|You Say the Dead Need No Physician, 2/4
||[Aug. 14th, 2010|06:58 am]
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Dean looks hard at him when comes back in. “Hay fever,” Sam says, and Dean’s mouth thins, he doesn’t believe him, but now isn’t the time to start a fight, so he lets it go.
He grabs at Ryngo’s papers again. The speech continues in the same vein for some time, and Sam swallows his discomfort, skims it. Ryngo goes on about how one with an “imperious will” can “reanimate the moldering clay,” and that’s more like it, that sounds more like the would-be Master Mages ™ Sam knows, arrogant sons-of-bitches to a man. (They’re almost always men, for reasons Sam hasn’t quite figured out, but he thinks has something to do with being told from birth that you have the right to order half the human race around; not too surprising that some of them extend that to the dead.) He finishes the speech, sets it aside.
There are a few other papers, one of which catches his eye. A poem, Sam thinks at first, but then he recognizes it; it’s a transcription of a folk song, one Sam heard long ago:
I must be going, no longer staying,
The burning Thames I have to cross;
I must be guided, without a stumble,
Into the arms of my own dear lass.
And when he came to his true love’s window,
He knelt down gently all on a stone,
And it’s through the pane he has whispered slowly,
“My darling dear, do you lie alone?”
So this young girl rose and put on her clothing,
So swift she’s let her true love in.
And it’s there they kissed and embraced each other,
Through that long night they lay as one.
Then the cock he crew, and he crew so fully,
He crew three hours before it was day.
And before it was day, my love had to go away.
Not by the light of the moon or the light of sun.
“Oh Willy dear, oh my dearest Willy,
When will I ever see you again?”
“When the fish they fly, love, and the seas run dry, love,
And the rocks they melt by the heat of the sun.”
Sam Googles the first line, and gets the song: “The Grey Cock.” Ryngo’s version wasn’t complete; he had left out several verses, including a description of the girl’s milk-white breasts, and her attempt to bargain with the cockerel. But the most glaring omission was the big reveal, where Willy tells his sweetheart that he is “but the ghost of the man you know.” It’s the hinge of the tale, the point that it turns from a romance into a tragic ghost story. This version was just a straightforward tale of lovers parting forever, with no explanation. The “burning Thames” and the cockcrow hinted at the reason, but it was never spelled out. He wonders if this was a genuine variant in circulation, or if Ryngo only recorded the verses he liked. Sam is leaning toward the latter; folklore isn’t usually that subtle – a piece of folklore that’s too opaque will usually fall out of circulation.
In the margins, Ryngo had scrawled, “Helen.” Sam wonders who she was. Maybe the informant, the one who sang him the song?
The next few papers are medical notes, as Joe had said. One drawing appears to be a mechanism for keeping a heart beating – an early pacemaker. Sam reads carefully, trying to decipher the doctor’s shorthand, but nothing looks promising.
The last paper is a list of churches: St. Philip’s, St. Michael’s, Huguenot, Grace (which was crossed out), Unitarian, Quaker, St. Mary’s, Circular Congregational. Sam thinks for a moment: Joe had mentioned the Circular Church, saying it had the oldest grave in the city.
Sam decides, unless Dean has a better idea, to do as Joe suggested, and investigate the graveyards: those corpses in Ryngo’s house had to come from somewhere. He pulls up a map of Charleston on his laptop, and marks out a tentative route; old Charleston is small, and all the churches are fairly close together, within easy walking distance. He starts with Grace Episcopal Church, the only one Ryngo had marked off. He pulls up the church webpage, and sees that it wasn’t founded until 1846; Ryngo may have started here, as the dead were fairly recent. But wait, that’s ridiculous – if Ryngo wanted a fresh corpse, he didn’t need to go to a new graveyard, just a new grave. Maybe he crossed off Grace to eliminate it? That would make sense: the best picking grounds, to a scientific man like Ryngo, would be an old graveyard that was still in use, to get the widest range of dead bodies for experimentation. Sam wishes fervently that the names of the grave-robbing victims had survived, but this list of locations might be the next best thing – if it actually was a list of places Ryngo had robbed, or planned to rob, and not, just, like, a sightseeing trip. Still, it was better than nothing.
