Sam looked out into the hotel lobby as he had done the first time. But this time the surprise he got was for other reasons.
He looked around him but there was no sign of the blonde haired girl.
He took a quick look behind him, but he couldn’t find any trace of the closed door.
However, he knew he didn’t have time to worry about that now. However hard he had hit her Anna would be back on her feet…hopefully so would Alice.
He started making for the main entrance when he froze.
The security guards from last time were already there. Their bulky frames sealing the doorway.
He turned his gaze next towards the glass doorway that he had gone out with Alice. He could see it across the lobby. He would have to cross through the lobby and make towards the main doorway if he was going to reach it. But with some luck, the lumbering giants would not reach it in time to stop him.
He started fast walking towards the glass doors, even as the two guards crossed the threshold into the lobby.
The lobby was as usual filled with a sprinkle of people, enough to create the illusion of a packed hotel.
However, things were different this time. To Sam’s surprise, the guests were no longer oblivious to his presence. Instead, they all turned towards him when he reached the centre of the lobby.
Worse, he saw their eyes and they were the same as the two guards; milky white and blank.
They started lumbering towards him, they’re hands stretched out; reaching for him.
He turned towards the guards. They were still some way away from where he was but still, he would have no time to run around the guests.
He had no choice. If he wanted to make it to the other side, he would have to go through the lobby and the mass that filled it.
Sam took a deep breath and charged into the centre.
They were on him as soon as he was close enough.
Going for his neck; going for his body. They were either trying to pin him down until the guards got to him or they were trying to kill him. Sam realized that killing him would not have been a problem. They could always bring him back and wipe his memory. Would make things a lot easy for them.
The guests were like ants.
They were starting to overpower him and he struggled to get free of them.
He managed to get one hand free and used it to push and punch.
The flesh his hands contacted felt real.
Yet, though he was attacking them, they didn’t change their actions. They were still trying to subdue him or strangle him. None of them seemed intent on defending themselves.
It didn’t take Sam long to realize why not.
All the guests he knocked down were back up soon enough. Joining the pack and returning back to their previous act as if nothing had happened.
The two burly security guards were now closer, and he was barely halfway through.
If he had hoped that a mass of bodies that converged upon him and circled him in a thick mound of flesh would form some hindrance to the guards he was wrong.
The minute they neared the outer rim the people broke off letting the guards enter without any troubles.
It was like wading through quicksand for Sam, and just like quicksand, he was drowning.
The guards were almost on him when he finally reached the glass doors.
He feared they might be closed but for his fortune, he found they were open. He remembered what Alice had said before.
The words ‘Hotel California’ popped into his head.
‘Was that true?’
‘Or was that just another one of her lies?’
He didn’t have time to worry about that now. Instead, he ran out of the hotel and down the path that led to the forest.
He had a plan, or at least a vague notion of one.
He would head towards the waterfall and then follow the river it created to wherever it leads. He had no idea which way he would go, but one thing he was certain of was that it would lead sooner or later out of the hotel.
As for the waterfall, all he had to do was follow the path.
He looked back for a second.
The guests were all staring at him from beyond the glass doors. It was a good sight. It meant that they had no power outside the hotel. What concerned him was the two guards.
Sam didn’t run.
He waited, watching.
Until he finally saw the front line part and the lumbering giants made their way into his view.
He waited anxiously.
However, nothing happened.
The guards too stopped and just stared back at him.
Sam then turned and ran towards the forest.
The forest was not what he remembered it from last time. It was not bright and cheerful. There were no sprinkles of light falling like fairy dust. The forest he saw was more akin to what he was used to.
Weeping willows and dark menacing oaks circled around him. Twigs like skeleton hands reached out to him threatening to snare him in their iron grips. There were roots peeking out of the ground, promising to twist his ankle if he dared not worry where he went. The dark canopy high above was thicker and barely let any light through to the ground below.
Yet, on the forest floor grew smaller plants, and the grass was thick and spread across nearly the entirety of the floor. Covering in some parts, like a bald man’s head, the path he was depended on.
Sam stopped running and shifted on to a fast walk.
As hurried as he was to get to the waterfall, he didn’t want to risk a fall that would make escape harder.
He kept his eyes focused on the path ahead. Careful not to wander off even slightly. The forest grew thick and like the houses in the neighbourhood showed no marks he could have used to find his way through.
He was trying to remember how long it had taken to reach the falls the last time. But then he was too busy being awestruck by Alice to notice time passing by. His thoughts wandered to that time. But they didn’t get the chance to linger too long there before a sound interrupted his thoughts.
The forest, like before was silent. Though the silence now was eerie and not peaceful like last time. So that the sound he heard came clearly and he had no troubles recognizing it for what it was.
