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Encounter in the North Woods (2015)

The three gangsters fled into the woods away from the sound of gunfire. John Dillinger, Homer Van Meter and Red Hamilton crashed through the thick underbrush. Behind them the Feds continued to pour gunfire into Emil Wanatka’s Little Bohemia Lodge.

“Wait up, wait up,” said Hamilton, out of breath. He was older than the other two, and in worse shape. He bent over, hands on his knees, panting.

“Okay, Red, we’ll take a break,” said Dillinger. “I don’t think anyone’s following us.”

“What about the others?” asked Van Meter. “Do you think they got away?”

“I saw Tommy take off right before us,” said Hamilton. “He went the other way. What about Nelson?”

“Knowing that little psycho, he probably stuck around just to shoot at the Feds some more,” sneered Van Meter. There was another burst of gunfire from the direction of the lodge. “See?”

Dillinger laughed. “Those flatfoots are probably just shooting at shadows. I’m sure Nelson is long gone.”

“Which is what we need to be,” said Van Meter. “Where the hell are we going, anyway?” He looked around at the dense Wisconsin woods that surrounded them. “I’d hate to get lost in these woods.”

“I saw a light by a cabin on the other side of the lake,” said Dillinger. “If we can find our way back to the shore we can get around to the cabin, and see if they have a car that they can ‘loan’ us.”

“Well, I hope you know where we’re going,” said Van Meter. “I’m a city boy, from the teeming metropolis of Fort Wayne. I don’t know a thing about finding my way in the woods.”

“Don’t worry,” said Dillinger, “Ol’ Red here’s from the outback of Canada. He’ll lead us to safety, won’t you, Red?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Hamilton uncertainly. “At least there’s a full moon. We see a little of where we’re going. This way, I think.” He pointed off to their right.

“Naw, I think we should go this way,” replied Dillinger. He moved off to the left, the other two following. Behind them, there was another short burst of gunfire, then silence.

Fifteen minutes later, Dillinger stopped. “Say, do you guys hear anything?”

“No, why?” asked Van Meter.

“That’s just it,” said Dillinger. “It’s too quiet.”

“That’s a good thing, right?” asked Hamilton.

“I don’t like it,” said Dillinger. ” Let’s have a weapons check. I’ve got a .45 with a full clip, and a spare. Van?”

“I’ve been toting this Thompson, but it’s empty,” said Van Meter. “I used up all the ammo shooting through the front window when the raid started.”

“I’ve got my Thompson, too,” said Hamilton. He brandished the submachine gun. “I’d guess there’s twenty, thirty rounds left in the drum.”

“That’s good enough,” said Dillinger. “Follow me, but be quiet.”

They made their way carefully through the brush, trying not to step on any leaves or branches. After a minute or two, Dillinger held up his hand. They stopped.

“There it is again,” whispered Dillinger. “It sounds like someone’s following us. It’s like they stop when we stop, and then start moving again when we do.”

“Is it the Feds?” asked Hamilton. “Could they have followed us this far?”

“I don’t know,” said Dillinger. “I don’t think they followed us. Besides, if it was the Feds, they’d just open up on us. I don’t think they’d be stalking us like that.”

“Jesus,” said Hamilton. “Maybe we should just shoot up the place. Hose down the bushes behind us. That’ll stop whoever’s following us.”

“No, we can’t risk giving away our location,” said Dillinger. “Besides, we need to conserve ammo in case we run across those bastards again.”

“What the hell is that smell?” asked Hamilton. There had been a wet-dog reek that had gradually been growing in intensity as they made their way through the woods.

“It smells like Red’s socks!” snorted Van Meter.

“C’mon, can the wisecracks, Van,” said Dillinger. “No time for your jokes now.”

“I’m not joking. I shared a room with him in St. Paul. Those socks stank the whole place up…”

Behind them, a branch broke. Hamilton raised his gun to fire, but Dillinger pushed it back down, and held his finger to his lips. After sixty tense seconds, they began to relax.

“Probably just a squirrel or something,” said Van Meter.

“I think it’s gone now,” said Dillinger. “Too big for a squirrel, though. There are plenty of other critters in these woods.”

“Maybe it’s one of those sasquatch things that Wanatka was talking about,” said Van Meter.

“What?”

“Yeah, Wanatka said that there are these big monsters that live in these woods. They look like gorillas or something, but they’re bigger and meaner. Sometimes they’ll steal people’s livestock. And they smell terrible.”

“Wanatka!” spat Dillinger. “I wouldn’t believe a word that bastard says. I’m sure he’s the one that tipped off the Feds. When we get out of this, I’m going to find him and squeeze his lousy Kraut neck until his eyes pop out!”

“We’ve got to get out, first,” said Hamilton. “Let’s keep moving.”

They headed out again, moving faster this time. The wet-dog reek continued to grow until it was almost overwhelming. Moments later there was another loud crunch of snapping wood, this time from ahead of them and to the left. And it was much closer.

“Jesus!” said Hamilton. “I’m gonna let ’em have it.”

“Calm down, Red,” barked Dillinger. “It’s probably just a deer or a moose.”

