Authors: Mink & Jink
Rating: PG - Gen
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
The gravel of the parking lot was sharp under his bare feet.
Sam yelled his brother's name not caring that it was the middle of the night or how paper-thin the walls of the motel were. A few room lights clicked on and a few cautious small parts in the curtains were made but no one opened their doors. Probably the sight and sound of him made them think twice before marching out in their pajamas to demand his silence.
He jogged down the length of the building from one side to the other, looking for any kind of sign that would show that Dean had come that way. He rounded the back and searched the darkness of all the desert that lay out for miles in every direction. Sam knew before he was out the door that he didn't stand a chance at finding his brother without the sunlight. The landscape was relatively bare but it might as well been a thick deep forest when it was settled into the black of night. It had been hard enough to find him when Dean was willing to be found.
With a curse Sam turned back and walked slowly to the room. He had to quickly pack his things and make his own exit before the cops had time to arrive to the assured reports of that shot gun going off.
The car was still there.
The keys were left hanging in the trunk lock. The false bottom left open to reveal all its secrets inside to anyone that would happen to wander by. Slamming it closed, Sam briefly wondered how Dean had managed to remember that one secret out of everything else.
He wondered what else Dean would lose now that he couldn't even hold on to his own blood.
Despite the odds, Sam had driven around until the sun started to stain the sky anyway.
It was impossible not to hope that he would catch a familiar shape in the headlights walking down the roadside. Sam envisioned it. He would pull over and his brother would have come back a little from his newest and horrible fall. There’d be that deep-seated relief in his eyes when he saw that Sam had found him.
Sam gripped the steering wheel hard.
Or Dean was doing what Dean would do if he wanted to lay low. Staying off and away from the main strips of road. Ducking when a passing car came into view. Moving fast and checking his back often. When the sun had actually lifted away from the desert floor, Sam pulled over and tried to gather his thoughts. A quick check through the glove box had revealed that Dean had none of his various Ids on him, but to Sam's relief, he did have at least one of his credit cards. That meant he had at least one measly means to track him if he actually used it.
He'd already checked the trunk, going through the well memorized inventory ten times just to make sure the one and only pistol was the only thing missing. With the police band tuned in on the handheld on the seat beside him, he clenched his jaw whenever a call came through waiting hear the worst. A cop reporting shots fired. Suspect armed. Deadly force required after noncompliance. But the radio calls stayed uneventful.
His eyes kept going back to the steady line of traffic that streamed by off on the horizon. It's where Sam would go if he wanted to get out of town.
He'd head to the highway and find himself a ride.
"Excuse me?" Sam interrupted as politely as he could.
The girl behind the counter snapped her gum and looked back at him over her shoulder. Pressing the telephone she had been speaking on into her chest, she sighed. Her gaze hardening a little as she got a good wary look of his bruised up face.
"Have you a seen a guy around here?" Sam was exhausted and he knew the question was nonsensical as soon as it left his mouth.
"This is a gas station sir." She informed him just in case he didn't notice the gas pumps just outside. "I see a lotta guys. All day."
"Yeah well, he'd be about this high." Sam used his hand as an dictator while silently cursing himself for not having one single photo of his brother that wasn't over the age of ten. "Short brown hair, green eyes, probably in a leather jacket ... um, might have used a credit card with the name Jagger on it?"
Her eyes were blank and uninterested until she heard the name. Sam quietly blessed the fact that Dean liked to use ridiculous pseudonyms.
"Wait, yeah, I saw that guy."
"You did?" Sam felt his heart skip. "When?"
"About, I don't know, 4?" She told him. "He bought a pack of smokes. Oh and a map."
4 AM. That was more than three hours ago.
"By the way, you should tell your friend to take it easy on that grain. That shit will make ya blind."
"Yeah, grain alcohol. Didn't even wait to get out of here before he started chugging it either." She snapped her gum again.
Sam pulled a hand through his hair. Armed and now maybe plastered. Marvelous. "You wouldn't happen to know um, where he was headed?"
"No idea." She shrugged. "Saw him talking with some trucker."
Sam looked out at the eastbound traffic that the gas station served.
If Dean had hitched a ride that was the way he was going.
