"Ok, so what have you got?" Dean asked, eyeing the waitress as she retreated from their table. He wasn't subtle about it; he craned his neck to get a better view of her behind as she tossed him a sly look over her shoulder.
"Dude, pay attention if you're gonna ask me something!"
Dean reluctantly turned back. "Sorry...go ahead, Brother Samuel."
Sam sighed with irritation and continued. "Fourth death in two weeks in this 'Blackvale Wood'. This time it was a surveyor. They found him with all his equipment, wallet, everything intact. Except he was pretty much stomped into a stain in the dirt. They're saying it was hooves and horns. -antlers, I mean. Those old oak woods are full of whitetail deer, but bucks are really only dangerous during the rut, and that's over. They've all shed their antlers months ago."
"Maybe one of'em didn't get the memo, or still wants to get him some. I'd keep my antlers on if it meant some tail." Dean offered, grinning stupidly.
Sam rolled his eyes. "Doesn't work that way in nature, Dean. You're the only animal who's permanently in rut. Anyway, as I was saying...the other three were done in by the same way. There were a couple of witnesses; a kid, and some geologist. Both of them said it looked like a huge, black buck that came out of nowhere, and...wait, this is weird; the kid said he saw red eyes-"
Dean was telegraphing his bad intentions to the waitress again. Sam kicked his shin.
"Cripes, Dean! Would you hose yourself down before you hump the furniture? I'm trying to talk to you here!"
Dean glowered at him. "Fine; just quit being so freaking boring then." His attention was diverted by the breakfast that was set in front of them. Luckily it was the busboy this time. "So guys are getting stomped and gored to death in the magical forest by a monster stag with glowing red eyes. Yeah...I guess that qualifies as a job. Where is this forest anyway?"
"Right here in Vermont, about forty miles south. Closest town seems to be...uh... Wendover."
"Wendover? Are you serious? Gotta be a limerick in there...Wendover. Hey! Don't bend over in Wendover!"
"That's not a limerick, and you're an idiot."
"Bite me! I wasn't finished. God you're crabby today. You know what you need?"
Sam put his fork down with a withering look at his brother. "Let me guess; to get drunk, or get laid."
"No, a kick in the ass; but the other two wouldn't hurt you either!"
They ate the rest of their breakfast in moody silence.
Back in the car, Dean complained, "Aw, man...I hate going into the woods. Why can't we ever get jobs that are on resorts or something?"
It was true, he was hardly a wilderness enthusiast. Where Sam saw beauty and nature and the scent of renewal; Dean saw damp darkness, bugs and the stink of decay. Their perspectives were polar opposites, as always. Sam was busy mapquesting Wendover. "Ok, take this road further west until highway 43, then right on it, stay on for about half an hour, then left on County road 17. Then that just goes straight into the downtown. Got that?"
"Yeah, I think I can manage. See what lore you can dig up about a forest demon, or spirit. That oughta keep you outa my face for a while."
Sam shot him a look but searched anyway. As he did so, Dean was mouthing words to himself with a little grin.
"What?" Sam finally demanded.
"Nuthin." he smiled smugly.
"You're still trying, aren't you?-to think of something with Wendover in it. I can hear the gears grinding."
Ignoring the jibe, Dean smiled and recited his masterpiece. "A sasquatch who thought he had class...told his brother to quit being crass. When they got to Wendover, Big bro bent him over, And gave him a boot in the ass."
Sam punched him, but laughed despite himself. "Wow. Good one." he snorted.
They found themselves some typical cheap digs on the outskirts. Once they'd settled in, Sam looked over his research. "Well, it hardly narrows it down. There's hundreds of deities and spirits that are linked with forest, just about every culture has one. Some are protective, some are there because they were banished, some male, female...animals, animal crosses; you name it. We're going to have to find some specifics."
Dean kicked off his boots and sat back on his bed. "Well, we already heard about a stag, and red eyes. Does that cut any out?"
"I suppose that would eliminate the female deities, if it was actually a buck. I think only caribou females have antlers; no other deer females grow them."
"Why do you have crap like that clogging your brain?" Dean marvelled.
Sam ignored him and continued. "The stag has all kinds of associations. Christ, for one. He was supposed to turn up as a white stag every now and then. And the Celts had Cernunnos; he was a forest god with a man's body and stag's antlers. Same with Herne, he was English. Stories have him as both a good guy and a bad guy. Um...there's one from India that appeared as a golden stag to his mate, but he had nothing to do with protecting a forest."
"Huh. Well I'm pretty sure it ain't Jesus that's stomping people into the dirt in Vermont. But those other two; Cern-whatever and Herne...they sound more likely. I still don't get why they'd be in an American forest, but the this Blackvale Wood's obviously got some issue, and something has decided to protect it."
Sam grunted a response. "You're probably right about Blackvale. We should nose around, try to find out what the problem could be."
"Mmm hmm. And maybe we should talk to the two who actually saw it, too. If we can get a better idea of what the thing looks like, we can narrow it down that way. What do you want to be this time? Rangers or something?"
Sam thought for a minute. "How about environmental consultants or something like that? You know; here to check up on wildlife numbers and stuff. We won't need fake badges then."
"Sure, whatever. Rocky and Bullwinkle; environmental consultants to the stars."
Sam snorted a laugh."Yeah, maybe some different names, though."
After some sniffing around, they learned the addresses of the two witnesses. They were reluctant at first to drag the poor kid into it; if he'd witnessed a violent death, the last thing he needed was a couple of strangers reminding him of the whole thing. But upon further digging, they learned that he'd simply been ducking school, and had gone into the woods and seen the creature. Not too traumatic, so they felt comfortable in grilling him about it. It was Dean who managed to wheedle the description out of the kid. He returned to the car, and filled Sam in. "Deer head, big antlers...a cape or something, and glowing red eyes. Sounds like he was hopped up on skittles and read too many comic books." he snorted.
"Maybe. But it's a start. If the geologist guy can corroborate that, we're on to something."
"Yeah-" Dean said, "That one will be tricky...maybe you should do it. He lost his girlfriend to it, when he went into the woods to do some core samples for some builder or something. He'll need some handling."
Sam understood. The man would need someone that was a little more sensitive than Dean was capable of.
A few hours later, Sam had met with the poor man. His story matched, and he'd added the ugly description of having to watch the thing maul his companion. But he had helped them further by recommending they speak to a local woman, one Hedda Baldwin; who apparently knew more about the Blackvale than anyone. "She's some old lady who lives in a cabin there. She's supposed to be the one to talk to; her family has always lived in or near those woods."
"Ok, then." Dean said, revving up the Impala, "Just tell me where."
Hedda Baldwin was best described as eccentric. Dean would have been more inclined to use the term nutcase. She was impossible to age; she could have been anywhere from sixty to a hundred, as far as they could tell. She lived in a tidy old hewn-log cabin, with out-house and well with hand-pump no less. Rustic didn't cover it. Feisty and independent, she eyed her visitors calmly as they professed to be consultants with a few questions.
"Ma'am, we're from...um...Green Day Environmental Consulting group. We're trying to learn more about the age and importance of the Blackvale Wood. We believe it's an irreplaceable part of the greater ecosystem, and it may be under some pressure. We were told that you're the one to speak to, as the resident expert on these woods." Sam tried.
She eyed him smugly. "Too late. Those greedy bastards won't be getting my land now, and the Blackvale's safe. I Could've used you before, but I got protection now." She swept the porch as they spoke, forcing them further and further back with her broom. They exchanged glances.
"Protection?" Sam asked.
"That's right. I probably shouldn't say anything; my grandaughter says it makes me sound daft. But I've got the stone mask, you see. My old dad brought it back here with him in '63; he used to be the gardener in the Windsor Vicarage. It sat in the flower bed for years. They had promised it to him, you know, when he retired; but they put it in the church museum instead. So he pinched it when he came over. Funny how things work out... I had it for years, but only learned the how and why of it now. So I used it, I conjured Him up. Now he protects those woods. We don't need you now, me and the Blackvale; so you'd best be off finding something else to save." She wasted no more time on them, she swept them down the steps, like so much litter, then turned and shut the door. They looked at each other, not quite sure what to do next.
"Mask? Conjured? What the hell was that all about?" Dean scowled.
Sam shook his head. "I don't know. That was either alot of useful info, or she's lost her marbles. But it sounds like she knows something about the spirit or whatever is in those woods. Sounds to me like she might be involved somehow in bringing it here." He went back to the door and knocked. "Mrs. Baldwin? Hedda...?"
Her voice answered from within the house. "You boys had best be on your way. Beowulf's coming round now-"
"Beowulf?" they asked each other. That little riddle solved itself with the snarl of a huge dog that came tearing around the side of the cabin. Wisely, the brothers sprinted to the car.
They returned to their motel, for a break. Dean cracked two beers and sat on the bed. "Ok; we got a stag-horned guy with a hood and cape...red eyes...something about a mask; who protects the forest. See if that adds up to anything."
