Title: Troubled Waters
Author: Northface
Pairing: gen
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: As usual, I don't own anything. The geography in this story is fairly accurate; everything else is fiction. Oh, and apologies to William Butler Yeats.
Note: Much thanks to BigPink, who listened to me whine about the troublesome nature of writing a story with an actual plot, and who did a fantastic beta-ing job. And who convinced me to use American spellings, as befits the Winchesters.
Summary: In northwestern Washington, Sam and Dean run into a cult, missing people, plagues, some really humid weather, and possessed trees.


Part One: Thursday, July 6

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:27-28, KJV


Jasper Kelman stared out at the stormy waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a perturbed expression on his face. The sea looked as it always did: frothy, grey and green, angry, powerful, commanding. A stern reminder that a human being was of little consequence to the ocean, was but a drop of water in the vast, measureless abyss. A stern reminder that the sea was not a benign giant, but an unforgiving monster. It giveth life, and it taketh it away.

He had conjured up swarms of pests, but this was not of his doing. He had deliberately brought curses on an island that needed reminding that they weren't the be-all and end-all, weren't God. Soon, he would show his power to the whole state and then the nation. The world. But this last… this was something different. It had taken on a life of its own, and Jasper was terrified.

He had been in control, directing the creatures of this earth to do his bidding. He knew when they would amass and when they would disperse, when they would wake and when they would sleep. He commanded their presence, and the creatures came. When the time came, he vanquished them, and his power and credibility grew. His followers increased in number, and their loyalty deepened and his authority was proven time and again.

But this last was something different.

He knew the old saws, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, that great men are almost always bad men. He also knew that authority must not waver, that fear must not be shown. Weakness was unforgivable, as the sea, and weakness proved unreliability and unworthiness and lacking, and was undeserving of adoration.

His terror must be hidden, shared with no one, because no one could understand; they knew not what he knew. There was no one who could objectively appreciate his struggle, and of this he was proud. As his followers' devotion grew, so too did his influence, and he became more effective as their leader. He spoke a single word, and they followed him unto the ends of the earth.

He had a feeling that soon they might have to.


Dean's cell phone rang suddenly, shattering the amiable silence, making both Winchesters start. Sam, sorting laundry, dropped an armload of t-shirts on the dingy brown motel-room carpet. Dean, having spent the last twenty-two years alert, simply crooked an eyebrow. "Who could that be?" said Sam.

Dean carefully laid the stock of the .44 that he'd been polishing on the bed and grabbed his phone from the bedside table. "Hello."

"Hello, Dean Winchester?" Nervous, eager, female voice.

"Yes, speaking." Guarded. Exchanging a glance with Sam.

"Hi, it's Anne Edwards. Um, I got your father's name from my sister-in-law… She said maybe you might be able to help me." Her voice petered out, uncertain.

"Maybe we can, ma'am. What exactly is the situation?"

Anne sighed deeply. "It's my daughter… she's twenty-four and, well, not really focused, you know?"

Dean squinted in confusion. What the hell? "Uh, excuse me, but—"

"She was at school, you know, did two years of English literature and then decided it wasn't for her, so she took some time off, traveled a bit, Italy, France—"

"Mrs Edwards?" Dean tried. He'd wondered briefly if it was somebody playing a joke on him, but Sam was standing ten feet away and seemed only mildly curious.

"No no, call me Anne, please… and she lived in hostels and worse, believe you me, and then she switched universities, trying for a fresh start, but it's the finishing she's having trouble with, and…"

Bemused, Dean offered the phone to his brother, figuring he might have a clue what this school stuff was about.

Sam took it, frowning, covering the mouthpiece with his thumb. "Who is she, Dean?" he whispered. "What…" And he was distracted by the woman's voice, which seemed to be debating the relative merits of Emily's car and UBC, whatever that meant.

"I'm sorry," Sam interrupted, when he realized that his brother was just going to laugh unhelpfully. "What exactly is the problem?"

"Oh no, now you've done it," said Dean, shaking his head and smirking, and Sam waved an arm at him, shut up so I can hear.

But instead Sam's question seemed to rouse the woman and she said, quite clearly, "My daughter Celia's missing. She was going to be hitchhiking down in Washington, and she promised to call daily, but after the first week we only got one message, and Celia sounded off, and we checked the number, and it was for this address on Whidbey Island that the police said is—oh, I can't even say it!—but they can't do anything and, well, my sister-in-law said that your father helped her with, well, she used the word possession, but I mean, really…"

And Sam let her ramble on a few more seconds before interrupting again—"Mrs Edwards?"

"Anne, I told you, call me Anne, Dean."

"Right," said Sam, and didn't correct her. "Can you give me some specifics, please?" He grabbed a pen and paper from the night-table drawer and took notes.

And twenty minutes later, when there was no end in sight, Sam made staticky noises into the mouthpiece, shouted, "Sorry, battery's low! I'll call you back if I have more questions!" and hung up.

Dean, who had gone back to cleaning their guns, raised his brows and grinned. "So there is a limit to your politeness."

Sam ignored that. "Oh, man, that was brutal," he moaned, flopping down on his back on the bed. "I am going to get you for this, you know."

"Yeah, yeah," scoffed Dean. "So, she actually has a case? I mean, besides a mental case?"

Sam sat up and nodded. "Enough that we should check it out, anyway. I told her we'd do some preliminary research and then get back to her, see if this is really something we can help with or not."

"Okay. So, you spend some quality time with your buddy over there," said Dean, already halfway out the door and motioning over his shoulder to the laptop, "and I'll go get us some grub."


"So, looks like Mrs Edwards' daughter, Celia, has been drawn into a cult," Sam announced when Dean returned, bearing two large grease-stained paper bags. "Jeez, how long d'you think we're going to stick around? 'Cause that'll last us the week."

Dean glanced down at his purchases unconcernedly. "I was hungry. And, a cult? While admittedly freaky, not a supernatural phenomenon that I'm aware of."

"Yeah, but there's more. It's not just crazy people. It seems that the cult's been suspected in several instances of cattle mutilation and rustling—"

"Cattle rustling? Did you just say cattle rustling?"

Sam scowled at his brother. "Shut up, already. I'm just telling you what I found."

"Don't get your panties in a twist, Sam," chided Dean. "So, what else? Any crop circles, UFO sightings?"

"As a matter of fact," began Sam, and paused dramatically. "No. But they've been having electrical problems, for like almost two years, the power going out for the whole island for no discernable reason; the power company is mystified. They've taken to replacing great stretches of transmission lines, hoping to solve the problem."

"That's kinda strange, could be demonic activity. But… it's a cult. Couldn't they be siphoning off electrical current for their own purposes?"

Sam nodded. "Sure. Police have combed the area, thinking that they've got a drug lab in the basement or something, but nothing. They're clean. So, anyway, if these guys are summoning up spirits or something and affecting a whole island? That's some pretty awesome power they've got." He grinned. "No pun intended."

"Right. So where is this exactly? Which island?" asked Dean. He had been setting out the food on the table, and there appeared to be enough for a small army. "Help yourself."

Sam, notepad in hand, came over and inspected the fare. It was Chinese take-out, and there was fried rice; chow mein; sweet and sour something, probably pork; almond chicken; broccoli beef; three egg rolls (Why three? thought Sam); and wonton soup. "You neglected to get plates," he observed.

Dean paused. "True. Your point being?"

Sam rolled his eyes and grabbed a pair of chopsticks. "I swear, you were born in a barn. Anyway, Celia's from Vancouver, BC, and the cult is on Whidbey Island, which is in Washington State. From what I gather, Whidbey is the second-largest island in the Lower Forty-eight, after either Long Island or Isle Royale, Michigan." A sardonic shrug. "Two different sources sayin' two different things. If the Internet can't agree on basic facts like that, how are we supposed to believe even an ounce of anything else out there? What's the point?" Sam blew out his breath in frustration.

"I assume that's a rhetorical question," said Dean, after a beat. "Because, don't you remember before the Internet? We spent like half our lives in the library, with Dad."

Sam shook his head ruefully. "And yet none of it rubbed off on you. I don't understand. Okay, so the Internet's helpful, as long as you take it with a grain of salt… or, you know, a shotgunful of salt.

"Anyway, according to the local papers, those paragons of journalism, there've been weird noises late at night, like screaming and drums, but when the police have investigated—nothing. Everybody's asleep in their beds."

Dean was skeptical. "Maybe they just have a police radio and listen to it, know when to wrap things up and turn the lights out."

"Maybe," Sam agreed. "But listen. There've been plagues."

Dean raised an eyebrow. "Like the bubonic plague or the biblical plagues?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "The biblical ones. Specifically, there's lice, locusts, and frogs. Like, enough to blanket the island. Obscure the air."

"Lice?" Dean screwed up his face in disgust.

"Yeah. So. Strange, huh? Also, don't know if it's related or not, but there've been some missing persons cases around, women, mostly on Whidbey but some on, uh," he flipped through his notes, "Fidalgo Island. Guess there's this bridge that connects the two islands. Anyway, interested? Should we call Mrs. Edwards back and say we'll investigate?"

