Disclaimer: I own absolutely nothing. It’s all Eric Kripke’s and the CW’s and blah blah blah. We all know who the real braintrust is around here.
Spoilers: Anything is fair game up through episode 2x14 (Born Under a Bad Sign).
Summary: Bird’s gotta fly, girl’s gotta hunt.
Author's Note: This story never would've been finished without the weekend of uber productivity at la casa de hiyacynth. She is totally the rockingest. Also in the rocking category is quellefromage who performed the beta and who pretty much makes my writing better simply by existing.
Ann Arbor, MI
April 25, 2007
Getting into the dorm was the easiest part of the hunt. All Jo had to do was walk in behind someone else and grab the door before it shut, no special skills required. She thought it was kind of funny that for all of its promises of security with its key cards and castle-like exterior anyone off the street could come right in.
The bored looking student at the front desk didn’t even look up from his book when she went by. It was two o’clock in the afternoon and the place was freakishly quiet, hardly a person in sight. She walked by a few students arguing in fierce whispers and a chick with glazed-over eyes and none of them even glanced in her direction. It was a weird change from her last time in a dorm when everyone had had a nasty look to spare for the freak with all the knives.
The trudge up to the fourth floor didn’t leave her winded. The halls were completely empty, their only sign of inhabitance a burst of high-pitched laughter and the muffled thump of loud music. She slipped through the hallways unnoticed and unregarded. It was the work of less than a minute to pick the lock of the room she’d chosen and slip inside.
The overhead light flickered to life and Jo took in the narrow room that would be her home for the next few days. White walls and black linoleum didn’t do much to make the place very hospitable but there was a bed, a sink, and a window. She’d stayed in worse places.
She put the duffle down on the bed and pulled out her laptop, setting it on the desk and plugging it in. There might not be carpet but free wireless definitely made up the difference.
She scrolled through her notes. The pattern of deaths hadn’t been easy to put together, the sad reality of suicides on a college campus coupled with an administration that was doing its damnedest to cover it all up had nearly beat her. Too bad for them research was one of the parts of the job that she was the best at and no one could erase the fact that all of the suicides in the past six months had taken place at East Quad. Like most hunters, she didn’t believe in coincidence.
Jo yawned and scrubbed at her eyes, she hadn’t been sleeping so well the past few weeks. She hoped that getting away from Duluth and back on the job would lay that particular problem to rest. She’d never had cause to believe it before, but it really was the down time that’d kill you.
She double-checked the hack she’d done at Housing to cover her illicit stay and shut everything down. It would be best to try and get some shut-eye before she took a look around.
Sleeping on a mattress was a hundred times better than the bench seat in her truck. She laid there and let the bass beat pulsing down the hall pound all of the thoughts and memories out of her head. She fell asleep with the comfort of a knife under her pillow and lines of salt around window and door.
The middle of the night was about a thousand times busier than the middle of the day. Jo spent most of the time dodging around noisy groups of co-eds. No one gave her a second look as she wandered around the floors, her daddy’s knife in her pocket and an EMF meter disguised as an iPod—an Ash original—plugged in her ears. She strolled by students in various states, some studying, others joking around, and one memorable group that was banging on a couple bongo drums as they passed around a joint. She stepped around them right before a short-haired girl in her pj’s banged out of a room and sternly told them off for keeping her up.
Her path lead her inexorably from the eaves to the basement. It was a stark change from the other rambling floors. Threadbare carpet and frenetically decorated doors were replaced by a strange series of dim, echoing tunnels. The labyrinth was punctuated by laundry rooms, stairwells, and a dirty looking hole of a commissary that belched out fumes of rancid frying oil. She inevitably came to the one long hallway that stretched to the dorm’s computer lab. It was dark at that time of night, all of the lights striping the ceiling dark and silent.
She had made it nearly halfway to the lab door’s brightly lit outline when the EMF reader started screaming. Her eyes whipped around the narrow space, her heart picked up speed and her muscles tensed.
The meter squealed higher and she switched it off. A cold breeze sifted through the straggling hairs that had escaped from her hasty ponytail. She saw it then, a darker smear among the shadows on the wall. She looked closer and the smear resolved into a door. The paint around the door seams was rough and cracked, as if it had been painted over and had only recently been re-opened.
She grabbed the handle and pulled. It opened silently, cold, musty air gusting out into the corridor. She clicked on the flashlight stowed in her jacket pocket and scanned the pitch black hole. It was deeper than she would’ve thought, but narrow, the beam of light bouncing off of close side walls but streaming into emptiness straight ahead. It definitely wasn’t a janitor’s closet. She stepped inside, careful to block the door open before letting it slide closed behind her.
