"Pontoon" Jack Carnac
in
Hell hath the Hindenburg!

A 10-chapter novella

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


Previously: Pontoon Jack and Skook were hijacked to the Rockies and left in possession of a box whose contents could spell the end of the world, which they hid in the woods. The hijacker, Robitaille was mangled by a monster called Keewaykeno, and Angelique was kidnapped to a secret Nazi base along with Jack's antitoxin. Jack rescued her, but Keewaykeno was set on his trail. Then, suddenly, something exploded out of the bushes...



Episode Five:

The Jaws of the Trap!


Standing in the middle of the path was a bull moose.

The beast was huge, the soft light of the Aurora gently burnishing the rolling muscles along its shoulders and back. For a moment, it stood there, blasting air through its flaring nostrils, swinging its antlered head from side to side. Its eyes were red with a feral rage and, even in the dim light, Jack could see enough to know there was only death in those scarlet orbs.

"Run!" he shouted, snatching at his Colt, even though he knew it was too small a calibre to bring down such a beast. "I'll try to distract it!"

"I can't leave you!" cried Angelique.

Her voice drew the moose's attention and its antlered head swung around. Jack shouted but to no avail. The moose had fixed on the girl; she was in deadly danger.

The moose began to rub its hocks together, a sure indication it was about to charge. And then, dropping its mighty antlers, it did so, and it was like a freight train pounding down a hill. The girl barely had time to scream as that massive engine of destruction bore down upon her tiny helpless form. She threw her arms before her eyes, still on her knees.

Jack chased after, though knowing there was nothing he could do....

And then there was another explosion of leaves and branches!

Again, the brush beside the trail erupted outward. A second huge, dark shape hurtled out and into the spectral light. It was so dark here on the trail that Jack could discern only shadows etched against deeper shadows. But the two largest shadows merged and the night came alive with a sudden hideous bedlam of grunts and screams, of crashing branches and wild, thundering hoofs.

Whatever it was, the thing was attacking the moose! It had the beast by the antlers and was literally wrestling it to the ground. Jack could only stare in awestruck disbelief. What monster could possibly wrestle a bull moose?

On and on the struggle continued, and then, suddenly, there was a grisly crack, like a thick branch shattering--and the shadow of the moose folded to the humus like a stricken colossus.

With Jack watching, the remaining shadow reared up and stood over its fallen foe for several seconds, evidently taking a moment to recover from its battle. It was a towering brute, man-shaped, nearly ten feet tall, but the darkness cloaked it tantalizingly. Then, completely ignoring the bush pilot, the monster turned and lumbered slouching over to the girl who had fainted and now lay sprawled in the trail.

Jack raised his Colt--but then held his fire.

The monster knelt beside the unconscious girl and, reaching out, gently stroked the shimmering black tresses from over her face. There was no sense of menace in the action. Whatever this creature was, the motion seemed almost human, tender even. The delicate caress stood in grotesque contrast to the unimaginable violence of the moment before.

Then, before Jack could do or say anything more, a voice exclaimed: "Gotcha!"

And something struck him from behind. Later he found out it was a gun...

***
Skook, the burly engineer, carefully parted the tangled branches and peered out.

It was early morning, still dark. The Northern Lights reflected magically in the still surface of the lake. Since his friend, Pontoon, had set out to recover the stolen antitoxin and to save the kidnapped girl, the Metis had stayed hidden near the cabin. There was a good chance whoever was behind this thing might return and he kept his Lee-Enfield carbine close at hand; he had no intention of ending up like poor Josef Oleskow.

Then, suddenly, he heard voices approaching out of the darkness. Skook crept cautiously back into the concealing foliage and waited. Eventually, two men emerged from the woods. In the dark, it took a moment before Skook realized he knew one of them--and his lips drew back in a snarl of disgust.

It was Pierre Dubois, "The Lynx", another bush pilot, but one without conscience or moral guide. Their paths had crossed countless times but, when last seen, The Lynx's black Bellanca had seemed headed for a crash on Great Slave Lake. Most men believed he was dead, including Skook-- but not Pontoon. The bush pilot had insisted that Dubois would have found a way to put her down safely. Apparently Pontoon had been right.

Dubois was dressed in his usual attire: black aviator's jacket with lynx fur collar, black gloves, and white scarf. Some years back, he had been stricken with snow blindness after a crash in the Barrens. He had never entirely recovered and usually wore black snowglasses to protect his eyes from glare--but not at night, of course.

With Dubois was his engineer, Caribou Dan, a stocky, gnomish brute with muttonchop sideburns, a red toque on his head. If anything, Skook's animosity was even more keenly felt towards the villainous engineer. Skook was a proud member of the "Black Gang", the fraternity of mechanics who serviced the bushplanes out here in the Back of Beyond and it was the height of insult to think that such a creature as Caribou Dan could claim the same distinction.

Caribou Dan was armed with a rifle, and Skook knew The Lynx never went anywhere without his derringer concealed up his sleeve. The engineer grimly recalled that Robitaille had said he was shot by a man with a derringer. One more murder, it seemed, for which Dubois would someday pay the price.

