A/N: Based loosely on a true story (found in Texas Ranger Tales by Mike Cox) and even more loosely on Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark.
By San Antonio Rose and Enola Jones
In retrospect, Michael probably made his first mistake when he pulled in and blocked in the great black car just as the tall man was walking out of the apartment building. “Mr. Winchester, I hope?” he asked.
The bear of a man drew himself up to his full height. “Who’s askin’?”
He smiled, holding out his hand. “Michael Collins. I’m Dean and Sam’s scoutmaster.”
Winchester relaxed a bit and shook his hand. “Yes, I’m John Winchester. What can I do for you, Mr. Collins?”
“Michael, please. I have some... concerns... about the boys and was wondering if we could talk.”
Mr. Winchester tensed again and scowled but said nothing.
Unknowingly, he then made his second major mistake. “Preferably, I’d like to speak to you and Mrs. Winchester together—”
“My wife’s dead.”
“Oh. I’m very sorry.” He gestured at the house. “May I?”
Winchester crossed his arms. “No, Mr. Collins, I don’t think you may. You can speak your piece right here.”
He sighed. “All right. I am concerned that Dean and Sam – mostly Dean – may ultimately prove injurious to himself or to his fellow Scouts. His sense of humor borders on the reckless.”
All that got him was a raised eyebrow.
“I....” He pinched his nose. “I’m not explaining myself very well...”
“No, you’re not. This have anything to do with that little shindig last weekend?”
“Shindig? Oh, you mean the camping trip!”
“Sounded more like a party than a camping trip—but hell, I guess my standards got a little skewed up in Khe Sanh.”
“Ah, I see.” He didn’t see at all, really, but he didn’t dwell on it. “Well, the troop has a tradition – a little bit of a hunting trip during the camp. All in good fun, you understand.”
“You mean a snipe hunt.”
“Yes, exactly. Normally the boy comes back after just a little while, but your boys were gone and gone and gone.... We feared they took the hunt aspect a little too seriously.”
“Go on,” Winchester rumbled, sounding slightly amused.
“Well, when they returned, there was actually something in the bag they carried. That had never happened before. They emptied the bag onto another boy’s bedroll, and... well....” He spread his hands. “They had collected at least one entire hill of ants!”
And then possibly the most puzzling thing of all happened. John Winchester burst into gales of laughter. Michael just stood there, mystified by the reaction.
Once Winchester had caught his breath, he said, “Collins, be glad that’s all they brought back.”
“I know. And that’s the issue, right there.”
“It is indeed. What the hell were you thinking, taking those boys into those woods at this time of year?”
“At this time of year? Sir, this is prime camping time!” And then, without knowing it, he made his third and largest mistake. “Sir, I’m not quite sure you understand what I’m trying to say, here! I am concerned that Dean’s inappropriate humor might one day injure your younger son!”
Fury flashed in Winchester’s eyes. “First of all, Dean would never act recklessly where Sammy’s concerned. Second of all, you clearly have no clue of the danger you put all of your troop members into by going up to that particular stretch of woods.”
“There was no danger, Mister Winchester! If you are referring to the rumors of the wolf, that is all those are – rumors. I am always armed and so are my older helpers. Wild animals are not a danger.”
“No, I’m not talking about the wolf or the snipe. I’m talking about the Snark.”
“There is no such thing, Mister Winchester. Just as there is no real snipe – unless you count a tiny bird.”
Winchester took a step forward. “You only say that because no reports have come back detailing what the Snark looks like. And there’s a good reason for that. Seems this Snark is a Boojum.”
Michael snorted softly. “Snark? Boojum? What, have you been reading Lewis Carroll?”
“Dodgson wasn’t making things up, you idiot. He was a hunter. Sure, there’s plenty of nonsense in his writings, but I saw a frumious Bandersnatch in Vietnam.”
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “If you’re trying to make sport with me—”
Winchester’s eyes looked haunted. “Do I look like I’m joking? I’ve got good reason to think it was a Jabberwock that burned my house and killed my wife.”
“... oh, my G-d....” Michael took a step back. “... you’re insane.”
“Sure. You go on thinking that until you send some innocent boy out into those woods to hunt a damn snipe and he quickly and quietly vanishes away. That damn Snark is a Boojum, you see.”
“There has never been a boy to vanish in those woods on that hunt,” Michael said slowly, firmly. “Never.”
“Are you sure?”
“That’s not what the old-timers say.”
“Those were rumors. No. Proof.”
Winchester took another step forward. “Do you really want to risk that? Do you know what the hibernation cycle for a Snark is?”
Michael found himself taking another step back. “No, sir. Because Snarks are not real!”
“Tell me. When’s the last time you heard from Jack Stalverton?”
“I don’t know a Jack Salvation... or whatever you said!”
“You should. He’s a school board member—or he was.”
“I’m on the school board, and I’m telling you—” He trailed off, his eyes narrowing. “... you’re pulling my leg. Just like your son.”
Winchester reached into his jacket and threw the local paper onto the hood of his car, with the headline prominent: LOCAL MAN MISSING. “He was going up to those woods to check on your Boy Scouts, and that Snark took him.”
