Virus expert Anna Grey is disturbed when a dying patient is wheeled past her lab vomiting fountains of blood and screaming like a banshee. To make matters worse, when she examines the man’s corpse, she could swear she hears him whisper: ‘Get it out of me.’ John Patrick Bridges is dead. He’s definitely dead. But if he’s dead – how is he talking?
Anna wonders if she’s going mad. But then a second man haemorrhages and dies; yet Anna hears him whisper, ‘Please help me.’
There is no such thing as demons, Anna tells herself. But cynical fortune-teller Harry Erskine knows otherwise and a series of extremely disturbing events are forcing him from his Miami home towards the bereaved Anna, who as yet has little idea of the evil she is facing . . .
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Plague of the Manitou
By Graham Masterton
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 Graham Masterton
All rights reserved.
Anna had heard men scream before, but never like this – a strangulated screech that went on and on for over ten seconds before it finally ended in a throaty gargle of despair. It sounded more like a dog being crushed inch by inch under a roadroller than a man in pain.
She lifted her head away from her Raman microscope and listened. She heard shouting and banging in the corridor outside the laboratory – then a complicated pattering of footsteps and the whirr of a gurney being propelled very fast along the polished vinyl floor.
The man screamed again as the gurney passed the laboratory door, and this time Anna could hear what he was screaming. 'Get it out of me! Get it out of me!'
Another man's voice said, 'Jesus!'
She stood up, walked quickly across to the door and opened it. She was just in time to see the nurse and two hospital orderlies hurrying toward the elevators, rolling the gurney between them. The man who was lying on it was flailing his arms and jolting up and down as if he were being electrocuted. At the same time he was vomiting fountains of blood. It had drenched the front of his blue checkered shirt and spattered the nurse and the orderlies. It had even sprayed up the walls.
After they'd turned the corner at the end of the corridor, the man let out only one more scream, but Anna could hear the continuous clattering and creaking of the gurney as he kept on jolting up and down. Eventually, she heard the elevator chime, and then there was silence.
She stood in the laboratory doorway for a few moments, feeling both disturbed and puzzled. She had seen scores of patients hemorrhage before, and just as many suffering from violent seizures, but she couldn't remember seeing a patient convulsing so violently while vomiting up so much arterial blood, and screaming at the same time.
She was about to go back into her laboratory when a man suddenly appeared around the corner. He stopped and came no nearer, but stayed at the far end of the corridor, staring at her.
He had cropped gray hair and a neat gray beard. His face was ashy-pale, and his eyes were deep-sunk, with charcoal-dark circles around them. He was wearing a gray knee-length coat with a Nehru collar and buttons all the way down the front, and altogether he was so colorless that he could have stepped out of a black-and-white photograph. He continued to stare at Anna as if he were trying to commit her face to memory. At first he looked thoughtful, but then, gradually, he began to grin at her, until he was baring his teeth. His lips were moving, although he was too far away for her to be able to hear if he was actually saying anything.
By the expression on his face, however, she felt that he was mouthing something lecherous like: I could have you, lady, any time I felt like it. As if to emphasize what she had imagined him to say, he licked his lips with the tip of his tongue.
Anna didn't recognize him as one of the Saint Louis University hospital faculty, and she was about to call out, 'Excuse me, sir!' when he took a single step back and disappeared from sight.
She didn't go after him. Hospital security wasn't her problem, after all. But she was still standing there wondering who he might have been when her lab assistant Epiphany came click-clacking along the corridor carrying two Styrofoam cups of coffee. Epiphany was looking down with horror at the bloody footprints and wheel marks on the floor, and when she reached the doorway she said, 'Holy moley, Anna! What in the name of heck ...?'
'I know. They just wheeled a patient past here, and he was bringing up blood by the bucketful. Convulsing, too, even worse than epilepsy. I mean, my God, he was bouncing up and down like he was on a trampoline.'
Epiphany held up the two cups of coffee. 'Here. Sorry. They didn't have no pecan sandies left. I didn't know what you'd like instead.'
'That's OK, Epiphany. I don't think I have too much of an appetite now.'
They went back into the laboratory, although Anna didn't return to her work immediately. She felt unaccountably tense, as if the blood-spattering chariot-race that had just rushed past her door was only a portent of something much worse to come. It wasn't unusual for her to feel like that. It was her job to be alarmist, after all. But the way that patient had been convulsing had triggered a memory of something she'd read about unusually violent seizures a long time ago, or something that some lecturer or some specialist had told her – especially since he had been shouting: 'Get it out of me!' It irritated her that she couldn't remember what it was.
She had also been unsettled by the man in gray who had grinned at her so suggestively. What had he been doing there? And why had he been looking so pleased with himself?
'Are you OK?' Epiphany asked her, looking up from her laptop. 'We have another nine batches of tests to run, don't we?'
'Sure. Yes. I don't know. No, I'm not OK. That – that's upset me.'
