They were on their way back from a case in Connecticut and by the time they hit Indiana, everyone was ready for food and a chance to stretch their legs. Well, Cas didn't need the food but even he admitted to preferring a break in the middle of a long drive. The rest stop they pulled off at was more of a small shopping center, with little stores and a food court. Everything was ridiculously overpriced or kitschy tourist crap, but it was always fun to poke around, if for no other reason than to escape the boredom of driving through the Midwest for a bit.
Juliet trotted faithfully behind them as they stood in line for lunch—Sam somehow found the one place in the food court with a halfway decent salad—and sat on her haunches on alert as they ate their meals. Dean made sure he slipped her a piece of bacon from his burger, and Cas was nice enough to pretend he hadn't noticed.
"Gonna hit the head before we leave," Sam announced as he gathered up their trays and trash. "Meet you back at the car."
I still don't know whose head you're supposed to be hitting when you go in the room with the white bowl thing. I didn't hit anyone's head when I was in your meatsuit, Master.
"I know, and it was a huge disappointment," Dean said, shaking his head in amusement and ignoring the raised eyebrow from Cas, who couldn't hear Juliet's commentary. "C'mon, let's check out the gift shop. Maybe we can get you a novelty t-shirt, Cas. Spice up your wardrobe."
"There's nothing wrong with my wardrobe," Cas said mulishly, but he tagged along anyway. "Besides, t-shirts are more your thing, and," he added, holding up a red shirt with HOOSIER DADDY written on it, "this would certainly make a nice variety from your plain black ones."
"Oh hell no." Dean scoffed, then reached past the shirt Cas was holding and grabbed a pink woman's crop top with the same slogan on it in a glittery cursive font. "This is definitely more my style."
"I regret showing you this display."
"What, are you saying you wouldn't want to be seen with me wearing that?" Dean splayed a hand on his chest in mock indignation.
It doesn't seem like a very effective body covering. Lots of your important parts in the middle would be exposed.
"See, even Juliet doesn't approve."
Dean rolled his eyes. "You don't even know what she said."
"No, but I'm an expert at reading hellhound emotions."
Cas is very good at that, for an angel-man. He's better at it than humans.
"Oh c'mon, don't take his side!"
Cas gave a wry smile of victory, then turned away to explore the store on his own.
"Whatever. I'd look awesome in it." Still grinning to himself, Dean hung the shirt back up and turned to check out the next display, which was a small bookshelf, mostly of magazines and best sellers and local guides. But that wasn't what caught his eye. On the lowest shelf was a section of kid's books, including one with a bunch of kids and a giant snake on it: The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash. "Oh man, I remember this book." He crouched to pick it up and flipped through it. "Sammy borrowed it from his school library in Tulsa and then Dad made us move the next day, so he never returned it. Made me read it all the time to him till he could read it for himself."
Juliet came up beside him, her hot breath making the pages curl a little. Is it a story? Like on the computer?
"Yeah, books have stories in them, too, not just facts for a case."
I like stories! I like that you can explain them to me now when I have questions. They're very confusing sometimes, but that's ok. It's hard to understand human faces in the movie stories. Maybe book stories would be easier, if you told them to me.
"Maybe. We can try." Absently, Dean reached over to scratch her behind the ears. He probably should be more careful out in public, since to anyone not in the know, it'd look like he was talking to himself and patting empty air. He returned the book to its place and was about to stand up again when he noticed a book a little farther down: a large cardboard version of Dr. Seuss' ABC. "Or...I have a better idea…"
"Ok, first things first: letters." Dean winced as the chalk screeched as the drew a large A. Luckily, once the end of the chalk was worn down a bit, it didn't screech and he was able to write out the rest of the alphabet without damaging his eardrums any more than he already had. The Bunker was great for a lot of things, but up-to-date technology and furnishings, not so much.
Juliet sat on her haunches like an attentive student. I've heard of letters but no one ever told me what they are. What are they?
"These are letters," he said, gesturing to the board. "Each shape makes a different sound."
They make sounds? I don't hear anything.
"Figure of speech. What I mean is, each letter represents a different sound." He pointed at the B. "So, for instance, every time you see this shape, a B, you make a 'buh' sound."
Juliet tilted her head. But 'buh' isn't a word.
"You're right. You put different little sounds together to make one word." Dean thought for a second, trying to think of a way to explain it in Juliet-terms. "It's like a spell. You know how when you do a spell, you need lots of different ingredients, but when you put them together, it becomes one thing?"
