A/N: Thank you to my beta readers, Beckydaspatz, Numpty, and NongPradu. I am deeply indebted to them for their input and invaluable contributions. The reason you are reading such a clean copy is due to their vigilance. Any remaining errors are solely my responsibility. A huge thank you also to BlackIceWitch for the lovely poster-art. You can see a better representation of it on LiveJournal and AO3.
A/N: These events follow on the heels of those in Season Two's "Born Under a Bad Sign", so assume spoilers up to that point, especially for that episode. The story is extremely Dean-centric. Gen-fic.
A/N: Warnings for swearing, children in peril, adult themes, dark imagery, and disturbing sexual situations.
Chapter 1: Wild Cyclone
February 10, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma
Plump raindrops snapped on mud-clotted sod and clanged against the metallic construction equipment and vehicles littering the site.
"We ain't gonna get much done today, not if it don't quit rainin'. Jesus, ain't it ever gonna stop? Been like this for days. Cold rain, too!" Hank cupped his calloused hands, blowing warm air and rubbing them together. He cast his eyes about, following the line of the horizon where the purples, browns and greens of the wintered plains met the bleak, bubbling gray of the sky.
Seth snuffed the wet morning air and blatted a huff of agreement, watching his breath-mist whorl away from him. "Rain don't matter as much as them OSHA boys. Didn't Gerry say they were 'sposed to be here today? If they find anything wrong what caused them accidents we might not be workin' for a while. Was that their black-beauty parked by the trailer? That them? Maybe they're already here pokin' around."
"They ain't gonna find anything. What we got here is a bunch of damn klutzes. Nothin' more."
"Yeah, I s'pose." Seth bobbed his head and huddled further into his jacket, putting his back to the wind and rain. "I don't care what Doc said about Matt finally playin' with a full deck again. He's talkin' out his ass, as far as I know—probably delirious or something. It's windy, I'll grant ya that. Always is, but there ain't no damn way any crazy-ass, black cloud pushed him off the roof. OSHA boys wouldn't even a'come if Matt hadn't yapped his fool head off to the papers like he did."
Hank hurked a gob of spit. "Yeah, well, everyone's gonna be here soon. Between the rain and those OSHA morons, we're likely to get held up. C'mon, let's get goin' before the shit hits the fan."
The men walked to the east end of the site where the skeleton of the strip-mall rose from the prairie grass. Seth's eyes narrowed in the half-light. "What the hell?" He fisted Hank's jacket and pointed. There was little need for the directive, however, since debris blanketed the area. "Hank?" He jibbed, stumbling over his feet. "What the fuck happened?"
Hank shrugged away from Seth's groping hands and ran toward the building. "Jesus, Seth. No way was there a twister last night. In February? We'd 'a heard the sirens." He glanced around at the damage. The back end of the building had shorn away, half of its roof collapsing onto the foundation below.
"It took the whole fucking back of the building!" Seth blew out a whistling breath of air. "It sure as hell looks like wind-damage. See that?" He pointed to a splintered joist impaling one of the support columns.
"Jesus H…" Hank shook his head in disbelief.
He heaved a chunk of the collapsed studding out of the way and moved into the building. Once inside, he tripped over the tarp they'd used to protect the building from the incessant rain that had been falling the past week. Throwing out his hands to catch his fall, they mashed against a yielding, fleshy lump under the plastic. Confused, he pulled the tarp away.
"Seth!" He recoiled, horrified. "Seth! We got a body here! Jesus!"
Seth clambered over the broken wall and helped Hank tear away the tarp. "Who is it, Hank? Ain't one of the guys." He moved away some of the young man's damp, chestnut hair in search of a pulse.
Hank adjusted his hardhat and scratched the base of his neck. "Dunno. He alive?"
"Yeah he is." Seth nodded. "He's breathing, but he's out, just like the others were." He noticed Hank going through the man's pockets. "What the hell you doin', Hank? Don't be movin' him. You nuts?"
"I got it." Hank took the unconscious man's wallet from his back pocket, studying its contents. "Well ain't this poetical." He handed Seth the ID badge with a snort.
"Sam Ulrich, OSHA Inspector." Seth read aloud. "What do you 'spose he was doin' here all alone before dawn?"
