For Miriam on Supernaturalville - for her unfailing encouragement.
Well, here we are again - it's been awhile, hasn't it?
This one came to me out of nowhere....well, sort of. I was defrosting the chest freezer, and my hands were going numb pulling out the frozen food from the baskets. By the time I'd finished, my freaky brain latched onto "numb hands" and shot off for a while. When it came back, it was dragging this story idea and waving madly at me, so I finished off the freezer, fired up the computer, and hammered this out.
So here we go - hope you like it.
Awesome banner as always by the incomparable Chasidern. Another pretty for my collection.
JulesDig – by Mizpah Engaged in a frantic race against time, only one thought uppermost in his head....dig, damn you – dig!
I couldn’t feel my hands any more.
How long had I been at this? Seconds? Minutes? Hours? I had no idea. All I knew was the choking fear clawing at my throat, the numbing cold that surrounded me like a wet, cloying blanket, the soft scrape of my fingers in the semi-compacted snow, and the one thought repeating over and over in my mind in an endless frantic litany – dig.
He’d been right there, right by my side. Just out of arms’ reach, but there. All I’d had to do was turn my head a fraction of an inch, and I could see him. He should have been safe. How could I have let this happen? Why wasn’t I faster?
It was supposed to be a simple salt and burn. Even the snow hadn’t been that much of a barrier. Sure, it had made the ground harder than usual, but I was strong and fit; and I’d gotten used to digging graves. Used to digging....
Keep digging, damn you. Dig!
I could see it all replaying in my mind as if I was watching a movie – the faint crackle and the sharp smell of ozone as the spirit materialised between us, his head whipping around to stare at me through the misty shape, eyes wide in dawning horror. The spirit’s triumphant smirk as it darted towards its target, the frantic twist of his body as he tried desperately to get out of the way. A rushing wall of white accompanied by a dull roar; the splintering crack of the ground giving way beneath his feet. The last-minute lunge that had my fingers just barely brushing the edge of his too-thin jacket; close enough to touch but not close enough to grab hold.
One last glimpse of his terrified face as he disappeared, and the obscenely gentle whoosh of falling snow that covered him like a blanket, burying him alive...
Bile rose in my throat, but I forced it down, digging my reddened fingers deep into the dirt-speckled snow and throwing handfuls of the stuff over my shoulder. I refused to give in to the fear that was hammering through my veins like a pulse gone mad. If I gave in, if I let it take hold, then everything was lost. I had to keep my head.
Had to keep digging.
My hands were unfeeling lumps of red meat, frozen into claws by the cold, wet snow. Useful only for shovelling the slush out of the way.
We should have had gloves – warm, fleece-lined nylon, supple and durable; or even fuzzy woollen mittens. Heavy winter jackets, comforting in their thickness, with hoods for extra protection against the elements. Fur-lined boots to keep out the creeping chill of damp snow. A roaring fire, a glass of whiskey....
Resolutely I shook my head and shifted position, widening the hole that I was working on. I was down about a foot and a half now. Surely I was getting close.
How long had it been now? Days? Weeks? Time stretched and shrunk like a rubber band. I felt as though I’d been here forever, knees slowly sinking into the thick carpet of snow, scooping out handfuls of the stuff like a kid on the beach playing in sand. Or a dog digging up a favourite bone.
Keep digging. Had to keep digging.
The cold settled over my body, penetrating right to my bones. It slowed my movements, slowed my mind, allowing despair to creep in through the cracks in my skin. Tears leaked from my burning eyes and froze on my face as I continued to dig, whispering a half-forgotten prayer to a God I’d long since stopped believing in. How long could someone survive under all that snow? Had there been air pockets formed when the ground gave way? How deep was this God-damned frigging hole?
“Dig, damn you, dig!”
I looked for blood, trying not to let the images of a crushed and broken body fill my mind. Blood could mean just a scratch, probably garnered in the fall. Or it could mean...no, no, I wasn’t going there. I wasn’t. Blood, hair, a scrap of cloth, a patch of skin – anything. God, please, just...
The burn in my shoulders made me straighten up temporarily, stretching abused muscles that were beginning to protest the awkward position they’d been forced to work in. I couldn’t feel my hands, couldn’t feel my face, but I clumsily swiped at the frozen tears on my cheeks, knocking the tiny icicles to the ground before shifting to a new spot. I could have made faster work with the shovel that was lying nearby, discarded when the ground had given way, but there was too great a risk that I’d accidentally hit living flesh.
He should have been safe. I should have been able to save him. Should have been faster, more alert. Should have...
A scream of rage and panic tried to claw its way past the growing lump in my throat, but I swallowed it back down. I couldn’t let the terror have free rein. If I lost it now...
Shaking my head, I renewed my attack on the snow-packed ground.
