Trying to ignore the arthritis wracking his right hip, Denis Curran hobbled along the footpath heading down Eleanor Street. He stopped at the fourth house down from the corner and struggled with the latch in the gate of the rough-cut railing fence.
Finally the gate swung open and Denis hobbled inside, moaning aloud as his arthritis throbbed.
Although it was only a dozen paces across the lawn to the front door, to Denis it seemed like a marathon. He had hobbled this path many times down the years with Althea at his side and it had seemed no distance at all. But since his wife's death a year ago, every step now seemed a kilometre, and he realised it wouldn't be long before he would have to have his hip replaced.
He wasn't looking forward to going into hospital, though. Althea had gone into the Western Hospital to have a simple operation and Denis had been advised not to wait around the hospital. By the time they realised that anything was wrong, it was too late. She was dead before he could get down the street to the hospital. So Denis had been robbed of his last chance to see his wife alive.
Lost in his thoughts, Denis almost didn't stop as he reached the front door. Just stopping short of a collision, he raised the ornate iron knocker and rap-rap-rapped on the door.
From inside the house he heard the sound of running feet approaching down the corridor. After a fumbling of the latch, the door opened and the face of a beautiful teenage girl with a long black ponytail looked out.
"Granddad!" cried Suzie Lomax throwing her arms around the old man's neck.
"Hello, little Suzie," he said, giving her a peck on the cheek.
"I'm thirteen now," she said as though to argue the point. And indeed she was a centimetre or two taller than the old man. "Did you bring me anything?"
"Bring you anything?" asked the old man, sounding puzzled.
"For my thirteenth birthday," said the teenager, looking crestfallen.
"Well, now, let me see," said Denis starting to pat himself down. "I'm not really sure? I might have something I can give to you on me."
Even as the old man pretended to have forgotten her birthday, Suzie's young ears picked up the sound of rustling inside his overcoat and the girl's eyes lit up. "I heard something."
Reaching into the inside pocket of his overcoat, Denis pulled out a brown paper bag holding what looked to be a music CD. But when the girl opened the bag, she squealed in delight and yelled, "Attak-Man! You've bought me the CD-ROM of 'The Return of Attak-Man!'"
Smiling at her excitement, the old man hoped to be able to sit down in the lounge room and rest, however, the teenager grabbed his left arm and began pulling him toward the staircase.
"Come on, granddad, let's play it for a while before my party."
"But, I'm too..." began Denis. Then seeing his granddaughter's expectant look, he allowed her to lead him upstairs to her room to play the computer game.
Coming out of the kitchen holding a bowl of tossed salad, Sandy Lomax saw her father being half led, half dragged upstairs by her daughter. "Where are you off to?" she called after them.
"Upstairs to my room to play 'Attak-Man'," cried Suzie, holding up the CD-ROM.
"Sooner you than me," said Sandy returning to the kitchen where her husband, Harlen, was checking on the cake baking in the oven.
"Nearly ready," said Harlen hearing her enter. "Was that Gramps?"
"Yes, poor sod made the mistake of giving her a computer game. Now he has to help her to play it."
Harlen smiled. "That'll teach him."
They were still making small talk a few minutes later, when the shrill screeching started from one of the second-floor bedrooms.
"What the...?" said Harlen. He raced out into the corridor; followed by Sandy carrying a bowl of icing she was beating for their daughter's birthday cake.
As they reached the base of the stairs, Harlen and Sandy almost collided with Suzie as their daughter raced down the stairs, still screaming in terror.
"What is it? What is it?" demanded Harlen, shaking his daughter gently to get her attention.
"Granddad's dead!" said Suzie, collapsing against her father to start sobbing.
"What?" demanded Sandy.
"Something came out of the computer to kill him."
"Oh, my God," said Harlen, thinking his father-in-law had been electrocuted. Extracting himself from his daughter's grip, he sped up the stairs toward her bedroom.
Inside Suzie's bedroom, though Harlen saw what at first seemed to be a dwarf, dressed like a court jester, jumping up and down on the ruins of Suzie's computer desk. On the floor beside the desk lay the faceless corpse of Denis Curran.
"What the hell is going on here?" demanded Harlen.
At the sound of his voice, the demented court jester span round to snarl a reptilian snarl at him.
"What the...?" said Harlen in shock. He stared in disbelief at the protruding crocodile jaws of the demented jester.
