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14 June 2012 @ 06:30 am
Dust Devils: Mean Things Happenin’ In This World (Chapter 16)  
April 16, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

Dust Devils

Chapter 16

Mean Things Happenin’ In This World


April 16, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

Emma's heart pounded in her ears as she ran for the Syrup of Ipecac, praying it wasn't too late. Her perception of time had upended the moment she'd walked in on Slaid; there was no way to judge how much had lapsed since then. She'd lived an entire lifetime since pointing the gun at Slaid. Running back, she knelt by Dean and shook him, encouraged that he fought against her when she tried to pour the Ipecac into his mouth. He was incoherent, but his reflexes still worked. Tugging at his bonds, he continued to fight Slaid in his mind, determined to keep his mouth closed.

"Mmnhgh!" He craned his neck to get as far away from the bottle as he could.

"Dean." She gripped his jaw. "It's Emma. You need to swaller this. It tastes bad, but it'll bring up the Laudanum." Whether he understood or whether he was too tired to fight, he stopped struggling and gulped the miserable concoction.

It didn't take long for the Ipecac to take effect—all over Emma, all over the bedding and all over Dean himself—several times, until nothing but bile and dirt came up. The projectile vomiting set off a harsh coughing fit, leaving Dean beet-red and gasping. He passed out soon after, and Emma sat in stunned silence, surrounded by vomit, trying to stop the shaking in her hands long enough to recap the bottle. Her breath came in catches and gasps, and as she rose to strip the soiled bedding off Dean, her legs shuddered and wobbled, forcing her to kneel back down to keep from falling.

Before she could steady herself, she heard voices on the front porch. Jeb and Florabel had returned with Doc Dawson. Adrenaline sent out the impulse to leap up, to run to them, but her body refused to respond, her extremities numb and rigid.

"Emma?" She heard Jeb knock on the door and call from far, far away. "Emma? Why's the door locked?"

She had no recollection of rising, didn't remember making her way through the hall and kitchen, but she found herself walking into the parlor as though she had huge clown feet attached to her legs instead of her small shoes. She picked up each foot with deliberate, clunky footfalls, stumbling through the room on knees that refused to hinge. Growling in her throat, she tried to tell them she was coming, but nothing intelligible came out.

Doc Dawson's and Jeb's worried faces squinted through the window. Unlocking and opening the door with senseless hands was tricky business, but she managed it. Without a word, she swayed, walking away chaotically, legs lurching as though she had flippers on, teeth rattling together. Jeb caught her by the arm and swung her toward him. She saw his mouth moving, but the sound of her heartbeat drowned out the words. The world tunneled toward his lips, and she became fascinated by his tongue as it flipped and flopped at her. She tried to poke it with her finger, but she found herself floating toward the ground. It was so odd to see everyone peering at her with such fear and distress, because she never felt better. She was warm and comfortable as the darkness descended.


February 13, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

Florabel's hands trembled as she opened the door to Bobby and Sam. Unable to get her brain and mouth working in tandem, she stood there gaping at Sam. Her tongue flapped a couple of useless times before she gave up.

Ellen wasted no time time, however, grabbing Sam by the arm and leading both hunters into the kitchen. Florabel followed them and took a chair, watching the trio but Sam most of all. Her eyes continually returned to him.

"What's going on, Ellen?" Sam leaned against the counter, nervous and expectant.

"Boys, I need you to keep your heads, now." She approached Sam, arms raised. "We got a lot of work ahead of us, and we ain't got time for hysterics."

"Then you might want to skip the hysterics yourself and tell us what you found," Bobby said.

Ellen's eyes twitched from Bobby to Sam, and she took a steadying breath. "Just stay calm." She picked up the frame that had been lying facedown on the table and turned it toward them.

Both men leaned in. Sam's face went gray, his head pigeon-bobbing as he scanned the photo. He grabbed the frame, drawing it close. Bobby huffed in disbelief.

Sam gave a confused grunt and then flipped the photo over and read the inscription.

"I don't get it." He waved a dismissive hand at the photo, and then went in for a third look. "Where was this taken?"

"On the farm that once stood where the strip-mall is now being built." Ellen cleared her throat. "In 1935."

Sam continued huffing and puffing as he studied the photo. "It can't be. This guy's wearing overalls for Christ's sake."

"It's him, Sam." She put her hand on his shoulder.

"But…" He didn't finish; he just kept staring and squinting.

Bobby glanced at Ellen. "So that's why the retrieval spell didn't work. Dean wasn't anywhere on the planet, at least not right now, anyway." Bobby turned to Florabel. "Are you the little girl in the photo?"

Florabel stiffened, overcome, trying to absorb it all. She nodded. "He come to be with Mama and me sometime in February of '35. I found him half-dead in our barn. Came close to losin' him to infection a couple of days after we found him. Weren't no antibiotics then, and his gunshot wound had festered badly. Mama tended him for days without sleeping herself."

"What happened to him?" Sam asked, tense and breathless.

"He pulled through. Mama seen to that. It was a close shave, but he got better. He stayed with Mama and me more'n two months—felt like a lifetime to me, though. Became like one of the family."

