Warnings: language, non-linear storytelling
Spoilers: pre-series/post-NRFW, written prior to the airing of season 4
Author's note: This was inspired by two things: listening to the rain to get to sleep at night, and thinking that all those fics are out there about Sam getting Dean out of hell, where are the ones about Dean getting his own ass out? Though all details of this fic are based on research and inspired by actual Appalachian stories, the story of Wilder and the disappearances in St. Anthony's Wilderness are entirely fictitious. The voice of Ellie Stumpe is not intended to be a slight on the Appalachian people, their intelligence, or ability to use proper grammar. It's inspired by written folktales and, to some extent, Flannery O'Conner, who pulls it off way better than I do.

Excerpt from the journal of "Boomerang", real name unknown, circa summer of 2002

Day 2

Fucking stupid is what it is. "You hit the trail, son, see what people are saying about the disappearances. I'll keep an eye out in town. Meet you back here in three days, got that?" Right, fucking trail. I get to sleep in a bag while Dad gets to crash on a nice mattress with pay-per-view. Nothing out here but rats, bugs, and hippies.

Goddamn I want a beer.

* * *

Interview with Steve "Blackbird" Eisenhart, two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, June 2008

"So what is 'trail magic'?"

"Oh, well. That's the best part. It's like . . . you ever been stuck by the side of the road for hours, and then suddenly someone shows up who just happens to be going to exactly the right place to give you a ride?"

"It's hitchhiking?"

"No, no, though, uh. People do that, sometimes. Call 'em 'yellow blazers'. I mean -- I mean you think things are just getting really, really bad, and then something happens, like some stranger making chocolate cookies to pass out to the hikers, or keeping the water can full, or letting you crash in his back room, and you're all . . . re-energized."

"So trail magic is people being nice to each other?"

"Yeah. Doesn't happen so often any more, does it?"

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day 3

I lost the blazes. No fucking clue how it happened. Dad's gonna be pissed.

I'll set out East tomorrow. Town can't be that far away.

* * *

Somewhere in St. Anthony's Wilderness, Pennsylvania, August 2008

They wake up in the middle of the night to find him standing naked in the rain, bare toes spread wide in the mud at the edge of the shelter, face turned towards the sky, mouth open and tongue out to catch the rain. He's still covered in dirt, but they can just make out his pale, freckled shoulders, sharply contrasting the dark line of his burned neck, the shag of his overgrown hair.

"Hey," Pele says. "Hey, come back inside. It's not safe."

He ignores her, closing his mouth and tilting his head one way, then the other. He folds his hands over his chest and rubs, palms flat and rough, sliding down to his belly button and back in quick jerks.

"He's showering," Jam says, and they quickly realize he's right.

"Hey." Pele, again. She's the one who found him, she feels like he's her responsibility. "Hey, come on. It's a storm, sweetie. You could get struck by lightning."

He turns his head, then, and the light Jam's old propane lantern reflects off the whites of his wide eyes, giving him a feral, animal look. He looks up again as lightning flashes, holding up his right hand in a fist, then raising his thumb, index finger, middle finger, ring finger, pinkie. He closes the hand and does it again, getting to the ring finger before the thunder rumbles over their heads. Almost two miles off. He grins at Pele, then goes back to scrubbing at his chest.

Jam shakes his head. "That doesn't mean it's safe, man."

The dropped grin is like a punch in the gut. "Let him go," Misfit says, and she disappears back into the shelter for a moment, leaving Pele and Jam and the SOBO, Piston, standing just in from the rain, watching. Then she returns minus her t-shirt and shorts, holding a dingy, misshapen bar of soap.

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day 5

Found a blue blaze, today. Tried to follow it, but just ended up back here. AGAIN. I think -- I think I've managed to "disappear". This is some kind of limbo that sucks hikers in.

Fucking Dad and his fucking orders. Some fucking hunter I'm turning out to be.

* * *

From the oral histories of Ellie Stumpe, Appalachian resident, recorded January 1998

There was a boy once, in these parts -- well, there's boys lots in these parts, but you know which ways I mean -- gone by the name of Wilder. That weren't the name he been given, but that boy never could take what was given, so it ain't no surprise that he ain't take no name. He was called Wilder 'cause that's what he was, wilder'n a bear, wilder'n a bobcat. They say he had the Devil in him, that he di'nt pay no mind to nothing nobody would tell him, not since the day he was born, poppin' outta his momma all backways like it weren't no big deal he mighta choked hisself to death on the way. Never could keep the boy a day in school, nor get 'im doing any honest work. Just spent his days runnin' 'bout -- only gift he done take was the speed God gave 'im, not a man alive could catch 'im and he could outrun a horse, he get it in his mind t' do so. He ran all about in town, knockin' folk over, scarin' the chickens, gettin' up to whatever mischief he could think up, no mind to what trouble it might cause another person.

