Excerpt from In the Valley by Ron Rash, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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In the Valley

Stories and a Novella Based on Serena

by Ron Rash

In the Valley by Ron Rash X
In the Valley by Ron Rash
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    Aug 2020, 240 pages

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9

They came at dawn, ground crackling beneath the trample of hooves, amid it the sound of chickens flapping and squawking. Then voices, one among them shouting to dismount. The corn shucks rasped as Rebecca rose, quickly tugging her wool overcoat tight against her gown. She waked the children. As they rubbed questioning eyes, Rebecca whispered for them to get under the bed and be absolutely still. Hannah's chin quivered but she nodded. Ezra, three years older, took his sister's hand as they raised themselves off the mattress. He helped Hannah underneath and followed.

A pounding on the door began as Rebecca gathered the salt pouch from the larder, the box of matches off the fireboard. She considered lifting the loose plank beneath the table and placing what filled her hands inside the clay crock, but the pounding was so fierce now that the door latch looked ready to splinter. Rebecca shoved the salt and matches beneath the bed too, whispered a last plea for the children to be quiet. She waited a few moments, some wisp of hope that the men might simply take the chickens and the ham in the barn and leave. But the man at the door shouted that they'd burn out those inside if the door didn't open.

Rebecca knew they would, that these men had done worse things in Shelton Laurel. Just months ago, they'd whipped Sallie Moore until blood soaked her back, roped Martha White to a tree and beat her. Barns had been burned, wells fouled with slaughtered animals. There's nary a meanness left for them rebels to do to us, Ginny Luns­ford had claimed, but she'd been proved wrong the next day when eleven men and a thirteen-­year-­old boy were marched west a mile on the Knoxville pike, lined up, and shot.

Rebecca lifted the latch. As she pushed the door open, boot steps clattered off the porch. A low swirling fog made the horses mere gray shapes, those mounted upon them adrift, like revenants. Rebecca stepped far enough out to show her empty hands. A rein shook and a horse moved forward, its rider a man whose age lay hidden behind a thick brown beard. He alone wore an actual uniform, though his butternut jacket lacked two buttons, his officer's hat stained and slouched. He raised a hand, but before tipping his hat he caught himself, set the hand on the saddle pommel. The man asked if anyone else was inside.

Rebecca hesitated.

"I'm Colonel Allen, of the North Carolina 64th regiment," he said. "You've heard of us, of me."

"Yes."

"Then you know you'll rue any lie you tell me."

"My chaps," Rebecca said. "They're but seven and four."

"Anyone else?"

"No."

"Bring them out here," Colonel Allen said, and turned to a tall man behind him.

Rebecca went inside, kneeled by the bed, and helped the children to their feet. Hannah whimpered, Ezra's eyes wide with fear.

"Will they kill us, Mother?" Ezra asked.

"No," Rebecca answered, her hands huddling them onto the porch. "But we must do what is asked."

They stood beside the cord of wood Brice Fothergill had cut for them in October, accepting nothing for his labor. Rebecca took off the overcoat and covered the children. After all of the men had tethered their horses, Colonel Allen and the sergeant stood in front of the porch as the other men gathered behind them. The chickens had calmed and several clucked and pecked nearby.

"Come a little closer, chickees," one of the soldiers said, "and I'll give ye neck a nice stretch."

Hannah started to cry. Rebecca stroked the child's flaxen hair as she whispered for her to hush.

"Them young ones look stout for their ages," the sergeant said. "Must be eating well."

"A nit makes a louse," a soldier wearing a black eye patch said, and another man loudly agreed.

Allen raised a hand and the men grew quiet.

"Your man," he asked, "where is he?"

"Likely hiding up on the ridge," the sergeant said, "waiting to take a shot at us once we're headed back. That's their way up here, ain't it?"

Excerpted from In the Valley by Ron Rash. Copyright © 2020 by Ron Rash. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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