"Months?" Sam eyes grew in amazement. "And then what happened? Where is he?"

"Happened?" Florabel stared at him, twisted with pain and sorrow. "What happened?" Tears filled her eyes. "Slaid happened, that's what. Slaid happened to all of us. He ruined everything."


April 16, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

Emma awoke to the rattle of glass beads clicking together and strange slurping noises. She blinked in confusion, trying to recall why she'd slept so late. The bed jiggled and she turned her head, meeting Florabel's face far too close to hers, lumpy cheeks puffed out with marbles and red, wet lips smacking and gurgling. Lifting her head, she met Florabel's blue eyes. They grew large, and the little girl spit out the marbles, leaving thin strings of saliva connecting them to her tongue.

"Don't put them things in your mouth, Florabel. How many times do I gotta say it? You'll choke on ‘em one day. Either that or you'll have marbles rattlin' around in your tummy forever."

The child paid no attention to the groggy lecture. "Mama!" She bent in even closer, Emma's entire scope of vision filling with her daughter's bottomless blue eyes. "I'm watchin' over you like they done tol' me to. I ain't a-gonna let nothin' bad happen to you, Mama. You just git some sleep. Doc says you need lots a'rest and for me not to pester you none. I ain't. I'm only talkin' cause you's awake."

"Doc?" Emma jerked, memories of Slaid's attack on Dean returning to her full force. "Dean!" She threw off the covers and bounded from the bed. "We have to help him!"

Florabel tugged her arm. "Mama, the Doc's been with Pally all day. You been sleeping for hours." Following Emma, she continued to make her case. "Doc says you ain't supposed to git up. He says you need rest and lots of food. Ain't you been eatin', Mama?"

"Been other things to think about. I must ‘a forgot," she said, distracted as she made her way downstairs. Doc Dawson and Jeb rose as she entered Dean's room.

"Git on back to bed, girl." Doc moved to usher her to her room.

"I'm fine." She stepped way, fending him off. "I'm gonna fix some supper an' eat somethin' like you said. I just wanted to check on Dean. How's he doin'?"

Doc let the matter drop and bent toward Dean. "Well, this here boy is strung up an' sailin' high on Laudanum, but y'got most of it out'a him. We noticed the Ipecac an' the mess. We figured out what happened. He ain't feelin' no pain, I guarantee y'that. He'll sleep it off. Gonna have a wallopin' headache when he comes to. Don't give him no more unless it's a capful, an' keep it out'a his reach while he's delirious. He drank enough to kill hisself a few times over. Make sure them tethers is tight enough he cain't git out of ‘em to hurt hisself like that agin."

"That ain't what happened. He didn't drink it on purpose, an' I didn't give it to him," Emma bent down, stroking Dean's hair. "Slaid done it. He weren't tryin' to be kind, neither. I think he meant to overdose him. Slaid an' Dean don't git along." She explained to Doc. "An' Slaid's been actin' funny an' sayin' things that ain't fittin' to be said to other folks." She spun toward Jeb. "He ain't welcome here no more. I told him to clear out his belongings from the bunkhouse. You make sure he does. He ain't never to come back."

Jeb raised his eyebrows but nodded. "I'll see to it."

"How is Dean otherwise? What about the Dust Pneumonia?" She heard the low rumble coming from Dean's chest as she ran her fingers over his brow.

"Well, he's got Dust Pneumonia for sure." The doctor stroked his beard. "Though, I seen other cases what's been just as bad where folks has pulled through an' been fine. He's young an' otherwise healthy. Thin as a fence post an' more'n a bit malnourished. But who ain't these days?" He patted the woman as she watched Dean with pleading eyes.

"But Red an' Hen—"

"It ain't as bad as Henry's case nor Red's, neither, Emeline. Babies always have it worst with Dust Pneumonia, an' Red—well, he never did have healthy lungs, even when he was a boy. He was always wheezin' on dusty days or cold days. His mama fetched me many a time for Red's bad breathin' spells. This boy ain't like that. He's bad off right now, but he'll come around. Just you wait an' see. You leave the poultice on his shoulder for a good week—more if'n it starts festerin'. He's lost some blood, so he's gonna be tired for a while, but he ain't lost so much he cain't recover from that, too."

"What about his eyesight?"

"You done everything right, Em." He praised her. "His eyes react to light. They's swollen an' raw, but they ain't no reason to think he won't have his sight after a rest. I just treated young Ned Bekker, and he cain't see at all. Spent a good hour in the storm trying to find his way from the barn to the house. Was facin' the wind a good part of the way an' kept rubbin' his eyes to try an' see where he was goin'. He rubbed the dust right into ‘em so bad he tore ‘em up. He ain't gonna see no more. Only eighteen years old, too. It's sad.

