"I dunno, man." Dean tossed his pen onto the table and shoved their Dad's journal aside. "I'm comin' up with squat, and I'm real sick of bein' one jump behind this damn thing. I'm ready to get a bullhorn and start drivin' up and down the streets, warnin' people about the monster."
Sam's rueful smile slid off his face. "Not a bullhorn, fliers."
"You want to post 'Beware of killer rocking horse!' posters on telephone poles beside all the all the yard sale signs and lost cat pictures? I was kidding, Sam. Sorta."
"I'm not, sorta," Sam shot back, then shrugged. "This thing, it's an opportunistic predator. It's not jumping kids walking home from school; it's relying on their parents bringing it into the house."
"Trojan horse by Fisher-Price," Dean interjected with a grimace.
"Exactly. What if we spread the word that the horse is stolen goods, maybe even offer a reward? Even if nobody turns it over to us, it might keep the next person from picking it up."
Dean tilted his head, considering that. "Call me crazy, but I can't come up with a better way to warn people off this thing."
Sam pulled his computer closer. "I can photo-manip Ethan out of the picture and we can post 'em anywhere parents might see 'em."
"Oh, hey, I spotted a Plucky's on the way in," Dean teased. "We gotta put one there."
"You can go in and put that one up," Sam shot back in his 'I'm pretending to be too absorbed to really listen' tone of voice.
"Aw, man, again with the clowns? You'll face down a vampire with nothing but a butter-knife, but clowns still make your gonads shrivel?"
"Two words for you. Air travel." Sam gave him a sour glance over the top of the screen.
"Hey, planes crash every day."
"And clowns kill, so shut it," Sam snapped.
"Geez, you meet one killer clown…." The look on Sam's face then warned Dean off the subject, for now. "How many of these you think we oughta get printed up?"
"At least a hundred," Sam said. "We need to blanket the town pretty thoroughly."
"Yeah, if this thing has come back to home-base."
"It seems to be making up for lost time, so yeah, it'll be here soon. If it's not already cozied up in some kid's bedroom," Sam answered with a scowl.
"Golden ray of sunshine."
"I do my best." Sam straightened, and then copied the altered photo over to a USB drive. "While you were scouting for Plucky's, I noticed a copy shop. Let's go."
Dean blinked and rubbed his face. He glanced first at the television; now displaying a muted infomercial instead of the movie he had begun watching when he stretched out on the bed. He looked across the dark room to where Sam still sat at the dinette table, his face lit by whatever he was studying on the screen. "Is that Jethro Tull?"
Sam looked over, startled, then jiggled something at the side of his computer. The trilling flute tune cut off. "Sorry, didn't realize I'd pulled the headphone jack loose."
"Any particular reason you're listening to vintage Tull at," Dean squinted at his watch, "Two-thirty in the morning?"
"It's incidental, a file embedded in this website," Sam grumbled. "But it's appropriate." Sam leaned back and stretched, his next words coming out in a yawn. "I still don't know for sure what this thing is, but I've got a wild theory."
Dean sat up and tugged his pillows around behind his back. "Lay it on me."
"Ok. This thing isn't operating like any cursed object we've ever encountered, and we've encountered a lot."
"True," Dean nodded. "Operative word being: object. Every other cursed object we've run across stays put. They don't go hunting up their next victim."
"Right!" Sam leaned forward, an eager edge in his voice. "But this rocking horse seems to be coming to life and carrying these kids off. So, I started looking for any entity that does operate like this thing. And the one thing that does is a kelpie."
Dean blinked. "A seaweed monster?"
Sam shook his head. "A kelpie is a vicious type of Fae that's native to
"Gross," Dean grimaced and felt a chill along his spine. "If this thing is a kelpie… you're sayin' these kids are the worst kind of dead?"
Sam seemed to shrink a little in his chair, that triumphant eureka light dying out of his eyes. "Yeah. Maybe. I hope not. But that's the closest known match I can find to this thing."
Dean got up and went over to the table. He leaned over Sam's shoulder and scrolled through the pages his brother had up. "Sure sounds like our rocking horse, but all the pieces still don't fit. From what it's saying here, a kelpie can take the form of a man or a woman too, but I don't see anything about one being able to go full-on stealth and make like a piece of wood."
