A small flock of late night denizens huddled for warmth by the wide open doors of the State Street Mission. Paper cups of coffee passed hand to hand. A heavily bundled up priest raised his hands as if to embrace them all, “Heed my words, children. He who blasphemes against the One True Lord of Heaven. He who demands we bow down to profess our love for him or be smote for our true devotion. Your Heavenly Father wishes you to turn your backs upon him aaaAAAAAEEEIIEEE!!!” The street preacher stood clutching his throat, flames curling heavenward in a dark circle around him. A man in a tan overcoat observing the scene smiled beatifically, “Thus ends the false prophet’s exhortations of the god who abandoned you all. Who abandoned my brothers and I as well. Pray that he will have the wisdom to welcome your new God. Profess devotion to Me for I shall never leave you.” Those gathered hastily cleared a circle around him, several turning tail to run. A few, overcome by the peace of oblivion, dropped to the dirty sidewalk. The man raised his arms, glowing softly with a blue light. Those brave or stupid enough to remain fell to their knees, heads bowing as he continued to speak.
Five hundred miles away, give or take, two young men sat head to head at a small kitchen table cum desk. Their laptops sat head to head, too. The first to speak dwarfed the computer he was glaring at so intently, “Get this, dude. He just showed up in Chicago.” The second man, also dwarfed though nowhere close to small, interrupted, “State Street? Smote a warning around some priest and a buncha sheep?”
“Guess Wally sent you the same email. If that guy’s gone hysterical you know it’s bad.”
“Yeah. It’s just … why the Hell’s Cas messin’ with the little guys? Think he’s done sendin’ the Holy Hosers to Purgatory already?” The big man shrugged, massive hands unknowingly held much like the new god’s, “I don’t think Cas’s in control in there, Dean. C’mon, he got flustered any time you asked him to use a gun. How the hell’s he gonna handle,” quotey fingers, ” ‘millions and millions’ of souls all with egos the size of Crowley’s?” The pretty man pulled off his flannel overshirt revealing a plain t-shirt and prominent muscles, “So, what? Cas’s held hostage by Donald Trump-caliber demon, possibly a demon horde. So we do what? Stack Marshall amps to the sky and blast the exorcism at eleven?” A hurt pout bloomed on the other man’s face. Dean rolled his eyes while closing his lids, “I know, I know. Brainstormin’s supposed to be uncriticalized. Sorry, Sammy. I’m still makin’ a note. When’s an idea bein’ nutty ever stopped us?”
Sam rubbed the back of his neck, “Speakin’ of nutty. Did you just get that email from Elkins?”
“I frickin’ hope not. Dude’s been dead since ‘06.” Sighing lightly, Sam shook his head, “His nephew, also named Daniel. Don’t go to pieces on me. Yet. You might when you hear what he’s got to say.” Dean tapped at his keyboard, “Aw, Hell and crap for dessert. That’s just wrong. Another freakin’ prophet got heckled by His Bighead Assbutt self. This one’s in Hollyweird, corner of Sunset and Vine. Cas nearly drowned the poor bastard rebaptizin’ him.” Sam winced, “Elkins junior here says there’s a bunch more like that in the Four Corners, especially Arizona. And one notable, heh, quack. You’ll never guess what this psycho’s sayin’.” Dean hid behind his hands, “Hit me.”
“No, I’m serious, Sammy. Hit me. I don’t wanna know anymore. Lights out. Liquor ain’t gonna be quicker enough for this.”
“I’m gonna ignore your pathetic ass sayin’ that. Buck up, big brother. Or should I say duck up?” Sam chortled with a snort.
“Why not just go straight to the F-bomb Daffy McDuckhead?” Dean’s eyes stayed closed as he waved at his brother, “Just forward the damn email. I’ll read it myself.”
Dean groped for his beer. Sam stuck it in his hand, “You’re gonna kill your new laptop doin’ that. Don’t make me pull out the big guns.” Dean held his middle finger aloft, “You don’t say it right, man. Only two it works for’s Bobby and the angel formerly known as Cas.” Sam turned to grin at the older hunter sneaking in from the library. In his best ‘Attention Maggots’ Marine voice Bobby hollered, “TIME TO PULL UP THE BIG GIRL PANTIES AN’ OPEN YOUR EYES, BOY!!” Dean jerked his head just in time to spit beer all over the floor, laughing so hard he wheezed. Bobby came up to whack him on the back, “Had to see what’s makin’ Sam look like he swallowed a case’a lemons. Please tell me I heard wrong about ducks.” Dean opened his eyes, gaping long enough to catch his breath. He read aloud, ” ‘Maynard’s got kiddie swimming pools full of toy ducks in his radio room. Hasn’t been visited by this so-called god but -has- gotten phone calls from him. Lets the yahoo talk over the air but cuts him off when he starts threatenin’ him. I been there when it’s happenin’. Crazy as hell but I got two pools of ducks now, just the same.’ ” Dean shook his head, adding a smack to the table for emphasis, They’re both fuckin’ lunatics!”
