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AUSTRALIAN HALLOWEEN, Part One

Short story By: Philip Roberts
Horror



A black comedy/fantasy/horror story using Aboriginal Dream-Time mythology to recreate the Halloween myth to create an Australian Halloween tale (since we don't have Halloween in this country).


Submitted:Feb 13, 2011    Reads: 37    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


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PART ONE:

Like the majority of outback Queensland towns, Brownville was made up mainly of sun-ravaged, weatherboard, one- or two-storey buildings. Most with rickety deal wood porches. In 1999 Brownville had a population of just twenty. At 6:00 PM on October 15 that year, one fifth of the town's populace was sitting together on the hardwood bench on the porch out front of the general store, sipping warm beer straight from the can, smoking, and talking about nothing in particular. Bob Toohey, Johnny Baker, Dick Bailey, and Leo Ernst were all old-timers, who had long since given up worrying about the pace of life. Not that there was much pace or life in the dusty, outback town. Twenty years earlier Brownville had been a thriving town, during the height of the Queensland mining boom. When the boom had bust Brownville's population had dropped from over a thousand to the current level in less than a decade.

Spitting out the butt of his cigar, Bob Toohey bit the end off another stogey. He lit up, took a puff and tried to blow a smoke ring. A feat which he had seen done in many a movie down the years -- yet which Bob himself had never managed to do in sixty years of smoking.

Smelling the pungent tobacco aroma, Leo Ernst turned round and saw what his friend was doing. Leo chuckled, then said, "Give it up, Bob. Anyhow, I thought the doctor said to cut back on those things when he passed through town last month."

"The doctor can go to buggery. Life's too damn short to be giving up what few pleasures are left at my age," Bob said indignantly. "Anyhow what does he know? I've bin smokin' these things for more'n sixty years now an' it ain't killed me yet!"

"'Sides," said Dick Bailey, "we could all die at any time. You never know when your time'll come, so what's the point worryin' about it?"

"I doubt if anything could kill you off, you old bugger," joked Johnny Baker. "You'll probably outlive us all by twenty years."

"Easily," agreed Bob, and they all chuckled.

Leo downed the last of his can of 4-X, then reached under the bench for another yellow beer can. Seeing him freeze with one hand under the bench, Bob asked, "What's wrong, grab a centipede by mistake?" He guffawed at his own joke for a second.

"Runner coming!" said Leo. Lifting out a can of beer he held it up and pointed with it.

The three men raised a hand to shield their eyes against the sun and peered, trying to see what Leo saw. After a moment they could just see a puff of dust from away across the brown dust bowl that was outback Queensland.

Although far, far off, the cloud of dust rapidly approached until there could be no doubt that it was a running man.

"You've got eyes like a hawk, you old Kraut!" Bob said with a laugh.

Leo smiled and shook his head ruefully at Bob's taunt. Although born in Germany, he had come to Australia when only eleven, more than sixty-five years ago and considered himself now as Australian as meat pies or kangaroos. But to Bob, Leo would always be "the old Kraut".

"Whoever it is he's comin' at a run all right," said Johnny Baker. He reached up with his left hand to pat his head, as though patting down the lush growth that forty years ago had adorned his now barren pate.

"You're not wrong," agreed Leo. At first sighting, the puff of dust had seemed kilometres from the small town. Yet already the puff was close enough for the four men to begin to discern some of the runner's features.

"Looks like an Abo," said Johnny, seeing the dark colouring of the running man.

"Wearin' some kinda weird tribal mask or somethin'," pointed out Bob.

"A pumpkin," said Leo.

Bob Toohey started to call him a dumb-arse Kraut. But as the running man entered the township and headed toward the general store, it became obvious that Leo was right: the runner looked like a native Australian wearing a hollowed out pumpkin on his head.

Unlike the reservation blacks they had seen, who wore western clothing and were usually pale-skinned half-breeds or less, the running man was jet black and naked apart from a small loin cloth. In his right hand he carried a large wooden spear, with what looked like an oversized boomerang fixed to the end of the spear -- so that it roughly resembled a scythe.

Sweltering beneath the outback sun, Bob Toohey wiped an arm across his brow and said, "Christ it must be hot under that pumpkin. Don't know how he stands it."

Seeing a flash of sunlight off the edge of the "boomerang" head of the spear, the four men realised that it was sheathed in metal.

