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24 May 2012 @ 06:30 am
Dust Devils: Black Wind Blowing (Chapter 10)  
April 12, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma




Dust Devils

Chapter 10

Black Wind Blowing


**O**

April 12, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

"You're fine, Pally."

"Am not. I suck."

"Aw, Pally, C'mon. Don't be that a-way. You'll git it. It's easy. Just allemande left, promenade with Mama around the square once, and then do-si-do."

Florabel wobbled, standing on a chair, a poof of dust rising from the cushion when she moved. She paid no attention to that, though. Engrossed in her role of Square-dance Caller, the little girl instructed her cranky student, determined give him one more lesson before the Crawford's big barn-dance the following night. Sadly, though, Dean had little passion for square-dancing. How could he not love it?

"Ugh." Dean whined. "This is so lame. I'm no good at this."

Emma chuckled and corrected his stance. He'd positioned her as if they were about to promenade instead of allemande. She tapped his hand, shooing it away from her back and motioned for him to grip from the front. "You're doing fine, Dean. It ain't easy at first."

He wasn't buying the encouragement. "I'm gonna make a fool of myself." He threw his head back, shaking it at the ceiling and groaning.

Ever since the announcement that the Spring barn-dance would be held despite the lack of planting to celebrate, Florabel had been out of her mind with anticipation. She'd taken it upon herself to make sure Dean was Emma's square-dance partner at the event, so lessons had been ongoing for the past week.

Not only were they attending the dance on Saturday night, Emma had given permission for Florabel and Dean to attend the jackrabbit drive the same afternoon. Since the drive was the precursor to the dance, they were expecting a huge turnout. To top everything off, Florabel's eighth birthday was the day following the dance, Sunday, April 14th. Added together, they had a hyper child bouncing off the walls. It was going to be a big weekend, and Dean didn't want to disappoint the little girl. All the same, he thought, square-dancing sucked hairy balls.

In the weeks following Molly's disappearance and Dean's run-in with Slaid, the two men kept their distance. With much of Dean's time taken with the barn renovations, the two rarely met. Emma had helped by scheduling meals to avoid any possible confrontation. Being an early riser, Dean'd eat and head to the barn with Florabel and Jeb before Slaid awoke. Emma would often wander out with them and lend a hand or sit with Florabel and watch the men work as they all chatted together.

They'd commandeered most of the necessary materials from Jeb's old barn, having borrowed a truck from the Haffner's to haul everything. What them bankers don't know or don't see us take, ain't gonna hurt them a lick! Jeb had said.

For several weeks they repaired the barn under Dean's meticulous eye. He didn't have time to fight with Slaid. He still disliked and distrusted the farmhand, but there were always more pressing issues needing his attention. The worst of which was the nasty turn the weather had taken. Ever since the day Molly disappeared, the blow season had lived up to its name, and there had been no respite from the raging dust.

Constant winds menaced Boise City, gusts often exceeding 60mph. Daily dusters rolled through, causing their world to shrink to just the barn and windmill. The static electricity generated by the blowing dust left every living thing fried to a crisp. Emma's pitiful kitchen garden was now nothing but rows of shriveled, blackened leaves. There would be no garden that year.

In the mornings they'd wake to find that the shifting dust had drifted, blocking either the backdoor or the barn door, often times both. One day it took two hours for Dean and Jeb to dig their way through a nine-foot drift blocking the barn door, and by the time they were done that evening, they'd spent another two hours digging themselves back out. They'd nearly lost the rest of the chickens on one occasion when a drift encroached on their coop. It became a constant struggle of backbreaking work and vigilance to keep their small space livable.

Dean experienced no further visions that included Slaid, so he assumed the vision in the barn had been a fluke. While his episodes diminished in frequency, they were vivid and intense when they did occur. The worst of these episodes struck the day they went to gather wood from Jeb's old barn. Dean had thoughtlessly gotten behind the wheel of the truck, triggering an intense vision of driving a large, black car. He'd tried to seize hold of Sam who sat in the passenger seat, but his hand passed right through him, as though either he or Dean was a ghost. The raw emotion he'd experience during the vision had overwhelmed him, and he felt bereft and homesick when he woke. Since then, Dean had withdrawn somewhat, worrying the others. His appetite dipped and he'd dropped more weight. As little as there was for any of them to eat, Emma never ceased trying to get him to eat more.

This weekend, though, he promised himself to put all of that aside. This weekend belonged to Florabel. She'd been ticking off the days for weeks now, building up an insane, dervish excitement that only children are truly free enough to indulge in. The weekend was upon them, and Dean intended to make it special for her. So, if that meant participating in some goofy-ass dance, he'd do it. But it wasn't easy.

"Okay, now, mind your square!" Florabel called rhythmically, "And take your lady and allemande left! Come back and swing-swing-swing her boys! Promenade her home, and do-si-do!" All three of them stopped dead in their tracks, stunned. Florabel's face sparkled with pride. "You done it! Pally!" She gasped in awe. "You done that perfectly!"

Dean gave her an embarrassed, shrugging smirk. "This is so gay." He lamented his plight with a good-natured shake of his head.

Florabel stood back on her heels and folded her arms. "It really is, isn't it, Pally? I knew you'd like it if you gave it half a chance!" She smiled triumphantly.



**O**

Florabel sat on a bale of hay, swinging her legs. "I cain't wait for you to meet Lizzy, Pally." Her fixation on the coming events continued to dominate conversation.

Dean wiped his sweaty brow, unhooked another hay-bale from the pulley and stacked it in the corner of the loft. "Lookin' forward to it."

"And Papa's friends is gonna be there, too." Her eyes followed him as he worked. "They play the music for the dance. Papa used to play the fiddle with ‘em. It'll be so much fun, Pally!"

"Can't wait." Dean rested while Jeb climbed down and attached the last bale to the ropes. He sniffed the air and made a sour face. "Man that stink is still lingering even after all this time." He worked the pulley. "Something crawled in here and died. You'd think it would mummify and stop smelling so bad. You notice it, Jeb?"

"Every once in a while." Jeb climbed the ladder to help stack. "Mostly I just smell the skunk oil and turpentine on you and Florabel, though." Ducking Dean's playful thwap, he laughed. "Hey, you asked!"

