Season Three

Episode Seven: Love Bites

By SnSam & Tree

Part One

 

Small ranch outside Marathon, Texas

Jasper Whitiker lifted the brim of the cowboy hat from his head and ran the back of his sleeve across his forehead wiping away the sweat. Even at night, the West Texas air was still warm enough to be uncomfortable. Add to that the sticky humidity of the incoming storm and the fact that Whitiker had spent the better part of the day putting up bales of hay, and his body was well past the point of being gritty and trail worn.

A distant flash of lightning lit up the night sky and the rancher spotted his small herd just ahead, milling around a small clump of Ash trees.

“Stupid cattle,” he muttered, replacing the hat and spurring his Quarter Horse forward. “Pick a spot, lie down and just wait for the damn lightnin’ to turn you into well-done steaks.”

The small-time rancher grunted in frustration. Unlike the big operators back toward Dallas, he was just barely scraping by on a tiny chunk of acreage passed on to him by his father. The land wasn’t fertile, no lush green fields for his herd to feed from, no crystal clear streams that ran cold and free year round. Instead, Whitiker barely clung to a hundred acres of rough scrub, hit and miss water holes, and about fifty head of mixed Black Angus and Longhorns that were bound and determined to get themselves killed long before they ever made it to the slaughterhouse.

It seemed like the only thing that thrived in west Texas were rattlesnakes and coyotes, and maybe his cheating ex-wife, although Jasper was fairly certain that MaryKate belonged to one of those first two categories.

Still, the land was his, free and clear. Even though he lived in what others might consider a ramshackle house, it was his and no one could take that away from him. Like the herd, he wasn’t about to lose it to a storm or an ex-wife.

In the darkness, the screech of some predator echoed across the west Texas landscape, startling Jasper’s horse and causing the herd to stir nervously. The haggard rancher cast a wary look around, noting the faint glow on the horizon from the lights back in Marathon.

Maybe I’ll head into Buck’s for a cold one once I get these boys back safe and sound, he mused. Then again, MaryKate’s sure to be trotting her cheatin’ ass around there with Toby and Lord knows I’ll end up havin’ to kick his ass again…

Nearing the herd, another flash of lightning was followed by an even closer call of a wild animal. Convinced that it was nothing more than a coyote and not likely to bother him with the incoming storm, but not willing to take any chances, Jasper pulled the Marlin 1894 rifle from the boot strapped to his saddle, cocked it and held it at ready in his right hand while transferring the reins to his left. Directing the horse towards the nearest of the herd, he whistled in an attempt to get the lethargic steers moving back in the direction of the house.

“Hee-yah, come on’, let’s go boys,” he coaxed, pushing the horse through the mass of cattle.

At first, the cows moved slowly, ambling forward like they were in no great rush to obey Whitiker’s command. But as he cut his chestnut gelding back through the black mass of beef, Jasper noticed that some of the steers at the edge of the herd had begin to dart off in various directions.

Before he had a chance to consider the implications, a third high-pitched yowl sounded dangerously near. With only one hand holding the reins to the horse, Jasper was unprepared when the powerful steed reared up in terror.

“Whoa boy, whoa there,” he begged as his vision was filled with the darkness of the cloud-filled night sky.

The gelding continued to buck, its nostrils flaring as it could sense what its rider could not. In the end, the beast won, dislodging the rancher, and dashing off into the darkness.

Landing hard on the ground, Jasper was momentarily dazed, suddenly feeling every muscle and joint in his fifty year old body. He pushed up from the dirt, grabbing his hat and replacing it on his head before twirling around to look for his misplaced rifle.

Around him, the cattle stirred more vigorously, brushing into him and nearly knocking Whitiker back down to the ground in their rush to move away from the perceived threat. Retrieving his rifle, the rancher cast a final glance in the direction that his horse had bolted then turned back to the herd, determined to still bring them despite being on foot.

“Damn it, Dusty!” he cursed. “Good thing you’re already a gelding.”

With the rifle in one hand, Whitiker began to circle the cattle, whistling and clicking his tongue while he swatted at the rough hides. It would be a long walk back to the house and barn, but Jasper was determined not to lose any of the herd.

“Come on cows, let’s move, hee-yah, move up thar’.”
Briefly satisfied that the herd was moving in the general direction of the ranch, Jasper stiffened as a rough wind whipped up the loose earth, driving it into the Texan’s face. He dipped his head down, sheltering it against the gritty abuse and perplexed by the strange hint of sulfur that filled his nostrils, as though someone had just struck a match.

Over his shoulder, one of the steer bellowed in pain and the others quickly shied away from it, their simple minds set only to self-preservation. Whitiker brought the rifle up to his shoulder, scanning the herd for any sign of a predator.

Taking a cautious step forward, he spotted the downed steer; the animal still struggling to rise, its brown eyes flashing wide in panic even in the darkness. Whitiker knelt beside the steer, running his hand along the creature’s body and looking for signs of injury. As his hand reached the animal’s flanks, he felt a patch of sticky warmth.

