Chapter no 24 – The Fire Tower

Where the Crawdads Sing


Thunderheads piled and pushed against the horizon as Kya motored into the afternoon sea. She hadn’t seen Chase since

their beach picnic ten days ago, but still felt the shape and firmness of his body pinning hers against the sand.



No other boats were in sight as she steered toward an inlet south of Point Beach, where she had once seen unusual butterflies

—so powerfully white they might have been albino. But forty yards out, she suddenly released the throttle when she saw Chase’s friends packing picnic baskets and bright towels into their boats.

Kya turned quickly to speed away but, against a strong pull, turned back and searched for him. She knew that no part of this yearning made sense. Illogical behavior to fill an emptiness would not fulfill much more. How much do you trade to defeat lonesomeness?

And there, near the spot where he kissed her, she saw him walking with fishing rods toward his boat. Behind him, Alwayswearspearls carried a cooler.

Suddenly, Chase turned his head and looked directly at her drifting in her boat. She didn’t turn away but stared back at him. As always shyness won, so she broke eye contact, sped off, and steered into a shadowy cove. She’d wait until their little navy left before going to the beach herself.

Ten minutes later, she motored back into the sea and, up ahead, saw Chase alone in his boat, bobbing waves. Waiting.

The old longing swelled. He was still interested in her. True, he’d come on too strong at the picnic, but he’d stopped when she

brushed him away. Had apologized. Perhaps she should give him another chance.

He motioned her over and called, “Hi, Kya.”



She didn’t go toward him, but not away either. He motored closer.

“Kya, I’m sorry ’bout the other day. Okay? C’mon, I wanta show you the fire tower.”

She said nothing, still drifting his way, knowing it was weakness.

“Look, if you’ve never climbed the tower, it’s a great way to see the marsh. Follow me.”

She increased throttle and turned her boat toward his, all the while scanning the sea to make sure his friends were out of sight.

Chase motioned her north past Barkley Cove—the village serene and colorful in the distance—and landed on the beach of a small bay tucked in deep forest. After securing the boats, he led her down an overgrown path of wax myrtle and prickly holly. She’d never been to this watery and rooty forest, because it stood on the other side of the village and was too close to people. As they walked, thin runnels of backwater seeped under the brush—slinky reminders that the sea owned this land.

Then a true swamp settled deep with its low-earth smell and fusty air. Sudden, subtle, and silent all at once, it stretched into the mouth of the dark receding forest.

Kya saw the weathered wooden platform of the abandoned fire tower above the canopy, and a few minutes later, they arrived at its straddle-legged base, made of rough-cut poles. Black mud oozed around the legs and under the tower, and damp rot ate its way along the beams. Stairs switched to the top, the structure narrowing at each level.



After crossing the sludge, they started the climb, Chase leading.

By the fifth switchback, the rounded oak forests tumbled west as far as they could see. In every other direction, slipstreams, lagoons, creeks, and estuaries wove through brilliant green grass to the sea. Kya had never been this high above the marsh. Now all the pieces lay beneath her, and she saw her friend’s full face for the first time.

When they reached the last step, Chase pushed open the iron grate covering the stairwell. After they climbed onto the platform, he eased it down again. Before stepping on it, Kya tested it by tapping it with her toes. Chase laughed lightly. “It’s fine, don’t worry.” He led her to the railing, where they looked over the marshland. Two red-tailed hawks, the wind whistling through their wings, soared by at eye level, their heads cocked in surprise to see a young man and woman standing in their airspace.

Chase turned to her and said, “Thanks for comin’, Kya. For giving me another chance to say I’m sorry ’bout the other day. I was way outta line and it won’t happen again.”

She said nothing. Parts of her wanted to kiss him now, to feel his strength against her.

Reaching into her jeans pocket, she said, “I made a necklace with the shell you found. You don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to.” She’d strung the shell on the rawhide the night before, thinking to herself she would wear it, but knowing all along she hoped to see Chase again and would give it to him if she had the chance. But even her wistful daydream had not envisioned them standing together on top of the fire tower overlooking the world. A summit.

“Thank ya, Kya,” he said. He looked at it, and then he put it on over his head, fingering the shell as it rested against his throat. “’Course I’ll wear it.”

He said nothing trite like I’ll wear it forever, till the day I die. “Take me to your house,” Chase said. Kya imagined the shack

hunkered under oaks, its gray boards stained with blood from the rusting roof. The screens more holes than mesh. A place of patches.

“It’s far,” is all she said.



