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.
Somewhere over the Pine Barrens
Crypto hung frozen in the grip of the devil as it flew into the depths of the Pine Barrens where very few people have ever visited, if there were any brave souls that could at all. Somehow, after he had charged the beast and begun to grapple with it, the Devil clung to his arms with its spindly fingers and the intelligence officer suddenly found that he was completely unable to move.
When the Jersey Devil rose into the air under the lift of its diminutive, yet powerful wings, it took Crypto up over the ground. Without any ability to resist or wriggle free, the Joe simply went along for the ride. His eyes moved back and forth in their sockets while he silently prayed that the devil wouldn't let him drop from some altitude to his death out in the middle of nowhere.
An endless expanse of dark trees, animal dens and piles of natural boulders passed underneath Crypto and the Devil as they soared over the barrens, just brushing across the treetops at times, and surrounded by open sky at others. They never flew in a straight line, so Crypto couldn't turn his eyes to the moon or the North Star to obtain a bearing in relation to the hunting lodge.
After twenty or more minutes of flying about, the lieutenant had become thoroughly disoriented, and the ground contours and landmarks all became a blur. No two spots on the ground ever looked alike. The trees were all dark shapes, and eventually, the darkening shadows hid the ground features Crypto could use for navigating, such as the network of skinny creeks and rivers that crisscrossed the expanse, and the rolling hills and depressions where the animal runs carved out trails that a man could follow.
Eventually, the Jersey Devil found a clearing that it seemed to be very familiar with and dove out of the sky. When it alighted on the ground, the devil dropped Crypto onto a patch of hard-packed dirt. Crypto still remained motionless as he struggled to keep breathing and started to regain feeling and freedom of movement in his limbs. The devil spent only a few moments on the ground, sniffing at the air, and then took wing again, leaving Crypto behind in the middle of nowhere.
G.I. Joe "Detachment New York"
Takedown scrambled to climb into a Nomex flight suit that was specially designed for combat search and rescue. The outside fabric was colored in the Marine Corps' new digital woodland camouflage pattern, while the insides of the cuffs and collar were lined in a Day-Glo highly-reflective orange color. The flight suit was also fitted with a special pull-out back panel in the same Day-Glo orange.
The slim and well-muscled, five-foot-something sergeant had been running around in just her underwear when she found the flight suit in her equipment closet. After stepping into the one-piece coverall feet first, she draped it over her shoulders and put her arms through the sleeves. Once the suit was zipped up, she hardly looked like the shapely and sexy girl underneath.
Combat boots and fireproof gloves came next, and within a minute, Takedown had her standard rescue gear strapped onto her back and around her waist. She ran into the hallway of the barracks and let the door slam behind her with a loud crash.
Chaser had begun to doze off as she sat at the desk in her quarters, surrounded by parts from a Steyr AUG assault rifle that she had field stripped and then totally disassembled. She was startled for a few heartbeats when Takedown rapped loudly on her door.
Chaser took a second to return to reality from her semi-conscious state and heard the knock once more. "Enter," she said in a normal speaking voice. "It's open."
Claudia had barely heard Chaser's reply through the door on the second knock and pushed the door open quietly. "Chaser, can we talk a second?"
Chaser blinked her eyes a moment and recognized Takedown in her battle dress. Her mind worked quickly and she realized something was wrong. "Something's happened to Crypto, hasn't it?"
Claudia nodded. "The guys need help down in the Barrens."
"Want to sign out a ground vehicle and get down there?" Chaser asked, reaching for a drawer to obtain functional undergarments to replace the silk camisole and panties she had put on for bed.
"No," Claudia replied. "Driving will take three hours. That's three hours that we need to search. The Barrens are a huge place to go looking."
Chaser slipped out of her sleepwear and put on a grey sports bra and pair of Marine-issue olive green boxer shorts before reaching for her ready set of combat utilities. "Then we need to go past Operations and see if there's anyone available on the flight roster to take the Huey up. I, for one, know that I'm not rated to fly a chopper. Unless you are..."
"Nope," Claudia said. "I'm not rotary-wing qualified. Hopefully someone will fly without orders."
Chaser buttoned up the tunic of her BDU's and grabbed for her LBE gear and a lined camouflage cold-weather jacket. "Let's go."
The Pine Barrens
Outback and Low-Light scanned the area where Crypto had attacked the Jersey Devil, flashing this way and that with their flashlights. There had been no telltale tracks or signs of a possible direction of travel. The dirt along the trail where the beast and Joe had grappled was a churned-up mix of cloven hoof-prints and the recognizable tread pattern of Crypto's rubber-soled combat boots.
The men stayed together as they pounded into the underbrush around the trail's edge, calling for Crypto in case he had been dropped very quickly by the devil and was unable to call out to them. They probed warily, poking into the underbrush with their rifle barrels, careful not to disturb any potential dangers such as sleeping bears or nests of hostile snakes or razor-toothed ground critters.
Meanwhile, far from the hunting lodge and surrounded by completely unfamiliar territory, Crypto was finally able to regain his ability to move. He got to his feet and rubbed out a few aches in his elbows and neck while his eyes got used to the darkness falling. He could make out the ring of trees surrounding his clearing, and as the chilly October wind blew across the Barrens, he knew his first order of business was protection.
The officer sat on a flat rock that jutted out of the ground and took stock of his situation. When the Joes had decided to be on the alert for devil trouble, they all had kept their basic LBE kit on their bodies. Thus, Crypto had a canteen, small first aid kit, a few individual packs of 'Hooah' meal replacement bars, his Ka-Bar combat knife and his flashlight. A clip-on ammunition pouch held twenty loose rounds of fifty-caliber ammo for the SLAMR, which was back at the hunting lodge with Selkirk and MacBride. But the grains of propellant charge in each large bullet would help to start fires or to signal a rescue party.
The officer also realized that his most valuable tool was still in his pocket. He pulled out the TDC and flipped open its cover. Turning the unit on, he found the available signal strength to be very low, so calling the others was out. But he could flash his own panic signal as long as someone might be able to trace him. Despite the solar self-charging cell that was built into the plastic cover, the battery would only give him twelve hours of continual broadcasting time for the panic signal.
The TDC unit would have to be off to trickle charge the battery from the solar cell and the charger didn't work at night. So Crypto decided to only run the panic signal for ten minutes per hour until sunup. Glancing at the luminous hands of his tactical wristwatch, he mentally steeled himself to survive and not panic, and then got up to scrounge for fallen tree branches to make shelter and a fire.
G.I. Joe "Detachment New York"
Ground and Air Operations Center
In the Joe facility's underground level 03, where the command and operations center filled the space, Chaser and Takedown walked down the main hallway. They stopped at a large tack board where the flight rosters were normally posted, and Claudia shook her head sadly as she studied the sheets of printed papers.
"This sucks the big one, Chaser," Claudia said. "Most of the pilots and chopper jocks are off base, flying supplies to the new PIT construction site out west. Can you find a name that isn't red-lined?"
The two women studied the lists over and over, finding nothing new, when Dustoff walked out of an elevator that had brought him down to the 03 level from the underground helicopter hangar.
Dustoff, Warrant Officer-2 Paul Bowersox, was a tall man at six-foot-two. He dusted off his Nomex flight suit from some unidentified source and ran his fingers through his short-cropped brown hair. "Hi, ladies," the pilot said quietly with a nod, while he walked past Chaser and Takedown.
"Dustoff," Claudia said. "Are you on a flight tonight?"
Dustoff stopped to talk to the female Joes, turning his thoughtful hazel eyes to look at them. "Negative. I just got back from ferrying my UH-60Q Dustoff Hawk from Floyd Bennett Field and the Army National Guard aircraft maintenance unit there. You two look like you're heading out on a mission. Is something wrong?"
"Something is wrong, sir," Chaser added. "There's a Joe missing in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Outback and Low-Light are down there and called the report in."
Dustoff shook his head. "Now that's quite irregular. How did you know about the missing Joe, but the Operations troops didn't tell me to get my bird turned around?"
"The report didn't come from normal channels, sir," Claudia said. "Crypto's gone missing. He was hunting and testing survival gear with Outback and Low-Light."
The warrant officer rubbed his chin. "So, you're telling me that you two ladies are trying to wrangle up an unauthorized rescue flight? Do you realize how much trouble you'd be in with Duke for failing to follow procedures?"
Chaser and Claudia nodded sullenly, and turned in the hallway to leave. As the women trudged away, Dustoff caught up to them and blocked their path.
"Wait a minute," Bowersox said. "If a Joe's in trouble, I don't see why I can't file an emergency flight plan and take my Blackhawk out."
