This story is based on an old Southern folk tale. Some may find it familiar. The story is set just before Dean's deal comes due. Thanks to CJan for the awesome beta! Any remaining mistakes are my own. Feedback is more than welcome! Thanks for reading! - Kam ;)
"So, this is the place where time stands still." Dean quipped.
Sam could only nod in agreement. His attention was riveted to the large clock which dominated the far wall of the abandoned train station. The black numerals stood stark against the yellowed face. The brass frame was mottled with age. Skeletal hands dangled, pointing downward to the six, freezing time in its tracks. Sam usually loved old places, especially railroad stations. But this place chilled him.
"Looks like the clock stops here."
His brother had been in a mood for the past hour. Sam didn't bother to look at him. For all he knew, Dean was feeling the same chill and was talking his way through it in his traditional "if I'm an ass they'll leave me alone" way of coping. "This place hasn't been used in fifty years," he said, turning a slow circle in the center of the large room. "The town wants to make it into a museum, but recent investors want to open it up again."
"And what's stopping them?"
"Politics suck." Dean ran a finger along a splintered bench. "The tracks are still in use, right?"
"Yep. Which is why the investors want to open the station."
"But it's haunted."
Sam tried to grin. "That's what the town says. And what's better than a haunted museum?" His anxiety inched up a notch, itching a place between his shoulder blades. He reached over his shoulder and rubbed.
"A rich haunted museum!" A deep chuckle sounded from the corner.
Sam spun quickly, his heart beating all the way into his throat. He noticed Dean reach for his pocket, then stop.
"Makes money, those haunted places," the voice continued. "Or so I'm told. I don't buy it. You can see all sorts 'a strange stuff without paying for it. Just gotta open your eyes." A man walked out, stooped with age, his short snowflake hair contrasting with his dark face. "Yes, sir. Still got the trains coming through here, they just ain't stopping'. Hadn't done that in a coon's age. I worked these rails most my life, since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Seen people come and go." He glanced up at the clock, then kept walking. "There's a train come through here that takes them to their final restin' place, you know. Can't avoid it when it comes. When that whistle blows, you better get your affairs in order." He stopped in front of Sam, grinning an almost unearthly smile. "I'm Vincent Maynard. I believe you're looking for me." He held out a dark hand.
Sam had managed to steady his breathing. He took the old man's hand in his own, then nodded toward his brother. "That's Dean, I'm Sam." Dean shook the man's hand stiffly. He never had liked being startled. Sam felt an odd smirk tug at his mouth.
"Good to see you boys. Rufus told me he was sendin' you two here." He released Sam's hand. "That old hound. I remember when he was in diapers, and he wants to act like he knows something more than me." Vincent took a step back. His glittering eyes drifted over the ceiling and down the walls. "Used to see him here when he was a baby. That mother of his sure was a fine woman. Used to travel through here to Chicago to see her folk. Damn baby was the loudest screamer I ever knowed! Didn't like the train whistle. That was the old train, before they put those huge steel monsters on the rail. Don't make them like that no more. . ." he shook his head, "sure don't. That old whistle used to sound for miles, let you know what was coming. You could feel the rumble before it ever got here. These trains nowadays, they too smooth! Got no personality! Used to shovel coal back in the day. Now it's a button." He sighed. "Still, some old freights come through here. Old freights look more like they ought to, not like something ready to shoot off the track and out into space."
Sam recognized the need for nostalgia. It was always the best prelude to a story, and that story was the reason he and Dean had come on Rufus's request. "There's some strange shit going on at that station, and I mean stranger than usual," Rufus had told Dean over the phone. "Bobby ain't interested. Thought you might go up and check on my old man for me." Sam found himself looking for a resemblance between Vincent and Rufus, wondering if "my old man" was more than an affectionate phrase.
"So, what's been going on here?" Dean asked. He'd left Sam's side after the handshake and was wandering through the large room, running his fingers over the worn benches, then gazing at the old photos with his hands tucked into his pockets.
"Ain't nothing been going on that hadn't been going on for years." Vincent scratched the stubble on his chin. "Some peoples' died here. One person fell on the tracks, folks say they can still hear the screams." He turned to Sam. "You know what that is?
