Episode Thirteen: Hollow

By Kittsbud

Part One


The restored Impala slid around the snaking Kentucky roads like it had been built for them, its aged suspension taking the turns with nothing more than a slight lean as its weighty form prowled the old mining state.

The roads it traversed, like the car, appeared ancient, and yet somehow inexplicably appealing. Together, the Chevy and the picturesque panorama made the perfect couple - the past meeting the present, but never quite relinquishing it.

The car slowed as Dean tapped the brakes, it’s recent, second overhaul in less than a year showing clearly as the newly lacquered paint reflected off the setting sun. Its engine purred from all the loving attention its owner had poured on it, and the revs dropped only begrudgingly because the master insisted.

Halfway out of the twisting bend, Dean eased his foot on the gas, accelerating back out of the curve. He grimaced as the car hit one of many tiny potholes in the ill-repaired backroad, and the steering wheel jarred to the left in his hands.

The elder Winchester quickly pushed away the expression of pain, forcing one of his trademark smirks instead. “Sonofa…” Dean cut the cussing short and didn’t look over to his brother. For once, his cursing hadn’t been about possible damage to his car, but more about his still bandaged palms.

It had only been two weeks since he’d burned them badly rescuing Sam from some bizarre cult, and the pain the injuries still inflicted was excruciating every time he drove. Of course, that was something he’d tried to hide from his baby brother every step of the way. Not that it was working.

Sam had been on one long guilt trip since he’d been saved, and nothing Dean could say seemed to make him feel any less accountable. Every little frown or scowl from Dean was duly noted and added to the pile of torment Sam was enduring. Dean had been hurt, Sarah Blake had almost died, and all because the demon wanted him. It was something that ate away at him every minute of the day and Dean was powerless to stop it. If he intimated "my fault" one more time, though, Dean was sure he’d have to give his sibling a cuff around the ear, sore hands or not.

“You know, I’m thinking we should maybe have gotten a motel back in Jackson.”

Dean tried to tug the subject away from his smarting palms and onto something more constructive. It would be getting dark soon, and he really didn’t want to drive into the next town. Nor, however, did he want anyone putting their kiss of death on his "baby." Sam had trashed it, Kyle had trashed it. He didn’t dare to think what might be coming next.

“You could always turn around?” Sam offered, not really caring where he found refuge because sleep wouldn’t come anyway. “Maybe we could try calling dad again if we get somewhere our cell phones actually work.” He looked from the Impala’s window at the wooded area they were passing through, not really paying anything much scrutiny. Getting a signal out here in the boonies was nigh on impossible.

Dean reluctantly nodded. He hated backtracking, but right now he thought it was their best option. His hands were throbbing, and Sammy definitely needed something to focus on. If that meant trying to get a hold of their dad because he’d picked up the demon’s trail, then that’s what Dean would do.

John had gotten information from a cult member about some kind of gathering while they were in South Dakota. Since that time they hadn’t heard from him, and Sam had begun to fret that he’d once again gone to try and fight it alone. He had, after all, deceived them with the last bullet for the Colt. It was just another hunk of wood to add to the fire of self-derogation.

“I think I saw a pretty cheap-looking motel on the outskirts of town that won’t question our MasterCard too much,” Dean suggested, slowing the Impala and spinning the wheel hard over to make a tight U-turn. “Maybe we can find a diner nearby and eat. I’m starving, man.” He grinned, already having thoughts of what he would order. If I’m lucky, maybe there might even be a hot waitress to serve it up.

Sam shrugged. He wasn’t really hungry, hadn’t been for days. Instead, he let his gaze fall back out on the wilderness that enveloped them. In the distance, he could see wooden, ramshackle abodes speckling the horizon. It was like looking at a scene straight out of some "hick" movie.

“Don’t you think it’s bizarre that some people still live out here like this? In the hills, no TV, no modern technology at all, I mean?” Sam shook his head in amazement at a continent that could be so diverse.

America and the western world bristled with the newest, most amazing inventions, from the space shuttle to high speed internet and spy satellites. And yet, out here the locals where satisfied with a much simpler life. It made Sam question which existence was the truer, closer one to what God had intended. He didn’t voice his opinion, though, because talking about God in Dean’s presence opened up a whole new can of worms, especially after what had happened to Layla in Nebraska.

