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21 June 2012 @ 06:30 am
Dust Devils: Hard Travelin’ (Chapter 18)  

February 13, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma




Dust Devils

Chapter 18

Hard Travelin’

**O**

February 13, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

Bobby eyed Florabel as she waited next to the collapsible field-stretcher just outside the building. He'd refused her entry until the banishing pentagrams and protective circle had been retouched from the previous night's disaster. The old woman and Ellen had returned with the truck-bed loaded with medical supplies, most of the equipment having been set up at the farm, ready for their patient. It worried Bobby how much they'd brought with them for triage. He had no doubt the woman knew her shit. It terrified him to think what shape the boy might be in when they got him back. If they got him back.

Despite the chill in the air, Bobby removed his cap and wiped sweat from his hairline. Next to him, Sam stood, a column of twitchy energy.

"This is it, Bobby. It has to happen this time."

"I know it, kid. I know." Bobby gave Sam a tight-lipped nod and spray-painted the finishing touches on the banishing sigils. Waving to Ellen, he gave her the all clear to bring Florabel in now that everything had been set.

Sam continued to stew at his side, the worry lines on his forehead bending and swirling like a topographical map. "We've been here an hour and no sign of them yet. Where are they, Bobby?"

"Steady on, boy. Don't want ‘em to show until we're ready, anyway." Bobby pointed to the circle as Florabel entered. "Step in there and don't leave, no matter what happens."

Florabel studied the runes and the smoldering herbs within the circle with fascination. Glancing up, she squinted at the sky visible through the collapsed roof.

"Drafty." She searched the rest of the room. "Is he here yet?"

"Not yet," Bobby said. "All three of you get in. I don't know how long we'll have to wait—" A frigid blast of air interrupted him. "Well, that answers that. Everybody in!"

"Finally." Sam drew Florabel into the protective circle, his jaw clenched, body wound as tight as a hairspring. "Get him back, Bobby. Please."

The hunters stood, senses alert, salt guns poised and ready. Bobby spun around, swiveling this way and that, scanning the room for movement.

"Where are you, you bastard?" He turned, pivoting in another circular sweep. The blast caught him on his right side, sending him flying toward the inside wall, both gun and mirror clattering to the floor.

"Bobby!" Sam shouted, jumping from the circle and running to the downed hunter. His sawed-off flew from his hand and crashed into the wall-studding behind them. When Bobby scrambled to grab the mirror, Slaid's spirit flickered and bent over the two men. Despite the danger, Bobby huffed in relief seeing the mirror still in one piece.

"Ördög Fighters come for more fun?" The spirit laughed and aimed another punch of energy that sent them sailing.

Florabel watched with wide, frightened eyes. "Slaid! No!"

The ghost froze in place, surprise, shock, and lust crisscrossing its face, morphing from one emotional response to the next as it turned to face Florabel. Its perverted mouth stretched impossibly wide, twisting into an angular, macabre grin as the spirit flickered and winked toward the circle. Florabel's hand moved down, covering herself. No doubt, seventy-two years was not long enough to heal some wounds. The old woman backed away from the madness in its eyes.

"Little one." Slaid ogled her with depraved admiration and desire. "You've finally returned to me."

**O**

April 20, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

When Dean came to himself, he was unable to measure or gauge his experience against the passage of time. Hours, minutes, days remained meaningless, the measure more quantifiable in terms of clarity of thought. And for Dean, clarity was patchy at best. Most thoughts sluiced off soon after formation, puddling and evaporating like rainwater on a summer roof.

Both thought and time continued to be erratic and jumpy. One moment the cat would be meowing on one side of him, the next it would be on the other without him ever having been aware of its movement. The only constant was the relentless Doppler buzz around his ears and soft movements on his face. That never stopped.

There came a point when he began to recognize words, plucking them out of the babble and hanging onto them for longer periods of time before they swirled away. Pally, Mama, and please were particularly significant and powerful. His body responded by ticking and jolting with the words, striving to interact, wanting to establish contact with the voice. Something cool pressed against his temple, and he leaned into it. It soothed the fire on his skin and dulled the ache in his head.

Time shuffled and the cloth was gone. The little thing with the mewling voice lay curled at his side. It babbled to him, desperate and insistent that he open his eyes, repeating the request over and over like a mantra. He really wanted to remain in the darkness, but the urgency and worry in that young voice compelled him to do as it asked. And so he tried. He struggled to lift his lids. A gasp of breath came from that small, pleading voice.

"That's it. Keep tryin', Pally. I know you can do it!"

Pain erupted in his head and he moaned. "Mmnnuugh!"

The little thing shifted at his side, and all the flies on his face took flight. With his heat source removed, Dean trembled and shivered uncontrollably.

"Open your eyes, Pally"

Small fingers gripped his jaw and shook his head, causing sharper barbs of pain to shoot through his skull. He fought to bring his hand up to stop the shaking.

"Nuhhh…" His hand fell against the offending limb and the warm digits moved away from his chin.

"You awake, Pally?"

He realized he knew the voice, and despite the pain he dug for a name. Someone took his hand and stroked it.

"Please. You gotta wake up. I don't know what to do, Pally!" Florabel's voice quavered with need.

Florabel

The name came to him, and his eyelids snapped open in response. He paid a price for that, however, as a jagged agony exploded in his temple.

"Gnnghhuh." He fought the pull to close his unfocused eyes. Florabel sat next to him, whimpering. He reached out his arm, fumbling it into her. "'Bel…" He turned his head toward her—an unfortunate choice. "Ughggh…" He sucked in air, riding a miserable wave of nausea.

