|The Other Woman in White
Author: Guede Mazaka
“And this is Bai She!” he yelled over the party’s noise.
Tucked into the guy’s arm was the most hottest fucking Asian chick Peter had ever seen. Most Chinese—or Korean, or Japanese, or whatever—girls were flat as boards, but this one had breasts and hips and yeah, the whole package. Then he got around to looking at her face and that was pretty good, too. Her hair was kind of weird with those white streaks in them, but she definitely wasn’t AARP material so he figured she was just into punk hair. Anyway, the way she stepped up against him said he wasn’t going to have to worry about checking out her hair. Not on that end of her, anyway.
“Hey,” she purred. She had a slight accent, but the slide of her hand down his chest and over his crotch was damn firm. “The guys here say you’re really smart.”
“Yeah, well…er…” Not a safe topic. He’d showed up a frat brother in class. Of course, that’d somehow started a conversation afterward and then gotten him an invite to this party, but he still wasn’t sure.
Bai She was doing some serious rubbing down there. “Want to teach me something?” Her eyes sparkled as she suddenly pulled away from him. She hung on to his wrist so he had no choice but to follow her further into the backyard. “But away from the big crowd?”
Okay, very, very much a safe topic. “Sure.”
She led them quickly across the yard and towards an old ramshackle building that neighbored it…or was it? Peter had heard the place was abandoned, but right now it looked like one of the biggest damn mansions he’d ever seen. The glass in the windows reflected the lights from the frat-house so Bai She’s white dress glowed eerily in the dark. She almost looked like a ghost.
“Like it?” she said, turning back. And back, till they were once against stomach-to-stomach. Her hand played lightly all over his shoulders so his hair prickled beneath his shirt. She had red, red lipstick and it gleamed in the night like a juicy wet promise.
“You live there? I thought it was an old wreck,” he breathed.
A tiny furrow appeared between her eyebrows and Peter instantly cursed himself for being an idiot. Yeah, way to go—insult her home.
But then Bai She smiled and pulled at him till they were stumbling up the back stairs together. “It was. But I had it fixed. I wanted a proper house for my…guests.”
Then again, Peter hadn’t spent much time in this part of town. He shrugged and let Bai She lead him further into the house, eyes fixed firmly on her tight little ass. Man, did it waggle beneath her dress. It waggled a lot. In fact, it—
He stared, horrified and disbelieving and completely frozen. Then she—it turned around, and he did the same but a hell of a lot faster, mouth opening in a scream.
The sound strangled in his throat.
* * *
“Like she said, third body in three months found in this house. No details on this one yet, but the police admit they don’t have a clear cause of death,” Dean said, folding up the newspaper.
“Which probably means he just dropped dead without any signs of violence or illness like the last two.” Sam poked at the remains of the pancakes on his plate. They’d been on their way west, but a polite smile at the waitress here had turned into a long, mostly one-sided conversation, and now it looked like it’d become their latest stop.
“Spooky, isn’t it?” Their waitress, whose nametag proclaimed her ‘Chelsea,’ had returned with their bill. She dropped it in front of Dean, flashing him a generous amount of cleavage that he clearly appreciated, and then leaned back so her thigh was about two inches from Sam’s knee. “I was going to go a party that night at a frat-house right next door, but I had to swap shifts with another girl. Man, am I glad now that I did. It’s so creepy and nobody’s got any idea what’s going on.”
Chelsea seemed like a nice enough girl, but it was hard for Sam to be cheerful around women at the best of times, and this early in the morning, he hadn’t had time to brace himself against getting through yet another day without—he shook his head, then straightened up to stretch his not-cramped back. His knee went under the table. “There’s a fraternity near there? And nobody saw anything?”
“Nope. But they were probably busy.” She gave Sam a wink.
Dean gave Sam his own Significant Look. Sam ignored both looks and went back to poking at his food. Apparently not offended, Chelsea turned to Dean.
“But seriously, I hear it was a huge party. That guy might’ve even been there and nobody would’ve noticed him. Isn’t that a creepy thought?” The little shiver Chelsea made was a nice touch. She had big blue eyes and she turned them full-force on Dean. “Somebody going to the same party you did, and then just…dying?”
Dean gave her his best charming smile, the one he used to…well, use on Dad whenever he was trying to talk Dad into letting him borrow the new gear. She shyly smiled back. By Sam’s watch, they kept it up for a good forty seconds before Dean finally startled to life. “Well, thanks for the meal,” he said, sliding a sore glance Sam’s way. “But we’ve got to get going.”
“If you’re in town for long, Saturday nights here are Shot Special nights.” She giggled a little and started to turn to go.
When Sam raised a hand, she whipped around so fast the other customers in the place looked over. Sam coughed uncomfortably and focused on a point about an inch to the left of her left eye. “Hey, can you tell us how to get to this frat house?”
Once she’d finally left, Dean slouched back in the booth and glowered. “Kicking? Are we back to grade-school and footsie?”
“Hey, I was just concerned about you and the soul-sucking vortex she’s got down her blouse,” Sam shot back. It was his turn to pay, so he dug out his wallet and started thumbing out bills. “Fraternity nearby. Could just be drugs and alcohol, and they’re having a hard time figuring out which one it was.”
“Could be. Except the newspaper says that after the second death, the police completely locked down the house. Boarded up the windows and the doors—the works. And there was no sign of forced entry…actually, no sign of entry at all.” Dean folded up the newspaper and stuck it under his arm as he got up. He smiled again at Chelsea, who was looking over at them so much that she nearly poured hot coffee all over a poor guy’s lap instead of in his mug, then looked seriously back at Sam. “The only reason they found the body was because this jogger saw a shirt hanging from one of the downstairs windows. And of course that hadn’t been there before.”
It still sounded more like one of those two-minute murder mysteries to Sam than one of their problems, but he guessed they’d better take a look. “Okay. So do you want to hit the library, the fraternity or the crime scene first?”
* * *
The newspaper in the restaurant had been the city paper and hadn’t given very many details. The college paper they picked up once they were actually on campus was, to put it in Dean’s words, a hell of a lot more juicy: it went into the fraternity’s history of trouble, which included hazing, drinking violations, one almost-charge of rape against a member that had been dropped at the last minute for “undisclosed reasons” and even a mysterious death several years back. If they were just talking about vengeful ghosts, then that particular neighborhood definitely had the right background for it.
But the victims the article had named all were outsiders, not part of the fraternity at all. The latest one hadn’t even been at Northwestern for very long; Peter Mitchell was a transfer student that’d just arrived a month ago. That wasn’t much time to make someone mad enough to commit murder.
“Though the house definitely fits the part,” Dean commented.
Yellow tape crisscrossed the front lawn, and a hastily-installed chain-link fence further obscured the view, but even from the sidewalk, the building looked menacing. It had been built back when Victorian was all the rage and probably had been one of the largest houses in town, but now the bright paint had faded and the wood had weathered to a sickly gray. Every window was missing its glass, and a lot of the elaborate wood trimmings had fallen away. What remained gave the house the look of a jagged mouth barely gagged by the new wood planks nailed over the windows and doors. The property was by far the largest on the street, so the extra land surrounding it gave it an air of crouching danger.
“It was actually really nice-looking till about seven years ago,” someone said. When Dean and Sam turned around, they were confronted with…a gentle-looking woman in her fifties, collie by her side. The collie panted happily at them all, then went for the nearest leg.
That happened to be Dean’s; he staggered back from the dog’s enthusiasm, then sank to one knee and roughly patted its head, which almost made it dance with joy. It was clearly a happy animal, living an uncomplicated life without any clouds over its head.
“What happened?” Dean was asking, which brought Sam out of his reverie.
“Oh, it belonged to this sorority that was banned from the university for improprieties,” the woman said. She dropped her voice and looked both disapproving and gossipy, to which Dean nodded in a very serious way. He probably was going to burst into laughter the moment she walked away. “The real estate agency couldn’t get anyone to buy such a big house, so they just let it go. Shame. If they were going to do that, they could at least have torn the place down.”
That was Sam’s cue; he stepped forward with what he hoped was an appropriately curious expression. “Why? Does it have a bad reputation?”
He almost asked if it had any ghost legends around it, but at the last moment he figured that was too obvious. The woman drew back with such an aghast expression that Sam thought even the little he had asked had been too much. He was on the verge of apologizing when she firmly shook her head. “Oh, no, no. In this part of town? No, not at all. Not even a whisper. But you know, it’s never a good idea to leave houses like that standing around empty. You never know what kind of trouble it might invite. This is a nice college town, but I know there are drug-dealers around and—and those crackheads and all that.”
“Yeah, you definitely can’t have any of that around,” Dean chimed in. He was still ruffling the collie’s ears and the collie was looking at him as if he were its new god. “Bad for the, uh, little kids.”
“Most certainly.” The woman gave a firm nod, then pulled on the collie’s leash. “Now, Baxter, come on. Leave the nice young men alone—we’ve still got another two miles before I’ve met my cardiac goal for today.”
The collie plainly didn’t want to go, but when it made for the sleeve of Dean’s leather jacket, Dean jerked back so fast that the collie got spooked. It skittered away with a whimper, then went quietly along with the woman. Though it still threw the occasional soulful look over its shoulder as the pair went down the street.
Sam rubbed at his nose and carefully measured out his words. If that woman was what the neighborhood’s tone was like, he didn’t think it’d be a good idea to laugh right here. “The little kids?”
“What?” Dean got back on his feet and dusted at his knees a couple times, then started off towards the corner.
“We’ve had this conversation before. I don’t think I need to say what.” Once they’d gotten past the house, they could see behind it to the back of another large house, which had to be the fraternity. Little glints in the grass around it marked beer-cans and bottles, but the good times seemed to have gone out of the house itself: all the windows were dark and no one was moving around it.
The look Dean shot him was full of suffering. Actually, it was a pretty good imitation of the collie’s expression. “Hey. Lucas.”
“That’s one name. Just two more to go before I believe you.” Sam met Dean’s new glare with a fake smile so it just slipped right off. So had the joke, but neither of them really wanted to get too close on why it’d gone flat. Heartfelt confessions were all well and good when they were in the dark without the right weapons, or when some crazy mutant was toying with them, but in broad daylight they were like tissue paper. Too thin to hold.
And when it came down to it, Sam still wasn’t all that reconciled to what they were doing. He’d just gotten much better at rationalizing away the delays.
“So nothing on the house itself except its looks, and if we always judged books by their covers, you’d never get anywhere with anyone,” Dean finally said. He shrugged and nodded towards the frat-house. “Maybe it’s just convenient.”
“Which is why anyone ever goes anywhere with you,” Sam muttered. He dodged around the stop sign just time to avoid his brother’s mock-punch. “But what’s the connection? If it’s one of the brothers, why are they doing it?”
Dean rotated his head a couple times, then swung his arms out and back to stretch them as well. He nodded at the fraternity house’s door, which was just opening. “Let’s go ask, shall we?”
The guy that came out was in his pajamas and hauling two monster garbage bags of trash. He blinked blearily as Dean and Sam came up the sidewalk, then continued dragging his load to the end of the driveway. When he noticed they’d stopped in front of him, he made an effort to look more closely at them that was painful to watch. “Can I help you guys?”
Sam glanced at Dean, who was already stepping forward with the smile that said he had a cover story. Dean’s eyes flicked up to the ‘Rush’ banner that dangled crookedly from the second-floor windows. “Yeah. We’re new and we were checking out the Greek scene. My cousin was in this fraternity and he recommended it highly, so I figured my brother and I would stop here first.”