“Huh?” Dean pulled a face that suggested he hadn’t heard half of what Sam had just said because he’d been deep in his own deliberations. “You’re feeling sorry for everyone now? Jeez, Sam, something tells me you’re getting a Messiah complex or something. Next thing I know you’ll be doing the whole preachin’ on the radio deal, trying to save everyone’s soul. Maybe you should go hang out with Kyle.” He smirked and waved a hand in the air. “Hallelujah, brother!”

Sam couldn’t help but warm to Dean’s snark despite his dour mood and his cheeks dimpled as his usual broad smile appeared. “I think I can admit to saving a few souls in my time,” he confessed, flicking an M&M at Dean’s head with a plastic spoon that had been bandied about the Chevy’s interior for months.

Dean flinched as a red piece of confectionary hit him smack in the middle of his forehead and dropped unceremoniously into his lap. “You are SO cleaning my car after this, dude.” His eyes narrowed mischievously. “Or maybe I should turn on the radio. The local crap they churn out around these parts would make you beg for Metallica.”

Sam feigned disgust. “You wouldn’t?” Another peanut M&M catapulted from the spoon and hit home right on the spot the last projectile had landed, proving he was an ace shooter.

The elder hunter took his eyes from the road just for a second to grin at his brother. “You really don’t want to bet on that, Sammy. I have some new torture techniques all planned out and ready for testing.”

“Dean!” Sam ignored his sibling’s taunts and frantically pointed ahead of the Impala with his "catapult." “Watch out!”

Dean shook his head thinking the gesture was just another "Sammy trick." “No way are you gonna get me with that one, jerk.” He smiled smugly and turned back to the road almost too late to see the young girl who had stumbled from the undergrowth in front of them.

Instinct and highly honed reflexes kicked in like a circuit breaker, and even though Dean had no time to think, his leg muscles reacted automatically and he slammed on the brakes.

The Impala groaned as its momentum tried to carry it forward against the braking action. Rubber squealed on the crumbling road surface, making long, black snake trails as the tires shed a thin layer of tread due to friction.

“Shit!” Dean let out a huge breath and subconsciously thanked whoever watched over him that the Impala’s last overhaul had included the braking system. He tugged the wheel over for good measure just in case Sam’s mechanical abilities hadn’t quite matched his. Shoulda’ done all the work myself…

Sam grabbed the dash as his body was pushed forward, but unlike his brother didn’t feel the need to curse. Instead, his eyes zeroed in on the girl in the road, praying the car and Dean’s driving stopped them in time.

The Impala came to rest seconds later, a hair’s breadth and a little to the right of the unknown girl.

“Man, I swear I’ll never criticize this crate again.” Sam patted the dash and then swung the heavy door open to go check on the terrified young woman still sprawled in the road where she had fallen. Dean silently followed, as yet undecided whether to bawl the girl out for jaywalking or show some compassion.

“Hey, are you okay?” Sam kneeled with his usual gentle, concerned expression and was surprised when he saw how scared the girl looked. Her green eyes appeared wide and wild, and she kept looking back at the tree line she had just left rather than the car that had almost squashed her.

When she didn’t answer, Dean took up the conversation. “Are you hurt?” He looked her over for injuries anyway, often knowing a person didn’t always feel pain straight after the initial shock of an accident.

The girl still didn’t reply, but as far as Dean could tell she was unscathed. At a guess, he put her between fifteen and eighteen, and from her clothes it looked like she’d been hunting, probably with a friend or family member.

Dean carefully placed a hand on her trembling forearm. “It’s okay. You can tell us what happened. Was there an accident? Is someone hurt?” He spoke slow and clear, knowing from her dazed expression that she was not entirely focused on reality.

The word "hurt" seemed to spark something and the girl began to scream, her arms flailing wildly as both brothers tried to hold her down and calm her. “It took my dad! Its…its...” She lashed out in panic, punching Dean on the jaw with a mean right hook before trying to scramble away from their tenuous grasp. “I couldn’t even see it! Oh, God, the blood…so much blood…”

Sam reaffirmed his grip and forced the girl back onto the road surface, trying desperately not to hurt her arms where he held her tightly. “Calm down!” He insisted in a stronger tone than he would normally use with a girl. “We’re not going to let anything hurt you.” He looked up to Dean, his eyes flashing questioningly back to the woodland and then the car.

