A/N: Written for the 50states_spn challenge on LiveJournal, where you claim a state, and use something from its culture/customs/legends as part of your story. I claimed my home state of Oregon. Thanks to hillz_85 on LJ for the beta!


Thursday, April 12, 2007

They pulled into Cannon Beach, Oregon on a Thursday, two days after the fourth disappearance. They'd been working a job in Portland when Sam had found the story, a half-column long piece in a local paper. After the brothers had salted and burned the Black Dog they'd been hunting in Washington Park, Dean had decided they were due a hunt by the ocean.

So, Cannon Beach it was. It was almost dark when they'd finally reached town, but Dean felt like he'd still been able to get a good picture of the town. It was the type of small town Dean could have found on the coast anywhere between Canada and Mexico—only one main road, over-expensive seafood restaurants, kitschy gift shops, and a tourist-to-local ratio of at least 5:1.

Sam liked it though. He was watching out the window with the most interest he'd shown since Dean had told him that no, they weren't stopping the hunt just so Sam could go spend all his money in some lame-ass bookstore. It had been an uncomfortable drive after that.

Sam couldn't sulk forever though. Sooner or later he'd get over it, and he'd go back to being his normal, annoying self. In the meantime, Dean didn't mind the silence. Really, he didn't.

"Sammy, you hungry?"

Sam didn't look at him. "Yeah, I guess."

Dean sighed. Sam could probably been a little less enthusiastic about that, but not by much.

"Hey, look, a Pig'n Pancake!"

Sam's eye roll was so exaggerated Dean could practically hear it.

They ended up finding a motel before food, since Sam had shot down Dean's vote for the Pig'n Pancake. The motel was way more expensive than their normal type, and that was with middle of the week prices. It was also correspondingly nicer though, and Dean was looking forward to sleeping in a room that didn't have cigarette burns in the sheets and disturbing growths in the shower that he was sure probably needed to be salted and burned. Still, he knew there was a reason why they avoided tourist trap towns.

Sam was still pissy when they carried their bags into the room, and when Dean suggested food again, he stalked off to find his own dinner. Dean had seen a sign for some kind of organic café on their hunt for a motel, and he figured Sam would disappear there for a while.

Two hours later, after tracking down a satisfactory dinner that was completely and deliciously lacking any tofu or greens, Dean was sprawled out on the bed closest to the door, Sam's laptop resting on his stomach. Sam himself wasn't back yet, and Dean was one more fruitless Google search away from being the one-man search party to go find him.

He typed in another set of keywords and stared at the completely useless top twenty-five results. Dean sighed and started scrolling. OK Sam, you've got ten minutes…

It took Dean half-an-hour to find Sam. His brother was in a little second-hand bookstore on the other side of the cluster of shops and restaurants where the organic café was, and when Dean found Sam, his first instinct was to take it as a sign of defiance for Portland. Then Dean saw that Sam was wearing his FBI face as he talked to the guy behind the counter, and he swallowed back his automatic snide comment.

Sam smiled tightly when he saw Dean in the doorway. Tilting his head towards Dean, he told the man, "This is my partner, Agent Townsend. Do you think you could tell him what you just told me?"

"Sure." The bookshop owner was a middle-aged man with graying hair and the early signs of an impressive beer belly. He leaned in closer to Dean as he spoke, elbows propped up on the counter. "See, the police have been looking for some run of the mill reason for all this shit that's been going on, but it's not that simple. You're going to be cool about looking into—alternate—explanations, aren't you?" He looked suspiciously at Dean.

Sam caught Dean's eye, and raised his eyebrows microscopically.

Oh, right. "Definitely. My partner and I are very thorough." The guy still looked skeptical, so Dean added, "We're a regular Mulder and Scully."

Sam had his what? face now, but Dean ignored him. The bookstore guy looked placated though.

"I told all this to the police, but they wouldn't listen."

Dean nodded in encouragement.

"Have you talked to the police yet?"

"We just got to town," Sam said smoothly.

"Right. Okay, so something's been taking those poor people, but it's not a person, it's the Bandage Man." He looked at them like he expected some kind of horrified reaction.

"The Bandage Man?" Dean directed that at Sam, because, really? Sam gave him an apologetic half-shrug.

"The Bandage Man," the owner agreed. "The spirit of a mutilated mill worker who died on the way to the hospital. Now he haunts the road where he died."

"Apparently, he gets his name from the rotting bandages he's wrapped in," Sam added.

