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Epub ISBN: 9781407097848
The Hand of the Devil
A CORGI BOOK 978 0 552 55297 4
First published in Great Britain by The Bodley Head
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Bodley Head edition published 2006
Corgi edition published 2007
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Copyright © Dean Vincent Carter, 2006
The right of Dean Vincent Carter to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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For Mum and Dad . . . for everything
We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.
H. P. Lovecraft
2 July 1932
The old hut stood alone on the shore. Low mist from the water floated like a shroud across the sand, swirling around the small wooden structure before dissipating into the line of trees behind it. Cutter could hear the sound, even from his position several metres away. He swabbed his brow with the sodden rag from his pocket, then turned and nodded at his guide, Obi. They approached the hut slowly, hesitantly, only too conscious of what lurked within.
Obi stopped, inhaled deeply, then gave the white man a cautious glance. Cutter smiled before realizing with some alarm that his companion was trembling.
‘You’ve been very brave to have come
far,’ he assured him. ‘Stay here. I’ll go in alone.’ He put a hand on the man’s shoulder.
‘I can’t move,’ Obi murmured, the shame unmistakable in his voice.
‘Don’t worry. I understand.’ Cutter turned and looked back at the hut. It would be a ghostly sight even without the graveyard mist from the river. Now the buzzing, the maddening cacophony, was playing tricks with his mind. He could swear that the small building was expanding, swelling in size from the noise building up within.
‘If you call out,’ Obi said, his voice full of regret, ‘I may not come to your aid, my friend.’
‘I know,’ Cutter replied. ‘It’s all right.’
He continued forward, parting the fog with his feet, until he reached the wooden door. The sound was awful now. He tried hard to ignore it as he lifted his hand to the door handle. Going in would require a tremendous effort and at that moment he seemed to lack the necessary strength of will. His mind was hindering his body with visions of what awaited him on the other side of that door. He applied pressure to the handle. The door didn’t move.
Cutter was consumed with the same paralysing terror that had so stricken his guide. The Lady was in there, and she was waiting for him. This he knew beyond all doubt. He closed his eyes and ordered his body to push, to fight.
Somehow his hand moved as though guided by some unseen force and pushed down the handle. It took some effort, but the door eventually yielded. Voices were screaming inside his head, ordering him to stop, to turn away. He knew that the cold, sickening fear, coupled with lack of sleep, was feeding his already wild imagination, but he couldn’t stop now. Even though he was closer to death than ever before, he couldn’t turn back. She already had him in her grasp. He knew he should have returned to the village for assistance. He knew he should have kept his promise to his wife and steered clear of such danger. He knew a lot of things.
The crack between the old door and its warped frame widened. At once the noise erupted from the dark confines of the hut, encompassing the man and disrupting all thought. He stood still, barely able to see anything inside the dim structure, but knowing all the while that she was there.
Obi still couldn’t move. He was renowned among his people for his strength and courage, but that was before he’d learned that the monster was real. This was something he could never have prepared for. He had grown from boy to man with the legends of his tribe, but not until this day had he imagined that they held any truth. Seeing Cutter standing with his hand on the door of the hut, he knew. The terror on the white man’s face was clear. It was in his eyes, in the pallor of his flesh. Something landed on Obi’s upper lip, but he couldn’t even blow it off. The white man was shaking now. He’d opened the door wide enough to step inside the hut.
The walls were alive. Cutter saw dark, ever-changing shapes smothering the sides of the hut. Waves, odd phantasms formed by thousands upon thousands of tiny, whining insects. An old bed frame and a wooden box were also covered in the creatures, leaving no patch of wood visible. Then he saw her, and his heart nearly stopped. On a crude shelf fashioned from a section of bark sat a huge red mosquito. In appearance she was not dissimilar to the millions of bodies around her, but her size was incredible. She was easily as large as a child’s hand. Undisturbed by the frenzy of her followers or the arrival of the intruder, she just sat there, facing him.
Now, summoning more control over his body, he took a net and a large jar from the bag slung around his shoulder. After all the years he’d spent in the field, his tools remained simple, crude but effective. He unscrewed the top from the jar and slipped it into his pocket. The mosquitoes were now swarming over his shoes, some deciding to venture up his legs. He shuddered, nearly losing his grip on the jar. Raising the net above his head, he advanced towards the shelf, treading on countless tiny bodies, praying he wouldn’t provoke a mass reaction. She seemed to be tracking him with her eyes, her wings lifting and lowering slowly. He readied himself to bring the net down, and that’s when he heard the terrible shriek.
It seemed to be inside and outside his head simultaneously. The blood-curdling sound was like the agonized scream of a lunatic. The atmosphere changed within the hut: the dark patches on the wall dissolved, and thousands of small shapes took to the air, forming a thick cloud around him. The Lady remained silent and still. Cutter now realized that the scream he’d heard must have been a premonition: it was identical to the sound now tearing from his lungs.
After the Lady’s followers had gorged themselves on the man’s blood it was her turn to feed. By the time she had finished there was little more than a drop of red fluid left in the deflated body.
From the shore, Obi heard the chilling cry. Once the screaming had stopped, sensation returned to his body, along with a feeling of sickening guilt. He stood there for some seconds, willing himself to turn and run. Then, as if from the air itself, came a voice. A female voice.
Come – do not be afraid. I don’t wish to harm you . .
His jaw dropped. His breathing became irregular. He’d heard the words, but he couldn’t believe them. Could the myth be a reality? Could the creature really enter the mind of a man? It was impossible. But he hadn’t imagined it, there was no doubt about that. She had called out to him.
Something was pulling him towards the hut. He had no wish to approach it, but he felt compelled. He looked from the hut to the setting sun, then back again. He closed his eyes and pictured his home, his family. Even as he thought he was breaking free from the hold on him, his feet began moving him closer and closer to the hut.
, he prayed, his eyes still closed.
Please let me go
. His hand, no longer his own, reached for the door handle. Inside her lair it felt cooler. He awaited her embrace, and all it promised.
Two miles downriver, Ernest Faraday sat in the shade, wiping sweat from the freckled folds of skin above his eyes. In Africa he enjoyed none of the comforts he was used to at home, and each day brought some new horror, some new discomfort. He loathed the oppressive heat; it felt as if he were being steamed alive. He’d dreamed, the night before, that he was trapped inside the spout of his grandmother’s old kettle, unable to escape the endless steam. Although it was early, the temperature was a constant distraction. He hated it here. Even in the shade he was in hell.
And from hell he watched the natives haul the supplies up the riverbank from a boat moored nearby. They moved like one large, segmented creature, chanting a low mantra as they worked. From somewhere behind Faraday came a voice. It was female, although as far as he knew there weren’t any women in the area. The only ones he’d seen in weeks were all back at the village some miles away. He twisted round and peered into the darkness of the trees. Nothing. He turned, pushed the sweat sideways from each eyebrow with his thumb and continued supervising the activity on the beach. He was convinced the heat was making him hear things.
Burke and Pollard, Faraday’s two assistants from his London office, were busy arguing over the quickest method of transporting the goods up the beach. Burke was nothing if not enthusiastic, gesturing wildly with his hands as he followed the bemused workers up and down the sand.
‘Look here,’ he said, ‘they’re in a nice, orderly chain. I fail to see any merit in—’
‘They should be carrying the stuff in pairs,’ Pollard interrupted, proving yet again that he could never agree with his colleague. ‘In pairs they could carry twice—’