“This paper is three years old.”
“Is it? Look again.”
“Yes it is.” Michael tapped the paper. “They found his body. He’d had a heart attack.”
Winchester raised an eyebrow. “Oh, sorry, wrong one.” He threw down another paper with the same headline.
Winchester took another step forward. “Tonight’s the full moon, Collins. What say you and me see if we can’t find that Boojum?”
“No, there’s no such thing!”
“Maybe not.” Winchester smiled suddenly and coldly. “But there’s such a thing as werewolves.”
“No!” Michael pressed a hand to his forehead. “No, there’s not!”
“What bit you, Collins? How long ago?”
A silver knife flashed in Winchester’s hand. “No. You’re not.”
“I’m going to the police!” He flung the car door open.
But he wasn’t fast enough to dodge Winchester’s knife entirely. The edge of the blade caught the edge of his hand—and the cut burned like fire.
He wailed, “You’re crazy! Leave me alone!”
Winchester grabbed his shirt, suddenly looking concerned. “Collins, listen to me. Do you have any memory of what you’ve done? Any at all?”
“What I’ve... what are you talking about?”
“This knife. It’s pure silver. It doesn’t do more than cut humans.” Winchester wiped the blade on his pants, then pricked his own finger to illustrate. “Now look at your hand.”
He looked. His hand was steaming, the wound bubbling. “... but that’s....”
“Still think I’m crazy? That headache—that’s the wolf sensing the moon’s about to rise in a few hours.”
“Werewolves aren’t real!” Michael yelped. “Those men... they-they had heart attacks! That’s all! Heart attacks! We found them all!”
“Collins.” The single word sounded like a command.
“We found them all....” Michael whimpered.
“Do you really want to wake up one morning on a ‘camping trip’ and discover that you’ve slaughtered your entire troop?”
“We don’t... we don’t go on the full moon. My head hurts too bad!”
“And if there isn’t a choice? If there’s no other weekend and the parents won’t let you cancel and disappoint their kids?”
“No... it-it won’t happen! I won’t let it happen!”
“Correction. I won’t let that happen.”
“We can do this easy or hard, Collins. But you’re not killing anyone else.”
“I didn’t kill anyone! They had heart attacks! Duncan said so!”
Winchester frowned. “Duncan? Who’s Duncan?”
“My friend – he’s always with me when the bodies are found. He never lets me see them, but he says they were heart attacks!”
Winchester’s eyes narrowed. “Take me to him.”
“Of course—maybe he can talk some sense into you!”
Winchester looked meaningfully at the still-burning cut and went around to the passenger side of Michael’s car.
Michael used his handkerchief to bandage the cut and drove Winchester to the largest house in town.
“Explains some things,” Winchester muttered as they pulled up.
“Duncan Riley lives here,” Michael said as they got out of the car.
“Riley. Related to the sheriff and the coroner?”
“And it didn’t occur to you to question whether someone with those connections might have the clout to make a lie stick officially?”
“Why would he lie? He was an Eagle Scout!”
Winchester looked him in the eye. “So was I.”
Michael’s mouth worked, but no sound came out.
“Collins, I took an oath when I joined the Marines, to defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Winchester looked up at the Riley place. “And sometimes it’s the domestic ones that are the most dangerous.”
They knocked, and a young woman answered. “Where is Duncan?” Michael asked.
She groaned. “In bed. Again. Another blamed headache.”
“Well, ma’am, you’d better get him up,” said Winchester, producing a badge. “Spaatz, US Marshal.”
Michael gaped at him.
“No, sir, I don’t think I will,” the woman said. “He’s asleep.”
Winchester raised an eyebrow. “You willing to be arrested as an accomplice to mass murder, Miss Riley?”
“I’m not Miss Riley; I’m Miss Thompson. And if I wake him, I’ll lose my job!”
“And if you don’t wake him, I’m taking you in. Now, what’ll it be?”
She sighed. “No. But I’ll show you where his bedroom is. You can face his wrath.”
“No, ma’am,” Winchester replied with a cold smirk. “He’s about to face mine.”
She nodded. “That way.”
Winchester nodded back, then grabbed Michael by the scruff of the neck and marched him into the house. Michael growled.
“Shush,” Winchester growled back. “You need to hear this.” And he kept hold of Michael until they got to the bedroom’s double doors, whereupon Winchester drew a fearsome-looking gun and kicked the doors in.
Duncan gasped, sitting up.
“Hold it right there, Riley,” Winchester snarled. “Don’t move.”
“Winchester,” he growled.
“I got just one question for you, Sparky. How long did you think you could keep lyin’ to your spawn here?”
“Get the hell outta my house!”
“Wrong answer. You really think you could keep it from him, keep him from tearing the hearts out of those kids?”
“I don’t know what you’re—”
Winchester’s finger moved onto the trigger.
Duncan’s hands flashed up. “I keep him stabilized during this time of the month!”
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “... what?”
Winchester snorted. “Stabilized? That’s what you call stabilized? He could have killed my sons.”
“I kept him here! I was calling him in tonight!”
