Season Three

Episode Ten: Distant Voices

By Kittsbud

Part One

Unknown Location

The darkness didn’t hinder the hands – instead, nimble fingers moved swiftly, making light work of their task. A husky voice joined the fingers’ movements, chanting some bizarre incantation in an unknown tongue.

To the unperceptive mind, the language could easily have been mistaken for Latin. Except, this was no dialect any church would ever adopt.

The mantra was dark, evil, foreboding as the narrator sprinkled nameless dried herbs over a strangely fashioned amulet.

The amulet seemed to be in the shape of a humanoid, but its outlandish body parts suggested this was no ordinary figurine. The creature it depicted was a mysterious mixture of both animal and human limbs – a thing of malice – a bringer of death.

The chanter paused, taking a vial and pouring its dark red contents over the amulet.

The droplets of blood splattered across the metal, adorning the statuette’s grotesque features with its garish color. As the coagulating liquid began to run down the metal, the chant began again, becoming faster and faster until the words were almost unintelligible.

The voice became frenzied, its owner nearly gasping for breath as it sought to finish the unholy summoning. Just as the cadence became almost falsetto, the blood on the amulet began to hiss, tiny wisps of steam erupting from its surface as if the metal had suddenly become super-heated.

In a flash of white light, the blood and herbs ignited, the abrupt discharge of heat burning away their very existence to leave behind something far more sinister…

 

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Joe Bearwalker’s RV

Joe Bearwalker dropped down from the rear step of his RV and stretched. It was late afternoon, and the sun’s waning position in the sky was making him feel like taking a nap.

The Tlingit shaman often worked night gigs, and the previous evening had been no exception. So far, he’d managed a little over two hours sleep in the space of two days, and it was beginning to tell even on his well-honed body.

Had Joe been alone, he’d probably have been buck naked sprawled inside his Winnebago by now, with a bottle of Moonshine tightly clasped in his hand. Hell, he’d earned it on his last hunt.

As it was, there would be no drinking, and no carefree slumber.

The Native hunter turned and looked out across the rocky butte, enjoying this one last guilty pleasure before returning to his job as custodian and all round protector of Mia Cameron.

A golden eagle soared high in the sky, diving on some unknown prey among the spattering of red barrel cacti that encroached the sand around his RV.

To Joe, the sight made him feel at one with nature and he inhaled, feeling like he was actually flying with the graceful bird as it spread its wings, gliding just above ground level over the mesa.

The eagle, like Joe, was a hunter, a predator that shouldn’t be caged.

And yet I am caged, while ever I have to play nursemaid to the girl, Joe’s mind chided him, even though the shaman didn’t really regret taking in Mia to help his old time friends, the Winchesters.

As hunters, they’d been through a lot together – although he still figured they owed him big time for the way Laura Mitchell had trashed his 1950 Indian on a gig back in Big Bear.

Dean is so gonna pay for that one day, Joe chuckled to himself as he turned back to the RV, catching a glimpse of his restored bike as he reached out to step back inside his mobile abode.

The bike was his “baby,” a red, two-wheeled stallion that meant as much to the shaman as the Impala did to Dean.

Joe grinned with pride as the chrome-work shimmered in the twilight afterglow, but then, he paused, taking a second glance at the motorcycle.

The bike was sitting innocently on its stand and yet it seemed to be rocking – moving as if some ill-timed wind had whipped up out of the ground – a wind that was swelling outwards like the desert sand had taken on a life of its own.

Joe’s brow furrowed with a newfound concern and he abruptly discarded the idea of going inside. This was something that needed his attention – something unnatural – something wrong in Mother Nature’s womb.

As a tribal shaman, Bearwalker had seen and sensed many things, but this, even for him, was frightening. He could feel the energy building, and his intuition told him to run like hell.

Nevertheless, Joe felt a hand instinctively reach for the .44 Magnum tucked into his waistband. He drew the weapon, eyes darting back to the open RV door.

“Mia! Mia run!” The shaman’s voice was filled with dread, but he didn’t try to retreat. If this thing was coming for the girl, then it would have to go through him first.

The sand ignored his yells, it ignored the weapon now pointed at the strange, growing epicenter it was creating.

And it changed, morphing, coalescing into a shape.

A shape Joe Bearwalker had seen before in ancient texts depicting some of the most dangerous demons known to man.

The form didn’t take note of Joe’s awe, or his fear, but instead continued to materialize from the desert like some bizarre sculpture made from the sand. As it grew, long taloned feet appeared along with a hideous tail that took on the shape of a scorpion’s sting.

Finally, a head emerged from the human-like torso, popping from between the brawny shoulders like a balloon being filled with air. The head was akin to a human-dog hybrid the likes Joe had only seen in Dark Angel re-runs, and for a second he felt a playful smirk cross his features.

Except, this was not Joshua, and it would have none of his innocent, puppyish traits.

