© 2007 gekizetsu
PG-13 for language, violence and gore. It's got Dean in it - of course there's language, violence and gore. This came about because of a single paragraph in a book titled Salt: A World History . It looked like a book the boys would read. It's more interesting than it sounds. Sadly, I am not. For innie_darling, who is indeed a darling, and deserves plenty more than this. Disclaimer: Kripke da man. Summary: three hunts Dean is alone for, pre-series, when John leaves him behind.
And my flame made a pinnacle to heaven
As I walked once round it in possession.
But the wind out of doors -- you know the saying.
There came a gust.
--Robert Frost, The Bonfire
Dean sat with his back to the cool, crumbling granite of the headstone he'd chosen to use as cover, gun out and gripped in both hands. He was crouched so that his back was flat to the stone, ready to roll to one side or the other.
He'd always loved these Nola cemeteries with their ornate mausoleums and above-ground crypts, their bags of bones and time-worn monuments. But they were an absolute bitch to chase someone or something through.
He felt the heat before he saw the light. The lurid saffron glow created a set of warning beacons out of the tombs and statues around him. The heat wrapped around the stone and caught him right up against it, taking the air out of his lungs and beginning to singe his jacket. She'd found him first, and in a moment he'd be a puddle of grease on the stony ground between two cracked plastic floral holders.
But really, we should start at the beginning.
I: Walking Once Around
He found a motel near Weston, Florida where the first one had occurred. Or, at least, it was the first one that really got anyone's attention.
The first order of business he applied himself to was to rule out spontaneous combustion. That was all bullshit anyway - people were roasted by all kinds of things, but still had to make up shit like 'catching fire for no reason'. It wasn't enough to have a demon or salamander or basan set their asses on fire, no, they had to suspend disbelief even further, they had to imagine themselves as giant fat-candles that could light up at any moment. It was as if they were ignoring the obvious. They chose to believe in nonsense instead of actual monsters.
People were stupid. And, from the looks of it, pretty flammable.
It was a guy in his thirties, some investment banker from Cleveland, visiting family in Florida. That's what he'd told his coworkers, anyway; that much was in the paper. No family lived in the area, though, so his girlfriend had been really damn confused. It didn't matter a hell of a lot anyway, because he'd been fused to a dumpster next to a strip club at about 1am three weeks earlier. The metal had melted and folded around his heat-warped bones, leaving a permanent imprint. It was the fact that the city hadn't bothered to repair the dumpster after the crime scene guys were done with it that made Dean the happiest. They'd put it right back where it'd been, one side all wavy, paint missing. The asphalt was scorched, melted to a glassy finish in a good three foot radius.
There was no point asking anybody if they'd seen anything. It was a strip club. He knew better.
He didn't wait until after dark; he wanted a good look at the area in something brighter than a flashlight beam. The streets were narrow, and the parking lot of the strip club was way past needing a fresh layer of asphalt. The building was brick, as was the building next to it: an 'adult' bookstore.
See Dick run. Dick, dick dick.
It was just off the freeway, so he could hear the steady white noise of people passing through. The club didn't even open until nine, so it wasn't like anybody was going to worry about some guy in the alley. If anybody was dumb enough to, he'd just say his cousin had bit it there and he was paying his respects. It wasn't as if the cops even bothered to keep an eye on the street; some places you just left alone to decay on their own.
The EMF meter he'd made out of an old Sony Walkman didn't pick up any residuals, and he knew it was because it'd been too long for the surrounding objects to hold the wavelength, not because his creation didn't work. Someday, he was going to get one of those badass lab-quality meters, as soon as they made one he could stand to carry. They were too damn clunky and geeky looking, still. Better to make one of his own out of something anybody would carry. He'd show it to Sam someday, and Sam would agree.
He picked at a flaking edge of beige paint on the dumpster, knowing there wouldn't be a speck of anything important left for him to examine. Someone would have been careful to make sure there was nothing left. He scuffed at the pavement, noting the size and shape of the melted area. It looked like one concentrated blast, and it hadn't even lasted that long. He tried to figure the temp needed to do it, and more than that, the force that would have been leveled. Steel and steel alloys often melted around 1370 Celsius...2500 Fahrenheit. He checked the brick facing on either side of the alley; nothing. No side splatter. It was a good bet that no one had bothered to spray wash the walls. Blood left to dry on brick needed more than a concentrated stream of water to dislodge it. They'd have had to sandblast the brick. That close, there was no way there hadn't been splatter if a guy was hit with enough force and heat to warp the metal and melt his bones. So whatever had happened, it was so fast and hot that the mess had stayed contained.
