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Refolding the Map (1/2) (PG-13)

Title: Refolding the Map
Author: zubeneschamali zubeneschamali 
Rating: PG-13 (language, violence)
Genre: Gen
Summary: It's an old-fashioned S1 case story: small-town Kansas, mysterious "wild animal attacks", and the legacy of the Orphan Trains. Written for spn_reversebang .

A/N: Thanks to kimonkey7 for the inspirational art (maaaaaaaps!) and for being patient with me while I was writing this.  Her banner is below the cut. Thanks to kasman for beta reading and for responding so quickly to bribery. ;) Also, thanks to the spn_reversebang mods who let me post late when I completely spaced out about the posting date. I am partially constituted of fail.



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datum: a starting or reference point that gives a context to things such as the size and shape of the Earth


Sam Winchester learned his colors, his letters, and his numbers from the Rand McNally Road Atlas.

It probably started as Dean's attempt to keep him quiet and entertained, or maybe John's, but little Sam picked up white and black and red and blue and yellow from the lines etched across the pages. He saw colors other places, too—billboards and road signs and motel room furniture—but he could always return to the well-worn pages of the atlas.

By the time Sammy was old enough to start learning his letters, John had memorized the most common routes across the country, interstate and U.S. highways alike, and he only needed to look at the atlas when they were getting close to their destination. So Sam had hours in the backseat to look over the pages with Dean, and he learned to read the green names of counties and the black names of cities, the blue names of rivers and the red names of buildings on the little maps in the corners.

He had other books, too, but they sometimes got left behind when they had to leave somewhere in a hurry. The atlas lived in the car, so it was always there, always a part of their crazy, mixed-up life.

Eventually, John learned the state roads across the Midwest and on parts of the coasts, even a good chunk of the county roads, and then he rarely needed the atlas at all. It was years out of date at that point—not that the places they sought out were on the cutting edge—but John had learned that asking for directions not only was a thing not to be feared, it could be a valuable way to get information on the local haunting or monster. So Sammy spent even more time with the pages of maps, learning his numbers, how the little slanted black ones added up to the bigger red ones, learning that there was no need to ask "Are we there yet?" once he could subtract the numbers for himself.

When he started school, the teachers were amazed that he could read and do arithmetic already. When he said he learned how from the atlas, they were confused, and then they thought he must have been confused, or maybe not as smart as Dean said he was, and that made him angry.

So Sammy learned to keep things to himself when he wasn't around his family, to pretend that he didn't know things that he did. He thought it was pretty stupid, but Dad was always warning them not to do anything weird that would make other people notice them. Geography was the worst, because Sam knew where cities and towns were that the other kids had never heard of, while they struggled with keeping Ohio and Iowa straight, or Kentucky and Tennessee.

It got worse once he knew why they traveled around so much, because then Sam started associating South Carolina with ghosts and Minnesota with wendigos and Texas with black dogs, and then he definitely couldn't tell anyone why he knew his geography so well. Nor could he tell Dad and Dean about the other cartography being created in his head, the map of fears and scars that was being drawn one hunt at a time. He kept it to himself, his own tightly-folded map, and when he left it all behind for college, he thought he could forget about it.

Now, with every creature he and Dean killed, every strange secret he found out about himself, and the things that he shouldn't be able to do, Sam was learning a new cartography, whether he liked it or not.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

They were driving south on U.S. 81, the Nebraska border in the rearview mirror. Dean always got twitchy when they were in Kansas, but it was apparently worse since their visit to Lawrence a few months ago, given the way his thumb was tapping against the steering wheel. Of course, they were miles away from their hometown, and Sam bet that even if they headed east after this, Dean would take a wide detour under the pretence of avoiding the traffic around Kansas City.

Sam stared out the window as the fields rolled by, still brown in mid-April, and reminded himself that even if he wasn't sick of '70s cock rock, there wasn't likely to be anything more interesting on the radio anyway. "Could this state be any flatter?" he grumbled.

"Flatter than a pancake," Dean agreed. "Say, I wonder if there's an IHOP in Concordia."

