Proposal for a Novel
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Lincoln Child
Sycamore Terrace
Lake Mahopac, N.Y. 10541

 

Douglas Preston

Riverside Drive
New York, N.Y. 10036

 

Summary of chapters 1 - 3
Synopsis of first half
Sample chapter

 

CHAPTER 1

Time: unstated. Place: the Belgian Congo. An unnamed scientist is wandering, lost, sick, in the jungle. His expedition has dissolved in disgrace; most members had left weeks before to return home, stating the expedition was a failure, and that it was a painful waste of time and money to continue...the few that remained, out of greed or loyalty, have for the most part perished in a set of strange coincidences and disasters. Now, in delirium, he has wandered away from camp and become hopelessly lost--just as Salac, his personal assistant and de facto bodyguard, had himself vanished into the shadowy jungle only days before. What had gone wrong? he wonders in despair. His research had shown conclusively that this was the region which must have held the last tribe...perhaps it was all an evil myth, as the legends had it?

Suddenly he is brought up short, his reminiscences interrupted; the sight of certain ideograms and scratches in the mossy trunks around him make his blood run cold at the same time they excite fresh enthusiasm. He plunges ahead into the steamy, dank undergrowth, dazed and delirious, only to tumble into a dark and silent glade, in which he almost runs headlong into a horribly mutilated, all-too-familiar body--and the shadowy, dark, grotesquely tattooed figures that silently surround and support the stiffened corpse of Salac.

 

CHAPTER 2

Time: the present. Place: The New York Museum of Natural History. A tourist family from upstate is wandering through the massive exhibition halls. There are two children: an older brother, and a younger. The older brother is swaggering like a veteran--after all, he had been to the museum the last time the family was in town--and is giving his younger brother his own version of the tour, with suitably ghoulish trimmings. This younger brother, much as he looks up to Older (and treats his words with an awe tempered by skepticism), can't help but find the place spooky as well as terribly exciting.

Finally, when the parents are looking at a seemingly endless exhibit-- peoples of the world, perhaps--older brother proclaims that this is boring, and that he will show kid brother something really exciting: dinosaurs. Reluctant to leave his parents, Younger finally agrees, his excitement to see dinosaurs and Older's promises of a quick return outweighing his caution and fear of parental reprisals.

But older brother's prowess at bragging is stronger than his memory of the museum's layout. They move from exhibit to exhibit, older brother continually promising that the dinosaurs are "just around the corner," and refusing in his pride to ask directions. Younger brother begins to grow afraid, and somehow his fear lends a sinister quality to his surroundings. The Indian Hall, the Hall of Birds, all seem full of grotesquely stuffed and hideous creatures contemplating evil deeds.

Finally, it becomes obvious they are lost. But older brother refuses to admit it, and in an attempt to lead them back, takes them instead into areas of the museum that are seldom visited. The sunlight creeping through the murky gallery windows far overhead stretches across the empty, dusty floors. It is now late in the afternoon, and the museum seems ghostly and deserted.

Then, Older, in misplaced anger at his own error, decides to play a trick on his brother. Younger turns around, and finds himself alone. Suddenly, fear and nervousness quickly crescendo into outright terror... but then, as he looks around in panic, he notices a large screen pushed up against a dark wall, and a strange muffled movement on the far side. He realizes with a rush of relief that his older brother must be hiding behind it. He comes up, looks behind... and sees nothing but an open door in the wall leading back into darkness.

Younger passes through the door, looking for his brother...but he soon comes wailing back out of the darkness, rushing into the main hallways of the museum. He is alone, and he won't describe to anyone what he saw behind the screen.