Sam shook his head.
"The brakes, boy! Ain't no screams, just those loud squealing brakes. Then of course they talk about the eleven-fifty-nine."
"Mm-hm. That's the train I was talking 'bout. Once that train come, you need to pack your things away and set your affairs in order. I think that's what gets people scared, that train comes and they ain't ready. They try to run, but you can't run from it. Some say people come here just to catch that last train. Probably what happened to that fool that fell on the tracks, though that was the eight-sixteen. Shoot. Probably looked like the eleven-fifty-nine from down where he was at." He sniffed and worked his jaw, as though he were subtly re-adjusting his teeth.
Sam tried not to smile at the man's morbid sense of humor. "But people aren't coming here to die, are they?"
Vincent looked at Sam steadily. "You believe in ghosts? Spirits? The undead? Why not believe in someone's time to die? Don't matter where you are, the eleven-fifty-nine will find you. Your clock will stop right when it's supposed to. There ain't no running from it." His gaze fell on Dean, who had stiffened.
Sam realized he had taken a few steps closer to his brother. He could feel the tension building. "I think we have a say in it," Dean said. "I've cheated death before, I'll do it again."
The old man laughed. "You cheated what you thought was death, boy. You came out lucky. You know things, no doubt. Rufus told me. All that mess he got involved in, that was his own deal with the devil. It'll come for him too, like all of us. You included. You ain't so special." Dark eyes wandered up and down Dean's body. Vincent snorted. "You all the same, think nothing can touch you. You'll see."
"Mr. Maynard, why are we here exactly?" Sam asked.
"You tell me! Rufus said you's coming and here you are. Now I don't know what he's got up his sleeve, 'cept he might have heard the whistle and wants you to stop it." He grinned. "That's what you boys do, right?"
"The man's a nutcase," Dean muttered, flinging his duffel on the hotel bed. "And I told you we should've just stayed in the car."
"It'll be dark in a couple of hours. So sue me if I'm tired of dozing in the car."
"I suppose I should be sympathetic to your lanky-ass frame, but I'm toting an empty wallet."
"Rufus is footing the bill."
"You're kidding me."
"One night only. Says he knows the guy that owns the place. Apparently this guy owes him a favor."
"So Rufus is footing a non-existent bill."
"Free nights works too."
"Wonder if he knows the guy who runs the pit down the road." Dean rubbed his stomach.
"Roy Brown." Sam grinned. "I'm kidding, Dean. We'll get something to eat in a minute."
"None of that green stuff. I want meat swimming in grease."
"You'll probably get it at that 'pit'."
"That's the plan. If I'm gonna go, I'm gonna go happy."
"If you spend the night in the bathroom and leave me to go to the station alone, I'll see that the hounds find you sooner than you expect."
"Lame, Sammy. You're heart's not in it. You ready?"
"Let me wash off." Sam closed himself into the bathroom, and leaned back against the door, his chest heavy with sudden anxiety. He ran the water then concentrated on breathing until he felt calm. He knew Dean would pick up on it, and he didn't want another conversation about his deal, about going to hell, about how the days were closing in, choking them both.
He had just over forty-eight hours left.
The station was completely abandoned. Even the stray cats were long gone, searching for new hunting ground. Vincent was nowhere to be found. Their flashlights swept over the dark corners of the waiting room, then pointed toward the double sets of tracks which stretched for miles past the building. The trees whispered in the night breeze. In the distance to their right, tall spires of old tombstones could be seen in the yard of the white wooden church. The moonlight peeked in and out of the cloud cover, illuminating the area then taking it away again.
"It's kinda nice, actually." Dean turned off his light and sat on one of the benches outside the station. He looked tired. Sam knew he hadn't been sleeping. They'd both been pouring over books, internet pages, anything. Dean's clock was ticking. The night just accentuated the passage of time. "Why are we here, Sam?"
"I don't know. You tell me."
"Well, Rufus wasn't too plain. And I don't think his old man, if Vincent IS his old man, needs much looking after. Hell, we're not supposed to be babysitting some guy looking for his glory days." Dean sighed heavily. "I guess he just wanted us to check up on him and said so in a beat-around-the-bush way."
