Stomp Robs a Cloudbrew Beer Truck
An I-5 beer truck chase ensues as Stomp & Crew smuggle Pacific Mottled Unicorns deep into the Cascade Mountains. If only they can make it.
In 1993, the new Clinton administration made a splash by enacting aggressive legislation to protect Fantastical creatures. It was a step toward Fantastical Rights, but bounty hunters could still apply for “Invasive Species” permits, and most states still permitted zoos and laboratories to prey upon big-game Fantasticals for spectacle and research.
In response, the faction of Fantastical smugglers that previously existed purely underground is more visible than ever. Some people consider them saviors, and others call them terrorists. Stomp, a smuggler for close to two hundred years, sets out with a pile of Cookie Crisp and a freshly stolen beer truck to transport three creatures in a bold daylight escape.
The rugged entrance to the Cascades, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie primitive wilderness, is just 56.1 miles away. If only they can make it there alive.
1993 – Seattle, Washington
56.1 miles from destination.
“Put the freaking truck in droive, myannnn!”
Gesuvio Turtle hummed and chugged on a cigarette while sirens screamed. Cars swerved off the road. Smoke clouds swirled about the cab. And a cop car caromed into oncoming traffic to side-slam them.
Next to him in the passenger seat, a 25-year-old shag-haired grunge-flanneled shepherd-in-training (SIT) gripped the passenger seat and bit his fingernails. His name was Jeffrey. Robbing a Cloudbrew beer truck in Seattle during the mid-day rush was new to Jeffrey.
“Yonder request is difficult with flippers, impatient one.”
“Smash your foot on the clutch and shift the shifty shifter!”
“Ro-dumbly-dum,” hummed Gesuvio. “Ro-dum-dum-dumbly.”
CLADUNK. Gesuvio steered the stuttering manual beer truck up onto the curb and into the path of pedestrians. CLADUNKADUNK.
“Oh gracious, that was a bumpty.”
Jeffrey was having a rough time of it.
His 90s cowabunga accent wasn’t helping:
“We’re gonna doy, myannnn!”
Traffic lights swung by overhead like blurred colors smudged across a gray paper sky. Gesuvio steamrolled North in a fully loaded Cloudbrew Crisp paneled beer truck. He took off on the expressway and floored it.
“We’re gonna doyyy—”
“Jeffrey.” Gesuvio put a flipper on the boy’s head. “Jeffrey, sir.”
Jeffrey was transfixed by the giant moss-leathered turtle flipper that rested on his head.
“Flip on that radio and get us goin’ with some chase tunes.”
Jeffrey flipped the dial:
SHHHHH—There’s a tear in my beer, cause I’m cryin’ for you—SHHHHH—authorities are in a midday pursuit on the I-5 after robbers raided a Cloudbrew brewery and took off—SHHHHH—
“Jeffrey, boy, sir, that one’ll do.”
Jeffrey stopped the dial. Gesuvio lowered a pair of aviators over his eyes. He rummaged one flipper in the glove box and pulled out a second pair of aviators. Jeffrey obliged. And they rode on.
Gesuvio hung a sawed-off shotgun out the window. A black tinted-window armor-fortified Jeep powered up next to them and moved to ram them. The barrel wavered as he tried to steer and then he let loose a blast at the tires.
ERRRRRNNNNNNNTT. FLP FLP FLP FLP FLP FLP.
Jeffrey put both hands over his mouth. The tire unraveled. Sparks flew from the axle and the Jeep slowed and crawled off the shoulder. A second Jeep charged up and blasted up past the pursuing cops. It stayed just behind Gesuvio’s side mirror. Jeffrey kept wailing:
“Don’t hurt nobody, myannnnn!”
“Jeffrey, sir – please compose yourself and direct me to the next I-5 exit.”
Jeffrey held one hand over his mouth and pointed excitedly. Gesuvio exited city traffic onto the expressway, shifted into third, and floored it. He might have had to worry about closures at any one of a hundred checkpoints and bridges, but the majority of Seattle’s police force was preoccupied with a suspiciously convenient tanker chemical fire raging on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge on Lake Washington.
Stomp popped his head into the cab through a slit window divider in the cargo. Gesuvio looked back. Stomp was aggressively gyrating his head to fit through the tiny window. His head and scruff fur cascaded through. He grinned.
“Yes, Stomp, sir, what can I do for you?”