The little girl sniffled and grabbed his hand. "Pally!" He flinched away from her loud voice. "Can you hear me? Do you want some water?"

He blinked in response and shifted his body. Florabel pressed a dripping cloth between his teeth, and he latched on, milking the moisture from it, washing away some of the pasty bitterness in his mouth. Florabel dipped the cloth again then daubed his face with it, cooling his heated skin. He swallowed and relaxed into the small relief it provided. Everything was stiff and sore, and the ground was hard beneath him. Why wasn't he in bed? He opened his eyes, not realizing he'd closed them.

"Wha' time s'it?"

"Dunno. I cain't tell, but I think it's tomorrow." Florabel snuggled into him, laying her head on his chest, snuffling against it. "Mama don't want us to stay here, Pally. She says it ain't safe."

"Mmm…Mama? Emma?" He took a deep breath and tried to think things through. "Whhh'r's Emma?" He wished she were there now. Her soft, capable hands always soothed and comforted him. Florabel whimpered, cheek pressed to his chest, looking into his eyes. He saw two of her in the weak lamplight.

"Mama's dead. Don't you remember, Pally?"

The words penetrated and he jolted with the memory of Emma lying on the floor. Adrenaline flooded his body, and he lurched up only to collapse against Florabel, nearly burying her beneath him. She scurried out of the way as he fell onto his side.

"Ffffuuuuck!" Everything went dark as pain and grief pressed him into the dirt floor. He lay panting for a moment while Florabel wept at his side. "Emma," he whispered.

"Mama don't want us to cry, Pally," Florabel said even though her own tears flowed freely. "She don't want us to be here. Can you git up so's we can go? Mama says it's too dangerous to stay."

Dean made a hard-fought attempt to lever himself up but failed. Black blobs surged in front of his eyes, lava-lamping up and down in time to the throbs in his head. It took a moment for them to dissipate before he could move. With Florabel's help, he pushed off the ground, flopping against the earthen wall.

"Emma?" He panted through the nausea and confusion.

Florabel sat on her knees and pet Dean's face. "Mama says we need to git."

"Says?" His head felt huge and ugly, like one of those lumpy, hairy, toothy tumors. Ghastly and inhuman. Florabel split into four and then rejoined into two images as he strove to focus—the best his vision could do.

He struggled to thread his diaphanous thoughts together. Right. Emma's advice. "Where's Emma?"

Florabel frowned. "I told you, Pally. Mama's dead."

Dean couldn't understand her. She made no sense. How could Emma tell them to go if she was dead? His eyes closed as he slumped into the wall.

"Don't go to sleep, Pally, please!"

His eyes opened, bewildered. "M'here."

"Can you walk?"

He gave her a weak grin. "Don' think m'goin' anywhere, swee'hear'." He coughed, his eyes bulging in agony. "Ffuck! "Hur's!" He rubbed his chest with clumsy hands. "Wh'r's Sam?"

Florabel patted him, but her composure slipped. "Please talk sense, Pally. Don't be hurt no more. I don't know wh—" Voices above them cut her off. "Mama!" She gasped the word like a desperate prayer. "It's them!" Goosebumps rose on her arms and she shivered in terror. "Slaid!"

As he watched Florabel's huge eyes and heard the footsteps overhead, the neurons and synapses in Dean's brain began firing, and he realized what was happening.

"Hide!" Dean whispered, levering himself into a sitting position.

His eye staggered around the small cellar. The only structures and furniture were the shelves along one of the walls and the big wooden stand. The few barrels and crates were far too small to offer concealment. Boot-thumps and voices traveled down from above.

"Slaid, did you open this?" Jeb's muffled voice accused him. "Did you come here after I told you to leave him be?"

"I've done nothing!" Slaid's wounded retort came as the door handle rattled and opened with a squeak.

Dean pointed to the large stand. There! He mouthed the word. Florabel ran behind it and crouched down.

"Who lit the lamp, then?" Jeb descended with Slaid close behind. Reaching the bottom, he saw Dean and he stopped short. Jeb's eyes reflected a war within, relief and worry, anger and disgust swirled across his face.

"You's awake," he said, his tone flat.

Dean strove for breath. "Jeb." He reached toward the man, pleading. Jeb turned to him and swallowed, his eyes glittering with grief and confusion in the lamplight. He knelt, swatting at the flies haloing Dean's bloody head.

"We's gonna git you some help." Jeb said. "Gonna fetch Sheriff Burnett, an' him and his boys'll take care ‘a you."

Dean reached out again, attempting to make physical contact with the old man, but his double vision interfered with his depth perception, and he kept misjudging the distance. After several tries, Jeb caught his hand, anchoring Dean as the young man strove to speak.

"Jeb." He gripped Jeb's hand like a lifeline. "M'not the one. Di'n' hur' her. Y'got t'believe me."

Jeb's brows pinched, his earnest, sincere eyes searching Dean's. He cleared his throat, his face dulling as he emotionally detached himself. "Don't matter what I think, boy. We'll let them smarter folks figure this out."

Dean fisted Jeb's shirt and groaned. "Nnhuhh, Jeb." His lashes fluttered as he fought to stay conscious. "Jeb…" He squinted and bobbled, trying to keep his train of thought. "Slai' ki—" His voice hitched, weakening, "—kill' Emma. N'me. Please, Jeb. Don' care ‘bout me. But Flor'bel—y'got t'help her."

Jeb bent close, trying to catch the slurred, mangled words. "Slaid?" He gripped Dean's hand, tugging to keep him awake. "What about him? What about Florabel? We's gonna find her an' she'll be fine, now."

