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cri de cœur | chapter four

  • Jun. 19th, 2016 at 6:21 PM
kelleigh: (sn [cri de cœur] sam and dean)

“Her name was Irene Grantham. According to the records I found, she was murdered in 1904.”

In the kitchen of Jocelyn Campbell’s house, Dean skims over the pages Sam set in front of him. “And you’re sure she’s our midnight wanderer?”

“It all fits,” Sam explains. His arm crosses over Dean’s, drawing his focus to the relevant information. “I made these copies at the Historical Society downtown. Most are from the newspaper, but one of the volunteers helped me find journals and records from some of the families who owned property near Nine Oaks.”

Dean has already listened to the recap of Sam's trip into downtown Charleston at Edmond’s suggestion. Apparently the Historical Society was a trove of information that couldn't be found by Sam's extensive online research prowess.

Sam smiles. “It was over a hundred years ago, but neighbors were nosy, even back then.”

The Granthams owned Nine Oaks at the turn of the century, having purchased the plantation in 1875. They brought it back from a defunct farm to one of the largest rice producing plantations in the Lowcountry. Irene, the oldest daughter of Morris and Louise Grantham, was killed when her family was robbed on their way home from church.

Sam reads the account from one of his photocopies while Dean matches the details with what they witnessed the night before.

“She was shot on the road but she died at the manor, along with her father and her brother. Nine Oaks was sold not long after that. No male relatives were left to run the plantation.”

“She’s the right age, and the timeframe matches up,” Dean says, recalling the bare-bones entries in the Men of Letters’ records. “If she started haunting the place right away, that would explain the presence of a female spirit like the notes mentioned. Her murder would've left behind a restless spirit.”

Without moving away, Sam continues to study his notes. His chest is barely an inch from the back of Dean’s shoulder; Dean can feel it each time Sam takes a deep breath. With anyone else Dean would be pushing and shoving for personal space. With his brother, he craves the opposite.

Then he remembers the dark cloud that consumed him while he was in the manor with Sayuri. The bone-crushing misery, pulse-stopping inadequacy. Dean should know by now, not to let himself become trapped in a supernatural maelstrom like that, but it came upon him so suddenly, so fiercely, there was no defense.

He hasn’t told Sam yet.

Whether the depression vortex came from the house or Sayuri, Dean isn’t sure. However, he’s confident that whatever’s haunting Nine Oaks is dangerous and needs to go.

Five minutes was long enough for Dean to consider reaching into his chest and suffocating his own bruised heart to spare it further pain. Sayuri has been living in that house for months.

No wonder she’s a pale shadow of her former self.

Newly determined, Dean angles his head to look at Sam. “Any of these tell us where Irene’s buried? I’m itchin’ for a little salt n’ burn.”

Sam’s grin reappears. His lips are close enough for Dean to see the way they’ve been bitten pink. Another anxious habit.

“Probably in the same place all of the Granthams were buried,” he says. “In their own personal cemetery.”

“Edmond said it would be right past the ruins of the old smokehouse.”

Dean steps carefully along behind Sam, flashlight trained on the ground. The footpath winding back and away from the main house is old and overgrown, the roots of numerous oak trees emerging from the ground like mythical sea-beasts before plunging back into the dirt. He has already tripped twice.

They nearly miss the plantation’s old smokehouse. The building has been reduced to little more than half-walls of moss-covered brick and rotting wooden beams. Dean figures they’re at least a quarter of a mile away from the manor.

“How come Jocelyn’s family didn’t take care of this cemetery?” Dean wonders out loud. “Seems like a pretty obvious chore to me, especially if they knew something was haunting the place.”

Apparently the volunteer Sam worked with down at the Historical Society was extra helpful, because Sam has an answer for that, too.

“Their trust only covered the remaining property. The plantation was split into different parcels and sold off back in the 1950’s. The land that we’re on now isn’t owned by the same investment group.”

“Awesome,” Dean mutters. “I love trespassing.”

He doesn’t need to see Sam to know that his brother is rolling his eyes. True, they’d be trespassing regardless, but at least they have a connection to the current Nine Oaks property.

Sam pulls up short, staring into the mottled darkness ahead. There’s a half-moon tonight, but hardly any light reaches the ground through the wide-reaching oak canopy.

“That’s what we’re looking for.”

Dean raises his flashlight. Up ahead is a low gate, wrought iron and rusted from disuse. A crudely fashioned iron oak tree stands atop the gate. The only evidence of the fence that once surrounded the cemetery are blackened lines where the wood rotted after decades of humidity and rain, and a handful of sunken fence posts that look like tombstones themselves.