He looks up from the computer, and sees Dean watching him; he flushes a little, Dean looks so intent. Dean looks away first, then back.
“So, uh,” Dean says, and his voice sounds scratchy, like he hasn’t used it in days. “You find something?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe. You?”
“Just a bunch of shit from some guy whose true calling was writing crappy romance novels. Fucking Victorians.”
Sam grins. “Well, this will cheer you up; we’re going on a tour of the Historic Cemeteries of Charleston!”
“Only if we go in one of those horse-drawn carriages, bitch.” Dean grins back, happy to get out of the library. “What are we looking for, besides the obvious?”
Sam shows him the list of churches, and explains his hypothesis that it might be Ryngo’s working list of grave-robbing sites. Dean takes the list from him, and their fingers brush. “Lot of churches for a town this size,” Dean says. His voice is a little odd.
“Yeah. Charleston’s famous for that; it’s called the Holy City.”
Dean pulls the laptop over, covering up for – what? Sam doesn’t know. “Let’s start with Grace; it can’t hurt to check it out. Besides, it’s on campus,” Dean says.
They cut through the campus, passing brick buildings festooned with ivy, and a few old Charleston single houses – houses one room wide and many rooms deep, with tiered porches, designed that way, according to the tour guides, because property taxes were based on street frontage – now turned to dormitories; they reach the center of campus, a large open green space bordered by azalea bushes and the college’s oldest buildings. One of these buildings was the gatehouse. Dean nudges Sam, pointing it out – this is where Ryngo grew up. They pass under the gate, and Sam is hit with a whiff of something disgusting, something that appears centered on the enormous live oak tree just in front of the gate.
“Dude,” Dean says, wrinkling his nose. “What’s that smell? Do you think it’s a clue?”
Just then, a horse-drawn carriage tour turns onto the street, the guide chattering away about the college. Sam and Dean duck back under the arch of the gate, to eavesdrop on the guide’s spiel.
“…founded in 1770; it’s the oldest institution of higher education in the South, and the thirteenth oldest in the nation. Notable alumni include Robert Mills, who designed the Washington Monument, and John C. Fremont, an abolitionist candidate for the presidency.” The horse and carriage stop, and the guide continues. “The gatehouse, which you’re looking at right now, was built…”
But Sam and Dean miss whatever the guide says, because they suddenly discover the source of the smell: the bored horse lets loose a luxuriant stream of piss, which runs along the gutter and splashes over the roots of the oak tree. Dean cracks up, and Sam does, too.
“One mystery solved,” Sam says, grinning.
“I got another,” Dan adds, still laughing. “That horse has a diaper rigged up to catch its poop; why don’t they go whole hog and stick some goddamn Pampers on it? Piss is just as nasty.”
“Write to the chamber of commerce and suggest it,” Sam says, smiling so wide it hurts. He feels good; this is the first time he and Dean have had a real laugh together in what feels like months. Sam feels a burst of goodwill toward Charleston; even with all the shit they have to do, all the shit still between them, Dean seems – not happy, that’s pushing it – but a little bit lighter here, lighter than he’s been in a long time. His laugh isn’t as free and easy as it used to be, not like before he died, but Sam’s glad to hear it all the same.
They head toward Grace Episcopal Church, on Wentworth Street. It’s an attractive enough building, with a small cemetery that they make short work of. If there’s anything to see here, they can’t find it.
After Grace, St. Mary’s is the nearest, two blocks away on Hasell Street. “Hasell,” Sam says, “like one of the victims. We should look all of them up.” Dean nods in agreement.
St. Mary’s doesn’t yield any clues, though, and neither does the Circular Church, on Meeting Street. They find the oldest grave, indeed dated 1695, and Sam admires some of the carvings on the headstones. St. Phllip’s churchyard buts up against the back of the Circular Church’s; to Dean’s annoyance, Sam doesn’t let them hop the fence, but leads them outside and around to Church Street. They check the cemetery of the pretty Huguenot Church with its gothic spikes, and then right next door, St. Phillip’s, its graveyard split on either side of Church Street.
“Hey Dean,” Sam says, reading the church plaque, “check it out. The church-side graves are for native Charlestonians only; the ones across the street are for ‘strangers.’ Even John C. Calhoun is on the ‘strangers’ side!”
