How old are you? he asked.
Nineteen, Vaughn said, though whether this was or wasnt in her favor she did not know. He looked west again toward Grandfather Mountain and studied the sky before glancing down the valley at the toll road.
Okay, he finally said, and nodded toward the front door. Lets you and me go inside.
Not in the cabin, Lily answered. My young ones in there.
For a moment she thought Vaughn would insist, but he didnt.
The root cellar. Its got a pallet we can lay on.
Vaughns chin lifted, his eyes seeming to focus on something behind Lily and the chair.
I reckon well know where to look for your man next time, wont we? When Lily didnt respond, Vaughn offered a smile that looked almost friendly. Lead on, he said.
Vaughn followed her around the cabin, past the bee box and chopping block and the old root cellar, the one theyd used before the war. They followed the faintest path through a thicket of rhododendron until it ended abruptly on a hillside. Lily cleared away the green-leaved rhododendron branches she replaced each week and unlatched a square wooden door. The hinges creaked as the entrance yawned open, the root cellars damp earthy odor mingling with the smell of the dogwood blossoms. The afternoon sun revealed an earthen floor lined with jars of vegetables and honey, at the center a pallet and quilt. There were no steps, just a three-foot drop.
And you think me stupid enough to go in there first? Vaughn said.
Ill go in first, Lily answered, and sat down in the entrance, dangling one foot until it touched the packed earth. She held to the door frame and eased herself inside, crouching low, trying not to think how she might be stepping into her own grave. The corn shucks rasped beneath her as she settled on the pallet. We could do it as easy up here, Vaughn said, peering at her from the entrance. Its good as some old spider hole.
Excerpted from Burning Bright by Ron Rash. Copyright © 2010 by Ron Rash. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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