Archie sat in the dim gloom of the shop, the street lights through the window casting just enough light to make out the shape of the counter and till in front of him.
The bloody Winchesters had been in the shop today, not just the eminent Mr. Samuel Winchester but his thuggish older brother, too – poking around and asking questions. None of Archie’s real books were listed in the shop stock but stupid Thomas had remembered Archie bringing the latest ones in from a house sale and had mentioned both Belegen Lupine and Pestilence de mens in response to the ‘investigators’ unsubtle questioning. Archie had lied, flustered his brother by ‘reminding’ him that the books had been mildewed and had been sent off for treatment, but he wasn’t at all certain that the Winchesters were convinced.
Obviously, the research that Samuel had done for his books had touched on some real magic and the Altar had piqued their interest. If they’d worked out the identity of those within his photographs, then they would know that they were connected to the book group. It would be prudent, he decided, to cancel this month’s meeting. It wouldn’t do to have everyone turn up to where they could be watched and matched to the pictures that the Winchesters had stolen from him. At the moment it would be just a tenuous connection at best, one of many to many different people and places, but if they kept on at their investigations before he’d truly come into his birthright of power…
Clearly, the Winchesters needed to be stopped before they accidentally stumbled onto any more of his carefully constructed work. The moon and stars would not be in the exact alignment he needed for the final part of his spell, with the little girl, for three more nights. Just three more sunsets and then, yes, and then he’d have legions to do his bidding.
In the meantime, there were several things he could, should, do and getting the little girl was paramount in that. Yes. Right now, the Winchesters only had the tiniest suspicion that there was some connection to the shop and there wasn’t anything here for them to find. He’d removed all his remaining books and notes – and the associated purchase invoices – to the safety of the shed he’d rented out on the land his ancestors had first lived on in this country.
Success was simply a matter of implementing his plan.
He pulled a small book light from the display of ‘extras’ – a silly little flashlight for people who wanted to read in bed - and the customer ledger from underneath the till, slipping his finger in the page tabbed ‘W’ and reading down the page until he reached the record of Samuel’s previous orders, and his address. Yes, Pleasant Grove…just on the outskirts of that little town, if he wasn’t mistaken.
He smiled and reached for a well thumbed copy of The Collector; John Fowles may have written his masterpiece in the 1960’s but it was still a perfect kidnapping blueprint. He’d already prepared the old root cellar by his shed with two doors, set up airlock fashion, a bed and a bookshelf and a light that switched on from the outside, and there were ropes and chloroform in the back of his newly rented station wagon.
He’d start watching her tomorrow, ready to make his move.
Grandpa had them running drills all the time, leaving Mel in charge of making sure that they kept it up while he and Great Uncle Sam were out doing all of the fun investigation. It totally sucked; her legs hurt and the twins were at least a foot bigger than she was so it wasn’t fair that she was supposed to keep up on their runs. She just couldn’t.
She stopped, breathing hard, hands on knees and feeling the sweat trickling down her back.
“Hey! Sammi! Mel’ll be driving past in a minute, you can’t just stop.” Dan had turned and was jogging on the spot, shouting at her.
She raised her hand and flapped it at her cousins. “Just go on, I need to get my breath back. I’m shorter’n you n’it’s not fair.”
Chris jogged gently back to her. “Okay, kiddo. Mel’ll just need to give you a ride. Wait here for her and we’ll see you at home.” He patted her on the shoulder. “Come on, Dan!”
She raised her head and watched her cousins pound off into the distance before walking over to the railroad ties Great Uncle Sam had put at the edge of the road when he and Grandpa were still young. ‘Marking our running path,’ he had said; making a seat for your lazy ass Grandpa had said. She sat down, legs stretched out onto the pavement, bringing her water bottle up to her mouth.
It was sunny and warm and Sammi leaned back, scrunching her fingers in the rough grass behind her, and made herself comfortable despite the heat rising up from the hot asphalt under her legs. She closed her eyes, secure in the knowledge that Mel’s old jalopy made even more racket than Grandpa’s Impala.