 

CHAPTER 3:

Our heroine arrives at work (viz, graduate studies assisting with research into ancient and primitive pharmacology, under the head of the Museum's anthropology department) only to find the door to her office is closed and locked, a museum security guard standing before it and refusing to grant permission to enter. Fuming and perplexed, she wanders down to the office of her boss--only to find a few of her co-workers, her boss the head curator, security guards, and a museum vice-president all talking at once. "I canceled the rest of my trip and returned on the late flight from Lagos as soon as I got your message," her boss was telling the vice-president. "Terrible thing...and on the eve of the new opening, too." The VP mutters something about the necessity of a "united front" and suggests reasons to offer the police why they had not been called immediately the night before. Our heroine hears rumors and speculations from the assorted staff fly around her--a crazed killer who massacred a dozen hostages--a rabid dog that ran amok after closing hours the night before. Finally, it turns out that a body had been discovered, hideously mutilated, in a storage closet down the hall from our heroine's lab.

 

From this launching point, the story builds. Interwoven through the narrative will be the following primary characters:

the heroine, a graduate student whose dissertation/research involves the science (or lack of science) in pharmacology and medicines among ancient peoples. As the situation eventually grows more critical (and more sinister), she makes getting to the bottom of the mystery a personal quest--in fact, she must get to the bottom of the mystery, because her line of research will be threatened if the truth isn't found. For the purposes of this proposal, at least, let's call her "Margo."

a young curator--a rather pompous, stuffy type, who lets everybody know that he's a full curator, and rather young to be one, at that. As the Bright Young Star, he has become heavily involved in the director's Grand Vision: a massive new project at the museum, a romantic and rather sensationalist exhibition, entitled "Superstition." Nominally assigned to the anthropology department, it is to deal with all aspects of superstition, particularly primitive superstition, and the imaginary (?) creatures which have haunted mankind's imagination over the centuries. This is to be a new venture for the museum, and one that has been hotly contested-- because it is more glittery and less scientific (in some ways, at least) than the museum's exhibits have been in the past. As a result, it has split the museum into two camps: those who support it, who are more oriented toward public relations, business, and the bottom-line, and who want the added money and attention a show of this type is likely to bring in--and those who abhor this move towards "theatricality" at the expense of science, nature, and education. Naturally, this is a sore point for the young curator, who shares the former view.

a writer, with one or two books to his credit, who is now working on a book about the day-to-day goings on of a major museum, using the device of following one particular task (in this case, the new exhibition) to its conclusion against a larger backdrop of the Museum as a whole. Although the Museum will benefit from the sale of the book, they are beginning to become agitated over its exact content, and much friction is generated as author and management clash over the nature and slant of the work. As the story goes on, the writer becomes at first mildly intrigued, then interested, in the heroine--as does the young curator. This romantic competition, enhanced by their radically different personalities and beliefs, fosters a great deal of rivalry (much of it sarcastic and heartfelt) between these two men.

the head curator of the heroine's department. It was his breakthrough in the pharmacology of certain ancient African tribes that won him international fame, and guaranteed him an important position at the Museum. Naturally, the heroine worships (intellectually) the ground he walks on, defending him against all detractors.

the head of the Museum, who comes in from time to time and adds color and realism to the story. Exact nature and role to be determined, but s/he spends a lot of time gathering funds, promoting the Museum's interests, and, in the case of the recent unpleasantness, keeping the grisly truth away from the press, and limiting the police intrusion into the museum to as great an extent as s/he can.

a famous ex-scientist of the museum, now practically legendary, who lives a reclusive life on his rambling Connecticut shore estate. The heroine approaches him when, having assembled various scientific clues regarding the murders, she becomes stumped. Reluctantly (at first), he becomes involved in the project. As it turns out, he has a good reason to be involved.

various police officers, in particular, one middle-aged cop who studied anthropology himself before dropping out of community college and joining the force. He shares the skepticism of the rest of the police concerning the odd nature of the murder(s)--he's convinced a lunatic is responsible--but he likes the heroine, and he admires her spunk, and as she gets more involved in the "case," and as she begins to move in dangerous directions the police have no knowledge of, he grows more and more concerned for her well-being.

the other Museum bigshot--this as-yet-shadowy person could be a head curator, or a high administrative type. The particular requirement is that the person is in a position of power, and has a say both in the day-to-day administrative activities of the museum and the scientific research. This person's primary purpose will be to starch the plot, and to be an enemy of the heroine's department head--someone who will look bad to the audience, and make the heroine's head curator look good by comparison. This person will be the boss of the young curator, and it will be well known that this person is a rival of and professional enemy of our heroine's boss.

