The United States of America as Mary knew it was dying. There was no television or radio. Phones no longer functioned. They tried to take the highway across Kansas but found the road impassable: an early stretch was blocked by crashed vehicles piled up across the road and when they went around that and tried to rejoin the highway further north they found it full of abandoned vehicles. There was no sign of the people who once drove those cars. The third time they tried to get onto the highway they found it destroyed, as if by a massive earthquake.
Instead, they travelled on the back-roads. They passed small towns that appeared untouched by the apocalyptic events, but people eyed them with suspicion and fear. They didn’t stop in such places. Two of the towns they passed were inexplicably empty. Others had barricades erected and patrolled by armed guards, forcing Mary and John to detour still further. It lengthened the journey considerably: just getting across Kansas took two full days. Motels and gas stations were closed and deserted. John had no compunction about breaking into a gas station to refuel, but Mary refused to sleep in the abandoned motel John found: she felt it was abandoned for a reason. Instead they spent the night in the truck, too exhausted to care about the discomfort.
The following day, they finally reached Harvelle’s Roadhouse.
Even from a great distance, Mary could see there was something wrong at the Roadhouse. The shape of the building was just…wrong. John saw it, too, because he began to accelerate as the Roadhouse came into view. The truck, however, couldn’t get much above fifty despite John’s best efforts.
Mary peered through the windshield as they drew closer to the Roadhouse. The sign above the building was still there, but below it the Roadhouse was a burned-out husk. Most of the roof was gone. Parts of the walls and supports remained, blackened and fragile. There was no smoke, so the fire must have been out for a while.
“Oh, god. John…”
“I see it,” he said grimly. “There are a few people there. Someone survived.”
“Slow down,” Mary ordered. It should have been good news, but the presence of people didn’t necessarily mean they were survivors. They might not be people. She reached for the salt-filled shotgun. “We don’t know who is there,” she explained.
John didn’t accuse her of paranoia this time. He slowed the truck. “There’s no cover out here. They know we’re coming.”
Mary understood that. “John, even if it’s Ellen and Bill, we have to be sure it’s really them.”
“Yes. It doesn’t take much. Just a splash on the skin.”
He nodded, eyes narrow as he looked ahead. “I see Bill: his walk is distinctive. Four…five others. One is Jo, I think.”
Mary waited tensely as they drove toward the ruined building. John had better eyes than she, but Mary identified Bill, Ellen and Jo. The other three were men she didn’t recognise. Mary felt relieved to see them, but her doubts remained. The Roadhouse had been a gathering place for hunters for a long time: what better place to lay an ambush?
Ellen came toward them as the truck drew close. Behind her, Bill was with Jo: she was leaning against the Harvelle’s car, her face turned away from Mary’s view. Mary jumped down with the shotgun in her hand, ready to aim.
Ellen raised a hand. “Mary, relax. We’ve been through enough today.”
“I’m sorry, Ellen,” Mary answered. “We have to be sure.”
Ellen frowned. “Back at you.”
John reached Mary’s side, opening a bottle of holy water as he walked. He poured some into his right palm and offered his hand as if for a handshake. Ellen smiled and took his hand. Water dripped from their joined fingers and Mary relaxed her grip on the shotgun. Ellen was herself.
“Your turn,” Ellen said firmly, still holding John’s hand.
Mary raised her hand, displaying her silver bracelet to Ellen. It included an anti-possession charm, which she showed to Ellen. “Do you have holy water or salt? I’ll take any test you like.”
Ellen glanced back over her shoulder. “Just walk this way.”
Mary looked down and smiled, understanding. She stepped over the iron chain which, she guessed, formed part of a devil’s trap.
Someone – some demon, Ellen believed – had walked into the Roadhouse with eight grenades and thrown them in all directions. The attacker died, of course, but so had anyone in the saloon at the time. Bill and Ellen had been in the back so escaped the initial explosion. Jo was behind the bar when it started. She dived into the cellar when she saw what was happening and had been trapped down there for a long time; it was a miracle she didn’t run out of oxygen. She had inhaled a lot of smoke and was still coughing; Mary worried that her lungs were damaged.
