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October Skies

By Sherry Perkins,2014-11-04 17:06
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2008: Deep in the mountain forests of Wyoming, Julian Cooke stumbles across the rotting remains of a wooden wagon. He's discovered what's left of the Preston Group, a convoy of settlers that vanished in the winter of 1856. It's clear that something horrific happened here all those years ago, but Cooke can only find a few tantalising clues.1856: as early snows `desc`end, the eclectic group of settlers that form the Preston wagon train are forced to dig in. Miles from any kind of civilisation, they see the group of Native Americans also trapped nearby as their greatest threat. But they soon realise what true danger is. When a woman is found murdered, one of the Indian party struggles wounded back to camp, whispering of unspeakable evil as he dies. United by fear, the settlers and the Indians m Published by Orion Books on 2008/09/04

Table of Contents

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    Title Page

    Copyright Page

    Acknowledgements

    ? The Present CHAPTER 1 CHAPTER 2 CHAPTER 3 CHAPTER 4 CHAPTER 5 CHAPTER 6 CHAPTER 7 CHAPTER 8 CHAPTER 9 CHAPTER 10 CHAPTER 11 CHAPTER 12 CHAPTER 13 CHAPTER 14 CHAPTER 15 CHAPTER 16 CHAPTER 17 CHAPTER 18 CHAPTER 19 CHAPTER 20 CHAPTER 21 CHAPTER 22 CHAPTER 23 CHAPTER 24 CHAPTER 25 CHAPTER 26 CHAPTER 27 CHAPTER 28 CHAPTER 29 CHAPTER 30 CHAPTER 31 CHAPTER 32 CHAPTER 33 CHAPTER 34 CHAPTER 35 CHAPTER 36 CHAPTER 37 CHAPTER 38 CHAPTER 39

    CHAPTER 40 CHAPTER 41 CHAPTER 42 CHAPTER 43 CHAPTER 44 CHAPTER 45 CHAPTER 46 CHAPTER 47 CHAPTER 48 CHAPTER 49 CHAPTER 50 CHAPTER 51 CHAPTER 52 CHAPTER 53 CHAPTER 54 CHAPTER 55 CHAPTER 56 CHAPTER 57 CHAPTER 58 CHAPTER 59 CHAPTER 60 CHAPTER 61 CHAPTER 62 CHAPTER 63 CHAPTER 64 CHAPTER 65 CHAPTER 66 CHAPTER 67 CHAPTER 68 CHAPTER 69 CHAPTER 70 CHAPTER 71 CHAPTER 72 CHAPTER 73 CHAPTER 74 CHAPTER 75 CHAPTER 76 CHAPTER 77 CHAPTER 78 CHAPTER 79 CHAPTER 80 CHAPTER 81

CHAPTER 82

    CHAPTER 83

    CHAPTER 84

    CHAPTER 85

    CHAPTER 86

    CHAPTER 87

    CHAPTER 88

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    Author’s Note

    He listened to the howling wind outside, knowing that it was bringing with it many inches ofsnow that would be covering the entrance to the shelter. But it was a warm shelter, so muchbetter than the hastily erected lean-tos down the hillside in the clearing. A good place fromwhich to do work.

    Yes.

    A good place to become something more. He looked around at the tools hanging from lumber nailhooks; sharp tools, unused for many decades. On the floor beneath them nestled an ancient-looking flintlock weapon, from another time, perhaps even a previous century - no good toanyone now. The tools, however, he could use.

    You are strong.

    The voice inside him made him shiver with delight.

    I hope so.

    He looked down at the canvas sack of bones; daring to pull open the threaded mouth of the bag,he glimpsed the small cluster of dark-coloured, almost black bones inside.

    You came to me.

    Yes. I chose you.

    Preston.

    You are a good man.

    I try so hard to be.

    Alex Scarrow lives a nomadic existence with his wife Frances and his son Jacob, their currenthome being Norwich. He spent the first ten years out of college in the music business chasingrecord deals and the next twelve years in the computer games industry. Visit his website atwww.scarrow.co.uk.

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    By Alex Scarrow

October Skies

    Last Light A Thousand Suns

    ? ??

?October Skies

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?ALEX SCARROW

    ? ?Orion

    www.orionbooks.co.uk

?AN ORION EBOOK

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    First published in Great Britain in 2008 by Orion This ebook first published in 2010 by Orion

    Books

?Copyright ? Alex Scarrow 2008

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    The moral right of Alex Scarrow to be identified as the author

    of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval

    system or transmitted

    in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to

    be otherwise

    circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a

    similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

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    All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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    A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

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    eISBN : 978 1 4091 0670 8

? This ebook produced by Jouve, France

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    The Orion Publishing Group Ltd

    Orion House

    5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane London WC2H 9EA

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?An Hachette UK Company

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?www.orionbooks.co.uk

Mum and Dad, a small offering of thanks for everything.

    Most of all . . . thanks for the writer genes - they’ve come in very handy. This one is for

    you.

Acknowledgements

    As with my previous two books, there’s the matter of a thank you to a small group of betareaders who have helped me turn a first draft into a novel. I think a pretty decent one thistime.

