Loose Ends Part 5 Hunting Duo
Sam lost no time in retrieving the laptop. He put it on the table and turned the power on while he made himself some coffee. Then he settled in front of the screen. He searched for any further information about the missing hiker, checking for updates. Then he googled information on New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain and found numerous articles. "The Old Man of the Mountain was found collapsed in a pile of rubble on the morning of May 3, 2003." Sam stared at the date, instantly comprehending what it meant and why Dean had such an odd look on his face from time to 2nd. Dean had gone hunting—on his own—on Sam's birthday, abandoned by Dad, determinedly searching out a missing hiker. A missing college boy hiker. Dean had carefully kept the date vague. "Early May," Sam'd heard him say quite clearly at the start of his recital.
For a moment, Sam thought back to what he'd been doing on that May second. Jess, Zach, Becca, and a few of his other friends had staked out the biggest table at the campus' most popular pizza joint, and they'd celebrated with piled high pizza and beer, in true college fashion. Then, Jess had told him to close his eyes and a big chocolate cake with "Happy Birthday Sam" in green letters had magically appeared. They'd sung him "Happy Birthday" and urged him to make a wish as he blew out the candles. The guys had assumed he'd wished for a hot night with Jessica. But he hadn't. He'd wished for Dean to be there, talking, laughing and enjoying the party. Pizza, beer and pretty women—that kind of bash was right up his brother's alley.
Sam stared at the monitor, lost in his thoughts. Why had Dad cut Dean loose on that day? Surely he knew as well as Sam did that leaving Dean at loose ends on Sam's birthday was a super-thoughtless thing to do. But isn't that just the way Dad is? Unless it concerns the thing that killed Mom, he could care less.
Sam knew that Dean had toughened up in the years they'd been separated, and his brother certainly would not tolerate any lame attempt to say something deep and meaningful two and a half years too late. So really all that Sam could do now was to hunt with Dean, be his back up— no, more than that, behis partner. He remembered Dean saying "You know we made a helluva team, back there" in Palo Alto, before everything went south in a flash of fire and smoke and screams . . .
Clearing his head of that fiery image, Sam skimmed Dean's bookmarks, searching for a site to start his information hunt. They needed to know not just what to expect from the weather in New Hampshire, but exactly what monster they were up against. Dean's description of the fugly was pretty sparse—but "giant" and "cannibal" at least provided a starting place. Sam dug into his research, absently pulling out a notepad to jot down any relevant information. He quickly became immersed in his work, barely noticing the clock tracking the changing hours at the bottom right corner of his monitor.
Dean trounced in from the cold, slamming the door behind him. He had the duffel in one hand and a plastic bag in the other one. "No fast food for supper tonight, dude. I got us some Chinese." He placed the food on the table and then unbuttoned his coat.
"Smells awesome, dude." Sam pushed the laptop aside and opened one of the square takeout boxes that Dean had extracted from the plastic bag. He took an appreciative sniff. "Kung Pao chicken, mmmmm."
"Yeah, and we've got Moo Shu pork, Mongolian beef, and sweet and sour chicken, too. And some fried rice."
"Of course," Dean handed Sam a paper-wrapped pair of chopsticks as he sat down on the opposite side of the table. He carefully removed the last item from the bag, pushing the large cup over to Sam. "Here. I even got you some tea, wimp."
"Thanks. That'll hit the spot."
Sam watched as Dean shook his head and mumbled "wuss" under his breath.
They enthusiastically started demolishing the array of Chinese treats in front of them.
"So, how's the research going?" Dean asked as he separated his stuck together at the top chopsticks.
"Okay, I guess."
"I think what we're up against is a tsonoqwa."
"Tsonoqwa. It's an Indian creature, a giant cannibal—"
"Song-whatzits are part of Pacific Coast Indian lore. We're three thousand miles too far east for that."
"Maybe a family of them migrated to New Hampshire." Sam glanced at his notepad and read: "Tsonoqwa, a member of the Geekumhl family of cannibal giants who live in mountains and woods. The female tsonoqwa is the most frequent version of these forest-dwelling giants—"
"Hey, I was grappling with that thing, up close and personal. Trust me, it wasn't a female."
"—she targets children, luring them with sweets, food and copper treasures. The much rarer male tsonoqwa is known as being fierce and strong with a formidable alertness." Sam finished. "Sound familiar?"
"Y'know, it could be related to the wendigo—say, a distant cousin or something?"
"They're both strong and they're both corporeal." Dean seemed to be coming around to Sam's way of thinking. "Which means we know how to kill it . . .Fl—"
"Flare gun!" Sam said at the same time as Dean. Sam knew that Dean had added a pair of flare guns to his bag of weapons after their wendigo encounter. He flashed to finding the rag sticking out of a bottle neck—Dean's improvised Molotov cocktail—fallen uselessly to the ground, after the wendigo had kidnapped Dean and Hailey.
"All right," he said, "In addition to flare guns, there're a few more items we're gonna need to hunt this thing."
