It's The Little Things

By Kittsbud

 


I’ve never really thought of myself as a tough guy – not in the grand scheme of things. I mean, yeah, in the spook world I kick ass and take names, but I’m no John McClane or Dirty Harry.

The one thing I do kinda pride myself in is not letting out the emotions. I mean, c’mon, it’s for girls, right? Anyway, I can pretty much keep myself in check in that department – well, almost.

There’s only one person on this damn planet who can get to me with that one look of his, and that’s Sam. Those big, kiddy eyes take one friggin’ look at me and he knows he can just about get anything he wants.

It’s pretty much been that way since we were kids. We never really had what you could call a ‘normal’ upbringing, and I guess that’s why Sammy sometimes acts like a spoiled brat now – ‘cause hell, it was me that let him get away with far too much when we were young.

I’ll always remember those huge sad eyes lookin’ up at me when dad tried to tell Sammy about the ‘family business’ for the first time. Sam just didn’t get it. Hunting spirits to Sammy meant Ghostbusters, not demons that fry your mom while you’re snoozing in your cot.

Hell, he even turned into geekboy at that age and started looking up fictional shit we could go hunt. I can see him now, sifting through crap on Pastor Jim’s laptop until he found us all the ‘perfect gig.’

Sammy’s favorite was the tale of a ghost miner from western days who got the nickname of ‘Drunken Tom.’ Dad and I were pretty sure ol’ Tom was a fabrication to get visitors to the ghost town of Bodie over in Cali, but Sam never would let go.

Of course, over time Sammy learned just what big bad things were really out there, and I thought he’d forgotten all about the freaky old miner’s spirit.

How wrong I was….


Dec 24th 2007
Highway 395 Just outside Bridgeport, California

“You’ve gotta be freakin’ kidding me right?” I looked over to Sam, incredulous he might actually be suggesting what I thought he was suggesting. “I thought we’d weaned you off that crap years ago!”

Sam shrugged and shot that hurt look of his right back at me as I steered the Impala through a light snowfall that was slowly but surely covering the highway.

“Aww c’mon dude, it’s Christmas, we’ve no money, nothing better to do, and we’re only about ten miles away…”

I batted my eyelids, hoping the Sammy ‘I’m a puppy please play’ look would vanish, but it didn’t. Instead, he kept those huge orbs of his latched onto me like a limpet. “You want to go hunt the ghost of some cowboy miner on Christmas Eve? Dude, he’s not even real…”

I noted the sign for the nearest town of Bridgeport flash by and slowed a little. Sammy might be in the mood to go play, but my stomach was telling me it needed feeding – and hey, I never argue with it – especially not when there’s so much Christmas fair likely to be on offer.

“Tom was real, Dean,” Sam pulled that exasperated look of his and started huffing as he toyed with our laptop.

Ugh oh, Samantha’s been researching. So not a good sign when I was hoping for a little food, a little beer and a little hot action with the opposite sex to keep me warm in this Godforsaken place …

At this point I was probably fantasizing about some petite blonde dropping down my chimney in a pretty skimpy Santa outfit. Hey! I’m human. I need a little Yuletide affection here, okay?

Anyway, Sammy wasn’t about to let me loose in the local bars anyway.

“So he was real. That doesn’t mean we have to hunt his ass tonight. It’s not like the dude goes around hurting people or scaring their asses.” I tapped my baby’s brakes and slowed just enough to take the turn to Bridgeport as we argued. If Sam was all hell bent on getting his ass all damp and dirty down a mine, that didn’t mean I had to go along, did it?

“Dean…this is the one gig I’ve always wanted since we were kids. Tom is one of the few ghosts out there that doesn’t seem to have any malevolent intentions – even after being in our world all this time instead of his own.”

Gah, those eyes were getting more and more pleading…

“That’s because the state made him up to lure in sightseers, dude…I’m telling you, all you’ll get visiting that place is pneumonia.” I slowed further as Bridgeport loomed ahead. The place looked pretty quaint – almost the perfect place to stay over the holiday – especially if you’re the nostalgic, put up a tree and sing carols type.

And yeah, I’m so not that type.

“Just a couple of hours, Dean, then we can come back and sink a few beers…”

I sighed. Like I said, I never can say no to my brother – well, rarely. “Just a couple of hours,” I agreed reluctantly. “But first I’m gonna get me some food. Can’t go out in the wilds without a burger or two first huh?” I grinned at him, knowing he’d pout.

Sammy hates my choice in food just about as much as he hates my music. Of course, that’s why I pretty much torment him with it more. Little brothers are awesome to rib after all.

“Can’t we just get some normal food?” Sam slid away the laptop and began to survey the local shop fronts as I crawled down Bridgeport’s Main Street. “How about that place over there?” He pointed to a small store with a hand-painted sign reading ‘High Sierra Bakery.’

“Oh, Dude, so gonna get me some pie…” I sniffed the air appreciatively just to make Sam scoff. He knows I have this little pie fetish that goes right along with my ‘extra onions’ one, but he still hates it when I taunt him.

“Dean!” Sam’s eyes almost popped so wide I thought he was gonna do the exploding eyeball deal from From Dusk Till Dawn and I instantly realized he wasn’t freakin’ over the delicacies I was about to consume for Christmas.

As Sammy grabbed the Impala’s dash I hit the brakes so hard I thought my CAT boot would slam through the old girl’s floor. I don’t know if you have any knowledge of sixties autos, but trust me they’re heavy suckers, and I really didn’t think she was gonna stop in time.

The Chevy’s frame shuddered and groaned, and for a split second I closed my eyes and prayed. I’m not even sure if there is a God – and if there is if he’d listen to such a skeptic as my sorry ass, but at that moment I was hoping Sammy’s faith would carry us both.

When I heard my little brother let out a sigh of relief I finally unscrewed my own eyes and hoped I didn’t have road kill in the form of an eight-year-old kid squished all over my hood. Let’s face it - that would be so un-Christmassy.

I didn’t, which was a good thing for both the kid and the Impala’s paintwork.

I swallowed hard and followed Sam from the car, my hands shaking a little as I climbed from behind the wheel. By the time we’d both gotten in front of the Chevy, the kid’s mom had joined us and was cursing the little sucker so hard I think I saw his ears start to turn red.

He was kinda a cute kid – but don’t tell anyone I said that – so don’t want ’em thinking this hunter is going soft.

Anyhow, Sammy was busy fussing over the kid, trying to calm his mom – you know, the usual Sam stuff.

Mom on the other hand wasn’t giving the kid any breathing space. Poor guy was probably gonna be deaf by the time he reached nine if mom was this mouthy at home.

“Michael, don’t you ever go off on your own like that again! What were you thinking?” The tiny brunette grabbed the kid’s collar and pretty much shook him. “You could have gotten yourself killed and someone else hurt in the bargain. Now apologize right this minute to this gentleman…”

It kinda took me half a minute to realize the chick was talking about me. I get called lots of things in my line of work, but trust me, gentleman isn’t usually on the list of descriptions. “It’s okay, really…”

“We’re just glad your son wasn’t hurt,” Sam chimed in, looking and sounding for all the world like he could dress up as Santa and actually get away with it. My brother is just so friggin’ soft I swear he was a girl in another life.

I nodded, and knelt down until I was eye-level with little Mike. He was a lean little guy with dark hair and soft, gentle eyes that reminded me of Sam at that age so much I almost had to look away.

There was something missing though – a spark present even in Sam’s eyes, despite all he’d been through. I’m not exactly the greatest with kids, and I’ll be the first to admit it, but I usually have a connection with them – Sam insists it‘s because I’ve never grown up myself – hell, maybe he’s right.

“Hey, bucko, you might wanna be more careful crossing the road. Wouldn’t want you to miss out tonight when the big fella pops down your chimney…” I gave him my best smile and hoped I’d get at least a little smirk back. Most kids just can’t resist me. Actually, most kids’ moms can’t resist me, but that’s a whole other story.