"Right, but there's lore that might hint at an explanation for that. The stories about kelpies were sometimes conflated with the ones about selkies."
"I can see why, if someone mumbled," Dean said. "Ok, what's a selkie?"
"A sort of were-seal."
Dean blurted a chuckle. "A were-seal? You're joking, right?"
Sam gave him a deadpan look. "At two-thirty in the morning? I don't have the brain function left to pull crap over on you. Selkies are benign were-seals, from the same area. The legends say that when they come on land and take human form, they shed their seal-skins and hide them. If you can find a selkie's skin and keep it locked away, they're trapped on land and are under your control. There's some sort of powerful magic in the skins, not in the creature itself."
"The horsehide," Dean concluded.
"Yeah. If that rocking horse is covered with a kelpie hide, there's really no predicting what this thing might be able to do. That possibility takes it from cursed object to something like a nonhuman vengeful." Sam pulled a map over. The one they'd marked with each of the abductions. "And look at this. See anything we didn't notice the first time?"
"Water," Dean said after a long moment. "All the abductions were within a mile of a big creek or river."
"Most of which are tributaries of the Susquehanna," Sam added.
"And we could almost throw a rock into it from here. So, it sounds like if this is a kelpie, it's claimed this river." Dean said.
"Looks like it," Sam agreed glumly.
"One bright side to this," Dean offered with a clap to Sam's shoulder.
"What? I could use one about now," Sam groaned. He closed his browser and clicked the shut-down icon.
"If someone managed to tan a kelpie's hide, that means there's gotta be a way to kill the bastards."
"At this point, I'm ready to burn the thing and scatter the ashes, just to be sure," Sam answered. He rose a bit stiffly as his computer went dark.
"Not much can come back from that to kick you in the nads," Dean agreed. "We'll find the damned monster, Sammy, and we'll gank it before it grabs another kid. We're not leavin' till we do."
"It's my turn!" Abby grabbed their pony's rein. The small horse curved its neck around and dropped its head to relieve the uneven pressure from the bit. It flicked its ears and lashed its long grey tail, as impatient as its would-be rider.
"Is not! I barely got on! And stop yellin', Mommy and Daddy's gonna hear you!" Alex tugged the rein out of his sister's hand and urged the dapple-grey back into lively motion. The rockers thumped against the carpet as Alex swayed the horse to the precarious limits of its arc.
"Smoky's not just your horse. We're supposed to share! You stop and let me ride or I'm gonna tell on you!"
"Ok, ok. You're such a baby." Alex leaned back and pulled on the reins. The rocking horse slowed its sway and went still once more. "We'll share. You can ride behind me, then I'll ride behind you."
Alex took his bare foot out of the stirrup so his sister could get on.
"I ain't no baby! I'm 'xactly the same age as you, you big green booger!" Abby grabbed onto Alex and pulled herself up behind him onto Smoky's rump. "I wanna ride by myself."
"Nuh uh, I'm nine minutes older. Grandma says so! So I'm the big brother and you're the little sister and you gotta do what I say. Ow! Don't pinch!"
"I didn't pinch you on purpose. I was just tryin' to get on and Smoky moved. And 'sides, I'm bigger than you so you can just make me!"
"Giddap, Smoky!" Alex slapped the reins against the rocking horse's neck and bounced his heels against its hollow wooden belly.
Smoky snorted then reared. His forelegs beat the air, freed from his rockers. The transformed toy gave a little buck, kicking out with his hind legs. The rockers dissolved into algae-green mist.
Abby squealed and went head first off over Smoky's slippery rump. Her face smacked the floor with a solid thud and she went still and limp.
"Abby!" Alex twisted in the saddle, tried to jump off but he couldn't make his legs move to take his feet out of the stirrups.
"Smoky! Stop!" He hauled back on the reins with all his might as the horse ran straight towards the bedroom window across the room.
Smoky shook his head so hard the reins flew out of Alex's hands. Alex grabbed onto Smoky's mane, his eyes wide and scared. The bedroom window slid open all by itself. Smoky jumped right through it.
The window slammed down behind them.