The Great Divide
By: Ridley C. James
"Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly." -Anonymous
Most people believe there is an expanse between the realm of the living and the place where death dwells. They hold themselves safely separated, having a pulse and breath. Prayer and dreams the closest one might come to communicating with those who have crossed over to the other side. James Winchester knew that was not true. Things were rarely so black and white.
There was no vastness, no real divide between the two worlds. If in fact there was a curtain, James was certain it was more a thin veil, sheer and easily parted. Just because most people didn't see or hear the dead didn't mean they didn't exist in our world, lurking in all the gray shadows.
James grew up in a home where knowledge that the dead walked among the living was firsthand, delivered with all the sincerity and sanctity as the earth is round, two plus two equals four, and family always comes first. He had at one time been granted, if not the ignorance of knowing the dead walked among us, at least the bliss of not having to acknowledge them on a daily basis. Ghosts usually had to be hunted, summoned. In James's case, spirits found him.
He was a psychic; more specifically a medium. Clairvoyant and clairaudient, which meant he could see and hear spirits, communicate with them whether he wanted to or not. Ghosts were attracted to James, recognizing in him a last desperate chance to finish old business, an opportunity to connect one more time with loved ones. Sometimes they were merely in need of direction, looking for an advocate to help them navigate the foreign land they found themselves in. James was thrust unwillingly into the role of supernatural tour guide.
His grandfather, Mac was fond of pointing out that things in nature tended to balance themselves. James wasn't sure about that. Except for being a freaky medium, his life was pretty sweet. His unique gift gave him an unusual perspective, which some people took for recklessness, but James preferred to see as enthusiasm, curiosity, a sense of adventure even. James might have been forced to keep one foot firmly planted in the grave, but he knew how to live.
He had finished his finals the day before, passing them all, including AP English, which was iffy. It assured him a place in graduation line-up on Saturday usurping Principal Connely's prediction that James would wind up either in the local cemetery or in jail long before he had the opportunity to turn the tassel on his mortar board. It also ensured his plans to throw the most notorious graduation party in New Haven's history.
James might not have been dedicated enough to be Valedictorian like Ben, nor had he been offered a baseball scholarship like JT, but he had left his own mark. Several high profile pranks and starting a grudge that would survive generations between the baseball and football teams ensured his name would never be forgotten. In his mind, managing to date both the prom queen and the homecoming queen at the same time was a far better legacy than some pretentious title or a plaque in the trophy case. James wasn't voted class favorite four years in a row for nothing, nor was he chosen most likely to forge his own empire because of his near perfect SAT and ACT scores. He might not have had the teachers and administration singing his praises, but he would no doubt have his fellow classmates' attention on Saturday when he delivered his graduation speech as president of the senior class. That was if he managed to live that long. As it was, Principal Connely might get to say 'I told you so'.
Hank Gentry was not a hunter he knew personally, but the silver ring marked him as a member of The Brotherhood. He dropped all the right passwords. If the man's face was not exactly familiar to James, his name was. James had heard it brought up in talks as of late, a passing here and there in Triad conversations. James's brother Ben was helping the man with something, something James had lost interest in quickly, his mind drifting to his graduation party plans, and other summer adventures he was sure to have, like travelling around for a week with JT and the Sox, before he left to conquer Columbia in the fall.
In James's defense, Gentry had walked onto their protected land, crossing thresholds created to bar any threat. Hunters often came to their house, met with his father. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The dogs were wary as they were with any stranger, but softened immediately at the command of 'friend'. They wagged around Gentry's long jean-clad legs as he stood on the screened in porch, leaving him only when James ordered them out to the barn. As senior Alpha dog, Porthos ignored the command the pups obeyed, retreating under the kitchen table instead.
Hank entered their home, politely acknowledging Mary and Josie who were surrounded by crepe paper, balloons, and markers. James's mom had put the girls in charge of decorations for the party his family was throwing in his honor. It was a distraction, considering the twelve year old girls were disgruntled at not being allowed to stay at the farm alone. James knew his mother had created the babysitting job more for his benefit than for the girls. He was being kept busy to keep him out of trouble, but trouble was tenacious when it came to finding James. Take Hank Gentry for instance, which upon entering their home promptly proceeded to pull a weapon and hold them all at gun point.