"Whatever." Dean huffed at the man in mock offense. He passed a bale to Jeb to stack. "If there haven't been crops in the past four years, where did all this hay come from?"

"The government bought the starvin' cattle. They came through a few months ago, just afore you showed up, and paid a few dollars per head an' then took all them cattle to the field ‘n shot ‘em dead. Emma took them funds and bought enough hay for Penny to live on for a while. Before that, we was feeding her tumbleweeds."

"Jes—uh…" Dean noticed Florabel's blue eyes hanging on his every word and chose another. "Je—Jehosephat!"

"You can say that agin." The old man dusted his overalls and surveyed their work. "I daresay this barn looks better'n what it did afore anything happened. You done good work, son." Jeb clapped a fond hand on Dean's shoulder.

"Pally is the best fixer in the world." Florabel applauded the two. "And now it's gonna be all finished, and we can have fun on my Birthday with no workin' allowed!"

"Birthday?" Dean's brow creased in confusion. "Is your birthday comin' up for real? You hear anything about that, Jeb?"

"Ha! I know you heard it, Pally, because I done told you every day for the past month!"

"Ah, well." He tapped his temple with a laugh. "My memory ain't as good as most. I must'a forgot."

"You's teasin' me, Pally." Florabel pointed an accusing finger at him.

"Maybe." He waggled his eyebrows at her. "So, what do you want for your birthday?"

The little girl shrugged. "Don't matter. Ain't got no money for presents. But what I really want cain't be bought, anyhow."

"Oh yeah? What's that?"

Florabel kicked her heels against the bale and swayed back and forth shyly. "Mmm…I want…" She hesitated, staring at the ceiling.

"Cat got your tongue? Now that'd be a first!"

Florabel stuck her tongue out at Dean. "I want…" She bent forward, making a megaphone with her hands and whispering through it. "I want you and Mama to kiss." She snapped her lips shut and went back to studying the rafters.

Dean glanced at Jeb in terror. The older man chuckled and shrugged at him. Dean stopped his work a moment, leaning against a bale of hay. Taking off his heavy, leather gloves, he slapped the dust from them. He wiped his sweaty brow on his shoulder and grabbed his dust-bandana from his back pocket, wiping as much smudged dirt from his face as he could, stalling for time.

"Well, I think your mama would have a big say in something like that."

"Mama wouldn't mind." Florabel tossed him an assuring nod. "She ain't been kissed in a long time. Girls like kisses." Sticking a finger in her mouth, she swiveled her thin body back and forth like a washing machine. "You should do it, soon. That a-way you can git married before the summer is over."

Dean choked on both the dust and the idea. "Whoa, there. You're gonna give Pally a freakin' heart attack." He gave her at pained smile. "I think it's a lot more complicated than that, Florabel."

"No it ain't. You like her an' she likes you. Old Jeb says life is short ‘n full a'blisters, but it wouldn't be so bad if it was filled with kisses, too. Ain't that right, Old Jeb?"

Jeb tossed his hands in the air with a sheepish grin. "Don't be draggin' me into this, Miss Flibbertigibbet. I don't want no trouble with neither one of ya. A closed mouth gathers no boots is my motto." He pantomimed locking his mouth and throwing away the key. He took off his gloves. "And on that note, I gotta skedaddle. Me and the other old boys is gonna git everything ready for the dance tomorrow night. I expect lots'a work an' lots'a whiskey. I probably won't be back. I'll see you two tomorrow at the jackrabbit drive."

"Coward!"

"Yep." Jeb nodded to Dean.

"Well, don't go without me. I'll walk into town with you. I have to run an errand or two." Dean strode over to Florabel and turned around, patting his shoulder. She hopped onto his back and wrapped her legs around his waist. "You hold on good ‘n tight, ‘Bel."

"I will, but I still think you should kiss Mama." She pressed her cheek against his ear. "Grownups is so silly, sometimes."

"Mmm hmm." Dean swung over the ladder and followed Jeb to the barn floor. "Says the little monkey on my back."

She popped her finger in her mouth and stuck it in his ear. "I ain't a monkey. I'm a willie-monster! GrarrRR!" She re-wet her finger with a growl, wiggling it at him.

"Ugh! You know wet-willies are against the law in all fifty states, right?" He set her down and wiped out his ear with a shiver.

She laughed at him. "You's so funny! They's only forty-eight states, silly Pally!"

Dean's eyebrows pinched. "Huh?"



**O**

Dean and Jeb parted ways on the edge of Boise City, Jeb turning off at the Crawford's dirt road on the northern outskirts of town. Other than a couple of quick trips through the city on their way to Jeb's old farm, Dean hadn't spent any time here, but with Jeb's directions he was able to find The Busy Bee with no problem. Glancing up at the false front, Dean shook the dust from his hair and went inside.

Quiet and still, after the ever-present swish of the wind, the tavern was no more than a dark, smoky blur. Vacant tables lined the dust-coated windows, a few men scattered about, drinking to cut the dusty phlegm or pass the time. Dean heard the sound he'd hope to hear coming from a dark alcove.

The barkeep hailed him as he made his way past, his boots echoing with loud, hollow thuds as he went. "Can I git ya anything, Stranger?"

"Not yet." Dean gave the man a friendly nod.

He stopped in front of the side-room, watching. A handful of men huddled around the table, cues in their hands, drinks resting on the sides.

"Y'ain't gonna make it, Dex," One man snickered as Dex, presumably, lined up his shot.

"He will, too." Another man joined in, eying the table, assessing the shot.

"Two-bits says he won't."

"You're on, Charlie."

Dean cleared his throat, catching the attention of the room. He leaned against the doorway, pulled the silver ring off his finger and tossed it in the air. With a cheeky grin and a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he peered at them through the circle of his ring.

"So, you boys up for a game?"



**O**

"Nine, ten, eleven…twelve dollars and," he counted the coins in his hand, "sixty three cents!" He twisted the ring around his finger, screwing it in place. "Ha! I'm fuckin' awesome." He walked along the street feeling fine and alive. Two blocks past the tavern he came upon Coulter's General Store and ducked inside.

A voluptuous woman in her mid-to-late twenties sat behind the counter, flipping through a magazine. When she heard the bell she looked at Dean, closed her magazine with an enthusiastic snap and straightened her dress.

