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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2316409
The Mantokhora (or Manticore) is a legendary creature with a man's face and a lion's body
The Lovejoy clan were in their grey Datsun on their way to the Dorset Hotel in Duchess Lane, off Gordon Street, in LePage shortly before nine AM, when they first saw the creature.

"Dad, do we have lions in Australia?" asked a terrified-sounding Emma Lovejoy. At eleven the curly-haired brunette was already the brains of the Lovejoy family.

"Of course not, honey," said her mother, Hannah, a shapely forty-six-year-old brunette: "Why do you ask?"

"'Cause there's one over there," she said, pointing to what looked like the front half of a lion sticking out from behind a large red gum tree.

"That's just a statue," said her father, Michael. A tall wiry man of forty-eight, with military-short blond hair: "You can tell by the red colouring. Lions are more orangey-brown."

"Besides," said Tamsin, her nine-year-old sister, with long blonde hair: "That's got a human face, which lions don't have."

"So it does," said Michael, stopping the Datsun: "Plus what looks like a scorpion's stinger protruding forward over its head. Even the most savage lions don't have stingers. So it must be a statue."

"So what's a statue doing in the forest where no one can see it?" asked Emma.

"We saw it," pointed out Tamsin.

"Answer that one," teased Michael.

"Then why would anyone make a statue of a lion with a human face, and give it a stinger?" demanded Emma.

"Um ... it's modern art," said Hannah.

"What's modern art?" asked Tamsin.

"Another name for crap," said Michael, making the girls giggle.

"Michael!" chastised Hannah, before adding: "Although he's right."

At 9:00 AM Terri Scott, Colin Klein, Greta Goddard, and Sheila Bennett were standing amongst fifty or so people on the only platform at the Glen Hartwell Railway Station in Theobald Street, waiting for the nine o'clock train. Which as always was running late. They were seeing off Sheila, who was on her way to Melbourne to try out for the 2024 season of 'The World's Stupidest Stuntman: Stupidest Stuntman Down Under'.

"So how long you gonna be away, Sheils?" asked Greta. A tall, shapely silver-blonde. At age 69 in 2024 she was still fit, but only worked pro rata when needed.

"Two months if I'm picked to be in the series," answered Sheila. A tall athletic Goth chick with orange-and-black-striped hair: "I'll be back in a day or two if I miss out."

"What made them decide to make a season Down Under?" asked Colin Klein. At forty-eight, the tall redheaded man had just retired after thirty years as a top London crime reporter and now worked for the Glen Hartwell Police. As well as being Terri Scott's lover.

"Obviously," said Terri Scott. A tall thirty-something ash blonde, who was the top cop of the BeauLarkin to Willamby region: "They know that Aussies are famously brave and infamously stupid!"

"Exactly," agreed Sheila: "There's no death-defying feat too insanely dangerous for an Aussie to try if there's a chance of getting on the telly."

Over at the Dorset Hotel in LePage the Lovejoys were standing in the garish blue-and-yellow painted reception area, booking in.

"What's with the blue and yellow decor?" asked Emma.

"It's the West Coast Eagles colours in the Australian Football League," answered the proprietor, George Mulberry. A tall burly man who looked more like a farmhand than a hotel owner.

"Oh, the Weagles," said Tamsin. Grinning as she saw the big man grimace, secretly knowing that West Coast fans did not like their beloved team to be called the Weagles: "I barrack for the Hawthorn Hawks."

"Also called the flying losers," teased Emma.

"Am not! They're just going through a bad patch."

"For the last nine years," said Emma with a smirk.

Twenty minutes later the Lovejoys were upstairs, relieved to find their rooms were both in pastel shades, pale pink for the girls, lime green for their parents.

They had unpacked and were ready to start their holiday.

"Who wants to go lion hunting?" asked Michael. Then when he received no reply, he said: "No answer is a stern reply, as Dad always says."

"Is that why Pops is in a loony bin?" asked Tamsin.

"Dad is not in a loony bin," insisted Michael: "He's in an aged-care establishment now that he can no longer look after himself."

"It was either that or have him come live with us," explained Hannah.

"Thank God he's in a loony bin den," said Tamsin. Receiving sly nods from Hannah and Emma, and a glare from Michael.

"Do they have a TV room here?" asked Emma.

"Let's go ask," said Hannah, taking the girls by the hands to start toward the elevator.

"Girls, we're on hols. can't you miss TV for a week or so?"