"You ain't careful," folk'd tell 'im, "one day the Devil gonna take notice, and he gonna drag you right down to the pit."

He'd just smile back at 'em and he say "let 'im come. Run so fast, even the Devil can't catch me."

Well, it come one day Wilder got old 'nough that mischief in the town couldn't suit 'im no more, and he took off for these hills. Disappear at dawn when he shoulda been out helpin' his momma, right up into the hills, wouldn't come back till well after dark if'n he came back that day at all. Weren't no surprise, really, the day he run up into those hills and he di'nt come back a long, long time.

His momma was a right mess, now, don't you get me wrong on that, she loved that boy proper, and done the best by him a momma could do. 'Nough days gone by that she got the men of the town all up in the hills, searchin' and hollerin' his name, but they ain't found a trace of him, and they finally had t'write 'im off as past. His momma went soon after, folks said without her Wilder there t'keep 'er young she just shriveled right up, and soon it weren't many folk even thought his name, much less wondered what mighta happened to 'im.

Things like that happened, then, you see. People gone up and weren't comin' back down, a'times. Whole towns gone one week to next -- not like the ones you still find out here, you look hard enough, done dried up like river beds when the mines closed down, but vanished like that Wilder.

There're holes up there, see, go deeper'n a man can follow, holes and pits all over that seem t' drop straight on down. Folks say that's where he comes up, you know, Devil hisself, walkin' right up outta the holes'n'pits, when it comes time t' take a soul.

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day 6

Aldo Leopold can suck my cock. So can John Mur. And hikers need to leave behind better goddamned books.

* * *

Interview with Blackbird

"But if there's good trail magic, shouldn't there be bad magic, too?"

"What do you mean?"

"Black arts. Woods like these always have stories about Satan worshippers or KKK and stuff."

"You've watched too many movies."

"Okay, but still."

"Yeah, still. It's dangerous, sometimes, you know. People get killed out here. Couple folks have been murdered while hiking, and there's poisonous snakes and wild animals and things. And sometimes. . . ."


"Well, sometimes people just . . . disappear. Not often, you know, but there's stories. People come out for day hikes and just never come back."

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day 8

I killed Bambi today. Told myself it was for the meat, but Dad's taught me fuck all about prepping a fucking animal for eating. Saw the light in its eyes die.

I need to get out of here.

* * *

St. Anthony's Wilderness

They get to the shelter a little ahead of the brunt of the storm, Pele leading the way with Jam's lantern while Jam helps the man along, mindful of his worn boots and the way he favors his ankle. Piston's already there, as is Misfit, and they both shout encouragement when they see them coming, though they're barely audible over the wind in the trees and the pound of the rain. It's a good sized storm, looking like it's going to sit on top of them for awhile, so even though it's well short of Jam's goal for the day, they hunker down and set up camp for the night.

The shelter's big, much more than the five of them need, but it's old, and the open front lets the rain in nearly to the back wall, so a fire's no good. Instead they crowd around Jam's lantern, and Piston breaks out chemical heat packs for their hands and feet to keep the cold off when they're changed into dry clothes.

The man doesn't have any dry clothes -- doesn't have a pack or any supplies on him except for his bowie knife. Jam's too short to lend him pants, so Misfit offers a towel up as a blanket for his legs to go with Jam's extra flannel.

They get down to introductions quickly: Misfit's 31, from Michigan, and she's making the thru-hike alone. A pilgrimage, she says. Refinding her center after losing her partner two years ago. Piston's 23, from Vermont. Just graduated from college and not ready for the real world. Says she got her name hiking the Long Trail with friends a few years ago -- like a machine when she hikes up and down the mountains. She's headed south because she wanted to start with the 100-mile wilderness, she says. And "just to be different". Jam and Pele are 26 and 28, respectively. Newly-weds from Colorado looking for a good long honeymoon -- a "real experience". They're section hikers, only going half-way. Saving the other half for later. They turn to the man huddled in the towel, who stares into the lantern with guarded awe, like it's a new puppy he's not sure won't bite.

"What?" he says, first words they've heard from him since he ran -- literally -- into Pele on the trail.

"Your name, man," Jam says, with a lazy smile. "Tell us your story."

The man looks back down at the lantern, and for awhile they think they're gonna have to name him themselves, but he finally speaks, a slight smile pulling on his lips, warped by the thin, silvery network of scars that Jam thinks might be from a barfight and Piston suspects is from a bad run in with the wrong kind of bush. Misfit suspects they're both wrong, but doesn't want to guess herself.

"My name," he says, and his teeth dully reflect the light of the lantern. "They call me Boomerang."

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day 9

Prepping meat not as hard as it looks. Think I'll stick to smaller shit from now on, though.

