Bobby recoiled as the creeping effluvium loomed over him, the foul stench of death and decay pervading the air. At the same moment, the brothers burst through the door to the panic room, the box of eggs in still in Sam's hand smashing to the floor as they saw what had happened.
"Bobby!" cried Sam, stumbling backward with a shocked gasp and dropping to his knees. He scrambled backwards, as far into the corner of the room as he could fit, cowering helplessly against the wall.
Dean stood in stupefied horror as the brown miasma grew and thickened, boiling and swirling, filling the room with its doleful, terrifying moan. He tried to dash across the room to put himself between the spirit and Sam, but his bare foot slipped in the mess left by the smashed eggs and he crumpled to the ground, letting loose a gasping grunt of winded pain.
Breathlessly hauling himself to his hands and knees, Dean tried to crawl over to his brother cowering pitifully in the corner of the room staring at Dean with pebble-wide glazed eyes. Glancing across the room he saw Bobby, mute with terror, shrunk in horror into a gap between two filing cabinets, cringing behind his outstretched hands. "Bobby," he cried, "hang in there…" He knew the older man's heart wouldn't take this sort of punishment, he knew he had to get them all out of there.
Dean watched mesmerised as the fetid mist swirled, solidifying into an oozing column of vaporous mud and drifting across the room. It hovered between him and Sam.
Clutching his chest and retching against the foul odour, Dean crawled under the table that Bobby had been working at, slipping in the detritus of the wrecked eggs and the spirit's dripping fluids. "Bobby; Sam!" he snapped, trying to reach the two men on the opposite sides of the room, but everywhere he crawled, stumbled or leaned, the spirit was there, blocking his path, surrounding him.
It was focussing on him.
Then a curious thought struck him, as he managed to reach out and grasp Sam's shaking hand.
He wasn't afraid of it.
He was afraid, sure; afraid of the awful suffering of the two men who were cowering beneath the horror of this hideous travesty of nature, afraid of the two most important people in his life facing a terrible death. He was repulsed by this awful thing, sick with every breath that carried that foul stench, but he wasn't afraid of it …
As if the spirit had realised Dean's thoughts, it reared up at him, boiling and pulsating; the keening, melancholy howl becoming louder and more harrowing. He watched in mute horror as it increased in size, almost filling the room, then it engulfed him.
Dean shrank into the floor as the thing drifted toward him. Throwing his arms over his face he curled into a ball, eyes tightly closed, as the greasy brown fog closed around him.
Opening his eyes slowly, he blinked in disorientated confusion and tried to take stock of his situation.
He was still lying curled up on the floor, his arms wrapped around his face, but instead of the linoleum floor in Bobby’s panic room, he was lying on cobbles. Cold, damp mud-coated cobbles. As well as mud, there were lots of other unsavoury substances in the mix that he didn't necessarily want to dwell upon considering he was sprawled out in only a T-shirt and sweatpants, looking around him he could see traces of straw and food detritus and … oh great … horse shit.
He shakily propped himself up on his elbows, and looked around him. Through his swimming vision, he could see he was in a street; a very old, very poorly maintained street. Around him, the miasma still floated, hanging like brown, oily smoke on a still day. Looking up, he could see houses; tall narrow crooked houses, disappearing into the far distance and leaning haphazardly against each other in the cramped street like drunks at a party. They undulated and swirled with the mist; tinted the same depressing shade of brown; as if he were seeing this whole world through a sepia picture.
He blinked, swallowing back a queasiness as the swaying vista around him ebbed and rocked making him feel slightly seasick, and all around him that smell, that stench of filth and death.
It was then he realised that he could see beyond the street, through it; almost as if the things he could see around him weren't quite opaque; like he was looking at the world beyond through a goldfish bowl.
He rubbed his head in confusion; disorientated, he rose on paper-weak wobbly legs and squinted at the world beyond.
It was Bobby's panic room.
Sam; Bobby. He had to get to them; this thing that had him was lethal. They could be lying there choking their very last heart-stopping gasps even as he stood here with his thumb up his ass wondering what to do.
Suddenly he heard a sound behind him and spun round. There stood a woman; she was carrying a tiny child.
Dean paled when he saw her; she was barefoot in foul rags. Her skin, darkened with haemorrhagic bleeding, was lacerated with weeping lesions. Her thin, matted hair hung around her skeletal shoulders as she gazed up at him with sunken, fever glazed eyes.
The child she carried was in no better shape; too weak to cry, the tiny girl lay motionless in her mother's arms, thick dark blood oozing from her nailless fingertips.
There was a sense of transparency about both figures, although they looked more solid than the floating, undulating world around them.
Dean could see more people appearing behind her, emerging softly from the mist; first a handful, then dozens, then hundreds filling the cramped length of the murky street, each as diseased, and ruined as this poor woman who gazed up at him from a face so ravaged and destroyed, it was barely a face.
