You’re gonna find your own grave, boy, the voice in Sam’s dream says. Not a 900-year-old witch, or a demon; not exactly an angel either, a voice with wings in it though, a rustling through snow-dropped firs, a memory.
His brother is dead. There’s a darkness of the face of the earth. There’s much he can’t remember.
Sam blinks awake. Eats breakfast (ash) on the first morning of an old world.
Dean always said:
Where are we?
When are we?
Sam weeps a little while, magics the bunker shut and goes West, no longer young, drives her, his brother’s dark horse, until the empty interstates sort into sense and the wild croons louder and soft:
We let the dark out and America reset to some default, must be.
There are people here, but not all of them. Tumbleweeds and time. Kansas- cow country, corn country, flyover, farm, home- drops out like a frequency.
Go north, boy, the voice says, work to do.
There's a little Utah town with a general store and a bobcat on a leash. Six black-eyed bastards that need killing, and Sam does.
Turns north again for the signs, for the conifers.
Town’s a whistle stop. One pickup kicking up alkali; one diner.
Are you sick, Ruby says, because that’s her name, this woman he meets on the road, and he can’t remember where he’s heard it. Hair like crude oil, slough-eyes, heart ghost-quick beneath his hands; hips.
She takes his gun hand: you lost someone.
I think I know you, she says.
She takes him to her room, outskirts of the outskirt. Train sounds.
What happened, Ruby says, to this country.
I was a waitress, Ruby says, diner’s boarded up now, family’s gone.
I was a man of letters, Sam says, and sees how it sounds.
This is America, Ruby says, rolls her eyes but good, you’re a gunslinger.
I lost my brother and let this darkness out, Sam says.
She takes him to her bed, works fingers in the roots of his hair, tells him she had dreams, once. Paintings on her walls: roadkill, cacti, crows.
Her lips, blood-bitten, taste like home.
It hurts. It hurts like a bitch.
There’s a man in Ruby’s doorway, smoke-spiral up from a barrel, dark blood on the satine.
Sam hears her call him a name he once knew.
There’s a deep hole beneath his own breastbone, and a woman lifeless beside him.
He rolls up and pulls, drops the doorway-shade to stone.
(You’re a hunter, Ruby said, before she died, fed him her blood.)
Sam chokes on his own, dresses, faints, wakes, calls his brother’s name.
Doesn’t bother to drag the body in the doorway, just slips down and out in the Wyoming dusk.
Hotwires a white horse.
Wind through grass. Two-lane; hard blades.
Sam blinks awake again, back-to-rock, roadside-pinned like a cross, a face over him like weather.
Sam coughs, winces.
Who are—where am I?
Crow country, the face says, and I’m not anyone if you don’t know me.
Sam struggles, hacks again, trickles from the hole beneath his heart.
You’re someone I used to know, Sam says, an angel.
The angel shifts, presses a hand to the hole until Sam cries out.
Winchester, like the gun, the angel says, I can help you but I can’t heal this, not—
I was a man of letters, Sam says, and you—
This body doesn’t believe in me, the angel says, but he prayed to me anyway. His tribe abandoned him long ago, when there were still buffalo.
I—Sam says, shivers, what do I call you then.
You’re a gun, the angel says, and I’m a blade. I’ll help you get back home, Winchester.
Sam, Sam says.
The angel digs, mines Sam’s sternum with the blade-tip, curses, points it at his stolen ride.
Nice Mustang, the angel says, and Sam thinks of his brother’s dark horse, left behind,
passes for awhile into his own dark.
It hurts. It hurts like a bitch.
Knot of herb on his chest, coneflower; cabin, low fire, figure crouched by.
I’m dead, Sam says.
No, says the angel, pokes the fire with artimisial bough.
I’ve been dead, Sam says, many times, and the angel says--
If you have, you're among the few white men, who remember it.
He tips whiskey into Sam’s mouth, cold-rags his head, says--
The angel chants awhile, sings to himself, signs in the handshapes of the plains:
Apsáalooke, Hidatsa, Bikkaashe, Castiel, Uriel, Gabriel. All these are names for the dead, or the living, depending.
Castiel, Sam mumbles, and hears a stream running in the dark.
The stream’s running in the dark outside, north and west and beyond.
We’re both men without names, the angel says, and without bodies that believe in us.
When you’re well enough, the angel says, I’ll take you home.
Not Kansas, Sam says, to my brother.
Winchester is wanted, for murder.
There's a bounty hunter out of Crowley, where—
Winchester shot a man who might have been possessed, or might
just have been burning in his human way, for an old love.
They have his car, black machine; two bodies, bloodspray, a bed.
If only Samuel Colt were here.
Hunter cabin; dove dawn. Montana wildgrass; vetch, meadowlark, yarrow.
Sam mutters: Dean's gonna…I’m gonna be late--
There's no time here, the angel says, and light from the window catches barbicels in his hair.