Sam had scouted several New Hampshire hiking, skiing and mountain climbing websites to figure out the best trail up Cannon Mountain. They chose a different route than the Lake View trail that Dean had used two years ago, opting for the less arduous and more rambling approach from the backside of Cannon Mountain. Jabbing into the snow-laden trail with his ski pole, Sam carefully planted his ski sideways to the slope, ski-walking up the wide, well-marked trail. They had been trudging up the mountain for over half an hour. He looked back towards Dean, who stuck both his poles in the snow.
"That's it!" Dean declared, bending over to release the toe clamps on his second-hand but serviceable cross-country skis. "I'm walking. It's faster—and easier—than skiing up this mountain."
"Now who's the wuss?" Sam muttered under his breath. Catching Dean's glare—even through the oversized, mirrored ski goggles Dean wore—he hastily repeated, louder. "Not a bad idea." He followed Dean's lead and quickly removed his skis.
"We should just leave the skis here, pick them up on the way down," Dean suggested.
"I'm holding onto mine. It'll be difficult to find this spot again at night, on the way down, especially if it snows more. Which seems likely, since we're in New Hampshire, in the White Mountains, in December."
"College boy thinks he's so smart," Dean retorted, but nevertheless he collected his skis and poles, balancing them over one shoulder, on top of the strap that held the weapons bag like a backpack. "Let's go, we're wastin' daylight."
They continued their upward climb, making decent progress as the sun advanced closer to the horizon. Sam hoped that they would reach the mountain's summit before twilight, so they could get their bearings before darkness fell. The scant information available about tsonoqwas didn't say how to lure one out into the open, so they'd be, as Sam was beginning to suspect Dean did a lot on his solo hunts, winging it. Used to hearing Dean's boots crunching on the snow behind him, Sam suddenly realized that it was quiet behind him. He stopped, turning around to see Dean just standing there, staring at something off the trail.
"What're you looking at?"
"That look like a cave to you?" Dean pointed towards two enormous slabs of snow covered rocks, reddish granite peaks standing out against the snow. One slab leaned markedly against the other, creating a dark, giant-sized gap between them.
Sam glanced at the indicated rock slabs. He knew that the retreating glaciers from the last ice age had left all sorts of geologic oddities in their wake, but there was something about those slabs that seemed almost man-made. Fugly-made? "What's the EMF say?"
Dean's gloved hand delved into the deep pocket of his reluctantly purchased down jacket, pulling out his EMF meter. He aimed it at the rock slabs. Sam wasn't surprised to see the left-most light flashing, several yards removed from the entrance. Residuals.
Dean left the trail, heading for the cave, meter held out in front of him. Sam immediately fell in behind. They halted a few feet from the opening, the EMF emitted a high-pitched whine, four lights immediately flashing. "Yahtzee."
"So we're going in?" Sam asked, rhetorically.
"Don't see any other way to explore it." Dean set his skis and poles down, then slipped the weapons bag off his back. He unbuttoned it, reached inside and grabbed their flare gun. He shoved it towards Sam. "Here. I prefer the old-fashioned way."
Sam watched as Dean grabbed the small can of gasoline that they always had on hand for salting and burning spirits' bones. Dean then pulled out a clean white rag, wrapped around an empty beer bottle. ."Keep watch," he said, carefully pouring some gasoline into the bottle, then twisting one end of the rag into a point and pushing it into the bottle until the tip met the gasoline at the bottom. Then Dean extracted two headlamps from the weapons bag. Sam took the proffered headband and placed it with its small but powerful attached flashlight on his head, pushing it down firmly over his black balaclava.
Dean, now sporting his own headlamp, flicked it on and gestured towards the cave entrance. "Ladies first."
Sam snorted, but stepped alertly through the cave entrance, his right hand turning onhis headlamp as he passed through the tall carved out entrance into the granite cave.
He heard Dean's footsteps as he cautiously walked deeper into the cave. The opening remained a thin corridor-like path for several feet before it opened up into a larger chamber. Sam glanced around, letting the headlamp's light illuminate the cave's walls. The far corner held a clutter of dried twigs and branches, with a couple animal skins lying on top of it. Sam tensed, eyeing the makeshift bed uneasily.
There was no evidence of current activity in the chamber, and a path lead away from it, further into the cave. When his flashlight beam momentarily crossed Dean's, he gave his brother a meaningful look toward the new path.
Dean managed to slip ahead of him, taking point as they walked warily deeper into the cavern.
Sam's view narrowed down to the weapons bag on Dean's back, and the cave walls at their sides, the headlamp casting elongated shadows on the walls as they journeyed deeper into the cave. Suddenly, Dean halted.
Looking past Dean's shoulder, Sam saw that the path branched into two separate tunnels, both looked to be about the same size.
"So, we split up?" Sam prodded.
Dean turned to face him. "No."
"It'll take less time to search the tunnels if we do."
"Since when are you pressed for time?" Dean challenged. "C'mon." Dean grabbed hold of Sam's ski jacket, "Let's go."
