The cardboard box factory was just like any other factory at night, empty and a bit spooky. Dean grinned and pocketed the key, rock salt loaded shotgun in one hand. He stepped inside, holding the self-closing door open for Sam, who had already whipped out the EMF-meter and switched it on as he stepped inside. He sent a brief glance around the short corridor, then started forward, his eyes now glued to the readout.

Dean released the door and let it click shut behind them, then followed Sam into the main room, which held the machine that made the boxes. This couldn't be a lucrative business with only one machine to do all the work, but he figured these guys were working on a small scale and always had.

Sam flicked his flashlight on, but kept it aimed at the floor while he slowly scanned the big room with the EMF-meter. "Dead as a doornail," he said and arched an eyebrow without taking his eyes off the display.

Dean frowned, glanced at his watch and then around the room again. "For a ghost, this guy sure is quiet, isn't he?" he grumbled.

Sam muttered a yes and slowly turned, scanning the room. "There's nothing. Not even a flicker," he said and glanced at Dean. "You think this is a waste of time?"

"Could be. Or maybe this is an intelligent spook," Dean countered and grinned at the idea. "As if," he added and rolled his eyes.

Sam sighed and continued his sweep of the premises, moving slowly ahead, his eyes once again glued to the display.

Keeping an eye out for trouble, Dean followed him, listening intently to the quiet factory. He caught the sound before he saw the movement and he lashed out and yanked Sam back a step when what looked like a copper plate, which had been hanging on the wall, suddenly shot past them and rammed into the opposite wall, embedding itself in the plaster there.

"Pay attention, space cadet. We're working here," he said and gave Sam a sideways shove.

Sam eyed the plate embedded in the wall for a moment, obviously a little stunned. "Sorry," he muttered. "Needless to say the EMF just lit up like a Christmas tree," he added.

"Needless to say," Dean agreed, scanning the room visually. There was no immediate sign of the ghost, no shimmer, no cold spots, no nothing. "Guess this dude's not into showing himself, huh?"

Sam scanned the area visually as well, then swept the EMF over it once more, the lights lighting up like a damned light chain. "Seems like it," he countered. "Or maybe he's not strong enough. Throwing that plate was pretty weak," he added.

"Yeah, as weak as nearly taking your damned head off if I hadn't yanked you back. That's not weak, Sam. That's dangerous. I say we forget about this place and go burn his bones right away," Dean said. If he had to be completely honest with himself, this incident had rattled him. For some reason, this damned spook had directly targeted Sam and if he hadn't responded as quickly as he had, that plate would most likely have been embedded in Sam's throat rather than in the wall. The thought alone made him shudder.

"If you think it's Mr. Wilmington, we might as well just get it over and done with," Sam agreed and switched the EMF-meter off.

"What? You don't think it's him?" Dean asked with a slight frown.

"I don't know," Sam admitted and suddenly ducked when a paperweight hurled through the air and slammed into the wall just below the embedded plate. "Hey!" he snapped.

"Seems like old man Wilmington agrees on the manager's assessment of you, huh?" Dean joked, although joking wasn't really the first thing that came to mind. Judging by the dent the paperweight had left in the wall, he was pretty sure it could have put an equally and thereby deadly dent in Sam's head if it had hit him. He reached out and grabbed Sam's arm. "Let's get the hell out of here before ..." he started, but reared back when a letter opener swished by him, missing Sam by the fraction of an inch before it hammered into the wall next to the plate. "Okay, that does it," Dean growled and yanked his brother back toward the door. He dropped the keys for the factory on a table in passing, shooing Sam out the door as fast as he could to avoid any further attempts on his life.

Sam gave the now closed door to the factory a worried look. "This is starting to feel personal, man," he said.

"Yeah, I kinda get that feeling too," Dean agreed and ushered Sam toward the car. "You must so be the grieving widow's taste, dude. Color me disappointed."

Sam dug in his heels, stopping the forward motion, and turned back to face him. "You think it's fun, having a vengeful ghost throwing lethal objects at you just because it thinks you might be what his wife likes?" he snapped.

Involuntary as it was, Dean took a step back, a bit surprised by Sam's rather vehement response to his little stab. "Chill, dude," he said, raising both hands in a deprecating gesture. "Let's ... just go fry that son of a bitch before he decides to come after us again."

