Trouble at Teabag Junction

Chapter 1: Prime Rib with Horseradish

KC never made it out to his stand that morning. It wasn’t like KC to miss the opening day of deer hunting in Wisconsin. He had been out to dinner with the rest of the guys from his hunting camp the night before. He enjoyed whisky – maybe too much whisky? – and was even seen behind the restaurant with his brother-in-law, Corbin, sneaking hits of cannabis. He ordered the special. Prime rib with horseradish. The waiter complimented his choice and remarked about his luck. It was the last cut of prime rib available in the restaurant. The other disgruntled, hungry members of his party were forced to improvise, changing their orders to chicken tenders or soup and salad and the like.

KC seemed to be having the time of his life. “Why isn’t he in his stand?” Chet whispered to Tyler. “Probably hungover,” Tyler replied. They couldn’t see each other through the wall of pre-dawn darkness in the woods, but they both nodded in agreement nonetheless. Chet and Tyler made a point to arrive early for opening day every year. They chose to hunt together in the same four foot by eight foot stand that season even though they knew their chances at success were better if they split up. Chet and Tyler defined hunting success differently. They preferred camaraderie and laughter to giant racks, though given the opportunity they’d gladly take both. But, on this morning something ominous lingered in the chilly autumn air. KC wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

At first they tried texts. No response. Then a quiet phone call. Straight to voice mail. “Don’t leave him a VM,” whispered Chet, trying not to scare away any deer that might still be in the vicinity. “People don’t listen to that shit.” Tyler joked, “Maybe Sherrards’ dogs got him.” “That shit isn’t funny,” Chet snapped back. See, Sherrards owned the property just to the south of the hunting party and the way they hunted was…different. Tyler had never seen Sherrards, but he heard them plenty. Every gun deer season by 9:00 AM on opening mornings you could hear Sherrards’ dogs for miles. The State of Wisconsin has laws that forbid hunting deer with dogs, but that never stopped the fucking Sherrards. The sounds coming from the Sherrard dogs were so grisly that Chet always suspected it wasn’t just deer hunting taking place south of the property line a mere 150 yards away. Plus, he had a run-in with one of the Sherrards the year prior.

Chet was hunting the previous opening morning the same as he always did. Same stand, same everything. Tyler was hunting by himself in his stand a few hundred acres to the north. Far from any Sherrards. Chet heard a lone shot come from the property to the south and had his trusty Benelli R1 .308 with one round ready in the chamber in case they missed. Chet had a wall full of antlers, many of which came after an errant Sherrard shot scared bucks his way. He knew to be ready anytime he heard a shot from the south. Not this time, though. After a few minutes on high alert he set his rifle back down. A few texts to his hunting party let them know that the shot they heard came from another property. 30 minutes later a lone buck wandered up the ridge toward Chet. He waited for the right opportunity, then struck the deer in the chest with a lone shot. The deer collapsed in a heap and Chet felt the euphoria of a successful hunt. The season was barely an hour old but he already had enough venison to fill his freezer for the winter. Chet then relaxed for a minute or two. Caught his breath and let his nerves calm. He allowed the deer time to expire if it hadn’t already. After the brief pause Chet gathered his things and prepared to descend from his stand when he heard a voice call out. “Thanks for finishing him for me!” What?!? Chet scanned the area in front of him and found an unfamiliar figure in a blaze orange jacket. “What are you talking about?” Chet yelled back. “I shot this deer and he kept running. You just finished him for me.” the voice replied.

Chet came down the ladder and hurried to get to the buck before the mystery man, but he was too late. When he arrived at the deer this other man in a blaze orange jacket and blue jeans was already standing over the lifeless carcass. He had analyzed the situation long enough to open the conversation with a ridiculous observation: “See, you hit him there,” the man said, pointing to a bullet wound in the middle of the deer’s belly,” and I hit him there,” he said pointing to another hole in the deer’s chest. Now anyone who’s hunted deer knows that an animal can run a long way after a shot in the belly. It might not even die. But, a shot in the chest will blow out a deer’s heart and lungs. Nothing can survive that. Chet couldn’t believe the bullshit coming out of this stranger’s mouth. “Wait a minute,” Chet said, barely able to mask his disgust. “You mean to tell me that you shot this deer straight through the chest and he wandered around for another 30 minutes until I gut shot him and that dropped him dead on the spot? You’re kidding right? Look at your gun. You might have aimed for the chest, but you hit this boy in the stomach.” The mystery hunter’s gun was a rusty shotgun without a scope or sights. Just a simple bead that wasn’t even in the right spot. It was glued to the top of the rusted barrel.

“Nope,” declared the hunter. “I shot him in the chest.” “Let’s pretend that your story might actually be true. Who are you and what are you doing on this property?” snapped Chet, now visibly frustrated. “The name’s Dolph. Dolph Sherrard. I shot this buck earlier and was tracking it until you finished him for me. I’ll kindly take this buck and drag it out of here now.” Chet couldn’t believe his ears. “Hold up, Dolph. This is my buck. I killed him. You don’t even have permission to be on this property.” Chet understood that the law and facts were in his favor on this one. Then again, when have you ever known law, fact, and reason to matter in a conversation like this? “I shot him and I have a legal right and responsibility to track that deer even if it means going to someone else’s property.” Dolph claimed with 100% certainty. Chet couldn’t tell if this was a bluff by Dolph or if it was something he actually believed to be true. “You might be right about the responsibility, but you do not have permission to set foot on this land. It’s not legal for you to be here. This is my buck.” Chet laid down the law in such a way that he couldn’t imagine Dolph having any kind of comeback. Chet was wrong.

“Nope. I shot this buck first. He’s mine.” The conversation went around in circles like that for the next 30 minutes. Neither man willing to budge. Chet wasn’t sure if Dolph was an idiot or a genius trying to filibuster him, but eventually it worked. Worn down, Chet finally threw in the towel. “Fine, take the damned buck, but get it out of here right now. We’ve spent the last half hour messing up my opening morning making all of this noise and walking all over the ridge. If you can get this buck out of here right now I don’t care if you take it. Just go.” Then Dolph crossed a line. “Can I gut it out here?” “No,” Chet tersely replied. “Get it out of here now.” “Will you help me drag it? It’s gonna be heavy.” Now Chet’s blood was boiling. Up until now Chet remained levelheaded because he wasn’t too keen on disrespecting another man who clearly wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and also happened to be carrying a gun. His patience had run out. “Look, man. You’ve already fucked up my hunt gut shooting a perfectly good deer, then walking all over this property. A few minutes ago you said you’d kindly drag this deer out of here right now. So, get that fucking deer and drag it the fuck out of here now, motherfucker.”