He looked down at his watch and then back over to the car. He was torn by the desire to just drive and see what happened next. Something turning up through the calls relayed amongst the state patrol cars or some sign he didn't even know to look for yet that would lead to Dean.
But he knew that was a hopeless long shot. Three hours was a huge head start and the trucks went all over. His brother could be practically anywhere.
He still had a few hours to keep his appointment with a man that didn't take many.
And Sam needed some help.
Utah didn't look much different from the state he'd left behind.
Endless ranching land and not much else stretched in every direction. The rocky terrain rising into steep cliff walls and the craggy desolate sprawl of the hills. It all had its own kind of beauty that Sam couldn't appreciate at the moment. It reminded him too much of what was happening to his brother. Its bleakness made him think of what would happen to Dean when whatever was happening to him went as far as it could go. He turned his attention back on the road map with his own scribbled directions on it.
According to this, he was almost there.
The road that lead to the address he'd been given was nothing but two vague tire furrows that wound down through a canyon. Kicking up a dust cloud behind the car, Sam wondered at the whole lot of minutes that had gone by and there was still no sign of any kind of house in sight. Thinking maybe he had turned off at the wrong mile marker, he prepared to turn around. It was right then that he spotted the tiny trailer and ancient Ford pick up just off the in distance.
The place was a basic battered box with aluminum siding and your required four sides. Sam had lived in a few of them himself growing up. Sure they got to be cramped when he got to be older and he had to start literally fitting himself into the ever shrinking shower, but he had liked it. The almost dollhouse feel of your own place. The sound the rain made on the roof. Maybe he had just liked it because they didn't have to pay someone by the day just to stay still.
As he put the car in park, he wasn't surprised to see the door wide open. The old yellow dog that lay on the small wooden attached porch didn't give him much more than a glance. Not much need to lock yourself up tight way out here.
“Hello?” He called out. "Anyone home? I'm looking for—“
A man appeared in the doorway.
His hair was long but gray. Sun creased skin like the shades of the desert floor. His jeans looked stiff and brand new, that outdated almost neon shade of navy when the dye hadn't had one chance to fade out. In contrast the cowboy boots that Sam could see under the cuffs looked about as old as the man that wore them, leather scuffed and dusty. A thick silver necklace of turquoise stone hung around his neck and over a button down flannel. He was pretty tall. Broad shoulders that filled the span of the trailer door. But thin and frail with age.
Sam imagined this man in his youth and suddenly felt oddly intimidated.
“You.” The man said. “You must be John’s boy.”
“Yes, sir.” Sam never quite knew where that put him in the terms of other people’s graces. It could very well mean a helpful thing or something fairly bad.
When a hand waved Sam to come inside, he took it as a good sign that his father hadn't managed to piss this guy off. But as he walked up the creaking steps, he checked the doorway briefly for any cocked shotguns that might be waiting for him.
Just in case.
Dad had always told him that you make a present of some tobacco when you come calling to a man like this one.
He had bought some at the gas station that Dean had gone to, buying the same brand that his brother had for no reason other than it made him feel that he was somehow following the same line of thought.
Hanging onto it.
The inside of the trailer was slightly too warm, the furniture too big for the space and the walls covered in so many shelves that you couldn't see much wall at all. It was strangely reminiscent of the many libraries and cluttered collections that all the men his father knew seemed to possess. Rogue and unkempt scholars of the flip side. Private men living out on all these edges as they watched and listened for the dark to make its move in the land of the light.
Sam often wondered just exactly how all these recluses had ever come to find each other in the first place. He was offered some coffee that he took but didn't drink. Sam's stomach was in knots already. He politely declined a smoke but watched and waited impatiently as the old guy lit and enjoyed one silently for a good amount of time.
“You are here to ask about that place.” The old man finally said.
Sam sat forward, elbows on his knees, and forced himself not to pour out every question that had been rocking back forth in his mind.
The man shook his head. “Just garbage that should be taken to a land fill.”
Sam wondered just how it would feel to know that your land, even if it was a great empty sprawl of a reservation, was treated just like that. Some dump to leave your garbage without a thought or shred of respect for the people that lived on it.