Once fully formed, the demon’s eyes sprung open, locking on the hunter as a dry smile crossed its canine countenance, drawing its features into a more human expression of pleasure. Its head cocked, but it didn’t speak, nor did Joe expect it to.

This was Pazuzu, king of the wind demons, bearer of storms, droughts – and ultimately – death.

Pazuzu wasn’t here in the desert by chance. He wasn’t here to talk about the niceties of sleeping out under the Anza-Borrego sky and cooking on an open camp fire.

Joe aimed the Magnum and pulled back on the trigger not once, but six times in rapid succession until every chamber was empty. He knew the bullets would do little to the thing, except maybe piss it off, but even that might distract it long enough for the girl to escape.

The ruse seemed to work, and Pazuzu’s tail flicked like that of a rattler as he whirled on the hunter, sand churning as the wind from earlier returned, whipping at the sides of the RV like a typhoon had engulfed it.

“Mia!” Joe screamed the girl’s name again, but there was no movement from inside the RV. Had she dozed so deeply as not to hear him? “Mia!”

Joe’s features contorted in agony as Pazuzu engulfed him, whipping at his body with millions of tiny sand pellets until the shaman felt like he was being flayed.

But then, maybe he was.

Pazuzu’s strange form spun faster and faster until Joe crumpled to his knees, but he couldn’t fall forward – the thing was holding him upright for the kill.

Joe wanted to scream again, this time not for Mia, but to any Tlingit deity that might be listening. But today, even his Gods abandoned him.

Blood oozed through raw patches of flesh, and in his last conscious moments, all the hunter could think of was the girl – why hadn’t she heeded his warning? How could the Winchesters ever forgive him for failing her, and ultimately, them?


Impala
Four Days Later…

Dean felt every bump of the rough Arizona back road as it tousled the steering wheel in his grip. He didn’t want to be here. Hell, he didn’t want to be within a hundred miles of Mia, and yet here they were in a car together, neither one knowing what to say to the other.

Mia was no doubt blaming herself for Joe Bearwalker’s horrific injuries, and Dean guessed in a way she was right. The Native hunter had undeniably put himself in harm’s way to protect her.

But then, that was what hunters pretty much gave their lives up for – saving people – hunting things. It had been their kind’s mantra since the dawn of time, and Dean doubted it would ever change.

The good news was the “hunter’s doctrine” at least hadn’t gotten Bearwalker killed. The shaman would be out of action for awhile and have a bucket load of new scars to brag about, but he was going to be okay.

The bad news was he was in no shape to be Mia’s bodyguard for weeks, and that left her right back in the hands of the Winchesters. Whichever way Dean looked at it, the girl was being pushed from one dangerous circle to another.

And damned if I can do jack about it. Dean was tempted to slap the Impala’s wheel in frustration, but then he realized it wasn’t fair to take his annoyance out on a piece of metal that didn’t know any better.

“You know, you really didn’t have to pick me up,” Mia sighed. “There’s nothing you can do but watch my sorry butt, and look what that got Joe.”

Dean smirked and shook his head, thinking of how inappropriate his last thought had been. “Oh sweetheart, there’s nothing I’d like better than to watch your sorry butt.”

“That’s not what you said back in Texas…”

The sentence was short – clipped – but it was easily apparent to Dean what Mia was digging at. He’d left her behind once even though he had feelings for her; she wasn’t so naive as to think he wouldn’t do it again.

“Look, Mia.” Dean took a breath, trying to find the right words, the right justification, but in the end, he realized he didn’t have either. “I left you with Joe because of what I do. What I hunt could get you killed.”

Mia crossed her arms and looked out the window. When Dean didn’t offer any more excuses, she shot Sam an apologetic glance and reached for the stereo, flipping through several tracks on the CD player until she found Iron Maiden’s Only The Good Die Young.

Dean’s eyes strayed to her and a spark of mirth flashed across his hazel orbs. Even when she was pissed at him, she still managed to know how to push all the right buttons. He reached out a hand, turning up the volume even further until Sam grabbed the fur pelt that covered the back seat and tried to muffle out the sound from the speakers with it.

Dean was tempted to chuckle, but then the tupilaq hide he’d brought back from Canada abruptly reminded him of Joe again, and he remembered just why the shaman had been hurt. He’d left Mia with Joe. He’d asked Joe to look after her.

It wasn’t Mia’s fault Bearwalker was now lying in a hospital bed, it was Dean Winchester’s.

“Dean, I think you should turn down the music.” Sam leaned over the bench seat, his body bouncing as they hit a patch of craters in the road.

“Suck it up, SuperSammy.” Dean glanced back to his brother, the corners of his mouth ticking just enough to say he wasn’t in a good mood, and that meant someone would probably pay with a full-on dose of snark.

Sam sat back, crossing his arms and looking to the roof lining for Divine vehicular intervention. “Fine, Dean, but when the car explodes don’t expect me to be the one to walk to the nearest gas station.”

“Huh?” Dean’s brow furrowed and he finally saw his brother’s point. Hastily switching off the stereo, his face contorted in mental agony at the grating sound coming from beneath the Chevy.