'Hey, come on,' said Epiphany, standing up. She came across to Anna and laid a hand on her shoulder. Both women were tall, but Epiphany was an inch or two taller, with cornrows decorated with multicolored beads. Anna had short-cropped, silver-blonde hair and high cheekbones, and she was very thin. Her mother had always said that she ought to have been a fashion model, but her father, Edward Grey, was a highly respected biochemist and she had never wanted to do anything else but follow him into medical science.
Her partner David had once told her, 'That's why I love you so much, Anna. You have Jonas Salk's brain in Heidi Klum's body.'
'I'll be fine,' she told Epiphany. 'Just give me a moment.'
'Maybe you'd feel better if you went up to surgery to see how the guy's getting along,' Epiphany suggested. 'They must have been taking him into theater if he was barfing up blood like that.'
'No, no. We need to start these tests right away. We're running behind time as it is. We don't want to see any more kids going down with this bug.'
Two days ago, Anna had been sent blood samples from twenty-seven children at Meramac Elementary School in Clayton after they had been struck without warning by a devastating illness. Fiveand six-year-olds had been collapsing in the classrooms and the playground with acute flu-like symptoms – weakness, shivering, projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea. The school had temporarily been closed until Anna and her team could determine what kind of virus was causing it and come up with some effective treatment. At the moment, all of the affected children were being kept in isolation at Saint Louis Children's Hospital.
'You're sure you're OK?' Epiphany repeated.
'Please, Epiphany. I'm sure I'm sure. Let's just get back to this virus. The more tests I've been running, the more it looks like some kind of avian flu mutation, like H5N1, but it's much more virulent than H5N1.'
'Well, it sure looks like bird flu, don't it?' said Epiphany. 'It has pretty much the same symptoms as bird flu, too – even though it spreads about ten times faster and its symptoms are about ten times worse.'
Anna sipped her latte, which was still too hot, and then nodded in agreement. 'It hasn't responded to any of the usual antivirals, either. I've tried oseltamivir and zanamivir, but neither of those could stop it from escaping from its host cell. It replicates like rabbits on fire.'
'Excuse me?' said Epiphany. '"Rabbits on fire"?'
'Well, you know what I mean. Rabbits on speed. Rabbits on Viagra. Rabbits behaving like rabbits. I'm too tired to be logical.'
She paused again. She still couldn't erase the image of that gray bearded man – the way his lubricious grin had widened slowly across his face, as if it were being spread by a warm knife. There was no question in her mind that he had said something, and she wished that she could lip-read because in her mind's eye she could still clearly see his lips moving, like watching a video loop, over and over again.
She took another sip of her latte, and then she lifted her surgical mask over her nose and mouth and sat down again in front of her microscope. When she adjusted the focus, the virus sample that had been taken from a critically ill five-year-old boy came sharply into view – clusters of bright green globules with sharp spines projecting from them, bobbing around like sea urchins.
As she started to take a series of 3-D images, her cellphone rang.
'Anna?' said a clipped voice. It was Jim Waso, the CEO. 'How's it going with the Meramac Elementary School virus samples?'
'Very slow, sir,' she told him. 'In my opinion it's almost certainly a variant of H5N1, but it's highly complex. It's strongly resistant to any of the antivirals I've used. I have a plan, though. I'm about to try tyranivir. I don't think tyranivir is going to destroy it, but it could make it show its hand, if you get my meaning.'
'OK,' said Jim Waso. 'But I'm sorry to tell you that I had a call five minutes ago from the Children's Hospital. A six-year-old girl passed away about a half-hour ago – Deborah-Jane Crusoe, for your records. Respiratory failure. A five-year-old boy is so critical that they don't believe he can survive the night.'
'I'm doing everything I can here, Jim, believe me. Doctor Ahmet and Doctor Kelly will both be coming in later to give me some more back-up, and the NCIRD have just sent me all the latest updates on H5N1 variants – especially that outbreak they had last month in San Bernardino.'
'Anna – I don't have to tell you how critical this is. I have to make a media statement in twenty minutes, and I need to tell them something positive. We have a reputation to uphold here at SLU, and quite apart from that we don't want to kick off some kind of city-wide panic.'
'Like I say, Jim, I'm doing everything I can. By the way – before you hang up – an emergency patient was brought past my lab about ten minutes ago. He was convulsing and bringing up copious quantities of blood. Do you know anything about that?'
'Nobody's reported anything to me yet. I'll have Gerda look into it, if you like. Any special reason?'
'I'm not sure,' said Anna. 'His symptoms were very unusual, that's all. You know me. Always on the lookout for some condition that's out of the ordinary.'
'That's almost a condition in itself, professor, if you don't mind my saying so.'
There was a pause between them before they hung up. Even though he always spoke to her so sharply, Anna had sensed for quite a few months that Jim Waso found her attractive. Maybe that was why he spoke to her so sharply, to conceal how he felt. She would have found him attractive, too, if she hadn't already been committed to David.
