First appeared in Blood Brothers 3, copyright Gold'n Lily Press.
This is the first time I had a story professionally edited. It was a fantastic experience. Thank you, Jeanne! This is chapter 1 of 4.
They were coming from the east out of Richardson, following a lead from Dad's journal, shooting northwest to catch I-40 and follow it through Texas and New Mexico to Arizona. Ed and Harry had maneuvered their Gremlin and camper out of the trailer park and toward Los Angeles two days before, but it only took Sam and Dean a little over a day to pass them. The Gremlin was parked at a rest stop next to the highway.
Dean circled around and they drove by again. Ed and Harry were surrounded by bags, boxes, suitcases, and what Dean recognized as the carpet from the floor of the car. Ed was trying to use a crowbar to remove the backseat.
Sam shrugged. "They must not like fish."
Dean laughed so hard, he almost drove them off the road.
Once they crossed into Arizona and reached the Petrified Forest National Park, Dean reached over and tapped the map on the seat between them. "Winslow, Arizona? Come on, Sam, sing it with me. 'And such a fine sight to see. It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me…'" Dean sang off-key, tapping the rhythm on the steering wheel before leaning over to beat out the time on Sam's shoulder.
"I get it, I get it, but please, God, no Eagles." Sam caught Dean's hand, shoved it back toward the steering wheel, and looked up from the map. "Almost all the deaths have been within a thirty-mile radius of Winslow."
"Any connection between the victims?"
"Nothing that's jumping out at me. A lot of them were involved in real estate. Some business owners. Like I said, nothing apparent."
"What kind of businesses?"
"Manufacturing, mostly, some mining, a pig farmer, and the owner of a New Age gift shop."
"Huh." Dean pursed his lips and thought for a few minutes. "We'll— well, you'll—have to hit the library as soon as we get to Winslow. But we're stopping in Holbrook tonight."
Sam flipped through his legal pad. "Holbrook? The closest death to Holbrook that could possibly be related was three years ago in Joseph City. That's about eleven miles farther west." He glanced over at Dean. "What's in Holbrook?"
"Just the best motel ever. You probably don't remember, but we stayed there when you were five going on six. Dad was after an efrit— Anyway, you loved it. You wouldn't take the t-shirt off for a week. I had to bribe you to take it off before your bath. Hell, I had to pull it off you when you were asleep just so I could wash it."
"How did I get a t-shirt?"
Dean wiggled his fingers. "Lifted it right before we left."
Glancing over, he saw Sam turn to look out the side window. He never could figure out if the kid closed down like that because he remembered so little of his childhood, or because he didn't like being reminded that his big brother had changed his diapers. And, yeah, shoplifted sometimes, but it'd kept his brother's tiny ass in food and clothes. There were times Dean was positive Sam wished he had sprung into existence at eighteen, registering for classes at Stanford.
Sam spoke, startling him. "So tell me about the motel."
Dean grinned and gunned the engine. "You might recognize it."
He turned off I-40 and drove south on Navajo Boulevard for a couple of miles before negotiating a right turn onto Hopi Road. Dean glanced over at Sam as the motel came into view. The look on his face was priceless.
"Holy crap, Dean. Tee-pees? Cement tee-pees?"
"The Wig-Wam Motel. Remember?"
"Do I ever. We stayed toward the back right, in the corner. The train ran right behind it. We would count cars, and wave at the engineers."
Dean pulled into the parking lot. "You loved this place. We had to play Cowboys and Indians every single day."
Sam groaned. "Maybe they'll be booked."
"What? The Vacancy sign is lit. I'll even ask for a 'Wam in the corner."
"It's embarrassing. And the kitsch might rub off on the car."
"Never. We'll get a room in Winslow tomorrow, but I've been driving all day." Dean got out of the car and stretched. "Let's get a cone of our own."
Two days later, they were staking out the house of a shaman. In the desert. During the day. The heat was unbelievable, sucking the life out of the landscape and leaching the color from everything Dean could see. The world was brown, yellow, and gray. Looking away from the small group of houses below them and back toward the desert, it was easy to believe they were hundreds of miles from civilization, instead of fifteen miles southwest of Winslow.
"And people move here why, again?"