“About the park?” Sam blurted, unable to keep himself on the slow pace that this meeting seemed to have been set. “About the thing that is out there—“
“There's nothing out there.”
Sitting back and sipping from his own mug, the man seemed to have finished the matter with the sentence.
Sam shifted in his seat in confusion.
“Wait…” He cleared his throat and figured he should try to explain. "Sir, I-I think there is something. Something that might be hurting people—“
“I didn't say people weren't getting hurt.” The man exhaled a slow cloud of thick cigarette smoke. “I said nothing is out there.”
“You don't understand, I think my brother ran into something.” Sam tried again. “I think it did something to his head.”
The old guy sat back into his well worn chair, studying his own walls as if he just noticed them for the first time and thought they were the most interesting thing in the world. Lazy ribbons of smoke draped and unfurled in the air between them.
“Did you know that there used to be rivers out there?”
Taken aback by the unexpected question, Sam had to find his voice again. “Uh... no sir? I didn't."
“Nothing big like the Owyhee, but not some creek that only runs when it rains in the West.” He explained. "There were some spots so deep, it made pools. Standing pools that you could look right down in and see your own face."
Sam listened carefully.
"They say if you looked down in them for too long, you'd forget your own reflection. Your own face. They say once you did that you'd reach down to the man looking at you and fall and drown."
Sam realized his heart was beating faster.
“River has been gone for some long years now.” He sighed as he tapped the long ash into a dirty almost overflowing ashtray. "Down by the border. Some rich men changed its path and took it for a big gold mine."
Sam quickly ran through his head what he knew about things that lurked and fed in water and along waterways. Often times when the water vanished so did they. But what if this thing never did? What if whatever it was that lived in the river had never even left? It could have just sank into the dry riverbed and went dormant or slept. Maybe it waited until it could move into whatever it had available.
Something with a reflection.
Like a mirror.
“But why?” He asked. “What does ... what did ... why make people forget?”
The tall man opposite him shrugged. "Why do the thorns tear and wound? It is just its nature. And its nature is nothing."
Sam considered the words. A thorn doesn't plan or wait. It just snares and hooks into any flesh that wanders too close to it. Something unmotivated and static. Something brainless and unprovoked.
So this thing was like walking through a patch of sumac ivy and breaking out in a blistering rash a few hours later? Sam realized just exactly what was meant when he had said ‘nothing’ is out there. Nothing thinking or alive in a given sense anyway. Dean had accidentally walked right into something that was as sentient as a pitcher plant.
"Your real question should be, what else finds your brother after he is all gone. Something that has more sense than a scorpion that only knows to sting so it may eat."
Eat. Sam felt his mouth pull into a grim frown.
“Something empty.” The old man put a finger up to his forehead. “Gets filled.”
Sam knew that song and dance well enough. The old, the sick, the young, the weak, they were all tantalizing targets for anything that wanted a body to walk around in. What better than a perfectly healthy human being that just happened to be vacant? It was a little strange sometimes to see the synchronicity of the shadow world that was almost like what you found in the bright green breathing brutally of nature. Some creatures existed in some weird symbiotic relationship. A faceless soulless predator in a mirror that provided walking open hosts for anything else that wanted to move right in?
“But wait…” Sam swallowed, unsure if he wanted to know the answer to his next question. "Can the people who have looked ... into the water…. the reflection ... can they recover? Get their memories back?"
Sam had phrased it as if the memories indeed were going somewhere and not just vanishing into the ether. Being consumed. He was now hoping against hope that this … thing ... wasn't like some Venus Fly trap that after being triggered to strike, would soon slowly just mindlessly devour what it had captured so it could sustain itself.
“That...” The man told him, suddenly sounding very tired. “…I do not know.”
Sam slumped back into his own chair, his coffee cup clutched tightly in one hand. He’d have to go and find out for himself. He’d have to go into that place that this thing had made into its den and discover just how it worked. But how could he do that without sliding into its sand trap like Dean and who knew how many other people had?
The old man seemed to realize just what Sam planned to do.
“You cannot handle something poisonous without protection.”
Sam watched the man move to his crowded bookshelf and retrieve a small and unremarkable cinched pouch. When it was offered, Sam took it, rolling its frayed shape in the palm of his hand. There was the light weight of something hard inside.