“Don’t you mean, duckin’, Potty McMoutherson?” Sam bared his pointy teeth smiling at his brother.
“I MEAN GODDAMN FUCKIN’ LUNATICS! Jesus Sam, we’re grownups here. Try an’ talk like one for once.” Pointing his finger Sam snickered, “Duck you!” Bobby leaned to read over Dean’s shoulder as the brothers progressed to glaring at each other. “Boys, this is serious. If Cas ain’t hurtin’ this Radio Free Maynard idiot, or Elkins’ nephew, maybe there’s somethin’ to the insanity.” Dean raised his hands, waving them jerkily back and forth, “Bobby. Come ON. DUCKIES? Rubber freakin’ duckies?! It’s not like Cas would be allergic to rubber or latex or whatever the Hell they’re made of. Kiddie pools! Kiddie pools and duckies!” The pretty man piled his hands on his head, “This is the freakin’ Asylum. Again. Maybe I never really left.” Bobby and Sam rolled their eyes at the same time, the older man saying, “Get a grip and get yer ass on the road already, idjit.”
“Dammit, Sam. I am not putting rubber freakin’ duckies in my baby. Not even as a test.” Dean stared murderously at the road, the Impala eating up the miles like her namesake on a grass binge. Sam gave the world rolling by a glance before turning on his best puppy dog eyes, “You have every other possible protection. What’s it gonna hurt?” He watched his big brother until the sheer force of winsome pleading broke through the thick skull.
“My pride. My brain. Most especially my self-respect as a hunter of all things evil and twisted.”
“Dude. What the hell happened to nutty ideas not stoppin’ us?”
“Dude. There’s nutty and then there’s gimme my frickin’ lithium batshit loco.” Dean’s chin firmed, heightening his resemblance to a mule. Sam studied his fingernails, “Sure, sure. But, did you know? Girls go crazy for rubber duckies. I know you been hurtin’ since the whole Lisa-demon-forget-you thing. The way you’ve always dealt with that kinda thing, get another girl? Get. Another. Girl. Duckies will help.” Sam tilted his head while raising his eyebrows. Dean just looked at him. Sam anted up by ducking his head with an impish half smile. Dean pursed his lips, cutting his eyes sideways. As he stared ahead his lips gradually formed an answering half smile.
The brothers’ first stop, a chain store responsible for confusing children everywhere with its spelling of are, was packed up to its long-necked mascot’s head with every unhappy little tyke west of the Mississippi. Sam’s eyes couldn’t get any rounder, his pout any sadder, “Things sure have changed. You’d think toy stores’d be happier places.” Dean stuck his hands deep in his pockets, “Ducks. Focus on the ducks. None of these kids got ducks. Maybe they’ll have enough. Ah, hello darlin’.” Dean sauntered over to a pretty young sales clerk with sweet dimples, “Hi! We’re lookin’ for your rubber duckies. Got a nephew nuts about ‘em with a mom who’s got a plan.” The girl, Kimmie by her tag, grinned extra wide, “How sweet! Just go down three aisles, turn right, and they’ll be at the end.” Dean waggled his head, “Thanks, sugar. See you at the checkout, maybe.” Another cute clerk came over to ask a question. As they walked away one said to the other, “They’re really handsome. Aren’t gay couples so adorable?” Sam grabbed Dean’s arm when the latter looked back, “Ducks, dude.” Dean pulled his arm away with a flourish, “I know. I’m just sick of all these tolerant little girls thinkin’ I got the bad taste to go for you, Sasquack.”
Sam giggled in a less than masculine way, “Thathquack! Oh Dean, thtop et!” Dean grimaced so hard his jaw popped, “Let’s just get this the Hell over with.” Stalking angrily down the aisles was less impressive when interrupted by small children and their parents every few feet. Dean stopped still in front of a four foot high plastic duck with a seam at its equator. He stared at Sam who stared right back at him. The older brother kicked it with the side of his boot, “How ‘bout we just get this one and call it good?” Sam’s tresses flew as he gave his head a shake, “Elkins seemed to think it was a duck by duck thing. The more the merrier. Could hold a bunch of little duckers. If it’s water tight we don’t gotta get a pool!” Sam held up both thumbs with a bright smile. Dean craned his head way back, lips moving with nothing coming out.