Little Mike, though, well he was a tough one. He just screwed up his face as if I’d taken a swing at him. “There’s no such thing as Santa,” he blurted out acerbically. “If Santa existed he wouldn’t have taken my dad last year…”

With that the kid took off across the road and hopped into what Sammy and I presumed was mom’s pretty beat up Volkswagen Beetle. The thing was older than my Chevy, and in way worse shape. I think the front fender was actually hanging by a thread and the paintwork was at least five different shades of blue.

Mom looked at me and then to Sam diffidently.

Damn, I swear she has the hots for him already...I wonder if she has a sister?

“I’m so sorry. Michael’s father was killed last Christmas and it’s been a hard year for us…”

I wanted to tell her I knew exactly how Mike was feeling, hell both me and Sammy lost mom before we were even this kid’s age, but well – I just don’t open up that much in front of strangers. “He’ll do okay,” I offered up instead, feeling pretty damn awkward as the words left my mouth.

Sam looked down at the concrete and I guessed he was feeling awkward too.

‘Mom’ shrugged. “Maybe.” she swallowed hard as if she was suddenly choking back tears or possibly even a small sob. “I…I really should be going…”

With that the brunette was gone, paying just as little heed to the oncoming traffic as her son had moments early.

“She’s still grieving.” Sam shook his head and I could tell he was feeling sorry for the chick. He does that a lot, even though there’s jack he can do about it.

“They’ll do alright. We did.” I nodded to the cars building up behind the Impala, indicating we should shag ass before someone got impatient and started hooting their horn at us. As I slid back behind the wheel the first ‘honk’ suggested we still hadn’t gotten out of the way fast enough. “Alright, alright, we’re moving already!”

Trust me, if it hadn’t been Christmas and my hands weren’t feeling like popsicles, the jackass in the truck behind me would so have gotten the bird out of my side window.

“Dammit, Sammy, I still didn’t get any freakin’ pie!” I rolled my eyes and Sam started to chuckle.

“Dude, think of your waistline…”

“My what?” I glowered suitably. “Do I look like a girl? You’re the one who starts bitchin’ when you break a nail!”

“Just because I don’t chew mine down to stumps.” Sam smirked. “So, are we heading out to Bodie now, or what?”

I cocked my head as if I had to think about it. If I was gonna take one for the team – or rather to satisfy my little brother’s morbid curiosity – that didn’t mean I had to do it without tormenting him first.

“Dean…”

After…

Sam took down a long deep breath. “After what?”

“After I get me some of that!” I pointed appreciatively at a piece of something that I assumed was cake in yet another store window. The thing was bigger than Mount Rushmore, I swear, and topped with so much cream I was pretty sure if I ate it I’d be puking all the way down Sammy’s mine.

Still, that didn’t stop me pulling the car over and grinning at my bro.

Sammy sighed again and without saying a word climbed outta the car, taking long strides until he’d vanished inside for my precious cake.

Hey, everything comes with a price, right?


Bodie Road
7 Miles South of Bridgeport

It wasn’t really until I’d gotten back out onto the highway that I’d realized what I’d let myself in for. The snow that had begun to fall earlier had grown in intensity until the blacktop was covered with a thick white sheen of the stuff.

The Chevy is a heavy old bird – like I said, and I didn’t really have any trouble driving through the snow until we found the actual dirt track leading to Sammy’s town. In the summer I’m guessing a 4x4 is the better way to travel to Bodie, but in the winter months nothing short of a snowmobile is gonna cut it.

Everyone imagines California to be the land of stars and sunshine, but trust me, it ain’t that way everywhere. Bodie has one of the most changeable climates around – something Sam was only just telling me from the crap he’d printed off earlier.

“Bodie sits in over a thousand acres of land and because of the high elevation it’s accessible only by over-snow equipment during the winter months…” Sam didn’t look at me as he was talking, and I can guess why.

“Dude, a thousand acres? Just how the hell are we gonna find your spook even if Santa just happens by and gives us a sleigh ride into town?” I slipped the Impala off what I guessed was the road, but to be fair, I couldn’t see crap. Killing the ignition I winced, hoping Sam would see the stupidity of his mission before we had the worst Christmas in Winchester history.

“From what I’ve found, ‘Old Tom’ has been way more active this past year. In fact, so much so the state authorities have the main mine entrance boarded up and deemed out of bounds to visitors…”

“But geekboy found another way in, right?” If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s my brother to come up with the goods when research is the name of the game. Which in this case, meant I was outta luck. Not to mention, out of any chances of getting a beer and getting laid anytime soon.

Sam nodded gleefully, pulling out another printed sheet. “I found an old mine entrance a few miles south of the actual town.”

“And we use your magic carpet to get there, Sinbad?” I tend to get sarcastic when Sammy is backing me into a corner, and this was no exception.

“No, we use the two snowmobiles I rented…” Oh, that sly grin of his appeared and I knew I’d been had. Sam had booked ahead, which meant he’d been planning this whole shebang way longer than he’d let on.

“You what?”

I should have been mad with him. Hell, I was mad with him, but then I’d never driven a snowmobile before, and as long as Samantha was paying with his fake card, maybe I could have some fun. If I was really lucky, geekboy’s mine map would be a fake and I’d just get to mess around in the snow for a few hours before retreating to the bottom of the nearest whiskey bottle my hands could find.

My damn cold hands could find.

I looked around at the bleak landscape and realized just how biting the wind was going to be as it rocked the Impala’s heavy frame. Freezing was probably an understatement.

“The things I do for you, Sammy. You definitely owe me big time for this.” I clambered from the car and the temperature hit me like an icy back draft. I have a coat in the Impala’s truck for winter weather, but even that wasn’t going to meet my needs.

I popped the lid anyway and slid on the jacket, followed by a pair of gloves that used to be dad’s. Grabbing two flashlights, I tossed one to Sammy along with his favorite SKB. I prefer a Winchester myself, but hey, it’s all in the name.

We slid our weapons under our jackets along with some spare shells and locked up the car.

Sam assured me the snowmobile place was just over the ridge, and as always he’d gotten his homework right on the money. Hell, the smart Alec even paid the guy a few bucks extra to wait for us with it being the holidays. We weren’t supposed to have any money for beer and more interesting festivities, but Sasquatch had dug up some cashola from somewhere.

“Dude, where the hell did you get the bucks to pay for all this? I thought you said the moth pit that seconds as your wallet was as dry as the Sahara?” I stopped trudging through the snow and looked at him suspiciously.

Sam continued walking, his rosy cheeks dimpling with glee. “Man, it was easy! I just put that old bucket of bolts you call a car on EBay…”

“You what?” Of course, I knew he was joking – hell, hoped he was joking – but the jibe still earned my towering sibling a huge freakin’ snowball right in that pretty boy face of his.

Sammy pretty much took it like a man, pitching his finest back at me as we reached the snowmobile center.

“Watch it there bro, you’ll be making snowmen with the rest of the girls before you know it…” I dodged Sam’s attack and just managed to compose myself before some old grey haired guy appeared in a huge overcoat.

He looked Sammy and me over disapprovingly and then jerked a thumb at two late model Arctic Cats. “You the two wildcats that paid upfront?”

Sam returned to his ‘all business’ mode. “Yes sir. I’m Sam and this is my brother Dean. We were hoping to get a look at the old ghost town before nightfall.”

The guy nodded and I could tell he thought we were a pair of yahoos. “Well, strictly speaking Bodie never closes, but you might want to mind yourselves up there. The weather is damn changeable around these parts this time of year.”

“We’ll be careful,” Sammy offered, just a little too subserviently for my liking. “It’s just something I’ve wanted to see since being a kid…”

“Keys are in those two, and they’re all gassed up. Just be sure you have ‘em back on time or your card gets charged double.”

I watched as the old man scuttled back into his shed and turned up the meager heater he’d placed near a busted up recliner. “Jeez, lovely new friend you made there, Sammy…”

Sam ignored me and climbed on the first Cat as if he knew exactly what he was doing. I gotta admit, they looked like overgrown motorbikes on skis to me, but I figured they couldn’t be that hard to drive, right?