“Fascinating, Sammy,” Dean calls, squinting at a grave on the “native” side, “and that helps us, how?”
“Well, if you were Ryngo, which side would you rob?”
Dean comes over, thinks for a moment. “The ‘strangers’ side. The graves aren’t crammed quite so close together, there’s more room to maneuver.”
“But that might not have been the case in Ryngo’s time,” Sam points out.
“True. I’d still go with the ‘strangers’ side, though – there’s more cover, overall. But really, man, I wouldn’t want to dig up any of these graves, not at the Circular Church, the Huguenot Church, or St. Phillip’s, even back in the day. They’re all too close together, and the ministers and church staff live right around here. Meeting and Church Streets look like they were designed to be important streets, too – look, across from the Huguenots, there’s a damn theater – so there’s passersby to consider.”
“Passersby?” Sam smiles.
“Shut up, I’m totally literate. Anyway, there’s just too much risk of being seen, any of these places. Grace was the same way, the churchyard was right out in the open on a good-sized street, and St. Mary’s was close to Meeting and just across the street from that synagogue. Granted, Ryngo was a whackjob, but nobody actually caught him digging anyone up, or he’d have been arrested for grave robbing. If I were him, I’d go find myself a cemetery in the ass-end of nowhere; it’s not like he’d have to travel too far outside the city, for that. It’s just smarter. Also, he’d need some transportation, for the equipment and the bodies; if someone saw his carriage, or whatever, parked out on Meeting Street in front of the Circular Church graveyard, he’d have a lot of ‘splainin to do – especially because he only lived, like, two blocks away.”
Sam nods. “I think you’re right. He’s a doctor, he’d definitely have a carriage, and nobody would be surprised to see him out all hours of the night. There’s no reason for him not to head out of town.”
“Yeah. Unless he was after specific people.” Dean sighs. “That will be hard to figure out, though, without the list of victims – Ryngo would have covered his tracks first, and the reburials were also a cover-up. They’d have left no evidence.”
“Still, we should check out the other graveyards. Maybe they’ll be different.”
St. Michael’s initially looks more promising; the graveyard has a high stone wall and masses of trees, and is unpleasantly creepy. However, the church is situated at the intersection of Meeting and Broad Streets, the famous “Four Corners of Law”: the state courthouse, the federal post office, and City Hall occupy the other three corners.
Dean whistles. “If he robbed this place, he must’ve had balls of steel, man, with the mayor and the courthouse right there,”
“Not to mention crazed postal workers,” Sam says, and that gets another laugh from Dean. “You’re right, there would have been guards at the courthouse and City Hall. Ryngo wasn’t that stupid.”
They head up Broad Street, toward King. Just before the intersection, Dean lays a hand on his arm. Before Sam can process the warmth of Dean’s fingers on his skin, Dean points up: a wooden sign proclaiming “Rutledge Antiques.”
“That must be the owner,” Sam manages. Dean’s hand is still on his arm. “Joe’s friend.”
“Yeah,” Dean says. “His alibi checks out, according to Maggie, but we’ll see.”
Sam sees the moment Dean realizes he’s still touching Sam; Dean flushes, and pulls his hand away as if he’d been scalded. “The shop’s closed now,” he observes idiotically.
“We can come back later,” Sam replies, just as idiotically. If he looked down, he’s sure he’d see a brand on his skin, same as Dean’s from Castiel, but far more profane.
They start moving again, not looking at each other, and turn the corner onto King Street. Right around here is the house itself, Sam thinks –
-- and then he smells it.
It’s faint, a few molecules on the wind, but that’s enough. It’s horrible: garbage, sewage, body odor, foul water, rotten fish, filthy feet, vomit, moldy onions, garlic farts, asafoetida, a mouth that’s never seen a toothbrush, all of these and more, much more, and over it all, overpowering it all, the sick, sweet reek of the rotting dead. And the worst of it is, underneath, barely a whisper, the scent of gardenias. Sam’s gorge rises, and he barely manages to gag back his lunch.
Dean’s face is white. “Jesus fuck,” he gasps out. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Two paces ahead, and it’s as if the smell never existed. Sam scrubs at his watering eyes.
“Dude,” he says. “Why the mob didn’t go after Ryngo before, I have no idea. That was foul. I wonder if it was any stronger, back in the day?”
