The beam of Dean Winchester’s flashlight played over the pair of stained manacles dangling from an eyebolt mounted in the back of a stall in Cletus Gillmer’s horse stable. He didn’t need a forensic kit to guess the nature of the stains.
“Sick bastard kept the victims chained back here,” he said
Across the aisle, his brother Sam examined the tack room, dominated by a sturdy wooden work table with eyebolts screwed into the surface at each corner.
“And chopped them up over here,” Sam responded.
“Not what old man Gillmer had in mind when he asked junior to take over the family farm.”
They’d found Cletus Gillmer in the farmhouse, sprawled on an old recliner patched with duct tape, his eyes bulging and bloodshot, his tongue protruding and his throat savagely crushed. On the round table beside him, he’d left behind an old, loaded revolver and a curious, apparently interrupted, to-do list. After ‘siphon gasoline from generator’, ‘bury body’, and ‘burn stable’, he’d written ‘burn’ a second time before dropping the pen on the floor. Dean guessed that ‘burn farmhouse’ would have been next, followed by ‘insert revolver in mouth’ and ‘pull trigger.’ Apparently old man Gillmer had grown weary of chasing thrill-seeking teens off his property, but not before somebody else decided to punch his ticket.
A local newspaper’s piece on the five-year anniversary of the machete killings and the sudden, mysterious disappearance of Cletus’ murderous son, Clive Gillmer, had created an urban legend to test the mettle of a new crop of teenagers. From deranged serial killer to phantom bogeyman in five years. The old man tried to scare the kids away, garnering “crazy old coot” status, but some had gone missing nonetheless. Dean suspected the old man knew what the Winchesters did: bogeymen have teeth.
On their way out of the farmhouse, Sam spotted the pink sneaker in the high grass beside the front porch steps, bathed in moonlight. Their flashlights had revealed the young woman with a broken neck stuffed under the crawlspace. And so the to-do list had led them to the horse stable…
As Dean walked toward the second stall—duffel bag hanging from his left shoulder, shotgun loaded with rock salt cradled under his right arm—he heard Sam open and search one of the tack trunks under the table.
“Dean!” he called. “Found a machete.”
“Keep looking,” Dean said absently. “Junior’s body’s gotta be here.”
He opened the next stall door with the tip of his shotgun. The eyebolt in this one was angled down. Dean grabbed it, wiggled it back and forth, felt the wood planking give, bits of rotted wood falling away like damp mulch. His flashlight flickered—
A loud crash broke the eerie silence of the stable.
Dean whirled. “Sam!”
Looming over him was the six-foot-seven, three-hundred pound vengeful spirit of Clive Gillmer, in mottled whiteface, wearing the traditional black-and-white striped shirt under blood-stained bib overalls. “The Machete Mime,” as the press had dubbed him.
Dean swung the shotgun up, but the mime clubbed his arm away and rammed him against the back wall with enough force to split the weakened boards. The shotgun fell from his numb fingers along with the flashlight.
“Sam! Little help!”
Before Sam regained his soul, Dean was never sure when his brother would have his back. But that was before. Now…
The mime picked Dean up and slammed him against the wall to the right and then to the left. Both were in better shape than the rear wall, if the sharp pain in his ribs was any judge.
“Marcel Machete here has anger management issues!” Dean yelled.
He dodged a fist which punched a hole in the wall next to his head, but caught a knee in the gut and dropped to the ground, stunned.
The crash he’d heard earlier, after Sam discovered the machete...
Face it. Sam’s out of commission.
Dean heard a clanking of chains, then felt cold steel encircle his neck, bite into his flesh and inexorably tighten.
He managed to slip his fingers under the chain and alleviate the pressure long enough to suck in some air and clear his vision. His other hand scrabbled across the matted straw of the dirt floor until his fingers closed around the barrel of his shotgun.
The mime’s booted foot kicked Dean’s arm against the wall and once again the shotgun slipped from his grasp. Dean’s vision began to dim again, fading to black at the edges, when he heard a shotgun blast from above.
In an instant, the pressure of the chains around his neck was gone and he was stumbling forward onto hands and knees, coughing and gasping for air.
Sam stood in the aisle, shotgun braced in his hands. His jacket was torn at the shoulder seam and a line of blood trickled from his scalp.
“He surprised me,” he stated.
Dean nodded. “Makes two of us,” he rasped.
Dean grabbed his own shotgun and Sam helped him to his feet. Brushing straw off his clothes, Dean scanned the ground for his flashlight and found it near the back wall of the stall.
“Let’s find the body before Baby Huey comes back,” he said, scooping it up.
“Don’t think it’s here,” Sam said.
Dean didn’t respond.
“Dean?” Sam said.
Dean stared through the gap in the broken back wall. He kicked a split plank out of the way.
“Behind the farmhouse,” he said. “You see that?”
Sam looked past his shoulder. “Wooden shed.”
“We assumed the old man planned to burn the farmhouse after the stable.”
Sam nodded. “Clive knew his father’s real target.”
