Episode Eighteen: Redemption

By Kittsbud

Part One

Black Creek, Wisconsin
11:56p.m.

Charlotte Winter sighed as she looked over the cab of the ancient Dodge at her husband. Peter was in one of his moods, and that was a bad thing.

The pair had been over to see friends in a neighboring town, but even that had gotten out of hand. Peter just had to start an argument; but then, he did that all the time lately.

Charlotte suspected it was age getting the better of him. They were both over sixty- maybe he was getting Alzheimer’s? She crossed her arms but didn’t speak. There would be no point in trying to talk to the incensed farmer for hours. Instead, she let her gaze fall outside the beat up pick-up, to the winding back roads it traversed.

Maybe I should get a divorce…

Charlotte let her mind wander, pretending she could escape the deep void of a life she’d been trapped in for over forty years. Living in the tiny town of Black Creek was suffocating, and yet she had let the place suck the life out of her quite willingly.

Peter had been worth it back then. Handsome. Strong. Loving.

A string of curse words erupted from the red-faced farmer and Charlotte was broken from her pitiful reverie. Peter was angry, and this time not just at his wife or old friends.

As Charlotte broke from her daydream she felt the pick-up swerve dangerously and was compelled to squint as something blurred before the truck like some nightmare illusion. She held a hand up, expecting the suffering Dodge to slam into whatever was in the road, but instead the thing vanished.

“Sonofabitch! Did you see that jerk?” Peter rammed his foot down on the truck’s brakes and brought the Dodge to a swift halt. The lane they were on was nothing more than a single-file dirt track. If anything else came along there would be no room to pass. Peter didn’t care.

“I…I saw something…” Charlotte shook her head, unsure of what exactly had been outside on the road. At this time of night in the country it was most likely some wild animal. “Peter, should you really be getting out?”

The farmer ignored his wife, tugging a twelve-gauge shotgun from a rack in the back of the cab. Someone or something had irked him, and in the frame of mind he was in, that someone was going to feel buckshot before they went home.

“Smartass thinks he can ride in front of my truck like some dang cowboy yahoo…” The insults came thick and fast as the farmer jarred open his door and stepped out into the chill of the night.

Peter huffed and spat viciously into the nearby scrub. His quarry had disappeared, no doubt because the little butthead had heard of his fiery reputation. Nobody messes with Peter Winter, not on his on his own land, Bucko…

Charlotte remained in the cab, still unsure of what had angered her husband even more than he had been moments earlier. Peter had intimated someone had been on horseback in the lane, but she doubted anyone would be so careless as to be riding at such an hour out here.

“Peter, maybe we should just go home,” she beseeched.

Winter shook his head, kneeling slowly to examine the hoof prints on the ground in front of his truck. The horse was unshod-something else he wouldn’t have expected. Knew it was some damn yahoo with no respect for man or beast. Young hoodlums aren’t satisfied with stealing cars…

Hoof beats, thudding heavily as if the animal was racing hard, reverberated along the previously silent lane, and Winter stood from his crouched position, finger poised on the shotgun’s trigger.

For painful seconds, only darkness and the noise of the approaching steed filled the country track.

Finally, horse and rider appeared, but not from the direction Winter had been expecting. It was like looking up into the sky after hearing a sonic boom, only to find the actual aircraft far away in the distance.

Winter gulped hard, suddenly intimidated by the charging dappled gray steed that tore towards him. The animal’s glistening coat shone in the moonlight, and the farmer could see small puffs of steam rising from its nostrils as it snorted with exertion. On any other day, he would have described the horse as being magnificent, but right now, its very presence scared the hell out of him.

“Peter!” Charlotte’s terrified voice cut through the night, her recent thoughts of divorce forgotten now that her husband was in danger. “Peter, get in the truck!”

Winter didn’t move.

The aging farmer suddenly found that no matter how he tried he couldn’t take his gaze from the rider and his perfectly bred horse. Before, he had thought the person who had ridden in front of his truck had been some punk from town playing some stupid prank, but the rider was no teenager.