“I dunno, man,” Dean says. “If people noticed it, maybe it had to be; there were horses shitting in the streets, and nobody ever took a bath, so it had to be nasty to stick out over that.”
They look back at the house. Narrow houses aren’t unusual in Charleston, but this one is lean as a coffin, barely over six feet from wall to wall. If Sam lies down on the pavement, he might be taller than it is wide. It has three stories, with an iron balcony jutting out from the second floor – this must be the place of Ryngo’s execution. The roof is sharply pointed, the red tiles that cover it ancient and oddly shaped. It’s painted a non-descript cream, and the door is black. It looks like it belongs in a nursery rhyme, one of the nastier ones: there was a crooked house, and it wore a crooked smile.
Sam’s been in some scary places before, terrifying places – it’s his job. But here, standing on King Street in the beautiful early evening light, sunset warmth on his shoulders, he’s afraid.
He does not want to go in that house.
With an effort, he turns away. Dean follows him, and they head up King Street toward the last two churches. They’re right near their hotel, that’s Queen Street up ahead, and here’s the parking garage to which they’ve entrusted the Impala.
“The Quaker burial ground should be here somewhere, I know it –“
“Dude.” Dean has stopped, and gestures at a plaque on the wall of the garage.
Sam comes over, reads. “Site of the Quaker Cemetery. Well, that settles that.”
Dean reads further. “It says they moved the remains to 2 Courthouse Square, which I’m guessing is down at Meeting and Broad. Yeah, right.”
Sam snorts in agreement. They put up a damn parking garage over the site; he’s not inclined to trust the builders’ nobler sentiments with regard to the dead.
“Still,” he admits, “maybe they did. Haven’t heard any reports of homicidal Quakers roaming the garage, have you?”
“Isn’t a homicidal Quaker kind of a contradiction in terms?” Dean asks.
Sam shrugs. “Some of them had to be jerks. But Maggie would have said something, so maybe they’re content where they are.” He thinks. “Unless one of them is behind the disturbance at the Ryngo house.”
“Dude, if we bust in there and it’s the Quaker Oats guy, I’m gonna be pissed. I’ll never eat oatmeal again.”
“You don’t eat oatmeal now,” Sam says.
“Details,” Dean says. “Where’s the last church on the list?”
“Unitarian. The main entrance is on Archdale, but the map said we can get in from King. Let’s hurry, though; I think they close the gate at sunset.”
Sam is right; there’s a pleasant little brick archway and an iron gate, with a small sign announcing worship services. On the wall, a sign reads, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32.”
He stops to look at the Historical Preservation Society’s plaque. There’s been a church – and a graveyard – on this site since the 1770s, with the building being consecrated in 1787. Dean shifts impatiently behind him, and they head through the gate and down a little path, bordered on the left by an ivy-covered brick wall and on the right by the pretty garden of the house next door.
The cemetery proper is lovely; it looks wild and overgrown at first glance, but it’s been carefully cultivated into a profusion of greenery and flowers. “Cheerful” is an odd look for a graveyard, but that’s what this is; the paths between the graves are crowded with azaleas and the low-hanging branches of rose trees, their pink, cabbage-sized early blossoms brushing Sam’s face as he walks by. At their feet, clouds of lilies-of-the-valley release their delicate scent. Here and there, he spots a brave late daffodil, holding out till the bitter end of spring. There are little benches scattered randomly, inviting visitors to sit and enjoy the surroundings.
Sam’s been in a lot of cemeteries, and this is by far the nicest. Not just for its beauty, but for its peace. Most cemeteries, despite the way people talk about them, aren’t really peaceful – they’re just quiet. Ryngo knew as much. But here, when Sam sits down on a bench, he feels a calm settle over him. He could happily stay for a while, smelling the flowers like Ferdinand.
Dean, though, seems restless, his eyes darting from one corner of the graveyard to the next, like he expects to see something.
“This place,” he says, voice low, “this place, now. Ryngo could dig here.”
