A/N: In our younger years, I attempted to help one of my brothers, Trevor, overcome his fear of spiders. His screams were always very shrill when he spotted one, despite my father's best efforts to teach Trevor how to swat at them with a shoe. Trevor told me he dreamed of jumping spiders and talking spiders and this made sense to me, as McQueens tend to have creative and interesting dreams. I, too, tried to teach him how to stomp on spiders or catch them in a glass, but his fear remained steadfast. I fear this has never changed; however, we do have hope for the future. This is for you, Trev.
By Deanie McQueen
Dean isn't sure when it had started. With his brother's playpen, perhaps, or with the rusty chain-link in the back of their babysitter's yard. It's gotten worse as the years have passed by: a small little annoyance blooming into a crippling phobia.
Sam Winchester is scared of fences.
They've dealt with it long enough that Dean's run out of jokes and ways to tease. He no longer bothers to point out how ridiculous it is, or to ask why someone as logical as Sam allows such a fear to hold influence. That's just the way it is. The sun will rise, the grass will want water, and Sam will cringe when they get too close to Mrs. Poppyseed's split-rail fence.
Mrs. Poppyseed is a little batshit and a lot of spectacular. She opens her door dressed in a pink moo moo and Batman slippers and asks them what the hell they want in between sucks of her cigarette. Nothing much, they tell her, only a few minutes of her time, and plaster on good-boy smiles as they ask about the strange house at the end of the street.
"Fucking ghosts in that fucking house. Y'all are more idiotic than you look if you don't know that by now," Mrs. Poppyseed says, and cracks a toothy grin of her own when Sam's jaw twitches tellingly. "Now you two boys want some potato chip cookies, or what? Get inside my fucking house." And when they blink, she orders, "Now."
Dean nearly trips over her personalized doormat ("Come Back with a Warrant!") in his haste and only turns his head back long enough to make sure Sam's following.
The inside of Mrs. Poppyseed's house smells of cumin and play-doh and Dean admires her collection of glass eyes as they walk down the short hall. They stare at him from their spot on the shelving, not a speck of dust to be seen. He likes them for some strange reason, and his fingers twitch to put one in his pocket.
Sam clears his throat and somehow, Dean resists.
"Y'all are slower than my second husband," Mrs. Poppyseed says when they get in the kitchen, one hand on her hip and the other on a monstrous knife, "and I cut his legs off on our fifth date."
Sam might let out a small squeak, but this whole situation just amuses Dean to no end. He sits himself down at the kitchen table, all relaxed grace and charm. "And he still married you?" he asks, curious.
Mrs. Poppyseed smiles. "Didn't leave him with much choice, now did I?" she says, and turns around to continue chopping at a suspicious cut of meat. "Not many people 'round these parts want to marry a legless man. 'Cept me, of course."
Dean cackles happily, because this might be the most amazing day in recent memory, and kicks out a chair for Sam, who's still standing by the kitchen entrance like a loser.
Sam reluctantly sits down when Mrs. Poppyseed demands it ("I've been known to cut off arms, as well"), and stares out the window like it's the last time he'll ever see daylight. He stays like that while Dean chats up his new favorite friend, swapping ghost stories and learning more about the haunted house they're here to set right.
Mrs. Poppyseed ("Call me Belinda, dear") tells them all about Jack and his murderous habits, the way everyone always suspected he killed his victims in the attic and buried them in the basement with the other old bones. Searches led to no answers, of course, but no one's occupied the house for years and the screaming never stops.
"Always worse on Wednesdays," Belinda remarks, looking on proudly as Dean munches on another cookie. His belly is full and happy, full of butter and crushed chips.
"Why's that?" Dean asks.
"Wednesday's as good a day as any other," she says, shrugging. "I like to think it's because there's nothing good on the television. Ghosts get bored, same as anyone else. Might as well scream."
Dean's heard worse theories, so he nods and keeps grabbing cookies until Sam kicks him under the table, face full of pout. Hungry, no doubt, as he hasn't eaten since breakfast and declined a perfectly acceptable cookie-lunch. Dean grabs one more cookie with a defiant hand and listens as Belinda goes on about her days as a professional thief. She laughs when he makes a show of patting his pockets and laughs harder when Sam makes no attempt to hide his scowl.
Glancing at his watch, Dean finally gives into his brother's increasingly bad mood and makes their excuses to leave. Sam brightens instantly, and leads the way to the front door.
"Say hello to Jack for me," Belinda calls from the front porch as they walk to the Impala. Sam closes his eyes like he always does when he walks through a gate. "He may have been an idiot, but he was damned fine looking. Shame about the murders." She hawks and spits on one of her rose bushes, waving a hand in farewell before disappearing inside.