"No!" said Emma and Tamsin as one.

Downstairs, as George Mulberry guided the Lovejoy females to the TV room, his wife Annette manned the reception counter. A tall, buxom, forty-ish redhead, Annette was used to people jumping to obey her orders.

Coming down the steps beside the counter, Michael said: "I wanted to ask about the Lion outside?"

"What lion?" asked the busty redhead.

"The statue a few hundred metres from the hotel."

"That's news to me."

"Well we all saw it on the way here."

He led her into the TV room where Hannah and the girls confirmed they'd all seen it.

"Okay, let's go check it out," said Annette. She called: "Lizzie!"

A twenty-year-old waitress-cum-maid-cum-general factotum, Lizzie Enrich came running to man the reception desk. A tall, leggy brunette, wearing a micro-mini skirt. She believed: If you've got great legs why hide them away?

Ten minutes later they were standing in the forest where Michael was certain that they had seen the 'statue'.

"It was right there," said Michael pointing. Looking about in confusion, he added: "I think."

"Well, there's no lion there now," said Annette Mulberry. She was trying not to sound too contemptuous of her guest.

"Maybe this is the wrong place," said Michael unsure of himself.

"Well, I have to get back, I have a hotel to help run. But feel free to keep looking if you like."

"I will," said Michael starting away from the main path.

It was less than ten minutes later when Michael tracked down the Martikhora (the Persian word for man-eater). Still thinking that it was a statue he walked slowly toward it.

It had a face like a man's, a skin red as cinnabar, and was as large as a lion. It had three rows of teeth, ears and light-blue eyes like those of a man. Its tail was like that of a scorpion, containing a sting more than fifty centimetres long at the end. It had other stings/quills on each side of its tail and one on the top of its head, like a scorpion.

"Wow, someone's gone into a lot of detail on this goofy statue," said Michael.

Then the Martikhora slowly turned its head toward the crew-cut man and let out a loud lion-like roar from its human-like mouth.

At the Dorset Hotel Annette and George Mulberry were standing at the reception desk, talking about the Lovejoys's lion statue, when they heard the loud roar outside in the forest of pine and gum trees.

"What the Hell?" asked the redhead.

Reaching under the counter for a loaded shotgun, which he was licenced to use for occasional kangaroo culling, George started toward the outdoors.

"Stay here," he instructed Annette.

"Like Hell," she said following after him.

Sighing, he knew after more than twenty years of marriage that there was no point arguing with her.

Too terrified to move, Michael Lovejoy stood rigid to the spot, as the Mantikhora roared like a lion through its manlike face.

Slowly the creature began approaching, its large paws scrape-scrape-scraping upon the forest floor as it drew nearer to the blond man.

Hoping that the creature would lose interest in him if he stood still, (as a lion in an African jungle will do), Michael stood perfectly still. However, unbeknown to him, unlike the African lion, the Mantikhora was a natural man-eater. And with strong blue human eyes, instead of weak lion eyes, it could clearly discern that Michael was a man, and therefore food as far as the creature was concerned.

In the sweet-smelling forest, Annette and George had almost given up on trying to track the lion, as they now thought it was, when the Mantikhora let out another loud roar.

"This way," said Annette, pointing and leading the way. Despite being unarmed, unlike her husband.

Knowing better than to argue with her, George strode forward to overtake her, as they started in the direction of the roar.

Roaring for the third time, the Mantikhora stopped a couple of metres short of Michael Lovejoy. It raised its long, spiny tail, and then, before Michael could react, the spines shot out to impale him in the face, hands, chest, and limbs.

Screaming in agony, Michael fell backwards, dying as soon as he hit the forest floor.

Roaring once more, this time in pleasure, the Mantikhora strode across to start consuming the blonde man's face. Before moving down to his neck, then well-muscled arms.

The creature was soon making a contented gurgling sound as it feasted upon the dead man. Almost purring like a kitten as it ate.

"We must be getting close," said Annette, as they walked through the forest, looking for what they still thought of as a lion.

"We don't know..." began George Mulberry.

Stopping as the Mantikhora roared once more.

"That way," he said, just beating his wife to the punch this time.

The Mantikhora was enjoying its meal, when it heard the crunching of footsteps, as the Mulberrys approached through the forest. Angered at having to abandon its food, the creature roared one last time. Then turned away to start running through the forest outside LePage.

"We're almost on top of it," said George removing the safety catch from his shotgun: "Stay well back ... please, honey."