“What the hell?” he muttered, raising his hand closer to observe the thick blood coating his fingers.

Behind him, another steer bawled in pain while others around it cried out in bovine terror. Whitiker spun, searching for a target but settling for simply firing a round into the air, hoping the noise would scare the predator away. As the herd scattered, he quickly fired another shot, dashing toward the second downed steer.

Worse than the first, the rancher had to turn away from the sight of the mutilated animal, its belly torn open as though someone had slashed at it repeatedly with a machete. Sickened by the smell of blood and freshly exposed intestines, Jasper stifled back a gag. He sucked in a deep breath, hoping that the night air would clear the nauseous smell that was threatening to make him vomit, but instead, his nostrils were assailed by the overwhelming stench of sulfur.

Still not willing to submit to the panic teasing the back of his mind and setting the hairs on the nape of his neck on end, Whitiker, pulled the neckerchief up around his nose and mouth, trying to block the disgusting odor. He redoubled his efforts to collect his stock, a task that had become even more difficult now that the creatures were nearly ready to break into a stampede.

As Whitiker skirted around the edge of the moving cattle, he stumbled across two more slaughtered animals. Tightening his finger on the trigger of the Marlin, the rancher could only stare incredulously as a set of red eyes blinked at him from behind the body of one of the steer.
:
”What in the Sam Hill is that?” he mouthed, taking aim with the rifle, still determined to defend his dwindling herd.

Just before his index finger could squeeze the trigger, something slammed into Whitiker’s back, driving him forward. Fighting to maintain a grip on the rifle, he staggered ahead as red-hot pain lanced between his shoulder blades. Something solid struck his side and a similar agony joined the sensations flaying at the flesh on his back.

Stumbling now, battling to stay on his feet, Whitiker could feel his flesh being torn apart by sharp claws and even shaper fangs, his clothing offering no protection against the attack of the predators that had devastated his herd and now seemed intent on finishing him as well. Dropping to his knees, he saw even more red eyes peering at him from the surrounding darkness.

The smell of sulfur was so strong now that even the cover over the lower half of his face couldn’t block it out. But that was the least of his concerns as the coppery taste of blood began to fill his mouth. Jasper could feel his heart pounding in his chest, the wild thrum of it duplicated in his ears. He wasn’t a man that frightened easily, but as he felt teeth sinking into the back of his neck, deep down he knew his fate was sealed just like his livestock.

Crawling forward on his belly, blood coursing from the ribbons of tattered flesh that hung from his body, Whitiker could finally see his attackers. Small and compact, the creatures looked like a cross between hairless wild dogs and oversized rodents. Combined with the red eyes and fangs, Whitiker had never in all his years of ranch-life seen anything like the hideous looking things that were now swarming all over him.

Vaguely, he could hear more of his cattle screaming as the strange beasts attacked them.

“Get…away… from… my… herd…” he choked out defiantly, blood frothing from his mouth in between each gasped word.

Barely able to raise his head as yet another of the creatures launched at Jasper’s face, the rancher succumbed to the onslaught, as the feeding-frenzy began in earnest. He tried to scream; pain, defiance, and anger at how life had seen fit to treat him, all culminating in one final primal yell. Before the noise could escape his mouth however, gleaming fangs plunged into his throat, tearing back and forth until nothing but a weak gurgle of blood sounded across the West Texas night.


Karla’s Suds and Buds – Laundromat and Bar
Somerville, Tennessee

Sam sat with his back propped against one of the commercial-sized washing machines as he killed time working on a Sudoku online. Across from him, Mia sat absently turning pages through a tattered copy of Car and Driver. The laundromat was empty otherwise, everyone else electing to pass the time in the “other” half of the establishment, much like Dean had chosen to do.

The younger Winchester looked up from his laptop, bored with the puzzle, tired of the ongoing drone of the television mounted in the corner and most definitely aggravated that he had been relegated to laundry duty by his older sibling.

Still, in the two weeks or so that had passed since tangling with the NuJack in Bennington, even the relative quiet of the western Tennessee town was beginning to wear thin on Sam’s nerves. Sure, they had worked a couple of minor gigs in between, but overall, they had avoided anything that even hinted at being dangerous after Vermont.

Sam knew that Dean was being cautious with Mia being around. At first he thought it was because his older brother was still bothered about the young woman’s “mistake” during that hunt, but as the days passed and Sam watched their interaction, he realized it was much more than that.

The banter, the sarcasm, the shared glances, the casual touches, it was all adding up and even though Sam knew his brother would fervently deny it, Dean was attracted to the girl.

“Uh, I got a booger or something hanging out of my nose?”

“Huh? What?” Sam stammered, suddenly drawn alert by the strange question and noticing Mia looking at him intently.

“You were staring at me. It was kinda creeping me out. What’s the deal?” the brunette asked.