"But this boy here is lucky—lucky he didn't poke at ‘em an' lucky he had you watchin' after him. You flushed ‘em good. Give it another day or so an' then you's probably safe to take the restraints off. Keep his fever down. It'll spike now ‘n agin. That's just the way of Dust Pneumonia. If'n he don't bounce back in a week, you send Jeb to fetch me. I'll do what I can. I left some medicine that should help better'n the skunk oil. Keep using both, though. Give him a capful of Laudanum if'n he gits to be in pain." He put his hands on Emma's shoulders. "And you git rest an' some food inside a'you. Y'ain't gonna be any help to no one if'n you's dead." He grabbed his hat off the chair. "He's gonna sleep on through ‘til tomorrow. Make sure y'all git rest tonight." He thumped Jeb's arm. "C'mon old man, drive me home an' we can have a smoke and a game of checkers before y'gotta scoot."

"I'll be right there," Jeb said as Doc headed to the truck.

Jeb walked to Emma and handed her the wad of cash. "Doc wouldn't take a cent, Em. Not even for the medicines he left." Jeb kissed her cheek. "They's some beans in the pot, darlin'. Just need heatin'. Eat an' then please go git more rest. You scared an old man near to death today." He hugged the young woman and kissed her hair. "I'll be right quick. An' I'll make sure Dean ain't alone while you rest. You got Old Jeb, darlin'." He placed a knotted and gnarled hand on her cheek. "I know I ain't your papa, but I couldn't love no more if'n you was my own daughter. I'd be a broke man if anything happened to you."


February 13, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

"How the hell did this happen, Bobby?" Sam's anger bubbled as he tried to process the situation.

"You think I know, boy?" Bobby raised his hands, reacting to Sam's aggression. He huffed and then wilted. "Maybe—hell, I dunno. We know the ghost summoned the elemental. He probably summoned it in 1935, too."

"Right." Ellen picked up the thread of his thought and ran with it. "There weren't any portals open anywhere else when Dean fell through, so instead of being teleported to another Elemental's portal, he went the only way he could—back in time—when the portal had been first created, perhaps."

"But the lore didn't say anything about that, Ellen." Sam paced around the kitchen, unable to remain still in his anxiety.

"No, but that doesn't mean a lot, Sam. When have two vengeful spirits fought for control of one of these things before? Might be something like this hasn't happened before now. It's rare anyone summons these things, because they're so dangerous and unpredictable. It shows what a moron this guy was for even attempting it. These things are raw, primitive energy—destructive energy at that. There haven't been any books written on this shit, you know that just as well as the rest of us. Sounds like we're about to add a chapter or two to the lore ourselves. Now, whether you like it or not, that picture isn't Photoshopped. Dean fell through time, no matter how crazy it seems." Ellen glanced at Florabel. "Did Dean talk to you about any of this? Did he tell you where he was from?"

"Not then, no. Not really." Florabel rose, her face a gristmill of emotion. "We had one conversation that hinted at it, but he never came out and said it." Her eyes searched Sam's. "He didn't know who he was for the longest time. We learned his name from a card in his billfold that said it was Dean Hetfield. He didn't remember what it was. But even though he couldn't remember anything outright, he was always troubled by images in his head. He was plagued by spells, when memories from his past played out in his head even though he couldn't remember when or where they happened. He knew your name, Sam. Spoke it in his sleep often. Even though he couldn't remember you, he still saw you in his mind and he was always desperate to recall more." She smiled at him. "He fussed something fierce tryin' to remember you. You was that one broken coil in a mattress keepin' him awake at night. You was the most important thing to him even when he didn't know you." Sam ran his hands through his hair and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Wasn't until the storm that he come to remember everything."

"Storm?" Sam asked.

"Black Sunday." Memories chased themselves across her face. "The biggest dust storm that hit during the Dust Bowl. It was the storm that gave the Dust Bowl its name, in fact. That storm happened on April 14, 1935, the same day this photo was took. We got caught in it, and he saved me. He nearly died keeping me alive. That's the day he remembered who he was."

"And who's this Slaid you mentioned?" Bobby asked.

"He was a monster." She flinched, closing her eyes. "He's the one who summoned that…thing. I don't know how he done it. I don't know if he done it more than once. They was a lot of whisperin' during the big dust storm, so I'm sure he had a hand in that, too. But I saw him bring the black cyclone once, ‘bout a week after the storm. I tried to forget the whole thing. I don't want to think about it now." Her jaw trembled. "I don't want to talk about it."

Ellen moved in and put her arm around the older woman's shoulder. "I know it's hard, but this is a matter of life or death. I can see plain as day how much you cared about Dean." Florabel's chest hitched at that and she started to weep. "But we need to know what happened. As hard as it is to understand, it isn't really over. We might be able to help him if you tell us what happened."

Florabel fought her emotions for a moment before speaking. "I always thought it was my fault." She searched each face in turn. "That I done something to make Slaid the way he was. I thought that for years. And I felt especially bad for how I acted that day when everything happened. I was selfish and childish, and I cain't fix that. I cain't take back what I said to Mama."

Ellen sat the old woman in the chair. "You have to tell us, Florabel. Please."

The old woman took several breaths and studied her hands as they trembled in her lap. "It began on April 19, 1935. I thought the dust storm had been bad, but it weren't nothing compared to this. This was the worst day of my life."


April 19, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

After shivering for days, Dean kicked off the sheets, too warm, too stifling, too annoying. He rubbed his aching head and opened his eyes, testing them, taking care to focus. When he'd first opened his eyes everything braided and bled together like melted wax, but each day brought improvement and today was his best yet.

