Authors: Jeff Mariotte
long minutes. Juliet stayed by the window, unable to look away. Tears ran down her cheeks, snot bubbled from her nose.
Finally, the animal emerged from behind the Jeep, its muzzle again slathered in red. It looked up at her in her window, blinked twice. She had the distinct sensation that it was just biding its time, toying with her.
It knows exactly where I am
, she thought.
It knows . .
The sound of gunfire helped Sam and Dean fi nd Harmon Baird. The coyote had apparently led him on a chase through the forest parallel to the town’s eastern edge, instead of right into Cedar Wells. The animal’s tracks in the hard snow had been obliterated by the path that Harmon Baird had cut, so they knew which direction to take.
When they heard the loud cracks of rifl e shots echoing toward them, Sam and Dean glanced at each other and picked up the pace. In spite of his injury and the fact that he had sustained it by running headlong through these same woods, Sam raced alongside his brother, the sawed-off once again ready in his hands.
A few minutes later they spotted Baird himself, prone on the forest floor behind a big fallen tree trunk. He had his rifle propped on the trunk and was sighting down its length when a shot fi red from Witch’s
off in the distance spat tree bits all around him. He ducked, belatedly, and swore.
Sam and Dean threw themselves down behind the tree on either side of him. Another slug chewed into the trunk. Acrid gray smoke hung in the air around them. A shaft of sunlight sliced between the pines onto the fallen log, and tendrils of steam rose where it touched down.
“Who’s shooting at you?” Dean asked. He put his own shotgun barrel over the tree, looking for someone to aim at. Sam’s wouldn’t be much good unless whoever was shooting at them came a lot closer, but he drew the Glock semiautomatic he carried.
“That coyote was meeting up with some others,” Baird said. “I saw an Indian and a couple of soldiers.
The coyote changed into an eagle and fl ew around them a few times, then took off toward town. I tried to shoot it on the wing, but I missed and then those others pinned me down here.”
Sam raised his head to see the attackers, but they must have been watching because he heard a shot and ducked just in time to miss having wood and bark chips fl y into his eyes.
“We’ve got to flank them,” he said. “Before they fl ank us.”
“Works for me,” Dean agreed. “I go right, you go left. Harmon, you stay here and keep them fi ring at you.”
“Sure,” Baird said. “I’ve lived plenty long enough anyway, right? Outlived my usefulness, haven’t I?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Dean replied, a sharp 224 SUPERNATURAL
edge in his voice. “I just don’t think you’ll be as quick or quiet as we are.”
“I’ve hunted these woods for more’n eighty years,” Baird argued. “Know every tree and twig. I think I can be as quiet as the next guy.”
“Look, we’re wasting time,” Sam said. And the snow on the ground was seeping through his clothes, cold and uncomfortable. “Dean’s right, we have to be the ones to go. You keep your head down and shoot in their direction every once in a while. If you can take one of them out, it’ll help our chances.” He and Dean rose to crouches and took off in their respective directions. As he went, Sam could hear Baird mumbling, “Taking orders from a jasper young enough to be my great-grandson. Why, I remember . . .”
Sam darted from the cover of the downed trunk to a bushy pine. From there he’d have to cross a relatively open space to the next tree substantial enough to offer protection. There were a few scraggly bushes in between, so he ran low, hoping they would shield him from view.
They didn’t. A bullet whipped through the branches of one, six inches behind him. He threw himself down and belly-crawled the rest of the way to the next big fi r.
Stopping there, he peered through the trees, hoping to see where the men—or spirits, or whatever they were—hid. He knew they would be phasing in and out, but figured they probably couldn’t shoot unless they were in material form.
Another volley sounded, and Sam saw muzzle flashes ahead and to his right, amid another rock outcropping. These shots seemed to be aimed at Baird’s position, and Baird had fired back—Sam saw his bullet chip the gray rock.
He was pretty close, then. He hoped Dean was closing in on the far side of them. Getting the three assailants in a cross fire would be their best bet.
Keeping his gaze glued to the rocks, he raced at a steady, uncomfortable crouch to another bushy pine, then darted toward a limestone boulder of his own. Hunkered behind it, he holstered the Glock again. He was almost in shotgun range, and his rock salt shells would do more of the kind of damage he needed done.
Sam took a deep breath, preparing himself to charge the unworldly beings. Just before he did, though, in a moment of odd quiet, he heard someone sobbing quietly, close by. He couldn’t tell if it was someone injured or simply terrified, trying not to be overheard.
Attack, or check the crying person?
The last time he’d heard someone crying in the woods, it had been Juliet, the widow. He decided he should check fast. He didn’t want whoever it was trying to make a run for it and stumbling right into a fi refight. He stepped carefully through the brush and around a tree, and he saw, curled into a ball with his face in the snow and his butt in the air, a small, terrified boy, his skinny shoulders spasming with each sob.
“Hey,” Sam said softly. “You need to sit tight here for another couple of minutes and everything will be okay. All right?”
The kid gave no indication of having heard him. If anything, his crying got louder.
“Are you okay?” Sam asked. “Are you hurt?” This time, the kid moved. He raised his head from his arms. His face had been sliced open down the right side, hairline to chin. Snow rimed his eyebrows.
Under them, big blue eyes met Sam’s gaze.
“We’ll get you to a doctor right away,” Sam said.
“Just—just stay put for a few more minutes.” The kid didn’t say anything, but he continued to unfold from his fetal position. He was maybe nine years old, Sam guessed. He looked like a poor kid, rural. Probably spent a lot of time in these woods.