Sam smiled sheepishly, dipping his head so that his face was hidden beneath his own unkempt dark hair. “I’m sorry. I was just thinking.”

“About what? It must be something good if you where staring at me and now you’re kinda blushing,” Mia pressed him.

“N…nothing, really,” Sam insisted.

“Oh? So, does thinking about whitening your underwear and reducing static cling always turn you red and make you stutter?”
Sam looked back up at her knowing he was busted but deciding to try to change the subject regardless.

“Actually, I think white underwear is overrated. I pretty much subscribe to the ‘throw it all in one load and hope for the best’ method of doing the laundry,” he admitted with a chuckle.

Watching as Mia snorted and rolled her eyes, for the briefest moment, Sam was reminded of Jessica. He remembered chasing the playful blonde down the steps to the basement of their apartment complex to do their accumulated laundry. Then, like now, Sam had taken over the duty, but mostly because Jess had a tendency for turning things pink. He teased her unmercifully about her lack of ability to handle such a simple task and just as Mia had done, Jess would roll her eyes and then go on to declare that contrary to popular belief, laundry was not genetically encoded to women.

“Sam? Earth to Sam…” Mia called out.

“I’m sorry, Mia. I was just thinking again,” he answered.

“You do that a lot I’ve noticed. Did I say something wrong? You look kinda, I dunno, sad?”

Sam smiled at her. “Nah, You just reminded me of someone. It’s alright, really.”

“A woman?” Mia dug further.

“Yeah,” Sam admitted. He took a deep breath then continued. “Her name was Jessica. I uh… loved her.”

“Loved her?”

Sam felt the lump rise in his throat, but he managed to swallow it down, knowing that Mia’s question was innocent enough. “She died,” he answered simply.

There was a moment of silence between them as Sam nervously toyed with the keyboard and Mia mimicked the motion with the edge of the magazine in her lap. He could feel her eyes glancing back up at him, wanting to initiate more conversation but cautiously refraining.

“So, you and my brother, what’s up with that?” he asked quickly.

She looked up abruptly, her own cheeks now a rosy color as her eyes widened in surprise.

“Wow, ya don’t mince any words do you Sam?” she replied with an edgy laugh.

Sam closed the laptop and shifted slightly to face her. “Hey, don’t get me wrong Mia. I don’t mean to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong, that’s not the point.”

“Then what is the point?” she asked defensively.

“I care about him. He’s my brother. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him, and I know you already got the same speech from him about me. But still, that’s not it. See, I know you and Dean have a lot in common but there’s something really important about him that you don’t know at all,” Sam informed.

He watched her face soften, curiosity lighting her cinnamon eyes as she waited for him to continue.

“Dean never asks anything for himself, Mia. He gives until it kills him, especially for the people he cares about. And along those same lines, he doesn’t expose any vulnerability, any weaknesses; but the thing is, deep down, Dean isn’t as tough as he like to make people think. At least not when it comes to those he lets get close to him,” he explained.

“I get that, Sam,” Mia interjected.

“Do you?” he challenged. “’’Cause my brother, he deserves to be happy Mia. All his life, ever since our mom died, he’s devoted himself to being Dad’s second in command, to raising and protecting me, to trying to save all the people we come across in our work. And he’s never once asked anything for himself, Hell, I’m not even sure he knows how. So yeah, I want him to be happy and if that’s with you or because of you, I’m good with that, so long as you know where I stand.”

Sam watched the lithe young woman stand and walk slowly toward the row of washing machines across from them. She ran her hand along the edge before she turned and leaned against the washer, facing him.

“Sam, I think it’s really fantastic how you and Dean watch out for each other. I never had that. I won’t lie to you, I am attracted to your brother, but I’m not sure that Dean sees me the way you think he does,” she said solemnly.

Sam laughed, startling her with his reaction.

“Mia, trust me. Do you realize that in the past three weeks or so that you’ve been with us, my brother has barely even talked to another woman in a convenience store much less hooked up with his normal small-town barmaid? I mean, considering Dean, I’m almost ready to either have him committed or try an exorcism,” Sam joked.

He watched as the implication of his comment sunk in with the brunette, her face blushing again even though she tried to hide it by twisting her fingers into her long hair.

“So,” she began, small dimples forming at the corners of her mouth as she spoke. “Are you saying that Dean is interested?”

Sam shook his head. “You really are just like my brother. He usually needs something hard to hit him on the head too before he sees what’s standing right in front of him. Well actually, it’s more like he gets tossed into something but that’s neither here nor there. I’m just saying that Dean has been rather ‘reserved’ since you’ve been around him and that’s not like him.”

Sam rose, stretching his long body and enjoying the satisfying “pop” of cartilage in his back and neck. He moved closer to Mia, bending down until his mouth was near her ear.

“Go talk to him, Mia. Trust me, waiting on Dean to make the first move in this case, you’ve a better chance of getting him to trade the Impala in on a station wagon.”