Dean rubbed at his chin with a frown and muttered, “Slippery little sucker. Mean punch for a kid, too…” Then his hazel eyes softened and he leaned over the girl whose rage and fear had now turned to hitched sobs. “Look,” he offered kindly. “We’re gonna get you in the car. You’ll be safe there. Then you can tell us what happened. Okay?”

Her pupils narrowed as she took in the information. It was obvious the doughty little blonde was weighing up the situation and her options. Could she trust them? Who were they? What the hell had just happened?

Dean suspected the girl normally wouldn’t be the type to cry over a broken nail or a hair out of place. He could just read people that way. In fact, for some reason she reminded him of a younger, female version of himself. Maybe she has an ex-military, demon-obsessed dad that brings her out here to learn how to hunt too. He didn’t really believe it, but the thought amused him.

The thing was, if little Miss Hunter wasn’t normally the type to bawl at a spider in the tub, then what the hell had her all fired up now? He held out a hand and bobbed his head, indicating that she should take it and allow him to help her up and into the Chevy.

Reluctantly, she nodded back, still warily watching Sam from the corner of her eye in case he tried anything. What she had just escaped was one type of killer, but Bethany Jayne McCaffrey knew all too well that there was a whole world full of perverts out there just waiting for an opportunity like this. For all she knew these two guys could be picking her up in their shiny black beast and she’d never be seen again.

“My dad,” Bethany paused at the Impala’s rear door and looked back into the woodland, eyes wide. “He’s an experienced hunter and it…it just dragged him away. I can’t leave him like this.”

“A bear, some kind of wild animal?” Sam didn’t want to upset the girl all over again, but if they knew what they were dealing with maybe they could actually help before it was too late. “Did you see it?”

Bethany shook her head, her thought processes at least becoming a little clearer now that she was out of the danger zone. “There was nothing to see. It was invisible, just…just invisible…”

Sam wanted to tell her that it was impossible, that the animal had probably been hidden in the underbrush, but then he knew creatures like wendigoes and skinwalkers existed, even if it was unlikely they were dealing with anything like that now. He looked to his brother warily.

Dean nodded back, silently pulling his favorite silver forty-five from his waistband. “I’ll go check it out. Get the kid into the car while I take a look around.” He cocked the weapon, licking his lips as he carefully stepped into the wilderness. Guns are useless if it’s a wendigo, he mentally chided, but still moved forward swinging the gun in an arc as he searched the brush.

Something to his left skittered across his field of vision and he stopped dead, bringing his weapon down to get a perfect aim at it. Dean sighed and rolled his eyes when he realized he’d targeted a small deer. “Sheesh, I’m hunting freakin’ Bambi!”

He took a breath and moved on until he came to fresh tracks on the ground interspersed with congealing blood. A short distance away, a discarded rifle with a bloodied handprint completed the scene.

Dean kneeled, examining the evidence. Among the tracks that he could make out were two sets of boot prints, and what looked like bare human footprints, although it was too over-trodden to really tell. Dean ran a finger over the deep indents in the ground, trying to picture a scene that would cause such marks. “Freaky,” he admitted, “like something right out of Predator.

Dean looked around cagily in the rapidly vanishing light and decided there was nothing more he could do. The police would need to come in with tracking dogs and a rescue team if there was to be any chance of finding the girl’s missing father.

Resignedly, he stood from his crouched position and took one last glance into the wilds. The woods were creeping him out, even though they shouldn’t be. It was like eyes watching him from every bush, every tumbled, gnarled tree stump. He’d been the prey before, heck, even been caught, but this time even Dean couldn’t stifle an involuntary shudder.

The hunter turned tail, heading back towards the Impala with his weapon still at hand, and it was then that he saw it- a flicker of light bouncing from a broken window pane in a long forgotten wooden abode.

Dean whirled, wondering if his mysterious watcher actually lived in the ramshackle structure that made "Mordechai’s Hell House" look like a palace. He squinted, examining the building just a little more carefully. Nah, now who's getting paranoid? No one’s lived in that rat’s nest for years. Besides, whatever attacked this dude will have dragged him away, not taken him home and set the table for lunch.

Dean took one last look and then broke into a jog back to the car. The quicker they got the girl to the police, the quicker a rescue team could start scouring the woods. For some reason, he didn’t envy them.