"Could have been friendlier," Dean remarks as they pull away from the curb. "Slice you're more fond of being ungrateful, or something."
"Ungrateful?" Sam screeches. "Dean, the woman was insane."
"Nah," Dean smiles to himself, the taste of cookie still heavy on his tongue. "Eccentric, maybe. But she was a cool chick."
Sam turns fully in his seat, facing Dean. Outraged. "Did you or did you not notice the stains on the kitchen floor?"
He had. "So she's a messy cook."
"Or the glass eyes in the hallway?"
"You've got something against glass eyes?"
"Or the way she handled a knife?"
"So she's an experienced yet messy cook." Dean flips on the radio, letting Sam know he's finished discussing Mrs. Poppyseed. He lets the music fill the silence as Sam continues to sulk, but his big brother instincts can only handle Sam's attitude for so long until he stops at one of those fancy coffee places. He orders Sam his girly drink and a slice of pie for himself and congratulates himself on a decision well made when Sam smiles and says thank you.
The day carries on well enough after that, both of them knowing what they needed to do that night. They don't expect much trouble breaking into the house or digging up the bones in the basement. There are enough ghosts that things might get interesting, but neither of them anticipate anything impossible. So Sam sips on his coffee and does whatever Sam creatures do on the Internet and Dean watches reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and takes a nap, dreaming of cookies.
The actual salt and burn goes smoothly. Sam's muscles speed the digging up process nicely and things are all well and good until Jack appears, dead and pissed off and yes, surprisingly attractive.
Evidently and obviously, Jack wasn't buried in his own basement. They really don't have much of a choice but to run.
They fly out of the house, Sam whimpering because Jack's house is surrounded by a very impressive and thick iron fence. Dean can see him squinting as they run, trying to block out as much of the fence as possible to curb his fear. They are nearly to the gate when it slams shut.
"Shit," Dean whispers, and isn't surprised at all when Sam screams.
"Dean! Dean, oh god!" Sam is suddenly on him, hands gripping at Dean's shirt like the paws of a grabby monkey. "We're stuck! The gate closed on its own and I hate fences, Dean. I really, really hate them and we're trapped and I hate being trapped."
"Not trapped, dude." Dean says, glancing over his shoulder, looking for Jack. He knows Sam isn't going to like it, but, "All we have to do is climb the fence."
Sam's eyes go wide and his fists pull at the fabric of Dean's shirt. "Are you out of your mind?" he pants.
"You can do it, Sam." Dean tries to sound encouraging, even though Sam's already doubled over at the suggestion, huffing for air. "All you gotta do is put your hands here, pull, and swing your legs up behind you. You'll be fine." He follows this up with an awkward pat on Sam's shoulder, still aware that Jack could be on them at any second.
Sam's definitely crying now, faced with his worst fear. "I can't!" he wails.
Dean tries to stay calm, tries to understand that this is a big deal for Sam. He's not acting like this on purpose, even if the timing is horrible. "You can," he says again, and tears himself away. "Watch." Sam gasps at the loss of contact, but Dean powers through and pulls himself up and over the fence, landing on the other side with a squish from the wet grass. "C'mon."
"Can't!" Sam cries.
"You really, really can, dude. I promise." Dean keeps an eye out for Jack, ready to hop back over and valiantly save his fence-phobic brother if it comes to it. "You saw what I did. You're taller, it should be even easier. One second and it's all over." He can't help but be reminded of the time he taught Sam to jump off the diving board as a kid. Sam was so wee and terrified and dorky in his too-big swim trunks, but he'd overcome his fear then. Dean has to believe he can do it now. "Do it!" he yells.
"AH!" In a rush of energy, Sam does just what his big brother said, pulling himself up and over and falling on the grass on the other side. He blinks up at Dean, cheeks wet and smile wide. "I did it, Dean!"
"Sure did." Dean tries to smile, but encouraging was tiring business. He settles for a half-hug, instead. "Now let's get out of here."
And they do, heading back to the motel for a good night's sleep.
Things are all mended and patched the next day; Sam digs up and burns Jack's bones in the cemetery next to the Taco Bell and Dean pops by Mrs. Poppyseed's house for more cookies and a damn fine glass of milk.
They put the town behind them in the late afternoon, Sam happily pointing out all the fences they pass. He's not cured – not completely – but he seems to be able to look at them now without flinching. Dean figures it'll be a day by day process, but he's proud of his baby brother and the steps he took to overcome his fear.
Nothing like a murderous ghost to inspire change.