"What's this 'we', white man?" said Dean, and Sam sighed.

"All right, all right. I'll call her."


Part Two: Thursday, July 6, evening

There are children in the morning

They are leaning out for love

And they will lean that way forever

While Suzanne holds the mirror

And you want to travel with her

And you want to travel blind

Leonard Cohen, Suzanne


After dinner, Jasper Kelman stood at his place at the head of the long table. He waited for the others to notice and quiet down, which happened at once. "We will do the ritual tonight," he announced. "The time is right. We have asked for lice, and we have received lice. We have asked for locusts, and we have received locusts. We have asked for frogs, and we have received frogs. We have received a blood-dimmed tide even before we asked. What a sign!" He waited for the truth of his words to sink in.

"Our devotion is paying off, is reaping dividends. It will not be long, people, before I ascend to power. Tonight, we will make an offering of thanksgiving." He paused. "We will meet at nine o'clock sharp, so we can prepare for the ritual before nightfall. Those of you who have preparations to make for the ceremony, begin your duties at eight." His eyes searched out those of each of his flock. He saw attention and admiration and agreement. "That is all. You are dismissed."

Jasper arrived at the circle early, saw that two of his followers were already there, attired in long, white, shapeless smocks. They had tied the cow, a Jersey, to a nearby Douglas fir, had lit a fire in the pit, and were brushing pine needles and dirt off of the makeshift benches—two-by-tens supported by rounds of tree trunk at both ends and in the middle.

"Very good," he told them, and they nodded back, barely looking up from their work.

The five benches surrounded the fire pit in a circle of about twenty feet in diameter. The clearing, carpeted in pine needles and dusted with sand, was surrounded on three sides by forest, and on the fourth side, the sun was sitting low over the Pacific, the sky glowing pink and orange and reflecting over the quiet azure sea. As the time grew near, the remaining twenty-six members straggled up. While they came in pairs or threes, talking quietly amongst themselves as they walked up the beach from the common house to the site of the ritual, they drew silent as they approached the circle of benches. When they sat down, they sat in alphabetical order by their first names, and bowed their heads until Jasper Kelman was ready to begin.

Although the entire group was present by five to nine, Jasper Kelman waited, hidden in the shadows of the clearing, standing next to an ancient cedar, another fifteen minutes before claiming his place in the circle. He remained standing, and held an ageing leather-bound volume open in one hand. "Begin," he said to the woman on his left. Abigail knelt in front of the fire and began beating the hand drum she'd brought with her and had kept at her feet. Duh duh DUM, duh duh DUM.

The drumbeat was loud and hypnotic, and it was hard even for Jasper Kelman to concentrate on the task at hand. "Next," he said, at length.

Alexander approached the fire and laid on it a wine-soaked cloth. The cloth, organic cotton hand-woven by another in the circle, was a symbol of the island's natural purity, and the dark red wine, symbolic of how mankind was destroying her.

The fire took but a second to react, and sent up a plume of thick smoke and vapor and crackled ominously.

Jasper Kelman called, "Next," and a third member—Celia Edwards, long dark hair flowing down her back and contrasting with the white robe—rose and led the cow to the fire. The cow, as if resigned to its fate, bent its knees and sank into a sitting position, and wearily rested its chin on the ground.

Duh duh DUM, duh duh DUM.

Jasper Kelman called, "Next," and a fourth member, the firelight glinting off his horn-rimmed glasses, drew a long knife and carefully held its blade in the blaze.

Duh duh DUM, duh duh DUM.

Jasper Kelman called, "Next," and the knife was removed from the flames and the cow's jugular was sliced cleanly.

Duh duh DUM, duh duh DUM.

Jasper Kelman opened his leather-bound book, flipped to the page marked by the red ribbon and began to recite lowly, so the group had to lean forward and strain in order to hear over the crackling of the fire and the heartbeat of the drum:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."

He paused and repeated that last: "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."

He continued:

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand."

Duh duh DUM, duh duh DUM.

"The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds."

Duh duh DUM, duh duh DUM.

"The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Jasper Kelman called, "Now," and the entire circle rose to their feet and donned the blood-red necklaces they'd had tucked in their pockets.

Jasper Kelman called, "Begin." All twenty-nine knelt, joined hands, and raised their faces to the heavens.

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,"
spoke one member, and the rest echoed the lines, and again.

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned,"
shouted another, and the group chanted them twice.

"The darkness drops again, the darkness drops again." Repeated en masse.

Duh duh DUM, duh duh DUM, duh duh DUM, duh duh DUM.


Friday, July 7, afternoon

Sam studied the map of Washington he'd unfolded all over the front seat. "Theoretically, we should get there by four," he announced. "In fifteen miles, we merge onto the I-5 northbound."

"Thanks for the heads-up," Dean muttered, and waved a hand at the sea of brake lights ahead of them. "Glad ya told me now, otherwise I'd've missed it."

They always got stuck in traffic on sunny days, Sam thought to himself ruefully. Or, actually, they were always stuck in the car, period. They were on the 405 northbound, in some suburb of Seattle, and the sun was baking down on the Impala and it was sweltering. Traffic was moving at a crawl, and his brother had been cursing under his breath for a good ten minutes now; patience was never his long suit. Though Sam would never admit it, he was thankful for the classic rock blaring out of the speakers: it was a constant reminder that there were worse things than gridlock in ninety-degree weather.

And then the song ended and the stereo clicked and whirred as the cassette tape switched to the other side, and Sam heard three seconds of "Highway to Hell" before his brother stabbed a finger at the eject button and the tape came shooting out. He caught it reflexively, surprised to see Dean treat either the car or the cassette tape so roughly; clearly the heat was getting to him, too.


It was after five before they were past a huge casino on Swinomish Indian land, were on Fidalgo Island and were close. The narrow two-lane highway wound through huge cedars and Douglas firs and hemlocks, old man's beard hanging from the boughs, thick and vividly green moss on the trunks. The undergrowth was high, eight or ten feet tall: salal and sword ferns and wild rhododendrons. Sam was captivated. Dean was busy driving; there seemed to be an inordinate amount of traffic on this road.

They passed a lake on their right; dozens of men in belly boats were fishing. Some children splashed about at the shore, near a small parking lot. They were on state park land.

The traffic grew heavier and slowed, and Sam and Dean traded alarmed glances, worried that they'd run into yet another traffic jam, here in the middle of pristine wilderness.

The Impala turned another corner, and suddenly they were several hundred feet above the ocean, on an old steel bridge, traveling at fifteen miles an hour because everyone was gaping at the scenery. There were sidewalks on both sides of the bridge, crowded with tourists, snapping photos left and right. Rays of golden sunlight winked off the waves; jagged headlands divided the coast into small crescents of white sand. Everywhere, dark green, lush, old-growth forest.

The bridge led to an small island mid-channel, Pass Island, and Sam saw another, longer, bridge connecting to Whidbey. "Pull over," he said, and Dean glanced at him.


"I want to look around," said Sam simply, and when they were across the pass, Dean put on his blinker and parked in the last space in the lot. There were washrooms and vending machines and garbage cans along one side of the triangular lot. The road ran along the second side, and the third side of the parking lot fell directly away to the ocean.

Together, the bridges spanned a quarter mile, carrying traffic since 1935 over Deception Pass, which separated Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. The waterway was discovered by Captain Vancouver, who named Whidbey after his first mate, Sam learned from the large wooden sign posted alongside the highway.

Dean strode onto the bridge, staring out to sea. He saw some of the San Juan and Gulf Islands, saw a small island guarding the mouth of the channel, saw a few houses along the water, and looked down.

The tide was coming in, and quickly. The dark green water surged up the pass, eddying everywhere into a roiling mass. He stared fixedly downwards, at the turbulence two hundred feet below, unable to tear his gaze away. Sam came up behind him. "I guess the tide was going out when this place was discovered. They must have thought it was a river, at first, the water was flowing so fast."

Suddenly, a mass of Japanese tourists descended upon the bridge, and despite Sam's considerable size, he was carried away in the onslaught over to Pass Island.

There were wild flowers in the meadows on the tiny mid-channel island, and children running and laughing, and tourists basking in the sun on the bluff. Sam saw a family sitting down on a blanket and eating a picnic dinner; saw a professional photographer adjust his tripod, fiddle at length with the settings, throw a black cloth over his head and the camera and snap a single photograph; saw a trio of people furtively picking flowers very near a sign requesting that visitors Leave only footprints, take only pictures. Sam watched them, two women and a man, all in their late twenties, hurriedly stuff the flowers into a canvas bag, and Sam was confused. Picking the flowers, he understood. But stuffing them willy-nilly into a bag?

The three walked farther from the road. They approached a red-brown arbutus tree, the tallest of a small copse, and looked around to see if anybody was watching them. Sam, ever inconspicuous, turned his head quickly toward the sea. After a few seconds, he chanced a glance back, and the man had taken out a jackknife and was—peeling bark off the tree? That, Sam decided, was just plain strange.