He watched three or four houseflies flitting around, darting above him in perfect squares and triangles as they flew aimlessly over the bed. The light twisted and stretched them, but he could see them well enough. When he moved his head, a trail of disorienting, pixie-dust-like lights stretch away from everything, so he closed his eyes, giving them a rest. He coughed again and growled in pain and frustration.

No matter how much brown mucus he coughed up, there was always more. It never ended; he never had a break—except when Emma allowed him some Laudanum, which she was stingy with, saying that coughing was the best thing for him. Best thing or not, coughing that much and that often fucking hurt like hell.

As he lay there, calming his lungs one breath at a time, he sorted through his memories of the last couple of days, separating the nightmare images from reality and finding there'd been moments when the two overlapped.

Slaid's visit had been real, he knew that, and he gagged, remembering the pervert's foul breath and filthy, roaming hands. Snaking a hand to his shorts, Dean touched his groin and hissed in pain. Lifting the boxers, he saw the blurred outline of the monster's paw-print on his thigh, the nail-bites still red and angry. What happened after or why Slaid had left him alive remained a mystery. He thought he remembered Emma in the room at one point, but everything beyond Slaid's groping hands remained vague.

"Jesus, Sammy. Could things be any more FUBAR?"

He put his hand to his chest and sat up, breathing with controlled, steady breaths, knowing any quick intake could set him off coughing. He drew his knees up and rested his elbows on them as he cradled his head in his hands. He felt old and tired, hungry and weak.

Despite all of that, though, he needed to get up and move no matter how much his body protested. Slaid was out there somewhere. They weren't safe. And as revolting as the thought was, Dean still needed him in order to get home. If he could get home at all.

The stitches on his shoulder pulled as he pivoted and set his feet on the floor. "What the hell?" He craned his neck, noticing the bandage and poultice. He had no memory of getting wounded there.

"Great." He rose with a sigh, bracing himself against the wall with a splayed hand. "Fuckin' wonderful."

He gritted his teeth against the pain in his shoulder…his chest…his entire body. Stopping to cough, he paused, willing away a full-blown coughing fit. He noticed his clothes laying on top of the chest of drawers, washed and folded, his wallet and lucky marble next to them. Emma'd mended the shirt and replaced the buttons with mismatching ones. He got dressed, pocketing the marble and wallet, latching only the right side of his overalls in order to spare his left shoulder—again.

"This is becoming a habit," he said to the shoulder. "Can't leave you alone for a moment, can I?" Clearing his throat, he shuffled out of the room and into the kitchen.

Emma stood, scrubbing the window over the butcher block. Hearing him shuffle toward the table, she stopped.

"Dean!" She walked toward him. "You shouldn't be up."

He held up his hand and pulled out a chair, glancing around. "Where is everyone?"

"Florabel's nappin' upstairs. I sent Jeb to the bunkhouse for a rest, too. He's been sittin' with you at night, and then he returned the Haffner's truck this morning, walked all the way back. He needed some sleep." Her eyes settled on him. "You should git on to bed yourself. You ain't fit to be up, yet."

"I'm fine." He waved her off. "I can't stay in that room all the time." He gave her a tired grin. "Is there any coffee?" At this point he'd gnaw grinds if that's all there was.

Emma nodded and poured him a mug. She patted his good shoulder and returned to her work.

"Thanks." Dean took a sip and wondered how long it had been since he'd had a beer…or whiskey. He cleared his throat and picked up a frame that sat on the table.

"What's this?" he asked, trying to bring it into focus.

Emma's face relaxed into a smile, as warm and intimate as a caress. Guilt smothered his inclination to reciprocate, however, and he quickly cast his eyes to the photo, squinting at it.

"It's the picture Jeb took. He brung it from town, and Florabel put it in the frame. She wrote on the back, herself. She was mighty proud of that." Emma came close, looked at the picture and snorted. "I look like a silly goose." She gave the photo a huff and a wave of dismissal.

"You look beautiful," Dean said, but then he put the picture down as though it had grown teeth. His stomach knotted with shame and remorse as he watched Emma's lovely cheeks flush with hope.

"Says the man who's more ‘n half blind right now." She walked to the window with a chuckle. "You really need to go git some more rest." She reminded him.

"I'm not tired." He eyed the photo one last time before turning it over and placing it facedown on the table.

"I understand, Dean, and I cain't tell you how happy I am that your fever's down. You been terrible ill since the storm. You don't want to git worse by bein' over ambitious." Her face broke into a shy smile as she turned toward him. "Besides, you have to git well so's you can court me proper." Her eyes sparkled, and then dulled when Dean offered her nothing more in returned than a tortured glance.

Clearing her throat, she went back to the window, wiping it mechanically, using the motion as a shield against her obvious humility and embarrassment. A long, awkward silence filled the room.

"Emma…" Dean paused, trying to find the words.

She tossed him a slight shrug as she began wiping the window harder. "You should really go on to bed, Dean." She tried to deflect. "A good sleep will do wonders. Your eyes still need rest, too."