They step around the gate and enter the cemetery together. Dean drops his duffel on the ground beside a small, unadorned headstone and swings his flashlight around.

“At least it’s small?”

Sam nods, dropping the shovels beside Dean’s bag and skipping his light from stone to stone. “Size matters,” he jokes. “Now go find us a grave.”

Dean starts on the right while Sam turns to the left. His light reveals small groups of headstones where immediate family members have been buried close together. Company in the afterlife.

Doesn’t matter where you’re buried, folks, Dean thinks. In heaven, you find the people you’re meant to be with.

The cemetery is overgrown. It’s a decent bet that no one’s set foot in here for decades, maybe even half a century or more. The ground is covered in long grass and the headstones are simple. No sculptures or monuments. No reasons to show off in a private cemetery. The only imposing grave is at the back, a large stone tomb built at the highest point. There was once something carved into the flat sides, but the engraving is so old, Dean can’t make out any of the letters.

There are more roots within the cemetery than outside of it. They've knocked stones aside, nature winning the battle against stone. Moss rests on the cracked headstones like a soft cloak. In certain places, the trees have grown around the headstones. Absorbing them. Protecting them.

“I got it!”

Dean follows the sound of Sam’s voice to the opposite side, tilting his flashlight down towards the grave at Sam’s feet.

“That’s our girl. Irene Elizabeth Grantham,” Dean reads. “Born 1879, died 1904.”

As luck has it, Irene’s headstone is set far enough away from any trees that the ground is relatively root-free. Her marker is less than two feet high, made of smooth white stone that’s only partially covered with green moss. Above her name, there’s an outline of a simple cross. Beside her grave stands a higher stone shaped like an obelisk that bears the names of her father and mother.

Sam steps away and returns a moment later with the shovels.

That luck holds. Less than an hour later, they’ve made significant progress. Sam drops his shovel on the pile of dirt beside Irene’s grave and stares down to where Dean continues to dig.

“Didn’t call break time, Sammy.”

“C’mon, Dean. Your back’s gotta be killing you. That couch wasn’t comfortable, I checked.”

His back does hurt, but he’s driven by something else. The sense memory of what it felt like to fall into absolute darkness, so angry and hurt that he could’ve picked up his beloved gun and used it on the closest human being. Sayuri. Anna. Little Lourdes. Or himself.

He keeps digging because he can’t shake the memory of what it felt like to have his will trampled along with his spirit.

Half an hour later, Dean really does need a break. Sam helps Dean haul himself out of the four-foot deep hole and hands him a bottle of water.

“Didn’t you bring anything stronger?”

Sam doesn’t dignify that with a response. He picks up a shovel and lowers himself into the grave, picking up where Dean left off. In deference to the warm night and unrelenting humidity, Sam stripped down to his t-shirt. His shoulder muscles are visible through the tight fabric, biceps flexing each time he raises a shovelful of clay-rich soil and tosses it over the side of the grave.

Dean is so caught up, he doesn’t notice when Sam stops digging.


Sam’s voice gives Dean chills. Wide-eyed, Sam stares past Dean’s knees, towards the shallow creek that winds through the entire plantation.

Low mist rolls through the cemetery, embracing every headstone in its path. It circles Irene’s grave, cutting Sam and Dean off from their escape. The phrase silent as the grave takes on new meaning as the sounds of a muggy night are muffled before cutting out completely.

Dean’s breath fogs when he exhales, icy fingers dancing over his skin. Cold. Not the heat he felt earlier.

He turns around and finds the ghost of Irene Grantham staring back at him.

Sam scuffles with the moist earth as he levers himself out of the grave and steps up to Dean’s side. In one smooth move, he pulls his gun from the back of his jeans and points it at the murdered woman’s ghost.

Dean is frozen, unable to reach for his own weapon. He wants to warn Sam, to brace himself for the storm of emotion he felt earlier, but he's been robbed of his voice.

“It won’t work.”

Irene speaks nearly as quietly as the mists that carried her here. Up close, Dean’s able to see the tears in her cream-colored dress, blue ribbons tattered and dirty. Two misshapen bloodstains mark where the thieves’ bullets pierced her flesh. One below her right collarbone, the other over her stomach.

She never stood a chance.

Sam recovers first. “You can’t stop us from doing this.”

