"John Winchester's dead," Chris said.
"No, he's not. Why would you say that?" Earl asked, confused.
"He died in a hospital a few years ago. Him and his sons were in a car crash, rumor was one of his sons was gonna bite
it too, but they both walked back out, John didn't." Chris picked at the label on his beer bottle.
"Wasn't from the crash. That ain't why John died," Eric said.
"No?" Chris asked.
Eric raised his eyebrows and lowered his voice. "He made a deal with a demon."
"How the hell would you know?" Earl asked, laughing.
"Cause I nearly made one too. And the crossroads demon I found, she liked to talk. Talked so long I thought I was a goner, but I got away." Eric wiped at his brow, sweat starting to bead there.
"Why'd someone like John Winchester make a deal?" Chris asked. "He ain't as dumb as you are."
"Thanks."Eric scoffed. "He made the deal because Dean was dead. John brought him back."
"Bull." Earl had heard a lot of crazy stories in his line of work, but this was ridiculous.
Eric's voice dropped lower. "You've seen what his sons are like. How fucked up they are. Why do you think that is?"
"'Cause their daddy's got some screws loose."
"Yeah, you got that right." Chris agreed.
"He ain't dead," Earl said.
"What do you mean? Look, I know it sounds crazy, but I'm telling you—"
"I seen him last week." Earl insisted. "The two brothers driving that big-ass black car. They got out at a diner, but there
was somebody else in the back seat. I saw him, clear as day, when I drove by. It was John."
"He's dead," Eric said again. Then he stood and went to the men's room without another word.
"Then how'd I see him?" Earl asked.
Chris shrugged, but didn't have an answer.
With the conversation still fresh in his mind, Earl left the bar and made his way back to his truck. Didn't matter what the others said, he knew what he'd seen. He'd worked with John Winchester back in the day. The man had been a damn fine hunter, even if he was a little...intense.
And that had been him in the back seat of that Chevy.
Deep in thought, remembering the hunt he'd been on with John, Earl drove slowly out of the gravel parking lot and made his way to the highway, following traffic laws like a good upstanding citizen. He hadn't yet been pulled over for a DWI, and he didn't plan on ruining that record.
When he got to the Route 31 on-ramp he turned his radio on, switching between his two favorite stations until he found Lynyrd playing 'Free Bird'. He made his way to the middle lane and set his pace at an even 70mph, thinking about what he had to do when he got home. Feed Harvey, and let him out in the yard. Hopefully the mutt hadn't gotten into the closet again. Earl had lost two pairs of shoes last time that happened.
Shortly before Exit 4, he saw the car again. Kansas license plates, big black Chevy—old Impala by the look of it—in the right lane.
His radio crackled as he got closer, and Earl smacked the dash next to the speaker without ever taking his eyes off the black car.
He drove at the same steady pace, and kept his head facing forward when he got closer, so it wouldn't be obvious he was staring. But he was. There was somebody in the back seat. Broad shouldered, with hair that matched what he remembered of John Winchester's. In the driver's seat was his older son, Dean, tapping his fingers against his steering wheel, and in the passenger seat the taller one, Sam, hair hanging down around his face as he studied a map.
When he drove past them, John's head turned and Earl looked, despite himself. It was John all right, but not as he remembered him. His face looked pale and dirty, smudges of dried...something running across his cheek. When John saw Earl, he lunged towards the window, mouth open, teeth bared like an animal. His hands were pressed against the glass, framing his head.
That's when Earl noticed the chains.
Despite himself he pushed down harder on the gas, and forced himself to look straight ahead. Out of the corner of his eye he caught Dean looking at him, winking at him.
Mouth suddenly dry, Earl swallowed and kept his eyes focused on the road, noting that his exit was close. He accelerated, ready to pass the Impala and make his way towards the right lane. Dean obliged, even slowing his speed to let Earl ahead. Then the big black car followed him.
It followed him to the exit ramp and from one local street to the next. Earl hummed along with the Allman Brothers, despite how bad the static had gotten because he had to do something to calm his nerves.
He turned down Grant Drive, just to see if they'd keep following. There was nothing on Grant except houses so if they really were headed here by coincidence it couldn't be that street. When they kept going straight on Main he breathed a huge sigh of relief. Maybe they had a case here, maybe Dean had just recognized him, and given him a friendly wink.
And if they had their father chained in the back there was a probably a perfectly good reason for it.
