No Way Back
Book 2 : Of Wolf and Man
Dean navigated around the corner onto the main street and was assaulted by a cacophony that reverberated off the buildings and pounded through his chest. The hunters were an army, preparing for battle. He looked for Sam in the hustle of people and rolling equipment around him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
A procession of pickup trucks, Jeeps and a Hummer rumbled by. The vehicles carried two men apiece, each armed with tactical gear and vests. A couple of the larger vehicles had a third guy manning an SMG mounted to the roof. Dean pulled his collar higher and waited for them to pass, then made a beeline in the direction of three men waiting by a soccer mom van with the side door wide open. One of them looked very uneasy.
“And that thing was huge, standing over me, man. I was about to call game-over, but Spencer took it out like it was nothin’. Big hairy dude was in his face and he just went ape on it, flames shootin’ out thirty feet. There was nothing but string cheese left.” The man let go of his rifle strap and grabbed the shoulder of the smaller man beside him, rocking him back and forth.
With an uncomfortable smile, Spencer pulled his shoulder free and stepped away from the two men, heading toward his place in the driver’s seat. “I remember when you guys didn’t have a single good thing to say about what Blake has changed around here,” he called over his shoulder.
Dean ducked his head to hide an eye roll and recovered in time to see the third man, who had been nodding with amusement, use a similar expression.
“Yeah, Spence, we get it. You guys are the hot shots. Okay.” The third man shook hands with the larger man and then jerked his thumb behind him. “Gotta dig up Riley and that damn truck outta of whatever watering hole they fell into. See you after?”
The larger man — Dean recognized him from Sam’s description as Carter — waved him off in reply. “Seeing as how you still owe me a six pack,” he shouted at his friend’s back, then shifted his attention to Dean, looking him up and down. “Can I help you?”
“Have you guys seen—” Dean started, but a familiar movement came into view through the open door and windshield of the van. His eyes darted to a spot over Carter’s shoulder.
Carter squinted and then followed Dean’s gaze. Sam walked up to the van and opened the passenger door. “Finally,” Carter shouted, punching Sam in the elbow, “get your crap out of that seat and into the back. Blake’s ridin’ with us today.”
Sam nodded and yanked his pack off the floorboard and onto his arm again. When he looked up, Dean was standing in his way. “Dude, what are you doing here?”
“We need a minute,” Dean said hurriedly, pulling at the edge of Sam’s coat.
Sam tossed his pack in the side door and followed him around to the back bumper, glancing diplomatically back at Carter’s impatient expression. When they were out of sight, Sam let his frustration show. “Hey, I thought we agreed to keep our distance from each other in town, keep our heads down.”
“Well, then what is this?”
Dean’s eyes were like steel and his chin jerked in the direction of the van. “We’re bailing. Get your stuff.”
“What?” Sam hunched forward like he’d heard him wrong. “No, we’re not. Tell me what’s going on.”
Dean shook his head. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Sam. Blake is going out of his way to keep us apart —”
us apart when there’s hunters around!”
“— and now you’re riding with him? What if something happens? What if he says something, or does something, and we’re in the middle of a fight and you get a grand mal in front of everybody and I’m not there, huh, then what?”
“Dean, calm down.”
“No, I’m not gonna calm down,” Dean lowered his voice. “I don’t care anymore about getting my licks in, or finally getting to kill an alpha, or making friends and influencing people. We’re outta here because this is too risky for you. I don’t like how this guy is in our face every time we turn around and that’s the end of it.”
Sam shook his head and Dean waved his arms in exasperation. “Isn’t that what you’ve been waiting for me to say? Getting around to, hey, maybe I should be looking out for you first?”
“I’m not gonna have a problem, okay? Blake’s got my back. I’m not worried,” Sam said quietly, glancing around cautiously at the soldiers gearing up around them. “To be honest, he’s a lot less scary to me right now than you are.”
Dean’s shoulders squared up and fell just as fast. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Look,” Sam bit out, gesturing with a stiff finger, “you’re not even following your own rules right now. You could blow our cover just by standing here. If we left before a fight like this, they’d be crazy not to have somebody follow us. How is that keeping either of us safe?”
The fire in Dean’s eyes iced over. “Fine.”
Sam dropped his hand and stared at him for moment with his jaw working, then took a deep breath. “Thanks for the warning. I’ll be careful.”