"Emma, I need to tell you some things." He rose, leaning on the table.

A small mark on the window held her attention and she scritched and scratched at it industriously, desperate to clean that one spot. "Ain't nothing so important it cain't wait while you mend." She swallowed as she rubbed and scrubbed.

"Something happened during the storm," he said. Emma closed her eyes, giving up on the stain on the window. "I remembered." His voice sank to a whisper.

Emma's eyes popped open, looking past the stain, toward the barnyard and the dwindling drift that had blocked the backdoor for days. The wind continued to eat away at it, flecks of dust flying past as she stared out the window. "Remembered?" Monotone words came from her stone mask. "What did you remember?"

"How I got here. Sam. Everything." He stood straight and still. "I remember who I am."

Emma remained transfixed by the desolate view of the barnyard, eyes darting from the chicken-coop that sheltered no life to the barn that housed no cow. "My goodness." She spoke without emotion. "That's wonderful, Dean. So, I expect you's gonna be gittin' on with everything, then? Find Sam and git your revenge?"

"You were right, Em." Dean shook his head. "I wasn't seeing the whole picture. Sam didn't do this." He pointed to his shoulder. "Not the way I thought. And I have to find him. He's in trouble and he needs me."

Emma dropped her cleaning rag on the butcher block and braced her hands on the warped wood. "I see."

"Emma." Dean walked to her, reaching out even as she shriveled away from his touch. He almost withdrew his hand, but he set it on her shoulder anyway. "Emma, there is no way to ever explain things to you that would make sense."

"Don't have to, Dean." She sniffed and picked up the rag, folding it in her hands over and over and over again. Staring at it. "Y'don't owe me nothin'."

"I owe you everything. I owe you my life. Two or three times, probably more. Emma…" He tried to turn her toward him, but she fought the pull. He continued until she relented and faced him, eyes smoky with loss. "Emma, I want you to know something. There is only one thing that would ever force me to leave you and Florabel."

"An' this is it, ain't it?" She finished. "This is the one thing?" The momentum of her voice remained steady, keeping the thin, steel rod of her emotions from snapping.

Dean's jaw clenched as he strove to find any words that would take away her pain—their pain. "Yes, and I'm so sorry."

She nodded and refolded the towel in her hands. Shrugging, she caught a runaway tear with the back of her hand. "Florabel's gonna be fit to be tied. She has such a crush on you." She smiled and moved away, clearing her throat.

"Emma…" Dean drew her back. "I'm not leaving today. There's a lot you don't understand, and I have to work some things out before I can even go find Sam. But I have to focus on doing that. No matter what happens, though, I won't leave until I know you and Florabel are safe."

"Safe?" she said, bewildered. "Safe from what?"

Dean hesitated. "From Slaid," he said at last. "Slaid's the one who brought me here. He's done other things, Emma. Terrible things. Things I just…things I don't even know how to begin to tell you. I have to find him. I can't get home without him."

"What things? What's he done, Dean?" She searched his face. "Tell me." Dean couldn't speak. "You said some things when you was delirious. Did you know that? You talked about Slaid a lot. You said you'd kill him if he touched Florabel agin. What did that mean, Dean?" She shook him. "What did that mean?"

He struggled for words and moved to the table, leaning against it, whispering. "He hurt her, Em."

"How? What did he do to her? Don't you turn away from me! Tell me this instant, Dean!"

"Mama? What's happening? Why's you yellin' at Pally?" The fear in Florabel's small voice made them both spin toward her. She stood in the archway between the kitchen and parlor, eyes huge as she watched her mother's tear-streaked face. "What's wrong, Mama? Why's you cryin'?"

Emma twitched and rubbed her eyes, attempting to hide the obvious. "Florabel, baby girl, you startled me." She feigned a casual tone. "Dean and me was just talkin'."

"You was yellin', Mama." She crept closer to the two adults, looking from one face to the other, confused and frightened by the tension in the room. "Pally, why is Mama mad?"

Dean felt like he'd been punched in the stomach.

"I'm not mad." Emma spoke before Dean could, her demeanor relaxed as she put on an air of enthusiasm. "I'm just so happy for him. Dean told me his memory got so jogged during the storm, he remembered everything he'd forgotten. Ain't that wonderful?"

The little girl's eyes flitted to him. "Then why ain't he smilin', Mama?"

"Well," Emma watched Dean, "he needs to go on home, and we's gonna have to say our goodbyes. He's got a whole life waitin' for him, things he's gotta do. So he'll be leavin' when he gits to feelin' fit enough."

Florabel cocked her head at the adults like they were speaking a foreign language. "Leavin'? When's he comin' back?" She turned to Dean. "When's you comin' back, Pally?"

Dean went to say something, but Emma cut him off again.

"He needs to go live his life, honey. He needs to go fetch his brother and go home. It's just a miracle he remembered everything. We need to be proper thankful for that."

"Mama?" Florabel's face stormed with confusion and hurt. "Ain't no way he can leave us. We's his family. We's your family, Pally. You cain't leave." Florabel's chest heaved and her eyes pooled.

"Florabel," Emma folded her arms, "don't be pesterin' him. No carryin' on, remember what I said when he first come here? I'll have none of that."

The little girl cast an accusing eye on her mother. "You said we wouldn't mourn for someone we didn't know. We know him, Mama!" She pointed her finger at Emma. "Mama, you's his family! How can you smile?"

Emma gaped at her daughter's display of temper. She returned with a swift, stern response. "Don't you take that tone, Florabel Livingston."

The child stamped her foot, unrepentant—furious. "Fix it, Mama! Don't let him go!"

Emma plastered an easygoing, affected smile on her face. "No need to fix what ain't broke. He needs to go on his way, baby girl. It's wonderful that he'll be reunited with his brother."

"Why is you actin' like it don't matter, Mama?" Florabel shouted, her eyes frigid. Emma began to say something, but Florabel cut her off. "How can you say it's good when it ain't what you think? Tell him, Mama! Tell him you love him! Please! Tell him you love him an' he won't leave!"

Emma's eyes blazed. "You put them silly romantic notions right out'a your head. I'm your papa's wife, an' don't you be forgettin' that. Now you just stop this display right this very moment. I'm shocked, Florabel. For shame."

Florabel flushed scarlet with rage. "You don't care! You don't care what I want! How could you, Mama? I hate you! I hate you both!"

Dean and Emma stood, stunned by the hard edge of Florabel's fury as it sliced through them. By the time either recovered, the little girl had run out the front door, slamming the screen behind her as hard as she could.

"I'll get her," Dean said, breaking the shocked silence that descended.

"You cain't. You ain't fit to be out." Emma tried to stop him, but Dean was already on the move.

"This is my doing. I'll go get her." He closed the screen door without another word.


Emma stood at the door for a moment then made her way to the kitchen, collapsing in the chair Dean had vacated. Head in her hands, she wept without restraint or inhibition, heedless of anything but her overwhelming sorrow and loss.

And so it came to pass, overcome and overborne, Emma never heard the front door open, never heard the footsteps approach, never knew she wasn't alone until a thin, skeletal hand gripped her from behind and lizard-dry fingers clamped over her mouth.

Her panic-stricken eyes searched Slaid's carnivorous beads as she fell back into his strangling embrace. He snaked the other hand around her neck and kept the other on her mouth, preventing her from screaming. The stench of rotting flesh and sweat emanated from him, overwhelming Emma's nostrils as she fought for breath. Eyes gaunt and feral, they gleamed with an inhuman hunger so profound that she prayed to God for the first time since Henry died in her arms. Fear and disgust coiled and twined together, choking her every bit as much as the fingers around her throat.

Slaid breathed in her scent, rubbing his nose on her neck and ear. "Slaid's so patient." He boasted. "Watching and waiting for days so that we could be alone. Looks like the Ördög Fighter will pull through even after all my hard work. Doesn't matter. I'll take care of him next." He chuckled and tightened his grasp.

Emma fought him, prying at his reptilian fingers, digging into them with her nails, but he only squeezed harder in retaliation.

"Shouldn't have pointed your gun at me, bitch. We could have shared so much together. You would have screamed so beautifully for me, just like your little whore did." He grinned at her and spit in her face with a hiss. "But you chose the Devil Fighter, and I can see there is no changing that now."

He constricted her throat with his forearm. When she fought against him, he yanked her back and forth, disorienting her, dragging her to the ground and straddling her.

"Please, no," she whispered hoarsely. Begging him.

"The little one, now," he stopped to explain, "she's young, ya? Slaid can tame her, make her his." He looked into Emma's terrified eyes and grinned. "She is already, don't you know? She has Slaid's seed in her. Slaid pumped it in himself." His words knifed through the air and plunged deep. He loosed a hysterical laugh as he watched the horror on her face, and he rutted his groin against her, cackling—mocking her devastation. "She was such a tight, juicy little bitch."

Emma's eyes widened and fear gave way to a fierce, deadly anger. She fought him with every ounce of her being, biting, screaming, pinching, kicking. Her ferocity took the farmhand by surprise, causing him to lose his grip on her, but a lucky grab through her hair brought her head down violently. Slaid slammed her skull into the floor several times until she was too dazed to fight. He kissed her lips, his tongue flicking in and out as her eyes fluttered in her desperate struggle to remain conscious.

"Shhh, softly…softly now," he whispered, stroking her cheek.

Ripples of blue light arced from his fingers onto her, spreading over her face and down the full length of her body. Muffling her shrieks with a clammy hand, he released a small, rattling laugh. He unclasped his overalls and hitched up her dress, his knuckles turning white as he tightened his grip on her neck. He pressed his scaly lips against her ear, and with a savage thrust of his hips he forced his way in.

"Florabel loves you so..."


Dean followed the blurry dust-plumes Florabel left in her wake as she ran through the sloping dunes. Clutching his chest, he strove to overtake her. "Florabel! He called to her, wheezing. "Stop!"

She turned, not far from the tree that had sheltered them during the storm, watching him through furious, fey eyes as he approached. Dean went to grab her by the hand as she took flight again. He missed and tried once more, catching her by the straps of her overalls. He pulled her to him, but she fought hard, throwing wild punches at his legs and stomach.

