Now the time has come
There's no place to run
Might get burned up by the sun
Well, I've had my fun
Well, I've been loved and put aside.
For the From Ashes... ficathon. Prompt given was the song 'Time Has Come Today'. Gen, horror, 3688 words, PG for language and content. Sad, mean content . Nothing small and cute - or large and dimpled - was actually harmed during the writing of this tale.
Sun Lakes, AZ
The houses were built at the same time, an entire development of cul-de-sacs and concrete tile roofs and tiny, carefully shaped lawns. Cookie cutter two stories and bilevels with vinyl siding or stucco, circa 1996. There was a pattern to the way the neighborhood was laid out, something to the serpentine twist of the roads, and both Sam and Dean knew that even as they drove through the first time.
Lawn after lawn sported for sale signs.
"This better not be bugs again," Dean said, keeping his voice low even though there was no one to hear him but Sam. "No Native American vengeful shit, not after all this time. Because I'm not getting trapped in any attics again with a swarm of bugs."
Sam was quiet. He was watching the houses as they passed on either side, making careful mental notes on how the houses were placed in relation to each other and to the street, checking size and shape, window placement and decoration. Looking for patterns. They had no idea what was going on and so they looked at everything. They'd circle until the strangeness decided to show itself and then they'd zero in.
They were crawling along at maybe two miles an hour, something Dean had never been good at; after awhile the urge to stomp on the gas would get the better of him. Hopefully they'd find something and pull over before they had to go around the block again.
The houses looked fine from the outside. There was nothing external to indicate there was a problem, no dying landscaping, no clawmarks in the siding, no words scrawled in blood. Evil didn't really care about whether it was seen or not unless it was clever and parasitic enough to want to keep preying on its surroundings without being hampered. Had it just been the crumbling walls alone, they'd have passed it off as crummy contracting finally showing itself and never come for a look.
No matter the shape of the house, three internal walls would crumble and leave the fourth standing. Down to the studs, the walls were crumbling without any discernable reason. No plumbing leaks, no shifting foundations, just walls that refused to stand.
In every single house in the development.
Weird, but still nothing that required a Winchester. Until the first repair guy bought it, anyway.
The walls were easily fixed, new drywall and paint, everything back the way it needed to be. Two different contractors managed to get the repair job for the whole neighborhood by going door to door to see if it was happening to anyone else, and sent their crews out to get it done over the course of a week. Each and every job got done, but three guys didn't check in or report back for work the next day. Or ever. It hit the local news and then it hit the AP, three families searching for husbands and sons, houses checked for clues and homeowners questioned about the last time they'd seen the guys who'd been repairing their houses. In each case, the homeowners were upstairs or in the backyard or out in the garage to give the crew some space. In two of the houses, they'd come back in to check and found the job done and waited for a bill without questioning further. In the third case, they'd signed off on the work and then left to get their insurance info and when they got back, the guy was gone.
That upped the weirdness quotient, but still, not that big of a deal. People took off or were knocked off by nutty coworkers all the time, when the opportunity presented itself. No Winchesters required.
Then, well. Within three days of the repairs three of the houses had calls for plumbers or to the contractors who'd done the work, because there was one hell of a bad smell in one room or another. The walls had just been opened and messed with, no way some animal got in there and died.Nobody wanted to have to open the walls; two of the homeowners moved out temporarily and the third called the police when the baseboard came loose in the living room as a pool of decomp spread along the floor.
Three opened walls in three separate houses revealed all three missing workers, sealed in behind drywall, smashed between the studs. Cause of death, asphyxiation.
If Dean had been in a mood to argue, he could easily have stuck with the 'pissed coworker' hypothesis. Problem was, the walls had been completed and sealed and repainted before the guys went missing. They'd been seen and spoken to between the time the drywall had gone up and the paint was on. And that third guy had been standing in the damn living room with a clipboard in hand when the homeowner left the room for less than a minute. Three days later he'd been leaking out of the wall.
Kind of hard to pass that off.
"Better not be some curse," Dean said again.
"We do have a numerical pattern," Sam said, staring at a pastel green home with white trim. Seafoam , he figured. Some name that didn't say hey you just painted your house light green, way to go. "Three walls in each house, three guys missing. Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn't."
