Ernie arrived at Glen Hartwell shortly before 1 p.m. planning to head straight to the Mitchell Street police station to tell Bear Ross what he had seen the night before. But overcome with hunger pangs, he stopped at a fish and chip shop in Boothy Street.
In the shop he was told about the attack on Bear. Unable to ignore the hunger pangs, Ernie wolfed down his potato cakes and flake, before heading for the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital on the border between the two towns.
At the hospital he found Bear in a private ward on the second floor, with Paul Bell and Andrew Braidwood posted outside the door in case the attacker returned.
Recognising Ernie, who they knew was Bear's best friend, they allowed him through. Inside the ward Ernie found a nurse attending to Bear's dressings while Mel Forbes watched on.
"What happened?" demanded Ernie, sickened by the sight of his friend obviously badly injured.
"He was attacked by a maniac wielding a brick," explained Mel. He went on to relate what Jerry Green and the others had told him. "Poor Gloria is under sedation in another ward."
He stopped for a moment, sighed heavily then said, "The crazy thing is that according to Jerry, it was a ghost that attacked Bear."
"A ghost?" asked Ernie.
"That's right. He claims to have shot the assailant from a metre or two at most without him even flinching."
"If you think that's crazy, wait till you hear my story," said Ernie. He related what he had seen outside Jacinta Blakey's cabin the night before, after most of the police had left, only leaving out the fact that he had been there in the form of the black wolf.
"All this is crazy," insisted Mel astonished by this unexpected corroboration of Jerry Green's story. "There's no such thing as a brick-wielding ghost."
Ernie shrugged not knowing what he could say.
After stopping in to see how Gloria Ulverstone was, Mel and Ernie left the hospital and headed for Mitchell Street so that Mel could officially take down Ernie's statement.
* * *
At the police station Terry Blewett made no bones about the fact that he thought that Ernie and Jerry Green must both be crazy.
"How's Bear?" asked Terry, although there was no love lost between Terry and his sergeant.
"Critical. That's all they can say at this stage," replied Mel.
'If Bear were to die, or be invalided out, I'd be promoted to sergeant of the Glen!' he thought. Terry had served as constable in Glen Hartwell for a decade, the first eight years under Lawrie Grimes, Bear's predecessor. Upon Lawrie's retirement in June 1982 Terry had expected to be promoted to sergeant. Instead, to his dismay Bear Ross had been promoted and transferred from BeauLarkin. As a consequence, despite Bear's easygoing nature, he and Terry had been at loggerheads for the last twenty months. 'I was robbed of the sergeant's position,' thought Terry. 'It should have been mine in 1982. Now, if only Bear would die...!' But then he stopped, feeling dreadful for wishing another man dead just so that he could get promoted.
They talked awhile longer and Mel took down Ernie's statement. Then Mel walked Ernie to the door to the street.
Ernie already had a hand on the doorknob, when the door swung open suddenly, crashing into him. "What?" he said as he went reeling. He staggered into Mel and both men almost fell to the floor.
"Look out?" warned Mel. Grabbing Ernie by an arm he hefted him back to his feet. "Guess the door must have been unlatched and the wind blew it open."
"Either that or your ghost just entered the stations" joked Terry Blewett.
Ernie started to reply, but stopped as looking round he saw the figure of Kostyn Pavolich sneaking past Terry. Pavolich was moving so rapidly that he would have been invisible to any normal person; however, with Ernie's enhanced werewolf vision the Russian was just visible to him.
"Look out!" warned Ernie pointing behind Terry.
"What?" asked Terry as the two policemen looked where Ernie was pointing. At first they could see nothing. But as the door to the lock-up behind the police station mysteriously opened, for just a second they could see the black-bearded figure of Pavolich, before he raced into the corridor leading to the holding cells.
For a moment all three men were too shocked to move. Then hearing a woman's scream from the lock-up, Mel came to his senses and ordered, "Come on, it's after Jacinta."
They ran to the lock-up door and entered to see Pavolich furiously rattling the bar doors to the cell while Jacinta Blakey lay on the holding cell floor screaming in terror.
Mel Forbes reached for the handgun at his belt.
At the same second there was a great rending of metal as the creature ripped the cell door off its hinges and tossed it further down the corridor.
When the three men hesitated, the "man" rushed into the cell and bent down to grab Jacinta Blakey, who was too terrified to even struggle.
The monster effortlessly lifted its intended victim off the ground and began to throttle her. The attractive Anglo-Indian woman suddenly came to life and started furiously pummelling her attacker with her fists. Although she was a powerfully built woman, she was obviously no match for the bearded man. Her large fists pummelled his chest with a loud thump-thump-thump, yet the man did not even flinch.
"Let her go!" shouted Mel Forbes, pulling his revolver from his holster. But he hesitated to fire for fear of shooting the woman.
Terry Blewett had no such qualms. Aiming his revolver through the cell bars he unloading all six cartridges into the monster. Then, his gun empty, Terry raced past the older man to attack the black-bearded figure.
But the man only needed to release Jacinta with one hand to grab Terry and fling him back out through the open cell door.
Mel and Ernie were both knocked over by Terry, who crashed heavily into the yellow brick wall of the police station.
