Running one hand through his unruly shock of red hair, Colin Klein held a pint of best bitter in his other hand. Standing with his back against the oaken bar, the forty-something investigative reporter looked round the small public house, where twenty-five or so locals sat at aged-wood topped round tables, or at a long wooden bench running round three sides of the pub. Farm workers to the man, many still wore dirty coveralls, or faded denims.
Looking back toward the lanky barman, who could have passed for Bernard Bresslaw in a certain light, Klein said: "There's a good crowd in here tonight."
"Yes," said the barman, Harry.
Klein said: "I'm researching a book about U.K. pubs, and the legends attached to them. I'd love to be able to add a chapter about the legend behind the Green Man Tavern."
"Well, it's a simple enough legend. Supposedly going all the way back to William the Conqueror. The Green Man is supposed to be a leafy green, manlike monster, which somehow appears out of vines or ivy to attack passers-by and strangle them with his vine-like arms…."
* * *
Gloria Anderton was walking past the ivy-covered walls of Templeton Manor, perhaps three-hundred yards from The Green Man Tavern.
Although she had to admit that winter was finally setting in, and by 7:50 PM it was already dark, apart from the weak light from widely-space street lamps. An unnecessary nod toward urbanisation in the opinion of the old lady, who had lived in the country town all of her life.
As Gloria reached the midway point of the manor house, she was startled by strange movement in the dim lighting.
"What?" said the spinster, as the ivy on the whitewashed wall began to sway and rock, agitating wildly as though a hurricane were blowing.
Gloria watched, spellbound in fear as with one final tug, a great segment of ivy broke away from the wall. Then twisting and turning every which way the broken strands began to band together. Twining together like Hessian rope being assembled. Except that, instead of rope, the thrashing, breaking, twining ivy began to slowly, then more rapidly 'knit' the outline of a seven-foot tall man.
'The Green Man!' thought Gloria. Unbelieving, even as the creature took final shape and stretched out its swirling, swishing, snakelike arms to advance in a verdant parody of the Frankenstein monster on late night television.
* * *
"The Green Man is a local bogyman," said Harry, topping up Colin Klein's pint - pronouncing it Boogie Man.
"Has anyone actually seen the Green Man in modern times?" asked Klein.
"Well … it's only a legend," conceded Harry, the barman. Then, opening the till to deposit Klein's beer money: "Still, it helps to sell pints."
"Well, that's what matters," agreed the redheaded reporter.
They both laughed heartily at the quip. Until a shrill feminine shriek shattered the silence of the still night.
"What the …?" said Harry, reaching under the counter for a double-barrel shotgun.
Dropping the pint glass unnoticing of it shattering on the teak floor, Colin Klein had already started toward the glass-panelled door to the street. Followed by most of the drinkers - some still carrying their glasses as they raced into the chill night air.
* * *
Gloria Anderton backed slowly away from the twitching, writhing, man-shaped mass of greenery that advanced on her. As she backed toward The Green Man Tavern, the old lady was unaware that she had begun shrilling.
Grinning as best as his verdant face allowed, the Green Man advanced a little faster upon the retreating spinster. Then, when she seemed to be keeping the gap between them steady, the Green Man began shaking his leafy hands wildly as though about to fall apart again. Instead, long tendrils of leafy vinery shot out to grab Gloria by the neck.
"Uck! Uck!" stammered Gloria Anderton. Her last words reduced to a gurgling, stutter, as the leafy tendrils began racing round and round her thin neck, straggling the spinster as it cut off her screams.
* * *
Charging out of the public house into the cobbled road, Colin Klein and the others stopped momentarily to look about for the screamer. Then as Gloria Anderton squawked her last, Klein pointed toward Templeton Manor where two struggling figures could barely be made out in the faint light from a puce cast-iron lamp.
"This way!" said the redheaded reporter, leading the charge despite being one of the few men in the crowd without a firearm.
The three hundred yards seemed like a marathon. But finally the crowd reached the now silent form of Gloria Anderton lying upon the bitumen footpath.
"What is that?" asked Colin Klein. Kneeling he began examining the green-and-yellow strands wrapped round the old lady's neck.
The two-dozen or so farmers were reluctant to approach the silently screaming corpse, whose bugging eyes seemed about to leap from their sockets to make a run for it. But, trying not to look at her horrid death-mask face, two farmers knelt to examine her feet, which were also bound in green-and-yellow strands.
Pulling back as though stung, a burly farmer looked up at Klein and said: "Vines. She's been tied up in wild vines."
"Someone has a sick sense of humour," said Harry. Despite himself, looking at the silent-screaming old lady. Then as he stared he almost said aloud what Klein was thinking: 'How could anyone have tied wild vines fifteen or twenty times around her neck? Tight enough to strangle the poor woman to death. Without the vines breaking, and without her having time to run away?'
"Over there!" called Colin Klein as he spotted movement under another street lamp a couple of hundred yards away.
The small posse stared, bemused at the barely visible figure for a moment. Then as it took off, Harry hefted his shotgun and started after the murderer, not waiting to see if the others were following him.
"Can someone call for the police?" asked Colin Klein. A little surprised, as two burly farmers reached into the bib pockets of their coveralls to pull out cell phones. "Everyone else follow me."