"Humph! Humph! Humph!" cried Attak-Man, as close to laughter as the early 1980's game players could manage. Then it bent down to snap its jaws wide across the chest of Denis Curran.
For a moment it seemed as thought the nightmare beast was going to chew the corpse in half. Instead it ripped a great chunk of flesh and bone from the carcase and began noisily crunching it in its outsized jaws until swallowing with a loud gulp.
Yellow eyes glaring at Harlen, like a stray dog wary of strangers while eating, Attak-Man continued to gnaw chunks off the old man's corpse for more than a minute.
Finally, it stepped over the corpse toward the toppled computer desk. Opening its crocodile jaws wide, Attak-Man crunched a chunk out of the wooden desk, chewed and swallowed it in seconds, then began to crunch-crunch-crunch its way through the desk until reaching the lilac coloured wall beyond.
"Now what?" wondered Harlen Lomax in amazement, terrified, yet too shocked to run.
Gaping its jaws wide, Attak-Man answered his question by crunching a great bite of plaster and wooden lathes out of the bedroom wall. Then like a demented Pac-Man, it began crunch-crunch-crunching a long groove up the wall until it had reached almost to the ceiling.
Clinging spider-like to the walls, it turned back to glare at Harlen again. Its long, yellowy fangs now tainted lilac and white from the ruins of Suzie's bedroom wall.
"Daddy, it's eating my wall," said Suzie.
Looking round Harlen saw Sandy and Suzie standing in the doorway.
"Eeeeeeeeeiii!" screeched Suzie and Harlen looked round as Attak-Man released his grip on the wall and dropped back to the floor a metre or so in front of him.
"Humph! Humph! Humph!" hiccupped the demented jester starting toward Harlen, long pink tongue protruding to lick its crocodile jaws as though hungry for the taste of human flesh again.
"Get out of here," Harlen hissed to Suzie and Sandy and mother and daughter hurried down the hallway to the steps to the ground floor.
"I mustn't let it get past me!" thought Harlen. He knew he might have to sacrifice himself to save his wife and daughter.
"Humph! Humph! Humph!" cackled Attak-Man again and Harlen realised it was playing with him.
"Like a cat tormenting a mouse before killing it," thought Harlen as the monster moved slowly toward him. But that was all right with him. He realised that the longer it played with him, the greater chance Suzie and Sandy had of getting away.
* * *
At the house in Altona Gate Aaron Powell, Les Arnold, and Jenny Hanley waited impatiently while the photographers did their job, then let the ambulance men remove the corpse with barely a glance at it.
"You've seen one faceless corpse, you've seen them all," explained Les as they stretchered the corpse away.
"Wow, he sure made a mess in here, didn't he?" said Jenny as they finally entered the study.
"That's for sure," agreed Aaron. He walked across to where an enamel-topped table had been chewed right through, until the two halves had collapsed to the floor. Lying amid the rubble was a small TV and a black cased VCR.
"Oh, my God!" said Jenny, pointing to where a large chunk had been chewed right through the video cassette recorder.
"How do you chew through a VCR?" asked Aaron, not really expecting an answer.
"Or a TV?" asked Les, pointing to where a large chunk had been chewed from one corner of the TV, including the glass screen.
Jenny Hanley shook her blonde head, acknowledging she didn't have an answer to either question.
* * *
"Humph!" began Attak-Man, stopping as he heard the bing-bong bing-bong of the front door bell.
Rap rap rap came a fist on the door, followed by a deep male voice calling, "Harlen? Sandy? Are you there?"
Not daring to look away from the dwarfish monster in front of him, Harlen continued to back slowly toward the bedroom door as Attak-Man looked uncertain for the first time.
Bing-bong bing-bong went the door bell again.
Opening its crocodile jaws wide, the monster snarled a metallic snarl, then span round and raced back toward the shattered remains of Suzie's homework desk.
To his surprise, Harlen saw that although now lying on the floor -- the monitor on its side -- the computer and screen were both still operating.
Looking back toward Harlen Lomax one last time, Attak-Man roared its metallic roar again, then span back and leapt forward as though to head-butt the computer monitor.
Instead of rebounding off the glass, the creature dived, with an almost audible splash straight into the computer screen. Which seemed to liquefy in readiness to receive the monster.
"Holy Lord!" said a female voice behind him. Turning, Harlen saw Bill and Lori Saunders from across the road.