A huge rock came sailing out of the woods and crashed into the brush at their feet. It was the size of a loaf of bread.

“Jesus!” cried Van Meter. “Ain’t no deer that throws rocks like that. Even I know that.” There was a rising note of hysteria in his voice.

“Something is seriously wrong here,” said Dillinger. “I can feel the hair standing up on the back of my neck. You guys stay…”

Suddenly, Hamilton screamed and fell over on his face. A red stain was spreading across the back of his shirt.

Behind him was a huge, hairy figure, silhouetted from behind in the moonlight. It was at least seven feet tall, and brandishing a pointed branch that was dripping with Hamilton’s blood. Instantly, Dillinger’s pistol barked three times. The monster dropped the stick and stepped back a few steps, but did not run away.

“FUCK!” screamed Van Meter. “Finish it, Johnnie! Shoot the bastard! SHOOT IT!”

“Gun’s jammed,” grunted Dillinger, desperately trying to clear the chamber. “Get Red’s gun, Van. Quick!”

Van Meter took a tentative step towards where Hamilton was writhing on the ground. The monster roared – a blood-curdling shriek that sent a thin stream of urine down Van Meter’s trouser leg. He stood rooted to the spot, too terrified to move.

The monster took a step forward and roared again.

Dillinger didn’t even twitch. “Yeah? Well, FUCK YOU, TOO!” he screamed.

Van Meter stood transfixed, watching John Dillinger stare down a seven-foot-tall sasquatch monster. The monster roared again. It slammed it’s huge hands against its chest, producing a deep, booming thump. It lowered its head, as if to charge, and roared again.

In one fast, fluid motion, Dillinger bent over, leapt forward, and grabbed the branch that the monster had dropped. Snarling, he swung the branch up sharply between the monster’s legs. The monster stopped in mid-shriek, fell over and curled up in a ball.

In a flash, Dillinger was on it, trying to stab it with the pointed end of the stick. It didn’t seem to have any effect. The monster was rolling around, making horrible whuff-whuff sounds.

“Dammit!” cried Dillinger, as he continued to try to stab the monster. “This thing’s got a hide like a rhino! Van! The rock! Get the rock!”

Van Meter hesitated for a moment, trying to understand what Dillinger meant. Then it hit him and he jumped towards the big rock that the monster had thrown. He snatched it up and hefted it over his head. It must have weighed fifty pounds, but in his adrenaline-enhanced fear it felt like it weighed as much as a pillow.

He rushed over to where the sasquatch was writhing on the ground. “Shoulda stayed at home, Stinky,” he grunted, and brought the rock down on the monster’s head with all of his strength. The monster’s head caved in like a rotten watermelon. Its leg twitched once, then it was still.

For a few moments, the only sounds in the woods were Dillinger and Van Meter breathing heavily. Hamilton moaned weakly, and tried to get to his feet. Dillinger crouched down by his side.

“Easy, Red, easy,” soothed Dillinger. “You’re gonna be okay. It’s gonna be all right.”

“What happened, Johnnie?” asked Hamilton weakly. “I don’t remember. Did they get me?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Dillinger. “The bastards shot you in the back, but we got away.” He gave Van Meter a weird look, as if to say, “Why not?” Van Meter shrugged.

In the distance, another fusillade of gunfire rang out. They were not out of the woods yet, literally or figuratively.

Dillinger pulled off his shirt and used it as a bandage to wrap Hamilton’s midsection. “Jesus, that thing shoved that stick the whole way through him!” he said.

Van Meter looked at the corpse of the monster, and glanced around nervously at the woods. The typical night-sounds were starting to come back. “Do you think there’s more of these things out here?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” said Dillinger. “I don’t want to know. All I know is that we have to get out of here, quick. These woods are filled with trouble for us.”

“How did you know if was, y’know, a boy?” asked Van Meter. “I didn’t. I just grabbed that stick and let ’em have it.”

“Good thing it was, or we’d be monster chow by now.”

“No point chewin’ it over now,” said Dillinger. “We gotta get Red some help.”

He and Van Meter helped Hamilton to his feet and they began hobbling away from the sound of the gunfire. Hamilton drifted in and out of consciousness as the other two helped him along.

“Jesus, Johnnie, that was too much,” said Van Meter. “I mean, I’ve seen some screwy things in my time, but that took the cake. I’m shaking like a leaf.”

“Me too,” agreed Dillinger. “This is going to haunt me, even if I live to be a hundred. Can’t worry about it now – we gotta keep making tracks. We’ll find a car and get Red to Chicago. Louie will know someone who can patch him up.”

“What are we going to tell them?” “Just what we said: that Red was shot in the back as we were escaping.”

“They’ll never believe that. That doesn’t look anything like a gunshot wound.”

“So what? Nobody’s gonna believe what really happened. I’m not sure I believe it myself.”

“Yeah,” said Van Meter. “Once we get back, I’m never going back into the woods again. Hell, I don’t even want to see a tree.”

“I’m with you there, pal,” said Dillinger. “No more monsters. I want to get back to a place where the worst thing I’ve got to worry about is getting gunned down in the street. Let’s go.”

***

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