The Works Progress Administration employs millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects.
Originally established by President Roosevelt in 1935, projects under the WPA have fed American families, and redistributed clothing and housing, providing at least one paid job for every household suffering long-term unemployment.
There’s hardly a community that hasn’t benefited from a WPA project in local infrastructure, public facilities, later turning towards education and agricultural development.
It was only in the horrors of the second World War that the WPA finally found its foothold in defense.
This year, the WPA launched its latest campaign: the Federal Hunter’s Project.
With the blessing of Capitol Hill, this is one of the riskiest and most expensive ventures of the Administration to date.
Until recently, few Americans understood there really were things to fear when they bumped in the night, but research conducted over the past two years confirmed those reports, and our country has been propelled into a new era.
Real evil exists, America, but evil, like any corporation, can be managed.
When the word got out, they didn’t know how bad the public reaction would be.
The quiet that trembled through the country felt like numb shock.
Dean cleaned their guns. Sam watched the motel parking lot from the window of their latest dive.
It was perfect weather for a Sunday.
They checked out before ten, and when the Impala rolled by the local town hall, a crowd – not a queue – had gathered in front of the recruitment drive.
The Federal Hunter’s Project was officially open for business.
Sam rolled down his window and the town’s anger spilled into the Impala’s cabin, clouding hot and stifling. Dean wringed the steering wheel, knuckles white.
They shouted, pushed and called to one another, to the official regulators at the doors who sought calm and order over their megaphones.
Why weren’t they told?
Could anyone hunt if they already had a license to bear arms?
What was the difference between a hunter and… a hunter?
Where was the proof? Were they supposed to jump at every shadow? What did this ‘real evil’ look like?
Why weren’t they told?
Dean’s jaw clenched, grip flexing on the wheel as they watched the town pile into the hall, the echo of their questions like thunder through those open doors, and he realised the Impala had crawled to a stop at the curb.
His brother rolled the window up and Dean took them back on the highway.
February 23, 2006
Location: Undisclosed, Nebraska
Subject(s): Ellen and Jo Harvelle
INTERVIEWER: It’s nine-thirty a.m. on February the twenty-third. I’m at the Harvelle Roadhouse –
ELLEN: We just call it ‘the Roadhouse’.
INTERVIEWER: My mistake – the Roadhouse – which is a frequent stop for hunters in between missions.
ELLEN: (clears throat) And we don’t have ‘missions’. They’re ‘jobs’.
INTERVIEWER: I’m joined today by the owner of the Roadhouse, Ellen Harvelle, and her daughter, Jo.
JO: Yup. (whispers) What?
INTERVIEWER: Ellen, I’d like to start with you. I’m glad you mentioned the distinction between missions and jobs. The current reality is that all hunters are self-employed, aren’t they?
ELLEN: States have rangers who keep the natural wild in check. Cops keep people in line. Hunters take care of everything else.
INTERVIEWER: So, who funds these jobs?
ELLEN: Every hunter has their own way. Some get paid in kind.
INTERVIEWER: I imagine the Roadhouse brings in some profit to support you and your daughter on your jobs. How do you juggle those two lives?
ELLEN: We don’t hunt. We give hunters hot meals and a drink, a place to lay their heads if they need it, but our family’s part out there lived and died with my husband Bill.
INTERVIEWER: … Jo, you look like you want to say something.
JO: Well, I --
JO: My mom’s being modest. She and Dad were great hunters, and I… I’d like to honour his memory by carrying on what he did.
ELLEN: You want to honour your Daddy? Stay out of harm’s way. You think he’d want you out there by yourself?
INTERVIEWER: How dangerous is it to be a hunter?
ELLEN: Sonny, nobody in their right mind would choose this life. People join the hunt when something takes the people they love. The things we fight usually can’t be reasoned with. You can’t talk them off the ledge or ask them to stop feeding. We don’t get a wage, the people we save hardly know we’ve been there, and there ain’t no medals for bravery.
JO: Mom thinks this whole project is a mistake.
ELLEN: Those suits up on your hill are just gonna get innocent kids killed when they’re looking for glamour and adventure. You remember that, Joanna Beth.
JO: (groans) Mom –
INTERVIEWER: Well, Ellen, it’s… a very harsh reality you bring to our attention. I’m sure everyone watching this will appreciate your honesty.
ELLEN: If they do, they’ll stay home. This ain’t the way to easy money. Graves aren’t cheap, kids.