"Hey," said Dean behind him, apparently having given up on Sam returning to the car on his own.

"Shh." Sam nodded towards the tree. "They've been picking flowers, too."

Dean raised his eyebrows in mock alarm. "Oh my God, they like flowers. Get out the holy water."

Sam rolled his eyes. "They were right beside that sign there when they were doing it—"

"Not everybody's as law-abiding as you, Sammy."

"And what are they doing to that tree?" Sam continued, undeterred by his brother's comments. The man was crouched now, at the base of the arbutus, screened by the two women who were standing and whispering and straining to look nonchalant. Sam craned his head to the left, trying to see around the women without being obvious.

"Who cares?" said Dean, and the man stood, brushing off the knees of his jeans, and all three returned to their car, an old blue Dodge Caravan, the canvas bag over the taller woman's shoulder. "Let's head back to the car. We have to find a place to stay for tonight, and get something to eat. That leftover Chinese food has about had it. C'mon, already, Sam."

Sam watched the van drive away, south towards Whidbey Island, and, distractedly, said, "I'm coming."


The two women, both recently estranged from their families, and the man, an illegal émigré from Taiwan, arrived at the domain, which is what they were to call it, just in time for the evening meal. The others had already taken their places at the table. The three latecomers stood behind their chairs and turned to Jasper Kelman. They waited for his acknowledgement.

"Do you have it?"

"Yes, sir."

"And no one observed you?"

"No, sir."

"You may sit." Jasper Kelman cleared his throat, and twenty-eight pairs of eyes turned to him. "Tomorrow morning, we will prepare the next ritual. Abby, Manuel, Alex and Celia, you will meet in the store room at six o'clock and begin. The rest of you, you will prepare your parts in your rooms. We will reconvene at eleven-thirty to review the afternoon's work. Now, you may eat."

The arbutus procedures—that was how he thought of them, as surgical procedures—were very important to the success of the ceremonies. The arbutus menziesii was a fascinating tree, a direct link to the Native Americans who ate the berries and made them into cider, who used the acidic bark to tan hides, and a direct link to the ocean that had claimed the spirit's lover, since arbutus were found only along the shore, almost always within sight of the sea. Each ceremony, he had decided, would require a new arbutus procedure, out of respect to the spirit. As an additional acknowledgement of his willingness in collaboration. His centuries of pain, ignored by his people, who remembered only the maiden. He deserved better, Jasper knew—knew what it was like to be ignored and looked down on—and was determined to correct the old wrongs.


Part Three: Saturday, July 8, morning

You often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.

Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth


The winding gravel driveway led them off Highway 20, down steeply through the thick forest to some flatlands along the shore. There were low sand dunes and grass that would have blown back and forth if there had been a breeze. The trees that bordered the desert-esque land were fairly short, compared to their inland brethren, and scrubby and twisted. They were as wide as they were tall, finding it easier to grow sideways than up in the face of the harsh Pacific storms. It was ten o'clock and roasting hot already, with no hint of the wind that had shaped the trees, and Sam was more than ready for a siesta. Or air conditioning, or a dip in the sea. Anything but more time in a black car, windshield proudly magnifying the sun's rays, leather seats sticking to all exposed skin.

Apparently the Impala had been heard long before they pulled up in front of a large, boxy, three-storey house, for two men were standing in the yard, waiting. One man was blond and stood slightly ahead of the other, whose head was shaved and who was the size and shape of an Alp.

"Follow my lead," Dean instructed, and exited the car, smiling widely. "Good morning, gentlemen," he said jovially, though the men's countenances remained stony. "I'm Dean, this is my brother Sam, and we're down here from Canada—"

"Sirs," said the blond man, who was dressed in chinos and a green golf shirt. He was perhaps thirty-five years old and good-looking in a sort of aristocratic way. Like he was distantly related to the Windsors, or the Kennedys. "I am afraid that we cannot help you."

Dean grinned amiably. "You don't even know why we're here."

"We mind our own business," said the man, a dangerous glint in his blue eyes. "We shun the outside world and have no need to interact with anybody. That includes you. Now, please leave the property. This is trespass."

"Whoa, hold on, guys," said Dean, smile still firmly in place. "I just wonder if you know a Celia Edwards?"

The blond didn't react, but Dean saw the bald man's eyes dart over nervously.

"I am sorry, but no. Please leave, or else I will be forced to—"

"Sir," interrupted Sam earnestly. "It's only that she's our friend, and her parents haven't heard from her in a week, and they're really worried, so we just want to know that she's okay."

"I do not know this woman. She is not here. If you do not leave immediately, I will be forced to call the sheriff." The man's delivery was stiff, as if his tongue were made of cardboard.

"I thought you didn't interact with the outside world," said Dean, ever pleasant, and was sharply elbowed in the ribs by Sam for his efforts. The man-mountain was advancing slowly, and another pair of men had collected on the porch of the house, severe frowns all around. Dean saw the telltale bulges in the lines of their sport jackets; they were bearing sidearms.

"We're sorry to have bothered you," said Sam, deep into his pure-as-the-driven-snow act. "Let's go." He tugged at his brother's arm, and the two climbed into the Impala and drove away.


"Who were they?" asked the bald man, turning to Jasper Kelman, as they watched the car disappear into the forest.

"I do not know," said Jasper. "But with those accents? They were not Canadian. Alex, take a car and follow them. I want to know if they are staying on the island, and what, exactly, they are doing here."

"Yes, sir."


"Those were some strange, strange people," said Dean, shaking his head in disbelief, a few minutes later, when they were back on the highway and headed for town. The windows were rolled down; it was mid-morning and already it was warm. About two o'clock, it would doubtless turn into a scorcher. "Clearly there's something happening out there. Crazy West Coast people," he added, and there was a sudden edge to his tone.

And Sam heard the veiled shot at his college days, that going to Stanford was akin to going off the deep end. "You know," he began, but stopped.

"What?" asked Dean irritably, when it became clear that Sam wasn't going to finish the thought on his own.

Sam shook his head. He wasn't going to get into this, not now. It wasn't worth it, he decided, although it would have to be dealt with sometime. And the geographical location wasn't the issue, anyway. Although, it could have been worse, he thought wryly—he could have gone to Berkeley.

Dean reached over and turned on the radio, and they listened to the news at the top of the hour. …at the airport, and we're looking at a high of ninety-five inland, high eighties on the water. That's your KIRO Seattle traffic and weather on the threes! Back with sports after this break.

Finally, on the outskirts of Oak Harbor, which was being generous—a third of the sixty thousand people on the island lived in the town—Dean turned down the radio and adopted a business-like tone. Completely ignoring their earlier conversation, as he was wont to do. "Let's head back to the motel, get some addresses—I'm thinking that I should go and talk to the police, see if I can figure out anything about the cattle," and laughed, back to normal. "Still cracks me up."

"Ask about the missing persons cases, too. Who knows, maybe the missing women have actually joined the cult. I'll head over to the county records office, see if there's anything else we can find out about the property."

They hadn't been at the motel five minutes before Sam exclaimed, "How can there not be a wireless network around here?" He was sitting at the table, a laminated plywood deal, laptop open but useless in front of him.

"We could drive around till we find one we can borrow," suggested Dean, and soon they were back in the car in the stifling heat, crawling along side streets, the computer open on Sam's lap and he repeatedly clicking the refresh button.

"There!" he said suddenly, and looked up to see Dean pulling over alongside an elementary school. He only felt a little bit guilty as he typed into Google island county WA sheriff.


His brother was already sitting in a booth at about the only restaurant in Coupeville, the county seat, when Dean walked in. A cup of coffee sat at a distance in front of Sam, nearly on the other side of the table, as if it had been tried and found lacking.

"So?" asked Dean, sitting down and picking up a badly photocopied menu. It was slipped into a page protector; Dean was fairly certain that he needed more protecting from the sticky stains on the plastic than the menu needed from the clientele.

"Special's a corned beef sandwich with fries."

Dean arched an eyebrow. "Profitable trip to the records office, I gather." He discarded the menu, deciding the corned beef would have to do, and picked up a stir stick and began to bend it into a right angle. The brown plastic lightened at the fold and snapped in two.

"Yeah." Sam rolled his eyes. "The property's been owned by the same family since the beginning of time, just about. Been passed down, father to son to grandson. Current owner's name of George Kelman; he doesn't reside there; he lives in Yuma. Took like two hours to figure that out; the computer system, which looked nearly as old as me, was down, and it was painful."

Absently, Dean broke the stir stick into quarters, and then eighths. "George Kelman, you said?" Sam nodded, but before Dean could elaborate, the waitress approached and took their orders. Once she had left—with a minimum of flirting by Dean; clearly he was preoccupied, thought Sam—he launched into the high points of his morning.

