Something is moaning in the night out there, something with fangs and fur and a taste for human hearts, and Mum must see the fear in her eyes because she picks Betty from the bedside table—the doll with the pretty red dress and the cut up curls—and tipping a finger at the plastic forehead she says, “This spot right here, darling, this is the spot you need to hit.”
John wakes with a shout, cold sweat on his brow; “There was so much blood,” he tells the darkness and then, like an afterthought, tells her as if she didn’t know war.
Mary’s not one to tell—wouldn’t have said anything, in fact, if it weren’t for Liddy, who reached across the table, almost knocking over the milkshakes in her haste to reveal the hickey on Mary’s neck, and for Dorothy, who started listing the names of all the boys in town until she found the one that made Mary’s amused little smile turn bright and smitten.
The curve of Sammy's little head fits so perfectly in her palm, and he has all this soft, soft hair that she can't stop stroking, so much more than Dean had, and darker too.
It's just the window someone opened that let the cold pool in and creep across her feet, that made the curtains sway and whisper, just the wind, nothing else.
It’s strange how the night stretches and then there are people moving and babies crying but they are not her own, neither Sammy nor Dean; she finds lovers in bed and new cars in the driveway; she’s searching or maybe waiting for someone, something, for the weak light of summer to kindle her bones, until bewildered she retreats into the shadows and curls up with the smoke.
Every comment not a Yessir equals treason, and no matter the questions, the answer is This is what our family does, with a fist slamming down on the table to mark the full stop to the argument.
A fresh golden promise on their ring fingers, they pull out of Lawrence together with the last rain clouds, follow Route 54 from Wichita down south, and after a night in one of those cheap motels where the beds squeak and the walls are thin, it’s into New Mexico, finally, that vast land stretching for miles and miles, the sky lifted and light, and Mary sinks into the seat of the black car thundering down the I-40, rolls down the window and laughs with the wild air.
Weapons and soldiers are what’s valued in this family and in her bargain for one small grain of approval, she ends up introducing John with a wry, “Like the rifle.”
What she wants is not a hunting partner: she wants love like fire in her heart and if that’s reason to call her overly romantic and naive, well, so be it.
The sick, pale shade of a storm brooding over the plains; the air dense with sand that whispers in the straw of a lost harvest; animals seeking flight on brittle legs that broken then, leave them waiting for death in the roadside ditches, with festered wounds and split skin that spill pus and bile and innards; the foul stench of evil that creeps from the hollows down below: yellow.
In the middle of the night she rings Liddy's doorbell, and when her parents opens she can’t even get out a Sorry for bothering you so late between all the shaking and sobbing and that violent feeling of betrayal over her father throwing the application back in her face, scoffing, “What, you wanna exorcise demons with accounting now?”
So there’s music, slower now because it’s late, and they’re moving, one of her hands draped around his neck and both of his around her waist, and there’s some turning involved too, but maybe it’s more like following each other’s pull, a general sense of gravity that’s been working towards each other all night because they’re certainly no longer following the beat.
After Christmas the temperatures drop to an abysmal low, right when her belly has just grown to such grotesque proportions that her warmest coat won't fit anymore, and that’s it: the next kid is coming in summer.
She pours the alcohol away and throws the goddamn bottles out and in her anger breaks one of them on the metal edge of the garbage can; later, as John storms out of the house, the shards are glittering in the red evening sun.
With a little help from daddy, Dean swoops up on the bed and starts climbing over the white hospital sheets, across Mary’s legs and up towards the cushions where he snuggles in beside her, leaning forward a little so he can take a good look at the tightly wrapped bundle in her arms, and whispers, “Hello, Sammy.”
She can't deal with the way John looks at her at the funeral, like his heart is breaking for her—she's not sure how to deal with any of this at all: this sudden void in her life where her parents used to be is too overbearing.
“You are not seeing this boy,” her mother warns and Mary nods solemnly, furrows her brow and pouts her lips to appear adequately angered, then retreats to her room and climbs out through the window (and Jeez, she told John to wait near the corner; what’s he doing driving up to the house?).
John’s off to Texas for a couple of days, friend of his getting a ticket to the Stones for his birthday, and Mary makes good use of the time, strips the nursery, covers the walls in every protective sigil she knows, and then spends a day fidgeting with that baby blue wallpaper that looked sweet in the shop, but is a complete nightmare to get up without it throwing waves left, right and center.
When John doesn’t come home, or when he does but late and with beer on his breath—those are the moments when it’s tempting to remind herself how she walked out on unhappiness once before, and all that’s keeping her now are the little fingers tugging on her dress, begging for a hug.
She can’t quite put her fingers on it, but every so often he will smell of something that is not just gasoline and engine grease, something that is more like soot on her fingers, more like a kitchen table covered in stripped guns, like the pre-hunt buzz in a rugged cabin, like a door opening and the relief of counting the right number of faces all lit up in triumph while peppered in blood, and she will kiss John on the cheek and try not to think about how heavy her heart turns.
“Baby, I understand that you like The Beatles and I can respect that, but-” and he points an accusatory finger at Dean’s dashing new hair cut “-this is taking it too far.”
“Look at those eyes, you getting green eyes, big boy?” she coos as she puts a sleepy, limp Dean into bed, under the watchful glance of that kitschy angel she just can’t bring herself to throw out.