"Put your hands up and step back, Son."
"What the hell?" James didn't move, studying the man for signs this was some kind of graduation prank set up by one of his brothers or Max. Gentry was a big man, taller than James and broader in the shoulders. His thinning black hair was streaked with grey, as was his short beard. His eyes were an odd light blue, like the cornflowers on Miss Emma's china.
Gentry released the safety on the weapon, pointing it at James's chest. "I said put your hands where I can see them and move back."
James quickly got the picture that Gentry was not in the joking mood. "Are you crazy? Do have any idea what you're doing? " A hunter would have to be either possessed or insane to come to The Guardian's home and attack his family. The protections in place made the former impossible. James was going with the latter, which offered little comfort. Demons were one thing, crazy people quite another.
"No one has to be hurt if you do exactly what I say. Don't bother with any psychic tricks." Gentry took one hand off his weapon to retrieve a colorful hex bag from beneath his shirt. "I never thought I'd agree with your father aligning us so closely with that coven, but their magic is useful."
"That's a witch's purse." James turned at the sound of Josie's voice. The girls were standing just behind him, Porthos at their side. He had a piece of crepe paper grasped firmly in his jaws, but James noticed the hair along the ridge of the Boston Terrier's back was standing on end. Josie had her arms crossed over her chest with a shoulder slightly blocking Mary.
Both girls were accustomed to seeing guns, having been taught from an early age what they were capable of and why they should be feared and respected. Neither girl looked frightened, more like pleased that their day was about to get interesting. James imagined it was because neither had ever had reason to be afraid, especially at the farm. They had been raised on the fringe of The Brotherhood carefully shielded from the darker shadows that the society cast. Josie was pointing to the bag around Gentry's neck with nothing but curiosity shining in her serious blue eyes. "It's a shield, made with a specific intention in mind. It has the mark of our coven."
"Our grandmother taught us to make them," Mary added as if Gentry had stopped by for a visit with them, and was offering up a tray of cookies instead of a round of lead. "Each witch adds her own unique calling card. Who made yours? What's it for?"
"That's between me and your cousin."
"Don't talk to them." James took a step back to cover the girls. They weren't all doe-eyed and innocent as they pretended. The girls might have been naïve, but they were smart and completely enthralled with witchcraft. Gentry didn't even realize he was being swatted about like a mouse. They were on a fishing expedition, and he was not about to let them attempt one of their rookie spells on a gun-wielding, obviously out of his mind, hunter. He turned to flash them a warning glare. "Both of you be quiet."
"All of you shut up." Gentry stepped further into the room, closing the door behind him. "This is going to go much smoother for everyone if the only person handing out orders is me. I have a strict timeline, and I will not miss my window of opportunity. Do you understand?"
"James is in charge," Josie said. James didn't miss the fact she reached out and grabbed Mary's hand as she spoke, a habit the girls had outgrown a few years ago.
"He's the only one who's allowed to tell us what to do," Mary added with a look of confidence in his direction.
"Now you two agree you have to listen to me?" James looked between them, picking up on their fear. A sudden surge of protectiveness made him angry. Things were not turning out as he had planned. Facing off against a rogue hunter was going to screw with his week of celebratory bliss.
"This isn't a game," he hissed in warning. James wanted to make sure they understood the seriousness of the situation, even if he was still in the dark about what was going on. "Listen to the nice maniac who has just come into The Guardian's house pointing a loaded weapon at his son, threatening his niece and The Advisor's daughter."
"He's going to be in so much trouble when The Triad finds out about this," Mary said quietly to Josie.
"That's an understatement." James cut his gaze to Gentry. "Our friend Hank is going to be dead."
"I'm not looking to die, Son. At least not today." Gentry raised a brow at James. "I know The Guardian and Knight are on a hunt in South Carolina. The Scholar is at a conference in Florida, which is why his daughter and her best friend are staying with Auntie Juliet. The good doctor is currently at her animal clinic in town, two surgeries scheduled today. I believe she'll be a while. Security is non-existent here at the farm. Something I'm sure will change after today."