"Eye witnesses!" he thought looking back, knowing that he would probably be locked up in the mental wing of the Western Hospital if he dared tell what he had seen without any corroboration.
As Attak-Man dived, the computer monitor seemed to wobble like jelly in a mould as slowly the dwarfish creature disappeared into the computer screen.
For a few seconds the glass continued to wobble, then it slowed to a halt.
Harlen looked back at the Saunders for moral support. Then slowly he stepped across to the computer monitor and touched the glass screen with one finger. A finger, which he hurriedly pulled back as the glass, wobbled beneath his finger. Although slightly crusty, firmer than any gelatine dessert, it was not yet as solid as glass should be to the touch.
"Oh, my God, did you see that?" asked Lori Saunders.
On the computer monitor they saw the crocodile jawed countenance of the demented jester face of Attak-Man and heard it cackle, "Humph! Humph! Humph!" Even though the computer did not have speakers attached, so it should not have been able to make any sound more than a few metallic squawks.
* * *
Aaron Powell, Les, and Jenny were racing down Ballarat Road, on the way back to Melbourne CBD, when they received a call about the death of Denis Curran.
At Eleanor Street, Footscray they found Suzie and Sandy Lomax being treated by paramedics for shock. The crime scene had already been photographed and Harlen Lomax and the Saunders were waiting outside the bedroom door, as though afraid to enter.
"What happened here?" Aaron asked Harlen Lomax, desperate to make sense of the series of crazy killings.
Harlen exchange a guilty look with Lori and Bill Saunders.
Under other circumstances, Aaron might have thought they were somehow implicated in the murder of Denis Curran. But the strangeness of the killings made him realise no ordinary mortals could be responsible for them, so he knew better than to write off any explanation, no matter how preposterous it sounded. Even when Harlen, Lori and Bill began to tell their tale of a demented crocodile-faced jester which had eaten its way from the computer bench up the wall, almost to the ceiling.
"Wow!" said Les, not knowing what else to say as the three cops fingered the jagged groove chewed thirty centimetres wide through the wallpaper, plaster, and wooden lathes of the bedroom wall.
"Attak-Man lives," said Aaron, making the others stare at him. Flushing in embarrassment, he explained, "That's how Attak-Man used to destroy things in the old computer game. By gnawing his way from one end of the object to the other."
"Go on with your story," Jenny Hanley said to Harlen Lomax and the Saunders.
The three people exchanged guilty looks again, then hurriedly told the remainder of what they had seen.
"It dived right into the computer screen?" asked Les Arnold. The redhead didn't bother to keep the scepticism out of his voice.
"Yes!" insisted Lori Saunders.
Reaching out with one hand, Les prodded at the screen of the computer monitor with one finger.
"What...?" he cried, quickly withdrawing his finger.
"What is it?" asked Jenny. She pressed a finger against the monitor and gasped in shock as the glass was soft and gelid, like thickly crusted jelly.
"How is that possible?" demanded Les as Jenny continued to prod at the rubbery glass of the monitor.
Aaron Powell reached across to also prod at the screen. However, it was rapidly beginning to solidify. And was soon back to its usual rigid state.
Both officers removed their fingers from the screen. And the previously milky white screen began to clarify. A tiny dancing clown figure appeared in the centre of the screen and began to spin round rapidly, slowly increasing in size until the crocodile jawed visage of Attak-Man could clearly be discerned.
"Humph! Humph! Humph!" cackled Attak-Man, his reptilian snout beginning to protrude upwards, forcing the screen to distend outwards again.
"Oh, my God, that monster is coming back!" cried Harlen Lomax. There was a stampede of feet as Harlen and Lori and Bill Saunders raced out into the hallway, then ran down the stairs to the imagined safety of the ground floor.
Aaron and Les backed away from the computer monitor, expecting Jenny to do the same. Instead the ash blonde hurriedly clicked the off button on the monitor, then again on the computer itself.
For a moment it seemed as though Attak-Man might still be able to make it out of the rubbery glass monitor. For a few seconds his crocodile jaws continued to press forward until he had escaped almost to the eyes.
Then with a metallic screech the reptilian face raced backwards into the screen, as though it were attached to a giant rubber band that had stretched as far as it could. And the still glowing computer screen suddenly went blank.
"Is ... is it safe now?" asked Les. For the first time in his ten year career he was genuinely terrified by something he had seen in the line of duty.
