I’m not the kind of guy who likes surprises very much.
I never had much in the way of birthday parties to begin with, but surprise parties in particular always rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, you want to celebrate my life by trying to scare me to death? No, thank you. It’s really difficult to prepare for that sort of thing if your friends are any good at keeping secrets.
And for a wizard, especially a professional one like myself, preparation is the name of the game.
The old house creaks under my feet as I make my way through it. I whisper a word to light the wick inside of the lantern I’m carrying, and pale orange light spills out into a circle in front of my on the floor. It’s something Bob the Skull helped me whip up, an old “bullseye” style lantern, with a minor enchantment that let me see ghosts and pierce minor veils. The word is that there have been a bunch of disappearances around the house, which is in a run-down neighborhood situated between downtown Chicago and one of its suburbs. It’s one of those areas you just keep driving past if you know what’s good for you.
But when you’re Harry Dresden, and someone pays you to look for their lost child in a place the police are unwilling or unable to go, you really don’t have that choice.
I make a face as the heat from the lamp starts cooking some of the dust on the floor and in the air. There’s a musty smell about the place in general, and the sudden heat source doesn’t help to abate that. I’m used to foul smells, but I wish I wasn’t. I’d much rather be back in my lab, helping Molly do some research into her father’s sword, Amoracchius, and trying to coordinate some of the activities of the Gray Council of which I was now apparently a founding member. I have a lot of things to deal with in my world, from vengeful vampire lords to ancient magical conspiracies, and this is taking time away from them.
All thoughts of the world outside of the house go flying out of my brain, though, when I step into the basement.
The world goes… weird. I feel off-balance, sick to my stomach, and get a headache, all at once. It lasts for a few interminable moments. Then, it’s gone. I blink, shake my head to clear it, and raise the lantern to look around.
The basement’s a basement. Cobwebs, mostly empty shelves, creepy corners. I turn, and look at the stairs I just walked down.
The stairs are collapsed.
They hadn’t made a noise. I shine the lantern into the threshold. There’s just enough room for me to step back through. I do, and the vertigo slams into me again. Once I recover, I’m looking up the stairs I’d just walked down, whole and intact. My brain finally gets through its warm-up cycle and I realize where I’d felt those things before.
The first time I’d ever used a Way into the Nevernever.
This was different, though. The Nevernever has a very particular feel to it. Stepping through (retch) a second time, it still feels like the real world once I recover. I walk through the basement to the storm doors, up the stairs and out, and look around. It’s the same neighborhood, still a Chicago no-mans-land, and nothing in my natural or wizardly senses tells me it’s an illusion or a construct. It’s real. Just… different.
“I hate surprises,” I say to myself.
As if in response (me and my big mouth), a engine rumbles up the drive on the other side of the house.
I stay low, and I Listen. The night’s relatively quiet, with just a couple of crickets that were silenced when the big car, some classic muscle-style beast, rumbles to a stop on the driveway. The engine sputters to silence, and I hear two doors open and close.
“Look, I don’t want to talk about your anger issues, okay?” The first voice is on the gruff side, and clearly annoyed. “I’m not your damn therapist.”
“No, you’re not.” The second voice is more refined, collegiate, but also exasperated. “You’re my brother, Dean. And you’re the only one I can talk to about this sort of thing.”
“You really want to keep doing this? Huh? In case you’ve lost track because you’ve been too busy flying over the cuckoo’s nest, we have a fucking Apocalypse to stop.”
There’s a pause.
“Then what are we doing here, Dean?”
“The last place we stayed at said that this house is where people have been disappearing. Come on, Sam. Some classic, old-school monster-hunting. Just what you need to put that anger to use. It’s what I do.”
“Yeah. And you’re so well-adjusted.”
There’s an audible shrug. “At least I’m not bitchin’ about it constantly.”
“And that’s healthy.” Sam sighs. “All right, come on.”
They come around the corner, flashlights in hand. Guess who’s standing there out in the open.
“Hi,” I say conversationally. “You boys lost?”
I lift my lantern to get a look at them. One’s tall, over six feet, with a lanky build, stylishly long dark hair, and a somewhat pained expression, probably from the end of that conversation. The other, shorter guy is built more like a boxer, all compact muscle and attitude, with close-cropped hair and narrowing, suspicious eyes. I know what they’re seeing, too – the silhouette of a guy in a leather duster holding a bullseye lantern in his right hand, and leaning on a large staff held in his left.
“Um. No.” The shorter one’s eyes narrow even more. His voice pegs him as Dean. “We’re… just passing through.”
“We saw your light,” says Sam. “We got curious.”
I make a face. One of those you boys are full of it faces. Molly says I’d make a good parent, with faces like that. I shudder to think what I’d be like as a parent.
“Well, then, you can keep passing. This isn’t something you guys want to be involved in.”
“Really?” Sam looks incredulous. I don’t blame him – I would, too.
“Really. There are monsters out here. Ghosts, at the very least.”
Dean nods in my direction, smirking. I can smell the smartass comment coming before he speaks. “So you, ah, watch that Ghostfacers show?”
“I don’t own a TV,” I say. “All I know is, I walked out of that basement in a city that isn’t mine, with my car nowhere in sight, and Goofus and Gallant rolling up here talking about the Apolcalypse.”
The young men stare at me.
“So,” I continue into the silence. “How about you leave the monster-hunting business to the professional wizard, get back in your car, and drive on down the road.”
“Wizard,” Dean repeated. “So… you’re a he-witch?”
I blink. “A what?”
Dean doesn’t let me clarify further.
Instead, he shoots me.
DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fan fiction. Harry Dresden and all attendant characters, locations, and creatures are property of Jim Butcher. Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, and all attendant characters, locations, and creatures are property of Supernatural. Please support the official releases of both properties.