style was the only thing that reassured him. This was only an apparition, not a real person, not a real dead body. But he ran to it anyway, and Dean was right there beside him.

Just as they reached him, the vision disappeared. In an instant, it was gone.

Breathing hard and feeling sick, Sam turned to his brother. Dean caught his look and nodded. "Let's grab something to eat and get our shit together. We'll come back."

***

On Main Street downtown, they found a deli that offered wireless service. They ordered sandwiches at the counter and then chose a table by the window, away from the half dozen other people scattered about. Sam wasted no time firing up his laptop and Dean wasted no time tearing into his Sherman Club Sandwich.

"What're you going to look for?" Dean asked through a food-filled mouth.

'Cemetery records," Sam replied. "I'm hoping something weird will come up when I search April and May 1871." Dean was about to point out how unlikely the death of an illegal slave would be listed, but Sam beat him to it. "I know it's a long shot, but-"

"Might as well try every angle," Dean agreed. He swallowed another mouthful of sandwich and stared at the back of Sam's laptop. He then looked around the deli and found what he was hoping for - a copy of the local newspaper, laying in the open for anyone to read.

"Force of habit," he said when Sam shot him a strange look. At least he had something to do now.

He was skimming through the obituaries with no luck, when Sam made a noise deep in his throat. Dean looked up as Sam rotated his laptop. "The Schumann family. All died May 8th, 1871." Dean scanned the list and saw the names of six people all bearing the last name Schumann, grouped together in a row. He then looked at the rest of the results, various names of people who also died that week.

"'Unknown'?" Dean asked, reading one entry which also had a death date of May 8th. "Does that mean the body was unidentified, or the gravestone was unreadable when they transcribed it?"

"Doesn't say," Sam replied, sighing. "Maybe it's connected, maybe it's not." He turned the computer back around and began clicking and typing away. A few moments later, he started nodded. "Okay, the Schumann family is connected to the Morey's, though. According to marriage records, a Lucy Schumann married a Thomas Morey, back in 1870."

"So she would have been out of the house when the rest of her family died. Then her family inherits it, and several generations later, on May 8th, 1925..." Dean frowned. "That can't be a coincidence, can it?"

Sam leveled a look at him before turning back to his laptop. "We've seen enough of these to know it's not," he said.

Dean nodded, though Sam was too busy to notice. Feeling restless, Dean shuffled through the newspaper again. "Did that girl actually die from an aneurysm back at the mansion?" he finally asked.

"Already checked. The paper reported that doctors suspected an aneurysm, but they never published a follow-up."

"Ah." Dean racked his brain for something else. "Did any of the recent deaths happen in May?"

"No," Sam replied immediately. "Greg was in June, Cheryl October, and the double suicide I think happened in July." He looked at Dean, a smug expression settling on his face. "How did you get anything done without me?"

Dean narrowed his eyes. "Hey, I don't need a laptop," he replied nonchalantly. "Dad and I did fine on just newspapers."

Sam sat back and folded his arms over his chest, a half smirk on his face. "Oh, you did?" he asked sardonically. "And how would newspapers have helped with this?"

"We had our ways of finding what we needed to know," Dean shot back coolly.

"Uh-huh."

Dean sat up straight. "Look, Dad and I have been doing this for a hell of a lot longer than you have, so don't just-"

"Hey man, I was there," Sam retorted, straightening up. "Except for college, that was my life too, remember?"

"But you left!"

"So? According to you, you and Dad did fine without me!"

Dean ground his teeth together. "But you left us behind," he said lowly.

"Yeah, when Dad cut me off just because I wanted to do something more with my life," Sam argued back, his eyes flashing.

"So our way of living isn't good enough for you."

"You've seen how Dad gets." Dean stiffened, shooting a glare at his brother.. "I'm here now, aren't I?" Sam added.

"And what happens once we track down that thing that killed your girlfriend?"

Sam suddenly deflated. "I don't know."

"You don't know?"

His younger brother sighed, his eyes searching Dean's face. "Dammit, Dean."

Dean waited for him to add to that, but he didn't. "That's it? 'Dammit, Dean?'"

"Yep," Sam drawled out. Dean let out a harsh, dry laugh and shook his head.


Ghosts were tricky bastards – especially the ones of people so long dead their bodies had already decayed into nothing.

Of course, Dean reasoned, even if there were bodies to dig up and salt, they wouldn't know which ones belonged to the ghosts haunting the mansion. Hell, out of the ghosts haunting the mansion, they didn't even know which one was responsible for the recent deaths.

So Sam and Dean decided to confront the ghosts. Not the most effective strategy, but if they were lucky, a simple "you're dead, move on" would do the trick. If they weren't lucky, they would have to try the more complicated Plan B: figure what's keeping the ghosts there, and do what they can to destroy it.

Maybe all they'd need would be a couple of pissed off kids to drag them off to hell.