They slipped through the gap in the wall and raced along the corral fence, behind the farmhouse to the unprepossessing tool shed in back. Ten feet square, it was open in front, revealing three walls with hooks for various farm implements long ago removed. The floor was covered with mismatched scraps of outdoor carpeting littered with old leaves, yellowed sections of torn newsprint and snack food wrappers.
“Nothing,” Dean said flatly. “More nothing.”
Sam walked into the shed, probing the corners of the single room with his flashlight beam. Boards squeaked under his weight. He stopped, looked down, then back up at Dean.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?”
Sam crouched, lifted a few uneven squares of carpet and tossed them aside, revealing twin wooden doors secured by an old padlock with an elongated shackle.
“Try this,” Dean said, passing him a crowbar from his duffel.
Slipping the straight end under one of the door handles, Sam levered it up and out of the rotting wood until the screws popped out. He repeated the process on the other handle and wiggled the padlock free.
He wedged the crowbar under the edge of the right door and raised it enough to slip his fingers under it and flung it open to the squeal of protesting hinges.
The stench assailed them like a physical presence.
Left hand pressed against his nose, Sam leaned over and flipped open the other door. Dean’s flashlight beam speared the darkness at the bottom of the rickety staircase and revealed the hulking corpse in the remnants of a striped shirt and bib overalls, curled on its stomach, with a pitchfork buried in its back.
Deep enough to puncture lungs, Dean thought. Or skewer his heart.
“Old man put him down five years ago. Left him to rot,” he said.
“Let everyone assume he’d run off,” Sam said.
He reached down for his own duffel bag and so was caught by surprise.
Flickering into existence between them, the mime’s spirit charged—
—and shoved Sam down the stairs.
Both root cellar doors slammed shut.
Junior spun around and rushed Dean, his marred white face stretched wide in a hideous grin that revealed years of dental neglect.
“I’ve seen your act, Tiny,” Dean said grimly, taking a step back to pump the shotgun’s action and level the barrel at the killer mime. “It blows.”
He blasted a round of rock salt into the spirit’s torso.
The mime vanished, buying them some more time.
Dean slammed the action bar down and back to chamber another round.
Then, rushing into the shed, he flipped the doors open and aimed his flashlight into the darkness.
“Sam! Sammy!” he called.
“Here, Dean,” came the reply. “I’m okay.”
Dean negotiated the rickety stairs, sweeping the underground room with his flashlight to reveal sagging multi-tiered wooden shelves lining the walls, filled with an assortment of mason jars and plastic containers, rotting vegetables and rancid salted meats long since abandoned. On the floor, sitting beside the decaying corpse, Sam massaged his neck with one hand while shielding his eyes from the light with the other.
“Let’s end this,” Dean said, tossing his brother a canister of sea salt. He rifled through his bag for the container of lighter fluid.
Sam climbed to his feet, pressed a hand to his lower back and winced. But he shook off the residual aches and pains of having rolled down the stairs and spread salt liberally over Clive’s remains.
“What is it with mimes anyway?” he wondered. “Clowns with a vow of silence?”
“This one forgot the rule about ‘no props,’” Dean replied.
Dean squeezed the aluminum container and flicked the stream of lighter fluid back and forth over the corpse, head to toe.
“Machete Mime.” Sam shook his head. “Light him up.”
Something took shape in the darkness.
Their flashlights dimmed.
“Dude, we’re not alone!”
Out of the shadows a beefy arm snaked around Sam’s throat and pulled him back into the darkness. They crashed into the shelving in the back of the root cellar, busting shelves and sending jars shattering against each other on the floor.
Blocking out the frantic sounds of Sam’s dire struggle, Dean fished his Zippo lighter out of his jacket pocket, flicked it to spark a flame, then tossed it on the mime’s remains. As the fire caught hold, Dean heard Sam gasp and stumble forward across the shattered glass. The wooden handle of the pitchfork protruding from the mime’s back caught fire and the racing flames quickly ignited the shelves to the right. In seconds, the fire raced along the back wall and then spread to the left. Dean realized that if it reached the stairs they’d find themselves trapped in their own private inferno.
“Go!” Sam yelled, veering unsteadily around the burning corpse.
Dean caught Sam’s upper arm long enough to steady him, then shoved him toward the wooden staircase. Sam took the stairs two at a time. One of the boards cracked under his weight but Sam was up and out. The heat had become unbearable. Dean shielded his face with his arm, holding his breath and squinting through the roiling black smoke as he followed his brother. Flames scorched his heels as the hungry fire roared up out of the ground. He rolled clear of the shed, which was engulfed moments later, and gulped down huge mouthfuls of fresh Nebraska air.
Dean left the Impala parked at the curb and walked into a local tavern. With his ribs aching and his mouth tasting of bitter smoke, he wanted nothing more than a cold one or three to apply the layer of numbness he needed to sleep through the night.
It was a few hours before closing time, but the barroom was deserted. Tables, booths and stools were empty, the lone pool table unemployed, and the jukebox silent. A flat screen TV angled over the bar displayed a soccer match in some other part of the world, the volume turned down to white noise hum. Other than Dean, the middle-aged bartender was the only person in the place.
