Authors: Jeff Mariotte
“What about that other one Juliet mentioned?”
“The Trail’s End? Not yet.”
Dean scanned the street. A couple of trucks were parked along the sidewalks, but no people were in evidence. “Have you seen a single human being?”
“Not a one.”
“You don’t think . . .”
“What, we’re too late? Something’s already slaughtered the whole town? If that was the case, I think we’d see bodies, blood in the streets. I think it’s just a small mountain town and people go home early.”
“Okay,” Dean said. “I like that better.” Up ahead, light spilled from a storefront that was set back from the road, with a parking area in front.
Swanson’s High Country Market. Here there were people, including a woman with two kids, pushing a shopping cart toward a green Jeep. “See?” Sam said.
“Nothing sinister. And if we don’t like the Wagon Wheel, we can stock up there.”
“Let’s hope it stays quiet,” Dean said. “I wouldn’t mind if we were wrong for once and there was nothing strange going on at all. It’d be a decent place for a vacation if we didn’t have to worry about people being murdered.”
“That’s what I like about you, Dean,” Sam said.
“Your eternal optimism. Always looking on the sunny side.”
Dean glanced at his brother. He could see the family resemblance, particularly in the shape and sharp-ness of the nose, but Sam’s face was rounder, softer somehow. His brother’s eyes were brown, while Dean’s were green. Longer hair, covering Sam’s ears, curled over his collar and accentuated his youthful looks. Sam was four years younger, though, and had spent that time away at college. Dean supposed that by the time Sam reached twenty-seven—his age—
those dimples and soft lines might harden, become deep crags, from the stress of fighting the denizens of the dark.
If, of course, they both survived that long.
He didn’t like to think about the alternative. But they were soldiers, had been trained since childhood—
almost from birth, in Sam’s case—as soldiers, in a war that didn’t seem to have an end. Soldiers needed to be prepared for death so they could take the nec-Witch’s
essary steps to avoid it. Still, they put themselves in harm’s way, and he, Sam, and their father had done that almost every day since a demon killed their mother when Dean was four, until finally their father died too, a soldier’s death, in battle as he would have wanted. His sons carried on the tradition without him. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The image of their mother’s death haunted him still—Mom, pinned to the ceiling over Sam’s crib, her body consumed by spectral fire. Dad had ordered Dean to carry baby Sammy to safety outside.
From the yard, Dean had watched the fl ames spread, engulfing the whole house in minutes. Dad had escaped, but alone.
Sam had been too young to remember it, too young, really, to know Mom at all. Her death came six months after his birth, to the day. But the same fate had claimed his girlfriend, Jessica Moore, after Sam abandoned Stanford to rejoin the battle at Dean’s side. That one Sam had witnessed.
Sam felt incredible guilt over Jessica’s death, because he had dreamed it during the days before it happened and hadn’t warned her. He couldn’t have known, of course, that the dreams were anything but that. And no warning he could have given would prevented an attack by a demon they had not identifi ed or defeated at that time.
Dean believed that his own guilt had a more solid basis. Their dad had gone missing, and Dean had essentially bullied Sam into leaving Jessica and Stanford to go looking for him. Bringing Sam back into 26 SUPERNATURAL
the game like that, he thought afterward, might have stirred up the demon in some way, and the demon had responded by attacking the woman Sam loved, just as it had attacked their mother.
Dean finally decided there was plenty of blame to go around. The only way to live with it, to go on in spite of the lives they hadn’t been able to save, was to keep up the fight, to save as many as they could and to kick as much supernatural ass as possible.
“There it is!” Sam said, yanking Dean from his memories. “Trail’s End. Your side.” Dean saw the sign now too. One of the spotlights that were supposed to illuminate it had burned out, but he could still make out the monument sign beside the road, with the name painted on in Old West style lettering above a reproduction of that famous painting of a weary Indian sitting on an equally weary horse. A pink neon vacancy sign sputtered just beneath the horse’s tail. That Indian always made him sleepy, which he supposed was the whole point here.
He bit back a yawn and turned into the driveway.
The motel consisted of a dozen or so adobe cottages arrayed in a U shape around the paved drive.
Lights glowed in the office, a pink cottage closest to the street on the left. The other cottages were a natural tan color, with dark doors which had numbers affixed to the walls beside them. An empty pool surrounded by a tall fence dominated the center of the driveway, and a few scraggly plants stood beside the fence. Inside it, weeds broke through the sidewalk, almost to the pool’s edge.
“Think it’s too fancy for us?” he asked. “We can always go back to the roach motel.”
“I didn’t bring a tux,” Sam said. “But I think they’ll let us in.”
Dean brought the car to a stop outside the offi ce.
“Best behavior now,” he warned. “Don’t embarrass me.”
Inside, he had to bang on a countertop bell twice before anyone showed up. A door behind the checkin desk finally opened, and a man who had probably been old during the Eisenhower presidency hobbled in, using an aluminum cane. “Help you boys?” he asked. His hair had long since fled, and the crevasses in his face looked as deep as the canyon the brothers had so recently left.
Dean put a fake ID card on the counter—one of dozens he kept in the Impala’s glove compartment.
“I’m Dean Osbourne,” he said. Giving fake names had become second nature. He identified himself as Dean Winchester so seldom that sometimes he had to ponder for a moment to remember his real name.
magazine. We’re doing an article on the communities around the outside of the national park, focusing on Cedar Wells. Sam Butler here takes the pictures. Got a room we can have for a few days? We’re not sure how long it’ll take, but at least that.”
, eh?” the old man said. He showed them something that might have been a smile, or maybe a leer. Either way, it was terrifying. “Used to read that when I was a boy. Showed boobies.” 28 SUPERNATURAL
“There’s an Internet for that now,” Dean said.
“We’re more interested in local history, legends, and of course the people who make up the community today. You probably know some stories.” The man nodded his oversized, liver-spotted cra-nium. Dean hoped he didn’t unbalance himself and fall over. “Stories? Oh, I know some stories, all right.
Got some good ones too.”
“We’ll definitely get you on tape, then,” Dean promised. He jerked a thumb toward his brother.
“And Sam here will take your picture. He might want you to show your chest, though, so watch out for him.”
The clerk shoved a piece of paper at Dean, with X’s where he was supposed to sign. “Room 9,” he said. “Two beds. TV’s busted, but it has one of those little refrigerators.”
“Sounds perfect,” Sam said, ignoring Dean’s crack about the old man’s chest. He snatched the key as soon as the guy put it on the counter. “Thanks.” Outside, Dean headed for the car, but Sam started across the frozen parking lot, going directly toward the room. “This time, I get first dibs on the beds!” he called over his shoulder. His tone was as icy as the blacktop. Driving over, Dean clicked off the Rush tape. He had Sabbath’s
stuck in his head now, and he hoped there was nothing to that except the names he had given inside the offi ce.
The wail of a siren jerked Dean out of a deep sleep.
Cedar Wells had been so quiet, they might have been Witch’s
camping a hundred miles away from the nearest other humans, instead of sleeping in a motel at the edge of a town. In contrast, the blaring siren was almost deafening.
Dean sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes.
“That’s not good,” Sam said. He slipped out of his bed and started dressing.
“A siren is pretty much always bad news for someone,” Dean agreed. “But we don’t know that it has anything to do with why we’re here.”
“We won’t find out sitting in this room,” Sam reminded him.
“Yeah,” Dean said. He liked his sleep. He especially liked to sleep at night. But that was when the bad things generally came out, so he spent more nights than he liked to think about awake and alert.
Daytimes were for investigation, nighttimes for battle. He had gone to bed hoping this night’s sleep would be without interruption.
Wishful thinking, that’s all.
He threw back the covers and tugged on his jeans.
By the time they made it to the Impala—a gift from Dad, 1967, midnight black, newly rebuilt—the siren had faded into the distance. But they knew the direction it had taken, back the way they’d come, through town and toward the Grand Canyon. A full moon had risen late and now hung low and golden over the treetops behind them.
