The Family Business

by River Winters

Chapter 3 / Wendigo

November 9th, 2004
Stanford, California

As I begin to float into the state of being awake, I can hear my brothers talking in quiet voices, almost whispers. I'm laying on my stomach on a motel bed, sprawled there with my face turned sideways on my arm and my mouth was hanging open—bad habit that I can't seem to break. I shut my fly trap (Dean's words, not mine) and keep my eyes closed, resisting the idea of waking up... I'm so tired after the past few days. The tones in my brothers' voices intrigue me, and I immediately know they're talking about something important. I start to pay attention, even in my half-asleep state.

"Come on Sam." Dean's familiar voice is low and growly and bordering on pushy—from the slight dip in the bed, it feels like he's sitting somewhere near my feet. "I know it's been awhile since you've done this stuff, but trust me, there's no lead here. Period."

"Dean, you don't know that!" Sam's voice is higher, rich and tenor. Filled with exasperation and emotion. He must be sitting on the bed next to this one, facing Dean.

"Shh!" Dean shushes loudly, I guess maybe because he thinks I'm asleep. That's nice. He turns his attention back to Sam, who I hear give a huff. "Yeah I do know that, and so do you, deep down. There's nothing here." A short silence, and Sam must be making a stubborn face at Dean. We've been here the past seven days looking for leads on Jessica's death, trying to find any clues or trails to follow… but we've come up with zero anything; a total dead end. Dean's right, and I think we knew it two days ago, but Dean was nice and gave Sam a couple more days of 'investigating' just to humor him. He just lost his girlfriend and he's grieving, so it's understandable that he's really wanting to find answers and get closure or revenge. But I guess Dean's lost patience and is ready to get a move on. Sure sounds like it.

"Okay then hotshot, so if we did decide to stay here and dig more, where would we dig?" Dean asks sort of challengingly. "We've talked to everyone we could think of, we've been over the apartment building, the school, where Jess worked—all of it, with a friggin' microscope and we got nothing." Long, tense silence and Dean sounds a little more sympathetic, but not much. "The thing that killed her's gone and might be headed to where Dad is. It's time to haul ass to those coordinates he left for us."

Sam snorts. "Lemme get this straight… you wanna drop everything here and go to some backwater middle-of-nowhere dump?" Sam's voice is rising with disgusted disbelief. "You wanna hang everything on some coordinates that Dad left in his journal with absolutely no explanation?"

I can just imagine the face Dean is making. "...yes!" He replies, as if there could be no other answer to Sam's question, as if he thinks Sam is nuts for not seeing his perspective here.

"Huh," Sam comments, and his voice drips with cynicism. "Nothing's changed, has it, Dean? He says jump, you say how high, huh?"

Oh Christ, here we go again. I wish I didn't have to hear this. My favorite thing in the world… Sam and Dean arguing about Dad. "I'm still alive, aren't I?" Dean asks sarcastically, slamming Sam's snide remark. "It's cuz I don't stop to ask a million stupid questions—I trust Dad, Sam. The man knows what he's doing."

Sam is sounding pissier and pissier. "If he knows what he's doing then why the hell is my girlfriend dead?"

There's a surprised pause, and Dean's voice softens. "He couldn't have known that was gonna happen, Sam. How could anyone?" I think Sam's taken aback by the caring tone in Dean's voice, because he's quiet for a minute.

"Because… maybe… maybe this thing, this monster or whatever it is has some weird hate-on for the women in our life," Sam finally says. "Maybe it's a pattern, these fiery deaths on the ceiling."

"What are you saying, Sam?" Dean asks cautiously, voicing my own thoughts, too.

"I mean, first Mom, then Jess?" Sam's voice lowers conspiratorially. "If this is a pattern of some kind, she could be next."

She who? I realize he means me when Dean gets defensive and a little scared sounding. "No. Hell no. She's safe with me," he says forcefully, and I'm suddenly a little freaked out, too—I hadn't even noticed what Sam noticed, how this might be a pattern. Is he right? Is this thing gonna come after me next? I open my eyes, wide awake now. They don't notice. Dean's busy condemning Sam's opinion. "You're talking crazy stuff," he accuses uncomfortably.

Sam sounds levelheaded and not so sure about Dean's comment. "What if I'm not though? None of us are safe, isn't that what Dad's crazy voicemail said?"

Dean expels a breath of air and I hear his hand his his leg. He talks with his hands a lot when he's exasperated or riled up. "Look. Sam. I know you're hurting. And I'm sorry. I am. But fact is, we gotta hit the road pronto. If you wanna find this thing that killed Jess and Mom, we find Dad. Dad's close to finding this thing, man."

Sam glances at me, sees I'm awake but doesn't say anything about it. "He's said that before," he says, both bitter and sad about it.

"This time's different," Dean says, voice full of conviction. All I can see is his side, back, and a little of his profile. Another long pause. "So you in? I'm leaving today, with or without you. But I'd like it if you were with me."

Sam clenches his jaw, looks down between his knees. Nods slowly. His shoulders are slumped. "Yeah. I'm with you."

Relief softens Dean's shoulders. "It's gonna be okay, Sammy," he says, pats Sam on the knee encouragingly, awkwardly. Sam looks a little weirded out by it and Dean takes that as his cue and stands up, lightening the bed. "We're gonna catch this son of a bitch. It's only a matter of time." He yanks his t-shirt off over his head and throws it over his shoulder without looking. "But in the meantime, I'm gonna get a shower," he says a little gruffly. He glances back at me, seeing I'm up as I begin to roll over push myself up. Ughhh my back muscles are killing me. "Morning, sunshine," Dean says, a little sarcastic, a little fond.

I point to my feet questioningly, realizing my shoes are gone… did he take them off for me again? Dean points to my bag over in the corner where I see my boots. I give him a slightly churlish look, complaining at him silently. He's always bitching at me for sleeping in shoes, but I mean, he does it too. "You're welcome," he says, then grabs his bag and reiterates where he's going as he heads that way. "Shower."

He shuts the bathroom door behind himself, leaving me and Sam in blaring silence. I'm sitting up now, legs over the side of the bed and I give him a slight upward nod with my chin, trying to say hi, good morning, how are you—all while being sensitive to how on edge he is right now. He's distracted and tense and gives me a tight little smile, but it looks more like a grimace. He's barely been sleeping or eating. Jess's funeral was November fourth, two days after she died. It was surreal seeing how many people she knew, how many family members came. Dean and I stood off awkwardly, out of place among all those normal, nice, respectable people. Sam cried a lot but tried not to. I hugged him that day for what was the second time in years.

I get up and go over to my duffel bag, sit beside it and tug my boots on, lace them up tightly, complaining in my mind about how Dean loosened the laces so much. Sam's just sitting there, hands clasped and hanging between his knees as he stares blankly ahead of himself. My stomach growls loudly in hunger and Sam glances at me. So-rry.

The past week has been weird. Dean and I are used to each other and know each other's habits and instincts by heart—we have an understanding that comes from years of hunting and living with each other—so having Sam around is kind of an adjustment, to say the least. He's the odd man out, and we all know it; still we're trying not to really acknowledge it. Dean's both excited to have Sam with us and a little disappointed I think, too. Sam's so withdrawn and angry and not exactly how I remember him. But I mean, four years changes people. I know it's changed me.

I guess I always expected Sam to leave the family business. He hated the life we lived growing up, he disagreed with what Dad wanted for him and us. He and Dad fought constantly and clashed on pretty much everything the older and older Sam got… and the tighter Dad dug in, the more Sam fought the hold. It all culminated with that horrible night when Sam announced he was leaving and going to college. He'd tried so hard to be reasonable and grown up, he tried to explain it in positive words. He'd had this hopeful look on his face, begging us all, especially Dad, to understand and support him in the decision.

I remember Dean's expression of utter betrayed shock, I remember feeling like cold rivers ran through my veins and like I was losing my best friend. None of us had known it was coming. And Dad's face. I'll never forget how the unspeakable anger ran across his features that day. It got heated that night, and fast. Sam said all he wanted was a normal, functioning life, Dad accused Sam of being a coward who didn't want to face his responsibilities. Sam said life shouldn't be all fighting and surviving and revenge missions, Dad said Sam was deluding himself and living in a fantasy land. Sam said he wasn't the one who was was living in a fantasy land. You'll never find the thing that killed Mom, you had your chance to save her and she died! Sam had shouted. It's over, face it Dad! Stop trying to ruin my life with your crazy obsession! Mom's gone and nothing can bring her back!

I can't think of a time I've seen Dad angrier about that. He almost hit Sam. I still don't know why he didn't. Maybe because Dean pulled them apart—they were in each other's faces, red as lobsters. Dad told Sam if he was going to leave, to stay gone. I'm fucking done with you, Sam. Done! The last thing Sam had heard Dad say to him. No wonder he wasn't really jumping up and down to go track Dad down. I'll give my father this much… the man has a real way with words. I wonder where he is but sort of feel doubtful that we're gonna find him. I know Dean's really gung ho to find him but me? I think I'd be okay if we only saw Dad a couple times a year. If that. I'm not trying to be a bitch… I'm just being honest. There's a lot of bad blood between us, to say the least.

My shoes are on now and I rake a hand through my duffel bag, trying to find my stash of snack food. My stomach is babbling in hungry complaint and I know I had some goods in here, so where are they?! I find only one little plastic tube of mini powdered donuts. Dammit, Dean! When did he steal my M&Ms? And the beef jerky I had? And the skittles and my trail mix and the snickers bar I was saving?! What a twerp. Good natured sigh… I'll get him back for this eventually. At least he left these donut things. I go back to the bed and start opening the donuts and offer one to Sam, who looks at it unenthusiastically.

"No, thanks." I give him the look and hold the donut out further. Take it, Sam. He still won't. Just shakes his head, seeming feeble and really dejected. "Thanks, Alex, but I haven't really got an appetite, you know?"

I really hate it, how sad he is. How hurt he is. He keeps going between being really angry and singleminded to being depressed… and I think today is gonna be a depressed day. Does he still remember morse code? I don't know, but I take his hand and tap a message using morse. Not your fault.

He looks up at me and he seems startled and touched. Our eyes are the same color. But his are so much sadder than mine, today. "It is though, isn't it?" He asks softly. "My fault." So he does remember morse. I shake my head and squeeze his hand now not to communicate something with dots and dashes. Just to try and tell him no. It's not your fault. I let go after a second and pop the donut I tried to give him into my mouth. I stand up and smack the rest, still in the plastic wrapper, against his chest, point a warning finger at him as I chew rudely. Eat them or else.