"Like a mummy?"

"Nah, the weather's too wet."

Dean thought maybe Sam was forgiving him for Portland, just a little.

"Look, I'm really glad to help you guys, but I need to close up." He glanced out the storefront window at the darkening sky. "I'm not driving around after dark."

"You live out of town?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, Seaside, which means I have to go right through the Bandage Man's territory."

"Right." Sam picked up his notebook from the counter.

"We'll come back later," Dean promised.

He and Sam left through the back door. "So, Bandage Man?" he asked once they were back on the main street.

Sam shrugged. "I dunno. It sounds familiar. I'll do some research."

"Come on Sam, how often do people tell us exactly what we're hunting? It's too easy."

"Talk to the police in the morning?"

"Yeah." Dean felt tired, the kind of bone-deep ache that owned nothing to the all-nighter they'd pulled the day before and the long drive that followed, and everything to the job itself. Sam didn't seem to have noticed though, and that was a small relief. The last thing Dean wanted was a heartfelt inquisition.

He collapsed onto his bed when they got back to the motel, carefully flopping down just close enough to Sam's laptop that it made his brother hiss a curse and lunge to rescue his computer. Small pleasures.

Sam flipped the laptop open. Dean closed his eyes and listened to the soft clicks of Sam learning new things. After a few minutes, there was an over-exaggerated exhale from the other bed.

"Find anything?" Dean asked, not opening his eyes.

Sam sighed again. "Yeah, loads." Dean cracked an eye open. Sam was frowning at the computer screen. "I guess this Bandage Man's a pretty well known urban legend around here. There's ghost stories, 'first hand accounts,' the works."

Dean could understand Sam's frustration. The only thing worse than hunting something there was no lore on was when there was too much, and they were forced to try and separate reality from fiction after decades of retellings and elaborations.

"Most of it goes along with what Sean said—"

"Sean?"

"The guy in the bookstore."

"Ah."

"Anyway, the mill accident victim is the most common variation, but there's another story, that he was a murderer who was shot trying to escape and died somewhere in the woods."

Dean frowned. "Then how did he turn into the mummy?"

"I don't know, man." Sam shut the laptop, setting it on the bedside table. "I'm going to bed." He switched off his light, leaving the room in darkness. For a few minutes there were the sounds of rustling fabric as Sam settled, then quiet as Sam's breathing went deep and slow.

"'Night, Sammy," Dean said into the darkness. Sam grumbled something into his pillow, and Dean smiled, then rolled over, waiting for a sleep he wasn't sure would come.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Police Chief Glass was a striking blonde woman in her early forties. She'd seemed unenthusiastic when they'd introduced themselves, and the minute Sam had mentioned the Bandage Man, she'd gone from apathetic to suspicious.

"Have you been talking to Sean Gilly?" she asked, eyes narrowing.

"He said he'd told you about his…theory?" Sam said.

The wariness didn't go away. "Something like that. Look, I'm not even sure why the Feds are here. There haven't been any signs of foul play, there's no bodies, all we have is a couple of missed appointments and one abandoned truck, with isn't exactly a rarity along the highway. Even if there is something going on here, I can think of a dozen possible causes before ghost story."

Dean exchanged a look with Sam, the "where do we go from here?" one perfected by years of dealing with unwilling authority figures who didn't want to share with the class.

"We're keeping an open mind," Dean said, echoing his words to Sean.

Chief Glass was still frowning slightly, clearly not buying it, but she didn't protest.

Dean gave her his best winning smile. "Do you think you could tell us where you found the truck?"

It had been the most recent disappearance that left the truck behind, and it was still there when the Impala pulled into the turnout behind it, a little orange ticket stuck to its window.

Sam got the EMF meter out of the trunk, and Dean checked the truck. The back window between the bed and the cab was broken, but it was impossible to tell when it had happened. The driver's door was locked, but Dean had wheedled the keys from Chief Glass. He eased the door open and leaned in, carefully avoiding the broken glass scattered across the seat. There was something else too, scraps of something thin and dirty-white that he mistook for torn paper at first glance. Then, as he leaned in closer he realized it was actually cloth.

There was a shrill beeping from behind him, and Dean straightened. Sam was two feet behind him, frowning at the EMF.

"Hey, look what I found." Dean moved out of the way so Sam could turn his frown on the bits of cloth in the cab. "Look like bloodstained bandage to you?"

Sam didn't answer. He was sniffing the air inside the truck, his nose wrinkling. "Do you smell something weird?"