The Winchester brothers agreed to try the house first. As strong as the activity was in those outbuildings, as far as they knew no one had died there—at least, not from supernatural means. However, Dean hoped they would get a chance to explore that last building before they left. He'd even bought a cheap step ladder after lunch.

But first things first. They had at least one ghostly ass to kick.

Inside, the house was just as they had left it. Only this time the mood had completely changed, now that they had an idea what had happened there. Everywhere he looked, he imagined the families that had once lived. He imagined their sudden, tragic deaths, their lives suddenly snuffed. The lighting suddenly seemed more gloomy and the broken furniture and dirty walls more sinister. Dean didn't mind though. Knowledge gave him confidence.

"The upper floors seem to be the hotspots," Sam remarked, already heading for the stairs. Dean stared after him for a moment before quickly catching up. He almost made a crack about Sam's impatience, but he decided against it.

They went through both the second and third floor twice without encountering anything. By then the afternoon was waning, and Dean could tell Sam was getting frustrated. They finally came to a stop on the third floor hallway. "Could use a good flash-your-headlights-three-times right about now," Dean joked wryly. His brother only snorted in reply.

"All right," said Dean. "Time to piss it off." If it weren't so cold out, he'd be pushing up his sleeves. Instead, he just grabbed the hammer from Sam and started swinging.

"Come on out, you jackass!" He slammed the hammer against a doorframe, the force splintering the wood.

"Damn," Sam snorted, shaking his head.

Dean grinned at him and turned back towards the hall. "You goddamn pussy!" he shouted, banging the hammer against the wall. Pieces of plaster rained down onto the floor. "Show yourself, you dead freak!"

As he made his way ranting down the hallway, Sam slipped past him to peak into each bedroom. Dean continued hollering and swinging, keeping one eye on Sam for any sign. "Hey, asshole! Why don't you go home to your mama?" he yelled. "I saw her last night-getting freaky with Henry the Eighth!"

Sam shot him a look, and Dean merely shrugged. Brilliant insults weren't always easy.

Suddenly, a cold breeze swept through Dean, and he shivered as the temperature abruptly dropped. He exchanged glances with Sam, who, judging by his expression, also felt the change. Instantly stilling, Dean trained his ears to listen for any noises.

But the entire house had fallen into a deathly silence. No traffic in the far off distance, no wind through the branches outside, nothing.

Sam opened his mouth to say something, when all of the sudden the door to his left swung open with a bang.

Sam spun around to face it, his eyes growing wide. At the same time, Dean was racing down the hall towards him, towards the door and whatever lay behind it. With his heart pounding, he watched as Sam's expression turned to horror. Sam recoiled sharply but didn't move from his spot.

Then, just as Dean was about to reach him, he saw a black shadow, an inky, indistinct form, swell out from the room. Dean tried to skid to a halt.

Then the dark shadow slammed into him and all he saw was blackness.


Dean groaned as awareness returned to him, and he blinked in confusion. He found himself in the hallway, sprawled out on the dirty floorboards. With a start, he jumped up to his feet.

The hall was empty.

"Sam?" he called out. His brother didn't respond. "Sam?" he cried out louder, racing into the room. There was no sign of him, and no sign of the black shadow. The house was quiet and still.

"Sam!" he hollered at the top of his voice. "Dammit, Sam! Answer me!" He ran through each room, calling out for his brother.

A search throughout the house turned up nothing.

Dean punched the wall in anger. He had to be somewhere. "Sam!" he called out one more time. No answer.

The only other option were the buildings outside.

Dean quickly climbed out through the back window. By now, the cloud cover had turned into a darker gray, and it was almost black out to the west. It would only be a matter of time before night fell.

Dean ran to the middle of the backyard and then stopped. There he stood, surrounded by the outbuildings, his back to the mansion. A cold breeze sliced through him as he tried to concentrate, but the blood racing through his veins made that impossible.

He had to find Sam, he had to find him now, he can't just be gone...

Dean forced himself to choose a building to search first. He set off for the one farthest to his left, figured that was good starting point, but then his brain told him something wasn't right.

Stopping in his tracks, Dean swiveled his gaze around. His eyes settled on the middle building, the one with the unopened door that stood off the ground. His stomach flipped inside out.

A set of stairs sat underneath the door, leading right to it. They were wooden and looked portable, just slats of wood stretched across an open frame, almost like a glorified stepladder. Dean looked around, but he saw no one. The yard was empty, the only movement coming from the grass shifting in the wind.

"Sam?" he called out.

As he approached the steps, he clung to the hope that Sam had found them laying around somewhere and was now inside exploring. He refused to acknowledge the doubts that Sam would go off exploring without him. After all, someone had place the stairs there.

Even if it hadn't been Sam, the stairs were where they weren't before. Dean knew he'd find something.

From the looks of the gray wood, he wasn't sure it could handle his weight. But it held when he placed both feet on the first step. He walked up each of the five steps slowly, carefully placing his foot with each step he took. But the stairs didn't even creak under his weight.