Sam smiles a little through his pain at the face I'm making and accepts the donuts. "How you and Dean live off food like this is beyond me," he comments, shaking his head kind of fondly, kind of hesitantly.

This week Sam's repeatedly expressed his horror over the fast food and gas station fare Dean and I survive on. They say you are what you eat… and if that's true, Dean would be a cheeseburger and beer and I'd be microwaved macaroni and cheese or a gas station hot dog. Sam would be a tofu something or lettuce-y thing. I'm picturing the three of us now as food items with legs and chuckling mentally. I wish I could tell Sam what I'm thinking about, but I can't. Instead I switch the TV on and the news drones in the background while I start some coffee for us and get myself focused. I do my daily pushups and wonder if Dad's really at those coordinates he left us. It's not the first weird thing he's had us do, and he does do a lot of camping out or sleeping in his truck sometimes. Maybe those coordinates are where he's found a clue to finding the thing that killed Mom. We won't know until we get there. And knowing Dad's need-to-know-basis style, even then we might not know.

Pushups done, I get up and look around the room which we've lived in the past week. I do Dean a solid and pick up the dirty laundry he's strewn everywhere, put it into a garbage bag. Not to throw away—this is how we know what to wash. Clean clothes are in duffel bags, dirty go in a trash bag and we'll hit up a laundromat when we can. Sam makes a comment or two about how weird our trash bag system is as he gets his stuff ready to go and then pours some coffee for us. Dad raised us to be super neat and organized, almost militaristic at times. He would never stand for clothes being tossed helter skelter around a room, which is why my oldest brother relishes being able to do just that. Dean's a total slob at heart and so am I, more or less. Sam's a neat-freak like Dad. I notice how my twin still rolls his clothes up military style to be packed into his bag.

This coffee isn't half bad and I watch the news with mild interest. Dean comes out of the bathroom eventually, dressed and ready to go, his bag over his shoulder. His damp hair is sticking straight up like it does when he rubs it with a towel and forgets to smooth it back down. I point at him then mime smoothing my hair down to let him know. He quickly fixes the issue with one hand. "Catch," he says, throwing his dirty clothes at me—hey! Gross, Dean. I jump up and barely dodge being hit by the offending articles of clothing. I give him a glower. No way, bro. I'm not a laundry hamper.

Sam laughs softly. I can tell what he's thinking. Same old Dean.

I grab the dirty laundry trash bag, cross to Dean and push it into his chest then let go, not amused. He's chuckling at me, because this is one of his favorite things. Doing things that he knows annoy me… one of which is having sweaty old underwear and socks thrown at me. Dean puts his clothes into the bag and tosses it to Sam, who's just stood up. My twin catches it with an oof and gives Dean a look like he wants to know really?

Dean just chuckles. "You girls ready to hit the road?" He asks. Obviously, he thinks he's hilarious. Sam looks unamused but Dean is enjoying himself. "Hope you still like road trips, Sammy," he says as he picks up a couple of our things. "It's like a fifteen hour drive out there."

"I still hate road trips, Dean," Sam says evenly, though his impatience for Dean's jocky humor is obvious.

"Ha ha!" Dean snorts and claps Sam on the shoulder soundly with one of those shit-eating grins on his face… he knows Sam hates to be in the car. He looks at me and winks. "Well don't worry, Al will give you shotgun, won't you, Al?"

My eyes widen and I give Dean a look. Dude, I earned that seat. You cannot be serious.

The Next Day
Bailey, Colorado

Dean was serious. And Sam's in my seat, riding shotgun. Sigh. I guess he can have it for awhile. More room for his ridiculously long legs, anyway.

My neck is stiff from leaning over a book and I roll my head then move my shoulders around, trying to relieve some tension there. Outside it's nearing dusk and I shift a little in the seat. I'm used to being in the car a lot but I don't exactly love it.

I'm in the back seat with Dad's journal balanced on a knee. I was flipping through and reading offhandedly for the past little while—it's been awhile since I've gotten my hands on this thing since Dad usually keeps it on lockdown and out of our hands. I was really shocked when he left it for us. This leather-bond book is sort of an oddity… it begins like a normal journal would—with neatly written pages of personal thoughts and feelings. But as the pages go on, they get crazy and serial-killer-y. Complete with sketches of monsters, weapons, sigils; newspaper articles paper-clipped in, photographs, scrawled notes in mismatched ink… it looks like the work of a madman. But it's one of the best hunter resources and one of the most intriguing things I can think of. I bend over it again, flipping to the very first page. Dad's strong, bold handwriting stares back up at me. I've read these entries before, but I re-read whenever I can, trying to find the answer to the mystery that hounds my life: Why can't I speak? No one knows. But until I was six months old, until the night of that fire, I had been able.

December 4, 1983

Last night I was sitting in the kid's room, in the dark, and I heard these noises… Mike said it was the wind, and okay, maybe it was, but it sounded almost like whispering, like someone was whispering a name, under their breath, again and again… like something is out there in the dark, watching us… I stayed up all night, just watching them, protecting them. From what, I don't know. Am I protecting them? Am I hurting them? I haven't let them out of my sight since the fire. Dean still hardly talks. I try to make small talk, or ask him if he wants to throw the baseball around. Anything to make him feel like a normal kid again. He never budges from my side—or from his brother and sister. Every morning when I wake up, Dean is inside their crib, one arm wrapped around each of the twins. Like he's trying to protect them from whatever is out there in the night.

Sammy cries a lot, wanting his mom. And Alex still doesn't make a sound. Sometimes her face scrunches up like she's crying, but no sounds come out. It scares the hell out of me and I don't know what to do. One twin can't stop crying, the other is just—silent. It breaks my heart to think that soon they won't remember Mary at all. I can't let her memory die.

I don't remember my mom at all. I've seen photos, a couple photos. And that's it. I don't know what she sounded like, how she walked, how her face moved and worked. I can't remember anything about her at all. Wish I could. I know Dad loved her a lot. And Dean remembers her, sometimes talks about her and seems to revere her. I wish I could remember. But… I can't.

December 11, 1983

Sammy has finally started sleeping through the night, and now that Dean shares a bed with him and his sister, he's out like a light as well. I'm not sure about Alex… before the fire, she always wanted to be rocked to sleep and I loved that time. She'd lay her little head on my shoulder and I'd rub her back. She would make these sweet little sleepy sounds in my ear. Now, she doesn't sleep unless she's sandwiched between her brothers. I sometimes try rocking her to sleep and she cries silently, won't hold still. It breaks my heart. I keep hoping things will return to normal, but they don't.

That entry always gets me. Hurts me. Sweet little sleepy sounds. Those words have always grabbed right at my heart. I can literally feel the love and tenderness of a father from him when I read that. That's the only place where I know to find those things from John Winchester. Approval and affection are so few and far between from Dad. In fact, by the time I was old enough to read and write, he was all but emotionally dead to me. I sometimes wondered, at night in the safety of darkness where I could cry and not be reprimanded, why he didn't love me. I convinced myself he didn't, and sometimes I still don't know if he does or not. I mean, what exactly about me is lovable? I'm a mute freak and I've never measured up to his impossible standards and dammit I have tried. I think, deep down, I know the truth. That I've been a burden and an annoyance, a damper on my Dad. I'm disabled, I know that. But I try so hard to be as good of a hunter and backup as Dean or Sam ever were. I spent so many years killing myself to try and be what he wanted, but I gave up trying to please him when I was in the middle of my teen years. Bitterness overtook me… that's just what happens when you give and give and give and continually get rejected and shown no appreciation.

I love my dad. But I don't like him. He made it hard to like him and a lot of times when he was drunk, belligerent, and violent, I wanted to hate him. But I've never been able to hate him. It makes me miserable sometimes, after the shit he's put me and my brothers through. But I guess I believe, deep down, that he's a good man. I guess I hope that if he ever finds the thing that killed Mom, he'll be this dad I read about in the journal. The one that loved rocking baby me to sleep.

This next entry makes my stomach go sour. I know this was the turning point for Dad. The day that started a pattern that defined my childhood. Dean's childhood. Sam, I don't think, remembers this stuff.

February 8, 1984

Today I don't know what happened. I was trying to piece together some things I'd found from local newspapers. Stuff about bizarre murders. I was thinking maybe they were somehow related to Mary's death, because the reports said the people had died in really strange ways—their insides had completely liquified. Well, I was trying to do all this and Sammy was fussing, Alex was getting into everything (she's toddling all over the place these days) and Dean was trying to get me to help him with this Lego thing he was building. He kept trying to get me to come over, and at one point he grabbed at my arm and asked Daddy please. I don't know what came over me, but all the anger and maybe some of the alcohol too, it just set me off. I snapped at him and shoved him away, harder than I should have, and he fell backwards into little Alex, who had been walking behind him. She hit her face hard on the edge of the coffee table. She made no sound, she never does, but she was crying, her eyebrow was gashed open and bleeding. I scooped her up and yelled at Dean about what he had done to his sister. Sammy started screaming real loud when I did that. And Dean shrank away from me.

I'm left wondering what the hell this is doing to me. If I can do this at all. Sometimes I think I should just let it go and focus on the kids. But this is something I have to do. I have to make sure Mary's death is avenged, if it's the last thing I do. Nothing else matters as much as that.

I re-read that last line sadly. Nothing else matters as much as that. I still have a little scar underneath my eyebrow from that incident. I stare unseeingly at the page now, remembering all the times Dad got mad and pushed me around. Dean around. Sam, for some reason, was except. Dad's favorite.

"Hey space case!" Dean suddenly says, startling me. "Look alive."

Huh? Are we here already? I realize we've stopped driving and I peer out of the window. We've arrived to a little neighborhood of older, single-story houses. Dean and Sam are already getting out and I scramble to follow.

"This is a waste of time, Dean," Sam grumbles as he shuts his door.

"I'm telling you, it's not," Dean insists, shutting his too. "Something weird's going on around here."

"We're supposed to be finding Dad," Sam says strongly. He's annoyed, and he's been annoyed since the Ranger Station.

Dean's headed toward the house we parked in front of, giving Sam no choice to follow. I've already fallen into step with Dean—I follow his lead by default. "And this is part of how we do that," Dean says to Sam, who's trying to catch up to us.

"What, stopping to ask some girl about her missing hiker brother?" Sam asks, completely disgruntled and annoyed. "I still say you're cruising for a hookup."

