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hell is empty

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As the clock struck noon, the brothers settled in front of their motel room's window and waited, watching the parking lot and the intersection beyond. It was still dark, still windy. The sky was threatening to break open but so far there'd only been drizzle.

Sam was grinding his teeth as he looked out, scrutinizing everything. Dean wanted to joke how funny it'd be if nothing at all happened and this whole thing was a sick prank courtesy of yellow eyes. Good lord how he wished that'd be true...

Suddenly a car's horn filled the quiet and it didn't stop blaring. A raucous screeching sound of brakes rent the air, a woman outside near their room let out a pitchy "oh my god!" and then the collision, metal crashing into metal, wrenching and knifing into each other. One was an SUV, the other a low sedan. The sedan was overtaken by the larger vehicle and the two cars screeched and slid to a stop right at the edge of the motel's driveway.

"Here we go," Sam's voice wavered. Dean shoved a gas mask to Sam's chest. Sam put it on, eyes never leaving the accident.

Sam vaguely felt Dean checking he had his mask on properly, tugging and catching his hair but Sam ignored it, squinting at the windshield of the sedan facing them, trying to see if the occupants were alive.

"Okay you're good." Dean said. Sam blinked and looked over. Dean's mask was a little crooked on his face.

"Hold still." Sam fixed it. "Okay you're okay too," Sam breathed shakily, adrenaline pumping through him.

"Good," Dean pulled his gun, released the safety. "Now c'mon."

Sam nodded and followed his brother outside. The chilly wind was whipping around just like this morning and it filled Sam with dread. The windier it was, the less likely the Croatoan strain could fall unimpeded to the ground and go inert. At least that was his working theory.

Despite the inclement weather, a small number of people had converged on the two vehicles, shocked and gaping at the destruction. Smoke billowed out over the wreckage.

"Everybody take twenty steps back!" Dean shouted through his mask. People startled at the sight of him in the mask - he realized it looked scary. It gave him an edge. Cars honked over on the other lane, slowing to get an eyeful of the accident.

Sam took long strides to the street to yell at the vehicles to keep moving, stop gaping. Dean turned back to the crowd.

"Back up! Back up!" Dean shouted, waving and stepping forward to intimidate when they didn't comply. One middle-aged man with a sour face stepped up and demanded to know why they were wearing gas masks.

“Get back,” Dean growled, pushing him harshly. The guy fell back, cowed. A minute or two and Dean had gotten most of the civilians backed away.

The town's general traffic wasn't enough for a big jam even with the gapers. Once Sam had charged the slow-moving vehicles to keep going with his own booming voice and smacking on the roofs of the vehicles with his hands they quickly did as they were told (largely in fear for the welfare of their cars) and sped off.

With that taken care of, Sam turned and shared a look with his brother. As one, they split off to each investigate a car, Sam the SUV that'd been at fault for the collision and Dean the sedan.

Dean stepped carefully around the debris to and smoke to peer through the windshield. The car's two occupants, two women, were possibly dead, hopefully just unconscious. Dean tried the door. It was locked. The engine was still running, more and more smoke was billowing out from under the hood. Dean tried the back seat door but it was locked too. He swore and used the butt of his gun to break the tempered glass. The sound of his labor made it so he barely heard his brother's panicked shout for him from the other side of the wreckage.

"Sam?!" Dean called back, immediately dropping his rescue operation to get to his brother. He rounded a corner of steaming metal out of sight from the crowd of civilians he'd wrangled to see Sam staggering backwards, blanched at some sight before him. Dean rushed to him. "Sam," he said lowly, grabbing him, and Sam startled but latched onto Dean's arms.

"Dean." Sam pointed. Dean looked.

A man was growling and spitting as it dragged its body through the open window of the passenger seat towards them. Beyond, Dean could see what had probably been a woman in the driver's seat.