When they climbed to their feet again, the bearded man was holding Jacinta Blakey by the neck, bashing her head hard into the brick wall.
"For God's sake stop him!" shouted Terry. And he and Ernie raced over to grab the man.
But the Russian was too strong for them. Flexing one arm, Pavolich threw Terry into a corner of the cell and simply ignored Ernie. Ernie tried with all his might to pull the "man's" hands away from Jacinta, but was simply not strong enough to do so, despite his added werewolf-strength.
"Get out of the way!" shouted Mel.
Ernie looked round and saw Mel aiming his service revolver at them. Ernie quickly released the man and jumped to one side.
Mel fired three shots into the bearded man from three metres away and the man released Jacinta for a moment. Turning round he roared his panther-like roar at Mel.
For a moment the three men were too shocked to do anything as the creature returning to bashing Jacinta Blakey's head against the blood-smeared brick wall.
"Shoot the bastard!" ordered Mel, firing his last three shots into the small of the creature's back.
Mel and Terry both quickly reloaded and fired again and again into the back of the creature, without visibly hurting it.
Releasing Jacinta Blakey, the bearded figure turned and roared at Terry, then started in his direction.
Although no coward, Terry backed into the front room of the police station, with the bearded "man" following him.
Inside the front room the man ignored Terry and headed toward the door to the street. Again he moved so fast that he became all but invisible.
In the lock-up Mel and Ernie tried to help Jacinta Blakey, however, her head injuries were far more severe than Bear Ross' had been.
"Ring for the ambulance," Mel shouted to Terry. Although he knew that she would probably be dead on arrival at the hospital.
While they were leaning over her, Jacinta opened her eyes slightly and seeing Mel she muttered something feebly.
Not hearing what she had said, Mel looked at Ernie, who shrugged.
Both men bent lower over her as the dying woman muttered, "E...grigor."
"What?" asked Mel. But she was wide-eyed, staring fixedly at the ceiling, clearly dead.
"Egrigor," repeated Ernie.
"What the hell does egrigor mean?" asked Mel rhetorically.
Ernie shrugged and said, "Maybe it's a Russian word? Since Pavolich was a Russian."
"Could be," agreed Mel. But before he could say anymore they heard the ambulance siren approaching.
"Come on let's get out of here and let them take care of her," Ernie suggested.
"Okay," agreed Mel. Standing he stood staring at the great hole where Pavolich had ripped off the cell door for a second, wondering how he would explain it to his bosses in Melbourne when he sent in the bill for repairs. After a moment he shrugged and headed for the front room, saying, "We'll need you to make a statement of what you saw in here before you leave."
Over the next hour the corpse of Jacinta Blakey was examined by the coroner, and taken away to the morgue. Then Ernie's statement was taken and Terry and Mel wrote out their own report of what had happened.
"No one's gonna believe it," said Mel as he led Ernie to the door. "Not that that damn thing ripped off a locked steel-barred door with its bare hands, or that Terry and me shot a dozen slugs into it without even slowing it down."
"I'll back you up at any enquiry," offered Ernie.
"Thanks. Hopefully it won't mean you'll be joining us when they send Terry and me to Queen's Grove," said Mel, referring to the local asylum, midway between Glen Hartwell and Westmoreland.
* * *
Bradley Robbins yawned wide as he walked down the long yellow-walled corridor.
'What's wrong with me tonight?' thought the orderly. Normally Brad liked working night duty. Day duty in a hospital - even in the countryside - could be pretty damned demanding. Night shift tended to be more relaxed, the way Brad liked it. But for some reason tonight he was having difficulty staying awake.
"God I hate night shift," said Michael Draper - a tall, powerfully built man, like his partner.
"It's not so bad. Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of day shift?"
"At least day shift passes quickly," insisted Mike. "Night shift drags on forever."
"You get used to it..." said Brad. He had intended to elaborate, but stopped, surprised by the sight of a thickset, black-bearded man slinking down the corridor twenty metres ahead of them. "Who the Hell is that?"
"Probably a visitor, or one of the doctors," replied Mike, not particularly concerned.
"It's no doctor that I've ever seen in this place," insisted Brad. Looking at his wristwatch he saw that it was nearly midnight. "And visiting hours ended two hours ago." He started down the corridor at a run after the lone figure.
"Excuse me?" called Brad as the bearded man approached the glass doors to the next yard.
Ignoring the call, the man continued forward a little faster than before.
Running up behind Brad, Mike said, "Maybe he didn't hear you?"
"He heard all right," said Brad. Pushing through the twin doors, the two orderlies started through the ward at a run.
"Hey!" called Mike seeing the strange man heading toward the stairwell. "Come on," he said and the two orderlies raced after the bearded figure.
Brad Robbins caught him, as he was about to enter the stairwell.
"Excuse me...?" he started to say, stopping in shock as the man snarled at him like a wild animal.
When Brad stood his ground the egrigor grabbed him by the shirt, physically lifted him off the ground and threw him back down the corridor.
Flying through the air Brad screamed out in terror. But he landed fairly safely on the linoleum-covered floor, twisting his right ankle, but otherwise sustaining no injuries.
Michael Draper was less fortunate.
Hearing his work mate screaming hysterically, Brad looked up and saw that the bearded man had Mike's neck in his hands.
