This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
ABANDON. Copyright © 2009 by Blake Crouch. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
First Edition: July 2009
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This book is dedicated to Aidan Crouch.
In the West, the past is very close. In many places, it still believes it’s the present.
He dismounts his albino steed, the horse’s pinked nostrils flaring, dirty mane matted with ice. The single-rig saddle is snow-crusted as well, its leather and cloth components—the mochila and shabrack—frozen stiff. He rubs George’s neck, speaking in soft, low tones he knows will calm the animal, telling him he did a good day’s work and that a warm stable awaits with feed and fresh water.
The mule skinner opens his wallet, collects the pint of busthead he bought at a bodega in Silverton, and swallows the remaining mouthful, whiskey crashing into his empty stomach like iced fire.
He wades through waist-deep snow to the mercantile, bangs his shop-mades on the door frame. Inside, the lamps have been extinguished and the big stove squats dormant in the corner, unattended by the usual constellation of miners jawboning over coffee and tobacco. He calls for the own er as he crosses the board floor, moving between shelves, past stacked crates and burlap sacks bulging with sugar and flour.
“Jessup? It’s Brady! You in back?”
The twelve burros crane their scrawny necks in his direction when Brady emerges from the merc. He reaches into his greatcoat, pulls out a tin of Star Navy tobacco, and shoves a chaw between lips and gums gone blackish purple in the last year.
“What the hell?” he whispers.
When he delivered supplies two weeks ago, this little mining town was bustling. Now Abandon looms listless before him in the gloom of late afternoon, streets empty, snow banked high against the unshoveled plank sidewalks, no tracks as far as he can see.
The cabins scattered across the lower slopes lie buried to their chimneys, and with not a one of them smoking, the air smells too clean.
Brady is a man at home in solitude, often spending days on the trail, alone in wild, quiet places, but this silence is all wrong—a lie. He feels menaced by it, and with each passing moment, more certain that something has happened here.
A wall of dark clouds scrapes over the peaks, and snowflakes begin to speck the sleeves of his slicker. Here comes the wind. Chimes clang together over the doorway of the merc. It will be night soon.
He makes his way up the street into the saloon, still half-expecting Joss Maddox, the beautiful barkeep, to assault him with some gloriously profane greeting. No one’s there. Not the mute piano player, not a single customer, and again, no light from the kerosene lamps, no warmth from the potbellied stove, just a half-filled glass on the pine bar, the beer frozen through.
The path to the nearest cabin lies beneath untrodden snow, and without webs, it takes five minutes to cover a hundred yards.
He pounds his gloved fist against the door, counts to sixty. The latch string hasn’t been pulled in, and despite the circumstance, he still feels like a trespasser as he steps inside uninvited.