Three Joes go out into the back woods of New Jersey for a hunting trip, and end up facing a three hundred year old legend up close.
The Pine Barrens
The Joes were less jovial at dinner for the second day of their field trip. They sullenly brought the cooking fire in the lodge's flame pit to a good working temperature and unsealed a few Ziploc bags with deer venison to supplement their MRE's. Using two small Y-shaped sticks jammed into the ground and a longer one as a spit, they started the venison cooking.
"Man, this Devil shit is worse than fighting Cobra," Outback observed, in between scanning paragraphs out of his Mack Bolan paperback and turns of the venison spit. "At least you knew where you stood with Old Rag Head and his Fang Gang."
"Yeah, that's for sure," Crypto said from the lodge's window opening. The sun began to dip below the horizon and already the breezes had picked up into a howling early evening wind that blasted over and around the trees. A chill settled over the hunting lodge in particular even before night started to fall.
"Jesus, it got cold too quickly," Low-Light groused, pulling his ECWCS over-white coat tightly around his body. "Do you see anything in that Starlight scope, Crypto?"
"Not a thing," Crypto replied, taking a whiff at the air and pinching tight the collar on his own ECWCS cold-weather liner. He blinked his eyes for a moment to allow them to adjust to the changing light. "That venison smells pretty good, Outback. You think we could arrange for some deer meat to be delivered to base every so often?"
"I doubt that Duke, or Cookie in the mess hall, would allow that," Outback replied. "It would be pretty hard to get a decent supply without a little road kill thrown in."
"Ha!" Low-Light added with a laugh. "You've got that right, Selkirk! You kill 'em, we grill 'em!"
"While some guy's picking deer guts out of his car's grille, we're squeezing forty-weight oil out of our burger rolls and pluckin' asphalt chunks outta the meat!" Outback added to the joke, trying to find a way to laugh instead of thinking about what might happen at the next Jersey Devil sighting.
"Pipe down, soldiers," Crypto said quietly, peering into the Barrett AMR's scope. "I think I hear trouble coming."
Darkness fell once more. The wind whipped and howled through the black trees. Crypto ate his MRE's and a helping of well-done venison while staring blankly out into the night. The other men ate quietly around the flame pit, cradling their hunting rifles on their laps while the cooking fire crackled and popped, bathing the inside of the lodge with a dull yellow-orange glow.
"Is it still quiet out there?" Outback asked, hesitant to break the silence between the Joes.
"Quiet as a graveyard," Crypto replied dryly. He shifted his weight from the sitting position he was in and leaned away from the heavy sniping rifle, which was resting on its bipod and braced by the timbers around the lodge's window opening. While holding the rifle's stock in one hand, Crypto reached to his face with the other and rubbed one of his eyes gently.
Outback opened his mouth to speak again, when Crypto silenced him with a hand gesture. The naval officer brought the AMR back into the crook of his armpit and squinted into the Starlight scope. He heard loud sniffing outside and could see a dark shape moving down the trail.
The other Joes crawled to the window opening and leveled their rifles, propping them up against the ledge made by the wall timbers. "What is it?" Low-Light asked.
"Not sure," Crypto whispered. "But it could be our creepy-crawly. Keep your pie-holes shut for a minute while I listen."
The silhouette's shape outside was different from the devil's. Tall and bulky, the dark shape appeared to tower over the trail and then in the next instant, moved low to the ground and was shaped more like a boulder.
"I think the scents from the deer barbeque are drawing it closer," Outback whispered, checking over his shoulder and remembering the smoldering cooking fire and uneaten cuts of venison sitting in a stainless steel mess kit plate.
"It's too late to snuff it and bury the evidence," Low-Light observed as a deep growl echoed down the trail.
Without warning, the dark shape turned and charged directly for the lodge, baring long, white teeth and razor-sharp fangs. Its hot breath stunk in the cold air as it smelled the fresh meat hungrily.
Crypto fired at the shape without even aiming, and the large rifle's recoil kicked him backwards and off balance. A deep, blood curdling roar echoed through the woods when the large bullet slammed into the dark shape and it reared up to its full height in pain.
While Crypto scrambled to regain his balance, Outback glanced through his light-intensifying scope. "Black bear!" he blurted out, firing off a shot from his Remington that went wide, striking a tree trunk beyond the hungry animal's imposing silhouette.
Low-Light decided in a split second that finesse was no longer an option. Just as Crypto got back into position behind the AMR and slammed a fresh round from the magazine home into the firing chamber, he charged the M-4A1 and fired several three-round bursts of 5.56 mm ball at the bear.
The rounds cut into the bear's thick hide and ripped through the layers of outer body fat that protected the animal. But the smaller caliber ammunition served only to make the bear angrier at the resistance. It reared back and raised two meaty paws that sported powerful, flesh-rending claws.
Crypto slammed the manual bolt cocking lever of the AMR forward and got to his feet, hoisting the rifle up from its stable perch. The bear approached, right for the opening, ready to burst through with over four hundred pounds of sinew, muscle and momentum behind it. The AMR barked angrily into the night, ripping a fist-sized hole in the bear's face as the bullet tumbled in mid-air. After the remaining propellant exploded in the bear's skull, the bullet blasted an exit wound the size of a cantaloupe through the back of the bear's head.