Hoping it was not too late, Klein and the others started after Harry and the fleeing killer. Barely able to see either of them in the meagre light of the widely spaced street lamps.
Startled by the sound of a shotgun blast, Colin Klein stopped for a second, colliding with the man in back of him.
"Come on!" said the redheaded reporter as though he were not the one who had stopped.
Trying their best not to fall on the bitumen footpath or cobbled roadway as they ran, nonetheless, from time to time one man or another stumbled in the dark. Sometimes falling alone. Sometimes taking half-a-dozen other men down with him.
Almost tripping, Colin Klein looked down and was puzzled to see long strands of green and yellow vines along the roadside. 'As though the killer is deliberately leaving a trail for us to follow him?' thought Klein, trying not to be paranoid. However, as more and more men tripped on the vines as they ran, Klein began to wonder: 'If he is leaving us a trail - intentionally or otherwise - how can he possibly carry this quantity of greenery while running?'
"Where is he getting all this stuff from?" asked a farm hand named Barry, a thickset, sun-bronzed man of nearly fifty, echoing Klein's thoughts.
"Don't know," said a second farm hand. "But I hope he ain't using it to trick us into following him."
* * *
Unaware that he had left the main group far behind, Harry hefted his shotgun to take aim at the killer.
'I'll teach you to strangle old ladies!' thought Harry. He aimed the shotgun as best he could on the run, and fired both barrels at the fleeing figure.
"Gotcha!" cried Harry in satisfaction as a great mass of writhing green 'entrails' erupted from the body of the Green Man.
'Success!' thought Harry, puzzled by the sweet smell of chlorophyll that burst from the creature as it was shot.
Unable to feel pain, the Green Man was knocked to the ground by the physical punch of the double shotgun blast. But, to Harry's shock, he planted his verdant hands on the cobbled footpath and hefted himself easily to a sitting position.
Then, crouching, then standing he turned and fled away again, leaving behind green and yellow tendrils of ivy -- along with the now near-overpowering smell of chlorophyll.
* * *
Hearing the boom of the shotgun, Colin Klein and the pursuing farm hands stopped for a second. Then as they were overwhelmed by the odour of chlorophyll, Barry covered his nose with a grotty looking kerchief and said:
"Who'd be mowing their lawn at this hour?"
Which was what the sweet chlorophyll aroma reminded them all of. But without the roar of a mower behind it, Colin Klein said: "I don't think it's someone mowing their lawn."
Klein held up a few of the green and yellow tendrils he had picked up earlier and thought: 'I don't know how, but the chlorophyll smell must be connected to this?'
"Over there," said Barry, his voice muffled through the hanky. He pointed to where the moon had just risen, revealing the dimmest possible outline of Harry and the creature he pursued.
* * *
Shooting the fleeing creature again, only to have it stumble but not fall, Harry quickly reloaded both barrels.
"Die, damn you!" cried Harry firing both barrels again. But this time the Green Man barely wavered as the pellets tore chunks of greenery from his midriff.
Overwhelmed by the noxious odour of chlorophyll, Harry still had not considered that the creature he pursued might not be human. 'He must be wearing a bullet-proof vest or something!' thought the barman. Although he knew that the double shotgun blast should still knock the wearer off his feet. And at close range probably knock him unconscious.
"Why won't you die, damn you?" shouted Harry. Then as the Green Man stopped directly below a cast-iron street lamp the barman got his answer.
"Shit in a hand basket!" said Harry, as for the first time he clearly saw the manlike creature composed of writhing vines and leaves. Leaves that swished and swayed, like whips striking like the most deadly King Cobra.
In the middle of the creature was a gaping hole from the last shotgun blast. Then, as Harry stared, swishing, swaying, writhing vines began to knit over the cavity, filling it in, in only seconds.
Harry fired again, straight at the head of the Green Man. With a great explosion of leaves and vines and an overwhelming burst of chlorophyll, the creature's head burst apart.
Then, as the barman was smiling in satisfaction, the swaying snake-vines began weaving and knitting, until in seconds the Green Man's head sat atop his leafy neck again.
"Shit in a hand basket!" said Harry, unaware at first as the Green Man began advancing upon him, arms stretched out like a Frankenstein monster caricature again.
"Get back!" cried Harry. He fired the shotgun again, only to hear the triggers 'click-click' upon empty chambers.
The Green Man looked as though it wanted to snarl at the barman in rage, but was unable to do so without a tongue or lungs to breath air.
"Holy …!" said Harry. He fumbled for more shells. Only to hear the 'clatter-clatter' of shells hitting the pavement as his terrified fingers failed to clutch them.
"Oh God!" whimpered Harry. Dropping to his knees he began frantically feeling around in the dark for the shotgun cartridges. As the Green Man continued to advance upon him, arms still outstretched Frankenstein-like.
"Oh God, help me!" cried Harry, praying this time, not blaspheming. Harry tried to stagger back to his feet. Too late!
Still a yard or more from Harry, the Green Man thrust his arms harder toward the publican, and green and yellow tendrils shot from his hands, to begin entwining themselves repeatedly around Harry's neck.
"No!" Harry tried to call. But the leafy tendrils wrapped round and round his windpipe, squeezing and crushing off all sound. So that his voice came out only as a sibilant wheeze.
