Flesh Masks

Shadow of the Wind

Still you chase what you can't see

Like death and pain and sin

And the shadow of the wind

~Black Sabbath

It wasn't a scream that woke Dean just past midnight, but the softest of scratching noises underneath the second-story window. His eyes flicked open and, instantly alert, he pulled the gun from under his pillow and crept over to Sam's bed.

"Sammy," he whispered. "Hey, Sammy, wake up." His brother was slow to respond, so he poked him in the ribs none too gently. "Sammy, wake the hell up." Sam sat up with a grunt.

Sam scowled at him blearily while pulling on a shirt, but the glare quickly faded when Dean put his fingers to his lips and jerked his head towards the window. Listen, he mouthed. Sam nodded grimly, as he too heard the scratches. Tucking his own gun into the waistband of his sweatpants and grabbing his knife, he moved slowly to the door, beckoning for Dean to do the same. Dean glanced out the window one last time, noting that the dark shape that hovered by the first story windows was moving quickly towards the porch and front door.

The brothers opened the door and padded barefoot down the hall, blending into the shadows in their steel gray sweatpants and dark t-shirts. A door close to the stairs opened and Harry emerged, blasting rod in hand and a faint glow emanating from his bracelet. The brothers lowered their weapons slightly and jogged silently over to him, hissing his name to get his attention. He whirled, raising the arm that wore the shield bracelet to chest height. Upon recognizing Sam and Dean, he lowered his arm again and nodded towards the stairs.

The scratching sounds were more muffled from the upstairs hallway, but all three men could tell that they had become more insistent. They began a slow decent down the stairs, straining to catch a glimpse of what lurked outside the lobby windows. Cool moonlight streamed in from the decorative skylights that lined the lobby ceiling, coating the world in muted shades of blue, purple, and silver.

A terrific crash shook the house, causing the windows to rattle and the front door to vibrate. Outside, a dark blur raced across their field of vision, obscuring the moonlight. Scratching again, louder and more insistent, resonated through the house. Dean suddenly looked alarmed, almost panicked.

"Where're Jenny and Kess?" He demanded hoarsely.

"Upstairs in their rooms," Harry whispered with a frown. "Third floor. They'll be safe there—"

Dean was already gone, taking the stairs three at a time as he raced back the way they came, gun at the ready.

"Dean, no," Sam hissed as loudly as he dared at his brother's retreating back. "Kess said it couldn't get past the threshold, remember?"

Too late. With an exasperated growl, Sam turned to Harry and shrugged – nothing they could do about Dean's erratic behavior now. The two men looked grim as they continued down the stairs. Sam shifted his knife to his left hand and drew his gun. Harry nodded approvingly.

"Wish I'd brought mine," he whispered. "Left in too much of a hurry last night."

Sam nodded, not bothering to turn and look at Harry, as he took the last step into the lobby. The scratching grew quieter as the skinwalker moved towards the windows and walls of the parlor. Another thump shook the house, accompanied by the metallic shrieks of claws scraping against glass. Whipping his head around towards the sound, Sam motioned for Harry to guard the stairs while he moved into the parlor. He slowly moved in, easing his weight onto each foot in an attempt to move as silently as possible. Keeping his gun at the ready, he gently brushed the curtains back to peer surreptitiously out the window.

A clawed hand smacked into the glass inches from his face. Sam jerked back with a yell as a snarling, hairy face pressed itself to the window. Almost an animal's, definitely not human, that face was enough to inspire fear in even the bravest of souls. It twisted its lips away from its teeth as it slavered against the glass. Sam could hear the gutteral snarls and the wet snaps as it gnashed its teeth, its hot breath steaming against the chilled windowpane.

Then, just as abruptly as it appeared, it vanished. Within seconds, another thud echoed through the house, seemingly coming from upstairs. For a moment, Sam thought he heard his brother holler from far away. He turned to run up the stairs, but his movements had become heavy. The air felt thick and his legs leaden.