"Not a clue, but he's a damn fool. Dumb-shit wasn't even wearing a hardhat. OSHA." Hank loosed a derisive grunt. "Ain't this just poetical."
"You said that already, Hank." Seth checked the man's pulse again. "Well, he may be a damn fool, but we ain't gonna let him just die."
"You got that right." Hank pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911.
February 10, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma
Florabel Livingston slammed the screen door of the farmhouse with a hollow, squeaking bang as she did every morning on her way out to do her chores. And her mother hollered for her to be quiet and act like a lady just as she did every morning on her daughter's way out to do her chores.
The child set her pail down and stuck her forefinger in her mouth, swishing it around and plucking it out with a juicy pop. She held it up, testing the wind while she surveyed the morning. Her eyes followed the hopeful blush of the sky as pink and turquoise blended with gold on the eastern horizon. But the sun's promise faltered when the limpid disk failed to soften the stark, slate-gray plain below. Florabel's world, from horizon to porch, resembled a charcoal drawing, varying shades of gray dusting the landscape, broken only by the darker silhouettes of distant, hardscrabble farms with their lifeless barns and empty silos. Her foot traced a lazy, looping pattern in the dark dust, its fine grains the consistency of talcum powder.
The seeming silence was pointedly broken by the reverberating, metallic knock of the windmill as it churned in the ceaseless swish of the wind—a wind that sought out and infested everything with its mischief. It wailed like a banshee as it struck the tarpaper roof of the chicken coop and whistled in the eaves as it clipped the farmhouse.
Florabel wiggled her finger. She wasn't sure what the wet pointer was supposed to find. Other than some blowing dirt clinging to the small digit, nothing happened, of course. But her papa had always greeted the morning with his wet finger held in the wind, so she did it now.
Studying the vacant landscape before her, she tried to imagine it like her mama said it had once been. But she couldn't. Green prairie grass and wildflowers were unimaginable for the seven year old. She wiped her gritty finger on her bib-overalls, leaving a smudge her mother would scold her for later.
She felt a deep rumble in her lungs and coughed roughly, spitting out a brown, gritty paste. If she kept that up her mama would rub her throat and chest with skunk-oil and turpentine, and she hated the smell. She snuffled her nose, cleared her throat, and studied her finger some more. Even if she couldn't tell anything from sticking it in the wind, she reckoned today would be like all the other days she'd known—windy, drab and dusty.
Sweeping up her pail, she jumped off the stairs of the veranda and hopscotched along the path to the barn, being ever so careful to keep the contents of her pail from spilling. More dust swirled off the top of the chicken coop and sparkled when the cool morning sun struck the silica in the dirt as it tumbled into the air. Florabel gasped and swallowed, watching the dust glisten and twinkle as it spiraled away on the wind.
"Fairy dust!" She craned her neck, watching in awe. "Molly! Fairies was here!"
Molly clucked her excitement and bobbed toward the young girl as Florabel opened the gate to the chicken yard. The other chickens caught sight of the swinging pail and followed Molly.
"Yessir, Molly! Fairies was here in the night!" Florabel reached into her pail and flicked a crawling centipede in Molly's direction. The bird lunged after it, neck stretched to near breaking, gobbling hungrily. "You know what that a-means? It means good luck!" She gave the bird an enthusiastic nod. "It means rain's a-comin' an' Mama's gonna be happy agin! Why, maybe even Slaid and Old Jeb will be able to plant this year! Oh Molly, won't that be dandy?"
The chickens clucked, and Florabel grabbed a handful of squiggling centipedes, scattering them like rose petals above the gaping beaks of the hungry birds. She giggled, watching the birds step on each other in a greedy competition, scrabbling like unmarried girls vying for the bride's tossed bouquet. Their fussing kicked up the dirt in the yard, and Florabel watched the billowing cloud sail across the yard and pelt the side of the barn.
"Where's Matilda?" She furrowed her brow, looking over the brood of chickens. "She was here yesterday." She peered around trying to spot the missing chicken. "Matilda!"
