by Famira Damaris
Disclaimer: I don't own any of this. The writing is my own, the characters and settings aren't.
Summary: Somewhere on their road trip, Sam insists on side-tracking to hunt a living hoax called the hodag. Dean isn't pleased, but comes along anyway.
Author Notes: Was originally written as a writing sample for Damned (LJ RPG), since I was applying for the character of Dean Winchester. It ended up getting blown up in length and I wrote a shorter writing sample instead.
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A hodag. Right.
"We're wastin' our time," Dean said. "There's no such thing as a hodag. Never was."
Sam leaned forward. "We don't know what we're dealing with yet...but you have to admit the descriptions do fit a hodag."
"There's no such thing."
"Just because no one's ever seen a real one doesn't mean we can rule it out," Sam said. "We know people reported strange tracks in the area. That guy back there - "
"- the drunk -"
"The guy," Sam went on with a long-suffering expression, "happens to be our only witness, Dean. He said he saw what looked like an alligator with horns: I think that fits the hodag bill. C'mon, we've followed up on less."
Dean took an irritated swig of his beer. What he knew about hodags was that they were supposed longer than a man, lizard-like, and ugly as sin - and just about as real as Big Foot. Back in the 1800's, some joker with too much time on his hands thought it'd be funny to "capture" a hodag (nothing more than a homemade puppet), and put on a show of being mauled in his own basement as a prank on his lumberjack friends in some ass-end of Wisconsin. It was either that, or believe in the legend that a hodag was Paul Bunyan's very own undead ox, risen from the ashes because it didn't like a few cuss words here and there...which was just as retarded as the first story in Dean's opinion. He could buy spirits, black dogs, chubacabras, you name it, he'd probably killed it. But he hadn't ever, ever heard of anyone seeing and killing a real hodag. According to their father's journal, neither had Dad. For all they knew, this was just some freak gator or something, and this was just a huge waste of everyone's time. Sam knew the whole hodag story just as well as he did. It was just that. A story.
Besides they weren't anywhere near Rhinelander. In fact, they weren't even in Wisconsin. Wrong town, wrong state. And a hodag? Sure, bodies - or parts of them, anyway - were turning up in the swamps for the past week, but there could be a hundred reasons why. Gators, boating accidents, pranks gone wrong, some sonuvabitch with a sick hobby: they were all a lot more likely than some giant, mutated zombie ox, which, to top it all off, had been already proven a hoax over a century ago.
Dean was starting to think Sam was just jerking him around. After all, he'd insisted they follow up this lead and now he refused to drop this hodag thing. Maybe he still had his panties in a twist because of what happened back at Leland. Which, by the way, wasn't entirely Dean's fault. Okay, so maybe it was just a little, because he probably could've gotten another room for him and that hot chick instead of making Sam sleep in the Impala. At least he remembered to give Sam the car keys before locking him out of the room.
Peering suspiciously over his beer at Sam, he had to admit the kid didn't look like he was trying not to laugh or set him up for something. He honestly believes this, Dean thought. Goddamn.
"Okay," said Dean, setting down his beer, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "For the record, I don't buy this hodag crap. Load of bull. But assumin' your imaginary friends are real, we don't know how to take down these suckers." The myth said fire, explosives. That was all sunshine and roses when all you were fighting off a big, scary wood fake and not some demon spawn that shrugged off bullets like you were throwing confetti at the damn thing. He paused, a thought crossing his mind. "Think it's another tulpa?"
Considering their run-in with the last one, Dean suddenly decided maybe he'd take his chances with the zombie dino-ox.
Sam seemed to have the exact same thought, sighing, "Only one way to find out. Ready for some camping?"
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Dean hated swamps. He could handle them when they came, but they were right up there in his Least Favorite Places To Be, next to Airplanes and Other Flying Death Traps. Swamps smelled like ass, attracted way too many damn insects, and the trees and swamp shit did hell to your line of sight, making hunting that much more difficult. He slapped away unconsciously at the swarm of small gnats trying to eat him alive, shining his flashlight across the murky water, the beam of light doing little to break through the gloom. The road was a few yards away, more an organized line of mud than a real road, and he was seriously glad he hadn't tried to bring the Impala this far. Hunt or not for this imaginary hodag, he wasn't driving his baby smack into a friggen swamp. Sticking her in a place like this? Criminal.