"Nuhhnh." Frustrated at the miscommunication, Dean sucked air and tried again. "Slai' killed—" Pain exploded in Dean's side as Slaid kicked him, sending him sprawling. Before he could recover or Jeb could react to Slaid's unnecessary violence, a small squeal came from behind the wooden stand. Slaid turned immediately.

"Slai'," Dean yelled, sending more barbs of pain shooting through his skull. "Slaid!" He tried to keep Slaid's attention, but the man paid no heed. He walked toward the table. "Nuhh, don'…" Dean kicked out with his foot, scraping the dirt in fear and frustration, trying to trip the farmhand, anything to stop him.

Slaid reached down. "Well, hello there, little one." He lifted Florabel as she shrieked and kicked at him.

Dean attempted to stand, but vertigo leveled him and he fell facedown into an old rabbit carcass.

"Florabel!" Jeb ran to her.

"Old Jeb!" She tried to grasp hold of him. "Don't let him take me! Mama! Pally! Help me!"

"Let her go, Slaid." Jeb pried the girl from Slaid's grip. "Jesus, boy! She's out'a her head. You's scarin' her." She scrabbled into his arms, chuffing and quivering, eyes mindless and wild as they ping-ponged around the room. "There, there." Jeb hugged her to him. "It's all right, doll. I've got you. Calm down, sweetheart. We was worried sick about you."

Slaid grabbed Dean by his collar, shoving him into the wall. The hunter grunted, his eyes rolling back as he flirted with unconsciousness. Slaid hauled him up by his hair, swaying him back and forth as he slapped the man's cheek, laughing riotously when Dean tried to grab Slaid's abusive hand and repeatedly missed.

"Devil Fighter is still half asleep." He slapped Dean harder. "Wake up, you!"

"No! Old Jeb, don't let him hurt Pally! Florabel struggled to get down, but the old farmer held her tight.

"Slaid, knock it off!" Jeb roared.

Slaid turned and gave Jeb a devious grin before letting Dean fall in a heap. He continued to nudge Dean's head with his boot until he groaned in pain.

Jeb lunged for Slaid, tearing him away. "I said stop! I waited until we found the child like you asked. But we's gonna go git the law out here, now." Florabel fought to get down, but the old farmer hoisted her higher, pressing her head to his chest

"Let me go. I gotta help Pally!"

Jeb labored to hold onto a squirming girl as she thrashed her way out of his arms. "You don't want to go near him, Florabel. You stay with us, sweetheart."

She continued to kick her little legs like an Olympic swimmer. "No! Let me go! It weren't him! Pally didn't do nothin' wrong!"

Slaid scoffed. "The child is crazed."

"It weren't Pally. Me an' him was by the tree. We came home and found Mama that a-way. He didn't hurt her!" She wrenched herself free and ran to Dean, grabbing him as he tipped over. Righting him, she spun around, eyes molten. "Why won't you believe me?"

"But," Jeb said, faltering. "That don't make no sense."

Slaid pointed to the child. "She's bewitched. She's under his spell."

"No I ain't neither!" she yelled, straining to keep Dean upright.

"We saw him. Sweetheart, we saw him with your Mama." Jeb's breath hitched with the memory of it.

"CPR…" Dean struggled to turn his head toward Jeb.

"What?"

"CPR," Dean repeated. "S'a ‘suss'tation technique." He sighed. "Pffpht...pro'lly not invenn'ed yet."

Despite Florabel's efforts to hold Dean, his eyes closed and he slid sideways until he lay facedown in the urine-scented dust. His stomach heaved and he added some bile to the dirt so clotted with blood, come, and rot it was nothing more than a crusty, miasmic clay.

Jeb blinked at Slaid. "Wh—what's he sayin'? What's CPR?"

"Don't pay attention to him. Look at this place." He gestured about him. "See what he is?" He placed his boot on the back of Dean's head, pressing it into the filthy floor as he laughed. Florabel screamed in outrage.

"You, leave him be!" She kicked dirt at Slaid's shins. "Why is you here? Mama tol' you to git, but you wouldn't. Why's you here?" She ran to Jeb. "Old Jeb, you gotta believe me. Pally didn't do nothin'." She touched his face as he knelt. "You know him. I know you know him, Old Jeb."

The old farmer huffed and wove his fingers through his gray hair, tugging at the tips.

"She'll say anything to protect him." The farmhand paced the floor, growling low in his throat. "He's put a spell on her."

"You hurt Mama an' blamed Pally for it." She looked at Dean and made a decision. Turning to the old farmer, she sucked in a breath. "I know Slaid hurt Mama, because he…," she swallowed, "because he hurt me, too. Slaid hurt me, Old Jeb—when Henry died and you was tendin' Mama. He took me to the bunkhouse and he hurt me…here." She pointed to her privates. Jeb's intake of breath cut the sudden silence in the room. "He jabbed me so hard." Her words became wet with tears. "He told me never to tell or he'd hurt you and Mama, and now she's dead. I don't want Slaid to jab you, but it's the truth. Pally didn't do nothing, Old Jeb, please believe me."

"She lies!" Slaid paced like a hunted animal. "I've heard enough." He grabbed Dean, pulling him to his knees. He spun on Jeb. "I don't care what you say anymore old man. I'm finishing this. Devil Fighter is putting lies in her head!"

Florabel yanked Slaid's arm, screaming. "Stay away from him!" Her small hands balled into furious fists and she pounded them against him. "Git away!"

Slaid's unexpected, swift backhand sent Florabel sprawling into a heap by the table. She put a clumsy hand to her cheek as she blinked in dazed surprise.

