West of House Recipient: zubeneschamaliRating:
It took me forever to pick from your wonderful prompts and once I decided, it took me another forever to get it done. I would have loved to have written this forever but my writing speed wouldn't allow it. Hopefully you'll enjoy the condensed version. ;)
“Oh, come on, don’t do this to me Baby,” Dean groans as the Impala sputters to a jerking halt along the edge of a dusty, pothole strewn road. “You and I spent some quality time just last weekend and you were purring like a kitten.”
“What’s the matter?” Sam sleepily blinks his eyes and rolls the kinks out of his neck, the hair smooshed flat against the right side of his face partially obscuring looping red lines imprinted from the sweatshirt he’d been using as a pillow. “Why’re we stopping?”
“Dunno.” Dean reaches out to muss Sam’s hair further. “But it’s past time you woke up because your beauty sleep is definitely not working.”
“Screw you,” Sam mutters, jerking his head away, mouth twisting into a reluctant grin when he catches sight of his reflection in the side mirror. “Could maybe use a comb.”
“Could maybe use a haircut,” Dean says, escaping out the driver’s side door inches in front of Sam’s swipe. By the time Sam’s dug his comb out of his duffle and joined Dean in the great outdoors, Dean’s got the hood popped and is staring at the Imapala’s workings in silence.
“Dean?” Sam recognizes his brother’s someone’s screwed with my car and they are going to be so fucking dead when I find them face and a shudder runs through him though he knows one hundred percent for sure that it can’t possibly be aimed at him this time. “What’s wrong?”
“Distributor cap’s missing.”
Dean grabs the back of Sam’s head and points it toward where the distributor cap should be. “It is.”
“But you can’t drive without a distributor cap.” Sam’s never going to be mechanic of the year, but he at least knows this.
“Are we driving, Sam?”
“No.” Sam matches Dean’s tone. “But we were driving until about two minutes ago. What could have happened to it?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Sammy. Witches? Pixies? Gremlins? Kelpies?” He turns in a wide circle staring at the endless waving stalks of late summer grasses surrounding them. “Whoever stole my God damn distributor cap better return it right now! If I have to come looking, someone’s ass is getting kicked.”
“Kelpies live in water, Dean.” Sam squints across the fields, half expecting some chastened gnome to come sprinting out of them, distributor cap in one sweating, outstretched hand. Dean obviously means business. Still, nothing stirs but multitudes of softly hued butterflies and the occasional trilling flutter of a bird across the sky. Sighing, he digs his phone out of his pocket and joins his brother in an ever widening spiral in search of a signal.
“No.” Sam blows out a breath. It’s been hours since they passed a house and the road has been as empty as Dean’s plate after his lumberjack breakfast this morning. Glancing up from the phone he catches a gleam of white from the corner of his eye. “Hey,” he says, getting Dean’s attention with a well placed pebble to the earlobe. “Due east, dude. Across the field. Looks like a house.”
Dean shades his eyes with his hand and leans forward an inch like the extra reach with aid his vision. “See a driveway?’
“Could be on the other side. We should check it out. They’ve probably still got a landline, with the suck ass service out here.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t see any telephone poles either, but maybe they’re on the other side of the trees.” Dean pops the Impala’s trunk and shoves a pair of shotguns, a pair of machetes and a variety of ordinance into the weapons duffle before slinging it over his shoulder. He grabs the tire iron and hefts it before slamming the trunk. “Shit. Sorry, baby,” he says, rubbing his hand over the dust coated finish.
The sun’s shining brightly and Sam’s grateful for the cool breeze drifting through his hair as he wades through the knee high grass. Dean strides along beside him, tire iron thwacking down broad swathes of browning stalks in his path.
“C’mon, man.” Sam grabs Dean’s arm, halting its motion mid swipe. “Cut it out, you’ll scare some poor rabbit to death.”
Dean grumpily pulls out of Sam’s grip, but his full swings turn into a more moderate parting of the way, grimacing when a grasshopper buzzes up into his face. “I hate nature, Sam. Have I mentioned that?”
“Once or twice,” Sam says with a grin. They’re approaching the house and the smile slides from Sam’s face. The yard they’re about to walk into hasn’t seen the blade of a mower in quite some time and the door facing them is covered with weathered plywood. “Crap. Doesn’t look like anyone’s been home for a while.”
“I don’t know,” Dean says. “We squatted in places like this a time or two in our lives. Still need to check it out.”
Sam nods with a sigh and is about to step into the yard when his phone buzzes in his pocket. “Jeez,” he says, digging down to pull it out. “Didn’t expect to get a signal here.”
Dean’s staring down at his own phone. “I still got nothing,” he mutters in annoyance. “Got enough bars to make a call?”
“Um.” Sam holds out his phone so Dean can see the words on the screen.
You are standing in an open field west of a white house with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Open the mailbox.
“What the hell?” Dean spins in a circle, reaching in vain for the gun that should be at the small of his back. “Sam, my gun’s gone.” He hefts the suddenly weightless duffle bag. “So are the rest of our weapons. Son of a bitch.”
Sam’s gaze wanders from his phone to the house to the mailbox, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. “I think I know what this is.”
“What what is,” Dean snaps, watching Sam walk toward the mailbox. “You’re not going to actually open that mailbox are you?”
“Yeah,” Sam says. “If this is what I think, I don’t really have to, but what the hell, might as well see.” He takes a deep breath, then pulls the door open. His phone buzzes again.
Welcome to Zork!
“Zork?” Dean’s peering over Sam’s arm. “What the hell is Zork?”
“It’s a game. A really old one.” Sam pinches the bridge of his nose and fights long suppressed memories that force their way through. “Jess and I played it off old floppy discs on her dad’s computer when we were on break from Stanford.”
“Floppy discs?” Dean’s tone is flippant but his hand is steady on Sam’s back and Sam leans into it gratefully. “So, some geriatric computer game is coming through your phone?” He turns to look across the field to where they left the Impala. “What the hell? Are you telling me HAL stole the distributor cap?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Sam says with a shrug.
“Bet it’s not.” He holds up his phone for Sam to see the blank screen. “What’s next?”
“Go south,” Sam says, leading the way around the house. The windows are covered with plywood.
