Ghosts are simple. They’re angry at the living. You find their foothold in the world and burn it. And then you move on. Actually, it was that way all the time. You find it. You kill it. And you move on. Sure, there was the occasional stabbing or beheading thrown in for variety, but it was all the same in the endgame. Find it, kill it, move on. All Joanna Harvelle had wanted to do since her dad died, was be a hunter. She was good at it. She saved people on a regular basis and she killed the bad things. Find it, kill it, move on. But after two years of hunting, it was starting to get to her and after the last seven months, she was lonely. She knew she could always go back to her mother. Ellen still ran the new Harvelle’s Roadhouse Bar and Grill and would love to see her. She’d be even more ecstatic to see Jo hang up her gun. But the thought of going back to busting tables and listening to other hunters tell their tales, set her teeth on edge. No, she was a hunter, for bad or for worse. Other hunters seemed to deal with it just fine. Most hunters were solitary people or, if they were lucky, they might have a buddy they hunted with. But outside the Roadhouse, you never saw hunters working together very willingly. They were all too damn distrustful. They had good reason to be, she knew. They didn’t live in the same world everyone else did. Their world was darker, filled with violence, danger and death. They lived in a world where not only was the monster in the closet real, but they had watched it kill their family. In all honesty, that was how most hunters started. Civilians whose loved ones were murdered. So they tracked it down and they killed it. Find it, kill it, move on. A lot of hunters didn’t see five years. The good ones might see fifteen. Every once in a while there would be someone like Rufus, Travis or Bobby who actually made it to thirty-plus. Even the great John Winchester had only made twenty-two. But no hunter ever died of old age. They all just kept hunting until they found something better or luckier than they were. She could understand why other hunters were alone and distrustful, but understanding didn’t make it any easier. Jo was getting tired of the ache in her heart and the name carved into it. It was like a sore tooth, it hurt like hell and he wanted it gone. But she couldn’t seem to stop poking at it, causing that flare of pain.
Almost two years ago, there had been a whisper. Dean Winchester had made a deal. Sold his soul so his brother could live. Ellen had confirmed it for her. Sam had called for help, desperate to find a way to save Dean. She thought about calling him then, but she knew that all she would do was scream at him for being stupid, which wouldn’t have done either of them any good. So she waited it out, just like everyone else, hoping for a miracle. A year later, hunters were rocked again. His time had come. Jo still relived that moment sometimes. She’d actually gone home to visit and had been across from Ellen when the phone rang. Ellen had looked right at her and started to cry. “Mom?” Jo had walked over to Ellen, trying to figure out what could be so wrong. In the back of her mind, an alarm started going off, reminding her that it was May. “Thanks for calling, Bobby.” Ellen dropped the phone back on its hook. ‘Mom, what happened?” The hunters around the bar realized that something was up and a silence spread through the room, everyone waiting to hear what Ellen would say. “It’s Dean. He’s gone, baby.” Her voice cracked with tears, “His time ran out and the Hellhounds found him.” Jo didn’t think that Ellen had been anymore aware of crying than she had been. Every hunter bowed his head in silence. Winchester was a respected name and a damn good hunter. Drinks were lifted in his honor across the bar. Lot of good they’ll do him now. And that’s when it really hit her. Jo didn’t hear her mother calling after her. She didn’t even know she was moving until she was outside, running through the bushes; stems and leaves slapping at her as she tried to escape. Dean, gone. Her friend, the man she had loved (still loved) was dead. The shock was quickly giving way to a terrible hurt in her heart. She ran out into the countryside, pushing harder and further, trying her best to outrun it. Trying to push past the pain. She ran until time had no meaning, and the world around her was a haze. Until her chest exploded in pain with every breath and her body, completely used up, finally collapsed. She had run herself, literally, to her breaking point. But the pain had stayed with her, step for step. And the racking sobs that threatened to tear her apart came from the ruins of her heart. She cried and screamed to the emptiness around her, cursing John Winchester for teaching his boys to be self-sacrificing. She cursed Sam Winchester for getting hurt in the first place and not being good enough to save his brother. Most of all, she cursed Dean for not thinking he deserved to live, for ever walking into the Roadhouse and for dying and leaving her behind. She cried and she cursed them all until there was nothing left. No tears, no anger, and a kind of numbness settled over her because she was too exhausted to feel the pain.
