Merry almost-Christmas! I can't believe we're a week away! Over the course of NaNoWriMo this year, I started three different stories, each intended to be a Christmas story. This is the one that came out the victor. :) The other two will be posted sometime in the new year without Christmas connections. Life has been insanely busy with family and Christmas prep and I have been squeezing out every precious second I have in order to write and edit. I really wasn't sure I'd be able to get this one posted, but things are coming together. :)
The story will be around 7-8 chapters or thereabouts. Not exactly sure what the posting schedule will be, but at least the ball is rolling!
Hope you enjoy!
"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. ' What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
A Perfectly Unexpected Christmas
"So this lake," Dean said, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel and watching the snowflakes tumble from the sky. "There's a haunted island? In the middle of the lake?"
"Generally, islands are found in the middle of lakes or other bodies of water," Sam answered, nose buried in his book as he ignored the picture perfect scenery around them.
"I know that." Dean rolled his eyes. He knew all of it actually, but it had been a long drive and he was bored to tears. Annoying his sixteen year old brother into talking to him was the closest thing to amusement that he had at the moment. "What kind of haunting are we talking here?"
"Probably a dead person." Sam turned a page in his book as he ignored Dean's attempts to start a conversation.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious," Dean muttered, returning his attention to the road ahead.
This trip was turning out to be a real drag. For one thing, they were driving to some cold New England town in the dead of winter and leaving sunny Florida behind. For another thing, he couldn't even pronounce the name of the lake.
Forty-five letters and fourteen syllables, Sam had informed him when Dean's jaw had dropped at the word written on the map.
Of course Sam could pronounce it. He probably could even spell it. He knew the meaning of the word and the historical significance — things Dean now knew, too, without ever really wanting to. Sam probably even knew the name of the guy who first went fishing in the lake.
Glaring at his brother, Dean cultivated his annoyance.
Sam had been ignoring him for most of the trip. Sure, he'd answer questions if Dean prodded long enough, but otherwise, he had his nose stuck in the book. It wasn't even a school book. Just some big fat novel. Dean never knew where Sam found the books he toted along with him. They'd just appear one day and he'd spend a ridiculous amount of time reading, and then the book would disappear. A few days or weeks would pass, then he'd have a new book in his hands.
Usually, Dean managed to speed read through the books before they disappeared. It wasn't always easy; he had an image to keep up so he'd read at odd times. While Sam was in the shower. While he was at school. After he fell asleep for the night. Sometimes Dean even sat outside in the Impala reading by flashlight when both Sam and Dad were asleep.
It wasn't that he had to be so sneaky. Sam would have gladly let him read the books. Somehow, though, it seemed important to keep it a secret.
So far he hadn't managed to get his hands on this one. Whatever it was, Sam was engrossed. When Sam was engrossed it meant the car was quiet and Dean could listen to his music — as long as he didn't turn it up too loud. He could enjoy the scenery and get lost in his own thoughts.
Sometimes that was great, but sometimes it was lonely sitting right next to someone who wasn't paying any attention to anything but their book.
"Sammy," Dean said, flipping on the windshield wipers when the snow began getting heavier.
"What?" Sam didn't look up.
How he managed to read and never get carsick, Dean didn't know.
"Did you find any place good to eat on the way to Lake Charcoal-groggy-mugwort?"
Sam snorted. "That's not how you say it."
Dean grinned. At least Sam had finally looked up from his book. Looked up and was now looking all around, eyes wide.
"That's generally what happens when it's winter in New York." Dean grinned, watching Sam straighten up in his seat and continue staring out the windows at the flurries. Clearly Sam hadn't looked out the window for the past two hours. "Dude, you're acting like it's the first time you've ever seen snow."
Sam shook his head, but didn't stop looking around like it was the first time he'd ever seen snow.
It was a beautiful sight, Dean had to admit. He always liked the image all the Christmas cards presented: a pretty small town dusted in snow with holly and green wreaths. A panorama of snow topped pine trees on rolling hills. It was the cozy, ideal, perfect Christmas that he'd always envisioned.
One that he'd never experienced and doubted he ever would.
