Fandoms: Supernatural; Sparrow Hill Road (Seanan McGuire)
Warnings: Character death, sort of.
Summary: Rose Marshall is called to an accident near Buckley, and what she finds there is strange even for a road ghost who’s seen it all.
It’s already too late by the time I rise up through the layers of twilight to the crossroads that called me. The big car is little more than a twisted heap of scrap metal, the smell of burning antifreeze overpowering the fading scent of lilies on the evening breeze. No sign of the other car, though there must have been one. The tracks of the accident are so clear that I can almost see them: the sudden impact, caving in the driver’s side door and spinning her out past the median, too fast to stop even if that first blow hadn’t rendered the driver unconscious, scattering glass and torn metal before coming to a violent stop against an old oak tree.
He’s already there, back to me, a tall man in flannel and denim, staring down at the wreck and his own bloody corpse folded into its metal embrace. As I approach, I can hear him mutter, “Son of a bitch.”
He kicks at the shattered remains of a side mirror, swears again when his foot passes through it.
“Hey,” I call, and he turns. “Are you--”
The words die on my lips at the sight of him. He’s young, mid-thirties or thereabouts, with light brown hair and a handsome face. His eyes, though--his eyes are black. No whites, no iris, just deep, inhuman black from lid to lid.
I take a step back--no smell of wormwood, no fire in the sky, but not all dangers come with a warning label--and he scowls. ”What the hell do you want? Because whatever it is, I can pretty much guarantee I’m not in the mood right now.”
“Hey,” I say, annoyed in spite of myself. ”You called me, okay?”
His brows draw down above those strange eyes. “The hell I did.”
“Your dying did, anyway,” and now that I’m looking around, I can see why. We’re outside the town proper, but I know these roads. Buckley, or close enough for it to count. These are my roads, and any death on them is my business, whether I like it or not.
Currently, I’m leaning toward the ‘not’ column. I don’t know what he is, and that’s worrying by itself. “You’re dead,” I add. “By the way.”
“Yeah, no shit,” he says. “Who are you?”
I raise my eyebrows at the tone, but answer anyway. “My name is Rose.”
“Rose Marshall? The Lady in Green?” he asks. It’s not entirely unexpected, and when I nod he lets out a humorless bark of laughter. “Well, that’s just--that is just awesome. Just my friggin’ luck.”
The warm evening breeze winds around me, bringing the smell of ashes and and antifreeze and something else--a faint, sour stink that I can’t quite place. We’re fully in the twilight now, the colors of sunset fading to gray overhead. The newborn ghost doesn’t seem to notice, glaring at me and then at his car like I had something to do with it.
His car. She must have been a beauty in life; even in death the bones of her are elegant and powerful, gilded with the shine of a machine that’s been deeply loved. Her spirit is as tangible as that of any phantom rider’s car. But she hasn’t passed on; she’s still clinging stubbornly to the wreckage of her own body, the wreckage of the flesh and bone that was this man in life, her grip so powerful that she’s dragged them down into the twilight with us.
It’s--horrifying, actually, like watching a ghost still trapped in its own rotting flesh. I take another step back, more certain by the moment that I want nothing to do with this, Buckley road ghost or no. “What are you?”
He snorts. “Ain’t that the question.”
“It’s the one I’m asking.” Bravado is a well-worn habit, and I can pull it on as easy as the old flannel trucker’s coat that I’m still wearing. “What the hell are you?”
“My name’s Dean,” he says. “As for what I am--well, that’s a long story, sister, and we don’t have time for it.”
The sour smell is stronger now, and there’s a tinny echo of sound in the distance, something that almost sounds like sirens but isn’t. Dean looks up, swears, and puts a hand on the twisted metal flank of his car. Somehow, I’m not even that surprised when it settles against it, as though his ghostly skin is just as solid as the wreckage. “Come on, baby,” he murmurs. “We gotta go.”
