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Apocalyptic Love Songs 7

***

Dean had gone through two mugs of coffee and another peanut butter and banana sandwich when he found it. It was just in passing, just a few words, but he went back and reread them over and over, knowing it was another sign.

Spent three days in Chicago, looking for a way to the Hanging Man. I didn’t find it, but didn’t expect to. I’ll try another route. I hear promising things about Sedona.”

Dean marked the page with a Post-It and rubbed his mouth in thought. It was early on in his father’s career as a hunter — he’d only been about six, himself — and John didn’t say another word about who the Hanging Man was or if he found him in Sedona.

Dean closed the journal and rubbed the bridge of his nose, head aching from cabin fever and too much coffee. He supposed he should sleep — everybody kept telling him to rest — but surely he was doing okay enough to go out.

Except everybody was telling him to stay at Bobby’s, too. It was safe — everywhere else was not. His foot twitched at the memory of the pain Lorcan had been causing him, and he sighed, sick of these walls and Bobby’s many, many books.

A few hours would be okay. Just enough to get something to eat that wasn’t peanut butter.

He limped upstairs, put on jeans and a fresh t-shirt and boots, grabbed his jacket and went out to the Impala. “Hey, baby,” he said softly and started the engine, smiling as the Impala purred to life. He drove out of the wrecking yard on the road toward the city. He knew just the diner, a place that had great meatloaf and Oreo pie.

There was a crossroads on the way, and Dean stepped harder on the gas to get it past it quickly. His leg ached but he ignored it and tightened his hands on the wheel.

The back of his neck pricked and he glanced in his rear view mirror. There was a shape at the side of the road, hunched and dark and big. “Shit,” Dean muttered and stepped harder on the gas. “Come on, baby,” he whispered. “Come on. Please, baby.” The engine roared as the Impala accelerated and Dean whispered, “Thank you,” as he floored it away from the crossroads.

His hands shook as he drove.

***

The meatloaf was as good as he remembered, with creamy mashed potatoes and green beans, as was the Oreo pie; but Dean couldn’t enjoy either of them. He had to think about the drive back to Bobby’s. He had to figure out a way to get past the crossroads, where he had no doubt the beast was waiting for him.

He was drinking down the last of his Coke and crunching ice cubes when he noticed the walls of the diner. It had always been decorated the same way, for as long as he could remember — old highway and street signs, vintage tin ads for things like Coca-Cola and Morton’s salt.

They had added something new — a copper face made of leaves. Dean blinked a few times, trying to remember where he’d seen that before, and said to a passing waitress, “What is that?” as he pointed to the face.

“It’s kind of creepy,” the waitress said with a nod. “Our new cook brought it in. It’s the Green Man. It’s a tree god thing, or something.”

“The Green Man,” Dean said. He’d read that name before, too — it had come up in research for one thing or another. “What’s it for?”

The waitress shrugged, disinterested. “Good luck, I guess. Or a good garden. I don’t know. Do you want another slice of pie, sugar?”

“No, thanks,” Dean said and left a bigger tip than usual since she’d been so willing to answer questions. Not that he knew what it meant — it was like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together when you don’t have a picture on the box.

He paused on his way out, and then went back to the kitchen. The cook looked up from the griddle when Dean poked his head inside, and Dean said, “I just wanted to compliment the cook. The meatloaf was great.”

“Thanks,” the cook said and flipped a pancake.

“Hey, um, were you the one who brought in the Green Man head? The waitress I asked said it was a cook.”

“Yeah,” the cook said, and paused a moment, looking embarrassed. “I picked it up on the way out here, when I moved. People think it’s weird, but I don’t know, I like it. It makes me feel like somebody’s watching over me, you know?”

“I know,” Dean said. “Where did you get it?”

“A home store in Chicago.” He flipped another pancake onto a plate and put the plate on the counter, and rang the bell. “They had lots. I can’t remember the name, though. It wasn’t one of those big chains — it was a little place I found completely by accident. Sorry.”

“Thanks,” Dean said and got out the kitchen. He sat for a moment in the Impala before he turned the engine on, thinking. The Green Man, the Green Knight, the Hanging Man, Chicago . . . it all meant something and he couldn’t figure out what.

He was pretty sure their next destination was Chicago, but he had no idea what they would look for when they got there.

But first he had to get home, and the sun was setting.

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