It was dark. Joseph could barely make out the moon above through the canopy of tall oaks and pines all around him. Wind whispered through the trees, and somewhere in the distance, a coyote howled. If it wasn’t for the quarter-moon that glowed brightly above, his imagination might have joked around with the idea of a werewolf.
As if those could be real.
Right now, his problems were much worse than some superstitious bullshit.
There was a grid of thick metal bars on all sides. Thicker around than his hand, none budged when he shook them. If he was to guess, he’d say his cage was the size of a trailer, but in the low light he could hardly tell.
It was his first day back on the job, and this had to happen. Whatever “this” was.
Joseph’s duties didn’t usually involve hiking this far out, but with the recent animal attack at the distant campgrounds, several guys had volunteered to see if there was some sign they could find for why it had happened. The only conclusive information anyone had was that a kid had died. Blurry pictures and roaring noises were already fading from public memory, only a week later.
The memorial for the kid had been touching. His mama had cried on a news interview and the town had held a nice little vigil. No one could have ever expected this to happen. The park had no history of animal-related deaths, only a few cases of a stupid camper teasing a fox and getting bitten.
Joseph had been walking along investigating some broken branches and strange signs of a very large animal prowling around. His guess was a grizzly got lost and found itself a nice easy target to drag off, but they’d never found any remains or shreds of clothes or a backpack. No one could figure out what happened.
Now, the mysteries had rushed up to greet Joseph on his walk. Literally. One minute he had been surrounded by the sun-dappled open forest, and the next, walls of metal bars sprang up all around him to create a long, rectangular cage.
Hours later, he still hadn’t managed to force any of the springs back near the door. The coils were so wide that his arm would fit in them; they’d need the jaws of life to cut him free. His walkie talkie had never gotten a good enough signal to call for help, and it lay discarded on the floor of the cage.
Joseph was debating on the wisdom of shouting for help when he heard something moving out in the forest.
It came from far off, but it definitely sounded like something heavy falling. As if to confirm his thoughts, it came again. And again, and again, a little louder each time. In spite of himself, Joseph felt his heart quickening. If there was a rockslide, would his metal prison double as a shield?
A rumbling came up from the ground. Joseph edged to the center of his cage and peered in the direction the noise came from. He wanted to run, to try to climb to the top of his prison again and push on the bars, but he knew nothing would work. He had to wait it out. He noticed something as it came closer.
The tremors and sounds weren’t coming from directly uphill.
In the time it took for him to realize that, something came into view. It was dark, so he still couldn’t make out more than a dark shape crashing down and destroying underbrush beneath it. His heart pounded.
Joseph looked up, tried to follow the shape of the thing and figure out just how big of a falling rock he was dealing with. The silhouette just kept stretching up and up, and getting closer and closer, and growing larger and larger.
When he realized what was stomping towards him, Joseph’s mouth opened and a scream escaped. He frantically darted to the opposite side of the cage, the trap he was in, but there was no escape. There never was.
There was a noise above, and he realized the thing, the giant, the monster was drawing in a sharp breath. Like a gust of wind. Over a hundred feet tall, and it had caught him in a little trap.
“No, no, no, God, please!” Joseph begged, screaming at the top of his lungs. To the monster, to God, to the heavens-- he didn’t know. It didn’t matter. The rumbling voice of the thing drowned out his words but he was too panicked to truly register anything but his own shrill voice and thudding heart.
Displaced air pushed past him as the giant knelt, ready to claim its prey. Joseph felt several tears leaking out of his eyes and continued to try to pry the bars loose from each other. A shadow blocked out the sight of the moon above. Joseph looked over his shoulder and saw an enormous hand with fingers all bigger than his body reaching out to grab the top of the trap.
This is it. This is how I’m gonna die, he thought, a certain detachment falling over him as the end neared. Then, he lurched away from the wall of the cage and fell to its floor as that hand grabbed the cage and lifted it.
It was all happening too fast, leaving him no time to react. The other hand unlatched one of the sides of the cage and let it fall open. The casual strength could crush Joseph between those fingers like a grape, while he hadn’t even been able to budge that door.
Sobbing, Joseph curled up, waiting for the hand to reach in and coil around him. He imagined being grabbed up and held before the giant’s ruthless, brutish face (though in the darkness he couldn’t see it, his imagination did him the courtesy of filling in the blanks). It would observe that he was on the skinny side, but decently tall.
Then after that it would toss him in its mouth and eat him so it could reset its trap and hope for another easy meal to wander in.
Contrary to Joseph’s thoughts, instead of reaching in for him, the giant paused. When Joseph didn’t move, there came a great sigh from above, and then the floor tilted. He began to slide along with the branches and leaves and other foliage that had been used to hide the cage from sight. In desperation, he scrabbled for purchase, but the inevitable slide towards the opening continued.
He glanced up when he was a few feet from the opening. That giant loomed overhead and blocked out the moon. Joseph only saw its hulking shape, couldn’t even see the eyes, but he knew they were watching.