Dean shrugged. "It's been raining."

"No, it's more like something died in here."

Dean groaned, shifting so he could lean back on the hood. "It's looking like crazy Sean might be right, huh."

Sam carefully extricated himself from the truck and joined Dean. "Yeah." He didn't look happy.

"Well, at least we know it's something we can salt 'n burn."

Sam just snorted.

They searched the area around the truck for close to an hour, finding more scraps of bandage caught in the trees around the pullout, and a place where the gravel was scuffed like there'd been a struggle. Dean was the one that found the trail leading into the woods, a slash of broken branches and trampled foliage that went about twenty feet away from the road, then stopped. Dean had the uncomfortable feeling it'd been left by the latest victim. Sam had followed Dean to the trail's dead end, and the warbling of the EMF did nothing to disprove Dean's hunch.

After that, they tried to press deeper into the woods, but it was thick with brambles and low branches, and there was no sign of the supposed Bandage Man or his victim. Then it was time for lunch, and Dean wanted to indulge his sudden craving for clam chowder. Sam had seemed unwilling to leave what was now very probably a crime scene so quickly, but Dean promised they could go back to the bookstore and talk to Sean again after lunch, and Sam had grudgingly agreed that there was nothing else to find there. Also, Dean thought Sam was probably hungrier than he was willing to admit.

By the time they made it back to the bookstore, it was going on one o'clock. There were actual customers in the store this time, a couple loitering by the travel books, and two families with kids parked in the children's section by the back door. Sam and Dean eased past them, headed for the front.

Sean wasn't there. Instead, there was a girl behind the counter. She was pretty, about Dean's age, with long brown hair and pale blue eyes. Dean tried giving her a charming smile, a far more suggestive one than he'd given Chief Glass, but she didn't seem to notice. She smiled at Sam though, a brief flash of teeth and bubblegum pink lip-gloss that was quickly hidden as she dipped her head, hair swinging around to hide her face. Typical. She could probably tell Sam was a book lover. They were probably kindred souls or something.

He let Sam do the introductions. She seemed impressed by the badges, and she quietly introduced herself as Lucy MacMillian when Sam prompted her. She said it was Sean's day off, and Dean was ready to leave right about then. Watching girls shyly flirt with Sam was not something he wanted to prolong.

Sam wasn't finished though. "Has Sean mentioned the disappearances to you? What he thought might be behind it?"

Lucy brightened. "Oh, you mean the Bandage Man? Yeah, I know all about that."

"You do?"

"You're not seriously listening to him about that are you?" Her brow was furrowed now. "I mean, Sean's a great guy, but sometimes I worry about him." The last words were said in a stage whisper. "It's like he's not all there all the time, you know?"

Sam's lips were pressed together in the look of honest concern Dean had never been able to perfect. "We'll be sure to bear that in mind." Dean gave her a friendly nod, and they headed towards the door.

They'd almost reached it when Lucy called them back.

"If you really believe Sean," she said quietly, "there's an old part of Highway 101 where the Bandage Man was first seen, back in the 60's. It's just dead-end asphalt now, but if he's anywhere, it'll be there."

"Thanks," Dean said. "You seem to know a lot about this," he added.

She gave a half embarrassed laugh. "Sean hasn't stopped talking about it for weeks."

Sam smiled at her, and Dean could practically see her melt. "We'll be in touch."

The cloud cover of the morning had finally burned off, and the sun was something close to warm. It was hard for Dean to stay tense here, but he was fighting the desire to relax and kick his heels up. Cannon Beach might be quaint and picturesque, but one of the earliest lessons Dad had drilled into him was to never trust the way something looked, especially if it looked completely harmless.

"Do you want to go back to the police station and talk to Chief Glass about what we found?" Sam had stopped by one of the trails down to the beach and was watching the waves. Dean followed his gaze. Sometime, Dean would like to have a trip to the beach where they could actually go to the beach, instead of having to rush around and do their "saving people, hunting things" routine. Though, if he could choose which beach to go to, it probably wouldn't be one this far north. Even though the sun was out, the wind was bitingly cold, and the only people wearing swimsuits were small children with high metabolisms and stubbornly rigid ideas of what a proper trip to the beach involved.

Dean tore his eyes away from the water and tried to focus on something other than imaginary beach babes. "Or we could find the old highway. See if Lucy really knows as much as she says she does."

The edges of Sam's mouth turned down as he thought about it. "Do you really think we'd find anything during the day though? All the sightings of this thing have been after dark." He shrugged. "Guess it wouldn't hurt to look around now though, get our bearings."

A short stop-off at the visitor's center for directions later, they were headed out of town again. They found the stretch of old highway without too much difficulty—all they had to do was follow the trail of discarded beer cans. It was obvious what the most common use for the old road was now: half make-out-point and half dump. Dean found an impressive collection of potential biohazards, two old TVs, and a stack of decomposing Reader's Guides, but no sign of a murderous mummy ghost. Sam's exasperated shrug from the other end of the pavement was enough to say that he'd found the same amount of nothing as Dean.

By the time they'd finished combing the stretch of road and the woods around it, it was getting late, and Dean did think Sam had had a point about talking to Chief Glass again. They were halfway to the police station when Dean realized the thing he felt had been staring him in the face all day.

"Hey, dude, it's Friday the 13th!"

Sam's head was down, his ridiculous bangs hanging in front of his eyes as he studied the printouts he'd brought along, but out of the corner of his eye, Dean could tell Sam was smiling.

Police Chief Glass didn't look very happy to see them. Dean hadn't really expected her to welcome a couple of Feds with open arms, but her opinion of them seemed even lower than the standard amount of historical rivalry could account for. Dean thought it was probably because they kept bringing up urban legends as plausible theories.

"Was the window broken when you found the car?" Dean asked, trying for the effect Sam had on witnesses, the effect Sam couldn't pull off himself because he'd headed for the men's room almost as soon as they'd got to the station. He'd been gone a while, and Dean could only hope it hadn't been the chowder. He'd liked the chowder. Clearly though, Dean's attempt at Sam-channeling wasn't working, because Glass was still glaring at him with a frozen expression that might have almost passed for polite if it wasn't for the anger in her eyes.

"Yes, the widow was broken. The truck could have been out there all night though. There's a dozen things that could have broken that window. Personally, I wouldn't start looking for ghosts until I'd gone through at least another twenty."

"Really?" Dean jumped at Sam's voice, turning towards him as his brother slid back into his chair.

Glass blinked. "What?"

"If you're so convinced there's a normal explanation for these disappearances, why have you been running searches for cases from the 50's and 60's that match the Bandage Man legend?"

Well, that came out of nowhere. Sam looked pleased with himself though, and Dean suddenly realized exactly why Sam's bathroom break had taken so long and that the route to said bathroom had taken him right by at least three computers. There was hope for Sammy yet.

Glass went pale, then flushed. "Do you know what it would do to the economy around here if this got out?" she hissed. "The only thing this town has is tourism. What do you think would happen if it became news that we've got a vengeful spirit attacking motorists? The last thing we need is people like you two and Sean Gilly making trouble." Her voice was quiet, but the inflection was more than clear.

"I dunno," Dean said, also keeping his voice low, "a real, documentable spirit, you'd get all sorts of new traffic."

"Not the kind we want. We're built out of families and well-off retirees from the Valley, not kooks with night-vision goggles and creepy vans."

"All right then, why don't you tell us what's really going on, and we'll stop it before the creepy vans show up." Sam was leaning forward slightly, every overgrown inch of him radiating honest earnestness. This time, it worked.

It was properly dark by the time they got back to the motel. Once Glass had started talking it didn't take her long to tell them her side of the story, but it had still been several hours and a pizza before they'd made it out of the police station. Most of that time had been trying to keep up the FBI cover. Dean had the sneaking suspicion Glass would stop trusting them fast if she found out the whole truth.

As far as Glass was concerned, Dean thought it was probably a relief for her to actually be able to tell someone about what was happening, even if it turned out she didn't know much more than Sam and Dean did, which wasn't much. All she'd been able to tell them was it'd started about three months earlier. At first, it was just dogs that were let out during the night never to be seen again, then, in the past two months, tourists vanishing without a trace. No evidence, no bodies, no leads, just a whole lot of crying relatives and dead ends.

The motel parking lot still wasn't full, but it was close. The approaching weekend seemed to be doubling the town's population, and Dean was just glad they'd got a room when they did. The prospect of heading back out into the woods wasn't an appealing one, but it wasn't looking like they had any options on this one other than old-fashioned legwork. Dean was lost in thought, pondering the relative dangers of where he could safely leave the Impala, when Sam threw out an arm, startling him to a stop twenty feet from the door.

