It starts soon after Sam and Dean leave Black Ridge, Colorado for bigger and better things. For them, the hunt is over--for Haley and her brothers, life has just been turned upside down.
It's just the three of them in their little house, her and Tommy and Ben. They're all each other has; they have no living family. The thought of being split up shook all of them right down to their core. They pretend they're okay, but after Tommy gets home from the hospital, he tells her over a morning cup of coffee that Ben hasn't been sleeping well. He'd know; they've shared a bedroom since they were kids. But she can tell from the circles under Tommy's eyes and the fact that he takes a second cup that he hasn't been sleeping either.
It's hard. Haley used to take comfort in the shelter of the trees, but the forest frightens her now. She thought the worst things out there were the bears, easily scared off or avoided. Now that she's met--that--she knows better. And if that was out there, who knows what else there is?
Knowledge is power, Haley decides. She doesn't know how to contact Sam and Dean, but she does remember about the Anasazi symbols, and one morning after Tommy drops Ben off at the high school they draw them all over the base of the house. It's tedious work, especially as she wants to make sure the neighbors can't spot them too easily, but by the time Tommy leaves to pick Ben up, it's done. They all sleep a little easier that night.
The first time they go camping again, they go together.
Nobody wants to, not really, but they're Collinses, and nothing's going to keep them indoors, not even a flesh-eating monster. Haley doesn't like being afraid, so even though she doesn't want to, she has to, and she drags them both along with her. "It'll be good for us," she says firmly. "Who wants to drive?"
They used to bring separate tents, one for Haley and one for the boys. This time they all huddle together in the dark, ears pricked for any noise that sounds unnatural. That first night, no one sleeps.
But the second day is spent fishing and hiking and splashing around in the stream. It starts raining at five, and they head inside the tent early and have a Mario Kart tournament, which Tommy wins. Haley can't sleep for Tommy's snoring and Ben's elbows, and the second night she wishes they brought two tents after all.
The third night, they're all so tired from the day's activities they drop off right away, wendigos and snoring and elbows be damned. When they get back home, Ben's nightmares stop. And she thinks the problem is over.
But it's not. Haley has been curious since childhood, when she would sneak out of the backyard to go exploring in the woods beyond. It's the same now; she can't sit still, she can't be content knowing there's more out there. It could come for her, or for her family--she wants to be ready.
Knowledge is power, and the internethas knowledge. She knows better than to believe everything she reads, but she reads as much as she can anyway, figuring the only way to find out for sure is to try it. She's not sure she's ready to have another go at a wendigo, but she's been keeping an eye on the papers, and when she notices some funny deaths a few towns over, she debates with Tommy whether or not she should go.
"Jesus Christ, Haley, no," Tommy says, over dinner that evening. It's nothing special--pork roast and green beans--but they don't have a lot, and when you're hungry, it all tastes good. "Even if it is a...ghost, or something," he says, clearly uncomfortable with the subject, "Some other...people, like those guys--they'll get it."
"But I don't want them to get it," Haley says. "I want to get it. I want to learn how."
"Can I go?" Ben asks.
"No," Tommy and Haley say, at the same time.
"You don't know what it is," Tommy says. "Could be another wendigo."
"Mm, I don't think so," Haley says. "Everybody dies inside their houses with locked doors and no signs of forced entry."
"Everybody?" Tommy asks. "How many--?"
"Well, just one," Haley admits, poking at her beans, "but--"
"We should go," Ben says.
"Neither of you are going," Tommy says. "You can forget it."
He flicks the TV on; it's on news, because they hardly ever watch anything else. The conversations dies for a minute as they eat and listen.
"--fortunately, all 108 passengers on United Britannia Flight 424 are uninjured. We do not yet have confirmation on what caused the difficulties, but there were several passenger reports of a scuffle in the back of the plane, leading many to speculate that this may have been the work of one or more terrorists..."
"See that?" Tommy asks. "The world's dangerous enough without you going off to find more."
Haley doesn't go.
She keeps an eye on the news, on the papers. She sees a few things that might be the work of something not human, but she can never be sure. They go camping again once more before it gets too cold, and she forgets, for awhile, that there is any such thing as ghosts.
Early March and the TV's on while Haley does dishes. Ben's drying, and telling her that once he graduates (only a few months, now) he's not going to do it anymore.
"Fat chance," Haley says. "I'm out and I'm still doing it. Suck it up." She finds the remote and turns up the volume.
"--an anonymous tip led police to a home in the Central West End, where a S.W.A.T team discovered a local woman bound and gagged," says the newscaster.
"That's sick," Ben says.
"Her attacker, a white male, approximately twenty-four to thirty years of age, was discovered hiding in her home..."
Haley glances back at the TV and nearly drops her plate. "That's him!"
She dries her hands and goes to sit in front of the TV. It's Dean Winchester, there's no mistaking that--it's not a good sketch, but Haley remembers him.
"...anyone with information to please call the number on your screen."
The number flashes, and Ben says, "Got a pen?"
"Are you nuts?" Haley asks. "We're not turning him in. He saved our lives!"
"And now he's killing people!"
"Maybe not," Haley says. "Maybe it's a--a set-up, or a doppleganger, or--"
"Jesus Christ, Haley," Ben says, and he goes back to doing his dishes.
The next day, she hears on the news that Dean Winchester is dead. She doesn't want to believe it, any of it, but she puts it out of her mind. Maybe it's better after all, not to be involved in those kinds of things.
Ben graduated today and the party's still going on. Haley left early, but she made Ben promise not to drink and call her if he did so she could get him home. She's got the house to herself--Tommy's working late--and she's browsing ghost sites on the internet to creep herself out.
She's been following one site called Hellhound's Lair for awhile now; the stories are good, even if some of them are too weird to be true. They've got a video on their page this time--actual footage of a spirit named Mordechai Murdoch. She watches it over, and over, fascinated. She can't see where it's fake. What she does notice, on the fourth playthrough, is that the voice shouting "Get that damn thing out of my face!" sounds awfully familiar. The video is dark and grainy, but she takes a cap and after a few minutes of playing with it in her image editor, she can make out Dean Winchester's face.
The site's the real deal.
The learning comes in leaps and bounds after that. "Salt," Haley tells her brothers over dinner, taking it from Ben and adding some to her beans. "Salt repels everything. Ghosts, demons--"
"Demons?" Ben asks skeptically.
"And silver," Haley adds. "And iron. And if you want to kill a ghost, you have to dig up the body and salt and burn the bones--"
"That's disgusting," Ben says, grimacing around his mouthful of pork roast. "And illegal."
"That's kinda cool," Tommy says, looking interested in spite of himself. "You never have to mess with it? Just go dig up skeleton up? Doesn't sound too dangerous..."
"Really fuckin' gross, though," Ben says, and immediately both his siblings scold him for his language, even though Tommy himself swears all the time.
They never get around to hunting. The summer brings with it violent weather, and the tornado that hits their house leaves almost nothing behind. Haley and Tommy pick through the wreckage for days, red-eyed and telling Ben to stay back, but they don't recover much except a damp album of photos and some of their mother's silverware.
They stay with friends for awhile, and the neighbors are good to them, but as the town picks itself back up, so do the Collinses. "We need to find somewhere to live," says Haley, "and I'm pretty sure we can't afford it."
"The insurance," Tommy starts, but Haley shakes her head.
"It won't be enough, and it'll take awhile for it to go through. But if we bought something cheap, paid for it in full, made it really ours--" She smacks an old classified down on the table. There's a grainy black and white picture of a house.
It looks pitiful, to be sure, but Tommy's eyebrows lift when he sees the price. "That's...really good, actually," he says. "But it looks like a dump, we can't live there--"
"We'll fix it up," Haley says. "With the insurance money. You're a construction worker, Tommy, we can do it. You always talked about fixing up our old house, making it look nice--and this place, it's even got a bar in the bottom. Maybe we could open a store, earn a little extra on the side--"
"You've tried the whole business thing before," Tommy reminds her gently. "It'll fall through. Besides, Ben can't live in a place like that--"
"Oh yes I can," Ben says, mostly to be contrary, but majority rules with the Collinses, and they vote Tommy down.
"All right, all right, we'll look at it," he says, "But don't go getting your hearts set on it--"
Ben and Haley slap five.
They buy the house.
Tommy's right; it's a dump. There's scrap metal and trash and pieces of the roof all over the yard. The windows are broken, and one door is missing. The sides of the house have waterstains on them, and there's a limb knocked loose through the porch. The place desperately needs a paint job.
But it's theirs and they don't have any neighbors and the property's big enough that they can have trees around without worrying they'll fall on the house. It's got a cellar and a little building out back, and it's sturdy even if it is old. It's already wired to get electricity and water.
They fix it up.
Tommy gets extras from work, cheap supplies that nobody else wants. He fixes the holes in the roof and the siding on the house, even repairs the porch with nobody's help but hers and Ben's. Ben cleans the yard, picking up trash and sweeping leaves, discovering more than one beehive along the way. He doesn't complain when he gets stung, and as a reward, Haley does the dishes for a week.
It comes together slowly; Tommy's work makes him tired and his siblings aren't as skilled with their hands as he is. But soon enough it's livable enough that they can move in. There's more rooms than they need; everyone gets their own room, for the first time in their lives. Ben's looking for work but he can't find a damn thing, so between putting in applications he works on the house and learns to cook. He's helping Haley paint a bright red symbol called the Key of Solomon on the newly repaired front porch when a car pulls up in the driveway.
They want directions. Their names are Kat and Gavin and they only stop bickering about whether or not they are lost when they see the half-finished symbol on the floor. Haley sees their expressions change when they set eyes on it, and some secret hopeful part of her thinks, This is it.
"Are you hunters?" Kat asks, her voice hushed awed.
Ben says "no" and Haley says "sort of" and they invite Kat and Gavin to dinner and to stay a night, since the old house has plenty of rooms. That's how the Collinses make their first hunting friends.
"We're new," Gavin explains, prodding his green beans gently. Kat elbows him and he takes a bite. "We've only done a couple," he says, mouth still half-full, "but--it's really good, I like helping people--"
"Help me and stop getting us lost, then," Kat snaps. "And God, swallow before you talk, that's disgusting--"
Gavin swallows. "I didn't get us lost, you did--"
They stay for the night. When they go, Haley tells them to come back any time. They do.
Word gets around somehow, that there's a hunter's bar in Colorado. It's not a bar really, not yet, but people stop by asking for directions quite often, looking around like they're expecting more, and eventually Haley gets with the program and opens the lower half of the house for business.
They put a jukebox in the corner, polish off the old tables and chairs and repair the broken ones. They buy things for the bar, too: they put arcade machines by the door, pool tables in the unused corner in the back--it generates a surprising amount of money, and before Haley knows it, business is booming. She hires someone to help her tend the bar, and she's proud to be able to pay her decent wages.
Katie's a nice girl, if a little outspoken. She flirts with Haley at least once a week and she never fails to notice an attractive female walk through the door. She knows a little about the supernatural, and she helps with the wards, laying salt lines and drawing Anasazi symbols, even blessing the water tank. She makes a call to a friend of a friend of a friend, and a girl named Emily Jorgeson stops by to show them a few Pagan protection wards. When she leaves, Katie has her number, and she comes back often, bringing customers with her. They attract pool husters and poker players, and a young couple (Audrey and Todd) get themselves kicked out quite often for hustling newcomers at both. Their house has become a business, and Haley couldn't be happier.
Months turn into years. Once business gets going, they're able to buy better things, nicer things--something besides pork and beans for dinner, new mattresses so they don't ache so much in the morning. Haley discovers the Carver Edlund books and buys the entire set, even though they're not very good. She cries at the end. When they celebrate their first anniversary of living at their new roadhouse, Haley feels as though she's lived there forever, and yet at the same time like she only just moved in. But she's happy, and her family is safe. That's all that matters.
"Of course, you gotta protect against the other side, too," Katie muses one evening, as they're repainting the devil's trap at the back door for the hundredth time (they keep walking over it).
"Other side?" Tommy asks. "Demons and--"
"Angels," says Katie. "Oh, don't look at me like that. You may not believe, but it's better safe than sorry, isn't it? This is already the safest place in the midwest. Can't hurt to add a few more tricks. I'll call my buddy, his girl can help you with the wards."
Katie's friend Ben and his friend Claire are practically kids, in their early twenties. They argue a lot like Kat and Gavin do, but when Haley asks if they're together, they vehemently deny it. Kat and Gavin are married, now, though, so Haley doubts it'll stay that way for long.
Claire knows far too much about angels for Haley's comfort. Haley's still not entirely sure she believes they're real, but the girl seems to have a good head on her shoulders, so she lets her do her warding work. Claire explains how the wards mean angels can't find the place even if they use their magic, and how they can't get in unless they want to blast the entire building apart.
"That's comforting," Haley says.
"Isn't it?" Claire asks, and goes back to warding the door to the cellar. Sometimes when her pant leg rides up, Haley can see the same symbols carved into her skin.
Claire finishing the warding without complaint as a favor to Katie. The house is covered in symbols when she's done, but they don't have any neighbors, so it doesn't matter. Safe as houses, Haley thinks fondly, looking it over. Their business has become a fortress.
They come back again and again; lots of people do. But she looks forward to seeing Ben and Claire the most. They bring back interesting stories and lots of business, and she enjoys their company. Some hunters have no homes, she notices, and Ben and Claire are among them. They come back for more than a drink and a cheap meal; they come to rest, to gather their thoughts, for safety. One night when it's raining, they get in late, and Haley tells them they're welcome to stay if they don't feel like driving to the nearest motel (thirty miles away).
"You'll have to share a room, though," she adds, watching Claire wring out her hair outside on the porch. "Sorry."
"It's fine," Ben assures her gratefully. "We share the motel rooms--ow! Dammit, Claire--"
"Not like that," Claire says quickly. "We order two queens. It's cheaper."
"Of course you do," Haley says lightly, and they both flush just a little.
When she goes to check on them the next morning, Claire's on the bed, and Ben's curled up in the armchair.
In between visits there are fights over hustling and broken arcade machines and leaks with the plumbing and the roof, but it's little ups and downs, nothing they can't handle. It makes life interesting and worthwhile.
Haley's outside taking a break, standing on the tiny back porch even though it's raining. It's the only door without a trap--they got sick of repainting it--but they've got a salt line laying inside. She's about to turn and go back in when Ben's beat-up tan Ford screeches to a halt behind the house, spitting up gravel and mud everywhere. Ben jumps out of the driver's seat, leaving the door open, going around to the back where Claire is.
"Jesse still alive?"
"Yeah, I think so. He's breathing, anyway--"
Together, they heave something heavy out of the back of the truck. A body, Haley realizes, horrified, but Ben looks up and sees her and says, "He's a friend."
"What the hell happened to him? To you?" Haley asks.
"Hell," Claire answers, short of breath. "It's a long story. Is it okay if we stay, just for awhile--? He's hurt--we didn't know where else to go--"
"Of course," Haley says, and she helps them inside. "You two are family. You're always welcome here."
Her fortress has become a home.