The next morning, Sam woke to find himself alone in the motel room. His head was pounding, but only lightly; they hadn't gone overboard last night, just enough to keep pace with the other guys at the pool table. Hustling wasn't a good idea when they were planning on sticking around for a few days, but Sam had won all of his games fair and square, while Dean more or less broke even.
He hadn't even gloated about it to Dean. Too much.
The door opened and Dean walked in. He tossed a newspaper onto the bed, barely missing Sam's head. "Get up and get a move on," he said. "While we were screwing around yesterday, someone else died."
Sam sat up instantly and grabbed the paper, already open and folded to a page. A thirty-five-year-old woman had been found dead in the state park, long gashes across her stomach. "Police are saying mountain lion attack," he read aloud.
"Right, from inside her car." Dean took a bite of jelly donut, raspberry oozing out of the corners of his mouth. "You see any mountains around here to have lions?"
Sam made a face. "Table manners, Dean?"
Dean wrinkled his nose at him. "If I hadn't gotten this awesome donut, I wouldn't have overheard the sheriff talking to his deputy about how it was better the news came out this way, 'cause people would freak if they knew what really happened."
"So what really happened?" Sam asked, leaning forward.
"Like I said, woman was found inside her car." Dean lifted his free hand in a claw and slashed it across his midriff. "Both sides locked, all the windows up. No way it was an animal."
"Definitely a spirit," Sam said, looking over the article. Sheila Patterson, forty years old, resident of Wichita, no children or partner. Her best friend, Cindy MacKenzie, was quoted as saying they'd spent the day visiting and had a wonderful time, and this couldn't be happening.
After a moment, Sam straightened up. "Hey, this state park is where Josh and Kevin were doing their geocaching."
"Yeah, that's right." Dean had apparently pulled up a map on Sam's laptop, and he was gesturing at the screen. Sam winced as sugar crystals from the jelly donut fell over the keyboard. At least the jelly was staying inside the donut. "And it's not a state park," Dean corrected him. "It's a state waterfront management area. Whatever the hell that means."
"Any chance Sheila and her friend were doing the same thing?"
"Guess we'll find out." Dean bit into the remaining donut and a glob of jelly started to fall. Before Sam could do anything as unfortunate as squeaking out loud, Dean caught the glob with his fingers and stuffed the rest of the donut into his mouth. "I've got her address," he said around the sticky red jelly smeared across his teeth.
"Great," Sam replied, glad that he'd hung up his dress shirt last night instead of stuffing it into the dirty laundry bag. It looked like it was going to be another day of playing FBI agents.
Two hours and another awkward conversation later, they were back in the Impala, feeling like they were finally on the right track. "We need to go out and take a look at that geocache," Sam said. "It's the one thing at least two of our victims have in common."
"Cindy said they never found it," Dean argued.
"Cindy said she never found it," Sam pointed out. "She said Sheila was really competitive about this sort of thing and was trying to cross more caches off her list than any of her friends. Maybe she found it and didn't tell Cindy."
Dean frowned. "So where does the spirit come in? They disturbed it with the GPS unit?"
"I don't know. The boxes with the souvenirs or trinkets that Kevin was talking about get buried at the site of the cache. Maybe one of these geocachers dug something up they shouldn't have."
"Could be." Dean scowled. "I suppose this means we gotta get one of those damn GPS things."
"What's wrong with that?" Sam asked.
"It's cheating," Dean retorted. "I know how to read a goddamn map. I don't need a computer to read it for me."
Sam held back a grin. "Don't worry, we don't have to get the kind you mount on the dashboard."
"Damn straight we don't," Dean replied, looking horrified. "I oughta make you walk all the way to the state park just for that."
"State waterfront management area," Sam corrected, putting in that little bit of prissiness that he knew drove Dean up the wall.
When he got an eyeroll in response, he mentally chalked up one point for himself.
interpolation: the estimation of unknown values between known values of irregularly spaced control points
"So what's in there?" Sam asked, peering over Dean's shoulder.
After using Dean's crumpled-up phone number from Sherri and contacting Mark Samuelson's parents again and finding that both had the geocaching hobby in common, they'd used Ted Nugent's credit card to pick up a cheap, hand-held GPS unit at the local hardware/fishing/sports store. Sam had some familiarity with the device from that one time with Becky and Zac, and as Dean drove them out towards the State Waterfront Management Recreation Area, he fiddled with the default settings and figured out how to get them where they wanted to go. Half an hour and two wrong turns later, they were digging in the ground at the base of a birch tree on the edge of a small stream. Dean's crow of triumph had Sam snorting gleefully after his brother's earlier disdain for the whole activity, but when Dean looked at him, he'd smoothed out his expression.
