Most Precious Gift
The Impala’s wiper
motor strained against the heavy snow it was being forced
to constantly push from the ancient car’s windscreen.
On every sweep, more and more of the white crystals
had accumulated until it seemed all but an impossibility
that anyone could see through the glass.
Dean Winchester squinted,
forcing his eyes to keep refocusing in the hope that
he might, just might, see if he was about to hit something.
“Dude, I told you we needed a friggin’ map
of Colorado, but oh no, geekboy gotta use his high tech,
super gizmo phone and route finder…” The
hunter shook his head. “Great, just great. We’re
lost in a blizzard on Christmas Eve with our asses stuck
halfway round a mountain…” He gripped the
steering wheel just a little tighter than normal as
“Do you ever stop
griping?” Sam ignored his brother’s constant
rant and scrutinized the tiny phone’s screen with
increasing frustration. The GPRS signal had become erratic
about half an hour ago, and since then the route finder
had obviously become very unreliable. They should have
at least sighted the next town’s lights by now,
but instead they were pushing their way through a whiteout
that seemed to have no end.
Me?” Dean finally dared to look at his brother
before pointing at the Chevy’s gas gauge. “Now
why would I gripe when we have SO much fuel?”
he spat sarcastically. “Don’t I seem to
recall you saying we could fill up at the next
town? Except right now there is no next town, and it’s
about minus twenty outside…”
head dropped and he knew Dean was right. All of this
had been his suggestion. If Dean had had his
way, they’d have been in some less than cozy motel
for the night with a six pack. Not exactly full of seasonal
spirit, but safe, nevertheless.
The thing was, Sam had
gotten an invitation from an old friend at the last
minute, and it had sounded a lot more like a real Christmas
than he’d ever been privy too – even as
a kid. Of course, Dean hadn’t wanted to go, which
in hindsight may have been the best decision.
“Have you tried
your cell? Maybe you can get better reception than me?”
Sam knew it was a waste of time, but once the Impala
ran out of gas, that meant no heaters, and no heaters
out here meant…
Dean shook his head but
risked taking a hand from the wheel to tug his cell
from his pocket. It told exactly the same tale as Sam’s.
“No signal,” he admitted, tossing the device
on the rear seat with a snort as the Chevy’s V8
began to cough sporadically. “Hey, it’s
Christmas right? Maybe if we’re lucky Santa Claus
will give us a tow…”
so not funny. I don’t even have a winter coat
in the trunk…”
the elder Winchester admitted, letting the Impala roll
to a stop as its engine died. “I guess we have
two choices: Sit here and definitely freeze our asses
off before morning, or walk for it and hope we find
a house before we turn into Frosty the Snowman.”
walk,” Sam conceded, thinking that if they were
at least moving it would afford them some warmth. Sitting
in the car until it was an igloo didn’t sound
too appealing. “Minus twenty?” He asked
and winced, knowing it could very well be colder.
suddenly smirked. “Ya know, when I told you to
chill out with the brunette waitress back at the diner,
I didn’t mean literally.” He winked, and
without waiting for Sam’s customary scowl pushed
open the Chevy’s door. The immediate inrush of
cold air and snow took his breath. “Sonofa…”
Sam followed out his own
door, noting that his boots were already sinking in
the slushy white mass well above ankle level. It was
going to be a hard trudge anywhere.
Already feeling the chill,
he pulled his collar up over his reddening ears and
slipped on a pair of gloves his brother tossed from
the trunk. “Got a flashlight?”
Dean nodded silently and
then tossed one over, retrieving one for himself at
the same time. “So, which way Mr. Oracle? We could
do with a freaky vision right about now…”
“Maybe you could
find us some bar with cute “Santa’s helper”
waitresses…” Another impish grin and slightly
lewd gesture followed. “Call it a Christmas gift
from you to me…”
freezing to death in the middle of nowhere and all you
can think of is getting laid?” If nothing else,
the elder Winchester was providing entertainment as
they slogged through a particularly large drift. Entertainment
Sammy could do without, but entertainment nonetheless.
well can you think of anything better, Rudolph?”
Dean swung his light around in the darkness, but there
was little to see but streams of white rushing towards
him as if he were in the Millennium Falcon
as it hit hyperdrive. The snow was just coming down
too hard to see much further than a few feet ahead.
