The Red Country
Amity watches what looks like the sun. An orange ball spins high above her on a pole, turning in a hot, white sky. It makes her think of home and the temple; it makes her feel it is she who is spinning, turning about in a room filled with women, their arms raised, their skirts belling out like moons. She thinks how the moon will go bloodred and the sun turn black at the end of the world. She is watching for it still.
"Amity!" Her mother calls her back to earth, back to the gas station and the heat and the hard-baked ground, beckoning from beneath the metal canopy that shades the pumps. "Did you find anyone?" Amity walks back to her, sees that there is dried blood on her mothers face and figures she must have some, too, but neither of them can get into the bathroom to wash. The door is locked.
"I found a man," Amity says. "I talked to him."
"It's okay. I told you to. What did he say?"
The bathroom door is marked with a stick lady wearing a triangle dress. Locked behind it is her sister. "He said it locks from the inside. There is no key. It's a bolt she turned."
Mother slaps the triangle lady with the flat of her hand. "Sorrow, you come out of there right now. We are not stopping here!"
Amity pulls on her sleeve to cover her wrist, its bareness, the bruise blooming on the bone. All of this is her fault. If she hadn't taken the wrist strap off, her sister wouldn't have run.
"Where did the man go?" Mother asks.
Amity points at the flat of fields, where heat and haze make them shimmer like flu. She points to a yellow field, violent yellow, like yolk smeared across the land.
"You didn't go out there!"
"No!" says Amity, shocked.
Four days they drove, until Mother crashed the car.
Four days they drove from home to here.
Four days and the seasons have changed around them, the dirty ends of snow from home melting and running to make rivers, mountains flattening to make plain land, then fields. Four days Amity had been tied to her sister, to keep her from running, until the car hit a tree and spun over a stump and Amity took the strap off and Sorrow flew out of the car and ran.
The sky is spinning orange when the man comes from his fields. Dirt rides in on his overalls, spills down from his turned-up hems. With every step, it scatters like seed. "Hey," he calls to Amity and he raises his hand to wave. Then she sees him see her mother. She sees him take in Mother's clogs and long, full skirts, her apron and her cloth cap, as if he hadn't noticed Amity's own. His eyes follow the stripe of blood down Mother's face. "Hey," he says again and Mother nods to him, primly. "Closin' up now. Was there somethin' y'all needed?"
Mother looks at Amity. "I thought you told him." Then she points at the bathroom door. "My daughter," she says.
"Is she still in there?" He pounds his fist on the stick lady, calling, "Come out of there, hey, what's her name?"
"Sorrow?" He squints and bangs harder on the door. "Sorrow!" He turns to Mother. "Maybe she's unconscious?"
"She's stubborn. How can you not have a key?"
"It's a bolt. Jesus!" The man rushes into a little shop and crashes around inside it, then he runs back out to his fields, darkening beneath the fiery sky.
Mother watches him go, saying, "Has he just run away?"
But he does come back, pulling up in an old Chevy pickup, its red paint turned pink from hard sun, and clambers down with a noisy box of tools. A boy jumps down from the truck bed to follow him, brown-skinned and lanky with a long tail of black hair that reaches halfway down his back. Amity steps behind her mother and grabs hold of her skirts to watch him.
The man and the boy jangle through the tools. They try ratchets and hooks, rasps and claws. They hit the door hinges with chisels, but they cannot lift it out of its frame for the bolt.
Excerpted from Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley. Copyright © 2013 by Peggy Riley. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. 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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