The whole area had been empty desert, before. No mysterious burial grounds, not the scene of a massacre or battle, just desert. Dean wouldn't vocalize the sentiment but sometimes he loved it when it wasn't something obvious, when they really had to dig. As long as they had time to do it and weren't getting gnawed on while trying to figure things out, he was game. It kept the job from getting routine. God forbid salting and burning ever became commonplace. There wasn't much left for a thrillseeker who got bored with that scenario. What was he going to do, take up stuntwork?
They accidentally discovered all kinds of stuff other hunters didn't. Dean didn't even care why that was, so long as they were still able to kill it. Even if they had to invent ways to kill it.
The walls had begun crumbling again within months of being repaired and the majority of the owners had been spooked into putting the houses on the market and clearing out. There was no evidence of faulty workmanship and no way to bring suit against the original builder.
Dean and Sam really wanted to talk to the original builder, though, some outfit out of Prescott that had put up five different housing developments in two states and then folded up shop in 2003. Never a permit out of place, no ordinances violated, no suits filed even prior to the whole mess. The owner had retired to New Mexico off the proceeds and it wasn't like he'd be hard to find. A haunted house here and there, even when they were relatively young, was one thing. An entire goddamn development was another.
"Pick one," Dean said.
Sam looked along the row of houses, realizing Dean was telling him to decide which house they'd look at. It didn't have to be one of the three that had turned out to be deadly, but Sam preferred it. "We gonna wait for dark?"
"You see anybody around here who's gonna even notice us?" Dean said. "It's a ghost town."
"The Corey place is one street over," Sam said. "And it's down a cul-de-sac. Good place to start."
They left the car two houses up by the street and jumped the fence into the backyard. Except for the grass looking overgrown, there was nothing out of place. Dean jimmied the sliding door and closed it behind Sam, looking at the carpeting. There was a family-type room bordering a kitchen, then a doorway leading to a dining room on the left and the living room on the right. Wide windows and clean surfaces, ready to be sold to someone not freaked out by people dying in the walls.
They split up and checked the walls, finding cracks immediately. Crumbling again for no apparent reason.
"So, you haven't asked the big question," Dean said, following a crack in the dining room wall up to the ceiling. It was hairline at the moment but it had promise. "You slipping?"
"What," Sam said, drawing a hand flat along the wall the construction worker had been pulled from.
"The fourth wall," Dean said.
"Why doesn't it crumble?" Sam said.
"Yeah," Dean said. "And is it always facing the same direction."
Sam left the house abruptly, going out the same way they'd come in.
Dean wandered the rest of the house. This one was a bilevel, and the fourth wall in this case was eastern facing and part of the master bedroom. He took three stairs down to the 'back' of the house and knocked on the furthest wall and hummed to himself. It didn't sound the same as the other walls in the house. Maybe the studs were closer together and that made it harder for the drywall to crumble...maybe the houses were tired of how boring they were and were just self destructing.
Another thing he'd never vocalize - or at least, not with so many words - was that Sam was a clever little bastard and hunting with him beat hunting alone any day, even with the occasional whining and griping. Case in point: Sam came back with the blueprints and copies of a couple of the permits he'd snagged from the county courthouse earlier. He'd figured they'd come in handy and had put them in the trunk of the car without much fanfare and Dean hadn't asked. He spread them out on the living room floor and sat cross legged to pore over them without a word. Dean resisted the urge to ruffle his hair and went instead to check all the windowsills for unusual numbers of dead flies or bees. He left the EMF meter on the kitchen counter and wasn't exactly thrilled that it didn't go off.
"Hey," Sam said from the living room.
Dean wandered back in.
"The eastern facing wall in every house is brick," he said. "There are five floor plans and the eastern facing wall is always brick, plastered over."
Dean leaned against the archway and Sam looked up at him. It was a long stare. In most other people it would have been ominous and possibly conveying some sort of dread, but between them it was curiosity and interest.
They both went outside in the waning and overcast afternoon light to look at the fourth wall. The vinyl siding was no different from anywhere else on the house, and the wall itself didn't seem much thicker than the others. The foundation was the same, the grass was the same. And of course there was no window on that wall.