I followed Sammy’s example and revved up the thing, checking that the old timer really had fuelled us up. One thing I didn’t want was to get stranded out in No-Man’s-Land when I had not one single beer on my person, and only half a bag of peanut M&M’s in my pocket as provisions.

Sam tapped the map in his hand and pointed across the snow-covered landscape. “We need to head south for a couple of miles. Follow me…”

Without any more explanation geekboy’s Arctic Cat spurted forward and he was leaving my sorry ass behind. Not to be outdone, I hit the gas and gave chase even though I hadn’t a damn clue where I was going, or how the hell I was supposed to drive the mechanical pony my butt was planted on.

But hey, if Bruce Willis could pull it off in Die Hard 2, it had to be easy, right? (Yeah, so I’m a movie nut, bite me – especially if you’re cute, young, and of the female persuasion…)

Anyway, if Bruce and Sammy could drive a snowmobile, I was gonna be just awesome on one.

“Yeeeeha! Look out Bodie, ‘cause Dean Winchester’s about to ride into town and he’s packin’ rock salt…”


Abandoned Mine Shaft
Somewhere in Bodie State Historic Park

I don’t really know how long we’d been traveling, but it felt like hours. The ‘fun’ of driving the snowmobile and chasing Sam’s butt soon wore off as the wind chill factor set in and I realized neither of us were dressed for the weather we were enduring.

My hands were so cold I could barely feel my fingers, and I swear I had icy stalactites stuck on my face. Okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but, dude, it was freezing.

If Sam was feeling the effects of the weather, he wasn’t showing it. After we’d ran parallel with a small stream for maybe fifteen minutes, my bro finally pulled his Cat to a halt and pointed up towards a slightly rocky incline.

To be honest, I couldn’t see a damn thing, but at that point I was just looking at Sammy anyway and wondering if he really was related to the Abominable Snowman. He was totally covered in a white sheen of frost – and let’s face it, he has the height and shoe size to be called Bigfoot…

“Dude, you coulda so stunt doubled for Harry and the Hendersons…

Sam turned and flipped me the bird, which I guess was his way of saying ‘Merry Christmas.’ I chuckled and clambered from my own snowmobile, eager to get the gig over with, or at least get down the mine shaft were there would be no icy tendrils biting at me from the gusting north wind.

“So, tell me again, Sasquatch, just why the hell is this old coot’s spook worth getting turned into Frosty the friggin’ Snowman for?” I pushed through the drifts with my boots, trying to follow in Sam’s footprints to minimize the effort required. Hey, little brothers with big feet gotta have some uses!

“Because he’s the only spirit we’ve encountered that doesn’t seem to have turned bitter over time. I want – no need to know why…” Sam paused at a small opening I could barely make out as an entrance.

The mineshaft instantly reminded me of the place where I’d once been imprisoned by a pretty hungry Wendigo. I shuddered at the memory. Sammy might not know this, but I don’t like tight spaces. That’s why I hate to fly. Being cooped up like a chicken in a henhouse is just so not natural.

Mines are just so not natural.

Anyway, my own misgivings aside, I think I was finally starting to understand why Sam wanted to meet ‘Drunken Tom.’ If one spirit could co-exist with us all that time and never turn malevolent, then maybe there was a chance we could meet mom or dad again someday through the veil, or whatever you want to call it.

“Sam…” I cut my words short. It was Christmas. If doing this made my little brother feel better, hell, then I was cool with it. Sammy hasn’t exactly had many fun yuletide experiences. Come to think of it, neither have I.

What am I saying? How the hell can barging down an abandoned mine, freezing your asses of be fun?

Yeah, only for the Winchesters…

Sam took my sudden silence for surrender and he flicked on his flashlight, eager to dive into the catacombs below.

The mine entrance was low-hanging, and we both ducked under the decaying support timbers to clamber inside.

I don’t think anyone had been down the shaft for years – not even siteseers. Rusting tools and several old oil lamps lay scattered on the ground, and in front of us there was a warning sign that had almost faded to nothing.

I flipped on my own light and wafted it over the washed out lettering. “Says here this place is dangerous.” I raised a brow and smirked just a little too smugly. “You don’t say…” I swung my beam into the darker tunnel ahead, but it was so bottomless little light reflected back. “You sure you still want to play ‘moleboy’ for the afternoon?”

I saw a glint of hesitation in Sam’s soft eyes as he tracked the muted ray emitted by my flashlight. He pulled that uncomfortable expression of his that means he’s really wanting to get out of a situation, but needs to follow it through to the end. It’s kind of an internal power struggle between hunter and geek, and let me tell you, at best, it’s hilarious to watch.

Right now, though, I was hoping the geek won and we could haul ass back to town. No way did I want to spend one minute longer in the musty, damp, sour smelling mine than I had to.

A rather skinny rat skittered by, its tiny claws scratching just enough to bring Sam to his senses and make a decision. He took a breath, swallowed hard and then pressed forward deeper into the shaft.

Shit! So not the decision I was hoping for!

Of course, being such an awesome big brother I tagged along after Sam, trying desperately not to think about how the walls seemed to be getting closer and closer as we moved ahead. It was like being in an Indiana Jones movie where the room starts to shrink after you move an artifact. Yeah, I’m sure it was all in my mind, but it didn’t stop my heart rate elevating a notch all the same.

After about a minute of walking I turned and wafted my flashlight back the way we had come. There was already no sign of light behind us anymore – like our lights were two lone stars in a black velvet night sky.

“Sammy…” I paused, and thankfully so did Sam, but not for the same reason as me. He’d heard something, maybe even felt it.

Sam held up a hand. “Listen?”

I strained my ears, finally picking up on a low rumbling growl seeming to come from somewhere above us. As the noise increased to a crescendo, the ground beneath my boots began to vibrate.

Eventually, the pulsing tore tiny rocks from the ceiling above us and Sam and I realized what was happening. As the roof started to crumble and pelt us with hundreds of tiny fragments, we turned tail as fast as our legs could carry us and bolted for the mine entrance.

Dust and fresh falling rubble added to the blinding darkness, making a thick smog that filled our lungs and smarted our eyes until our flashlights were all but useless. I could hear Sam hacking as he ran ahead of me, but I couldn’t see shit.

I was about to tell him I really loved his plan for Christmas Eve after all, because, hey, who wouldn’t want to play ‘buried alive,’ but before I could do any smart-mouthing there was another huge rumbling sound accompanied by the sound of wood cracking and a freakin’ earthquake erupting in front of us.

The next thing I knew I was flat on my ass, my flashlight torn from my hand right along with what felt like several layers of skin. There was weight on me too, although thankfully not the ‘half a mountain’ kind.

I blinked, brushing away the still falling loose earth from my eyes enough to squint into the darkness.

“Sammy, you better not be dead, ‘cause I’m so gonna kill you if we get outta this mess…”

There was a groan of disapproval somewhere ahead in the gloom, and I thought I saw the shadowy movement of my bro struggling to pat the ground until he found his lost flashlight – at least, I hoped it was Sam – otherwise I was stuck in a cave in with a very pissy spirit.

Two seconds later Sam managed to tap his Maglite back to life and swung it around to what was left of the mine entrance. The air was still swimming with dust and the odd sod of tumbling debris, but the worst seemed to be over.

“Snow’s come down off the mountain and caused a cave in,” Sammy explained helpfully. “Maybe we made too much noise…”

“Maybe you made too much noise,” I spat back, annoyed I was now trapped, dirty, and already very hungry. “So, now what?” I brushed the soil along with a long-dead rat’s corpse from my jacket and pushed up to stand beside Sasquatch. “You do know another way out of this hellhole, right?”

When Sam shrugged, my heart sank.

I was gonna die.

Not by the hand of a demon.

Not by a pissed off spirit’s stranglehold.

Oh no, I was gonna die freezing my butt off down a hundred year old mine on Christmas Eve because Geekboy hadn’t done his homework.

