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Too Many Words

Collected writings of a Green Eyed Fan.


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Fic: Tioga Road
Pi
greeneyes_fan
Title: Tioga Road
Artist: ameraleigh
Author: greeneyes_fan
Rating: Teen
Word Count: 5K
Summary: You can't put honey back in the comb, and you can't turn a soldier back into a child. Case-fic, 1997.
Warnings: Teenchester angst

Written for the pictures2words community, and beta'd by the remarkably skilled and insightfulblubird_pie

Link to Master Art Post




San Francisco, CA, May 1997

"Mr. Winchester, I don't think you quite understand the situation. Your son should be graduating from high school in two weeks, and he's not going to."

"Summer school--"

"Would be an option if he was short one or two classes. He needs four. He's going to have to come back for another full year."

When a spirit had flung him headfirst into a tombstone the week before, John Winchester had gotten his feet under him again almost before he stopped rolling. Now, though, he sat blinking stupidly, unable to absorb what he'd heard.

His boy was failing twelfth grade. Because he'd been dragged on one hunt too many.

He choked out something, maybe a polite goodbye, maybe a curse, and ducked out of the dark, wood-paneled office.

John knew Dean had been absent a lot, between three hunts that ran longer than expected and one that left Dean laid up for a couple weeks. He didn’t like either of his children missing school, but over the last year or two, his oldest son had made himself an irreplaceable part of the Winchester arsenal. The boy's latest growth spurt had put him almost eye-to-eye with his father, and, after a dozen years of practice, his shooting was extraordinary.

He never thought Dean would miss enough school to cost him his diploma.

This year, it’d be different. He wouldn’t let the hunt get in the way of Dean’s schooling. John had been thinking Sam was old enough to join the hunt, too, but perhaps he should also be left out during the school year.

************

Sixteen days later, the Impala headed east down I-280, away from the San Francisco Bay. John reached into his jacket and pulled out a collection of newspaper clippings, thrusting them over his shoulder at Sam. "See what you make of those."

Sam rolled his eyes once John's back was safely turned, but began leafing through the pile.

Camper Found Dead
Fourth Presumed Bear Attack
All Hikers Cautioned
Search For Missing Teen Continues


The headlines formed a disturbing pattern. In total, four people had been found dead over the past three months and three more had disappeared, all in or near Yosemite National Park.

Sam sat up, his avid curiosity aroused despite the gruesome subject matter. "Sounds like an awful lot of animal attacks. How big an area?"

A map with markings landed on his lap.

"Not all that great a range altogether, but--look, they think the third attack was just a day after the second, and they were almost 20 miles apart, in a straight line. Lots of animals could move that fast if they had to, but most don't unless they're migrating or something. And, look, the ranger in this article is talking about how unusual it is, how it's been ten years since the last fatal bear attack."

"Any thoughts on what's doing it?" His father asked.

"These articles aren't saying much. Could be almost anything."

"So we gotta check it out!" Dean put in cheerfully. "What's our cover, Dad?"

"Family vacation. Educational."

***********

Sam had been happy when Dad decided to stay an extra two weeks in Oakland, letting Sam finish the eighth grade with his friends. He'd since realized that letting him finish school had nothing to do with it.

"No, Dean, you can't come along on this one." Dad had announced firmly.

"But--"

"The principal tells me you still have a shot at passing physics and gym, so that's what you're doing for the next two weeks. Studying physics and not missing gym. And not cutting your other classes, either, because I might be out of contact and I don't want the school trying to call me."

Dean looked down, then straight ahead. "Yes, sir.”

The next day, Dean arrived at school on time, attended every class, and studied physics for an hour as he watched Sam study for his own tests. Then, Dean jogged two miles to the pistol range and emptied six clips into the bulls-eye, lips pressed together in silent fury.

As they left the city traffic behind them, John reached into another pocket and pulled out an envelope. He passed it to Dean. “That’s your grades. Picked it up at the school right before we left. Open it up and read it to me.”

Dean broke the seal. “Hey, I passed!”