* * * *

It had taken Sam ten minutes to get Bethany into the car. She was still terrified of the "nothing" she had apparently seen tearing into her father, and she was scared of Sam too. Not that the girl had admitted as much, but the young hunter could clearly sense it. He didn’t blame the girl. There was too much evil in the world to drop your defences even for a second- he knew that from personal experience.

“You didn’t see anything? Not a blur of color or movement?” Sam sat sideways in the car’s passenger seat, looking into the back at the girl with his best expression of compassion. “A sound maybe? Some kind of animal cry?”

Bethany shook her flushed face and rubbed at her already sore eyes, glancing every few seconds into the shadowy woodland. When she finally spotted Dean hurrying from the tree line she exhaled, relieved that her panicked explanation hadn’t cost another life. “You can’t see it. Just what it does…”

The driver’s door swung open and Dean dropped into the seat he all-too often called home. He turned, mimicking his brother’s posture so that he could look over at the girl.

“There’s some blood out there and signs of a struggle. Pretty expensive rifle just tossed on the ground too,” Dean recounted his findings. “Looks like a wild animal…”

“No!” Bethany tugged on the back of Dean’s seat, pulling herself upright in a pose of utter defiance. “It wasn’t an animal, least not any kind I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t see it! It just tore into my dad and I couldn’t even see it to get a shot off!” Her tone had changed from almost unhinged to angry and frantic.

“Whoa, calm down there, missy.” Dean held up a hand, but was fast losing control. Women, he could deal with, but teenage girls always posed a problem- especially when their emotions were so out of control. “It could have been a wildcat hidden by the undergrowth,” he suggested, even though he didn’t believe it himself.

“It was invisible! How many times do I have to say it to make you understand!” The girl moved to jump out of the Impala but Sam caught her wrist. She pulled back once, and then gave in as she felt his grip tighten a little.

“Look, whatever took your dad is dangerous. You can’t go back in there without help.” Sam locked his eyes on Bethany’s. In his mind, he had no doubt she thought something strange had taken her father. Maybe she was just scared, delusional even, but maybe she was right. “We’re with the Kentucky State Police,” the lie came out totally convincingly. “We’ll get you to the local Sheriff’s office and they’ll get a search team out here. There are procedures to follow. Do you understand?”

Bethany shot both brothers a look of uncertainty but nodded. She had little choice but to trust them or walk back into Jackson at the mercy of lord only knew what. Right now, she’d take her chances in the Impala.

She wrapped her arms around her shivering body and was thankful when Sam offered up a blanket from the car’s trunk to keep her warm. Bethany glanced out of the rear window, but her mind couldn’t focus on anything but what she’d seen. Is it watching us?

As the girl began to rock back and forth in the back, Dean rolled his eyes and his expression screamed Just what the hell are you doing? First, Sam had been carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders about the events back at the steel mill, now he was taking on a gig without even considering what Dean might think.

Of course, Sam would say they were just posing as cops long enough to drop the girl off at the sheriff’s, but Dean knew the look that had crossed Sam’s face and it said he was "in the zone" and nothing was going to stop him.

Maybe it was the thought of trying to save a life, any life, that gave the younger Winchester some kind of absolution from previous events, or maybe he just wanted something to focus on so his mind didn’t keep going back to the cult, to Sarah and to the demon.

Either way, for Sam, Dean would pander to his wishes. Besides, after what he’d seen in the woods, he didn’t really believe the girl’s father had been taken by anything natural either, although he never admit it yet. He’d tease Sam for an hour or so about choosing a gig without asking, then maybe he’d confess what he’d seen.

Dean shot Sam a bemused look, conveying his thoughts with just one teasing smile and then started up the Chevy. He flicked the shift into reverse and straightened out the car, careful not to rub his stinging hands more than necessary on the wheel. “You definitely owe me Metallica for this one, dude.”

In the back, Bethany watched the two brothers begin to bicker and some part of her befuddled mind questioned their veracity as law enforcement officers. She huddled closer into her blanket, not wanting to think that she had possibly been lied to, or why.

Eventually, even the warmth of the blanket did little to quell her fears and she leaned forward, no longer caring what happened to her. “I.D.” she cleared her throat, realizing she sounded hoarse, “I.D.’s…I’d like to see some…”

* * * *

Motel, Jackson
Later That Night

Sam leaned back on the motel bed and finally allowed himself to relax after spending an hour at the local sheriff’s office. He locked his hands behind his head, pondering what they had learned as the sound of a shower hummed in the background.

It had been pretty easy back in the Impala to flash Bethany a fake badge, and with her confused mental state she had accepted it. The sheriff had been just as easy to dupe. At the news that one of his hunting buddies had gone missing, he hadn’t really paid Sam and Dean or their badges close scrutiny.

Sheriff Hank Waterston had known Bethany and her dad for a couple of years, had hunted with them, dined with them, even gone to church on Sunday with them. Seeing Bethany so distraught and in shock had clouded his normally clear police judgement.

Just like the brothers' first impression, Waterston had surmised his friend had been taken by an animal, and therefore concluded it would be better to begin the search the next day. Of course, he also thought there was little hope of finding Bethany’s dad alive, but he’d had the tact not to say so in front of her.

Instead, Waterston had called up the girl’s mother and put all the necessary procedures in place. The search party would set out at first light with tracking dogs, and Dean and Sam had requested to be on it. Or rather, Sam had requested to be on it. Dean hadn’t shut up about that small fact all the way over to the motel. Dean wasn’t sure they needed the case, and he was even less sure he wanted to be up at 5 a.m. in the morning. Sammy, after all, was the proverbial early-riser of the duo.

“Hey, Sam, I’m thinking we could maybe skip the food and grab something later. I saw this bar on the way over here that might just be civilized enough to have girls…” Dean bobbed his head around the door from the bathroom and flashed his tell-tale grin. He’d been taking a shower ready for a night on the town. Even if the place was tiny it had to have some kind of night life, and he wanted in on it. “Ya know, girls?” He jiggled his eyebrows suggestively and then vanished to continue preening himself.

“Whatever, man,” Sam really wasn’t in the mood for drinking or girls. He wanted to open up the laptop and do a search of local legends. Of course, out here his wireless card was about as useful as satellite TV with no dish. Instead, he’d just have to storm things through with Dean and hope they came up with something before big brother vanished on his "chick hunt." “Do you think Bethany could really have seen something weird take her dad?” He asked, hoping the prod would stir some interest from Dean.

Dean’s head reappeared as he rubbed at his dripping-wet hair with a towel. “It’s what she didn’t see, dude,” he padded into the room with just a towel around his waist and began rummaging through his holdall. “I mean, invisible rules out Sasquatch or any kind of Bigfoot, right? Skinwalkers are visible, black dogs are visible…” Finding the items he was after, the elder hunter returned to the bathroom without looking back.

Sam smiled mischievously and waited, keeping up the conversation without letting on that he was up to something underhanded. “But you do admit this is our kind of thing? Bethany didn’t seem the type to make this stuff up or panic easily. And from the look on your face when you came back out of those woods you saw more than just a little blood and a discarded gun.”

Dean’s voice echoed from the tiny, steam filled bathroom as he splashed on half a bottle of Calvin Klein to add to his "babe-magnet" appeal. “I think it’s worth a look, yeah. There was a third set of prints under Bethany's and her dad’s, but they were pretty messed up. Definitely not your regular Yogi Bear tracks…” A clatter, followed by several curse words suddenly cut off further conversation about the gig. “What the…”

Dean appeared from the bathroom with the frown of all frowns burned across his normally jovial features. “Dude, you put freakin’ "L’eau de Chick" in my stuff?” He turned up his nose as the strong and very sweet aroma of Dior’s Poison intermixed with Beautiful and several tackier perfumes wafted across the room.

Sam shrugged from his position on the bed and failed miserably to stifle a grin. “Dean, you so needed to get in touch with your feminine side…”

Dean’s glare intensified and he rechecked the contents of his holdall. “Man, you didn’t?” He seethed as he realized anything with a ‘Pour Homme’ label had been swapped for something more girlie. “Not everything?” He gaped.

“Oh, I did…” Sam couldn’t help it. His grin turned into a full-blown chuckle and he savored the total look of defeat on his brother’s face.

Dean had set the challenge in the Impala by suggesting he had some new "torture techniques" planned. No way was Sam waiting to get Nair in his shampoo or itching powder in his pants again. No sir, he was getting "first blood" this time.

“I can’t believe you’re starting this crap again,” Dean retreated into the bathroom smelling like an entire harem, and didn’t let Sam see he was actually smiling.

As he turned the shower back on, he tossed the spiked items from his bag into the bin and tugged off his towel, climbing back under the steaming hot spray of water to remove the syrupy aroma before he choked on it.

There would be plenty of time to get his brother back, but for now, Dean was just glad Sam had broken from his doldrums and could laugh and joke again. Maybe this was what he needed along with a new gig to keep his mind distracted. And if Sam needed a gig, Dean would work it.

Dean winced as the water soaked into the still healing flesh on his hands, and he hoped that this time there would at least be no demon. Fighting unearthly creatures was one thing, but Sam deserved a real break from his torment. Hell, they both did.

He looked back up, a smirk abruptly forming on his features as he pushed away dark thoughts and formulated his next prank. This one really would get little brother back for the "girlie juice" he’d put in Dean’s Calvin Klein bottle. “Okay, Sammy, let the games commence…”

* * * *

Woods just south of Jackson
6:47a.m. The Next Morning

The whirling lights of three police 4x4’s reflected off the stark greens of the woodland like some bizarre feral circus. Each vehicle had been parked just off the highway as far into the wilderness as the overhanging trees would allow, their drivers awaiting the word to begin scouring the woods.

Behind the Sheriff’s rig sat the Impala, its shiny black exterior contrasting against the stark white of the police vehicles. Dean had been careful to park the car as far away from any chance of harm as possible because he was fed up of having to repair it. Somehow, out here in the boonies he just expected trouble, and not just for his beloved classic.

Sheriff Waterston ambled up to the two would-be state cops as they exited the Chevy and nodded a "good morning" salute by touching the brim of his hat. “Fellas,” he jerked a thumb back to where his deputies were now gathering, along with the much-awaited tracking dogs.“Nice to see you up bright and early. Although, I’m danged if I know why you out-of-towners would be so interested in this. It’s just a local thing.”

“Let’s just say we like to finish what we start.” Dean strode alongside Waterston as the search party began a wide sweep of the woods. Sam followed just a short distance behind, taking in every movement in his surroundings.

“You know Bethany’s not the kind of girl to panic, and yet after you left yesterday she told me the strangest thing about what happened out here.” The Sheriff paused as they neared the site of the attack. He turned to face Dean, hooking a thumb under his belt in consternation. “You know the girl says what took her dad was invisible? She already told you that, right? And yet you’re still out here?”

Dean shrugged. “Something took Bethany’s dad. We’re just trying to find out what before it happens again.” He eyed the local law enforcement officer for a reaction, but Waterston didn’t flinch.

“Has anything like this ever happened before?” Sam stepped up, joining his brother and the Sheriff as they watched the other deputies follow the yelping dogs into the distance. “Anything unusual spotted in the woods or surrounding areas?”

Waterston shook his head. He didn’t know who he was dealing with, but some part of him was screaming that he should have paid these two yahoos’ badge numbers just a little bit more attention. Right now they were reminding him more of Mulder and Scully than two state cops. And the Chevy? Heck, what a beauty, but kind of unusual to be using as a "cop car."

Dean noted the Sheriff’s sudden pensive behavior and realized it was time to change the subject or get caught out. In the distance, he saw the same glint of broken glass from the shack he’d seen the previous evening and decided to use it as a way to deflect the conversation. He nodded towards the bleak structure that looked even more ramshackle in the light of day.

“What about the house over there? Anyone live there?” Dean was pretty sure the abode was abandoned, but then, so was Hell House and that place had been a bitch to deal with.

The Sheriff followed the elder hunter’s gaze as they began to trudge through the undergrowth again and then shook his head. “Hell no. Nobody’s lived there in over ten years. It used to belong to the Walden family, but as far as I know they left. I heard something about a disabled son and that they headed for the city to get him treatment.”

Dean stopped, his ears no longer fully picking up what the cop was saying to him. About a hundred yards away he’d spotted a fence hidden by the encroaching thicket, and at the base of the blackened, untreated timbers he’d caught sight of something. He held up a hand, cutting off Waterston from further conversation until he’d investigated the dark crimson stain.

Treading carefully in case of hidden bear traps, Dean crossed to the swatch of color and crouched to run a finger through the drying liquid. It was reasonably fresh, but there was no way to determine human or animal.

Dean’s eyes narrowed and he looked around, scrutinizing the foliage and contiguous greenery for more splashes of color. Noticing yet more blood spatter in the direction of the house, he indicated what he’d seen to his two companions and slid a hand to the back of his belt to retrieve his forty-five.

Sam and Waterston immediately followed suit, both silently drawing their weapons as they moved towards the rickety porch of the tumbledown building.

Dean reached the structure first and paused, weighing up whether the killer might still be within- if indeed it or he had ever entered the house. The blood trail had ceased just far enough away for it not to be a certainty.

The hunter turned, gesturing to his brother and the sheriff that he was going inside. Both men nodded an acknowledgement and poised to cover him, neither making any sound.

Dean eyed the rotting decking warily, wondering if the aged wood would take his weight. He placed a boot carefully on the edge of the porch, testing to make sure. When the timbers held, he moved forward, gripping his forty-five up to his shoulder as he reached what was left of the door.

Dean paused, considering a slow, cautious entry or a full-blown "kick the door in" assault. Out of habit, he chose the latter, standing back and lashing out at the entrance until the door’s tired hinges tore away and it blasted into the interior of the abode.

No sooner had the wooden remains landed, than Dean was inside, sweeping the shack with his weapon until he was certain no danger lurked within. “All clear, guys!” The hunter let his guard down just a fraction to look around.

The ancient abode still held furniture, or what had once been furniture. Chairs were splayed out across the floor, their fabric covers chewed at by rats and other vermin until the foam from within spewed out across the bare boards. It made the Benders home look like a palace.

Cobwebs filled every corner, and somewhere in the rafters Dean swore he saw movement. Probably bats. Great, flying rats. Just what I need.

To the rear of the room was yet another door, this time more intact than its predecessor. Dean ignored the overhead movement and eyed it warily, noting something dark smeared on the timber in front of it. More blood? The hunter’s senses instantly kicked back into alert mode and he pointed with his forefinger to his two companions before aiming his gun at the door.

This time, Sam took point, warily putting his back to the wooden wall panel next to the door’s frame, his Glock held high. Once in position, he nodded, indicating for Dean to kick down the obstacle in their path.

The elder hunter let his boot heel hit the door about a third of the way up and it imploded into the next room. Without waiting for the dust and flying splinters to clear, he dived in, his finger tickling the trigger of his weapon.

Sam sprang in behind his brother, with the Sheriff bringing up the rear.

“Sweet mother of…” The Sheriff’s words trailed as bile rose in his throat and he was forced to wretch at what the room held.

Piled in a corner, just left of a toppled dining table lay a mound of rotting remains. Some were mere skeletons, their bones long bleached by the sun through a nearby window. Others still held remnants of blackened necrotic flesh that buzzed with insect life and their yellowish larvae.

“Ah, man, talk about gross,” Dean gagged at the stench coming from the heap and unconsciously held a hand over his mouth. When he’d finally stifled the urge to heave, he moved closer, examining their find.

“Doesn’t look like anything too recent,” Sam noted, thankful that Bethany’s dad wasn’t part of the mountain of tangled limbs.

The Sheriff joined the two brothers at the side of their find, but still struggled to look at the maggot infested bodies that had been strewn together. He’d seen some pretty disgusting sights in his time, but this was somehow more than some wild animal’s lair, and he knew it. “Do you see anything human in there?”

“Nah, I don’t see anything that isn’t animal.” Dean crouched down, scrutinizing the pile more closely. He prodded at a half chewed torso with the tip of his weapon, revealing what looked like a dog collar.

The elder brother leaned in closer, plucking the tarnished tag from its resting place and flicking it over in his hand. The name "Rocky" and a telephone number where engraved into the metal.

Dean huffed matter-of-factly and straightened up, tossing the tag over to his brother. “Some of these bodies are domestic animals, peoples’ pets. Whatever is storing its food here isn’t just sticking to the woods to get its meals.”

“And it's been doing it for a long time,” Sam added, inspecting some of the skeletal carcasses more carefully. “I think it’s safe to say we can’t rule out the thing that did this from having taken Bethany’s dad.”

“A rogue bear maybe?” Waterston eased away from the mound and its plethora of busily feasting flies, preferring instead to focus on the room’s exit. He needed fresh air to think. Not that he really suspected the predator responsible for the carnage before him was a bear. Bears just didn’t act that way. He’d hunted them long enough to know.

Dean raised a brow at the cop’s suggestion, knowing it was a spur of the minute and very irrational idea. They were dealing with something new here, and the hunter didn’t like what he was seeing. The cadavers he’d gotten close enough to had been torn into alright. Some even had visible teeth marks, but the canine incisions didn’t look deep enough to be any wild animal he’d ever encountered. The whole scene was just "off."

“I don’t think it’s a bear,” Sam agreed, seemingly reading his brother’s mind. “Maybe we should take another look around, see if we can find any more tracks. We still haven’t found the end of that fresh blood trail…”

Dean glanced around the room, following a sudden bemused look from his brother. Both Winchesters' eyes paused on the same spot as they noted what appeared to be some kind of cellar door. It had a rusted padlock that obviously hadn’t been touched for a very long time.

“Sheriff?” Dean wafted the barrel of his weapon towards the newly-found entrance, forcing the cop to return his gaze back into the center of the room. “I think we should take a look down there.”

Waterston nodded and joined the brothers at the small wooden doorway. As long as he didn’t have to look at the putrid pile of flesh, he could pretend to ignore the smell and remain in the room. “I guess we’ll probably need the bolt cutters from my cruiser.” The Sheriff cocked a brow as he examined the lock, suspecting it was too corroded to open of its own volition even if they had the key.

“Or maybe not…” Dean shot the local a cocky grin and produced a small and very bent paper clip seeminlgy out of thin air. He wafted it like a magician and proceeded to gently poke it into the padlock, teasing until he felt his way through the rusted interior mechanism. After a second he felt the lock give way, but it still wouldn’t open.

Sam couldn’t help a small smirk as his brother showed off. “Maybe we should have just kicked it down. This place is so full of termites it probably would have collapsed with one kick.”

Dean huffed and swivelled the forty-five in his hand like a gunslinger until he was holding the barrel. With one swift tap on the lock with the automatic’s butt, it clicked open. Dean grinned and quickly grabbed the door handle, pushing it inwards as he twisted the forty-five back the right way up in his palm. “Patience, Mr. Gung Ho,” he smirked and then tugged out a pen-sized flashlight, pointing it into the gloom.

The basement was just what all three men had expected. Just a small to medium sized room dug out of the earth beneath the cabin and fortified with very fragile wooden beams. A few shelves had been erected along the farthest wall, and some still held long-outdated jars of pickle, half-rusted paint tins and a few other cob-web covered household items.

Dean swung the pen-light further to his left, illuminating yet more of the darkened corners. He paused mid-arc and returned to a point closer to the shelving. Something lay on the floor covered by a moldy green tarp.

“I’m gonna go take a look. Cover me.” Dean held his weapon on the tarp with one hand and the beam from his light with the other. As he approached he felt a lump form in his throat. Anything could be under the tarp, including any number of nasty and supernatural creatures right out of his dad’s journal.

The hunter stepped carefully down the angled ladder that led into the shadows of the cellar, worrying more about falling through rotten rungs than what lay beneath. Great, I’m bound to fall on my ass with Sam and the local Sheriff watching.

He sensed the wood give under his right boot and didn’t wait for the step to give way further. Instead, he leapt forward, jumping the rest of the distance into the chamber and landing upright with a grunt.

Without pausing, he brought the flashlight back up to waist height and twisted the beam so that it hit the weathered tarp dead center. As he watched, something slowly began to move and seemingly writhe beneath the canvas.

Dean froze, every sinew in his body suddenly readying for a possible fight. He brought his prized silver automatic up alongside his light, both brows furrowing as he tentatively approached the thing on the ground.

Above, Sam watched as his brother made slow, cautious steps in the darkness. From his position, all he and the Sheriff could see was what little illumination Dean’s mini-light gave to the scene.

Sam’s stomach lurched as he recalled a similar incursion into a cellar that had almost cost Dean his life. This is no Rawhead, and there’s no tazer…

Still, the younger sibling’s grip on his Glock tightened until his knuckles began to turn white with the pressure.

In the murkiness below, Dean felt the same kind of trepidation as his brother. Gone was the jovial, wayward Dean, replaced by his serious, no-nonsense side. He reached the tarp and the movement beneath abruptly ceased. Whatever was below had sensed his presence.


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