As the gleaming steed finally slowed, its hoofs churning the ground as it responded to its master’s commands, Winter at last could see the man in full clarity.

The farmer guessed his attacker was in his late twenties, his sandy hair and handsome features almost hidden by a thick layer of dust that suggested he had been riding for days.

The stranger’s attire seemed eerily out of date, and was covered with the same film of dust as his face and hair. Whoever he was, he was no high school kid looking for a laughs.

Peter felt his heart rate go up a notch. There had been rumors in town of late. Rumors he apparently should have listened to. “What do you want?” He heard the words leave his throat, but they were thick and gravely, as fear contorted his normally loud timbre.

The rider didn’t answer, but with a tug of his reins brought the steed up on its back legs, rearing in front of Peter until he was sure the animal would come down on him, trampling him to death under its massive hoofs.

Amazingly, the horse remained upright, defying what Peter knew as logic. A horse can’t stay on its hind legs that long, can it?

The farmer’s head cocked and he realized his foe was drawing a weapon. Strangely, he didn’t feel compelled to use the shotgun anymore, letting it hang limp in his fingers even though his life now depended on it.

In the truck, Charlotte began to scream as she watched the young rider slide a cavalry saber from a sheath tucked into his saddle. As he swung his arm back for the kill, she couldn’t help but notice the mirthful sparkle to his eyes, and the strange gold object dangling from a cord around his neck.

Charlotte squinted, abruptly drawn to the almost radiant effigy. Maybe if she lived through the night its bizarre design would provide some evidence against their attacker. “Peter, for God’s sake, shoot!” The petrified wife’s pleas did little to rouse her entranced husband.

Peter Winter simply let the twelve gauge slip from his grasp and tumble to the ground.

Within a second, he felt the cool, hard slice of the saber as it ran through his gut and exited the other side. He looked down, suddenly shocked at what he had allowed to happen.

Above him, the rider smirked cockily and then tugged back, pulling his weapon from the farmer so swiftly that Winter’s body was forced back with the move. His back hit the hood of his truck, and he slumped down, clutching at his stomach with both hands as blood oozed through his fingers.

A trail of blood smeared the Dodge’s grille where he had slithered down it, and the left headlight beam was almost obscured with the thick, already coagulating liquid.

Charlotte screamed and tried to scramble behind the wheel of the pick-up. She slid a hand to the ignition and realized in horror that the ignition keys were missing. Peter must have taken them outside with him.

The sixty-four year-old peered through the windscreen, but the rider had vanished. Did she dare to venture outside to find the keys and try to help her husband?

With a quivering hand, Charlotte let her fingers slide behind the door handle. She pulled back and heard the click as the latch gave way, the door opening with a creak.

Bile rose in her throat, but she swallowed, forcing it back down as she clambered from the vehicle. She looked around frantically, scouring the lane for the interloper, but all was still.

Using the hood for support as her knees began to quake, Charlotte urged her wiry frame forward, knowing she would probably find her husband dead. Her hand slid across the metal as her fingers slipped in Peter’s lifeblood, and she recoiled.

Behind her, hoof beats resounded down the lane, their owner thundering ever closer for the kill.

Charlotte dropped to her knees, her hands flailing wildly across the ground in search of her husband’s shotgun. As her fingers finally curled around the barrel, she heard the snorting of a horse dangerously close, and she couldn’t ignore the urge to turn.

The pallid grey steed’s hoofs pawed the ground impatiently, its young rider watching her almost playfully.

Charlotte could take the impish look on his face no more. This man, this thing had killed Peter, and now he would pay. She tugged back hard on the shotgun’s trigger, its unexpected kick almost breaking her collarbone. Die you bastard…

The rider didn’t move, but continued to grin as the buckshot melted through his form and dissipated into the night the other side.