“Is there going to be a lot of that?” Dean stares at Sam’s phone balefully. “Go this way, go that way?”
“Yeah,” says Sam. “That and giving you actual tasks is about all there is to it.”
“How about you just point us in a direction and tell me what to do when we get there. And there better be a hot Elf Princess with my distributor cap in her bra at the end, is all I’m saying.” Dean circles around the house and waits for Sam to catch up. He’s swinging his gaze between a window cracked open and a path leading off into the woods that back up to the yard when his brother rounds the corner. “More nature or some breaking and entering?”
“Through the window,” Sam says, inclining his head toward it. “Might be hard to open.”
“Yeah.” Dean grimaces at the rotted frame and curls his fingers under the splintered wood. Boot heels slip along the grass and his shoulder muscles bunch as he strains against the stubbornly stuck window. “C’mon, Sammy, gimme some help here, would you?”
Sam tucks his phone in his pocket and settles in to add his strength to his brother’s. Slowly, with a screech like a room full of cats who’d just had all their tails stepped on at once the window slides up enough for them to slide through.
They’re in a kitchen, small and dimly lit with just the light from the one dingy uncovered window. As Sam levers himself off the floor, Dean pokes around the edge of a brick passageway leading down through the floor. The rickety wooden table is covered with crumbs and vegetable peels. A brown paper bag and a glass bottle full of clear liquid sit in the center.
Dean circles around the table sniffing the air. “Something smells awesome,” he says, reaching for the bag. Sam smacks his hand and Dean pulls it back with an injured yelp. “What?”
“It doesn’t say to take the bag,” Sam says, grinning at Dean’s outraged look.
“So we might need it later. Come on.” Sam leads the way down a short hallway and into what his phone says is the living room.
“Shouldn’t we just be checking out the house before we follow phoneputergame there?” Dean casts a look back over his shoulder. “Someone’s obviously been here recently and they wouldn’t just leave something that smelled that awesome.”
“Dean,” Sam says with a sigh, wishing his brother had been just a tiny bit more of a geek. “Games like this are written to go just so. If someone is here we won’t run into them until the game’s ready for us to.”
“Games like this?” Dean asks mockingly. “You mean the ones that steal parts from your car and then make you follow stupid directions when you come looking for help?”
“Just like that,” Sam says, treading across a thickly padded braided rug covering the floor.
“Whoa,” Dean says, coming up alongside Sam. There’s an empty trophy case in front of them with a crystal bladed sword hanging on the wall over it. “Check out Gandalf’s sword!”
“No sword yet,” Sam says, grabbing a small battery powered lantern off the top of the case and handing it to his brother.
“I want the sword, Sam.”
Sam shoves the phone under Dean’s nose. “Lamp now, sword later. Probably. Now help me roll up this rug.
“Really?” Dean sighs but drops to his knees and lifts a corner of the rug. He and Sam grunt like weightlifters at a gym as they spin the heavy length into a roll they deposit against the far wall. Dean gestures at the barred square in the center of the floor. “Down the trapdoor I’m guessing?
Sam pulls back the latch in answer, and heaves the heavy wooden door open with a bang. Waving away the dust stirring through the air he stares at the decrepit ladder leaning against the rim.
Dean squats next to the opening and lowers the lantern into the darkness as far as his arms can reach. “Can’t see the bottom.” He grips the ladder and gives it a little shake, staring up at his brother. “Think it’ll hold us?”
“One way to find out,” Sam says. Dean rolls his eyes and gingerly maneuvers himself onto the ladder, holding the lantern low to light his way. Dean hollers when he reaches bottom and Sam starts down slowly, each step carefully placed, glow from his phone barely enough to see damp rock walls go by. When he reaches solid ground there’s a groaning slam from above as the trapdoor booms closed and the latches snick shut.
“Guess we’re not getting out that way.” Dean slaps Sam across the belly with the back of his hand. “Told you we should have checked the house.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sam says, glancing around the room. “What are you doing?”
Dean grins and takes another run at a smooth metal ramp making up the far wall. It’s too steep to climb but he gets further up it than Sam would have given him credit for before sliding back down.
“Remember when I was, like, the world champion slide climber on all the playgrounds I used to take you to when you were little?
“I remember us getting kicked out of every playground you took me to when I was little, if that’s what you mean.” Sam checks out the two other exits from the room and sighs. “This way.”
“What way? Through that crawlspace? Come on, Sam.”
Sam’s not looking forward to having Dean’s butt inches from his face while they traverse the low tunnel any more than Dean’s looking forward to crawling through it, but the game goes where the game goes. Narrowing his eyes, he points at the tunnel.
Dean mutters under his breath but he slowly lowers himself down to all settle on his knees and one arm as he scuttles forward, lantern held out in front. Sam gives Dean a good lead, but there’s no way to avoid the noxious emanations of his brother’s spicy breakfast sausage in the stifling passage.
“Ugh, Dean, cut it out!” Sam chokes and ducks his head in the face of his brother’s gas attack. Dean just laughs and continues his invisible, mostly silent assault until he crawls out of the tunnel into a long narrow room. He clears the deck immediately for Sam, rolling his shoulders and surreptitiously rubbing his achy knees. Sam drags himself out and collapses on the ground for a moment with a beleaguered groan. The air is stale but odor free and Sam sucks it down in gulps.
“What do you suppose this place is?” Dean’s prowling the edges of the room, lantern held high to look at engraved plates on the wall. “View from the Frigid River? The Tomb of Ramses? “Hades?”
“Art Gallery,” Sam says, glancing at the phone. “Apparently we’re supposed to steal a picture.”
“Pretty slim pickings,” Dean says, walking by empty space after empty space along the wall. “Was wondering if we were the first to get sucked in here.”
“It’s going to have to replenish after we leave.” Sam wanders down the gallery to the one painting remaining at the far end. It’s a small, maybe twelve by twelve rendering of a gauzy, river spanning rainbow in a delicate gold frame engraved with sunbeams. Sam stares at the gorgeously realistic art, almost hearing the rush of water and the feel of river spray on his face. Blowing out a breath he shakes his head. Next time they’re in the vicinity of a museum he’s going and dragging Dean along too.
“Nice,” Dean says, coming up alongside his brother and plucking the painting from the wall. “Art thieves; cool. Maybe they’ll make a movie about us.”