The darkness was claustrophobic but she’d experienced worse. Nothing would ever be as horrifying as that psychopath’s tunnels in Philadelphia or the box he’d entombed her in. This one was cold and damp. Her flashlight’s beam skittered from crumbling brick walls to exposed piping inches above her head. She walked carefully over the uneven concrete floor. Water dripped haphazardly, the echo sounding from everywhere and nowhere.
The tunnel took a sharp right. Jo nearly tripped over a box of tools, used but modern, that lay, abandoned, near a still puddle. She crouched down and peered inside. They were well-kept, too well maintained to belong to the kind of person who would absent-mindedly leave them behind.
The air shifted and she stilled, all of her senses leaping to sharpness. She held her breath and listened. There was something else in the tunnel with her.
She stood up and edged back down the tunnel. She shoved the flashlight back in her pocket and peered carefully around the corner. Enough light seeped in around the distant door to highlight a dark figure standing before it. There was a muffled curse and a flashlight with a dim yellow beam was switched on.
Jo stepped out from around the corner, anger warring with fear in her chest.
“Shit,” a very female voice squawked and before Jo knew it she was being pelted with salt.
Jo pulled out her own flashlight. “What the fuck?” she demanded as she shook salt out of her hair. Great, some of it had fallen down the front of her shirt. That’d be a bitch and a half until she had a chance to take off her bra.
“You’re not a ghost,” the girl gasped.
“Not really,” The sass in Jo’s voice would’ve gotten her a smack upside the head from her mom but getting a face full of rock salt justified some snark. “What are you doing down here?”
“I’m-” The girl pursed her mouth. “Wait, what am I doing down here? What are you doing down here?”
“Hunting ghosts.” If she sounded a little defensive it was well-earned. She’d met more than one crotchety old hunter who’d asked her the same question in nearly the same tone of voice.
The girl unconsciously brushed a heavy lock of blonde hair out of her face. “So did you have a crappy guidance counselor too?”
“What?” Jo asked peevishly. Before the girl could reply Jo cocked her head and held up her hand. There was a sound like whispering voices at the edge of her hearing. “Do you hear that?”
The girl nodded in complete silence.
Cold fingers swept across Jo’s neck. She shivered and slashed out with her daddy’s knife in the same instant. She felt something recoil at the cold iron but the tension in the tunnel continued to grow.
“You still have some salt?” Jo asked and held out her hand. The girl immediately dropped a mound of coarse granules into her hand and reached into her pocket for more. Jo scanned the tunnel behind her with her flashlight. She couldn’t see anything but she knew that something was there.
“We have to get out of here. Now.”
The door was still wedged open, now with an actual doorstop which Jo kicked away once they were out and slammed the door behind her. She didn’t bother stopping but pushed the girl down the hallway with her, knife in one hand, salt in the other.
Her heart-rate only started to even out when they emerged into a still-lit laundry room. She leaned against the wall and took a couple of deep breaths to the accompaniment of a thumping dryer.
The girl released a shaky little laugh. Jo opened her eyes and saw that she had collapsed in a chair a couple feet a way. She was pale but didn’t seem nearly as freaked out as Jo had expected.
“Well, that was fun.” She met Jo’s eyes and they shared a look that was equal parts hysteria and euphoria. “My name’s Kat, by the way.”
One quick palm of a student I.D. the next day, and Jo had all the grub she could eat. The South Caf was nearly full up, which didn’t surprise her in the slightest. One of the few things she’d learned as a Cornhusker was that students and hunters shared freakishly similar sleeping patterns.
She wasn’t sure whether it was bad luck or fate that the girl from the night before, Kat, was sitting at a table front and center. Kat caught her eye and waved her over as she stepped into the room, blowing her whole ‘out of sight, out of mind’ plan straight out of the water.
“So,” Kat said around a spoonful of yogurt. “There really is a ghost in the basement.”
“Looks like.” Jo set her tray on the table and dropped into the seat behind it. She shoved a couple fries into her mouth and blinked. Either dorm food had gotten better or the hunter’s life had killed her taste buds. “What were you doing downstairs last night?”
Kat took a long sip from her soda and set it carefully back down, her eyes assessing Jo the entire time. “My roommate was friends with the guy who just died. She told me that Matt had been hearing things, voices, in the corners. He thought he was going crazy.”
“So you went straight from, ‘hearing voices,’ to ‘ghosts in the basement.’” Jo cocked an eyebrow. “That’s a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?”