“Whatcha doin’, Dean?”
“I’m prayin’ to the old god to smite me, Cas, or every fuckin’ duck in creation. His choice.” Sam poked Dean in the arm, “Don’t talk like that around kids.” He bent over to open the big duck, grabbing a wire hamper full of the things to upend into the huge body cavity, “How ‘bout you grab some of those boxes?” Dean smacked himself on the forehead as Sam frowned at the hamper’s sign before putting it under his arm.
“If my baby could talk she’d be askin’ me for a divorce.” Dean glared at his sleeping mountain of a brother, “You are no help, duckhead.” The sun was rising in the clear, cold skies above the Rockies. Dean squinted into the light behind his sunglasses, “At least I don’t gotta look. I am not lookin’.” Sighing like a chorus of emo teenagers his eyes sought the rearview mirror, “I am lookin’ at all the fuckin’ ducks of Kingdom come. Please forgive me, my beautiful girl.” The massive duck head grinned like a vampire about to gum him to death surrounded by its gaping cronies: boxes of big ducks, little ducks, Indian ducks, party of five ducks, American flag-waving ducks, Halloween ducks, bedazzled ducks, and godless others crowded the Impala’s spacious back seat. “Hello, Manning, Colorado. Home of the looniest freakin’ toons of all frickin’ time.” Driving down the main street there was no one out. Sam roused, snorting. Dean backhanded him none-too-gently, “C’mon, wake up all the way. We’re here. What was the damn station’s address again?”
Sam stretched his arms wide while yawning, knocking Dean on the head, “What?”
“I’ll frickin’ ‘what’ you, Ginormo. Station. Address. We got about a couple hours ‘til Maynard’s show starts ‘cause I drive like the wind. Unlike you. Those doughnuts better frickin’ be there, too, or someone’s gettin’ a knuckle sandwich for breakfast.” Sam rolled his shoulders, cracking his neck, “Do you ever listen to yourself? You sound like a bad mystery novel tryin’ to be an even worse noir movie.” Dean muttered low, “Yeah? Well, you sound like a PMS-y little bitch tryin’ to be a Meg Ryan movie.” Sam eyed his brother, lips pressed tight, “You are such an ass ‘til you get coffee. And then you’re a wired ass. The address is 719 Jerk Street. Excuse me, Swigert Street.”
“Excuse me, Bitchee McWhinybutt. Someone could use a Midol with their mornin’ Joe.” Sam stared out his window. Dean turned sharply, the tires squealing, “I swear to old God those frickin’ ducks are breedin’ back there.”
“Don’t be riduckulous.”
“Oh, please, stop with the damn duck puns.”
“Oh? What’re you gonna do if I don’t, Duckylips?” Dean reached into his jeans, whipping out his pocket knife, “I will terminate with extreme prejudice one of the delightful little fuckers for each pun.” Sam crossed his arms over his broad chest, upper lip snarling like Elvis.
The radio station wasn’t too hard to pick out with its gigantic satellite dish parked atop the roof. Dean parked the Impala a cautious distance from the rust bucket next to the only open spot. Sam climbed out, performing the Picard maneuver as he looked away from his grinning brother, “Aww. Poor Sammy. It’s a dangerous thing callin’ my bluff. Maybe you can glue it back together.” Silence. The brothers walked through the grubby glass doors into a cramped office. Dean smirked as he peered around, “Think all this gray decor was white once upon a time?” A door at the back opened. Both brothers’ hands went to the small of their backs. Backing through the door was a lanky man with long silvery hair holding a good-sized cardboard box. In a surprisingly deep voice he nearly yelled, “You guys the Winchesters?” Sam and Dean exchanged a look. Sam shrugged. Dean cleared his throat, deepening his own tone, “Yeah. I’m Dean and this is my brother, Sam. You Maynard?”
“That’s right.” He turned around, showing a neat black goatee heavily streaked with silver, “Just setting out a few more in case that Castiel wackjob tries to come in the normal way. Danny’s in the air room already.” Maynard set the box in front of the glass doors, “Come on back. Don’t suppose you guys got your own protection?”
The brothers followed Maynard, who set another box by the door after Sam closed it. Another man, husky and almost as tall as Sam, rose from behind the console, “I’m Danny Elkins. Heard your names through the door.” Dean and Sam stared at the four blue kiddie pools decorated with colorful fish. Each one was piled high with ducks of various sizes, colors, and conditions; one in particular looked more like a real stuffed duck than a toy. Dean rattled his head, “Yeah. And, yeah, Maynard. Sam insisted we test the duck thing out. Can’t say it helped much. We let Cas beat us up a bit before we lied our way outta his face.”