Sam didn’t answer
and Dean noted his brother had stopped moving and was
now staring to their left. The elder hunter frowned
quizzically and suddenly realized his eyebrows were
stiff – no frozen. Time was running out. He patted
his hair with fingers that looked almost blue. The normally
carefully preened mop was frozen solid too.
“Dean! I think I
see a house over there. Faint lights….”
Sam didn’t wait for an answer but began to forge
ahead. He was already losing the feeling in his extremities,
and if they didn’t both find shelter soon they’d
begin to get frostbite.
For once, Dean followed
his brother with not so much as a word. Sam would be
right; he had to be.
Within five minutes, the
welcoming porch light of a small wooden house came into
view and Dean sighed with relief. The cussing in the
car, the waitress jokes, they’d all been a front
– his usual one when things looked bad. Hell,
he and Sam had fought off almost ever supernatural creature
known to man, and he would have been pissed big time
if they’d ended up dead in a blizzard at Christmas
just because of some junky piece of technology.
“Next time, we buy
a map,” he muttered as they at last stumbled half
frozen onto the well-kept but slippery decking of the
“Next time, we stay
in the cheap motel with the six pack,” Sam acknowledged
as he rapped at the porch door, his teeth chattering
as he shook from head to toe.
Dean rubbed his hands
together and grinned, realizing ice had formed on his
brother’s stubble making it look like he had a
white beard. When Sam scowled at his smirk he couldn’t
resist. “Dude, you look like freakin’ Santa.
All you need is a red cape. If these folks have kids
you’ll be mugged.”
Sam rubbed at the ice
and impatiently knocked again while he still had feeling
in his hands. The gloves he’d put on were already
soaked through, as were both brothers’ jeans and
“The lights are
on, but nobody’s home,” Dean offered helpfully
as he peered through a frost covered window to a darkened
interior within. “Man, looks like they only got
candles in there. Maybe the electric is out…”
he could pry any further, the large white door finally
opened a crack and a tiny, weathered looking woman popped
a head around the frame. She appeared to be about ninety
and wore her hair in a bun, reminding Sam of Grandma
Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies.
“Excuse me ma’am,
but do you have a telephone we could use? We broke down
back on the road…” Sam didn’t realize
how cold he was until he heard the muted sound of his
own voice as he stammered out the words.
The little woman examined
both brothers over her wire rimmed, stereotypical glasses
for just a second and then tugged back the door further.
“Why you poor things! You must be frozen! Come
in, come in!”
looked at Sam, obviously concerned that the frail old
woman was inviting two complete strangers into her home
without so much as asking their names. Still, she was
right, they were frozen, and maybe once they
got warm and dry they could offer up a little advice
on home safety to the old dear.
The tiny woman ushered the pair into a small parlor
decked out in full Christmas décor. Two three
tiered candelabras provided the only illumination save
for a roaring open fire. “Now, you boys take off
your clothes and get dry while I get you a warm cocoa.”
cleared his throat. “Ma’am, do you have
my dear, Martha Whitaker.” She offered up a wizened
hand. “Folks tend to call me Ma Whitaker around
Whitaker, do you have a phone?” Sam reiterated
his brother’s question in his usual soft tones.
“We need to get some gas for our car and a motel
for the night.”
Martha shook her head
apologetically and continued towards the door. “I
never had use for those new-fangled things.”
phone?” Sam mouthed incredulously.
couldn’t help but smirk. “See, even the
old lady thinks technology sucks. I mean, come on, we
wouldn’t be here right now if your phone…”
Sam rolled his eyes but
knew it was no use arguing. Dean was going to be ribbing
him over this fiasco for days. “So, Mr. Smart
Alec, what do we do, stay here all night?”
A disembodied voice from
the hallway answered, proving that Ma Whitaker may have
been old, but her hearing was better than a bat’s
sonar. “Why of course you can stay here. I have
two spare beds all made up…”
grimaced and glanced around the room. Ma Whitaker was
just too nice. It was uncanny. I feel like I’m
in one of those horror movies where you get invited
in and then get chopped up.
Still, the house was endearing
in its own way. It was so old fashioned it could belong
in another century. And yet, somehow there was a warmth
here, a feeling of love that made him want to just sit
in one of the big old armchairs and snooze.
Sam must have read his
brother’s thoughts and slid into the chair next
to the fire, letting his hands play close to the flames
until sensation in his fingers returned. “Man,
that was close out there.” He looked up, noticing
Dean eyeing the room. “Think Martha’s all
alone out here? Kinda isolated for someone her age.”
“Yeah, remind me
to have a talk with her about letting strangers in.
Next time it might not be the nice Winchester boys knocking
on her porch door.” Dean fidgeted as he watched
Sam take off his jacket and flannel shirt and place
them near the fire to dry. For some reason, it felt
odd undressing in the old woman’s home.
As if psychic, Martha
seemed to sense his thoughts and returned carrying two
steaming hot mugs of cocoa. “This won’t
warm you up unless you get those wet clothes off, sonny.”
Before Dean knew what
had hit him, faster than a Wendigo, stealthier than
a Shtriga, Ma Whitaker was at his side, prying off his
jacket and shirt with the strength of an ox –
no, a Bigfoot.
Dean instinctively jerked
back and then felt his face blush the color of crimson.
“I…I’m um, fine…”
Martha wasn’t convinced
and carried on unabashed. “Nonsense, young man!
You’re drenched. You’ll have pneumonia by
morning if you don’t dry off!”
Dean looked pleadingly
across the room as Ma Whitaker attempted to undress
him like a baby. Sam however, had no intention of coming
to the rescue. Instead, he was doubled over laughing
at his brother’s helpless plight.
Ghost hunter, soldier
of light, beaten into submission by an old woman with
a cup of cocoa as her only weapon.
In the end, Dean conceded
and pulled off the remainder of his shirt, folding it
in front of the fire along with Sam’s. “I’m
fine now, really,” he spoke through gritted teeth
while sending another ice-cold glare at Sammy that said
“you’re so gonna pay for that.”
Sam grinned but then cleared
his throat as he caught the old woman staring at him
with a small smile of her own over her glasses.
“You two shouldn’t
bicker as much as you do. It’s quite obvious how
much you care for one another…” Martha moved
to stoke the fire and repositioned the boys’ clothes.
Dean grimaced, uncertain
how to take the comment. “Um…ma’am,
we don’t exactly swing that way. We’re…”
Martha finished for him knowingly. “I knew it
the minute I set eyes on the pair of you.”
Sam took a sip of his cocoa and noticed that Dean was
eyeing the nearby table that had a small buffet of Christmas
fare piled upon it, as if ready for guests. Any minute
now and the elder Winchester would make a dive for a
drumstick, he was sure. Dean never did seem to quit
eating if food was available.
Martha turned, just in time to catch Dean’s hand
straying for the nearest platter. With a swift move
she knocked his palm clear and he blushed once again
as if he’d been caught stealing something precious.
“Sonny, don’t you have any manners? Ask
before you take!”
Dean recoiled and winced.
“Man, it’s worse than spending a night with
Missouri Moseley,” he muttered through gritted
Sam almost choked with
laughter but managed to stifle his chuckle by placing
a hand over his mouth. Just because Dean was making
an ass out of himself didn’t mean he had to. “So,
what made you say we’re brothers?” He pushed,
somehow needing to know.
Ma Whitaker picked up
the platter of chicken and offered it up to Sam, who
gratefully took a piece. She eyed Dean mischievously
and then brought the plate around under his nose. As
he tucked in, she finally answered the younger Winchester’s
question with a small sigh.
“I have two grandsons,”
she explained, looking at a small photo on the side
dresser. “You two boys remind me so much of them.
It’s uncanny.” Martha took a seat. “David
and Shaun are in the forces. They’re away right
now, but I’m so proud of what they do.”
queried, munching hungrily on a drumstick.
Martha’s gaze seemed
to go distant and she didn’t directly answer.
“So many boys out there that don’t come
home…Davy and Shaun should have been home for
Christmas, but now they can’t make it…”
“The food, the beds,
all for your grandsons?” Sam was relieved. At
first, the old lady had seemed too nice, and when the
food and beds had been offered he’d inwardly had
the same weird thoughts as his brother. He relaxed a
little. “Maybe they’ll get home for the
New Year?” he suggested helpfully.
still seemed distant, her eyes focused on the far wall
rather than her guests. After a moment, she came to
her senses and patted Dean’s knee unexpectedly.
elder hunter almost choked on a chicken bone at her
touch. Jeez, she’s after takin’ off
my jeans now!
If Martha noticed his
flinch she didn’t show it. “So, what do
you boys do? Two strong young men like yourselves ought
to have good careers ahead of you.”
