conceptual horrorAuthor's Notes:
Thank you so much broken_cinders for this wonderful prompt that helped me write a story I've needed to write since I was four. <3 <3 I hope you like!Summary:
Brontide (n) - a low rumble like that of distant thunder
Sam was four years old the first time he heard it: a low, inexplicable rumble. He asked Dean what it was. Dean cocked his head, listening. “I don’t hear anything.”
When Sam had a nightmare, Dad let him sleep with him. Sam had lain there for an hour after the dream had turned from his reality to mere memory to formless dread, until the cause of the dread had shifted from the dream to the sound that he could always hear late at night, when it was still. “What’s that sound?” Sam asked Dad.
Dad perfunctorily rolled over to listen. “It’s the train,” he said, but Dad didn’t understand what Sam really meant to ask, which was why the sound was so frightening. A screech owl scared Dean once so bad he wet his pants. When Dad was mad, or Bobby, the sound of their voices was scary. Music in horror movies was scary. But no other sound had ever made him feel afraid like this, to the bone, past the bone, to the soul, past the soul, down to something so deep he wouldn’t know it existed, if he hadn’t felt it quake in terror at this sound.
Dad urged him to tell him about his dream. “Nightmares are like a tetigi,” Dad told him.
“What’s that?” Sam asked.
“It’s something that disappears when you speak of it. So if you tell me your dream, you won’t have it again.” But Dad fell back asleep as soon as Sam started telling him the dream, leaving Sam there listening to that sound. He listened and listened, as hard as he could. It didn’t seem like it was a train.
Dad was all wrapped around him, as he often was--whenever Sam was afraid or in danger and sometimes--the worst times--for no reason Sam could discern. When he was younger, it made him feel safe in the arms of the person who would protect him, but lying there, listening to that sound, Sam realized no one could protect him from whatever that sound represented, from whatever was coming for him.
“What’s that sound?” Sam asked Bobby. Dean got to go on his first hunt with Dad. Dad had left Sam at Bobby’s to keep him safe, but wherever he went, he could hear the sound, which meant it could not be the train.
Bobby took him seriously. He saw Sam’s fear and thought it meant something dangerous might have found its way into his house. When at first he couldn’t hear anything on his own, he put his head close to Sam’s and listened so they would hear exactly the same thing.
Presently Bobby stood back up, attention already on something else. “Cars on the highway,” he dismissed.
It was not cars on the highway.
Sam stopped asking, and he stopped trying to hear. It was like it was trying to tell him something in a language neither his mind nor his soul could understand, like it was whispering vital information into a part of him that had no ears. The inexpressible fear gave him the gist. He tried telling this dream to anyone who would listen, to make it disappear, but even after nightmares dissipated in the darkness, the sound remained.
When Sam started doing his own research on monsters, he discovered Dad was wrong: it was extremely difficult to make a tetigi disappear merely by speaking of it; generally it had to be touched. Tetigis persisted because they caused such fear in those they tormented that their victims ran and ran from them, ran themselves to death or straight into traffic, off cliffs--anything to escape the fear, never realizing simply to turn and touch it would bring it to its swift end. Likewise, hunters seldom effectively hunted tetigis because tetigis ran from anyone who sought to see or know them, hiding in darkness, perfectly still. But if one got a clear enough view of a tetigi, sufficient to describe it with such detail and accuracy that the listener would feel they truly knew that which was described, this would be enough.
Still, in all his long days researching cases, Sam never came across a description of a monster that terrorized its victim with a sound of such dread and forboding that the victim felt entirely changed by it, defined by it, as if who they were and their path in life had been delineated, engineered, and driven by it. Until he was fifteen, he was sure he would find out it was a monster, but after searching everywhere, in books and in the fonts of knowledge that were Dad and his hunter friends, out in the world and inside himself, one day he abruptly realized it was no monster, and there was no answer. This was not something on the outside. Feeling carefully along the edges of this fear, he discovered it was absolutely, inextricably, a part of who he had been for as long as he could remember.