Maynard looked over his shoulder, “Cas?”
“Yeah, Castiel. We call him Cas. He was once our, uh, friend.” Sam knocked his brother on the arm, “Might as well get used to sayin’ Castiel again.” Dean nodded then stuck his fists on his hips, “Maynard. Do you got any record of what Castiel said?”
“There’s one fragment. Otherwise? Just our memories, man. His voice didn’t register on my airchecks. Not tape, digital, video. Nothin’. I know for a fact he can be recorded since he was on the news a few times. Which is where the ducks come in. Someone called my house during a broadcast and the answering machine caught his voice.” Sam brushed his mane back, “You leave the radio on at home … while you’re on the radio?” Maynard dropped into his swivel chair with a rusty squeak, “My kittycats like hearin’ my voice. That ok with you?”
“Not a problem, dude.” Sam raised his hands, smiling stiffly. Dean leaned his head towards his brother while bugging his eyes out. He smiled at the other two men, “About the ducks. How’d you put two and two together? A kid leave a duckie here and you think that radio silenced Castiel?”
Danny raised his hand, “It was more than just a duck. Save the questions for when he’s done.” He pointed at Maynard who nodded, “Thanks man. Yeah. So. Management had this brilliant idea a few months back for a promotion. Rubber ducks with our call letters, the frequency. Give them away. Went over real well then someone decided to send us a duck back all decorated like Ziggy Stardust. We do talk in the daytime but go classic rock at night. Started gettin’ band ducks sent in. The Commodores set was a masterpiece. Anyway, by the time Castiel started callin’ we had Duck Central goin’ on. And I couldn’t get his voice on tape but for that little bit at home. Tellin’ me to tell everybody else to profess their love to him. First thing got his attention was me talkin’ about Clapton bein’ called God back in the Sixties. He got pretty pissed off about that, like he thought maybe I was sayin’ Clapton was the big guy in the sky. Not that I believe in all that crap.” Dean blinked at his brother’s nostrils flaring like wings, “Great, Maynard. Thanks. Uh. So rubber ducks somehow repel Castiel’s Gojo?” Maynard and Danny nodded.
“Dean. Maybe it’s not just the rubber dampening his nukes. Rubber duckies are a major symbol of innocence. Innocent, loving, unconditional happiness. Like maybe whatever evil’s possessin’ him gets neutralized.” Sam gave his brother the raised eyebrows, I’ve-been-to-college look. Dean stared at each man before clutching the back of his neck with both hands. Head tilting up he stared at the ceiling. Each flat gray tile was about two feet square, protuding a couple inches, and angling up with the roof. His hands fell away slowly, “You know what? Those look familiar. Like I seen somethin’ fallin’ outta similar. Damn me if I can’t think of what now.” Sam’s mouth fell open. His eyes narrowed as he frowned from Dean to the ceiling, “Dude. I got an idea. You gotta promise not to go postal ‘cause we gotta get to work PDQ.”
Maynard sat at his console, comfortably puffy headphones in place as he adjusted his microphone. Sam and Dean sat behind the console wearing the worn, hard plastic versions. The brothers winced as they fiddled with the things, Sam staring worriedly at his mike. Maynard pushed a button; a sign with cut out letters ‘On The Air’ glowed red.
“Good mornin’! It’s ten AM on Friday the twenty-third … you’re listenin’ to KFIG, Manning, Colorado! 555-0301 is the number to call in the 970 area, 1-800-555-0301 if you’re farther out. Meetin’ of the Minds with Maynard awaits your call. To get us started today, I have a couple visitors in the studio, down from South Dakota. Dean and Sam Winchester. Say hello, fellas.” Sam tapped the mike, “Is this thing on? Oh! It is, sorry. Hi, I’m Sam. Uh, hi.” His brother glared at his mike like it was flipping him off, “Yeah. I’m Dean. It’s awesome to be here in Manning. Again. Much better than the last frickin’ time.” Maynard shook his head, pinching his fingers together tightly.
“Uh, sorry, Maynard. Not used ta talkin’ on the radio. Uh, obviously. I’m so darned glad to be here I forgot.” Dean laughed nervously then frowned.