I’d heard once about panic overtaking soldiers in the field, had seen part of an old documentary on paratroopers in the Ardennes forest during World War Two. One of the veterans interviewed recounted the tale of a young private trying to dig a foxhole with his bare hands. I felt like that young private now, frantic with worry and remorse, fear flailing against my bowed back like a whip, cracked blue-tinged hands scrabbling at the frozen ground.
How deep did I have to go? How long had it taken me to get this far? Months? Years?
The spirit was gone, burned up in a spectacular display of flaming sparks. I’d had to take care of the threat first. I couldn’t run the risk of her coming back and dragging me away from my rescue mission. Couldn’t let her delay me for one more second.
How many seconds did...no, I wasn’t going there. Had to focus. Had to keep digging.
My hands would have been a bleeding mess if they hadn’t been so frozen. The cold had numbed them right up to my wrists. I couldn’t feel a thing as I dug and scooped and tossed the slushy ice. Couldn’t feel anything except for the growing fear that threatened to paralyse me.
We should have been safe. I hadn’t counted on the spirit fighting back. And all it had taken was one second’s inattention for disaster to strike. One second that was now stretched into eternity as I burrowed my way through the frozen ground in a desperate race against time.
“What if I’m too late?”
I froze, shocked that I’d actually voiced the thought out loud. Blued hands rested on the edge of the hole as I sat back on my heels and stared into the distance, my shoulders sagging in defeat. What if I was too late? What if – what if it was all for nothing? What if the fall had crushed...if there was no air...if the spirit had....
If I was too late, if I reached my goal only to find cold, dead flesh and sightless eyes, I didn’t know what I’d do next. I wouldn’t be able to go on. I couldn’t...
My whole life was buried in that God-forsaken hole.
“God-damn you, Winchester, dig! Dig, damn you to hell! Don’t you frigging give up!”
Because if I gave up, then I’d truly be in hell. Hell on earth. Or I’d just eat a bullet right there, and have done with it.
Forcing my protesting body lower, I renewed my attack on the snow that had swallowed my reason for living, unfeeling hands gnarled and blue against the cold white mess.
I was down about three feet now, lying flat on my belly with my head hanging over the edge of the pit I was excavating. The snow was becoming a dirty brown, mixed heavily with loose soil and a little easier to scrape away. My back became littered with it as I tossed each handful carelessly over my shoulders. But I didn’t care. I just needed to keep digging.
Nothing else mattered.
Vaguely, one part of my mind began to analyse the dirt. Back when research and learning had been a joy instead of a life-or-death necessity, I’d done a study once on the various types of soils. And digging graves kind of made one an expert in dirt. This was dark and loamy – good soil for growing things in. Out of place in a graveyard, where the ground should have been dry and lifeless.
I practically threw myself into the hole, my numbed hands a blur as I scrabbled in the dirty snow like a dog. With my legs spread, the toes of my worn boots digging into the snowy surface, the edge of the pit pressing my belt buckle into my gut, I cursed and raged at the unforgiving ground while I dug.
Suddenly I paused, blinking rapidly to focus my vision. There, within inches of my wrecked left hand, was a deeper shadow beneath the snow. An anxious whimper escaped my cracked lips, the need for both haste and caution slowing my movements as I carefully began to scrape the last of the slush away.
Finally, my shaking fingers uncovered a head topped by short spikes of brown hair, and I bit my lip to keep back the sob that threatened to escape.
“Dean,” I croaked, continuing to dig around the too-still head. “Dean.”
With my heart pounding so hard I thought it would break right through my ribs, I wriggled a little further forward, hanging precariously over the lip of the hole. Dean’s head was bent, so I couldn’t see his face, couldn’t see if he was still breathing, and the cold made it impossible to feel for a pulse in his neck. Adrenaline flooded my system, along with a burst of panic.
I dug down a little deeper, and....there, tucked beneath Dean’s chin was a tousled chestnut mop. Sammy.
I’d found them. I just hoped I was in time.
“Dean. Son, look at me. Look at me,” I pleaded, able to move faster now that I could see the outline of the boys’ bodies.
Flinging the dirty snow high and wide, I managed to excavate down to Sam’s shoulders. Dean’s arms were wrapped tightly around his little brother; his head bent over Sam’s as he’d tried to shield the younger boy from the worst of the avalanche of snow and dirt.
That had been part of the reason I’d been unable to grab Dean when the ground had given way. Because he’d been lunging to grab his baby brother before the spirit targeted him.
Protect Sammy. It was the code my oldest son lived by. The code I’d taught him to live by.
The code I’d failed to live by. Because I’d failed to protect my boys. I’d brought them along, thinking they’d be okay. But they hadn’t had nearly enough training to face something like an angry spirit. This was all on me.