“You haven’t seen the last of me,” Dolph threatened. “Get to dragging you dumb bitch,” Chet sneered. Chet stormed back to his stand, climbed the ladder 14 feet back up and watched from above while Dolph struggled to move the lifeless buck. After a short while Dolph and the buck were gone, never to be heard from again. But now, one year later, with KC missing in action Chet couldn’t help but wonder…was this Dolph Sherrard’s revenge?

Chapter 2: Release the Hounds

The sun began to gradually reveal itself on the eastern horizon. It was 6:45 AM and the guys’ mild concern for their friend KC took a backseat to the task at hand: the hunt. KC was a grown man. He could take care of himself. He was probably just sleeping one off anyway. The fog of worry that clouded their first hour in the woods had cleared and whitetail deer were the only thing on Chet and Tyler’s minds.

When you sit quietly in the woods you become one with your surroundings. Your senses heighten. If you focus long enough every sound is amplified and each movement of a branch or flicker of a leaf captures your eye. Chet and Tyler had already been taunted by busy early morning woodland creatures. “Fucking squirrels,” Tyler muttered. “Just once I wanna see what this 30-30 will do to one of those noisy bastards. I know it sounds harsh, but man…fuck that squirrel.” “I agree, but now is not the time,” Chet replied. “Imagine that conversation later. ‘Hey everyone. I scared away every deer in the county but at least I vaporized a stupid squirrel.'” The two laughed at the thought.

As the laughing died down they were greeted by a familiar sound: fast crashing through the leaves coming from the southeast. The mood became serious as the hunters visually scanned the area for the source of the crashing. This was definitely the sound of deer. If you’ve ever seen deer running full speed you never forget it. You can’t believe how fast and powerful they are until you see it up close. Don’t blink or you’ll miss them. By the time your brain registers what’s happening they’re gone. But the guys couldn’t spot this running deer. They could tell it was running south to north on the east side of their stand, but they couldn’t get a visual. Was it a ghost? As they attempted to spot the elusive whitetail a similar sound came from the southwest. More crashing. Fast movement. “What the hell?” Chet asked. Tyler caught a glimpse of one to the west and said, “That’s no deer. I think it’s a wolf! It was too short to be a deer.” After a few moments the sprinting beast revealed itself once again among the popple trees and long shadows cast by the morning sun. “Definitely not a deer, but that didn’t have a tail like a wolf,” Chet observed. The more they searched the louder the sound got. Something was moving quickly close to ground level but it was too concealed by thick brush to be easily identified.

Tyler had seen enough now to declare, “Holy shit, I think those are dogs.” “If those are dogs they’re the fastest fucking dogs that ever lived. I think they’re cheetahs,” Chet replied. They both laughed again, but this time the laughter was born out of nervousness. The cheetah joke wasn’t particularly funny. Now the mystery dog-like beasts were starting to run circles in a wide diameter around the stand. Some moving clockwise, others counterclockwise. They moved as if trained to do so. Perhaps a wolfpack? “They’re fucking greyhounds,” Tyler declared. “Holy shit, you’re right,” Chet confirmed. “How the hell? I don’t get it. Greyhounds? Running in a pattern?” The duo was baffled. After taking a step back to think about it, Chet revealed his analysis. “If someone is trying to mess with us they’re not very smart. It’s not like these dumb ass dogs can climb up the stand. Impressive execution, though.” Chet took video of the strange phenomenon. Ty texted the rest of camp. “Who sent the dogs to our stand? That’s really messed up.” The only reply came from Corbin. “Really funny, guys. I’m not falling for your dog pranks again.”

A few years earlier KC had tried to convince Corbin that wild dogs would occasionally attack on the hunting land. Corbin was told to keep his head on a swivel, and even though it probably felt wrong, if he saw a dog he should shoot it immediately because any hesitation on his part would show the dog weakness and the dog would strike. It was either kill or be killed. Corbin was actually starting to believe the tall tale until Chet couldn’t keep a straight face and ruined the joke. Now Chet and Tyler thought maybe the dogs were some elaborate prank by Corbin to get back at them for messing with him. But when would Corbin have time to train greyhounds to run circles around their deer stand? It seemed like a reach.

After several minutes of tireless greyhound circles around their deer stand Tyler and Chet’s initial fears had simply turned to agitation. “OK, fuckers. It’s not funny anymore. We’re trying to hunt here.” Tyler texted. The text group couldn’t believe what they were reading. “You’re right, it’s not funny anymore. Stop with the bullshit dog texts and hunt,” Corbin replied. If anyone in camp would attempt this kind of stunt it would be KC, but he was nowhere to be found. As the pair attempted to unravel the mystery of the well-organized greyhounds, a single whistle cut through the morning sky. The same kind of whistle Alice would reserve for the times when the Brady Bunch became too unruly for her typical verbal direction and she needed order immediately. The whistle came from the south. The dogs broke their pattern and ran toward the stand from all directions. They now sat at attention around the base of the stand. Each of the dogs looking up at Chet and Tyler, unwilling to break their gaze.

“This is fucked up and not at all funny anymore,” Chet said. “Fucking Sherrards!” Tyler exclaimed. Chet shouted toward the southern sky, “OK, we get it, Sherrard. Call off your dogs.” Silence. After a minute or two of their staring contest with the freakishly obedient greyhounds Ty and Chet knelt below the walls of their deer stand out of sight from the dogs and gathered themselves. “Maybe if we sit here long enough they’ll get bored and leave,” Chet thought. Tyler grabbed his iPhone and Googled “Sherrard Dogs”. It was a longshot, but he found something interesting.