They stepped out of the forest into a small clearing where they just caught a glimpse of the flank of the Mantikhora.

"Jesus, it really is a lion!" cried George, raising the shotgun to fire both barrels at the hurriedly departing creature.

Then as Annette screamed, he looked down and saw what was left of Michael Lovejoy!

As they drove toward the Mitchell Street Police Station in Glen Hartwell, Terri Scott said:

"It'll seem strange for a few days or more not having that wacky, goofy, loveably Goth loony in the Glen."

"Yes," agreed Colin Klein: "When I first met Sheila Bennett, I thought she was insane. Now I know she is. But in a goofy child-woman, very loveable kind of way."

"She was always a child-woman," said Great Goddard: "Even when she was only a child."

"And always fearless," said Terri: "The number of times she got in trouble at school for beating up boys who got cheeky..." She left the sentence hanging.

"Oh well, she's gone to a better place now," teased Colin: "Melbourne."

"Hey, what have you got against the Glen?" demanded Terri.

"So, you wouldn't prefer to be working in Melbourne?" asked Greta.

"Well, if they made me a captain of police," said Terri considering: "Although I couldn't get away with as much if I was working in Russell Street, with the big brass breathing down my neck all the time..."

Before she could say any more, her mobile phone rang.

"Terri Scott," she said into her phone: "A lion...? Are you sure?"

As she hung up, Colin asked: "Was that a lion, or a liar, I heard you say, my love?"

"A lion," replied Terri.

"No, the liars are all up in Canberra," teased Greta.

"LePage, please Greta," instructed Terri: "According to Annette and George Mulberry, one of their guests has just been killed and partially eaten by a large lion, a few Kays from the Dorset Hotel in Duchess Lane.

"That was the last thing I expected to hear you say," said Colin.

Terri rang through to notify Elvis Green and Jesus Costello, at the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital as they raced along.

Three-quarters of an hour later, the police-blue Lexus arrived at the Dorset Hotel, to find an ambulance already there.

"Cheryl, Derek," said Terri to the two paramedics. Derek Armstrong, a black amateur bodybuilder in his early forties; Cheryl Pritchard, a tall muscular woman with badly dyed hair, aged sixty-three.

"Terri, Colin, Greta," greeted Derek: "Did the mad woman get off to Melbourne all right?"

"If you mean the loveable nutcase, yes we saw her off this morning," said Colin: "She sure does love The World's Stupidest Stuntman".

As they were talking, Cheryl and Derek started unloading a trolley from the ambulance to take through the forest.

"Who's up for a two-kilometre jog?" teased Derek.

"If the mad Goth chick were here, she'd probably take you up on it," said Greta: "But the rest of us will settle for a slow stroll."

"Ah, cowards," teased Cheryl as they started through the forest.

At the death site, they found Jesus Costello, Elvis Green and Tilly Lombstrom all standing around peering at the remains of Michael Lovejoy.

"Yeech," said Greta: "What happened to him?"

"And who's been playing darts with the corpse?" asked Derek, referring to the dozens of twenty-centimetre-long quills that protruded from the corpse.

"I think the quills are what killed him," said Jesus (pronounced 'Hee-Zeus'). A tall muscular man, the chief administrator and head surgeon at the Glen Hartwell Hospital: "They have some form of fluid, not blood, adhering to them."

"So, he was killed with a blowpipe?" asked Terri.

"We're not sure," said Elvis Green. The local coroner, he was nicknamed due to his devotion to the late King of Rock and Roll.

"We've taken some quills for analysis," said Tilly. An attractive fifty-something brunette; Jesus's second in command: "In the meantime don't touch them with your bare hands."

"So the lion chewed on him after someone killed him with a blowpipe?" asked Terri.

"Actually, the teeth marks look a little human," said Jesus: "Not anything like you'd expect from a big cat. But I'm not a dentist."

"We'll have casts made and send them off to Doc Kaddich," said Tilly, referring to the local dentist.

"So we've got a cannibal who uses a blowpipe to kill his food, and keeps a pet lion?" asked Colin Klein.

"It would seem so..." started Jesus, stopping at the sound of a loud roar from the forest behind them.

"Speak of the furry Devil," said Terri. She, Colin, and Greta removed their revolvers from their holsters: "This might be a good time to make a strategic retreat."

"Agreed," said Derek.