He nodded in the direction of the bar, encouraging her on, and for a second, Sam laughed to himself, suddenly feeling as though the tables had turned and he was “pimping his brother out”. He watched Mia stop and turn back to him just before she reached the entrance.

“Sam, thanks! I, uh…” she stammered.

He watched the young woman standing there fumbling for words and he nearly forgot why she was in their care in the first place, forgetting that she too had known very little joy in her life.

“Happiness, Mia. You both deserve it,” he reminded her, turning away to move the clean clothes over to the dryers.


In the bar

Dean sat at the bar his hands wrapped around a tall glass of beer that was already too warm for him to truly consider drinking. In truth, he wasn’t even sure why he had ordered the damn thing, not that he had never drank at eleven in the morning, but it wasn’t his customary lunch beverage unless of course he had something weighing heavily on his mind.

Do I have something on my mind?

Dean lifted the beer, taking a swig and grimacing at the bitterness of the warm brew. Setting the glass back on the counter the buxom blonde behind the bar quickly scurried over to check on him once again just like she’d been doing frequently for the past hour.

“You ready for a fresh one, darlin’?” she asked, leaning in so that there was no mistaking her overt attempt to flash her breasts at him.

“No thanks, I’m good,” he replied, barely even looking up, but not missing her disgruntled snort as she walked away, denied his attention.

You just ignored 36DD’s on a tall blonde dude, where the hell’s your head? He silently chastised himself.

The answer came without a second thought. Mia! The image of the brunette flashed into his mind, her brown eyes sparkling as she smiled.

Shaking his head, Dean dismissed the vision from his brain. The woman was an enigma to him; involved in some of the most violent and hideous murders he’d ever witnessed during a hunt, he tried to remember that she was nothing more than an innocent pawn in a demon’s evil plan.

If he took away the possession stuff, he was left with a girl that knew as much about cars and classic rock as he did. If he was honest, Mia was a beautiful woman with a smart wit and an even smarter mouth that rarely if ever was at a loss to put him in his place. While he feigned irritation at her matching his sarcasm and snark, part of him was actually impressed and looked forward to the challenge every time he was around her.

“Dammit! Get out of my head,” he grumbled aloud at the thoughts rambling through his mind. “This is ridiculous, Winchester. Where the hell do you think things could possibly go with her?”

You’re a hunter! There’s no room for a personal relationship in your life. Don’t you remember where you are?

Tennessee, you dumbass, don’t you remember?

And remember the last time you were in Tennessee? Remember the last girl you thought you could get close to? Brunette too, dark eyes, her soft touch…

Right up until she nearly brought a killer Wampus cat down on your ass!

“Melissa!” Dean muttered, quieting the ongoing barrage taking place in his mind.

“Close, but not quite. Are you already so drunk that you forgot my name?” Mia quipped.

Dean blinked several times, waiting as the memory of the deceased girl was replaced by the taller brunette that had dropped onto a barstool beside him. He flashed her a weak smile, before running a hand through his spiked hair.

“Mia, sorry. I was thinking.”

“What is it with you Winchesters? Or is it just me that seems to have the penchant for bringing out the deep thought in you and Sam today?” she asked.

He looked at her blankly, not understanding the reference, but knowing he was missing something by the smile on her face.

“So what’s going on Mia? You and Sammy all done with the clothes?” he asked.

“No, and speaking of which, why do we get stuck with laundry detail while your ass is in here sucking down brews and watching football?” she challenged.

“Easy: because I’m the oldest. And because I’m responsible for car maintenance and weapons. That leaves things like laundry, cooking or any other sundry duties to you and Sam,” Dean explained with a grin.

“Hey, I’m pretty handy around a car too ya know,” Mia insisted.

“Aw, honey, I’d never ask you to break one of those pretty nails of yours. Besides, the Impala is a one man woman. I don’t think she’d take kindly to having a female’s hands on her chassis. She just doesn’t swing that way,” he joked.

Mia laughed, amused by his sense of humor even if it bordered on chauvinistic. When it came to the classic Chevy, she understood where Dean’s possessiveness was rooted.

“So, you want a beer or something?” Dean offered when the silence between them and Mia’s brown eyes became unsettling.

“Um, no thanks. Uh, Dean…”

“Something to eat then?”

“Uh, no… look, Dean. I came in here to talk to you about something,” Mia blurted.

The hunter recoiled with apprehension. I need to talk to you about something… Were there any more fearful words to come out of a woman’s mouth?

Dean visibly jumped as the cell phone in his pocket chose that moment to begin blaring his most recent ringtone. He fumbled as he reached for the cellular, holding up a finger to silence the young woman as he slid the Motorola open and tapped the button to answer. He didn’t even bother to check the caller ID, preferring whoever was on the other end of the call to the direction this current conversation was headed.

“This is Dean…”

The voice that returned was deep with just a hint of southern twang.

“My name is James Dixon. Sorry to bother ya but your dad told me to give ya a call.”