“What did you get on the final?” Sam asked, peering forward over his shoulder. “Hey, ninety-three!”

“Good.” John pronounced. I know how bright he is. If he could just be a kid, he could have grades like that all the time.

The next morning, John parked near the Rangers' station at Yosemite's west gate. "Sam, with me. Dean, stay here."

Dean slouched deeper in the front seat, apparently sleeping, as the oldest and youngest hunters headed inside. Once there, John headed for the desk with a look of wide-eyed concern on his face.

"Excuse me, sir. Could, ah, could I ask you a few questions about the park?"

"Sure, that's what I'm here for." The ranger was a middle-aged man of Latino ancestry, dressed in a uniform. He offered a welcoming grin.

"Me and my sons are on vacation, you see, down from Portland." He gestured to Sam, as if the ranger couldn't see the boy for himself. "School's just out, and they've never seen Yosemite. But, ah, I heard some rumors. Animal attacks? Is it safe?"

The smile dropped away from the ranger's face.

"Thus far, all attacks have happened to isolated individuals in the more remote areas of the park, up near Tioga Road and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Where are you staying?"

"Haven't decided yet."

"This time of year, it helps to have reservations. But in any case, we're warning solo travelers and small parties to stick to the more populous areas such as Yosemite Valley."

"What do they think is causing it?"

"The cops said bear, but I think a mountain lion is more likely. We don't have grizzlies in the Sierras, and black bears just don't attack humans all that often. Mainly, use good judgment. The park is where these animals live, you're just visiting. Avoid attracting bears by storing your food--or anything that might smell like food--in your campsite's bear-proof food locker, or in a special canister when you're hiking. You can buy one right here.

"Your car is not bear-proof, don't store food in it overnight. If you see a bear, make some noise to scare it off, but don't corner it. If you see a mountain lion, back away slowly. Don't run, it'll provoke them to chase you and they can run a lot faster. Most importantly, if you see a baby animal, don't approach it. The best way to provoke a bear or mountain lion attack is to get between a female and her young."

John nodded solemnly, trying to give the appearance of a man seriously afraid of bears.

"Still, most park visitors don't see bears or mountain lions. And cars killing bears are much more common than bears killing people, so please watch out and follow the speed limits inside the park."

"Mr. Ranger?" Sam piped up. "Why do you think those hikers got attacked? I mean, if they went hiking a lot, didn't they know this stuff?"

"Well, sometimes when people get tired or excited, they forget."

"Do you know how they were found?"

The ranger looked over the boy's head to his father, who grinned apologetically. "Excuse my boy. He wants to be a cop when he grows up." And it's so much easier for someone his age to get away with pumping for information.

"Well, one of them was found by another group traveling through the area. They went straight to the nearest ranger station and reported it."

"So it was on a trail? Where?"

The ranger indicated a spot on a map.

"And, how were the other ones found?" Sam pressed. He looked away for a moment, met his father's gaze. John frowned slightly, and Sam looked back at the ranger.

"Well, the other ones all told friends their plans before going into the backcountry alone. We strongly encourage everyone to do that. In fact, we encourage them not to hike so far alone at all, but that's another matter. When they didn't get back when expected, the friends called us and reported them missing. We sent searchers out on their planned routes, and..."

The ranger sighed deeply. "That's how we found them."

"What about the ones you didn't find?" the boy asked.

"Back in the car, Tim," his father warned.

Long before he knew about hunting, Sam had learned to respond to any name his father chose to call him. He went.

With his natural reticence cracked and the little ears safely gone, the ranger opened up a bit more.

"Yes, we've had three missing persons. The young couple didn't leave itineraries, and this park is over seven hundred thousand acres, most of them complete wilderness. Assuming they were actually in the park and not in one of the neighboring national forests. We've circulated their descriptions, but we simply don't know where to begin looking. The older hiker, we traced his planned route, but found no sign of him."

"What was his route exactly? Just so I know where not to go."

*********************
John climbed back into the car. He nodded to Sam, the only thanks the boy received or expected. Then he picked up the map and traced a red line on it.

