Chapter 1

John jammed the shovel back into the ground, scooping up another clump of dirt out of the growing hole before him. He was in a small glade, set back off of a muddy, country road. A place no one would give a second glance to, if they didn't know what to look for -- the symmetrical placement of the widely spaced trees, the Morning Glory vines and flowers which had spread and thrived there over the years. The site hadn't been made by nature, but by man. And it'd been here so long, it had become almost completely forgotten.

The Impala's headlights lit up the area, letting him go about his work. Grains of rock salt glittered in the light from where he'd systematically poured them out in a large circle beyond the ring of trees, giving him an area big enough to work in.

He wiped at the sweat forming at his brow despite the night's coolness, the cloying scent of the Morning Glories mixing in with the stench of his labors. John had taken steps, not wanting any more interruptions. He wanted to get this over and done with.

He was running late. And he hated being late. He'd estimated this job would be finished about twenty hours ago, but he'd been wrong. The location of the gravesite had proved illusive and the ghost he was trying to get rid of a lot more attuned with his surroundings and also way too stubborn about staying on this plane.

John jammed the shovel back into the ground again, letting his pent up frustrations help speed him along. If all went as it should, and he broke a few speeding laws, he might be able to make up some of the time on his way back.

He'd been away from the boys too long. Being gone from them a day or two he could handle. Even with the fear that always nipped at the back of his neck when he wasn't with them, the 'what if's' running rampant on the things which could go wrong while he was gone. But the job needed to get done. And the danger was low if he was only gone a short time. He'd drilled all he could into Dean until his eldest son could virtually recite what to do under any possible situation in his sleep.

But John still worried. Always worried. He knew the statistics. The longer his sons went unsupervised the higher the likelihood something might happen. And he knew his boys. He'd been able to pound some patience into Dean for the hunt, but on anything else his son had the tolerance of a gnat. Sammy didn't mind being indoors, but even he had his limits. Children needed sunlight, they needed to be outside, they needed to play. Cooping them up for too long was unhealthy, and he knew it, but he didn't have much choice. Not if the work was going to get done, not if people would be saved from the things hiding in the night.

And leaving his sons with anyone else was not an option.

The shovel plunged hard into the dirt.

The few people he'd grown close to since the loss of his beloved Mary would argue the point. Had argued the point. On one or two occasions he and Bobby had almost came to blows. It was harder to do with Pastor Jim, but the mounting silences had amounted to much the same. They both thought they knew what was best, but they didn't. They just didn't understand the danger. These were his sons! He couldn't afford to take the risk.

But he also couldn't bring them everywhere with him. The work he did was too dangerous to involve them in…yet. The incident with the shtrigga had taught him one could never be too careful – that the evil could be smart and track him as well or better than he could them. So though they all traveled together, he kept his sons always a town over from where the trouble lay. This way no matter what happened, the creatures or the evil he was trying to deal with wouldn't impinge on them or try to use them against him.

Plus John needed his sons. They were his one weakness, but also his greatest source of strength. He could see pieces of Mary in them. They were the only remnants of her he had left. He'd be lost without them. They grounded him, kept him in the world. Otherwise he would burn himself from within with rage and his need for vengeance and cease to be.

Though on some late nights, when the booze was flowing more than usual and the memories came hard and cut deep, he sometimes doubted they would be enough to keep him from self destructing.

How many nights had he stayed awake just so he could watch over them, study them while they slept and make sure they were safe? To convince himself he had not lost them when he wasn't looking.

Brutal nightmares visited him when he hadn't seen them for too long, his fears building in his subconscious like a disease the longer he was gone from them. The raging doubts that came and went about whether or not he could ever keep them safe from what was out there. He'd failed his wife, but he would rather die than fail his sons as well.

His shovel struck something metallic. Good, soon this job too would be finished, another evil gotten rid of – making sure it would not destroy another family as his had been destroyed. He glanced at the protective circle around the area to make sure it was still intact. The gasoline and salt he'd need were in the duffel at his feet. In fifteen minutes tops it would be over.

A familiar revving sound echoed in the glade. The Impala's engine had turned over.

John looked up in surprise, knowing the keys were still in his pocket.

The headlights grew brighter as the car shifted into gear and headed in his direction.

Salt rings had never been meant to keep out 3500 pounds of moving steel.

Swearing, John dropped the shovel and ran toward the nearest tree.