Dean flinched at the mention of his father. With no word from their dad in nearly two months, the mere thought that someone had spoken to him was at least encouraging, but he wanted more.

“You talked to my dad, Mr. Dixon?” he asked, trying to hide the desperation in his voice.

“Yep! And call me Dix. Talked to John just yesterday. Was hoping he could help me with a hunt I’m on down in West Texas.”

Yesterday! Dean was stunned into silence that this man had spoken to his dad as recently as yesterday when John Winchester hadn’t seen fit to return a phone call to his own sons since mysteriously walking out of Bobby’s.

“I got me a problem with a chupacabra down near Marathon. I was hoping John could help but he said he was too tied up with the gig he was currently on. Told me you boys were cut from the same cloth and gave me your number,” Dix explained.

“Dix, did my dad say where he was by chance? What he was hunting?” Dean asked.

“Sorry son, he didn’t, and I didn’t ask. You’re a hunter, you know what a cautious bunch we can be,” the hunter replied. “Besides, the few times I’ve run into your daddy before, he wouldn’t have said crap if he had a mouthful. Hell, I’m surprised he even returned my call.”

“Yeah, well that’s John Winchester I guess,” Dean admitted dejectedly. “So, Dix, how can we help you out?”

“Well, as I was saying. I’m on a hunt down here in West Texas. Thought it would be a simple chupacabra thing. Get in, get out. But there’ve been too many killings over too much territory to be just one chupa. So, I know when I’m in over my head. And I could use some extra hands and eyes.”

Dean considered the man’s request. West Texas was at least warmer and a chupacabra hunt was generally a cake walk in the park. Besides, it beat Tennessee, the memories and the threat of the “conversation” with Mia.

“Okay, Dix. We can be down that way by tomorrow lunch. I’ll give you a call once we hit town.”

The other hunter acknowledged and Dean ended the call. Swinging around on the barstool, he downed the last of the now completely tepid beer, uncaring how vile the alcohol tasted, just wanting it to take the edge off the heavy ache in his chest.

“You okay?” Mia’s voice broke through his inner pain.

“I’m fine.”

“That call, it’s another hunt?”

“Yeah,” Dean answered shortly, wishing she would just be quiet.

“You asked about your dad. Did that guy know where he was?” Mia continued.

“No.”

“And you’re upset?”

“No.”

“Can you string together more than one syllable at a time?”

Dean felt the explosion boiling up inside him. Anger and pain resulting from the feeling of being abandoned yet again by his father threatening to surface and level the young woman even though he knew she wasn’t the cause, only the accelerant. He fought back the urge to snap at her but couldn’t hide the emotion from his face or body.

“Mia, just leave it be, okay,” he pleaded, pulling away slightly when she placed a petite hand on his.

“Dean, I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be. It’s just how it is with my dad and us. Been there, done that.” He answered, standing up and jamming a hand into his pocket to pull out several bills.

He slapped them down on the countertop then swung around and gave Mia a weak smile.

“Let’s go round up Sammy before he starts ironing the underwear. I hope you didn’t leave him with any of yours or we’ll never peel him away from the Spice Channel tonight,” he joked, waggling his eyebrows as he led Mia from the bar.

Rattler Motor Lodge
Marathon, Texas

Dean walked back toward the Impala, a scowl darkening his features as he joined Sam and Mia by the parked car. He looked down distastefully at the two room keys in his hand and cringed; the cold, scaly feel of the disembodied rattles gave him the creeps.

“Room fifteen and sixteen,” he announced, drawing closer and wiggling the keys for effect.

“Ewwww. What is that?” Mia exclaimed.

“Well it isn’t a baby toy,” Dean replied, tossing one at the young woman. “For what it’s worth though, Uncle Fester in the office assures me that none of those were taken off snakes gathered from our rooms.”

“Gee, isn’t that a comfort,” Sam grumbled.

“Dude, one look at the guy in the office and I’m less worried about the snakes and more concerned about whether they filmed Texas Chainsaw Massacre here,” Dean snarked.

“I, for one don’t care, so long as it wasn’t Psycho. Just point me in the direction of a hot shower,” Mia whined, slinging her bag over her shoulder and heading toward the room marked on her key.

Dean watched her walk off, his eyes glued to her as she sauntered away.

“She might need someone to scrub her back,” Sam suggested, jamming an elbow into his brother’s ribcage as he snickered.

“Shut up,” Dean snapped, turning back to the car and grabbing his own duffle before stalking off toward their room.

As he unlocked the door and flung it open, the sight of their latest lodging loosed a string of expletives from the young hunter. Pulling up next to him, Sam could only stand in stunned silence as he took in the décor.

“What the hell, Sam?” Dean complained as he tentatively took a step inside the room.

“I guess it makes the room key seem… appropriate?” the taller man replied.

Dean walked around the room, curiously touching the bizarre decorations. Everything from snakeskin lampshades to a bleached out longhorn skull adorned the room, but the piece de resistance in Dean’s estimation was the stuffed armadillo that sat atop the dresser.

“Okay, that’s just not right,” he protested, pointing at the offending mammal.

“It could be worse, Dean,” Sam suggested.

“How’s that? I mean, seriously dude, the damn thing is staring at me no matter where I go in the room.”

“It’s just a trick of the taxidermy.”

“Its gotta go, Sammy. Put it outside or something,” Dean demanded.

“You’re kidding, right?” Sam asked, surprised.

“Either you stick that damn thing outside or in the closet, or I swear I’m gonna ventilate it until there’s nothing left to identify it by.” Dean threatened, pulling the .45 from the pocket of his jacket.

“Dean, it’s already dead,” Sam implored.

“Something that looks like that shouldn’t ever have been alive to begin with and I’m not taking any chances. You gonna take care of it or am I?”

He watched, his hand still tensely wrapped around his Colt, as his younger brother, barely containing laughter, walked over to the dresser and began to lift to dead creature. Sam tugged, grunted, and tugged again.

“Uh, Dean?”

“What?”
“Got a little problem, dude.”

“Too heavy for you there, Samantha?” Dean taunted.

“Uh, no. It’s actually screwed down to the top of the dresser. I guess they were afraid someone might steal it. You know how motels are?” Sam explained.

Dean groaned, hastily moving closer to check and see if Sam was telling the truth or just screwing with him. Tucking the automatic under his armpit, he yanked on the rigid animal to no effect.

“I told you,” Sam stated smugly, standing back with his arms folded across his chest as he watched his older brother’s peculiar behavior.

“That’s it. I’m getting another room,” Dean insisted.

“From Uncle Fester?” Sam reminded. “The next room might be worse. Just suck it up. What’s so bad about a dead armadillo?”

Dean spun around, away from the animal cadaver and away from the suspicious eyes of his younger brother.

“Nothing. Just forget it,” he grumbled.

“No, come on, what gives,” Sam edged on, a mischievous smile creasing his face. “You’re not afraid of it are you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous…” Dean protested.

“You are, aren’t you?”

“Look we don’t have time for this. We’re s’posed to meet Dix in an hour and we need to make sure Mia is secured before we go,” Dean tried to change the subject.

“It’s just a dead armadillo, Dean. They’re harmless,” Sam continued.

“Kinda like clowns,” Dean threw back, watching his brother for his reaction.

“That’s low, Dean. I was a kid. Besides, you’re one to talk. How is it with your little phobias of planes and rodents?” Sam countered.

Dean glared back at his brother before betraying himself and casting a glance back at the dead animal. Sam followed his gaze, suddenly making the mental connection.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” he asked, as Dean grumbled and started for the door.

Reaching for the handle, he paused, turning to look back at his brother. “It looks like an overgrown rat,” he admitted. “A friggin’ giant, armored-car of a rat and I swear if you say one more word about it, I’ll put a round in your ass right after I put a round in that thing.”

With that he stormed out of the room determined to ignore the loud laughter of his younger sibling and even more determined to stop at the first McDonalds he could find in Marathon, Texas and purchase the largest red-headed clown the fast food chain offered.

Dean Winchester didn’t get mad… he got even!


Whitiker Ranch
Later

Pulling up to the front of the rundown ranch house, Dean felt his chest seize tightly as the dust stirred up from their drive down the lone dirt road finally settled to reveal a black pickup truck parked just off to the side. Deep down, he knew it wasn’t his dad’s, but getting his brain to convince his heart of that reality was another matter entirely.

Fortunately, or not, the illusion was shattered when a shorter, slightly rotund man, strode down the steps of the porch. If Dean had any thoughts that his father was waiting for them at the Whitiker homestead, the appearance of James Dixon quickly wiped them away.

“So that’s him?” Sam asked skeptically, eyeing the middle-aged man as he approached. “Seems more like an accountant than a hunter.”

“Guess so,” Dean answered. “But looks can be deceiving, I s’pose, and Dad trusts him, so that’s good enough for me.”

The brothers exited the Impala and moved to meet the stout hunter. Despite his rather short legs, he scurried forward toward them, extending his hand while a wide smile spread across an otherwise pale and clean shaven face.

Dean met him first, towering over the smaller man, the thought skittering through his mind that Sam was nearly twice as tall by comparison. He cocked an eyebrow as the older hunter pumped his hand in greeting, surprised by the strong grasp and worried that his shoulder might be dislocated at the rate Dixon was shaking his arm.

“Jim Dixon, but my friends call me Dix. Can’t tell you boys how much I appreciate you giving me a hand on this one,” he welcomed them. “I was a bit surprised when Johnnie told me he had a couple of boys that were following in his footsteps. He’d never mentioned that you boys were hunters before.”

“So, uh, you and our dad have hunted together before?” Dean asked.

“Yeah, a couple of times, nothing major really. We worked together on a pack of black dogs near Modesto and then one other time he helped me out with a poltergeist,” Dix answered.

“Have you known him long?” Sam questioned suspiciously. “He’s never mentioned you.”

“A few years I guess, but like I said, you know John, not like you could get a glass of water out of that man if he was standing outside in the pouring down rain with a cup in his hand,” the older man joked.

Dean glanced over at Sam, knowing his younger brother was still wary, while he too wanted to question the man more about his absent dad. Yet the little man was likeable enough, honest and forthcoming, even if he seemed too soft, not nearly hardened enough to be an actual hunter.

“So, Dix, what are we doin’ out here on the farm?” Dean asked, waving his hand in a wide gesture.

“This is where one of the victims was killed,” Dix stated. “I wanted to show you the kill-spot.”

“Well, lead on.”

“Oh, not here, boys. Jasper Whitiker ran his cattle over several hundred acres. The chupa took him down out on the pasturelands,” the heavy-set man informed with a slight chuckle and a tip of his head.

Dean followed his nod, suddenly spotting three horses tied to a rail a few yards away by the barn.

“Oh hell no!” he groaned.

“What? You don’t know how to ride, son?” Dix asked.

“Can’t we drive out there?” the young hunter queried, a hint of a whine to his voice.

“Only if you want to replace the transmission and suspension in that classic car of yours,” Dix responded. “If you’re worried about the horses, I promise you, they’re as gentle as kittens.”

“Ignore my brother, Mr. Dixon,” Sam interjected, starting toward the waiting steeds. “He just doesn’t like any animal that’s smarter than him.”

“Bitch,” Dean snapped, coming up behind his brother and slapping the back of his head.

The ride out to the kill zone only took about fifteen minutes, but to Dean’s body, it felt as though he’d been on the horse’s back for half the day. His teeth felt as though they were ready to fall out of his mouth from the sheer bouncing up and down in the saddle. If there was any satisfaction in being subjected to the torture it was that ahead of him Sam was also bobbing up and down like an over-sized ragdoll and fighting his own mount for control as though the beast had been fed LSD-laced oats just before leaving the barn.

“How ya doing there, Sammy?” Dean called out as they pulled to a halt and dismounted.

“Just friggin’ great,” the lanky hunter replied, glaring first at his horse, then back at his brother as he stretched his sore back.

“Don’t hear you laughing now smartass,” Dean snarked.

“Keep it up, Dean and your little hard-shelled friend back at the motel will end up in your bed Godfather style,” Sam threatened.

“Hey guys, over here,” Dix called out, waving the brothers over to his position.

They ambled slowly over to the older man, neither of them walking without a pronounced bow to their legs, but neither commenting on it either. As they neared, the stench of the rotting cattle wafted on the air while the faint buzz of the mass of flies swarming over the carcasses could finally be heard.

“Sonofabitch,” Dean exclaimed, taking in the slaughter.

All around them, the ground looked scarred, the blood of the cattle and rancher having transformed the landscape from green to reddish-brown. The remains of the cattle, picked nearly clean by scavengers, lay raw in the sun while dozens of small tracks surrounded the butchered bodies like frantic invisible dancers.

“Look at how many there are,” Sam observed.

“Yeah, too damn many,” Dean added. “And they took down a human too?”

“Yep, a rancher out trying to bring in his herd,” Dix informed.

“Chupas aren’t usually greedy. They don’t normally bring down more than they can eat or go after larger prey,” Sam commented.

“And not usually humans either,” the elder Winchester put in.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, boys. There have been other attacks. First was a Conservation Officer found ripped apart over by Big Bend Park.”

“Chupas?” Dean asked.

“Hard to say for sure, wasn’t much left of him. But not long after that, a couple of tourists were found dead next to their broke-down car out on I-385. There have been a few other attacks closer to town, family pet kinda things,” Dix recounted.

“One chupacabra couldn’t be responsible for all this. You sure that’s what it is?” Sam challenged.

“Well, the cops think it’s just some whacked-out psycho-killer, and I gotta admit, at first I was pretty skeptical too. I mean, it doesn’t fit. One chupa can’t possibly be responsible for all these kills, spread all over this territory. And now, seeing all these tracks, I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“This sure isn’t typical chupa M.O.. So what’s your plan then?” Dean asked the older hunter.

“Find the damn thing and kill it. Isn’t that what we do?” Dix answered bluntly. “But this is West Texas and it could be nearly anywhere.”

“And you’re assuming there’s only one,” Sam countered, gesturing at the myriad of prints.

“The thought has crossed my mind that there could be a pair, maybe mates or a female and her brood or something, but with this many tracks, I’m thinking now we might actually have a pack on our hands. Still, it doesn’t matter, we find them, we exterminate them,” the older man steadfastly maintained.

“Kill ’em all, let Fish and Game sort ’em out?” Dean joked.

“Works for me,” Dix agreed, his usual jovial smile disappearing, replaced by a steely glint to his eyes that suddenly sent a chill up both younger men’s’ spines.