Being careful to avoid the remaining spines, the paramedics lifted the remains of Michael Lovejoy onto the trolley. Then with Terri and co. guarding them, they started the two-kilometre trek back to the ambulance.

"I'm glad, that's behind us," said Cheryl as they finally reached the Dorset Hotel.

"You're not wrong," agreed Derek as he pulled down the ramp to wheel the trolley into the rear of the ambulances.

Standing in the forest less than twenty metres away, the Mantikhora watched intently as the ambulance departed, taking the coroner along with it. Soon to be replaced by a second ambulance, ready for Hannah Lovejoy.

"Well, here comes the tricky part," said Terri.

They headed into the Dorset Hotel, where Annette and George Mulberry waited for them in the blue and yellow reception area.

"Hannah and the girls are waiting in the dining room," said Annette: "We told them that you needed to talk to them. That's all."

Outside the Mantikhora listened, puzzled by the screams from inside the hotel. A short time later a trolley from the second ambulance was wheeled into the Dorset by two paramedics. Soon afterwards, it returned with Hannah Lovejoy sedated and strapped down. Behind it came the others with George Mulberry and Colin Klein carrying Tamsin and Emma, who were sedated and sleeping soundly.

"Can you take the girls?" asked Tilly Lombstrom.

"Sure thing," said Terri.

With Greta Goddard driving, Terri and Colin each nursed one of the girls, as they followed after the ambulance.

In the evening as the sun was setting the Longaloo Tribe outside Bromby township was preparing for a combined corroboree. In Aboriginal society, there were three types of corroboree: all male, all female, or combined (both sexes). Due to the death of the tribe's most senior male Elder recently, this corroboree was being overseen by the head female Elder Dotty Dunawatti-Watti a sixty-something full-blood Aborigine, tall, athletic, and night black.

After lighting the ceremonial fire, Dotty picked up two ceremonial sticks and began tapping them together, while chanting slowly.

"Here we go," whispered a young buck, as half a dozen bucks and as many lubras started dancing the lizard dance around the fire. The elder lubras were topless, the more shy western-educated younger women wore at least bras.

In the bushes not far from the corroboree, the Mantikhora stood watching the ceremony with interest. Beside the corroboree ground were a dozen or so spears stacked together. The creature had race-memory of its kind being hunted by warriors riding elephants hurling spears which killed other Mantikhoras. Although the creature's quills could kill most beasts, even its own kind, they could not penetrate an elephant's thick skin. So Mantikhoras had no chance against spear-throwing warriors on elephant back.

But the Mantikhora had not spotted a single elephant so far in the Victorian forestlands, and there were none anywhere near the corroboree ground. The creature had been careful to surreptitiously search the outlying areas around the village. Most Aboriginal villages had fifty to sixty people, but the Longaloo Tribe only had thirty-eight members due to the deaths of a number of elders lately. So the tribal grounds were small and did not take long to circumnavigate.

So the creature's only concern was the spears. It decided it had no time to waste. Stepping out from cover, the Mantikhora let out a hellish roar, startling the dancers, then raised its tail up over its head and began firing its lethal quills at the tribe.

"What the...?" asked Dotty Dunawatti-Watti; silenced as her pendulous breasts were speared by half a dozen quills.

The young bucks streaked toward the stack of spears just outside the corroboree ground. Two reached the spears. Before the Mantikhora's deadly quills shot them down.

Roaring with excitement, drawing strength from the shrieking natives' fear, the creature kept firing its quills, which grew back as soon as it fired them. Until all thirty-eight members of the Longaloo Tribe were lying dead on the ceremonial grounds.

From experience, the creature knew that females, especially their breasts, tended to be softer and juicer than males. So, almost purring in delight, the creature padded around the corroboree ground devouring the breasts of the women. Especially the full pendulous breasts of the elderly lubras. Before eating their faces, then the buttocks of both lubras and bucks.

Finally sated, the Mantikhora roared once more in pleasure, before heading off into the surrounding pine and eucalyptus forest to sleep off its feast.

Over at the Yellow House in Rochester Road in Merridale, Terri Scott, Colin Klein and the others were enjoying one of Deidre Morton's munificent and magnificent dinners.

"Superb as always," said Natasha Lipzing, the eldest resident of the boarding house; a tall, grey-haired lady of seventy.

"Thank you," said Deidre. A short, dumpy sixty-something brunette, the owner of the Yellow House. So nicknamed due to Deidre's love of the colour lemon, with which the house was painted inside and out.