In the darkest of nights she hears his voice like a moan swelling with the wind, a plea from a thousand miles away, but it’s not enough, not quite, not yet, to free her from these soot-black walls.
“Cold is how you wash it out, darling,” her mum says and reaches over her shoulder to turn the faucet; Mary remembers standing here three years ago with her panties instead of some hunting gear in the sink, her mum rubbing soothing circles over her back, saying, “It’s okay,” and Mary felt just as ugly and lost as now.
She checks the shape of his eyes and suddenly they're like her mother's, the slant of his nose like John's, and thoughts racing, she runs his story against everything she knows—djinns, shapeshifters, psychics even—but there's a feeling in her gut that already knows: what he says is true.
Sage brush, cornflower and catmint on the window sill and a bunch of camomile blossoms over the crib: it's what her grandma taught her, how to keep the good spirits on your side.
If it shouldn’t exist outside of horror and fairy tales, then there’s a good chance Mary’s fought it; never, though, has a terror this profound gotten hold of her as when her dad’s eyes are flashing yellow.
For a moment, she forgets herself in John's kisses, forgets her guard, forgets to stop him from lifting her shirt; “fell down some stairs,” she explains awkwardly and it sounds like a lie even though it's not.
She forces herself to turn the page on some story about campers gone missing not far from here and tells herself, repeatedly and with conviction, that it's not cruel to want her own life, to want safety, to want peace.
“I’m Ellen, by the way,” the girl with the big gun, Mitchell’s daughter, says, “and why don’t you give me a call if you got anything else bugging you; needn’t be a nest of vamps, you know?”
“Salty,” she hears a tight-lipped voice over the noise of the bake sale, and if that's all they've got to complain about, that her cookies are too salty, then she should live a nice and uneventful life in this community.
Tonight of all nights John has to be kept awake by one of his black and white war films—as if they weren't all ending the same—and she hurries to hide the evidence of dusty boots and a silver knife as soon as she slips in through the door, then smiles apologetically and says, “Got caught up with the girls.”
It's the same every evening: as soon as the car comes rolling up the driveway, Dean shrieks and worms his way out of Mary's hold, dashes to the front door and opens it just in time to be swept into John's arms.
Dean peeks over the edge of the kitchen counter, a telling smudge of chocolate on his cheek, and watches closely as she puts another round of cookie dough on the baking sheet; between him and the smell from the oven and the way the sunlight filters so prettily through the drapes, she can almost believe that this is forever.
“But it doesn’t have to be like this,” the devil beckons, drunk on death, “a girl like you all alone in this world, now how would that be fair?”
The warmth when she kisses a brooding John, the patience when Dean is whiny and won't eat his greens, the moment of carelessness when she reads a book in the sun—none of that comes easy because happiness is something to reclaim every day.
She's got blood on her hands, blood on her clothes, blood-caked boots, guts in her hair, and her heart's racing with a single thought: this too was a family.
She knows what kind of mom she wants to be, what kind of childhood she wants Dean to have, but it's still something she mostly imagines through negation of her own experience, and the way Dean sometimes looks at her, with his peculiar expression on his face, makes her worry that it shows.
Age fifteen, at a farmhouse just outside of Kinsley, picking the amulet with the lock of hair from the dusty drawers of Mrs. Solomon’s bedroom, a mere second before the shotgun blast rings in her ears—it’s like the air splits apart and something cold reaches through for her.
These are her boys, her beautiful boys, and to keep them safe she’ll turn herself the spark that sweeps this place with fire.
Salt under the floorboards, hex bags in every corner, protective symbols in the cross stitch patterns of the cushions: she can’t shake the feeling that she missed a crack, that a slier kind of evil might still find ways into her home.
“I’ll put up a tire swing for the little one,” John murmurs into her ear, low and sweet with his beard scratching over her cheek, his hands sneaking around her waist towards the growing curve of her belly; “I’ll build him a house up there on the strongest branch.”
Both Sam and Dean are curled in beside her, snoring a little with their mouths open, and she meant to take a nap too, but instead she finds all her senses on edge, listening for something to come crawling out of the shadows.
The guy knows his tricks but he’s shoddy, in the way hunters get around civilians, in the way men get around her, and with a quick kiss to John’s cheek (John who is oblivious because he came home—he got out), she hurries around the back of the diner to deliver a dire lesson in consequence.
The charm bracelet is something her mother gave her on her twelfth birthday, locked it around her wrist with a sincere expression and explained, in detail, how it had belonged to her grandmother, that it was to keep her safe.
Should have been sleeping, mummy and baby should have been asleep, like daddy was downstairs, and yes, it’s true, there’s real evil in the dark out there, but every once in a while just pretend to be asleep and it’ll move on like a bad dream.
Ten years is an eternity when his last breath still lingers on her skin, his body warm like merely caught in a slumber; ten years is the promise of a whole life, and then one night she awakes, and the lamp flickers, and all that bought time is up.
Her gown is tugging on her shoulders as she is moved up the baby blue wallpaper, and the room tilts, and her feet are dangling, and she understands with brutal clarity that all her hard-won ground is lost, this battle that was a home, and safety never won.
There is no comfort in hearing John's voice over the flames: he's seen a glimpse of the truth now and that’s enough for generations to click into place like clockwork.