"What the blazes?" Jeb yelled, shocked and appalled. He went to grab Slaid, but the farmhand pushed him away.

Dean watched as something snapped in Slaid. Perhaps the feel of the child's flesh against his—the crack of his hand striking her face—unraveled him. His eyes went wild and feral. Dean's stomach turned when he noticed Slaid's pants tenting over a blatant hard on. The man no longer restrained himself, and he kicked more dirt and feces into Dean's face, raging incoherently until Jeb moved to help Florabel.

"Git away from my whore." He barreled toward Jeb. "She's mine. As soon as the Devil Fighter's spell is broken, she will want me."

"What the hell you going on about?" Jeb looked at Slaid standing there, twitching and ticking with excitement. "Did you do it, Slaid?" Jeb flushed and his voice held a dark threat. "Did you do what she said?"

Slaid folded his arms and smirked. "I can do whatever I like with my property." He examined his fingernails, unconcerned. He smiled at Jeb and stomped his foot toward him in a mock attack, causing the older man to startle and recoil. Slaid slapped his thigh and laughed. "Your eyes, old man. So big!" He laughed, imitating Jeb's horror by gasping and bulging his eyes.

Jeb edged away. "Something's come undone in your mind, boy." The old man tried again to move toward the child.

"Ah-ah." Slaid wagged his finger at him. "My whore."

Before Slaid could add anything else, though, Dean kicked his knees from behind, buckling them, throwing him off balance. Slaid grunted and somersaulted out of the way, while Jeb ran to Florabel.

Turning, Slaid gripped Dean by his shirt and slammed him into the wall, laughing at Dean's feeble attempts to fend him off. "Stay put, Devil Fighter. You don't look so good."

"Come on, asshat! M'righ' here!" Dean strove to keep the lunatic's attention. It didn't work.

The farmhand rounded on Jeb as he bent down to Florabel. "Stay away!" He caught the old farmer with his fist and sent him flying into the corner. When blood spilled from Jeb's mouth, Slaid cheered, dancing around the room like prizefighter.

"I don't need you anymore." Slaid pranced and strutted. Snarling, he grabbed Dean. "Now, I'm going to break this spell and take my whore." Dean flailed against Slaid's rough hands as he jerked him toward the ladder. "I don't need you."

Jeb sat up, staring at Slaid in complete shock. Florabel ran to Dean, clinging to him as Slaid dragged him away.

"No, Florabel." Dean tried to shake her off. "Run, when y'can. Jus' run."

"No! I ain't leavin' you," she cried. "Slaid don't do it! Don't hurt him! Please!" Slaid grunted and pushed her away as he hoisted Dean up the first rungs of the ladder.

"Jesus Christ, Slaid, stop!" Jeb wobbled as he rose, hand supporting his jaw. Digging in his pocket he pulled out his gun, pointing it at the farmhand. Adrenaline and fear caused the gun to rattle and shake in his hand. "Don't do this!"

Florabel kept fighting to hold onto Dean. "Slaid!" she shouted. "I'll be your whore. Just don't kill him!"

All activity came to a screaming halt as a stunned silence filled the room.

"I'll go with you. I'll let you jab me." Florabel's teeth chattered as she continued. "I won't never leave you. Don't kill him." She brushed her hand across Slaid's knee, pleading. "I'll be whatever y'want."

Dean stirred to life. "Florabel, no!" He pushed against Slaid, fighting to get his legs under him. "Florabel, get away from ‘im."

Neither Slaid nor Florabel paid attention to him. The farmhand studied the girl, considering her offer, perhaps making sure it was genuine.

Slaid craned his neck to whisper in Dean's ear. "Would love to keep you, too. But…" He let go, and Dean crumpled to the floor.

"No!" Dean yelled.

Slaid grabbed the straps of Florabel's overalls and yanked her up, ascending the ladder, dangling the child like a carpetbag in his hands. With a husky grunt, Slaid disappeared through the trapdoor and slammed it behind him.

"Florabel!" Dean called in vain.

**O**

February 13, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

Slaid advanced with a roar, throwing himself at the old woman. He hit the barrier and ricocheted off the invisible boundary. Undaunted, he tried again with the same result. A snarl of frustration reverberated around the room.

"Whore." He beckoned to her, his tone commanding. "Come here."

"You still think you can own me, Slaid? You think summoning this thing would have ever made Mama or me care for you?" She drew herself up. "They ain't no demon in the world could'a made us belong to you."

"The Ördög Fighter made you believe that. He ruined you."

"No. He had nothin' to do with it." Florabel walked to the edge of the protective ring, glaring at the spirit. "The only power he ever had was his own goodness and caring, something you never had, Slaid. You tried to take what you wanted without a thought for anyone else. Even if Pally had never shown up, I still wouldn't a'been yours, nor Mama, neither."

Sam helped Bobby off the floor. Gripping his ribs and wincing, Sam reached for his gun. "It's over Slaid."

The ghost spun around. "No, Devil Fighter." He stretched his hands apart, tossing cold lightening between them as the wind-demon materialized. "It will never be over. The Hala is mine, at least. It does what I say."

Had the building been in better repair, another wall would have given way. With the outer walls long gone, however, the Cyclone did not do as much damage when it appeared at the back of the structure. Slaid flung out his hands and attached his energy to it, feeding it as it grew in intensity.

"Inside the circle." Bobby motioned to Sam. "Hurry. It's almost time! Keep the salt guns ready and don't shoot until I tell you. We'll deal with the spirits another day. Just put them off for now."

Florabel watched with a faint heart as the black cloud took shape, memories overwhelming her. She shook her head in disbelief. Seventy two years had passed and she still felt as helpless and terrified as she'd been on that horrible day, long ago. So focused on the Cyclone, she didn't notice the other spirit enter the room, jumping and flitting from one place to the other. It stopped midway between the Cyclone and the hunters and circled around, bumping into the protective field. It hit it a few times, like a bee bouncing against a glass window.

"Back." Ellen gripped Florabel and pulled her away. "Don't step outside the circle,"

"What's happening?" Sam yelled. "Why isn't it attaching to the Cyclone?"

Bobby watched the spirit hovering around Florabel. "I don't know!" He shouldered his gun and aimed it at the wobbling image stuttering around the protective circle.

The wind splintered an inner wall and debris flew about them.

"Down!" Sam shouted, shielding Florabel with his body.

When a large piece of wood flew over their heads, the wayward spirit spun, throwing out a strand of electricity, attaching itself to the Cyclone.

"There!" Bobby turned, lifting the mirror. When the blazing core of the Cyclone began to expel its light, he flipped the mirror, throwing the light back onto the wind demon and the spirits. The portal split open with a shattering crack, and Bobby held on for dear life. With a slow, deliberate voice, he intoned the retrieval spell.

**O**

April 20, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

Dean's attempt to rise had him lurching like a toddler coming off a merry-go-round. His effort to walk forward only took him sideways, and he just missed cracking his skull on the altar. Jeb ran to him.

"No." Dean grabbed his shirt. "Help her." He pointed to the gun in Jeb's hand. "Stop ‘im. Now, or s'gonna be too late."

Jeb waffled. "I—I don't know as I'm steady enough to pull the trigger." He held up his quaking hands. His chest heaved with shock and terror.

Florabel's screams receded as Slaid made his way from the barn. "Jeb, hurry." Dean reached out his hand. "Help me up." He pointed to the weapon in the old man's unsteady hand. "Gimme."

"I got you, son." Jeb hauled Dean up, shouldering him in a fireman's carry, climbing the stairs as fast as he could.

Slaid had been in too much of a hurry to block the door, allowing Jeb to push it with his head. Once up, he got Dean on his feet and threaded an arm around his waist, taking on as much weight as he could.

"Gun…" Dean held out his hand, trying to ignore the splintering pain in his head. Adrenaline kept him upright and conscious for the time being, but it wouldn't last long. Jeb handed him the weapon, and Dean looked down, begging his eyes to cooperate, but he still saw two blurry guns held in two shaky hands.

"Fuck." He gripped the gun and nodded toward the door. "Go."

Jeb lumbered from the barn on into the desolate yard. Had the sun not been hidden by blowing dust, Dean would've passed out. He held up a hand to shield his eyes, but the light scored through his brain. He stumbled to his knees.

"Up, son." Jeb adjusted him in his grip and pointed. "Over there. They're by the bunkhouse."

Dean opened his eyes and strove to focus. Seeing two smudges in the distance he willed his wobbly legs to move faster. "Slaid!"

The farmhand stopped for a second, but then moved on, trying to put distance between them.

Dean shot the gun in the air. "Stop!"

Slaid froze and turned with a hiss. Jeb continued to bring Dean closer until they were no more than fifty paces apart.

"Let her go, Slaid." Dean kept his voice steady as he strove to bring the two images of Slaid together, close enough to draw bead. He knew he couldn't risk a shot in his condition with Florabel so close.

"My whore." Slaid shifted the little girl in his arms as she struggled and screamed. "She was always mine." He tossed her over his shoulder, freeing one of his arms. As he spoke his hand glowed with metallic-blue rivulets of electricity. "I will have her. Hala can have you." In a clamorous voice he chanted an incantation.

"Én itt beidéz, Hala. A szél az Ördög!"

A jagged bolt of electricity stabbed the ground not far behind Jeb and Dean. Dust billowed and blew past them as a black dust devil took shape. Whips of lightening lashed out from the dark twister, snaking through the air as though searching for a mark. Florabel shrieked in terror.

"Shit," Dean said. Slaid jogged away, forcing him to waste another bullet with a warning shot. It brought the farmhand to a halt again. "Florabel!" Dean called. Fingers and spines of electricity crawled from the Cyclone and along the ground toward the two men. The currents connected to Dean, and threads of electricity ran up and down his legs and arms. Jeb let go of him in fear and surprise. The hunter dropped to his knees.

"Dear God!" Jeb watched two groping whips of light flick out and fasten themselves to the back of Dean's head. The old man tried to pull him to safety, but a powerful shock sent him sprawling into the dirt. Dean's body pulsed with blue-white light as Jeb got to his feet and made another attempt to grab him.

"Don't touch me." Dean waved him off. "Move back."

"Son...no!" Jeb reached for him again, but Dean jerked away.

He met Jeb's eye. "G'back and help Florabel."

Jeb reluctantly backed away as the black dust cloud inched closer.

"Nhhghh!" Dean scrabbled for the gun he'd dropped in the dust. Something was happening—something he couldn't stop. He peered behind him and noticed the core of the Cyclone glowing. "Oh god, Sammy," he whispered, horrified as he tried to crawl away. He saw Slaid, rooted in fascination, mesmerized by the destructive force of the wind-demon.

Dean raised the gun. "Florabel!" Spears of hot pain shot through him, and his body went rigid as more currents hooked onto him.

"Pally!" Florabel screamed. "Pally!"