* * *
In the distance Colin Klein, Barry, and the others heard the series of shotgun blasts. Followed by the near overpowering burst of chlorophyll after each blast.
They were still too far away to see how the two events were connected. But in his left hand the redheaded reporter still carried the strands of greenery and was convinced: 'It has to be something to do with these? But what?'
"Come on!" cried Barry: "They seem to have stopped." He pointed to where Harry and the killer could just be seen in the dim light of a street lamp.
Without further prompting, Colin Klein raced to the front and led the charge as the small posse fled toward Harry and the Green Man.
* * *
Grinning as broadly as his leafy face allowed, the Green Man continued to send tendrils of vines wrapping round and round Harry's neck. Even after the crunching of bones and Harry's bulging eyes showed that the barman was well and truly dead.
After being shot repeatedly, the verdant creature took delight in crushing the neck of its latest victim. Satisfied that this killing was a justifiable act of self-defence.
The Green Man seemed content to spend hours crushing Harry's neck to pulp. But hearing the sound of running and wheezing, the plant-beast looked into the dim night, staring toward the sound of gasping breath and running feet.
Looking down upon the long-dead barman, the creature seemed to consider staying put despite the rapidly approaching posse. Then common sense took over. Flexing its vine-filled arms, the creature lashed them suddenly, as though cracking a bullwhip, and the long tendrils snapped cleanly, separating the creature from its victim.
After one last contemptuous glare at the corpse of Harry the barman, the Green Man turned and raced off down the centre of the cobbled road - abandoning the footpath, as though hoping this new stratagem might somehow confuse the pursuers.
* * *
Seeing the outline of the killer racing down the centre of the road, Colin Klein pointed and called: "Over there!"
Before Barry and the others could respond though, Klein heard a curse as two of the men fell over in the dark.
"What…?" said Klein, careful not to follow suite as he raced over to help the two men, who were lying upon the bitumen footpath. One on either side of the bulge-eyed corpse of Harry.
Like the corpse of Gloria Anderton, Harry's body had strand after strand of green and yellow creepers wrapped so tightly around his neck, that his eyes bulged until they nearly popped out of their sockets.
"Holy … what could do that…?" asked Barry, his blasphemy turning to question in mid sentence.
"Damned if I know," said another man taking the question literally, as he moved to help Barry and the other fallen man back to their feet.
"What indeed?" said Klein, thinking aloud. He looked down to the leafy vines in his left hand.
He began to speak again, stopping transfixed as the verdant tendrils began twisting and writhing in his hands. Wildly gyrating to and fro like an angry captive trying to break the grip of their captor; back and forth the vines lashed furiously, as though caught in a 100-knott gale.
"What…?" said Colin Klein aloud, drawing the gaze of the men closest to him, as the vines swished and swayed angrily. As though determined to break free of the redheaded man's grip.
"What the Hell!" asked a tall, fair-haired man, Leonard, who had joined the posse at some point as they had run through the wide streets of Hartley Forest.
At his words, more and more of the men stepped across from where Bernard Bresslaw-look-alike Harry lay on the footpath, to see what was going on.
"What the blazes?" said Barry as the wildly swaying vines swished and writhed almost to breaking point in Colin Klein's left hand, despite the lack of discernible wind. A fact three or four of the men confirmed by licking an index finger and holding it up into the air.
"There's no wind at all!" insisted Leonard, pointing at the vines. "So what's making them do that?"
"What…?" cried Klein, suddenly dropping the writhing foliage as though stung.
"What is it?" asked Leonard.
"Did they sting you?" asked Barry.
"No, they…" Klein hesitated, reluctant to appear foolish in front of the men. Finally he said: "They pulsed."
"Pulsed?" asked Leonard.
"Like a human pulse throbbing!" explained Klein. "They suddenly throbbed like … like I was holding a human heart in my hand."
"What…?" began Leonard. But before the fair-haired man could continue, the fallen vines began writhing, twisting, twitching as though victim of some kind of floral Saint Vitus Dance.
"Jesus!" said Barry. And without needing to be told, the thirty or so men all backed away; giving wide berth to the frantically twisting foliage.
Around and around the green and yellow tendrils tossed, giving off a much sharper, somehow nastier form of chlorophyll smell than earlier. Until finally the thrashing greenery seemed to find its feet. Suddenly contracting and expanding, the leafy vines began moving across the road, toward the fallen barman, like some kind of vile, overgrown caterpillar.
"Oh, Lord!" said one of the posse, a good Catholic crossing himself, then reaching for his collar as though it were a rosary chain.
"How can it do that?" demanded Leonard as the ivy tendrils continued their grotesque parody of a caterpillar. Contracting and expanding as they headed across the road to the gutter - which they stopped at for a moment as though puzzled, raising up like a reptile surveying the terrain - before caterpillar-crawling up the gutter to the footpath.
"They're after poor Harry Maynard!" said one of the men, as though he expected the creeping vines to somehow devour the barman's corpse.
"Don't worry, they can't hurt him now," said Colin Klein, blushing guiltily as he said it. Not wanting to seem heartless about the death of the barman.