Sam didn’t see the panicked look on my face – well, if he did, he didn’t mention it – maybe he does know I don’t like confined spaces after all. Anyway, he nodded towards me. “You got your favorite Zippo on you?”

I grinned. “Does rock salt bite spook ass?” I stuck a somewhat grazed hand in my pocket and tugged out my lighter. Dad had given it to me on my first hunt, and I’d had the thing ever since. I flicked it with my thumb until a small, and very appreciated flame appeared.

Sammy watched as the glowing light danced, casting bizarre shadows on the collapsing earth walls around us. “There’s air down here, and its coming from that shaft.” He pointed his Maglite back down the tunnel we’d just run from. “You might want to see if there’s any oil in those lamps over there seeing as you’ve lost your flashlight…”

Sammy shot me that smarmy look of his and I pulled a face that said ‘bite me’ right back at him. Hell, he was usually the clumsy one. I was allowed a little ham-fisted behavior when a mine was falling on top of me, right?

Still, I took Mr. Gangly’s advice and sifted through the rubble until I found a lamp that was half full of oil. It was red rust and a thin film of grime dulled the glass cover, but it was better than walking around with a red hot Zippo stinging my fingers.

I lit the thing up, adjusted the wick and then took a long glance at our surroundings. Instantly, I wished I hadn’t. Have I mentioned I hate being cooped up? Yeah? Well, let me tell you that feeling was getting worse by the second.

“C’mon, Samantha, it’s time we find the yellow brick road outta this joint before we end up being the ghosts of Christmas past…” I took point this time. I think it was some inner part of me screaming that I needed daylight. I needed food. I needed my Impala and a nice, warm motel room bed.

“I always knew you were a secret Wizard of Oz fan, dude…”

I didn’t grace Sammy with an answer to that one. Trust me, I’ve sat and watched some stuff in my time, but that schmaltzy crap? Besides, that movie just gives me the creeps.

Anyway, we’d been walking for what seemed like the entire length of Route 66 when I thought I saw something ahead. At first, my brain was convinced it was an opening of sorts – maybe even a second entrance, but as we grew closer still I realized it was something way more whacked.

Someone, or something was in the shaft right along with us, and I really had my doubts it was anything human or living for that matter.

“Sam…”

Sam paused behind me and used his more powerful Maglite to search the gloom. While he poured the beam over the tunnel, I set my oil lamp down and tugged my sawed off from under my jacket.

Sam might have a freaky sixth sense, but trust me, I can recognize spook butt like I got a freakin’ crystal ball up my ass. I’ve been in the job too long not to know when there’s something ‘off’ about a situation.

While Sammy stayed put with his flashlight trained ahead, I slowly moved forward, my twelve gauge held tight against my body ready to fire. Whatever you might see in the movies – those things have a hell of a kick when you don’t fire ‘em from the shoulder or you try it one handed. I know, I’ve done it way too many times to count.

Something skittered again.

A wafting shadow, a dark wraith that definitely had human form, but no solid presence.

“I think ‘Drunken Tom’ isn’t playing Mr. Nice Guy anymore, Sam.” I glanced back over my shoulder just for a second. “Ten to one this thing brought the mountain down on us because it knew we’re hunting its ass!”

“We don’t know that…”

I could hear that uncertain whine in my little brother’s voice that meant he was gonna argue with me, but damned if I had time to listen.

The thing playing hide-and-seek in the shaft made another move and my attention was back on its semi-visible shape. “You ruined my Christmas, you know that?” I spoke to the thing, ’cause yeah, I was pissed. “Come and get it! A little present, Winchester style, you freaky bastard!”

Okay, so I hadn’t exactly thought the thing would take me up on my offer so literally. One minute I was poised for action, the next I had the looming figure of a guy charging at me like a bull.

I don’t know if Sam could see any better from his perspective, but all I got was a black, shifting mass that in life must have been about six feet tall and pretty burly. Not having seen any pictures of the resident spook, I had no clue if this was really ‘Tom’ but the sonofabitch was making a full frontal at me so I pulled my trigger anyway and let the sucker have both barrels.

“Dean no!”

Yeah, great, Sam decides to remind me not to fire weapons in a collapsing mine after I’ve done the deed.

Real helpful, that.

I guess I should have known better, but it was pretty much too late now. The same distinct rumbling from earlier returned with a vehemence and the lamp I’d placed on the ground began to dance and shake in some weird tango as the earth literally shook.

“Oh, shiiiiiiiiit!” I think Sammy and I echoed the sentiment in unison and then everything once again turned black.

Ha! At least this time it was the lumbering geek who'd dropped his light. Mine had already been out of my reach and been instantly covered with loose earth as the cave in buried us.

Well, buried me.

As it turned out, I was the one playing corpse for a day while Sasquatch got to be the grave digger – except he was trying to pull me out, not put me in.

“Dean!”

“Keep your pantyhose on, Samantha. I’m right here…”

Ugh, except when I tried to move, right here turned out to be under several tons of soggy, damp smelling crap. I tried to move an arm or a leg, but nothing was budging. Maybe I should have been thankful my mouth and nose weren’t also stuffed full of the ancient soil, but I can tell you that small mercy wasn’t making me feel one bit better.

Of course, I couldn’t let Sam know that. Rule number one is never let Sammy know just how shit scared you are.

I squinted, and even though I had no form of light at all, I swear I could make out some kind of metal roof support and the beam it was fastened to pinning my legs down. The thing was just about as rusted as the lamp I’d grabbed earlier – except this thing had the most ugly-ass jagged edge that was happily gnawing into the top of my left thigh.

At that point I couldn’t feel it – maybe it was the cold, hell maybe it was shock – but in any case it didn’t look anything more than a flesh would. Of course, the bad news was if the mountain shifted again, just a little, the decaying brace would most likely take my friggin’ leg off.

“Dean, you with me?” I could hear Sam moving rocks and generally trying to dig with his bare hands. And hey, I know those are two huge paws my bro has, but he ain’t no Caterpillar.

“Yeah, I’m with you. Merry freakin’ Christmas, dude…” I don’t really know where it came from, but I just couldn’t stifle a chuckle right there. I mean, so not natural when you’re about to die or become wheelchair bound, but I couldn’t stop. The chuckle turned into song about two seconds later and I found myself crooning Weird Al Yankovic’s The Night Santa Went Crazy – much to Sam’s chagrin.

Hey, I thought it was apt at the time…

“Dean, did you bang your head?” Sam was frantic, that much I could tell with the furious digging noises and his obviously freaked out questioning. “Are you losing blood? DEAN!”

Okay, so I stopped my singing. It was kinda rude given the situation, but heck, it calmed my nerves a hell of a lot more than sitting on my butt panicking. “No, neither,” I answered truthfully. “I’m pinned down, dude.” I took another look at the brace gnawing into me. “Although if you don’t get my ass out of here pretty soon you’re gonna have Long John Silver for a brother…”

That seemed to freak Sammy even more, but hell, if I was freaked then he deserved to be too.

I tried to move again and realized if my big ox of a brother had actually been my side of the cave in he might have been able to just drag me out. Damn Winchester luck again…

I blinked, trying to dislodge particles of soil stuck to my eyelashes, but they just wouldn’t come away. Guess it serves me right for being born with huge lashes in the first place. But hey, the gals seem to love ‘em, so I ain’t complaining.

“Dean, can you move at all?” There was worry and doubt in Sam’s tone and I knew he could see something I couldn’t.

“Sure, I’m just laying here taking in the sights, jerk!”

Just about then I felt the fabric of my jeans start to get colder – colder, but also with the freaky sensation of becoming damp – no, not damp, totally wet.

My first instinct told me I was hurt way worse than my brain was allowing me to know, and the sopping feeling was my blood oozing out all over my legs. Then I calmed somewhat.

Blood is warm and sticky, not cold and icy – well, unless you’re a damn zombie – which I may look like after a few beers, but I sure ain’t become just yet.