Both Dean and the strange, black cloud glowed with light, pulsing and throbbing in unison. Another lasso of lightening attached itself to him, and his back arched as though he'd been shot. He screamed in pain.

Dean watched Florabel fight against Slaid. When she bit into his shoulder and kicked him, Slaid grabbed her by the hair and slapped her harder than he had in the cellar.

"Florabel!" Dean cried, exhausted and beaten.

He tried to crawl away from the Cyclone. Unlike last time, he felt no outright suction, but an undeniable, magnetic force tugged at his core. Striving to concentrate on Slaid and the child, his senses reeled and the sudden sound a whizzing hummingbirds overwhelmed his senses. Thousands of them.

"Florabel!" He aimed the gun between the two images of Slaid. "Kick him in the jabber!"

Florabel acted quickly, pivoting her leg out as far as it could go and swung it down, hitting her fleshy mark. She tumbled from Slaid's arms when he collapsed into a windless heap, and she scurried away, running straight for Dean.

"Pally!" She called his name as she ran, but Jeb intercepted her and pulled her toward the barn. Florabel fought the old man, screaming, but he held her firm.

Dean looked at the Cyclone vacuuming up the dust as it bore down upon him. He fought to stand, but the force compelling him would not allow him to get his legs under him. The buzzing sound of hummingbirds grew louder. He felt them as much as heard them, pulling at his solar plexus. His hands shook as the gun started to glow with energy. Time was running out. He noticed Slaid had risen to his knees.

"Hala!" Slaid wheezed in pain. "I'll have the whore once you're gone. She's mine!" He stretched electric currents between his hands, preparing to loose them at Dean.

Dean aimed, relying on his years of experience and training to overcome the concussion. Digging deep, he focused on the monster in front of him, making calculations and corrections for his eyesight, recalibrating his aim to compensate for the double-vision. With the last of his strength, he shot twice and felt absolute satisfaction as the farmhand's head snapped back and his body plummeted lifelessly into the dust.

"Told ya you weren't getting much older, fucker!" Dean said. Another wave of energy coursed through him. "Naahghh, Sam!"

Florabel threw her arms toward him. "Pally, NO!"

Dean tried one more time to get away from the Cyclone, but he fell, his hands clawing the dirt for purchase. His senses dulled, and he met Florabel's eyes as his strength faltered.

"Sorry kiddo…" There was no more fight in him. The hummingbirds pulled at him and the planet began to spin. His shoulders sagged and the gun dropped from his glowing hand.

"Mmnuhh!" He groaned as the currents thrilled through his body.

Several other electric tentacles noosed him. His muscles seized and he bucked and jounced like a marionette on a string. Still more tethers swung free and hooked themselves into him.

"Sam!" he cried, disoriented.

He heard Florabel scream, echoing his suffering. He looked at her one last time.

"Love you, Bel," he called to her as webs of electricity netted him, dragging him directly into the core of the Cylcone.

His ears popped along with the release of pressure in his head as he capitulated to the elemental. He was keenly aware of his body's disintegration as the vortex drew him in and cremated him. The last conscious image he had before his eyes turned into globes of liquid light was of Florabel nestled safe and sound in Jeb's arms. The sight filled him with both regret and relief. Then, light and darkness fused, burning away every thought he ever had, leaving nothing behind but the roaring wind.

**O**

February 13, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

Another inside wall gave way, sending debris spinning through the air and onto the prairie as though expelled from a giant confetti canon. The air crackled and snapped with electricity, blue veins groping along the ground and up the last standing wall. A clap of thunder shook the building and the Cyclone twisted inside out, becoming a crystal, spinning nucleus of light.

Sam heard Bobby chant the final words of the spell, and all four onlookers snapped their eyes shut against the brilliant beam of light that burst forth like a quasar. A shockwave of dust sent Bobby crashing into the wall.

Shielding Florabel, Sam opened his eyes and watched as a body tumbled from the lighted core, landing in a graceless pile on top of some crumbled pieces of drywall. Blue arcs of electricity crackled and rippled over it and then dissipated.

"Sam! Ellen!" Bobby shouted at the top of his lungs. "Get ready to shoot! We won't have much time once they're gone." Tossing the mirror away, he unsheathed a dagger.

As soon as Sam and Ellen took aim he barked the order. "NOW!"

They shot as one, each hitting their mark dead on. Both spirits collapsed and dissolved into coiling eddies of astral dust.

Wasting no time, Bobby turned to the east, touched his forehead. "Eheieh!" Pointing the dagger toward the ground he chanted. "Malkuth!" He continued the banishing ritual as Sam watched the Cyclone ebb without its power source.

"Hurry Bobby!" Sam shouted in horror. "It's disappearing!"

"Le-Olahm Iao!" Bobby completed a counterclockwise circle and faced east once more. He traced a pentagram in the air. "Eheieh!"

The Cyclone froze as though someone had stopped time or hit a pause button. The wind ceased in an instant.

"What the…" Sam marveled.

"Don't move!" Bobby boomed a warning to the others.

He tossed the dagger in the air, and catching it by the blade, he threw it full force into the static elemental. With a soft snick, a vacuum sucked in all sound and light as the entire Cyclone collapsed in on itself. Then, with a splintering crack it exploded like a supernova, shattering into a million pieces of light. The onlookers ducked and covered their heads, but the shrapnel had no form or matter. The debris disappeared like the sparks of a firework. Absolute silence descended in the aftermath of the explosion.

Sam recovered first, rousing from his stunned awe.

"Dean!" Panic overtook him as he ran to the figure on the floor—too thin and gaunt to be his brother, skinny arms and legs askew. "It's not him! Fuck! Bobby! It's not Dean!"