Sam searched using the new parameters. Within minutes he had it. "It's Herne. Gotta be. And here, listen to this; there's a whole bit about the mask she was talking about!" He read the passage. "In 1487 the last Keeper of Windsor Great Park (and therefore a successor of Herne himself), one William Evingdon donated a building to the parish of Windsor, "for the good of his soul". This property was opposite the parish church on Windsor High Street, and it became the vicarage. About 450 years later in the early 1930s the vicarage was moved to Park Street, and during the move workmen dug up a strange object. It was a carved stone head of something not quite human. It had the face of a man, including a moustache, but the ears and antlers of a stag. The eyes were deepset and fierce. There were many theories as to its origin. It may have been part of a gargoyle or some other grotesque church ornament, and indeed it has been described as looking something like the carved stone Green Man faces which decorate many churches. Some suggested that it had last belonged to William Evingdon, and that it was passed on from Keeper to Keeper as some kind of tradition, or symbol of office. It became known as The Mask of Herne. It seems to have been left in the vicarage garden on Park Street until after the 2nd World War when the property was sold and the mask placed in the church museum, where it remained until 1963 when it was stolen."
"No shit!" Dean exclaimed. "So all her babbling was true. And she figured out how to use it to bring it here to guard her woods from whoever's after them."
"Yeah, but I don't know how she did it, or where she got the knowledge. But Dean, if she did bring Herne here she's got a tiger by the tail. This deity is volatile, from what I see here. If she thinks she can control it, she's going to find out it has no master."
"Yeah, and it doesn't have any problem with spilling blood, apparently." Dean downed his beer and got himself another. "Well...guess we'd better give Bobby a call. He must have something in one of those moldy books about corralling this thing."
"You know; I should start charging for my services!" Bobby teased.
"Did you figure out what we need to trap it, or not?" Dean demanded impatiently.
"Easy! Mind your manners. You realize how much work this was, don't you?"
"Yeah, yeah; you're a freaking saint, we'd be toast without you, you're brilliant and how-can-we-ever-repay-you, blah blah blah. Happy now?"
"That, and a two-four will do. Now write this down; For starters, remember; this is from old English sources, so I don't know if we can substitute. You need this: One casket, made of yew wood. Line it with copper. Spread pine-tar over the box edge; it's aromatic, and it'll seal the box. Add sphagnum; that's your typical soft, green moss,...uh... Acorns from the oldest white oak... Are you getting all this?"
"Yeah, what else?"
"Juniper berries, the spoor of a doe in estrus, and a gold offering."
Dean wrote down the list. "What the hell is spoor of a doe in estrus?"
Bobby cleared his throat. "Horny female deer piss."
"What? Aw gross, you gotta be kidding me! How the hell am I gonna find that? Assuming I even wanted to?"
Bobby chuckled. "Don't panic, Dean. Believe it or not, that's the easy one. All you have to do is find a hunting supply shop. They carry it in bottles as an attractant. Juniper berries grow on your typical low, spreading evergreen ornamental shrub; they're sort of dark purple, or blue. You're just as likely to find it in somebody's foundation planting as in your woods. Let's see...Pine tar; same thing as pine sap. Scrape it off a tree where it's been cut or lost a branch. Moss is easy, it'll be everywhere. The acorns; well, just find out where the biggest, oldest oak tree is, and collect some from it. Copper you'll have to figure out. You could try a craft supply store or a salvage place, or maybe a building supply store. And yew wood; I dunno. It's an evergreen; maybe a spruce or pine box will do. Or cedar...Otherwise, try a woodworker supply place, they might have exotic woods."
"Bobby, we're in BF Nowhere. There won't be all these specialty shops."
"Well then either try to substitute, or go to where you might find it...it's up to you."
Dean sighed as he looked over his list. Gold...like they could afford to be throwing that around. "Ok; what about some kind of protection?"
"According to this, you wear a sprig of Nightshade on you. It's a poisonous plant; you know it as belladonna, and you can find it pretty much everywhere. Plant-eaters, and apparently Herne, avoid it. Look it up; it should be growing in that area. If you can find it, put some in your pocket. That should keep it at a safe distance."
"Mmm. Hope so...I've heard what that thing can do when it gets close up. So we load all this crap in the box...and then what?"
"Place it, open, at the base of that same massive oak. The forest god will find that combination of stuff irresistible. It says here it'll come out of the wood, become a spirit form and enter the box. Then you shut it securely."
"Just like that; shut the box and it's trapped?"
"So it says."
"Well, then what? What do we do with the box?"
"Lock it and bury it at the base of the tree, deep as you can. And that's it."
Dean frowned. "Well...wish us luck. And thanks for all your help again."
"No problem...and Dean?"
"Hey, as always."
Bobby murmured something Dean didn't catch, and said a gruff goodbye.
"Here; a shopping list from hell." Dean handed it to Sam, who went over it.
"Ok, there's some weird shit here."
"Bobby says the doe spoor is deer piss, and we can get it at a hunting supplier. About half this stuff is going to need a trip, and the other half means going into the woods. You wanna flip for it?"
"Ok, you first."
Dean rooted around a pocket, and found a quarter. "Right; heads it's shopping, tails, the woods." He flipped it. "Crap. Figures!"
It was tails.