Dean tucked his head toward the ground so that he didn’t have to watch Sam walk back to Carter and his spot in the back seat. Two soldiers walked by, amicably arguing about proper grain counts for reloading ammo. Dean raised his eyes from studying the pavement. Everywhere he looked, he was the only one standing alone.*
Sam was staring at his hands, lost in thought. He started when the side door of the van slid shut beside him. Blake jumped into the passenger seat and slapped Spencer’s shoulder. “Alright, let’s get this show on the road.”
The van started up, turning out from the throng of parked vehicles and into the waiting line. Gideon’s Bronco was leading the way. They merged in fifth from the back, and Blake flipped the switches and dials that had been Sam’s job the last time out. Static, channel and squelch adjusted, he checked in with base. “This is car three. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is taking so long up there, car one? Over.”
The line clicked and Gideon’s driver responded, “Trip car, this is Air Force One. We were just saying a prayer — that your woman gave your ass back to you in one piece and you’d be joining this escapade today.”
The air crackled and then went silent. A woman’s voice broke over the speaker, “Don’t think we have time for a prayer that long, Carl.”
Kicking a leg into the front of the cab, Carter chuckled. “Man, Blake, did you get your jewels caught in your lady’s purse again?”
“Damn it, Carter, is that necessary?” Blake grimaced.
Spencer looked confused. “Isn’t that where they all keep them?”
Sam, Blake and Carter all laughed despite themselves. “That’s not what he was talking about, Spence. Keep your eyes on,” Blake pointed out the windshield and then bent into the floorboard to cinch up and holster his guns.
“Where we headed?” Carter asked.
“There’s a farm. It’s about a hundred and forty miles east from here, off the highway. If the sources are good, the alpha will be there and if we play our cards right, we can find out what his master plan is.”
“I thought we were going to kill him,” Carter sounded skeptical.
“Well, he’s not much use to us dead, is he?” Blake clarified. “First, we question him. Then you can do whatever you want.”
Sam asked coolly, “Who are the sources, Blake?”
Blake’s guarded expression mirrored his. “Nobody you know,” Blake replied.
“That why we’re going in at broad daylight?” Carter smiled.
“They’ll have more of an advantage at night, you know that. Cloudy day at high noon is our best chance,” Blake offered. Then he smiled back flatly. “I’m getting the distinct impression that you don’t trust me, Carter.”
“Oh no, it isn’t that. I was just wondering why you’re back here with us, riding coach, when you should be leading this charge, like your woman up there. You know more than anybody.” Carter’s eye flashed for a second and Sam caught a glint of red, like somebody was playing with a laser sight.
Blake dropped any gentility left in his expression and his tone was sharp. “I don’t appreciate you questioning my decisions. And that’s the last time you’ll dare to think her name, let alone breathe it.” Blake looked away from Carter, studying the road ahead. “If the alpha knows where to find me, it’s because I know where to find him.”
The van was silent for a few minutes.
“Blake?” Spencer asked quietly, “Does that mean he’s after you, too?”
Sam’s mouth pressed into a line that matched the ones in his forehead. He turned his head away from everyone in the van, toward the warning Dean had given him in town.*
A flock of black starlings shrieked and took flight from the scrub trees as soon as the Section Three vehicles struck off-road. The advance unit pulled into a clearing two miles from their target and readied their gear for the long walk infield.
Lee was talking again.
“You got any tricks in that bag? Let’s see. Share and share alike, man.” Lee high-stepped behind him, lifting heavy military boots to dodge vines and thick weeds with ease.
The group, most of them proudly wearing patches for Section 3 on their coats, were breaking apart and heading toward their positions, leaving him with Lee.
Dean shifted the pack higher onto his shoulder without glancing around. “I have fifty bucks if that will get me ten minutes of silence,” he suggested.
“You got it,” Lee agreed and continued along, a step behind him. “I have a scope on my Remmy. Since you don’t have one on your rifle, you could, you know, use it instead or whatever, if you want.”
“You’re always broke, aren’t you?” Dean noted.
Dean stopped abruptly and Lee almost ran into him. Dean waited until there was no sound coming from behind him and then he whispered, “Tell you what. You keep giving away our position out here, you don’t help me to keep an eye on that van, or you in any way keep me from doing my job? And I will see to it that you are more than broke.”
