What Sammy Knows - Riverbella

Sammy gets the idea from a t.v. show he sees one night. (It's past his bedtime, but Dean and he are by themselves and Dean falls asleep before he tells Sammy to go to bed.) In the show, this kid's sister gets sick and dies. He wants to tell her something, so he writes her a letter and burns it up in a fire. The smoke carries his message to her up in heaven.

The only person Sammy knows about who is in heaven, besides God and Jesus, is his mommy. His daddy tells him that's where she is. So he thinks about sending her a message. (Sammy may be only in the first grade, but he knows his letters already because Dean taught them to him even before Sammy went to school.) But he can't think of anything to say. He doesn't really remember his mommy. He was just a tiny baby when she went to heaven. She might not remember him either.

But it's still a cool idea, sending a letter to heaven, so Sammy tucks it away in his memory.

One time Sammy asks his daddy why his mommy left them and went to heaven. Daddy doesn't answer. Sammy doesn't ask again because of how it makes Daddy look so sad. (Lots of things make Daddy sad.) Sammy still wants to know, though, so he asks Dean.

Don't ask, Sammy, Dean tells him, you don't want to know.

Dean says that a lot. He says that when Sammy asks him about Mommy, and he says that when Sammy asks him where Daddy goes when he goes away, and he says that when Sammy asks him why they have to move all the time.

But Sammy does want to know. So he watches and listens instead of asking. He's good at that.

Here are some of the things he hears and sees:

Daddy's car (he calls it "his girl" sometimes, which Sammy thinks is kind of silly) has a great, big trunk with a secret compartment. One time Sammy sneaks a peek into the secret place and it is full of guns and knives and things. (Maybe Daddy is a spy. Sammy knows about spies from t.v. and from the Mad magazine Dean reads to him sometimes.) This is kind of cool.

It's a little scary, too.

Sometimes when Sammy has to get up at night to pee or get a drink of water, he hears Daddy talking to himself. Except he's not really talking to himself. He's talking to a picture of Mommy. (Sammy sees this when he can sneak a look at Daddy without being caught.) But it's sort of the same thing since Mommy isn't there.

Daddy says I'm so sorry, Mary and I miss you so much and I'm doing the best I can for the boys and I'll get the son of a bitch who did this to us. (Daddy swears a lot, but he yells when Dean or Sammy do it.) Sammy wonders who the son of a bitch is, but he knows better than to ask.

Sometimes Daddy doesn't talk when he looks at Mommy's picture. Sometimes he just cries.

When Daddy goes away, he leaves Sammy and Dean with friends. Like Pastor Jim or Caleb or Bobby. (Sammy likes Pastor Jim the best.) Or sometimes, he just leaves them by themselves.

This is okay, because Dean takes care of Sammy. He makes sure Sammy has food and brushes his teeth and has his bath and all that other you have to stuff. But he also watches t.v. with Sammy, and reads to him, and plays with him (they have battles with Dean's toy soldiers and sometimes Sammy gets to win), and gives him the last bowl of Lucky Charms. Dean lets Sammy sleep in his bed with him if Sammy has a bad dream or if he's just sad because Daddy is gone.

Dean is his big brother and he is strong and brave and he knows everything (almost). But Dean looks sad, too, when Daddy goes away.

And sometimes Dean looks scared.

One time, Sammy wakes up in the dark and hears Daddy come home after he has been away a long time and Sammy and Dean have been alone the whole time. He wakes up because of the thumping noises and because Dean cries out Dad! and Daddy shushes him.

Sammy sneaks out of bed and peers through the crack in the bedroom door. Daddy is sitting on a chair with a towel wrapped around his arm. There is blood on the towel and blood on the floor beside Daddy.

Dean comes in carrying Daddy's first aid kit from the bathroom. Daddy takes the towel off his arm and Sammy sees deep, ugly scratches all down Daddy's arm. It makes him feel sick, but he can't look away.

Daddy talks softly to Dean and Dean nods and opens the first aid kit. Daddy takes a big gulp from a bottle of whiskey (he calls it "Jack" and the one time Sammy sneaks a sip he almost chokes because it tastes so awful). Then Dean starts to wipe the blood off Daddy's arm with a piece of cloth soaked in something from the kit. Daddy hisses. Dean is so pale his freckles stand out like ants on a white sheet

Sammy has to clap his hands over his mouth then. He runs back to bed and hides under the covers. He doesn't sleep any more that night.

Daddy has a book he writes in all the time. Dean says it is Daddy's journal and they are not allowed to look in it. Sammy thinks maybe Daddy keeps lots of his secrets in there, but he doesn't look.

Not for a long time, anyway.

The night the awful thing happens to Dean, it is summer and Sammy has just finished the first grade. Daddy moves them right after school is out and they go to live in a little house that smells bad. (Dean says it smells like cat piss, but Sammy doesn't know how Dean knows that since they've never had a cat.)

They are in Alabama. It is hot and damp all the time and hard to sleep at night. The house is near a junkyard. Big, mean dogs prowl around behind the fence and bark if they see anyone. Dean says not to worry, though, because the dogs can't get out and anyway Daddy says they won't live here long.

On that night, Daddy tells Sammy and Dean they're going for a ride. He tells Sammy to bring his pillow because they may be out late and Sammy can sleep in the car. Sammy climbs in the back seat. He wants Dean to come in back with him so they can talk and play, but Daddy wants Dean in the front. Sammy pouts, but Dean ruffles his hair and gets in front like Daddy tells him (Dean almost always does what Daddy tells him).

All on the way, Daddy keeps looking over at Dean. Once, he puts his hand on Dean's shoulder and says How ya doin' soldier? Sammy has never heard him call Dean that before.

After a while, they are far away from town and Daddy turns off the regular road onto a gravel road. The car bounces and jounces over the gravel. Then Daddy pulls into a field and stops. He turns around and looks at Sammy. His eyes are all glittery looking.

You stay here in the car, son, he tells Sammy. He says that he and Dean are going to take a little walk and they will be back soon. Sammy is to stay in the car and wait for them and not get out of the car for any reason.

Daddy's voice sounds funny, like he's mad or something. Sammy doesn't think he did anything wrong.

Daddy and Dean get out of the car and start to walk away over the field. Daddy is carrying a bag over his shoulder and he lights their way with a flashlight. Dean's shoulders are all hunched up. Sammy hits the window with his hand and waves when Dean turns to look at him. Dean waves back, but it doesn't stop the funny feeling in Sammy's stomach.

Sammy wants to get out of the car and follow Daddy and Dean. But Daddy said to stay put, and he will be mad if Sammy disobeys. It is really, really dark out. Soon he can't even see the light from Daddy's flashlight any more. So he wraps his arms around himself and tells himself they will be back soon like Daddy said. Soon. Any minute now.

They are gone for a long, long time.

Sammy is feeling very scared and alone when Daddy and Dean finally return. He is so glad to see them he almost jumps out of the car to run to them. Daddy is carrying Dean and at first Sammy thinks his older brother is just asleep. When they are almost to the car, though, he sees that something is wrong.

Dean is limp in Daddy's arms. Daddy's shirt is off and tied around Dean's chest. The left side of it is soaked with blood. Dean's face is very white.

Open the door, Sammy, his daddy orders. It takes Sammy a moment to obey because he is frozen with fear for Dean. When he does, Daddy lays Dean on the seat. Sammy scootches over to make room.

Is he okay, Daddy? Is Dean okay? Is he dead? Daddy?

Daddy tells him Dean will be okay. Daddy says it over and over while he gets in the car and drives them away from the field. It sounds like he is talking to himself.

Sammy starts to cry. If Dean goes away like Mommy, Sammy thinks he will probably never stop crying. He is afraid to touch Dean but he really wants to. Finally, he pats Dean's cheek and Dean makes a little noise and moves against Sammy's hand.