Dean turns to Sam as we reach the door. "And I still say you're a moron." He grins and gives a typical douchey-sounding heh heh as he knocks loudly on the door of this house.

When we rolled into town, the first thing we did was go to the ranger station to find the best way to get to Blackwater Ridge. Apparently the only way in is on foot and it's not exactly a slice-of-pie area to get to at all. Blackwater Ridge is apparently nothing but crazy terrain, grizzlies, and abandoned old mines.

The ranger there had asked if we were friends of "that crazy Haley girl who won't quit pestering me about her brother." Dean had said yes, yes we were, his spidey senses tingling, I guess. The ranger seemed annoyed, had said, "I told that girl, he ain't missing. So you go tell her too." Dean jumped on that real quick—he's always got his ears tuned for anything weird or out of the ordinary, so a potential missing person paired with the coordinates Dad gave us does seem a little unlikely to be a coincidence. Dean managed to finagle this Haley girl's address out of the ranger, and here we are to see if maybe there's something weird going on at Blackwater. Sam, obviously, isn't happy about it. He's of the one track mind and is foaming at the mouth to find Dad, now, and also the thing that killed Jess.

The door to the house swings open and a girl around my age is standing there. She's got pretty features, curly shoulder-length hair, and bright blue eyes, looks sort of tomboyish like me.

"You must be Haley Collins," Dean says, greeting her affably. "I'm Dean, this is Sam, that's Alex, we're, ah, we're rangers with the Park Service. Ranger Wilkinson sent us over. He wanted us to ask a few questions about your brother Tommy."

Haley hesitates, looking us over. "Lemme see some ID."

Dean whips out the shitty ID he had me put together in the back of the car earlier today. I laminated it crookedly and the edges aren't totally even but… Haley buys it. "Come on in," she says, and lets us in. Even compliments the Impala when she catches sight of it. Dean seems stoked. Maybe he is cruising for a hookup. Haley's house is small, old, but homey. I can smell something cooking and Haley leads us into the dining room, apologizing and saying she's just getting dinner on the table for Ben—who is her younger brother. He looks sixteen, maybe. He eyes us mistrustfully as we come in and Haley pats him on the back as she walks past. A silent it's okay. She must be the oldest sibling.

"So Ranger Wilkinson tells us you're making his life hard, calling nonstop to check on your brother," Dean says conversationally, casting glances around the dining room in mild interest. "You do know your brother took out a permit and planned to stay gone until the twenty-fourth, right?"

"Yeah, I know," Haley says and sounds distracted. "Wilkinson told me." She's bustling into the kitchen and coming back out with a bowl of salad.

"So if Tommy's not due back for two more weeks, what makes you think something's wrong?" Sam asks carefully.

I'm lurking back, arms folded, staring at the pretty blue and white plates on display on Haley's hutch. The plates on the table are plain white ones. I've never understood why people do that… have dishes on display. If I had such pretty dishes I would use them. I'm used to eating off of wrappers and out of containers. It'd be nice to have dinner off of a pretty, shining glass plate.

"Because he checks in every day by cell," Haley is saying. "He emails, photos, stupid little videos—but we haven't heard anything in over three days now."

"Well, maybe he can't get cell reception," Sam reasons.

"No. He's got a satellite phone, too." Haley goes back into the kitchen.

"Could it be he's just having fun and forgot to check in?" Dean asks, watching her the entire time.

"He wouldn't do that," Ben says, speaking up for the first time. He's upset… his tone is a clear indication of that—he shoots Dean and then me a dark look. Haley comes back out, sets some spaghetti down on the table, indicates that Ben help himself. She seems motherly to Ben, but she can't be more than maybe six or seven years older than him.

"Our parents are gone," she says, explaining Ben's statement. "It's just my two brothers and me. We all keep pretty close tabs on each other." Hmm. Sounds familiar. I catch Dean's gaze, see that he's thinking the same thing.

"Can I see the pictures he sent you?" Sam asks, getting in the zone. Haley says yeah and shows us some pictures on a laptop—nothing special, just some selfies and a few group pictures taken out in some woods. His name is Tommy and he's out camping with some friends up there at Blackwater. It looks from the pictures like they're all having a good time. There's a video, too, of Tommy saying hi. I don't see anything too out of the ordinary about the situation and I'm not paying much attention. I'm watching Ben, who seems really withdrawn. He's super quiet and doesn't seem to like having us in his house. Don't blame him, and I know he's worried about his brother.

"Well, we'll find your brother," Dean tells Haley after we saw the video of Tommy. "We're heading out to Blackwater Ridge first thing."

"Then maybe I'll see you there," Haley says, and I think the three of us must look surprised. I'm sort of impressed at how matter-of-fact she is, how determined. "Look, I can't sit around here anymore," she says evenly. "So I hired a guy. I'm heading out in the morning and I'm gonna find Tommy myself."

Wow. Dedication. I glance at Dean, and I wonder if we're thinking of the same thing… seems awfully reminiscent of one of our own experiences. Missing brother, sister who dropped everything to go find him…. spring of 'ninety-five.

"Seems dangerous," Sam's saying, cutting off my thoughts. He sounds less than enthusiastic about Haley's mission.

She doesn't miss a beat and looks at Sam, resigned and maybe a little stubborn, too. "Doesn't matter. He's family. Nothing's gonna stop me from making sure he's okay."

Dean smiles a little, immediately liking Haley all the more. I can tell. "I think I know how you feel," he says, then sends me a little look that says he remembers the time I went after him when he disappeared, too.

A couple hours later, I bump roughly into a big biker looking guy as I work my way back across the bar. "Hey, watch it!" he complains loudly and I throw a hand out and give him a look like he's the idiot. I'm hiding my other hand… cuz I've got his wallet in it. Heh. Score. I smile a little to myself—it's too easy, really—and slip through the bustling bar patrons back to Sam and Dean, who are at a table and leaned over Dad's journal.

"So, Blackwater Ridge doesn't get a lot of traffic. Local campers, mostly. But still, this past April, two hikers went missing out there," Sam's saying. I plunk the stolen wallet down onto the table with a smirk. "They were never found," Sam continues, then looks at the wallet, realizes what it is, and sours. I get a very pointed look from my twin. "Alex. Really?" He sounds so disapproving, and now is looking at our brother. "Dean. You shouldn't let her do this crap." I feel a little stung. It's one of the things I'm good at. It's one of the things I'm proud of knowing how to do. And Sam is looking at me like I'm a horrible person because of it.

"Let?" Dean asks, easy going and grinning, making me feel a little better because I can hear how proud he is of me. "I'm the one who taught her." He claps me on the shoulder approvingly and nods at the guy I stole it from who's at the pool table, clueless. "You really think I'm gonna say no to Spike over there paying for our drinks tonight? Whaddya want? Anything on the menu, Sammy."

Sam gives Dean a peevish look. "Water."

Dean rolls his eyes. "Oh my god, get over yourself," he says, then nods at Dad's journal. "So, any other disappearances around these parts?"

Sam pulls out a couple newspaper articles that were stashed in the journal. He's still a little upset about the stolen wallet thing but I mean, he remembers: You get by whatever way you can living this life we live. I wish he didn't have to be such an a-hole about it though. I forgot how pious he can be. But for now, he gets refocused. "Yeah actually, in nineteen eighty-two, eight different people all vanished in the same year. Authorities said it was a grizzly attack." Sam taps the newspaper lightly and Dean and I look at it briefly.

GRIZZLY BEAR ATTACKS! EIGHT HIKERS VANISH IN LOST CREEK AREA - HIKERS DISAPPEARANCE BAFFLE AUTHORITIES - Families continue search and rescue efforts in spite of disappointing prospects.

Huh. Okay. So, bears. No big deal, it's to be expected out here. Sam's pulling out his laptop. "And again in 'fifty-nine and again before that in 'thirty-six."

Oh. Maybe not. I'm squinting, doing the math in my head. That's every twenty-three years, right? Why that specific time span? That's one hell of a coincidence… or maybe it's not a coincidence. "Every twenty-three years, just like clockwork," Sam says a second after I think that. He catches my thoughtful frown and for a second, he's grinning at me a little like he used to when he knew he was onto something.

He's pulling up something on his laptop then turning it it toward Dean and I, indicating that we watch, too. "Okay. The video we watched. I had Haley forward it to me. Check this out. Noticed it back at her place..." All I see is Tommy on the screen, then I see it as Sam pauses then clicks through the frames in slow motion. A shadow crosses the tent behind Tommy's head and I let my head zoom in. I'm suddenly very interested. What was that?

"Do it again," Dean says, similarly intrigued, craning his neck forward too.

Sam repeats the frames. I see it again: the distinct shadow passes over the tent, fast. "That's three frames," Sam says. "A fraction of a second. Whatever that thing is, it can move." Daaaamn, no kidding! Super speed and appears every twenty-three years. I'm stumped and sit back in my seat, thinking.

"See?" Dean hits Sam in the shoulder. "Told you something weird was going on," he says. Yeah, I agree now too. But what?

"Yeah," Sam closes the laptop. "I got one more thing." He pulls one of the newspaper clippings out from the bottom of the stack and taps it with his index finger. "In fifty-nine one camper survived this supposed grizzly attack. Just a kid. Barely crawled out of the woods alive."

"There a name?" Dean asks.

Sam looks at him with a sly little smile on his face. "Shaw. He's a local. I already checked."

Dean looks surprised, and I am too. How…? "Already checked?" Dean repeats.

"It's called the internet, Dean," Sam says, voice colored with good-natured ribbing. "It has the yellow pages on it." Ah. That must be what Sam was doing on his laptop when we stopped at a fast food place for some grub.

"I know what the internet is, Sam," Dean says snidely, grumpy. "A shortcut on good old fashioned detective work."

Sam snorts. "You just wish you'd thought of it first!"

Dean rolls his eyes and makes a pssh sound. "Yeah, yeah. What say we go ask Mr. Shaw about this 'bear' attack, huh?" He asks, and nudges me like he wants me to move so he can get out.

I look at him crazy and make a drinking sign. I want a beer! Dean cracks a grin and reconsiders leaving when he sees what I'm trying to get at. "Yeah. You're right—a couple cold ones can't hurt." He looks at Sam in amusement. "You still want just water, Sam?"

My twin seems exasperated with us and impatient to move on. I poke him in the side, chancing some playfulness, trying to get him to live a little. Come on, just one beer, Sam. He doesn't respond to what I did, just shifts away, grudging. I hide my hurt expression and pretend to look at the newspapers. I never do the right thing with Sam. Sometimes, the way he looks at me reminds me of the way Dad looks at me. Filled with disappointment and shame.