They could've been the next state over hunting that Jersey devil that actually was real, but no, they were here, dicking around in a swamp which might not even have anything to hunt in the first place. It wasn't like he had a problem with wasting these things - nothing gave him that warm fuzzy feeling than a done job - but it was usually just a matter of finding out who died, where, and dealing with the body, not wondering if he could even kill a century old hoax.
Next to him, Sam bent over the map. "Here's what we got. At least four identified bodies were found in a five-mile radius from here. This should be ground zero."
Dean shone the light around, sweeping it across patches of marshy ground, trees with peeling, rotting bark, and swamp. And more mud. He tried to wave away a mosquito that was far too big for its own good as he examined the map. For all they knew, the body parts could've washed down from another location. "Notice anything funny with the picture?"
"No tracks. There was supposed to be tracks by the road."
Dean opened his mouth.
"And don't get started on the hodag're-fake stuff again."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Okay, man, whatever. Not talkin' about the tracks. If hodags weren't totally imaginary which they are, you'd think we'd get tipped off if we were around one," he said. "Seems like it'd be a lot quieter around here."
Animals usually reacted to predators in the area, whether they were just your typical mountain lion or run-of-the-mill wendigo out in the boonies. For a place that was supposedly under siege by a hodag, it sounded pretty normal to him. Crickets, frogs, the whole works. Sam frowned, a flicker of doubt crossing his face. He folded the map and stuffed it into his pocket.
"It can't hurt to take a look around."
"Let's just get this over with," Dean said, shouldering the sawed-off he'd brought with him. It was loaded with rock salt, but he still wasn't sure how effective it'd be against a living hoax. It didn't help when he didn't know if it was a spirit or not in the first place - if it wasn't, he'd just end up pissing it off. When you didn't know what you were dealing with, you brought a little of everything: silver, knives dipped in lamb's and dead man's blood, some accelerant along with a lighter, and a gun with real bullets because you never did know if it'd be that easy.
He set off deeper into the swamp, careful to watch for any sign of gators. Ghosts and ghouls he could take, but if he got jumped by a normal animal, he'd never live with himself. Dean picked his way past drooping rows of trees, minding where he stepped whenever he was forced to wade into the brackish water that sometimes rose up to his thighs. The frustrating part was knowing he could've probably had that Jersey devil strung up high and dry by now. He could, at this very second, be kicking back in the nearest dive and getting a few shots in instead of trying not to freeze his balls off in swamp juice.
Sam flanked his left. While Dean was growing more and more convinced this was a retarded prank dragging itself out, he still wouldn't want anyone else covering him. Yeah, his kid brother could be kinda prissy and uptight as hell sometimes, but Dean couldn't imagine going hunting without him. Now if only Sam could find the time to take a deep breath, count to three, and just chill once in a while...well, Sam would just be a lot more fun to hang around with if he didn't have a phobia about kicking back and enjoying himself for a change. Dean blamed college. It just went to show you learned jack and shit from higher education. It wasn't like college taught you anything important like how to defend yourself or even how to handle anything as simple as a gun.
If you didn't learn useful stuff at college, then what was even the point of going?
At least Sam hadn't forgotten what he really needed to know in life, looking at how easily he dropped back into hunting. College hadn't completely screwed everything up. After what felt like almost an hour, Dean found himself ducking under a rotting trunk blocking his way, the other end completely submerged. The hunter remained kneeling in the water, motioning for his brother to stop.
"You see it?" Sam whispered, crouching just behind him. Dean could barely hear him.
Dean shook his head. If by see it, Sam meant a shitload of swamp and nothing else, than yeah, sure, he saw a whole lot of something. "Do we even know the range of these things?"
"No, but I'd guess just from the locations of the bodies that we've got at least five, ten miles. Maybe."
"Y'know, we could ask Santa Claus - "
Sam shot him a look. "Cut it out," he hissed. "Let's just split up and try to get more ground covered."