The bark of hounds…
Sweat poured down from his forehead and on to the wounds that the twigs and branches across his path had made. Sending surges of immense pain through his body. But they also fell into his eyes and blurred his vision.
He wanted to wipe the sweat off but his mind seemed fixed singularly on one task and was uncooperative with anything else.
As much as Sam wanted to stop, knew he would have to soon enough. The sound of the Hellhounds on his track kept him going.
Fear of tripping and falling was kept at bay by the terrifying sound of the hounds.
Sam didn’t know why he ran.
What he hoped to accomplish by trying to escape.
These were Hellhounds.
They were relentless.
They would never tire; never give up. They would hunt him to the ends of the earth.
‘Sooner or later he would have to confront them, and when he did, would he survive?’
While Ruby’s knife could kill a Hellhound, he had no doubt there would be more than one at his heels. So, even if he managed to get one, if they all attacked at once, he would still be done.
For a second Sam considered the possibility of giving up and letting the Hellhounds get to him. Be done with all the pain and misery he had endured.
Who knows, if Anna and the others were adamant about needing him to keep Dean, maybe they would pull him out of hell. Maybe even wipe his memories and leave only the happy life he had been denied.
‘Would that be so bad?’
Just when Sam was ready to give up he heard something in the distance.
He heard the call of the Elysium Falls and it felt like the song of the siren beckoning him to his own doom.
The sound of the Hellhounds felt closer and Sam found himself running again; faster than before. No longer was he concerned about watching where he was running. He had only one thing going through his mind and it wasn’t even his thought.
He once again reached the familiar opening in the forest. And the familiar roar of the falls greeted him.
He ran through without stopping or slowing down and found himself once again in the same familiar open meadow.
He stopped and stared at the falls before him. Its roar now deafening the barks of the hounds pursuing him.
He felt at peace and safe.
When he had reached the mouth of the clearing he had expected Elysium falls to take on the same gloomy and sinister tone that the forest had taken. But instead, he found it unchanged from what he had seen before.
Sam found himself gazing once more, frozen in place, just staring at the magnificence of the falls.
Then his eyes wandered away towards the stepping stones that Alice had once used to reach the island throne.
Sam didn’t know what compelled him to run towards them or what made him believe that the falls would protect him. But the memory of what Alice had told him about the falls, how she felt near them, drove him. Somewhere deep inside of him, he felt that the falls would never let anything bad happen to him or anyone else while in its purview.
Maybe it was the way it had remained as if blissfully unaware of the changes that were taking place in the rest of the city.
Sam rushed towards the stepping stones.
He hesitated only for a second before leaping on to the first stone.
He felt the soles of his shoes slip on the curved surface of the wet rock.
He felt his body tilting towards the crystal blue waters.
Somehow though he managed to keep his balance.
He heard the sound of the hounds.
Even above the falls, he could hear their bark and he knew for certain they were close by.
He looked over his shoulder, the act itself almost tipping him off, and towards the tree line. But he couldn’t see anything. Though he felt them there watching him from the edges.
Sam continued. Leaping from one stone to the other.
Memories of Alice flooded into his mind. He remembered how she had done it, how she had never hesitated nor stopped. Moving fast until she reached the other end. Sam knew that was the secret. Though he didn’t have the grace of Alice, he followed her step and discarded any concern of falling and then rushed towards the island.
His feet barely touched the throne island when he heard a voice call out to him.
It startled him and almost tipped him over.
He turned carefully and found his eyes falling on to the familiar but grief-stricken face of Jess!
Sam’s mind was not processing what his eyes were showing him. In fact, the two found themselves at odds with each other. His eyes were convinced that what they saw was true, yet his mind could not rationalize it.
So in all the circumstances, with all the other work it had to do, his mind decided to accept the eyes as they told it without question; for the time being.
“Jess” he finally said. “What are you doing here?”
“Sam, what the hell are you doing?” she asked. There was a pain in her voice.
“Jess I…” he started but couldn’t finish it.
“You promised me, Sam, you promised me that you were done acting out,” she said almost in tears.
It was good to see Jess, his heart leapt at the sight of her. But it also broke at her words and the thought of the pain he had put her through. He wanted so much to reach out to her and comfort her and tell her everything was going to be all right. But he found himself unable to leave the island.
“Sam please, at least now stop all this and come home with us. We can help you. All of us, we just want to help you.”
Sam took a step forward, towards the edge of the island and then stopped again.
Something was not right.
Something troubled him about everything.
Somewhere deep down in the recesses of his mind, the brain was still processing what the eyes were telling it. But at a slower speed. Maybe it was the hunter instincts finally finding their way back to him. But for whatever reason Sam’s brain was having trouble believing everything it was seeing.
“Sam please, don’t you want to come back with us. Don’t you want to live a normal life with us?”
“What happens if I come with you?”