"Police are wholly suspicious of the cult. It's run by a Jasper Kelman, who must be related to George. They haven't been able to catch them at anything—not for violating noise ordinances, despite numerous complaints; and not for the production of any illegal substances, which the power company says would explain a lot. And, there's a task force that's just been created, a joint effort by the sheriff's department and the state police, to investigate the missing women, and whom the police think have been conscripted into the cult, or worse. I've got the addresses of the families of the victims—there's five of them, including Celia."

Seventeen hundred and twenty-three people lived in Coupeville, and none of them had a wireless network they could tap into. "This is insane," fumed Dean. "Damn backwater hickville island."

"Think that's a contradiction in terms, backwater island," Sam observed. "Anyway, this place is small enough; we ought to be able to find the home of Virginia Lawson without too much trouble. It's in town here. And the next place on the list is in Anacortes. We'll find an Internet connection between here and there. So, we're looking for Kinney Street…"


It was a sign, Jasper Kelman had reminded them all morning, the red tide. A sign of their strengthening power. Clearly it meant that he should accelerate the schedule, perform the next ceremony this weekend. It was important to re-emphasize that this was his decision, he told himself. Events had spun quickly out of control, no doubt, but he had to keep his followers from coming to that same realization. Maybe they had, some of them, already, and knew better than to mention it to him. At any rate, he had to nip this in the bud, could not allow for any errors in this next ritual. He would have to think of everything, prepare for every eventuality.


Kinney Street had been a bust; there was no one home and a neighbor, watering her hanging baskets with a garden hose, had called over that the family was out of town. Sam had chatted pleasantly, hoping to learn something about the vanishing—knew the family way back when, were in the area and thought we'd stop by…how are they doing? All right, after the disappearance?—but the neighbor had only lived there three months.

By two o'clock, the Impala was motoring north on Route 20, towards Anacortes thirty miles away. They had just passed the entrance to the campground at Deception Pass State Park when traffic ground to a halt, and the cool air (or, rather, hot air disguised as cool air thanks to its velocity) blowing in the open windows disappeared. The car grew stuffy almost instantly, and the air was thick with humidity, overdue for an electrical storm.

Dean edged the Impala to the centerline of the highway, stuck his head out the window, and swore loudly. There were maybe a half-dozen cars separating them from a police roadblock up ahead. He could see a car with its trunk open, officers peering inside. "How many cops are on this island?" he asked frantically. "Not many, right, so I probably met them this morning? They won't search the trunk? And won't notice the license plate?"

Dean twisted in his seat and dug around in the detritus in the backseat. He knew it was there, somewhere, he'd tossed it there earlier…

"Drive ahead," Sam urged, noticing the queue of cars in front of them dissipating.

Dean eased up on the brake and sighed in relief as he found what he was looking for and suddenly, they were next in line. "RCMP," he announced, waving a shiny badge in a black wallet, pre-empting whatever the officer had been prepared to say. "Constable Dean Fogerty."

"Pleased to meet you," said the officer, distracted, bending over to see in the open window. "This's an Amber Alert," he carried on gruffly, "you know what those are? Got them up in Canada?" and Dean nodded. "A four-year-old boy, blond with blue eyes, wearing a red shirt and shorts, went missing from the Goose Rock area—that's the mountain on the east side of the road just before the bridge—approximately thirty minutes ago. Name of Nathan Trimble. Should answer to Nathan or Nate. We're asking everyone to keep an eye out." And he waved them along.

Dean glanced over at Sam as he put the car in gear, an angry expression on his face. "RCMP!" Sam said incredulously. "Bad enough that we impersonate American government officials. But Canadian ones, too? One day, Dean…" He trailed off, moved along to the next item of business when he realized his brother's fury was worsening. Best move along. "Do you think the cult would really go after a four-year-old boy?" said Sam, dubious.

Dean shrugged, jaw set. "Anytime you have a bunch of people together, there's going to be kids. Didn't see any sign of them at the property, bikes, swing sets. Doesn't necessarily mean anything, of course." The parking lot just before the bridge was full to bursting, and Dean parallel-parked on the highway's shoulder, which was approximately fourteen inches wide.

"Dean?" asked Sam, confused.

"Get out. We're going to help in the search," said Dean, having removed his electromagnetic field meter from a bag in the backseat and tossed it to Sam, already jogging across the road towards another state cop speaking into a radio.

They learned that the search and rescue team was on its way, along with a police helicopter. There were policemen and members of the public combing the hillside, and Sam and Dean were directed to search the hillside reaching down to the water, to the west of the bridge. A path through the forest led down to a picnic area on the beach, and soon the Winchesters were slowly walking down the trail, peering into the underbrush for any sign of the missing boy. The shade was a welcome relief, although the air weighed heavily on Sam's skin, and he hadn't experienced humidity like this since that August in Virginia maybe six years ago.

They were almost down the bluff when, from inside his shorts pocket, came the beginnings of a cry from the EMF, and Sam stopped dead. They were a hundred yards from the ocean, where waves were crashing thunderously. He cautiously walked forward, and the wail strengthened. Another searcher appeared from around a switchback, heading uphill, and Sam hastily turned off the meter. "Any luck?" he asked.

"No," sighed the searcher, a man in his mid-forties, sweating through his blue t-shirt. "You?"

Dean shook his head, and they waited for the man to carry on before Sam flipped on the meter again. The electronic howl grew stronger as they neared the water; as they climbed over the array of driftwood on the edge of the beach, the shriek loudened enough that Sam turned it off again and said, "What could it possibly be? There's nothing out here." It was true. There was the sea, an expanse of sand, and while there had been people up on the hillside, searching, there were only a couple on the far end of the beach, near a headland.

"Could it be something in the water?" asked Dean. "Like, a leviathan, or a sea serpent? A water sprite?"

Sam shrugged. "Anything's possible. But—this doesn't make sense. How is this connected with the cult? Have they… bewitched the ocean? This doesn't make sense," he repeated.

Dean nodded. "Well, we have bigger problems now. If that little boy got down here, who knows what could have happened to him?"

They had walked less than a hundred yards along the shoreline, squinting into the dark forest, blocking the blinding sun with their upraised hands, when somebody came running behind them.

It was a deputy sheriff, clutching his hat in his hands. "Were you looking for the boy?"

"Yes," said Sam. "Is there news?"

The sheriff nodded quickly. "He's been found, back along the highway a quarter mile." He gestured to the east. "Seems he just wandered off from his parents, no foul play. He's all right, just a little scared. Thank you for your help." And he rushed off to tell the good news to the people down the beach.

Dean glanced at his brother. "Well, that was anticlimactic," he commented.

Sam nodded. "It's good, though. But that ocean…" Absently, he patted the EMF meter in his pocket as he frowned at the dark green water, which sloshed back and forth, seemingly benign; it was high tide and the moon hadn't shifted quite enough to send the ocean back out from shore.

"Let's go to Anacortes; we probably have time to hit one place there," said Dean, glancing at his watch. "We can think about this later."


Part Four: Saturday, July 8, evening

Woods are not like other spaces. To begin with, they are cubic. Their trees surround you, loom over you, press in from all sides. Woods choke off views and leave you muddled and without bearings. They make you feel small and confused and vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie and you know you are in a big space. Stand in a woods and you only sense it. They are a vast, featureless nowhere. And they are alive.

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods


Jasper Kelman stood at the window of his third-storey room. He gazed at the Strait of Juan de Fuca intensely, as if divining the future in the steady swells. Instead, he was remembering whence he had come.

He was thirty-two years old. He had spent most of his childhood near San Diego, California, and this heat was making him homesick. It rained entirely too much on this island, family estate or not. He endured the complaints of his followers, because many of them were unused to this temperature for such an extended period of time. What didn't kill you made you stronger. He knew that, had been reminded of it daily in his childhood. It had not been easy, but he had pulled through. It was survival of the fittest, only the strong survive, and damned if he was going to lose control now.

Although he had been raised to respect his elders, and especially the group leaders, when he was small, he held nothing but disdain for them now. It was contemptible, how they had sacrificed themselves for their cause. He had no intention of the doing the same. He had got out in time, before it had all ended. Had gone to college, double major in religious studies and psychology and it made him understand. If one did not understand one's enemies, one would surely underestimate them. And so it was with his followers. They were like sheep; he knew that. Knew his self-confidence was not misplaced. As he continued to look over the sea, the sunlight dancing among the waves, he knew this much was true.


Gabrielle Whitefeather's sister lived in a little Victorian house in Anacortes, on a block of Victorian houses. The house was three stories, with purple and white gingerbreading, and the siding was green. Sam knocked at the screen door.

A woman in her late twenties opened the door, holding a baby clad only in a diaper, in one arm. It was dark in the house, all lights off in a last-ditch hope to keep the place cool. "Hello," she said, looking curious. Probably wondering what they were selling, although they didn't carry clipboards or bags, and they weren't dressed like missionaries, either.

Sam said hello, and forgot entirely what cover they'd decided on in the car. He smiled brightly and nonchalantly kicked Dean in the ankle, hoping he would take over the conversation.

He was in luck. Dean introduced himself and Sam as investigators from Canada (Sam wondered inwardly if he'd ever been there, wondered if he could even name three Canadian cities), without specifying what they investigated on behalf of which government agency, though he did say that they were looking into the disappearance of a Canadian girl, almost a week earlier.