Kat snorted. “Well, yeah, when you put it like that.” She leaned forward, her voice dropping down. “But every time I’ve had to go down that hallway I’ve felt something. When Danielle told me about Matt I knew it was more than nerves.”
“And you thought you’d take care of it with a flashlight and a pocket full of salt?”
Kat shrugged. “Somebody had to do something.”
Jo frowned and attacked her food. She knew the score, knew how dangerous it could be for someone like Kat, someone who didn’t know what she was getting into. She’d be doing Kat, and herself most probably, a favor if she told her to leave well enough alone and go back to her Women’s History class, or whatever. But she couldn’t do it, couldn’t make herself say the words. She knew that glint in Kat’s eye, had seen that same determination in her own mirror more times than she could count. She wouldn’t deny her the chance to do this, not after a lifetime of people throwing obstacles in her own path. She couldn’t be that person.
Jo looked up. Kat was staring at her, her jaw set and her mouth pinched. She hadn’t touched a thing on her tray.
“What do you know about East Quad’s history? Any weird deaths or strange occurrences?”
Kat blinked in disbelief and then smiled big and bright. “That was so totally not what I thought you were going to say.”
Jo couldn’t help grinning in response. “Yeah, well, going down to investigate the creepy basement with only a pocket of salt was gutsy. Stupid, but gutsy. And you didn’t answer my question.”
“What isn’t weird about East Quad?” Kat twirled her spoon in the air. “Did you know that the Unabomber lived here when he was an undergrad? If someone told me there was a hellmouth underneath this place I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“I’m sure if Buffy showed up you’d be the first to know,” Jo joked and then frowned in concentration. “That thing downstairs had all the earmarks of a restless spirit and they tend to be the by-products of violent death.” She stood up and picked up her empty tray. “We need to find out more about this place. Looks like it’s research time.”
“Great,” Kat drawled. “This ghostbuster schtick just gets more and more glamorous.”
They ended up at the Grad Library, hunched over opposite microfilm machines. In the adjacent room students scurried around looking up books and bored employees with their carts full of books waited for an elevator while a surprisingly young librarian reigned over it all, her benign smile both an invitation and a warning. She’d been extremely helpful when Kat described their research problem and asked for assistance. That she thought they were working on a history paper rather than a ghost hunt was all for the best.
This was the part of hunting that had come as the largest shock. Jo was a product of the computer generation and even her hick Nebraska high school had been entirely wired by the time she’d matriculated. She’d started hunting with a vague notion of the use and operation of microfiche readers but no real experience with the behemoths. The damn things wore her out faster than any ghost ever had.
She stretched her back, her vertebrae popping back into place. She unspooled one tape and replaced it with another scintillating edition of the Ann Arbor News. They’d been at this for hours and Jo had gleaned more useless information about this one, tiny portion of Michigan than any one brain should ever contain. The only silver lining was the pattern that had started to form. This wasn’t the first mysterious rash of suicides that East Quad had witnessed and she was well on her way to tracing the entire epidemic back to its source.
She scrolled through the paper and stopped when just what she’d been looking for flashed across the screen. A victorious “Ha!” burst out before she could stop it. Neither the librarian’s quelling glance nor the disgruntled mumbles of other microfilm users could dampen her satisfaction with what she’d found.
“What’ve you got?” Kat whispered from her station.
“I think I have our guy,” Jo quietly crowed. “Herb Prygoski, a freshman in 1961 and an East Quad resident. The police found a note and chalked it up as a suicide even though they never found the body. The article says that his roommate had reported him to Health Services a few days before due to erratic behavior and constant muttering.”
“All right, we’ve got our guy,” Kat enthused and started shutting down her machine. “Any more time spent staring at this thing and I’d have had an aneurysm.”
“Not so fast,” Jo sadistically smirked. “We still have to figure out where his body is or what else might be keeping him here. A name isn’t going to get rid of our problem for us.”
Kat groaned and her head collapsed into her hands. Jo almost chuckled but caught herself in time. Apparently watching the newbie squirm was another one of the perks of being the experienced hunter on the job.
But that simple joy didn’t make the grim necessity of diving back into research any more appealing. Jo grimaced at the machine in particular and life in general. Just as she was turning back to it Kat grunted and sat up. Without a word she started flipping through the notebook she’d been taking notes in.
“What is it?” Jo asked.
“I think I know what happened to the body,” Kat’s eyes scanned the page. “There was a weird article in one of the old Daily’s. It was kind of a, ‘where are they now?’ piece about an East Quad RA who’d had a nervous breakdown in the middle of a lecture. He started screaming about the body in the basement and how it wouldn’t stop whispering to him. He apparently spent some time in the hospital afterwards.”