Before he knew it, he was at the top. The last step was twice as wide as the others, and when Dean stood on it, he was even with the door.

He knew from last time they tried that the door would be latched tight, but this time, the door didn't look quite as old, didn't seem quite as...guarded. Since it was missing a handle, he placed a hand against the wood to test its strength.

The door swung open under his touch. Dean frowned as he poked his head into the dark room.

Then, before he could resist, something yanked him inside.

***

Sam crouched on the roof of the side porch, trembling,ducking away from the windows behind him. Inside his chest, his heart pounded so hard he felt it would lodge itself in his throat. The wind whipped at his face and his clothing, but he was too petrified to care.

He tried desperately to think, tried to control his raging thoughts, but flashes of images and sound flooded his mind.

The terrified screaming of his mother.

His older brother, lying in the hallway, a pool of blood expanding underneath him.

His other brother, rushing forward to shove him back into the bedroom, telling him to lock the door and hide.

The shouts, the threats, the heavy, pounding footsteps...the screams that were cut off with a sickening gurgle.

Shivering, Sam tried to choke down his sobs, swallowing the tears and snot that streamed into his mouth and throat. He knew this was a horrible place to hide, and he only hoped the night was dark enough to conceal him. But this was his only chance.

His father would be home soon.

And then, Sam spotted him at the far side of the yard. He was walking up from the main road, a dark form against the night. A lantern swung from one hand as he casually lead Forest, Sam's horse, back home.

Sam crawled forward frantically, his breath hitching, cursing as his eyes clouded with fresh tears. He tried waving his arms, but his father didn't look up. Sam almost gagged as he stifled his gasping sobs, his arms waving wildly through the air.

He was right there and Sam couldn't do anything. He couldn't scream, he couldn't call out.

He could still hear those footsteps, echoing in his ears.

Sam looked madly around him, searching for something, anything that would tell him what to do. His eyes finally settled on the metal cresting that bordered the roof. Maybe the past winter had weakened it. It was the only thing he had left to hope for.

Sam grabbed onto a section, wrapping his hands around the metal. With a sudden surge of strength, he yanked and shook it, trying to wretch a piece free.

Finally—blessedly-it snapped off into his hand.

Sam pushed himself into a kneeling position, his hands shaking. He looked at his father again, coming ever closer to the house. Taking in a deep breath, he pulled his arm back and then snapped it forward, throwing the metal as hard as he could.

He lost sight of it almost immediately in the dark, but a couple of seconds later, he heard a distant thud as it landed in the grass.

His father didn't notice.

Sam, overcome with despair, quickly lunged for another piece of metal. But this time it wouldn't budge, wouldn't break. He cried and sobbed, afraid of the noise he was making, afraid any second he would be caught. He thought he should call out, but fear made his throat seize up.

And then the window behind him flew up, and he screamed as a hand wrapped around his ankle.


Sam jerked awake to a girl screaming in his ear. Gasping to find his breath, he looked around and found himself outside, high above the ground.

The porch roof.

The images came flooding back, and he had to force himself to believe the terror he felt wasn't real. At least, not for him.

With a shuddering sigh, he convinced himself to look at his ankle. But of course nothing was there. No hand grabbing for him.

Running a hand through his hair, Sam pushed himself up into a four-legged position, balancing himself on shaky hands and knees. His bag was lying next to him, and he quickly slung that over his shoulder. Then, when he was reassured that the roof wasn't about to collapse under him, he started crawling towards the tall window.

He shouldn't have been surprised to see that it was open, but he was. The sound of it flying open echoed horribly in his head, and he briefly feared he would find something on the other side of it.

But the bedroom inside was empty. Sam sagged with relief.

Until he thought of his brother. Rushing forward, Sam looked out of the room. The gaping hallway greeted him silent and empty. "Dean? Dean!" he hollered, spilling out into the hall.

The doorway to one of the back bedrooms opened, and Sam felt relief rush through him. "Hey, Dean, where-"

But the black shape that billowed out wasn't his brother.

Behind him, he heard a scream. A girl, the same scream that had been echoing in his ears.

Sam whirled around and saw her for the first time. A young girl, maybe twelve years old, with long, stringy blonde hair. She wore a loose, white nightgown, her bare feet sticking out from below. Her mouth and eyes were open with terror.

Sam turned back around and saw the dark form approaching. As it swept closer, the shape of it started to grow more defined, more human-like, but still it remained a black cloud with no features.

Glancing over his shoulder, he was shocked to see the girl racing towards him. He swung his gaze around, realizing both apparitions were headed towards each other. And he stood in the middle.

"Oh, God!" Sam immediately grabbed his bag hanging off his shoulder, and reached in for the canister of salt. His hand quickly closed over its familiar shape and pulled it out, and in the next instant he was pouring a circle of salt around himself on the floor. He frantically shook the canister, spilling the salt from the metal spout in a thick, shaky line around his feet.