Sam snorts and heads down a short hallway into a room that appears to be a painter’s studio. Easels are scattered around the floor and paint spatter coats the entire surface.
“Damn, looks like an entire Sherwin Williams exploded in here.” Dean laughs and elbows Sam who’s busy scowling at his phone. “What?”
“Our way out,” Sam says pointing his chin toward a cold fireplace on the far wall.
“Cool. Is there a stone you push in to turn it around into a secret passage?
“Up the chimney.”
“Say what, now? How am I supposed to climb a chimney holding a lantern and a painting?”
Sam tucks his phone in his pocket and grabs the painting from Dean’s hand. “You go first with the lantern, I’ll follow.
Dean grimaces but ducks inside the smoke blackened stone arch and hold the lantern above his head, peering up. “I see light up there, hard to say how narrow it gets. If I get stuck I’m haunting your ass.” He heaves a muffled sigh and reaches up, planting his boots on any outcrop of rock and disappears up the chimney.
Sam gives him a few minutes and then follows, figuring the lack of light won’t matter as the only way to go is up. He can hear Dean’s careful movements above him, catching flashes of the lantern when his brother moves. “Hey, how’s it look up there. You going to fit?”
“No problem, Sammy. Even your Sasquatch ass will squeeze through. Just about there…” There’s a scrabbling sound as Dean maneuvers his way out and seconds later, his face appears, bathed in lantern light. “Here.” Dean reaches down and Sam hands him the painting. A few more feet and Dean’s pulling his brother over the lip of the chimney and back into the kitchen they’d started out in.
Sam sits for a moment working the kinks out of his hand while Dean circles the table, menacing the lunch bag. “All right,” he says, levering himself to his feet, “up to the attic.”
Dean gives the bag a lecherous look but follows his brother up the stairs. The attic’s mostly empty like the rest of the place, above ground anyway, but there’s a table in the middle of the floor with a knife on it and a coil of rope in the corner. A window remains uncovered and Sam takes a minute to stare out across the field to where the Impala’s waiting for them. Dean joins him, turning the knife in his hand over thoughtfully.
“This is a bad ass knife,” he says, hefting the oversized, ridged blade, a
32nd tracing the inscriptions on the handle. “Not sure what it says, but I bet it’s got some mojo.” Sam grabs the rope and they head back down the stairs.
Back in the living room, Sam opens the trophy case and carefully places the painting inside. Dean’s still staring wistfully at the sword on the wall and Sam grins.
“Okay, Dean, drop the knife.”
“Drop the knife? I just got the knife!”
“Yeah, but…” Sam inclines his head toward the sword and laughs outright as Dean’s face lights up. Dean doesn’t drop the knife, that would be bad weapons protocol but he places it gently on the floor before lifting the sword from its rack. The grip is tarnished bronze with a ruby the size of an egg embedded. Dean pulls out the hem of his overshirt and wipes dust from the crystal blade.
“Oh, man, this is awesome.” Dean steps away from Sam and brandishes the sword, whirling around the room parrying and thrusting. “Hey, so, if I can’t take the knife, can you take it? I mean the more weapons the merrier, Sam. And if we’ve got weapons stands to reason there’ll be something to fight, right?”
“More than likely,” Sam says, flipping the knife into his hand before pulling open the trapdoor again. “Once more into the breach.”
This time they take a narrow passage off the main chamber, Dean leading the way with the sword held out in front. Its faint glow brightens as they move along, and Dean’s in heaven.
“Check his out,” he says as they wend their way through the damp stone scraping at their shoulders. “The brighter it gets the closer we’re getting to …something, right?”
Sam grins and nods as Dean turns back to face him for a moment, features illuminated by the blue-white light of the sword. His brother’s face carried the peculiarly Dean expression of childlike delight in a new weapon combined with the burning desire to violently kill something with it. Sam almost pities whatever that thing turns out to be.
“Weird stuff on the walls here.” Dean holds up the lantern and the sword and Sam can see deep gouges in the rock. A few steps further bring them into smallish room with walls covered with deep, blood stained scars. The sword’s glowing with such incandescence that they should be wearing shades. Dean places the lantern on the ground and inclines his head toward the far side of the room. “Sam, what’s that?”
Sam tilts his head as he stares at the tall, broadly muscled figure across the room. Beady red eyes under protruding fleshly brows stare back at him and strongly corded grey arms lead to oversized hands holding a bloody two headed axe. Sam’s never seen anything like it in his life. “Uh,” he says, looking down at his phone. “Troll.”
“Awesome,” Dean breathes and Sam knows he means it. Dean’s always wanted to go up against a troll. “Come and get it, you ugly mother.”
Sam circles left and Dean right, while the troll’s gaze flicks back and forth between them. It’s probably never had two opponents before, but with the room as small as it is, it could take them both out with one swing of the axe if they’re not careful. The troll leans Sam’s way and Dean lunges forward with a roar, rolling under the swing of the axe. The troll is quicker than it looks though and it comes around for another swing, axe handle catching Dean across his ribcage.
“Shit.” Sam comes in low behind the troll, knife blade flashing, praying trolls have tendons in all the right places. Thick, greenish gray ooze sprays from the troll’s calves and it bellows as it falls to its knees. Sam grabs the axe and slides it across the floor as Dean rises to his feet.
“Later, tater,” Dean says as he sweeps the troll’s head clean off with the sword. A black mist swirls around the troll’s body and Dean grabs Sam’s arm and pulls him back to the tunnel entrance. The darkness flows into a crack in the wall and disappears and where the troll’s body had been is a bracelet, shining with diamonds and sapphires. Dean scoops it up and slips it into his pocket.
“Yeah.” Sam nods, running his hand down Dean’s ribs. “You okay? Took a pretty good shot, there.”
Dean grimaces and rolls his shoulders. “I’ll live. Probably. Do we get new lives if we die in here like in regular video games?”
““Let’s not find out,” says Sam. “He looks at his brother and sighs. “You have to leave the sword here, Dean.”
“Noooo,” Dean moans, carefully wiping the blood off of the blade onto his jeans. “Dude, I just got it!”
“We’re not far from the trapdoor here, Dean. Maybe we can pop down and get it before we go.