"Yes, excellent," agreed Freddy Kingston, a tall, portly retiree, bald apart from a Larry Fine-style ruff of curly black hair.

"Especially the rice pudding with brandy," said Tommy Turner, a short stocky, blond retiree.

"Only you were cretinous enough to pour brandy into your rice pudding," pointed our Colin Klein.

"It was the making of it," insisted Tommy: "Rice pudding should always have brandy in it."

"Not in my house," insisted Deidre Morton.

"Not in my rice pudding," stated Terri.

The next morning they were sitting down for breakfast at seven o'clock when they received a phone call from Tilly Lombstrom.

"I see, Tils, bye," said Terri disconnecting: "Doc Kaddich, the dentist, has rung back with confusing info. It seems the bite marks are a little like a person's but with three rows of teeth..."

"Something humans don't usually have," said Colin.

"Plus the width of the bite means a human would have to be nearly three metres tall, with an overbite like you would not believe."

"Are there any humans that tall?" asked Deidre Morton.

"According to Doc Kaddich the tallest man in the world at the moment is Sultan Kösen, born December 1982. He is a Turkish farmer at 251 cm in height."

"So half a metre too short," said Colin Klein.

"'Fraid So," agreed Terri.

"So I guess we have to start a lion hunt."

"Except lions don't have three rows of teeth either," pointed out Terri.

"Maybe it's time to bring in our animal specialist."

"Totty will squeal from excitement when we tell her we're looking for a lion with three rows of teeth," said Terri. Taking out her mobile phone, Terri rang through to the Melbourne Wildlife Safari Park and asked for Totty Rampling: "Tots, this is Tare. We've got a murderous lion with three rows of teeth..."

Almost deafened as Totty squealed in excitement, Terri told the wildlife biologist everything that had happened so far. Unable to tell about the attack upon the Longaloo Tribe outside Bromby, since it had not been reported yet.

Disconnecting, Terri said: "She said if she misses the train from Melbourne, she'll flap her arms like wings and fly down."

"So she's a little bit keen?" teased Colin.

"Just a little bit."

The next morning a little before 9:00 they were waiting at the Railway Station in Theobald Street, Glen Hartwell, when they heard the tooting of the steam train from a few kilometres away.

"It's not gonna arrive early for the first time ever?" asked Greta Goddard.

"No, I'm sure there's a law against that," teased Terri.

At exactly 8:58 the train pulled up at the platform. And fifty or so people alighted, including Totty Rampling: a tall, attractive, thirty-something brunette.

"Two minutes early," said Greta to the approaching brunette: "An all-time record for the Melbourne to Willamby train."

"I tried telling the driver to slow down, or we wouldn't be late, but he wouldn't listen," teased Totty. She went across to hug them all: "So what's haunting the Glen this time? Giant flying piranha fish? A huge man-eating garden slug? Or something less exotic like a ten-metre-long walking land shark?"

"Frankly it could be any of those," said Greta as she and Colin helped Totty with her luggage: "Except maybe the huge man-eating garden slugs since whatever it is has three sets of teeth."

"And you don't often see garden slugs with teeth," agreed Totty as they headed toward Terri's blue Lexus: "Let alone three sets of them."

Bulam Bulam was a grey-haired elder of the Gooladoo tribe, outside Harpertown in the Victorian countryside. Although he lived in a lean-to in his tribal village, he owned and worked a small grocery shop in town. Where he was at nine thirty-five that morning when he received three visitors. Two Elders and a young buck from the Werrawerra Tribe outside BeauLarkin.

"We have been trying for hours to reach Dotty Dunawatti-Watti of the Longaloo Tribe on our mobile phones," explained Harry Dinnigan: "We thought before going out to check on them, we should consult you, as the most senior Elder in the Glen Hartwell to Willamby area."

"Thank you," said Bulam Bulam: "Of course, I will go with you to check on them."

In the basement morgue at the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital, Totty had set up her equipment and was soon studying the remains of Michael Lovejoy. Alongside her Elvis Green also examined the bite marks.

"They're not human, that's for sure," said Totty.

"Even Doc Kaddich could tell us that much," said Terri.

"Is he a local quack?" asked the brunette.

"No, the local dentist," explained Colin.

"Pity he's not the local vet. He might have been able to say something more useful."

"Such as?" asked Elvis.

"Such as what the hell has teeth that could have caused these bites."

