“Come on, Sammy, are you going to cowboy up or just lay here and bleed?”
“Y…you’re… giving me a … ch…choice?” I’d given up on trying to stop the chattering of my teeth. It was cold. Everywhere cold– the early spring rain coming down so hard that even the dense growth of trees wasn’t enough to keep me from being soaked through to the goose bumps blooming across my skin; the ground under my right hand where I had braced myself when I fell as Dean tried to move me toward the Impala; Dean’s fingers securely gripping my left wrist that was draped limply over his shoulder; his jacket, slick and thick with the aroma of leather under my head that rested against his arm; the black metal of the snubbed off shotgun Dean carried pressing tight against my waist. Cold, every last bit of it. And seeping into my bones like the mud through the knees of my jeans.
I couldn’t get away from it, no matter how hard my body tried to shiver its way clear and my mind tried to block it with the growing haze covering my thoughts. There were only two spots of warmth anywhere around me… my brother’s breath against my ear as he tried to coax me to my feet and the flow of blood from my side that was trying to keep me from doing just that.
“No, no choice. Now, get your feet under you and your ass moving. That’s an order.”
“Sir, y…yes, Sir.” I pushed up with a violent shudder only to have my knees buckle and drop me right back where I had been before.
A menacing growl in the darkness behind us had Dean abandoning the drill sergeant persona and settling for the worried big brother he really was. “Look, Cujo isn’t going to stay down for long. But the bridge across the tributary is just a little ways ahead, couple hundred yards at the most. We get past that, we’ll be safe. It can’t cross running water.”
A couple hundred yards might as well have been a couple hundred miles. “You sure?”
I felt him shrug more than saw it. We’d lost the flashlight back when the dog attacked us and the clouds obscured any light the moon might have provided. But this close, I could make out the way he stared straight ahead, his lips slightly pursed in consideration and water flowing freely down his face.
“Dad’s journal said that Black Dogs can’t cross running water.”
“Yeah… but is that… what that thing is?”
With both hands holding onto me and the gun, he couldn’t spare one to wipe the rain away, but he tried, dragging my own fingers across the tip of his nose in the process; another point of icy cold in the world around me.
“It’s black, it’s dog-shaped, it’s got big ass fangs and nasty claws, as you found out. My money’s riding on Black Dog. One thing’s for sure, though; it’s not a cougar taking out joggers around here.”
Three people in as many weeks had fallen victim to some sort of animal attack that had local authorities baffled. That was the newspaper headline way of saying they were ripped limb from limb and the cops had no fucking clue what was doing it seeing as it was taking place in a green belt area set aside within Dallas, Texas. An urban park, no matter how large, isn’t exactly where you would think to find a mountain lion preying on unsuspecting joggers and mountain bikers taking advantage of the area’s winding trails. Especially considering that the land was surrounded on all sides by asphalt and metal and humans, lots of each. And seeing as the local zoo hadn’t reported any missing panthers, the news story caught our attention.
Unfortunately, that thing caught us… me, more specifically. And the blood flowing from the wounds in my hip and side didn’t really care what the hell we called the creature that did it. Although I was lucky, damn lucky, that it hadn’t done much more.
The dog had pounced on me from out of the shadows on my left, my gun had gone flying, I’d gone down, and the razor-sharp claws had slashed deep into soft flesh. The jaw that had been closing in on my jugular, and had me squeezing my eyes closed against my imminent death, instead let out a yelp of pain as the dog vanished to reveal Dean standing above me, eyes narrowed, teeth clenched, and shotgun smoking. And the fact that the outer edge of the spray of rock salt from the shell Dean fired had stung into my chest only confirmed how close I had been to having my throat ripped out where I lay.
“Besides,” Dean grunted as that same shotgun that had saved my life dug painfully into my ribs when he pulled me to my feet once again, “after all the false alarms where we thought we found one, it’s about damn time we came across one of those spectral Lassies for real.”