Dean opened the cigar box. "Pencils. Key chains. Is this from a Happy Meal?" he asked, poking at a toy wind-up car.
"I wouldn't know," Sam said loftily, earning a glare that made him smirk.
"Here's another one of those bracelets," Dean said, holding up a stretchy green rubber band like Kevin had had.
Sam picked it up and looked at it. It had GEOCACHING emblazoned along one side. "Someone must make these to leave at caches."
"Someone needs a life," Dean muttered. Then he let out a low whistle. "I don't think this is standard caching material."
Sam looked back over his shoulder to see Dean poking one of the objects in the box with the blade of the penknife he'd used to pry the dented box open. It was a locket on a chain, old and tarnished silver that was out of place among the brightly colored plastic of the other trinkets. "What is it?" he asked, reaching over Dean's shoulder.
Dean slapped his hand back and used the blade of the knife to lift the chain out of the box. "Cursed object, dude. Or at least it might be one."
Chastened, Sam stood back and let Dean carefully remove the necklace from the box and deposit it into his pocket. When he was done, he put away the knife and held out his hand.
"What?" Sam asked, puzzled.
"We gotta replace it with something, right?"
Sam frowned. "Yeah, but we're not actually geocaching, Dean."
"We found the damn box and we're taking something out of it. That means we're putting something back in, and we don't need that anymore, do we?" Dean asked, nodding at the bright yellow GPS unit in Sam's hand.
Sam almost unconsciously held the device closer to him. "We're not leaving our GPS in the geocache."
Dean let out a sigh. "And here I thought you were such a stick-to-the-rules kind of guy."
Retracing their steps to the car was easy, and they were back in their hotel room before noon. After running through a couple of standard tests, they decided the necklace itself wasn't the problem, and Dean carefully used the blade of his sharpest knife to pry open the delicate locket. Inside was a faded, stained sepia-tone photograph of a young woman with her hair upswept, wearing the full skirts of the nineteenth century. Her face wasn't more than a blurred smudge, but the words opposite her picture were legible.
"Clara Woodward," Dean read. "Huh. She was kinda hot."
Sam rolled his eyes. How could Dean tell that from the image when they couldn't see her face, only the outline of her hourglass figure—
Oh. Well. That said something about how Dean chose his women, Sam thought.
"Any idea who she was, History Boy?" Dean asked.
"No idea," Sam replied absently, his eyes roaming over the image to try and pick up any clues about where it was from. He sat back in the vinyl chair and said, "Maybe we should take it to the museum. Someone there might be able to date it."
"The Orphan Train Museum?" Dean asked, one eyebrow cocked. When Sam nodded, he grinned. "Time to get your geek on?"
Sam wondered sometimes if he should learn to roll his eyes in the other direction so they weren't unevenly strained.
It turned out that the docent at the museum, a motherly woman named Virginia Taylor, was thrilled to see the locket. It had disappeared a couple of months ago from a display about the valuables that children had taken with them on their sad journeys. "This belonged to a young man named Joseph Woodward," she said, holding it up to the light and frowning when she saw a scratch on the back. "We know that he came from Philadelphia, and that the Bauers took him in. And that his mother was a beautiful woman."
"Mm-hmm," Dean agreed.
Sam gave the docent a pained smile. "How did Joseph end up here? Do you know?"
"Oh, yes, I know all their stories," Virginia replied with a smile and a nod. "Or at least most of them." Her smile slipped away. "The sadder ones like Joseph, they tend to stay with you, you know?"
"What happened?" Sam asked.
"The poor boy. His parents both died in a fire at their home in Boston. You can see the scars on his face in the photograph we have of him."
Sam exchanged a look with Dean, who had that alert look like a hound on the trace of a scent. "You have a picture?" he asked.
"Right over here." She led them to an exhibit with a series of photographs and pointed to the highest one, level with Dean's eyes. "In the middle, next to the little blonde girl."
Sam saw a boy of about twelve years old, a patch on his cheek that at first glance looked like a flaw in the photograph, but upon closer examination, was the scar Virginia had mentioned. "Did Joseph live the rest of his life here?" Sam asked.
"Yes, he did," Virginia answered. "The poor thing had just as tragic a death as his life, too."
"What do you mean?" Dean asked, his ears practically perking up.
"He barely made it past twenty. He was out on the Bauers' farm in one of the back fields, and a mountain lion attacked him." Virginia shook her head. "Must have been one of the last ones in the county, too; they became extinct not long after."
He didn't have to look at Dean to know what the look on his face would be, but he did anyway. Jackpot, Dean's raised eyebrow and knowing look were saying. There was going to be one less set of bones in the soil of Concordia, Kansas, come morning.