An Hour Later

"There's something evil in those woods. It was some sort of a demon..."

Mr. Shaw's words are haunting me as we drive back into town from our little late-night visit to the old man who had, as a small boy, survived one of these so-called grizzly attacks. At first the old man had dodged Dean and Sam's questions, gruffly insisting he'd been attacked by a grizzly and that's what had killed his parents, too. As my brothers pressed, he'd admitted that whatever killed his parents and almost killed him had moved too fast to see and it got inside his cabin without smashing a window or breaking a door. It unlocked it. So… not a grizzly, unless Smoky the Bear has suddenly learned how to pick a lock. What was it, then? That's what Sam and Dean are discussing right now in the front seat as I try and skim Dad's journal in the dark for ideas. Every few seconds we pass a street light and I hunt, hunt, hunt for what it might be. But it could be a lot of things. We need more clues.

"Could be some kind of vengeful spirit," Sam is saying. "Maybe a demon."

"Spirits and demons don't have to unlock doors," Dean reasons. "If they want inside, they just go through the walls."

"Okay, so it's probably something else, something corporeal," Sam says.

"Corporeal?" Dean snorts at the fancy word. "Excuse me, professor."

"Shut up," Sam mumbles as Dean pulls up to the motel we checked in to earlier. "So what do you think?"

Dean shrugs as he throws the gearshift into park. "The claws, the speed that it moves… could be a skinwalker, maybe a black dog. Whatever we're talking about, we're talking about a creature, and it's real, or in dork-speak, corporeal. Which means we can kill it." He's getting out and he walks to the back of the car to open the trunk. I shove the journal into my backpack and swing it on as I get out. I grab an empty army-green bag that was shoved underneath the passenger seat, knowing Dean's about to need it.

He's lifting up the little floorboard in the trunk that covers the arsenal below—he props it open with my shotgun and starts picking weapons out of the cache to take. "Hand that here," he says, making a gimme motion with his hand. I hand the bag over and he starts packing for tomorrow. He picks up one of our handguns and hands it to me, grip first and I check the safety then put it in the waistband of my jeans. Sam leans in as Dean paws through the disorganized weapons we keep. His mood isn't much improved since the bar. "We cannot let that Haley girl go out there, Dean."

"Oh yeah? What are we gonna tell her?" Dean pauses, checking the chamber of one of his favorite hand guns before looking at Sam challengingly. "That she can't go into the woods because of a big scary monster?"

Sam pauses, looks like he's wondering if he's the only sane one here. "Uh… yeah. Exactly."

Dean looks at Sam pointedly. "Her brother's missing, Sam. She's not gonna just sit this one out."

Uh… awkward. I try and look totally normal, but Sam glances at me, then narrows his eyes at Dean accusingly. "You trying to say something?"

Dean's face is calculating and cool. "No. It's just obvious this chick's not gonna sit by and wait for her brother to just turn back up." An awkward, stilted silence passes. We all know Dean's being a little bitchy and passive aggressive, mentioning without mentioning the time he disappeared on a hunt in the spring of 1995. He's trying to make Sam feel bad all over again and I look down. Don't drag me into this, guys.

I remember that time all too well, as it was one of the scariest times of my life. Dean up and disappeared without a word while Sam and I waited, hungry in a motel room. Sam called Dad, who was too busy with a hunt to bother with us. He stuck us on a bus and shipped us off to Bobby's. We were only twelve. After three weeks of no word from Dean or Dad, I took off, ran away, tried to track Dean down. I knew something was wrong, didn't believe what Dad said ("Your brother's on a hunt of his own, learning a lesson he needs to learn."). I didn't believe that. I managed to make it for nine days—I stole money and food, took buses from Sioux Falls back to where we'd been when Dean disappeared. Upstate New York. I tried to track Dean down and got busted by the cops. It took two more weeks for them to track Dad down to come get me, and Dad wasn't the one who came for me when all was said and done. Uncle Bobby was. I spent those two weeks in New York locked in juvenile detention after some teenage thug tried to put the beatdown on me when I was first in holding. I broke that asshole's nose, ripped his earring out of his ear, and may have made it impossible for him to have children. I still don't regret handing that fool's ass to him.

I was miserable and scared and freaking out in juvvy but at least no one messed with me. "Stay away from that freaky mute girl," everyone whispered when I passed by. I was glad when it was my Uncle's worried face waiting for me, the day I got released and not my Dad's angry one. We went back to Sioux Falls and Uncle Bobby sat me down and comforted me, told me I couldn't run off again, but he understood why I did. He said not to worry, Dean would be fine. I remember how he hugged me and patted me on the back and I wondered why Bobby wasn't a dad. He should have been. He seemed good as one. Sometimes, I pretended he was mine.

Dad came and got me and Sam out of the blue one night, drove us forever and ever, wouldn't tell us where we were going. He was so mad at me he could have spit. He went on and on about what a "fucking idiot kid" I was and how "you can't follow one damn thing I say, ever, Alexandra, can you? All you had to do was sit on your ass and wait, but you couldn't even do that. God damn!"

Sam hadn't defended me. I think he was too scared. Sometimes, he saw it… the Dad I know so much better than he did. I remember when we went to some farmhouse in the dead of night and Dean unexpectedly walked out of that house, my heart soared and hope returned. I had been so scared that he would never turn back up. I'd found my big brother again. My rock, hero, best friend. I fell out of the car and ran to him, Sam close on my heels. I think I hugged my oldest brother tight enough to break his ribs. Then I hauled back and punched him in the stomach, mad as hell that he'd been gone all that time. He'd laughed and grimaced and ruffled my hair, high-fived Sam and hugged him around the neck, said not to worry… he wasn't going anywhere ever again. Dad had been silent and baleful, looking at Dean as if in disgust. I still don't know why. He didn't even get out of the car to greet his son.

That was ten years ago.

Dean and Sam are staring each other down cooly, animosity rising. Sam doesn't want to go after Haley's missing brother, Dean does. "We go with her, we protect her, and we keep our eyes peeled for our fuzzy predator friend," Dean says evenly, challenging Sam to argue with him. "That's the plan, kay Sammy?" Dean picks up the duffel full of weapons and pulls it out of the trunk.

"What, finding Dad's not enough?" Sam slams the weapons box shut for him, then the trunk—both with more gusto than necessary. "Now we gotta babysit a couple more losers?" I feel struck. I feel, distinctly, that he's implying I'm someone to be babysat, too. Dean stares at Sam, who is insolent. "What?"

Dean looks like he's losing patience and maybe regretting bringing Sam along. "Nothing," he says darkly, then throws the duffel bag at Sam and walks off toward the motel, not looking back, maybe removing himself from the situation so he doesn't do something dumb. Sam stares after him and I don't move. I just look at Sam cautiously. He looks like he wants to punch something.

"God, Alex, how do you stand living with his self-righteous bullshit?" Sam asks testily. It hurts that Sam is letting his anger do this to him. To us. I trust and love Dean, depend on him, and know he makes the right choice nine times out of ten. I'm not happy with my twin right now and give him a look to let him know he's being a dick. Sam scoffs at me. "Yeah, that's right," he says sarcastically. "I forgot. You're too busy worshipping him to take two seconds and think for yourself." His sudden, sharp comment shocks me, hits me where it hurts, and it shows on my face. Sam looks unreadable and pissed and a little guilty and he shakes his head. "You know what, I'll see you guys in the morning."

He throws the weapons bag at me and I almost fall over because I wasn't expecting that. Sam's stalking off into the night. Where the hell are you going?! Hey, asshole! I stare after him with a clenched jaw and wounded pride. Now I remember why I had initially thought this was a bad idea. Jerk.

Disheartened, hurt, not wanting to be either, I plod in the direction Dean went, the weapons bag heavy in my arms. I should be mad, right? All I feel is sad. Sam's torn up, wanting revenge just like Dad does. And Dad's spent twenty-some years looking for revenge and never finding it. What if this destroys Sam like it has Dad? I catch up to Dean as he's unlocking the motel room door. He notices that I'm alone. "Where's Sam?" I shrug my shoulders, shake my head, making a face that Dean reads immediately. "What, he take off or something?" He asks a little incredulously, and I nod wanly. Dean looks inconvenienced as hell. "Little punk, man…" he mutters and starts like he's gonna go after Sam but I stop him with a hand against his shoulder, holding the weapon bag with one arm kind of perilously. Not a good idea, Dean, I tell him with my eyes. Dean gives a very frustrated sigh and relents, wetting his lips and staring down the hallway a few more seconds. He takes the bag I'm struggling with for me, shoulders it. "Yeah, maybe it was too much to hope he'd grown up, huh?" He asks, distracted as he opens the door. We go inside the dump of a motel room as Dean continues to complain. "Same old self-centered Sam." He tosses the bag down and looks around the room unhappily. "Home sweet home."

I shrug my backpack off and sit on the bed and scribble in my notepad while Dean paces a little, his hand rubbing against his mouth in thought. I finish what I wrote and show it to him, a plaintive look on my face.

He's upset about Jess. He's grieving. Go easy.

"I am going easy!" Dean protests. I give him a look. "Okay, I know he's going through it right now. I get that. But he acts like he knows everything, and he doesn't get what we do." True enough. I look down. Dean's shaking his head. "I dunno, maybe he really does belong in that precious normal life of his he loves so much, huh?"

Something in his tone of voice offsets a mild suspicion. I write a single word and underline it twice. Jealous?

Dean scoffs. "Jealous? No way." He's trying really hard. "Why would I be jealous of sitting in class all day and having to work some boring-ass job for money?" He shakes his finger at me, appearing to be a little smug. "We get to see the country, save people, be badasses. No annoying neighbors, no mowing the lawn, no mortgage... we got it easy. This is the life!"

'We got it easy'? 'This is the life'? I'm laughing, which just means a lot of funny breath sounds coming out of my mouth. He's delusional—this isn't the life. But we're stuck in it, more or less. Maybe that's why he's trying to make the best of it. Dean doesn't want to talk about it any more, I guess, cuz he bats away an invisible something. "Enough Dr. Phil stuff. We got weapons to get ready." He turns on the TV and switches through the channels as we sharpen our knives, load and clean the guns. He leaves it on a spanish soap opera and says something about how he knows I love this show so much. He's the bigger fan and we both know it, but I humor him. After we're locked and loaded, we fall asleep without Sam there. Like it always was before. But after a week of Sam being here with us, it feels kinda strange.