I was really, really, really hoping I wouldn't have to learn how to do it.

* * *

Interview with Blackbird

"They just vanish?"


"Like the Bermuda Triangle?"

"I guess."

"Anyone ever get found again?"

"Sometimes. There is this one story. I don't know if it's true. One of those campfire tales you hear in the shelters when people can't sleep. About Boomerang."

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day 22

[Nothing but the word "Fuck", repeated over and over again, sometimes lowercase, sometimes all caps, sometimes taking up half the page, swerving back and forth like it was written in the dark.

For three pages.]

* * *

Oral history of Ellie Stumpe

One night, a storm blew in. Type of storm you don't oft'n see, then or now, strong and hard, like a show put on by the good Lord hisself, just to remind folks their place in the world. These storms ain't no one wants t'be out in, 'specially not up in the hills, but that night a man by the name of MacAffie was out ridin', caught out on the trail -- not the Trail, mind you, this was 'fore that came 'round -- damn s'prised t' suddenly look 'round and find hisself stuck in the rain. He was smart man, though, MacAffie was, and he knew to take cover when nature got all angry, and he found hisself a nice, shallow hole, just big 'nough for him an' his horse, to tuck up into till it blew over. Well, now, if'n he thought he was surprised when the rain came, he was right spooked when Wilder came trottin' 'round the bend, askin' if he could hole up with 'im.

Now, remember, this was long time since Wilder gone off, long time since his momma passed 'n people gave up on 'im. But MacAffie was a local, and he rec'nized the boy right off, lookin' as though he ain't aged a day since he ran away, just soaked to the bone an' shiverin'. Boy wasn't wearin' any more thread on his body than wits in his head, that night -- and he weren't never the clev'rest of boys.

"Where you been?" asked MacAffie, and Wilder, he done just smiled.

"Y'all were right," he says. "The Devil done came for me, just like ya said."

Well, MacAffie set right 'bout to prayin' then, not wantin' the Devil to come down on his head as well, but Wilder just laughed.

"Ain't no worry," he says. "I was right, too. Run so fast, the Devil can't catch me."

Well, now, MacAffie, he got to thinkin' Wilder was foolin' with 'im, and he got right angry. "Where ya been?" he asked again, and there weren't no man alive who wouldn' answer true when MacAffie got to the tone he was usin'.

And Wilder look'd him in the eye and said "I been gone. But I come back."

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day 37

I would sell my right leg balls SOUL right leg for a fucking beer.

Would someone tell the bugs to SHUT THE FUCK UP??!!

* * *

St. Anthony's Wilderness

"Boomerang," Misfit says. She's got her hands tucked under her knees, back in her t-shirt and shorts after the rain-shower. Jam, Pele, and Piston are all asleep, so she keeps her voice low. "I've heard of you."

"Yeah?" he says, back to staring at the lantern, playing with a little gold thing he's got hanging around his neck on a black cord. "Always knew I'd be famous."

"You went missing around here, what, six years ago?"

He shrugs, doesn't look up. "Sounds about right."

"For three months."

He nods. "Got lost."

"How'd you end up back out here now? Would've thought you'd learned your lesson."

He looks up at her, then, and she leans back. Washing him in the rain he'd seemed young, like her nephew back in Michigan, playful. But there's age in his eyes now, and she thinks of the scars she'd felt under her hands, across his shoulders and stomach.

"I was gone," he says. "I've come back."

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day 40

I'm fucking Jesus in the desert.

Squirrel tastes like crap. Can't remember what chicken tastes like.

I need to get rid of this fucking beard. Can't be that hard to shave with a knife, right?

* * *

Interview with Blackbird

"Who is Boomerang?"

"Accounts differ. Always do in these sorts of stories. Some people say he was a weekend tripper who wandered off the trail and got his ass lost. Some say he was a private detective looking trying to integrate himself with some cult in the backwoods. Others -- well, others think he's the spirit of an Appalachian boy named Wilder, still trying to outrun the Devil."

"I've heard that story. About Wilder. What do you think is true?"

"Don't know about where he came from. This all supposedly happened about six years ago, and there were a whole bunch of disappearances in St. Anthony's Wilderness around that time. Lots of old mines and ghost towns out there, so it's pretty easy to get lost. All I know is that he was found by a couple of SOBOs -- that's the southbound hikers, going from Maine to Georgia -- during a storm. Half-nuts, the way the story goes, a little more than half-dead. It was the SOBOs that named him. Most everyone gets a trail name, eventually. They thought he was one of the missing persons, see. Figured he was like a boomerang, getting thrown out but always making its way back home."

"Has anyone ever tried to track him down?"

