Message from Beyond
It was almost like everything used to be. They were all crowded around the small television set in the loft above the bar. Ellen and Bill were on the couch, his arm over her back, with Jo curled up between them. Ash, face half-obscured by his hair, was fiddling with the old set. John was seated in an armchair to the side, holding a beer and looking vaguely guilty that he wasn't with his own family.
Except John WInchester had never been at the Roadhouse at the same time as Ash, and certainly not when Jo was a teenager. Neither had Bill, though Ellen preferred to think about that as little as possible.
Also, they were all dead.
"Ash, I thought you had it all set up." Jo pouted, nestled between her parents. She was always the most reluctant to leave her own heaven, but once they all got together, she was always the most eager to start, and least willing to go.
"I told you, it's tricky," Ash said irritably. He sketched a couple more sigils on the tangle of wires sticking out the back of the box. "Just, like, keep thinking of them, okay? Home in."
Ellen glanced over at John, who was staring fiercely at the blank screen. She doubted he ever thought of much else. She'd seen his heaven––a bright afternoon in the park with Mary and the boys. Sam couldn't have been more than four months. They were all happy and smiling, blissfully unaware of the coming fire.
She almost regretted barging in and telling him what was going on. If anyone deserved some heavenly peace, it was John Winchester.
Except for the two poor, dumb boys they were all supposed to be "homing in" on so Ash could pull them up on the best-memory replica of their old TV set.
"Got it!" exclaimed Ash, scrambling back to his customary spot on the floor by the sofa. The screen crackled with static, then settled on a old Dodge Challenger just turning off a deserted highway.
"He's going to Lily Dale," noted Jo, reading the sign for the ramp Dean was taking. "What's in Lily Dale?"
"Most psychic town in the country," answered Bill. "Supposedly."
"Bunch of crooks," added John, taking a swig of his beer. "Those boys need to get back together."
"There were a couple real psychics," Bill argued good-naturedly. Not having known the boys in life, he wasn't as invested as the rest of them, and tended to pay more attention to the road trip and hunting. "I got a good tip on a ghost from one of them, once."
"Looks like they've got another one," Ellen interjected, watching the boys examine some camera feed. The enspelled set had skipped ahead again, what seemed like several hours on Earth. Ash had explained it once, how screens in Heaven could show them events on Earth, and she'd followed the bit with the spell, but no one but Einstein had understood the part with the strings. The white russians probably hadn't helped. The gist had been that time worked differently Down There and Up Here. "And look, they're both there. Talking, even."
John nodded approval. "Good. Sounds like the ghost is pissed that these modern fakes are getting all the credit for being psychics. Simple salt&burn."
"Nah," said Bill, watching the boys get back in their cars almost as intently as John. "Why send visions before killing them?"
"To scare them?" Jo suggested.
He shook his head. "Doesn't fit." He addressed the tousled head near his knee. "Ash, can you get us a look at, I don't know, a records hall or something?" He glanced questioningly at John. "Wasn't there a museum?"
"Should jump over if you concentrate on it," Ash explained in his habitually bored "I've said this before, you sad, technologically illiterate people" tone.
The screen went staticy for a moment, then shifted to a dusty display case of old crystal balls. Jo squawked indignantly. Ellen suppressed a smile, at her daughter's supposed disinterest in the Winchester boys' lives and at the excitement in her husband's eyes as the "camera" slowly scanned the museum hallway. She'd always been on edge when he went out on a hunt, but she never forgot how alive it made him.
Her own best memory started with Bill, grinning, dripping wet with rain and blood, running in the door just in time to hold her hand while she gave birth to Jo. Their first moment as a family, and actually one of the less crazy ones.
She still couldn't believe, sometimes, that Ash had figured out how to get them all back together. Strings again, apparently.
"There!" her husband called out triumphantly, stopping the picture on a faded picture of two women. "I knew I recognized that ghost. Kate Fox, and her sister Margaret. I got a cursed crystal ball of theirs once. But it wasn't Kate who was the nasty one––it was Margaret's ball. Cursed it herself. Vindictive, that witch."