Dean floored it, and within five minutes they could hear the siren again, outside of town. Another couple of minutes later they could see flashing roof lights 30 SUPERNATURAL
flickering through the trees up ahead. Dean almost missed the turn onto a narrow dirt track, but he braked, reversed, and pulled in behind a white SUV
with coconino county sheriff emblazoned on the side. Two similar SUVs clogged the road ahead of it, with a white and blue paramedics’ van ahead of those. Trees curtained the sides of the road.
Dean and Sam got out of the Impala and hurried to a driveway that led to a big white barn. Fifty feet away stood a small house, a single-story cottage with three wooden steps leading to the front door, peeling paint, and a roof that looked like it might cave in at any moment. Cops milled about with big fl ashlights, beaming them every which way.
A pickup truck was parked in the driveway, and beside it was the body of what must have been a man, probably not too long ago. The driver’s side door of the truck hung open. Blood had spattered up the side of the truck and onto the driver’s seat, and the man’s arm was hooked up over the step, but his throat was gone, along with the bottom half of his face, and something had opened his chest cavity. It looked like whatever had done that had been hunting for tender morsels, but Dean didn’t spend a lot of time counting organs. He glanced long enough to estimate the damage, then looked away, sickened by the sight.
You could see a lot of carnage without ever growing to like it. He had. He was afraid that someday it
bother him, that he would be desensitized to it. He didn’t want that to happen, because the Witch’s
sight fi lled him with rage, and that rage spurred him on, kept him in the fi ght.
“You need something?”
A man had stopped in front of them. He wore a white cowboy hat and a sheepskin coat, open, over a tan shirt with a badge on it. Around his waist was a black leather gun belt, and black stripes ran down the legs of his pants. He held a Maglite with its beam pointed at the ground. Cowboy boots and a thick brown mustache almost dwarfed by a generous nose and hard, inquisitive eyes told Dean everything he needed to know. This guy was in charge.
“We—” he began.
“You the boys from the
?” Dean realized he must have looked surprised when the man with the badge added, “Don’t look so shocked, son.
Word travels in a small town. Delroy called us as soon as you checked in. Might have called the Bucket first, might have saved the news until he could go over there in person and let people bribe it out of him with free drinks. Either way, you’re almost celebrities, and this ain’t exactly tourist season.” He toed a clump of snow on the drive, kicked it into trees.
“Not tourist season at all. Which is just fi ne with me.
Last thing we need’s tourists hearing about this sort of thing.”
“You’re right, Sheriff,” Sam said. He stuck out his hand. “Sam Butler. This is Dean Osbourne. Sorry for the circumstances, but it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“I’m Jim Beckett,” the man said, shaking Sam’s hand, then Dean’s. He held on like a vise grip. “Sher-32 SUPERNATURAL
iff, spokesperson, and sometimes scapegoat, all rolled into one. We don’t have a big department up here, so we have to combine duties.” He eyed Dean, and for a bad few seconds Dean was afraid the sheriff had recognized him from a Wanted notice, since a shapeshifter in St. Louis had framed him for murder.
“There’s two t’s in Beckett, son.”
“I’ll, uh, make a note of that,” Dean said. “Can you tell us what happened here?”
“Something killed poor Ralph McCaig,” Beckett said, eyeing the body. “That’s about all I can tell you right this minute. About all I got. Animal, I’d say, but beyond that it’s all guesswork. Maybe wolf, maybe bear, maybe . . . hell, I don’t know. Bigfoot.” He caught Dean’s gaze again. “I see that in the magazine, I’ll hunt you down.”
“No problem,” Dean said.
“No pictures either,” he told Sam. “Not of this mess.”
“I don’t want to look at it, much less focus a camera on it,” Sam assured him.
“That’s good. My guys’ll take some shots of it, and of the crime scene, if it’s a crime. But like I said, looks like animal attack to me. Makes it an accidental death.”
“Doesn’t look like much of an accident,” Sam said.
“Not on the animal’s part, I guess, but it sure was on Ralph’s. It’s either accidental or death by mis-adventure, and I don’t want to saddle Ralphie with that.”
“I’d go accidental,” Dean offered.
Beckett nodded. “Accidental it is.”