“Oh, these are definitely Sherrards’ dogs. Check this out.” It was a KARE 11 story on YouTube about eccentric Wisconsinite Dolph Sherrard and his love for rescuing retired greyhounds. “I just can’t stand the thought of these majestic hounds spending their post-racing lives in cages waiting to die,” Sherrard said to the camera. “I’ve adopted six so far and I can’t wait to get more. I’m building a state-of-the-art kennel for them on my Polk County property!” Chet and Ty looked at each other in disbelief. Chet peered back over the edge of the stand at the obedient pack seated below. “Yep, six,” Chet confirmed. “The world needs more Dolph Sherrards to step up and show some compassion,” the reporter said as she completed her story. “Indeed, Deborah. A wonderful story and a wonderful man,” replied the anchorman. “The Twin Cities area needs more people like Dolph Sherrard.” Wait, what?!? The typically snarky pair of hunters was left speechless.

As they contemplated their next move two more quick whistles came from the south and the dogs began what was apparently phase three of this impressive attack. The dogs launched themselves at the stand from all directions. They threw their entire bodies into the four legs and cross-bracing. They furiously clawed and chewed at the wooden legs. This was the troubling dog sound Chet was used to hearing on opening morning. Was Sherrard training these dogs to kill? What were they eating? “What the fuck? They’re eating 4×4 lumber. Are these dogs part beaver?” Chet asked. “Enough of this shit, grab your gun.” “I don’t care what you say, I’m not gonna shoot a bunch of fucking dogs,” Tyler replied. “OK, well I guess we’re about to get ate by Dolph’s rescue greyhounds,” Chet concluded.

What once felt like a strange prank had taken a turn toward life-threatening. The guys needed to do something and they needed to do it fast. Tyler had an idea to scare them off. “Grab that propane tank.” The guys had a propane-powered space heater in the stand and two small canisters of propane along with it. Ty took one tank and lobbed in the air. It landed about 15 yards from the stand with a loud thud. Chet did the same, landing his approximately five feet from the other tank. The sound of the tanks striking the ground did nothing to deter the voracious hounds from accomplishing their objective. “Now grab me that bag of jerky.” Chet caught on and he liked it. “I see what you’re doing here.”

Ty took a single piece of jerky and dropped it where the dogs could see and smell it. This time the dogs were distracted and jumped over each other for a delicious taste of Old Trapper. Ty turned to Chet and said, “Grab your gun. I’m gonna throw this bag of jerky by the propane tanks and when I say ‘three’ shoot the tank that you threw. That should scare those dogs out of here.” Ty shouted, “Time for dinner, boys,” and threw the opened bag of jerky toward the tanks. It was a perfect throw under pressure. The dehydrated meat spilled onto the ground directly between the two tanks. The dogs left the stand and ran for the jerky, tearing at the bag like they hadn’t been fed in weeks. As Ty and Chet raised their guns and took aim Tyler mumbled, “Now it’s time for dessert. 1…2…3!”

I’m not sure the guys quite understood the consequences of their actions. The propane tanks reacted to the high-powered bullets like hand grenades, not like the loud fireworks they were expecting. The explosion didn’t scare the dogs. It blew them to bits. Fur, bone, blood, and viscera flew through the sky, much of it landing in the small craters created by the propane explosions. Chet and Ty reacted with the combination of elation and horror you might expect after seeing six murderous dogs instantly liquified and strewn across a ridge. “Oops,” Ty said, partially because he meant it and partially because he knew it was a really funny response in that moment. But Chet wasn’t laughing. “You’re gonna need to go back to the dog track and adopt some new pets, bitch,” he shouted toward the source of the whistling.

He turned to Ty and said, “Grab your shit. We’re going to Sherrards’.”

Chapter 3: T.S.

“Is it really only 8:00 in the morning?” Chet asked Tyler after they climbed down their deer stand and started the 15-minute walk back to their truck.  Ty nodded in agreement.  “Seriously.  I might believe if you told me our camp had six dead deer by this time, but six dead dogs?”  “Don’t remind me,” Chet shot back.  “I hope it rains because I don’t want my deer stand permanently covered in Sherrard greyhound guts.  I might have to retire that stand and move somewhere else anyway.  I’m gonna have P.T.S.D. from that shit for a while.”  Tyler concurred.  “That’s a hard one to recover back from.  I’m not in a hurry to hunt from that stand again anytime soon.  Fucking Sherrards.”

The guys were starting to feel somewhat normal again now that they physically removed themselves from the scene of the dog explosion.  They also had no idea what they were going to do when they arrived at Dolph Sherrard’s property.  It felt obvious to them that when someone sends attack dogs to kill you the least you should do is confront the perpetrator and ask a few questions, even if you don’t have any idea what you’re getting yourself into.  Tyler started plotting their next move.  “I think we should…”  Just then a gun fired close to Tyler and Chet.  Too close.

“What the fuck was that?  They’re shooting at us now?” Tyler asked.  “No, they wouldn’t shoot at us…would they?  They couldn’t shoot at us from here unless they followed us.  I haven’t heard anything following us,” Chet reasoned.  “Beside, I feel like the shot came from a different direction.  Also, it is opening morning.  We’re not the ones being hunted, the deer are.  Someone shot at a deer.  What were you about to say?”  Ty continued, “I think we should try to be cool when we get to Sherrards’ place.  I don’t feel like starting a fight with the guy on his own property and going to prison for this.”  Chet laughed.  “We better not mention that we murdered his fucking dogs, then.  Pretty sure we’re past the point of polite discourse.  I’m not saying we should go running into the guy’s house with guns blazing, but if we want to avoid any legal trouble at this point we need to turn around and take a flamethrower to everything that’s covered in dog parts.  Hide the evidence…”  Another gun shot.  This time the guys could hear the bullet zip by them.  This was no accident.

“Jesus fucking Christ, are you kidding me?” Tyler shouted as the two hurled themselves into the brush away from the trail.  They remained still, frozen in fear.  Nobody wanting to make a sound.  Chet whispered, “I actually heard that one.  Sherrard is literally hunting us.  This is some Predator shit.  I’m gonna cover myself in mud.”  Ty managed a laugh despite the situation, but quickly got serious again.  “I’m not even sure that shot could’ve come from Sherrards.  It sounded like it was coming from the northwest.”  Chet retorted, “Who the hell else would be shooting at us right now?”