Despite the orderly's efforts to break free, the bearded man gave his hands one powerful twist. There was a sickening snapping of bone as Michael Draper's neck broke, killing him instantly.
'Oh, God!' thought Brad in shock. Although he had seen dead and dying people before, he had never seen anyone killed in cold blood before.
As the bearded killer ran up the stairs to the next floor, Brad sat on the linoleum in shock for a moment. Then, wincing at the agony in his right ankle, he climbed painfully to his feet and started down the corridor toward a phone at the corner, using the wooden handrail on the wall for support.
* * *
On the second floor Jim Kane and Con Rodriguez were both having trouble staying awake. Neither man was used to doing night work, since their respective police budgets were too small to include overtime money.
"God this is boring!" complained Jim reaching back as best he could to rub at a crick in the small of his back.
"Yeah," agreed Con. He wished that they could at least sit down instead of having to stand up for hours outside the door. He wanted to stamp his feet to relieve the aching but didn't want to risk waking the sleepers in other wards, or appear weak in front of his companion.
"I'll be glad when..." began Jim. He stopped at the sight of a tall, thickset man walking toward them down the corridor.
Seeing the black-bearded man, Con started to say, "Funny that looks just like..." Then he stopped, thinking, 'My God that looks exactly like Kostyn Pavolich!' Although he knew that Pavolich was dead, in the freezer at the morgue.
He had heard disturbing rumours about a man looking like Pavolich attacking Bear Ross and killing Jacinta Blakey. Until now he hadn't taken the reports seriously. "My God, it's true," he said, reaching for the holster at his belt.
As he pulled his revolver out, he saw that Jim Kane had beaten him to the draw. "Stop right where you are!" ordered Con.
At that second a screeching siren started up. "Stop right there!" repeated Con.
The bearded man opened his mouth and let out a long, loud, panther-like snarl, which startled both policemen.
Both men started firing their .38 police revolvers at the egrigor.
Chaos erupted in the hospital at the sound of the siren and gunshots. Doctors, nurses, and patients alike streamed out of wards to investigate.
Although impervious to gunfire and almost invincible, the bearded figure was alarmed by the sirens and the swarm of people approaching it. Having been in existence for less than twenty-four hours, the egrigor did not know if he could be overpowered if tackled by enough people at once.
After one last snarl toward Jim and Con, the egrigor turned and loped back down the corridor, toward the stairwell.
The two policemen hesitated for a moment, not wanting to leave their charge alone. Finally, reloading his revolver, Con Rodriguez said, "You stay here and watch after Bear. I'll go after that thing."
"All right, be careful," cautioned Jim as the policeman started after the egrigor.
* * *
Mel Forbes had been about to head off home after a long day on the job, when the emergency board suddenly lit up at the Mitchell Street police station. The alarm board, on the wall near the blackwood desk, was connected to eight or nine important buildings in Glen Hartwell. Checking the board Mel saw that it was the light for the hospital.
"That thing is after Bear," said Terry, taking the words out of Mel's mouth.
"Let's go," said Mel. Although Con and Jim were both armed with revolvers, Mel unlocked the gun-cabinet on the wall and took out a Winchester repeating rifle for Terry and a pump-action shotgun for himself.
* * *
At the hospital, they found Brad Robbins being tended to by a nurse on the ground floor.
"What the hell happened here?" demanded Mel.
"A man attacked us," said Brad who was obviously in a deep state of shock.
"A thickset, bearded man?" asked Terry Blewett.
"Yes. He killed Mike and threw me across the room."
"Where the hell is he now?" demanded Mel. He didn't want to sound unsympathetic, but didn't have time to listen to a long, drawn-out story.
"He ran upstairs, I think he's after the copper up there. We just heard gunshots...." As he was speaking three more shots rang out from the next storey.
"Come on!" ordered Mel. The two cops headed for the stairs....
And were almost knocked off their feet as the egrigor pushed open the door to the stairwell and rushed out into the corridor. Behind it ran Con Rodriguez.
Terry and Mel ducked aside to avoid being shot as Con aimed his revolver at the egrigor. The bullet slammed into the back of the monster, which roared panther-like but kept running down the corridor toward the front doors.
Terry and Mel followed after them. Careful to avoid Con, Terry fired shot after shot at the egrigor with his Winchester. But Mel was unable to use his pump-action for fear of hitting the Greek-Mexican policeman.
"I got him!" shouted Terry as a slug from his rifle tore into the back of the egrigor. But to his dismay the creature kept going without even flinching.
They followed it for a block or so down Wentworth Street firing as they ran, however, the egrigor moved at an awesome speed and was soon out of sight.
"God that thing can move!" said Terry. He aimed the Winchester to fire one last shot, then changed his mind, afraid of a stray ricochet going into a house, hurting or killing an innocent bystander.
They returned to the hospital to make sure that Jim and Bear were okay.
* * *
"So what the Hell was that thing?" asked Con Rodriguez from Bear's bedside. "It looked like a man, but it can't be because bullets didn't even slow it down."
"Maybe he was wearing a bullet-proof vest," suggested Jim Kane, although he didn't really believe it.