A voice squawked at them from a bullhorn at high speed. The sirens wailed. Shrouded in a mist far to the left was the Space Needle. Suburban sprawl fell into a blur of their periphery. They burst up through the University District past Pinehurst, past Mountlake Terrace on the 5 up toward Everett. And then it would be east across the Snohomish River Bridge.
“The glittery neigh neigh donkeys are hungry again. We need more Cookie Crisp.”
Gesuvio sighed and waved a flipper at Jeffrey. Jeffrey opened a suitcase on the floor and passed back boxes of General Mills Cookie Crisp. Stomp pushed a big paw through the divider:
“And some Capri Suns.”
Jeffrey passed back Capri Suns. Stomp looked forward expectantly.
“And one more Cookie Crisp.”
Jeffrey passed it back. Stomp disappeared. There was the sound of a bag bursting all over the floor:
HAROCK HARUMPH HAROCK
…As Stomp ate up the Cookie Crisp stick beer truck floor niblets.
Terrified muffled grunts came from the center of the truck in a protective ring created by a circle of beer kegs. Stomp tore open another Cookie Crisp and lowered it over. A green-and-brown spackled snout stretched up from the floor, and then a second, and then a third.
They buried their snouts into the bag, and long, sandpaper tongues stretched out and the snouts squeaked and fought for Cookie Crisp territory. He dropped the bag in and patted a keg.
The beer truck robbery was Gesuvio’s idea. The brewery was next to Mystic Magic Laboratories, and kidnapping kidnapped creatures was made possible by their inside man at Cloudbrew, Bubba the loading dock fella.
Stomp raised himself up and stood firmly in the center of rows and rows of cases of Cloudbrew Crisp. His buckskin pants were drenched in beer. His burlap knapsack was drenched in beer. Next to him sitting cross-legged on the floor in a puddle of beer, a 12-year-old mute weapons shepherd-in-training named Corduroy squeezed together a handful of ripe dynamite seedlings into a clay lump and packed them into a cut-open tennis ball.
Corduroy was an orphan, like so many of them. And he was a learner.
“Sir Stomp, please tell the little mute one to pass up another grenade.”
“Of course, G.”
“Why yes, G.”
Gesuvio handed his shotgun back through the slit to Stomp. “Toss up that door and give those hangers-ons a good rip.”
Stomp swayed to the back. Jeffrey wailed. The cop cars screamed. Passing cars swerved and collided. The cop cars screamed. The sun was bright, the air was crisp and gorgeous. The cop cars screamed. Gesuvio hummed along to Rage Against The Machine. Another black jeep roared up on the rear bumper.
And Stomp ripped up the back door and leveled the shotgun into the windshield.
Stomp whispered out a curse: “Son of a piebald mountain goat.”
The Jeep’s front fender flipped open a row of machine gun turrets and Stomp could read the fine embossed print across the fresh chrome:
Stomp ripped the beer truck door back down and glanced fretfully at the ring of kegs.
The mouse-like assistant looked up. He had a small pile of tennis ball grenades mounded in a tin wooden peach basket.
“Please get behind one of the kegs.”
The boy crawled over and dragged his bucket along with him. He refolded his legs and went back to work.
The machine guns opened up.
The door dented in with bullet holes and a few passed through. From the front:
“They’re shootin’ bullets, myannn!”
Stomp ripped up the back door as they reloaded. Corduroy passed him a tennis ball. Stomp waved goofily at the tinted black Jeep and smiled.
Then he dropped a grenade on the road.
It bounced twice and exploded under the front tires. The Jeep flipped up twice and hurtled off the expressway. Stomp high-fived the kid and felt himself sway and see stars. A strong surge of anxiety leapt into his chest and crawled around like electric bugs. He pressed himself against a wall of Cloudbrew cases and sat down.
And Stomp went back.
1851 – Siskiyou Trail - Western Siskiyou Mountains, California
Gesuvio Turtle smashed the reins down hard, whipping the four horses harder ahead. His face was shielded in an outlaw’s black cloth bandana. The mountain conifers that hung branches over the trail tried to hold their branches back as their stagecoach passed, but he was getting whipped on the narrow cliff pass.
Behind them metal grated against stones that fled and jumped. The earth furrowed out in great mounds as an iron cowcatcher – like a snowplow on steroids – scorched the ground in front of a pursuing coach that had all the resemblance of a train car that had bred with a pirate ship and tacked on wagon wheels.