"What the fuck," Dean said aloud.
Contained...or blown back toward the instigator only.
He stepped away and looked at it all from a distance, trying to imagine the approach, the angle, the size and shape of something that could get in fast and not create a panic. At 1am, the place would still have been hopping. Why there, why then? Opportunistic killing, vendetta, or something the guy shouldn't have messed with?
He walked further away and looked at the buildings themselves and the way they framed the alley. When he got back to the motel, he'd mess around online and look for area hazards - ley lines, crossroads, cemeteries that should have been moved but weren't. Mr. French Fried Investment Banker likely had some sort of connection to the area, or had been pulled in by accident.
He grabbed a sub and some beer from a minimart and went back to the motel.
What he actually found was an abandoned town just northwest of there, on, God help him, a crossroads. He never tired of the thrill it gave him to find something different, to put pieces together. That little adrenaline surge was so often followed soon after by a much bigger one when he found and wasted something evil.
Bless the Internet and its ability to provide him with info on places no one cared about anymore.
Andytown was a town located in Broward County at the intersection of U.S. 27 and SR84. It was demolished in1979 in order to allow for the expansion of the Alligator Alley portion of Interstate 75.
Nothing left now but a few crumbling driveways leading to the squared-off depressions where foundations had once been. He decided to go have a look, closer to dark. It probably didn't have anything to do with the where and why of what had happened down the street, but it was too good to pass up.
Andytown was everything the web had said it no longer was. There was the suggestion that streets had once been there, the imprints of buildings long gone, chunks of cement and asphalt and a few bricks lying around. Part of a fence remained several hundred yards to his right; patches of wild and overgrown areas of grass told him where lawns had been. A couple of wooden posts that had once held street signs remained standing, and there was a lone streetlight that had long since been disconnected. It was all a wide swath of dusty nothing. Maybe a good area for kids to park and screw each other's brains out, but he'd have been hard pressed to imagine it was useful for much else.
Well. A body dump. He could imagine that.
He checked part of a lone foundation wall for signs of recent digging, just in case.
After a few minutes of moving from driveway to driveway and scuffing at a chunk of curb, he paused in the fading daylight to stare at one of the few smoothly paved areas left.
It looked like a fossil, but embossed onto the cement in high relief.
Bones would usually calcify when exposed to fire or extreme heat. Dean knew that better than 99.9 percent of the non-medical population of the planet, because he'd burned so many bones that he could throw around a few figures on how fast or slow a fresh vs. aged skeleton would take to immolate. With or without salt. Or on a rainy night in a swamp vs. the desert with a brand new can of lighter fluid. Ronson vs. Zippo, bar matches vs. naphtha-based lighter, animated corpse (mummified or not) vs. frozen but cursed. He knew what the hell he was doing, with or without Sam and his dad at his back.
So when he found a skeleton melted right into the pavement, he actually paused for just an instant.
Bones did not melt. He knew that, and he knew why. Carbon and calcium and the dozens of other compounds and minerals involved did not fuse or melt. They severed their bonds with each other under heat or the chemical reaction of fire - went their ways, called it quits, decided to see other molecules. Even a goddamn nuclear explosion didn't do more than vaporize flesh and bone, and it was the only thing he hadn't personally tried. Thermonuclear weapons were so impersonal, anyway.
He decided it was a hoax. Someone had taken a fake skeleton and used a blowtorch to seal it in place.
He traced it with a finger, then used a nail to flake a bit of charred material from one side near the elbow. Smelled it. Shrugged and tasted it.
He spluttered and spit several times. Organic, all the way, meat burnt beyond recognition. Nasty.
"I'd like mine well done, please," he said aloud. "Christ." He got his knife out and pried a bit of bone away from the cement, not all that surprised when a chunk of cement came with it. The bone had melted into the tiny fissures in the old pavement, becoming part of it, melding right into the minerals. What burned flesh to soot but melted the bone beneath?
Something that was red-hot flame on the surface and white-hot curse underneath.
One tooth stood out at a right angle to the rest of the pavement and had survived the melting. He left that where it was. He doubted anybody was going to be able to make a match to any dental records with that one tooth, but, maybe they could get DNA from the root and identify the poor schmuck. The rest of him sure as hell wouldn't be contributing anything.
The EMF meter warbled at the high end of the scale.
If it looked like a demon, quacked like a demon, melted people into bouillabaisse like a demon, chances were...
Still, he knew better than to assume. He'd been hunting actively since the age of sixteen and watching and learning from his father long, long before that point; ten years on the road since had prepared him to go it alone for a little while without getting himself killed.
He was a professional, dammit.
