Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural or the characters of Sam and Dean.
I wrote this one-shot for a picture prompt challenge. Sadly, I can't put the address up here as a hyperlink, but if you really want to know what the picture was, you can go to http://summerskin dot under-my-umbrella dot org/spn/challenge/ghosts dot jpg
Long Past Time
"What do we have?"
"Redgate, Oklahoma. Four drownings in the local mill pond in the last two years, three last winter, one so far this year. All young people."
"Sounds like they need to put a fence round the pond."
"The water's only three feet deep."
"...OK, we're going."
There were two of them, the boys. Men really, though the younger one still hadn't quite lost the softness of youth. They rolled into Jenny's Diner about four, tired and dusty from the road, asking for coffee but really looking for information. It was clear as day from the way the older one grinned and cracked jokes and the younger one asked earnest questions. Reporters, or maybe writing a book. Maybe even plain-clothes feds. Probably not, though – Jenny wasn't sure cops were allowed to have hair like that.
Jenny was Jenny number five, the fifth woman in her family to bear the name and the fifth proprietor of the diner. Redgate was not the sort of place that wore change well, and the inhabitants were contented enough to stay set in their ways and keep the old place happy. Jenny's Diner had been there since before the town's oldest inhabitant, Agnes Tucker, had been born, and Jenny had no doubt that it would remain long after Jenny number six, currently just out of high school, was six feet under.
Another thing that never changed was the ghost. It was that that the two boys were asking about, cautiously, skating around the subject as if they didn't want folks to realise what they were there for. As if strangers ever came to Redgate for anything else. A place like this, people were either open or closed, but whatever the character of Redgate's inhabitants might have been, it was never difficult to find someone to tell ghost stories.
"So apparently the ghost's been there for ever."
"How come the deaths only started last year then?"
"Maybe it got bored."
Kids had been going out to the old mill for generations on dark nights in the fall, the girls shivering and screaming, the boys taking the opportunity to comfort them, all of them both hoping and not hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost. Jenny number six used to go at least once a year. Jenny number five had been in her own high school days, not so long ago as people always thought. Even Agnes Tucker had gone, back only a few years after the war, and swore she had seen it, too, though she was always one for tall tales.
Jenny number five thought she had seen the ghost, once. She hadn't screamed, though, and she had never told anyone about it. A flash of white, running, always running, and the glimpse of a face that looked like it had lost everything it ever had. It didn't seem right, somehow, to take enjoyment out of such suffering.
Of course, that was before the deaths had started.
"So I went back through the archives at the library, and there was another rash of drownings about eighty years ago. Three or four kids a year, for five years. Then the old farm house out there burned down, and the drownings just stopped."
"Oh yeah? Any suspects?"
"There was a body found in the wreckage, some drifter. The police thought he set the fire, and maybe drowned the kids, too. Was a suspect in a murder case in another state. He burned to death."
"Nice. Well, you think he's the one haunting the place?"
"Maybe. But if he was living out there the whole five years, drowning kids, I would have thought someone would have noticed. Plus, he's already burned, so how could he come back?"
"Right. Well, I guess it's back to the library for you, geek boy."
"What are you gonna do?"
"I gotta see a man about a dog."
The farmhouse out by the mill pond had burned years before, during the war, and the only folks left now that still remembered it hadn't been but children at the time and would be shuffling off the mortal coil soon enough anyway. But every inhabitant of Redgate had heard the story of how the women and children and old folks had battled to stop the fire spreading to the woods and the town so often that it might as well have been their hands dragging buckets to the blaze, their forearms blistering in the heat. These days, there was only Agnes and a few other old-timers that actually had been there, but there were plenty still who had heard the story from their mothers and told it to their children. Two people had died that day, one drowned, one burned, and things like that were not quickly forgotten.
Jenny number six had come home from the high school one day and said that the kids were telling stories about how it was the drifter who burned the old farm that haunted it now. Jenny number five had told her, as all the kids' parents had undoubtedly told them the same night, that the ghost had been there long before that. It didn't do to forget details, not when it might be a matter of life and death.
Even so, there had been a change with the fire, because since then people sometimes saw ghostly flames along with the running figure. Jenny number five had never seen the flames, but one night Jenny number six had crawled into her bed and whispered that she thought she had, but that she hadn't been scared.
That was before the deaths, too. Jenny number six was not allowed to go out there any more.
"Ready to go?"
"Why do we always have to go ghost-hunting in the dark?"
"Because they don't come out in the daytime, genius. Get in the car."
She saw them pull out and drive west as the sun was setting. It was obvious where they were going. They all went there, the journalists, the thrill-seekers, the ambulance chasers. These two were different, though. They were tired, and, despite the brash confidence of the older, they were still young enough for it to want them. Jenny felt like she maybe never had been that young. So she got in her own car and followed them.
The moon was already up, half-full and looking like it was flying through the clouds. She remembered Jenny number four telling her once that the moon was like a ship, sailing in the sky. It had never looked like that to her, but she had told Jenny number six the same thing anyway. It was human nature to avoid change, and it didn't do to forget.
The ruins of the old farm were long overgrown now, and looked like dark hummocks against the western sky, still glowing with the last of the dusk. The two boys were nothing but silhouettes, moving quietly and methodically across the ground, searching for something. Jenny could have told them that they were looking in the wrong places, looking at the mill pond when they should be looking at the forest, because that's where it always came from. She didn't say anything, though, just got out of her car at a distance and watched them.