As he poured, racing against the advancing figures, he kept glancing up to check their progress. The dark figure was a couple of feet away and gaining, but the girl was almost right on him.

Just as she closed in, Sam saw her wide eyes pleading with him, reaching a hand out. Then Sam completed the circle, and she instantly disappeared.

Sam spun around. The hallway was empty again. The black shape had also vanished.

He let out a loud breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"Hattie?" he called out gently. "Hattie Schumann, I don't know if you're still there..." He paused, waiting for a sign. When nothing happened, he continued anyway. "If you are, I just want you to know-you're safe now. Okay? He can't hurt you anymore."

He waited again, staring down the hallway. "You're safe now," he continued, not sure if he was being heard but knowing it was worth a shot. "You can move on, go with your family. You don't need to be afraid anymore."

With that, he gave up and stepped out of the circle. He had to find Dean.

***

Dean's arms hurt, but it wasn't until he came to that he realized why.

He was suspended in the air, hanging only by his arms.

A rough rope tied around his wrists rubbed harshly against his skin as his arms supported his whole weight. His whole arms tingled with pain, almost going numb as they stretched above his hand, pulling on his sockets.

He strained his eyes, trying to see his surroundings, but it was too dark. All he could see was a door, outlined with weak light. By its position, he figured he was inside the building, the one with the stairs. He stretched out his legs, trying to feel the ground with his feet. But he was too far up, and the motion only caused him to swing, putting more pressure on his shoulders and wrists.

Dean groaned, memories still fresh from the last time he found himself strung up by his arms. Only a month ago, the Wendigo had tried to store him like a slab of meat. Thank God he had Sam then.

Dean jerked in his bindings, alarmed by the sudden thought. "Sam? Sam?" he called out into the dark. He was terrified Sam would answer.

"Sam!" he cried harshly, insistently, as he thrashed in the air. But either he was out cold, or he wasn't there. He prayed fervently that it was the latter, desperately hoping that Sam wasn't stuck tied up with him.

Frantically, Dean tried to twist out of his bonds, but he only managed to rub his wrists bloody. He could do nothing as the blood trickled down his sensitive skin, tickling the pinpricks of pain and driving him mad.

His legs kicked out in the air, desperate for purchase, when his shin slammed against something hard. Startled, Dean lifted his leg, patting his foot around to feel for it. It was a ledge of some kind, sticking into the space Dean dangled from. It sounded like wood when he banged his shoe against it. A platform, he realized. One that stood right underneath the doorway, a space for people to stand on before the room dropped away. It extended about five feet, judging by the distance of the door's faint glow.

And if the floor of the building was at ground level, Dean figured the bottom was at least three feet below him.

Dean hooked one foot on the ledge and tried to swing his body so he could get the other one up there beside it. The rope pulled at his wrists with each movement, forcing a gasp from him each time. Every time he managed to get both feet planted on the wood, the weight of his body would drag him off again. Dean didn't stop trying.

But then, beyond his own labored breathing, he thought he heard an echo. Freezing in place as best as he could, he held his breath until all he heard was the creaking of the rope above him.

And then he heard whispers.

Low and deep, they seemed to drift from the platform and surround him, filling his ears with unintelligible murmurings, like a swarm of gnats. As Dean focused on the sound, the whispering grew louder. Eventually he could make out a few phrases from the low mumbling that filled the air.

"...Run away..." it seemed to hiss at him. "...Teach you...Never..."

"What?" Dean asked, his voice sounding especially loud against the echoing whispers.

"...Pay!" The voice was suddenly loud and clear, and as soon as Dean heard it, something slashed sharp across his back, jerking Dean in the air. It left a long line of pain throbbing across his skin.

"The hell!" Dean shouted angrily, his back burning as his struggling intensified. The rope dug into his wrists as he twisted and turned. He strained to see, hating that he couldn't his assailant.

In reply, the whispering grew faster, but no more intelligible. Another strike against his back, and Dean could feel his flesh ripping from the force. He had to bite down on his lip, just to keep from crying out.

"Stop that, you bastard!" he yelled into the dark when he got his breath back. His eyes searched for the door, looking for light, but a black form stood in its way.

Another lash struck across his shoulders, tearing into his skin, and this time Dean had to grunt at the pain. Before he could recover, again the force whipped against his back, spinning him around.

"Goddamn piece of shit!" the voice roared. The lash came again, striking against already exposed wounds.

Dean's back seized up in pain. He instinctively tried to pull himself up and maybe out of the way, but his arms were useless and numb, and he was hit again. Distantly he could feel blood oozing down his back.

The voice got louder, filling Dean's head with its anger. "...My family!" it screamed at him, sending more lashes against his back. Pain erupted in white flashes behind his eyes.

"Killed my family!" it raged at him.