"Isn't that why you're here?"

"I was afraid someone would point that out," said Totty, clearly perplexed: "All I can say for sure is that they're not from any living animal that I'm aware of."

"I knew she'd be a big help," teased Greta Goddard.

"Hey, I've only just got here, I haven't even stopped to book in with Mrs. M. yet. Has she forgiven me yet for dumping Col?"

"'Fraid not, Tots," teased Colin Klein.

As they approached the Longaloo Tribe outside Bromby township Bulam Bulam and the BeauLarkin tribesmen called out for Dotty Dunawatti-Watti several times, without receiving any reply.

"Tracks," said Harry Dinnigan, pointing to the Mantikhora's prints in the forest floor twenty metres or so from the tribal grounds.

"Unusual tracks," said Bulam Bulam kneeling to examine them: "Not like any I've seen before."

"We should go on," insisted Harry.

They started forward again. Until finding the village empty.

"I think they were having a corroboree last night," said Bulam Bulam.

He led them around to the corroboree ground, where they stared in horror at the sight of the slaughtered natives.

"What could have ...?" asked one of the young bucks. He walked across to touch one of the quills sticking out of the corpses before Bulam Bulam could shout a warning to stop.

At the hospital, they were still joking around, between trying to make sense of Michael Lovejoy's corpse, when Leo Laxman, a tall Jamaican-born nurse entered, leading a solemn-looking Bulam Bulam.

"Bulam Bulam," said Terri, going across to hug the old man, who was a close friend of hers. As well as a pro-rata police tracker: "What brings you to the Glen?"

"Thirty-nine strange deaths," said the old man. He went on to tell them of the deaths of the thirty-eight natives of the Longaloo Tribe outside Bromby township. Plus the death of the young buck who had made the mistake of touching one of the quills protruding from the dead Aborigines.

An hour later half a dozen ambulances and as many police cars were parked just outside the Longaloo Tribal grounds. Inside the corroboree grounds Jesus Costello, Tilly Lombstrom, Terri and co were examining (a.k.a. staring in horror at) the thirty-nine native corpses.

"The whole tribe?" said Terri in dismay.

"Plus young Ken from my tribe," said Harry Dinnigan, pointing toward one of the young bucks.

"Is this how Michael Lovejoy was killed?" asked Totty Rampling, pointing at one of the quills.

"Yes, don't touch it!" warned Bulam Bulam: "Poor Ken barely touched one quill and he died screaming in moments."

"Some kind of strong toxin, that we haven't been able to identify yet," explained Jesus Costello.

"I thought you said it was a lion?" asked Totty: "What kind of a lion uses poison quills to kill people?"

"That's what we hoped you could tell us?" said Terri.

In the forest, the Mantikhora watched the police and medical staff for hours, as they gradually ferried the bodies to the morgue at the Glen Hartwell Hospital. It had returned for another feed but was not prepared to risk attacking these people. So it would have to go elsewhere for food.

On the way back to the hospital, Terri's phone rang. Taking it from her pocket she said: "Oh, it's the mad Goth chick."

"I meant to ask about her?" said Totty.

"Aha," said Terri into the phone. After a few minutes, she disconnected and said: "She's one of five contenders for the final three places."

The Mulholland family were having a picnic lunch on the bank of the once heavily polluted, now lightly polluted, Yannan River, outside Glen Hartwell township.

At forty-eight, Kevin Mulholland looked at least a decade older due to having gone prematurely grey. To make matters worse, his beautiful redheaded wife, Tawny, looked a decade younger than her forty-six, making Kevin the butt of frequent cradle-snatcher jokes.

His ten-year-old son, Trent, was a doppelganger of Kevin, apart from still having raven-coloured hair.

Clarissa, eight, and Leonora, seven, were spitting images of their mother, except Clarissa was an ash blonde.

Ignoring the food on the paper plate before him, Trent was carefully brushing his shoulder-length hair.

"He's at it again," said Clarissa before taking a bite from a chicken leg.

"He's so vain," said Leonora: "The way he combs his hair, you'd think he was a girl."

"Sure he's not?" asked Clarissa: "He's always been girly."

"Leave your brother alone," said Tawny: "He's got beautiful black hair."

"For now," said Leonora: "But wait till it goes grey like dad's."

"Will not go grey like dad's!" said Trent. Then to his mother: "Will it?"

"Any day now," teased Clarissa.

