The River of No Return

I

Salmon, Idaho

Two Days Later

The Salmon County Hospital was a rush of activity. Nurses bustled between rooms, tending to patients and directing visitors. Weaving through the crowd, two dark suited men followed the hanging signs towards Wing C.

Down the hall, a couple of park rangers were conversing with an agitated doctor. The suits quickly walked over to join their group, flashing federal badges in response to the curious glances.

"I'm Special Agent Watts," the shorter one introduced, gesturing to his companion before pocketing his ID. "My partner, Special Agent Lee."

"Ranger Olsen," the bald official returned. "This is Ranger Hanley and Dr. Malcolm."

"So you're the one taking care of the girl found in the woods?" Agent Lee asked the older man.

Dr. Malcolm nodded, gesturing to the room labeled 12. "Yes; Carly Winters. There was no physical harm, other than dehydration and a few cuts and bruises, but the poor girl was scared out of her wits when they brought her in this morning. We just got her talking sense about an hour ago."

Agent Watts turned his attention to the rangers. "And you two have already questioned her?"

"We tried," Ranger Hanson huffed. "She just kept saying 'it' got her friends."

The agent raised his eyebrow inquisitively. "Did she say what 'it' was?"

Hanson sighed wearily. "Beats me, she never saw the damn thing. Just heard some sort of screeching noise. We think it's probably an animal; some of those predators more to fast to see if you aren't paying attention, especially at night.

"What about the people she was with? Have they been found?"

"No, not yet. One of our boys found their campsite but there's no sign of any animal attack. The kids probably got spooked, ran off, and got lost in the dark. We'll most likely find the others like we found Carly there pretty soon."

"Doctor, is it already if we question Carly ourselves?" Agent Lee broke in, his attention focused on room 12. "Just for a few minutes. We won't be long."

Malcolm thought it over a moment. "I suppose so. Just try not to get her too excited. She's visiting with a friend right now but I'm sure they won't be too much longer." Lee gave a thankful nod before following the physician towards Carly's room.

Meanwhile, the younger ranger, looking quite offended, interjected heatedly with the remaining agent, "Now hold on just a minute. We already questioned the girl. Whatever questions you have, I'm sure we can answer for her."

"Investigation protocol," Watts shrugged. "Just have to make sure we get all the facts straight."

"Since when have animal attacks been considered material for a Federal case anyways?" Hanson challenged.

Jade green eyes regarded him irritably. "Well you're not sure if it is animal attacks, now are you? Besides, half a dozen campers go missing in a month and you've only managed to find one person so far? Why don't you go make yourself useful and get me a coffee and leave this to the professionals, eh rookie?"

Hanson was about to retort but quickly shut his mouth after a warning glance from his partner. With a huff, the young man replaced his hat and stomped out of the wing. Trying to ignore the Agent's smug wink and a request for, "Cream and two sugars!"


Meanwhile, the other 'Agent' was standing outside Carly's room. Through the small window, he could see her talking to another teenage girl with short, copper colored hair.

"Still visiting?" his 'partner' asked, joining him as he sipped at a hot cup of coffee. "Gah this stuff tastes terrible. Guess what they say about hospital food is true, eh Sam?"

"Can we focus, Dean?" the taller man groaned.

"Alright, alright. Let's just break up the little party and be on our way then." Rapping quickly on the door, Dean cracked it open and poked his head inside. "Hey, sorry to interrupt but we needed to have a quick word with Carly."

"Uh, rude much," the redhead muttered. Giving her friend a pat on the arm, she shrugged her coat on and headed for the door. "Get well soon, Carly."

"Thank you," the other girl called. The visitor quickly slipped past the two men and out of the room with an annoyed grimace.

"Nice of your friend to come and visit," Dean commented, taking a seat next to the bed.

"Oh I just met her. She's one of the Rangers' daughters. She just came in here to keep me company while they were talking. Nice girl, though."

Dean shot a questioning look to his brother. Sam nodded and slipped out the door, scanning the wing for the departed visitor.

"I'm Special Agent Watts from the FBI," Dean started, following his usual routine. "I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about the night you and your friends went camping."

"I already told the Rangers," she complained. "They didn't believe me."

"I'll believe you, alright?" Dean gave her his best reassuring smile and leaned forward in his chair. "Just tell me what you told them and don't be afraid to leave anything out."

The girl sighed wearily. "We just went camping right off the trail. We've done it plenty of times before. Everyone was just hanging out when we heard this weird screeching noise. Suddenly this guy burst into our camp with a gun and told us to run."

"He chased you out of the camp with a gun?" Dean asked puzzled.

Carly shook her head. "No he put out our fire and told us to run from something else. I think it was chasing him. He was shooting at it when we ran for the trail."

"Do you remember what he looked like?"

"Well it was really dark." She struggled to remember something. "Uh kind of a short-ish guy, not to fat but not really skinny either. He was maybe like thirty-five or forty with dark hair and a bit of a beard. He was wearing some old hunting clothes and he had a shotgun."

"What about the thing chasing him? Did you see it too?"

She shook her head again. "I never saw it. It was like it was invisible or something. It followed us down the trail. It…it got my friends," she managed to choke out, already on the verge of tears.

Dean handed her a tissue awkwardly from the bedside table. "It's okay. We'll find them and bring them back."

"No you don't get it!" she cried, openly sobbing now. "They're dead! Whatever it was cut off Brenda's head!"

Dean, unsure what else to do, patted her shoulder sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Carly." She nodded but didn't say anything more. With one last pat, the 'Agent' retreat from the room.

"Hey, how'd it go?" Sam asked, joining him outside the door.

"Not bad. She never saw the thing but I don't think it's an animal attack unless Smokey the Bear's started decapitating people."

"Yikes," Sam grimaced. "Anything else?"

"Well some guy showed up at their camp and told them to run when the thing was chasing him. No one's mentioned anyone else going missing, though. What about that girl Carly was talking with?"

"I lost her in the crowd," Sam sighed. "Carly said she was one of the Rangers' daughters, right?"

"Right," Dean agreed.

"Well I asked Ranger Olsen about her and she told him that she was an old friend of Carly's just stopping by to visit."

"So we've got a hiker snatcher in the woods, an old hunter playing follow the leader with it, and a girl with crossed stories visiting the witness?"

"Not making any sense to me," Sam shrugged.

Dean groaned. "Let's just get to the trailhead and see what we can figure out there." He started to take another sip of his coffee but thought better of it and tossed in a nearby trashcan. "And can we please get some real food on the way?"

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