The guy needed a couple seconds to process this. “Well, Rush ended yesterday, but if you want info for next semester, come on in.”
* * *
According to the newspaper and Chelsea, the big party had been two days ago, but the few people in the house all went around as if they were hung-over to the moon. Rich, the guy who’d let them in, made a vaguely apologetic gesture. “Did you hear about the weird death across the backyard? Well, the police have been in and out ever since and we, uh, had too much beer in the house. We figured we’d better get rid of it before the cops noticed we were bending the rules a little.”
“And dumping it down the sink didn’t seem like a good idea?” Sam muttered.
He hadn’t meant it seriously, but Rich took it that way and looked absolutely horrified. “Are you kidding? It’s top-grade booze, man! You don’t waste that!”
Dean clapped a hand on Sam’s shoulder a little too hard and smiled a little too brightly at Rich. “Sorry, dude. Bro here’s a bit of a square, despite my best efforts. So why are the cops around?”
“Well, this is right next door, and there was a big party going on here that night,” said a new voice. The guy that had just walked in was too clear-eyed to have joined in the drinking binge, but had the same kind of irritated, pinched-face expression as the rest of the brothers. “Who are you?”
“Oh, hey, Stephen. Snazzy jacket’s Dean and the freak is Sam.” Rich flapped a hand at the newcomer right before sacking out on the couch. “They’re thinking about Rushing for us next semester.”
Stephen raised his eyebrows. “No kidding. With your bad reputation and everything?”
“Well, I always like to judge things for myself. Don’t like to go on hearsay,” Dean said. His tone was enough to calm down Rich, who’d looked as if he’d been ready to start something with Stephen.
“Huh.” That was Stephen’s last contribution to the conversation, since afterwards he turned around and walked out the front door.
Sam hiked his thumb over his shoulder in that direction. “What’s with him?”
Rich sighed and put up his hands in the universal gesture of ‘it’s beyond me.’ From the look of things, a lot was beyond him, but at least that made him talkative without getting suspicious. “He’s just moody. His girlfriend’s not all that great an influence, either—Asian and hot, but bitchy as all hell.”
“Is he a brother?” Dean asked. He was wandering around the room, occasionally poking at trash with his foot. Something caught his eye and he bent over for a closer look.
“Nah, but he’s friends with a lot of us so he’s always in and out. Which is weird, you know. His girlfriend used to show up every so often to…well, to get fucked, but she doesn’t do that anymore since they hooked up.” Sighing, Rich stretched out his legs and put his hands behind his back. His shirt rode up to show the remains of something crusted to his less-than-perfect abs. “Too bad. I hear if you got past the tongue, the rest was an incredible ride—shit! Oh, shit!”
Rich suddenly leaped up onto the couch as something white and skinny rapidly glided over the middle of the floor. Sam jumped as well, but towards it. He made a grab for it, but it was too fast and just eluded him. Another second and it’d be out in the hallway.
“Got it!” Dean yelled. He’d dove over a table and grabbed it on the roll, and now he held it up with a triumphant expression on his face. That quickly went away as soon as he got a good look at it. “Holy—”
“No, don’t hurt it! Don’t—Mike, goddamn it, your pet snake’s loose again!” Rick shouted, scrambling off the couch. He hunted around till he’d found an empty and relatively clean take-out box, which he then held out to Dean.
Dean dropped the albino snake into it with a look of disgust. “Pet snake?”
“He got it a couple months ago and we’ve been trying to make him ditch it since, but he loves the fucking thing. If you’re turned off us just because of it, let me say, man—I completely understand.” Nose wrinkled, Rich walked out to the staircase and handed over the box to a guy that had come stumbling down the stairs. They had a short, sharp talk before Rich came ambling back, an irritated look on his face.
“We can deal with snakes. We’re more worried about the death in that house over there,” Sam said. He turned around and pointed out the window at the ruins across the field. “We’ve heard a couple rumors that the guy that died was here just before it happened.”
Rich’s expression instantly started to close off, but Dean quickly stepped up with yet another conciliatory smile on his face. “He means he heard. I’ve been trying to tell him ever since that rumors are usually just rumors, but…” Dean cupped his hand to his mouth, eye rolling derisively towards Sam “…he’s pretty nervous. Like a poodle, you know?”
Mollified, Rich rocked back on his heels and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Eh, well…I’ll be honest. That Peter Mitchell guy was at our party for a bit, but so was half of campus. Plus he left way before it was over, and the other two you probably heard about? Tons of people saw them leaving here and nothing was wrong with them.”
“They all left by themselves?” Sam asked. This time he tried to sound a little more casual about it. He still got a weird look from Rich, but the other man didn’t seem too suspicious.
“I don’t know about the other two, but I know Mitchell took off to get laid with some chick in a white dress. I never got to see her myself, but I heard she was the hottest thing to hit this place since…I guess since Stephen’s girlfriend stopped fucking around,” Rich said. Then he winced and put his hand to his head. “Shit. Listen, my headache’s coming back, and anyway, I’m not really the best guy to be introducing you to us. Can you…”
“Oh, no problem.” Dean gave Rich a couple firm pats on the shoulder that turned Rich an interesting shade of green-gray. “I’ve been there, man. You ever try raw eggs in tomato sauce? Great stuff.”
* * *
They were in the library so they had to whisper, but Sam still got Dean’s shoulders to twitch uncomfortably. “I just went with the conversation, bro,” Dean muttered. “Anyway, it was a good thing I did. You were this close to being bounced out wrapped in toilet paper and shaving cream. And you say I need to work on my subtlety.”
Dean had a little bit of a point there, but Sam was still getting tired of being cast as the clumsy rude one. After all, he wasn’t the one that got arrested all the time. “Raw eggs and tomato sauce?”
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Okay, they should be…here. Where this big empty space is.” The aisle was so narrow that when Dean stepped back to eye the gap in the bookshelf, he nearly smashed Sam into the next shelf over.
“You know, I’m not sure what good those books would do anyway. This is all just so weird—it’s got elements of so many legends, and we can’t find any local connections. I mean, the best theory we’ve got is that this Stephen is trying to make the fraternity look bad because of his girlfriend?” Sam said.
The standout detail of course was the woman in white who’d led off Peter Mitchell, and checking up on the other two deaths had revealed that both had last been seen with a woman—no details on wardrobe, but the victims were all male. However, a computer search hadn’t turned up any female suicides within fifty miles that fit that scenario. Following up the rumors about the sorority that had been kicked out of the death house hadn’t produced any leads either—just the usual story of too many loud parties and minors caught with beers. Like the woman with the collie had said, that particular neighborhood was a pretty nice one. The only local incident they hadn’t yet followed up was the story of a death at the fraternity house, but that was out because the person who’d died had been a man, not a woman. They were down to checking out local Indian legends.
“People have raised ghosts for less.” Head cocked, Dean continued staring at the empty shelf. “And don’t you find it weird that these books are gone when—”
“Shh!” A girl came marching down the aisle at them, finger to her lips. “Quiet! This is a study area. If you want to have a discussion, we have rooms set aside for that.”
Both Dean and Sam winced. “Sorry,” Sam started.
“Yeah. It’s just we’re really disappointed. See, we needed the books that were here for a paper—” Dean pointed at the gap “—and it’s due in two days. So we’re really screwed if we can’t get to them.”
His smile instantly brought the girl around; she switched from growling to sympathetic noises. “Oh…oh, well…oh. I know those books…hang on a second…”
She walked past them, a thoughtful look on her face. After a moment, Dean and Sam shrugged at each other and followed along.
The girl led them out of the aisle and down past a wall of windows to one desk, which was occupied by a Chinese girl and an enormous spread of books. She appeared to be in the middle of studying, because she had her knees propped up against the edge of the table so she could balance a huge volume and a notebook on her thighs. When they stopped by the desk, she didn’t even look up.
“Um. It’s Sybil, right?” the librarian-girl hesitantly said. “I’m Marci. I work here.”
Sybil flicked her eyes over, glanced across them all and then went back to note-taking. “Yeah?”
“This is…” Marci raised a hand and then realized she hadn’t gotten names.
“Hi, I’m Dean, and this is Sam,” Dean said. Trusty smile trotted out, he leaned over the table and tapped at one of the books lying on it, which Sam recognized as one that they’d been after. “Studying hard?”
With a small sigh, Sybil put down her pencil and looked up again. “Do you have eyes?”
“Look, Sybil, do you mind sharing your books? These guys need them for a paper of theirs,” Marci interrupted. Her polite expression was cracking, and fast.
“I need them, too.” Sybil watched them all with a cool glare. She started to tap her pencil impatiently against the edge of her notebook.
Sam coughed. “We just need a look. Please? It should take fifteen minutes, tops.”
When Sybil didn’t answer right away, Marci pushed in between Sam and her and leaned over to hiss at the other woman. “I’ve heard all about you and your temper. You’re in this section so much I’m sure you’ve got every one of these books memorized. Now, can you just be nice for ten minutes and let them look at these books, or do I have to take them from you?”
“Marci. If you walk right back to your computer and look it up, you’ll see that these books are checked out to me. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but under library rules that means that I can pick them up, walk out with them, and you’d be the one in the shit for pestering me.” Sybil finally blinked, which didn’t soften her look at all. “And your boyfriend isn’t going to come back to you just because you’re flirting with other men, so give up on that, would you? I mean, he can’t even see you in here.”
Marci’s jaw was hanging wide open. She glanced nervously at Dean and Sam, who suddenly found the shelf labels incredibly interesting.
The expression on Sybil’s face was best characterized as irritated. “I’ve also heard about you,” she said. “Small world, isn’t it?”
“You--you really are a bitch!” Cheeks flaming, Marci abruptly turned around and walked off without so much as a goodbye. Her heels thudded so hard that students looked up as she passed by, then glanced down the hall at Sybil.
In Sam’s experience, girls like Sybil got a twisted pleasure out of setting off other people like that. But strangely enough, Sybil didn’t look pleased at all—just tired. She just settled back in her chair and started writing again. After a moment, she glanced up at Dean. “Are you going to sit down or what?”
“I can only read one book at a time,” Sybil snapped. If anything, the ending of the whole episode had made her temper worse. “You can look at them till I need them.”
“So…what was the whole deal with Marci there?” Dean slowly asked. He took a seat even more slowly, then looked at Sam and nodded at the chair next to him.
Sybil snorted. “What’s that got to do with your paper?”
“Ooookay. Never mind.” Dean reached over and picked up a handful, which he split between him and Sam so that Sam ended up with the thicker books. “Hey, you’re the one that wanted to go to law school,” he muttered to Sam’s look. “You should be used to it by now.”
Rolling his eyes, Sam cracked open the book on top of his stack. He skimmed through the index till he’d found the lone page reference for the property on which the death house stood, then turned to it. Flipping the pages raised a cloud of dust so thick that he had to stifle a sneeze. After that, he tried breathing through his mouth, which was a worse idea. The stuff got into his throat and sent him into a coughing fit.
By the time he was done, both Dean and Sybil were looking at him with annoyed expressions. Sybil pushed back from the table and started to gather her things.
“Sorry about that,” Dean said. “I mean it. We’re really sorry about disturbing you and everything—”
“—knock it off, all right? I didn’t check the books out, so I’m not taking them with me. I just said that because Marci got on my nerves.” Half of the papers and books on the table had already disappeared into Sybil’s bag, and she’d just swept the other half into her arms.
Sam put down his book. “But what about your paper?”