"That's not like Rufus."
"No, it isn't. Which begs the question again."
"I can tell you why you're here," a voice said out of the dark.
Sam jumped, and heard Dean curse. "Don't you sleep?" his brother asked in a sharp tone. "What are you doing here?"
"Knew you'd being coming tonight. Thought I'd join you." Vincent sat on the bench beside theirs. "Yes, used to have a lot of trains come though here. You'd hear 'em at night. Whistles going, get the hound dogs howling. Then the rumble would come. Like thunder, just growing louder and louder 'til you could feel it in your chest. Then around that curve a light would shine. Just one small circle that would get bigger and bigger as the noise got louder and louder. Those hounds hate it."
Again, Sam felt a chill. Dean's gaze was fixed on the raised lines of iron not sixty feet away from them.
"Took out some of those hounds, too. Like rabbits. They get stuck by that light. Sometimes the track's change and they'll get their leg stuck, and it's all over."
"That's horrible," Sam muttered, his heart pounding.
"It's quick. Ain't pretty, but they don't suffer. Only in those minutes when they see that light coming, and even then I don't think they know what's gonna happen. They're lucky like that. No sense to be scared of death."
"I think I'm liking this place less and less," Dean said quietly.
Vincent slowly turned his head to look at him.
Sam cleared his throat and stood. "We should look around," he said to Dean, pulling him up by his arm. "You stay out here, I'm gonna go look inside." The quicker they could scout the place, the quicker they could leave. The tightness in his chest wasn't easing.
"Right," Dean said, flicking his light back on and visibly shaking off his mood. Vincent continued to sit on the bench, watching.
Sam walked inside, his light sweeping over the walls. He paused at the photos that Dean had looked at earlier. Some were very old, browning, showing the older trains in the background. A few were newer, revealing the more streamlined Amtrak train. He had to admit he preferred the old trains himself. The photos were easily fifty, sixty years old, some looking more turn of the century. He wondered how often the station had undergone repairs, if any of it was original. If spirits were attached to the place.
A low whistle sounded in the background.
Sam heard a step behind him and turned quickly. His light shone on Vincent's face, and a wrinkled hand flew up to block the beam. "Damn, boy! Ain't you got sense?"
"Sorry!" Sam quickly angled his light downwards and fought to breathe.
Vincent rubbed at his eyes, cursing softly. "Not gonna see the thing, now. Already blinded by a light and it wasn't even the train's."
"See what?" Sam asked.
"You deaf? Never heard a whistle so loud. Must be closer than I thought." He let his hands drop and gazed upwards at the wall. "Ain't ready. Not that it matters. I was on the track and your brother came up to get me. . .I told him. I said, 'Boy, you didn't even look at the clock before coming out here, did you?'"
"What are you talking about?"
Sam's heart stopped. He pushed past Vincent and ran outside to see Dean's shadowed figure on the tracks. His light had fallen and was half hidden by the grass. The moon was between clouds, and shone lightly on his hunched figure. "Sam!"
"Dean?" Sam jumped over the line of benches and ran to his brother's side. "What's wrong? Oh shit!" No no no no!
Dean's boot was caught in the rail, but that wasn't the horrifying part. Sam could feel the tremor as he put his hand to the metal.
"Is that really a train?" Dean asked quickly. "Is that a train?"
"What the hell do you think?" Sam asked loudly.
"I think I'm fucked. . ." Dean grabbed onto Sam and pulled, groaning in agony as the track pinched closer. "Pry it with something!"
He forced himself to let Dean go. Sam found an old metal rod, what it was from he had no clue, and shoved it between the rails. He pried at the metal, feeling the track try to give, but knowing it wasn't happening. Vincent's words echoed in his head. Don't matter where you are, the eleven-fifty-nine will find you.
"I guess it's better than hell hounds," Dean tried to quip but Sam heard his fear.
"Dean, there's gotta be something we can do!"
"I'm trying!" The metal broke in Sam's hands, sending him to the ground. He flung it aside with a curse and grabbed the rail with his hands, not caring if it pinned him, too.