"Florabel, no!" Dean yelled, but she was out of control. The stitches in his shoulder tore as he picked her up. She continued to beat on him, snorting and seething the whole time, grunting as she kicked her little legs to try and free herself. "Stop it, Florabel!"

"You—you…" She slammed her fists against his chest. "You don't care!"

Dean adjusted her in his arms, trying to get a better grip as she flailed with wild abandon.

"How…?" She punched his wounded shoulder. "How…!" She pummeled his collarbone.

Dean shook her again and grabbed both her fists, holding them against his heart. She bucked crazily.

"How…?" She cried, exhausting herself. Her head fell against his neck, breath erratic, sobs hitching and wrenching from her as her body went limp. "How can you leave me when I love you so?" A tortured, wailing sob came from her, and she lost herself in her grief.

The realization of what he'd be leaving behind crushed Dean to the ground. His legs buckled and he covered Florabel's head as they slithered into the dust, a sharp pain shooting through his shoulder as they jolted to a stop. He cradled her in his arms as she mourned, her suffering too raw to witness.

She had no inner censor, no learned stoicism, nothing to hold her grief in check or to dilute it—no feigned understanding or polite niceties. Florabel bleated, her heart wholly broken, and Dean's heart broke along with it. He held her close and kissed her warm straw-colored braids as she clung to him. Dean rested his chin on her head and mourned as well—mourned her pain and a life that forced these choices on him. His lack of choice, rather. There was no choice for him and never had been. He mourned that all he ever did was bring pain to others, and now, of all people, Florabel was going to be the next victim of his pathetic life.

Her voice hitched and hiccupped with sobs. "Pal—ly, wh—y? Why would y—ou leave me and Ma—ma?"

He hugged her tight. "Florabel, I know it's hard to understand, but Sam needs me. I have to try and find him."

"I ne—ed you. Sam ain't even loo—lookin' for you."

"That's not true." He rubbed her back, soothing her throes. "He's looking for me."

"How do you know?" She coughed back another sob.

"Because I know my brother. I remember everything now. Sam's searching for me, and he's worried sick."

"Cain't you just find him and bring him ba—back to the farm? He can live here, too."

Dean sighed. "You have no idea how I wish I could, but it's just not possible." The little girl started sobbing again. "Florabel, I'd stay if there was a way. You have to believe me. But Sam's in danger, and I have to try and protect him."

Florabel looked at him, her eyes a florescent blue from her tears. "But what about…" Her brows pinched and she reached a hand down to protect herself. "What about Slaid? If'n you leave me, I'll be all alone with him." She began to hyperventilate from the thought, instinctively crossing her legs and crushing them together. Dean grabbed her and held her up to his face.

"I'm not leaving you with Slaid. I won't go anywhere until you're safe." He promised her. "But once you and your mama are free of him I have to go find my brother and help him."

"But we need you, too."

"He needs me more. That's why I have to go, sweetheart. Sam's in a lot of trouble right now. He's strong, but you're stronger. You're so strong, and you don't need me the way he does."

"I don't feel strong." She rubbed her leaking nose on her shirt. Dean turtled his hand into his sleeve, creating a handkerchief out of the cuff and let her blow.

"You are, though." He dabbed at her nose. "You're one of the strongest people I've ever met. And you're gonna help your mama, and you're gonna be okay. You'll get through this and then you're gonna go back to school. You're gonna study hard and become a doctor if that's what you want."

Florabel let out a dubious huff. "I'm a girl."

"That only means you're gonna be fifty years ahead of all them other girls if you go on and do what you want with your life, now," he said. "You're gonna be a doctor one day. You'll help so many people, Florabel. You'll settle down and get married and have a family. You're gonna have what I c…" His voice cracked and he swallowed. "You're gonna have what I can't…no matter how much I want it."

They sat in silence, broken only by Florabel's sniffles. "I don't want you to go."

"I don't want to leave. I have to, though. If I can even find a way."

"That don't make no sense, Pally." Florabel fell against his chest.

"I know. But my home is very far away. We're talkin' a completely different time zone." He shifted her to ease his shoulder and then resettled. "It's gonna be difficult to find my way home. I'm gonna have to work really hard to get there."

"Will you be able to come an' visit me sometimes?" Her eyes flooded with plump tears.

"I live too far away," he said. "It won't be possible."

"Pally…" The tears flowed again. "Please, please don't leave Mama an' me."

"Hey ‘Bel, come on, now." He continued to soothe and rub her back. "How about this? Tonight is a full moon, right?" The little girl nodded. "Okay, so anytime you ever see a full moon, that'll be me saying hello. That way we can always keep in touch, huh?"

Florabel snuffled and her chest hitched. "And whenever you see a full moon, Pally, that'll be me sayin' I love you."

Dean took several breaths and kissed her hair. "Me too, ‘Bel."

They sat in silence for a few moments, steadying their breathing, each calming the other. Dean ran his hand up and down her back as her sobs eased. The pain in his shoulder grew hot, and looking behind him, he saw blood soaking through the fabric. "Come on." He broke their embrace. "We need to get home to your mama. She needs you, and you need to apologize for how you spoke to her."