“What paper? Did I say I had a paper?” She threw her pencils into her bag and zipped it up so hard that a passing student was distracted by the noise and nearly walked into a bookshelf. If Sybil noticed, she didn’t care. “And what kind of paper are you writing?”
“Local history,” Dean promptly said. “You?”
Sybil stopped with her head over her bag, then slowly sat up and turned to level a narrow look at Dean. “Bullshit. I hang out in this section all the time. There’s maybe five other people that use it, and none of them are you two.”
“Okay, okay. It’s not for class—it’s personal interest. You’ve heard about those weird deaths near that one frat-house, right?” Sam broke in, hoping to get everyone calmed down. They were beginning to attract a lot of attention, and he didn’t want to bet on them getting another librarian that was as susceptible to Dean’s grin as Marci had been.
“Deaths?” Some of the exasperation on Sybil’s face was replaced with vague interest. She slung her bag over her shoulder, but hung back a moment. “Where?”
From the look on his face, Dean couldn’t believe she was asking, but Sam could get it. There’d been times, especially right before the LSAT, when he’d even forgotten who was president of the United States. “In the abandoned place across the backyard,” he said. “So you haven’t heard anything about it?”
“If I had, I wouldn’t be asking, would I?” The brief spell of civility apparently ended there, because Sybil turned on her heel and stalked off without a further word.
As she went, Dean leaned out of his chair and tilted his head. He nodded at her ass. “I guess what they say is true. For every good thing, there’s something bad to make up for it.”
“Yeah. I feel sorry for whoever’s…you know, she was a lot like how Rich said Stephen’s girlfriend was. You don’t think…” Sam raised his eyebrows.
Dean pondered the idea, then shook his head. “Nah, man. Rich also said the girl slept around, whereas Sybil there? She’d probably kill you if you even so much as brought up the subject.”
Which was probably true, and therefore dwelling on her wasn’t helping them with the case. Sam lifted his book again and started reading.
* * *
Their time in the library turned up exactly zilch: no Indian legends or early-settler folklore that might explain what was going on. The last resort was checking out the house itself for any clues, but since it was getting dark, they stopped by the car first.
“Shotgun, salt, pistol and silver bullets,” Dean said, handing each article over as he named it. He scooped up a couple crosses from the very back, then shoved around things till he found a bottle of what Sam presumed was holy water. “Huh. Running low on that. Well, that should cover just about everything.”
“What if it’s a demon?”
Dean rocked back on one heel and came up with one of his squinty irritated looks. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten all your Latin already. That deal with the plane demon wasn’t that long ago.”
“Yeah, and if I’d known I’d need to memorize that ritual, I might’ve paid more attention instead of, I don’t know, worrying about the falling plane,” Sam muttered. He slid the extra salt bags into one pocket and wedged his cross into the other.
“You know, you’re too tense.” The waggling finger came out for extra, unneeded emphasis, and it stayed up as Dean backed off the road and onto the curb. Then he turned around, pulling the collar of his coat up as he did; a brisk chilly wind had sprung up. “I’m all for the ‘just the facts, ma’am’ approach, but you’re overdoing it, Sam. And then you complain that we don’t have enough information. Half-assed doesn’t get evil killed—half-assed gets us killed.”
As if he really was in a position to lecture Sam on that. Ever since they’d gotten into town, Dean had been paying more attention to the local female fauna than to the case. It was beginning to make Sam think his brother was developing a college-girl fetish. Or maybe it was the envy coming out in a weird way.
Sam winced and automatically began to push that idea out of his head. He’d never told Dean exactly what the shapeshifter had said, and he didn’t ever plan to. It’d helped a lot for him to know, but confessional moments didn’t always work best as two-way streets.
He pulled up his coat a bit and started climbing the chain-link fence around the house. “Sorry. I must be channeling my inner poodle again.”
Laughing, Dean caught up with him on the other side of the fence and gave him a hard mock-punch on the arm. Then the other man sobered up, and it wasn’t entirely because the house was looming in front of them, the three shutters it had left creaking eerily in the slight breeze.
“We haven’t picked up a clue about Dad for a while. But we will.” Some of Dean’s regular cockiness bled through his seriousness. “We will. Now give me a hand with these boards.”
Inside the house was dusty all around except for one room ringed with police tape, which contained a tape outline near one window and the shadows of two others spaced about the floor. Dean clicked on his flashlight and pointed upstairs, which Sam was more than happy to let him have. If the fraternity did have something to do with the deaths, then Sam wanted it where he could see it.
Tonight, however, the frat-house seemed to be quiet, possibly still nursing its collective hangover. One or two lights were on in the second-floor rooms, but otherwise it didn’t show a sign of life.
The rest of the house didn’t, either; it was plain nobody had lived here for a while and that nobody really visited. As much as the dust bothered Sam’s nose, it held footprints so well that he figured it was telling the truth about the level of traffic through the place. It looked like the problem might be a ghost after all.
Something crashed and slammed into the floor with a loud thud, startling Sam into almost falling himself. He glanced upwards, then swung the shotgun in front of himself and quick-stepped it to the stairs. “Dean?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay. Fucking wildlife…” Dean’s voice drifted oddly, as if he’d moved from one room to another. “…think it was a snake.”
“White?” Sam asked. No particular reason motivated him to, except perhaps that bizarre sixth sense people like them picked up after a while.
“Green. Regular old garter snake tripped me up,” Dean called back down. A moment later, his head popped over the railing. “Nothing here. You?”
Sam shook his head. “Nope. I’m not even getting the heebie-jeebies. I think this place is just convenient. It’s got nothing to do with the actual deaths besides that.”
“You’re being too dismissive again, Sam. Location, location, location. It’s the key to everything.” Dean took the stairs with a short, scuffling stride that sent clouds of dust into the air with every step.
Predictably, some of it got into Sam’s nose and made him take several steps back. He sneezed, turned to get his sleeve over his face as a makeshift filter, and turned back just in time to see Dean shining the flashlight through the dust clouds with a thoughtful frown on his face. After a couple moments, Dean shook himself and came down the last few stairs.
“What?” Sam asked.
For a reply, Dean lifted and dropped his right shoulder in an uneasy manner. He kept the flashlight up at head-height and walked slowly around Sam. Occasionally he’d duck his head and peer sideways, as if trying to imitate a cartoon character’s shifty-eyed expression.
“You know those Magic Eye pictures?” Dean softly said. He jerked his chin at the hallway. “This house is like that. Just try not to look at anything directly.”
Sam obligingly squinted and stared slantwise, but didn’t see anything unusual. He shook his head. “I—”
“Try again. Relax. I know this is difficult for you, but I have great faith in you, Sammy.” Dean put on a long face like the inspiring coach in a sports flick and clapped Sam hard on the shoulder.
After shaking the dumbass off, Sam tried again. And again, but he still didn’t—
--he whipped around, shining the light all over, but it was gone. “What the hell?”
“Crystal, marble flooring and nice furniture?” Dean asked.
“It was like a cover of Home & Garden.” That had been seriously weird. For one second, the house had looked…gorgeous. All the dust and cracks had disappeared…and it hadn’t had the feel of a ghostly apparition, a flashback from an earlier period. Everything had looked solid. Sam had believed everything he’d seen was solid—while he was seeing it.
Dean slowly spun on his heel so his flashlight crossed the tape outline on the floor of the next room. “Like a honey-trap. Beautiful woman, nice house…”
“So maybe the woman in white here prefers to entertain her guests at home?” Sam suggested. His voice had instinctively dropped in volume, he suddenly noticed.
“Maybe.” Head cocked, Dean shifted the angle of his flashlight so the handle was pointing at one of the windows. “And maybe she’s coming home.”
A small bobbing light and a dark figure behind it could just be made out through the glass. Whoever it was had come from the direction of the fraternity and was crossing the field at a good clip. Because of how where Dean and Sam were standing angled with the placement of the windows, it was just possible that their visitor hadn’t spotted anything yet.
Dean looked quickly around, then started to dive for the corner. Sam found himself a decent spot behind the remains of an overturned table, so together they book-ended the room’s only entrance. Their visitor appeared to be heading for the room’s window that was farthest to the left.
The flashlights went off. After that, the darkness and the glare from the stranger’s light combined to make it impossible to discern any details of their appearance, even after they’d come right up to the window. There they stopped. Something rustled and clicked dully together, and then wood groaned. One of the beams crossing the window bent outwards till it finally came off the frame; it dropped but didn’t make a sound, so something caught it.
The something tackled the next beam, but left the third and lowest one intact. A dark shape flew over it to land with a messy thud on the floor. Then a hand wrapped over the beam—the visitor was human. Once they’d pulled the rest of themselves through the window, the visitor proved to be Stephen.
No noise came from the other corner, but Sam knew to look anyway. He also knew what he was going to see, which was Dean making the ‘I told you so!’ face. Sam restrained the urge to roll his eyes and turned back to the business in the room.
Stephen had set the flashlight on the floor to shine on a bare stretch near the tape outline, and now he was pulling things from his bag to set into its pool of light. Candles, cones of incense, bunches of herbs Sam could smell all the way where he was…it all fit with general magic-working. The little plastic container Stephen pulled out next, full with dark liquid that sloshed up against the lid, didn’t till he pulled off the lid and grimaced into its interior. He quickly stuck the lid back on, but not before Sam had smelled what was inside.
Sam recognized that smell, too. Blood. Which put whatever Stephen was doing into the dark side of magic.
“You know, it helps if you keep it warm so it doesn’t coagulate.” As usual, Dean had charged in with pistol up; Sam scrambled to get to his feet and back up his brother. “I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced, Stephen. I’m Dean. This is Sam. Now, just what do you think you’re doing? Don’t you need at least two people for hazing?”
The moment they’d burst in, Stephen had started to scramble to his feet. He’d stopped as soon as the guns had registered and now was on one knee, hands half-raised. His eyes were wide, but he seemed pretty calm. Too calm. “This isn’t hazing.”
“Well, that’s great, because I didn’t think it was,” Dean cheerfully said. He gestured at the small pile of tools at Stephen’s feet. “So what’s behind door number two, Stephen?”
Stephen started to move, but froze again when Sam jerked forward a step. “Look, you have no idea what you’re interrupting.”
“So why don’t you tell us?” Sam said. He held his position while Dean slowly moved to cut Stephen off from his supplies.
“There’s no time. You’ve got to—shit!” Stephen threw up his arm and dropped to the floor.
He didn’t end up shot because Sam and Dean were doing variations of the same thing, only they were whirling around to face the source of the brilliant light that had just flooded the room. It dimmed a second later to normal, but even with frantic blinking, Sam couldn’t make out anything past the dancing spots for several more moments. He dropped blind and cracked his elbow painfully on the…the…
…the floor was way too hard. It should have been wood, not…black-swirled marble. Sam scrambled backwards, sweeping the pistol from side-to-side.
“Oh, you don’t need that,” trilled a high, sweetly feminine voice. On the staircase, which now wouldn’t have looked out of place in Cinderella’s castle, stood a beautiful Chinese girl. She was wearing a white dress, and her eyes were large and dark and intense.
Very large. Very compelling. They…it really was a beautiful house. It was a little strange, but her smile said all would be explained—
--Sam smacked his face into the floor. The pain jarred him into a weird sensation, like a frisson, and then he was rolling over and someone was shooting. He’d dropped the shotgun, so it wasn’t him, and somehow he didn’t think it was Dean. It sounded too random.