With dark frown, Sam sent another worried look toward the factory, then got in the car and slammed the door behind him. Dean glanced back at the factory too, then arched an eyebrow and slipped behind the wheel. He had never known his brother to go off the deep end over a damned spook, so he assumed that there might be a different reason for Sam's response; one not connected to this case.

The Impala ate up the five miles to the local cemetery in the matter of ten minutes and when Dean brought it to a stop at the rickety gates of the tiny and obviously private cemetery, he had the distinct feeling that this might end up being the weirdest night of his life. Something was totally off, about the ghost, about Sam, about everything.

The crypt was smallish, but still stood out in the somewhat barren-looking area, but that made things that much easier for them. Low shrubs and fairly few trees left no hiding places for anyone or anything and Dean liked it that way.

Sam grabbed the things they needed from the trunk, except this time they didn't need shovels, they needed a crowbar.

"You ready?" Dean asked and eyed Sam suspiciously.

Sam threw him the tin of salt and nodded. "Let's do this," he countered.

They stepped into the cemetery and Dean constantly expected attacks from all sides, considering how obviously annoyed that spook had been at their presence in the factory.

They made it all the way to the crypt without interference. Sam fiddled with the padlock holding a length of chain together and finally pulled the chain off the door handles and pulled the doors to the crypt open. It was neat and tidy inside, not a hint of cobwebs anywhere, and there were fresh flowers in a vase sitting on top of the newest slab on the ground.

Dean eyed the inscription for a moment, then put the shotgun and the tin of salt down on the floor, took the crowbar from Sam and jammed it under the slap of marble. With a bit of effort and Sam helping out by grabbing the edge of the slab and hauling it up, they opened the grave and found an expensive-looking coffin underneath.

With a sigh, Dean grabbed the edge of the lid and pulled it open without any effort. The fact that fairly little smell emanated from the coffin was a bit surprising until he laid eyes on the corpse of old man Wilmington. The guy was so well preserved, it looked like he'd been put in the ground the day before.

Sam stood there, supporting the marble slab, and stared at the body.

"What the hell?" Dean exclaimed. "I thought he died about a year ago."

Sam nodded. "He did," he confirmed. "They must have embalmed him," he added almost thoughtfully.

Dean shook his head lightly. "This is gross. Promise me one thing, man. If die before you, don't do that to me. Just burn me and be done with it," he said.

Sam glanced at him, his expression unreadable in the semi-darkness of the crypt. "Hopefully you'll be leaving behind a grieving widow and some kids that can take care of that," he countered.

"Hey, whatever works," Dean said, grabbed the tin of salt and sprinkled it liberally over the body. "You know, burning them when they're nothing but skin and bone is one thing. But this ... this is creepy."

"Yeah," Sam agreed and handed him the can of gas.

He poured a liberal amount of the flammable liquid over the corpse, then stopped short and glanced at his brother. "This sucks out loud," he said. "I can't torch him until I'm sure he's dead, man, and he doesn't look dead."

"Be my guest," Sam said and waved a hand toward the corpse.

Dean grimaced, hunkered down and reached a hand down toward the corpse. Somehow he expected the guy to rear up and start yelling or something, but nothing happened. Not even when he pressed his fingers against the guy's clammy-cold neck and found nothing there. If it hadn't been for the fact that Sam was standing there watching him, he would have yanked his hand away and wiped his fingers off on his jeans, but appearance was everything, so he just pulled his hand back and rose to his feet again. "Well, he's dead alright," he said, pulled a matchbook from one pocket and glanced at Sam. "You wanna do the honors? He was going after you, after all."

Sam made a face. "Nah, you go ahead," he said, not once taking his eyes off the very alive-looking corpse.

With another sigh, Dean struck a match, lit the rest of the matchbook and dropped it on the corpse, which instantly caught fire.

They stood by and waited until the flames died down again and the corpse had been burned to a cinder, then Dean shut the lid of the coffin and they lowered the marble slap back into place.

"Well, that's that," Dean said and wiped his hands on his jeans. Then he glanced at Sam, who had just picked up the empty salt tin and the crowbar. "Is it just me or did that seem a little too easy?" he asked.

Sam stared at the slap of marble for a moment, then glanced back at Dean. "Who in their right mind embalms their dearly departed in this day and age?" he countered.

The embalming fluids used to preserve the corpse had aided in the burning and the corpse had burnt out faster than any before, especially considering how well preserved that guy had looked. Dean shrugged. "What does it matter? The dude's toast. That's all I need to know," he said, grabbed the empty gas can and turned back for the doors.

"If she was so eager to mess around with younger guys, Dean, why the hell would she go to such extremes? I mean, she had her husband embalmed and she kept that factory running even though it can't be the most lucrative of businesses. This doesn't strike me as gold digger who married an older guy to get at his cash," Sam said.

"What are you saying, man?" Dean asked, a little unnerved by the way Sam's mind worked at times.

"This," Sam said and waved back at the grave, "isn't the work of someone who doesn't care. This is the work of someone who cares deeply, who mourns the passing of her husband. I don't see what reason this guy had to haunt her. Unless ..." he trailed off while his eyes narrowed and he frowned.

"Unless what?" Dean asked, curious despite himself.

Before Sam could continued down that line, his phone pinged again and this time the jerk that rippled through him was very noticeable. But he made no move to retrieve his phone to check the message.

"Aren't you going to get that?" Dean asked.

"No, it's not important," Sam countered, his tone a little clipped. "Let's get out of here. I'm tired," he added, pushed past Dean and strode toward the Impala without looking back.

Dean made a face, then closed and relocked the doors to the crypt and followed him. They stashed their gear in the trunk, got back in the car and drove back to the lodge.

***

Somehow, Dean had expected Sam to jump out of the car and stalk out on him the second he had pulled the Impala into the lot in front of the lodge, but Sam just sat there, staring ahead of himself with a contemplative look on his face. "So, you think it's over?" Dean asked and switched the engine off.

Sam just continued to sit there for a moment, his eyes on nothing, then he glanced at Dean. "You tell me," he countered.

Despite the ease of this gig, it had been weirder than most, but Dean figured that old man Wilmington had been the ghost throwing stuff at them in the factory. Who else could it have been? "Unless you have a theory you wanna share, then yeah, I think it's over," he said. "I'm heading out to find a place to get a beer or two."

Sam arched an eyebrow and sank into his seat. "Fine with me. I just want to get a good night's rest," he said, sounding a tad annoyed.

"You're such a bore, Samantha," Dean countered and grinned. "What does it take for you to lighten up?"

"I don't want to lighten up. I want to sleep," Sam said almost grumpily.

"We just breezed through another gig, man. You just don't know how to have fun," Dean claimed and got out of the car.

"My idea of fun differs wildly from yours, Dean," Sam shot back and slammed the door after getting out too. "What you consider fun, I consider the potential for a hangover and subsequent nausea and I can really do without that right now."

Dean locked the doors, then gave Sam a dark look. "What is it with you? Are you going manic-depressive on me here or something? When we came in, you were all in favor of yanking my chain. And now you wanna sleep?" He shook his head. "I don't get you, man."

Sam made a face. "The only place you can get something to drink in this town is probably the lodge," he said, ignoring Dean's attempt at tirade. "I don't think there's a bar anywhere near here. And you're not drinking and driving."

"Prude," Dean growled. "I don't intend to drink and drive. I'll just ask at the reception. They're bound to know where a guy can have a bit of fun this time of night."

"Yeah, in Aspen," Sam grumbled and headed toward the lodge.

"Aspen. Hm. Yeah," Dean muttered and started chewing on his lower lip, then followed Sam back to the lodge.

The nightshift was manned by a guy and he looked just as bored as the brunette of earlier had. Dean waited for Sam to get the key for their room, then gave the guy a grin. "Hey, where do you people go to have a little fun around here?"

The receptionist looked up, meeting his eyes. "Uh ... what kind of fun did you have in mind, sir?" he asked and gave Dean a fairly critical look.

Dean realized that he wasn't exactly clean right now and figured he would have to deal with that before he went out for that beer. "Oh, you know, bar, beer, pool. That kind of fun."

The receptionist arched an eyebrow. "Well, that kind of fun you can find in Aspen. It's about one and a half hours that way," he said, nodding toward the West.

Dean frowned. "You don't have anything in town?" he asked, certain the guy had misjudged him for someone who cared where he got his beer.

"There are no establishments of that type in Twin Lakes, no," the receptionist confirmed.

The idea alone made Dean just stare at him. "Not a single bar?" he asked, needing confirmation.

"No, sir. No bars," the guy repeated patiently.

"You have got to be kidding me!" Dean couldn't help himself. Every damned backwater they'd been in since he'd come of age had always had a bar. "Not even a little one? A private tavern? A ... hell, I'd go for a ho-down if that'll get me a beer."

The receptionist fought hard at not taking offense. "The only place you can get a beer at this hour in this town ... is right here. Although the kitchen is closed, I am sure we can rustle you up a bottle of brew," he said, his tone clearly letting Dean know that he was being unreasonable.

For a moment all Dean could think of doing was to stare at this man. Then he shook his head, admitting defeat. "Never mind," he said and pushed away from the reception counter, then glanced around. Sam had taken off, was probably already in bed, and Dean decided to take a drive to see if he couldn't locate some type of bar somewhere in the area. He didn't even bother to go upstairs to get cleaned up, but headed straight back for the car.

"No bars," he muttered, unlocked the door and got behind the wheel. "This frigging place doesn't even have a single bar," he growled and shook his head, slid the key into the ignition and pulled the Impala out of her lot. "And he gets smart with me too. Son of a bitch," he continued complaining.

He drove around for close to two hours before he gave up on the idea, cursing the fact that he could have been having fun in Aspen right around now if he'd stopped to think for a moment. But rather than go that way, he headed back to the lodge and went upstairs without even glancing at the reception counter.

The door to their room was unlocked, which Dean was grateful for. The last thing he wanted to do right now was have to admit defeat to his brother, who would undoubtedly be in a I-told-you-so-but-you-never-listen mood if he knew him right. Sam was asleep however, and Dean closed and locked the door quietly behind him before shrugging out of his jacket and tossing it on a horror of an overstuffed easy-chair. He kicked his boots off, sank down on the edge of the other bed and just eyed Sam for a moment. Obviously what had looked like a king-sized bed had been two queen-sized beds pushed together.

Sam shifted and muttered, the fingers of his right hand digging into the covers beneath him. He was on his stomach, his face half buried in the pillow, and he was obviously caught in another one of his nightmares.

Without thought, Dean reached out and placed a hand lightly on his shoulder, shushing him quietly, and he calmed down again. It had worked when he had been a kid and it obviously still worked now.

Just then, Sam's phone vibrated, alerting Dean to the fact that another text message had come in. He glanced at the phone, which was conveniently lying on the night stand Sam had pulled between the beds. A brief look at Sam confirmed that he was sleeping, so Dean grabbed his phone and opened the text message folder. "Holy ..." he whispered and scrolled down the list. Sam had so far received fifteen messages from the same number. There was no name identifying it, which probably meant that it wasn't someone he had in his phonebook.

Dean scrolled down to the first message, then eyed his brother for a moment. Well, Sam wasn't going to divulge information at this point in time. If he thought he should share it, he would have done so by now. But since this seemed to bother him that much that he let it alter his mood, Dean felt justified in checked it out. So he opened the first message. It said:

Rebecca Warren gave me your number, said you have experience in such things. Since I have no idea who else to turn to at this point in time, I will need your help to deal with this. I have these things-that-go-bump-in-the-night sounds in my house combined with stuff falling off the walls and furniture moving and I want it gone. I will send you another text with my address and phone number and I expect to be hearing from you shortly. Kate.

Dean frowned lightly. That didn't sound like a plea for help. It sounded like a command to him. With a frown, he closed the message and opened the next, which gave the information this Kate had said she would send.

The next message was a repeat of the first, but with a PS.

I sent you a message earlier, but either you didn't get it or you chose to ignore it. I don't want to get bossy, but it is your duty to help me with this. That is, after all, what you do for a living, isn't it? At least Rebecca says it is.

Dean glanced over at Sam, then pursed his lips, closed that message and opened the next one. The first five had arrived with a couple of hours between, but the last ten had streamed in during the last two hours and the tone of all of them was what Dean considered borderline rude. It could be that this chick didn't know how to express herself in writing, of course, and even though the tone was bossy, it still did not explain why Sam responded the way he did. Dean marked the last ten messages and returned them to their status of unread, then put the phone back down where Sam had left it.

The last message made him feel a little weird, though. The word please had been almost randomly tagged on to the message and didn't correspond with the rest of it. But it sounded like something up their alley and, after all, this chick lived in Palo Alto, so it would give Sam a chance to hook up with his pals back there, even though Dean wasn't too sure he should show his face there after the shapeshifter incident.

"Aw, screw it," he muttered, got undressed and slipped under the covers. California this time of year wasn't a bad place to be and there was a hell of a lot more chance of him finding some action in a university town than out here in the burbs. Whether Sam liked it or not, they were heading to California in the morning.

***

Dean woke up with a slowness that belied his urge to get out of this place and back to anything even remotely normal. His decision of the night before still stood and he had more or less decided not to tell Sam where they were going until they were well on their way. Even though Dean had the feeling Sam wasn't going to be happy about him reading his text messages, he did think that Sam would be thrilled to go back to Palo Alto.

A quick glance at his watch told him it was a quarter past nine and generally too early to get up, but he figured Sam was already up and ready to go, so he pushed himself up on his elbows and made a face. The damned bed smelled like roses. Artificial ones, at that.

Then he glanced over at the other bed and realized that his brother was still sleeping. Now that was new. Sam was usually up well before him, no matter when they went to bed. Taking advantage of the unusual situation, Dean pushed the covers aside and got up. Sam's phone was still lying where he had left it the night before and the urge to check if that Kate-chick had sent any further messages B didn't that woman sleep at all? B was just too tempting. He turned the phone over and arched an eyebrow. Five new messages since last night.

Sam stirred and Dean instantly put the phone back down and flopped back down on his bed. After a second, Sam raised his head and blinked almost sluggishly at him. "What are you doing up?" he asked and glanced at his watch.

"Well, since I couldn't find a frigging bar in this desert of a town, I went to bed early. So now I'm rearing to go. Let's get this show on the road and get back to civilization where weirdo widows don't embalm their dead hubbies," he said, got up, grabbed a few things and withdrew to the bathroom.

After a lengthy shower, which proved to him that he couldn't use up all the warm water no matter how much he tried, he returned to the room to pack up the few things he'd managed to extract from his duffle and first then noted that Sam was sitting on his bed, his phone in his hand and a sour look on his face.

"Go grab a shower. I'm starving, dude," Dean said, hoping to distract Sam away from those messages for now.

Sam made a face, put the phone down and did as he was told without a word.

Dean eyed the closed door to the bathroom for a moment, then sighed and finished packing. Then he grabbed Sam's phone and quickly copied the number the text messages came from to his phone plus the address this Kate-chick had sent, before he dialed the number in question.

"Kate Mayor!" The response was crisp.

"Dean Winchester," he countered. "You've sent my brother a few messages since yesterday," he added.

"I was expecting Sam to call," the woman replied.

"Yeah, well, he's busy, so I'm doing it for him," Dean countered. "We're on our way to California now. We'll be there tomorrow afternoon. So ... you wanna meet up somewhere and talk about this or should we come straight to the house?"

"We'll meet at Charlie's at five sharp. Sam knows where it is," she said. "I take it you will be there too?"

"Yeah, I will," Dean agreed. "See you there at five," he added and hung up, not giving her a chance to say another word. He eyed his phone for a moment, then made a face. "I so don't like bossy chicks," he muttered, flipped the phone shut and slipped it into his pocket. She sure had sounded bossy, like one of those rich kids who always thought they could get their way because their daddy had all the cash.

A moment later, Sam reemerged from the bathroom and got dressed, packed up the rest of his things and then focused on Dean.

"You ready, sunshine?" Dean asked and eyed him a little more closely.

Sam's mood sure had plummeted all the way to the bottom. "Yeah, let's go get some breakfast," he agreed and ran a hand through his hair.

The fact that Sam had no comeback to any of what Dean said apart from that little temper tantrum outside the factory last night made Dean wonder what was really going on with him. Somehow, it connected to those text messages and if Sam didn't like this Kate because of her behavior, he didn't blame him, but it still did not account for the extreme dip in Sam's mood. The fact that none of this made sense to Dean right now was what got to him the most. Generally, he was fairly good at reading Sam, at knowing what was going on with his little brother, but he couldn't understand this one and the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to know what this was all about.

***