“All right.” Dean drops the sword and picks up the lantern. “Speaking of going, how much more do we have to do?”
“No idea,” Sam says with a shrug.
“What do you mean, no idea? I thought you played this game with Jess?”
Sam looks down and even in the dim light, Dean can see a slight flush under his downcast eyes. “Yeah, well, we never finished it. It was long and there were better games by then and, well, we had, um, other things to do.”
“Oh,” Dean says, and lets it go. Carefully setting the sword down, he runs a hand across Sam’s bunched shoulders. “Okay, Sammy, let’s go.
The next passage drops them out at one edge of a large dome, sturdy wooden railing the only thing between them and a long drop to the floor below. The dome disappears into the rock twenty feet down on either side of them. Sam ducks his head under the coil of rope draped over his shoulder and ties one end to the railing, sending the rest cascading down. Sam goes first, stepping over the railing and pulling a length of rope into his hands. Rocking back off the balcony, he drops down, swinging under the dome and lowering himself to the floor. Dean nods approval at his technique, hooks the lantern to his belt and shimmies his own way down after Sam is on the ground.
“Well, that’s cool.” The room’s empty except for a marble table with an burning ivory torch on it. “We takin’ it?”
Sam’s over by the east wall, staring up at complex runes spanning an arch over a wide stairway headed down. “Not yet,” he calls over, “we’re headed down here first.”
“Can you read that?” Dean cranes his neck to look up at the weird, jumbled symbols.
Sam shakes his head, “It’s got a few familiar glyphs, but most of it is gibberish.
“It’ll suck when we need to read it to do something then.” Dean shrugs and trots through the arch down the stairs hewn into the granite of the chamber. Wooden torches line the staircase at irregular intervals, hissing and crackling in their dark metal sconces. The descent turns into a race, each pushing past and running the other into the wall at every opportunity. Sam shoulder checks Dean into the granite hewn lintel at the last stair and throws himself into the chamber first.
“Shit!” Unable to halt his forward momentum, Sam manages to twist to the side just far enough to evade the ebony tip of the spear gripped in the hands of a seven foot tall statue a few feet inside the door. He crashes to a halt, falling forward as his shins solidly connect with a low sandstone platform. “Ow.”
“Smooth move, Baryshnikov.” Dean grabs Sam’s upper arm to help him up and guides him to an obsidian bench, bookended with wax sealed urns.
“Shut up,” Sam says, staring at his brother balefully while he rubs his abused legs. “Ow.”
Dean gently presses a finger against the point of the spear- a drop of blood beads before dripping onto the floor. “Good thing your oversized body mass doesn’t mean you’re not quick on your feet. Would have been a good test of that extra life thing.”
“Yeah,” Sam says, getting to his feet with a hiss and limping across the room. “Because that would be something new and unexpected, right?”
Dean huffs a laugh and grips the handle of the spear, trying unsuccessfully to pull it from the statue’s grasp. His gaze travels around the room, stopping at the narrow dog head sitting atop the shoulders of the statue in front of him. “So, is Anubis, here, telling me that this is the ancient Egypt phase of the quest? Will there be mummies?” He gives Sam a wounded look. “’Cause, you know, I don’t have a sword anymore.”
“Quit whining,” Sam says, peering into an alcove tucked into the far corner of the room. “Or, maybe don’t. Come check this out.”
“Holy crap. A toddler mummy? I mean, the Lon Chaney version would never fit in that.”
Sam runs his fingers along the small but severe face carved into the child sized sarcophagus. “Well, that’s probably a good thing because I’m told we’re taking it with us.”
“Sam, that thing looks like solid gold. How’re we going to haul it around with us? Back up those stairs? No way!”
“Fine.” Sam waves his phone in front of Dean’s face, then leans one shoulder against the wall and folds his arms. “We’ll just stay here, then. I’m sure someone will come along eventually and tow the Impala to the nearest town where she’ll sit in impound until…”
“Fine,” Dean glares at Sam. “We each take an end. Between the two of us, we should be able to carry it.
“Just pick it up, Dean. We’re in a damn computer game. If one person couldn’t carry it, it wouldn’t be what we’re taking.”
“O.K.,” Dean says between gritted teeth. “But if I herniate something, you’ll be carrying us both.”
Sam smirks and raises an eyebrow as Dean scowls and wraps his arms around the golden coffin. He laughs outright as Dean straightens up with a groan, overbalancing and staggering backwards a few steps, obviously expecting something heavier. Dean catches Sam’s amusement and rearranges the bulk in his arms so both raised middle fingers are clearly in his brother’s view.
“You alright?” Sam asks, voice dripping with fake concern. “Herniate anything?”
Dean raises his chin, straightens his shoulders and with every bit of dignity he can muster turns on his heel and heads for the stairs. When Sam catches up, Dean has tucked the sarcophagus under one arm and is taking the steps two at a time.
“Oh, what the hell,” Sam says, as his phone buzzes. Dean raises his head from where he’s slumped against the wall, feet propped on the sarcophagus.
“Telling you the directions to a Motel 6?” Dean rubs the back of his hand across his eyelids. “Maybe a Biggersons? Don’t these things take hunger into account?”
“Sometimes,” Sam mutters. “Are you actually hungry?”
“I could always eat. But, no. Not really.” Dean stretches his arms up over his head and rolls his shoulders. “Not really tired either. Just feels like enough time has passed that I should be, you know?” So, what is it saying?”
“Pray.” Sam stares up at the indecipherable letters above the archway.
“Oh, God damn it.”
Sam looks over at Dean and laughs. “Yeah, don’t think that’s gonna cut it.”
“Well you’re the expert on praying in this family. Wing it.”
“You’re the expert on winging it.”
“Seriously? Alright, you asked for it. Uh, Chuck?” Dean ignores Sam’s snort, folds his hands over his knees and bows his head. “How ya doin’? Trip around the universe going well? Hope so. Say hello to Amara for me. Anyway, Sam and I are stuck in the craptastic computer game and our next prompt is to pray. Not sure exactly why we’re praying, but if you could see your way to sending a distributor cap our way it would be much appreciated. Or, you know, figure out whatever it is this stupid thing expects us to be praying for…” The ten seconds of silence following his words stretch to thirty before Dean feels a wave of affection, annoyance and amusement wash over him and the granite walls of the room dissolve around them, leaving them in fresh, clean air in a clearing amidst a thick forest of trees.