Irene’s face doesn’t bear the signs of violence the way her dress does. For a ghost who’s been around as long as she has, her visage is remarkably serene. She stares at the Winchesters without moving, mist curling around her feet. When Dean looks into her eyes, he feels inexplicably sad. It’s nothing like the agony he experienced in the manor.

The realization hits him in the gut like the gunshot that killed this young woman: Irene isn’t responsible for the consuming madness of Nine Oaks. Good news and bad news. The Winchesters always end up muddling through a mixture of both.

“If I thought it would help, I would not stop you,” Irene tells them through pale gray lips. “If digging my grave meant release from this prison, I would have lured hunters here years ago.”

Sam hasn’t lowered his gun. “Something else is keeping you here.”

A violent shiver catches Dean off guard as Irene drifts towards her parents’ headstone. Sam reaches out and lays his hand on Dean’s shoulder. At his touch, Dean takes his first full breath in minutes. Sam leaves his hand there.

“I come here to be with them,” she says, transparent fingers hovering over cold, impersonal stone. “They aren’t here, but I like to think they are still with me. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I…”

And Dean gets it. “Why you’re still you, even after all this time,” he says, grateful to have his voice returned.

Irene turns towards them, her eyes suddenly wide and desperate. Quick as a lightning flash, her demeanor changes.

“You must understand,” she pleads, “I did what I could! But that was very little.” Her form flickers, claws forming in the low fog as if it could drag her back into the mists. “I am not as strong as she is!”

“Who’s she?” Dean demands, stepping out of Sam’s grip.

“She can’t reach me here. We are too far from the house.”

“Who is she?” Sam repeats with even more force, long legs cutting through the fog. “Why is she so powerful?”

“The others!” Irene gasps, her face changing, serene mask cracking to reveal the kind of fear Dean’s never seen in a ghost before.“The family! I need to go back…”

“Wait!” Dean feels the clues slipping through his cold fingers. “Tell us everything you can. We can help you!”

His offer falls on deaf ears. Irene’s fear consumes her, hands clutching her breast as if the bullets are still ripping through her flesh. Her shriek cuts through the cemetery like a blade severing the dream from reality.

“I must go back!” She moans. “If she knows I’ve gone, she’ll be able to…”

Dean makes a last-ditch attempt to get through to her.

“Irene!” he calls out. To his surprise, she blinks and turns to him. He may only have a moment, not enough time to choose his words carefully. “You can’t stop her, not without us. Tell us her name, and I’ll swear on everything I have, Irene. I swear we’ll stop her.”

Behind him, Sam gasps. Dean feels nothing for a moment, numb as Irene’s ghost rushes towards him. He sees her eyes, fathomless and frantic, unable to blink as the mist hits his knees and crests over him like a tidal wave. Then a chill unlike anything he’s ever felt, blood freezing in his veins as her spirit passes through his body and disappears.

Dean faints.

He comes to in Sam’s arms moments later with a name on his quivering lips.

Emma Summerlin.”

Dean’s had one hell of a day.

It takes over an hour for him to stop shaking. He’s barely aware of the quarter-mile trek back to the Impala, Sam shouldering the duffel bag and their shovels, as well as most of Dean’s weight when he stumbles on unsteady feet.

With Sam behind the wheel, they wind their way back to the main house, half-expecting to encounter Irene again based on the way she fled the cemetery, but it's dark, no lights in any of the rooms, including the office behind those wide balcony doors. Dean does his best to keep his eyes from drifting in that direction.

They wait, sitting side by side in the Impala, until Dean finally stops shivering. In silence, Sam backs out of the drive and turns back towards Jocelyn’s house.

“Are you okay?” Sam asks as soon as they walk through the door and lock it behind them.

Dean scowls. “I would’ve said something if I wasn’t, Sam. Not the first time a ghost has barrelled right through me.”

“I’ve never seen you shake like that,” Sam says, treading carefully. “I think it’s because Irene was so terrified. When she passed through, you got hit with all of those emotions at once. It had to be awful.”

Awful, yes, but far from the worst thing Dean’s felt today.

His chest feels cold and tight, like he can't take a deep breath. It's as if he can't get warm despite the muggy air seeping into the house through old windows and broken seals. Sam digs one of his hoodies out of his bag and drapes it over Dean’s shoulders. He's unwilling to admit how much it helps to have Sam's scent surrounding him.

“It’s not going on my top-ten list of experiences, that’s for sure. But I’m fine, man. We’ve got bigger things to worry about.”

He's talking about Emma Summerlin.

When Irene passed through his chest, she left the name behind along with an icy spike of pure terror. It was the name they were looking for: the true evil behind Nine Oaks Plantation.