“We um, we help
people…” Sam didn’t know what else
to say. Feeding Martha their usual spiel on Christmas
Eve just didn’t seem right. She’d saved
their skins, she deserved better.
Strangely, Martha accepted
the weak answer without asking for more. Pushing up
from her seat she looked at Sam with a faint smile.
“Your brother is so much like my Davy. Definitely
the rogue of the two.” She winked at Dean. “I
just have something to find…”
Once Martha had once again
vanished, Dean sat forward on his chair. “Dude,
Ma Clampett is one freaky old mare. Missouri has nothing
on this one.”
Sam chuckled. “You’re
just mad because she had you pegged right from the start.”
He leaned across, choosing another drumstick to tuck
into. “Listen, man, I know she’s a little
eccentric, but she’s kinda a sweet old lady too.
You gotta admit this is the pleasantest Christmas we’ve
spent in a long time, maybe ever…”
Dean’s eyes narrowed
as he searched for Ma before taking more chicken too.
If he was honest, it was kind of cozy in the old house.
Just like living in a scene from a greetings card. He
felt his shoulders relax and he sat back, taking in
the sweet odors of the burning firewood, and lavender
from some unknown arrangement on the window sill. Why
couldn’t he and Sam have had a Grandma like Martha?
Why couldn’t they have had a normal life like
this? A normal family?
Dean felt his mind begin
to drift away to sleep as the scene became just too
perfect, but then, right on cue, Martha was back. Not
wanting another slap, he quickly pulled himself straight
in the chair and hid the chicken bones he’d munched
on out of sight under a napkin.
“I have a little
something for you boys,” Martha stated, one hand
behind her back as if she were bringing in gifts for
toddlers. “Something I want you to cherish always
as a little gift from me.”
Sam instantly shook his
head. “Um, ma’am, we couldn’t, really…”
“Now no arguing,
young man! I had these made for Davy and Shaun, but
I can’t very well give them to them if they’re
not here. I know they’d want you to have them
too. You’re good boys. I can tell.” Two
small carefully wrapped boxes appeared in the elderly
woman’s hands and she offered one up to each brother
with a small smile.
“Really, we can’t…”
Dean reaffirmed what Sam had already said, but his eyes
were glued to the small package. It had been so long
since he or Sam had been given a real Christmas present.
Sure, they always bought one another a gift, but what
could one guy give to another? In the end, it had always
been weaponry – not exactly topical or appropriate
on Jesus’ birthday.
Martha all but stomped.
Dean’s fingers moved to unfasten the tiny ribbon
on the box, his stomach churning as he felt a rush better
than any hunt could inspire. A real Christmas
gift, a gift neither brother had any clue about.
For the third time in
a row, Dean felt his hand whacked away from its intended
target. He looked up, eyes wide like a scolded child.
Martha wagged a finger,
and chuckled. “Now even an unruly young man like
you should know you don’t open your presents until
This time, even Dean’s
face cracked into a smirk and he nodded. “Yes,
ma’am. Morning it is!” He made a small salute
from his forehead with his finger and slipped the little
box into the pocket of his drying jacket. Sam did the
same for fear he too would be whacked by the finger
of geriatric doom.
Martha walked to a small cabinet. “Who’d
like some eggnog before bed?”
Neither brother refused.
It was a strange Christmas
Eve, one that Dean and Sam could never have expected,
but it was fun even though their host was three times
their age. No, it was more than fun – it was normal,
it was something they’d never had.
Martha had no TV, no phone,
nothing but her own brand of quirky humor and wisdom,
but it was more than enough because it gave the Winchesters
a taste of what a real family could be.
After two more drinks,
all three retired to well aired, well covered beds,
and as Dean and Sam sank into their quilts, both half
expected the old woman to come in and tuck them in.
She was the grandma they’d never had.
linen smelled fresh, inviting, irresistible after months
on the road, and in minutes both brothers were fast
asleep, for once dreaming no dark, terrifying thoughts.
* * * *
Sam moved an arm in his slumber, expecting to have to
shove the quilt away to stretch. He could still smell
the freshness of the cotton sheets and the lavender
from Martha’s window arrangement. Damn, it was
hard to get up when something was so inviting. Still,
as he nudged his elbow forward he realized there was
no quilt on top of him.
Instead, there was a dull
rapping noise that refused to go away, calling, demanding
he open his eyes and be attentive.
Sam yawned and forced
an eye open. What he saw made him sit bolt upright and
suddenly become wide awake.