But all Dean could feel was the flesh of his back tearing apart.

***

Sam stumbled into the backyard, panting with the fear that had grown with every empty room he checked. Dean was nowhere to be found. Surrounded by the foreboding house blanketed in night, Sam's imagination ran away with him, picturing every possible horror that could have greeted Dean. Despite their bickering, Sam knew Dean would not have left him alone, not willingly.

The only option Sam had left were the outbuildings.

Outside, the cold air knocked into him, and Sam shook off the clouding fears that had nearly overcome him inside. He cursed himself for letting it get to him when he knew better. But out here, away from the enclosing walls, his thoughts were clearer.

"Dean?" he shouted, sweeping his flashlight beam over the property. "Where are you?"

His flashlight locked on the middle building. Sam stared at it. The door mocked at him, still too high to reach.

But then he realized the edge of the door was darker, the right edge hidden in shadow. And he realized it wasn't the frame casting the shadow. The door hung a few inches ajar. It was open.

A sickening feeling dropping in his stomach, Sam raced towards the structure as hope and fear pounded at his chest. "Dean!" he shouted, becoming frantic when he didn't answer.

With his arm, Sam slammed the door wider open and threw his flashlight just inside. Then, placing his forearms on the bottom of the frame, he pulled himself up and over the lip of the door. He crawled on his stomach onto the floor behind the door. To his surprise, the floor ended before his body was stretched out all the way, and he had to twist to the side before pulling his legs in behind him.

Once he was all the way through, he grabbed his flashlight and stood up. He ran the light over the floor as he crept to the edge. Looking down, he realized there was a pit below. "Dean?" he called down, his light sweep across the bottom.

He heard a low groan just as his light caught a form crumpled by the wall. His heart jumping into his throat, Sam immediately leaped off the ledge into the ground below. He landed with a jar, realizing the fall was deeper than he thought. The distance to the ground turned out to be greater there than it had been from the door to the ground outside the building

Dean was hunched over, his legs sprawled in front of him, one leg bent at the knee. He looked up, his eyes bright and uncomprehending in the beam of light. His face was streaked with sweat, even though he was trembling in the cold air. After a moment, his head dropped down again.

Cursing under his breath, Sam rushed to his brother. He immediately dropped into a crouch in front of him, laying the flashlight on the ground. Dean seemed to jerk a little, but otherwise didn't move. "Dean, are you okay?" he asked softly, carefully placing a hand on Dean's leg.

Dean lifted his head slightly, his flickering gaze eventually settling on Sam. He licked his lips. "There—there's a skeleton over there," he reported. "Over in that far corner." With his head he gestured at the darkness behind Sam.

Sam quickly glanced over his shoulder and then turned back to Dean, nodding. "Oh, okay," he told Dean softly.

"It's a kid, I think. Might be Stevie, but...I didn't want to check."

"Okay, sure," Sam replied. He tried to stay calm, but he couldn't keep the hard edge from tinting his voice. "Dean. What happened?"

Dean rolled his head, looking up at towards the ceiling. "I think this was some kind of punishment room."

"Dean..." Sam studied his brother, his mind racing, hoping Dean would continue so he would have some clue what was going on, so he'd have some idea what was wrong with his brother. Then he realized why his brother was shivering. "Dean, why'd you take your coat off?"

Dean dropped his gaze towards Sam. "I didn't," he replied flatly. "It was already off." In the dim light, Sam saw him point vaguely across the room. Sam picked up the flashlight and aimed it across. There, near the middle of the floor, Dean's coat and bag sat in a rumpled pile, looking as if they'd been dropped there.

Sam looked at his brother, confused. Dean twisted up his mouth. "I didn't really feel like putting it on," he admitted.

Sam quickly got up and grabbed Dean's stuff. "Why not?" he demanded as he came back, dropping back down in front of him.

In answer, Dean lifted up an arm. Even in the dark, Sam could tell something was wrong, but when he shone the light on it, he wasn't prepared for the bloody wounds encircling Dean's wrist. A involuntary gasp flew from his throat when he saw the torn, bleeding skin. He looked at Dean with wide eyes.

"He tied me up," Dean explained. "The son of a bitch tied a rope around my wrists."

Sam swallowed and tilted his head back. At least now he knew. Dean had some type of encounter with a malevolent spirit. "Real rope, or phantom?"

Dean shook his head wearily. "Dunno, couldn't tell. Hurt like hell, though." That didn't tell him anything, but Sam figured cataloging the ghost didn't really matter at that point. If it had been real, he couldn't clean out the dirt and bits of rope now anyway.

"Do you think Dad's dead?"

Sam froze at the sudden question., taken aback as Dean pinned him with his stare. "Why would you ask that?" he finally got out.

"It's just-It's been so long since we heard from him..."

"We got that note just a couple of weeks ago."

Dean blinked slowly. "But we don't know how old it is," he argued. "Maybe we're tracking him down, and he's already dead."