Dean watched Sam pay for their dinner as he waited outside the bar, wrapped tight in his jacket against the night’s breeze.
The cell phone was cold against the shell of his ear.
Dean nodded at the pair of burly, young guys who strode past him into the bar, tossing a lazy smile as an afterthought when they paused with the door half-ajar, frowning at him with more than the average curiosity. It lingered like suspicion, but they seemed to reconsider it, and Dean turned back to the parking lot when they disappeared inside.
“C’mon, Dad… damn it.”
The call rang out and Dean ended the attempt with a vicious jab at the keypad just as John Winchester’s voicemail picked up the slack.
Each time Dean looked at his cell phone and considered their track record with getting in touch with their Dad, the small tug of doubt tempted this time, maybe this time….
A huff sounded in the shadows of parking lot. He didn’t think anything of it, studying the cell phone in his hands like it was the crux of his problems, but then it came again –
A huff; the harsh, heavy scuffle of gravel; and the sort of whinny that only came from one sort of creature.
When Dean looked up, the tall, black horse at the other end of the lot was the glimmer of another shadow against the forest. It trotted from the dark like a black cloud of grace, weaving between the cars with casual disinterest and Dean was only shaken out of his stupor when it stopped at the Impala, nosing its hood with the flick of its mane.
“Hey,” Dean called, unintended hush in his voice as he braked at the Impala’s side and the horse snorted in surprise, backing away. A small part of him imagined the horse would rear up and stamp its hooves down on his baby. “Hey, it’s okay. You lost, girl? It’s okay….”
The horse straightened, its nostrils flaring again with the toss of its mane, and it was lost on Dean how tall these creatures were until he was within charging distance.
And he wasn’t sure what he expected when he held out his hand, he was no horse whisperer. A quiet wisped through the parking lot, the breeze falling still, and, like the tug of doubt when he thought of his father, Dean thought, maybe…..
The bar door swinged shut with a bang.
Dean watched, awestruck, as the horse warped in front of his eyes, dark eyes clouding gold. It reared up on its hind legs with a whinny that rose to the pitch of a shriek as its mane flared out into the wings of a towering bald eagle.
The transformation was over before Dean could even sprawl backwards.
The eagle beat its wings – were they really that big in real life? – the tips of those dark feathers close enough to brush his face. It rose into the sky with a final, sharp glance that felt strangely like disappointment, and then it was gone.
Sam was gawking when Dean looked back at him, drifting like a man possessed, his arm still reaching for the bar door at his back, but Dean had to ask – he wasn’t crazy… right?
“Did you see that?” Dean pointed to the trees.
“What the hell was that?” Sam shook his head in disbelief. Concern flickered across his features and he searched his brother. “Did it get you?”
“No. No, it just… sniffed the Impala.”
“… Weird – but that’s not the worst of our problems.”
Dean frowned at his brother’s darkening expression.
“Forget to tip our waitress, Sam?”
“Those guys in the bar. They think we’re hunters.”
“… Get in the car.”
Those damn streaks just wouldn’t come off the glass.
Ellen scowled, polishing the mug for the third time as Ash rattled on from the other side of the bar, gesturing to his laptop like she was a ghost of MIT who might’ve had the vaguest notion what he was saying.
She mustered her best effort of paying attention as she fought with those damn smudges. Did the detergent cake into the glass?
“They got no standards – and I’m not talking about the rooting the weeds from the ivy and bouquets of lily, ‘cause that’s a whole other day at the races – but from what I can find, nobody’s converting the tomes to digital. Nobody’s compiling a central database on the bold and the beastly that’d hold the hint of a candle to mine.”
Ellen rolled her eyes and put the glass aside for a later attempt.
“Nobody could ever shine against you with computers, boy.”
“Who’s checking your facts, Capitol?” A laugh bubbled out of him, puffed and bemused.
An urgent ping! made Ellen look up from the sink as Ash stilled on his throne of the pool table, just in time to see the self-congratulatory sneer die on his lips.
“Oh, Houston. Mamma’s been bad to you. Ellen.” Ash looked up towards the back room. “Jo! You better come see this.”
The woman kneeled on the dirt floor of a dark room; maybe a cellar or basement.
The only light shone from the camera’s pale, narrow spotlight, but it was enough to show the dark smears below the neck of her dress as she kneeled; the way her shoulders trembled as she tried to quiet her sobs.
“No more secrets. No more half-truths,” a man’s voice growled.
