(art by the awesome apreludetoanend!)
Sammy comes awake with a snort, knees slamming into the glove compartment and knocking his head against the window. Dean tries to figure out exactly which scowl Sam'll have on his face when he turns to face him. "What state are we even in?" Sam grunts, like he's the one who's been driving till his ass is numb instead of catching up on his beauty sleep.
Dean doesn't answer. Sam can take a gander at the license plates of the cars all around them if he needs to quench his thirst for knowledge. "We've been driving for hours," Sam gripes. Dean's well aware of that, has been looking at Dad's taillights all that time, and chooses not to share the information that Dad's apparently lost; Dean's positive he's seen that tire fire at least three times.
Dad finally pulls up in front of a squat little house with a decent-sized yard. Dean slams on the brakes in shock. The house is friggin' pink. Dad had said something about "damn good price," but he'd completely failed to mention that they'd be staying in a craphole the color of Bubblicious. He gets out of the car and steps on Sam's foot before Sam can open his mouth to say something no one really needs to hear. Inside, the house isn't much better. It's a little dim, not especially clean, and it smells like it's been closed up for a couple of years.
"At least I got all my shots at my last school," Sam mutters, just loud enough to be heard, and sets a chair back on its feet.
Dean rolls his eyes. Sam is such a drama queen. "I'm gonna go get some cleaning supplies and some food. You wanna come?" Sam shakes his head and kicks at a cobweb. Dad's already sitting at the rickety table with his journal in front of him. "Be back soon. Stay out of trouble, Sammy," he says, jingling his keys in his hand.
His sense of direction is on the fritz. Dean drives past the flaming tire yard again, but this time there seems to be a shack on the next parcel of land, and a park past that, swarming with kids. He comes to an intersection and guesses left, turns and ends up on a pretty residential street. The front door of one of the houses opens, and he can feel his jaw drop.
What looks like a pair of twins - one male, one female, both with blue hair, glasses, and big honkers - are walking toward their car, their kid - who looks just like both of them - lagging behind, protesting that it's Saturday and he doesn't want to go visit Nana at the Shelbyville Retirement Home. "Milhouse!" the mom trills. "There'll be ice cream there!"
"Alright!" the kid cheers, and dives into the backseat. Dean hits the accelerator. That is one sad little kid.
A few turns later, he's on a wide but deserted road, stopped at a red light and flipping through radio stations, when he hears an unmistakable purr next to him. There's a sweet '68 Firebird idling there, a thuggish-looking guy behind the wheel and a girl with curves in all the right places draped over him. "Dude," the guy calls over, and Dean would definitely not have pegged him as British but the accent's there, loud and clear, "wanna race?"
Dean grins and lets the Impala's engine roar, not a mating call but a fair warning of what the Firebird is up against. "You're on. Where to?"
"Next light and back," the guy challenges. Dean nods just as the light turns green, and he slams on the gas.
His baby is responsive underneath his body, not even screeching, just picking up speed, flaunting her power, no questions asked, and he leaves the guy a couple lengths behind by the time he swings her in a tight one-eighty at the next light. Out of the corner of his eye he sees a big shopping center, a grocery store at the center. Score. He's back at the starting point, rummaging for his favorite mix tape by the time the Firebird screeches to a halt.
The guy slides out and steps toward him, the promise of violence written all over him. Dean gets out of his car and waits. "Nice ride," the guy smirks, then pulls a knife and reaches for the door handle.
Dean slides his gun out of his waistband and makes sure the guy can see it. "The best," he says levelly. "Yours ain't bad either. '68, right?"
"Yeah." The guy swallows heavily. "Li'l Bandit's a '68." He turns and walks casually away, but Dean saw the front of his jeans get a little darker before he turned.
He whistles cheerfully to himself as he heads back down the road and turns into the shopping center parking lot.
The truck's gone when he gets back, and Dean figures Dad's gone to scope out Shelbyville, get a feel for the job. Sam's nowhere to be seen, so he puts all the sandwich fixings in the fridge and starts cleaning. There's no breeze coming in through the windows, and the chemical smell is thick in the air. He heads upstairs to tackle the bathroom and the bedrooms and sees Sam lying face-down on one of the unmade beds, his balled-up jacket a lumpy pillow beneath his cheek. "Hey, Sammy, you asleep?" he calls as he heads toward the unknown horrors of the bathroom. Turns out it's not too bad, just a little mildew, and he finishes quickly, smacking Sam on the ass to roust him out of bed.