"Coroner's office is about a half-hour away," he grunted, then started the car.

John drove back to town and dropped the boys off in front of the library. "See what you can dig up," he ordered. "Stay on this block." Sam headed into the library to find the local newspapers while Dean, always hungry, headed for a diner to see if he could pick up some rumors along with a burger.

Their father parked in front of the police station, buttoned his shirt neatly, combed his hair, and pulled a fake ID out of the glovebox. Wildlife authority, today.

"I'd like to see the autopsies on the recent animal attacks in Yosemite," he announced.

Some days, I love small town cops, he thought cheerfully, as the files were provided without question. The bodies themselves had been released for burial long since.

John leafed through notes, reports and photos of gruesomely mutilated bodies. Consistent with animal attacks, they'd all been partially devoured. The coroner claimed that exposure to the elements prior to recovery had damaged the bodies so that he was unable to conclusively identify the animals responsible.

He did, however state that the teeth were too small to be either bear or mountain lion.

John made some copies, then picked up his children. He described the autopsy results.

"There ain't too many natural creatures smaller than a black bear that could take down a grown man," he concluded. "Wolves don't live in the Sierras, never have, and coyotes are too small. So what did you learn?"

Dean drew himself up straighter. "The people in the diner were about half locals, half tourists, and most of the tourists hadn't even heard of the attacks. The locals are mostly convinced that four experienced hikers managed to not only find bears up there, but annoy them enough to get attacked. The missing people, they figure they wanted to disappear. Just abandoned their cars and walked out of the park in a different direction. Somebody claimed the missing teens were star-crossed lovers or something dumb like that. There was one man who'd actually seen one of the bodies and claims it was a wolf or dog attack, but the others shouted him down."

"Did anyone know the dead or missing folks?"

"No, they were all out-of-towners. Which is a little strange, because a lot of the people who go solo in backcountry must be locals or frequent visitors. Tourists tend to stick with a group or guide."

"Sam?"

"Like Dean said, they were all tourists. The articles insisted they were experienced hikers, but not in Yosemite." Sam rubbed his face wearily. Microfiche readers were rough on the eyes. "I checked the local weekly newspaper records as far back as they went, which was 1906. There have been animal attacks, and people disappearing, but no patterns like this."

"Local legends?"

"Didn't have time, sir," Sam replied, just on the edge of genuine irritation.

John glanced at his watch. "I suppose you didn't."

They drove back to the motel in silence, and John added autopsy reports, police reports, Dean's notes and Sam's new articles to the collection of clipping already decorating their walls. Then he sat on his bed, crossed his right ankle over his left knee, and frowned.

"So the first incident was back in early April, before the Tioga Road pass even opened. Takes a lot of determination to get that deep into the park that early in the year. Determination and tire chains."

He grabbed the obituaries and backgrounds from the police reports and put the photos side by side. "What did they have in common, other than a love for the outdoors?"

Sam looked up. "Maybe there is no pattern, other than where they were. You said there aren't too many people hiking there in the early part of the year, maybe it just took whoever it could get."

Dean didn't like that idea at all. "Peak tourist season is just getting started. If Sam's right--"

"This could get a lot worse in a big hurry," their father finished. "I don't think we're going to learn much more out here."

Suddenly John grinned, a wicked twinkle in his eye. "Pack your bags, boys, tomorrow we're going to explore the natural wonders of Yosemite." The two teens looked at each other, for once in total agreement. Backpacking hunts were the worst kind. Especially when Dad decided to make them "educational."

They made a quick stop at a grocery store the next morning, buying a week's worth of nonperishable food for a man, a child, and the bottomless pit that was an active boy in his late teens. John picked up some bear-proof storage capsules, too.

Just because bears were one of the least scary things he'd seen lately was no reason to be stupid about them.

