London September 2005
My name is Ashley Reeves and I’m extremely lucky to be alive.
It’s one thing to be told a scary story, and quite another to be right in the middle of one. But that was where I found myself only a few days ago, and I’m worried that if I don’t write down each and every detail of my horrifying experience on Aries Island, I may end up convincing myself that it was all fiction, the diseased imaginings of a young man on the brink of madness.
That I survived the ordeal is a mystery in itself, for I stared death in the face more than once. But perhaps the most worrying aspect of it all is what drove me to visit that island in the first place. I’m a journalist, and therefore naturally predisposed to pursue stories. But this story should have made me cautious right from the beginning, and I realized too late that I had let my ambition lead me into more trouble than I could handle.
This account is of an extraordinary creature. A creature so dangerous that if it had been able to reproduce, it could have wiped us all from the face of the earth.
Mosquitoes are just insects. Nothing more than tiny biological machines. But they are also carriers. They communicate diseases like malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, dengue and encephalitis. Transmitting infection seems to be their primary function. Mankind is perhaps the herd that mosquitoes are destined to thin: millions of lives have been claimed by malaria alone. But mosquitoes don’t know what they are doing. They don’t know they are carrying terrible diseases. It would be an incredible thing indeed if a mosquito, or any insect, were capable of thought.
But one thing I’m reminded of time and time again is that Mother Nature loves a paradox.
I think many journalists must come to a point in their career when they think they’ve heard everything. I came to that point surprisingly early, with stories about three-headed pigs, blue sheep and talking plants; the only thing that shocked me was the audacity of the idiots behind them.
The magazine I work for, Missing Link, was launched a few years ago. My editor, Derek Jones, left a news- paper he’d been with for several years and started up Link on his own, to cash in on the public’s fascination for all things “inexplicable.”
The magazine has done very well, building up a pretty respectable readership. I came on board some months ago, fresh from college with a degree in journalism. But by then certain changes had already taken place at Missing Link. Derek had just sold the magazine but had decided to stay on as editor. The new owner was obsessed with credibility and wanted Link to focus more on oddities and freaks of nature, than on what he deemed “nonsense.” Out went the little green men and in came the flora and fauna. Soon we were rebranded a “science magazine,” dedicated to the weird and the wonderful. For me it was an exciting time and I was keen to get into serious reporting.
Gradually, however, doubts crept in about exactly what I’d got myself into. I’d been aware for a long time that honesty and journalism could be a difficult marriage, but I was surprised by exactly how difficult it was. I had to accept that the distortion of facts was not merely commonplace but ever present. Gradually elements of the job lost their appeal, but one that didn’t was Gina Newport, the magazine’s star photographer. At twenty-two she was nearly a full year older than me, and I’d liked her, a lot, from the moment I laid eyes on her. But somehow I could never find the opportunity or guts to do anything about the way I felt. Such is life.
Last Monday, a day that now seems lost in the mists of time, was the day the letter from Reginald Mather arrived. It was a glorious early autumn day, so I decided to run to work, taking my favorite route along the canal. After I’d reached the office, I showered, dressed and went next door to the newsagent’s to buy a carton of orange juice. Sitting behind my computer, I opened the juice and began sorting through the small pile of mail the office assistant had brought me. Mather’s letter was at the bottom, and was the only one that didn’t end up being filed in the trash.
The letter was brief, something that caught my attention straightaway. Usually the lunatics who write in waste page after page of paper trying to convince me that they have an amazing story for the magazine. Mather’s letter was businesslike, concise and therefore more credible.
Dear Mr. Reeves,
I have in my possession a specimen known as the “Ganges Red,” a unique strain of the Aedes aegypti mosquito family and the only one of its kind. If you were to ask an expert about it, they would no doubt tell you that it does not exist.
I have enclosed a map that will help you find your way to Aries Island, located in the middle of Lake Languor. I own the only house on the island, so you should have no trouble finding me. A boat can be chartered from Tryst harbor. I know the harbormaster to be a very helpful fellow, and can assure you that his rates are most reasonable.
It would be splendid if you could come right away, though of course I understand that a journalist’s schedule must be fairly tight. I regret that I have no telephone, so shall expect you at any time, or otherwise a letter to say that you cannot come.
I must ask for your discretion in this matter. I am keen to share my discovery with the world, but being a private man I need to keep certain details to myself. Therefore I ask, if it is possible, that you should not divulge the specifics of this letter to a third party.
I have the honor to be, sir,
your obedient servant,
Reginald C. Mather
I read it through a second time. Unlike most of the letters I received, it was intriguing. I had a hunch that Mather’s claim was genuine, and that there could be an exciting story lurking behind it. At the very least it could mean a day out of the office. I read it again, then made up my mind to talk to Derek.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from The Hand of the Devil by Dean Vincent Carter. Copyright © 2006 by Dean Vincent Carter. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.