“So it was you who killed those men?”
“We need hearts every few months.” Duncan pointed at Michael. “He never killed.”
Winchester’s eyes narrowed. “I want to believe you. I do. But he doesn’t have the control that you have. And I can’t let you live. So tell me, Dunc... what am I supposed to do here?”
“You lied to me?” Michael hissed. “You lied to me?”
Winchester kept staring at Duncan. Duncan stared back.
“Answer the man.”
Duncan looked at Michael. “I protected you.”
Winchester scoffed. “Some protection. You’re the one who turned him in the first place.”
“It was an accident – I kept him alive and safe!”
“At the cost of how many other lives?”
“Really?” Duncan barked. “I make sure he doesn’t kill because of my mistake and you’re going to claim those pathetic losers are worth more than us?”
“They were men,” Winchester snarled. “You wouldn’t have known what that meant even before you were turned.”
“You turned me?” Michael growled. “What into?”
“I already told you,” Winchester replied. “You’re a werewolf. So’s he.”
“I didn’t ask for this.”
“I know that. But I still don’t know what to do with you. Dunc here says he’s ridin’ herd on you, but nobody’s ridin’ herd on him. If he’s aware enough to know what he is, he’s aware enough to know he could get by on animal hearts every month. I’m guessin’ you could, too, but you don’t have control of the wolf nature.”
“So you’re gonna kill both of us,” Michael sighed, his voice resigned.
“Wouldn’t if I knew for a fact you could keep yourself in check. But I’m not going to let either of you hurt those boys. You’re a good scoutmaster; you don’t want them hurt, either.”
“So we’ll move away,” a new voice entered the conversation. They whirled to find Thompson in the doorway. “Michael and me.”
Winchester eyed her. “You know what to do for him?”
“I do.” She nodded. “He taught me – after he turned me. Michael was an accident. I wasn’t.”
“You ever killed a human?”
“She hasn’t,” Duncan said.
Winchester turned back to the bed and fired twice into Duncan’s chest, then lowered the gun and turned back to Thompson. “I’ll hold you to your word, Miss Thompson.”
“One thing I ask of you, please,” she said.
“Ransack the house.” She opened a drawer and pulled out a bunch of cash. “Make it look like he was shot in a robbery.”
Winchester looked at her, then the money, then walked over to the French doors that led out to the terrace behind the house. He used his handkerchief to open the handle without leaving prints, then stepped outside, pulled the door to, and smashed the glass near the handle with the butt of his gun. Finally, he opened the door and came back into the room. “Do the rest yourself,” he said, taking the money from her but handing about half of it back. “You two will need cash to set up once you’ve gone underground.”
She nodded. “Thank you.” She looked at Michael. “We need to go. Now. Tonight’s the full moon and we need to be far, far away from people.”
Michael nodded, dazed, and took her hand. Neither of them looked back.
By the time John got back to the apartment, school had been out for a couple of hours, and the boys had already walked home. He walked in to the smell of Chinese takeout and the sight of his boys eating.
“Hey, boys,” he said with a slight smile. “Hope you saved some for me.”
“In the fridge,” Dean said. “We didn’t know when you’d be in.”
“Thanks, son. Finish quick and go pack. We’re gonna go see Pastor Jim for a few days.”
Sam nodded. “Sounds good to me.” That was so rare as to be unheard of.
John raised an eyebrow. “You don’t like it here?”
Sam shook his head. “Not after this weekend.”
“Aw, this weekend was fun!” Dean laughed. “You loved it!”
“Yeah, until they called me ant-boy all week.”
John chuckled and ruffled Sammy’s hair. “Gotta admit, that was great payback. Whose idea was it?”
The boys pointed at each other.
John laughed a little harder. “Well, we can hope you gave ’em something to think over.”
Sam chuckled. “I doubt Mr. Collins will be sending any more kids on snipe hunts for a while!”
“No, we had a good long talk about that. Coulda been dangerous if you boys hadn’t known how to handle yourselves in the woods.”
“And I kept telling him, I take care of Sammy,” Dean growled. “I didn’t like him very much.”
John put a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “We talked about that, too. But you won’t be seeing him again.”
Dean looked at him. “You talked to him?”
“Yeah, we talked. He was worried about your ‘reckless’ sense of humor.” John hoped his tone conveyed what he thought about that objection.
Dean snorted. “Not reckless where family is concerned.”
“That’s what I told him.” John squeezed his shoulder and headed to the fridge.
Dean looked at Sam. “You’re really okay with getting outta here?”
Sam nodded. “Yeah. I was gonna be ‘ant-boy’ the rest of the year if we stayed.”
Dean grinned. “Let’s go pack, then!” He turned to his father. “When do we leave?”
John stuck his food in the microwave. “Tonight, as soon as you’re packed.”
Sam all but ran to the bedroom, with Dean laughing behind him.
John smiled after them and decided not to let them know how strangely his own attempt at a return prank had worked out. And funnily enough, Collins’ fate had turned out to be not that different from the ending of the poem John had cribbed from:
He had softly and suddenly vanished away—
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.