Yes! I've seen lots of spells. Magic/tea Rowena and my former master used to do them a lot.
"Right, and sometimes you can use different combinations of ingredients to get different spells. Letters are kind of like the same thing: you can use a B in a lot of words." At the bottom of the chalkboard, he wrote in big capital letters BAT and BABY. "See? This first one says 'bat'—it has the 'buh' sound at the beginning. This one says 'Baby' and it has a 'buh' sound in the beginning and in the middle."
B. Buh. Juliet stared at the board, obviously puzzling over this. So the other letter shapes tell you which one says 'bat' and which one says 'Baby'?
"You got it."
Oh! Juliet gave a doggy-grin. This is a lot easier than I thought it would be. I only have to know these letter shapes and then I can read?
"Well, yeah…" Dean shrugged. "Kinda. English—the language you're learning to read—is kind of a bitch. Other languages might be easier, but I don't know 'em."
Juliet huffed. Humans make things so complicated for no reason.
"It's one of our charms."
J-U-L-I-E-T. Juh-oo-luh-eye-ee-tuh. Joo-lie-eet. That kind of sounds like my name but it's wrong.
"Nope, that's how you spell it. The "I" is said like an "E" and the 'E' is said like an 'eh' this time."
Juliet sniffed. Your language is very impractical, Master. Why have letters mean certain sounds but also other sounds? Wouldn't it make more sense to have different letters for all the different sounds? Or to always use the same letters for the same sounds?
"Wait till you hear about Sean Bean."
I've never had a shon-bean. Are they tasty?
Are you sure this will work, Master?
"Nope, but can't hurt to try."
It was a gorgeous day outside, and if Dean didn't have plans for the day, he would've hopped into Baby and gone for a cruise with the windows down.
The door swung shut behind him and he grunted as he hauled the chalkboard to a dusty area of the field behind the Bunker. It wasn't particularly heavy, but it was bulky and awkward to carry, and getting it through the hallways and up a few flights of stairs hadn't been ideal.
"Alright," he said, dusting his hands off on his jeans. "Now you just need a stick."
Juliet bounded off to the woods, returning a moment later with a stick about a foot long. She dropped it at his feet, then tilted her head as she looked at him. How come I can't use a computer box thing like you and Samoose do?
"'Cause as far as I know, they don't make 'em in hellhound sizes. 'Sides, this is how me and Sam learned to read and write, so it'll work for you, too."
You learned with a stick?
"Well, no, not exactly. But this is the best I can do on short notice."
Juliet was a pretty quick learner and she'd mastered the basics of reading in a few days, so now they were onto writing. In some ways she was easier to teach than Sam, since she was really good at recognizing patterns of letters to sound out words. In other ways, it was a rough process: every word for her was an individual challenge and it wasn't until she had a whole string of them sounded out that she understood the whole sentence or idea. By comparison, from what Dean remembered, Sam had been able to figure out the context of words he didn't know or predict how a sentence would end. He wondered if that was a species thing—maybe human brains were just wired differently to interpret or predict human sentences while hellhounds were more literal and concrete.
She was also continually disappointed at the English language and all of its failings, and he couldn't really blame her for that one.
The stick in the dirt wasn't ideal, and Juliet had quickly abandoned it in favor of her paw, but this way she was able to scratch out some words, and at least it was easy to erase and keep reusing the space available.
"Here, try this one," Dean said, writing out 'I LOVE BACON' on the chalkboard.
Juliet sounded it out as she copied the words, dragging her paw carefully through the dirt. I. Lah-oh-vuh-ee. Oh I know this one! Love. Buh-ay-cuh-oh-en. Bacon? Like the fried pig meats?
"Exactly!" Dean grinned and gave her a head scratch.
"'I love bacon'?" Sam said from behind him. "Truly a Dean Winchester lesson."
"Hey, don't knock the fried pig meats." Dean turned to find his brother and Eileen joining them, hand in hand. "I gotta teach her the important things in life."
"Good thing hellhounds don't have to worry about cholesterol…" Sam said.
Whatever coll-ester-all is, it should be worried about threatening a hellhound, Juliet growled.
Eileen, however, was studying their little makeshift classroom set up with a thoughtful look. "Have you thought about teaching her to type?"
