Wilds of Wyoming – Part 4
Dean watched as Sam nimbly stepped along the darkened trail. They had spent some time researching the hiking trails on Beaver Mountain, discussing the likeliest places to start their hunt. Unfortunately, the sideways beaver shape covered almost the entire height of Beaver Mountain, leaving a lot of ground to be explored, with more than a 3000 foot difference between the top and bottom of the mountain. Sam had reasoned that Greg had to have been exploring the bottom half of the mountain. Zephyr had mentioned hiking, not climbing, and was certain Greg had taken no specialized climbing gear with him on his hikes, only his backpack and sketchpad.
The summer sun didn't fade until almost ten, so they had started their hike in daylight, if after hours. Dean had been grateful for his leather jacket as the temperature had dropped rapidly after the sun disappeared. Sam had checked the forecast—a nighttime low of forty degrees—and had bundled up in his light brown jacket, adding a pair of driving gloves after checking the expected wind chill. At first, they'd kept close to the trail, breaking off to examine likely cleared areas, seeking a spot that overlooked Camp Davis. If they could locate the place where Greg had drawn that bird's eye view of the Camp, it might also be where he'd encountered the jackelope. It was approaching midnight and they still had two thirds of the targeted area to examine. Dean briefly considered if they should split up; they would cover more territory. He couldn't stand the idea of letting Sam wander off by himself. Look what had happened with the Benders in Minnesota. . .
Sam paused and Dean, distracted by his thoughts, bumped right into his roadblock of a brother's back. "What?"
"How about over there?" Sam pointed off to their right, to a small cleared patch of mountainside just visible through an intervening cluster of trees.
"Why not?" Dean stepped off the trail, leading the way to the opened space he could just glimpse between the junipers and occasional red cedars that stood between them and the small clearing. He heard Sam's footsteps behind him. Sam was rusty at avoiding the giveaway forest leaves and tall grasses, Dean thought. He needed to remind Sam that stealth wasn't an inherited Winchester characteristic; it required practice.
Dean quietly stepped through the line of trees and into a small clearing. The land stayed cleared to the mountain's edge on one side, and Dean stepped towards the drop-off, carefully looking down. From his viewpoint, he saw the lighted cabins of Camp Davis sprawled out at least a thousand feet beneath them. Bird's eye view of the camp? Check.
Sam joined him at the edge, gazing downwards, too. "So, this is the place?"
"It's a possibility, at least." Dean turned his back on the view, slowly surveying the rest of the cleared land in front of him, sharp gaze seeking out anything out of the ordinary. He eyed the chunks of rock that stuck out at scattered locations, remembering Sam's lecture on this part of the Rockies being formed or deformed by glaciers in the last Ice Age, with boulders and rock chunks strewed every which way, dropped by the retreating, melting ice. Trust the geekboy to know that.
"Dean," Sam called, "Check it out." He pointed to a red cedar tree, its top visibly towering over the surrounding juniper and piñon pine trees, which seemed to loosely circle the older, taller hardwood tree. Sam started walking towards the ring of trees, stepping past the smaller trees, heading for the thick cedar tree. Dean dogged his footsteps, alert to any danger. As they approached the tree, Dean caught a foul whiff of decaying flesh and he knew what they would find before Sam abruptly veered towards the closest juniper tree.
Dean followed, and caught a glimpse of color against the trunk, almost shrouded by the low-lying limbs of the juniper tree. Sam approached cautiously, bent down and grabbed a branch to push it aside, revealing the seated remains of a decaying body. The remains hadn't been picked over by scavengers, though. Sam backed away from the body hastily, momentarily overcome by the smell. Dean undeniably had more experience with corpses in all states of decomposition, so he carefully crouched down and checked the body. "Not a whole lot left to identify, but it could be Greg. He was wearing a red t-shirt his last day at the camp, right?"
"Yeah," Sam's voice came from slightly behind him, and it sounded distracted. Dean whirled to see what was up with Sam when his brother said quietly, "It's Greg-or what's left of him."