Personally, I would have been perfectly happy never to have seen one in my life. Considering that it was the reason the woods before me went darker than they had been and Dean’s call of my name suddenly sounded like the time the woofer went out in the Chevy’s speakers, I would have been tickled fucking pink to skip the first hand information I’d had the distinct displeasure of experiencing.
“Sammy! Come on, now!” The rough shake he gave me had my head rolling from the streaks of rain cutting through the night sky to the streaks running down his face. “One foot in front of the other. Let’s go.”
Evidently I did as I was told because even though I couldn’t feel my legs moving, I felt branches tugging at my hair as we moved through the trees. But my sights were set on the way the rivulets of rain made their way down Dean’s face, the way they broke free from the short-cropped hair at his temple to run in a slightly angled line to his jaw, down to his chin, and then break free. From hair down to his chin. Hair to chin. Always the same path, always running down.
“Sam, a little help here.”
Always running down.
“Sammy, don’t you dare fucking pass out on me.”
“Sammy, be ready! He’s coming your way! Dean can’t run him down!”
Being twelve is hard enough without having a dad that was one part Fox Mulder, one part Van Helsing, and two parts G.I. Joe on steroids. He was like Buffy Summers with a three-day’s growth of beard and without the perky breasts and amazing ass. He was Samuel L. Jackson intent on shepherding the monsters of the world to their imminent demise as he went medieval on their asses. And he was yelling at me through the walkie-talkie that he held to his mouth as he trailed after Dean who was trailing after the foot and a half tall ball of fur that was heading my way.
“Don’t kill it!” Dean ordered through his own radio, knees pumping and flannel shirt flaring behind him as he ran full out. “That little hair-ball-hacking piece of shit is mine!”
Probably the only thing worse than having a demon hunter for a father was having one for a brother, as well. Dean loved hunting, got a boner every time Dad said we were on the trail of something new, practically came in his Levi’s when he got to make a kill. And he saw blood red when something got the better of him, like the creature that was bearing down on me.
I slid off the hood of the car I had been sitting on and leveled the nine-millimeter on the thing… and how many kids could say they had been given a handgun before they were allowed to cook their own mac and cheese?... and called back through my own radio. “Well, then, what do you want me to do with it?”
“Just… stop it!”
The living dust bunny was eating up the stretch of parking lot between us fast and I considered my options. I could try to tackle it. I could try to trap it. Or I could just shoot the stupid thing.
“Screw that,” I told my brother as I squeezed the trigger on the Baretta and the creature literally exploded, dousing me and the car in a rain of black innards and tufts of hair.
I was scraping chunks of gut out of my own hair when Dean screeched to a halt in front of me, a look of sheer outrage on his face. “Dude! Why the fuck did you off it?”
“Because, that’s our job, Dean. Duh!” I flung a fuzzy glop from my hand and it landed on his boots.
Eyes that had widened in indignation drifted slowly from the soiled black polish of his feet to my amused face. “Oh, you are so going to pay for that.” A flannel-clad arm was instantly wrapped around my neck and I found myself bent at the middle and fighting to keep my balance as he jerked me around. I managed to get a hand up and securely latched into an atomic titty twister which just made the arm around me tighten.
Dad finally caught up, peeling up apart with a reprimanding, “Okay, boys, knock it off.”
Dean pushed against the hand on his chest. “He’s the one that took my kill.”
“I didn’t see your name on it,” I taunted from the other side of Dad’s arm.
“I told you it was mine!”
“Then you should have killed it when you had the chance!”
A large hand clamped onto the scruffs of each of our necks and shook. “I said knock it off. Got it?”
He squeezed into the nerves at the base of our skulls until we both mumbled a sulking, “Yes, Sir.”
Finally satisfied, he released us and gave me a small smile. “Sammy, that was a nice shot.”
I stood a little straighter as I beamed more at Dean than my father. “Thanks, Dad.”
Dean rolled his eyes and shifted irritably behind Dad’s back at the praise he felt he should be receiving instead of me when Dad slapped me on the shoulder. “So, what are we eating tonight?”
