"Giants and Sprouts"
This story originally appeared in the zine "Road Trip with My Brother," Volume 4, published by Agent With Style.
Thanks to Mysti, for the opportunity; and to Kati, for prodding me to take it. And thanks, as always, to stealthyone and Swanseajill for beta and feedback.
Written way back in November of 2006, this little fic was inspired during the drive home after a Thanksgiving visit my sister and I had with our mom. My sister was forced to listen to me go on (and on) about Supernatural and the fact that Pastor Jim lived nearby, and our conversation led to this story.
Hope you enjoy it!
"Giants and Sprouts"
In the Impala's passenger seat, Dean took his time rousing from his catnap. He rolled his shoulders and carefully pushed himself up a little straighter. Squinting a bit, he put up a hand to shade his eyes as he stared out the window to take closer note of their immediate surroundings. Driving east on I-90 into the mid-morning sun. So he'd only been asleep for a couple of hours.
Even with his head turned, he felt the weight of Sam's glance fall on him.
"Okay?" The single word held both concern and relief in equal measure.
"Yeah," he replied absently, dropping his hand from his eyes to smother a yawn. Or maybe it was a groan. Not that he'd admit it.
"Sure? Wanna stop? There's a rest area a few miles up ahead."
"Nah, I'm good. Really," he added, looking at Sam. "Unless you want to."
"Nah," Sam said, with another glance at Dean. "But, jeez, Dean, you look like crap."
"Me? Never. It's simply not possible."
Sam snorted. He didn't push, but Dean knew not all of his little brother's attention would be on the highway for a while.
For some reason, Sam had decided that just because Dean had taken a knock on the head last night thanks to an ornery spirit and a brass lamp, resulting in a lump and a brief moment of unconsciousness, he wasn't fit to drive this morning. Dean didn't really see the connection. So maybe his head had ached when he got up. Just a little. With a bit of dizziness thrown in. He'd taken the proffered painkillers from a sternly frowning Sam, gingerly negotiated his way through the dual feats of getting dressed and eating breakfast without passing out, and seen all the signs of Sammy gearing up for an argument on who would be driving. Sam had launched into his opening statement – really, the kid would make a great lawyer – and Dean had listened politely for a minute or two and then enjoyed the dumbfounded expression on Sammy's face when he'd simply tossed him the car keys and climbed in on the passenger side without a word.
He so got a kick out of messing with Sammy's head.
With an inward grin, he turned back to the scenery flowing past them. Early November, the fields were now bare – even of snow, surprisingly – except for the stubbled remains of mown cornstalks. Stands of wind-bent trees protectively encircled white farmhouses and red barns. Rolled-up stacks of hay, like giant bundles of shredded wheat cereal, dotted the landscape. The familiar countryside of southern Minnesota sent an odd wave of longing through him. He wondered if it was what other people, people with houses and yards and a tire swing on a tree in the backyard, might call homesickness.
He knew the fields in summer. Acres upon acres of soybeans. Or tall, green, waving stalks of corn. ("Knee-high by the Fourth of July," Pastor Jim had said cheerfully, every single summer. And it was always taller than Dean's knees on the Fourth of July, no matter how old he was.) Fields of corn stretching in all directions, rustling and growing practically right before their eyes, and he and Sam running down the rows in the long, dusky-blue twilight of a summer's night, laughing and calling to each other, dodging and hiding until the stars and the fireflies came out.
Dad used to leave them with Pastor Jim, sometimes, when he was off on a long hunt. When they were little. Dean had hated it at first. He'd missed his dad, and wondered what he'd done wrong to be left with a stranger. So he'd just looked after Sammy, as usual, and only grudgingly paid any mind at all to Jim because Dad had said he had to.
But Jim had slowly, gently won him around, and looking back Dean could ruefully compare it to taming a feral dog that had little use for humans. He'd been all snap and growl then, seven or eight years old. A sudden vivid image came to mind, and with a wince he remembered punching Jim in the face when the man had tried to coax him out of the closet he'd hidden in with Sammy.
"Dean? You okay?"
"Yeah, Sammy," he said, slanting a look over at his brother. Sam had no doubt caught the wince. "Just… You know where we are, right?" He turned away again, before Sam could see his face.
"Saw the sign a few miles back," Sam answered quietly. "Looks different, somehow."