The woman paled. She had shiny black hair woven into a thick braid that stretched down her back, and the baby was clutching the neck of her white t-shirt, which she wore over cut-offs and bare feet.

"I understand that your sister disappeared under similar circumstances," said Sam, and the woman nodded. The baby made noises that clearly expressed its disapproval, and automatically its mother bounced up and down on the balls of her feet and began to hum quietly. "May we come in?"

Distractedly, the woman motioned them in. She led them to a family room that sported a TV, two love seats draped in Native American blankets patterned with stylized red and black eagles, a rocking chair, and a playpen, and about a hundred photographs, Dean figured by way of a rough estimate. The photos were all framed, and hung crowded together on the walls. Frames stood on top of the TV and on a bookshelf, but not on the end tables, presumably in deference to the baby, who, upon being placed on the ground, began to crawl at a surprising speed towards Dean.

Bemused, he stepped backwards into Sam, who laughed and enquired, "How old is she?" and only then did Dean recognize the baby as a girl.

"Ten months last Sunday," said the woman proudly, and a look of embarrassment crossed her face. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't introduce myself. I'm Evelyn Brady, and my daughter is Natalie. Please, have a seat."

Dean cautiously inched around the baby on the floor and settled into the chesterfield beside Sam, and Natalie immediately made a beeline for Dean. He looked down in horror at the girl, who grabbed at the cuffs of his jeans and tugged. He turned to Sam and mouthed, Help me.

Sam, on the other hand, appeared to be having a grand time. He was grinning and chatting with Evelyn—Dean heard fragments about the incessant heat and the cuteness of the baby—and didn't seem to have any intention of saving Dean at all. Similarly, Evelyn was quite calm and didn't seem troubled at all that her daughter was doing a fine job of intimidating a man nearly three decades her senior.

The baby clutched at his pant leg, pulling herself to her feet. She was a bit taller than Dean's knees, and she leaned on his leg, chubby arms encircling his left calf. She cooed and drool dripped down her chin. Easy does it, Dean counseled himself, as he shifted his leg to the right, trying to dislodge the kid, but Natalie lost her balance and face-planted into his shin, leaving wet smears on his jeans. She giggled, none the worse for wear, but Dean's heart was racing. Why wasn't anybody paying attention? One-against-three bar fights didn't faze him, but he never pretended to have the wherewithal to deal with a baby. Slowly, Dean became aware of a coolness in the room that had nothing to do with the temperature. He replayed Sam's last words in his head—these photographs: they're of your family? That's you…is that your sister?—and saw Evelyn take a deep breath and set her shoulders.

"Yes. Gabby. She took most of these photographs; it was a hobby of hers." Pause. "She disappeared last October, nine months ago. Her birthday was May third; she would have been twenty-six. It was so strange. She left work one day and just never arrived home." She shrugged. "She's a teacher, had just got her first full-time job at Island View Elementary, teaching second grade, and was so excited about it. She loved her class, loved teaching. And she had just gotten engaged. In fact, her fiancé was the one who realized she was missing—he went over to her apartment just before dinner and she wasn't there. It was so strange," she repeated, her voice weakening, and she bit her lip. "Excuse me," she said, and left the room.

"Could you do something about the baby?" asked Dean, sotto voce.

Sam grinned widely, watched the one-sided game of peek-a-boo as Natalie alternately buried her face in Dean's shin and then beamed up at him. "She's fine," he said.

"But I'm not!" Dean hissed, and then Evelyn was returning with a Kleenex in her hand.

Sam and Evelyn chatted for a few more minutes, until the telephone rang and Dean said that they would let themselves out. Which was easier said than done.

Evelyn went into the other room to grab the phone, Sam stood and began heading for the doorway, and Dean remained seated on the sofa. "Coming?" asked Sam, smirking.


"She won't bite," said Sam reassuringly, and paused. "Or, well, probably she won't. She's got like two teeth, Dean." Who stayed firmly on the chesterfield. "Oh, for crying out loud," he muttered, and bent and picked up the child. "You're free, Dean, from the clutches of a ten-month-old baby. She won't get to slobber on you anymore. You are victorious!" Evelyn appeared in the doorway and Sam handed over the baby, and he and Dean returned to the car.

The first five miles of the drive back to Whidbey were pure torture for Dean, as Sam teased him mercilessly. "I'm never letting you drive again," Dean growled eventually, and there was blessed silence. A couple of minutes later, when he realized that Sam was distracted and not purposely letting him be, he said, "Sam? Whatcha looking at?"

"A couple of cars back—you recognize that blue minivan?" Sam was twisted around in his seat in order to look out the back window. "Can't always see it; just when the road's straight for long enough."

"Not that again," grumbled Dean, but he obediently glanced in the rear-view mirror. "I see it. So what, Sam? There's like one road on this island. Sooner or later all the cars are going to look familiar."

"Yeah, well, just keep an eye on it, okay? 'Cause those people were weird."

There was quiet, again, until the car was off the highway and in downtown Oak Harbor and the van was clearly still behind them. Dean's brow was furrowed, and Sam was trying to get the license plate. "There we go," he said, as he scribbled it down on the back of a gas receipt. "You can call it in to your friends at the sheriff's tomorrow, get it traced. And now, we're going for dinner, right?"


It was close to nine o'clock by the time the Impala pulled alongside the gatehouse at Deception Pass State Park, next-door neighbor to the Kelman property which they intended to visit under the cloak of darkness. The ranger briskly informed them that the park closed at dusk; that the gates would be locked and they would be stuck. And there were no available campsites, either, so they couldn't stay overnight. And five dollars, please. Dean glanced between the matter-of-fact ranger on his left and his disbelieving brother on the right, and eventually made a U-turn and returned to the highway. "Guess we park here," he said, pulling into the lot of a convenience store, "for free, and hoof it."

They hiked—and it was a mile-long walk—down to the parking lot and picnic area nestled between the Pacific Ocean and Cranberry Lake. "There's no shortage of lakes around here," Sam remarked. "And the whole concept of a lake on an island—it seems so strange."

"Hey, no need to get philosophical, college boy," said Dean, popping the trunk. Despite the hour, the parking lot was fairly full, and there were people everywhere, from the campground, too, getting ready to watch the sun set. Kids put the finishing touches on sandcastles that would be washed away by morning, and people still swam in Cranberry Lake.

Though the sun was low on the horizon, would only be showing itself for another ten minutes, the heat was still overpowering. It was cooler than it had been at midday, but Dean found himself sweating as they set out on a paved trail that lead southwards along the shore. Upon leaving the parking lot and swimming area, the path cut through a desert. A hundred-yard swath of rolling sand dunes and desert grasses separated the beach from the coniferous forest, and, except for the salt air, it felt like Arizona.

They passed a couple in their thirties, whose two young children orbited them repeatedly and at speed, and the man said, "Nice evening."

"Yes," Sam agreed. "But so hot."

"It's so strange," nodded the woman. "Have a good day."

"So strange," echoed Dean, but they'd passed the couple already and Sam was confused. "Look at that tree." And Dean began cutting cross-country through the sand.

It resembled a tree in the same way a Labrador retriever raised in a family of felines acts like a dog. It was no more than twenty-five feet tall, but its trunk was a couple of feet in diameter, and it made up for its height deficiency in width. Branches twisted and bent every which way, and the grain of the bark was wrapped around the length of the limbs. There was a worn patch on a horizontal branch about three feet off the sand, where clearly thousands of people had stepped, boosting themselves up into the hodgepodge of boughs. A pitiful fence surrounded half the tree, a vain effort to prevent tourists climbing the tree and damaging it.

Mesmerized in the half-light of the setting sun, Dean walked steadily towards the tree, stepping over the fence without heed, and in the blink of an eye, was twelve feet off the ground.

"Dean? We don't have time for this; we want to get over there while it's still light." Sam turned back towards the path.


"Yeah?" Sighing, he glanced over his shoulder at his brother.

"It's cold up here."

There was a pause, then Sam hurried over to the tree. "I don't smell sulfur." He squinted up into the shadows. He could see glimpses of purple sky above Dean, through the unholy tangle of branches. There was a flurry of activity, and Dean cursed and something fell to the ground and landed at Sam's feet.

"Does it still work?"

Sam picked up the EMF meter and flicked the switch; the wailing was high-pitched and instantaneous. The red diodes blinked furiously, and Sam swiftly turned the device off. "Clearly," he said dryly.

The brothers returned to the path and trekked southwards, to the property abutting the state park. Sam cautiously pulled out the EMF meter again, but this time, nothing happened. Exchanging a glance with Dean, Sam left it on, and they began creeping into the forest. There was silence, aside from the never-ending roar of the sea. They were too far from the highway to hear traffic, and too far from the parking lot to hear campers. The forest was dense; they clambered up and over fallen trees and skirted around rhododendron bushes as big as trucks and waded through ferns taller than Sam.