"Actually, it's been scientifically proven that Kansas is flatter than a pancake," Sam suddenly remembered. When Dean gave him the one-raised-eyebrow look, he shrugged. "Some professor measured the variation in elevation between the highest and lowest points, then he made a bunch of pancakes and found there's actually a lot of variation across the surface from all of the bubbles in the batter popping as it cooks. So Kansas is scientifically flatter than a pancake."

"Well, aren't you just a font of useful information," Dean returned.

Sam rolled his eyes. "The guy won an IgNobel for it." At Dean's puzzled look, he went on, "They're these awards given out for scientific research that's, well, not so useful. But still interesting."

"Sounds like something that guys who have a lot of time on their hands do," Dean grumbled.

"Guess so," Sam replied, slouching farther back against the seat.

A county conservation district sign appeared as they crossed a creek, and a long-buried memory rose up. "Cloud County," Sam read off the sign. "Hey, you remember that atlas when we were kids? The one I learned to read from?"

Dean scoffed. "How'd you learn to read from an atlas?"

Sam stared at him. "You taught me, Dean."

"No, I taught you from a book that had a brown horse on the front and a couple of pages missing in the back." Dean gave him a quick glance. "You don't remember that?"

Staring out the windshield, Sam tried to remember. All he could see in his mind's eye was the dog-eared pages with the states spread out over them in stark lines and bright colors. "No, I don't. I remember the atlas."

"Huh." Dean tapped his thumb against the steering wheel. "You'd think being the size of an elephant and all, you'd have the memory of one, too."

"God, what is with you today?" Sam retorted, turning sideways in the seat. "I'd ask if you got up on the wrong side of the bed, but I don't want to hear about the bed you got up from."

That got him a trademark Dean smirk, but thankfully, there weren't any follow-up details about the busty blond Dean had snared at dinner the previous night (and seriously, who picked up girls at Denny's? Only Dean.). Instead, Dean shook his head and said, "Remind me about what we're driving into here."

Whatever was bothering him obviously wasn't going to come out, so Sam sighed and reached back over the seat to grab a sheaf of notes sticking out of his duffel. "Three unexplained deaths in five weeks," he summarized. "Concordia, Kansas, county seat of Cloud County, population 5,281." Something on the printed page from Wikipedia caught his eye, and he raised his eyebrows. "Huh. It's the Stained Glass Capital of Kansas."

"I bet that's a hard-fought competition," Dean snarked.

"Every little town has to have its claim to fame." Sam shuffled through the papers. "Mark Samuelson, age 19, ruled a wild animal death by the county coroner even though he was found inside the cockpit of a Cessna at the local airport. Five days later, Joshua Baines, age 24, another wild animal death, although he was found in the janitor's closet of the high school. Then two days ago, the one you saw in the paper, Sara Overberg, age 32."

"Right, the one who was in a locked car with no sign of forced entry and yet her entrails were all over the front seat."

Sam winced. Whatever level of detachment they'd both acquired thanks to the regular horrors that they saw, some things were and would always remain, gross. "Yeah, in the next little town over, Jamestown."

"All locals?" Dean asked, turning on the windshield wipers as a light rain began to fall.

"I think so." Sam scanned the news clippings he'd found online. "Yeah, Sara was found in front of her house; Joshua worked at the high school; and Mark was home on spring break from KU."

"That's kind of a spread in ages," Dean observed. "Not likely they knew each other from school or something."

"Still, it's a pretty small town. It's probably possible to draw a lot of different connections between them," Sam argued.

"Great," Dean returned. "Guess we got some digging to do."

They tossed around ideas as the miles rolled by, but as the outskirts of Concordia came into view, they agreed it would have to wait until they had more info. Once ensconced at the Shady Lake Motel, which Dean was pleased to note was next to a Pizza Hut with an all-you-can-eat buffet on the weekends, they sat down and came up with a plan.

The first part of the plan involved taking full advantage of said buffet. Sam always felt kind of bad for restaurant owners with an all-you-can-eat option when the Winchesters came by, between his own seemingly bottomless stomach and Dean's willingness to stuff himself beyond the point of common sense. He made sure to leave a big tip as they waddled their way out and across the parking lot to the low-slung outline of the motel, dark against the glow of the streetlights from the center of town a mile or so away.

