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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Lane Andrew
 

«Death Cloud», Andrew Lane

Dedicated to the memory of the Young Adult writers whose work I used to devour when I was young: Capt. W. E. Johns, Hugh Walters, Andre Norton, Malcolm Saville, Alan E. Norse and John Christopher; and also to the friendship and support of those members of the latest generation that I’m fortunate enough to know: Ben Jeapes, Stephen Cole, Justin Richards, Gus Smith and the incomparable Charlie Higson.

 

And with grateful acknowledgements to:

Rebecca McNally and Robert Kirby, for having faith; Jon Lellenberg, Charles Foley and Andrea Plunkett, for giving permission; Gareth Pugh, for telling me all about bees; and Nigel McCreary, for keeping me sane on the journey.

Prologue

The first time Matthew Arnatt saw the cloud of death, it was floating out of the first-floor window of a house near where he was living.

He was scurrying along the High Street in the market town of Farnham, looking for any fruit or crusts of bread that a careless passer-by might have dropped. His eyes should have been scanning the ground, but he kept looking up at the houses and the shops and at the thronging people all around him. He was only fourteen, and as far as he could remember he’d never been in a town this large before. In this, the prosperous part of Farnham, the older wood-beamed buildings leaned over into the street, with their upper rooms looming like solid clouds above anybody underneath.

The road was cobbled with smooth, fist-sized stones for part of its length, but some distance ahead the cobbles gave way to packed earth from which clouds of dust rose up as the horses and the carts clattered past. Every few yards sat a pile of horse manure: some fresh and steaming, surrounded by flies; some dry and old, like strands of hay or grass that had been clumped together and somehow stuck.

Matthew could smell the steamy, putrid dung, but he could also smell baking bread and what might have been a pig that had been roasted on a spit above a roaring fire. He could almost see the fat dripping off and sizzling in the flames. Hunger made his stomach clench, and he nearly doubled over with the sudden pain. It had been a few days since he’d had any proper food. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could go on.

One of the passers-by, a fat man in a brown bowler hat and a dark suit that was showing its age, stopped and extended a hand to Matthew as if to help him. Matthew backed away. He didn’t want charity. Charity led to the workhouse or the church for a child with no family, and he didn’t want to start out on the path towards either of those destinations. He was doing fine by himself. All he had to do was to find some food. Once he had some food inside him he would be fine.

He slipped away down an alley before the man could take his shoulder, then doubled back round a corner into a street that was so narrow that the upper storeys of the houses were almost touching. A person could climb straight from one bedroom to another on the other side of the street, if they had a mind to.

That was when he saw the cloud of death. Not that he knew what it was, then. That would come later. No, all he saw was a dark stain the size of a large dog that seemed to drift from an open window like smoke, but smoke that moved with a mind of its own, pausing for a moment and then flowing sideways to a drainpipe where it turned and slid up towards the roof. Hunger forgotten, Matthew watched open-mouthed as the cloud drifted over the sharp edge of the roof tiles and vanished out of sight.

A scream split the silence — a scream from the open window — and Matthew turned and pelted back down the street as quickly as his malnourished legs would carry him. People didn’t scream like that when they’d had a surprise. They didn’t even scream like that if they’d had a shock. No, in Matthew’s experience people only screamed like that if they were in mortal fear of their life, and whatever had provoked that scream was not something he wanted to see. 

Chapter One 

“You there! Come here!"

Sherlock Holmes turned to see who was being called and who was doing the calling. There were hundreds of pupils standing in the bright sunlight outside Deepdene School for Boys that morning, each dressed in immaculate school uniform and each with a leather-strapped wooden chest or an over-stuffed pile of luggage sitting in front of him like a loyal dog. Any one of them might have been the target. The Masters at Deepdene made a habit of never referring to the pupils by name — it was always “You!" or “Boy!" or “Child!" It made life difficult and kept the boys on their toes, which was probably the reason why they did it. Either that or the Masters had given up trying to remember the names of their pupils long ago; Sherlock wasn’t sure which explanation was the most likely. Perhaps both.

None of the other pupils were paying attention. They were either gossiping with the family members who had turned up to collect them or they were eagerly watching the school gates for first sight of the carriage that was going to take them home. Reluctantly, Sherlock swung round to see if the malign finger of fate was pointing his way.

It was. The finger in question belonged in this instance to Mr Tulley, the Latin Master. He had just come round the corner of the school, where Sherlock was standing apart from the other boys. His suit, which was usually covered in chalk dust, had been specially cleaned for the end of term and the inevitable meetings with the fathers who were paying for their boys to be educated, and his mortar board sat straight on his head as if glued there by the Headmaster.


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