“Kya, I don’t care how far or what it’s like. C’mon, let’s go.” This chance of acceptance might go away if she said no.

“All right.” They climbed down the tower, and he led her back to the bay, motioning for her to lead the way in her boat. She cruised south to the maze of estuaries and ducked her head as she slipped into her channel, overhung with green. His boat was almost too big to fit in the jungle growth, certainly too blue and white, but it squeezed through, limbs screeching along the hull.

When her lagoon opened before them, the delicate details of every mossy branch and brilliant leaf reflected in the clear dark water. Dragonflies and snowy egrets lifted briefly at his strange boat, then resettled gracefully on silent wings. Kya tied up as Chase motored up to the shore. The great blue heron, having long ago accepted those less wild, stood stork-still only feet away.

Her laundry of faded overalls and T-shirts hung tatty on the line, and so many turnips had spread into the forests, it was difficult to tell where the garden ended and the wilderness began.

Looking at the patched screen porch, he asked, “How long ya lived out here by yourself?”

“I don’t know exactly when Pa left. But about ten years, I think.”

“That’s neat. Livin’ out here with no parents to tell ya what to do.”

Kya didn’t respond except to say, “There’s nothing to see inside.” But he was already walking up the brick-’n’-board steps. The first things he saw were her collections lining homemade shelves. A collage of the shimmering life just beyond the screen.

“You did all this?” he said. “Yes.”



He looked at some butterflies briefly but quickly lost interest.

Thought, Why keep stuff you can see right outside your door?

Her little mattress on the porch floor had a cover as worn as an old bathrobe, but it was made up neat. A few steps took them through the tiny sitting room, with its sagging sofa, and then he peeped into the back bedroom, where feathers in every color, shape, and size winged across the walls.

She motioned him into the kitchen, wondering what she could offer him. For sure she had no Coca-Cola or iced tea, no cookies or even cold biscuits. The leftover cornbread sat on the stovetop next to a pot of black-eyed peas, shelled and ready to boil for supper.

Not one thing for a guest.

Out of habit she stuck a few pieces of wood into the stove’s firebox. Stoking it just so with the poker; flames jumping to instantly.

“That’s it,” she said, keeping her back to him, as she pumped the hand crank and filled the dented-in kettle—a picture of the

1920s propped up here in the 1960s. No running water, no electricity, no bathroom. The tin bathtub, its rim bent and rusted, stood in the corner of the kitchen, the stand-alone pie chest held leftovers covered neatly with tea towels, and the humped refrigerator gaped open, a flyswatter in its mouth. Chase had never seen anything like it.

He cranked the pump, watched the water come out into the enamel basin that served as the sink. Touched the wood stacked neatly against the stove. The only lights were a few kerosene lanterns, their chimneys smoked gray.

Chase was her first visitor since Tate, who had seemed as natural and accepting as other marsh creatures. With Chase, she felt exposed, as if someone were filleting her like a fish. Shame welled up inside. She kept her back to him but felt him move around the room, followed by the familiar creaks of the floor. Then he came up behind her, turned her gently, and embraced her lightly. He put his lips against her hair, and she could feel his breath near her ear.



“Kya, nobody I know could’ve lived out here alone like this.

Most kids, even the guys, would’ve been too scared.”

She thought he was going to kiss her, but he dropped his arms and walked to the table.

“What do you want with me?” she asked. “Tell me the truth.” “Look, I’m not gonna lie. You’re gorgeous, free, wild as a dang

gale. The other day, I wanted to get as close as I could. Who wouldn’t? But that ain’t right. I shouldn’t’ve come on like that. I just wanta be with ya, okay? Get to know each other.”

“Then what?”

“We’ll just find out how we feel. I won’t do anything unless ya want me to. How’s that?”

“That’s fine.”

“Ya said you had a beach. Let’s go to the beach.”

She cut off pieces of the leftover cornbread for the gulls and walked ahead of him down the path until it opened wide to the bright sand and sea. As she let out her soft cry, the gulls appeared and circled above and around her shoulders. The large male, Big Red, landed and walked back and forth across her feet.

Chase stood a little distance away, watching as Kya disappeared into the spiraling birds. He hadn’t planned on feeling anything for this strange and feral barefoot girl, but watching her swirl across the sand, birds at her fingertips, he was intrigued by her self-reliance as well as her beauty. He’d never known anyone like Kya; a curiosity as well as desire stirred in him. When she came back to where he stood, he asked if he could come again the next day, promised he would not even hold her hand, that he just wanted to be near her. She simply nodded. The first hope in her heart since Tate left.

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