He entered the video frame, circling, before bending her towards the camera with a knee at her back. Her dark hair fell across her face when she leaned away from him, but a strong hand yanked her head back, exposing her throat and the fresh tears that streaked through the grime on her face.
“No, no,” she cried, hiccupped. “Please….”
“This is not a simulation. This is not Hollywood. This is what’s in your backyard, America – this is what those hunters let lie in your sheds while they picked where to hunt and who to tell!”
Another person stepped to the woman’s side, she whimpered as black droplets fell on her face, trailing red down her cheek. Her body stiffened when the first drop fell in her mouth, chest hitching with an aborted breath when a thin stream of that blood trailed past her lips.
Her face contorted from pain to rage and a vicious hunger. Her mouth twisted with the snarl exposing rows and rows of razored pincer teeth, and two pairs of hands clamped down on her shoulders in time to restrain her.
The high shriek that ripped past her lips was pure fury and hunger.
“Hurry up, get ‘er – do it!”
Metal glinted, her hair was wrenched high, the men stepped back and her head came away from her shoulders with barely a sound.
Blood rushed thick and dark down her dress, too red, too real. They let her body fall forward with a slosh into the mud. The corpse twitched in the last of its throes and a boot came down on the back of her shoulders.
“Vampires. Werewolves. Skinwalkers – shapeshifters – witches and psychics. The devil’s walking the earth and these are his agents! This thing ripped apart my sister and her family just two days ago. Nobody came to warn us. Nobody told us how to spot them or defend ourselves. You gonna let those other hunters choose who lives and dies? Are you gonna leave your families to this?”
The vampire’s head was shoved at the camera, fingers twisted in thick, dark hair. The vampire stared back, disfigured with the raw, animalistic fury of its still gaping maw, but its eyes held the pinprick of fear – of understanding and mortality – forever trapped in the moment before the machete came down.
A ghastly moan escaped its lips; the final release.
The video went black.
INTERVIEWER: In the first months following the launch of the Federal Hunter’s Project, new developments have stalled the Administration’s goal for a common, allied force in the fight against the supernatural. Following the Twilight Slasher scandal, the numbers of sign-ups stalled as people feared for their association. The community is now demanding that existing hunters publicly identify themselves, but those that did have been met with growing hostility.
INTERVIEWER: Hunters come in many roles and strengths, and all walks of life. Not all of them wear weapons trekking through the mud of the pipes or your local graveyards.
We wanted to see what life was like for those among us who supported the struggle against the supernatural with their own God-given abilities.
September 14, 2006
Location: Undisclosed, Illinois
Subject(s): Pamela Barnes, Psychic
PAMELA: You’re not moving me.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m not actually part of the Administration, I’m just here for an insight –
PAMELA: You want some insight? How’s this: I’m a law-abiding citizen, I pay my taxes, I mow my lawns – hell, I even run yoga classes on Mondays and Thursdays. And, yes, when hunters come seeking directions on something that’s hurting ordinary folk, I throw around some incense and see through my third eye to point the way.
INTERVIEWER: Err. Well, I – is it really like that?
PAMELA: Oh, honey, you don’t want to know half the things I’ve seen. But now your Administration thinks they can pack me off into a mobile psychic unit? This isn’t Charlie’s Angels. You people have no idea how critical our environment is for the things we do.
INTERVIEWER: But such powerful psychics such as yourself are in short supply around the country and the Administration claims it would cover all of your needs. Are you compelled by their argument for all the good you could achieve, and the hunters you could support if you joined the mobile unit?
PAMELA: How many hunters have you actually met? They’re not the warmest bunch and more would cock a gun in your face if you tried to help them without an invitation.
INTERVIEWER: I understand things are volatile –
PAMELA: You understand how much people love an excuse to come together against a common enemy. Now they know there’s real evil in the world and the government will fund people to fight it, they’ve opened a door that can’t be shut. I’ve had bricks thrown through my windows. Yesterday I had my first death threat because I’m not just the yoga instructing psychic anymore, I’m the freak who might actually be meditating with the devil.
INTERVIEWER: If you joined the mobile unit, part of their guarantee is an armed escort. The Administration says they can keep you safe in exchange for your services.
PAMELA: That’s what they say, but you’re a reporter; you’ve been watching the news. Would you believe them?
The night was still cold, the lightest breeze tickling the back of Dean’s neck as he refuelled the Impala and watched the numbers climb on the fuel meter.
His was the only car at the station, but the dead man’s blood in his passenger seat was keeping him great company. If company was measured by how much it made your skin crawl.
Dean clutched the fuel nozzle that much tighter thinking back to the earlier fight he’d had to break up between Sam and his Dad. His Dad might have been MIA for the better part of a year without so much as an “I’m still alive, thank you very fucking much”, but when the three of them were back together, it was like no time had passed at all.
You were the one who said “don’t come back”, Dad. You were the one who closed that door, not me.
Home, bittersweet home. It didn’t feel like a blessing, but Dean was willing to put up with the sour taste of his family’s spite if it meant he had them all within arm’s reach again.
“Now, there’s a face I’ve seen before.”
Dean startled, reaching for the gun on his belt, but then he saw the girl who perched on the edge of the Impala’s hood, her white dress fanning at her feet like a phantom in the headlights.
No. It couldn’t be.
She looked at him with the same blue eyes and wavy blonde hair, but what was missing was that quirk of her smile. She really had been beautiful.
“No,” she said. “I’m not your brother’s girlfriend. But her face was so strong in his mind and the last time we met, you called me ‘girl’. I thought a familiar face might help.”
At least ‘she’ hadn’t taken their mom’s face.
The gun’s hilt was cold between his fingers. Dean waited, the fuel pump churning to a stop as the Impala’s tank reached its capacity. Inside the fuel station, the balding site manager turned the next page of his magazine.
“Who are you?” Dean asked.
“I’m just a traveller. Today, you can call me ‘Jane’.”
“Jane Doe?” Dean smirked, cocking an eyebrow, and a slow smile crossed her features, patiently amused.
“You probably don’t remember, but this is actually the second time we’ve met.”
“… What are you?”
Jane looked through the Impala’s windscreen and nodded significantly at the brown paper bag on the passenger seat. She didn’t flinch when she looked back to the gun Dean narrowed between her eyes.
“I’m not one of them. I’m on a mission, just like you. The last time we met, I looked more like this.”
Jane rose to her feet, fingers curling at her side and –
“Whoa!” Dean staggered, the concrete pillar digging sharp at his back.
Watching a girl transform into a proud, black horse was definitely one of the experiences that would stay with Dean for a while.
The horse whinnied, scuffing the pitted concrete with its hoof as its proud shoulders rolled back, and its gold eyes were surreal under the fluorescents.
“You’re that – that – “
In the blink of an eye, the girl was back with Jess’s face in that flowing white gown, hair settling behind her.
“They call me a lot of things,” she said, but Dean couldn’t stop thinking about the way her eyes had glimmered.
“What were you doing on November second, nineteen eighty-three?”
Her expression narrowed carefully, cautious.
“’Cause that decides if I smoke you or not.”
“Not with that gun, you won’t.”
“And what are you? What are you doing here?”
“Not all hunters are human, you know. And you’re stepping on my toes.”
Dean frowned. The vampires?
“If you haven’t been watching the news, it isn’t a good season to be a hunter, sweetheart.”
Her face was like stone. Dean might have only met the real Jessica once, but that old, hardened look didn’t belong in her eyes.
“Luther’s girl bled someone close to me. He’d never hurt anyone, but they wanted a taste.”
“Well, I don’t know how else to say this – but we’ve got it covered.”
“You need to back off.”
“And I need to remind you that I’m the one holding the gun. Trust me. We’ve got this covered.”
Her head cocked to the side and when she laughed, glancing to the tree line, it was surprised, without the mockery Dean expected.
“And who is ‘we’?”
Her stare was piercing. She looked to the car and back to Dean.
“You’re the Winchesters.”
Dean glanced at his baby and she must have read the question in his face.
“It’s a very distinctive car. And there aren’t as many hunting families as you probably think.” Her palm pressed flat to the Impala’s hood and Dean wondered as the soft, thoughtful look that crossed her face.
A creature was touching his baby.
“Don’t think I’ve ever met a monster hunting one of its own,” Dean said.
The sharp glare was expected, but also a small comfort. She didn’t think she was like those vampires, but was she right?
“I’ve heard of your father,” she said.
Dean flinched at the mention of his Dad, free hand fisting at his side, and he might have been leaping into the pit, but he couldn’t stand in arm’s reach of this creature and not now.
“On November second, a yellow-eyed demon killed my mother.”
Jane stilled, eyes narrowing, and she studied his face. She never once looked at the gun in his hand.
“November second. Nineteen eighty-three. I was heading north for Hogmanay. A demon? You got any holy water on you?”
