Spoilers: Set during season 7, probably between the episodes "Of Grave Importance" and "The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo."
A/N: Written for LJ community Zombi-fic-ation's Zombie Fest 2012.
Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to any Supernatural characters in the story. Written for fun, not profit. Obviously.
Sleep. All sleep was good. But, deep sleep was his best friend. Sam didn't want to lose his sleep again. Ever. Despite their rocky history together. So, when he rolled onto his side, swiping off a trail of saliva on his chin, he stared out at the darkened living room as if owed him reparation.
It took him a moment to get his bearings, to remember that he and Dean were currently squatting in a tiny abandoned shotgun house outside of town. A tiny house without electricity or running water, a small, remembered detail which left him groaning but awake.
"Dean, d'you say somethin'?" Sam frowned and pinched the grit out of his eyes. "Dean?"
Moonlight streamed in through the boarded windows. He found his flashlight quickly enough and cast its beam over the rest of the room. Salt lines. Protection. Duffel bags. Dean's sleeping bag was still rolled up and sitting on the stained crib-sized mattress that Sam had gladly let his brother call dibs on. The oil lamp on the floor was extinguished.
Dean, however, was not in the sparsely furnished room.
Sam slid out the side of his own unzipped bag, pulling free the knife tucked beneath him just as a precaution. He'd already stumbled to his feet before realization struck: Dean had said he was going out. In a particularly foul mood over Sam's lack of enthusiasm with the current lead on Dick Roman, the oldest Winchester had dismissed himself, muttering about the liquor store they'd passed a few miles back.
Sam's frown didn't relent though. Even if Dean had decided to hit the bar instead, his brother was no longer in the habit of staying gone for long or going home with women, especially not since the Leviathan had infiltrated Small Town America, or since his unfortunate encounter with the Amazonian breeder chicks. But, the moon looked as if it were still hanging low outside the window—maybe Dean hadn't been gone long after all.
Sam snatched up the cell phone beside his sleeping bag to check the time and realized why he'd woken up in the first place. He'd had to have been dead to the world not to hear his phone buzzing, but the proof was in the notice across the screen. One new message. From Dean.
It was a text.
That was weird all on its own. Since when did Dean text message instead of leaving voice mail? Sam opened it.
Zombie cows. County Rd. 64. Stop laughing, Sammy! This is srs bzns. No more steaks, no more burgers!
Sam blinked at the words, rereading them. Finally, it processed, and he dropped the phone to his side, staring out at the room again, as if he expected Dean to jump out from the dismal kitchen with a shit-eating "gotcha!" grin on his face. When Dean didn't appear, Sam pulled the phone back up, pressing a button to dial his brother. It went straight to voice mail.
"He's drunk," Sam reasoned. But, even as he said it, he doubted the conclusion. "Or on LSD."
Dean wasn't an easy man to get drunk these days. And while the possibility of drugs, or, hell, even a mental break remained, it was far easier to accept the universal truth of the matter: Winchesters had shitty luck.
Which meant his brother was probably being eaten by killer cows.
It was plastered across the front of the Weekly World News: "Cow Possessed by Flesh Eating Alien Embryos." Dean snorted and picked up a copy, tucking it under one arm. As far as headliners went, it was a step up from the story about the flower eating killer beavers and a step down from Bat Boy. Granted, Sam was still trying to convince him the beavers were really—
Dean made a face, shaking the thought away, because he was fairly certain that conversation was just another moment when Sam had tried to distract him from his mission. Taking down the Leviathan was what was important. Not beavers. And, yeah, most the time Sam seemed on board with that mission, but tonight…Tonight was just one of those nights when their plan-of-actions clashed.
A money trail had led to this rural county, which, conveniently, wasn't too far from a haunting they wanted to check out. But, arriving here, they'd found poor farmland and poorer farmers, closed down businesses, and a few mobile home factories. Not exactly the stuff of evil world domination, but, hey, apparently all empty fields were suspect when it came to the Big Mouths.
Dean had been a little disappointed that the lead that had led them here had dried up before it could point them in a more specific direction.
The bottle of Jim Beam was in his hand before he'd even acknowledged the decision to go with bourbon for this evening's meal. Sam wouldn't be particularly happy about it, obliviously. Dean had been trying to cut back for his brother's sake, but shit…
Dean sighed and picked up an extra bottle to stow away in his duffel. The bell above the liquor store's door rang at the same moment, as if chiding him for the decision. Dean glared up at the entrance.