"No way. It'd stop bullets from passing into you, but not kill all the impact of the bullet. When we were both firing at it from point blank, it would have been knocked onto its backside by the impact of the bullets even if it wasn't hurt," insisted Con. "Besides when we were chasing it down the street I fired one shot into the back of its head and it didn't even flinch."
"Then what is it?" asked Jim.
"According to Jacinta Blakey, it's an egrigor," said Mel.
"What the hell is that?"
"Your guess is as good as mine."
"Could it be the Hindu name for a ghost?" asked Terry Blewett, feeling foolish for suggesting it. "Jacinta was born in India."
"But a ghost is supposed to be non-physical," pointed out Con, "the bullets would have passed right through it. But they didn't, they definitely lodged into its body...They just didn't hurt it...."
"Besides no ghost could swing a brick, like that thing did at Bear, or strangle someone, like it did with Jacinta," said Mel.
They continued to debate the matter for another half hour or so. Then Mel and Terry departed, leaving the Winchester and pump-action with Con and Jim in case the egrigor returned.
* * *
After the previous night's adventure as the black wolf, Ernie Singleton hadn't known what to expect tonight. But after transforming to wolf form a little before midnight, he had roamed the forest around Merridale and East Merridale for little more than two hours before returning to his farmhouse to get a reasonably full night's sleep.
Early the next morning he was awakened by the famine-like hunger. He feasted for nearly two hours, before going out to feed the farm animals. He went on to do the most urgent farm chores, then after another feast at lunch time, he set out for Glen Hartwell to visit Bear Ross in hospital.
* * *
First, however, he decided to stop in on Mel Forbes at the Mitchell Street police station. To his astonishment Ernie found Mel hunched over Bear's blackwood desk, surrounded by library books.
"Hi...What's going on?" asked Ernie, a little bemused.
"Research," explained Mel. He told Ernie what had happened at the hospital the previous night.
"So Mel spent the morning in the library," said Terry, almost as puzzled as Ernie.
"It's this term egrigor," explained Mel. "If we could only find out what it means, then we might find out how to deal with it."
"But you can't believe this kind of thing, surely?" asked Terry. He picked up a book titled, The Encyclopaedia of the Occult.
"Not before last night I wouldn't have," admitted Mel. "But then until yesterday I wouldn't have believed that you could fire a dozen or more slugs from a Winchester into someone from point-blank range without even making then blink."
"Yeah, that's true enough," admitted Terry, remembering the unearthly panther-like snarl of the egrigor.
Taking the large tome from Terry, Mel opened it to a place he had marked and said, "Listen to this: 'Alexandra David-Neal was a French traveller and author who spent fourteen years in Tibet studying its religious and Occult practices, which she taught herself. She tells of having created a spirit double, a tulpa, in the form of a monk after hours of meditation. Initially phantom-like, the figure of the monk gradually grew more solid over many months. He became a guest living in her apartment. When she went on tour the tulpa went with her. She saw the trapa (monk) from time to time, however, it was no longer necessary to think of him to make him appear. After awhile the presence of the tulpa became trying on her nerves, so she decided to make him dissolve away. Eventually she succeeded, however, it took her six months of concentrated effort. The tulpa could be dismissed as an illusion, except that on a number of occasions it was seen by other people, who took it to be a living lama....'"
Putting the book away, Mel said, "Doesn't that sound like Kostyn Pavolich's egrigor?"
"Except that this egrigor thing exists after Pavolich's death," pointed out Ernie. "There was no mention there of the tulpa being able to survive after the death of its creator."
"Then how about this?" asked Mel. He opened the book to a section titled, "The Doppelganger", and read, "'Doppelganger is the German name for the misplaced spirit of a dead person, or someone in a coma, that masquerades as another person with the intention of killing him and taking over his earthly existence. In some versions of the legend, the victim is most vulnerable while sleeping.' Well, what do you think?"
"Close, but still not quite right," insisted Ernie. "This egrigor thing didn't kill Kostyn Pavolich to take his place. It formed after his death."
"Yes, and it seems determined to get revenge on Bear for killing Pavolich," said Terry. "There's nothing there about the doppelganger seeking revenge on anyone. It just kills them and takes over their lives."
Closing the book in dismay, Mel said, "Yeah, you're right. And I thought I was getting close there."
"Maybe you ought to talk to Yakov," suggested Terry. Then for Ernie's benefit, "Yakov Bukharin is a retired professor who sometimes helps us out when we need a translator to talk to witnesses. He's a Russian, but he also speaks five or six other Balkan and European languages."
"Yeah, you could be right," said Mel, looking buoyed up again. "If this egrigor thing is a Russian legend, Yakov is bound to have heard of it."
Leaving Terry Blewett in charge at the police station, Mel and Ernie set off to talk to Professor Bukharin.
* * *
Yakov Bukharin lived in retirement in a small, lime-green weatherboard house in McNaughton Street, at the southern end of Glen Hartwell.
Professor Bukharin was a short, dumpy, grey-haired man, immaculately dressed, looking to be in his early to mid seventies.
Recognising Mel Forbes, the professor invited Mel and Ernie into his lounge room, where they sat in plush, leather armchairs, in front of a roaring log fire.
After ensuring that his guests were comfortable and offering them coffee, the old man asked the reason for their visit.