Sam dreamed that night about endless brown fields, no variation in the terrain anywhere in sight, only the low thrum of the Impala's wheels against the concrete of the road and the irregular tapping of Dean's thumb on the steering wheel.

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semivariance: a measure of the variability of spatial data in various geographic directions

The next morning found them bright and early outside a restaurant on the far side of town. There might not have been an IHOP, but when Sam saw the sign for the Hungry Hunter Restaurant, it was too good to pass up. The food was definitely sized for the hungry; Sam almost couldn't finish his platter of eggs, hash browns, sausage, and bacon, plus toast and jam, and Dean looked like he was struggling with his double stack of pancakes. The smear of maple syrup on his tie fortunately blended in with one of the diagonal brown stripes, and he smirked like he'd planned it that way.

They were on the road soon after, heading west towards the little burg of Jamestown. Sara Overberg's house was still sealed off with yellow crime scene tape even though the incident had occurred out in the driveway. Of her car or her body, there was no sign, but the Cloud County Coroner was next on the list anyway.

They split up to canvass the neighbors, Dean pointing Sam in the direction of the kindly old lady watering her plants behind her white picket fence. Sam not only found out that Mrs. Clarendon didn't know Sara at all because she had only lived there for a few months and kept to herself, but he was practically force-fed blueberry muffins that would have been tasty if they weren't oddly chewy, sticking to his molars almost like taffy.

Once he'd extracted himself, he found Dean in the Impala, whistling merrily while he fished through the cardboard box of tapes. Sam climbed in and pulled the door shut, reminding himself to try and find a cheap cassette tape holder the next time they were in a Wal-Mart, if they even still sold them. "So?" he asked.

"Sherri Taylor," Dean said, nodding at the white Cape Cod next to Sara's house, where a pretty blonde sat on the front porch swing. She gave a wave as if she knew they were talking about her, and Dean stuck his arm out the open window and waved back. "Born and bred in Jamestown, knows all of her neighbors, I'm guessing a double D, and her phone number is in my pocket."

Sam rolled his eyes. "You want me to go visit the coroner and come back for you later?"

"Would you?" Dean asked, eyes wide and serious.

Sam narrowed his eyes in response, and when Dean broke into an eye-crinkling grin, he knew he'd been had. He rolled his eyes and sat back against the seat. "So what did she know about Sara?"

"Not much," Dean shrugged, turning serious. "She'd only been here a couple of months, kept to herself, did some kind of freelance writing to pay the bills. Sherri thought she was running from a bad divorce or an abusive boyfriend or something, trying to start over."

"Maybe something from where she used to live caught up with her," Sam mused.

"Could be," Dean replied. "As long as whatever it was knew how to get inside her car, slice and dice her, and get back out without leaving a trace."

"Was Sherri the one who found her?"

"No, it was the other neighbor." Dean nodded towards the dark brown ranch on the other side of Sara's house. "Mrs. Patterson's still in the hospital recovering from the shock, so maybe we ought to save her for last."

"Yeah, that's probably best," Sam agreed.

His stomach gave a rumble, and Dean looked at him askance. "Dude, didn't you eat enough for breakfast?"

Sam put a hand to his stomach. "I don't think that was hunger. I think that was the blueberry muffins from Mrs. Clarendon."

Dean made a face and turned the car on. "Just let me know if you need me to pull over so you can puke."

The second victim on their list, Joshua Baines, had lived in a small apartment in the center of town with his brother, who answered the door in a ratty blue bathrobe and slippers, even though it was almost noon.

"Kevin Baines?" Dean asked, flipping open his FBI badge with practiced ease.

"Yeah." The guy was a couple of years younger than Sam, red-rimmed eyes and drawn features suggesting he hadn't been doing too well since his brother's untimely death.

"May we ask you a few questions?" Sam asked, wearing his best "sympathetic law-enforcement" face.