“Sammy, is there something you’re not telling me?” Sam’s silence let me know he was standing the other side the cave-in chewing his bottom lip while that big brain of his hit overdrive.

Of course, he really didn’t need to say anything for me to guess anyway. I may not be as academic as Sasquatch, but I ain’t exactly dumb, either. “Dude, the freakin’ mine is flooding, right?”

“I’ll get you out. Just hang in there…”

Sam never quits, you know that? Even when he knows a situation is hopeless he always looks for a solution. That attitude right there is gonna get his ass canned one day – and I wasn’t allowing that day to be Christmas Eve on account of my recklessness.

“Sammy, I want you out of here. NOW!” I began yanking hard under the soil, even though I knew it might bring more of the crap down on me. “Sammy, go! Find a way out before you get that gawky ass of yours trapped too…”

I guess I knew he wouldn’t go, but hey, I had to try.

The worst thing was he must have been able to see the water rising and feel the icy chill as it slowly rose above his own feet, knowing that somewhere just ahead I was most likely gonna get drowned by the stuff or succumb to the temperature and there was jack he could do about it.

I shivered as the water’s freezing tendrils seemed to start to soak through to my bones. It was so dark, so damn enclosed.

I don’t know how long I lay there not saying anything, eyes closed as my body shook violently from the cold, but I swear out of the blue I heard a soft voice praying. Now I know Sammy still has faith, but the strong Bronx accent was kinda a big clue it was not my little brother doing the begging to the big guy in the sky.

Must be the cold. I’m hearing things…

As the mumbling continued I felt the water rising, wetting my jacket, my sweater everything.

“Dean!”

Somewhere in the darkness I heard Sam calling me again, but I was getting tired. It’s funny how the cold can do that to you when you can’t make an effort to keep warm.

Then, something changed – something moved – and I realized with surprise it was me.

I felt hands grabbing under my arms and pulling at me, yanking me from my early grave.

The metal brace dug into my leg more until I yelped out, but hey, pain was better than death. I tried to kick with my feet to aid my rescuer, forcing my body from the earthy tomb even though my clothes were heavy with water.

The soil above me began to fall further and I sensed the brace and timber it was attached to shift seconds after my soaking form was pulled free from its grasp.

I lay panting, choking, hell gasping there for longer than I care to remember. I was curled into a ball, not even knowing where I was or who was my savior.

Eventually, the clammy feel of my clothes and the knowledge I was gonna succumb to the cold if I didn’t haul ass made me move.

“Sammy?”

“Dean? I thought…I thought…”

I could tell Sam was pretty much choking on his emotions. I hadn’t answered him in forever and he must have stood watching as the earth I was under collapsed in further.

“Dude, you should know I don’t squish that easy.” I limped over to the wall of mud, hearing, but barely seeing the trickle of water still seeping through it all.

And Sammy was the other side it.

Essentially, we were separated by half a friggin’ mountain.

“Sam, we have to keep moving. We have to find higher ground or we’re both gonna be wishing we were fishes come sundown." I hated suggesting we split further – especially as I had no source of light to find my way, but it was really the only option.

“Maybe I can still dig through…I have the only flashlight…” Sammy the optimist was off again, but even when he said it, it was half-heartedly. He knew big bro was right. Hell – I’m always right – except for shooting sawed-offs down mine shafts, obviously.

“Sammy, now you listen to me. Haul your ass as far away from that water as you can. Don’t worry about me. I got eyes like a friggin’ bat…”

I heard him chuckle at that. “You mean ears, Dean. Bats are pretty much blind…”

“Screw you,” I shot back. “And yeah, I’m pretty much blind this side, but hell it didn’t stop Rutger kicking ass, and it won’t stop me getting my butt outta this dive way before you, geekboy!”

Sorry, there goes my fascination for cheesy movies again. I’m a sucker for an action flick – even if I coulda written the plot on the back of my M&M’s bag.

Ha! Now there was a thought. I patted my pocket and retrieved one soggy packet of my favorite confectionary. Digging a hand in I dug out a palmful of the little buggers and began to drop them as I stumbled around in the darkness.

“You movin’ your ass, Sammy? ‘'Cause I’m already halfway down the nearest tunnel this side, dude…”

I heard a disgruntled and somewhat muffled reply that said Sasquatch had given in and was at last doing as he was told. That was the good news. Now I just had to do my best Blind Fury impression and maybe we’d both survive the mine and the holidays.

I walked on, bumping into the shaft walls every few seconds until a dull light ahead made me increase my pace. At first I thought I was gonna win my bet and get out of the hellhole first, but I soon realized the illumination was nothing more than the flickering glimmer from yet another oil lamp.

Sammy! It had to be, right?

“Sammy, have I ever been glad to see your sorry, lanky, friggin’ dimply cheeked…” I stopped as I stepped into the chamber, realizing I hadn’t found my brother after all.

I don’t know what the area had originally been used for by the miners, but it was wider than the shaft behind me and I sighed with relief at the small semblance of respite it gave me from my claustrophobia.

The bigger question was who the hell had lit the lamp, though?

I hobbled up to the shimmering light and let my tired body drop down beside it, feeling the tiny warmth it emitted and savoring it.

I looked down then, finally able to see how badly my leg had been cut by the metal brace. As I’d originally suspected it wasn’t all that serious – it definitely wouldn’t require any of Samantha’s needlework – which is a good thing, believe me. There was still a little blood, but for the most part it had already started to clot.

No, the leg wound wouldn’t be a problem, but the cold might. I was still soaked to the bone, and still freezing my ass off until my muscles spasmed occasionally in an effort to warm my aching body.

I rubbed at my arms, wishing like hell I had something warm to eat or drink.

A lick of whiskey…

My heart skipped a beat as the same Bronx accent from before whispered through the gloomy chamber. Maybe Sam had been right after all. Maybe the original avalanche had been an act of Mother Nature. Maybe Tom was a good guy.

Maybe Tom had just hauled my ass out of the cave-in and saved me, even though I hunted his kind.

I winced, unsure of just what I should do. I’ve been in some situations, but I’m a hunter, I’m not supposed to parlay with the enemy.

“Tom?” I finally asked, feeling pretty foolish.

There was no reply, but the flaming wick in the lamp at my side seemed to shimmer brighter and then fade back to its normal intensity.

Take a sip to take the chill from your bones…

This time I was pretty freaked out and I glanced around the hollow I sat in, eyes desperately seeking out the voice. There was no strange shadow like before, no dark shape in the darkness, but there was something else.

A bottle.

I clambered forward and grabbed the dusty container, whirling around its contents as I checked the label. It was a brand of liquor from one of the local breweries, so yeah, this was one hundred-year-old gut rot that could probably serve as paint stripper.

I pulled out the stopper and took a long swig, letting the whiskey’s warmth burn its way down my throat and beyond. It was coarse, hell, worse than coarse, but to me right then it tasted better than Scotland’s finest.

I raised the bottle in my hand. “Cheers, Tom!” But the lamp didn’t flicker again. Maybe the old timer was wishing he’d partaken of the bottle himself instead.

I picked up the lamp, keeping the bottle in my other hand. The area I was in seemed to branch into yet another, bigger chamber beyond, and maybe, just maybe there would be a way out in there.

I held up my meager light and was about to limp ahead when I heard footsteps behind me. I dropped the whiskey, my hand reaching for the Winchester I no longer had under my jacket. If ‘Drunken Tom’ had gotten pissy, I was about to be in a world of hurt.

“Dean!”

Let me tell you, Sasquatch’s soft tones have never been so welcome, not ever. I spun around and almost wanted to bear hug the big lug – almost.

“Yeah,” I snarked. “Reports of my ass being grass are greatly exaggerated. Told you I could see in the dark.” I winked mischievously, my eyes looking Sam over to make sure he was in one piece.

He was – and considerably dryer than me.

Sam’s own gaze appraised me, pausing as he noticed the tear in my jeans and the red that had soaked through it. Before he could start to go mother hen on me, I waved him off.