He was in the passenger
seat of the Impala curled into the usual position he
took when napping while Dean drove. At his side, the
elder brother still snoozed, a look of deep contentment
on his face.
The knocking noise came
again and Sam realized someone was banging hard on the
Chevy’s side window. He tried to open it, but
the mechanism was frozen solid. Frowning, the young
hunter pushed hard on the door until it yielded to his
“Thank the Lord!
I was beginning to think you’d frozen to death
in there!” A small stocky looking man in a Sheriff’s
uniform stood back to allow Sam to exit the Impala.
“How long you two be stranded here?” Without
waiting for a reply, he walked around the Chevy, taking
in how much snow had covered it. “You’re
lucky you haven’t been here all night. Temperature
dropped real low. Even lower than usual in these parts…you’d
have been popsicles for sure…”
Sam frowned and noted
that Dean was now exiting the driver’s door to
join him, a look of utter confusion on his face as he
rubbed at his eyes blearily. The elder hunter mouthed
“what the..?” before realizing their company
was a cop.
“There was a house…”
Sam shook his head, looking around for Martha’s
humble abode, but all he could see for miles were mountainous
drifts of snow and the police cruiser’s snow-chained
The Sheriff’s brow
creased. “Son, there are no houses around this
stretch of road, at least, not since the sixties. Old
Ma Whitaker’s place used to be right over there,
but they bulldozed it years ago after she died.”
Ma Whitaker?” Dean moved to his brother’s
“Yeah, real nice old lady. I can still just about
remember her.” The Sheriff’s face broke
into a smile at memories long past. “Folks say
she pined to death. See, her son and daughter-in-law
died in a car crash and she brought up their kids on
her own. David and Shaun I think it was…Anyway,
those pair were real close. When the war in Vietnam
erupted they joined up together. The story goes that
their tour was supposed to be up just before Christmas,
and ol’ Ma had the house all ready for their homecoming,
Christmas presents and all. Then she got the telegram
they were MIA on their last mission…”
Sam and Dean both looked
to one another, but words escaped them.
The cop took their silence
to mean they’d found his tale somewhat tedious
and sighed. “Well, I guess I better go radio for
Hank’s tow truck. No way am I gonna try pulling
your car outta that drift with my cruiser, we’d
all be stuck out here. If you boys will excuse me a
second I’ll go call it in.” The Sheriff
ambled back to his Ford and leaned through the window
to unclip the radio mike.
Once he was out of earshot
Dean scratched his head and whispered, “Dude,
what the hell just frickin’ happened? Because
last time I checked I was in some big ass bed all warm
Sam nodded and fumbled
inside his jacket pocket. There was only one way to
know if they’d imagined the whole thing –
even though he was pretty sure already that they hadn’t.
After a moment, his spidery fingers touched something
hard and he pulled out Martha’s gift. He looked
to Dean. “You got yours?”
tentatively checked his own jacket and retrieved the
present from the previous evening. With a shrug he offered,
“Well, it is Christmas morning now. I
guess we should open them?”
Together, both brothers
carefully unwrapped the shiny foil paper covering their
gifts to reveal two small jewelry boxes. Simultaneously,
they popped the lids to uncover two identical silver
St. Christopher pendants.
Dean nimbly plucked his
gift from its box and flicked it over with his thumb.
What was engraved on the reverse side brought one simple,
heartfelt tear to his eye.
Gulping, Sam dared to
look on the back of his St. Christopher and instantly
realized what could break his normally “tough
nut” brother’s façade so easily.
etched into the silver was Ma’s grandson, Shaun
Whitaker’s initials. Sam’s initials.
And with those letters a simple, perfect inscription.
Sam almost had to choke
back his own tears as he took in the message from beyond
the grave. He grasped the pendant in his hand, knowing
Dean’s gift bore his initials too, and the same
Martha Whitaker hadn’t
given them a pendant each, but something so much more
valuable. She had given them the most precious gift
of all – the one thing she couldn’t give
her own grandsons. Ma had given the Winchester brothers
the gift of life.
Dean rubbed the stray
tear from his eye and watched as Sam placed the delicate
symbol of luck for travelers around his neck.
As Sam noticed his brother
watching, Dean canted his head, acknowledging an unspoken
understanding between them both.
No matter where their
journey might take them, they would always remember
the ghost of old Ma Whitaker, who had saved their lives
one wintry Christmas Eve.
the story here!