Tapping the eraser end of a pencil against his teeth, the bartender was hunched over a pile of papers on the countertop with the concentration of someone working on his taxes. As Dean neared the bar, he saw the object of the man’s concentration was a horse racing form. The man looked up at his approach.
“Get you something?”
“Whatever you got on tap,” Dean said, sitting on the nearest stool. He rested his forearms on the padded edge of the counter and sighed. “Maybe a few peanuts.”
“Sure,” the bartender said, taking down a glass. “Quiet night, huh?”
“Didn’t start out that way.”
“Same old same old.”
The bartender held the glass under the chrome faucet and pulled the brass lever. Amber liquid flowed into the glass, rising toward the brim. But at the halfway point, the beer level began to fall.
“That’s odd,” the bartender murmured.
“Hole in the glass?”
“No, no, the glass is fine.” Nonetheless, the bartender released the lever, set the glass aside and began to fill a replacement. Same result. As fast as the beer flowed into the glass, it seemed to… evaporate. “This makes no sense. Let me try another one.” He sidestepped to the next draft lever and repeated the process. Beer flowed into the glass and was as quickly gone. The bartender passed a hand over his close-cropped blond hair. “This has never happened before.”
“First time for everything, pal.”
“Maybe it’s the CO2 tank. How about a bottle?”
Dean nodded. Tapped the countertop in front of him.
“Domestic? Import? Microbrew?”
“Let’s start with domestic and go from there.”
The bartender grabbed a long-necked brown bottle from under the counter, popped off the cap, releasing thin streams of vapor, and slid it across to Dean with the glass from the tap.
Dean decided to skip the middleman and raised the tip of the cold bottle to his lips. He tilted the bottle back and… nothing came out.
“What the hell?” he declared.
Dean upended the bottle over the glass. Not a drop fell out.
“Let me try that,” the bartender said, grabbing a fresh bottle. He eased it back and forth and liquid sloshed within the bottle. He then popped the cap and titled it over Dean’s glass. Wisps of vapor escaped the bottle and dissipated. A few drops of liquid struck the bottom of the glass and promptly evaporated. The bartender pushed the empty bottle aside and tried a third, and a fourth, different labels, all without success.
“Cans,” Dean said. “What about cans?”
The bartender opened a door behind the counter into a back room, and returned a moment later with a six-pack.
“These were delivered today,” he stated.
He pulled the tab off the first can and they heard a faint hiss as vapor spiraled out the opening. One can after another, the glass remained empty.
Dean shook his head. “This is not happening.”
“I’m sorry,” the bartender said. “What can I do?”
“Try something else,” Dean said. “Anything. Whiskey, rum, vodka. Peach schnapps!”
Nothing worked. The bartender tried Irish whiskey, Russian vodka and Jamaican rum.
“I can’t explain this,” the bartender said, incredulous. “What does it mean?”
Dean noticed the audio hum emanating from the television set above the bar had changed. He glanced up and saw a news bulletin had replaced the soccer match. A telegenic news anchor in her late twenties spoke while a news crawl informed Dean one letter at a time that the world’s supply of alcoholic beverages had become unstable.
“The volume,” he said. “Turn it up!”
The bartender pointed a slim remote control at the set and raised the volume.
“…the scientific community remains baffled by the sudden and complete volatility of alcohol in any form.”
Dean stared aghast. “You gotta be kidding me!”
“This bar’s been in my family for sixty years,” the bartender said morosely. “And it’s all gone?”
The news anchor continued in an upbeat tone, “…face the new reality that we have become a nation, indeed an entire world, of teetotalers.”
“She’s smiling,” Dean said, pointing accusingly. “Why is she smiling? She can’t smile about this.”
“Oh, well,” the bartender said, now strangely at peace with the family-business-ending news. “How about something nonalcoholic?”
“No,” Dean said, backing away abruptly and knocking over his stool.
“Pop? Or milk?”
“Juice box? Bottled water?”
“Got it,” the bartender said, snapping his fingers. “A Shirley Temple. No alcohol in that!”
Dean backed up to the door, tugged on the handle but the door wouldn’t open. In frustration, he pounded his fists on the wood panels.
“An egg cream?”
Dean sat upright, heart racing. A fleeting sense of displacement faded and he remembered where he was. The nondescript motel they’d checked into in Lincoln, Nebraska. He sat in the dark and fought the ridiculous urge to turn on CNN to confirm the safety of the world’s alcoholic beverages.
Across the room, sprawled on his bed as if sleep had been an afterthought, Sam mumbled something about hunters.
Dean stacked pillows against his headboard and laid back gingerly, enduring sharp protests from his ribs with each awkward movement. Felt as if he’d been kicked repeatedly by a mule with a sour disposition. Bedside clock radio told him he’d been asleep less than an hour. He’d need at least few more before they hit the road. Coffee would take care of the rest.
“But no more dreams.”