The car--lovely thing, I can almost see her now, the shine on her chrome and the clean lines of late-sixties engineering--shudders all over.
“I’ll fix this,” Dean whispers, and it’s intense and private, a lover’s plea, nothing I should be overhearing. “I’ll fix it, I promise, but we have to go.”
“You’re dead,” I tell him, stepping back again, green silk rustling around my calves. “You won’t be fixing anything.”
I’m not surprised by the dress, not with the danger that’s thickening the air and clogging the back of my throat, and I’m not surprised when I try to take another step back and my feet in their stupid impractical slippers won’t move an inch. I’m a part of this strange drama now, if only as a witness.
Dean laughs, dry and tired and somehow awful. “It won’t last,” he says. “It never does.”
The car shudders again. A chorus of howls crests the top of the hill, and those definitely aren’t sirens. They sound like the black nothingness of his eyes, like something that crawled up from whatever lies beneath the midnight, and I’m trapped, trembling with atavistic fear.
“Baby, please,” Dean says again, and the car twists impossibly, relinquishing its hold on its body. The wreckage vanishes, the body along with it, and in its place is a sleek black beauty of a Chevy Impala. She revs her engine, a powerful basso rumble, and Dean lets out a long sigh. “Thank you,” he murmurs. “Thank God.”
The howls are getting louder now, and when I try to step back this time my feet respond --sluggish, but there. Dean slides into the car, leans out the window to look up at me. His black eyes are still chilling, but his face is concerned. “If I were you, I’d get out of here. Not sure what hellhounds can do to somebody who’s already dead, but if you stick around, you’re gonna find out. I’d offer you a ride, but--”
“Don’t bother,” I say, and before he can answer, I’m shrugging out of my borrowed coat, flinging myself backward toward the deeper layers of twilight.
The roar of an engine drowns out the howls, drowns out everything else, then echoes into silence as I land hard on pavement. The deepening twilight sky closes over my head, and in the distance, up ahead, I can see familiar neon lights.
The Last Chance Diner. I pick myself up and start walking, banishing my green silk skirts for a pair of tight jeans and hiking boots. It’s farther away than it looks--everything in the twilight is--but it’s a beautiful night for a walk and I’m craving fries and a malt like nobody’s business.
After this, I think I deserve it.
It’s six months later and several states away, and I’m walking down the shoulder of a highway in the pouring rain when I hear an engine behind me. A big-block V8, old enough that there’s a catch in the rhythm of it and strangely familiar. I stick my thumb out without looking back, and am rewarded with the sound of the car slowing down. It pulls up behind me, crunching gravel on the shoulder, and I turn.
It’s the sensation I guess most of the living get when they see a ghost. The last time I saw this car in the daylight, it was totaled so badly that it hardly looked like a car anymore. There’s no sign of that now, and the man behind the wheel is warm and alive inside his leather jacket. He rolls his window down, looks up at me, smiles. “Hey. You need a ride?”
His eyes are green now, fully human.
I always did have more curiosity than common sense, because instead of doing the smart thing and dropping back down to the twilight road beneath us, I step forward. “Which way you heading?”
“Sioux Falls. About fifty miles up.”
“I know where it is,” I say. “You’re Dean Winchester. You’re supposed to be dead.”
I did some digging on the handsome man with demon-black eyes and a big black car, enough to get a name, and the advice to stay the hell away.
But I’m curious, and while I can see the mark of the crossroads on him, the danger he carries like a second coat, he doesn’t remind me of Bobby Cross. He’s dangerous, sure, but not like that.
“I get that a lot,” he says, still smiling.
“You were looking for me before,” I say, and he shrugs, not denying it. “Everyone I talked to said to run like the wind if I came across you again.”
“That’s good advice.”
“You hunt things like me.”
He’s silent for a long moment. “You’re not hurting anybody,” he says finally, “and anyway, I’m retired. Get in. I’ll buy you a cheeseburger.”
“Well, in that case,” I say, and open the door.