The Face of the Crocodile

by Vanzetti

John doesn't usually stop for girls. The smart ones won't get into a car with a single male driver, and the others are trouble he doesn't need. But the rain's coming down hard and it's pitch black out, and this one's picked a spot by the side of the road where it's easy to stop. He pulls over and leans across to open the passenger side door. "Need a lift?"

The girl wrestles her huge umbrella closed and climbs up into the truck with a "Thanks, mister."

He gets his first good look at her and curses himself for a fool: dressed all in black with heavy eyeliner and some skimpy little top, a goth girl younger than Sammy. "Where're you heading?" he asks, hoping it's not far.

"Altamont," she says.

That's not too far, another forty miles or so down 59, forty miles more from Lawrence and an empty house. "You got family there?" he asks. His luck, she's running away to see some scumbag boyfriend, or she's stolen something.

"My sister's there."

"Tell her to come pick you up, next time," John says. "You shouldn't be out hitchhiking on your own."

The girl grins like he's said something really funny. "I knew I'd be OK."

"Sure. You have a phone? You want to call your sister and tell her that you're on your way?"

"She knows I'm coming."

John reminds himself that he doesn't care what happens to the girl. She leans back against the seat and stares out into the black like she can see the country rolling by. "Do you live near here?" she asks.

"No." He won't think about the home left behind him, empty now for the first time; he wonders how he could have not known, all these years. Mary, he thinks, and, shit.

The girl's still talking. "It's just that you knew Altamont, and it's not that big a place."

"I'm on the road a lot."

The girl smiles again; the ankh around her neck glints blue as she bends forward to turn on the radio. "Me too." She tunes past a couple talk channels -- people complaining about immigrants or runaway husbands -- and settles on staticky country music. Some girl wailing about her broken heart. Too many instruments these days, he thinks, violins and who knows what else.

"There're CDs in the case down by your feet," he offers, and turns on the light while she looks through them.

"My brother tried to write songs, once," she says.

"Yeah? How were they?"

"Pretty terrible. Like, dogs and cats would run away in terror whenever he tried to sing them."

John snorts, but his response is cut off: the hair prickles on the back of his neck as he recognizes the music and Robert Johnson starts singing, blues walkin' like a man. The road jigs to the left and as he comes around the bend he sees the flashing lights and slows. Two cars halfway into the ditch, highway patrol pulled up behind and an ambulance in front. An officer waves them by. The girl rests her head against the window to look back. "Don't worry," she says. "No one died."

She's quiet until he turns west onto 96 and she has to start giving him directions.

They pull up in front of a plain ranch house; there's a light on in the front room but the curtains are closed. "This your sister's house?" he asks.

"In a sense." She climbs out. "Thanks for the lift." The door closes and she stands at the curb, waiting for him to go, so he starts the engine again and drives around the corner. It's no trouble to hop a fence into the backyard and jimmy the lock on the glass door. It slides open and he steps into the kitchen. The room smells clean, like the floor's just been mopped; he walks through into the living room.

There's an old woman in a housecoat sitting on a chair, a glass of water and a lamp in the table next to her and a book open on her lap. A bible, of course. The girl's kneeling by the chair, her back to John. "Get away from her," he says. She turns to look at him. "I mean it." There's a gun in his coat, but no point flashing it if he doesn't know what it'll do. She closes the bible and places it on the table, then goes to stand across the room by the wall.

He rests two fingers on the woman's neck. No pulse, but the skin's still warm. "Your sister, hunh?"

"I do have a sister," the girls says. "Two. Well, three, sometimes. And she was here, but she's gone now. How could you tell?"

"You never breathe."

"Oh," she says. "Most people don't notice."

"In the cab of a truck, in the rain?" There's a pill bottle next to the glass. He lifts it to take a look. "Sleeping pills?"

"This is Mrs. Bremmer," the girl says. "She's a widow, and her only son died two weeks ago. She thought she didn't have anything left to live for, but she wanted to write her will and put the house in order first." She glances at the empty air next to John. "I know that you thought so," she says, and then, "No, I can't tell you where Henry is. You need to go on by yourself."

If she's a reaper, he thinks, he shouldn't be able to see her. With two sisters, she might be a moirai, but that's just a myth. "So you turned up just in time to kill her first?"

"I turned up when I was needed," she says. "I always do. Yes," she says to the air, "I'll tell him. He's only trying to help." She looks at John again. "Mrs. Bremmer wants you to lock the back door and go out the front. It'll lock behind you."

"What are you?" he asks.

"You'll know me when you need to," she says. "Everyone does. OK. It's time now, Mrs. Bremmer." She holds out her arms. "See you around, John Winchester." There's a change in the light, like something he can't see, and he's alone in the room with a cooling body.

John locks the back door, and lets himself out the front.


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Title, as before, from "The Man Who Was Tired of Life."
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