Only those who needed to repent and had not would die here tonight.

* * * *


Cabin just outside Black Creek, Wisconsin
Three Weeks Later


Dean climbed from behind the Impala’s wheel and stretched. He’d been driving for hours and it was a welcome relief to finally be able to flex his muscles.

The Chevy was like a home from home, but driving her non-stop across the country did little for his body - not that he’d let Sam take the wheel unless he had to. Between Sam and Kyle the car had been through far too much of late, but then they all had.

“Dude, did you really have to find us a cabin?” The elder Winchester squirmed as he eyed the small wooden structure before him. This was the first time they’d stayed in a cabin since Missouri, and Dean wasn’t sure he liked the idea.

Sam shrugged, popping the trunk to tug out their bags. “It’s not like Black Creek has much accommodation to choose from, Dean. The place is tiny.”

Dean huffed, but took the holdall that was pushed his way. “Tell me again why I’ve been forced to this nothing of a town?” He didn’t let Sam answer. “Oh yeah, Moses, our car wrecking priest friend, thought it was a good idea.” He rolled his eyes, referring to Kyle Williams.

Since their encounter in Dakota with their nemesis, Haris, Kyle had been sending them updates, information, and any supernatural case he laid his hands on. Being forced from the vocation he’d dreamed of all his life had led the would-be priest to appoint himself the Winchesters’ “researcher” and he actually fit the role quite well.

As long as he did the research from Dakota and kept his hands well away from the Impala, Dean was happy. The priest also kept an eye on Sarah Blake-something both brothers were thankful for after her near demise at the hands of the demon.

“I think Kyle actually found something quite unique going on here,” Sam countered as he unlocked the cabin door. “I mean c’mon, Dean, all those people found dead out on the highway, and in such a small town? We’re not exactly talking accident.”

Dean shrugged and took a glance around what would be serving as their new abode for the next few days. It wasn’t unlike the cabin in Missouri, and he felt a small chill run down the back of his spine. This case needed solving and fast, because he really didn’t want to be dragging up old memories again.

The nightmares he’d had at Bobby’s after the crash had been hard to push away, and the elder hunter suspected sleeping in this place wasn’t going to be easy if he didn’t want a recurrence of those hellish dreams about their dad while he’d been possessed by Haris.

“I don’t know, Sammy, I mean, we could be looking at a regular “killer in the backseat” gig here.” He raised a brow questioningly. “What makes you think this thing is unique?” Dean tossed his holdall on the bed and quickly joined it. While Sam began unpacking regular items like clothes and their laptop, Dean’s priority lay with his weaponry. A shotgun and two handguns appeared as if by magic and he began checking them over religiously.

“The local cops found hoof prints around every victim’s car. Does that sound like a “killer in the backseat” gig to you?” The younger hunter powered up their laptop and began opening files he’d downloaded. The cabin had no internet, so he’d had the forethought to visit the nearest local library on the way in. “Take a look.” He spun the screen towards his brother.

“Eight people stabbed to death by what the County Coroner describes as an antique sword.” Dean whistled. “How do they know what the murder weapon is if they don’t have it?”

Sam tapped the screen with his forefinger. “Read on. It says they found a sliver of the thing embedded in the latest victim’s ribcage. They dated the metal from that. The size and shape of the wounds gave them the rest.”

Dean broke the barrel of his shotgun and began to clean it as they talked. It was his favorite ritual, and one he could complete without even looking at the SKB. “Still doesn’t make this anything supernatural, Sammy. We could just be looking at some whacko serial killer. Definitely not our kind of thing.”

Sam shook his head. It was pretty obvious that Dean wanted out of the cabin just about as quickly as he’d walked into it. In fact, Sam suspected if he suggested they sleep in the car, Dean would take that option rather than spend a night in the tiny wooden rent-a-lodge.

Of course, Dean was putting on the brave face he usually wore when something bothered him, and Sam was going to play along with that, because sooner or later, Dean had to come to terms with his feelings.

