“Kindly wait here for your colleagues, Professor,” Broke replied. Without further comment, the officer proceeded to search the right-hand hut with me.
It must have functioned as a storeroom because we found nothing but barrels, canned food, and various implements used for geological excavation. The stove in the corner had not been used for some time. I took down one of the cans from a shelf. According to the label, it contained prime beef taken from animals slaughtered six months ago. Isolated cases of food poisoning had occurred on previous expeditions, so manufacturers had taken to recording the date of manufacture. On the face of it, all seemed well—with that can, at least.
“Sir!” One of the seamen came hurrying into the storeroom. “We’ve found someone!”
The man was in a pitiful condition. Crouching doubled up in one of the huts, he stared at us with his mouth open. Wrapped in several blankets, with his back to the wall, and surrounded by scraps of food, he must have been cowering there like that for a considerable time. The stench emanating from him indicated that he hadn’t stirred from the spot, not even to relieve himself.
His face displayed a number of suppurating sores, which I attributed to cold or dietary deficiency, but the biggest problem was his badly affected mental state. When I put out my hand, he uttered a hoarse cry and shrank away like a whipped cur.
Meantime, Malcolm and the other men had gathered around the poor fellow.
“Can you speak?” I asked him.
He continued to cower against the wall and buried his face in his hands, whimpering. I tried asking him his name and still got no answer.
“I think his name’s Sam Price,” said Broke. “I landed him and the other three men on the island.”
Howard Sheridan bent over him, wrinkling his nose at the smell. “Price! Where are Higgins, Landis, and Stine? What happened here?”
Price removed his hands from his face and stared past the civil servant into space. A skein of saliva was dangling from his matted beard.
All at once he seemed to remember. His gaze cleared, and he uttered a single, clearly enunciated word: “Tupilak!”
“What does that mean?” Professor Kinnock wondered aloud.
I said nothing, although I knew the answer.
Sam Price rolled his eyes, put his head back, and emitted a diabolical scream. I shivered-his expression was so panic-stricken.
The scream seemed to go on forever. Then Price was overcome with exhaustion, and his head subsided on his chest.
“We won’t get anything out of him,” said McCafferty. “He must be taken aboard the ship. If he resists, we’ll have to shackle him.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Malcolm put in. “Give me a few moments alone with the poor chap, and I’ll see to it that he calms down. Mental disorders are a specialty of mine.” McCafferty and Sheridan acquiesced.
I was preparing to leave the hut with the others when Malcolm said, “It would be nice if you could assist me, Arthur. You’re a physician too, after all.”
He waited until we were alone with Sam Price. Then, producing a small flask from his coat pocket, he spoke soothingly to the man, who gave him his full attention after only a few words. Price was rocking to and fro, but when Malcolm told him to stop, he did so.
“Open your mouth, please,” said Malcolm. “Tupilak,” Price repeated, pointing to the door with dilated eyes. “Out there… tupilak!”
Malcolm patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. “This medicine will protect you from it.”
Obediently, Price opened his mouth, and Malcolm trickled a few drops of clear liquid onto his tongue.
“Relax, Sam,” he said. “It’s over. You’re safe now.”