I’d almost forgotten all about the Winchester rule: He who makes the kill chooses the food. Typically it was Dad, but we had been eating quite a few cheeseburgers and onion rings lately thanks to Dean. Me, I didn’t get to choose that often, partially because Dad didn’t let me in the thick of things as much as he and Dean, and partially because I was just as happy not being in the thick of things.
After a moment of exaggerated contemplation, I told him, “Lasagna and garlic bread.” There weren’t many fast food restaurants that served Italian, which meant we might actually get to eat somewhere besides a plastic booth outside the toddler maze, and that was good by me.
Besides, Dean hated lasagna.
“Dad, there is no way he should get to choose when I was the one …”
“Dean, you know the rules,” Dad interrupted before my brother could whine anymore. “You get the assist but Sammy gets the kill.” With a disgusted look at the ooze on his hand he had picked up from my shirt, he wiped it clean on his own. “He also gets to shower first when we get back to the room.”
“What was that thing, anyway?” I asked, flinging more crud from my hands.
Dad tilted his head in thought. “Honestly, I’m not really sure. But my best guess would be a werecat… as in house cat.”
“That was someone’s pet?” My astonishment was accompanied by giving up on trying to shake my hands clean and I just ran them across my already filthy jeans.
“At one point.” He went on to explain, “It probably got caught by a werewolf looking for a quick snack but managed to get away before it was killed and ended up turned instead.”
“There you go, Sammy,” Dean smirked condescendingly. “Your first pussy. Was it all it you had hoped it would be?”
“Shut up, you perv,” I warned.
“Why don’t you make me, you little shit?”
My sarcastic smile back was accompanied by Dad growling, “Dean, goddammit, watch your fucking mouth. I’m not going to tell you again.”
“Yes, Sir.” The chastised tone was in direct contrast to the middle finger he flipped at me when Dad turned and headed toward the Chevy’s driver’s seat.
“Well, boys, this just means one thing; we’ve still got work to do here. Evidently there’s a werewolf on the prowl.”
I opened the front passenger door and Dean elbowed me out of the way. “Dad, you’re not letting Sam ride up front are you? Not with killer Tabby guts all over him.”
Laying a shoulder into his side, I wiggled past him. “It’s not like you’re that much cleaner, you jerk. Besides, I can put down a towel.”
“Believe it or not, Sammy, I’m a little more worried about you than the upholstery right now.”
I opened my eyes to see the door to the Impala open as Dean maneuvered me into the passenger side. Rain still ran down his face in a steady stream, and he used his newly freed hand to wipe at it, leaving behind a trail of red across his forehead. For a split second, I wondered how he’d ended up with werekitty blood on his face and then I remembered it was mine. He may not have been worried about the seats of the car, but he did get a towel from the back to press against my side.
I let out a cry at the pressure and he grimaced. “Sorry, but you don’t get a choice in this either.” Reaching across, he secured the typically ignored lap belt, effectively holding the towel in place against my side, before taking my own hand and placing it against the makeshift bandage. “Keep up the pressure. You hear me?” When I nodded as weakly as I pressed into my wound, Dean swallowed to cover his worry and forced a twist of his lips. “Maybe I am a little worried about the upholstery.”
Werewolves. It had been ten years since we’d seen one… until a few weeks ago. Slumping into the seat, I closed my eyes. The only indication that Dean had slid behind the wheel was when the Impala grumbled to life.
Back in black
I hit the sack
I've been too long I'm glad to be back
Yes, I'm let loose
From the noose
That's kept me hanging about
Bon Scott’s voice dropped a few decibels as Dean turned down the volume of the AC/DC that had been blaring when we first arrived at the park. No, that wasn’t right. Bon Scott had died before this album was released. It was… Damn, what was his name? Dean would disown me if I forgot something like this. Brad…Ryan… Shit, I couldn’t remember it. All I could remember was the name of a dead man.
Funny how the dead stay with you more than the living sometimes.
“You still with me, Sammy?” Throwing the car into gear, Dean peeled out on the loose gravel of the parking area.