Dean nodded and responded, signing the parts that he knew as he spoke. "I did but I don't think they make…" He paused for a second, trying to remember the next sign, then made an exaggerated C in a circle over his other arm. Eileen smiled at his attempt. "...computers big enough. Also a huge keyboard would be hard to type on 'cause she'd have to run around to reach all the keys."
'Hounds are good at running.
Dean shook his head. "Not this kind of running. This would just be back and forth over and over again."
Eileen bit her lower lip, then grinned. "I have an idea."
Eileen came down the steps from the front door of the Bunker with her arms full. She dumped everything on the map table. "I think I got everything."
"What's all this?" Dean frowned, peering at what looked like a large plastic mat rolled up next to an old flip phone and a computer monitor.
"Juliet's new keyboard." Eileen rolled out the plastic mat on the table, looking at Dean significantly as she did. It had nine boxes on it, with pink and blue arrows stemming from the middle and geometric shapes in the corner boxes.
"I don't get it."
She rolled her eyes. "DDR. Dance Dance Revolution?"
"Dance what now?"
"I'd ask if you live in a cave, but…" She gestured vaguely around the Bunker. "It's a game. You stand on the middle of the mat and the TV screen plays music and tells you which box to step on, so you do like a dance."
"So like Twister for the musically and rhythmically challenged?" Dean snorted, picking up the mat and setting it on the ground. He was about to stand on it, but decided clomping around on it with his boots was probably not the best idea. He noticed Eileen giving him a look. "What? I got moves. I don't need this thing."
"Uh huh." She smirked, then picked up the old cellphone. "So the mat is big enough for Juliet to stand on, and it's got 9 boxes, like a keypad, so I was thinking—"
"—somehow hook up the mat to an old T9 texting program," Dean finished, with a huge grin. "Eileen, you're a fucking genius."
"It's been said." She grinned. "Only downside, though: I got no clue how to actually do it. Computers aren't really my thing. I can use them, but that's about it."
"Me neither," Dean laughed. "But what the hell. Not the weirdest thing I've learned how to do."
The Julietatron took longer to program and figure out than Dean would've liked, but a vetala nest they'd been tracking had eventually resurfaced in Florida, and that'd taken up a few days between travel and hunting. There'd also been a hell of a learning curve. Dean had always liked taking things apart and seeing what made them tick and building new things, but making an EMF meter out of an old Walkman was way easier than trying to figure out computer coding and text software and jury-rigging two totally different technologies.
He'd also fried the phone Eileen had bought before realizing that he could find a T9 program online that worked on a PC; hooking up the modified DDR mat to a regular computer had been much easier.
The finished product was a Frankenstein monstrosity of technology but whatever—he wasn't Steve Jobs trying to peddle some flashy new tech. He still had an audience, though, so he was hoping it would actually work.
"This is seriously impressive, Dean," Sam said, crouching to inspect how the computer, monitor, and mat were all hooked up. Cas nodded in agreement.
"It was all your girlfriend's idea," Dean shrugged.
Eileen shook her head. "Maybe, but I never would've been able to put it all together."
Dean rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, well, don't get too excited. It might not work."
I'm sure it will work. You have very strong bonds with Impala beast and your phone box. They always listen to you. This one will, too. Or do you have to train it first?
"Nah, you don't have to train it. I just might not have put it all together correctly." Clapping his hands together, Dean said, "Ok, girl, time to try out your new computer."
"I hope this works," Cas said. "I look forward to being able to talk with you properly again, Juliet."
Juliet nosed Cas' hand in response, then trotted up to the mat and nosed the letters Dean had taped onto each square. So how does it work if each square has more than one letter on it?
Dean stepped forward in his socks, having anticipated he'd need to show her how it works. "The first time you step on a square, you get the first letter. If you do it twice quickly, you get the second letter. Three times, third letter." He stepped on one square twice quickly, another square twice, and a third square three times. The word HEY appeared on the screen.
Oh! Can I try?
"Yeah!" Dean hopped off the mat and ushered her on.
"I wonder what she'll say first," Sam wondered.
Juliet moved deliberately, pressing a square and getting an M on the screen. She paused a second, then pressed the same square three times to get an O. Yipping with excitement, she sped up her pace until she had her first sentence on the screen.
MOR BACON SAMOOS
Sam laughed along with everyone else, then gave her a really good head scratch. "Sure thing, Juliet. You earned it."