"Holy shit, he must be one of the Lost Tribe!" cried Bob. "They're supposed ta use steel-coated tools ain't they?"

"That's what the papers have been saying," agreed Leo.

All four men rose to their feet as the native walked slowly toward them.

'Phew!' thought Leo almost gagging on the native's body odour. 'Smells like he hasn't bathed in months.' But in truth the aroma smelt more like a mixture of rancid fruit and decaying meat. 'No, more like rotting pumpkins!' he realised.

'He's a tall one, ain't he?' thought Bob. The native towered over them all, although they were standing on the wooden porch, the native on level ground. Feeling a little intimidated by the lofty black figure, Bob asked, "What can we do fer you?"

By way of answer the native raised the "scythe" back over his right shoulder and swung it toward Bob. The scythe neatly severed Bob's head, which dropped to the porch, leaving his headless body standing, blood fountaining from the severed neck. Hitting the rickety porch, Bob's head thump-thump-thumped like a basketball.

In the last second of his life, Johnny Baker didn't know which was worse: the fact that Bob Toohey's head had been cut off, or that Bob's headless body continued standing, spraying blood across Johnny and across the rust-brown porch, as though the old man didn't know that he was dead.

Then the scythe swung a second time. Bob Toohey's body finally fell as Johnny Baker's head jumped off to thump-thump-thump on the porch also.

"Holy shi..." said Dick Bailey. Then the scythe swung a third time cutting off his words.

Then only Leo Ernst was left standing.

Until the scythe swung one more time. And Leo's head joined his friends' on the deal wood porch.

Leaving the four decapitated corpses, the native started walking toward the general store. But he stopped as a shrill scream rang out behind him.

Looking round the man saw a grey-haired old woman, flanked by a young girl and boy, both about seven or eight.

"Oh my God!" cried Shelley Toohey, staring in shock at her husband's headless corpse.

The native stepped down into the street and strode toward them.

"Run kids!" Shelley shouted. And her two grandchildren sprinted down the main street toward the opposite end of town.

Standing her ground the old lady glared her hatred for the native and hissed, "You'll have to kill me too," not wanting to live without the man she had been married to for more than fifty-five years.

The native swung the scythe toward her. Then, ignoring the two fleeing children he returned to the porch and entered the general store.

"What can I do...?" called Tom Farrow from the back room, hearing the tinkle-tinkle of the bell over the door. Before he could finish, the murderer stepped through the curtain into the back room of the store.

* * *

Harry Dwyer sat in the barber shop chair. His shorn hair lay on the floor, his stubbly face was heavily lathered.

"Be sure to give me a close shave, Dave," said Harry.

"Sure thing," said Dave Edgar, looking round as the door swung open. "Be with you..." He stopped, shocked by the sight of the pumpkin-headed native. "Holy Jesus!" he said, backing away in terror.

"My God, what's that pong? Smells like dead meat and rottin' fruit!" said Harry Dwyer looking toward the door.

The native swung the scythe and Harry Dwyer got his close shave.

"Oh my God!" gasped Dave. He watched the blood spurting from the neck of the headless corpse in the chair, as Harry's head rolled across the lino-covered floor, creating splodges of red left and right, like bloody footprints, as it rolled.

The scythe swung again and Dave's head rolled across the lino too.

The native returned to the porch and continued his walk through the town. By the time he had finished there were eighteen headless corpses. The only survivors were little Sandy and Tommy Toohey, who had run straight out of town and didn't stop running until reaching Hoopertown, ten kilometres west of Brownville.

* * *

Stepping out of the Land-Rover after a 120 kilometre ride, Vincent O'Connor was hot, sticky, reeking of perspiration, well and truly fed up, and not the least prepared for the sight before him.

A trained anthropologist, specialising in Aboriginal studies, O'Connor was affectionately known by his friends and colleagues as Jaffa -- due to his great shock of bright orange hair, which insisted on fanning out Dagwood Bumstead-style despite his best efforts to comb it into place.

Twelve hours earlier Jaffa had been enjoying the perfect weather of the Gold Coast, relaxing over the weekend before preparing for the rigours of the end of year exams at the University of Brisbane where he lectured. Half a day later he was sweltering under the 50 Degree Celsius heat of outback Queensland at a small Aboriginal reservation, Huntington-Station. But that wasn't what made his blood boil when he stepped out of the Rover. Despite his red hair, Jaffa was anything but the stereotypical hot-headed redhead. Usually he was calm to the point of seeming indifference. However, he was anything but indifferent to the sight that greeted him now.

