Coyle went to the horse and took the reins and turned the animal and when he looked again over his shoulder the dog had returned. Go to hell. Coyle led the horse back through the gate from which Hamilton had come and closed it and eyed the dog watching from behind it.
The rain stopped and he steered a path towards the cover of trees and stood a minute and listened. Oh please be. The jolly whistle of a blackbird and everything else as it should be. He made a line towards the hills under shade of tree, this lumbering procession hushed with a slumping corpse coffined in nothing but the furtive air and it bathed for burial in ichor from its opened veins and no mourners but for this black dog visible. The trees parted and the land leaned down to Drumlish where they came to a brook, the water susurrous on the rocks like watching whisperers. He tied the horse and took off the jacket. The old tweed worn and fraying about the edges now stewed in darkened blood. He saw it and he cursed and he hit himself with his fist on the jaw. Stupid man ye. He bathed the jacket in the water and the stain weakened but remained and he wrung it and carried it in his hand and then he put it in the horse's girth. He bent again to the stream and scooped handfuls of water cool and mineral in his mouth and he led the horse and let it drink, the dog watching from the trees, the body of the dead man dangling on the horse's flanks.
They left the river and came upon a track and Coyle nosed out of the shade and as he did so the roll of wheels reached his ears and he caught the sight of some shape forming slowly about the left turn. His breath caught sharp and he turned and backed the horse into the trees. He watched from the foliage a man he knew to be Harkin, black-faced and bearded, the man leading a mule and cart towards a settlement of white houses that sat further down the road near Meenaleck. The parade approached with no element of rush about it, Coyle fearful for the man's eyes that stared dully ahead. A snuffling from the horse and Coyle's hand reached around its muzzle to quieten the beast and his breath stalled and then the man was right in front of him, each step a moment that expanded in time like an eternity that was not his to live in. Jesus if there was a hole right here now I'd climb into it. His breath strangling in his throat and then the man passed.
The emerald foliage began to thin and he left the shelter of the trees in Meentycat where the land turned to dun. Rough-stalks of flowered grass purpled faintly the heathered land and the rain fell cold and relentless upon that morass, black and receiving beneath. Upon the peated realm not a marker for a man and he walked till he met a broken tree white-boned and charred from lightning fire long burned.
He pulled the body from the saddle till it spilled under its own weight and it struck the ground with the snap of bone. The forlorn gaze of old hills as watchers to this event and on the wind the waft of sweat and blood. A carrion crow flew down solitary from the sky, black-dressed to sit upon the tree. It watched indifferent to the spectacle, took survey of the speechless landscape and cawed a single note of sermon before it cocked its head and took wing.
Coyle squatted and locked arms with the body and dragged it backwards towards the swamp and turned and rolled it forward with his hands. Dead eyes spun then sunk into the dark shroud of water. He gave it a nudge with his leg and watched the dome of the corpse's head shine faintly before it faded into the void of water. He stood till it was gone and saw a lone boot that beckoned from the beyond and he picked up a skeletal stick from under the tree and reached towards the pit and nudged it. The beacon stayed firm and he pushed at it again but still it stayed fast. The rain pushed down harder from the sky. He stayed by the pool on his knees, the ground sodden and his eyes sunken.
Excerpted from Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Lynch. 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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