"Maybe not!" said Leonard angrily. His anger focused on the caterpillar-crawling vines, not Klein. "But it ain't gonna have old Harry!"
So saying, before Klein could guess what he was planning, the fair-haired man raced across and began kicking wildly at the creeping foliage. For a few seconds the men in the posse grinned ironically at this protest against what had happened to Gloria Anderton and Harry Maynard on that chilly, yet windless winter night.
"Give it hell, Leonard!" cried one of the men.
Then to the shock of the watchers, Leonard suddenly stopped kicking and began screaming shrilly.
"What …?" said Colin Klein as Leonard fell backwards onto the cobbled road, with only his feet upon the footpath.
"What in Hell?" asked Barry. As, to the posse's astonishment, despite being knocked unconscious in the fall, Leonard began to slowly creep forward, until he was on the footpath to his knees. Then to his thighs.
"Jesus!" blasphemed Thomas, the man who had crossed himself earlier: "The bloody thing has got him and is pulling him along!"
Klein started to protest that at six foot six, three-hundred pounds of solid muscle, it was impossible for the fair-haired man to be pulled along by some four-foot lengths of foliage. Then seeing the length of green and yellow vines wrapped lasso-like around the fallen man's ankles, he realised: 'It's true! The blood vines are pulling him along!'
"The bloody thing wants to eat him!" cried Thomas hysterically.
"Strangle him like Harry Maynard, more likely!" said Colin Klein.
Racing across to grab Leonard under the shoulders, Klein cried: "For God's sake someone help me!"
After a moment's indecision, half-a-dozen men, including Barry and Thomas, raced across to take one of Leonard's arms, or grab him around the midriff.
"Stay away from his legs!" warned Klein, seeing two or three men heading toward Leonard's knees. The men stopped, uncertain for a moment, then ran back to grab the fair-haired man around the midriff.
"We've got him!" cried Barry, over confidently.
Then with a sudden monstrous tug, the creeping vine ripped Leonard out of their grips; pulling him forward until he was lying with his backside above the gutter. Only his abdomen and head on the cobbled road.
"Holy Jesus!" said Thomas, crossing himself again.
"Come on!" cried Klein, leading the charge as the men raced forward and grabbed the prostrate man again.
"Hold tight this time!" instructed Barry. And he, Klein, Thomas, and five other men held onto Leonard with enough force to leave him black and blue in the morning.
"What the Hell's going on…?" asked Leonard. Waking as the vines suddenly pulled again, almost ripping the fair-haired man from the grip of the men once more.
"Hold him, dammit!" cried Colin Klein. And the tug-of-war began in earnest, as the flexing, twisting, thrashing creeping foliage did it's level best to rip the fallen man away from Klein and the others, to drag him to his death.
"Don't let it get me!" shrieked Leonard. He tried to stand, but fell again as the vines connected to his ankles contracted and dragged him forward another few inches, forcing the half-a-dozen men to lunge forward to keep him in their grip.
"For God's sake stay down!" cried Klein. "You're not helping by trying to get up."
"They've got you by the ankles Leo," said Barry, regretting the words as soon as they left his mouth.
"What?" cried Leonard, making Colin Klein hope they were not going to have to struggle with the hysterical man, as well as the twitching, writhing foliage.
"Stay calm!" cried Thomas, doubting that he would have acted any differently in the same circumstances.
"Hold on, dammit!" cried Klein, as the tugging vines almost ripped the fair-haired man out of their grips again.
"For God's sake hold on!" pleaded, cried, prayed Leonard.
"Jesus, it's strong!" said Thomas. He went to cross himself again, and then as the foliage almost pulled his fallen comrade out of his arms, he decided to leave it until later.
"Pull him back!" cried Klein. And, tugging with all of their strength, the men managed to pull Leonard back a few inches only. Until his backside was uncomfortably positioned part on the footpath, part in the gutter, part on the cobbled road.
"Don't let it take me!" shrieked Leonard.
"Relax, it isn't going to take you," assured Colin Klein. Only hoping that he was not lying to a dying man.
"No, it…" began Barry, leaping on top of Leonard, as the twisting, twitching greenery suddenly tugged, ripping the fallen man out of the hands of Klein and the others.
"Hold him, dammit!" Colin Klein cursed his own ineffectual efforts, not those of the other men.
"Don't let it take me!" shrieked Leonard again, beginning to cry in terror.
"We won't … " began Klein. He stopped, not wanting to lie to a dying man if they failed to save him from the angry vines.
"Hold him!" cried Barry, and the other men pulled Leonard back three or four inches. Only to lose six inches as the insistently tugging vines almost pulled Leonard away from his protectors.
"Don't give up!" cried Leonard, almost passing out from terror.
"We won't give up!" insisted Klein, as the yellow face of the moon seemed to glare down on them. As though contemptuous of their efforts to save the fallen man, for some reason wanting the greenery to strangle Leonard as it had done with Gloria Anderton and Harry Maynard.
Tugging with all his might, the redheaded reporter felt a sudden sharp shooting pain, like muscles tearing in his spine, as though the tug-of-war would tug his spine right out of his body. Yet, shriek as his aching back might, Colin Klein refused to be defeated by some overgrown lawn clippings. 'Dear God,' Klein prayed silently, 'don't let this good man be taken away from us and killed by this evil greenery.'
