It is said that dreams are the gateway to your inner world. In Dean's case, his inner world was a happy place.
A very happy place.
The girl in front of him was blond and he knew her name was Tiffany. Just Tiffany, without a last name. Like Cher or Madonna. Her long hair fell in waves over her back to her bottom, which was not at all hidden by something that Dean tied his shoes with. Her skin was the colour of honey, her blond hair the colour of the sun, almost yellow and her eyes... oh her eyes... almond-shaped and the colour of a summer skies.
Her legs were playing the pole like an instrument - a virtuoso really - and the sight filled Dean's mind with symphonies.
"You should charge money for that," a voice whispered beside him and Dean looked to his right, where a chair had appeared out of the blue.
"Bob?" Dean said distractedly. "I'm dreaming."
"Yes, you are. Obviously. And normally you're into brunettes, as I recall."
"This is my dream. Go away!" he murmured, not yet really aware of anything but the soundless orchestra.
He settled back into his cozy armchair, resting his head against a soft pillow and concentrated on Tiffany again, who was doing some kind of a hand stand, her right leg looped around the metal while the other one was pointing towards the ceiling. Her hair was fanned out on the velvet floor, contrasting sharply against the crimson.
Man, she was amazing. If there were prices for head cinema, Dean had definitely earned himself an Oscar.
"Is that even anatomically possible?" There it was again. That annoying voice that had no right to be here.
"Bob? What are you still doing here?" Dean asked, confused now.
"Enjoying the show."
"Go away!" Dean hissed and made a shushing gesture with his hand, slowly but surely realizing the situation he was in and the fact that Bob was here, too. In his dream. The one that turned into something Dean had not intended.
"Why is she wearing a Parka?" Bob wanted to know, tilting his head to the side as if inspecting a rather abstract piece of art. Tiffany was standing on her heightened platform, wrapped in thick clothes looking ready for an expedition to the North Pole. There were large boots on her feet the size of little dolphins and a furry cap sat on her head, hiding her blonde hair.
"Bob!" Dean yelled, now incredulously. "You're ruining it!"
"What? I didn't mean to interrupt," he replied with an innocent smirk, then, to Tiffany. "Go on! I admire your leg work."
"You don't expect..." Dean began, shaking his head. Now he couldn't even be alone in his dreams? That was not cool. "That is so not cool, Bob!"
"Sorry, Dean. Actually, I just wanted to pop in, say hi, have a nice chat and so. You know, the usual."
"The usual usually includes cryptic messages and epic bad news. What is it this time? Want me to rob a bank? Steal a baby? Leave Sam behind?" Dean wanted to know, his annoyance reaching the point where he preferred to wake up. Maybe, this was just a nightmare and if he only ignored Bob long enough, Tiffany would be back. With her brunette sister. Chantalle. "And before you answer. Keep in mind that this is still my dream you're in and I can do anything."
"I'd like to see you try," Bob smiled mischievously, but sobering fast. The popcorn bowl that had occupied his lap only seconds ago was gone and with it the air of amusement and leisure. "You need to go, Dean."
"Go? Go where?"
"Disneyland, of course." Bob rolled his eyes. "Not."
The room started to shake, just a little. Tiny vibrations that made his fingertips tingle. But it was increasing fast, the floor writhing beneath him like he was sitting on a digesting snake.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm not doing anything," Bob answered, shrugging his shoulder.
"Hey, I certainly don't dream about being in an earthquake."
"I didn't think so," Bob answered. "Maybe you should just wake up, you know. Get out of there."
"Get out of wh...?" He didn't finish the sentence because Bob snapped his finger and he woke up so fast, that it felt like someone had ripped him out of his own body.
But it was the panicked voice of his younger brother that fully made him aware of his surroundings. Looking to his right he could see Sam sitting up in his bed, clad in his t-shirt and boxers. His eyes wide and panicked and staring at the place around him.