“Well, it’s too late in the day to accomplish anything out here now. And I for one would rather have some idea of what we’re getting into before we walk blindly into it,” Sam remarked with a huff. “Let’s head back, check on Mia and I’ll pop on-line and see what I can find out about this area.”

“Fine with me. We can get a fresh start in the morning. I have some topo maps and have marked some spots that I think warrant checking out,” Dix stated reaching for the reins to the chestnut mare.”We can hook up at sunrise. That’ll give us maximum daylight to scout the area.”

“Oh joy! Sunrise, horseback rides, why don’t we ever get any gigs in Vegas?” Dean grumbled as he trudged back toward his waiting horse.

“We had that job in Vegas, Dean.” Sam reminded. “Or have you already forgotten your special friend with the sequined wardrobe and the um…”

“Shut up, Sam!” So gonna stop at McDonalds on the way back to the motel…


Back at the Rattler Motor Lodge

Dean stopped the Chevy in front of their room, but despite Sam’s plea for a hot shower, the older Winchester was still determined to head for the office and demand they be switched to other “armadillo-free” accommodations. Ignoring his own protesting derriere and disregarding the mixture of perspiration and equine odor that seemed to waft off both him and Sam, Dean stalked off to see Uncle Fester.

“I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn about this, Dean. It just a stupid dead animal,” Sam whined, trailing a step behind.

“Told you, I’m not spending a night in the room with that thing. Besides, after the day I’ve had, cut me some slack,” Dean retorted, yanking the door to the motel office open with enough force to emphasize his irritation.

“It was just a horse,” the younger hunter added, barely scooting inside before the screen door slammed shut.

“It was a walking can of Alpo dude, or it should be,” Dean insisted, striding up to the counter.

He pounded the bell repeatedly, taking great satisfaction in the grimace creasing his brother’s face at the racket that filled the small space. When there was no response, Dean yelled out for the night clerk.

An ominous quiet returned his call sending the hairs up on the back of Dean’s neck. While Sam looked at him curiously, he vaulted over the countertop and headed to the back of the manager’s quarters.
He didn’t make it far into the living area before the smell of death and the stark evidence of slaughter in the form of a massive pool of blood greeted him. “Uncle Fester” lay sprawled across the floor, his intestines scattered across the shag carpeting like lengths of raw sausage while his chest was torn open and exposed like a side of beef in a meat market.

Dean fought down the contents in his stomach as Sam pulled up abruptly at this side. All around the room, bloody little tracks marked the earlier presence of some small carnivorous attacker.

As his eyes scanned the area, Dean followed the trail to the opened patio door leading to the outside deck and the dark Texan landscape beyond. The hunter carefully stepped over the slaughtered clerk, walking over to the glass sliding doors and peering out.

“Chupas?” Sam asked, breaking the silence.

Before Dean could answer, a woman’s scream tore though the nighttime quiet, echoing from further down the row of rentals.

“Mia!” Dean yelled, simultaneously pulling the .45 from the back waistband of his jeans as he darted out into the darkness and towards the young woman’s room.

Despite the fatigue and sore muscles, Dean drew up to the doorway marked with a sixteen, his brother just on his heels and brandishing his own automatic.

“Mia! Open up!” he shouted, pounding on the door with his fist.

When the young woman’s shriek sounded once more, Dean didn’t delay. Taking a step back, he put every bit of force he could muster into launching a booted foot against the locked door. The cheap, hollow door gave way in a shower of splinters, caving inward with a loud crash as the hunters followed behind, entering on full alert.

Boxed into the corner, Mia huddled between the nightstand and the farthest bed, a thin trickle of blood trailing down the side of her face from below the tangled mess of her brown hair. She held the chair from the desk before her, using it as though she were a lion tamer trying to keep the lions at bay, except Simba wasn’t in her room.

As Dean looked on in horror, a half dozen chupacabras were pouring into the young woman’s room from the open patio door. Like ants swarming a picnic, the creatures flooded the space, the stench of sulfur nearly overpowering as the snarl and snap of fangs sounded loudly. The pack growled in unison, their red eyes glowing even as their maws were still stained with the night clerk’s blood.

Dean snapped off a shot, clipping the first of the chupas as it approached the crouching girl. The creature dropped on its side only to be attacked by the next of its brethren as they continued to seek out fresh meat. Like a tidal wave of blood-thirsty jackals, the chupacabras continued to fill Mia’s room, climbing over one another, snapping even at their own in their quest to reach human flesh.

Dean kept firing, dimly aware of the report of Sam’s weapon behind him. He spotted the solitary red-eyed creature leap toward the young woman, fangs bared as it launched toward her exposed throat. Somewhere in his mind, he calculated the distance between himself, the open patio door, the onslaught of chupas and the girl.

“Mia!” Dean yelled at the top of his lungs. Diving across the open expanse of the room, he emptied the remainder of his clip, even as the beast landed on top of the young brunette with an unearthly howl.

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The Winchester Chronicles

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