"Yes," assured Jenny Hanley. But just to be on the safe side she went across to pull the plug from the wall socket.
As she unplugged the computer, the door of the CD-ROM player suddenly sprang open and a garishly coloured CD-ROM fell out.
The blonde picked up the CD-ROM and held it out toward her boss.
"'The Return of Attak-Man'," read Aaron Powell.
"But that's the same game we found at the first victim's place," said Les, having to think hard to recall his name. "Greg Hepburn."
"And at the Royal Melbourne where Sarah Carter was killed," reminded Jenny.
"But that was the same CD Greg Hepburn had used," reminded Les. "It must have fallen onto the stretcher when George Long and Tony Hobbs were taking away the corpse."
"Did it?" asked Aaron Powell, no longer certain about anything anymore where this weird case was concerned.
"Why, of course, it..." began Les. Then realising what Aaron and Jenny were both starting to believe, "But that's crazy. How could a CD-ROM game be killing dozens of people right around Australia?"
Aaron and Jenny exchanged a wondering look, then shrugged, having no answer for the question.
* * *
"Crazier and crazier," said Aaron Powell as they strode down the corridor on the ninth floor of the Russell Street Police Station.
"You haven't heard the worst of it," said a female captain holding out three sheets of computer print-out as Aaron, Les, and Jenny stopped by the windowed-door of their office.
"What's this?" asked Aaron, taking the print-out from his immediate superior Captain Elaine Maylor.
"That's the next seventy-two victims."
"What?" cried Aaron, Les, and Jenny as one.
"That's right. Fourteen in this country; fifty-eight overseas. In New Zealand, Fiji, twenty in the USA alone. Others in Canada, Holland, Japan, France, Germany, England, Wales, Russia, and one case just in from Johannesburg."
"From New Zealand to South Africa?" said Aaron, voicing the fears of all of them. "It's becoming a world-wide epidemic."
"God knows what it is," said Captain Maylor. "We're ruled out a single killer, a gang, even a world-wide death cult seems unlikely. Some kind of flesh-eating virus maybe. If I remember rightly a dozen or so people died in England twenty years back from a flesh-eating virus. Maybe it's mutated and gone world-wide."
"So where do we go from here?" asked Aaron.
"We'll have to work with INTERPOL and the Federal cops now. We don't have jurisdiction to operate interstate, let alone in a dozen or more other countries. There'll be an Inspector Matthews from the Feds in here early tomorrow, and later that day we'll be hearing from some guy named Cierra from the French Sûreté, who'll be our INTERPOL contact in Europe."
They continued talking for a few more minutes, then Captain Maylor departed and Aaron, Les, and Jenny finally entered their office to attempt to type up the reports of Harlen Lomax and Lori and Bill Saunders' statements. As well as their own observations of the damage they had seen in Altona Gate and Eleanor Street, Footscray.
"So how do we type this up exactly?" asked Jenny as she sat at the computer in their shared work space.
"Just type up what Lomax and the Saunders told us, then we'll return to Footscray to get them to sign them," explained Aaron. "Then it's up to Elaine and the big brass to decide what it all means."
"Sounds simple enough," said Jenny as she started to type.
Yet by 9:00 PM they were still wrestling with the reports, unsure how to convince Elaine Maylor of what they had seen and had been told.
"Now what?" asked Jenny when she was at last finished. Receiving no answer, she looked over to where Les and Aaron were poring through the latest computer print-out of more than two hundred more murders that had occurred in the last few hours across more than fifty countries in Europe, Asia, the Far and Middle East and both the Americas.
Holding up the CD-ROM of "The Return of Attak-Man", which they had got from the Lomaxes, Aaron said, "Now maybe it's time to tell our own screwy theory to Elaine."
"And get locked in the rubber room?' asked Les.
"Sooner that than do nothing and let this turn into a world-wide pandemic," said Aaron Powell. "At the start of today we had only a handful of victims in this country. Now there's nearly three hundred victims across six different continents. At that rate of increase, there could be thousands dead in a week, millions world-wide in a month."
"What about these?" asked Jenny holding up the reports she had printed out on their laser printer.
"We'll have to make time tomorrow to get them signed by the Lomaxes and Saunders. But for now you two had better get home for some sleep. I've got a feeling tomorrow is going to be a very long day."
"What about you?" asked Les as he and Jenny headed for the door to the corridor.