When they nearly fell into the clearing that surrounded the house, Dean decided it was time for the flashlights to come out. They stayed amongst the trees at the edge of the woods, circumnavigating the yard, getting the lay of the land.

The gravel driveway led to both the house and a bulky two-storey structure with four garage doors. The yard was mostly grassed, cutting a circle a hundred and fifty feet in diameter in the forest, with some flowerbeds surrounding the house. There was a long clothesline that reached from the back patio to a magnificent cedar tree on the lawn's edge. On the ocean side, only a few trees stood between the house and the sea, leaving what was, in daylight, a beautiful view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Though it was not yet ten o'clock, all the lights in the house were off and all was quiet. The Winchesters began exploring the rest of the property, several acres, and as they bushwhacked through the undergrowth, the telltale whine of the EMF meter began. Soon, they came across another, smaller, clearing in the trees, with a fire pit in the middle, and some benches encircling it. They inspected the whole area thoroughly by flashlight, and Sam stopped near the fire. "Is this blood, do you think?"

Dean came over and bent down, and scuffed at the stained earth with the toe of his shoe. "Could be."

Finding nothing else of interest on the property, at least in the dark, they headed back to the house. Dean peered into a garage window, shining his flashlight inside. "There's a cow in there!" he whispered to Sam, and Sam rushed over to have a look.

"So there is. Confirms the cattle rustling, I guess," he grinned. "So they steal the cows and… and kill them here? Easier than mutilating them in the farmer's field? But… how do you transport a cow?"

"With that." Dean pointed towards a horse trailer barely visible in the shadows of the garage. The flashlight's beam didn't extend quite far enough. "And… Damn."

Sam knew immediately what he was talking about. The infamous blue van—although it had a grayish tint in the dimness—was parked next to the trailer. "Tomorrow morning we've got to go out to Pass Island and figure out what they were burying by that tree. Or whatever they were doing. Because maybe they were doing something to the water which made it react to the EMF meter."

"Maybe," said Dean, a hint of doubt still in his voice. "Meantime, let's head home. We've got a half-hour walk back to the car."


Part Five: Sunday, July 9, morning

My atoms, moreover, are arranged to make me constitutionally inclined to believe that where there's smoke there's usually strawberry Jello, seldom fire.

J.D. Salinger, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, An Introduction


There was no air conditioning at the motel, because this part of the world so rarely needed it. There was a large, clunky electric fan and furnace combination that sat beneath the window; Sam had turned the fan on Friday evening when they'd arrived, but it had yet to displace the room's stuffy air. In fact, Dean had become convinced that the fan expended more energy making noise than blowing air. He had stayed at motels where the breeze created by the lowest setting could be felt at the far wall. He would have given his left arm for such a fan now.

Sleep was elusive. Blankets and sweaty sheets were kicked to the floor, and even with the window wide open, the air felt used. Recycled. Like it was the same air that guests had been breathing in May. And so the brothers rose early, and ate breakfast at the diner across the street before heading over to the Kelman property again, and Dean forwent coffee because he could not conceive of consuming a hot beverage even at seven this morning.

The diner had been fairly empty, but what conversation there was was dominated by the outrageous weather. Not the temperature, although it was considerable, so much as the still air and the humidity. It was an island. It was nothing but coast. There had always been a breeze off the water, drawing away the moist air. Sequim, Fort Townsend, Mukilteo—towns off the island—were experiencing, of course, the heat wave, but there it was mitigated some by the ever-present wind. On Whidbey, they were not so lucky.

On the telephone on Thursday, Sam had asked Anne Edwards to e-mail him a recent photograph of Celia. She had scanned and sent them a studio portrait of an oval-faced girl, with brown eyes and long brown hair, smiling widely and revealing teeth that would have made an orthodontist proud; a strip of four tiny photos, from a curtained booth in a mall, of two girls mugging for the camera, labeled as Celia and her sister, in case they cared; a candid of Celia wearing red- and white-striped pajamas and opening a gift ("Christmas 2005 at my mother's in Edmonton"); a photo of Celia holding a small, fluffy, white dog, whom Dean thought resembled an angora cat sooner than anything canine; and a picture at a black-tie event of "Celia and her boyfriend, David Huang", on the off-chance that they would recognize the name.

The girl from the many and varied photographs was currently hanging laundry up to dry on the clothesline in the yard of the Kelman property, although Dean was fairly sure it was an exercise in futility; in the damp, heavy air, the clothes would probably end up wetter than they'd started.

He turned his attention to the house. This time, the welcoming party hadn't greeted them, since the Winchesters had walked in silently, leaving the car up by the highway, and neither of the two women outside had noticed them yet. He strolled up to the back patio and cleared his throat.

Celia and the other woman, who was watering the garden, started in surprise. "Hello, ladies," said Dean, smiling his most charming smile. "My name is Dean and this is my brother, Sam, and—Celia?—we happen to know your mother."

Nothing like putting people at ease, thought Sam, and quickly interjected, "We've only spoken on the phone, never actually met her, but she asked us to look for you." And realized he'd just made things a hundred times worse. "She's worried about you," he added, an instant before the woman with the hose screamed.

"Help! Help!"

Help? thought Dean. Overreacting much? It wasn't like they were actually doing anything.

"No, no, it's okay," said Sam, doing his best to look sweet and innocent and entirely incapable of harming a fly. "We just want to talk to you. Make sure you're okay." His puppy-dog eyes didn't appear to be having any effect on the screaming woman, however, and at any rate, it was too late. Half a dozen men burst from the house, weapons drawn.

Sam cut his eyes towards Dean, who had raised both hands in surrender. "Whoa," he said. "Calm down. We don't mean anything. Just wanted to have a friendly conversation with Celia here." Celia, in fact, seemed to be the only one in the entire crowd who was unaffected by the brothers' sudden appearance. She stared, somewhat disbelievingly, at each Winchester in turn.

"It is you, again," said a sharp voice, and Dean recognized it as belonging to the blond man they'd met the previous day. Jasper Kelman? "You will not return," he announced. "If you do, you will be shot on sight. You have been sufficiently warned, and this is private property. Escort them to the road, men," he ordered.

"We're leaving, we're leaving, calm down a little," said Dean, and began backing again. He didn't turn his back until he and Sam had gone far enough up the driveway that the house was obscured. "So that was productive," he remarked.

"Quite," Sam agreed dryly. "Been a while since a human..." There was a silence as they both remembered their time in Hibbing, Minnesota, in which Sam had been kidnapped by, of all things, people.

Dean cleared his throat as if it would clear the air. He sounded a bit too casual as he said to Sam, "Next stop, Pass Island."


They listened to the radio as they drove, and this time they got the marine forecast. Finally, this afternoon, there were to be thundershowers. Dean, usually not so much of a fan of rain, was thrilled. "Get rid of some of this heat," he muttered.

"And there'll be wind," reveled Sam, as the meteorologist waxed rhapsodic about gusts of fifty knots out of the southeast or northwest, or something. For the entire area, not just everything-but-Whidbey-Island.

Dean heard the fifty knots, and though of course it was nautical miles, as always when he heard knots he remembered the first time he was on the coast, when he was six years old and in the midst of learning to tie shoelaces, and a big part of his life back then was untying knots… and it wasn't so different now.

They had missing people, at least one of whom apparently hadn't willingly joined the cult. They had inexplicable power outages. They had plagues. They had murdered cows. They had the defacement of a tree. And they had no wind. How were all these things tied together?

Dean parked in the lot that now felt as familiar as the heat. He cast an appraising eye at the tourists milling about, and carefully packed two handguns loaded with rock salt into a small backpack, along with a vial of holy water, a box of salt, the EMF meter, and a small spade. He would have preferred to have tucked a gun into the back of his jeans, but he could not plausibly wear a coat to hide it, not in this weather.

Sam reached over and removed the EMF meter. "Don't bother," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because you can't use it in the midst of dozens of people, Dean! If it wails? It'll attract all kinds of unwanted attention. Why the hell do we have an EMF meter that makes noise?"

Dean gaped at his brother, wondering where the sudden rage had come from. Well, not rage exactly. More like profound annoyance. Or perhaps deep frustration. He didn't answer—had nothing to say. Except, childishly:

"You're the one who's yelling in a public area."

Sam rolled his eyes so hard that, for an instant, Dean thought they would keep going on and out his ears.

They didn't, and instead fixed his older brother in a fierce glare. "You're the one who keeps bringing up my going away to school."

It took Dean a moment to realize that Sam was referring, albeit circuitously, to Dean's comment about the West Coast and its crazies. "You're still thinking about that? I said that yesterday."

"You're still thinking about that?" parroted Sam. "It happened four years ago."

"It happened? You left, Sam!" Despite his admonishment of Sam, it was Dean's voice that was rising, and he could feel the uncomfortable glances of passers-by. He didn't care, although they didn't usually air their dirty laundry in public. Actually, they didn't usually air their dirty laundry, period. And what had sparked this, again?