Dean shrugged. Fine. If Sam was willing to freeze his nuts off all night for a prank, than he was going to be just as game as his geek brother. Dean headed right, wading through the murky water and ducking curtains of moss hanging here and there. Sam disappeared behind him, the only thing visible of the kid a narrow beam from his flashlight, seeming to weave in the darkness. Dean wandered in a wide arc. Covering ten miles, split up between two people, didn't seem that bad - until you took into account you had to do it with barely any dry ground and water that had zero visibility, never mind the critters. A few times he caught the reflections of eyes, gazing back at him from the water as his flashlight swept over them. Gators. Most of them either stared back, looking more than floating logs with eyes than anything else. A few submerged. One or two drifted closer to investigate and that was when Dean picked up the pace. He wasn't about to get his ass bitten off because Sam couldn't learn to let stuff go.
By now he couldn't see nor hear any sign of Sam. Just the occasional snap-click of a gator's jaws in the distance. The deafening croak of frogs. And that didn't even count the bugs. It seemed everywhere he went, he was followed by a swarm of the things out for his blood. Dean had stopped to swat at them again when he felt something brush up against his leg.
He looked down.
It was a severed arm, ringlets of red spiraling out into the water from the stump.
Dean was a lot of things, but squeamish wasn't one of them. He didn't jump away or flip out or do whatever it was normal people were supposed to do if they were in his shoes. Instead he bent down, fished around in the water, and picked up the bloodied limb, holding it at arm's length as he shined the flashlight over it for a second. The end was clean, too clean for a gator - gators used a twisting motion when they fed, and tore off whatever they were snacking on instead of slicing it off. This looked almost as if someone took a giant paper cutter to the poor bastard...except that didn't explain the thick slime on it that shimmered a translucent, delicate shade of blue in the light, coming off in long strings like a giant slug had slobbered all over it.
"Great," Dean muttered, wiping his hand first on his jeans, then on a nearby tree. It didn't seem to help.
Still trying to shake off the slime, Dean moved cautiously forward. The kill must've been fresh - the blood trail in the water hadn't dissolved yet - and shining his flashlight forward, he thought he saw a thicket of dead trees and glimpses of a mud-bar, the moon for once penetrating through the swamp's canopy. Something was out there, even if it wasn't a gator or a hodag. He crouched down again, switching off the flashlight as he crept closer. As he watched, something slid itself out of the water, moving like an eel and practically swimming even though it was already cleared of the water, all the while dragging what had to be the remains of a human body. At this distance it was hard to see what the creature was, but he could tell it was vaguely lizard-like in shape. It should've left clear tracks in the mud...but, as he watched, the thing erased its tracks, sweeping a long whip of a tail behind it in deliberate motions and leaving the mud bank looking as undisturbed as before.
You gotta be kidding me. That explained the lack of tracks earlier. And that was before he saw the outline of horns just as the thing disappeared into the thicket.
Oh. Well, damn.
So Sam hadn't been jerking him around. Hodags did exist.
Dean loosened his knife in its sheath. Okay. Now that he'd established these suckers were real, that now left him with how to kill them. He'd just seen a real one, but for some reason there wasn't the usual silence when you were in the presence of something out for blood, like a predator. He didn't get it. But maybe that was the point. It made itself disappear, blending in so well that they didn't give off many, if any, warning signals. Well, if there was anything to be done, it was locating the hodag's nest (assuming it had one) and torching the holy hell out of it, instead of sitting here playing zoologist. Approaching the thicket, he erred on the side of caution, scanning the water and the bases of the trees.
Something softly scratched above him, almost lost entirely in chorus of croaks from the frogs.
A few flakes of bark drifted down.
He spun, jerking his shotgun up. And found himself almost face to face with another one of the bastards - only this one was half the size of the first one and was as butt-ugly as all the stories said they were, a human's skull leering down at him from the branches, the jaws lined with a perfect row of fangs. The damn thing had wound itself around the higher branches like some friggen snake, and was now swimming its way down at him, faster than anything that size had any right to move.
Dean had just about enough time to fire off a round at point-blank range - it did little more than slow the hodag down - before it bowled into him. He lost his balance and splashed backward into the water, the sawed-off ripped from his hands. He struggled with something whipping in the water around him, sending up sprays of mud and water as its coils surged, sometimes sliding out of the murky water only centimeters away from his face. A flare of pain as something ripped across his thigh. They tumbled in the water only for a few frenzied seconds, but it seemed an eternity as he was pushed under the surface repeatedly; it was trying to drown him, and not doing a particularly good job of it. Gasping for air, Dean suddenly found the ground under his feet again, the hodag rolling off of him and starting to right itself, one of its horns still glistening red with his blood from when it tried to gore him.