"Howdy there." She beamed at him. "Can I help you find somethin', honey?"

"Uh, I'm interested in toys for a little girl." The woman's cleavage drooped at the news.

"Oh…" she stammered, "oh sure, honey. We got some nice dolls over yonder." She led him to the back of the store.

Dean considered the dolls with a shrug. "She ain't into dolls much, I don't think. Maybe some games or puzzles?"

"Right this way." She led him down another aisle. "Your daughter a tom-boy?"

"Naw, she's not mine. She's just a good friend." The pang of regret he felt surprised him. However, the woman, along with her bosom, perked up considerably.

"Well, ain't that swell." She straightened her hair and put her hand on her hip, swaying coyly. Before Dean could respond, something caught his eye. He picked up a small doctor's kit, complete with a toy stethoscope and thermometer.

"Oh man, this is perfect." Opening the bag, he examined the contents.

"She wanna be a nurse?"

"A doctor, thank you very much." Dean didn't mask the pride in his voice.

The woman snorted. "A woman doctor?"

"Hey, she can do anything she sets her mind to. She's smart…and really, really, really tenacious. Trust me. She'll do it." He smiled and shook the kit. "I'll take it. And I need some marbles and some candy, too."

In the end he left with a brand new set of marbles, the doctor's kit, and two striped bags filled with chocolates. He counted his change. With over eight dollars left, he felt rich. He put two dollars deep into his pocket and folded the rest to give to Emma for his room and board. He hoped she wouldn't fuss at him about hustling pool.

The wind blew in his face all the way home. He had to keep his shirt over his mouth and walk with one foot on the pavement and one foot off, guiding himself by touch. He remained in high spirits, though. Florabel would remember this birthday forever.

Returning to the farm, he bypassed the house, ducking into the barn before Florabel spotted the packages. He'd climbed the ladder to the loft looking for a good hiding place, when he heard a thump come from somewhere below. Walking to the edge, he watched as Slaid emerged from a trapdoor in the floor between the partition separating Penny's stall from the rest of the barn. Dean ducked behind a bale of hay and kept a surreptitious eye on the farmhand.

Dean noticed Slaid's blood-covered hands as he eased the trapdoor shut and spread hay around as camouflage. Once Slaid was gone Dean hid Florabel's gift in the loft and climbed down the ladder, kicking hay around until he revealed the door. Lifting it, he recoiled. This was the source of the putrid odor he'd been smelling for weeks. Eyes watering and stomach retching, Dean turned his head and gagged on the foul rot. After catching his breath, he steeled himself and descended into the darkness.

Turtling into his shirt, he fumbled until he found the kerosene lamp by the wall. The light did little to lift the gloom. The air was so thick and stifling Dean could almost chew it. He took several shallow breaths, surveying the room.

Depraved didn't do the place justice, nor did sadistic or inhuman. The corpses of jackrabbits and other unknown rodents and small animals riddled the floor. Their state of decomposition varied from recent, bloated kills, to maggot and centipede infested corpses, to desiccated, crunchy piles of matted fur and bones.

Steeped in the feral cocktail of sweat, rotting corpses, and human feces, Dean folded at the waist and added some vomit to the mix. Resting his hands on his knees he retched several more times before he mastered his reflexes. He wiped tears from his eyes with his shirtsleeve before glancing about.

Someone had smeared the walls with blood and shit, creating lewd pictographs, macabre forms in obscene poses, some with animal entrails nailed to the ghastly depictions. Dean walked to a semen-spattered table at the far end of the room. More pearly stains splashed and speckled the floor around its base. Ashes and half-burned herbs rested in bowls on top. Dean thought of the window-box in the bunkhouse.

"That mother fucker."

This was evil—pure evil. Bending forward, he studied the runes written in blood on the tabletop and reached out with his fingers. The moment he touched the bloody symbols, he slithered to the floor, the air in his lungs whooshing out of him with a grunt of surprise and anxiety.

"No!" He heard himself shout as the vision swallowed him.

A series of fragmented images stuttered around him at lightning speed, too fast for his brain to process—nightmare creatures partaking in bestial acts. Each image morphed into the next before true recognition sparked. Dizzy, Dean loosed a strangled cry as he fought to shield himself from the deluge. Eventually, the images slowed enough for him to process them: a strange, seven-pointed star painted on a ceiling, a young, blonde woman bound beneath it, Sam reading something from a book as she screamed.

Dean sensed the floor of the root-cellar beneath him and he clutched and fisted the filthy straw, struggling to escape the vision. More than fear of the vision, Dean needed to escape to make sure Florabel and Emma were safe. He cried out again, fighting off the vision, but it sucked him down as the scene continued.

The blonde girl leered at him, her smug, black irises filled with contempt.

I'm gonna kill you. I'm gonna rip the bones from your body. Despite the girl's bravado, she hissed in pain.

Dean's baleful eyes bored into her. No. You're gonna burn in Hell…

Thrashing on the floor, Dean fought the vision. He turned onto his stomach and scrabbled at the dirt, his hand hitting the base of the altar. He gripped it. It was solid. It was real. He levered himself up, working his way out of the black dream. He knew he was close when the odor of suffocating, noisome rot assaulted him.

His eyelashes fluttered and he blinked several times, gulping air until his legs buckled again from the fetid decay. He was back. As Dean stood there, gasping and straining, he caught the flash of red out of the corner of his eye. He bent for a closer look. Scattered haphazardly about the table and around the floor were Molly's beautiful red, downy feathers.

"You sonofabitch!"

He should have listened to his gut instincts. He should have paid closer attention to his visions. Slaid was a monster. Florabel had known. She'd tried to tell him. She'd tried to tell everyone. Slaid had killed Molly as part of some evil ritual. Dean crushed the feathers between his fingers and flew up the ladder. Surfacing, he staggered, falling to his knees, sucking air like he'd never get enough.

After a few minutes, he recovered and shut the trapdoor, scattering hay to conceal his visit. He didn't want Slaid knowing he'd discovered his lair. With a lurch, he rose to his feet and reeled his way from the barn. His eyes went to the bunkhouse. He'd deal with that monster as soon as he knew Emma and Florabel were safe. They came first. When he entered the kitchen, he shoved his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking.