"This'll stop the thing? Stop it from…" Sam had almost said eating, but the thought made him sick to his stomach. “It will stop it from taking up my head?”
"The totem can ward off many things. That is just one of them."
“Make sure it is touching your flesh.” He tapped the spot over the heart on his chest.
Sam gripped the talisman in his fist.
This would let him look without losing. And if he could get a good look, maybe he could figure out a way to make this thing go away for good. Vanish and fade just like all the people that had stumbled across it had done. And if he could do that, maybe it would put Dean back as he was before he'd ever found the damn thing.
“Thank you.” Sam told him sincerely as he stood to make his leave.
The old man studied him as he struck a match to light another cigarette.
“Remember the nature of nothing.” He said. "It has no care for another's pain or the mercy to end it. It also will not fear."
Sam thought about that as he walked back to the car.
There was something else about the nature of something that could not experience fear that he found might more than work to his advantage.
If something didn't know how to be afraid then it also wouldn't know when it should run.
It was a lot different to be there all alone.
Sam wasn't a person who was unsettled very easily or very often, but he realized that might just have been knowing he wasn't on his own. One part of a sum of others, one voice of two and the knowledge that both of them could always be looking in every direction at once when as one man they could not.
He decided to replicate the conditions that had existed on their first visit there as close as he could. When he arrived, dusk was just falling and the wind was strangely dead instead of the constant dry feel of it that he hadn't realized he had gotten used to. Sam didn't pause to look at anything as he walked quickly and directly to the fun house that sat out far away from everything else. As he drew closer he thought about how the door fashioned like the clown mouth was perfectly suited for what lay in blank senseless hungry wait inside.
The charm hanging securely around his neck, Sam walked right on inside without so much of a second of hesitation.
The dim interior was long ago stripped of anything worthwhile, it was now just a home for a collection of dust motes in Sam's flashlight. His conviction that his brother had indeed come in here was confirmed when he spotted a single set of tracks in the thick dust on the floor. They were the familiar thick treaded pattern of Deans boots, and lead only in one single direction towards the back of the place.
Sam followed the tracks with his light, his mind envisioning his brother walking to the splintered hole in the wall and pausing to look into it, then continuing down the way to inspect an old pile of crumbling newspapers. It was then that he noticed there was a hallway.
A very strange and narrow hallway.
Sam followed the tracks through the claustrophobic length of the passage. Squeezing through until he was sure that some maniac had built the walls to gradually slant inwards until you were firmly wedged still in the dark.
He traced the footprints that were soon accompanied by hand prints, as it was clear his brother had gotten down on all fours to enter the tunnel that Sam found next. Emerging on the other side he spent his time carefully navigating through the maze of glass. Shaking his head a little in disbelief at the lengths Dean had gone to end up running into this thing, Sam decided that after this was all done they'd have a nice long talk. He was going to make damn sure they had a sit down about adventuring and the when, how and never again’s--
Sam froze as his flashlight swung the corner and revealed the next room.
It was the exact place he had seen in his dream. The sick sensation he experienced when he physically saw what he had only ever seen in the haze of his mind hit him like a ton of bricks.
But the mirrors he had seen breaking as he had slept were apparently all intact.
The only mirror that looked like it had been damaged at all was the very last one that sat propped up against the wall. It was the only one that hadn't broken in his dream. And it was the one he had seen his brother's silhouette in. With a deep breath and one hand checking for the pouch he had tucked into his shirt, he slowly approached it.
Sam studied it with the beam of his light just off center so he could examine it in its glow and not blind himself. He knew better than to think that the strange and imbued did the things that they did in the movies. More often than not the enchanted did not sparkle and the cursed did not feel cold to the touch.
Most things that had secrets looked almost just like everything else.
But still, he had been hoping for something. Some sign of what happened after you set off its trap. Some sign of anything at all. He leaned in closer, peering behind what little he could see behind it and gave out a small sigh. Maybe if he should just break it. If it shattered maybe it would end all of this. Release whatever it had stolen away and just end. If anything its presence would no longer endanger the unwary that haplessly wandered these halls in search of nothing but harmless fun. It would be like spraying some pesticide on a dangerous bees nest. Or breaking up the thin ice on a frozen lake so no one would go walking on it and plunge into its depths…
His face was almost right up against its silver surface when something suddenly flashed directly in front of his eyes. It startled him so badly that he staggered backwards and almost fell on his ass.
