The Next Morning
The brothers sat a prudent distance away, the big black Impala as concealed as it could be in a suburban neighborhood. There wasn't much of the Cooper house they could see from concealment, but the scanner radio's chatter kept them informed on the activity.
"Think they've cleared out?" Dean asked, a few minutes after yet another patrol car pulled away.
"Looks like it." Sam slid the binoculars back into their case and tossed them into the back seat.
Dean ducked his head and squinted towards their restricted view of the pleasant looking home, situated in the center of a generous double lot. "Man, I'd rather be bare-ass naked and starin' down half a dozen demons than doin' this again."
"Dealing with a pack of demons bare-handed would be a pleasure compared to this," Sam gritted. "Whatever's happened to this kid is on my head. We should have had this case wrapped up days ago, but I can't get ahead of the damn thing."
"Don't beat yourself up, Sam." Dean buttoned his collar and tightened his tie. "I was wrong. Nobody's had to deal with anything like this before. No lore, no playbook, no handy-dandy banishment ritual. We're flyin' blind."
"Yeah, and I keep smashing into walls like a stupid fool while this monster tears apart another little kid."
"We'll get it. We have to go on a door to door search to find this kelpie or whatever-the-hell? That's what we'll do." Dean started the car and pulled up the street to the Cooper home.
The last thing Sam or Dean expected to see when they walked into the bedroom was that big grey rocking horse.
"It's here? Why is it still here?" Sam approached it as if the horse might lash out with its lifted leg or snap at him with its carved white teeth.
"You sure it's the same toy?" Dean circled it at a prudent distance as if it were a real horse, a vicious one.
"I'm sure." Sam's face drew into a fierce scowl. "I've spent a whole lot of time staring at this damned thing's picture. It's the same one."
He reached out and grabbed the reins close to the tarnished brass bit. The horse swayed on its rockers towards the pull of Sam's hand. Nothing more than an old, oversized rocking horse covered in sleek, grey-dappled pony-hide.
Dean poked it right in an amber glass eye. It reacted as violently as any other inanimate wooden toy.
"Poplin said rocking horses are usually marked somewhere by their maker," Sam commented. He lifted the horse's thick forelock to scrutinize the whirled hair on the toy's forehead.
"Then we may be the first to discover an original Oberon siggie," Dean snorted. His face drew up in distaste as he gingerly lifted the horse's heavy swath of tail to check underneath.
"Or Beelzebub's," Sam grumbled. "But seriously, if we find a sigil, we might be able to obliterate it and turn this thing back into nothing more dangerous than a very old toy." He squatted to unbuckle the saddle girth. "Hey! Check this out."
Dean crouched beside him as Sam reached out a finger and swiped a small clod of wet mud and grass clippings out from under the edge of one carved miniature horse shoe. Dean lurched up and punched the horse on the neck. "Where the hell have you taken those kids?" he snarled.
The force of the blow sent Smoky up onto one set of rocker blades and back down with a muffled thump. Dean's mouth pursed and he shook the sting out of his bruised hand behind his back.
"I doubt it's going to respond to our usual interrogation techniques." Sam rose. "Let's get this monster out of here."
Dean cupped a hand around one elegant, chipped ear. "You tell us what you've done to those kids, or we'll take you apart splinter by splinter."
He might as well have threatened the door. They each took an end and upturned the horse, working it through the door and down the hall. "One thing for sure," Sam commented, "None of the kids moved this on their own. It's got to weigh a good hundred-fifty pounds."
"Every ounce of it," Dean grunted as they worked the unwieldy thing down the stairs, Sam first. He could almost believe it was subtly resisting their efforts, parts somehow catching on the balusters or scraping along the walls.
"Noooo!!" Abby launched herself at them as they neared the end of the stairs. She slammed against the back of Sam's knees, almost knocking him off his feet.
"Abby! Stop that!" When her mother dived for her to pull her away, Abby wrapped herself tightly around Sam's legs and dug her fingers in far enough that Sam winced. She kept screaming "No!" at such a shrill panicked pitch Dean was sure his eardrums were going to pop and the windows shatter.
"NO! No! Don't take Smoky! He's gonna bring Alex back!" she wailed when her Dad stepped in to literally peel her off Sam. About time, too. Sam was looking almost as panicky as the kid by then.