“I’m here,” I assured as I cracked my eyes enough to see his flick from the road ahead, to me, and back again.
“Good. Let’s keep it that way.”
Forget the hearse 'cause I never die
I got nine lives
Abusin' every one of them and running wild
'Cause I'm back
Like the song said, I’ve got nine lives, at least it sure the hell seemed that way sometimes. Although they seemed to be flowing out of me pretty damn fast tonight. I slumped over against the door, the music muffled and full of bass as it reverberated through the hollow space between the metal sheets. No matter how many times I heard this song, it always reminded me of the carnival.
That ride… what was it called? The one that went round and round with the dips… like a roller coaster on a short track… and it pressed you out against the sides. The Himalaya─ that was it. They always played classic rock… AC/DC, Van Halen, Led Zeplin, Billy Squire. Shit, I sometimes thought Dean must have stolen his cassette collection from a drunken carney he hustled at pool. The Himalaya. God, I loved that ride. Dean always knew to take the inside seat. He may not have understood the physics behind centrifugal force, but he knew the concept of squashing his baby brother against the outside of the seat.
The ride went round and round, nothing fancy, just round and round. Round and round, like everything in life seemed to do. Werewolves, Jessica, Madison, death…
Well I'm back in black
Yes, I'm back in black
Back in the back
Of a Cadillac
Number one with a bullet, I'm a power pack
Number one with a bullet, that was me. I was number fucking one with a silver bullet.
“I killed her.”
“What?” When I didn’t answer, Dean asked again. “What are you talking about?”
“Madison. I killed her.” I’d put a gun to her heart and pulled the trigger and watched it explode against the wall behind her like that cat had exploded when I shot it ten years before.
“Sammy, you did what you had to do.”
So look at me now
I'm just makin' my play
Don't try to push your luck, just get out of my way
Well, I'm back, Yes I'm back
Ignoring the platitude, I rolled my head against the texture of the car door. “She was the first… since Jess.”
“Sammy, come on now…”
“I killed them both.” I snorted, shivering again, this time against the chill of what I’d done. “I killed them both and I haven’t even gone demon yet.” Don’t push your luck; just get out of my way.
“Okay, we’re not talking about this right now.”
“What comes around goes around, I guess.” I’d been faced with the same thing I had asked Dean to do more than once. When the time comes, kill me. Don’t let me kill anyone. Don’t let me become the monster I’ve sworn to fight. Let me tell you, asking is easier than doing, that’s for fucking sure.
Oooh yeah, yeah Oh yeah
Back in now
Well I'm back, I'm back
Back, I'm back
Back, I'm back
“Enough of this shit. You listen to me. You didn’t kill Jess, the yellow-eyed demon did. It killed Mom, it killed Jess, and it killed Dad. And we’re going to kill it. Do you hear me? We’re going to kill it, you andme.”
I hoped like hell he was right. I was going to enjoy destroying that fucker. But the demon didn’t have anything to do with putting a silver bullet in the heart of a different smart, beautiful woman. “And what about Maddie?”
“You didn’t have a choice. It sucked out loud, but you did what you had to do.”
“I hope you remember that when the time comes.” He’d be the one having to cowboy up then.
Yeah, what comes around goes around. Love, death, family, friends. They come and go. One day you have them, the next… they’ve gone and there’s no getting them back, black or otherwise. But it all just goes around…
Back, I'm back
“That time is never going to come, little brother.”
Around and around, faster and faster.
Back in black
Yes I'm back in black
Maybe he was right. Maybe it never would. Maybe he wouldn’t have to pull a trigger on me. Maybe a Devil Dog in Dallas, Texas would do the job for him.
Because the Himalaya in the carnival wasn’t the only thing that spun around; the Impala seemed to be doing a pretty good job of it, too. Around and around. And Dean yelling at me over the voice of Brian Johnson wasn’t going to stop it.
“Sammy, goddammit, don’t you do this to me!”
Brian Johnson! I felt myself smile at finally remembering. Dean would be so proud. But, then, I couldn’t seem to see Dean anymore.
Out of the sight