"What the hell is going on here?" Jaffa demanded. He looked in anger at the great cage that had been built at one side of the station. Actually it was a barb-wire fence four metres high, enclosing an area of perhaps two square kilometres. Inside the "cage" were fifty Aborigines, corralled like animals. But not ordinary Aborigines, this was the "lost tribe" that had covered the front page of every newspaper in Australia for the last three days, since the natives had wandered onto the reservation.

Supposedly the lost tribe had never encountered whites before, having wandered the Australian outback without ever entering the built-up areas. Watching them Jaffa was prepared to believe it. Unlike the reservation blacks, who were all relatively pale-skinned half-breeds or less, the lost tribe were jet black and obviously full-bloods -- although previously there had been no known full-blood Aborigines anywhere in Australia. Also while the reservation blacks wore western clothing and spoke passable English (sometimes of the pidgin variety), the lost tribe were stark naked apart from the smallest of animal-skin loin cloths.

"Why the Hell are they caged like animals?" Jaffa demanded.

"We had to keep them somewhere," explained a Brisbane politician. He had been suffering the 50 Degree heat for the last three days in the cause of getting his picture into the papers with the lost tribe, and now reeked of body odour.

Ignoring the clicking cameras as reporters snapped his picture, Jaffa insisted, "They're not animals! You've got no right to keep them caged up!"

"Could you keep your voice down?" asked the politician, aware that the journalists were hanging on their every word. "We had to keep them somewhere," he repeated. "And we couldn't risk them running off again before we had a chance to study them properly."

'Jesus save us from politicians!' thought Jaffa. Turning away in disgust, his eye caught a glint of sunlight reflected off a boomerang held by one of the natives.

'My God it's true!' Jaffa thought. 'They really do sheathe their weapons in metal.' Unlike many native races, the Australian Aborigines had never learnt to work with metal prior to being conquered by the white "settlers". So Jaffa had rejected newspaper reports that the lost tribe had spears and other weapons sheathed in metal. Now he could see it was true. 'They must have had some kind of previous contact with whites!'

* * *

Walking around the blood-drenched town of Brownville, Detective Inspector Bill Noonan sighed and shook his head. Although he had been a cop for thirty years (in Victoria, then New South Wales, and for the last four years in Queensland), he had never encountered anything like this before. 'Nobody's ever seen anything like this before,' thought the fifty-five-year-old, grey-haired detective. 'Not in this country anyway. Only the worst serial killings in the USA or Europe would be this bad!' But then he looked over to where the headless bodies of Bob Toohey, Leo Ernst, Dick Bailey, and Johnny Baker lay on the wooden porch outside the general store. Shaking his head, Noonan thought, 'Not even there!'

"Well, what're you think?" asked Sergeant George Neville, of Hoopertown.

Bill shrugged. "What can I think when the only witnesses are seven- and eight-year-old kids?"

"How do you explain their story of a pumpkin-headed Aborigine being the killer?"

"Hallucination caused by the trauma of seeing their grandparents butchered," said Bill, only repeating what he had been told by the doctor tending the children.

"According to the kids it was already getting dark when he walked into town," persisted Neville. "If he was wearing some kind of war mask, they might've mistaken it for a pumpkin." Although there was no mistaking the faint aroma like rotting fruit and rancid meat which still hung in the air, the odour the kids claimed the native gave off.

"Maybe. But I can't see a wild Aborigine having the expertise to behead eighteen people, each with a single swing of whatever he used."

"Then you don't think it could have been done with a spear, or an axe for that matter?"

"Damn near impossible to completely behead someone with an axe," said Bill, quoting the doctor again. "If it could be done, you'd mangle the neck in the process. Each of these was killed with a single, clean cut."

Bill sighed then said, "I suppose I'd better go and speak to the kids again. Maybe they've calmed down enough now to be able to tell me what really happened."

"Let's hope so," agreed George. All his life he had yearned for something exciting to happen, to put Hoopertown on the map. But watching the swarms of Brisbane cops photographing the headless bodies, he had the awful realisation that Brownville and Hoopertown were both about to appear on the world map, but not for the sort of reason he had always hoped for.