Masts rose up off the sides and men sat in wooden buckets with their faces painted, training their rifles down. They were bounty hunters and bandits. They swayed and screeched war cries. And their pistols and rifles attempted to shoot straight and clean from 4,100 feet above sea level.
The pursuing coach got within inches of ramming Gesuvio’s heavy iron wagon. This wasn’t one of those boring Oregon Trial Concord coaches. This was a custom-fitted Overland mail wagon. Flat-backed and protected with a 60-pound lead plate in the backboard. The axles – reinforced to carry 700 pounds of creature. The wheeled beast had been commissioned from an upstart wagon maker out of Independence, Missouri, a free Black man who purchased his freedom by the name of Hiram Young. This man was listed on the census as a “Carpenter.” It was true—there was a degree of necessary carpentry to outfit a smuggling wagon.
The pursuing demon of wheels and men bumped them from behind. The wagon rocked. The pursuing monstrosity was so close that drops of sweat flung off the men and landed on Gesuvio’s canvas. One man—face painted in Nez Perce war paint—leaned down to poke a shotgun in through the back wagon flap. A gangly furred arm thrust out from the wagon and—
The man’s scream was lost as the arm whipped the bounty hunter down the cliff face to a long quick death.
Stomp pulled himself out of the back carriage box. He wielded no gun. He grabbed at the close pines that whipped by in a frenzy of branches and needles that smacked his face at a dizzying 12 miles per hour. He felt his hands bounce off trunks and crackle his knuckles. He kept trying as gunshots pecked at the dust around them like a woodpecker dents a log.
Stomp got his hands on one. For an instant. One moment. He felt his grasp close around the bottom base of a young pine.
He saluted the tree and touched a hand over his heart. “Thank you.”
He ripped it up with a gargantuan heave and snapped the entire 12-foot pine in half. He lay the two tree halves pieces longways across the bench seat so that they thrust through the wagon flaps. The pursuers couldn’t get close to ram now and couldn’t see dink to shoot at through the fuzzy branches that now hung out the back. Bullets met their end in a piece of sappy tree bark.
The carriage hit a rut and lurched up on two wheels toward the cliff face. A group of shrill cries carried out of the wagon and then the wagon swung back down hard on four wheels. A deep thick wooden cargo bucket hung out the front – it jutted out in front of the wagon like the mouth of a whale that has opened to swallow kelp. This was the location of the terrified shrieks that sprung up with every jolt.
“Herrrah!” whipped Gesuvio. “Herrahhh!”
Up here at 4,000 feet, the mountains breathed in and out in quiet meditation. Low clouds misted by without purpose, pushed gently in by the guiding hands of the Pacific Ocean. The pines moved gently in the breeze. Deep below in the valley, mining camps were specked with white tents that looked like little patches of snow that had laid themselves down softly by the Trinity River. And in this mountain forest furrow of trail, chaos blazed through like an ant having spasms in a patch of smooth sand.
“I gotcha, ya big ornery beast!”
The bounty hunter swung straight into Stomp’s perch in the back seat on a rope. The coach hit into a furrowed rut of solidified mud and tossed Stomp out the door. He clung on with one hand, his body hanging out over a cliff drop sheer down. His weight was tilting the wagon. He attempted to swing himself forward to block the front cargo compartment where the shrieks of terror cried out. Stomp glanced up at the front cargo opening and could see the tumbling shimmers of silvery mottled brown and green fur that popped into view.
“Tell the cargo to keep their heads down!” Stomp yelled up.
The bounty hunter ripped out a hammer and a pair of six-inch nails from a belt. He drove them down in:
BNK. BNK. BNK. BNK!
He whipped a thick rope length around the nails and tied it off with a sailor’s knot before he nimbly dashed back across the rope to the Demon Ship Wagon. Stomp felt their lumbering outfit tugged from behind now, slowed by the pirate coach that was pulling them back. Their Overland lurched back toward the mountain side and Stomp’s momentum flung him back onto the bounty wagon, and his palm swung right into the driver’s head.
The man’s eyes widened for a second at the giant furred palm that embraced his head. Stomp squeezed once hard.
The hunter’s head squished in and the body slumped into the reins. Stomp felt the bullets crashing ridges past his fur. He turned and flung himself back across the gap into the back of their Overlander. He turned in time to see another of the posse shrug his comrade off the wagon and take over the reins.
The narrow cliff pass grew broader and sloped down and now they were in no danger of sheering off the cliff. It opened up into a broad sunlit forest of towering pines that stood in airy spacious rows.
“We’re down the Summit!” yelled Gesuvio.
Liberated by space, the wagon hunters that sniped from raised baskets on ship masts pumped levers to drop themselves down under protruding branches. One of them wasn’t fast enough.
That’s the death screech – or mild to moderate injury screech - of a man swept off his coach at a terrifying 12 miles per hour. The rest of the rollicking and rumbling buckets of men now pointed rifles at eye level. A bullet splintered bark into Gesuvio’s face and he steered sharply off the trail and began to rumble down the mountain towards the shallow river bottom thousands of feet below.
“Sir Stomp, please throw something!” Gesuvio yelled. “Passengers, please hold on to your butts.”
Their passengers in the cargo bucket neighed out in shrilly terror that echoed off the mountains.
Stomp reached down in the carriage and ripped up a molded dynamite ball. It was newly harvested from the spring - some of its seeds were a ripe green, smashed together into a round lump. Stomp smacked it twice on the bench to get it good and agitated. He reached down for the tin coal box in a floor space. He ripped out a piece of glowing coal and…
“Wha-hottah hot! Hottah! Hottah-hottah-hot!”
He fumbled the coal and flung the box out the stagecoach.
“Sir Stomp, please don’t toss our fire out the window.”
“Iss so hot!” he whined.
A single piece of glowing ember quivered on the coach floor. Stomp snatched it up and held it to the dynamite wick. It smoldered – overly ripe – and then flared up with a burst.
The pursuing hunters seemed less intent now. They were still chasing and firing but had dropped back. It didn’t seem right. Stomp shrugged.
“Still make them go boom boom.”
He tossed the grenade and it floated and bounced in front of the coach and…
Exploded against the great metal cowcatcher that pushed along the forest floor like a plow.
“If we get to the river, it won’t matter!” Gesuvio boomed. “Our pony will release the cattle.”
Pony (Noun) – A Fantastical ally who performs a highly specific task during a smuggle, skilled in diversion and distraction. Ponies got their names in the 1830s when travelers would smuggle sprite children under the saddles of their pack mules on the Sante Fe Trail.
The horses plunged down and careened in and out of thick pines and tumbled them past streaming brooks and over sunlit meadow loam that would feed into the Klamath River.
And the river grew close.
Rifles and men faded. Gesuvio whipped his head back and saw the pirate coach stopped on a flat space a thousand feet up on the ridge. The men hopped down and rested their rifle butts against their hips and lit cigars.
The Overland coach slowed to a crawl down the gradual slope into valley forest. The loam turned to dark shadowed midnight soil under low-hanging foliage and then to a golden meadow that led to a rocky bank. And then the horses plunged their legs into the sparkling magnificent flow of the Klamath River.
On the other side was a rolling meadow where miners grazed horses and cattle. Camps started to spring up just five- or six-hundred yards off but they would skirt right around them. Gesuvio took them out into the current of the sparkling cobalt stream and marched the horses right up a sandbar in the center. He pulled out the engraved hollow horn of a juvenile wildebeest and let loose a great blast:
The Middle Earthen baritone blast echoed in the valley.
“Wee-ooh!” Stomp bent his head into his armpit and gave a long sniff:
“Aw, yeah – that’s that good adrenaline smell. Those good escape pheromones.”
It was mute down here – only the quiet trickle of the river expressed life. Stomp hung his head out the coach and looked way up behind. The glint of men’s rifles and calm curling cigar smoke was still gathered hundreds of yards up mountain.
“The fellas aren’t chasing.”
“No.” Gesuvio lay a Colt pistol across his flippers. “They are not.”
Gesuvio’s pony—a miner named Horntulk—was meant to release a herd of cattle in the river behind them to impede pursuers.
There were no cattle.
They came around a sharp L bend in the stream and the water churned into a broil. Chinook salmon flipped their bodies up and tossed glints at the Overlander. They worked their jaws in unison and banged their bodies against the wagon wheels.
“Get up front, please. Bring that pine tree you’ve hung out the back.” Gesuvio reached into his shell and pulled out a hand-rolled cigarette. “We’ll need to shield the little ones.”