It smelled gross in Mel’s car, too, since the twins had shoved a banana skin into one of the billion secret compartments. By the time Mel had eventually found out what was causing the smell, it had evolved into part of the car. Sammi shuddered slightly at the memory and decided to concentrate on happier things; like how she was going to persuade Grandpa that the house really needed a kitten. Dad was allergic, and her parents traveled so much she wasn’t allowed a pet at home, but Grandpa needed company when she wasn’t there and Sammi needed a pet when she was there.
She smiled, it would probably be easiest to ‘find’ a kitten and have it just appear. Grandpa was always joking about taking in –
There was a hand at the back of her head, fingers pulling tight in her hair, and over her face… She wrenched open her eyes to a cold, stinging whiteness and there was a cloying sweet smell slamming into her lungs. Fight the bastard, she heard Grandpa say. You’re a goddamn Winchester. And it was enough to make her kick out, holding her breath against the nauseating smell, but the hands clamped around the front and back of her head were stronger than hers and she was sprawled out over the road, and she couldn’t turn enough to fight him off.
She was being dragged under a sea of cotton wool, her muscles getting weaker and weaker and her head pounding. Sammi felt arms tighten around her as her head smacked down on the hard earth.
The little girl struggled harder and for much longer than he’d thought she would. Archie laid her behind several bushes, arranging her arms under her head as if she were sleeping. This was an old farming neighborhood, and Archie noted that the Winchesters had made his task all the easier by living practically in the middle of nowhere. He started heading back towards his (trustworthy, family) station wagon; no one came to investigate the quiet struggle.
As he walked, Archie folded up the large cotton pad – still dripping with chloroform – and winced as the liquid fell from it into the scratches on the back of his hand. The little bitch had taken half his skin off with her too-sharp fingernails. He drove the car from its hiding place and slowly made his way back to where he had hidden her.
Archie reapplied the chloroform pad to her face once he’d lifted her from the ground into the back seat; maybe a little viscously because of the pain in his hands, but he didn’t want her waking and making a fuss before he got her into the root cellar. He turned her on her side, made sure her head was on a towel; Archie was a thorough reader and he wasn’t going to get caught by the same problems of his victim being sick all over the inside of his vehicle that John Fowles’ Ferdinand had been. He drove off, quietly smiling as the ragged little car that kept checking in on Samuel Winchester’s family drove past him, the young woman inside blissfully unaware of the child passed out on his back seat.
The screen door slammed, followed immediately by a muffled ‘prick’ as the twins tromped past the living room. Dean smiled – Mel had sent them back out for a run after lunch, had even called him to ask Dean if that was okay. Dean had no objections; if the kids were exhausted, they’d be too tired to come up with any fucking stupid ideas that put the Winchesters right back into the line of fire.
Dean looked up from his Wildcat 44, brush stuck halfway into the barrel – no sense being unprepared for whatever the hell was coming. Sam said that Sally’s little coven had sensed something dark aiming itself at the Winchesters, something that was screwing around with Potawatomi spirit animals and every other power it could get its hands on.
The moment that fucker made its move, Dean Winchester would be ready.
He cocked his head, waiting for the softer noise of Sammi’s footsteps to follow her cousins into the house. The twins were in the kitchen, the familiar crack of a soda can filtering back towards him. Chris was telling Dan a story that had to have come from Sam, about how Sam had saved the day when Dean was tied up getting sacrificed to that apple orchard god – it’s not like Dean hadn’t been working on a plan. Geek Boy still thought that every plan needed to include blueprints and a checklist of objectives.
Dean’s plan this time around was so damn simple it was foolproof – find the asshole who was trying to mess with the Winchesters and take him out. Or her. It didn’t much matter, evil was evil.
When the twins sauntered back into the living room, sipping on their sodas and sprawling on opposite ends of the couch, Dean frowned. “Boys?”
“Yeah, Grandpa?” They said it unison. He didn’t like the way they jumped when they heard his voice but at least fear of him was keeping them safe...
“Where’s your cousin?”
“She got tired,” Chris said.
Dan nodded, swallowing when Dean’s jaw clenched. “Sammi told us to go on ahead without her,” he added softly, flicking a glance towards Chris, and then he rallied – a flash of Winchester in his eyes. “It’s not like Mel wasn’t going by every five minutes to check up on us, Grandpa. Sammi said she’d just wait for the car.” Dan sank back against the pillows, chest deflating when Dean stared back at him.