“Dean, have you even read half of the newspaper reports on there?” Sam sighed and stole a glance at the laptop. “Some of the locals have allegedly seen a rider on a pale grey horse. So far he’s only been seen on the same stretch of road as the victims, and he only appears at night.”

Dean paused from reattaching the SKB’s barrel and frowned. “You think we have some freaky Sleepy Hollow kind of thing going down here? I mean c’mon, Sammy, a real life ghost rider with attitude?”

“That’s what some folks around here say…” A small, bearded man wearing a grimy baseball cap slipped through the cabin door and began chewing on something Dean suspected was tobacco rather than gum. He reminded the hunter of their old friend Bobby, and he took an instant liking to the newcomer. “Hank Jessop, your landlord.” The man offered his hand along with his introduction, and Dean shook it.

“You’ve heard about this “ghost rider” too?” Sam shot his brother a look that screamed “cover the guns!” as he spoke, but Jessop’s gaze had already fallen on Dean’s little hardware collection.

The cabin owner’s brow creased curiously, but he didn’t question the brothers’ arsenal. “Hell yes, sonny. My family’s been around these parts too long to miss out on any local gossip.”

“But you’ve never seen the rider?” Dean joined in after finally finishing up the SKB. “I mean, for all you know it could be nothing more than a rumor. Let’s face it, why would something like that just suddenly appear in Black Creek, right?”

Hank rubbed a hand across his beard and eyed Dean with a look of amusement. These boys just didn’t get how such a small town worked. “Nope, I’ve never seen it, and God help me I don’t want to. As for the why, I’m thinking Redemption…”

“Redemption?” Sam moved closer to their host, unsure how to take the man’s last statement. “You mean people think the rider is out for some kind of salvation? He’s killing to redeem himself?”

Hank laughed, his beard quirking in sudden amusement. “Hell no, boy, “Redemption” was a town around here back in the late eighteen hundreds. You know, regular lil’ cowboy town. When the railroad came through these parts and the bigger towns grew, well, Redemption kind of vanished off the map. And of course there were the rumors...” He coughed, unsure if he’d gone too far. “There are still parts of the old ghost town out there if ya go looking hard enough.”

“And you think the thing that’s killing people has somehow been awakened from there?” Dean was interested now. Maybe Sam’s original idea wasn’t so off base after all. All it would take was some unsuspecting tourist to dig up some old bones and wham; the mystery ghost rider could have been born.

“What rumors?” Sam cut his brother off and looked at the older man questioningly. Hank had slipped in the mention of “rumors” so casually Dean had totally missed it, but in their job, something so small could mean a great deal.

Hank swirled the tobacco around in his mouth for a moment, savoring the flavor. He chomped on a wad, and eventually nodded, pleased that the kid before him had picked up on his choice of words. “Some say Redemption vanished because of something bad that happened there. I don’t know the details, but it involved a hanging, so they say. Town was never quite the same after that. Others say the place was a den of iniquity anyway, but that was even before my granddaddy’s time.”

“You said there are still some remnants of the old place?” Dean cocked a brow. If he had to spend a night in Black Creek, he’d rather do it in an old ghost town than the cabin. He knew avoiding his feelings wasn’t the answer, but right now he had a pretty good excuse and he was sticking with it. “Can you tell us how to get there?”

“Sure thing.” Jessop jerked a thumb back towards the door. “There’s only one road out that way. It’s Breach Lane, where the killin’ always happens. Follow it right along to the end, past Pete Winter’s old place, then you’ll have to park your car and walk a ways. Just follow the river and it will take you right on into Redemption, or what’s left of it.”

“Can I ask you a question, Mr. Jessop?” Sam’s expression was neutral despite the sudden deep-seated dread that had begun to burn at him for no apparent reason. “What do you really think we’ll find out there?”

Hank backed up just enough to open the door a touch and spit out a swatch of his tobacco. When he looked back his eyes returned to the weapons Dean had been cleaning. “Death,” he admitted somberly as if it were the sanest answer in the world. “But then, it looks like you boys came prepared for that…”

* * * *


Breach Lane
Black Creek, Wisconsin
Later that night


The track ahead finally petered out into nothing more than a muddy glop, and Dean was forced to admit that the Impala could no longer traverse what was left of Breach Lane.

The elder hunter tugged the Chevy’s wheel, making sure the classic was as far over out of harm’s way as possible on the one track road. After listening to the calming growl of the engine for just a second, he shut off the ignition and shot a glance to his brother.

Sam had been unusually quiet on the drive out, and even now he sat with his head down as if something was bothering him more than he cared to say. The dimples on his cheeks had turned into a deep frown, and as Dean reached for the Impala’s door handle he sighed audibly.

It was more than Dean could take. “Sam, wanna tell me about it?”

Sam looked up, suddenly realizing his moping had been all too obvious. Since speaking with Jessop back at the cabin he couldn’t shake the feeling that coming out to Redemption was wrong. There was no vision involved, so there was no real reason to be afraid, and yet, deep in his heart Sam knew this was no ordinary apprehension.

Something was going to go wrong out here, and the only real fact he sensed about the whole situation was that whatever went down, he’d be powerless to stop it.

“It’s nothing,” Sam climbed from the car and joined his brother at the trunk. There was no point in telling Dean when there was really nothing to tell. Just like you didn’t tell Jess about the nightmares, and…Sam stopped dead as the thought hit him. Why would he think that?

“Look alive, little brother.” Dean tossed over a flashlight followed by a salt-filled Remington. He grabbed the recently cleaned SKB for himself along with his favorite forty-five. “Something is eating at you, dude. Now spill. This gig got you spooked?”

Sam pulled a face. “It’s not the gig. Just a feeling. I’m sure it’s nothing.” He flicked on the flashlight, letting the wide beam cut into the darkness ahead of the car.

“Nothing, huh?” Dean nodded knowingly. If Sam said he had a “feeling” and it was nothing, it usually meant it was something, but he just didn’t want to share it yet. “Fine, just as long as your whole lot of nothing doesn’t get our asses canned by the Lone Ranger out here…”

Sam smiled a little at the quip. “The Lone Ranger’s horse was white, not grey, dork,” he corrected. “Maybe it’s Zorro? He was more into the swordplay thing.” He chuckled, attempting to push away the nagging feeling in his mind, but it didn’t work.

“Whatever.” Dean took point, using his thumb to flick on his own light. “I don’t really care who he is as long as we can his sorry ass and get back in time for breakfast.”

Sam nodded. The sooner they got back to the cabin, the better he would feel.


* * * *


A mile down the muddy track, Dean paused and let his flashlight play to their left. He could hear the sound of burbling water, and remembered that Jessop had said Redemption was near the local river, which meant they were close to the old town. Or, at least, what was left of the place.

“I think we’ve found our ghost town. You wanna take right and I’ll take left?”

Sam licked his lips but didn’t answer right away. For some reason he didn’t like the idea of splitting up. It was insane considering how many gigs they’d worked this way, and yet all he could think of was Jessop’s last few words.

“What do you really think we’ll find out there?”

“Death…”

“Dean…maybe we should stick together on this one…”

Dean raised a brow and his lopsided, cocky smirk appeared. “Dude, you’re turning into a regular wuss on this gig. Forget to eat your SpaghettiOs this morning?” The elder hunter shook his head, playing the moment, but he knew Sammy was spooked big time. That was bad. “C’mon, I want to actually see this place tonight,” he joked. “I always wanted to be a cowboy…”

“I thought you always wanted to be a fireman?” Sam countered as he reluctantly began to move away from his brother.

Dean shrugged as he began walking to the left. “What? A guy can’t have more than one career choice?”

“Yeah, but you’re definitely more of a Jesse James or Billy the Kid than any fire fighter…” Sam’s humor-filled voice became muffled as he vanished into the night towards the remains of Redemption.

Dean watched him go and then shook his head. Something was definitely eating at the kid despite his quips. And with Sammy’s sixth sense, that meant trouble.


* * * *


Sam hadn’t been walking long when the beam from his light caught something jutting from the earth up ahead. As he aimed the flashlight more directly, he realized what he was looking at was the remnants of a wooden structure.

Sam moved closer, keeping the beam on the aging, mite-infested timbers. It was hard to tell what the building had once been, but from what he could tell he’d found the outskirts of town. He kneeled, letting a hand caress the wooden laths as if tactile touch could bring back memories from the past.

The lumber felt cold to his fingers-unnaturally so, and Sam couldn’t help but recoil and move on, some unknown sense of urgency pushing him forward.

The moon appeared as if on cue from behind a bank of high cumulous clouds, its muted light illuminating the scene more clearly.

Jessop had been right in his description. There really wasn’t much of the old western town left. From what Sam could see, only one building actually remained in its entirety, and it was at the farthest edge of town. He would have to quicken his pace to check out the place and be back at the rendezvous point where he’d left Dean.

Something is keeping me busy…

The young hunter didn’t know where the abrupt and unnerving thought had come from, but he didn’t like it. He let a hand touch the Remington under his jacket, but it did little to quell his misgivings.

Balls of tumbleweed blew in front of him, taunting him to move onward, to see the last building in Redemption and find its long lost secrets.

Sam looked back over his shoulder into the darkness. Somewhere in the black void of night, Dean was alone, vulnerable. The thought struck a chord, and no matter how much the lone structure at the edge of town beckoned, Sam refused its ethereal invitation. He knew now he had to go back. Back before it was too late, like it had been for Jess.

“Dean…”


* * * *


Dean kept one hand on his flashlight while he cradled a home-made EMF meter in the other. Ever since leaving Sam he’d had the uncanny feeling of being watched, and on a night like this, he trusted that his instincts weren’t wrong.

The hunter spun to his right a little at the sound of cascading water, letting the ray from his light play in the direction of the rushing deluge, as he noted a broken wooden sign near the steep embankment.

Dean edged forward, eyes darting in anticipation of some ghostly ambush. When he reached the decrepit marker, he kneeled, rubbing a thick layer of dust away to reveal painted-on lettering from another era.

“Redemption Cemetery…” The elder brother read out the words emblazoned in black, somehow knowing this was the place the Winchesters were looking for. They had been drawn here. He had been drawn here.

“No! We don’t deserve this! We created you!” A girl’s muted, terrified scream broke the silence of the night and Dean abruptly sprang to his feet.

Redemption should have been an empty town. A town full of nothing but age-old memories, and yet, he was not alone.

Dean quickly pulled the SKB from under his jacket, noting with alarm that the EMF meter he had been forced to stow away was now screaming as it redlined. Shit!

He pointed his flashlight ahead towards the sound of the screaming, letting his shotgun’s barrel align with the beam as he played it across the open graveyard. Within a second, he found what he was looking for.

Amidst a few tumbledown stone monuments, intermingled with even more decrepit wooden grave markers, was a young teenage girl. To Dean, she looked no more than sixteen-and she had company.

Strewn at her feet like rag dolls were at least three more young bodies.

Dean squinted in the dim light, hoping he was wrong, but from the amount of blood on the ground he couldn’t help but think all three were already dead.

The hunter quickened his pace, bringing the SKB up ready for action. The ghostly killer was here, hiding somewhere amongst a bone yard full of long-dead souls. Sam sensed this. At least, some of it…

The girl screamed again, this time her voice almost croaking as she forced her vocal cords to work harder than they were able to cope with.

Dean stopped dead, digging his boot heels into the ground as he realized what had caused the latest batch of wailing. The rider was here, and he intended finishing what he had started. Somehow, the phantom horseman’s presence simply melted from the darkness into full form, like the invisible man returning to his earthly state.

The dappled steed on which the phantom rode snorted as its master pulled back on the reins, forcing the once proud animal to circle the teenage girl.

She began to shake, her whole body quivering as she mouthed the words, “We made you,” over and over again.

The young rider didn’t seem to care who had brought him back from some nether region where he felt he didn’t belong. All that mattered was why he was here. His purpose. His destiny that had been stolen from him so long ago.

As Dean watched, the rider drew a saber, just like the one the news reports had described. It looked rusted with age, but on closer inspection the hunter realized the blade was actually coated with a dried layer of blood.

“Sonofabitch…”

The horse reared, controlled by its angry master’s wrath, and as its hind legs carried it into the air, Dean spotted what Charlotte Winter had seen almost three weeks previously.

Dangling from the rider’s neck on a thick piece of twine was a shiny gold amulet - his amulet.

Dean’s eyes widened as the realization hit home. Sam had been right all along. This was no ordinary gig. It was personal on a level he would never have thought possible.

The teenage girl’s knees buckled as she awaited the inevitable, and she let out one pitiful last cry that broke Dean from his shocked daze. He was here to stop a ghostly killer, no matter what it wore around its neck.

Using the darkness for cover, and the girl as a distraction, Dean made a calculated run towards the rear of the rider, hoping the spirit wasn’t expecting his attack.

If the rider was aware, he didn’t show it. Instead, he brought the cavalry sword up above his head, his obvious intention being to decapitate the girl.

“Hey, wanna show me what you got, you bastard?” Dean lined up the SKB on his target and let off a shot. Just who the hell is this sonofa…

Dean didn’t get time to finish the thought.

The rider abruptly tugged at his steed’s reins, ignoring the rock salt as if it didn’t even exist. He whirled the horse around far faster than Dean had expected, and the young hunter was caught off guard.

For a second, hunter and hunted stared into one another’s souls. The rider was young, his hair and features not unlike Dean’s-except now, unlike before, parts of his face took on the appearance of rotting, necrotic tissue.

Dean froze, captivated by the thing he was looking at, and it was all the horse and rider needed to take advantage of the situation.

The steed let out some ungodly equine wail and kicked back, catching Dean high in the thigh with its unshod hoof.

It was the first time Dean had been so close to a horse, let alone kicked by one, and the action sent him flailing back, arms outstretched as he desperately tried to halt his backwards tumble.

The shotgun fell from his grasp, and in seconds he felt the icy chill of the river as his body broke the water.

Dean sensed his head go under, and he struggled, body thrashing to try and break the surface of the river for much needed air. The harder he pushed, the more he became aware that something was holding him down.

For a moment, panic took over and the hunter actually believed some demonic force had grabbed him. He let out a breath, calming himself, and sending a small bubble trail upwards towards the moonlight as air escaped his lungs.

It was hard to swim, to use his legs when his right thigh still felt numb from the horse’s blow.

Dean looked down, but through the up-churned silt of the river bed and dark of night, there was little to see. He didn’t really need to.

The hunter’s lungs burned and he stifled the urge to breathe in, realizing that somehow he was caught on some unseen object below the water.

Dean kicked with his good leg, but the motion alone wasn’t enough to free him from his unknown captor. He blinked, the river water smarting at his eyes, but that was the least of his concerns.

Somewhere above, the rider still roamed, and Sammy and the girl were still in danger. Can’t leave them…

Dean thrashed again, but the strength, the life, was slowly ebbing from his body until all that remained was a faint glimmer of hope that he would be rescued. Sammy knew…

A last fleeting image of the amulet dangling from the rider’s neck made him push one more time for freedom, but the river bed held fast its grip, keeping him down until all that remained was a tiny bubble trail ebbing from the corner of his mouth as his arms floated lifelessly upwards in the watery abyss.

 

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