He and Sam had taken on plenty of things the last two years before Sam had left for college, so it wasn't as if he wasn't used to handling things without his dad. He just wasn't used to going solo . It spoke, in his mind, to how much his father trusted him, to be able to handle something other than a routine poltergeist or haunting without backup. He didn't need backup. He'd ace this and meet back up with his dad in Tulsa in a week, and it'd be no big deal. They had their hands full and had to split for a little while, take multiple things on at once.
He couldn't help but think wait until Sammy finds out I'm on my own . He'd mention it casually like it was nothing when he talked to his brother again.
If he ever did.
They weren't big on the whole communication thing anymore. But it wouldn't always be that way. He knew that. Things would go back to the way they'd been, just the three of them, his family, saving the world. Sam would get done with school and find out how boring the 'real' world was, and he'd be back.
Sam would say something smartass and be a little punk about it, but he'd recognize how cool it was at the same time. Dad let you hunt on your own? And Dean would put him in his place like he was supposed to, maybe ruffle his hair, maybe try hard to remind himself that it was just good to have Sam back and not think about how fucking brave it had been for him to leave in the first place, toss everything he knew for everything he didn't, start over, do what he wanted to do.
His Sam was so, so brave. As the older brother, Dean had to do one better. He could hunt on his own, for Sam's sake, so Sam would look up to him again when they were together.
Any day now.
He looked at the flash-cooked imprint on the pavement again, at the perfect outline of a once-human form, and wondered if it would even matter to know who the hell it had been. It would mean something to someone, at least. It just wasn't likely that anyone would be able to figure out who it was. Not without a psychic or something. A real one, not one of the wannabes with their crazy outfits and incense-burning, hand-waving bullshit. He knew the real ones were out there, but he didn't have the patience to go weeding out the idiots to find one genuine article.
It was the fact that fire had been used as a weapon that made him wonder why he was solo on this one; if it was a fire demon, or a hint of one, his father would usually have been all over it. He hadn't said what he thought it was. He'd just left the article about the investment banker. He must have thought Dean didn't need direction, which he really didn't; it just wasn't like John Winchester to go about anything that way. Like he was cautious about leaving anything written down. Or he was testing his oldest.
He didn't need to do that.
No way would he need to do that.
He spent the next day trying to figure out what the hell could do what he'd seen. He started with the area's history, combining what he knew about Andytown with Weston's records of death by immolation. None of them fit what he'd found. Mostly they involved bouts of drinking and playing with matches, the use of gasoline to light fireworks, or falling asleep with a lit cigarette in hand. He had no way of even guessing how old the melted skeleton in Andytown was, whether it was before or after the guy from Cleveland, or who that had even been. He'd called it in anonymously in the hopes that there would be enough of something to ID that would either hit the papers or that he could wrangle out of someone with a little guile later. He didn't usually want publicity on something he was working on once he was involved, but he knew enough to know that the attention could sometimes be more help than harm.
This couldn't have been the only place to have seen that kind of activity. Things that did shit like this were old, and practiced at going about their business without being seen or leaving much behind. They didn't just pop out of the woodwork. Something was embedded in the area and had either finally slipped up, or had been asleep long enough to be forgotten until now.
Broward County had been established in 1915; Weston as a city in 1996, sporting an 800 year old Tequesta Indian burial mound. That piqued his interest.
Sam had always been better at laying all this stuff out and making it available to be picked apart or put together into patterns. He wondered whether Sam was even better at that now, with age and a lot of school.
He got tired of wondering what Sam was doing.
Weary of sitting around, he changed and went for a run. It would clear his head and let him come up with a game plan.
First thing would be to check the myths and legends of each ethnic group that had come through. When folks moved from place to place, they brought their pasts with them. Sometimes that meant family history and culture, and sometimes that meant the things that had plagued them in their own homeland. Dean counted himself lucky to live in a country that was full of people from pretty much every other country on the planet. It gave him an endless supply of really diverse monsters to chase down. What the hell else could he possibly need?
He purposely didn't answer that question.
A couple of college-age girls hooted at him from a passing car. He saluted them for having excellent taste.
He turned back after a few miles and ran half the way back to the motel and walked the rest. He thought better when he was moving and he wasn't ready to go back to the motel.
Whatever the hell it was, someone would have seen something . After that, it was a matter of matching it up to a myth, and from there, he'd find a way to kill it. There was no way a bucket of water was going to work on this one, but he could hope.
He showered and changed when he got in, then checked for a message from his dad. Nothing. He was due to check in, but forty-eight hours would have to pass before he'd get worried. That was their agreement. He left a message and would check his own again later.