 

SUMMARY OF FIRST HALF

Here are the barest bones of the plot. [Note that MUCH has to be fleshed out, both in terms of plot complications and in terms of background and justification for events.]

At the savage murder of a visitor (note that this is not the vanished boy), the museum is thrown into an uproar. This uproar is composed of equal parts of sorrow, shock, consternation, concern at such an event just before a big opening, concern for personal well-being, and the natural reticence and abhorrence for publicity that the museum's atmosphere fosters. In the tumult and uproar of the days that follow, we are introduced in greater detail to the heroine and those around her, and we learn more about the background of the characters and the exhibit that is to open.

Just as things are dying down (and just as the reader is becoming fully acquainted with the situation and the primary characters--2 more chapters, at most), another, equally savage murder occurs. This time, however, it is not a visitor who is killed, but a janitor, working the graveyard shift. The uproar is intensified to an even greater degree, and this time, a note of personal alarm creeps in--this isn't an isolated incident, the museum staff think to themselves, and it could happen again...perhaps some dark night when I'm working late...

At this new murder, the police investigation expands greatly. It is only by pulling every possible string, and with trustee pressure in high places, that the director is able to keep a publicity lid on the two killings, to keep the museum on a seemingly normal visitor schedule, and to keep the police presence as invisible as possible to the casual visitor. Even so, the inevitable rumors leak out, and the daily tabloids become full of conjecture and speculation.

In the course of interviewing everybody who worked in the area near where the body was found, the middle-aged cop has a talk with Margo. It is not a particularly pleasant meeting: he comes away thinking her a stuck-up brat, and she thinking him a polyester-clad boor.

Behind the scenes at the museum, meanwhile, chaos reigns. The powers that be live in dread of leaking gossip, and everybody is told their jobs depend on tact in this emergency. The director holds an emergency meeting for the curators, scientists, and research assistants from the anthropology and paleontology sections of the museum. Both murders occurred in their area of the museum, he tells them. They are told to be especially careful, and at the same time to cooperate with police and museum security in every way. If they see anything suspicious, or odd, they are to report it at once. He then steps aside and asks the chief of security to take over the meeting. The chief then gives a background on the nature of the two deaths: how the bodies were found, what they looked like on discovery, etc. The chief closes by showing police photographs of the two dead bodies; a cautionary measure, he says, to ensure that everybody realizes the seriousness of the situation. The photographs are hideous: leaving specifics aside, both corpses seem savagely mauled in a peculiar fashion, and both heads showed strange, rosette-shaped marks. Amidst her shock and disgust, the heroine sees a new grain of truth in some of the most outlandish rumors that had been flying about the museum--that these deaths were not the work of a human murderer, and that one of the unpleasant exhibits brought in for the superstition exhibition might not be as dead, or as mythical and harmless, as the curators would care to believe. She also feels a tugging of familiarity at the back of her mind as she stares in horrid fascination at the photos on the screen--but she can't quite pull it into consciousness.

Just before the group is dismissed, the director tells them their assistance as well as caution is needed--if any other incident occurred, or if this case was to continue unsolved, all non-vital work in that section of the museum would have to be halted, at least for the time being.

As the group breaks up, our heroine wanders away, her mind burdened by all she has seen and heard. If anything more did happen, she knew that it would be people like her--research students--that would be the first to go. And her work was at a critical stage. Full of concern, she hurries toward the office of the head curator of her department (let's call him Wright). He calms her as best he can, and tells her he is sure things will not come to that. But when pressed, he is forced to tell her that his hands are tied, and that, though he will do all he can to help her, the matter rests with the director and the trustees.

That afternoon, we see the writer doing research for his book in the lab that holds the maceration tanks (fondly known within the museum as the "bug room.") While interviewing scientists there on a completely different subject, he picks up some interesting facts about the two murders that he had not heard before. (He, of all people, has been kept far away from the emergency meeting by the museum powers!) He wanders away, but not before he begins to develop his own theories about the mystery.