Sam looks around. He sees Dean’s point. Most parts of the cemetery, except those up toward the front entrance of the church on Archdale, are sheltered from the view of the street, both by the greenery and the comforting Gothic bulk of the church itself. Sam gets up, makes his way to the front gate; Archdale is a tiny twisting street, very little traffic. There’s the minister’s house on the left, and on the other side of the church is another church, Lutheran, with its own neatly manicured cemetery and minister’s house. But still, there are significant portions of the Unitarian graveyard in which you could do a spot of grave robbing without attracting undue attention, if you planned carefully and didn’t make too much noise. This would have been especially true in Ryngo’s day, when there were fewer streetlights shining into dark corners.
Of course, at this point, all they have is speculation. As Dean had said, there were compelling reasons for Ryngo to make his expeditions out of town. Secluded and sheltered as the Unitarian graveyard was, it would still be dangerous. He would have had to be very motivated, to take that kind of risk.
But if he was? It could be done.
There’s a sudden clang; Sam jumps, startled, and looks around in the failing light. A man is at the Archdale gate; he waves a ring of keys apologetically.
“Sorry, boys,” he calls, “Cemetery’s closing. We’ll be here in the morning.”
“Thank you, sir,” Sam calls back. “We’re leaving.”
He collects Dean, and they head back down the path to King Street. Once out of the cemetery, Dean rolls his shoulders, like he’s shrugging off the place.
“I’m starving,” he announces. “I want some fucking oysters.” He still seems jittery.
“You okay, man?” Sam asks.
“Yeah, fine,” Dean says shortly. He stops, scrubs his hand through his hair. “Sorry. Just, I don’t know. That place. It’s kinda claustrophobic.”
“I liked it,” Sam says. “It was nice. Happy.”
“That’s the thing, Sammy, graveyards shouldn’t be happy. Or that pink, either.” He looks so outraged Sam has to laugh.
“What, the aesthetic impropriety was too much to bear?”
“Yeah, it offended my delicate fucking sensibilities. Oysters, bitch!”
That night, Sam forces himself to lie still, clear his mind. Dean, full of oysters and yet more she-crab soup, is quietly snoring on his side of the bed. It was a good afternoon, even if they didn’t actually accomplish much. He and Dean worked together, laughed together. Dean had gotten over his weirdness at the Unitarian cemetery pretty quickly, once he had a plate of oysters and a beer in front of him, and he settled into the closest thing to contentment Sam had seen in a while. So that’s good.
And Sam’s embarrassing freakout in the library bathroom, earlier? Just cooped up too long with the weight of the world and a dead man’s ramblings, it would make anyone nervy. It’s fine.
Next morning, after stuffing them obscenely full with a proper Southern breakfast – which consisted, in Dean’s case, mainly of meat with meat sauce – Maggie shoved some parcels into their hands.
“You’re going to see Joe’s grandma and aunt today; give them those packages, from me.”
“What’s in them?” Dean asks, shaking one experimentally.
“White cotton panties, sizes 8 and 14.” At Dean’s look of horror, she added, “I think there’re some bras in there, as well. Girdles, too. All that is to say, none of your damn business!”
“Point taken,” Dean groans, over Sam’s laughter. Maggie grins at Sam.
“Okay, I should warn you. Rose and Amelia are two of the finest people you’ll ever meet, but they’re both a touch… peculiar. Don’t mind that, they’re sharp as can be, and know more about the spirits around this part of the country than anyone.” She laughs. “They ordered your daddy around like he was a fussy toddler. He was terrified of them.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll behave. Well, I’ll behave, and it sounds like they’ll smack Dean around until he does.”
Before Dean can make him pay for that, a car honks outside. Sam, Dean and Maggie head outside and meet Joe, who is driving a blue Prius. He leans over and unlocks the passenger door.
“Sorry about the honking – there’s no place to park, here, without paying for it.” While Sam and Dean climb into the car, Sam in front, Maggie goes around to the driver’s side and squeezes her husband’s hand. He smiles at her.
“Drive safe, now,” she says. “I want you all back in one piece. We’re meeting Eric tonight, and you boys are going into that house.”
Joe’s grandma and aunt live on St. Helena Island, a center of Gullah culture. The Gullah, as Joe explains on the drive over, are the African-American people of the Low Country and Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, descended from the slaves who worked the rice plantations. Because of their isolation, they were able to preserve West African traditions and languages with more success than in other regions of the country.