The drive into northern Yosemite took several hours, and Sam Winchester, the jaded traveler weaned in a car seat, all but rode with his nose pressed to the glass like a puppy. The stony crags of the Sierras split the sky before them. On the drive down Interstate 5, temperatures had hit the triple digits, but here snow still lingered above the timberline. Snowmelt had swelled the rivers and pounded over fantastic waterfalls. Scattered clouds painted shadows across the landscape as the sun streamed through the windshield. Each valley was filled with wildflowers, some of them unlike any Sam had ever seen.
John glanced out the window. "Sure is pretty. Almost enough to make you forget how dangerous it is."

Sam turned away from the window and returned to their case notes. Almost enough. But not quite.

The family set up in a public campground just off Tioga Road. They chose a lot near the back, to more easily conceal the fact that they didn’t own a tent and were planning to sleep either in the car or under a single tarp strung between the trees.

“First one to get a break on the case gets to sleep in the backseat tonight,” John announced. “Everybody else gets the front seat or the ground.”

Sam headed for the educational building, hoping to find either kids with rumors to share or another ranger willing to indulge his curiosity.

Dean grabbed the laundry bag and strode confidently toward the barn that served as both Laundromat and general store. Women always gossiped like crazy while they washed their clothes.

At first, Dean feared disappointment, as he managed to wash all the clothes and stuff them into dryers without even seeing another camper. Before the clothes dried, however, a young woman arrived to do her laundry. She had dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and wore a simple t-shirt and cutoffs. Her nose was a bit too wide for beauty, but when she saw Dean, she grinned broadly, lighting up her green eyes. “Hey, neighbor!”

“Hey yourself,” Dean responded. She was probably five years older than he was, but that pretty smile suggested she didn’t mind.

“Do you come here a lot?” She asked.

“First time.”

“I come up for a month, every summer. I love it here.”

“Then I bet you can tell me some great stories.”

“Maybe a few.”

She kept Dean entertained while the laundry dried. He even folded it, as an excuse to stick around longer.

“But there are folks who spend more time here, even a few who live here,” the girl went on, pulling her things out of the dryer.

“I thought all the permanent homes in the park were further south, in Yosemite Valley.”

"Mostly you’re right, but there is Carl Readings. He's got a cabin up near Hetch Hetchy, been in his family since before the land was park. He doesn't much like visitors, though."

"Reclusive type?"

"Well, he wasn't always. Not to spread gossip, of course," she looked at him intently. "But it's a really dreadful story."

"Oh?"

"Carl grew up here, with his grandparents. I don't know what happened to his parents. When they died, he moved out to Los Angeles. Went to college, got a job with, oh, some sort of firm. Last fall, they sent him to Europe for a month, visiting all their clients. The day before he was due back, his wife was murdered on her way home from work."

The girl looked at him intently. Apparently a response was expected, so Dean said, "That's awful."

"He up and quit that day, sold his place there, and moved up here. In October, to a cabin that barely had a roof on it. He fixed it up a bit, but still. The police never figured out who killed his wife. They say that's why he hates everybody now, especially anyone who doesn’t live up here."

"That is quite a story, Sara. Thanks for filling me in, and we'll steer clear of Mr. Readings' place."

*************************

"Mr. Readings? I'm with the US Forest Service." John held up a badge.

The door opened a crack, and a voice asked, "What do you want?"

"I'm investigating reports of a dangerous, possibly non-native animal in this area. I just want to know if you've seen anything."

"What kind of animal?" The voice tightened.

"We're not entirely sure. There have been several unusual hiker deaths so far this year.”

"I haven't seen anything. Go bother the folks up at the reservoir." The door slammed.

John frowned. Carl had a reputation for surliness, and a man living in a forested cabin usually had little reason to love the Government--he was none too fond of it himself--but that had seemed just a bit too hostile.

Quietly, John walked around the back of the cabin.

Beneath the upstairs window were long, deep sets of scratches in the wood. John reached up and placed his own hand over one of the rows. If a man’s hand had claws, it would fit those grooves.

If a man’s hand had claws…

John sprinted back to the car and grabbed the case file. Then he flipped through the newspaper, searching for the almanac.