Lee didn’t respond for several tense seconds. Then the top of his dirty red ball cap appeared around Dean’s elbow as he leaned forward. “Okay, Grumpy. Yeesh.”
Silence fell. They picked their way through the rest of the overgrown tree line and worked up a sweat running across a short, fallow field. They slid down a steep ridge and changed course east, following a drainage rut. The sound of their own labored breaths seemed huge around them. Even with their care to make as little noise as possible, the wilderness around them was devoid of any other sign of life. Rabbit runs were abandoned in the underbrush, littered with small bones. The birds were quiet. Dean threw a questioning glance at Lee, who grimaced back.
They trudged up a heavily treed incline to the left. It had been cleared of scrub and provided no cover, so they backed down and stayed inside the blind ravine. Their heads only appeared over the top of the hill whenever they needed to quickly get their bearings.
A dull white strip of gravel peeked through the low-hanging branches as they traveled. Like Dean had planned, their path ran parallel to the curving, unmarked lanes of the road fifty feet beyond them.
The land rose into a line of young spruces and dry hemlocks. They took the hill, setting up a quick vantage point. Across the road lay a dilapidated farmhouse surrounded by several other less permanent structures of different sizes.
Dean peered through his binoculars, checking for movement around the outbuildings. A few things flinched in the wind: bits of cloth were tied to wire fencing, some clothes and a towel hung from a swing, a child’s pinwheel ran where it was stuck in the ground. He lowered the binoculars.
Lee had turned his ball cap around backwards, and he was snapping his chewing gum as he carefully adjusted the scope on his rifle and looked through it.
“Anything?” Dean asked.
“Maybe,” Lee drawled.
Dean glanced around and saw another sight-line further away, then looked at his watch. “We’ve got ten minutes. You hold here while I head into that break uphill.”
“You think you’re gonna be able to case the inside of the house from up there?”
“Yeah.” Without further explanation, Dean shifted his gear around to his other shoulder.
“Go ahead. I don’t need a spotter.” Lee grinned. He adjusted his position until he was lodged between two branches. Then he pointed lazily in the direction of the house. “I’m just waiting to send a postcard to those two jokers down there.”
Dean looked again through the binoculars and saw two large men in fatigues walking quickly between buildings. “You sure those aren’t some of Gideon’s guys?”
“I’m not even sure what particular day it is, man, but I know our guys.” Lee snapped his gum again and gave Dean a hard look. “I know it when somebody wipes their nose or changes their underwear. Those two down there—”
“Alright, you made your point,” Dean said and gestured his rifle toward the ridge.
Lee nodded and turned his ball cap around again to shade his eyes. He bent down to the scope, his right hand rested on the stock. “Aqui, pero, pero, pero…”
Dean closed his eyes in long blinks as he walked away.
The hill cut off abruptly into a deep ravine with gnarled roots, young trees and large stones jutting from each side. Following the edge for several yards, he found a bank of earth that could be crossed without leaving a trail. He would lose sight of Lee and the house for several minutes until he reached the other side.
With each step, beams of light flashed heat and blindness across his cheeks and eyelids. He shuttered his eyes halfway, and through the haze of his lashes he glimpsed dust motes suspended in place, dense air moving like liquid in front of him. They swirled and circled as he passed into the light and out again, brightness striking the trees and his jacket sleeves until he was coated in it. He half expected his foot to leave the ground and never touch it again.
The last time he’d felt this way, sweat had been dripping from his face and soaking his shirt as he sat on the front porch admiring his yard work. Lisa had joined him with a tall glass of ice water, and he chased her across the lawn after she poured it down his back. He’d caught her, pinned her against the side of the house, and held her mischievous hands down with a triumphant grin. Her quick breaths of laughter feathered across his jaw as she pretended to struggle, but it only lasted for a few seconds before she melted into him. He had met her kiss, his last clear thought a silent promise that he would never leave her.
The dampened leaves at the bottom of the draw were as soft as a picnic blanket, strewn on the ground in small ripples that caught at the toes of his boots, enticing him to slow down, to stop and rest, to let things take care of themselves. The steep slope in front of him was dressed in gold and red, sinuous branches reaching toward him, inviting. He blinked again, and slowly in the after-burn of his vision he found her: skin shining and wet in last summer’s heat, her dark eyes flicking up at him, one corner of her mouth racing the other into a wistful smile.
He closed his eyes and bent his knee to climb, to kneel into the earth as in his mind he was kneeling down, feeling his way along limbs, familiar quiet ground. Peace washed over him as he reached her knees, her waist, her arms. The whispering wind was the touch of her hand on his cheek, but as he raised his head to look at her, she vanished behind the shadows of the trees.
His mind lingered as he journeyed past her and he stared in anger and regret at the snarl of briers, dead branches and vines. He held his breath as danger dragged him along, away from her, away from solace, to focus down another gun barrel.
He took up a sniper position, laying belly down in the tall grass. As he attached his scope, it was easy to imagine that firing his gun, just once, would stop the madness, would wake him up, make him come to his senses again, senses that he’d left in her bed, in her arms, where he was only safe to feel things again when he was learning the lines of her face.
A sudden volley of shots split the sky, thundering in between his heartbeats and snapping him back to the present. He held his breath and looked down the scope, panning from his station toward the interruption. The target halo shrank to a globed picture of men and dogs swarming toward the outbuildings and the road. From the look of it, someone or something had tipped them off.
Dean pushed up on his elbows and checked downhill. Lee was peering down the sight of his weapon. He pulled the trigger and a sharp crack from the report of the rifle drifted up the hill. Shouts came from down below, and Lee’s fist rose in a small victory pump. He marked the air with one finger.
Answering shots echoed from the rest of Gideon’s snipers, lined up along the road to cover the train of vehicles. The ground shook violently and a wide percussion of air blew leaves and dust into Dean’s face. He was deaf before he registered that the explosion had robbed him of his hearing. He covered his ears and rose to his knees, fighting the vertigo of the whole world vibrating around him. A red and gray plume broke over the sky above the trees. Something was on fire on the road.
He saw Lee grab his gear and break into a run.*
The van rocked on its springs. Through the splintered windshield, Sam could see at least one of the cars engulfed in flames. The image through the glass shrank and twisted. Wind and smoke was blasting in from the missing driver’s side window.
Spencer was holding his face with two bloody hands. He was rocking and kicking the floorboard, and his screams reverberated off of everything. Blake leaned toward him and pulled at his arms, trying to calm him. The van was still moving, jerking forward and sliding on the gravel every time Spencer’s foot slammed onto the accelerator. Carter undid his belt and lunged forward, too.
Sam scrambled under the front seats for the med supplies, finally tracing them back to the floorboard behind his own seat. He grabbed a shaker ice pack and a towel and held them out toward Blake while he looked for the powder, but Carter was in the way. When Sam glanced up, Blake was pinned against the dash, one hand grappling to free his airway. Carter was choking him, roaring in anger.
There was no way to reach the brake. The image was rotating faster in the windshield, which rattled and cracked loudly as Carter pushed into Blake’s throat. The van swerved away from the car in front of them and now they were barreling at an angle toward a ditch that was deep enough to flip them over. If they did, the gas tank would be exposed to half the field.
Sam pulled his knife from the sheath at his hip and went after Carter. The beefy man took up most of the space between the seats, so Sam had to cram his weak hand around the head of the seat without Spencer accidentally rocking toward him and onto the knife. He sliced the back of Carter’s left arm at the elbow. It severed the nerve and killed his grip on Blake, who took the opportunity to slide along the dash and throw a knee into Carter’s face.
As Carter spun around, Sam pulled him down to the floor. He moved to strike, but the van lurched, causing Sam to lose his balance and his grip on the knife. It spun out of sight as he fell. One of his knees landed on Carter’s stomach, knocking the air out of him, but the other knee slammed onto the steel floor. Sam gasped. He tried to lift himself by bracing both arms on the seats, but he couldn’t get his leg to respond.
“I’ve got it!” Blake yelled.
The van shuddered to a halt, throwing Sam forward again. Carter planted a right hook on Sam’s jaw, and the blow sent crystals of white exploding across his vision. They illuminated the equipment and walls around him into high relief and he caught sight of the handle of the knife, lodged in the cushion of Carter’s seat. He made a grab for it, but Carter saw it, too.
A heavy punch slammed into Sam’s solar plexus, warping his body into a concave shape. He levered himself away, closing his fingers around the grip of the knife as he went, but Carter was right on top of him. The big man loomed over Sam. He was swaying between the seats and kicking at Sam’s legs, looking for an opening, when a square of light appeared behind him, catching him off guard. Sam lifted his good leg and kicked Carter in the stomach with enough force to send him tumbling out of the open van door and into a heap on the grass.