He poked around online for a few hours and discovered that the area of Florida he was in was home to larger populations of Venezuelan, Cuban, and Carribean peoples.
Venezuelan mythology seemed to be closely tied to astrological mythology; nothing specific about fire. Cuban myths involved tricksters in rivers, matchmaking rocks, and an African-based system of worship called Santeria with gods and goddesses, orishas , associated with fire such as Aganju and Ogoun . The Carribean myths were the most numerous and gave him almost too much to work with. He really needed to find someone who'd seen something. Anything.
He checked his watch. It was just after eleven. Time to do a little legwork and look for the nearest bar. Not one of the neon and brushed aluminum ones; he was looking for the places that sat at the edges of everything, hunched and waiting. He'd always counted on places like that for what the papers wouldn't say. People knew what was going on in their communities beyond the soundbites on the news or the glossed over, homogenized stuff in the papers. They wouldn't always talk about it, especially not to someone they hadn't seen around. He didn't have Sam's innocent face and pleading eyes to brainwash anyone into doing or saying anything, but he was perfectly capable of subduing just about anybody with his own boyish good looks. Plus, people responded well to free drinks. The human animal was often predictable and had pressure points he was familiar with manipulating (both in horizontal and vertical positions), and he rarely found one that refused to fit the mold. He'd been on the outside looking in so long that he occasionally felt like the one of the safari guys on one of those old episodes of Wild Kingdom .
Here we see a typical specimen of homo erectus in its natural setting, chugging beer and shooting the shit with other members of its kind.
Not many people in this part of town would care much about some suit buying it near a strip club, but if it was a sign of something they feared, they'd be talking about it.
He tried three before he settled in a small hole in the wall with a lot of dressed-down, tired faces in it, most of them darker than his but not prohibitively so. He didn't get a sense that he shouldn't have been there.
Two beers on tap later he was asking the bartender whether he'd heard about the thing on 172nd, poor bastard grilled right there on the street, and when he got a lot of suspicion and annoyance, he moved on to a table. He hadn't figured it would be that easy, anyway.
Ten minutes later, two fairly large dark-skinned guys asked him if he wanted to step outside. He didn't tense; they actually looked nervous and were trying too hard to cover it that the posturing was just kind of...well, it made him feel a little sorry for them. Even if they were armed he could have taken them down, so he tossed a few bills on the table, went out the front ahead of them and started walking. They came alongside, one in a striped shirt and khaki shorts and the other dressed out of place in slacks and a white buttondown.
"You've been wandering around asking questions all over," the guy in the khakis said with an accent that held a touch of the exotic. Dean couldn't place it, but, it was less of a Latin origin than an African one, and that helped him immediately.
Okay, so much for being surreptitious. At least he had some attention. "And you guys are making this into an even bigger deal by caring," he said. "So what's up?"
"Don't get involved in things that aren't yours to resolve," the guy in the buttondown said. "This is a local matter that will be handled, and we do not need someone from the papers - "
"Hey," Dean said, "I'm not with the news. The guy I'm asking about was family, and you're telling me it's not my business?"
He raised his voice at the end, and both men grimaced and paused. "I'm sorry it was family," the guy in the buttondown said. "That's...difficult. But there is nothing you can do."
Dean faced them, watching the discomfort on their faces. It was like they were embarrassed about something. "What did this?" he said. "'Cause there wasn't only one, it's happened again, over in Andytown. If you guys know how it happened - "
"The fact that you said 'what' instead of 'who' tells us you already know far too much. Go your way," Buttondown said. "Be assured that this will be resolved. It has to be enough."
They turned and left him standing there.
He didn't follow or shout after them. He had enough to go on.
He went straight back into the bar, sat a different table, and hoped no one recognized him. People could be so dense. No one looked at him anyway.
A Caucasian couple passed him on their way to the door. The man dropped a napkin on his table.
Dean kept his eyes straight ahead. After a few moments, he lifted the napkin.
In uneven block lettering was written I saw a ball of fire in the sky .
All that, just to find out he was chasing Jerry Lee Lewis?
He had another beer anyway and took stock. He had to start again and narrow his focus. He at least had a slight hint of direction to work from.
A day later, with nothing else happening that could help him pinpoint who the likeliest candidate was, he thought about going back to the same bar and finding a way to corner those guys. Maybe they'd already killed whatever it was. He doubted it.
Then he really doubted it when the news picked up a similar killing in Conerly, Mississippi.Similar enough to make him think it was the same creature.
He left a message for his dad, got one back saying he was caught up in something and they'd have to put Tulsa off awhile longer.
Dean packed up and headed for Conerly.