He stood, staring in horror at the woman and her child. His mouth worked silently as he looked over the top of her head to the suffering masses around her. His heart pounded violently against his chest stealing the air from his lungs as his knees began to buckle. He stumbled forward and the woman reached out to steady him. Without thinking, he recoiled from her gaunt, ulcerated hand.
"Sam, where's Sam? Got to get to him and Bobby," Dean whispered frantically to himself, "got to help them."
Sam cried out, insensible with horror, as he tried hard to regain some co-ordination to crawl towards Bobby on the other side of the room. He could feel his heart pounding, thrumming so fast he couldn't count the beats. He'd been scared before but this, this was unnatural; this was beyond anything he'd ever experienced. Raw, visceral terror. His eyes blurred with tears as he scrambled along the wall, trying to find his way to Bobby.
Bobby was barely conscious, crouched in paralysed fear in a gap between two filing cabinets. Hesitantly reaching out, Sam grabbed his shaking hand. Bobby stared pebble-eyed at the spirit and made no sign that he knew Sam was there.
Sam crouched down next to Bobby and prepared to die. His last coherent thought was that the spirit had Dean; his brother was probably already dead.
The woman looked up at Dean; her rheumy eyes drifting in and out of focus.
"Please help us. You are the only one who can give the charm of healing."
Dean recoiled, shaking his head; "why me? I can’t do anything special. What can I do? tell me what I have to do, what I have to say."
"You have suffered as we have suffered; at the hands of the same blood."
Dean stumbled backwards again, almost losing his footing over a loose cobble. "I don't know any charm," he gasped, coughing as he suppressed a gag at the stench of the poor woman's festering sores. "I can't help you - I'm sorry;" he repeated, "tell me how I can get out of here, please; I need to help my brother."
"So many afraid of us, of our disease; devastated, souls so ruined, so consumed with pestilence and darkness, we kill all who look upon us even though we do not wish to harm. We suffer the loneliness of the despised, the abandoned." She took a hesitant step towards Dean.
This time he didn't recoil, or give ground. He took a deep breath and looked deep into her eyes; "I'm not afraid of you."
The woman's gaze softened; her blood-streaked face lifted slightly into a smile.
He could see beneath the blackened swelling around her face, the weeping lesions, the toothless rotting mouth. Beneath it all was a slender, grey-eyed woman.
Buoyed by her smile he reciprocated. "I'm not afraid of you; it’s not your fault you’re sick - you're beautiful."
He reached up hesitantly and cupped the side of her face. Closing her eyes in joy, she gave a soft sigh and leaned into the touch. As Dean withdrew his hand, he saw the woman's skin was fresh and healed beneath his hand.
He gasped at the realisation; he didn't have to know any charm; he WAS the charm.
He reached up for the woman's dying child. “Give her to me now,” he prompted urgently. The woman handed her daughter to him, and he cradled the tiny emaciated body against his chest, whispering quiet reassurances to her.
A moment later, he felt the child shift in his arms; and his heart swelled as she turned to look at him, through clear, healthy grey eyes.
Gripping Bobby's wrist as hard as he could, Sam relished the feel of the older man's pulse; his guarantee that Bobby was still alive.
That was a point, why wasn't Bobby dead? Why wasn’t HE dead?
In fact, he wasn't sure if it was his imagination; maybe a hallucination brought on by the ordeal, or whether it was real, but he wasn't really even afraid any more.
He sat up, feeling the pounding of his heart gradually slowing to a bearable level. He looked up at the spirit in confusion.
It was then he felt Bobby shift; and the older man's wet eyes opened, blinking vacantly as if in shock.
"Bobby, thank God; Sam sighed.
Bobby looked up at the spirit then back at Sam. "It's got Dean," he whispered. Sam nodded, "I know."
They both stared at the entity as the thick brown mass simmered and whorled around the middle of the panic room.
"Something's changed;" muttered Bobby, wiping his eyes; "listen."
Sam listened. "that moan;" he muttered, not taking his eyes off the entity, "it's changed, it's not that terrible desolate howl any more, it's more like … like …"
"A sigh," Bobby interjected.
Both men clung to each other, listening intently to the comforting sound.
Dean was elated as the healthy, fresh-faced woman in front of him turned and hugged the walking cadavers behind her. "I’m not afraid of any of you, you're all good people." he shouted over the thrum of voices, excited shouts, and laughter.
He watched entranced as the hundreds of spirits lifted their healed faces to the sky, and the brown fog lifted, fading away into a brilliant light, taking with it the crooked houses, the cobbled street and finally, one by one the spirits. Last to go was the woman and her child. She took Dean's hand and smiled; a smile of pure love from a flawless face. "Thank you; we can go now to a better place."
She looked down at the little girl in her arms and smiled as she faded from Dean's vision. He blinked against a swirling eddy of dust as the light overtook him.
And then all was darkness.
Chapter 15 here