Chapter no 13 – Feathers

Where the Crawdads Sing


Lanky yet brawny for fourteen, Kya stood on an afternoon beach, flinging crumbs to gulls. Still couldn’t count them; still

couldn’t read. No longer did she daydream of winging with eagles; perhaps when you have to paw your supper from mud, imagination flattens to that of adulthood. Ma’s sundress fit snugly across her breasts and fell just below her knees; she reckoned she had caught up, and then some. She walked back to the shack, got a pole and line, and went straight to fishing from a thicket on the far side of her lagoon.

Just as she cast, a stick snapped behind her. She jerked her head around, searching. A footfall in brush. Not a bear, whose large paws squished in debris, but a solid clunk in the brambles. Then the crows cawed. Crows can’t keep secrets any better than mud; once they see something curious in the forest they have to tell everybody. Those who listen are rewarded: either warned of predators or alerted to food. Kya knew something was up.

She pulled in the line, wrapped it around the pole even as she pushed silently through the brush with her shoulders. Stopped again, listened. A dark clearing—one of her favorite places—spread cavernlike under five oaks so dense only hazy streams of sunlight filtered through the canopy, striking lush patches of trillium and white violets. Her eyes scanned the clearing but saw no one.

Then a shape slunk through a thicket beyond, and her eyes swung there. It stopped. Her heart pumped harder. She hunkered down, stoop-running fast and quiet into the undergrowth on the edge of the clearing. Looking back through the branches, she saw

an older boy walking fast through the woods, his head moving to and fro. He stopped as he saw her.

Kya ducked behind a thorn bush, then squeezed into a rabbit run that twisted through brambles thick as a fort wall. Still bent, she scrambled, scratching her arms on prickly scrub. Paused again, listening. Hid there in burning heat, her throat racking from thirst. After ten minutes, no one came, so she crept to a spring that pooled in moss, and drank like a deer. She wondered who that boy was and why he’d come. That was the thing about going to Jumpin’s—people saw her there. Like the underbelly of a porcupine, she was exposed.

Finally, between dusk and dark, that time when the shadows were unsure, she walked back toward the shack by way of the oak clearing.

“’Cause of him sneaking ’round, I didn’t catch any fish ta smoke.”



In the center of the clearing was a rotted-down stump, so carpeted in moss it looked like an old man hiding under a cape. Kya approached it, then stopped. Lodged in the stump and sticking straight up was a thin black feather about five or six inches long. To most it would have looked ordinary, maybe a crow’s wing feather. But she knew it was extraordinary for it was the “eyebrow” of a great blue heron, the feather that bows gracefully above the eye, extending back beyond her elegant head. One of the most exquisite fragments of the coastal marsh, right here. She had never found one but knew instantly what it was, having squatted eye to eye with herons all her life.

A great blue heron is the color of gray mist reflecting in blue water. And like mist, she can fade into the backdrop, all of her disappearing except the concentric circles of her lock-and-load eyes. She is a patient, solitary hunter, standing alone as long as it takes to snatch her prey. Or, eyeing her catch, she will stride forward one slow step at a time, like a predacious bridesmaid. And yet, on rare occasions she hunts on the wing, darting and diving sharply, swordlike beak in the lead.

“How’d it get stuck straight up in the stump?” Whispering, Kya looked around. “That boy must’ve put it here. He could be watchin’ me right now.” She stood still, heart pounding again.

Backing away, she left the feather and ran to the shack and locked the screen door, which she seldom did since it offered scant protection.

Yet as soon as dawn crept between the trees, she felt a strong pull toward the feather, at least to look at it again. At sunrise she ran to the clearing, looked around carefully, then walked to the stump and lifted the feather. It was sleek, almost velvety. Back at the shack, she found a special place for it in the center of her collection—from tiny hummingbird feathers to large eagle tails— that winged across the wall. She wondered why a boy would bring her a feather.

• • •

THE NEXT MORNING, Kya wanted to rush to the stump to see if another one had been left, but she made herself wait. She must not run into the boy. Finally, in late morning she walked to the clearing, approaching slowly, listening. She didn’t hear or see anybody, so she stepped forward, and a rare, brief smile lit her face when she saw a thin white feather stuck into the top of the stump. It reached from her fingertips to her elbow, and curved gracefully to a slender point. She lifted it and laughed out loud. A magnificent tail feather of a tropicbird. She’d never seen these seabirds because they didn’t occur in this region, but on rare occasions they were blown over land on hurricane wings.