He whipped around just in time to see Stephen lower Sam’s pistol, eyes wild. The other man had shot out the windows so glass was scattered all over the place. “Where is she?”
One shard had skittered between them, catching the light in such a way that it showed a faint reflection of a ruined wooden ceiling. Sam glanced at it, then jerked his head up and stared disbelievingly around the room. It was still a palace, and it was the perfect frame for—shit. He gave himself a hard shake and yanked his gun back from Stephen, who didn’t resist. Stephen seemed more interested in spinning around on his ass, looking frantically around them.
“Ah—” Dean, apparently recovering from the same trance, whirled around with his gun up. Something white rose up behind him.
“Dean!” Sam snatched up his shotgun from the floor and leveled it at his brother. The other man instantly dropped and Sam let off a double-barrelful of salt into the woman that’d risen up behind Dean.
Even if it’d been a demon, the salt should have at least provoked a reaction. But for all the good it did, it might as well have been birdseed; the woman had been in mid-leap and the salt just knocked off her trajectory so she landed beside Sam instead of on him. Except she was on him; a heavy weight had fallen across his body so he was pinned to the floor. It was warm and rasped over his clothes, and when he looked down he saw to his horror that it was covered in white scales.
A terrifying hissing sound made Sam look back up. The scaly thing continued on up the woman’s dress, the hem of which was a good foot above the ground. No sign of feet, but plenty of anger: her face was distorting horrifically to display fangs the size of a hunting knife.
Her eyes—still quite beautiful—flicked to the side just as something collided with her face, sloshing all over. At the same time, hands wrenched Sam out from under her.
Stephen let go as soon as Sam was clear, but Dean held on so the sudden lack of resistance sent them both over. Dean kicked and bruised his way free, glancing upwards. His face paled. “It’s…not doing anything.”
“Holy water? Catholic?” Stephen panted.
The enraged hissing had ratcheted up a notch, and added to that now was the hair-raising sound of scales scraping quickly over marb—wood. Wood, damn it.
It didn’t matter too much. Sam still couldn’t see, but from the sound of things, she was working up into a last pounce, and they were backed too far into the corner to escape.
“I didn’t know they came in kinds,” Dean snapped. He abruptly dropped and elbowed Sam, who’d nearly worked around into being able to see, further back so Sam was under him again. “What the hell is that?”
“I think it’s—” Stephen started.
The snake-woman lunged. Sam knew that because it sounded like someone ripping a chainsaw over a tin-roof. His last thought was that the noise alone could kill.
At least, that should’ve been his last thought. Instead of the sudden rush of pain and terror he’d been expecting, there were a couple thuds, a loud hiss and a small click. There also was…Sam braced himself against the floor, then pushed free…the smell of burning incense.
“Sybil—” Stephen was saying.
Sybil, who was indeed the same one as had been in the library, stood in the doorway with a handful of incense sticks, while across the room the snake-woman had coiled herself into a large heap. By now she’d lost her arms and the only vaguely human thing about her was her face. She was making furious noises that almost sounded like words, but it was difficult to tell because of how her long, forked tongue warped them.
“Sybil, what the—”
“Shut the fuck up, Stephen.” Eyes always on the snake-woman, Sybil divided her handful equally between her hands so each had three. She took a moment to arrange them between her fingers so they were widely spaced, which wafted more of the smoke towards the snake-woman. This resulted in another torrent of outraged garble, though it seemed to mean something to Sybil. She jerked her right hand around in some kind of gesture that the snake-woman didn’t like. “Yeah, well, fuck you too, princess. Stephen? When you stole my chicken blood, did you steal any of my charms, too?”
Stephen shook his head, then winced because of course she couldn’t see that. “No.”
“Goddamn it. At least you left the window open.” After a second, Sybil slowly bent down so the tips of the incense tips were touching the ground. The snake-woman suddenly darted forward, but Sybil did something that sent the monster reeling back.
On the floor before Sybil now was a pattern of lines: six, some broken in the middle. Sam blinked. “I Ching?”
“Good for you, you’re culturally sensitive. Now get out.” Sybil stayed crouched and drew more of the patterns with the ashes from the incense sticks, arranging the signs in a half-circle around them. She was using up the sticks pretty fast. “Guys? That over there is a demon. That over there is a window. Do I have to draw a diagram?”
“No, ma’am. Though a couple of captions might be useful,” Dean said. He grabbed Stephen by one arm, Sam grabbed the other, and together they backed out into the hallway. Stephen resisted at first, but came pretty easily when the snake-woman suddenly lunged at them.
Sam dropped Stephen’s arm so the other man’s momentum slung him into Dean. The two of them kept on stumbling in the direction of the window, while Sam went back for Sybil.
He’d barely taken a step when she came running out and damn near trampled him into the ground; for such a small person, she had a lot of push. And she didn’t stop there, but kept smacking him in the stomach so he never managed to get himself turned around before his back hit the window. Something else smacked his shoulder: Dean’s waving hand. “Sam! Come on!”
“Ladies first,” Sam muttered, grabbing Sybil. For that, he got an elbow whacking into his breastbone. He sucked in his breath and threw her up to Dean as the sound of slithering got ever closer.
Her feet hadn’t quite passed through the window before Sam had his hands on the frame and was pulling himself up. He told himself not to look behind no matter what it sounded like, because that would just waste time and—
Sam looked over his shoulder just in time to see a huge red mouth with white fangs coming down on him. He threw up an arm, but it was yanked away from him and suddenly he was weightless.
Not for very long. Thankfully, the house had no bushes beneath the window, but just hitting the ground itself was painful. Plus he’d landed on somebody’s leg, and panic kept him trying to roll up against it, trapping him in place.
“Up! Up!” The world spun again, then resolved itself to Dean’s frightened, annoyed face. The other man pulled Sam in an awkward run around the house and down to the sidewalk, where they breathlessly turned around to see…an empty, dark house. Dean slapped his hand over his forehead, then dragged it down the side of his face. He glanced at Sam. “What were you trying to do, break my leg?”
“What the fuck were you trying to do?” Sybil snapped. She struggled free of them, then stomped off down the street. “You goddamn…you tossed me out. You idiot!”
Sam looked disbelievingly at the other two men. “I was being polite! I didn’t think she wanted to be eaten.”
“If you’re polite to Sybil, she usually takes it as an insult,” Stephen sighed. It apparently was a long-standing situation. “Hey—”
Sybil whirled around, shaking the stubs of the incense sticks at them. “Don’t fucking ‘hey’ me! I am so incredibly fucking pissed off right now I—never mind. Just…never mind. Come on.”
She went forward a few steps, then turned around again. Her temper had gone down a little so her voice was quieter, but she still didn’t look all that pleased. “What?”
“Well…we’d like to know where we’re going. Since obviously things aren’t what they seem here,” Dean said. “You were pretty handy back there. You come here often?”
Rolling her eyes, Sybil slowly walked back. She glanced at the house with a look of intense dislike. “Yeah, I love coming out and saving morons on weekday nights. I just thought you guys were weird so I followed you from the library and surprise, surprise, Stephen’s here messing around.”
“I’ll get you more blood, all right? I was just—” Stephen started in a sharp tone. By the time he broke off, he was talking a lot more softly. He took a step towards Sybil, who didn’t soften up any. “Is that thing coming back?”
She flicked her eyes up and down him, then sighed. Her hand came up to rub at her nose and she turned around without lifting her head. “Yeah, I just chased it off for a bit. Save the excuses for after we get to Tommy Tucker’s, okay?”
“Tommy Tucker’s?” Sam said.
“It’s a sandwich shop.” Sybil glanced at them, then shot them a glare. In the distance, police sirens began to wail. “Look, I’m tired, I don’t feel like getting arrested today and somebody owes me goddamn dinner for that shit back there. Also I’m not talking about that out here, and I’m betting that’s what you want to ask about.”
Sam looked at Dean. Dean shrugged and made an elaborate hand-wave towards Sybil. “Whatever the lady says.”
Sybil flicked the finger at him and stalked off, muttering in some language that wasn’t English. Stephen immediately followed, throwing Dean a dirty look as he passed. “I don’t think she likes you,” Sam muttered to his brother.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” Dean snapped. He yanked at his coat, giving the dark, dilapidated house one last look. Then he sighed and he and Sam trudged after the other two. They picked up the pace as the sirens got louder and louder.
Tommy Tucker’s was a little shop tucked behind a huge chain bookstore, staffed by dead-eyed employees that didn’t seem to notice anything. Despite that, they turned out pretty good sandwiches; the adrenaline and fear had worn down enough for Dean’s stomach to make its wants known, so he had one and a soda. Sam got onion rings, Stephen took the same, and sitting in front of Sybil was half of a giant sub, a cup of soup, a bag of chips, three huge cookies and two sodas—all courtesy of Stephen and Dean’s wallets. The other half of the sub had already disappeared down Sybil’s throat.
“…was around when the first guy disappeared. Mike brought him back to the house to hang out, but this girl in a white dress came asking for him and they left together. When he turned up dead the next day, I started asking around and kept an eye out,” Stephen was saying. He poked at his soup, which was still more or less full. “I didn’t mention it to you because you were already so stressed over your two midterms.”
Sybil paused, then put down her sandwich. She yanked a napkin from the table dispenser while staring at Stephen as if she didn’t know whether to punch him or…something else equally violent. “Is that supposed to make me less angry? Because it’s not working.”
“It would for most people. I mean, you were so busy you didn’t even hear about the deaths, and people have been talking about nothing else all month!” Stephen stabbed his spoon into his bowl. If it’d been a living thing, it definitely would’ve been dead now. “If I had told you, you still would’ve been pissed off. Right?”
Whatever Sybil had been going to do with the napkin, she ditched it in favor of picking up the sandwich again. She ripped off a good-sized hunk and had it chewed and swallowed in the blink of an eye, though that came off less messy and more like ravenous wolf. “First thing I’m doing when this is over is kicking your dumb ass through the nearest wall, Stephen. Lady Bai She’s a demon. You know all that shit I told you about ghosts? Well, it doesn’t work on them.”
“I know that,” Stephen irritably said. “I did do some research before I tried anything.”
Sybil blinked hard over her sandwich. Then she took off another big chunk, processed it, and took a big swig of soda. None of that seemed to calm her down. “You are so—never mind. We’re not having the relationship talk now.”
Stephen’s eyebrow flew up. He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his belly, eyes narrowed to mean slivers. If the whole fight hadn’t been seriously delaying Dean and Sam, Dean would’ve found it better than Jerry Springer. “And why not?” Stephen asked.
“Because they’re staring at me—” Sybil pointed her chin at Dean “--I still have two midterms this week, and there’s a goddamn demon-bitch on campus.”
“You—” Ended in a loud, frustrated intake of breath. Head jerk right, head jerk down, and then Stephen threw himself out of the chair onto his feet. He muttered something about the bathroom and wandered on towards the back, spreading misery and menace wherever he walked.
Dean was being sarcastic—or rather his mind had been—but Stephen actually did make one girl he passed skitter on out of the sandwich shop so fast her scarf got caught in the door. She nearly choked before she figured out what was going on and came back to open the door.
She wouldn’t have had to do that, except when Dean had gotten up to help, somebody had slammed their crossed legs over his feet. He sat back down hard and stared at Sybil. “What is your problem, woman?”
“Well, for one thing, I don’t like that particular usage of the word ‘woman,’” Sybil mumbled. She worked through her last bite of sandwich, then reached out for her soup. Her hand paused, then thumped hard on the table. Sybil let her head hang for a beat before slowly lifting it to glare. “And yes, Dean, I eat a lot. You have a problem with that?”