Nothing was left of the Roadhouse except burnt timbers, ash and scorched earth. The only shelter for the six survivors was a battered old trailer and two cars, but they weren’t thinking about shelter. All six of them were digging graves.
Mary and John offered their help, of course, and told their own story while they worked: Mary helped Ellen extract bodies from the ashes, some of them in pieces.
By nightfall, the bodies were buried, a wooden marker placed on each grave. They had used the trailer and what was left of the Roadhouse’s walls to construct a rough shelter big enough for those who were staying to sleep. They were gathered around a fire pit, roasting sausages and corn – Mary’s stocks – on sticks while they talked.
“Bobby and Dean will be here tomorrow,” Bill told Mary. “They found your message.”
Ellen had already told her, but Mary nodded gratefully. “Thank you.”
“How do you know?” John asked. “The phones are out.”
“Only cell phones,” Ellen corrected. “At least, our phone was still working before the fire. Dean called to let us know you and Mary were on your way.”
“If they called you before the attack, shouldn’t they be here by now?”
Ellen shook her head. “They’ll have gone to Bobby’s place first. Try not to worry, John. Bobby’s one of the best.”
“He won’t let anything happen to Dean,” Mary said softly, though she knew Bobby might not be in a position to prevent it. She shifted closer to John and he hugged her against his side. It made them both feel better.
“We’re heading north-west,” John volunteered. “There’s a place I know in the Cascades. I think we’ll be safe there.”
Mary was surprised, both by John volunteering the information and by his lie. She thought they should keep Sam’s involvement secret, but they hadn’t discussed it.
The bearded hunter – Kent – chimed in. “You ain’t the only ones headed for the hills. I hear Jim Murphy’s taken over an old monastery in the Rockies. We’re headed that way.” He indicated Ellen and Bill beside him.
“That ain’t decided yet,” Bill growled.
“It is unless you plan on staying here alone,” Ellen retorted. She turned to Ellen and John. “Murphy’s a priest,” she explained, “and a hell of a hunter. He’s planning to build a sanctuary and asked for our help. You’d both be welcome, too.”
“It’s good to know there are options,” John agreed, “but we’ve got reasons to go north.”
“I say we should stay and fight,” another hunter spat. He was an older man, African-American. No one had given Mary his name. She got the impression that was intentional.
“My father was a hunter,” she told him, “and he taught me that a hunter’s job is to save as many as we can.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“But we’ll only survive long enough to save them by recognising when we can’t,” Mary said firmly. “All of this, it’s happening too fast. If we make a stand now, all we’ll accomplish is to go down fighting.”
“Better than hiding in the mountains like a bunch of cowards!” he snarled.
“I agree. But if we wait, if we can survive for a while, maybe we can figure out the pattern in all this. Then we’ll know where to strike. We’ll have a chance.”
There was a grudging respect in his eyes when he nodded. “Point,” he grunted. “Still, you wait too long, what’ll be left to save?”
“There’s always something,” Mary answered. “Humanity has survived ice ages, plagues and world wars. We’ll survive this, too.”
“Well said, cuz,” Bill said loudly, and John hugged her. It was enough.
They spent the night in their makeshift shelter, though few of them managed to snatch more than a few hours sleep. They all felt vulnerable, exposed to the elements as well as to a horrible death swooping out of the fields. And yet, the night passed peacefully enough.
Mary lay on the hard ground with John’s arms around her and the stars above. She could hear the chittering of insects in the fields and occasionally, Jo coughing, but no other sounds.
She remembered tucking her boys into their beds at night, whispering that angels would watch over them while they slept. Something far darker had been watching over Sammy.
But the words she had spoken tonight were true: humanity would survive somehow. Evil would not win in the end. If Mary had a role in this, it was not as a warrior, nor the mother of the Anti-Christ. It was to watch over the people she loved, to make sure her family survived. And if she was to do that, she could no longer mourn the son she had already lost. Her Sammy died at Cold Oak. He made his choice. Whatever humanity he had left was written on a small piece of paper, co-ordinates to a place she prayed would be the haven he promised. Mary had to believe in him that much. There could be nothing more.
“Sam,” she whispered into the darkness, and felt John’s arms tighten around her. Silent tears spilled from her eyes.
Mary would never speak his name again.
Once again, Mary and John travelled the back-roads, and occasionally cross-country, a bone-jarring experience in the old truck. They began their journey alone: the Harvelles were headed for Colorado, Dean and Bobby were headed into battle, with a promise to find them in the spring if they lived that long. Mary hated that parting, but Dean would not be moved. They had to save as many as possible, he told her, and she could not disagree. There were still people who could be saved, and if Mary and John found their haven, there was a place they could refugee when they had to. They were going south, following what pattern Bobby thought he’d found in the omens.
They made maybe two hundred miles each day, stopping frequently when they found people. Sometimes they stopped to help. Sometimes just to exchange a few words with another human being. Occasionally, they stopped to hunt.
And along the way, they found friends.
A couple who ran a roadside diner were the first. After Mary struck up a conversation with her while ordering breakfast, Sue-Anne served them extra pancakes and told Mary of her daughter, Dee. Dee’s eyes turned black and she attacked her parents with a knife before vanishing into the night. Mary told Sue-Anne and her husband what they knew, advising them to protect themselves with salt and, after consulting with John, told the couple where they were going. They promised to follow, when they found their daughter. Mary knew they never would.
Cal Dexter and his wife joined them a few days later. Cal was a big, African American man who seemed much older than his twenty-four years. He had seen too much horror. Jeena was five months along in her first pregnancy, just beginning to show, and Cal was desperate to find some safe place to raise his family. They’d been living in an RV since fleeing the destruction of Lincoln. When they heard Mary’s story, Cal grabbed the hope she offered and they began travelling together. They stopped searching out motels and slept in the RV.
By the time they crossed into Washington State, Mary and John had been on the road for nearly three weeks and their band of travellers had grown to nine.
The wall was two metres high, Mary estimated, built of grey stone. The pillars which supported the wrought iron gate were even higher. The gate stood open. Beyond it, Mary could see an asphalt driveway and on both sides of it, cultivated fields with different crops growing in neat rows. She thought she identified potatoes, carrots and cabbages, but there were other plants she didn’t immediately recognise. The driveway led in a smooth curve to a further high wall and gate.
Mary looked at her husband as he slowed the truck. “What do you think?”
John shrugged. “No ‘keep out’ signs. I don’t see any security and the gate is open. Let’s see what’s inside.” He waited for the others to catch up, then drove onward, through the first gate.
Was this a farm? Mary wondered. It didn’t seem like the farms in Kansas, and why would farmers need such a high wall? It seemed odd, but she couldn’t think what else this place might be. The carefully cultivated fields looked somewhat neglected: there were weeds growing and signs of pests, but until recently those plants had been well tended and loved.
All of the plants filled the air with their scents and Mary breathed it deeply. It was the scent of life. She was beginning to feel hopeful about this place.
John slowed the truck again as they neared the second gate and signalled the others. He turned the truck and came to a stop parallel to the gate. He climbed down from the truck, taking his shotgun with him. Mary followed and they both waited for the others to gather around.
“It seems safe,” John announced, “but we don’t know what we’ll find in there. Mary and I will go in first. Wait for us. If anything happens, signal.”
Mary was a little surprised. As protective as John had become since the vampire attack, she’d expected him to ask her to wait with the others and not walk into some unknown danger. She was glad he wanted her at his side. She would have waited, if he insisted, but not happily. Mary had paid dearly for their time together and she didn’t want to be parted from John again.
She drew her gun and clicked the safety off as they walked through the second gate. From the outside, all they saw was a high brick wall. Inside, Mary saw several buildings on the inside of that wall, designed such that their roofs formed a walkway around the inner wall. There was a further building in the center which blocked her view of the far side. Several of the buildings had barred windows. All of them had sturdy wooden doors. There was an eerie silence that seemed like more than just the absence of sound. The high wall muffled the sounds of nature from outside but the sounds of human habitation were absent. There was no sound of machinery or music, no voices or movement. Yet this was a place designed for people. There should have been many people here.
She looked at John and he met her eyes then nodded toward the first door on their right. She nodded back and they walked that way. Mary took point on the right side of the door, her weapon ready, while John cautiously reached for the handle. He turned it quickly and flung the door open, stepping back and to the side in the same movement as if expecting an immediate attack. The door slammed against something inside, the sound thunderous in the quiet courtyard. Then silence fell once again.
John signalled to Mary – wait – and entered, his shotgun ready to fire. Mary held her breath, listening for his footsteps as he moved around inside. She heard the scrape of a chair or table being moved, then a crash as something fell. Mary jumped, but stayed where she was. John muttered a curse. It was reassuring; Mary didn’t think he would have called out if he believed there was anyone to hear. She holstered her gun and went inside.
The first thing Mary saw was the fallen bookshelf. It had come away from the wall, spilling its contents. Since John was nowhere near it, she guessed his slamming the door open had dislodged nails already loose. She met John’s eyes and he gave an embarrassed shrug. Mary shook her head with a quick smile.
It was a classroom. At the far end a large chalk board dominated the wall. In front of the board was a teacher’s desk and the main part of the room was filled with desks in neat rows. The desks were different sizes: small ones at the front, larger at the back. The rear of the room was all bookshelves, including the one that fell. She followed John down the centre aisle, walking more slowly than he. There had been children here. Children of all ages, judging from the desks. Where were they now?
John reached the front and she saw him tense.
“John? What is it?” she asked.
He indicated the floor behind the teacher’s desk. There was a long streak of blood across the stone: old blood, dark and flaking. To Mary’s eyes, there was too much blood for a nosebleed or childish injury to account for it, but not enough to have come from a fatal wound…unless it was a young child. She swallowed past a lump in her throat at that thought. She took a step back and glanced around the room. The streak of blood and the desk John knocked over were the only things in the room that was out of place.
“There was violence here,” Mary said carefully, “but someone straightened the room after. I think that…” she gestured to the blood, “is where someone dragged a body. Maybe a child.”
John was frowning. “If someone cleared up the room, why didn’t they clean this? I don’t like it, Mary. It feels like…I don’t know. Like everyone just vanished.” He snapped his fingers. “Like that. Someone meant to come back and clean the floor.”
“I agree.” Mary ran her fingertips over the desk, cutting lines in the dust. “It happened a while ago, John. A few weeks at least.”
“Around the time you last saw…?” John didn’t say Sam’s name aloud.
Mary hadn’t yet made the connection, but she nodded. “It could have been, yes.” The people who once lived here died or vanished shortly before Sam gave her the co-ordinates to this place.
Every building they checked was the same. They found signs of minor violence: a broken window, blood, furniture knocked over or in the wrong places. But they found nothing that looked like a real struggle or a murder.
This place was made for a community. There were bedrooms with beds made up. There was a large, communal kitchen with storage cupboards full of canned and dried goods. There was minimal technology. The oven in the kitchen burned wood. There was a hand-pump for water. They found no sign of a telephone, no computers or televisions. Not even a radio. Mary understood then, not what happened here, but the kind of people who lived in this place.
It had been a closed community, most likely religious, shunning modern technology. The community seemed largely self-sufficient. They didn’t keep the modern world out entirely: those canned goods, for example, and John located a generator with several cannisters of propane. But these people kept the world at arms-length. The locals probably considered them a cult. This was a perfect place for Mary, John and the other refugees. This was a place they could work together and survive.
The chapel was the last building they checked. It was a plain room, the pews simple wooden benches, the walls whitewashed. There was an altar with a plain, white cloth and a cross. The wall above it had once held a large cross: its absence left a distinct outline against the pure white. In place of the cross, someone had painted a single, cryptic word in garish, orange paint: CROATOAN.
Mary had no idea what it meant, but the sight sent a chill through her. She turned to John, a question in her eyes.
“Tell the others,” he said.
Mary walked out of the gates. Everyone was gathered together, waiting, and she felt guilty that they had taken so long. For a moment, she looked at the gathered group as if through more innocent eyes. Three men, each of them heavily and visibly armed, stood protectively around the women. They looked like they were posing for a Rambo poster. There were four women, one of them very pregnant, but their appearance was almost as intimidating as the men. They wore denim and leather – no skirts or makeup – and all turned to Mary as she approached. There was a lot of tension in the air.
Back in Lawrence, Mary might have been afraid to give them the time of day: they looked like steampunk outlaws living out of an RV and a couple of trucks. But she looked just like them, she realised, with her hair tied back, her shotgun in her hand. How much they had all changed in a few short weeks!
Cal, the biggest of the men, stepped forward to greet her. With the rifle slung over one shoulder and a bowie knife sheathed at his belt, he looked very intimidating, but Mary knew he was a gentle man, devoted to Jeena. His expression was both fearful and hopeful.
Mary smiled a greeting. “It’s a good place and it looks like it’s been abandoned about a month. We’ve searched as well as we can. I believe it’s safe.”
Cal smiled with relief. He turned back to Jeena, who ran the few steps to his side. “We can stay here?” she asked Mary.
She wasn’t at all certain they could, legally, but Mary gave Jeena the answer she needed to hear. “We can stay.”
They had found their new home.
Winter came early that year, but by the time the snow confined them to the compound their community of nine people had become sixteen. A seventeenth was added when Jeena gave birth to a healthy baby girl; she named her daughter Hope. Considering they had none of the advantages of a modern hospital, both mother and baby came through well.
They had worked together to harvest the fields and had more than enough food stored for the winter. The compound had animal pens and a chicken coop; both were empty when they first arrived but by Thanksgiving they had a few chickens and pigs. John, Cal and some of the others learned to hunt in the forest and added venison to their stores. They had wood for cooking and heating, propane for the emergency generator and candles for light. In spring, Mary planned to build some beehives. Most of all, they felt safe.
For Mary, one source of anxiety remained: Dean was still not with them and the winter snow would prevent him reaching them until the spring melt. With no way to communicate with him, Mary didn’t even know for sure that Dean was still alive. She wished she could command her vision to show her, just once, what had become of her son, but throughout the long winter Mary’s dreams were only dreams.
She tried not to think of Sam.
The community became a family that winter. Like all families, they had their frictions and disagreements but they learned each other’s ways and how to work together. All tasks were shared, from cooking to repairing leaky roofs, to cleaning out the toilets. They set a patrol, too: at least two people on watch at all times. The patrol was necessary; both Mary and John were haunted by their close call and it wasn’t just the supernatural that threatened them. They had no legal right to this land.
One morning in early spring, when the snow had begun to melt and patches of green were visible among the white, Mary was walking through the fields. She could hear birds singing, and it brought a smile to her lips. They would need to think about planting soon. As well as food, she wanted to set some land aside for a herb garden: some herbs for cooking, others for medicinal purposes and some for protection. She had already talked with John about better defences against the supernatural. They needed iron, as much as possible. They needed news, too.
A sound made Mary look toward the outer gate. Had she really heard an engine? A moment later the warning bell sang out and Mary abandoned her survey of the fields. When the bell sounded, everyone had a job to do. Mary was supposed to man the outer gate with John and Cal, but for that she needed her gun. Mary turned and hurried back toward the inner gate, but John was already coming toward her, carrying her gun and belt.
“What are you doing out here unarmed?” he demanded, shoving the belt at her. John carried his shotgun and his pockets bulged with extra ammo.
Mary accepted the rebuke. “I was just walking. I’m sorry.” She fastened the gun belt around her waist. “What’s coming?”
“People. Looks like a lot.”
Cal joined them as they reached the gate. Mary looked up at the road. She saw three vehicles coming down toward the compound. The first was a large SUV: the kind you bought if you had a lot of kids to ferry to and from school. Behind it were two trucks. There was no sign of the familiar Impala and Mary closed her eyes briefly, the disappointment crushing her.
“What do you think?” Cal asked tensely. He had the key to the heavy padlock that kept the gate sealed.
“Others knew we were coming here,” John answered. “They could be friends, or more refugees.”
“Can we afford to feed more people?” Cal’s worry was justified: their stores were getting low and he had a wife and baby to worry about.
“Can we afford not to?” Mary asked him. The community could afford to grow. In fact, they had to grow if they were to survive long-term.
Cal simply looked at her and nodded.
“It’s Bobby!” John called. “Cal, open the gate. He’s a friend.”
As the convoy came closer Mary, too, recognised Bobby Singer at the wheel of the SUV. There were others with him, but she couldn’t see Dean. Anxiety filled her, but she smiled a greeting for Bobby, genuinely glad to see him. Cal finished unwinding the heavy chain from the gate and pulled it open just as the SUV came to a stop. Mary was first through the gate.
Bobby jumped down, smiling. “Mary! You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“Where’s Dean?” she asked urgently. Bobby’s smile faded and she felt cold.
Bobby saw her expression. “Oh, Mary, no. He’s fine, I swear he’s fine. We had some trouble with one of the trucks. He insisted we come ahead. We’ve got wounded.”
John stepped forward. “What are your injuries?” he asked, businesslike.
“Walking wounded mostly. One boy has an infected wound. We couldn’t treat it on the road.”
“We’re not exactly a hospital, Bobby. We have a nurse, but that’s all.”
“Better’n we’ve got. I’ve got eight people with me, plus two with Dean. Twelve of us in all. But we brought supplies with us. Food, blankets. We can pay our way.” He looked beyond John to the compound. “I wasn’t sure what we’d find here.”
“It’s a good place. I think you’ll be surprised. Cal will take your people in, but I think Mary needs to see our boy. How far away is he?”
Bobby summarised his news while they drove to meet the rest of his group. Most of the people he and Dean brought with them were survivors of an attack on an Oregon town. Bobby described it as a massacre. It wasn’t the only one. Every nightmare, every supernatural creature they’d ever heard of was out of the woodwork. And they were multiplying. You could still hunt them: the old weapons still worked, but for every one you killed there were ten more just waiting to step up. Government was a joke, police able to keep order only in the major cities, and what passed for ‘order’ there wasn’t anything you’d recognise. In Bobby’s opinion, it was time to concentrate on protection.
Even on the road there was trouble. The convoy had been attacked twice on the journey from Oregon and they took losses in both fights. It made Mary even more nervous that Dean had been left behind.
She saw the truck first, its hood raised, hiding whomever was working on it. Beside the truck, a man she didn’t know stood guard, holding an automatic rifle. He raised a hand, waving to Bobby, and shouted something to his companions.
Dean emerged from behind the truck’s hood. He raised a hand in greeting and Mary stared in surprise. Dean wore his usual blue jeans and heavy workman’s boots, but his top was a sleeveless t-shirt, the kind some people used to call a “wife-beater”. It left the burn scars Dean always took such pains to hide clearly visible. Something had changed him. For the better, Mary thought, if he’d lost his sensitivity to those scars.
She leapt down from the SUV and ran across the distance between them as Dean cast aside the wrench he was carrying.
Dean hugged her fiercely. “Thank God you’re okay. I missed you, Mom.”
She returned his hug with equal fervour. “I missed you too. I’ve been so worried!” She drew back to look into his face. “We’ve found a safe place here. Please say you will stay.”
Dean glanced at Bobby, his smile faltering a little. “We’ll stay,” he promised. “For a while, at least.”
He was planning to go back into the fight. Mary fought back her impulse to argue; there would be time for that conversation later. Right now she was just glad to have her son back, in one piece.
“What’s wrong with the truck?” John asked.
Dean turned to him with a grin. “What’s wrong is she’s scrap metal with an engine. I’ve had to cobble together parts three times in the past week. But we needed everything she’s carrying.”
“Want me to take a look?”
“Sure,” Dean shrugged. “Maybe you’ll see something I missed.”
Mary watched them bend over the truck’s engine block, her husband and her son, and she smiled to herself. Dean would stay. There was likely to be more than enough fight for him keeping the compound safe.
But as she watched them, another thought stole into her mind: Bobby had not offered news of Sam. And she had not asked. It didn’t matter. Sam was gone.
She had her whole family right here.
~ End of Kingdom Come ~
~ Mary’s story concludes in Deliver Us From Evil, set several years later ~