Night sky was black and then there was blood, morning crack of light on the edge of the earth. The crimson spill sent the bright stars to fade, hills stepping out of shadow and clouds finding flesh. First rain of day from a soundless sky and music it made of the land. The trees let slip the mantle of darkness, stretched themselves, fingers of leaves shivering in the breeze, red then goldening rays of light catching. The rain stopped and he heard the birds wake. They blinked and shook their heads and scattered song upon the sky. The land, old and tremulous, turned slowly towards the rising sun.
Coll Coyle was tight with rage and could not admit he was afraid. For hours he watched with dread the creeping birth of morning. Wobbled glass bending the Carnarvan dawn in rivulets of shifting purple, the slow retreat of numb shadow from the walls. He could not speak for a great bank of sorrow.
He lay awake most of the night, dreams snaking shallow and tormented so that for a moment he would find relief in waking, but soon the dread would pool about him in the darkness and a weight spreading heavy would pitch on top of him. He turned among the limb-sprawl of heated bodies, his daughter snug in his elbow and the press of his wife's chest. He reached a hand to her swollen belly and listened to the suck tide of her breathing. The surf at Clochan Strand.
He rose so as not to stir them, slithered and then scooped his daughter with feathered fingers and placed her by her mother's arms. The child awoke anyway, blinked at him with eyes confused and crusted, and he cooed her and rubbed his thumb on her cheek and the lids of her eyes weighted and shut. He looked to the darkness that held silent the shape of his mother sleeping. The hearth glowing red with sleepy eyes and he reached for his breeches and put them on and took his wyliecoat off the chair, sleeved it and buttoned it and set towards the door leaving his boots by the bed. The door sounding a gentle keening and he put it back on the latch and stood outside. The smell of Carnarvan like soaking earth. Salt faintly on the air and he sucked it in, looked towards the light that flaked silver on the dark waters of Trawbega Bay.
He stamped his feet and walked about the yard and opened the door to the stone outhouse, letting out the pig with a kick. Go on ye. The cow staring at him thickly. He yawned and rubbed his eyes and sat on the stone wall and ran his fingers over the rocks that sat jagged as if they had fought violently before being ripped out of the earth. The lime white of the house indigo in the light and he saw himself as a child among gragging geese and his father plastering dripping upon the blue clay.
Bones in the land. The bones of those before me. I will not so I will.
He looked at the house and remembered when they camemen from all over, from Carrow, from Evish, two men from Tanderagee who came all the way as a favor to his father. Towering, so they were, faces coppered and sun-cracked. The old man sparking his hands like shards of flint. Hardly ever smiled so he did though his body done all the laughing. They set to work, building with stones gleaming from the earth washed fresh. They stood the house, then cut sod and upturned it making flesh for the roof's bones. The men drank and cursed and sang songs till their slurring was feverish and they stumbled home to their townlands by dawn light and the family lay down on straw in front of the open fire too eager to sleep.
He sat and listened to the morning. The murmuring wind and the sound from the stone wall of a fierce droning fury. He stood and walked over to the sound of it and bent till he could see a hollow woven with web, dew-spittled and argent-shining, and his eyes alighted on a fly fighting the entangled clasp of a spider. The buzzing of its wings frantic and it became more furious still and its body twitched in trapped frenzy as the spider grappled from above until the life of the fly was spent but for its palps softly twitching and then it was still. Coyle bent closer and leaned into it and nudged gently the insect with the tip of his finger but the life was gone out of it.
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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