“In thirty seconds, you two better be back out there getting your cousin or we’re all going for another run.” Dean was going to say more but the jalopy roaring up the drive cut him off. “You’re damn lucky your cousin’s responsible.” Dean had no doubt that Mel was making that circuit every five minutes, just like she promised. She was a good kid.
The door to the jalopy slammed shut and the plastic scrub of sneakers pounding cement rushed past the front window. The front door opened with a bang and Mel stood in the doorway, holding Sammi’s water bottle. Her eyes were full. “I found this on the side of the road, and –” Mel swallowed. “Near one of the old ties Granddad set up for markers on the trail. The grass nearby was crushed, like there had been a struggle…”
Chris and Dan were already on their feet, faces white.
“Like someone had dragged her off?” Dean’s voice was soft, a slow burn. He didn’t wait for Mel’s answering nod, just dropped the rifle and reached down for an ammunition cartridge. His hands automatically went for the Glock and he slipped the cartridge in, setting the safety. He looked down the sight and it was like he was twenty-six again and had never worn glasses in his life – no squinting, no half-assed lift of the head so he could see over bifocals. Dean felt a twist in his gut, saw Sammi’s lanky arms and legs as she struggled against some faceless thing in his head.
He bit back what he wanted to say with a shake of his head. This was how his father must’ve felt whenever he had done something half-assed that could’ve gotten Sam killed.
God help him, but he couldn’t even look at the twins right now – leaving Sammi all by herself. What the hell were they thinking?
Mel swallowed again, coming forward and placing a hand on his arm. “I’m so sorry, Uncle Dean.”
“Be sorry later.” He took a deep breath and yelled, “Sammy, it’s time to roll. The bastard just took my baby girl!”
“What are you going to do, Grandpa?” Chris asked, softly.
“Get her back,” Sam was standing in the doorway, grim-faced. Dan made a sound in his throat as Sam shunted the blade he’d been sharpening back into his walking stick. Sam walked briskly to the couch and picked up his old .45.
Dean nodded, slinging a rifle over his shoulder. “And God help anyone who gets in our fucking way.”
Archie winced as he dabbed a little peroxide over the back of his hands; the stupid little child was safely locked up in the root cellar and she wouldn’t get to hurt him again, but it wouldn’t do for the ragged, bloody, scratches she’d made to turn septic. He smiled. Very, very, soon he’d be invulnerable.
Once he’d cleaned and dressed his wounds, he opened his book; confirming the ritual one last time. Pkanopic Jar – check. Knife bladed with brass – check. Herbs, candles, oil and flame – check. He nodded, satisfied that everything was ready.
His beautiful new Altar was so much stronger and more elegant than the table at Canfield had been; he’d polished the carved wood until it shone, and he’d laid out his power objects on a rich, warm wolf’s skin draped over the Altar. His family knife shone in the candle light, his statue of Horus watched over the whole shed, the brass blood bowl waited to be filled and the wolf’s teeth, in their little heap, lay waiting for him to call on the spirit power again.
Tonight, though, he’d let the Wolf Spirit rest. He had more important work to do. There were two more sunsets to endure before the time would be right to sacrifice the little girl, but he had other things to do before he could truly call himself leader. A leader must not only be unquestioningly loved and obeyed; they must be more than human, stronger than all.
Stronger than death.
The ancient magic he’d found, through the Solipsistic lore of his ancestors, showed the way; showed him how to demand the power of Demons, how to exchange a little of himself for life everlasting.
He stripped to the waist, laid the Pkanopic on the Altar in front of him and started chanting as he brought the almost-sharp edge of the brass knife to his chest; opening the skin from just below his throat in a long curve down close to his hip.
Nuk perAmen, ami-ab, per-ab ami-kshat. Anksh-a em t’ett’a-a.
Heru-Ra-Ha! Horus! Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Hoor-Paar-Kraat .
The ancient words fell from his tongue and wrapped themselves around him, numbing the pain from his chest. Archie felt his eyes close and his head roll back and the physical trappings of his body fell away as thousands of hands grabbed and held his flesh.
The smell of sulfur and blood mingled as Archie continued his chant and low cries and whines underscored his words.