“Maybe something got caught on the chassis?” Sam offered.

Mia shook her head, her mechanical knowledge far outweighing Sam’s. “That’s coming from the transmission. Maybe we should pull over?” She asked, head cocking sideways as she looked expectantly at Dean.

Dean scowled. He knew every inch of the car, every tiny scratch, every nut and bolt – and his baby couldn’t be having trouble with the auto box – it was inconceivable. “It’s not the transmission.” He kept his foot on the gas, only easing off slightly as the noise grew louder.

“Dean, will you stop being an ass and face the fact that this car is older than you are? She’s bound to get a few aches and pains in her old age!” Mia lifted a hand, threatening to swat Dean, but then retreated when she saw he wasn’t playing.

“Even if I pull over, there’s nothing we can do out here in the middle of nowhere.” Dean’s eyebrows sank into a huge frown and he hunched forward in the driver’s seat enough to admit with his actions – if not his words – that the Chevy was in serious trouble.

Since being smashed into a tree, and later through a brick wall, he’d probably pampered the car way too much, but it was all he had left to cling to apart from Sam, and maybe now Mia.

“Sammy, is there a town nearby, or maybe a gas station?” Friggin’ women trouble, car trouble, can I get more jinxed? I swear some sucker hid a hex bag on me!

Sam pulled out his cell and began to scroll through all the options that allowed him to access Sat Nav. Flicking through two or three screens he paused on the last and began to pull a face that said it wasn’t good news.

“The nearest place is called Cibola, but it’s tiny. Only one hundred and seventy-two residents. It’s not much more than a ghost town, literally.”

“Well then you two should fit right in.” Mia smirked, slapping Dean on the back so hard he knew she was trying to irk him. They were just too much alike for her not to be. People said opposites attracted, but that so wasn’t true about their relationship.

Love/hate was a much better description – and that was on a good day.

Dean looked over his shoulder to Sam who sat scowling right back at him. Apparently, little brothers were very uncomfortable when their siblings had a girl in the car. In fact, Sam seemed very uncomfortable around Mia at all of late. Maybe she reminds him what it was like with Jess?

Dean shrugged off the thought. Whatever was bothering Sam, he’d get over it. “Dude, are you gonna tell me how to get to this place or do I gotta send me out a scout?”

Mia groaned and turned the stereo back on, masking the now irritating sound of metal on metal from the Impala. “Just don’t look at me. I’ve already been dumped in the middle of nowhere by you two bozos once…”

 

Cibola, Arizona

When Sam had said Cibola was small, he hadn’t been kidding. There was no real “town” to speak of, just a few scattered houses among the desert landscape that looked like they’d been buried and forgotten since the west had been won.

Dean suspected if they dug around enough, there actually would be some real western ghosts in the place, ready for their next gunfight at high noon.

Of course, right now, Dean didn’t exactly care if Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid or Wild Bill were out ganking on each other, he just wanted the Impala to stop sounding like it was going to explode. Each gear change was accompanied by a loud metallic scream followed by a lurching motion as the car struggled to make shift changes.

To Dean, it was bordering on psychological torture akin to that dispensed by Haris.

“Look, why don’t we ask that kid if there’s a garage or something here?” Sam gestured out the window to a teenager. The kid was kicking a ball aimlessly along a track obviously considered by locals to be a road.

“Dude, I doubt if these people have electricity,” Dean griped, tapping the brakes just enough so the Chevy was matching the speed of the kid’s gait. He rolled down the window. “Hey, you folks have a gas station or garage around here?”

The kid turned and shrugged with such a vacant look Dean was convinced he wasn’t going to get an answer. But, after a second’s more thought, the teen pointed off the dirt road towards a farmhouse. “Mr. Pruitt knows cars. Fixed my dad’s truck up real good last summer when he shot out a light shootin’ at Robby McCallister…”

Dean grimaced, nodding knowingly as the kid returned to the ball he seemed so obsessed with. “Shot out his own truck’s lights? Real smart folks around these parts…”

A vision of Deliverance seemed to stick in his mind, right along with the classic Dueling Banjos, but he turned the car towards the farm anyway. If Pruitt could stop the Chevy screaming like a banshee, Dean didn’t care how weird he might be.

“Nice kid,” Mia laughed. “Wouldn’t you just love to meet his pa?”

“Not unless I was armed first.” Sam shook his head and watched Pruitt’s home grow closer until it filled the Impala’s windshield.

As they drew to a stop, the Chevy seemed to shiver and something underneath finally gave way. Dean closed his eyes, unsurprised when the column shift wouldn’t slide into park and he was forced to shut off the engine while the car was still in gear.

“I think maybe we need to salt and burn the bones,” Mia teased, sliding out the passenger side before Dean could growl a response.

Dean followed her lead, looking up to the main house as a stout figure in overalls emerged.

The actual farm didn’t appear half as grimy as the hunter had expected. The windows had been recently cleaned, and the paintwork appeared to be fresh for the season.