Sam snorted, made a face, and took another gulp of water before answering. "No pollen." He adjusted one arm to bring it back into the shade.
"And dying of heatstroke is so much more attractive. Geez, Sam. It's only ten o'clock in the morning. We'll die out here long before the guy gets back." Dean heard a ping from the Impala and cranked his head around to inspect it. "My girl is suffering. She wasn't meant for heat like this."
Sam lowered the binoculars and cut his eyes toward Dean. "Will you stop worrying about the car for once?"
"Blasphemer." This time the noise was more of a hiss. "What the hell was that?" Dean got up and popped the hood. "Talk to me, sweetheart, tell me where it hurts," he cooed. "Was Sammy mean to you again?" Everything in the engine compartment looked as fine as precision car parts could look when they were almost glowing with heat. Dean stepped back to check the exterior of the car. "God damn it. We have a flat." He looked at Sam, who was still intent on the riverbed and the house below them. "I have to change the tire, Sam." He waited a beat. "No need to offer to help, I'm good. And the spare's fine. I filled it with pie yesterday." He grinned and flicked a pebble at Sam's head, laughing when Sam jumped and slapped at the back of his neck. "Sam, changing tire here. Tell me when you see something."
Sam raised a single finger in his direction, mopped his face, and turned back to surveillance.
Dean had enough time to loosen the lug nuts and jack up the car before Sam hissed, "He's here."
Dean was next to Sam in a heartbeat, binoculars up. "There you are, Mr. John Smith. Okay, like we discussed. You to the right and the front door. Knock. I'll take the back."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Dean, I'm not an eight-year-old. I'm twenty-three. I remember the plan." He stood and began angling down the slope, two fingers circling to the left, then pointing up.
Maybe the kid remembered more than he let on. Dean had taught him signals years ago. Dropping down the side of the arroyo, he flanked Sam as he approached the front of the house. Dean angled toward the back, ducking past the windows, and stood by the back door. When he heard Sam knock at the front, Dean pressed his ear to the inset glass. He counted to ten and heard Sam knock again.
"Hello? Is someone home? I need some help."
Dean heard a rustle and footsteps moving away from him but waited to reach for the door handle until he heard Sam say loudly, "I'm sorry to bother you, but I could use your help."
The knob turned easily in his hand, the door latch opening in almost perfect silence. Dean, too, moved in silence, easing himself into the kitchen, and catfooted toward the front door. The shaman muttered something in reply to Sam, and then Dean was pulling him away from the door and pressing the Colt's muzzle under the man's ear.
"Don't move. Don't talk. Don't even think. No spell work." Dean looked down. The guy had one hand shoved deep into his pocket. Holding his gun in place, Dean grabbed the man's arm and yanked. "What have you got, freak?"
After Sam had stepped fully into the house and kicked the door closed behind him, Dean jerked his chin toward the man's hand. "John-boy here has something. Don't know what he was doing with it."
Sam trained his gun at a point between Smith's eyes and used his free hand to twist the man's wrist. When the shaman tried to jerk back, Sam smiled grimly. "I'm going to get that one way or another. Either let go, or I'll break each one of your fingers. Your choice."
The threat worked, mostly because Smith couldn't see Dean smiling at Sam's bravado. The man dropped a small leather bag to the floor.
Sam secured his gun and bent to pull a roll of duct tape out of his duffel. Ripping off a piece, he slapped it over the shaman's mouth, and pushed the man onto a chair before binding his hands and attaching him to the chair with several twists of tape.
Seated, bound, and gagged, the shaman jerked against the restraints, bouncing the chair an inch across the floor. Dean pushed his knee with one foot. "Hold still, John." He looked at Sam. "Let's find what we came here for and get out."
Sam cut his eyes down to the bag. "We should probably check that first." Frowning, he picked up the leather bag with the tips of two fingers, before almost throwing it onto a side table. Dean watched Sam root through his duffel and hold up a pair of tweezers from the first-aid kit.
"It's not going to explode. Just cut it open." Hearing the chair scrape against the floor again, he glared at Smith. "What?" Turning back to Sam, he said, "Probably not going to explode, but Snake Man here seems nervous. Maybe we should just burn it." This time he heard a muffled grunt. "Maybe I should just burn it."
