Flesh Masks

Fear of the Dark

When the light begins to change

I sometimes feel a little strange

A little anxious when it's dark.

Fear of the dark, fear of the dark

I have constant fear that something's always near…

~ Iron Maiden


An hoarse shriek from outside woke both brothers instantly. Dean grabbed his gun while Sam jerked a shirt over his head and snatched up his knife. Not bothering with socks or shoes, the two men padded silently down the hall, moving as swiftly as the shadows they were accustomed to hunting.

As they neared the stairwell, they heard the front door slam and another feminine cry of distress. Jerking his head in the direction of the lobby, Dean cocked his gun and began easing down the stairs. Sam followed close behind, his back pressed against the wall, knife at the ready.

The lobby was dark and seemingly undisturbed – the windows were intact and the door showed no signs of damage. Only the sound of muffled whimpers broke the silence. While Dean moved to find the noise, Sam peered out the front window, hoping to see some sign of the attacker.

Dean found Jenny huddled behind the main desk, holding a shuddering Kess. Tears streamed down Jenny's face as she and her daughter put pressure on Kess's arm. Dean could see several gashes along the girl's forearm as blood oozed through their fingers. He also noted that, while she was shaking Kess kept her face stoic, lips pressed tightly together and nostrils flared as she concentrated on tending to her wound. Tears could come later. Tough lady, he thought approvingly.

Just as he knelt down to see just how bad it was, Sam's hoarse exclamation caught his attention.

"Dean!"

He went over to join his brother at the window.

"Something's out there."

The brothers exchanged a knowing glance. Dean stayed by the window while Sam walked over to the frightened women. Jenny's tears had stopped, but Kess's arm continued to bleed sluggishly. Pursing her lips, Jenny looked up at Sam.

"Keep pressure on her arm," she said. "I need to call Harry."

Sam knelt down and set his knife on the floor. Worried at how much blood seemed to be coming out of the wound, he ripped off a strip of his undershirt and began wrapping Kess's arm, frowning as he watched five lines of red bleed across the cloth.

"How badly did it get you?" he asked.

"Just my arm," the shivering woman replied. "It's not too bad, really."

Sam raised an eyebrow skeptically and glanced pointedly at the blood oozing through the cloth. Kess let out a rueful chuckle, but didn't bother to elaborate. Closing her eyes, she wearily leaned her head back to rest against the wall. Both brothers noticed how labored her breathing had become and that her already pale complexion had become almost ghostlike. They exchanged worried glances as Sam applied a little more pressure to the wound.

"Do you know what did this to you?" Dean asked from his post.

"No," she answered, not bothering to open her eyes or lift her head from the wall. "I was out at the gate, leaving some cream for Grimalkin."

"Who's Grimalkin?" interrupted Sam.

"He's a gray tomcat who lives in the alleys around here. I leave food out for him every night. He's just starting to get comfortable with me, but tonight he wouldn't even come out of the bushes."

Kess shifted and hissed in pain when she jostled her arm.

"I was just heading back up our walk when I smelled something foul behind me, like rotting meat. I turned to look, but all I saw were shadows. The thing grabbed me and I screamed."

"That, we heard," muttered Dean.

"I cut myself trying to get free," she flicked a glance along her arm and frowned vaguely, "multiple times, it would seem… though…I thought… I could've sworn… I only felt one cut…"

"Claws?" Sam asked.

"Maybe… couldn't see," her words had begun to slur. "Got away, whatever it was. Felt it chasing me as I ran up the walk, but it couldn't seem to get past the porch steps."

Sam kept steady pressure on the wound while Dean crossed the lobby and poked around the door for a bit. Finally, readying his gun, he eased the door open and slipped outside. Sam and Kess heard him pace the length of the porch and tap the wood at various spots. He returned shortly and ran his fingernail down the front of the door. He gave his finger a quick sniff before dabbing it against the tip of his tongue.

"Front door's been treated with salt," he muttered, "but there's nothing except a Devil's Trap on the porch, no salt or silver on the steps."

Just then, Jenny hurried back into the room, carrying a first aid kit. Nodding to Sam, she knelt by her daughter and applied a fresh cloth to the make-shift bandage. Sam dusted off his knees as he stood and moved to join his brother.

"What do you think?" he murmured.

"No idea," returned Dean, keeping his voice low.

"Too many monsters with claws and we don't know what kept it out," grumbled Sam. "Not much to narrow down the search."

"What about the apartments? Not too many creatures kill like that."

"Yeah, but we don't even know if this is connected. Hell, we don't even know if this was a monster. Could just be a random stabbing."

From the corner, Kess gave a low moan.

"Don't worry, honey," soothed Jenny, "Harry will be here soon."

Sam glanced over his shoulder at the two of them.

"Her arm's still bleeding."

"Nothing we can do," growled Dean. "Let's take a look outside."

The brothers slipped outside, keeping weapons at the ready. A chilly night breeze rustled the leaves overhead in the trees that lined the walk. Down by the sidewalk, they found the shattered remains of a china bowl surrounded by white puddles of milk. As Dean bent to retrieve one of the pieces, Sam let his gaze roam across the foggy street and around their side of the sidewalk.

"Huh," he grunted as he turned to examine the gate. "Couldn't have been a demon. There's a Devil's Trap inlaid into the concrete. No sulfur smell, either."