As the other three ran up, Sam rolled the man over and gasped.

"My God." Ellen put her hand to her mouth.

"Jesus, boy." Bobby took a knee, checking his pulse.

Sam's devastated eyes searched the figure. "Dean," he said at last. Dean bore little resemblance to the man Sam had seen just days ago—now skeletally thin, his head coated in blood and filth. "Is he breathing?" Bobby said nothing. "Bobby, is he breathing?"

The older hunter swallowed and nodded. "He's breathing, but we need to get him out of here and back to the Doc's." Bobby adjusted his hat and bent close again, twitching his nose with a shudder. "Good god, what's that smell?" Both Ellen and Sam recoiled from the stench.

Florabel, who'd remained silent the whole time laughed through her tears. They turned to her as though she'd lost her mind. Her agonized eyes filled with love as she caressed Dean's brow.

"What's so funny?" Sam asked.

"The smell." Florabel smiled at an old memory. "I'd forgotten." She shook her head with a laugh. "It's skunk oil and turpentine."

Continue to Chapter 19

Back to Master Post



 
 
 
jpgr: SPN Rock Paper Scissors anijpgr on June 21st, 2012 12:24 am (UTC)
Posted earlier tha I expected. WHat a treat. I knew poor Jeb had to see it to believe it. Brave Florabel telling Slaid she would go with him if he left Dean alone. And BDH Dean fighting the concussion and double-vision to shoot Slaid in the head. And old Florabel laughing at the skunk oil and turpentine.

I really dn't know how I'll fill the void when this is done!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 21st, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, things looked bad, but Jeb is no fool. He's not going to look into Dean's eyes and not be unmoved!

Dean definitely wasn't going to leave without Slaid getting his...no matter what!

Ha! I can just imagine Old!Florabel smelling that scent again! After all those years she knew exactly what it was. Though, I suspect the root cellar was still clinging to Dean, too. Pew!

I know what you mean about that void! I definitely felt one when I was done writing, but it was filled by sharing it with everyone here. Now I guess I'll just have to go write my Stanford Era fic that one of my betas has challenged me to write. Heh. So I guess I should start playing around with that. This has been fun, though!

Thanks much for the comment!

Edited at 2012-06-21 11:45 pm (UTC)
deangirl1: Dean's tummydeangirl1 on June 21st, 2012 05:11 am (UTC)
OMG! Fantastic payoff! What a marvelous climactic scene! I think Dean says fuck more than any other word in this chapter... LOL!!!

I adored Florabel for trying to save Dean - and Jeb finally coming to his senses. And Slaid finally getting his due!!!

I'm so, so looking forward to the Pally/Florabel reunion! I'm not looking forward to Dean having to put Emma to rest, however - though I'm sure (hoping) that she will make things easier for him.

I loved that Sam didn't even recognize his brother... poor Dean will have a long road back, I fear...
Can't wait for the next chapter - as always!

And now I'm hoping you are already at work on your next story....
As always, wonderful writing!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 21st, 2012 11:39 pm (UTC)
LOL. Hey! I just counted...he only says if 4 times! That's pretty calm. Although, I must concede that Dean was pretty non-verbal for most of the chapter....hahaha...so given that he only says about 4 lines...then yeah...I guess he does say it a lot. ;)

It really was gratifying to see things come together and to Slaid nose-dive into the dirt. I really enjoyed writing that a lot! :P

Ha! I was just saying that I guess I better start tinkering with my next story. We'll see! I have been issued a challenge to write a Stanford Era fic, (dean-centric h/c, of course), but I am also about to be unemployed. I'm losing my job on August 7th (corporate take over is liquidating my current job site), so I have to somewhat give RL some attention. On the other hand...I'll totally be getting a severance and Unemployment, so maybe I'll have even MORE time to write! :P We'll see.

Thanks so very much for your kind comments! They make my day!
deangirl1deangirl1 on June 25th, 2012 04:37 am (UTC)
I meant to drop by earlier to say I'm sorry about your job - they say things are getting better, but I'm not seeing it - at least not in some areas- like corporate culture. I like to try to stay positive about these things though, so maybe this is all happening at this time because there is an amazing opportunity just waiting for you out there! And in the meanwhile, here's to some extra writing time!!! I actually find that I often write more when I have the least time - seems I need to have maximum stress to get anything done!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 25th, 2012 10:36 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks darlin'! Yeah, it sucks, but it was just a job--I'm not a rocket surgeon. ;) I was just your average cubicle dwelling, office drone. I'll get another job. Humans are pretty whiny creatures, but we all tend to dig deep when need dictates it. And as you said...hey...extra time for some fanfic writin'! LOL. Can't really complain about that!

/hugs
mdlawmdlaw on June 21st, 2012 04:00 pm (UTC)
Dust Devil
Oh thank goodness, now I can breathe. m :)
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 21st, 2012 11:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Dust Devil
Yes, yes...breathe easy! Just remember they have a vengeful spirit to take down, too! :P Somehow I don't see Slaid laying down too easy! ;) Is your heart pounding again? ;)
tifachingtifaching on June 21st, 2012 06:41 pm (UTC)
Dean is BAD ASS! You take Slaid out with lungs that don't work and a bell that's well and truly rung!

Florabel is heartbreaking.! Offering herself to Slaid to save her Pally.

And Sam's first sight of his brother. Emaciated and bloody and barely breathing. You, my dear, are a genius!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 21st, 2012 11:45 pm (UTC)
Dean really is a damned hero. He won't let anything happen to Bel while he's still even semi-sentient! He's the best.

