Sam has some fun at Dean's expense and Cas isn't quite up to human standards yet.
"I swear, if you even think the word 'Midol' I will end you."
On the road
Wednesday 2 June 2010
Tongues of flame licked at his skin, making it blacken and curl while the smell of burning flesh and fat filled his nostrils. Adam was splayed on the ground before him, choking up blood while Sam groped around in his chest cavity, shredding organs and breaking bones in his attempts to burrow clean through the body.
"You see, Sam?" Lucifer whispered to him, using Sam's lips and voice to speak. "Family only goes so far."
His response was cut off as Adam's hand suddenly flashed out, dealing a blow to Sam's throat that made his head jerk back with an audible crack and his windpipe crush inwards. As he staggered back, grasping at his throat with blood encrusted hands, Adam – no, Michael – loomed over him, the flesh on his chest knitting up.
"You stupid son of a bitch," Michael growled, coming forward. "You ruined everything. You always ruin everything."
He grabbed hold of Sam's – no, Lucifer's – ruined throat with one hand, while a sword made of fire and light and grace materialized in his other hand. Before Sam could scream, he brought it down across his face –
Sam jerked awake, nearly hitting his head on the low ceiling as he did so. For a moment, he was disoriented and confused at his surroundings, unable to separate reality from the nightmare. As his senses returned to him, though, he relaxed and glanced out at the gas station; in the side view mirror he could see Dean leaning against the car as he filled up the tank. Jefferson Airplane was playing on the radio, a soft counterpoint to Castiel's rhythmic breathing in the back seat.
'Probably passed out again,' Sam thought, sitting up straight and rubbing crud out of his own eyes.
Much as he was onboard with Castiel joining them now that he was human, it was going to take some getting used to, hunting in a unit again. It had been Sam and Dean for so long he had almost forgotten what it was like to hit the road with an extra body. He was sort of glad that Castiel was on standby a few hours a day, because it gave him some time to slowly adjust to his presence.
Castiel was still waging his war on sleep after the first few nightmares he had had, snoozing only when exhaustion forced his body into shutdown-mode. Usually this only happened during the day, and Sam was pretty sure that it was because Castiel felt more secure when either he or Dean was awake to put an end to any nightmare that threatened. If Dean slamming the car door hadn't roused Castiel, he was probably going to be out for a little while. Sam wished he could say the same for himself, but unfortunately a lifetime of hunting had made him a light sleeper.
Wanting to forget the images that were seared into his brain, he watched Dean in the side-mirror for a while, smirking when the gas station attendant sidled over to him and attempted to strike up a chat. For someone who was so smooth when it came to charming women, Dean was beyond useless when it came to holding a conversation with a man that was genuinely hitting on him, rare an occurrence as that usually was. Living in California, Sam had managed to develop a politer form of rejection when he was hit on by an interested party of the same sex, but Dean's default setting in that respect gravitated between awkwardly stuttering through excuses or lashing out with a punch.
'Wonder which one we'll see today,' Sam thought idly, not particularly wanting to have to bail Dean out of a local jail cell for assault but also sorely needing something amusing to cheer him up from the nightmare he had just been having.
Fate intervened before anything could happen, because the attendant was flagged by an annoyed looking trucker wanting the keys to the washroom, and Dean was able to finish pumping the gas. He wandered into the small station, paid the cashier, and then returned, swinging into the drivers' seat.
"I hate this body," he said for the millionth time as he tossed Sam a plastic bag and glanced into the back seat. "Mr. Comatose there still down for the count?"
"Yeah," Sam said, frowning at the contents of the bag: chips, chocolate bars and fizzy drinks. "You know, I'd blame your new physique for the junk food cravings, but you always eat like this. Wasn't there anything in the store not packed with sugar or sodium?"
"Yeah, the toilet paper," Dean rolled his eyes and turned the key in the ignition. "Quit complaining. I've seen you down more than a few Butterfingers in the past few days when you thought I wasn't looking."
"'Cause they were the only thing you'd bought. Seriously, are you channeling the Trickster's spirit now?"