If only they knew who she was.

Back in the Impala, as Dean’s body came back down to baseline, he found comfort in the sound of Sam’s voice as he’d speculated out loud. Sam couldn’t remember reading anything about Emma Summerlin, or any member of the Summerlin family, in his pile of notes, books, and photocopies.

Dean reaches out towards Sam’s stack of research. “Give me one of those books. We’ll go through everything again, just in case.”

“Dean.” Sam only uses that low tone when he’s about to disapprove of something. Dean hears it enough to recognize it immediately. “You’re exhausted. I know you want to find out who Emma was, but you need to rest.”

“Fine.” Dean surrenders. He’s about to turn towards the couch when Sam hooks his hand through Dean’s elbow and spins him around.

“Not the couch, Dean. Get upstairs and go to bed.”

Petulance takes over. Dean’s too tired to hold back. “You stayed up all night,” he points out.

“Yeah, and I’m fucking exhausted.” Sam’s sigh is heavy, telling Dean more about the state of his brother’s health than words could. “I’ve got nothing right now, no adrenaline left, and no clue where to begin on this whole ‘second ghost’ angle. So I’m going upstairs…”

Maintaining his hold, Sam pulls Dean towards the stairs. “And you’re coming with me.”

Too stunned to argue, Dean allows himself to be led up the stairs and down the hall. When Sam steers Dean away from the bedroom he chose, he nearly stops breathing.

“Mine’s more comfortable,” Sam explains when Dean side-eyes him. Meaning, at some point, he tried the bed in the room Dean took.

“Where are you planning on sleeping?”

Sam merely shakes his head, smiling softly. “Shut up, Dean.”

There are no words for the feeling that swells up in Dean’s chest, melting the last icicles left behind from Irene’s field trip through his body.

Sam keeps him on task, watchful as Dean strips out of his jeans once he’s brushed his teeth and splashed warm water on his face. Dean’s about to crawl into bed (Sam was right, his is more comfortable) when Sam hands him a clean t-shirt.

“For my sake,” he says, a sparkle in his eye. “Yours smells like grave dirt and ozone.”

“That’s Eau de Hunter, Sammy. Not a fan?”

Sam’s response is to shove him onto the mattress and walk away.

Dean lies in Sam’s bed and drifts in and out of a doze while Sam changes out of his own dirty clothes and washes up. He feels better when Sam’s weight finally hits the mattress beside him.

“Don’t snore,” Sam warns.

“Don’t kick me,” is Dean’s comeback.

He falls asleep to the quiet sound of Sam turning pages, rechecking notes and books for any mention of Emma Summerlin. Sam’s long legs give off plenty of heat beneath the thin sheets.

Halfway through the night, Dean stirs. He wakes up to a room full of moonlight, Sam asleep with a book still open on his chest. Fighting sleep’s pull, Dean carefully lifts the book and sets it on the floor. Scooting closer to his brother, it’s only a matter of moments before Dean is out, too.

Dean pours himself a second cup of coffee and offers the carafe to his brother, who groans and refuses another serving.

“No more, Dean, or I’m never gonna be able to sleep again.”

They’ve made no progress on Emma Summerlin. Sam’s been at the computer since they woke up, launching one search after another and coming up with nothing. Dean’s not doing any better.

“If Emma Summerlin’s ghost is the one running the show, she had to have died in that house, right?” Dean speculates. “Or at least somewhere on the grounds.”

Sam adds his own ideas. “Maybe she’s older than we thought. The house burned down once, remember? Back in the 1850’s. Meaning she could’ve died a century and a half ago, for all we know.”

“How the hell are we supposed to figure that out?”

Frustration is getting the best of Dean. Sleep helped—Dean tries not to consider the circumstances—but he feels hollow. Irene’s quick trip through his chest left him cold in more ways than one. Everything Amara forced him to confront, the vacuum her destruction left behind, was exacerbated by Irene’s frigid spirit as if she stole whatever warmth was left.

When he looks over at Sam, he’s able to steal back a little bit.

A knock on the front door startles both of them. Dean recognizes the silhouette through the opaque glass right away.

“Thought you boys might be hungry,” Edmond Tallier says, following Sam back into the kitchen. Dean’s brother is carrying a brown paper bag, the smells from which have his tongue rolling out the red carpet. “Picked this up from Loretta’s place down the road.”

From the aroma, the Winchesters are in for a treat.