A lapsed Catholic, the forty-eight-year-old man had not prayed for twenty-five years or more. But in his terror at the fight for Leonard's life, he hoped that the Lord above would forgive him and help save the fair-haired man.
For more than ten more minutes the tug-of-war continued. The men would gain a few inches. Then the creeping vines would tug again, regaining the lost ground. Back and forth they tugged, men against foliage. Neither able to win. Neither willing to give in to the other.
Then suddenly they were bathed in yellowy light.
"What …?" said Colin Klein. And, as though afraid to be clearly seen, the creeping vine suddenly released the fair-haired man's ankles. An act which had Klein and the others gasp in shock as they suddenly fell backward onto the cobbled road, or across the prostrate figure, of the now openly sobbing, terrified man.
"We've won!" cried Barry, as though they had won a harmless tug-of-war at the fairground, where the loser gets pulled face down through the mud. Rather than a contest for a man's life.
"What the Hell is that?" asked Timothy, a short stocky man in the posse.
As, having surrendered the tug-of-war, the four-foot length of creepers, caterpillar-crawled across the bitumen footpath, toward the fallen figure of Harry Maynard.
"What's it doing?" demanded Barry.
As though in answer to his question, some of the vines around the barman's crushed neck began twitching and writhing with renewed life. Slowly unravelling from around the dead publican's neck, to reach tentatively toward the severed vines, still swaying in a breeze that none of the men could feel. Then, as the thirty or so men watched in awe, dumbfounded, the broken vines began twisting, turning, knitting together with the foliage now rapidly unravelling from around Harry Maynard's neck.
"What the hell's goin' on?" Timothy asked.
Then, as though in answer, the two groups of vine, now entwined together as a single length, suddenly burst into motion, taking off in the direction that the Green Man had raced nearly twenty minutes earlier.
"What the hell is that thing?" asked a voice behind them.
Turning, Colin Klein and the others saw a man in coveralls had pulled up in a landrover - hence the bright yellow light they were still flooded in.
"We're not sure, but it killed Harry Maynard, and almost got poor Leo," explained Barry.
"Jump in!" called the driver, Henry.
After one last look at the gross parody of a giant caterpillar expanding, contracting its way down the bitumen footpath, Klein and twenty other men climbed into the open back of the Rover. The tarpaulin had been removed, but the iron framework remained, so the men could stand as they pursued the creeping vines and the double murderer, which the vines in turn pursued.
"Okay!" said Colin Klein tap-tapping on the cabin roof.
"Hold on!" instructed Henry starting the Rover.
"Shit in a hand basket!" cried Barry, as he and five others were thrown to the tray of the landrover.
Calling to those left behind, Klein instructed: "Call an ambulance for Leonard, then get another vehicle to follow us."
"No worries," called one of the men still attending Leonard. Who still sat on the footpath, no longer crying in terror, but deep breathing to calm his nerves.
"Relax, an ambulance is on the way," assured one of the dozen or more men unable to squeeze into the rear of the Rover.
* * *
In the distance, the fleeing Green Man could hear the grinding of ancient gears as the landrover started up. He could also hear the wind-swept-grass sound of the creeping vines, racing along behind in a bid to catch him up.
Despite his anger at the pursuing men, the Green Man stood his ground to await the arrival of the vines. His back depleted by the shotgun blasts earlier, he looked forward to adding the vines to his mass to strengthen himself.
For precious seconds, as the landrover started down the cobbled road toward him, the Green Man waited as the rustling, swishing, sibilant sound increased in volume, as the creeping foliage caterpillar raced down the roadway toward their progenitor.
'Come!' the Green Man thought - unable to speak without a tongue - holding his arms Frankenstein monster-like in front of him, as the racing vines, became visible in the dim light of the winter moon.
As invited, the racing foliage somehow leapt from the black cobbled road to start furiously winding itself round and round the Green Man's 'hands'. As they had wound round Leonard's ankles not so long ago. But whereas before they had been attacking, now they were rejoining and replenishing their creator. Round and round they wound, snake-coiling as though to bind the Green Man. Then rapidly they began rolling up along his verdant arms, like mini hoola hoops, heading toward his chest. Where they dived snake-like into the creature's leafy bulk. To begin knitting and sowing, rapidly repairing much of the damage done by Harry Maynard's shotgun earlier.
Looking almost sexually ecstatic, the Green Man faced down the street toward where the landrover was now rapidly approaching. Trying to grin with his featureless face, the Green Man turned back and ran down the centre of the street. In his haste to escape the posse, the creature almost collided with two elderly ladies - Jemima and Thalia Pember - returning home from evening mass.
"Oh Lord!" cried silver-haired Jemima, covering her mouth with a white-gloved hand, looking as though she had just been told an obscene joke.
The Green Man hesitated a second or so, eager to add one or both of the old ladies to his list of victims. Then hearing the roar of the approaching landrover, reluctantly the creature span round and thundered off down the road.
"Oh Lord!" cried Thalia, crossing herself. As though aware how close she and her sister had come to meeting their maker.
"It was made of …" said Jemima, looking as though she were about to faint, "vines and things!"
Both ladies flushed red from terror, not cold, as the landrover roared up the street behind them.
Roaring down the cobbled road with its high beams on, the Rover caught the two old ladies in its light, like frightened rabbits awaiting death to bear down upon them.
Stopping the vehicle just short of the two ladies, Henry the driver called: "Did you see where he went?"
"It … it …it" stammered Jemima, finally swooning as she tried to point after the fleeing Green Man.
"He went that way?" asked Colin Klein, pointing ahead down the road.
"It went that way," confirmed Thalia, before also passing out.
"Lord!" said Barry as he, Klein and a few other men jumped from the rear of the Rover to race over to the two prostrate women.
"This one's just fainted," said Colin Klein, after examining Thalia.
"I think this one's had a heart attack!" said Barry, examining Jemima Pember.
"Shit in a hand basket," said Henry, racing across to assist Barry in attempting to resuscitate the old lady.
Timothy and two other men pulled out cell phones to call for an ambulance.
"Any luck?" asked Colin Klein as Thalia Pember began to murmur fitfully as she began to rouse.
"The ambulance had just dropped Gloria Anderton at the hospital, and was on its way to Leonard," said Timothy. "But I convinced them the old lady is a more urgent case. So they've detoured and should be here in a couple of minutes."
"Good," said Klein. "You and Barry stay here till they arrive. Then get into the next vehicle if and when it arrives. The rest of us had better get after that thing again."
"Jemmy!" Thalia Pember suddenly shrieked, as, rising, she saw her older sister looking like a corpse, lying in the road a few feet away.
"Stop her!" called Colin Klein.
Barry raced across to the old lady, who struggled wildly in his grip. And for a few seconds looked as though she was going to overpower him.
"Calm down, Miss Pember, we've called for an ambulance," said Barry. "It should be here any second." And, to his relief, they could hear the shrilling of the ambulance siren away in the distance. Seeing that Thalia had calmed at the sound of the approaching ambulance, he said to Klein: "You and the others better get off after that thing."
"You're not wrong," said Henry, racing back to the cabin of the landrover, as Klein and the others leapt into the rear. This time careful to hold onto the railings as the vehicle juddered into motion.
* * *
Hearing the landrover start again, the Green Man did its best to roar in outrage. But only silence came from its leafy parody of a face.
Looking left and right, the Green Man turned into McCauley Way and raced down toward the civic centre nearly a mile away.
* * *
Not seeing the Green Man turn left, Henry roared the landrover straight past the intersection and up toward the next junction before stopping.
"What's up?" demanded Colin Klein.
"There's no hint of him … it, up ahead," explained Henry. "Even if its able to outrun the Rover - which I doubt - there should be some sign of movement in the high beams."
"Could he have turned off without us seeing?" asked Klein, running a hand through his unkempt mop of red hair.
"Well, we just passed McCauley Way," said Henry. "That leads up toward the oldest part of Hartley Forest - with the library, town hall, grade school, and high school. And other official buildings."
Colin Klein resisted the temptation to asked what an 'unofficial building' was. Instead he said: "Okay, let's go back that way."
"Got you," said Henry restarting the Rover and putting it into gear.
* * *
Racing down the centre of McCauley Way, the Green Man was convinced he had eluded his pursuers. Until hearing the rattle-crash of the landrover starting down McCauley Way from the intersection where he had turned, nearly a mile back.
Shaking his leafy fists at his pursuers, the Green Man raced across to the bitumen footpath running past the Hartley Forest High School. He almost stopped, considering hiding within the small hedge that acted as boundary fence on one side of the school. Then shaking his head, the creature continued on toward the Gothic fronted town library, where stone lions guarded the entranceway at the bottom of a dozen concrete steps.
The Green Man had started up the steps, when he spotted what he really needed to escape. The ivy covered sidewall of the double-storeyed edifice that was the town hall.
Almost managing to vocalise his emotions for the first time, the Green Man raced across to the Hartley Forest Town Hall and raced down the side of the building. Stopping about halfway down the side of the building, the Green Man held up its arms Frankenstein monster-like again.
Like grass caught in a tornado, the leafy foliage of the creature's hands and arms began thrashing wildly. Snaking, lashing, snapping like a dozen angry bullwhips, the leafy vineage twitched, swayed, pulled, extended away from the Green Man's limbs and slowly slid across to connect up with the ivy covering the wall of the town hall.
As though refusing the newcomer's advances, the ivy on the wall began thrashing and twitching. At first slowly, then frenetically, like Voodoo Dancers reaching the climax of an erotic dance.
The creeping vines began slithering out of the hands of the Green Man, slowly, but insistently merging with the ivy on the wall. Merging with, becoming part of the ivy coverage. Slowly, then rapidly the vines began racing from the body of the Green Man. Not just his arms and hands now. A dozens tendrils of greenery raced from his head, neck, arms, chest, stomach, legs, and feet. Faster and faster the escaping foliage rushed out of the collapsing figure of the Green Man, and into the expanding vegetation on the side of the Hartley Forest Town Hall.
The Green Man deflated like a damaged balloon, until nothing remained of him, except for the twisting, tossing, lashing foliage upon the town hall building. Thrashing and twitching which rapidly slowed, then died away at the sound of the approaching landrover. Until there was nothing to show that the Green Man had ever been there.