Sam flips over and jumps out of bed, looking ready for a fight. "Jeez, Sammy, what happened to you?" There are long, parallel stripes across Sam's forehead, cheek, and arms, all gleaming red. "C'mere, sit down." He runs downstairs and comes back with rubbing alcohol and gauze and dabs at the wounds gently.
"I was just walking down the street and this old lady came out of nowhere and started chucking cats at me," Sam sniffles, sitting still like a champ though the alcohol has to sting like a mother.
"You know, that's not the weirdest thing I've ever heard," Dean deadpans, winning a smile from Sammy. Poor kid. He's been deathly afraid of cats since he first got close to one and some serious, no-kidding-around allergies kicked in. Sammy's throat had closed up and he'd begged Dad, tears streaming down his face, to rocksalt that demon back to hell. "C'mon, I'll make you a sandwich."
Over pizza, Dad tells them about the job. Shelbyville, the next town over, is having a rash of ghost-sightings, some property damage and some startled citizens, but nothing too major. Dad went over to figure out what triggered the ghosts' appearance but apparently the people of Shelbyville were pretty clear about not welcoming outsiders. Saying he lived in Springfield had been the last straw for them and he'd had to leave pretty damn quick.
"Sammy," Dad says, and even as he stretches his arm to see how long the string of cheese will get, Dean can see Sam rolling his eyes at the nickname. "I need you to do some research."
Dean doesn't look up, doesn't volunteer to do the work himself, doesn't say what am I, chopped liver? Dad always has a reason for delegating work the way he does, and he waits to hear what's in store for him. "Dean," Dad says, pointing a folded slice at him, "need you to get a job, earn some cash. Can't use cards in this town."
"Yeah." He'd figured that, since Sammy was still in school and they didn't know how long the job would take.
"Fact, I saw the perfect place for you," Dad grins.
Dean can't help going a little tense; Dad's sense of humor raises its ugly head at the weirdest times.
"It's a place called Classy Joe's, out by the airport. You're gonna be a chauffeur."
Sam, the little punk, busts out laughing, and Dean thwaps him upside the head and takes the last slice.
If he's gonna be a chauffeur, he's gonna need a Class E license at the very least; he can argue about the dress code later. He drives until he finds a convenience store - those are usually good for a photo booth and the necessary supplies. Inside the booth, he plays it straight, no goofy pictures that Sam can hoard later, and tilts his head down to look older. He finds laminate and oak tag in one of the aisles and is drawn like a homing pigeon to the donut display case at the front of the store. There's one left, and if it's maple frosted, he'll stay in that stupid pink house for the rest of his life just to be near a steady supply. He's sliding the plastic door open when he hears a gasp of utter horror.
He spins, prepared for spirits, poltergeists, or even rats, but there's just a guy standing there, staring at him. "It's the last donut!" the man shrieks, and really, there's no way, given his bulk and his age, that the guy should be able to hit notes like that.
Dean backs away. "All yours, man." It just better not be maple frosted.
The man's face brightens and gets alarmingly close as the donut is pulled from the case and stuffed in a hungry mouth. "Mmm, purple," the guy moans as a glob of jelly drips onto his shirt.
Oh, good. Jelly donuts remind him of ectoplasm. No loss there. "You got a little . . ." Dean says, pointing helpfully.
"Ooh, I'll save that for later," the guy says and grins happily.
Dean shakes his head, puts his stuff on the counter next to a little statue of Ganesh, and pulls out his wallet. "Hello, handsome and mysterious stranger," the guy at the cash register says, in an accent so thick Dean's nearly convinced it's a put-on. "I am Apu Nahasapeemapetilan. Welcome to the Kwik-E-Mart."
"Did you find all of the items you required today, sir?" the man asks, beaming helpfully as he rings up everything, and damn if it's not three times as expensive as it should be.
Dean shoots another look at Ganesh, smiling serenely, carved from heavy stone. He's down with a god who's got something sweet in one of his hands at all times. He never did get his donut. "No, you know what, lemme grab a candy bar or something," he says. "Be right back."
He does a quick scan of the aisles, trying to remember if he'd seen bright orange Reese's packets anywhere when he sees the Firebird driver holding a gun on the donut guy, whose arms are shaking with the weight of a case of beer and whose eyes have gotten huge. Jeez, how small is this town, anyway? Dean pulls out his own piece, weaves through the aisles, and ends up with his muzzle pressed to the fucker's pompadour. "Hey, fucker," he greets. "I were you, I'd drop the gun right about now."
Turns out the guy's not dumb enough to ignore friendly advice like that. The pistol's still spinning on the floor when the bell over the door tells Dean the guy's long gone. He picks it up; damn, it's pretty, with a nice heft.
Dean looks up and sees donut guy still standing there. Aw, shit. Before he can make up any kind of cover story, the guy breathes in and says, reverently. "You saved me. And you saved the beer."
One invitation to Homer's place for a home-cooked dinner and a protest from Apu that he can't take money from a hero later, Dean's on his way out of the Kwik-E-Mart. He salutes Ganesh as he goes.
Damn, Homer's wife is a knockout. He'd been expecting someone . . . a little closer to Homer's own level of attractiveness, but, aside from the hair, which took a little getting used to, there's nothing unappealing about her.
Marge is easy to talk to, too, and she lets him hold Maggie, who's almost as cute as Sammy used to be, back before he could talk. Dean walks back and forth across the kitchen floor, jiggling Maggie gently in his arms, getting her to coo and snuggle into him, and listens as Marge tells him all about Maggie, Lisa, Bart, and Homer and makes a meal that could feed twenty.
Or not, given that Homer can out-eat even Sam and is nowhere near as neat, ending up with sauce from ear to ear. Bart's lolling like an overstuffed cushion in his chair and even Dean's having a hard time moving after they've finished off Marge's chocolate cream pie.
"Lisa, honey, maybe Dean would like to hear you play your music," Marge says, and Dean nods as agreeably as he can, just hoping it's not the recorder or the flute or anything too high-pitched; ever since that pied piper incident in Skokie, he's been unable even to listen to Jethro Tull. He doesn't have the heart to say no to the kid, whose face lights up, but the prospect gets a whole lot easier to bear when Homer pushes a can of Duff into his hand.
Lisa's baritone saxophone is almost bigger than she is, but the music she coaxes out of it is even more of a surprise, bluesy stuff he'd only expected to hear on a scratchy record. "Hey Lisa, you know any Robert Johnson songs?"
"No, but I know Bleeding Gums Murphy songs. He and I used to play together."
Bleeding Gums - isn't that the name of the jazz musician who tried to sell his soul for Fabergé eggs, but couldn't find a crossroads demon willing to make a laughingstock out of itself and take the deal? Lisa shouldn't be hanging around a guy with ideas like that. "Used to?"
"He died," she says sadly, sandal scuffing the carpet. "But I'm sure he's in a better place."
"Hope so," he says, wondering if there is a place for a guy like that. "I really do."
Classy Joe's isn't so much "classy" as "assy," but Dean's got no complaints with a place that lets him dress how he wants and pays him to drive. His first job is an in-town tour; some guy named Seymour Skinner wants to celebrate his forty-fifth birthday with a ride around town with a special guest. Dean's got a pretty good idea of what kind of "special guests" Classy Joe's patrons are likely to have, so he's frankly horrified when the guy emerges from his house with a crone half his size with the meanest eyes Dean's ever seen and escorts her into the limousine. "Please, Mother," Skinner says, "it's just a little ride through town."
"Why would I want to see this ugly town when I already have to live here every day? You couldn't even be principal in a nice town like Shelbyville! You're a failure, Seymour - what is it with you and failure?"
Dean's tempted to rocksalt her himself, but Skinner, poor schmuck, just chuckles uncomfortably and pats her knee. "Now, Mother, you know that Springfield's the only place we could afford to live." Skinner taps politely on the glass and asks Dean to drive.
In the rearview, Dean can see Mrs. Skinner open her mouth to say something nasty. He slams on the gas and she bounces off her seat. Score.
Dad's case is not going well, and Sam's smugness that his research is more useful than anything Dad's come up with isn't helping anything. Sam's holding court over a couple of buckets of chicken, explaining everything he and his new best friend talked about. The guy's name is Hollis Hurlbut, and with a name like that, Dean thinks it was inevitable that he'd end up as the curator of a place like the Springfield Historical Society. "Mr. Hurlbut's really more interested in Jebediah Springfield, but he was telling me about Shelbyville, the founding of the town, stuff like that," Sam says, tearing a strip of meat from the bone. "Apparently, Jebediah was leading a group of settlers who hoped to found a democratic community, and even though there were Indians on this land, they settled here and claimed it as Springfield."