That gave Tyler an idea.  “Stay down,” he told Chet.  Ty slowly stood up with his body pressed against the southeast side of a large tree.  In his best Arnold voice he yelled, “Run!  Go!  Get to the choppa!” Moments later another shot fired.  This time it grazed the very tree behind which Tyler hid.  Pieces of bark flew from the tree.  Tyler hit the deck again and whispered to Chet, “That’s not Sherrard shooting at us.  It’s Flo.”

Florence was the least safety conscious member of the hunting party.  She didn’t just shoot when she saw deer.  She shot at everything.  Any movement.  Even sound.  The members of the group feared for their own safety, but everyone liked Florence so they tolerated her wildly unsafe hunting practices.  Everyone learned to avoid her deer stand when they were moving around because they knew if they made any noise within earshot of her they might catch a bullet.  Miraculously, nobody has been killed or even wounded during her hunts.  Everyone hoped that someday she’d realize how dangerous she was and change her ways, but it just never happened.  On this walk Chet and Tyler were so fixated on the incident with Dolph Sherrard and his killer greyhounds that they forgot how close they were to Florence’s stand.  She almost unintentionally made them pay.  Thankfully the truck was northeast of the hunters and Florence was northwest.  Chet and Ty quietly slipped down the hill to the east and avoided making any more noise near Florence.

Now safely clear of Florence the guys could speak freely once again.  “What are the odds?  First the dogs, then we got flustered and forgot about Flo.  I can’t believe she almost got us this time,” Chet remarked.  “Yeah, she’s getting really good at sound shooting,  Someone needs to talk to her about that.” Tyler replied.  “What a messed-up morning.”

A few uneventful minutes later the guys approached Teabag Junction.  It had become a special place for the hunting group.  A few years back a derecho blew over thousands of trees and transformed the hunting land so drastically that parts were unrecognizable.  There was a spot along their walk where the trail splits.  One trail leads southwest toward the southern hunting stands on the property.  The trail to the north provides access to the many hunting stands on that end of the land.  Go east and you’re only a two-minute walk from the small clearing where the hunters park their vehicles.  The year of the derecho this spot where the trails meet was so covered in downed trees that it was nearly impassable.  Tyler, KC, and Chet had to climb over and straddle countless trees to maneuver through the destruction.  That’s how this spot got its name.  Teabag Junction.  TBJ can be used once again as loggers have since cleared the debris.

Chet and Tyler intended to go east past TBJ toward their truck, but something caught their attention on the trail to the north.  It was obviously a person, and that wasn’t out of the ordinary because a dozen or so people would hunt this property on any given opening day.  But this person looked unfamiliar, and he wasn’t wearing blaze orange.  He was tall.  Unkempt.  Out of breath.  His weathered 1997 Green Bay Packers NFC Champions crewneck sweatshirt was covered in blue stains, especially around the neckhole..  He had a Camelbak hydration pack on his back.  As if this morning wasn’t strange enough, now Chet and Ty had to confront a wino wandering around the property.

“Uhh…what’cha drinkin’?” Chet asked the disheveled stranger.  “Cool Blue Raspberry Gatorade.  Gotta keep the electrolytes up.”  An unexpected answer.  Then, as if struck by a bolt of lightning, Chet’s eyes popped open and he stood straight up pointing at the wanderer.  “You’re the Polk County Tang Slayer!  Are you kidding me?  You’re actually real?  I thought you were made up.  What are you doing around these parts?”  The Tang Slayer raised an eyebrow.  He looked and sounded like Sam Elliott, but with hepatitis.  “What do you think I’m doing?  Slaying tang.  By the way, you can call me T.S.”  “OK, T.S.,” Tyler replied in disbelief.  “You seem a little lost.  Where are you headed?”  “No, I’m not lost at all.  I just got done plowing my way through Luck and Milltown and now I’m on my way to Pap’s General Store to stock up on Gatorade and porno mags before I get to Turtle Lake.”  “I noticed the blue Gatorade stains.  What’s up with that?” Chet asked.  “Yeah,” added Tyler.  “It looks like it’s still wet.  Your shirt is glistening.  It’s sopping wet.  Getting a little sloppy with the cool blue Gatorade?”  “Well, sometimes things get a little out of hand while I’m slaying tang and old T.S. isn’t as careful with the Camelbak straw as he could be, if you catch my drift.”  “I don’t at all, but I can’t believe we’re here talking to the Tang Slayer himself and he just went third person,” Chet exclaimed.  “Let me ask you something if you don’t mind.  What do you know about Dolph Sherrard?”

“I can tell you this, I impregnated his sister and two of his daughters,” T.S. said as the three shared a hearty laugh.  “But seriously, Dolph Sherrard isn’t someone you wanna tangle with.  He calls his property Happy Valley or the Sunshine Saloon or some other cheery bullshit, but it’s all a front.  He’s up to something over there.  I don’t know what it is, but I don’t slay down there anymore…and he has women, too.  Lots of women.  Beautiful women.  Hell, every Friday night he has the girls from The Blacksmith Shop over for a private party.  All kinds of girls.  That place is crawling with supermodels.  I’m talking Bond girls.  Big old boobies.  All shapes and sizes.  Anyway, what do you need with him?”  Chet answered, “OK, easy T.S.  I get the picture.  Sherrard hunts the property to the south of us.  He showed up here last year and we had a little verbal altercation.  Now he’s messing up our hunt this morning.  I just wanna go ask him what his deal is.”  Chet conveniently left out the part about the dog murder.

As the three continued their conversation a lone sandhill crane flew overhead.  This area of Wisconsin was known for its abundant waterfowl population, so the crane’s presence didn’t even get the guys’ attention as it flew over.  However, it shocked everyone when it circled back and landed in the middle of Teabag Junction.  “What the hell?” Chet asked.  The three slowly backed away from the crane.  Something about the crane’s demeanor sent a chill through everyone.  It wasn’t quite right.  He stood nearly six feet tall and had a curious, almost maniacal, look about it if such a thing is possible with a bird.  It emitted a disconcerting buzzing noise as it walked toward the nervous trio.  “You guys get out of here.  I’ll take care of this,” said Tang Slayer.  “You sure?” Tyler replied.  “Seems like the three of us should be just fine against a crane.  By the way, we do have rifles.”  “No need,” said Slayer.  “I’ll take care of this thing.  You guys have a lot of years ahead of you.  My best slaying days are behind me.  I’ve got so many STDs, my STDs have STDs.”  They all laughed.  “Wait, you think this thing is actually gonna kill you?” Tyler asked?  The words hadn’t even left Ty’s lips when the crane leaped forward and plunged its pointed, six-inch beak with laserlike precision between Tang Slayer’s ribs, stabbing him directly in the heart.  T.S. was dead before his body hit the ground.