“You’ve seen those ladies weaving the sweetgrass baskets, right?” Sam and Dean had; there had been a few sellers outside of St, Michael’s, yesterday. Sam had admired the tight spiral weave, and was considering buying one for Bobby (who, like Eeyore, liked useful things to put things in).
“Well,” Joe continues, “The only other place those baskets are made like that is Senegal. The Gullah were able to hang on to that knowledge.”
Another thing the Gullah had retained from their African ancestors was a firm belief in a variety of spirits, and the efficacy of “the root” – rootwork – in dealing with them. Joe eyed them.
“How much do you boys know about rootwork? In your line of work, I’m guessing you picked up a few tricks, but I’m curious as to what you actually know.”
“Not too much,” Sam admits. “Rootwork’s like hoodoo, right? And it’s not Voodoo – Voodoo, or Vodoun, is a religion, while hoodoo is folk magic, African-American folk magic. It often gets combined with the dominant religion in the area, but isn’t itself a religion.”
Joe nods. “That’s right. Rootwork, hoodoo, conjure – different names for similar stuff. The main body of knowledge, in most areas, is African, but European and Native American folklore are in there, too; the particulars vary from region to region, depending on the ethnic mix, but there’s enough overlap to be able to talk about it being related. It’s like, say, baking bread: the basic idea is the same wherever you go, but the ingredients and the process vary a lot depending on what’s available in that region, cultural preferences, individual tastes, and so forth.”
“We’ve used goofer dust,” Dean pipes up from the back seat. “Only thing we know that can slow down a hellhound.”
“Goofer dust?” Joe asks. “That’s unusual. Tell me the ingredients.”
“Sulfur, graveyard dirt, salt,” Sam says.
“Okay, those are all good protection ingredients, and they do figure in most recipes I know, but what I’ve usually heard called ‘goofer dust’ also has snakeskin in it, sometimes mullein, and it isn’t used for protection – it’s used to harm or kill someone. That’s what the African root word for ‘goofer’ means – ‘to die.’ Interesting – might be a regional variation. Where’d you hear that?”
“Mississippi,” Sam says, and tries not to think about George, finishing his last painting in the dark.
Joe nods. “That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about, that this stuff shifts around depending on who you’re talking to. I can see why there’s variation; a lot of protection spells use ingredients similar to those in aggressive, evil spells, in kind of a homeopathic way.”
By now, they’ve crossed the line into Beaufort county. “Not too much longer, now,” Joe says. “Let me tell you about Grandma and Aunt Amelia.”
Rose and Amelia Brown were born eighty-three and eighty-one years ago, respectively, on St. Helena. Both of them showed an early aptitude for magic: Amelia could hear and speak to just about any spirit, and had considerable talent as a psychic; Rose could whip up roots that could fix just about anything. Powers like that are respected on St. Helena, and both girls rose to become the region’s foremost root doctors. Rose married Neal Hurston, had children and grandchildren, and stayed close to home, perfecting her roots. Amelia also married, but was a widow by twenty-one; with her more portable skill set, she became a hunter, and, up until about fifteen years ago, had been the best in the area, and one of the best in the South.
“Grandma was always more of a conjure woman than a hunter, but Amelia gave her some training, and she was pretty formidable in a fight,” Joe says. “Now, they stick to consulting. If one or the other of them doesn’t know something about the magic or spirits of this region, it isn’t worth knowing. Though god knows, if her arthritis weren’t so bad, Amelia would still be charging boo hags with a machete. Don’t encourage her, you hear?”
Sam is inclined to think that any hunter who survives into her eighties must be a very good hunter indeed. However, if there’s one thing Sam understands, it’s the fear that your family is going to do something stupid and get themselves killed, so he agrees.
They turn off the road, onto a long gravel driveway that winds through the pine woods, eventually reaching a large, comfortable clearing that contains two shotgun-style houses with tin roofs. Both are white, with sky-blue doors and window shutters.
From the house on the right, a small, stout, elderly woman with iron-gray hair comes bustling out as Joe parks the car. She waves in greeting, and Sam sees that her smile is just like Joe’s. She is followed by a taller, leaner, but equally elderly woman with white dreadlocks, who must be her sister; she smiles and waves too.