Heart thudding, he fought to control his instinct to just get out of there. Vaguely, he could feel the pouch that hung against his chest had grown very warm. Sam unsteadily redirected his light back up at the mirror.
There was a hand.
The palm of a hand was pressed up against the flat surface. From the other side. Like the plane of glass he had just looked behind was some kind of window instead of a sheet of fragile material only centimeters thick. Chest heaving, Sam took a step closer, noticing when he further lowered his flashlight's beam, that the hand took on more shape as if it was emitting its own light.
There was a familiar ring on one finger, a worn leather band of a bracelet.
Sam blinked several times trying to make sense of what his eyes were plainly seeing.
“Oh my God.”
He stepped closer.
The hand moved, fingers slightly splaying as if the person who owned it was pressing as hard as they could.
Sam frantically searched the mirror for more of the image but he couldn't see a thing but the dark room behind him.
“Dean? Dean are- are you in there??”
But how could he be? Dean was at this moment probably riding shotgun in some big rig and headed for who knows where. Some girl at the gas station had seen him her own two eyes.
Without thinking, Sam pressed his own hand up against the hand that was set firmly up under the mirror surface. It was oddly cold with what looked like solid flesh on its other side. He gasped as he suddenly saw the image waver and shift, the hand suddenly lead up an arm and almost to a shoulder that he glimpsed for just a moment before it was gone. The hand remained where it was.
It was Dean.
Sam stared at the mirror that sat in two halves. Split down the middle. This thing was somehow keeping what had gone missing. Piece by piece and slowly reassembling a whole person here on some other side. Like some kind bizarre hourglass, some form that got more and more substantial as time had moved on. More and more solid while the other side diminished.
"Dean? Oh God ... can you hear me?"
Sam knew he could. The hand flexed but stayed firm where it was.
“How do I-- I'll get you out of there—"
Sam's only thought was of how many weeks and days and hours it had been that Dean might have been conscious in whatever kind of place this prison was. His wakefulness slowly growing as his far off body gradually lost every thought and memory to the mirror's pull. The horrible vision of some pitcher plant came back to mind, the slow digestion of what it caught, the prey's struggles to free itself as it suffered its prolonged fate. Sam just wanted to shatter this thing and free him, pull him out of that horrible foul dark and just—
Sam could almost hear it but it wasn't quite a sound he was registering with his ears. It had been a warning. It had been a shout of caution. It was then that Sam knew. Dean might be almost all here but his body wasn't. If he broke this mirror with what made up his brother still in it, that part would be gone for good.
"Okay. Okay." Sam took in a deep breath and let it out, his hand working on the faint image of his brother's. "I'm gonna get you out of there Dean, okay? Don't worry."
Sam hoped he sounded reassuring.
The hand was gone.
The shrill sudden sound of his cell phone startled him almost as badly as his brother's sudden appearance had.
Unwilling to take his hand away from the mirror, he fumbled into his coat pocket, marveling that he had even been able to pick up a signal out here. The number on the display wasn't anything he recognized. Flipping it open he expected to get dead air as the feeble connection made short work of who ever was trying to reach him.
The voice was cutting in and out but Sam could hear his name easy enough through the static. The use of his full formal name did nothing to put him at ease. Sam didn't let himself breathe just in case the movement would cause him to lose the call.
A police officer had gotten a call about an armed man in a confused state wandering down town. The authorities were contacting all the people they had found in the directory found on his cell phone—
The line dropped in that quick neat blank way cell phones did. Sam took a deep breath and looked back into the mirror in front of him.
He didn't know if his brother could still hear him in there, buried deep and tucked away between folds of smothering dark. The dream reminding him of the pain that had been in Dean's eyes and the broken urgency in his voice as he had called out his name.
“I'm on my way.”
Sam had to get to what was left of the other half of his brother.
Something empty… Gets filled.
He had to find him before something else did first.
To be continued…