"I've just got a little more to do tonight. Don't worry, I won't be too long," said Aaron.
"Night," muttered Jenny looking exhausted as she and Les started off down the corridor toward the elevators.
Waving good night, Aaron waited for Les and Jenny to get out of sight down the corridor. Then he pulled his service revolver from its holster and checked to make sure it was loaded.
Holding the revolver in his right hand, Aaron used his left to place the Attak-Man CD into the CD-reader on their computer consul and started it up.
* * *
Les and Jenny were both yawning after an exhausting fourteen-hour day, by the time they reached the elevators.
"I'll be glad to get home to bed..." said Jenny. She stopped, startled as the first of six gunshots rang out from the offices behind them.
"What the...?" asked Les. The two officers started at a run back down the corridor, pulling their own revolvers as they ran.
In their office they found the faceless corpse of Aaron Powell seated at the computer, still holding his service revolver. Although his right arm now hung pointing at the floor.
Six jagged bullet holes pocked the computer screen. Yet the clown-like image of Attak-Man still swirled round and round in the centre of the monitor.
"How can there still be an image on the screen?" asked Les, staring at the bullet holes. He reached out a hand to touch the screen, but Jenny Hanley grabbed his hand.
Hearing running footsteps, they looked round as Elaine Maylor and four other officers reached the glass-walled office.
"What's up?" demanded Captain Maylor, .38 in her left hand.
Not knowing what to say, Jenny pointed to where Aaron Powell still sat at the computer desk.
"Oh, my God!" said a young constable, looking away in shock.
"But how?" demanded Elaine Maylor. "How could anyone get him in this building?"
Before Jenny could answer, they heard an insane, "Humph! Humph! Humph!" behind them.
Looking round, they saw the crocodile jawed visage of Attak-Man staring out of the computer monitor at them.
"What in the world is...?" began Elaine Maylor. As she watched, the jagged bullet holes in the screen began to seep clear fluid, like blood serum, then slowly began to heal.
The prominent snout of Attak-Man started protruding outwards from the computer screen.
"My God, it's coming out again," said Les Arnold. And to the amazement of Captain Maylor, he raised his service revolver, went into the traditional crouch and quickly fired six shots into the monitor, then started to reload.
"What in the hell are you shoot...?" began Elaine. But her words were drowned out as Jenny and Les both fired into the computer monitor together.
"My God, why hasn't it gone off?" wondered one of the four constables. "How can the monitor keep working with all those holes shot through it?"
"What holes?" asked Jenny. And as she spoke the serum-like fluid seeped out again to rapidly heal the bullet holes.
"What is that stuff?" demanded Elaine Maylor.
"The stuff that nightmares are made of," said Jenny.
Then before Elaine could question her any further, Attak-Man began to cackle like a demented jester again.
Once more he began to push against the other side of the computer monitor.
Once more the glass seemed to have turned to clear rubber as the reptile jawed creature began forcing its way forward and out of the computer screen.
"My God, what is that thing?" asked Captain Maylor.
"Attak-Man, a rip-off version of Pac-Man," explained Les. "But with one killer difference."
"But how is the screen protruding outwards?" asked Elaine.
"It's coming out of the computer," said Jenny. "That's how it killed everyone. By coming out of its reality into ours and chewing their faces off."
"That's ridiculous!" insisted Elaine. Yet even as she spoke there was a loud rending as though the rubberised glass of the computer monitor had torn across and the dwarfish figure of Attak-Man suddenly appeared squatting upon the enamel topped computer table.
As Attak-Man materialised out of the screen, the table rocked beneath his weight, and the corpse of Aaron Powell suddenly span round in its swivel chair and toppled to the floor.
The four constables leapt backwards in shock, for a second thinking that the corpse had re-animated.
Realising their mistake, they coloured in embarrassment and tentatively stepped forwards again.
"Humph! Humph! Humph!" chuckled Attak-Man and the demented jester figure leapt to the floor.
For a second the police officers thought the creature was going to attack them. Then it turned, opened its crocodile jaws wide and took a great crunching bite out of the enamel topped computer desk.
"How can it do that?" asked Jenny Hanley. She had seen Suzie Lomax's computer desk chewed through at the Eleanor Street house and had seen the jagged groove chewed a foot wide through the wall-paper, plaster and wooden lathes on the bedroom wall. Still, she could hardly believe her eyes as Attak-Man rapidly chewed his way through the enamel topped table, which collapsed to the floor with a crash.