That evening. Listless, unwilling to go home, unable to concentrate on her work, our heroine wanders aimlessly through the first floor of the museum, as late crowds of visitors hurry homeward. Suddenly she realizes that her feet have drawn her to the entranceway of the new superstition exhibition: it is silent, dark and deserted, all work finished and ready for the grand pre-opening festivities that will take place the upcoming weekend. She realizes that in all the excitement she hasn't yet taken the opportunity to examine the exhibition in its entirety; her contact with it has only been to assist in the preparation and inclusion of a few exhibit segments. Nobody is around to stop her, so she slips inside.

Even with the lighting and audio effects turned off, the exhibit is devastatingly effective. As she wanders through, she begins to wonder if she was wrong to ally herself more or less with the opinion that the exhibition was too showy and flamboyant. In a way, the lack of lighting makes the exhibit powerfully evocative in a much more sinister way than it was meant to be. Suddenly, she finds herself transfixed by an image in an exhibit before her, and in a flash she recalls the memory that had eluded her earlier, at the briefing....

....Just as, from behind in the blackness, comes the unmistakable sound of something clearing its throat.

It is, of course, not a feral, slavering thing, but rather the young curator, who had been at the briefing and had wandered down to the exhibit on an instinct similar instinct to hers. "The same thought must have occurred to you as it did to me," he said grimly, pointing at the display before them.

This display will have to be elaborated on, but in essence what they see--and what, indeed, had lain unrecalled in the back of our heroine's mind when she saw the photographs--was a description of Mbwun, or He Who Creeps On All Fours, a mythical African monster and deity who had been known and feared throughout much of central Africa in earlier centuries. Its human victims suffered wounds that matched almost exactly those of the corpses found recently in the museum.

Reeling with shock and surprise, our heroine barrages the curator with questions. What does this mean? How can this be? She had skimmed mentions of the He Who Creeps On All Fours legend in various trade journals and papers, and as she recalled, missionaries had spent much time reporting the belief in earlier centuries--indeed, its existence had proved a challenge for the encroachment of Christianity--but she thought it had died out with the coming of the twentieth century. The curator shakes his head, smiles, and tells her it isn't that simple. He suggests that the gloomy hall isn't the best place to discuss it, and offers to buy her dinner.

Across the street is an eccentric and rather seedy restaurant favored by museum personnel, stuffed full of bizarre artifacts, totem poles, and dugouts which hang precariously from the ceiling. Although one would think museum staffers would want to get away from a dusty atmosphere like this after a day of working in similar surroundings, the hamburgers (which are rumored to be at least partly composed of throwaway museum specimens) are the cheapest and best within walking distance of the museum.

As the two enter the restaurant, the writer, who is sitting alone in a booth, gestures at them to join him. Reluctantly--our heroine because she wants to discuss her discoveries without the writer's annoying interjections, and the curator because he doesn't want the competition--they do so. The writer quickly worms out the background, and--under orders to keep his comments to himself--he listens with the heroine as the curator gives some further background on He Who Creeps On All Fours.

This creature--or rather, imaginary being, the curator says--had long been of interest to anthropologists and scientists because, although it was not one of the most popular or common African superstitions, it was remarkable for being geographically widespread throughout the Congo. In addition, the myth was a model for anthropological consistency, demonstrated from tribe to tribe and region to region. The dying out of the belief seemed to coincide directly with the encroachment of "civilization." But when, in the late forties, a brilliant young scientist was sent by the Museum to the Congo for other anthropological research, he planned as a side venture to look for leads on this model myth. Research showed a shrinkage of belief that was quantifiable on a map: he planned to search the center of that region for any residual traces.

More than that was not known, the curator recounted between bites of malodorous cheeseburger. The scientist never returned. The expedition landed at Mouthed and began the journey up the Congo River. Past Bolobo, according to those who did come back, the scientist became increasingly distressed and agitated. He continually stopped at villages along the river to talk alone with the natives, and in so doing apparently became more and more obsessed with He Who Creeps On All Fours. Past Lulanga, matters reached a head: accusing the scientist of abandoning the real purpose of the expedition, racked with fever and jungle sickness, the bulk of the expedition party returned down the Congo in ruin and disgrace after the scientist brandished a gun, shot one of the team members, and vanished into the jungle with a few of his closest followers (as described in chapter 1).