Hank Pruitt, on the other hand, was exactly what Dean had expected.

Pruitt looked to be in his late forties, with a fresh growth of stubble the hunter swore had egg in it from the guy’s breakfast. His face, like the overalls he wore, had smears of black oil and grease daubed all over it. And yet, his smile was enough to bring warmth to the coldest of hearts.

Dean instantly liked the man.

Pruitt was a whacked out version of Bobby Singer and Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard all rolled into one.

“Excuse me, sir, but someone back in Cibola said you fixed cars?” Sam had climbed from the rear of the Chevy and taken it upon himself to get things moving.

Dean turned, nodding back at the Impala. “I think my transmission is totaled,” he explained, feeling like he was giving the car its Last Rites. “Funny thing is, I never noticed a thing until we were about twenty miles out.”

Hank took off his soiled baseball cap and ran a hand through his equally soiled hair. “Well, these classics can be that way. They’re great while the going’s good, but just like any woman you provoke too much, they sometimes bite ya right on back when you’re not lookin’.”

“Can you do the work?” Sam asked, fingering his cell phone in anticipation that the farmer would say no.

Hank rubbed a hand across his nose and sniffed. “Sure thing, used to work for a Chevy dealership back in Tucson in my younger days. ’Course, I’ll have to take a look at her and order in some parts. She ain’t likely to be ready for a few days.”

Mia ran her tongue across her teeth and to Dean it looked like she was already annoyed. Maybe she thought she could fix the car better than Pruitt. Hell, Dean thought maybe he could too, but if Hank could get the parts in, three sets of hands were likely to be way faster than one.

“I don’t suppose there’s anything like a motel in this place, either, right?” Mia eventually asked, running a hand over her brow to mop away beads of sweat.

“Hell, no, ma’am, never been a need for one.” Hank winked. “People usually want to leave Cibola, not stay,” he chuckled, then realized what the girl was asking. “You folks can stay on in the house here with me if you like. I don’t bite. ’Course, Billy my dog might…”

Mia turned to shoot the hunter a look that said “no way,” but Dean was already walking closer to Pruitt with a satisfied smile on his face. “We’d really appreciate that, thanks.”

“My pleasure. Any man who drives a car like this deserves a little respect. Young people today, too fussy buying Japanese imports to notice what they’re missing.” Hank cocked his head and squinted at Sam, appraising him. “Son,” he continued the lop-sided stare. “Now you look like the kinda guy who drives a Honda…”

Dean raised a brow, wondering just how Pruitt had pegged him for a geek so quickly. He shrugged his shoulders when Sam blinked, apparently speechless. “My name’s Dean Blackmore and this is my brother Sam,” he glanced at Mia, uncertain how to introduce her. “This is Mia…a, uh…friend along for the road trip we’re on.”

Hank narrowed his eyes again until his left was almost closed. He rubbed at his chin, eyeing Mia appreciatively. “Friend, huh? Yeah, I can see how that would be.” He jerked a thumb to a shack at the side of the farm. “So, you two wanna help me haul the lady into the barn?”

Mia started, then stepped aside when she realized Pruitt was actually talking about the Impala.

Pruitt noticed her flinch and smiled again before heading for the Chevy’s open
driver’s door. Dropping inside, he took a hold of the wheel and then craned his neck back out with a scowl. “Hey, you folks gonna start pushing sometime today? ’Cause, hell, I’m sure too old to put my back into it with you young pups around…”

Sam shook his head and peeled off his jacket, tossing it on the rear seat before joining Dean and Mia at the Chevy’s trunk. “Can you believe this guy?” He asked through clenched teeth.

Dean shirked his head to one side. “Aww, c’mon, he’s just a little eccentric. I like the dude.” He placed his palms on the car’s metalwork and began to heave, noting Mia was doing much the same at his side.

“Eccentric?” Mia countered. “He’s whacked, Dean. Tell me you’re not really planning on taking him up on his offer to stay here?” She bobbed a head towards the farmhouse and shivered. “That place creeps me out! This is way too much like that whole deal in House of Wax with the freaky mechanic…”

Dean beamed, pushing harder as the Impala slid through two large and slightly rotten barn doors. “Just don’t go take a leak in there and you’ll be fine,” he teased, noting the abundance of tools carefully placed and ordered inside the makeshift workshop.

Mia let go of the car and straightened up, brushing her hair back away from her face. “Yeah, well just remember, the girl lived in that movie, most of the guys weren’t so lucky.” She looked over her shoulder. “Right, Sam?”

Sam wiped the grime off his hands on a towel he’d retrieved from the trunk and winced. “I err…never actually saw that movie…”

Pruitt clambered from the Impala and scratched at his neck, lingering at a spot behind his right ear. His expression suggested his brain was probably on another planet – lost there after a bad “trip” in the sixties – but eventually, he glanced at Sam, patting him on the back as if they’d known each other for years.