"Well," began Mel hesitantly, afraid of looking stupid in front of the professor. After a moment he related all that had happened at Glen Hartwell over the last couple of days including Jacinta Blakey's use of the word "egrigor".
"I've been doing some research," said Mel, holding up the single-volume encyclopaedia. "I found the legends of the doppelgänger and the tulpa, both of which seem similar to what we saw...But not quite the same...."
"We thought that 'egrigor' might be a Russian word," explained Ernie, "in which case you might know what it means."
The professor looked from Ernie to Mel, before saying, "Yes, I know what an egrigor is."
The old man paced in front of the hearth for a moment, making Ernie and Mel fear that he thought they were both crazy. Finally Bukharin said, "The egrigor is nothing like a doppelgänger, however, it is a lot like the Tibetan tulpa. Both are physical manifestations of thought. But that is where the similarity ends. The tulpa requires a concentrated effort of thought to produce. According to Alexandra David-Neal's account in that book you're holding, it took her three months of concentrated effort to make the tulpa appear at all, and another three months to make it look completely solid. But the egrigor is generated spontaneously. Either after a great burst of love for someone, or of hatred. A hate egrigor is a demon, which exactly resembles its creator physically. But it is super strong, impervious to injury from bullets or sharp blades, and is able to easily outrun the fastest of human beings.
"The hate egrigor is generated by the killing of its creator and its sole purpose is to avenge the killing by murdering whoever was responsible...Which would explain why the egrigor of Kostyn Pavolich attacked Bear, and also why it broke into the hospital where he is being looked after."
"But how and why is it generated at all?" asked Ernie. "Surely a hate egrigor isn't generated every time a Russian person dies? Otherwise the Soviet Union would be overflowing with them?"
"No, no," corrected Professor Bukharin, "they are only generated when someone is killed by another person, not by dying of old age or accident. Also the "generator" if I can call him that, must be an unnaturally evil person, who would have wanted revenge for his killing."
Mel and Ernie considered that for a moment, then Mel asked, "But if this thing's sole purpose is to avenge Pavolich's death, what about the murder of Jacinta Blakey? She had nothing to do with his killing."
Yakov Bukharin shrugged, only able to speculate. "Possibly she was working in cahoots with Pavolich, despite her claim of being a hostage. If so he may have told her enough Russian lore that the egrigor feared she could tell you enough about it to allow you to destroy it."
"Then the egrigor can be destroyed?" asked Ernie.
"Oh yes, it can be destroyed all right. You must sever the link to the body of its creator."
"Yes. According to the spiritualists, the human body has an astral double, which is connected to the human body by a golden thread. The same applies to the egrigor. Despite its solid appearance the egrigor is made up of ectoplasm from the body of its creator. Even after the creator's death, a microscopically thin thread of ectoplasm physically links the two. Sever that link and the ectoplasm forming the body of the egrigor will fly apart, destroying it. It will in essence disintegrate...."
"But how do we sever the ectoplasmic link?" asked Ernie.
"Very simply. You must desecrate the corpse of its creator."
Ernie and Mel both looked horrified at this suggestion, which went against a lifetime of teaching as Christians.
"Desecrate the corpse?" asked Ernie, hoping that he had heard incorrectly.
"That is correct," asked Professor Bukharin. "The egrigor is impervious to pain from its own injuries. But due to the physic link between it and its creator, even after the creator's death, the egrigor feels one hundred fold the pain of any injuries inflicted upon its creator. Desecration of its creator's corpse will destroy the egrigor. Either the agony will be too great for the egrigor to stand, causing it to self-destruct, or you must keep going until the psychic thread between them is broken by the desecration."
"But his corpse hasn't been buried," explained Mel. "Pavolich was an illegal immigrant. His corpse is in a freezer drawer at the morgue, waiting for instructions regarding shipping it back to Moscow."
"No! No! No! That must not be allowed to happen!" said the old man emphatically. "Once the corpse is out of your reach, it will be impossible for you to destroy the egrigor, or to prevent it from murdering Bear Ross."
* * *
'Desecrate the corpse!' thought Mel Forbes in a state of shock as he and Ernie left the professor's McNaughton Street house. A good Catholic all his life, Mel had been taught since birth of the need for a corpse to be undamaged at burial so that the soul would be unhindered in its journey to the afterlife. They were taught that it was a sin to even cremate a corpse before burial, as Protestants and other Christians did, let alone deliberately violate the corpse. 'But what other choice have we got?' he wondered, as they walked toward the blue police Ford Fairlane parked beside the kerb.
"Where are we heading?" asked Ernie.
"Around to Baltimore Drive," said Mel pointing up to the next intersection. "I want to stop in at the morgue to speak to Jerry Green. He saw the egrigor before either of us did, when it attacked Bear in the street. So, with any luck, Jerry'll make things easy for us by allowing us --" he hesitated to use the word "desecrate" -- "to do what we have to do."
* * *
At the morgue Jerry Green listened in astonishment and horror to Mel Forbes' request. Sitting at a paper-laden desk (before which sat Mel and Ernie), he thought, 'Allow them to desecrate a corpse in my keeping? But how can I?' Although a Catholic, like Mel and Ernie, Jerry's objections went much deeper than religion. As a government appointed official, he was sworn to look after every corpse in his custody, to the best of his ability.
'How can I stand aside and watch while Ernie and Mel desecrate one of the bodies in my care?' he wondered. 'All on the strength of some crazy story told by old Yakov Bukharin. The old broke is well over seventy. Probably senile to boot.' But then he remembered his own encounter with the egrigor, when it had attacked Bear. He remembered firing three or four shots from Bear's gun into the manlike creature. 'Maybe he was wearing a bullet-proof vest or else in my terror I missed,' he tried to convince himself. But he kept thinking of the strange, bestial snarl of the egrigor, trying to convince himself that a crazy man might make such a snarl. But he couldn't quite convince himself that human vocal cords could produce such an unearthly sound.
Jerry wrestled with his conscience for almost five minutes, before finally saying, "I'm sorry, Mel, I'd like to help you, but I can't."
"But what about Bear?" insisted, pleaded Mel. "He's your best friend. You can't just stand back and let him be killed."
"I'm sorry Mel, but my mind is made up."
They continued to argue the point for almost an hour. Although Jerry was far from convinced in his own mind, he refused to change his decision. So, reluctantly Mel and Ernie left.
* * *
"Well, I guess that's that," said Mel with a sigh of frustration as they approached the glass doors leading out onto the street.
"Surely you aren't going to let it go at that?" asked Ernie as they started toward the Fairlane.
"What the hell else can I do?" demanded Mel, not meaning to take his frustration out on his friend. "We've already received an order to ship the corpse to Melbourne for transportation to Moscow. I might be able to stall them off for a few days, a week at the outside, but what good will it do, if we can't get access to the body?"
"But you heard what Yakov Bukharin said," insisted Ernie, "once that corpse is shipped to Russia, Bear is as good as dead!"
"Yes, I know, but what can I do about it? I'm a cop, I can hardly break into the morgue at night to desecrate the corpse without Jerry's permission."
Mel drove up to Mitchell Street to pick up Ernie's Range-Rover. Then while Mel headed down Wentworth Street to stop in at the hospital, Ernie headed back to his sheep station outside Merridale.
* * *
At the hospital Mel found his deputy Andrew Braidwood on guard duty, along with Geoff Goddard (sergeant at Lenoak). After the usual pleasantries with the two men, Mel looked in on Bear Ross who was still unconscious, on a drip-feeding into his left arm.
Seeing the big man looking so weak and helpless, Mel felt sick to the stomach. 'Is this what we'll all be reduced to?' he thought. He knew that in American cities like Chicago and New York, cops probably saw their work mates like this every year, if not every month. But in a small, Victorian country town, Mel had been spared the sight up until now. He had seen civilians -- the victims of road smashes or heart attacks -- reduced to this, but it had never affected him as badly as the sight of Bear Ross did. 'Damn it, there's gotta be something we can do to stop that monster killing him!'
Mel stayed in with Bear for a few minutes, before returning to the corridor to speak to Andrew and Geoff.
"I'll be back after dark with Terry and either Paul Bell or myself to relieve you," he promised before heading for the lifts.
* * *
Ernie finished the most urgent chores around his farm, then had a giant feed for tea, before setting off outside again. He rummaged around in his garage-cum-tool shed near the dog yard behind the farmhouse.
He selected a large crowbar, which he tied to the roof rack of his Range-Rover. Plus a box of screwdrivers and chisels, and two different sized jemmies, all of which he put into the back seat of the car.
He couldn't help shivering from nervousness, both because of what he planned to do, and because he had never before gone out in human form in the evening on one of his black wolf nights. But what he had to do that night could not be done completely in wolf form. So he had to start the chore early enough before his transformation took place.
'Here goes nothing!' he thought as he sat behind the steering wheel. Glancing at the dashboard clock he saw that it was after 10:30 and thought, 'I'd better pull the finger out!' Although his transformation to the black wolf had never occurred before 11:00 p.m., it would be almost that by the time that he reached Glen Hartwell.
'If I can't get there before I chancre it'll have to wait till tomorrow night!' he thought, knowing that a twenty-four hour delay could cost Bear Ross his life.
* * *
It was after 10:40 before Mel Forbes returned to the hospital to relieve Andrew Braidwood and Geoff Goddard.
"Sorry for keeping you so long," he apologised.
"That's all right," said Geoff. Both men were friends of Bear Ross and would have stayed on duty until they collapsed from exhaustion if need be.
Terry and Mel stopped in to see Bear for a moment, and then stepped outside again to stand sentry duty over the door to the private ward. Like before Terry was armed with a Winchester-repeater, but Mel Forbes was unarmed apart from wearing a backpack and nozzle that he had borrowed from the local fire department.
* * *
Ernie drove slowly down Baltimore Drive, afraid of being seen and recognised. Coming from the Merridale end of Glen Hartwell, he had to drive all the way through the Glen, until reaching the glass-fronted morgue on the corner of Baltimore Drive and Baltimore Avenue.
He turned the car down Baltimore Avenue, so that he could park behind the morgue, where the car was less likely to be spotted.
He parked in the small car park behind the morgue, but didn't get out of the car immediately. 'Well, this is it!' he thought. Although tempted to sit behind the wheel for a minute or two to steel himself, Ernie knew that every minute counted. If he hesitated he could find himself trapped in the car in his oversized clothes once he transformed into the black wolf.