Dean handed over the flask from the Impala’s glove compartment and watched her throw it back, pulling a face.
“Even holy water gets stale,” she said without a hiss of smoke or the flinch John had described they should expect. “You should think about replacing it every month. That’s at least half-year vintage, steel flask, warmed by too many days in summer. Bleugh.”
So, not a demon then? Dean slowly took the flask and tucked it into his jacket.
“Nineteen ninety-six,” Jane said, surprising him, and he stopped. “A vampire named Luther and his nest killed my brother. You have one night and them I’m moving in.”
October 9, 2006
Location: Canaan, Vermont
Subject(s): Rufus Turner
RUFUS: Your name Jimmy Page? No? Then get off my porch. This is private property.
INTERVIEWER: Uh, please put down the gun, Sir.
RUFUS: You’ve a right to bear your monkey with the camera on his shoulder. I’ve a right to shut my door in your face. Like this.
INTERVIEWER: Sir, I have a message from Ellen Harvelle!
RUFUS: … What is this? That woman send you here to recruit me?
INTERVIEWER: I’m just the messenger, Sir. We heard you’re one of the best.
RUFUS: And what dumb fuck told you that?
INTERVIWER: I’d be honoured if you gave us five minutes of your time.
RUFUS: Your five minutes are up. But I’ll keep this.
INTERVIEWER: Sir, if you change your mind, call the number on the package.
RUFUS: My name’s not ‘Sir’. ‘Sir’ is for fathers, mentors, and ministers of state. ‘Sir’ is for suits. My name is Rufus Turner. And you’ve got thirty seconds to get off my property.
“This ends now. I’m ending it. I don’t care what it takes.”
The next time Dean saw ‘Jane’, they were on the road to Salvation, Iowa and Pastor Jim Murphy was dead.
The Impala rocked as Sam slid into the passenger seat beside him. Dean watched John climb back into his truck, jaw clenched, and revved the Impala back to life.
He almost missed the black horse when they pulled back onto the road, a sentinel between the trees. But they were miles from Colorado. It couldn’t be the same horse, could it?
Sam bumped his shoulder and motioned to their Dad’s truck that was peeling away on the road ahead.
November 1, 2006
Subject(s): Bela Talbot
BELA: Your Federal Hunter’s initiative will never work because hunters work in filthy, unglorified conditions performing rituals with items that are so rare and precious to the common person that no politician will sign for their procurement over the table.
INTERVIEWER: And that’s where you come in?
BELA: I’m the hired help. I negotiate on behalf of my clients. Sugar for your latté?
INTERVIEWER: Oh – thank you. Can you give us an idea of the sort of items you could be asked to obtain for your clients?
BELA: Good lord, did no one ever teach you how to appreciate a fine barista’s work?
INTERVIEWER: I – well – it’s… very good. It’s coffee.
BELA: It’s coffee. This is the best brew for twenty miles. I’m regretting this interview already.
INTERVIEWER: Miss Talbot, if we could return to the line of questioning –
BELA: Of course, my little man.
INTERVIEWER: I – uh, that is – what sort of objects would you encounter in the nature of your work?
BELA: You’re talking about the weathered bones of twelfth century monks, blood and organs harvested from the deceased, sacred ecumenical artefacts that heads of church would never part with, and when they have to be sourced from overseas, do you think the museums of Britain, Cairo, or Iraq would send their rarest pieces to be flogged by Roger from the corner store?
INTERVIEWER: As I understand, with the competition for resources, the project could be forced to streamline its recruits: both its numbers and… maybe its organisational structure by who has the skills and experience to be handling the equipment.
BELA: Please tell me this isn’t a revelation to you… oh, you’re all doomed.
INTERVIEWER: The Administration has every faith in the capacity of its employees.
BELA: That’s why you’ve doomed them.
INTERVIEWER: With the recent backlash against hunters, I’d like to thank you for your courage in coming forward to share your knowledge with us. Do I spell ‘Bela’ with one ‘L’ or two?
INTERVIEWER: Ah. That probably isn’t your real name, is it?
BELA: I suggest keeping a healthy stash of salt on your person at all times. A silver pen knife wouldn’t go amiss, either. You’ve interesting times ahead. And you can have this info package back.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, no – that’s for you. The Administration is asking all existing hunters to join us in Washington for a Think-tank.
BELA: Ooh. Terms that should never share the same sentence, my good man.
INTERVIEWER: The project could benefit from your skills and experience.
