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Chapter 4

In New Mexico Joan met a young woman who was leaving her family behind to go to college and study music. She rode with her as far as Oklahoma, thankfully spending only two days in the blistering heat of the desert. Those two days were utterly miserable, partly because of a lack of air conditioning in the car. She spent the majority of the trip listening as the girl babbled excitedly about the things she would be learning and how she hoped to find someone who loved music as much as she did. They parted ways at a coffee shop, Joan staying long enough to watch Lynnie get up on the tiny stage with her guitar and sing one of her own songs before moving on.

She stayed in Stillwater, Oklahoma only long enough to catch a ride to a small town in Kansas with an older man who had just dropped off his daughter for her freshman year in college. John dropped her off in Colby on his way to Nebraska, leaving behind a phone number to call ‘if she ever came out that way.’

There was a small grocery store in Colby that needed counter help while the owners’ family pulled in the harvest, and Joan was there for three weeks, keeping an old-fashioned tally of the sales in the notebook that was kept behind the register. The Brown family welcomed her into their home and let her stay with them for the duration, and she reciprocated by watching the children in the evenings.

Once the harvest was over, Joan caught a bus eventually destined for Rifle, Colorado. She slept for a good portion of the trip, and in fact was sound asleep when the bus had a front-end collision with some idiot in a Saturn who was pulling out of the entrance driveway.

Later on, she wouldn’t remember much of what happened before the hospital, other than a vague impression of a large black man with an incongruous Russian accent. The man would later introduce himself as Sanya, a wielder of a Sword of the Cross (Joan could hear the capitalization when he said it), and said that God had asked him to make sure she was safe until she got back onto the road. Sanya told her that the accident had thrown her forward and that she’d hit her head on the seat in front of her, giving her a concussion and splitting open the skin on her scalp, and consequently freaking out pretty much everyone on the bus with the blood. She got a good look at the stitches along her hairline and the vivid bruising on her forehead and decided that he’d been right.

They kept her in the hospital for a week, cautiously monitoring both her and the baby, before releasing her to Sanya’s care. Sanya went with her as far as Duchesne, Utah until they parted ways. Joan programmed his number into her cell and headed toward the motel where she would be staying.

***

“You need to go to Wyoming,” God told her as she hummed the song from the Zombie musical and folded towels in the hotel laundry room. This particular manager let her have her room for free as long as she did the motel housekeeping, but it was getting harder and harder to keep up the further along she got. God had shown up, in the form of an older lady, and pitched in a little. She should have known He was getting ready to ask her to do something.

“Any particular place in Wyoming?” She had been in six states over the last nine weeks; Wyoming would make number seven.

“A little town called Cooper. There’s a restaurant at the edge of town that needs a waitress.” The woman stacked the clean towels on the shelf where they belonged before turning back to Joan and resting a hand on her shoulder. “That’s where your baby is going to be born.”

“Cooper, Wyoming,” Joan repeated, struggling up from her folding chair.

“And Joan?” The woman smiled at her, her expression sympathetic. “You need to hitchhike. Don’t take the bus or train.”

Joan looked down at her belly, then up at God. “You suck,” she said, rolling her eyes and heading for the door.

She packed her bag with the efficiency of long practice and notified the manager that she was leaving. He gave her some money for her work, which she wasn’t expecting, and told her to take care of herself before burying himself back in his book. Joan made sure her shoes were tied, which took a little bit of effort, and then pointed herself in the general direction of Wyoming.

She was huffing and out of breath before she went a mile, even at a slow walk, so she stopped for a rest at a wide spot on the road. There were a handful of vehicles pulled over for similar reasons, but she ignored them. God would make the right car stop for her, so there was no reason to approach people for a ride. The safest thing to do was trust God. She’d learned that much since she’d left the Carpenters.

Once she was rested, she started out again. This time she moved even slower and carefully, hoping to pace herself and make it a little farther before she had to stop again. She made it a mile and a half further down the road and sat down outside the guard rail. At this rate, she would barely make Wyoming by Christmas. The high elevation was killing what little remained of her stamina. There wasn’t much traffic on the road, and what was there had blown past. “You’re not making this easy,” she said, rubbing her belly. Then she hauled herself up and kept on down the road.

It went on this way for about six miles before an RV pulled off the road ahead of her and a tiny woman with snow-white hair hopped out. “Honey, you need a ride?”

Joan nodded gratefully. “Yes, please.” She had been getting ready to step off the road for another rest and was sweaty and out of breath despite the chill in the late November air. She trudged forward, and the woman opened up the door and helped her inside with surprising strength.

“You shouldn’t be out here in your condition,” the woman said, guiding Joan to a seat.

Joan shrugged out of her backpack and sat down, too tired to argue. “I need to get somewhere.”

The RV pulled back onto the road smoothly as the older lady bustled around the kitchenette. “You want something to drink?”

“Could I have some water?”

“Sure thing.” She brought over two bottles of water and handed one to Joan before sitting down next to her. “My name’s Beulah. That’s my husband Elmer.” The rail-thin man driving smiled and gave her a little wave.

“I’m Joan.” She smiled back and then drank some of her water. “Thank you for stopping.”