"Plenty of things just as nasty," returned his brother, squinting at the chest-high fence and standing.

Fresh blood streaked the whitewashed wood. The fence-posts around it were chipped and gouged. More blood, looking almost black in faded moonlight, dotted the pavement in a trail to the door.

Running his hand along the top of the fence, Dean felt the rough patches cut out by their monster's claws, but nothing to lead them back to it – no fur, fangs, or claws. Just as he was getting ready to make another pass over the scene, faint footsteps sounded up the street. Without hesitation, he cocked his gun and aimed into the shadows. A man-sized blob headed steadily nearer.

"Dean?"

Harry Dresden came striding out of the fog, blasting rod in hand and duster flaring out behind him. Dean lowered his gun and shook his head.

"Dresden? Good thing you called out, or I'd've put two bullets in you."

The wizard pushed past him and hurried up the walk. He took the front steps two at a time and shoved the door open, not caring who he woke in his hurry. Sam and Dean trailed after him since there was nothing more to be seen out at the street.

Finding the two women still behind the main desk, Harry knelt down and pulled a plastic sports bottle out of an inside pocket. He pulled up the stopper and poked it in Kess's face.

"Bottoms up, Sprite."

The dark-haired woman tossed the concoction back and swallowed convulsively. Without skipping a beat, Harry handed her a second sports bottle.

"Now the other one."

Kess downed that one too. With a grimace, she wiped her good hand across her mouth

"Eugh. Tastes worse every time, Harry. What do you put in it?"

"Slime and snails and puppy dog tails," Harry rejoined sarcastically, examining her other arm. Already, the bleeding had slowed considerably. "Come on," he grunted as he gently scooped her up and stood, "let's get you to bed."

"It's my arm that's hurt, not my legs. I can walk." Kess protested as Harry maneuvered them up the stairs. The wizard ignored her token objection and turned down the hall, muffling their voices as they moved farther away.

Jenny slowly picked up the supplies from the first aid kit and put them back one by one. Her hands shook as she clicked the latch shut. She glanced at Sam and Dean as she walked past.

"Thank you for your help tonight. It could've been a lot worse if you hadn't been here." She kept walking, not waiting for any reply.

Sam frowned up at the stairs while his sibling eyed the doors that Jenny had gone through. Blowing out a breath, Dean ran both hands through his hair. Sam turned his attention away from the stairs to look at his brother.

"Her arm shouldn't have bled that badly, Dean. At least, not from shallow cuts like those."

"No kidding, Sammy. Poison-coated claws, maybe?"

"Or maybe it bit her instead of clawing her. Something in its saliva? Like a mosquito?"

"Nothing that interesting," said Harry as he came back down the stairs. "But, we'll skip the organ recital for now. Lemme take a look around."

Harry headed back down the steps to look at the gate. With an annoyed shake of his head, Dean followed, Sam in tow. Harry was already kneeling and muttering by the fence when they walked up. He stayed knelt down, examining broken bowl, splinters of wood, and blood splatters with equal intensity for a good fifteen minutes. Finally, patience gone, Dean nudged him with his foot.

"Anything, Gandalf?"

Harry stood slowly and stretched. Turning towards the hunters, he grinned smugly and held out a single wiry hair.

"Enough to track it with. Let's go back inside. No point in loitering out here."

Soon, the three men were seated in the warm front parlor. Wrapped in a terrycloth robe, Jenny handed each man a mug of tea before sitting in a plush chair next to Harry and nursing her own cup. Harry and Sam sipped at their cups, but Dean merely raised one eyebrow and awkwardly cradled the delicate china in his hands, ill at ease with such dainty items.

Sighing, Harry leaned back in his chair.

"Well, everything down there certainly feels the same as Allison's apartment. Little stronger, even, since it's fresh. Definitely the same sense of hate and the desire to hurt." He took another sip of tea and shook his head. "Nasty stuff."

Dean leaned forwards in his seat.

"The same how? Last I checked, one shattered bowl and a beat-up fence are not quite in the same league as a torn-up living room filled with body parts."

"Crimes like that leave a psychic residue of sorts. An emotional imprint, if that makes any sense. Two different incidents have the same feel, means they're probably done by the same person. Lucky I got here fast – they usually fade pretty quickly."

"So, what's that mean for us?" Asked Sam, draining his cup.

"Means that we only have to track one thing. Two things, tops – if the hex bags at the other two crime scenes mean that witches are involved. Did you find a bag at the gate?"

Both brothers shook their heads. Harry frowned.

"Huh, that's strange. I got an evidence inventory from Murph. They'd found a bag identical to the one at Allison's apartment at the other murder scene. If there wasn't one here, I guess they aren't marking their targets that way, then." He lapsed into thoughtful silence.

"Could it be coincidence?" Sam asked. Dean snorted before his brother could finish the thought.

"Right. How many coincidences do we get in our world, Sammy?"

Finally, Jenny stood up and gathered the cups and saucers on a tray. She looked around at the three brooding men in her parlor and gave a tired smile.

"There's nothing more we can do tonight, so we should all go to bed. Harry, there's a room made up for you as usual, if you want to stay the night."

Harry smiled and relieved her of the tray.

"You read my mind," he said as he carried it to the kitchen. Jenny chuckled and followed, bidding Sam and Dean good night.

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