The rapid beat of gunfire escalated around them. Another explosion, smaller than the first, was followed by authoritative shouts and screaming. Blake appeared in the doorway, largely unconcerned by the increasing mayhem. He stood over the coughing Carter with a flamethrower in his hand, aimed inches away from Carter’s heart.
Sam watched as the man rolled in pain and reached his bloody arm up toward Blake, rage and panic blazing red in his eyes. “I don’t care who you are,” Carter sputtered, “you’re gonna get what’s coming to you.”
There was no reply. Blake changed his aim and shot the flames into Carter’s face.
For seconds that felt like forever, Sam watched as Blake torched him, Carter’s screams turning into shrieks that rose from the flames until nothing but smoke poured from the barrel. He shrugged the canister off his shoulders and let it drop to the ground, morosely watching the body twitch, shrivel and turn black. Sam jumped when Blake drew his pistol and fired three rounds into what was left of the embers of the heart.
Blake’s voice echoed eerily through the hiss and crackle of the dying blaze. “I told you never to talk about Gwen.”
Sam coughed and his ears popped. He braced himself against the wall behind the driver’s seat and pressed on his jaw, checking for cuts. Still slumped in the driver’s seat, Spencer groaned. That seemed to get Blake’s attention. He holstered the weapon and climbed into the van, shutting the door behind him.
“What the hell was that?” Sam asked him.
Blake gave Sam a cursory glance, then sat in the passenger’s seat and turned his full attention to Spencer. Taking a hold of Spencer’s arm, he pulled gently. The young man stopped reeling but remained steadfastly hunched over the steering wheel, hiding his face.
“Spence,” Blake said gently. “Hey, dude, let me see. We’re gonna get you fixed up. It always feels worse than it is. Trust me. I’ve been hit in the face so many times, it’s crazy. Spence …”
Spencer raised his head slightly. Blood sputtered from his nose and his hands shook so badly that the steering wheel rattled in his grip. His breaths were deep and wet from raspy sobs of pain.
“There, see? I thought it was gonna be bad. Look at that.” Blake palmed the side of his face and Spencer hissed. “You’re gonna have an awesome scar, man.”
Sam eased forward slowly from the floor, clutching his side in pain, and managed to find the med kit. He held it up to Blake, trying to keep his tone light. “I can’t see you, Spence, so I’m not sure which of us needs this more,” he joked.
“I thought my face was on fire. There was ... glass exploding everywhere,” Spencer replied shakily and tried to look into the rearview mirror. “Are you sure?”
Blake frowned and glanced at Sam as he grabbed a small towel from the kit. “He doesn’t believe me, Sam, but he’s one lucky bastard. Of course if we don’t get out of here in about ten seconds, I may not be able to say that anymore.”
Sam eased up, swallowing hard at the blood returning to his swelling leg and face. “Blake’s right, it’s a rat trap in here. Spencer, can you see?”
Spencer’s hands pulled the towel from his face and blinked quickly a few times. “Yeah, I think so.”
Sam twisted around, hauling himself up to get a better look. Tiny pink marks pocked the left side of Spencer’s face. There was some swelling around his eyes and the towel was doused in blood. It seemed like more than would be coming from just his nose, which clearly was still bleeding, but it didn’t look as bad as Sam had expected. In fact, it looked like a wound that had happened months before. Sam halted a suspicious glance at Blake, who seemed impatient, and cleared his throat instead. “Will the van still drive?”
Blake shook his head. “We’re gonna find another ride.” He gripped Spencer’s shoulder firmly, nodding assurance to the younger man. “And we don’t leave anyone behind.” His gaze shifted to Sam. “We need to find your brother.”
“So the alpha did know we were coming,” Sam mused, levering himself up.
“Understatement of the century,” Blake replied through clenched teeth. “Arm up.”
They gathered their gear from where it had been thrown in the cab. Gun drawn and ready, Blake held onto the door handle. “Ready?”
Sam and Spencer nodded.
“Stay low.” He yanked the door open and stepped out first, breaking for the next car in line, a white four-door. Two men were already taking cover behind it. Sam drew his gun and half-ran behind him, catching sight of the car’s front windows, busted out and bloody, and the back windows hazy with smoke. Spencer followed and landed hard against the rear tire.