BELA: Well. I’m not a hunter, and I’m the first to confess that I’m neither a team player. Sorry, I’ll have to disappoint you.
INTERVIEWER: I have just one final question.
INTERVIEWER: Are you familiar with the Winchesters?
Sam was still at the hospital checking the infant birth records for any children turning six months in the coming week, when John got the call.
Dean hovered on the threshold of the motel’s bathroom, listening to his Dad attempt to muffle the conversation, and he imagined John drifting to the windows, head bowed.
“Sorry, Ellen. I’m too close, I can’t leave this now. Jim’s dead and… yeah, I know. I understand.”
‘Ellen’? Was there a new woman in his Dad’s life? Who was this person worth picking up for?
He peered around the corner and saw John hang his head, a supporting hand on his hip as he turned away from the bleak afternoon sun.
“I hope you find her.”
Dean made a beeline for their papers strewn on the table when John ended the call, pushing the cell into his back pocket with a grim, faraway expression.
“Everything all right?” Dean asked, careful not to look at his Dad directly.
John barely acknowledged the question with a nod and Dean resigned himself to another mystery he’d have to let go.
A knock came at the motel door. Sam blew in, wet from the rain and wincing with a hand to his temple as he dropped his bag beside the table.
Dean reached out to steady his brother as he collapsed into one of the chairs.
“Sammy, you all right?”
Sam groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose, and Dean knew what that look meant.
“I had a vision.”
The house was on the rim of town, a two-storey slump among a row of derelict shacks under broken streetlights. The decay wafting from the gutters was enough to make Ellen hold her breath as she knocked out the first man at the back door and re-tucked the shotgun against her shoulder.
Rufus came up behind her, looking each way for any more signs of movement, and she waited for his nod to take her post.
Honestly, Ellen expected more resistance. An underwhelming total of five lugs stood against them and she was only disarmed once when one of the taller hulks surprised her from behind a door at the top of the creaking staircase. The butt of Rufus’s shotgun found the man’s neck and they were on their way again.
“Ellen.” Rufus motioned her over with a nod towards the bedroom at the end of the hall.
Her boots sounded too loud, but nothing stirred in the dark with its dim illumination from the weak bulbs. She pushed the door open to that final bedroom and the shotgun almost dropped from her hand.
“Jo.” Ellen was across the room in a moment and pulled the gag from her daughter’s mouth, kneeling in front of the chair that bound her. “You all right, sweetheart?”
Jo laughed, her grime-streaked face twisting with a sob as she leaned into her mother’s tight embrace.
“I thought I’d take in the sights of the back street, but I don’t think it lives up to the brochure,” Jo said, and Ellen sat back on her heels.
“Wise-cracking to the end, Joanna Beth.” Her palm tapped Jo’s cheek in light imitation of a chastising smack and Jo managed a tearful smile as her mother undid the last of the knots on her binds. “And who’s this?”
Jo took her mother’s hands, accepting the support as she was pulled to her feet, dusting off her clothes.
Ellen finally turned her attention to Jo’s partner in hostage.
The woman leaned heavily against Rufus’s side, her arm slung around his shoulder. Watching Pamela favour her weight on one leg, Ellen wondered if she had been missing as long as Jo, if not for longer. A series of long gashes climbed the arm hanging loosely at her side, bearing the impression of a haphazard rail. The wounds were raw as though they had begun to heal, but re-opened, again and again.
Glancing between the two women, a strong wave of gratitude welled in Ellen’s chest because she thinks Pamela somehow convinced the men to divert the brunt of their interrogation from Jo.
“It’s been a long time, little miss,” Rufus said and Pamela, to her credit, laughed. The sound cracked dry and weak, but her smile was grateful.
“Seattle,” Pamela said.
“Seattle,” Rufus affirmed, voice hushed, and Pamela’s smile thinned.
“They burned down my house.” She winced, readjusting herself against his side to take the weight off her bad leg – it looked like the problem was in her knee.
“We’ve got you,” Rufus said.
“We need to move,” Ellen said. “We learned they come in shifts and there’ll be more on their way.”
Jo took Rufus’s shotgun and joined Ellen in the lead. They waited, staying close as Rufus helped Pamela, mindful of the way she winced with every step.
“What did they want?” Ellen glanced down the staircase before making their descent. Her jaw wound tight every time the house groaned around them and she had to check it wasn’t the symptom of more company.
“Names. Numbers,” Jo said. “They thought Pam was some sort of central hotline to hunters everywhere. They want us to be held accountable.”
“This is why I don’t like people,” Rufus grumbled, ignoring Pamela’s grunt of protest when he carried her down the stairs.
The front door crashed open with a shout and the front hall lit up with a storm of flashlights, voices, and Ellen cursed.
“The backdoor, c’mon.”
Hopping the back fence was an impressive feat with Pamela’s bung knee, but then Ellen stopped and looked both ways up the alley.
“God damn. The car – god damn it!”
Jo huffed, leaning on her knees as she caught her breath and she helped Rufus steady Pamela between them.
“Mom, we have to go. We’ll run. Don’t worry about the –“
Jo cut off as tyres screeched and the alley was suddenly flooded by headlights.
Shotguns cocked, Ellen aimed blindly, but then a car door slammed and someone was calling to them.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot – everyone get in the car! Hurry!”
That voice was familiar, but Ellen didn’t let her grip waver on the gun.
“Who are you?” Ellen squinted into the light and the slim silhouette of a man stepped into the beam, ushering them towards the car.
“It’s the reporter!” Jo cried and, before Ellen could stop her, Jo had him up against the car’s hood with the shotgun under his chin. “Did you turn us in? Are you collecting on hunters?”
The man trembled, hands help up in surrender, and Ellen was finally close enough to see him glance to her, maybe for a sane intervention. He was shit out of luck.
“No, no, no. I followed your mother – I’m on your side!”
“Is that right?” Rufus growled, coming up behind Jo with Pamela glaring steel at the newcomer. “And why would you be on our side, boy?”
The man swallowed, adam’s apple rolling against the barrel of the shotgun. Jo just pushed it higher under his chin.
“I’m not a reporter, I--I’m barely even a writer. My name is Chuck Shurley. Well, I have a lot of names. But I’m on your side.”
“Just hang in there, the hospital’s only ten minutes away,” Sam said.
Dean clung to the seat of the Impala, but his grip kept slipping in the slick of his own blood. Fog crept at the edges of his vision. His head felt so heavy and everything was finally, mercifully numb.
He had to stay awake.
His head lolled and he caught himself at the last second, grunting with the effort to dig nails into his palm and focus on the pain as the Impala rumbled under his hands.
In the front seat, John was shaking his head, sour with disappointment.
“I thought we saw eye-to-eye on this,” he told Sam. “Killing this demon comes first: before me, before everything.”
Dean was going to be sick. He was going to pass out. Maybe he’d be sick and then pass out.
His Dad was alive. They were alive, they were alive….
“No, Sir,” Sam said. “Not before everything. Look, we still got the Colt, we still got the – whoa!”
The Impala braked and swerved with an abrupt squeal of rubber and – oh, Dean was going to be sick and pass out and then die, but at least it’d be in the backseat of his baby.
“Sam, what are you doing?” John barked.
“It’s not me, it’s – the car’s – it’s moving on it’s – whoa, look out!”
A horn blared, his ears rang, and he caught the edge of the semi-trailer as it roared past.
“Dad. Are you okay? Everybody okay? Where the hell did that come from?”
Dean was so, so sleepy. He just had to put his head down for a few minutes. He knew the first aid, he had to stay awake, but everything in him ached and he just knew he’d be fine if he took five. Just five….
“Oh my god, Dean! Dean, hang on, okay? Dean!”
November was cold in South Dakota, the windows of Bobby Singer’s house already frosting at the edges and, though the clouds were thin, Ellen thought it smelled like snow.
When the black Impala rumbled into the salvage yard, déjà vu curdled sick in her stomach.
The last time she saw that car, she’d lost her husband.
John Winchester emerged from the driver’s seat and he looked even worse than Ellen remembered. He moved with the same slow gravity; a weariness long ingrained in his muscles from the hunt of two decades that had taken its toll.
Who would choose this life?
John was spending a significant span of her patience scowling at that car.
Ellen snorted under her breath and pulled the screen door open, leaning her shotgun by the doorframe. John looked up at the creak of springs, and Ellen wondered if he was conscious of the way his shoulders rolled, his posture straightening in his surprise.
“Ellen.” It didn’t sound like his ride had brought him up to speed. He hadn’t expected to see her.
The driver’s door finally shut, a tremble went through the car’s frame and, a moment later, where the car had stood, a tall, black stallion stretched in its place.
From the way John stared at the creature while standing almost beneath its hooves, Ellen guessed he was still getting over the shock of their rescue.