Sam took a deep breath. This was a pointless, roundabout, indirect argument if there ever was one. And he'd sort of started it. It was the heat, he rationalized, and knew he was rationalizing, the heat and humidity that made people act crazy. "And I won't again, Dean, not yet, not for a long while. Okay? Can we… just, you know, relax? Get on with this?"

It was possibly the first time ever that Sam had declined to talk about something, but Dean was relieved. The air was palpable enough without any tension between himself and Sam. "Truce," nodded Dean. He jerked his head towards the bridge. "Let's hit the road."


"I'm gonna get heatstroke," complained Dean. It was the first that either of them had spoken since the car. They were standing in front of the defaced arbutus tree, which didn't appear overly defaced. Since the red-brick bark of the tree shed on its own, it was hard to tell what had peeled naturally and what had been peeled by man.

"If you'd wear shorts like a normal person, it wouldn't be so bad," said Sam, trying very hard to keep his tone light.

"Normal?" repeated Dean.

"Oh, forget it," sighed Sam. "Got the spade?"

Dean pulled it from his bag, knelt, and began scraping away leaves and loose soil from the base of the tree, utterly oblivious to the curious stares of the traveling public. "Necklace broke," Sam explained helpfully, "pieces scattered all over. Family heirloom," he added, and the tourists nodded dubiously.

When one offered to help search, Dean could only imagine Sam gesturing wildly with both hands as he heard the rambling refusal.


"Yeah?" After a quick check to make sure the coast was clear, Sam crouched down beside his brother. "What's that?"

"Got me." Dean had excavated a block of wood about the size of a pencil box. The earth around it seemed greyer and finer than the topsoil.

"Ashes," said Dean, and pinched a bit and rubbed it between his fingers. He lifted the piece of wood and realized it was a box. He pulled off the lid and frowned at the contents. "What the hell?"

Abruptly, Sam recalled that they were in a public place, not the most appropriate location for either an archaeological dig or the exploration of a paranormal object. Pandora's Box and all. "Let's take it back to the car, at least, before a park ranger comes along."

"Yeah." Dean packed everything into his bag and kicked his piles of dirt back into the hole. "Let's go."


It was frustrating. Jasper Kelman saw the fruits of his labors, and he took what pleasure he could out of it. But the plagues, and the island had seen four of them so far, did not seem to be having the desired effect. The newspapers, admittedly, had a field day each time there was a new one, but they were reported as freaks of nature. Cosmic phenomena.

In fact, the frogs were laughed at by the citizenry. The locusts? Taken in stride. By the time the lice outbreak came around, there were tongue-in-cheek comments about the biblical plagues, but no one took the idea seriously. It angered him that his work was being ignored—and it grew worse. His blood-dimmed waters, the red tide? Although he and his followers were grateful, had thanked the spirit profusely, the public paid it no heed whatsoever. He worried that the spirit would be offended. Would no longer grant him the power to punish the country as he saw fit.

He knew, too, that worry never helped anyone. He would be stoic, he told himself; in fact, he would be optimistic. He would trust. He would not have a crisis of faith. Those, he reminded himself, were for the weak of heart, those who lacked conviction. Mere mortals. Pawns. Jasper Kelman took orders from no man.


"We still haven't gone and seen all of the families of the missing people," said Sam half an hour later. They'd inspected the box thoroughly. Its inside surfaces were elaborately etched and stained burgundy with something Sam hoped wasn't blood. It held a handful of scorched scraps of cloth and three pieces of arbutus bark that looked like cinnamon sticks.

"Right. And you'll need a library to sort out those drawings," said Dean. "I'll drop you off and then go and see the families. Hope we're done before the storm."

While the sky overhead was still clear as a bell, and the air steamy, above the horizon gathered menacing, dark clouds, worthy of a volcanic eruption.

"Speaking of families. We should probably call Anne Edwards."

Dean wrinkled his nose. "Or not," he said. "I mean, all we can tell her at this point is where Celia is, which she already knows."

Sam shook his head. "She must be out of her mind with worry."

"Wouldn't be any different from normal, then," said Dean unkindly.

"She's upset," allowed Sam, "but I think her daughter's in real trouble anyway!"

Dean sighed. "You want to call, you call."

There was a pregnant pause, and Sam, without looking at Dean, said, "Maybe I'll wait till tonight."


The library had been a nice thought, until they'd arrived in Oak Harbor and discovered it wasn't open on Sundays in the summer. It had left Dean muttering, again, about backwoods towns, but Sam had shrugged, undeterred, and said he'd find an Internet café to hang out in until Dean returned.

"I'll probably be awhile," warned Dean. "It'll be an hour of driving, and talking to three people…"

"I'm sure I find something to do, Dean; I'm a grown man. I can amuse myself," said Sam, rolling his eyes.

"I bet you can," smirked Dean, and Sam swatted him on the arm, but lightly, because they were driving.

They stopped at a café long enough for Dean to scribble down driving directions off the Internet, and then he left, off to Coupeville, Cornet Bay, and Anacortes.

Sam sipped a latte and poked around on Google, searching for an explanation behind the symbols in the box. The staining on the wood made it difficult to see all the lines etched in the wood—burnt into the wood?—but Sam could make out concentric circles and vague triangular shapes. He got nowhere, until he began brainstorming other possibilities of what the lines were. Could be spirals, not concentric circles. Could be swirls, like smoke. Would tie in with the scorched fabric. Could be scribbles, he thought wryly, and I'm just wasting my time.

Finally, when he typed in gyre—he'd been reduced to typing in synonyms for circle and spiral and swirl—he figured it out. He could blame, of all things, literature for the cult. Turned out, William Butler Yeats had been into weird spiritual things. He'd written a somewhat apocalyptic poem in which he described his beliefs, which included human history falling into two-thousand-year cycles. It had been nearly a century ago that he'd written it, and the end of the cycle, he thought, was the Russian Revolution. The symbols in the box were interlocking conical spirals, which apparently represented the patterns and phases of life.

It didn't quite make sense, but Sam was used to that with the supernatural. Dean had said more than once that it was demons he got, and people were crazy, but Sam disagreed. It was all a matter of knowing what drove people. Figure out which base desires—and humanity was savage at heart—were motivating a person, and you know what he'll do. Demons, on the other hand, thought Sam, were a whole 'nother ball of wax.

Take Jasper Kelman, for example. Cultic leaders were power-hungry, essentially. Charismatic, sociopathic. Sometimes idealistic. So he wanted more followers, so he did something drastic. What, exactly, Sam didn't know, but he'd figure it out eventually. Somehow his spiral box was—

And Sam realized that he didn't actually have any proof that Jasper Kelman was at fault for any of it.

The EMF meter hadn't reacted at the house. It had reacted, but mildly, by the fire pit. Could have been residual noise from sacrificing the cow, or whatever they'd done.

The power outages, the missing people? It was anybody's guess.


Dean had had about enough of strange people. First, there was Jasper Kelman and cohorts. Then there was that baby at Evelyn Brady's, and then one of the mothers he talked to insisted on riding her exercise bicycle throughout the conversation (he'd arrived mid-workout), and another family wouldn't speak to him at all, and the last mother had decorated her house entirely in pink. It was unnatural.

None of the missing women had been particularly mentally or emotionally unstable prior to their disappearances, which would seem to disprove the idea of their having willingly joined a cult. And aside from their being women of similar ages—they ranged between twenty and twenty-seven years old—there was only one other commonality between them. They were all engaged in be married. It had to mean something. He took out his cell phone to call Sam, and groaned when he saw it was off and it wouldn't turn on. The battery was dead. He supposed it was to be expected—he couldn't remember the last time he'd charged it. Maybe in South Dakota?

So he went the old-fashioned route and ponied up thirty-five cents to a pay phone. He dialed Sam's number, but the phone just rang and rang.


Sam had been getting antsy for a while; all this uncertainty about whether Jasper Kelman was to blame for anything at all was itching at him. And it might have been the closeness of the heavens, too: the sun had been blotted out by thick clouds, making dusk come hours early, and the air felt electric, overripe, this close to combusting.

The radio in the coffee shop was playing soft jazz out of Seattle, though the music stopped for the eleven o'clock news. Sam half-listened until he heard fishing boat missing and home port of Oak Harbor. And then the entire café quieted, and the barista turned up the volume. When the announcer had moved on to international news, the clientele began speaking in hushed voices.

"Three missing people, this time."

"Hasn't been a boat before."

"Poor woman, her husband and brother and daughter all missing!"

"Why, I can't recall the last time a boat went down in calm waters…"

And Sam was sure it was related to the other missing people.


Part Six: Sunday, July 9, noon

The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Albert Einstein


Packing up at the coffee shop, Sam called Dean, left a message when there, oddly enough, was no answer, and headed down to the wharf. He wandered through the streets toward the bay, found the docks and joined the crowds of concerned townspeople, officers of the law, and television news crews. He heard Coastguard's been searching all morning and God, let them be all right and Why didn't they take this seriously when the first girl disappeared?