One of the men handed Spencer a spare rifle. “Where’s air support when you need it, huh?” he shouted over the din, and a few of them laughed uncomfortably in agreement.
The other man was holding onto a wound in his side that spurted blood past his fingers every time he took a deep breath. Sam tossed what was left of the med kit to the man’s friend.
The battle was escalating. Spencer shouted a warning and then fired over the trunk of the car, cursed, re-aimed and fired two more times. Sam peeked through the blown-out windows of the car and saw Spencer’s target: a young man who had been charging toward them, only to trip over his own feet and fall, red blooming across his chest.
“Riley, have you seen Gideon or Gwen?” Blake asked the wounded man.
Shaking his head, Riley dug his heels into the turf to stay upright. “Jason was with ‘em in the front of the line. They could be blowed up for all I know. We ditched our ride. Couldn’t see what was comin’. That mighta been one of the worser ideas I ever had.” He peeled his hand away to reveal what looked like a deep bite underneath. Blake swore.
Sam checked the magazine in his gun and scanned the area. “Where is it now?”
“Damned if I know. Clay got a bead on it but it took off. Never seen a thing run that fast.”
Sam grimaced to himself as he kept watch. He caught a guarded glance from Blake, who motioned his chin toward the wounded man with hard eyes. Riley couldn’t seem to keep still and there was something like fear and anger beginning to spark in his eyes. Sam tensed.
Riley’s friend pulled the med kit apart until he found the canister of powder. He flung it on liberally to stop the bleeding and coated Riley’s bloody hand in white.
“Stop wasting that on me!” Riley snapped and tried to paw it off. When his friend seemed stricken and looked away, he smacked him hard on the shoulder. “You go with the Fire Department here, Clay. You go and don’t stand up to me now. Your arguin’ always makes me so damned tired.”
“Alright, if you say so,” Clay responded, but he didn’t make a move to leave his friend’s side. Instead, his eyes remained fixed over the top of the car, on the spot that the young man had charged from.
“You better go now
,” Riley added. It sounded like a warning.
Sam and Blake both looked at each other from their spots in the nearly trampled grass and then over at Riley’s legs, which were beginning to jerk and spasm. His back stiffened and he arched off the ground, then collapsed weakly back into the grass, gasping to catch his breath. He reached for his pistol.
Clay shook his head and patted him calmly on the arm. “Not all clear yet.”
Riley’s eyes flashed, and his lips turned up into a snarl. “It’s about to be.”
Without hesitating, he aimed at Clay’s head and fired. His friend’s brain splattered across the hood of the car and over his face. Then he turned the gun toward Spencer.
Blake and Sam fired in unison, and the noise of the gunshots drowned out Blake’s warning yell. Their two bullets caught Riley in the temple, but not before Riley’s last shot found its target. Spencer lay motionless in the grass, his head smoking.
“Dammit,” Blake gasped.
Sam crawled forward and lifted Spencer’s rifle from the young man’s limp fingers, then passed it back to Blake. “If I asked you just what the hell is going on here, would I get a straight answer?”
“Probably not,” Blake replied. “Let’s go.”
Before Sam could say anything else, Blake rounded the car and ran toward the melee. Sam tried to kick himself up with his good leg to follow, but it gave out and the sharp metal of the rear bumper scraped along his back as he fell. Strafing fire from several directions sent metallic pings across the side of the car. The tire popped and hissed, pinching Sam’s arm as it shrank.
He ducked lower, holding the Taurus ready in one hand and the knife in the other, and he wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. To his left, two men emerged from a thick pillar of smoke with packs strapped to their backs. One was firing a flamethrower into the smoke while the other kept an eye ahead of them, looking for an escape.
A hand landed heavily on his right side, a strange grip that dug into his ribs while he was looking the other way. He threw an elbow in defense, but it was blocked.
“Hey, it’s me!” *
“Sam!” Dean shouted. His heartbeat pounded in his ears like a metronome and measured the unsteady pace of his footfalls against the racket of gunfire as it neared a crescendo. He ran to the edge of the road clearing.