A man shuffled in, sobbing loudly and wiping snot onto his flannel sleeve. The overhauls beneath the button-up were heavy with mud, dripping a mess onto the welcome mat. The guy's hair was just as filthy—stringy once-blond locks fell into his face, but didn't hide the wrinkled, sun-hardened skin that gave away his over-the-hill age.
Dean did a double take. Usually grown men saved the uncontrollable crying until their sorrows were half-way to drowning.
Dean, always cautious, stepped out from around the aisle just as the store clerk shuffled out from behind the counter.
"Goddamn it, Ricky!" the clerk snapped, his heavy beer gut bouncing as he caught the newcomer by the shoulder, trying to lead him back toward the door. "I told you can't be coming in here when you have one of your…episodes—you're scaring off my customers!"
Dean raised a brow at the otherwise empty store.
Mud-man, Ricky, pulled away from the clerk, his expression hardening. "I ain't having the fits!" he snapped. But, the tears started up again. "It ate my dog—it ate my damn dog, Glenn! The cow—the cow!"
"What? Buzz is dead?"
Ricky grabbed the clerk by the t-shirt, shaking him. "Shit, Glenn, don't you hear me right? The cow ate Buzz!"
"Cows can't eat dogs…Ricky, they can't even bite anybody. They've only got bottom teeth."
Dean was too tired from a day on the road to not listen in on the conversation with rapt curiosity. As soon as the last words out hit him, he had to bite back a chuckle. Seriously? Cow vs. dog? What, did Bessie have enough of getting picked on by el chupacabra? Dean had to cough to cover his laughter. Yup, definitely too tired for this shit.
"God damn it, I know what I saw, and I ain't saying it bit Buzz—I'm sayin' it ate him…What was left of him…" In a shaky voice, Ricky added, "And when I tried to get the remains…when I picked Buzz up, the damned heifer tried to get me, too…I swear to God, lil' Flossie was sick this morning. Fell over dead this evenin'. I was gonna haul her off, but when I came back…Glenn, I swear, that cow got back up and attacked my dog. My dog…"
Dean was suddenly feeling bad about his silent jab, because this was sounding a little more like his kind of problem. But, a cow? Really? He remembered the paper tucked under his arm and rolled his eyes… Obviously the drunk had hit the sauce early, saw the headliner, and let his inner-crazy take hold.
Glenn shook his head, patting Ricky on the back. "Alright then…it's alright, man. You can stay here until you sober up." He shot a glance over his shoulder, catching Dean's eye with an apologetic frown. "I'll ring you up if you're ready, mister."
Dean gave him a curt, silent nod. No apology needed. Insanity, it ain't a thang, dude. And he plopped his goods onto the counter and flicked a small wad of what was left of his spending money in the clerk's direction.
"Sorry about that man," Glenn said in a low voice, leaning over the register so he could whisper. "The dude's my cousin, but he's batshit. Comes over here whenever he has one of his spells because his farm's just across the road."
"No problem," Dean assured. "The night was getting boring, anyhow."
Glenn snorted in agreement.
"You don't believe me…I knew you wouldn't believe…" Ricky muttered, staring down at his manure-caked work boots and lost to the world. "…Nobody's gonna believe me…"
Dean never enjoyed leaving people in distress but helping that guy was outside of his qualifications. He stepped out into the crisp evening air. The meager parking lot was barely lit, and he knew that, if his baby had been parked there, she would have shined like the sun, nevertheless. But the piece of crap he was currently in just sat like a matte pile of metal.
"Friggin' Leviathan," he hissed.
Then he noticed the truck parked beside the "borrowed" vehicle. Faded blue and dirty, it matched its owner, the only other liquor store patron. Dean tossed his bag into the passenger's seat and stole a look back at the store's entry. The door remained shut, so he casually took a few steps closer to the truck, craning his neck to get a look in the bed. Whatever was back there was wrapped in a tarp covered in a suspicious stain of the red and smeared variety.
"Crap," Dean muttered. Because his inner hunter wasn't going to let him drive away before getting a peek beneath the plastic.
Dean lifted the tarp by one corner, and his eyes widened. "…Oh, poor Buzz."
The grass was loose and wet on the earth, and the mud beneath sucked at his boots, each footstep threatening to hold him in place a split second too long. His heel hit the edge of a cow pie, and he slipped, the momentum from the run throwing his legs out from under him. Dean went down hard on his back, knocking the breath out of his lungs and leaving him staring up at a bright, starry sky.
