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The Underground Railroad

The builders of this stop had hacked and blasted it from the unforgiving earth and made no attempt at adornment, to showcase the difficulty of their feat. Stripes of white, orange, and rust-colored veins swam through the jags, pits, and knobs. Cora stood in the guts of a mountain.

The engineer lit one of the torches on the wall. The laborers hadn’t cleaned up when they finished. Crates of gear and mining equipment crowded the platform, making it a workshop. Passengers chose their seating from empty cases of explosive powder. Cora tested the water in one of the barrels. It tasted fresh. Her mouth was an old dustpan after the rain of flying grit in the tunnel. She drank from the dipper for a long time as the engineer watched her, fidgeting. “Where is this place?” she asked.

“North Carolina,” the boy replied. “This used to be a popular stop, from what I’m told. Not anymore.”

“The station agent?” Cora asked.

“I’ve never met him, but I’m sure he’s a fine fellow.”

He required fine character and a tolerance for gloom to operate in this pit. After her days beneath Sam’s cottage, Cora declined the challenge. “I’m going with you,” Cora said. “What’s the next station?