“Nothing Sam, nothing will happen. Just like nothing has happened to you so far. Sam please, stop acting like this. You have nothing to worry about.”
“What about the dreams?”
“The dreams about Jesse, about me!”
“They’re just dreams, Sam,” she said, but there was no conviction in her words. There was also doubt in her mind as if she didn’t believe him. “Sam please!”
Sam looked away from her and towards the waterfall again. Then after a while, he realized what it was that was wrong.
So he turned towards Jess and then towards the water.
“All right!” He finally said and he saw Jess visibly relax.
“I’ll come with you, but first there is something I want to show you,” Sam said and confusion filled Jess’ face.
“Come on,” he said extending his hand towards her.
However, Jess didn’t move. In fact, she didn’t take even a step towards him or the water. Instead, she stared at him and then at the water, a look of terror on her face.
At first, it was just a suspicion that he had. Seeing Jess stand so far away to talk to him; having to shout just to be heard. All she needed was to come to the water’s edge and they would have had a better opportunity of talking. Now as he watched her staring down at the water, the look of fear in her eyes, he was sure.
She was afraid of the Elysium falls…or at least the water for some reason.
Maybe it wasn’t that they chose to leave the falls untouched. Maybe there was something about the falls that made it impossible for them to change; to control. And whatever that force was, Jess was afraid of it too.
“Come on Jess,” Sam said. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little water. Besides, it’s nice and cool. You’ll love it. It’ll be just like our college days. Remember!”
“Sam please, stop this and just come with me. Everybody is worried sick about you.”
“I will. First come here so I can show you something.”
“You can show it to me later. Just come home with me now.”
“Why waste a second trip. It won’t take more than a few minutes. Come on Jess, how long has it been since we did something crazy; something impulsive.”
“Jess” Sam responded. “Don’t tell me, you’re suddenly afraid of water?”
“If you don’t remember Sam, I died. A lot of things have changed.”
“But I died too, remember, you told me yourself,” Sam said and Jess’ face changed. Her grey eyes turned black and a sneer appeared on her face.
“What gave me away?” she asked.
“Well, apart from your fear of the water. Someone had to call the dogs. I doubt they respond well to the Angels.”
“Angels?” Jess said and sneered. “Now that you know, how about you quit the games and come over. We have some unfinished business, you and I” she said, the sneer still on her face.
Sam’s hand went to the knife but he stopped himself midway.
“Come on Hunter. What have you got to lose? If you die they bring you back and wipe your memory so you can have your happy family. But if you live…well, then you get demon blood to make you stronger. As far as I can see, its win-win for you.”
“I’m tempted! But I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass. If you like you can swim over and we can chat here.”
The sneer on Jess’ face disappeared and the familiar mask of hate-filled it. It was strange seeing the demon’s visage on Jess’ face and it made him mad to think that filthy thing was inside of her.
The demon must have sensed it because the sneer returned.
“The longer I stay in this body, Hunter, the more damage that’s going to be caused to your girl.”
Sam knew he was right. Everything inside of him screamed him to go fight the demon. But then he couldn’t risk fighting the demon and hurting Jess. Then again, he wasn’t so sure whether this was, in fact, his Jess.
Sam closed his eyes for a few seconds.
Then when he opened his eyes he stretched out his hand and started the Latin prayer.
He tried to remember every single word.
However, he had not gone halfway through the exorcism when he heard Jess’ laughter. But this was not the beautiful thing he remembered but a perverse version. Sam turned to find the demon in Jess’ body laughing, throwing her head back.
“Oh please don’t stop,” the demon said. “I’m quite enjoying watching you try.”
“Exorcism, darling hubby, is to exorcise demons who have escaped hell. Not ones who are here on invite. You can’t exorcise me. I am meant to be here, in this world and in this body. Its mine until I choose to leave or you kill me. So what will it be darling? You’re going to stand there and watch this pretty body rot from the inside or you going to come and do something more than sing a few fairy tunes.”
Sam listened with horror and despair and then made his decision.
He leaned over and leapt into the water.
Sam didn’t know what the demon did next.
He just swam as hard as he could away from the shore and towards the waterfall. The closer he got the stronger the current got. As if the waterfall itself was trying to keep him away.
His arms and legs started to tire but he pushed on.
When he reached the other bank he let himself fall down on the soft grass and just lay there.
How long he was like that he didn’t know but when he got back to his feet he looked back the way he had come.
The demon was gone as far as he could see and the other bank was empty. Probably gone to warn the others.
He remembered seeing this side of the sea when he had been with Alice. It had been something that had not caught his attention then. But its memory had stuck with him. Fortunately, as it turned out.
He had acted on impulse, on an untested theory that, for whatever reasons, the demon was not going to follow him.
Fortunately, it worked.