He saw a sheriff's car pull up, and he walked closer until he could read the nametag. "Excuse me, Sheriff Douglas, I'm Sam Walker of the RCMP—I believe you met my partner Dean yesterday?"

The sheriff nodded distractedly, listening to Sam and to the squawking from the radio at his belt and scanning the harbor, too.

Sam asked for the latest on the fishing boat.

"I don't know anything either; been in church with my pager off until just now; why don't you come with me and Clark'll catch us up." He jerked his chin towards a trio of officers standing on the dock near an empty berth.



They really didn't know very much. The boat had left port at six that morning, had been in radio contact with a couple of other boats in the next hour, and when Mrs Greene, the wife of the missing captain, had called her daughter's cell phone at seven-thirty, there was no answer. Sam knew what that was like, and he unconsciously patted the phone in his pocket. Dean should be back to pick him up soon.

Mrs Greene didn't panic, not right away. She tried calling again, after eight, and had no luck. Mildly concerned, she called a friend of her husband's and asked him to try radioing her husband.

When he called back ten minutes later and said that he'd been unable to raise Jim Greene, she had called the Coast Guard.

"I'm probably overreacting," she'd apologized to the officer who'd answered the phone. "Probably everything's okay. But Jim is always listening to the radio, loves chatting with everybody. And it's not like Amy to ignore her phone…"

The police were contacted, and search and rescue ships began patrolling the area. When the Greenes had last been heard from, they'd been near the Swinomish Indian Reservation and were headed towards Deception Pass. They hadn't gone out on the boat for the purpose of commercial fishing; Jim and his brother, Paul, had enough of that the other six days of the week. Today, they were just going to set some crab pots out and enjoy the salt air. Even with no wind, it would be cooler on the water than ashore.

When Sheriff Douglas had announced that he would take a boat and go into the Pass and join the search, he hadn't objected to Sam's continuing presence. In fact, he hardly seemed to notice him at all, so intent was he on his job. Sam didn't mind; he could listen to the speculation and think on what it could all mean. He tried calling Dean again, before boarding the Coast Guard vessel, but it went straight to voicemail and he hung up in disgust. What was the point in having a cell phone if you didn't turn it on?


Dean redialed, in case Sam hadn't had enough time to get to the phone. Rang and rang, and went to voicemail again. If that kid had his phone set to silent

"Sam, answer your damned phone! Mine's dead; I'm calling from a pay phone. I'll pick you up in twenty minutes. Bye."

Dean dropped the cell to the seat beside him as he drove back to Oak Harbor. When he got to the coffee shop, he parked and went in, intent on delivering to Sam a stern lecture on the point of cell phones. You have one so I can reach you at all times.

Sam wasn't sitting at the table where Dean had left him. He scanned the room, but the more he looked, the more Sam wasn't there.

Could be in the john, he supposed, and checked. No go. He approached the cashier. "Hi, uh, I was supposed to meet my brother here—tall, mop of brown hair, with a laptop, woulda drunk something froufrou?"

The barista giggled. "Think he was here for a while. Left maybe… It was before my break. Say, an hour ago?"

Dean glanced at his watch. It was quarter past twelve. "Thanks." He sat at a table while he mulled things over.

Sam would have called him before going anywhere. Dean thought dark thoughts about his cell phone, now useless. He was fairly certain that there was a way to access his messages from another phone, but hell if he knew what it was. He could go across town and plug in the cell at the motel, but he'd have to stay there and wait for it to charge. Why didn't he own a car charger?

Dean sidled up to the counter, had to wait a few minutes because it was suddenly busy. Lunchtime.

"Do you happen to know where my brother went? Because I was supposed to meet him here now."

"Sorry, I don't. Can I get you anything?"

"Did he leave in a rush? Did he—"

"What would you like to drink?"

"Coffee," he answered reflexively. "Did you see him use a cell phone?"

"A dollar eighty-nine, please. I dunno; I wasn't watching. Too busy listening to the radio."

"The radio?" Listening hard, Dean could only just hear smooth jazz in the background, under the murmur of the patrons.

"Haven't you heard? Here's your coffee: a dollar eighty-nine, please. A fishing boat was lost with all hands early this morning."

Dean dug into his pocket for change. "Whereabouts?"

"Not sure; the boat was headed to the strait from here." A shrug. "Have a good day. What can I get for you?"

She was speaking to the next customer, and Dean reluctantly took his coffee—why had he ordered coffee?—and left.

He stood in the parking lot, leaning against the Impala's hood and sipping the coffee absently as he considered his next step. He should try calling Sam again, and then head to the harbor. Figure out where the boat moored. See if anybody was around to talk to. Put in a call to his new friends at the sheriff's office. Drop his cell off at the motel and set it to charging.

Dean heard the low growl of thunder over the hum of traffic. He turned towards the sound, and waited a few minutes until he saw a flash of lightning. He counted the seconds until the thunder answered—the storm was maybe three miles away. It wouldn't be long.

He took a moment to find a windbreaker in the car, so it would be handy when he needed it. He found a gas station, called Sam—no answer—and drove towards the ocean.

It wasn't hard to find: when he turned onto the road that circled the waterfront, he spotted almost instantly the flashing red and blue lights and followed them like a beacon until he reached the docks. He parked on the side of the road and sauntered towards the crowd.

He recognized a few of the officers from his visit to the police station yesterday, and he realized he could kill two birds with one stone.


Jasper Kelman considered the plagues that remained. He could do hail, but it was supposed to storm that afternoon anyway, so nobody would realize that the hail was his doing. They would think it was coincidental. Same with the darkness. Today, nature was already dreary enough.

He could do boils. That would be humorous, he thought. On the other hand, it was a bit like the lice. He should try for something original. The deaths of the firstborn sons? That was kind of drastic, and besides, people were already disappearing left, right and centre. Which was a weird coincidence, he had to admit. Probably a serial killer on the loose.

No, he wanted to do something else…


The rain began when they turned west and entered Deception Pass. Suddenly the sky descended upon them and Sam watched both spans of the bridge disappear as the visibility dropped to yards. In the pilothouse of the ship were Sam and the sheriff and half a dozen Coast Guard workers, whatever they were called—he hadn't been introduced, but it didn't seem to matter; in the face of disaster, they were professional if unsociable, serious expressions and terse words and not a wasted movement.

One person, a woman a bit older than Dean, manned the radio and unceasingly tried to raise the Greenes' vessel. There was other instrumentation that a couple of men were monitoring, and Sam saw Douglas conversing behind cupped hands with the helmsman. They needn't have bothered; between the roar of the engine and the churning of the sea, Sam could have stood three feet away and not heard a word.

Sam soon grew bored. He wished that Dean had answered his phone, so that they both would be here, so that it wouldn't be so dull. He couldn't see anything, couldn't hear anything, and there was nothing to do. He stared out the windows because it was better than staring at the walls. He eyed the door that led out onto the deck with interest, until he remembered the rain. Suddenly one of the officers, whose nametag read Jones, was beside him and shouted, "There's foul-weather gear in this cupboard."

Nodding his thanks, Sam dug around in the jam-packed closet until he'd extracted a large yellow survival suit, a pair of coveralls. He pulled them on, tightened the ties of the hood. He walked to the door, sort of waved, although only the sheriff was looking, and braved the storm.

He heard the crack of thunder, but even the lightning was obscured by the fog. The view was much the same as it was inside. His shoes were instantly wet through. He heard yelling behind him, as he stood at the deck rail, and turned to see Jones through the cracked-open glass door, bright yellow gumboots dangling from the one hand extended out into the tumult.

Sam nodded and took the boots, shucked his shoes and slid his feet into the boots which were surprisingly roomy. He was now yellow from head to toe, with only his face exposed. He returned to the left side of the boat—the port side, he reminded himself—and gazed down into the roiling waters. He could see about fifty feet out, and there was nothing but white on the crests of the waves and grey-green in the troughs. Before they'd left Oak Harbor, he'd heard somebody mentioned that the seas were six feet in the open water. There was no perspective here, nothing but up and down and grey and unsteady, and he had never felt so alone, so insignificant, in his life.

There was no sensation of forward movement, other than the rush of wet air moving aft, and for all Sam knew, the captain had stopped the ship and set anchor. The water churned, and suddenly Sam realized the rush of air was coming from behind.

He ran to the starboard rail, and held out one hand and sure enough, he felt wind. He threw open the pilothouse door. "It's windy!" he cried, and without exception, its occupants stared at him blandly.

"'Bout thirty knots," said one of the men finally.

Sam bit his lip and nodded and gestured over his shoulder vaguely in an aborted attempt to explain himself. He gave a tight smile, and shut the door. All right, Sam thought, guess wind in a thunderstorm isn't so unusual. But, after days of calm… it was strange, wasn't it?

And then he saw something in the waters, something that was there and then gone behind a wave, and he squinted hard, willing it to appear in the next trough. In his peripheral vision, there was a flash of something not-grey, and he turned, his attention diverted. He hurried to the bow of the ship and then, just below the surface, as if reflected in a mirror, he saw a face.


Next part of Troubled Waters.