The pilot tugged gently at Takedown's sleeve. "Come on and get your flight gear together, while I bully the knuckle draggers in Flight Ops to fire up the aircraft elevator and call me up a ground crew to tow my bird out onto the baseball field for takeoff. We'll get Crypto back, I promise."
Crypto piled a stack of large branches that had fallen from the long-suffering trees in the clearing, along with a collection of kindling twigs. He used one branch as an awl to swiftly clear a patch of ground and made a fire pit.
The wind whipped at full speed, sending chills straight through Crypto's clothing and into his body. His ears occasionally rang with the banshee screams of the Jersey Devil, but he feared freezing to death all alone in the depths of the Barrens more than the beast.
When a stack of logs had been arranged in a pyramid shape and the kindling was placed in the middle, Crypto dug a waterproof survival match out of a pocket and struck it against one of the stones around the fire pit. A tiny lick of flame started at the tip of the match and Crypto moved quickly to ignite three long twigs, which he transferred to the fire pit. Blowing lightly on the first few burning embers and shielding the fire pit from the wind with his own body, Crypto got the fire burning in the space of a few moments.
The flame spread from the kindling to the stacked branches quickly and the campfire roared with satisfaction as it devoured the fuel Crypto had given it. The officer sat next to the fire and poked at it with a stick while it consumed the wood.
Crypto heard a thrashing in the woods and drew his knife, looking in every direction warily. The sound grew as the dark surrounded Crypto's tiny slice of the world.
The naval officer's mind reeled as his combat senses screamed out a warning of danger in his head. It wasn't the same sensation of fear as when Crypto encountered the Jersey Devil, but the feeling was based on his natural instincts.
A dark shape emerged from the darkness and into the light. Crypto held his knife close to his chest and stood in a defensive crouch that he learned over years of combat training. The shape stood erect and was about his height, but it puffed out clouds of condensation from its large nostrils.
When the animal stepped into the light of the fire pit, Crypto could see that it was a young bear. The animal sniffed at the air and looked directly at Crypto, as if it somehow knew him. Little did the officer know, that the young bear's mother was the attacking bear the Joes killed at their hunting lodge when it came scrounging for food. The bear picked up its mother's scent from the blood splattered on Crypto's camouflage utilities when he fought the Jersey Devil and was taken into the Barrens.
The young bear didn't know what to make of Crypto. The sailor stood tall and had his arms spread out, making him loom large. He smelled like the bear's mother, but surely wasn't. The man hadn't made any aggressive movements, and the maturing cub didn't see him as a threat.
Crypto hung close to the fire, keeping his eyes on the bear cub at all times. The cub sniffed once more at the air and lumbered up to the fire pit. All one-hundred-seventy-five pounds of flesh and fur then curled up by the fire and the cub began to puff contentedly at the warmth. When the cub relaxed, so did Crypto. He sat down on the ground and clutched his shoulders, pulling his cold weather clothes tightly around him.
When Crypto saw the dried blood stains from the other bear on his battle dress, the blood that had come from the Jersey Devil's foamy mouth when it was shredding the dead animal's throat, he realized that the bear cub wasn't being aggressive because it was related somehow to the animal the Joes killed when it attacked the lodge. The cub had fallen asleep across from him, in range of the warm fire, and was making guttural sounds like it was either snoring or purring in its sleep.
Taking a glance at his watch, Crypto pulled out his TDC and took off the battery cover. His fingers found the panic mode switch hidden underneath and flipped it. When he turned the TDC on, the communicator began transmitting its emergency locator beacon.
"Put it into a hover, Dustoff," Chaser said to the Blackhawk pilot as the green Army helicopter descended to treetop level over the hunting lodge. She turned in the crew chief's seat to flash a thumbs-up to Takedown, who was sitting by the rescue winch. "Send down the jungle penetrator, Sergeant Pearl!"
When the throbbing drumbeat of the Sikorsky transport helicopter's rotors reached the hunting lodge where Low-Light and Outback's TDC beacon was transmitting, the pair of Joes on the ground had already struck camp and gathered all of their gear, plus Crypto's, into compact marching kits and secured the loads to their three LBE/ALICE tactical pack frames.
Outback spotted the nose of the Dustoff Hawk looming overhead and began to wave his lit flashlight in the air to signal for the rescue chopper to approach, while Low-Light tied the weapons securely to the pack frames with their slings and spare lengths of parachute cord.
