Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Author's Note: For spncrackfic's Phobia challenge.
He thought he had instilled in his boys everything worth knowing, everything that could fend off tragedy and keep them safe, whole and complete. But clearly that was not the case. Clearly there had been certain lessons he'd let fall by the wayside, certain warnings he'd failed to issue. Else his sons would not be here now, sitting casually and peacefully, gathered round the table with her. Irene Gaffman. Two hundred and twenty years old, by the looks of her. Wrinkled and aged, thick glasses only magnifying her one crooked, lazy eye, somewhat concealed by the thick fold of loose skin that used to be an actual, human eyelid.
And they're eating cookies, that her decrepit, arthritis-ridden hands had made, mixed and formed the dough with those skeletal, age spotted monstrosities.
And they're listening to her speak, slow and deliberate words that drag on for eternity – Oooh, yooouuu knooow hooow it wassss – and never seem to make a point.
"Boys," he says, interrupting the too disturbing show before him.
They all three look up, Sam smiling with chocolate smeared at his lips, Dean's face cautious, heeding the terse quality to his father's voice. And her, Irene, smiling bright and wide, tiny yellowed teeth shimmering at him like a shark's.
"Irene gave us cookies," Sam utters merrily.
"Ooooh," she starts, dragging it all out, as though she somehow thinks she has time to speak in such a way, as though she doesn't realize that at this rate she'll likely fall dead before getting out a single full thought. "I just looove the company."
Her hand falls onto Sammy's and pats his soft supple baby skin, one, two, three times, slow and pained, before John nearly yelps, "Let's go, boys," reaching out quickly and pulling his son away from her.
Sam and Dean follow, leaving the lovely, cookie making Irene behind, and traipse along behind their father back up the stairs to their own apartment. "Dad," Dean says softly after closing the door behind him, "are you mad or something?"
John spins around in a flash, stares the kid down with one long finger thrust out in a warning gesture. "You are not to go back to that woman's apartment again," he orders, voice a deep and warning rumble. "Understand?"
Dean nods, gripping Sammy close beside him. "Yes sir," he answers for them both.
"Good," John nods, leaving his sons behind and heading hurriedly for the shower.
But even the heavy, warm pulse of streaming water can't wash the images from his brain. Liver spots metastasizing like a horrid cancer all over nearly transparent skin, yellow tinted, loose and wrinkled. Gray hair.
He shudders involuntarily. Gray. Thank God he lived in a world of back and white.
Irene Gaffman. She was still downstairs, still sitting at her table, either too weak or too senile to move. She was right there, right below him, slowly dying, deflating, wrinkling and rotting and… "Pack up, boys," he shouts through the closed bathroom door. "We're heading out."
Her face follows him for days, a hundred miles doing nothing to drive a wedge between them. And of course it doesn't help that Sam keeps bringing her up, even after Dean shushes the small boy, he at least sensing his father's desire to leave the woman behind.
"Irene makes the best cookies ever," he spews from the back seat, happily bouncing and staring out the window. "When we get wherever we're going, can we give our address so she can send us some?"
"No," John booms without explanation.
But the boy is unfazed. "She said we could call her Grandma Irene," he mutters absently. "Why don't we have a grandma?"
Dean, noticing his father's face flush, eye twitch, leans back quickly and responds, "Because we don't," the only real answer he has to offer.
"Dad?" Sammy singsongs, eyeing him in the rearview mirror. "Did you have a grandma?"
John's breath hitches in his chest, the world, the road ahead of him dulling at the edges, funneling into black. "No," he answers quickly, working to keep the spinning sensation at bay.
Dean leans in close and asks in a conspiratorial whisper, "Dad, are you okay?" And John nods, incapable of speech.
They stop shortly after, get a room where the boys immediately get comfy in front of some free HBO while John looms in the bathroom, the only private area he's ever afforded. He looks in the mirror, eyes raw from constant rubbing, skin slick with panicked sweat. They're killing him, all of them, every one he sees, hobbling down the hall with a walker and driving – driving! – down the road, nothing but a white top of the head visible above the steering wheel. Their eerily forthcoming smiles, hideous patterned clothes, too large bifocal glasses, gold rimmed, with pearl chains to keep them from getting lost.
Irene Gaffman, with her terrifying, half dead fingers caressing his son, shoving cookies in his innocent little mouth.
His own grandmother, Grandma Elsa, sitting back in a darkened corner, mumbling about her stories – Can't hear my stories over all your damn racket! – while listening to the radio. One long, glowing menthol cigarette dangling perilously from the tips of her stained fingers at all times, when listening to her stories, when preparing meals of beef liver or ham hocks, because, If it was good enough for us then, it's good enough for you now. She smoked when she knitted, odd shaped little sweaters that fit no human. And when she sat, utterly still, eyes closed, as he brushed her long gray hair, counting out the strokes, occasionally stopping thinking she might be dead, only to be driven back into the number line by a raucous cough and a get on, boy.
Every one of them was the same in his book. And he had evidence to prove it. Because who tended to be the scary witch who issued forth hexes on the poor children who traipsed through her garden? An old woman. And who placed the voodoo curses, turned men into zombies, sold spells for a price? Old women.
The fairy tales are right. Hansel and Gretel nearly devoured, Rapunzel kept locked away in her tower, Snow White fed the poisoned apple – by old freaking women.
He stands, bent and broken, in front of the mirror, staring wide eyed at his own reflection. Unable to close his heavy lids, unable to peer into that wonderful dark that so often heralds peaceful sleep – because it's been days sleep has come – lest Irene's face pop into his consciousness. Or his Grandma Elsa, cloaked by shadow in her corner as she threatens him with cutting his own switch.
He shudders once more, tries to shake the thoughts clear from his mind, and opens the door, readying himself to share with his sons yet another harbinger of evil, confident in the hope that, like usual, they will heed his word and steer clear of this perilous foe. Because behind all the sweet old lady lies, he knows, hides a host of truly malicious agendas.
Trust an old woman, and your bound to get eaten, or cursed. Or worse.