Addie tapped her brother on the shoulder, and he stopped.
"What's wrong with all these folks?"
"What do you mean?"
"I haven't heard word one from any of them. Not 'Good afternoon' or nothing. And you ain't so much as given a nod to anyone yourself."
Tommy removed his hat and scratched his head, laughing.
"We're strangers. And anyway, you got to know how to say hello in five languages to get along here, that's why." They came upon a set of roofs sitting at ground level, which looked to Addie like a bunch of shacks that had sunk straight down into the ground. Each roof had its own nubby stove pipe and was halfway covered with dirt. "Here we are," Tommy said. "A fella I know went to Evanston and said we could hole up here till I took you out to the homestead." Addie looked around. There were a few other buildings nearby standing aboveground, shabby and makeshift, but more appealing than what she thought her brother was suggesting. "Down there?" She pointed at the sunken shacks.
"It ain't 'down there' when you're down there." The pair walked the short slope and around to the front, where Addie got a better idea of the setup. The shacks were built right into the banks of a creek which announced itself like a skunk the closer they got to piles of floating garbage. She'd grown up on the Ohio River, seen all manner of things dumped in it, but what these folks didn't seem to get was that there had to be a current to carry the stuff off. She guessed they didn't have any sense. After all, a person wouldn't fly a kite on a windless day.
"For God's sake, Tommy," Addie said, waving off the odor, but her brother was already opening the door to where they would stay the night, a windowless rectangle that wasn't much more than a boarded-up cave.
Inside, the only light came from the doorway and a thin shaft from a hole in the roof. A makeshift stove sat in the corner, the same size and squat presence of a sleeping owl. The floor was hardpacked dirt, as was the bed, which was a carved-out shelf in the rear, though at least it offered the comfort of a dusty wool blanket spread along its length. "It sure ain't the Palmer House," Addie said from the entrance, her shadow trapped before her in the block of light on the floor. Tommy returned a confused look, and she laughed. "I don't know what it means either."
Pulling a pair of three-legged stools into the center of the room, Tommy brushed off the seat of one and sat on the other. When Addie took her place, he handed her a tin cup filled with water. These gestures somehow felt grand, as if all a person could ever want or need was a stool and a cup to drink from. The water was sweet, though not cool. They remained side by side for a silent minute, silent except for the fliff of an intermittent wind shifting sand and dirt over the roof, and somewhere in the distance the clumsy sound of random hammering. From her vantage, Addie saw out the door and down into the bottom of the filthy creek. She looked at the remaining water in her cup and back at the creek.
"Did this come out of that?"
"Hell, no." Tommy patted her on the back in mock comfort. "They drag their water in from Green River. That there is called Bitter Creek, and if you ever took a taste of it, you'd know why." "If that passes for a creek around here, I'd hate for someone to show me a ditch."
"Believe me, little sister, you'd rather drink from a ditch."
Addie looked directly at her brother, this new, bearded form of him. Where had the boy gone? If he were on the street, he'd be just the kind of man she would avoid, though even as she thought this, she knew she was prone to avoiding most men anyway. There'd been one, once, by the name of Denny, who didn't think twice about breaking her heart. He'd taken off from Orgull just like her brother. "So you're making a go of it out here?"
Excerpted from Take Me Home by Doris Haddock. Copyright © 2010 by Doris Haddock. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. 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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