"Don't say that!" Sam shot back sharply. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he drew in a deep breath. "We're going to find him," he insisted, calmer this time. "And until then, you know Dad can take care of himself." He refused to think of the alternative.

"But, what if he is dead? Then what?" he demanded, his voice cracking in the middle.

"What do you mean?" Sam asked him, feeling a heavy pit settle in the bottom of his stomach. But Dean didn't answer.

Sam watched him for a moment and realized with a start that he was still shivering. Shaking himself into action, he lifted Dean's coat up and moved towards his back. "Well, you're freezing," he said, holding the coat out like a cape, "So I'll just-"

"Wait," said Dean suddenly, his spine stiffening. "I can take that."

Sam frowned, bewildered. "I was only going to cover your back."

"Yeah. I know," Dean replied, sounding strangely exasperated. "And it would really mean a lot to me if you didn't."

Sam let out his frustration with a dry laugh. "What the hell are you talking about?"

In reply, Dean just sighed. Unwilling to wait, Sam grabbed his flashlight with his free hand and armed with a coat, came around to Dean's back.

"Jesus!" he cried, nearly dropping the light.

The back of Dean's shirt was shredded and slick with blood. Underneath the tattered fabric, all he could see was torn skin, caked with blood.

At Sam's exclamation, Dean immediately began moving, struggling to turn away. "It's fine," he ground out.

Sam laughed harshly at that. "Like hell it is." He could feel Dean glare at him, knew his eyes were boring into him. Sam shone the flashlight briefly at him, and in the light, his face looked unnaturally pale.

With a sigh, he lowered the beam. "Dammit, Dean."

They lapsed into silence, and a moment later, Dean relaxed. "Let's just get the hell out of here."

"Yes," Sam agreed quickly. He got to his feet and slung his bag over his shoulder, keeping an eye on Dean as he pushed himself up. His brother stumbled a little, but he managed to stand up, even if he did look unsteady. Sam knew he wouldn't want his help, but he stood nearby, just in case his help was needed.

Dean moved stiffly towards the elevated platform, Sam keeping in step right behind him. He dreaded their next move, but they had no other option. Since the pit was deeper inside, the climb up to the ledge would be much harder than Sam's climb into the door. Dean went first, bracing his forearms against the wood, and Sam helped him as he struggled to pull himself up. It only took a few seconds, but by the time Dean was completely up on the platform, he was breathing from the exertion and pain. Sam quickly hoisted himself up beside him.

The door was still open, and the bitter cold air never felt so wonderful and alive before. Sam could even see the grass waving underneath the moonlight, and his eyes were thankful. "All right," he began. "I think it'd be easier if we sit at the edge of the door and jump down."

Dean looked at him, his eyebrows furrowed. "Huh? What did you do with the stairs?"

"There weren't any, remember?" Sam reminded him, feeling a new bout of worry.

Dean made a frustrated sound deep in his throat. "Well then, looks like my friend the psycho ghost uses phantom objects from his twisted little world," he said, scowling. "Should've known."

Sam dropped to the ground first. Dean quickly followed beside him. But as soon as his hit the ground, his knees buckled and he staggered, almost falling the rest of the way. Sam quickly grabbed Dean's upper arm and helped him to his feet. Dean waved him off as soon as he was steady again.

"Hey, where you going?" he said when Sam started towards the car.

Sam looked at him, startled. "Um, the car."

"Dude, we're not finished yet."

Sam gaped at him. "Dean, you can barely stand. Of course we're finished."

"But now we know who's causing everything."

"Let's go, Dean," Sam said wearily. There was no way Dean could be serious.

But Dean refused to budge. "Hey, we have a malevolent spirit inside there, and all we have to do-"

"No," Sam interrupted, taking a step towards him. "We have two malevolent spirits, and one ghost who's learned possessions."

This time, Dean gawked at him. "Huh?"

"Look, I don't know how you ended up there, but while you were gone, I had my own little adventure," Sam told him. "The ghost of Hattie Schumann, the girl we heard screaming, is running around scared up because whoever killed her family is still there too. And if anyone is around when she runs into her murderer, she'll jump inside, use that person to protect her. I think she's the one that's been throwing those metal pieces."

Dean whistled lowly as the information sunk in. Sam continued to explain. "She's been reliving that night over and over again, up on the third floor, and she's so scared she'll take anyone with her." Sam took a deep breath. "And since her murderer is haunting the place, I think he was killed before he got to finish. His soul's been twisted so much that he's barely human anymore, just a spirit filled with rage. So now he's stuck there, waiting to kill someone who's been dead over a hundred years. I think that bloodlust is why he killed the Morey's, because he could tell they were from the same family. And he'll try to kill anyone when they're possessed by Hattie's spirit."

Dean blinked at him after he had finished. "Wow," he said. "You were possessed by a little girl?"