The moon was heavy tonight, the world bright despite the hour, and by the time he scrambled back up, wincing as his bad knee dipped into a wet pile of manure, he could see the chase was still on. The field was sloped to his right, and along that subtle ridge, he could see their huge silhouettes. They huffed and snorted when they spotted their prey, then kicked up dirt with their back legs.
"This isn't happening," Dean assured himself, and gave a breathy, strained gasp as he hopped back up and straight into a run toward the pond at the center of the field. "This isn't friggin' happening."
Gray and skeletal, the tree next to the watering hole stood like a beacon, the highest point for the next hundred yards. It was tilted in the direction of the wind, as if one too many storm seasons had shaped it over the decades.
Dean hit the tree at a sprint, using the sole of his boot to dig into the bark as he leapt up. His fingers clawed into the lowest thick branch, and he swung his legs up, curling them around the limb just as the beast slammed into the trunk of the old ash tree.
The branches popped and whined at the impact, too hollow sounding for comfort and confirming that the ash was, in fact, dead. But, despite the assault, it remained standing, and the limb held his weight.
The hunter pulled himself up into the 'v' of two branches and climbed up another five feet. Muscles trembling, he let out a shaky breath and leaned forward, looking down.
The bull was still there. And, it wasn't alone anymore. Five more of the black and white dairy herd had circled the trunk. But the big guy, his horn-castrated crown stained even darker with slick gore, glared up at Dean with wide, pale yellow-glazed orbs, daring him to come back down and face his wrath.
"Shut the hell up!" Dean shouted back.
Friggin' zombie cows. Friggin' zombie cows and their zombie bull boyfriend had chased him up a tree. Dean I've-face-Satan Winchester had been chased up a god-damned tree. Sam was never going to let him live this down.
"Muuurrrrr," one of the females added.
Dean pulled his Desert Eagle free—because, hell, he'd figured a damned hand-cannon would at least slow down a cow, undead or not—aiming at the cattle as a whole. He cursed under his breath and lowered it again. He'd already played target practice once with the shotgun he'd had to ditch and had quickly realized his mistake—no, his mistake wasn't going into a pseudo-hunt unprepared and after downing half a forty, as that was usual fare. No, his mistake had been not actually believing old Ricky's story completely. Because, come on, cows? Seriously?
"Well, this is new. Even for you, boy."
Dean nearly slipped off his branch at the sound of the voice. He turned, wide-eyed, to find Bobby sitting one spot over, staring down at the small herd gathered beneath them.
Bobby snorted at the bovine nay-sayer and caught Dean's eye. The moonlight cutting through the branches shined through his body, giving him an eerily translucent quality, which fit, considering his spirit status. "What'd you do this time?"
Dean opened and closed his mouth, before deciding to go with outrage over confusion. "I didn't do anything! It's not like I provoked them into raising from the dead."
Bobby cocked a brow and gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Yet, here you are... Not exactly a surprise that you're in the middle of trouble. So, what's the plan?"
Dean rolled his eyes, then leaned back against the tree; it gave a small moan in return, reminding him that such movement wouldn't be tolerated for long.
When he'd grabbed Bobby's old flask out of the trunk of the car, it had been a last minute precaution. Even though, at the time, he'd considered what he was about to do more about gathering intel than actually hunting, he'd never get caught without weapons… And, if it was available, back-up. Dean wasn't sure if bringing the ghost along was a good idea, though—not after the conversation he and Sam had after discovering the beloved hunter had become the hunted.
Dean swallowed down that thought like it was a shot of whiskey; now was not the time.
"How you feeling?" Dean asked.
Bobby frowned. "Dead. But, you know, still better than I was, I guess."
The ghost hesitated. "I guess. Being cooped up in the car hasn't exactly let me stretch my muscles. Why, what you need me to do?"
Dean waved his hand at the sight below, refusing to look down and reaffirm that, yes, those were cows who'd treed him. "I dunno, distract the fifteen-hundred pound zombie waiting to trample me and tongue my intestines?" Dean realized his voice had pitched and took a calming breath. "Just run around, and maybe they'll try to eat you instead. Get them far enough away to give me room to take off back toward the road."
"Don't know how far I can get from the flask, but I'll give it a go."
Dean blinked, and Bobby was gone. A second later, he saw the old hunter reappear right behind the zombie herd, flapping his arms to get their attention. The closest female snorted at him, blowing blood and puss out of her nostrils, but she didn't move an inch.