There was no time for mourning.  The crane lunged at Chet next and as he ducked Tyler lunged in from the side and grabbed it with two hands, one at the base of his long neck and the other just below the head.  Ty lifted the bird so the neck was horizontal and raised it to eye level before bringing it back down with tremendous force and snapping its narrow neck over his knee like Glenn Braggs would a baseball bat.

Tyler dropped the crane at his feet.  The neck was indeed broken, but it wasn’t what they expected.  Sparks flew and smoke rose from wires that were exposed during the break.  This was no bird.  It was a robot.  “Holy shit, Ty.  This is some Tony Stark, Ironman shit.  Did that hurt?”  “I’m fine.  Just surprised.  I thought the neck would break easy, but I was expecting bone, not flex.”  They examined the broken robot bird and began stripping the “skin” off revealing a robotic body.  Every piece of the bird shared the same inscription: Sherrard Inc.  “Oh, it’s definitely time to pay our man Sherrard a visit,” Chet said.  A computerized voice came from the crane: “Self-destruct mode initiated.”  The guys ran away from the body expecting an explosion, but instead saw a small ball of fire and a cloud of smoke.  The robot bird was gone. 

“Whoa.  Sherrard is like Gru or Dr. Evil or some shit.  This is diabolical,” Tyler observed.  “We need to get out of here.”  “Should we do something about T.S.?” Chet asked.  “No,” replied Tyler.  “We need to deal with this Sherrard situation before it gets us killed.”

With that, the pair departed Teabag Junction.  “Thanks for saving my life, by the way,” Chet said as they walked off.  “That was badass.  Also, we should probably wash our hands thoroughly.  That bird’s beak was covered in Tang Slayer’s blood.  We probably have hepatitis or some shit.”  The two shared another laugh as they walked toward their truck.

Chapter 4: Freedom

Tyler and Chet arrived at their truck bewildered by everything they’d witnessed in the past 150 minutes.  With Tang Slayer killed by a robot bird and six dead dogs on the ridge, they had no choice but to confront the man that was responsible for this carnage: Dolph Sherrard.  They believed the best course of action was to march straight into Sherrard’s home and confront him.  They knew the Sherrard property had a modest house and a decrepit barn about a mile south at the end of a dead-end road.  They had driven to the dead end many times over the years but never had reason to do anything more than ignore everything they saw that didn’t have antlers.  They were just scouting for deer.  Nothing they observed in the past would indicate there was any nefarious activity taking place, which made it the perfect place for exactly that. 

“I’d honestly feel better about riding up on this place looking for a confrontation if it looked shady,” Chet observed.  “The fact that it’s just an old house and a barn makes me more nervous for some reason.  I wish it was a fortress surrounded by walls and soldiers.  At least we’d know what we’re up against.  I think we should leave the truck here and go on foot.  It’ll be faster.”  Tyler snapped back, “You always say that but it’s never true.  It’s never faster to ditch the vehicle and go on foot.”  Chet changed course.  “OK, let me rephrase that.  I think it would be smarter to go on foot.  If we rumble into that property in the F-150 it will attract attention.  I say we leave the blaze orange here with truck and sneak through the field across the road to get to their house.”  Tyler agreed.  “Since you put it that way, yes, that’s a good idea.  It’s not faster, though.”  “Agree to disagree,” Chet laughed. 

“Let’s leave the rifles.  Too slow if we get into some shit at close range.  I’ll bring The Judge just in case.”  The Judge is a revolver capable of heinous violence.  It possesses the ability to fire 45 Colt rounds and .410 shotgun shells or slugs.  Take your pick.  Chet’s preferred round was a special .410 shell that contained multiple, heavy discs.  A hybrid between a traditional bullet and a shotgun shell.  His dad told him that if he encountered a bear that round would do the trick.   Chet frequently had it by his side on walks through the woods in case he confronted a bear.  He never thought he’d be using it for any other purpose.  “I could even load this thing with .410 shells and take down some cranes if I had to.”  Ty only had his deer rifle along and chose to bring it because, as he put it, “Gun is better than no gun, right?”

The walk to the Sherrard property was surprisingly uneventful, but the closer they got to their destination, the more cranes they noticed in the sky.  “This is some Wizard of Oz shit,” Tyler noticed.  “He doesn’t have flying monkeys, he has robot birds!”  “Or they might be real cranes.  Hard to tell here,” Chet observed.  “At least when you saw monkeys flying through the sky in Oz you knew exactly what was up.  They belonged to the Wicked Witch of the West.  It’s not like there were flocks of harmless monkeys flying through the sky just doing their own thing, at least based on what I know.  I’m not well versed in Oz wildlife.  This Sherrard is a sneaky motherfucker.  His cranes blend in with the real ones.”  “Good point,” Ty said.  “I think we’re just gonna have to treat every crane we see like it has bad intentions.”  “I always have,” Chet replied warily.  The guys were careful to conceal themselves whenever the cranes were visible.

As they approached the Sherrard compound the nearest landmarks were an old barn, a garage, and a silo all in the same vicinity.  They also observed a faint thumping sound in the distance.  “What should we do?” Ty asked.  “Maybe we should split up,” suggested Chet.  “Seems like in the movies they always split up in a situation like this.  Gotta be a reason for it, right?”  Ty liked this.  “Like Star Wars.  Obi Wan went one way and Luke and the rest of them went the other.”  “Yeah, Obi Wan went after Vader and ended up dead,” Chet deadpanned.  “Are you Obi Wan in this situation or am I?”  “You are!” Ty fired back.  “You’re the one who started this shit arguing with Sherrard about a crappy buck.”  Chet didn’t have a comeback.  “True.”  Tyler floated an idea.  “I’ll stay here and check out these buildings.  You figure out where that sound is coming from.  Turn on your Apple Watch walkie talkie and we’ll communicate that way.”

The guys had extensive experience using Apple Watch walkie talkie.  They only used it to mess with each other in the past, but it worked then, so why not now?  “Remember the time KC was in line at Menard’s and we kept asking him to buy lamb skin cock sheaths?  That was hilarious,” Chet recalled.  “He was in line with, like, 10 other people and they all heard us yelling at him about cock sheaths.  Where even is KC anyway?  Have we heard anything from him yet?”  Tyler replied with a chilling question of his own.  “Hasn’t it occurred to you yet that Sherrard probably has something to do with it?”  “Damn, I’m naïve as hell.  I just assumed he was hungover.” Chet replied.  “OK, I’m going to get that bastard.  Keep your walkie talkie on.  Godspeed.”  “May the force be with you,” Ty said as Chet prepared to sneak away.  Chet fired back, “I’ll see you in hell.” The two nodded at each other and Chet crept to the south in search of the mysterious thumping.

Tyler approached the silo first as it was closest to him.  There was a small opening in one side of the silo with a door.  Tyler was surprised to find the door unlocked and easy to open.  Inside the silo was a mountain of off-white powder.  He quickly called Chet.  “Yo, there’s a mountain of cocaine in this silo…or at least I think it’s cocaine.  Is cocaine white?  This isn’t exactly white.  It doesn’t smell like anything either.  Does cocaine have a smell?”  Chet called him back.  “I have no idea.  Not a lot of cocaine experience here.”  Ty laughed.  “Me neither.  We’re bad at this,” Tyler replied.  “I’ll keep looking around.  Are you seeing anything?”  “Nothing yet.”

Ty chose the garage next.  Once again, he found an unlocked door.  Ty cracked the door open and peeked in.  Nobody there, at least not that he could see.  He stepped in and discovered something unusual.  A pile of deer antlers next to a bench grinder and three 50-gallon garbage cans.  Ty was starting to put two and two together, but he checked one of the garbage cans for confirmation.  He called Chet again.  “It wasn’t cocaine.  It was ground up deer antlers.”  Chet replied, “Like Ray Lewis?  Wasn’t he snorting deer antlers?  Or spraying it?  Or spreading it?  Didn’t he have deer antler butter or something?  He did something with deer antlers that year they won the Super Bowl.  Wait…are you saying he has a silo full of ground up deer antlers?”  “It sure looks like it,” Tyler replied.  “This keeps getting weirder.  What’s going on with you?”  “They have a dirt road winding through here that starts back at the dead end and there was a ridiculous blue sign that said Sunny Saloon with a smiley sun painted on it.  The thumping is getting louder.  I think it’s music.  I can’t pinpoint it, though.  There’s a house back here, but the noise definitely isn’t coming from there.  I’m staying off the driveway but I’m in the woods close to it.  I’m hoping that leads me to something.”

Ty had one final stop: the barn.  He was able to enter that with ease as well.  “Tight security,” he mumbled.  The words were still leaving his mouth when he noticed the chilling contents of the barn; an army of sandhill cranes.  They were lined up in perfect military formation.  There had to be at least 20 rows of them with ten per row.  He froze for a moment fearing that the cranes would notice him.  After observing the robots for a few seconds he realized they weren’t active.  Perhaps in some kind of sleep mode.  He tiptoed his way up to one of the cranes and tapped it on the side with his index finger.  No movement.

As Tyler slowly wove his way through the crane formation he observed a glow coming from a back room.  He lifted his 30-30 up to his shoulder and crept toward the source of the light.  He tiptoed into the room to find a woman sitting at a massive control panel with a wall of monitors.  “Put your hands where I can see them,” Tyler said, startling the woman.  “Who are you and what’s happening here?”  “I monitor the property,” she replied.  This was the first time Tyler had ever held someone up at gun point and his mind raced trying to think of his next move.  Then he remembered the zip ties he kept in his pockets.  It had been years since Wisconsin hunters had to physically tag their deer but Tyler kept bringing zip ties out of habit.  He quickly set down the rifle, then grabbed the woman’s hands and zip tied them to the arms of the chair in which she was seated.  “My dad will make you pay for this,” she snarled.  “Oh, so you’re one of Dolph’s daughters?”  Ty asked.  “That’s right.  And what you just did was suicide.”  “By any chance are you one of the daughters who had a baby with Tang Slayer?” Ty responded.  “What’s it to you?” she snapped.  “I’m pretty sure daddy just killed your baby daddy.” Ty revealed.

“That’s not true.  That couldn’t be true.  He wouldn’t.” she said as tears started to fill her eyes.  “Well, if your dad oversees that army of birds in the other room, then yes, he just killed Tang Slayer with one.  I saw it with my own eyes,” Ty said, mostly happy to get the upper hand in the argument, but also kind somewhat regretful because he’d just revealed to a total stranger that her father killed the father of her child.  “Tang Slayer?  His name is Steve, and that’s impossible,” she replied.  “I’m in charge of security here.  What do you think is happening on these screens in front of me?” she asked.  Tyler looked up and noticed that each screen was showing what looked like drone footage, but it wasn’t coming from any regular drones.  He was watching live video of robot cranes that had been deployed throughout the region.  “Here’s what I know,” Tyler declared.  “There’s a man lying dead in a pool of blood and blue raspberry Gatorade about a mile north of here.  Dead from a robot bird beak directly in the heart.  Then the bird self-destructed.  Also, why did you have to tell me his name was Steve?  You totally ruined it.”

The woman slumped over in her chair and tears began to pour from her eyes.  “Blue Gatorade was his thing…” she said wistfully.  “Damn it, dad!  I knew he always hated Steve.  I didn’t think he’d actually kill him.”  “Wait, I thought you were in charge of the birds,” Tyler responded.  “I am, but dad can control them from his office when he wants to.  I noticed one was missing from inventory this morning so he had to be using it for something,” she admitted.  “Does he have any others out?” he asked?  “No, I only noticed the one,” she replied.  “So we’re in charge of the rest of them from this panel right here?” he asked.  “We?” she shot back with disgust.  “I’m in charge of what’s left.”  “No, we’re in charge of them,” he quickly corrected her.  “You’re tied to your chair and I have a gun.  I’d say I’m in charge of them, but I don’t know what I’m doing.  You do, and you’re gonna help.”  “Why would I help you?” she asked.  “Because your daddy just made you a single mother…although, he couldn’t have been really involved as a father.  Doesn’t he have hundreds of kids?” Tyler digressed.  “I still loved him,” she snapped back.  “He wasn’t always around, but he was good to me and Johnny!”  Ty cracked a smile at the thought of her child being named Johnny Slayer.  “Glad you’re enjoying this,” she shouted.  “I’m happy that you’re gonna help me bring an end to your dad and his murderous pets,” Ty replied.  “Why would I help you?” she asked.  “Why would you help your dad?” Tyler rebutted.  “Are you enjoying your life monitoring robot birds in a barn for a guy who cares so little about you that he killed the father of your child?”  “I’m safe here,” she answered.  “You’re safe everywhere north of Highway 8,” Tyler argued.  “Your dad is up to some shady shit and he shouldn’t have dragged you into it.”  “You have no idea,” she said.