Tumbling to the ground, Joseph rolled. Adrenaline surged through his veins, enough to stagger to his feet. He turned away from the shadowy shape and bolted, fast as his feet could move. He didn’t make it ten feet before stumbling over some low underbrush, and when he thudded to the ground again, he felt that enormous cage dropping to the forest floor.
“No!” he cried, leaping up again. Knowing one of those huge, crushing hands was just behind him, he ran and narrowly avoided crashing into a tree. He needed to get some distance and hide before the giant caught him. If he could just get out of sight, it would give up. It would find something else to eat.
The ground rumbled beneath Joseph’s feet and he knew that the monster was standing. There was a tremor in the ground as it took a step, and it spurred him onward.
He had to hope he’d make it.
Against a monster like that, hope was all he had.
Dean was only just waking up as the heavenly aroma of the coffee reached him.
Putting one foot in front of the other in a steady plod, he was solely focused on getting himself over to the table Sam had commandeered in the little outdoorsy cafe they’d found in Richfield, the Impala slowly creeping her way across the country with Dean's unerring sense of direction and Sam's obsession with maps.
Sam had set up shop with his laptop and newspapers on the table and bag draped on the second chair, effectively chasing away anyone else that might try to sit down at the crowded outdoor porch.
There was a little room left for Dean to use at the edge, and that’s where he put his coffee down, mindlessly pushing Sam’s precious mocha latte towards him. Waking up this early in the morning was definitely not high on Dean’s list, especially after a stressful case like their last. Sam especially had taken it hard when there was no way to save Madison from the werewolf she’d become and Dean didn’t have the heart to bring it up with him again. The first woman his brother had grown attached to ever since losing Jess, and he had killed her himself, a bitter irony.
Sam mumbled a half-hearted “Thanks" as he grabbed the drink, probably not even realizing what it was as he took a sip while staring at the computer screen. What a waste.
“So get this,” Sam said, a portion of his old excitement about the job shining through. After almost two weeks since Madison, he was acting more like his old self, but was still subdued a vast majority of the time. “There’s a weird newspaper report from about a week ago in Sylvan Lake State Park up in Colorado, where a ranger got attacked in the forest. The police are going on about it being some kind of big bear, but he’s insisting that he got caught in some kind of trap. Barely escaped intact.”
Dean took a draught of his coffee, trying to focus his mind and figure out what that had to do with them. “Yeah, so?”
“So… a few weeks before that, there was an attack in the forest. I found some other articles online. All that got caught on film was some blurry footage, but that time, there was a fatality.”
Sam called up an image on the screen and flipped the computer around. A picture of a teenaged kid stared out at them, all brown eyes and brown hair and the innocence of youth.
“Jacob Andris. A lot of campers and hikers were freaked out, but there’s a lot of rumors circling about it. It sounds like they thought it was some kind of giant animal attack, species unknown. The park ranger says he barely escaped getting eaten, but that’s all they put in the paper and it sounds like it could be related. Some wendigo could have set up shop out there and is picking people off one by one before it hibernates. I think it’s worth checking out.”
Dean considered his coffee long and hard, rueing the fact that he'd only just sat down. Though he still hated wendigos, a case would help them both focus.
Tossing the rest of the coffee back, Dean let the scalding liquid wake him up fully.
“Colorado? We can be there in just about five hours.”
With both brothers dressed up in crisp suits, the Impala pulled up to a nice house in a suburban area, practically off the cover of a magazine. After the reported attack, the park ranger was on enforced leave of absence until he recovered enough for duty.
Dean suspected the reason for that leave of absence had to do with what the man had seen out there in the forest.
Sam took the lead, walking up the path to the door and pressing the doorbell. A series of musical chimes rang merrily around them.
The first reaction to the happy chimes was a flurry of barking somewhere within the house, followed by the scrabbling of little claws on hardwood. A voice swore and then footsteps ambled over to the doorway. A muffled "Just a sec!" filtered out of the house, and by the time the bolt clicked back and the door opened, Joseph Middleton had a squirming beagle puppy tucked under his arm.
His cautious but friendly smile froze on his face when he beheld the suited men on his porch. After giving his official, frantic statement to the other rangers and the police, he hadn't expected more questioning. Everyone assumed he'd hallucinated from dehydration out there.
They gave him the enforced leave for relaxation, but with two strange men at his door, Joseph didn't feel very relaxed. The puppy kept wiggling and trying to extend its nose towards the potential new friends, tail wagging obliviously.
Pushing the door open wider, Joseph straightened and shifted the dog in his arms so it wouldn't go tumbling out of his grip. "Uh. Hi. How can I help you?"
“Hello,” Sam said, smiling warmly at the man. He had to hold back the urge to reach out and let the puppy sniff his hands, knowing Dean would be on his case for getting out of character. “I’m James, this is my partner Lars.” On cue, they both displayed the fake IDs Dean had created a few weeks back, switching up names like they did often. It was best to keep from using the same alias’ when impersonating the FBI, especially considering the trouble they’d had with law enforcement.
Sam stashed his wallet back in his jacket. “We’re actually here to talk about what happened to you earlier this week. There’s some interest in the park with all these stories happening so soon after that kid’s death. If you don’t mind?”
Joseph's brow furrowed. "Y-yeah, I heard about that chick losing her pony or whatever," he answered. After a nearly awkward pause, he remembered himself and shrugged. "I don't mind, if you don't mind listening to what everyone says is crazy talk," he told them. Then, he glanced down at the beagle in his arms. "Did you want to come in and sit down? I can put him in a pen."
“That would be perfect, thanks,” Sam said with an agreeable smile. He couldn’t resist reaching out to the puppy as Joseph lead them into the house, brushing the soft ears down and letting the beagle get his scent.
Sam and Dean exchanged a look as they sat down, silently agreeing that Sam would continue to lead with the questions. Dean would stay out of it as much as possible. Having two people interrogating a person could be overwhelming, and the fact that Joseph had recently gone through such an out-of-the-ordinary event added to that. Dealing with the supernatural on a day to day basis meant the brothers were used to that with any survivors they found. The rumors from town they’d found certainly pointed to something not natural.
If Joseph didn’t respond to Sam, a little bad cop from Dean usually went a long way.
Folding his hands on the table, Sam leaned in after Joseph sat down across from them. “So, we need to know everything you saw that night in the park. Anything, no matter how crazy. You’d be surprised how many details get missed because people brush them off as ‘crazy.’ ”
Joseph took a slow breath. He remained cynical that they'd believe him any more than the others, but he knew the drill. He stood by what he saw, and he could swear other people had agreed with him, if only they'd agree in more credible places than the local bar.
"Well, I was back on the job after that kid got killed, right? And I thought it was a big bear same as everyone else," he started in, resting his own hands on the table. "Hiking around checking for signs of what might have driven it so far down to the park, when all a' sudden, bam!" He clapped his hands together for emphasis. "Huge metal trap springs up. I'm thinking, one of those kind for catching rabbits or possums, but this thing was bigger 'n a RV.
"Stuck in that 'til nightfall. Couldn't get out, I mean this thing was seriously huge..." he trailed off and eyed the two sitting opposite him. They still didn't indicate that he should stop or that he was making it all up, so he tentatively continued. "Then I heard this crashing..."
Sam was riveted while Dean sketched down the details that hadn’t been in the papers or online. A rabbit trap bigger than an RV snapping up around a man. Considering what Sam remembered from their hunting lessons years back with Bobby, that would be an impressively sized trap, meant to keep in animals with a simple spring release mechanism.
Animals the size of a person, he thought ruefully to himself as a reminder that nothing they dealt with counted as ‘normal.’
“And you were stuck in that cage when you heard it…” Sam coaxed, encouraging Joseph to continue on with his story. If they were going out there, they needed to know everything they could about what they were dealing with. It could mean the difference between life and death for a hunter. Research, as Bobby often mentioned, was key.
"I-- yeah," Joseph stumbled over the words. "Listen, this is where everyone said I was just seeing things, that it was too dark. But I know what walked up to that trap, okay? It was a goddamn giant, bigger than most a' the trees." He shuddered as the memory came crashing back. He wished he could just forget it and laugh with the others about his crazy hallucination.
Nothing could erase that feeling of helplessness in the shadow of such a colossal being. "It picked up the trap and dumped me out of it. I swear, I was this close to falling in its hand," he held up his finger and thumb, holding them close together. "It was growling and pissed off but I ran as fast as I could. Probably just got out of its sight before it could catch me. That thing ate that kid, I'm positive!"
“A giant?!” Dean blurted before he could catch himself, his pen leaving a mark next to his notes. That was not what they’d been expecting when they’d struck out for the case that morning.
Sam was more reserved, keeping his thoughts to himself. Considering some of the creatures they or their father had run into over the years, a giant wasn’t something he could rule out of the realm of possibility.
“The good thing is, you made it out alive,” Sam said, focusing on Joseph and ignoring Dean. “No matter what it is.” He dug in his jacket and handed over a business card. “My department will be looking into the rumors in the woods, so with any luck we’ll find out what’s out there. Make sure to call us if you hear anything else, okay? No matter how off the wall it might be. Anything can come in handy.” And keep our asses in one piece.
Joseph sensed their brief conversation coming to a close and stood respectfully. He took the card and shook Sam's hand, hoping his ever-lingering nerves didn't show too much. "Yeah, if I hear anything, I'll give you guys a call. But listen, you might wanna consider bringing a little more than a flare gun for defense. The thing is way bigger than the papers will say."
“Don’t worry,” Sam smiled as they took their leave. “We can handle ourselves.”
The brothers were silent as they left the suburb behind, both digesting the implications of hunting an honest-to-god giant.
“We’re going to need bigger guns,” Sam commented as they pulled into the local motel to regroup for the night.