* * *

Huntington-Station derived its name from the fact that a few hundred head of cattle and sheep were farmed there. But the station was mainly an Aboriginal reservation, where half-breeds lived, were schooled, and even worked. The livestock was corralled in paddocks in the outer reaches of the farm. The inner hectares were devoted to housing, schooling, and workrooms. On the left as you entered the farm was the large, barb-wire cage where the lost tribe was held -- a few hundred metres past the cage was the first of the livestock corrals. On the right as you entered stood a rectangular redbrick building, facing front on to the gate. Further back, at 90 Degrees to the redbrick building were four large, iron-roofed, cream, weatherboard buildings. The first two of these were for the showers, dining rooms, and recreation rooms. The third was sleeping quarters. The fourth was the garage for the station's three vehicles, and was also used as a mechanical workshop. Behind the four buildings were two other weatherboard buildings, used as sleeping quarters.

As his driver Jackie -- a reservation black -- began removing his equipment from the Land-Rover, Jaffa went across to the cage to make first contact with the lost tribe. Most of the natives in the cage backed away at his approach -- making him fear that it would be a long process to get through to them. But one of the Elders -- a tall, willowy, grey-bearded man, stood his ground, refusing to be intimidated.

Seeing a chain of brightly coloured stones worn around the man's neck, Jaffa pointed and said "Agantra? Agantra?" using the North Queensland Aboriginal word for ornament.

When this failed to elicit a response, he looked round the station. Seeing an emu a few hundred metres away he pointed. When the Aborigine turned to look, Jaffa said, "Armangadda." When this failed to get a response he tried the word for bird, "Chulaggie," still without success.

Sighing his frustration, he looked back to where Jackie, the reporters, and the politician were all watching with interest. Jaffa raised a hand to shield his eyes against the relentless sun, then said "Gallan" a Northern Queensland word for sun. When that failed he tried the Southern Queensland word "Ghigan".

Then "Ingluna", another Northern word. Then finally, out of desperation, the South Australian word "Kurru". Then he tried the Northern Queensland word for heat "Gnardya", brushing his head across his sweat-dripping brow for emphasis.

"Kortuchal wallaloomagoo loowamar mar loagilgilmoo...." said the Aboriginal in response. He continued with a long string of words, all sounding vaguely like the sort of syllables Jaffa had heard before in Aboriginal words, but strung together in a way that was meaningless to him.

Out of politeness, Jaffa waited till the man had finished. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he said, "You've got me, I'm afraid."

Frustrated, Jaffa turned and headed toward the Land-Rover to help Jackie carry his suitcases and equipment into the redbrick building where he would be staying while he studied the lost tribe.

"What do you think?" asked Jackie as they started inside, leaving the Brisbane politician to make another speech for the news media.

Jaffa shrugged and said, "I've been studying Aboriginal languages from around Australia for twenty-five years now. It could easily take that long again before I can communicate with them."

Inside the small room he unpacked his personal belongings, including a powerful personal computer with CD-ROM drive. Once he had the PC working, he attached a modem to the phone so that he could utilise the powerful mainframe system at Brisbane Uni. if necessary. Then as a first step to breaking down the language of the lost tribe, he inserted into the PC a CD titled, "Aboriginal Languages and Dialects from Around Australia", compiled by Professor Vincent C. O'Connor B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

When the CD was loaded, Jaffa typed in the expression "Kortuchal wallaloomagoo loowarmar mar loagilgilmoo..." and as much more of the Elder's words as he could remember.

"Do you think you'll find it?" asked Jackie, looking over his shoulder.

"No, the best I can do is compare the individual syllables to syllables of known Aboriginal words, to try to locate a similar word structure."

He continue to play around with the syllables of the expression for the next few hours, till stopping for dinner. Then after dinner -- hoping the reporters would have left for the night, Jaffa and Jackie returned to the cage to try again. This time they each carried a small tape recorder with a large supply of mini-cassette tapes to make certain they got the Elder's words correct.

Approaching the compound, Jaffa was surprised to see the natives crouching around a large wood fire. "They are allowed out of the cage sometimes then?" he asked, hoping that was the case.

"No, we gathered some wood for them," explained Jackie. "It can get murderous out here at night."

'Don't I know it!' thought Jaffa. He knew that even on 50 Degree Celsius days, the temperature can easily drop below freezing point at night in the Queensland outback.

Over the next three months Jaffa -- now on extended leave from Brisbane University -- continued to study the lost tribe. He fought hard to get permission to have the natives released from the barb-wire cage, arguing that allowing them to work among the reservation blacks might make his job easier. But the Brisbane authorities refused, afraid that the lost tribe might wander off again as suddenly as they had appeared.