As Sam closed the tetigi chapter in the lore book, he determined never to let fear decide anything for him.
As a teenager, he concluded all it would require to overcome this overpowering fear was courage.
When lore failed him, he turned to spirituality: Christianity, Buddhism, some more esoteric sects, even knowledge lost to time in all but a single codex that might be found on Bobby’s shelf in a dusty back room. To know oneself, to face one’s greatest fears ... in these ways one might be liberated from the bonds that trapped and terrorized man, they said.
At Stanford, Sam took a meditation class and started a meditation practice. Once he had a single room starting his sophomore year, when he was alone, sometimes he prayed. While his fellow students prayed for help passing their math class or attracting the eye of a good-looking classmate, Sam prayed for Dad and Dean’s safety, for his own, for meaning, for answers ... for salvation.
There was nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear was a mirage that lost its power when confronted. Fear was an animal response, mind over matter ... in psychology class, philosophy class, the subject was addressed from intellectual angles even as his spiritual quest addressed it from metaphysical ones. He found much wisdom to mine in all these disciplines. He developed a logical, incisive approach to problems, he grew more confident. Long-held fears and insecurities fell away from him. The meditation and prayer and learning helped. He was growing into the man he’d always wanted to be.
Only when it was silent, late at night, did he become aware of a part of him unchanged, a child as ever, petrified, perfectly still, watching and waiting, for whatever horror the sound portended to arrive.
Sam didn’t hear it anymore, not exactly. Trying not to hear it had become such habit, he wouldn’t have been able to say for sure, but when he touched on it, listened for it for a split second just to see, there was nothing there. Instead, daily life had grown loud enough to at first seem to drown it out ... and then to become it. There was always noise. Even when it was perfectly quiet, there was the noise, his bones and his skin, screaming.
It was a train, coming for him. It had once been a low rumble he could only hear, ever so distantly, when his ear was to the track. Now, though still out of view, it was near enough that it shrieked, metal against metal.
The answer was simple: get off the track. Sometimes he seemed to succeed, the terrible sense of the sound fading, only to return with all the same horror a few weeks or months later, as if like Oedipus he did everything in his power to escape the path destiny had laid out for him only to find fate had found a way, as if all his efforts to outwit it had been his downfall in and of themselves.
So the answer was to run, as fast as he could, away from Dad and Dean, away from hunting, away from everything. Away from himself, from everything he knew and had ever been.
When Dean drove him back to the place he shared with Jess after hunting the woman in white, just before they turned the corner, Sam heard the sound again, for a split second, just as he used to long ago. Then he saw the flames.
After that, Sam no longer tried to run.
The apocalypse didn’t really sound any different. Many sounds hearkened back to it for Sam: the sound of the door that kept Dean back when Sam was killing Lilith, the sound when the portal opened and the devil was released into the world once again. The sound of out-of-season thunderstorms and tornadoes where tornadoes had never been before. It all sounded like an up-close version of that sound he heard at such a great distance late at night when he was a little boy.
Dean never quite understood why Sam decided to say yes to the devil and take him into the pit, but by now it was simple to Sam. He could tell by the way that deepest part of him quaked to learn he was the devil’s true vessel, how it quaked when he started the apocalypse, and when the idea that he could say yes and take control first occurred to him. This was a monster that would not disappear once seen. It was a nightmare that could never be told vividly enough to make it go away. Seen or not seen, spoken of or not spoken of, touched or not touched, it was emerging inexorably into the world. Soon it would touch everyone, awaken that deepest part in them, too, and they would also be afraid.
As they drove to Detroit, everything Sam saw filled him with sick dread: the cars on the highway, the lakes and the rivers, the clouds, the rain, the broken asphalt, the trains stopped on their tracks. Just before they got out of the car to find Lucifer, as if in a dream, he suddenly understood the whisper, what it had been trying to tell him all this time: Look around, Sam Winchester
, it said. He looked, and he saw the world laid to waste. This is you.