“You didn’t have to bring this,” Sam tells Edmond, gratitude written all over his face. Dean pulls out carton after carton of warm food, laying the impromptu lunch feast out on the counter.

Through his glasses, Edmond’s eyes slant towards the bag of garbage sitting by the back door. Beer bottles, empty coffee packets, and fast-food wrappers. Dean feels unfairly judged, but with the spread in front of him, he doesn’t care.

“You know why, Sam. I see the kind of food you’ve been eating.” He grins. “Never argue with a man bearing the gift of Loretta’s buttermilk fried chicken.”

That’s a lesson Dean plans on committing to memory. The breading melts on his tongue, rich buttermilk crust tasting better than anything he’s eaten in the last few months. Sam is eating with no finesse whatsoever, a thin streak of grease running down his chin as he tears into a piece of thigh-meat.

Edmond watches them eat, picking from his own small plate, a seemingly satisfied smile on his ageless face.

In addition to the best damn fried chicken Dean’s ever put in his mouth, Edmond’s bags contained a styrofoam tub of baked mac & cheese (the kind Sam likes, with a crunchy golden crust), long green beans coated with butter and salt, creamy mashed potatoes, and fried okra. Dean’s skeptical about the okra, but once Sam moans around a small handful of the crispy little wheels, Dean grabs a few for his own plate.

Once the majority of the food is gone, Dean feels refueled, warm from the inside-out. Maybe he’s not up to 100%, but he’s close. Good Southern cooking works miracles, apparently.

Sam, who finished stuffing his face a few minutes ago, is using Edmond’s visit to question him about their mystery ghost. Dean listened while Sam provided the barest details about what they saw and heard in the old Nine Oaks cemetery last night. Edmond could probably handle the full account, but there’s no reason to put those kinds of images in his head.

Dean thinks of Jocelyn Campbell and her stories, almost certain she’d approve of the way they’re shielding her nephew.

“Summerlin…” He thinks on the name for a few minutes, fingers scratching his chin. “Can’t say that’s a name I’m familiar with, and I know most of the families who put down roots in this area.”

Just like that, they’re back to disappointment. Dean had hoped that Edmond would be able to help them with a clue. Any clue. Instead, they’re back to square one.

Edmond turns to Sam, who’s bagging the empty containers and napkins from their meal. “You mention that name down at the Historical Society yesterday?”

Sam shakes his head no. “We didn’t know about her then.” Suddenly his eyes go wide and he empties the contents of his jeans’ pockets on the counter. Muttering something Dean can’t make out, Sam searches through the detritus until he finds the piece of paper he’s looking for.

“The researcher that helped me yesterday,” Sam says, setting the post-it note on the counter and smiling at Dean, “told me to call him if I needed anything else.”

Dean’s spine goes rigid. “He gave you his phone number?”

Sam looks at the paper and shrugs. “He was helpful.”

Beside him, Dean can hear Edmond snickering. He grabs the note.

“And he wrote down his personal number? He didn’t just give you a business card?”

Sam waves off the unexpected interrogation, figuratively twisting the knife in Dean’s back. Taking his phone and snatching the paper from Dean’s fingers, he steps out of the kitchen, leaving Edmond looking at Dean, eyes lowered in amusement.

“What?” Dean grumbles. “You don’t think that’s a little weird?”

The southerner gives him a lopsided smile and simply says, “Doesn’t matter at all what I think, Dean. That’s something you gotta work out on your own.”

Leaving Dean to his simmering jealousy, Edmond gathers the remaining trash and packs up the few pieces of chicken the three of them didn’t manage to eat. A few minutes later, Sam returns. Dean takes one look at the pink flush on his brother’s cheeks and turns away, scowling.

“He asked me to meet him at the Historical Society in an hour,” he hears Sam say. “He’s got something to show us.”

Stolen moments with his younger brother aren’t the only things Dean remembers from their last stay in Charleston. He remembers driving back roads and coastal highways, the oak canopy over the road, wisteria growing seemingly out of nowhere. The way the trees grew so close together, adding to the feeling that this city isolated itself from the rest of the world.

Time moved differently in Charleston.

When the Impala crosses the Ashley River and hits downtown Charleston, Dean notes how much has changed in the last decade and a half. More businesses, local shops giving way to high-line stores and national brands. Money, money, money everywhere he looks. Gone are some of the older row houses Dean appreciated when he and Sam walked through town on late summer afternoons. In their places are updated condos and a slew of restaurants boasting complicated seasonal menus.

Despite all of that, downtown Charleston retains its old world charm. Brick and cobblestone in front of colorful buildings, crepe myrtle trees draped delicately over wrought iron fences, tall oaks shading the sidewalks.