"No. He was claimed at the hospital by an older guy, probably his dad, maybe his parole officer or something. They headed out as soon as he was discharged and no one ever got their real names. They say he left behind a journal, but I don't know anyone who's read it. Might be tucked away in some archives somewhere, might've been taken home by one of the SOBOs. I figure, you wait long enough, and Boomerang will be just like Wilder. Another tall tale of the Appalachians."

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day ????

I can hear them screaming at night. Sammy'd say it's just mountain lions or foxes or something. But it's them. The missing hikers, like me.

Can't sleep anymore. Feel it watching me. Can't look, it'll get me, can't look it'll get me cant look itll get me

* * *

Oral history of Ellie Stumpe

Well, MacAffie, he done tried to get that Wilder to come home with him, once the storm cleared. Boy was obviously hurtin' somethin' bad for some company, way he'd talk to the horse as much as he'd talk to MacAffie hisself. But Wilder was wilder'n ever, and he weren't havin' no part of civilized life. He done took back off into the heart of the storm, laughin' and wheelin' about, mischief on his lips and in his eyes. When MacAffie called 'im back, he di'nt even pause.

"Devil's come for me, MacAffie," he says. "Can't stop runnin' now!"

And that, well. That's the last anyone done heard from Wilder, for sure, at least that wants to speak of it. But they say storms like the one that night, like as happen 'round here every so oft'n, they open things up, flood those holes and let those that ain't the Devil find their way up 'em. Some say Wilder goes down those holes, and a soul's lucky 'nough, it c'n catch a ride on his running back, straight on back to the world.

Me? No, I never seen Wilder, nor seen much of anythin' come outta no hole. But I hear 'em, sometimes, screamin' at night. Feel 'em sometimes, watching at me. Seems to me there's things in this world it ain't my place t' know, and Wilder might well be one of 'em.

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

Day ????

[text illegible] storm coming. I [text illegible] bear.

[text illegible]

[drawing of boobs]

[text illegible] going to look. Only thing left [text illegible]

Sorry Sammy

* * *

St. Anthony's Wilderness

Boomerang asks for a phone as they're all settling in for the night. Piston's got a satphone, says the reception is crap in the shelters and she doesn't want it out in the rain. Boomerang says okay, he'll try it later.

"It's long distance."

"That's okay."

After the shower, Piston figures that Boomerang's not likely to sleep, and he keeps eying her pack, so she leaves the phone out for him, in case the rain lets up while she's asleep.

It's near dawn, and Misfit is the only other person up, when the rain stops and Boomerang puts his torn, dirty clothes back on and steps out to make his call.

She can't help it -- the other hikers talk about Boomerang like he's a legend. She slips closer to the edge of the shelter and listens in.

"Hey," he says, after a few minutes. "It's me. It's, uh. Dean."

He pulls the phone away from his ear, and she can hear a tinny voice but can't make out its words.

"Knock off the Latin, bitch. It's me. . . . I know. . . . I know I was, Sammy, I -- Jesus. Tell Bobby he can knock it off, now, I'm okay. . . . Yes, I am. . . . yes, I am. . . . Pennsylvania. It'll take me a bit to get to the next town. . . . The Trail. . . . The Appalachian Trail. . . . No, I'm not sure -- I followed him again. It worked last time, so I -- I can't explain it. He's -- he's this kid. Freaking missing link or something. Called Wilder. He outruns the Devil. Yeah. Yeah, no, I -- you were in school. I'll tell you about it, later. Just . . ." He breaks off, suddenly, and she can hear a faint catch in his voice, and suddenly the thirty year old, cynical man is transformed into that little kid again, standing in the rain like he's never seen it before. Like the whole world is brand new and wonderful and so completely terrifying. "Just come get me?"

She backs away quickly, suddenly aware of how she's intruding, but he turns as he disconnects the call and catches sight of her. His scar-warped smile is tighter, now, a little pained, and there's moisture on his face that could be the water from the trees, but she thinks is something else.

"Thanks," he says, so softly that for a moment she's not sure she heard it. "For last night. I'm . . . I'm a little messed up, and I needed to be --"

"It's okay," she says, before he can finish. She understands what he means, though she knows she doesn't understand where he's been. "You have to be a little messed up to be out here."

"Do yourself a favor? Stick to the paths. People -- people get lost, out here."

She nods and takes the phone when he holds it out at arms length. She doesn't say anything as she watches him scan the trees, pick out the blue blaze, and start his slow walk down the trail through the woods. This is how the trail goes, people come into and out of your life. You help where you can, you pray where you can't. This is why she's on this hike, for this trail magic.

"This trail changes lives," she's read. She thinks this trail starts lives over.

* * *

Excerpt from the journal of Boomerang

I looked. Followed a kid. Nearly lost him, found the blazes.

They're calling me Boomerang. Say it's almost August.

Three months.

Dad's gonna be so fucking pissed.