A forlorn, creaking bang interrupted her search. Florabel hushed the chickens, listening. She heard it again. It sounded like the barn door. Upending her pail, she thumped it several times, raining dozens of centipedes down on the flock and sending the chickens scurrying as they chased after the bounty.
"Mama's gonna fret at me somethin' fierce!" She always made sure she shut the barn door but good. She knew better. With an assumed adult air, she echoed her world-weary mother, eyes heavenward. "One thing after another, Lord! I'll be back for the eggs in a minute." She left the chickens to their breakfast, rounded the barn and stopped short.
The cracked door hung off most of its hinges, loose enough for the constant wind to twit and rattle it against the buckling face of the barn. Florabel gaped and stepped over several fallen roof shingles. Tugging one of her long, sun-paled braids, she tip-toed into the building. "Oh my goodness!" Florabel's head swiveled as she surveyed the damage.
Old bridles and saddles spilled from the tack room, the walls of which had collapsed. A couple of the beams anchoring the loft had snapped, causing the floor above to list dangerously. Strange wooden planks and fragments, still golden and fresh, lay strewn among the older pieces of the barn. She picked up a chunk of the new wood and studied it. It didn't come from the barn. Even the nails were foreign and strange to her. Bales of hay and feed lay scattered everywhere. Poor Penny, the milk cow, mooed her distress as Florabel ventured further into the barn.
As the young girl assessed the damage, punctuated with many gasps of Merciful Lordy!, she spied a man lying at the back of the barn, hay haphazardly covering him and weaving through his sandy hair. Another drunken rail-rider, no doubt. Wasn't the first time she'd found a poor hobo in the barn seeking shelter for the night.
"You shouldn't be here, Mister!" She wagged her finger at the man, marching over to him, hands on her hips. "You need to wake up and git a move on!" She used her best grown-up voice, stamping her foot by his head to put the fear of Jesus in him. The man never stirred a muscle. Florabel knelt down and poked him. "You wake up, and scoot, y'hear?" She pointed to the door for emphasis. When the man didn't so much as twitch, she bent low enough for her braids to sweep across his face and sniffed, expecting the tell-tale aroma of whiskey, but she didn't smell anything. She waited a moment. "You sick, Mister?"
When the man made no response, Florabel took on the part of 'doctor' with a full gusto. She pantomimed taking a pocket-watch from her waistcoat and put her finger to his wrist. After mulling over his vital signs she poked him in the ribs. "Does this hurt, Mister?" The man made no answer and his wrist flopped limply on the ground when the 'doctor' dropped his hand in her haste. She turned and barked orders.
"Nurse Monroe!" She added to her cast of characters. "Please fetch me my spephiscope!" When the nurse didn't move fast enough, Dr. Livingston's words became a stern command. "Hurry! He's almost dead!" Florabel's eyes followed the 'nurse' and then returned to her patient with renewed concern. She held her braid out of the way and swooped down dramatically, listening, ear to his chest. She lurched up with her diagnosis. "It could be Dust Pneumonia or…" she bent down for a second listen, "…maybe an ague!" Ungentle fingers pried each of her patient's eyes open in turn, and she nodded and harrumphed with some inner medical secret as his vacant, amber-jade irises meandered back and forth in slow wandering sweeps. Satisfied with the state of his eyeballs, she moved onto his nostrils, prying them apart and giving the inner workings of his nose a thorough once-over. "Ain't Diphtheria!" She let go, allowing his nostrils to contract to their original size. Her demeanor shifted again.
"Oh, oh thank you Lordy Jesus!" She switched roles, becoming the man's distraught 'wife'. She pressed her palms together in fervent supplication and rocked, heel to toe. "You have to save him, Doc! He's all I got!" She scrunched her face and began to 'weep' pitifully.
"It's okay, Ms. Myrtle," the 'doctor' said. "I'll save him!" She sat back, supporting her elbow with her hand, tapping her temple while she thought deep, medical thoughts. After a moment, she ceremoniously put her hands to his brow to check for a deadly fever and stopped in surprise. Her lips pursed, and all the play and make-believe fell away as she touched his cheeks, sensing the very real heat radiating from them.
