A/N: Title is from the Judas Priest song.
Screaming For Vengeance
The woods were damp, the rich smell of autumn—decaying leaves, overripe berries and the wet fir trees—was so strong it was almost a physical presence. Solid, tangible. The cottonwood was beginning to yellow, the leaves bright on the ground making the trail seem lighter than it actually was.
"I hate the woods, Sam," Dean said from behind his brother. "My feet are wet, it's your turn to carry the pack, I'm freezing and I think I'm getting a cold."
"You have been complaining for ten miles, Dean. Ten miles. Think you can give it a break for a minute or two?" Sam stopped and turned back towards him. "I don't like it all that well either, but—just shut up for awhile, ok?"
"Ok," he said a little sullenly. Jeez, Sammy, I was just making conversation. I don't like being this far from anywhere, I feel a little, I don't know—exposed. Hunting miles from civilization has a fair number of risks. Let's see, the last time we were in the woods for any length of time I think I almost got eaten. Yep, the McDean special at Wendigo's. And you are cranky, Sam. Hear me? Cranky.
"Good," Sam said turning and walking away from him.
Dean sighed. Sometimes hunting just wasn't fun. Cold woods, cranky brother and of course the object of the hunt. Maybe a spirit animal someone had summoned. And as usual, it didn't go quite how they were expecting. When will people learn that summoning things is just not a good idea? Demons, spirit creatures, ghosts, whatever. It never goes well.
The creature had broken out of the circle it had been summoned to and was now wreaking havoc over three counties. Luckily it is easy to track—just follow the happy trail of blood. And that's what they were doing, they'd been out for three days, but Dean had a feeling they were getting close. That sense of being watched, of unease, that alerted him to danger. It had been growing, slowly, over the days, increasing the tension in his back, increasing his sense of awareness.
And how exactly did we get talked into this? Oh, yeah, old friend of dads. His old friends are going to get one of us killed someday. And he stopped, pausing in thought and on the trail. That was probably not the best thing to say. I hope I haven't screwed us over.
"Dean?" Sam had halted at the crest of the hill they were trudging up.
"Yeah?" He hurried his pace a little to get to where Sam was standing.
"What do you think?" Sam said pointing.
Blood had run over the top of a stone, making darker streaks in the damp. There was something on the stone. "Severed human hand. Nice. Always fun." Dean grinned at his brother. "At least we know we are headed in the right direction."
"Comforting, Dean," he said smiling. "You seem awfully happy about that poor hand."
"Maybe we'll be out of here soon." He walked away from the stone and then back. "Two trails. Which one?"
"The hand is kind of in the middle. I'm not sure," Sam said walking a little way down one of the trails. "There's blood down here."
Dean had wandered down the other trail. "Damn."
"Blood down here, too." He walked back up the trail, Sam met him by the stone. "Which way first?" And don't you even say…
"Why don't we each go down one?"
"Nope." No way, nope.
"We'd get out of here sooner, Dean."
"Why not?" Sam said frowning at him.
"Separating is never a good idea, Sammy. Leaves us exposed, you know."
"Dean? You're paranoid."
"Para…This isn't really getting us any further and the sun will be setting in a couple of hours."
"I'd like to have a camp made and a fire started before full dark, Sam."
"Yeah, me too."
"Ok, which way?"
"No. Just pick a trail, Sam. Just do it and stop arguing," Dean said. I am not going to let you go off alone, it's just not smart. Oh, and if you try? I'll just follow you.
Sam sighed and headed down the trail he had scouted. Dean followed.
The path closed in, hazel trees reaching overhead and creating almost a tunnel. The small sounds of animals in the brush mixed with the soft rustle of the wind in the dying leaves. Dean could see the darker shapes of large trees back from the trail. For just an instant he thought he saw something else, moving silently in the shadows. He stopped and looked where he thought it had been. After a moment he chuckled. He could see the gray skeleton of an ancient tree.
"Dean?" Sam had come back up the trail.
"Sorry, Sam. I thought I saw something. I think I'm getting jumpy, that's all." He rolled his shoulders to relax the tension that had built up in his back.
"Ok, Dean," Sam headed back down the trail.
Dean followed, watching as the woods slowly dimmed. It gets darker faster back here. The hazel tunnel ended suddenly, a more open area appearing before them, giant trees rising above their heads. Maple and cottonwood leaves littered the ground, coloring it with their bright confetti. It was little lighter there. Dean sighed. Being closed in always made him a little nervous.
Something caught his vision. He walked off the trail to an old stump, still showing the scars of a long ago fire. There was a…Great, this is getting fun. "Sam?"
"Yeah?" His brother turned and headed towards him.
"Found the other hand. Good choice on the trail."
"Lucky for us, huh?"