“It’s nothing. Just a scratch,” I admitted honestly. “So, how’d you find me?”

Sam opened one of his big paws and revealed a handful of M&M’s. “I don’t think these are Tom’s.” He grinned, cheeks dimpling. “I found them at an intersection in the tunnel and knew you couldn’t be far away.”

“Yeah, well, you had light to see where you were going.” I saw Sam’s eyes drop to the oil lamp I held. “This was a Christmas gift,” I explained, waving the thing in front of my brother as if he’d understand. When his brow furrowed I pointed down at the bottle at my feet. “That bottle and the lamp were just here, dude, waiting for me. The thing was even lit! I think maybe you were right…”

Sam’s forehead remained creased. “Right?”

“Yeah, I think maybe Tom saved my ass back there.” I jerked a thumb back towards the cave-in. “Someone with a Bronx accent pulled me out just before the mountain came down on me. Guess maybe the old coot really is the good guy you pegged him for.”

“A ghost gave you whiskey?” Sam shook his head, still smiling. “He must have heard about your reputation…”

“Yeah, yeah, now let’s hope he shows us a way out of this joint, ’cause it ain’t getting any warmer down here.” I shuddered, wishing our friendly neighborhood spirit had left me his jacket instead of his bottle. “C’mon, I saw another chamber over here. Maybe there’s another way out…”

Sam nodded, leading the way with his flashlight into the secondary cavity. All I can say is it was not what we were expecting – not by a long shot.

The area was definitely part of the original mine, but someone had been here recently – at the very least within the last year. There was a tarp in one corner covering something about waist high, and beyond that something looking like a bundle of loose grey material.

Intrigued, I lifted my lamp and took a few long strides towards the new mystery. Sammy with those huge freakin’ legs of his still beat me to the treasure. And when I say treasure, I’m so not kidding.

Sam used his free hand to gently pry at the canvas until it fell away from the booty, revealing a huge mound of Eastern Sierra Community Bank endorsed money bags. You know, the kinda thing you usually expect to be in the back of an armored truck with a couple of guards?

I whistled. “Gee, Samantha, I think we just found Scooby a new case…”

Sam seemed enthralled by the bags. Huh?” he mumbled as he dug into one, pulling out a wad of hundred dollar bills.

“You know, ghost haunts mine to keep out unwanted tourists and all that crap? It’s classic Hanna Barbera. Hell, you even got the ‘Shaggy’ hair, dude…” I kneeled, eyeing the money myself. I’ve never seen so much cash – not ever, and I think I must have grinned pretty goofily because Sam quickly stuffed the notes back where they’d come from.

“No, Dean,” He chastised in that ‘I’m gonna have a hissy fit’ way of his.

“Alright, alright!” I held up a hand in submission. “But you gotta admit I was right. ‘Drunken Tom’ so ain’t real, dude.”

Sam took down a long breath and that brain of his was definitely in overdrive. “If Tom’s spirit is just a ruse to keep people away from the money until things cool down, then what pulled you out of the cave-in and gave you the whiskey?”

I opened my mouth, but then realized I had no friggin’ clue. I turned around in the gloom, remembering the other pile of grey material. Maybe that would shed some light on what the hell was going on.

I shifted the oil lamp in my grasp, trying to get its inadequate glow to illuminate the corner. What I saw wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but it did answer Sam’s question.

“I think I found my rescuer, Sam…”

Sam joined me, and with the added brightness from his flashlight we could see that the grey cloth was actually a uniform – a security guard’s uniform to be precise – and this particular one just happened to have the remnants of a body in it.

The corpse had been in the mine a good while and what nature hadn’t let decay naturally, rats finished off until all that really remained was a little hair and ‘gnawed on’ bone.

I hunkered down again, noting the massive hole in the poor man’s skull. “Somebody ventilated this guy, big time. I guess he wasn’t part of the equation, huh?” I raised a brow and looked up to see Sam squirming.

My brother’s not squeamish, but he’s not quite as de-sensitized to wanton and unnecessary death as me. Right then, he was feeling sorry for whoever the remains once were, and he was wishing we hadn’t found ‘em on Christmas Eve. Me, I think the guy deserved to get found and put to rest, ya know? Especially if he was the one who’d saved my sorry butt.

I placed my lamp down and reached forward, slipping a hand into the guy’s jacket to search for any I.D. or paperwork to give us a clue exactly what had gone down. If there had ever been any official documents on his person, they’d been removed, but I did find a pretty beat up wallet.

I pulled the leather slip from the guard’s top pocket and offered it up to Sammy while I struggled back up to my feet. My injured leg was aching from the awkward angle I’d been squatting, and I figured cramp was gonna set in if I didn’t move.

“Dean, I think we know this guy…” Sam had opened up the wallet and was staring at something inside like he’d ugh…seen a ghost.

“Huh?”

“Okay, well maybe not him, but…” Sam flipped the open wallet over so I could see what he was looking at. “That’s Michael, the kid you almost squished.”

I squinted at the picture, but I could already see Sam was right. Little Mike, his mom, and the guy I presumed was the stiff were all standing together smiling outside a house with a ‘sold’ sign in front of it. “I guess now we know what happened to the kid’s dad.”

Sam shook his head. “No, all we know is he was some kind of security guard that got involved in a robbery. We don’t know if he was in on the deal and got greedy, or he just saw too much.”

I shrugged. Playing detective was all good and well when you were out in the real world, but right now I wanted out of the mine so bad I didn’t much care how it happened. The guy was dead and it would be up to the cops to figure out the where and why. That probably sounds a little callous, but hey, I was starting to feel the walls closing in again, and it wasn’t a nice sensation, trust me.

“Do you think maybe we can find a way out before we worry about the dead guy?” I looked at Sam, hoping he actually had a plan.

“His name was Richard Bowman,” He offered matter-of-factly, tapping the wallet. “He had a family, Dean. You know, cute kid, not a lot of road sense?”

Damn, you know I hate it when he starts with that do-gooder crap? Mostly because I know he’s right. “Okay, okay. We’ll figure it out. Once we get out of this joint.” I lifted my lamp again and looked around the enclosure, but there was no other exit - not unless Sammy really did intend turning into ‘Moleboy.’

Sam cocked his head, indicating he was not the least bit amused by my humor. I expected a retort, but instead he took the lamp from my grasp and removed the cover from the wick. I guess he was looking for a draft to guide us safely out, but putting it bluntly, the Winchesters were once again shit outta luck.

“No draft? Great, just great.” I think I rolled my eyes at that point, rubbing a hand across the stubble that was beginning to form on my chin in worry. “Getting a little stuffy in here too, Sammy.”

My brother nodded, and I could tell he had no clue what to do next. Me, I usually make crap up as I go along, but when geekboy is stumped, that’s when I start freakin’ out inside. We’d gone from being buried alive down a mine, to drowned down a mine, to suffocated down a mine.

How many ways were there to die in one day, for crying out loud?

“Dean, will you stop that?” Sam glanced up from the lamp and I could tell something had confused him. He looked at me, unsure of what was going on. “You have no idea how annoying that is right now.”

“Huh? Stop what? I haven’t moved since you stole my light!”

“You were humming The Eagles…”

I gawked. “Dude, do I look like I’m about to be humming anything? We’re running outta air, I’m not about to be wasting it on anything less than Metallica!”

Somebody whispering the twenty-third Psalm
Dusty rifle in his trembling hands
Somebody trying just to stay alive
He got promises to keep …

Okay, so now I was hearing it too, and it was more than humming. Someone was actually singing the words, but it was damn muted. I flinched, straining to hear more. “It’s coming from the shaft.” I grabbed my lamp back from Sam and quickly stuck the glass back on. The flame danced a little, but for now it continued to burn. I guess there was air left yet.

Holding the light almost as high as my head I followed the sound of singing, realizing the words had a lilt to them. You can’t usually pick out an accent when someone is crooning, but I swear I heard a Bronx inflection to the voice.

It's a long road out of Eden...