"Hey Mister." She shook the man, trying to wake him. As her eyes swept over him, she noticed a white bandage peeking out from his torn shirt. Moving the torn fabric to the side, she stripped the gauze off his left shoulder, revealing a red-rimmed hole filled with custardy pus. Angry red lines branched from the wound's creamy center, one stretching across the pad of his chest. She grimaced at the sweet smell and patted the bandage back in place. Standing, she hesitated a moment before running from the barn. Tearing up the path to the farmhouse she wailed for her mother.
"Mama! Mama! They's a strange man dyin' in the barn!"
February 10, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma
"Hank rode with him. Dudn't know him, though. He came over from OSHA to inspect because of what happened to Matt and the others." The EMT helped to move the senseless man onto the ER gurney. "Hank and Seth found him. You should'a seen the site, Doc. Looked like a twister came and took out the whole back half of the building."
"Stranger things have been known to happen, Mitch." Doc peeled back his patient's eyelids, shining his penlight several times in each.
"He looks to have some broken ribs, but I didn't see any evidence of head trauma. He's pretty cold, though. Dunno how long he lay out there. Coulda been all night. We put a thermal on him in the rig." Mitch patted the blanket.
"Well, we'll get him warm and do some scans and see what's what." Doc Haffner drawled, good natured and unhurried. He stuck a thermometer in the man's ear. "94-degrees."
"He ain't even shivering, Doc. That normal?" Mitch asked.
"Mild hypothermia. He should be shivering." Doc scrubbed his chin. "They only stop when it's bad bad. He ain't been awake at all?"
"Unresponsive, Doc, the whole time. Pupil dilation's good, though, but he don't react to pain or cold." Mitch cut off the man's shirt, revealing angry, mottled bruising on his right side. "You don't s'pose it's like Matt, do ya?"
"I don't s'pose nothin' yet, boy. Let's not jump no guns."
"Yeah, you're right. It's just weird, you know?"
"What do we got here?" Doc pried open the man's hand, revealing a jagged scrap of flannel and a strange charm affixed to a broken leather strap. He held it up and studied the metallic, horned head. "Ain't that odd, now. What do you make of it? Lucky charm?"
Mitch inspected it, his fingers playing with the charm dangling from the strap. "Huh, don't look like nothing an OSHA Inspector would have."
"Whatever it is, he didn't want to give it up. Practically had to break his fingers to open that hand. Let's keep it with his things. Abby will tend to it until he's awake or at least until we can give it to his emergency contact."
"Where's Abby this morning?" Mitch looked around for the gorgeously plump nurse with the china doll complexion he enjoyed flirting with every day.
"Well now, I sent her out for some coffee. Wasn't like I was expectin' an emergency. In fact," he flipped open his cell phone, "better tell her to bring you and Hank a cup, too, since you boys are both here."
"You should call Bekker." Mitch palpated the patient's right side. "This boy's gonna need some X-rays."
"Put the thermal back on him and get him warming, then we'll call in the cavalry." Doc clapped his arm around Mitch as he reached for the blanket. "How's your mama doin', anyhow, Mitch? She still plannin' on makin' those pies for the raffle?"
February 10, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma
Emma Livingston crooked her head, wiping gritty sweat onto the upper sleeve of her work-dress despite the chill in the kitchen. It was a monotonous daily chore, but the dust had to be cleaned away. She leaned back, resting on her heels and wiped the cold, soapy water on her apron. Her hair needed combing and she hadn't given thought to breakfast yet. Not that there was much beyond last night's cornbread and beans. She didn't care about her hunger. She'd get on all right. It was her child that mattered. Florabel was far too thin, and she'd heard the girl coughing when she went out to feed the chickens. She lingered a moment in thought, rubbing at the hard angles and frown-lines on her face, then went back to scrubbing the floor. The one good thing about the dust—it was a useful abrasive. She never had problems cleaning troublesome spots these days. Of course that same dust had chafed away almost everything else she'd ever loved. She could do with dirty floors.
"Y'ain't takin' my girl from me, too." She spoke to the muddy soap on the floor. "Y'cain't have her. Y'got everything else." The young woman sat up when she heard her daughter's shrill voice calling from outside. "What now?" she asked the ceiling. Bracing her hands on the floor, she rose with a slow, spent groan as Florabel barreled up the stairs of the old porch, slamming the screen door as she entered.