“Sonny, that was one bad flick.” Hank pulled something from his pocket that looked suspiciously like chewing tobacco. “I think I’m gonna like you after all,” he warbled stuffing a wad in his mouth and grinning like someone out of a National Lampoon’s movie.


Hank Pruitt’s Home
Some Time Later…

The inside of Hank Pruitt’s home fascinated Sam. How such a shabby man could keep such a clean house was beyond him. Every item had a place, just like in the mechanic’s garage, and every place was spotlessly clean and unscrupulously tidy.

The dining table was the focal point of a small kitchen, with the oven, refrigerator and work surfaces lining a wall with a small window at its center. The other side of the kitchen was filled with a huge cabinet that had probably been around in Civil War days.

It was the cabinet that mesmerized Sam.

The cabinet had two huge glass-fronted doors that invited all to peruse its unusual and aging contents.

“Dean, you should come look at this.” Sam laid a hand on the glass while turning to glance at his brother.

Dean had been seated at the table with Mia since they’d been shepherded out of Hank’s workshop, and so far all he’d done was sit and quibble with the girl over every conversational topic they’d broached – including whether or not their new host was a mass serial killer.

So far, Mia was for the idea that Hank had a huge axe hidden somewhere ready to decapitate unsuspecting guests, while Dean continued to insist the man was just a humble mechanic.

“Dean, Hank has some really unusual stuff here.” Sam tapped a forefinger on the cabinet. “It’s like his own personal museum.”

Mia scoffed. “Yeah, well as long as we don’t end up as his next set of exhibits!”

“Oh for crying out loud!” Dean huffed back, pushing back off his chair to visit the sink for a glass of water. “He’s not a psycho, trust me, I’ve seen enough of that type.”

Sam shook his head and decided to return his attention to the cabinet. Dean and women was always a touchy subject, but Dean and Mia was like striking a match near a gas leak – sooner or later there was going to be a huge explosion – and Sam wasn’t sure he wanted to be around to evade the falling debris.

It wasn’t that he disliked Mia, but he disliked what Dean became around her. There was just something wrong about it all.

Something wrong about her, Sam’s inner voice screamed as he eyed faded monochrome photographs. I mean, c’mon, the Impala never breaks down, and suddenly the transmission blows right after we pick her up..?

Sam edged sideways, viewing more pictures from the thirties, forties and fifties. Some of the ancient images he recognized as aviators from a time long gone. Famous pilots who had set records, crossed oceans, and in some cases, even saved lives.

The hunter closed his eyes, trying to allow Hank’s collection to invade his mind and push away all the negative thoughts he was having. Dean would say he was just jealous.

Dean wouldn’t listen, even if Sam tried to explain that he sensed something, something “off” about their current situation.

About the circumstances surrounding Mia’s sudden return.

“You like my little stash of goodies there, Sonny?”

Sam’s eyelids snapped open and he turned to see Hank looking at him with a slightly crooked smile. The mechanic appeared to have cleaned up somewhat, although he still had the odd patch of oil on his face that he’d apparently missed with the soap.

“It’s pretty…unusual,” Sam nodded, pointing to an old leather flying helmet and goggles that had been tagged as “Amy Johnson’s.” “Where did you get all this? If you don’t mind me asking?”

Pruitt’s smile broadened and he thumped Sam on the back again so hard the hunter thought he was going to crash into the cabinet. “Hell, no, ’course I don’t mind! This was my pa’s collection. Damn near lived his life for flyin’ and collecting this here memorabilia.”

Sam shot a glance over Hank’s shoulder to where Dean and Mia’s flirting was bordering on violent. Any minute now, he expected Hank’s somewhat odd tea set to go flying across the kitchen.

Sam opened his mouth to intervene, and then thought better of it, refocusing on the mechanic. “I recognize some of the photos, but not the one on the end.” He tapped at the glass, indicating a picture that’s edges had curled and discolored to a dirty brown with age.

The image depicted a woman in uniform with short, curly dark hair, but there was no tag.

Hank pursed his lips as if the history of the picture actually pained him. He looked down, shuffling on the woolen rug at his feet before answering in a dourer voice than Sam thought the man could ever possess.

“Her name was Gertrude Tompkins Silver. She was a WASP back in the forties – ya know, women who used to fly Mustangs across country ready to deliver to the war effort in Europe. She vanished without a trace back in ’44 and no one ever found her.”

“An unsung hero,” Sam noted, looking at the picture with saddened eyes and a new kind of respect.

Hank scratched at his head again, this time the motion looking odd without the greasy baseball cap that normally resided there. “Yeah, Pa thought so too. Mind you, Gertrude got him in a bunch of hot water. See, back in ’44 Dad always swore he saw a plane flying low over the desert the night after Gertrude disappeared. Everyone thought he was crazy as a coyote that’d been chowing on peyote. The authorities were convinced Gertrude’s Mustang crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff and wouldn’t hear any other theories.”

“What do you think?” Sam asked, real interest making him want to know what had happened to the young woman.