“Dean,” I tried again, my voice harsh from a combination of fear, exertion and the intense cold. “Dean!”
As I slipped my numbed hands around his thin shoulders, he finally stirred, snow and dirt encrusted lashes fluttering a few times before lifting to reveal dazed green eyes.
“It’s all right, son, it’s okay. I gotcha, I gotcha.”
“S-s-s-s...” Dean’s arms tightened reflexively around his brother.
“I’ve got him, son. Let go, it’s okay.” Tugging on Dean’s jacket, I managed to get him to wrap both his hands around my left arm as I slowly and carefully wormed my right arm around Sammy. “Easy does it now, kiddo.”
Knowing instinctively that Dean wouldn’t let me take him first; I pulled Sam from the clinging earth and laid him on the ground. The exposed areas of his skin were pale blue from the cold, but he was breathing on his own and there were no broken bones that I could feel. Mild hyperthermia I could deal with. He began to stir as I turned back to the hole to tug my firstborn free.
I set Dean down beside his brother and swiftly checked him over before gathering them both into my arms. Heedless of the bone-deep aches in my body, I picked them up and hiked to the waiting Impala, stifling Dean’s slurred protest with one stern look. Depositing both boys on the front seat, I quickly tucked a blanket around them and started the engine, turning the heater on full. I rushed back to the gravesite to gather my equipment, threw it into the back seat and rejoined my children, gathering them close with one sweep of my arm.
The ride back to the motel was made in tense silence. I could feel both boys shivering, and wanted nothing more than to get them inside where it was warm and safe.
Safe. I huffed out a bitter laugh. They hadn’t been safe since Sammy was six months old. Since Mary...
Tears stung my eyes, and I angrily jammed one knee against the steering wheel for a few moments while I wiped them away. I can’t do this, Mary – I can’t lose them, too...
Soon the motel came into view, and I reluctantly let go of my sons to steer the Impala into an available parking space. Gathering them into my arms once the motor was switched off, I carried the boys into our latest home for the night and deposited them gently on my bed. I left them long enough to kick the door closed and lay fresh salt lines, quickly returning to strip off their dirty clothes and tuck them under the covers.
Shucking my own grimy garments, I washed the blood and dirt from my hands, swiftly wrapped them in gauze and sat between the boys with my back against the headboard. I tugged both sons against my chest and pulled the blankets up to their chins, cradling them within the circle of my arms.
Dean gazed at me in concern. “Dad?”
“It’s okay. Go back to sleep, kiddo. I gotcha.”
With a searching glance at both me and his little brother, Dean obeyed, and I studied his features as he slipped into a dreamless sleep. His freckles stood out starkly against his pale skin, and he reminded me so much of their mother that my heart ached as though she’d only died the day before.
Hearing a gentle sigh from the other side, I glanced over, to see bleary hazel eyes studying me in bewilderment. I tightened my hold on my youngest, rubbing my thumb in soothing circles against his shoulder. “It’s okay, Sammy. You’re okay, go back to sleep.”
“In the morning,” I ordered as gently as I could. “Sleep now.”
Sam’s brows drew down into a rebellious frown for a second before he settled back against my chest. A few minutes later he fell asleep, his breathing in sync with his brother’s.
I sat in the dark, my gaze unfocussed, heart still hammering against my ribcage in reaction to the close call. Sloppy. I’d been sloppy. And in more ways than one.
Cradling my boys closer, I vowed silently that it would be the last time. Sammy had found out what was really out there in the dark a couple of weeks ago, and I’d already begun training him in basic weapons handling. But tonight had shown me the error of my ways. I had to step things up, prepare the boys for what was coming their way.
Because whatever had killed my Mary had obviously been after Sammy. Why else would it have gone into the nursery? She must have interrupted or tried to stop whatever it had been trying to do to our baby son, and it had killed her for it.
And it would try for him again, I was sure of it. The boys had to be ready for that. I couldn’t afford to wait any longer.
“I’m so sorry, Mary,” I whispered to the darkened room.
My sons had no time now to be children. I’d learned that lesson tonight by almost losing them. Tomorrow, once I made sure they were none the worse for their ordeal, I would start training them in earnest. Teach them everything I’d learned, about weapons, about hunting, about how to protect themselves and each other, how to watch each other’s backs.
I mourned the loss of their innocence, but at the same time I hardened my heart in preparation for what had to be done. It was time for my babies to become hunters.
It was the only way to keep them safe.
With a heavy sigh, I closed my eyes, falling into a restless sleep.
And in my dreams, I was on my knees, digging....End.Thanks to Micaiah, Cindy123 and MuffyMorrigan for help with the gloves.
And that's another one done. See you again soon. Until then, take care.