Kya’s heart filled with wonder that someone had such a collection of rare feathers that he could spare this one.

Since she couldn’t read Ma’s old guidebook, she didn’t know the names for most of the birds or insects, so made up her own. And even though she couldn’t write, Kya had found a way to label her specimens. Her talent had matured and now she could draw, paint, and sketch anything. Using chalks or watercolors from the Five and Dime, she sketched the birds, insects, or shells on grocery bags and attached them to her samples.



That night she splurged and lit two candles and set them in saucers on the kitchen table so she could see all the colors of the white; so she could paint the tropicbird feather.

• • •

FOR MORE THAN A WEEK there was no feather on the stump. Kya went by several times a day, cautiously peeping through ferns, but saw nothing. She sat in the cabin in midday, something she rarely did.

“Shoulda soaked beans for supper. Now it’s too late.” She walked through the kitchen, rummaging through the cupboard, drumming her fingers on the table. Thought of painting, but didn’t. Walked again to the stump.

Even from some distance she could see a long, striped tail feather of a wild turkey. It caught her up. Turkeys had been one of her favorites. She’d watched as many as twelve chicks tuck themselves under the mother’s wings even as the hen walked along, a few tumbling out of the back, then scrambling to catch up.

But about a year ago, as Kya strolled through a stand of pines, she’d heard a high-pitched shriek. A flock of fifteen wild turkeys— mostly hens, a few toms and jakes—rushed about, pecking what looked like an oily rag crumpled in the dirt. Dust stirred from their feet and shrouded the woods, drifting up through branches, caught there. As Kya had crept closer, she saw it was a hen turkey on the ground, and the birds of her own flock were pecking and toe-scratching her neck and head. Somehow she’d managed to get her wings so tangled with briars, her feathers stuck out at strange angles and she could no longer fly. Jodie had said that if a bird becomes different from the others—disfigured or wounded—it is more likely to attract a predator, so the rest of the flock will kill it, which is better than drawing in an eagle, who might take one of them in the bargain.

A large female clawed at the bedraggled hen with her large,



horny feet, then pinned her to the ground as another female jabbed at her naked neck and head. The hen squealed, looked around with wild eyes at her own flock assaulting her.

Kya ran into the clearing, throwing her arms around. “Hey, what ya doing? Git outta here. Stop it!” The flurry of wings kicked up more dust as the turkeys scattered into brush, two of them flying heavy into an oak. But Kya was too late. The hen, her eyes

wide open, lay limp. Blood ran from her wrinkled neck, bent crooked on the dirt.

“Shoo, go on!” Kya chased the last of the large birds until they shuffled away, their business complete. She knelt next to the dead hen and covered the bird’s eye with a sycamore leaf.

That night after watching the turkeys, she ate a supper of leftover cornbread and beans, then lay on her porch bed, watching the moon touch the lagoon. Suddenly, she heard voices in the woods coming toward the shack. They sounded nervous, squeaky. Boys, not men. She sat straight up. There was no back door. It was get out now or still be sitting on the bed when they came. Quick as a mouse, she slipped to the door, but just then candles appeared, moving up and down, their light jiggling in halos. Too late to run.

The voices got louder. “Here we come, Marsh Girl!” “Hey—ya in thar? Miss Missin’ Link!”

“Show us yo’ teeth! Show us yo’ swamp grass!” Peals of laughter.

She ducked lower behind the half wall of the porch as the footsteps moved closer. The flames flickered madly, then went out altogether as five boys, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old, ran across the yard. All talking stopped as they galloped full speed to the porch and tagged the door with their palms, making slapping sounds.



Every smack a stab in the turkey hen’s heart.

Against the wall, Kya wanted to whimper but held her breath.

They could break through the door easy. One hard yank, and they’d be in.

But they backed down the steps, ran into the trees again, hooting and hollering with relief that they had survived the Marsh Girl, the Wolf Child, the girl who couldn’t spell dog. Their words and laughter carried back to her through the forest as they disappeared into the night, back to safety. She watched the relit candles, bobbing through the trees. Then sat staring into the stone-quiet darkness. Shamed.

Kya thought of that day and night whenever she saw wild turkeys, but she was thrilled to see the tail feather on the stump. Just to know the game was still on.

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