“I dunno,” Hank stuffed in a wad of tobacco and started to noisily chew. “But one thing I do know? Nobody deserves not to be found like that. I mean, they can’t rest.” He wiped flecks of tobacco off his fingers down the front of his semi-clean shirt and then reached out, opening the cabinet.

Reaching inside with stubby fingers, Hank pulled out a small pair of wings and offered them up to Sam.

Without asking why, Sam felt compelled to take the gift. He didn’t know Hank, nor could he ever know Gertrude, and yet he felt a bond between them, between not only the mechanic and the long-dead aviator, but also a bond with them and himself.

It was a disorientating revelation – one he couldn’t hope to understand – and yet, Sam didn’t fear it.

Embracing the feeling, Sam let his long fingers graze over the wings, sensing the cool metal, tracing the outline of their shape. Eventually, he took them into his own palm, staring at the insignia as if the pin could show him the missing aviator’s fate.

“Funny, ain’t it?” Hank swallowed, taking down a segment of tobacco unintentionally. “But those things always seem to feel strange – like they got a life and soul of their own sometimes.”

Sam raised both brows, surprised at how quickly he agreed with the mechanic’s appraisal.

There was something here in Cibola.

Something Sam wasn’t sure was good.

Gently clasping the wings in his hand, Sam nodded to Pruitt in an unspoken understanding. Stepping away from the cabinet, he purposefully strode over to the dining table, knowing what he had to do next wasn’t going to be easy.

Sam had to get Dean’s attention away from Mia and back in the game.

“Dean.”

Sam watched as his brother continued to bicker with the girl, his ears apparently deaf to everything but her voice.

“Dean! Will you just cut it out a second and listen!” Sam heard his own normally placid voice’s pitch tick up an octave in anger. “I think there might be something weird in this place.”

Dean and Mia both turned, but it was the girl who bothered to respond.

Mia shot a glance to Hank, not caring if he saw her or heard what she said next. “The only thing weird about this town is where you two clowns picked to hole up for the night!”

Sam hesitated, torn between respect for his brother and the wariness he’d felt every time he’d talked to Mia just lately – since she’d come back from Joe’s place, in fact.

Impala shouldn’t just burn out a transmission. Joe shouldn’t just get his butt kicked by a demon. Girls shouldn’t keep getting possessed over and over…

Dean shouldn’t be so trusting.

“Well maybe it’s not Hank I’m worried about,” Sam spat out the sentence and instantly regretted it. He had no reason to suddenly distrust Mia.

And yet he did.

Maybe it’s this creepy Weirdsville freaking me out. Maybe I’m overreacting…

“Me?” Mia pushed back from the table and kicked away from her chair. Her pupils narrowed and she looked over to Dean as if he should suddenly be defending her. “You’ve known my story all along. You know I can’t help what happened to me and now you’re giving me this crap?” She took a second longer to let her gaze shift between the brothers and then stormed out into yard, hissing expletives under her breath as she slammed the screen door behind her.

Once Mia was out of earshot, Dean pushed out of his chair and simply stared at his brother for the longest second. “Sam, what the hell were you thinking? Mia didn’t ask for us to pick her up, and she sure as hell didn’t want to be stuck in this freakin’ cow town with us.” The hunter’s mouth quirked as if he was trying to control his temper and failing miserably.

“Are you blind, Dean? Every time we’re around her something bad happens. You keep that car in perfect shape all this time and now the transmission blows? She’s a mechanic, Dean, she could easily have rigged it. Or maybe you’re thinking with your downstairs brain a little too much to even care anymore?” Sam took down a breath and stepped back, resisting the urge to grab his brother’s collar and shake some sense into him. “And let’s not forget the whole ‘silver’ thing back in Vermont.”

“So because someone makes one stupid mistake you don’t trust them anymore?” Dean’s cheeks began to flush with color, and he stole a glance out of the nearby window. “Is that it, Sammy?”

Sam wanted to say there was more to it than that. He wanted to explain that maybe he could sense things Dean couldn’t. But then, Dean would probably turn that right on back and say he was just as big a freak as Mia – and he’d probably be right.

“Just be careful, Dean…”

Sam chewed into his lip, biting back the urge to say much more because he could see his brother was close to exploding. Dean had probably not even realized it, but he’d clenched his fists so tightly his knuckles had turned an unhealthy shade of white.

That was a sign Sam knew all too well meant his brother was about ready to start swinging punches.

Taking a sharp intake of breath, Sam pushed past his brother in silence and began to walk. He didn’t care where, he didn’t care how far, because right now he felt more alone than the day he’d stood over Jess’s grave knowing he’d never see her again.

Sam had lost Dean.

Dean had lost Sam.

And the only difference was, Dean hadn’t even noticed.

* * * *

Sam hadn’t been keeping track of the time as he walked. He never could when he did these “little walkabouts.” All he knew was, he’d been pissed at Dean and needed to get out before they both did something they’d regret later.

At the time, anywhere had sounded like a good idea, but in Cibola, anywhere was just about everywhere.

Sam looked up as he trudged along the sandy trail, watching as the last vestiges of sun seeped into the horizon and were gone.

Truth be told, he had no clue where he’d ended up, and the wide open spaces of Arizona tended not to carry too many signposts.

Basically, Sam had to admit to himself he was lost. Lost, with no food, no water, and it was too late to even try and follow his own footprints back to Hank’s place.

Not that he wanted to be there right now. Mia would probably never speak to him again, and Dean would still be pissed. Deep down, Sam wasn’t ready to apologize, because his gut was still screaming that he was right.

Maybe Mia wasn’t bad, he’d admit that, but she was definitely bad luck for the Winchesters, and they had enough of that kind of misfortune on their own.

Sam stuck his hands in his pockets and pulled the jacket closer to his body. As the night took over from day, the desert around him was getting cooler – maybe even cold.

He began to walk faster, hoping the extra exertion would keep his body warm, but it wasn’t going to help when the time came for sleep.

Sam needed shelter, and soon. Except I walked myself into the desert. Not exactly a whole lot of motels and bars out here, he chided himself. I mean, c’mon, Winchester, it’s not even hot now, so not even the chance of a mirage…

Sam chuckled, suddenly getting the image of some lap-dancing bar stuck in the middle of the Sonoran desert, complete with ice-cold beers and some very curvaceous women.

“Great,” he spoke to the empty wastelands. “Now I’m starting to think like Dean. I must be losing it.” He wrapped his jacket even tighter around his tall frame, hands pushing deep into his pockets until something sharp dug into his right knuckle.

Sam winced before remembering the set of wings Hank had given him. Coming to a halt, he fumbled until he brought out the offending badge and pin that had stabbed into his flesh.

The wings glistened as the moonlight reflected from the metal. They looked new – certainly not over fifty years old.

Sam looked at them and then shifted his gaze to the heavens – to the stars pilots like Gertrude had easily navigated by.

“If only I was so lucky,” Sam muttered to the night sky, watching as a shooting star flashed across the firmament far out in the harsh void of space. “Guess this will teach me to stop crashing out of arguments with Dean so quickly. First I get Meg and now I get lost.”

Maybe you should carry a compass…

Sam spun around so fast he almost tripped over a small cactus that he’d somehow missed in the darkness. He stumbled, steadying himself before frowning.

There was no one around, and yet he had heard the words like they had been spoken right into his ear.

In fact, when he thought about it, the voice did seem to have come from his own head – but it hadn’t been his thought.

“Okay, so now I’m hearing things.” Sam blinked and lifted a boot to move on, but he didn’t actually start to walk. He couldn’t, because there was something ahead of him in the desert he hadn’t seen before.

It was impossible to miss, really, and yet he had.

Tall dark structures made from timber jutted out from the landscape like sentinels watching over the scorched desert. Except these guardians were old – so old – the timber they were built from had long since ceased to be sound.

Sam squinted, forcing his eyes to focus the shapes into something more discernable. They had once been buildings, of that he was sure – perhaps a whole street – or maybe the remnants of a whole ghost town.

A water butt lay on its side, in what the hunter could only imagine had once been the center of the street. And around its rotting carcass, balls of tumbleweed drifted like angels floating above the clouds.

The whole image was surreal, and it brought back memories Sam would rather have remained buried. This was how Dean had described Purgatory after his unwanted visit to the “other side.”

Slightly unnerved, and yet curious, Sam began to walk towards the remains of the long-dead settlement. It was probably the kind of place the “Hellhounds” would deem a den of psychic and spiritual activity, but to a real hunter it was nothing more than a fascinating piece of history.

Just because the place was old, didn’t mean it had a bad history, nor did it mean the place was haunted. It doesn’t mean it isn’t, either, Sam’s inner voice warned as he stepped up onto a decaying section of decking.

The wood creaked beneath Sam’s boots but he ignored the noise, concentrating on what he presumed had once been a saloon. The place might hold a wealth of knowledge and history – not to mention it might provide warmth and shelter for the night if he was lucky enough to find an intact stove.

Sam slid a hand under his jacket and pulled out his mini-Maglite. With a quick twist, the tiny beam illuminated the room around him with just enough glow to let him get an idea of what things had really been like here.

It wasn’t like something out of a movie. It was bland, practical, and after years of abandonment, it was filthy.

Something moved and Sam zeroed in on it, the glare of white radiance from his flashlight catching in the creature’s eyes.

“Rats,” the hunter shook his head with a small smile. “Boy, Dean would just love to be here right now.” He turned back, focusing on his search for a stove.

Eventually, the Maglite caught the ovoid shape of something metal seated on cast iron legs. As Sam moved the light upwards, he could make out a funnel from it into the roof. He moved closer until the shape formed into the solid lines of an ancient wood burner.

“Now all I need is a couple more miracles and my night is complete.”

Sam stuck the flashlight between his teeth and fumbled to unlatch the stove’s door. There were cobwebs and what looked like corrosion, but the metal swung away easily to reveal logs that had been cut half a century earlier.

“Okay, so that’s miracle number one.” Sam frowned, unsure if he liked the odds of being so lucky. “Now if I had Dean’s Zippo I’d be all set.”

Taking the Maglite back in his hand, he headed for the bar. Maybe there was something there he could use to get the stove going. An old bottle of rot gut and a match perhaps. Yeah, right, now that really would be a miracle.

He swung the flashlight over the wooden counter to light up the shelving behind it, but the ledges were empty. Only a mirror remained at their center, the glass cracked from corner to corner by some unknown object.

Sam’s reflection seemed to split in two as it bounced back off the glass and he abruptly shivered. Mirrors always reminded him of Bloody Mary. Reminded him how his eyes had bled and why. He moved the Maglite away, quickly redirecting his search to behind the bar’s counter.

It was even darker here, hidden in the gloom away from the saloon’s broken windows, and as Sam crouched, he realized he would have to actually rummage with his hands as well as the light if he even hoped to find anything in the nooks and crevices left by crumbling wood.

Sticking his left hand behind the rotting shelving, the hunter thought for the briefest of moments that he’d felt something. He moved his fingers, wriggling them further into the gap until something sharp seemed to sink into his hand between thumb and forefinger.

Sam instantly recoiled, instinctively grabbing at his flesh so quickly he dropped the tiny Maglite somewhere in the shadows. He cursed, an odd burning, tingling sensation moving along the hand he had stuck behind the bar.

It wasn’t pain exactly, because whatever had happened, his hand had already begun to turn numb.

Sam hunkered down onto his knees, fumbling in the darkness for his flashlight. His good hand wafted through cobwebs and inches of dust, but with no actual beam in sight to guide him, his efforts were futile.

Moonlight…I need to get outside, use the natural light to take a look at my hand.

Need to get out of the bar…

Sam didn’t know why, but his thoughts seemed to be getting sluggish. Surely he couldn’t be that tired, even with the cold?

He forced his knees to haul him back upright, but as he straightened, he lurched, grabbing at a nearby wooden chair for support.

The chair moved with Sam’s weight, skidding and finally toppling sideways as the hunter lost his balance. An awkward thumpf, followed by a large cloud of dust signaled he had ungracefully hit the timber floorboards not too far from where his flashlight lay hidden by the saloon piano.

Sam licked his lips and blinked, realizing that his whole body suddenly felt paralyzed – in fact, his mind did too. He couldn’t think, he couldn’t force one coherent thought into his brain.

Sam blinked again, feeling his eyelids close even though he didn’t want them to.

This was wrong.

Cibola was wrong…


* * * *


Sam didn’t know how long he’d gone without a drink, but from the coarse feeling at the back of his throat it felt like days. He swallowed, but his mouth was so dry even that movement was an effort.

Did I drink too much?

Sam tried to remember his last thought, his last action, but neither involved alcohol. He’d been mad at Dean and he walked out.

Walked smack into the middle of a desert.

Sam shook his head and found that surprisingly the motion didn’t hurt. With renewed confidence, he gently lifted an eyelid just a crack to find the sun glaring down on him.

No wonder I’m thirsty.

He opened the other eye and rolled until he was sitting upright. His muscles ached from the position he’d been sprawled in on the sand, but he didn’t feel any other injuries.

Blinking, he cleared away the film that had formed over his eyes and then glanced around.

Something was still wrong.

His mind was foggy, thoughts disjointed, but Sam remembered it should be dark. He should be in a building.

I was in the saloon. I started to feel strange and…

Sam used his elbow for leverage and forced his lanky frame up until he was standing next to an outcropping of rock. From what he could tell, it was the only thing for miles to mark the open panorama of sand apart from various species of cacti.

He was lost and alone – not in an old ghost town – but in the middle of the Sonoran desert, with no food, water or any kind of supplies.

Sam caught a breath and held it. Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe he had fallen asleep behind the bar. Except, he knew he hadn’t.

Spinning on his heels, he turned in a complete circle, frantically searching the horizon for signs of humanity, but there was nothing but the morning heat reflecting off the sand.

“Okay, Dean, now tell me the Impala breaking down here was a coincidence?” Sam spoke to thin air, letting his body loll back dejectedly until he was perched on the rocky projection, one thing certain in his mind.

The Winchesters had been brought to Cibola for a reason. Maybe his first thought that Mia was behind it had been wrong, but still his basic instinct hadn’t been off the mark.

Something wanted the Winchesters.

And now, that thing had separated them.

The demon that’s after Mia, maybe? Or some random malevolence in the town?

Sam shielded his eyes with the back of his hand, watching as a vulture dived in the distance. It didn’t matter who had trapped him here. In fact, short term, it didn’t even matter why.

Right now, only one thing mattered to Sam – escape.

But as he looked over the baking desert badlands, he realized he might as well have been transported to Hell itself.

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The Winchester Chronicles

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