"I don't really hate her."

"Let's go tell her, then." Dean stood and took a couple of stiff steps. "I'm not going anywhere today, Florabel, so just be calm and let's not spoil the time we have left."

Florabel took his hand. "I'm sorry I beat on you, Pally. I didn't mean to be bad."

"You're not bad, sweetheart." He gripped her hand. "You were just upset."

They walked in silence the rest of the way home. Dean stopped a couple of times to catch his breath. He felt faint from all the exertion and emotion, and he wouldn't protest Emma's certain demand that he go back to bed. He was more than ready and willing. They climbed the steps to the veranda and opened the squeaky screen door. Dean made sure it didn't bang. No sense in upsetting Emma more than she already was.

"Mama…" Florabel slipped in the door. "We's home, I'm sor…" She froze in mid-sentence. Dean stood blinking as he adjusted to the darkness of the room, the sunlight having made his eyesight worse than it was before. He felt Florabel's scream more than he heard it. It thrilled right through him until it buzzed against his spine.

"Mama!" She ran to where Emma lay motionless under the archway separating the kitchen from the parlor, wailing as she went, throwing herself upon her mother. "Mama! Mama! Wake up! Mama!" The child patted her mother's face, trying to rouse her.

Dean ran to them. He swung Florabel off the woman and deposited her a few feet away. Turning to Emma, he pulled her dress down with one hand, giving the woman back her dignity while placing two fingers at the pulse-point of her brutalized neck with the other. He received a powerful static shock from the touch, but he felt no pulse.

"Emma!" he called. "Jesus! Emma."

He searched for other injuries, but beyond her neck and the vicious spread of her legs, he perceived only some residual electric charges pulsing in different areas of her body. They dissipated soon after he noticed them. Tears lay drying on her cheek, eyes half-open but vacant. Straightening her, he tilted her head, pinched her nose and gave her two quick breaths.

"Breathe, Emma." Florabel's continuous screams receded into background as his awareness tunneled on the lifeless woman in front of him. "Emma!" He folded his palms one over the other and began chest compressions, counting them off and giving her two more breaths. No pulse, no stir of life, no sound other than the sound of his heart pounding in his ears—more chest compressions. And again. And again. He kept going, watching his tears fall onto her still, lifeless face as he worked.

"No!" Adrenaline fueled anger overtook him over. "No you don't! God damn you Emma!"


"No you don't! God damn you Emma!"

Those were the words Jeb heard as he ran up the porch stairs. Slaid had roused him from a sound sleep, telling him Dean had done something unspeakable. Jeb tried to tell him Emma didn't want him there and to go on about his business, but Slaid had dragged him out the door. When he reached the porch steps, he heard Dean yelling and swearing at Emma. He barreled through the door.

Florabel stood to the side, screaming and garbling hysterically, calling her mother's name and begging ‘Pally' to stop hurting her mama. Dean was on the floor, straddling the woman, and Jeb watched in horror as he pounded into her, pushed on her—throttled her.

"Dean!" Jeb yelled, but the young man didn't answer, too intent on beating his fists against Emma's senseless body. "Stop it! What is you doin'?" Jeb ran, grabbing at him. Dean looked up, surprised, uncomprehending. "You's killin' her!"

"Jeb!" Dean pulled free. "No! No! You don't understand. I have to." He pushed the old man away and went back to pounding his hands against Emma. Jeb heard the sharp snap of her ribs breaking.

"Jesus Christ, Dean!" He bellowed. "Stop! No!"

There was a sudden motion to his right as Slaid swung the cast iron kettle he'd retrieved from the stove, slamming it into the side of Dean's head with a sickening crack. The younger man crumpled lifelessly to the floor, blood spilling from the open head wound. Florabel continued her incoherent screaming.

"Florabel, child…" Jeb reached out to her, but she was in world of her own.

"Mama! Mama! Pally!" She stood there screaming, her rigid body quivering with shock.

Slaid picked her up. "Don't cry little one."

The moment Slaid's hand touched her, she became animalistic, struggling against him. He dropped her when she sunk her teeth into his arm. The little girl bolted from the house, screaming as she ran.

"Oh God, Emma." Jeb kneeled, his broken heart thudding. She was gone. "My God, what's he done to you?" He laid his hand on her forehead feeling the warmth still there. "Oh, my darling, child." He wept into her broken chest and lifted her into his arms, glaring at Dean where he lay in an expanding puddle of blood.

"Monster!" Jeb shook his head in disbelief. "What have you done?"

Continue to Chapter 17

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RagnhildRagnhild Skr Nilsen on June 14th, 2012 01:15 pm (UTC)
Cliff hanger! I'm kind of glad that I didn't stumble upon this fic earlier. I tend to worry about how things will turn out! Please!!!!
One of the best I've read in years.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 14th, 2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
Re: WOW!
Wow, well thank you for such wonderful comments! Yeah, I've totally had a couple of people say they are holding off to read this when it's been posted in its entirety because they hate cliffies. Heh. I feel their pain!

I'm SO glad you are enjoying this. It was really, really kind of you to let me know!