"Yeah, not so much for whoever the hand belonged to," Dean said smiling a little.
"So do we keep going down the trail? Or go that way," Sam said gesturing beyond the stump.
"Still blood on the trail, right? Let's keep going for another half-hour or so then settle in for the night. Maybe we'll find someplace to keep our backs."
Sam nodded and continued down the trail. Dean stood by the stump for a second more. I wish I could shake the feeling we are being watched. He turned and right as he did he thought he saw something moving again, parallel to the trail, along the tree line to his left. He looked back, he saw something disappear behind a large trunk, a second later a deer walked from behind the tree. I am more than a little jumpy. Sam might be right, I might be a little paranoid.
Half an hour of walking got them no closer to their quarry. They were heading up another hill when Sam stopped by a huge boulder.
"Let's stop here for the night, Dean."
"Why?" He said, feeling a little exposed on the hillside.
"We can use the boulder for shelter. If we build the fire in front it will be pretty cozy," Sam said with a smile.
"Exactly how can a large rock be cozy, Sam?' He ducked under the overhang of the rock, "It is dry back here. Ok, we stop."
They had evolved a routine over the past three days. Dean went out to gather wood and Sam got everything ready for the night. He built the fire ring and managed to make pretty good makeshift beds. Dean had to admit it wasn't all that bad, the first had been miserable because of rain, but the other hadn't been that bad. Next time I think we are only going to be walking around in the woods for an hour or two I am going to bring a tent. It is never only an hour, never. You'd think I'd learn.
He was walking back towards their shelter, his arms full of wood when he, again, thought he saw movement. The hair on the back of his neck suddenly rose. He stood still listening, every bit of his hunter's instinct reaching out, searching, sensing what was there without any movement of his own. And something was there, at the very edge of his hearing there was the soft sigh of a breath, and another. A softly grunting sigh. Something was out there.
Dean took a step, and sensed that whatever it was had shifted as well. Another step and the feeling of unease, the feeling of something between his shoulder blades. Another step, the soft breath grunted out from somewhere behind him. It was there, watching, waiting. He tried to glance through the darkening woods, but could see nothing except the shapes of the trees surrounding them.
"Dean?" Sam called, breaking the silence, breaking the spell. "What's taking so long?"
"Coming," he said. He knew that whatever it had been had moved off for the moment. He tripped over something and fell. He heard Sam head towards him.
"Hey, you alright?" Sam helped him up.
"Yeah, tripped," he looked down to see what he had tripped over. "Just freaking great."
"Dean? Is that a foot?"
"Yep. Nice." The fun goes on and on. They walked together to the shelter of the stone and Sam set about making the fire. Once it was going, burning brightly, the sense of being watched lessened considerable. Maybe it doesn't like fire. It seems to me last night I relaxed once the fire was going. That might be worth remembering.
"I'll take first watch Dean, if you want to catch some sleep." Sam said moving out of the glare of the fire a little bit.
"Ok," he said settling into the soft leaves and pulling the emergency blanket and his jacket over his shoulders. "Next time we are bringing more blankets and a tent."
"Yeah," Sam laughed. "At least we remembered food and something to keep water in, and we have managed to find clean water. But you're right, next time we'll try planning ahead for a change. We're so good at that."
"We are amazing at that aren't we?" Dean said smiling. He closed his eyes.
"Dean?" Sam was shaking him gently. "Hey, your watch man."
"Thanks, Sammy," he handed Sam the blanket and Sam handed him a cup of… "Is this hot chocolate?"
"Yeah, I heated up the water in a can and melted a chocolate bar in it. Luckily we are well supplied with chocolate," he said with a laugh.
"I always make sure we have enough of the important stuff," he moved out to the edge of the firelight so he could see into the dark a little better. "Get some sleep."
"Thanks," and Sam was quiet. Dean heard his breathing even off into sleep almost before the word was out of his brother's mouth.
He leaned back against the boulder and sipped the chocolate. That was nice of Sam. I hope he made some for himself. The forest was alive with the sounds of the night. He could hear rustling off to his left and something scurried by right in front of him. I hope that wasn't a rat. There was the sound of a larger animal moving behind where he sat, he could hear the soft fall of its feet on the leaves. A deer ghosted by, stopping to nibble on the bushes. He listened, lulled into near sleep.
Silence pulled him back to complete awareness. He listened. The night was suddenly silent. No rustling, no scurrying, even the wind seemed quiet. Then, the soft, grunting breath, sighing softly.
Dean moved back towards the fire and put another log on, the blaze flared up. He could hear the sighing over the crackle of the fire. He tossed on another log and pulled his gun out. Something was moving around just outside the light of the fire. He thought could see a dark shape against the darker forest. It moved into the trees and disappeared. A few minutes later he heard an owl call in a tree over head. Whatever it was, everything else is afraid. Hmm, I think I will sit here by the fire and keep it well stoked for the rest of the night.