“No, no problem here.” Jesus Christ, this girl was all knives. Hands up, Dean did his level best to look…well, pleasant didn’t seem to work, so he went with serious and business-like.
It didn’t make Sybil happy, but it at least got her to look down at the soup. The lines of her face slid from supremely irritated to almost worried. Not quite—maybe a touch of resignation was in there somewhere. She slid down in her seat and stared off past Dean’s right shoulder. “All right, here’s how it goes. I’m Sybil Liang. My first name’s not really my first name; it’s just one I use because it sounds like my Chinese name, but white people can actually pronounce it without fucking it up.”
Sam cleared his throat. He was wearing that earnest look that meant he was about to spill the beans in some attempt to be—to make up for something, though God knew what that was. “And our names really are—”
“Sam and Dean Winchester, sons of John. Yeah, I know. I’ve been doing some asking around.” Which settled it—Sybil had been in this sort of gig for a long time. She did the significant pauses as well as a politician, but with a weary, sad air instead of slick cleverness. “The first thing you should know is that I didn’t physically follow you.”
“Yeah, I was wondering about that.” Because if it was one thing Dean did religiously, it was check his back. No one had trailed him and Sam to the house.
“I asked a couple ghosts to do it,” Sybil said. She waited a moment for that to sink in. Dug out a pen and scribbled something on her napkin, then shoved it across the table.
They were Chinese characters and they ran from top to bottom—that much Dean knew. From the look on Sam’s face, his brother didn’t have any more of a clue.
“That’s my Chinese name.” After taking the napkin back, Sybil picked up one of her cookies and started breaking off bits. She was staring at them again, but in a way that had less to do with planning their homicides and more with…with judging. “And you don’t recognize it, so you really are amateurs. Great, just—okay, this is how it goes. In China there are certain families that have…talents. Curse-breaking, communicating with the dead, whatever. This stuff gets handed down.”
“How far?” Sam asked.
Sybil shrugged and popped a cookie piece in her mouth. “Well, right now you’re looking at fifteen generations. Not consecutive, because it’ll skip generations. Like both my parents are normal, but I’m special.” She smiled. It was real bitter. “My thing’s mostly the dead—I see them, talk to them, and tend to power them up, which isn’t something I can help so don’t even go there.”
“And you didn’t notice anything strange these last few months?” Dean slouched back in his chair. He glanced behind himself, but Stephen wasn’t back yet. Guy sure was taking an awful lot of time in the bathroom.
“Are you deaf or just brain-dead?” Sybil said. They sat around for a moment, just looking at each other. Then she sighed and tipped her head back to stare at the ceiling. When she spoke again, it was in a toneless, soft voice that contrasted shockingly with her usual demeanor. “When I say my thing’s the dead, I mean that in the back there’s a three-hundred-year-old trapper lurking around, still trying to figure out why he froze to death. A couple that died during the Spanish flu epidemic just walked down the street past us. A little girl that drowned nearby is skipping around Sam. I think she likes his hair.”
The hairs on Dean’s arms and the back of his neck stood up. He felt cold, but not like the usual cold, like the kind of cold he’d long since internalized as a trick borrowed from the enemy. Usually things were creepy because they were so in-your-face about it. This was creepy because it was so…subdued. Matter-of-fact, like nothing ever made a difference, nothing ever could change for the better.
Sybil shifted, her eyes flicking to behind Dean again. Footsteps behind them registered a moment before Stephen sat back down, a wary look on his face.
“Most people just see the really active spirits. I see all of them. So you’re going to have to define ‘unusual’ a little more narrowly for me,” Sybil said, brisk again. “But not now, because I recognized that back there.”
“Lady Bai She.” Stephen shrugged off Sybil’s questioning look. “I’m not leaving till this is done, all right? Not after what I saw. When she went off with the last guy, I kept watching and I saw her pass a car. The reflection in the car window was…well, that thing back at the house.”
Dean took a deep breath. “And this…lady. This is a demon we’re talking about here?”
“Yeah. Eastern, completely Eastern, so that’s why none of your stuff worked on her. You get something like her, you hit the Buddhist holy texts, or the Taoist ones. She’s really famous in Asia,” Sybil said. She munched on a new cookie, occasionally brushing off the crumbs. “The basic story is that this young man meets a beautiful woman dressed all in white: white’s the color of death in China. Sometimes there’s a maid too, sometimes not. Anyway, they fall in love. The man’s poor, but the woman isn’t and she insists it’s okay if she plays sugar-mama.”
“In a really, really nice house?” Sam put in.
Among the many things that ticked off Sybil, being interrupted in the middle of story-time definitely was one of them. But she refrained from doing anything except ripping open her bag of chips pretty roughly. “Yeah, though really it’s just some local ruin she borrowed. The man and woman are okay for a while, except he gets this slow wasting disease. Finally he goes to a festival and this monk sees him and comments on his appearance. He invites the monk home and the monk figures out Lady Bai She is really a demon. The monk gets rid of Lady Bai She and her maid if she’s got one, and blah blah blah turns out they were preying on the young men of the countryside blah blah happy ending.”
“So there’s a way to kill this bitch.” Dean sat up straight and prepared to take mental notes.
Sybil stared thoughtfully at her bag of chips, but she woke up just before Dean had been about to prod her further. “I’m just trying to figure out what time it is in China. I need to call my grandma for the spells…what? I told you, this isn’t really my usual gig.” She settled back down and morosely poked at her food. “Anyway, we have to figure out who she’s pretending to be and where she’s hiding. It didn’t look like that house was her main hangout.”
“Oh, that’s taken care of,” Stephen said. He looked surprised when everyone turned to stared at him. Then he shook himself and glanced sheepishly at Sybil. “Shit, right. You haven’t been around the frat in forever. Mike got a pet a while back.”
“What, that white snake?” Sam commented.
The effect of those words on Sybil was pretty fucking impressive: she did a spit-take that sent Dean diving out of his chair to avoid it. The wad of mashed potato-chips went over his head and onto the floor, and then he climbed back up. “Okay, lost the train here. What?”
“Lady Bai She translates into Lady White Snake. In the story, the monk makes the demon revert to her true form: a white snake,” Sybil said. She pushed back from the chair and slapped some napkins over her hands, then grabbed for her coat. “Fuck. And I’ve screwed Mike, too. That is so—fuck fuck fuck.”
“If we’re not going to talk about the relationship, then I’d like to drop that subject,” Stephen muttered, getting up. “You want the soda?”
He pointed at Sybil’s unopened bottle; she staggered awkwardly out of her rush to leave and stared at him instead of the object under discussion. After a second, she ducked her head in a slight nod. “Dropped. Up, guys. Time to change scenery.”
“Why?” Sam asked.
“Because I need a couple things and we’ve got to hurry if she’s been here for that long.” Sybil carefully avoided looking at Stephen. She didn’t seem to function too gracefully when she wasn’t in the yelling groove.
Dean shrugged and got up; he was all for putting down the snake-bitch as soon as possible. “We need to get our car back anyway. Like what?”
“A really, really big salad bowl. What, do you have one?” Sybil snorted.
* * *
Sam was giving Dean the ‘I can’t believe we’re related’ look again. Even though Dean wasn’t looking directly at his brother, he knew it was there and he knew if he put too much weight on it, he probably was going to end up punching Sammy. Four years of college—fine, that was a while, but against eighteen years together? Dean hadn’t changed that much.
Sybil, on the other hand, looked reluctantly impressed. She took her cell-phone down from her ear long enough to poke at the big silver bowl Dean had dug out of the trunk. “This isn’t for salad, is it?”
“Does it have to be? I mean, we’re not inviting her to a Sunday social here.” Dean tugged at it and it slid forward a few inches before getting caught on something. He sighed, rolled up his sleeve, and reached in to shove away all the junk. The bowl caught a couple more times before finally sliding free. “It’s from an old church. They used to put punch in it for weddings, then christen the baby in it nine months later. Or less, depending.”
“Not that that’ll help much, but I guess it’ll do. Okay, now I need a paintbrush. Or something pointy.” A car came around the corner, making them all look up, but it kept on going. Sybil impatiently shuffled around and went back to babbling in Chinese with her grandmother.
Stephen glanced at his watch. “Jack’s late. Did we have to call him?”
“Well, you spilled the last batch of chicken blood I had, so either we called Jack or we broke into a butcher’s,” Sybil snapped. She muttered something into the phone, then glanced at Stephen again. “Are you ever going to stop being an asshole about him? He’s got a boyfriend now, for God’s sake.”
Whatever reply Stephen would’ve made never got out of his mouth. He snapped his lips together, then sharply jerked down his hand like he was physically cutting off the conversation. He turned around in place a couple times, then stomped to the end of the street and into the coffeeshop there.
Sybil kept on talking to her grandmother, but her voice slowed down and her eyes watched Stephen. If it hadn’t been so dark, Dean might’ve even described her expression as regretful.
“You don’t think you could ease up on him a little?” Sam suddenly said. He put his hands on the edge of the trunk and leaned against the car. “He was just trying to help.”
“Help. Yeah, sure,” Sybil muttered. She turned around and kicked over her bag so she could get at the zipper. After digging out a notebook and a pencil, she squatted down by the car tire and started taking notes on whatever her grandmother was saying. “He was going to try and exorcise a demon all by himself, and he didn’t even believe in ghosts till six months ago. He’s not fucking helping me if he ends up dead.”
Sam shrugged and prodded around in the car trunk, picking up and discarding stakes, wooden spoons…anything long and thin. “Doesn’t seem like it’s all that helpful to have him walking out mad all the time, either.”
“Hey, Sam,” Dean started. Why his brother always insisted on getting into things like this, he never could figure out. Yeah, talk to the people about their problems if they were relevant to the job, but otherwise leave it be. They weren’t running a counseling service, after all.
“It would be if he stopped coming back.” Sybil stopped and sighed, staring out across the street. Her hand kept writing, but her eyes were somewhere else. Somewhere where there wasn’t a lot of rest. “He doesn’t need to get involved in this crap. I don’t know why he keeps trying to learn anyway—this isn’t me trying to be a super-feminist. This is me pointing out that I grew up with this shit and I’ve got twenty years of experience on him.”
Sam glanced at Dean, but completely ignored the warning look. “You don’t think it’s better that he’s warned about what’s out there? Otherwise one day he might—” now Dean was making frantic shut up gestures and Sam was looking but deliberately talking past them “—get hurt because of something you knew about that he didn’t.”
Well, this was just great. Why didn’t they all just sit down and have a group-therapy session? If Sybil went for Sam right now, Dean thought, he might just let her wring little Sammy’s neck. He pushed Sam aside and pushed through the trunk’s contents till he came up with an old, narrow-bristled paintbrush with a snapped handle. Its hairs were a bit caked up with ochre, but he thought he could flake most of that off with his thumbnail.
Actually, Sybil seemed to take it pretty well, considering Sam was all but accusing her of wanting to let Stephen blunder into a death-trap. She cocked her head, then said something curt to her phone. Then she flipped it off and looked up at Sam. “Is this the ‘better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all’ speech?”
“I’m just saying—”
“Yeah, I heard you.” She scribbled down a couple last things in her notebook. “And the next time you try to feed me that bullshit, I’ll show you a thing or two about losing. Believe me, it is not even remotely comforting to know if someone I know does bite it, I’ll still be able to see them afterward.”
Sam opened his mouth. He exhaled hard, then shut his mouth so his jaw looked as if something had tightened the hinge way too much. “You don’t need to show me anything about that. I know, believe me,” he said.