An ancient voice, empty and dry like the wind blowing sand through a temple, whispered to him. “Do you give of your essence freely, aabt-slave?”
“I do.” Archie realized that the chanting had not stopped, that his body was continuing the ritual while he made his pact.
“Then I take it and leave your shell as one of my own.”
Archie fell back into his body, so fast that the air was knocked from his lungs, and he felt a burning pain in his chest as the hands that were holding down his body reached into the cut he had made and pulled.
Sammi felt awful. Her head was pounding and she felt more nauseous than the time Chris and Dan had tricked her into eating bugs. Her face hurt, around her mouth and nose, and she tried to bring her hand up to touch it but something chafed at her wrist and she realised that her hands were bound behind her back.
She started screaming even before she opened her eyes.
Her screaming made her stomach roil and she rolled over to the side of the bed she was lying on so she could hang her head over the edge and vomit. The thin liquid that was all she had to bring up stung at her face, and she lay with her head half-off the mattress, sobbing, for long minutes.
Her tears fell around her nose and mouth and added to the burning pain there, so she tried to stop crying – tried talking to herself as Grandpa might have if he were there.
“Okay, Sammi. What do you remember?” she whispered. And she remembered sitting waiting for Mel, and the struggle at the railroad tie. Now she was lying in a bare room with a single light bulb, bound and alone. She swallowed hard, trying not to cry again.
The man who took her wanted to keep her. She’d been kidnapped.
Archie gasped, pulling in a sharp lungful of smoke-filled air. He was lying on the rough wooden floor of his shed and, as he tried to sit up, he realised that he was stuck there, glued to the cold boards by his own blood.
His left arm was stiff and sore, but he was able to move it, and he forced his fingers between the floor and the icy skin of his back. He worked to pull his head up, letting out an involuntary scream as he ripped out some of his hair.
The shed looked like a scene from a terrible horror movie, the floor stained dark and the air filled with thick, sweet smelling smoke.
The resins he had laid out on the Altar last night were still burning in his brass bowl but their scent hadn’t masked the sulphur or the iron tang of his blood. He looked down to his chest, examining the wound he had made the night before – that he had felt the servants of Horus enlarge – and he almost gasped again as he saw that it had already healed to a faint red mark.
Had that much time passed? That he was almost healed? Had he missed the moon phase for the ritual with the little girl? Archie’s head was whirling in panic and he stumbled over to his Altar.
No, it could not even be dawn yet, less than twelve scant hours after he had summoned the power of a God. The candle he had lit the night before was still burning – it was not even guttering yet – and the resins, he must have lit those during the ritual last night and they did not burn that slowly.
He lifted the Jar from the Altar and stroked over its carved and embellished surface, drinking in the warmth of its surface with his cold fingertips.
Archie still had payment to make before he was done here; there were spirits that he had to thank and he knew that he would have to meditate and re-center before he left his Altar, but he gave himself a few moments to savour his victory.
He smiled. The ritual had worked. He was invulnerable. He placed his hand flat over his chest, closed his eyes, and inhaled as he felt the space where his heart no longer beat.
Sammi lay on the bed, just panting, and tried to calm down. Grandpa’s journal had been full of stories of Great Uncle Sam being kidnapped by vampires and demons and crazy people. Grandpa hadn’t always come for him; sometimes he’d had to get out on his own… A sob escaped her. Why hadn’t Grandpa come for her yet?
No one had come. She was all alone and no one knew where she was. She had to get free, get away from the faceless man who’d taken her from the side of the road. She swallowed, trying to keep the tears back. She couldn’t fall apart; no one was going to fix this but her. She had to fix this.
She had to get out.
The air smelled stale, with a lingering sweetness from whatever it was that had knocked her out. Sammi shook her head sharply and tried to concentrate
She closed her eyes and tried to feel how the rope around her wrists was fastened. It was hard to bend her hands back, but it felt as if the man had used a lot of bulky rope to make up for the knots being very basic, and it wasn’t drawn completely tight. She rubbed and pulled at her hands, trying to work one of them loose. The rope burned against her skin, but that would heal. She needed to get out.
