A Cry From the Dust
Carrie Stuart Parks
In the shadow of the Mormon church, a 19th-century conspiracy is about to be shattered by a 21st-century forensic artist.In 1857, a wagon train in Utah was assaulted by a group of militant Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. One hundred and forty people were murdered, including unarmed men, women, and children. The Mountain Meadows Massacre remains controversial to this day—but the truth may be written on the skulls of the victims.
When renowned forensic artist Gwen Marcey is recruited to reconstruct the faces of recently unearthed victims at Mountain Meadows, she isn’t expecting more than an interesting gig . . . and a break from her own hectic life.But when Gwen stumbles on the ritualized murder of a young college student, her work on the massacre takes on a terrifying new aspect, and research quickly becomes a race against modern-day fundamentalist terror.
As evidence of a cover-up mounts—a cover-up spanning the entire history of the Mormon church—Gwen finds herself in the crosshairs of a secret society bent on fulfilling prophecy and revenging old wrongs.
Can a forensic artist reconstruct two centuries of suppressed history . . . before it repeats itself?
In A Cry from the Dust, Carrie Stuart Parks utilizes her own background as a celebrated, FBI-trained forensic artist to blend fact and fiction into a stunning mystery.
“Parks’ fast-paced and suspenseful debut novel is an entertaining addition to the inspirational genre. Her writing is polished, and the research behind the novel brings credibility to the story . . . An excellent book that is sure to put Carrie Stuart Parks on readers’ radar.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 stars
Praise for A Cry From the Dust: “Real life forensic artist Carrie Parks bestows her skills and experience upon a plucky heroine, then sends her rummaging through dark, unresolved history for bizarre possibilities. You haven’t read a story like this one.”-Frank Peretti
Facebook: Carrie Stuart Parks, Author
The bullet embedded into the dusty wagon wheel, sending wood slivers flying.
Heart pounding, Priscilla James whispered a prayer through cracked lips. “All I have to do is stand, Lord. The next shot’d kill me dead.” Her death would be fast and preferable to this parched agony.
She willed her muscles to push her off this blistering earth, to face the Indians who’d kept the wagon train pinned down for the past four days. Without food. Or water.
She tried to keep her gaze off the small row of crudely made crosses near the edge of the circled wagons. Seven men dropped like buckshot quail with the first hail of bullets. Three died right away and the other members of the wagon train gave them a proper Christian burial. The preacher read the Bible and everything. She’d felt all tore up inside. Then.
Stand up. Do it now. One shot. It’ll be all over.
The breeze shifted, wafting the stench of rotting flesh.
Priscilla shivered in spite of the heat. Lying like small mounds of snow out on the prairie were the two little girls. The men said not even heathen savages would hurt children dressed like tiny angels, waving white flags, and toting water buckets.
That had been two days ago.
They gave up burying the dead yesterday.
She tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. No tears formed in her burning, dry eyes. The September sun lashed the reddened earth.
The child’s whimpering started up again.
Priscilla sighed, shifted farther into the buckboard’s meager shadows, and pulled the tiny girl into her lap.
Jane Baker settled down and muttered in her sleep “‘…… I shall not want . . .’” Priscilla gently worked a snarl out of the girl’s hair. Poor lass. Who’d take care of her if I were dead?
Though Jane was nearly ten, she was runty and looked half her age. She lost her ma only four weeks ago, birthing. The baby scarcely took a breath before it, too, died. Her pa, an old man with a scarred face and slight limp, said they’d leave the wagon train at Salt Lake City, but he took sick just before they reached their goal. He must have had brain fever, ’cause he ranted like a madman for a week. He was just getting better when the Indians killed him; he now rested under one of the three crosses.
Priscilla’s uncle was buried next to Jane’s pa.
Priscilla figured that sort of made Jane her ward. None of the remaining settlers would have anything to do with the child. They said she was wrong. Touched. Some even said the Devil was in her.
Another bullet smacked into the buckboard.
Maybe that’s the solution. They’d both try fetching water. They’d die heroes.
The murmuring of voices roused her from the sooty black thoughts. The grumbling grew to excited calls. “White men!”
“Praise God. We’re saved!” Mrs. Dunlap waved a hankie. Settlers poured from the circled wagons, pointing.
Goose pimples broke out on Priscilla’s arms. Thank You, Lord.
In the distance she spotted several men on horseback, waving a flag. They’d come! Mr. Fancher’s plan worked. Last night he’d sent three of their best scouts to find help.
She’d soon be out of Utah Territory, in California. Home with her folks. She wrapped grubby fingers around the locket holding pictures of her ma and pa. Little Jane had her own treasure, a small packet never far from her. Priscilla peeked once when Jane was sleeping, but there wasn’t any money or jewels, just a journal and photo of her pa.
Jane would get better in California. Priscilla would take care of her.