“Okay, okay, can we not have this moment? Can we go kick demon-ass first?” Dean said, deeming it time somebody stepped in with some sanity. He waved the paintbrush at Sybil till she angrily snatched it away. “Anything else?”
“The—oh, there’s Jack. Finally.” Sybil stood up and pointed at a car that was pulling up to the curb behind them.
Stephen came back out of the coffeeshop with two cups. He did some juggling while he walked over to the car window; the guy inside leaned out to hand him a large brown paper bag. They had a short conversation, and then the car pulled back into the street. It slowed so the driver could wave at Sybil before zipping down the road.
“Thank God for friends with hog-farmer relatives,” Sybil muttered. “So how attached are you to your car seats?”
“I have some newspapers to put down if it’s going to be that messy,” Dean quickly said. He caught Sam giving him a Look and rolled his eyes. It wasn’t all about overprotectiveness—stinking leather could drive a man nuts on a long road trip. Besides, it looked gross and taking care of what took care of you was what kept people alive. It wouldn’t have been fair to the car or to them. “So…what are we doing, exactly?”
Sybil tipped her head up to stare at the stars. She didn’t turn to see Stephen walk up, but Stephen lost a cup of coffee sometime between passing her and stopping by the car, and Sybil gained one at the same time. Her cheek muscle twitched. “Well, first we have to force her into her…her real form. Make her into a little snake. Then I chant some sutras to trap her that way and next time I’m in Chicago, I hand her off to this woman my grandmother knows.”
“You can’t send her back to hell yourself?” Dean asked.
Stephen snorted into his coffee. “That’d be funny. I wonder whether she’d make friends with Lilith or if they’d just get into a catfight.”
Dean shot the other man a glare; it wasn’t Dean’s fault that Sybil was temperamental, and the so-called universal brotherhood of man didn’t extend to acting as other people’s scapegoats. And okay, fine, Buddhist demon and Christian hell were incompatible. Son of a bitch could’ve just said that instead of turning it into a big deal.
A little giggle came from Sybil’s direction, but when they all looked at her, she was sober-faced. She took a long swig of coffee. “Listen, about how you get her back into snake-form…”
Somehow that didn’t sound like a promising beginning, but Dean supposed it was inevitable. They’d actually gotten off pretty lightly so far, and it definitely had been too much to hope that Sybil could do all of the work.
Sybil picked up the silver bowl and flipped it around in her hands. “So I’m going to mix up the pig’s blood and some stuff and use that to inscribe holy spells on the inside of this. I’ll smear some on your hands and foreheads too so she can’t kill you right away. But…um, well, how this works is somebody’s got to take this bowl, invert it over her head and then push down till it touches the ground.”
“I take it she’s not going to just stand there and let us do that,” Dean muttered. Out of habit, he glanced inside the car trunk, but not much in there was going to help.
“Probably not. But if you do that, that’ll trap her beneath the bowl as a white snake. Then you…um…” Sybil messed around in her bookbag till she’d found an empty folder “…slide this underneath and bring the whole thing to me.”
Sam put his hands in his pockets, then pulled them out. “It’s us doing this, then?”
Sybil started to reply, but Stephen got in first. “Sybil’s barely five-three. That thing is five-eight when she’s human. How do you see this working with Sybil?”
“And you don’t want me to get hurt,” Sybil snorted.
“And I don’t—” Stephen stuttered to a stop and looked warily at her, checking for any booby-traps. Sensible guy. Sometimes.
She looked like she wanted to get into it, but Sybil controlled herself and just took the paper bag from Stephen. “At least you faked with a good excuse. But you really aren’t going to leave, are you? Then go have fun with the testosterone grudge-match and I’ll sit on the porch making sure nothing else happens.”
“Nothing else? Come again?” Dean took a step closer and stared down at Sybil.
She stood her ground, looking at him like he was a moron. So much for thinking that her temper had switched to ripping on Sam; apparently everyone ticked her off. “Bai She’s not supposed to be here. Somebody called her up, and not only that, but it’s…I have no idea who and I should.”
“Why?” Sam asked.
“Because she’s native to China and like I said, Chinese magic’s limited to certain families. There isn’t anyone from any of them attending this university except me, and believe me, we all keep track of each other really closely.” Sybil shoved the paper bag and paintbrush beneath her arm, then yanked open the door to Dean’s car. “This is just fucking weird.”
“You’re telling me,” Dean sighed. He pulled up his jacket and walked around to the driver’s door. “Hey. Don’t get blood on my seats, okay? It’s a total bit—pain to clean up.”
* * *
They rolled up to the fraternity just as some kind of party was winding down. It didn’t look like that big of one, but the front door was still spilling light over a beercan- and vomit-strewn lawn. Dean kept on going and parked a little past it so they could watch what Stephen said was Mike’s window. From there he could see the other house as well, which also was quiet. Like they’d hoped, it looked like the police had come, assumed it was just legend-tripping teenagers and left again. Maybe they’d left a squad car behind to watch it for the night, but with any luck, the cops would be bored stiff and not paying attention to the rest of the neighborhood.
“He just came back with the snake one day. Mike likes to go hiking in the hills, and when he’s sober he is aiming to be a biology major. He’s got a thing for reptiles,” Stephen was whispering. He was in the backseat with Sybil, but kept leaning forward to stick his head between Sam and Dean. “I don’t know if he knows what she really is. He’s had something like the flu for a while, but he’s not incapacitated or anything. She’s not exactly trying hard to hurt him.”
“Well, the popular version of the story’s a romance, believe it or not. The demon and the young man really are in love, and it’s so tragic how she can’t help sucking the life-force out of him anyway because it’s just her nature.” Sounded like romance wasn’t Sybil’s thing. She was crouched up in the corner, the bowl propped up on her knees. Stephen held the container of stinking goop she’d mixed up while she painted symbols with brush in one hand and Dean’s flashlight in the other. “She might like him enough to be saving him for later. That’d explain why she’s been going after other men—Bai She’s supposed to just stick with one guy at a time.”
Dean rolled down his window and peered out at the fraternity. Whatever Bai She’s motives were, she definitely had a good thing going with the frat-house. Lots of available young men, constant in-and-out traffic to cover up the occasional disappearance…no wonder she didn’t want to shit in her nest. At least, that was his theory about her motives. “Well, we’ll probably find out once she knows what we’re trying to do. Which will take about two seconds.”
“You’re the poker player. You telling me you aren’t looking forward to a bluff?” Sam said. Though he didn’t sound all that enthusiastic either. “How’s the bowl coming?”
“Almost done. And doing you guys shouldn’t take long,” Sybil replied. Her voice echoed oddly because of how she was facing into the bowl.
Stephen rested his free arm on top of the seat and jerked his head at the house. “I think we can surprise her. Bai She never shows up as a girl when it’s just the brothers at home; everyone still thinks Mike’s single. Actually, last month some of them tried to drag him out and get him laid.”
“Doesn’t look like they were entertaining a crowd this time. If we can sneak into Mike’s room, we could trap her already in snake-form.” Sam had beaten down whatever dumb idea he’d gotten earlier and now was in full get-the-damn-thing-done mode. It wasn’t exactly an improvement, but it was something that didn’t need to be dealt with right away. “But we need to get all those other people out. Just in case it turns violent.”
Dean reached over and opened up the glove compartment. He took out the box of fake IDs and started flipping through them. “Rich was the only one that saw us last time. So you want to go with local police or—”
“What the…oh, Jesus.” First the bowl came through, squeezing Stephen’s head so he had to pull back. It dropped onto the seat between Dean and Sam, landing right over the box, so the light picked up the hundreds of tiny Chinese characters that covered the inside. Then Sybil’s disbelieving face shoved her way in. She pushed the bowl to Sam and stared down at the IDs. “Are you kidding me? Do these actually work? How the hell do you guys stay out of jail?”
“Paperclips are useful,” Dean muttered. As helpful as she’d been, Sybil’s manner of being helpful was really starting to get to him.
She rolled her eyes and pushed herself back. “Put those away. I’ll take care of it. Jesus fucking Christ. I should make you buy me another meal…”
Sybil grabbed the tub of pig’s blood from Stephen and got out of the car before anyone could ask for an explanation. Stephen stayed put, looking torn between embarrassment and amusement. He lifted and dropped a shoulder. “She’s going to do a spell.”
“And she’s got issues about fake IDs?” Dean asked.
Shaking his head, Stephen took off his coat and started rolling up his sleeves—right, they had to put that gunk on. “No, she just…way I understand it, anything but protective magic comes back at you. She does this spell, she’s going to get feedback for it, and not in a good way. She’s going to get some from binding Bai She too—that’s why I wanted to do it for her.”
“And that’s why you’re a fucking idiot,” Sybil hissed, ducking back in. “Even if you’d gotten it to work right, feedback for that kind of shit is slowly bleeding to death from your eyeballs unless you know how to divert it. And don’t tell me you looked that up too—this isn’t a textbook-only class.”
She went back out. Stephen bit his lip and had to work at calming himself down. Sam raised a hand, questions written all over his face. This clearly wasn’t a great time and Dean was signaling that with his eyebrows, but once again Sam ignored him. “Hey, is Sybil going to be okay? Because really, we can probably figure out—”
“No, she’s good at this sort of thing. She’ll be fine. She just—she’s going to have a nine-day period for it. That’s how it works for her,” Stephen muttered. He was already looking ragged-out and Dean’s sympathies went out to the poor son of a bitch, considering what Sybil was like when she wasn’t having PMS. Stephen took a deep breath, then got out of the car to face his girlfriend.
“If him right there isn’t an argument for not settling down, then I don’t know what is. Man,” Dean said. He pulled the keys out of the ignition and reached for the door-handle, then turned around.
All he saw was Sam’s back, but he could’ve sworn he’d heard Sam exhale some nasty little comment. Dean drummed his fingers on the wheel. Drummed them really, really damn hard till one fingertip missed and his whole hand slipped to almost jam his finger back into the knuckle-joint.
After the job was done, he told himself. He pulled at the door handle and got out.
Sybil had already done Stephen and Sam by the time Dean came around to the car’s other side. She turned to face him with gory paintbrush up and ready; he backed up a little, then grimaced and held out his hands. “Do not get it on the jacket.”
“Yeah, well, don’t get Stephen killed. Because if you do, I will come after you and I will fuck you up so badly that what you’ve been through before’s going to seem like a daisy storm,” was Sybil’s interesting reply. Not that Dean was doubting her sincerity, because he definitely wasn’t. There was bitchiness and then there was stone cold fury, and Sybil apparently could do both.
It suddenly occurred to Dean that if his life had twisted his sense of morality—as Sam kept complaining it did—then Sybil’s idea of right and wrong must be just as if not more fucked up. She did a good job of blending in, but bits of it still came out if somebody knew where to look for it. It made Dean wonder what the hell Stephen was doing with her, since Stephen didn’t…really fit.
Stephen was staring at Sybil, who might have been blushing if the streetlamps had been a little closer. “That’s because if I’m dead, your parents will call you up and say they told you you shouldn’t have dated a white boy, right?”
Sybil concentrated really hard on painting the disgusting, clammy, drippy pig’s blood mixture on the backs of Dean’s hands and his forehead. “Stephen, could you stop being an asshole for one second?”