Sam ignored the exchange and fiddled the bag open with a pen before he began cautiously moving the contents around with the tweezers. The man moaned behind the tape as Dean leaned a little closer.
"So what's in there?"
"Bones, teeth, some scales." Sam flipped the leather over. "The bag is made of snakeskin." He selected one large tooth and inspected it. "Got to be a snake, a pit viper. You can see the track for the venom. The bones are probably a snake's, too." His eyebrows went up. He held out something small and faceted and looked at the bound man. "Is this a garnet?" The man shook his head. "No? A ruby?"
Dean kicked the chair leg. "Answer him."
Sam gingerly turned the bones over. "Are these from a rattlesnake?" The shaman's eyes got wide above the gag but he didn't move. Sighing in frustration, Sam stood and pushed the bag away with the tweezers. "We'll burn this before we go. Let's check the house."
After an hour of searching, they had to admit defeat. If this guy was a Hopi sorcerer, he wasn't hiding anything there. They stood in the kitchen, talking in low voices, while keeping a close tab on the bound man in the next room.
Dean started to fidget, picking up and inspecting things on the counters. "We know this guy is hip-deep into whatever is going on around here. What are we missing?"
Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. "He went to the Hopi reservation. He went to the guy's house last night. He was doing a ritual. He used sage and silver. We watched him. It all points to Hopi magic, but if it is, where are the kachinas? Where's anything?"
"He went to work, to the grocery store, to that hippie place. The whatchamacallit."
"Yeah, the ashram near Sedona, and to the target's house. We saw the security footage of him near some of last year's victims." Dean picked up a decorative canister, opened the lid, and sniffed the contents. He screwed up his nose and slapped the lid back on. "We know it's him and we know he's using snakes to kill people."
"The coroners' reports all say the neurotoxin in the venom caused paralysis and death. That should mean a Mojave rattlesnake. It's the only pit viper in Arizona with that kind of venom. But Smith's reaction says it isn't. We have the lore, but every time we find something, it doesn't fit. A red gemstone in Arizona should be a garnet. The guy says it's a ruby." Sam groaned. "We've got to do more research. No way this is Hopi magic."
They both turned their heads at a noise from the front room. The man had bounced the chair again, but otherwise, the house was still.
"We need to talk to him." Dean turned to walk into the living room, when the door in front of him slammed closed, surprising him into a step backward. "What the hell?" He tried the door. "You stay here and keep trying. I'll go around front."
"Just keep trying the door!" Dean hared around the house and found the front door standing open. A rustling noise on the far side of the house brought him up short.
"Sam! Come around the front!" Backing away from the house, he drew his gun and swiveled his head, scanning the area. Movement inside the house brought his eyes back to the open door. "Sam! Where are you?"
Sam appeared in the doorway. "Come here."
"I need to recon. Now that Smith's loose, he's probably cooking up some kind of spell."
"He didn't get loose. He's still in the chair. Just come inside, Dean, now."
Dean felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. If the noise he heard wasn't the shaman— He reached the front door in several running jumps, then turned and checked the front yard. "Think there's a snake," he gulped in some air, "here?" When Sam didn't answer, Dean joined him to stand in front of the bound man. Sam pointed at Smith's arm where a bite was oozing blood and clear bile.
Dean ripped the tape off the man's mouth. "What happened? What got in here?"
"What kind of snake did this?"
Smith's eyes slid from Dean to Sam. His mouth opened, but he couldn't seem to get enough breath to answer. In what looked like a superhuman effort, the man whispered, "Nāga. Nāga was here." Veins were beginning to stand out from the man's neck, his eyes starting to bulge from their sockets.
Dean glanced at his brother. "Is there anything we can do? Call 911?" Looking back at Smith, he breathed out. "I think it's too late."
Sam checked for a pulse and nodded.
Dean took a few steps back. "How can he be dead so fast? I thought it took longer than three minutes?"
"I don't know. And what's a nāga?"
Dean grabbed a couple of dishtowels from the kitchen. "Hell if I know. We need to wipe this place down before we leave. I'll untie him. You start on the other rooms. And don't forget the back door."
As they left the house to climb back to the Impala, Dean said, "I still have to change the tire. Don't let some snake bite me."
"I'll cover you." Sam suddenly looked up. "Did you say something about pie earlier?"