Word Count: 2,100
Author's Notes: I had way too much fun re-reading Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Neil Gaiman as part of my research for this story. The monument marking the center of the contiguous United States is here. Many thanks to the most excellent moderators of the 2016 spn_summergenchallenge and to zubeneschamali for the brilliant prompt!
Summary/Prompt: The Men of Letters located their place at the geographical center of the contiguous United States. Soon after moving in, Sam and Dean find out there's a very good reason for this.
Art: Created by the awesomefridayblues for the 2018 round of quicky_bang is here. Be sure to stop by and give her some love!
"This is it." Walter Hayes pulled his notebook and pencil from his pocket. "Dead center." The surveyor licked the end of his pencil and made a notation in his small, neat handwriting.
"Lebanon, Kansas," Harold Peters chuckled as he began packing the surveying tripod into its case. "Someday, this place'll be famous."
"What makes you say that?" Walter tucked his notebook into his pocket.
"Center of these United States," Harold grunted, heaving the bag of equipment onto the back of his saddle. Root, his sturdy appaloosa mare, barely lifted her head from her grazing. "Maybe Mr. Winchester'll want to build a hotel here. Make it a sight-seeing destination for all the folks to come visit."
"You reckon?" Walter looked around at the barren prairie grasses stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction. "It's kinda remote, dontcha think?"
"Not once Mr. Winchester decides to build his gun factory here," Harold said.
"You really think he'll do that? Way out here?"
"Why not? That's why he sent us, ain't it? Funded the Federal Surveyors Commission and put himself on the Board of Geodetic Surveyors? So he could cash in on this being a big attraction some day. Mark my words. Men like Winchester don't get rich and famous by doing things the easy way. He's used to taking risks."
Walter climbed into his saddle, glancing at the wooden stake with the marker claiming, "Center of these United States, 1878" in chalk.
"Seems to me, we're the ones taking the risk, riding all the way out here through hostile territory, just to place a marker in the center of nowhere," he commented grimly.
"Not nowhere now," Harold insisted. "Now it's somewhere. Besides, there's a town. Lebanon is just four miles away."
"Some town," Walter grunted. "Six families. Tents and wagons and a couple of sod houses. Not even a decent saloon."
"Give it time," Harold said as he turned his horse east, back the way they had come. "This whole area will be thriving in twenty years, teeming with people in forty."
Unfortunately for Walter and Harold, they never got to see whether Harold's prediction would come true. Somewhere between Lebanon, Kansas and Independence, Missouri, Walter and Harold met an untimely end, probably at the hands of some of the hostile locals who were none too happy about the white people moving into their hunting grounds. Their bodies were never found, their equipment was lost, and the notebook containing the coordinates of their geographic survey never reached the East Coast.
Oliver Winchester, who had single-handedly funded the surveyors' expedition, died of natural causes two years later, leaving an only son who died of tuberculosis four months after that. He in turn left his fortune to his wife, since their only child had died in infancy. Sarah Winchester, believing the family was cursed, moved as far away from her tragic past as she could go, spending the last forty years of her life building a house in San Jose, California which eventually became a famous tourist attraction.
Lebanon, Kansas remained an unknown, barely-populated town in the middle of nowhere.
"This is it," Charlie Hunter announced, glancing down at his compass one more time as he pulled the horse-drawn wagon to a stop on the dusty, unpaved road.
Charlie and his partner, Steve Letterman, hauled their equipment from the wagon bed and climbed over the embankment. It took them less than an hour to complete their survey, balancing a piece of cardboard cut in the shape of the United States on the head of a pin.
"Center of gravity," Charlie confirmed as Steve shoved the tip of his shovel into the hard-scrabble soil.
They buried the locked box with the strange markings under the cedar tree on the bank of the river, exactly as instructed. By the time they returned to the little town of Lebanon, just four miles south, they had forgotten all about it.
"Hey," Sam Winchester hailed his brother as Dean sauntered into the bunker's library, open beer in each hand. "You know this place is built on the site of the original 1918 survey of the geographic center of the contiguous United States?"
"No kidding," Dean shrugged and set a beer on the table next to Sam's open laptop. He frowned as he lifted his beer to his lips and took a sip. "I thought the center was on that little hill just out of town. The one with the plaque and the outhouse."
"It's a chapel, actually," Sam corrected. "But no. This is the original site. Apparently, the town decided they needed to build a monument in 1940, to try to attract tourists. Only trouble is, by that point this place was already here. So they built that little monument a mile north of town instead."
Dean shook his head. "Looks like that worked out real well for them," he noted dryly.
"Yeah, that's the interesting part, actually," Sam agreed. "Obviously, tourists didn't come. They don't come. The town's in decline; in fact it's been in decline ever since they put up that monument."
"Fascinating." Dean took another sip of his beer, sat down in the chair next to Sam, and started rifling idly through the books laid open on the table.
Sam had been like this all week, ever since the day they discovered the bunker and moved in. He'd been pouring through musty old books, digging out boxes of ledgers and files, googling stuff he found on-line like a kid who'd been locked overnight in a toy store.