Fortunately, after the Brownville Massacre -- as the world news media called it -- the swarms of reporters clogging the reservation gradually drifted away.

After twelve weeks Jaffa had begun to make small inroads into understanding the lost tribe's language. But his communications with the tribe still involved a lot of sign language, guesswork and frustration for both Jaffa and the natives. After so long in the cage, the Aborigines had started to become irritable, and Jaffa finally managed to secure permission for half-a-dozen natives at a time to leave the compound during the daylight hours only, so that they could work on the reservation. This helped alleviate their feelings of being kept prisoners, and also gave Jaffa a chance to try to make headway with their language by watching them at work to observe their names for the tools and things around them.

* * *

After talking to Tommy and Sandy Toohey again, Bill Noonan returned to have another word with the coroner. Then with the coroner's A-OK the eighteen headless bodies were taken away to arrange for burial.

Thousands of photographs were taken of Brownville -- both before and after the corpses were removed. More than five hundred cops were used to scour the countryside, looking for the lone native whom the two kids still insisted was the sole culprit.

Three months later the task force had been reduced to less than a dozen, but with eighteen fatalities the case would never be completely closed until it was eventually solved.

'How can he have just vanished off the face of the Earth?' Bill Noonan wondered. But he knew the murderer might have simply run into the outback and not stopped. Although a white man would not get far into the desert of central Queensland without food and water, a full-blood Aborigine has the knowledge to cross from one side of the continent to the other with only a spear to kill food and a knife to dig for water. 'He's probably lying low in Western Australia right now!' thought Bill cursing his own luck.

* * *

By 6:00 PM twilight had started to fall at Broadhurst, an outback Queensland town of thirty-two people and half as many age-worn weatherboard buildings: a general store-cum-post office; a garage-cum-livery stable; a one-room school; a tiny church, and an even dozen houses.

While most of the townsfolk were eating dinner, Tony Costa wandered down Main Street (ironically named, since it was the only street in town). An open bottle of cheap wine protruded from each outer pocket of his dirty burlap coat. He held a third bottle up to his mouth to drain the last of its contents. He shook the bottle to make sure he hadn't missed a drop, then threw the empty bottle into the street behind him. Then he reached into his coat for another bottle.

Strictly speaking it was illegal to drink alcohol in the street. But Broadhurst was too small to warrant its own law enforcement officer and the other residents had given up trying to get Tony to obey the law years ago.

To his dismay Tony found the second bottle was almost empty already. "Stupid bastard!" he cursed the bottle as he wandered over to sit on the porch outside the general store. He bent under the hitching rail, still used by locals to tie up horses, and sat on the rotting, yellowing porch.

After finishing the second bottle in a couple of swigs, Tony decided to take a little nap to help make his third and final bottle last. He had intended to lie on the porch -- having learnt to ignore the nagging townsfolk. But as lightning flashed, fearing it was going to pour rain, he lay in the gutter beside the porch, then eased between the supports until he had wriggled under the wooden porch.

Despite the lightning he fell asleep almost immediately. But he was awakened less than an hour later by the sound of a woman's shriek.

Looking up he saw boards above himself and almost panicked. My God I'm in a coffin! he thought. I've been buried alive! But then as his fear sobered him, he realised he was beneath the porch outside Joey Booker's general store.

Tony rolled over onto his side so he could look out into the street. He saw Joey Booker running across the street to where a near-naked Aborigine stood before the open doors of the livery stable. The native wore what looked like a pumpkin on his head and was holding a strange scythe-like spear, raised menacing toward Mary O'Brien who was looking round feverishly, obviously wondering if there was any point running into the stable where a green Datsun sat with its bonnet up. 'Don't risk it! thought Tony. Even if the keys are in the dash you'll never start it up fast enough!'

Because his own body odour was so "ripe" there were few smells that Tony found offensive. But even from across the road he felt himself gagging on the native's body odour. 'Jesus they reckon I'm a bit off, this bloke smells like rottin' meat and veggies!'

"Hey what're you think you're doing?" demanded Joey, who Tony knew had the hots for Mary.

By way of answer the native swung his spear and lopped off Mary's head.