Skook noticed both Caribou Dan and Dubois cast uneasy glances into the black woods as they passed. Robitaille had said that he had told his killers he had murdered the bush pilot and his engineer. Perhaps Dubois wasn't entirely convinced?

Skook followed behind. He slipped through the brush without a sound, keeping well back. Dubois and his engineer went directly to the Norseman, still tied up near the birchbark canoe. Dubois climbed up into the cockpit while Caribou Dan kept watch, his rifle held in tight fists that gleamed like split wood in the dark.

Skook peered out through the branches and held his breath. Now Dubois must certainly know the truth; Robitaille had lied. He would find no corpses aboard the Hell-damner. What would the pilot do?

Several minutes passed. Finally, Dubois reemerged from the freight door. He leaned out and said something to Caribou Dan; Skook was too far away to make it out. Then Dubois raised his eyes and slowly scanned the dark timber palisade that crowded close to the shore. A wry smile touched the corners of his lips, the tips of his moustache curling.

"Allons-y," he said to Caribou Dan, gesturing with a sidewise tilt of his head.

Without another word, the pilot took his place in the cockpit and the engineer climbed aboard. The Wright Whirlwind roared to life like a mighty grizzly woken from hibernation and the Norseman taxied out onto the lake, gathered speed, then sprang into the night, vanishing over the serried peaks headed back in the direction from which the men had come.

Skook rose from where he had been hiding and perplexedly scratched his shaggy head through his scarlet mouchoir. He was baffled. The Lynx must have known the engineer was still alive and hiding nearby. Why had he not done anything about it?

Then too, there was an even greater concern. Dubois must surely have passed Pontoon on the trail. Had the pilot been captured?

Skook had been instructed to wait here with the Hell-damner. Now that the floatplane had been taken, though, his course was clear. Slinging his carbine over his broad shoulder, he melted into the nighted woods...

***
For an hour, the engineer forged steadily through the tangled brush.

At first, the going was slow; in the dark, it was difficult to pick up the trail. But steadily cerulean sky spread overhead and the Northern Lights faded away as the morning sun broke out in the east. The air was cool and touched with fall; the scent of balsam spiced every breath. Now, with the growing light, Skook's keen eyes could more easily pick up the spoor of his quarry. He made better time, bounding along like a wolf tracking a wounded deer.

Then, abruptly, he stopped and whirled. From behind him--a branch had cracked in the stillness. Few men would have noticed the sound, let alone imbued it with significance. It might have been anything. But the engineer was cautious. For a moment, he stood there, listening. He unslung his carbine and squinted, searching the mists that drifted ghost-like between the emerald boles. Someone was following him?

Suddenly, a bush exploded outward and Skook jerked up the carbine, finger tensing on the trigger--only to stop as a red fox dashed away through the trees.

Skook blew out in relief and chuckled, shaking his shaggy head at his own jumpiness.

Still looking in the direction taken by the fox, he started to walk backwards. It was a foolish mistake, and one which he would never have made was he not already tired from lack of sleep.

Not watching where he was going, he did not see the leghold trap until it snapped viciously on his left ankle. It was the same trap which Pontoon had nearly stumbled into earlier. The sharp teeth bit deep through his moccasin, but Skook's roar was more of anger at his own stupidity than of pain. He fell sprawling, his carbine tumbling out of reach.

"Tonnerre!" he cursed, his thick fingers scrambling down his leg.

Then he froze. In the trail, just ahead, stood a man in a brown overcoat. But Skook was less interested in the man himself than in the Sten gun whose barrel was pointed at his head.

The man's eyes flickered to the carbine lying just out of reach, then returned to the engineer caught in the leghold trap. A smile crawled sinisterly across his face. Calmly, he pulled back on the machine gun's bolt. In an instant, Skook saw the situation. The man had no intention of taking him prisoner.

Without his carbine, the only weapon Skook had was his besshath, his curved-bladed Chipewayan knife. But to reach that, he would have to reach into his jacket. He knew he wouldn't get that chance.

Still, he had to try. With lightning speed, his hand darted for the besshath. In the same instant, the Sten gun rose a fraction and the man's finger jerked on the trigger spraying a deadly hail of hot, zipping lead. Branches exploded. Pine needles and cones rained down on the cringing Metis. But when the shooting stopped, Skook was astonished to find he was still alive. Not a single bullet had found its mark!

Baffled, he looked up at the man, still standing there with smoke curling bluely from the machine gun barrel. Then, like a falling tree, the man toppled, tumbling facedown in the trail. For a moment, Skook could only gape, mystified. But then he saw the arrow sticking grotesquely from between the dead man's shoulders.

Farther back along the path, pine boughs trembled and a figure stepped into the trail, materializing as if by magic out of the morning mists...

Next episode...."Her Fate Shall be Indescribable!"


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Hell hath the Hindenburg is copyright 2000, Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)