It was just before dawn, that moment between night and day, when it returned. Dean was aware of it, the soft breath, the sound moving around him. The fire was still burning, he threw another branch on. He could hear something moving in the leaf litter behind him. He could hear it grunting, the soft, near snarl of its breath. He had the sense of being watched, the feeling of tension building in his body. It is there, somewhere, I know it. I think it's afraid of the fire.
A sudden sound caused him to jump. Sam sat up beside him. "You ok, Dean?"
"Shh," he said. Sam was quiet. Dean listened, it had moved off again. "It's gone," he said to Sam.
"I don't know, something," he stretched. "Can you make more of that chocolate?"
"Sure," Sam pulled out the bottle and poured some water in the can, breaking a chocolate bar into it as well.
"You're pretty brilliant with this camping stuff, Sammy."
"I read about the chocolate bars in history class," Sam said with a smile.
"Yeah, during World War Two the GIs would do it."
"So you learned something, nice," Dean said with a laugh. They sat together under the shelter of the boulder and in the light of the fire until the sun was well up. Dean sighed. He didn't really want to move away from the fire. The sense of unease, while diminished, was still there—right between his shoulder blades. I hope I am just being paranoid.
"You ready Dean?"
"Not really, but we might as well go," he said standing up. "Which way?"
"Well the foot was over there—that way?" Sam said walking up the hill. Dean followed.
Just over the hill the forest got denser again. The underbrush thick on either side of the trail. Dean could see a little, but not much, beyond the first few feet. There were blackberry bushes on one side. The smell of the berries filled the air with a slightly fermented scent. The day was warming up and the ground was steaming where the sun managed to break through the canopy of trees.
Dean ran into his brother. "Hey."
"Sorry, man." Sam looked back at him. "I think we're still going the right way." He was looking down at the ground.
"Hmm, I wonder if that foot belongs to the same person or if it's a couple of people?"
"I hope it's only one."
"Yeah, me too, actually," Dean said walking around his brother and the foot. "Come on, let's go."
Sam caught up and stepped ahead of him.Dean looked up through the trees, there were clouds to the south. I hope that's not rain.
"If it rains I'm just heading back to the car," he said to his brother.
"Yeah, we've been walking for three days, car's a ways off, Dean."
"I don't care, if it starts raining again I give up, I've almost had it anyway. I mean the blood and severed body parts are ok, but the rain and the trees and the cute furry creatures—nice way to spend a couple of days."
Sam was shaking his head. "I hate to say it, but I kind of agree this time."
Dean chuckled. Nice to know I'm right. He followed along. It was getting cooler and the sun was fading as the clouds approached. Dean caught movement at the corner of his eye. Something had shifted in the undergrowth, disturbing the branches. It could just be the wind, but only there? He paused, listening. Nothing. Which would be comforting, but the birds have stopped, too. Just like last night.
They stopped by a stream for a break around noon. Sam refilled the water bottles and they shared a cold lunch. A squirrel was yelling at them from a branch overhead. Sam tossed a couple of peanuts out onto the ground. The squirrel was quiet and a moment later it scurried down the tree, grabbed the nuts and headed up another tree. Once there it started in on them again. Sam laughed.
Dean froze. He thought he saw something on the other side of the stream, just for an instant, then it was gone. He could see the bushes sway as it moved through them. He put a hand on Sam's arm. Sam looked at him, and looked across the stream. He nodded that he saw whatever it was moving there.
"Is it gone?" Sam said soundlessly.
"I don't know," Dean answered in the same tone. "I don't know what it was."
Sam stood and gestured at the path that ran parallel to the stream, Dean nodded and they set off again. Dean was beginning to think they had made a wrong turn when they found a circle of stone splattered with blood. Sam stopped and looked back at him.
"At least it's not a leg," Dean said with a smile.
"I don't find that very comforting, Dean," he said, but he was smiling.
Sam had just stepped into a dark place on the path when Dean heard it again. The grunting snarling breath. Rasping along, keeping pace with them. He paused, trying to locate it. He could hear it moving, or something moving, in the dense shadows off the trail. The patter of rain had started and was masking some of the sound. But he could still hear that breath, sighing, snarling. He could feel it watching him. He knew it was moving with them, waiting for its moment. The tension was building between his shoulder blades. The brush was swaying, marking its passage. Still it stayed in the trees, the soft grunting breath the only sound other than rain in the forest. Everything else was silenced.
And Dean knew, suddenly, without a doubt. The realization curled through him, chilling him slightly, raising his awareness, alerting him, tensing the muscles in his back.
It's stalking us.
To Be Continued