Wolves were hunting in packs between the cars, chasing down and isolating hunters. A hunter ran past him between the cars. He raised his rifle and tried to get a bead on the three dogs running behind her, but they kept disappearing as they weaved between vehicles. She reached an abandoned car and jumped in, firing as she went. He took out the last two, but it didn’t save her. The third disappeared into the lingering smoke. He cursed under his breath, finally lowering the weapon.
A few of the cars to his right were still engulfed in flames. The explosion had torn apart the second car in the line, a bare miss for Gideon and his team. The roof was blown completely apart and smoke billowed from what was left of the gas tank. The doors hung from melted hinges like the stunted wings of Hermes’ magic sandals. He tried to remember which car Gwen had been in. The ones nearest him were empty, lying ransacked with their doors ajar.
He called Sam’s name again, but the only responses were gunfire and dying shouts. The acrid smoke blew into his face. He raised his arm as a shield and shrugged away just in time to catch a small movement out of the corner of his eye. He swiveled to face it.
A man stood twenty feet away, rifle angled toward Dean, struggling with the same smoke. They both coughed and squinted to see each other clearly through the cloud. The man’s watering eyes widened.
“You’re dead,” Dean heard the man say.
Dean’s jaw flexed into a tight smile. Through the disguise of thick smoke, he saw that the man had aimed at center mass and put himself on high alert. “You sound surprised, Roy.”
“Walt was right about the evil in you two. Where’s your brother?” Roy hefted his shotgun to hip level.
Dean swallowed. Charred, paper-thin ash and red cherries of burning grass wafted through the air between them.
“Th-that’s right, you stand there and don’t move,” Roy stuttered, “I’ve got back-up on the way.”
Lifting his foot slowly, Dean took a step forward. “What’s the matter, Roy? Why don’t you just do it now?”
“I said stay put!” Roy lifted the gun to his shoulder.
“You don’t think it would work?” Dean aimed an intense stare and took another step forward, then another. “What if that gun isn’t gonna stop me this time?”
Roy jerked the rifle to ward him off. “Walt—”
“Walt’s dead,” Dean bluffed, taking another step forward. “There’s nobody coming for you.”
Roy lifted his head, his eyes large, and shuffled backward.
Only five more steps away from Roy, Dean prepared to close the gap with a single lunge. Roy’s gaze didn’t follow him into the crouch; it shifted upward, behind Dean and into the woods. A low rustle and a quiet growl sounded behind him. Dean wanted to turn his head slowly and look, but instinct took over and he froze.
Eyes steely, Roy lifted the shotgun higher. “Walt, look out!”
Roy’s shotgun blasted over Dean’s head and Dean dove out of the way, rolled in the dirt over his pack and came around with the rifle pointed up the hill.
Walt had been standing less than ten feet from his back, a knife in his hand, and behind him was the largest wolf Dean had ever seen. Its pelt was rusted red and white. Thick black-tipped fur bristled at its shoulders. Roy’s shot hadn’t even fazed it. Red eyes flared as it leaped down the hill toward them and landed at Walt’s side. It looked up at Walt, teeth bared, and growled low in its throat. Walt stared at it and didn’t move.
Dean could see that his jacket and shirt had been torn and shredded at his right shoulder. When he tightened his grip around the knife in his hand, a large bloody gash showed through the ragged cloth. His body jerked like he was hesitating, and his face was pinched with effort.
Roy dropped the shotgun and yanked a similar knife from a sheath on his belt. Then he charged the animal.
Walt screamed at Roy’s approach and covered the ground between them, pouncing on Roy’s face. The wolf grabbed Roy’s arm and shook hard. Roy fell to the ground wordlessly and the knife fell, too. His empty hands disappeared in a mass of fur as he tried in vain to wrestle them both away.
Dean dropped his rifle and reached into his pack. Then he stood and aimed at the three bodies, a mass of writhing limbs and contorting muscle, spittle and blood and flying flesh. He grimaced as he forced his finger to close on the trigger, to press slightly. It went no further. He took a deep breath around the clenching in his stomach. He lowered the weapon and watched until the massacre was over and Roy’s body lay filleted on the dusty ground.
The red wolf shook and licked at the blood dripping from its lips, regarded Dean steadily with soulful eyes, and bounded away. Walt took a knee slowly and wiped his knife on his brother’s clothing, then stood calmly. His burning eyes pierced Dean, and there was nothing human left.
Dean raised the Colt. “This time I’m not gonna be that easy.”Book Two, Part Five