"Sam, we're running out of time."
Dean knelt, working the laces of his boot. "Listen to me. Sam! Look at me!"
Sam looked up, right into vivid green eyes that looked as frightened as he felt. "Hey, it's better than being mauled."
"You're still going to hell, Dean!"
"Maybe not, you know? Maybe if the hounds don't take me. . ." he shrugged it off, but his chest heaved. "I just want you to know something, okay? Thanks for trying. And I'm sorry. God damn, I'm sorry." His voice caught.
"No. You're fine, you're. . ." Sam looked up, and realized why Dean's voice caught.
The light was bearing down on them.
"Oh god," Sam whispered, and frantically studied the rail, jerking at it uselessly.
"Sam, go. I said, go!"
Sam said nothing. He kept jerking at the rail, yelling at it.
"NO!" Sam yelled right into his face.
The light grew in intensity, and the whistle blocked all other sounds. The vibration numbed Sam's fingers. He continued to jerk at the rail as Dean finished unlacing his boot, but he couldn't pull his foot free. Sam grabbed his ankle. No good.
"Dean. . ."
"Sammy for the last time, GO."
"I'm two days early so what?" Dean managed to grab Sam's shoulders. "If I do good, I'll let you know. Okay? The hounds aren't here. Hell, maybe Rufus did it. Maybe he saved me from hell, you know?"
"God. . .DEAN!" Sam wasn't ready for this. The whistle was screaming, the hound dogs in surrounding neighborhoods were howling, and for a moment Dean's face was fully illuminated in the light as the train bore down on them.
"GO SAM!" Dean heaved and shoved Sam off-balance, sending him rolling in the grass.
Dark sky and damp grass tumbled in his view until he came to rest on his back, the train's whistle deafening, the rumbling shaking him to his bones, the squeal of wheels on the train a death keen. He looked up for a second, seeing an iron giant facing off with his brother, seeing the face he loved caught in the beam, white and frightened. He yelled with all his might, feeling his insides crack from the effort, then buried his head in his arms as the train roared past. . .and suddenly fade into an eerie silence.
The silence persisted.
Sam felt deafened. He sobbed into his arms until a low curse made him peek up, blinking back tears, his mouth open in disbelief. There was nothing. The track was empty. . .except for one lone figure who looked like he was ready to crap in his pants.
"Dean?" Sam pushed to his feet and stumbled to his brother. Dean was trembling, gasping, his boot still caught but more loosely than before. Sam grabbed him, held him. "DEAN!"
"What the fuck, Sam!" his very-alive brother forced out. "What the hell was that?"
Sam pulled him into a bear hug, then quickly looked down and pushed at Dean's ankle. Dean tugged forcefully backwards and landed on his ass on the cross rail.
Sam jerked him to the side and off the railing. They half-crawled, half-scurried through the grass until they reached the base of the benches.
Sam grabbed Dean's shirt in both hands. "Are you okay?"
Dean was wide-eyed and looking around in disbelief. "Yeah," he responded after a moment, "I think so." That same wide-eyed expression landed on Sam. "You? You okay?"
Sam wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. He busied himself with checking Dean's ankle.
"Guess we're back to that countdown, huh?" Dean said quietly. "Ow! Watch it!"
"We should probably get this checked out," Sam said, pulling Dean's laces tight. "This hurt?"
"It all hurts!"
"We'll wrap it. Can't have you running from the hell hounds on a busted ankle." Sam tried a meek smile.
Dean's head thumped back against the seat of the bench. "It was a good theory, anyway." He glanced around. "Where's Vincent?"
Sam blinked, then helped Dean to his feet. "He went back in, I don't know. . ." He recovered their flashlights and hurried inside.
The beams swept the building, then settled on a still figure sitting upright in an old wooden chair. Vincent's eyes were open, surprised, and stared at nothing. Dean waved his hand in front of Vincent's face, then gently took his pulse. He shook his head, and stepped back respectfully.
"Dean." Sam's light was aimed at the broken clock on the wall above Vincent.
It showed eleven fifty-nine.