"Dean! You's back! Did you have a good time?" Emma continued to bustle around the kitchen. "I think I actually scraped together enough ingredients to make a cake for Florabel. Ain't got nothing to ice it with, but that don't matter none." She gave the batter a few stiff licks with a large wooden spoon. When Dean didn't respond, she glanced up at him.

Seeing his face, she stopped in mid-stir. "Dean. What's wrong?" Wiping her hands on her apron, she rushed to him. "Tell me."

"N—nothing." He stepped back, clearing his throat. There was no way he could tell her anything. Not yet. He still had more investigating to do. "Uh, I just—I just went to town. Nothing's wrong. I brought you this." He fished out his pool winnings and handed her the cash.

She balked at the wad of bills, confused. "What's all this?"

"I earned it playing pool. It's cool, Em. Nobody got mad. We had a good time. I met Charlie and Ed Haffner and Mac and Dex Osteen—a couple of others. I want you to have that for letting me stay here. It's not enough. It's not near enough." Distracted, his eyes darted about the room.

"Dean, you don't have to do that." She made to return the money, but Dean walked away, peering into the empty parlor. Emma followed him.

"Where's Florabel?" His heart pounded in his chest.

"She's been bouncing off the walls, and her cough was bad today. I just sent her up to take a nap for an hour. I doubt she'll sleep, though." She shrugged and chuckled. "But I had to git her out from under foot while I baked the cake."

"Oh," he said. "Okay." He moved about the room like a caged animal.

"Dean, did anything happen? You's acting strange." She approached him again, and again he eluded her, pacing away, prowling the room. "You been drinking?"

He shook his head, not having absorbed the questions she'd asked. "No. I'm not sick. Feel fine." His eyes flitted around. "Listen," he said, switching gears, "do you mind if I go up and see Florabel for a minute?"

Emma hesitated. "Dean, please tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing's wrong." He lied. "I'm sorry. I just had a spell in the barn when I was putting some things away." He waved his hand in the vague direction of the barn. "I'm just a little freaked out. It's nothing, though."

Emma started to close in again, but she stopped herself, perhaps picking up on Dean's agitation and his need for distance. "Are you sure you's okay? What did you see? Do you want to talk about it?"

"It was another jumbled mess. I thought I'd go sit with Florabel. You know how she can always cheer me up. I'm fine—really Em. I am." He tried to convince her with a feeble smile.

"Well…" The worry didn't leave her eyes, but she nodded. "All right. You go on up. As soon as this cake is done, I'll heat some stew for the three of us. Sound good?"

"Sounds great." He turned and ran up the stairs.

He took a moment to gather himself before rapping with his knuckle and cracking the door. When he didn't see Florabel in the bed, he pushed the door open.

"Florabel?" He released a breath when the blanket-fort he'd helped the little girl build the day before jiggled. "You in there, kiddo?" The fort wobbled again and then stopped.

After a long pause, she made a muffled reply. "I ain't awake. Mama says I'm gittin' on her last nerve an' if'n I don't take a nap I cain't go to the jackrabbit drive." The fort rocked and swayed again. A small foot popped from under one of the walls and then recoiled.

Dean couldn't help but smile, despite everything. "How're you talkin' if you're asleep?"

"I—uh…" There was a pause, followed by some overblown snoring noises.

He slipped the rest of the way into the room and closed the door. Sitting on the bed, he lifted the sheet that served as the door of the fort. "Come on out, Florabel. Your mama said it's okay for you ‘n me to visit a spell."

The child's head poked out from behind the flap. "Good, ‘cause I was bored a'sleepin'." She crawled out. "Did you have fun goin' to town?"

"I did." He took her hand, helping her up. "Here, come and sit right here so's we can talk." Florabel jumped onto the bed and sat on top of the covers, drawing her legs into her nighty as she scrunched her toes in her blanket.

"Did I do somethin' wrong?" Worry creased her forehead.

"Heck no," Dean said. "No. I wanted to ask you a few questions is all. Just between you ‘n me."

"Mmm, okay." She thought it over and agreed with a nod.

Dean hesitated and shifted position, facing the girl. "So…" He stalled a moment, not sure how to approach this. "So, I was wondering about the time you saw Slaid turn into a monster." He said the words casually, but the little girl shriveled into herself, hugging her legs and rocking back and forth. She fixed her eyes on her toes, making no answer other than the slightest of shrugs.

"Can you tell me what you saw?" Dean studied her toes along with her. Florabel's shoulders hunched toward her ears, and she held her legs tight. "Hey, Florabel," he tried to reassure her, "ain't no one ever gonna know but you ‘n me. When did he change into a monster?"

She continued to stare at her toes, touching each in turn, thinking long and hard about things. "It was right after Henry went to Jesus." Her small voice quavered, and she cleared her throat. "When Mama was sick in bed." She pressed her toes into Dean's leg, making contact with him, grounding herself. "But no one never believed me." She squeezed her big toe in anger at that.

"I believe you, Florabel." She looked at him for the first time since he'd mentioned Slaid and monsters. "That's right." He nodded at her. "I believe you. In fact," he tapped her toe as it pressed against him, "I think I seen him turn into a monster, myself."

Her eyes went wide. "You did?"

"Yep. So I want to know what happened when you saw him, so I don't feel so alone and scared no more."

Florabel rose to her knees and leaned in, patting his arm to offer comfort. "It was scary, wasn't it, Pally?"

"It was."

"An' did he growl at you, too?"

"Kind of." Dean grazed her chin with his thumb. "Why don't you tell me about the time you saw him change into a monster, just so I know I ain't crazy,"

"You ain't crazy, Pally." She settled in to tell her story. "Well, it was just afore Christmas. Old Jeb was taking care of Mama when she got sick. An' Slaid wanted to play marbles with me, but we had to go to the bunkhouse, he said, so's we wouldn't wake Mama. Then, when we got there, he changed right into that monster, an' he growled at me. GrrrrrarrRrrrR!" She demonstrated by turning her hands into monster-claws, growling and pawing the air. "He scared me so bad, Pally. I tried to run away."

"Did he start to shimmer and disappear a little?"

