BETWEEN THE LINES:Phillip Chidavaenzi
Title: The Eyes of Darkness
Author: Dean Koontz
Publisher: Berkeley Books (1981)
AMERICAN author Dean Koontz last week denied predicting the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) that has spread across the globe, inflicting far-reaching damage on China and Italy in particular, but that has not stopped the renewed interest in his 1981 publication, The Eyes of Darkness, which readers believe offers a chilling prediction of the virulent flu.
The number one New York best-selling author’s thriller novel is based on the story of Tina Evans who embarks on a quest to establish the circumstances surrounding her son’s death a year earlier.
This comes in the wake of the collapse of the marriage between the protagonist, Tina, and her husband Michael over the former’s commitment to work, while the latter would have been happier with a stay-at-home wife focused on family rather than pursuing a career as a producer of stage shows.
The mysterious incidents Tina encounters lead her to suspect that Danny — who died shortly after her divorce from Michael — might still be alive. The protagonist did not get to see the boy’s body after his death as the coroner said it was too badly mangled during a boy scouts’ wilderness excursion.
This, however, means Tina does not get closure and consequently fuels her campaign to try and have the boy’s corpse exhumed one year after death.
As Tina begins to embrace the fact that her son has truly died, she starts getting mysterious messages on the boy’s writing chalk board and printers at work — and even from a jukebox in a nightclub — that her son is not dead and needs her help urgently.
The messages convince Tina that her son is probably still alive and someone is trying to communicate to her that message, but her newfound lawyer friend, Elliot Stryker, is not convinced and consequently tries to discourage her from seeking an exhumation.
Together with Stryker, she begins a quest to establish what really happened to Danny. When Tina’s house is broken into three times and Danny’s board written, “He is Not Dead”, at first Tina suspects that Michael could be behind the mysterious developments. When she confronts him, however, he professes genuine ignorance, forcing her to pursue a different trail.
But once Tina begins her campaign, she embarks on a collision course with powerful forces seeking to bar her from carrying out the investigations. Michael is also caught up in the cross-fire and murdered, while Tina’s adversaries trail her and Stryker.
This is after a secret government agency, the Network, hires Willis Bruckster to trail and eliminate every person pushing for the boy’s exhumation.
Since Danny’s death, Tina has not cleared his room, but keeps it untouched, something symbolic of her reluctance to let go of a son she refuses to accept is dead. When she finally brings herself to do it, she comes across a horror magazine with a story titled The Boy Who Was Not Dead, whose storyline almost mirrors the circumstances of her son’s death as the boy in the story was buried alive.
Tina and Stryker escape after realising their lives are in danger after Tina’s house goes up in flames following a suspicious repair man’s job on a gas leak. They do not go to the police because they suspect a government agency is behind it.
Michael is the first target of the “perfect murder”, while Stryker and Tina are also in the line of fire as the Network seeks to eliminate them.
It later turns out that, indeed, Danny is not dead, but has been frozen in a machine. They are able to rescue him with the help of Dr Carlton Dombey.
But what has made readers pay serious attention to the novel, over 40 years after it was first published, is the reference to a biological weapon referred to as “Gorki-400” — which was later changed to “Wuhan-400” with the Russian city of Gorki changed to Wuhan in the 2008 edition — and it has prompted speculation that Koontz predicted COVID-19.
Dombey explains to Tina and Stryker that a Chinese scientist named Li Chen defected to the United States, carrying a diskette record of China’s most dangerous new biological weapon.
“They call the stuff ‘Wuhan-400‘ because it was developed at their RDNA labs outside of the city of Wuhan, and it was the four-hundredth viable strain of man-made micro-organisms created at that research centre. Wuhan-400 is a perfect weapon. It afflicts only human beings. No other living creature can carry it. And like syphilis, Wuhan-400 can’t survive outside a living human body for longer than a minute, which means it can’t permanently contaminate objects or entire places the way anthrax and other virulent micro-organisms can. And when the host expires, the Wuhan-400 within him perishes a short while later, as soon as the temperature of the corpse drops below eighty-six degrees Fahrenheit. Do you see the advantage of all this?” (pp181).
Stryker believes the technology has been designed to wipe out entire cities and country, and with the way countries like Italy and China have been devastated by COVID-19, he is probably not way off the mark.
Dombey explains further: “And Wuhan-400 has other equally important advantages over most biological agents. For one thing, you can become an infectious carrier only four hours after coming into contact with the virus. That’s an incredibly short incubation period. Once infected, no one lives more than 24 hours. Most die in 12. It’s worse than the Ebola virus in Africa — infinitely worse.
Wuhan-400’’ kill-rate is 100%. No one is supposed to survive. The Chinese tested it on God knows how many political prisoners. They were never able to find an antibody or an antibiotic that was effective against it. The virus migrates to the brain stem and there it begins secreting a toxin that literally eats away brain tissue like battery acid, dissolving cheesecloth . . .” (p181)
He explains that someone got reckless and accidentally infected Danny during their scouting expedition.
“After Li Chen defected with all the data on Wuhan- 400, he was brought here. We immediately began working with him, trying to engineer an exact duplicate of the virus. In relatively short order we accomplished that. Then we began to study the bug, searching for a handle on it that the Chinese had overlooked.” (p182).
Conspiracy theories around COVID-19 have already started flying around, and will likely continue as this book also feeds into the discourse. But the question will linger on: Did Koontz know about COVID-19 way ahead of time? Was the reference to China coincidental?