“Hey,” Dean yells, “where’s my distributor cap, asshole?”
“I can’t believe that worked.” Sam shakes his head in disbelief.
Dean extends a hand up to his brother from his position flat on his back in a bed of leaves. “Winging it is a lifestyle, grasshopper. Embrace it.”
Sunlight filters through the breeze ruffled canopy of branches over their head, dappling the wandering path they’re following with an elaborate dance of sun and shadow. Their way is wide and clear and soft with the detritus of eons of fallen leaves.
Dean pads along beside Sam, rolling the sarcophagus from arm to arm every mile or so to rest. He eyes the surrounding forest warily, gaze straining to see into the dimly lit spaces between the trees. “Is it weird that all the trees look the same? And it never gets dark? And that we haven’t seen a single bird or chipmunk since we’ve been here?” Sam blinks at Dean like he’d forgotten he was there and Dean can almost see his brother rewind to process his words.
“Ah, no, not really.” Sam runs a hand through his hair and shakes his head. “It’s a really old game. Code for this sort of stuff was really basic back then. I’ve seen more modern updates but this one is pretty much the original. I mean, I wasn’t even born when it came out.”
“Makes sense, I guess.” Dean shrugs uncomfortably. “I never got beyond Pac-Man or Galaga at the arcade, so what do I know?”
“Yeah.” Sam says with a grin. “But you sure know your way around a computer now. At your current skill level you can hack law enforcement and surf anime porn with the best of them.”
Dean purses his lips and nods thoughtfully. “Damn straight.
The trees begin to thin after about a million hours and the path abruptly ends on the rocky bank of a wildly flowing river. Dean sets the sarcophagus down and plants his rear on it, arms crossed as he scowls at the water. “Tell me we don’t have to cross that.”
“We don’t have to cross that.”
“Good,” Dean says, pleased expression fading as he gives a brief glance upstream and then downstream. “So which pain in the ass way are we going?”
Sam points upstream to a waterfall pouring over a towering cliff. A steep, narrow path leads up the rocky slope to the falls. “Chasing the rainbow,” he says.
Dean looks down at the sarcophagus then up the boulder strewn path. “Don’t suppose I could just leave this here and pick it up on the way back?”
“Might not be back this way,” Sam says. “You getting tired? I can take it for a while.”
Dean eyes the steepness of the path, the unsure footing and the distance to the top. “Nah,” he says. “I’ve got it.”
Sam insists Dean go first, following closely to catch him if he slips. Dean tucks his burden under his outside arm so he’s got the hand nearest the solid outcrops of rock free. He only slips once, near the top where the rocks are slick with spray from the thundering falls. Sam wraps his arm around a solid pillar of stone and grabs Dean’s outstretched hand as he’s sliding toward the edge. He grits his teeth and feels his bicep pop as Dean scrambles to get his feet under him and skitters back onto the path.”
“Thanks, Sammy,” Dean takes a moment to calm his pounding heart, then slowly, setting his boots on the driest spots he can find, makes his way to the top. The terrain levels out at the top and he’s able to back a few yards from the edge to catch his breath. Craning his neck, he traces the path of the gauzy, mist shrouded rainbow arching over the falls. “Let me guess. It’s lighter than it looks and we’ll drag it back to the trophy case with us.”
“No,” Sam says with a wistful smile. “I remember this part. Drop the sarcophagus.”
Dean steps even further back from the edge in case the thing’s got some weird bouncing properties and lets it fall. The lid pops open and Sam has to grab his brother’s arm again to keep him from going over the cliff. When no miniscule figure covered in rotting bandages creaks out, Dean creeps closer and peers inside. “Son of a bitch,” he mutters picking up a needle sharp golden scepter inlaid with red and black enamel. He looks at Sam hopefully. “You could skewer someone with this thing.”
“Not for skewering,” Sam says before pursing his lips. “Well, not as far as I know.”
“So, what do I do?”
“Wave it.” Sam makes a little pushing, swirling motion with his clenched fist. Dean just stares at him quizzically.
“Say what, now?”
“Wave it. You know, like a wizard’s wand.” When Dean still hesitates, Sam rolls his eyes. “I know you’ve seen Harry Potter, Dean.”
“Have not,” Dean mutters, but he really has. He’s seen all the movies. More than once, not that Sam’s ever going to find out. Straightening out his shoulders and sucking in his gut, because posture is everything in spell casting, he moves the wand in an intricate pattern that would make Hermione proud. The rainbow shifts and solidifies, smooth arch become a blocky pattern of stairs, with a heavy, brilliantly colored railing rising up and over to the other side. Something glitters in the sunlight at the base of the stairs across the water and Dean sighs and squeezes the bridge of his nose. “Should we flip a coin to see who gets to cross the ROY G BIV bridge to pick up the pot of gold?” He stares at the sarcophagus. “Or do we both have to go?”
Cross the bridge and bring back the gold
“I’ll go get it and bring it back. You stay here and take it easy.” Sam’s long legs eat up the steps as he lopes up the colors of the spectrum and down the other side. Shiny gold coins spill over the side of the small brass bucket onto the grassy riverbank on this side of the falls. Sam picks one up and turns it over and over between his fingers. He really doesn’t remember much about this game but now a memory is drilling out of his subconscious of Jess with her sunshine smile telling him their relationship was her pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Pain flares through his chest and he drops to his knees, tears leaking down his cheeks. He can feel Dean’s gaze burning into his back and he knows his brother will be halfway up the arch in another second or two so he covers by sweeping the some of the spilled gold back into the pot and stuffing the overflow into his pocket. A few deep breaths and the pain in his chest settles down to a dull ache. He’s had lots of practice shutting down devastating memories. Swiping his sleeve across his face, he gathers up the gold and heads back over the staircase.
Dean’s not halfway over, but he is waiting for Sam as soon as he hits the bottom step. “You okay,?” he says, staring intently into Sam’s face.
“Fine,” Sam says, knowing Dean will see the lie. Sam’s a messy crier and his red eyes are giving him away. “Some sort of weird pollen over there. Must have kicked up an allergy or something.”