Sam wished he’d say something, because the murderous spirits never spoke, and—
The kid jumped to his feet, a nasty, gleaming knife clutched in his little fist, and rushed at him.
Is he real?
Having a breakdown of
some kind, as a result of the injury?
He hadn’t seen the kid flicker out. He didn’t want to be stabbed, but he also didn’t want to shoot an innocent boy.
The boy closed the gap and sliced toward him.
Sam dodged the cut, caught the kid’s arm. The boy did phase out then, leaving Sam with nothing but air in his grip. A moment later the boy reappeared, a couple of steps away, driving the knife blade toward Sam’s kidney.
Sam spun around and lashed out with the shotgun’s butt. It connected with the kid’s jaw, snapping his head back. He still hadn’t made a sound other than breathing and crying—no vocalizations, anyway.
But he came back for more. He didn’t lose his grip on the knife, and he lunged at Sam again. This time Sam lowered the sawed-off’s barrels and squeezed a trigger. The gun roared and rock salt shredded the little boy.
A second later every trace of the kid was gone.
Gunfire sounded behind Sam, by the big rocks. Dean, he guessed, had engaged the enemy—and he wasn’t there to back him up.
Dean crouched behind a thick-trunked ponderosa pine. He wished now that he’d brought a decent hunting rifle, like a 30.06—or maybe a bazooka—instead of the shotgun. He hadn’t anticipated a full-on fi refight, though, and anyway, it was rock salt that killed the spooks, not lead. If you didn’t count Baird’s dumdums, which he refused to do.
Not that he minded. A good gunfight could be nearly as cathartic as a no-holds-barred brawl. At the moment, however, he was worried about Sam, who hadn’t shown up to carry his part of the fi ght.
He wouldn’t be able to check on Sam until the bad guys were down. He swung the barrel of the Remington around the tree and fi red a blast at the rocks, then ducked back again. He wished the spirits would 228 SUPERNATURAL
say something—their preternatural silence was one of the creepiest things about them, and if they screamed or cried out, at least he’d know he’d hit something.
With his back against the tree, he felt the impact of a bullet
into its trunk. Just one, though, not the two or three that had come before. He took that as a good sign. Counting to three, he pushed himself upright and swung around the other side of the tree, his head and the shotgun at a different height than before. This time he could see one of his opponents, a blond soldier with no hat on, lifting his Winchester ’73 to fire. Dean squeezed off another shot and waited around to see the spray of rock salt turn the soldier’s face into hamburger a moment before he vanished altogether.
All clear, then? He ducked partway behind the tree and reloaded, watching the rocks as he did.
Something moved there, a flash of blue serge. The older soldier, he thought, a captain, still hid among the rocks. If the soldier didn’t show himself soon, he would have to find a new position from which to shoot.
And he had to hope that while he was moving, old man Baird didn’t mistake him for one of the bad guys.
Dean was waiting, watching the rocks, reloaded shotgun at the ready, when he heard the rapid fl utter of wings and a rush of air. He looked up just in time to see an eagle stooping toward him, talons extended, beak open in a soundless screech. He threw his left arm into the air to fend off the bird’s approach, but Witch’s
the eagle dug one clawed foot into the sleeve of his coat and pecked at his face. The bill, razor-sharp, bit into his cheek.
“Damn it!” Dean cried, swatting at the thing with the shotgun. “Get off me, you freakin’ bag of feathers!” The beak shot toward him again, aiming for an eye this time. Dean spun around, dropped the shotgun and caught the beast by its legs, then hauled off and dashed its head against the pine tree trunk. The third time he hit it, the eagle’s left eye popped out of its socket and its skull fractured. Just when Dean was struck by the horrible certainty that this was a real bird, not some magical construct, it vanished from his grip, leaving his hand empty.
He heard a gunshot—not directed at him, and not the crack of a Winchester, but the duller boom of the sawed-off—and snatched up his shotgun again.
He had been in some strange fi ghts, but this one was shaping up as among the oddest. At least it sounded like Sam was back in it.
Risking a glance around the tree, he could still see the smallest bit of the soldier through a tiny gap in the rocks. No sign of Sam. If he fired from here, only a few grains of rock salt would likely pass through that gap. But the soldier could stick his gun barrel out at any time and have a reasonable shot at him.
He had to get closer.
He scanned the sky, hoping no more birds would swoop down on him. Seeing none—the gunfi ght had even scared off the real ravens, which seemed as common in these parts as pigeons in Chicago or 230 SUPERNATURAL
New York—he ran at an ungainly crouch toward the rocks.
Don’t shoot me, Harmon!
he thought as he covered the space from his tree.
When he was almost to the rocks, his foot plunged through the snow onto an old branch, which snapped with a resounding crack. At the same instant, though, the soldier fired a round into the distance.
The report from his rifle covered the sound of the branch breaking.
Dean allowed himself a quick peek through the gap. The soldier was in there, aiming into the trees—
they never had to reload, that he could tell—and Dean shoved the barrel of the Remington into the gap and pulled the trigger.
When he looked again, through a cloud of gray smoke, the soldier was gone, the rock hideout empty.
“I’m okay, Dean!” Sam shouted back. “What about you?”
“I’m fine! It’s all clear! Get your ass over here!” The branches across the way parted and Sam came into view. His expression was grim, his cheeks pale despite the cold and the exertion. Whatever he’d been doing instead of engaging the enemies among the rocks, he hadn’t liked doing it.
Dean touched the wound on his cheek, where blood leaked out from under a torn flap of skin.
Makes two of us . .