Scowling, Sam pushed at him, and Dean merely smirked back. "Jerk," Sam muttered.

"Okay, so why do you think we have two malevolent spirits here? How do you know they're not the same?"

"It all fits," Sam replied. "The only one not in the house when the massacre happened was Hattie's father. Hattie tried to warn him, but...Well, he found out when she screamed. And since he was warned, he must have been able to kill the guy somehow-but not before his entire family was murdered."

Dean nodded, picking up on Sam's train of thought. "So then he goes out back and hangs himself, and now his ghost haunts that building."

"Yep," Sam nodded. "From your back, I'm guessing Mr. Schumann wasn't exactly a great guy. So one night-May 8th, 1871-one of his slaves, pushed to the limit, somehow manages to break free from his chains and sneaks into the house to slaughter him and his family, except Mr. Schumann wasn't there."

"He dug his way."

"What?"

"The slave...There was a tunnel inside that building. He couldn't get out through the door, so he dug his way out. I think-I think that's how Stevie got in." Dean swallowed. "The tunnel was caved in a few feet out."

"Oh..." Sam paused and then took a deep a breath. "So we have two spirits looking for revenge against each other, and a little girl caught in the middle. To get rid of the two malevolents, I think we need a showdown. But how do we get them together?"

A slow grin slid across Dean's face. "Ready to get in touch with your feminine side?"

Sam's eyes grew wide and he backed away. "Oh, no. I'm not getting possessed again."

"Aw, Sammy, you're still not upset about Millie Kern, are you?" Dean asked cheekily.

"That was ten years ago," Sam retorted. "And hell yeah, I'm still upset! I was thirteen, and she made me kiss a sixteen-year-old on his forehead!"

"I think it was sweet," Dean replied, barely stifling a laugh.

"Why do you do it?" Sam demanded with narrow eyes.

Dean pointed emphatically at his back. "Injured, remember?"

"Oh, now you admit it."

***

Of course, Sam had no other choice, especially when Dean pointed out the quicker they cleared these ghosts, the quicker they could take the next step in finding their dad.

So once again, the two Winchester brothers found themselves standing on the third floor of the Mudhouse Mansion, sweeping their flashlights around the hall. The lighting was made a little better when Dean produced a battery-run camping lantern from his bag. It now cast a glow from its spot on the floor, softly illuminating the hallway.

The doors to the bedrooms stood like dark gateways around them, and Sam was secretly relieved they didn't need to venture into any of them. Instead, they took their position in the hall and waited.

"Hattie?" Sam called out. "Remember me? Come on out - please?"

"Maybe I should piss them off again," Dean suggested. "Worked last time," he said defensively when Sam shot him a dirty look.

Sam turned back to the hall. "Hattie?"

And then she was there. Sam heard a sharp intake of breath from his brother, but he ignored it, focusing on the girl staring at him.

"Hello there," he greeted softly, lowering his flashlight so it pointed straight down.

Cocking her head, the girl stepped towards him, her white gown billowing around her feet. A wave of dirty blonde hair fell behind her shoulder. She would have made a beautiful young woman, had she had the chance.

Suddenly, the lamp on the floor started blinking off and on. A look of horror passed over the girl's face as her gaze fixed on something past the two brothers. Sam looked over his shoulder, and even though he was expecting it, his heart skipped a beat when he saw the black shape.

Turning back to Hattie, he saw her running straight towards him. He steeled himself just as she was about to hit him. And then her form was gone.


Oh, Lord, help me!He was there again, right behind him stretching His cold grip towards immediately started running, his heart jumping inside his he knew hewould never, could never escape Him; He was relentless, always showing up, always after him. Sam wanted to cry, but that never helped.

Amazingly, Sam felt some hope - an emotionhe had nearly forgotten -flicker inside him when he realized he could run faster. His legs were longer than he was used to, and their long stridescarried him farther away.

But still He loomed after him, His ragewashing coldly down Sam's back. Sam could only run and pray he would get away for once.

It was strange this time. He was after him, like He always was, but there was someone elsechasing behind him. Sam didn't know what to make of that, so he ignored it. Even if that person was good, he knew he couldn't stop Him.

But his father could. His father, safe outside. Sam had seen him, coming up the way. If he could just make it out there in time, this time. Before He catches him. He would be safe.

Sam had always been a little afraid of his father, afraid of his stinging, sudden flashes oftemper, his booming voice that pounded straight through his ribcage. But he knew his papa would protect him.

With his long legs, he flewdown the stairs, two to three amazingsteps at a time, feelingthe air rushing by him with exhilaration. He couldn't believe it, but he made it to the first floor. He felt a thrill shoot through him. Maybe he would escape this time!

He veered towards the frontdoor, but something inside of him twisted him around in the opposite direction, and he didn't have any time to fight that feeling. He was gaining on him, he could feel Him right behind him, almost on his back, never lagging.