"Mama, you got t'come quick! They's a man in the barn. I think he's a-dyin'! He won't wake up an' he ain't even drunk. Come on, Mama." She tugged at her mother's thin arm.
Emma's stiff legs popped as her daughter yanked her out the door and down the path. She used her free hand to shield her eyes against the gritty sting of the wind as cold dust devils roiled through the barnyard. Sheltered from the wind by the barn, Emma dropped her hand and saw the damage to the door.
"What happened, here?" She pulled Florabel back and placed the child behind her.
"I dunno, Mama. Maybe they was a storm or somethin'. It's all tore up inside, too. I closed the door last night. I know I did, Mama."
"It's all right baby girl." Emma entered the barn, stopping short, anger and dread skirting her face. She wrung her hands in her apron. "What more?" Her eyes pinballed around the barn, calculating each gouge, rip, and break. "I cain't take much more." She clasped her bony hands to her lips in angry prayer.
"Mama, he's lyin' over there." Florabel tip-toed to her patient and waved to her mother. "See?"
Emma's lips thinned and her eyes went dead with fury. She strode to the unconscious man, tripping on a piece of wood that didn't belong there. She picked it up and did a double take, searching the barn again to see where it might have come from. After a brief glance, she gave it no further thought and bent over the man.
"You, wake up and git out a-here!" She shook him.
"Mama don't!" Florabel kneeled by his shoulder. "He's hurt. See?" She peeled back the bandage revealing the syrupy infection. "He's awful hot, Mama. I think he's real, real sick."
Emma hauled her daughter away from the unconscious stranger and examined his shoulder, her intake of breath an audible hiss. She fingered the edges of the wound and ran her thin hand across his brow.
"Florabel, I want you to run over to the bunk-house and git Slaid and Old Jeb here. And then I want you to go to the house and stay there, y'hear me?"
"Quick as a jackrabbit, baby girl, now go!"
Florabel stiffened against the hard edge of her mother's command. "Yes Mama."
Without another word, she turned and ran as fast as her young legs could take her to the old bunkhouse, calling for their last remaining farmhands.
February 10, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma
"It's the same thing, ain't it Doc?" Gerry asked. "And where's the other one? There was two of 'em at my office yesterday. Is his partner 'round about?"
"Hell, I dunno, yet." Doc jawed the words, taking his sweet time, scratching his grey beard. "This boy ain't even come to, yet. We'll have to see. Hank rode in with this fellow. He didn't mention any partner, and there ain't anyone other than Hank in the waiting room."
"What if this boy comes to like the others? How long did it take 'em to really come around? A week? These are OSHA boys, Doc. OSHA. I got a building to get up. Hell, not just get up, I gotta practically start from scratch. Half the damn building's gone. I can't afford any more setbacks, Doc." The contractor blew out a stiff breath. "I ain't tryin' to be callous. I'm worried all the way 'round is all."
"I hear ya, Gerry. I just can't give you an answer I don't got, yet," Doc said. "Let's see what happens. If OSHA calls askin' about these boys, well I'll come right out and tell 'em what's what. Until then, you just keep doin' what you gotta do, I guess. I ain't gonna call OSHA myself until this kid wakes up and wants me to. Abby's callin' his emergency contact we found in his wallet. That's good enough for me."
Gerry huffed a breath of relief. "Yeah, okay Doc. Sounds good. So he's doin' okay otherwise?"
"Two broken ribs and some bumps and bruises. He was hypothermic from his night out in the rain, but he's warming up nicely. X-rays and scans show his head's fine, but he's senseless just the same. We'll have to see what he remembers when he wakes up."
"His partner has to be around here somewhere," Gerry said. "They were actin' like an old married couple when they were talkin' to me yesterday, snipin' and givin' each other the stink-eye. They're kinda young to be that pissy, but whatever. None of my business. I'll have Seth and Hank search the place again to make sure he ain't wrapped in another tarp or something, but there was a lot of folk crawlin' around the place when the ambulance came. I'd a'thought they'd find anything if there was something to find. But I don't know where he coulda gotten to."