"Don't be silly," cautioned Tawny: "Kevin was thirty-five or -six when he went grey. So Trent has twenty-five or -six years before having to worry."

"What're you mean? I'm worried already! Guess I'll have to start dying it eventually."

"You could just go grey gracefully," said Kevin.

"Yeah right," said Trent.

Everyone except Kevin laughed riotously at that.

"Or not," said Kevin.

A few metres away, peaking its head out from behind a giant blue gum tree, the Mantikhora watched the Mulholland family eating. A little puzzled when they all burst out laughing.

After a moment, it stepped into the open and roared to get their attention.

"What?" asked Kevin.

They all turned to look toward the Mantikhora.

"Run for it, kids," cried Tawny, starting to rise to her feet.

She only got halfway, though, before the Mantikhora looped its long tail over its head and shot out its lethal quills, which made the redhead shriek. Her last vocal sound before dying.

"Mum!" shrieked Clarissa, as the three children leapt agilely to their feet.

"Run to the car!" ordered Kevin.

Despite suffering from chronic back pains, he rose to his feet quickly, to attempt to shield the three children with his own body. However, the Mantikhora fired out six quills which struck his aching back, making the grey-haired man shriek in agony, then collapse to the forest floor ... dead!

Squealing in terror, the three children raced toward their family car, a rusty old puce-coloured Volkswagen Beetle.

Reaching the car, Trent, struggled open the door and slid in, expecting Clarissa and Leonora to jump in after him. But looking round, he saw the two girls lying face down upon the bed of pine needles and gum leaves. A dozen quills sticking out of the back of each of them.

Instinctively, he started back out of the car. Then as the Mantikhora roared again, commonsense kicked in and Trent slammed the door shut, then closed and locked all the doors and windows.

Hearing a padding sound, Trent looked around as the Mantikhora strode across to start devouring the softest parts of Clarissa and Leonora. The creature was almost purring with delight as it consumed first Clarissa, then Leonora.

Trent covered his eyes with his hands, crying, as the monster devoured his two sisters. Before it went back to devour the generous breasts of Tawny Mulholland.

Maybe they were right? thought Trent: I am too girly! He decided there and then to let his hair go grey gracefully ... if he lived that long!

Trent waited inside the locked car for nearly two hours, long after the Mantikhora had departed, before daring to venture outside. Trying his best not to look at the remains of his parents or sisters, he set off into the forest. Careful to follow the tracks of the Beetle from when they had driven into the forest earlier.

At the Yellow House in Rochester Road in Merridale, Terri, Totty and the others had just finished a late lunch.

"So," asked Natasha Lipzing after they had finished eating: "Are you any closer to tracking down what your mysterious killer is?"

"No," said Terri, before being corrected by Totty:

"Yes," said the brunette, who had been using a computer tablet to search the internet while eating, to the obvious disapproval of Deidre Morton: "I think it's a Martikhora, the Persian word for man-eater, also called in Greek Anthropophagos, also meaning Man-Eater. In English it's traditionally called a Manticore."

"Does that thing tell you how to despatch a Manti-Whosits?" asked Colin.

"It says the traditional means of killing it is to throw spears at it from the back of an elephant. It seems pachyderms are the only creatures impervious to its quills, due to their thick, leathery skin."

"Strangely enough," said Terri: "You don't see many elephants, or pachyderms in general, in Australia since political correctness replaced real circuses with mere gymnastic-child displays."

"You probably don't have to ride an elephant," pointed out Totty.

"And I'm guessing if spears can kill it, so can bullets," suggested Colin.

They had already started toward the front door when the phone rang.

"Hello?" said Terri, into the receiver. Finally, she hung up and said: "That was Alice Walker at Mitchell Street. Trent Mulholland has just been taken to the hospital. According to him, the rest of his family were killed and devoured by the Manti-Whosits."

"Mantikhora," corrected Totty.

An hour later Terri and co were at the banks of the Yannan, watching on as Jesus Costello and Tilly Lombstrom examined the four corpses.

"Same as before," said Jesus: "Killed with the quills, then the softest body parts devoured."

"So what now?" asked Greta Goddard.

"Now we send out a plague alert to keep everyone indoors, while we hunt for this thing," suggested Terri Scott: "Then, since it must be in the forest somewhere, we get a military helicopter, which means ringing Russell Street for help ... again."

With a sigh, Terri took out her mobile phone and rang through to her superiors in Melbourne. Trying not to sound too insane she explained their dilemma, holding the phone away from her ear when the shouting became too intense.