Instantly dead from the lethal round, the bear's smelly carcass spouted hot, steaming blood from the bullet holes and fell into the middle of the trail. One of its paws swiped down as a final, parting shot and missed Outback's face by inches when it penetrated the camouflaging foliage outside the lodge's window opening and flopped down onto the ledge timbers.
"Holy Christ!" Outback yelped, leaping back from the falling paw and nearly tripping on one of their tent's supports. He was quickly steadied by Low-Light when the sniper reached an arm out to catch his teammate.
"Whoa there, Outback," Low-Light said quietly. "No need to take out our sleeping quarters along with the bear."
The men sat down on the dirt floor, panting while the smoke from their weapons fire dissipated into the night air. Their hearts beat powerfully in their chests as they silently tried to ease off the tension that shook their bodies.
Just as Outback pulled out a canteen cup to hang over the fire for an extra dose of instant coffee, a loud rustling, and sniffing sounds across from the lodge drew the Joes' attention. Crypto brought the AMR back to the window opening and rested the bipod on the ledge once more when he saw the bear's entire carcass get dragged away from the lodge and onto the trail.
"What the hell?" Crypto said excitedly, watching the entire four hundred pounds of bear carcass being hauled away by the short and skinny devil. The devil's wail echoed in the lodge and the Joes cringed, covering their ears as the sound pierced their eardrums.
Crypto didn't bother hefting the AMR again - he leaped through the hole in the camouflage that the bear tore and tucked into a forward roll in the middle of the trail. He saw the devil once more, tearing through the bear's flesh with its mouth like it was merely butter. The naval officer pulled free his Ka-Bar knife and charged the devil, shouting out a frustrated, angry wail of his own.
Outback and Low-Light scrambled for the window opening with the first weapons they could pick up. By the time they got there, all they saw was Crypto lunging at the dark shape of the devil. His Ka-Bar flashed in the moonlight, and the devil wailed angrily. It reached out and grabbed Crypto by the neck. The long bat-like wings wrapped around both Crypto and the devil for a moment before they started flapping and carried both creature and Joe into the air.
"Oh, shit," Outback said quietly, getting to his feet after diving after Crypto into the trail. He and Low-Light looked skyward and shook their heads as the dark shape of Crypto struggling with the devil disappeared into the shadows of the horizon.
"We should call Fort Hamilton," Low-Light said. "Nobody's gonna believe us, but we need to report that Crypto's gone missing."
"We know someone who'll believe us on base," Outback said, pulling his TDC out of his rucksack. "All she needs to hear is that Crypto's missing and she won't ask any questions."
G.I. Joe Detachment "New York", Fort Hamilton
The deep and throaty rock strains of Pink Floyd's album "The Wall" played from Takedown's stereo and CD system while she reclined on the top sheet of her bed. She was studying an Air Force para-rescue medic's manual that had been mailed her way to occupy herself before drifting off to sleep. After a few pages of reading, she had become distracted by the music, and started to bop her head slightly to the tune.
"We don't need no education," she sang quietly to herself. "We don't need no thought control..." She hummed a few bars while turning the manual's pages. "... Teacher, leave those kids alone..."
Takedown's phone extension rang almost seven times before she heard the muted ring tone over the music. Reaching for a remote to mute the CD player, she also grabbed for the telephone receiver and answered abruptly.
"Hello? This is Takedown," she said.
"Base operator, Sergeant Pearl," the voice at the other end of the line said matter-of-factly. "You have an incoming TDC call from the signals shack."
Takedown felt a lump form in her throat. She wasn't expecting a call from Crypto since they had spoken earlier in the day. She hoped that it wasn't bad news. "Please put the call through," Claudia said quietly.
"Roger that. Please stand by." The voice replied. Then there was a click. Then a drawn out moment of silence followed. "Go ahead," the disembodied voice finally said.
"Hello?" Claudia said once more. "This is Sergeant Pearl."
"Takedown? This is Low-Light," the sniper said over the line. "You're probably not going to believe me, but Crypto's disappeared..."
Claudia listened with a scared look on her face, as Low-Light related the fantastic tale of the Joes' repeated encounters with the apparition that looked and behaved like the Jersey Devil of legend. He related everything up to where Crypto had attacked the creature and was carried off.
"This sort of thing should only go on in the movies," Low-Light said after finishing the story. "We can't explain one iota of it."
"You don't have to try," Claudia replied. "From all of the crazy shit we've had go on between the Joes and Cobra, this is as believable as anything else. Do you have any idea what direction they went?"
"All I can tell is they went right for the middle of the Barrens," Low-Light said. "Some place where people have rarely been, if at all."
"Was he carrying anything we could use to trace him?" Claudia asked, sitting up in her bed as her mind raced with search and rescue options.
"He has his combat knife but no other weapons," Low-Light reported. "And he was about to drop his web gear before the devil's arrival. But I think he's still got it on. He's been carrying his TDC in a BDU pocket since we started."
"Let's hope he gets the bright idea to turn the TDC on in panic mode," Claudia whispered. "Then we could possibly track him." Her voice grew in intensity as she spoke to Low-Light and became determined to mount a rescue. "You two sit tight and keep your TDC on. I'm gonna wring out some Joes and a chopper or two. We're on our way."