Yeppers...and now she gets to return the favor a bit and look after him! Woot!

As ever...thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Rince1windrince1wind on June 21st, 2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
Aaaaagh!!! I don't have much patience at the best of times and you're killing me! At least this time I got to read two and a half chapters at one go... And exciting chapters at that!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 21st, 2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
D'oh! Well...look at it this way...only THREE more chapters to go! So it will all play out soon enough!

I'm SO very glad you enjoyed those chapters. They certainly are some of my favorites, too!

Thanks much!
(Deleted comment)
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 23rd, 2012 12:21 am (UTC)
Aw, thank you so much! I'm so glad you are enjoying it.

Yeah, the OC's even took me by surprise, I have to admit. It was really gratifying to see them take shape each chapter! The time spent on the research was 100% enjoyable, though. I really loved getting a feel for the time period (something that I knew VERY little about going into!), and I walked away with a huge respect for the people who experienced the Dust Bowl.

I have NEVER been in a dirt storm, but I read many accounts of it. It sounds absolutely ghastly. I was watching a documentary where they recreated the conditions of a storm and they had a researcher who was going to "experience" it without any masks or modern-day breathing equipment. They had to stop the experiment not long after starting because it was just too dangerous for the poor guy. He was in definite respiratory distress!

Thanks again, and I'm so glad you found the story! I appreciate the comment so much!
(Deleted comment)
stazzijenstazzijen on June 22nd, 2012 02:27 pm (UTC)
Absolutely wonderful. You've literally had me in tears through these chapters. They are so well written. You are a very talented person.

never stop writing. I don't want this to end.

xx
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 23rd, 2012 12:24 am (UTC)
Awww!!!! /comforts you. Thank you SO much for saying that. Huh...weird that I find it somehow gratifying that you were crying! How effed up is that?! /snort. Oh...you were emotionally distressed? COOL!!! ;) Geez.

Ah me...anyway, I'm so glad that you enjoyed the chapters, and I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart for such a kind and generous comment!
(Anonymous) on June 28th, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
I loved this chapter! This was definitely Dean at his finest. Injured, bloody, exhausted, and with an entire cargo hold of emotional baggage awaiting him; yet he still manages to do what needs to be done to save the day. Isn't that a big part of the reason so many of us fell in love with this character in the first place? We know him to be the hero he never sees in himself, and you've done a lovely job of portraying that heroicness in typical Dean-fashion. One complaint.....Slaid died *way* too easy! Of course, given the state Dean was in at the time, an actual fight between the two of them probably would not have worked out in his favor!

I loved Florabel's courage in this story, both as a girl offering to go with Slaid to protect her Pally and as an older woman standing up to the now-dead monster who tormented her. That was awesome! I also thought she was brave to tell Jeb what Slaid did to her. That was obviously hard for her, but I think it really helped Jeb start to see that Slaid was the real bad guy in this picture. I liked Jeb's protectiveness of Florabel and attempts to assist Dean in going after Slaid. I knew Ol Jeb wouldn't let us down!

I must admit you scared me for a moment when Sam first saw his brother and said it wasn't Dean. I actually thought they'd somehow brought back the wrong person until Sam flipped him over and just realized that Dean really looked *that* bad. One thing I've noticed is how well you hurt Dean. You don't just hurt the guy physically; you do it emotionally and psychologically as well. Mindless physical torture has its place in the world of SPN (I admit to having enjoyed a couple stories of this nature!) but it's all the more satisfying when there is a mental aspect to it as well, and I think you've done a great job of that. Of course, I also think it's more satisfying when there is Sam Comfort afterwards, of which I've been assured there is a "crap-ton," so I'm off to hopefully enjoy that in the next chapter now. Great job, yet again, Kat!

Beth
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 28th, 2012 10:38 pm (UTC)
Beth!

Yes! I enjoy a nice big dose of Dean!whumpage, but I always prefer it within the context of a ‘hunt’. That’s not to say there hasn’t been the odd exception to that rule here or there, but mostly I like story with my h/c. And I think it is exactly for that emotional element. And I really love how you put it, “We know him to be the hero he never sees in himself”. That’s exactly it. That’s what really sets him apart. He’s so beautiful; he’s so good, and he just doesn’t get it. In S1-S5, for me…Dean really embodied (more than any other character on the show) God’s “Will”. I mean, “God” made the earth for mankind, his favorite creatures (according to the angels…begrudgingly so!). It was Lucifer (and then other angels), who got a little testy about that. But God always put Man before all others. And S1-S5 Dean does that, too. Humans are Dean’s primary focus, and we’ve seen him ready to sacrifice himself for them several times. I think the show has somewhat, sadly lessened that inclination in Dean in S6 and S7. But they can’t take that away entirely.

Ha! You are so right…you and pretty much everyone else has stated that Slaid died WAYYYYY too quickly. It’s one of the problems with doling out that much hurt. I couldn’t have a fist-fight, because Dean wasn’t in shape for it. So you have to do what you have to do in order to keep the pacing and tension up. On the upside…Vengeful-ghost!Slaid still needs to be taken care of…so maybe we’ll get to see him go down twice. Quantity over quality in this instance…yes? Maybe? ;)

I really wanted Florabel to find her voice and finally get a chance to tell Slaid off. So I made good and sure that Old!Florabel got the chance to set him straight on some things. Of course, the monster is an complete and utter nutter, so I’m not sure what impact it really had on him…but it was good for Florabel to express it.

As always thanks for the crazy-awesome comments! I appreciate your thoughts!

Kat :)