A dark shadow flashed past the window. Just a few feet away, the front door rattled and shook, battered from the outside as the skinwalker reined furious blows upon it.

And then all was still. The air returned to normal

Sucking in air, Sam motioned for Harry to come over to him. The wizard looked shaken and for once had no snarky remark to make about the situation. His mouth was compressed to a thin, white line and his jaw was clenched.

"It's coming back," Sam breathed, hardly daring to raise his voice to a full whisper.

Harry nodded once – a brief sharp movement. It was an acknowledgement only, since there was no need to confirm what both of them already knew to be true. Sam swallowed and took a deep breath.

"You stand by the door," he said, gesturing. "I'll stand directly in front of it. When I yell, yank it open and I'll open up on the sucker with both barrels."

"Just one problem," Harry said grimly. "You've got no White Ash. We were supposed to deal with that today."

"We got sidetracked," Sam nodded, his voice tinged now with the beginnings of desperation. "But these bullets are silver. May not kill it, but they should hurt and, I dunno, at least drive it away for the night. Then we get White Ash in the morning and finish the job while it's injured."

"Best plan we got." The wizard looked less than thrilled, but he took up his post by the door. The runes on his blasting rod glowed red in his hand and a cool light surrounded his shield bracelet.

Sam backed up a few paces and aimed his gun at the front door. Shaking his head to flip his hair out of his eyes, he shifted his feet into a firmer stance and huffed out a tense breath.

He didn't have to wait long. Without warning, the front door nearly buckled under the impact of a body hurling itself against it from the outside. Sam roared and Harry yanked the door open, ducking out of the way of Sam's gun.

The creature was a good foot taller than Sam, with bony arms that reached past its knees. Fearsome claws sprouted from its tufted fingers. Fangs glistened with saliva as it screamed at the sight of the hunter. Its eyes glowed like coals out of its pale, hairy face.

"Forzare!" Harry hollered.

The skinwalker stumbled back slightly, not enough for it to fall, but enough so that it was too off-balance to defend itself.

Mouth set in a determined line, Sam advanced, firing shot after shot. He managed to get four off before his gun jammed. Throwing the useless weapon aside, he raised his silver knife.

The skinwalker recoiled from the first bullet and howled in pain. The moonlight glinted off of the wicked curve of Sam's blade, causing the creature to back away. With a final hate-filled glare, it shrieked and broke into a shambling run down the walkway. Before Sam or Harry could follow, it had fled, disappearing into the night.

Harry joined Sam at the door.

"Leaving so soon?" The wizard jeered, panting slightly. "Shame. I was gonna light the bastard on fire." Sam just looked at him as if he had lost his mind. Harry sighed and dropped the playful façade. "Sometimes you have to laugh in danger's face," he said tiredly, glancing at Sam. "Or you won't be able to face it at all. Now, come on. I want to make sure Jenny and Kess are okay."

A short while later, Harry and Sam sat in the parlor with Dean. Jenny bustled around, poking up the fire, putting out a tray of pastries on the coffee table, and passing around mugs of hot chocolate before nestling into a chair herself and looking expectantly around at the men. Dean pulled out a flask and splashed a generous amount of amber liquid into his cup. He quirked an eyebrow at the others and, much to his dismay, they all held out their cups. Passing the flask around with a resigned slump of his shoulders, he noticed that Sam's hands shook slightly as he poured the last of it into his mug.

With a sip and a sigh, Harry leaned back in his chair.

"How's Kess?" He asked, noting the absence of his young friend. "Is she all right?"

"She's so exhausted, she actually slept through most of it," Jenny pulled a blanket down from the back of her chair and wrapped it around her shoulders. "She woke briefly from the first crash, but fell back asleep once Dean came in."

"She muttered a few times," Dean added. "But I don't think she ever fully woke up. Last few days have really taken it out of her."

"That was quite the bomb that got sprung on her today," Sam glanced up. "How's she dealing with that?"

Jenny's lips trembled slightly and she stabbed at the fire again before straightening her shoulders.

"That is between me and my daughter," she said with the firm conviction of someone who isn't sure they can fix what they've broken.