“Yeah, okay,” Dean says, obviously not believing a word. “Thought some damn leprechaun might have got at you for stealing his lucky charms.”
“Yeah, we wish the little bastards were that cute and cuddly.” Sam consults his phone. “Sorry about this, but we have to go back down to where we started.”
“Son of a bitch.” Dean gathers up his treasure and makes his way back down the trail without mishap, Sam trailing cautiously in his wake..
The trek leads them back through the wood of identical, silent trees and Dean not any happier this time around. “Couldn’t be some frogs? Grasshoppers? Maybe just one deer to follow us along?” He glares balefully down the path. “It’s creepy.”
“It’s peaceful,” Sam says. He likes the quiet; it helps him sort through things in his mind.
“It’s peaceful when you’re dead.” Dean stops and backs that up a little. “Generally speaking. By experience, you know, that doesn’t apply to us.”
Sam just shakes his head at the thought of a serene afterlife and walks on, thoughts a decade away.
Dean’s about to open the sarcophagus and stab himself through the eyeball with the scepter from boredom when the path opens out into the yard behind the white house. “Oh, thank Christ.” Dean leans the sarcophagus against the shingled wall and shimmies his way through the window. Sam hands the gold to Dean, hoists the sarcophagus over the lintel and scrambles up himself. Dean’s about to walk by the table into the living room when Sam brings him up short.
“Hey, guess what? You get to open the lunch bag now.”
Dean pivots so quickly he probably sprains something and tears open the top of the bag. He groans as the mouthwatering aroma of beef and hot peppers fills his nostrils. He reaches in to grab one of the paper wrapped sandwiches when Sam grabs his arm.
“Shit. Sorry.” Sam shoots his brother an apologetic look. “Um, you can only take the garlic.”
“The garlic?” Dean pulls the bag open wider and roots around under the sandwiches. He pulls out a bulb of unpeeled garlic and, wrinkling his nose, holds it out to Sam. “You take the stinky garlic. Why do we need stinky garlic?”
“No idea,” Sam says, tossing the bulb up in the air and catching it. “Guess we’ll find out.” His mouth twists up as Dean stares longingly at the sandwiches. “You hungry now?”
“No,” Dean says morosely. “But damn, they smell good.”
“Probably just as well you don’t eat one. Know how some legends get you trapped in a dimension where you eat the food? I know you don’t want to get stuck here.” Sam can see Dean thinking about it and he struggles not to laugh.
“Yeah, that would suck.” Dean stomps into the living room, dragging the sarcophagus behind him. He shoves the sarcophagus and the scepter into the trophy case and digs the bracelet out of his pocket, dropping it on the top shelf. Sam carefully places the heavy pot of gold next to the scepter and checks off each item from the list on his phone.
“We’re supposed to have a brass bauble too. We must have missed something.”
“A brass bauble? What the hell’s a bauble?”
“It’s kind of a decorative thing, I guess.” Sam looks around desperately like it might be in the room somewhere. “Ow!”
“There’s something sharp in my pocket.” Sam digs deep and comes out with a small paper wrapped object.
“What is it?” Dean hovers as a small brass figuring of an owl is unwrapped and Sam wordlessly hands him the paper it was wrapped in. “Don’t say I never gave you anything. Chuck. Son of a bitch. Could have just given us a damn distributor cap!”
Sam puts the tiny owl next to the bracelet and glares despondently at the trapdoor. “Ah, hell,” he says as he starts down the ladder again.
Dean makes a move for the crystal sword as they pass through the room where they’d killed the troll. “How about it, Sam? You can have the axe.” He attempts an approximation of Sam’s puppy dog eyes that fails miserably.
The maze of tunnels goes more quickly this second time around and soon they’re sliding down the rope into the granite walled room. Sam takes the marble torch from the table and heads past the stairs to the Egyptian tomb and through a passage at the north end of the room.
“Well, this looks charming.” The hair is standing up on Dean’s neck and there’s a faint smell of rot in the stale, musty air.
A black altar stretches along one wall of the room. A pair of dark red tapers flicker in silver candlesticks on either side of an open book. A brass bell atop a tall pillar sits next to a narrow hole leading down through the rock at the far end. Dean leans over it with the lantern, gagging as the rancid odor wafts on a current of cold air out of the darkness.
Sam’s flipping pages in the book, finger holding the place it had been open to. “It’s a grimoire,” he says as Dean comes up to peer around him.
“My spidey sense wasn’t tingling for nothing.” Dean looks more closely. “At least this one has recognizable language.” He grins at Sam. “Something a little more up our alley than rainbows.”
Sam scoops up the book and one of the candles, motioning for Dean to take the other. As he passes the pillar he scoops up the bell. Choking out a cough as he bends over the opening he drops the torch, watching it sputter through the air until it hits bottom. “Not too bad.”
“Gonna be a bitch getting down with these candles.” Dean hooks the lantern on his belt, tightens the candle in a death grip and begins the short climb down. The passage is too narrow to get a glimpse of anything waiting below and when he gets to the point where his foot swings out into open air, he drops down, landing in a defensive crouch. He picks up the torch and steps just to the side, keeping an eye on Sam’s big feet as they carefully search out indentations in the rock. When Sam’s ready to jump, Dean squeezes back against the wall. The cave is so tiny Sam would land on him otherwise and Dean would rather not be set on fire if the candle Sam’s holding tilts the wrong way. There’s an arch in front of them, between passages to the right and left. When Sam’s beside him, Dean lifts the torch and the candle and starts down the dark, fetid stairway into the depths of the earth.
The stairway twists and turns downward torch and candle light swallowed by the oppressive dark. Sam’s tucked the book under his arm and has the hem of his flannel shirt pulled over his lower face to block out the stench. Dean would love to emulate him but with both hands full of flames he’s got to suffer through it. As they descend further a high pitched wailing reaches their ears, sending chills down both their spines.
“Think that’s the wind?” Dean asks hopefully, though he’s sure it isn’t.
“No,” says Sam through clenched teeth.
The last curve in the stairwell brings them just short of a large gateway. The heavy metal gates stand open and the brothers read the inscription on the arch together.
“Well, hell,” Dean says with a grimace.
Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here
Sam stares through the gate into the flame red light of the desolation beyond it. The sound they’ve been hearing, now washing over him and Dean in eardrum shattering waves, springs from the demolished throats of a thousand wraiths gathered to block their way. Sam can feel the blood drain from his face as his pulse pounds like his heart will burst. He chances a quick glance at Dean to see him in the same condition, pupils wide as his breath comes in short bursts. Both of them are far too familiar with the noises of the pit.
“What does it say, Sam?” Dean’s voice is low and gasping, and Sam can barely hear him. “What does it say to do?”
“Right,” Sam says breathlessly, flipping out his phone. “Right.” He pulls the bell out of pocket and rings it once, it’s clear peal cutting through the cacophony assaulting them. The bell blazes with heat, burning red hot in Sam’s hand and he drops it to the ground with a stifled cry. The wraiths turn to face them, eyes burning red in pallid, grey faces. The candles flare as Sam cradles the grimoire on his injured hand and begins to read. “Exorcizamus te, omnis immudis…” Dean speaks the words along with his brother, neither needing the book after the first few words made clear the spell. They reach the last word together on a shout and as Sam drops the book the spirits flee, still wailing to disappear into the rock.
“Dude, are you okay?” Dean pulls Sam’s hand open, wincing at the dark red weal burned across his palm.
“I’ll live,” Sam says in a strained voice. He pulls the knife from his belt and cuts a strip of cloth from his shirt. Dean wraps it around his hand and ties it off as gently as he can.
There are bodies stacked inside the gate, faces frozen in grimaces of terror and in various stages of decay. The wailing still goes on in the background. Softer now, more sorrow than rage.
“Maybe it’s a good thing this place caught us,” Dean says, meeting Sam’s eyes soberly. “Because, unlike these poor bastards, we’re going to make it out. And when we do, it’s over.”
Sam nods, mouth set in grim determination. “Over.”
The rows of corpses go on and on. Sam and Dean stalk by them, candles and torch flickering against the red glow of flames from recesses deep in the rock. When they reach the far end of the cavern, a crystal skull grins nastily up at them from an outcrop inches from the floor.
Dean squats in front of it, angling his head to check it from every angle. He picks it up and stares into its empty eye sockets. There’s a Hamlet joke here somewhere, but he’s in no mood to make it. He slams the skull into his pocket and follows his brother back through the charnel house of weeping souls that should in no way be part of any game.
The bell is still glowing red and Dean boots it violently to the side as he passes through the gates. He takes a few deep breath, forcing the rage down, banking it for later. Beside him he knows Sam is doing the same. Sam shakes the hair out of his face, pulls out his phone and leads the way into the next tunnel.
“Any chance we can pray our way back to the woods again?” The passageways are low and narrow and Dean feels like the weight of the entire planet is pressing down on him.
Sam huffs a sympathetic laugh. “Maybe. We do what we’re told to do.”
“Yeah, screw that,” Dean growls but he sighs afterward because for the most part, Sam’s right. Until they reach whatever end the game has in store for them, they’re well and truly stuck.
They slow their pace when the sound of their footsteps falling on the rock is joined by a rustling sound, echoing down the tunnel in front of them. The passage goes on for another few yards, then opens into a cavern slightly longer than it is wide with a ceiling arching high overhead. Moving further into the room, Sam lifts the torch high, trying to make out a small object on the far side of the room. He’s just made out that it’s a small jade figurine of a lion when the rustling sound gets louder. He ducks when he realizes it’s right over his head and scrambles backwards a few yards, pulling Dean with him.
“What the hell is that thing?” Sam twist his head sideways to get a better angle. “A bat?”
At the sound of Sam’s voice tennis ball sized eyes blink open, pupil a catlike slit at the center. The wing obscuring the rest of the creature’s face slides back into place and with no notice the bat’s dropping down on top of them. Sam waves the torch in its face and it banks just enough to give them time to get back to the tunnel. Once they’re inside the bat loses interest, flying back to its inverted perch and again covering its face with a wing.
“Is that how bats usually hang?” Dean scowls at the creature. “Why’s it doing that?”
“I don’t know,” says Sam. “But we’ve got to figure out a way to get that lion.” He rubs a sweaty palm across his chest to dry it only to run it across an already soaked spot from where he’d drooled on it while covering his face on the trip down to the pit.
“Okay, how. Maybe I can distract it…”
“It’s a vampire bat,” Sam says, running his fingers around the dampness on his shirt. “So…the stinky garlic?”
“It’s not real, Dean. Maybe garlic does.” Sam digs the garlic out of his pocket and slices it in half with his knife. Handing half to Dean he strides out of the tunnel, holding his part of the bulb in front of him. The bat squeaks wildly, folding both wings over its face and Dean scurries across the cave to grab the jade figurine. Tossing the garlic on the floor behind them, they sprint through an archway at the far end of the cave.
There’s a small railroad track running down the center of the tunnel going forward with wheeled coal carts sitting on it at intervals. Pickaxes and shovels lean against the walls and Dean’s pretty sure he’d find some dynamite around if he looked hard enough. They’re circling down again, through passages held up by thick wooden crossbeams.
“Suppose we’ll find Sissy Spacek down here?” Dean elbows Sam with a grin.
Sam rolls his eyes and shakes his head, holding the torch in front of them, while Dean peers around the lantern’s dimmer glow.
The tunnel goes on and on until they come to the end of the line. A small bag of coal and a thin screwdriver lay on the ground in front of them.
“Jeez,” Dean bitches. “We came all this way for a bag of coal? What the hell.”
Sam scoops up the coal and hands the screwdriver to Dean. “It’ll look great in the case next to the sapphires.
The way back is long and steep and Dean’s getting cranky from being stuck in dank, closed in tunnels. Sam tunes out his constant litany of complaints and concentrates on putting one foot in front of the other. After a mile or ten Sam makes a hard left into a new tunnel with a ladder leading up a story or two. It’s different enough to mollify Dean for a nanosecond and Sam will take it. The ladder lets them out into a large room, brightly lit with floor to ceiling glass walls.
“This is more like it,” Dean says, wandering over to look out the window at a scintillating view of igneous rock. There’s a cluster of machinery across the way and Sam’s poking around it like the geek that he is. Dean moseys over to join him. “Found something to be a nerd with here?”