"Do you, um, maybe know where he was buried?" Sam rushed on, "My mother was killed in a fire, too, and I'd like to pay my respects."
"Oh, you poor thing." Virginia laid a hand on his arm. "I'm so sorry."
"It was a long time ago," Sam said, feeling Dean's eyes boring into him from the side.
She patted his arm and let go. "It would be the Gottland Cemetery, northeast of town. Let me draw you a map."
They drove past the tiny cemetery Virginia had mentioned. There were maybe fifty gravestones, from old white marble to polished brown granite, all tidy and well-kept. A lone tree marked the back of the plot, and there was no other vertical relief in any direction except for a silo about a mile down the road.
Once it was dark, they returned and pulled off onto the shoulder of the dirt road that intersected the highway. Sam could almost hurdle the low chain-link fence, except for the shovel and salt he was carrying. Dean brought up the rear with the shotgun and the spare shovel, their footsteps crinkling the dead grass beneath their feet.
They worked in silence, growing warm in the April air. Sam shucked off his jacket after about twenty minutes, and his shirts were soon soaked with sweat. They'd found Joseph's grave by flashlight and then turned it off and relied on the gibbous moon; the cemetery was on a county road, and the occasional car went by, sending them ducking behind headstones.
As far as salt-and-burns went, it was as clean as they could have asked for; Sam thought he saw a flicker from the corner of his eye as Dean was squirting on the lighter fluid, but it could have been just the moonlight reflecting off a marble tombstone. The bones burned quickly and thoroughly, leaving them to dump the soil back in the ground without a single bruise from being thrown around.
Sam could get used to this sort of thing.
They were in the car and almost back to town when Sam suddenly shivered. Maybe the sweat from grave digging was finally cooling off the nape of his neck. He reached out to turn up the heater, but a second later, he saw his breath. "Dean," he warned, his spine suddenly prickling.
"Yeah, I see it," Dean replied, easing the car off to the side of the road. "We got any salt in here?"
"No, for once we put everything away," Sam grumbled, one hand on the door handle. The second the Impala came to a halt, he was out of the car, unlocking the trunk with his spare key and pulling out a shotgun and a salt canister, wondering where they'd gone wrong, but figuring now wasn't the time to worry about it.
Dean had gotten out and was standing by the driver's side door. "Gimme the salt," he said, and Sam tossed the dark blue canister over the roof of the car. There was a ghostly flicker visible inside the car, moving towards Dean. He waited until it was almost upon him, backing up to draw it out, and then once it was completely outside the Impala, he shook the canister and flung salt over it.
The figure vanished with a shriek, but they both knew it'd be back.
"What's going on?" Dean demanded, turning with his hands held out from his sides. "Did we not just salt and burn Joseph Woodward, or Bauer, or whatever the hell his name was?"
"Is that who that was?" Sam asked. He squinted, trying to remember the details of the flickering figure. "It had awfully long hair for a man."
"I don't know, why don't we wait around for it to come back?" Dean snapped.
Sam pressed his lips together. "Everyone who died was attacked because they disturbed the locket when they found the geocache, right?"
Dean slowly nodded. "The locket that was stolen from the museum. Taken from its resting place." He tapped the salt canister against the top of the Impala. "We gotta get that locket back."
The Orphan Train Museum was near the center of town, part of a complex that had been a rail yard at one point, until the tracks were torn up and low industrial buildings took their place. It was far enough off the main street that everything was dead quiet; not a light was on in the houses across the street. They pulled up to the back, Dean figuring it'd be easier to break in the back door.
Sam was out of the car first, salt canister in his hand and already reaching in his pocket for the lock picks. Then he heard a shout from behind him, and he whirled to see the doors to the Impala slamming shut, trapping Dean inside.
And then Dean's breath started to fog up the windshield from the inside.
He could read the curse on Dean's lips as he reached for the shotgun and had it torn out of his hands by the figure flickering to life in the front seat. "Dean!" Sam shouted, racing to the driver's side door and tugging on it to no avail.
Dean had one arm curled protectively over his midsection and the other trying to break the shotgun open to get at the salt. "Get the locket!" he yelled, muffled through the glass.
As far as buildings he'd broken into, the Orphan Train Museum wasn't the hardest, but nor was it the easiest, knowing that Dean was fighting off the spirit inside the Impala. Sam picked the lock as quickly as he could, flinching when he heard a shout of pain from his brother, but knowing the best thing he could do for him was to get a hold of whatever was keeping the spirit here. When he finally got the door open, he dashed inside, skidding on the hardwood floor as he turned into the office area where they'd seen Virginia place the locket in a box for safekeeping until it could be displayed again.