Ahead of them blocking the current was a row of men on horses in all black with black bandanas. Behind the men sat a row of stagecoaches painted midnight black, end-to-end across the river. Gesuvio began to back the coach up and a horse blustered back downstream. The pursuing coach from the mountain had come down and now blocked them behind. The men spilled off and stood behind their coach with rifles trained. Stomp focused his spectacular vision on the burnt engravings stamped in the front of the wagons:
Gesuvio sighed. And they sat. The throb of spring insects rose to a thrum. The brook gurgled around the coach wheels. Mayflies, uncaring, floated through and dipped up and down as they made their flight cross-river.
Stomp sniffed his armpit again and rapped his fingers on the wood.
“What do we do?”
Gesuvio flung the two pine tree halves down into the thick cargo bucket up front and arranged them to provide shelter.
“Protect the little ones.”
And then he whipped the reins.
1993 – The Pacific Siskiyou Highway (I-5) – En Route to Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
12.8 miles from destination
The black Jeep with the .50 caliber machine gun roared up and pulled alongside Stomp’s open side panel. It didn’t at first register. His chest heaved. He felt sick. The henchman fella in all black stood up and rocked forward and embraced the machine gun with both arms. He pulled a lever back and swung the gun right at Stomp.
Stomp put an arm in front of Corduroy, the mute 12-year-old grenade lobber. Then he stood. And he plucked a can of beer from a case and chucked it at the gunman.
The pint squared the man between the eyes and the henchman flew off and gave his little death scream:
Stomp looked over at the kid. “That one sounded like a yodeler.”
They were in thick forest leaving Granite Falls. Dense shadowed foliage hung over the highway. The trees were 200 years old – ancient friends – and chaos abounded under their quiet watching boughs. The highway was smooth and curving, swaying through the mountain range. The police had dropped off miles back, delaying their chase for officer safety. The black Jeeps maintained their course.
A few miles and they would be at an entrance point to the Cascade Mountains.
Another gunman hung his torso out the skylight and swung an assault rifle toward him. Stomp hung out the beer truck and lunged across the gap. He landed on the Jeep. The suspension rocked. The driver glanced back in the mirror. Stomp bent the man’s machine gun barrel in half and thrust out his furred palm.
The gunman ejected out the top of the Jeep and tumbled down a forest slope:
Stomp shook his head. “These fellas die funny.”
Stomp plopped down through the skylight and climbed up into the front seat. He didn’t even bother removing the driver. He just sat down.
Stomp gazed down at the man jelly under his butt.
He took the wheel and drove.
He dropped the vehicle back down and trailed as close as he could to the Cloudbrew truck bumper and the beer kegs positioned in the middle of the truck. He looked calmly in the rear view but grew anxious each time he watched the kegs threaten to tumble over and cascade out the back.
“Oh no,” Stomp cried. “Please just stay.”
They drove into switchbacks. Like the Audobon. Grooving up and out and around curves that laid themselves down like asphalt strips in beds of Pacific ferns and redwood glories. Meadows sprung open on either side and a tumbling stream glittered a brilliant cobalt calm. And as the water flowed, and the ferns whispered, hot chunked pieces of lead sprayed a pattern up the back of Stomp’s seat.
He slammed the brakes. A black tinted Navigator swerved. The police had dropped way back but still wailed in the distance. The pursuing vehicle pulled an out-and-dipsy-doodle and roared up the passenger side of the beer truck. The windows popped open and a pile of hands lobbed canisters under the truck. The sign by the road read like this:
One chemical canister burst against the trunk of a 150-year-old redwood and blew a gash in its roots. The rest exploded around the 18-wheeler and two tires blew out. The truck shivered and groaned. Gesuvio kept plowing down the highway with Alice in Chains sound-tracking the chase. Stomp stepped on the gas and blew up back past the Navigator. He had to slow the pursuit.
The mountain range ran in a string out in front of them as they cut Northeast. The forest opened up out ahead and there was a gradual sloped downhill crossing – a trampled swath – a cattle path.
And there were the cattle.
Stomp slammed the brakes and the Navigator smashed into his rear. He smashed the accelerator again and torqued the Jeep sideways and blocked the road and let it sit. Completely exposed.
The Cloudbrew truck was still powering ahead deeper into the forest.
The hood curled smoke. The Navigator slowed up to a stop. The cops caught up and stopped and slammed their doors and jabbered into walkie talkies.
Stomp looked up to the clearing, filled with free-grazing cattle milling knee-deep in forest fern. They spilled out into in a patch of golden meadowgrass under powerlines. Movement scampered in the ferns. Then there were chittering voices in the ferns. A mountain squirrel, a great dumpy fat thing, scrambled up the back of a cow, rubbed an orange peel on its teeth, and bit down into the creature’s hindflanks.
The cows eyes popped open.
Now there were 40 squirrels biting butts every which way. And an 18-wheeler horn blast.
It was Gesuvio.
Stomp flipped the Barnaby men the finger and floored it.
He was off.
The cows jostled down across the highway and milled about in a panic. A shooter with a claw scar down his neck stepped from the black Navigator. He walked up slowly and watched the tractor trailer fade around a curve. Behind it a stolen Jeep trailed with the head of a he-squatch stuck out the side like a dog, its arm dangled casually out the window, and its hair whipping gracefully in the wind.
Stomp exhaled out once. He pressed into the acceleration just as he saw the trailer slow to a stop out in front. He came up behind and the Cloudbrew truck had stalled on the upslope. Smoke poured from the truck engine. Bullet holes littered the hood. The cattle would have moved by now. The sirens grew close again.
And then there was the sound of a voice commanding a bullhorn.
1851 – Siskiyou Trail - Western Siskiyou Mountains, California
Gesuvio’s horses neighed like a thousand banshees had fled up their rectums and exhaled a gale storm out their mouths.
Their powerful legs churned in the current and charged at the line of carriages that blocked the river path. The hunters steadied themselves and propped their rifles on wagon wheels.
“Hee-rah!” boomed Gesuvio. “Hee-raw!”
Stomp hung half his body down over the side of the coach and let his hand drag in the river like a surfer on a board. His eyes were half-closed. In flow. Ready. In flow. Ready.
They were upon them.
THWACK-POP-THWACK. THUNK. THWACK. POP.
Gesuvio aimed straight for the weak point between two midnight black coaches. Gunshots rained. The pine tree blocked all sight. Heavy timber splintered. Gunshots rained. They torqued through the line. Men yelled and turned. The horses screamed. Gunshots rained.
And they were through.
“Keep it up, nyahhh – hee-chah!”
Gesuvio’s voice in the back of the horses was like thunder toppling against a ridge. Stomp whooped out.
They turned a second bend and burst out of the river onto the bank. Droplets of brilliant clear river shattered from the horses’ manes. The coach tore over rocks and into dense thicket onto a trail overgrown.
The water where horses and adrenaline had carved a path now flowed together like it had never been disturbed. And a prickly chubby porcupine waddled out from under a log.
The creature dragged a giant bramble in its teeth, an entire shrub bush. It paused and scrunched up its face and sneezed.
It shook its head again and resumed the journey cross-path. The friend dumped the bramble on the trail and stood and surveyed its handiwork. The porcupine dusted its hands together. The trail was covered.
The sound of the coach fading up a dense forested ridge was already a whisper.
Low clouded mist embanked every crevice between roots and in between branches. The humidity squatted like one giant dewdrop that had enveloped a mountain. The coach hugged the contours of a ridge that bent into the fold of the mountain and was lost in a place where humans did not wander.
A bull unicorn and his cow wife stood in the eave of a natural cave embedded against the mountain. The Pacific Mottled Unicorns wore a spackled coat of doe brown that faded to stripes of green on the flanks, like zebra stripes in the pattern of ferns. No amount of camouflage could shield the universal emotion that lay in their eyes: fear.
The coach pulled up. Gesuvio hopped down. Stomp stretched himself and stepped out. The front passenger bucket was silent.
“Greetings.” Gesuvio stood with his flippers pressed together. “It’s been a ride.”
“You brought the children?”
It was the cow talking. She stomped her foot once.
“We brought the children,” said Gesuvio. “Come on, little ones. You can come out now.”
There wasn’t any movement. The bull stepped forward and they both waited.
“You are safe here, little ones – come now. Stomp—bring out the little ones to their parents.”
Stomp pulled the pine tree halves from the bucket. The lumps of mottled brown and green were unmoving. He reached in a paw and shook one. Gently, he pulled on the warm bodies of each and shrugged them out onto the loam.
The cargo bucket was dense wood bound in iron, but it wasn’t thick enough to stop rifle bullets at close range. The coach could not protect them. Stomp could not protect them. They had probably died instantly.