When she woke, hours later, the sun had long since set. The world around her was black and unrecognizable, even though she knew she was only a couple miles from home. She kicked herself for letting her guard down so completely. Her pain had made her sloppy and here she was; miles from back-up, after dark, completely unarmed. She was sure Ellen was terrified, and she even had the vague notion that her mother had been trying to say something to her when she left. It had been a stupid, rookie mistake that could have gotten her killed. The kind of mistake HE never would have made. Never again, she promised. Never again would she let her guard down that much. Jo collected what was left of herself and walked back to the bar. When she finally made it home, Ellen tore into Jo the minute the door opened. Jo didn’t really hear anything her mother was saying, she knew it was all about being careful. But she was already planning her next hunt. In her mind, she was already executing the next monster. “Do you hear me, Joanna Beth?” Ellen’s voice cut across Jo’s thoughts. “Don’t worry mom, it will never happen again.” Jo’s eyes were still red-lined and slightly puffy, but strangely empty as she stared through Ellen. “I’ve already made that promise. Never again.” With that, Jo drifted back to her old room. Ellen’s eyes watered as she fought the tears. Watching her daughter drift away broke her heart. Ellen was not a simple woman and she knew well enough that Jo wasn’t talking about going out unarmed.
Jo had been hunting non-stop since that day seven months ago. She’d taken every hunt she’d come across and had killed them all. No matter how many times she did it, no matter how many things she killed, the hurt really wasn’t getting any better. It was the same thing over and over. Find it, kill it, move on. She didn’t even remember the name of the town that she was in. She just knew it had a ghost problem. It should be a simple “salt and burn.” After all, ghosts were easy. It was the living she had a problem with.
Shaking her head to rid herself of the melancholy thoughts, Jo began to review her case again. In the last few weeks, six people had been found dead. Well, close enough that they should have been. Though nobody had actually died yet, Jo hesitated to call them alive either. They were completely catatonic and based on all preliminary reports, becoming permanently brain dead. According to the local paper, no one could figure out why these people were gone or why they were steadily getting worse. The file sat in the seat next to her with what information she’d been able to dig up. All the victims had been found inside their own homes with no sign of forced entry. There was no tie in age, sex or race so the locals couldn’t find a common link. She was almost positive it was a hungry ghost. She’d already stopped at the first victim’s home. The grieving family hadn’t been able to tell her much and other than some minor EMF readings, the only thing she’d found was that the woman had been a scrap-booker and pack rat.
Her next stop was going to be the hospital. She had a nice “living will” tucked in the file to smooth over any problems. Her grey pantsuit was professional and crisp, her long, blonde hair was pulled back into a French roll and her makeup was understated. Just so long as no one saw her getting in or out of the car she was driving, she should be credible. But the car… She hadn’t been able to pass it up. A fully restored 1970 Challenger RT with a modest 426 Hemi. It was even painted the original Plum Crazy with black accent stripes. Jo had just about creamed herself when she found it. Normally, she wouldn’t steal cars. Her old truck was good enough for her. But this car had just been sitting in the driveway of some middle-class suburban hell. Probably the toy of some respectable father of two having his midlife crisis and wanting a classic car to putter around in on the weekends. That’s what she kept telling herself. Surely it was fully insured and if it wasn’t, then Jo figured that he deserved to have his car stolen. The key had been in a magnetic case on the frame; she hadn’t even had to hotwire it. So, storing her truck in a monthly shed, she’d found herself flying down the highway in her new car. She knew she’d have to drop it off, probably sooner rather than later, but for now she was having fun putting the car through its paces. With a sigh, she parked as far from the main doors as she could get. She gave the car one last longing look and grabbed the file.