Sam ripped the cover off the box and pulled out the tarnished locket. He flipped it open and saw only the picture of the orphan boy's long-gone mother: nothing else, no clue as to why there was still something out there trying to shred people. "Come on," he muttered, turning the pendant over in his hand.
Then he saw it. Another hinge, not the one that opened the locket, but that suggested there was a back to the piece of jewelry. He pried at it with his fingernails, cursing when it wouldn't budge.
Sam could picture Dean being clawed apart, could see his face cold and pale on the autopsy table in the morgue next to the previous victims, and then he gave a start as the metal suddenly sprang free.
There was a tiny compartment in the back of the locket, and the curled-up, brittle piece of something in there had to be a lock of hair. Sam plucked it out and held his lighter to it, making sure it caught before he dropped it into the empty wastebasket on the floor.
He watched it burn until it was nothing but ashes, and then he made for the door.
Dean was already standing there, one arm across his middle. "Took you long enough," he muttered.
Fear prickled along Sam's spine, and he moved forward, but Dean waved him off. "Just a scratch," he said, lifting his shirts to show a thin red gash across his ribs. "Don't even need stitches."
Sam nodded. "Guess we'd better go, then," he said, closing the locket back up and putting it in its box. He picked up the garbage can with its smoldering remains and carried that along as well.
With any luck, no one would ever know they'd been there.
cartographic abstraction: transformational process in which map author or cartographer selects and organizes material to be mapped
"So the kid had a piece of his mom's hair all that time?"
"Yeah," Sam replied. Since she'd died in a fire, he wasn't sure how—but that wasn't something he wanted to think about. Not with the memory of Jessica's hair spread out on the ceiling still fire-bright in his mind.
Silence fell, nothing but the thrum of the wheels on the pavement. They were skirting Kansas City to the north, just as Sam had suspected, well out of range of Lawrence. Sam lowered his head and went back to the page he'd been reading.
Dean's voice broke the quiet. "How many of those kids were there?"
Sam looked up, surprised. "On the Orphan Trains?" When Dean nodded, he flipped back to the introduction of the book, which he'd taken from the museum gift shop after leaving the appropriate amount of cash in the cash register despite Dean's teasing. "About a hundred thousand," Sam said. "Over nearly seventy-five years."
"Huh." Dean tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. "Guess they didn't have Child and Family Services back then."
"No, this was pretty much the precursor to that. They weren't all orphans, either; some of them had neglectful parents, got taken away and sent to live with strangers out here. And even if they had siblings, most families didn't want to take on two kids at once, so most of them got split up."
"Man." Dean was silent for a moment, and Sam could almost hear his thoughts, the same as his own, about how things could have gone so differently for them. Then he cleared his throat and said, "I remember that atlas you were talking about."
"Yeah?" Sam shifted in his seat. "The one I learned to read from?"
"You didn't learn to read from it," Dean insisted. "You tore out the pages and used them to color on."
"I did not," Sam returned indignantly.
"It was the state maps you were thinking of," Dean went on. "Every time we crossed a state line on the interstate, you'd bitch at Dad about getting a new map at the rest area, even if we already had one. I think you liked all of the pictures of the state flowers and birds and shit."
"Yeah, there were so many states with cardinals," Sam remembered. "And violets."
"Probably the only five-year-old who went around calling everything violet instead of purple," Dean said in that half-fond, half-exasperated tone he used to reminisce about Sam's early years.
Sam grinned. "I remember you telling me what all the flowers were."
"Probably because you kept nagging me," Dean retorted. He shot a quick glance at Sam. "Pansy."
Sam folded his arms over his chest. "Ooh, you're so funny."
"Funny enough that you can't match it," Dean returned with an easy, know-it-all grin.
Sam bit his lip, knowing that he'd think of the perfect comeback ten miles down the road and that Dean would give him even more crap for coming up with it late than not coming up with it at all. So instead, he took the high road. "Thanks, Dean." When he got a quizzical look in response, he said, "For making sure our family stayed together."
"Aw, c'mon, that was Dad's doing," Dean replied, a slight flush coloring his cheeks.
"Not all of it," Sam said. "Not even most of it."
The quick look Dean gave him said he didn't agree, but all he said with a straight face was, "Eh, I offered to sell you once, but no one would offer me enough money for your scrawny ass."
"Whatever," Sam said, turning back towards his book.
He might be drawing a new map every day of fears and terrors, the terrain shadowed with sad stories like Joseph Woodward's, the cartography of hunts etched onto his very body in scars and bruises. But as they rolled on through Kansas, the sweet spring breeze blowing through the windows and Dean humming along to his favorite rock 'n roll, Sam knew that at least this particular map wasn't one he was drawing alone.