“Just following directions,” Sam says wearily and Dean can empathize. He’s not tired, he‘s not hungry, he’s just drained.
Sam opens the top of one of the machine, drops the bag of coal into it and clangs the lid closed. “Screwdriver,” he says, holding out his hand.
“Yes, doctor,” Dean says with a small grin, slapping the tool into Sam’s palm.
“Jerk,” Sam says, jiggling the tip of the screwdriver into a narrow slot on the top of the machine. With a flick of his wrist the machine whirs to life, brightly colored lights flashing on the huge control panel.
Dean stares at the flashing lights, almost hypnotized by them after the monotonous grey of the tunnels. “Looks like the aliens are about to show up in Close Encounters. Aliens would be cool. Maybe the next game we get stuck in can have some, what do you think?”
“Sure.” Sam watches the lights slow their manic pattern and then stop. He opens the machine and pulls out a diamond the size of his fist.
“Holy crap,” Dean says with a whistle. “That’d make some girl really happy. Or some fence.”
“Yeah,” Sam says, rubbing his thumb over the stone’s glittering multifaceted side. “I’m sure it would.” He stuffs the diamond in his pocket and is down the ladder and back in the mine before Dean can speak.
They’d been almost to the top when the side trip to the coal tumbler took place so it isn’t long before the trail levels out and they come to the end of the path. Dean stares at what comes next then grins at Sam with unconcealed glee.
“It’s the top of the slide, Sam.”
“I can see that.”
“Looks pretty steep.”
“I can see that too.”
Dean pats his pockets, securing the skull and the jade lion before raising an eyebrow at his brother. “You going to take that torch down?”
“Got to,” Sam says. “Probably going to need it before we’re done here.
“Yeah.” Dean nods, sobering up for a nanosecond before he jumps onto the slide with joyous yell.
Sam listens to the sound of his brother’s voice receding into the distance before settling the torch out to the side and setting off himself. The ride’s not straight down as he feared, but full of twists and turns like a rollercoaster in an amusement park. The last bit of descent is almost straight down though and Sam hits hard, landing on his feet but rolling forward with the momentum. He ends up flat on his back, staring up at Dean who’s got his back pressed against the wall, face blank and guarded. Sam follows the direction of Dean’s stare and scrambles to his feet, torch held out in front of him and goes to stand beside his brother.
The man blocking the path to the ladder is tall; somewhere between Sam’s height and Dean’s. He thin, though, lanky, with long straw colored hair under a burgundy slouch hat. There’s a leather satchel slung over his shoulder. Dean’s got his gaze locked on the other man’s eyes. Sam keeps his attention on the thin stiletto in the man’s hand.
“Appreciate it if you’d let us pass.” Dean’s tone makes it clear that he’ll be passing whether the man lets him or not.
“You have some things that belong to me.” The voice is soft but sharp, with a rolling accent Sam can’t place.
“Finders keepers.” Sam gives the man a friendly smile. “And we need this stuff to finish the game.”
“No one finishes.”
“Yeah.” Dean’s voice is dark. “We noticed. But we’re going to beat you.”
“No one finishes.”
“We’re the exception to lots of rules.” Sam pulls the knife out of his belt as his smile sharpens. “You should probably let us by.”
“You should stay,” the man says, cocking his head and staring at Sam. “You have memories here.” Before a stunned Sam can respond the man makes a move like an adder, whipping across the floor, knife ready strike. Dean ducks under the first blow, spinning him Sam’s way for a left cross to the chin. The punch dazes him and the falls to his knees. Sam is there to plunge his knife through the man’s throat, carefully stepping back to avoid the spray of blood.
“No one finishes.” Dying lips shape the words soundlessly.
“We do.” Dean kicks the stiletto away. “You son of a bitch.”
The body shimmers, then vanishes, leaving a jeweled scarab behind. Dean grabs it and scurries up the ladder, Sam right behind him.
Dean puts the skull and the lion beside the pot of gold and finds a spot for the scarab next to the brass bauble. Sam lingers over the diamond for a moment, holding it gently in the palm of his hand before placing it alongside the scepter.
“Well, that’s all of it.” Dean looks around expectantly. “See the distributor cap anywhere?”
Sam shakes his head. “No.”
“Oh, come on, you son of a bitchin’ game! What the hell.”
“Dean.” Sam points at the trophy case where the scarab is trying to decide if it’s going to be a jeweled beetle or a greasy bit of machinery from under a car’s hood. The Impala wins out as Dean has no doubt she always will. He grabs his prize before it can decide to turn back.
“Let’s get out of here.”
Sam nods and sets the rolled up rug alight with the torch. On the way through the kitchen he sets the table ablaze and drops the torch on the floor before rolling out the window. He and Dean are halfway across the field before they turn around to look.
“Hope we don’t end up burning this whole county down,” Sam says, looking around at the acres of dry grass around them.
Dean’s silent until the flames reach the roof and not a spark is smoldering outside the structure. “I think we’re okay.” As soon as the words leave his mouth, the house collapses in on itself and vanishes, leaving only waving grass in its wake. “I think we’re okay.”
It’s a matter of minutes to re-install the cap and Dean does it in record time. He wants to be on the road and out of this cursed place if for no other reason than now he’s starving. Sam’s quiet as he leans on the Impala’s front panel and Dean doesn’t quite look at him as he speaks.
“So, that creep back there thought you should stay. Because of memories?”
“Well, I played the game with Jess.” Sam’s not looking at Dean either. “And I don’t…I hadn’t really thought about her in a long time.” Sam’s hand curls over his heart. “I mean, she’s always here, but after I lost her I was so angry that I didn’t process, you know?”
Dean nods but stays silent. He does indeed know that feeling.
“And I know the stages of grief, I know what you have to get to. But there’s no path to acceptance when you die the way Jess did. Or Dad. Or Bobby. But I could remember her now without the anger. And without too much of the guilt. And it was…good.”
Dean puts the final rotation in the cap and gently closes the hood and nods at Sam. “You hungry?”
“Man, I could eat a rhinocerous.
“Awesome.” Dean slides into the driver’s seat as Sam slams the passenger door. “Hopefully there’ll be something within the next hundred miles or so.”
Sam groans and leans his head against the window, nodding off within seconds as Dean guns the Impala down the road.