My brother, he had the mark, it was--
Yes, a lock, the angel says, all the living and the dead know it.
The darkness, Sam mutters, rolls in bed to look out at the grass, the memory of hoof-thunder:
Whole herds decimated by--
We called that the darkness too, the angel says.
Sleep awhile, Winchester, the angel says, and tell me what you dream.
Sam, Sam says.
Oh, crap, Sam says, sits up. The angel bristles, radar, at the tire-whisper:
Get your gun.
Sam stops, and the angel, arch, says--
Did you think I’d use my blade… or maybe some magic arrows?
The bounty and his partner come for them at dawn, pull up cabinside in his brother’s dark horse, call them out on the porch, blood-vault overhead.
Don’t hold with hunters killing other men, the bounty says, just because the country’s gone to hell. Drove all the way up here to let you know that.
Sam puts his sight on them, says, I was a man of letters.
Pulls, blade and notch, quick and again, watches them drop. Drops to his knees.
And now, the angel says, you’re a gun.
The blood’s liver-dark, and you’d think it’d stop trickling. Sam looks woundward, remembers: muscle and bone, old plaid.
I can disappear, the angel says, sage-soft, but I can’t heal this, or do all the things I used to.
Just—Sam says, take me to my brother.
You had a vision, the angel says, when you slept; what was in it.
Conifers, Sam says, and…maybe crows. A voice, a train, snow, a bed.
You have to forget who you are, the angel says. Let the country forget, move on.
I don’t understand, Sam says, but he does.
Kill and forget who you are, says the angel, in an old-friend voice, and rest.
I’m already dead, Sam says, anyway.
Baby, Sam says, stretches on the leather seat and remembers.
They leave the Mustang behind.
They leave the vetchgrass and drive, north and west, west with the sundown. It's a long journey, and it hurts, but Winchesters hurt and abide.
No food, one water-stop, a little more blood. The country canyons and climbs.
They park her and go on soft feet into the forest. Sam staggers, rights again, tall ship.
The birch trunks rise up around them, bark-lake disturbed by wind.
I thought it was a garden, Sam says, heaven’s center. And the angel says--
sometimes, but not in my tradition, the tradition of this body. And there’s no heaven, not here.
This body remembers the bison, the angel says, and the names of the clans, and the places that belong, Wind and Ash and Powder and Elk and Tongue and Horn.
The darkness—Sam says, and sinks.
Sleep awhile, the angel says, tell me what you see.
Sam lies down in leaves, face skyward, spies in nimbi faces he once knew.
Speaks their names.
Easy, Dean says, easy, easy. Sam burns and it makes him dream.
This seems like a long time ago. It smells of leaf-mould.
Where are you, he says, and dream-Dean looks at him, brotherfond.
Not here, Dean says, not anywhere we’ve been before, but you can find it; you’re almost there.
Am I dead, Sam says, it’s not like we haven’t been.
Not like this, Winchester, the angel says, pokes him awake. Sounds like needle-sucked grace; Sam remembers.
They drive north. They drive until conifers and riversful of salmon, the ones that once were.
The air isn’t Kansas anymore, isn’t any country he’s been to.
Imagine, the angel says, a world without Winchesters.
Guys, Sam says, gasps, or guns.
Both, the angel says.
Castiel, Sam says… or Crow, blade, whatever you’re called now, in this time.
What about you?
Sam can’t stand anymore.
The angel blinks out for a time, comes back with leather, feathers, something that shines.
It’s dawn, shine on shine and shine and Sam’s breathing in shotgun, calming again.
Medicine bag, the angel says, puts the leather in Sam’s hands, osha and bitterroot, crow flights and horn, some of your old signs, the things you saw.
A chance to start over, the angel says. Forget who you are here. Be a story to some, to those who remember. You can’t save everyone, nor cease to be.
What about you, Sam says, feels the leather, coffin-cradle, spinewise.
I’ll find my way back, Winchester, the angel says, to where I belong.
The sea is the road. River and road and beach and sky.
A woman in robes meets them, cement-sanded side of what might have been Pacific.
What are you, Sam says. The pain’s faded, bloody hole swung, amulet, down and between.
Camphoraceous herbs on his brow. Dry hips of beach-rose.
Billie, the woman says, puts her arms up to the sky, you knew me once, or might have.
And now—Sam says.
I’ll show you, Billie says, where to go.
The angel smiles. Drives them up onto the beach.
Builds a backseat bed of boughs.
The smell of cedar breaks over him like sea. The road breaks over the bow. It's far, but Sam has been further. It’s far out on water, reaper and angel on the dark shore, darkness rolling up out of forest.
Cradle, grave, boat, car, horse, bed. Conifers, a voice. Sam remembers.
It’s a long way, but not so far now.
He can hear his brother calling from the other shore.