John kneels down to check the truck's right front tire: it was a slow leak but the patch is holding fine. He's only got another eighty miles to Roseburg. He wants to get there by the end of the day, and the low sun beating down on the back of his neck is telling him to hurry. It's warmer than it has any right to be, this late in the year.
This time, he'll make it. This time, he'll be waiting when it comes.
He feels it in his knees when he stands up again, too many days behind the wheel and too many nights in sagging motel beds, or worse, stretched out in the truck. Rolling his neck and shoulders doesn't help but he does it anyway, takes a few deep breaths which taste of straw and manure. He'd like to be able to turn around and let the sun warm his face, idle as the cows in the pasture at his back. Not in this lifetime, he thinks. Time to get moving again.
He's about to get in when the car pulls up, a battered old station wagon covered in dust and dry mud. A huge gray dog leers at him out the back window as a woman gets out. "You looking for me?" she asks.
"No ma'am," he says.
She's looking him up and down, a bony woman a little older than him, with graying blonde hair and sun-weathered skin. Her eyes are narrowed, either at him or the sun. "You need something?"
A break, he thinks. A home, a place to rest. Revenge and freedom. The smell of Mary's hair first thing in the morning. "No ma'am," he says again. "Just passing by."
She gives him a sharp nod and gets back into her car, not even the usual "have a nice day, then." The dog barks once as she turns off down a dirt track between the fields; he can see the top of a building up there which must be hers, some old wood farmhouse with a deep porch and a cool cellar, he guesses, veiled by old fruit trees. Then he shakes the thought away like a cobweb. Time to get moving.
This is the only house it could be if the demon comes tonight. They had a little celebration inside there, just the parents and their baby, six months old tonight; John nearly jumped out of the truck when he saw the lights go down in the front room and the flare of the candles. That would have been a hell of a thing to explain. It's been an hour since they took the baby upstairs and put him to bed, but John can see the lights on downstairs. He can't hear anything, but he can imagine the laughter and quiet talk. The wife's a tiny woman, short dark hair, and he hates the pang he felt when he saw that, half relief and half disappointment. It doesn't matter: it's never Mary, never will be Mary again.
He leans his head back against the seat, balancing the biggest cup of coffee he could buy on one knee. The case on the passenger's seat holds every kind of weapon he could think of. Something there will work, if he can get close enough. If it comes tonight. This will be his third night in this town, waiting for the demon to strike; the last two dawns saw him driving back to his motel, stiff and frustrated and relieved.
He tries to ignore the sirens when they start. Could be anything, a false alarm, a car crash, a cat stuck up a tree. It could be a trick, to draw him away from the house he's watching. Then a second siren joins the first, and then another, and he knows. He puts the truck in gear and pulls away to follow their call.
When he gets there, the second floor is nearly gone and the first looks likely to follow it. He stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the neighbors gathered across the street and watches the blanket-wrapped shape of a tall man holding something small and fragile in his arms. Over the roar of the water and the shouting firemen, he hears the whispers. "Such a tragedy," and, "They only moved in three weeks ago," and, "From Ohio, that's right," and "That poor man."
He's already heard too much, so he walks back to his truck and climbs in.
Same stretch of road as three days back, now barely lit by the quarter moon. He shouldn't be sitting here in the same turn-off, not on the far side of midnight with the smell of ash and old sweat in his clothes. It's just that he can't remember any other place he's supposed to be, and even the thought that if that woman sees him she'll set her dog on him isn't enough to get him moving.
As if the thought conjured her up, a light goes on behind the trees. There's plenty of time to drive away, maybe leave her a little off balance, but no harm done. Instead, he drags himself out of the truck and leans against it to wait.
"I thought it was you," she says when she gets to the road. She's wearing corduroys and has the dog with her; it comes nearly to her hips, dark and rangy. "You sure you weren't looking for me?"
"I don't think so," he says.
"Hm," she says. "Were you planning on sleeping in that truck? Come up to the house."
In the dark her voice is older than her face, and he figures she's either crazy or a witch. The dog stays between them all the long walk back up her road, through the trees and past the deep porch, around back to the kitchen; there are no signs on the door or salt in the doorway, but when he steps in he feels his back loosen. She sits him at the kitchen table and gives him a tuna sandwich and a glass of milk; her hands are rough and worn. "Do you have a name?"
"John," he says. "John Winchester. Thank you." The sandwich is good, and he hopes she doesn't turn out to be a crazy witch.
"I'm May," she says. He must have smiled because she adds, "And don't bother, because I've already heard enough jokes about my name."
"All I was going to say is that it suits you."
She huffs a little, but she's smiling. "Flatterer." She watches him finish the sandwich. "You've had a long road, John Winchester."
He looks at the plate. "It's not over yet."
"Well," she says, "There's a guest bedroom upstairs for you when you're ready."
She leads him up two flights of stairs, and he helps her make up the bed; he'd like to ask whether she makes a habit of this kind of thing and what the hell is going on, because it's true that he and normal haven't been on speaking terms for a while now, but he does recognize strangeness when he finds it. But it has been a long road, and he's afraid to disturb the sense of peace here and too tired to care if it's a trap.
He didn't think he'd be able to sleep without dreaming of fire, but he does.
Three months later he's thinking, why not, it's out of his way but only by an hour. He can offer to return the clothes she lent him that morning, that's as good an excuse as any. He hasn't found a trace of the demon for weeks now, and there's no point pretending to be in a hurry when he doesn't even know where he's going.
The fields and the turn-off look different under a foot of snow, so he doesn't realize that something's wrong until he's driven up to the trees. Something about the light, something about the sense of depth. Something about the way no one's been up or down the road since the snow fell here. Three or four days at least. Then the road turns through the trees and it's worse than he thought, because the house just isn't there at all. Not even a ruin, not even the skeleton chimneys left by fire.
John gets out and walks through knee-high snow. This is where the porch would have started. This is where they walked around to the kitchen door. He can see level ground where the foundations might have been, but it's as if the house has been gone for three hundred years, not three months. Some part of him wants to fall to his knees in the snow and howl up at the trees and sky; the rest of him is already trudging back to the truck for the EMF sensor and his surveying gear. She was here in November (May in November, he thinks) and if there's any trace of her left he'll find it.
Ninety minutes later he's trampled through the whole area and his lower legs are soaking. There's nothing here, not a hint of supernatural activity; if Dean were here, he'd tell him to get the hell out of the snow. There's a diner a few miles back: coffee will warm him up, at least.
The waitress smiles and calls him honey and makes sure his cup stays full, and eventually there's no point putting it off any longer, so he tells her he's looking for a relation of his, a woman named May who used to live up the road.
"May?" She asks. No, there's no one of that name living nearby and she should know, been here her whole life and working at this restaurant for most of it. And she stays blank when he describes the turn-off and the location of the house. There's no house there. There's never been a house there. A man named Pritchard owns the land there and grazes dairy cattle.
"Pritchard's dad meant to build there. Leveled the ground about fifty years back." The speaker's an old man, settling in next to John at the counter. Flannel shirt under his parka, jeans and a hat. Old farmer, John bets. Maybe retired, maybe sold the land to a developer.
"His wife died. Guess he didn't see much point after that."
John takes a breath, getting himself ready for the blow. "A fire?"
The man gives him a funny look. "Cancer."
"And her name wasn't May either, was it?"
"Grace," the farmer says. "Pritchard used to say he'd never sell that spot, that it was full of Grace."
Full of grace, John thinks. May in November. He smiles just a little, to himself; she'd asked him what he needed and given what she could. A place to rest, if only for a night.
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