"Daddy, please!" she wailed against Cooper's shirt front. "Please don't let 'em take Smoky! If they take him away he'll never, ever, ever bring Alex home!"
"Aww, baby," Tom groaned and Dean had to look away from the anguish on the man's face as Cooper rubbed his cheek against his daughter's hair. "Smoky's just a toy. He can't bring Alex home. These policemen are going to take good care of Smoky, but they may be able to figure out where Alex is by checking him out at the police station."
That set off a level of hysterics that was as frightening as it was gut-wrenching. Dean didn't know a little kid could turn that color. By the time her mother took her away, Cooper was almost as livid.
"Do you have to take the damn horse?" Cooper gritted.
"I'm sorry sir," Sam answered, his sympathy plain on his face. "We do. It's evidence."
"Evidence of what?" Cooper burst out. "It's just a toy! It has nothing to do with Alex going missing!"
Abby's screams were still painfully audible from somewhere in the back of the house.
"We think it does," Dean answered, trying for stern authority to get through to the man.
Tom Cooper stepped forward, and Dean was reminded again that the dude was almost as tall as Sam and wider through the shoulders. "Then you gather your evidence off it here. My daughter's been through enough already. We've been through enough already."
It is very difficult to project calming authority while straining to hold onto an upside down rocking horse. Sam backed the rest of the way off the stairs, and he and Dean flipped the horse back onto its rockers with a flicker of shared relief.
"We can't do that, Mr. Cooper—" Sam began, before he got Cooper right up close and way too personal, his hands fisted in Sam's jacket lapels. Sam spread his hands in prudent surrender.
"HEY! Back off!" Dean barked, his hand going behind his back.
Cooper might be stressed to the breaking point and furious, but he was no idiot. He backed off. The new distance made his demeanor only slightly less threatening. "You want this horse, you come back with a search warrant. Now get out of my house!"
"Mr. Cooper, please. Our investigation—"
Sam was interrupted again, this time by Mrs. Cooper. She held a gasping Abby in her arms. "Tom, she stopped breathing and fainted!"
The savage look Cooper shot them as he took his sobbing wife and daughter into his arms sent Dean and Sam out the front door without any further protests.
"Enthrallment?" Sam gritted as they hurried down the front walk.
"Stake out the place and steal the damn horse?" Sam snapped.
"Oh hell yeah," Dean agreed.
The sun was beginning to set when Sam's phone rang. Really rang. Who the heck's phone rings anymore?
"You do know you can change that to something that doesn't make you sound like a brain-dead dink, right?" Dean drawled.
Sam answered with one of his better bitch-faces before looking away. His upbeat voice as he answered made his whole body a liar. "Hello,
"I have some information for you on the provenance of that exquisite rocking horse."
Both brothers straightened from their relaxed slouches at that. "Great—" Sam laid his phone on the dash between them and reached for his notebook and pen. "What have you got?"
"I hope you're not in a rush, because this is rather a long story,"
"Hey, for this, we've got all the time you need," Dean assured him.
"Lovely! As it covers, goodness, over a century now, it's not easy to condense. After your visit, I spoke to my father about that remarkable horse. Nothing more came of it until he remembered his father speaking of a consignment of remarkable toys my great-grandfather had brought over from
"And our rocking horse was in it?" Sam asked.
"Oh yes, almost certainly. And it wasn't even the star of the show, so to speak."
Sam and Dean exchanged mutual expressions of suspicion. "What was?" Dean asked.
"Oh, the most marvelous doll house! Over six feet long when it is opened, and almost as tall. It's a piece of fine cabinet-making in its own right, but the furnishing and details were simply indescribable. As if someone built a palace for a fairy queen."
Dean rolled his eyes at Sam. Sam gave him a playful backhand to the shoulder. "Do you know where all those toys came from?" Sam asked.
"And where they went to? Someone had to have some serious cash, even back in the day, right?" Dean added.
"My goodness yes! 'Serious cash' is an understatement, Agent Perry. This shipment was purchased for a price that would have kept a working class family in comfort for almost two years."
"Wow, in any decade, that's impressive," Dean commented, his eyebrows rising.