As the sound grew louder I increased my pace, and behind I could hear Sam’s footfalls matching my own.

“You think he’s showing us the way out, don’t you?”

I turned just enough to shoot my brother a look of uncertainty. I had no clue who or what the hell I was following. And the scary part was the spook was singing a song that probably hadn’t even been released when he’d died. Talk about taste in music from beyond the grave.

“Dude, I got no idea,” I admitted honestly. “All I know is I think our guy trapped us down here just long enough to find his remains and the money. I doubt we’re much good to him if we end up right alongside him as rat chow.”

Sam shrugged. “Makes sense,” he agreed, keeping his Maglite pointed ahead far beyond where my oil lamp was illuminating.

It's a long road out of Eden...

“Man, you call this Eden? I’d hate to see your version of hell!” I teased the voice of the specter. Don’t ask me why, but I just thought maybe Richard might see the fun side. Do ghosts have a sense of humor? Not usually, but then they don’t usually haul your ass out of trouble either, so I was just going with the flow.

“Dean, listen.” Sam grabbed my forearm and stopped me dead in my tracks. His eyes were darting all over the shaft, and I guess the big lug’s ears were tuning into something too.

“Singing’s stopped.” I shrugged. “Shame - the guy could hold a tune…”

“Not that," Sam snapped, annoyed I was still snarking. “I can hear something above us. “ He shifted the beam of his flashlight until it was almost totally vertical. “I think there was once another shaft up to the surface here.”

I followed the light upwards, but all I could see was a hole in the wooden boards that held the mountain off of us. “Dude, there’s nothing up there…”

Sam ignored me and whirled around. I thought he was going to start running back towards the mini chamber, but instead he retrieved the remains of an extremely corroded spade and began poking the earthy ceiling where the timber was missing.

Instantly, soil and loose rocks began to shower down on us, and I dropped the lamp in favor of shielding my face and eyes. “Shit!”

To my amazement, Sasquatch continued to prod like a freakin’ cattle farmer until snow began to tumble into the shaft right along with the soil.

After a couple of minutes, the deluge from above began to slow and I uncovered my face enough to look out at a cloud-filled December sky. And lemme tell you, that was the most beautiful sky I have ever seen.

Sam watched my expression and that damn kooky grin of his appeared. “Merry Christmas, Dean!”

I scowled back, wanting so much to tell him I was gonna kick his ass for dragging us down the mine in the first place, but one look at those eyes and I surrendered. “Next time, buy me socks, slippers, aftershave – hell, anything but no hunts!

“Even SpongeBob slippers..?”

I didn’t grace him with an answer. I just grinned back, picked up the biggest sod of earth and snow and just slapped it straight at him.

If you think we’re bad now, can you imagine what we were like as kids?

Sam took his usual defeat gracefully and used that extra height of his to quickly haul ass outta the shaft. I had to wait for a hand out.

As Sammy pulled me free of the mine, I took one last look down into the darkness and my smile disappeared. “Merry Christmas, Richard,” I quietly muttered, just low enough that Sam didn’t hear me and think I was turning into a wuss.


Mono County Sheriff’s Office
Bridgeport, California
2 hours later

Getting back from where Sammy literally poked a hole in the mine took awhile. It turned out the snowmobiles weren’t exactly close by, and we had to haul our butts across thick snow to get to them. I was cussing all the way, naturally.

Anyway, by the time I reached town I felt like I was half frozen solid – and I’d changed out of some of my clothes back at the Impala at that! Getting warm when you’ve been stuck in freezing water seems to take forever, I can tell you.

Still, walking iceberg or not, Sam and I had to brave yet another danger to deal with our friendly spook’s revelations – we had to contact the cops. Now, I don’t know how much you know about me and my brother, but let’s just say my pretty striking mug is probably at the top of America’s most wanted list.

Luckily for me, not too many law enforcement officers can remember every wanted poster out there.

“This is going to devastate Mary…even though she pretty much knew Richard wasn’t coming home again, she always held out hope because of the lack of a body…” The balding Sheriff shook his head. “I‘ve called her over, she’ll need to look at the remains once my boys get them to the coroner’s office …”

I saw Sam shift in his seat. “Is that really necessary, Sheriff?” He squirmed. “I mean, there’s not much left…and on Christmas Eve…”

Sheriff Caldwell sighed. “You boys don’t know Mary. She’s a stubborn woman. She’ll want to see her husband…”

Sam flinched every time the cop used the name ‘Mary.’ It was freaky, but I guess he was thinking about mom with it being Christmas and all. “Can I ask if you know what happened yet?”

There he went again – little brother on a mission to find the truth.

The Sheriff pushed back in his chair, twirling a pen absently in his fingers. I don’t know why, but he kinda reminded me of Bellick from Prison Break – although, I liked this guy way better.

“I’m guessing you don’t know about the robbery we had here in Bridgeport last Christmas, you all being from outta town?”

Sam and I shook our heads. We’d spun our usual lies and handed out our customary fake I.D.s and apparently, they’d worked.

Caldwell rocked forwards, cupping his hands in front of him on the desk as if he were truly sorry about what he had to say next. “Some bozos robbed a shipment of cash from the bank on Christmas Eve. The truck, the money and Richard Bowman were never found. The second guard on the run claimed he’d been knocked out and dumped out on 395. Personally, I always thought he was involved, right along with the bank manager.”

“But not Mr. Bowman?” Sam pried.

“Nah, I’d known Richard all his life. He was a good soul. Trouble was, when him and the money vanished the rest of the folks in town were quick to judge – as was the bank. You know how gossip spreads. It was soon all over Bridgeport that Richard had taken off with the cash. Mary and her boy were treated like criminals – hell, even the insurance company found a way to get out of paying up to her. Mary and Mike were left pretty destitute when it was all said and done.”

“And the real bad guys got away with hiding the money down the mine until things cooled off,” I concluded. “Well, that full-on sucks.”

Caldwell smiled at my bluntness. “It did, until you found the evidence I needed.” He pointed outside to where a rather plump dispatcher sat at her desk, oblivious to our gaze. “When Mindy passed along your call I sent a couple of deputies over to pick up Rich’s partner from the armored truck, and don’t you know he ran like a scared rabbit! Hell, he all but admitted killing Bowman once my boys hauled his ass into their cruiser.”

“Cuffed and stuffed, huh?” I couldn’t help the Dukes pun, but Caldwell surprised me by taking it good-naturedly.

“Yeah.” he smirked right on back. “I’m thinking he’ll squeal on the manager to save his own butt. ‘Course, I couldn’t have done squat if you boys hadn’t found Rich’s body. What were you doing in Bodie this time of year?”

Sam jerked a thumb at me before I had time to respond. “My brother, he’s had this fixation with visiting the ghost town since he was a kid. Pretty much obsessed about it when we were younger…”

I’m thinking my eyes widened right about at that point, but at least Sammy was lucky we were in front of a cop, or my fist might have been flying in his direction too! Me? Obsessed? Hell, it was his hunt, not mine, the jerk!

Anyhow, right about then the Sheriff’s intercom buzzed and Mindy informed him Mary and little Mike had arrived.

“Well, if you boys are done here I’ll catch up with you later for a formal statement.”

Ack, I think I squirmed at that idea. I liked the Sheriff, I really did, but I knew when I was pushing my luck, and getting close to the man again after he’d run our fake info through his police database was not a good idea.

“Of course, I’ll need some more details for the reward money…”

I was halfway across the room making a fast getaway when the word ‘reward’ stopped me in my tracks. All kinds of crazy thoughts hit me right then and there. A new suspension kit for the Impala, a mini-vacation with lots of girls, beer, gambling – and did I mention LOTS of girls?

Even Sam turned as the cop grinned at us.

“Eastern Sierra Community Bank offered up $250,000 for any information leading to an arrest. I think you just about filled that criteria today and then some.” Caldwell sauntered across his office and opened the door for us. I guess he could see we were both pretty much in shock.