Jane jumped to her feet to join the milling throng. Priscilla followed, squinting at the two men waving white flags and slowly riding toward the camp.
“Mormons,” a man standing next to Priscilla said and spat on the ground. “Don’t never trust ’em.”
Priscilla nodded. Mormons refused to sell them fresh supplies since they entered Utah Territory, and food was all but gone even before the Indians ambushed them. Priscilla even thought she saw white men driving off their livestock after first slaughtering some of the cattle.
“Maybe so,” she said. “But they be lookin’ like saviors right now.”
One stranger dismounted, handed the reins of his bay horse to his companion, and continued forward. The settlers crowded around him. Priscilla caught the words “Indian agent,” but she couldn’t get close enough to hear more. The weary smiles around her spoke of good news. The agent waved, jumped on his horse, then spurred it to a gallop. The two men quickly disappeared.
Funny. The scouts weren’t with them. Maybe they were waiting up the trail. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickled. Stop fussing now. We’re safe.
Jane stood motionless, gazing after the retreating men, her eyes wide and unseeing.
Priscilla touched her on the shoulder and shook her sleeve. “It’s over. Come on, Jane.”
Jane’s lips moved. Priscilla bent closer to hear.
“‘…… cry from the dust . . . ,’” Jane said. “‘…… for vengeance¾‘”
Priscilla cupped the small child’s face in her hands and stared into her unfocused eyes. Heavens t’be, the last of the girl’s mind was going.
After grabbing Jane by the wrists, Priscilla twirled her in a circle. “Come on, we’re going to California. You can come to my party.”
Priscilla stopped spinning, stood motionless, then touched her hair. “I must be a sight.” She pulled Jane to the Conestoga where she retrieved a comb and mirror. The mirror’s image shocked her. She’d lost weight and her skin was brown from dirt and the sun. With no water to wash up, she contented herself with brushing and braiding her hair.
Jane continued to mutter. “‘…… vengeance . . . destroy . . .’”
The thud of hooves and creak of wood announced the return of the man, this time accompanied by two wagons.
“Surrender your weapons,” the Indian agent shouted. “Put them in the bed. Wounded go into the second wagon. We’ll walk you out of here.”
Grinning broadly, Priscilla took Jane’s hand. The rescuers marshaled women and children first, then the men. Slowly, like the Israelites leaving Egypt, they followed their Moses. Priscilla hummed and swung Jane’s arm. A crisp breeze brought the smell of sweet prairie grass, and Priscilla breathed deeply.
“‘Yea, though I walk . . . shadow of death,’” the young girl whispered. “‘I will fear no evil . . . ‘”
The valley narrowed, with rocky outcroppings and sagebrush hemming in the straggling group. The agent reined in his horse. He was near Priscilla, and she smiled slightly at him.
He didn’t seem to notice. He rose in his stirrups, looked around, and shouted, “Do your duty!”
The rocks seemed to burst into life as Indians hurtled down upon them, shrieking, shooting, chopping, slicing through the women and children.
Mrs. Dunlap, walking beside Priscilla and carrying her baby, fell dead with a bullet piercing her forehead. Eight-year-old Sarah Fancher’s scream was cut short as a crazed Indian sliced her throat.
Heart pounding, unable to breathe, Priscilla bolted, yanking Jane with her.
They ran like jackrabbits, dodging the rocks, shrubs, bodies, and frenzied killers. The air filled with the reek of copper and screams of anguish. A huge man stabbed a bayonet into young Henry Cameron, screaming, “For Jehovah!”
Not Indians. Mormons.
Something punched her, and a million scorpions stabbed her side. Priscilla stumbled and lost her grip on Jane. The child flew through the air as one of the bloodied men grabbed her up.
The landscape blurred and she glanced down. A red stain spread up her dress. Her legs refused to hold her. She spun, slamming into the earth.
The sun blinded her for a moment, then a man blocked it. The big man.
“Please, spare me.” Priscilla raised her praying hands toward him. “I’ll do anything. Please . . . oh, please . . . I’ll be your slave . . .”
“For Jehovah,” he shouted, and thrust the bayonet.
Carrie Stuart Parks is an internationally known forensic art instructor as well as FBI trained, Certified Forensic Artist. She worked for the North Idaho Regional Crime Lab for years before going freelance. A winner of numerous awards for her innovative teaching methods and general career excellence, she is also a signature member of the Idaho Watercolor Society. She met her husband, Rick, in the romantic hallways of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Together they wrote and illustrated six books on drawing and watercolor for North Light Media. A popular platform and keynote speaker, Carrie brings a wealth of knowledge and humor to her presentations. Carrie’s debut novel, A Cry from the Dust, was sold at auction in a three book deal to Thomas Nelson. She was mentored in her writing by NYT best-selling author Frank Peretti.