It used to make him feel sad, but now he just liked imagining what something like that would feel like. A quiet Christmas in a quiet town. Snow falling. Carolers singing. A fireplace warming the room. Hot chocolate and presents in front of a Christmas tree. He could dream as big as he wanted. That's what dreams were for, anyway.
Now wasn't the time for his little fantasy though. He was hungry. Reaching out, he thumped Sam's shoulder.
"I asked you like forty minutes ago to find someplace to eat. We still have hours until we get to Lake Chimichanga."
This time he got a snort and then a genuine laugh.
Grinning, Dean said, "Now I'm hungry for tacos."
Sam's stomach growled right at that moment.
"I guess we're having tacos, huh?" Dean asked.
"Tacos work for me." Sam reached for the map he always kept meticulously folded. He figured out directions to the nearest decent sized town, then went back to observing the snowfall.
Dean thought about continuing a conversation, then decided against it. It was still quiet in the car, but since they were both enjoying the beauty outside, he didn't feel quite as lonely.
Sam watched his brother flirting with the waitress. She was pretty and friendly and wearing a red Santa hat that coordinated well with the festive decorations. The cozy Mexican restaurant they'd found was clearly ready for Christmas.
While everyone else in the restaurant seemed to be in an appropriately festive mood, Sam wasn't.
In fact, he was beginning to feel the exact opposite of festive.
The snow had been beautiful and he was glad to be out of Florida, but all the over the top Christmas decorations were making him wish they'd never stopped. The tacos were amazing, but he wasn't in the least bit interested in Christmas trees or reindeer or carols or bright lights.
Dean would call him a Grinch if he said anything, so he pasted on a smile when the waitress smiled at him and he made all the correct responses when she talked about how much she loved this time of year.
Dean was, of course, in full agreement with her.
He would have been in full agreement with her even if she'd been saying how much she loved knitting blankets. Sam returned his attention to his taco and tried to ignore his brother's shameless flirting.
They were on their way to hunt a ghost on an island. A ghost that hadn't bothered anyone except one unfortunate boater who got freaked out enough to talk to the local newspaper. It was two days before Christmas and they would probably have this wrapped up by the day after Christmas and be back on the road to who knew where. It wasn't like he cared about Christmas anymore; he'd long given up hoping for a perfect Christmas complete with trees and presents and a happy family. Even so, he hated spending his entire winter break driving all over creation. He'd been looking forward to just spending a couple weeks doing what most kids did on their winter vacations.
He was still tired from studying for finals and trying to figure out everything Dad had wanted to know about Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. He'd passed his classes with straight A's, not that Dad had asked or cared. All he'd cared about had been getting all the information on the history of the Lake. Sam had provided him with the information and Dad had ordered them on their way with a promise to meet them in Massachusetts after he finished up the hunt he was on in Ohio.
So much for Christmas.
"You want another taco?" Dean asked, interrupting his thoughts.
"No." Sam shook his head, glancing from his now empty plate to his brother.
Dean was counting out his cash for the bill and the waitress was nowhere in sight. He didn't look up as he said, "Go to the bathroom if you need to because I'm not stopping again until we get to Lake Chuggy-gug-a-muck."
Sam rolled his eyes at the latest way his brother had found to slaughter the name of the Lake and stood up. Dean meant what he said; he hated making unnecessary stops. He was almost as obsessively focused as Dad was, but not quite. If Sam asked, he'd stop. For whatever reason. Counting his lucky stars once again that Dad had given Dean the Impala and they weren't all stuck in a car together, Sam headed for the bathroom.
A few minutes later, they were on the road again. A road that was getting snowier and snowier by the second.
"Man, it's really coming down hard, isn't it?" Dean asked as he tested the brakes out on the slick street while no one was behind them. He flipped the windshield wipers on again. "Turn on the radio. See if you can get a weather report."
Sam leaned forward and did as instructed. He'd intended to go straight back to his book and lose himself from real life for a little longer, but maybe he'd have to hold off for a while. At least until they got past the worst of the snow. And then they listened to the weather report. The book was definitely going to have to wait.
"Crap," Dean muttered after they heard the snow was only expected to get worse as the afternoon progressed. Whiteout conditions were predicted by evening.
"Should we stop?" Sam asked, not too keen on the idea of driving through a major winter storm.
"No. Dad's gonna expect us—"
"He's probably going to be stuck, too. The storm was from Illinois to the coast."