The heartwrenching bellow of the parents rippled across the mountain and was absorbed in the leaves.
1993 – Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Primitive Wilderness – Barricade.
0.4 miles from destination.
The bullhorn echoed again:
“Step out of the beer truck. Lay on the ground. I repeat, step out of the beer truck. Lay down.”
The line of cop cars had banded together with the remaining injured crew of Jeeps and Navigators. Gesuvio ripped a hard drag from a cigarette nub with an inch of dead ash. He jumped down from the cab and muttered to himself. “Poacher motherf...”
He walked around to a side panel and rooted around amongst a pile of stacked beer cases.
The asphalt steamed in the mid-morning rising spring warmth. The trees were still. Stomp hopped out of the Jeep and ran forward to protect the kegs with his body. And Gesuvio returned to the front of the truck with a rocket launcher.
He hoisted it up on his shoulder.
A truck flipped over in flames and black smoke. Men with guns ran for the trees. Two men jumped from a truck trunk and laid spike strips across the road.
Stomp peered out from the paneled truck and looked out to the roadside where it sloped down into impenetrable forest. They were so close. Corduroy, the 12-year-old demolitions prodigy, peeked his head out and Stomp pushed him back in. Stomp hopped down and went to the other side of the truck and looked down and out front where the ridge dipped down and fell into tangles of lush forest thicket. Nothing could enter there on anything wider than two feet.
Unless you knew the entrance.
Gesuvio nubbed out his cigarette on the truck door and tucked the butt in his shell. “We’re crippled. The truck doesn’t have the juice to make it through the thicket.”
Stomp carefully walked around the neatly-stacked center of kegs in the trailer. There had to be 20—probably 30—men with guns and government-issued “invasive species” permits. A pair of black-clad men were unfolding a temporary transit cage for an exceptionally large creature. Stomp narrowed his eyes.
“I’ll distract them.”
Gesuvio lit another cigarette. “With what, young Stomp?”
“The Jeepy thing has a winchy thing. Unhook the trailer. Pull it down-forest with the Jeep.”
Bullets started to shing around their feet. The men were crawling up into the mountain ferns trying to come around their flank. Screams started to pierce the air and Stomp could see a ruckus among the foliage. Stomp could see them in the trees.
The squirrels were throwing acorn grenades.
“Where will you go, Stomp?”
Gesuvio was already unlatching the trailer and Corduroy dutifully hopped in the Jeep and revved it up and parked it next to them.
“In there.” Stomp pointed at the cab.
“The cab has no protection.” Gesuvio threw the rocket launcher in the Jeep. “You will die.”
Stomp patted a keg of beer. “But the beer will be safe.”
He hopped out and Corduroy made little grunting noises at them. He was distressed. In the truck cab, Jeffrey the whiner was curled on the seat in the fetal position.
The kid wiped a big string of snot on his sleeve and grabbed up the bag of healing herbs for his training. “I suck. I’m a worthless piece of shit and I deserve to die.”
“No.” Stomp shook his shoulders. “You’re learning. Now, help us live.”
The kid hopped in the Jeep with Corduroy. Stomp stepped up into the injured truck cab shifted into first and pressed the gas lightly. The truck lurched forward a few yards and stalled again. It was enough.
Gesuvio swooped the Jeep in and backed it into the trailer. Corduroy fell out the back and wrapped the big winch hook onto a trailer strut. The cops were plunking at them with pistols from a hundred yards downhill. Stomp put the truck in neutral and let it drift backwards and he deftly swung it around so it faced downhill. Toward the chaos.
Stomp waved at Gesuvio and Gesuvio calmly gave him a flipper salute. The Jeep crawled through the gravel and pulled the trailer toward the thicket. The Cloudbrew door was closed. The beer was safe.
Stomp punched the truck cab radio.
SHHH-RRRR-SHHH-Police have tracked the robbers to Mt. Baker-Snoq—SHHHHH
Stomp punched it again and turned on AM Radio. It was the classical station. He found his jam and released the brake.
He charged a barricade of armed men with only him in their crosshairs. He looked over at the rocket launcher leaning against the seat. He lifted up one powerful leg and gave a kick.
The plexiglass windshield tumbled out the front in one piece. Stomp gained speed. Bullets peppered the grill and steam poured out. He could see the men’s faces now. Some of them wore face paint. Some wore old-time frontier garb—throwback traditionalist Fantastical hunter folk who thought they had a duty to their ancestors who tracked and killed in the name of manifest destiny.
