Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
Dean Winchester took a swig of his beer and stabbed at the giant slab of red meat in front of him. As he studied the contents of his fork, he briefly wondered whether or not the dripping hunk of beef was even worth consuming. Deciding against it, the hunter instead focused his attention on the pile of fries at his fingertips.
Outside, the hot August sun was beginning to disappear over the horizon, painting the sky in gorgeous shades of orange and violet.
Across from Dean, his younger brother, Sam, was alternating between sipping his beer and working his fingers vigorously over the keyboard of his laptop. The previous day, the brothers had successfully defeated a Black Dog in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah, and were now on the hunt for their next case.
When scouring the newspapers proved futile, Sam had begun the task of searching for a decent gig on the internet. Both hunters would agree that the world wide web didn't always provide the most accurate leads, but every once in awhile, they'd come across a promising article.
Earlier that day, the brothers had come across an article from an Arizona newsmagazine reporting the bizarre deaths of several men in the Tucson area. Every August for the past seven years, a different man's body had been discovered in the stream near Catalina State Park.
When the first body was discovered in 1999, authorities ruled the cause of death an accidental drowning. Though it was unclear as to why the victim's car had been found on Highway 77 rather than the lot overlooking the state park, no foul play was evident.
The following August, a second body was recovered about a quarter mile upstream from where the first victim was found. Local police were baffled by the similarities of the men's deaths and reopened the previous year's case hoping to establish some sort of evidence that the deaths had not been accidental.
Each lead came up empty and each August, one more body was recovered from the stream. Each of the victim's vehicles were found abandoned on Highway 77 near mile marker 81, and it didn't appear that any of the men were connected.
The annual deaths continued to perplex the local authorities and state police, and even after seven years, no suspects had been named.
It had been several minutes since Sam had stopped complaining about the lack of information on the Tucson case, and his older brother took that as his cue.
"You get anything?" Dean asked around a mouthful of fries. The prime rib may have been questionable, but the side dish more than made up for it.
"Hang on…" Sam continued his research for several more moments and turned the laptop to face Dean with a satisfied smirk.
"You wanna just give me the Cliff's Notes here, Geek Boy? You know I don't get off on reading this shit like you do."
Sam finished the rest of his beer and turned the computer back around. "I narrowed the search to look for anything that might have happened in the state park prior to 1999. Turns out that on August 14, 1998, an Elizabeth Howard was found dead in the stream. The cops were ready to rule it accidental until her husband came forward a few days later. Guess the guy couldn't take the guilt."
"Her husband drowned her? Does it say what his motive was?"
"Says here that Pete Howard had been having an affair with a coworker and was afraid Elizabeth had caught on. God, can you imagine?"
Dean raked his non-greasy hand through his hair. "Sounds like a vengeful spirit to me."
"Yep," Sam agreed. "I went back and found the original reports of each of the seven drownings. Some bodies were recovered the night of the 14th, others not until days later, but the victims' vehicles were always found abandoned on the same stretch of highway after sundown on August 14th.
"You think Elizabeth's spirit is somehow luring these guys to their deaths?"
"Looks like it. None of the victims had intended to go to the state park. It's like the spirit somehow got them to pull their cars over and make their way to the edge of the stream."
Dean's jade eyes widened in realization. "You're sure this has happened every year?"
"Every August 14th since the year after Elizabeth's murder, just like clockwork," Sam nodded.
"You do realize what day it is, right?"
Sam sighed and leaned back in the booth. "The 13th," he supplied, answering the rhetorical question anyway.
"So chances are, another man is gonna die tomorrow if we don't find a way to stop this."
Sam sighed. "Most likely. But Dean, it's already dark out. Tucson is like a sixteen hour drive from here. We'll never make it."
"Does it say where Elizabeth is buried?"
"Yeah, I pulled up her obituary. Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson."
"I'm bettin' if we torch her bones, the killings will stop."
"You really think we'll make it in time?"
"Grab your shit and let's go."
Dean eased the Impala to a stop just beyond Evergreen Cemetery's main entrance. What was supposed to be a sixteen hour drive turned into seventeen, thanks to a combination of heavy traffic, multiple cups of coffee, and the subsequent bathroom breaks.
It was now after 2pm, and the hot August sun was at its peak. According to the local news, the heat index had reached one hundred and fifteen degrees, and while Dean adored his precious Impala, he silently cursed the classic's lack of air conditioning.
"Okay," Sam began, wiping the sweat from his brow. "I guess we should find Elizabeth's grave and come back when it's dark."
"Let's just dig her up now," Dean suggested, mimicking Sam's actions and using his forearm to remove the perspiration from his forehead.
"Now? Are you crazy? Dean, you heard the weather report. It's over one hundred degrees out here! Look, I'm starving. Let's go and grab some food and come back tonight. That way the heat won't be so unbearable."
"Yeah, but what if something happens and we don't torch her in time? We can't risk being out here all night. If we don't stop this chick ASAP, there's a good chance someone else will die."
"What if someone sees us? It looks empty now, but people could come through any time."
"We don't both need to be digging. One of us can keep an eye out. Come on, Sammy. Let's get this over with." Dean climbed out of the car and made his way to the trunk.
Though Sam was still uneasy about his brother's decision, he had to admire Dean's eagerness to put Elizabeth's spirit to rest. Dean was right. They couldn't risk letting this case go until tonight. By then, it might be too late for the unsuspecting victim.
Taking an extra moment to peel his sweat-soaked t-shirt from the upholstery, Sam stood and met his brother at the trunk.
"Here." Dean grabbed a shovel and tossed an empty duffel at his brother. "Pack it but leave it in the trunk. I don't want to have to carry it with us just in case we do have to make a quick getaway."
Sam caught the bag and filled it with a canister of salt, lighter fluid, and one of Dean's extra lighters. As an afterthought, he stocked the bag with the salt gun and extra rounds, just in case Elizabeth decided to make herself known.
Closing the trunk, Sam jogged to catch up with his brother, who had already begun the task of searching for Elizabeth's grave.
Dean removed his saturated gray t-shirt and stuffed it halfway down the back of his pants before resuming his digging. The sweat poured off his forehead, cascading down the length of his face and continuing its journey down his chest, finally pooling at the waistband of his jeans.
With each heave of the shovel, Dean's muscles became more and more exhausted, and he paused every-so-often in an attempt to regain some of his strength.
Glancing at the landscape around him, Dean noticed that he and Sam were not only the lone visitors to the cemetery, but seemingly the town as well. Not a single car had driven by since the brothers had arrived over two hours ago, and the shallow creek just beyond the cemetery's perimeter was eerily still. No one dared to venture from their air-conditioned homes.
Although the oppressive heat made his current job nearly unbearable, Dean silently thanked Mother Nature for ensuring their privacy in the wide open graveyard.
Sam continued to walk the perimeter of the cemetery, keeping his senses on alert for anyone who might be entering. Evergreen was an extensive property, but the trees were sparse and the bushes were few-and-far-between. While it made it difficult for Dean to stay out of sight, it also allowed Sam to have a clear view of the entire graveyard.
The sweat continued to pour off the youngest Winchester as he started his third lap around the property. As he furiously wiped the perspiration from the back of his neck, he suddenly wished he had listened to Dean all those times the older brother suggested Sam get a haircut. His shaggy locks certainly weren't doing him any favors at the moment.
On his fourth trip around the perimeter, Sam's pace began to slow. His movements became sluggish and it took all of his concentration to lift one leg and place it in front of the other.
As he staggered on, he couldn't help but think back to when he'd been attacked by the shtriga, though on this particular hunt, it was Mother Nature who was draining Sam's energy.
Unable to walk any further, Sam paused and leaned heavily against the cemetery's wrought iron fence. He was completely out of breath and figured a short rest wouldn't hurt; he still had a decent view of each of Evergreen's entrances.
Sam bent forward and rested his hands on his knees. He was completely drained and hoped his brief resting period would help him regain some of his strength. He needed to watch Dean's back.
Sam lifted his head and fixed his eyes on his brother. Despite the heat, Dean continued to dig furiously at his position towards the middle of the burial ground. Sam always did admire his brother's determination.
He continued to watch Dean until a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye refocused his attention.
Sam squinted and rubbed at his tired eyes in an attempt to make out the source of the movement. When his weary brown orbs finally focused, Sam let out a gasp.