The front door of the motel room was half-open, hanging loosely on broken hinges. The wood around the lock was splintered too, like the door had been torn open by something inhumanly strong.

Dean pulled his pistol out of his waistband, motioning Sam to stay behind him with his other hand. He closed the gap between him and the door quickly, feeling acutely conscious of how loud Sam's breath was in his ear.

Through the door, the room was pitch dark and quiet. Not that that meant much. He paused to the side of the door for a moment, trying to detect movement, but there was nothing. He kicked the door the rest of the way in, his gun raised. Behind him, there was a rustle of fabric and a click as Sam found the light switch. The room was suddenly far too bright, and Dean bit back a curse.

Then, his vision cleared and he got a good look at the room. "Son of a bitch!"

It had been torn apart, clothes and books scattered across the room, the drawers of the cheap pressboard dresser pulled out and broken on the floor. The sheets had been ripped off the beds, the mattresses slashed and off their bed frames at haphazard angles.

"Wow," Sam said softly. "Think they were looking for something?"

Papers rustled as Sam moved forward. He had his gun out now, but Dean didn't think there was anyone—or anything—still here. He checked the bathroom just to be sure, but the room was empty. He turned back to Sam to find his brother kneeling on the floor, sifting through the papers scattered around him.

"Dean, I can't find Dad's journal." Sam's voice was level, calm, but Dean knew him well enough to tell it was just a cover for growing panic.

Dean shoved his gun back in his waistband and helped him look. They'd left the journal in Sam's bag, which was now disemboweled, its contents strewn around it on the floor. They didn't have many possessions and the room wasn't that big, so it didn't take them long to take inventory. Only two things were missing: the journal and Sam's laptop. Whoever had searched the room had bypassed their weapons and books and gone straight for their most valuable tool and the one thing they had that was irreplaceable.

"Hey." Dean crawled out from under Sam's bed for the third time and sat back on his heels. Sam was holding something up, a scrap of something thin, off-white and mottled with rusty brown stains. "Look what I found."

Dean sniffed the air experimentally. There was a scent of something in the air he'd missed before, an echo of something long dead and putrescent. He's smelled something similar a hundred times before when he'd been standing over an open grave, but he'd become so desensitized to the scent over the years he'd barely noticed it here. Dean guessed from Sam's expression of distaste that he'd figured it out too.

"Oh my God!"

Sam and Dean both jumped and turned towards the door. The motel manager was standing in the ruined doorway, hands over her mouth.

Dean got to his feet. "Have you heard or seen anything weird tonight?"

The woman shook her head. "Not until now. Oh God, I'm going to call the police!" She half-ran back to the office, leaving Sam and Dean standing in the wreckage of their room.

Glass got there ten minutes later. She didn't look happy, an expression Dean was feeling very familiar with, and he gathered she'd been on her way home.

She took one look at the state of the room and the piece of rotting cloth Sam had balanced on the tip of his pen, and told them there was nothing she could do, and they'd better get a new room. The manager, who seemed to have gotten over her earlier hysteria, got them sorted into a room three doors down, and Glass taped off the door of their old room. Then she went home.

The manager vanished back inside after a few minutes of hovering, leaving them alone.

"We've got to get Dad's journal back," Dean said eventually.

Sam ran his fingers though his hair. "But what would a ghost want with a computer and a bunch of old notes? It doesn't make any sense."

"There's a lot of information in the journal—"

"Yeah, if you can read Dad's handwriting."

"—And all of our research is on the laptop."

Sam looked miserable. "I should have kept the journal with us. It wasn't safe to leave it here, and I knew it."

"Look, you couldn't have known," Dean reassured him on instinct. "We'll just have to find this thing, figure out what the hell it wants, gank it, and get our stuff back."

Sam nodded, inhaled raggedly, and got to his feet. "Let's get started then."

Something was wrong with Sam. Dean knew it the minute he started the car and Metallica blared through the speakers, and instead of snapping at him or lunging for the volume control with his outrageously long arms, Sam had just winced and turned towards the window.

Dean turned off the radio. "You okay, Sammy?"

"Yeah."

Dean raised his eyebrows, and Sam took the hint, sighing and adding, "It's just a headache. I'll be fine."

Great, because Sam's headaches were turning out so well lately. "Is this the vision-y or the normal kind?"

Sam had to think about it for a moment, which did nothing to help Dean's sense of unease. "Normal," he said eventually, "I think."