Stomp picked up the launcher, held steady, and fired.
The classical was all around him. A symphony. The truck gained speed. Men were shouting now. Gesuvio had the Jeep in first gear and eased them off the highway into the forest downslope. He weaved in and out of trees at just five miles an hour.
“Hold on, little ones!”
A bullet thwunked into the console and sprayed shrapnel into Stomp. “Owie.” Another zinged past his ear and he scrunched his face up. “Owie again.”
The cab was shot. Literally—it was all shot up and oil and smoke poured out. It was a hidden blessing—the men couldn’t see through the smoke to shoot him clear through the missing windshield. Down off to his right on the slope, he could not see the disappearing forest green and brown of the Cloudbrew truck. It would soon be deep enough that they could ditch and escape.
Another thwack of bullets patterned themselves above Stomp’s head. He was so close. He would ram any moment.
Stomp swung the big truck hard to the right.
“Not dying like this, amigos.”
He put the big beulah in neutral and pointed it toward the old-growth forest and deep thick.
The truck took off down through the bramble. 25-30-45 miles per hour. The speedometer flipped up. He stood up, brushed two paws down his buckskin pants, and swung open the door.
The forest redwood blocking the cab’s path was as big as a parking garage entrance. It was not going to move for Stomp. The symphony was reaching a crescendo. He felt the surge of adrenaline and ah-hucked out a big dumb giggle.
And he leapt.
The truck crumpled against a tree. Stomp landed and rolled through a moss cushion. Before he stopped rolling, he was on his feet running.
Fear coursed through him and he thought of the innocent snouts tucked amongst the kegs.
He picked up the Jeep trail and turned a jog into a sprint. Every elementary school kid knows a full-grown he-squatch can dead sprint at 30 miles per hour. He picked it up and then stopped in his tracks.
Waddling through the woods, dragging brambles in their teeth, was a family of porcupines. They stopped and stood up and waved. Stomp waved back. And pointed uphill.
“Ruh?” he asked.
The porcupines nodded their heads.
Stomp nodded once. And took off again.
He made leaping bounds over logs and around boulders. Tendrils of mist gathered around his feet. The electric anxiety he felt in the truck returned. He could smell it now—the booze. And the sweat of stressed creatures.
He broke around a corner and there was the Jeep. There was the trailer. Corduroy and Jeffrey were already covering both in ferns. And a bull unicorn and a cow stood on a large flat boulder outside a cave. They were Pacifics—you could tell, of course, by the mottled brown with zebra-striped green on their flanks. Gesuvio stood at the back and ripped up the trailer door.
Stomp ran up heaving and stopped.
A feeling of great loss overcame him and tears were in his eyes as he reached the trailer.
“Are they…is the beer okay?”
Gesuvio motioned to Stomp. “Find out.”
The bull and his wife walked down off the ledge and stood quietly behind the trailer. Corduroy, like always, stood quietly. Jeffrey, for once, stood quietly. Stomp shuffled kegs out of the way and disassembled the neat center-stacked ring. He pushed them aside.
Stars appeared in his eyes and he lost vision. He stopped and sat down.
Nobody moved around him. Nothing stirred. It was quiet.
“Oh no,” Stomp cried. “Oh no.”
He put a hand over his mouth. He couldn’t bear to look at the parents.
And then a little horn bobbed up over a stack of Cloudbrew cases. Then a second. And a third. Three heads stretched up. The juveniles still had the yellow “Capture tags” on their ears from the laboratory. One of them saw its mother and bleated.
The parents bellowed out a rippled cry that shimmered across the valley. Miles away, beds of ferns perked up their leaves and turned a lighter shade of green.
Stomp roughly grabbed the children out and shook them with delight.
“Easy, young Stomp.” Gesuvio’s eyes creased a bit. “Don’t strangle them now.”
Stomp closed his eyes and held them tight.
I’m so glad you came along for this high-speed beer truck/Conestoga wagon chase. If you’d like to support Stomp Roams, you can share the story or tap that little “subscribe” button. Learn more about the author at www.jonathandelp.com.
How deep into this world do you want to go? Read Stomp’s last adventure, Stomp Fights Sewer Gators in a Manhattan Speakeasy, as an exhausted Stomp seeks refuge in an underground speakeasy, but is thrust into a tooth-and-claw battle in Lower Manhattan Bay.