“The dates of the killings fit the lunar cycle,” he said. “And all four bodies were missing their hearts. We’re dealing with a werewolf, boys, and I think it’s Readings himself. Like the laundry girl said, he hates everybody. I think he’s turning and just killing everyone he comes across.”

John opened his journal and began scribbling.

"It has to be that trip to Europe. Werewolves are pretty rare here, I've only heard of one confirmed case in the past ten years.

"Can we cure him?" Sam asked timidly.

"It might be possible to break the curse by severing the bloodline--killing the werewolf who bit him. But he spent a month in Europe, apparently visiting multiple cities. It would take months even to track his movements, and meanwhile Readings would still be killing. There's no way to control him. Still, the bloodline has to be tracked, or even more people will get hurt. I'll get Readings' passport later, and get in touch with his former employers. Pastor Jim can pass it on to his contacts in the Lutheran church in Sweden. It's not much to go on, but they can try.

"The cycle begins again tonight," John finished. "We need to be waiting outside his cabin with silver bullets."

"We've got seven silver pistol rounds," Dean offered.

John snorted. "You aren't wasting my silver on a pistol shot outdoors, by night, at something that can run and dodge twice as fast as a man. We're going to have to melt our scrap into rifle rounds, and we don't have time to get to an oven. Sam, get the molds and the crucible. Dean, inspect your Remington and get the night scope. Today, you're going to learn how to build a campfire hot enough to melt silver."

Apparently, the process started with shooting a few holes in one of the bear-proof food capsules to turn it into a chimney. Then, he piled the half-burned coals of the previous night's fire inside. Some fresh kindling and generous dash of lighter fluid followed. Once it was well lit, he handed Sam a dirty t-shirt and showed him how to fan the flames to a steady orange heat, higher than he'd use for cooking or for warmth. This time, the silver scrap was a hideously ugly little troll figurine Sam unearthed at a flea market, in the booth of a man who had no idea it was solid silver. Last time, they'd used three bent teaspoons John found in an abandoned house he was hunting.

Within an hour, the silver troll was softening, droplets like sweat running down the form and beginning to pool in the bottom of the crucible. John only had two rifle-round sized molds, so he kept the fire stoked as Dean plunged the fresh rounds into the waiting bucket of water, quenched them, and popped out the bullets. The Winchesters made six in all, before the supply of silver scrap and charcoal were exhausted. Dean loaded the new bullets with powder and primer, and he and John each took three.

The silver pistol rounds would be used if their first shots failed and the monster managed to get close, two each for Dean's pistol and John's, and three for Sam, because he had no other useful weapon except a tiny silver knife.

Suddenly, John imagined a werewolf leaping toward Sammy as he desperately held up his knife, with a blade no more than four inches long. It wouldn't take down even an ordinary wolf, not in time to save him from being bitten.

"Repeat the plan again," he barked.

"We've already been through it four times," Sam muttered. John tilted his head slightly.

"You take the front of the house, Dean takes the back. I wait down by the road in case he gets past you..."

Moonrise found the three hidden around the old Readings house, just as they had planned. Dean crouched on one knee, leaning against the trunk of a young pine. His rifle rested on his thigh. To stay limber, he switched knees every few minutes. Excitement made his breath come faster, but he slowed it down again, keeping his body calm for the perfect shot.

Slowly, his eyes and ears adjusted to the night. The sky filled with stars, dimming only where the moon washed them out. Far downhill, a deer moved through the trees. Dean could hear a faint rustling as Sammy shifted position. Dad wouldn’t like that, if he heard, but Dad was way over on the other side of the property. The wolf, if the legends held true, could probably hear all of their heartbeats anyway.

A peculiar scratching cut through Dean’s contemplation.

The back door and windows remained shut. But, looking higher, he could see something creeping up over the eaves.

The peak of the roof and a nearby tree blocked his aim, so he waited as the creature swung over the eave and strode out along the rear edge of the roof. It moved on all fours, like a wolf, but the limb lengths were clearly human.