As we crossed into the main office area I noticed Mary and little Mike waiting anxiously by the double glass doors. I’m no expert, but Mary had definitely been crying. I swallowed hard. I’m not really a chick flick guy – anyone who knows me even a little knows that – but ugh, this gal had been through too much already, and I truly felt for her and the kid.

Mike was huddled into his mom’s jacket, and even though I’m not sure he was aware of what was going on, his expression said it all. It was Christmas Eve, and the poor little guy was upset – hell, no, he was more than upset – he was terrified.

You see, I know just how Mike was feeling. I’d been there the night mom died, except it was dad’s arms I’d huddled in, Sammy wrapped up in a blanket pulled tight to my chest.

“Dean…”

In that moment I turned to look at my brother and I swear to God it’s the closet I’ve ever come to having a tear in my eye. (Tell anyone that and I’ll kick your ass) It was like re-living a piece of my own past, and it burned so very deep I couldn’t extinguish the heat of the memory.

“Dean…the reward money…” Sam’s most persuasive look pleaded with me. “It’s Christmas, Dean. We don’t need the money, not like Mike and his mom.” He smiled at me then. “It’s the little things that matter, bro, not money…”

I thought about the bags full of cash in the mine, and what greed for them had caused. Without even taking a second to consider, I nodded in agreement.

There were lots of things Sam and I needed – but nothing as much as Mary and Mike did.

Sam and I walked over to where the Sheriff was talking with Mrs. Bowman and her kid. I guess it was kinda rude to interrupt, but hey, it was for the right reason, right?

Now, I’m none too good with the sappy, girly stuff, so I left that to my bro.

“Mrs. Bowman, the Sheriff told us about the reward we’re due to and we’d like you and your son to have it.” Sam looked to Caldwell. “If that’s possible, sir?”

Caldwell blinked as if he was hearing things, but then nodded. “I’ll speak to the bank as soon as they’re office is open and make sure it’s taken care of.”

“Thank you…thank you so much…” Mary looked at us, realizing we’d met before. “You’re the driver Mike ran out in front of, aren’t you?”

I smiled. I guess I do have a pretty unforgettable face, huh? “Yes, ma’am, just passing through over the holidays.”

Mary seemed to deliberate something and then put her attention back on Sam.

Dammit! I knew she liked Sasquatch.

“Do you have anywhere to stay? You’re welcome to stop with Michael and me for the night. Christmas dinner can get pretty lonely these days…”

Double damn! She was offering food and I hadn’t eaten in hours. If Sammy didn’t take her up on the offer I might just have to leave him to sleep in the Impala for the night while I did!

“Well, we were going to stop at the motel…” Sam glanced back at me and I kicked him lightly in the shins.

Sammy grunted and I found the sound greatly satisfying. I hadn’t forgotten about the SpongeBob slippers remark yet, let alone getting our asses trapped down the mine. Payback was going to be sweet.

“Please? It’s the least I can do after you give up all the reward money.” Mary ruffled Mike’s hair as she spoke, and I saw the kid pull away. He was definitely going to be my kinda kick ass and take names dude as he grew up.

I pushed Sammy sideways a little. “We’d love to.” I grinned brightly.

Heck, what was I thinking? I’d just volunteered us to spend Christmas with an eight-year-old who obviously had attitude issues almost as bad as mine.

But hey, as Sammy said, it’s the little things that matter, right? And one thing my brother and I can still relate to is family. ‘Cause hell, me and him, we’re all that’s left of the Winchester clan.


The Bowman Residence
Bridgeport, California
December 24th 2007

It didn’t really occur to me until I reached Mary and Mike’s home that I’m not exactly your regular social butterfly. I mean yeah, I can interact with people pretty well – but outside of hunting if I’m not picking up a gal for the night, then I’m quite happy to kick back in a motel with just me and Sammy and a whole crate of Coors.

I was realizing that right about now as I sat across from the kid while his mom fixed up my leg. Now, not that I’m complaining, ‘cause I’d much rather some pretty chick tend me than my ham-fisted bro, but I just never know what to say to ordinary folks, ya know?

Thankfully, my stomach growled loud enough for the Dalai Lama to hear it the all the way over in Tibet, saving me further squirming.

“When was the last time you ate?” Mary’s unreadable expression turned to concern and I shrugged. She taped down the remains of a small dressing on my thigh and then rose looking over to Sam as she moved towards the kitchen. “Is a chicken sandwich okay for you both? You’re not vegetarian or anything, right?”

I beamed. “Sweetheart, I so don’t do vegetarian.”

Mary smiled back – mostly at Sammy again – and then vanished from view.

Pity Mike was in the room or I’d have had a few choice words with my brother. Not that he was egging the widow on or anything, but I could torment him over it all the same.

As it was, I was forced to sit and look at the kid’s glum expression instead. I flinched, wishing Sam had gotten this prize seat and not me. I mean what the heck do you say to a kid like this? “So, what would you like for Christmas?”

Mike shrugged. I don’t think he actually gave a damn. “I can’t have what I want,” he huffed. “I want my dad back. I want people here to stop hating him and calling him a thief…”

“People will soon know the truth now, Michael,” Sam chimed in, looking to me with a nod.

“No they won’t. People don’t care about the truth. They’d rather believe the bad things…”

I could see the kid’s bottom lip starting to quiver and his chin dropped to rest on his chest, but he was fighting it. He’d learned to control his emotions the hard way – hell, the Winchester way. I hunkered forward, impressed with his bravado at such a young age. “I know the truth, Mike.”

He looked up at me, eyes glistening with tears. “How could you?”

“Because I met your dad, once,” I answered honestly. Okay, well, semi honestly – I mean his ghost counts, right? “Matter of fact, your dad saved my life.”

Mike eyed me suspiciously and looked over to Sam who nodded in agreement.

“How could he have? You don’t even live around here…”

Gotta give the kid some credit, he’s a smart one. Got a keen eye for the details, the little cuss. “Your dad wasn’t from California originally, was he? He was from New York…”

Mike’s head shot up at that, and I knew I’d got him hook line and sinker. Damned if I wasn’t going to cheer this kid up for Christmas. He slowly bobbed his head at me and then glanced over to a picture I hadn’t noticed on a nearby dresser. It was a larger version of the one in Richard’s wallet. “He really saved you?” He asked incredulously.

“Yeah.” I smiled back. “He really did. Your dad was one of the good guys.” I ruffled Mike’s hair and scared myself – Hell, I was starting to act like I was half civilized! Even Sammy gawked at me like I was doing a bad impersonation of him.

Still, it was Christmas, right? It’s only once a year.

“C’mon.” I tugged at the kid’s jacket. “Your dad wouldn’t want you sitting here like this. Whatdya say we go watch some TV and dig into some of your mom’s chow?”

Little Mike finally smiled. It wasn’t exactly an ear-to-ear grin, but I was working on him. Maybe I’d even get a chuckle outta the kid before Santa paid a visit. And yeah, Santa was going to pay a visit, Sammy’s credit card had made a last minute shopping diversion to make sure of that. Not that Sam actually realized he’d shelled out just yet…

Told you I’d get my payback!

Anyway, Mike switched on the TV and Sam and I joined him on the sofa. Three big kids with nothing better to do. Mike grabbed the remote and began flipping channels, settling on a cartoon I instantly recognized.

I groaned. “Aww, you gotta be kidding me, dude! Anything but this!”

Mike chortled as Scooby and Shaggy ran across the screen down what looked like, yeah you’ve guessed it, an old mine.

I grimaced and looked to Sam for support, but instead he began to join the kid, laughing his ass off at me. “Hey!” I cuffed him playfully around the ear. “What the hell is so funny, dorkbutt?”

Sam pointed at the screen. “You know, watching this got me to thinking,” he explained through stifled laughter. “We never did find ‘Drunken Tom.’ Maybe we should come back next year and finish the gig…”

Yeah, right, Merry Christmas to you too, Sammy!

Did I mention we’re spending the holidays in Maui next year?


The End

 

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