"I don't have a sledgehammer in the trunk," Dean said.
"That breaks my heart in so many ways," Sam said. "Wanna use your head instead?"
Dean squinted at him. "Is it tough, being so unfunny?" he said. "It hurts you even more than me, I bet."
"We have to go together," Sam said. "I don't want you getting eaten by walls."
"They'd spit you right back out," Dean said.
They found a True Value hardware store and Sam bought a full length six pound sledgehammer along with a three pound version and two pairs of heavy work gloves. No sense getting a tarp to keep the floors clean when they were going to be knocking a damn wall down.
It was getting close to dark when they returned, and Dean didn't think to scope all the walls with the EMF meter. It stayed in his jacket, which was thrown onto the kitchen counter when he and Sam stripped down to t shirts and laid into the brick.
There was double the amount of normal mortar and a double thickness of bricks; the wall was nearly solid.
No point theorizing why. They were both thinking it was odd and there was nothing to do but get the thing open and figure out what had been so important that it required that much effort and sealing-in. It was more expensive to make a solid wall than a hollow one, and kind of dumb to bother with a brick wall at all when it was only going to be covered with vinyl siding.
They were thinking hoodoo, grisgris in the walls or odd rituals because every damn house had cracked walls and it had to just be some sort of inanimate something with hundreds of buildings involved, something easy to add during the construction process that might go unnoticed.
So when a small section of brick crumbled at knee height, leaving solid brick above and below and indicating a hollow spot, they paused and directed the flashlight at it to be careful. Sam poked around with a gloved hand, brushing mortar away and tugging at the ragged hole.
A length of dirty blonde hair spilled out and hung down, shaped into a braid.
They crouched and looked into the growing hole and then at each other. Concern furrowed their brows. Dean's shoulders slumped marginally with a weary disappointment that Sam recognized. People were often rotten to each other and found increasingly disturbing ways to get rid of one another and this looked like just another case of vengeful spirit activity.
"But why not the foundation?" Sam said. "Easier to do that, drop a corpse right into the foundation while it's being poured. Why a brick wall?"
Dean didn't answer. They knocked the hollowed brick away to find the area was so small because the body had been folded in and then built around, and...
The body was crumbling-dry from the desert air, mummified, skeletal, flesh shrunken against bones but still there and so small.
Preteen-kid small. Maybe eleven or twelve.
Small hands were covering small facebones, knees drawn up, ragged t shirt and jeans still in recognizable condition. Little-girl clothes. The ankles and wrists were tied with rope. The way she was positioned made it look like she had struggled and then given up and cried until suffocation finally got her.
Sealed into the wall while still alive.
They stared, and purposely didn't look at each other.
When Dean walked right out of the house with determination in his stride and headed for the car, Sam followed without a word, bringing the tools. He already knew Dean was headed for one of the other two homes where someone had been sucked right into the walls. He moved without thinking, because he was going to get really goddamn emotional if he started thinking, and that just wasn't a good idea. He could react later and puzzle the whole thing out. His job right then was to keep Dean from doing something nuts.
The second house was another street over, a ranch style with another for sale sign. They broke into the back of that one, too, with less care or stealth, and Dean was at the eastern facing wall before Sam even cleared the doorway behind him, aiming for waist height at the brick, smashing it with pretty much everything he had. There was another hollow at knee height, a preteen boy-shaped hollow that time, boy clothes and boy haircut and nothing in the pockets. Tied at wrist and ankle and face covered, terrified and weeping once upon a time and using all the available air by doing so.
Right about then was when it dawned on Dean's face, the thing Sam had been trying to avoid thinking about, the thing that made everything slide from awful to intolerable.
"All the houses," Dean said aloud, out of breath. Sam tried to put the crack in it down to over-exertion but knew better. "Every fuckin' house."
The walls had been cracking in every house in the development.
Sixty, maybe seventy houses.
They don't understand and don't try to.
Dean took off again, this time to the house next door, one with cracking walls but where no one had disappeared. Sam followed, trying to focus on the tasks at hand and not the overwhelming scope of what they faced. Not yet. Maybe never.