"Yeah." The word came out in a long, slow sigh. "It's not summer." He stared sightlessly out the window. Remembering. They'd spent almost an entire summer here one year. Dad had left them and gone on a wild, desperate hunt, chasing something, always one step behind it seemed, and barely keeping in touch. Dean had fretted, had wanted to go along, and had sulked for days when told, very firmly, "No." He'd watched the Impala kick up a cloud of dust all the way down Jim's long driveway and out on the country road until both car and dust disappeared from sight. He had been ten years old that summer.
What a summer. Once he'd gotten over his initial resentment at being left behind, he'd rediscovered what two boys could get up to in the country on a lazy day in July. Wading in the creek that ran through Jim's property, looking for frogs. Chasing across the huge lawn and down dirt roads with Jim's dog. Playing with the stray cats in the barn.
God, it was all so Norman friggin' Rockwell.
"Remember the county fair?" he asked abruptly, not sure if the memories of a six-year-old Sam still resided in the Sam currently occupying the driver's seat.
He could see it, even now. A day in mid-August. A sky so blindingly, perfectly blue and brassy it almost hurt, the heat waves shimmering on sun-warmed earth. And the smells. Crushed grass and sweet clover. Caramel corn and cotton candy. Horses and hay. Cows and manure.
It had been the best day of his ten-year-old life.
"The fair?" Sam sounded thoughtful. "Yeah, I guess. I remember…riding a merry-go-round. And petting some animals –"
Dean smiled, and couldn't hold back the snort of laughter. "You petted every damn animal in the place. You dragged Jim and me into all the barns on the fairgrounds. Horses," he said, with a flick of his finger at Sam's ear. "And cows," he went on, with another flick which Sam failed to dodge. "And goats and rabbits. You even wanted to pet the damn chickens."
"I thought they were cute," Sam said defensively, batting Dean's hand away. "The baby chicks, I mean."
"Yeah, you would, you girl."
"And you won some big stuffed animal at the shooting gallery, you gun-totin' jerk."
"Huh," Dean said in surprise, looking over. "You're right. I did. Wasn't it purple, whatever it was?"
"It was big, that's all I remember." Sam flashed him a grin. "You sure impressed everyone with your shooting skills."
"Hey, exit coming up. Want to turn off?"
Dean saw the bright green highway sign looming. Blue Earth. He tipped his head in Sam's direction. "Nah," he said slowly. With a sad, crooked smile he added, "Wouldn't be the same, would it. I mean…" He shrugged. "Not unless you want to."
Sam shook his head. "No, you're right. Wouldn't be the same. Not without…" He raised one shoulder in an answering shrug. He didn't slow down. The familiar turnoff came and went.
Dean leaned closer to the side window and suddenly reached out to smack Sam on the arm. "Hey. You can see it from here. Trees are bare."
The tall shape rose up out of the landscape, clearly recognizable even from the freeway.
Sam craned his head to peer out Dean's side of the car while trying to watch the road at the same time. "What? What are you talking about?"
"Jolly Green Giant, dude! Look!" He pointed. "Just to the right of the Dairy Queen sign. See it?"
Sam let out a laugh. "Aw, man! There he is. Didn't Pastor Jim take our picture standing underneath him?"
"Yeah." Dean grinned. "Gotta love a sixty-foot green statue dedicated to a pre-Christian vegetation god."
Sam hadn't stopped laughing. "Pastor Jim didn't quite agree with your interpretation, Dean," he spluttered. "Even Dad laughed at that one when Jim told him."
"Hey, I was ten. I thought it made a lot of sense."
"Is that why you hate vegetables?" Sam snickered. "Scared of the Jolly Green Giant?"
Dean hooked an arm over the back seat, turning to get one last glimpse of the statue through the rear window. The head and shoulders stood above the treetops, and he could even make out the arms, posed akimbo.
Facing front again, he said, "The Giant? Nah, he's cool. It was that Little Green Sprout guy I couldn't stand."
"He's more your size, though." Sam flicked him a look. "Shorty."
"Bigfoot freak," Dean returned genially.
"Vertically-challenged perpetual adolescent."
Blue Earth and the Jolly Green Giant faded away, lost in the distance miles and years ago, along with bright summer days, starry nights, and Pastor Jim, waving farewell with a whispered good-bye. The highway stretched out before them, straight as a ruler, the empty fields falling away on either side into infinity.