"All right." Doc nodded. "I gotta get this boy in a room, and you need to go make sure your site is safe, Gerry. I ain't equipped to take on a mass problem like this. I don't want no more patients from your site. We're gonna have to start callin' in some real help if this don't stop. Y'hear me?"
The contractor nodded. "I hear you loud and clear Doc. Everyone's following the safety procedures to the letter. I swear it. I don't know how this happened. Maybe what Matt and the boys said after they finally come around to their senses is true."
"What?" Doc said. "That some hell-bound ghost attacked them? They were talkin' about ghosts jabbering hocus pocus to make black whirlwinds appear and attack them. C'mon, Gerry, you ain't that dumb. It's 2007, not the damn Dark Ages."
February 10, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma
"What is this?" Slaid's old-world accent sent shivers up Florabel's back, and she moved behind her mother for safety. The farmhand frightened her, not just because of his strange speech and his ugly fingers, but because she'd seen him turn into a monster once. Old Jeb had laughed and told her there weren't any such things as monsters, but she knew otherwise. At any rate, monster or not, he helped her mama with the farm-work, so she shut up about it, like her mama insisted.
She tugged Jeb over to the sick man who lay amidst the broken beams and shingles. "I found him this morning all by myself, Old Jeb." She gripped the older man's hand, looking up at his weather-worn face. Decades spent in the sun and wind had left it the texture of a coffee-colored raisin. "He ain't got Diphtheria or Dust Pneumonia. I done made sure."
"That's a good thing, doll." The old man petted her braids and gave Emma a concerned nod when she pulled back the bandage on the stranger's shoulder, showing them the wound.
Jeb coughed in surprise. "Someone tried to fill this boy with daylight, Em!"
"I can see that, Jeb." Emma swallowed against the smell, replacing the bandage with quick fingers.
"What's that mean, Mama?"
"Florabel, I told you to go back to the house," Emma said, too distracted to scold the child.
"But Mama, I found him. I don't want him to die!"
"He's nothing but a no account drifter," Slaid said. "Or a grifter, ya? Someone taught him good lessons, BANG!" He pantomimed firing a gun.
"You mean someone shot him?" Florabel ran for a closer look.
"Hush, child." Emma pressed a hand to the girl's chest, halting her. She stood and wiped the dust and hay from her dress.
"Well he ain't from around these parts, that's for sure." Jeb eyed the man up and down. "Look at him. I ain't seen nobody that well fed in a month of Mondays."
"Ha, big circus strong-man, ya?" Slaid flexed his emaciated biceps as though he had something there to flex. "Probably out of work now that Prohibition is over. Big mobster. Dangerous. It looks like he fought the devil in here last night." He knocked three times on one of the broken beams and spit over his left shoulder to avoid the Evil Eye. "You should let me and Jeb take him away, Ms. Livingston."
"And do what? Y'cain't just take him out behind the barn and put him down like a sick dog, Slaid. It ain't Christian."
"Slaid is right about one thing, though, Em. He could be dangerous. Maybe we should take him to Hirum and let him deal with this boy," Jeb said.
"I ain't turnin' him over to the law until I know he earned it. Sheriff Burnett's got enough to deal with. Let's git him up to the house and if Jesus wants him, then so be it. But he's someone's son, and I ain't a-gonna make his mama mourn if she don't have to. Folks has lost enough already. I ain't a-gonna…" Her chin trembled and she took a moment to compose herself. "I ain't a-gonna bury someone's son if'n I can do somethin' about it. Now you boys help me." Her voice left no room for debate. "An' careful with his shoulder, now."
Jeb mumbled as he bent down. "My old ma always told me they was two theories to arguin' with a woman…an' neither one works." He nodded to Slaid. "Let's git this boy on up to the house."
The unconscious man made no sound or movement as the two farmhands lifted him as gently as they could and worked their way to the Livingston's farmhouse. Florabel and Emma tried to shield the men from the dust as it billowed and scraped across the yard. Emma untied her apron and draped it over the sick man's face, his tears leaving dusty tracks running toward his ears in an attempt to wash the blowing dirt away from his sensitive eyes.
"Big, strong man." Slaid grunted under the weight. "Circus man. You'll see," he said. "Devil Fighter. Very dangerous."
To Be Continued…