"Well, hell," Bobby muttered. He raised his hands in frustration and glanced up at Dean. "Looks like they can smell the difference—cows can smell up to six miles, ya know. Guess they can pick the freshies from the deadies."
"Why, thank you for the trivia, Bobby. That's really friggin' helpful. Any more cattle facts you'd like to share with the class?"
Bobby narrowed his gaze. "They each have four stomachs. And, they're each hoping to fill 'em with a bite from your ungrateful ass."
Dean grimaced. "Sorry, Bobby. I'm just a bit—"
"I know, I know. Now, would you call your blame brother for help already—don't wanna spend my whole afterlife in a cow pasture."
"But, come on, Bobby…" Dean realized he was whining but couldn't stop himself. "Sam's not going to let this go. I'm sure I can get out of this without him finding out I was chased by friggin' Mooby—"
"Dean, if you don't pull that phone out right now—"
"Rurrrrrummmph!" the bull interrupted, throwing its shoulder against the base of the tree. Wood splintered off onto the beast's slick fur.
Dean's eyes widened when his chosen limb shook, the tree swaying slightly. "Shit." He fumbled for the phone in his pocket and flipped it open, his face lit with its glow. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me…" he hissed. "Bobby…I don't have a signal out here."
The old hunter shook his head. "Of course you don't. That would be too easy, and you Winchesters don't do easy."
Dean ignored that last part. "I've got an idea—you think you can carry this phone to the hill?"
"I hope so…but the whole spirit thing tends to cause problems with voice messages, if you remember."
"Sure, but you're the only ghost who has Sam's number, so he'll know who the mouth breather on the other end is." Dean smirked at the old man's glare, then cleared his throat. "I'll just type in a text message. You carry the phone as far as you can. Soon as you get a bar, press send."
Dean pressed in a quick message then leaned forward. Bobby gave a curt nod, catching the phone when it was dropped down to him.
The cattle seemed to realize their prey was conspiring against them. Dean would have sworn the closest were communicating with the low choruses of "MuuUuu…uuuUUUuuu…Maaawww…uuuUUUuuu…" Sure, others would toss that up to paranoia, but Dean had seen enough to know better than to underestimate hungry monsters.
"Hey, knock it off down there, Clarabelle," Dean snapped. He craned his neck, noticing another had circled around behind the vocalists. "You, too, Gladys!"
The conspiring cattle continued, two of the cows lining up beside each other and staring up hungrily at the hunter, a thick line of red drool dripping from their gums. Before they could make a move, a third one, a smaller heifer, nudged one of them in the side, breaking their concentration. The fur over its ribs marred, sloughing away at the blow.
In the distance, Dean heard Bobby shout out an affirmation—the text had been sent. But, Dean was too preoccupied with watching the drama below the tree unfold to notice.
The offended cow let out a high pitched note before backing up and smacking the heifer's skull against her own. Blood sprayed her ears as the blow ripped back the cow's nostrils.
Dean made a face as he watched the cow battle unfold. "Oh…that's just…that's just not right…"
The cattle began to turn on one another, excited by the spilled blood, and suddenly Dean got to see just how they killed…As it turned out, Glenn from the liquor store had been right. Cows only had bottom teeth, as far as Dean could see, but that didn't stop the zombies from getting what they wanted…They lunged into one another, the weakest finally tumbling to the ground. As soon as the heifer was down, the stomping began. It was quickly followed by the slurping…And, yeah, way too much tongue was involved.
Dean covered his mouth with one hand, making a gagging noise. When his eyes trailed away from the fight, he noticed that at least one of the cattle hadn't been distracted by its bloodlust. The bull remained in place, watching Dean. Finally, it lowered its head, its constant lowing becoming louder.
Then it charged.
Dean tried to make a grab for the next branch up but moved too slowly. The sound of a sharp snap was his only warning before the trunk split, the sudden lurch tossing him to the ground beside the bull.
Sam made record time reaching the pasture, but, somehow, that didn't ease his nerves as he ran up the gently sloping hill, following the strange, animalistic grunts and the all-too-familiar sound of his brother's voice, spewing curses.
He'd talked the motel manager into driving up the old county road and had found their stolen car parked down a dirt driveway quickly enough. Gathering a duffel full of weaponry, he'd went with what he knew: zombie cows. Cows equaled the old barn further up the drive. Cows equaled the barb-wired fence surrounding the open, sloping field. Over the sound of his own pounding heartbeat, Sam had finally made out the distant noise, what promised to be a commotion, and went on a hunch.