"And all that for toys," Sam added. "That's not counting what this person spent on everything else."
"No occupational safety standards, no paid vacations, no worker's comp," Sam countered with a grin.
"True, we're far better off on the whole, even though sometimes I feel higher taxes are more inevitable now than their proverbial partner of death. After all, we only have to die once,"
A sigh whispered through the phone then. "And speaking of death, that lavish gift to his children brought little joy after all."
"What happened?" Dean asked, urgency sharpening his tone slightly.
"Oh, nothing at all like the current tragedies, if that's what you're thinking,"
"Really sad," Sam agreed. "What about the original owner of the lot? Do you know anything about them?"
"That'll be enough if we need to track it back that far," Dean assured him, and Sam gave him a nod of agreement.
"Any time, Agents! If there's any other way I might be able to assist you, please, don't hesitate to ask. My prayers are with you, and the children."
"We appreciate it,
"We'll keep you posted," Dean promised Poplin and then Sam ended the call.
Dean changed out the regular binoculars for their night-scope. "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"
"That this thing's rampage didn't start with the deaths of those kids in the twenties," Sam nodded as he opened his laptop. "I'm going to see what I can track down about the Harts, and that Earl."
Dean yawned and poured another cup of coffee from the thermos. "So
"Yeah, but having more information, I was able to track this down in the Library of Congress," Sam continued. "One of their former servants wrote a memoir of her years of service. It was never published, but it's recently been digitized. Listen to this: 'Miss Olivia's mind was unhinged in delirium from the moment she was pulled out of the river. She insisted that their new rocking horse had come to life Christmas night, when Master William playfully dipped its muzzle into a small bucket of water, to give it a drink as if it were a real pony. No one was able to soothe the poor child's pitiful distress. She insisted over and over that the rocking horse had carried William away into the river and her along with it. She would clutch our hands and in a hoarse desperate whisper insist that she had fought against the fiend as fiercely as she was able, that she had done all in her power to snatch her brother free from its back. Over and over, no matter how she was reassured, Olivia begged forgiveness from her parents and from our Holy Savior for her failure to rescue dear little William.'"
Sam blew out a breath. "It goes on to say that even when she was so sick she could hardly breathe, her lips kept moving, mouthing that story over and over. From what this woman says, they finally doped Olivia into a coma with morphine, hoping she could get some rest."
"'Cause that's the best thing to do for someone with breathing trouble. Give 'em a whoppin' dose of a strong opiate. Idiots," Dean snapped.
"Yeah, so no surprise that Olivia died without ever regaining consciousness. I can't give them the benefit of ignorance. Even back then, her doctor had to know that would happen. They probably realized she wouldn't recover and thought they were helping her to die in peace."
"Poor kid. Half-drowned by a kelpie then kevorked by your own parents. What a way to go." Dean took a sip of coffee. It was lukewarm now and didn't do much to melt the cold lump in his gut from that story. He could imagine Olivia's guilt and distress way too easily; weak, flat on her back, dying, trying to convince a bunch of clucking civilians that the monster is right there, ready to eat them…. "It's a wonder she didn't come back as a vengeful."
"She may have, if she hadn't died deep in dreamland," Sam nodded. "Anyway, I managed to find some information on that estate over in
"You think he maybe whacked all his sibs for their inheritance?"
Sam shrugged. "Who knows? That was the time period of that massive pandemic of killer 'flu. Young people were dropping like flies. Besides, he was the eldest son, so he would have inherited the title, estate and the lion's share of everything else anyway, but some people go crazy with greed. There's another suspect, though, since we know at least the rocking horse is some serious occult hardware. I found a note with the inventory list that went to the auction house. Apparently, this lot of toys was sent to the old Earl as payment of a very long over-due and legally contested debt."
"Oh, and that's not fishy at all," Dean scoffed.
"So, now we have a couple of possible motives, the history, and outside confirmation the horse is some sort of semi-animate cursed object," Sam mused. He closed his laptop and rubbed his eyes. "All of which is worth exactly squat because it puts us right back where we are now. Waiting for the monster to make its next move. Any of that coffee left?"
"Yeah, but it's cold enough now you might as well throw some ice in it." Dean passed him the thermos.