The Impala turned out onto Highway 101, the glare of the headlights painting the trees in sharp contrasts. Dean spared Sam one more worried glance. His brother was leaning against the window, eyes closed and forehead pressed against the glass. He looked in pain, and terribly young, and not for the first time, Dean wished he still had the awesome big-brother powers that used to make everything better.

Sam looked a little better by the time they reached the old highway. There was another car parked there already, its windows steamed up and faint shadows of its occupants silhouetted against the black backdrop of the forest. Dean parked at the opposite end of the asphalt from them.

He'd popped the trunk and was loading a sawn-off with salt rounds by the time Sam shambled over, a bottle of water in one hand. Dean tossed him the shotgun and he caught it easily. His headache didn't seem to be affecting his coordination at least, which made Dean feel a little better.

Dean grabbed his own shotgun and two flashlights, and locked the trunk. There wasn't any sign of a trail into the woods, but there were breaks in the undergrowth. The air felt different under the cover of the trees, spicy and rich, with a hint of something decomposing. It wasn't the rancid stench of the Bandage Man, but a deep, loamy smell that almost reminded Dean of mushrooms. His boots crunched through the fir duff, and behind him he could hear Sam, his footfalls surprisingly quiet for his size.

There was a soft rustle in the branches above them, and Dean tensed, aiming shotgun and flashlight into the canopy. The glare reflected off a pair of pale round eyes and a curved beak, and Sam gave a soft huff of laughter.

They kept walking. Sam pulled the EMF meter out of his pocket, holding it with one hand and keeping his shotgun firmly in the other. He'd had to tuck his flashlight under his arm. They hadn't heard much from the EMF so far, just a few sporadic cheeps. There was something, or had been something, in these woods, but it wasn't close now.

"Hey," Sam said, breaking the silence, "what's that?" He shone his flashlight ahead of them, to where the ground rose sharply up into one of the mountains of the Coastal Hills. There was something there, a dark blob against the hillside Dean thought was a boulder at first glance. Then, as they moved closer, he realized it was the mouth of a cave, nestled between two large rocks.

As they got nearer, the EMF let out a shrill whine, its lights flashing and its needle swinging wildly. The angle of the cave was awkward, and it didn't look entirely natural. He was really hoping burrow wouldn't be a more appropriate word than cave. Dean had to half-climb onto one of the rocks piled by the entrance to get a look inside. Sam took the other side, and the combined glow of their flashlights was enough to illuminate the cave's contents.

Dean's first impression was of a flash of white against dark brown leaves. Then, as Sam gingerly poked at the leaves with his shotgun, he realized that the white was bones, clean, bleached bones, and lots of them, lying nestled in the duff. It only took a quick glance to see they weren't human, and Dean guessed they'd found the missing dogs.

Sam turned away from the cave, shining his light out into the forest. "Did you hear that?"

Dean hadn't heard anything, but he turned his flashlight towards the forest too, the beam illuminating his brother's face for a second. Sam was frowning at the trees, his body a hard, tense line.

"There was a scream—"

Dean's confusion morphed into worry. "Dude, I didn't hear anything."

He could tell Sam was starting to get at little freaked, and that wasn't making Dean feel any better.

Sam took a hesitant step away from the cave, and Dean followed, shifting his grasp on his shotgun.

The smell hit him first, a stench that rolled in like a wave and surrounded them. Dean gagged, trying to breath through his mouth, but the only difference it made was that it coated the back of his throat instead of the inside of his nose. It was same smell from the abandoned truck and their motel room after it'd been trashed, but far, far, worse. It wasn't just a dead smell, because horrible as that would have been, Dean could handled dead. There was a tang of something chemical too, an undercurrent of formaldehyde and something sickly-sweet.

Then, as Dean was still reeling, the cold hit. He raised his shotgun, but it was too late. He felt, rather than saw, something rushing at him. He got off a shot, but what ever it was tore through him undeterred, throwing him backwards against the rocks. For a second, there was just pain as every inch of him that had taken the impact screamed in protest. His head had hit one of the larger boulders hard, and he could feel blood trickling down the back of his neck. He lay there for a second, trying to get his breath back.

Then Sam yelled, his voice coming from somewhere to Dean's right. Dean was back on his feet faster than he would have thought possible a second before, scrabbling for his gun and flashlight.

"Sam?" He found the flashlight and sent its beam swinging in a desperate arc around him.

There wasn't an answer. The forest was quiet except for the sound of Dean's ragged breathing. "SAM!"