Sam carefully looked towards the side, idly spinning the bowl in his hands. So did Dean, because these two had gone beyond entertaining to slightly disturbing. When he turned back, Stephen had started off across the lawn and Sybil was rubbing slowly at her temple. She put the plastic tub of blood down and dug around in her pockets till she drew out a long string of beads. Then she started sliding them between her fingers so they softly clicked in time to her murmurings.
Dean guessed that meant it was time to go. He and Sam trotted after Stephen, who had stopped behind a wall made of garbage bags and trash-cans that lined one edge of the property. It made for decent cover, which was good since the three of them looked like rejects from a cowboys-and-Indians flick.
“I hope she knows what she’s do…” Dean started.
The lights in the frat-house suddenly flickered. They did it again, then steadied. The front door opened and one guy stepped out with a vaguely puzzled look on his face. He glanced down at his hand, which was tossing around his car keys, then started off towards a car parked down the street. Three guys replaced him in the doorway and went through the same ritual, and so on until it was clear everyone in the house was ‘suddenly’ remembering reasons to leave the house. Another couple of minutes and the place should be damn near empty.
“Dude?” Once Stephen had looked over, Dean nodded behind them. “No offense, but your girlfriend can be seriously creepy.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” Stephen muttered.
Sam gave him a curious look that went a lot deeper than Sam probably meant it to. “So why do you stick with her?”
“You mean why didn’t I run for the hills when she showed me that things like ghosts and demons were real?” Stephen shrugged and crouched lower behind the trash-cans. “I was kind of in the middle of something and I had to stick around till we fixed it. And then…well, I fucked up a long time ago, and if I told most people about it, they’d run like hell from me. But she doesn’t. And it’s probably because living with all the ghosts have given her a really screwed-up worldview, but whatever. She understands.”
“When you two aren’t yelling at each other,” Dean muttered. The rate of people walking out was starting to slow down, so he figured they were getting towards the end of it.
He hadn’t meant for Stephen to overhear, but the other man had better hearing than Dean had thought. But Stephen just cracked a sour half-smile. “Sybil’s better once you get to know her. She’s just got issues with talking to the living. She’s got this idea that it’ll jinx them.”
The current guy on the porch was a little drunk and stumbled down the steps, which caught Stephen’s attention. So he didn’t see Sam mouth ‘no kidding,’ but Dean did.
“That’s the last—” Sybil broke off and lunged down, slapping her hand over Sam’s mouth just as he flipped around, a yelp on the tip of his tongue.
She’d scared the shit out of Dean too, but Dean was a little less rusty at not screaming at the wrong time. Stephen had been reaching for Dean, but when he saw it wasn’t needed, he dropped his hand and rolled over to glare at Sybil. “I hate it when you do that,” he hissed.
Sybil took her hand off Sam and wiped her palm on the grass. “Get inside, would you?” she sighed. “I don’t have all night and I can’t keep nineteen guys wandering around forever. I’ll just hang here. Mike’s the only one left inside, but he’s asleep. I didn’t want to touch him because that’d definitely make her notice.”
“We’ll scream if we need you. Sound good?” Dean got his arms underneath himself and pushed up onto his feet, then reached down to help up Sam, who was still carrying the bowl. “One demon salad with Sam-dressing coming right up.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “So why don’t you hold the bowl, master chef?”
“I’ll hold the damn thing.” Stephen grabbed it from Sam and stalked towards the open front door. “Jesus Christ.”
Dean glanced at Sybil, who’d been watching Stephen with that almost-worried look again. She caught him and irritably waved at him to get a move on, so he did. “Seems like they’re a pretty good match for each other after all. Beauty and the bitch—now guess which is which.”
“And we’re what, normal? Anyway, I thought you were against forming ties and all that,” Sam muttered. His voice was toneless—deliberately, it sounded like. “But yeah, they look like they’re doing fine. And he even knows…”
“Are you looking at them as what-might-have-been? Because Sam? I want you to think carefully about whether you could have stood to watch Jessica walk into a house to face a demon.” And now Dean was irritated, which was a great way to prepare himself for what promised to be a hell of a fight. He gave himself a shake and jogged after Stephen so the conversation had to end.
Besides, Sybil didn’t seem all that sure about the thing she and Stephen were trying to make work, and for a pretty fucking good reason in Dean’s opinion. Talking to the living, at least as far as anything deeper than small talk was concerned, was just too much of a hassle.
The house was well-lit and homey in a trashy, college-student way, but stepping inside it had a completely different feel to it than the last time they’d been in it. This time, something eerie was in the air, and it wasn’t just because the house’s regular occupants had just made a bizarre mass exodus. It was the calm before the storm effect.
“Well, at least it won’t make a difference if we have to break a couple things,” Sam muttered, coming in behind Dean. He pushed aside a splintered chair with his foot and wandered to the stairs, where Stephen was standing.
Dean tilted his head, listening for signs of life. He thought he could detect a slight snore coming from the room that should be Mike’s.
Stephen nervously hefted the bowl a few times, then turned around with the beginnings of a question on his lips. Dean put up a hand, signaling for quiet, and gestured to explain that he and Sam would go up first. With any luck, they could pin the snake, Mike, or both while Stephen did the honors with the bowl.
Walking into the actual job was the part that gave Dean the most nightmares. Once the fighting started, he was okay, but approaching it worked on his nerves. He caught himself starting to grit his teeth and had the damnedest time making himself stop. Frankly, he wished he’d gotten to bring more than his hunting knife in here. His Winchester might not be able to do much good, but it sure would’ve made him feel better.
He made it to the top of the steps without incident and carefully shifted his weight to the floor, trying not to make the boards creak. One still went off.
Sam was either more nimble or luckier about his position, because he didn’t set off any floorboards. He shot a warning look at Dean, as if Dean had been doing jumping-jacks and yelling for somebody to eat them, and slowly shuffled towards the door.
He and Dean took up positions on either side while Stephen hung back. They all looked at each other, and then Dean quietly tapped the door so it swung inward.
The room was revealed a couple feet at a time. Dirty clothes, moldy take-out boxes…one half-empty bag of reptile food. A beaten-up dresser with one of those cheap terrariums on top of it. Dean jerked his chin at it and Sam nodded, then waved for Stephen to come closer.
They let the door swing the rest of the way open. There were two beds in the room, but only one was occupied; the lump on the bed was breathing slow and deep, so Dean figured leave well enough alone. Later on Stephen could figure out how to explain the disappearance of his friend’s pet.
Sam went through the doorway first. He almost tripped over a hockey stick and just caught himself on the door-frame in time; both Dean and Stephen glared at him. He made a ‘I wasn’t trying to do that!’ face and stepped over the stick towards Mike. Dean bit back a sigh and tiptoed towards the dresser with Stephen following closely behind.
Stephen flipped the bowl upside-down, every muscle tense. It was pretty amazing that he didn’t drop the bowl with how nervous he was looking now. He was probably regretting he hadn’t hung back with his girlfriend, but considering everything, Dean supposed the other man was doing all right.
Dean glanced at Sam, who gave him the ‘okay’ sign: Mike was still asleep. With a deep breath, Dean turned back and slowly picked up the terrarium. He gently lifted it off the dresser and started to open the lid so he could dump out the snake.
“Wait,” Stephen hissed. He was staring down at the terrarium; when Dean paused, Stephen ducked down to peer through the sides. “Where the hell is it? I don’t see it.”
“What?” Dean jerked the box up to his face and looked himself, but the goddamn snake wasn’t there. Shit.
“Hey, guys?” Sam whispered. He sounded a little panicky.
When they looked over, he pushed something across the floor with his foot: a thick book titled ‘Folklore and Magic of the T’ang Dynasty’ that had a sticker on the side proclaiming it property of the graduate library. A CD case had been stuck into it as a makeshift bookmark, which made it easy for Sam to flip the book open to that spot with his toes. The first thing they saw was a page-sized engraving of a thing with a snake’s body and a very familiar human face topping it.
“You guys have one hell of a library here,” Dean muttered. “Literally.”
The lump on the bed started to move…in a sinuous, slow way that seriously set Dean’s teeth on edge. No human could move like that.
“Oh, man…” Sam slowly started to back away, keeping his eyes on whatever the hell was rising up from the bedsheets.
He’d forgotten about the hockey stick. Dean had forgotten about the hockey stick till about half-a-second before Sam tripped over it again, flipping up feet first in a spectacular example of how to not avoid alerting a monster.
The sheets ripped off as the thing blurred into motion. Sam shouted and frantically rolled to the side, while Dean dove down to grab him by the arm. They got out of the way just as a wave of clothes and junk crashed over them; a sweatshirt attacked Dean’s head and left him blind while something damn big crashed around the room. He kicked out when it seemed to be coming near him and hit something elastic. Its snap back sent him skidding free of the trash and right into the dresser, where a knob whacked him hard about an inch from his spine. He groaned and fell forward, then forced himself to twist around and yank away the sweatshirt.
For a second, Dean wished he hadn’t done that. Then the second ended and he was too busy scrambling out of Bai She’s way to worry about things like that. She smashed into the floor head-first, sending Dean off-balance just as he’d started to get back onto his feet.
He rolled and rammed up against something that wriggled. It shoved him off, then crawled over him to reveal a bowl-less Stephen. “Where is it?” Dean snapped.
“Dropped it. Sam—” Stephen swore and scrambled sideways, kicking Dean out of the way a second before the damn demon tried to whip them with her tail. The other man dropped beneath the swinging blur of muscle, then came up on the other side just in time to grab the tail on its back-swing. She promptly tried to whack him into a wall, but in the middle of the tail’s arc, it lost power.
It wasn’t enough for Stephen to avoid the wall, but he managed to slow himself down enough so that he didn’t get knocked out by the impact. Wisps of smoke were rising up from Bai She’s body from beneath his—hands. Right. Time to see if the pig’s blood really worked, or was just Sybil pulling one over them.
“Dean!” Sam, yelling from the corner of the room. He’d ended up on the bed and was now crouching on the edge, shifting his weight from one foot to the other like a soccer goalie. The bowl was in his hands and every time he made a try at hooking it over Bai She’s head, she shied away. “Make her hold still!”
Four years of college and that was the best Sam could come up with? Dean snorted to himself, but got up onto his feet anyway and edged back and forth across the wall, trying to fake out Bai She. Stephen still had a good grip on her tail, and he’d gotten himself wedged behind the other bed so she couldn’t move as much, but she still had enough body coiled beneath her to lunge out at either Dean or Sam.
She shifted her gaze back and forth between them, head turning very slightly. She still had arms, which was going to make this tricky.
Dean’s foot hit something: that stupid hockey stick…which was about to come in very handy. He flipped it up with his foot and caught it just as Bai She dove for him. He swung it up as fast as he could, but that wasn’t fast enough. Her fangs were coming down straight over his skull—
--but at the last moment, they were dragged sideways, like an invisible hand had slapped her away. The blood caked on Dean’s forehead did work, thank God.
He didn’t dwell on it, but instead brought the hockey stick down and around so it hooked her neck. Then he threw his weight to the left in an attempt to pin her down and get her where Sam could reach.
It was working, but then the bitch twisted somehow so she could use him as a landing cushion. A couple hundred pounds of scaly monster slap-sandwiched him to the very hard, very painful floor. His body screamed and his vision got a little blurry; the hockey stick started to slip from his fingers. Nails scratched at his jacket till they’d flopped it out of the way, then went at his chest and sides. They went through like his shirt was made of tissue-paper.
The fucking nasty breath didn’t help, either. She couldn’t stab his skull with her teeth, but she was coming pretty close to suffocating him. And then the saliva started dripping on his face. Definitely one of the grosser jobs they’d had.