Beyond this there was not much to tell, the young curator said. Evidently the scientist had thought his mission justified, because he was heard from just one more time: a curious wooden box, containing some scrawled notes and a strangely shrunken head, arrived back at the museum, having spent an unknown amount of time in transit, its place of origin uncertain.

The expedition remained a sore spot at the museum even to the present, a skeleton kept securely in the closet. Even the inclusion of generic information on He Who Creeps On All Fours in the superstition exhibition had been the source of quiet but bitter controversy, the curator said. In fact, it had only been at the impassioned insistence of Margo's boss, Dr. Wright, that it had been included at all. Hearing this, the writer begins pressuring for more details on this recent controversy. The curator angrily reminds the writer he's been sworn to secrecy. But the writer will not take no for an answer, and finally the curator has no alternative but to pay for the dinner and leave as graciously as he can, leaving the heroine (and the reader) with the distinct impression that the writer is a pushy boor.

Alone with the writer, our heroine angrily rounds upon him for his rude behavior. The writer shrugs, saying it's how he makes his money.

"You're being paid to write a book about the museum, not some scandal from the past. And you'd better watch yourself. The permission you have to snoop around could very easily be withdrawn tomorrow."

"Don't forget, the Museum has a half share in the proceeds of this book. Why do you think I've been allowed to stay this long, with all the recent unpleasantness? And if they did can me, so what? I couldn't give a damn about this Creeper business, but that crazed scientist--why, that's a book in itself! Perhaps even more lucrative than what I'm at work on now. The stink of dirty linen is strong around this one, my dear. I'm going to have to do some more digging."

Margo is taken aback by his callous attitude, but simply says, "for heaven's sake, keep quiet about it and try not to act your usual braggardly self."

"Ma'am, my mother's middle name was Prudence. You can count on me."

The next day, our heroine finds the young curator and apologizes to him on behalf of the writer. He shrugs it off. At this point, the reader will see Margo, almost in spite of herself, being drawn towards the curator. And she finds herself, especially now under the spell of this curator, beginning to wonder if such a thing as He Who Creeps On All Fours might actually exist...and exist in the Museum. She presses the curator for details on the fateful expedition, and on the enigmatic box that was sent back. Reluctantly, the curator admits he has been wondering about the same thing, and agrees that they should try to see the shrunken head the box had enclosed. He told her his suspicions had been aroused when he asked why it was not to be placed in the superstition exhibition, and had received vague answers like "lost in the collection somewhere," "too gruesome," etc.

In an exciting sequence, the two first track down the location of the shrunken head, using some highly unorthodox hacked-up "snakes" through the museum's computer database, and then sneak into the storeroom where the head is housed. This sequence, which leads eventually to a hidden attic secreted back in the recesses of a seldom visited area of the museum (a section between two floors, or between an outer wall and an inner skin, left as a palimpsest after a remodelling?), will be done in a very creepy manner, in an atmosphere of steadily increasing fear. At work is: the heroine uncertain of her feelings towards the young curator, and in the middle of experiencing a shift from skepticism towards belief in the existence of a monster, roaming the halls of the Museum; a monster whose emergence was perhaps somehow related to the superstition exhibition. Suddenly, they find the head: a hideous specimen, that--confirming our heroine's worst fears--is savaged in a manner exactly similar to the two victims from that very week.

Meanwhile, the police investigation continues; Margo has another meeting with the middle-aged police officer. With some bemusement, he surprises her by finishing a few technical sentences for her, and she learns that he had studied anthropology in college before dropping out. She stops short of presenting him with her own theory--it's all too obvious he considers the crimes to be the work of a madman--but, realizing that the cop could help through official channels she or the young curator couldn't possibly get at, she subtly convinces him to look into a few interesting leads for her.

The next important scene is set at the special preview gala for the new exhibition: a colorful, slick pageant. The curator and our heroine are more like a team than anything else--two against an unbelieving world (but a world that, thanks to the rumors in the daily press and the talk of the museum staff, is beginning to wonder about strange monsters in the museum). But tonight, the curator is busy with other things; the gladhanding and politicking must of necessity take first place. (Various plot threads are caught up on, minor museum characters dusted off, and loose ends tied.)

As the party draws toward its conclusion, Margo is collared by the writer, who she has been angrily avoiding for the past several days. Full of excitement, he tells her what he has discovered. Although he has found out little about He Who Creeps On All Fours, he has uncovered something that interests him far more--museum gossip! In particular, the source of the apparent feud between Margo's boss and the young curator's boss. At the time of the ill-fated expedition to the Congo, these two were embarking on equally incandescent careers at the Museum. But both took stands on the expedition, and put their reputations on the line: our heroine's department head sided against the scientist who disappeared, and the young curator's department head sided with him--and was in favor of sending out a relief expedition, until the weight of the evidence (along with something else our writer had not been able to root out) convinced the Museum brass to sweep the entire matter under the rug and treat the expedition as a taboo subject. The curator's boss barely survived this incident with professional reputation intact, and, according to rumor, an irremediable breach between the two opened from this point onwards. But in the years that followed, the paths of these two scientists diverged--Margo's boss made the brilliant discoveries in primitive pharmacology that firmly established his fame, while his rival went on to continue work in orthodox anthropology. Our heroine wonders to herself who it was that nixed the young curator's suggestion of putting the head on display in the exhibition. She looks over at the curator... only to see him locked in what looks like a heated argument with his own boss, the rival of Wright. Suddenly, the young curator turns on his heel and strides off.

This all happens on a Saturday. The next scene: late Sunday night. The young curator is sneaking around the back passageways of a darkened museum. Two things are immediately evident: one is that he has some new information or a new hunch that he feels has to be acted upon immediately, and the other is that he most certainly does not want to be discovered.

Suddenly, he senses that he is being followed. As he crouches behind a tall, dusty rack in the blackness, in the back of a dinosaur bone storage room, the feeling slowly goes away. He moves on. He eventually reaches his destination, but before he can begin work, he senses the presence returning. His fear grows until he panics and runs--straight into claws that slice without mercy.

Early the next morning, Monday. Margo, restless, had spent the night tossing and turning. She had taken a long drive onto Long Island Sunday, hoping the change and the salt air of Amagansett would drive the strange thoughts from her mind. It didn't. After breakfast, she had called the young curator, eager to find out the cause of the altercation on Saturday. There was no answer. Uncertain of what to do next, she once again approaches Wright, her august department head. With relief, she unburdens herself: her theories concerning He Who Creeps On All Fours, her investigations with the young curator, what she knows about the feud between Wright (who himself is listening intently) and the young curator's boss. To ignore the possibility that He Who Creeps On All Fours might be more than a legend is a mistake, she tells him. The evidence is too strong.

Wright is rather taken aback. He asks her how she had learned all this, and, upon hearing more, he laughs gently. He says he can't blame her for arriving at such a conclusion, that youthful imagination is a necessary thing, but that she had to be careful not to let it get out of hand, as the young curator's boss had done so many years before. He launches into an elaborate and comforting rationale of why her speculations must be wrong, and of more realistic explanations for the two killings. Listening, our heroine is somewhat comforted, but nagging doubts remain. As she leaves, she asks Wright if he would tell her what it was that destroyed the attempt at a rescue expedition. The department head frowns, and says that he is sorry, but that some things should not be brought to daylight, even after all these years. The implication is that it is for the professional good of his arch-rival that he remains silent on the issue.

She leaves the office, and wanders down through corridors and galleries towards her own laboratory. Halfway there, however, she hears a commotion...then a gasp, and a scream. Approaching, she finds a group of people huddled inside the rare manuscript room...and on the floor, the body of the young curator, raked and ruined in the same fashion as the others.