"Aren't you the well-informed hunter?" James clenched his fists. There was a reason security detail was light at the farm. Most people were sane enough to understand the consequences of breaching the inner sanctum. Never could he remember a time when such precaution on his father's part was warranted. Hunters not only respected Dean Winchester, they feared him and for good reason.
James was all for positive change, like him having more freedom by going to live in New York with Max, but there were some things he needed to stay exactly the same. James glanced towards Miss Emma's china cabinet. Just behind it sat a shotgun, loaded and ready. He still didn't understand what was going on, but was willing to do what had to be done to protect the girls and their home.
"I have friends in high places." Gentry motioned James to take another step back. Porthos growled low in his throat. "I know that there are weapons hid around this place, and that you are just cocky enough to try and be a hero. Don't make me hurt you, boy. I need you alive, but that doesn't mean I can't put a bullet in a strategic area. There are the girls to consider."
"If you hurt us, Uncle Caleb will make you suffer," Josie said.
"I know all about suffering." Hank looked at the girls. "No one will be getting hurt as long as you get moving. Ladies first. We're going to the room where The Guardian keeps the journals and weapons. It's in the library, I believe."
"I don't know the code." James tried for a stall. He commanded Porthos to back down. Gentry might have been crazy, but he also seemed intent and prepared. There was too much risk involved in making a play for his weapon. The hex bag made any attempt at getting a read on his feelings impossible.
"That's a lie." Gentry gave him a hard shove. "Move."
"James?" Mary's voice was unsure, as Josie quickly turned to lead the way into the living room.
"It's okay, just do what he says." James pointed at his dog. "Porthos, stay."
Porthos wasn't the only one chomping at the bit, wanting to disobey orders. James was forced to follow his own advice once they were in the library. He slid one of Uncle Caleb's paintings aside, punching in the code that opened the steel vault affectionately known as The Tomb. A wall panel shifted, revealing the room only hunters in the highest circle of confidence found themselves invited.
Gentry gestured them in first, letting out a low whistle as he got his first glance at Brotherhood central command. The Tomb might have been designed with protection and security in mind, but Pastor Jim had given it a touch of his magic with the current Triad adding their own flare. The small entranceway opened up to a grand room that was a cross between Merlin's castle and the Bat Cave.
"I'll be damned," Gentry shook his head. "It really does have a round table."
"Straight from King Arthur's court." James watched Hank take in the surroundings, hoping for a moment when the advantage might swing his way.
"Right." Gentry kept the gun trained on James, using his free hand to pull two pair of handcuffs from the leather pouch on his belt. "I'm not naïve, kid. I knew your namesake. My family tree is firmly rooted in The Brotherhood. Old man Murphy loved the lore, stories passed down to enchant the young. This is a nice piece of furniture, but it's nothing more than a prop. I'm not afraid of myths."
"Then by all means take a load off, Hank." James gestured to one of the twelve chairs encircling the large mahogany table. Maps and a few books were strewn about on top from The Triad's last meeting. A pie plate with a few crumbs remaining and an empty glass had thoughts of his father tightening James's chest. "Legend has it those not deemed worthy by Merlin will meet a dreadful fate."
"I'm not interested in having a seat. I'm interested in a weapon." He tossed the handcuffs to James. "First, cuff the girls to that pole, and make sure the binding is tight."
"Why?" James glanced at the concrete column to which Gentry was referring. He figured it had been put in to reinforce the existing structure when Jim built the Tomb into the old farm house; but as kids, Uncle Caleb had convinced them that their father slid down it from his bedroom, changing into cape and mask before nightly runs as the superhero they all believed he was. James wished his father would make one of his last minute save the day appearances now. "They're just kids."
"Kids who have grown up with hunters and witches." Hank shifted his gaze to the girls. "I have no doubt these two would turn me into a frog given half the chance."
"You should be so lucky," Josie said.
"I was thinking evisceration enchantment," Mary added, with a glance to the older girl.