'I've got to get inside before that happens,' he thought, 'can't let the change happen until I'm ready for it!' On rare occasions he had managed to hold off the shape changing until he was ready for it by a concentrated effort of will. But this sometimes backfired; since it could mean that he was thinking so deeply about the change, that instead of holding off the transformation he brought it on sooner.
Using one of the jemmies, he managed to force open the glass door to the morgue, breaking one of the panes in the process. He hesitated for a second, afraid that he might have set off an alarm. When he heard no siren he heaved a sigh of relief, but then he realised that he could have set off a silent alarm connected to the Mitchell Street police station. Although the police station was usually unmanned at night, he couldn't rely on that under the present circumstances.
'In which case I could have only minutes to finish what I have to do!' Ernie thought, hurrying down the corridor.
Although he had been in the morgue before, at night, in the dark, everything looked different and it took Ernie awhile to locate the door to the freezer room. Unlike the outer door, this door was solid wood and took nearly a minute to jemmy open. 'Come on damn you!' Ernie thought, straining with all his might, afraid the door was going to refuse to open.
He considered going outside to get the large crowbar -- which he had brought along for just such an emergency. But finally the lock snapped with a loud metallic rending sound, which had Ernie looking round nervously, expecting to be grabbed at any moment by a night watchman.
Ernie waited as long as he dared to see if anyone was going to come to investigate the sound. Then using a small penlight to light the way, he hurried across to the back wall. Covered in large, square doors, the wall reminded Ernie of the book lockers that lined the corridors at high school when he attended there two nights a week doing TAFE courses.
Except that unlike the lockers at school, the freezer doors had small nametags on them. Using the penlight to read the names, Ernie located the drawer containing the naked body of Kostyn Pavolich.
Ernie sighed deeply from nervous tension, and then set to work. He began to attack the metal drawer with the jemmy, wincing at the sound of metal crunching -- seemingly deafeningly loud in the dark morgue.
* * *
It was neatly midnight when Terry Blewett suddenly called, "It's here."
Looking round the yellow-walled corridor, Mel Forbes thought at first that the constable was mistaken. Then sensing movement rather than seeing it his eyes zeroed in on a dark corner at the other end of the corridor. At first it was only a darker hue of shadow about the corner in the dim-lit corridor. But then Mel could just discern the vague, almost ghostly outline of a tall, heavyset man standing in the corner.
"You're right," said Mel as the egrigor stepped forward. Realising that it had been spotted, the monster decided to forget about stealth and go for an all out attack, in the hope that its brute strength and superior speed would allow it to overpower the two policemen before they could set off the alarm as they had done the night before.
Terry held up the Winchester repeating rifle, although he knew from experience that it was useless against the egrigor. 'Thankfully there are no innocent bystanders around this time!' he thought. After the previous night's ruckus Mel Forbes had arranged with Gina Foley to have the other three patients on that floor moved to the next floor up.
'Now if only we knew some way to stop it!' Terry thought as the egrigor raced down the corridor determined to kill Bear Ross tonight, no matter who else it also had to kill into the bargain.
As Terry opened fire on it, the egrigor roared its panther-like roar and raced down the corridor toward them.
Mel stood well away from terry, uncertain about his own weapon. After last night's failure, Mel had replaced the pump-action shotgun with a small flame-thrower, normally used by the fire department for back burning during bush-fire season. Holding the nozzle well away from himself, he turned the gas on low, and then used a cigarette lighter to ignite the gas. 'Here's hoping this thing doesn't blow up in my own face!' Mel thought as he turned the gas up high.
Orange flame whooshed out from the nozzle, rapidly engulfing the egrigor in an ocean of fire.
* * *
The loud metallic grinding seemed to go on endlessly. But finally the lock snapped on the freezer door and the drawer swung open effortlessly to reveal the naked body of Kostyn Pavolich.
'Well, here goes!' Ernie thought reaching in toward the corpse with the jemmy, planning to smash its skull open.
But then as his head began to swim, Ernie realised that he was about to transform into the black wolf. 'Oh no!' he thought, afraid his shape-changing would occur too quickly, while Pavolich was still in the freezer drawer one and a half metres off the ground. Which would have made it difficult" if not impossible, for the black wolf to perform its gory task.
Despite the qualms he still had, knowing that Bear Ross' life depended on him, Ernie dropped the jemmy and grabbed the Russian's corpse with both hands. Normally a strong man anyway, powered by his fear, Ernie easily hefted the large corpse out of the drawer and dropped it onto the floor....
Only seconds before dropping to his knees as he transformed to the black wolf.
Trapped in his now oversized clothing, the black wolf had to tear his way to freedom. Aware that it meant that later as Ernie Singleton he would have to drive the Range-Rover naked to return to his sheep station.
Hesitating again, loath to do what he knew he must, the wolf lowered its jaws toward the face of the Russian immigrant to tear away at the features of the corpse.
* * *
Mel held down the trigger of the flame-thrower, engulfing the egrigor until the wall behind the monster was on fire. As the flaring paint added to the gas flames, for a few moments it seemed as though the flame-thrower would defeat the egrigor.
Then slowly the egrigor began to advance toward the two policemen again, impervious to the flames, which were almost roasting Mel and Terry.
"Whatever you do, don't let it past you!" ordered Mel. Although neither man knew how they were supposed to stop the egrigor.
The egrigor reached the door to Bear's room. Although the flame-thrower had run out of gas, Mel Forbes stood blocking its way. A large man -- over one hundred and ninety centimetres tall and well muscled -- Mel hoped that he somehow might be physically a match for the monster.
But the egrigor grabbed Mel by one arm and lifted him easily off his feet. Then it disdainfully threw Mel down the corridor, where the big man crashed against the wall a metre off the ground.
Terry Blewett stared in amazement as the egrigor easily swung Mel through the air. He grimaced, feeling sick to the stomach as Mel crashed into the wall and slid down to lie in a lifeless looking heap on the floor.
As the alarm started to blare on the ward, the egrigor roared its rage at Terry. When the terrified constable refused to step aside, the monster grabbed him also and threw him down the corridor after Mel.
Unlike the sergeant, however, Terry landed before hitting the wall. Although he badly sprained his left ankle and fell screaming to the floor. He was unable to do anything but watch in horror as the egrigor tore the door right off its hinges to start into the ward after Bear Ross who was now defenceless.
* * *
The black wolf struggled not to throw up in disgust as he started to rip apart the facial features of the corpse. Up until now he had never used his powerful jaws against any creature living or dead. But he knew that if he let his revulsion win out he would seal the doom of his best friend.
Steeling himself as best he could, the black wolf continued to hack at the face of the corpse until there was no flesh left on the grinning skull.
After a moment's indecision, the wolf spread his mouth wide over the skull and began to clamp his jaws shut like a great nutcracker, straining to burst an oversized nut.
* * *
'Oh, my God, I've got to help him!' thought Terry Blewett as the egrigor raced into Bear's private room.
Straining overhead he managed to reach the wooden handrail a metre up the wall. He pulled himself to a standing position, but the second that his left foot touched the ground he screamed and collapsed to the floor again.
Deciding that it was easier to crawl than to walk, he started inching down the corridor on his hands and knees, almost crying from frustration. 'Too slow, damn it, it's taking too damn long!' Terry thought. He knew that even if he had some way to stop the egrigor, there was no way that he could reach Bear Ross' bedroom before the monster had slaughtered Bear.
Hearing an unearthly scream ring out from the bedroom, Terry's bladder released, flooding the front of his trousers, as he thought, 'My God, it's over, he's dead, poor Bear is dead!'
But then the scream rang out a second time, almost deafeningly loud, despite the noise of the alarm, which it had to compete with.
As the shrieking went on Terry thought, 'No human larynx could make that kind of noise!'
And confirming the thought, the egrigor staggered out of the private room, clutching at its face and shrieking one long, continuous shrilling shriek as it lurched back into the corridor.
Reeling around like a wino the egrigor headed toward the stairwell.
Terry Blewett continued to claw his way across the floor toward Bear's room, where he saw the policeman sleeping comatose, seemingly unhurt by the egrigor this time.
* * *
The skull flexed against the black wolf's jaws like a rubber ball, refusing to burst. Fighting the bile, which threatened to rise in his throat, the wolf continued to bite down. Until finally the skull shattered, spraying him with a mixture of bone shards and brain matter.
As the skull finally burst open, the black wolf heard a deafening shriek of pain and horror.
He jumped away from the corpse in terror, thinking at first that the scream had emanated from it.
But as he leapt away, the black wolf saw the egrigor standing in the doorway to the freezer room, clutching at its face. Although it had not physically changed at the desecration, the black wolf recalled Professor Bukharin saying that it was still connected to the corpse of Kostyn Pavolich and would feel the pain of any injuries inflicted upon the corpse.
The black wolf forced himself to start forward to inflict more desecration on the Russian's corpse. But before he could do so, the egrigor let out another unearthly shriek....
With a sound like a stick of dynamite igniting, the egrigor burst apart into a great cloud of blinding, phosphorescent dust.
Dust, which filled the room, choking the black wolf.
The wolf started to stumble toward the door to fresh air, but the phosphorescent mist quickly dimmed, then rapidly evaporated into the air, leaving behind no sign that the egrigor had ever been there.
After one last look at the mangled corpse of Kostyn Pavolich, the black wolf raced out through the back door of the morgue, to throw up in the small car park.
Then he started to race through the night, knowing that it would take at least an hour or two to run the wolf out of his system, so that he could transform back into Ernie Singleton. He also knew that he had to return to the morgue to pick up his tools, torn clothing and most importantly his Range-Rover, or else the desecration of the corpse would quickly be traced back to him.
* * *
At the hospital, half a dozen burly interns and male nurses finally responded to the sound of the alarm on the second floor.
While one of them checked that Bear Ross was all right, two of them helped Terry Blewett to the lift to take him downstairs to have his twisted ankle attended to. The others went to check on Mel Forbes, who was still out cold.
"How is he?" asked Terry, afraid of what he might be told.
"He's okay," said a male nurse, "just out cold. When he comes to he'll have one daddy of a migraine for a few days, but after that he should be all right."
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia