Category: Sam and Dean (Gen, Humor, Adventure)
Summary: What waits in the forest above a quiet backwater town, destroying those who venture into its path of destruction?
Disclaimer: None of the characters or events in this story are mine, even the fictional ones.
Author's Notes: S1 timeframe. It's in the neighborhood of fluff, but far dustier and snarkier and with a lot more dialogue. Adventures in forgotten parts of Oregon for spn_50states. Many of the places described here are real, with fictional details—though some of the parts that seem like fiction are actually true!
"Kind of a disappointment, don't you think?" Dean asks.
They'd driven through the town of Winchester, Oregon just for the hell of it—not that far off I-5 anyway, and Dad had never wanted to stop. They'd hoped for a historic main street at least, maybe with a gun shop for double-level irony.
Instead, they'd found a whole lot of nothing. A one-time farming community now taken over by tract houses, with a local bank and fly-specked diner flanked on both ends by—
"Mini-marts," Sam grouses. "The death of civilization."
"Birth of lunch," Dean comments, thinking of his microwave hotdogs and the Mike and Ike's he's eating now.
"We'll have to check out Winchester Bay sometime," Sam notes. "Over on the coast."
"I drove through with Dad," Dean says. "It's kind of a fake town."
"Fairly new, pre-fab real estate."
"Oh," Sam frowns. Too bad— that picture's pretty clear. "What's in Yoncalla?"
"Dad's source for silver-forged sais and bullets."
"What's wrong with ordering through the mail like everyone else?"
Dean coughs. "Hasn't gone so well since 9-11. Plus, Dad's always on the move—he said for us to keep half and save the rest for him the next time we cross paths."
"Huh." Sam looks at the map. "So we're driving north just to turn around and go south again. Of course. How about when we drive back down—want to go by Crater Lake?" It's almost on the way or close enough, and Sam doesn't remember the time they all went before.
"No, those forest roads are really slow—that'll take more than a day. We want 58 instead, and then over to 31—north or south." Dean pauses. "What's that thing before Silver Lake off of 31? Not Fort Rock, but right next to it—something supernatural we should probably look into."
Sam holds the map closer. "The Devil's Garden?" he asks. "It's probably just a lava flow, and the road looks pretty bad."
"The Impala's tough."
"How many spare tires you got, Dean? Gray road with dashes on the map. Dirt and potholes."
"Oh. Never mind."
In the end, they stop for a bit at Fort Rock and leave it at that. The place is eerie—no people, no cars, just the signs that tell what it is. It feels ancient and looks like its name, and Sam thinks there should be Indian legends surrounding it. Maybe there are.
They pass through Silver Lake, which is desolate and dusty and totally lacking in any of the charm implied by its name. Dean feels a rant about 'false advertising' coming on until Sam surprises him with a Milky Way from inside the gas station. The taste of chocolate renders him quiet.
After awhile, they find themselves in a remote little spot that's more of a stopping point between two distant, larger towns. Summer Lake. There's a population sign but not even so much as a stoplight. It seems like an inside joke.
Around a bend in the highway, a Bed and Breakfast appears. It's really more of a rustic motel but it's the only game in town, so they go inside to check out the prices.
There are single rooms with very small beds, and they can’t afford to book two rooms. There are a couple of rooms with a larger bed, but they’d have to share a bathroom with other guests and Dean is not having any of that-- not to mention trying to bring their weapons and supplies in through the common living area. More expensive but cheaper than two singles is a unit next to the garage, which has its own bathroom, a decent-sized loft bed, and a kitchenette with a fridge. That'll work.
They drag their belongings into the small suite, and Sam flops down on the couch as Dean grabs the toiletry kit and a towel and heads into the bathroom.
Dust is in the air and on Dean's skin and in his throat, and he needs to knock it down a level or two before he starts breathing it or becomes it. He undresses, and turns on the water while he gets out shampoo and a razor. The unexpected smell of sulfur rushes into the air, and Dean jerks upright, looking right and left. “Cristo!” he shouts, watchful and ready. Nothing around him changes, and the smell itself remains, as strong as ever.
The door smacks him in the ass as Sam pushes into the bathroom. “Ow!” Dean says, rubbing his sore skin.
“Everything okay in here?” Sam asks. “What’s that smell?”
Dean sighs in realization. “We’re going to have to make a grocery run right away, get some drinks and water.”
“Why? What’s that smell?”
“That’s the water,” Dean says.
Sam makes a noise of disgust. “No… People actually drink that? What would that do to your body?”
“I don’t know,” Dean says, “Maybe it shrivels your kidneys. I don’t care! I really wanted a shower.”
“Dude,” Sam says dismissively. “I think right now you actually smell better than that water. Could you turn it off? Because that’s just nasty.”
Dean seriously thinks about trying to wash his hair in the sink, because maybe the shampoo smell would drown out the sulfur. If he doesn’t puke first from getting it that close to his face. He decides to chance it, breathing through his mouth while the water warms up and then scrubbing through his hair at record speed.
Sam's gone out to the car for a map.
Dinner is beer, more beer, half a box of Cheezits and the Pop Tarts Dean was saving for breakfast. The B&B's owner, Jack Elton, tried to sell them on the dinner he serves, but it cost extra and the prices were about as hefty as would be expected for a place where the nearest food and groceries were over an hour's drive away.
"Want to go up to the ridge, look around?" Dean asks when they're finished.
"No—tomorrow," Sam answers. "Better wait for daylight."
Dean settles in on the sofa to channel-surf, while Sam leafs through Dad's journal at the table. There's peace for all of five minutes after Dean pauses and lets something play out.
The silence is broken by Dean's groan. "This TV show is lame," he grumbles out
Sam looks up. "You love lame."
"Only when things explode."
It only takes seventeen more satellite channels before Dean finds something with more explosions than dialogue. He wriggles back into the sofa, and after a few more futile flips through the journal, Sam joins him.
Two hours later they hit the end of "24," and call it quits. They bang around in the bathroom, brushing their teeth with the smallest possible amount of the sulfur-laden water. Then they check their salt lines at the windows and doors and head up the ladder to the loft.
"Which side?" Sam asks, because Dean always has an opinion on that. Sam usually doesn't care.
"You can have the window."
Sam laughs. "It's not like an airplane, where you get a view—the window's way the hell up there."
"And the edge of the loft with the ladder is over here."
"You planning on sneaking off in the middle of the night now Dean? What's the point— we're out in the middle of nowhere."
"Just covering your ass, Sam—you're the only grownup I know who still falls out of bed."
"That's the visions, Dean. It's not like I'm incompetent."
"Whatever, Sammy. Window."
Sam edges gracelessly into bed and thinks dark thoughts about know-it-all older brothers, and Dean slides in next to him and snaps off the lamp with the nonchalance of those who are unaware of or uncaring about offending others. "G'night."
By midnight, Sam has been staring at the ceiling for an hour. The bed is just big enough for the two of them— fairly comfortable, really, with a decent mattress and enough blankets to offset the lower temperatures that follow sundown.
Dean is sleeping peacefully, but Sam’s mind is ticking away in spite of his tired limbs. He sneaks downstairs to avoid waking his brother, and tries stretching out on the sofa. It’s… small. Really small. Why does furniture have to be so damn short all the time? His knees are uncomfortable already, and he opts for some fresh air instead.
In the loft, Dean wakes to an empty bed just moments after the outside door has closed. “Sam?” he whispers. The room is quiet and distinctly empty. He listens for a moment, but hears absolutely nothing.
Getting to his knees, he peers out side the window to the grounds below. There is Sam’s silhouette under the bright, burning moon. Dean resists the urge to open the window and call out to him; there’s nothing out there that they know of, and Sam is capable of being on his own. Realizing his own position next to the window, Dean suddenly feels like an overanxious four-year-old. He sinks back down into the bed, and tries not to wait for the sound of Sam returning.
He makes it about five minutes before he goes downstairs to drag Sam back inside, but Sam's coming through the door already.
"What?" Sam stares.
"You were outside, dude. Where the stuff lives that we put up the barriers against."
"Couldn't sleep. Besides, I'm pretty sure I'm still me."
Dean eyes him suspiciously, but lets it go. "C'mon—I'll rub your back."
Back in bed—where the noise of crickets strikes the constant of everywhere they go—Sam lies under the weight of Dean's arm as his brother snores beside him. That feeling of safety and belonging is as familiar as the rhythmic chirping outside, as their past so many years ago. Sam sinks down into sleep with the clutter of memories from a simpler time.
At breakfast the next morning, they quiz the innkeeper on the state of the water. "Well water," he says, like that makes it automatically safe. The brothers vow to go shopping before dinner, to keep from poisoning themselves any more than necessary.
This inn is historical, according to the proprietor, one of several places in the middle of long-forgotten stretches of road. This area was likely used more for passing through than stopping, to judge from the scarcity of ghost-town houses or even the very few people that remain.
"How would we get up to the ridge?" Sam asks. "Is there a road?"
"Nope. Walk it or go by horseback," the innkeeper answers. "The place up the road rents horses by the half-day."