The older one was over by the house, now, and Jenny wondered what he thought he would find there, and shivered in the cooling dusk air. When she felt someone standing behind her, she thought at first that one of the boys had crept around, but when she turned she knew she was wrong.
"Freakin EMF's going off the scale. You see anything?"
"No. There's nothing here. The house was totally burned."
"Yeah, well, there's gotta be something. It's here somewhere."
His face didn't look the same, not like the one that she'd seen back in her high school days and had thought about from time to time ever since. He looked younger, pale and flickering in and out, but he still looked lost. He wasn't looking at her, though, although he was standing close enough to touch if there had been anything solid about him. He was looking past her, out at the edge of the forest, and when Jenny turned and saw the running figure she knew that they had all ben wrong, the whole town, all this time.
There were two of them, the ghosts.
The one behind her was tall, and she wasn't afraid of him. The one racing across the clearing towards the mill-pond had a crazy, desperate look in his eye, and she was afraid for him.
He can't stop it any
Jenny wasn't even sure she had heard anything at all, maybe just a whisper of the wind in the trees. Can't stop what She thought, and watched as the second ghost slid to his knees by the pond, reaching, pulling something out of the water.
The two boys were still standing in the ruins of the old house, arguing about something, the tones of their voices carrying to where Jenny stood, but not the words. In front of them, in full view, the ghost was kneeling in the mud, a long body laid out before him, dripping wet, both of them flickering in and out like a light bulb with a loose connection. The boys seemed to see nothing.
He can't stop it.
This time Jenny was sure she had heard something, but when she turned her head all she saw was the darkness beneath the trees. She took a step forward to where the boy had been standing behind her, and stumbled on something buried under the grass. Dropping into a crouch, she dug her fingers among the strands, feeling around the edges of the object, because Jenny number three had always told her that you should never ignore what your heart told you to do, even if your head said it was crazy.
Glancing behind her, she saw that the second ghost had looked up, was looking at her, looking through her, with that face full of anguish that she recognised from years before. In his arms he held a tall young man whose body was limp and empty of life, and she recognised him, too, because he had been standing behind her only moments before.
One of the thrill-seekers—the younger one—strode to the edge of the pond, walked right i through /i the flickering tableau, holding something up and waving it around. Jenny's hand closed round the object under the grass, and the wind in the trees sighed you can stop it.
"Shit, yeah. EMF's gone completely haywire over here."
"Dude, who's that?"
"Isn't that the waitress from the diner? What's she doing here?"
"I don't know, but looks like she wants to talk to us, man."
"We're not breaking any trespassing laws, are we?"
"How should I know? You're the geek, geek."
"Shut up. Act natural."
The ghosts were gone now, both of them, all of them, however many of them there were. Jenny concealed the book as the older one eyed her with suspicion. It didn't seem right to just hand it over. It seemed like it was important. Neither of them trusted her, she could see that from the way they stood, giving away a lot more than they thought they were. It didn't make her mad; she didn't trust them either.
The running ghost reappeared suddenly, back to Jenny, marching towards the ruins of the house with a pale shotgun in his hand. She called out to him, to ask him what to do, what he wanted, but he didn't look back, just disappeared into the ruins, and a moment later the whole place went up in ghostly flames, Jenny gasped, and the two tired young men shifted uneasily and exchanged glances and looked around and saw nothing. They didn't see the fire, and they didn't see the other ghost appear amongst the flames and stare straight at Jenny and sink slowly through the floor.
"There's a basement," Jenny said.
"Can you believe this, man? We're freakin digging up solid concrete!"
"She said there was a basement."
"She said the place was on fire, too! She's freakin crazy!"
"Maybe she's just... more attuned to the supernatural than we are."
"More attuned? What are you, a politician? Just say psychic, for God's sake."
"OK, maybe she's psychic."
"Don't be an idiot. There's no such thing."
The young men covered the bones they found in the basement in salt, and then burned them. Jenny watched them, knowing that these remains didn't belong to either of the spirits she had seen, and knowing all the same that the children of Redgate were safe from now on. She didn't know how she knew, but Jenny number three had once told her that sometimes, you just know.
When they were done, the young men shuffled their feet and looked nervous and asked her if she wanted a ride back into town. Jenny declined, and they left, bickering softly all the way to their beat-up pick-up.
Jenny opened the book she had found beneath the grass. The cover was half rotted away, soft with slime but surprisingly intact given that, from the date that headed the first page, the thing was over eighty years old. I went to Missouri and learned the truth, she read, before something made her lift her head, and she saw the young man running, running towards the mill pond, his eyes wide and desperate, and the wind in the trees whispered you can stop it.
The book was difficult to light, decades of moisture soaking the pages, and it burned with a smoky flame. Through the smoke, she thought she could see a tale, pale young man smiling at her before he flickered and was gone.
"Jesus, I cannot believe you're playing Highway to Hell. When are you going to get some taste in music?"
"Hey, my music is classic."
"It's a hundred years old, is what it is. Literally. Didn't they have the centennial dedication like ten years ago?"
"That's called staying power. You should look it up some time."
"Ha ha. Want to get coffee?"
Jenny number five smiled as she pulled into her driveway. Some things, most things, never changed, just passed on down the generations as they had done since time was invented. But tonight, something had changed in Redgate, Oklahoma.
And it was long past time.