"Deee-aan," Sam wouldn't call it whining, but he knew Dean might see things differently—or hear things differently. "You don't want to split up, fine. We won't. That doesn't mean y'need to grab onto me like some kid."
"Sure I do." Dean teased. "You're still young enough to fall under the spell of Mrs. Tsonqoqwa."
"I'm twenty-two!" Sam protested, jerking out of Dean's grasp. Dammit, he sounded like a kid, practically stamping his feet.
"Well, you don't look it. I can see where a female song-wannabe would get the wrong idea, so I'm keeping close watch."
"What else is new?" Sam mumbled, falling into step behind Dean as they walked down the left tunnel. About ten feet later, the tunnel ended in another, slightly smaller chamber. Their headlamps caught blobs of white on the floor, and Sam stiffened, taking in the clump of skulls scattered underfoot.
He heard Dean curse and glanced upwards, his headlamp showing the dangling form of a man, hanging from a crudely fashioned hook in the middle of the cave.
"This isn't familiar at all," Dean grunted.
Sam appreciated Dean's grumbling, knowing his brother was giving him time to wrap his head around the situation, and get past the feeling of déjà-vu.
A roar from the arched opening behind them had Sam scrambling for the flare gun in his pocket, his gloves hampering his efforts.
"Sam!" Dean warned as the enormous shape of the pissed-off tsonoqwa filled the entrance to the tunnel, blocking their exit.
The beast rushed towards Sam, and though it wasn't wendigo-fast, it reached Sam before he could fire the flare gun. He took a hasty step backwards and tripped over a skull, crashing to the ground.
Dean roared and launched himself at the fugly, barreling into the giant before it could hurt Sam.
Yanking off his glove, Sam retrieved the flare gun from his jacket pocket, jerking to a sitting position as he aimed the gun. Unfortunately, Dean was between the tsonoqwa and Sam, pounding on the creature in an effort to distract it. Sam shifted his aim higher—Giant, duh!—"Dean! Incoming!" he yelled, firing the flare gun. Dean moved lightning quick and the flare struck the tsonoqwa close to its collar bone and its long fur burst into flames.
The creature screeched, one hand reaching for its on-fire upper body.
Sam pushed himself to his feet as Dean stepped back from the burning fugly. Heyanked Dean close as it collapsed. The giant shrieked as the flames grew, continuing to consume its body from the outside in. They watched as the tsonoqwa's flesh first shriveled, then turned into a heap of ashes.
Sam let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding.
"The bigger they come," Dean joked, staring at the pile of ashes in the middle of the chamber.
"Hah, hah." Sam glanced at the other very much dead body hanging in the room. "D'you think that's the latest missing hiker?"
"Who else?" Dean pointed at the skulls and assorted other bones on the floor and sighed. "Keppler's probably here, too, somewhere."
"We should tell the authorities. They deserve a proper burial."
Dean shook his head. "Too risky. The tsonoqwa's dead and gone, and this setup is way too sophisticated to blame the deaths on a black bear. With no suspect, the cops'll zero in on who found the body, real fast."
"We'd do it anonymously."
Dean scoffed. "How anonymous can we be, in a small town like this? We bought a bunch of gear here, and my baby's not exactly invisible. No, the best we can do is bury the bodies."
"Bury the bodies? Dude, look around. There's a couple 'a feet of snow between us and the ground. And even if we dug through the snow—" Sam stomped on the ground, making his point –"there's rock, not dirt, underfoot. We're standing on top of an exfoliating granite dome."
"So, what do you suggest, college boy?"
Sam reined in his temper. "We could build a funeral pyre, give them a hunter's send-off."
"Fire won't burn hot enough to take care of the bones."
Sam winced. So what did that leave?
"Jerry Panowski." Dean said unexpectedly. "Sammy, we can call Jerry, tell him about the location of the bodies. Jerry works for an airline, and he does volunteer search and rescue work with a helicopter team. He's got connections everywhere. He'll see that the authorities get notified—once we're outta here."
"Maybe he's heard from Dad, too." Sam knew Dean heard the excitement in his voice.
"We'll ask him, but don't get your hopes up, okay, Sammy? If Dad's gone off the grid, it's gonna take awhile—who knows how long—to find him." Dean reached over to pat Sam's shoulder. "Let's blow this pop stand."
They quickly left the food chamber, backtracking rapidly. When they reached the first, larger chamber, Dean halted. "You wanna spend the night here or ski down the mountain?"
Sam shot him an unbelieving look.
"Race ya to the bottom, Sammy!" Dean challenged. "Loser buys tomorrow's breakfast."
Sam ran towards the cave's entrance. "You're on. And it's Sam, not Sammy!"
A/N I hope you enjoyed this early hunting trip;-) I was surfing the net, looking for story possibilities when I remembered hearing about the collapse of the Old Man of the Mountain. When I read the details and heard the date of the collapse (the night of May 2-3, 2003), I said "Yahtzee! Sammy's birthday, I can do something with this!" and the result is another one of my blended history hunts.