"Holy Jesus!" said Tony as the native turned and decapitated Joey also. "It's finally happened." For the last thirty years do-gooders had tried to get Tony to mend his ways, warning him that alcohol would rot his brain. Of course he'd heard stories of drunks suffering the DT's and seeing pink elephants or golden unicorns, or what-have-you. But it had never happened to Tony. Until now! he thought. But it's finally gone and happened!

But as the slaughter continued and ten, fifteen, then twenty or more people were beheaded, Tony started to have his doubts that it was the DT's. Although not one to read the newspapers and not owning a TV, Tony had heard rumours months ago about a full-blood Aborigine wandering into Brownville eighty kilometres away and beheading everyone. Tony hadn't taken the reports seriously until now.

"Holy Jesus, it's true though," he said to himself. He didn't want to watch the ongoing slaughter, but was unable to take his eyes away.

Then to his horror the native turned and stared toward the general store where Tony was hiding. 'He can't possibly see me here under the porch!' thought Tony. 'Not in the dark!' But he had heard rumours that some full-blood Aborigines could see in the dark like cats. And to his dismay the Aborigine continued staring in his direction, and finally began walking across the dirt road toward the porch....

Only stopping when he was less than three metres from the porch.

Then as lightning struck again, for one terrible moment the features of the Aborigine were lit up clearly. 'Holy Jesus!' thought Tony seeing the vast black depths of the tennis-ball-sized eye sockets, the large tusk-like fangs that hung down over the bottom lip, and the bluish forked tongue of the native. 'It's not a mask!' he thought, realising that the grotesque yellow-orange, pumpkin-like tumescence was actually the native's head.

As another lightning flash struck, seemingly on the very edge of town, the native raised the scythe back over his left shoulder. Even in the moonlight the blade of the contraption looked unusual, but as the lightning flashed, the metal edging gleamed and Tony thought, 'The bastard's after my head now!' Then as it seemed that he was finished, Tony heard running footsteps on the planks above his head.

"Hold it right there, you mother!" a male voice shouted.

The Aborigine snarled an almost panther-like snarl at the man and started forward again.

There came the roar of a shotgun above the porch and the native staggered backwards.

Small buckshot holes dotted the pumpkin head of the creature and as it reeled backwards Tony thought, 'So the bastard's mortal after all!' But then the monster started toward the porch again and Tony realised that the shotgun blast had only wounded the creature. 'Looks like I was right, it's gonna kill us all!' he thought, not even noticing as he wet his trousers in terror.

Then the shotgun fired a second time. The creature staggered again and roared its panther-like cry at the rifleman. But as a second shotgun fired a few metres away, the creature turned and ran toward the outskirts of town.

"Come on, let's finish it off!" shouted one of the gunmen and the two men started down the street after the monster. But it had no trouble leaving them both behind.

'My God, look at it go!' thought Tony. His fear gave way to a touch of admiration. 'If we had him on our Olympic running team, Australia might actually win a few gold medals for a change.'

Though now uncomfortable in the cramped space beneath the porch, and acutely aware of the dirt and scuttling spiders that fell down onto him from time to time, Tony forced himself to wait where he was for another hour. Partly to await the return of the two gunmen, partly out of fear of the killer returning.

An hour later no one had returned. So -- not knowing if the two men chasing the monster were lost in the bush, or had been lured away and ambushed by it -- Tony decided it was time to go for help. He squeezed out from under the porch, then started down the street in the opposite direction to that taken by the gunmen and the killer.

Tony left Broadhurst before 8:00 PM, but it was almost 1:00 AM by the time he reached the next town, Stanforde.

* * *

Sergeant Des Sherwin was not happy at being awakened at 1 o'clock in the morning. He was even less happy about allowing the derelict -- who reeked of sweat, alcohol, and urine -- into his home. But he decided that it was better than getting dressed and going down to the police station.

"All right, what can I do for you?" asked Des, trying his best not to yawn but failing. But by the time Tony had finished his tale, the policeman was wide awake. "Twenty-five or thirty people murdered?" he demanded.

"That's right!" Tony insisted. "As far as I know everyone in town except me and the two blokes who took off after it. And they never came back, so it probably got them too."

Des shook his head, not sure if he could believe the dirty, seedy old man. Although he had sobered up during his long walk, it was obvious that Tony was Broadhurst's town drunk. But the cop took the trouble to try ringing through to Joey Booker's general store at Broadhurst. Then, receiving no reply, he rang half-a-dozen other numbers out of the local directory before saying, "Wait here while I go upstairs and change."

END OF PART ONE:





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