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Authors: K.R. Griffiths

Adrift 2: Sundown

BOOK: Adrift 2: Sundown
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K.R. Griffiths

 

Copyright © 2015 by K.R. Griffiths

Table of contents

 

Also by K.R. Griffiths

 

Wildfire Chronicles Series

Panic

Shock

Psychosis

Mutation

Trauma

Reaction

 

Other novels

Survivor: A horror thriller

Adrift

 

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Last Resort

Prologue

 

Northern Kentucky, USA, 1999

 

Frank Mather straightened, massaging his aching back with one hand, and mopping at his brow with the other. He’d been on plenty of digs in Kentucky over the past few years and, one way or another, had always found some reason to curse the weather, which veered crazily between boiling and freezing on his every visit. This time, northern Kentucky had been baking for two weeks at over a hundred degrees. It was the kind of heat that made you feel like you’d pass out if you got off your chair, but the searing temperature hadn’t slowed Frank and his team all day.

Not since they first uncovered it.

Since that moment, when the site of what was supposed to be just another Native American burial mound had spat up something extraordinary, they had worked feverishly; tirelessly, until Frank’s muscles protested loudly and his head began to pound from dehydration.

He climbed from the hole and made his way to the shade of the trees, where the team had stowed its gear, took a plastic bottle from his pack and drained a pint of warm, clear water without pausing. It was the last of his stock, and he was
supposed
to be rationing it out. Nobody had expected to remain at the site this long, and they hadn’t brought adequate supplies for a dig that had already stretched into the early evening.

He shrugged to himself. They’d be back in the nearby town of Ashland in a couple of hours, once they lost the last of the light. He’d just have to go thirsty until then.

“You slacking there, Professor?”

He looked up and smiled when he saw Nicole walking toward him, wiping her own brow and leaving a trail of dirt across her forehead which somehow managed to make her even more beautiful. Not for the first time, Frank thought that she was far too attractive to pursue a career in archaeology, of all things.

He tried not to stare, and Nicole tried not to smile flirtatiously when she noticed.

Neither quite succeeded.

Nicole crouched and rifled through her pack, retrieving her own bottle of water. Instinctively, Frank lifted his bottle to his lips once more, momentarily forgetting that it was empty.

He already felt parched.

Damn Kentucky
.

“Any thoughts yet?” she asked, taking a deliberately dainty sip and looking at his dry bottle with teasing eyes
.
He dropped it on the ground next to his pack.

It was the same question they had all been asking all day, one way or another.

What is it?

He shook his head. “I’ve got no idea. I called Princeton, and
they’ve
got no idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure they think I’m trying to stage something here.”

“They’re idiots.” She rolled her eyes.

Frank scratched at his chin. “They’re worried. I can understand why. The work we’re doing has the potential to prove that we have been teaching our own history wrong. It might not sound like much, but it would ruffle some feathers.”

Nicole snorted.

“Feathers get
ruffled
in the faculty if someone orders a new brand of coffee.”

Frank ignored her depressingly accurate jibe.

“And then,” he continued, “on top of that, I call them with
this
? Hell, there’s even a part of
me
that thinks this has to be a hoax. Or I’m dreaming, or something.”

Nicole cast a quick glance around to make sure the others could not see them, stepped forward, and kissed him lightly. It was the first time she had done any more than flirt with him, and the unexpected contact left him dizzy.

“Does it
feel
like you’re dreaming?”

“Right
now
? Yeah, kinda,” he grinned.

She laughed and pulled away from him.

“So, what did you
actually
tell them? Princeton?”

Frank’s grin faded.

“The truth. A Native American burial mound erected in the middle of a copse of white oaks which were deliberately planted to mirror a European-style Neolithic henge. They pretty much started laughing right there. Then, I told them the mound contains two bodies: one human and one…uh…
not
. I described the anatomy of our unidentified friend, and it felt kinda like I was handing in my resignation.”

Nicole snickered.

“Did they ask for an estimate?”

“Yeah. I told them circa one-thousand B.C., based on the racial features of the human skeleton. Most likely one of the Adena people.”

“And the…
other
skeleton?”

“I haven’t got the faintest idea what to tell them. I’d say it looks older. A
lot
older, but that would be impossible. As far as I know, there’s nothing like it on record.”

“What do you
think
it is? You must have a theory?
Something
. Don’t hold out on me.”

Frank frowned, willing his mind to come up with a response. Nicole, incredibly, was a young, beautiful woman who actually seemed to be interested in his theories about pre-Columbus America being settled by Europeans who had subsequently disappeared. He was not supposed to engage in
inappropriate behaviour
with students, of course, but their little flirtations were harmless—at least until that kiss—and by God he
did
get a thrill out of impressing her.

He wished he could conjure up some exotic theory that might blow Nicole’s mind, but his own thoughts were muddled and scattershot. As things stood,
Bigfoot
was as plausible an explanation for the thing buried in the mound as any other he could dream up.

He shook his head and walked back to the edge of the dig site. He still had two students down there, working diligently at the remains with soft brushes; easing away the earth by inches.

The more of the bones they revealed, the more mystified Frank felt.

He could see all but the thing’s left arm and leg now: it had been a huge creature, bipedal, but with multi-jointed arms and legs of a type that he had never seen before. Upright, Frank figured it would have been well north of seven feet in height. A densely packed ribcage: each rib almost fusing to the next to form a protective carapace, like a beetle. Its hands were long and thin, three many-knuckled fingers topped with talons that made Frank think of birds of prey. Yet it had opposable thumbs, a trait found only in humans and certain primates.