They drive up to the next town first for water and supplies. It's a good hour away, but one of the victims' families lives close by there.
"Milton Stanwyck, Altabell Road," Sam says.
"Sounds like an older guy, from what Dad told us."
"Hope he doesn't run us off with a shotgun. I really hate that," Dean says. Nothing like helping people who don't know they're being helped.
Stanwyck lives in an old farmhouse surrounded by fallow land. A few sheep and a faded barn dot the landscape, with a distant stand of willows marking an unseen pond. Someone opens the door as they approach the house, a man in worn gray pants and short-sleeved button-down shirt.
"Can I help you boys?"
Sam steps forward, smiling a sincerely creepy-ass smile, Dean thinks, but people always seem to buy it. "Mr. Stanwyck?"
"That'd be me."
"I'm Agent White and this is Agent Hayes. We're from the Bureau of Land Management—we'd like to talk to you about what happened to your son last month."
Stanwyck sighs and studies the ground. "Terrible thing," he finally says. "Might have been a cougar or a bear, with so little left to bury."
"We understand that he had a friend with him at the time," Dean says.
"Billy Hartung—they go up there most every month, when the snow clears off."
"And did he happen to see anything?" Sam asks. "Anything different about the area, or any part of the attack?"
Stanwyck scowls. "Boy's been spinning some useless tale about Bigfoot. More'n likely he was drunk. At least he's gone off South now, so I don't have to hear about it no more."
Dean shakes his head once they're inside the safety of the car. "Nothing in the reports sounded anything like Bigfoot."
"Maybe the guy was drunk," Sam answers. "And it's never been Bigfoot, not in all the years we've been hunting."
"Probably never will be, either."
They pick up groceries in Paisley, including a couple of jugs of water.
"What do you suppose this is for?" Dean asks. "Besides why we're buying it."
"Survivalists, maybe? These containers are awfully big."
"Thank god for that."
There are a couple of fast-food restaurants in town—"Hallelujah," Dean crows—and they grab lunch and head back down the quiet highway. It's just after one o'clock by the time they unpack the groceries, and as good a time as any to get a couple of horses and go up on the ridge.
They're barely thirty yards out of the barn when Dean's horse starts trotting, and he gets the reins pulled in before the horse bounces him off the side. "Sonofabitch," he curses.
Sam approaches more sedately on his own horse. "Forget how to ride?"
"No," Dean scowls, "I just always get the 'attitude' horse that does what it wants. You get the big, slow stupid one because you're so tall. Those ones behave."
"So you don't see some form of poetic justice at work here?"
"What are you trying to say, Sam?"
"Nothing." But Sam's smile is pointed as he edges by Dean and heads up the trail.
Winding in switchbacks through pines and fallen logs, the trail climbs up to the top of the ridge, high above the valley floor.
"What's that?" Dean asks, as they look out over the checkerboard colors of the farms and properties below. "That water in the distance?"
"That would be the thing the town we're staying in is named for: Summer Lake," Sam answers.
"There's an actual lake? I thought that was a mirage—it was pretty far away from the inn and the road."
"Shrinks back in the summer. Elton mentioned it last night." Sam pauses. "What's that up ahead?"
"I think this is the clearing where it happened. See the blood?"
Shiny reddish-brown streaks mark a few bushes, near a chewed-up piece of ground amid broken branches. Something moves in the half-lit shadows, and the horses startle.
"Jesus, did you see that?" Dean whistles low.
"Yeah," Sam chokes. "That's the biggest wolf I've ever seen."
"At least it isn't Bigfoot."
There's another witness in Christmas Valley, and they debate whether to drive over there this late in the day.
"We could call first," Sam says.
"And say what? 'Hi, you don't know us but we heard some kind of monster attacked your friend over on Moonlight Ridge—mind if we come talk to you about it?' Yeah, that'll go over big."
They drive back over the same highway they came in on, turning off onto the county road near Silver Lake itself. It's a dry, barren journey.
"What the hell is this place?" Dean finally asks. It's nothing but dead grass and desert with mobile homes and a golf course, outlined by power lines and not much else.
"Looks like some kind of real-estate scam, bought up by retirees who didn't know any better," Sam says. "Why else would anybody live in this part of the state?"
"You'd think there'd be fir trees or something to match the name," Dean persists. "This is depressing."
"Worse than Wagontire?"
"At least that has history."
"People are nuts," Sam agrees.
Down Skyview Lane, which looks like every other street an endless sea of manufactured homes, they look for 297 where Sally Mentzenbaum lives with her mother. The gray and white house has fake deer and a small plaster bridge in front, and the porch is festooned with windchimes. Dean can feel every eye in the neighborhood watching them as they approach the door.
"Yes?" A middle-aged woman in denim shorts and a 'Mt. Bachelor' t-shirt answers the door. "Are you folks lost?"
"No, Ma'am," Sam says. "We're from the National Conservation Society, District 47. We heard you ran into a problem on Moonlight Ridge last week, and some folks are clamoring to clear out the forest there to keep the attack threat down."
Dean speaks up. "You wouldn't be in favor of that yourself then, even after what happened?"
"Heavens no!" The woman's eyes mist over. "What happened to Larry was shocking, but you can't blame the forest for a single, deranged elk. I reported it to the ranger station in Lakeview, they've probably hunted it down by now."
"So it was an elk that attacked your friend?" Sam asks.
"Of course," she said. "You hear these stories of problems in other places, where they get territorial and go after people, but it always seemed unreal until I saw it with my own two eyes." Her mouth twists, and a tear slips down her face. "I really thought Larry was going to be the one…" A stolen future plays out in her eyes.
"We're sorry for your loss," Dean says, looking over at Sam. The conversation's gotten away from them, and Sam's usually better at working it back around. Dean tends to provoke door-slamming and punch-throwing instead.
"Did you go up there often?" Sam ventures.
"Usually two or three times a year," Sally answers. "There aren't many places to hike near here, not like when I used to live in Bend before mother needed help."
Dean takes it as a good sign that the woman knows the outdoors fairly well, and the ridge in particular. "Were there any unusual noises or disturbances that day?"
"Not at first," she says. "It was a beautiful day—we headed up in the morning before it got too hot—and it was as peaceful as it's always been. We didn't hear any elk beforehand, usually don't this late in the year. Not until it came out of the bushes and went after Larry," she finishes in a choked-off voice. "I'll never understand it..."
"It's our job to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else." Dean's words don't fit with the background Sam laid out, but she doesn't seem to notice and he thinks she needed to hear them.
"Thank you," she says softly.
She's still on the porch as they pull away.
"I vote shapeshifter."
They're back in the car, barely out of the driveway, but it all sounds familiar now. Dean's heard Dad talk of situations like this before.
"That would explain why the stories are so different." Sam turns on the air-conditioning. "But why did it suddenly start up? And what does it want?"
Dean shrugs, steering back onto the main road. "Sometimes they're just out for destruction."
"Pull over," Sam says. He thinks about St. Louis, and the shapeshifter they ran into before. "This one's not pretending to be human, though."
"That we know of," Dean reminds him. "Could have been anything before."
"So we just shoot it, like we did the other one? It's killed four people, three of them out hunting. You'd think they'd have gotten it already."
"Difference is, we'll be ready. And we'll burn the body afterwards just in case."
Dinner is canned stew and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Dean calls it schizophrenic, but Sam's more vigilant about the budget and he calls it "affordable."
"So, we going up there tonight?" Sam's situated on the couch while Dean cleans up, because Sam made dinner.
"Better not." Dean puts the last plate in the dish-drainer to dry. "It's too far to hike in the dark, and there's too much chance of being ambushed. That thing knows the terrain a whole lot better than we do."
"Beer?" Sam asks.
"Yeah. What's on the tube?"
"Dust to Dawn. Ever hear of it?"
"Vampire flick, ten kinds of wrong," Dean says. "Lots of action, though. I could watch it. Anything else?"
"Gameshows and Oprah. It's like daytime TV's on at night now."
Dean nods. "World's gone nuts, Sammy."
Before long, Dean remembers why the movie bugged him the first time, and he drifts over to the table to clean guns. Strip and sight, wipe and oil and reassemble. The sound is soothing, tumbling clicks and metal-on-metal in rhythmic precision.
"Look at the sunset." Sam's voice breaks through Dean's concentration.
The sky is orange, russet crowding down from above as feathery blue clouds become gold-tipped with light coming in from behind. Dean goes outside for a better look, Sam trailing quietly at his heels.
The air swells with the music of crickets and frogs as the two brothers stand there watching the colors change and fade. Birds rise and fly across the backdrop of the sky, gray and black against the slow, soft approach of night.
"It's peaceful here," Sam whispers, almost to himself.
"Yeah," Dean answers. 'Peaceful' is something he's never had or kept for long enough to even get attached to the idea. Doesn't seem likely that's ever going to change.
The last edges of light have nearly gone from the sky by the time he goes back inside. When Sam comes in, Dean's just finishing up the guns. Everything's squared away for the morning.
"Man, I love pancakes."
"I know, Dean. Now everybody knows it."
"What do you mean?"
"You're practically slurping them off the plate!"
Dean pauses for a moment to eye the other guests, but they don't seem to be looking his way. Sam's exaggerating again.
Finishing a few more bites, Dean pushes the plate away and leans back with his cup of coffee. He can see the outline of the ridge from the deck where they're all sitting, and it's probably three miles of hiking to the top. "Wish we could get up there by horseback at least."
"Makes it harder to go in packing," Sam says in low-pitched tones. "And we were up there just yesterday—might seem kind of suspicious."
"I know," Dean admits. Which doesn't change the fact that he hates the idea of hiking.
There's a dirt road a little further down the highway that leads toward the trail, and they take that route this morning to keep their gear away from watchful eyes. It doesn't save any walking distance, but it cuts down the problem of carrying a rifle out-of-season. The lighter fluid and shovel are hidden in a backpack.
The temperature is pleasant when they start off, and gets warmer just as they're heading into the trees. They keep the pace down, watching carefully for any signs of movement as they go.
"Anything?" Sam whispers.
"Nope. But keep looking. It'll come." They trudge further along, climbing switchbacks and passing in and out of the trees.
The top of the ridge lies up above, the end easily within their breathless view. Then Dean cries out with the impact of something crashing into him from behind, and then he's down—trapped under a giant black wolf. Sam's heart stops and the world spins, all silence and sunlight…
"Dean!" Sam shakes it off, pulling his Ruger out of the back of his pants and running to the side to shoot.
"Nnghhhh," Dean groans into the dirt, his arms wrapped around his head and his hands drawn in. He wriggles his legs up underneath him in spite of the weight holding him down.
Sam ducks down low to shoot upward, aiming at the wolf's head. He gets off a clean shot and the animal jerks, giving him time to fire again. Both shots look good.
The creature howls, moving dazedly, and Sam circles into position and aims for the heart. He shoots once, twice, and then it falls.
Whimpered moans are the clearing's only sound after the echoes of the gunshots die away.
"Dean!" Sam hisses, edging closer with his gun still drawn. He wrestles the rifle away from his brother and shoots the throat out of the wolf, sickened and relieved at the blood that empties into the ground.
Dean bolts up and takes his place beside Sam, reaching for the revolver and never taking his eyes off the dark mass lying destroyed on the forest floor. After a few long minutes, the surface begins to ooze and bubble, turning half-liquid in front of their eyes.
"Burn it," Dean rasps, rubbing his left shoulder where the creature got a temporary purchase with its teeth.
Sam takes the lighter fluid out of his backpack, sprinkling some of it lightly across the mess that remains of the shifter. He hands Dean the matches.
"That's for messing up my leather jacket!" Dean says, dropping a lit match onto the pile and watching it burn.
Sam looks over at him wryly. "Wondered why you were wearing that," he says. "Kind of hot for this time of year."
"But damned good protection against teeth."
The flames leap and flicker, the fire growing smaller as the minutes pass. After awhile it becomes embers, then cinders, and then finally ash. The wind stirs what little remains.
"Bury it?" Sam asks.
"Salt it first and then we'll bury it. Want to be sure it's really dead."
"It is dead."
"Not wolf-dead, Sammy— shapeshifter-dead. Undead-dead. The kind that can't come back."
"Still pissed about the jacket, huh?" Not that Sam blames him—the jacket and the car are Dean's most prized possessions, even more than his tape collection.
When everything's down under the dirt and stomped on for good measure, Dean's finally ready to leave. The sun's still slanting through the trees and the clearing is quiet apart from birdcalls. Once again the forest is home to animals alone…
"Kind of pretty, now that we're not looking over our shoulders," Dean admits.
"Plus, the way back to the car is all downhill," Sam grins knowingly.
They start back, picking up speed as they leave the ridge behind and head on down to the valley floor.
"What do you want to do for the rest of the day?" Sam asks.
"It's not even noon yet. I was thinking we'd hurry back and talk the innkeeper into letting us check out."
"I hear Reno's haunted. They need us there, Sammy."
"No slot machines, Dean!"
"What do you take me for? I'm a blackjack kind of guy."
Not today. "I'm calling Dad…"
-------- fin -------
A/N: So what's real here? All of the towns, as described, are real, and so are Fort Rock and The Devil's Garden (both volcanic events). The B&B, its loft bed, and its frightening water are real (but the owner is not). The ridge featured in the story is actually "Winter Rim", a far-reaching ridge that provides a stunning view of the valley below for miles and miles.
Someday, I'll let the boys adventure in the more classically green parts of Oregon. But that day is not today...