Sammy leaves his hand on his brother's face all the rest of the way home.

Daddy fixes Dean up. Dean has bruises and scratches on his chest and side. Daddy makes Sammy leave the room while he fixes Dean, but Sammy sees before he goes. Later, he asks what happened, but Daddy just blinks at him and tells him to go to bed and get some sleep. He wants to get in Dean's bed, but Daddy says no.

It takes Sammy a long time to go to sleep. Daddy sits in a chair beside Dean's bed all night long. He writes in his journal, and sometimes he mumbles things while he writes. Sammy can't hear most of what Daddy says, but he gets a few words. Damned rawhead…fuck was I thinking…bait…God, Dean, sorry, sorry.

Dean is awake and feeling better the next day. Daddy makes him take pills and stay in bed. He grumps about that but when he gets up to pee Sammy can tell Dean still hurts.

Sammy asks Dean what happened. Dean tells him they, Dean and Daddy, went in this old barn they found and he fell and hurt himself on a board with nails in it. It's a lie, though. Dean is a pretty good liar, except with Sammy. Dean can't look at Sammy when he tells a lie, so Sammy always knows. But Sammy also knows he can't make Dean tell him the truth, so he lets it go. He thinks he has another way to find out.

In the afternoon, Dean falls asleep and so does Daddy. (Daddy starts drinking "Jack" after lunch and that usually makes him sleepy.) Sammy finds Daddy's journal on the kitchen table and he sits right down and opens it. There are pictures and pieces of newspaper and lots of messy writing that Sammy can't read very well in the journal. He wants to look at all of it, but he is afraid Daddy might wake up and catch him, so he turns the pages fast until he finds the last thing his daddy wrote.

This part is just as messy, but Sammy stares at it hard and tries to spell out the words. There are lots of words he doesn't know, but he finds some he does know. (Sammy is good at reading. His final report card from first grade says he reads above his grade level.) He finds "Dean" (that one's easy) and "hunt" and "barn" and "children" and "eat" and "dark." He finds "bait," which is one of the words he heard Daddy say last night. Then he finds a word he thinks is another thing Daddy said last night. The word is "rawhead."

After that, he finds "monster."

Pastor Jim always tells Sammy that God hears everybody's prayers. But Sammy thinks that is an awful lot of prayers for God to remember. Sammy decides to send God a letter in heaven, like the kid on the t.v. He doesn't want to take a chance on God forgetting this prayer.

Sammy writes the note out carefully. (It comes out a little lopsided, but he doesn't think God will mind.)

Dear god, Help my brother from monsters.

Sammy finds matches in Daddy's jacket pocket. He's been told not to play with matches, but he isn't playing so maybe it doesn't count. He checks to make sure Daddy and Dean are still asleep (they are) and then goes out in the back yard.

The yard is small and the grass is mostly dead. There are plenty of twigs on the ground from a couple of scraggly bushes behind the house. Sammy makes a small pile of twigs and squats down to light them on fire. It isn't easy. He uses almost all the matches and burns two fingers before the twigs finally begin to blaze.

Sammy drops the letter onto the little fire quickly because the twigs are burning up fast. The paper catches right away and goes up in a bright tongue of flame. Sammy watches a thin wisp of smoke rise up into the air as the letter falls away to ashes. He can't see the smoke for long, but he is pretty sure it will keep on going all the way to heaven.

Sammy doesn't know everything. He doesn't know exactly what happened to his brother that night. Or exactly where his daddy goes when he leaves them (except that he thinks maybe the guns in the trunk and the other stuff in the journal have a lot to do with it and that his daddy isn't a spy after all). He still doesn't know why his mommy went to heaven, or who the son of a bitch is, or why they have to move all the time.

But he does know that there are monsters out there in the dark, and that his daddy and his brother know that, too, and that one of the monsters almost got Dean.

And he knows that he has done the best a little brother can do to keep the monsters from ever hurting his big brother again.

For now, that has to be enough.