"Shit," Dean muttered faintly. Whatever had been done to her, it hadn't been a car crash. Their first good look at the new strain of Croat continued its journey into the pavement, its body mangled, red and drying black blood soaking into its hair and clothes.

It screeched as he fell out of the car and landed awkwardly onto the pavement. The small group Dean thought he’d successfully warned off got braver. The brothers had a gasp and turned, finding the small group peaking, stepping over for a book look in tiny steps and sounds of muted horror.

"No! Go back," Sam ordered, hints of genuine alarm underneath though. He didn’t want them to see what they’d have to do to this thing.

Dean pointed to the other car. "Go save the occupants in the other car. They're unconscious."

"I've called 9-1-1," a voice from the group announced.

"They won't be coming for awhile. Turn off the engine and get them out of the vehicle."

"What are you two even waiting for, you gotta save this guy!" A young man in work coveralls burst from the crowd and ran to the Croat.

"Don't! He's infected!" Sam shouted, panic lacing his tone. It actually succeeded; the man paused to look up even as he hovered over the newly transformed demonic zombie. In his moment of distraction though, the thing moaned and rose up to latch onto his elbow. It was in the perfect position to unbalance its would-be savior enough to fall in the ground in front of him, a perfect vantage point for a second meal after the driver.

A gunshot rang out, screams from the crowd, Dean's smoking barrel lowered back to the safety of the ground.

“I’m calling the police!”

Dean rolled his eyes.

The man in coveralls looked up at him, eyes blazing. “You fucking lunatic,” he accused.

"It would've infected you," Dean shouted back, frustrated as he looked around and saw the rest of the civilians staring at him in terror.

“He’s right. There’s… there’s a virus,” Sam struggled. Indignity flushed through Dean. They didn’t need to explain themselves.

“Go save the people in the other car,” he barked.

The sour-faced man and others ignored him. "Is that why you're both wearing masks? If it’s a virus, is it airborne?" Sourpuss spat out from the group. "We have a right to know!"

The civilians agreed. Dean swore quietly. Sam cast a sidelong look at him.

"It might be airborne," Sam hedged, not wanting to start a panic. Because the brothers could hope if they got this little group frantic with fear they would just scream and scatter preferably indoors somewhere but panic didn't really work like that. Panic made people dumb as bricks, made them emotional and easily distracted, had them come up with cockamamie ideas and glaringly flawed plans. Basically it was just never the right call to cause people to panic. "Get indoors or find a mask if you want to be safe," Dean offered gruffly. It sounded like reasonable advice and after witnessing so much, many people peeled off from the crowd in ones and twos, hunched over and shocky and wanting to get home and watch the news, have a stiff drink probably...

Dean could relate.

He grabbed Sam. "C'mon let’s get to the other car." His brother nodded and ran back around, bypassing the witnesses who stayed, staring at the dead Croat on the ground. They'd watched Dean execute it, not knowing it was a Croat, thinking it was a victim begging for help and Dean was a cold-blooded killer. Not good, Sam thought. If the world didn't go to hell in a handbasket soon, they'd have to skip town to ditch those cops that’d be coming after that phone call. Hopefully, in a sickening it’s-the-zombie-apocalypse way, they were already too busy.

As he followed his brother past the group, he kept up his brother's litany of going home, staying indoors. In return, he obliquely heard talkback from angry guys, vaguely registered a couple gasps, coughs, some distressed voices that had nothing to do with yelling at Sam and Dean. Sam made a clicking sound with his mouth, frustrated and shaking his head as he rounded the crash site with Dean. He skidded to a halt and breathed a sigh of relief that three people - including Whitney - had stayed behind and finished what Dean had started by breaking the window and getting inside to save the occupants.

The car's engine had been turned off and the two victims were laid out on the pavement. There was still dangerous smoke emitting from the crash though. Sam followed its source and booked it to the SUV when he realized its engine was still on.

Dean shouted after him but Sam gestured at what he was doing. Dean gave him a thumbs up before turning to Whitney and the others to help the survivors.