Jo frowned, her finger tapping absently against the table. “I never did get the chance to explore that whole passage.” She smiled. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Does it have anything to do with finding rubber pants in our size?” Kat quipped tiredly.
“Nope,” Jo chirped. “I’m thinking it’s time to go give that creepy tunnel another looksee.”
The basement was nominally less foreboding in the late afternoon. It had at least a semblance of life with a trickle of people racing up and down the stairs and kids laughing in the laundry rooms. The hallway to the computer lab was well-lit and while it would never be inviting it no longer seemed intimidating.
They stopped in front of the door that was hidden in plain sight. If she hadn’t been looking for it Jo was nearly positive that she would have walked right past it, it blended into the surrounding concrete nearly seamlessly. Even the dull metal handle seemed like one of the wall’s natural outcroppings.
She reached into the duffle and pulled out two flashlights, handing one to Kat. A tremor passed through the girl’s hand but she seemed steady.
Jo resettled the bag on her shoulder and nodded. “All right, let’s do this.”
The space behind the door seemed even more ominous when viewed through fluorescent lighting. A chill breeze blew out of the tunnel and the lights around them flickered. Jo took a deep breath and stepped forward.
They’d both only stepped through when the door slammed shut behind them.
Jo blinked as her eyes adjusted and tried to breathe around the sudden lump in her throat. She couldn’t afford to lose it now.
“The door won’t open.” Kat’s voice was thin and strangely muffled. Jo felt like she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs.
“I guess we’re stuck here till this is settled.” Jo bent over and rooted through the duffle by touch. She needed some reassurance. “Here,” She passed Kat a shotgun. “This’ll probably help.”
“Oh, you bet,” Kat sighed in relief.
They started down the passage, both lights scanning every nook and cranny for anything suspicious. The damp chill seeped into Jo’s bones while whispers echoed out of every shadow.
They turned the corner. The toolbox was gone, a slightly dryer spot the only indication that it had ever been there in the first place. She could hear Kat’s breathing loud to her right, it grew shallower and shallower with every step.
She stopped suddenly and flicked the flashlight beam backwards along its path, her mind had caught something her eyes had missed. “Eureka,” Jo breathed and stepped up to the wall and ran her fingers along a crumbling seam of mortar. She glanced back at Kat. “Which of these things doesn’t belong?”
Kat stepped forward. “Not all of those bricks have mortar.”
“Exactly. I’d bet good money that that’s where our body is.” She pulled a hammer out of the bag and then handed the bag to Kat. “Get out the gas and salt and get ready to spray this sucker when I’ve got it uncovered. And watch my back. If things are going to get hairy they’re gonna get that way fast.”
She pounded on the brickwork with Kat a solid, comforting presence at her back. Her arm swung forward and she felt the brick crumble through the hammer’s haft. As soon as one brick was dislodged the whole thing came apart. She jumped back as the wall tumbled down. A moment passed while they gaped at the ghastly remains uncovered by the collapse before Kat jumped to work, pouring salt and gas over what was left of the body.
Jo was pulling the matches out of her pocket when the air went deathly cold. Before she could yell complete darkness engulfed her. Her back collided against the wall and voices screamed in her head. A hand wrapped around her throat and she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see. She wanted to scream but she couldn’t.
“Poor little girl doing a grown-up’s job,” a low voice sing-songed in her ear. She blinked and she was back in Duluth, tied to a pole, waiting for Sam Winchester to stick a knife in her throat or worse. “It would be so much easier if you let it all go. It’s what you deserve for breaking your mother’s heart.”
Her daddy’s knife was in her hand but she wasn’t lashing out, she couldn’t. It rose slowly and inexorably towards her own throat. It was what she deserved.
The heavy boom of a shotgun ricocheted off the claustrophobic walls and Jo collapsed with nothing to hold her up. She gasped for breath. Living hands grabbed her and pulled her up. She opened her eyes and Kat was there, flashlight in one hand, shotgun in the other.
“We have to finish the job.” Kat’s voice was shaky but firm.
Jo struck a match and watched as the body caught fire. A shrill scream pierced the air and then everything went still except for the crackle of the blaze.
Kat handed her a shotgun and shouldered the bag herself. They walked out of the tunnel and neither of them looked back.
Somehow, Jo wasn’t surprised to see Kat waiting for her outside of the dorm the next morning. The sky was clear, for once, and even if the trees were still bare the weather seemed to promise that spring was coming, even if it was taking its own sweet time.
Kat looked up from the book she was reading, a bright grin crossing her face. “I was hoping you’d come out this way,” She stood up and handed Jo the book. “I noticed this by the body before you torched it. I think it’s good ol’ Herb’s journal.