Dean met his gaze briefly, then said, "We'll make it. It's only a few hours."
It was the truth, but it was a couple hours on really slick streets with ever worsening visibility. Sam sat back in his seat, tension starting to climb up his spine. He hated when they had to drive in bad weather; whether it be rain or snow. The sensation of hydroplaning was one that he did not enjoy. At all.
Sam frowned and tore his gaze from the snowy street ahead to look at his brother. "Already what?"
"Already you're freaking out about the snow."
"I am not."
"Yeah. You are. I've known you for sixteen years, moron. I know when you're freaking out." Dean was laughing at him now. He turned the volume up as the radio started playing Christmas music as if that would help anything and said, "I can handle a little snow, Sammy."
"It's Sam," he said, slouching in his seat and folding his arms across his chest. "And it's not a little snow. It's a lot of snow."
"Eh. We've driven through worse."
Dean then proceeded to discuss all the times they'd driven through worse including the time they'd wound up half-slid into a shallow ditch. It had been years ago, and Dad had been driving, but it had been scary. Probably wouldn't seem so scary now, of course; he'd only been nine at the time, so it had probably seemed scarier than it really was.
Sam tried to listen to what Dean was saying and believe him when he said that he wasn't going to wind up spinning out on the slick streets. He trusted his brother with his life, but he didn't trust the weather. Or the road. Or their luck. Or the other drivers. Or the deer. Or anything else for that matter.
"Just read your book," Dean said, tapping him on the chest with it. "Flashlight's in the glove compartment. Zone out for awhile."
Sam hated being bossed around, but in this case, he decided maybe it was just as well. So he took the novel from his brother, grabbed the flashlight, and slouched further in the seat, trying to make the page in front of him the only thing he could see. It was early afternoon, but already the flashlight was necessary.
He turned it on and tried really hard to ignore the sloshing of the tires through the slushy muck and the way the car didn't seem completely secure anymore.
He really, really missed Florida.
Dean really missed Florida.
Like really missed Florida.
They'd only been on the road for twenty minutes after their Mexican themed lunch and already his hands were sore from how hard he was clutching the steering wheel. Every once in awhile he managed to relax, but then the wind would toss a massive flurry of snowflakes in his view and the tires would slip a little.
He tried to casually shake out his left hand without letting Sam see what he was doing. Despite Sam's insistence to the contrary, Dean knew his brother was freaking out. Or nervous at the very least. He'd kept his nose buried in the book since Dean had urged him to start reading again. So he wasn't flat out freaked. Yet. Dean wasn't freaked yet either but he did not like the weather.
The Impala was a dream, but she was not made for driving through blizzards.
He slowed down when he saw a flash of red tail lights ahead. He'd already been driving under the speed limit and was now going even slower, but he didn't care. Visibility had been spotty and everyone else was driving slowly, too. He wasn't going to stop unless he absolutely had to, but also wasn't prepared to take chances he shouldn't.
The Christmas music on the radio provided a suitable soundtrack and he would have appreciated it much more had he been sitting inside a warm cabin with a hot chocolate. Sitting behind the wheel and trying to drive through the snowy mess was not his idea of a good time.
The music paused for yet another weather report.
The report didn't add much to what they already knew.
The weather sucked and it wasn't going to get any better.
Another twenty minutes and the heavy flurries had petered out a bit although the road was still slick and mucky and everyone was driving half the speed limit. They were still on the main highway which Dean didn't like at all. Too busy on a normal day, he didn't trust any of the drivers around them. The snowplows were just beginning to make their appearance which only complicated the driving conditions.
He just had to make it to the turn off to the county road that would take them to their destination. Surely there would be a motel they could hole up in for the duration of the storm if it got too bad for him to keep driving. He knew his limits and he wasn't about to take chances.
Not with his car and not with his brother's life.
Coming up on a minivan that was going so slowly it was practically going backwards, Dean turned on his signal and got into the left lane. The car fishtailed a little and that was when Sam's book went back on the seat and he sat up, grabbing at the door.
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" Dean asked, annoyance sparking. "I'm passing that idiot who's practically parking on the road."
"Sam, I'm barely driving at all! If I slow down—"
"Just do it!"
Dean gritted his teeth and slowed down. He was still moving faster than the cars in the right lane. The strains of Christmas music filled the car; a discordant background noise to the storm outside. Dean wanted the music off and he figured Sam did too, but neither of them reached for the dial.
"Maybe we should find a place to stay."
Dean took a split second to glance at his brother. Sam was gripping the edge of the seat and the edge of the door like his life depended on it. Dean returned his attention to the road.
"Sam, stop freaking out." Dean's fingers ached as he tightened them on the wheel. "You're making me nervous."
Sam didn't say anything else and neither did Dean.
The snow was alternating between heavy, fat flakes, and a lighter swirl of precipitation. Sometimes the visibility wasn't too bad, other times it was almost a complete white-out.
In the background, Frank Sinatra was dreaming of white Christmases and all Dean wanted was to be back in Florida.
He glanced at the speedometer. He was going thirty miles per hour. On a freeway. This was ridiculous and yet he couldn't very well push the pedal to the floor. Even if he was feeling more confident about driving through the snowstorm, there was the little issue of the multitude of people who definitely didn't feel confident. Still in the left lane, he carefully passed car after car barely making twenty miles per hour.
Dean watched in shock as a semi truck traveling the opposite direction on the far side of the highway suddenly jackknifed into the median. It was nowhere near close enough to cause them any harm, but it had him slowing even more and sucking in a deep breath.
He was surprised not to have heard any sounds of shock or fear from the passenger seat, but when he stole a quick glance, he understood why. Sam's gaze was focused to the right on the cars they were slowly passing.
Glancing in the rear view mirror, Dean saw nothing but red flashes as cars on the other side of the highway slammed on their brakes. The semi hadn't flipped over or anything and he assumed the driver would be fine. All he could do was hope that the other cars were going to manage to avoid winding up in a mile long fender bender.
The car was fishtailing more frequently and he was surprised Sam hadn't piped up again.
Dean clenched his jaw and inched past a few more cars. He was catching up on the car in front of them and that wasn't good because he was going to get hit with a mucky backsplash. He needed to get back in the right lane. Their exit was coming up soon and he wasn't about to miss it.
He gently tapped the brakes before he ran into the car ahead. It wasn't his first experience driving on slick roads, so he knew better than to slam on the brakes.
After a few more miles the traffic had thinned out considerably and, he was able to ease back into the right lane.
"The next exit is the one we need."
"Ok. Find the closest town." Dean slowed well ahead of the exit. "At this rate, we're not going to make it to Lake Chacha any time this century. We'll stop somewhere for the night."
"Ok," Sam said quickly, not bothering to correct Dean about the name of the Lake. At least he was relaxing a little and settling back in the seat as he peered at the map.
Dean turned down the windshield wipers as the snowfall grew a little lighter.
"Do you think we should call Dad?" Sam asked after Dean had safely made the turn off onto the two lane county road.
"Yeah." Dean nodded.
He dreaded having to call Dad and explain that they were going to be late getting to their destination. Dad expected them to go where he sent them and to do it on schedule. It was Dean's responsibility to make sure that happened, weather or no weather. He should have checked before they left Florida. Should have known the snowstorm was coming and planned better. It was too late to do any adjusting, now, though. All he could do was try to keep the car on the road until he found a place for them to stay the night.
Dad wouldn't be happy, but Dean could deal with that later. They were only a couple hours from Lake Charkamug-whatever. If the snowstorm dissipated over night and they got an early enough start, they could make it there by mid-morning easy. It would have to do.
"I can't get a signal," Sam said, after a few silent minutes.
"Try my phone."
Sam took the phone and dialed. He tried a few times, then said, "It's not going through."
"Probably the weather."
"Do you think he's ok?" Sam braced his hand on the dashboard when Dean put his foot on the break a little harder than he'd meant to.
"He's fine. He's got the truck and he's a good driver."
"Ok then. How about you just go back to your book?" Out of the corner of his eye he caught Sam shaking his head.
"I can't concentrate on it right now."
Dean couldn't blame him.
Instead of the book, Sam went back to studying the map.
For the next thirty minutes, the only sound in the car was random Christmas music playing. The road wasn't any better than the highway had been, but at least he didn't have to deal with a bunch of other drivers. Despite the lighter traffic and lessening snow, Dean's tension and fatigue continued to increase.
"It's letting up," Sam echoed his thoughts, sounding a whole lot more relaxed than he had in the past hour.
"Yeah." Dean shook out his right hand. "It's about time."
"No kidding. That sucked." Sam grabbed his book and turned on the flashlight. "You think Dad's stuck somewhere?"
"You think he's ok?"
"Yes." Dean glanced at his brother. Sam was staring out the window, the flashlight shining down at his open book. "Hey, Dad's fine.
It didn't sound like Sam really believed him, but Dean was going to leave the topic alone. They spent too much of their time wondering if Dad was ok; if this would be the time Dad wouldn't come home to them after a hunt. No sense borrowing trouble.
So Dean turned the volume up on the Christmas music and Sam pointed the flashlight at the pages of his book and started reading again. The fact that Sam was relaxed enough to read his book helped relax Dean, too. He rolled his shoulder, stretching out his neck and started humming along with the music.
Sam couldn't help but smile as he listened to his brother humming.
Dean always liked Christmas music. He always liked Christmas. Sam would like Christmas if they ever got Christmas. It was rare, though, for them to take the time to have even a small celebration and he didn't remember the last time they'd had a Christmas tree. They usually managed to give each other some kind of gift, but that was as far as the celebration usually went.
This year seemed like it would be no different. If they'd stayed in Florida, they could've gotten a little artificial tree at least. They'd been settled there and he'd really hoped to be able to finish out one grade without switching schools. So much for that.
Sam tried to focus on the book. It was better than thinking about Christmas or thinking about the condition of the road. Even though the weather had cleared a bit, he could feel the car slipping and sliding from time to time. He glanced up periodically to get an idea of the terrain.
The weather reports were still bleak. There was more to come, the weather man promised. If you don't have to be out on the roads, stay home, he said, then a commercial came on recommending people head out to do their last minute Christmas shopping as soon as possible because all the deals would be gone.
"You'd think people weren't already spending enough money," Dean muttered. "So much for the the spirit of Christmas. It's all just about making money and getting a lot of crap no one needs. Talk about commercialism."
"Commercialism?" Sam lifted his head and stared at his brother. "That's a really big word, Dean. I'm proud of you."
"Haha, you're hilarious."
Sam smiled. "I just didn't expect you to be worrying about selfishness and overspending."
Dean shrugged and said, "It's just the point of the thing."
"Well, either way, no one should be going to the mall in this mess." Sam motioned to the window, eyes widening as he took in the swirling snowflakes. "It's getting worse."
"It's getting better."
"No, it's not." Sam shook his head. "It was. Like ten minutes ago, but it's getting worse again."
"If you say so."
"Sam, go back to your book." Dean turned the volume up higher.
Rolling his eyes, Sam started to look back at his book and then the car skidded. He grabbed the door and his book went flying to the floorboard.
"Sorry, sorry," Dean said, pulling his arm back from where he'd thrown it across Sam's chest. "Just caught a patch of ice."
"How much further?" Sam asked, still holding tight to the door. He stared ahead into ever growing darkness.
"You're the one with the map."
Sam pulled the map out again and shone the flashlight on it. He tried to remember the last side road they'd passed and made a rough guess at how far they were from the next town.
"Great." Dean shook his head.
The radio was going in and out of reception and Dean had turned the windshield wipers up again. It was more sleet than snow coming down now and the scrape of the wipers sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Sam turned off the flashlight and didn't bother to refold the map. After a moment, Dean flipped the radio off as well. He slowed the car almost to a crawl which told Sam exactly how bad the road condition was.
"Maybe we should pull over for awhile," he suggested after a few minutes of slipping and sliding.
"I'm not parking on the side of the road in this mess. Last thing we need is for some idiot to sideswipe us," Dean said, gently tapping the brakes. "Look for a driveway or another side street. If we can find some place that's safe to park, I'll—"
His statement was cut off as they were both thrown forward by a powerful impact from behind.
Sam hit the dashboard hard. Pain exploded throughout his body. He heard Dean shout, a lot of thumping and skidding, and then the car spun out like a Tilt-a-Whirl coming off its tracks.
Well, they're off to a great start to their Christmas, aren't they? :)