"So?" asked Colin, when the ash blonde finally disconnected.

"They're not happy about another of these weird monster cases, but they're sending a chopper ASAP."

Soon after breakfast the next morning, Terri, Colin, Greta, and Alice Walker -- a forty-six-year-old brunette; an amateur weight-lifter, and gym mate of Sheila, Derek, and Cheryl -- were waiting in the front office of the Mitchell Street Police Station in Glen Hartwell, when they heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter approaching.

"That sounds like our girls!" said Terri.

They went outside to stand on the sundried lawn outside the station to wait as an R.A.A.F. A25 Sikorsky S-70 Blackhawk helicopter approached the station.

After landing in the street, out stepped its female pilot, fifty-something Jennifer Eckles, an attractive brunette with pixie-cut hair, and her twenty-something daughter, Barbara.

"Barbara, Jennifer," said Terri, giving them both a hug.

"Where's the mad Goth chick?" asked Barbara.

"Up in Melbourne, auditioning for 'The World's Stupidest Stuntman Down Under'," explained Colin as he hugged the two women.

"So what are we up against this time?" asked Jennifer: "Giant green elves? Carnivorous walking flowers? Or something more exotic?"

"A Mantikhora," said Totty. She went on to explain what that was after they were in the helicopter.

"We'll let's go find it," said Jennifer starting the chopper.

"Remember, reddish, lionish-like and shoots poisonous quills from its tail," reminded Totty.

"Oughta be a breeze to find," said Barbara.

Over the next four days, they hunted without luck. However, the Mantikhora did not attack anyone in that time; perhaps scared off by the helicopter. They also heard from Sheila Bennett again.

"She's down to the last three trying out for two places," said Terri.

"Fingers crossed," said Jennifer, seconds before Barbara said:

"Reddish lionish-like creature spotted in the forest below." She pointed as her mother headed the helicopter in that direction.

"Get ready to fire, honey," said Jennifer: "One my word ... okay, fire."

Barbara adjusted a couple of controls on the dashboard, then pressed down a red button for a few seconds.

As a few hundred explosive bullets fired toward it, the Mantikhora took off at a run.

"Think you can outrun us do you?" said Jennifer, zooming the chopper after the fleeing creature: "Get ready to fire again ... okay fire."

Barbara pressed the red button again for a few seconds, this time the Mantikhora jumped as though hit, but kept running. Although at a reduced speed.

"Winged him," said Barbara.

"Okay, let's finish the bugger off," said Jennifer, taking the chopper down lower, so that her daughter had a better shot at the fleeing monster.

This time when Barbara fired, the Mantikhora shrieked and leapt into the air, crashing down onto its side upon the carpet of pine needles and eucalyptus leaves.

Jennifer carefully landed the chopper just in front of the creature. Then Barbara let off a long burst, firing the explosive bullets into the creature from point black range.

For a few seconds, the Mantikhora kicked and spasmed on its side, before finally lying still.

"Job done," said Jennifer, after carefully checking that the Mantikhora was dead.

"Wait till we tell the mad Goth chick what she missed," teased Greta Goddard: "She'll be spewing."

Two days later, Sheila returned to Glen Hartwell, crestfallen.

"What happened?" asked Tommy Turner as they sat at the dining table in the Yellow House.

"I got down to the final two trying for the last spot. Me against this blonde bimbo type..."

"Should I take offence at that?" asked Terri.

"I rode the motorbike faultlessly and did all the routines perfectly. The blonde chick fell off her bike four times ... twice before working out how to start it. She messed up every routine and almost got herself killed."

"So you're in it?" asked Colin.

"No, she is."

"How come?" asked Deidre Morton.

"She's blonde, at least ten years younger than me. She has a chest like a young Dolly Parton, and an arse like Bianca Censori ... a massive bubble-butt," said Sheila. She considered for a moment, then said: "I wonder if I should get implants?"

"Sheils, your chest is plenty big enough," said Natasha.

"No, I meant for my bum ... to get a real Bianca Censori behind."

"Sheils, they'd have to implant bowling balls for your bum to get that big," said Colin.

"And it would be painful to sit down," said Tommy.

"Also you wouldn't be able to drive anymore," said Terri: "Because you'd be too high to be able to see outside the windscreen."

"Oh yeah," said Sheila: "And I do love driving."

© Copyright 2024 Philip Roberts
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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