Jo flipped through the yellowed pages covered in a spidery scrawl. “Does it say why he was entombed in a wall?”
“I haven’t gotten that far, yet.” Kat took the journal back and stuck it in the backpack slung over her shoulder. “But he wasn’t the steadiest character to begin with. And get this, our guy Rick, you know, the one who started raving about bodies in the basement, has a starring role. He was Herb’s R.A. and, if this is anything to go by, they had a weird power dynamic going on. Every other line was, ‘Rick says,’ or ‘Rick told me to cheat on my test.’ I think my favorite was when Herb proclaimed that he wouldn’t know who he was if Rick wasn’t there to tell him.”
Jo whistled low. “People are fucking nuts.”
Kat nodded and looked away. An awkward silence descended. This was why Jo had been hoping to quietly disappear, she sucked at goodbyes. Kat fiddled with a string on her shirt and frowned. She opened and closed her mouth as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t figure out which sounds to make.
“I’m, uh, gonna head out,” Jo finally said, the words rushing out of her mouth. “You wanna walk me to my car?”
Kat nodded and they started down the sidewalk. “My boyfriend Gavin’s in California,” Kat finally said as they were crossing the street.
“Huh,” Jo grunted. She wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything but she’d play along.
“I mean, my ex-boyfriend. He’s stalking a cheerleader, or something,” Kat curtly shook her head as if she were abruptly putting her thoughts in order. “Anyway, the first time I saw a ghost it was because Gavin thought a great date consisted of breaking into a haunted asylum and almost getting us both killed.”
“He sounds like a great guy,” Jo said, the sarcasm dripping from her voice.
Kat chuckled. “Yeah, tell me about it. It’s just, it’s kinda funny. The whole reason I came to Michigan was to get away from all of the crazy stuff I saw there and instead I landed right in the middle of more.” She shrugged. “Life is bizarre.”
“Tell me about it,” Jo commiserated. “The last time I was in a dorm I wouldn’t have batted an eye if something killed every single person in the place. The slaughter of all of the people who called me ‘crazy knife girl’ would’ve felt like poetic justice. And now look at me.”
“I don’t know,” Kat mused. “You still seem like a crazy knife girl to me.”
“Takes one to know one,” Jo teased. Kat’s teeth flashed white through a quick grin.
They walked in companionable silence for the next few blocks. It made Jo realize how lonely she’d been in the past few months. It felt good to be with someone who knew what she did and let her do it, who knew her and didn’t run screaming for the cops or straight to the phone to call her mother.
Jo’s old blue truck was still sitting where she’d parked it, not a ticket in sight. She opened the door and swung her bag into the cab. She turned back to Kat, her brain stumbling around for what to say.
“Are you going to stick around after all of this?” was what finally came out.
Kat nodded firmly. “As sappy as it sounds, I like it here. My classes are interesting and I’ve made some really good friends.” She smirked. “Plus, if the cops catch me smoking pot I’ll only get, like, a fifteen dollar fine.”
Jo laughed. “I’ll have to remember to tell my buddy, Ash. He’ll be on the next bus. Though you’ll have to watch out, he has this problem keeping his clothes on when he’s high.” She shuddered theatrically. Then she sobered and looked Kat directly in the eye. “So you’re really fine with living on a hellmouth?”
“Oh, yeah,” Kat smiled, drawing the vowels out. “And don’t worry.” She patted her pocket. “I’ve got your number safely programmed into my phone. When Buffy shows up you’ll totally be the second to know.”
“Excellent.” Jo stepped up into the truck and suddenly had an idea. “Give me your bag,” she ordered with a devilish grin.
Kat wordlessly handed it up, her bemused expression speaking volumes. Jo pulled a shotgun out of the duffle and blatantly stuffed it in Kat’s backpack. “Consider this my way of thanking you for saving my life. From one crazy knife girl to another,” she finished with a wink.
“Awesome,” Kat cackled. “I’ll have to let you return the favor one of these days.”
Jo smiled. “I’m going to hold you to that.” She handed the bag back down and put the key in the ignition. “I’ll see you around.” Her smile broadened and she slammed the door shut. She maneuvered the truck out of its spot and waved to Kat as she headed off towards the freeway.
At the stoplight the strongest urge to call her mom swept over her, to hear her voice and know that she was okay. The light changed and she sped on through the intersection. She’d call after she got to Indiana and started looking into that rash of freak electrical storms.
She rolled down her window and felt the wind on her face. It was going to be a good day.
Sequel: Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice
Podfic read by baylorsr