The Next Day

When we woke up this morning, Sam showed up sullenly and wouldn't tell us where he was all night. Just said "let's go already." It's early and we didn't pack any camping provisions. Dean insisted we wouldn't need anything. I might have packed a few things anyway, just in case.

We pull up into a gravel parking lot where the Lost Creek wilderness trails begin and civilization drops off. I see Haley and Ben over at a car with some guy I don't recognize. He's got a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder, and even from the way he stands, I can tell he's got an attitude. As the Impala approaches, he eyes us dubiously.

Dean parks the car and gets out, Sam and I following. "You guys got room for a few more?"

"Wait, you want to come with us?" Haley asks. I'm slinging my backpack over my arms and I hand Sam the bag with weapons. He takes it silent, stone-faced.

"Who are these people?" The man with the gun asks as Dean approaches Haley. The man is maybe forty or so, with short sandy hair, a neat beard, and a grizzled, tough look about him. I guess this is the tracker Haley mentioned last night. Looks a little shifty to me.

"Apparently this is all the park service could muster up for the search and rescue, Roy," Haley says to the tracker, looking at us dubiously. She's got on hiking boots, an outdoorsy looking windbreaker and shorts plus a really serious looking hiking backpack. Ben has one of those on, too. Sam heads past everyone, eager to get on the move, I guess. I hang back beside Dean.

"You're rangers?" Roy asks doubtfully, taking in our appearances and lack of gear.

"That's right," Dean answers without missing a beat. I glance at him sidelong. I think I look pretty convincing, anyway—I'm wearing work boots, a plaid flannel, and a cargo jacket with my predictable jeans—I have tan skin and a tomboy appearance. I look outdoorsy enough. I guess Dean doesn't really fit the bill of a ranger in his leather jacket and frat-boy good looks.

"And you're hiking out in biker boots and jeans?" Haley asks, as if reading my thoughts.

Dean looks down at himself, then deflects with sarcasm. "Well, sweetheart, I don't do shorts." He heads up to join Sam and I follow.

"What, you think this is funny or something?" Roy asks as we pass him. He's not amused, in fact, he seems to openly dislike us right away. "It's dangerous back country out there. Her brother might be hurt."

Dean chuckles lowly, stopping to look at Roy with a disarming, cool smile. "Believe me, I know how dangerous it can be. We just wanna help them find their brother, that's all." Dean turns and starts off down the pathway that's ahead. Warnings are posted at the trailhead about continuing… stuff about rough terrain, dangerous elements, grizzlies. Yippee. I can't wait.

Dean leads the way and Roy, annoyed, hurriedly pushes ahead, taking the lead and giving Dean a look. Sam smacks Dean in the chest, mutters at him to "just be cool for once, Dean." The forest becomes thick, quickly, the trees blocking out the sunlight. It's dark and cool here, and I'm glad I wore my jacket. For awhile, we follow the trail, then Roy takes us off trail, saying he knows a faster way to the ridge. Before he does, he gives Dean a look, says it might get rough once we get off the main pathway. "Can the 'rangers' handle it?" He asks sarcastically. I push through between them, rolling my eyes. We're burning daylight and they want to measure and see whose junk is biggest.

Roy follows after me and pushes me aside, says something snide and throws the word "sweetie" in there to piss me off a little more. We continue through the thick underbrush for awhile. I think it becomes abundantly clear after Dean idiotically almost steps into a bear trap that we're not rangers, and Haley calls Dean on it as Roy marches on ahead.

"You didn't pack any provisions," she says, right behind Dean. "You guys are carrying a duffel bag and puny little backpack. You're not rangers." Dean won't stop walking and Haley grabs his arm, making him stop and face her. "So who the hell are you?"

The rest of the group is still heading forward, but they've stopped, and so do I, a few steps ahead, watchful of my brother and Haley. Dean glances at me, then looks at Haley. "Okay look, Sam and Alex are my brother and sister, all right? We're looking for our father. He might be out here, we don't know. I just figured that you and me, we're in the same boat."

Haley decides to believe him, but isn't exactly thrilled. "Why didn't you just tell me that from the start?"

Dean's easy going as usual. "I'm telling you now. 'Sides, it's probably the most honest I've ever been with a woman. ...Ever." He cracks a lopsided grin and jerks his thumb at me. "She doesn't count, sisters aren't women." Ah geez. "So we okay?" He asks her.

She's smiling a little at his joke and trying not to be charmed by him. She loses that one, nodding and deciding to let it slide. Dean can have that effect on women. "Yeah, okay," she says.

"And what do you mean I didn't pack provisions?" Dean asks, feigning being indignant. He pulls out my oversized bag of M&Ms. I knew it! He sticks his hand in, throws her a smile even as I make a swipe for it. He saw me coming and holds the bag out of my reach, chuckling. "They're mine now, princess!" He teases, and grins at me. "You can't expect to keep these around and not have me borrow a few. Steal some. Take the whole bag. Whatever you wanna call it."

I give him a you're dead to me but I also still love you look and he just chortles, hikes onward, leaving me there to glare halfheartedly. Haley sends me a sympathetic smile. "Tommy does stuff like that to me all the time," she says, studying me. "Yeah, I can see it now. Dunno why I didn't notice before. You look just like him." No, I don't. But, okay. I try a thin smile and hike onward. Haley tries to catch up and walk beside me.

"So you guys are looking for your dad?" She asks, curious and I guess trying to be friendly. I like her, she seems nice enough, and nod yes. But I hope she won't ask more questions. She does, ventures onward, not knowing I literally can't reply. "So he went hiking out here too, or…?"

Well, here it comes. The big reveal I hate making. I point to my throat, shrug, make a no can do sort of signal with my hands, brace myself for the inevitable pity party.

"Oh..." she says, clearly shocked, embarrassed, and then, yup, there it is. The look I always get from everyone. The one where they feel sorry for me and bad for me. God, and I hate it so much, because it's just another reminder that I'm not normal. "I wondered why you didn't say anything," Haley said, trying to apologize I guess. "I'm really sorry."

I brush it off and shake my head, try and act fine. But I hike up ahead and fall into step beside Dean and he notices my face. "What's wrong with you?" He asks and I try to tell him nothing, shut up with the glance I give him. He offers me the M&M bag. "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand," he says playfully, trying to get me to crack a grin. I swipe at the bag and he grins, tricking me. "Too slow," he says. Punk! I punch him in the arm, not amused. "Ah-ha-howww," he chuckles in surprise, recoiling a little and pulling away from me. I smirk at him. Serves you right, always stealing my candy.

Up ahead, Sam glances back at us disapprovingly. Dean leans in a little and speaks so that only he and I can hear. "Should we tell him how constipated when he makes that face?" I dunno… I'm trying to get the bag of M&Ms again and Dean sidesteps my try. "Ah-ah!" He chides, grinning the whole time. "Nice try though." He's popping an M&M into his mouth and chewing with a huge smile on his face.

We hike on for awhile, the better portion of the day stopping a couple times for bathroom breaks and then for a lunch of granola bars and bananas. The granola bars were actually mine and I give Dean a told you so look when I pull them out of my backpack to share. The sun goes away and it becomes overcast in the late afternoon, making the woods seem darker. We trudge on, everyone getting tired and cranky. Ben says like two words the whole time. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was like me, unable to speak at all. Finally, Roy stops us. We're deep into the woods, but it looks like everywhere else we've been. "This is it. Blackwater Ridge."

"What coordinates are we at?" Sam asks.

Roy pulls out a GPS device. "Thirty-five and minus one-eleven."

The coordinates Dad left for us. "You hear that?" Dean asks Sam.

"Yeah." Sam pauses. It's dead silent. "Not even crickets." He pauses again. "So where the hell is Dad?"

"I'm gonna go take a look around," Roy says, and Sam immediately protests.

"You shouldn't go off by yourself."

"That's sweet. Don't worry about me." Roy waves his gun meaningfully. It's cute, really, how people always think a gun is gonna save their asses. The tracker walks in between Sam and Dean, letting his shoulder hit Dean's. I notice. Dick.

Dean tells everyone to stay together and we follow jackass Roy, explore the area, looking for Tommy's campsite or any sign of Dad. Roy keeps wandering off and pushing the boundaries of how far he can distance himself from the group. I notice he's gone the exact same second I hear him holler. "Haley! Over here!"

Sounds like he found something, and Haley takes off running toward the sound of his voice, over a slight ridge and then into a flat clearing. We're right behind her. "Oh my god…" Haley says. My sentiments exactly. Holy hell, something bad went down here.

The tents are torn open and bloody and all the supplies are scattered. Is that human blood splattered onto the shredded, half-standing tents? Haley and Ben are distraught, frozen in place, but I'm moving forward, peering into the wreckage, looking for bodies (I see none) or any kind of sign of what did this. Fur, clawmarks… I don't see anything distinct. The tents were definitely clawed to shreds, but bears have claws, so that's not much of a clue. I eye a blood splatter. It's dry, days old I guess.

"Looks like a grizzly," Roy says somberly, taking off his heavy pack as Dean walks through the mess, his eyes scanning intently.

Haley takes off her backpack and walks through the campsite, getting panicked. "Tommy? Tommy!"

Sam drops his bag, rushes over and shushes her.

I'm poking at a blood-splattered tent flap, bending to sniff a little bit. Yeah, human blood. The scent makes me gag slightly. "Tommy!" Haley calls even louder.

"Shh-hh-hh!" Sam grabs her by the arm, looks around carefully, alert.

"Why?" Haley asks, confused and dazed.

"Because something might still be out there," he says softly.

"Hey wonder twins!" Dean calls, and I turn, frowning. Where'd he go? He sounds far off all the sudden. I move toward his voice, see that he's about twenty feet out where the woods are thicker. I head that way, Sam at my side. I notice the disturbed underbrush and snapped twigs. Dean's crouched down where the drag marks disappear. Sam crouches beside him as I look up, looking at the trees, mystified. "The bodies were dragged from the campsite," Dean explains. "But here, the tracks just vanish. It's weird." They both stand up. "I'll tell you what, that's no skinwalker or black dog."

He turns and heads back to camp. I glance at Sam, point up to the trees. Did whatever dragged these bodies away maybe jump into a tree? It'd have to be pretty froggy to manage that, especially while dragging and holding onto human bodies.