Living hoax or not, he was gonna kick this sonuvabitch's sorry ass back to Wisconsin.
Drawing his knife with one smooth motion, Dean flipped the hilt around in his hand as he backed out, forcing the hodag to follow him into the shallows where he could see the thing. Now that he could see the hodag more clearly in the moonlight, he could see it really was smaller than the first one and uncoordinated in comparison. Just a baby. Its Mom was next.
He couldn't quite dive out of the way as the infant hodag came at him again. Dean twisted away from the horns, reacting on instinct and slamming the knife up under the snapping jaw. There was a jarring series of snaps as the knife's blade crumpled in on itself and, for a second, he thought it was just as useless as the rock salt. Then the hodag made a strangled screech and jerked away, leaving Dean with that deep sense of satisfaction he got whenever he gave these things a taste of their own medicine. See how they liked being hunted for a change.
Dean struggled to get back to his feet and finish the job, his boots slipping in the mud even as the hodag writhed a few yards away. Cursing under his breath, he drew his gun from its holster and clicked the safety off.
He was just about to pull the trigger and bury a bullet in the infant's skull when he suddenly smelled something weird. Like some kind of strong chemical, even stronger than the general stench of the swamp behind him.
That was the last thing he remembered.
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Dean came to with a jerk.
Wheezing for breath, he groaned, coughing up what felt like Jell-O that'd been out in the sun for far too long. It had a faintly bitter burn to it.
Dean's eyes fluttered open as he tried to reach up a hand to wipe his mouth. He wasn't surprised to see he was shaking a little, but he was startled when his hand came away with a long, sticky string of translucent slime. Grimacing, he tried to sit up - and promptly sank back down again as dizziness kicked in with a vengeance, leaving his head spinning. But he'd seen enough to make him realize he wasn't in a good spot. In fact, he was probably screwed. For starters he was covered in that freaky slime (saliva?) he'd seen earlier and it smelled pretty rank when combined with the swamp juice and mud he'd been dicking around in. Second, his movements were lethargic at best. Another hacking cough. It felt like he'd been shot with rock salt again, and then rolled around in hodag drool for good measure.
After a few seconds trying to get his bearings, Dean made another attempt to push himself up. The mud and matted weeds blurred beneath him. His vision swam. He kept at it, gritting his teeth. Hell if he was going to sit here all night waiting for Pissed Off Mama Hodag to finish him off. There was no telling how long he'd been unconscious. Spitting out the last of the slime, Dean looked around, and did his best to ignore what had to be the mother of all hangovers. From what he could tell, he'd been dragged deeper into the thicket once he'd been knocked out. The drag marks were gone, giving him the impression that he'd magically popped up here, in this very spot, to lie in the mud just 'cause.
The question of why he was still alive in the first place did occur to him; he had a feeling he wasn't going to like the answer. He saw this movie before.
So when Mama Hodag suddenly materialized out of the darkness yards away, nudging its bastard baby before it, Dean couldn't say he was very surprised. It made sense, seeing as Junior sucked ass at ambushing - and who better to practice on than Dean?
He always knew one day he'd eat it on the job...but he always figured he'd be doing something a lot more badass when the time came. Not like this, where his last moments would be spent covered in hodag spit and rank mud, and, to top it off, he'd be used as an overgrown chew-toy before getting his head bitten off. But considering his condition right now, escaping and effectively fighting back weren't exactly options. Not with this busted up leg. And not when he felt so funky. He was starting to suspect that whatever the hodags had puked on him, it was the reason why he was off-balanced and sick.
Dean tried to scramble backward as the baby hodag flowed across the ground at him. His limbs went rubbery on him, spilling him flat on his back. The next thing he knew, his jacket was in the bastard's jaws, giving him a front row seat to its ugly mug.
It dragged him a few feet only to let go, tearing a patch loose from his jacket and worrying it like a dog. Dean rolled over, patting himself down frantically for something, anything.