He looked around him. Again, he found a forest a few feet away from him. But it was smaller than its cousin across the waters. The forest extended a few meters inland and then came to a stop at a sheer cliff that ran parallel to the waters until it reached the falls themselves.
Sam considered scaling the cliff. But even from this distance, he could tell that it would be quite the feat. The face of the cliff was nearly as smooth as it can be, and it rose forever towards the sky.
So instead he stuck to his initial plan and started to follow the bank, in the hopes that the waters would take him somewhere away from all this.
Sam didn’t know how long he had been walking. But then he had not had any concept of time since he came here.
All he knew was that he seemed to be walking forever.
Already the sun was starting to set away from the falls; throwing its light against him and the forest beyond.
He was still following the river which was showing no sign of stopping or reaching its destination. He had hoped it would take him out of this place but now he was not sure it even had an eventual end.
‘Maybe just like everything else this too went on forever.’
He soon came to a forest.
Sam froze at the sight of it.
It looked exactly like the forest on the other bank. Same trees, same thickness and the same sinister feel.
‘Had he somehow walked in a full circle?’
He stood at the edge staring at it for a while with fear. He thought he heard the hounds barking from somewhere deep inside.
Then finally he decided he had no choice and he stepped in.
There were so many things he should be afraid of, but getting lost was not one of them. The trees grew thick all around him but like the trusty companion, it has been so far the river flowed by next to him; clear as day.
He continued to walk, his eyes darting glances all around him. Watching every shadow; every movement of a branch. Listening to every sound he thought he heard.
Finally, though he reached the other end, and there, he could see a whole world stretching away. A world not so perfect.
He ran towards it.
Ran with relief in his heart and hope; the weariness and tiredness forgotten.
And then when he reached a point he stopped.
Something was wrong.
The image ahead of him was blurred.
He stretched a hand out slowly and carefully. Inching further away from his body until he felt something cool.
Then the image beyond broke, like the reflection in the water shattering because of a ripple caused on its surface.
Sam took a step back in disbelief.
“It’s to keep the unwanted out,” said Anna behind him.
Sam turned to come face to face with her.
She showed no signs of the blow. In fact, the sneer that had been on her face at the demon’s house was back on her face.
“Did you enjoy your walk, Sam?”
“Where am I?”
“Sam, Sam, why does it matter where you are. Can’t you get it, you’re never leaving here. This is your prison for the rest of your miserable existence.”
Anna was now not just sneering she was smiling; almost laughing.
“You were just a dog on a leash” she continued. “All this was just us giving you your exercise before we put you back in your cage.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“You still don’t get it, do you. All your questions, they don’t matter. You…don’t matter, Sam. The sooner you get that the sooner we can go back to the way things should be.”
“I’m not done yet,” Sam said and pulled out Ruby’s knife.
“Oh Sam, your hopeless,” said Anna and shook her head, the smile still visible. “That thing won’t do anything to me.”
“What about this,” said a familiar voice, and both Sam and Anna turned towards it.
Dean was standing at the far end of the bridge that Anna was on. The long bridge that ran over the river. Gargoyles watched from their perch on either side of the bridge the standoff was taking place.
“Dean Winchester, swooping in to protect his little brother. How predictable,” said Anna turning her back to Sam.
“How about you let my brother go like he asks?”
“I can’t do that. But I can kill him and put him out of his misery if you like?” she said. “Only if you promise to be a good little boy and do everything mommy asks you?”
“How about if I kill you and then leave with Sam?” asked Dean and Anna laughed.
“Oh Dean, you’re such a redneck. Always looking to shoot someone. Do you honestly think that if that thing could kill us we would let you keep it?”
Dean did not answer.
“Then I presume you get its useless against me.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s useless. It can punch a neat little hole in that beautiful body of yours. I am also going to bet that it can also cause you some serious pain.” Dean said but Anna didn’t respond.
“So how about we don’t make things too difficult and go our separate ways.” Dean continued.
“I can’t let Sam go…alive,” she said and turned and stretched her hand towards Sam. She clenched it and Sam could feel himself choking.
“Sam” Dean shouted and fired the colt.
Sam saw the bullet, flying in slow motion through the air. But only because Anna was no longer there to block his view.
He was no longer choking. But instead, he was frozen in place, watching the bullet flying towards him.
He soon lost sight of it and instead felt a searing pain in his chest.
As he felt something warm flowing down his body. He felt a sense of liberation as he fell to the ground.
Sam could see the blue sky above him. Now dark and colourful with the setting sun. He could see the vibrant colours, like the palette of a master artist. He saw the many shades seem to blur and shift as if something translucent was slowly creeping across it.
The pain in his chest was there. There was something in his throat; something that was slowly filling him inside, just as something else was flowing out. But his focus was on the sky. Watching the colours become blurred as the translucent cover fell over the entirety of his vision.
He watched as it seemed to fall.
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