"Huh, maybe…" Sam says thoughtfully, following my gaze and catching my meaning. He seems disturbed and a little shaken up. "Stay close, Alex. It's dangerous out here." He indicates that I should walk ahead of him back to the campsite for better protection. Even though I'm annoyed with that, a little (I can handle myself, has he forgotten?), it's also kind of sweet. He does care, still. And I'm glad to have the reminder. I walk ahead of him to humor him.

Back at the campsite, Dean is consoling Haley, who is crouched down, holding a bloody, smashed cell phone. I see her like that—in tears over a missing brother—and my heart suddenly goes out to her. God, if I don't remember what that feels like. Ben is hanging back, trying to look strong and silent. It suddenly got a whole lot realer to me.

"He-eeeelp!" Comes a sudden, strong call from somewhere deep in the woods. It sounds like a man, and Roy dashes off, Dean close behind—the rest of us right behind them as another shout echoes through the trees. "Help!" It sounds like a man. Is that Tommy or one of his friends? We race toward the persistent cries. "Help! Somebody!"

And then they cease. Roy stops short, looks around breathlessly. There's not a sound, and the woods are silent. Ominous. Where's the person who was yelling? I see nothing, no one.

"It seemed like it was coming from around here, didn't it?" Haley asks, sounding very scared. The woods are deadly silent and I suddenly wonder if this is some kind of trap. My pistol is out and my gaze is sharp, every nerve ending is ready for an attack.

Then Sam seems to realize it a second before the rest of us. "Everybody back to camp."

Oh shit, he's right. We hightail it back… and all the backpacks are gone. Everyone took theirs off, except me—and mine has nothing truly useful in it, anyway, except maybe Dad's journal.

"Our packs!" Haley says, voice fraught with panic.

Roy is annoyed. "So much for my GPS and my satellite phone," he mutters.

Haley looks around with wide, freaked out eyes. "What the hell is going on?!"

"It's smart," Sam says, his voice low and grim as he glances out into the darkening woods. "It wants to cut us off so we can't call for help." A shiver runs up my spine. He's right. I'm wracking my brain for what kind of big-bad is out there. Is it watching us right now?

"You mean someone, some nutjob out there just stole all our gear," Roy says, peering into the woods sourly, gripping his rifle a little tighter and looking around for footprints or tracks.

Sam walks over to Dean, who's deep in thought a couple steps from me. "I need to speak with you. In private." Dean nods and I make to follow with them, but Sam holds out a hand sort of rudely, stopping me. "No. Not you. Just Dean." I look at him in blatant shock at his brusque tone. But… what did I do? What's with the third degree?

Dean rounds on Sam, his eyebrows raised sky high. "Excuse you?" He's crystal clear and firm about what he says next. "Anything you got to say to me you can say to your sister too."

Sam's jaw tightens and his eyes dart to me. "Fine." He stalks off into the woods a little ways off and we follow. I'm mystified. Why's he being like that again all the sudden?! Dean's wondering the same thing. I can tell.

"Lemme see Dad's journal," Sam demands, turning around abruptly.

"Please and thank you are the magic words," Dean says sarcastically as I turn slightly and he unzips the backpack, draws the journal out. Sam takes it and flips through. Huh. He must have an idea about what this thing is. I cross my arms and frown, but Sam takes no notice.

"All right, check that out." Sam shows us the page he's opened to. It says WENDIGO and has a cave-man looking sketch of a tall figure with long, clawed hands.

Dean protests immediately, laughing it off. "Oh come on, wendigos are in the Minnesota woods or, or northern Michigan. I've never even heard of one this far west."

"Think about it, Dean, the claws that tore up the tents, the way it can mimic a human voice…"

Huh. He has a point, actually and Dean sees that I think so. "Great." He pulls out his pistol. "Well then this is useless. You got a flamethrower in that backpack of yours, Al?" Ha ha. I make a face. Wish I did, Dean.

Sam smacks the journal into Dean's chest and heads past him, then stops for a second. "We gotta get these people to safety." It's a nice sentiment, but he sounds so pissy and he's directing all his anger at us for some reason. Why?

I watch him go as Dean puts the journal back into my backpack and zips it back. I'm in a shitty mood again. "Don't let it get to ya, tiger. I'll talk to him later, okay?" He makes a hurry it up sign with his hand, telling me to get my ass back to camp.

"All right, listen up, it's time to go," Sam is saying loudly as he strides into camp, us bringing up the rear. "Things have gotten… more complicated."

"Kid, don't worry." Roy smirks. "Whatever's out there, I think I can handle it."

Sam shoots him a short glance. "It's not me I'm worried about. If you shoot this thing, you're just gonna make it mad. We have to leave. Now."

Roy is getting unhappy, and fast. "One, you're talking nonsense. Two, you're in no position to give anybody orders." He sounds downright confrontational and my adrenaline begins to pump.

"Relax." Dean stares hard at Roy, who is not relaxing. I can sense a fight coming on.

"We never should have let you come out here in the first place, all right?" Sam says, facing Roy and being reasonable enough. "I'm trying to protect you."

"You protect me?" Roy asks, offended and getting in Sam's face. I step forward, Dean's arm shoots out to stop me. "I was hunting these woods when your mommy was still kissing you good night!"

Sam doesn't blink, just leans in toward Roy. He's tall and looks down on the tracker, enjoying the advantage. "Yeah? It's a damn near perfect hunter. It's smarter than you." Sam's almost smirking now. "And it's gonna hunt you down and eat you alive unless we get your stupid, sorry ass out of here."

Roy laughs in Sam's face, pushes his arm. "You know you're crazy, right?" Roy's grinning like a fool, crowding Sam, who's stepping back.

"Yeah?!" Sam asks, looking and sounding like he's about to start something—and I don't like the look in Roy's eye, he won't quit edging in on Sam. I push Dean's arm away and dart forward, jam myself between the two men and shove Roy, hard—startling everyone. I'm stronger than I look and know how to fight, which is why Roy looks so surprised when he flies back a few feet and almost loses his footing.

As he's recovering, he glares daggers at me. "You kidding me, little girl?" He booms, pissed that I got the best of him for a split second. He makes to move in on me and I'm up for the challenge. Bring it on, dickbag.

"Hey whoa whoa whoa!" Dean's suddenly in front of me, intervening, facing Roy. "Chill out." He looks back at Sam and me meaningfully, a little mad. "Everyone." His eyes come to mine. "Chill. Out."

Chastised, I get sullen. Roy's laughing now, trying to goad us. "That's great Sam, your disabled little sister fighting your battles for you, what a man!" Sam falls for the bait and tries to lunge at him and Dean stops my twin forcibly as Roy continues to cackle.

"Stop! Just stop!" Haley is saying, standing back, horrified at the scene in front of her. Ben cowers behind her, looking younger than his age of sixteen. Sam relents, Dean lets go of him. Roy is smirking at us, then looks at me, winks. And suddenly finds Dean in his face. He's got Roy by the collar and he's shoving him against the tree there.

"Don't let me catch you talking about my sister like that again, Roy," Dean says, the threat said in a nice, even tone that conceals how angry he really is.

"Or what, macho man?" Roy asks, baiting Dean.

"Stop! Stop it!" Haley is freaking out, and pulling on Dean. He lets go of Roy, but he's obviously pissed as hell. "Everybody just stop. Look. Tommy might still be alive. And I'm not leaving here without him. So everyone just stop with the bullshit, okay?"

A long pause. Sam looks pissed, ready to go. But Dean gives in and lets go of Roy, steps back, warning still in his eyes. "It's getting late," he says, glancing at Roy darkly before he moves past him. "This thing is a good hunter in the day, but an unbelievable hunter at night. We'll never beat it, not in the dark. We need to settle in and protect ourselves."

"From what?" Roy asks, getting more and more disgusted with my family.

Dean cracks a facetious smile, and my best guess is that he's stabbing Roy in his mind. "Wendigo."

By the time it's dark, it's only six in the evening. November has these early sunsets and we're promised a very long, interesting night here, unsheltered and without any real supplies. We straightened up the campsite as best we could, found a few things that weren't ruined, then got some firewood pulled together… ate the rest of the granola bars I had thoughtlessly packed this morning. I'm glad I packed them now.

The temperature is dropping and the fire we built is crackling merrily. The air is crisp and thin, smells like late fall, early winter. If it weren't for the thought of a bloodthirsty monster out there, this might be nice. But… it's not nice. Bloodthirsty monster and all.

I'm crouched down, a stick in hand. Dean and I are tracing protective Anasazi symbols in the dirt around the campsite, putting a loose circle around us. Roy thinks we're nuts, but Haley and Ben are humoring us… maybe because they don't have another choice. Sam's sitting over beside a large tree stump, silent and mad about being here. Haley watches Dean offhandedly. "One more time, that's—"

"Anasazi symbols," Dean supplies. "For protection. The wendigo can't cross over them." Roy laughs, his gun over his shoulder. "Nobody likes a skeptic, Roy," Dean says loudly. I smirk in the darkness at my brother, who sounds like he's standing up and dusting his hands off. "You good over there, Al?"

I raise a thumbs up high over my head and finish tracing the shape into the tightly packed dirt with my other hand. That was the last one. Roy's sauntering over to me and then 'accidentally' puts the toe of his boot through one of the lines. I look up at him and give him a bitch face. "Oops," he says, grinning down at me. I re-draw the line with a sharp stroke of the stick I've used and then stand up, stare him down calmly. Does he think I'm intimidated or something? Men like him don't scare me. In fact, it should be the other way around. He should be afraid of me. I don't like it when people try and bully me. I had enough of that shit growing up and I don't stand for it anymore. "Nice arts and crafts, sweetheart," he says, looking at the symbol patronizingly. "So glad you're around to keep us safe with the kindergarten drawings."

I give him a wink, a smiling nod, and the finger, then let my expression drop, walk away from him with an eye roll. Idiot. Sam and Dean are in deep conversation off at the edge of camp. I don't intrude. I sit down across from Ben and Haley who are at the fire. I toss the stick I used to draw into the flames, then hold my hands out toward the fire to warm them.

"It's cold," Haley says, smiling tightly at me, being polite. I nod a little, kind of uncomfortable, then glance at my brothers, wondering what's happening over there. I guess maybe this is the talk Dean said he was gonna have with Sam. I look down at my hands and crack my knuckles out of restless boredom. I don't plan on sleeping tonight. No way. I look upward, elbows resting on my bent knees. I can see some stars through the dark spiky shapes made by tree branches and leaves and I smile a little. I feel a little more peaceful when I see stars. Always have.