The only thing he came up with was a metal flask, the insides sloshing as he fumbled with it and tried not to drop it from numb fingers. This was the only thing he had? Friggin weak. It was the accelerant but what good was the stuff without something to actually light it with? And of course the lighter wasn't in his pocket anymore, because that would be far too convenient.
Dean couldn't believe his shitty luck.
Junior came at him again, having gotten bored with the scrap in the mean time. Here we go, Dean thought, and while he was ready for this, he wasn't that ready. The best he could do was douse the hodag with the accelerant (much good that did) and hope Sam got to Junior and finished him and Mom off before the stuff got washed off. As Junior suddenly materialized over him, dripping accelerant, Dean fully expected to feel those fangs cutting into him, doing a number on him just like the guy before.
What he didn't expect was the sudden flare of heat washing over him and the smell of something burning.
And suddenly the baby hodag was no longer breathing in his face.
Dean struggled to push himself up, wiping away slime from his face as he sat up. Somehow Mama Hodag was on fire - Dean had to say seeing the bitch burn was going to be one of those memories he'd treasure - and she was now twisting and convulsing as if she could put herself out, that whip tail cracking dangerously in the night. A few times it snapped through the air his way (he had to duck before it took off his head), or smacked close to him, sending up violent sprays of mud. Dean had no idea who was responsible, but he wasn't going to sit around here any longer than he had to. He started to crawl away. It was slow progress, considering how funky he felt, but the more distance he got, the better. Just because the big adult hodag decided to spontaneously combust didn't mean its baby would.
There was an audible thump. Something heavy fell from the branches above, hitting the ground a few yards ahead of him.
Certain Junior was back, Dean looked up - and found himself staring up at Sam as his brother reached down and hauled him to his feet.
"Told you." Sam just had to get the last word in.
Dean punched him in the shoulder. "Priorities, dude," he said, and was annoyed to find his words were slightly slurred. "Where's the other one?"
Sam nodded to the right.
"Took off that way," he said. "You gonna be okay?"
"Once I wash off the puke?"
Sam couldn't help a tight, relieved smile. "Yeah."
Dean only grunted, and jerked his head toward the direction Junior took off. "Let's smoke 'im."
He glanced over his shoulder as they left the clearing. The adult hodag was roasting nicely, giving the occasional jerk as her burned-out husk settled to the ground, shedding ash and still glowing embers. Dean followed Sam as his brother led the way through the thick tangle of branches and tree trunks, some of which had been broken through in the infant hodag's attempt to escape. He didn't feel much better as he clambered his way in after Sam, at least physically. But there was something about having the tables turned in your favor, and Dean liked it when he had these things on the run instead of the other way around. Put a spring in his step and all that.
Even if what really looked good right now was chucking up his guts.
Sam kept close by him even as he covered them with his Beretta and followed the trail of broken branches, mud squelching under their boots. Dean hobbled after, limping on his injured leg. He didn't even want to think of the hell it'd be like when they got back and Sam had to patch him up, not with all the swamp shit ground into the wound.
Eventually they heard the sounds of snapping branches and thrashing up ahead as they plunged in deeper through the thicket. By now it was almost like a solid wall, except for the hole where the hodag had charged through seconds before. Dean took a moment to catch his breath as Sam cleared a path for them, hacking away with his machete while Dean kept an eye out for any other unwanted visitors. So far zip, but he'd already been jumped once because he hadn't done something as simple as looking up. It was such a dumbass, newbie mistake. If Dad was here, he would've kicked his ass for it several times over. And one more time. Just to make sure it sunk in.
"Hey," Sam whispered. "Take a look at this."
Dean limped over. He peered through the dent Sam had made into the thicket.
The little bastard was trapped, trying to squeeze in through a hole Dean doubted he could even fit his leg through. It wasn't going to stay stuck long, judging how he could see sections of it sliding around through the crisscross of branches, but it was enough to get the job done. Sam exchanged looks with him. He didn't even have to say anything, and instead just held out the box of matches he'd brought with him as if asking if he wanted the honors. Dean definitely wanted the damn honors.
Limping closer, he was careful to stay out of range of the hodag's horns. While they were still snagged on a thick overhang of moss, he wasn't about to take his chances. The match burned brightly for a moment before he flicked it at the hodag.
Junior went up like a stack of dry tinder.
Dean took a moment to savor it, watching the flames.