Tyler called Chet again.  “Are you somewhere hidden?  Can you sit tight for a while?  I think I have an idea.”  “I can sit tight all fucking day,” Chet laughed.  “It’s deer season.”  Ty turned to his hostage, “What’s your name?” he asked her.  “Freedom,” she said.  “You got any fertilizer in this barn, Freedom?” he asked.

Tyler had a plan…

Chapter 5: #69

This was not what Chet signed up for.  It was opening day of firearm deer hunting season.  The holiest of high holy holidays in Wisconsin.  Instead of the quiet, contemplative day in his deer stand 14 feet above the woods he had come to expect after decades of opening days, he was concealing himself in the bushes.  He spent a good portion of the morning following a mysterious thumping sound on the Sherrard property.  After some investigative work Chet was certain that the thumping he heard was actually the sound music being played.  Some kind of EDM or house music as far as he could tell.

Chet followed a long, dirt driveway deep into the woods until he came to a small clearing.  The clearing contained several cars – at least three dozen from what Chet could tell – and an empty helipad.  There was a grassy knob at one end of the clearing with a door embedded in one side protected by what he assumed was a guard.  He didn’t look the way you might imagine someone guarding a door would look.  Dirty work boots, denim blue jeans, and a blaze orange hooded sweatshirt.  He donned a trucker cap that read “FBI: Female Body Inspector” and a pair of Oakley wraparound sunglasses.  The door he was guarding seemed to go somewhere underground, which added up because the music felt like it was pulsating directly under Chet’s feet.  Chet positioned himself in the brush behind a tree on the outskirts of the clearing.  He was monitoring the activity at the door and waiting for the green light from Tyler to proceed.  The only activity he’d seen thus far was a helicopter dropping off scantily clad women who were hurried past the guard through the door.  The chopper was gone as quickly as it arrived.  Chet saw helicopters most years he was hunting but always assumed it was Flight For Life because someone fell out of a deer stand or accidentally shot themselves.

After what felt like an eternity Chet heard the beep he was waiting for.  “Took you long enough,” Chet scolded Tyler.  “What the hell were you doing anyway?”  Tyler went on to explain his plan, how Freedom was now working with him by choice – and how hot she was, which seemed like unnecessary information – and how Chet should find a way to get into a room with Dolph Sherrard by any means necessary.  The plan was in place.  Chet just needed to get past security without causing a commotion.

He approached the door from behind and struck the guard on the head with The Judge.  The guard never knew what hit him.  “This security has been lax, to say the least,” Chet thought.  With that he opened the door and entered a stairway.  Black stairs, black walls, and dim purple lights.  After 14 steps down he hit a landing and turned to find another 14 steps.  With each descending step the music grew louder.  He reached the second landing and turned to find 14 more steps.  “How is this possible?  Where am I going, hell?” he thought.  This time he could see flashing lights.  The bottom had to be close.

When Chet reached the bottom of the steps he entered a club the likes of which he’d never seen in person.  Chet continued into the club and couldn’t believe his eyes.  A dance floor full of gorgeous young women and older men, nearly all of whom were dressed like they were at deer camp.  It was Victoria’s Secret models meet the male attendees from a Larry The Cable Guy show.  It didn’t make sense.  “Is that Gisele on the dance floor?” Chet thought.  As he scanned the massive, underground room he noticed two more strange details: a pile of deer antler powder on every table and empty Grain Belt Premium bottles everywhere.  “Are there people fucking over there in the corner?” Chet couldn’t wrap his head around what was happening.

Just then a familiar voice came over the loudspeaker: “It’s ya boi DJ Stamps on the ones and twos reminding all the fellas in the building to hit that powder and keep your dicks hard.  This party don’t stop.  It’s the deer season marathon.”  “Good Lord,” Chet thought.  “What is happening right now?  And why isn’t Ty here with me because he’d fucking love this.”

Chet approached the turntables, “What up, Stamps?  I heard you were dead.”  DJ Stamps had a residency at The Blacksmith Shop, a local bar and grill the guys frequented during deer camp.  “Oh shit, Raekwon the Chet.  Who let you in here?”  “You know they can’t keep me away from a good party,” Chet replied, trying his hardest to sound like he belonged.  “Yeah, that’s my guy,” Stamps said.  “Hey Stamps, what’s up with that powder and all the ‘keep your dicks hard’ stuff?” Chet asked.  “Oh, that’s just Sherrards’ magic powder.  How you think we got all these fine ass women in here?  Once they get a hit of the powder you can’t keep them away.”  “So people are snorting deer antler powder and fucking down here?” Chet inquired.  “I think there’s some molly in there, too, but yeah, pretty much.  Look at my boy Taco Kid over there crushing ass.  You think he’s fucking dimes like that without a little help?”  DJ Stamps was a wealth of information, but Chet had to see if he could get one more answer from him.

“You know where Dolph is?”  “Oh yeah, he’s back in the VIP booth,” Stamps replied as he pointed toward the far corner of the club.  “Thanks, Stamps.  Good looking out,” Chet said as he gave Stamps a pound and turned toward the VIP booth.  Chet did his best to blend in and keep a low profile while crossing the club, which was not challenging considering the chaos around him.  “Whoa, is that Halle Berry?”  Chet tried to keep his cool as he approached the VIP area, which was simply a half circle table and booth up against a wall.  Sherrard was in the booth with a girl on his right.  Once Chet got close he quickly slid into the booth on Sherrard’s left and pointed The Judge at Sherrard under the table.