Florabel thought a moment. She tapped her lips, thinking back. "Mmm, not really."

Dean slumped in disappointment. He considered other options. "Did his eyes turn all black?"

She shook her head. "No, but they was rollin' around. And he wiggled a lot."

"Wiggled?" Dean raised an eyebrow, confused.

"Uh huh." She got up on her knees. "Like this." She resumed her monster-pose, throwing herself into the part. "RaawwrrRr!" Moving close to Dean, she growled her most ferocious growl, her body gyrating and undulating against his. Rising, she fondled his face and licked his cheek while she rolled and fluttered her eyes. Then, without warning, she swooped down with a snarl and grabbed Dean's crotch.

The touch was so shocking, so unlooked for and unexpected, that Dean jolted off the bed, staggering back against the wall. Florabel gazed up at him, her eyes soulful and innocent.

"Did he do that to you, too, Pally?"

Dean stared at the girl, floored—horror fusing with a quiet, profound dread. He stood there, saying nothing, trying to wrap his brain around what had just happened

Florabel blinked at him. "Did he jab you, too, Pally?" She pointed to Dean's groin. "It hurt, didn't it?"

Oh God.

"Florabel?" He looked at the beautiful child on that bed; no words came.

She reached out her small hand, offering comfort and understanding. "It's okay, Pally." She touched his cheek, her eyes dewy with sympathy. "You can tell me. I'll believe you."

Oh God.

He sat, grasping her by the shoulders. When his forceful, needy grip made her stiffen, he readjusted, gentling his touch. He didn't want to spook her.

"Florabel, did he touch you down there?" He pointed.

She nodded. "He did, Pally, and it hurt real, real bad."

Oh God.

She sagged with a sigh, sitting Indian-style. "I tried to run away, but he caught me and he pushed me onto the floor. All my marbles spilled and rolled everywhere." She twitched, mourning her lost marbles as much as anything Slaid had done. "He was growlin' and pantin'. His eyes was a-rollin and a-rollin' just like yours done when you was so sick. I was scared at first that you was a monster, too, but you wasn't. It was just your fever." She glanced at him. "Slaid didn't have no fever. He weren't even speakin' English no more. He started talkin' in his other language. Or maybe it was monster-talk. His fingers pressed and pressed into me, and I screamed because it hurt so bad. Then, he put his hand over my mouth and kept lickin' me. Like a dog, he licked me. GrarRrrr! An' then he panted and growled some more. That's when he pulled the thing out'a his tummy."

Dean swallowed bile. "What thing?"

"It was this thing a'comin' out'a him, right about here." She pointed to her crotch. "It weren't like Henry's little will. It was this big thing growing out of a pile of ugly, tangled hair, all hard and long. Did he jab you with it, too? It must ‘a been something only a monster has, an' that's when he hurt me so bad, Pally."

He couldn't take anymore. Dean swept the child up and crushed her to him in a devouring hug. Florabel laid her head on his shoulder. "He jabbed and jabbed and jabbed me until I couldn't even scream no more ‘cause it hurt so bad. And I was bleedin'." Dean held onto her, fighting for composure. "It hurt for days and days."

He pressed his lips into her hair. "Why didn't you tell your Mama or Jeb what he did?"

"I did tell them!" She lurched back, defending herself. "I tol' ‘em he turned into a monster, but they wouldn't believe me." Her eyebrows pinched in wounded indignation. "An' Slaid said if'n I tol' them about him jabbin' me, he'd jab them even worse than what he done to me." Swallowing, she squeezed her eyes against the memory. "So I didn't. I just tol' ‘em what a mean, growlin' monster he was, because he didn't say I couldn't tell ‘em that. But Mama said there weren't no such things, even though there is so. I didn't want her to find out about monsters by being jabbed by one, like me. And Mama was already so sad about Henry. I didn't want Slaid to hurt her. So you cain't tell her, Pally, ‘cause then Slaid will hurt her with his jabber. Please don't tell her. Promise me."

A tear slipped down his cheek before he could catch it. "I won't say anything." He told her the ugly lie.

Florabel patted Dean's cheek. "How hard did he jab you? Did he make you bleed, too?"

Dean tried to smile but failed, his jaw trembling. "He didn't jab me. I got away."

The little girl sighed with relief. "Oh, good! I'm glad, ‘cause it really, really hurts. You stay away from Slaid."

"I will." Releasing her, he stripped back the covers and got her settled. He wiped away another tear.

"Why's you cryin', Pally? Did he do anything else?"

He shook his head and cleared his throat. "No. I'm just sad that he hurt you." Dean busied himself with her blanket, fastidiously tucking and folding until he could speak without breaking down. "Slaid did a terrible thing to you. And I promise you he will never do it again. Ever. I'm gonna make sure of that. Until then, you stay away from Slaid. Don't you go near him unless I'm with you." He gripped her shoulder. "I promised you, now you promise me."

"I promise." She offered him her pinky to make it stick. They twined digits and gave them a sober tug. "I'm glad you're here with us, Pally. I ain't near as scared when you's here."

"You get some sleep." He kissed her wheat-colored hair.

She threw her arms around his neck. "I love you, Pally." There wasn't a trace of self-consciousness in the gesture, no baggage, no complication beyond a little girl offering the best she had to give. It was pure and innocent and very, very real.

"I love you, too, Florabel." That was real, also.



**O**

February 9, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

The first blast from the Cyclone hit Sam from behind, flinging him into Dean. The impact had Dean's eyes rolling back in his head as they fell together. A second gust sent them on an uncontrolled roll across the floor, arms and legs tangled in each other until they crashed into a support beam. Sam wrapped an arm around the column, shifting and straddling it as his brother tumbled past him like a ragdoll, the wind taking him wherever it would. Sam caught Dean by his left arm, wrenching a scream of agony from him.

"Sammy! Jesus! Fuck!" Dean tried to reach up with his right hand to take the pressure off his wounded arm, but another gust blew into them, forcing Sam to pull harder. Dean screamed again as more timbers cracked and broke. The far wall folded in on itself and collapsed, debris flying out onto the prairie.

"Hang on, Dean! I got you!" He attempted to haul his brother close enough to grab something else besides his arm, but every time he tried, another gust rammed into them. The shrieking blasts were as strong as a wind tunnel, and Sam struggled to breathe as he clung to Dean.