It was a man.
Someone had entered through the cemetery's far gate, just beyond where Dean was digging. Whether the man was a visitor, a groundskeeper, or a policeman, Sam didn't know. All he knew for sure was that Dean was in deep shit.
Spurred into action by the prospect of his brother being caught, Sam pushed himself off the iron gate and sprinted toward Elizabeth's grave. He willed his rubbery legs to move faster as the man moved closer to where Dean continued to dig, unaware of the approaching threat.
"Dean!" Sam hadn't realized how parched he was until his brother's name came out of his mouth in a harsh whisper. "Dean!" he tried again, this time a bit louder.
Dean looked up to see his panicked brother running toward him. Tossing the shovel to the ground, he quickly climbed out of the shallow hole and grabbed Sam by the shoulders, effectively slowing the younger's momentum.
"Sammy? What's wrong?" Dean's brow furrowed in concern as Sam struggled to catch his breath.
Unable to form the words, Sam simply pointed in the direction of the approaching man.
Dean whirled around and shoved Sam behind him, adrenaline coursing through his veins at the thought of someone -- or something -- coming for them.
But all he was met with was an eerie calm.
"Sam? What --"
"Dean, we've got to get out of here!" Sam grabbed his brother by the arm and tried to pull him toward the Impala. "Come on!"
"Sammy? Whoa, whoa. Stop!" Dean pulled free from Sam's weak grasp and looked into his terrified eyes. "What do you see?"
Sam continued to point in the direction of the visitor. "Him! That guy! Dean, we can't let him catch us!"
Dean turned once more and surveyed the graveyard. "Uh, Sam? There's nobody here."
"What are you talking about? He's right there!" Sam rubbed at his blurry eyes and looked in the direction of the potential threat.
No one was there.
Sam frantically surveyed the property and was met with an empty landscape.
"But he was there. I mean, I saw a guy."
"Right. You're not spazzing out on me there, are ya, Sammy?" Dean joked, nudging his brother in the shoulder.
"What? You don't believe me?" Sam asked bitterly as he advanced on Dean, clearly more angry than hurt.
Dean read Sam's body language and knew that now was not the time to rib his little brother about his freak-out. There would be plenty of time for that later.
"Of course I do, Sam. But there's obviously no one here now so can we get back to work?"
Sam scoffed. "You're so full of shit. You think I'm a nutjob, don't you?" Sam roughly jabbed Dean in the chest to emphasize his point. "I know what I saw!"
"Whoa! Hey!" Dean grabbed Sam's forearms in attempt to stop the uncharacteristic outburst. "Dude, I don't know what your deal is, but maybe you should dig for a little bit while that bug works its way out of your ass."
Dean grabbed the shovel and tossed it at Sam before heading off to play lookout.
Sam continued removing the dirt furiously, the adrenaline rush from his argument with Dean enabling his exhausted muscles to do their job.
How dare Dean not believe him? Sam knew what he saw, and it would only be a matter of time before his brother came running over to him with news that the mysterious man had returned.
Sam grit his teeth as he continued to dig.
With each heave of the shovel, Sam's t-shirt rubbed against his dry skin and he soon found himself imitating Dean's earlier actions and removing the offending article of clothing.
As he stuffed the surprisingly dry shirt down the back of his jeans, Sam noticed that his arms and legs were incredibly sun burnt. Glancing down at his bare chest, he found the flesh on his torso to be the same shade of red.
How did I burn there already? Sam absently put a hand to his forehead and noted the absence of sweat, wondering if his face was as red as it felt.
He picked up the shovel and continued his task. As the adrenaline rush began to work its way out of his system, Sam's movements became increasingly lethargic. His biceps felt like rubber and his back ached with each heave of the tool. His head was pounding, and the blazing afternoon sun continued to beat down on his already scorching skin.
With his vision beginning to swim, Sam dropped the shovel and placed a steadying hand on the grass. He took a deep breath hoping to collect himself, but the pounding of his heart against his chest made it difficult to take more than short, shallow gasps.
Sam's world took on an ominous yellow tint before he found himself sliding to his knees, still struggling to catch his breath. Before long, everything went mercifully dark as Sam collapsed bonelessly into the shallow grave.