It was Sam who took the wall apart that time and Dean who looked in, Dean who pulled out a tiny bundle in a cloth shopping bag , Dean who cradled a tiny skull and the bird-bones of an infant.
Dean who took it to the livingroom and laid it on the floor in the open.
Dean who took the sledgehammer to each and every wall in the house until he ran out of the energy to so much as lift the thing.
Sam watched and tried not to move.
"Where is he," Dean said finally.
Sam knew what he meant immediately - the owner of the construction company that had built the development. Normally Sam would have said we don't know who was involved, we don't know if he even knew about it, it won't solve anything to kill him but that was all so far away. "New Mexico. Somewhere in New Mexico."
Sam moved the sad little bundle to the floor just in front of the hole because he didn't want there to be any confusion about where it had been when the police came, not for an instant.
Dean's tone was a death sentence and Sam wasn't really interested in stopping him except that Dean was going to get himself hurt or arrested over it all and that couldn't happen.
Dean put the sledgehammers in the trunk and said, "We can't even burn the houses, not all these houses," and Sam heard the grief in it. The place should have burned, it was the only thing to do, but it wasn't possible.
He'd never wanted out of a place so badly in his life.
They were both perfectly calm as they drove off, and Sam waited until they hit Tucson headed for New Mexico before telling Dean they had to get gas and think this all out. Dean never said a word but did it anyway, and Sam went for a pay phone.
Within the hour the Rising Sun development in Sun Lakes had become one of the biggest crime scenes in history and anyone involved with building it was being searched out at top speed.
Neither of them really cared about making sense of it.
Sam looked anyway that night rather than trying to sleep in a motel just outside Las Cruces, researched online and found all he needed to know fast enough that he didn't have to keep torturing himself by looking too long.
Ages ago in Germany the cruel custom ruled of entombing infants in the foundations of castles and fortresses in order to provide protection against storms, weather, and the dangers of war. The infants were purchased from their mothers for large sums of money.
When Christianity was introduced to R ü gen, they wanted to build a church in Vilmnitz. However, the builders could not complete their task, because whatever they put up during day was torn down again by the Devil that night. Then they purchased a child, gave it a bread-roll in one hand, a light in the other, and set it in a cavity in the foundation, which they quickly mortared shut. Now the Devil could no longer disrupt the building's progress.
The rage had subsided enough by then that Dean did not rip Sam a new one for calling it in. Whoever had been involved in the whole thing was going to be wishing for a gun in their mouth by the time it was over.
Dean heard Sam's 911 call for the first time on the news the next morning. National news, because of the size of the whole thing and the fact that police really wanted to talk to the anonymous caller.
Sam's voice was shaking so hard on the tape that he had to repeat the addresses, had to take an extra breath to say you need to check the eastern facing wall of each house, all the houses . Then Sam had burst into muffled sobs and Dean wanted someone dead for that, too, on top of everything else.
Two of the three preteens had been identified by morning as runaways from further north. Some of the others - and Sam hoped with everything in him that not every damn house had a kid in it - were surmised to be toddlers and infants that had been kidnaped, given to the wrong foster family, or sold for drugs. They were from many races and possibly several nationalities and it would take months if not years to sort out.
Teens and preteens were often blamed for many poltergeists, since all the raging hormones and emotions and trauma were thought to cause bursts of psychokinesis. Runaways who had died badly were as good an agent as any for violent disturbances, up to and including trapping people in the same walls they'd been trapped in. It made sense. Only the houses with preteens in the walls had been the sites of any real harm to anyone else.
They avoided the news for awhile after that. It didn't matter who was arrested. It was never good enough. It didn't matter who it had been that thought sacrificing kids would make the houses stronger or impervious to evil.
Dean understood evil as a concept, from an external viewpoint. He had faced it, spoken to it, banished it. It had breathed on his face and touched him more than once but only on the surface; he'd never sought to share space with it, to truly feel it, and as a result he did not know the enemy .
It's why things like this still take him by surprise, sometimes.
And hurt him so.
Sam didn't expect much better from humanity on the whole.
Of the two of them, he was both better and worse off.