"Fuck, Sam! Lemme go," Dean yelled, his pale face etched with pain. "L'go!"

Sam ducked as more beams snapped and blew past them. The Cyclone was closing in. "No! I got you!" Sam refused to give up, gripping all the harder.

Making one more desperate bid to get a better hold of his brother, he yanked on Dean's arm, dragging him a few inches closer.

When the ghost suddenly flickered in front of them, Sam's grip slipped, and he lost what little headway he'd made.

"Hala gives power!" The spirit swaggered close to Dean. "Finally, Devil Fighter pays."

Dean lifted his heavy lids, dangling in Sam's arms. "Make ‘im b'quiet, Sammy. M'arm hur's." He blinked. "M'tired."

Before Sam could do or say anything else, something flickered in his peripheral vision. Another figure shimmered into view on the opposite side of the room, its shape amorphous and undefined, as though it lacked the power to manifest. Whatever or whoever it was, it had a strong effect on the Cyclone. The figure released a bolt of energy toward the vortex, slowing its advance.

The first ghost flickered and seethed in anger at the new arrival. It repeated its incantation.

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

Jets of electricity spewed from its hands and attached to the Cyclone. An answering call came from the shadowy being on the far side as it, too, tethered the storm with spines of lightning. The opposing forces caused the Cyclone to crackle with energy. It thundered to a stop and then started to wrap in on itself, rotating now in the opposite direction.

Sam pulled his brother closer to him during the lull. Grasping fistfuls of Dean's shirt, he released his wounded arm, though Dean no longer appeared lucid enough to notice the difference.

The wind shifted. With the two spirits fighting for control, the Cyclone began drawing air into itself. Both specters winked in and out of phase as the pressure built. Sam jolted when a blue finger of electricity ran down the post and shocked him. He looked around, noticing that everything else in the room now sizzled and snapped with the same blue spider-veins of energy.

The vacuum strengthened, sucking everything into the spinning Cyclone. The first specter shrieked in dismay as the combined strength of the opposing entities took its toll on the structure of the Cyclone. A core of light opened in the heart of the vortex, and Sam fought its magnetic pull. He held his brother by his shirt as Dean slipped toward it.

Sam shook him, forcing him to stay conscious. "Dean! Stay with me!"

Pieces of debris flew past and into the center of the storm, devoured with an electric crackle. Whatever the second entity had done, whether it was trying to stop the attack or assert one of its own, it'd only exacerbated things. More beams sailed past and into the vortex, disappearing as though eaten by a black hole. A seam of Dean's shirt ripped. Sam twisted his fist into the material, clutching at it.

"Hang on, Dean!" Sam begged his brother. Another seam tore in his hands.

Dean looked up with weary eyes, milky with pain. "Don't l'go, Sam." He swung his good hand up, trying to grip Sam's but missed. "Please don't let go."

Sam dug his hands into Dean's shirt, eyeing the black Cyclone. "God damn you!" Sam shouted at it, trying to hang onto the column as he played a deadly game of all-out tug-of-war for his brother.

His ears popped, making everything sound as if he was under water. Then, with the force of a sonic boom, the vortex split open, a gaping hole to nowhere sucking everything into it. The walls crumpled like tin foil and were gone, the Cyclone consuming all. Dean's shirt ripped a final time.

"No! Dean! Grab my hand!" Sam screamed. "Dean! Goddamn it! Grab my hand!"

"Sammy…" Dean tried to reach him with the last ounce of his strength.

Just as their fingers touched and hands clasped, the beam Sam clung to split with a tremendous crack. The brothers made eye contact, acknowledging the moment, silently speaking ten-thousand-and-three words to each other. With their anchor to the floor broken, they tumbled toward the vortex. Sam made one last desperate grab for Dean, but he only caught his fingers in the thin leather strap of his amulet. It broke off as they fell into the storm, Dean plummeting into the blinding core while Sam hit the outer band of the spinning wind.

As his brother disappeared into the storm, Sam lost his own battle with the Cyclone. It tossed him around its perimeter, murmuring to him, darkening his mind and memory. Tangled up in a shredded tarp, Sam was thrown clear with nothing left to do or to see or to be. There was nothing left but the whispering wind.



**O**

April 12, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

He didn't feel the stairs beneath him as he made his way out—didn't remember walking through the parlor or toward the backdoor. He had one thought. Find Slaid.

"Dean, answer me, please!" Emma put her hand on the doorknob, trying to stop his exit.

"I'm sorry." He gave her an empty glance. "What?"

"I been tryin' to talk to you." She snapped her fingers in front of his face. "You's a million miles away. You's scarin' me. Stop and tell me what's wrong."

"Wrong?" He reached for the door. "Nothing. I just need to talk to Slaid a moment. Is he in the bunkhouse?"

"Slaid? What's he done?" She positioned herself between Dean and the door. "Dean, what's he done?"

"I…he…" He faltered, remembering his promise to Florabel. He knew he'd have to break it, but he couldn't do this now. Not this weekend. They'd both been through so much. "He—he messed with some tools I was using in the barn. He pissed me off, Em. I just wanted a word with him."

"I'll speak to him for you."

"Em…I'll be civil."

"Well he ain't even here," she said. "He went off to help at the Crawfords' farm a little bit ago. Won't be back ‘til tomorrow. It's just you, me, ‘n Florabel tonight. I got stew warmin' up, now. You wash up and we can have a good evening together."

"Okay." He nodded. "I just want to go to the barn and find a better hiding place for the presents I got Florabel."

"You didn't need to have done that." Her eyes smiled at him. "You'll spoil her."

He opened the door. "Well, she could use a little spoiling. I'll be right back."

As soon as he was free, he ran to the bunkhouse. Once inside he made a frenzied circuit around the room, yanking the herbs from the window box, and then snatching Florabel's marbles from Slaid's drawer. Jumping the cot, he opened Jeb's drawers, searching through them one after another until he found what he was after. Moving a pair of socks out of the way, he grabbed Jeb's small revolver.

Dean studied the weapon with the eyes of an expert, agile fingers flying over the gun, opening the cylinder and checking the bullets.

"Needs a good oiling." He looked down the sights, tutting.