She pulled her right hand out of the rope binding with a jerk, making short work of freeing her left when she could get it in front of her. She couldn’t resist touching her face when her hands were free; it was so sore, and hot to the touch. She undid the clumsy knots at her feet and stretched out the cramp in her legs, rubbing at the sore muscles.
She had no idea how long she’d been sitting on the bed, trying to get free and trying to rub some life back into her legs. No one had come in to check on her or hurt her; she hoped that no one was watching her, that she hadn’t wasted too much time, and that she’d still have time to get free.
She tried to remember what Grandpa had told her when they’d played Escape from Alcatraz and Hunted.
You had to notice everything because even a tiny little thing might be important.
She walked around the small room, bare and oppressive with its low ceiling. There was the bed – a thin mattress, but no bed linen and a simple, solid, wooden frame. One single light bulb fitted right to the ceiling, no switch that she could see. An empty two-shelf wooden bookshelf, bolted onto the wooden slatted wall. The floor was hard-packed earth, and the walls and ceilings were made of wooden slats; she could see earth between them. The door was wooden, with a large keyhole and a strong looking frame; she couldn’t see anything but darkness through the keyhole. The hinges were on the other side of the door.
Her prison looked like an old-fashioned root cellar, just like the Greens had out at their farm.
She couldn’t see the wire for the light between the slats in the ceiling. She dragged the bed to underneath it so she could examine it to see where it might be drawing its power from. The fitting looked brand new, screwed into the old wooden board of the ceiling; when she looked carefully, she could see tiny fissures in the earth around where the fitting had been attached.
Sammi walked up the bed to examine where the board settled on top of the highest slat of the wall. There were marks there, cleaner scores into the ancient dirt on the timber. The slat from the ceiling had to have been taken down to put in the light pretty recently and the earth around it didn’t look right. She scrabbled into the discoloured soil and tugged, trying to get her fingers behind the board, to loosen it again. She managed to get a tight grip on the edge of each side and she pulled, lifting her feet off the bed in an effort to put her entire weight into making it loose.
There was a sudden, loud, bang as the timber cracked and she fell back to the bed. The room plunged into sudden darkness and the plank landed heavily on her leg.
Sammi held her breath, listening for the noise of someone coming to investigate. The sounds were muted, dulled by the soil, but there was a gentle patter of earth falling. She didn’t think it sounded like the whole room was going to collapse in and bury her alive. She hoped it didn’t.
As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she realized that it wasn’t the total blackness that she had expected. There was a tiny amount of light coming from the roof above her head - where the light had been!
Sammi moved the plank off her leg and stood up on the bed again; there was a definite hole, a minute little space with a wire hanging through it. Sammi wasn’t stupid, Grandpa had always been very clear about the dangers of electricity when he was putting up new lights in the kitchen for Grandma, or replacing Mel’s reading light. She felt around her feet for the wood that had broken off the ceiling and started poking at the tiny hole with it.
The pattering sound of earth increased and Sammi shut her eyes to shield them from the soil falling on her. As the noise got louder, like quiet roar, she stood back against the wall and watched the hole get larger and larger until the root cellar was bathed in the gentle light of dawn. When it was silent again the earth had fallen in to back to by her head, shored up by the planks across the wall. She climbed the wall planks like a rudimentary ladder, putting her arms up and out over the edge as soon as she could.
Her wrists hurt from the rope and her leg was aching from where the plank had fallen on it, but she was determined to get out. She pulled and kicked and dragged herself out of the hole, grabbing onto grass and weeds, anything to anchor herself.
When she finally made it out onto the rough grass around her prison she looked around her, she seemed to be in the grounds of an old, abandoned house – there were foundations not that far from her, and a little bit of wall still stood. Far on the other side of the house was a shed; old but it looked solid, there were wires running from the foundations to the shed and out to where her light had been.
Sammi didn’t wait to wonder if her captor was anywhere still nearby. There were the remains of an old driveway off to the side of the house and she figured they’d lead towards a road and other people. Sammi started running.
She had tears streaming down her face from the pain in her leg, and they stung on her face, but she didn’t stop. Winchesters never gave up. How long could a driveway be? How far away had he taken her?
She whispered, out of breath, as she ran. “Please Grandma, please G’grandfather John, please. I just want to get home.”
The driveway ended near a small road and Sammi kept on running, kept on praying to get home