* * *
As they drove along, Colin Klein suddenly pointed toward the town hall.
"Over there!" called the redheaded reporter.
"What?" asked Henry, stopping the Rover.
"By the side of the building there."
"The town hall? What about it?"
"I thought I saw movement by the side wall," explained Klein. "It could be that creature hiding."
"Okay," said Henry, heading the landrover across toward the town hall.
"Be careful," advised Klein as the Rover stopped and the men started out. "Stick together, so he can't pick us off one by one."
"Got you," said one of the men, Anthony, a tall thin, Chinese man. And slowly the posse started down the side of the ivy-covered building.
"Hold up," called Henry. Producing two flashlights from the cabin of the Rover, he handed one torch to Colin Klein and kept the other himself.
"Okay, let's go," said Klein.
Wary of being grabbed by the creature, as they had seen Leonard grabbed by the creeping vines, the men stood closely together, inching along the path, like a group of snail-paced Congo-dancers.
For ten minutes or more the posse crept around the side and rear of the town hall, expecting at any second to be leapt upon by the Green Man.
Heaving a sigh, half from frustration, half from relief, Henry said: "No sign of it."
"I could have sworn …?" said Colin Klein, looking as puzzled as he felt. Suddenly he stopped and aimed the flashlight at his feet.
"What is it?" asked Henry.
"He was here all right," said Klein. He pointed to where a few foot-long lengths of leafy vines lay near the base of the ivy-covered wall.
"You were right," said Henry. Kneeling he reached out to touch the lengths of vine, and then quickly changed his mind. Straightening with a loud creak of his knees, Henry said: "Okay, he's definitely been here, so let's have another, more careful search."
"With the key word being careful," appended Colin Klein. "We don't want it getting anyone else."
"Got you," said Anthony.
They turned to start searching again, when from McCauley Way they heard the sound of wailing sirens.
"Someone go flag them down!" instructed Klein, and three or four men raced back out into the street.
A few minutes later an inspector Barbour, and three constables arrived on the scene.
After the usual pleasantries, Barbour, a no-nonsense copper of Jamaican origins demanded: "All right, what the hell is going on here? Two people dead, strangled with vines. Old Miss Pember in a coma, still on the danger list. And the streets looking like someone has gone berserk with a wead-wacker?"
Colin Klein and a few of the others exchanged guilty looks, as though caught in an Agatha Christie round-robin murder, where everyone was guilty. Finally, realising that no one else was going to take the initiative, Klein gave Barbour a truncated account of the goings on that night in Hartley Forest. Hoping not to look as big a fool as he felt as he described the actions of the creeping vines; thrashing wildly in his hands; trying to pull Leonard away from them; racing caterpillar-like along the cobbled road to catch up with the Green Man.
Not bothering to keep the contempt from his voice, Barbour turned away from the reporter and asked: "Is there anyone sane here, who can tell me what really happened?"
"How dare you," protested Klein.
"It all happened just as he said," insisted Rupert, a tall balding man in the posse.
"Look, you can't expect me …?" began Barbour, when from behind him came a great thrashing, rustling like a tornado whooshing through a field of maize.
"What the beJesus!" blasphemed the inspector, spinning round to face the ivy covered wall of the Hartley Forest Town Hall. As long green and yellow arms of foliage reached out of the ivy to grab one of the constables around the neck.
"Stop it!" cried Colin Klein. He and half-a-dozen men leapt forward to attempt to pull the young constable to safety. But each time a man got within arms length of the ivy on the wall, two more leafy arms thrust up and out of the of the ivy, twisting, twitching, thrashing almost excitedly, as though the Green Man had been revitalised both physically and in courage by meshing with the ivy upon the wall of the building.
"Watch out, Rupert!" called Klein as a pair of foliage limbs raced toward the balding man, who leapt back seconds before the arms could reach him.
"Get him! Get him!" shrieked Inspector Barbour as length after length of ivy strands wrapped repeatedly round the neck of the constable. Whose eyes were almost leaping from his skull, as his face blanched red, then blue, then purple as Barbour, Klein and the others frantically tried to rescue the young Bobby.
Each time they had to leap back an instant before being grabbed by another pair of arms - or sometimes a trio of arms - that appeared out of the ivy whenever a would-be rescuer almost got close enough to snatch the constable from the lethal grip of the strangling vines.
"Get him! Get him! Get him!" shrieked Barbour, enraged by his own impotence against the many-limbed fiend that strangled the life from the young policeman. Barbour prided himself on never having lost a subordinate since his promotion to inspector seven years ago. But hearing the sickening crunching of bones as the vines tightened further around the young man's neck, the inspector realised that he had just lost his first assistant.
Even as Barbour thought it, the creeping vine-arms released the corpse of the young constable. Which fell like a broken doll onto the bitumen path.
"Jesus wept!" shrieked Barbour. Pulling his side arm from its holster, the inspector fired six shots rapid into the wall at point-blank range.
"What the hell are you doing?" demanded Klein as Barbour reloaded his firearm and began firing six more rounds into the ivy coating the side of the Hartley Forest Town Hall.
"What the hell are you firing at?" demanded Henry.
"You saw that bloody thing?" cried Barbour as though thinking he alone had witness the young man's murder.
"Of course," said Henry. "But you can't kill leaves and vines with bullets!"
"Anyway the damn thing has gone back into hiding," pointed out Colin Klein. And the men realised that the various foliage arms had all vanished back into the mass of ivy coating the wall of the civic building.
"I know how to kill it," offered Rupert. Taking a cell phone from his coverall bib pocket, he flipped the phone open and dialled the number for local emergencies. "Give me the fire department."
After reaching the fire department, Rupert handed the phone to Barbour to identify himself. Then taking the cell phone back, Rupert instructed: "We need your special back-burning equipment for dealing with forest fires … that's right, at the town hall, ASAP."
"Great idea," said Colin Klein, realising what the balding man intended.
Rupert had barely rung off, when they heard the jangle of fire alarms in the distance. Less than five minutes later the fire truck pulled up out front of the Hartley Forest Town Hall. Where Klein and Rupert waited to direct the firemen (and one woman) down the side of the civic building.
"What's up?" demanded the fire chief. "You said you needed us to do some back burning?"
Colin Klein pointed toward the ivy, which had started twitching and thrashing again, as though suspecting what they intended to do.
"We need you to burn all the ivy away from the side of that wall," said Klein, pointing at the town hall.
"Shit, are you crazy?" demanded the fire chief. "That's a historic building!"
"Besides the mayor will go spare," put in Claire the one fire woman in Hartley Forest.
"Just do it!" ordered Inspector Barbour, having earlier ordered the young constable's body to be removed out into the street. "I'll take full responsibility for it."
"You had better," said Claire.
"Shit, I hope so," said the fire chief, instructing his three assistants to put on the flame-thrower backpacks. Then: "Okay, everyone else clear this area."
Klein, Barbour and the others backed out into McCauley Way to watch as the three firemen and Claire the one firewoman began spraying yellowy flames against the ivy sided wall of the Hartley Forest Town Hall.
As the flames whooshed the ivy began undulating wildly as though tossed by a storm that no one else could feel. Whipping and lashing, as though it were about to rip itself entirely from the side of the wall, the ivy snapped and snaked furiously.
"Look out, Claire," called the fire chief as two leafy arms shot out of the ivy like express trains, aiming at the firewoman.
Spinning to her right, Claire aimed her fire nozzle at the leafy arms, which continued to twitch and try to reach her, even as they were reduced to cinders.
"Stay as far back from the ivy as possible," warned the chief, almost toppling against the deadly vines even as he spoke.
"Take care, chief," called Claire. Switching her fire nozzle off for a second, she grabbed the fire chief's left hand, risking being burnt by his flame-thrower jets as she steadied him.
"Thanks," said the chief, careful to dampen down the whooshing jets of fire spraying from his flame-thrower, until she had turned back to the ivy-covered wall.
* * *
"Get it all!" shouted Colin Klein from the roadway. Unsure if the fire fighters could even hear him over the roaring of their equipment.
As though in acknowledgement of Klein's words, the four fire-fighters turned up their flame-throwers to maximum - despite the danger to themselves in such cramped quarters.
At the increased volume, the ivy began to thrash wildly, furiously rippling from side to side like waves rippling across an ocean of foliage, furiously twitching and weaving at each fiery burst.
"Look out!" called Claire as two leafy arms suddenly thrust up from ivy-covered wall again. But instead of attacking the fire fighters, the arms were followed by the head, neck, and foliage torso of the Green Man.
Leaping from the ivy - which instantly stopped twitching and rippling - the Green Man raced past the startled fire fighters. And headed down the side of Hartley Forest Town Hall, back toward McCauley Way where Colin Klein, Rupert and the others stood out front.
"Get back!" cried Colin Klein as the Green Man suddenly raced out from the side of the civic building, heading straight toward the forty or more men and women - the crowd haven swollen at the arrival of the fire truck.
"Get it!" cried the fire chief, and Claire and the other fire fighters raced toward the street, fire still whooshing from the nozzles of their backpacks.
'Oh Lord!' Though Klein, imagining that the lengthy chase through the streets of Hartley Forest was about to start again. But as the squealing, terrified crowd fled in all directions, the fire fighters quickly surrounded the Green Man and began dousing him in a sea of yellow-red flames.
"Die, damn you!" called Colin Klein.
As though obeying the redheaded journalist's order, the Green Man began burning furiously, twisting and thrashing, as though in epileptic throes, spinning and tossing, desperately seeking a path through the ring of fire-fighters who had encircled him to leave him no exit, as he rapidly burnt to ashes.
Seeing just a few green streaks amongst the black ashes, Colin Klein instructed: "Get them. Don't leave even the tiniest shred of green, in case it can sprout and give birth to that monster anew!"
Without further prompting the fire fighters did as ordered, until nothing remained of the Green Man, except the thinnest, grey-white residue.
"Well, tonight's goings on ought to make a good chapter for your book on local legends, Mr Klein," said one of the drinkers from the Green Man Tavern earlier that night.
"Yes," agreed the redheaded man, "but would anyone believe it?"
"Ah," agreed Rupert. "That's the question, no doubt about it!"
© Copyright 2013 Philip Roberts
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia