Season Four

Episode Three: Tastes Like Chicken

By Tree

Part One

 

Goodwell Mine – Tunnel 3

Joe Brackett pressed the small nub on the side of his watch, smiling slightly as the white-blue Indiglo numbers reflected back at him through the light bug dust that covered the face. Punching the red “shut-down” button on the jackleg’s control panel, he waited patiently as the drill cycled down, the long telescoping bit taking a last bite at the rock wall Joe had been working on for the past several days.

He’d recently been assigned to Number Three in order to sink a drift shaft and hopefully relocate the vein of coal that had petered out a hundred yards back in the main tunnel. Under normal circumstances, Joe would have been tending the Ripper, a massive machine that chewed into the rock face and tore the coal from the wall. But the Ripper had been shut down, a full shift of miners laid off as the Goodwell Corporation decided if there was anything left to strip from this area of West Virginia countryside.

It was all about the money from where Joe sat. Goodwell wasn’t about to drop another dime in the Mingo operations if there wasn’t a significant return on their investment. Considering they’d been working these shafts for the past two decades, Brackett wasn’t overly confident that there was anything left in the mountain to mine. Goodwell was thorough in their operations, never walking away from an area until it had given up every ounce of coal available.

Still, Joe hadn’t earned the nickname “Bloodhound” for nothing; every miner in three counties knew if anyone could sniff out the dark veins of coal hidden amid the thick layers of limestone and shale, it was him. Jumping down from his perch behind the jackleg’s controls, the forty-something miner hoped they were right. As a third generation rock-hound, Joe didn’t know how to function outside the pitch blackness of the mines. Sure, he’d wanted something more from life than a perpetually sore back and the threat of Black Lung, but all in all, he couldn’t complain. Coal mining was hard, dirty work, but it paid decently enough and the lifestyle was simple and peaceful tucked away in the remote Appalachian community.

Crouching, Joe walked back to the haulageway, sighing with relief when he reached the main shaft and could stretch to his full height. Making his way over to some unused timbers, he plopped down and unscrewed the cap on the dented thermos. Pouring a cup of lukewarm coffee, he considered heading topside to get some hot brew, but decided against it as he spotted Lennie Miller slowly approaching down the tunnel.

Lennie was a massive man, too tall to even navigate main shaft with its elevated ceilings, let alone any of the more claustrophobic crosscuts or passageways. Even after all the years he’d worked in the mines, he hadn’t managed to develop a sense of where his body was in relation to the low hanging braces and ribs. In fact, Lennie singlehandedly went through more hardhats than ten miners. Like Joe, the other men had tagged the big guy with a nickname. But where Joe’s conveyed respect, Lennie’s “Brained” was a by-product of the scores of times he’d smacked his head, sometimes even knocking off his helmet and laying open the flesh on his skull. The miners often joked that Lennie had left everything he could claim as brain-matter smeared on the rock walls and deteriorating timbers.

But what the man might have lacked in grace and intelligence, he more than made up for in sheer muscle and brute determination. There were four miners, Joe included, who owed their lives to the powerful strength of Lennie Miller. A human roof jack, the huge man had held a crumbling rib support with nothing more than his broad shoulders as the others escaped certain death below the collapsing ceiling of the tunnel.

They’d been best friends ever since, hunting, fishing, even spending the occasional Friday night sitting on Joe’s porch drinking whatever recent batch Lennie had cooked up. And it had been Joe that managed to sweet-talk the shift boss to keep Lennie around as they struggled to keep the mine open. It seemed the least he could do to repay the gentle giant for saving his life.

“Hey!” Joe called out as the lumbering shadow neared. “You bleed the lines before you came down for lunch?”

The grunt he got in reply told the miner that his buddy was likely nursing yet another hangover, or possibly had once again “brained” himself on a low hanging top. Joe chuckled to himself and waved Lennie towards a seat on the portal bus that sat quietly waiting to transport them back to the outbye at the end of the shift.

“You okay?” he asked as the tall miner stood there silently. “What’d you bring for lunch today?”

Miller didn’t respond and Joe turned his attention away from the left-over roast beef sandwich his Hattie had lovingly packed into his pail. Setting the metal box down by his side, he was about to get up to make sure his big friend was alright when Lennie abruptly dropped onto the rear bed of the personnel carrier.

Joe watched as the other miner toyed with the large, plaid thermos in his hands, rolling the container back and forth as though he was reluctant to sample the contents.

“You know, Hattie would be more n’ happy to pack you a meal or two. She feels sorry for you, being alone and all… got no woman to care for ya’… thinks you can’t fend for yourself. But I keep tellin’ her that you just prefer taking your meals in the liquid form,” Joe continued jokingly.

Lennie gripped the thermos tighter, holding it protectively against his chest as Joe chuckled again.

“Here, I got a n’uther roast beef sam’wich in here. Hattie packed me a spare n’ case I worked a double. You have it and then I got a big hunk of rhubarb pie too,” Brackett offered, reaching out to hand the extra sandwich to the other man.

“M’ fine,” Lennie snarled back, his yellowed teeth standing out amongst his dust-covered features. Joe pulled his hand back, recoiling slightly at his friend’s sudden burst of aggression.

“Alright, alright… suit yourself. I was just trying to be nice. I can see ya’ll rose up on the south side of the bed this mornin’,” Joe teased, returning to his lunch. “You got more hair o’ the dog in there’?”

He watched as Lennie looked down longingly at the thermos before finally twisting off the stained red cap. The smell that emanated from the open container instantly filled the narrow confines of the tunnel and Joe had to swallow hard to keep the last bite of beef from reappearing.

“What the hell, Len? What you got in there? Roadkill or something?” Joe asked as he lifted his hand to cover his nose and mouth. “You been making possum stew again? How many times I gotta tell ya’ll that eating that sort of garbage is gonna put you in your grave early?”

But if Lennie was listening to the older man’s tirade it wasn’t apparent. Lifting the thermos to his lips, he took a long chug from the container, his throat bobbing as he swallowed down several mouthfuls.

Joe looked on in absent fascination as his friend drank greedily from the tall, metal bottle. In the dim light of the shaft, he could see the rust-colored lines trailing down from the corners of Lennie’s mouth. Not one to be the poster- child for manners, even Brackett had to grimace as the larger man attacked the contents like a ravenous wolf.

“Really, Len. That smells just god-awful. You sure you don’t want the extra sandwich?”

Miller paused, his hand slowly lowering the thermos from his mouth. Joe noticed the wild look in his eyes long before the miner spoke.

“Still hungry…”

Joe smiled and reached for his lunchbox. He was about to hand his friend the extra food when Lennie’s towering shadow fell over him. Close enough now, he could see that the dark stain on the man’s face held an eerie resemblance to blood. The smell of copper filled his nostrils and his stomach rolled as the gruesome odor assaulted him.

“Lennie?” Joe called out worriedly. “What’ve you done?”

“Hungry…” the big miner slurred, his arms reaching toward Brackett.

Joe looked down at the blood-stained hands coming at him, his eyes conveying the image but his brain struggling to make any sense out of what he was seeing.

“Lennie, are you hurt? What happened?” he asked, scanning his friend’s body for the source to the blood.

It was then that he also noticed the discarded thermos, tipped over and spilling its contents out onto the tunnel floor. Thick dark fluid, interspersed with larger flesh-colored chunks, seeped into the dirt, congealing as it was exposed to the cool air of the mine. Joe gagged again, the mess reminding him of the time Bobby Meekins had gotten tangled up in a chain conveyor, the crossbars dragging him into the mechanism, tearing his arm off and shredding it into so much human coleslaw.

“What the hell?” he cried out, stepping away from the larger man.

Lennie smiled then, his eyes widening so that the whites nearly swallowed his pupils. His appearance was unnatural, unnerving even. Something was seriously wrong with the man and, despite his allegiance, Joe wasn’t sure he wanted to wait around to find out what.

Dodging out of Lennie’s reach, Joe struggled to get to the carrier, hoping he could fire up the transport and bust ass back to the entry. Nearly a half-mile underground, he knew there was no way to outrun the larger man on foot.

His thumb stabbed frantically at the power button, the portal bus rumbling to life. Joe grabbed the control bar with his left hand even as his right yanked the gearshift down into reverse. The carrier jerked backwards, metal screeching in protest as it ground against the rough rock wall of the tunnel.

He corrected the direction, but not before Lennie vaulted over the front end, his thick fingers closing around Joe’s neck. Brackett released the controls, his own hands flying to his throat as he tried to pry the other man’s hands from his windpipe. Struggling to breathe, he realized a fraction too late that the real threat wasn’t suffocation; it was far worse.

Leaning in, his face so close that Joe could smell the awful odor of rancid meat and blood on his breath, the bigger man’s mouth opened in a wide, almost macabre smile. Pressed back against the metal seat of the personnel carrier, Joe couldn’t budge Lennie’s heavier weight off his chest. Pinned down, terror filling him, he briefly felt the pressure on his neck lessen, replaced by a sharp, tearing sensation that nearly made him black out.

Joe would have screamed, cried out a warning, begged for his life, yet even as the air briefly returned to his desperate lungs, he couldn’t make a sound. Looking up at his former friend, Brackett felt his mouth fill with blood, the sticky warmth pouring out and spilling down his chest. As his vision dimmed, Joe’s last glimpse was Lennie chewing, his lips smacking together as he finished his first bite and leaned in to tear out another.

In the suffocating darkness of the mine, Joe Brackett died quickly, his body held in place like a meaty bone between a dog’s paws as his flesh was torn away. Amidst the empty tunnels and silent shafts, the only sounds to be heard were the grotesque noises of Lennie Miller finishing his lunch.

Outside Mingo, West Virginia

It was dark, cold and desolate, the road winding before them empty except for the occasional pile of roadkill that Dean deftly steered around. A hardened hunter, the elder Winchester wasn’t fazed by any amount of blood and guts, human or otherwise. But there was no way he wanted to have to pull over and power wash off the fresh entrails of some possum or skunk from the undercarriage of the Impala.