"You know, Sammy, I graduated just so I'd never have to sit through another history class," Dean says, seeing Dad's eyes narrow at Sam's lecturing tone.
"Well, one of the settlers, Shelbyville Manhattan, was looking to found a different kind of community," Sam says, kicking Dean's ankle petulantly.
"Yeah? What, Satan worshippers? Bible thumpers? Swingers?"
Sammy looks like he's blushing a little. "Um, a place where cousins could marry."
Dad sits up a little straighter. "Say that again."
"Shelbyville was in love with one of his cousins and wanted to marry her. Apparently enough of the settlers in Jebediah's party felt the same way about their own cousins, so they went over and founded Shelbyville."
"Get out. There's a whole town that exists to celebrate cousin-boinking?" Dean just knew this whole place was weird.
"What was the cousin's name, Sammy?" Dad asks.
"I don't know," Sam says. "I'm working on it."
The next day, Dean ends up driving some insane old man around for most of the morning and watching the guy try to keep his corncob pipe between his teeth while he chugs most of a bottle of rum. "Y'arrrrrrrgh, ye filthy landlubber!" the guy slurs, hiccuping morosely. "Can ye drive me into the sweet embrace of the sea?"
Dean has to admit, the idea of the limo turning into a boat in some kind of James Bond fantasy-world is pretty sweet, but it's not like there's a button he can push to make it happen. He puts the limo in park, climbs into the backseat, and takes a swig from the bottle of rum. A couple of sea shanties later, the guy staggers out of the limo, still drunk, and saying sadly, "Y'arrrgh, I hate the sea and everything in it." Dean claps him on the back and drives off.
Back at Classy Joe's, Dean's counting his cash when an emergency call comes through. The mayor's personal limo has broken down and he's stranded. "Dean," his boss says, "you're gonna pick up Mayor Quimby, and you're going to take him anywhere he wants, got it? He owns this whole operation." Dean nods, not averse to skipping a meal of bad Chinese and boring historical facts with Dad and Sam. "Good. Now, he's at the Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club right now. Go get him."
Mayor Quimby is standing on the sidewalk, happily buzzed and not objecting at all to having his cheek patted fondly by a Mafia-type flanked by goons. "Thank you, Mayor, for your cooperation," the Mafia guy says in a low, raspy voice. "I am looking forward to many happy evenings of you and me counting our monies from this completely legitimate venture. Legs, Louie, my hat and my coat."
Once the mayor's settled in the back seat, Dean asks, "Where to, Mayor?"
"Call me, ah, Diamond Joe," the mayor responds. "We're off to the Maison Derrière."
Dean learned just enough French from Madame Colbert, she of the evil eye and the ruthless red pen, to know what that means, and he grins in anticipation. He figures the best way to know when Quimby wants to leave is to go in with him, so he follows the mayor in and gets away without paying the cover charge. They're escorted to a table right up front.
There's a girl on stage doing some sort of elaborate dance with a couple of oversized fans, and Quimby snags her before she's two feet off the stage. Dean settles back to enjoy the show: weird little emcee, some alcohol, and a lot of really hot girls.
Like the one up there right now, "Mighty Aphrodite." He's close enough to see she's got nothing on, and her body peeks through red hair that falls to her knees, hidden by some strategically maneuvered seashells. He's never seen anyone move quite like that, and he smiles up at her. She drops him a wink as she leaves the stage, and he takes the hint and waits by the stage door.
"Melinda," she says, dressed in a trench coat and thigh-high boots. "My name's Melinda."
"I'm Dean," he says before he kisses her, leading her outside. He holds the limo door open for her and she laughs and steps in; he dives in after her and pulls the door shut. "Let me," he says, meeting her big brown eyes as her hands go to her belt. He opens her coat gently, holds it as she shimmies out of it. Her hair is heavy over his hands when he cups her head, draws her down for another kiss.
She's enthusiastic, flexible, and shameless. Dean grins up at her, mouth still pursed around a nipple, and she laughs and tugs his hair. Her skilled hands make quick work of his clothes, and she calls the shots - over and over - for the rest of the night.
Dad pokes him awake far too early the next morning. "Dean! You up or not?"
"Not" would be Dean's vote, but it's not like this family is a democracy, so he stretches and rolls out of bed. Sammy's at the kitchen table doing algebra - #3 is wrong, Dean can see from here - and eating the last of the Lucky Charms that Dean had stashed away for himself. Little punk.