Sam reached the driver's side and focused on the woman with the gored face sitting in the driver's seat, her belt still buckling her in. The window was down. He could just...

Sam winced as he reached through the window. "Please don't be a zombie please don't wake up."

His hands scratched and scrambled with trembling fingers along the steering column trying to find the damn ignition, the poor woman's mashed, eaten face right by his shoulder now. Sam held his breath as the rank scent of her corpse filtered into his mask even past the stench of burnt rubber and gasoline.

He wondered why he’d done this but the urgency of getting the engine off and the simple task of turning the keys had him thinking it’d be fine until it felt like an eternity dangling his damn shoulder in front of a woman who might reanimate at any second and take a juicy bite out of him.

"Fucking finally," Sam gasped as he got a firm hold on the keys and turned the engine off.

All of a sudden a strong arm looped around his waist and wrenched him backwards. “Sammy!” Dean roared and Sam smacked the back of his head on the roof as Dean pulled him out.

“Ow,” Sam gasped, rubbing the injury as Dean kept his arm around Sam's waist. "What the f-“

"Dumbass. Look," Dean breathed and pointed, unconsciously drawing Sam further away from the vehicle. Sam limply followed Dean’s manhandling as he saw.

The corpse had resurrected. Her hand, adorned by a white-gold wedding band studded with small diamonds macabrely stained with blood now, was scrabbling along the shattered glass gravel in the window, the other hand blindly feeling around the wheel. The lipless maw in her face opened for a scratchy moan that slowly, painfully ripped into a scream.

Sam froze and watched, repulsed by the sound coming out of this poor woman who'd been alive and unharmed probably only fifteen minutes ago. The screams turned to wails that never ended.

Dean pulled Sam tighter against him, instinct kicking in to keep him close. Sam went with it for a second, leaned on his brother before his eyes angled to the remaining crowd.

There were about six of them and they weren't paying attention to Sam and Dean anymore; three were on the ground gagging with the rest trying to help.

"Is 9-1-1 still down for you?"

"It's not down, I've got a hold signal."

"Water, Tom, here, come on." Whitney insisted, holding a bottle in front of a man in his fifties. The guy was clutching his chest.

The other two people were trembling and coughing on the pavement, just as bad off. One was Sourpuss. Nobody was helping him. Dean wasn’t surprised. The other was a nice middle-aged woman with a man tending to her. They seemed familiar enough with one another, perhaps husband and wife.

"We need to get inside," Dean said, looking around. The area was now eerily quiet except for-

"What is that wailing?" Someone asked fearfully. “Is someone else hurt?” Sam and Dean exchanged looks.

“Someone else is infected,” Sam offered with emphasis. "We need to take cover," Sam repeated his brother’s sentiments. He broke away from Dean and got over to help the man Whitney was helping, Tom. He got him to his feet and looked to Dean but it was Whitney who spoke.

"The office," Whitney suggested firmly over the winds. Sam and Dean shrugged and nodded, figuring it was as good a place as any. Sam and Dean's room was kitted out with supplies but it was still too small. Dean for one appreciated they weren't showing their hand on supplies just yet anyway. He helped Sourpuss up, now red-faced from coughing.

They hiked down the motel parking lot past the brothers' room to get to the office. The pair that could’ve been husband and (sick) wife broke off from their troop, intent on getting home or to some other imagined safety. They barely bid their farewells, just staggered away and to a car parked on the street outside the motel’s parking lot.

When the group filtered into the office they were whittled down to Whitney, Sourpuss who Dean had discovered was named Bill, Whitney’s buddy Tom, and two girls who knew each other well enough to be clutching each other. They looked college-aged and wore blue button-ups, name tags (Leah and Tal) with an auto service patch embroidered above. It matched the one down the street Dean had noticed a day or two ago.

The brothers took off their masks and wipe the sweat off their faces. They surveyed the civilians. Dean gave the girls a wan smile. “You sisters?”

Leah, the taller one, was trembling just as much as her sister but she nodded. “We heard the crash. Thought we could help.”

Dean chewed his lip and shrugged with nod of respect. They probably could’ve helped if it weren’t the zombie apocalypse. He glanced at Sam looking at the pair of them, eyes soft and knowing.

When they all shuffled inside, Whitney had rushed to a small beat-up TV on the office counter. It was static at first but then it’d cleared and the group huddled around it to watch.

It was live news footage from a helicopter hovering over a high school and its football field. It was obvious several physical education classes had been running outside because there were at least a hundred kids on the field, most of them sitting on the grass, many now waving at the helicopter. “There have been numerous alarms and 9-1-1 calls made from Bayneville High School and authorities have managed to respond despite the flood of emergencies that have rocked this area to its core.”

Dean turned into his brother and Sam backed up until they found a small corner to talk.

“Bill’s infected.”

“And Tom,” Sam contributed, eyes focused intently on Dean so he wouldn’t give away they were talking about the two men by even so much as glancing at them.

“You’ll notice the emergency and police vehicles are setting up as we speak and assessing the situation, determining whether it is dangerous to proceed to those who may be in need of health services out on the football field,” the man droned.

Sam swallowed, shifted in place. “I mean, all we can do now is wait and see how long it takes for them to,” Sam swallowed, shifted in place. “Y’know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Dean replied tiredly, wincing and looking around. Minutes ticked by, Sam and Dean in their own worlds deep in thought. Sam was heavily considering going back to their room and stocking up while Dean started checking all the nooks and crannies of the office to see what resources they had at hand. The television continued.

“Jake, can you tell if they’re just sick? Is this just a sweeping illness out on that school field? We have reports of assault by those who have taken ill.”

“I… don’t… know,” Jake the reporter replied uncertainly. “There are some scuffles down there but nothing definitive, Tina. But oh, the authorities are making their move now past the field’s fences and into the field to administer triage…” he trailed off, watching, rapt.

Dean came up alongside his brother, sighing and looking at Tom and Bill, who’d both just collapsed onto the small sofa. Whitney sat on the small square coffee table next to Tom with water and a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “You know, we might have to quarantine them. Put them in their own rooms,” Dean murmured.

Sam shook his head. “It’d throw the rest into a panic. They already saw you execute a man-”

“That wasn’t-”

“I know. But… we gotta just let them resurrect in here with us. Unless there’s some other way to convince them it’s the zombie apocalypse.”

Everybody gasped, the auto sisters shrieked. Sam and Dean turned, startled.

“Oh my god, oh, oh no, Tina are you getting this?” The reporter cried as the scene played out below. Sam and Dean finally paid the broadcast attention, watching a chaotic riot unfold between the suburban streets, field, and high school. “Police and emergency services are getting attacked by several of the reportedly ill high schoolers, many of which are now racing out of the broken field fences. How the hell…”

Dean unconsciously grabbed Sam's wrist, pulled him closer. Sam let him, noticing the sisters were similarly closing in with each other as they watched, unblinking eyes glued the screen.

The footage cut out just when the cameraman in helicopter zoomed in on a particularly brutal attack of a young athletic girl leaping onto a police officer’s shoulders and taking him down. After a few beeps in a black void, the channel went live again with their anchorwoman at the station, Tina. She had velvet red lips, black eyeliner, and the desperate fear in her eyes made her look like a vintage horror movie poster starlet.

"We have just gotten word from the United States Government in conjunction with the World Health Organization that this unprecedented attack on North American soil is both chemical and biological in nature. It was released over the East Coast by a global missile deployment of high viral loads in gaseous form from an as-yet-identified foreign power at around 12:15 this afternoon. While the United States is taking every measure to stop it, these missiles are nevertheless continuing their course across the country and expected to reach the midwest, particularly Chicago, St. Louis, and New Orleans by late afternoon," the anchorwoman’s voice wavered as though she had family in one of those cities. "Authorities are urging everyone to stay at home under the safety of their roofs and away from their windows until the gaseous matter has cleared. Estimates indicate the gas will have grounded in about 72 hours. Wednesday morning." She paused, took a steadying breath. “The CDC in collaboration with the World Health Organization are..."

"The sick are gonna die before 72 hours," Dean murmured.

Sam nodded, lips a thin line. "We’ll see if we can put them in separate rooms now. They'll ask."

"Yeah." Dean rubbed his chin.

Just then everybody’s phones went off like their own form of a siren. Whitney noticed the brothers were out of the loop and walked over to them holding her phone up.

"Emergency text message system," she explained, handing the phone over. Sam squinted at it, reading while she continued. “National Guard is setting up a temporary shelter down the road."

Dean shared a meaningful look with his brother.

"What's the temporary shelter?"


Dean raised a brow at Sam, sardonic. “I was pulling for a waffle house.”

“You coming?” Whitney asked, hopeful. “I gotta get Tom and Bill some help.”

They both winced.

Tornado sirens went off, blaring all over the entire town.

“We’ll help you get to the shelter,” Sam huffed, hardpressed.

“What about you two?”

“Not our scene,” Dean quipped with a smirk. “But give us a second, sweetheart.”

Whitney made a face at the endearment but turned to go back to Tom.

Dean dragged Sam over to the side. “Are you sure we’re gonna help drag Tom and Bill to a shelter?”

“I don’t think it’ll make a difference,” Sam sighed. “Infected people are going to be going there anyway. And who knows. Maybe they have a cure.”

“Sammy,” Dean admonished.

“Well what the hell are the ethics of handling civilians during a zombie apocalypse anyway,” Sam whined, his eye still so red and painful-looking. “Jesus Christ.” He wiped his face roughly.

“Okay, how about this. Everyone!” Dean announced, and got everybody’s attention surprisingly fast. “We don’t advise you going to that shelter. It’ll get overrun just like that damn football field in no time. But if you think we’re wrong, and you want to go to the library, Sam and I, we’ll help you get there.”

“Okay yeah, we’re staying here,” Leah said firmly, loudly. Tal nodded shakily. “They told us to stay inside anyway.”

“Good girls,” Dean approved, throwing them a thumbs up. “Whitney?”

“I gotta get Tom help,” she said, looking up from tending to him, eyes wide.

“We… we can take care of him here,” Sam tried. “We can’t… really trust any traditional form of safety or sanctuary right now.”

“Fuck this,” Bill smacked his palm on the arm of the sofa. “I’m going home.”

Everybody watched guiltily, not particularly interested in stopping the obnoxious man from departing.

“Wait,” Whitney finally relented as he reached the door, rolling her eyes, “Bill, come on. Don’t be an idiot.”

“To hell with ya, Whitney,” Bill retorted. He kicked the door open and disappeared. A few seconds of everybody watching Bill’s progress crossing the street through the office window, Dean turned and shot an incredulous smile at Sam. “Well that problem solved itself.”

Everybody was still watching Bill's progress and Sam gasped while the others shouted in horror as a zombie darted from seemingly out of nowhere and tackled the man. Dean turned just in time to see Bill and the zombie fall behind a car.

“Oh,” he said, sickened. “Well.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” Tom announced, finally able to speak. He had a strong, commanding tone despite all he'd witnessed. “Whitney hon, turn up the news. We gotta know what we’re dealing with.”

Dean gave Sam a sad look about Tom. He seemed like a good man.

The small group, now just the sisters, Whitney, and Tom found chairs and watched the TV as Sam and Dean settled down on either side of the office window as look outs. They agreed if they saw any innocent uninfected they’d try to get them inside as fast as possible too. Otherwise, surviving the first wave of the zombie apocalypse was their primary objective and it was well under way. The brothers knew this was just the beginning.