Sam had found over the years that there were a limited number of responses to that question: eager compliance, wary accession, and belligerent questioning. Then there was the world-weary, "what difference does it make" response from a victim's loved ones, and it was that face that Kevin wore as he stepped back and gestured them in.

He had to clear pizza boxes off the couch before they could sit down and then dragged a 60s-era yellow kitchen chair into the room so he could sit. Sam watched as he scrubbed his hands through his hair and clearly steeled himself for the conversation. "Why are the Feds involved in a wild animal attack?" was the first thing he asked.

"Because there's been a lot of them around here lately," Dean replied. "We're concerned there might be a threat to public safety."

Kevin scoffed. "I’m more worried about my safety," he said, and Sam suddenly realized that the weariness he was displaying came from an extended period of watchfulness as much as it did from grief.

Exchanging a quick look with Dean, Sam got a slight nod from him. "What makes you say that?" he asked, pulling a small notebook from his inside jacket pocket.

"Because there's no reason anyone would want Josh dead," Kevin replied. "Which means it's some kind of psycho or something, right? And I'm with him, like, all the time, which means whoever stalked him probably knows where to find me, too."

"You weren't with him when he was attacked, were you?" Sam asked.

"No, he was at work." Kevin slumped back in his seat. "I'm between jobs right now, but Josh's been real good about taking care of the rent for me. He said I could pay it back once I found a job."

"So there's no one who would have wanted to do him any harm?" Sam asked. "Even if it wasn't the person who attacked him?"

Kevin stared at Sam like he'd suddenly started to do a belly dance in his seat. "It wasn't a person who attacked him," he said. "It was an animal. He had claw marks on him—" He broke off and gestured across his midsection. His voice lower, he went on, "I was the one who had to identify the body. Our parents have both passed, and I'm pretty much his only family."

"I'm sorry," Sam said, making his voice more sympathetic. "That must have been hard for you."

Kevin shot him a ya think? look and shook his head. "Not something I'm ever going to forget."

Dean cleared his throat. "What were you guys doing the day or two before he was attacked?"

"Nothing any different than normal," Kevin said. "Josh went to work, we went out on the weekend, that was it."

"Did you go anywhere you hadn't been before?" Sam asked. "Any new places?"

Kevin gave him a look that was just shy of an eyeroll. "There's no new places around here. Even when we go geocaching, it's nowhere we haven't already seen, although at least it's, like, a different perspective."

"Geo-what-ing?" Dean asked, eyebrows furrowing enough to put crescents in their corners.

"Geocaching." Kevin shifted in his seat. "It's like, you follow GPS coordinates to a site and find the cache. Other people who have been there before you leave little trinkets and stuff, and you take one as a souvenir and leave one of your own." He gestured to the end table next to the couch, where a green rubber bracelet sat.

"And the point is?" Dean's eyebrows were still in the down position.

"It's like orienteering, but without going cross-country in the woods. You know, you get to go places you might not otherwise, see stuff in a different way." The young man shrugged one shoulder. "It's kind of cool."

"Did you go geocaching recently?" Sam asked, leaning forward in his seat.

"Um, yeah." Kevin's brow furrowed and then cleared. "The day before Josh…well, we were bored, and there was supposed to be this new cache up at Sportsmans Lake that we hadn't been to. We spent most of the day up there."

Sam gave him an encouraging smile. "After you guys were done with the geocaching, where did you go?"

"We came back here," Kevin said. "We were having a beer, and Josh was giving me crap for not finding any of the caches first. I told him to fuck off, and…" He trailed off. "I was mad at him when he left to stay with his girlfriend. That's the last thing I ever said to him, that he was a little shit."

Sam cleared his throat. "He was your brother, right? I mean, he knew you didn't really mean it." He could feel Dean's eyes on him, but he kept looking at Kevin.

Kevin was drawing in a shaky breath. "Yeah, I guess so. I mean, yeah. It's just—" He shook his head. "I guess you never know when it's your time, right?"

"We're very sorry for your loss, Kevin," Sam said. He could tell from the introspective look of their witness that they weren't going to get anything more out of him, so he nudged Dean.

They were getting into the car when Dean said, "So what's the point of this geocaching thing?"