She heard a clatter outside in the corridor and a woman singing some Rihanna song off-key: 'You're beautiful, like diamonds in the sky ...' It sounded as if the cleaning crew were mopping up the blood already. She pulled up her surgical mask, ready to return to her microscope, but as she did so, she caught a flicker of movement in the corner of her eye. She turned toward the door just in time to see the gray-bearded man staring in at her through the porthole window. At once, he vanished.
Anna went across to the door and opened it. Outside, two cleaners with yellow plastic buckets and a mobile cleaning trolley were sponging off the last streaks and speckles of blood from the walls and mopping the floor with EnvirOx.
Anna looked in both directions, but the man in gray was nowhere to be seen. Either she had imagined him looking in through the window, or he was a very fast walker.
'Did either of you see a man standing here a moment ago?' she asked one of the cleaners. 'Gray hair, gray coat, bearded?'
'Ain't seen nobody, ma'am. Sorry. Did you see somebody, Shirelle?'
'Not a soul, honey. But then I ain't got my new eyeglasses yet. I can't see squat.'
Anna slowly closed the lab door. As she crossed back to her workstation, her phone warbled again. This time it was Bernie Fishman, deputy head of surgery. His voice was a deep, rich baritone, as if at any moment he was going to start singing Nessun Dorma.
'Anna, I wonder if you could spare us a moment? I understand from Jim Waso that you were showing an interest in one of our latest admissions.'
'You mean the guy who was bringing up blood and convulsing?'
'That's the very one.'
'How is he? Have you managed to control his seizures? How about the hemorrhage?'
'He didn't make it, Anna. He passed away about ten minutes ago. But why don't you come take a look at him? To tell you the truth, I'd really value your opinion.'
'I'm up to my ears here, Bernie.'
'I know that. But it won't take you more than five or ten minutes. And you should see him for yourself. He's deceased, but to look at him, you'd think that he still has the Devil breathing down his neck.'CHAPTER 2
Bernie Fishman was waiting for her when she stepped out of the elevator on the second floor, the emergency department. Not only did he sound like a baritone, he also looked like a baritone, with a round face and double chin and a bald suntanned crown with a halo of wild black hair around it. His chest was deep, but his legs were short, and he walked very nimbly, as if he were strutting across the stage at La Scala.
'Anna,' he greeted her. 'How are you, beautiful lady? I haven't seen you for ever.'
'You saw me last Wednesday, Bernie, at the Stroke Network fund-raiser. You bought me a glass of Prosecco.'
'Yes, feh! But it was much too crowded. We couldn't talk together tête-à-tête.'
'Bernie, your tête is at least six inches lower than my tête. We can never talk tête-à-tête.'
'God, you're so cruel to me.'
They walked along the corridor to the emergency surgery theaters. Bernie pushed open the door of Recovery Room Three and said, 'Here's our boy.'
In the center of the room stood a gurney covered with a pale-green sheet. The door swung shut behind them, and when it did the room was utterly silent, smelling faintly of disinfectant and cinnamon, like stale incense. Bernie went over to the cupboards on the left-hand side and handed Anna a mask.
'The patient's name is John Patrick Bridges. He admitted himself to the ER at ten oh-five complaining of a blinding headache and nausea. He was sitting in the waiting room when without warning he started to shout and scream. He dropped on to the floor in a fit, frothing at the mouth, and then he started to hemorrhage.'
'I saw him when they wheeled him past my lab,' said Anna. 'I just couldn't believe those convulsions.'
'Well, right. Even after he was anesthetized, we had to strap him to the operating table to immobilize him, and that took three of us.'
'What about the bleeding?'
'We tried to stop it, but it was coming from everywhere, like every blood vessel in his esophagus and his stomach had burst. He was losing blood faster than we could pump it into him, and in the end he was over three liters down and there was nothing we could do to save him. We're going to carry out a full autopsy, of course, but I thought you'd be interested because he was showing symptoms of some infection. In particular, his body temperature was way up – his last anal reading before he passed away was forty point three degrees.'
'Jesus. He was practically broiling himself alive.'
Bernie circled around the gurney, took hold of the sheet and started to lift it. 'Are you ready for this?' he asked her.
Anna shrugged. 'I won't know until I've seen it.'
Bernie drew the sheet down as far as the man's bare chest. It was obvious why he had told Anna that the man looked as if the Devil was still on his tail. His brown eyes were bulging and his whole face was contorted, with his mouth dragged so far downward that it gave him the appearance of a medieval gargoyle.
Anna approached the gurney and looked at the man more closely. He was brown-haired, about thirty-five years old, with designer stubble from which all of the blood had not yet been cleaned.
From the look of his upper body, he appeared to be reasonably fit, and he had a natural tan which was beginning to fade, as if he had been on vacation for the early part of the summer, but since then had been spending his days indoors.
Excerpted from Plague of the Manitou by Graham Masterton. Copyright © 2015 Graham Masterton. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.