They get out of the car, and the smaller woman swoops down on Joe, castigating him for being late. At least, that’s what he thinks is happening; she speaks quickly, in a rich, warm accent, and Sam doesn’t catch half of her words.
The taller women approaches them. She has large, prominent eyes that manage to be both faraway and sharp at the same time; the effect is disconcerting.
“You’re the Winchester boys,” she says. It isn’t a question. “I saw you in dreams.” She smiles suddenly, and Sam sees that she must have been an unholy terror in her youth. “I’m Amelia. I must say, you sure are handsome in person.”
“Hello ma’am,” Sam says, flushing a little as he hands her the parcels from Maggie. “I’m Sam, this is Dean. It’s a pleasure to meet you; Joe says that you were one of the best hunters in the South.”
She grins. “Still am, boy, though don’t tell my sister that. She’s got this idea that we’re having to sit around with our thumbs up our asses now we’re old. Bullshit, I say. Though I don’t mind having two big men doing the heavy lifting on this one, let me tell you.”
Rose comes over then, her arm around Joe’s waist and his around her shoulders. She lets go and eyes them both, a little suspiciously. She glances at Amelia, who nods almost imperceptibly; it’s only then that she smiles. Rose has a sweet, round face, but Sam has no doubt she can kick his ass if she feels like it. Dean swallows, audibly; he’s come to the same conclusion. He’s always nervous around witchy sorts, even good ones. At that, Rose rolls her eyes and Amelia’s smile gets bigger; Joe looks relieved.
“Well, come on in, you two,” Rose says. “Supper’s waiting.”
Inside, the house on the right is comfortable, with low wicker furniture and colorful quilts. But what draws his eye is the table heaped with food: barbecued chicken, red rice, grits with shrimp sauce, collard greens, corn bread, fried okra, and a pile of oysters still in their shells. Sam spots a peach cobbler steaming on the stove. It smells amazing, and his stomach rumbles hopefully, even though he’d had a huge breakfast not three hours ago.
“Wow,” Dean breathes. “Ma’am, I think that is the best thing I have ever smelled in my life.”
“Tastes even better,” Rose says. “Dig in.”
They do. Everyone sits out on the back porch to eat, where Amelia serves them iced tea from a chipped blue pitcher. As he eats, Dean looks as if he’s barely restraining an orgasmic moan with every bite. Sam doesn’t blame him; he’s not one to come in his pants over food, but if he ever planned to, this would be worth it. Even Joe, who presumably must be used to this stuff, looks blissful as he spoons up the perfect garlicky collard greens. Rose beams with approval.
After the peach cobbler – for which Dean doesn’t manage to suppress a moan, to general amusement – they settle back into their chairs, full to bursting. Joe rouses himself and starts gathering the plates; Sam and Dean start to rise to help him, but he waves them down.
Rose nods. “You two stay put; we got to talk. Joe says you looked at some papers from the doctor and the captain; what did you find?”
Sam opens his mouth, uncertain how to begin. With a hot rush of shame, he remembers the effect Ryngo’s speech had on him. He decides to start with their tour of the graveyards, Dean chiming in sometimes. Amelia and Rose agree with them, about the unsuitability of most of the city cemeteries for grave-robbing.
“But that Unitarian graveyard, now. You’re right, Dean. It could be done. It has been done. Lots of goings-on in that place, over the years,” Rose says.
Amelia nods. “That’s where they buried Lavinia Fisher, the murderer, a couple hundred years ago. Unmarked grave, dead of night so no one would find her and desecrate it. They say she gets up and dances on the grave at night.”
“Dust, dust and ashes,” Dean says, suddenly. When they look at him, he flushes, embarrassed. “Just. In the papers I read. Vander Herchen’s. He’s talking about the dance of the dead; the song they sing is ‘dust, dust and ashes.’ I think those were notes for some romance novel he was writing. Really overdone stuff, about some guy falling in love with a beautiful ghostly maiden.”
“That’s weird,” Sam says. “In Ryngo’s papers, there was a transcription of a folk ballad, ‘The Grey Cock,’ where the ghost of a guy comes home to his true love. Anyway, it left out the most important verse, the one where the guy reveals that he is a ghost. What’s left is just a story of a lover who shows up, then has to leave at cockcrow, for no reason.”