It was embarrassing, really. Dean had spent his days exploring the bunker, claiming and decorating the first bedroom he'd had to himself since he was four years old, checking out the bunker's impressive cache of antique weaponry. The kitchen had been a revelation, of course. He'd been having way too much fun in there, never mind the shooting range and gym.
But a man could bake only so many berry pies before he started to get a little antsy. For one thing, this place was literally out in the middle of nowhere. Lebanon had a gas station with a little convenience store, a deserted motel and some dilapidated old houses, but that was it. To find food you had to drive a while, and the closest liquor store was in Nebraska.
Dean was definitely getting a little antsy.
But Sam was like one of those old-time miners who'd finally struck gold. Now he was like the leprechaun who just wanted to sit on his pile o' shiny all day.
Although, to be fair, Sam was doing stuff. He wasn't just sitting. He'd already decided the bunker's library needed to be organized and catalogued, and Sam was definitely the man for that job. It was like this place had just been sitting empty for all those years because it was waiting for him. For Sam. The perfect librarian for the biggest collection of supernatural lore in the world.
"Lebanon means 'white,'" Sam was droning on, and Dean realized he really might need another beer soon. "The original Lebanon in the Bible is the source of the building materials for Solomon's temple. It's associated with wisdom."
"Makes sense," Dean shrugged. "This place is the supernatural motherlode, right? The center of knowledge of the supernatural world?"
"Yeah," Sam frowned, taking a sip of his beer as he stared into his computer screen. "But the pioneers who founded the town in 1876 didn't know that. They named the town after Lebanon, Kentucky, where most of them were from."
"Okay, so it's just a coincidence," Dean noted. "Meaningless."
"Right..." Sam mused. "Except the 'white' thing...it's the absence of color, but it's also like a kind of void or vacancy. In a lot of mythology, the center is a dead space, a big empty place where nothing happens. Like the eye of a hurricane."
Dean considered this for a moment, then nodded. "Okay, that's good, isn't it? The bunker's heavily warded to keep supernatural entities out, so maybe being built in the center of the country gives it extra protection. Makes it less interesting. It's like the exact opposite of a tourist attraction."
"Huh," Sam lifted his eyebrows. "You might be on to something there."
"Nobody comes here, nobody's been here in at least fifty years," Dean said. "I mean yeah, this place is the definition of the Middle of Nowhere, but you'd think, in all that time, that somebody would come, just to check it out."
Sam nodded. "It's like it's not just warded against the supernatural; it's warded against people, too."
Dean shook his head. "If that were true, we'd never have found it," he pointed out.
"We had the key," Sam stated the obvious.
"What, you think if we hadn't had the key, we'd never have found this place in the first place?"
Sam took a deep breath, let it out as he lifted his long arms in a gesture Dean knew well. "Maybe?"
He reached across the table and pulled out a photograph of an old box, opened to reveal what looked like decayed flowers. Carved into the top of the box was an Aquarian Star, the Men of Letters' symbol that Dean was now seeing everywhere.
"This was buried under a cedar tree on the bank of the river, presumably by the original surveyors in 1918," Sam explained. "It was discovered when the bunker was built."
"So the original surveyors were Men of Letters?" Dean suggested.
"Or they were commissioned by the Men of Letters to do the survey in the first place," Sam shrugged. "The box contained remnants of an old spell, one that included poppy seeds, larkspur, and lotus blossoms, all flowers associated with forgetfulness."
"So you think the Men of Letters put it there to make people forget this place," Dean said.
Sam shrugged. "It's a theory," he agreed.
Dean took the last sip of his beer, draining the bottle, and rose to get another. "Maybe that's why none of the old-timers in town have even heard of it," he said. "It's just an abandoned old power station that nobody remembers."
Sam nodded. "On a former pig farm," he agreed. "Not someplace anybody ever wants to visit or even think about for very long."
"Huh," Dean frowned. "You think that's true? You think people can't even hold onto a thought or a memory of this place? 'Cause that might explain why the guy at the gas station keeps asking the same questions. He can't seem to keep anything I say in his head for more than a minute. I figured he was brain-damaged or something."
"Or maybe now that you live here, the bunker's negative space makes you less interesting, too," Sam suggested. "Maybe nobody around here seems to remember us because they can't."
"Well, that's convenient," Dean said.
They tested their theory over the next few weeks, returning to diners and gas stations just to see if anyone remembered them, broadening the circle around the bunker until they were over a hundred miles out.
It had been a concern from the start, putting down roots in one location. They were aware that two tall men driving a distinctive classic car might be a little hard to forget, and in their line of work it was important not to leave more of a trail than necessary. It had been their excuse for being on the road all their lives; staying in one place too long was just too risky, made their work even more difficult.
But the bunker had taken them in, given them a home that they could trust because it apparently had the power to render the Winchesters virtually invisible.
Which was definitely the coolest thing about the place, from Dean's point of view. Besides the kitchen and the water pressure, of course.
If the bunker was nearly invisible, and so were the Winchesters because they lived there, they might actually be able to stay.
And Dean knew he could definitely live with that.