"You sayin' it's Margaret that's killing people, and Kate who's trying to warn them?" Ellen asked, following his thoughts. She turned to John. "Think the boys'll figure it out?"
"When they burn the bones and someone else still dies, yeah," he said unflinchingly.
A man walking by the wall of photos suddenly stopped and tilted his head curiously.
"I'd give them 30 hours." Ash spoke up from his position of the floor. He was messing with the laptop again.
"Twenty-five," Jo responded promptly. She spit on her hand and held it out to shake.
"I'll take that bet," Ash said, spitting in his own palm. They'd all gotten somewhat more cavalier about people dying, since personal experience informed that it wasn't so bad after all.
The man on the screen turned to face them directly. "Twenty-five?" he asked quizzically.
"Ash!" Ellen exclaimed, slapping the kids' hands apart. "Can he hear us?"
The man squinted at them. He was well-dressed, with a name-tag that identified him as a museum guide. "I...I can hear you, spirits."
"Told you some of them were the real deal, Ell," said Bill. "Talking with the dead."
"And we can talk back!" she exclaimed, looking squarely at the screen. "Listen, young man," (he wasn't, but what use was being dead it if didn't give you a bit of superiority?) "My name is Ellen. You got that? Ellen." She tried to speak loudly and clearly, not sure whether it mattered but certain it couldn't hurt. What did she most want to say?
It wasn't a very hard question.
"You tell Dean Winchester that if he doesn't tell Sam how bad it really is––hell, tell anyone, if he's too much of a baby to talk to his own brother––then I am going to kick his ass from Beyond. You got that? Kick. His. Ass. I know how broke up he still is about Cass, but the boy's got to trust someone again sometime."
The museum guide nodded slowly. She doubted he'd gotten more than half of what she'd said.
"That's Dean Winchester you need to tell," she repeated, trying to broadcast an image of the young man in question to the psychic on the screen.
Instead, the picture dissolved into static, flashed to a dimly-lit hotel room, then completely faded to black.
"Dammit! Ash, can you––"
Ash was already poking at the wires. Sparks flew from one of them. "Not for at least an hour, Heaven-time."
Everyone looked over at John, still seated slightly apart from the rest of them. He was gripping his armrests so tightly the white bone of his knuckles practically showed through the skin.
"Oh God," said Ellen, aghast. "I'm sorry, John, I didn't think––"
"It's fine." Sam and Dean's father cut her off stiffly. "It was good advice. The boy needs to get a load off."
Ellen shook her head numbly. She knew, if the positions were reversed, she wouldn't want anyone else giving beyond-the-grave advice to Jo, or even Ash.
John stood. "I'm going back to my place. Someone can find me if something big happens." He strode out of the loft, back to his perfect day in the park. They were all so experienced in heaven-hopping they could do it in their sleep now, if they slept.
Bill gave Ellen's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "Maybe we should all take a break," he suggested.
She sighed, suddenly exhausted. She'd heard all this trouble and worry was supposed to go away in Heaven. It probably did, if you stayed in your own little world, and didn't run around, jumping dimensions and watching the living on TV. And where would the fun be in that?
Jo jumped to her feet and pulled Ellen off the couch. "Dad's right, Mom. We should split up and relax a bit. Ash can always call us when he gets the signal back." She waved her modified cellphone, which their genius had fixed up with what he like to call "multi-dimensional roam." They all had one.
"Yeah, I'll call," Ash confirmed. He was already opening some sort of wave-displaying program, and typing something in Enochian.
Ellen succumbed to the urgings of her family. "Fine, you're right. A break will do us good." A quick round of hugs––they'd never done that, alive, not since Jo was little and Bill was still there––and the Harvelles split up for their respective heavens.
Instead of heading for her own Best Memory, Ellen took one of the paths to the Garden. She didn't really feel like being reminded of hunting right now, even in a good way. Joshua was always amazingly tolerant of their wanderings, and the lush jungle greenery and birdcalls were just the sort of relaxation she needed.
She wondered whether Sam and Dean would figure out about the sisters before someone else died. She wondered if the museum guide passed on her message.
She hoped so.