This time he had no warning—no sense of falling, no slow melding of scenes. One minute he was looking down the barrel of a gun, the next he was watching Sam looking down a barrel of a gun—at him. Dean lay on his back in a dilapidated building with Sam standing over him, his face contorted with hatred and rage. Dean's breath came in constricted puffs as he rubbed his stinging chest. Sam readjusted the gun in his hand, finger twitching on the trigger.

You hate me that much? He tried to touch Sam, but he was stuck as a passenger again. You think you can kill your own brother?

Dean reeled. Brother? Sam was his brother?

Then go ahead. Pull the trigger. Do it! He flinched as Sam…as his brother…pulled the trigger—again and again and again.

The scene changed. He stood on an ice-cold dock, staring into dark waters. Sensing danger from behind, he turned to see his brother standing several yards away. Again, he tried to make physical contact, but his body wouldn't respond. He watched in horror as Sam raised the gun and pulled the trigger with a smirk. Dean's shoulder erupted with hot pain as the bullet penetrated. Grabbing at the wound, he pitched into the frigid water below.

Dean bolted up with a guttural cry of pain and shock. He was back at the bunkhouse, gulping air and cradling his shoulder. Easing his hand away, he looked at his scar.

"Sammy?"

Sam was his brother. And his brother had shot him—had left him for dead. The floor tilted and Dean tumbled onto his side, cheek pressed against the dusty floor. He watched dust grains blow away from his nose and mouth as he heaved and strained. The betrayal toppled everything he thought he knew. Sam. Sam hated him. Sam had sneered and joyfully pulled the trigger. Sam had tried to kill him. He'd have succeeded had it not been for the Livingstons. Dean closed his eyes and spoke the word over and over in disbelief and shock. Sam. Sammy. Sam.

He still had no true memory of the events or of his brother, but the hopes he'd built upon that name had kept him going all this while, had been his anchor. But he'd had it all wrong. Sam wasn't searching for him, wasn't feeling the same sense of loss. Sam wasn't wondering what might have happened to Dean. He had happened to Dean. Sam was the reason he was here. And it was ten times more devastating knowing he'd been family. Dean couldn't help but wonder what he'd done to deserve it.

"It's okay," he told himself. "I'm all right." He remained there, lulling himself into a trance as he repeated the words. "I'm okay. I'm okay." Sam may have wanted him dead. But he was alive. Lying on his side he could see under Jeb's bed. As he chanted his mantra, he noticed a lone marble that must have rolled away when Slaid had attacked Florabel—when he'd raped her. Dean focused on the blue marble, closing his palm around it as he continued his constant reiterations. "I'm okay. I'm all right."

For the past two months Dean had felt torn between worlds. But it had been a lie—a delusion. Sam had not been tugging on that rope. Dean had simply been pulling against the Livingstons, trying to hold onto a life that didn't want him. "I'm all right." Everything he'd believed about his past had been wrong. He wasn't needed, wasn't wanted. "I'm okay." He grasped the marble in his hand and held it to his heart. "I'm good."

He sat up. There was no way to reconcile his past, no way to make it right. It had been a savage, ugly thing, a place where loyalty meant nothing, where love wasn't real. He was better off where he was. "I'm fine." He put the blue marble in his pocket with the others he'd reclaimed from Slaid's drawer. He stuck the gun in another pocket and stood on quivering legs. "They need me." He thought of Florabel and Emma, people who'd cared for him better than any family member could have, who'd healed him, supported and loved him without ever asking for anything in return. "What I have is good," he said. "This is fine. They need me."

There was a monster on the loose. Perhaps not the kind he'd expected at first, but one just as insidious and dangerous as any fantastic, supernatural monster he'd fought in his past—or had thought he'd fought. It didn't matter, though. Protecting the girls was all that mattered. He'd take care of Slaid, hunt him down and make him pay for what he'd done. Dean didn't need Sam's help for that. He didn't need to remember his past. He was fine.

He stumbled out the door and made his way toward the house. "This is where I belong." A tear fell, but he swatted it away. "I'm fine," he said, even as more tears fell. As he crested a small dust-dune, he lost his footing and slipped to his knees. "I'm…" he began, but he crumpled and started to heave green bile into the dust. He retched and coughed, tears leaving muddy tracks down his cheeks. He hugged his stomach, urging it to relax. There was no need to get so upset. His past didn't matter. Sam didn't matter. He didn't need someone like that in his life. Sam had done him a favor by abandoning him.

He looked down and stared at the oily slime he'd vomited into the dust. "I'm fine." He nodded to himself. "Everything is fine."

Continue to Chapter 11

Back to Master Post
 
 
 
Jo: Hurt Deanapieceofcake on May 24th, 2012 12:48 pm (UTC)
*cries* Slaid needs to die slowly and very, very painfully! Bastard!

And now Dean's memories have lead him to the wrong conclusion... *sniff*
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 24th, 2012 10:48 pm (UTC)
He really does, doesn't he? Slaid is just vile. And I can't see him become a vengeful spirit soon enough! Grar!

Poor Dean, it's hard only having half of your memories. So easy to misinterpret things, especially given their job! Poor baby. I just want to hug 'im!

Thanks for the comment! I appreciate it SO much!
deangirl1deangirl1 on May 24th, 2012 12:52 pm (UTC)
OMG. That was horrifying. What an intense chapter! Such wonderful, powerful writing. Florabel's story is just horrifying - perhaps the most horrifying incident I've ever read in an SPN fic - and I've read a lot... And then on top of that, poor Dean's "revelations" about Sam - just omg. What an amazing and fantastic chapter. I wish _this_ was an SPN novel - the story and the writing are about a million times better than any of those novels.

I have to confess I'm an h/c junkie, and I'll often read just for those bits - sometimes skimming the rest of the story - but I am hanging on your every word. I was frantic when I opened my email this morning and couldn't get freakin' LJ to open this! And... I'm late for work because I couldn't wait to read!!