His hunch had been right.
Sam came to a sudden stop, nearly slipping down the dew-wet grass. His brow wrinkled in confusion as he took in the scene beside the leaning tree. A second later, he was breathing out a cloud, the air beside him suddenly cooler. When he spotted Bobby standing at his elbow, he nearly jumped out of his skin.
He covered it with a hard swallow. "What's Dean doing?"
Bobby sighed. "It's been a long night," was his only answer.
Sam frowned at that declaration, but finally decided that, yeah, he should probably get to his brother before he hurt himself.
"How you like it, you son of a bitch! How 'bout somma this—yeah, you like that, shit-for-brains—"
Even with the bright moonlight to help him, it took Sam a moment to realize what exactly was surrounding his brother's hunched form. Corpses. More specifically, cattle remains. Split, gutted, and spilling entrails over the grass beneath the skeletal shadow of the partly standing ash tree. And, there, at center, Dean straddled one of the bodies, bringing his knife down repeatedly on what must have, at one point, been a cow's skull.
"Eat me, huh? No one friggin' tries to eat me! I eat you, you friggin' Angus burger."
"God-damned whopper deluxe—"
Dean paused, pulling his blade free from the wet mess. He glanced up at his brother, startled. Then he smiled, a rather manic expression considering the spray of black and red gore over his face. Even beneath the mess, Sam could see a purple shiner forming around his brother's left eye and stretching up into his hairline.
Sam blinked at the casual greeting. "What…are you doing?"
Dean's chuckle was deep, dangerous. "Oh, just, you know, making ground beef."
"Uh-huh." Sam glanced to his side, where Bobby's spirit was standing and refusing to pipe up. "You sent me a text."
Dean stared blankly at him for a moment. Then, as if a light bulb had suddenly went off in his head, he straightened, standing up off of the cow remains a little sheepishly. His sanity slid back into place. "Oh. Yeah." He cleared his throat. "Thanks, but, I've pretty much got it under control now."
"Sure you do."
Of course, it looked as if Dean were right. If the cattle had been a problem, they certainly weren't now. But how had that happened exactly? Sam spotted the spent Desert Eagle his brother was picking up off the ground and raised a brow. Bobby shook his head, as if reading his mind.
"The cows got frustrated, started to eat each other. Except for that big ol' bull. Dean…" Bobby paused, looking bemused, "Dean took care of that one."
"Better believe I did."
Dean didn't bother trying to knock the thick mud off his knees. Sam took a quick inventory—nope, not a single piece of clothing on his brother's back could be saved, and, even from here, he smelled like manure and decay. Overall, though, he didn't look too badly injured. Still, Dean was moving kind of stiff, and Sam circled around to his side and saw why. The back of his brother's jeans were ripped free…which explained the strip of denim clinging to the broken tree branch beside him.
Sam chewed his jaw to keep his smile hidden. "When I got your message, I figured you were…utterly screwed."
Dean shot him a pointed look. "Bitch, I'll tan your hide."
"Someone's moody." Sam smirked. "Speaking of hides…"
Sam bent to one side, raising a brow at the red boxers peeking out. Dean turned away, hiding his shame.
"Yeah, well, Taurus Bulba tried to have his way with me while you were taking your sweet time getting here."
Sam opened and closed his mouth before catching up. "Did you just make a Darkwing Duck reference?"
Dean glared back, awkwardly making his way up the hill, one hand holding up his pants. "Dude, I was just attacked by zombie cows—I'm not in my right state of mind. And, I don't think our problems are over yet. I'm pretty sure this is a widespread problem. As in, we've got more zombie cows to hunt."
"Seriously? What do you think happened…Hoodoo gone wrong? Some kind of pagan offering?"
"Dude, I'm not saying it was Leviathan, but it was friggin' Leviathan."
Sam chuckled. "Sure. I think we can blame this on them, but what do we do now?"
"The same thing we do every hunt, Sam. We find the sons of bitches, and we kill 'em, that's what. " Aggravated, he glared up at the heavens, then pouted at his brother. "Why the hell does evil shit keep picking on my sandwiches, man? It's not right! Can't a man eat his junk food in peace?... At least they haven't taken my pie yet."
Bobby raised a pitiless brow. "Idjit."
Sam agreed. "You totally just jinxed us."