Dean wanted to ask what made Sam so sure when he saw Sam pick up a dark blue backpack from the ground, carelessly left only a few yards away from the body. Dean watched as Sam opened the backpack and reached inside.
Sam withdrew a sketchpad and sighed. He flipped the pad open and started perusing the drawings in the available moonlight. The first pages were more sketches of Camp Davis, including another aerial view. Then there were some nature studies, and a few more sketches of long-vacant, falling apart ranch houses and crude barns. Sam's hands stilled on the final page, a rough sketch of a jackelope.
Dean felt a sudden prickling of tension and knew that the hairs were standing up on the back of his neck.
"Dean!" Sam hissed, jerking his head to their right. Dean carefully turned his head, and saw a jackelope, staring at them from ten yards away.
"Shit." Almost before Dean could curse, the creature morphed upwards, elongating and transforming into an Indian in traditional hunting clothes: buckskin pants, chest painted in what would have been bright colors, but were only slightly darker outlines against his grayed form. The Indian spirit's dark hair was loose, with two eagle feathers braided into his hair. The Indian looked off-center, the right side of his hair whacked off, right ear missing. Dean realized that the jackelope antler stuffed in his pocket was the Indian ghost's missing ear.
That was all he had time to think before a powerful invisible shove knocked him about twenty feet backwards, towards the spirit and away from Sam. Dean instantly tried to regain his feet, as the spirit thundered above him.
"WHERE IS IT?"
Sam started to run towards Dean, when he too was thrown off his feet. Dean watched, stunned as the invisible force threw Sam up against the cedar tree. Dean growled, trying even harder to get off his butt and get to Sam.
"NOT SO FAST! GIVE IT BACK!" the spirit bellowed, and by now Dean was convinced that this was Yellow Beaver, although the spirit had hardly bothered with introductions. Dean noticed too late that the spirit was armed with a hunting bow slung over his shoulder. The Indian unslung the bow, withdrew an arrow from his quiver, fitted the arrow into the bow and let it fly, all within a matter of seconds.
Dean watched in horror as the arrow hit Sam, slicing through his torso, slamming him into the cedar's trunk.
"Sonofabitch!" Dean yelled, rage at the spirit propelling him to his feet. "Leave my brother alone!" Dean turned hate-blazed eyes towards the spirit, but it ignored him, walking purposely towards Sam. Dean removed the small weapons duffel from his back, digging for the rock salt and gasoline as he ran towards the spirit.
Dean's eyes frantically sought out his brother. "I'm coming, Sammy!" he shouted when he caught sight of him, sitting slouched over, impaled by the arrow. Dean raced toward Sam, intent on dragging the spirit away.
"No, Dean!" Sam cried out. "Burn the antler!"
Sam's ears were ringing with the sound of his own scream and Dean's cursing, penetrating past the incredible pain that was emanating from his side. Dimly he realized that he'd been shot with an arrow, as his head reeled at the sight of the fletched arrow end protruding from his left side.
"I'm coming, Sammy!" Dean's determined shout gave Sam the strength to do what had to be done.
"No, Dean!" His fuzzy mind fell back on training. Don't remove the arrow, it ordered in a voice that he labeled Dad. Gritting his teeth, he grabbed the arrow with both hands and tried to wrest it from the tree without pulling it from his body. It wouldn't budge. He looked for Dean, saw his older brother coming full throttle to his rescue, but Sam knew that the spirit would reach him first.
"Burn the antler!" Sam only realized how thoroughly he was stuck to the tree when his yanking of the arrow produced nothing but momentarily blinding pain.
"Shit!" Sam cursed. No getting around it, he'd have to risk pulling himself off the arrow. Sam quickly broke off the fletching. He gathered his strength—this was gonna hurt—and forced himself to charge away from the tree, towards Yellow Beaver.
With a wild yell, he lurched from the tree, hearing a sucking sound and feeling white hot white pain flair through his body. Sam plummeted to the ground, falling on hands and knees, breath knocked out of him, taken by the all-consuming pain. Fear forced his head upwards as he frantically looked for the Indian spirit.
"Geronimo!" He heard Dean's yell as a sudden blaze of fire rushed up the Indian spirit, leaving no trace of Yellow Beaver in its wake.
Sam's head fell back towards his chest in weak relief. Next thing he knew, Dean was kneeling by his side, urgently asking, "How bad is it, Sammy?"
"Arrow, not much blood. . . " Sam panted. "It just hurts. . . "
"Shhhhh, I know, Sammy."
Sucks to be skewered, Sam thought hazily, then grunted when Dean shifted him, pulling up his clothes to get to the wound.
"Cold!" he muttered crossly as his tender flesh was exposed to the night air.
"Sorry, Sammy." Dean quickly cleaned the wound with an antiseptic wipe, and then firmly placed a field bandage over it. "Let's get you out of here."
Sam gratefully accepted Dean's hand as his brother tugged him to his feet.
"Lean on me," Dean encouraged, ducking under Sam's arm on his uninjured side and trudging slowly back towards the trail and the Impala.
Dean carefully arranged Sam's pillows and the spare one from his own bed, propping him up against the headboard in a more or less seated position. They were waiting for Zephyr to arrive. They had placed an anonymous call to the Sheriff's office about the body on Beaver Mountain, and then Dean had gently broken the news to Zephyr. He knew Sam wanted to see her again, and he wanted to spare Sam the task of telling Zephyr her boyfriend was dead. Dean just didn't know if they should tell Zephyr the complete, supernatural story of Greg's death or stick to the accidental hiking death PG-rated version.
"Your call, Sam. You know her better than I do."
A knock sounded on the door and Dean rose to answer it. "Zephyr. C'mon in." Zephyr walked in and he noticed the puffiness under eyes when she passed him. Dean closed the door, and then trailed after Zephyr as she halted by the foot of Sam's bed.
"Zephyr, thanks for coming," Sam greeted from the bed. "Uh, sorry we don't have a lot of space for visitors. You can sit on Dean's bed," he gestured towards the bed between him and the door, "or at the table, if you prefer." Sam nodded towards the windowed far wall.
Dean settled on his bed as Zephyr walked over to the indicated table. She slipped out of her backpack, placed it on the table and sat. "Dean said you were hurt, I kind of thought that you'd be in the hospital?"
"I loathe hospitals. They patched me up in the ER and released me into Dean's care. I'll be fine."
Dean silently admired Sam's ability to tell mostly honest lies.
Zephyr fiddled with the zipper on her backpack, withdrawing a stuffed animal. "I got you a get well present." She rose and handed Sam a medium-sized stuffed brown bear, stretched out in all four legs, its maker's tag proclaiming it to be 'Silver Dollar Sam.' "It's from the Wort Hotel, they sell them in the gift shop."
Dean had no trouble reading the tag from his perch and grinned. The stuffed bear would actually make a pretty decent car pillow, wedged between the passenger seat and the door.
"Thanks. I've got something for you, too." Sam reached for the drawer in the nightstand between the two beds, and pulled out the red ring box. He handed it to Zephyr, who was still standing next to his bed.
"Actually, it's Greg's. I found it when I searched his cabin and removed it for safekeeping, since you said the cabins are all unlocked."
Zephyr backed into her chair and sat, the ring box clutched in her hand. She took a deep breath and opened it, revealing the diamond and rubies engagement ring. Hesitantly, she touched the ring with her finger, tears glistening in her eyes.
"Greg loved you, Zephyr. You need to remember that," Sam said gently. "I'm sorry for your loss, and I'm sorry that we couldn't find him alive for you."
"You found him, Sam." Zephyr sniffed. "At least I know what happened."
Sam frowned. "Not everything."
Zephyr raised her eyes to meet Sam's, startled.
"I can tell you the whole story, but—it won't change things. You've heard the old saying; sometimes you're better off not knowing?"
"As long as we're quoting, I prefer 'and the truth shall set you free.' " Zephyr's voice was strong and resolute as she snapped the ring box closed and put it on the table.
"Okay. At the hot springs, you said you wanted our help because Becca said we were very open-minded. Do you know why we're so open-minded?"
"Because we need people to be open-minded about us, and what we do, in return." Sam turned his head so that he was looking Zephyr right in the eye. "Dean and I hunt supernatural creatures—like the Ghostbusters, only for real. Ghosts, spirits, poltergeists, shape shifters, witches—you name it, we hunt it."
Zephyr opened her mouth to protest.
"It was a shape shifter in St. Louis. The shifter took on Zach's form and murdered Emily. We found the shifter's lair in the sewers and there was enough evidence to get the cops to drop the charges against Zach.
"Look, I know this sounds crazy, but it's true. If you don't believe me, you can ask Becca. She tangled with the shifter, personally."
Zephyr bit her lip. "So, the thing that killed Greg was a—shape shifter?"
"No, it was a spirit. The spirit of an Indian warrior and shaman from the late nineteenth century. His name was Yellow Beaver and he was killed by Greg's great-great-great uncle, in 1895."
"How do you know that?"
"Research—and Keith Ferrin said his great-great granddad shot an Indian trying to steal his horses in the 1890's. We figure his spirit's been hanging around Beaver Mountain ever since. It's been mostly quiescent, but it turned violent with Greg. Maybe because the spirit could tell that Greg was a descendent of the man that killed him, or maybe it was angry because Greg shot it."
"Greg shot it?"
"The spirit disguised itself as a jackelope when it wanted to spy on people encroaching on its area. Spirits—especially Indian spirits—can be very protective of their territory. But don't worry. Dean destroyed Yellow Beaver's spirit. It's what we do."
"We do what we do and we shut up about it," Dean quoted Dad's number one rule, startling Zephyr, who looked like she'd forgotten he was even in the room.
"That's what really happened to Greg," Sam said soberly. "We're relying on your discretion that the official cause remains a hiking accident."
"But how do I . . .?"
"Remember Greg—not how he died. He loved you, and that's special."
"Better to have loved and lost . . ." Zephyr sighed. She stood up, reluctantly. "I need to go, I told Marissa I'd be waiting for her in the café. I hope you're feeling better, Sam. And thank you—both of you—for giving me closure." Zephyr grabbed her backpack and Dean escorted her to the door.
He returned to Sam. "Well, that went better than I expected."
"Yeah." Sam shifted restlessly against the pillows.
"Time for a nap," Dean decided, moving over to the head of the bed to remove and readjust the pillows so Sam could lie flat.
"I'm not tired," Sam stubbornly insisted. "Besides, we've got to plan the next hunt, in Casper."
"Whoa, we're not hunting anything until you're one hundred percent. The doctor said you needed at least a week of downtime. So, where do you want to go?" Dean sat on his bed. "Y'wanna go to Palo Alto, visit your friends? Catch up with Becca?"
He waited for Sam's answer with a carefully neutral expression. There was nothing wrong with giving Sam a chance to catch up with his friends. Just because he wanted to visit didn't mean he wanted to stay there . . .
"It's summer time. Becca's home in St. Louis, now. I'll call her later tonight, fill her in." Sam rolled his head towards Dean. "Where do you want to go? Since we seem to be taking the next week off."
"How about Blue Earth? I haven't seen Pastor Jim in over a year, and he might've heard something from Dad."
"Pastor Jim's? That's great . . . I haven't seen him in years—since the last time we spent Christmas in Minnesota."
Dean was startled. "You didn't visit Pastor Jim while you were at Stanford?"
"He offered, plenty of times," Sam said quickly. "And we talked a lot, he even answered my emails." Sam smiled fondly, and Dean remembered that Jim was no fan of the internet. "But—I couldn't stay at Pastor Jim's without you, it would just be wrong. I'd miss you too much," Sam mumbled into his pillow.
Dean watched patiently as Sam fell into sleep. "I missed you, too," he whispered when he was sure Sam couldn't hear him.