Harry nodded while Sam looked pensively into his cup. Jenny poked the fire with more vigor than was needed for a while before glancing at the three men in her sitting room.

"So, what are we going to do? This thing has attacked my inn twice and I don't fancy it happening a third time. I'm surprised I'm retaining as much business as I am with all this unrest."

"The plan was to go after it with White Ash today. That got scrapped thanks to last night's adventure," said Harry. "Sam got it with silver bullets tonight and it's still standing, but it isn't too happy." The wizard paused. "Listens-to-Wind told me that if you see a Skinwalker's face and don't call it by its Name, it'll hunt you down and kill you so that you can't learn it. Seems to be one of the few monsters that's figured out that its Name controls it."

"The lore that I found says that a correct ID will also sap its power and cause it to wither and die in a few days," mused Sam, swirling his hot chocolate in his mug.

"Too bad we don't know who this creep was before he went all fangy and evil," grumbled Dean, draining his cup.

"Did you see it?" Sam asked. "It sounded like it got upstairs for a moment."

"Yeah," said Dean. "Clung to the wall outside the window like some giant freaking spider. Man, that dude is ugly. What about you two? Any visuals?"

"Not me," said Harry. "Door was in the way at first and things got blurry when I blasted it. Sam got some solid hits in though."

"Yeah. It was ugly," said Sam slowly, his thoughts already moving. "So, we don't know his Name, but we can get our hands on some White Ash and we already have silver bullets."

"Looks like it's a full-on hunt then," grunted Dean, standing and stretching.

"I'll bring the Palo Santo here tomorrow morning," Harry nodded. "We can do the ritual burning and then I'll take you to the park where it's been hanging out."

"Sounds good." Sam put his cup down on the table and nodded to Jenny. "Thanks for the hot chocolate. Are you going to be all right tonight?"

"I'll manage," the older woman smiled.

"I'll go settle you upstairs," Harry said, putting a gentle hand on her shoulders. "Don't worry about clearing up. I know where the kitchen is." Turning to the brothers, he nodded towards the front door. "I'd feel better if we kept watch on that for the rest of the night."

"When you come back, we'll work out shifts," nodded Sam.

As Harry and Jenny left, Sam walked over to the stone fireplace and poked at the embers. He added another log and once satisfied with the warm blaze, he turned to his brother with a frown.

"So, what happened back there?" He demanded.

"What?" Dean glared at his brother's angry tone.

"You were supposed to be covering me, but instead, you go charging up the stairs to go protect Kess. Last I checked, you didn't even like her!" Sam spread his hands wide accusingly.

"You and Harry could handle yourselves down here," Dean began to pace. "That thing came after her once already. Besides," he swung his arm towards the door Harry had just exited through, "you heard Dresden. If she saw its face, it would have to specifically kill her."

"But she didn't see its face, remember?" Sam's mouth thinned as he stared at his brother.

"It doesn't know that," Dean folded his arms and glared sullenly. "Anyways, it was a good thing I was up there. It did make an appearance, if you'll remember."

Sam put his hands on the back of his head and hissed out a breath from between clenched teeth, staring at the ceiling and shaking his head.

"Not the point, Dean."

Dean opened his mouth to give a sharp retort when Harry came back in. The wizard stopped and looked between the two of them, raising his eyebrows.

"Everything okay here?"

Dean's mouth pulled back at the corner and he huffed a breath out through his nose.

"It's fine," he snapped. "You two discuss the rotation. I'm gonna get some Asprin or something. This headache just won't quit."

Both Harry and Sam frowned as Dean shouldered his way past the wizard and shut the door firmly behind him.

"Headaches?" The wizard looked sideways at Sam.

"Yeah. Since yesterday."

"Hmm," Harry just narrowed his eyes.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. Sam took first watch, Harry second, and Dean the last one. Come morning, the wizard bade the brothers farewell and agreed to meet them back at Wren's Nest by ten-thirty with the materials they needed.

Then, they would go hunting.

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