It was a crazy world, after all, and if half the things they'd said about the Winchesters were true, well then they had a crazier deal than most. Even in hunters' circles.
Earl's radio, now clear of static, was still playing "Ramblin' Man,' and Earl sang along loudly, his spirit picking up with every repeat of the chorus. By the time he turned onto his driveway, the nervousness from earlier had disappeared completely.
He popped open the truck door, jumped down onto his driveway, let out a quiet beer-flavored belch and dug in his pockets for his keys.
Then he heard the rumble of an engine turning the corner.
Ice ran down his spine before he turned his head because he knew, he knew what it was—could feel its presence darkening the street even as the street lights started to spark and short out one by one. From inside the house Harvey his dog started barking up a storm.
The car stopped just feet from his driveway, and the back passenger-side door opened.
Earl dropped his keys. "Shit!" He muttered under his breath as he fell to his knees, clutching at the driveway in the dark as his own porch-light sputtered and died. Harvey's barks grew more frantic and Earl could hear him scrabbling at the front door with his paws.
Only feet away, on his lawn there was an odd sound, like something being dragged across the wet grass, and a guttural noise—not quite a growl, but hungry.
There was a shotgun in the back of his trunk loaded with holy-water soaked silver bullets. He'd kept it there just in case, and hadn't even remembered it until now. Without further thought he leapt forward and up, wrapping his hands around the back edges of the truck bed. He pulled himself over the edge, lifted the corner of the tarp and grabbed hold of the shotgun, leveling it just in time to see the thing that used to be John Winchester looking up at him hungrily.
"Back off," Earl said. "I don't know what happened to you, but you used to be a good man, John. You don't want to do this."
"He does, actually," said Dean's voice from behind Earl. "Hasn't eaten in a few weeks."
"What is he?" Earl asked, shifting so he could look at Dean without losing sight of the John-thing.
"Revenant. A very special kind," Dean said. "He was a ghost for a while, but that wasn't working out for us." He laughed, and it sounded like razors. "Luckily, we know people. Made him flesh and blood."
"Put down the gun," said the other one, Sam, walking around to the back of the truck.
Earl shook his head. "Gotta defend myself."
Sam lifted his hand, and the shotgun flew from Earl's grasp. "Can't let you do that."
Earl's stomach dropped to his knees. He'd heard things about Sam. Things he hadn't believed, but now he was starting to think some of the stories were true.
"You pretty much volunteered to be lunch when you saw us three days ago. Been tailing you since," Dean said.
"Tailing— no, no I went on the highway— you were there already," Earl said. He wasn't even sure why that felt so important right this second with death staring him in the face but it did.
"It's important we keep this under wraps," Sam said walking right up to the edge of the truck. He put one hand over the edge and jumped up onto the truck-bed easily, in one smooth motion.
Christ, he was tall. Broad too.
"Don't fight us. Just don't," Dean said smiling pleasantly. "And don't run." His smile turned darker.
Earl's legs were shaking so badly, he didn't think he could even run, though he wanted to. He wanted to so very, very much.
Sam put his hands on Earl's shoulders and he suddenly felt heavy as lead. But he wasn't, because Sam picked him up like he weighed nothing, lifted him up and dropped him onto the grass.
The thing that couldn't possibly be John Winchester looked at him eagerly with eyes that burned like pitch, and licked its lips.
"John Winchester's dead," said Eric. He took a deep drink from his bottle and set it back down on the table glaring at his partners. "Been dead over ten years now."
"Yeah? Then who'd I see back at that farm?" Johnny snapped, grabbing a handful of stale pretzels from the bowl in front of him. "It was him, I'm telling you. Him and his psycho sons, Sam and D--"
"You nuts?" Ike hissed. "Don't talk about those two. You know what they say."
"What?" Johnny laughed. "I can't even say their names? You're a paranoid son of a bitch, Ike."
"He ain't paranoid, he's smart," Eric said quietly. "Don't talk about the Devil or his brother."
"You believe all that shit about S—" Johnny caught himself. "About them?"
"Better careful than dead," Ike said. Eric nodded in agreement.
"Did you hear what happened to Walt and Roy?" Ike asked.
Johnny shook his head.
Ike told him.
Outside in the parking lot, a pair of headlights lit up the gravel and dry earth as a big, black monster of a car rumbled in and slowed to a stop.