"People have fun with it, Dean." Sam pulled the door shut. "You know, normal people. Having fun."

"Wandering around in the woods looking at a little electronic box?" Dean muttered, turning the key in the ignition. "I mean, at least when we do that, there's a purpose behind it."

Sam shrugged. "I don't know. I went out with Rebecca and Zach a couple of times around Palo Alto. Some of the caches are in the city, and they got a kick out of hunting for something that no one else around them knew was there." Sam hadn't appreciated that aspect of it so much, but he could see that his friends enjoyed it, and that was enough.

Dean gave him a knowing look, but all he said was, "D'you see anything in common between these two victims?"

"Not off the top of my head. One was a loner and a newcomer, one was always with his brother and had lived here all his life. It's hard to see how their paths could even have intersected, if they disturbed the same spirit or something."

"Yeah, I agree." They came to a halt at a stop sign. "So, lunch or the morgue first?" Dean asked brightly.

Sam made a face, and years of interpreting little brother facial expressions must have served Dean well, for he said, "Right, the morgue it is."

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spatial autocorrelation: the tendency for like things to occur near one another in geographic space

The morgue had been as unpleasant yet informative as morgue visits usually were. Sam distracted the coroner with questions while Dean sneaked a peek at the EMF reader and checked for other kinds of evidence that no coroner would ever look for, especially in small-town Kansas. The faint beeping from Dean's direction told Sam all he needed to know, and he loudly thanked the coroner and got them on their way.

Dean dropped him off at Mark Samuelson's house, where Sam navigated his way between a grief-stricken mother and a distant, bottled-up father. All they could tell him was what he already knew from the news: Mark had been doing practice flights to keep up his pilot's certification, and how a wild animal could have gotten inside the cockpit of the Cessna, they had no idea. Sam asked about other activities, hobbies, or friends, but nothing matched up with either of the previous victims. By the time he gave his condolences and left, he was wondering how they were going to figure out what these three people had in common, much less who the spirit was that had killed them.

He walked down the state highway towards the motel, stuffing his hands in his pockets as the chill April wind blew by. The sun was nearly setting, pink and gold lighting the western horizon, the distance uninhibited by mountains or hills or any noteworthy terrain. There was a faint haze of green on some of the trees, but the grass was still brown, and only a few crocus and tulips were visible here and there. April is the cruelest month, Sam thought.

When he got back to the room, Dean was already flipping through channels. "Whaddya got?" he asked.

Sam dropped into the rickety wooden chair in front of the room's small desk. "I don't know," he said. "The parents didn't know much more than what was in the article. He hung out with a few high school friends during the week, but he was on his own at the airport. As far as they know, the only other place he visited was the Orphan Train Museum, where he volunteered when he was in high school."

"The Orphan Train Museum?" Dean asked, eyebrows lifting.

"Yeah, I guess this town was where a lot of the kids who were put on the trains back East came to live with farm families who needed an extra hand."

Dean shook his head. "First you lose your family and then you end up as slave labor? Dude, that sucks."

"They weren't necessarily treated badly," Sam replied. "Some of them were basically adopted, either by couples who couldn't have kids of their own or who felt it was their duty to take care of these children."

"Did you stop by the museum on your way over or something?" Dean asked.

Sam rolled his eyes. "I wrote this paper sophomore year about it. Just found it interesting, I guess."

Dean's eyes shot up to his, and for a moment Sam could see the question written there: You really felt like you were an orphan? Before Sam could muster up an argument to defend himself, Dean was rubbing his hand over his jaw and saying, "Well, I got nothing from the airport. The plane's been cleaned out, and no one saw anything unusual, certainly no bears or cougars or whatever the hell everyone thinks killed the guy."

"It was a spirit, right?" Sam asked, leaning forward with his forearms braced on his thighs. "I heard the EMF go off in the morgue."

"Yeah, there's that, and then there's the whole locked room thing, or locked vehicle, I guess." Dean shook his head. "I need a beer."

Sam lifted his eyebrows. "There's a bar next door," he said.

"Awesome," Dean grinned. "Won't even have to move the car."

(Part 2)