"I haven't dipped your fingers in warm water lately, have I? 'Sides, you got a problem with what I buy, you do the grocery runs from now on."
"I would, if we stopped anywhere for more than five minutes!"
"We've got a schedule to keep," Dean reminded him. "Speaking of, run me through the case again."
"Jawohl, mein Führer," Sam muttered under his breath as he opened the browser on his Treo to the page he had bookmarked earlier. "Says here, Stephanie Hindley was getting ready to marry her fiancé…a Roger Aitchison at St. James Catholic Church last week; she was in the back room getting ready and sent her bridesmaid out to get her father for the big walk down the aisle. When he got there, though, the door was locked and she wouldn't answer. They thought she might have gotten cold feet and ran off, so they broke down the door."
"Let me guess…she was still there but significantly less alive?"
"The paper doesn't give details, but the word 'shredded' was used," Sam allowed with a wince, able to imagine what had happened only too well.
"Shredded? Could be a werewolf."
"Lunar cycle's not right."
"Deva maybe? Or a Hellhound?"
Sam pretended not to notice the subtle pitch of fear in his brother's voice at the notion. "There was no damage to the doors or windows, and there's no mention of her behaving suspiciously or paranoid before her death," Sam said. "At least not in what I've been able to find."
"So what's the official theory?"
"Police think there's a serial killer on the loose, while a lot of the locals are saying it's the resident ghost doing the killing."
"Wait, they're actually blaming the ghost?" Dean asked, glancing at Sam. "Scratch that – they have a local ghost?"
"Yeah, it's a famous legend around these parts," Sam replied, opening a new browser window to search for the actual story of the ghost.
"And no hunter's come to check it out before this…why?"
"Probably they did and found nothing – or they got rid of it, but people keep talking up the story anyway to generate tourism," Sam shrugged, entering a search term into his browser. He opened the first link that looked promising. "Oh-kay, according to the legend, Irving Jones and Anne Williams of Decatur fall in love and decide to run away when her parents don't approve of the match. Jones was a bootlegger during Prohibition – "
"He made videos?"
"No, Dean, he smuggled booze."
"Dude's my kind of awesome."
"Anyway, they run off to get married, but he decides to go on one last whiskey run. I guess he wanted to make sure they were living the high life wherever they were going. He ends up cornered by business rivals, who murder him and leave his body in the Sangamon River. When his fiancée finds out, she drowns herself in the same river. Ever since then, she supposedly haunts the Greenwood cemetery. People reportedly see her walking among the graves in a wedding gown and crying or wringing her hands."
"Almost sounds like a Woman in White," Dean pointed out. "The whole river thing, and the white dress. When was the first death in town?"
"Five months ago."
"Anything before then?"
"Nothing that I've been able to find."
"So if this happened a hundred years ago, why hasn't the ghost been offing Bridezillas until now?"
"Someone must have disturbed something," Sam theorized.
"Could be a simple salt-and-burn, then."
"Maybe. But I don't think so. Especially if this spirit is able to cross church grounds to go after its victims."
"The spirit of the Hookman managed it."
"He was tied to a physical object, though," Sam pointed out. "And from what I've seen in the paper, only three of the weddings were going to happen in churches. The others took place at city hall. I really doubt it's the same case."
"Has anyone actually seen the ghost?"
"No one who's lived to tell about it," Sam answered grimly. "It's probably just the dead bride thing that's got people thinking it's the Greenwood Ghost."
"Awesome," Dean sighed, turning onto the last exit to Decatur. "So, what's the game plan? Morgue first or victims' families?"
"I checked the business hours online, the local morgue isn't open until noon on Wednesdays, so we've got time to kill. I figure we should probably check the crime scenes first."
"Well, City Hall's gonna suck, but the churches might be an easier place to start."
"Don't count on it. I called around last night to see if we could swing an interview, but I was practically hung up on every time. The reporter thing isn't going to work here. Maybe we could try the FBI angle."