“Great! So, since you’re bein’ a bit sluggish this Friday mornin’ I’ll toss a topic out.” Maynard tapped his fingertips together, “In recent days we’ve had some unusual activities manifesting on street corners and in public parks around the nation. You may have heard a caller speak of these manifestations usin’ just that word on this very station. What are your thoughts if you’ve heard him. And what are your questions if you haven’t. 555-0301! Ah, there’s a call comin’ in now.” Maynard pressed several buttons, flipping a toggle switch, “Hello! You’re on Meetin’ of the Minds with Maynard. State your name and speak your piece!”
“Hello, Maynard? This is your wife, Corkie. Just wanted to remind you about that dinner we’re givin’ tonight.”
“Thanks, Corkie! I got it written down. We got another caller so I’ll talk to you tonight. Okay?” Dean sunk his forehead into his waiting hand, the noise carrying over the airwaves. A soft thump came from above. Sam prodded him in the shoulder.
“Hello! Maynard here, Meetin’ of the Minds. Who’s this?” The voice was deep, mellifluous, and measured in pace, “You know me as Castiel, Maynard. I’m very pleased you’ve welcomed two of my children into your station. Will you allow them to show you the error of your ways? Humans may accept the truth more readily from their own kind than their Lord.” Sam and Dean looked at each other sideways.
“I’m glad you called, Castiel. Yes, I’ve been listenin’ to them. They told me how difficult it was for them at first.”
“As any good parent knows, there are times when the young must be disciplined. Corrected, perhaps, is the more accurate word. They saw the truth of my loving dominion, thus professing.” Dean nudged Sam. Sam shook his head, pointing at Dean. He rolled his eyes, waving at Maynard, “Yeah. Hey Cas, uh, Castiel. We were wonderin’… that is if you’re not really busy. Wanna come down to talk to Maynard? He’s a real good guy. We came down special to talk to him ‘bout you.” Dean elbowed Sam who stuttered, “We did, we did. Hello, Castiel. You, aah!” Castiel appeared behind Maynard whose face paled as he stared at the brothers, both pointing behind him. Sam waved his hand frantically as he raised his voice, “H-hey, Castiel. Maynard. Maynard, Castiel.” Maynard swiveled on his chair, squeaking sharply, “Wel-welcome to the stu-stu-stu,” Dean cleared his throat loudly, “studio, your Lordiness.”
“You may continue to call me Castiel. I am your Lord yet I dwell less on ritual and pomp than my Father.” Maynard stood, waving his hand towards his chair, “Please, be my guest. Can’t sit in the presence, can I?” Castiel lifted his chin, “I prefer to stand when receiving the declaration. You may proceed.” Maynard opened his mouth. Dean began coughing up a lung, Sam jumping up with both fists raised. The gray ceiling tile directly above Castiel swung down, swaying in the air as rubber duckies of all shapes and sizes began raining down. One or two squeaked as they bounced off his head, mussing the dapper hair. The former angel of the Lord held out his arms as the rain became a flood, duckies ricocheting off the floor to bang into the mikes. Sam swung at any coming close, smashing them back towards Castiel. A man’s voice from above yelled, “Whoa,” as more ducks dropped through, followed by the bottom half of the Sasquatch of the flock. That one was deflected by Castiel’s waving arm towards Maynard who ducked as it came flying. The top half fell onto Castiel’s dark head; Dean fell to the floor laughing hysterically. The flood continued, errant duckies joining the chest deep pile immobilizing the godling.
As the flood trickled down first to a rain then a drizzle Castiel could be heard moaning under the wavering duck head. Danny’s head popped through the ceiling as a single duck fell, approximately the size of a goose. This particular duck was oddly decorated with wavy brown hair and a scruffy beard, striped bathrobe, gray t-shirt, and pajama bottoms. Sam helped Dean back to his feet. The brothers came around to stand by Maynard. Danny dropped down from the ceiling onto the console. Dean grabbed Sam’s jacket sleeve as the duck rose through the air, stopping at Castiel’s eye-level. The bill moved as it spoke in a pleasant if slightly nasal tenor, “You’re busted, son.” Sam clutched at Dean’s jacket, “Chuck? Is that you?” One of its wings flapped, “Not right now … Okay, Cas. I know you’re in there. Since your vessel’s just gotten an enema for the Ages he gets to finally go to his eternal rest. I know you meant well so here’s your options. Cherubim forever or human for however.” Dean dragged Sam with him to pull the duck head off the duckhead. Castiel slumped, held up by the pile of duckies, “O, merciful Father. Human.” Another, smaller duck fell, squeaking softly as it bounced off Castiel’s hopelessly touseled hair. He sighed, pointing up without looking, “Close that?”