Suddenly it turned and leapt into the air, clawed hands outstretched in front of it, reaching toward Dean as if it really could hear his heart beating. As soon as it left the roof, Dean breathed out and squeezed the trigger. The crack of a rifle split the night, and the force of the bullet knocked the monster down well shy of its intended target.

Dean stood and walked towards it, but John beat him there. A quick check, and "Dead," he announced. "A perfect heart shot, Dean. You are one fine hunter."

Dean’s back straightened, and his rifle snapped up to his side. The slow smile on his face was like watching the sun come up.

The body would have to be dealt with, though, and burning the newly dead was a bit more effort than burning bones. Especially in a summer-dry forest in the Sierras.

"Sam, find me two armloads of kindling and one of large wood. Dean, put away the guns, get the shovel, salt, and lighter fluid from the car, and dig a firepit in that clearing. All precautions against wildfire.”

The boys walked off together. “Wasn’t that awesome, Sammy? One shot. One, in midair. And the Sierras are safe from werewolves.”

“It was a good shot. But what if you missed? That thing was heading straight for you, and I don’t I could’ve got it before it got you.”

“Don’t worry. I do stuff like that all the time. You’ll get used to it when you start hunting more.”

“That’s what I’m worried about.”

John wrapped the body in a woolen blanket, covering the once-more-human face before his sons returned. They didn't need to know what it felt like to kill a person, not yet. He stamped down a whisper of, "Not ever."

*************************
Half a year later, Dean sat at a little table in a motel room not far from Truman High. He scowled at the assignment in front of him.

During the Civil War, boys as young as you were drafted. Sometimes even younger boys lied about their age to enlist. Read Chapter 15, and write a one-page essay explaining how you think those boys and young men felt about joining the military.

Dean picked up a pen and began to write.

"There's nothing quite picking up a weapon, knowing that it's all that stands between you and the enemy..."

After filling three pages, he stopped and looked it over. Once, in kindergarten, he'd told the teacher that a monster killed his mommy. Turning this paper in would probably produce the same effect.

The next day, he didn't turn in any homework at all.

Not only was he missing all this homework, the social studies teacher came down on him about how he was indifferent to the problems of history and the rigors of military service, and two gorgeous girls were mad at him. When Dad called and said they were moving again, Dean could have cried with relief, if that hadn’t been such a silly thing to do.

He and Sam hurried toward the car, pulled the doors open, and paused. The right side of John Winchester's face was deep purple, shading into green, and he wore a splint on one wrist. As the boys climbed in, he said, "We'll swing by the motel, pick up your things, then hit the interstate."

"Want me to drive?" Dean asked, aiming for casual and almost making it.

"Sure, you could use the practice," John replied in the same tone.

They packed up without a word, left without bothering to check out. Dean merged onto the interstate, reveling in the eager growl from the huge engine as he leaned on the gas. It had been almost a month since he'd seen the car--much too long.

The thrill faded slightly as he eyed his father's injuries again. While he'd worried over history homework and pretty girls, Dad had fought for his life.

"Next hunt is in Lansing, Michigan. I've enrolled you boys in a school not far from there, you can start Monday."

Dean thought of six more months like the last one, not hunting, surrounded by dumb kids who had no idea what he'd done or seen. Six more months of his father hunting alone.

"Look, Dad, I just don't think school is for me."


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This feels just right for all of them. I love Dean with his focus on hunting and Sam using his wee inquisitiveness to help out and John just trying to hold it all together.

Thanks! That's a lot of what I was aiming for.

Nice. The character voices are just spot on for all three of them. Well done and thanks for sharing.

I aim to please ; )

Great to see this up! I love Dean's essay on the military, seems like something he really could relate to in a way he can't relate to the typical suburban lifestyle of his "peers." The way he and hurt!John interact at the end is great too; definitely a good read!

Thanks again for helping me figure out what I was really trying to say here.

I can't believe it too me this long to find time to read this. I really enjoyed it, it was nicely written and I think it fits the art perfectly. I enjoyed working with you, so to speak on this, thanks :D

I am especially glad that you liked it!

Wonderful, perfectly written and realistic,

well done!

Thanks! Glad you found it!

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