"What's up, Dad?" he asks, yawning and scrubbing a hand through his hair. It still kind of aches from where Melinda yanked on it - repeatedly - during a particularly good round, but it's a happy burn, a good pain.
"The incidents over in Shelbyville - they're all occurring at historic sites that are undergoing renovation. I think our spook is Shelbyville Manhattan himself."
"What, the cousin-banger?" Dean asks.
Dad tries to frown disapprovingly, but Dean can see that he's pretty amused. "Yeah. Him."
"So? Salt and burn, right? What's the hold-up?"
"The bones are missing." That gets even Sammy to look up in surprise. "I went out there last night, dug up the grave that's got this damn ugly stone with statues and a fountain and all sorts of shit around it, all saying Town Founder, but that coffin was empty."
Dean tries to think. "You think maybe someone took the bones to control the ghost?"
Dad raises his eyebrows but doesn't dismiss the theory outright; that means he's got no clue either. "Could be. What we really need is someone from Shelbyville who'll actually talk to us, give us the inside scoop."
Dean grins. "I know just the person."
Dean's gotta say that working at Classy Joe's is the only thing that's allowed him to get to know the layout of this kooky town, and it helps when he's trying to find the house that weird family lives in. Still, he takes a minute to appreciate being back behind the wheel of his baby and not some monstrosity with pleather seats and a broken sunroof.
"So," he says, trying to warn Dad and Sam about what they're walking into, "it looks like Shelbyville's down with cousins knockin' boots, but not twins."
Sam's eyes just about bug out from his head. "They're twins?" Even Dad looks a little shocked.
"I don't know. All I'm saying is they look like twins. Just . . . you know, a really strong resemblance there."
"And they're from Shelbyville?" Dad asks.
"Yup." He pulls into the driveway and sees the name Van Houten on the mailbox. His knock on the door is answered by the big-nosed, blue-haired lady he was expecting. "Mrs. Van Houten?"
"We're working on tracing some genealogical records from Shelbyville," Dad says, taking command and totally throwing out Dean's cover of them being rock stars - Wyld Stallyns - on their way to a gig in Shelbyville, followed by Capital City and eventual world domination. "We understand you might be able to help us out."
Her face brightens, making her look almost pretty. "Of course! Please come in! Would you like some fresh-squeezed turnip juice?"
Dean has to hand it to Dad and Sam. They're so good at the questioning and wheedling that inside of half an hour, Luanne Van Houten's told them about her great-great-great-great-great-grandfathe
So, they're not twins then. Good to know. "It's been our pleasure, ma'am," Dean says, wishing they'd stuck to the rock-star story just so he could say "gig" a few times. "We appreciate your help."
Dad's off investigating the possibility that the ghost has been summoned by the disturbance of its bones, but Dean's got a different theory. "I don't know, Dean," Sam says, looking around so obviously that he's pretty much advertising that they're off to do something illegal; "this is too weird."
"You're living in a house the color of Pepto-Bismol, in a town where girls coo over how non-threatening you look and ask if your name is Corey, and digging up one little grave is too weird for you?" Dean snorts. "You said you'd rather come with me than Dad. Suck it up and start digging."
They dig until they hit coffin. Dean loves this part, and he hardly ever gets to do it. He kicks the lid off the coffin with one solid thunk, and it sheets right off. Inside the coffin are two skeletons, wrapped in a close embrace, one with a telltale wooden nose. "Dude!" he crows, slapping Sam's chest triumphantly. "Check it out!"
"I don't understand, Dean; Mrs. Van Houten said Esther died thirty years after Shelbyville did, after he'd already been buried in that weird 'Town Founder' space with the cousin-cherubs and everything."
"Looks like he moved his own bones to be with her. Look, the point is, I was right. And that means I get to throw the match."
Sam makes a face but hands the book of matches over.
Dean's following Dad out of Springfield, but Dad keeps getting turned around, leading them in larger and larger circles. Sammy's about thirty seconds away from saying something about if it's this hard to leave maybe they should just stay, so Dean flashes the Impala's headlights to get Dad to pull over.
"Dad, I got this," he says when they step out of the cars for a quick conference and Dad just nods.
Dean knows that Evergreen Terrace isn't the quickest way out of town, but Dad and Sam don't, so he drives down it and hears, pouring out of one little girl's bedroom, Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil Blues" on baritone sax. He hears it until they hit the city limits.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.