A window loomed in front of him, and he instinctivelyknew that was the only way out. With an extra burst, he lunged for it, diving throughthe open frameand rolling onto the ground below. He thought he felt an icy touch on his feet just as he jumped, but he shook it loose.

The next instant he was on his feet again, racing through the dewy grass. "Papa!" he screamed. "Papa, help!"

And then he heard his name called out in reply. Papa! But he almost stopped, because his father's voice came from in There-the place he had forbidden him to enter, the place Sam never wanted to enter. But he had no choice this time.

"Papa!" he cried, racing up his father's portable staircase. He banged open the door. His heart swelling, he saw his father standing just inside the was safe!

Only, his father looked strange...Darker, fuzzier, somehow.

Then his father saw him, and his face cleared into the one Sam knew. Sam could actually see his eyes again, watching as they filled with wonder.

But in the next moment, He was bursting through the door. Sam screamed in terror as his black shape billowed into the room.

In an instant, to Sam's horror, his father transformed into a cloud of shape then lunged at Him, and they slammed together in a noiseless boom.

Sam stepped back, tears streaming down his face as he watched the two shadows struggle with each was impossible totell what was happening. All he could do was call out his father's name, helpless and frightened.

Then suddenly a bright red light shot up through the darkness, shining through the floorboards underneath the two figures. The light grew brighter and larger and deeper, and Sam realized it was rising from the ground towards them until it was right under their feet and still rolling upwards.

"Papa!" he screamed, reaching for him. But he couldn't do anything as the red light suddenly engulfed the two figures.

Then the light exploded into nothing, and He and his father were gone.

He was alone.

Sam felt sobs wrack his body as he slowly sank to the floor. A wave of loneliness crashed over him and swirled around him and all he could do was let tears stream from his eyes, adding to the flood. Dimly, he was aware of another presence, pantingat the door. But it wasn't a black shadow, so it didn't matter.

"Sam?" the man asked him hesitantly, but. Sam didn't know what he wanted. He knelt on the ground, his hands clutching at the floorboard, crying, as the man walked towards him. "Sam, what's wrong?" Then he asked. "Hattie?"

Sam knewboth names and he almost looked up. But he wasdrowning in too much despair.

Heneeded his family. He didn't want to be alone anymore. And this man wasn't Papa, or Mama, or Lucy, or Peter, or John, or Sally. They had left him.

Dimly, he felt the vibrations through the floorboardsas the man came towards him. He softly laid a hand against Sam's shoulder, and for an instant, Sam thought he felt a spark of connection, of familiarity.

Startled, he looked up, pleading.

And a light caught his eye.

Sam turned towards it,the pure white brightness filling his sight. But even more lovelier, he saw his family standing within its glow.

His mother knelt down, her hair flowing free and her face smooth and clear and happy. She held out her arms, stretching them wide. Next to her, Peter urged him on, grinning that impish grin that made him Sam's favorite sibling. They were just as he had always pictured them, remembering them at their happiest.

And Sam wasn't alone or scared anymore.


Sam awoke to a bright light shining in his eyes, filling his vision.

Grimacing,he lifted up a hand to shield his eyes from the glare. "Dammit, Dean," he complained.

Dean lowered the flashlight and grinned at him.

With a groan, Sam raised himself up on his elbows and rubbed his forehead. Then he forced himself to sit up. His eyes felt weird, and when he raised a hand to rub at them, it came away wet. Memories slammed into his mind.

Oh. Yeah...

Sam rolled his head to look at Dean, who had a self-satisfied smirk to his face, and he knew he would never hear the end of it. Ten years from now, he would stillhave to defend himselg againstthe time he collapsed, slobbering like a baby and crying for his family. Dean would make sure the embarrassment would never leave.

But Sam knew him well enough to readpast his it all, Dean looked shaken and pale.

Sam had to admit, he felt unsettled himself. The thoughts and emotions of the little girl still coursed through his veins, and it would be awhile before they faded. That sense of lonelinessembedded with those memorieswould behard to shake, and in the back of his mind, Sam could even feel the tears that still threatened to come, if he onlyallowed them.

But he had Dean there to aggravate him daily, and that would be enough. Maybeif those two teenshad someone as close as a brother to keep that depression at bay, they wouldn't have resorted to suicide. Sam knew, with Dean there, the loneliness, both phantom and real,would never completely overwhelm him.

Sam rolled his eyes and scooted towards the door. "Jerk," he muttered, dropping to the ground outside. The grass was frosty - not dewy like Hattie had imagined - and it crunched under his feet, the icy sound sending a shiver up his spine.

"Crybaby," Dean instantly retorted, falling to the ground next to him. Sam had to pull him up, and he didn't miss the wince that crossed Dean's face.

Together theystumbled their way down towards their car. At least with Dean's injuries,Sam would be allowed todrive this time.

Behind them, the empty house loomed dark and silent. Sam couldn't remember ever being so glad to leave a place.

THE END

***