“We’ve been waiting for you almost two weeks now, John,” she said, patting the horse’s nose when it trotted up to the porch. “How does it feel to drive a phouka? I like that he can’t complain so much in this form.”
The horse whickered, tossing its mane, and then shifted into the sulking form of one Chuck Shurley in a wrinkled, cream suit.
“Ellen. I didn’t like your decoy plan. The road was hard on my feet.”
“You insisted you wanted to help.”
“Why here?” John asked, scanning the wrecks of the salvage yard.
How long had it been since he and Bobby saw each other?
“We needed a sanctuary.” Ellen nodded for John to follow her. “Everyone’s inside. Where are your boys?”
The roar of a second engine answered her question as a twin of the Impala pulled into the yard beside the first.
The man who climbed from the driver’s seat was tall, on the leaner side than the other man who had broader shoulders and a limp as he walked; arm held carefully to his stomach. They didn’t look much older than Jo and they walked with slow caution, the taller one supporting the other with a hand on his back, in spite of the efforts to wave him off.
“Back up, nurse,” the shorter one grumbled.
“Any trouble?” John asked. He laid a steady hand on the broader man’s shoulder and, this time, young man didn’t try to shrug it off.
“No, Sir,” the taller one said, though his gaze kept flicking back to his brother.
“Boys, I’d like you to meet Ellen Harvelle.” John gestured from the two young men to Ellen and Chuck on the porch. “This is Sam… and Dean.”
“Evening.” She nodded at their polite greetings of Ma’am that reminded her just how old she was now. She would have to keep an eye on Jo with these two around. “What’s the password, boys?”
Sam gaped at a loss and gestured from himself to his brother.
“Um, do we have a secret password?” Sam murmured, and Dean just winced from what looked like the simple effort of standing. Poor guy. They must have come straight from the hospital.
“I need a drink,” Dean groaned, mostly to himself.
“There’s Johnnie Walker inside,” Chuck said, drawing all eyes to him. “It was the only way I could convince Rufus to stay.”
“Nice.” Dean nodded, impressed.
“You’re a death trap waiting to happen,” John told Chuck as he strode past.
“Gotta say I liked Jane’s face better,” Dean said, and Chuck turned that surly look on him, but the weak reproach quickly faded.
“Dean,” Chuck called him back, softly, and Ellen held the door for the others, but John lingered, murmuring some excuse about checking the car again.
Ellen returned his simple nod, but it wasn’t simple at all.
They could be civil for the sake of everyone else. It did no one good to dredge up the past and pour salt into old wounds; she wouldn’t be the one to start it. Their kids deserved better than that.
She smiled when Sam thanked her, ducking his head as he passed. That boy was a treasure, she could already tell.
“With everything that was going on, I never had the chance to thank you,” Chuck said, ploughing on in spite of Dean’s pursed frown. “We’re even now.”
“It’s what we do.” Dean shrugged.
“I know. Your brother isn’t the only one who sees things.”
“… A phouka with visions?”
Chuck tilted his head, not quite a shrug, as though he wasn’t bothered that he had no better explanation.
“I am what I am. Haven’t travelled this much in a long time, though, I’m looking forward to grounding my feet for a while.”
“Don’t get comfortable,” Ellen interrupted, ignoring the way Chuck’s shoulders sagged as his bubble burst. “Do you still have all the footage from your interviews?” Ellen asked. “How many hunters did you get to?”
Chuck nodded, expression distant as he did the mental calculations.
“Maybe twenty. I was surprised how many agreed to speak to me.”
John’s boots pounded the porch stairs as he joined them again, pocketing the Impala keys in his jacket. Something wrapped in brown paper packaging peeked from his belt.
“Twenty? I need to know who you’ve spoken with,” John told him. “Our friends are being attacked from both sides: the fools wreaking hell ‘cause they think we owe them something and then Meg’s folk. We’ve got to get them out of their known addresses.”
Ellen gestured into the waiting house.
“Then we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
John glanced inside and, by God, was that hesitation?
“Is Bobby home?”
“Well, John, he only lives here,” Ellen sighed.
John hovered a beat longer, but one look at Dean’s tired face and John nodded, ushering his son ahead of him. Ellen shut the door behind Chuck, wondering not for the first time how something like him changed his shape and size as simply as breathing. She shook her head and redrew the salt lines over the threshold, hiding her smile.
Bobby’s footfalls echoed down the stairs.
It was going to be quite the reunion.