And its skull…

Those teeth…

“Well, it’s not human. It can’t be. Not even some genetic anomaly. These bones aren’t the product of some sickness or mutation. Whatever it was, I think it was
supposed
to look like this. But as far as I know, nothing even remotely like it has ever been recorded before.”

“You’re thinking
alien
, right?”

Nicole’s eyes sparkled, and Frank chuckled. It wasn’t the first time that day that she had brought up
ET
as a potential explanation for the bizarre remains, and he doubted it would be the last.

“I’m sure it’s not an alien, Nicole. As much as I know you want it to be, it’s not.”

Nicole mock-pouted a
s
another voice joined the conversation, floating up from the base of the dig.

“He’s right, Nic. But I can tell you one thing about it.”

Frank looked down at the woman who’d spoken. Bella was the polar opposite of Nicole: all work and no play, but she was damn good at her job. While Frank, Nicole and Dirk—the final member of the team—had focused on the bizarre skeleton, unable to tear themselves away from it, Bella had worked alone; concentrating only on unearthing the human remains.

“What?”

“Whatever it is,” Bella said, “it was murdered,” she pointed at the smaller, human skeleton, “by this guy.”

Frank frowned.

“I think our human friend here was buried holding a hatchet of some sort,” Bella continued. “Handle’s gone—rotted, most likely—but this was the blade.” She waved a hand at a flat, smooth piece of stone a foot or so away from the human skeleton’s right hand. “Can’t be sure without tests, of course, but I’m willing to bet that this hatchet matches the wound on the side of
El Diablo
over there’s skull.”

Frank peered at the stone and nodded.

El Diablo
. In a way, that seemed to fit.

They had already surmised that the unidentified creature had died as a result of head trauma, and now they had both murderer and murder weapon, but still the facts did not present a clear picture in Frank’s mind. Some ancient people had buried a man right next to something that he had killed; the two skeletons arranged ceremoniously next to each other, almost like a couple sleeping peacefully. But why?

His gaze was drawn back to the huge skeleton once more, as if the bones and teeth and talons exerted some magnetic pull. So many questions, all of them orbiting around a single, vast conundrum.

What the hell were you?

 

*

 

The team continued to carefully brush dirt away from bone for another hour, until the gathering dusk began to thwart their efforts. It wouldn’t do to stumble around blindly in the dark, perhaps missing or destroying something vital, and so Frank told the others to wrap it up and head back to their hotel in one of the team’s two cars. Frank would sleep in the other vehicle overnight. No way he was going to leave the site unattended; not yet.

With weary smiles and groans, Nicole, Bella and Dirk began to gather their things.

And all froze as one, rooted to the spot by the sudden noise that split the late evening air.

At first Frank thought it was the sound of distant thunder, the stifling weather breaking at last, perhaps, but as the noise drew closer, he realised what it was. Engines. More than one, approaching fast.

The team squinted up into the gloomy sky as one, and Frank gaped in astonishment when he saw three fat, dark helicopters roar overhead, flying so low that their metal bellies barely cleared the trees. For a moment, bright spotlights bleached the colour from the dig site, and he shaded his eyes until the light was pulled away abruptly.

The choppers disappeared from sight, but the noise of their engines remained ear-splittingly loud. They were circling nearby, Frank realised, searching for a place to land.

A voice on a loudspeaker boomed through the trees, shattering the tension and making Frank flinch.

“This is a restricted area. Remain where you are.”

He glanced at the rest of the team. Nicole, Dirk and Bella were all looking at him with wide eyes, their expressions almost comically baffled. Nicole arched a quizzical eyebrow.

Frank held his hands up.

“I’ve got no more clue about this than you do.”

“Princeton?” Nicole looked like she knew the answer even as she asked the question.

He shook his head, his expression dubious.

“They’re the only ones I called. But
this
? This isn’t Princeton. This is something else.”

“Police, then?”

“Must be.”

Nicole opened her mouth to reply.

Snapped it shut again, and turned to face the murky forest.

In the distance, Frank heard raised voices and heavy footsteps trampling toward them through the trees. Beyond that, the roaring of the engines was slowly fading. He felt a surge of anxiety, and told himself to stay calm. They had done nothing wrong. If the police were looking for somebody, it clearly wasn’t them, and they were digging with a permit. It had to be a mistake.

Still, some part of him wanted to turn and flee into the woods.

“Frank?”

Dirk’s voice. He sounded as nervous as Frank felt.

“It’s okay, Dirk. Let me deal with this. It has to be some misunderstan—”

The words died in Frank’s throat as he saw the first of them charging through the trees, and knew that the picture was wrong immediately.

Not police.

More than a dozen heavily armed men burst into the clearing, none wearing anything which identified them as law enforcement. They were all dressed in plain black paramilitary uniforms; all wore balaclavas; all had the same unsettlingly cold edge to their gaze.

More questions erupted in Frank’s mind, these ones even more troubling:
the government? Men in black? Is Nicole right?

Aliens?

The notion was surely ridiculous.

Frank began to lift his hands in surrender as the men surrounded the dig team and hefted assault rifles, aiming them directly at him.

“Th-there must be a mistake,” he stammered, flushing, before adding a feeble “we have a permit.”

“Not for
this
, Professor Mather.” A woman’s voice. “Step aside, please.”

BOOK: Adrift 2: Sundown
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