Swerving to miss another gooey target, he chuckled inwardly. This was becoming something of a game - Roadkill Slalom - and he absently wondered how a stretch of backwoods highway with hardly any traffic on it had become so lethal to the local fauna. His snicker must have been audible after all, the oppressive silence that had enveloped the car for the past hundred plus miles suddenly lifting when Sam spoke.

“What’s so funny?”

“Huh?” Dean replied, glancing over out of the corner of his eye.

Sam wasn’t looking back at him, a relief considering neither of them really had anything left to say. It had been an awkward silence at first; Dean torn between screaming “I told you so” and more gently whispering “I’m really sorry, Sammy.” Either statement would have been appropriate considering how things had turned out and deep down, Dean knew he needed to say something to ease the tension between them. But in the end, he had ended up saying neither. Instead, bitterness and worry had taken over his tongue and while his brother was still reeling from the aborted attempt to go back and save Jess, Dean had chosen to remind him that the only thing they’d managed to accomplish was wasting time on a wild goose chase while Dad remained trapped inside Stull.

His brother had tried to answer, had tried to tell him that he was sorry, that they’d had to take the chance with the watch, but Dean refused to listen. Interrupting with a wave of his hand and an even snippier “Let’s just get back to Lawrence”, he’d plunged them into a long, silent drive; Sam darkly sullen and Dean entrenched in his stubbornness.

“You laughed. I just wondered what was funny,” Sam asked again meekly.

“Nothing,” Dean answered sharply.

“Yeah, okay… fine. Sorry to bother you.”

Dean looked over again, this time actually staring at his brother’s face. No one wore the whipped puppy look better than Sam; in fact, the younger sibling had actually perfected the sad, downcast eyes and slight quiver to his lip to the point where Dean generally couldn’t ignore it.

Except this time…

He was simply too angry now to let his brother off the hook so easily. Well, not angry per se’, Dean admitted silently. More like he’d been scared half out of his mind when he realized what Sam was gonna do with the watch. His worry and fear had translated into the spiteful words he’d thrown back at his brother, his bizarre way of saying “I couldn’t lose you too.”

Still, none of that would have ever happened if they’d just stayed in Kansas. Dean just couldn’t let go of the thought that while they’d been wasting time in Enigma, their dad was trapped God only knew where and suffering God only knew what kind of tortures.

No matter how hard he tried, Dean just couldn’t force himself to think about anything other than getting Dad back. No matter how much he tried to convince himself that John was only skipping across the other alternate universes like he and Sam had, the vision of his father screaming as demons swarmed over him filled Dean’s every waking moment. And sleep was no better. When his eyes closed, the real nightmares began.

But that’s no reason to take it out on Sammy… His conscience berated him.

“Sam… I..” he began.

“Don’t Dean… just don’t,” his brother cut him off.

“I was only gonna say…”

“I know what you were gonna say, Dean. You made it pretty clear back in Georgia,” Sam growled back.

“I was worried…” the older man started.

“No, you were right. It was a huge waste of time and I’m sorry… I am. But I still don’t think the answer to getting Dad back is gonna be found poking around some old graveyard.”

“Sam,” Dean’s voice lowered, his irritation returning. “We’re not gonna hash this out again. We can do research from Lawrence as easily as anywhere else. What if the church reappears and we’re not there?”

Sam sighed loudly and Dean had to fight down the urge to call him on it.

“I’ve already told you. According to legend, Stull only appears twice a year, the autumn and spring equinoxes. So unless you have a way to speed up time or trick Mother Nature into skipping a season, there’s no way to get into the place before the twentieth of March,” Sam stated angrily.

Dean pounded his fist against the steering wheel. “I’m not giving up, Sam. Dad wouldn’t give up on us, no way am I leaving him in there one second longer than…”

“I’m not saying we’re giving up, Dean! Damn, why can you see that I’m just as desperate to get Dad back as you are? I’m only saying that if there’s some other way to open Stull early, we aren’t gonna find it there.”

“So what then?” Dean demanded, his gaze leveling angrily on Sam. “We just roam around the country, chasing down every witch, soothsayer and two-bit carny act in the lower forty-eight that might have some half-assed idea or obscure piece of lore in hopes that it might get Dad back?”

“If it helps… yes!”

Dean snorted. “Helps? How’s it gonna help Dad? We might as well be turning our backs on him.”

“I don’t get you. Four years ago when we were searching all over for Dad, weren’t you the one that kept telling me that we’d find him? But all the while, we took every freakin’ hunt, checked out every damn ghost story or Weekly World News article, from one end of the country to the other. So, how is this any different?” Sam threw back.

“Because back then Dad wasn’t trapped in some disappearing gateway to Hell,” Dean yelled, his voice booming within the small confines of the Impala.

“We didn’t know if he was dead or alive back then either!”

“He’s not dead now!” the elder sibling shouted. He just can’t be… remained unspoken.

“Dean, I know you’re worried, scared even… so am I. But you know I’m right. And sitting around Lawrence, well… that’s not gonna help. In fact, you said yourself that the place is like the locus of bad luck for us. Too many bad memories, too many awful things have happened. We can’t think straight there. We can’t see outside the box,” Sam continued, his voice softer, pleading even.

Dean clenched his jaw tightly. He knew his brother was right; he just couldn’t force himself to admit it. Deep inside, he was afraid if he agreed, it would be too much like giving up, like leaving their dad behind. And as much as he never wanted to see Lawrence, Kansas EVER again, every fiber in his being was screaming at him to get back there and dig till his fingers bled if necessary until he found that freakin’ church.

“Dean? Did you hear a word I said?”

“Yeah, Sam, I heard ya’,” he answered noncommittally.

“So where are we going then, Dean?” the younger man queried.

He didn’t have an answer, especially not the one his brother apparently wanted to hear. He only knew that right now he hated the twangy country music that was the only thing that came in on the radio, he hated the cold that seemed to be seeping into the Impala, he hated the barren West Virginia landscape, and he most certainly hated feeling so helpless.

Glancing up as his eyes caught the sudden bright lights at the edge of the dark road, Dean brightened slightly.

“We’re gonna eat,” he proclaimed, slowing the Impala and steering the old Chevy into the truck stop parking lot.

He could feel Sam look at him with disbelief, but Dean didn’t care. Let his brother be angry with him. Sam could get over it or not. Dad was stuck in Stull and they had to find a way to get him out; that was all the older hunter could focus on.

The truck stop was nearly as deserted as the highway they’d just been travelling, with only two semis idling quietly in the lot and just a few customers seated within the restaurant. Heading inside, they were greeted by a vivacious blonde waitress who all but rubbed against Dean the minute he entered. Her blouse was cut low enough to display her ample breasts like melons at a market and her skirt was high enough to barely be worth the effort. She was young, pretty, and asking to be noticed. Dean did, but for once he just didn’t care.

She broke into a wide smile, jutting out her chest, her hips swaying left and right as she guided them to the nearest booth. Dean still didn’t respond to her overt sexual advances, instead just dropping into the seat and immediately flipping opening the oversized menu.

“What can I get you to drink, Darlin’?” she asked with an overly thick accent.

“Coffee,” Dean answered without looking up.

“And how about you, Good Look’n?” she drawled at Sam next.

The younger Winchester flushed slightly but replied in kind. She gave him a quick wink before bouncing off.

“Wow, mark this day on the calendar,” Sam joked as he unfolded the napkin and set the silverware to the side.

“What are you talking about now?” Dean grumbled, peeking above the top of the menu.

“Dude, I’ve never, in over fifteen years and forty eight states, ever seen you pass up something that looked like THAT!” Sam teased.

Dean glanced in the direction the waitress had gone. “Yeah, so? You make it sound like all I do is chase tail.”

Sam broke into laughter. “Dean, there are several constants in this world. The sun rises, people die, the government taxes and you… go for THAT!”

“Yeah, well whatever. Not tonight. Hand me the laptop,” Dean demanded evenly.

He watched his brother’s face darken, the humor giving way to a scowl. “Dean…”

“Sam, just pass me the damn computer. You want to research from somewhere other than Lawrence, well I don’t need a friggin’ GPS to know we aren’t there,” the elder hunter growled with an angry smirk.

“Fine… here!”

“You boys ready to order?” the buxom waitress interrupted as she set down the beverages. “Everything’s pretty tasty, both on… and off… the menu.”

“I’ll take the special,” Dean snapped as he flipped open the laptop, barely even making eye contact with the blonde and ignoring her blatant offer.

He heard the waitress huff, even caught a petulant eye roll as she scribbled down his order before turning her attention on his brother. Sam was more pleasant, obviously trying to make up for his lack of nicety, and Dean idly wondered how far his brother would go when it came to being civil.

The blonde apparently was now focused on Sam, as evidenced by the casual touch of her fingers against his as she gathered his menu and the smattering of “honeys” and “sugars” she tossed his way before sashaying off to place their order. Dean snickered silently as he stole a quick glance at his brother’s fumbling response and the faint red tone to the younger man’s cheeks after the waitress left.

Quickly returning to the task at hand, Dean’s fingers traced across the built-in mouse as another website flashed up on the screen. The same silence that had permeated the Chevy settled over the booth and despite Sam’s strategically placed sighs, he refused to take the bait, steadfastly concentrating on the information appearing on the computer.

Several minutes passed and their food was delivered, the waitress nearly throwing the plate down in front of him while conversely placing Sam’s Cobb Salad on the table like she was serving a visiting dignitary. Dean toyed with his food with one hand while the other still played at the keyboard. He was hungry, but distracted by the images on the screen, his appetite taking a backseat.

“You gonna eat or stare at that screen all night?” Sam asked, after the waitress walked away.

“You gonna tap that tonight or just dream about it?” Dean replied, nodding in the direction of the blonde.

“You’re disgusting, Dean.”

“So you tell me repeatedly…”

“Seriously, dude. Put the computer away and eat. Just take five damn minutes. You don’t do anything anymore but obsess over Stull. You barely even sleep much less eat…” Sam pleaded.

Dean erupted. Throwing down the fork, he simultaneously slammed closed the laptop. “We’re gonna do this again? Here… now? Sorry if I’m not living up to your expectations, Sammy. Maybe you’d prefer me to be stuffing my face and banging some chick. Is that the way I’m s’posed to be acting, Sam? Tell me, huh, ’cause obviously I didn’t get the memo on the correct way to act when your dad’s stuck in some gateway to Hell.”

He’d yelled louder than he’d intended and the other patrons had now ceased their conversations and were staring at his outburst. Sam smiled weakly at their startled looks, even waving off the burly cook that had peeked out from the kitchen.

Dean rose from the booth, throwing down his napkin and upsetting a glass of water. He was still sort of hungry but realized that his little tirade had managed to draw all attention to himself within the restaurant, not to mention there was no way he could sit back down and act like everything was okay with Sam. He needed some space to cool off, so he stalked from the restaurant and out into the chilly night air.

Making a bee-line for the Impala, he climbed up on her hood, ignoring how the metal instantly transferred the bitter cold from her skin to his own. He closed his eyes and inhaled the crisp, fresh air, relishing how it cleared his head, if only for a moment. It brought him a semblance of clarity, quieting the myriad of voices that had been screaming in the back of his mind for most of the evening.

As his fury washed away, Dean found himself feeling remorseful yet again. His emotions were spinning like a revolving door, alternating between anger and guilt like some desperate housewife too long off her Prozac. Worse still, the unfortunate target of his wrath had all too often been Sam. Dean knew he was lashing out at the one person who was also shouldering a fair amount of his own pain as well.

“Face it… you’re not really even angry at Sam. You know who’s really responsible for Dad being left behind?” he bemoaned.

In fact, for all his complaining to Sam about wasting time in Georgia, Dean was really still blaming himself that they hadn’t gotten their father out of the church when they’d escaped. Sure, it had perhaps only been sheer luck that he and Sam had managed to get out of the church as that last strange reality disintegrated around them, but he couldn’t shake the memory of his dad’s eerie call to grab his brother and run. If only he’d only tried harder, maybe he could have reached out and brought John back too. If he could have cleared the chasm, if he could have grabbed his dad… if he hadn’t hesitated… if Sam hadn’t yanked him back… if… if… if…

Dean sucked in a breath, his chest shuddering with the memory. He needed to go back inside, if for no other reason than to avoid catching a cold. That, and the overwhelming need to make amends with Sammy. They were a family after all, even if it was just a family of two right now.

Sliding down from the hood, he was two steps towards the diner when he heard the shrill scream from a female. Pausing, he cocked his head as he listened for the direction. Another cry sounded and Dean zeroed in, his feet rapidly carrying him around the back of the building.

His eyes already adjusted to the darkness, he had no trouble making out the two shapes tucked between the dumpster and the back door. Without a doubt, one of the forms was the waitress from inside, her blonde tresses tossed about inelegantly as her body was roughly jerked by the larger male. The latter, dressed in jeans, flannel and a thermal vest looked the stereotypical trucker, complete with a grease-smeared ball cap.

“Hey!” Dean yelled, grabbing the man’s arm and yanking him around and away from the woman. “Doesn’t look like the lady is interested.”

“Mind your own business, asshole,” the big man snarled, tearing out of Dean’s grasp and moving back toward the waitress.

“I don’t think so, jerkwad,” Dean growled, snagging the trucker’s collar and whipping him back around. He was ready for the punch that was aimed for his jaw, deftly ducking it and delivering his own in return to the bigger man’s gut.

Their dance started in earnest, blows exchanged as blood began to flow from split lips and abused faces. Dean grunted as the behemoth drove a shoulder into his chest, lifting the hunter up and driving him into the side of the dumpster, his back slamming into the unforgiving metal.

He let his earlier emotions feed him as he drove his fists into the trucker’s fleshy gut, but the other man was simply larger, outweighing Dean by at least a hundred pounds. With a loud bellow, Dean felt himself hefted off his feet, a void of air created between his boots and the asphalt. In the next instant he was flying through that same empty space, landing hard on a squishy pillow of rotting food and other trash inside the dumpster.

With a groan, he struggled back to his feet, wading back to the edge of the container in time to see the trucker running off into the darkness. Heaving himself over the side, Dean made his way to the still-shaken waitress, flinging off pieces of clinging garbage with disgust.

“You okay?” he asked with genuine concern as he neared.

She looked up and smiled weakly, cradling her arm to her chest. “Yeah, thanks to you. Can you believe that freak?”

“Did he hurt you?”

“No, not really. I was just finishing up for the night, taking out the trash, when he caught up to me. He wanted me to go back to his rig and when I told him I didn’t do delivery, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Things got a little rough and can you believe it, he freakin’ bit me,” she exclaimed, thrusting her arm out for Dean to see.

He gently took her arm, carefully examining reddened flesh. It was true, there was a small wound in the round shape of someone’s teeth, but it had barely broken the skin, just the faintest blush of blood trickling down her arm. Pulling a blue bandana from his pocket, he lightly wiped it away and then wrapped it around her arm.

“It doesn’t look like it needs stitches or anything, but you should probably wash it good with soap and water,” Dean advised. “How ’bout I make sure you get to your car okay?” he offered, looking around the darkened lot.

The blonde smiled but took a step backwards, trying in vain to hide her disgust from the odor that was now emanating from the bits of trash still clinging to his clothing. “No! Thanks, but really, I’ll be okay.”

Dean cast a glance down at his clothing and shrugged. Funny what a difference a little left over spaghetti and rotten lettuce apparently made. He watched her trot off, her bounce less pronounced now that she apparently wasn’t trawling for a big tip or after-work snack.

Walking back to the Impala, he wasn’t too surprised to see Sam waiting impatiently beside the black Chevy. It was all part of their normal game when they were pissed at each other, seeing who would cave first. Detoured by the waitress and the resulting fight, Sam had apparently come looking for him.

“What happened?” the young hunter asked worriedly as Dean approached. “How the hell did you get into trouble that quick?”

Dean scowled, rubbing absently at the bruise that was forming on the side of his temple. “Was nothing,” he grumbled.

“Nothing?” Sam repeated, drawing near and reaching up to wipe at the trickle of blood seeping down from the corner of Dean’s ear.

Irritated, the older man swatted at his brother’s hand. “Get off me. Geesh, think you never saw a little blood before,” Dean growled.

“You know, the food inside was pretty good, Dean. No need for you to go dumpster diving,” Sam teased with an impish smile.

“Get in the car,” Dean snarled without any real anger and flinging a stray piece of pasta at his brother’s head.

They drove a short distance before coming across a decent, by their standards, looking motel. Checking in went smoothly, the pimple-faced teenager at the desk paying little attention to the fake credit card as the latest episode of Melrose Place and a nearly naked Katie Cassidy graced the television screen.

Dean wasted no time claiming the first shower and Sam didn’t argue. Already the stench from the rotting food was settling into the small motel room and they elected to leave the door cracked slightly while Dean’s leather jacket was banished to the Impala’s trunk until they found a dry cleaner.

The hot shower was a welcome relief to the stress and the encroaching West Virginia winter. It might only be November, but the mountains told a different story. Still feeling a little guilty, Dean cut off the tap sooner than he would have liked and decided to extend the olive branch to his baby brother by leaving a little hot water.

Toweling off, he donned clean boxers and a fresh t-shirt before stepping back into the main room. The T.V. was playing the local news and thankfully Sam had closed the door, but neither of those things really captured his attention. Instead, it was his brother, seated at the small table and tapping away at the laptop.

“Feel better?” Sam asked, looking up as Dean returned. “You definitely smell better.”

Dean nodded and dipped his head toward the computer. “What you up to?” he asked suspiciously.

“Uh well…just looking for…”

“A hunt?” Dean finished the sentence. “You’re looking for a hunt aren’t you? Can’t even wait a friggin’ day and you’re looking for a hunt. I cant freakin’ believe it!”

“Dean… that’s not…”

“Save it… Knock yourself out, Sammy. Don’t let me or saving Dad get in your way!” Dean growled as he tugged on his jeans and another shirt.

“Where are you going?” Sam asked worriedly as Dean pushed his arms into his blue jacket.

“What does it matter, Sam?” he threw back over his shoulder, heading for the door. It slammed shut behind him with a resounding thud, the silence deafening in his wake.

Next morning

Sam lingered in bed longer than he’d intended. Not because he was tired, in fact, he was more than rested. He mostly just didn’t want to wake Dean up.

Let sleeping dogs lie… or in this case, let the grumpy brother remain unconscious.

Still, between his full bladder and his empty stomach, something had to give. As quietly as possible, Sam threw back the covers and crept across the threadbare carpet to the bathroom. He closed the door, cringing when it creaked but relieved when he came back out and found Dean in the same sprawled position on the far bed.

He wasn’t really surprised and if truth be told, Sam wasn’t even sure why he was taking so much stealthy precaution. He’d been half awake when Dean had come staggering back to the motel room at half-past early, reeking of stale cigarettes and alcohol. The behavior itself wasn’t all that surprising; Dean had been teetering between anger and guilt since the morning after they’d popped out of the church. Like a festering wound, it seemed the only palliative treatment had been eighty proof or stronger and then only in quantities that left his sibling comfortably numb.

It wasn’t that Sam wasn’t sympathetic; he was shouldering his own fair share of guilt since Stull as well. And he knew that Dean had every right to be angry with him over the whole deal with the watch, but somehow he needed to persuade his single-minded brother that they needed to move on. It hadn’t been all that long ago that Dean had so blatantly informed him that while they were hunting for Dad, there were still plenty of other evil creatures to put to an end to along the way.

Short of them pitching a pup tent and waiting for the spring solstice, hanging around Lawrence wasn’t going to get Dad back. Somehow Sam needed to convince Dean of that.

Sighing, he shot a quick glance at his still unconscious brother. Dean hadn’t budged, his still clothed limbs draped from one corner of the bed to the other. No doubt he’d remain that way for a couple hours more.

Sam’s stomach growled and he quickly decided that he’d feel better if fed and ultimately his brother would be in a much better mood if he slept off his high blood alcohol content. Dressed and leaving a note, Sam was out the door and down the road to the truck stop diner in less than fifteen minutes.

The place was no busier than it had been the night before, odd enough considering it was only eight a.m. and Sam would have expected some sort of breakfast crowd. He was motioned to a place at the counter by an older version of the blonde, this one saggier and bearing far more wrinkles. To top it off, she didn’t flirt with him nearly as much, matter of fact, she was barely congenial at all.

“What d’ya’ll want,” she asked sourly as she filled the coffee cup in front of him, her drawn on eyebrows raised in irritation.

“Ummm, short stack?” Sam replied, lowering the menu without even looking.

“Get it to ya’ as soon as I can. Short-handed this morning thanks to Shelly’s lazy ass,” the woman complained.

“I’m sorry,” Sam offered good-naturedly.

The waitress wheeled back around, pausing as she leaned slightly on the counter. “You’d think she’d worked so hard, ya’ know? Serve a couple meals, flash those boobs in some trucker’s face? Is it too much to ask for her to do the prep for the morning crew like she’s s’posed to?”

“Shelly’s the waitress that was working last night?”

“Yeah. If I know her, she’s probably shacked up with some trucker that came through here.”

“Actually, she was attacked last night, just outside in the parking lot. My brother fought off the guy,” Sam stated.

The woman paused, seeming to consider the information. “Good for your brother, wasted on that piece of trash though,” she grumbled before turning away to place Sam’s order.

Sam snorted. Reaching for his backpack, he drew out the laptop. In a few seconds, he pulled up the newspaper article he’d been looking over last night. The report told of two recent deaths at a lumber mill in Colorado. While the authorities said the deaths were unrelated, one a heart attack and the other an accident with a chain saw, Sam was skeptical. Digging deeper, he also found a police report of a fatality involving one of the mill’s logging trucks as well as another death six months prior that was written off as an accidental overdose.

It was all too coincidental to a hunter like Sam and the details screamed “angry spirit”. Now if he could only talk Dean into looking into the situation.

“Here ya’ll go,” the waitress announced, delivering a plate of pancakes that wobbled precariously.

Sam thanked her, pouring a generous amount of warm syrup over the stack before digging into the mound. He devoured them like a ravenous dog, partially to satiate his hunger and partially to get back to his research.

He managed neither…

“Thanks for waking me,” an all-too-familiar voice grumbled.

Sam looked up and into the red-rimmed green eyes of his older brother. Dean dropped onto the seat beside him and grabbed for Sam’s coffee cup.

“Sure, help yourself,” Sam replied, shoveling another bite of hotcakes into his mouth. “You gonna eat anything this morning?”

“Well I’m not planning on scoping out the dumpster if that’s what you’re thinking,” Dean joked.

Sam smiled and nonchalantly closed the laptop.

“Still scoping out a hunt?” Dean asked as he slurped another sip of coffee.

The young hunter swallowed nervously, breakfast suddenly sitting heavily in the bottom of his stomach. He really wasn’t in the mood for round three, especially with his hung-over sibling.

“Uh… nothing major… just something out in Colorado,” he covered.

“Oh? Colorado huh?”

“Yeah. Could be a spirit. I’m not sure. I haven’t really put all the pieces together yet.”

“Well, if anyone can, it’s you,” Dean replied confidently.

Sam was speechless. He’d expected several reactions out of his brother but acquiescence hadn’t been at the top of the list.

“Close your mouth, bro. This place ain’t the cleanest in the world and you’re about to attract flies.”

“So? You’re telling me you want to check this out?” Sam asked, unable to hide his surprise.

“Why not?” Dean answered, fishing a bill from his wallet and tossing it on the counter. “Colorado’s just a hop, skip and a jump from Lawrence, couple of hours tops.”

Sam groaned, he hadn’t seen that coming. He should have known that Dean’s interest had to have had an ulterior motive.

“Come on, Sammy. Daylight’s burning. I can catch a bite on the road.”

Sighing, he was about to rise when he spotted the older waitress.

“Hey Dean, hang on a sec. Last night, the other waitress, how bad was she hurt?”

Dean shrugged. “I dunno. Not too bad I don’t think. Just a couple of bruises, maybe a split lip. She seemed alright, why?”

“The waitress here today was saying that Shelly didn’t finish up last night, didn’t call in today. Something about that she’s not answering any calls this morning either,” Sam filled in.

“Shelly huh?”

“That’s her name. You think she’s okay?”

“I dunno. She seemed okay last night, not even shook up. But that dude was pretty big. Maybe he came back after her again,” Dean admitted.

“Maybe somebody oughta check on her?” Sam suggested.

“Somebody as in us?”

“Seems like the right thing to do?”

“And we always do the right thing?” Dean sighed audibly. “I s’pose we could check on her on our way out of town. You see if you can get her address from Flo there and I’ll go load up our stuff in the car.”

Sam nodded as Dean whirled around and up from the seat. He was out the door even as the younger man was calling the attention of the waitress. By the time she begrudgingly wrote down Shelly’s address and Sam made his way outside, Dean had returned.

The drive out to the young woman’s place didn’t take long and finding the address wasn’t hard considering the nearest neighbor was a good quarter mile away. The house itself would have been the Webster’s picture for the word “shack”, complete with worn and discolored siding, a front porch that sat askew to the main structure and a front yard with grass tall enough to nearly obscure the entire place.

“So obviously she’s never met a landscaper,” Dean snarked as they pulled up the gravel drive.

“Or maybe just not one that she wanted to bring home,” Sam added with a laugh.

“Maybe she did but she lost him in the front yard,” Dean continued the joke.

“Considering how she was hitting on you last night, maybe it was a good thing you didn’t take the bait.”

“How’s that?” Dean asked as he stopped the Impala behind a blue Cavalier and shut off the engine.

“’Cause as bad as it was picking spaghetti out of your hair, I would imagine it would be worse picking crab grass out of your ass,” Sam teased, climbing out of the car.

“Oh, you’re hilarious!”

Sam continued laughing as he followed his brother up to the front door. Standing off to the side as Dean pounded on the rotting wood, he subdued his humor as the sound of movement inside eked through the door.

“Hello?” Dean called out, knocking once more.

Still, no one came to the door.

In the next instant, Sam had out his lock pick while Dean was drawing his Colt M1911. They were inside the house in less than ten seconds, warily pausing just beyond the doorway as Dean called out to Shelly once more.

The previous sounds of movement were absent and no one responded to the elder hunter’s call. Cautiously, they began to move through the small structure, separating as Dean turned right into the kitchen and Sam continued down the narrow hallway back toward the rest of the house.

“Shelly?” Sam called out gently. “We came to check on you. They’re worried about you back at the diner.”

It was quiet, almost too quiet as he slowly crept down the corridor. Just ahead, he could see an open doorway that exposed an unmade bed and scattered clothing tossed about on what had to be the bedroom floor. To his left, a second entry led to another empty bedroom and to his right, a half-canted door hinted at a bathroom.

Continuing toward the far bedroom Sam yelled again. “Shelly... are you here?”

His well-honed hunter’s instincts called out a warning at nearly the same moment he spotted movement out of the corner of his eye. Whirling around, he saw her, blonde hair unrestrained and draped down across her face like a long yellow veil.

She moved slowly at first, unthreateningly, yet the voice in the back of Sam’s head and the skin on the back of his neck weren’t buying it. He took a half step back and held out his hands palms up.

“Shelly? My name’s Sam. We didn’t mean to scare you. We just wanted to make sure you were okay?”

He couldn’t see her eyes beneath the unruly mane but he heard the unmistakable growl, low and throaty. And he didn’t miss the way she lowered her shoulders, dropping into a crouch like some predator about to pounce.

So when she attacked, Sam was prepared, but he didn’t expect the young woman’s maniacal scream or the way in which she clawed at his face and neck. Her momentum carried them both to the floor and despite her lighter weight; Sam found it difficult to throw her off.

Shelly raged like a rabid animal, her fingers weaving into Sam’s thick hair as she pounded his head against the floor repeatedly. Dazed, he raised his arms to fend off her attack, absently wondering where the hell Dean was. Surely his brother had to have heard the banshee-like screams of the crazed woman.

Yet as the blonde continued her abuse, Sam looked up into her face, glimpsing her eyes between the strands of blood-streaked blonde tresses. The whites engulfed her pupils and numerous small capillaries had burst, filling the edges with a bloody tinge that made her gaze look even more deadly. Whatever was wrong with the waitress, it was well beyond a simple misunderstanding of Sam being in her home unbidden.

“Shelly… stop…” Sam pleaded.

She shrieked once more, her hands closing around Sam’s neck as she pinned him to the floor, eyeing his flesh with a gaze that resembled hunger, saliva collecting at the corners of her mouth. He reached up to tear at her grasp, but she was suddenly stronger than her small stature should have accounted for and she batted aside his hands like he was a gnat.

Sam was panicking now. He tried to call out to Dean, but little more than a strangled cry escaped. Shelly cocked her head and looked back down at him with a sadistic smile. She shushed him like a child, one finger gently placed against his lips. Her finger then gently trailed from his mouth until it rested on his jaw. Almost seductively, she turned his face to the side and exposed his neck. Then without warning, her face turned into a snarl, and baring her teeth, Sam could feel her hot breath as she lowered her mouth toward his throat.

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The Winchester Chronicles

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