 

This is a fairly in-depth outline of the first half of the book. The second half, which I have not yet thought out in such depth, will run (at least as I see it) along the following lines. Please keep in mind that this is a cold distillation of the essentials, and ancillary subplots are not included. Upon this third death (and the resultant pandemonium), the writer begins to think that perhaps he is wrong in being so cynical, and begins to offer his help to our heroine with a more generous mind. Meanwhile, our grieving heroine is remembering how the young curator broke away from his boss at the party, and wonders what it was he was doing, or where he was going, or what he was doing when he was killed.

This new killing means that all unnecessary work is being halted in that section of the museum--including our heroine's research. She begins by racing the clock, and, later on, by conducting her own investigation, against strict orders and wholly without authorization. Remembering that the young curator was found in the rare book room, she reconstructs all that has happened in the past days...and remembers mention of some crabbed notes along with the head in the wooden box sent back from the Congo. Could that have been what the young curator was searching for?

To make a long story short--with the writer's help, and at great risk, she finds the notes from the old scientist, which are very leading indeed. Eventually, what she finds out is that it is her boss who is the bad guy. Shortly after the failure of the expedition, he had been the one to open the strange box. He read the notes within, and saw something in them--and in the box--that nobody else had seen: something that would help his own research tremendously. With his own private backing, he takes a secret, undocumented trip up the Congo to find the scientist--but for his own reasons, not for any search for He Who Creeps On All Fours: Margo's department head didn't believe in the creature, but thought that the truth behind the myth would instead tie in directly with his own pharmacological studies. We see now that this department head would never have had the brilliance to make the discoveries he has been celebrated for on his own--he needed what he found in the box to ensure his success.

But this is just one reason he's had to conceal everything since. His own research into primitive pharmacology, and the scientist's search for He Who Creeps On All Fours, both--the department head learns to his dismay and horror when he completes his secret expedition--have at their root a highly secret and terrible brain-eating cult of the Congo--a practice that, in time, will turn the practicer temporarily into a feral beast. After killing, the cult mauled its victims in a ritualistic manner with hideous scuplted claws, both as part of the ceremony and to heighten the native belief that the deaths were attributable to unnatural beings. The old scientist is ultimately found by the department head--comatose, and now a practicing brain-eater himself, though the department head doesn't know this. For one reason or another, let's posit that this old scientist is necessary for one reason or another to the success of the department head's own studies. So he is brought back secretly, and kept stored away in the museum for a certain period of time. But, as our story opens, that period of time has ended, the old scientist has emerged...and he is hungry. The department head has had to keep a frequent feeding schedule--but after the department head's storm delay in Lagos (as is alluded to in chapter 3), the hungry creature gets loose and commits the first murder.

To cover up the brain-eating of the scientist, now loose in the museum, the department head has tracked down and savaged the dead bodies to conceal the true nature of the crime, and to make it look like full-blown He Who Creeps On All Fours attacks. Although this brain-eating cult used fierce ornamental claws to rip their victims after the rite, the hungry, warped, and mindless zombie of a scientist was only interested in the culinary aspects of brain-eating, and hadn't bothered (even had he had access to the claw) to slash the victims afterwards. The department head had to do this to (he reasoned) throw people off track. To police and the museum community at large, it would look like the work of a savage maniac: to those in the know, it would appear the work of He Who Creeps On All Fours.

The book's ending will show our heroine (and the writer, now coming into his own as the true hero) deducing all this through her own pharmacological work and his detective work on old museum histories and the crabbed notes they find. The department head, working behind the scenes, has not only curtailed the research of our heroine--along with other non-essential staff--but has had her banned from the museum. This gives her hunt an extra element of tension and risk. Perhaps the conclusion can also include the desperate department head's attempts to frame the writer (or our heroine?) for the crimes, as well as a final desperate chase through a darkened museum, chased by police, stalked secretly by the department head, ready to shoot first and then claim self defense; all the while, the two are chasing a feral, crazed human, mad and preternaturally strengthened by his atrocious eating habits, who is as eager to kill them as they are to find him. Ultimately, blame is shed where it really lies, and the terror and mystery are at last laid to rest.

 


2018 Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child