"First, I want to see your cell phones and any other electronic devices." Hank ignored the comments, gesturing to the table. "I can't have you two being found ahead of schedule."
"Two?" Mary asked. "There are three of us."
"Give him your phones." James surmised he was going to be some kind of insurance policy. He surrendered his cell, along with any hopes of reaching help. No one would be rescuing them any time soon. Despite the slight tug of dread, he found himself relieved that Hank was at least leaving the girls out of the rest of his plan. "Everything will be okay."
Josie pulled her phone from her jean's pocket and tossed it on the table. She waited for Mary to do the same before tugging her friend across the room. "James is right. Our dads will fix this."
"Will be fine as long as he does as I say," Gentry interrupted, following James to the pole where he waited for him to cuff the girls back to back around the column.
"He really didn't do enough research," Mary muttered, as James bent to tighten the shackle around her slight wrist.
"You got that right, Mo." He winked at his cousin when he saw tears pooled in her dark eyes. She was scared for him. As little girls both she and Josie knew how to use crying to their advantage. James, being closer to their age, had been somewhat impervious to the affect, often baffled at how the grown men reacted, but now he found himself feeling more than a little helpless. He tugged a lock of her blond hair. "If Mr. Gentry wanted a good soldier, he really should have waited and taken JT."
"That would have definitely been the smarter move," Josie agreed. She met James's gaze when he moved to crouch next to her. The only emotion he could detect from the older girl was anger and annoyance. "At least try not to be your obnoxious normal self, Jimmy."
James frowned at the nickname. Although the insult was typical, Josie always called him James, just like their grandmother, Esme. He understood the purposeful slip when he felt her drop something into his hand. The crystal was still warm from her skin, the silver chain cool against his sweaty palm. "Will do, Jocelyn."
James closed his fingers around the necklace, tucking it into his pocket as he stood. He looked at Gentry. "Satisfied?"
"Not by a long shot, Kid." He used the gun to gesture James away from the girls. "I'm looking for a knife."
"Mary's right. You really didn't do your research." James snorted. "Take a look around. This is more repository than armory." The weapons were hidden behind another panel. He nodded to the walls of book shelves which held journals of countless generations behind museum grade glass. Paintings and pictures of more famous hunters lined one wall along with shields adorned with family crests. Another was reserved for regional and topographical maps as well as the huge computer monitors and a GPS tracking system that Uncle Sam had installed a few years before.
"You're wasting my time," Gentry growled. He pointed his gun at the far wall, firing at a painting of three dragons cornering a cowering St. George. The picture crashed to the floor. The girls screamed as the blast echoed in the steel enforced room. Mary started to cry.
"Alright!" James yelled. "I get the point."
"Good." Gentry re-aimed the weapon at James's chest. "Echnon's Blade. Heard of it?"
"Yes." When James was Mary and Josie's age he had two main hobbies-comic books and Brotherhood history. He had read all of the journals in The Tomb at least twice. That was before his abilities reared their ugly head and the supernatural world became all too real and personal for James. "Magical knife, supposedly able to resurrect the dead."
"I want it. Duran Hughes's journal as well."
"Echnon's Blade? Duran Hughes?" James's heart was pounding so loudly in his chest he wondered if Gentry could hear it over Mary and Josie's sobs. Duran Hughes had been of particular interest to James after he found out about his abilities. He knew the man's history inside and out, his short trip down the dark path was well-documented. "I thought you didn't buy into myths and lore."
"I think we both know there's a difference between old Jim Murphy's stories, and the reality of the supernatural anomalies we run across in our line of work."
James realized the difference. He lived that truth, a fact Hank Gentry was well aware of. He wasn't being used as insurance, but was chosen because of his similarities to Hughes. "Do you know what happened to Duran Hughes?"
"I do." Hank's face was grim. James recognized the look in the man's eyes, having seen the dark resolve reflected in many faces. The only thing new, surprising, was that Hank Gentry was still alive. It was in that moment that James realized there was nothing he could do or say to change Gentry's mind. Both their fates were sealed.