Ok... so now I'm worried about who that second figure was! Is it someone for good or evil? Is it Jeb???? I thought at first it might be Dean from the past, but I'm thinking he's going to give up on his past now... and I'm thinking he's far from ok either mentally OR physically - vomiting oily slime sounds ominous... and omg - when he gets back to Sam and has to leave Emma and Florabel behind? He's going to be so, so devastated. I hope for his sake that he can at least leave them safe from Slaid and whatever else may be threatening them... And I'm wondering if somehow we might not see Dr Florabel somewhere in the "present" once Dean makes it back to the present... she might be called in to consult as a specialist in dust pneumonia after all...

As always, can't wait for the next chapter!!!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 24th, 2012 11:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you SO much for your comments! Florabel's rape is utterly horrifying. And I cannot wait for Dean to avenge her.

Oh don't worry, hon! I LOVE me some hurt!Dean, so expect some major ass-kickings in his future. Heh. It's one of those things where I had to somewhat get him healthy enough to bond with people and interact, but there will be lots of gratuitous hurt Dean. Mwahahaha!

It is rather mysterious, isn't it? Interesting guesses! We'll have to see how everything pans out!!!

Thank you SOOOOOOOOOOOO much for your gracious comments. I truly and sincerely appreciate it so damn much...so damn much!
mdlawmdlaw on May 25th, 2012 12:06 am (UTC)
Oh Wow! Slaid is truly a monster. Dean needs to kill him, but Dean don't despair. Sammy is looking for you. m :I
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 25th, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
First off...I love your kitty avatar! :)

And yes, Slaid is truly the worst kind of monster, and I agree...I hope Dean kills him multiple times! He deserves it!

It is rather sad that Dean can't *quite* reach his memories! He's ever so close...close enough that he can misinterpret his own "memories". I think the pull that Sam has on him will be stronger than his initial knee-jerk reaction here. Don't you think? :)

Thanks heaps and gobs for the comments. They are truly appreciated!
Rince1windrince1wind on May 25th, 2012 06:25 am (UTC)
I'm glad Dean's there for Florabellle's sake!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 25th, 2012 09:42 am (UTC)
Me too! Florabel definitely needs a hero, and Dean just so happens to be a great one!
tifachingtifaching on May 25th, 2012 10:54 am (UTC)
You're breaking my heart here.

Poor little Florabel. Slaid is a monster who needs to be put down.

And Dean. Giving him those memories of Sam to totally misunderstand. Sammy's looking for you, Dean!

And the other ghost? More and more intrigued!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 25th, 2012 09:13 pm (UTC)
Aw, sweetheart! /puts band-aid on your little blood pumper! I sorry! Yeah, I know it was a hard thing to read, because it really was a hard thing to write. No joke. So I'm kind of right there with you!

Slaid totally needs to be put down. I nominate Dean for the job! Although, the poor thing is completely upended right now with his (mis)interpretation of his latest *visions*. Cruel author is cruel! /wiggles mustache

Other ghost...hmm...yes. Very interesting, indeed! :)

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, T. You're awesome! I appreciate it so much!
jpgr: SPN Then Now anijpgr on May 25th, 2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
I should have posted yesterday after reading, but I didn't. I think my emotions were all over the place. The scene with Dean and Florabel has been haunting me. You handled it so well and I could easily see all the emotions play across Dean's face.

On the strength of that scene alone, I recc'd this to my sister. She doesn't read much fanfic and her interest in the show was fleeting until I got her son into it last year. She told me she'd check it out. Hopefully she'll comment. If not, I'll let you know what she tells me.

Again, amazing work and I'm sorry I have to wait until Monday.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 25th, 2012 09:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! You know, that scene still haunts ME. So I get it. Fun trivia fact: I wrote that scene on my lunch break at work one day. Kind of odd where and when the words present themselves, eh? Heh. It was interesting to think about what she would know, what she would have "access" to given her age and the time period that she lived in. I figured that believing he was a monster made sense, since she just had no other context. It was, likewise, interesting to play Dean's reactions given what HE knows and what he knows she doesn't know...if you follow!

Aw, thanks for the rec! I hope she reads and enjoys! That's so sweet of you!

Monday...bright and early! See you then! :)

Thanks much!
(Anonymous) on May 25th, 2012 07:22 pm (UTC)
Oh my god. I think I cried a few times during here.
Slaid, you son of a bitch...i definitely didn't think he was THAT kind of monster!
Keep up the fantastic writing!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 25th, 2012 09:27 pm (UTC)
Definitely a hard road to travel, I know! Slaid is the very worst kind of monster...the very worst. I"m sure Dean will have absolutely NO qualms about slaying this beast.

Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me your thoughts! I appreciate it so, so much!
beckydaspazbeckydaspaz on May 25th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
This is the best chapter you have ever written. The first time I read this (months ago) I was so upset I could barely type and now...I'm still upset, but I have realized the absolute poetry of this chapter. The fact that it starts off SO light and uplifting and ends SO dark and miserable. I don't think I got that on the first read, or second or third. But I got in this time. Sides to a coin. Fantastic writing my friend, I don't think I have read someone who handled this particular evil better.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 25th, 2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
Actually...my own personal vote goes to Chapter 16. Hehe. But this one was certainly memorable for me. Yes! You're right....it definitely goes dark. Interesting, too, how both the beginning and ending statements are declarations of how Dean is "fine". But the first one is genuine, the last is a complete lie. He's anything but fine. Poor thing. And yet, I have a hunch he'll still be a damned hero no matter what he feels about himself. That's our boy.

Thank you so much for the reviews! (all THREE of them! Haha! Bonus for me! ch-ching! LOL.) You are absolute ADORBS, my dear. You're more "Florabel-like" than anyone I know. You're an absolute doll.

Mwah!

(Anonymous) on February 24th, 2015 12:52 pm (UTC)
This chapter and the revelation of Slaid's monstrous act, crushed me. I had to stop and cry for like 20 minutes before I could continue. Thank you for being brave enough to write something like this. It goes way beyond fanfiction to an ugly and sad reality. I certainly feel like I was shaken out of my own selfish, misty little world for a while. I hope this has an impact on anyone who reads it. Thanks again.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 24th, 2015 02:06 pm (UTC)
Awww, thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this. This story certainly had an impact on me, too. I will never forget writing Florabel's words. I know exactly where I was (unbelievably, I was in my workplace's lunchroom). Those were hard to write...very upsetting, so I think I shed a few tears right along side you.

/hugs

Kat