Dean made a face, and shook his head. "Nah, it's pretty rare for two chicks to be on assignment in general, but FBI? They'll see right through that."
"One of us could go with Cas?"
Dean cast a would-be surreptitious glance in the rear-view mirror. "I dunno if he’s ready for that. The last time he and I pulled that, we were lucky he didn't blow it. Besides, he looks dead on his feet half the time. Also not believable."
There was silence for a moment, and then Sam shifted, a sudden idea forming in his mind. "You know, there is something else we could try…"
"I am not comfortable with this," Cas pronounced as he and Dean proceeded up the small flight of stairs leading into the church.
St. James Catholic was a decently sized brownstone edifice on the corner of Clay and Webster. It had recently been refurbished, if the pristinely painted white panes were anything to go on. Its roof remained the original copper, though, judging by the oxidized green hue. The sound of Old Glory flapping in the wind overhead mingled with the noises of local traffic going by. There was an odd collection of objects off to one side, surrounding the portrait of a sheepish looking, heavy-lidded blond woman.
"Who are you telling?" Dean replied in disgust.
"I believe I was telling you."
"You were…? No, you – Cas, look, just let me do the talking and we can get out of this with minimal awkwardness," Dean groaned. "When I get my body back, just let Sam try to pull his crap…of course he gets to be the one actually working while we do all the distracting…"
"That is not the reason for my discomfort," Castiel insisted. "I simply do not wish to lie to a man of God."
"Get used to it. Happens a lot in this line of work," Dean shrugged. "Just don't try to hug or kiss me, okay? That'd be weird."
Cas looked up from where he had been staring at the collection of flowers, stuffed animals and handwritten notes that were gathered off to the side of the church entrance. "Why would I attempt to do any of those things?"
"Because we're pretending to be…never mind," Dean sighed as they went through the front doors. "Stick to what we went over the car and we'll be okay."
"Very well," Cas nodded, thoughtful. "Should I clasp your hand then?"
Dean jerked his head up. "What? Why?"
"I have noticed that humans who have established a relationship based on mutual affection and sexual attraction often grasp each other's hands," Castiel explained. "Since being cut off from Heaven, I have also noticed that human touch creates a feeling of comfort as well."
Dean blinked, mind flashing back to all the moments in the past few days when he or Sam had reached out for Cas, whether to wake him from his nightmares or the casual brush of fingers when they passed him things. Every memory was tinged by an expression of great relief on the former angel's face.
With a start, Dean realized that Cas was lonely. That thought was immediately followed by a mental kick to himself. He had been so focussed on Cas's decision to give up Heaven to help him and Sam, he hadn't thought of the little things.
'Damn it, this is Sam's department, not mine,' he thought half-heartedly, although he had a certain amount of dislike for the idea of Sam being the one Cas might lean on for comfort. Dean was the one he'd hauled out of Hell, not Sam.
Rolling his eyes skyward and inwardly praising the fact that Sam wasn't around, he reached out and clapped Cas on the back, his fingers squeezing the curve of his shoulder lightly.
"Look, this here? This is fine," he said in a slow, patient voice that he hoped Cas recognized as his 'teaching-the-angel' voice. "But for no more than five seconds, 'kay'?" He pulled away after the requisite amount of time, and Cas nodded, that expression of relief blossoming on his face again in a way that made Dean's stomach warble uncomfortably. "But no more talk of handholding. Even with me in a girl's body, that's way too gay."
Castiel cocked his head to one side. "I do not understand your aversion to happiness."
"I'll explain it to you later, let's get in there before the priest notices Sam's sneaking around."
Like most churches Dean had been inside, the interior had a domed ceiling from which hanging ornate lamps cast shadows on the floor. High windows with stained glass displayed the Stations of the Cross, the colours creating patterns on the polished pews. Beyond this, the altar and tabernacle were built into the elevated chancel, carved ornately out of some kind of marble. The images of Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph resided in a display that Dean thought looked like it had been ripped off from the Disney castle.
They had timed their arrival to be long enough after the morning service to avoid strangers, but early enough so as to not run into anyone coming for afternoon mass. As luck would have it, the only person in the church was the black-clad priest up front, who was arranging programmes in the wooden display.
"Good morning, Father," Dean greeted, his voice echoing in the church despite his softened tone. He strode forward, forcibly relaxing his body to seem nonthreatening. "We're not bothering you, are we?"
"It's no bother at all, as long as you're not reporters," the priest said, straightening up and peering at them. "I've had my fill of them this week. One guy in particular…" the man shook his head in annoyance, before sighing and smiling again. "Anyhow. What can I help you folk with, Miss…?"
"Ritchie. Erica. And this is my…fiancé Cassidy Spungen," Dean said, schooling his face carefully as he halted on the offending word and offered his hand.
"I'm Father Matthew," the man said, taking Dean's hand and shaking it briefly, and then reaching for Cas, who stared at it for a moment, before taking it as well. "And congratulations on your upcoming nuptials."
Dean had to work hard not to wince at the man's earnest well-wishes; behind his wide smile, Dean's teeth were gritted and he had to remember to keep his body angled toward Cas in what he hoped would be interpreted as closeness. "Thank you."
He was still not impressed with his brother's grand plan. He had nearly pitched a fit in the car when Sam had first suggested it.
"There something you wanna say, Sammy?" he had snapped, glaring at Sam between glances at the road. "'Cause joking around with our IDs and telling a drag queen I bat for the other team is one thing, but this idea of yours? Makes me think you've been reading some of Becky’s fucked up stories.
Sam couldn't keep his mouth from twitching. "Come on, Dean, it makes the most sense."
"How does my pretending to be with Cas make any sense?" he had shot back. "Ever? Beyond giving you something to chuckle about for the rest of the drive."
"Not everyone stays up nights thinking of ways to make other people squirm, you know," Sam had pointed out flatly. "Besides, any idiot can see you guys have a connection –" Dean had bristled at the word choice, " – almost as much as people can see you and I have a connection."
"I swear to God, Sammy, if you start spouting that soul mate crap –"
"Look, I could go in and do this with Cas, but it's pretty obvious that we're nothing more than friends. You two have this, like, profound bond or something that anyone just looking at the surface would figure you were into each other –" At Dean's threatening look, he had raised his hands in defence and amended, " – you know, now that you look like a girl."
"If you have that much of a problem with it, you and me could go in there. It's not like we haven't pretended we were a couple before –"
" – we do not talk about that. Ever."
" – but somehow I don't see the priests being too enthusiastic about a pair of lesbians wanting to get married in a church. And then there's the whole Cas not knowing how to pick locks, or work the EMF, or –"
"Alright, alright, Jesus!" Dean had cut him off. "Fine, we'll do it. But you're talking him through it, because the more I think about this, the more likely I am to change my mind."
Sam had smirked in triumph, and then an expression like he had just remembered something appeared on his face.
"Hold on," he had said, shifting in his seat to haul out his wallet. Neither he nor Dean had given into the temptation to carry a purse yet, no matter how practical it might have been in their new bodies.
Sam slid his wallet open and began to rifle through it, and then pulled something out which he offered to Dean. "Here. For your cover."
A small silver ring with some kind of gem inset had gleamed in the sunlight.
Dean had cocked an eyebrow. "Dude, I love you an all, but that shit's illegal in this state, last time I checked."
"It's the one I bought for Jess , asshat," Sam had retorted, shoving Dean none-too-gently in the shoulder. "And it's just for you to show off. You're going to be pretending to be engaged, and engaged women wear rings. I want it back when you're done."
"I feel so much less creeped out about you apparently carrying an engagement ring around in your duffle now that I know it belonged to your dead girlfriend," Dean had said dryly, trying to make light of the situation despite the worry that cropped up inside. It had been five years, and yet despite everything, Sam was still carrying a piece of his past around with him. Dean had felt his expression turn serious. "Sam, I can't –"
"Dean, just put the damn thing on," Sam had snapped, clearly not wanting to talk about it.
Dean had sighed, made a face and taken the piece of jewelry, shoving it onto his finger. "Shit – did Jess not have any bones? This thing is tight."
"Not my fault you have sausage fingers – maybe lay off the double cheeseburgers."
The ring was still cutting off the circulation in Dean's fingers now, but when he noticed the priest's gaze flick to his left hand, he silently admitted that maybe Sam had been right. About that, at least.
"So what is it I can help you two with today?" Father Matthew asked.
"We were just passing through on our way to St. Louis and we saw this place – it looks a lot like the church where my folks got hitched," Dean explained. "Except theirs got burned down a couple years back."
"It's always a shame when something like that happens," the priest said in a sympathetic voice, but Dean caught the inquisitive note in the tone that begged why this was his problem.
"Anyhow, we saw this place and I just had to check it out for the wedding," Dean lied, laying it on as thick as possible.
'Girls say shit like that, right?' he asked himself, glancing at Cas to make sure the former angel was going along with this. He would have laughed if they hadn't been in the middle of a job; Cas looked like he was concentrating so hard on being normal that he might poop himself any second.
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time I've performed a ceremony for out-of-towners," the priest said, sounding both surprised and gladdened. His tone became hesitant, "Er, were you hoping to do this today, or…?"
"Get married? Oh – no! God no," Dean burst out, and then coughed in embarrassment, "I mean…"
"It's alright, I've heard worse," the priest said with a smile.
"Uh, what I meant was, I thought we'd see if it was okay to check this place out and put it on a list of possible venues. I've…" He winced inwardly, knowing that if Sam were there and not stealthily sneaking around the church premises right now he would be laughing his ass off, "had my heart set on something small and homey – you know, needs just the right kind of atmosphere."
"It's always nice to hear people wanting to stick with the traditions," Father Matthew said genuinely, unaware of Dean's uncertainty. "Especially considering the fad of flying out to a beach somewhere."
"Oh, well, I don't do planes and this guy's practically allergic to the sun," Dean responded smoothly.
"I do not have any particular aversion to the sun," Cas said, offering Dean a sidelong glance.
"Well, you may not, but your skin sure does," Dean replied, a note of warning in his voice.
Thankfully, Cas seemed to get the message, because he nodded thoughtfully, and said, "Ah. Yes. It…festers."
Father Matthew raised an eyebrow and looked on the verge of asking a question, but Dean cut him off, "Really, this place is so charming. Really, uh, welcoming. Not like some of the other places we've seen." He lowered his voice, would-be-conspiratorially. "Cas's family's pretty overbearing. They can't do anything small. They throw a party like it's the end of the world."
"Well, if you would like to discuss arrangements and terms, there is some time before midday service," Father Matthew offered. "My office is just off to the side of the nave."
"Well, thank you kindly, Father," Dean beamed, motioning with his head for Cas to follow them.
The priest led them into a small room behind the church, which was brightly lit by two small windows on the sides. Bookcases and shelves with curios lined the cramped walls, and a worn couch was squeezed into the corner of the room, covered with neatly folded bedding. In the center were a filing cabinet, two chairs and a desk that held an ancient looking computer.
Father Matthew offered them the chairs by the desk and took the couch himself. "I apologize for the cramped space, we've had a few months' lean living."
"It's no problem at all, Father, real cozy," Dean assured him. Then, he began casually, "If you don't mind me asking, we passed that wall of flowers and candles outside the door. What happened?"
Father Matthew went quiet for a moment, and then sighed, sadly, "It was a tragedy. There was a death in our community recently. It happened the day she was supposed to get married, which made it all the worse."
"Wow, that's terrible," Dean simpered. "Now that you mention it, I think I read something in the paper about that."
The priest sighed. "With that reporter trolling around the past few months, I'm surprised this hasn't been turned into a made-for-TV special."
"Wasn't she…wasn't she actually in the church when it happened?"
The priest's expression became rather closed. "It is unfortunate, but yes, the incident did occur here. I'll understand if that affects your decision about having your ceremony here…"
Dean felt his phone vibrate in his pocket, and surreptitiously glanced down at it. The message was from Sam, and read, 'Church is clear. No EMF or ectoplasm.'
He pasted the smile back on his face and looked up at the priest. "Of course not. I just have a few questions about the place, if you don't mind?"
"That depends on the questions," the priest replied, his smile warm but his eyes guarded. Considering what had happened here, it was more than likely the man had had to deal with a lot of negative media attention lately.
When they left a half hour later, after discovering there was nothing in the entire history of St. James Church that might explain Stephanie Hindley's death, Sam was waiting for them by the car.
"What is the point of those items?" Cas asked, eying the memorabilia for Stephanie Hindley as they drove away. "The woman is not here to read the messages or take comfort in the objects. She has no use for them where she is."
"It's not always just about the person who's died, Cas," Sam said gently, and with infinitely more patience than Dean ever managed when he was on explain-humanity-to-the-ex-angel detail. "Mostly it's about the people they've left behind."
"And humans take comfort in the collection of useless objects and dying flora?" Cas inquired.
"Some do," Sam nodded.
Cas considered this, and then in a thoughtful voice remarked, "Such offerings were absent when Ellen and Joanna Beth perished."
Dean and Sam both tensed, and Dean made a mental note to have yet another conversation with Cas about what topics you didn't bring up.
"Everyone grieves differently," Sam explained after a pause. "Besides, Ellen and Jo…if they were around, they'd probably kick our butts for leaving flowers and teddy bears lying around for them."
"And then tell us we were being wusses and to go get drunk already," Dean added. "Which we did, remember? It's what they would have wanted."
"I am to take it that you would not engage in this particular practice, then?" Castiel indicated to the makeshift shrine across the street.
"Nah, we'd just go Dark Side and bang demon chicks," Dean deadpanned, only a little pointed. Considering what Sam had just put him through, he figured he had the right to be a little snarky.
Sam's face turned shadowy, and he glared, "Or sell our souls. Because that always works out so well."
Cas glanced between them, apparently having difficulty following the subtext of their conversation. "You find humour in such unpleasant reminders?"
"It's either bitch about it or go nuts, Cas, and life's just too damn short," Dean said, clapping him on the shoulder as he opened the car door. "Trust us, we definitely know that." He nodded at Sam. "So, where to next?"
"Well, that's City Hall and every damn church on the list," Dean complained a few hours and a trip to a diner later. He groaned and stretched his arms along the back of the booth, in an action which would have annoyed Sam but which Castiel either didn't mind or didn't notice. "Not only were they all a total waste of time, but I feel completely emasculated to boot."
"Wow, five syllables, I'm impressed," Sam put in.
"We should view the body now," Castiel remarked, picking unhappily at the salad Sam had bought for him. He had been eyeing Dean's plate hopefully, but had given in to Sam's recommendation that he put off really heavy foods for another week or so. His first experience kneeling before the porcelain god was obviously still fresh in his mind.
"That's a good idea," Sam agreed, out of habit glancing around the restaurant to make sure no one was paying them any attention. "The morgue should be open."
"Yeah, well, you can go with Cas this time," Dean told him. "You look like the less fun chick anyway, you could probably rock the serious med-student look real easy."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Sure, if you feel like making the rounds of the local library and bookstores for information on the Greenwood Bride."
Dean made a face, and Sam knew he had won that argument; Dean and books would never be good friends. "Fine. Drop us off there first, nerd."
"I should make you take the bus."
"Try it, Samantha," Dean shot back, making a 'come on' gesture with his hands. Jess's ring glinted on his finger, which he noticed at the same time Sam did.
The pang of pain at the memory of how long it had taken him to pick out the stupid thing was lesser than it had been when he first lost Jess, but it was still there. He had brought the ring with him all those years ago because it was the only thing he had left of her after the fire that hadn't gone back to her family; in the first few months, there were days when he would take it out and look at it when Dean wasn't around. As their lives became more complicated and dangerous, especially after losing Dad and Dean selling his soul, he had barely glanced at it, consigning it to the bottom of his wallet like an afterthought.
There had been some days back then, especially after returning home to Lawrence that one time to exercise the poltergeist from their childhood home, that Sam had wondered if Jess might have ended up like Mom – a ghost trapped in the home she had died in. But knowing what he now knew about Mary Winchester, who had definitely had some unfinished business, he felt sure that Jessica had moved on. She was probably in her own version of heaven, living out her days with her family and perhaps dragging a simulation of himself to parties he didn't want to go to.
Wherever she was, Sam was sure that Jess was at peace.
Staring at the ring, Sam wondered if he would ever have that luxury.
Dean tugged the trinket it off and handed it to Sam, mercifully not saying anything although his expression suggested that he very much wanted to.
Sam cut that off by standing up. "Well, come on, let's do this quickly. We still have some witnesses to talk to today, so we should finish up the scut work quick."
Dean shot him a look that clearly told him he wasn't buying it, but instead said to Cas, "Come on, buddy, finish your rabbit food. We've got to see a man about a corpse."
Sam dropped the two of them off at the morgue where two of the bodies, including Stephanie Hindley's, had been taken following the murders, and then left the car in an all-day parking zone.
There was little success to be had at the library. It seemed that the recent string of murders had attracted not only Sam and Dean's notice, but local history buffs’ as well. Every book on the local history or having to do with the Greenwood Bride was out on loan. Sam supposed he should just be glad that the crazier element of urban legend enthusiasts hadn't entered town, as in the case of the UFO followers in Elwood. Or even worse, the Ghostfacers.
'I would take going to another Supernatural convention over running into those clowns again,' he thought as he walked through the doors of a small hole-in-the-wall bookstore called Pyewacket's. It was the fifth place he'd been too, all of the other bookstores in town catering more towards the Oprah's Bookclub crowd than the occult.
This place smelled like potpourri and dust, and shelves upon shelves of old books, some in different languages. There was an entire section based on the town's history, which Sam was glad for. It was a single level bookstore with wide aisles and more books than cheap items for sale, which brought it up in his estimation. It was a mark of how well a bookstore was doing if it could get by on just selling books instead of kitschy gift merchandise.
Unfortunately, nothing in the section looked the least bit promising. He went through every book on the shelf, even crouching down to peruse the bottom levels, but there was nothing. The books were more along the lines of travel and tourist guides, with a few coffee table books thrown in for good measure, than what he was looking for.
He must have looked disappointed, because someone asked, "Can I help you find anything?"
He glanced up to reply, but was surprised to see the person who had spoken was eye-level with him while he crouched.
The woman was about his age, perhaps a little younger, and strikingly pretty in the blond, blue-eyed way that wouldn't have been out of place in sunny California. She looked like she had once been the athletic sort, with long legs and tanned skin. The only thing out of ordinary was the fact that she was sitting in a wheelchair.
"Uh, I don't know," he said, a little flustered.
"It's just, you've been going through that shelf for about half an hour now and you look like someone kicked your puppy," she told him. "Also, if you don't buy something soon, you're going to screw up my conversion for the day."
Sam blinked, realization setting in. "You work here?"
"On occasion," she said, raising an eyebrow. "Considering I own the place, and all."
"Wow, that's kind of awesome."
"When people buy stuff it is," she told him wryly. She offered him her hand. "I'm Nicki."
"Jane," Sam stated, taking her hand briefly.
"So, what can I help you find?"
"I'm looking for anything you might have on the town's history – specifically about town legends and myths," Sam said. "I'm on a road trip, and every time we stop through a small town, I like to pick up some interesting reading material. I heard there's a famous ghost around these parts and thought I'd read up on it. The Greenwood Bride?"
"Greenwood Bride, huh?" Nicki asked, the sudden depreciating curl of her lip at odds with her otherwise pretty face. "So you're just another vulture coming to read about the town's stupid ghost."
"Uh…kind of a hobby," Sam said, sheepish. "Do you know anything about it?"
"Who doesn't?" Nicki rolled her eyes and then wheeled back out of the stacks. "I'm afraid you're S-O-L. That's been a hot topic the past few months, what with all those weird deaths in the newspapers. I've got book orders on backlog trying to get material on that particular subject. I'd suggest ordering something from Amazon."
"There's absolutely nothing here?" Sam asked, following her.
"Nothing in print, anyway."
"Do you know anything?"
Nicki shrugged. "The basics. It's Bonnie and Clyde meets the Notebook, I guess. Girl meets guy, guy turns out to be a schmuck who skips out on their wedding plans for whatever reason, screws up the whole thing, and she ends up spending her eternity pining for him in a boneyard."
Sam snorted. "That's a pretty unromantic way of looking at it."
"Let me tell you, if you've ever shelved entire carts of bodice-rippers in one shift, you'd lose your appreciation for romance too," Nicki replied, and Sam couldn't help grinning at that. "Tell you what, though. If you're that interested in a comprehensive look at the legend, you should talk to the writer that's doing a story on it."
"Writer?" Sam echoed. "What do you mean?"
"He's this freelance writer or journalist or something. He's really interested in the deaths that have been happening here and the possibility of it being some pissed off emo chick from the beyond. He showed up here right around the time that first girl died," Nicki shrugged. "Guy's kind of a nutjob, if you ask me. I guess he's just trying desperately to be the next Stieg Larsson."
Sam opened his mouth to ask for more information on what could possibly be a lead, when his phone rang.
"Can you give me a sec?" he asked, reaching for his phone. Nicki shrugged and wheeled herself off toward the front desk, and Sam accepted the call. "Hello?"
"Yeah, we've got zilch at the morgue," Dean told him over the phone. "Or at least as much zilch as before. Going in, I thought we might be looking at Hellhounds, what with the whole shredding thing. But this chick's body…it's not anything with claws that did that. She was ripped apart by something with fingers."
"Considering there was no DNA or fingerprints anywhere, it's gotta be some kind of spirit," Dean said.
Sam turned away from Nicki and lowered his voice. "Did you try using a black light?"
"Course I did – what, you think I'm an amateur? Nothing showed up."
"And even Cas couldn't figure it out?"
"He said he can't think of any supernatural creature that it could be, but then again he's no CSI…which I learned first-hand when he took one look at the body and bolted. Had to tell the medical examiner he had food poisoning."
"Turns out now that he's human, the smell of formaldehyde doesn't agree with him," Dean answered with a depreciating affection in his voice. "Pretty sure he's still in the bathroom puking his guts up."
Sam sighed. "Awesome."
Apparently, it wasn't a good week for Castiel.
Dean chuckled. "Anything on your end?"
"Not anything concrete, but the owner of the bookstore I'm at says there's a local writer who's been doing some research linking the ghost story with the recent deaths. We should check him out."
"Got any coordinates on this guy?"
"I'm going to get them now. I'll call you back with anything concrete."
Sam hung up and wandered up to the front desk, where Nicki was checking through order forms. "So…this writer guy. He come in here often?"
"Yeah, almost three times a week for the past couple of months," she answered. "He practically lives in the section you were checking out, even though I don't think he ever found what he was looking for either. He just hangs out there reading in the stacks until I ask him if he needs help, then he leaves."
"You sure he's coming in here for the books?" Sam asked, voice only a little suggestive.
Nicki made a face. "Uh, ew. First of all, no one's knocking down doors for a piece of this –" she gestured to her immobile legs, " – second of all, the guy's like fifty and looks like John Wilkes Booth. He kind of reminded me of a hobo, actually."
"This guy have a name?"
"Not that he's ever told me, but according to the credit card slips he's signed, his name is D. Wood."
Sam stored the information away for later. "And you said he only showed up when the first deaths occurred?"
Nicki raised an eyebrow. "Uh, yeah. Why?"
"No reason," Sam assured, and then offered a hopefully beguiling smile. "Do you have his address on file by any chance?"