"So Alex, you the youngest in your family?" Haley asks, trying to be nice and make me feel included. I tear my gaze away from the heavens. Oh god. This is the worst, when people try and have a conversation with me. It's nothing but work and doesn't always go so well and I'm fine to just sit here in silence—I wish people didn't feel obligated to try and include me. But I try, as always, to be polite, at least. I nod yes. Everyone actually usually thinks I'm younger than Sam by a few years, at least. It's because I'm smaller and a lot shorter than him and always have been. Plus, I have one of those baby faces. People often think I'm still in high school. "That's what I thought," Haley says. "You must be around Ben's age, right?"

I shake my head no, a little rueful, then flash all ten fingers twice, then a peace sign. Twenty-two. Haley looks slightly embarrassed. "Oh. Okay. I was only off by about six years." She chuckles forcibly then goes quiet, clears her throat, trying to think. It's hard to talk to someone who can only answer with a nod for yes, a shake for no. And why would anyone want to? "So, do you… uh…" Haley trails off awkwardly, not sure what to ask me. I look away, catch sight of Ben who is shaking his head as he sits beside his sister. He seems to be feeling awkward about the conversation and I decide to stop imposing. They don't need to talk to me, I wish they wouldn't if it makes them uncomfortable. I stand up and smile tightly then drift away from the fire, into the cooler darkness near the edge of the campsite. Haley protests halfheartedly, then lets me go without further words. I stand there and cross my arms, off in my silent world and watch my brothers again, who are out of earshot. Man, just look at them… talking so easily, communicating so readily. It's not fair. None of my life is fair.

Sometimes I have this sudden feeling of pain in my heart. Of loneliness. Of despair. Will it always be like this for me? I don't know. There's this gaping hole that I feel everywhere, in every part of me. I'm waiting for something, longing for something that never arrives. And seeing Dean and Sam together makes me jealous and hopeless. Dean deserves a hunting partner like that, doesn't he? Maybe I am as useless as Sam seems to think I am.

The silence is shattered without warning. "Help me!" Comes the same voice from earlier today, and everyone in camp stands up at the eerie cry, clusters toward the fire. "Please!" Dean's pulling his gun out, Sam's shining a flashlight around, I've got my hand reaching for my pistol.

"He's trying to draw us out," Dean says, keeping calm. "Just stay cool, stay put."

"Inside the magic circle?" Roy asks. There's suddenly low growling in the dark nearby, and the trees shake as something blazing fast moves past—everyone jumps back, startled. Roy points his gun, trying to find a mark. "Okay… that's no grizzly," he murmurs, getting real interested.

Haley and Ben are hanging onto each other, scared—then something rushes past, really close, and Haley shrieks. I'm with her now, make a shh sound, tell her be cool with my hand. It rushes past again, and Roy fires into the rustling trees.

"I hit it!" He shouts, and runs off into the night to pursue. No way did he hit it, and I think me and my brothers all know that.

"Roy, no!" Dean shouts after him. "Roy!"

The tracker isn't listening and Dean turns back to us. "Don't move!" He jabs his pointer finger at me commandingly. "Stay with them!" And he's taking off. Dammit, Dean—I watch as Sam runs off after him too. I have to hold myself back from pursuing. Their voices get further and further away and my chest hurts in anxiety. I don't like it when I can't see my brothers and there's something bad around.

"Oh my god oh my god oh my god," Ben says really fast, sounding like he's near a friggin' mental collapse. He's backing up, eyes wide in panic. "This isn't real, not real, not real," he mumbles, starting to hyperventilate. Maybe it's not my place but I turn around impulsively, charge over to him and then slap him in the face to snap him out of it, then hold his chin tightly, point at him sternly. Get it together, man. I let go.

Haley looks too surprised to do anything, Ben's gaping at me but silent now, not breaking down into hysterics. I'm so done with this wendigo's shit right about now and I pull my gun out of my waistband, cock the slide with a satisfying click, and double check the symbols on the ground while I keep an eye out. I can hear shouts off in the woods. Be careful, guys. I'm anxious. I don't like being separated from Dean or Sam, especially on a hunt. I grind my teeth as my eyes scan the dark shapes of the forest at night. Could be another trick, another lure to separate us. I strain my ears, trying to hear what's happening.

"Do you know how to use that thing?" Haley asks, indicating my gun as she's huddling near the fire with Ben. I guess she thinks the light will keep them safe. I give her a look that says yes, I know how to use this thing. I peer off into the darkness, heart hammering. Guns won't really work on a wendigo. It'll slow them down, but it won't kill. But aside from setting the whole forest on fire, it's kinda the only line of defense I have right now.

After a few tense minutes, Sam and Dean return. Roy's disappeared. I shake my head in chagrin when they tell us that. The only good news is that wendigo usually keep their victims alive to feed off of slowly. So maybe that idiot isn't as good as dead. Maybe.

Morning comes and as Dean's talking to Haley and Ben, I decide to try and approach Sam again. He's sitting against the tree stump, off from the camp and alone, looking somber and sad with Dad's closed journal resting on his slightly bent legs. I bet he's thinking of Jess. I'm willing to try again with Sam. Seeing how Dean and him made some kinda peace last night has inspired me to try, too.

Here goes nothing. I gather my courage and go up to him, sit beside him, chance a tight smile at him. He looks at me fleetingly then down, shaking his head. "Quit looking at me like that. Like you feel sorry for me." He sounds so sad.

I do the mature thing: make a dumb face at him. Like me looking at you this way better? Then I smile at him again, but this time it's more genuine. He cracks a little grin at my stupidity. That raises my spirits immediately and I nudge his shoulder with mine. I remember when we used to be best buds. I think he does, too.

He looks a little sheepish. "Sorry about yesterday. And the day before that." He pauses, smiling ruefully. "And probably the day before that, too." I smile a little. He says nothing else about it, but he doesn't have to. It's okay. I think bygones should be bygones and I'll let this be exactly that—I know what kinds of things he's going through right now anyway, so he can have a pass about some of the things he says and does. Sam shakes his head, thinking deeply as he looks at me. "Man, it's crazy you're still doing this, you know?" His statement startles me. Why's it crazy? What else would I do? Sam's continuing, looking off into the woods as he continues. "I thought for sure you'd break out of it after I did, at least try for something more normal, safer. This life is… it sucks. Different place every night, never know when you're gonna sleep or eat next…" he looks at me intently. "You happy doing this?"

The question catches me unaware. I don't know. I shrug, trying to just be easy going, trying to be whatever. But Sam's thoughtful frown deepens. "No. Really. Tell me. Are you happy doing this?"

I realize that I don't wanna answer, because I don't know. So I nod yes, because I feel yes more than I feel no. But I feel both of those words pretty strongly, honestly. Sam doesn't look entirely convinced, but lets it go. For a minute, we sit there together. I yawn widely after a minute, feeling the fatigue setting in. I am really, really wishing we had coffee right about now.

Sam's staring blankly ahead of himself. "You think Dad's sending us on a wild goose chase?" He asks, seeming to consider the possibility with growing apprehension.

I take out my notepad and flip to a clean page. You know Dad…

I put the dots on purpose, because I think it could go either way. I know Sam takes my meaning, but he errs to the side of quiet, bitter cynicism. "You know, I really don't know if I do." He sighs, visibly forcing himself to light up. Slapping his hands down onto his knees, he's about to stand up. "Tell you what I do know. I'm ready to gank this wendigo. You in?"

Hell yeah I am.

Wendigo are one of the saddest monsters I know of. They're hundreds of years old and each of them was once a man. Sometimes an Indian, or other times a frontiersman or a miner or hunter. The sad part, to me, is they became what they are because they wanted to survive, to live… a basic human notion we all have.

So, during some harsh winter this guy finds himself starving, cut off from supplies or help and he becomes a cannibal to survive, eating other members of his tribe or camp. They eat enough humans over the years, they become less than human. They become a wendigo. Cultures all over the world believe that eating human flesh gives a person certain abilities. Speed, strength, immortality… and wendigo have all of those. They hibernate for long periods of time, but when they're awake they keep their victims alive for awhile, which is why as we set out to try and track Roy and find Tommy, I am sort of hopeful we might find both. Wendigo keep their victims in dark places. A cave… or an old mine shaft, maybe. I remember seeing how there were abandoned mines all over Blackwater Ridge.

Dean made a really ghetto molotov cocktail with a beer can and a rag and he's carrying it as we start to pick up Roy's trail. It's grisly. There are claw marks and blood every few trees and we follow, cautious and slow, listening for any sound of the wendigo. It could be behind any tree or up in any tree. We move deeper and deeper into the wilderness, following the trail. Sam stops suddenly as we come to a group of trees that's slashed up and bloodied in what looks almost a precise, calculated way. "You know, I was thinking... those claw prints, so clear and distinct. They were almost too easy to follow."

Dean looks at him sidelong. "Hmm."

A sudden low growling comes from behind us and all of us whip around, trying to catch sight of the wendigo. There's nothing, anywhere–only some bushes shaking, then a tree rustling. Backing up slowly, I really hope Dean can aim that molotov good, or we're all dead. I hear a weird dripping sound and look at Haley, who's right beside me. Drip drip. Blood droplets are falling onto her shoulder. The two of us look up at the same time and then are leaping out of the way as Roy's corpse plummets to where we'd been standing. Haley's fallen over, I'm in a shaky crouch. What the hell is happening?

I'm already standing and Dean is demanding if I'm okay, Ben's helping Haley up, Sam's crouched over Roy then turning to us, grim. "His neck's broke." The wendigo is growling loudly and very quickly, we're all realizing this is bad.

Dean pushes on everyone as the growls become louder and louder and the trees shake and quiver. I still can't see it, not even once. "Okay, run, run, run, run, go, go, go!" Dean thunders.

Everybody takes off in the direction that we came, running for our lives through the confusing, jumbled terrain. The ground is uneven, full of roots and stones and holes and when Ben suddenly falls, Sam and I both spot him at the same time and converge on him, haul him to his feet and pull him onward. My heart is racing and I can her the wendigo's growls echoing through the woods. We run, not even sure where Dean and Haley are—I can't see them anymore. And then we hear a shrill scream and run towards it finding nothing. "Haley!" Ben screams, and there's no reply.

Sam spots something and picks up Dean's molotov cocktail. It's broken and discarded. Oh no. "Dean!" He shouts even as I turn in a circle, trying to lay eyes on my oldest brother. I look at Sam desperately. Where is he? Did the wendigo get them?!

"Where are they? What happened?!" Ben is near tears again and I don't have it in me to slap him again. I'm freaking out, too.

"Listen, look—we'll find them Ben." He takes in my expression. "You okay, Alex? Hey. We'll find them."

"How?" Ben asks, sitting down and starting to cry as he clearly decides to give up and start grieving. "It took my brother and sister, what am I gonna do-hoo-hoooo?"

Sam crouches down in front of him and consoles him. "Hey. Hey. We need to keep our heads, all right? They're still alive. Remember what we told you about how these things keep their food alive? Now get up. We gotta find them before it is too late." Sam's right, and I take in a deep, steadying breath. If I can keep my head, everything will be okay.

He stands up, expecting Ben to do the same, but he doesn't. Not yet. I look at him, offer my hand, making myself hold it together. Get up. I make the come here motion with my hand and he hesitates. "You gonna hit me again?" Ben asks.

"Wait, what?" Sam asks, frowning a little.

I hide a sort of sheepish smile. Ben shakes his head, grabs my hand, stands up. "Nothing."

Sam shoots me a funny little look and I shrug just barely. Sue me. He leads the way through the now-silent woods and we look for any kind of trail. The wendigo didn't leave a false one for us this time, and there's no sign of where it went. I start to get anxious. My tracking skills suck and the wendigo probably used the trees, not the ground… therefore leaving no trail at all.

"But if it keeps its victims alive, why would it kill Roy?" Ben asks abruptly.

"Honestly?" Sam's looking around intently. "I think because Roy shot at it, pissed it off."

Ben wanders off a little, bends down, suddenly gives an excited sounding shout. "They went this way!" He holds up an M&M. Son of a bitch. I guess I can't be too mad at Dean for swiping my stash. I'm grinning, so relieved.

Sam laughs. "It's better than breadcrumbs," he says, grinning. I swipe the morsel from him, pop it in my mouth. "Ew, Alex," he says, face wrinkling a little. I shrug, make a face, and we start following the trail.

Dean dropped M&Ms every few feet and we're able to follow the trail pretty easily. It ends at an old mine entrance maybe a quarter of a mile west. WARNING! DANGER! DO NOT ENTER EXTREMELY TOXIC MATERIAL. Sam whispers he'd like his flashlight right about now and then digs it out of my backpack. And then without further preparation, we slip into the inky, unknown darkness inside, trying to find our family members.

Sam shines the flashlight ahead of us as we creep inwards and our eyes adjust. It's an old mine all right… several tunnels diverge from where we entered. We go straight down a tunnel where the old rusted railing stretches out ahead into the darkness beyond. I definitely do not like this. The floor is wooden in parts and creaked loudly. The wendigo could be anywhere beyond where the flashlight beam hits, waiting for us, watching.

As if on cue, we hear that low, vicious growling and Sam shuts off the light—we shrink back against the tunnel wall and we can see, silhouetted by the outside light that dimly shines in from the other end of the tunnel, how the eerie and nonhuman form of the wendigo stalks our way slowly. Ben shifts, maybe about to cry out, and Sam covers Ben's mouth before he can scream. The wendigo turns and takes a different tunnel at the crossing we'd passed over a few seconds ago and we wait, then keep going. I turn to look back, afraid of being followed, then hear a sudden loud creaking, breaking noise. Two steps ahead of me, Sam and Ben fall through the rotted floorboards ahead of me and I jump back on instinct, hug the wall, shocked, then dropping to the ground and crawling forward, trying to peer down into the dark hole. Are they okay? Where did they fall to?

I hear groaning and I carefully inch closer, but I can barely see. Sam has the flashlight, and I'm not in close to total darkness. "Hey, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay," I hear Sam saying faintly, and relief floods me. I hear him moving around. "Alex! Alex?!" He's calling for me and I tap a little bit on the ground, careful not to be too loud. Sam then he runs over and I can see him standing below me, but he's way out of reach, at least twelve feet down in some lower level. "Stay up there!" He says intensely. "Get outside where you'll be safe! I found Dean and Haley, we'll be out soon!"

But—I freeze because I hear growing again somewhere close. I shove backwards and push myself up to stand and run, half-blind, back the way I came, away from the growling. I fly through the darkness without knowing where I am or if I'm about to hit a wall—and then suddenly I run into something and take a nosedive. I hit the side of my face on something rough and rocky, scrub my palm on the ground, knock my shoulder hard on the tunnel wall I think, tear my jeans at the knee and feel a sharp shooting pain there when I bite dirt. Son of a bitch that was noisy as hell and I go stock still, listening, clenching my teeth against the pain I'm suddenly in. Did the wendigo hear me? I fumble for my lighter and flick it open, light it, trying to see what I ran in to. I can faintly see a pile of junk is heaped against the tunnel wall and I seem to have run into an oversized pink suitcase, ripped half open. A hairdryer and makeup items have come out and I squint. Who brings this kind of stuff camping? And then I see it. A can of hairspray. I cannot believe my luck and I grab it as my heart leaps. I'm clutching it to myself like it's my lifeline. Maybe because it is. I hear growling and slow footsteps again and stand up, shut my lighter, take off at a run.

I hear someone yelling in another tunnel. Is that... Dean? "Hey, you want some white meat, bitch!? I'm right here!" What the hell is he doing? I hear a loud shot, but it wasn't a gunshot. It sounded like a firework or a flare. I hurry toward all of it, hugging the edge of the tunnels where the floorboards aren't as weak, feeling my way along in the indistinct darkness better like this. I limp a little because my knee is screaming in protest, but I ignore it, trying to double time it toward the sounds of shouts and growling.

I round a corner and find another long tunnel. I can barely see… but I can see enough. At the dead end of the tunnel, not even twenty feet from me, Sam's got three people behind him and he's bracing himself. The wendigo is slouching toward them slowly, maybe enjoying the power play. I don't know, I don't care. Sayonara, pal. I sneak closer, heart like a hummingbird as I poise myself, lighter in one hand, hairspray in the other. A little closer, a little closer… my steps are silent like Dad taught us all those years ago. I get close enough to take him down and don't hesitate. At the same time, I light my zippo and depress the hairspray, then cross the flame to the spray. The makeshift flamethrower lights up the small space, the flames scorch the wendigo, catching it on fire like a dry leaf. It bellows out a scream and whirls while I stand there and hold steady, dousing it in flames even though my face is burning from the heat—but I keep the hairspray going, gritting my teeth, making sure that I catch it on fire good. The monster's tall form starts to waver as the entire body is engulfed and it wobbles toward me—and I'm suddenly knocked sideways, courtesy of Dean, who saves me from getting crushed by the flaming wendigo. Sam and Haley and Ben and some other guy—Tommy?—are all staring at the smoldering wendigo corpse, then looking at me with gaping mouths. It's over. We're all safe. I'm shaking now, my injuries all pounding, but the pain means I'm alive and I grin. Dean helps me up. He's bloodied, beat up, but alive. I hug him, then hit him in the back of the head. "Ow! What's that for?" He asked, surprised.

For getting yourself caught by a wendigo, moron.

Forever later we're all sore, patched up, and tired as we watch Haley and Ben get into the ambulance with their brother. Haley waves to us as the door shuts behind them. Tommy's injuries aren't that bad, but they're taking him to the ER for better treatment. I'm not sure what time it is, but it's the middle of the night or maybe super early in the morning and I'm just glad to be back in the land of the living again. We're leaned up against the Impala and exhausted is putting it mildly. What a couple days this has been.

"Man I hate camping," Dean says all the sudden.

"Me too," Sam says, smiling a little at the irony of it.

I poke morse code into Dean's arm, knowing Dean will know I'm being sarcastic. Well I love it.

Dean chuckles, tells Sam: "Alex says it's her favorite." My twin chuckles too. The ambulance gives a whoop whoop then drives off, its the red-and-blue lights fading away into the darkness.

"So. Dad wasn't there," Sam said, soft and thoughtful as the night air is once again quiet and peaceful, filled with a chorus of crickets. "Why would he send us here, Dean?"

Dean shrugs. "Like I told you last night. He knew there was a job to do. People to save."

Sam's quiet for a long moment. "So now what?"

"We'll find him." Dean grips him on the shoulder, gives him a little smile. "You know we will."

Sam nods, somber. "Yeah, I know. But in the meantime?" A surprising, playful little smile crosses his face. "I'm driving."

That sounds like a challenge to me, and I look at Dean, expecting him to say no—matter of fact, hell no. And then wordlessly, Dean tosses Sam the keys. Sam catches them deftly and I throw my arms wide, give Dean a what's the big idea look. He never lets me drive!

"Hey, you never ask!" He says, chuckling, and throws an arm around me, scrubs the top of my head with his knuckles. Ouuuuch! I poke him in the side, hard and repeatedly, and he yelps.

"All right you two," Sam says, grinning as he opens the door of the Impala.

We hit the open road, and a sense of accomplishment fills me. We saved people, and seeing Hayley with her brothers safe and sound with her was a good feeling. The best. Yes to Sam's earlier question. I am happy living this life, overall. It's not easy or fun all the time, and I definitely am a lot worse for the wear because of it… I don't always feel happy. But it matters, this life I live, and sometimes, like today, I manage to be the one who saves everyone's asses.

Toto comes on the radio and Dean cranks it up and starts singing along to annoy us—he's in a good mood like I am, too. "I bless the rains down in Africaaaaaa! Gonna take some time to do the things we never haaaaad!"

I clap my hands over my ears even as Sam protests in good-nature at Dean's off key, sad attempt to belt the song out. "Oh come on man, you're ruining it!" He says through a laugh.

Dean stops for just a second to smirk at him. "What, jealous, Sam?"

"So jealous, Dean," Sam says, laying on the obvious sarcasm. Dean sings even louder to spite him.

I'll never get a good nights sleep with these two jokesters around, but I smile a little at the thought. I sit back and slide to sit behind Dean, then look up into the night sky through the window. A star winks and I make a wish. A wish that Dean would stop butchering my favorite songs oh my GOD! I smack him in the head again as he tries to hit a high note and his voice cracks disturbingly. Sam's laughing, Dean's whining about ow my head and I'm grinning in the darkness. I feel okay right now. I think I'm happy. I'm alive, my brothers are alive, and I can't complain about that.

The Impala speeds down the road, its grumbling engines soothing and familiar, and despite Sam and Dean's noise, I fall into a deep night of restful sleep.