    A big hug of thanks to Robin and Jane Carter and John Prigent for giving both drafts anextensive walkthrough; to Mike Poole for some very well-targeted comments, and my oldestbrother Scott, for pinpointing some pretty key issues in a concise way. This was a bloody hardbook to pitch right, the hardest for me yet, if I’m honest.

    My thanks also to Dad for his encouragement. That came when I needed it most.

    And of course, the biggest helping of gratitude goes to Frances, who with every book I writecarefully moves those commas to where they should actually sit. (Truth be told . . . Ipunctuate as if I’m doing a William Shatner, pausing dramatically, and putting a, comma oftenwhere, it shouldn’t, really, go.)

    I also need to thank my new little laptop for doing such a good job, not crashing and trashingsome important files like the previous little bugger did. Also to thank Starbucks in Bordersfor many coffees and chocolate chunk cookies - without those two ingredients, this book wouldnot have been written.

    Finally, thanks to my agent, Rowan Lawton and my editor, Jon Wood, for direction and guidance.

Prologue

    The two little girls, playing in the meadow by the stream, were the ones who saw it first: apale form moving along the edge of the wood, just inside the tree line. They saw it at adistance, moving slowly; appearing, disappearing, reappearing amongst the foliage, a chalk-white stick-man with no face and two dark holes where his eyes should be.

    It turned to gaze at them for a moment, swaying slightly as it studied them intensely acrossthe stream surging with recent snow-melt from the peaks above and the tail end of a hardwinter.

    This was more than enough for the two girls. They turned and ran. As they stumbled up theincline of the meadow towards the edge of town, they thought they heard the thing scream afterthem - a sound both frightening and pitiful.

    They ran across the small town, down the closest thing to a main street, busy with the mid-morning, mid-week trade, to their home, whimpering in broken, garbled sentences, each talkingover the other, that they had seen a skeleton walking in the woods.

    The skeleton was next seen by Jeffrey Pohenz a short while later. Jeffrey, a willowy teen, wasoutside by the back door of the trader’s store, enjoying a crafty ten-minute reprise from

    hefting bags of cornmeal, leaning against the wall and savouring the unseasonably early warmthof sunshine on his face.

    His mind was elsewhere . . . on a particular promise made to him by a certain young lady lastnight. Anticipation of that was making the day at work drag interminably; his concentration wasshot to hell.

    Of course, when he saw the skeleton suddenly emerge from a cluster of trees and thick tufts ofuntamed briar just across the yard, littered with broken and being-mended chassis and wheelspindles, the thought of this evening’s exciting promise was instantly dismissed. Like somecreature from Hieronymus Bosch’s visions of hell, it shambled towards him with a lurchingclumsiness, bony arms and hands glistening brightly in the sunlight, reaching out to him.

    Jeff decided not to dive through the back door into the store and run the risk of gettingentangled with the clutter of goods within. Instead he ran around the back of the low woodenbuilding towards the busier thoroughfare at the front, stumbling out into the dusty open spaceand tripping over hard-baked wheel ruts that only a few days ago had been mud, churned intogrooves and ridges by large steel-rimmed wheels.

    ‘Jesus, help me!’ he screamed as he scrambled to his feet again. ‘There’s a . . . there’sa . . . there’s a skeleton man round the back!’

    The nearest people to Jeffrey were bemused at the sight of the mop-haired, lanky teenagerstumbling over his own clumsy feet and bellowing with fear.

    Jeff turned to look back at the side of the wooden fencing around which he’d just sprinted,expecting to see that shuffling bone-white creature emerge.

    ‘Oh, Jesus, it’s . . . it’s . . .’

    Gordon Palmer, a loader who worked out the front, shook his head at Jeff’s delinquentcraziness. The boy was prone to goosing around at work - a practical joker rather than a realgrafter.

    ‘What’ve you seen, lad?’

    Jeff looked up at him. ‘A skeleton! It just charged out of the woods at me!’

    Gordon straightened up, sensing that maybe this time the boy might not be playing the fool. Itcould be some goddamned Nez Perce. He’d heard that tribe sometimes wore chalk-white body painton raiding parties.

    ‘What exactly did you see?’

    Jeff pointed to the wooden wall leading round to the rear of the compound. His finger wobbleduncertainly. ‘Just there . . . I swear I saw someth—’

    And then Gordon saw it for himself.

    The skeleton staggered forward, one bony hand held out and running along the wooden slats ofthe wall for support, for guidance. Gordon’s first impression was identical to Jeff’s,identical to the two little girls’.

    But then his eyes picked out other details on the shambling form: the tattered scraps ofclothing, fluttering like ragged pennants on a washing line, boots tattered and torn and heldtogether by strips of vine or leather.

    ‘What the hell . . . ?’ he muttered, his terror replaced with horror of a different sort.

    Jeff, standing beside him, now began to pick out those same details and realised his error.

    ‘Oh shit. It’s a man.’

    Other heads in the thoroughfare had, by now, turned and witnessed the thing as it took severaltentative steps forward, finally stumbling, as Jeff had done, on one of the deep wheel ruts. Itfell forward, landing heavily on the hard, ridged ground and then curled up into a pitifulfoetal position.

    ‘Somebody get this poor sonofabitch some help!’ Gordon shouted as he rushed forward and kneltdown beside the thing. Closer now, he could see this quivering pale creature in rags had once

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