It was the same view. Just like in his dreams. The floor was buckling, cupboards were crashing, tables were toppling over. The windows, showing the blackness of the night, were rattling and shrieking, the sound like munching on broken glass before exploding and showering both Dean and Sam with a millions shards. Simultaneously they rolled off their beds, bodies hitting the carpet next to each other. The gap between the beds was barely big enough for both of them and Dean could feel Sam's knees pressing against his. Even in the dim light of the moon provided Dean could see fissures starting to paint patterns on the wall, criss-crossing all over the place like an aging skin on fast forward and dust and rubble began to rain down on their heads. Huge cracks were appearing in the walls, drawing random patterns before overstraining the structural integrity of the building.
"Get under the bed!" Dean yelled only seconds before something large missed his head by inches. Sam had already moved, his stupidly gigantic frame vanishing under the furniture and Dean rolled away into the other direction, coughing up dust and dirt and disgusting balls of hair that had probably collected here for decades.
"Sam!" He had to scream over the noise. It sounded like the grumbling of a dragon's stomach, deep and thunderous. It wasn't just the moving earth that had Dean hurtling around like an old puppet in a washing machine. It was like waves of energy crashing into him, rattling his bones. "Sammy?" He screamed again, hoping for a sound - a sign - that Sam was okay but he could barely hear his own voice, even less the one of his brother.
How was this even possible? How could there be an earthquake? Again? They were neither close to the New Madrid Fault Line, nor close enough to the west-coast to be in an area prone to have earthquakes. They were in Kansas of all places.
This wasn't a normal earthquake. This was something else. And it was bad. Apocalyptically bad.
It had begun.
The bed above him jumped, one of the wooden foots breaking and it came down on him with such force that Dean's teeth cracked against each other and the air was pressed out his lungs. According to the weight and the noise, the ceiling had just come down.
He hit his head - hard - when the earth produced an exceptionally energetic sway and the last thing he thought before his consciousness was swapped away was that the Gauls probably had something different in mind when they prophesied the sky to fall upon them.
The first thing he thought when he woke up the next time was that - dammit - he really missed the Tiffany dream. It probably would have made the whole thing more bearable. At least as long as he would have stayed in his dream world. And true, his dream world was a much nicer world than what he woke up to.
The sky had fallen upon them, after all.
Dean blinked his scratchy eyes. They were burning painfully from the grit between his lids and tears were filling his eyes to clear them from the dirt. Blinking again, he wriggled his hands free, rubbing over his face to get a better view. Somewhere far away he could make out a source of light. Just a tiny puddle of a greyish shimmer but it was enough to make him realize that it was near daylight. Everything else lay in complete darkness. Like a tomb.
The analogy made him jump and he bumped his head against something hard. A sharp pain radiated through his skull, seeming intent on escaping trough his eyes but he swallowed the sound of distress that threatened to leave him. He needed to concentrate on his situation, not his physical well being. Because Sam hadn't yet called out for him.
"Sam?" He managed to croak and he coughed up dirt and dust, the movement wreaking havoc in his abused body. "Saam!"
There was no reply. Just the dense, suffocating silence of a crumbled house around him and a strange ringing in his ears. From time to time he could hear scratching sounds, like the rumble was shifting around him in an attempt to fold itself even smaller. Carefully, he crawled towards the place where the gap between the beds had been. The carpet was unrecognizable and when he stretched out his finger he could touch what once had been the ceiling and he was ridiculously glad they had decided to spend the night in a cheap motel that was obviously made of cardboard paper. He was surprised the material wasn't crumbling between his fingers.
"Sam?" He said again, recognizing the bed sheets his brother had laid on. "Come on, man, say something!" He ordered, giving his voice the most commanding tone he could muster. Seconds later he was rewarded with a distressed moan coming from only a few feet away. "Sam? You have to wake up!"
Dean squeezed his body from under the bed, moving slowly and measured to avoid any more shifting of the rumble above him. Having come to a stand on his knees and hands he experimentally tried to lift the large piece of junk blocking their way out. Even though it was made of cardboard paper it was surprisingly heavy and the effort made his head spin. To get out of here, he'd probably need help. And the only help available was lying a few inches to the left and still hadn't said anything remotely coherent to let Dean know that he was okay.
"Sam, if you don't wake up now, I'll brush my teeth with your tooth brush."
"You're welcome to do that. For that, you'd have to find it first," came the muffled reply and Dean couldn't avoid the happy grin. Even though Sam sounded tired and maybe a little banged up, he seemed strong enough to bitch.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm trapped under a bed..." Sam answered, followed by a subdued "Duuh!"
"So, you're fine then?"
"Yeah, think so." There was a short pause, then a sharp intake of breath.
"I'm okay, I'm okay. I might have sprained my ankle when the stupid bed fell on it."
"That wasn't the bed. That was the ceiling."
"Oh. Thanks for clearing that up man," Sam replied. "Are you okay?"
Dean rechecked his body functions, wriggled his toes and stretched his neck. Then said: "I'm peachy but I really would like to get out of here. You up to it?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
Sam's hand appeared from under the bed frame and Dean grabbed it. "Okay, then let's check out of here. The service is an abomination."
It took them a while as well as a few curses and near death experiences before they found a place stable enough to crawl through and climb upwards. What they found made them want to crawl back again.
The world around them lay in pieces.
The motel was a mountain of debris. Large clouds of dust were still rising into the air, covering the whole area in a dirty haze. Across the street, where mere twelve hours ago a 24/7 had stood it looked like a bomb had found its target. Pieces of wood and other rubbish were scattered all over the streets as far as they could see and there were people on the street and climbing in the ruin. Some lay around like they had fallen asleep where they stood. But Dean knew better. Knew better than hoping that an earthquake like that wouldn't claim victims.
Only slowly, a few sounds filtered through the chaos and all of the sudden Dean realized how silent it was. Besides the screaming of the few hurt and some random calls of people searching for friends and family, there was deadly calm around them. No wind, no birds, not even the sound of traffic. Now it felt like a well-meant irony that this town had already been dead before.
The sun was rising in the east, unnaturally large and blood-red. Like a ball dipped in paint.
All but peaceful.
Just the deadly calm before the real storm.
The town was tiny with just a few constant inhabitants. Actually, it wasn't really a town at all. Just an agglomeration of houses and shops and some scattered farms and if Sam and Dean hadn't had to find a gas station, they never would have ended up here. One might call it luck. Dean called it...
"Just freaking perfect..."
"This is really bad," he could hear Sam whisper next to him and as they carefully made their way over the battleground towards where they had parked the Impala. Or at least, where Dean hoped to find the Impala. Preferably in once piece.
The car, though it seemed otherwise perfectly fine, was covered by a thin sheen of dust and grit and the lot it was parked on had large cracks in its surface, forming a basin like the ground under it had collapsed.
"We..." Sam began, hobbling next to Dean without taking his eyes of their surroundings but Dean could see from the way his brother's Adam's apple was bobbing up and down, that Sam was in a mild state of shock that had little to do with the actual quake but more with the implications it foretold. "We have to find out if this is just a local phenomenon. You got a phone, by any chance?" He asked and cursed when he put pressure on his sprained ankle. Quickly reaching out, Dean steadied him and was glad about the fact that last night he had fallen asleep fully clothed. Which meant that the keys to his car were safely stuck in the back pocket of his jeans.
"Left it in the car," Dean answered, already opening the door of the Impala and taking the cell out of the glove compartment. Unfortunately, it didn't do the any good. He reached neither Bobby, nor Ellen. The lines were dead and Dean stared at the electronic device in his hand as if it was responsible for the whole mess.
When he finally started the engine it purred like a cat and nothing indicated any kind of damage. Still, it took them more than one hour to leave the town behind. There were only a few people on the street and more than once, Dean jumped out to help, carrying rubble from the street. They passed some ambulances - three in total - as well as a number of fire trucks which were doing their best to get trapped people out of collapsed houses. Luckily, drywall was common construction material as far as the brothers could tell.
When the only thing that remained of the place was its image in the rear view mirror, the oppressive silence in the car became almost unbearable.
"Do you think...?" Sam began but he trailed off, knowing very well that Dean understood.
"I don't know, Sam."
"I don't know, okay!" Dean interrupted harshly and Sam fell silent again. Immediately, Dean felt guilty. It wasn't Sam's fault. Nothing was. "How's the ankle?" Dean asked, hoping to distract Sam a little. Like there was any kind of distraction from the apocalypse.
Hey! Let's go watch a movie! - Naah, don't want to. Doomsday is so distracting.
Yeah, that was a conversation Dean wanted to have right now.
"Sprained. Hurts a little. But it's going to be fine." Sam's voice was small and void of any real emotion. Like he had shut down. Like his brain had disconnected to run a full scan on its own and for the time being, Dean was okay with it. It gave him time to do some thinking on his own.
What did he know? First, it was an earthquake. Could be coincidence. (Yeah, sure! ) Maybe there was a fault line somewhere close and they were just panicking for nothing. And the dead cell...well, could be aliens, right?
He resisted a hysterical bubble of laughter and could feel Sam's worried eyes on him, ignoring it.
He was not dealing very well, was he?
He sighed, concentrating back on the street which was almost untouched. At times, there were cracks in the asphalt and when Dean followed their trail, he could see them going on left and right, carving through the concrete like diamonds on glass. If this is how the planet looked like now, Dean just didn't want to know it.
They didn't meet another car on the street for miles and miles and Dean wasn't sure that's because this part of the States was just plain empty or because mankind had fallen into the pit all at once, swallowed by the earth.
It was two hours later when Sam, who had started fumbling with the buttons of the radio, finally got a signal. The man was talking rapidly and it them a few seconds to actually identify the words as English.
"Dr. Philip Ranshom, professor at the Boston University."
"Hello," a second man said, his voice more throaty and rumbling than the first.
"Is there any explanation yet?"
The reception was weak and it was lucky they had picked up the talk in the first place. Static was overlaying their words but it was clear enough to give Sam and Dean the information they feared yet need.
The earthquakes, as in plural, had destroyed a great number of large cities all over the country. The rest of the planet wasn't faring much better.
At this point of the broadcast, Dean slowed the car and they came to a halt on the withered side of the street. Their eyes were directed at the radio. As if staring hard enough could make the information less true and mind-numbing. Sam shook his head a few times but didn't say anything while Dean had to will himself calm, feeling like he should be stumbling out of the car to kick something.
Earthquakes, as far as the professor in the radio knew, weren't the only evil tidings these days. Resulting tsunamis had wiped out isles, claiming hundreds and thousands--probably millions of people on nearby coasts. Greenland and Iceland and large parts of Japan had all but been bombed away by the explosion of volcanoes.
So much for the unknown fault line theory, Dean thought numbly, turning the volume up. The aggressive static hurt their ears like nails on a blackboard but they didn't care. They couldn't stop listening. It was like watching a car crash in front of you and the seconds were turning into eons while your body, your whole being refused to cooperate.
Abruptly, the connection was broken only to come back a few seconds later. Dean let his breath out, not even realizing he had held it. According to the meager information they were getting due to the collapsed communication -- there was no internet, phone lines were mostly dead and TV and radio were sending whatever information they got, as long as they could.
"... further earthquakes have shaken the states of Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio. We have been informed about numerous tornadoes in the Midwest as well as a serious flooding along the Mississippi..."
"So, can you give any explanation? How is that possible?" The anchorman wanted to know, sounding oddly like he wanted to know about tomorrow's weather.
Expect raining frogs and bursts of fiery thunder, people. So don't forget your umbrellas.
"... don't know, Jim. It is impossible, if you ask me. No question!" The professor assured and Sam huffed, while the man kept talking. "This is either God's idea of a bad joke or this is the end of the world as we know it."
Dean couldn't help it. He snorted, pressed his fist against his lips to stop the grin widening but there was something in his stomach, something large and painful and with its own will. It rose up to his chest and burst out. Laughter, loud and rumbling, and Sam looked at him as if - after all these years of horror, loss and tragedy - he'd finally lost it once and for all.
"What's so funny?" Sam wanted to know disbelievingly while tears were sliding down Dean's cheeks and his fingers clutched the wheel making his knuckles stand out like the bones were close to jutting out of the skin. He couldn't help it. There was something so strangely bizarre and undeniably final in their situation yet the only thing Dean could think about was Hell, what does that mean for my M&M supply?
M&Ms were the least of their problems, they realized when the fuel indicator neared the 1/4 limit. They found a lonely station, some miles outside Topeka where a man stood behind the counter, a tooth pick between his lips and a beer can in his hands. He didn't look up when Dean entered, eyeing the products which seemed to have survived the last millennia before handing the guy money. So, obviously the apocalypse hadn't yet found its way to this place or the guy just didn't care. From the stoned way the man was looking, Dean supposed it was the latter because there was a radio playing in the background informing about hurricanes and riots and useless scientists.
Deciding to play it safe, Dean filled canisters, bought all the snacks provided and rigorously ignored the clerk's raised eyebrows.
Packed with as much gas as they could afford and more Snickers, Mars- and Powerbars, half a dozen bags of M&Ms and three family packs of o-juice they got back on the road. The street in front of them stretched as the day passed by and the only other cars they met were two trailers, one shabby pick-up and a few military vehicles which were probably on their way to some of the rare large cities.
Dean didn't even want to think about the chaos that was surely prevailing in the areas of denser population.
They had turned off the radio. Most of the noise had been static anyway. Nothing but a screeching and moaning sound that had hurt their ears only randomly interrupted by some coherent words about economic break downs, riots with unnumbered casualties and general scenarios of hell on earth.
The sun was standing low in the east when Dean had the glorious idea to put a cassette in the cassette deck but it felt like a punch in the stomach when the first beats of "Highway to Hell" sounded in the cramped space of the Impala. Sam punched the button with much more force than necessary and the tape shot out of the deck and on the bench where it stayed. It seemed too much effort to put it back into the shoebox in which Dean collected his musical treasures... or torture devices as Sam had insisted more than once.
Time seemed like something gooey during the long hours of driving and it took Dean more than half the day to even realize where he was driving more or less unconsciously. Almost surprised he stated "We're going to the Roadhouse," at which point Sam stared at him as if he just grown a second head.
"Uhm... yeah. I knew that."
"I..." Dean began, trying to distract Sam from his own feeling of total helplessness. What was it that the Roadhouse had to offer? Answers? Probably not. The only thing they would find was a pissed Ellen, possibly an agitated Jo and a handful of hunters who'd have no second thoughts about blaming the whole fucked up mess on the two brothers. "I'm not really sure that's a good idea," he finally finished the sentence and--if that's even possible--Sam's frown got deeper.
"Did you hurt your head when the ceiling fell down on you?"
With that, the conversation was over and silence took hold while the shadows lengthened.
How could they can be sure the sun would come up again in the morning? Dean pondered, squinting his eyes against the red sea of light that looked like it wanted to vaporize the horizon.
The road got dustier as the miles went by and darkness was quickly settling when they reached Harvelle's Roadhouse. Relieved that it was still more or less standing, Dean parked the car on the parking lot and got out, inspecting the damage that had been caused by what looked like another earthquake. Or maybe it was the same. It wasn't like Dean was a big earthquake geek who knew about this kind of stuff besides what he had experienced on his own or watched on TV in movies like 2012 where even the most disastrous end of world scenarios included a touch of romantic heroism with impossible happily ever-afters.
He wished the world had ended like that. With one huge Big Bang and not like this. In a slow, almost calculating process of steady destruction. Ecological disasters here and there, ruined cities and hopeless rescue missions. Scientists who were clueless, people who were aimless. A world that suddenly felt homeless despite everything. Turned out, the end of the world was slowly creeping its way into their lives.
And the Roadhouse was the perfect proof of that. Because it was still standing. Walls straight, even though the large neon sign was hanging on just one hinge, dangling in a non-existent breeze from a metal rod. The windows were smashed and the shards were scattered on the outside. As if something had exploded from the inside.
His stomach was rolling as he yelled, loudly, "Hello?"
The only reply was the squeaking of the swinging Roadhouse banner and the sound of the Impala door falling shut as Sam got out of the car.
"Ellen?" Sam tried and even in the dim twilight Dean could see his own fears for their friends safety mirrored in his brother's face. Making sure his gun was stuck in the waistband of his jeans, Dean took a few cautious steps. There were five cars parked in the lot plus the Impala. There had to be people around somewhere. Maybe hiding. The atmosphere though was so empty and vast that for just a second Dean wondered if they were the last humans on earth.
Anxious with what he would find behind the closed door Dean reached out to open it when the sound of a gun cocking made him freeze.