“Take a walk, bitch,” he said to the girl.  She hurried away from the booth.  Chet moved his focus to Sherrard.  “One move and I pull the trigger.  This thing can put a hole through a bear so it damn sure can blow your deer-powder enhanced dick off.”  “How’d you get in here?” Sherrard asked.  “It was really tough,” Chet laughed.  “Your security is top notch.  A real fucking Fort Knox you got here.  That one guy standing at the door put up a hell of a fight.”  “You’re lucky it’s deer hunting weekend,” Sherrard sneered.  “Every one of my guys is drunk, fucking somebody, or both right now.  I don’t need much security around here anyway.  Pretty easy to fly under the radar when you live in a bunker deep in the woods.  By the way, how’s Tang Slayer?”  “How are your dogs?” Chet quickly fired back.

“I have to say I’m impressed.  You got all of this because you figured out how to roofie people with deer antlers?” Chet asked.  “Not really,” Dolph replied.  “The antler thing was something we figured out by accident years ago when Stamps got high and wondered what would happen if we snorted antlers.  We keep the magic powder to ourselves.  No need to share that.  I made my money in outdoor scents.  You heard of Tink’s?”  “You mean that #69 Doe-in-Rut spray?” Chet responded.  “Of course.  That’s the dumbest shit ever.”  “Well, that dumb shit made me a multi-millionaire,” Sherrard said.  “But I like to keep a low profile so I stayed right here in Luck, Wisconsin.”  “Respect,” Chet said with a nod.  “But why the name Tink’s?  And why #69?  That’s so stupid.  Like you had 68 other doe piss formulas but the 69th one just happened to be the one that worked.  Come on.”  “Tink is my oldest daughter’s name.  Tinkerbell Sherrard.  I named it after her.  As for the doe spray, I shit you not, formula #69 was the one that attracted the most bucks,” Sherrard argued.  “You can check the logs from the lab.  Our outdoor scientists perfected the combination of estrous doe urine and glandular secretions on the 69th try.”

“Holy shit, that’s more than I needed to know.  Enough small talk.  You know that’s not why I’m here.  Where’s my friend and why did you take him?” Chet asked, quickly changing gears.  “Your friend’s prime rib not sitting so well?” Sherrard asked.  “What the fuck did you do to him?” Chet demanded.  “The chef gave your friend a special recipe.  It’s called aged prime rib.  He’ll suffer for a few days and then he’ll die.  It’s what happens when you eat prime rib that was partially cooked then left under a heat lamp for 24 hours.  Seriously, we thought the color of the meat would be a dead giveaway but he just at it up.  We couldn’t believe it.  We knew you and your friends would show up for Friday night at the bar.  You always do.  I own that bar.  I OWN EVERYTHING HERE.”  “You motherfucker.  Why?  Over one mediocre buck?  Are you that vindictive?” Chet asked.  “YES!” Sherrard shouted, pounding his fists on the table.  “You take my buck you fuck with my money.  Deer ARE my business and nobody fucks with my business.”  “I didn’t even take the buck, you took it,” Chet fired back.  “You insulted me.  You called me a bitch.  You had to pay.  Nobody calls Dolph Sherrard a bitch.”

“Aren’t you afraid I’ll tell someone about all of this?” Chet asked.  “You poisoned my friend.  You murdered Tang Slayer.  You have an army of robot birds protecting a compound where you roofie supermodels.  I could take down your entire empire.”  Dolph just laughed.  “You think I’m letting you out of here alive?  You’re never leaving this property.  I’ll bury your ass in the woods.  You mean nothing to me.”

“Nah, that’s now how this is gonna go,” Chet said with a grin.  “My grandpa taught me two things: That you don’t always have to just get on top and pound away, and how to make a bomb that could blow up Tyler’s entire house.  He taught Tyler the same thing, so while I’m in here talking to you he took some fertilizer and parts from your robot birds and wired up a little bomb of his own.  It’s sitting in your silo right now ready to blow.  I hope you don’t store anything valuable in there.”  “You wouldn’t,” Sherrard mumbled.  Chet lifted his left wrist and said, “Do it.”

The explosion couldn’t be heard over the sexy house music DJ Stamps was spinning, but it could be felt.  Tremors shook the underground club.  Sherrard jumped out of the booth and ran for the stairs with Chet in hot pursuit.  Sherrard busted through the door and immediately threw his hands over his eyes.  The sunlight was blinding after hours in his basement orgy.  As his eyes adjusted to the light he saw a wall of robot cranes fixated on him with more of them circling in the sky above.  Chet still had The Judge pointed his way.  “Give it up, Sherrard.  You’re surrounded and the cops are on their way.”  “What have you done to Freedom?  She’d never turn on me.  How are you controlling my birds?”  “She is,” Chet answered.  “You killed Tang Slayer.  You kept her locked in a security room in the back of a barn.  Freedom wasn’t free…damn, that was corny.  I wish I hadn’t said that.  Your daughter wasn’t free, and you took one of the few things that made her happy and you killed it.  You don’t care about her or anyone.  You only care about yourself and your creepy obsession with deer sex.  Now you can kiss Freedom goodbye…in more ways than one.”

As the smoke rose from the silo explosion the Polk County Police arrived.  They took the club-goers to detox.  They confiscated the robot birds and what was left of the deer antler powder.  They donated Tang Slayer’s body to science.  They rushed KC to a hospital in the Twin Cities.  All was well, once again, at Teabag Junction. When the commotion died down Chet and Ty drove to Minneapolis to check on KC.  He was still sick, but in better spirits now that he had professionals taking care of him.  

“We knew something was up today when you didn’t make it to your stand, but we didn’t see this coming,” Chet told KC.  “We accidentally murdered a bunch of dogs.  We met Tang Slayer and then saw a robot crane kill him.  Ty built a bomb and also I’m pretty sure he hooked up with Sherrard’s daughter.  We took down the Tink’s #69 empire.  I saw Stamps and Halle Berry.  It was insane.”  KC replied, “Wait, I thought Stamps was dead.”  “No, he had a dope set going.  The ladies from The Blacksmith Shop were there.  Taco Kid was there.  It was nuts.  I can’t believe you missed it.”

KC quipped, “That’s the last time I ever eat prime rib and horseradish!”

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