Amelia shifts in her seat; she looks uncomfortable. “Anything else on the paper?” she asks, too casually.
“Yeah, the name ‘Helen.’ I figured that was the woman who gave him the song.”
Rose and Amelia share a glance, almost too brief for Sam to notice it. He wonders if he said something wrong.
Rose puts her hand on Dean’s arm. “Honey, why don’t you come with me. I’ll show you how to make a couple triple-strength protection mojos; you’re gonna need them tonight.”
“Sam, you come look at my sweet potato patch; my knees aren’t much for pulling weeds anymore,” Amelia adds.
Sam bites back a protest at Dean getting to do the spellwork – Dean hates magic, for god’s sake – but he’s being stupid and petty. Instead, he follows Amelia over behind her house, the one on the left, to her vegetable garden. He hasn’t spent a lot of time in sweet potato patches, but this one looks remarkably weed-free. Amelia stands next to him, looking out into the woods. Sam shifts his weight, uncertain of what he’s supposed to be doing.
“I figured you didn’t want me saying this, in front of him,” she says. She turns, looks at a spot over his shoulder. “You’re in love with him.”
Sam’s stomach plummets down, down into the core of the earth. He wants to protest, scream to the sky that’s sick, I never, it’s not like that, it’s not, but his mouth, treacherous, can’t form the words. He wants to run, flee into the forest, never have to face her or Dean or himself again.
“It’s not—“ he chokes. He can’t, this is a confession he can’t make, not yet. Not yet.
But that’s a lie too, isn’t it? He’s always known what it meant. Years ago, suffocating under his destiny, he’d been drunk, drunk in the middle of a case, and in one reckless moment, he touched Dean’s face, thumb skidding across his brother’s lips –
– and Dean had pushed him away.
He finally meets Amelia’s eyes, terrified of what he’ll see. He isn’t expecting compassion.
“Sam,” she says quietly. “I’ve been around a long time. Seen into all kinds of minds, all kinds of hearts. Almost nothing I haven’t seen.”
Sam’s eyes burn, and he scrubs at his face, like a child.
“Too much,” he manages. “I love him. Too much.”
“No such thing as too much love.” She holds his eyes now, won’t let him look away. “You can’t love anyone too much. Usually, people say, ‘I love her too much’ to justify themselves to themselves. When they let other things – greed, obsession, jealousy, anger, guilt, self-hate – crowd out love. Don’t blame it on love when a man kills his woman for being unfaithful, or you conjure up Old Plateye for yourself so you never have to tell him.”
Sam can’t, he can’t do this, he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. He seizes on the most inane thing he can think of. “What’s Old Plateye?”
She rolls her eyes. “Spirit that feeds on guilt. Takes the shape of whatever you’re hurting about, whatever you’re afraid of, and won’t let you rest till you’re dead.” She pauses. “You don’t have him on you yet, but honey, you’re an open wound. You don’t flush it out of you real soon, that wound’s gonna get infected.”
Sam closes his eyes. His shoulders sag, he wants to hide, find someplace small and dark and silent and curl up into himself. “What am I supposed to do?” he whispers.
Amelia reaches up, pushes a few strands of hair off his forehead. It’s that, that gesture of kindness, and he almost loses his mind, right then and there. But he needs her to tell him.
“I don’t know,” she says. “But now I know why you’re here, why you and your brother are the ones who can cleanse that house. Whatever’s in there, it’s hurting, and it’s hurting about love. It loved someone it thought it wasn’t supposed to. It wasn’t letting me in, before; but with you here, dragging your love behind you like a chain, I see it, now.”
Sam looks away. “I can’t lose him. We. We saved the world.” He stops, it sounds stupid when he says it, but Amelia just nods; Sam’s not even surprised that she knows. “We did all that. And now, I can’t. If he leaves, it will all be for nothing.”
Amelia sighs. “I don’t know what he’ll do, if you tell him. But if you just let it rot inside you like this – it won’t end well, Sam. Some doors you gotta open, no matter the consequence; whatever you find, it’s better than lying to yourself that you’re happy not knowing what’s behind them.” She pauses. “And you can’t leave it too long. You’re walking through the doctor’s door tonight.”
Sam nods. What else can he do? They’re here, and they have to do the job that’s in front of them.