The jungle penetrator, a large, steel, anchor-like device painted in a bright day-glow yellow lowered slowly to the ground. When it was within Outback's reach, he folded down two flat extensions meant for an evacuee to sit on. He took the straps of his and Crypto's ALICE packs amd slipped them over the metal extensions before climbing up onto the penetrator. The unit had a safety strap which Outback slung over his back and slipped his arms through before jerking on the line leading up to the helicopter three times.
When the rescue line jerked in Takedown's hand, she reeled in the penetrator and Outback as quickly as the small, three-quarter-horsepower electric winch could run. The recovery of the survival specialist into the main cabin of the Dustoff Hawk took about three minutes, and then Takedown was playing out the woven cable and penetrator once more to bring Low-Light up.
When Low-Light was aboard, Takedown closed the main cabin's sliding door and Chaser rapped on Dustoff's shoulder as a signal to move out. Outback had stowed the ALICE packs in an onboard cargo bin, and studied a small video panel that was tied into the TDC emergency frequency.
"Are we picking up his signal?" Takedown asked.
"Affirmative," Dustoff replied through his cockpit intercom. "I have him about twenty klicks to the north-northwest. The mapping display puts him way out in the middle of nowhere."
"Well, let's go get him back," Outback said, locking the coordinates of the signal into the display's Global Positioning database so that they could fly to the position even if Crypto's TDC was shut off. "He'll probably be conserving his battery, so we won't have the signal continuously. I'm locking the fix into GPS."
The bear cub, if one could call it a cub at over five and a half feet and close to two hundred pounds, continued to snooze by the heat of the campfire Crypto had started.
Since the wilderness animal had become fairly docile, Crypto was beginning to get used to the idea that the cub wouldn't be too much of a threat to him, and he let his eyes begin to drift shut, his body deciding to try to shut down on its own from fatigue and the sudden rushes of adrenaline from all the excitement of the devil sightings waning into a physiological, knee-jerk chemical imbalance that induced tiredness.
When Crypto's eyes actually closed and the officer started reading the insides of his eyelids, the banshee wail of the Jersey Devil resounded over the treetops. The Joe's eyes snapped wide open as he heard the heavy clip-clop of the beast's feet dropping hard onto the ground. Apparently the bear had heard it too, and wasn't all too happy about it.
The newcomer sniffed the air while the bear cub bared its teeth and let out an angry snarl, annoyed at having been awakened from its slumber. When the bear locked eyes with the devil, it thought the beast to be another predator after its space and reared to its full height. The devil charged, leaping at the bear to try to wrap its long snout and razor-sharp teeth around the cub's throat, to rip at it like it had done with the cub's mother after the Joes had killed her.
Crypto was in a quandary. While neither creature had focused on him, he ultimately knew that an angered bear, maturing cub or otherwise, was not a thing to stay around for any extended period of time. The devil, of course, had likely come back to the clearing to settle things with Crypto once and for all. It was like deciding about how to deal with the lesser of two evils.
Crypto yanked the survival knife out of its sheath and slipped his LBE harness off his shoulders. Holding onto one end of the LBE, he heaved the other end up into the air as the devil leapt for the bear cub, ensnaring it in the loop of the harness and pulling it aside from the cub. Crypto screamed angrily in response to the devil's banshee cry, while he stabbed at its head and body, over and over.
The bear cub, still angered, decided to retreat from the scuffle and lumbered off into the night, growling a warning for the devil or Crypto not to follow. Just as the cub departed, the devil made contact with Crypto's head and he felt a strange sensation course through his body like electricity. He instantly lost the feeling in his hands and feet and his limbs became like cement and were immobilized.
The devil stepped away from where Crypto was laying stiff, and stared at the sailor with its glowing, evil eyes. It leaned in closely, studying the Joe and sniffing at him. The devil brought its ugly face right up to Crypto's, and he could feel the beast's hot breath dancing on the flesh of his face, while the oblong snout hung less than an inch from his nose.
After studying Crypto, perhaps reading his expression, or something deeper in the sailor, the devil simply nodded, wailed a lot more softly, and took wing. Within a minute of the beast's departure, Crypto felt his limbs once more and was able to get up off the ground.
A dark shape hovered over the campfire after a short while, and the Dustoff Hawk's jungle penetrator was winched down into the clearing, with Takedown sitting on it and a steel rescue basket slung below. As soon as she was able, Sergeant Pearl leaped off the penetrator and ran to Crypto's side.
"Oh, thank God," Claudia said, taking Crypto's face into her hands and visually checking him for injuries before giving him a kiss on the lips. "Thank God you're okay. How the hell did you get out here?"
"I doubt you'd believe the story, Claudia," Crypto replied. "It was the Jersey Devil."
"You're right," she replied. "I'm not sure I do believe it yet. But we'll have plenty of time for you to tell me all about it while we drop Low-Light and Outback at the campsite in Buena to retrieve Sergeant MacBride's POV, and then fly you right to base for a checkup."
Crypto didn't have the energy to argue with Claudia, so he let her strap him into the rescue basket and then she climbed up onto the penetrator to have the Dustoff Hawk winch them up.
The electric motor drew Crypto and Takedown up slowly from the surface of the clearing, as a dark shape darted about just over the treetops. Dustoff spotted it coming at a high rate of speed towards the nose of his chopper and yelled to Chaser that the bogey was inbound.
Chaser sprang into action, while Dustoff kicked the steering pedals of the chopper, rotating the aircraft slightly while maintaining the hover. As Chaser spotted the shape's approach, she armed the M-214 minigun mounted in the side window of the UH-60Q and fired off a stream of hot lead at the shadow. The shape let out the banshee wail of the devil, and dipped below the gunfire, aiming its direction of travel towards the rescue basket and penetrator.
With a sharp clang, the beast slammed right into the rescue basket, upending it and causing it to break loose from its attachment hook on the jungle penetrator. Takedown desperately grabbed for anything she could latch onto, in a futile attempt to keep Crypto from falling from the height back down into the barrens. The shadowy beast careened down towards the clearing and a loud blast accompanied by a wave of heat rose from the pines when it impacted with the ground.
Takedown caught hold of one of the steel handles on the rescue basket, but the weight of the unit with Crypto belted inside could easily break her arm if she held on too long. Crypto tried to reach out to her, but the safety straps kept him from being able to move too much.
Takedown's fingers felt the basket's weight slip from them as she strained every muscle and every fiber of her being to hold onto Crypto. But the effort became too much, and the basket fell away. "Crypto! No!!!" she yelled, watching the rescue basket plummet away from her.
"Crypto! No!!!" Takedown called out, jerking her body upright in her bed. She had to blink a few times to get the sleep out of her eyes and recognition finally took hold. There were no dark pines or wild supernatural beasts. The white-painted walls of Crypto's condominium's master bedroom were dotted with colors from hanging pictures that Claudia had chosen for him.
Other than her naked body sprawled out in the queen-size bed, it was empty. The sounds of Crypto enjoying a hot shower and whistling came from the open bathroom door.
Claudia shifted in bed to look at the alarm clock. The time was 0600, and she could see a screen saver on Crypto's laptop that was flashing "Happy Halloween!" As she began to wiggle around in bed, wondering how she had such a vivid recollection of events (or was it just a nightmare?), she heard a thud on the floor by her side of the bed.
Reaching down to grope around the floor, she picked up a heavy, hardcover book and looked at the title. It was called "The Legend of the Jersey Devil", and she remembered borrowing it from a town library with Crypto to satisfy her curiosity whenever the Lieutenant made fun of local folklore and scary Halloween stories.
The water flow in Crypto's bathroom stopped suddenly, and Crypto appeared in the doorway between his bedroom and bathroom, dripping wet and naked, wrapped only in a towel. "I thought I heard a scream, Claudia," he said. "Is everything okay?"
Claudia took her head into her hands for a moment and then smiled, motioning for Crypto to come close for a good morning kiss. "I'm fine. I think I got a little too much into reading about all this folklore you keep talking about for Halloween."
"Sorry, sweetie," Crypto replied, leaning over Claudia and delivering a warm, passionate kiss. "If you're nice and awake, the shower's yours. We should be getting over to Fort Hamilton in costume by oh-seven-hundred to draw a vehicle and make the rounds of the local public schools. Don't forget that we're helping the NYPD's DARE program to deliver their trick-or-treat safety programs."
"I remember," Claudia said with a yawn, throwing her arms around Crypto's neck and trying to pull him back into bed. "I'm just glad we're dressing up as Bonnie and Clyde this year, instead of the monster costumes you wanted to rent. I don't think I could handle the nightmares I'd have if I saw you dressed up as Frankenstein..."
* The End *