More weight suddenly thumped down on them, causing her to thrash around even harder. “I got it on—shit! Hold her still!” Sam shouted.
“I’m trying! I’m trying!” Dean finally gave up on the hockey and threw it aside, then flung his arms around her in a bear-hug. That had the added advantage of pinning her hands where they couldn’t do too much damage, but it put him and Bai She pretty much face-to-face.
She wasn’t happy about that. She snapped and spat and panted like a big, fangy ad for Listerine. The saliva came down like a flood, trickling over Dean’s face and getting in his eyes and ears…he blinked out a big wad of it just in time to dodge her sudden bite at him. The floor beside his head splintered up as her fangs went through it.
The spit was washing off the blood, Dean suddenly realized. Well, great. “Sam! Hurry up!”
“I’m…” Sam grunted and jumped up and down, which definitely weakened Bai She’s struggling, but wasn’t all that easy on Dean’s ribs “…trying.”
“Well…” Dean blinked. And blinked again. He coughed once, then wheezed. Wheezed again and barely remembered to keep holding onto Bai She before…what the hell…
That was a nice ceiling. And the girl on top of him was nice, too. She was pretty, and she didn’t weigh all that much, which was a relief…because why? Dean froze and tried to remember what was wrong here.
“Wrong?” the girl said. “Nothing’s wrong.” She smiled and drew her hand slowly down his chest. “It’s okay. You can relax. Just relax.”
“But…I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to do that,” Dean muttered.
He was going to say sorry because she really was pretty and it wasn’t too fair to her that he couldn’t remember, but suddenly she winced. Her face…melted. She angrily shook her head, then grabbed his shoulders and furiously shook him. “Let go! Let go now! Let me go!”
Well, Dean wasn’t about to do that now. He squeezed her tighter and the damnedest thing happened: she shrank. She literally thinned down till she could fit in his hands, and then she disappeared. The ceiling started to disappear, too. Then a dingier one came back, only Dean couldn’t see it too well because—“Mmmph!”
Sam instantly jerked off of Dean and back onto his ass, wild-eyed and breathless. He took a couple heaving breaths, a more controlled one, and then settled back to wipe off his mouth. “Jesus. You scared me there. You…she leaned over and sucked some mist out of your lungs, and then you weren’t breathing…”
Dean slowly pushed himself onto his side, then onto both elbows. Really, really disgusting job this time, he thought. “Sam, I love you too, but was that really necessary?”
His brother blinked, then looked at him with an annoyed expression. “Dean, you weren’t breathing. I gave you CPR. Which saved your life.”
“Yeah, and you had onion rings a couple hours ago. Man, did you. Almost as bad as her.” After catching his breath, Dean rolled over to sit up and wiped at his face. He tried not to look at the mess that came off. “So where’s Mike?”
“Over here.” Stephen was standing by the bed where Bai She had been, holding himself like a couple of his joints were glued up, which was a feeling with which Dean could really sympathize right now. “He’s okay. I don’t think she was done with him yet…Mike.”
“Stephen, what the hell…” Mike sat up, blearily rubbing at his eyes. He took a look around, then did a double-take. “What the fuck happened here?”
Sam looked at Dean. Dean looked at Stephen. Stephen walked over to the window and yelled for Sybil to come inside.
* * *
“…so it’s really April? Christ. Everything between February and now’s like this weird blur…” Mike said.
They’d moved out to the yard so Stephen, Sam and Dean could rinse themselves off with the garden hose. The kitchen would’ve been warmer, but the bloodstains would have added a little too much to an already difficult-to-explain situation, or so Stephen had reasoned.
“God, I wonder why,” Sybil muttered. She rolled her eyes and started to turn away, then whipped around to stalk towards a cringing Mike. “Because you were under her fucking spell, you goddamn brainless son of a bitch! If you wanted to get laid so badly, why couldn’t you just have hit up the fucking sororities?”
“Yeah, well, is it my fault all the local sluts are suddenly unavailable?” Mike snapped back, looking pointedly at Sybil. Which exhibited about as much brains as mistaking a demon summoning ritual for a quick way to get a girlfriend.
Stephen had been holding the hose for Sam. Stone-faced, he whipped out his arm so the hose face-slapped Mike to the ground. “Mike, people have died because of what you did.”
“Yeah…well…well…” Mike got to pushing himself up onto his elbows before he noticed he didn’t have a real receptive audience. He started to crawl backwards. “Hey, I didn’t—I didn’t know what I was doing. I was—you said I was under her spell. I’m not liable. Responsible. Um, which is it…”
“You—” Now Sam looked like he wanted to get busy with the hose and Mike’s ass.
But Sybil got in first. She walked up to Mike in a kind of predatory glide, leaned down, and said in the coldest voice: “May you have adventurous dreams and an interesting life. Shit-head. Now get out front and come up with an excuse for the mess without mentioning us, because the others are coming back.”
Mike had what was probably the smartest moment of his life and did as he was told. After a moment, Stephen handed the hose to Dean and casually strolled after him.
“What was that?” Sam asked, shaking the last of the water from his hands.
“Old Chinese curse.” Sybil leaned back against the wall again and rested her hands on her knees. She suddenly looked very tired, and genuinely so—she wasn’t just being short-tempered. She glanced at Sam, then snorted. “It’s not going to kill him. It’ll just make sure he never thinks magic is a good idea again.”
Sam still looked uncomfortable with the idea, though personally, Dean thought it was letting off Mike pretty lightly. But it probably was the best they could do, since now that Bai She was a snake in a Tupperware container with holes poked in the lid, they had no way to connect Mike to the deaths.
“He kind of was right, though,” Sam muttered. “He didn’t know what he was doing. He was possessed.”
“No, he was under a spell. Possessed people—okay, there I can see letting them off. They don’t even know there’s a demon coming. But Mike? Mike was fucking around with magic and he knew he was. So fuck him. Fuck him because now there’s three more ghosts in this town that I have to worry about avoiding,” Sybil snapped. She kicked angrily at the container with Bai She, then exhaled sharply and slid down the wall to squat. Her fingers flicked absently at the cover of the book Mike had used.
Sam pursed his lips a couple times, not like he wanted to say something, but like he had a lot to say and couldn’t choose which. He stayed a couple moments longer before abruptly leaving.
Dean sighed and reached down to turn off the water. “We’re not going to have to come back because you’ve turned into a psycho-witch, will we?”
“No. Fuck Mike with a screwdriver, but just that little curse is going to give me hell for weeks. Usually I try to stay as far out of this kind of shit as possible.” With a sigh, Sybil slowly got up again and picked up the book and the Tupperware. “I’ll take care of these, so you guys can leave now.”
“You know, that was so polite I almost didn’t notice you were trying to kick us out,” Dean cheerfully said. Of course, the effort was wasted on Sybil, who just looked pissed off again. “Why try anyway? It’s only going to keep coming back at you.”
“Yeah, well, if I go and get all involved all the time, I might as well be one of them. Dead and ghostly.” Sybil scuffed her foot through the puddles they’d made on the lawn. She glanced at the sidewalk, which was slowly filling up with returning frat brothers, then looked back at Dean. “People don’t get better after they’re dead, you know. They’re still narrow-minded, self-centered bastards that want it to be all about them, and they’ve got all the time in the world to brood about it. You have to take a break, remember you’re alive, or you end up being nothing but their agendas.”
This little conversation was sidestepping all over the place, which was weird for Sybil and even weirder for Dean. He took his own look at the sidewalk; they probably had a couple more minutes before too many people showed up. “You said you’d asked them about us, though. So they know some things.”
“They know a shitload of gossip. It’s a pain sifting through it all for what might be real. So what you’re about to ask—”
“I just want to know if my—if Sam and my father’s still alive. He’s…been missing for a while,” Dean quietly said. “I mean, you know if you’ve talked to a ghost or not, right?”
Sybil chewed on her lip and looked down at the ground, then back up at him. For once, she seemed to be trying out tact. “Dean. Most ghosts are…attached to places. You should know that, with the shit you’ve got in your car trunk. I’m not a general hotline to the land of the dead, okay? It doesn’t work like that. If I’m not near where somebody died…”
“Okay, okay. Just thought I’d ask, is all.” Dean dug a little hollow in the ground with the heel of his foot. He swallowed a couple times. Just getting himself ready to hit the road again. It’d been a long night.
“Dean?” When he glanced over, Sybil was staring at the stars again. Seemed to be a nervous tic of hers. “This isn’t anything solid, all right? And it’s not about your father. But…from what I’ve heard, you guys are headed for some rough patches.”
Shrugging, Dean jammed his hands in his pockets. “Sounds like a regular day to me.”
Sybil made an irritated noise. “These are dead people talking. ‘Rough patch’ to them means something different than to us. Usually something even more bad than you think is possible.” She drummed her fingers on the top of the snake-box, making Bai She hiss and whip herself against the sides. “You love your brother, right?”
“Why?” Dean looked sharply at her, but she was still staring straight up.
She shrugged. “I don’t have siblings. I thought it was one-of-a-kind weird when Stephen wouldn’t stop trying to help me after he found out…this kind of life seems more like a loner-thing, you know?”
“Yeah. But it’s always good to have someone at your back,” Dean said. Touchy as Sam was. “And hey, he’s my bro. Blood’s thickest of all.”
“Well, that’s good for you. Try to remember that no matter what happens,” Sybil replied. Her tone was a little odd, but she went on before Dean could ask about it. “And look, if you’re in town again, or nearby…you might as well call me.” She handed him a scrap of paper with a phone number on it. “I’d rather you were where I could see you.”
Dean took out his cell-phone and added the number in, memorizing it as he did. Never a bad idea to turn down a resource, considering how rare those were. And Sybil was getting a little bit better.
“But one more thing?” Sybil’s glare was back, which blew a hole in Dean’s thoughts. Never mind—she still was a bitch. “Not before May. You show up during my finals and I will wring your fucking necks.”
With that, she stomped off around the corner and to the front. Bemused, Dean lingered a little longer before he followed.
Somewhere between the back of the house and front, Mike had picked up one hell of a shiner. The bruise practically closed his eye so he was looking cock-eyed at everyone as he explained over and over how a crazed squirrel had gotten in and messed up everything. Stephen was standing beside him, but when he saw Sybil, he gave Mike a too-hard squeeze on the shoulder and came over.
“You headed home now?” he asked.
“Just to drop off stuff. I’m still too worked up to sleep. Or study.” Sybil shuffled her feet around a bit before grabbing his hand. She didn’t do that much in public, according to Stephen’s expression. “What’s the late-night movie this week?”
He blinked, then sensibly went with the good thing and didn’t ask stupid questions. “Pride and Prejudice or Scarface?”
They looked at each other. “Scarface,” they muttered together.
“That’s just adorable, isn’t it?” Dean said, walking up to the car. He glanced at Sam, who was leaning against the front, then down the street to Stephen and Sybil.
“I guess the saying’s true: there’s someone for everyone.” Not that Sam sounded all that enthusiastic about it. He shot Dean a sardonic look over the top of the car. “And you know, the sandwich you ate didn’t taste all that great secondhand either, but it’s not like I stopped to spritz you with mouthwash. I was too busy trying to revive you.”
Dean snorted as he pulled open the door and got inside. “Dude, I am so not Sleeping Beauty and you sure as hell aren’t Prince Charming.”
“Whatever, man. I think your fairy dust is showing.”
They hit the road under a crescent moon, Metallica thumping from the tape-player and bickering rising high over it.