“Oh, it’s no problem. We’ve got plenty of space and time. Going up to our son’s house for Thanksgiving, and if we get there too early my daughter-in-law will think we’re hovering. You’re welcome to ride with us as far as you need to go.”

“I’m going to Cooper, Wyoming.”

“Wyoming!” Beulah’s eyebrows shot up toward her white cloud of hair. “Honey, were you planning on walking all the way to Wyoming?”

“If I had to. I couldn’t take the bus or a train.”

“What’s waiting for you in Wyoming?”

“That’s where I’m going to have my baby.”

“You got family there?”

“No. It’s hard to explain. It’s just something I have to do.” Joan leaned back in her bolted-down seat, exhausted, and the older woman frowned.

“Why don’t you come to the back and lie down,” she suggested. She lead the way to the tiny bed at the back of the RV and helped Joan lie down despite the girl’s half-hearted protest. She was asleep not long after her head hit the pillow.

Joan woke up disoriented, and it took a moment for her panic to die down as she remembered where she was. She could feel the slight sway of the vehicle moving down the road as she climbed out of the bed and stumbled back out into the common area. Elmer was standing at the kitchenette making instant coffee. “Birdie needed a pick-me-up,” he said quietly. Joan had the feeling that he did almost everything quietly.

“Can I use your bathroom?”

The man nodded. “She wants to talk with you for a while. Better go now.”

Joan took care of business and then made her way to the front of the RV. Beulah was guiding the large vehicle down the road with the ease of long familiarity as Joan settled into the passenger seat. “Buckle up,” the old woman said. “No sense taking chances.”

Joan obediently fastened the seat belt the way Patricia had told her to, a little disheartened at how far she had to pull to adjust it. She hadn’t been in a vehicle with a seat belt since she’d left the Carpenters, and she’d done some growing since then. “Thank you for the ride,” she said again. “And for letting me sleep.”

Beulah nodded, the fine lines on her face crinkling a little as she smiled. “I remember what it was like. Any sleep you could get was welcome.” She took a sip of coffee, keeping her eyes on the road. “How much longer you got, honey?”

“Two weeks,” Joan sighed.

“And the father?”

“Not around.” Joan winced and leaned back as little feet found their way between the bottom two ribs. “Easy on the ribcage, kiddo,” she said quietly, rubbing her belly. “I need it.”

“Well, Elmer and I pulled out the map, and it turns out we go right past Cooper on our way to Andy’s house. It’s about six hours from here. You’re welcome to ride along with us. Elmer’s a wonderful man, but he’s not much of a conversationalist, and I could use the company.”

“Wow,” said Joan. “That’s . . .that’s really nice of you. Are you sure?”

“Of course I am, honey. You just help keep me entertained while we go. You watch much TV?

“Not for a while. I’ve been a little too busy.”

“Me too. I love to read, though. What was the last book you read?” And they were off. Beulah and Joan talked about everything from books to music to food (that topic being inspired by Joan’s sudden craving for tuna) for the next few hours. They stopped for gas and Elmer switched as the driver after about three hours, and the two women moved back to the kitchenette. Beulah kept talking as she heated up some soup for the two of them, having switched the conversation to everything she remembered about taking care of babies. Joan was mostly talked out by this time, but she listened avidly as she ate her soup, occasionally asking questions that would start the woman off on a rabbit trail of stories.

The hours flew past, and before Joan knew it the RV was pulling into a parking lot. “Here we are,” Elmer announced, parking the vehicle and turning off the engine.

Joan gathered her bag and followed her surprise benefactors out into the cold sunshine. She hugged them both, feeling awkward and huge and clumsy with Beulah’s delicate bones beneath her hands. “Thank you,” she said, feeling tears well up. Stupid hormones. “Thank you so much. I don’t know how I would have gotten here if you hadn’t stopped and picked me up.”

“It was no trouble, honey.” Beulah smiled, the creases on her face deepening. “You take care of yourself and the baby, and maybe we’ll see each other again someday.”

Joan nodded, sniffling a little. She stood outside and watched as the couple climbed back into their vehicle, waving as they pulled away. When the RV had turned a corner and disappeared from sight, she went inside the restaurant and set about getting a month-long job. She would be spending Thanksgiving and her birthday here.

It wasn’t until she checked into a motel room that night and unpacked her bag that Joan found the envelope of money. She cried with thanksgiving and relief and encouragement. She did have a lot to be thankful for.

And she never learned that Beulah and Elmer had traveled four hours out of their way to drop her off in Cooper.

***

Azazel, nicknamed the ‘Yellow-eyed Demon’ by the Winchesters, could have screamed in frustration. He ended up just killing a happy family because they were in his way. The woman… the not-yet-damned woman pregnant with the powerful Winchester male had vanished from his senses. She was still alive, as was the child, but…

He

Couldn’t

Find

Them.


They were hidden from him. The knowledge taunted him. It made him even more violent and full of rage.

The boy was too powerful, or would be. If Azazel tainted him as he had done so many others, he would win in the end. If he didn’t and the boy survived, it spelled the end for Azazel.

He had to find them. They couldn’t hide forever. The mother was defenseless. He yearned to gut her.

He licked his lips. He would see her dying on a ceiling soon. Very, very soon.

Very, very soon. He could be patient. Time was on his side.

Soon.

***

Chapter 5

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