Then with a loud crunch-crunch-crunch, like someone eating a honeycomb bar, Attak-Man began hurriedly chewing a groove through the office wall.
No longer even thinking of shooting the monster, Jenny, Les, Elaine and the others watched, entranced as the crocodile jaws of Attak-Man crunch-crunch-crunched its way through wood and plaster as it raced up the wall. Somehow the creature clung to the wall with ease, although there was no sign of suckers or claws on its fingers or toes.
It reached the ceiling and Jenny Hanley expected the monster to drop back to the floor as Harlen Lomax and the Saunders had described. Instead, to her disbelief, it hurriedly chewed its way right across the ceiling to start down the opposite wall.
Seeing Attak-Man racing down the wall toward them, the four constables panicked and fled, leaving Jenny, Les, and Elaine to watch in amazement.
Without stopping Attak-Man crunch-crunch-crunched his way across the floor, devouring carpet and teak boards as easily as plaster and raced back across toward the shattered computer table.
Instead of stopping as the three officers had expected, Attak-Man continued to chew his way up the wall. Carefully avoiding the original groove, Attak-Man raced up the wall again, doubling the groove from thirty centimetres wide to sixty centimetres as he sped across the ceiling again, then back down the opposite wall, to start across the lush carpeted floor again.
"What the hell is it doing?" demanded Elaine Maylor. But Les and Jenny could only shrug, equally as puzzled as the captain.
Still holding their service revolvers, although no longer thinking of firing them, the three officers stood watching in shock as Attak-Man raced round and round the office. His crocodile jaws crunch-crunch-crunching enamel, plaster, wood and carpet with equal ease.
The sixty-centimtre wide groove around the wall quickly widened to ninety, then a hundred and twenty centimetres, then a hundred and fifty. Until with a crunching of glass Attak-Man chewed his way down the left hand side of the office door, devouring glass, wood, and metal hinges as he went.
As Attak-Man reached the floor again, the remains of the door fell backwards into the hallway with a crash and a shattering of glass.
"I think we'd better get out of here," suggested Jenny Hanley as Attak-Man chomped his way across the carpet toward the enamel topped computer table again.
"Why, what's the matter?" asked Les Arnold. But before he the senior sergeant could answer, the floor began to rock as though he was suddenly surfing on a stormy sea.
"What ... what's happening?" demanded Elaine Maylor.
"He's chewing the floor through," suggested Les. But Jenny Hanley corrected him:
"He's chewing the room in half. Any second now it'll collapse out into the street."
"Oh, God," said Les, realising she was right.
The three officers span round to exit the office only to find themselves face-to-face with Attak-Man. The dwarfish figure was perched upon the lintel in the doorway, glaring down at them with his yellow, piggy eyes. As though challenging them to dare to race through the doorway below him.
"What'll we...?" began Elaine Maylor. But then Attak-Man chewed through the lintel, dropped to the floor and began crunch-crunch-crunching his way across the teak floorboards toward the computer table again.
The three officers let the crocodile jawed monster race past them, then sped out into the corridor and started at a run toward the elevator bay.
Without thinking, Les pushed the down button, but Jenny warned him, "No, we'd better take the stairs."
Before Les could ask why, there was a loud screeching of timber and plaster behind them as the office they had just evacuated collapsed in upon itself.
"That's why," explained Jenny. She ran across to push open the stairwell door.
"It can't possibly chew the whole building in half!" protested the redheaded sergeant. But even as he spoke, the floor in the elevator bay began to sway like a canoe in a stormy sea.
"Can't he?" demanded Jenny. So they began to race down the nine flights of stairs to the ground, trying their best to ignore the alarming sounds of rending timber and crashing plaster, growing louder every minute.
"What's going on?" demanded a brunette who looked about sixteen, staring into the elevator bay at the seventh floor.
"Earthquake!" lied Jenny. "Abandon the building."
"Oh, my God," cried the teenager and she joined their procession down the now swaying stairs.
As they ran, more and more officers joined the exodus. Jenny Hanley was glad it was happening at night, when most of the force was off duty. But she thought, "I just hope everyone else thinks its an Earthquake and flees before its too late."
They were halfway down the stairwell, when shrill alarms started sounding throughout the building. And the trickle of fleeing officers turned into a stampede as dozens of cops from above and below them raced into the stairwell.