Sam directs him towards the Historical Society on the opposite side of the peninsular city where Dean has more trouble than he wants to admit finding a parking spot that accommodates his baby.

“You can wait in the car, Dean,” Sam offers. “Or meet me back here in, like, an hour.”

“Shut up and help me find a spot,” Dean fires back, glancing down alleyways to hide the scowl on his face. He’s not about to let Sam walk into the Historical Society by himself. Not this time.

Ten minutes later, Sam and Dean are stepping into the Historical Society of Charleston. Sam smooths the front of his shirt and tucks his hair behind his ears.

Dean briefly considers dragging him out of the building, to hell with the research. He doesn’t really want to know, or see, the volunteer with whom Sam bonded while Dean suffered in that miserable yellow room.

“Samuel! There you are.”

The young man skipping in their direction is not what Dean was expecting. Sam’s eager volunteer is in his mid-twenties and stands a few inches shorter than Dean, his build slight like he prefers to lift books, not weights. His hair is dark blonde and artfully (not to mention artificially) swept away from his face, revealing pale blue eyes that even Dean can admit are quite attractive.

His clothing stands out in the rather drab room, dark jeans painted on his skinny legs and a vibrant azure shirt tucked into his pants, rich brown loafers and a gold bow tie sitting neatly at his collar completing the look.

Dean imagines that he’s looking at Peter Pan all grown up. Arching his eyebrows, Dean looks over at Sam, thinking, seriously?

“Bennett, thanks for meeting us,” Sam greets the man graciously, shaking his outstretched hand. When the man notices Dean, Sam smoothly makes introductions. “This is Dean, my partner on this project. Dean, this is Bennett. He helped me with my research yesterday.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Dean,” Bennett says, polite as can be, but Dean catches the shadow of disappointment on his face. In Bennett’s eyes, Dean doesn’t hold a candle to Sam. “I’m so glad you came back.”

Dean shakes his hand anyway. “Bennett? You don’t go by Ben?”

“Bennett is my middle name,” he explains, coy smile directed at Sam. “It’s better than going by Wilson.”

“Says who?” Dean mutters, earning himself a swift hip-check from his brother that serves as his first and only warning. Bennett is too wrapped up in Sam’s presence to notice.

Sammy’s won himself an admirer. Fucking fantastic.

For today’s trip, Sam donned his cleanest white shirt, the pointed collar soft and open, baring his throat and the golden triangle where his collarbones meet. He tucked the shirt into a pair of dark jeans topped with a caramel leather belt that Dean smugly notes was pinched from his own duffle bag.

In that outfit, Bennett likely sees Sam as the hot, older professor type, and Dean can’t really blame him. Without four layers of shirts and jackets to cover him up, Sam’s body is on display, and it’s a damn fine sight, indeed.

And since Sam introduced Dean as his partner, not his brother, he’s free to appreciate the view, too.

Bennett beckons them further into the Historical Society with a flourish, leading them past visitors and other volunteers. In the Impala on the drive up to Charleston, Sam explained that he told Bennett he was working on scripting a series pilot for television.

“Southern gothic,” Sam told him. “Dark and mysterious. HBO-level stuff. I mentioned I was interested in old crime stories, things like that. Luckily, he said he was doing his Master’s project on something similar.”

Given the way Bennett can’t keep his eyes off Sam, Dean’s certain the volunteer would’ve said anything to keep the conversation flowing.

The Winchesters follow Bennett through a door marked ‘Staff Only’ into a room that feels like a mini library. It must serve as a private work room for the Society’s staff and volunteers, with a single long table down the middle and bookshelves built from floor to ceiling. Bennett points them towards a short stack of papers sitting at one end of the table.

“When I called, you said you could help me,” Sam prompts, treating Bennett to a smile.

“Yes, the Summerlin murders!” Bennett presses his hand to his chest. It’s a bit too dramatic for Dean, but if Bennett has the information they’re looking for, he’ll give the guy a gold star. “I can’t believe you asked, Samuel.”

Dean flinches at the use of Sam’s formal name. Sam, on the other hand, doesn’t bat an eyelash.

“You’ll just have to tell me where you’re getting your inside information,” the researcher continues, indicating the pile. “Those murders were almost unheard of until a couple of years ago. I thought I was onto something no one else knew about when I was logging these records.”

The stack on the table includes journals, bills of sale, brittle newspaper clippings tucked safely into plastic sleeves, and property records.

Dean’s about to ask Bennett to sum it all up for them when Sam jumps in and says, “I don’t know all that much. My source really only provided the name, and the fact that Emma Summerlin was connected to the old Nine Oaks Plantation.”

Bennett looks impressed. He bats his blue eyes and hovers beside Sam’s shoulder when he sits down. Dean’s instincts berate him for letting some other guy flirt so blatantly with his brother. He reminds them, for the last time, that he has no claim over Sam anymore. Not in that way.

“Emma Summerlin lived there, of course,” Bennett tells them, pulling out a piece of yellowed paper. “This is a carriage slip from 1912 when Emma traveled down to the plantation. She’d just been hired on as the nanny.”

“Who hired her?”

“Why, Mr. Frederick Calhoun, of course.” At Sam and Dean’s blank looks, Bennett gasps. “The Calhouns are only one of the oldest and most famous families in Charleston. Frederick Calhoun bought Nine Oaks Plantation back in 1905, I think.”

Right after the murder of Irene Grantham and her father. The pieces are finally coming together. Bennett is only too happy to recount the whole story.

“From what I’ve put together, Frederick bought the land for one of his sons, Albert. The young man was newly married, and within a few years they had two children. Regrettably, Albert’s wife died from a tragic illness, leaving him to care for them.”

“Leading to Emma Summerlin.”

“I couldn’t find anything about her family,” Bennett admits sadly, fingers drifting across the page in front of Sam. “This journal belonged to a member of the Morris family. They owned land nearby. According to Mr. Morris’ wife, Emma was a strange, quiet young woman. Took care of the children but kept to herself. Everything appeared normal until 1916.”

It’s a story the Winchesters have heard over and over. They know where this tale leads.

Sam is somber when he asks, “What happened?”

“That’s not as clear,” Bennett admits. “It’s better left to wildly creative souls like you and I.”

He winks at Sam, and Dean finds himself maintaining a tenuous grasp on his tolerance. It’s far from the first time he’s had a front row seat to someone flirting with his baby brother. It is the first time in years that Sam has flirted back so convincingly. That type of reciprocation is harder to swallow.

“Nothing in these records tells us what happened. Only the result. In the span of a single night, the entire family was dead. Emma Summerlin killed Albert Calhoun, the two children, and herself.”

Bennett gives them a moment to absorb the information. Dean is puzzling over Emma’s fate, how her spirit became trapped in the manor, what drove her to murder three people and kill herself.

From what Dean felt in the room with the yellow wallpaper, Emma’s story came to a very disturbed, very violent end, the remnants of which only grew stronger as her spirit tainted the house.

Sam leans back to look at Bennett. “I checked so many different sources. Why didn’t I read about any of this in the newspaper?”

“Remember, Samuel, Frederick was a Calhoun. If he didn’t want the city to know what happened, he had the means to erase the story. He could have spun his son’s death a dozen different ways. No one needed to know that a servant had gone mad and slaughtered his son’s family. The damage was done. Emma couldn’t hurt anyone else.”

If only that were true, Dean thinks, he and Sammy could retire.

“In fact, no one would’ve known about it if one of Mr. Morris’ ancestors hadn’t willed her family’s entire library collection to the society.”

“You must have a theory.” There goes Sam, turning on the charm again. “You’ve probably studied these more than anyone else.”

Bennett’s cheeks flush, a faint pink to complement his light complexion. He’s attractive, Dean admits, and he can see why Sam might be interested in Bennett beyond getting Emma’s life story, though he doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

Of course, personally, Dean’s always been partial to brown hair and hazel eyes. To broad shoulders and narrow hips. To a soul he knows better than his own. Pretty much to anything that makes Sam, Sam. Dean may be pushing forty, but he’s always been a one-man kind of guy.

Bennett slides his chair closer to Sam’s. “The Summerlin murders were going to be the main focus of my Masters’ work,” he says, angling for more eye-contact. Dean might as well not even be in the room. He crosses his arms and listens. “I haven’t shared this with anyone else yet, but,” his voice drops, “I’m almost certain Emma was having an affair with her employer.”

In Bennett’s opinion, a young widower with the Calhoun name should’ve been remarried within a year or two of his wife’s death.

“It should have been like a season of The Bachelor,” Bennett jokes. “Young women throwing themselves at the chance to marry into the Calhoun family.”

That an eligible young man like Albert remained single raised a flag. As to what pushed the fragile, isolated young woman over the edge, their budding historian has worked up a theory for that as well.

“Emma could have miscarried or given birth to a child who died shortly after.” Pale blue eyes cloud over with sadness. “A bastard child in the Calhoun family would’ve given dear old Frederick another motive to cover up the entire misfortune. Mental healthcare for women being as barbaric as it was back then, Emma might have snapped, causing her to kill her lover and his two innocent children.”

Leaving a stain on Emma’s soul for eternity and keeping her murderous spirit trapped in that horrible house, forced to witness life going on without her. A dangerous prisoner becoming more and more enraged as the years went on, hatred and insanity spreading throughout the manor until every board, every beam, every fixture was soaked in it.

Irene’s terror makes perfect sense now.

At a silent look from Sam, Dean ducks out of the room leaving his brother to finish up with Bennett. He’s unable to hear what they’re saying from the hallway, shuffling his feet while imagining what the two of them could be doing in private. When Sam steps out a few minutes later, Dean can hear Bennett say, “I’ll hold you to that, Samuel,” with affection warming the tone of his voice.

He waits until they’re outside to ask what Bennett meant.

“It’s nothing, Dean,” Sam assures, sighing when Dean doesn’t let up with his stare. “I only told him that I’d pass along anything I find out about Emma Summerlin. For his project.”

His words are enough to smooth Dean’s ruffled feathers. For now.

As they make their way back to the Impala, Sam grabs Dean’s wrist and steers him into the old city market that splits downtown Charleston in half. Every step he takes with Sam’s hand on his arm eases the ache in Dean’s chest.

Up and down the market, vendors fill their stalls with everything from locally baked treats to t-shirts and pottery to sell to the endless groups of tourists visiting the Holy City for its many charms. Sam buys a bag of sugared pecans, tossing them up and attempting to catch them in his mouth while Dean tries not to laugh. When Sam offers some to Dean, he takes the small handful, thinking that he’d rather taste the sugar off Sam’s fingers, instead.

Along the edges of the long, low market buildings, Dean sees young boys and girls sitting beside their Gullah grandmothers, their small, nimble fingers creating simple roses out of long blades of green and yellow sweetgrass while the wizened old women weave elaborate baskets.

A memory flares in Dean’s mind. He can picture Sam at fifteen, running around with the same kind of sweetgrass roses in his pockets. Dean used to pull them out of his threadbare jeans after Sam fell asleep, laying them out on the dresser to dry.

Dean wonders whatever happened to those flowers.

Sayuri stands in the middle of her office, barely breathing. Downstairs, Max is talking to Anna, his voice frantic, no doubt telling their nanny that Sayuri is not to be left alone with the baby.

She’s getting worse.

Late last night, Max discovered Sayuri in their daughter’s room, hovering at the side of her crib. Lourdes was crying but Sayuri didn’t react. It was as if the screams couldn't reach her.

Max dragged her out of the nursery and into the kitchen, pushing her into a chair while he checked her over, asking what was wrong. Questions Sayuri didn't know how to answer. The offer was made to drive her to the hospital if she wanted to go, but Sayuri wasn’t supposed to leave. That would be just what Max wanted.

The paranoia eats away at her well-being. Anna has tried to be supportive, but Sayuri can see through her act. She wants Max… why wouldn’t she? If Max can prove that Sayuri is sick, unfit to take care of her own child, then there’s nothing stopping them from being together.

Sayuri has to stay.

Here in this room, she knows the truth. The walls have ears and eyes. They see and hear and whisper to Sayuri, telling her Max will push her aside, take her child away from her, leave her to rot in this manor alone just like so many before her.

Sayuri knows. She has listened to their stories, each more tragic than the one before. Her fate is hidden somewhere in the yellow wallpaper; the answers are there if she could only get deep enough, untangle the vines that try to choke her. These poor, trapped women can help save her from Max and his base needs. Broken dolls thrown away, their eyes haunted and their mouths empty, silently calling out to Sayuri from behind the wallpaper.

They need her help, too.

She ignores Max’s voice and turns back to the wall she’d been investigating last night, the one she remembers running her fingers over before she suddenly found herself standing over Lourdes’ crib, oblivious as to how she had gotten there.

The women are waiting for her, fighting their way through swirls and thorns the color of rotting cream, but the one Sayuri is looking for isn't there. The woman with the pale, golden eyes, who watches the rest. If Sayuri can find her again, free her from the suffocating yellow forest, maybe she can tell Sayuri how to end her suffering and silence the paranoia.

The wallpaper is warm beneath Sayuri’s fingers. She must be getting close.

On to chapter five.

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