By the time they reached the ground floor the sound of rending timber and shattering glass and plaster above became almost deafening. The floor and ceiling shook as they exited the stairwell and raced across the foyer toward what they hoped was the safety of Russell Street.
"What about the Fairlane?" asked Les as they ran, wishing they had gone down to the basement garage for their car.
"Too late now," said Jenny. "Just hope the roof doesn't fall in till we reach the open street."
As she spoke plaster started falling from the ceiling. A small slab crashed down onto Elaine Maylor as she was almost at the doorway. But with the help of Jenny Hanley, and the teenaged brunette, Lesley Houridis, she managed to stay on her feet.
"Let's get her outside," shouted Jenny. The two women all but carried the captain out onto the bitumen footpath outside the police station.
"Keep going!" shouted Les, running over to give them a hand with Elaine. "It still isn't safe yet."
Hearing his cry, the swarm of exiting police continued out into the street, across the road to the opposite footpath. Where they stopped at last to gasp for breath and look back toward the multi-storey police station.
"Oh, my God, it's like a giant cake being carved," said Lesley Houridis as they looked back. The Russell Street Police Station had started to split down the centre as though being cut in half by some giant, invisible carving knife. "What can be causing it."
"Earthquake," said a portly Lieutenant beside her, gasping from exhaustion.
"But I thought Australia was exempt from Earthquakes?"
"Well, I don't know," blustered Lieutenant Leonard Smithers.
Before they could argue any further, with a great rending of wood, metal, glass and plaster, the Russell Street Police Station imploded, collapsing in on itself with a deafening roar.
"Duck!" cried Les, although the imploding building drowned his voice out. He grabbed Jenny and Lesley by the shoulders and pulled them and Elaine Maylor (who they were still holding up) down behind a parked car. Taking the hint, the other police leapt below the row of cars lining the street.
With a crashing of falling bricks and timber, the sky-scraper plummeted to earth in seconds.
"Oh, my God," said Jenny Hanley, holding a handkerchief up to her nose as they were suddenly blanketed in a great cloud of brick and plaster dust. Which had the hundred or so crouching police officers all coughing and reaching for their own hankies.
"Is ... is that it?' asked Lesley Houridis as the dust finally began to settle.
"I don't..." began Les turning toward the teenager. He stopped to stare in shock at the state of Russell Street.
Bricks and iron girders had crashed through the roofs and windows of parked cars up along Russell and LaTrobe Streets. The state library and R.M.I.T. City Campus were both painted white with concrete and plaster dust, as though it had been snowing for the first time in the one hundred and sixty year history of the City of Melbourne.
"My Lord," said Lesley. "How will we ever get this mess cleaned up?"
Then hearing the buzz saw like crunch-crunch-crunch of Attak-Man, they looked past the ruins of Russell Street Police Station to the city car parks down McKenzie Street.
In moments the multi-storeyed car parks began to sway as though they were palm trees swaying in the wind. Then with a loud implosion, the first block of car parks came crashing down.
"Duck!" shouted Elaine Maylor as with a screeching of glass and concrete the first car park collapsed, shooting out lethal projectiles of concrete, steel, and brick batts.
Again great clouds of brick and concrete dust whooshed up like warm snow to coat the footpath, road and parked cars in a thick white blanket.
In rapid succession the second, third, and fourth car parks all began to sway, screeching wildly. Then with a rending of shattering concrete and iron girders came crashing down, blanketing McKenzie Street and finally Victoria Parade in a thick layer of concrete and brick dust.
"What's going on?" demanded young Lesley, her brown eyes shining in terror. "It's like a series of delayed explosions. But without the ear shattering blast each time."
"Earthquake," said Jenny Hanley blandly. But she thought, "What now? How do we stop this Attak-Man creature now that it can survive outside the CD-ROM game for long periods? Now that it can jump from building to building? How many more people world-wide will die before we find a way to kill this thing? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions?"
Hearing a rustling she looked down and was surprised to see that she was holding a single sheet of computer paper in her left hand. "I must have picked it up at the office without realising it when we found Aaron!" she thought realising her late boss's body was now buried beneath tonnes of shattered concrete and plaster.
Looking at the three short sentences on the sheet of paper, she read:
THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT!
THE RETURN OF ATTAK-MAN!
THE ULTIMATE COMPUTER GAME!
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia